As they set out from the village, Olena caught Oren’s arm. The paladin glanced at her and let the others go on ahead a ways.
“Does something trouble you, Lady?” he asked, seeing her stricken expression.
“I just . . . I just wanted to ask you something. If you have a minute.”
“This is going to sound really, really stupid . . .”
Oren patted her hand encouragingly. “Do not concern yourself with such things. If we do not ask, how can we learn?”
Olena took a steadying breath. “All right. I wanted to ask you, well, because you don’t seem too upset, do you see this sort of thing a lot?”
Oren pursed his lips. “A lot? No, I wouldn’t say that. I do not think anyone could remain sane for long were their entire life filled with nothing but war and death. I have seen such sights before, yes.”
“You must know that I never have, before today. I’ve always known that there’s evil in the world, and I’ve heard stories of the horrors that are committed in its name. But today was the first time I’ve ever looked evil in the eye…” Olena trailed off, glancing back over her shoulder. Thinking of home, Oren thought.
He gave her a moment, and then squeezed her hand to recapture her attention. “Do you wonder how I keep from going mad with grief?”
Her reply lodged in her throat, but she nodded.
“That is a difficult question to answer.”
Olena found her voice again. “I know. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, no, Lady, I am just not certain if I can do the matter justice. But if you wish, I will try.”
He smiled. “Very well. I caution you, though, that my approach may not work for you. Everyone is different and it has always seemed to me that each person must seek their own method for battling their sorrows.” Oren nodded towards Demaris, walking briskly ahead of them. “Some bury themselves in rage, but it makes them reckless, rushing always into the fray to avoid the pain that haunts them.”
As Olena looked away again, Oren knew that his words had brought her brother to her mind.
“Some,” he continued, gestured at Barak, “throw themselves into repairing the damage and preventing it from occurring again. They may lose sight of the future by dwelling overmuch on the past. Some”—Yorick and Fa’ss’th—“just never seem overly concerned. They skip over the surface of the great sea of life like a flat stone, never attached to anything for very long. They avoid great pain, but they never seem to achieve great joy, either. Everything is an abstraction to them, instead of personal and immediate.”
With a sudden grin, Olena snapped her wings open, breaking the sunlight into beautiful beams of color. “That won’t work! I feel—well, I feel everything. I’m my mother’s daughter; the sea of life is my blood.”
Once Oren’s smile joined hers, she furled her wings, and seriousness returned to her face. “What do you do, Oren?”
“I welcome the pain, I consider it necessary. Not, I mean, that it’s good for things like this to happen, but if you do not hurt you will never know when you are wounded, and a tiny injury could develop into an infection that will kill you. In a world where evil exists, pain is vital because it guides us to know what we must fight. If you try to build up a shell to keep it out, the pressure will build until you drown in it. To deny pain is to make it your ruler. So, I grieve, if only in the privacy of my own head, and I work with clear vision for a world in which such things will happen no longer.”
“You make it sound easy.”
“It is not, sometimes the pain can be so terrible you feel you may die of it, and you feel like you might do anything to avoid having to face it. But you must face it, otherwise you will never be free of it.”
Olena smiled. “That’s very wise. Thank you, Oren.”
He grinned shyly. “It is little enough, just the poor words of a warrior.”
She shook her head. “If you ‘aren’t much of a paladin’, I will be awed when I meet someone that is.”
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