Returning to the Grey Paladin
July 31, 2013
Mist clung to the floor of the world in thick, roping strands. It slithered through the trees, spilled across the meadows, and poured down the hills toward the gullies and rivers that filled then Ten Gorges. Bridges, lit by great torches and defended by ancient guard towers, seemed ablaze in the mist. Towns and villages lived between the distorted bonfires of the bridges, seemingly resting in torpor in the night. Occasionally the gorges themselves would sigh with the rush of the rivers that spawned them, blowing new bursts of mist into the air like silent whales, dissipating into space before they could crash back into the silver sea beneath them.
Smoke sat in one of the trees above the gorges and watched this war of light against the silent encroachment of water on the people of the Gorges. He listened as the animals of the forests and glades glided gently through the rivers of mist along the ground, finding food and shelter with blind precision. He smelled the wet yet fresh air, enjoying the feeling of life coursing through the very scent of mist and rushing water. He readjusted his silk robes and snapped his fingers, reigniting the tall silver pipe that sat with him in the tree, and inhaled deeply of the fragrant pipeweed’s smoke. Exhaling with a sigh and settling against the tree, he started to count the trees once again. Fate, it seemed, was patient.
Smoke had sat in this tree for two years, twelve months, and twenty seven days. He was sent here by the Glorious Magnate of The Moon’s Wisdom and his consort, the Seven Thundering Methods of the Sun’s Radiance. The Way of Changing had said to them that Smoke was needed to find a hero here, a hero that would put to rest an ancient enemy of the living upon the face of Galariel. He had crossed six continents and four seas to get to this tree, and had to learn the young and vainglorious tongue that was spoken in the Ten Gorges to find this forest, and find this tree, so that he might wait. Somewhere, north of his tree, was an old castle with an older order of knights who spoke a tongue even older still. There, a young woman had sought refuge and was about to emerge a hero. Then she would come through this forest, to the Ten Gorges, to help them with a problem only the Grey Paladins could handle. Here, Smoke would see her and offer his assistance, as the Way of Changing had instructed him to.
While Smoke treasured the Way of Changing for its uncounted wisdoms and impeccable accuracy on events, he was frustrated beyond this by how the Way of Changing seemed to have no concept of time. Luckily, however, he had befriended a young druid who sometimes came this way. She was sweet and sometimes brought him food, as well as entertainment. While he did not require either one of these things, being a master of the Timeless Body Methods, it was a wonderful diversion from waiting in a tree for a hero that he was merely a sidekick to.
“When you were a child, Smoke, you said to yourself that to serve in heaven is superior to living and dying a short and terrible life under the rule of the Khan of the Towering Fires. Perhaps that was true those three hundred years ago, but here you are, serving Heaven, and they ask you to sit in a tree like a squirrel, in a land of people who the Khans thought barbarians, waiting for one of these people to come save the world. Perhaps, though, we will be found in the Book of Changes when this is over. Then we will no longer be servants, we will instead be functionaries. With our own house and our own name again.”
Three hundred years of serving Heaven does not always leave one in the most stable of states. This is why Smoke waits, still, the coming of the Grey Paladin. A hero to save the world and, perhaps if he’s lucky, an old man trapped inside the body of a young monk.
The days come, the nights follow, and the world turns again.