Hope and Light to Stand Against the Darkness

Vax sat at the campfire outside of his tent and sighed in relief.  Dry.  Finally, dry, he thought.  The Heroes of Eldermont had been under the ocean or riding along the surface of it for days.  They were waterlogged, as was all of their possessions.  He glanced back in the tent at his plate mail, carefully placed in one corner.  He had enlisted a couple of soldiers to help him take it off.  Even then, it had taken nearly half an hour.  Then an hour of all three men scraping rimes of salt from every piece.  Vax wasn’t sure if seawater and salt could corrode magical armor, but he saw no reason to take the chance.


He wore a short-sleeved tunic of scarlet and gold, and black leggings.  A golden medallion bearing the symbol of Po hung from a cord around his neck.  The gnome Hemaetai sat next to him on a log.  The wizard was studying his spellbook like a student worried about exams.  T’Na sat next to the gnome, disguised as a human fighter named Steve.  Elves were not very popular in the Feron-Jacobe Empire, so T’Na had taken on a less polarizing identity and appearance.


Vax looked up as a large shadow blocked the torchlight from the surrounding tents.  He smiled to see the giant Targ, Magnus Ver Magnusson, commonly known as Stonejaw.  The giant belched and swayed a bit as he returned from the whore tent.


“Well!” Stonejaw declared.  “This little Empire will be much stronger in nine months time, when four Magnusson bastards are born.”  He paused for a moment and stroked his beard.  “No, make that three bastards.”  He grinned at his companions.  “The last whore wouldn’t be able to get with child.  Not the way we did it!”  The Targ laughed uproariously at his own joke, stumbled into the tent, and collapsed upon his cot.  It shattered under his weight, but he didn’t notice.  He was snoring before he even fell.


Hemaetai looked up from his magical studies and shook his head.  “He should celebrate, as should the rest of you,” he said.  “But I fear I have few accomplishments to laud after that last battle. I feel I contributed very little.”


“Steve” snorted in derision.  “Well, you are very little.”  He raised his hands in a placating gesture.  “A small jest.  But I would not have you sell yourself short,” he said, and grinned.  “Truly, you have no reason for such thoughts.  Your idea to use the magic mouth spell to control the Eater was inspired.  A thing of genius.”


Vax nodded in agreement.  “And you, and you alone, saved Squee’s life with that Tiny Hut spell.  Without you, Squee would be dead, and the Eater of Worlds would have been out of our control.  I daresay that yours was the greatest achievement of the battle.  Far greater than mine.”  Vax smiled.  “Me, I kept getting knocked off the damned beast. 


Hemaetai gave a small nod of thanks to Steve and Vax.  “As you say,” he said.  “Thank you.”  Vax gave the gnome a deep nod of thanks and turned to “Steve.” 


“I tell you Steve,” he said, in case others were listening.  “We all acquitted ourselves well.  Our companion T’Na saved my life, and at no small risk to his own.  One of the Swalduni wizards ripped me off the Eater with a telekinesis spell.  I went spinning in the depths, ass over teakettle, and thought all was lost.  Then I spotted T’Na sprinting down the length of the Eater, barely keeping from flying off himself.  Then the crazy elf jumped off, arrowing through the water towards me.  He managed to grab my hand and teleported us both back to the spine of the beast.  It was an amazing feat of bravery and skill.  And without it, I’d be fish food by now.


Steve smiled.  “Well, I heard that elf was quite daring and brave.”  His face quieted, however, as he heard someone approach.  Vax saw him reach inside his tunic for a dagger, but he relented when Vax gave him a minute head shake.


Captain Mick Timms approached the campfire slowly, almost as if he was unsure of whether he should intrude.  “Captain Timms!” Vax said, and waved him over with a smile.  “Come, sit and warm yourself by our fire.”


Timms quickly crossed into the campsite and sat on a log.  “Thank you, your majesty.”


Vax shook his head.  “I am a king, but I am far from my land.  We are both fighting men and warriors.  Call me Vax.  If I can call you Mick.”


The young captain grinned.  “Of course, your- I mean, of course Vax.”


After a few minutes of small talk, Timms cleared his throat.  “Uh, Vax?  Can I ask you something?”  Seeing Vax’s nod, Timms continued. 


“I saw you wear the symbol of Po the Redeemer,” Timms said, and pointed to the golden medallion on a cord around Vax’s neck.  “They say that you wield Daybreak, the godly Boon of Po himself.  Is that true?”


Vax smiled.  “I have that honor, yes.”


“Well, me and a few of the lads also follow Po,” Timms continued.  “I wanted to know – I had hoped – that you might say a few words to a few of us, perhaps give us your blessing.”


Vax tilted his head and gave the young man a confused look.  “You know I’m no that I’m no priest, no holy man.  Far from it.”  Steve snorted in laughter next to him, and Vax gave him a glare.


“I know, I know,” Timms said.  “But you’re the closest thing here.  And you are the chosen wielder of Po’s Boon.  It would mean a lot to us.”


Vax looked up at the night sky, trying to gauge the hour.  He pondered the stars, as if he looked for wisdom in that celestial sphere.  Finally, he sighed in resignation.  “I’ve had no rest yet.  Give me two hours to close my eyes, then bring your friends around.”


Timms jumped to his feet and grinned.  “Of course, of course!  Thank you.”  And he scurried off. Vax stood with a chuckle and retired to his tent.  But not before Steve called after him.  “Rest well your holiness!”


A little over two hours later, Hemaetai nudged him awake.  “Your audience awaits, holy man,” he said with a chuckle.  Vax stretched and walked outside only to be met by a sea of faces, orange in the light of campfires and torches.  Captain Timms was in front, but literally hundreds of people stood behind him, looking at Vax.  The young king shook his head in wonder as he scanned the crowd.  He saw fear in their faces, and something else.  A longing, a yearning, as if they were looking for something.


*They’re looking for hope* Daybreak said in his mind.


That was it, Vax concluded.  Standing in front of him were an improbable mixture of farmers, workers, fieldhands, peasants – not an army at all.  They had been conscripted, often forcibly, from all corners of the empire and equipped with old weapons and armor, if they were lucky.  Many of them had only the pitchforks and sickles they brought with them from home.  Looking closer, he saw that most were boys or old men.  The last dregs of men able to hold a weapon, and Jestak had placed them in the front lines of the coming battle.


*Many of them will die in this battle, maybe most of them* Vax thought to Daybreak.  *Do I have the right to give them false hope?*


*Hope is never false* Daybreak replied.  *It can be lost or found.  It can be fulfilled or unfulfilled.  But hope is never false.  Give them hope.  It costs nothing, but it is more valuable than gold.*


*You’re right, of course.* Vax replied.  *In battle, it’s the only coin that counts.*  Vax smiled as he hopped up on a stump. 


“FELLOW SOLDIERS!  FELLOW WARRIORS!” Vax shouted, and all eyes turned to him.  He gestured to Timms.  “Mick here has asked me to say a few words, and I’m honored to do so.”  Captain Timm’s face turned crimson with pride as King Vax singled him out and used his first name in such a familiar fashion.


“I’m no priest,” he began.  “But as some of you know, I follow Po, the Redeemer.  I haven’t always been a believer in Po, or any god for that matter.  But since I’ve been granted the honor to wield Po’s boon, I’ve come to believe in him, and what he embodies.”


Vax reached in his belt and pulled out the ornate hilt of a longsword, its grip wrapped in leather cord.  The pommel was a round disk with a stylized sun with rays radiating outward.


He held the hilt out and above him, so that the crowd could see it.  “Witness fellow warriors, the godly boon of Po – the mighty sword Daybreak!”


Vax watched in amusement as the crowd looked at each other in confusion.  There were hushed murmurs and questions until finally, someone spoke up.  “Uh, I think your ‘mighty sword’ is missing something!”  That brought a chorus of laughter from the crowd, in which Vax joined.


“I know, I know,” Vax shouted over the laughter.  “It looks like it’s missing something.  Like it’s not ready for battle.”  He scanned the crowd, staring at the men.  “Maybe some of you feel the same way – like you’re not ready for the struggle to come.”


“I tell you, like Daybreak, each one of you carries a spark of greatness,” Vax said.  “Behold the power of Daybreak!  Behold the power of Po!”


With that, a brilliant blade of light and fire erupted from the hilt.  The glow of the blade lit up the camp like a star, so much that many in the front ranks had to shield their eyes from the glare.


“I know that many of you have concerns about the battle in the coming days,” he shouted.  “But like this unassuming hilt, you too have fire inside of you!  Know that your fight is righteous!  Know that you fight on the side of the light!”


“How do I know that, you may ask?” Vax declared.  “I have seen these soulless ones.  They kneel at the feet of demons and beg the principalities of hell for power.  They have forsaken their souls to the abyss voluntarily.  They do not just consort with evil – they are evil!”


“Now, I ask you, how can any that oppose them be anything but righteous?!”  Vax pointed at one young soldier holding a rusty short sword awkwardly in both hands.


“You, lad!” he continued.  “Know that you are a warrior of light!  Know that you honor your family and village by standing between them and unholy darkness!”


Vax waved Daybreak in a wide arc in front of him, and the light illuminated an even larger crowd than when he’d first began his speech.  Hundreds upon hundreds.  “Now, I’ve been knee deep in the mud and the blood more often than most!  So, let me speak to you all, warrior to warrior.”


“In the coming days, you will face trials and hardships unlike any you have ever seen,” he said.  “Stand with the men around you.  Support them as you would your brother, for they are now your brothers-in-arms, forevermore.  And if your brother should fall, take up his sword and close ranks.  For if this evil is not stopped here, it will consume every land, everywhere.  You are the last line between evil and your homes and families!”


He looked out at the rapt crowd.  He could see that the fear was gone from the expressions of most of the men, replaced by pride, and even a hunger.  Vax smiled to see it.


“And when this battle is won, and we will win this battle, my friends,” he said and smiled wider. “You will return to your homes as heroes!  You will be true men who know that there are some causes worth risking not only your lives, but your sacred honor.  Lesser men will weep that they were not here to show their bravery! Songs will be written of your exploits!  Your names will be on the rolls of the heroes of legend!  Your children and their children, and their children will tell tales of your bravery with honor, proud to be the fruit of your loins.  Whether you die here, or in a death bed decades from now, or killed by a jealous husband, none can take this day, this battle from you!”  The crowd erupted in laughter.


“The Heroes of Eldermont are proud to stand with such proud and fierce warriors as I see before me!”  He raised Daybreak above his head and it grew brighter still.  The light of the holy sword shone for miles. 


“Warriors!  We have the Light on our side!  We have Right on our side!  Now, let them hear you on that blighted isle!  DEATH TO SWALDUNE!”


The crowd erupted in a guttural roar of defiance that was near deafening.  Then, uncoordinated at first, but then in a rhythmic chant, the crowd, warriors at last, began the chant DEATH TO SWALDUNE! over and over.


*Hope and Light, to stand against the darkness,* Daybreak said as it shot a brilliant beam of light to the heavens.