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The Knight Who Sought a Crone

By Michael Hill All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Blurb

Returning from a distant war, Tedarin Aeri has devoted his life to the protection of a Temple ordained to him. Upon the oath of his calling and his creed, he has vowed to obey the Quorum of Magi at a moment's notice. While in war, left for dead, he receives a vision of a crone bathed in blue robes to seek her out. As he begins his journey, he meets a young woman named Rysa who is as mysterious as she is beautiful and versed in the ways of magick. A surprise to Tedarin whose vow is to uphold the virtues of his gods and purge blasphemy from his world. Where she leads him becomes the answers he seeks.

Chapter One

Rain poured down in a way that it stung my face. The gritty mud clung to my leather boots that I could feel the weight of the path trudging against my heel as I approached the boisterous noise from the tavern. I could feel the cold, wet storm drowning my leather cloak as I wrapped it around my shoulders to cover my head. My face felt like an oily rag drenched in my own filth. The smell hitting my nose, I couldn’t tell if it was my own or the animals roaming the village paths. My feet hurt. I could hear the blisters squishing in my soiled cotton socks and all I wanted was a warm stout beer.

I couldn’t see the sign swaying over the tavern in the night rain. A flash of lightning may have told me, but I could only hear the raucous patrons blathering about wood cutting or the size of a wench’s tits. I reached my bare hand around the metal hilt at my left hip. No one would care if I revealed my weapon should I need to. No one will be a witness once I do. I looked down to my left wrist, the sleeve of my tunic shifted upward. I stiffened it tight against my wrist to cover the rune permanently scarred upon me. Praise to my goddess, Undonus, who protects me.

The door’s creak told me the age, forty, maybe fifty years and ignored the last few months with dry hinges. Bronze bolts. Antiquated even for current standards. The stench of body odor, ales and rain-soaked leather covered my own smell. As I lowered my hood, I could feel the dripping rain still soaking my hair and shoulders. Undonus’ blessings washed over me, I could only wonder if these half-witted morons cared to notice as I eased through the standing crowd to an ill-lit corner on a small table. The candle’s flame seemed to cry for help as the serving wench asked for my order.

“Saratian stout. Warm.”

She nodded through a cragged tooth grin and I couldn’t tell if the wart on her lip agreed with her or not. Moments later, the stein brimmed with the pitch stout. I cupped my hand around the base, “Warm,” and thanked the woman for her menial service. Her eyes and mannerisms indicated she didn’t seem educated enough to realize multisyllabic words existed. Easing myself to the lacking comfort of the seat, I removed the sheath from my hip and coddled it close to my body on the table and laying it next to my beer as I took a smooth sip from the clay stein.

The drunkards continued their misogynistic rants of the slow-thinking wench who took my order, others who carried on about their wives or daily labors as a thunderous clap interrupted their exchange from the storm rolling outside. Foot blisters ached with their own blisters as I etched my grimy fingernail along the precision cut lines upon the gold-plate hilt of my sword resting before me. I traced along the cross guard, locked into position on either side of the scabbard before a conversation across the room caught my attention.

A turf war. One side called themselves Wolfsblood, the other group at the table were Grimhogs. From what I could gather, the Grimhogs controlled this region and the Wolfsblood wanted in. The tavern was an agreed upon place to discuss terms. A matter for the Marshal’s guard, not mine. Everyone else in here were innocents. This could get bloody. The rain fell harder now. The barkeep called to the closest girl at the door, her petite body struggled against the wind to bolt the door locked. “What the fuck are you doing?” I whispered to myself as her tiny frame reached with difficulty to the top bolt, then succeeded to the next, her breaths rolling from her lips, and I could see her lungs expanding and releasing, her heart running swiftly inside her petite frame. I sipped my stout again.

I could hear the voices of the gangs rise in inflection as the Wolfsblood men begrudgingly disagreed to something said. Fucking ingrates. Send them all to the mines to serve their prison terms. My thoughts couldn’t leave my lips. In my duty, I was not called to settle disputes between thug-scum. Kings and gods answered to me. These peasants were just their fodder. I watched their hearts beating quickly inside their chests. Tensions rising.

“Fuck yer turms.” A whistling groan called across the table from a man who possessed more gum than teeth. I didn’t see the knife, only a spray from a neck contaminating the drinks at the table beside the gangs. Wenches screamed to fright as fists and knives soon found their way among the crowd. Warm stout filled my throat.

I watched as the calamity unfolded. Men fought men who had no business with one another. The gangs took to blades and daggers, cutting, slashing, and stabbing. The rawness of cold blood covered the muddy floor and before too long, innocent bystanders took to the knives in their boots or the shivs up their sleeves. I lifted my stein to my lips only to see a wild-bearded looking man have his face slammed onto my table, knocking my sword to slide only for me to grab my sheathed weapon with limited effort while I continued to gulp my drink. His assailant lifted him back up before the bearded man tackled him against a post next to us. Fragments of dust wafted into my lap from the short alcove above my head as I listened to the cracked wood splinter to bend.

I listened to the melee continue to unravel only to see the lithe serving woman become the victim to a knife slash across her face. Such a poor girl, probably only fifteen now forever scarred as another careless asshole managed to shove another person into her causing her to collapse onto the floor with brutish weight and quickly succumb to a trample from others fighting nearby. I lifted from my seat, stein in my right hand, my scabbard in my left as the pair ahead of me continued to punch each other senselessly. I took my final gulp and smashed the stein against the head of the man who destroyed my table only for his assailant to strike for me.

He didn’t see the brunt of the hardened, metal chape as it smashed his nose to collapse into his face. I ignored his suffering as a bony, skeleton, man-thing took approach to me. His ribs taut against his flesh and his arms like a pair of twigs. Another man took notice to my handling of his friends as he came from behind. A swift elbow to his jaw reeled him onto his back as I continued to make my way towards the men who trampled the girl. The scrawny patron in front of me decided to tackle me to the ground. Foolish maneuver. My frame of six feet and twenty stone shoved a firmly planted muddy heel into his chest, sending him to lie on his side with several busted ribs crackling through his skin.

A knife blade lunged for my face to my right. A swipe of my alloy scabbard blocked the arm, cracking the elbow juxtaposed to its natural bend, shattering the thick arm to splinter at the joint. The rot-toothed assailant groaned to cry as he held his bloody arm with the other. A man thought he would be clever and leapt from the bar to swing from an iron chandelier above my head, his legs set in a manner to lock his legs around my neck. I could hear the squish of his scrotum bleeding as he encountered the pommel of my weapon.

I bent down at the mess of tangled and dead bodies to see the quiet, mousy little girl struggling to breathe. I shoved the hefty bodies from her, unconscious and breathing lightly only to watch the small girl trickle her last beats of blood out of her heart, her ribs inside caved in as her lungs filled with mucous. The carnage continuing around me, I watched the room continue to devolve into chaos as Wolfsblood and Grimhogs dwindled to a few. The one I watched from the beginning remained alive, fending himself with his might from a Grimhog assailant.

I lifted my scabbard across my shoulder, resting the hilt upon my upper right back. Twisting the grip of the contoured hilt, the cross guards released from their lock position with the bolt break squeal of clean hinge. The room quieted to the whispering whistle scream of the blade sliding through the mouth of the scabbard. Scant candles could not reflect the sheer beauty of the weapon in my hand, the humming whisper of the alloy reacting to the swing in the air, nor the magnificence of the cleanliness to the swipe of the murderer’s head. Mouths dropped in awe at the sudden thud of the disheveled bald head dropping onto the muddy floor as one swift strike recoiled my arm to tuck the weapon into its home with the cross guard returning into their locked state.

I turned to the surprise face of the barkeep as three of his girls hurried to the younger woman’s corpse behind me. I could see the fear in his eyes, the taste of vengeance foaming from the gangs to my left and the surprise on the surviving innocents to my right.

“I only came here for a warm stout,” I turned my attention to the surviving gang members, “Leave.” My raspy growl barked to command them. From the depths of my throat, I echoed the voice to embody my scorn. I commanded the hefted weight of a cleansed body, reshaped from the clay of my youth to the form I am now. By the blessing of our terran god, Molak, I was a massive hulk of strength to these peasants. Although my command directed to the criminals, the innocent bystanders engaged to vacate the premise as well.

“Whatever you want,” the barkeep clamored to gravel, “It’s on me.”

“No,” I reached to a small coin sack tied to my right hip and tossed a pair of gold Crown coins to his table and watched as they spun slowly to rest flat, “One coin to pay the family of the dead girl. The other, for a quiet room away from other occupants and a warm meal come morning, alone. The rest is yours.”

I smelled death around me. It stung my nose like war. I looked upon the face of the barkeep as I took my room key. He quickly covered a mark on his wrist with his sleeve. I lifted my eye to his attempt. I needed a dry bed, warm. A place to rest my weary, cold feet. I wasn’t going to bother him any more tonight, but I sensed insecurity in his tone.

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