Galadan Knight paused as he approached the Paladins’ training facility. While there were many good points to being the Captain of the Novices in Training – meeting with the Council of Marshalls was one of the highlights – but giving bad news to the other Novices was one of the least enjoyable.
But, there was nothing to be done. His job was to give the news, be it good or bad, and bear the brunt of his comrades’ wrath. So it was with a sigh he finally pushed through the heave oaken door and made his way inside.
As always, the training grounds were bustling with activity, and the air buzzed with the egotistic banter of Holy Knights too inexperienced to know how little they knew. Along the far wall a group pulled out their bows, launching blasts of mana bolts at the wooden ducks, which were only too eager to oblige their duty and explode with aplomb.
In the far corner a group had out their practice swords, parrying and attacking the practice golems. The creatures had been enchanted to move more slowly than usual, helping the Novices both practice their basics and feel superior to the silently walking mud & earth.
And near the entryway, a final group stretched and chatted, tossing gossip and banter like ping pong balls in the air.
They were a strong group of Novices, just a few weeks away from being sent abroad on their first solo missions. The air cackled with the energy of young men and women who had reached the high point of their cockiness and pride.
“Friends, I have news from the High Marshalls!” Galadan announced, breaking up the activity.
“Word from the Marshalls tends to be either really good or really annoying,” Kari, a particularly brash novice immediately said. “So which is it today?”
“I’ll let you decide for yourself,” Galadan said. “You all know about Arthur, right?”
The Novices stared at Galadan blankly, puzzled and annoyed at trying to remember.
“He’s the young man who arrived at the village last month,” Galadan went on.
More blank stares.
“Like we keep track of peasants that come in and out of town,” a dismissive Paladin named Darin said.
“The one that keeps coming to the front gates, asking to be admitted to Paladin training,” Galadan said.
Groans erupted all around.
“Why are we talking about him?” Kari demanded.
Galadan took a deep breath, then explained: “The High Marshalls have decided that he will be admitted for one sparring session with us.”
“He’s a peasant!”
“He’s not even a knight!”
“He doesn’t have any powers!”
“He has no business with real Paladins!”
“I know!” Galadan shouted them down. “The Marshalls decided that the best way to help this silly fellow understand his place is to let him experience a real beating at our hands. Maybe then he’ll realize that his request is folly, and he’ll join up to be a servant or maybe just go away.”
“So our job,” Darin said, “is to beat him to a pulp?”
“Basically, yes,” Galadan said.
“That sounds mildly entertaining,” Kari said, “even if it will be a short workout for whoever spars with him first.”
“We are requested,” Galadan went on, “to all come to the sparring field immediately. But no real weapons, just our wooden practice equipment.”
* * * The Novices all arrived together, welcomed by the High Marshalls of the Paladin Order. The gate opened into the large, circular dirt field. All around, stands, benches, and banners, surrounded the field. At times they were filled, when some of the greatest Paladins sparred in tournaments with each other. But now, only a few High Marshalls were there, chatting quietly, paying little attention to what was going on. At the other end of the field stood the commoner, Arthur, as he called himself. He held a wooden sword in one hand awkwardly, as if he had never even been taught the proper way to wield a weapon.
“Arthur Pendragon!” High Marshall Damarion shouted. “Your request to join the Order of the Paladins has been heard. To prove your worth, you shall give battle against our Novices. Shall you prove victorious, you shall be welcomed into our society.”
The High Marshall turned to the Novices, speaking low so only they could hear. “Don’t kill him, but knock him down so hard that he can put this nonsense out of his mind as soon as possible.”
The Novices nodded.
Paladin Kari had drawn the lot for the first fight with Arthur. A bell rang from the stands above, and they approached one another. Arthur moved cautiously, shaking with nerves. Kari strode with the confidence of a fully trained Paladin. All at once she broke into a run, and with a fury of sword-play, knocked the weapon from Arthur’s hand, struck him in the nose, and swept his legs, sending the peasant man sprawling to the ground, his nose bleeding.
The Novices cheered as Kari headed back, and the High Marshall began thanking Arthur for his courage, when Arthur stood up and picked up his sword again.
“What are you doing, good sir?” the Marshall asked.
“You said I would battle the Novices,” Arthur said. “Not just one of them.”
“But you were clearly outmatched,” High Marshall Damarion said.
“I will learn from my mistakes,” Arthur said. “Please, sir. Send in the next of the Paladins.”
Unsure of what to think, Darin, the next Paladin in line, approached Arthur. The poor man gave a few faint attempts to block the Paladin’s attack, but in moments he was knocked to the ground, more bruised and bloodied than before.
And, again, when the High Marshall tried to dismiss Arthur, he stood up again, asking for the next Paladin to face him.
And so it went ... on and on, one after another. The peasant faced the fully trained Holy Knights, gave them his best effort, and was beaten into the ground, every fall leaving more bruises and more drops of blood to the ground. The Paladins became more and more merciless, using all their training and skills to pummel him, but again and again he stood up to face the next attacker.
Finally, it was Galadan's turn. As the Captain of the Novices, he was the last in the line. As he approached the young man, now an indecipherable mess of blood, scrapes, dust, and filth, Galadan couldn’t stop staring. How had he gotten back up even once? Let alone two dozen times? How could he face beating after beating, knowing that he would never match their power or training?
Galadan tentatively thrust his sword, and Arthur batted it away with all his might. With mixed feelings of regret, Galadan went into his full battle stance and attacked with all his fury. In seconds, Arthur was again on the ground, groaning, holding his wrist. In sudden shame, Galadan realized that his attack had probably broken it.
He held out his hand to help Arthur up, but the beaten man pushed it aside. Standing on his own, now holding the sword in his unbroken hand, he looked up at the High Marshalls in the stands, now staring without belief at the young man.
“Who’s next?” Arthur’s voice was barely a whisper.
“Nobody,” Galadan said. He turned to the High Marshalls and shouted at the top of his voice: “I, Sir Galadan of the Order of the Paladins do nominate Arthur to our Circle.”
Silence thundered in the arena.
“There are no Paladins without talent or magic,” The High Marshalls cried out. “What powers or ability has he shown?”
Galadan looked at Arthur, respect for the peasant overwhelming him.
“His power is one stronger than any I have yet beheld in man or woman,” Galadan said. “He will not quit ... no matter the cost, no matter the disadvantage, no matter how much he is overmatched. If I was in desperate need of a champion, I would value his devotion more than all the talent or training in the world. Indeed, such commitment is more powerful than all the magic held by all the Holy Knights in the world.” Galadan turned and knelt before Arthur, who stared at him in wonder.
“And I will even go further,” Galadan said, bowing his head before the peasant. “It would be a privilege to be your Master. And I would be honored if you would agree to be my apprentice.”