The revelation came as a shock to no one, but even so, Camon looked at Achara with a glare that communicated his disapproval. It created an awkward moment of silence among the ones present that lasted until Somchai spoke, “Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’d better see to it.”
Somchai went through the house, gathering servants and workers and any able body person and started giving directions about preparations to leave. They began gathering supplies and equipment for the journey – food, clothing, personal effects, anything that might be useful. Camon and Achara too pitched in. Before the hour was up, the entire household was buzzing with activity as Rune directed servants to prepare. Somchai left the house to go down to the brewery to oversee operations on that end.
By late afternoon, everything was packed in trunks and ready to be loaded. Rune ordered a cart to be brought up from the stable, and servants loaded trunks and chests onto the cart. Camon and Achara returned to the inn and fetched their things and packed them in trunks supplied by Rune. They loaded the trunks with the others onto the cart, which departed the house.
The remainder of the day was spent preparing a litter for Ratana to travel. Somchai had outfitted the cargo wagon with his shipment to be covered by a high canvas. The litter’s dimensions were set according to the length and width of the cargo wagon’s available space. It was carefully constructed and lined with pillows and soft upholstery for her to lay on. As the construction was finished, the crew left the house with the litter to finish putting it on the wagon.
At the evening meal, the guests, the house servants of three, and the family all ate in solemn silence. Camon tried not to notice that he was the center of attention with everyone looking at him. When he would look up, those staring at him would glance away as to not make eye contact with him. The silence lasted until Camon finished his meal and rose. One of the servants came and said, “May I take that for you, sir?” Camon looked at him and smiled, then gestured to the plate in front of him as it was whisked away.
After dinner, there was some revelry around a warm fire in the fireplace with a round of ale. The family and servants enjoyed a tale that Camon spun about some fictional adventure he had off in some distant corner of the Empire. One of the servants asked, “Is any of that really true?” Camon didn’t directly answer the question, rather asked, “Did you believe in Paladins before today?” He left it there.
Soon after that, Somchai came in and spoke to the group huddled in the room, “We managed to do three days of work in an afternoon. The wagon is loaded and waiting outside the south gate for tonight. It will depart in the morning, and you will leave with it. I will remain behind here with my two sons to close up the brewery for the season and follow in a couple of days. Rune will be my representative on the journey south should anyone ask questions. The wagon team has been briefed about Ratana’s condition. Lamai will be going with you to help care for Ratana. You all had better get some rest.”
After a brief exchange of some hugs and goodnights, Lamai showed Camon and Achara to some guest quarters, where they settled in. Camon was awoken the next morning by tapping on the door. It was still night, but the light from the moons was ample to light up the room. He couldn’t remember actually falling asleep, but his sleep was dreamless and hard, and he was grateful for it even though it was cut short. He dressed and went downstairs, where he was greeted by Somchai, Lamai, and the family. Achara came down moments later, then two servants with a stretcher carrying Ratana, who looked as if she was sleeping peacefully. They all left through the front door, and they crept through the village, except for an occasional torch-bearing soldier, was otherwise still. When they got to the south gate, seeing Somchai, the gatekeeper opened it just enough for the party to pass through.
The mule train was already ready, with a team of ten mules arranged in five rows two-by-two. The wagon itself was covered and was twenty feet in length with large, iron-bound wheels taller than a man at the wheel with ones only slightly smaller at the front. The team was composed of two younger footmen and an older driver. Somchai’s servants carefully hoisted Ratana into the covered wagon. Camon stepped up to look inside. In the moonlight, he could clearly see how they had skillfully constructed a platform on top of the shipment of ale that was southbound and then attached the litter to the platform. They had laid her in the litter, and she was resting gracefully as though asleep.
After a long farewell between Lamai, Somchai, and her sons, she climbed into the wagon’s back. Somchai gave the order, and the driver whistled, and the mule team started to pull. The wagon lurched forward under the weight and creaked and swayed as it lumbered along. Camon gave Somchai a firm handshake, then he, Achara, Rune, and the rest of the team followed the wagon afoot.
The mules settled into a steady pace as they moved forward. The wagon rolled, leaving behind Neuasut. The sky began to grow brighter on the eastern horizon as night passed into the morning. The sun rose overhead as the team worked their way along the Imperial road south. The road itself was well maintained with paving stones arranged in a tight grid that made passage for even the most massive loads easy. The grade was gradual and flat, as the Imperial engineers had designed the roads, especially for shipping and trade between the far-flung provinces of the Empire. They went uphill and down through valleys, past farms, over bridges, through forests and out the other side to yet more farms, valleys, hills, and streams. Occasionally, they would pass an Imperial patrol or other travelers on the road.
Rune set the pace to cover as much ground as possible and did the best he could to not overwork the mules or the crew. Achara and Camon helped where they could. The day to day chores were many, including feeding and watering the mules, preparing food, finding suitable water to drink, finding suitable places to stop for the night, and caring for Ratana. They tried to keep activities to minimal, foregoing comfort like tents and campfires to keep setups and teardowns to a bare minimum. The women slept in the wagon with Ratana, and the men outside, with each one taking some part of the night to keep watch while the others slept. This routine help make the days pass more quickly, and even though they were moving at a relatively slow pace, they managed to cover significant ground.
One afternoon, Achara and Camon were walking with the wagon and mules. He could see something was on her mind and asked, “Is something bothering you?”
Achara shrugged a little, “Nothing much, really. All this travel gives me time to think about lots of stuff. I guess it helps pass the time.”
“That’s one of the perks of the gypsy life – lots of time to see the world and ponder one’s own existence,” Camon commented with a smirk. Achara didn’t seem to be amused at his sarcasm, but he continued, “In all seriousness, I’ve meant to ask you about something.”
“Yeah?” Achara said, looking at him.
“Back in Neuasut at Somchai’s place, what brought you to tell them about who, rather what I am?”
Achara turned and looked at him, “That’s one of the things I’ve been pondering. Well, not that specifically, but the whole of the events in general.”
“What about it?” Camon pressed.
“Well, tracking a demon halfway across the Empire was pretty straightforward until we got to Neuasut, then lots of stuff happened, as you know. But in the midst of all that, you were never very forthright with people. I mean, you didn’t really ever tell them the truth. You’d play dumb sometimes, or in the Imperial officer’s case, you outright lied to the man. Then there was the whole incident with the constable, which I’m still trying to figure out. Then with Somchai, it seemed that it was more cloak and dagger with even him with what you were doing. I guess I was getting pretty frustrated with the web of deception that we were creating, so I just blurted it out. Of course, nobody was shocked by that revelation, so I don’t believe it did any real harm, but I could see that you were a little taken back by it. But here’s the kicker for me: you say you serve the Light, but how can you serve the Light and maintain this fog of deceit around yourself?” she asked pointedly. Camon said nothing, so Achara continued, “I mean, I understand you breaking into the Church to save Ratana, but some of the rest I’m trying to come to grips with.”
Camon rubbed his chin, listening intently, then said, “It’s not easy.”
“What do you mean, ‘it’s not easy’?”
“First, let me say, I don’t want to patronize you, and I’m glad you’re asking these questions. What I mean is that it’s not easy to be someone in my situation, that is one who claims to serve the Light but is constantly making what seem to be moral compromises to accomplish some end in service of the Light. Coming to grips with these questions is something I struggle with every day. Heck, my whole existence seems to be brokered on these kinds of compromises,” He said.
“You mean being a Paladin?” Achara asked, stepping clear of a loose stone on the road.
“Yes, being a Paladin. On the one hand, my profession is illegal. On the other hand, I believe that what I do does serve the purpose of the Paladins. And from that precipitates a myriad of other decisions I have to make day in and day out that on the surface would seem to be contrary to the Light.”
“But it’s still wrong to lie, isn’t it?” Achara asked.
“Why, yes!” Camon exclaimed. “I would never deny that. Some might say that right and wrong are determined by the outcome, but I’m not so sure.”
“Then how is it that you’re able to have so many compromises that are categorically wrong then and still claim to be a servant of the Light?”
“Let me see if I can answer with a question. Consider the example you mentioned earlier – breaking into the Church to save Ratana, do you think it was wrong to break into the Church?” he inquired.
“It wasn’t wrong to break into the Church – she clearly needed help,” Achara answered.
“Well, by definition, breaking into the Church was, in and of itself ‘wrong.’ Would you agree with that?”
“Well yeah, if you were just breaking in, it would be wrong,” she said.
“That’s kind of what I’m getting at – the actions themselves, as I said, might be by definition ‘wrong’ and that’s why the constable had a warrantable case against me.”
“So you’re admitting you were wrong for breaking into the Church even to save some one’s life?” Achara asked.
“Yes and no. Here’s the point: the action itself is wrong – that’s never a question in my mind, rather the question is whether an action or rather a series of actions are justified,” he said.
“What do you mean by justified?” Achara’s face was puzzled by now.
“When it comes to making a decision, what makes the decision hard, particularly moral decisions is not whether the decision is right or wrong, rather whether the decision is justified. What ends up happening in many decisions is we have to choose the greater of two goods or sometimes, the lesser of two evils. In Ratana’s case, I was faced with the option of letting Ratana die and not breaking into the Church or breaking into the Church with a chance to save her. The lesser of two evils was pretty obvious there, which made the whole scene with the constable even more absurd. So, my decision was justified even though the action of breaking into the Church itself is, by definition, wrong.”
“Well, okay…but what about the deceptions to all the residents and the Imperials in Neuasut
“Again, this gets back to being a Paladin. I fully accept as a Paladin that my very existence is outside the law, and that’s my choice to make. But to those I come in contact with, I’ve adopted as a matter of policy not to disclose more than what is necessary or even imply that I’m something else entirely. My reason for this is really more to protect those who meet me. Ignorance can be an ally here, in that what they don’t know gives them deniability, and they can honestly answer that they had no idea what I am. Otherwise, they run the risk of aiding and abetting an outlaw. It’s a tenuous position without a doubt, but it has served me well, I guess.”
Achara probed further, “So are you saying the ends justify the means?”
Camon paused, then answered, “Not as a doctrine, no. But in some cases, I think this is true. But in other cases, I don’t.”
“So, what about the contempt and humiliation of the constable? How do you ‘justify’ that,” she said, making quotes with her hands.
“That? Well, I wish I had a good answer for you, but I don’t,” he said as he pushed his hair back. “I admit it was impulsive and inherently risky. But at that moment, I think it was pretty clear that the constable was making a power play. He wanted to take down an almighty Paladin, and he came prepared with ten soldiers dressed for battle. But I could see the fear in his eyes, and his desperate, reason-defying push didn’t help his case. Everyone in the room saw right past the façade and understood the situation.”
“But what does that have to do with your actions?” Achara asked emphatically.
Camon thought for a moment, “I guess it was driven by a desire to see justice served. That’s what a Paladin ‘does.’ And fundamentally, as an old sage once said, justice is about getting what you deserve. For a power-tripping bureaucrat, the kind of justice he deserved was, well, humiliation. As a Paladin, I’ve come to appreciate that justice is not always explicitly served through a court or preceding, and can sometimes be unconventional or subtle. And for me, it doesn’t always involve wielding a magic sword or lopping the head off a demon. There was risk associated with it, but I also saw an opportunity where I was in a position to do it because he feared me, and I had nothing to lose by doing it, so I reasoned that I should act. In the end, no sword was drawn, no fight ensued, and no one got hurt other than some feelings. And to be quite honest, I almost enjoyed it. Maybe too much, I admit.”
Achara gritted her teeth and stared at the ground while she walked, “I’m just not seeing it that way. I mean, I understand Ratana’s situation, but the rest seems, well, weak.”
“And that’s okay, I think. Moral decision making is not always as clear as we’d like it to be. While I might do something one way, you might do it another. I think the main thing that we can’t lose – and agree on, though, is a sense of what is right and wrong. But where we will disagree is when there is a conflict between moral values and decisions made accordingly,” he said summarily.
There was a long moment of silence as they walked further. They were nearing a farm, and they looked out over the fields that had recently been harvested. People were winnowing a large pile of grain as they passed. The breeze was colder that day as the firsts hint of cool weather was coming to the North. Achara continued to stare down at the ground, then looked at Camon and said, “There’s something else I need to tell you.”