I am walking. It is a quiet road through forested places. A hillside is near, and tumbled a bit, mossy roots and catch-vines dangling through and over the ledge. A mudslide, perhaps, but an old one. The ground is better-grown now and more stable.
This path, barely wide enough to carry a cart, leads between a stable village and a large city. I walk it here to keep clear the flow between, for there have been thieves along this way.
I am no sheriff, no soldier, no guardsman. I am a hunter, perhaps, but my venue is the People as much as the Wild. I am here to serve my goddess, who asks of me that I clear the way and make safe this road today.
I come to the place where a wagon was broken. There are pieces here still, and I crouch down to examine them. I draw my long-knife, some sense of presence telling me that I am watched. But the sounds are quiet; the watcher does not move. I send out my own presence, seeking, and find two others, breathing softly with their eyes on me. One is hidden in a tree, the other on the ground.
I sheathe my knife, making no pretense that I was going to dig around with it. Instead, I pray and am heard. I stand.
"Come out, you two. Let me hear your needs." My voice is like a priest of a shrine, speaking to visitors at his door. They stay where they are. I wait, for I am at ease in dark places, and there is no need to move.
A third walks up from further away. I acknowledge him, and he draws his knife. Mine stays sheathed.
"Welcome. Perhaps your friends do not wish to speak their needs. Will you speak yours?"
He walks up to me, knife between us, until our chests are stopped from meeting by the blade. My goddess is with me, and all fear comes from his heart in this. I wait.
He pulls his blade, and the cut on my flesh stings terribly. My shoulder-strap is severed, and he steps back to take my knife.
I do not need it. I step forward as he steps back, reaching around to catch his head in my arm. He tries his claws, and I catch his leg with my tail and my leg. My hand holds his knife-bearing hand away from me even as the rest of me holds his body close.
"If you have no voice, please express your needs another way. I listen with all my Sight and spirit."
The ground-resting one lifts up, and I feel her loss, her deep sorrow. Her child was murdered before her, is the feeling which pours into me. A touch to my goddess, and the sorrow is denied.
She approaches, and I see that her body is scarred, for there are no cloths upon her. She thrusts, and I tilt, the body of her companion receiving the deadly point of her hidden arrow.
"If you will not speak, then you must know that you have condemned yourself now."
She hisses at me, and displays her threat. I am unmoved, cradling one who must have served her in every way as his life drifts on water. I kiss his cheek and wait a little more.
It is over in another moment, the tree-resting one firing another arrow, this time aimed at her heart and not mine. Then she, too, comes to meet me, hands open and bow dangling. She could be ready in an instant to kill me, but instead she kneels in sight and lays down her weapons and lowers her head to honor the dying.
He breathes his liquid last, and his heart stops beating. It was his lung and major blood tunnel severed. She goes a few drummings later of the foresters' war-dance, and the rattle is shaken as breath leaves her fully.
The third lifts her eyes to me, and finally speaks. "Free me," she says.
I speak of my goddess, in her own words to this woman. "Of me, my name is Noe'e, and I have no heart for war in hatred. Come in love and receive my gifts."
We approach each other and embrace as family.
Some of you readers might name me Paladin. We had no word for it then. I go where my goddess tells me, and bring light and comfort where I go.