DiscoverEpic Fantasy

Roland's Path (Book I of the Heirs of Vanity Series)

By RJ Hanson

Synopsis

When two servants of evil escape during young Roland’s watch, he is driven by his own shame and vanity to take up his axes and track them down himself. Raised on the rural edges of Gallhallad, can he survive the dangers and complexity of the road ahead?With the help of his lifelong friend Eldryn, the Cavalier hopeful, and an uneasy bargain with a dagger wielding cutpurse, Roland pursues a wizard of unknown powers and a woman of uncommon beauty and skill.Will Roland’s vanity not only doom him, but a kingdom he hoped to one day serve as well?In Roland’s world of Stratvs, vanity has a high price. A price paid with the blood of the innocent and the guilty. Around him, swords once pledged to justice rust on the altars of the self-righteous.

Enemies Meet

IN ONE OF THE RICH FORESTS OUTSIDE OF FORDIR in the lord’s region of Gallhallad in the eastern parts of the Kingdom of Lethanor, rapid axe blows echoed through the crisp autumn air. It was Tetobier, literally meaning the tenth sword. It was the tenth month of the year 1648 of the Age of Restored Great Men Kings, the fifth age of known history.

              A large man wearing a battle worn breastplate, and battle worn face for that matter, rode to the edge of the wood. His hair, which had once been black as coal oil, now flurried in the breeze with tints of silver and gray. His eyes were the color of the bracing waters that washed ashore on the glaciers of Janis. Around them deep cracks ran through sun worn skin. Those eyes spoke of brutal days with little food and no sleep. They spoke of miles of marching, and days of battle. They spoke of sorrows known only by the soldier and the warrior and the brutal life they led. This was a man that had traveled.

              “Roland,” boomed from the man’s throat. “Roland, come here!”

              A young, but stoutly built and athletically muscled, man walked from the trees with a double-edged axe in each hand and a sheet of sweat cloaking him. He was bare to the waist despite the coolness of the morning. His coal oil black hair, wet with sweat, clung to his neck and forehead. Although decades younger, his father’s mark of family could be well read upon his face and in his bearing. Although lacking the evidence of years of toil, his eyes were also his father’s eyes.

              “Yes, father,” Roland replied. In spite of his heavy breathing he sought to reply with control and respect. 

It had never been ‘Dad,’ or ‘Pappa.’ Always it had been ‘Father.’

              “I will be riding out of town for a few days. There are a few men that have fled south that I must go after,” Velryk said as he shifted in his saddle.

              “What of your deputies?” Roland asked letting his curiosity jump ahead of his judgement. 

              “Did I raise a son that questions his father?” Velryk said.

              “No, father,” Roland said stepping back a bit and lowering his eyes.

              “These men are beyond my ‘deputies,’” Velryk continued. “All of our good warriors have gone to the front to seek their fortune. I came by to make sure you continue your exercises and your reading and to tell you to watch the jail.”

              “I have never shirked my exercises!” Roland replied as the muscles in his strong-boned jaw tightened. His eyes shot back up to meet his father’s. The thought that he would grow slovenly in the work of a warrior stung him to his core, and that his own father might think so! He had struggled since the time of his first steps and words to honor his father. He had striven all of his seventeen years to be worthy of Velryk’s tutelage. It seemed even in the midst of his attempts to impress he would be forever a disappointment.

              Anger washed through the deep and dangerous waters in the older man’s eyes. He felt the blood in his veins, blood said to be too strong for mortals, burn with a flash of rage. He rode his war-horse over calmly to face the boy. The gentle way he maneuvered his mount belied the storm in his heart. 

It seemed his son not only possessed his father’s high cheekbones and strong jaw, he also possessed his inborn pride and quick temper. A vanity, Velryk reflected, that had been deep in their blood and the downfall of a kingdom. A kingdom likely never to rise again. That vanity had been the end of an age.

              “Seven feet four inches tall and weighing over four hundred sixty stones. Strong as a bull you are.”

              Roland, misunderstanding Velryk’s air, smiled with a sense of accomplishment.

              “Curse your pride, boy!” Velryk barked down at him. “Anyone who spots you on the horizon can tell you are of the race from Lethor. They can calculate your size and your strength, although both be considerable. Listen to me! Open your ears!”

              “Yes sir,” Roland said, steeling his expression and fixing his faded gray-blue eyes forward. He locked his anger, and sometimes his shame, behind an oft used mask of emotionless flesh.

              “This is the weapon you should sharpen,” Velryk said as he leaned down from his saddle and struck Roland’s forehead with a stiff index, often called the king’s, finger. “Your mind will win you more victories than any axe or sword!”

              When he could hold in his pride no more Roland said, “but you have taught me so well, father. No one can match your skill with the bastard sword, the axe, or the bow and soon I will be as good with those as you yourself. Perhaps one day even better.”

              “No one around here can match me, but this is just a small corner of the world, son.” Velryk felt his own anger flood to a dull red storm raging behind his eyes. He would have to be better. He must be for his sake and for Roland’s. Velryk’s anger had cost him, cost him dearly. He did not intend to see his remaining son fall into that trap. A trap that nearly devoured their race. 

After a pause, and a look off to the beauty of the world that surrounded them, Velryk said, “an axe is only as good or bad as the man that wields it. I will expect you to have your reading done by the time I return.”

              “Yes sir,” Roland said. Sounding perhaps more resigned that he intended.

              “What is a warrior’s most valuable weapon?” Velryk asked.

              “His mind, sir,” resuming his formal tone.

              “And what is a warrior’s most trusted ally?”

              “His courage,” Roland answered.

              “See that you understand those concepts,” Velryk said. “Any fool can regurgitate what is fed to him.”

              “Yes sir.”

              Roland watched as his father turned his horse. Velryk’s steed cut through the frost on the early morning grass as he began his pursuit to the south.


              “‘Curse your pride, boy!’” The impression attempted of Velryk’s tone was off, but an impression Roland had heard many times. “Your father sounds like a priest of the old religions.”

              Roland turned and glared at his friend, Eldryn, standing in the trees a few yards away.

              “You probably couldn’t hear my approach over the grinding of your teeth,” Eldryn continued.

              “Curse my pride indeed! I am as strong as you, El, and I have a short sword’s reach on any man. I am a warrior, and he calls me ‘boy!’”

              “You are almost as strong as me,” Eldryn corrected, raising his finger to mark the point. 

Eldryn was another of the Great Man race. Although his stature was akin to the more common, reaching to only six feet three inches in height his strength was undeniable, even by Roland. He was Roland’s age with short cropped blonde hair and eyes of deep green. Eldryn’s core was that of an oak with a strong build, deep chest, and broad set of shoulders. 

“Well, warrior, are you ready for our sparing?”

              “Are you ready for me to beat you?” Roland replied.

              “You can talk like that once you’ve beaten me. How about a joust instead? Take up a lance and meet me on horseback and then make your brags,” Eldryn replied light heartedly. 

The boys trained for death. Trained to prevent their own and cause their enemies’. Eldryn, however, had always had a way of taking things in stride. He always seemed to let words and events wash over him and then away as the ocean’s waves would a huge stone on the shore. Roland would not likely admit it, but he always admired that about his friend.

              “You know I don’t fight mounted,” Roland said. “The horses around here…”

              “Yes,” Eldryn laughed, “your feet would drag the ground.”

              Both boys had trod the earth for seventeen years and looked their age. However, being of the race of Great Men, they would appear to be seventeen to twenty until well after their fortieth year. Velryk had never discussed his age with Roland, but by Roland’s estimation he was around one hundred and fifty years old. It was a topic often pondered by the son about his father.

              The two young men walked to their horses that had been staked in tall grass. Roland put on his padded shirt and his old iron breastplate. Eldryn was already wearing his armor. They each drew a six-foot long iron pole from their saddles. The poles were made to resemble the Great swords of old in weight and reach. Shrou-Hayn they were called in the old languages meaning Fate’s Hand or the Fate’s Decision. 

              The Great sword was designed so that its sheer weight and momentum could wound as well as its edge. It took uncommon strength just to lift one of the majestic blades, much more to wield one in combat. 

              Roland held his sparing weapon high above his left shoulder in a more unorthodox position. It sacrificed defense for a stronger attack. Eldryn held his squarely in front of him. The position was much more tactically sound which left him able to block or thrust easily. 

              Now Eldryn put his humor aside, and Roland his anger. Although only practice, both young men understood that the skills they were sharpening would someday decide whether or not they would walk from a battlefield or, be carried. Both boys were too young to truly remember and properly miss Ellidik, but both had experienced the hole that his death left in the lives of Shaylee, his wife, and Velryk, his brother in arms. 

              Roland tried his first cut. Eldryn was ready for the move because Roland never held anything back for defense. His first move was always whole heartedly offensive. Eldryn knew Roland held to the philosophy that if a man only defends then he accomplishes delay and exhaustion and little more. Eldryn held to other ideas.

              Roland ripped the heavy practice blade through the air, cutting down toward Eldryn’s right shoulder. Eldryn swung hard to block, knowing that the weight of the impact could be enough to drive him to the ground even if Roland’s pole never got past his blocking sword.    

              Roland shifted his feet and his grip on the practice sword slightly. As the two weapons collided during Roland’s attack and Eldryn’s parry, Roland jerked his practice blade in a reverse arc using the power in Eldryn’s parry to help drive the sword back above his head. Roland brought the pole high in the air and then brought it back down in a rapid arc away from Eldryn as he spun completely around. This move built momentum in the practice blade and Roland hauled the pole up under his right side toward Eldryn’s unprotected lower left.

              Eldryn, instead of attempting to stop Roland’s new attack, allowed the weight of his weapon to drop it quickly to his lower left as he shifted his feet to the right. His practice blade struck Roland’s just enough to knock it slightly off course. Eldryn easily danced clear of Roland’s attack. 

              The two warriors battled on for another three hours with Eldryn landing four minor blows to Roland’s one. Both were sweating and the extreme weight of their weapons was taxing their strength. 

              “One more touch and I will win,” Eldryn said with his breath coming in rasps.

              Roland tried another lower cut bringing his pole up from a point just below Eldryn’s line of sight. Eldryn stepped back and parried the blow to the side. 

              Roland hauled his pole high above his head, miraculously holding his practice blade in one hand and stretching his left arm out. Eldryn knew that Roland would have to put both hands back on the weapon before attempting an attack. Therefore, he prepared himself for an attack that would come from Roland’s middle or left. Roland would have to expose his left side to an open attack if he attempted to put both hands on his hilt and attack from his right.

              Eldryn positioned his practice weapon to his right knowing that would be Roland’s weak side, and knowing he would have to attack in that hemisphere. 

              To Eldryn’s astonishment, Roland roared and dropped the point of his practice weapon for a thrust at Eldryn’s heart, one handed. Since the move was one handed, Roland did not have to bring his left arm across, which meant that his left side was not exposed. Eldryn fought to bring his practice weapon up in time to parry the thrust, but with this move Roland had gravity on his side. 

              The direct thrust, backed by speed, weight, and gravity, struck its target. The point of Roland’s pole struck the left side of Eldryn’s breastplate hard enough to dent the iron and knock even mighty Eldryn back several steps. 

              “I acknowledge the killing blow,” Eldryn said between gasps of breath.

              “I acknowledge your honor,” Roland replied, struggling to breathe himself. Both boys took a knee in the grassy field to chase the breath that had been so elusive.

              “Does your father know about that one-handed move?” Eldryn asked. “It doesn’t seem honorable.”

              “I struck you with the blade, did I not? I did not kick, bite, or punch you. I did not throw sand in your face, nor did I use any form of magic.”

              “Aye, it is true to the Code, but you didn’t answer my question,” Eldryn said. “Does your father know about that move?”

              “He doesn’t think I’m strong enough to wield one of the Great swords in combat, that’s why he trains me so hard with the axes. I am stronger than any other man in the valley with the exception of you and my father. He says the Great swords are good for practice, so that one can wield a bastard sword with more ease and finesse. But he says only the old ones could use the Shrou-Hayn as they were intended in battle. Why be a Great Man, if you are not going to wield a Great sword? That’s what I say.”

              “Yes,” Eldryn said. “That’s what you say, only you do not say it to his face,” Eldryn said as a slight barb to his lifelong friend. 

“I happen to like the bastard sword. It is versatile, easier to carry, and with the proper level of skill, just as deadly as the Great swords of old. And a bastard sword once swung, does not leave its wielder so badly exposed as would something the size of the old huge blades.”

              “But the bastard sword is not a Shrou-Hayn of old,” Roland said, ignoring Eldryn’s attempt to get under his skin. “When I claim my glory from the battlefield it will be as a true warrior like those who strode with the champions and gods.”

              “So why not join the armies going north? It would give you your chance at those glories and riches you keep talking about.”

              “I will not take orders from common men with fancy brushes on their shoulders. I have trained to be a warrior and tactician. I will not subjugate myself to a lesser man’s whim. Besides,” more quietly now, “father doesn’t think I’m ready.”

              “Enough about lesser men and their whims. It’s time to eat,” Eldryn said as he walked toward his horse. “Will you come into town with me and have a meal at the inn?”

              “I have my reading to do,” Roland began, but thoughts of the girls and ale at the inn floated into his mind carried on a wind of temptation. “Why not, I will have plenty of time. The old scholars will just have to wait for me a bit longer.”

              The two young men walked their horses to a stream that cut through the woods nearby. Both stripped to the waist and bathed in the chilling waters. Refreshed and clean, both young men rode into Fordir.

              The town of Fordir was busy that day. The boys stabled their horses, dusted their pants clean of the road sediment, and walked toward the Rusty Nail. 

              The tavern was a two-story building of stone and possessed all of the sights, smells, and tastes one would expect of a tavern right down to the typically fat but cheerful proprietor.   

              Roland and Eldryn had their goals in order. Both were hungry. After that need was filled, both would want a bit of ale. After that taste was satisfied, there were the tavern girls.

              The Rusty Nail was catering to the groups of coffee drinkers during this hour of the day. That group, however, rarely tipped very well. Therefore, Roland and Eldryn were well received when they ordered ale with their noon meals.

              These two young men would have drawn young women to them anywhere they traveled. Roland and Eldryn were each handsome in their own ways. Both were very obviously strong, although young. It is often enough that a young girl will be attracted to the future of a man instead of the cut of his brow and cheek. As Roland and Eldryn finished their meals they were greeted with another tankard of ale, served by falsely charming girls accustomed to the tavern life. 

              The inevitable conversation began, and the usual things that are said between a boy and a girl were said. Roland was not charming, although he thought himself to be. He spoke as most young men do. He spoke of the things that interest him. He had not learned yet that others, those of the fairer sex in particular, preferred topics other than tactics and philosophy. 

The tavern girls knew their roles well, however. After all, there were some tactics not found in Roland’s books. Seemingly in awe of the boys and their talk of hunting, and warfare, the young ladies listened intently…and kept the ale flowing. Roland was preparing to dismiss his afternoon and evening plans of further practice and reading to spend that time with a voluptuous young brunette. One that he had spent a few evenings with before. Was Jaqualyn perhaps her name? 

He was starting down that path when the sounds of a disturbance in the street made their way through the veil of perfume forming over Roland’s eyes and thoughts. He made his way to the front porch of the tavern for a view of the street. The brunette, whose name Roland even now might not be able to recall, bustled along behind.

              A large man in polished mercshyeld armor that shone in the sun with its unique smoky tint rode a war-horse down the street dragging three prisoners behind him. Mercshyeld, a composite steel named so for Merc the god that kept the flames of the sun stoked and the old title of Shyeld a knight quested by means of the old Code, was notable to be sure. However, a man that possessed both such fine steel and one of the magnificent horses bred for war…that would be the topic of conversation in this corner of the world for months to come. The three prisoners were tied at the neck and running to keep up with the trotting gate of the mighty horse. 

              “Who is that big one?” the brunette asked Roland catching up to him on the porch. She hoped to regain the attention of the young man that had been so suddenly taken from her. They watched as the knight rode toward the shire reeve’s stout built stone jail and Velryk’s office. 

              “He is Sanderland,” Roland replied over his shoulder. “He is a paladin.”   

              “Why does he not wear the colors of the lord of our land, nor those of the king?” She asked.

              “He is a Paladin of Silvor, a god of the hunt,” Roland said, pointing out the symbol of the Horn of the Hunt on the shield that the man carried. “Paladins only serve their god and their church, not lords nor even kings.”

              “So, he’s the holy sort?”

              “Holier than thou, perhaps,” Roland said as he stepped into the street, not realizing the double meaning his words might have had to the young woman. His mind was now on other business. The double entendre was not lost on Eldryn though. He marveled at his friend who in one moment could master a situation and in the next manage to fit both of his feet in his mouth.

              Roland, perhaps due to his youth, could be thoughtless. Eldryn knew there was no malice in his friend. He bore this girl no ill will, in fact, Eldryn knew Roland liked her quite a bit. Roland was just sometimes…thoughtless.

              Sanderland was six feet eight inches of lean muscle. His hair was short cut and of a light brown. His eyes were of light hazel caged behind lids that wore an almost constant look of disdain. 

              He had spent his life in the service of Silvor, or of those who claimed to speak for the god, and had received the promotions within the church to reflect it. Paladins, like other officers of the church, were forbidden to own any property. However, he lived in three houses that belonged to the church, he had eight war steeds when most warriors could not afford one, and he had the best armor and weapons money could buy. A breast plate and greaves of mercshyeld adorned Sanderland, while a finely crafted bastard sword of high steel hung at his side rich with the etchings of Silvor’s Holy symbols, the signal horn and stag. Of course, all of those items belonged to the church.

              Sanderland dismounted in front of the shire reeve’s office and stood at the hitching rail expectantly. Roland approached him from behind, still smelling of ale and sweat.

              “What can I do for you, sir paladin?” Roland asked.

              “You can show me to the reeve,” Sanderland replied in an even, if dismissive, tone.

              “He is out of town, hunting men. His deputies are far flung. I am the reeve’s son; may I assist you?”

Roland hated taking a servant’s position for Sanderland. Roland had no reason to dislike Sanderland, but there was something in Sanderland’s manner, he was too sure of himself. Roland would discover later it went beyond that. Although he couldn’t articulate it now, he would later realize it was Sanderland’s treatment of the common folk that he detested.   

              “I have three criminals here,” Sanderland said as he looked over the boy before him with impatience plainly scrawled on his face.

              Roland looked over the three ‘criminals.’ He saw an older man bent slightly in the back whose long hair and beard were well graying with a definite note of evil in his eyes. He was wrapped in a simple, yet dirty, brown cloak.  Although, Roland surmised, the evil look could just be that the old fellow felt the same about Sanderland as Roland himself did.   

He saw a young woman who possessed a cold, dead gaze. She moved easily, with agile steps that barely disturbed her short cut black hair from where it had been combed. She carried her six-foot frame ready for combat. She too was dressed simply in a spun dress and well-worn boots. This one would gladly kill you in your sleep, Roland thought. Although it didn’t seem to him that she would shy from a battlefield either. 

The third was a young, slight man in a green spun shirt similar to the one that the woman wore, and leather pants that barely made it past his knees. He looked like he was trying to be tougher than perhaps he was capable. Less than half way between five feet and six in height, this young man seemed tired and… frightened. Brown eyes drooped beneath his shock of collar length brown hair. In spite of the circumstances, Roland liked this third prisoner. Roland’s intuition was rarely strong, or to be trusted, but he liked this third one all the same.

              “Spies,” Sanderland said. “I picked them up in the mountains to the north, near the coast.”

              Roland saw that they there were intended to appear as a family, but he noted the details that gave them away. After all, it was at Velryk’s knee that he had been taught. Roland approached each of them and examined their hands and faces closely.

              Roland mentally listed the calluses on the slight man’s thumb and forefinger, most likely from practice at dagger throwing. The small man also had scars on his knuckles and seemed to have unusually well-muscled forearms. 

              Roland noticed that the old man’s hands were soft, except for the part that usually turned a page or held a quill. Here was either a mage, or a scholar. Probably a mage given his apparent mission and the fact that Sanderland had taken the precaution of fixing a collar of green glass around the older man’s neck. Lexxmar, a material that was rare and expensive, was said to be able to mute a wizard’s abilities in the arts.

              No group of spies would be complete without a dedicated bruiser. Roland noted the tightly muscled frame of the young woman. She had hair that was as black as a soulless night and skin as pale as its heavenly companion, the moon. She was wearing a dress now and was beauty defined in it, but Roland could see enough of her shoulder to see the marks from hours spent in armor. Here was a woman with radiant beauty, and a heart of  ice to compliment it.                        

              Of the three, Roland could only convict the old man and younger woman in his heart. The young common man looked trapped, if anything. 

              “From Tarborat?” Roland directed toward Sir Sanderland as much to the three captives.

              “I would assume,” Sanderland replied. “I’ll just want them held here until the local Cleric of Silvor can interrogate them. Just held, do you understand me, boy?”

              “I understand, sir,” Roland said through gritted teeth.

              Sanderland noted the muscles that corded along Roland’s jaw and he smiled slightly at that. 

              “I should be returning in a week to ten days for these three. I will then take them to a prepared priest. See that they are well kept,” Sir Sanderland said as he remounted his greater war-horse. 

“And boy,” Sanderland began with no friendship in his tone, “say hello to your father for me.”

              “You will be taking their equipment with you then?” Roland asked, thinking that he might already know the answer to that question.

              It was Sir Sanderland’s turn for anger spawned of embarrassment. 

“They had only what you see on them.”

              “All the way from Tarborat with not so much as a skinning knife between them?” Roland asked.

              “I’ll not be questioned by a boy,” the Paladin said with an edge.

              Sir Sanderland wheeled his war-horse and started down the street at a trot.

              Roland stepped inside the stout little building behind the three. He moved in front of them and unlocked the cell door to a large iron cage. There were seven inhabitants in that cage already. Two horse thieves from several lands away, one murderer that had three partners that Velryk hunted even now, two purse snares, and two men still too drunk to stand from the night before. He double checked his head count and made correction on the chalk board near the cage to account for the new prisoners.

              Roland saw the look exchanged between the mage and the female fighter. He mistook it for some type of plot to escape. 

              “You will do well not to test me,” Roland said as he bowed the iron bars of the cage in his bare hands. “As of now you are simply to be kept, however, should you attempt to escape I would be duty bound to use whatever means necessary to ensure that you remain in custody.”

              Roland fixed each of them with his gaze. He found, however, that the mage seemed uninterested, the fighter unimpressed, and the slight man, that he presumed was a thief, preoccupied.

              Roland, ego bruised, returned to the tavern to find Eldryn standing in the door with an extra mug in his hand. 

              “I thought you might need a hand there for a moment,” Eldryn said as he looked down the street toward Sanderland’s dust.

              “A hand with what?” Roland asked, genuinely bewildered.

              “It looked as though you were trying to prod him into a fight,” Eldryn said.

              “Me prod him? He was the one looking to embarrass me. That is always the way with those ‘Holier than thou’ soldiers.”

              “Didn’t your father teach you anything about respecting a knight’s authority?”

              “He taught me to judge a man by the man, not by the brush or emblem he wears.”

              “That chip on your shoulder is going to bear your mighty frame to the ground some day.”

              “What do you know of it?” Roland asked sharply.

              “I know that your pride is as dangerous to you as it is to any other man. Do you forget that we are still boys?”

              Roland swelled at that and Eldryn thought for a moment he would strike him. Then Roland let the wind out of his lungs and lowered his head.

              “You are right, El. We are still boys and unproven warriors, but not even a pig enjoys being called swine.”

              “Our time will come,” Eldryn assured with a patience that was his custom.

              The two young men went inside, finished their meals, and drank three more mugs of ale before rising. Then they walked to the front steps of the tavern where Eldryn took a wrap of smoking leaf from his vest. He offered it to Roland who simply bit the end off of it and worked it into his jaw. Eldryn fired the remaining smoking leaf on the ever-burning lamp next to the door of the tavern. Both boys enjoyed their man’s habit in the cool afternoon on the front porch of the tavern watching the time pass with the traffic of the market street.


              Across the street in the jail a familiar scene played itself out. This time, however, it ended differently. One of the horse thieves, probably a man of the Great Men line but long since pure by the look of his size, sauntered over to the slight man brought in by Sanderland. The smaller of the spies, who was sitting in the corner of the large cell, seemed not to notice him.

              “I am Greely,” the horse thief said, looking down at the boy who was maybe fifteen years of age. “While you are here you will give me your food dish when it comes. If you hesitate, or report it, I will beat you without mercy. Is that clear little man?”

              “I am The Shanks,” the slight man said politely. “I assure you that I will not hesitate.”

              The Shanks’s words were spoken with a calm and agreeable tone. The sort of tone one lady may use to address another in a house of worship. The tone camouflaged the nature of this little fellow.

              The Shanks was sitting with his legs outstretched as Greely stood over him. The Shanks hooked the toe of one foot behind Greely’s right leg and kicked Greely’s right knee swiftly with his other foot. Greely’s knee crackled as the kneecap, and the surrounding cartilage, was shattered and separated. The resulting shards of bone pushed into the muscles and tendons that bound the joint. 

              Greely gasped and toppled to the ground. He held his leg, barely able to stifle a scream as he bit into the cuff of his shirt. They all knew that if a fight broke out and the alarm was raised then they would likely all get beaten, and the ones marked to be hung would find themselves marching toward the gallows ahead of schedule.

              The Shanks continued to sit in the same position, and appeared as though he hadn’t stirred a muscle. This was not his first time as a captive, and when one is bound by iron the world inside is much the same regardless of the continent.

              “Understand this,” The Shanks continued in his polite tone. “You will now dance on the gallows with a significant limp. I have not the time, nor the patience, to put up with your foolishness. Therefore, if you so much as cause a foul smell that drifts in my direction, then you will not only dance with a limp, but you will do it gelded.”

              Everyone in the cell, including The Shanks’s traveling companions, reassessed the small man. The Shanks pulled a small root from the waistband of his trousers that had been concealed in the hem. He looked at the root and then looked over the other inmates.


              Roland and Eldryn had been friends since their earliest days, even before school and training at the local academy on the east side of Gallhallad. Gallhallad was the city that was home to the lord of those lands, Lord Bessett.  

Not many could afford to enter their children in the schools. Eldryn’s tuition was a reward to his family for his father’s death in service. A death they all suffered from during the battles with Tarborat. Roland knew that his father wasn’t rich, but somehow, he managed to pay for Roland’s training. This was another topic Roland had often pondered, but Velryk wasn’t the sort of man that invited questions. He was sure that it had some tie to Velryk’s service in the King’s army, but that was another subject Velryk was quiet about. 

              When Roland and Eldryn were not training at the academy they spent their time learning at Velryk’s knee. Velryk and Eldryn’s father, Ellidik, were friends during their days together in the armies. Velryk never talked of it, and Eldryn’s mother only mentioned it rarely, regardless of how hungry the boys were for stories of their fathers in combat.

              Roland’s training further included reading of the great scholars, reading that was required by Velryk. Eldryn’s reading was limited to the Holy Book of Bolvii and The Code of The Cavalier. Ellidik was a cavalier of the old Code. That book was the only thing of Ellidik’s that Velryk managed to rescue from the battlefield the day that his friend fell.

              Roland had wondered often why Velryk had returned from the wars to watch over him. It was true enough that his mother had died before he was walking, but there were mothers enough that had taken in the sons and daughters of warriors abroad. 

              Now, as Roland’s thoughts drifted over the past and unanswered questions, the boys enjoyed their habits in the quiet of the afternoon. They knew a peaceful silence that passed between them that only true friends can experience. 

              After an hour of watching the people in the market and along the street, Eldryn spoke. It seemed Eldryn was always the one to speak first.   

              “Since you father will be away, you should eat with mother and I tonight. It has been some time since she has seen you.”

              “I must watch the jail. Father’s deputies are not the sort to leave responsible for spies. Especially spies that manage to conceal their equipment, weapons, and symbols from their captor.”

              The young men shared a laugh at Eldryn’s imagined and animated account of Sanderland explaining to one of the high clerics that he doesn’t even know for certain who the ‘spies’ work for.

              “Very well,” Eldryn began, hoping that Roland would accompany him but knowing that he would not. “I will be off. I have my afternoon exercises and my riding.”

              “Yes,” Roland replied, quietly. “I have my exercises and my reading.”

              Eldryn started up the street toward his stabled horse looking forward to the talk he and his mount would share. There were many times that a silent animal was just as good in conversation as Roland. Roland spit into the dust, hoping to look older than he was, and walked across the way to the jail. 

About the author

I began writing around the age of twelve or thirteen. However, I published my first book at the age of forty five thanks to the support of my family. I believe in Louis L'Amour's philosophy of writing. "You don't need profanity to tell a good story." Roland's Path is just the beginning! view profile

Published on March 22, 2019

Published by

80000 words

Genre: Epic fantasy

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