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 2 – The Soldier’s Tale
It was cold on the ship. I spent the majority of the journey below decks and I was still cold. I wouldn’t have been able to write anything if it was just the temperature, but there was the rocking too. There was a fire, which helped keep us warm, but I thought it was folly. I was assured it wasn’t.
The journey was long – a lot longer than many of us thought. There was small talk, some excitement about reaching Novia proper. Nothing really happened until the Tailor spoke.
“This is going to be a long pilgrimage if we cannot find something to do with times like these,” he said.
There was agreement through the room.
“We need to do something to pass the time. As we are a diverse group, we need to come up with something that we can all partake in equally and fairly.”
There was then a long debate about what we would do – games, knitting, cooking – utterly ridiculous things too that I doubt the one who suggested them could do.
Finally, the Tailor said: “What about stories? We can all tell stories when we have a long leg of our pilgrimage. I think we will be on this ship for quite some time so why not start now?”
“What kind of story?” the Scholar asked.
“Well, we are on a pilgrimage of Virtue, why not stories of Virtue? We have all heard them, and probably have even experienced something that falls in line with the Virtues.”
“Like a fable or something?” the Farmer asked.
“Yes. Anything really. To pass the time and remain true to our pilgrimage.” the Tailor responded.
We were all agreed.
There was another long pause. We all began thinking of stories that would pass the time and fit with the theme of our pilgrimage. The Soldier came down to check on us. He sat and listened to our discussion as we searched for someone and something to talk about.
“You want to hear about Courage?” he said, his voice rougher than it usually was. The hold went silent.
“Everyone knows about war. They hear about it, read about it – some even dream about it. People travel to see great battlefields of past wars imagining the strategies and skill the generals had. Others imagine the individuals that stood on the ground, weapon in hand. They hope to imagine the thrill of battle, the desire to know you are defending something bigger than just you – a village or a way of life. Everyone always goes to battlefields after the battles are done. They should go before.
“I heard a story about a scout. He had been chosen to head out to locate the rumoured forces of his nation’s enemies. There was rumour of an attack, but no evidence. His nations armies would not be allowed to march unless there was evidence of a threat. This scout’s general was prudent and sent the scout out to find evidence instead of waiting to see if evidence showed up.
“You have to understand me, we are talking about rumour. Everyone was on edge. If they waited, they might be overrun. If they acted without threat, they may create a threat in neighbouring nations, or end the career of the general.
“When the scout asked where to go the general didn’t have a location. The enemies were in the east, so that was where the general suggested to go first. But the north had mountain passes they may try to go through. Or, if they had allies and money, they may come from the south via fleet.
” ‘I am only one scout, how can I go in three directions? If there is a threat to the north and I go south, I will fail,’ the scout said. He wanted allies.
” ‘If I send more scouts, our government will call me a warmonger looking for battle. They’d say I’m looking for trouble and stirring the pot. Our allies are trustworthy, I am told. But I cannot let the rumours breaking this trust go unheeded. I must act. You are the best scout in the nation. I am trusting you to make the right choice.’
“This was a great responsibility for the scout. He had the entire nation depending on him.
“He chose to head west. It was the most obvious entrance to his nation. He felt that if an attack came, it would come from there. He walked to the border, spoke to farmers, traders and travellers. There was no news of a muster or movements of a large force.
“The scout grew anxious. Either there was an attack coming from the north or south, or there was no need to worry. But he had to know for certain.
“He chose to go north next. He went to the mountain passes and watched, listened and waited. He grew more anxious. He feared he had chosen incorrectly and that the opposing force was already in his lands.
“He had a choice now, head back and suggest the attack could come from the south. It was the fastest, safest and easiest decision. The general would mobilize the army, head south and either be considered a hero, or declared a warmonger.
“It was an easy way, and he would defend his people, but he had a duty. He started to head south, to see with his own eyes if there was an invasion. If there was no invasion, his people were anxious for no reason. But he would have done his duty in either case.
“As he drew near to the coast he heard news of sightings of a large fleet. They had appeared this morning and were drawing near. They would arrive this evening. he had failed. The invaders were here and he had no idea of their numbers, composition or any weaknesses. He was still a day’s travel from the coast.
“The Scout came to the last town before the coast and showed his Royal Writ in the town square. He asked for the fastest horse and the strongest traveller. He promised them a wealthy payment from his own cache, then wrote it, signed it and sealed it with his personal seal, then sent them on their way.
” ‘Early warning at the least,’ he thought. But he needed to count the soldiers who landed, assess their numbers, equipment and supplies. He took another volunteer and went to the coast.
“The army he saw was large. He couldn’t see clearly as he was trying to hide himself and his companion behind a small hill. It was not an insurmountable problem, especially now that his first message would arrive.
“He needed to see clearly their number and composition, but he also knew he would be seen clearly if he tried. He turned to his companion, a middle aged woman. He told her his plan, to see the invading army and to have her report back at the capital.
“The scout stood tall atop the treeless hill, wearing the tabard of his order. He saw the numbers of his foes, he saw their composition and he saw their provisions. As he watched he told his companion everything even after he was spotted and shot by the sharpshooters. He fell saying what his companion must remember and write. She did, and fled as fast as she could.
“The invaders must have been placated in their kill as they did not go further. Or they did not see his companion.
“His companion made it to the general as the army was being mustered. She told the general what she heard the scout say and it changed the general’s battle plans. Needless to say, the land was protected by the valorous actions of this scout.”
The Soldier fell silent. The hold creaked and shifted. No one spoke. The Cook looked more puzzled than anyone, but didn’t say anything.
“You should all get rest,” the Soldier said, standing up and walking towards the stairs that led to the deck. “We will be docking in the morning, and who knows when we will stop next.”