Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next chapter in this wonderful story by Olthadur, entitled
The Pilgrimage of Virtue
Background music by Smartsound
Chapter 7, “Resolute to Vertas”
We stayed in Resolute for a few more days while we discussed our options for the next leg of the pilgrimage. The morning before the day we left I went to the Bell of Courage devotional and sat at the edge of the fountain. I was reflecting on what it meant to be courageous, and what the Soldier did in the pass, when the Elder slowly walked up and joined me.
“This has been a good journey, has it not?” he said, slowly leaning on the fountain.
“We are not yet half way and already one of us almost died,” I replied.
The Elder nodded slowly but did not look remorseful. The Farmer, noticing us, walked over to join us.
“The world is not a safe place. It never was, and it will never be,” The Elder said.
“But isn’t that what the outlanders are here for? To make this place safe again?” The Farmer asked.
The Elder looked up, taking a slow breath. He watched as the shattered moon began to set.
“Make it better,” he said, slowly, “fix what was broken, help us – perhaps. But they will never make a safe world. Such a thing does not exist. It cannot exist,” the Elder said. In a slow motion he turned, deliberately, and looked up at the carved bell above us. “They don’t seem to suggest they will fix everything. They teach Courage. Courage to leave the places we know and journey to places we have never been. And there is danger in that. If they were going to make us all safe, they would never need to teach us Courage.”
When we got back to the inn, the plan to leave South Paladis was shared. We would head west and make our way through Vertas Pass. Our next stop for provisions would be Vertas. Many thought it was a dangerous plan. The elves of Vertas may not want us there, there is rumour that the elves have been quite violent recently. The rumour started an argument, and we all reconsidered the safety of our pilgrimage. We did finally agree that if we were serious about the Virtues, we would need to have the Courage to continue.
Unlike Nightshade Pass, Vertas Pass wound up into the mountains and was known to be quite cold. There was talk of bears wolves, and elves on the pass. If the animals didn’t kill us, maybe the elves would. And if not that, then the cold.
It may be foolhardy, but we had Courage. Maybe it was the actions of the Soldier, or the fact that we were in Resolute, with the Bell of Courage and the statue of Grannus, but we all agreed that we would take this dangerous leg of the journey.
We arrived at the base of the pass before nightfall. We were already frozen. We built a fire, huddled together under blankets and were spent. Our bodies shook in an attempt to warm us. No stories were shared that night.
We were nine frozen, achy travellers who awoke and ascended into the Vertas Pass that morning. Even though we were tired and cold we needed our wits about is. The pass was populated by hungry animals.
Luckily, we only encountered the wolves. I doubt it was the worst thing we could encounter, and I don’t think we would want to encounter anything else. They were very large, hungry wolves, and when they ran, they were incredibly fast. I did not imagine that such an animal could be that fast.
We bested them with raw meats that were purchased in Resolute, throwing them at the wolves, feeding them with meat rather than our own flesh.
“Don’t run,” the Soldier reminded us, as we moved as quickly away from the wolves as we could without running.
After the wolves we thought we would have much more danger, but all we met was the cold snow. It was very cold, colder than the night before. We were scared for our lives, but the warmth of danger kept us going.
The snow got worse as we continued. It fell so fast and plentiful that we could not see much ahead of us. The Tailor suggested, by yelling over the cold wind, that we slow down and grab a hold of the person ahead of us and slowly walk forward. We wouldn’t need to rely on our sight, which was a relief as we could bend out heads against the wind and snow. It all relied on our leader, which I couldn’t be bothered to look to see who it was.
I do not know which path we took, my eyes were on the white ground beneath me, or the Smith’s fur coat ahead of me. I grasped the end of a scarf or belt that flew behind her. It was awful and cold, the wind flying through our furs and leathers and seeping into our very hearts. The only benefit that I could think of was that any animal or elf that wanted to do us harm would also have to deal with the cold.
I write now on the other side of the pass, warmed by a large fire and blankets. We sat around, each of us in a daze, the ice and snow still melting from our furs.
“How did we manage to survive that?” the Scholar asked.
“Strength,” the Soldier said, as he was rubbing his healing arm.
“Determination,” the Cook said, “We didn’t want to die up there.”
“Because we had each other,” the Tailor said, “We all wanted each other to survive, so we went beyond what we would normally do so that others would survive also.”
The Elder nodded and smiled. “All true, all true. We relied on each other’s strength and determination, what a team we are!”
There were some smiles that went around the campfire, then. The Cook handed out the stew.
It was a cold night, but we slept comfortably. The snows and winds of Vertas Pass were behind us and we slept in our bedrolls near a well stoked fire.
There was some trepidation about our next step. There were the rumours about the elves that we now had to face. We didn’t want to venture to Vertas and be shot on sight.
“They are savage, or so I’ve heard,” the Smith said.
“They have attacked cities, caravans and travellers,” the Sailor said. “I’d be more comfortable just staying in the wild until we get somewhere else.”
“You are applying the actions of some to the whole,” the Scholar said, “I’m sure the same could be said about humans. We’ve attacked the elves and kobolds, but that doesn’t mean we would kill a kobold or elf suddenly if we met one.”
“That is true,” the Farmer spoke softly, “I’ve heard the Vertas Elves are quite… nice. All they want is to learn about Truth. It sounds quite noble.”
“We are not a war party,” the Tailor pointed out. “We are on a pilgrimage. And we want to learn about the Virtues. If they do want to learn about Truth, then we seek the same thing.”
We arrived in Vertas the next afternoon and were stopped by a pair of guards who asked us what our intentions were. There was a long pause before anyone spoke.
The Scholar spoke then, explaining very succinctly that we were on a pilgrimage to explore the Virtues. Seemingly content, the two guards nodded their grey heads at each other and showed us into the town.
Vertas is a beautiful place, filled with life. Although it is a cold town, covered in snow the streets are lined with fragrant flowering trees and bushes. There was care and love built into everything here. It was a surprisingly beautiful town.
The elves themselves were aloof but pleasant. They were very curious about our pilgrimage and asked us many questions.
“We seek to learn about the Virtues,” The Elder explained, “But instead of sitting around and talking, debating their importance, we decided to explore, to walk the land and see this world and learn about the Virtues first hand.”
“There is wisdom in your actions,” an important looking elf said. “Our kind is exploring the Virtues as well, but in a different way. We look inward trying to find meaning in our existence.”
“Isn’t that what all living things yearn for?” the Elder replied. The two seemed to get along quite well. They spoke at great length together, discussing philosophy and other deep topics that I could not follow and do justice on paper.