Principle and Practice

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Principle and Practice

Post by Valonia »

“And I know things now
Many valuable things
That I hadn't known before
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood
They will not protect you
The way that they should…
Nice is different than good…”
- "I Know Things Now", Into the Woods

“The Ace of Swords … indicates that one is about to experience a moment of breakthrough. With its sharp blade representing the power of the intellect, this sword has the ability to cut through deception and find truth... It might also be a good time for you to seek justice and the truth in all matters… [T]his sword may be either used for noble deeds or to deal destruction. It all depends on the wielder… If you stick with principles, the sword will serve you well.” – Labrynthos



Valonia left the Shrine of Honor and headed back to Britain on foot. She didn’t really need to walk, of course. She could have used a spell and returned to Britain in an instant. But there were thoughts on her mind, and walking aided in sorting through them where magic did not. Even though the trek back was arduous, something about it felt necessary.

She wasn’t sure what she had expected to happen at the Shrine, but the exceedingly normal feeling was not it. She just felt like herself… which was a little underwhelming. She had hoped to feel different. Changed. Transformed. Perhaps enlightened with mystical knowledge. At the very least, she had expected to feel a weight lifted, as if plucked from her shoulders by invisible hands of absolution.

She didn’t, of course. Those were foolish notions of an overactive imagination. Personal growth (if growth there had been) didn’t typically result in some kind of dramatic metamorphosis.

Really, as far as dramatic metamorphoses went, Valonia couldn’t say she got any particular visions or pithy phrases from the Shrine either. She mostly spent a lot of time remembering the past. But it was hard to say whether the Shrine caused that, or whether she was getting lost in her thoughts as much as she normally did. After all, her mind tended to wander.

Still… she did feel a bit of a lightening of spirit, perhaps. Perhaps even felt a little more resolved…?

It wasn’t that she forgave herself. Quite the contrary. She did not expect she ever would, really. Her actions were things she would have to live with. But she accepted that, both the things she had done and the things she simply wished she had done. And she found some measure of peace in that acceptance.

Besides, while Valonia would have made some different decisions if she could go back, she would not recant the loyalties that led to those decisions. Brand had been flawed, but he had not been evil. There had been a time when he fought bravely, and had taken action where others had not. Even now, Valonia still admired those things. She regretted she had not been able to convince him to do the right thing in the end, but his stubbornness was not evil, nor was his will to action the cause of his wrong. And while he fought for the wrong things, he had done what seemed best to his senses.

Maybe that was the important thing to remember, she considered. That some people weren’t innately ‘good’ while others were innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad’. And it was simply false to presume that only ‘bad’ people committed wrongs. ‘Good’ people could cause hurt, even with good intentions. And it was rare that ‘bad’ people were wholly bad. Perhaps there were some rare cases of extreme virtue or depravity, but as a whole, people were still people in spite of what they had done.

It didn’t excuse anything, of course, but it was a place from which to start.

If Valonia was serious about seeking redemption for herself, she first had to accept that people as a whole were capable of redemption. They could change and grow – and that included herself. And while no person could unmake their actions, there was the possibility for change: both doing and being better. Causing more suffering, even her own, did not negate the suffering in the past. And making the world a better place involved aiding the people that inhabited that place.

After all, surely that was the role of honor in the world: to make it a better place? Any reputation derived from actions, the loyalties one held, and the values one espoused really only served the purpose of improving the society one lived in.

Valonia didn’t pretend that she held definitive answers, but that made sense to her at any rate.

Still, all of that involved action on top of all that, Valonia mused. One couldn’t very well expect redemption or betterment of one’s society while avoiding anything that involved actual change. Actions were needed in order to—

“Thy coin or thy life!” came a voice interrupting her thoughts.

Valonia fought back a sigh of irritation as four bandits emerged from the nearby trees like… well… homeless people turned bandits. She supposed it was a bit foolish to be annoyed that someone dared interrupt her introspection and personal development, but here they were. She was also annoyed with herself that she had been so unaware of her surroundings. This was the same path she had used when she had arrived, so she’d known there were bandits this way, as well as dangerous trees and hostile wildlife. The place they’d picked was somewhat of a chokepoint, where the trees had overgrown a bit, where they were close to the path. Valonia could practically have touched the rough bark of their trunks from here. It was a decent spot for an ambush, tactically speaking.

Still, while she certainly didn’t consider herself the most formidable person by any stretch of the imagination, bandits simply weren’t the threat they once were. Especially ones who wore cloth rather than armor, carried what appeared to be poor quality weapons, and were less than a handful in number. (See? Valonia told herself. She could be aware when she wanted to be.)

Perhaps now was a good time to put thoughts into practice?

Valonia let out a sigh, then held up a hand. “Humor me for a moment please. This is normally where we would start fighting and this would result in your deaths or mine… but bear with me.”

For a moment, the bandits looked between each other. One shrugged, then turned back to her and waved for her to continue.

“You can see by my cloak I am a druid, yes? An occupation that, at least at one point in time, involved knowing of and enforcing the king’s justice,” she began. “And that you are committing a crime which most, if not all, reasonable individuals would assign the penalty of death--”

“We see all the green thou art wearing,” he answered. “But given we are already engaged in lawlessness, what makes ye think we care who thou art or what cloak ye wear?”

“What sort of justice could a sleeping king have?” another pointed out. “Or dost thou thinkest yer cloak shields thee from givin’ over yer coin?”

“Justice is merely a construct of the current power base!” chimed in another.

The fourth didn’t seem to care about any of it, instead leaning against his spear with a look of extreme, crippling boredom.

Oh great. They were those kinds of people.

Valonia closed her eyes, pinched the bridge of her nose, and let out a sigh. “We might have to discuss the whole ‘justice as a construct’ thing another time,” she said. “But the point is this: I am questioning why you would try to accost someone who would already be less likely to cooperate, and highly likely to oppose you out of principle -- thus increasing the likelihood of combat--, and has likely prepared for dangers on a stretch of perilous road that is already less-travelled because of those aforementioned dangers. Whether you care about the ethics of it or not, it seems dangerously inefficient.”

The apparent band leader ticked off reasons on his fingers (on the hand that wasn’t holding a sword). “One, the road is already obviously less patrolled, otherwise the beasts and monsters would not have overrun it. Two, there are fewer people travelling this way overall, which makes them easier targets. And three? Because those dangers are both a distraction and an excuse if those travelers fail to show at their destination. Less likely to cause searches or investigations.”

Well. He had a point there, Valonia had to admit.

“Was there something else? Or can we get on with it? We humored thy questions, druid girl, but we hast not time for this nonsense or thine idealism,” he continued, looking at her pityingly, like she was some special sort of stupid. “If thou truly wishest to take the reasonable approach, just give over thine coin and thou wilt not come to harm.”

So much for seeing people as a combination of both good and bad, and deserving of chances to change, Valonia supposed. Or maybe she wasn’t very good at this philosophical part? While she thought she had been fair at coming up with reasonable arguments, she clearly wasn’t doing very well trying to sway these people. It was far easier to think such things than act on them.

“You bring up valid points, but might I counter with something?” Valonia asked, then continued on without waiting for a reply. “Not only do people avoid travel along this road much because of bandits like yourselves, but also the wildlife.”

The leader of the band looked at her impatiently. “Thy point being…?”

“Spiders,” she said simply. “Spiders are the point. And they are especially sensitive to vibration.”

She swung her oaken staff hard against the trunk of a tree, simply intending to cause a moderate vibration. But though she was not the most robust of individuals, the impact of the staff caused a loud thooom! that resonated up the tree.

That was an odd sound, she noted. Perhaps the tree had been hollow?

Regardless, as Val had expected, the giant spiders dislodged themselves from the upper boughs where they had been hiding, silently lowering themselves along their silvery webs. The spiders had not been bothered by simple discussion, of course. But the thump of Valonia’s staff had drawn their attention, and the running of adult-weighted bandits created a nice, solid repetitious vibration along a forest floor laced with silver webbing. Valonia had wanted to warn them, but they had run before she could get a word in.

“If you run, the vibration-… oh, nevermind,” she tried, then trailed off.

“Thou babbling ill-bred murder hag!” came the distant voice of one. The insult, and the following shriek, was filtered through the trees, and a flock of birds rose up in protest.

Well. That was a new one, Valonia mused as she stood contemplatively in place.

The bandit leader, too, had stood his ground, though he looked back over his shoulder toward where his compatriots had fled. He wasn’t running, however. Perhaps he’d heard the warning Val had tried to give – or perhaps he was just taken aback by the sudden spiders? It was difficult for Valonia to tell which.

“What kind of justice is this, druid??” demanded the would-be bandit leader.

Valonia was pondering that herself, actually. While she felt this did possess a certain element of justice, she didn’t exactly feel glad about any of it. She knew the venom these forest spiders had, and the effect they had on a body. Their venom broke down muscle tissue quickly, and forest spiders were capable of injecting a rather large dose per bite. Their reflexes were also quick enough to bite multiple times, and that was easily enough to stop a boar or a large deer.

It was a rather brutal way to go.

She did feel some pity for the bandits. People were still people, even if they were wrong. And she took no joy in either their wrongness, or the consequences of their wrongness. It wasn’t like she wanted to use spiders as her form of The King’s Justice. She was just using what she knew to defend herself.

Still, the Avatar wouldn’t have used spiders to make a point, self-defense or not. Valonia considered that she might not be very good at this virtue thing. She clearly had some way to go before she got it all figured out.

But rather than explain all of this to the bandit, Valonia just shrugged a shoulder in reply. “I did not plan any spider justice, if it matters. But there does seem to be fairness in it, no? You would have robbed and possibly killed me.”

“Not with spiders!” The bandit kept looking back, clearly debating whether to go after them or not.

“Oh, that makes murder and robbery much better then,” Valonia commented drolly.

He had the audacity to glare at her. “Only a coward uses poison!”

“This is venom, actually,” Valonia corrected. “If it bites you and you die, it is venomous. If you bite it and you die, it is poisonous. Though I notice you neither defend nor excoriate your own fellows for running away. Or do you not hold loyalty toward them?”

He glowered at her and refused to answer. He did, however, take a step in the direction his compatriots had fled. He froze, however, as the sound of a cut off scream carried back to him.

“If you go after them, you will draw the spiders as well,” she cautioned, all the while studying him curiously.

Valonia didn’t feel any particular drive to save him, but she also had no particular desire for him to die either. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was hoping he did… but at the same time, she was keenly interested what he would decide.

She felt of two minds about it. While she didn’t want the bandits to die horrible deaths, she had been outnumbered and at a disadvantage. To save them would mean being at that disadvantage again -- and as confident as she might feel, it only took one mistake to meet her end. Furthermore, while she wanted to believe in people’s capacity to change, and it would be within her power to aid the bandits, it was clear they would not have aided her -- they had in fact acted toward the detriment of her safety and property. They had shown no sign they were willing to change. And as her uncle would say, threats were to be dealt with in only one way. And even Arthur had said that bandits deserved to die. She had been sensitive about his words, but he had not been wrong.

But if Valonia believed in the capacity of others to change, to end a life meant to end that possibility. There would be no growth, no change, no possible futures, nothing. Whatever that person might have become would simply be… nothing.

Druid or not, who was she to judge someone’s worth like that?

The bandit studied her too in silence, glowering and angry as if he held her responsible for all this. But eventually, after seconds ticked away, he turned and ran down the path toward his fellows, leaving Valonia alone.

“Interesting,” she commented quietly to herself. She then waited for a few more seconds, listening to the sounds of the forest and the battles ahead, then unslung her bow and walked quietly toward the fight. She knew better than to engage the arachnids at close range.

The first bandit she came across was already half-wrapped in silk. The spiders worked quickly, she knew. But a couple arrows put into the spiders ended the threat. It changed little, however, as she knew from the blackened skin that the bandit was dead. Further down the trail was the second bandit, also dead, with his spear embedded into a giant spider and its fangs buried into his arm. A third bandit was face-down on the ground, a giant spider perched upon his back. Valonia sent a few more arrows into it, clearing the path for any future travelers.

And, finally, she saw the would-be leader of this band, lying with his back against a tree trunk, his sword fallen from his hands. Spider corpses lay cut and mangled before him, but the bites on his arms told the story. He would not have long left. Not without assistance.

He glowered at her, though his breathing came too quickly and shallowly as the venom acted to make his organs seize.

Valonia paused for a moment, then withdrew a bottle from her pack, a small leather-wrapped container containing a curative potion. She had prepared for this trek, knowing full well about the spiders, and planned for contingencies.

She hadn’t exactly intended it for this purpose though.

With a tip of her hand, she let the bottle fall on the ground beside the bandit. It landed softly in the dirt, unopened and unbroken -- and the color of the liquid, showing just above the leather binding, showed its contents. The bandit reached for it with stiffening muscles, uncorking it and drinking it quickly. While it might not heal him fully, the draught would counteract the venom and allow for healing to take place.

In the meantime, Valonia slung her bow back over her shoulder and leaned down to pick up his sword. It was old, and the leather binding on the hilt showed obvious dirt and wear, but the blade itself seemed in decent shape. She wasn’t entirely sure what she meant by taking it up, whether she would use the blade to end his life, or whether she was trying to keep him from it.

But even as she studied the worn sword, it seemed less of a threat. For all the danger and meaning she’d ascribed to holding one, there was nothing particularly sinister about the sword itself. Regardless of whether or not it had been wielded by a bandit, it wasn’t the blade that was the problem. It did not taint the wielder. It was a tool only as virtuous or vile as the person carrying it.

She turned it over thoughtfully, mulling over old oaths, old wrongs, old thoughts. The sword didn’t burn her hands, nor did it fill her with some manner of primal and uncontrollable bloodthirst, making her want to slay this bandit. She didn’t feel overwhelmed by murderous intent or desire to harm others.

She still just felt like herself, really.

Valonia pushed the blade into the dirt next to the bandit, leaving it for him to collect. She had no need to take it from him. She had sworn to only carry one to defend others or herself. To preserve and protect. This was neither.

He watched her do it, looking at her with something of bewilderment. “Is this the king’s justice?”

“I do not know,” she admitted. “Probably not.”

Would Lord British would have tried to talk to bandits to convince them of the error of their path, then set spiders on them when they refused to listen? Then randomly decide to save one of them? Probably not. This wasn’t holding a bandit accountable for his would-be banditry, and there wasn’t really a lesson in it. Certainly not for the dead bandits, and not likely for this one. It was far too erratic to be any sort of justice.

“Then what was the point of all this?” he asked, a genuinely confused expression on his face. “The spiders, saving me…?”

“I am still uncertain,” Valonia admitted again, shrugging and mulling it over. “Perhaps I simply wanted to see if people could change.”

The bandit let out a snort. “People changeth not.”

“Perhaps not. But I still want to believe there is the chance of it,” she mused. “Though I suppose not everyone changes. And even if they do, they may not change entirely.”

“Then why believe such nonsense?” he scoffed, even if he too wore a conflicted and confused expression on his face. “What makes thou thinkest I wish to change?”

“Nothing, I suppose. I guess I cannot know,” she admitted, shrugging again. “But while I cannot control another’s actions, I can control my own. And… perhaps I am making the choice to preserve.”

She squinted thoughtfully.

“Or maybe those decisions were made for me, and I am simply accepting the duty. Either way, no change can happen if a life is ended.”

“Tis folly, druid girl.” He shook his head. “That sort of thinking will get you killed.”

“Maybe. But maybe I am also choosing to persist when the world would tell me ‘no’.” She shrugged again, unslung her staff from her back, then turned toward the road. Choices and choosing aside, she still had places to be and things to do.

But for a moment, she glanced back briefly toward the failed bandit. “I would be careful up ahead, by the way. More spiders. Or Trinsic is back the other way. Your choice.”

Without waiting to hear his response, Valonia continued along the path.
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