Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book 2: Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Owen stood in shock. One thing after another. Marcus walked slowly to him, stepping over the bodies of horse and rider.  Marcus smiled grimly.



The two hugged quickly, Owen still too shocked to think. He had never expected to see Marcus again. It had been months since the tall, lanky, archer and his father had left Kallan and Owen with the rebellion. 

“Where…?” Owen looked him over. He was clad in leather and fur, his shoulders covered by a wool cloak. The thin archer looked around.

“It’s a long story.”  Marcus glanced down at Ewan. Owen looked down as well, and then checked the old man’s pulse. He was jerked back to reality.

“He’s still alive!” He thought desperately for a way to save the man. He looked around for the horses. Ewan’s gelding was nowhere to be found, but Willow was making her way toward them, curious.  Marcus took charge, lifting the old man onto the bay mare’s back. “We’ll have to ride fast.” He looked to be thinking for a minute, as if weighing his odds.

He looked at Owen’s bleeding arm. “You need to do something about that.” Owen nodded. He had almost forgotten. He pulled off the cloven leather bracer, tucking it in his satchel, and rolled up his sleeve. He grimaced. The wound was not deep, but it was wide and not clean. He tore a tunic from one of the dead men and wrapped it around his arm. The men began to stir, a few groaning from their injuries. Owen turned and grabbed Willow’s reins, mounting. Marcus pulled himself aboard, his strong mare holding the weight of the two men for now.

He led the way, Owen trailing behind, holding his injured arm to keep it from bleeding. He felt lethargic, and lost track of time as they rode through the foothills. They rode south west. Owen knew the sun set, and it was dark, when he fell off Willow into sagebrush. He heard Marcus voice, then knew no more.

Owen awoke to the moon shining above, his arm burning with pain. He woke, and went to Ewan.  The old man’s breathing was ragged, and his face was pale, but he was still alive.  He woke Marcus.  “We need to ride.” They tied Ewan to Willow. Owen wondered how long he had slept. Marcus mounted his mare, and Owen climbed onto Willow behind Ewan.

He felt weak. The tunic wrapped around his arm was covered in dried blood. He knew he had lost a lot of blood, and he felt weak, but he kept going. They rode until later in the day, and then they moved Ewan to Marcus’ mare. Marcus followed trails into the mountains, until finally they turned into a valley with high cliffs on either side. They rode up a steep path, rocks falling into the canyon floor far below.  The old man was still alive, barely.

Owen was surprised when they emerged into a camp, filled with wooden framed huts covered in tightly stretched hides. Men and women emerged, watching the travelers suspiciously and curiously. They seemed to recognize Marcus. Owen looked around, confused and surprised.  It was undoubtedly a barbarian camp. Marcus glanced back, and seeing Owen’s stunned look, slowed to ride beside him.

“They are friends. They hid from the empire when the other tribes were forced to join.”

Owen still looked confused. Marcus shook his head. “It’s too much to explain, I will tell you later.”

Owen nodded, still perplexed. They rode to the center of the camp to a large hut with smoke coming out of a hole in the ceiling. Marcus dismounted. Owen followed his example, still not completely comfortable. He looked around at the small crowd of barbarian families that had begun to form. Just as he had been completely overwhelmed with confusion, Kaylee and the children came running from beyond the tents. Owen almost fell from shock.

The children swarmed around him and Marcus, laughing and hugging their legs. Owen was so overwhelmed with questions that he could hardly think, but he just smiled the best he could and lifted the littlest one to his side. The family… never would he have guessed that this was where they were hidden. He looked around, perplexed.  Kaylee stepped to his side, embracing him in a motherly hug. She stepped back.

“You’re… taller!”

Owen laughed, the statement was so absurd and out of place. “Indeed I am.” She turned to Marcus. “Where is your father? And Kallan?”

“Kallan remains with the rebellion, and father and the men are following them.” Marcus put a hand on Owen’s shoulder. “Owen was travelling north, on his own quest.” He looked back at Ewan’s barely alive body. “With his grandfather.” Kaylee’s face was filled with surprise as her mouth opened in a question. Owen turned to his grandfather, looking over the old man. He was pale, and a faint groan escaped his lips. Just then there was movement in the entry of the tent.

A man emerged, grey hair with traces of black down to his shoulders. Owen looked him over. His face was bearded; his skin tanned the color of tree bark, and just about as wrinkled. He stood a head shorter than Marcus and Owen.  Around his shoulders was a cloak made completely of raven feathers, jet black, glittering in the sunlight. His wizened face looked up at Marcus.

“You return, Marcus.”

To Owen’s surprise, he spoke fluently, with only a slight guttural accent. Marcus nodded.

“I have returned, Kel.” He touched his hand to his forehead, then crossed it across his chest, bowing his head. The old man turned to Owen.  

“Your friend, Marcus?”

Marcus nodded. “This is Owen, of whom we spoke to you.”

Kel nodded slowly, scrutinizing Owen. Owen bowed, unsure.  The old man nodded slowly. Owen turned to his grandfather, just barely alive. He untied him, and hefted him over his shoulder.  Marcus turned to the elder.

“He is hurt, Kel. We need you and your healers to attend him.” The elder nodded, turning to lead the way to a tent. Owen followed, carrying Ewan carefully. Kaylee and the children followed, but waited outside as they stepped inside. They were in  a dimly lit tent of taut skins, and. The elder motioned to a cot. Owen lay his grandfather down on it, and several healers stepped in to go to work.

Owen sat down, unwrapping the bloody tunic from his arm. He winced as it peeled away from the wound. The scab that had begun to form came with it, and his arm burned with pain. He flinched. Marcus said something to one of the healers and pointed to Owen’s arm. The robed barbarian came near, holding a leather bag.

Owen winced as the man cleaned the wound. His arm smarted, and the wound looked almost worse against his now clean arm. The healer began to crush some strange leaves, adding a bit of his own saliva, and then pressed it into the wound. Owen’s mouth opened in a voiceless scream, pain shooting through his body.

The herbs quickly muted the pain. After several minutes, the pain was just a dull throbbing. The healer wrapped it in large, soft, leaves. He tied it with leather binding. Owen looked up.

                “Thank you.”

                The barbarian looked at him blankly. Owen realized he must not be fluent as the elder. He pointed at the bandage and bowed his head in thanks. The barbarian nodded in understanding, a grin breaking out across his face. Owen smiled back, then stood and walked over to where Ewan lay.

The healers had stripped the old man of his shirt, showcasing the nasty gash across his chest. It was burtal and looked as if it had scratched a rib or two, but no organs had been harmed. The healers were placing the healing herbs into the gash and bandaging it. Owen looked at this unconscious face of his grandfather. My grandfather… all this time he had never told me… Owen stood silently watching the healers at work for several minutes, until he felt faint. Marcus led him out of the hut into the village. Owen sighed.

“Where are we staying?”

                Kaylee turned from where she had been waiting. “Follow me.” She led the way through the village to a small hut which looked slightly abandoned. She motioned to a larger hut nearby. “We’ll be right next door.” Owen voiced his quiet thanks and ducked in the low door, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. It was sparsely equipped, the only furnishings being two cots and a fire pit in the center below the hole in the ceiling. Owen lay his pack down on the floor and let himself down onto the cot. It wasn’t much, but compared to sleeping on the ground it was comfortable enough.

 Owen lay back, for the first time having a chance to think. He stared up, connecting scattered pieces of thoughts. Still confused, he looked at Marcus.

“What happened after you left?”

Marcus was sitting cross legged on his cot, looking up at the ceiling. “Many things.” He was silent for a moment. “We travelled west, hiding in the mountains. Lived like outlaws and… barbarians.” Owen nodded. Marcus continued. “We were not sure where to go next when the crow tribe found us. We found no other choice but to join them, but it was a blessing and we were glad we joined them. They took us in, and after some time we became members of the tribe.” He pulled back his sleeve, revealing a twisting tattoo on his forearm in the rough shape of a flying crow. Owen stared.

“And Keegan as well…?”

Marcus nodded. “After some time we took council with Kel, that we wished to search out you and Kallan. He agreed, and offered to send some of his warriors with us. So we followed the signs of war to the rebellion, and have been tracking you ever since. Father still follows Kallan. I followed you.” He leaned back. “And there is our story. What of yours, Owen?”

Owen was silent for a few moments, his thoughts beginning to come together into a single clear picture. He finally spoke.

“War, Marcus. Need I say more?” Marcus nodded. “I understand.” He was only silent for a  moment. “What of this girl, then?”

Owen sighed. He had known this was coming. “It is confusing, Marcus. I would not expect you to understand.”  Marcus looked affronted, but continued.

“What of Nai? Where have those feelings gone?”

“It has been some time since I had feelings for her. We were not right for one another, and I saw that. It took me too long.” He replied more brusquely than he should have.

Marcus was quiet for a moment before another question was on his lips. “Why do you work so hard for this girl when you have known her for but a short time?”

Owen turned angrily. “And how is it that you know so much of my life when you deserted Kallan and I long ago?”

Marcus was quiet. Owen calmed. “I’m sorry.” He sighed. “She is a friend, and I could not desert her to torture and imprisonment.”

Marcus raised an eyebrow skeptically, but seemed to accept this answer.  Owen lay back again, his body calming except for the dull throbbing in his arm. He was beginning to doze when Marcus spoke again.

“I do not know how long we will be here, but it would do you good to learn some of the courtesy and custom of the barbarians.”

Owen felt resistance come up inside, then sighed. “I suppose.”

Marcus nodded. “First, the customary greeting is a nod of the head…” with this he launched into a short training on the customs of the barbarian tribes. Owen struggled to take it all in, wondering how Marcus managed to keep all this information in his brain. “You must remember, the tribe is the most important body, even more than the family. Of course, the family is typically part of the tribe…” Owen realized what a risk and commitment Marcus had to these people. After over a half hour of discussion, Owen interrupted him.

“What changed, Marcus?”

Marcus looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“What changed? What made you ally yourself with these… people?”

Marcus sighed. “Owen, it is hard to understand, I suppose. So give me the same credit I am giving you. I did it with the best intentions, and I do not regret the mark I bear on my arm.”

Owen nodded thoughtfully, toying with the strap of his bracer. His thoughts flashed from his family to his grandfather, to Gwen. She would be north, north of the capitol in the infamous quarries of the empire. He knew she was probably there still. I can’t wait here long… was his last thought before he drifted into a troubled sleep.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Kallan awoke. A cloth was wrapped around the wound. He groaned. He lay on his bare chest, the wound like fire in his side. He groaned again, pushing himself up on one elbow. With a push, he heaved himself to a seated position.

They had set up a healing station in the barracks. Several injured men lay on the bunks, but none of the injuries looked major. One of the men had a crushed leg from his horse falling on him. Another had a spear wound in the thigh. But none of the men seemed to be mortally wounded. Blod and one of the healers stood next to his bunk, watching his movement.

Kallan reached for his shirt, sliding it over his head. The wound smarted with pain. He grunted, then slid his leather gambeson and his chainmail over his head.  He cracked his neck and knuckles, then pulled on his gloves and started to stand.

Blod’s eyes narrowed as Kallan stood. “Kallan, you should rest…” Kallan grunted and shook his head. He was pale as a ghost from loss of blood, but he felt strong enough to continue. He belted on his sword, and then turned to leave the barracks.

He walked out into the sunlight. General Wesley stood nearby, directing the men on what to do with the weapons and supplies they had found in the compound. The supply wagons had been pulled into the courtyard, and were being loaded with what they needed that could be salvaged from the courtyard. Kallan walked steadily over to Wesley.

“What was done with their prisoners?”

Wesley turned. “Kallan! I was told you were badly injured… are you..”

Kallan interrupted. “What was done with their prisoners?”

Wesley looked toward the prison. “They were left in their cells until it is decided what to do with them. As for the soldiers we took prisoner, they are in there as well…” Kallan nodded and turned for the prison.  He walked firmly, willing himself to not pay attention to the pain in his side.

The light was dim inside as he walked in. The five captured soldiers were held in a cell, and the girl and the ragged man were in another. He first went to Robyn’s cell. He turned to the guard and held a hand out for the keys. The man handed them to him, and he unlocked the door. The guard started to protest, but Kallan shot him a scathing look.

Kallan walked over to where the girl lay. She was awake now, but seemed dazed and confused. She struck out, murmuring a weak defense. Kallan gently held her back. “Robyn… you are with friends now.” She looked up at him. He took her hand and lifted her to her feet. She stood unsteadily, supporting herself on his shoulder.

He began to lead her from the cell, but she stumbled, and he caught her. He carried her out of the cell and to the barracks. Connor and a few of his other men stood inside. Kallan lay her thin frame on a bunk, and then turned to Connor. “Find her family and see that she is fed and taken care of.” Connor raised an eyebrow, but nodded. Kallan headed back out the door, across the courtyard. His curiosity was getting the better of him.

Inside the other cell sat the ragged, rough looking man. Kallan unlocked the door and walked in. The man pulled himself to his feet, obviously still full of strength. He stood much taller than Kallan, muscular and tall, with not slight resemblance to a bear. The thick beard on his chin was streaked with red and brown, and his hair was spiky, spreading in all directions. He had a large, friendly face, but he seemed suspicious at first.

Kallan reached out his hand in a gesture of friendship. “We are no friends of your captors. You are welcome to join us.” The man was quiet for a few moments, then spoke, his voice grating, his words stumbling.

“Who…?” He looked Kallan over. “Who you?”

Kallan’s eyebrows lowered. “I am Kallan Keeganson of the Mountains, commander of the rebellion and enemy of the empire.”

The man shook his head like a dog. “Me… Fesric.” Kallan frowned. It was not a typical name. The worn man spoke again, and Kallan noticed his ragged clothes were made of heavy hides. A theory sprung to his mind of who this strange man was. “Me... friend. Empire, bite.”  Kallan was confused for a moment until the man pointed to jagged scars down his back, visible through rips in his hide shirt.

“Why are you here?”

The bear-man spoke, spitting on the ground. “Red tunic destroy, threaten, kill. They serve. Me fight.”  

Kallan nodded slowly. “You were forced to serve the empire?”

The man placed a fist on his chest. “Fight.”

Kallan nodded. “I’m sure you did, my friend.” He reached toward the wild man carefully. “Come, Fesric.” The man seemed resistant at first, but then followed Kallan out the door and into the courtyard. He blinked in the sunlight, and then smiled, showing jagged, broken, teeth. He let out a howl of joy, causing several of the rebels to jump in surprise. A few of them looked at him suspiciously.

Kallan had a strange liking for Fesric, despite his thoughts of his origin. His suspicions were confirmed when the man pointed northwest. “Home.” He said. Then he sobered up. “Gone.” Kallan nodded, all to understanding.  He put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You can come with us.” The man nodded. “Fight red tunic.”

Kallan had his doubts, but he decided to give the battered looking man a chance. He turned to the supply wagon, digging through a bale of uniforms for one that would fit the barbarian. He tossed one to him, motioning to his own, and the man pulled it on over his ragged shirt, and belted his thick rawhide belt over it.  Kallan pulled out his knife, looking the man over.

“I’m going to cut your hair…” he said slowly, motioning to his own.

The man looked confused, until Kallan cut a bit of his own off. Then the man nodded reluctantly. Kallan stepped up and began to hack off the matted tangle of hair. Pieces fell to the ground, leaving the man looking slightly less ragged. Kallan looked around. He didn’t have a razor, so the beard would have to stay, but other than that, the man looked moderately more respectable, though still looking a bit the worse for wear.


Kallan lay on his back, quiet, in the barracks in the center of Moransford. In the morning they would begin the trek toward Eagles Glen, but for now he was glad to have a rest in a bed. He sighed. His typical lighthearted philosophy was failing. For the first time in a long time, he had time to think. He felt lost in a world that did not share his point of view.

He knew he still acted like an idiot sometimes, but he wasn’t as fiery as he had been months before. He shook his head. He’d acted like a fool, back then. And now he had no one. Not even Owen. He rolled over. Owen had found a purpose. And Kallan’s only purpose was war. A year ago, he would have only thought of the glory. He still did. But it was tempered with the blood and the pain.

The next morning, he was moody as he rode. Connor tried to speak to him, but he answered shortly. The barbarian walked beside him. Fesric had refused the offer of the horse, saying that animals were meant for eating, not riding. The rough man had no problem keeping up with them.

Kallan’s mind was preoccupied with many things. Battle plans combined with disjointed thoughts and images of Robyn, Owen, war, and the enemy. He sat silently for several hours, and then seemed to shed his cares in the last part of the journey to Eagles Glen. He was more cheerful than anyone else in the company, and his mood was contagious. He could die anytime. But life was now, and he might as well enjoy the time he had.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

                Owen woke with a start, and after a quick glance out into the darkness, knew it was time. He quickly pulled on his outer clothes, and then grabbed his weapons, and slipped out the door, giving the old man more time to sleep. In the common room, it was quiet, but the fire was still going. The pretty barmaid sat at the counter, asleep. Owen walked quietly by, slipping into the kitchen. He grabbed filled one of his water skins with weak ale and took a piece of cold meat and a  small loaf of rye bread.

                He slipped back out, avoiding the sleeping girl, and brought several coins out of his pouch, setting them quietly on the counter near the girl. Then he turned for the door. This was a well kept tavern, and these were kind people. Owen sighed. Not all are persecuted… He pulled on his cloak, pulling a cloth over his face.

                Outside, it was dark, except for the occasional torch of the night patrols. They were easy enough to avoid, and it did not take long for him to make his way towards the central barracks of the city. He climbed the short rock wall, and slipped inside, avoiding the guards, and then walked quietly to the room of the contact.  

                He paused down the hall, standing in a shadow. Two guards stood outside the door. A feeling of apprehension filled Owen. Who is this man? He crept toward them, padding lightly, staying out of the torchlight. One of the guards turned his direction, and he hid in a doorway. He looked them over. Spears were not a wise choice… He thought, and then he swung upward.

                The pommel of his dagger cracked into his temple, and the guard fell with a thud. The other turned just in time for Owen to repeat the process, and soon the two were tied and stuffed in a nearby storage room.

                Owen felt the handle, and it was not locked. He opened it with a slight creak, wincing at the sound. He stepped quietly inside, drawing a sharp dagger. He closed the door behind him. The room was completely dark, though Owen could see a bit of the dark blue sky through a grate in the far wall.

                He stepped forward, light boots padding on the stone floor. He walked slowly, careful not to knock something over. He could just see the dark shape of a bed in the far corner, and he walked toward it. His foot knocked against something, and he cursed under his breath. A loud snore came from the bed. Owen dropped to hands and knees, holding the knife tightly between his teeth. He crawled steadily towards it, the sound of an occasional snore breaking the silence.

                He stood carefully when he reached the side of the bed. The sleeping figure was just visible in the blackness. Owen took a deep breath, then covered the figures mouth and placed the dagger to his jaw. He felt a bristling beard and mustache, and the person started awake at the touch of cold metal.

                The figure lay there for a moment, shocked and half awake. Owen knelt, still holding the dagger to his throat, and whispered in his ear. “Do not cry for help, or you are a dead man.” He took his hand off the man’s mouth, and pulled him to his feet, holding him with the dagger to his throat. The man breathed deeply, as if trying to calm himself. A low whisper broke the silence.

                “Who are you?”

                Owen made his grip harder, pulling the man to a chair near a desk. It was growing steadily lighter, and Owen knew he did not have much time. He lit a nearby candle, and sat down, the dagger point resting on the man’s chest. Owen turned to face him, and almost stabbed him through right there.


                Owen lowered his hood, revealing his face, his eyes blazing in surprise and anger. For Cardowac it was. He looked at Owen with a fear that Owen had never seen.  Owen mentally cursed Ewan, but turned his mind to the task at hand.

                “You. Always will you be a thorn in my side…”

                Owen gritted his teeth. “Aye. It’s a hobby of mine.” The image of his father’s bloodied corpse came to his mind. “And now, I have all the more to hate you for.”

                Cardowac looked at him, his eyes hard to read in the flickering light. Owen glanced up to the door.

                “Why are you here? I was sure you and your scum had fled to the rebellion.”

                Owen nodded. “Indeed. I’m searching for a piece of information.”         

                Cardowac nodded slowly, his brow furrowed.

                “I need to know the location to which the barbarians took their spoils after the battle.”

                Cardowac glanced over his shoulder at the door. Owen pushed the dagger point against his chest.

                “North.” Owen raised an eyebrow. “The barbarians went north, and their spoils were taken from them at Drenna.”

                “Where were the prisoners taken?”

                “The quarries north of the capitol, typically. Slave labor is always needed by the empire.”

                Owen pondered this for a moment, different plans forming in his mind. The candle light flickered, and Owen again saw the image of the young men, together. Friends. Owen gritted his teeth.

                “A long time ago, you had friends. Until you turned to this madness.”

                Cardowac started, surprised by the change of conversation. “You had one friend, closer than a brother… but even him you turned on.” Owen pressed the dagger to his enemy’s chest. “My father was a good man. He did not deserve to die by the likes of a traitor like you.”

                Cardowac’s eyes grew wide. Owen laughed. “I never told you my name, did I, Card.” He started at the use of the nickname. “My name is Owen Martinson, and you killed my father.”

                A look of surprise and realizations came over Cardowac. He spread his arms wide. “Kill me, then, Martinson.” Owen cursed, out loud, this time. He had his enemy of all this time at the end of a knife, and he could kill him now, finish this once and for all. No longer would he have the shadow of his father’s killer and the destroyer of his village hanging over his life.  Cardowac lowered his head in resignation.

              The enmity between them was strangely intimate. Indeed, it seemed that fate had woven their paths together. The son of his best friend will take his life… ironic…. He looked at the figure of the man, now looking much less evil and more pitiful. Pity is what he deserves, not hate. And pity will hurt him more… Owen sighed. Keegan had once told the boys that kindness would harm an enemy more than burning fire or sharp sword. Owen knew it was true now. He looked at the dagger, and then Cardowac. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. He lowered the dagger.
               “I am not like you, Cardowac.” He looked at Cardowac, seeing the look of surprise.   “Someday, we will meet in a fair fight, and I will kill you.” He struck out, slamming the butt of the dagger into Cardowac’s temple. He slumped over, and Owen turned to leave.

Owen slipped out the door, and ran down the hallway. At this point, it had begun to grow light, and Owen knew he had to move quickly.  Two guards came around the corner, no doubt replacements for the two he had removed. They shouted, and charged toward him. He kicked one in the groin, and then grabbed a torch from the wall behind him and shoved it in the face of the other. He heard a footstep behind him, and he swung, knocking a third guard to the ground.

The sound of the commotion had drawn attention, and Owen turned and fled, his cloak billowing behind him. Doors began to open, half asleep men peering out into the hall. He ran past, guards on his tail, and out the door. Over the wall again, and through the streets, heading for the gate. He hoped the alarm wouldn’t go off before he could slip through.

He dodged down alleys, across streets, and soon had lost the guards. But he continued at a jog, heading for the gates. They would just be opening now, he knew, at sunrise.  But just as he rounded the corner and dashed for the opening gates, the alarm went off. The portcullis began to lower, and Owen swore. 

He ran, summoning a last reserve of speed. He heard hooves thundering in the street behind him. He dove and rolled under the gate, just as it thundered closed behind him. He continued to run, heading for the small rock formation at the edge of the forest. He heard the gate opening again behind him, and he threw all his force into the last stretch.

Ewan was waiting with the horses. Owen decided to save his anger for later, instead climbing aboard Willow and kicking her into a gallop. Ewan led the way into the dense pine forest, weaving through trees. Owen could hear the warning bell still ringing in the city, and knew that soldiers would be on their tail.

They rode hard and fast, until finally they pulled up in a grove of stunted trees in the rocky flats. A hawk circled overhead. Owen glanced back. A dozen light cavalry were in the distance, pursuing. Owen knew they didn’t have much time, but he dismounted, letting Willow take a slight rest. He turned to Ewan, his eyes blazing.

“What kind of game are you playing, Ewan?”

Ewan looked down at him, seeming to understand, but not perturbed.

“You sent me into a bloody trap!” He resisted the urge to hit the old man, but the last bit of respect kept his hand. He spit on the ground with scorn. “You sent me to Cardowac. The one who destroyed my village, and killed my father, if you’ve forgotten.” He glanced back again. The enemy was growing nearer. “And yet you send me, claiming he owes you a debt? Your plan failed, Ewan. I caught him unawares, not the other way around. Did you not succeed in warning him that you were sending the thorn in his side right into his grasp?”

Ewan was silent for a moment. “Did you kill him?” He tried to disguise it, but Owen caught the slight tone of eagerness in his voice. A realization came over him as he understood he had seen this from the wrong angle.

“You want him dead. You wanted me to kill him!” Owen cursed, kicking a rock. “What possessed you to send me as your assassin?”

Ewan sighed. “I am an old man, Owen. I could not overpower Cardowac, even if I did surprise him. I gave you enough warning to know that you should be careful, and left enough out to let you go to him without question. I spoke the truth. He did know the way to find Gwen, did he not?”

Owen nodded, silent. The enemy grew nearer. Finally he spoke, his voice containing anger and distrust. “And what of this debt?”

Ewan looked down sadly. “He killed my son.” Owen looked up at him. So we have both lost much to him.  He looked down.

 “Cardowac still lives.” Ewan concealed a look of disappointment. “I am not like him, Ewan. No matter if I had the ability, it was not a fair fight.” 

Owen was about to reply when he heard the hoof beats of then enemy. He swore. “We’ve tarried too long.” He threw a leg over Willow, and kicked her into a gallop. She was already covered in sweat, but she kept running. Just a little longer. Owen glanced over his shoulder. Ewan was right behind him, and the patrol was not far behind.

Owen looked for an escape plan, but it seemed that there was only brush and rock on the bluffs all around. Owen cursed again. He heard a cry of pain, and the leader of the soldiers fell. He glanced back in surprise.  The soldiers were slowing, looking around for the archer that had shot down their captain. Another arrow flew from above a group of boulders. Out of the corner of his eye, Owen saw a cloak, and another arrow caught a soldier in the chest.

Owen wheeled his horse, pulling his bow from his back. The soldiers slowed in confusion, turning their attention to the new threat. Owen fired an arrow into their midst, taking down yet another soldier, and the hidden archer shot another. Now the soldiers were down five men.  Owen wheeled around them, firing into their midst. He injured two more before they charged him again. Two more men were lost before they reached Owen. He knew there was no more running now, and he pulled out his hatchet and a long dagger.

The soldiers attacked ferociously, apparently intending to kill, not capture. Owen desperately blocked their blows, but was knocked from Willow. She bolted, slamming through the ranks of the larger horses. Owen fell back, the soldiers battering down his defenses. He blocked a spear with his arm. It cut through his bracer and slashed open his arm. He winced, still trying to fight on.

 A sword hurtled downward. He knew he didn’t have the strength to block it. His last thought was that he had never said goodbye to Kallan. He fell back, as a cry of anger echoed, and a figure flew downward in front of him. The sword blow caught Ewan straight in the chest. He fell. Owen struck the nearest leg, and a horse screamed in pain as the blow cut its leg. It fell, almost crushing Owen.

He grabbed a nearby stirrup, using the momentum of the circling horse to pull him up to his feet, and struck out again. And then it was over. He turned, coated in blood, some his own. The last two scouts were fleeing. He dropped to Ewan’s side. The old man was breathing hard. A long slash was across his chest, and he was bleeding. Owen unclasped his cloak and pressed it over the wound.

The old man looked up, life still in him. He started to speak.

“Owen…” he coughed violently.

“Don’t speak, you’ll only make it worse.”

“I must.” He reached out and placed a bloody hand on Owen’s shoulder. “Owen…” He coughed again. “Martin… Martin was my son…”

Owen couldn’t hide the look of surprise that sprouted on his face. “Wh… what?” He felt weak, a feeling of confusion in his stomach. The old man took his hand. “I know… I should have told you before…”

Owen felt a mix of emotions, almost too complicated to explain. He hated this man for not revealing himself, and for betraying his trust. But this was family, and he had never had true family. He wept, hanging his head. Then something struck him, and he remembered. He looked up, toward the rocks from which the archer had fired.

The tall figure stepped out from behind the rocks, carrying a longbow and holding the reins of a sleek bay horse. A hawk circled down from above, landing on the saddle. Owen stood suddenly. He had felt sick, now he felt as if he had been struck in the head. He felt lightheaded. Marcus had returned.


Monday, December 23, 2013


After a good deal of planning, my girlfriend Rachel has drawn me a fantastic copy of Owens map to help people follow along with the story:

In the future, it will be found under the Maps and Art tab with whatever other art and maps I end up having.


Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Kallan had not been in his usual cheerful self since the battle in the hills. He had been fairly humorless since what he saw as a defeat. His and Corwin’s relationship had grown to a cold ignorance. He continued his preparation, and stayed with the army, but he only came to the sessions in Corwin’s tent to see what foolish plan Corwin had up his sleeve.

The army continued to march north. General Wesley intended to split off from the main force and launch attacks on the several villages in the foothills and finally on Cardowac’s castle in the Red Rocks. He had looked at Kallan at this time. “I’ll need your unit, Keeganson.” Kallan nodded.

Meanwhile, the central army would set a siege to the city of Hollen. After their mission was complete, General Wesley would rejoin the rest of the army and they would continue the conquest. The strategy was sound, but Kallan was glad he did not have to serve under General Corwin, at least for a little while.

The evening before they split, he lay on his bedroll, thinking carefully over strategies in his mind. From what their scouts and maps had said, the castle was set in the midst of a valley, surrounded by trees and red rocks. From what he knew there were two levels. Each had a wall higher than the next, allowing archers from both walls to fire simultaneously. He remembered that Owen had mentioned something about the walls being very hard to scale, but he hadn’t been paying attention. He wished that he had, for it might be the difference between life and death in this case.

He rolled over on his side, thoughtful. There were indeed many things to think of. Owen was gone, disappearing into the worn prairie of the northern foothills. Marcus? Keegan? The rest of the family? He sighed. He almost wished he had gone with them, taken their advice. But he was doing good work here. It was better to be involved and try to make a difference than to stand by idly and watch evil deeds being done. Besides, these men were his friends.

He wondered what had happened to the rest of the family. With a heavy heart, he worried they had not made it far. “Marcus and father will keep them safe…” he muttered, more to calm his troubled mind than anything else.

He felt a pang of bitterness for how easily everyone had deserted him, left him alone, with no aid or advice. He knew he could handle himself, but he wished at least for a confidant, an advisor, or someone to ride by his side. Connor was a good friend, but he simply could not replace the friends and family he had known his whole life.

The tent fabric shook slightly in the wind, and he lay there listening to the stir of the wind. Finally, he rolled over and fell asleep.


                Moransford lay before him. Smoke drifted up from the chimneys, and it seemed so peaceful Kallan almost regretted what they were about to do. He made sure his weapons were well hidden, and then he slid down the steep slope to the road and began to walk casually toward the gate, trying to appear as just a typical traveler.

                Behind him, hidden behind a slight rise, a force of men stood in wait. They had made a breakneck pace to get here, riding hard for two days. Now they were tired, but ready, and Kallan was putting the first part of the plan into action.

                When Wesley had outlined their plan from the start, Kallan had known he wanted the job. He was quick, stealthy, and most of all, a good liar. He had volunteered, and though his men had protested, he was chosen for the job.

                He walked through the open door inside the larger gate, knowing that at the first sign of trouble, the soldiers would close it.  So he walked through, hunching his back and slouching down as he passed the guards. They looked him over.

“What brings you to Moran, lad?” one of them said, not unkindly. He looked as if he was probably not a trained imperial soldier, but more likely part of a local militia, there to protect the village from raiders and wild animals. He was in what seemed to be his early fifties. The other guard was a bored looking teenager, leaning on a spear, his shield resting on the building behind him, not ready to use.  Kallan seized his chance, bracing his boot in the dirt, and grabbing the spear.

He swung it out of the boys hand in one motion, stabbing it into the ground, and then grabbed him in a painful headlock, bringing out a small, sharp dagger. The old man raised his weapons in surprise, but Kallan pressed the dagger, glancing around to make sure that no guards were in sight. There were few people in the streets at this time of the evening, but a stir had been caused, and he knew he had little time. “If you value his life, then drop your weapons, and do not call for help.” The old man hesitated, and Kallan braced the edge against the youths jaw.  The man dropped his shield and spear.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Kallan Keeganson, and I am here to destroy the empire.” He shoved the boy to the ground. “Get your families and tell them to stay indoors. It isn’t going to be pretty.”

He sheathed his dagger for the moment as the two men dashed off into the street. He hoped he had judged right, and they wouldn’t go straight to the nearest patrol. He turned to the gate, lifting off the heavy bracing beam and dropping it out of the way. He grabbed the two handles and pulled, two massive pieces of sturdy pine sliding slowly open. He glanced back.

Behind him, a group of soldiers had formed up, running towards him. With one final push, he braced the gate open, and then drew his sword and pulled out the narrow horn he carried at his side. He blew one long blast, and then the soldiers were upon him. He held his ground, bracing himself to avoid letting the men get around him, to the gate.

A soldier lunged at him with a spear, and he parried, flipping it downward into the hard gravel. It bounced, and nicked his leg. He swore, and parried another blow, stabbing upward into a soldiers un protected throat, and then kicked another between the legs. They closed in around him, battering him with blows. A soldier engaged him with a short sword, and another stabbed toward him with a spear. It caught his hidden chainmail, which turned the blow, but not before breaking several links and driving them into the skin. He grimaced and slashed out, catching the soldier in the knee. He heard the sound of hoof beats close behind, and dove out of the way, rolling into the alley.

General Wesley led the charge, slamming into the small group of men with ferocity. They fell to the swords of the rebels, and Connor tossed Kallan the reins of his horse. He climbed aboard, and kicked it into a gallop.

“Hurry, we don’t have much time.” Hooves clicked on cobblestone, the horses neighing in frustration at having to gallop on such uncomfortable ground. Kallan just kicked it harder, headed for the barracks and prison in the center of the village. He wove through the streets, remembering the time he had done this to save Owen from execution.

He turned the last corner into the courtyard, right into a hedge of spears. In the split second he had to react, he vaulted out of the saddle, over the spears, and into a mass of men. They obviously were not expecting such an attack, as several of them fell to his sword before they even had a chance to drop their spears. Kallan’s horse was stabbed several times, but they were flesh wounds. She dashed away, squealing in pain.

Kallan battered them back, until the spearmen started to turn to fight this new threat. General Wesley and the rest of the forces came around the corner at full speed, slamming into the now disorganized soldiers. Kallan dodged out of the way to avoid getting battered down by his own men, and made a dash for the courtyard.

The routing spearmen turned and fled toward the gate, but Kallan got there first, and pushed it shut. The men beat on the door, some desperately trying to get in, some surrendering. All were killed or captured. Kallan gave it a moment of thought, then decided it was worth it to move on without the rest of his men. He went and looked in every door, looking for more soldiers. The barracks and armory were empty. He finally reached the prison door, and ran inside.

He remembered the row of cells with little fondness. The dank, dark cells and the hard floor… he knew them well, but he did not like the memory. He looked inside each cell. Only two held prisoners. One was a rough looking man in only a ripped and torn undershirt. In the other, to Kallan’s surprise, was Robyn.  He quickly looked around for a set of keys, but saw nothing. She was asleep, and Kallan did not wish to wake her. She looked as if she had been there for months. Her face was drawn from little food, and she looked worn. Kallan focused on a way to get the door open, when suddenly a dagger sprouted from his abdomen.

It took a second for him to process the information that he had been stabbed, but the steel point protruding from his mail left no question. He turned, and swung his sword blindly, just missing a thick man with keys on his belt. With a curse Kallan realized the gate was still shut. He was on his own.

The guard swung a heavy fist toward Kallan, and then blocked a sword blow with his cudgel. Kallan felt weak from loss of blood, but fought on. The cudgel collided with his ribs as he missed blocking a blow, and he felt his ribs crack. He grimaced, and slammed his head into the jailer’s nose. The man cursed violently, dropping his club to clutch at his bleeding face. Kallan stabbed.

He turned, the dagger still stuck through him. He reached back, and found the handle sticking out of his side. He desperately hoped it hadn’t hit anything vital. This would be an idiotic way to die… He thought, stumbling outside. He focused on reaching the gate, his heart pumping desperately, pumping the blood from his body. It flowed freely from the wound, and every step was another agony.

He reached the gate, sliding the latch undone and pulling. It slid open only a fraction, but it was enough for him to stumble outside. He fell into a pile of red uniformed bodies, gasping. Someone pulled the dagger out of his side, and pressed a cloth to the wound. He grimaced as someone put a stick in his mouth.

He grimaced as the pain exploded across his side, probing fingers cleaning the wound in his side. He bit down hard on the bitter wood. A scream welled up in side, but all that came out was whimper.  And finally it was over as he slipped into unconsciousness.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book 2: Chapter 4


Chapter 4

Owen rode through the gate amid a mass of people. He felt exposed as the soldiers in silver and red livery watched him and the large number of refugees from the south entered the city of Lengbridge, looking for protection from the ‘outlaw horde’ that sought to destroy them. Owen heard the murmurs, and they made him angry. But his mission was not to spread unrest. He had one quest.

                The stirring crowd of people made him uncomfortable as he was swept with the flow of the crowd into the city. He glanced back; making sure Ewan was still nearby. The old man seemed more comfortable in the large tight crowd than he was, and he cut through the crowd, seeming to have a destination in mind.

                Owen followed, pushing people out of the way and knocking a few down in his attempt to keep up with Ewan. Finally Owen caught up, and they pushed their way through the city. Around the outer edge, just inside the massive stone walls, were rows of barracks, stables, and smithies. This part of the city was extremely busy. Owen pushed through as quickly as he could, but as he glanced across the gathering army, he was suddenly filled with anger. He ducked, flipping up his hood.

                There was a buzz of anticipation and activity in the city. Ewan led Owen through the streets, away from the center, to a small tavern on the northern side of the city. They gave the horses to an attendant, who led them to the stable, and then went inside. Inside were a number of men, talking in the dim light of the room. Ewan walked to the counter, knocking quietly four times on the table to get the attention of the landlord.

                The landlord was a thin man who was surprisingly clean for his surroundings. He quickly turned at the sound of the knocks, and walked over to the counter.

 “Ewan!”  he said in surprise, lowering his voice. “Never thought I’d see you again after all these years.” He glanced around the bar. “What do you need?”

“At the moment a room to rest, and then a quiet place to talk.”

The thin man looked at Owen. “And who…?”

“Owen.” He said cautiously.

The landlord’s jaw dropped in surprise. “The…” 

Ewan nodded tersely, and then pressed a finger to his lips. Owen’s eyebrows narrowed.  Once again there was something here he was missing. The landlord turned to Owen, smiling pleasantly.

“Good to meet you, Owen. The name’s Belthas.” He turned and began walking toward a set of stairs. “Right this way.”

Ewan and Owen followed him up the stairs, down a hall, and into a room. It was sparsely furnished with a lamp, chair, cot, and bed, but it would serve. Ewan sat down heavily on the bed, and Owen laid his pack and weapons on the cot, leaving only his dagger and hatchet at his side.  He sat down, and Belthas sat down on the chair.

“What do you need, friend?”

Ewan leaned back, drawing out his pipe and beginning to fill it. “We are in search of someone…” He looked at Owen. “You may have heard tell of the battle on the plain south of Moran?”

Belthas nodded. “Some word has come through the lines. I’m a tavern keeper, I hear all the gossip.” 

Ewan lit his pipe, sticking it in the corner of his mouth. “Then have you heard tell that the empire has enlisted the barbarians of the mountains to their cause?”

Belthas frowned. “Aye, I had heard rumor, though to what extent they were true I have not known.” 

Owen sat quietly, listening for any bit of information he did not yet know. Ewan frowned. “Some of those reports may be true. They were a large part of the battle on the plains. They broke all the way through our defenses and captured a number of the rebellion from amidst the camp.”

Belthas nodded slowly. “You are in pursuit of them, then?”

Ewan puffed away at his pipe. “Aye. We are in pursuit of them. Do you know any reports of where the prisoners might have been taken?”

Belthas shook his head. “I know of only a few people who would know the details of all the workings, and they are on the other side.” He paused, glancing at Owen.

Ewan nodded. “Indeed. This may be the moment I have waited for.”

Belthas looked at Owen again. “You mean…?”

“Aye.” Ewan looked at Owen. “I think I could use a good mug of ale, Owen. Would you go fetch some for me?” he threw him a few coins. “Get something for yourself too, lad.” He winked.

Owen nodded, concealing the feeling of irritation that came up inside. Conveniently getting me out of the way…  He walked out the door and down the hallway, then down the stairs. I would listen… but if they caught me Ewan would be furious. He decided to do just as the old man had asked, heading to the bar. The young barmaid smiled sweetly. “What can I get for you, sir?”

Owen smirked a bit at being called sir, but leaned on the counter absentmindedly. “Could I have two small mugs of ale and…” he thought for a moment, then something caught his eye. “And that chicken.” He pointed at a small chicken turning over a fire.

The barmaid batted her eyelashes at him distractingly. “Of course!” He stared off into space, trying to ignore her. He leaned on the counter as she walked off to get him his order. When she returned with the ale and the chicken on a metal plate, he paid her and then walked off up the stairs. He heard a giggle as he walked away, and shook his head irritably.

He walked quietly down the hall until he reached the door, but paused as he heard Ewan’s voice, dim through the door.

“… so after all those years, I found him, as I knew I would. And I have watched him all this time, and he is ready.”

“Ready for this, Ewan?” Belthas voice sounded incredulous.

“Aye. He is a strong lad. I’m proud of him, though I won’t let him know that. He’s ready to take the…”

Owen pushed open the door. Ewan stopped, turning toward him, smiling. “Ah, and here he is!” He took his ale, and then leaned back once again, sipping it. Owen sat down on the cot, ripping off a piece of chicken and beginning to eat. He looked up to see Belthas standing.

“Well, I shall have your horses ready before dawn. Good luck.” He directed the final comment in Owen’s direction, and Owen once again felt left out, as if he had missed some massive piece of information. I should have listened. He sighed and bit of a piece of the chicken leg.

Belthas walked out the door. “Let me know if you need anything!” he said, and then closed the door behind him. Ewan turned to Owen.

“I am going out to take a walk. Do as you wish, just be back here before nightfall.”

Owen nodded, and began to eat his chicken. The old man walked out the door, and Owen was left alone. He found the silence enjoyable for a few moments but it was not long before he began to grow bored.  He took his half eaten miniature chicken and his mug of ale and left the room, locking it behind him with the key left on the bed.

He walked down to the main room, and took a seat at a table by the fire, eating quietly and listening to the men talking around him. A few, he gathered, were soldiers scheduled to ride south within the week. The rest were workmen and craftsmen from around the city, except for a few quiet men in the corner who looked to have been travelling for some time. He looked down at himself, wondering if he looked as ragged as they did.

He ate every bit of the chicken, then put his feet up on a table and began to sip the ale.  The barmaid came to his table, taking the plate. She smiled sweetly and giggled, but Owen ignored her, feeling awkward. She walked away, seeming a bit disappointed. He took a long drink, relaxing. After he finished, he went back up to the room, and lay down on his cot. It did not take long for him to doze off.

He woke to Ewan coming into the room and sitting on the bed. Owen sat up, shaking his head to wake up. Ewan smiled.

“So lad, we have been discussing how to find the information we need, and I believe I have found exactly who will know all we wish to discover.”

Owen nodded.

“He is a high ranking soldier, but I knew him once, and he owes me a debt. I would not doubt he remembers me, but I am too old to go into the main barracks stealthily. So you must if you wish to find your friend.”

Owen sat thoughtfully.

“He may resist you, but if you take him unawares before he awakes in the morning, you are strong enough to overpower him.  You must get the information from him and escape without being found by the guard. It will not be easy, but I have seen you at work. You are up to the challenge.”

Owen was not sure whether to be flattered or worried. He chewed slowly on a bone, thoughtful.

“It is likely you will need to make an escape quickly. I will wait to the north of the city, in a rocky area where I can stay hidden. Find me, and we will ride.”

Owen nodded, steeling himself. “Where do I find this man?”

“He will be in the barracks in the center of the city. He will almost certainly be the only man with his own private quarters.” He brought out a piece of parchment with a rough map drawn on it. It looked as if he had just drawn it out. He pointed to it. “Here we are. The barracks is just south,” he moved his finger. “Here. You will need to climb this wall, and then it’s just in this door and down to the quarters… here.”

He pointed to the position on the small map.  “Tomorrow, as soon as you have the information you need, I will be waiting outside the city with the horses, here.” He pointed at a marking outside the city. Owen nodded and took the small piece of parchment, tucking it into his pouch. He lay down.

“If I must rise early enough to surprise this… contact… then I need sleep.”  

Ewan nodded. “I as well will get some rest.” 

Owen closed his eyes. His mind was full of thoughts, and he did not fall asleep for some time. When he finally drifted off, his sleep was dreamless.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book 2: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

                Marcus tensed, watching the two horseman ride ahead. He rode atop a tall horse, narrow and sleek like its rider. Marcus glanced back over his shoulder, through the rough and rocky hills, looking for any sign of life. The hills were empty, except for the two riders he had followed for many miles. He glanced back in the direction of the rebellion. There was Keegan still, following the army, avoiding detection, and leading the small band of rugged barbarians.

                Marcus was thoughtful. It had taken some getting used to, allying themselves with the tribe of wild men that had come upon them in the mountains. But when they had talked to the leader of the small crow tribe, it had become clear that these barbarians were not an enemy. Marcus sighed. The stories of imperial troops killing women and children to make the wild men fight for them brought the realization that the barbarians were not truly their enemy.

                The tribe had hidden from the empire successfully, and Marcus and Keegan knew that the family would be safe with the tribe. When they announced after several months that they would travel to find Kallan and Owen once more, the chief, Cawkal, had offered to send five of his best warriors with them. The seven men had come out of the deep recesses of the mountains, and had trailed the rebellion from Ildiv on.  Marcus had kept a close eye on his brothers, creeping past rebel sentries by night.

                When Owen had made flight from the rebellion with the mysterious old man, they had made a sudden decision to send Marcus after them to keep a close eye on Owen. Keegan and the warriors stayed trailing the rebels and Kallan.  

Marcus watched Owen ride ahead. He had grown over the past months, he thought. He was tall and sturdy from training, and seemed surer of himself than he had in the past. He still had a certain air of… Marcus wasn’t sure. Maybe self consciousness. Worry? Confusion? Marcus thought analytically through what he had seen. He frowned. He wasn’t all that good at reading his friend.

He wondered about the girl, too. Who was this Gwen that Owen would pursue here capturers with such ferocity after only knowing her for a little over a week? Marcus frowned. He wondered if Owen knew what was happening himself. He wondered what had happened to Nai over these few months. He knew she was still with the rebellion, but he knew not what relation she had to Owen now.

He shook his shaggy head, and kicked his sleek horse into a trot. He had stolen her from the head officer of the Moransford unit of the imperial army. She was a fine animal in looks and gait, and he was happy with the way she kept a steady pace behind Owen and the old man. Who was he? He had wondered ever since they left the rebellion. Where did this man come from, and why had Owen followed him so quickly? Even for his logical mind, it did not make sense. He knew a piece of the puzzle was missing.