Winter smothered Ludwell such that neither man nor beast would venture outside other than in the direst of circumstances. In all the long hall, only a handful of servants and two men were awake. One, old, sat entombed in furs upon a large chair in front of the fire. The other, young, sat bored and restless tossing pine cones upon the flames.
A bout of coughing, merciless as had been all winter, racked the pile of furs at length.
“Ye god, take this cough to the devil” muttered Edern, long since out of patience with his own weakness. He eyed the sullen young man opposite, and weighed what to say next with care. Good sense rarely penetrates the stubbornness of the young with ease, and it was moreso with this one than most.
“Young Elad, why do you think it is that I am held in such regard by my betters and peers?”
Elad ground his teeth, sensing a trap, yet unable to fathom a way other than to blunder into it.
“You’ve killed many men Lord Ludwell, great men, and fought in many battles.”
Edern nodded sagely, mostly to cover more coughing, and dangled the bait further into the trap.
“And why is that, do you think?”
“You fear no one and nothing, and anyone who wrongs you or goes against you, you kill”
Elad, determined to stay his course, charged onwards.
“Hmm. One would think, but no. Killing is certainly what we do when we must when directed by oath or honour, but it is not who we are. A man who is nothing but a killer is a shell and can never be truly great.”
Glowering and resentful at being caught in this line of thought Elad nonetheless played his part, compelled by boredom and vague curiosity.
“What then, Lord Ludwell?”
“If a man does not have a purpose other than death, he will not survive to be as old or regarded as I. Finding joy in family, and the love of ones blood and wife, must come first. Oaths and bonds must be honoured, and advice given with cool head. Only when these things are part of the very soul of you can you stand on the field of battle, kill your enemies with a steady hand, and face whatever comes despite the fear in your heart.”
Edern had thought to follow this lesson with one on the value of fear but like the cough, relented. Elad had stopped listening, and there would be many more winter nights in front of the fire.