What Measure is a Paladin?

Jenlyns Aesc, Captain of the Sultansworn, was waist-deep in paperwork when the door to his office opened. Without looking up, he simply asked “Yes, what is it?”

The door slammed, the force startling him out of his ink-stained hypnosis, and he glared in the direction of his office door, intending to reprimand whatever careless squire or fool subordinate had come through his door. Instead, he found himself face-to-face with a very stern looking fellow Paladin and Warrior of Light, Old Man Franks.

His expression immediately changed to a rueful grin. Franks was one of the few Paladins he knew more skilled than Jenlyns himself, and he greatly respected him for his deeds both as a Paladin and one of the Warriors of Light. “Franks, my friend! You startled me! I know Solkzagyl made us go through all that ‘one soul must be dominant’ nonsense, but I doubt you must needs keep that up!”

Franks didn’t smile in return. He wore a pair of shaded spectacles that prevented Jenlyns from seeing his eyes, but his brow was furrowed. Jenlyns had been unfortunate enough to witness this expression on his face on several occasions, the last of which had been when Solkzagyl’s mad scheme to make the sword Oathkeeper shine again had been laid bare.

Franks had been furious at all of them then. He looked more so now.

“You really should not bring that up, Jenlyns. I have made my displeasure for all of the nonsense you and your fellow Sultansworn put me through on multiple occasions known to you. Several times, in fact. And it is one more piece of nonsense that brings me here this day. Draw your blade.”

Jenlyns was taken aback. “You…you want to fight me? Here? Now?”

Franks sighed and covered his face with his black-gauntleted palm. “No, you….just draw your blade and give yourself a small cut. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine, I just need to show you something.”

Jenlyns stood, confusion on his face, and drew Oathkeeper from his side. Franks studied the blade for a brief second, wondering if perhaps Jenlyns might have managed to replicate the glow that had been so important to Solkzagyl, but nothing happened. As expected, then. He was so intent on watching the ancient sword that he almost missed that Jenlyns was preparing to run its edge against his palm.

“Not on your hand, idiot! Do you have any idea how many nerve endings a hand has? That’s going to hurt you, a lot! I don’t need you in pain, just slightly bleeding! Cut your forearm!”

Jenlyns stopped, staring back at Franks in more shock. He then brought his arm up to the edge of Oathkeeper and almost gently ran it across. He gave a small wince, and he turned his arm to see a thin trail of blood now running from a small shallow line.

He raised his arm to show Franks that he’d done as asked. “Fine. Now what was it you needed to show me that required blood?

Franks nodded and drew the red blade at his side. It seemed to be made of a glowing red crystal with metal plating attached to the flat in various patterns. Jenlyns had heard the tale of this blade, that it was known as the Blood Sword, and that Franks had won it from a terrible foe, but the nature of that foe and the blade’s origins had never been elaborated in any of the tales. Paired with his obsidian colored armor that Jenlyns knew was Allagan in origin and the dark knee-length coat he wore over it, Franks appeared less the image of a gallant paladin in shining armor and more a dark avenger who came in the night to punish the guilty.

Franks presented the blade, his arms held at shoulder height, the flat displayed to Jenlyns, and bowed his head. White light surrounded the sword, and then Franks kneeled, bringing the blade down to his right side. Light shone above him, and he looked up. A small sun in miniature, haloed by a glowing series of strange symbols, had appeared a couple of fulms over his head, and a cone of light shone down from it, surrounding him in its brilliance and forcing him to close his eyes to save his vision. He opened them again less than a second later, and immediately looked to his arm. The cut was gone, mended by the light.

Jenlyns went pale. He knew of this spell, though only from texts he’d read when he’d been inducted into the Sultansworn.

“That….that was Clemency! But…those so-called “Holy Magicks” are supposed to be a faerie tale! How did you learn it?”

Franks sheathed the Blood Sword back at his side. “How do you think? The same way I learned everything else about being a Paladin; from the soul crystal. Not like any of the Sultansworn ever deigned to actually instruct me.”

Jenlyns turned red with anger. “But that’s impossible! Those soul crystals have been in the hands of the Sultansworn since its inception six hundred years ago! Early accounts of our history spoke of these Holy Magicks, but all mentions of them disappear shortly into the records of the second generation of the order! They’re nothing more than flowery language abandoned as our scribing policies became more strict! What is this trickery?”

Franks shook his head, producing a dark leather-bound book he’d retrieved from the bag he wore on his hip. “You’re wrong, as per usual. Take a look at this.”  He tossed the book towards Jenlyns, who made no move to catch it. It landed on his desk with a thump. “It’s the most recent version of the currently known history of the Fifth Astral Era, as documented by various Sharlayan historians. The Sons of Saint Coinach were kind enough to grant me that copy. Most of its contents are dedicated to the nations involved in the War of the Magi, but this edition contains a small newly-added section on some of the smaller and less powerful nations within Eorzean borders that have recently been uncovered. Open to the page with the yellow bookmark, I’ve marked the section I think you’ll find most interesting.”

Jenlyns opened the tome to the marked page. Next to one paragraph, a small ‘J’ had been written in the margins. He began to read.

“In what is today known by most as the fallen nation of Sil’dih, a set of ruins have been uncovered indicating a small city-state once existed here during the Fifth Astral Era. Much of these ruins show signs of heavy magical destruction, likely indicating they were annihilated by Amdapor or Mhach, but some stone tablets survived which bore small pieces of their history. Only one has been translated at the time of this writing, and it entails a description of their military forces, meager though they seemed in comparison to their mage-nation neighbors. Their armies consisted of foot soldiers known as “cniht” (pronounced ‘night’), mounted cavalry known as “cavalier“, and an elite order of Warrior-Priests known as the “Paladin”. These elite warriors were outside of the typical command structure, as the oaths they swore (see p.274 for full surviving text) required a dedication to the safety and justice of all peoples, not merely those others decided were worthy of protection. This order was also apparently capable of wielding a form of magic that is believed to be light-aspected in nature, as a word that best translates as ‘holy’ accompanies any mention of it. This magic was used both to heal those in need of succor and harm those who would bring suffering onto others. Like many elite orders in this era, the Paladin made use of soul crystals. The type described therein indicated they were diamond shaped and bore a shield-like design etched into their face, however none are known to have survived the city-state’s destruction”

Jenlyns wordlessly looked up to Franks, the color drained from his face.

Franks crossed his arms. “You get what this means? The original Sultansworn was built on the backs of this order. ‘Paladin’ became the way to describe the order’s members, rather than the name of the order itself. What the Sharlayans got wrong, though, was the idea that none of their soul crystals survived. You DID recognize the description, I hope?”

Jenlyns nodded.

“Good. Then it should be obvious that the records of the early Sultansworn weren’t just ‘flowery language’. They actually did wield Clemency and the other magicks they described. So why did they disappear when you said they did, then? It’s not like the Sultansworn could have suppressed that knowledge. If the soul crystal believes you worthy of a teaching, it will bestow it on you, we both know that. No one knows of any method to remove knowledge from one. Do you understand why, Jenlyns?”

Jenlyns looked down and skimmed the paragraph again. “I…I don’t. I see nothing in here to indicate why that might be the case.”

Franks lifted an eyebrow. “Really, now. Nothing at all? Think hard. Think of what happened with Oathkeeper. If it’s as old as you say, it’s possible it’s a relic of these ancient Paladins as well. I made it glow when none of the Sultansworn could, but more importantly, the soul crystal has taught me these lost spells and not you lot. What’s the difference?”

Jenlys rubbed his chin. “You are saying that this is due to you being a free paladin and not one of the Sultansworn?”

“I am saying that this is due to me being a paladin, while the Sultansworn are not.”

Jenlyn’s face immediately turned an angry red. “How….how DARE you! You know NOTHING of what we are, what we dedicate ourselves to…”

“Oh, but I DO know, Jenlyns!” Franks interrupted. “Read it again! Or don’t bother, I memorized it. ‘These elite warriors were outside of the typical command structure, as the oaths they swore required a dedication to the safety and justice of all peoples, not merely those others decided were worthy of protection!’ Do you see it now? It’s in the bloody name, after all!”

Jenlyns’ anger melted. “The Sultansworn….”

“That’s right. The Sultansworn. Your duty is to the ruler of Ul’dah, first and foremost. Your oaths make mention of defending her people but that’s lip service to the idea, and we both know it. Your first allegiance is to the throne. You protect her, you carry out her will. Not that this is a slight towards Her Grace, I have utmost respect for her and what she hopes for Ul’dah. But it’s not important what the ruler wants, it’s the nature of your oath and attitude. The ancient Paladin order, they swore to serve everyone in their realm, regardless of station. That’s why they didn’t command their knights. Those knights answered to the throne, the Paladins answered to the people and their conscience. Maybe you can fool yourselves in your own hearts into believing those are one and the same, but the soul crystals cannot be fooled. Once that first generation of the Sultansworn proved their oaths were to a ruler above all, they refused to pass on their highest level of knowledge to the order. They know the heart of your allegiance, and they limit the knowledge they’ll teach you as a result.”

Franks turned and made for the door. As he stood before it, he turned back to Jenlyns.

“You can keep the tome for a while, if you like. I’ve already been to see both Papashan …and Her Grace. I’ve read the passage to them. Told them what I told you. I know naught if they’ll do anything with this information. I suspect it would be too much a risk to simply disband the order and reform you as you should be. But perhaps they’ll take my other suggestion and rename you the Knights of the Sultansworn. Because that’s what you all are, really. I plan to share this information with Constaint and even Solkzagyl. Irritated as I am at him, I believe he deserves to know. I believe you deserved to know as well, hence why I’m here. Mistake not my tone for dislike of you, Jenlyns. I believe you are a good man. I will be very interested to see what course you take from here. Good day, Captain. I’ll return for the book in a sennight or so”

With that, he opened the door and calmly strode out, gently closing it behind him.

Jenlyns stared at his door for a long time, then picked up the book and threw it at the door in anger. He breathed heavily for a few minutes, then sat down, his face in his hands.

Eventually, not knowing what else he could do, he returned to the paperwork.

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