A Time For It All
The night settled cool and peaceful in the wilds, a stark contrast to the human war and calamity he had so recently known. As a boy, Eclipse had spent a lot of time outside surrounded by nature, and even now, with years advancing upon him, he could still appreciate its beauty. Rider of Unicorns they had dubbed him. Nowadays, it seemed like nobody ever saw those white beasts anymore. Eclipse doubted he'd be so lucky tonight, especially this far north, but oh how he longed for such a creature to come and relieve his burden. He was exhausted.
It wasn't long before he found a trail, that led to a path, that led to a road. Roads lead to farms, which lie on the outskirts of villages, which always have a chapel... Yet the pious knight never made it to any sanctioned house of the gods.
Dogs were barking.
"Gertie? Wake up Gertie. We's having compneh!" A stout farmer in faded, worn, and stained overalls came into the farmhouse bearing a blonde man in armor leaning agaisnt his shoulder.
"Bert! It's an hour before sunrise, and I ain't milked the cows yet. Whatcha mean we got compneh? A guest? Is it another one o' your drinking frien's, because I have had it up to here with... Oh my stars!" The countrywoman gasped mid speech as she laid eyes upon the weary warrior being dragged into her kitchen.
A multitude of children of varying ages suddenly also filled the room, gawking with interest. Despite his taxed condition, the knight smiled at the sight of them.
Gertie put one of her hands on Bert's as Eclipse settled into a chair with the deepest gratitude. She whispered to her husband, "Bert... He's from the war. We can't..."
"He's with the church dear. Can't ye see his cloth? Now I'm no saint meself, but I can't just leave a man in need on the side o' the road where ma pigs shit."
"Bertold!" She was using his formal name now, with her fists firmly pressed against her hips and giving him a pointed glare. Her husband's cursing was an embarrassment.
"Sorry honey. Hey, you kids got chores to do! Now get out there an' do em! We adults are gonna talk a while." Bert then took a seat himself and looked across the table at his guest. Fearing their father's wrath, the kids scattered off. "And Jesse, milk the cows."
Gertie grabbed a towel with a huff and wiped her hands. "Well, I suppose I'll fix ya somethin'." She set about breakfast.
Eclipse began to undo the bindings that kept his armor on. "Bless you stranger. As a knight of the church, I am reliant on the hospitality and generosity of others, yet I will not leave you unrewarded for the grace you have shown me, nor will the gods. When I have recovered, I will work for you, before I go. I promise I will not impose."
Bert nodded and dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. "I appreciate that, good sir knight." He paused thoughtfully. It was clear the farmer had more than a few seasons under his belt as he eyed the lion-maned man with some scrutiny. "I know that you came from that battle nearby. Now I am gonna ask ya, which side were you on?"
The toll of his exhaustion forced a heavy sigh through the man's lips. He replied with some effort, knowing he had no choice but to answer. "If you will know the truth, I am on everyone's side. The gods do not play favorites. All they want, is for all of us to live good lives, and to restore peace and order. The Holy Order of St. Elenor lends its knights to fight against the insurrections caused by Manshrew Alliance forces and to support the present king and order of Formaroth. I myself know of no signs that show our king was not divinely ordained. He is no 'mad king,' as this land has seen before. Yet, if you ask, why does Andrew Manshrew fight? I must confess, I do not know."
Bert nodded at this, pensive, but showing no sign of disagreement, and they took their morning meals with little else said. A happy dog rested his head in Eclipse's lap the whole time.
*Thwack!* With one fell swoop, the two halves of maple split and toppled with a melodious knocking into the other pieces of wood below. Eclipse yanked the axe free from where it had bitten into the chopping block and turned to grab another log. The light shirt he wore for the cool weather did nothing to hide his physique, but it was enough that exercise and the sun could make up for what warmth was lacking. On he worked, splitting logs into firewood, seemingly oblivious to his curious onlooker.
A pair of young, feminine eyes peered at him from behind a bush. Finding this new man fascinating, and inexplicably attractive, one of the older girls had stolen away from her chores for a chance to witness the man who inspired thoughts of far away lands and exciting new life. Yet she couldn't just hide behind that bush forever.
Eclipse rested the axe against the ground and smiled even before he looked at the girl. "I knew you were there." He placed another log, turning it to its most steady position on the block. "Charlene, is it? I thought you were to be hanging laundry."
The girl took a seat on one of the piles of wood. "With you around, mister, there's much less for me to do. I thought I'd come watch. You know, I can chop wood like that too. I even bet I could do it better. Ma says, anything anyone else can do, I can do too."
"Is that right?" Down came the silvery beak of the axe in a powerful arc... *THUNK!* Eclipse blinked and stared down the handle. The axe had bitten deep, but the log held solid.
The young lady behind him burst out laughing while he yanked the axe free for another go.
"Hmm. This one's oak. Holy Eight bless whoever it was that took this tree down, for it must have been a feat." He looked at the edge of the axe and at the rest of the unchopped logs.
"You're funny mister knight."
"Please call me Eclipse. I prefer it that way, because who I am is far more important that what I am."
Charlene nodded, seemingly fascinated by this mote of wisdom. "Sure mister Eclipse, er I mean, Eclipse."
It was close enough. Eclipse smiled and then cracked that log in 3 more swings. "I'm going to break all the oak ones, and finish this pile. That should leave your family enough until spring. Then, I will depart. The gods spurn me to move in my dreams, and I have the greatest sense of foreboding..." Considering the task before him, Eclipse didn't realize he had started rambling and that he had said more than he should have.
"You mean like nightmares?" She hopped off the pile. "Eclipse! I want to go with you!"
Wood clattered apart off the block, and Eclipse paused. The faint lines at the corners of his eyes seemed to be there again, a reminder of the wisdom that years of life had given him. He closed his eyes as he replied. "I'm sorry Charlene, but where I must go is very dangerous, and you are needed here, by your family."
Somewhat expecting this answer, the girl huffed and folded her arms. "I can do anything you can do!"
Eclipse stopped and turned to her. "Yes... You too can serve the gods, Charlene, just as I do, but keep in mind, the gods do not ask everyone to do everything all at once. There are times for it all and for each of us. There are times to be weak, and to be strong, to be young or grown..." He put his hand on her shoulder. "Listen. Trust me. You too have a destiny, and right now, it is to be here. Our paths do divide, but for now at least, we may chop wood together."
She seemed to enlighten at this as she stared at him, caught somehwhere between blushing and crying. He was like an angel.
"Take that other axe. You can toss me the oak ones if you want."
By the time the paladin arrived, the sun was setting, yet the smoke rising from the fires over Nyhem was unmistakable even from a distance. Eclipse coaxed his steed faster as the terrifying recognition of disaster hit him. He was already too late for whatever chaos had ensnared this city, and chaos it was. Temples were blackened, bodies and blood covered the streets, and no rhyme or reason seemed to clarify the need for so much death and suffering. Eclipse rode past the walls unopposed, save for the hesitant concerns of his farm horse. The scene was horrifying. Eclipse halted in the middle of the road, simply stunned. "By the gods.. Holy..." He couldn't finish a sentence as he stared, wide eyed. "Merciful Leplo." He finished a whisper. Tediously, his mind tried to piece together the details of what he was seeing and hearing. There were still screams nearby, still fighting, holy places were hit, looters... Yet he wasn't sure who exactly the enemy was. There were no invaders, so how could there be any reason for this?