Sasha marveled at how his life moved in cycles. Perhaps cycles was not the correct word for it felt more like a tide. The tide would go out and he would chase half a hundred small things: building a mill, making peace with kobolds, learning about the history of kingdoms and laws. Then the tide would come back and all that would be washed away by the need of his sword. As he sat in the dryad’s grove, the moon just beginning to set, he wondered idly if the tide was ebbing or flowing.
Certainly he knew which way was easier. His Founders’ Day speech could have gone any number of ways. The fact that it had not ended in pitchforks and calls for his head was a blessing, but the uncertainty was, in its own way, far worse. He could think of a handspan of people off the top of his head who could do his duty better and with fewer shadows from their past to chase them (though that part was, admittedly, more conjecture). Meantime, Katya continued to call on him to get married and establish a line. Lem was completely averse to any sort of line and he found himself caught between with impossible choices. On the one hand, left to their own devices, the people of this territory had allowed this land to be run by bandits and everything Severina had taught him of the River Kingdoms told him that the common folk would suffer should he let democracy and its demagoguery set the road forward. On the other hand, how could he ask any woman to pledge herself to a family where she would be, at best, the third most important thing in his life.
But that was part of the Asmodean Knot, wasn’t it? He had asked a nation to follow someone, for whom they could never be first. If his goddess manifested tonight and told him to pick up his sword and head for the Worldwound, he would. But where would that leave Ursundova? A ruler should always be thinking of his people, but Sasha could not.
Like a tide, his diplomatic efforts had ebbed and flowed over the past week. The Old Beldame had proved rather implacable, but he could not simply let people run her off. She lived there and she had every right to live there. Like the kobolds, it would simply take time and patience. It was something of dumb luck that brought them to Teressia and Flachos, but it was luck in truth. That they had dispatched the demon tree had demonstrably helped the lives of the people who lived here. That had made everything else worth it.
But the tree…there was where the tide crested. He had felt a surge of panic when the thing had assaulted Katya, but it was swallowed in that feeling between rage and joy that overwhelmed all else when he dove into combat. He had seen… felt the stain of evil in the thing’s soul and the power of his divine patron roared out through his sword as he smote it. The crazy old hermit had also been a moment of such clarity. He knew his purpose and he felt each step taking him towards it.
But could that be all there was to any man? Sasha had grown up around violence sheathed in various forms of moral code: be it chivalry, or law, or the word of the Bright Lady of Valor. He had wondered if there was more to him before they had stormed the Stag Lord’s fort. Now he wondered if even asking the question drew him away from the man he was supposed to be. He had argued to Lem that the law had to exist beyond the point of a sword. If that was true, what did that mean for someone who was, most of all, a swordsman?