27th August - Irdalni
The small parish church had seen better days, the nearby ruins of the Commandary a stark reminder that its current misfortunes were in large part the work of that arch heretic Denarien who during his brief and ignominious time as Baron of Irdalni had raised the sanctuary and slaughtered its Templar guards.
The ruins were slowly returning to nature, the charred timbers and blackened stones peppered with grass and marbled with silver-green moss, but a deep sense of tragedy and betrayal still clung to the carcass. A sense of betrayal exacerbated by the funeral procession which had wound its way from Alowca over the last two days, stopping at villages and hamlets along the way so that the people could pay their respects to the man who had lead so many of their sons into battle.
Lord Gravitas, former General and Pontifex of Alowca was returning one last time to the land of his birth, there to be interred alongside his ancestors according to the rites for which he had fought and died. Honour would be paid to his mortal remains.
Cathal walked at the head of the cortege dressed in a yellow robe shot with red streaks, the death robe of blessed Denariel who taught that men must be willing to die for their beliefs if they are to truly live. By his side his sister Lady Aoifa carried the blade with which she had slain Denarien the Heretic, her polished armour and yellow Templar tabbard matched by those of the six Temple guards who carried the bier on which the incorruptible flesh was borne.
As the procession entered the hallowed ground in his charge the parish priest rushed to meet them, falling to his knees as he grasped the prophet's hands with tears of sorrow trickling down his scarred and ruddy cheeks.
"Arise Aelwyn," Cathal lent forward and helped the aged veteran to his feet, "It is I who should be kneeling to you brother."
The two men embraced and the congregation wept to see the prophet come amongst them.
"Brothers and sisters in the Trinity," Cathal raised his hand in the ritual benediction, "May Denariel guide your hearts through darkness and despair to the Path Invisible. Follow as she leads and you will be thrice blessed before the throne of mighty Khagistar from whom all goodness flows."
And then signalling to the pall bearers he lead the procession into the church where Lord Gravitas would pass his final lonely vigil.
28th August - Irdalni
Cathal knelt in the ruins of the Commandary Chapel, wrapped in the cool crisp shadows which haunted its ruined cloisters. With his pale complexion and scarred body the young Duke looked strangely at home in this forsaken place as he sought to understand the hatred which Denarien had unleashed.
"It is ever the way with those who love power," a man's voice echoed amongst the stones as the moon shot spears of pale white light between the dead branches of the neighbouring orchard, casting the shadow of cracked stained glass across the half-collapsed mass of the altar.
"Who's there?" Cathal's eyes were momentarily blinded.
"This is not the first time we've spoken Cathal," the voice was deep and rich, heavy with wisdom.
"Arise Cathal and walk with me," and Cathal found himself in the cloister on a bright summer's day, standing in the company of a sombrely dressed man whom he instinctively knew to be the Merciful Judge.
There were sounds of a commotion at the Commandary gates and the pair walked towards it, arriving just in time to see a small band of injured men being helped towards the infirmary as the gates were swung shut and barred.
"Who are these men?"
"They are survivors from the massacre at the Path of Chivalry Temple. Even as we stand here Lord Denarien and his men are raising the Temple and working themselves into a murderous rage."
"Then these are events which have already come to pass?"
"The doom has been spoken and cannot be undone."
Their focus was now drawn to the Captain of the Guard where he was arguing with one of the priests.
"I don't care what your personal feelings are towards Oritolon or their faith, the prophet placed these men under our protection and you will see that their wounds are tended. Do I make myself clear?"
"I understand the orders Captain, but surely if we give these men sanctuary we place the faithful at risk of reprisals?"
"It is better to follow in the footsteps of Denariel and achieve martyrdom than to live a craven half-life, forever at the mercy of evil."
The monks were rushing too and fro, fetching water for the infirmary and tending to their duties, whilst the guards stood solemnly at their posts. Outside Lord Denarien approached under a flag of truce, his men forming a cordon around the curtain walls.
"I am Alluran, Lord of Justice. Deliver up the barbarians for punishment or face the consequences," Denarien reined his horse in just out of bowshot.
"I am Kerin, Captain of this Commandary, and all within are under the protection of the Trinity."
"So be it," Denarien turned to his men and cast the flag beneath his horse's hooves, trampling it into the mud, "These men are heretics. Burn their temple and slay all within."
Cathal watched the bloody battle unfold, the clash at the gates as the small company of Templars fought to the last man. The desperate battle in the refectory as the lay monks defended themselves with makeshift cudgels against steel blades and chain hauberks.
Then at the last Kerin himself holding the infirmary door, his shattered arm hanging limp and useless as blade after blade hacked at his bloodied armour. Even as he slumped to the ground his attackers were running through the inner chambers, looting and killing and thrusting burning torches into beds and curtains and tapestries. The building was soon consumed in flames.
"Why have you shown me this?" the Duke was weeping as he watched the flames.
"The doom has been laid and now all runs according to its writ. Do not underestimate the hardships it will bring to the people of Alowca for they must be shriven if they are to play their role in the war that is yet to come."
And Cathal found himself once more kneeling in the bright moonlight, his body shivering as the pre-dawn chill numbed his limbs.
"Today we gather to celebrate the life of our brother in the faith, Gravitas Martius," Cathal stood at the pulpit dressed in the yellow and red vestments of martyrdom.
The funeral bier of Lord Gravitas Martius had been placed in front of the altar stone, flanked by the six pallbearers in their ceremonial armour. Gravitas was dressed in his finest armour, his hands resting on the pommel of his broken sword, the shards resting end to end.
"During his long service to Alowca he held many titles with honour: Baron of Irdalni; Count of Warmanoras; Marshal; General; and ultimately Pontifex. Such a man is born rarely and it is the good fortune of those of us who knew him well to have seen the honour with which he lived his life. Lord Gravitas was a modest man who rarely accepted praise, and yet there was much to praise for he was ever the first into battle and the last to leave the field, a staunch friend and an implacable enemy, a firm believer in the Trinity and a dedicated acolyte who tirelessly followed the example of blessed Denariel."
A ripple of approval ran through the congregation as they listened to the recounting of heroic deeds. Here and there an old veteran could be seen openly weeping, remembering some individual act of courage in campaigns long passed, before Irdalni fell under foreign dominion and godless ways. And all the time Cathal was warming to his subject as he built towards the denouement of the tale.
"Would that we could have joined Lord Gravitas on that glorious morning as he stood waiting the traitor Denarien, the sword he had carried so often in defence of the faith gleaming in the glare of the rising sun. We cannot know the thoughts which passed through his mind, and yet I doubt not that the Trinity were high in his thoughts as he prepared himself for martyrdom."
"Witnesses tell me Lord Gravitas fought with honour as was ever his way and it seemed he must surely win but Denarien was ever a cunning man and using every trick and stratagem which his long years had taught him he had the mastery, breaking first blade and then man with cruel blows. Thus fell Lord Gravitas Martius, blessed servant of the Trinity, mortally wounded by one whom he had long considered a brother. His martyrdom is absolute and an example to us all."
"And yet that is not the end of the tale for by his example Lord Gravitas inspired my sister Aoifa and hearing the traitor boast of his strength in arms she placed her life in the hands of Merciful Alluran," Cathal bowed his head for a moment.
"Alluran rendered His judgement and the traitor Denarien - he whom in his youth was called Squeaks and boasted that one day he would displace our Merciful Judge - was utterly overthrown. Ever trick and stratagem with which he had tormented Lord Gravitas was laid bare and justice triumphed over cowardice and deceit."
"This is the blade which slew Denarien!" Deacon Aelwyn stepped forward bearing an unsheathed sword upright before him. It was a blade such as a young and impoverished knight might wield.
Cathal turned to face him, placing his palm flat against the naked steel, "I consecrate this blade to the memory of Gravitas Martius, Pontifex of Alowca."
A small bell chimed as the congregation stood in silence and Cathal accepted the blade, carrying it to the body on the bier and placing it next to him. He knelt and raised his arms in supplication, "Mighty Khagistar, Shaper of Worlds, accept the spirit of your servant Gravitas into your Heavenly Host. Cloth him in the raiment of righteousness and arm him with the sword of truth that he may look over those who yet toil in this life!"
The congregation repeated the refrain, "Cloth him in the raiment of righteousness and arm him with the sword of truth that he may look over those who yet toil in this life!"
The young cleric stood and turned processed to the small graveyard followed by the pallbearers with the funeral bier on their shoulders, Deacon Aelwyn bearing a lit torch, the altar servers bearing candles, and then the congregation. Outside a pyre of sturdy logs had been prepared upon which the bier was now placed as the congregants formed a solemn circle.
Cathal accepted a burning brand from one of the servers, holding it above his head as he turned to face the pyre, "Our bodies are but corruptible flesh, shed no tears for their passing."
He thrust the torch deep into the oil-soaked wood and stood back as the flames caught. Thus passed the mortal remains of Gravitas Martius, Hero in name and deed.