Finn was not exactly being treated like a prisoner, more like a person with a deadly infectious disease. He was being well fed and watered; well, he was being fed and watered. The portions were small, and the food drab and tasteless. Indeed, it seemed to him the water had more flavour than the food, and he was sure that wasn’t a good thing.
He was still in his wooden shed, but a softish mattress had been given to him to add to the hard wooden bench. Food and water was shoved in through a window, with little to no conversation. All he had been told so far was that he would be taking a test. What is was, and indeed what for, he had no idea. Maybe he did have a deadly disease, and they were testing him for that.
He did know something was happening on the outside. Orders were being barked day and night, and horse drawn carts seemed to be trundling back and forth constantly. He was pretty sure the outpost was being dismantled. Were the paladins leaving? That would leave the king in charge, and his city would be ruined. If he had his sword he was sure he could find a way out, but he would not leave his sword behind. Of course he had no idea where it was, or how he could find it. But he had to try.
Over the last few days he had found a wooden plank in the back wall that was loose. A few short pulls (covered by a hearty coughing sound) had worked the plank loose enough for him to move. He was sure in a few short moments he could create a hole big enough for him to squeeze through. Of course, a hole that big would be spotted easily and his escape would be noticed quickly. He would need to move fast to get out and find a disguise before the alarm was raised.
As he contemplated his plan the door opened. It was Steve who entered. He looked tired, like he had been overworked. The door closed behind him.
“I meant to come sooner. It must be lonely here. But we are all being worked hard. Sorry” Steve said.
Finn smiled. Steve was the closest, well only, thing close to a friend he had right now. It was good to see him. His smile grew ever wider when Steve pulled a large loaf of bread and a block of cheese from his ample robe pockets.
“I know the rations they serve are a little…bland. Thought some nice food might help” Steve said.
“Good food and company. More than I hoped for given the circumstances” Finn said.
Steve broke the loaf in half, keeping the smaller for himself and handing the larger to Finn. He did the same with the cheese. Finn smiled. Steve embodied what priests were meant to stand for, and it was rare to see. He wondered if all trainees entered like this, and if the training stole it from you. He didn’t know of course, and putting his own experience onto Steve and the priesthood was unfair.
They spoke of nothing. Steve spoke only of his time since taking first vow, his history before that stripped from the record. Finn spoke of Ariel mostly, the person he missed most. She was special to him, a partner who forced him to be better. He had hoped she would come rescue him, but even she wasn’t mad enough to break into a paladin outpost to rescue anyone. It was a shame, it would be nice to see her.
Steve seemed to bristle when he spoke of Ariel, so Finn dropped the subject. They went onto discussions of the city, legends of both priest and paladin, and talk of magic returning to the world. Steve, for his part, never believed magic had left. He was sure people who could use it merely hid out of fear. Finn said nothing. He knew nothing about it, and was not sure he truly believed in all that magical nonsense. Still, he let Steve speak and the priest did so with gusto.
Time passed and Finn enjoyed it. A knock on the door drew Steve away, and Finn missed the company immediately. More, he realised he was a prisoner, and could suddenly take no more of it. He ripped the board from the back wall and left his wooden shack.
He entered a world of mayhem. The outpost was being dismantled. His heart sank. They were leaving his city to a madman. He steeled his resolve; get the sword and go. He knew he could not pass a paladin, but luckily a lot of manual workers were milling around taking the camp apart. He knocked one out and stole his clothes. He chose one with a hood and put it up. He grabbed an empty sack and walked to the only stone building in the outpost.
He was surrounded by paladins. They all rushed around oblivious to him, yet they all managed to avoid him. It was a skill few had. He made his way up stairs. When it came to his sword he had long ago realised to trust his gut when trying to find it. He went to the top floor and entered a large study. There was his sword, leaning against the desk. Behind the desk was a man, staring right at him.
“My name is Bryce, Warden of the paladins. This is my office. What is your excuse for being here?” Bryce said.
“That is my sword” Finn said.
His voice didn’t break and his knees didn’t buckle. It was a miracle. The gaze of Bryce was a fierce one, and he wanted to buckle. But that was his sword, and he would not buckle.
“I am afraid you are mistaken. That is a paladin’s sword, and you are no paladin” Bryce said.
“That was my mother’s sword!” Finn shouted.
It was a fierce shout, but it had no effect on Bryce. He did not smirk at the futility of it, back away from the anger of it, or even seem to acknowledge it. It removed all anger from Finn, a block to his wind. Still, that was his sword, given to him by his mother, and she was no paladin.
“I thought as much. Bree, I am guessing?” Bryce said.
Finn went pale and nodded.
“Not her paladin name, but her real one. She fought hard for that name and hated that she had to drop it. It is no surprise when she ran she took it back” Bryce said.
There was bitterness in his voice, Finn could hear it. Finn wanted to believe it was a lie, but the conviction in Bryce’s voice made Finn know it was true. His mother had never told him anything of her past. In truth, she had never had the chance. His mind went back to that night when she bundled him up with the sword and left him behind. He shook his head.
“You look like her, around the eyes. If you want that sword you must earn it like she did. Take the test, become a paladin, earn your sword. I swear no other hand will wield it. If you refuse my offer I will have the sword destroyed. It is the best I can do” Bryce said.
“What is this test?” Finn said.
It was a stall, and he didn’t listen to the answer. Could he grab that sword and run before Bryce could react? Even if he did could he run through a building full of paladins wielding a sword and have not one notice? And would stop Bryce from sounding the alarm and getting him caught? But what an affront it was to have to take a test to get his own sword? Right now he had no other choice, but as soon as he did he would take it.
He waited for Bryce to stop talking.
“Fine. I will take your test” Finn said.
“Good. Quinn, take him back to his room and fix the hole. He will be tested on the morrow” Bryce said.
Finn hadn’t even heard the paladin enter, and she was right behind him.
“Come with me. I would prefer you walk. You are aware of the alternative” she said.
It was the paladin who saved him. He did as he was told.