The Fall of Lord Blackthorn

Paths of Destiny

Paths of Destiny


The boy Blackthorn studied the two cards set before him. On the face of one card, a paladin rode upon a Valorian steed before a dawn painted of violet clouds. To the rising sun the paladin lifted his arms, and in his gauntlets he proffered a golden cup. Upon the face of the other card, a man also lifted his arms and cupped his hands, though to receive golden coins dropped from the hand of another. Behind the beggar and his benefactor the sun burned a brilliant yellow.

Blackthorn's father sat on the opposite side of the table, face illuminated by the glow of the common room's hearth. Evening had settled an hour before, just before the two had supped, and their bowls and cups still sat upon the table. "Thou art sworn to uphold a lord who participates in the forbidden torture of prisoners," his father said. "Each night their cries of pain reach thee." He tapped the card with the beggar. "Dost thou show compassion by reporting the deeds, or—" He slid his finger over to the first card, the sleeves of his linen shirt brushing the table. "Or dost thou honor thy oath and ignore the deeds?"

The boy Blackthorn did not hesitate. He laid his hand on the beggar. His father nodded, then removed the card with the paladin, setting it facedown with five others. He replaced this card with an eighth depicting a blindfolded woman swathed in green robes. She stood upon a hill of verdant grass, holding aloft a set of scales, golden like her hair.

Blackthorn's father spoke again. "After twenty years, thou hast found the slayer of thy best friends. The villain proves to be a man who provides the soul support for a young girl." His father touched the card with the beggar. "Dost thou spare him in compassion for the girl, or—" He moved his finger to the other card—"Dost thou slay him in the name of justice?"

This time, the boy Blackthorn did hesitate. Card versus card the game went, virtue against virtue until only one remained, the virtue that, supposedly, the player favored in his spirit. With this in mind, he eyed the beggar and his coins since his heart went out to the girl in his father's last question, but in the end he laid his hand upon the woman and her scales.

"The card of justice," his father said, a faint gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. He held the card aloft, rotating it. The scales flashed in the warm light shed by the hearth.

The boy Blackthorn stood from his seat to collect the plates and cups. His father halted him by gently taking the boy by the arm. "Tell me, son, why thou didst choose the card of compassion over the card of honor, yet ultimately relinquish it to the card of justice?"

"'Tis in the accords of Britannia," the boy answered, "that a man who unjustly slays multiple men should suffer for his crimes by forfeiting his life."

"And if no such precedent had been set?" his father asked. "What then wouldst thou have chosen?"

The boy Blackthorn did not hesitate this time. "I would have spared him for the girl."

His father nodded, and released his arm. The boy carried the dirty cups and plates to the hearth. As he stacked them upon the shelf to the hearth's left, his father spoke again. "What if another—say, a man who had been bereft of his sons by the man thou didst spare—what if he chose to slay the villain? Wouldst thou stay that man's sword?"

The boy Blackthorn peered at the wooden cup he was about to place over the hearth. "Yes," he finally said. "'Twould be the honorable thing to do."

"Indeed," his father said, skeptically. "But would it not also be an act of justice for the other man to slay the villain?"

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