Paragon derives from the Old Italian word paragone, which literally means “touchstone.” A touchstone is a black stone that was formerly used to judge the purity of gold or silver. The metal was rubbed on the stone and the color of the streak it left indicated its quality.
Day of Tribute was upon them.
The Great Eloah Rehm had descended from his fortress in the Malloric Mountains and made the pilgrimage to Iredale Keep, where Viscount Aymon, with the pomp and circumstance befitting the tribute, had presented the mage with the Touchstone.
Citizens from every shire in the kingdom had made the pilgrimage to pay their tithe. Parents brought their children, hoping they’d catch even a glimpse of Rehm, not daring to wish for a pat on the head or the ever-elusive blessing.
Rehm had not blessed a child since the benediction of the Viscount when he was just a babe. The kingdom had suffered for it ever since, and the great mage had retreated into seclusion, returning only once a year to observe the tribute.
Viscount Aymon was on in years, and rumor had it he wanted the mage to sanctify his eldest son. The villagers feared his wish would come true, as all the Viscount’s children were evil, but Rainerous was the worst of them all.
As each citizen approached the touchstone, the Viscount and his children sneered at the offerings, disappointed with the quality of the tributes. Eloah Rehm said nothing. He remained behind the thrones, barely visible to the crowds. Only the top of his head could be seen, the light shining off his long white hair creating a nebulous halo around him.
Milo stooped down, grabbed his son’s shoulders, and met his gaze. “Do not be afraid, Barrett. Our wares are more than adequate. Just bow to the Viscount and his sons, but do not look at them. We will be on our way before you know it.”
Apprehension danced in his son’s eyes, but they remained dry. He squared his tiny shoulders and held his head high. Milo couldn’t have been prouder, even as he feared their position. The last to present almost always suffered the wrath of the Viscount. It had been years since any tribute had been deemed sufficient, and the last to make the offering always bore the consequences—often the dungeon, sometimes death.
They made the long walk up the aisle and bowed to their rulers. Their efforts weren’t even greeted with a nod from the Viscount. Rainerous bared his teeth in what was probably supposed to be a smile, but to Milo, it was just short of a snarl.
Then Milo and his son approached the touchstone, and he scraped his metals off the black mineral. Barrett lifted his head, proud that their tributes were the most lustrous of them all. But Milo grabbed his arm and squeezed. It was dangerous to show strength in front of the Viscount and his family.
“This is what you bring us?” Rainerous spat his contempt. “Your offerings are pathetic. Not nearly befitting our family. What have you to say in your defense?”
Milo tried to swallow, but his mouth had dried and words would not come. Before he managed a reply, his son spoke.
“We offer no defense, because we have done nothing wrong.”
Rainerous stood, the blackness of his soul clouding his severe features. “Insolent boy. How dare—”
The Great Eloah Rehm stepped out from behind the thrones, silencing Rainerous just by his appearance. A hush fell over the crowd. He made his way down the stairs and placed his hand on Barrett’s forehead.
Rehm turned to the guards. “Remove them.” He gestured to the Viscount and his family.
The guards hurried to dispatch the evil ruler and his sons, whose protests were squelched beneath the weapons of the garrison.
“I have been waiting for you, Paragon.”
“For me?” Barrett whispered. “I’m just a boy.”
“Age does not matter,” Rehm said. “You are the new ruler of Iredale.”
“But, my lord,” Milo began.
“Silence. I tolerated the rule of Aymon and his family because your coming was foretold. You will either be the salvation of Iredale, or its destruction.” He bent his tall body down to look Barrett in the eye. “I recommend you be the former.”
A loud explosion rocked the tribute hall. Milo ducked, pulling Barrett under him for protection. When the tremors subsided, he stood and faced Rehm. “What was that?”
“The end of an era.”
The guards rushed back into the hall. “Lord Rehm!”
“You will address your new Viscount.”
The lead sentry looked at Milo, who pointed at Barrett. “My lord, Viscount Aymon and his sons.”
“What of them?” Barrett asked.
“You let them escape?” Milo asked.
“No, sir. They, well, they exploded.”
Color drained from Barrett’s face. He looked at Eloah Rehm.
“As I said, young paragon. You are now the ruler, the one by which all else is measured. Choose your destiny wisely or suffer the consequences.”
The Great Eloah Rehm vanished from the hall, and Milo watched his son ascend to his throne, the weight of ruling Iredale heavy on his young shoulders.
This short story inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Paragon