Slinderin Elmsfather had studied, prayed, held vigil, practised, and studied some more. He’d been examined by his teachers and their masters to what felt like within an inch of his life, and finally, he was being presented to his god for approval and acceptance. He knelt at the prayer rail in front of the altar, and said all the proper words he’d been taught for this occasion, but in his mind all he thought was, “Please, take me.”
It was a quiet voice in with his thoughts, but definitely not him, that replied, “Oh dear, I’m so sorry, but no.” The tone was like Brother Cornwater, the abbey herbalist, talking to a plant he’d found growing in the wrong garden bed. “Frankly, paladins need to be relatively uncomplicated souls. They do the heavy pruning, and I need them to keep doing the heavy pruning, even when it seems like they’re cutting away more good wood than bad. You’re not like that,” there was an affectionate touch, as if he was a plant and the god wanted to get a whiff of his leaves’ scent. “Much more complicated, I can already see the knots your mind will tie itself into just waiting to happen. It’s not that you want to be a paladin for the wrong reasons, but best for all of us if you find another path.” Then the god’s presence was gone.
Slinderin looked either side of him to see his fellow candidates transfigured in their communion with their god. The rest of today was for them, not him. So he stood, bowed to the altar, and avoiding eye contact with any of the assembled paladins and other clergy of Humia the Gardener, left the chapel through the funny little side door that was used by whoever was doing the cleaning to get rid of rubbish.
He went home to his parents’ house, sat down at the kitchen table still in his candidate’s tunic, and told his mother what had happened. “I’m not surprised,” replied his mother calmly, as she put a mug containing a warm, milky drink on the table in front of him. “Your mind is more like mine than your father’s. He’s a very good paladin, because he’s a very straight forward man, and that’s one things I like about him. I, on the other hand, would probably never have considered marrying him, living here in the Abbey Close, and having all of you if Sagarand hadn’t burnt the magic out of me.” Dephone, the former sorceress, sat down opposite her second son and went on seriously, “Losing my magic wasn’t the end of the world, and neither is this. You can speak, read, and write three languages so clerking is an option. Your knowledge of plants could help you become a herbalist or an apothecary, or you could find another position in Humia’s clergy.”
Slinderin picked up his mug in both hands and sipped the contents carefully. “Actually, I thought I might go on a pilgrimage. Give myself time to think without pressure. Perhaps if here isn’t where I’m supposed to be, then getting out and seeing the world beyond the Close and the cloister might give me a better idea of where I should be.”
His mother considered things for a moment, then agreed, “That’s not a bad idea. Do you have a specific one in mind?” She folded her hands under her chin, elbows on the table, and waited.
“I thought the Grand Pilgrimage,” said Slinderin slowly. “Nothing dramatic about vows to complete the whole thing in a given time or anything, particularly as I think I’m going to be supporting myself with odd jobs on the way. Do you think my old clothes would fit me?”
“Dear,” she smiled, “your old clothes are definitely not going to fit you. You’ve put on height, and your training’s given you muscle. I’m sure I can find you something for you to wear on pilgrimage though.”
Slinderin sagged in relief. “Thank you. I mean, this,” he plucked at the tunic he was wearing, “has to go back to the abbey, and all my things there are theirs, so….”
“I know what you mean, dear,” his mother smiled some more, “but it’s not that way as much as you might think. We’ll work it out.”
“Thank you, Mum, if you’re sure.” Slinderin hesitate, then asked, “I don’t mean to be rude, but why did you pick Dad?”
“Oh, he had me from the moment he backhanded Sagarand across the face with one of his heavy gardening gloves,” replied Dephone dreamily.
“Just the armoured ones?” asked Slinderin, interested, “Or the ones with spikes to stop biting?”
“The armoured ones,” answered his mother happily. “From the blood, your father might have broken his nose and taken out a couple of the bastard’s teeth.”
It was some months later, and some distance away that Slinderin next knelt before an altar. “Well, this is unexpected,” said the quiet voice in with his thoughts. “Slinderin, I thought we’d already done this conversation.”
“Please, this isn’t about that conversation,” Slinderin thought frantically in his head. “This isn’t really about me, because I’ve done everything I can here, and I have no-one else to ask for help.” His hands were clasped together in front of his chin, and he’d made the altar himself out of stacked broken brick pieces and some small growing plants. “If you could spare a small blessing to bestow on these people’s gardens, then maybe they won’t starve this winter. Or get killed by someone who thinks they wiped out his warband.”
“Wait, where are you, and why do you smell of extraordinarily fresh blood and bone?” There was an expectant feel to the silence.
“I’m at Ailstbridge on the Uldar River. Up until three mornings ago they had a lot of very nice cottage gardens, but two local bully boys had a pitched battle through the village for control of the bridge, and they trampled the gardens in the process.” Slinderin sighed, “I may have gotten a little carried away in dealing with the killers of gardens and gardeners.”
“Indeed. What did you use?” The god sounded thoughtful.
“My spade. It was what I had.” Slinderin began to slump, he just felt so tired. “Then I had to try to put everything back, but I can’t do enough. Please help them.”
“Why don’t you take me for a walk around the village, and show me what you’ve been doing,” suggested the god. “It will help me decide what to do.” Slinderin got the sense of his leaves being carefully brushed, and half heard a murmur of, “Perhaps you’re a baby proto-saint? Those are hard to pick until they blossom.”
(This is now followed by Things That Are Needful.)