The Paladin and The Mercenary Lord
.................... A brief flaskback.
"I am Claus Rotstein, commander of the Steel Fist, second son of Adolf Rotstein, general of the concord forces in the east... who are you to take away command from me?" Claus boomed out....
Eclipse narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized this mercenary commander and lowered his swordpoint beside him. "I am Eclipse, Knight of Klebirthy, General of the Knights of Ralda, and brother to the Order of Saint Elenor. I swore myself to the Eight Gods of righteousness during the war against the mad king, a war lead by Andrew Manshrew!" The last words rang in the air for a long, stark pause, the emphasis of the man's name removing any doubt that the knight knew who he had just allowed to escape.
Eclipse heaved a heavy exhalation. "It was a war that many seem to have already forgotten."
"You are a massive Twat! ..." The rest of the encounter had gone for wrote (as described above) in the minds of the Steel Fist onlookers who witnessed it. Their valiant, and generous, leader besting the haughty representative of the lofty and unpopular ideals of religion.
In truth, despite their conflict of ideals, Eclipse could no more have brought himself to slay Claus than he could have Manshrew behind him a moment ago. Finding himself in a bind mid-battle without specific direction from the gods, the best he could manage was to sunder Rotstien's weapon. In between exchanges, Eclipse hesitated, turned lethal strikes into near-misses, and served as much non-lethal battering as he could, but didn't make it obvious. The Steel Fist general was undoubtedly strong and utterly refused to yield. Eclipse subconsciously made note of Claus' effectively sinister fighting style, and wondered briefly if he would pay for his ideals with his life against this man. Certainly, it had been laid on the table.
As the minutes passed, a ring was formed around them. The gathering mercenaries cheered and jeered, but none dared intervene. With the preceding events jarred from his memory, Eclipse felt cold hard earth hit his back as he fell. His skull rang and his awareness wavered briefly before clearing. He was breathing hard, then he felt a cruel weight settle on his chest and pin him. He grunted against it but didn't struggle, rather accepting his inevitable defeat, fully aware of the fact he had been spared. "Why?" The blonde knight panted and lolled his head as he thought of the answer. "It was the honorable thing to do."
**Some time later, with Claus sitting next to the tied-up Eclipse.
"You have some guts to stare down the entire fist. You are stupid, but have guts. I'll give 'ya that." Claus was now drinking some water. Shaking his head. Bloody paladins he thought.
The blonde knight's only answer seemed to be an exasperated sigh as he squeezed his eyes shut and let his head fall back against the crate behind him with a pained expression. He swallowed, leaning there with his hands bound behind him. His eyes remained closed for the moment, as if he had no words to explain himself. Finally, an answer came in a calm voice, "I do what had to be done, Claus Rotstein. The Gods do not come to Formaroth to manifest their will themselves. They steer us, like captains steering ships in a storm. It seems there are times those ships will inevitably clash." Eclipse looked at Claus then, his blue eyes vacant of malice but belying a resolute determination within. "Despite your vile orders Rotstein, I believe you are not a man without honor. I can see it in the eyes of your men. They may follow you out of their own avarice and pride, but for many, there is something more, a noble respect that flows from belief in a man's soul. This is why I could not kill you when we fought, and this is why you spared my life."
Claus was a bit surprised when Eclipse spoke, looked like he was only half listening but was in fact all ears and followed with sitting down next to the paladin offering some water. "You are right there sir, while i ain't a fancy noble i'm not part of the rabble either. Comes with being a burgher, fathers usually knock some sense into their kids." He paused. "I don't have to be a bad man to do bad work after all." Followed by one of his smirks. Katrina was standing a few steps away gave him a smile before realizing Claus had seen her and returned to her duties. His response was shaking his head before returning his attention to Eclipse.
"Thank you." Eclispe said as he took some of the water. He noticed Claus exchange looks with the woman as he contemplated what he should say next, given his position. Thoughts of gods and kings came to mind, of history, justice, scripture, yet none of it seemed to carry enough weight to matter in this particular moment. King Duncan had been the one ordained to rule, yet Lord Manshrew apparently wasn't yet meant to die. Why would Eclipse have been thrown into the man's path otherwise? Manshrew was something more than an enemy. He had to be, for there had to be some reason why Eclipse had been moved to give over his reigns. The paladin's brow creased slightly in consternation. He was now in a precarious situation of dubious loyalty. He didn't have the answers he would have liked at that moment, but his faith remained strong. The Eight always had a plan, even if he did not yet know what it was.
"Who is she?" Asked the knight, forsaking everything else to attend to the one spark of light he had seen flicker between this woman and Claus in the darkened moment. He considered it was probably better not to think about himself any more, and to instead step aside and let the gods do their work with human hearts.
"She? Katrina Nikos. She joined the fist just before the Telmarion campaign. Came in all high and mighty to a inn and declared she was what the fist needed." Claus smiled. "She got everyone a good laugh at it. But she wasn't too bad with a sword when i tried her out and she seemed to want in. So i let her." He then Scratched his right arm and stretched his neck a bit. "Young lass got some fighting spirit, but lacks experience." Claus followed with taking another few gulps of water.
Eclipse's expression warmed genuinely for a moment, but a solemnity slowly sapped the sympathetic smile from his face. He sighed and shifted uneasily with his wrists still bound behind him. "Gods..." He slipped an utterance before he realized it, which then had to be followed. "I wait, on you." He said, stilling himself and remembering to be patient. A scuff on his cheek where Claus had punched him suddenly seemed to be gone, and the knight was resting quietly.
"Wait on what?" Claus asked out loud, having missed the gods part and thought Eclipse was adressing him. He then got a bit confused when a scuff on the paladins cheek which was there a moment ago was clearly gone. "You some sort of mage or something?" He asked Eclipse with a slight frown.
Eclipse looked up at him and blinked a moment, then he realized after following the man's gaze what had happened that had spurrned the question. "Ah. I see now why you ask. No. I am not a mage. I was praying, and sometimes Jykher or Leplo see fit to bless me, or others, when I do so. It is a gift and a sign to assure me that I am on the right path, to reassure my faith... or possibly yours." Blue eyes turned the attention back onto Claus, putting him unexpectedly on the spot and narrowing at him with an accusatory, lightly amused smile. "They watch us all, Claus, and they are not nearly as uncaring as many would have you beleive. With even a little faith, Nidanke can move mountains."
Claus gave Eclipse a raised eyebrow and spoke with utter skeptiscism. "Riiight. Jykher just fixed yer chin up." He resumed a more natural look when he realised how he must've looked. "Don't have much need of them to be honest, i however shout at Timtos from time to time. Either he's scared of me or finds me funny, either way seems the old chap is looking after me seeing what i've gotten through."
Claus recalled his latest mad stunt and laughed out and shook his head. "Ever jumped off a castle to attack an elephant?" He was smiling dumbly while looking at Eclipse as he stood up to strech a bit.
A blonde eyebrow raised. "No... That sounds like quite the story. Surely there is purpose intended for you."
Clause continued. "The siege of Clarm, Andrew had sent a massive elephant bull to tear down the gates to the fortress. Which was still making headway after i had had it shot with ballistas, crossbows and insults was still tearing down the gate. So i was forced to try and kill it myself, I shouted at Timtos there that if this didn't work i'd kick his ass in the afterlife..." Claus paused and looked at Eclipse. "That's the sort of prayers i do, anyway i climbed the fortress roofs, felled a flagpole and used it to ramp myself towards the bull... I sort of slammed into it and broke my sword in half." Claus paused and seemed to gaze into the distance and stifled a laugh.
"I somehow managed to kill it, it then fell over me and i miraculously wasn't crushed by it." Now he looked at the paladin. "So no need to preach, i've already got Timtos on a leash!" Which was followed by a massive smirk and a laugh betraying his humour.
Eclipse sighed heavily after listening to the story and shook his head. "Such irreverance." The mercinary captain was abrasively cocky, and his flippant association with the great god of war and honor was shocking for the holy knight to behold. "In any case, Sir Rotstein, I will not be your final judge. Your relationship with the divine is your own to define. I am merely glad you lean in the right direction." Eclipse shifted, once again growing uncomfortable with his bindings. The irony of the situation hit him as he finished his last words. A paladin, a servant of the Eight and yet a traitor, lecturing a morally ambiguous mercinary from a seat on the ground... He contemplated his captor for a moment. "What do you intend for me?"
Claus eyed him from top to bottom and then gave his answer. "Don't know, someone probably wants to have you back, so the best thing to do is simply ransom you. It's the best option after all. One does the right thing, and get paid for it." He made the classic rubbing money gest and smirked. "One can even pretend that i am one of the good guys when i heave down the beer that the ransom money bought."
"Very well then."
Suddenly a rider arrived, a Cawanor horseman bearing a missive. "Message for general Claus Rotstein." The man said in a non nonsense kind of way, Claus got all boastful of being called general and smiling stood up and asnwered.
”Yes, that’s me.”
”You are to meet king Patrick De’Reimer, please follow me.” After he said that he gestured with his arm and went to his horse to mount.
To his annoyance Claus didn’t call for a horse, instead he walked alongside the rider......
With that, Eclipse was left with some guards. Some of the steel fist vanguard.