We awoke early the next morning. There were some obligatory troll jokes commenting on our survival. The Sailor, the Tailor and myself did not partake in the commentary. Mostly because I didn't feel quite comfortable saying anything.
"You all know that the Troll is in the Pass we are about to go through," the Soldier said. "If something is to happen, it will happen today."
With that our pilgrimage took a very serious tone. Some must have believed the danger was in the night, but the Soldier reminded us that it wasn't.
We packed our camp in silence.
The pass itself is beautiful. It is quiet and pleasant. The path went up into the mountains and opened into a beautiful valley. We followed it until the soldier made us stop.
"The troll is ahead. It lives near the bridge. If we are lucky, we can simply walk past. If not, it will be on the bridge and we will have to wait for it to decide to leave," the Soldier said quietly.
The tension in the group was high. No one spoke, even though the surroundings were calm and beautiful. Other than the Soldier's words, we had no reason to be frightned.
The Soldier went forward, cautiously, down the path to scout the bridge. He returned a shot time later and said that we were clear to go.
"We must remain quiet, and go quickly," he reminded.
The bridge was an ancient stone bridge crossing a river that came from the surrounding mountains and emptied in a lake that dominated the valley. I wish I could have stopped here and described it more, but the threat of the Troll kept us going and focussed on that. Perhaps one day I can go back when there is no longer a troll.
There was a loud gasp from the Cook, then the Soldier drew his sword and told us all to run.
The troll was walking towards the bridge from a path on the right. We all ran onto our own path, turning left. The Soldier walked towards the troll.
"Go! I will join shortly!" he said. We all went, the Scholar and the Smith helping the Elder move quicker than normal.
We rounded a corner and were out of sight and sound of the Soldier and troll. There was a wall of rock and woods between us. We all stopped and argued between waiting for the Soldier to return and leaving to save ourselves.
"His sacrifice is valiant and seemingly necessary," the Smith said. "If we wait, it will be for nothing. The troll saw us, it will come when it finishes with the Soldier."
"We wait," the Tailor said bluntly. "I'm not leaving without one of our own. Either he is dead and should be buried, alive and well and we will be abandoning him, or injured and in need of care."
"And you would go and see?" the Scholar said. "You would risk your life just to see if he is alive or dead?"
"I will," the Cook said.
"I can, if you all wish it," the Farmer raised her hand.
There was a small argument before it became clear that the Cook and Farmer were not going to change their minds. They were going to go back for the Soldier.
"They are going to die, same as the Soldier," the Smith said as they walked off and turned the corner beyond our sight.
"There is no reason why we shouldn't wait, for them and the Soldier," the Elder said. He was sitting on a rock behind the group, catching his breath. "I still have hope, as we all should."
"We will give them a fair amount of time. But we shouldn't have to die because of hope if there is no hope," the Smith said, crossing her arms.
We waited in anxious silence for the Smith's fair amount of time. Before she could comment that we should go the Farmer came around the corner raising a hand high and coming forward quickly.
"He is alive!" she said, "The Cook is helping him back. He broke his arm and hurt his leg. He drove off the troll for now. He says as soon as he comes we all need to get out of the pass."
"We should get out of the pass by nightfall. There are wolves in these hills," the Tailor commented.
The soldier was beaten, but alive. He was favouring his leg and his left arm looked limp. He was still holding his sword, it's tip dragging on the path. The Cook was helping him walk, allowing the injured man to lean on him.
We all rushed forward and helped, saw the blood and dirt and the clearly broken bone in the Soldier's arm.
"We must go on," the Soldier said breathlessly, "out of the pass. I injured the troll, but we must go before it decides to look for revenge."
We spent the rest of the day helping the Soldier - who didn't complain about the help once. We moved quickly, our energies spent entirely on getting each other out of the pass. Only when we were out on the other side did the Soldier say we could stop and rest. He instructed some of us in what to do to set up a reasonably safe camp and we rested.
The Tailor and the Scholar tended to the Soldier's wounds, gave him a sling for his arm, while the Elder fashioned him a sturdy cane.
We all wanted to get to Resolute to get some medical care for the Soldier - something better than sticks and cloth.
The night passed uneventfully. We heard the wolves of the pass howling back and forth. No one slept all the way through the night. There were whispered conversations between our bedrolls; discussions on our safety and whether it was worth continuing our pilgrimage.
At first sign of the sun rising many were up. The Scholar washed and tended to the Soldier's wounds. She asked him if we should go on.
"Why wouldn't we?" he responded.
"You are hurt," she answered, "We are only a few days into the pilgrimage and we already nearly lost a fellow pilgrim. Maybe it is a fool's dream."
"We made it through the pass. I fought off the troll because I said I would protect all of you. If you decide to turn back and stop the pilgrimage now, what does that say about what I did?"
"It's dangerous though!"
"You don't think I knew that?" the Soldier replied softly with a rare smile. "I knew I wouldn't be able to fight off that troll forever. I also knew that I was likely sacrificing myself for this pilgrimage. If I did die, I'd hope you would continue so my sacrifice wasn't for nothing. I hope you don't stop now." He spoke these words softly, without emotion. To him they were mere facts he was sharing to a friend.
"That is why we are on this pilgrimage," the Elder said, carrying a bucket of hot water. "Did you think we would not encounter deeds of Courage and Love while we were out here?" He placed the bucket next to the Scholar and smiled.
It took us two days to get to Resolute. With the Soldier hurt our pace slowed down considerably. No one complained. We took it all with stride.
We spoke about Courage - mostly about what the Soldier did for us, knowing he would likely perish. The Scholar told us that she had believed that the Soldier was the least likely to remain with us when we left Owl's Head. She didn't think that any more.
As we ascended into Resolute it became clear that the Soldier was ill. The Scholar's work in tending his wounds was good work, but infection was still setting in. We took him to the apothecary and let them tend to him with medicines.
We sit now in the tavern awaiting news. We are all optimistic.
"We all have to finish this pilgrimage. Together," the Tailor said. "We started it, and we all have to finish it."
"No matter what happens," the Cook added.
We all agreed.
We would complete the pilgrimage. We would see all the major cities and learn about all facets of the virtues. All nine of us.