“Taxoran” by Matthew Ide

Wolfman, by B. Lloyd
[Illustration: “Wolfman” © 2006 by B. Lloyd.]

Dwelis Spurnfit exited the tower of the Order of the Watch and looked up at the night sky. His long, brown hair swayed with a passing breeze. It was cold and coming from the north. Soon the snows will cover the land, he thought.

The last embers of dusk glowed, low on the horizon, and stars appeared in its wake. He slung saddlebags over his mount, Loth, and prepared for the night’s patrol of the woods that surrounded the tower. The tower itself, a large structure of solid rock standing taller than a giant, overlooked much of the Split Land. This was where the knights surveyed the land for any trouble that might be seen.

Dwelis looked to the two brothers who were also preparing for the patrol. Chaltin Locke stood as tall and as proud as his brother Welthin, although the two could not be more different. Chaltin was always clowning around, and as knights in training had often gotten the three of them many detentions.

His brother, Welthin, was the opposite. Quiet and reserved, he calculated every movement and observed every detail.

The three knights had entered training together from the town of Thistlehorn, a day’s ride southeast from the Castle of the Order. Their training in combat and the codes of the knights made the three almost inseparable over the years. Now, among the two siblings, Dwelis couldn’t help but feel like a brother with them. He looked forward to the patrol this evening with the two men he admired most, even though they would be patrolling different areas.

“Any signs of trouble?” asked Welthin.

“No trouble in the reports from the day patrol, just a band of merchants seeking shelter within the forest,” replied Dwelis.

Chaltin and Welthin mounted their horses and the three set off. Chaltin went to the north. Dwelis went to the south and Welthin went to the west. They bid farewell and safe travel and then the trees swallowed each of them.

The massive trees stood some fifty feet high and were several arms’ lengths around. The forest was tightly packed, and after only a few minutes of riding into the woods Dwelis could no longer see the tower.

For several miles he rode, noticing the soft ground of leaves and moss. This reminded Dwelis of earlier times. As a boy he would come hiking into this forest and would often wander across a knight on patrol. It was after talking with one of those knights and being enamored of the shiny armor and the way in which the knight spoke, with care and honor, that he decided that this was the calling for him.

He shook his head and brought himself back to reality. He had been daydreaming of times gone by and barely noticed that the evening had turned to night and that a mist was slowly winding its way through the forest. It crept around trees and drowned them in a translucent gray film.

I must be more alert, he thought. It would not do for a knight to be taken upon unawares. Then he thought of what Chaltin would say to him, most likely calling him a day-dreaming schoolgirl, and he let out a little chuckle.

“Good thing it’s just the two of us here, right Loth?” The horse flicked an ear in response.

The night waned on and the moon illuminated the mist to give it a silvery sheen. It made the trees appear to float on a satiny sea. The lush forest smells opened up in the water-saturated atmosphere and lightened Dwelis’s heart. He loved the forest and was studying to become an expert in woods lore.

Loth stopped suddenly, laying back his ears and snorting. Dwelis scanned the forest. He could hear nothing but held a great respect for the horse’s sense of intuition. Something was here, but he could not see it.

“What do you see, boy?” he said, pulling his sword out. It shone in the moonlight, as if it had an internal glow lit by a hundred candles. He moved Loth around in circles, trying to see what was happening. He could feel it now too — the sadness, foreboding, and power. It was coming closer, but from where?

He wheeled around faster, scanning the area. Then, suddenly, Loth reared back. If Dwelis hadn’t been holding the reins as tightly as he was, he surely would have fallen off. The horse snorted and began to charge, yet the knight could not see anything. No sooner had Loth charged than he skidded to a halt. Dwelis felt like a rag doll taken along for the ride. “Loth! What are you doing? Why do you charge? What do you see?”

The horse lowered its head and Dwelis could see now what the horse had charged at. A faint, female, elven figure with long, golden hair and wispy, pink and red robes was stroking Loth’s nose.

“Do not fear me, great knight. I mean you no harm,” the woman said.

“Who are you?” he demanded. Then, remembering his station, said, “I’m a knight of the Order of the Watch, charged with protecting this forest. State your business.”

The elven woman looked at him with a sadness that Dwelis had never seen. A power existed in the creature that he would never understand; that much he was sure of. Her eyes called to him, daring him to see what she did, to understand what she had witnessed in the lifetimes that she had walked this forest.

He shook his head. “I said, State your business here!”

“Put your sword away, knight. It will do you no good against me, and even if it could, I do not wish to engage you in combat,” she said. Her voice was silky and wonderful to his ears. “I have found you for a reason. Normally, I don’t make myself known to any in these woods. As you have been given a charge of duty, so have I.” She walked away from Loth, giving him a final smooth stroke on the nose. Dwelis could see, knowing the horse so well, that Loth was in heaven. He started to follow the ethereal elf until the knight halted him.

“What is your charge here?” the knight said. He had put away his sword without quite realizing it. He felt somewhat defenseless now and started to reach for his sword again.

“Please. I mean you no harm, Sir knight. Unfortunately, I have done a regrettable deed and am in need of your assistance.”

“Who are you?” Dwelis asked.

“I am known by many as a windwalker.” Indeed, the name did fit. Dwelis could see that a slight breeze caressed the elf’s golden mane and gently billowed her translucent pink and red robes. “In my living days my name was Ontari-Kan.” She looked sadly at the ground. “But those days are gone now.”

Dwelis felt a deep, burning desire to know what had befallen this beautiful creature. “What happened to you, lady?”

Ontari-Kan snapped her eyes up to the knight. She had not been called a lady for many, many years and it caught her ear and brought a little smile to her full lips. “I died here more than eight-hundred and fifty seasons ago. I was sent out to protect these woods much like you do today. However, I was here to protect the forest from man and monster, whereas you protect men from the forest and the creatures that may lie within.

Loth had moved close to the elf, wanting to be stroked more. She smiled and started to rub the horse’s nose.

“I have not spoken to a human since the druids walked this land. Now I have spoken to two this very night. Hopefully, both will not be in vain.”

“What is this bad deed that you speak of?” Dwelis said. He got off his horse and stomped his feet, bringing the blood back. He no longer felt that this woman was a threat to him.

Ontari-Kan sighed and looked at the forest floor. “I was trying to help. I thought that after all these years of making sure the woods were protected that it was time that I could help man. After all, I hadn’t seen any human hurt the woods in many years. Although I hadn’t seen many people in this forest.” She sighed again. “I led a group of merchants, early this morning, to a good, clear area so that they may rest.” She looked up and into Dwelis’s eyes. “One of their guards was hurt and he needed to rest. I was only trying to help,” she said, imploring him to believe her. He motioned for her to continue, truly believing that she spoke the truth.

“I left the merchants to themselves but returned a while later to make sure the woods were safe. As I feared, the woods were in jeopardy.” She gave a sob and turned her back to the knight. He could only feel a sense of pity for her. Something grave had happened this day and he could see that Ontari-Kan felt responsible.

Dwelis tried to put a comforting hand on the elf’s shoulder but his hand passed right through her incorporeal form. She half turned, looking up at him. “I will show you. Come.” She motioned for him to follow as she walked through the trees to the North.

The knight followed Ontari-Kan through the woods for a short ways. He did not expect to see what he did. The sight took his breath away and immediately he drew his sword, scanning the area for any danger, anything that might still be alive that could have done this.

The clearing held two covered wagons, and three fire pits lay smoldering near them. Ten bodies, twisted in different death throes, lay strewn about the campsite like cattle after a tornado. Pools of blood lay near most. Dwelis dismounted his horse and walked through the dead. He could tell that a great battle was fought here. Swords lay broken and cracked, much like the skulls of the men.

A cough rang out through the merchant’s campsite like a thunderbolt. Dwelis spun about, finding the source of the noise underneath one of the wagons. Quickly he went over and crawled under the wagon, opening his flask and pouring water into the mouth of a bloodied man. The man’s eyes fluttered once and he spit the water back up. He grabbed onto Dwelis, then his eyes rolled back in his head and his soul slowly left him to find peace elsewhere. What could possibly have done this to ten armed men, he wondered.

Dwelis backed out from under the covered wagon. Turning, he said to the elf, “What did you do?”

Ontari-Kan was sobbing and looking at all the dead. “I made a mistake,” she said. “I offered this place for the men to rest and left. When I returned, to check on their wounded, I saw that they were cutting down trees. I became enraged and quickly left in search of a kistiani that I knew was in the area. I told it where the camp was and…” She looked back into his eyes again. “I knew in that moment that I had done something that I would regret for as long as I am able to walk in this wood. I have put shame on myself.”

“What do you expect me to do about ten dead men?” he said. He was angered by the deaths and needless destruction.

She flinched at his words. “I thought you could take them back to the tower and give them a proper burial. Better than being left to rot out here.” She looked back down to the ground. “They do not deserve that.”

Dwelis had never seen such a cruel waste of life outside of combat, which he thought was an honorable way to die. This was just slaughter. He looked to the sky, a full moon observed the carnage. Dwelis shook his head in disbelief. “You set a beast on these poor men for cutting down a tree?” His code of honor was the only thing keeping him from lashing out at the windwalker.

“You do not truly understand my purpose for being in these woods.” She gave out a small groan and looked to the forest as if it only understood her. She walked over to one of the large brown trees and gently, almost caressingly, touched the rough bark.

“I died long ago, but while I was living I was a ranger within these woods. I was to look after the forest and all the woodland creatures within. However, I was to also help any humans who seemed to be in need of assistance. It was a time of trust among the races, and the humans and elves got along quite well. Not like today, where there is mistrust and speculation of evil deeds.

“So what do you do now, other than lead monsters to an easy kill?” He regretted saying that as soon as it left his lips. Dwelis was angry and lashing out. He couldn’t help but notice how she flinched at the accusation.

“Now I look after the woods and nothing more. I thought I cared little for what man or creature does within, as long as they do not harm my forest… my home,” she said.

“Because you’re dead you no longer care about the living, right?” he said.

“Wrong, Knight!” Ontari-Kan’s eyes flared with anger. She stood tall and faced Dwelis squarely. “I see the destruction and I know this was my doing. I didn’t tell you why I’m dead, did I?” She started to pace and then fell silent again. After a short time she hesitantly explained. “I was taken by a band of merchants who raped me, then killed me so I wouldn’t talk.” A tear fell down her cheeks. She hid her face in her golden hair, ashamed of what had happened so long ago.

Dwelis’s expression softened. He understood now. This was a reaction to her murder as much as it was to see the destruction of a tree. He felt ashamed. “I’m sorry…I didn’t realize.” There was nothing he could say to make things better.

Ontari-Kan walked away. She couldn’t bear to look at this scene anymore. Dwelis watched through rays of moonlight, filtering down between the large trees. She had to have been a beautiful woman in her day, he thought. The moonlight glinted on her golden hair and her skin radiated as if the beams gave her energy.

It took Dwelis a moment to realize he was hearing a signal horn. Ontari-Kan spun around. “What is that?” Her eyes were wide and full, like the moon above.

“It’s a signal. A knight is in danger and needs help.” With agility one would not expect of a knight clad in full plate armor, Dwelis leapt onto Loth and charged through the night towards the sound of the horn calling.

All he could think of was getting to his brother. He was not sure who it was, but he suspected it was Chaltin because the sound rang faintly and far from the north. It was unnerving to hear that sound, as it was not often that a knight rang out with the need for help. Some knights preferred not to even carry a horn with them, feeling that it was a dishonor to call to another for help in combat. Dwelis didn’t share this notion, though. He had his honor and his code but he also was a sensible man and didn’t take unnecessary risks.

He leaned into his steed, almost lying on his neck, urging Loth to move faster. They whipped between trees and hurdled small bushes. The ground was a blur and dirt sprayed up behind the strong horse. He was startled to see Ontari-Kan sprinting beside him, barefoot along the ground.

She didn’t look at him. Her face was set in a determined visage. She was prepared to help the calling knight in any way she could. She needed this; it was a small piece of redemption in the wake of the slaughter behind.

Without warning, Loth came to a sliding halt, sending Dwelis flying over the top of the steed and skidding to a stop on the ground. He shook the dizziness from his head and glared at the horse. He could hear the horn in the distance. It sounded more frantic now and repeating itself quickly.

Ontari-Kan slowed to a trot and then walked up to Loth, putting a hand on his flank to settle him. His flaring nostrils settled but his eyes remained wide, the whites showing with panic. Dwelis saw the windwalker’s eyes widen to match his horse.

“What?” he said. “What is it?” The two were looking past Dwelis. He got up, wiping dirt from his armor. Then he turned and the blood drained from his face. It was Welthin, laying half in and half out of the green shrubs that were now dripping with his blood. Much of his armor was ripped off and shattered. Many claw marks left telltale signs of the monster that did this, and large bite marks showed the mortal injury to his throat.

“What is that that he holds,” Ontari-Kan asked.

Dwelis looked down at Welthin’s bloody hand. A silver chain was interwoven through his fingers. He didn’t have to open his hand to know what it was. “It’s his symbol of the order,” he replied softly.

The symbol, shaped as the crest of the order, was a tower with an eye above cast in pure silver. A knight’s most precious possession, given by the lord knight when the student has attained the status of a true knight.

Tears gently fell down Dwelis’s face. He remembered the day well when he and the two brothers were given their symbols. It was a cherished moment in all of theirs lives. It was the last thing that Welthin thought of in his dying moments.

Dwelis yelled out to the sky in anger at the death of his near-brother, and anguish for not being here to help. Gently he uncurled Welthin’s hand and took his symbol from him. He pulled a cloth out of a saddlebag and wrapped it, then tucked it safely into the bag.

“The horn. Should we not go?” Ontari-Kan asked. Dwelis didn’t want to leave his brother here, not like this, but the sound of the horn was faltering and he knew now that it was Chaltin who was in trouble. If he could help one of his brothers in arms tonight, maybe not everything would be a loss.

He took a second cloth out of his saddlebag and laid it over the head of Welthin. “I will come back for you, my brother. I swear on my honor, as a knight of the Order of the Watch.”

Quickly, again, he mounted his steed and tore through the woods, following the sound of the horn and signaling with his own horn to tell Chaltin that help was near.

Branches slapped at his face, but he hardly noticed. His only thought was to get to Chaltin. Hold on brother, I’m coming, he thought.

Loth burst through a thicket of brush, leaping into a ghastly scene: Chaltin, backpedaling, fending off a huge, wolf-like creature. The knight deflected a swipe of the creature’s claws with his sword and blew again into the horn. The call was weak and Dwelis could see why. Chaltin had large gashes in his side; bright red blood spilled from many wounds.

Dwelis didn’t need to give a kick to his steed. Loth immediately charged, a testament to the link between rider and mount. He raised his sword in salute as he charged into battle.

The horse swung in close to the beast, raising its front hooves and bowling over the kistiani. Chaltin shuffled back, kicking up dirt with his heels. Dwelis swung his sword down at the kistiani, gashing its chest and spraying blood. It howled in pain and with amazing speed rolled out of the reach of Loth’s hooves.

The kistiani snarled and gnashed its teeth together, then sprang at Dwelis, knocking him off of his mount. The two rolled through the dirt and soon separated, both coming to their feet. Its eyes blazed with fury.

The mangy creature lunged at Dwelis, but he side-stepped the beast and slashed at the fast claw coming in at his head. Part of its hand fell to the ground with a sickening thud. Again the kistiani howled but, sensing the weaker member in the group, charged at Chaltin, who was on one knee and holding himself up by his sword that was stuck into the ground.

“Chaltin! Look out!” Dwelis yelled. Chaltin looked up. Dwelis could see the blood trickling down around his eyes and nose from a gash in his scalp. The whites of Chaltin’s eyes became huge as he saw the raw fury of the wounded kistiani barreling down on him. In that second Chaltin knew it was too late for him to defend himself. It was his time. In his last moments, he grabbed onto his symbol of the Order and closed his eyes.

The kistiani plowed into Chaltin, sending his sword flying into the brush. The knight flew backwards, landing flat on his back, his head slamming into the dirt. Chaltin’s eyes were staring straight up through the canopy of trees, at the same bright stars that Dwelis often admired at night from atop the tower. With blinding speed the kistiani crouched over Chaltin, dripping saliva onto his face. It seemed to sneer for a second, showing large, bloody canines, and then it crunched down on Chaltin’s throat.

Dwelis ran to Chaltin but it was too late. The kistiani looked over it shoulder, bloody canines dripping onto its matted fur. The beast howled at the moon and stared back at the knight.

Screaming, Dwelis charged at the kistiani, driving the point of his sword deep into the hide of the wolf-man. It raised its head, roaring in pain and scrambling to free itself from the sword. Dwelis gripped his weapon with all his strength, driving the sword deeper. Finally, the kistiani shrugged off the knight’s thrust and staggered back from Dwelis. Its ears hung low and it turned and fled into the woods.

In the distance, several eerie, haunting howls pierced the night. Dwelis looked at Chaltin and sucked in his breath. His sensibility was overshadowed by rage. He could not let these two knights die in vain. He quickly stood up and charged after the monster. Loth was at his side, and in moments the two were speeding through the night, searching for the kistiani.

It was not hard to follow its tracks. It left a fresh trail of blood and footprints that shone in the moonlight, and soon the hunt was over.

Dwelis was not prepared for what he saw next. The windwalker was holding a frail man with brown hair and a slightly extended face. His body was naked, but large tufts of coarse, brown hair clumped in many spots. He was bloody and unconscious.

“Do not be alarmed, knight,” Ontari-Kan said.

He scanned the area. “Is this the creature that took the lives of my brothers?”

“Yes and no,” was her reply. “This is a man that has been poisoned with a terrible disease.”

“Are you trying to defend this thing? First help it kill a band of merchants and then my brothers-in-arms? Maybe you are the one I should be wary of.” He didn’t know what to think. He doubted that the elf was evil, but why comfort this creature after all she knows the kistiani has done?

“This man is afflicted with the disease of becoming the creature that you saw tonight.” She looked down at the man in her lap. “This man suffers this fate.”

“I should slay both of you this very night.” He was seething with fury. The routine patrol he expected tonight has ended in disaster.

“Nay, that is not what’s needed here. Look upon this man with pity for he doesn’t know what he does until the truth of his actions are revealed to him in his human form.”

The knight was taken aback. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing?” He found that hard to believe. “How can it kill so viciously and not know?”

“The kistiani is a source of evil within the body of this man. He doesn’t want it anymore than he would want to be dying of some disease trapped within him. Yet this isn’t a disease that kills him, it kills others.”

“And I should take pity on him and not hold him accountable for what he has done?” More howls rang out in the night. They were getting closer.

“Yes!” she said.

“That is unacceptable,” he roared back. The man in her lap stirred. “Only my honor and my code keep me from killing him. I will take him back to the Order of the Watch and let the Lord Knight decide what to do with him,” Dwelis said.

He took some rope out of his saddlebags, bound the man, and slung him over Loth’s back. Next he went for Chaltin and Welthin and carefully laid them over the horse as well. Mournfully, he set off for the tower, making note to come back for the dead merchants.

* * *

The next morning, rain drizzled down. Dark clouds hung low over the Split Land, and at the Castle of the Order of the Watch many somber faces crowded into the Hall of Knights.

The kistiani, who now appeared in human form, was chained to the floor, standing in the middle of the massive room. Knights of many disciplines filled the rows of benches.
Some knights were Protectors of the People in the Split Land. Others had more specific roles, like the Disciples of the Woods, which Dwelis was hoping to achieve. Many other disciplines attended, such as the Mountain Disciples and the Disciples of the Orc, who were elite and dangerous. The Lord Knight, who was voted on by the Council of Disciples, sat at his throne before the chained man.

He wore ceremonial armor etched with protective runes. His white hair flowed down the back of the silver armor and made the crown on his head seem to sparkle even more. He held a sword across his knees that shimmered with a faint blue light. Termaenor was the sword’s name. It was handed down from ruler to ruler within the Order and its ability to kill orcs was legendary.

“Dwelis Spurnfit, state your claim,” the Lord Knight said. “Let all hear what you say, knowing that you, on your honor, state these things as fact and truth.”

Dwelis got to his feet and told all the events that had unfolded the evening before. Many of the knights found it hard to believe that the windwalker existed, but they would not doubt the honor of this knight and many would later ask for more detail from Dwelis.

“Very well,” said the Lord Knight, scanning the room and laying his eyes finally on the man shackled to the floor. “You have been charged with these events. What do you say?”

The man was very weak from his wounds and didn’t know how much longer he would be able to stand. “My name is Taxoran Havensmith of Thistlehorn. I do not deny the claims made against me, although I don’t recall ever having done them.”

A murmur spread throughout the room. The Lord Knight raised his hand for silence. “Do you claim ignorance? I don’t see how that is possible, yet you don’t deny what you do?”

Dwelis stood up again. He was visibly shaking with anger. The man who killed his closest friends was still alive; they were not. He knew this man was innocent and honor bound to say so, but he still wished the man dead. “He speaks the truth, sir,” Dwelis spit out. He explained to the council and the Lord Knight what Ontari-Kan had told him about the man’s disease.

One of the council stood. This man had black, piercing eyes that bore into Dwelis as if he could search the younger knight’s soul to see if there was even an ounce of untruth to what he said. “I don’t see how we can take the advice of a dead elf who has appeared in the night.”

The Lord Knight motioned for him to be seated. “The windwalkers, although very rare, are known to me. I do believe Sir Dwelis when he speaks of Ontari-Kan.” Any voices in the crowd that had any doubts before were now quieted. Again he turned to Taxoran. “Do you agree with what was stated?”

Taxoran tried to stand as tall as he could, but the cuts from Dwelis’s sword were still very fresh in his back. “I do, Lord Knight. I was a blacksmith in Thistlehorn and was attacked by a kistiani while taking wares to the village of Wispin. It’s a misfortune for sure, and I have fled into the woods not knowing what else to do, sir.” Taxoran’s shoulders slumped and he stared at the ground in front of him. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Dwelis clenched and unclenched his jaw. Although he knew the right thing was to help this man, part of him hoped he would be sentenced to death. He shook with rage, thinking of Chaltin and Welthin, who were now deep below the castle in the burial crypt. He struggled desperately with what he wanted to do against what his honor and the code asked of him.

“I have heard all sides and with the guidance of the council a verdict will be reached.” The Lord Knight stood up and left the room by a door close to the throne. The council, all seated at a table near the Lord Knight, followed him out.

Dwelis got up with the rest of the knights and filed out of the room. He glared the whole time at Taxoran, but the man would not meet his gaze. Two knights stayed in the room to guard the man. No one knew, not even Taxoran, when or if he would turn back into a kistiani.

The rain increased through the day and lightning struck the ground more than once while the Lord Knight and the council debated the fate of Taxoran. Dwelis paced outside the great hall. He could not rest, eat, or think of anything else. He was not sure what the fate of Taxoran should be, and after having some time to reflect on it he was not sure that he should be held any more accountable than, say, a bear that has brought down a knight. Surely no council would come together over a bear. Might this not be the same? he wondered.

Finally, the council and the Lord Knight reentered the great hall and seated themselves. Then the many knights including Dwelis found their seats. A murmur was buzzing around the room, no one sure of what the verdict would be. Dwelis looked at Taxoran who was slumped on the ground.

“All shall rise,” said one of the council members, bearing a green engraving of a tree on his breastplate. This was a Disciple of the Woods, the discipline Dwelis hoped to be part of once his studies were complete.

The Lord Knight stood and surveyed the room. “Between myself and the council we have come to a decision. Let all here be testament to what has been said and hold up the decree with honor and dedication.” He looked down at Taxoran from his large chair. “Taxoran Havensmith, are you prepared for judgment?”

Taxoran looked up at the Lord Knight. Sorrow was in his eyes. “I am, Lord Knight.” Dwelis noticed that although his shoulders were slumped, his voice held a determination to see this through with what pride he could muster.

All eyes turned back to the Lord Knight. “Very well. By order of the Lord Knight and the council we pronounce you free of all charges.” Hushed conversation broke out immediately. A few knights stood, enraged that this monster could get away with killing two of their own. The Lord Knight raised his hand for silence.

“Some of you may wish this man to be put to death, and I have to agree that on first thought; this is what came to my mind as well. However, we must not lose sight of who we are and what we all hold dear in our Order. Honor in the face of adversity is how we live… and also how some of us die.”

Dwelis sat back in his chair. He hated to admit it, but he agreed with the Lord Knight. Chaltin and Welthin died with honor. They entered the woods yesterday knowing that this day could have been their last. It is how they all lived their lives.

The Lord Knight continued. “Our honor is our most prized possession. The bastion that the outside world looks to in times of trouble, holds onto, and pulls themselves up by. The people of the Split Land expect justice from us. Along with that comes the responsibility of looking at situations from all sides, as we have done today.” He looked down again at Taxoran. “So, Taxoran Havensmith, you are found free of murder this day. However, it is deemed by the council and myself that you seek help with your condition and that this will be moderated by one of us. In addition, to pay back for the lives that the demon inside of you has killed, you will be charged with finding other kistiani and bringing them back to be healed. If they do not wish to come with you peacefully, they shall be killed by order of the Lord Knight.”

Taxoran looked to the Lord Knight, blinking tears from his eyes. “I fully believed that I would die this day, Lord Knight. But in your wisdom and the wisdom of the council I see a better road has been chosen for me. One that I will gladly walk down.”

The Lord Knight nodded his head. “Good. Now, the decision of who will be charged with leading Taxoran down this road of resolution was a hard decision. The council made a unanimous decision that a new discipline will be implemented. This is something that has not been seen within this hall in some time. The Disciples of Kistiani has now been brought to life, charged with gaining knowledge of kistiani and how to combat and revert the unfortunate souls who find themselves in the situation that poor Taxoran Havensmith has suffered.”

The Lord Knight looked directly at Dwelis. “It seems only fitting that the person who should lead this discipline be the one who is most connected with this situation. Sir Dwelis Spurnfit, we know that the two knights who died yesterday were very close to you and, and it was you who brought these events to the Order of the Watch’s eyes. It is only proper that you are given the choice of being head of this discipline. What say you?”

Dwelis could not believe what he was hearing. A new discipline! No discipline had been enacted in several hundred years, and he was to be head of it. He looked around the room at all of the knights. Some old, some young, but all were willing to stake their lives for the good of the Split Land. How could he not accept? He looked at Taxoran and his fists clenched automatically.

“It is with my honor and the code of the Knights of the Order of the Watch that I take on this charge, Lord Knight. I will live up to the challenge as you expect me to. I do this in remembrance of Chaltin and Welthin Locke who died protecting our land. I will carry their spirits with me, letting them guide my heart and sword.” Dwelis sat back down. His heart was pounding in his head.

“Well said, Sir Dwelis. Your first charge will be to study Taxoran and, once healed, set off across the Split Land in search of more kistiani. Between the two of you, a new day has come. Sad might this day be, yet know that the future of many lives will be saved by your actions today.”

The Lord Knight sat down. That was all that needed to be said, and knights rose and started to file out of the room.

Taxoran was unchained from the floor but still had shackles on his hands and feet. He may have been saved, but he is still a killer, thought Dwelis as he approached the prisoner. He hated the man-beast for what he did. Knowing that it wasn’t something the man could control didn’t bring his brothers back. He felt the injustice.

“I am indebted to you, Sir Dwelis. I have caused you much anguish and I’m prepared to fight this disease for myself and any others who are so afflicted,” Taxoran said.

Dwelis stood before him. He could barely look at the man. “It is wrong that they are dead and you live. Fortunately for you, I am not the Lord Knight, but if this is how it must be, then I will put my heart and soul into it for Chaltin and Welthin.” He drew a dagger and held it up to Taxoran’s throat. He sucked in ragged breaths, barely controlling the sobs that he checked and added: “But by Ghendhali and my brothers, you make but one wrong move and I will gladly see your way to the Land of the Dead. I hope we make ourselves clear.”

Dwelis didn’t give Taxoran time to respond. He spun on his heel and left the room to pay his respects to the dead.

A small sparrow had been sitting on the window ledge through the whole proceeding. It jumped off of the ledge and flew into the forest to the west of the castle. It swooped through the trees and landed on the windwalker’s finger. Chirping, it told her of the events of this day. She smiled, knowing that there were indeed good people left in the world; people who did not judge hastily.

She set off into the woods with the sparrow on her shoulder. She needed to prepare herself for a long battle with a terrible disease. Ontari-Kan expected Dwelis to show up soon with a man who had been given a second chance, just as she had. *

About the Author: Matthew Ide lives in Northern Michigan, and when he’s not writing he usually can be found tromping along forest trails with his beautiful wife, Trina, and their four kids.
(c) 2006 Matthew Ide matthewdide@hotmail.com

About the Artist: B. Lloyd is an artist.
(c) 2006 B. Lloyd rrobot34@aol.com

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