The Quiet Knight

I knew that Sir Varren was an unhappy person the day I met him.

Our group - the Ghosts of Red River - had been hired to 'investigate and take action against' hostile events on the border of the kingdom. I'm not sure I like the kind of person who describes entire villages vanishing as 'hostile events', but the minister in question was paying in good hard currency, so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sir Varren came as part of the deal - a representative to ensure that the Crown's interests were seen to and to report our conduct to Queen Mariella. I've never met the person myself, but she has a reputation for Standards - something that turns off most mercenary groups, but a sure sign to us that she was worth working for.

Sir Varren met us at the gates to the capital city, already astride his own horse. I admit that he wasn't what I expected out of someone with a 'Sir' in his name; he was dressed in riveted leather, not plate or mail, and his clothing was dark green and gray. His build was lean, not mighty, and yet despite this he wore a claymore strapped across his back. He had short, ash-gray hair, bright blue eyes, and a symbol denoting his faith to St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel dangling from his neck.

He said very little as the rest of us prepared, offering only to ride ahead to check out the lay of the land. He seemed shy, not solemn, and avoided contact with us for as long as he could.

Three days out, we started finding the bodies.

Monsters and feral animals, slain with blows that were a strange combination of savage and surgical - many of them with only one mighty, utterly precise strike. They were dragged off of the road, and we all suspected that Sir Varren was responsible, but he wasn't volunteering information and we didn't want to offend him by asking. He ate on his own, just outside the circle of firelight, and slept away from the rest of us as well. His personal space had a kind of fear, almost, around it - not fear of him, but his fear. Somehow he just seemed fragile, and none of us wanted to be the one to break him. Still, I felt bad that he was left out of everything we did together.

We stopped at a town on the border of the affected region, and I decided to get Sir Varren a peace offering. Having noticed that he smoked, I bought a small number of cigars and some tindertwigs, and when next we made camp I approached him during his watch. His bright blue eyes turned to notice me, but he said nothing.

"I thought you might like these," I told him, offering out the cigars and twigs. He smiled, shyly, and took them.

"Thank you," he murmured. "You didn't have to. I make more than enough to keep myself in tobacco."

"Well..." I hesitated, then took in a deep breath. "I kinda wanted to ask why you're always apart. You're welcome around the fire any time, y'know?"

He was quiet for a long moment, and then he put a cigar in his mouth and took up the tindertwig. "Miss...?" he inquired.

"Kestrel. Vivienne Kestrel."

He nodded and sparked the tindertwig, and I saw them - the shadows.

Dozens and dozens of them, dancing around him in the flickering light. None of them were human, and I recognized many from my magical studies - demons. Tanar'ri, Obyriths, and nameless horrors coughed out from the blackest pits of the Abyss danced around Sir Varren, mocking him and tugging at his flesh, gnashing tenebrous teeth and shrieking silently in mock terror. His own shadow huddled at his feet, cowering in terror, trying to avoid the crushing hooves and sweeping claws of the fiendish shadows around him.

Sir Varren lit his cigar and took a deep drag, his eyes wet with shameful tears that refused to fall.

"No reason, Miss Kestrel," he muttered, his voice tight. He snuffed the tindertwig with his fingers. "No reason at all."