I was never more surprised than the day the abbot said visitors had arrived specifically to see me. I am a nobody who has been here most of my life, serving my fellows as well as I may in this distant, windswept retreat.
There was no mistake; the delegation was there for me. The abbot stood by my side as we welcomed the visitors and offered tea.
"We have a proposal for you. A donation to the monastery in exchange for your service."
"What kind of service?" the abbot interjected before I could open my mouth.
"We need a... a shepherd, of sorts. One person to guide a group of lost souls through a task."
A wrinkle marred the serenity of the abbot's brow for a fleeting second, then was gone. "Lost souls?" he pursued, bland as plain rice.
A big, bluff man stood, cutting off the previous spokesman with a wave. "Yes. We have a mission of great importance - I can't say more until you agree, but trust me, it's important. So important that we need people who would do anything, absolutely anything, to succeed. We've picked a crew from the inhabitants of the Black Tower. They need a keeper."
The abbot out-and-out frowned. "And you think Chandi is this keeper? Why would you throw her to a pack of Black Tower wolves?"
The abbot was doing a good job of asking questions, so I kept silent and looked back to the big man. "There will be safeguards. If they harm her, they die. They will know that before the mission. We considered many people, believe me. We need someone balanced. Someone who can handle herself, not be baited by these criminals, and help guide them - even heal them, if need be. With your, erm, nature and training, we think you can keep the big picture in view and not be drawn into their nastiness. Every dealing we have had with this place has gone well. You are honest and faithful folk. We need to administer a few tests, of course, but once Chandi is found suitable, as I am certain she would be, part of the endowment would be paid, with the remainder due upon completion of the mission."
The abbot bowed and drew me aside to speak quietly, privately. "Refuse. We have little need of coin here. Why sully yourself with degenerates from the Black Tower?"
Glimpses of the past flowed through my mind, misted and blurred as always. Moments of kindness, compassion, selfless giving, a friendly hand pulling me up off the dusty road. I pondered, unaware that a great deal of time was passing until the big man suddenly yawned. I turned to the abbot. "I understand your concern, but the sins of these miscreants will carry forward to mar their next lives unless their cycle is broken. Sometimes evil is truly evil, sometimes it is a habit that can be changed. These people chose well. My own soul is in no peril from the contact and theirs may be improved. If I am to fall, I have no parents or siblings to mourn my loss. The monastery will do good work with the coin. No, abbot, I think this is a fine bargain all around. If these poor souls need aid, I can provide it. If they need a firm hand, I can provide that as well. Trust in your own teaching, master."
He sighed, his years abruptly written on his face. "I am your advisor, not your owner. Give them your answer."
I turned to the visitors and bowed. "I will do it."
The big man smiled.