Knight Fall (The Champion Chronicles Book 1)

BOOK: Knight Fall (The Champion Chronicles Book 1)
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Knight Fall

 

The CHAMPION CHRONICLES

BOOK II

 

 

 

 

Brad Clar
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This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

***

 

Copyright © 2014 by Brad Clark.

 

All rights reserved.

 

 

Chapter One

 

Conner had long since resigned himself to a cold night in the woods.  He glanced up at the slowly falling sun that was not only taking daylight with it, but the warmth of the early spring day as well.  He looked through the trees, eyes searching for the fleeting doe that he knew was nearby.  She was a big one, having easily survived the light winter months and would provide him and his aunt many meals and a new pair of boots or two.  But first he had to catch up to her and then bring her down.

He had picked up her trail around noon and followed as carefully as he could.  Sometimes he would just sit and wait, patient as the day was long.  But now with the sun heading down, his patience was following just as quickly.  He could have settled for a rabbit or two.  It would have at least given him a good meal, but the elusive doe was something that he really needed.  So he moved through the woods carefully and deliberately, trying to get himself into a position where he could take a shot at her.  But so far, whatever fates or gods were watching over him were either ignoring him or playing games.

He knew the doe was out there, somewhere nearby.  He had spent the better part of the afternoon moving south, deeper into the forest, but most importantly, downwind.  She wouldn’t get a whiff of him, but he also needed to make sure that she didn't hear him.  So he moved carefully and slowly, trying to avoid quick movements that might draw attention, if she happened to be looking in his direction.

He wore a long brownish cloak that made him hot while the sun was out, but would keep him comfortably warm as the sun dropped towards the horizon.  His feet hurt from the small leather boots he wore.  His aunt had promised him a new set, but first he needed to bring in a deer. 

He had wanted a big buck with great antlers, but they were even harder to find.  He had to settle for the first deer he came across, and it was the white-tailed doe that was very adept at eluding him.  The bow, which he had carved himself, was a good bow—made from a thick oak tree that grew tall and wide, deep in the woods.  It shot straight and true, as a good hunting bow should.  It wouldn’t fell a Karmon Knight in full armor, but it would do its job on the thick leather hide of a deer. 

The land had been rising slowly for a while, making his trek seem even longer and more arduous than it had been earlier in the day.  He leapt across a small creek that cut into the side of a hill.  In one motion, he landed and then jumped up the steep bank.  His body was stiff from the long day of hunting, which made him struggle to get over the top.  He stayed on the ground, panting from the effort.  He was tired and knew that he would eventually have to give up and make camp for the night.  But that decision was still a couple hours off.  As long as he had enough light to keep from running head-first into a tree, he would keep hunting.  He rolled onto his hands and knees and pushed himself back up onto his feet.  With a deep breath, he continued onward.

As he reached the crest of a small hill, he dropped into a crouch and maneuvered behind a large tree.  Down in the valley below him was a swiftly moving creek snaking in and out of the thick underbrush.  Although it would dry up in the summer, the creek served as springtime watering spot.  She stood proudly at the water’s edge, taking her fill of the cool water that had begun the long journey from the far off White Mountains and would eventually make its way to the Gulf of Taran.  Conner slowly and cautiously shifted his position into one where he could launch his arrow.  The bow was already strung.  He just needed to pull it off his shoulder, pull out an arrow, nock it, and aim.  He took in a deep breath and held it long enough to judge the distance, the angle, and the wind with barely a thought.  He adjusted his aim as he had done  countless times.  He knew the doe was his.  He just needed to release the arrow.  He let out the air in his lungs and paused for one moment to still his entire body.

The doe’s head twitched and Conner knew he would miss.  He released the arrow, but the deer was already moving, darting into the forest, never to be seen again.  The arrow buried itself deep into the trunk of a tree, directly on line with where the deer's heart should have been.  As the deer ran to safety, the sound that startled the deer came to his ears.  The sound of a scream.  High pitched and full of terror.

Conner gripped his bow tightly and started running in the direction of the scream.  He could only imagine what could be causing someone to make such a sound, much less who might be here in the middle of the forest.  The nearest village was several miles away, a good morning’s hike, if you knew where you were going.  Farther to the east, the Blackenwood Forest became thick with ancient trees where bears could be a problem.  Occasionally,  even a cougar or mountain lion would wander down from the hills to the north and cause trouble.  He would even see a wolf or two in the winter when their hunting grounds were light.  But winter was past, and spring was here.  Food and hunger shouldn’t be an issue.  Regardless of what was happening, the shrieking let him know that time was important.  He ran recklessly through the forest, charging through the underbrush, ignoring the scrapes and cuts that the thick brambles were causing to his face.

Fully out of breath, he broke into a clearing to find two men standing over a young woman.  The scene was the farthest thing from his mind, so he was as surprised as the two men when he came crashing through the bushes.   Both men were clad in the typical garb of a soldier.  Or at least what he envisioned a soldier would look like.  One had a dented conical helm that seemed to fit just a bit too big.  The other had shaggy black curly hair.  Both were armed with swords strapped to their sides and wore chainmail shirts.

No one moved for what seemed an eternity while they sized one another up.  Conner looked at the girl; her large, teary eyes clearly pled for help.

Conner gripped his bow loosely at the middle, ready to nock an arrow, but he kept the arrows in their quill.   “What’s going on?” Conner asked.

“Be gone, boy,” growled the mercenary with the dented conical helm.

Conner took offense at being called a boy.  He was certainly younger than both of them, neither of whom had a good shave in quite a while.  But he was no longer a boy in mind or stature.

“I heard the girl screaming,” Conner said, unsure what to do, but trying to sound as manly as he could.

The two soldiers looked at one another and the one with the conical helm stepped forward, letting his companion keep tabs on the girl.

“Out hunting?” The man asked, smiling to show his crooked teeth.

“Yes,” Conner replied warily. 

“You best get back to it, then,” the man said, his smile fading as his right hand fell to the pommel of his sword.   “Don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Conner suddenly realized that the man had slowly halved the distance between them.  Without thinking, going on instinct alone, he drew an arrow from his quill and nocked it.  The man stopped, glancing from bow to eyes.   The smile came back.

They both knew that Conner wouldn’t fire the arrow at anyone.  In one way, the man was right.  Conner had never killed a man.  The thought had never even crossed his mind, and if that made him still a boy, then maybe he was.   He just hoped that the mercenary had just a little bit of doubt.

“Jon, take her away,” called out the conical helmed mercenary.

Jon, the other soldier, bent to take her away, but Conner raised his bow and aimed it right at him.  He looked up at his partner.

“Don’t,” Conner said, trying to keep his voice and his hands from shaking.

“Go on, Jon, he won’t shoot.  He’s just a forest boy.  A peasant.”  Then he added, "We'll get him, too."

It was an accident.  To his dying day, Conner would swear that what happened next was an accident.  Maybe his body was tired from hunting and the sprint through the woods.  Maybe he was just distracted by the girl, lying on the ground, helpless.  Whether it was fatigue, concentration, or just dumb luck, as Jon took a step forward, the bow string separated from his fingers.  The arrow flew straight and fast, embedding deep into the chest of the mercenary.  The force of the arrow caused him to take one step back, and then he lost all control of his legs.  They collapsed under him and he fell to his knees.  He tried to grip the shaft of the arrow, but his fingers wouldn’t work.  His eyes looked from Conner to the conical helmed soldier.  His lips quivered, as if he were about to speak, but then he fell face forward, dead before he landed face first on the ground.

Conner was stunned, unable to really comprehend what had happened.  The remaining soldier gripped his sword as if he were going to draw his weapon, but instead he sprinted out of the clearing, crashing through the underbrush until he could no longer be heard.  Conner watched him go, his mouth still agape at what had happened.  He walked slowly to the dead man and prodded him with his foot, just to make sure he was dead.  The arrowhead was sticking out his back along with about a quarter of the shaft.  The only blood was what was left on the arrowhead and shaft.  Just like if he had taken down a deer.  It was a perfect shot, right through the heart.  For several long minutes, he could only stand over the body, amazed and afraid at what he had done. 

He had killed many animals for food, but there had always been a purpose.  He needed to eat, and his primary means of feeding himself and his aunt was what he could bring home from the forest.  He had killed another man and he felt really, really cold.  It was not what he had expected.  There was no joy in killing a man, even if he was threatening the girl's life.  Whatever satisfaction he could have felt was overshadowed by the fact that he had taken another man’s life.

It was movement out of the corner of his eye that broke him from his trance.  The girl had managed to get up onto her feet, even though her hands were tied behind her back and her feet were tied at the ankles.  He quickly cut her free.

She tried to thank him, but her voice cracked between sobs, and she could only spit out something unintelligible.  She was clothed in a simple dress—dirty and muddy, but clearly of a finer cloth than he had ever seen.  Her hair was matted and tangled, but her large eyes were painted around the edges with a hint of green that matched her sparkling eyes.  He had heard of women who dressed as she dressed, and made up their faces as she did, but he had never met one.  His aunt had told him many stories of them.  Nobles from the city who lived lives of unimaginable wealth.  He looked down upon her and she looked no different than the other girls from her village.  There was no magic aura that surrounded her.  Other than her painted eyes, she could have been any other forest girl.  Except she was more beautiful than any other girl he had ever seen.

Shouts from the distance caused him to move.  Grabbing her hand, he pulled her harshly into the brush, running as fast as he could with her in tow.

 

***

 

He didn’t look like a knight, much less a fabled Karmon Knight.  His polished plate armor was back at the castle, waiting for the next great battle.  The enormous war mount that he used for charging picket lines of pike men or bearing down upon hapless tournament opponents was left in the stables.  He looked hardly like the son of a wealthy land owner, the seventh in a line of honorable Karmon Knights.  Sir Brace Hawkden looked more like a peasant hunter, clad only in a thick leather tunic tied around his waist by a simple leather belt.  A longsword, sheathed in a plain scabbard, hung from his saddle.  A long dirk was stuck in his belt.  He sat, however, unlike a hunter might, straight and tall, as all knights were taught.  He was unmoving, as was his horse.  The roan mare was fast and feisty, his favorite for hunting parties and racing through the tall grass fields.  Her muscles rippled with every movement, showing off a body bred as pure as any knight or king.

He had no fear as he sat upon his mount.  Maybe it was supreme confidence, or maybe it was simply arrogance.  But when some might feel uncomfortable in the silence of the deep woods, he felt peace.  Where the unknown would cause some to cringe, he held his head high, waiting for the next challenge.  Successes were met with a simple nod, and failures with just a frown and a look of determination.  He didn’t get angry or overly excited.  It was a coolness that he demanded of himself, as the leader of the most elite group of warriors throughout the eastern kingdoms.

His eyes shifted slightly a moment before a rustling in the trees hit his ears.  He turned his horse to face the four men who approached him.  Their heads were low, eyes on the ground in front of them.  He had guessed from the shouts that came some time ago that they would return empty handed.  It didn’t take him long to notice that five had went out.

The leader of the group, a mercenary by the name of Rogette, approached first.  “There was a soldier out there.  He had a bow.”

“A soldier?” Sir Hawkden asked curiously.

The mercenary pulled off his dented conical helm and looked back at his companions.  “Yes, sire.  Some soldier.”

“What was he dressed in?  Chain?  Leather?” Brace asked.

The mercenary shook his head.  “Naw, no armor.  Just a bow.  He killed Jon.”

Brace thought it improbable that any sort of soldier would be out in the forest this far from the city.

“But you took care of all of her guards, right?” Brace asked sharply.  "Could it have been one of them?"

“Four left with her from the city.  We took care of all four just as planned.  It wasn’t one of them.  It was someone else.  Who could it be?”

BOOK: Knight Fall (The Champion Chronicles Book 1)
6.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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