Berig woke as the first ray of sunlight leapt in through the high, small window, the bars drawing lines across the cell floor. He rose, and looked up at the window. He ran his hand across the stubble on the front half of his head, and tugged at the ragged braid that held the long hair of the rest of his head.
He'd traded his last coin to the guard to be allowed to keep the small wooden disc he held in his palm. A skull over a garland of flowers, the paint worn at the edges by worried hands. Berig was a Redemptionist, a follower of Lacothas, God of Death, the Lord of Lost Souls. Here in Beresia, as in the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, most people, especially the aristocracy, were of the Synod of Virtues faith. A Synod priest had come by the previous day in the afternoon to tell Berig that his life had been a waste, not being devoted to the Synod. He would never be accepted into the Shining City where Luathas sat in perfection with Delpha, Assarné and Gardruss, and would instead be cast into the grey void of lost souls, stranded until being consumed by Nar Xauk the Devourer. He was advised to confess to his crime and beg for a gentler sentence - something like maiming, or at least a quick death.
Berig was accused of raping a young noblewoman. He hadn't done it, of course, but when the girl had gotten pregnant before her wedding to a much older noble, her father had needed someone to blame, and no one cared if a Redemptionist was unjustly put to death. Lord Sarus, known less for his mercy or tolerance, and more for his violent sense of humour, decreed that Berig's innocence would be tried in battle. The Church of Redemption preached pacifism and humility - Berig had never raised his hand in anger to another human being. Sarus had appointed a proxy to fight in his place, a veteran of the constant border wars against the ogres from the Shattered Lands. Berig had heard the guards betting on how long he would last. The odds seemed to be favouring less than a minute.
As he settled down to pray, a guard came down to the dungeon gate. "Hey! Corpse-fucker! Someone to see you before your big fight! Maybe he can teach you how to fence." The guard laughed at his own joke. Behind him stood a man dressed all in white, and armed. The complicated folds and unblemished white of the man's robes made everything else in the dungeon seem dirtier. Berig had never seen cloth so clean before. His sudden hoped died as he saw the silver ankh around the neck of the man in white. The symbol of Luathas, the Pure and Perfect God, first among the Synod. The guard unlocked Berig's cell and let the man in white in before re-locking the cell and walking away.
"My name is John. I'm a Luathan Knight, and I think you need my help. Have you heard of our order?" Berig shook his head. "We are an order of knights devoted to doing Luathas' work in the world. We stand apart from the Church, and serve no lord but the Perfect Lord. The knights of my order surrender our titles, possessions and standing when we join the order. We train, and we pray, and we do Our Lord's work - which is where you come in. " John nodded to Berig. "The Perfect Lord guides us where we are needed, and I find myself here. I've spoken with some of your neighbours, Redemptionists and Synodist, and thier feeling is that you are an innocent man. My order has found that a trial by the sword is an imprecise method of establishing innocence. " The knight frowned.
"One of the gifts Luathas gives us to allow us to better carry out His Will is the ability to see falsehoods. I will know if you lie to me. Please believe me when I say your life depends on your honesty now; tell me, if you would, if you are guilty of the crime you have been accused of. Did you rape that girl?"
Berig swallowed and met the grey eyes of the knight. "I did not, sir. I have never touched her. My faith forbids union with those of other faiths, and my god teaches that taking by violence that which is not freely given is abhorrent. We seek to minimize attachment to the this realm to more swiftly attain the salvation of the next when our time comes." John stared for a moment.
"You are telling me the truth. Your faith is strong and your soul is clean. It would be no justice for you to meet Lord Sarus' proxy today. And you shall not. I will stand as your proxy in the trial, if you will have me. "
Berig blinked, and paused in surprise. "Of course! But - why? Why would a Synodist holy warrior fight for a Redemptionist? "
"Because if justice and truth apply to some instead of all, then they mean nothing."
Berig nodded. "So," he said, looking at the window again, "Do you think you can win?"
John smiled. "I think so. Let us pray that I am as good with a blade as I think I am."
(I'm going to end this one here, but I intend to follow up on John and Berig later.)