As Lady Vahan sat up perfectly straight, a sentry situated among her own people, Sir Graham couldn’t help but see her as something foreign. She shared their same features, but the strength and poise in her body were of a different caliber. Her eyes shone with a fiery determination he had yet to see within any of the others in her tribe they had met. He finally understood why she had left this life behind.
She was stoic as she looked forward, mindlessly tapping her hands along to the music. The once powerful race she drew her strength from had been reduced to a life of contentment. She didn’t abhor music and dancing, but she understood how easy it was to get caught up in peace and let one’s guard down. She hated how weak her people had become.
As if on cue, Juris appeared, his dark shape seemingly taking form within the flames that danced wildly before them. He hesitated for a moment before making his way towards where the two Defenders sat. He paused before them, bowing his head, “Lady Vahan.”
Lady Vahan eyed him. Out of all of her people, she was disgusted with his type the most. Her annoyance showed easily on his face, and he almost faltered. He had to take a deep breath and convince himself to keep going. He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted nothing more than to receive the lady Defender’s blessings.
He cautiously sat down beside her, leaving enough room between the two of them so their knees weren’t touching, but still close enough that she could hear him over the turbulent rush of noise from the melodic chanting and shaking of instruments.
He took another deep breath before he spoke. “Lady Vahan, I am sorry if I have upset you. I wish to make amends with you.”
She focused her gaze on the flames and the frenzied dancers before them. “Your very way of life offends me. There is not much you can do to assuage that.”
Juris frowned, creasing crossing his dark skin. “I wish you to understand our way of thinking. We have no want of war, thus we push for peace. Is there anything wrong with wanting to be happy?”
Lady Vahan sighed, knowing that he would never understand. “I am neither against peace nor happiness, but I understand the dangers of complacency. Each year our people grow weaker, and no matter how much we play with peace, there will always be a time when we must stand and fight.”
Juris shook his head. “We do not want war. That is why we live in the desert, and make our home where few dare to even traverse. We are an isolated people, and that isolation has helped us survive, as it will continue to in the future.”
Lady Vahan rose with such anger that Juris nearly fell back. He watched her with wide eyes, afraid what the powerful warrior might do.
She simple spun on her heels, seething with rage. “I do not want war, but I am also not foolish enough to believe it will never come. We must always be prepared for it.”
Before Juris could respond, she stormed away, disappearing into the dark cliff surfaces around them. Juris thought about going after her, but he was quick to decide against it. He could not stand against her might, no matter how he tried.
He had almost forgotten about the other Defender seated there. Sir Graham shifted and cleared his throat, drawing the young man’s attention towards him. Sir Graham slowly rose, delicately brushing sand off of his pants.
“If you really want her approval, you’ll have to change your way of thinking,” Sir Graham explained. “There’s nothing wrong with pacifistic ideals, but the harsh truth of it is that this world is never that friendly. You cannot have peace without war; cannot have happiness without sadness.”
Juris’s frown returned. He didn’t need to be told this by a stranger from a foreign land. What did the Defender know? His culture was completely different. Not everything had to be so black and white.
Suddenly, Sir Graham laughed and gently clapped Juris on the shoulder (having to reach up to do so). “But, standing stalwart and unyielding in your way is another method that may reach her. No matter what anyone says, do not give up your beliefs. You’ll regret it eternally if you do.”
Sir Graham offered him a wave before he strode after his partner. Juris stared after him, not quite sure what to think.
He slowly turned his eyes upward, casting his gaze upon the towering cliffs, now little more than dark mountains against a reddened sky. He found the words of his grandfather resounding in his mind.
“Stand strong like a mountain, never back down.”
But he was no warrior like his grandfather. He didn’t possess the determination and sheer tenacity that Lady Vahan did. Even the Healer now turned Dragon Pillar possessed an inner strength he couldn’t fathom. How could she wish to fight when her entire life had been dedicating to healing those in pain? How could she cause pain?
He closed his eyes, bringing a fist to his chest. Ah, he knew exactly how. He understood Lady Vahan’s words, and they bit sharply into him. To protect those he cared about, he would have to fight. And sometimes, fighting meant hurting others and being hurt. Perhaps one day he would be strong enough to be able to do so.
But for now, he was but a simple farmer, a young man barely old enough to make his own decisions. He still had time to make his mind about the Komoud ceremony. Maybe he would find the strength to change his mind.