The Order of the Blade – Warden Encounters


Hi guys, sorry for the lack of posts recently, but I’ve been suffering from a serious case of writing block. However, here is the third chapter of my fantasy story, the Order of the Blade. And I am working on the next installation of Nightmare and The Dark Menace, so don’t worry.

It was not long before the four travelers reached Gawic. There they split, after preparing a rendezvous, Davian and Markul going off in one direction to find lodgings, William heading into a tavern to gain information, and Ian blending in with the crowd to watch for their pursuers.

“Why canst thou give me something more benefiting for our cause than following thee around?” Davian complained, as Markul led the way to a respectable but not overly luxurious inn.

“Because it is from me that thou canst learn most.” Markul told him, entering through the front door of the inn.

“Well how will I apply any of the things thou hast taught me if I am not permitted to go on missions by my own?” Davian persisted, as Markul led the way through the crowd.

“Thou knowest as well as I do the reason your life must be protected at all costs.”

“But–”

Markul held up his hand.

“Fine, thou wishes to prove thy worth? Then show me what thou hast learned by renting a room from the innkeeper over yonder.”

Davian looked to be on the point of declining Markul’s offer, then realizing this was probably a test, he began thinking about the best way to accomplish the task Markul had appointed him. Markul had high standards, and Davian began thinking about all Markul would criticize him on if he just walked up to the innkeeper and rented a room. Markul would probably want him to get the cheapest price possible, and the best way Davian knew of doing that was to read the innkeeper’s mind and see the lowest price he was willing to let a room for.

Following this train of thought, Davian began searching for the phrase Markul had told him about; the one that allowed him to read a person’s mind. Thirty seconds, later, he focused as hard as he could, and muttered the words:

“Vrós Nrstódreqc (pronounced: vray-ouse nursed-ow-drack).”

Two things happened.

The inn was filled with shouting and screaming as the innkeeper’s hair burst into flame and he began running around like a madman, and at the same time, Davian collapsed as if he had just been hit on the head by a sledgehammer. When the haze cleared from his eyes, he realized that Markul was slapping him in an effort to wake him from his daze.

“What happened?” Davian murmured, putting a head to up to protect his reddening face from any more of Markul’s administrations.

“What seized thy mind boy?” Markul asked. “‘Fire head’ be not the same as ‘read mind’. How many times have I told you that pronunciation is essential! It is ‘Vros Nrstódrc’ (pronounced: vray-awese nursed-ow-drok). And whatever would thou have wanted to read the man’s mind for anyway? Mind reading takes even more energy than a simple thought like setting the man’s head on fire, an’ the price be right up there on the board.”

***

William entered the tavern, and instantly, the smell of cheap wine and whisky hit him like a blow straight from the shoulder. He stood for a moment, searching the room for a likely candidate for information-giving. Eventually, he settled on a group of gamblers who sat around a table, laughing loudly and gulping ale down noisily.

He settled down on an empty seat and loudly called for the barmaid to bring ales all around. The drinks arrived, and with a loud cheer, the five men at the table and William smashed their tankards together. Then they each took a long draught. With the first mouthful, William nearly choked, but he managed to gulp it down. Then he played a few rounds of dice.

William was fortunate, and earned for himself ten gold pieces. He drew one out from the pile, the other gamblers eyeing him greedily. He spun it in the center of the table, and for the span of time that it remained spinning, the six men were silent. Then it teetered slightly in its spin, and finally settled on the table.

Before any of the men spoke, William picked up his remaining ten gold pieces and spun them in the center of the table as well. As they were spinning, he spoke up.

“Ten coins; two for each of ye for the most recent news in Gawic.”

The men were silent until the coins stopped spinning then they all looked to the tallest man among them. The latter leaned forward and began speaking a voice so soft that his previous boisterousness seemed an impossibility.

“Strange things ‘ave been going on ‘round these parts. If me an’ my partners had any advice for ye new folks, we’d say to get out of this city as soon as possible. We’d do the same ourselves, if it weren’t such good picking here. Thou performed excellent sleight of hand back there, but I wouldn’t recommend thou attempt it on any other experienced gamblers.”

With that, the five gamblers each took their money and fell back to their original occupation, completely ignoring William.

William absorbed this information carefully. He detected no trace of lying, and the men had been the first gamblers who had caught him cheating without instantly starting a fight. Lazily, he scanned the tavern, then his eyes focused on the barkeeper whispering urgently to a man; the Captain of the Guard.

Hurriedly, he rose to his feet, knocking back his chair as he did so. Without so much as another glance, he left the tavern through the back door. However, he came walking right back in when he noticed a patrol milling around in the streets. A peek out the front door satisfied William’s suspicion of the existence of another patrol.

For a moment, he was at a loss as to what he should do. Then he heard a loud clatter from the direction of his recent drinking companions. He looked toward the table, and noticed their leader glance meaningfully at the stairs. Then he returned to his game of dice.

William needed no further prompting. He dashed towards the stairs, shoving past tables and complaining drinkers. A shouting rose up from behind him as the Captain began pursuing him. The whole group of people in the tavern realized the case instantly, and they opened up a path to the stairs for William while blocking the Captain as inconspicuously as possible.

In a flash, William was on the second floor of the tavern. He glanced hurriedly around, then dived through a window into a farmer’s hay cart. The hay cart however, was barely around the front corner of the tavern, and with their captain shouting at them, it did not take the patrol long to spot him.

Then followed a chase down the streets, with William dashing through side alleys and upsetting a miscellaneous assortment of people. All roads may lead to Rome in the real world, but in Gawic, all roads apparently led to the palace, because that was where William found himself after twenty minutes of running. He paused for a second to assess his situation, then sped off again in the only available direction, straight past the two startled guards and into the heart of the palace.

***

Ian skulked around the city, his dark eyes constantly scanning the area around him. Nobody took notice of the inconspicuous archer, and he was able to watch the people as they hurried about on their daily business with relative ease. Then his sharp eyes caught sight of a dark figure disappear behind a fruit stand. In an instant Ian was all attention.

He hurried to the spot where he had seen the figure disappear and just managed to catch sight of the same cloak disappear around another corner. A few more such sightings and Ian began to have an idea of where the person he was tracking was headed; the palace.

***

William had no idea where he could run to. The palace was bound to be crawling with guards. Then a plan crept into his mind like so quietly, that for a moment, he did not realize it was there. The sound of running guards however, seemed to push the idea foremost in his mind, and after assessing it, he dashed off again.

***

As Ian approached the palace, he heard a loud commotion. Skulking forward, he ducked into an abandoned storehouse and sat behind a barrel, peering through the crevices in it. Palace guards were running around shouting, at the same time blocking a squad of city guards who wished to enter. Ian scanned the are as well as he could from behind the barrel, but could see no sign of his quarry.

Then suddenly he whirled around, at the same time allowing a slightly curved knife to drop from its sleeve holster into his hand. As he came to the end of his spin, Ian released the blade. It arced its way through the air and then disappeared behind the shadow of a crate. Cautiously, the archer made his way to the crate.

Behind it was his knife, covered in blood, and a rat which had been sliced neatly in two. Shaking his head slightly, Ian bent down to retrieve his knife. Then his keen sense of hearing caught a silent swishing. He twisted, just as a short throwing knife whizzed past, cutting his arm when it would have skewered him in the back before.

“Narl mek,” a gravelly voice cursed. Ian had only the time to recognize the assassin dialect of Denise, the language spoken by the Wardens, before a black figure swathed in robes was on him, attacking the archer with twin scimitars.

Three minutes later, Ian cleaned his knife on the black corpse and wiped the blood away from a slight gash on his forehead. Then grabbing a looped rope from a shelf in the storehouse. He tossed the loop onto one of the crenelations on the ten foot wall and used it to help him scale the barrier.

***

William had been in this palace only three times, but the last time had been pungent enough to imprint in his mind the location of the throne room, and that was where he was currently headed. If he could reach there before his pursuers, then he might stand a chance of escaping with his life, as he would then have the ultimate hostage, the King.

He ascended a flight of stairs, working his sword out of its swinging scabbard as he did so. At the top of the stairs, an armored guard barely had time to turn before William’s flashing blade entered his side.

The sound the dead guard made as he rolled down the stairs William had come up from alerted the other two guards to William’s presence. One drew his sword while the other guard ran off to raise the alarm. The two swords met twice, before William pulled a backhand that decapitated his opponent, then taking up the weapon of his fallen rival, William ran after the fleeing guard and threw the sword spear style into the back of the running guard.

William barely took the time to draw a breath, before he turned and faced the thick, heavily decorated doors that stood before him. Sheathing his sword, he pressed a hand on each door, and pushed. The two doors swung open, slowly at first, but speeding up until they hit the walls with a resounding bang.

A hunched figure on the throne straightened a little and called out in a wavering voice.

“What doth thou wish with me now William?”

“I–” William began, then he realized something was very wrong. The King was blind, he should not have known that the person who had just invaded his palace was the right-hand man he had exiled a year ago.

A look of determination pushing away William’s confused appearance. The disgraced knight drew his sword and began advancing towards the King. He had hardly gotten more than ten paces before twenty guards ran out from behind the pillars they had been hiding behind and surrounded William, all their pikes pointing menacingly at him.

William slowly spun around, his sword coming into contact with each one of the pike heads as the guards slowly tightened their circle. When William had made one full revolution, his eyes came to rest on the King once again, and the tall man that stood beside him.

“So Richard,” William called out, filling his voice with as much spite as he could. “Be thou enjoying thy new position? Thou had better watch out, thy master could just as easily discard thou as he did me.”

“Silence!” the tall man commanded, while one of the guards hit William behind the knees with the haft of his pike, forcing the proud man to kneel.

It was at this moment, as it always was with William, that he saw his chance, and without thinking twice, he took it. When he had been forced to kneel by the guard, the pikes of the guards in front of him had not lowered as fast as he had. So leaping forward, William ducked under the pikes of the men ahead of him, his sword swinging from side to side as he separated feet from legs.

William’s charge became a roll, which he used to bring himself to his feet. Then he rushed at the King, hoping to still carry out his original plan, but the tall man beside the King dashed a hand forward, palm facing towards William, while he said the words: “Le Vástra (pronounced: lay vees-traa).”

William went flying back and landed on top of the two guards who happened to get in his way. Standing up, William reversed his blade and ended the groaning of the guards he had landed on with two quick thrusts.

“What, be thou using black magic now, Richard?” William said, spitting blood out of his mouth as he groggily brought his sword to attention.

“Le Vástra (pronounced: lay vees-traa)!” Richard repeated, moving the hand that pointed at William to the right.

William flew from the ground in the direction Richard had gestured and smashed bodily into a pillar. His sword clattered to the ground, and he slumped to the floor. Slowly, the guards began to gather themselves from their confusion. Everything seemed to slow down for William, then he heard voice.

In his dazed state, William was unable to discern what the voice said, but it was like the crystal clear tinkling of a brook on stones to William’s ears, and shaking his head, the exile managed to clear his vision. What he saw was his second key to escape. The only hostage equivalent to the King was his daughter, the Princess Katrina, and it was she who stood in front of him, asking about the commotion and the guards’ disheveled appearance.

William quietly drew his knife, then leaped forward, putting his left arm around the Princess’s neck while pressing the point of his blade against her throat. Instantly the guards surrounded him, but when William pressed a little harder with the knife, Richard hurriedly began telling the guards to step away from William.

Slowly William began backing away, ignoring Katrina’s struggles as she tried to elbow him. When she switched to scratching however, William bent down and whispered.

“I have nothing to lose killing thee, an’ I shall if I have to, so don’t make me.”

This quieted the Princess, and William left the throne room unmolested. The instant he was out of sight of the guards, William released his grip from the Princess’s neck, but quickly grabbed her wrist so tightly that she winced.

“Do not even try,” he warned her, then he set off at the best run he could manage, considering his wounded condition.

***

Inside the private chambers of Richard, right-hand man to the King, the former stood swearing and cursing, while a Warden assassin stood impassively before him.

“Thou told me thou would handle William!” Richard said.

“Ney rack ka,” the assassin said, wincing as Richard backhanded him.

“What doth thou mean thou could not? There were two of thee! Surely two Warden assassins be more than a match for a petty exiled knight?”

“La kar dredeck.”

“Another? What doth thou mean?”

“Lek Warden– Lek Wardek.”

“Ian? Ian Fletching? And Markul?”

The assassin nodded.

“So they hath joined forces with this knight. It be a small world be it not? But I care not. Find thyself more assassins. Call more of thy brethren to join you. Ian and Markul may be legends but they be mortals, and a sword, like this one,” at this, Richard picked up from his bed William’s sword, “Can kill them. Take it, and return to me with William’s blood on it.”

The assassin reached forward and picked up the sword, but as he turned, a black feathered shaft whizzed by Richard’s head and embedded itself in the assassin’s back. Richard instantly ducked, just as second arrow flew through the air his head had so recently occupied.

Another arrow came whistling, and would have skewered Richard’s head had he not shouted the word: “Elrst (pronounced: a-lurst)!” As it was, the arrow shattered into shards. Five more arrows came flying, and for each one, Richard repeated the word he had successfully used to defend himself the first time. But at the end of it, he was so weak from the physical strain destroying objects caused that he had sunk to the floor and could not move at all.

Then Ian climbed in through the window, and seizing Richard, tied the latter against the bed with the sheets. Then Ian picked up William’s sword, tied it to his back, and leaped out the window; well, that was what he appeared to do. In reality, Ian caught the dangling rope he had used to enter Richard’s room and swung himself onto the roof of a nearby house. Then quietly, he made his way to the rendezvous.

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The Order of the Blade – Suspicious Strangers


Well guys, the second chapter of that fantasy story.

The next day found the three travelers on the road traveling south to Gawic. Malcolm was leading as usual, and Ian took up rear guard, carefully watching their surroundings, yet remaining the most inconspicuous. Davian kept his post in the middle where he could complain to Malcolm, but where Malcolm could not reply without turning around and stopping.

Davian was about to launch into another series of complaints when a strong hand covered his mouth. He struggled for a bit, mumbling unintelligible words, until he realized it was Ian. Davian nodded several times to let Ian know he was not going to talk. Ian then let him go and headed forwards to walk with Malcolm.

Malcolm said a few words to Ian and the cloaked archer nodded. Ian then dropped back behind Davian. While Malcolm slowed to let Davian catch up.

“We have ourselves our three uncouth feres from yestere’en dogging us. Nay boy! Do not look back. Canst thou see that bend ahead? Good, once we round it, we shalt settle ourselves down an’ wait for our shadows to catch up.”

A few minutes later, the three rough and unkempt men rounded the corner and were met by three very determined and unhappy looking travelers.

“Qráa Stroa (pronounced: cree-aa stro-aa).” Markul spat. In an instant, the limbs of their three assailants were frozen in place. The three men noticed however, with not a little consternation, that Ian’s bow still remained drawn, and the point of the arrow constantly moved to point from one to another.

“Why be thou dogging our steps so?” Markul asked. The man he accosted spat instead of answering. Markul stepped back and said quietly. “Davian?”

The rude prisoner now noticed with great panic the bare sword that Davian held as he casually advanced. Davian took a couple of practice swings then swung his sword full speed at the neck of the man who had been so rude to Markul. However, he stopped just when the blade touched the man’s skin.

“Yea! Yea! I wilt tell thee all I ken,” he squawked. “Just, just remove thy blade from mine neck.”

Davian stepped back while Markul stepped forward. “Well?”

“Two days heretofore, a man clothed in the garb of that man over there,” he indicated Ian with a nod. “Came and told me an’ mine friends that were we to follow thy footsteps and find for him whither thou were going to stay in Gawic, he would pay us thirty gold.”

“Hmm…” Markul said, while the three thugs looked at each other in worry. “Dost thou believe that they have told us enough?”

Davian grinned while Ian remained motionless. “Alright then,” Markul said, turning to continue along the road while Ian and Davian followed him.

“Hey!” one of the prisoners shouted. “Thou cannot leave us trussed up here in such fashion!”

“Too true!” Markul shouted back, waving his hand and saying a single word. “Qráe (pronounced: cree-ay).” A giant branch that had been bent back from the path the whole time swung forward hitting all three men on the foreheads and their limp bodies slumped to the ground.

“I shalt not envy their headaches whence they wake from their slumber,” Davian said, grinning from cold ear to cold ear.

“Aye,” Markul said. “That branch wilt give them more to think about than their thirty-odd gold. Methinks that those who hired them would not have payed them anyway.”

“Who dost thou think they referred to whence they mentioned that their hirers bore a resemblance to Ian?” Davian asked, carefully stepping inside Markul’s miniature trail.

Markul was silent for a long time. In fact, he was silent for so long that Davian thought Markul had not heard his question. But just as he was about to repeat himself, Markul spoke.

“Thou knowest that Ian and myself hail from the order of the Wardens. What thou knowest not is that we be fugitives from that order. The Wardens have been corrupted by a corrupt leader, an’ we left. We now be thought of as traitors, an’ are being hunted by our own kind. They take not kindly to those who leave their order an’ share their secrets abroad.”

Davian walked on in silence for a few minutes after this revelation. He had long suspected that Markul and Ian were running from something or somebody, but had never figured out who they were running from. Davian was just about to speak again when Ian abruptly left the track and entered some underbrush. Davian was going to alert Markul but the latter just held up his hand. He began turning around and Davian did so as well.

Before them stood the man who had so boldly stared at them the night before. He held a drawn sword loosely in his hand, and had it casually pointing in their general direction. Davian hurriedly drew his own sword, but Markul restrained him from charging forward.

“Why doth thou seek to so dog our steps? Be it not easier to walk alongside us as friends than to slink an’ skulk as thou hath been doing for the entirety of this morn?”

“Where be your third companion?” The swordsman said roughly tossing his head slightly, his black hair just brushing the top of his shoulders.

“Over yonder,” Markul said, casually nodding to where Ian now stood atop a hill behind the stranger. Naturally, the man turned to see at what Markul was nodding, and in an instant, an arrow came speeding, striking the stranger’s loosely held sword in the pommel, knocking it out of his hand.

“Prea Véstra! (pronounced: prey-aa vis-traa)” Markul said, as the swordsman made a wild dive for his weapon. The blade flew from the ground into Markul’s open left hand before the man could reach it.

“Now, what be thy interest in following us so?” Markul said, with a smile that never reached his eyes.

The stranger smiled a reckless smile. “What wouldest thou do if I durst tell thee naught?”

“I shalt break thy sword into two pieces,” Markul said raising the sword as if to break it over his knee.

“A sword be but an object, an’ they be not hard to come by,” the stranger replied, his voice even, but Markul had not missed the man’s flicker of doubt when Markul had mentioned his sword.

“Aye,” Markul said. “But this blade means much to thee. Be the cost of secrecy so high that it demands an elven blade be broken?”

Markul’s eyes were keen, and the look of surprise which the stranger hid so well did not pass him.

“If though knowest it is an elven blade, then thou wouldest know that such a blade be unbreakable by any physical means.”

“I did not plan to break thy sword by physical strength.”

“Thou hast me,” the stranger said. “I wilt tell thee all. I be an exile in this kingdom. My name is William. Yestere’en, I saw you, an’ said to myself that ye looks like the kind who could use a stout hand with a blade. But I wanted first to find for myself the quality of ye. Apparently thy quality is high to recognize such an elven blade as this.”

“Aye, I know much, an’ I hath seen much,” Markul said, tossing the sword back to the stranger. “But I care not to burden thee with our woes.”

“There be no woe greater than exile from thy own country.” William said, sheathing his sword, while giving Ian a dark look as the archer brushed past.

“Aye, but there is great danger to be had when seen in our company. Even now, our foes are watching. I can feel them, their piercing stares. But they are mere shadows, a wisp of something which turns into nothing whence one attempts to grasp it. We be hunted by Wardens.”

Even William’s carefree air was blown away by this. “Wardens?” he asked. “What hath thou done to cross the Wardens? For they anger not easily, but their wrath be nigh impossible to withstand.”

“We left them,” Markul replied shortly.

“Then thou and thy companions were Wardens?” William pressed, even more intrigued.

“Nay, Davian be but a Warden in training.”

“Oh, well then, all the more cause for me and thou and thy friends to join paths. We both be outcasts from our people, an’ I see no reason why we canst not work together, to flee from those who pursue us.”

“I knew this was the decision ye would come to,” Markul said, patting William on the shoulder, as he turned to continue down the road. “Come, we have much to do.”

What Fantasy Story Should I Write?


Well guys, my first attempt at a poll. In this one, I’m presenting you guys with three “first chapters” I have written, for potential fantasy stories. I’ll put those three below, and I would like your opinion on which one I should write or if I should write at all. And I really want to stress the fact that I will not be upset if you guys think these are all bad and I should not write fantasy. I don’t want to be wasting my time. If I want to commit to writing something, I would really appreciate it if people actually read it. So, don’t be afraid to tell me that they are all bad. I’m not going to cry. 😛 Also, this poll will only be up until Dec 9, 2013.

The Legend of Rafton Castle: Alone

It was a dark, cold winter night, the wind howled and roared whilst the horses whinnied uneasily in their stalls. One horse, a bay with white fetlocks seemed especially uneasy. Sir Adrian de la Noise, traitor to the King, owned these horses. The King’s spy, Red Wrader discovered Sir Adrian’s treachery and the knight had been sentenced to the gibbet. However, making his escape by means of his once-numerous connections, Sir Adrian was now preparing to flee the country. One of the King’s courtiers, killing his wife, had driven him to treachery. But now, his twelve year old son, his only son, was to suffer for it.

He must run; Sir Adrian de la Noise of noble blood must run. He was hunted and harried. But his son, he could not bring his son with him. How could he bring a twelve year old lad, not strong enough to lift a sword and too sickly to do anything but pore over the few manuscripts his father could afford, along with him on a perilous journey? No, it was not to be thought of.

What then could he do with the last of his kin? His friends, gracious enough when he stood high in the King’s favor had now all deserted him. Even this knight could not avoid cursing under his breath as he thought of all those who had professed to be his bosom friends. His tenants were ready to turn against him. Even some of his most trusted servants would kill him without compunction; all believed that his treachery really had been dark and evil.

Most of this was the fault of Sir Adrian himself. He had been a heavy drinker in his time and had never lost the habit. However, his drinking and merrymaking had cost him dear. He had been a hanger around court before he had been knighted and liked the court no less after that favor had been granted. The wine cup had never been far from his lips and he returned home to his manor often so drunk he could not walk straight for two feet. Despite his faults his wife had kept up with him and tried in her gentle way to break her husband’s bad habit.

Then came the night when intoxicated by rich wine, he had gambled most of his money and lost to a well known courtier who was cousin to Queen Ellen. It just so happened that this courtier was particularly disliked by Sir Adrian and rising up in a fit of rage struck the man a buffet that killed him instantly. Everybody had risen up at this, and Sir Adrian had a narrowly escaped being killed on the spot.

The next day, Sir Adrian’s wife, Giulia, who had for a time been heavy with child, gave birth to Hubert. A fortnight later, Sir Adrian returned from a journey only to find that all but his castle had been burnt and his wife killed by Sir Brian of Harvedale, a reckless young courtier who was a regular schemer. He was son of King Nathan’s cousin and acting on the excuse that Sir Adrian had killed one of his kin, found a way to get at Sir Adrian with little harm to himself.

Miraculously, Hubert had come through all these schemes and intrigues without a scratch. His father, however, had really loved his wife in his rough uncouth way and, greatly affected by his wife’s death fell into worse habits than ever, and gradually, the money that his wife had managed for so long dwindled away into nothing.

Hubert, left greatly to himself was not instructed in proper habits, his father, though with all his faults, was greatly indulgent and while it could be afforded, Hubert had the greatest delicacies to eat and thus failed in health. The tenants had been giving their master the cold shoulder and thus did the same to his son. Because of this, Hubert never had any boys his own age to play with and was as weak and frail as an old lady. Sir Adrian, though he did not care to show it, loved his son dearly but was very disappointed in his son’s detriments. Still, he tried to make the best of it by buying what books and manuscripts he could for his son. These Hubert greatly enjoyed, though he did wish, forlornly, that he could really do some of the great deeds he read about and experience the adventures so recorded.

Sir Adrian’s hate for the King had increased over time and gradually, he began to plan treachery against him with a group of brigands. Just when the plan had been hatched and was ready for action, one of the brigands told King Nathan of the entire plot and Sir Adrian fled for his life.

Now, as Sir Adrian packed his valise, and scraped what few copper coins he had left into a pouch, he pondered the problem of what to do with his son. Then a thought struck him, Rafton Monastery! That was the church at which his wife used to attend. The monks had always appreciated the ever gracious Lady Giulia; surely they would accept her son. What, however, could he give the Abbot that he would accept Hubert? Then with a resigned look on his face, Sir Adrian walked over to the corner of his bedroom and pressed a hidden catch in the wall. Striding over to the opposite corner, he pulled out one of the rough stones that the wall was made off and removed a small casket. He then replaced the stone and turned to the casket.

It was of wood covered with red velvet which was laced with gold. The whole was thickly encrusted with gems and it was locked shut. Sir Adrian took from inside his shirt a gold key and unlocked the casket, inside was a beautiful brooch. It was brilliant ruby set in an oval of gold and surrounded by small opals. It had been the only thing he had kept that belonged to his wife. All the others he had sold for money to pay the numerous debts he owed people.

He stood looking at it then he closed the casket with a bang and put it into his valise along with his other things. He left his room and going down the stairs handed his valise to a servant to put on his horse. He stood waiting and then started stomping to warm himself.

“Where couldest that boy be?” He muttered to himself angrily. “John, hast thou seen Hubert?”

“No, my lord, in the very least, not latterly; when I saw him last, however, he was busied with his valise.” The servant replied.

Snow continued falling, and when for five minutes longer, Hubert did not come out, Sir Adrian stomped open to his son’s door and kicked it open. The door swung back and hit the wall with a bang which startled the twelve year old boy who had been trying to figure out what to bring with him.

Sir Adrian stomped past his son and going over to the oaken table, swiped everything off it into his son’s valise. Then, with the icicles still hanging from his beard, he grabbed his son’s collar and half dragged half carried him out the door. Sitting Hubert on a palfrey, for he could not keep his seat on a horse, being to weak to hold on to the saddle, Sir Adrian mounted his own powerful steed and waving goodbye, the pair rode off into the dark night that had crept over the earth like a thief.

Inside the monastery, most of the monks and novices were all asleep. However, as monks sleep but lightly, and as the bells were ringing for the midnight service, they were just awakening when a porter brought the news that a strange knight and his son had arrived. Brother Matthew, the guest master, hurried to the hall, passing the cloisters as the rest of the monks left one by one for the midnight service.

When he arrived at the hall he found the strange knight and his son waiting. The knight had thrown aside his crimson cloak and stood waiting, silent and impassive, his iron-gray mustache twitching with impatience. His child sat on the ground, completely prostrated with grief at the thought of leaving his father. For his father had not bothered to hide the fact that he must leave, and that his son would not be following.

Brother Matthew began to bow as was the custom of the time but the stranger just waved his bow aside. Brother Matthew, did not recognize in the pale face the knight who was the spouse of the woman who had been so gracious to them. The knight spoke nervously, but yet with authority as he asked to see the abbot.

“The abbot yet be attending the midnight service sir knight but mayhap if thou wouldest be inclined to wait a while until ‘t’is over.” The knight gave assent and Brother Matthew continued. “Wouldest thou care for some refreshments? Our larders be full and we have wine and bread.”

“Wine I will take for the night be chilly and the cold air seeps into one’s bones like a disease, but bread I cannot take as I be hurried and care not to fill myself lest I succumb to the claws of tiredness.”

“But woe is one who rides on his business with an unfilled stomach, especially on such an even as this one. With a full girth a man can be content but when his belly chances to be empty he is inclined to grumble.” Brother Matthew said as he patted his own extensive paunch.

“Thou hast convinced me.” The knight replied. “I wouldst that thou bring some bread and wine. And, do busy thine holy self to bring a little for my son here, as he is nigh faint with hunger.”

“That I shall, that I shall.” Brother Matthew mumbled to himself as he bowed and walked of. Guests were frequent at the monastery but a lone knight traveling with his son without any sort of a company was and extraordinary thing. Unless the knight was running from something… He told the porter what was needed and went off to meet the abbot as he came from the midnight service.

The abbot appeared just as the knight had finished his short repast. He was a tall, spare, man somewhat brusque in manner but a good man all around. He was somewhat imposing and moved with grace and dignity. He looked at the strangers through his gray eyes as he entered then motioned for them to follow him into the church but the knight interrupted abruptly.

“My good abbot I have no time to spare. I must hurry on with my journeyings. As thou canst see for thyself: mine son; ‘t’is impossible for myself to take him with me, I have come to leave him with thee. Thought I that perchance thou might take him under thy wing; until I return.”

“To join the brotherhood?” The abbot asked. “Canst he read and write?”

“The castle chaplain hath taught him just so. To join the brotherhood I didst not mean it so, I simply asked that he should stay till God wills it that I return. He is a spirited lad; albeit weak and feeble. Clumsy too, but his mind is sound.”

Sir Adrian’s son squirmed at this careless outlining of his faults, but what could he do? They were all true.

“Alas, ‘t’is a pity that he waxed not stronger and that I be hard-pressed to leave him here. Mayhap, if I never return, he will be caused to take the frock of a monk and spend the pitiful remnants of his life in prayer. Though it becomes not a noble’s son.” And Sir Adrian gritted his teeth

“How cometh it so that a good knight like thou should be traveling singly and without escort and on such an eve as this? Brigands and thieves rule the thoroughfares at this period of sunset.”

“And ‘t’is because of brigands and thieves that I an be caused to do so,” the knight cried bitterly. “The Holy Father in Heaven didst not see fit to stay those freebooters from betraying me. How easily couldest he have done so but did not. He hath wronged me. What action have I done to be deserved of this?”

“Hush, hush,” said the abbot. “Speak thou not of God in such manner, ‘t’will all turn out for the best. God hath a plan and ‘t’is not for us, humble creatures we art, to disturb it. I shalt take yonder boy in.”

“Thou shall not do so without due remmitance,” the knight said, recovering himself. He opened his valise which he had brought inside and drew out the casket. “Mine late lady’s remaining possession, mine own beautiful wife,” he murmured, seeming to have lost all concentration. “That hath not been sold to pay mine debts —”

He was interrupted by the abbot who asked. “Art thou in need of money? Gladly would we lend thee succor till thou shouldest be able to return us the money.”

“Nay, good Father,” said the knight. “Think ye that I would part with this casket be I in need of money? And moreover, keep it well, keep the casket well. It should pay for Hubert’s, for that be the boy’s name, board and keep for a long time.”

“’T’is a princely gift,” said the abbot as he examined it. “Such a sacrificial gift be not necessary to the monastery, keep it, the monastery be not so far in want that it should be hard pressed take such a brave gift from a knight errant, for that is no doubt what thou shall become. Keep it son, and use it well.”

“If thou shalt not accept my gift, I shall leave it with my son for him to use when in need.” The knight said, stiffening at the abbot’s blunt remark concerning his future. “Again I thank thee for consenting to keep my son. Give me thy blessing, Father, that fortune may attend my journeys.” The knight said, kneeling down as he did so. After the blessing was said, he got up and looking neither to the right nor the left drew his cloak around himself and left.

“Adieu and Godspeed on thy journey,” the abbot said, his voice trailing off as he did so. Then he roused himself and turned to the boy who had erupted into convulsive sobs the moment his father had left.

“Hush now, boy,” Abbot Gregor, for that was his name, said. “Thy father be only gone for the nonce, he shalt return, and when he doth return, straddling a princely steed, thou wouldst not want to greet him frail in mind and body wouldst thou? Now come,” he said as the boy’s sobs lessened. “Brother James shall help thee see to the unpacking of thy valise, thou shalt have to do that now, there being no servants in this monastery.”

“Holy Father,” the boy said, almost pleadingly as he looked up unto the friendly face. “Forgive me for being so impertinent as to suggest; but wouldst thou take the casket to purchase books for the monastery? Books are scarce and even if thou wilt not consent to use them, they would be of great delight to me when I am idle.”

“Idle thou shall not be,” said Abbot Gregor. “But thy gracious offer shall be accepted and books shall be bought to fill our aumbries which, though the novices and scribes are kept busy, fill but slowly. But —” he broke off. “Here cometh Brother James, the armarian. He shall see to it that thy valise is unpacked and thy books put away. Thou shall sleep with him for the nonce till we find thee a proper room. Ho now Brother James, this here is Hubert, son of a nobleman, he shall sleep with thee tonight and this fair youth hath graciously offered us money enough to by a dozen or more books to stock up our aumbries.”

“God bless thee dear child,” Brother James said taking him by the hand. “Come now and I shall bring thee to thy room.”

The boy however, was so tired that he was unable to make even the short walk to the dormitories where the monks and novices slept. Indeed Brother James had to pick the sickly lad up in his strong arms and when they arrived, he found the poor lad fast asleep. Laying him tenderly down on a bed, the monk began to unpack Hubert’s valise and many were the stifled exclamations that arose from Brother James when he saw the velvet bound books, laced with gold and he furtively opened many a book to admire their soft vellum pages.

Hubert, unfortunately, did not have a good night. His father had only ever pawned his jewelry but the furniture he had kept; thus being used to a soft feather bed, the rough straw pallet scratched his back and he itched horribly. Frequently he awoke, and startled the monks and novices with his shouting and crying, while Brother James gently mopped the beads of perspiration which rolled down Hubert’s forehead and made their way back down onto the bundle of straw that made a pillow. Many were the dreams he dreamt of the mob, grinning evilly as they set their master’s house alight, or dreams he dreamt of the perilous dangers his father was to go through.

The next morning when he awoke he was alone, alone in the world and without friends. What could he do? He had nobody who wanted him. Abandoned and despised by his father, he was left alone to fight his own way and to make his own fortune; or was he?

A Knight’s Tale: An Impish Act

In the monastery of Abbeyworth, a large but quiet country town near the border, seven students sat quietly on the hard wooden benches. The wind shrieked outside and occasional chilling blasts blew through the barred windows.

The trees were stripped bare and the ground scattered with leaves. The clouds, ever growing darker foretold of the coming snowstorm; the first snow of the year.

All the students squirmed in their seats as another cold blast blew through the window; that is, all except for eleven year old Elsie. She was bent over her small table working diligently. Now and then she pushed back her black hair impatiently as it tumbled over her ear.

The six other students watched Brother Moses, waiting expectantly for the period when his deep snoring would tell them he was in the world of dreams.

After a minute of watching and waiting, Brother Moses’ deep breathing told them he was sound asleep. The three girls (not including Elsie) huddled in a corner and shivered as they talked about the weather. The boys engaged themselves in arm-wrestling.

Five minutes later, a boy of about fifteen years of age, by the name of Nathan, got out of the group of three boys and creeping silently up behind Elsie, started to shake the leg of her chair.

Oh did he shake it. It made a dreadful noise, and caused Elsie to spill ink over her page on which she had just written.

“Oh please Nathan, please don’t shake my chair.” The girl said pitifully. “I just spilled ink over my work and I’ll need to redo it. If you wake Brother Moses up and he finds my work covered with ink, I’ll be locked away.” Even though she had spilled the ink because of Nathan, the pious girl refused the temptation to blame it on him.

Nathan refused to stop shaking the chair and instead shook it harder.

The little girl was at a loss. If she woke Brother Moses up, he might not give her time to explain what had happened. Besides, she didn’t want to be called a tattletale. If she slapped Nathan, she would not be following the laws of Christianity and she couldn’t possibly write properly with him shaking her chair.

By now, Nathan was shaking her chair so hard that one of the older boys said, as Brother Moses stirred slightly.

“Uh… Nathan, don’t you think it’s time you stopped?”

However, he went no further than that for even though he was half a head taller than Nathan and two years his senior, everybody knew that Nathan’s lithe, active body was not something to be despised.

Just then, all heads turned as the thick oak door banged against the hard cold stone that the walls consisted of, and there, standing in the doorway, stood the fuming Father Nelson.

There was a scramble for seats as Father Nelson surveyed the scene with his piercing gray eyes.

“So this is what you people do when lazy Brother Moses is asleep. Well, Brother Moses, wake up and go to a cell. You will fast till morning in prayer and I will see you at confession tomorrow. Imagine, falling asleep when you are asked to teach.

“And you, rascal of a boy,” Father Nelson said to Nathan. “You can sweep after the class and the rest of you can back up the tables and chairs.

“All of you bring your work to me.”

Nathan stood up and proudly handed Father Nelson his work. Despite his faults, Nathan was an exceptionally good writer and the page, covered with his neat writing caused Father Nelson to sigh.

“Nathan, you can do whatever you want to do, why do you have to get yourself into such mischievous pranks? You could be a scholar with such exceptional handwriting and –” Father Nelson was interrupted by Nathan’s indignant exclamation.

“A scholar! Father Nelson you have got me all wrong. My father was a brave knight and so shall I be when I am of age.”

Father Nelson raised his eyebrows at Nathan impertinent exclamation. Nathan realized that he had been rude and mumbling a hasty apology turned to pack his writing materials.

“Elsie, could you kindly show me you work?” Father Nelson asked.

Poor Elsie trembled as she brought her ink-soaked parchment up to the abbot. It needed only one glance at Father Nelson to tell Elsie that he was thundering mad. His gray, bushy eyebrows narrowed and trembled, his dark eyes, darkened beyond recognition and his wrinkles deepened in rage.

“What is this?” He bellowed. “How many times must I tell you that ink and parchment are priceless! Go to your room at once!”

“Father Nelson, sir,” Nathan said standing up boldly, his face flushed with a sort of proud fearlessness. “It was I who caused Elsie to spill ink over her page. Punish me if you would like but not her. She has done nothing wrong. If anyone should be punished, it’s me.”

There was dead silence for a minute as Father Nelson turned to look at Nathan.

“Come here boy,” Father Nelson said his rage still unabated. “Peter,” Father Nelson called one of the boys. “Go and tell Brother Matthew that I want him at once.” The addressed boy leaped up from his seat with alacrity that shocked even the composed, but still furious, Father Nelson.

The truth was, Peter was a regular scamp and though he got into mischief, he wasn’t as ready as Nathan to admit it; and often, Nathan, who somehow always managed to find him out, would report him to the Abbot. So now, he was delighted to get back at Nathan for all those times in which Nathan had caused him a good whipping with the leather belt that encircled Brother Matthew’s waist.

A few minutes later, Brother Matthew came stomping up the stairs. His belt, instead of being where it should be, around his waist, that is, was in his hand.

“Take this young rascal to a room and give him a good thrashing,” Father Nelson ordered.

Brother Matthew grasped Nathan’s shoulder so tightly that he winced, but said nothing. The two left the room and turned up the stone corridor. A few minutes later, the students all heard the sound of leather slapping Nathan’s breeches.

The Order of the Blade: Beginnings

Map of Brictieue

Map of Brictieue

There is a time when all good seems to have seeped out of the world. When the trees claw at the sky with barren branches, and when the cold and harsh wind bites sharply at all who happen to oppose it. There is a time when the ground is desolate, when it is covered in a bleak white blanket. When the sun itself seems to be at war with the cold it cannot drive away.

Such was winter in the snowbound Kingdom of Brictieue in the land of Dadun. The Kingdom was feeble and underdeveloped. Crime was rampant, and people lived in constant fear. The King, Mundar, was weak, and held no real control. Instead, the kingdom was manipulated and twisted by his crooked advisors, who ever sought to enrich themselves.

It was in this time that a group of travelers happened along one of the few roads in Brictieue. They were led by a strong, young, and vibrant man. He was somewhere around eighteen, and carried with himself an air of assurance.

He wore a classic leather jerkin, and some tanned leather pants. Knee high boots covered his feet to keep the mud out, and in his right hand he grasped a staff firmly, but lightly. He wore no head covering, but a bow was strapped to his back, and a short-sword swung freely from his left hip. His arrows lay nestled in a quiver that was strapped underneath and in the opposite direction from his bow. A  hunter’s knife was tucked away in his belt at an angle that allowed for ease of access, but also made sure it was secure enough that it would not fall out. A large satchel swung from his left shoulder down to his right hip, and a water canteen hung from that. All this combined, with the fact that his clothes were muddied and frosted over, showed that he was traveling.

“Markul?” The aforementioned traveler accosted his older companion.

“Yes, Davian?” This reply was given with some weariness, for they had been traveling all day, and the roads of Brictieue did little more than cut a passage through the wilderness that made up the Kingdom. There were none who bothered to clear the snow, and making one’s way through that impediment was not done without difficulty.

“How long be it afore we arrive at Gawic?” Davian asked, running a little to catch up with Markul. Markul’s faded blue robes swished slightly as he turned to face Davian. His face the perfect mask of disapproval, Markul said.

“I have told ye time and time again, that if ye canst keep thou mouth shut, I shall bind thy lips together for thee! Now go an’ find thyself somebody else to bother for a change, Ian maybe.”

“But Ian ne’er finds it in his mind to speak,” Davian said, his tone betraying the impatience he felt. “Whence shalt we arrive at Gawic?”

“Confound it sirrah!” Markul said, stopping in the middle of the path. His dark eyes flashed dangerously as the wind blew his straggly long hair around his face. “Thou canst lead on then, since thou wishes to arrive there so speedily.”

Giving Markul a defiant look, Davian stepped past him and began plowing his way valiantly through the shin deep snow.

In less than twenty minutes, Davian had to give up from exhaustion. His hands and face were blue, and he could barely keep his body from shivering uncontrollably. His gear felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, and nothing he could do would warm himself up. His legs were stiff, and refused to move every step of the way.

“Alright Markul,” he said, turning wearily around. “I canst do this no longer.”

As the tall man passed him, Davian chattered out. “And would thou find it pleasing to do something about this cursed cold?”

Markul muttered two words, “Vlé Vrós (pronounced: vly vray-ouse)”

A warm yellow light materialized in front of Davian, then entered his torso. He felt a warmth spreading from his chest to all the different parts of his body. He also heard Markul mutter another two words.

“Pralech Vrós (pronounced: praa-leck vray-ouse).”

A fire appeared in front of the man and began melting the snow ahead of him.

“That hardly be fair!” Davian panted out, as he began following the towering form of Markul.

“If thou wouldst remember thine lessons,” Markul called back. “Then maybe thou wouldst not suffer so.” Seeing Davian looking around, Markul continued. “I dispatched Ian ahead to discover an inn along the road. He should be back anon.”

Markul turned back to face the trail, then jumped involuntarily. There, in front of him, on the snow, stood the dark shadow that was Ian.

“Speak of the devil!” Markul cursed. “Wilt thou cease to startle me like that Ian?”

Davian could barely make out the hooded archer’s half smile from the flickering light of Markul’s fire. In fact, he could barely make out the archer at all. The cloak blended in with the surroundings well, and Ian stood so still he could have been mistaken for a perfect statue of himself.

“How far be the closest inn Ian?” Markul asked.

Ian held up three fingers.

“Three miles? Well then Davian, we have before us some walking to do. Lead us onwards Ian.”

The arcane archer sprinted along for several meters then stopped. His feet stepping so lightly on the snow that he could stand on it and not sink in.

“Thou all be cheaters,” Davian muttered, hugging himself for some extra warmth as he followed Markul.

An hour later, they arrived at Warren Inn in Habrycg.

The prominent alcoholic vapor and the putrid odor of thirty or so customers filled the traveler’s nostrils as they entered the tavern part of the inn. A burly innkeeper bustled up to them as they sat down, asking them if they required anything.

“Three tankards of warm ale,” Davian said.

“And a room for the e’en,” Markul added.

The innkeeper turned to Ian to see if he would say anything, but the reclusive archer did not even look up. As their host left, Davian hear him mumble under his breath. Something about “strange folk” these days.

Though Ian seemed to be the most disinterested of the three, in reality, his eyes were constantly scanning the whole room. He had taken a seat with his back to the wall, and from under the shadow of his cowl, was observing each and every face in the inn. Well, every face he could see, a slender figure, wearing a cloak of his own, had the hood drawn up and Ian could not distinguish his facial features.

The innkeeper brought them their drinks just as Davian had loosened his belt, and was about to leave when he turned around.

“Haven’t seen folk like thee treading these parts afore. An’ thy accent be outlandish. Thou soundest more liken to one from the south.”

“Indeed friend,” Markul replied. “We hail from Belasea, having sailed from there across West Heron’s Sea to Giwold Port. We wish to make our way to Gawic in the morrow.”

“That explains it,” the innkeeper said, satisfied. “Now, if thou wilt excuse me, there be customers I must see to anon.”

The instant the innkeeper had left, Ian subtly jerked his head in two separate directions. Markul noticed the signals, and under the guise of taking a sip from his drink, looked at the two tables Ian had indicated. One contained three burly men, who were trying to hide their furtive glances at the strangers, while at the other sat a lone man staring directly at them. He did not drop his gaze, even when Markul returned it, and in the end, it was the latter who turned away.

“Suspicious, yes,” Markul said. “But it be not suspicious enough for us to take action. Come, finish thy drinks, and we shalt ask our good host to show us our lodgings for the e’en.”

Davian gulped his ale down, while Ian took one sip, then carefully poured the rest onto the floor beside him. The three rose, and Markul led them towards the innkeeper, who was busied with another table of five rowdy drunkards.

Markul reached forward and tapped the burly man on his shoulder.

“My friends an’ I have wearied ourselves, an’ wouldst seek lodging in our room.”

“Indeed sirrah, well thou hast first to show the quality of thy coin afore I wilt show thee thy rooms.”

“Wilt thou not trust us?” Markul said with a wry smile, as he removed a handful of coppers from a copious pocket. He counted out six, “These be for the drinks that my friends an’ I have consumed,” counting out another twelve, he continued. “An’ these be for the room. Four coppers for each one of us. I trust these be enough?”

“Aye,” the innkeeper said, gathering the small pile of coins into his callous hands. “Come, follow me.”

He led them up a set of sturdy wooden stairs to a fair sized room, with three meagre piles of straw on the ground. These were each covered with a worn blanket.

“There, I trust this is to thy liking, sirrah?”

“Aye, this shall be fine. Grammarcy, good sir. I still have not learnt thy name?”

“In these parts, those who know thy name can use it against thee. Thou would do well not to disclose it.” With these grim parting words, the innkeeper closed their door with some force, the latch falling into place as the door shut.

Markul rested his hand on the door and spoke. “Rla pre chi (pronounced: earl-aa prey key).” Then he unrolled from the pack which he carried three blankets an lay them over the ones already on the hay.

“No doubt we shall be covered in bites on the morrow.” He grumbled good-naturedly. “Good e’en, sirrahs.”

This final remark went unanswered, as did all his others, for Davian was already asleep, and Ian never spoke to anybody.