I turned 33 yesterday.
It was nice. Nina surprised me with a gathering at the castle, just a few friends and the kids, out of the way in the old throne room. Katya and Jacek dropped by with their crew, as well as Isadora, Ibram, Leilania, her weird silver-haired boyfriend, and Variel. And while it was nice to see everyone, I actually spent most of the time chasing little Sasha and Jacek’s boys up on the parapet. Boy can Sasha run. He gives his old dad a workout.
Huh…“Old”. Is that what I am now Journal? No, probably not, though in the stew Ursundova has become I am undoubtedly one of the oldest ingredients in the pot. With how much the Kingdom has changed in the last few years, I sometimes feel like the momentum of what we’ve created is ready to build right over what we started from. The old monuments are still there, the stories are still told, but they’re not the inspiration our people use to take us forward. The inspiration for the Kingdom’s future come from the myriad stories of a hundred thousand families…all searching for a brighter future…all finding us.
After the party, I took Elora down to the waterfront to see Sasha and Dyimi’s monuments in the evening light. We sat on the shore and skipped rocks while the sun moved down behind the tall trees of the Greenbelt. After a while, she got quiet…that way her Mom always gets when she’s really lost in thought. I asked what was on her mind, and Elora asked me if I had to be the Champion forever. I didn’t know what to say to her…so I tickled her. Then I told her forever was a long time.
But her question stuck with me through the night. It took me back to five years ago, when I thought that I would be Champion no more.
You remember this story Journal. Using a preemptive strike in Pitax, we defeated the tyrant Irovetti, and in the process defused a war between four Kingdoms before it began. In the lead up to the attack, I predicted that such an attack would bring only disaster, both on ourselves and the Kingdom as a whole. But I was wrong. I was nothing but wrong.
I went to Jacek after our victory prepared in my mind to resign my title. I couldn’t live with the thought that my conscious would have preferred the death of thousands of soldiers and innocents to the murder of a handful of scoundrels. I went into the King’s chambers fully expecting that Jacek would agree with my assessment. I expected that the Silver Beast would take my role as Champion and I…I would go off to make amends.
But Jacek didn’t accept my resignation. He turned me around and appealed to my sense of honor. He let me return Avenda’s shawl as I had promised. And before I knew it the drama had passed and I was fully the Champion again. There were formations to inspect, territories to scout, and any number of fresh faces to welcome into our armies. I lost myself again in my duties to this country I love.
It occurs to me now that I never heard what happened to the Silver Beast. Jacek seems hesitant to discuss it, and, if I’m honest, so am I. I know that Beast was paid some amount after our attack and afterwards his company of warriors moved on in the direction Pitax. I haven’t heard from him since. I hope, wherever he ended up, Beast found what he was looking for. Maybe it would have been enough for Beast to figure out what that was.
So Journal, I’m left wondering what my fate will be. It’s been fourteen years since I came to the Stolen Lands, thirteen years since we founded Tuskendale on the ruins of the Staglord’s fortress. I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished and the nation we’ve become. I’m proud of Katya and Jacek for being the moral keystone beneath it all. I’m proud that, in a land of strife and conflict, we created a sanctuary of peace and prosperity.
But you know what Journal? I’m even prouder of the way Elora can talk with animals, of Sasha’s little rambling stories, and of course Nina’s strength, perseverance, and warmth. What I do for the Kingdom I do because I am honor bound to serve and protect the realm’s welfare. What I do for my family, I do for love.
That day many years ago when I thought Jacek was ready for me to resign, there was some small part of me who was excited for it. I imagined taking a humble teaching position in Tatzlford. I would spend my days with the Way Watchers, and come home at night to play with my children and dote on my wife. Given Nina’s sometimes transitory patience for my doting, perhaps it is best that it did not turn out this way. But I still long for it sometimes.
Despite my longings, I won’t question the particulars of this life I’ve been gifted with. If it were not for my service to the Kingdom there might not be a Kingdom at all. Iomedae tells us that we must always put service to others before our own desires, and so I will continue to serve as long as she blesses me. I know Iomedae will show me when my work in her name has done enough to please her. Her patience is my patience. Her duty is my duty. Her reward will be my reward.
It’s true: when I first came to the Stolen Lands, I dreamt of a life very different from the one I’ve stumbled into. But I’m glad my dreams did not come true. This treasure is richer. This life is better. This future is brighter.