Goodness and Bravery
Polgara had noticed when she was dressing his wound that Durnik was not coping with their battle against the Arend outlaws very well. He was not a warrior like the others, not born and bred for combat like the Alorns or Arends were. Sendars would defend their lands and their people but would not playfight or produce indiscriminate bloodshed. Polgara herself had made certain of that centuries ago. Durnik was the very picture of a goodly Sendarian man, and brutal killing like the kind they'd all just witnessed was not in his nature.
She had to leave him to tend to Garion's head. He was getting to be even more of a handful, that boy. She chided him on trying not to keep getting hit on the head so much or it would make his brains soft.
Meanwhile, her father was with Barak and Hettar and Silk, trying to determine the cause and identity of their attackers. In the end, it was decided that they were just Arend outlaws looking for a bit of sport and a bit of wealth to line their meagre purses. But the bodies were piling up and no one wanted them nearby.
Polgara overheard Garion ask Durnik if his injury hurt, to which Durnik explained that he had struck his axe in that man's face and his blood had sprayed all over. Garion kindly reminded him that the attacker meant to kill them, but Durnik confessed he had never killed a man before.
"Why don't you go to bed, Garion?" she suggested, watching Durnik's tears stream down his face. The boy was not helping, though he certainly tried. But he was not what Durnik needed right now.
Garion did as he was told. The other men were all moving bodies. Polgara sat down on the log beside Durnik and put an arm around him. And as soon as she sensed that they were alone and unobserved, she wrapped him up in her embrace.
He began to weep in earnest, sobbing and shaking against her shoulder. He was a large man, strong and broad, but not so big that he overpowered her. Polgara was blessed and cursed with being tall and somewhat imposing herself. She was more than up to the task of comforting this dear man, holding him tight in the safe circle of his arms.
"It will be alright," she murmured soothingly.
"I killed that man," Durnik wailed, his voice muffled against her.
"Yes, you did. But in doing so, you saved the rest of us. You did not kill him in anger or vengeance. It was in defense of your friends. There is no nobler a cause than that. If killing ever must be done, let it be to protect those you love."
He lifted his head slightly. His dear face was red and puffy, his eyes bloodshot and still wet with tears. "I've never seen anything so terrible."
"I know," she answered, gently stroking his cheek with her fingers and wiping away the tears as best she could. "I'm afraid you'll see much more terrible things than this by the time we're through."
Durnik shook his head in disbelief. "How do the others bear it? Barak and Silk and Hetter? How do they find sport in it?"
"Alorns are raised much differently. Belar is a hot-headed God with a taste for sport of all kinds," she explained. "Sendars are not like that. And I'm glad they aren't. I brought Garion to Sendaria, to Faldor's farm because of the kindness of Sendars. There is danger enough in this world than to raise a child amidst those who battle for sport."
"You weren't upset by the killing tonight," Durnik noted.
She gave a tight smile. "I've seen much more terrible things than this, too. The first time I found myself in a circumstance to cause the death of another, I reacted much worse than you did. And I daresay most men who had never killed before would not have done so in the fearless manner that you did. You have your morals, Durnik, which is one of the things I have always loved best about you. Your kindness to all those around you, man and woman and child and animal alike, dead or alive. But you are unafraid to protect others. Like that night we left Faldor's farm when you attacked Brill to keep him from harming Garion and me. And every step of the way on this journey. You do not let your fear stop you from doing what is right and what is needed. The Alorns can fight all the bloody battles they want, it is you who is the bravest of them all."
His tears had finally stopped, but his kind brown eyes were staring widely at her. "Did you say that is what you love best about me?"
Polgara was usually much more careful of her words, not so revealing of herself. Durnik made her lose her focus sometimes. This was not the first time such a thing had happened. But it was the first time she had ever made any reference to her love for him. That was not something she should speak of, now or ever, and especially not to him. She could not help herself, however. She touched his cheek again and smiled softly. "Yes. That is one of the things I love best about you. One of many."
Before he could ask another question, Polgara leaned in and pressed her lips against his. It was soft and quick, barely more than a peck of a kiss. "Shh," she whispered.
"Pol, walk with me."
She reluctantly pulled away from Durnik, who was frozen with shock and blushing up a storm, the dear man. She turned to see her father approaching from the woods with the others behind him. "Walk where?" she asked, not yet standing up yet.
"Tonight's a good night for a hunt," he said.
Polgara smiled. Yes, tonight would be a very good night for a hunt. Barak could complain all he wanted about his desire to join on a hunt, but this was not the kind of hunt any man could participate in. No, Father would surely be loping around as a wolf, and Polgara could spread her wings and soar above the trees. Plenty of things to hunt in these woods, particularly some escaped Arend outlaws.
Father and daughter walked away from the clearing, leaving the rest of them by the fire. "How is Durnik?" Old Wolf asked.
"He'll be alright. He is different than the others. He wasn't prepared for this in the same way. But he will be just fine," she said.
"Are you still glad he came with us?"
Polgara tried to hide her grin but could not quite manage it. "More so than before."
"You like him." It wasn't a question.
"Yes." There was no point in lying.
Her father did not say anything to that. They both knew without discussing it that Polgara could do nothing about her feelings for Durnik, nor his obvious feelings for her. It was for the best, under the circumstances. But even so, it was a very nice addition to their journey, to have Durnik here with them, to protect and assist. Polgara found his presence to be a salvation.
They continued to walk until they were far enough away to change form. Before she did, Polgara gently touched her lips. They were still tingling. And she smiled.