After a day’s journey into the deep forest of Tirith Undor, a group of bandits swarmed at Traveler. Shouting vulgarities and grunting like animals, the dozen or so men surrounded the robed wanderer, brandishing stolen but dull weapons and garbed in pocked, rusted armor. Some aimed the points of their blades at Traveler, and others yet prodded him with the blunt ends of spears, jeering and mocking him as he stood there, unmoved and unnerved.
“Oy, we’ve got ourselves a hero here!” jeered one, laughing as he danced around Traveler.
“Or he’s just daft, like ol’ Sir Broderick was,” claimed another, cackling a laugh through rotten, yellowed teeth.
One bandit raised his nose to the air and made a theatrical show of sniffing in Traveler’s direction. “Smells like he shat himself, he does.”
Another bandit held a hand over his belly and chuckled loudly, spittle flying from his mouth. “Nah, that’s just Rodge you smell, the filthy bugger.”
“Ah, piss off!” came the quick retort, while the dozen or so bandits circled around Traveler.
After a few more seconds of their childish jeering and laughter, a slender, bearded man emerged from the bushes. His mere presence put an end to the games as he surveyed Traveler with an intense stare. He had inquisitive amber eyes which had seen enough winters as to bestow him some degree of wisdom. An axe hung from a loop tied around his waist.
“You don’t cower or plead for your life, man,” he observed, sizing Traveler up. “What purpose do you have in these woods? I wonder.” He spoke with an even voice, without a threatening inflection.
Traveler matched the evenness of the bandit chief’s tone. He held his hands up in a placating gesture, the sleeves of his robe sliding down to his elbows. “I am merely a traveler, journeying from one point to another. I intend no harm, nor do I seek to stay in these woods long.”
Some of the bandits snickered and laughed, but stopped when the chief continued to speak. “You have entered my domain now, wanderer. I will dictate how long you stay in this forest. If you ever leave.” He looked around Traveler, no doubt looking for a pack or bag of trade goods. “You travel lightly. Do you have no supplies, no goods to trade or barter?”
Traveler lowered his arms by his side once more. “I am not a merchant, sir. I am a teacher of sorts.”
Mocking laughter filled the air before the chief held up a hand, silencing his men. The laughter brought a smile upon his face, though it quickly turned to a sneer directed towards Traveler. “A teacher? No one has any need for a teacher. Teaching doesn’t put food upon a table. It doesn’t stave off starvation or bring you any coin, because no one has any coin to spare for a . . . teacher,” he said, ending the sentence with a laugh. “But I’m sure some rich noble would pay a pretty price to have a teacher for his rotten little spawn. You’ll come with us and stay ‘til the slavers come by. Ed?”
Traveler waited in silence for a moment until Ed walked up behind him and punched him in the temple, blackness soon descending over him.
For three days, Traveler sat in a small wooden cage in the bandit’s camp, observing their comings and goings. There were a dozen or so bandits altogether, and they were quite fond of raiding the nearby villages and farms for food, gold, and women. The bandit chief - Flenn, Traveler discovered - believed himself to be the king of the forest, taking it upon himself and his band of troublemakers to rob and steal from travelers, hunters, trappers, and anyone else who wandered into or near the woods. Traveler found the idea quite quaint.
On the morning of the fourth day of Traveler’s captivity, Flenn’s young son, Tonald, lead a half-dozen of his friends on a raid. That evening, less than half returned, scarred, bruised, beaten, and bloody. Tonald himself had to be half-carried and half-dragged into camp, so maimed as he was. Traveler looked at him through the cage, the last of the day’s sun casting light upon the boy. He would die this night.
Flenn flew into hysterics, shouting in incoherence and kicking the evening’s supper across the ground. The others grew somber and sad to see not only their leader grieve for the pending death of his son, but empathizing with his pain, as well. Bandits were still human, after all.
After a few minutes, Flenn tired himself out and sat down by the bonfire, cradling his son’s head. Tonald made noises here and there, groaning and grunting as the pain wracked his body. The rattle had begun to take hold in his throat.
“I can save your son,” said Traveler, standing by the gate of his cage.
Flenn flew to his feet and nearly charged at the cage. Snarling, he asked, “How? How can you save my son? He is beyond saving, you daft bastard. No salve, no potion will save him now,” he spat.
“I need none. I have all I need. Let me out, and I give you my word I will save your boy.”
“Fuck you,” Flenn said, spitting at Traveler. The slightest hint of tears were dripping from the man’s eyes before he turned his back on Traveler. He walked back towards his dying son.
Traveler reached out and held onto a bar of the cage. Within seconds, the wood started turning to ash until Traveler stood on the inner edge of a rectangle of it.
One of the bandits saw what Traveler did and let out a warning shout, rushing for his weapon. The others turned to look, then followed suit, confused by realizing they were now in danger.
Traveler held up a hand, palm facing them. “If you impede me any longer, the boy dies. If you move out of my way, he lives. What say you, Flenn?”
Flenn raised an eyebrow at Traveler, then glanced from the robed man back to his son. Tonald coughed up a spurt of blood, prompting Flenn to kneel by him. “Save my boy,” he pleaded, the anguish of a father drowning out the hubris of a self-appointed king.
Traveler approached the boy, his bare feet walking across the twigs and pebbles that littered the forest floor. The pangs of pain on his soles did nothing to deter the task ahead of him. “Step back,” he told Flenn without glancing at him, speaking with a voice of authority as yet unheard of by the bandits. Flenn complied, out of shock if not compliance.
Traveler knelt by Tonald and placed his hands on the boy’s sternum. Crimson blood quickly stained Traveler’s lithe fingers as he softly pressed on Tonald’s chest. He closed his eyes and let himself go of his connection to the earth, reaching for something deeper. He pleaded for the sins of Tonald to be washed away and for the boy to be given life anew, for Tonald to atone for his actions and to bring righteousness to Fyrndell in place of the evil he knew.
A faint golden light seeped out from Traveler’s palms, its glow spreading through Tonald’s open wounds. The evening chill began to dissipate as a sensation not unlike being wrapped in a thick wool blanket enveloped the campsite. Traveler knelt motionless, the light growing in intensity as time wore on.
Then the light disappeared without a jolt or a flicker. Traveler rose to his feet under the wary gazes and skeptical glares of a dozen armed bandits. Flenn’s eyes shot back and forth between Traveler and Tonald as his hand started reaching for his axe.
Tonald coughed up a thick ball of mucus and blood, then rolled onto his side. He grasped at the dirt and fought to catch his breath, violently struggling to breathe. He calmed after a handful of coughs, his breaths ragged but his groans of pain gone. The blood dripping from his wounds gradually stopped as the lacerations in his body knitted themselves together. “Father,” he said, looking up at Flenn.
But Flenn was staring at Traveler, who stood idle, watching the proceedings. Only after a long moment did Flenn turn back to his son, helping him to stand on his feet. The boy did, with no need for support.
Traveler spoke before anyone else could, ignoring their skeptical glances and shocked expressions. “My name is Daison. The price of me saving Tonald’s life is this: you will set aside your old lives now - your banditry, your pillaging, your rapine - and you will follow me. If you do so, you will never find yourselves hungry again. You will find yourselves turned from the ways of sin and remade into servants of good.” Daison then turned his face towards Flenn, knowing the others would follow whatever decision Flenn made. “Healing your son is but a glimpse of the power that I have. Come with me, and I shall teach you things beyond imagination.”
Flenn pulled his axe from his belt loop. With all eyes upon him, the bandit chief lifted the axe in the air . . . and let it drop flat to the ground. “We follow you, Daison.” So, the first disciples of Daison were made.