For giggles, I thought I try my hand at responding to one of the “Today’s Cliche” prompts from the RocNaNo blog. The challenge was to develop a character based on the prompt in something like 2000 words.
This is a character from the Herongarde Trilogy that one day I’ll finish writing. I hadn’t developed him very well, and now that I have, I think I need to include him more often. There are bits and snippets about Herongarde here on my blog. This post is also mirrored over on the RocNaNo blog.
Father Arin of Herongarde
Arin was born to a merchant, and spent his formative years traveling with is father and mother throughout Herongarde, Aidengarde, and Falgarth (among other nations), visiting noblemen and royalty wherever they went. Arin’s mother died when he was about seven years old, leaving him desperate for answers.
SSoon after his mother’s death, Arin and his father found themselves stuck in the town of Winterfest. During that time, Arin befriended a priest and became interested in theology. When time came for Arin’s father to move on, Arin did not want to go. His father left him there, to study with the priest. Arin never saw his father again.
Months passed into years. Arin studied under the priest and took the oaths of the priesthood. At seventeen Arin, now a gangly tall young man, sporting a bushy dark locks and the beginnings of a mustache and beard, found himself restless. He had found God, but felt trapped in Winterfest. The priest who had trained and practically raised him sent him off to study at a large monastery near Oceansgate – a trip that would take a man on horseback at least a week.
Arin set off on foot on a warm spring day, expecting to be walking for a month or so. Only three days into his voyage, he was robbed by bandits on the road. They took everything, even his priestly gowns, leaving him brutally beaten on the side of the road. Arin awoke a little later, woosy and disoriented. He had stumbled no more than a quarter of a mile down the road when he was overtaken by a group of the King’s guard.
Mark bearers, these men were. His Majesty’s elite. Arin, stepped aside, bowing reverently as they passed. One rider slowed. Then two. The rest of the column moved on.
“Ho there, good sir,” said the first who had stopped. “Wherefore go you, so bloodied?”
Arin looked up cautiously. The Mark-bearer stared down at him from atop his massive steed. Plate armor glinted from beneath his blue surcote upon which was embroidered the arms of Herongarde.
“Aye?” growled the Mark-bearer. Arin winced. This man was twice his age and his mass, and could have his head separated from his shoulders in mere seconds.
“I travel to Oceansgate, my Lord,” Arin said softly.
“Oceansgate?” said the other Mark-bearer as he guided his horse closer. This man was ten years younger than the first, but bore the same blue surcote over gleaming plate. “You’re going the wrong way.”
“Aye,” said the first. “Oceansgate is that way.” He indicated the direction with a nod of his head.
“I fear, Lord Kevin,” said the second, “that this man is injured and confused.”
“Aye, Gilbert,” replied Kevin. He leaned closer to Arin. “Have you been in a fight?”
“I was attacked, my Lords. I was robbed.”
Gilbert and Kevin exchanged glances.
“We have heard about troubles on this road, sir,” said Gilbert. “It is hardly safe to travel alone.”
Arin looked sullenly down the road in the direction that he had come as Gilbert dismounted.
Gilbert held Arin’s chin and looked him deep in the eyes. “Aye. You’ve been hit hard.”
Arin nodded absently.
“What or whom is at Oceansgate that you seek?” said Gilbert.
“Monastery,” Arin muttered.
“Oh. To be a priest, aye?” said Kevin.
“Yes. I am, my Lord,” said Arin. He looked down at himself. “They took everything.”
“Well, you can’t stay here alone. You’ll surely die,” said Kevin.
“Come on, then,” said Gilbert. “You can ride with me, I suppose.”
Arin traveled with the King’s guard for three days. King Anthony tolerated Arin’s presence in the group, though never spoke to or acknowledged him. Arin was grateful for this.
It turned out his injuries were quite severe, but Gilbert’s care assured a quick recovery. In return, Arin explained to Gilbert the duties of his own office as a priest. Gilbert listened with great interest, asking many questions, and being good company in general.
On the fourth day, a small group of men attacked the King’s guard, trying the steal the non-existent trunks of gold coins that were rumored to follow the King where ever he went. Arin hid under a wagon, watching in astonishment as the men of the Mark decimated the bandits. Not one of the attackers survived. Not one of the King’s guard was consequentially injured.
That evening, around the camp fire, Arin confided in Gilbert that he had mixed feelings about the necessity of killing. What troubled him most was his own disappointment that he couldn’t help in any way. He knew nothing of the sword and was intentionally a pacifist. But part of him yearned to fight, to feel what it was like to thrust a blade into the core of another man.
“We do not fight for pleasure,” Gilbert said with a soft smile. “You know that.”
Arin hung his head shamefully.
Gilbert leaned closer. “I can teach you. What you need to know.” Gilbert smiled crookedly. “But, tis not just the blade that makes the swordsman, you know.”
Arin traveled with the guard on their return the Herongarde Castle. As they passed through the town of Artyl, a mere two hours ride from Herongarde Castle, Gilbert and Arin broke away from the line of men. Gilbert had friends here, and arranged housing for Arin. “The town is in need of religious leadership,” Gilbert advised Arin. “I believe it is no mere coincidence that we have met.”
Some weeks later, Gilbert appeared at the home where Arin was staying. He had a sword and a smirk. “Are you ready, then?” Gilbert said. That afternoon, and many other afternoons over the next months, Gilbert taught Arin basic skills with the longsword. They grew to be good friends.
It was much to Arin’s surprise when King Anthony asked him to officiate the funeral of Lord Kevin’s wife, after her unexpected death that first fall. With that, Arin took up residence at Herongarde Castle, leading Sunday services each week. Later, Arin performed the wedding of Prince Trey and Lady Rosaline. After that wedding, King Anthony sought Arin and personally thanked him for a lovely ceremony. Arin knew he had found his home.
It became a common occurrence for Gilbert to invite Arin on diplomatic trips. Anthony would agree, but reluctantly, but Gilbert always had a smile and a wink. “Arin is still a boy,” Gilbert would say. “Let him have this experience.”
And what adventures they had! Sometimes trips would be weeks long, following roads that were barely trails. More than once they faced human barriers, some with malicious intent, others driven by hunger. Occasionally, they met natural barriers. A landslide once blocked their path. Then there was that late spring snow that took them by surprise.
Arin stood by the night of the long-awaited birth of the Prince Trey’s own son. He knelt and prayed over the bodies of Trey’s beloved and stillborn son. Years later, he performed the funeral services for Anthony’s elder son, Rion.
The complexion of Herongarde changed then. Prince Trey was now direct heir to the throne. Trey was bitter and his heart hardened by his losses. Many nights Arin sat in council with Anthony and Trey and others, trying to bring peace to the young man’s life. Arin and Trey exchanged harsh words on more than one occasion, but Arin persisted in offering Trey spiritual guidance.
Trey demanded the right to ride long dangerous patrols to escape from the castle walls and the people therein. King Anthony drew Arin aside one evening before Trey’s planned departure.
“Father,” Anthony said softly. “I so need your assistance.”
Arin smiled. “Of course, your Majesty. I’m grateful to serve you.”
“These are not happy times. No time for smiling.”
Arin sobered. “Forgive me, your Majesty. I merely smile that you call me ‘Father’ yet I am so many years junior to you.”
Anthony nodded. “Aye, but you are my most direct connection to God himself. And I need your help.”
“And I am here to serve you.”
Anthony sighed. “I fear my son on the verge of madness, if not already there.”
“Yes, your Majesty. I fear that as well. I pray for him each night.”
“He leaves on patrol on the morrow. I cannot hold him here.”
“Aye. I will redouble my prayers.”
“Father, I would have you go with him.”
Arin blanched. “Lord Trey and I have little peace between us.”
“I beg you go, if only to follow silently at a distance. Gilbert has taught you much. I know you would not hinder Trey.”
“Yes, your Majesty. I didn’t realize you were aware.”
“Gilbert enjoys teaching you. We have spoken of it. He speaks highly of your skill, though you are no Mark bearer.”
“This is a great compliment, your Majesty. Thank you.”
“I fear for Trey’s safety, and for that of those he might encounter. Please go with him.”
Trey rode quickly ahead, forcing Arin to constantly spur his mount to keep up. The ground was sloppy after an early spring thaw, and Arin’s horse slipped constantly. Thankfully, the mud left clear tracks that he could follow. Shouting ahead drew his attention, and Arin raced to catch up.
A mostly empty wagon was on the edge of the road, its team off grazing in an open field. There was a small bundle tightly tied in the center of the wagon’s bed. Trey had dismounted, demanding to examine the bundle’s contents. Two men stood between Trey and the wagon, blocking his approach.
“Let me by,” shouted Trey. “By his Majesty’s order.”
“None shall see this package,” cried one man. “You’ll not.”
“I’ll cut you to the ground,” growled Trey, reaching for his sword.
“You’ll do no such thing,” said the other man, stepping back toward the wagon.
“Ho! What happens here?” cried Arin on his approach.
The strange men noted Arin’s priestly garb.
“Father, this man claims right to our belongings,” the first man said.
“Arin! Get you gone!” shouted Trey.
“Oh? You know each other? All’s the shame,” said the second man, pulling a longsword from a compartment below the wagon’s bed. “Now you both shall die.”
“I wouldn’t—,” started Arin.
Trey drew his sword. “Stand aside.”
Arin dismounted and stepped toward the men. The first man had found his own weapon, but Arin didn’t know where it came from. “I beg you, stop.”
“You’re next, Father,” muttered the first man, stepping forward to attack Trey.
Swords clashed. Arin recognized immediately that these men were skilled swordsmen, and though Trey was the better, it could end badly. Arin patted his hip, and reached for his own sword hanging there, hidden by his robes.
Trey cried out and dropped to a knee to avoid a hit.
Arin drew his weapon and charged in. “Forgive me Father, for what I must do.”
The men had not expected any fight from Arin. He jammed his blade between the ribs of the second man, as he was preparing to cleave Trey in half. Only moments later, the first man succumbed to Trey’s blade.
Trey strode around cursing as Arin knelt and prayed in the aftermath. The package turned out to be a bundle of straw with a small charge of explosives in the center. They could find nothing to indicate the package’s origin or the identity of the two men.
Arin begged Trey to return to Herongarde Castle with this news and discuss it with Anthony. “No,” muttered Trey, mounting his horse. “You return.” He spurred his steed to a trot, but stopped briefly about 50 meters away to call back to Arin. “You bury these men. You return the Herongarde. And should you ever follow me again, I shall put my blade through the middle of you.”
Trey rode off at a gallop, leaving Arin to cope with his life forever altered.