>The monastery you were raised in was well known.
>Heroes were raised here, brought up from nobility and the orphans of peasantry alike.
>Kings would send their sons there to make them better men.
>Your father, a soldier-turned-farmer, wanted you to learn what it meant to fight.
>He was raised in a brutal world, filled with violence, where he had to fight viciously to survive.
>He felt you needed the skills to fight, but more than that, you needed reason, tempering, and will.
>So he sent you to the monastery, in hopes they would see the spark they looked for in young recruits and raise you into a man the world could be proud of.
>With a tearful farewell to your mother, your usually stoic father actually showing emotion to smile and tell you that you were destined for great things, you left behind your simple life.
>It was not easy.
>You did not only train for combat, you trained for whatever life could throw at you.
>You were taught to be the sword that would cleave the vile, the shield that would take the blows for the meek, and the hand that would reach out to any who would take it.
>Thus they made and your brother-inductees into a fine Paladin, of the Golden Hand.
>After long years, your training was complete.
>Immediately, you said goodbye to your friends and teachers, your brothers in arms and your second family, before setting off to do as much good as you could.
>As with most Paladins, even with your order's renown, you had to start small, solving simple issues and conflicts, occasionally having to engage in small amounts of nonlethal combat.
>Though willed and with your heart in the right place, your training had left you somewhat brutal and blunt, your steadfast confidence in your cause leaving you also stubborn in your ways.
>Eventually, you were employed by a merchant's caravan.
>It was your first experience with monsters.
>Your order taught you to be weary of their kind, they were easily consumed by their passions, and prone to obsession.
>Though you were trained thoroughly for encounters with them, you were always warned that some had powers far beyond what a fledgling Paladin could withstand.
>She was a mercenary, a salamander, married to one of her subordinates.
>The others with the caravan were human, much to your relief.
>But she frightened you, her strange and inhuman parts made your mind reel, her extremely sexual nature and constant public displays of affection made you uncomfortable, and at times disgusted.
>You kept as much distance between you and the couple as possible.
>As the caravan traveled to far away reaches, more would join, while others left.
>Mainly other merchants would join in on with your band of travelers, sometimes more mercenaries would be hired, but occasion, a monster looking for adventure would join.
>Much to your displeasure, you were quite popular amongst some of them, your devotion to your cause and chaste nature left certain species absolutely drooling over you.
>You avoided monsters as much as you could.
>As you went farther from your homelands, and from major civilization, monsters became more common, as did the less savory of both monster and man.
>It was inevitable that a raid would occur somewhere along the route.
>Metal clashed, different species fought against each other, and you scrambled to protect all that you could.
>You even helped a few monsters, who promised obscene things for repayment.
>But one encounter stood out to you.
>She didn't reveal herself as a magic user until you rushed to save her.
>The cloths that wrapped her up came undone with a good slash from a bandit's blade, revealing for the first time her face and her fox ears.
>She unleashed a torrent of magic upon the banditry the likes of which you had never seen before.
>When the fight settled, and the caravan let out a breath of relief, you stormed up to the kitsune.
>The first words were of simple gratitude, the rest were blunt judgments on why she didn't help out sooner.
>Her response carried the overconfidence of nobility, saying she thought the mercenaries were competent enough to toss off rabble until her clothes were ruined.
>You were taught to help all you could, when you could. Going against this was a revolting display of greed to you, a spit in the face upon everything you stood for.
>You both argued harshly, flinging insults at each other long into the night before both of you felt too fatigued to drag it on any further.
>So begun your strange relationship with her.
>As the raids became more frequent, you would always demand she use her magic to help speed up the fight.
>She would always refuse, leaving you on your own in your crusade to protect the caravan while delivering justice to the raiders.
>But even through the bitterness between the both of you, monsters will be monsters.
>You noticed the flirting begun to become almost nonexistent at one point.
>Asking would give you one answer. "Did you fuck that fox yet?"
>The prospect was unfathomable to you.
>Yes, she was beautiful, but she was foreign, she was selfish, and she was, overall, a bitch.
>She felt much the same about you, calling you a brute, a stubborn idiot, and a suicidal maniac.
>As time went on your hate in each other only grew, as did everyone's cries of "Just jam it in her already," or "Rape him you pussy!"
>If anything, everyone's goading of romantic pursuits with her only seemed to make you hate her more.
>And as time went on, so did your skill in combat, and, as with most Paladins, so did your name and deeds.
>But out in uncivilized lands, that meant you were a prize for the strongest of barbarians and savages.
>Eventually, a massive horde came to claim your caravan.
>Everyone fought with a ferocity you haven't seen out of them before, struggling against all odds to survive through the insurmountable odds.
>You were covered in blood, struggling through the swathes of bandits, trying to find where the kitsune was so you could force her to use her magic and turn the tide.
>You found her hiding in a broken wagon with an arrow sticking out of her arm.
>She kicked and screamed as you dragged her out.
>She looked at your blood-covered form in horror as you screamed in her face to use her magic, to do something, anything!
>When your eyes came back into focus, you were somewhere you didn't recognize.
>Fear gripped your heart as you asked the kitsune what happened.
>She spoke with fear, and anger, and indignity, saying she teleported you all away from that hellhole.
>When she said that you punched her in the stomach with a gauntlet-covered hand.
>You screamed out, calling to the caravan, running into the woods.
>The kitsune choked out for you to stop as you wildly looked for your charges.
>You got good and lost in the woods, likely running in circles and screaming out for anyone you recognized.
>The kitsune eventually found you again, when a pack of feral werewolves ran screaming and bloodied from you.
>She called you a madman, shouting that you would surely have died if you stayed and fought, how you're risking death or worse right now crying out and attracting attention.
>You responded at least you would have died with honor.
>You argued for a long time, shouting at each other about the cruelest things both of you could think of.
>In those moments, you hated her more than anything you have ever hated before.
>When the stream of abuses subsided, you set about making a fire, setting up some form of camp, and getting the arrow out of her.
>The fire started, you both stared daggers at each other before you set out on your bloody work to get the arrow out.
>She screamed, and cried herself to sleep that night, resting on her tails.
>You stayed awake all night, keeping watch. You wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway.
>When she woke up that morning, you said you were leaving to find the caravan.
>She called you an idiot, and screamed that you'd never find civilization without her, the woods were too large, the area too dangerous.
>You said everyone was just fine without her help, and you would be now.
>Putting out the fire, you turned in the direction you thought the caravans were and walked.
>You don't know why she followed.
>You didn't speak at all that day. She tried to get you to talk, but you remained silent, the determination to find the charges you failed on your own overriding all else.
>That night you dropped into a sleep the moment you got a good fire going.
>The kitsune had to scream in your ears to make you wake up, and by then a good portion of the day was gone.
>It was at this point you asked where the caravan was. She didn't know.
>You continued to walk in the direction you thought they were in.
>Days passed like this, with barely any speaking through the thick woods, only campfires and small game to feed the both of you.
>The trees and animals seemed to grow more restless, and the kitsune more fidgety, as the full moon approached.
>You began to give up on finding the caravan. Right now, you've accepted you need to find a town before the full moon arrives.
>Once again, she refuses to use magic.
>At this point, you couldn't get any more upset with her.
>But both of your wills to keep up the quiet were breaking down, and the moon slowly waxing was only making the kitsune worse.
>Eventually you learned each other's full names.
>Her name was Kaori Fukakusa. She looked scared when she told you her name.
>You had difficulties pronouncing it, which made her laugh and sigh in relief.
>It made you wonder who she was, if she was afraid of saying her own name, and being so spoiled to go with it.
>The full moon was approaching soon. You had to stay up later and later to keep watch for what rustles in the bushes, and waits just out of sight.
>Even then, sometimes it's too much and you fall asleep, only to wake up with the sinking feeling someone is watching you.
>Kaori is acting a lot less harshly with you now, and you're directing less and less bitterness towards her.
>Perhaps it's the sleep deprivation.
>The moon is nearly full, and she sits close to you.
>She looks nervous, and stares at you when you move to tend the fire, yet when you look to her she can't meet your eyes.
>Finally, she speaks up.
>"Would you have died for me, if we were attacked?"
>You look at her, surprised. This was not what you expected from her.
>After a brief moment to reorganize yourself, you answer her with one simple word.
>"But why, why would you die for someone else, or for someone you hate?"
"Because I am a Paladin of the Golden Hand."
>"That doesn't answer the question, why would you die for those merchants and mercenaries, why would you die for me?"
"Because the world is a harsh place, and someone has to stand up for everyone."
>"You didn't stand up for the bandits."
"Sometimes, you can't help everyone. Sometimes you need to pick who deserves to live, and who has to die."
>You both go quiet after that.
>She falls asleep on your side. You stay up later than your usual.
>When you wake up, she's clinging to you. You had to pry her off of you twice, once in her sleep, and once when she was just barely awake.
>The second time you got her off of you she realized what she did and blushed brightly and moved away from you.
>That day you didn't talk much.
>But that night she was closer than ever.
>The moon shone full in the sky. The forest was almost entirely silent.
>For some reason, you weren't too worried.
>She brushed her tails against your armor and neck occasionally. She felt so nice.
>Slowly she got closer and closer to you, without you noticing until she pushed you to the ground, straddling you and staring you in your eyes.
>You couldn't look away from her, she was… entrancing.
>She maintained eye contact, and asked you a question.
>"What do you think of me?"
>You didn't know what to say.
>Your mind was ill-rested, addled with her feminine scents, marveling at how soft she was, lost in her deep eyes with her pupils dilated completely.
>You responded without thinking.
"I think you're beautiful"
>And then she pressed her lips into yours.
>She was wild, stripping off her clothes and unstrapping yours.
>You looked at her as she rode you, barely coherent, trying to count how many tails she had.
>You never got a definite number, but it was always more than you remembered seeing previously.
>She was your first.
>You both woke up in each other's arms.
>Both of you dressed and got to walking.
>You dared not break the quiet. You were scared.
>You didn't know what to do. The monastery didn't train you for this.
>That day, only about a half-hour of walking after getting up, you found a road.
> Kaori cheered. You were just happy to find some sign of civilization, and hopefully rest.
>You walked down the rode, you don't know for how long, before you arrived at a small town.
>You both looked like messes, but the populace welcomed both of you in with open arms.
>A decent bath in the stream, and you were just about ready to pass out.
>A young couple offered you a room, and you accepted as graciously as possible. The kitsune followed you.
>You slept curled up against each other.
>You woke up that night to her on you again, thrusting her hips against yours. She looked wild, her hungry eyes staring down at you before you exploded inside her, and drifted off again.
>When you woke up, she was gone.
>You searched the town for her, but no one knew where she went.
>It hurt worse than you'd like to admit.
>Alone in a strange place, you did what all Paladins did.
>You looked for people to help.
>You started with odd jobs around the town, before moving off to do more difficult tasks, as a Paladin of your experience should.
>Eventually, you would be known around the local area. A fighter of bandits, a survivor of forests, a hero for the people.
>You lived a happy, if somewhat empty existence in this time.
>But it would not last.
>Men in strange armor tracked you down one day, and demanded you come with them.
>They looked to be from a far away place.
>When they told you it was about Kaori, you followed without much resistance.
>You traveled far, but you were not in a large caravan anymore, so you didn’t attract much attention.
>As well, the further you went, the more respect your escorts seemed to commandeer.
>Finally, you were brought to a grand and strange city, filled with food and culture you barely recognized and understood.
>All the way up the many steps you were lead, up to a grand palace.
>The men moved you through the halls and into a grand chamber, where an old kitsune sat, with Kaori sitting right beside her.
>The old kitsune looked at you with open disdain and hate.
>You stared back with confusion and caution.
>You asked what the meaning of all of this was.
>The younger kitsune stood and walked carefully to you, procuring something bundled and wrapped.
>She handed it off delicately to you, then walked back behind the old woman.
>When you looked down a sense of horror washed over you.
>She placed an infant into your arms.
>But that wasn't the worst part.
>Runes, brands, and seals trailed over the infant's body.
>You screamed out at them, demanding to know what the hell was going on.
>The old woman, her voice dripping venom, answered while Kaori watched on emotionlessly.
>"Your illegitimate union with the Princess, and my daughter, has borne this family a bastard. We have no need for such a child here. Take her, and never come back."
>Your mind froze. Your daughter?
>You looked down at the infant in your arms. She was near motionless, barely breathing.
>You looked back at the fox women, rage taking over your face, and screamed out at them what the meaning of all of this was, what all the runes and marks where, why she was barely breathing.
>"We have removed all possibility that she will hold enough power to contest the throne."
>Were it not for the baby girl in your arms, you would have charged the woman.
>With a wave from the old Empress, the men who escorted you here moved in front of you, and demanded you leave the palace at once.
>You merely shouted at them, screamed at Kaori about how could she do this to her own daughter, about how anyone could be so terrible.
>Profanity spewed from your mouth as they seized you by your shoulders and dragged you out from the palace, shutting the massive doors behind you and leaving you alone, holding a baby, crying.
>The people shouted insults at you as you ran through the city.
>They threw food on you, and sometimes they even targeted the infant.
>It hasn't fully sunken in that she's your daughter. A part of you doesn't accept it.
>What is fully clear, though, is that she is currently in your care.
>You refuse to fail anyone else because of that vile kitsune.
>So you take their rotten food, and their loose bricks, and their insults.
>And you make sure the girl is never harmed.
>It is when you're outside of the city, as night falls, that the reality of it all comes crashing down on you.
>You are surrounded by a hostile populace, how can you expect to take care of an infant like this?
>How do you take care of an infant at all?
>Has she even been weaned? She is so small…
>Yet the thought that pounds through your thoughts, only driving itself further and further through your heart, was that they said she was your daughter.
>On the road outside of the city, you sit down to rest, and take a good look at the girl.
>She is near unmarred by the filth from the city.
>This does not mean her skin is clear.
>Writings in a language you cannot read are burned into her, and paper seals are fused with her skin.
>You are near sure all of these involve some sort of magic, but you are not a wielder of any arcane besides holy, and even then, it takes long for most Paladins to gain any form of skill with it.
>She barely breathes. She has not cried, nor opened her eyes, nor so much as moved since being placed into your arms.
>A jolt of fear runs through you as she does not move even as you run what weak healing magic you know through her, and near nothing noticeable happens.
>You know the spell has run through her, but this means either she wasn't affected, or was barely.
>Either instance doesn't settle right with you.
>You begin moving down the road again. One thing is certain, you cannot stay here.
>You arrived at a village after a night of walking.
>The villagers treated you like a pariah. Your currency was foreign, your armor was filthy, and they recognized the marks and seals on the infant.
>You stole what you could from a farm, and left as soon as you could.
>She finally showed signs of life that night. Loud signs of life.
>When she woke up, she cried out immediately.
>You struggled to find a way to soothe her.
>She did not accept food, and she had thankfully not soiled herself.
>You are at a loss for what to do. Was she in pain?
>You attempt to heal her again. She seems to quiet down, just a bit.
>If you do this too much, you may find yourself damaging yourself. Normally, damage to the self was tolerable, but… you're all she has right now.
>You needed to be vigilant, and strong. This meant she would have to bare the pain, and hopefully take comfort in what little you could give her.
>You could not sleep that night. You continued walking then, too.
>Your prayers were answered on the next day, just as the sun began to set, in the form of a merchant from your homeland. The road you were on was a known trade-route.
>You offered to become a guard for him, if he just kept you fed, and your… daughter, safe.
>A Paladin is a good find indeed, and with service so cheap, he thought it foolish to refuse.
>Soon, you were allowed to wash your clothes and armor, and the infant.
>The little fox was finally given her first meal of milk that you knew of.
>It was holstaur milk, the merchant didn't have any kitsune milk, nor would any, likely.
>The merchant's travels took him on far, winding roads, and went on alternative routes to find towns to peddle goods and resupply in.
>His other guard, a mantis, made for poor conversation. She barely spoke at all.
>She was not quiet, however, when the merchant was fucking her brains out.
>You did not trust the mantis, your previous experiences with mamono leaving you weary.
>And you wish they didn't learn how to tolerate the baby's crying while they went at it like beasts.
>At only one point was your group attacked.
>You carefully left the infant in the cart, making sure she was well hidden and safe, and brutalized the band of ten bandits.
>The merchant and his mantis were afraid of you after that.
>They also stopped taking detours to other areas to pick up more money after that, though if it was out of the worry of more banditry, or the desire to be rid of you, you do not know.
>Finally, you arrived at your homelands.
>The merchant sighed with relief as you kindly thanked him, and walked off in search of your father's farm.
>When you arrived, you were not welcomed with a joyous warmth, but a tearful embrace.
>Your father had fallen ill, your mother feared he was on his deathbed.
>In a grim way, your father was happy to see you before he died.
>You shed your armor to take care of the farm, while your mother took care of your father, and your daughter.
>Though shocked by the scars, your mother took to the baby, your daughter, immediately.
>"She has your eyes," your mother said to you.
>Her being a monster only made her even more wonderful, to your mother.
>Though when she tried to snip off one of the seals, the paper started bleeding, much to her horror.
>She grew angry with you when she found out you had neglected to name her, and took it upon herself to give her a name, Abigail, after her own mother.
>On a night when you and your mother were sitting beside your father, he told you with his final breath how proud he was of you.
>None of your magics could save him. You don't think he wanted to be saved.
>You buried him beside the house. You had enough money from all of your travels to buy a nice gravestone for him.
>The farm was where you raised your daughter, the same as you, among family, hard work, and fresh air.
>She loved her grandmother, but she adored you to ridiculous levels.
>When she was old enough to walk, you often woke up to find her curled up in bed next to you.
>When she was old enough to talk, you often found your mother with her.
>It made you… happy, waking up next to family.
>For a while everything was quiet, nice.
>Of course, you weren't without your damages. Every day you made sure your sword was sharp, and your armor was polished and sturdy.
>Sometimes you would have to be snapped out of long stares towards the horizon, waiting for attacks that would never come.
>You would also have moments where you would have to hide your rage when it flashed through your mind all the terrible things they did to your daughter, and your deep desire to reap bloody vengeance on the perpetrators.
>Though little, little ever actually occurred.
>The worst you had to worry about was a drought, but you had money, and if it ever really came to it, you always fall back to mercenary work.
>You lived a nice life in seclusion, farming, playing with your daughter, and eating your mother's cooking.
>However, on a full moon that fell on the night of your daughter's seventh birthday, her magic powers were revealed in the form of booming golden fire running from her formerly three, now four, tails.
>Though the fire did not burn, they frightened her and your mother, and she clung to you and asked over and over to make it go away until it faded in the morning.
>You knew it was magic, but you are not knowledgeable in magecraft.
>However, you know people who are.
>You gave your mother your savings, and told her to be careful, and not to stress herself, and feel free to spend the money but not to spend all of it.
>Likewise, she told you to stop worrying, and be safe, and take a little more damn money, you can try to live of scraps but like hell are you going off starving Abigail.
>With a little more pocket change than you had intended to bring, you and your daughter left for your monastery.
>Needless to say, when you arrived, you both attracted quite a few looks.
>Some of your old teachers were eager to hear of your journeys, while most were eyeing the monster, and her marks.
>Soon, you gained audience with the cardinal, the head of the Golden Hand.
>With a silent gaze, he listened to you as you told him everything.
>You held nothing back, every brutal, bloody, chaotic detail.
>He took it all in, not interrupting once. After a time of quiet contemplation, he asked you why you were here.
>You told him simply, the Golden Hand were the only people you knew of, and trusted, to teach your daughter how to control her magic.
>A silence washed over the room, and you feared the cardinal would refuse you.
>But, slowly, he nodded. Should they see the spark they needed within her, she would be allowed to train under the Golden Hand, which, as your daughter, the cardinal said was near assured.
>However, something did not sit right with you.
>You wished to see your daughter grow up.
>You requested you be able to be there for her.
>He was surprised you had even asked, like all brothers, you could stay at the monastery all you liked.
>However, it was not just you that you had to worry about, but also your mother.
>With a wave of his hand, he dismissed these worries. She would be allowed to take up residency as a servant.
>You thanked the cardinal for his graciousness, and departed to begin the necessary arrangements for your daughter.
The black monk's robes you and your daughter are wearing billow in the wind as you both stare at the grave you've dug. Your face is stoic, though you struggle to keep it that way. Your daughter Abigail, just barely a young woman of fourteen, fails to match your hard demeanor, much to her shame. Her fox ears have drooped down uncontrollably, her five normally restless tails lay flat against the dirt, and from her eyes stream tears that she continuously wipes away yet cannot stem the flow of. You place your hand on her shoulder, still looking down at the grave. She turns her reddened eyes up to you, filled with a deep sadness and longing. You do not meet her gaze.
Carefully, you let go of her shoulder, and move over to the simple horse-drawn wagon sitting just a bit away. Three fellow brothers of your order sit around a coffin, and look to you as you approach. You swallow the lump that has been sitting in your throat and speak to them in a voice as cold as the damp air around you, "Help me lift her."
With careful motions, one of the men steps off the carriage as the other two begin pushing the coffin towards you. You and the man that stepped off the carriage hold onto the underside of the coffin, while the other two men step off and pick up the other half. Slowly, you all begin walking towards the gravesite, your daughter standing just to its side, crying by herself. Your heart aches, both from mourning and seeing your daughter in such a state, but you carry on, silently placing the coffin into the grave. It settles into place quickly on top of the other coffin there.
You gaze down at the coffin, before looking up to the gravestone, already modified for this occasion. It bared your father's name, now it bears your mother's. You wonder if one day it will bare yours on its stony face.
"Brother Wilhelm," whispers the man next to you. He holds out to you a book, which you take from him delicately, and open to the passage bookmarked by a simple, blood-red ribbon.
With slow steps, you walk so that you are opposite of the gravestone, and look down into the book. Sitting on the pages before you are prayers and last rites, bidding your mother farewell from this world and into Heaven. Stoic still, your voice sounds off through your family's farmstead, reading exactly as detailed before you. Your voice falters only once, when finally Abigail cannot take it anymore and buries her face into your dirty robes, gripping onto you as her body is wracked with sobs.
It takes you a few moments to register that you have finished, even after you had already stopped reading. You close the book and hand it off to one of the nearby brothers. They wait patiently as you and your daughter stand before the grave. Your free hands find themselves on your daughter, one around her shoulders, and the other one stroking down her shoulder-length hair.
When she finally calms down somewhat, you look to the men. "Take her from here, I am going to bury her."
The men nod, and one moves to your daughter's side, still clinging to you. "Come now, dear, your father needs to finish paying his respects in private," he says, tenderly. For men trained to protect the weak and enforce good, violently if needed, they are still surprisingly apt at being soft when needed, a skill you at times have difficulty with, even as a father. Perhaps you had inherited that from your own father. Yet, against your wishes and your brother's soft call, Abigail only tightens her grip on you.
Letting out a gentle sigh, you place both hands on her shoulders, and kneel down to look at her level. She is somewhat on the short side for girls her age, perhaps from her Eastern lineage.
"Abigail, go," you say quietly. She points her red, teary eyes at yours. You can see a spark of stubborn determination in there.
"N-no!" she shouts, her voice echoing through the winter air. "I… I want to watch."
Again, you let out a soft sigh, before looking up at the men all looking down to you, and wave them off. "Please, leave us be and wait by the carriage. She'll stay with me for a bit longer."
The men bow their head. "I am sorry for your loss," one says, before they all file off towards the carriage.
Looking back at Abigail, you rise to your feet once more, and stroke her head once before moving to the pile of dirt right next to the grave, shovel sticking out. Solemnly, you grip the shovel and begin tossing dirt over your mother's coffin. Abigail never takes her eyes away from the it.
"G-goodby, grandma," she says once the coffin is almost covered up entirely. With one last shovel of dirt, she is gone.
It takes a while longer for you to make the ground of the grave even again, but eventually, your mother is finally put to rest. You lay down the shovel next to the gravestone.
"Goodbye, mother," you say. You hear your daughter next to you hiccup.
After a brief moment of staring at the grave, you look to Abigail. "Go to the carriage. I won't be far behind."
"But-" your daughter begins to protest, but before she can finish the sentence you meet her eyes. Failing to be harsh entirely, instead she is greeted by a passionate grief spoken through just your gaze. She swallows hard and moves off towards the carriage. You wait to see her get on, before falling to your knees and wrapping your arms around the gravestone, tears flowing down from your face and turning the dirt on your sleeves muddy.
"I don't know how I'm going to take care of her, mother," you speak as if the dead could hear you. "You always knew what was best for her. I will be lost without you… but I'll try my best without you."
You move to your feet, dusting off your robes as if it would help remove the grime. "I have dreaded this day, and now that it is here I know that I was right to fear it. But I was raised to be strong, and so I will… for myself, and for Abigail."
Wiping your eyes smears dirt across your face, but you don't care. "I'm still looking for a way to remove those seals. I promise, I'm going to do everything I can to make her happy."
"I love you," you say, before turning around to walk to the carriage. Your daughter catches you by surprise, ramming herself into you and wrapping her arms round your waist. You remain still, surprised, before bending down and holding her close to you.
After a time, you steel yourself. "Come, we need to start back to the monastery."
You hold your sleeping daughter to your side as the wagon rumbles forward through the massive gates of the walls surrounding the monastery. A part of you doesn't want to wake her up, yet, as a paladin, you were never one to shy away from your duties. How could you do so as a father?
"Abigail," you speak softly, and lightly shake her. Her innocent eyes open, staring into yours, before she realizes where she is, and once more her demeanor changes to one of grief. You stroke your hand down through her hair, lightly, so as not to dirty it too much. Her ears flick as your hand passes by them.
"We're home," you intone.
She looks around at her surroundings, a small field of green and a simple dirt path leading up to the buildings that make up the monastery itself. "Couldn't we have stayed with her at the farm for a night?"
The cart stops in front of the largest set of doors there. You stand, and step out of the cart with the rest of the men, whom filled off through the doors. Instinctively, you extend your hand for your daughter to take, which she does, using it to balance herself as she steps off from the wagon. Stable boys quickly move in to guide the horses away.
"Our home is here as it is there, Abigail."
"But then why couldn't we have stayed there? Just for a night?"
You let go of your daughter's hand and push one of the doors open, looking back at her to see her walk through. Truth be told, you likely could've asked for it. Yet, your mother's death has hurt you, and you are unsure of how to deal with it. Certainly, that is against your training, and your code. You were taught to be stronger than that.
"I will talk to the cardinal about it," you say to your daughter, as she walks through the door you hold open for her. She glances briefly to you as you stride in behind her, but says nothing. "Go to the dormitories, call the servants to prepare you a bath, and change your clothes. I will visit you in your room after I visit am done talking with him."
Abigail bows her head, and moves off through the foyer and into the halls of the estate. It is heartbreaking to see her like this, a girl normally defined by her happy attitude and wit, in such a state of misery. You begin to move through the halls up to the cardinal's study, thinking on what you could do for her to make this less hard on her. In the end, you suppose she has to mourn, as anything else would be damaging, but still, it is terrible to see her like this. It is hard on you, to see her like this, and to not have your mother to give you advice.
Before long you find yourself in front of a simple oaken door, which you give a few knocks against. Before long, an old man draped in red priest's robes opens the door. Despite his age, he stands up straight and dignified, his eyes sharp and serious.
"You have come back from the burial, I see," he says, glancing at your dirty attire. "I would think you would wash, before coming to visit me in my personal study."
"I am sorry, your holiness," you say, lowering your head.
"Were it under any other circumstance, I would have turned you away, but," he sighs. "Well, what man of holiness and good would I be to turn someone in grief away, even one such as us."
"Come," he says to you, with a gesture. "Walk these old halls with me, tell me what is on your mind."
Still with your head bowed, you step out of the way for him to walk into the hall, then follow only slightly behind him, so that he can still see you without much effort, but still lead you through the old stones of the monastery.
"How is your daughter?" he asks, his eyes moving to you but his face remaining pointed forward.
"She is in grief, sire," you respond. "It is why I have come here."
"For advice?" the cardinal inquires.
"No, for permission. My daughter wishes to stay at the farm for a while, to grieve," you explain.
The cardinal turns his head somewhat towards you, but does not break his stride, knowing these halls entirely by heart. Even if he were blinded, he would still be able to navigate anywhere within the walls surrounding this place with ease. "You came back all this way from your family's farm to ask if you could return to it, yet again?" He shakes his head. "You could have simply sent back your brothers to tell me you would not be returning immediately."
"I would think it in poor form, your holiness, and beyond that… I am unsure if I myself wish to go back."
"Oh?" the cardinal speaks, turning down one of the halls and into a walkway lined on one side by stained-glass windows. The sun's low winter light still manages to send colorful projections through them along the grey stone walls. "What would be so worrying of grieving at your family's old farmstead with your daughter?"
"It is not grieving with my daughter that concerns me, your holiness. I fear that if I am there, I may never cease mourning."
The wizened old man nods contemplatively. "So then go for a time, and then return when you feel you have grieved long enough. You are a strong man, and a wise judge; we have trained you to be that way. Go with your daughter back there, and come back after you are done. I will send men to check on you if you do not return after a month."
You swallow hard. "And… of my research…"
"What of your research, Brother Wilhelm?"
"May I take books from the monastic library with me?"
The cardinal gives you an unamused look, still walking forward. "I thought you wanted time to grieve, Brother Wilhelm, not to study."
"I do, sire!" you say louder than you had intended. The cardinal glowers. "Forgive me, I-"
He raises a hand. "Take them, but I want you to use your time to come to terms with your mother, not to become obsessive. While your desire to help your daughter is admirable, you must still consider your own health in this matter. Do not sacrifice your own safety uselessly, Brother Wilhelm. That is not what we have taught you here."
You stop to bow at the cardinal. "Thank you, your holiness. I am deeply grateful for all you have done for me, and my family, my mother included. I'm sure she felt the same."
"Feels, Brother," the cardinal corrects, also stopping to maintain conversation with you. "She is watching over you by God's side now."
"Of course," you respond, though with little joy or confidence.
"Do you have your doubts?" speaks the old holy man.
"Never," you respond, this time with much more will in your words.
Thankfully, the cardinal chooses not to pursue this line of thought any further. "Go back to your family's farm. Spend time with your daughter, study a bit, train if you'd like. Clear your head. Your Brothers will check on you in one month's time, if it comes to that. There is nothing to concern yourself with beyond that. Now go, clean yourself. You and your daughter depart tomorrow."
Once again, you bow to the cardinal. "Once again I must voice my gratitude, as well as that of my family's."
"And I accept it graciously," he says. You straighten yourself and look at him. With a simple wave of his right hand, adorned with a fantastically detailed golden ring with a large gemstone atop it, you are dismissed.