For the next, oh, 7 or 8 months I will be throwing up the first chapters of all of my books. With business picking up and new people jumping onboard daily I figure this is a nice way to introduce my work and, maybe, catch your eyes.
Up first, Armies of the Silver Mage. I wrote this one in Afghanistan back in 2002-03. Let’s face it, war is boring when you’re not getting shot at. This is my homage to traditional fantasy- before the sparkly vampires killed the genre. Enjoy.
An Ordinary Life
The day began much the same as every other day for the people of Fel Darrins. Dew coated the blades of long, green grass. Birds flew from tree to tree. Forest animals moved about in search of their next meal. The townsfolk gradually awoke and went about their daily business as if there was no greater world surrounding them. Butchers busied preparing meats for the day. Chandlers dusted off the last of their goods before opening their doors. Herders and farmers were up and in the fields before the first light broke the horizon. Bakers already had the town smelling of freshly baked honey-glazed bread and pastries. All in all, life wasn’t bad.
A half a day’s walk south of the great forest of Relin Werd, Fel Darrins was a haven of tranquility. The sleepy village was largely forgotten by the outside world, a relic of simpler times. Officially part of the kingdom of Averon, very few travelers made their way this far south. It had been years since the last war had ravaged the land, so long in fact that none but the eldest remembered those dark times.
Yet all was not well. Troubled times were falling on the world of Malweir. Goblins and other foul creatures crept from dark places, roaming the world west of the Gren Mountains. The occasional dragon flew in to steal hard wrought treasures. Ghosts and spirits haunted old battlefields. Elves and Dwarves moved here and there, and it was said a great evil was rumored to be arising in the east.
Sunlight spread across the morning sky by the time Delin Kerny and Fennic Attleford started moving through the woods. Best friends since birth, Delin and Fennic were hardly ever separated, playing and laughing their way through childhood. They shared sweat and the occasional broken bones pretending to be great warriors from legend. They hid from their parents when they didn’t want to go inside for the night. Many found their bond enviable, though troublesome. The boys constantly got into mischief, sometimes being punished but most of the time not. It was a life without worry.
They were born just a few months apart and were quickly approaching their eighteenth birthdays, much to the admonishment and denial of their mothers. It was no easy thing for a mother to accept that her son was now a man and not the innocent child she once held in her arms. It was a long-standing tradition for the newly considered men to embark upon a quest to find their path in life. Few ever went farther than the depths of the great forest and that was considered enough.
The natural impatience of youth demanded time speed up. Both were tired of waiting. They wanted to be counted amongst the rest of the men, with voices and opinions of their own that others would finally listen to. The very thought of finally being accepted made it difficult for them to focus. Countless hours were spent dreaming of undertaking a long quest, ranging halfway around the world rescuing princesses and finding long forgotten treasures. The dreams of youth were ever tempered by the restrictions of reality however and the boys remained content with dreams. For the moment.
Fennic worked hard to learn the ways of a miller. His father escorted him down to the mill at a young age and put him to work. Fennic came to appreciate the amount of labor needed. It was no easy task to grind enough flour for an entire village, repeatedly. He often came home covered in fine, white powder. His muscles ached from overuse. When he was old enough, Fennic was allowed to drive the delivery cart. It felt good to escape the confines of the mill but hauling the heavy sacks of flour and grains was backbreaking work.
Oppositely, Delin apprenticed to Ferd the chandler at a young age. Delin learned his numbers quickly. He had no choice. Trader caravans came and went in a steady influx. One small mistake cost money; money neither he nor Ferd had in abundance. Fortunately, Delin had always had a good head for reading and writing. He took his job seriously, earning the praise of several local factors and merchants.
Delin and Fennic suffered from the need for more. Their work kept them busy, but a growing desire lurked deep in their hearts. Fel Darrins was home, but they wanted to see the world. To tread the paths of old heroes and adventurers. To see the great wonders and other races for themselves before old age took hold and mired them to their duties at home.
As with most adolescent boys, Delin and Fennic suffered from the decided inability to focus. Much of their thoughts centered on where they’d go on their adventure, what they’d do. Work drudged on under the dire warnings of the town elders that change led to strife and worse. The boys were convinced such a life was the path to madness but wisely held their tongues.
Having no desire for the drudgery of work, the boys snuck away and went fishing, much as they often did. Big Tom needed to be caught and they both aimed to do it before their birthdays. Everyone in town knew about Big Tom. He was the biggest fish ever seen in this part of the world and no one had been able to catch him. That was going to change this morning.
“We’re going to get our hides tanned when our fathers find out,” Delin cautioned as they headed towards Ellif Pond, long fishing poles on their shoulders.
Fennic shrugged. “We can’t work all of the time. I don’t know how our fathers do it. Besides, summer is nearly over and we’ve been cooped up at work the whole time. We need a break!”
The argument was good enough to calm Delin’s nerves. Besides, coming home with Big Tom on a hook would make them both local legends. Excitement quickly replaced any doubt of misgiving.
“We’re going to catch him today, Fennic,” Delin finally laughed, as they got closer to the pond. “He doesn’t stand a chance this time!”
Fennic joined his friend in a deep laugh. “I couldn’t have said it better. Just hope Old Man Wiffe doesn’t find out. He might not take kindly to it.”
They both suppressed a shudder. Old Man Wiffe owned half of the lands between the town proper and Relin Werd. No one really knew much about him. Rumors said he stood with King Baeleon during the Dwarf Wars, nigh on forty years ago. People spoke of a terrible battle where the king fell and Wiffe lost his arm. Few had seen him since he returned home. Mostly, they caught glimpses of a passing shadow in the forests. He was more legend than man these days; a legend neither Delin nor Fennic cared to know more about.
“Now, why’d you bring him up?” Delin scowled. His voice was barely a whisper.
Both youths stood motionless, watching the surrounding trees. Birds chirped and whistled. Animals scuttled down trails. There was no sign of Old Man Wiffe.
“Do you want to head back?” Fennic asked.
Delin shook his head; the thought of confronting the old man chilled his blood. “We’re already going to get it for skipping work, might as well enjoy the day and catch Big Tom.”
The boys continued, surrounded now by towering trees and light undergrowth.
Delin suddenly grabbed Fennic’s arm and asked, “Did you see that?”
He pointed towards the nearest trees. “Over there. I thought I saw something move.”
“You’re imagining things. We’re the only ones out here,” Fennic reassured him.
He wanted to portray the solidity his best friend lacked. It was clear from early on that Fennic was the risk taker, the leader. Delin was more reserved, relying on knowledge and his ability to read and write to get them out of a bind. All their friends knew he’d be a scholar one day, perhaps even in the marbled halls of Paedwyn, court of the king of Averon. At the moment, he wasn’t sure he’d make it that far, nor did he care.
“There it goes again,” Delin pointed.
A gnawing suspicion crept into Fennic’s mind despite understanding the foolishness of it. The very real possibility that Old Man Wiffe was stalking them was too much. A sudden groan of wind knocked branches together with an ominous screech. Suddenly alarmed, Fennic decided it was time to go. The prospect of being caught in the middle of nowhere by the old hermit frightened him greatly. “Come on. I don’t like this. Big Tom can wait.”
They turned back towards Fel Darrins when a great rustling erupted behind them. Both boys spared a glance at Ellif Pond and ran for their lives. The harder they ran, the closer and louder the noise grew. Leaves burst from several bushes. A crow cawed once before leaping into the sky. The sound of thunder pounding into the earth roared in their ears. Delin looked back over his shoulder, eyes wide with sudden shock. He grabbed Fennic by the shoulder and pulled him out of the way moments before a herd of large deer raced past.
Danger passed, neither willing to admit their foolishness. Both were out of breath and exhausted, as much from the emotional shock as exertion. Fennic stumbled and dropped to his knees. For the first time since deciding to abandon his responsibilities today he doubted his decision. They were both too jittery for their own good. Still, he couldn’t help but laugh softly.
“What’s so funny?” Delin asked, wiping his mouth.
“What do you mean?”
Fennic stopped laughing long enough to explain. “We were running away from a bunch of deer like two little kids.”
Delin was about to reply when he noticed a small cottage on the far side of a clearing.
“Look over there,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone lived out here.”
“Do you think it’s…?”
Delin shrugged. “It has to be. Maybe we should turn back.”
Fennic shook his head. He’d just been embarrassed by a herd of deer. There was no way he was going to go back to Fel Darrins without something to show for it. Stubborn pride overrode his apprehensions.
The sun was out now, drying the dew and warming the forest. The clearing was a good hundred meters away, but the light green grass and ferns bathed in golden sunlight led them to believe that they were far from civilization. White flowers highlighted in red clung to vines snaking up tree trunks. There was a fresh smell, as if nothing unnatural had ever been here. A nagging sensation crept down Delin’s spine.
“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” he urged. The desire to go home and accept his punishment for skipping out on his chores far outweighed his need to discover if this was indeed Old Man Wiffe’s cottage.
“Scared?” Fennic chided with newfound confidence. Truth be told, he was just as scared of running into Wiffe, but he was determined not to let it show.
Delin nodded, “you should be too.”
Fennic pressed forward. Now was not the time to show any hesitation. He knew that if he did, he’d never come back out here again. Most of those who knew him considered him a stubborn boy, hardheaded and overconfident. Yet, he was far from dumb. He knew how far to take things and when to quit. This morning happened to be one of those occasions when good judgment abandoned him.
“What happens if he’s in there?”
Fennic shrugged again. “We’re about to find out!”
The clearing was enormous. Old oak trees lined the way, dotted with a host of saplings and underbrush. A rabbit bounded off at the sound of their approach. Somewhere in the forest a crow cawed. The subtle gurgling of running water led them to a small stream cutting the clearing in two. The only thing missing was a small pond.
The cottage was humble as far as homes went. Faded blue shutters framed the windows. The chimney was still and unused. There were no lights from within. Moss grew in great clumps along the aged stone walls. The thatch roof was barely serviceable. Judging from the size of the cottage, it couldn’t have contained more than two rooms. Fennic was almost disappointed when he noticed the front door was slightly ajar.
Curiosity seized him.
“What are you doing?” Delin whispered.
Fennic ignored him and kept walking towards the door. As tranquil as the setting was, he found his mind troubled. He had no desire to get caught breaking into someone’s home, especially Old Man Wiffe’s.
“Just a quick look and we can leave,” Fennic smiled.
A chill settled over the clearing, making Delin ill at ease. “I’m not going in there.”
“Suit yourself,” Fennic casually replied. “I’m going to see what’s inside.”
In a moment, Delin was alone. The slightest sound amplified tenfold. The clearing grew cold. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched, certain that a hundred pairs of eyes marked his very breath. The forest was alive and waiting for the chance to strike him down. The deep hoot of a hidden owl was more than enough to send him running inside. A gust of wind slammed the door behind him, and he was alone in the darkness of the cottage. He could scarcely make out his own hands.
“Fennic, where are you?” he whispered.
“You can stop whispering,” came the reply. “Letting the door slam was a fool’s mistake. I could be dead by now if anyone was home.”
“You shouldn’t have left me out there like that!”
Fennic laughed. “You shouldn’t have stayed.”
Delin gradually overcame his fear as his eyes grew used to the dark and started to explore. The main room was sparsely decorated, even for a hermit. A rickety old rocking chair sat next to the empty fireplace, and a small round table by the window. The shelf on the wall held a few colored vases and a handful of books. A brilliant silver sword was mounted on the mantle behind it, drawing Fennic’s full attention. Delin grew bolder, knowing that if Wiffe was home he’d have come out by now. He decided to look through the rest of the cottage.
Fennic didn’t move. He knew he should be afraid, but the sword whispered to him, calming his nerves and opening his mind to an infinite number of possibilities. Great tales and high adventure lay within the steel, and Fennic Attleford found himself wondering what it would be like to live that life.
“I finished checking the other room,” Delin announced. He came to stand beside Fennic and looked up at the sword, not seeing what held Fennic’s attention. It was just an old piece of steel.
“All right,” Fennic answered blankly.
“He doesn’t have much, just a plain cot with a half-filled wardrobe. There are lots of herbs and spices and stuff over there where the kitchen area is. The pantry is stocked with jars of food and dried meat.” He paused, noticing Fennic’s empty stare. “Are you listening?”
Fennic wasn’t. Instead, he was reaching for the shining sword. It called to him, begged him to take it from the mantle and carry out their destiny together. What deeds they could accomplish! Folks would tell of the unstoppable Fennic and his silver sword for generations.
“You shouldn’t mess with that,” Delin warned.
Nonsense. “Who’s going to know?”
Fennic opened his mouth to reply when the baying of an old hound dog echoed around the clearing. Old Man Wiffe was coming home. Delin ran to the door in time to see the recluse entering the clearing. They were trapped. He turned and was astonished to see Fennic brandishing the sword like a professional armsman.
“Put that back! We need to get out of here now.”
Fennic marveled at the way the sword cut through the air, whistling with superiority. What a wondrous thing this silver sword was. Delin snatched him by the wrist, breaking the spell. Wild eyes stared back at him.
“Didn’t you hear me? Wiffe is back!”
Panic struck Fennic. He hurried to replace the sword, lest he was caught with it in his hands. What would Wiffe think? That he was stealing the sword? Chances were the old man would kill both of them. He ran to the window and peered out. There was nothing out there. No dog, no sign of the old man.
“I think it’s safe. I don’t see anyone,” Fennic said.
The door groaned open and the old hound snapped at them. A heavy shadow fell on them.
“Well, well. What have I here?” the deep voice rolled like thunder across the mountains.
Panic gripped them. The youth briefly considered running out the back window but the dog snapping and barking at his feet stopped him immediately. Fennic’s heart skipped. The sword whispered, begged to be used, but Fennic couldn’t move.
“Would be thieves come to rob an old man? I don’t think so,” said the newcomer with unmistakable menace in his tone.