A Cynic's Lesson

Painbearer Fulwin thumbed through the short binding, stopping at the sash marking his place. A gathered crowd knelt before him, their legs folded beneath. His congregation was large and swelling each winter yet remained humble and simple in ambition. The Children of the Bound Hand avoided wealth, instead choosing good deeds as the faith’s currency. Most of their possessions and food were donated by others, even their chapel shared space with the Church of the Divine Cup.

Fulwin held up a hand and the crowd grew silent. “In the year of Glassfall 782,” he began, his sonorous voice filling hall, “An old woman came to the Chapel of the Mended Hand to ask the Avowed Brother to listen to a story and question. He agreed."

“The woman married young but happy, she told him, to a cobbler of little means yet a man wealthy in kindness. Born an orphan, her husband spent the better part of childhood staring into the windows and hearths of others, never knowing what it was to call a man father or a woman mother. Now married he’d desired nothing more to surround himself with the family he’d never had, so every night the woman prayed to Lathander, Tyr, Chauntea, and our Lord as well, to see her husband’s wish come to life.”

“Fifteen years the dream lay dashed. Four times their hopes had turned to sorrow as she birthed children who never tasted breath. The last had been a boy with soft, yellow hair as bright and golden as a chick. Even though just a babe he’d been a mirror of the father; all except the eyes, the old woman told the Brother in the saddness, those she said had never once opened. At the still, decade old crib, the prayers ended. After that boy, their pleading ceased, and, though the couple’s longing never died, for a time they knew peace.”

Fulwin paused in his speech as several armed knights entered the room, well-oiled hinges and soft-soled boots muffled their approach. An open palm with a centered eye identified them as Helmites. Several parishioners gave them little more a passing glance; Fulwin’s speeches were attended often by followers of the Triad as his reputation for oratory flourished.

“They knew peace,” Fulwin reiterated, “Till her stomach again began to swell, and dire thoughts filled their heads. Considered past the age for bearing children, they thought the swelling a sickness, the same wretched stomach growths that still kill claim many every year. In the dead of night they practiced their good-byes in case morning would leave her cold. Yet her breath held, and, in time, she felt the stirring of life. Fearing yet another dangerous birth and savage grief, she confessed to nearly seeking a midwife to quiet to the unborn; yet, the mixed hope and longing in her husband’s eyes stayed her course. Five months later they were greeted with twins and the family her husband dreamed of. Again, they knew peace… for a while.”

“A year later, the woman told the Avowed Brother, her husband mended the pots of a scullery maid bearing a slight rash. That was 778, the year of Black Skies. Two months later her home and family were put to the torch to combat the plague. She could still smell their burning bodies as she walked away, scared and old but alive.”

“Through all this,” Fulwin continued, closing the pamphlet and setting it aside as he told the remainder of the story from memory, “The Avowed Brother listened attentively and without interruption, waiting for the question he knew was sure to come, the question he’d heard from a 1,000 lips, a question whose answer never satisfied.”

“Finished with her story, the woman paused, looked the Avowed Brother in the eyes, and spoke but one word. ‘Why?’”

“Because,’ the Avowed Brother answered simply.

“Hearing his answer, the answer to the question the woman had long summoned the courage to ask, the old woman turned red. ‘How… How can you….?’ She tried to ask before stopping to choke back fresh tears, tears she’d long ago thought impossible.”

“’Plague spreads, fire burns. The way of the world is often as harsh as it is short. Gods guarantee not happiness,’” The Avowed Brother explained, “’Yet you knew the emotion from experience. You knew of a home and love, your husband knew of family, and two of your children knew breath. Bodies come and go, yet, through our divine souls, we are immortal. In this world or the next, your soul will taste of happiness again.”

“You family waits for you in the next plane; have the strength to wait for them,” the Avowed Brother told her, “Yet, fathers and sons were not the only ones to succumb to the Great Withering. Mothers died as well. Many a child remains orphaned, desperate the hope and love you still are capable of giving. Spite not their needs to nurse temporary pain. Before your time on the great mountain, see to the needy here on this plane. Appease their suffering, and through them, through their love and gratitude, they in turn shall balm your hemorrhaged soul. Do this, and you shall again know peace.”

Avowed Brother Fulwin finished his tale, his audience nether cried or applauded. He told them not popular truths, yet ones striking the same cords of their sad lives. The Church of the Bound Hand were not a church of happiness but of endurance, of easing pain through helping others. As one the congregation stood and made their way through the simple wooden doors. The knights let them pass without comment, their hands resting upon their swords. He recognized the Captain of the Iron Hedge from his dreams and knew the name of the blade he bore. It was called Ebonscour.

“Welcome, “Thelek greeted, no longer maintaining the glamor which concealed his yellow eyes.

“Poignant speech for a cynic,” the knight commented. Thelek mimed his speech in perfect timing. Despite the toll of years, Thelek still found the future coming to pass as utterly disappointing.

Oblivious the paladin continued, “Painbearer Fulwin, by joint decree of the Vigilant One and the Lord of Shackles, you are stripped of all authority and rank bestowed by an order of the Triad and subject to arrest. Do you comply quietly?”

“The cobbler,” Thelek continued his sermon, filling in the gaps he’d spared his parishioners, “Paid homage to no god. Having watched his parents succumb to disease as child, he couldn’t bring himself to bend knee. He didn’t hate them… just wouldn’t honor them.”

The Captain drew Ebonscour, the sunblade’s aura scaled Thelek’s skin. Once the light comforted, now it burned. “Do you comply?” the knight repeated and advanced.

“The cobbler waits in the Living Wall, not with his children, not his wife, for all time.”

“At the end of days the gods judge all. Should his life be just he’ll see his reunion.”

“Eternity,” Thelek returned, tapering a lit candle. “Is far too long to wait.”

A Cynic's Lesson

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