Prologue – War of Shadows

When I first started this blog, my original intent was not to post big excerpts of my story. Really, I was just looking for a place to talk about problems, approach and my experiences as an aspiring writer. However, after doing this for a short while, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be worthwhile to share a tad-bit of my story – As context for what I’m up to. So, here is my moderately polished prologue to the the book I’m calling War of Shadows. I am going to avoid putting much more of the actual text of my story on line in future, though I will continue to post in-world stuff like languages and maps. The excerpt below is about 1000 words. Enjoy, and let me know what you think – even if you think it stinks.

Notes in pronunciation: The eo you see in the names are pronounced as in Beowulf, and the dh in the names is a voiced th – pronounced the same as the th in the word this.


  

Prologue

“It would seem the enemy has been defeated utterly. Yet, in my bones I feel this war is not over. The price already has become too much to bear. It will be upon the shoulders of another to finish what has started here.” – Tolbara Runë

  Aldredh rested one hand on the hilt of his sword, the other tight around the reins, and shifted in his saddle. The air was crisp for an early summer morning. He exhaled, expecting to see his breath. With a side-long glance, he eyed his father off to his left. A tall, stern man with thinning gray hair, he sat in the saddle as if nothing in the world could possibly harm him. A brass broach, in the shape of a diamond ash leaf, fastening his traveling cloak, glinted unexpectedly in a ray of sunlight which had broken through the canopy of stunted, tangled trees. It made Aldredh turn his whole head toward his father.
  “You seem jumpy this morning,” his father said, his voice low and steady.
  “We’re too close to the Ghost Road,” Aldredh replied.
  His father shrugged. “Makes no difference. Someone out here is causing trouble, and it’s our responsibility to take care of it.”
  With an anxious sigh, Aldredh looked over his shoulder at the group of two dozen men following them. Each of them looked quite as nervous as he felt. Some even had their swords drawn, their full attention on the surrounding forest. A flutter of motion in the brush to his right caught his attention. When he turned to see what it was, there were only shadows. Bird, he thought.
  “If you ever expect to lead, you must show far more confidence,” Aldredh’s father said.
  “I’d feel a lot more confident if I knew what we were up against,” Aldredh replied.
  “When you become lord, you will need to take each threat as little more than a routine inconvenience, regardless of the danger you face. Today though, we seek men no different than you and I.”
  Aldredh raised an eyebrow. “How do you know that?” He asked.
  His father nodded down the road. A cloaked and hooded man stepped out of the forest into the knee-deep grass to face them. Aldredh hauled back on the reins to stop the horse and pulled his sword from its sheath. His father, however, calmly halted his mount, and did not reach for his sword.
  “Who is he?” Aldredh asked in a low hiss.
  Before his father answered, the man in the middle of the road ahead flipped back his hood. Aldredh’s mouth fell open. He recognized the pale face, which looked all the more weaselly under scraggly bits of facial hair.
  “Lord Feorun?” Aldredh asked.
  “Aldredh, so nice of you to join your father on this errand,” Lord Feorun said, his eyes fixed on Aldredh’s sword. “You have saved me some trouble.”
  “I think not,” Lord Togredh said. “It’s time we end this.”
  “I suppose you’re going to challenge me to a duel?” Lord Feorun asked with a smile. “Well, get on with it then.”
  Lord Togredh dismounted in a whirl of cloak. He strode confidently toward Lord Feorun. Aldredh glanced back at the men, all bore expressions of uncertainty and concern. Not more than ten paces from Lord Feorun, Lord Togredh unsheathed his sword.
  “Is that your sword?” Lord Feorun asked nodding at the blade with some disdain. “I’ve seen dirt farmers with better.”
  “It’ll take your head off just fine.”
  “I don’t think it will.”
  Feorun shook his head, still smiling, and took a few steps back as if he was going to make a run for it. Aldredh knew him as a man who never backed down from a fight.
  “Ambush!” Aldredh shouted, raising his sword.
  It was too late. The quiet, overgrown road was flooded with screaming soldiers. One of them emerged from the brush just to Aldredh’s right and rammed a long pike into his horse. It reared up and tossed him off. He hit the ground hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. His sword thudded to the dirt next to him. Gasping for breath, he flailed uselessly to try and reclaim his sword. The pike-man approached, his weapon raised high in the air. A sick grin spread across his face as he prepared to sink the pike into Aldredh’s chest.
  “Do not kill him just yet,” Lord Feorun called from up the road.
  The order drew the attention of the soldier. It was just a moment, but long enough for Aldredh to gain his wits. He seized hold of the hilt of his sword and immediately swung it at his attacker’s legs. The blade connected with flesh and then dug into bone, dropping the soldier to the ground, screaming in agony. Still struggling for each breath, Aldredh rolled over and managed to get to his hands and knees.
  “You won’t survive,” Lord Feorun said from just above him.
  Aldredh tried to bring his sword up, but Lord Feorun’s boot slammed down on the blade, pinning it to the ground. His hand still tightly clenched around the hilt of his sword, he waited for the lord to drive cold steel into his back.
  “Get it over with already,” Aldredh said.
  A strong hand grabbed Aldredh by the collar of his cloak, pulling him to his feet and causing his sword to be ripped from his hand. Aldredh looked Lord Feorun in the eye as the hand let him go.
  Lord Feorun took a step toward Aldredh so he was only inches from his face and said, “I am not going to kill you.”
  Aldredh’s heart was pounding, but his breathing had begun to return to normal. He looked around at a bleak scene. His men were dying all around and his father lay in a pool of blood not far away.
  “Going to have someone else do it then?” Aldredh asked.
  Lord Feorun smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. “What I have in mind for you is far worse than death.”
  With strength and speed that even surprised himself, Aldredh grabbed Lord Feorun’s arm and swung him around into the man standing behind him. It wasn’t much of an opening, but it was the best he could manage. He ran as hard as he could into the deep shadows of the forest without looking back, awaiting the arrow or cold steel that surely would come, but none did.

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