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ThaliasRatheron
2011-08-07, 02:35 AM
Hey there, fellow Playgrounders. I've been working on a project off and on for close to three years now, writing scraps of ideas in notepads and napkins and whatever else I had on hand, and I've come to a point where the preparation is leading to the actual writing. I have a few rough "chapters" done already, but I figured I'd post what I intend as a sort of opening scene for the overall story here for your viewing pleasure (at least, I hope you enjoy it).

I intend to use this thread in the future to post other short stories that I work on, but feel free to critique and post as you like.

And please, enjoy.


“Reconsider?” Daerrin echoed, his voice flat.

“Think of the risk you're taking. He's still a lad, he has no business being out here,” his companion said. “You're going to drag that boy in your wake? Do you think it wise?”

Daerrin scoffed. “Wise?” He asked. “Nay, Sir Markus. In point of fact, it is foolhardy and most unwise.”

“Light above! Then tell me why you insist so fiercely.”

“Why?” Daerrin's eyes were suddenly agates, and Markus seemed to shrink under his frosty gaze. “Because sooner or later, he will have to face them. Or have you, of all people, forgotten what it is to squire for one of the Order?”

It was a long, tense moment before either of them spoke.

“No, my Lord, I have not,” Markus replied, his voice barely a whisper.

The ice in Daerrin's grey eyes melted. “Then you know why. The sooner he is inured to the experience, the sooner he will grow out of his fear.” He looked away, a frown on his thin lips. “Or at least grow from it, as I have.”

Markus took a deep breath and raised his chin. “All the same, my Lord, I was near five cycles his senior before I had my first hunt, and the memory lives in me nightly.” He let out a ragged sigh. “A boy should not see such things.” Something Daerrin did not like stirred behind Markus' golden eyes. “And do not forget just who's son you are risking.”

Daerrin whirled on the young knight. “You think I have forgotten?” He snapped. “You think I would wish such horror on anyone? Do you think-” He broke off suddenly and turned away, his fury subsiding in a rush of released air.

They stood side by side on the battlements, facing the dark expanse of the forest beneath. When the castle had been occupied, the vast pines and firs had been cleared for more than a mile in every direction. A great, empty plain had resulted, a killing field that warriors were forced to cross under duress were the castle ever held against them, and it had proven its worth time and again.

But time was an enemy that it could not combat. The keep was fallen into disrepair, the walls and towers overgrown with vines and crumbling into ruin. The forest had long since reclaimed the killing ground, the trees growing up to the parapets, so close that if Daerrin wished, he merely had to reach out a hand and he would feel their branches.

“It changes nothing, Sir,” Daerrin said into the silence. “You know our calling. You know what is at stake.” He glanced over his shoulder at the younger man. “We need every sword, every squire, every bloody peasant we can get our hands on. And we need them yesterday.”

Markus stared at the silent forest and nodded his agreement.

“Fetch Leland,” Daerrin ordered. “We depart within the hour.”

It was high sun by the time they had the horses saddled and ready to depart. Daerrin rode his prize destrier, a huge silver haired beast more than eighteen hands at the withers and weighing greater than seventy stone, that his young squire had taken to calling Argent. He had never been one to name his mounts: a horse was a horse. It served its purpose, like all the creatures of Laedrin, and becoming overly attached to war horses was a waste of energy, in his estimation. They were more like to be killed than their rider in the press of combat.

Daerrin led the way, rays of sunlight glinting from the polished ringmail under his white leather jerkin, with the young Leland following and Sir Markus rearmost, a wary sentry who constantly twisted in his saddle to peer back towards the horizon. Their course followed the ruins of the old Imperial Highway that ran north to south with unerring straightness, and Argent seemed to have a mind to follow it without the need for Daerrin's guidance.

Was he truly doing the right thing? The doubt gnawed at him. His words to Markus had been the truth, the knight had not denied them, but even still Daerrin was unsure. Men of Bulwark had undertaken their first hunt on the turning of their seventeenth cycle, regardless of their intention to join the Order, for uncounted centuries since the Duke Elicas Hadrin himself had raised the great fortress from the stones of the Gravian Valley.

He twisted in his saddle, looking over his shoulder at the young squire. The lad was tall for his age and broad of shoulder though he had yet to come into his full growth, and if his sire was any indication, he would be strong indeed. His face was long and solemn, the first sprouting of a black beard growing in uneven patches on his pale skin. The boy stirred, sensing Daerrin's gaze, and flashed him an eager smile that made his emerald eyes shine.

But was Leland truly ready? It was partly his doing they were out here, riding to a battle he was not possibly prepared for. For all his rationed arguments, Daerrin could not help but notice how young the boy looked. Had he allowed the knowledge of who the lad's sire was sway him into this folly? Leland surely would grow into the path laid before him, but Daerrin could not help but fret that he may shown the boy another, one that would lead only to disaster.

Daerrin muttered a curse under his breath and returned his attention to the road. Regardless of his private doubts, the decision had been made, and honor demanded he see it to completion.

The day wore on. Daerrin found himself paying closer attention to the forest on both sides of the road as their horses plodded steadily south. The shadows of the trees were growing long in the fading light, clawing across the ground, great swathes of darkness that shrouded the earth beneath them. They continued for a half league further before Daerrin drew rein, pulling the small party to a sudden halt. He slid from his saddle, the reins in his left hand, and without a word plunged into the forest.

“My Lord?” He heard Leland call, confusion evident in his boyish tenor. “Where are you going?”

“On the hunt, lad,” Daerrin replied, without slowing his pace.

He distantly heard Markus urging his squire to dismount and follow, but Daerrin ignored them both. He glanced through the haze of branches and needles into the darkening sky. It would be last ray before too long. They needed a suitable camp, and soon.

For when Emara disappeared over the horizon, Her enemies would rise. And they hungered.