When Fr. Barnard had gone into battle with Bryantt Sands, challenging him on the field of the Debatable Lands, in front of the Druid priest, in front of the crowd of people, in front of Karissa, the priest had fully believed that he would die. It never occurred to him that he would defeat the Warden. Bryantt was one of the best fighters in the land and Fr. Barnard, while skilled, had not held a sword in combat for a good number of years.
He walked trembling through the crowd, pushing his way forward. He no longer wore the cross of a Jesuit priest. He had lost it somewhere, somehow, in his drunken stupor the night before. He couldn’t remember when. Instead, he gripped the sword tight in his hand and stepped up to Bryantt and his “bride,” Karissa.
“I object to this ceremony!” he stated loudly. There was a murmur in the crowd.
“Barnard, don’t!” Karissa cried, but he never looked at her.
But the blood was already boiling in the priest’s veins. He grabbed Karissa by the arm, yanked her away from Bryantt and shoved her towards Drago, who was waiting nearby, mounted on his large black steed. The girl went screaming into the night, thrown across Drago’s saddle as he dived down the hill and disappeared into the sunset.
Bryantt drew his sword and soon the men engaged in bloody combat. The crowd, mostly women, dispersed to the corners of the field as the men went blow to blow.
Fr. Barnard was sure that Bryantt was furious, but the priest was so far gone with his own rage and pain that he could barely think clearly. He relied on the old training – duck, side step, strike from behind, wait for the next blow, be patient, draw him out, circle, spin, duck again. Over and over he went through the drill in his head. It should have been second nature and it almost was.
Still, he was shocked when Bryantt went down hard and did not get up. The priest, stunned, stepped back. He had wanted Karissa. He had wanted to stop the hand fasting. He had never thought it would come to taking Bryantt’s life.
He remembered the nights in the tavern and the Countess’ stern admonishment to Bryantt. “Are you drunk, again?” she had asked, trying to say the words kindly but her body language was one of a woman disappointed.
The women gathered quickly around the downed man, tending to his wounds. One turned and screamed at Fr. Barnard. “What kind of holy man are you?” she yelled. He could see the look of rage in the faces around him. Dropping his sword, he turned and ran.
It was only then that it occurred to him what he had done. He had made himself and Karissa fugitives. He had abandoned his church and his vows. He had returned to the sword. He had lost himself.
With all of that in his head, he kept running until he reached the appointed place, and climbed the tower, and found her there. She turned on him, furious at first, but when she saw his wounds and the look of devastation on his face, she came to him, held him, prayed with him. He leaned against the hard wall and sunk down to the floor, exhausted and bleeding. With the help of Drago, Karissa mended his wounds.
What would they do now? he wondered. Where would they go? Bryantt would come after them, the priest knew. And just as clearly, he knew he had acted like anything but a priest. He touched the woman’s soft cheek and silken hair and felt his life evaporate before him.