The Shaded Dragon #3

Paladin Jones sat by the campfire, his plate armour weighing heavy on his muscular frame. He hated the armour, always had. It restricted movement, visibility and any Paladin worth their salt dumped the armour at the first sign of trouble. But it had become a symbol, and as he sat around the campfire surround by dignitaries of the nearby villages, his job was to be the symbol of the Paladins. A job he hated with a passion.

He sat and listened to the man beside him drone on and on. The man was a prince (luckily not the Prince and heir to the throne) and an absolute clod. He said nothing that wasn’t scripted, thought nothing other than what he was taught to think, and had a laugh that made Jones’ skin crawl. Yet he seemed to please the village leaders and town mayors who sat and lapped up every word the idiot said.

Of course his speech was a good one, written by some of the cleverest minds in the Capital and containing more than a little of the great heart that gave King David his throne. David was a close friend of Jones, a Paladin drop out who had gone on to great things in the War on Magic. Now the King worked to consolidate his power, grow his Kingdom with kind works and pacts of cooperation over swords and blood. Jones served as bodyguard to his fifth son purely as a favour, and to show that the Paladins still stood with the Kingdom, even after the agreement with the last few surviving mages.

Personally Jones hated the agreement. Magic still tried its darnedest to reach this world and mages were nothing if not addicts to its call. Keeping them alive was a mistake for it was obvious that given time one of them would pull for a hit and undo years of hard work. He had voiced his concerns to both the Paladin Council and his friend, the King, but to no avail. Keeping the mages on the outs was a mistake, for a desperate mage was more likely to call on the magic than one safe in a home. This was logic Jones could not pick at, but safer still was to kill all mages. Still, when he thought hard on it he wondered if even he had the stomach to cut down a defenceless person years after the damage had been done. He still hated the agreement, but with no better plan of action he agreed to back it, much to the relief of everyone involved.

With the speech winding down, and the drinking and dining about to commence, Jones handed bodyguard duties over to his deputies. He quickly retired to his tent and removed the plate armour, replacing them with the light grey tunic and trousers Paladins wore much more often. On top of the tunic he strapped a light leather breastplate, accompanied by matching boots and gloves. Where the plate armour could allow you to withstand a beating and still swing a weapon, the leather armour was designed to give maximum mobility. Both sets were useful on a battlefield, but he was much more comfortable in the leathers. He would rather be able to dodge attacks as opposed to soaking them up. For weapons he shunned the usual sword and shield and slipped two large knives into sheaths around his belt.

With the feast in full swing he left the camp, walking briskly but quietly. He covered the distance of three miles over open ground with ease and in quick time, slowing only as he entered the forest. He made his way into the heart of the forest, making sure not to make any noise or leave any trail to be followed. In the heart he found what he was looking for. Smiling, he drew his knives, knowing he had not been heard. He took a step forward and was greeted by a sword to the throat.

“An unwise move.”

The people in the camp reacted to the voice, turning round to see Jones for the first time. Three of them he could have got; he had forgotten the fourth.

“Luck or planning?” Jones asked the voice.

“Mainly luck, I couldn’t decide if you’d approach from this side or the north so I took a guess at this side.”

The sword was withdrawn from his neck, and the smiling figure of his apprentice emerged from the shadows. Apprentice Smith was something special. Well disciplined, well educated and well liked, he had an uncanny knack for being exactly where he needed to be when he needed to be. Many said he was cursed with Luck, at least many Paladins did. Believing gods to be a negative on this world, any Paladin who seemed to have what many would call a blessing Paladins called a curse. For this reason even though Smith was well liked few would work with him, and no Paladin Master had agreed to take him on, save for Jones.

“Well those were my two approach options, so your planning abilities are improving, and you are not blindly following your luck anymore. This is progress, for remember one day your luck will lead you wrong and you must be ready for that day.” Jones said.

Smith simply nodded and walked back into the small camp.

“Lucy, do we have it?” Jones asked.

A Paladin stood from the group of four, decked in full plate armour save for the helmet. She was an older lady now, veteran of the Magic War and the many wars before that. Older than Jones by a good decade, she was still a fearsome warrior and a cunning mind. Though she swore loyalty to Jones for saving her life, in truth that balance weighed heavy in her favour. She was the closest thing to a friend Jones had.

“Seeker says we are close, hunt should begin in under an hour.” She replied.

“Good. After listening to that prince for days on end it will be good to be on the hunt again!”

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