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Stark watches as the new group of potential guards pair up and walk out the door. The bitter scent of darksage tea stimulates his thoughts as his thoughts examine his options. Cadence had a good eye, and it would be difficult narrowing them down to four. A day wasn't long enough to get a true sense of their full potential, but neither would two or three. A day would have to be enough.
Tulip. Anything but delicate, she was sharp, skillful, and solid all around. He expected to see a continuation of her excellent performance. She was in. As for the rest, it was too close.
The young one had potential. He was a little brash and cocky, but he did have the skills. And everyone seemed to like him. If done well, a successful guard would minimize conflict. There would be little action to be had, and the ones expecting glory and battle instead found themselves bored and unsatisfied. A bored guard was an inattentive guard, and that wouldn't do. So it would be good to have the young one around to keep morale up as the initial euphoria of becoming a guard wore off. He would be good, as long as his brashness didn't lead to recklessness.
The door opens and thoughts scatter as Edwin enters. Stark stares at him, knowing the question he wants to ask, with Edwin already knowing the answer. The guard's mouth shuts under his captain's stare, and he turns around and walks back outside.
There's a loud one, he thinks. Well... opinionated He also had a temper when it came to his size. But he was good with a bow. More than good. Size has no meaning an arrow's distance away. And he was more than adequate in other areas as well. Hopefully Alan's quiet nature would help bring him balance. They immediately bonded, and treated each other like brothers, despite Alan almost having Stone's size.
Stark looks at the doorway and wonders if any of the other guards were going to walk through. They were all so eager to participate in the choosing. Something Stark couldn't allow.
These new potentials to the Guard, and the five already chosen, needed to be on equal footing with each other. They were all proud of their skills. They were all proud of being selected, and he could see that the current guards felt superior, simply for being the first chosen. They had a look in their eyes and a way they held themselves. If they were involved in the selection, it would only widen the gap.
They all had asked, except for Bear. He didn't leave so much as a hint. He wasn't distracted or uninterested, and grief due to the loss of his family wasn't overwhelming him. He simply trusted his captain.
He has potential.
Stark had only one day to evaluate these potential guards, yet he would take his time before selecting his lieutenant. Something none of them knew about.
Stark finishes his tea, gets up, and steps outside. He closes his eyes and listens. Silence is the response.
They were patroling as they were supposed to.
The comforting sounds of a gentle spring day were interrupted by the sound of someone recalling in. Stark moves. The potentials still needed time to learn the area before the evaluations continued, so he had time to address this.
A few more steps, and the dazzling white robes of the High Father enters his view. Stark quickens his step.
"Good afternoon, Captain Stark."
"Father." Stark bows. "How may I assist you?"
"I have business with the Merchant Vendor Melfina."
Stark bows again. "Follow me," he replies.
"How are things here, if I may ask, Captain?"
"Very, good Father. The initial West Luna Guard will be filled out by tomorrow."
The High Father smiles. "It sounds like you're doing well here."
"It's a shame what happened between you and Captain Jerard. His punishment for you was rather harsh."
Stark remains silent.
"So you agree with your dismissal."
Stark still says nothing.
The High Father nods. "As I thought. You won't speak up against your Captain, even though you're no longer a Guard. Loyal to a fault."
"Not to him. Luna and its Guard. He had the authority to do what he did."
"You're a good man. And were an excellent guard. I asked about you," he says. "It didn't take long to conclude that Captain Jerard laid more blame on you than he should have." The High Father stops, and looks Stark in the eyes. "He was within his right, but what he did was still wrong. I've advised the Archduke of the situation, and he agrees with me. While your ex-captain has not been punished, your punishment has been revoked. You are free to return to the Luna Guard as you wish, promoted to the rank of Captain, as is proper for a man of your experience and skill."
"Thank you, Father," Stark manages to say. The shame he didn't even know he carried with him was lifted. "But I made my promise to Lord Luna. I'm needed here."
The High Father considers the young paladin, then says, "Very well."
Stark clears his throat as they appear in the library, and announces, "Melfina, the High Father is here to see you."
"Give me a few minutes. I need to finish this paragraph first," she answers back without lifting her head.
A few moments pass, and Melfina puts down her quill. She looks up and sees the carefully wrapped books in the High Father's hands. She asks, "When will you be done with the rest?" as she gets up.
"In a few more weeks. You had a lot of wonderful replacements and additions to our library."
Stark didn't understand why Melfina was always in a bad mood whenever the High Father was simply mentioned, and now he was here in person, but he did see her mood lighten at the compliment.
"The Bold Stranger was especially exquisite. I think only Magicinia has a better copy.
Melfina's cheeks flushed. "Umm... thank you."
"If I may ask, I would like to take one more back with me. I thought our copy of Spirituality was unharmed, but it turns out there was more damage than I had realized.
"Oh... uhh... let me get that for you. Wait here."
She turns and walks toward her rare books cabinet, and the High Father moves to join her.
"These need to be returned there I assume," he says as he raises the books in his hands.
"I'll take those," she says curtly, shocking Stark as she snatches the books away from the High Father. He takes a step forward to follow and she snaps, "I said wait here!"
No one ever treated the High Father this way, yet he hardly reacts. He just waits, ready to follow Melfina to the rare books while Melfina refuses to move and defiantly glares back. Neither speaks a word until a subtle shift of the High Father's posture indicates that the merchant vendor has won this wordless arguement. Only then, does she retrieve the book for him.
She returns with the volume in hand. "Thank you Melfina," he nods, "You are very generous with your books."
"I still believe your plan is foolish. Giving access to your library to anyone. Your books will just receive unnecessary damage from people who cannot handle them properly, and produce nothing in return."
"If people are interested, they'll make sure to be careful, as long as I teach them how."
"Yes, yes. We've been through this before. I know you. I know you won't change. You want to share it all. Everyone should have access to the knowledge... and yet you won't let me near your cabinet. Not last time. And not now."
They two stare at each other for a brief moment.
"You're hiding something."
* * *
She looked at me as if I was supposed to do something. What that was, I have no idea.
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