Lars was her first, the man from whom she got her hair and her temper, who taught her to tell stories. Though he was often tired, and his hands were always stained with ore, his green eyes had twinkled when he told her of the Old Man in the Willow and the Woman With the Ribbon Necklace – scaring them just enough, but never so much they doubted he could take care of them. He was so patient too, with his children, warm and funny and accepting that he had a rough and tumble daughter who was only going to leave their life and go on to other things. She’d known how much it had hurt when she left, but also known how proud he was of her vows and her Order.
Bertrand was her first, more best friend than lover, on the last evening before she left to begin training. They’d denied each other for so long, pretending, but when faced with the possibility of never seeing each other again, all pretense fell away. It was a sweet sort of thing, and clumsy, but understood as a tie they could make to each other. They’d promised to write, and had for awhile, but then the war had happened. They had both been sixteen.
Commander Bethany Newsom was her first, a little bulldog of a woman who taught her the necessity of following orders and the ability to answer in her head silently before answering with words. She was a difficult woman to follow, but a fair one, if slow to praise and quick to punishment. Steely resolve was her specialty, and she evoked it in all of her trainees – a skill that came back to save all of them later, when the war had begun and nobody knew where to turn other than to their own strength.
Brother Olfric was her first, a man who taught her both the proper way to pray and the proper way to love and heal the people who needed her. Healing of the heart and healing of the body and healing of the soul – the Light could provide all of those things, and who better than a village priest with a heart as big as his church to slowly mold a redheaded spitfire of a girl into a young woman with a dream of taking orders in the Silver Hand.
There was no finest. You couldn’t make her choose between them for any amount of money: the man who gave her breath or the man who brought her from the edge of death. She thought it lucky to have had two such men in her life, who truly cared for her in a way that wasn’t afraid to speak up or challenge, but never did so without reason.
Phileas had been her fastest, if not her finest, the warmth of his brogue and his nimble fingers in her hair, two children of the fallen North, absorbed in passion as though clinging to each other would bring back their homes. The trust had brought both of them face to face with the past, and while he’d been able to face it, she could only run away. The force between them blazed in an all consuming, ever burning sort of way – the way that burned them both out in the end, when there was nothing left but ash to go between. She had no reason to think of it anymore though.
Tirion Fordring was her finest, a man who truly led by example – both kind and unwavering in his pursuit of justice. An exemplar of the Three Virtues, he had taken a force decimated by the Wrathgate, forged it with the remnants of the Paladins and turned it into the Argent Crusade – a feat of great leadership and foresight. That leadership brought them to the edge of the Citadel, to that last great battle with the fallen Prince of Lordaeron, Aely was proud to be there, to have answered the call with what seemed like it would be her life.
Brother Willhelm and Katherine the Pure were her finest – teaching her to master the demons of her past and turn them into a desire for all that was right and good, to protect the innocent and wring justice from the forces of evil. They had taught her to take people as they were, and to teach each at their own level, and to never, ever give up. Their patience with her drunkenness was legendary, if augmented with appropriate punishment, and through them she came back from the brink of sanity – stronger, more devoted, and more balanced in her pursuit of her art.
Jolstraer was her last, a grumpy, coarse old man wearing Lordaeron colors who spoke profanity with the fluidity of a native tongue. The rasp in his chest was heartbreaking, but not as much as the fact that he’d asked her to be there for him, in the end. To do the rites and send him to the halls of his fathers. She’d remembered what it was to be a daughter of the North that day and every day since, and hoped she’d made him proud.
Arrens was her last, and really her finest as well, as they’d both learned to love and trust again. Two hearts solid enough to live with and around each other, and delight in their togetherness. He’d seen her at the edge of breaking after Icecrown, and she’d brought him back from the Twisting Nether, and the ties between them were tangible and real. She’d found in him a partner – someone with whom she could live and breathe and raise a family. A man with whom she created home, instead of always longing for it.
Tarquin was her last, a man she called “Boss” instead of “Sir”, and a man whose devotion to his so-called family was unquestionable. She still served for the Crusade, but in these later times it was Tarquin’s leadership, and that of the rest of the Riders, that made more of an impression. It was one thing to give orders, and one thing to really and truly care about those orders and the people carrying it out, and she knew the difference when she saw it.
And here she was at last, with a Squire in the Crusade, a position as the head of an Infirmary, and a whole batch of new recruits to train in battlefield healing. It was odd to think of herself as a teacher, a mentor, a spiritual leader of sorts – but really, what else was she? Her work was her life, the Light so much a part of her that she felt it in the very fibers of her being. She had, after all these years, turned into the Paladin she had once set out to be – if, perhaps, by a different route than originally intended.
(Blame Tarquin. He started it. You can read others here.)