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Heir of the Blood King

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Adventures of Adam: Book One

Heir of the Blood King

By: W.O. Cassity

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by W.O. Cassity

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Cover Illustration By: www.ebooklaunch.com

Copy Editing By: www.awediting.com

 

 

 

 

 

For Lucianna, Lillian, Hazel, and William:

May each of you always have the strength to take your destiny into your own hands.

And a special thank you to Barbara:

For helping me pursue my dream.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOC

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Chapter One: An Untraveled Pathway

Chapter Two: The Search for More

Chapter Three: Night of Lost Hopes

Chapter Four: Reflections to Ponder

Chapter Five: A Day of Renewed Hope

Chapter Six: Soaring Ambition

Chapter Seven: Free Fall

Chapter Eight: No Way To Home

Chapter Nine: A Fresh Start

Chapter Ten: Trappings of Admiration

Chapter Eleven: Freedom

Chapter Twelve: New Opportunities

Adventures of Adam: Book Two Preview

Special Note from the Author

About the Author

 

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[] Chapter One: An Untraveled Pathway

The marching of the king’s soldiers broke the peaceful silence of the small village of Riverside. A safe distance to the north, a raven-haired boy listened carefully as he knelt down behind the tall grass along the riverbank. He was haunted by the screams of the dying villagers, which were brought asunder by blood-drenched swords. Merciless men lit every building in their wake on fire, as heartless scouts vigilantly located all of the children who neared the age of divining.

Adam felt as if his eyes were catching fire in his head from the smoke and fire that had enveloped his adopted home in the night. The night was fading though, and early morning light was breaking on the horizon. The sanctuary of the darkness was diminishing quickly. He felt it was secure enough, for the moment, but he would need to be moving soon.

Dread settled in his stomach as he realized he had not brought anything with him. The lithe boy had no implement for protection, and even if he actually had a weapon, he wasn’t sure what good it would do him. He also had no food, but at least, he was next to a bountiful supply of water. Urgently, the determined stripling reached out for the satisfying water to get his fill before parting.

As Adam reached into the cool, clear water, he watched, mesmerized as it cleansed the layers of ash from his skin. When he splashed the water over his face, he saw the soot wash into his hands, staining the water black as it fell. After the current washed the dark soot downstream, he reached into the clean water to satisfy his thirst.

Having relieved his burning eyes, he surveyed the riverbanks and the fields to the south between him and the village. He was lost in thought when he felt something bump into his hand, which still rested in the water. He looked down and saw a stick about the length of his arm and just slightly smaller round than his wrist that the slow moving current had brought to him. Adam retrieved the river’s gift from the water and tested it with a firm thump to the ground. It would be sturdy enough to use as a weapon if he needed one. With the stick, he turned away from the river.

A moment of peace fell over him as he stepped into a puddle left by the early spring rains. He pondered for a moment at how his blue eyes stood out over his small nose and thin mouth within the pool’s reflection. The ripples from the splash of his foot distorted his features, making him appear to be smiling one second and frowning the next. He sighed heavily, for he knew he could not linger in the stillness of the moment to contemplate what had happened.

Adam knew the soldiers were not the only danger to worry about outside the safety of his village. To the north, the Berring Forest sheltered a vast array of wild animals. He was more concerned about the soldiers who still roamed the lands than the ravaging packs of hungry wolves and large predatory cats, which were more than happy to pick off an easy meal. At least, if he could cover his tracks and mask his scent by crushing up anise seeds, he might be able to make it to a cave to hide in long enough to get some sleep and gather his thoughts. He hoped he would find some berries to squelch the rumbling in his stomach along the way.

As he continued his quest for safety, the wind shifted north, casting the smoldering ash and smoke from the destroyed village overhead. He knew to move into the higher grass for concealment and often stopped to listen for pursuit. Being in a hurry would only make him careless, so what mattered most was to move carefully and to find refuge before night fell.

Adam had been too afraid during the night to process how quickly his life had changed in the course of a single day. He focused on survival and lying low under the cover of darkness so he could watch the movements of the torches the soldiers’ search parties carried. He paused, reflecting on how close Death had come to carrying him upon its dark-winged back to reunite him with his lost family. His stride kept pace with the steady rhythm of his heart, and Adam became lost in thought as he intently focused on putting distance between the village and himself.

He was not able to stop himself from worrying about Othelk, his mentor and guardian. When the guards arrived after the unexpected death of the centuries old necromancer king, his mentor was the one who woke Adam and urged him to flee. Looking back on the moment, Adam realized Othelk had been dressed in ornate steel armor and had carried a large sword and shield Adam had not seen before. His guardian’s thick brow was furrowed with concern, causing his thick, bushy eyebrows to look as wild as his unkempt beard. As they prepared to leave Adam’s room, Othelk prepared for battle by placing a heavy steel helmet over his thinning white hair.

Adam considered his guardian was dressed and prepared to confront the soldiers when he had awakened him. Somehow, Othelk must have known something was going to happen before hand. He tried hard to remember if there had been anything off about the old man the day before, but the more he focused on remembering his weathered face, the more Adam’s heart sank with the realization he did not know his mentor’s fate.

Othelk had hastily led him away from his sleeping quarters and was trying to put him on a raft when the soldiers arrived at the docks. One of the guards jumped on the raft where Adam was sitting, but his guardian began to fight off several guards at once. The last time he had seen Othelk, his fierce protector told him to run and not to look back as his sword erupted in flames along the surface. Adam watched as an unseen magical force sparked from his guardian’s shield throwing one of his opponents high into the air. In spite of whispered rumors he had heard, he never knew Othelk was so proficient with magic.

So, Adam did what he always did and followed his guardian’s orders. He resisted his impulse to assist Othelk and he ran without looking back. The grizzled man was his only family, and he feared he might have lost him too, just like he lost his parents and brother so long ago.

He knew Othelk had been a mercenary who once travelled with a small band of adventurers, boisterously seeking fame and fortune. Many of the older traders who used the Freedown River to carry their wares stopped by Riverside because they knew the old man during his adventurous youth. From what little he overheard in a few of the conversations with those merchants, Othelk had been both a scholar of arcane history and a crafty shield man.

The quiet and reflective version of Othelk Adam had come to know was very different. He knew his guardian cared for his well-being and viewed him as the son he never had. After the retired adventurer adopted him, he taught Adam basic trade. Even though the man protected Adam from unruly explorers who saw him as nothing more than a lowly servant, Othelk kept his distance emotionally.

Up ahead, just near the riverbank, Adam heard a precarious sound that snapped him back to attention. He dropped low, concealing himself behind the tall grass and tangled vines as he peered through and tried to assess the situation. The sound came from one of the Blood King’s guards calling for another to stop the raft they must have commandeered from the village. He remained still as he watched the bored soldier scan the river’s edge then signal his companions to continue down river.

Adam sighed with relief as he slowly made his way farther inland away from the river’s edge. He trudged along, but after a sleepless night, his attention waivered. In spite of his best efforts to remain alert, his mind drifted back to the memories of his past once more.

Adam was born along the Eastern Coast region, many miles away from his life working the docks on the Freedown River. His memories of his life before Othelk had claimed him were few. He remembered his mother, his father, and his twin brother, all with light blond hair so different from his own pitch black. For as long as he could remember, Adam felt like an outsider with no place he truly belonged.

He thought hard to find his earliest memory. There was a time when he was perhaps four summers old, he was traveling in the back of a wagon with his brother sitting across from him. Adam’s mother was leaning to the front, and his father was driving the horses hard, snapping the reins urgently. He would never forget the look of fear on his father’s face when he turned to watch Adam and his fair-haired brother playing in the back of the wagon. Adam had always figured his father was running away from something as if their lives had depended upon it.

He also remembered the men who had later surrounded the wagon. They were not a threat, but he could remember his father not wanting to talk to them. His mother had also awakened, and it was clear she was concerned about how his father answered the men’s questions.

That was the only memory Adam had left of his time with his family. From there, came the time when he fended for himself, hungry, alone, and pillaging for food. The villagers of those Eastern Coast towns would always drive him away for it was a kingdom ruled by anarchy. The region was known for seafarers, fishermen, and occasionally, raiding pirates. He thought for a time those people treated stray dogs living in the alleyways under the never-ending, gray skies better than they treated him. He also remembered stealing food had been a key point to his survival in those dark days.

Othelk had found him just as a group of kids had circled around him in the middle of the streets, clearly intending to beat him to a fine pulp. When the grizzled adventurer saved Adam, he remembered the tall muscular man telling him, “I’ve been searching for you, boy. I was a friend of your father.” Othelk had been dressed in simple clothes of gray and white, just as those he had worn for the last five years as he had worked to earn his keep on the docks his guardian had managed.

Adam knew very little else about Othelk’s history. He knew as a young man, his mentor grew up in Corronest, where the Order of the Fates Divined, or simply the Order, kept their stronghold. The city itself rested in the deep fertile wine valleys to the west just over the Samarodine Mountains. The Order had been established there more than a millennia ago after the Hordes of Darkwinter marched in force from the frozen tundra in the north. The cursed races of the invaders were referred to as the Goblinkin, for their aberrations were many, including goblins, orcs, ogres, and trolls, which ravaged the Eleven Kingdoms attempting to annihilate the alliance of elves, dwarves, and humans from existence.

As the alliance armies clung to their last hopes when the Goblinkin began to spill into the valleys at the midnight hour, a humble acolyte by the name of Thimirere prayed to the Fates for his purpose. According to the legendary songs of the survivors, while he prayed, white light that shone brighter than the sun enveloped him. Thimirere became the first true seer when he prophesied with a thunderous voice that shook the earth. He divined the alliance would beat back the Hordes to the northern wastelands. The radiant light surrounding the seer boosted the morale of the fighters and provided enough light for the alliance armies to turn the tide of the battle, while striking fear into the hearts of the invading Goblinkin.

After the forces of Darkwinter retreated, the remaining alliance appointed Thimirere to train the faithful in the magical craft of Divination and he was given the title of the first Prime Seer. Artisans from the Eleven Kingdoms came to pay tribute and built a majestic castle of polished granite so the newly established Order could focus on pursuing their devotion. The city of Corronest became the epicenter of wealth and knowledge throughout the kingdoms, and scholars erected academies while merchants from far-away lands brought their exotic resources for study.

Othelk had mentioned he had grown weary of reading about heroes in books and that was why he began his mercenary career. He wanted his story to be written down and recounted through the ages. The restless student had struck out on his own at first and eventually joined a small company of adventurers. He had even been married to one of his companions, but she had died many years before Adam had come to live with him.

Othelk never explained exactly how he had known Adam’s father, nor did he ever explain why he had come to save him. He only knew the retired adventurer didn’t need him to do the work. His guardian was quite skilled and could manage things easily enough on his own. Not to mention there were always volunteers ready to provide their labor for a warm place to sleep and something to eat.

The thing Adam was the most grateful for, however, was all of the time Othelk spent teaching him his trade. He not only learned to repair barges, rafts, and boats, but he also learned the basics of fishing and the crafting of tools for everyday tasks. His mentor also taught him how to read a person’s body language and even some minor skills dealing with commerce. He discovered he was quite proficient in the art of haggling.

Othelk was always quick to point out to Adam everything he was learning would be essential for when he set out on his own someday. He had asked the experienced warrior to teach him about the things he would need to know in order for him to be an adventurer, but the weary man told Adam he would need to find his own way. To Adam, it had always seemed like the old man was hiding something from him as if he had been afraid for his well-being. He believed it had something to do with the death of his family. Othelk continuously refused to speak to Adam about his own future as well. He had learned all of these skills, but how his teacher intended for him to use them remained a mystery.

Adam’s mind was still lost in thoughts of his family and Othelk when he neared the edge of the Berring Forest. As he stepped onto the small path entering the wilderness, he heard the rustlings of movement ahead. Looking up from his feet, he saw three small figures emerge from the tree line, staring in his direction. On instinct, he panicked, believing he had stumbled upon wild dogs or wolves. In truth, the situation was much more severe than he could have ever imagined. Although he had never seen one, the goblins were unmistakable with their sickly green faces and oversized ears.

Goblins had a reputation for being not only resourceful scavengers, but also possessing a hatred which fueled their insatiable appetites for carnage. Often times, they were underestimated for their diminutive stature. What they lacked in size and strength, they made up with in numbers and brutality. They were considered the first and most common of all the cursed races of the Goblinkin.

The largest of the three goblins sneered wickedly and unsheathed a crude, iron sword with jagged edges as he cried out for his companions to attack. The three attackers barreled toward him, freezing him with fear. The goblin in the center led the way, rushing forward to pierce Adam with his wicked little blade. Fortunately for him, survival instincts took over, and he burst into action. Driven by raw fear, he clenched his club tightly and took a swing straight at the lead goblin’s head, putting as much force behind it as he could muster.

Adam imagined his club would smash upon the lumpy, green head of the goblin leader with a loud smack, leaving him with one less goblin to worry about. That wasn’t quite what happened. Instead, the goblin leader lowered his head as he thrust his sword forward, causing Adam’s swing to careen wildly over the leader’s head. The leader’s would be deadly thrust, which was aimed at the center of Adam’s chest, simply grazed his side, cutting through his tunic and nicking his skin. There was pain, but nothing Adam could not manage.

Even though he missed his intended target, luck seemed to have favored him, and Adam’s wild swing wasn’t a complete loss as the club discovered a new target. The goblin to the right of the leader stretched out his arm attempting to deflect the wayward blow, but he was unprepared for the force of it. The unprepared goblin let out a blood-curdling scream as Adam’s club smashed into his shoulder with a sickening crack. Holding his mangled arm, the goblin crumpled down to ground and writhed in pain.

Adam’s wild swing did throw him off balance, but the last five years he spent unloading rafts on the choppy Freedown River taught him how to recover his balance quickly. He managed to catch himself from falling to the ground, and he realized three things: First, if he were to come out of this alive, he must avoid being hit with that sword at all costs. Second, his strong sense of balance and strength were his assets for survival. And dreadfully third, his back was turned to the goblin with the sword because he had spun almost completely around.

Adam spun around just as the leader drew back his sword and swore under his breath as he stared at his injured companion lying on the ground beside him. At least Adam assumed it was swearing, judging by the dissatisfied look on the goblin’s face. The uninjured goblin to the other side shifted on his feet, Adam watched as its eyes flickered between the leader and his fallen friend. Instead of retreating, which Adam thought would be his next move, the goblin started to move to Adam’s right.

The fear that had spurred Adam into motion melted away. He knew he had to live through this because there was no telling what would happen to him otherwise. Would they simply wound him and then eat him alive? Would they torture him endlessly? He didn’t know for certain, but the one thing he did know was if he were meant to die today, it would have been much easier to have given himself over to the soldiers in the village. Having come to this epiphany, he decided he had risked too much to make it this far just to give up and die now.

Adam held onto his club, did his best to get solid footing, and prepared for the next deadly thrust of the leader’s sword. The sword-wielding goblin looked Adam up and down, sizing him up. As he considered taking the offensive, he noticed the uninjured goblin had snuck out of his line of sight for an ambush. Adam raised his club over his head, and without warning, he repositioned his footing to face the sneaky goblin. Before either of the goblins could react, he brought the club down on the goblin’s head and a loud crack sounded from the goblin’s neck snapping beneath the powerful blow. Instantly, the sneaky little goblin fell to the ground, completely and utterly dead.

With his other companion still howling in pain on the ground beside him, the sword-wielding goblin became enraged. Judging by the expression on the goblin leader’s face, Adam figured he had managed to turn the tide in his favor. Standing over two feet taller than his opponent who was rushing him with a sword, he briskly stepped backward a few paces using his height and his longer legs to gain some advantage by widening the distance. Adam then turned to face his bewildered opponent holding his club high with the base of it close to his chin like a giant two-handed sword. He imagined in his mind this was how great warriors held their weapons before landing a deadly blow to their enemies.

The sword-wielding goblin then charged him to cover the distance. Adam was ready for the goblin leader’s advance, and without thinking, he met the oncoming goblin’s charge with one of his own. Being completely new to the art of fighting and not being mindful of his surroundings, he failed to notice the large rock he would have to step over beforehand. This time, his fate wasn’t as certain, as his foot glanced off the rock, throwing off his balance and sending him face first onto the ground. His club flew straight out of his hands and skittered across the way in front of him.

Adam felt the goblin leader bearing down upon him. If the goblin would have had time to take this in, perhaps he would have gently smiled to himself, Adam thought. Unfortunately, for the goblin, everything happened too quickly for Adam’s adversary to respond at all. The club that had flown from Adam’s hands didn’t harmlessly fall away, but caught the goblin leader between his ankles and tripped him over, causing him to release his sword in order to protect himself from landing face first on the ground as Adam had. Unlike Adam, the goblin didn’t throw his sword out away from him. Instead, the jagged blade fell to the ground handle first in front of him. The sword-wielding goblin was skewered with his own blade.

Adam tasted the dirt and sweat in his mouth, and he knew he was still in danger. He had never killed anything other than fish to eat before this. If the hard landing to the ground hadn’t knocked him senseless, he would have been appalled. Fighting for his very life, he knew it was either him or them.

He struggled to shake off the feelings of disorientation and exhaustion and to get back to his feet in order to fight the injured goblin, but his eyesight became blurred and his vision narrowed down to a thin, dark tunnel. Pain surged in his foot and up through his leg from the awkward fall after tripping over the rock. Adam felt the warm, sticky blood drenching his tunic and causing it to adhere to his skin. He gasped for the cool, clean air in a last ditch effort to douse the fire burning in his lungs but darkness overcame Adam and left him oblivious to the world as he slipped into unconsciousness.

 

[] Chapter Two: The Search for More

Adam found himself running through a brightly burning field of fire under the cover of darkness. Silhouetted shadows moved quickly to overtake him. Uncertainty crept through his mind as he considered the possibility he had died battling the goblins. If this were the afterlife, it wasn’t the paradise he imagined.

Everything was out of focus. The harder Adam tried to make out what was ahead of him, the more unrecognizable his surroundings became. The roaring flames left him in a cold sweat as his side and leg throbbed with stabbing pains. Without seeing what caused him to fall, he found himself on the ground as the fire danced closer to his face. Fear overcame him, and he began to scream relentlessly as he tried to get back to his feet.

Adam awoke and lurched his body into a sitting position, leaving his mind to be filled with deafening silence. His exasperated breath left him with the impression he had been crying aloud while unconscious. His side hurt and his leg felt cramped, but he was alive. He blinked hard a few times, trying to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his strained eyes. After another moment passed, his mind registered the shadows and weak sunlight filtering through the canopy above him.

Panic overcame him, and he looked around. Two of the goblins that attacked him were still prone on the ground, but the third was nowhere to be seen. His eyes became heavy as he tried to adjust their focus for clues of the other attacker. The injured goblin must have gotten away.

Adam cautiously crawled over to where his club had settled and grabbed it up to steady himself on one knee, as he tested his weight on his injured foot. Taking a moment to regain his awareness and balance so he could assess his situation, he looked at his blood-soaked tunic. The small tear was about the length of his index finger. Underneath it, the skin was slashed and had swollen into an angry red wound. Fortunately, it was only skin deep, no more than a scratch. Adam was relieved his injuries were not serious. He knew he just needed to walk off the stiffness in his leg, but his foot was certainly bruised.

Adam’s focus returned as his eyes shifted to a small pool of blood where the injured goblin had fallen. The goblin’s shoulder must have shattered causing bone to puncture the skin. He noticed a small trail of blood led toward the path where the goblins had emerged. He looked over to see the leader’s sword had bent under the weight of its owner, rendering it worthless to retrieve.

Adam stood up and steadied himself with determination. He couldn’t remain here in case his attacker went to retrieve help for his fallen comrades. With all the danger lurking about, remaining where he was meant certain death. He dragged his aching body to the head of the trail where it entered the dense woods.

The path itself was rather small with only a few sporadic goblin footprints to be seen, some of which were going south on the trail while others traveled north. Intermittently, he came across more blood and a few places where the ground looked recently disturbed. Adam wished he had the tracking skills of some of the hunters from the village so he could be certain it was the goblin and not a wounded animal. He also noticed a few trails strayed off the main path, but he didn’t follow them.

Adam’s pace quickened as he pushed himself forward. Twilight was pressing down on him, and he had not covered much ground. The terrain became harder to traverse as the path began winding itself up steeper inclines. He was relieved walking had reduced the stiffness in his leg from the fight with the goblins. At times, the canopy of the trees above became thick, shutting out what little light remained. He struggled, moving ever forward and occasionally straying from the main path. Fortunately, he veered in the wrong direction and he stumbled upon some wild berries he knew he could eat. Adam was able to sate his hunger, but the slightly bitter, unripe berries made him desire a strong drink of water. He had not heard the sounds of the river since he had entered the Berring Forest though.

Adam looked to the west as the last rays of sunlight faded behind a steep, rocky cliff. He decided to head to the face of rock to see if he could find some place safe he could rest. Making his way closer, he watched as beams of moonlight danced along the cliff’s granite surfaces with an eerie, pale glow. He had heard there were large cave systems in the Berring Forest, so a cliff face seemed to be the most likely place to start. The cliff would also provide a greater vantage point to see down into the forest below where the canopy was less dense. It became easier to see the terrain around him as the forest gave way to a small clearing leading up to the natural stone wall. Bright moonlight illuminated the clearing, making it easier for him to travel.

The only other creature he encountered on his walk along the base of the cliff face was a skunk digging for grubs under a loosened rock. He noticed its staunch aroma well before discovering the small critter busily extracting its meal. The overpowering musky scent indicated to Adam something had recently disturbed the animal and it had sprayed nearby. He remained alert for danger as he continued walking north along the long ridge, vigilantly searching for shelter.

When the moon finally achieved its apex in the sky, Adam discovered a part of the large cliff face that had collapsed. Rocks and boulders appeared to lead to either a very small round shadow or possibly a cave opening. There was a clearly noticeable break in the moonlight’s reflection worth investigating.

As he started to climb, he noticed how loose and unsettled the layers of rocks were. They were shaky and unstable, and by the way the small stones skittered under his feet, he figured the rock slide had happened recently. Maybe during the winter storm a few months back. Adam was relieved most of the stiffness in his leg had subsided, even if his bruised foot made the climb unpleasant. The moisture on the rocks made the climb difficult, but the tempting promise of water urged him forward.

Adam scrambled up the final few feet of loose rock and sighed with relief. He had been right about the cave. The opening was only a few feet wide, but it was large enough for him squeeze through. He looked back to survey the forest beneath him under the silver moonlight. From this vantage point, he could see the washed out vibrant green treetops for miles as the forest sprawled out away from him. Turning back to the cave, he took note of a small trickle of water large enough for him to hold his hands underneath for a few minutes and quench his thirst. Once his throat was no longer dry, he peered inside the cave, which seemed to get a little larger once he got past the small opening. How deep or how large it was, though, Adam wasn’t certain. He couldn’t honestly ever remember being in a cave before. This was a completely new experience for him.

Adam picked up a few small stones and tossed them into the cave as hard as he could. This would let him know with certainty whether or not a large predatory cat hiding in the shadows. He envisioned a savage beast with strings of saliva dripping from its long, fearsome fangs, waiting for him to crawl into the cave and offer himself up to it. If nothing else, the test would allow him to gauge how deep the cave was. After a handful of well-aimed throws, and several minutes of listening to the rocks bounce and ping inside, no large cat came pouncing out to rend him limb from limb. He was also able to confirm from the echo the cave was larger than it looked from the outside.

It took a slight jump to get his body into the opening, but since he tried to carry his club in his hands in front of him, it was difficult to wiggle his body through. There were several sharp edges exposed by the rockslide craving to pierce through his vulnerable skin, but Adam managed to get past with only a scratch or two. If a soldier attempted to follow him, he would have to remove all of his armor to fit through the opening. This was a perfect hiding spot from the Blood King’s men, but if goblins were to discover him, several could come in at once. Hopefully, any goblins who came nearby would be too afraid of being exposed and wouldn’t attempt to reach the cave.

The cave was high enough at several points for him to crawl comfortably on his knees. After much crawling, wiggling, and squeezing through the narrow passage, the cave opened up into a much larger area, but how large, Adam couldn’t tell. He could hear water dripping into the small stream which ran through the center of the cave and he could see moonlight bouncing from the water to dance along the walls. Looking up he discerned a hole where the cave’s ceiling had given way to long, thick vines, which fragmented the bright moonlight pouring through the opening and cast their silhouettes throughout the chamber. With an overabundance of caution, he decided this place was good enough for a short rest. He could stand if needed and swing his club without hitting anything. The rock here was dry and he could put his back to the wall and rest. And rest, he did.

The stinging pain of a bright beam of sunlight piercing his eyelids awoke Adam from restless dreams. He winced and held his hand in front of his face, as fear crept in at the realization he didn’t know where he was or if he was safe. The cave he had crawled into during the sleepy evening hours felt isolated and closed. Now he realized the rock ceiling of the cave was roughly thirty feet high and was broken at the surface by the roots of some very large trees. That must be the area above the ridge too treacherous to reach. Water flowing down the mountain had worn at the surface of the rock over time until it had broken through and hollowed out this small cavern. The hole by which he had entered was where the rain and melted snow had escaped into the forest and valley below.

Adam was cleaning the scratch on his side when a glint of silver among the tree roots caught his eye. At first, he thought it must have been the sunbeams dancing in his eyes as he tried adjusting to the brightness in the room, but clearly, it was something else. Gripping his club in hand and using it to steady himself on the uneven surface, he cautiously made his way over to the dancing light and discovered an untarnished silver pendant swaying from a worn, yellowed branch. Curiously, he reached for the pendant and grasped it in his hand mid-swing, stopping its motion. He was caught off guard when he became aware of the gaping maw of the owner of the pendant. Entangled so deeply into the roots, the skeleton had originally appeared to be one of them. He could clearly distinguish the old, ivory bones from the network of veins under deeper observation. Rotting black tethers of cloth clung to the skeleton, apparently stripped away by rushing tides of water, decay, and time. The adventurer must have fallen through the cave’s ceiling to his demise. A break at the base of the skull caused by the fall must have broken his neck, Adam assumed.

Adam gently removed the necklace from the skeleton and held it in his hands. He had expected the metal to be cool to the touch, but contrarily, it was warm, as if it had sat in the sun most of the day. He was puzzled there were no signs of corrosion. The remains of the deceased indicated the bar pendant had been here for years. He surveyed the floor nearby and found a simple dagger, which had been eaten up by rust, and a small waterproofed leather pouch. The drawstrings on the pouch were entangled around the hilt of the skinny dagger and became trapped in the vines which were beginning to weave their way up the roots. He opened the skin and poured its contents into his hand, finding a few corroded silver pieces. He knew these were the last possessions of the fallen adventurer.

Adam brushed off the tarnish and debris gathered on the three silver pieces. The Blood King’s sigil was clearly recognizable on the surface. There wasn’t any doubt he would be able to exchange the coin for goods even in this rough condition. He flipped the pouch inside out to clean it and then he placed the coin into the pouch and cinched it closed.

Walking over to one of the beams of sunlight, Adam examined the necklace. He turned the bar shaped pendant around in his hands. Examining the intricate engravings, he could make out the shape of a benign eye adorning its center. The bar also had tiny blue gemstones embedded along its edge. The clasps design resembled interlocking eagle’s talons, and the roped chain was made of silver as well. He considered placing the chain around his neck, but decided against it until he could learn more about it. Adam opened the pouch and added the necklace to its contents.

The dagger was in worse condition. It had gathered a layer of rust along its entire surface, and the blade was very dull. Adam had become accustomed to sharpening fishing knives, and he had once even restored a rusted one he had found in the bottom of a small boat which had drifted down the river a few years ago. This would certainly help him survive his recent crisis once he cleaned it up and put an edge to it. He tore off a piece of cloth from the bottom of his shirt, wrapped the dagger into it, and tucked it into his belt behind his back.

As he attached the pouch to his belt, Adam glanced around the cave once more and headed back toward the small tunnel to exit the cave. Curiously, the pouch felt heavier than he expected it to as it rested on his leg. Three silver pieces should not be so heavy. He looked to see if the pouch snagged on something within the cave, but found everything to be fine. Adam felt a scratching in his mind as he tried to remember if he had put anything else in the pouch. It was like a word on one’s mind getting lost on the tongue when trying to speak it.

Adam decided to examine the pouch with the three coins once more in case mud had gotten inside somehow. It uncinched quite easily, and upon examining it, he realized he had forgotten about the necklace. Taking it into his hands once again, a feeling of déjà vu overcame him as he examined the twisted silver chain and the silver bar styled pendant dangling from it. He thought to himself he must still be overly tired and probably should eat, because he could not believe he had forgotten putting the necklace away without examining it first. It was the most striking thing he had ever seen. Surely, he would have remembered it before if had examined it. Along the edges of the bar were these tiny blue stones and some kind of rune was engraved on the face of it. The chain and pendant felt warm. He could not seem to wrap his mind around why the necklace was not corroded like the coins. He walked back over to the sunbeams of light and held it up, admiring the pendant’s luster. Adam knew from the moment he found it, it may be valuable and could be traded for any supplies he may need if things were to get bad.

Adam decided it would be best to wear the necklace around his neck since it seemed sturdy enough not to break easily. He slipped it over his head to let it rest on his neck. As soon as the pendant hit his skin, his eyes filled with white light and searing pain as if he were staring directly into the sun. He yelped in surprise as the agony flashing in his eyes even made his ears hurt. In one swift motion, he tugged the necklace from his neck over his head and threw it onto the cave floor, where it landed with a heavy, metal sounding thud.

Keeping his eyes closed for a while, he waited until the ringing in his ears stopped and slowly began to open his eyes as they readjusted to the light in the room. With a look of pure awe and fear, he stared down upon the beautiful necklace on the floor and realized it must be cursed. It seemed safe to carry in his pouch, but there was no way he would place it around his neck again. It would be best to trade it to someone else for something he could eat or use later down the road. Another feeling of déjà vu flooded over him.

He slumped down on the cave floor beside it and pondered why in the world someone would create such a dangerous object. It was obviously magical in nature. So why would the adventurer who died wearing it keep it there in the first place? As he scooped the pendant back up into both of his hands, he pondered it for another second, and deciding he would try to figure it out later, he placed it back into his pouch. Right now, he needed to get something to eat and learn more about his surroundings. Another scratching in his mind and a nagging feeling came over him as if he had forgotten something important. Adam decided not to think about it. Surely, whatever he was forgetting would come to him later.

Emerging from his safe haven, Adam took in the landscape with his bird’s eye view of the forest below him. After making some mental markers to figure out where he was, he descended the rockslide and worked his way back to one of the small animal trails in the forest, hoping he could find the location of the wild berries he discovered the night before. It was the only food source he had seen, but it was small, and he couldn’t rely on it indefinitely. No one had taught him how to hunt, but he knew how to catch fish using a trap from sticks and vines. Much like his ability to maintain his balance, making fishing traps was a skill he learned during his time on the docks. First, he had to find a stream though.

Remaining aware of what direction the cave was in, he went to search for something to fill his empty stomach. After a few hours of scouring the nearby area, he managed to find the wild berries and some wild beets, which he carried using the bottom of his shirt as a basket. He also found a few stones good enough for cleaning and sharpening the dagger he had discovered in the cave.

Fearing he would stray too far away from the cave, Adam decided to head back. In the distance, he thought he heard a faint scream coming from the southeast. Alarmed, he immediately rushed back to the safety of the cave, hoping he would be in a good position to see what was happening. If the soldiers were headed back this way, he might need to abandon his safe haven.

Once he arrived back at the mouth of the cave, he unloaded the food and stones into the entrance and surveyed the area for any signs of trouble. Light smoke rose up through the trees possibly from a small campfire slightly to the north of his position, but he couldn’t see anything else. If the fire belonged to the soldiers or to the goblins, he would need to know exactly where the danger was. He bravely grabbed his club in his hands once more and set out to discover how severe the threat was.

Getting to the place where he had noticed the smoke from the campfire required more than what Adam had expected. The distance had looked so short from where he had started, but he knew he had traveled several miles and was only just now getting close. He even had to scale some trees to ensure he was heading in the right direction. Adam also encountered two goblins heading south along one of the main trails and circled wide to avoid their attention. The sun was waning in the sky, telling him there were only a few more hours of daylight left, and he would need what light remained to navigate safely back to the cave.

He didn’t think the smoke belonged to the soldiers since the goblins seemed quite comfortable navigating the pathways. He imagined if there were soldiers about, the goblins would have been more careful. That brought up the possibility of an even bigger problem. If it wasn’t the campfire of a few soldiers, then it could belong to the Goblinkin. From what he had heard from the tales of the villagers, running into a group of them could be quite dangerous, since you could run into anything from small bands of scavengers to large tribes gathering for war. Both of which have been known to occur throughout history. If there were a large group of goblins about, he may have to get as far away as possible.

Adam slowed his pace when he heard the sounds of a commotion up ahead. For a moment, it sounded like a busy day in the village when everyone was out and about doing their daily chores. As he listened, he heard shrieking laughter in the distance echo through the trees. He also thought he heard several screams. Concealed by the underbrush of the forest, he spotted four or five different goblins carrying stacks of broken tree branches. They were most likely for their campfire.

Adam needed to be careful. It was important to know how many goblins he was dealing with, and whether or not the screams were from villagers who fled to the forest when the Blood King’s soldiers raided. He hoped if the situation were reversed, someone would have done the same for him. He wouldn’t like it very much if a passerby left him for dead or even worse left him to adorn the hungry goblins dinner table that evening.

The air was alive with noise as the forest descended slowly into a small valley below. Adam circled around the area on the western side, trying to gain a better vantage point while also trying to avoid detection. He heard the crisp snap of brush breaking behind him. Whatever was coming, it was already too late. They were already on top of him.

 

[] Chapter Three: Night of Lost Hopes

She was the one he loved with all of his heart.

Talia watched as Donadeir gasped for breath, still reeling from when one of the Blood King’s guard threw him on the ground. She intervened just before the guard’s sword fell upon Donadeir’s thick neck. Talia was reaching for him, urging him to hurry, as she grabbed him by his upper arm.

“Get up, Dona, we gotta go now!” Talia exclaimed, using her childhood nickname for him.

“Talia, don’t leave me!” Donadeir exclaimed. “I’m bleeding to death!”

Her piercing emerald-green eyes examined Donadeir’s torn flesh as he lifted his brown robes to show her his injured knee. She looked down, noticing the sharp rock he fell onto when he was attacked.

“You’ll live,” Talia stated, tucking her staff under her arm and reaching for the guard’s sword with her free hand. There was no immediate danger of guard’s nipping at their heels after Talia dispatched, without notice, the one who had attacked Dona, but she still insisted. “Dona, we need to move! Come, hurry, it isn’t safe,” she beckoned.

Talia acknowledged Donadeir’s head nod with one of her own as he tried to stand up with her help, and she felt how careful he was not to put too much of his weight onto her. Once he was up on his feet, he took in a deep breath and indicated to her he was ready to follow her lead.

There were almost a hundred buildings and homes in Riverside, and it looked like every one of those buildings had been struck by the Blood King’s tinder, wielded by his soldiers. Talia led them as close to the burning buildings as she could. Although it seemed that would make them more exposed, the raging fires and heat made it more difficult to make out exactly what was what. The guards seemed more occupied with those almost slipping away into the shadows, away from the light, than those who were exposed and vulnerable.

Talia wasn’t vulnerable. She knew the guards would not mistake her for the Blood King’s male heir, if that were truly the reason the guards were here as she had heard a fleeing villager exclaim. With Donadeir’s irregular size and robes, the guards wouldn’t be able to distinguish him as a young overweight man or an older overweight woman either. Her father had reminded her time and again some of the most dangerous paths could actually be her only way to safety. That was what it meant to face fear, reinforcing a person’s bravery. When a person had peace with death and was aware of their duty, the only thing fear would know was itself, and thus would it be conquered.

She knew if she and Dona were so exposed in plain sight, they did not meet the guards immediate predication to be addressed. Her father once told her the more likely one was perceived to be evading capture, the more inclined the pursuer would be to establish them as a priority. A calmed mind is the only means to restore order to chaos and this escape plan was masked in the chaos the guards had created.

Talia lead the way for Donadeir to the village’s east side, where the hunter’s trail led into the tall, thick brush which still appeared dead from winter’s cold embrace. The underbrush was thick enough that even with the glow of the fires of the village and the moon’s light overhead, its safety would shield them from the eyes of the invaders as they made their escape. They had made it to the head of the trail when she stopped to ensure their escape had gone undetected.

Talia’s face hardened as she looked back to see a guard rest his gloved hand upon Donadeir’s shoulder. This soldier had no interest in Donadeir from what she could see. He could have simply been a post the guard meant to lean upon. The miscreant eyed Talia’s slender toned body and developed features.

“Where are you ladies running off to?” the soldier inquired with a wolfish grin across his face. It was apparent this man lacked honor and didn’t take his duties seriously. He was more interested in Talia than he was in his mission. “Perhaps you’d like to come with me so that I can keep you safe,” the man leered, as he smashed Donadeir’s temple with the hilt of his blade.

Donadeir was fortunate his girth and his skull were so thick, Talia thought. As he lost his balance and fell to his side, he rolled a good distance from where she and the soldier were standing before he came to a stop. She made sure not to give away any surprise or shock in her eyes. Talia’s eyebrows lowered and narrowed, not out of anger, but focus, as she shifted her feet into a fighting stance. Placing more of her weight onto her slightly bent back leg, her left arm came up holding her staff against her forearm like a shield, and her right hand brought the sword she took from the solider earlier up to a ready position.

“So you want to play sword fighter, doncha, love?” the soldier sneered in a tone of complete disregard. “I don’t want to put you in any pain, little girl, but if that’s what I gotta do for you to make me feel good, well, that—” The guard was interrupted mid-sentence. His first mistake was thinking he had backed Talia into a corner, assuming she was trying to come across as threatening and failed to intimidate. Not seeing her as a threat, he had been too busy running his mouth. Thus, he had not realized he had lowered his guard. Seizing the opportunity, she became one with both of her weapons as she pivoted on her forward foot and used her right leg to put herself into a spin. Talia lowered her left forearm, bringing the lower end of her staff up and around with her body so the part of the staff which was hanging down, just a moment before, cracked the soldier square on the right side of his jaw.

As her body came around to face toward the soldier once again, Talia kept herself low to the ground, crouching as she brought her sword wielding right hand down onto the soldier’s knee. The blade landed with a sickening thud as it caught between the soldier’s leg plates just behind the knee. Quickly, Talia stepped back, reversing her stance. As her whole body moved away from the soldier, she pulled the blade through the knee of her screaming opponent. The blade sung as it came out from between the front plates of the guard’s leg armor. She then stepped forward with her left arm held upright, bringing down the top part of the staff across the soldier’s nose, forcing him to collapse on his back. Finally, she stepped forward with her right foot, crossing to stand over the soldier’s limp body. She raised the hilt of her sword and brought it crashing down upon the soldier’s forehead. The soldier’s screams came to an abrupt and startling end.

In less than a few seconds, Talia had managed to bring this full-grown man to the ground and render him unconscious. She could have easily killed him if she had chosen to. She knew incapacitating her opponent would force his companions to slow down any pursuit as they attempted to aid him, whereas they would simply leave a corpse lying where it fell. The truth, she quietly admitted to herself, was she had never killed anyone before. Talia acknowledged the fear of what it would be like to take a person’s life was still something she had not been able to conquer. In the end, if all other options failed her, killing another human being would be her last resort.

She could see Donadeir was petrified when he heard the soldier’s screams. She also feared the noise would have drawn the attention of the other soldiers who were still running people down as they tried to escape. Her concerns quickly eased as she heard screams on the opposite side of the village and across the way. The soldier’s screams were but one note in the chorus of this ghastly, horrific song.

“Well, it could have been worse,” Donadeir said with a sheepish grin.

Talia, tucked the staff under her arm again, prepared to offer Donadeir her hand once more, but he had already begun to make it to his feet. Quickly, Talia and he made their way onto the trail and disappeared into the thicket with no pursuit behind them.

As Talia traveled with Donadeir along the eastern trails, they slowly began to make their way north. The wind had shifted slightly, allowing the smoke from the village fires to pass over their heads. The thick smoke smothered the rays of the bright moon overhead, giving it an almost blood like color. Her heart fell as she realized where the term Blood Moon must have originated.

Talia hoped Donadeir had not noticed his parents did not survive as she fled with Dona from the village. They had passed near the baker’s cottage, Donadeir’s home, as they evaded the guards. She noticed there were two large bodies in the fire, and his parents were as rotund as Donadeir. She knew it would be a mistake to point this out to him as they fled to safety themselves. Donadeir had never been known to handle emotional situations well, and she needed him to keep it together. As annoying as he could be sometimes, Donadeir and she had a shared history of trust and friendship from as early as she could remember. It wasn’t until he was older that he became bitter. Talia was aware of Donadeir’s romantic intentions toward her which made her a little uncomfortable. She cared for him, but he was more like family to her.

***

For someone who was so fierce and defiant, Talia managed to amaze him with how beautiful she looked with her eyebrows raised with concern for his well-being when she saved him. Her hair was dark bronze and highlighted with veins of light gold. It filled him with awe to have seen the firelight dance upon one of her long, perfect curls draped across her worried face. Following behind her, he could see under the moonlight she wore a leather vest over a flowing blouse and matching leather pants. Her hair came down in two braids across the middle of her back. He contemplated for a moment what her hair would look like undone, since he hasn’t seen it unbraided in years.

It wasn’t the first time Talia had come to his rescue. Being the son of the village baker, Donadeir often times had more incursions than many of the other children from the village. They frequently taunted him because of his rotund size, squared haircut, and disproportionately skinny legs. His mouth was too large for his face, they would tease, as it always creased with a wide grin reflecting his facetiousness. He would shrivel up his big nose into a grimace, squinting his large, brown eyes as he taunted his tormentors in kind. Over time, he had discovered it was easier to cope with the bullies by becoming the instigator instead, which didn’t stop him from portraying the role of being the victim when it suited him.

Donadeir had always felt safe with her. Talia’s father was a former vanguard knight for the Order of the Fates Divined, and so, her father taught her how to handle herself well with a sword. Although the children in the village didn’t actually use swords, Talia had taught them a lesson more than once using her staff to even the odds in Donadeir’s favor, even if he had what was coming to him.

By the way the Blood King’s guards rounded up the boys but left the girls to flee, it was easy to see where their main focus was. Most of the families in Riverside were quite poor, unlike his family, so many of the girls looked more like boys than even some of the boys did. Talia was no girl though. She was definitely a woman of splendid beauty, powerful strength, and remarkable resilience.

Donadeir’s body was weak. He panted in shallow breaths as his feet shuffled over the uneven dirt trail. His knee and his leg hurt and Talia was unrelenting in leading the way, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He tried not to focus on his pain and exhaustion, instead his mind shifted toward other things. During the springs and summers when they were children, Talia and Donadeir would play in these brush thickets, building private places where they could play together. Oftentimes, she was the fierce warrior protecting their home, and he would pretend to cook her meals and care for her after her crusades to defend the kingdom from heretics.

They would laugh and play for weeks on end, just the two of them together. She was the only one who ever wanted to play with him. Her mother had been ill a lot, and her father was always away. His parents didn’t mind the two of them spending so much time together, because when they were out playing, Donadeir wouldn’t eat all the baked goods his parents had prepared for travelers.

The last summer they spent together was five years ago. It was just after her mother had passed away and her father had come home to care for her. That was the summer they built the fort at the edge of the Berring Forest.

“That’s it,” Donadeir said aloud, breaking the silence. “It would be the perfect place for us to hide.”

“Quiet, Dona!” Talia scolded him in a harsh whisper. “What are you on about? What place?”

Donadeir had not realized he had spoken so loudly. He had to remember to keep his voice low, even if they were a safe distance from the village.

With excitement dancing in his eyes, “We are not far from Dragon’s Causeway!”

Talia stopped abruptly and turned to face him. It wasn’t very often he saw confusion on her face, but it was obvious she didn’t understand what he was talking about or why he seemed so excited.

“Don’t you remember? We would battle dragons on the Causeway where we defended Fort Triumph. It was the place we built the summer before, um, before…” Donadeir allowed his sentence to trail off. He still felt so much disdain for that time in their lives when they had stopped being so close. Talia mourned her mother’s death, and that was the summer when things had changed. That was the summer when Talia had changed.

“I can’t believe I forgot about the Causeway,” Talia said, speaking to herself aloud. “That’s where we built the fort and started on the castle when we played together out here. We know all of the hiding spots, and if remnants of the fort are still there, we may be able to find shelter.”

The excitement left Donadier’s eyes, replaced by a quiet and subdued fear. His once brilliant idea now seemed more like a suicide mission. “But it is very close to the forest,” Donadeir said with a little protest in his voice. “The village hasn’t had any patrols go through the area since the hunt just before winter set in. No one has been there in a while, and I heard my father mention several wild animals have come very close to the village because of the harsh winter we had last season.”

“That may be true,” Talia replied, “but it also means if any of the Blood King’s guards were to come this way, they would have to contend with what we have to contend with. We’ve handled ourselves before out there, and we were much younger back then. We know how to protect ourselves now. All the advantages there belong to us.”

Donadier trusted Talia. He was grateful she had gone out of her way to save him, instead of running right past him as so many others had done when the soldiers attacked. He was relieved she felt so confident about going to a place which carried so many fond memories for him. He had often thought of asking her if she wanted to go for a walk to see the old play area again, but he knew she was always busy learning everything she could from her father.

After Talia’s mother passed, Donadeir recalled, the bond with her father held fast. She grew up faster than anyone else in the village, so many people had respect for her. If only the others in the village had respected him in the same way. Donadeir realized he and Talia were two different people now, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t look out for one another.

Yes, he understood this was a difficult situation and many lives were probably lost. Perhaps he shouldn’t be so happy about this opportunity to spend alone time with Talia. Donadeir wasn’t one who liked to share. He may have felt uncomfortable, but he hadn’t felt this alive in such a very long time. If they did manage to find some half-dead survivors, they would sour his opportunity to get close to Talia once again.

Talia always put others ahead of herself. He didn’t like to think she would put others before him, so he would have to remind her without her help he wouldn’t have survived. There was no way he could handle one of the guards the way she had done. He could barely handle someone as inexperienced in battle as he was. Perhaps she could even teach him how to fight as well as she did, and maybe someday, he could be her protector, as it was meant to be.

“So when we get there, we will see if we can make something that will allow us to hide and be safe. And we are going to need to find something to eat as well. I’m sorry, I’m so hungry. When I get upset, I need to eat,” Donadeir said.

“We will have to secure the area first and find water. Once we do, we can focus on gathering some food,” Talia replied.

“Couldn’t we also scout the village tomorrow?” Donadeir asked. “Perhaps the soldiers will leave tonight to seek what they are looking for.”

“We cannot risk returning to the village. If the soldiers were told to leave no stone unturned, the village would be a good point to establish a base camp so they can be thorough,” Talia responded. “Besides, from what I overheard, several people say when we got attacked, the guards were seeking the Blood King’s heir. If that is true, then Draenar, our liege, has died. The guards must be capturing all the boys of divining age to read their fates.

“But if there is food there,” Donadeir pleaded.

“It’s too risky. Most of the rations the village had are already burned up in the fires,” Talia retorted. “There is too much risk for too little reward. It will be safer to secure a new location ourselves. From there, we can gather and hunt. And if push comes to shove, if there are any predators about, they will become the prey.”

Begrudgingly, Donadeir conceded to her wisdom. “Fine, but we can’t go without for very long. We have to keep our strength up if we expect to make it through all of this.”

“Agreed,” Talia solemnly replied.

“So how can the king’s guards do the divining ceremony on the kids they capture,” Donadeir asked to get his mind away from the fact he felt hungry already. “The Blood King proclaimed he wanted to destroy the Order. They are not gonna help his men find the Blood King’s heir.”

“The Blood King’s council, the Cult of Draenar, have their own way of practicing divination using blood magic and necromancy,” Talia replied. “If they seek the heir, then they must be making a power play to overthrow the Order. My father once said the reason some major divinations by the Order are made public, like the prophecy regarding the heir of the Blood King, were for political reasons. It always boils down to power and politics, Dona.”

Donadier was feeling overwhelmed and nauseous. Looking down at his feet, he began to think about the uneaten meat pie his mother had left on the table before they had gone to bed. She had always left out late night snacks for him to eat if he awoke in the night.

“I’m hungry, Talia,” Donadeir said.

Donadeir came to a sudden halt as he ran right into Talia. She had stopped and turned to look at him with a look of complete disbelief. What could he say? He really felt hungry.

***

Talia lead them to a clearing where she strayed off the trails and began to cut directly north. Although it had been years since they had played here, she and her father had hunted wild elk near the Berring Forest tree line. They had also searched for rabbit and other small game in the thickets so Talia would have plenty to eat until her father returned from his mission in the Midsummer.

Although she wasn’t accustomed to traversing it at night, Talia was familiar with the area. It didn’t stop her from having to consider Donadeir’s size when choosing a way through some of the thicker brush. He simply couldn’t squeeze through areas she could easily walk through.

Just before the sun began to break over the eastern horizon, Talia and Donadeir arrived at their childhood play area near the Berring Forest. She felt a bit saddened Fort Triumph wasn’t as large as she had fondly remembered it to be. Donadeir seemed to be thinking the same thing when she tried to read his reaction. A few rotted logs remained where the jewel of their childhood kingdom had once stood.

Even though the fort was in ruins, coming here was still a good call, because Talia remembered there was a stream nearby, which could provide them with fresh water, and there may be some wild winter berries growing a little deeper into the forest. The low-lying area just before the forest began would easily give them enough time for a heads up if soldiers were to approach. She thought it was interesting even in her naivety before learning more about war and survival from her father, she had picked a good location for her fort. From here they could remain inconspicuous and undetected while having a clear line of sight in every direction.

“Let’s get some rest, and we will take advantage of the last hours of the day to gather what we need,” Talia said.

“Blessings to the Heavens,” Donadeir replied with gratitude, still trying to catch his breath. “I was starting to think you would be the death of me. I’m just glad we are finally stopping.”

Talia watched as Donadeir sat down against some of the old remnants of the fort and leaned against one of the few logs large and strong enough to hold him upright. He leaned his head back and sighed with relief.

“Later, after we rest, we will go for water and find some food to keep our strength up. After that, our heads should be clear enough for us to get a better grasp of the situation. If there are any other survivors, we should do our utmost to locate them as well. They may need our help,” Talia thought aloud.

“Very well,” Donadeir replied, but with very little enthusiasm.

Talia raised her eyes to look at Donadeir, “Dona,” she said.

A snore erupted from the exhausted Donadeir. Talia smiled to herself as she watched her friend. She knew the night had been difficult for him, but the truth was, he hadn’t really complained much about their situation at all. He had offered his full support to her and she knew he would stay with her no matter how difficult things might get. Donadeir was much stronger than he gave himself credit for.

Talia also admired how quickly he was able to drift into sleep. Her nerves were still wound up, and it was going to take a little while to get the rest she needed. Perhaps it was for the best. This would allow her to keep an eye on things for a little while. Chances were if a guard patrol were to come this way, it would be shortly after sunrise. The guards could follow the riverbank north until they neared the forest’s edge and then work their way across.

She worried about some of her other friends from the village and the people she knew. She prayed to the Fates those whose destinies were true had found peace without suffering. Talia closed her eyes and tried to see all of the faces of the people of Riverside she could remember. She quietly prayed for each, while her ears remained alert for danger. Fortunately for her, the only sound she heard the remainder of the night was Donadeir’s soft snores.

 

[] Chapter Four: Reflections to Ponder

Donadeir awoke to see Talia using her sword to sharpen the end of a stick into a makeshift spear, with another completed one resting beside her. He enjoyed observing the determination on her face as she worked the end to a fine point. He knew she intended not only to use these spears for defense if needed, but also to hunt small game. The way his stomach felt, he could eat an entire bear. Donadeir had never gone a day in his life having to go without. His family had always kept reserves, and people were always willing to trade what they had for what his family sold. Not only did they deal with baked goods, they also carried strong mead, cheese, and on some occasions, wines from all over the kingdoms.

It was important for Donadeir to follow Talia’s lead. If she wanted him to come with her to help, he needed to show her he was confident in her ability to take care of them both. He knew she most likely would not want him to go if she planned to hunt. A young man with his girth is not very subtle or quiet. Animals would hear him for miles, he amusingly thought to himself. Donadeir understood he was larger than most, but he wasn’t ashamed of it. He was proud to show how well to do his family was, and that often times meant appearing to have an abundance for every want and need. His main concern was he didn’t want to appear completely feeble around Talia. Yes, he had a very round stature, but it was important for Talia to know, unskilled as he may be, he could be trusted to carry his fair share of the work.

“Good, you are awake.” Talia glanced at him. “We only have a few hours of light left, so it is important I go out and get what I can. I checked the stream to the east, and some water flows there now, so after I head out to find us something to eat, you should go to the stream and drink as much as you can. It isn’t far away, but we don’t want to risk returning to the stream too often. Guards may be watching for that kind of thing.”

“Sounds good,” Donadeir replied. He knew Talia would have a sound plan, and he was confident she had already scouted about for danger. “Until you get back, I’ll see what I can gather here to gain us some cover. A few broken branches and leaves are better than nothing.”

“True,” Talia responded. “Try to be back here before we lose the remainder of the light. Any sign of danger, you should come back here immediately. It may be a bit risky for us, but we might try to get a small fire going before we lose the light so if I find anything to cook, we can take care of it before night falls. There’s still enough smoke in the air our fire should go relatively undetected.”

Donadeir hadn’t realized what he thought was mist and cobwebs in front of his eyes, was smoke from last night’s fire. Everything seemed so surreal—as if it had happened to someone else in his dreams. His stomach ached to remind him of his reality and suspension of his disbelief went out the window.

Talia finished the spear she had been working on and blew the few remaining shavings off the point before testing its sharpness with her finger. Carefully, she swung the spear around, testing its weight and balance before handing it to Donadeir. She reached down to retrieve the other spear she had made for herself, and then she placed her staff securely along one of the logs from the fort, pulling some debris over it to conceal it.

“Don’t linger long at the river,” Talia said. “Get your fill of water and return as quickly as you can. I will bring us something to eat. Any sign of trouble, you get back here immediately.” She told him again. “Use the spear only if you are cornered. I won’t be far away,” Talia nodded to confirm her order to Donadeir, and then she made her way into the Berring Forest.

Donadeir remembered the small stream in the east. Sometimes he would practice throwing rocks to hit the darter fish which were quick as lightning under its calm surface, although he never actually managed to hit one. It crossed his mind briefly perhaps he could try to use the spear to skewer one of the fast little fish to eat, but then he realized he would need to skewer several dozen just to feed himself because they were so small. The best thing to do would simply be to let Talia take care of the food, and he would drink and scout for any signs of trouble to and from the stream along the way.

As he used the log he passed out on the night before as a prop to help him stand, the small gash to the side of his knee from his first fall last night began to ache. The wound made his muscles feel tight with a burning sensation. Carefully he raised his robes up to check, and although it was bruised and there was dried blood, it appeared to be something that would heal eventually. He imagined it would also be a good thing to clean out the wound as best as he could to stave off infection. He had seen people who came into the village with untreated wounds, some of which caused high fevers or even death. Donadeir knew blood was precious, so it was the key to longevity, and with his renewed bond with Talia, he had every reason to remain here and be careful to protect this connection by any means necessary, both large and small.

The stream was one of the small run offs from the mountains. After it passed through the eastern brush on the outskirts of Riverside, it would spill into the river in the south. The area was primarily only known to the locals. Only a few horse trails crossed through the thickets and into the stream, and there wasn’t even a bridge across it—most eastern travelers just waded through.

In spite of his knee, Donadeir had made it to the banks of the stream in just under an hour. He used the spear to shift some of his weight from his injured leg. Melting snow was just beginning to fill the stream, and the current was a lazy drift of water. It gently filled small pools and flowed over into more pools further down the stream. Standing at the bank of the water, Donadeir felt exposed in the open area with very little brush to conceal where he was.

As he stooped down, his knee groaned against him, so he allowed himself to settle into a sitting position with his injured leg outstretched to relieve the pressure. He leaned against both of his arms, letting his spear settle beside him. After a deep drink of water, it took him a few minutes to get the boot off his foot. Donadeir sat upright, pulled up his robes, and placed his bare legs into the river.

As he massaged the injured area on his knee, he felt his hands warm up against his leg. He tried not to look at the injury too closely, but he wanted to make sure he cleaned all of the dried blood away and there was no dirt in it. He pulled his leg out and realized the gash he had felt was really more like a scrape and the blood had clotted to form a clean scab. Donadeir could have sworn the wound had been much deeper. Perhaps his hunger exasperated the problem within his mind. The cool, fresh water took a good deal of the stiffness and pain away from his leg and he easily stood upon it, no longer needing to use the spear to offset his weight. He was grateful the injury wasn’t as severe as he had feared it might have been.

Donadeir retrieved his spear and made his way back to the fort with the anticipation of seeing Talia once more rolling through his mind.

***

Talia was making her way back to the fort, hoping Dona would be there and all was clear when she returned. After a few missed attempts, she had managed to spear a rabbit. She had also managed to find plenty of nuts and some wild berries, so they would have plenty to eat this evening. After some rest, they could come up with a good plan and possibly be able to look for any villagers who may have escaped as they had.

Talia had not reached the divining age, when the Order required everyone to be presented so their paths could be documented. The information gathered isn’t shared with the subjects, but it allows the Order to prepare for pivotal future events. As the situations are documented, the Order forwards plans and prepares to eliminate unnecessary cruelty and meaningless destruction. Although no man or woman could escape their fate with destiny, many commoners with no calling upon them were able to avoid inescapable brutality, since it wasn’t required to fulfill their destiny at any specific time or event.

Talia believed she was ready to be divined as soon as possible, nevertheless, her father encouraged her to wait until his return. At summer’s end, he could present her to the Order for an early evaluation for enlistment. At the same time, she would also fulfill a Trial of Patience, a prerequisite to join the Order. Usually a Trial would require a greater level of difficulty, but her father had assured her holding until summer’s end would fulfill the condition based on what the Order had disclosed to him regarding his own divining. As an important figure, some crucial information regarding a member’s destiny may be given to them if it relates to their duties or family.

Things would have been so different if her father had been here. His connections within the Order would have allowed him to get a heads up on what was to come, and he could have prepared the village. He might have even avoided most of the unwanted bloodshed. No one had expected the Blood King to have passed at this time, with the exception of the Seering Council, the utmost inner circle of the Order. She was frustrated the Order sat idly by and did nothing. When she finally joined the Order, she wanted to pursue peacekeeping, not politics.

According to her father, Gregethor, the Blood King, Draenar, was once a member of the Seering Council more than seven hundred years ago. The Prime Seer of that time had cast him out and labeled him as a heretic. Her father also told her Draenar believed only the chosen few were destined for great things and all other prophesy was make-believe to control the masses by fear. In retaliation, the prophecy of the “Heir of the Blood King” was made public.

No one knew who the Blood King was at the time. Draenar returned to his home in the bountiful plains of Ruiderien where his older brother, Rastan, sat on the kingdom’s throne. The reign of his brother was cruel, where his subjects were forced into servitude. Gregethor recounted the rumors from the Seering Council archives which stated Draenar had brought shame to his brother and was then banished from his home kingdom.

More than twenty years passed before Draenar returned to his ancestral home, but he did not return alone. for he brought an army with him. As Rastan’s overwhelming forces were brought down, Draenar used a long-lost artifact to resurrected the fallen dead, turning them against his brother as well.

Draenar also called lighting and fire from the skies, laying ruin upon the lands surrounding Ruiderian as his undead army marched on Rastan’s stronghold. After slaying his elder brother, the people labeled him the “Blood King” for the parricide of his sibling, as well as the necromancy he used to summon his undead army.

The scorched keep dwelling in the sunless skies of the smoldering lands became known as Cindermoor, the kingdom of the Blood King, which rested only a five-day march south from Riverside. Her father said the magical fires from the great battle still burned in the deep marshes. The moors were also inhabited by otherworldly denizens, which were held by the dark curses Draenar cast against his treacherous brother.

Once Draenar discovered he was the ruler prophesied by the Seering Council, the Blood King set out to thwart their political agenda by delving deeper into the dark arts of necromancy, and attempting to unlock the secrets of life, death, and rebirth. He began by studying the ancient device he had unearthed to defeat his brother’s armies. As his knowledge progressed, he studied how the same resurrection magic which could bring back the dead could also be used to heal the living. During his experimentations, people from across the Eleven Kingdoms came to him for a touch of his warm healing hands. If he could find a way to never die, the prophecy of the Order would never be fulfilled, thus discrediting his adversaries.

Draenar formed a council of his own who were devoted to the studies of necromancy. They became more commonly known as the Cult of Draenar for their mindless devotion to their leader. The Cult also tended to the daily operations of Cindermoor and the lands under their control. Their spy network was considered to be vast. Gregethor had been sent often to solicit treatises with Draenar’s acolytes on behalf of the Order while the Blood King remained locked inside his laboratory, deep below the keep’s surface. She prayed to the Fates her father was there in Cindermoor now, pleading for mercy for the survivors of Riverside.

In the west, the sun was rapidly moving toward the safety of the horizon, and the last fleeting moments of daylight defiantly danced away to paint the clouds brilliant shades of pink and orange. Talia needed to return to the fort so they could cook the rabbit, and then extinguish the fire quickly. A campfire would leave them visible for miles in the twilight hour, but it was a necessary risk if they wanted to eat the rabbit.

As she broke into the small clearing at the edge of the forest, a ridge of deep brown dirt partially blocked her view of the fort. Just over the earthen ridge, she could see Donadeir’s head bobbing and weaving. An initial moment of panic overwhelmed her, and her first thought was he must be engaged against an enemy. She held herself back a moment to observe what she could, instead of blindly rushing forward. After a few moments, she realized Dona’s movements were routine and regular, indicating to her there was no immediate threat.

Talia slowly made her way forward where she could observe whatever it was Dona was doing. Upon her approach, she was pleasantly surprised to see he had taken up his spear in his hands as if it were a staff and was using it to engage a small tree nearby. He was practicing striking the tree high and low, becoming familiar with how to move while wielding the weapon. In several instances, he began to follow through using the spear as a pike to strike his target, varying his technique, perhaps most of it mimicking some of the moves she herself had made in the past while training with her father. Donadeir would often times stop and silently watch her when she trained and then go on about his business.

It felt good to be here with her old friend instead of battling all of this alone. She was quite surprised in spite of all of Donadeir’s decadence, he came across as determined and optimistic about their current predicament. Most others, who were spoiled in the way Donadeir was, would have already become a nuisance, complaining about being uncomfortable or outright expecting preferential treatment. Donadeir had accepted her lead and had done what he could in order to keep them united. She couldn’t ask for more. Talia also noticed he was no longer favoring his injured leg. This meant they might not have to stay put for as long as she expected. She once again was grateful she wasn’t alone. Dona needed her, and that felt good. She would keep them both safe.

When Talia stepped into Donadeir’s view, she watched as he immediately stopped and a large smile covered his face, making him look like a buffoon. She could see he was not only pleased to see her again, but his eyes widened when he noticed the rabbit she carried with her they could eat. She was relieved to know he was safe and in good spirit.

“I was hoping you would hunt something down for us to cook, so I was prepared,” Donadeir said as he pointed to a small stack of firewood he had collected. He had dug a small hole using the ends of some of the sticks to conceal any fire they needed to start. “I would have started the fire, but I didn’t have any flint or steel.”

“Oh, I have some in my pouch,” Talia replied. “Being prepared with the basics is always what Father taught me.” She retrieved the flint and steel from her side pouch and handed them over to Donadeir, who began working to start the fire. She removed her other carrying pouch and dumped the contents of nuts and berries into a small pile nearby. She then sat down and began using the end of the sword to cut away at the rabbit to prepare it for the fire.

Darkness began to descend upon them quickly, as they waited for the rabbit to finish cooking over the fire pit. Talia curiously watched Donadeir, who skewered it on a couple of the sticks he had gathered, rotating it every so often. Sitting next to her, he would absentmindedly reach for some of the nuts and berries, careful not to eat too many so she had plenty to eat too. If she had been anyone else in the kingdom, he would have probably wolfed down as much of it as he could before anyone else could take it away. This was good though, because she could tell Dona was trying to be less selfish. She began to see he was becoming the good person she had known once as her childhood friend.

While sharing the rabbit, Talia saw Donadeir tried to be sure she had more. She was, after all, the one who caught it. She, however, was more concerned about Donadeir fully recovering and kept pushing what she didn’t eat back to him. She could tell he was hungry because he had eaten most of the berries and nuts, despite the fact it was obvious he was trying to portion himself. The rest, fresh food, and water worked as intended, and they were able to clear their heads enough to come up with a plan. She thought of heading back to the stream to drink again but decided against it for now. There was no need to draw the unnecessary attention from any predators that may be lurking about.

The fire pit they had built was rather small, so it was easy to cover up and extinguish the fire. Both Talia and Donadeir sat quietly in the dark as they watched the moon rise out of the east. The air was cool and crisp, so they moved in closer against the logs of their old play place, blocking the light wind, which began to blow and clear what little smoke still lingered about from the fires of the village.

“Thank you,” Donadeir said matter of factly.

“For what?” Talia inquired.

“Without you, I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t be fed, and I’d be lost,” Donadeir responded.

“You are here because it is what Fate has divined for you, Dona,” Talia retorted. “I’m grateful, my friend, the Fates found me worthy to be a part of your destiny, and I’m glad I do not have to face this alone.”

“So what is the plan?” Donadeir inquired.

“Tonight, we rest. You are getting around better tonight than you were before, so food and rest is important. On our journey ahead, we might not get a break like this. In the morning, we will head down to the stream and clean up. I can also show you where I found the nuts and berries so you can get us a supply.”

Donadeir nodded in reply to her suggestions.

Talia continued, “While you are gathering, I’ll make my way carefully back to the village to see where it stands. We need to know if the Blood King’s guards have established an operations camp there, or if they have moved on. If possible, I’ll try to see if I can gather us some supplies. At the very least, I hope I can find a couple of sacks so we can carry any provisions we manage to scavenge. A knife and some basic tools would also be good. If we are lucky, we may even be able to scavenge up some gutstring from the tanner’s shop. He used the water well tree as a place to dry them. With those, I can fashion us a bow to make hunting easier.”

“If you find some sacks,” Donadeir interjected, “look at my family’s place. Even with the fires, some of the smaller pots should have survived. We throw the caster iron into fire pits for seasonal cleaning, so a house fire shouldn’t have destroyed them.”

Talia observed the sudden change in Donadeir’s face as he thought about his family.

“When everything began in the village, my parents had already settled in bed for the night. I had stepped out, curious to see what was happening, but they didn’t follow,” Donadeir continued. “I remember we passed back by the shop when we were trying to escape.”

Talia saw Donadeir’s pain consuming him. He may be self-absorbed most of the time, but she knew he always rushed to his parents for coddling whenever there was any kind of trouble. In a way, the connection he had with his parents was one of the reasons she had kept her distance from him when she wasn’t with her father. As much as Donadeir bragged about what his mother was always doing for him, it made her heart ache when she thought of the loss of her own mother. Donadeir had no family anymore, and she still had her father. Life without her father seemed unfathomable and meaningless. Her heart ached for her dear friend. She placed her arm upon his shoulder and rubbed Dona’s head. Talia worried when he didn’t seem to notice.

She felt Donadeir as he pulled away from her. Talia knew he felt embarrassed as he rushed to wipe the tears from his eyes which had begun to form and fall down his cheek.

“So get the pots if you can and any utensils you find,” Donadeir sighed and inhaled deeply as he tried to snap out of the thoughts about his parents. “I can take a meal like the rabbit we ate and stretch it further with potatoes, carrots, and the like. Plus, we can use the pots to bring water back here from the stream.”

“That’s a good idea, Dona,” Talia replied in soft tone. She could see he was trying hard to hide his solemn disposition. She knew he was not thinking about the business at hand as he tried to avoid his grief.

Donadeir continued, “But I think we need a bigger plan. Although I like it here, we can’t stay for very long. We have no shelter, and if someone connected to the Blood King comes through, we could be in grave danger.”

“Well,” Talia followed up, “when we have sufficient supplies ready, we can head to Corronest where my father is stationed with the Order. They should offer us sanctuary and shelter, even if he has been deployed to Cindermore or elsewhere.”

“Do you remember when I was away, last summer’s end?” Donadeir expression returned to a smile at the mention of Corronest. “My family and I spent three weeks in Corronest visiting my father’s family.”

“Yes, I do remember you being away, Dona,” Talia answered.

“There were so many amazing sights to see. Musicians and artists from all over the Eleven Kingdoms,” Donadier reminisced. “And the food, Talia, oh god, the food. I can’t wait to show you around so you can taste all of the exotic foods there. I could live in Corronest forever, that’s what I’m trying to say.”

“Let’s get some rest, tomorrow is going to be a big day,” Talia laughed. “Sounds to me like you found something pleasant to dream about.”

“You have no idea the treats in store for you, Talia,” Donadeir smiled.

Unlike the night before, Donadeir didn’t fall asleep right away as Talia had expected. She watched over him as he tossed and turned trying to settle, Talia could only imagine how difficult it must be for him to wrestle with losing his whole family in one night. She missed her father so much. He would know how to comfort Dona. Talia watched over her friend, praying his dreams would give him more time with those he had lost.

 

[] Chapter Five: A Day of Renewed Hope

Talia awoke Donadeir shortly before daybreak, and they traveled to the stream together to drink and splash their faces. She then led him to where she had discovered the wild berries, and left him to gather them while she returned to the village to scavenge for supplies. Donadeir remained quiet, yet cooperative during their walk.

She was relieved to see a good night’s rest had lifted his spirits. She had been concerned about leaving him alone to forage for food while she checked out the village. However, after she showed him the area she had discovered, he went right to work, putting her mind at ease.

As Talia came closer to the village, the overwhelming stench of burnt hair and flesh permeated the air. She moved carefully through the brush, drifting slightly away from the path to conceal her approach. Talia moved to the best vantage point she knew in order to take in the whole village and was aghast at what her eyes beheld. The entire existence of her home and of her people had been wiped from the face of the Earth.

Her home, the community she had known her entire life, lay before her and there was nothing left of it. Blackened, smoldering ruins stood in place of the once humble structures. The Blood King’s guards had callously stacked the corpses of the villagers in the center of the village for one giant funeral pyre.

Talia surveyed the destruction and her heart became heavy. None of the guards remained behind. They were moving on to other settlements and homesteads, she believed, seeking the heir. A few faces of people from the outer lands could be seen wandering through the village streets, scavenging what little remained of the village’s valuables. Several had already begun gathering debris and piling it near the center of the main market square. A couple of smaller river rafts were tied to a few of the remaining docking posts along the river’s edge, as the docks themselves had been ravished by the fires. Talia carefully made her way to the pile of the debris, keeping her head lowered to avoid drawing unwanted attention. Even though there were no guards nearby she could see, if any young people were seen about, it could easily draw the guards back to the area once again. It seemed safe for the moment, but it would be best not to risk anything.

Talia arrived at a pile of debris and picked up a wad of tattered cloth which was once a small blanket. She carefully unfolded it and shook out what dirt and debris she could. As she placed the cloth over her head, she positioned it so it would partially conceal her face and then she wrapped it around her like a head scarf. She managed to find a couple of dull, worn utensils and a kitchen knife. She also found a small leather tote sack with a hole in the bottom. She could easily repair it with some leather stripping to carry any supplies they needed. Talia didn’t find any of the pots Donadeir had mentioned. What was left behind in the burnt out bakery had already been removed. She did manage to find a partially broken pottery bowl which could be used to hold and carry water. She tucked the bowl into her leather tote sack.

She made her way to the water well, and a putrid stench arose from within and brought tears to Talia’s eyes. Upon further examination, she discovered some of her fellow villagers had tried to hide inside but quickly fell under the arrows from guards up above. Turning away from the ghastly sight, she moved on to her mission.

She did manage to find two gutstrings lying in the dirt below the tree nearby. When she moved to the tanner’s burnt home, there were no hides on any of the broken racks and the tanner’s salt house had also been destroyed by the fires. She realized at this point it was too late to find much of anything else and slipped quietly back into the northern brush.

The images of her fellow villagers in the well continued to haunt her thoughts as she made her way back to Donadeir.

***

Donadeir managed to carry several days worth of winter berries and nuts back to the fort. He also managed to gather a few jongar roots, some edible mushrooms, four wild potatoes, and several other plants they could use to stretch their rations. After having spent so many hours helping his mother gather fresh herbs and vegetables for the food prepared in his parents’ shop front, Donadier felt very confident completing the tasks Talia had given him the night before.

The only encounter that had taken Donadeir by surprise was an angry, old opossum he disturbed while it slept within a hollowed tree. He hoped to come across the path of the angry opossum again, since it had gotten away from him during their first encounter. The pesky beast managed to catch him off guard, and his initial reaction had been to run away, dropping his spear as he tried to sprint to safety. If he came across it once more, Donadeir hoped he could make Talia proud by serving it up for tonight’s supper.

Several squirrels had easily managed to evade Donadeir’s feeble attempts to spear them. Luckily for the squirrels, they were in no immediate danger, as Donadeir’s aim was far from being true. He may have been a threat to a squirrel the size of an ox, but that would still have proven to be a very big maybe.

Donadeir’s spirits were high. Today, they were gonna make progress. After surviving fourteen uneventful winters, this was his first true test. Gathering the food had caused memories of his family to drift through his mind. As he had aged, he realized he was brighter than his parents were, and they had encouraged him to use his brain for survival. His wit was his greatest strength. Talia may be a winter his elder and she may have the physical prowess and skill to help them survive the wilds, but once they made their way to the city, she would rely highly upon his knowledge and abilities. Donadeir would have the unique opportunity to prove himself and improve areas that made him feel embarrassed. Together, Talia and he would be capable of achieving greatness against any challenge.

This was the true moment for a clean start, Donadeir thought to himself. Most of the village children and young men who strived to make his life difficult were now gone. He thought about Katterine, the beaver faced girl who would try to trip him when he went to retrieve water. She was probably dead. Thomar, Katterine’s younger brother who made squashing sounds with his mouth to mock the way Donadeir walked, was probably gone too. They were the ones who pushed Donadeir to be the one who mocked everyone before someone else had a chance to bully him ever again. All of it was pointless and petty.

As Donadeir pondered the misfortune and fates of those in the village, there was no relief, no remorse, nor did he harbor any feelings of gratification. Donadeir gave as good as he got, using his wit to undermine those who taunted him. He held no animosity toward them. These people were of no significance. Their lives were of no consequence to his. It was their fate to be dead. Donadeir’s fate was to be alive and with Talia, so he was pleased. His mother wouldn’t approve of such thinking. Yes, she had encouraged him to stand up to those who belittled him, advocating for his self-respect. She had also taught him life was precious and should be cherished.

Donadeir looked to the sky once more, taking note the sun was almost at its apex. Talia should be returning to camp soon. He needed to get things in order. Curiously, he wondered why everything seemed so quiet. No sounds of birds or squirrels scurrying through the nearby trees—just the sound of a gentle breeze, rustling through the grass.

***

After following the river north, in case she came across any of the villagers who had managed to get away, Talia finally arrived at the edge of the Berring Forest. From here, she could travel east along the forest’s edge until she arrived at the fort.

It wasn’t long before she came across a scene where a fight had recently occurred. There were two goblin corpses lying in a wide clearing with blood covering the ground. Goblins must have attacked one of the fleeing villagers, and either they had gotten away or were overpowered. If there were goblins in the area, then it was possible other Goblinkin races were nearby. Talia realized if the goblins were drawn out of the forest by the fires, the fort Donadeir and she had been using would be in grave danger of being discovered. She picked up her pace to get to Donadeir so they could find a safer place to camp before nightfall when the goblins would be most active.

The sun had just begun to descend from its apex when Talia finally made it within sight of their camp. Cautiously, she stopped to survey the area to the north and east in case something was amiss. She didn’t see Donadeir anywhere. Since she couldn’t see the broken logs of the fort from her vantage point, she prayed the oaf had fallen asleep again. As she passed up and over the earthen ridge outlining the camp, her heart froze in fear. All of the ground within their camp area had been trampled, and the spear she had made for Donadeir leaned against the log she had hoped he was sleeping beside.

She found a scattered pile of berries, nuts, and potatoes. There was also a large swathe of grass and shrubs leading north where it was evident something large had been drug along. Many elongated footprints, diminutive like children, were all around the area. Donadeir had been taken by the goblins. She surveyed the area, looking for any sign of blood, but there wasn’t any. Goblins have been known to save their prey for dinnertime, and Donadeir would make a fine feast for them indeed.

Stopping briefly, she removed her makeshift headscarf and unrolled it to collect as much of the food Donadeir gathered as she could manage. She then rolled it away into the scarf and placed it into her leather sack. Talia grabbed both of the spears she made and tucked their blunt ends into the small leather bag. Once she cinched it tight against their shafts, she used the protruding spears like a handle to toss the sack over her shoulder. As she looked at her staff and the sword she had recovered, she realized she would need to make a choice. The sword would prove more resourceful, so she grabbed it in hand and left her staff behind.

Talia made her way north, following alongside the trail left behind by her companion. She occasionally found herself having to weave left or right to find the trail again when it would become faint crossing rockier ground. The deeper she moved into the forest, the easier it was to distinguish the trail as it finally made its way onto a small animal path. The disturbed leaves along with what appeared to be drag marks made by the heel of a boot made it clear to her she was heading in the right direction. For goblins to drag a boy of Donadeir’s size and cover so much distance so quickly, there had to be ten or more enemies. Considering all of the tracks she saw, that was the most likely explanation.

Her heart stopped when she heard a loud scream in the distance ahead of her. Talia tried to convince herself it must be some kind of animal or bird. If it were Donadeir’s scream, so far away, she should be relieved he might still be alive. The goblins must be saving him to make a fresh dinner. It was clear to her there was no plan here. How could she even dare to hope to manage fighting the goblins off when the odds were ten to one or greater? She felt comfortable with her skill in single combat, but the odds were clearly not in her favor. What remained true to her was Fate’s resolve was unknown at this time, so she must try to save her friend regardless of how futile it may seem.

Talia continued travelling deeper and deeper into the Berring Forest. Feeling exposed, she veered off the path, but kept the trail within eyesight. She ducked low when she noticed three goblins, wandering southward down the path. Soon after, she began to hear chattering voices. She couldn’t make out their numbers as the forest floor gave way to a deepening valley. She considered the terrain leading north from here would lead to the mountains above, leaving her current surroundings uncertain and much less hospitable.

Even though danger lurked everywhere, it was more likely the goblin camp was nearby on the valley floor than on the exposed rock face of the mountains. Beyond what she could see, her knowledge of the terrain and her enemy was limited. She recalled the whispering memory of her father’s wisdom, reminding her to observe the battlefield. Crouching low, she moved quietly to scout the area, heading west along the valley ridge where she thought the goblin camp was stationed.

 

[] Chapter Six: Soaring Ambition

Adam turned and froze in place as cold steel fell to rest against his exposed neck. His eyes followed the glinting blade to the slender hand holding it by its hilt. Fiery-green eyes pierced right through him as he recognized the girl, Talia from his village. He knew of her father, Gregethor, the old knight of the Order who did business with Othelk.

“If I were your enemy, you would be dead now,” Talia said with a stern look on her face. “What are you doing here?”

Adam swallowed hard as Talia’s eyes studied his face. Her look of bewilderment and perplexity initiated a low grumble of laughter from his belly he quickly suppressed. Suddenly, it dawned on him he was an exposed idiot who had nearly stumbled right into Death’s hands. He knew he had no business being here, since he was no hero. Talia, who he had seen sparring with her father near the river on many occasions, would have to save him from this predicament as well.

“Please help me,” escaped Adam’s lips with a subtle shudder. “Someone is in danger. I heard a scream so I came to help.”

“Who else is with you,” Talia inquired.

“I-I’m here alone. I heard a scream and came to help,” Adam replied. “There are a lot of them, and I don’t know who they have, but it is someone from the village. There may be more of us down there, and I couldn’t just leave them there.”

“Yes, you already said you heard the scream,” Talia sighed. “What were you planning to do, charge in all by yourself?”

“I was trying to sneak around to see if there was a way I could get to them,” Adam said with embarrassment. He was still reeling from shock at how Talia had slipped up on him so quietly. Adam saw in her eyes she thought he was daft.

“You are lucky I recognized you and pulled back my strike,” Talia said matter of factly as she lowered her sword. “I’m grateful to see a familiar face.”

“I’m glad you pulled back,” Adam quickly said. Not to blindly wander into unknown territory alone was a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. “There’s a lot of goblins running around here.”

“By my count, there could be up to thirty goblins in or around this camp. Luckily for us, we are only facing goblins. There are no other Goblinkin about. They have a fire and spit in the center of their camp, and I only saw one hostage, the baker’s son, Donadeir, being held captive on the northern end.” Talia continued, “There are too many for us to fight our way through if we want to help. We need to find a way to sneak in if we are to do anything.”

That name was not one Adam was fond of hearing. On more than one occasion, Donadeir had gone out of his way to embarrass him in front of others, especially in front of any ladies or young women who had simply stopped to eat and rest. The way the rich baker’s son mocked him as he sneered and called him “River Rat” grated on his nerves. Yet still, as much as he resented Donadeir, he couldn’t sit by and watch him perish.

“I don’t know what I can do,” Adam stated flatly, “but if you have a plan, I want to help.”

“The problem is getting to Dona. My guess is they intend to feast when the moon rises. I’ve heard my father talk about the goblins and how they are mostly active at night because they have infravision allowing them to see in the dark.”

“So that means, we need to do something soon,” Adam deduced. He had no idea what infravision even meant.

“If he is still alive, that is. When I spotted him, they had him tied to post near a large tent. He wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t tell if he was breathing. They still had him bound, so they must have been worried he could get away.”

“We can try to sneak through the camp, “ Adam suggested. “If we did somehow manage to get to him, how could we get him out without being noticed? He’s much bigger than the both of us, and I doubt he could get around very quietly even if he really wanted to.”

“I’ve been assessing the situation to figure out a way around that problem,” Talia said. “I looked for a path I could use to force any pursuers into a funnel point, but the layout below was very wide and spacious. When I found him, I wasn’t able to scale down the face of the cliff to free him, and if I managed to, there was no way Donadeir could scale it back up even if I did set him free.”

“You seem like you know what you are doing, Talia. Do you think we can do it together?”

“First thing’s first,” Talia responded. “Let me show you where he is, and maybe we can come up with something together. At the very least, we need to be sure Dona doesn’t suffer at the hands of these disgusting creatures.”

Adam flinched at the thought. So many people from the village had died two nights ago, he wasn’t sure he could bear to watch someone he knew be brutalized; no matter how much Donadeir annoyed him.

“You’re right. Show me where Donadeir is, so I can get a better idea of what’s going on.” Adam said.

The valley floor stopped at the edge of a cliff face which loomed roughly forty feet above it. Adam followed Talia over to the edge so he could peer down at the valley below. The canopy of the larger trees above the ridgeline shaded the area, and there were many small campfires as well a much larger one in the center of the goblin camp. He felt his legs get weak as he looked down and saw so many goblins running around, fighting with one another, and singing loudly. The Goblinkin lifestyle was very chaotic and complicated. He was certain if there were one thing they could all agree on, it would have to be how much they enjoyed their feast. From what Talia had told him thus far, he had no doubt if they left Donadeir behind, these beasts would do horrible things to him.

“If we had some rope to get down there,” Talia explained to Adam, “I could scale down the cliff face and cut him free, but even then, Donadeir wouldn’t be able to get back up with me. We would have to find another way to escape the camp unnoticed.”

“The way they are all running about,” Adam observed, “There would be no way to know which way to go. The goblins are roaming about everywhere, and I don’t see a safe place to run to.”

“I thought the same thing,” Talia sighed and lowered her head.

“I think I can make it down without a rope,” Adam stated.

“How?” Talia looked up at him with a hint of confusion.

“Oh, that’s easy. Since I’ve been working the docks, I had to learn to keep my balance in any weather, good or bad, or risk falling into the river,” Adam explained with confidence. He did omit the fact he had fallen into the river more than once because he lost his balance. “And I’m strong enough in my hands to hold onto the thin rock edges. I can make it down, I think.”

Talia looked down once again to where the goblins held Dona hostage. “Yes, but getting to Donadeir is the easy part. If you could get to Dona, then you could at least cut him free, and if he was still alive, you can try to wake him up. You think you can, dock boy?” Talia asked.

“The name’s Adam. And yes, I can get to Donadeir.”

“I’m sorry, Adam. I never knew your real name,” Talia conceded with embarrassment. “I know Donadeir will be grateful for your assistance. You are very brave.”

“Honestly, I don’t like him too much,” Adam answered. “But I can’t sit back and watch him die.”

“Dona is very misunderstood,” Talia explained. “Yes, he can grate on your nerves, but he does it because he thinks if he bullies you, then you won’t have a chance to bully him. His father rarely spent any time with him, so he thinks he has something to prove—not only to himself, but to his father and everyone else as well. Even now, he’s trying to be a better person. The attack on Riverside seems to have given him a new perspective.”

“I didn’t know that about him,” Adam said. He felt bad for the way he felt about Donadeir. Adam had assumed he was a bully because he enjoyed it. “Do you have any ideas on what I should do once I get down there and wake him up?”

“I wonder if there’s enough rope tied around Donadeir you could throw up to me so I can get down to help you. We could work together to sneak Dona out safely.” Talia pondered aloud. “He won’t be able to get back up the cliff, but if we can get Donadeir on his feet, I have two spears we can use along with my sword if we have to fight. But if we are discovered, the chance of us being able to fight our way out is slim. Of course those odds are much better than what Donadeir faces if we chose to just do nothing at all.”

Adam peered back over to look at Donadeir. It looked like the goblins used two lengths of vine rope and danced opposite circles around him to fasten him securely to the pole. He remembered Othelk had scolded him on several occasions for losing and misplacing several spools of the very same rope. He was certain he properly secured the missing spools, but Othelk was convinced either the winds drove them into the river or late night travelers had stolen them. Adam scanned the area below and was not overly surprised to see four of the stolen spools lying near the larger tent. How proud would Othelk be to know the mystery had been solved?

“I have a plan,” Adam said with a smile on his face.

 

[] Chapter Seven: Free Fall

Adam made his way down the cliff’s face after night fell. He was careful to stay concealed within the dancing shadows cast by the campfires. The surface was not as sheer as Talia had initially described to him. It still would have been dangerous for anyone not sure footed to attempt to traverse the rock outcroppings. His goal was to make it halfway and then drop the rest of the way down and safely land and roll.

The goblins celebrated and drank their way into a stupor. Adam felt they had worked up their appetites for the last hour or so as the moon began to make its ascent up from the eastern horizon. This gave Talia time to make the preparations up on the ridgetop, out of harm’s way.

When a few pieces of rock broke away under Adam’s weight to skitter down the face of the cliff, he stopped and remained as still as possible. This plan would only work if he could move about without discovery. It would certainly mean his death, and Donadeir’s too, if he were to make any mistakes.

Halfway down, Adam was standing on a small outcropping roughly six inches wide. He placed his back against the wall and bent his knees until his hands touched the ledge. Turning slowly on his left hand, he allowed his right leg to slip over the edge of the outcropping, and in a quick motion, he turned his body to face the cliff, catching the ledge with his right hand as his left leg was also allowed to dangle freely. He then dropped his body slowly using his arms to hold him as he lowered himself until they were fully extended.

Instinctively, his feet reached for footing, but the cliff face darted inward from this point, with Adam’s body mostly dangling in mid-air. He looked down for the best place to land roughly twelve feet below him and released his hands. As his feet hit the ground, he threw his body forward and launched himself into a loose roll so his legs would not have to absorb the impact. He had timed his drop perfectly, just as another fight had broken out and the goblins selected their side and cheered. The noise the goblins were making had concealed the noise he had made upon landing.

Retrieving the dagger he had sharpened while Talia and he put together their plan, Adam picked three small rocks up from the ground. He waited for the noise to die down a bit and launched the three rocks in quick succession up to the ridge where Talia was waiting.

On his cue, Talia threw a spear to the ground, point first, so it landed upright with a sharp thud. On the blunt end of the spear, Talia affixed a small stick crossways, as they had previously discussed.

Adam retrieved the spear and moved to where the four spools laid upon their sides next to the large tent which most likely belonged to the goblin leader. Once he began to unwind the rope, he realized it was as he had suspected. It would require at least two spools worth of the vine rope for their plan to have any chance of success. He found the end of the rope on the next spool and securely tied the ends together before unwinding the second roll they would need. He was grateful for all those hours Othelk had stood over him teaching him how to tie various knots for rafting tasks.

He knew Talia waited patiently above on the ridge. This plan was very risky and Talia had no clear way to signal him if the goblins were to come upon them without taking the risk of giving herself away. Adam fastened one end of the rope onto the spear. He would need to step away from the edge of the cliff if he was going to be able to get the rope back up to her. He could only hope he would have enough strength, because Talia was convinced the rope would be too heavy for him to throw it back up to her. She would have preferred their plan had found a way for Adam to climb back up with the rope, but that would have meant he would have been exposed and vulnerable on the cliff face twice in a row. It was simply too much risk, without any guarantee he could scale back up again, even if he tried.

Stepping away from the cliff face unnerved Adam because he felt exposed and it would take a few minutes for Talia to finish her task once he got the rope to her. He was afraid he would be finished and the goblins would be upon him before he even got started, but this is what needed to be done. It was the only way that made sense in spite of the risk. Adam had a strong arm, and he knew he could throw the spear to Talia so she could use the rope’s end. The problem would be the thick limbs from the trees overhead. He had to be sure he didn’t hit any of the outstretched tree limbs. The end of the rope must reach Talia if this plan was going to work.

Realizing he didn’t have enough room, Adam’s heart sank. He could not step far enough out, still be able to remain hidden, and hit his target, all at the same time. He could step quickly into clear sight of the entire camp and then throw the spear, but he would need to be very fast about it. Adam held his breath and moved as swiftly as he could. Feeling exposed in plain sight, he threw the spear with all of his strength into the air. It sailed through the canopy of trees landing exactly where he intended, on the ridge of the cliff’s surface, where Talia awaited. Darting back into the safety of the shadows, he held his breath, waiting for the alarm to sound. None came. A few more seconds passed before he felt the signal, three sharp tugs on the rope. One, two, three. Talia had the rope and everything was going according to plan.

Adam made his way over to where Donadeir was, relieved to hear him still breathing. The way Donadeir was hunched over, indicated he was unconscious when they bound him here. He began to work at the ropes, being careful not to cut any of them until he was able to free Donadeir’s arms.

The chatter amongst the goblins started to lose some of its volume. A clear signal time was running out. Taking the other end of his rope, he secured it tightly to the the bindings between Donadeir’s shoulder blades. As he worked diligently, he noticed the chatter of several goblins coming from the open area outside of the large tent. Adam ensured he was well hidden behind Donadeir, sneaking a peak around his shoulder. He saw three goblins standing not very far away, one of which was actively licking his lips at the sight of dinner securely tied to the pole.

It wouldn’t be long now, Adam knew, and he was worried. His hands worked faster as sweat beaded on his brow. Talia needed time to finish her part of the plan and they were going to be cutting it close with the goblins ready to begin their feast. He slowly began pulling as much rope as he could toward his position next to Donadeir, trying to remove as much slack as possible until the rope felt taut. He jerked the vine rope once, the signal to ask Talia if she was ready. He felt two tugs in response, which was their code for “no”. Things were about to get heated and Adam’s plan didn’t cover any aspect for making more time. He would have to improvise if Talia wasn’t ready soon. The lump of fear in his throat felt like it was ready to choke him.

Adam looked back around Donadeir’s shoulder again. Panic gripped him within as the goblin who was licking his lips grabbed a stick and slowly began walking up to face Donadeir, dragging the stick behind him. Time was up. It was dinner time.

Anxiously, Adam looked around for a bigger weapon. He wouldn’t have much luck fighting off three goblins with one dagger. Even if one of them ran to get reinforcements, the other two would easily overrun him. What he would have given to have his club in hand because he had some luck with it before. Adam flinched as he heard a loud slap against Donadeir’s side. The goblin yelled at Donadeir incomprehensibly, and Adam thought that must be the way goblins say, “Wake up!”

Adam panicked as Donadeir began screaming at the top of his lungs for help. With Donadeir throwing his weight against his bindings, the pole he was tied to swayed slightly under its burden. The goblins cackled gleefully, and the one standing in front of Donadeir began to poke him in his belly.

Adam pulled the rope once more asking if Talia was ready. Quickly, he felt her respond with two more tugs to say no, but at this point, ready or not, they must take action soon.

Adam’s plan almost worked, and would have worked if they had only had a few more minutes. Desperately, he fought against his impulse to run away as well as the impulse to stand and do something. Donadeir’s screams had become shrieks, and Adam realized how dire the situation had become. He peered under one of Donadeir’s flailing arms to see what was happening. The way Donadeir was crying out, one would think he was being skewered over and over again, but the little ugly goblin standing before Donadeir continued to poke at him with the end of his blunt stick, smirking the entire time. So this is how goblins play with their food, Adam morbidly thought.

***

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Heir of the Blood King

No one can escape their destiny in a world controlled by the Fates. Ancient prophecies are the means by which the gods maintain order. Whether pauper or king, each life becomes a pawn in a dangerous game of control, where moving pieces determines the course of all living beings. The Blood King’s sudden death in the night triggers a foreboding prophecy of dark times, as it is foretold that his unknown Heir would awaken to the dark magic of his blood and enslave the Eleven Kingdoms. Soldiers bring destruction to the countryside seeking the Heir Of The Blood King. Adam escapes the fires of the peaceful village of Riverside in the night when the soldiers laid waste to his adopted home. With his fate uncertain, the unskilled orphan must fight for his freedom against dangerous enemies who give pursuit as he searches for the answers to his past. Adam is also faced with the challenges of survival against the untamed wilderness and its dark denizens as he tries to avoid a destiny he does not want. “The Heir Of The Blood King will rise, this has been divined.” - Ancient prophecy of the Seering Council. “Heir Of The Blood King” is the first installment of the ongoing, action-packed, Young Adult fantasy, survival series, Adventures of Adam.

  • Author: W.O. Cassity
  • Published: 2015-10-14 19:35:09
  • Words: 42761
Heir of the Blood King Heir of the Blood King