Julen smiled, more amused than offended by Hatton’s comment about the rarity of finding exceptional qualities in the common man. After all, when he’d first met Aorle, Julen himself was quite class conscious. Aorle tried to discourage that outlook, but it took direct exposure to Phelan’s malicious and petty behavior before Julen truly accepted that noble blood didn’t necessarily guarantee a noble soul. And it took fighting beside his new comrades to realize just how ‘exceptional’ the common man could be.
“Thank you for the compliment.” Julen kept his tone friendly as he shook Hatton’s hand. He liked the new arrival, and didn’t want to lecture or scold him. Clearly, Hatton had his heart in the right place, and that mattered more than issues of rank. But it would be an insult to Julen’s fellow Lightswords if he let the comment pass completely unchallenged. “However, I think you’ll find that courage and integrity are not as rare as you might think. Other than Aorle and Triarius, none of us here are noble born, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better band of men to stand beside you. Er, band of men and a woman, that is.” Hastily correcting himself, Julen cast a nervous glance over his shoulder. But Thetta was well out of earshot.
Hatton’s question about what foes they might fight was an easy one to answer. “Well, a couple of nights ago, Aorle battled two demons. The first, he slew outright. The second, he was only able to drive away, but he did save the girl it intended to prey on. Then, last night, our hall was invaded by a group of deserters and their allies, who wished to repay Aorle for calling them cowards. Their corpses now feed the crows. Tomorrow, as you know, we will strike a blow against Snyde. After his evil business has been sufficiently crippled, we plan on journeying to my home village. A number of unscrupulous mercenaries seem to be biding their time there, bullying the local citizens, and demanding things they have no right to take. That can’t be allowed to continue.” Finally, Julen was forced to pause for breath. When he did so, he noticed the look on Hatton’s face, and it made his smile blossom into a wide grin. “I told you, didn’t I? Never a dull moment around here.”
“As for how I became a warrior, I’m afraid that’s a less interesting tale. After hardship struck my farm, I came to Marn in search of work, where I met Aorle. Talking with him...I don’t know how to explain it, really. He gave something back to me. He made me want to do something good. He made me believe that I could. Despite having no background in such things, I pledged my service to him. And, when Aorle saw that my sincerity and my need were both great, he accepted me. Since then, he’s taught me to fight. And taught me a great deal besides that.” Julen chuckled. “Actually, on that first night, I volunteered to be his squire. But don’t worry. It was just something I remembered from my mother’s stories, not a position that I truly understood. You’ll do a much better job of filling the role than I would.”
“And you, Hatton? What led you down your current path?”
Out of respect for the dead, Julen lowered his eyes when Hatton mentioned his previous master falling in battle. Julen couldn’t imagine how he would feel if Aorle were to be slain. To lose his teacher, his leader, his closest friend -- it couldn’t be anything except devastating. Perhaps that was why a part of Julen tried so hard to think of his friend as invincible. “I’m sorry to hear about your master. What happened?”
After giving Hatton time to reply, Julen moved on to the rest of the squire’s inquiry. “I don’t doubt that Aorle is aware of your skill. He will not let you stand idle for long. As for what you can do to impress him, I may not be the best man to answer that. He’s told you that he holds me in high esteem, and yet I’ve stumbled as often as I’ve succeeded.” Julen thought of his fit of temper during the training, his rashness when rushing to help Kaydee, and his recent thirst for vengeance. “Telling someone to ‘always strive to do good’ sounds like very obvious advice. But it’s all that I can offer you.”