Nadia smiled and told the man to be at ease and said ” we must forgo the proper etiquette  for we have a long journey ahead of us. Have you been told of our reason to travel so far? or even where we are heading?”

The man stood at ease with hands clasped behind his back.” if I am correct we head for the plains and I am to guard you.” running a hand through raven hair he continued. ” something I believe to do with your family.”

The girl looked into crystal blue eyes and nodded. ” yes we go to see if any of my village remains. My village was taken by the hazon and turned into slaves. My mother escaped from there the day she found she was with child. She made a deal to gain freedom from her slavers and run away with a young man later to find he was a cleric for Etall and I have been in her service since the day I drew my first breath. The high priestess has allowed me to seek my homeland and my people so that I may make a choice to be a priestess here with a clear mind.

“Well then my lady, it will be my pleasure to escort you on your trip home.” looking a bit concerned he asked. ” my lady would you permit to ask your name?”

” you may” she said with a small laugh “my name is Nadia. I don’t have a family name to give you. Although I’m hoping by the end of this journey I will have found one.”

And so it was that way while they travelled for the first three days. Trudging through mud puddles as it had been raining on their path for most of the time spent on the road. The paladin walking always head held high as if the rain didn’t bother him at all. Even offering his cloak to the young lady who was doing her best to seem as unaffected by the weather as her travelling companion. Until the end of the third day in the worst weather yet. Deafening thunder cracks and blinding flashes of lightning with rain coming  down in sheets drenching the wanderers to the bone.

” I say once again lady Nadia you can have my cloak during this storm.” he had to yell to be heard over Teel’s fething own storm. With a frustrated cry into the heavens Nadia stomped her feet splashing mud onto the man’s chest and legs. ” FINE” she screamed in outrage ” I will take your DAMNED CLOAK!!” stomping again to add more mud to both of them” I’ll take your cloak if you will just stop acting so high and mighty. You walk as if it’s a pleasant spring day and you’re off to a dance with your sweetheart! And you keep calling me LADY!! You have got to stop that. I told you my name so you had best start using it! And all of your manners…oh no those have to go. Its like I’m talking to a trained golem for Etalls sake!”

The young man stood taken aback looking as if she had slapped him. ” yes myla….” Nadia stomped up to him poking his chest with a finger and said ” I told you no more of that LADY business” ending in a threatening glare. He looked down to the small woman and smiled ” yes Nadia, as you wish I will try to be more friendly. “

They decided to camp shortly after that finding a small cove of trees where the ground was only slightly soaked.

After her outburst the two became closer on their days walking together. Telling each other stories of their youth both finding that the life of a slave and a life in the barracks were not much different…. So long as you forgot the bit about being a slave.

On their travels along the main roads between Trimond and Avilis they were attacked by bandits and monsters alike. Once they were a day’s walk from the next town they were set upon by a small group of bandits who gained a lucky strike to the back of Sebastian’s head. He woke up in a tent with a wet cloth on his brow. He quickly jumped up looking for a sword. Accidentally knocking over Nadia who had been sleeping with her head on the side of the cot. ” what in the hells did you do that for!” she griped rubbing her shoulder that had hit the hard ground.

The warrior stood bare chested with a bandage around his ribs and head. Thinking frantically to himself ” broken ribs and a head wound oh great!” he turned to see the pretty woman still sitting on the ground. What did you say? Where are we? How did we get here? How long have I been asleep? “

Nadia stood and placed a finger over his lips. “Quiet now or I’ll put you back in the bed with another lump on the head. Sit down and I will explain.” they both sat on the bed and she explained every thing he missed after he was rendered unconscious.

” so after you so bravely jumped in front of a mace that I could have dodged they quickly knocked me down too and started to strip you of your equipment and belongings. While some worked on that others worked on searching me…. You could say they got a bit carried away and now all my clothes are ripped” the young man turned red with anger and self loathing in his eyes. ” stop thinking about that nothing happened but ruined clothes because all of a sudden the bandits were attacked by someone else.” plucking an apple from a nearby bowl of fruit she took a bite chewed and relived the fight.” before I knew what was happening I was picked up wrapped in a cloak and carried away on horse while the new party loaded you into a wagon.”

“When we got here a couple hours later I finally figured out they were followers of Etall. Sent to us by the goddess. This group was close by and patrolling the roads so that we can keep merchants moving unmolested. They bandaged you up and went to find a healer”

 

“Wait wait wait,” the paladin protested. “You’re telling me a paladin of Aranayan was saved by a group of Etall followers?? In what world would that make sense?” looking dumbfounded at Nadia awaiting a reply she said “apparently the great mistress has her eye on us”

They continued talking about the ordeal and ate a small meal of fresh fruit and dried meat left in the tent for them while they waited for the men to return with a healer.

The next day freshly healed and feeling better than he had at the start of the journey Sebastian found Nadia sitting by a small cook fire chatting with one of the group.

“well Nadia shall we get going? ” it was then he noticed she was wearing his clothes ” I see you have found new clothes to your liking?” he laughed at the sight before him seeing such a small woman in his shirt and breeches. Sleeves rolled high and pant legs pinned up out of the way” you look quite dashing I must say” she scowled playfully at him

 

“hush you or ill have the boys here put another dent in that hard skull of yours.”

The pair left with many thank yous and apologies for abusing the group’s hospitality. They travelled for weeks mostly unharmed and growing closer all the time. The paladin thinking he was well on his way to bringing his ward back to the light. All the while nadia was hoping to pull him to the darkness. But one thing was certain. A bond was forming pulling them ever closer to each other.

” so I was thinking about it and I think you should remove anything denoting that you are a paladin. We are in the wild plains and you will likely attract unsavory attention in all that shiny metal.” he looked down to his chest where sat the emblem of his god.

 

”  I can’t do that my lady. I fear that the almighty would forever look poorly on me if I were to hide his light just to make myself safer.” the man gave a short silent prayer to Aranayan while Nadia thought through his answer. The she asked ” what if it was to protect me? Surely he won’t begrudge you for trying to do everything you can to protect me?” He said nothing.

He remained silent for a good long while as they walked ever smaller roads and trails heading west.” I’m sorry I asked you to remove your sigils. I should have known better.” with a heavy sigh the young man stopped and put a hand on her shoulder turning her to look him in the eye.

 

“If you feel as though my god’s light is drawing more undue attention to us I will remove it… but I will need your aid in do so.” so a few moments later they started traveling again. Sebastian feeling naked with no sign of his god to be seen. But the smile nadia gave him when he was done packing was well worth it.

A few more weeks of travel found them at the mountains in the west of the plains. And what looked like it could have been a town at one point. After a couple hours of searching for any hint of where the citizens all might have gone if they got away from the slavers all those years ago, Sebastian found Nadia on her knees in a nearby clearing. Walking up to her he saw her shoulders shutter with a sob and heard a sniffle.

” Nadia what have you found?” he said as he knelt beside her and pulled her into a hug. She looked up at him briefly then cried harder. Sebastian looked to the ground in front of his friend, seeing a white stone with the name ” Randal ” crudely carved into it. Looking at the ground all around them he noticed many more similar stones. ” this is a cemetery. We should go before something foul sets its eyes on us.” still crying nadia said “this is my father’s grave. And I have not found a last name on my journey let the undead claim me!” Sebastian stood up quickly and began watching the area for anything dangerous.

 

“we must go my lady. We can continue the search for your name later but for now we must go.

” no ” she whispered ” I can’t go back to being alone in that temple. This whole trip has been a wager. A bet for my life.” she turned her head up to stare at this man she had grown to care for greatly. ” I made a wager with the high priestess of Etall that I could find my name on this journey. If I couldn’t I would be bound to the service of   the temple of Etall forever.” she stood and put her arms around this great kind hearted man and looked him in the eye. ” I am now lost to you forever. ” with those words she stood as tall as she could and placed a kiss on Sebastian’s lips.

Sebastian carried the still weeping girl away from her ruined village and began a prayer to his god for guidance. After a short walk she had stopped crying and asked to be let down to walk on her own two feet.

” Nadia” Sebastian stood in plain grey tunic and pants. “If I were to come back with you I could stay by your side and maybe find a way for you to gain your freedom again… or we could just run now? ” with a sad smile Nadia pointed to the tree line. ” see there? ” in the shadow of the trees were men on horseback watching the couple. “I thank you for the offer but we would never make it. And if I went back they would have my soul bound to the goddess.”

” I can fix this Nadia ” the paladin said in a solemn tone. ” I can get you your freedom” with that Sebastian looked to the sky and screamed” ETALL!!” taking another deep breath he roared at the heavens” YOU CAN HAVE ME!! TAKE ME IN PLACE OF HER!!! ” with a crack of dark lightning so brief he thought it was just his eyes playing tricks Etall stood before the couple.

” you called paladin of Aranayan?” Etall stood only slightly shorter than Sebastian wearing a simple gown made of smoke .

“I will trade my soul for hers. This was the deal correct?”

Nadia ran up to sebastian” no you can’t do this its…….” with a snap of a finger from the goddess Nadia could no longer speak . ” now now child” soothed Etall” the grown ups are talking here” with a cat-like smile Etall turned back to the warrior. ” are you sure that by your god you are making this choice of your own free will?”

” yes I swear this is my own choice and I mean to see it done.” Sebastian stood straight and looked into the eyes of a being so powerful he couldn’t even comprehend. He spoke with no fear in his voice ” I will give you my life till the day I die if you just leave her free to make her own choices and act upon them when she chooses.”

“DEAL!!” with that Etall held up a hand with a large sapphire ring. ” kiss this ring and show your obedience to me and forsake the light of Aranayan forever” Sebastian took her hand in his shaky one and spoke. ” I do here by pledge my service and soul unto thee. I will be your knight ever ready to fight your battles.” with those words he kissed the ring and became Etall’s first Templar

Back in Aranayan’s parlor Etall Gloated about how easy it was to sway the holy warrior and rubbing the loss in his face. Taking Aranayan’s staff, she disappeared with a smile and a laugh.