A Knight’s Purpose

“Are we just both naive?” asked Keelath, a note of forlornity in his voice.
“I suppose you have to be, to want to keep living,” said Mirium. “When we stop striving for something, for anything at all, we die.”

Yes, I looked it up. Forlornity is indeed a word.

Author’s Note

“Sylvanas was sighted in Ardenweald.”

Mirium looked up slowly at his words. Keelath stood in the doorway. There was something about his stance that in a living man would have suggested having run a marathon. A living man would be panting however, holding onto the doorframe like it was the only thing holding him up. Keelath, being undead, didn’t tire, and he didn’t breathe. Still, she could imagine him gripping the doorframe so tight he would have ripped it from the wall if he took a step forwards.

She looked down at Aubraan’s slumbering form in her arms. The baby was nearing a year old, but she had yet to see him take his first step, say his first word. She worried. Mirryl, Alelsa’s son, was toddling now, his twin sister gamely crawling after him to keep up. Yet Aubraan seemed content with just sitting there, watching the world go by. Mirium sometimes wished she could share that fate, some days.

She looked back up at Keelath, still waiting for her reply in the doorway. He wouldn’t allow her to slip into that depressed stupor. He was much too male, a Sunwalker. Always on the move.

With a hard swallow, Mirium wondered if Sylvanas would take him away from her again.

“What was she doing there?” Mirium finally said.

Keelath hesitated. “She follows the Jailer.”

“As we feared,” answered Mirium.

Keelath didn’t affirm the statement. He let go of the doorframe finally to slip inside. Mirium half expected to hear a crack, as if he had fused himself to it with ice in order to stay on his feet. He staggered to the window over the cutting board, looking out. He didn’t come to greet Aubraan in her arms, as he usually did. He was doing that less and less.

Mirium stood up, willing the sleeping child in her arms to stay sleeping. Obligingly, he did, with barely a rustling of his swaddling. She came to stand by Keelath, within range for him to take Aubraan, if he wanted. He didn’t.

“You aren’t happy here, are you?” she said.

Keelath glanced at Aubraan, then at her. “One day, I will crack.”

Mirium winced. “You don’t know that. You’ve had bad days before, yes, but you’ve never threatened–”

“Mirium.” His soft tone stopped her. They both knew the truth.

Mirium tucked her chin, fighting tears. More often, as the novelty and effort of a new child waned and she returned to the normal rhythm of being stablemaster, Keelath had grown more distant. It scared her. He had done so before, when she had borne Evelos. At the time, he had been called back to his military duties, leaving her for his work. So too had Talthan done, days after she’d given birth to Medyfivol, also pleading that his work was more important. In Talthan’s case, that had been a lie, never again paying much attention to her or their daughter. Mirium had told herself it was only Talthan’s selfishness, and not what all men did. Keelath certainly wasn’t like that…

She swallowed. If he wasn’t like that, she could tell him her fears. “You want to go to her,” she said.

He didn’t nod or speak.

“I’m afraid of losing you,” she admitted softly.

That got his attention. He turned to her, looping her in a loose hug — loose so his innate death knight chill didn’t bother her so much. “I will always return to you, beloved,” he assured her.

“But you are unhappy here.”

“No. Not unhappy.” He broke away to look out that damnable window again, but he kept one arm looped about her shoulders. “…uneasy.”

“Restless?”

“In part.”

“Why? What can I do? This is our home, Keelath. You belong here. I want you to belong here.”

He sighed, and it was more poignant for Mirium because Keelath never wasted breath on a sigh unless he had something to prove. He gulped another breath and sighed again, but when he finally spoke, it was without the air to project it, a scratchy whisper that gurgled in his throat. “I know you do. And so we have tried, but I’m useless here, Mirium.”

“You have me and Aubraan,” said Mirium defensively.

“And I wouldn’t trade either of you for anything,” he replied full-heartedly, “but Tyrric runs the manor. You run the stables. Since the druids moved into the Plaguelands, there’s barely been any incursions from the Dead Scar. I can guard against and eat those undead, and it sustains me, but its not the same.”

Mirium continued to fight the inevitable. “Not the same as the fresh blood of a living victim?” She tried to be gentle, because she knew the bloodlust wasn’t something Keelath could fully control. “You know I’ve offered to–”

“And I don’t dare take that offer,” Keelath told her sternly. “What happens if I get a taste for your blood? You can defend yourself, maybe. Tyrric and Alelsa can. But can Aubraan? The stablehands? The twins?” He took the arm off her shoulder to slap his hand on the cutting board. “And now Alelsa is expecting again. It’s different this time, Miri. It’s not that I’m busy with my duties. It’s that I don’t dare let my guard down that far. One slip. One slip…by the Light, I don’t know whether I can take it some days.”

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting, and she felt ashamed, because maybe she should have. “So you heard about Sylvanas and thought maybe you’d find an outlet for your bloodlust again.”

“War is what feels most natural,” Keelath answered, and she heard shame in his voice, too. “War for a good cause, that is: to defend my people. But Mirium…as much as you’d rather I deny it, Sylvanas is one of my people.”

“I’ve never said anything against your loyalty to her,” said Mirium softly. “Though I know Tyrric has.”

“And why? Do you feel any differently about her?” The hope in his eyes was almost pitiful.

“I don’t trust her, Keelath. But you always did, and I trust you. I can’t pretend to understand it, though. It seems everyone but you is convinced that she acts out of hatred.”

“Maybe because everyone doesn’t bother looking past the end of their nose.” It was an old wound for him. Always he’d maintained that the Forsaken were misunderstood, even when confronted by evidence of their atrocities. It wasn’t like Keelath to deny the truth right upfront of his eyes, so still Mirium stopped short of judging him for it, but this new threat of losing him was wearing her nerves thin.

“I’m trying to, Keelath,” she said with grit teeth. “I guess I do not see how one can be forgiven for the slaughter of a whole people.”

“Can’t you? You of the Light?”

“Some things are only for the naaru to forgive, maybe,” muttered Mirium. “Is it because you see yourself in her? In what all the Forsaken have done?”

“I used to think so, but not anymore,” Keelath answered. “She doesn’t act for vengeance, Mirium. Not hatred, or passion, except maybe the passion of defending her people. I saw it in her eyes when she gave the order for what happened in Darkshore. There was no pleasure in it. A sadness, yes. An anger, but…not for the kal’dorei. It was like she was being reminded of an inevitability she resisted.”

“Death?” offered Mirium. “The torture of an afterlife spent in Revendreth?”

“No,” said Keelath. “As you know, the Venthyr do what they must to bring clarity and peace to the souls of the damned. The other afterlives are a paradise.” He closed his eyes, savoring the memory. Despite her worries, it brought a smile to Mirium’s lips too. He’d finally been able to show her Bastion, speak of his experiences there after his first death — and recover some of the memories he’d given up to them then.

“Fear of the Maw?” she suggested instead.

Keelath shivered, like he was a living man again. “Maybe. I’m certain she saw something there. Something that she saw as terrible injustice, and something she could do to fix it.”

“Keelath,” Mirium said flatly. “Remember the Prime Naaru. Those who seek justice regardless of the consequences are the authors of the worst evils.”

“Would you risk it?” Keelath said, his gaze landing squarely on her. “If you could take a few lives to save many…?”

“It would seem worth it,” said Mirium slowly, “and I’ve heard of such conundrums written in the Holy Libram of Philosophy, but in the end? That is only scraps of paper bound in hide, Keelath. Such a question holds none of the complexities of the real world.”

Keelath jerked his head in a nod, impatient. “Yes, yes, and it goes on from there. If you would give a few lives, what if that life was that of a soldier under your command? Or your commanding officer? Your wife…or your child?”

Mirium choked, managing to stammer out, “Stop it.”

“That’s the choice Sylvanas is making,” Keelath said stubbornly.

“No, I mean yes; I know that.” Mirium licked her lips and bounced the sleeping Aubraan to give herself a chance to catch her wild thoughts and sort them into some kind of order. “I would never make that choice, Keelath. Not because of the moral math — I’ve had to do that before myself, if you remember, and I’ve always chosen — “ Wrong order. She swallowed again. “What I mean is, it’s a kind of hubris, isn’t it? To assume you know so much about the way the world works, that you can be certain your choice really would save many at the cost of a few. That’s what faith is, Keelath. Saving the few, not because you are selfish, but because it is the right thing to do, and trusting that the rest of the world can and will take care of saving the rest.”

“That sounds naive to me,” said Keelath coldly.

“Is it?” said Mirium. “Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing with Sylvanas? You trust that she does will turn out well, even though you have no idea it is so, beyond your belief that her intentions are good and her plans, sound. Only in her case, you’re putting faith in a single person, not the world. I put my faith in the world.”

“So you do understand my loyalty,” said Keelath at length.

Mirium sighed. “Understand it, yes. Fear it’s misplaced, yes. As I suppose many do when I claim that by saving the few, the many will not be doomed by the tram speeding down the tracks.”

“Are we just both naive?” asked Keelath, a note of forlornity in his voice.

“I suppose you have to be, to want to keep living,” said Mirium. “When we stop striving for something, for anything at all, we die.”

“There is reason behind my faith,” Keelath said after another pause. “I just am not able to articulate it yet. I will know it when I see it.”

“Or maybe you’re only confirming your own vain belief in your goodness.”

“Damn you, woman!”

“Shush, man! You’ll wake the baby.”

Keelath paused to check Aubraan, and Mirium took the opportunity to shift some of his weight to Keelath’s arms, so she could put her hand in her husband’s. She swallowed.

“I have faith in you, Keelath, in your judgment. I’ve had thousands of years experience to tell me that’s not a blind faith, either, just as my faith in the world’s goodness isn’t blind. I don’t understand your loyalty towards the Banshee, but sometimes it’s because it is a prophecy not yet fulfilled.”

“Now there’s prophecies about Sylvanas?” said Keelath in utter confusion.

“No, prophecy. A prophecy. The old meaning of the word, Keelath. Not something some priest who’s smoked too much peacebloom would say, but a gift of understanding: that which touches on a divine truth of the world, always present. It’s a pillar that can’t be knocked down, like one cannot kill the Light.”

Keelath’s hands closed around hers tightly, gratefully, for her faith.

“That pillar has not been revealed to me, and I’m guessing, by your words, not to you, either,” said Mirium, “but still we can know it by its shadow.”

“Which is?” prompted Keelath.

Mirium kissed him gently. “Love. Love so powerful it’s willing to sacrifice everything — pride, comfort, the rest of a life — to support that which it loves. That’s you, Keelath.”

“On the contrary,” said Keelath, tapping her breastbone, letting the gesture carry his meaning. Mirium smiled, clasping his finger.

“I will come back to you,” Keelath promised. “Whatever I find out from Sylvanas.”

“I know you will,” Mirium answered softly, refusing the tears building in her eyes.

He stayed long enough to help put Aubraan to bed and lie with her until her limbs relaxed and her eyes drooped with sleep. He could tell her level of wakefulness by her breaths, and just before she slipped off, he kissed her cheek, whispering, “I love you.”

She heard his feet cross the floor then, and his hands lift his heavy runeblade from its pegs over the door. The door latch clicked, and then he was gone.

A guard’s purpose was to guard, Mirium reflected. Keelath had that option at the family manor, patrolling the Dead Scar eternally for the undead that infrequently crawled from their graves to harass the Ghostlands.

A knight’s purpose, however, was higher than that. Keelath sought the truth, at personal cost, so that he could bring it to light.

And his last gesture… She touched her breastbone, eyes still closed. Though Mirium had not been on the front lines since she’d had Aubraan, she’d given up a kind of sacrifice to the knights’ cause, too. After all, sometimes the life sacrificed was not one’s own.

Her faith wavered at that thought, threatening to shrivel up and shrink away like the light of the moon was shrinking on her pillow as the dawn approached. A life without Keelath would be terrible, but keeping him from his purpose was more terrible yet. He was a Sunwalker. It was for that conviction she had married him; she couldn’t in good faith take it away from him now.

Mirium just hoped Aubraan wouldn’t have the same streak of self-righteous stubbornness as he grew older. Two in the family was quite enough, after all.

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