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message 1: by James (last edited Mar 17, 2014 03:10PM) (new)

James | 49 comments Prologue: The Land of the Shadow - REVISED MAR 17, 2014

The wall of darkness defied the rays of the afternoon sun. Protector Haar approached it on his grey courser. The horse snorted, smelling something foul, and he pulled up several paces short of the shadow in the forest.

“What devilry is this?" he asked.

The curtain of night divided the forest in two and waited for him to draw it aside and step in. Under his hardened black leather armor the round Anam stone embedded in his sternum gave him no indication of danger. It was as silent as the forest around him. Too silent. Usually the Anam gave him something, either a feeling, or an image. It was his advantage over adversaries and dangers. Its muted stillness made him uneasy. There was faint breeze moving through the woods. He felt it at the back of his head through his short-cropped hair. The air pulled him forward. The darkness beckoned.

The crunch of dry leaves on the forest floor jarred him in the erie silence. It occurred to him that their presence threatened to wake whatever slept in the shadow. Kaptein Berro pulled up beside him. “None who enters here returns,” Berro said. Haar gave him a stern look. "That's what the stories say." Berro reddened and turned away. Haar hoped his stare made the Kaptein more uncomfortable than the darkness.

“Are you frightened of campfire stories, Kaptein?" Haar said.

"No, Protector.” Berro didn't sound sure of himself.

The other ten Sacred Warriors stood several paces behind them, mounted, ready and waiting. Over their armor they wore the dark grey tunic of the of the Warrior order, embroidered with bright white thread. The tunic bore a shield, half white, half black, with two swords crossed in the center, the sacred symbol of the Protectors of the Waarheid faith.

Some wore swords at their sides and others on their backs. Some had short bows with quivers full of arrows with black and white fletching. Protector Haar felt trepidation and anticipation in their stillness. Eemil rode up next to him on the other side, a young man that had been sent with them. He was young, without armor, unarmed, and was there to assist. Haar was not sure how. The Holy Pai had not been forthcoming on that point when they set out. He was anxious to see what the young man could do. Eemil’s face looked pale, more like prey than anything useful. He wasn’t sure the boy would even enter the shadow with them.

He raised his voice. “Men, this is an illusion. A mirage meant to scare away intruders." Then, almost to himself, he said, “We of the Waarheid do not scare so easily.”

It looked like an illusion. It looked as if a thick storm cloud was above, blocking out the sunlight. The wall itself rippled like the surface of water, and the forest beyond it distorted and bent in the darkness. The shadow hid something. He knew what it hid for that was why they were there. A powerful holy relic to add the the Waarheid’s collection. We will take what you are hiding. Once we pass through this veil, it will be no different than riding in the night.

Eemil moved closer, and turned his head. He looked like a dog hearing a high pitched whistle.

"Can you hear it?" Eemil said.

Haar narrowed his eyes, listening. Nothing. Then a soft shhhhh came into his awareness. Was that a soft breeze in the trees above? He looked closer. Wisps of darkness pulsed out from the wall when it distorted, tiny grey tendrils dissolving in the sunlight. The veil extended upward above the trees and left and right as far as he could see. The leaves above were not moving. He listened. It was not a breeze he heard. It was whispering.

“Yes, I hear it," he answered.

Haar dug his heels into his courser and drew closer. As if sensing his approach, a ghostly hand reached out toward him. A sparkle of light shone on the tip of one of its fingers. He watched, unafraid and fascinated, and as it touched his chest, the holy Anam stone began to hum. The whispering abruptly cut off. It was in my mind. It is a mind trick. My Anam will protect us.

“We are to ride to the center. To ride quickly toward the light-"

"And you will lift this darkness," Haar finished for Eemil, staring ahead.
Eemil paused and swallowed hard. "I will. And then the relic will be ours, Lord Protector.”

He raised his right hand up with his palm open and lowered it forward, signaling his men to draw their weapons. They drew them as one. Protector Haar took a deep breath and cried, "For the one true faith.”

"We live. We serve. We die,” they answered, and plunged into the shadow.

At two hundred paces into the darkness chaos ensued. His men called out danger and rode off into different directions chasing unseen foes. He saw nothing. His Anam began to warm in his chest and images flashed in his mind.
He slowed to a halt. Eemil was still beside him. “Men! Regroup! To me!” he ordered. They ignored his command. The shadow devoured his voice. It was as if they did not, or could not, hear him.

“I think they are seeing things,” Eemil said.

“Yes, and hearing things,” he snapped.

The Anam burned hot. It had never behaved like this before. It felt like a branding iron. Then he saw a foe riding through the forest at them. The rider was a Pentolintu. Yes, a tribal idolater on horseback His face was painted with white war paint and he held a curved sword.

Haar charged, raising a battle cry, and he vaguely heard Eemil shout, “No. Stop.” But he rode hard and with one smooth stroke, took off the man’s head. More foes were deeper in the darkness, he could see them now, and his men giving chase. So, it was the heathen Pentolintu who were responsible for the trickery here. Were they calling on some dark power to conceal themselves? He would have all of their heads, however many there were. He turned back to Eemil but he was gone.

“Damned, useless, boy,” he snorted.

The Anam still burned in his chest but he could feel it working now. Not only could he see the shapes of his foes in the darkness, he could feel them. He sensed an arrow being knocked and his sword was already in motion as his attacker loosed it. The arrow split it in two and he saw the rider flee from the direction it had come. He snarled and dug in his heels. His horse weaved back and forth around trees in pursuit. Although it was certainly dark here there seemed to be a strange ghostly glow to everything.

He caught up to his attacker. At first the man looked like one of his own men. Had one of these woodland idolaters killed a Warrior and donned his clothing? Impossible. It could not have been done that quickly. Then he saw more clearly. The man was bare backed with war paint covering him. It must have been a trick of the darkness. But the horse, surely that is a Waarheid war horse.

The rider turned to face him and he saw something strange that made him hesitate. The rider’s face was painted half white and half black, like the Waarheid sacred symbol. The man howled and came at him. Haar ducked to avoid the swing of the blade then swung his fisted hand around as he passed and knocked his attacker off his horse. He wheeled about as the man was rising and put his sword through his throat. The man clutched at the blade as he withdrew it. The gasping choking he made sounded like he was trying to say something. “Haaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrr,” the man rasped, holding his throat and collapsing.

A brighter glow in the darkness caught his attention and he turned his head. There was a strange light out there and it was moving. This was what they were after. His courser screamed and reared up as it was struck with arrows.

Three Pentulintu stepped out of the trees twenty or thirty paces away. The horse collapsed and he barley got his leg out of the stirrup in time before landing with a hard thump. He got to his feet and came at them with all his might. Seeing his fury, they fled toward the light. He ran after them.
The sound of his men fighting was all around. Two more Pentolintu came at him on horseback from the side. “Die, heathens. Die,” he cried, deflecting their strikes with his sword. He turned for their next pass but to his astonishment the two men were fighting each other now. “Kill yourselves then,” he muttered, then started again toward the light.

Movement to his left caught his eye and he saw someone trip and fall. He stalked over. The heathen was a small man, unarmed and crawling back away from him. Lost your weapon in the tumble did you? He raised his sword but the Anam burned hotter, staying his hand. Two hard blows hit him in his back. Arrows. He had actually been hit with arrows.

More angry than in pain, he turned and charged his assailants. He swung his sword sensing another arrow and clipped it in half, but a second one hit him in the chest. Still he came on. They looked stunned that he was still coming and stood there waiting. He took off both their heads with a single turning and twisting strike. So fast and smooth was his motion that their torsos remained standing for a few seconds before falling to the ground.

He looked down in horror. They were not Pentolintu. He had just killed two of his own men. They had they attacked him too. What had they seen when they looked at him, he wondered.

He panted, the ache of the arrows in his body rising into his awareness. “Devilry. Trickery. Come to me. Face me whatever you are,” he shouted. The glow was much closer now and he could see a figure bathed in light. He stormed toward it.

There were four or five of his men near the figure fighting each other.

He ran toward them and tried to bring them to their senses, but they attacked him and he was barley able to deflect all of their blows. He wanted to avoid killing them if he could but they were like rabid dogs in a fighting pit. One of the men was Berro. They were fighting in a slow moving circle around the glowing figure. He could not even spare a moment to get a good look at the demon.

He locked swords with Berro and recognition flashed across the Kaptein’s face. Berro hesitated, gasped and looked around. Then he and all rest charged into the tall glowing figure, swords piercing each other. He was the last one standing. The demon’s glowing eyes met his and all became pain and darkness.

message 2: by ✿ αzzι ✿ (new)

✿ αzzι ✿ (azziplz) Sounds good so far! :D

message 3: by Dana (new)

Dana Smythe | 273 comments Mod
How much feedback are you looking for, Jim?

message 4: by sᴏᴘʜ|☂ (new)

sᴏᴘʜ|☂ (nowoffish) cool! reminds me of LOTR ( not that I've read it) :)

message 5: by sᴏᴘʜ|☂ (new)

sᴏᴘʜ|☂ (nowoffish) LOTR I mean. l havnt read LOTR. I have read your story

message 6: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Dana wrote: "How much feedback are you looking for, Jim?"

Hi Dana,

Any feedback is welcome. Good or bad. I don't mind blunt criticism as long as it's constructive and has suggestions. I'm putting it out there so that I can make it better. Thanks!

message 7: by Dana (new)

Dana Smythe | 273 comments Mod
It's an intriguing opening, and I hope you post more of it. My most significant comments are listed below - I hope they're helpful. And don't be downcast if I only list criticisms - apart from other things, I'm a freelance editor, so I tend to focus on how to improve things.

- I would recommend making it clear whether or not Haar believes his own statement, about the darkness being a mirage to scare away intruders. He goes on to say that it did indeed look like a mirage, but if you add something to indicate that he was lying or speaking more boldly than he felt so as to improve his men's morale, it would actually go a long way in establishing tension.

- If this is the entire prologue, then there should be some hint earlier on that the group is a religious one, otherwise the rally cry at the end is a bit disconcerting. I know you mention "sacred" warriors, but that's not quite enough. I'd suggest expanding that sentence just a little bit - have it be the ten Sacred Warrior of [whatever the order is]. That way the faith/order comes through a bit more clearly, while also strengthening the sense of "other" so that people don't confuse the one true faith with Catholicism or Islam or something.

- It's a relatively minor issue at this point, since I gathered that this is a work in progress, but you're missing any number of commas. : )

- The inconsistent nomenclature is a bit jarring - on the one hand we have Varro Haar and Pai Marbach, and on the other we have Gavin and Peter. Do you see what I mean?

message 8: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Thanks for the comments. I rely on my wife (English major and Librarian) for edits on punctuation and this has not gone through her red pen yet.

Good idea to get in Varro Haar's head a bit more to get an idea of how he feels about this situation (scared like his men or confident?)

Yes the group is a religious one. Funny how you get it in your own about things and forget your reader has no idea. I think that is a good spot to state what order they are from. And that actually leads right in to your other comment about nomenclature. I'm still world building and deciding on names of people, places, things. I think I'll post some ideas and see what people think.

message 9: by James (last edited Nov 28, 2013 11:34AM) (new)

James | 49 comments OK, so these sacred warriors need a name for their order. They are a warrior order of a larger monotheistic religion that so far I have just been referring to as "The One True Faith". Here are some Ideas that I have...
Oh - keep in mind that these are the "bad guys"

Waarheid (Afrikaans - The Truth)
Una Veritas (One Truth - Latin)
Una Fides (Latin - One True Faith)
Vera Fide (Latin - One Creed)
Uskollinen (Finnish - The Faithful)
Vjeran (Croatian - The Faithful)
Credentis (Latin - Believer)
Besimtar (Albanian - Believer)

message 10: by Dana (last edited Dec 01, 2013 09:31AM) (new)

Dana Smythe | 273 comments Mod
Hey Jim -
Couple of comments here...
- Personally, I like "Uskollinen" the best. I think it would contribute the most to world building
- Also on the world building note, consider changing the phrase "candy and games" to something else and games - candy is a word that really summons the modern world in the reader's mind. You could use the opportunity to world build by actually naming a common candy in this world, or you could just use something more generic like "sweets" or "sugared fruits" or so on.
- It seems like you may be slipping into the easy mistake of making your antagonist 100% evil. Sia Riada is almost over the top (though not quite), and what with the land burning, villages burning, people burning, it's a bit much - again, almost. I'd suggest taking the minor precaution of mentioning that the One True Faith attracts some of the worst kind of people to its hierarchy, so as to help justify why so many of them are going to be so very bad. Also, unless Varro Haar is going to turn out to be a good guy, there needs to be more of a hint in the prologue that his group is on the "bad guys" team. (If he is going to turn out to be a good guy on the bad team, then it's fine as it is).
- It's a minor point, but having the One True Faith be capitalized really bugs me for some reason...probably because it's not actually a name, it's a description. It's probably just a matter of taste, so feel free to ignore me here, but I would come up with a real name for the religion (which would be capitalized when used), and then just have everyone refer to it colloquially as the one true faith, but leave the phrase lower-case.

Hope the comments help - and, please don't take anything too personally, as I'm only trying to be helpful. : ) But I know from personal experience how hard it is to listen to criticisms of one's work - no matter how useful those criticisms might turn out to be in the end, it still stings.

message 11: by James (last edited Feb 22, 2014 08:50AM) (new)

James | 49 comments REVISED FEBRUARY 22, 2014

Chapter 1 - The Vyrion monastery

One month later.

The Vyrion monastery smelled of damp stone and rotting wood. The classroom felt stifling during summer afternoon faith lessons, and the young children looked like wilted flowers gone too long without fresh water. Wooden benches were arranged in neat rows with spacing between them, yet all the children stood on the stone floor. Many wore no shoes. Ailish stood in the back of the room watching Sia Riada teach the children. Sia Riada held a long thin wand at her side and Ailish watched the woman’s fingers caress the wood’s smoothness. Supposedly, it was a privilege to assist the head Sia, or holy sister. For Ailish, it was torture.

A boy of eight years stood in front of Sia Riada facing the rest of the children. He was a skinny boy with mousy brown hair and dark eyebrows. Sia Riada touched him on the shoulder with wand and the boy flinched. “You may begin,” Sia Riada said.

“There is one true god, Erus.” the boy said. “The One God is my mother and father.” Sia Riada swung the wand striking the child across the ear.

“Father and mother,” Sia Riada corrected. “Father and mother. Again.” Ailish clenched her teeth and resisted the urge to take the wand and break it over her knee. I don’t know how much more of this I can take, she thought. The child rubbed his ear, holding back tears, and tried again.

“There is one true god, Erus. The one god is my father and mother. Erus was not made, or created, or begotten by other gods.” This time Sia Riada cracked the wand across the side of the boy’s neck, leaving a red welt. “Nor created, nor begotten,” she corrected. “Have any of you been listening today or practicing the ten truths of the Waarheid Faith?” Sia Riada looked around the room. All the children looked down, many of them rubbing welts on their cheeks, hands, and arms. “Not a single one of you has been able to recite them word for word.” Sia Riada walked through the room and each child shut their eyes as she passed by, expecting to feel the sting of the switch. “We will try again tomorrow. But now, out of my sight. To bed with you all.”

“Sia?” Ailish asked. “The children have not eaten.”

Sia Riada softened her angry face to a smile. “Children, Novice Ailish is correct. Even though you have greatly displeased the one true god today, you shall not go hungry. Ailish reminds us that Erus is the great benefactor.” Ailish relaxed and started to lead the children away, but Sia Riada held up her hand. “Each one will have a crust of bread and an apple,” Sia said. “And Novice Briana will see to it.” She motioned for Ailish to follow her. Ailish’s stomach turned. They walked down a narrow stone passage toward the Novice chambers and Sia Riada said nothing for a good minute.

“You do not approve of my teaching.” Riada said, not looking at Ailish.

“With all respect Sia, I’m not sure how much the children are learning with this method,” Ailish said.

“Do you think I like punishing them?”

Yes you do. I can see it in your eyes when you do it. “No, of course not, Sia,” She said.

“First they must fear us. This way they learn to fear the one true god. When they are obedient to Erus, and know his commands, then we can be a little kinder.”

Ailish teetered on whether to push further or let it go. She had no power here. She was supposed to be avoiding attracting attention, doing what she was told, not standing out. But she had just watched Sia Riada strike every child in the room. Inside, Ailish was fuming.

“But I think if something is taught through fear and pain then it will only last as long as the fear or the pain.” She realized she sounded stronger than she had meant to and waited for a rebuke or even for Sia Riada to slap her. Instead, Sia Riada laughed.

“How would you teach them, Ailish? With sweets and games?” She touched Ailish’s cheek. “You are young and you have much to learn. We need to send these children back to their villages so obedient to the Waarheid faith that they will turn in their own parents for breaking the holy laws.” Sia Riada paused, then said, “Tomorrow you will strike them if they make a mistake.”

Ailish was left standing in front of the door to her room with her mouth open. She closed it and blew air through her nose like bull ready to charge. No, she cannot make me do that. I must do something.

She did not mind her small room. She had lived in better and worse places over the years, and this little space with a bed, a desk, and a chair felt snug and safe. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, feeling the cool wood against her palms. She closed her eyes and let the anger drain from her with every breath
I have been many things and lived many lives but nothing as vile as this. She let the past wash over her memory and tried to center herself. I lived as an innkeeper’s daughter once. I remember the smell of the lavender that we would hang to dry and the sound of musicians in the common room. She breathed deeply. I worked as a scribe’s assistant. I remember the smell of fresh ink on the page and the way the binding glue stuck to my fingers like sap from a pine tree. Every breath brought a different memory.

She opened her eyes and came back to the present. She was Ailish Matahva, fourth year novice of the Waarheid faith, the religion that had murdered her family. The very same religion that had murdered all of the Wise Ones, or Fad Matka as Mira had called them. The Waarheid saw those with longevity such as hers as unnatural and evil. She was a demon in their eyes. Mira had been her guardian for forty years, and during that time Ailish hardly aged at all, appearing to be only about ten years old when Mira died. She could still remember Mira’s voice. You are Fad Matka. You make the long voyage. “How I miss you sometimes Mira,” she said to the empty room. “This has been a very long voyage. And now a dangerous one.”

Hiding among them was her fourth guardian, Tallard’s idea. When word reached them that others like her were disappearing, he hatched this plan without telling anyone, even his most trusted friends. It seemed to have worked. There had been no bad news in four years. Things had settled down, and this gave her the first opportunity to see the Waarheid faith from the inside. What she learned did not endear it to her any more than it had over the last three hundred years. It must be safe enough to do away with this farce. This place is killing my heart.

She sat down at her desk and looked down at the Livro Unon, The One Book. Everything revolved around this sacred text. She traced her fingers on the cover. It both fascinated and troubled her. Mira had kept her away from anything to do with this religion, but her second guardian, Therese, thought it best that she at least learn the basics so as not to appear hostile to the beliefs of these invaders. All of her novice training revolved around this book, memorizing passages and learning how to use it to convert others to the faith. So good had she played the part of a novice that she had earned her own copy. No other novice had one.

Tallard had scolded her a little for that. “Don’t stand out too Much,” he had said. “Try being a mediocre novice instead of a star pupil. Be invisible.”

Under Mira’s care they had moved around often. “Those around you grow older, child. Your Mira grows older. We must go where no one knows us.”

Ailish smiled at the memory. So every village or town they moved to they would start over again. First Mira posed as her mother. Then her aunt. Then her grandmother. What she remembered most about Mira was the songs. Mira told her that when she sang the songs of her people their spirit would live on. Mira taught her at least one hundred different songs, some very short, and some epic in length which told the story of her family’s history. This was when it was still safe to sing them. Before the presence of the Waarheid was everywhere. “How long since I sang one of your songs, Mira?” She said. “If you were here you would make me sing one right now, wouldn’t you?”

The light faded outside and her room grew dimmer. I will have to wait until tomorrow to talk with Tallard about Sia Riada. He can send me on some errand to get me away for the day. Ailish lit a candle on the desk. Then she sang.

Home, sweet home, is where I long to be,
Home, dear home in my own country,
For the pine and the laurel, and old sweet gum tree,
Are all waiting for me in my dear old country

I’m longing for home where my heart can run free,
I’m hoisting my sail and crossing the sea,
For the pine and the laurel, and the old sweet gum tree,
Are all growing green in my own country

She picked up Livro Unon and imagined tearing out one page at a time and setting fire to each one. This religion will burn itself out, but you will live on, Mira’s voice came again. Then you and the other survivors of the Great Cleansing will reemerge and bring peace back to Oparia.

That had not happened. Over the years she watched the Waarheid faith spread like a plague of fire over the land. The land had burned. Villages had burned. People had burned. Now I am somewhere where I cannot even burn this damned book! I’m so tired of this game. She sang on,

Home, sweet home is waiting for me,
My lover, my friends, and my whole family,
They are watching and waiting for me just to be,
Safe and sound in my own country

Ailish shoved the Livro Unon away from her.

message 12: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Dana wrote: "Hey Jim -
Couple of comments here...
- Personally, I like "Uskollinen" the best. I think it would contribute the most to world building
- Also on the world building note, consider changing the phr..."

Hi Dana - no offense taken at all. I know this going to go through many many rewrites and I need honest feedback.

Sia Riada is a minor one dimensional character. I'm trying to set the tone that this is a very bad representation of organized religion. Sort of the worst of the "big three" world religions historically. As a student of Roman Catholicism (Theology and Church History degree) I can tell you that the description here of "burning" is not far fetched at all! It's actually pretty tame so far.

Totally agree with on the "One True Faith" thing... still world building. I'm going to try some different names for the faith and get different people's reactions. The main antagonist has yet to appear and he will not be one dimensional. I'll be posting that chapter soon. Also playing around with POV quite a bit. I have some of the same scenes written from different POVs. Still trying to figure out "who's story is this?" You know what I mean?

message 13: by Dana (new)

Dana Smythe | 273 comments Mod
I do know what you mean - but that's something you should probably try to figure out sooner rather than later. : )
The rewrite of chapter one was a lot better though, so I think that weekend writer's group must have had some good suggestions. The opening was infinitely better, and the last line was a lot more powerful. There's still some issues with pacing the release of information - there's a sizable chunk towards the late-middle of chapter one where the info just feels dumped on the reader. This is not unheard of naturally, but it's usually better to avoid it if you can.
Also, in a piece of straightforward advice, there is no reason why you should settle for any of your characters being one dimensional. They don't all need to be fully explored, but there's no reason why they can't still feel like real people. You have some skill at this. ("This" being writing). Aim high. : )

message 14: by Dana (new)

Dana Smythe | 273 comments Mod
Hey Jim -
I wanted to invite you to a group story, but apparently you're not accepting messages, so I have to try to reach you this way instead.
Let me know if a group story is something that would interest you at all though. : )

message 15: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Hmmm is that a profile setting for accepting messages?

That could be fun. Let me know what thread

message 16: by Dana (new)

Dana Smythe | 273 comments Mod
Yup, it should be a profile setting.
As for the group story, it'll be under "Group Stories" near the Halifax Stone, once I get it set up of course. I'm still making arrangements, so if you have any preferences regarding genre or tone let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

message 17: by James (new)

James | 49 comments I'll be posting rewrites of the first several chapters here. I've decided to use Waarheid for the of the evil religious order and I'm going through the 20,000 or so words I have and replacing all references! I also decided to go with the title of "Protector" instead of using "Varro" as a title. None of the people I had read this picked up that this was a title and not a name. So the Waarheid Sacred Warrior leaders are going to be called "Protectors."

message 18: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 3 - A Warning

Brother Tallard tossed the message toward the fire but his shaking hand caused him to miss entirely. He walked over to the crumpled parchment and kicked it into the flames. He sat down on a wooden stool, watching the message burn to ash, and controlled his breathing.

This is no time to panic. There was no time to waste but actions without thinking would be more disastrous. He thought through what the message said and meant.

The dogs have the scent. “Sacred Warriors are coming.” He took a deep breath.
They come from home. “Sent from the Autorian Temple.” He exhaled.
Uproot the tree. “Ailish must leave.” He took another breath, steadier now.
Replant elsewhere. “She must go somewhere unknown.” He exhaled again.
R.V. “A friend.”

He did not have time to prepare but he knew Ailish had some hint of it. All these years of planning and moving around here he was caught unawares.

There was no doubt that the Waarheid was again hunting for all of her kind yet why it was not more public was a mystery to him. He knew that at some time in the future Ailish might have to go at a moments notice, but now that the time had come, and he had warning of it, the horror he felt was new to him. The danger was real. All the years as her sworn guardian weighed down on him. All the years of the three previous guardians weighed on him. For three hundred years she had been kept safe. Now it could end with him. He had been lulled to sleep as knowledge of the Wise Ones of Oparia was fading away, their existence turned into more myth than history.

The dogs have the scent. He clenched his fist driving his nails into his palms. How did they get the scent? Who betrayed me? It could be anyone and he did not have time to play that game. Uproot the tree. Yes. First uproot the tree. Ailish had to go. Now.

He went to his desk, pulled the center drawer all of the way out and set it on top. He pulled out a small money bag from a hidden place in the back of the opening and put it into his sleeve. Then he left his room.

The hallway of the monastery was quiet and empty in the evening. He was by no means in charge of this place but his movements at this hour would not be questioned. He approached another door knocked once, then three times, then once again. The door opened and he went in.

“What is it?” Brother Theus said. “You look like you are about to be sick.”

“No. Not sick” he said, sitting down on the small bed. “Listen to me very carefully Theus and don’t ask too many questions because we do not have time for them.” Theus sat down. He was a young brother of the Waarheid faith that had been with Brother Tallard almost his whole life. Yet neither of them were really brothers of this faith. They were guardians hiding a secret in the least likely place the Waarheid would look. Theus was Tallard’s apprentice and would take over as Ailish’s guardian when Tallard passed on.

“Is it Ailish? Is she sick?” Tallard glared at him. “Alright, no questions.”

“They know she is here. They may even know who she is. They are coming for her.”

“That’s ridiculous. If they knew, the Prior would…”

“For all I know that might be happening now. But my source is reliable. Sacred Warriors have been sent out from Autoria to take her.” Brother Theus stood and ran his hand through his beard. “Theus, you must take her Baelesh. I have an old friend there who will help.”

“Baelish? That’s a month’s journey, in good weather. We’ve no time to prepare. Couldn’t we just move her to a small village outside of Vyrion until things settle down? And what do you mean I have to take her? What about you?”

“I know we are not prepared. But we have been asleep, Theus. This threat has been gathering, taking the protected one by one, and we must wake up before we lose all of them.” Tallard rose and put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and shook the money bag out into his other hand. “You are going to need help, and the kind I am thinking of will require a few of these at least.”

“Mercenaries?” Theus raised his eyebrows. “That did not go so well last time we used them.”

“Yes, I know. But we need the same man actually.”

“Hayes Fulton?”

“Yes. No one knows the country as well as that scoundral.” Tallard shook the coins into his palm. There were two dozen silver and three large gold ones. Theus’ eyes widened.

“Gold crowns. That should get his attention.”

“That should more than make up for last year’s little… debacle. The silver will help with expenses along the way. Now I believe he and his friends are in Briarwood which should take you out of the path of the Sacred Warriors if they are taking the most traveled route.”

“What about you?” Theus asked, pocketing the coin purse and starting to gather a few things from his room.

“I will stall them as long as I can. Then I’m going to see the little bird who was kind enough to give us the warning and see what else I can turn up about who’s behind this. I will meet you in Rivertown in three days.” Tallard went to the door, stopped, but did not turn. “If I am not there in three days do not wait. Do you understand?” Theus stepped toward him and put a hand on his arm. Tallard turned to embrace him. Theus realized that Tallard was shaking with fear.

“You must not show how afraid you are to Ailish or she will not leave you,” Theus said.

“I know. I will go to her now. She will be in the stables in a quarter hour.” Tallard smiled and looked at his friend. “It may be time for you to assume my responsibilities. But we shall see.”

message 19: by James (last edited Jan 28, 2014 04:59PM) (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 4 - Marbach's Pauns (Revised 1-28-2013)

Protector Varro Augustin rode in muted silence on his black warhorse and watched the people on the narrow street scurry to get out of the way.

"Make way. Make way for the sacred riders of the Waarheid.” Kaptein Quin Mott cried.

Augustin liked this back-way into the capital city of Autoria. It drew less attention to their return from these little excursions. The streets were narrow and uneven through the poorer sections of Autoria. The smells of fresh laundry, cook fires, and excrement hung in the air. With the residences so close and tall on either side there was not much air flow. On horseback, their group took up almost the entire street. Ten Sacred Warriors together were a sight at any time, but they were quite fearful to behold up close, spattered in mud and blood.

"I can't wait to wash this filth off of me," Quin muttered.

Augustin nodded in agreement. It had been a dirty business. They brought back what Pai Marbach wanted, but it had been three long weeks on the road with three of them dead. Three good men dead. A steep price. He wondered how Protector Haar had fared on his mission, and if he might be back in Autoria. He felt the need to talk with Haar about these favors they did for Pai Marbach.

"You have been quiet, Protector. Tell me, was it worth it?" Quin often said aloud what he had been thinking. Perhaps it was the bond between he and his men. Perhaps it was the Anam that allowed his mind to reach out and touch his men in some way.

“Was what worth it?” Varro Augustin said.

"Three Warrior lives," Kaptein Quin spat on the ground. “For some dusty old books and this worthless fat pig.” He cocked his head toward their prisoner. He rode with his hands bound behind his back, and struggled to stay upright on his horse. Quin had been his second in command for three years. He knew that this inquiry was not insubordination. It was frustration. He had just lost two of his comrades and could not see the reason for it.

“Our lives are in service to the Waarheid. So are our deaths," Augustine said.

"We serve the one faith, true. But we do not answer to any Pai." Quin’s voice bordered on disrespect for the title.

Yet he had to admit, Quin was right. A Holy Pai, or Holy Father, was a high priest of the Waarheid, but their order did answer to that chain of command directly. The Sacred Warrior order existed because the Holy Pai’s of the Waarheid chose to acknowledge it. He thus chose to serve Pai Marbach for the good of the faith.

“Sometimes, to serve the one God Erus, we must do what is asked by those who are called in other ways. Higher ways.” Augustine thought of the day he met Pai Marbach. That day changed his life. His hand went to the pouch at his side, to the gift the Holy Pai had given him. The gift that compelled him to do anything that Marbach asked.

“Higher ways.” Quin rolled his eyes. “If I had my way—”

"Do you tire of serving under me, Kaptein? Do you want me to release you from your oath?"

"Of course not. I'm just tired of carrying out every whim of this high and mighty priest. He stays safe within his temple walls while we spill our blood." Quin clenched his teeth and breathed heavily through his nose.

"They were your friends. I understand that. But we serve." He locked eyes with Quin, "You serve at my whim. And if I choose to assist the Most Holy Pai Marbach then you will not question me or what is worth what."
Quin released the tension in his jaw, exhaled and nodded. "Yes, Protector.” Quin said.

Augustin knew the matter wasn't settled. If Quin had spoken up then he knew his men felt it too. He knew very well what he was, what they all were; game pieces on a board. This did not trouble him. Pai Marbach was the game master and for ten years he had not failed in playing his part in Marbach’s sacred mission. Not knowing what the game was troubled him. Not knowing exactly what Pai Marbach’s mission was nagged at him.

At first just having a holy task to fulfill had been enough. It’s not enough anymore for my men. It may not be enough for me much longer. Another captured game piece rode behind him along with the property Marbach sent them after. What does he want with these people? And why do I never see them again when I bring them back? He catalogued them in his mind: Eemil, an orphan taken from elderly couple. Jiama, a young servant woman in an Inn. Tamar, a young man, and Una his aunt, who were living in some old ruins in the wild. And this did not include the game of finding old books, letters, journals, and artifacts, all of which had been hidden and well protected.

He dropped back among his men, letting Quin lead them on, until he rode next to the prisoner. He was a large well fed man with an unruly beard. His face was bruised and one eye was nearly swollen shut. Augustine had long given up on asking questions of Marbach’s prisoners. They were always silent after being taken, but he thought this one might be different. This one had been belligerent from the start and did not hold his tongue when taunted by Augustine’s men.

“Tell me your name.” Augustine said. The man raised his head, with some effort and saw who spoke to him.

“Aaron,” the man answered.

“How long have you had these in your possession?” Augustin gestured toward the small chest tied to the back of his horse.

“Longer than you have lived, dog,” Aaron said.

“Watch your tongue. Or we’ll cut it out.” One of the warriors said from behind. Augustine held up his hand, signaling that this was just not idle conversation.

“A very long time. How did you come by them?” Augustin’s voice was casual, soothing, almost uninterested.

“They were my father’s, and…” Aaron strained against his bonds and grunted. “And his before him, and his before him.” Augustine could see tension in the mans neck muscles as he ground his teeth together. “Mine to protect. Until they were needed. Until—” Aaron cut off, perhaps realizing that he was about to say something he would regret.

Augustine resisted the urge to ask Until what? Instead he asked, “The men who attacked us on the road, friends of yours?”

“No, not my friends.” Aaron dropped his eyes.

“Friends of these books then? Seems strange to attack a well armed group of the sacred order for some musty old scribblings.” At first Augustine thought he was not going to answer. He tried his best to give the man an earnest look as if he was just interested in what he had to say. Then something in the man’s eyes lit up, as if rising to a challenge.

“Some call you Lord Protectors. Protectors of your faith. These were protectors of another kind. Of another faith, you could say.”

“There is but one true faith and one true God, my friend. And, as always, our faith carried the day. Tell me, what faith was this we defeated?” Augustine smiled, patting the chest with his hand. He knew he would get his answer.

Aaron smiled and whispered, “The Fad Matka.” Augustine’s smile vanished and he felt a nervous twist in his stomach. The fallen ones. Demons. He looked behind him but none of his men had heard what Aaron said. He had heard enough.

The small side street suddenly opened into a large open square with a fountain in the center. They spilled into the bustle and turned to the right. Just ahead of them stood two great golden doors twice as tall as any man. They gleamed in the sunlight. Two horn blasts sounded and the west doors of the great Temple of Autoria opened before them. The temple sat in the center of the city with a public square on every side so that worshipers could gather around when the temple overflowed. It was the hub of a city laid out like a wheel.

Augustine dismounted and approached Quin. “I’ll see you and the men back at in the Warrior barracks. I must bring our catch to the Holy Pai immediately.” And it’s time the Holy Pai let me in on the game we are playing.

message 20: by James (last edited Jan 28, 2014 04:55PM) (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 5 - Leaving (Revised on 1-28-2013)

Brother Tallard approached Ailish’s door and raised his hand to knock, but stopped. Behind the door he heard singing. How long since he heard her sing? A year? Longer? The thought made his heart ache. He knocked once, three times, and once again. The door opened immediately.

“Tallard.” She looked pleased to see him, at least. “You must do something about that awful woman or I swear I’m going to smash her face with my Livro Unon.” She crossed her arms.

“That’s the spirit, girl.” He smiled. “Pack your things. You are leaving.” She looked at him like she hadn’t heard what he’d said.

“Sorry, did you say leaving? I don’t understand.”

“I will explain while you gather your things.”

“No, you will explain first.” She had been more and more like this lately, exerting more control over their relationship. “I’m not a child who can be ordered around.”

“Ailish,” he pleaded.

“Tallard,” she answered in the same tone.

“Alright, I will pack your things and explain.” He pulled a small traveling bag from under the bed and began putting her few possessions into it. “Someone has betrayed us. The Waarheid knows you are here and they are coming for you.”

“Good. I’m tired of hiding. Let them come.”

“I know being here has been difficult. I understand you want to stand up to them—”

“Sia hit every child in the classroom today,” Ailish said, cutting him off.

Tallard winced. “I am sorry. But this is not the time.” He picked up her copy of Livro Unon and put it in the bag. “When you decide to face this evil it should be when you choose it, not when they arrange for your death.” He tried not to look her directly in the eye. He was afraid that she would see more than just urgency there.

She took him by the shoulders and squared her face to his to make him look at her. He knew she saw the fear there and he turned away ashamed of himself.

“You are are afraid.” She said, astonished. “Everyone is so afraid of them. If they make a spectacle of me then maybe it will start an uprising. Or even a revolution.” He heard the seriousness in her voice. He admired her. She really would offer her life up if it would help bring the Waarheid down.
“Sacred Warriors are on their way here,” he whispered. “And they did not make a spectacle of any of the others. They just vanished.”

“Sacred Warriors?” Ailish let go of his shoulders and turned. “I would rather face Sia Riada. Where are we going?” she said, turning back to him.

“You and Brother Theus are going to Briarwood to enlist some help.” He held the travel bag out to her. “I will see you in Rivertown in three days. We will cross the river together and then make our long journey to Prywynne.”

Ailish took the bag and nodded. “Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to see you again?” She touched his worn, wrinkled face like a mother who was about to leave behind her child for the first time. “I have never parted with a guardian like this. Something’s wrong, Tallard. Like someone else is pulling the strings, manipulating us into doing something foolish. Why not come now? No one is going to miss you. If they know I am here then they may know about you too.”

He was tempted. Perhaps she was right. But something else nagged at him about this. Something was different about whoever hunted them, and he had to find out all he could. Going with her would be the safest course but not the best.

“No. I need to find answers. And I’ll begin with who sent me the warning.” Tallard opened the door and looked into the hallway. “Brother Theus is waiting in the stables. Now go.” She kissed him on the cheek and went quickly down the hall. “Good bye my dear Ailish.” He whispered.

message 21: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 6

Augustin let the wooden chest thump down on the large oak desk. Pai Marback unclasped the the leather straps and opened it. “You did well, Protector Augustin.” Pai Marbach peered in and traced his fingers over the bindings of the books. “Very well, my friend.” Marbach’s private study was a large room of fine wood paneling, bookcases, and tall windows that opened to a terrace. It was well appointed with fine furnishings arranged in small groups meant for intimate conversations. The room smelled sweet, like honey, Augustin thought. The smell, and the lush surroundings made him feel involuntarily intoxicated and vulnerable. Yet he made himself stand tall and imposing next to Aaron who stood with his head down and hands bound behind his back.

“Aren’t you going to burn them and make me watch?” Aaron spat out. Augustine hit him hard in side and Aaron doubled over.

“You do not speak to a Holy Pai unless he asks something of you,” Augustine said.

Pai Marbach never looked up from the chest nor acknowledged Augustin’s rebuke. “Burn them? I wouldn’t dream of it.” Marbach pulled a book out and opened it. It was a leather bound volume with thick yellowed paper. Instead of using his bare finger Marbach slipped a rubber covering on his index finger and flipped a few pages, pausing to read them. “Interesting,” he muttered. Then he placed it back in the chest and closed it.

Pai Marbach nodded to the two temple guards that stood in the doorway. They came forward and seized Aaron, none to gently, and dragged him out. Augustine watched Aaron disappear through the doorway.

“What will you do with him?” Augustine asked.

Pai Marback sat down behind the desk and raised his eyebrows. “You? Interested in what happens with your catch?”

Augustin tensed and stepped closer to the table, closer to the chest. He put his hand on it, and took his time speaking, choosing his words carefully. “I lost three men,” He said. “I want to know why. I want to know what they died for.” Augustin started to open the chest but Pai Marback put his hand over the lid and held it closed.

“They died to protect the Waarheid faith. They are heroes of your Sacred Order. They reside in paradise now, in perfect happiness.”

Augustin could easily lift the lid if he wished. But did he wish to defy the Holy Pai?

“These books speak of the Fad Matka.” Augustine said, looking up from the chest at Marbach. “Tell me, Holy Pai, tell me that you have not betrayed the faith. Why do you not burn these as the heathen said you would? Is it not our duty to destroy anything having to do with those ancient demons?”

Marbach pulled his hand away and sat back in his chair. He narrowed his eyes at Augustine and a tense moment passed before he spoke. “You have been a faithful servant to the Waarheid faith, and to me Protector Varro Augustine. Long have you been in my service. Perhaps it is time you knew.” Marbach rose and went to the door. Just outside was another temple guard. He whispered something to him that Augustine could not hear. The guard nodded and walked away. Closing the door, Marbach crossed the room and went to a more comfortable chair by a window. “Sit with me, my friend. Come, sit.”

Out of respect, Augustin had never sat in the Holy Pai’s presence. He hesitated, and suddenly he had trouble putting one foot in front of the other. He had not expected to be asked to sit and be on the same level as Pai Marbach. He had meant to be stronger in his demand for an explanation, but Marbach had set him off balance. He sat down on the edge of the chair, poised to rise. A small table stood to one side of Pai Marbach with a carafe of liquor and two glasses. Marbach poured and offered one to Augustin. The smell was strong and sweet as he brought it to his lips.

“How are your nightmares?” Marbach asked, before taking a sip.

Augustin nearly choked. The gift. I should have known he would bring up the gift. He will think me ungrateful. “I have not had one these three months.” And it was true. For years since the ceremony of the Protectors he had suffered from terrible nightmares. His hand went to his sternum where the round Anam stone was firmly embedded. “And the memories of the former keepers are clearer to me. Do not think I am—” Marbach held up a hand to stop him.

“And your supply of what I gave you? Is it holding up?” Augustin took a bottle out of a leather pouch at his side.

“There is still some here.” Will he use this as bargaining chip now? Am I to be a slave to him? No, I will take the nightmares before I forsake my order. But would he?

“Are the nightmares common among those who are blessed with the Anam?” Marbach asked.

“Yes. But we do not speak of it. It would be a sign of weakness. To be given the Anam is a sacred honor. I carry the memories of those who have come before me. It is a blessing.”

“A mixed blessing, Augustin. When you first spoke to me about it you thought you were going insane. What good is all of the knowledge of these great warriors that you carry in you if lose your mind?” Marbach sipped his liquor. “The leaders of your order should prepare you. Help you. Not make you feel weak for endless suffering.”

“When I first was blessed with it, I felt no different.” Augustin remembered the night he was initiated. The night was seared into his memory. Each time a Protector died the Anam stone was removed and prepared for the next carrier. He was honored by his brothers to be chosen. He remembered the darkness in the cave where the ceremony was held. He remembered the bright lights. The table. The pain. The Joy. “The older Protectors told me to be patient, that the Anam would speak to me, and that I would feel its power in time.”

“Indeed,” Marbach said. “Other’s have told me it is like the memory of every Protector who was bound to the Anam becomes your own. Hundreds of years of experience in combat, battle, stealth, and cunning. All yours.” Marbach rose and poured more wine into Augustin’s glass. “What is it like? Knowing what your opponent will do even before he does.”

“Almost too easy. Like a house cat toying with it’s prey.” Augustin leaned back into the chair. It was comfortable and he felt his tired muscles relax into it. He wasn’t sure if it was the strong wine or the casual conversation that was putting him at ease after being so worked up.

“Yes. But you also get all of the death, fear, pain, and doubt as well. They do not prepare you for that.”

“I must be stronger. I must learn to control it.” Augustin made a fist and pounded the arm of the chair.

“I agree. But they do not give you means to do it. It is foolish,” Marbach said.

Augustin remembered when he first spoke to the Holy Pai about the Anam. He had begun to have horrible death dreams that were so real. He seemed to be experiencing the deaths of the former bearers of the stone. Horrible deaths. Death so cold. So empty. He would sometimes forget who he was in a death dream. In the midst of the old memories it was sometimes like stepping off a dark cliff into nothingness where all thought and memory fell away, and his mind became like that of an infant. An infant alone in the dark. Sometimes he would awaken and not who he was, where he was, or when he was.

He realized that subject of their conversation had changed since sitting down, and decided to reassert the topic. “What does this have to do with these books, these people I take for you?”

Marbach set down his glass and looked at Augustin. “Everything,” He said. “Give me the bottle.” Marbach poured the contents into a small clear glass bowl on the table. It was a thick liquid and of red so dark is was almost black. “I told you to rub this into the Anam until it absorbs it. You tell me that it has worked.”

“Yes, it is a Miracle Holy Pai. This ointment is a miracle to me.”

“But what is this ointment? Have you smelled it? Have you perhaps tasted it?”

Augustine had smelled it. He knew what it was but he was afraid to say it; afraid of confirming it. “Yes, I see it on your face. You know what it is.” Marbach smiled slightly.

“It is blood. The blood of some animal I suspect? Perhaps sacrificed and made holy by you?” Augustine said.

“Yes. It is holy blood. The blood of angels to be exact.” Pai Marbach dipped his finger into the blood letting just the tip touch the dark liquid. There was a soft knock on the door. “Ah. Our angel. Come,” Marbach said to the visitor. The door swung open.

message 22: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 7 - The Road to Briarwood

The road to Briarwood was not a road at all. It was more of a narrow muddy path that crossed farmland, woods, and tiny villages. The sky was clear and the two moons shone brightly, lighting the way enough to keep them going in the right direction. If they kept moving at a good pace they should arrive just after midnight.

They rode for a long time without speaking, but Ailish could feel the tension between them. Theus had tried to start a conversation several times but she was not interested in talking. Small talk in these circumstances felt awkward, and she needed time to think. She had known Theus almost all his life and she knew he must be struggling with being thrown into the role as her guardian. She felt more like his mother. She was possibly more protective of him than he was of her.

She and Tallard had raised him when his parents died. At that time they were posing as father and daughter and were engaged in winemaking. The wine was real but their relationship was not. When he was older, Theus learned that his parent’s were actually part of a network of people that kept the Fad Matka hidden from view. Even though he now appeared twenty years older than her, she was the elder. For now she had to try and to let him step into Tallard’s shoes. Yet, she also thought that the role of guardian had to change. She was older now, even in Fad Matka years. If she were living in the time of her mother and father she would not be considered a child anymore. She thought it was time for her guardians to begin taking her counsel. Tallard certainly did not seem to be ready for that or even willing listen to her opinions most of the time. She doubted if Theus would be receptive at this point either, especially under these circumstances.

She tried to think the whole journey through step by step. What Tallard laid out was just a basic plan. Hire some help. Meet him at Rivertown. Journey to Prywynne. Perhaps he had told Theus more than he told her. That wouldn’t surprise her in the least.

“So what exactly is the plan?” Ailish asked.

“We are going to Briarwood to hire… well, how should I put this. Paid escorts I guess you could say.”

“Just say it plainly. We are going to employ some thugs to get us to a safe house.”

“Please don’t call them thugs when we hire them. And it wasn’t my idea,” He sounded defensive.

“Mercenaries are so… disreputable.” Silence fell over them again. He looked over at her as if to say something more then looked away. She sighed. “I’m sorry Theus. I don’t mean to take out my frustration on you.”

“No need to apologize. I’m a bit shook up as well.”

“I just feel like we are making this up as we go along. Didn’t we used to have a plan for situations like this?”

“Yes, but Tallard broke off most contact with our network when we came here.” This was true but she knew that Tallard did reach out six months ago to let someone know that they were alive. She wondered if this communication had given them away. Perhaps that person had betrayed them.

“So we are really on our own this time,” She said. They were coming up a steep hill with a field of grain on the right side and some woods on the left. Half way up the hill Theus stopped and held up his hand. “Do you hear that?” he asked. Ailish listened. At first, all she heard was the sound of a light wind moving over the field grain. Then she heard the distinct sound of horses.

“Riders! Coming over the hill. Quickly, into the woods,” Theus Said. Ailish darted into the darkness of the trees, but just as Theus was about to follow her the riders came over the top and he did not follow. She went deep enough into the thick trees to where she could still hear but not see very well. Before long she could see riders going by. Good. They are not stopping, She thought. She watched Theus move aside letting them pass. Every once in a while she could see a flash of white on their clothing. Waarheid Sacred Warriors. We did just get out in time. After several of them passed, they stopped and turned while the others slowed and stopped in front of Theus. Ailish felt a hard knot form in the pit of her stomach.

“Greetings in the Faith brothers.” She heard Theus say. “What honor brings you this far out?”

“Your name?” The Warrior asked.

“Brother Theus, of the Vyrion Monestary.”

“A bit late for a ride, isn’t it? Brother?” Ailish knew that not only were these men well trained in fighting but they were also adept at interrogation. It was said that they could tell by facial expression or voice inflection if you were lying. The knot in her stomach tightened more and she felt like she was going to vomit.

“That’s exactly what I told Prior Tomas when he sent me out at this fool hour.” Theus sounded genuinely annoyed. “I said, Prior with all respect, this can wait until the morning. But no, no, no. He said that Mr. Mullock was on his deathbed - you see Mr. Mullock is a great benefactor of the monastery and is set to leave his estate to us - so I was to go out to his house at once, and look in on him, and give him the End Rite if necessary.” She saw the sacred warrior hold up hand as if to stop him but Theus went on. “If you ask me, Mr. Mullock is a hypochondriac. Why I’ve been out to his house at least three times in the last six months, once in the rain,” Theus exclaimed.

“All right. Enough.” The warrior commanded. “Have you seen anyone else on this road?”

“No, I have not. Is there someone you are looking for? Perhaps I could help.”

There was a long pause and for a moment she thought the charade was over. But then the warrior said, “Let’s move on brothers.” The remainder of them passed Theus by one by one. She heard him begin to ride up the hill and she made her way through the woods parallel to him. In a few minutes she was out of the woods and beside him on the other side of the hill.

“Well done, Theus. I almost believed you myself.”

“I nearly pissed myself when they stopped.” They coaxed their horses to move ahead. “Master interrogators. Humph. my grandmothers ass.” Ailish snickered and he joined in. It was good to hear him laugh and it felt good to laugh with him.

At the bottom of the next hill the Sacred Warriors rode on.

“The Brother was lying Kaptein Alric,” Gair Said.

“Yes. I know. But lying about what. That he was sneaking off to plow some farmer’s daughter?”

“Or Wife,” one of the others laughed. He does not fit the description Pai Marbach gave them. We are looking for an old monk and a young woman. But still… He thought for a moment. He had strict instructions from Protector Thulton. All of them were to arrive at the monastery and secure it before he arrived. They were to detain the old brother and the girl if they came across them on the road. They had met several people along the way here. More than he expected for this far flung mud path and he had questioned them all. This had delayed them. Some were liars and some were not. But this little encounter gave him the feeling of not just lying but deception. Yes, the brother was laying on the honey a little thick. And he was from the Vyron Monastery. “Amos and Gair,” Alric said.

“Yes Kaptein,” They answered.

“Double back and follow him. Do not be seen or heard.”

“As you wish Kaptein.”

“If he is fornicating then bring them back and we will flog them. If he is not alone, and if he is not visiting some benefactor, then detain them and send word as to where you are holding them.” Amos and Gair turned and rode back the other way.

message 23: by Anna (new)

Anna M. Watson | 66 comments Hi, I read the prologue. Didn't have time for anything else, but I may check the rest out at some point.

Consider your first sentence: "Protector Haar approached the darkness on his grey courser." This is what your readers have to latch onto. Not much. The second sentence is a little better. "The horse snorted, smelling something foul, and he pulled up several paces short of the wall of shadow in the forest." The wall of shadow is intriguing. However, I might suggest you start with your second paragraph: "What devilry is this?" Now, that's intriguing. All you'd have to do is switch the first and second paragraph. Up to you. Just suggestions.

I can tell you have put a lot of thought into your world, based on the characters' titles and the setting and the...whatever that thing in Haar's chest is. I think you did a good job of not giving too much away (by way of info-dumping) but told us enough to keep us interested and give us an idea of what's going on.

I didn't really get pictures of any of the characters. Even of their personalities. They all seemed kind of...similar. I'm sure this gets fixed later on, but introductions to characters need to be strong and obvious. Make me want to get to know them more.

The end of the prologue is great. It'll entice people to continue reading.

Hope to read more!

message 24: by Brady (new)

Brady Longmore | 46 comments Looks like everything is coming together nicely for you. Keep up the good work!

message 25: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 8 - Marbach's Dogs

Protector Thulton rode through the moonlit night. The sound of the riders around him was a meditative mantra. They were of one mind, one purpose, and they rode as one. They would arrive under cover of darkness to the monastery at Vyrion. No one would be allowed in or out while they made their search. Pai Marbach said there was a traitor to the Waarheid defiling the monastery and hiding a woman among the novices. This woman was very important. But if she was not found then he was not to act against the traitor. They would need him to lead them to her.

The riders swept through the sleeping town of Vyrion toward the monastery. They arrived at full gallop and thundered into the open U shaped courtyard with Protector Thulton in the lead. The first thing Thulton noticed was that they were the first to arrive. Kaptein Alric should have already been there having taken a shorter backcountry road. He had expected to begin conducting his search but now he would have to see to securing all the exits. Damn you Alric where are you?

“Secure the monastery.” He called out to his men. “No one comes in or out.”

His men began to spread out and surround the large stone structures, some of which stood alone and others that were intricately connected. Some of the men began to light torches to illuminate the perimeter and the courtyard. Thulton noticed that lights were beginning to be lit inside the monastery. I will have your head if she slips out of this place Alric.

“Alon, Czeron, Kremm. Come with me,” he called out. They dismounted and started toward the double doors at the center building, but they were already opening before them.

“Greetings in the faith brothers. I am Prior Tomas.” The Prior’s smile looked forced. He was a tall skinny man and his robes hung on him loosely. He looks like a scarecrow. I could blow on him and he would fall over. His head was shaved which only added to the gaunt look of the man, and when he smiled you could see every bone in his face. “You honor us with your presence. If we had known you were coming we would have been better prepared to receive you,” Prior Tomas continued.

There was a woman at his side dressed in the traditional white robes of those who have taken sworn oaths to the Waarheid. Obviously, she was the head Sia of the community. Good, they are both here.

“Greetings in the Faith.” He bowed to them slightly. “I am Protector Thulton.” He knew full well that a Protector was rarely see this side of the river. Let alone a Protector with two dozen warriors at his command. The woman was the first to her knees with head bowed. The Prior followed her lead, stunned into submission.

“Lord Emissary and Protector of the Waarheid,” she said. “I am Sia Riada. The message of your coming must have been lost. We should have received you with full honor and dignity. Forgive us.”

“Enough with the pleasantries. I am not here to take tea with you.“ He walked in between them and entered the Monastery. “There is a woman here that the Most Holy Pai Marbach requires.”

They rose and followed him with Alon, Czeron, and Kremm behind them. He listened as he entered the entrance hall. He could hear a murmur of voices echoing in the hallways.

“My men are setting up a perimeter around the the property as we speak. I would advise that no one try to leave until we have what we came for. How many exits are there to the main building here?” Thulton asked.

“There are many Lord Protector. The delivery door to the kitchens. A connecting hall and door from the sleeping cells to the sanctuary. Let me think… Oh, a door from the common room to the courtyard and a cellar door to the basement below the sanctuary, and these doors here, of course,” Tomas answered.

“Czeron, take five men and secure these locations,” Thulton said.

Czeron hurried away outside.

The Protector surveyed the hall then let his eyes fall back on the Prior and the Head Sia. “We are looking for a novice called Ailish. You will take us to her. When I have her, she will be put under guard until the morning.” Thulton put his hand on the hilt of his sword and Alon and Kremm did the same. If either of these two were going to be trouble it would probably be soon or even now. “Then she comes with us in the morning.”

“I saw Ailish to her room hours ago. I will wake her and bring her to you, Lord Protector.” Sia Riada said.

Thulton nodded to Alon who drew his short sword and gestured to Sia Riada to lead the way. Sia Riada’s eyes widened in shock at the sight of the blade.

Sia Riada’s eyes moved between the blade to Alon’s face. Thulton could hear the fear in her voice. “I don’t know why that is necessary. She’s harmless enough. A bit starry-eyed about the faith is all.”

Thulton watched her walk away with Alon. Her body and voice gave off no sign of deception. There was only fear in it. Fear of them. Fear of displeasing him. Ailish must have other guardians here besides the traitor. They always do. This one perhaps more than one. Run from me. I dare you.

“What do you want with a back country novice?” Prior Tomas asked. “And there is no need to threaten us Protector. We are obedient to the faith here. We will cooperate.” The Prior sounded like he was trying to reassert himself. He was in charge of this place after all.

Thulton caught movement in the opposite hallway that Sia Riada had gone down. An old monk with a cane was walking toward them.

“Brother Tallard, this is Protector Thulton,” Prior Tomas said as Tallard approached.
Tallard smiled and bowed. “This is who I owe a night of interrupted sleep to, I take it?” Tallard asked.
The Prior glared at him but Tallard continued, “An old man needs his sleep, Lord Protector, and all this... clamor is giving me headache. I shall be useless in the morning.”

So this is brother Tallard. Interesting.

“My apologies brother. But it could not be helped. It is the will of Erus, the One True God that we are here,” Thulton said.

“Go to Sia Giina and get a sedative, brother Tallard. Protector Thulton has better things to do than hear about your ailments,” Prior Tomas quipped.

“It’s quite alright Prior. Stay with us while we conduct our business, Brother.” He wanted to see Tallard’s face when Alon came back with Ailish.

“Certainly. It’s been a very long time since I spoke with a Protector,” Tallard said.

Prior Tomas led them from the entrance hall to a library. Thulton thought this would serve to hold the girl until they left in the morning. There were no windows and the entrance hall was large enough for five men to guard it. He could post another five at the outer door. If Tallard was still here and acting this casually then he probably had no idea what was going on. Perfect. Perhaps this was not going to be as difficult as Pai Marbach had thought. No sooner had the thought passed his mind when Alon returned with Sia Riada.

“She is not there, Protector. And it looks like she packed some of her things before leaving,” Alon said.

Thulton looked at Tallard’s face and watched, but he gave away nothing. He only looked confused like he did not know what they were talking about.

“She could not have gone alone.” Thulton turned to Prior Tomas and held a finger in front of his face. “I want an accounting of every person in this Monastery. If anyone is missing I want their names.”

The Prior was again looking stunned, staring at the finger.

“Now,” Thulton roared.

Prior Tomas scurried out of the room.

“Looking for someone are you?” Tallard said.

Was that a hint of satisfaction in his voice? I will rip out your tongue and feed it back to you old man.

“Yes. A novice called Ailish.” He quickly turned to Tallard, half expecting him to be wielding a knife or some other weapon. But Tallard only sat there in a wooden chair leaning on his cane and looking at him.

“Ailish? Ailish? Oh, yes, Ailish. Good girl. Very disciplined and quiet that one. Did you know she earned her own copy of the Livro Unon?” Tallard said.

Thulton kept his voice even and low. “The Most Holy Pai Marbach has need of her.”

“Really? How wonderful. I’m sure she will be thrilled to meet him. Perhaps they can discuss scripture interpretation, eh?”

Thulton paced the floor the library. Alon and Krem stood in the doorway. Alon’s short sword was back in its scabbard but his hand laid across the handle. There was no doubt now. The girl was gone. He felt like a hungry wolf with the scent of the blood of its prey. She was already running and he was here mincing words with this traitor. Now he had to wait for Tallard to make a move. The longer Tallard lingered the further away she would get.

Sia Riada came back into the room.

“Lord Protector, all the other novices are accounted for. I have questioned them, and none of them saw or heard Ailish leave. Perhaps she went to chapel to pray. She often does that at night when she has trouble sleeping.”

Thulton nodded and Alon followed her out leaving him alone with Tallard.

“I doubt if she’s gone far,” Tallard said. “She’s too sensible to leave the safety of the Monastery. Perhaps you and your men should bed down for the night. Must have been a long ride for you and your men. We’ve plenty of room here, refreshment too, and you can search for her in daylight.” Protector Thulton glared at him.

Wait until morning? Think I’m a fool, Tallard? I should take you outside and tie you between two horses until you tell me where she’s gone to. Yet his men were tired. And the horses too. They had ridden for many hours with only short breaks to feed and water them. They could not give chase at this moment. But he could loose Tallard and pretend to let down his guard. He and a few men could take fresh horses from the Monastery and follow.

Prior Tomas returned with a few other brothers.

“Protector Thulton, all my brothers are accounted for except Brother Theus. We are trying to find him now,” The Prior said.

“Have one of these brothers check to see if any of your horses are missing,” Thulton ordered.

“Yes of course. I’ll do it myself,” Prior Tomas said, turning to go.

“Don’t bother looking for Brother Theus,” Tallard said.

“Why-ever not?” Prior Tomas asked.

“Because I sent him to check on a sick boy at the Rhubart farm just down the road. Told him to take some of my herbal tea to him. I’m too old to walk there myself you see.” Tallard added a smile to that comment Thulton noted. That was a lie for certain. They were all looking at Tallard now and he dug himself deeper into the lie.

“He probably fell asleep there. He’ll turn up in the morning.” Prior Tomas seemed satisfied with that but another voice came from the entrance hall.

“I doubt that.” Kaptein Alric pushed past everyone and into the room. “Because I passed him on the road to Briarwood on my way here.” Thulton and Alric stared down at Tallard and waited for him to reply.

message 26: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 9 pt 1 - Obnova

Varro Augustin looked toward the door as it opened and a young man of at least fifteen years walked in. He was dressed in a white robe with a purple sash around his waist. He had the look of royalty, and Augustin noticed his deep blue eyes from across the room. The young man’s mouth smiled as he approached them. But there is no smile in his eyes. And he looks familiar to me. I know him from somewhere.

“Perhaps you remember Eemil. You brought him here ten years ago, I believe,” Pai Marbach said. Augustin remembered now. This was the first of those he had caught for the Holy Pai. He remembered the elderly couple who took up swords against him when he came for the orphan.

“Do you notice anything about him, Augustin?” Marbach asked with a smile.
It only took a moment for it to register in his mind. Ten years it has been. Ten years and the young man has not aged a day. Augustin rose to his feet and his hand went to his sword hilt.

“Fad Maka,” He whispered. “Demons that we guard the world against.”

“This demon has given you your sanity back,” Marbach said.

Augustin looked at the blood in the bowl on the table and drew his sword.

“What have you done to me. You have had me defile myself with the blood of evil.” He locked eyes with Eemil who took two cautious steps backward.

“Calm yourself Augustin.” The Holy Pai was on his feet. “Hear me out. Then if you want to take off my head I will gladly give it to you.”

Augustin looked at Marbach who was standing there with his hands on his hips. He sheathed his sword and sat back down.

“You know the story of The Fall in the Livro Unon?” Marbach asked.

“Am I to be given a scripture lesson in front of this demon spawn?” He spat.
“Humor me, Augustin.” Marbach said.

Augustin recited the story. “The Angels were co-creators with Erus, the one true God, but they became arrogant. After the creation they disobeyed and tried to put themselves above Erus. They were cast down, doomed to live forever but trapped in mortal bodies that could feel pain and suffering.”

Pai Marbach moved closer to Eemil as Augustin spoke. “High Angels,” Marbach said as he touched Eemils cheek with the back of his hand. “Worthy to be worshipped, with the power and knowledge of the Erus himself.”

“They were Angels.” Augustin said with firmness.

“Yes, Eemil’s parents were of the race fallen ones. That I am sure. They deserved to be freed from their torment and returned to the great nothingness.” He turned to Augustin. “But are the children of the fallen to be condemned? They know nothing of their parent’s disobedience. Why should they be hunted down and killed like animals?” Marbach paused and returned to his chair but did not sit. “During the Great Cleansing there were some who escaped.” Marbach gestured to Eemil, “Their young offspring. I believe they hold the answer to our very existence, Augustin. I believe they hold the key to bring about Obnova.” Marback said the word with genuine piety and reverence while letting his eyes fall on Eemil.

Obnova. The complete restoration of creation. When the time comes, Erus himself will restore all creation to wholeness. Could it be true?

“You have helped me gather the evidence and knowledge that I’ve needed. My predecessors, and yours I might add, in their blindness burned everything.” Marbach strode to the wall of books behind his desk. “Well, almost everything.” He took a key out of a pocket and slipped it into a place in the woodwork. There was a loud click and the the volumes of books moved aside revealing a hidden library of books. Marbach removed a small volume and opened it.
“The Livro Unon says that the faithful, we the Waarheid, were brought here with the wise Angel Gulon who loved Erus, but sought to bring his fallen brothers and sisters back. When he was defeated, we were stranded here with the fallen. The Livro Unon doesn’t tell us how Gulon was defeated, but it is here.” He pointed to a page in the book he held. “This is the journal of Protector Sangord Monari.”

“The first of the Protectors?” Augustin rose and walked toward Marbach wide eyed. ”How did you get this? This should be in the Sacred Library of the Great Protectors.”
He held the book out to Augustin and he accepted it with reverence.

“It is one of many books the Waarheid keeps hidden. There are those among us who do want to know the truth. Eemil? You know how Gulan was destroyed. We have spoken of it. Let Augustin hear it from your lips.”

He looked up from the book and narrowed his eyes at the young man. Do not lie to me boy. I don’t care if you are a demon. I will still know if you speak the truth.

“My ancestors were co-creators. When they were banished, they took with them certain instruments of creation. They are called Työkalut, the tools of the creator. They used these as weapons to destroy Gulon.” He speaks true.

Marbach put his hand on Augustin’s shoulder. “Because of you, my friend, we have already recovered three of the five known Työkalut. When we have them all, and we bring them together, Erus will return, and Obnova will begin.”

“Why didn’t you tell me. My men would have fought harder for you. We would have been even more diligent,” Augustin Said.

“Yes, I should have trusted you. I apologize. But you must understand, what I do, I do in secret even from the Holy Pai Council. You see, they do not want Obnova. They like the way things are. They rule like kings, paying lip service to our faith. You and I are different, I think? We truly serve.”

Augustin nodded and walked toward the blood in the bowl again.

“And this one’s blood?” He asked, picking up the bowl.

“Your Anam is similar to the Työkalut,” Eemil said. “It was made using the tools of creation. It is a living thing, and it responds to the old blood of the co-creators.”

“I don’t understand?” Augustin said.

“Neither do I completely. There is so much we do not know. This is why I have been collecting everything I can find. Every journal, every scrap of paper, trying to find answers. What I do know is that your Anam is as old as Golan’s coming and his warriors were bound to him; bound to his blood.”

Augustin closed the journal in his hand and went to the window. The room fell into silence. I still have many questions. Where are the others that I brought back? Why is this one so cooperative? Yet the Holy Pai speaks true, and this is surely a cause of the highest principle. This is worthy of my Sacred Vows.

“I shall not take your head, Holy Pai. Nor this one’s. But you will be forthcoming in the future. I am yours to use.” He turned to face them both, face as hard as stone. “But I am no game piece.”

“Thank you, Lord Protector of the faith.” Marbach gave him a slight bow of his head. “Now. We have other matters to discuss. There has been a complication.”

Augustin noticed that Eemil lowered his head and a deeper sadness crept into his face.

“You may not know this, but I have enlisted the help of some of your brothers. Protector Haar and Protector Thulton have been assisting me.”

“I know,” Augustin said. “They do not tell me with what, but our order is not as secretive about our activities as the Pai Council is.” He sat back down and returned to his wine. Pai Marbach’s brow furrowed, showing deep lines in the man’s forehead. For first time Augustin saw real consternation in the Holy Pai’s face.

“What is it?” He asked.

“Protector Haar is Dead,” Pai Marbach said.

“Where? How? Tell me.” Augustin said, more sad than angry.

“Eemil will show you. Open your shirt and let him touch your Anam.”

Eemil stepped toward him and his had went instinctively to his sword hilt.

“I will not harm you,” Eemil said. “Your Anam can hear my memories.”

“Trust me Augustin,” Marbach said.

Augustin removed his outer leather armor, and then untied his shirt. The Anam was a white circular object embedded in his chest and fused to his sternum. Marbach stepped forward with a small pin and pricked Eemil’s finger.

“You will see through my eyes. You will see what I saw.” Eemil pressed his finger to the Anam. At first it was no different than when he applied the blood from the bottle. A warm tingle filled his chest and spread across his body. His eyes fell shut and he was thrust into a strange place. He felt his body convulse slightly and when he opened his eyes he was no longer in Pai Marbach’s study.

message 27: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 9 pt 2

It was a dark forest. All around him were the cries of men and the sound of fighting. He ran forward toward a strange glow many paces away. The sound of riders behind him made him run and hide behind a tree. Two Sacred Warriors appeared on horseback looking confused with swords drawn. Then Protector Haar appeared out of the shadows on foot and attacked them. “Die. Vile Creatures. Die!” Haar Roared. Augustin, in Eemil’s body, ran toward the glow leaving the warriors to fight behind him. He stumbled on the underbrush and fell forward.

He was closer to the light, but the sound of the fighting around him came closer too, like bugs drawn to a fire. He turned over to get up and Protector Haar was there, coming toward him with sword in hand. Haar raised his sword to strike, but then there were two consecutive thumps as Haar was hit from behind with two arrows. Haar turned to face his attackers. Two more Sacred Warriors. They drew swords and came at him. The Protector, even with two arrows in his back, was more than they could handle. He crawled away from the fighting, still trying to reach the glowing, pulsing light.

Two more warriors fighting a third were in his path and he had to sneak around them on all fours. He noticed that there were tiny wisps of light coming from the glow. They were like swirling worms that spun out into the darkness. He watched as the tiny wisps sped toward the fighting and seemed shoot into the bodies of the Sacred Warriors. He stood again and ran toward the light. As he came closer, the light brightened, and he saw a glowing figure. It was neither male nor female and made completely of light. There was no color to it yet it was all colors. It pointed a sword made of the same light straight out ahead. The tiny wisps of light flew out of the sword. As bright as the figure was, it did not light up the area. It was more like all light was being pulled into the figure, causing the darkness.

It turned its head toward him, and when its glowing eyes met his, his mind exploded with the sound of voices. They were chanting in unison in some language he did not understand. Before he could turn away, a thread of light shot out from the forehead of the figure and hit him between the eyes. He winced and could not look away.

“You bring violence with you, Eemil, son of Erolin, of the Adrendadith line.” The voice spoke over the chanting in his mind.

“Please, stop whatever it is you are doing. I have come for the Työkalut.”

“I am the Nydeacan Työkalut. I cannot harm you Eemil, son of Erolin, of the Adrendadith line.”

“I am the last of the Adrendadith. I am gathering the tools of creation. I command you to stop hurting these men.”

“I do not harm these men.” The figure shook its head.
The fighting was closer now and he could see Sacred Warrior swords slashing and clashing in the darkness around the figure.
“They turn on themselves when they see what they are; what is in their own dark hearts,” the figure continued.

He could hear men being killed and falling around him. He looked and saw that Protector Haar was still fighting. He now had two more arrows protruding from his torso.

“The Työkalut are bound to the old ones. I am your master,” Eemil shouted.

“I am held bound by the Nydeacan sequence.” The chanting erupted in his head again. “You may unbind me, Eemil, son of Erolin, of the Adrendadith line.”

“I don’t know… I don’t know what that means.” He cried.

“You must go then, Eemil, son of Erolin, of the Adrendadith line.”

“STOP SAYING THAT.” he yelled. The chanting in his head stopped.
The light of the figure intensified and pulsed out. The remaining warriors charged at each other and into the glowing figure. Their swords pierced each other and they fell beneath the figure’s feet. Haar was the last standing. He walked toward the figure and dropped his sword. The figure drove its sword into Haar’s chest, into the Anam, which began to glow and burn through Haar’s clothing. Smoke and the smell of burning flesh filled the air as orange burning embers writhed and spread across Haar’s clothing, blackening fabric and skin as they unfurled. Haar screamed and fell on his back, limbs flailing.

The Anam, now glowing bright orange in a blacked hole, shot straight up into the air like a firework.

Augustin opened his eyes, gasped in a breath of air, and fell back into the chair. “The dark lands. You sent him into the dark lands.”

“I sent him and Eemil to bring back the Nydeacan Työkalut. I was correct that is was hidden there.” Marbach sat back down and Eemil stepped away. “But I was wrong in believing that the darkness was the only defense. A grave error. None of the other tools that we have taken have behaved in this way. In fact, this is the first one that has done anything but sit on a table and stare back at us.” Marabach’s hand was clenched. Augustin had never seen him this out of sorts. It was refreshing actually.

“We know more about the nature of the Anam than the Työkalut.” Marback unclenched his fist and steepled his hands, as if in prayer. “This force that guards it, it mentioned a Nydeacan sequence. So I believe we need a Nydeacan to fetch this tool.” Marbach said.

Augustin could hardly believe it. Not only was Protector Haar dead but an entire group of Sacred Warriors had been killed in the dark lands. That place had long been a mystery and no one had ventured there in a hundred years. Now he knew what lay there and he had a reason for wanting to destroy it or reclaim it as Marbach wanted to do.

“What of Protector Thulton? You said you he was assisting you?” Augustin asked.

“He has gone to flush out the last of the Nydeacan line. We need her to run. And I need you and your men to help chase her.”

“Chase? Why not just catch her and take her there?” Augustin asked.

“Not all of the sons and daughters of the fallen are as cooperative as Eemil.” Marbach’s sly smile was back. “I do not have time to try and persuade her. I believe that our best chance is to let her take her family’s Työkalut without even knowing what it is. We need to guide her along and provide the right… motivation. Have you ever hunted Meadow Pipings, Augustin?”

He nodded. Meadow Pipings had a habit of flying very short distances when flushed out. So what hunters did was form a wide V and keep moving them to exactly where they wanted them. Then it was easy to shoot them down. He knew what Marbach was going to say.
Eemil joined Marbach and stood beside his chair.

“We must funnel her into the place where we cannot safely go.” Pai Marbach stood and poured Augustin another glass of wine. “This one, I believe will be quite slippery, and it may be for the best. How long since you had a good hunt, my friend?” Pai Marbach asked. “Duty should come with some enjoyment, yes?”

Augustin nodded and said, “Yes, this could be quite enjoyable.”

Pai Marbach raised his glass and said, “Happy hunting.”

message 28: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Chapter 10 - Briarwood

Ailish and Theus rode into Briarwood tired from the journey. It was small town with a few Inns, a Katar House, and a drinking establishment called the Great White Oak. It was an out-of-the-way place, being a day’s ride from Hyan Glen, and two days from Rivertown. It was mostly a stopping point for goods making their way from country farms to the larger cities on the other side of the great river. Goods made in the larger cities also made there way into the country along these same roads, and through these same towns. Mercenaries frequented these small stopovers looking for work protecting goods from gangs and bandits on roads. Of course some of these mercenaries did double duty as both armed escorts and bandits. Ailish was well aware that the bandits and gangs were simply other bands of mercenaries who made the roads dangerous for the sake of driving up the price of their services.

They came to The Greendance Inn, which was across from the Great White Oak. Theus looked around after dismounting and Ailish joined him at the door. No one on the street took notice. Theus glanced back up the street the way they had come. There were no other travelers arriving. They looked at each other, nodded, and went in. A short rotund man sat behind a counter drinking straight from a bottle and did not seem to notice them. Ailish was about to clear her throat when a tall skinny woman entered through an open doorway behind the man. She looked at them, then to the man, and gave him slap to the back of his head which caused him to choke and spit out his last swig.

“Pay attention you oaf. You have customers.” She turned to them, “Please excuse my husband he’s a courteous as a fart during a hand-fasting.” She glared at him and he ducked into the back room. “You would like a room?” she asked.

“Two rooms please,” Theus said.

“Oh, I’m sorry brother, of course you want two rooms. What was I thinking? Now let me see.” She turned to the wall behind her where the keys hung, and which appeared very bare. “Oh dear, I’m afraid all I’ve got is the suite.” She took the key down and turned back to them. “But it does have two rooms you know, a bedroom and a sitting room.” Theus looked at Ailish and she nodded.

“We’ll take it. Do you think your husband can help with our things? I have some business across the street that I need to take care of.” Theus said.

“Of course, of course. Harry get back out here and help these guests get settled.” She called out.

“Thank you,” Ailish added, giving the woman a kind smile.

Theus pulled her aside. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Lock the door. We’ll use the usual knock.”

Ailish shook her head and spoke so she could not be heard. “I’m coming with you. I do not trust those thugs and I don’t think it’s a good idea to separate.”

They stepped outside and Theus looked around making sure they were alone. Ailish could tell that the encounter with Sacred Warriors on the road had spooked him.

“I will only be a few minutes. Besides, you hate these places more than I do. I can walk in there unnoticed. But you? Young and beautiful as you are, you are likely to be mistaken for-”

Ailish rolled her eyes, but then thought that perhaps she had better let him try to play the guardian. “All right, but if you do not come back within a half hour I am coming to find you.”

“All right then,” he said, and hurried across the street to the Great White Oak.


The Great White Oak had an unpleasant smell of spilled beer, sweat, and cheap tobacco. Hayes Fulton hardly noticed. He was presently down a bit too much in the card game he was playing in the back room of tavern. In this private space, set off from the rest of the tavern by a curtain, there were tables of various sizes with hard looking men and women sitting around them playing cards and other games. They were a mix of gamblers, locals, prostitutes, and mercenaries. A nasty little crowd that only got uglier the later it got. A scuffle broke out at the table to his left, but before they could come to blows, one of the Great White Oaks’s peacemakers walked by swinging his club. They sat back down and returned to their game of dice.

Hayes saw the curtain to the back room open without looking up, and was surprised to see Brother Theus of the Vyrion Monastery come in. There was a haze of smoke in the air and Hayes watched Theus squint while looking around the room. Theus waved his hand in front of his face to clear the air and Hayes watched his gaze stop in his direction. Theus made his way across the room toward him. He did not look up from his cards when he arrived. Theus stood there waiting to be noticed.

“Shall we deal you in or is it against your religion?” Hayes asked.

Theus leaned down. “It’s important. I need to talk to you.” Theus looked up at the others then finished, ”Alone.”

“A bit past your bedtime isn’t it Theus?”

The other men chuckled and Thues frowned.

“I’m not Tallard’s errand boy, brother.” Hayes tossed a coin into the pile in the center of the table. “And I’m presently engaged by another client at the moment. You will have to get in line, I’m in demand right now. And besides,“ he paused and studied his cards. “I have no time for jobs that cost me more than I get paid.” Hayes nodded to one of the other players who dealt him another card.

The man sitting across from Hayes shook his head and laid down his cards.

“Finestra,” The player said.

Hayes rolled his eyes and tossed down his cards along with the other three players with a collective groan. The winner pulled his winnings toward him and laughed.

“Deal,” Hayes said to the man on his right. Then he looked up at Theus. “Bearin is looking for work.” He motioned to the man now dealing the cards. “He can run your little errand.”

“It’s not a little errand this time, Hayes. You know how much I hate this place. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important. Now hear me out.” Theus said.

It was true. Hayes did know how much Theus hated any place like this. The last time he worked for Tallard, Theus would spend most of his nights in his room as far away as possible from the local tavern. What is he doing here? At this hour? Or in Briarwood at all? The Monastery harvests can’t be in yet so there’s nothing to transport that would need protection.

“You have my curiosity that’s for sure. But the answers still no. As I said I’m-” He stopped cold. Theus placed a large gold coin on the table next to his hand. The other card players whistled at the sight. It stared up at him. Along the edge of the coin were tiny stars and in the center was a crown with the sun blazing in the middle. A gold crown. More than he could expect to earn in a year at the present rate.

“What’s this all a out Theus?” He said, still staring at the coin. Now it was Theus’s turn to be silent. Hayes pursed his lips and palmed the coin. “If you will excuse me gentlemen, I have some business to attend to.”

He followed Theus out of the back room and then touched his shoulder. “Not through the front door you fool. Out back.” Theus followed Hayes through the room to a side door that was hidden in the shadows. The door led out into an alleyway between two buildings.

“We will need all of you,” Theus began.

“Hold on now, I came out here to hear you out, not to take the job,” Hayes Said.

“It’s very simple. Me and my companion would like your protection while we journey to Prywynne.”

“Nothing that pays what you are offering is that simple.”

Theus Shrugged. Hayes watched him closely, eyes unblinking.

“No cargo. Just you and a companion,” Hayes said.

“That’s right.”

Hayes waited for him to go on. Why was he being so tight lipped while throwing around gold crowns?

“Who is he?” Hayes asked.

“She is Ailish. A novice and a friend. She has to… she has some family trouble that requires her to go to Prywynne.”

“Family trouble? What sort of family trouble puts a gold crown in my hand?” Hayes opened his hand looked at it. “Well? What exactly am I getting me and my band into?”

“We would like to avoid any trouble with certain emissaries of the Waarheid.”

“Now were getting somewhere. What did you do to get a pack of dogs on your heels?” Hayes’ eyes never left Theus’ who was starting to look like a prisoner under interrogation. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. But why me? There are plenty of other men around with reputations for dealing with those dogs.”

“We owe you from last time, and Tallard says you know the back ways. The way through the wilds. Roads long forgotten and overgrown. You could get us there without us ever even seeing a Sacred Warrior,” Theus said.

“Yes, I do. But there are other dangers going that way and we will need to cross the river first.”

“You will do it then?” Theus asked. Hayes Nodded but held up his finger.
“My terms are that you will pay all expenses along the way. None of it will come out of our fee.” Theus Nodded and said, “Agreed.”

“I will keep this as a retainer during the journey.” Hayes pocketed the gold crown, smiled and continued. “And we will require two more gold crowns when we arrive at Prywynne.”

“One more.” Theus said.


“I don’t have two more.”

“Yes you do.”

“If I didn’t know better I’d say that you were a Sacred Warrior Interrogator.” Theus frowned. “Alright, two it is.”

“We will meet you at sunrise. You are staying at the Greendance Inn? Yes?” They walked to the end of the alley and Hayes gestured toward the Inn. “Get some sleep. I’ll gather my band.”

Hayes watched him cross the street and enter the Inn. He was about to leave when he caught sight of two men coming out of the Great White Oak. He leaned against the wall, pulled out his pipe, and slouched. Hit lit up the pipe, let the smoke fill his lungs, and then exhaled it out slowly. The men were talking in low voices, but who they were was unmistakable. A pair of Sacred Warriors. Two rabid dogs right here in Briarwood. What did Tallard and Theus do to piss them off? They must have come in just after we slipped out. They glanced at him but took no real notice. I just might have to earn these gold crowns. They walked straight toward the Greendance Inn.

“Damn it,” he muttered. His first thought was to go after them. Then he remembered that he had left his best weapons back at his hideaway. All he had were two short daggers in his belt. Good for any trouble in a tavern but not much against two trained Warriors with long swords. He would need help, especially if this was to be done quietly. He turned and ran into the shadows of the alley.

message 29: by James (new)

James | 49 comments Thanks for the read! Yes, there is a bit of chapt num confusion at the beginning. This started off all first draft and I was still deciding if chapt 1 was 1 or prologue.

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