March 21st - Windaria
The pallid youth lay in deathly slumber beneath the cover of a mountain bramble, livid welts and lesions criss-crossing his chest and arms where the blades and cudgels of his enemies had sought to take his life. The day had been lost ere it even begun but Sir Cathal knew no fear, and where he passed his men were heartened and their hearts filled with a fierce valour, a burning vision of the life to come. None would turn from their faith, even as the enemy cavalry hurtled through the blistering storm and thunder, falling each beneath the blades and cudgels and horses' hooves. Even thus as Sir Cathal himself fell, sword notched and armour rent, skewered by lance and shriven by his deeds.
The miracle of that hour was not the one of battle, for battle is neither miraculous or holy, but of the grace which lay upon him when the battle was done. A pall of obscurity fell across his broken body and even as his companions were butchered and stripped so the enemy passed him by, and his healer Sophia came to the field as the storm reached its crescendo and with the aid of his trusted scouts bore him away. And Cathal knew not what transpired.
"Cathal..." the Thunder shook his body.
"Cathal Dubhaine..." the lightning smote his breastplate, scorching him with holy fire.
"Cathal Dubhaine awake!"
He stood before a throne, and on that throne sat a brilliant light. At the left hand stood a man and in his hand was a balance, careening wildly this way and that, and to the right stood a dark-haired maiden weeping tears of blood which stained her yellow gown.
"You have been called to judgement Cathal. Is your heart pure?"
"My heart is black with hatred for those who slew my companions" he fell to his face, consumed with shame.
"Approach and know your doom Cathal Dubhaine," and he felt his body moving of its own volition, dragging him towards that awful glory. "You will travel back to My Temple in Alowca and there you will dedicate yourself to My service. From thence you will spread My words of Love and Peace that all men may be saved from Undeath."
"But My Lord," he found himself speak in spite of himself, "How can Love and Peace prevail in the face of so much evil?"
"Have you forgotten the things which We revealed to you in your imprisonment? Evil shall be utterly overthrown by My Hand, not by the swords of man. This is your appointed task Cathal Dubhaine, to preach My Holy Word that all may choose freely which path they tread, and thus the wicked be winnowed from the righteous."
And Cathal returned to his slumber.
March 24th - Vir el Mari Heights
A thin mist clung to the hillside as Cathal and his three companions made their way along the northern bank of the river. Night was falling and his body shivered beneath his ruined garments, but his mind was too restless to be discomforted. The leagues passed in silence until the small band turned a bend in the river and the lights of Alebad twinkled in the distance.
"We will soon be back amongst civilised folks," Kerith the elder of Cathal's scouts looked visibly relieved.
"Pardon?" Cathal looked up from his reverie.
"We'll soon be home My Lord," Kerith smiled.
"Then we'll rest here for the night. Make camp in the lee of that ridge," Cathal gestured to a hill in the near distance, "and I'll join you in a while. I have much to consider before we return to Alowca."
The strange dreams which had plagued his sleep since arriving in the Colonies left him doubting his own sanity, and yet he had seen things which he knew in his heart to be true. Terrible things, beyond the power of man. The evil oppressing his adopted homeland would be utterly overthrown and the unrepentant driven to annihilation. But here amidst the bleak moraine, the memory of the ruin at Windaria still fresh in his mind, he found his heart pulling him in strange directions.
This latest dream had been clear: his sword alone was not enough to turn the tide, he must commit everything which he possessed - mind, body and soul - to the service of The Trinity and spreading the Truth. But how best to pursue this course?
Should he adopt the robes of Priesthood? The faith was sorely lacking in mendicant preachers, willing to carry the Word to the heathens. His life would doubtless be short and blessed with Martyrdom, but how could he square that with the voices which had laid doom upon him?
If he remained a warrior how could he dedicate his life to Love and Peace? His concerns would be the day-to-day happenings of his men, not the souls of the heathens who so desperately needed saving. And yet his inner vision could see the Final War in which the lies of Lukon would be overthrown and the tyrants of the west cast into the outer darkness, there to gnaw on their corrupted flesh for all eternity.
The stakes were much higher than a youth of eighteen should have to weigh.
And then the truth of the matter struck him. Many in Alowca had turned from the path of faith, settled in the bounty gifted them by The Trinity. That was why there were so few priests to carry the message abroad, and why righteous paladins such as his own commander the blessed Marshal Allyah were so often denied victory. The faith had withered on the vine.
The time had come for a reformation: for the emergence of The Faith Militant, a movement that would marry the good word of The Trinity with the Valour and Arms of Alowca's Knights. It mattered not whether he took the cowl for the words would come unbidden. The Faith Militant of The Church of The Trinity could not be denied!
He spread his arms, casting aside sword and shield, and raised his face to the heavens, "I have heard Your call and I shall not falter! I am set on the path of the Faith Militant until righteousness overturns the deceits of the enemy and lays bare the pits of suffering, or death carries me to your bosom!"
March 28th - Alowca
The long road from the massacre at Windaria to the splendour of Alowca had shriven Cathal, the long days in the wilderness stripping away the softness of youth. He had visibly lost weight and there were fresh scars on his body, some still weaping Denariel's tears of sorrow for those who lived in darkness.
But he was far from broken, his soul filled with such Holy fire that his eyes flamed and his voice rung with the clash of steel. A sword had been forged on that bloody field and tempered in the long leagues. A sword with but one purpose...
As Cathal and his small band of believers approached the northern gate of the mighty Temple-City they noticed a bearded, grizzled man in a black turbaned helmet and leather armour amongst their ranks. In his left hand he carried a shattered lance, and over his shoulder the remains of a shredded shield. It seemed as if he had been with them for some time, and yet Cathal new that not to be the case.
"Your face seems somehow familiar to me," Cathal said after a while, studying the man's profile slantwise, "Where have I seen you before?"
"I am Gregor, Captain of the Templari Militans and my brothers await me within," his voice was warm and level, almost jovial as he ignored the question.
"I know of no such company. Who is their knight?"
"Sir Cathal Dubhaine," and Cathal knew his words to be true.
March 31st - Alowca
Cathal sat quietly on the quayside, watching the distant sails on the horizon and remembering his own perilous voyage from the lands of his birth. The wide oceans were the mightiest of all Khagister's wonders, possessed of such power that they could consume whole islands - or so rumour told.
He wondered what strange summons had stirred the heart of his former liege to the path of voluntary exile, travelling leagues uncounted to a distant land in search of... he wasn't entirely sure what it was Duke Xerxes sought, be he suspected Martyrdom may figure strongly. For a man who had striven his whole life in furtherance of the faith there could be no other fitting end.
Martyrdom. His mind turned to his first liege, the man who had welcomed him into his service when first he made landfall in Alowca, Duke Absolute Reach who received the gift of Martyrdom. Reports of that battle spoke of Denariel herself leading his spirit to its just reward, but what had touched him most was that a man so imbued with life was willing to lay it down in the service of his faith and his friends.
There were those who made a cult of death. Who saw no greater honour than to die with their companions on the field of battle. They gloried in Martyrdom for its own sake. But not Duke Absolute, he had been a man who lived his life to serve that in which he believed, and in so doing he had stood firm when asked to make that ultimate sacrifice. Not for glory. Not for honour. But because his time had come.
In his short years Cathal had known many of life's pleasures. The pleasures of the flesh had been ripe and fulsome in the flesh-pots of Cagil, and the savoury meats and sweet fruits of the wild lands had taught him to love the bounty bestowed on mankind. He loved life, and sitting there by the booming ocean he would have been content to pass a century in peace and comfort. To never lift his hand in violence or shed the blood of another man, but that was not the cup he had been given.
That was not the cup any of them had been given. For if men such as Cathal lived life for their own pleasure then all was lost and the Realm of Alowca would become a distant memory, kept alive in the hearts of a faithful few who remembered a better time.
With a hevy sigh he stood up and dusted the seat of his tunic, careless of the curious eyes observing the increasingly well-known knight, or the wild rumours attached to his name.
"That's Sir Cathal," said a local fishwife, one of a group gossiping with a sailor from Wetham.
"They say that Denariel herself cast him upon these shores," interjected one of her companions.
"Yes, and he has the gift of prophecy," the first woman continued.
"He looks like no prophet I've ever seen," the sailor's voice was heavy with sarcasm, "and I've seen many a strange religion in my travels. Why he's barely a stripling, what God in their right mind would choose him as their mouthpiece?"
"Well I heard from a neighbour of mine who runs a fruit stall over by the northern gate that when He returned to the wilderness he was accompanied by a squadron of horse such as no one's seen in these parts in many a long year. Desert spirits risen from the badlands she says, each with the strength of ten men."
"I heard that he raided as far as Iglavik, leading the Ori's a right merry dance," a nearby rope-maker decided to join the conversation, "and when they finally cornered him that Khagister himself turned his men to ravens and carried them to Martyrdom."
Cathal turned to the growing crowd, "Yes, I raided as far as Iglavik. I walked across the fields of our enemy and I saw the sorrow in which his people live, and I was cut to the marrow with shame. Shame for the ease in which we live, arrogantly supposing that the blessings of The Trinity are ours and ours alone. We are empty vessels who have spilt our bounty upon the ground where it seeps away, wasted and forgotten."
"But empty vessels can in the fulness of time be refilled, and your wagging tongues will yet testify the truth of the wonders that are to come," and he left them to their idle chatter for he sensed there was yet more bloodshed ahead, but many in that crowd wondered at the words he had spoken for prophecy takes many forms, and they talked at length of the strange young man who carried so many of their hopes and dreams.