Ok, I promised I'd post a sample chapter of my novel Orphan's Quest on here, so here it is. It was hard to decide which one to post, but I finally decided to post chapter 4, the one in which Rokey and Flaskamper, the book's two main heroes, first meet. Sorry about the wonky formatting. It's the best I could do in here.
The Road to Forrester
It was getting close to nightfall. Rokey had been walking for many marks. Since leaving the confines of the Noble Village, he had not encountered a soul. He knew that the nearest town, Forrester, was still another day’s walk away, so he would have to find someplace to camp for the night soon. He had cleared the wooded area that stretched out at the foot of the Emerald Mountains. Now he was traversing a series of low hills which, if he remembered his geography correctly, would flatten into a broad, grassy plain sometime tomorrow. At the end of that was the large pine forest from which the town of Forrester derived its name. From the tops of the hills he could just make out the line of trees in the distance. There were no trees in this area though. No shelter at all in fact – only a well-worn road cutting through the countryside. Rokey had no fire-making implements. He would just have to camp near the road and hope that both the weather and the wild animals remained friendly.
He had cried like a baby for several marks after he left, but with the Contemplative forever behind him now, and his future, however uncertain, stretched out before him, he at last resolved that he would grieve no more. It served no purpose and would only hinder him now. He made up his mind to approach whatever lay ahead with a positive attitude. What was done was done. There was no going back.
When the sun had finally disappeared over the horizon, Rokey stepped a few paces off the road and spread out his blanket. He ate some of the dried venison and had some wine, and then lay back on his pillow, watching the stars come out. The sky was clear and the air pleasing. Soon Rokey had fallen fast asleep.
* * *
“Where’s he comin’ from d’ya think, Vorn?”
“He looks like one of them blokes from the monastery. Got no weapons far as I can see.”
“But there’s gold on ‘im. I can smell it. Give ‘im a good clout, Deaver, afore he wakes up.”
Rokey rolled quickly off to the side. A tik later, the star mace came crashing down on his pillow. He sprang up to face his attackers. The moon was bright overhead and he could easily make them out. Three large men; one was holding the star mace, the other two carried machetes.
“You missed, Deaver,” one of them said. “He’s like a rabbit. C’mere little rabbit. We doesn’t wanna hurt ye. We just wants yer gold.” He lunged forward. Rokey sidestepped and slammed his elbow into his assailant’s back. The man yelped and cursed loudly.
“Get ‘im you gits!” he yelled at the others. They both closed on him, weapons at the ready.
* * *
Flaskamper had just sat down in front of the fire when he heard the commotion.
“Anyone else hear that?” he asked.
His three companions all shook their heads.
“What have those ears of yours picked up on now?” asked the dark-skinned man sitting beside him. He sipped on a cup of hot black tea, winced and blew gently on the cup to cool it.
“I’m not sure,” Flaskamper answered. “Sounds like some sort of tussle, just there over the hill.”
“Well, whatever it is, it doesn’t concern us. Have some tea and forget about it.”
Flaskamper poured himself a cup of tea, but continued to listen. After a few minmarks, he jumped up.
“I’m going to go investigate,” he said.
The dark man stood. His hooded cloak was pulled back, showing long, blue-grey braids. He had a long scar that ran the length of his face, adding to his already formidable appearance.
“No one is going anywhere,” he stated flatly. “We have troubles enough without going out to look for more.”
“C’mon Stamford, please?” said Flaskamper. “Let me just go have a look. My curiosity is killing me.”
“Your curiosity will kill us all one day,” he answered, then gave in. “Be quick and quiet,” he ordered, “and be back here in a quartermark.”
“Thanks Stam,” said the elf.
“A quartermark, mind you!” Stamford repeated.
Flaskamper put up his hood and vanished into the darkness. Stamford sat down and continued with his tea. One of the two other figures chuckled softly.
“You spoil him like a son,” she teased.
“If he were my son I would beat him senseless,” Stamford grumbled. He filled his pipe and lit up, then relaxed, savoring the sweet smoke.
“If he’s not back in the space of this pipe,” he said, “I’m going to hang him by those pointed ears of his.”
* * *
Rokey was tiring. The three attackers were powerful, and armed. So far he had suffered no harm except a scratch across the back of one hand, but the men were determined, and keeping clear of them was growing more and more difficult. The leader, the one called Vorn, lunged at him with his machete. Rokey dove into a half-twisted summersault, which carried him momentarily beyond their range. He took advantage of the moment to cast off his robe. While it provided a small amount of protection, it kept him from using his most powerful assets, his legs. Now clad only in his shorts, he stood in the classic combat stance, awaiting the next move. It was not long in coming. The man with the other machete charged, slashing wildly at Rokey. He ducked and fired two rapid blows at the man’s kidneys, then spun into a roundhouse kick, which connected hard at the side of the man’s head. He went down hard with a groan. But now the man called Deaver had circled around him. His star mace connected with Rokey’s shoulder. Rokey rolled with the blow, but landed hard on the ground. His whole left side exploded in pain, and before he could recover, he felt huge arms circle under his shoulders and up around his neck. He would normally have no trouble breaking this wrestler’s hold, but the mace blow had weakened his arm. The man, Vorn, went to one knee and Rokey was forced down with him.
“Check his robe,” he said to Deaver. “I’ll wager we’ll find his purse there.”
Rokey’s money was indeed in his robe. Deaver held it up and shook it, grinning appreciatively as it jingled. The third man who Rokey had flattened got slowly to his feet and stood before him. His eyes burned with rage.
“Right then,” he rasped, “we got the gold. Let me finish him.”
Vorn got roughly to his feet, dragging Rokey up with him. He continued to struggle, but he was weak and groggy with pain.
“Please yerself,” said Vorn, and heaved Rokey to the ground. Rokey rolled over on his back, but couldn’t get up.
“This is goin’ ta hurt,” the man said, and grinned as he raised his machete over his head. Rokey closed his eyes steeled himself for the blow that would cleave his head open.
Then he heard a strange sound. A long hissing noise, followed by a thump. He opened his eyes again and saw his attacker, still poised with his machete raised, but a peculiar look had come over his face. Then, the next tik, he fell forward, directly on top of him. A huge din broke out. He could hear the other bandits shouting, and the clash of metal against metal. Rokey struggled to get out from under the now dead weight that pinned him. He managed to get his arm free and when he reached around, he discovered what had felled the man – the long shaft of an arrow protruded from the back of his head. There was more yelling, and a sharp cry of pain, followed closely by another. He tried again to free himself, but the pain shooting through his shoulder prevented him from marshalling enough strength.
It was now quiet. He could hear nothing but the wind rustling over the grass. Tiks that felt like marks went by, and then he saw a pair of hands grip the corpse that covered him. A moment later, he was free. He managed to get up on one elbow and look around. The two other assailants also lay dead, and standing over him was a tall figure in a long, hooded cloak. He held a sword, still bloody from the men he had just dispatched. Slung across his back were a short bow and a quiver of arrows, which obviously accounted for the third man’s dire state. But why had this man intervened? Had he come in aid, or was he, too, after his bag of gold?
“I have not come to rob you sir,” he said, as if reading his thoughts. “I seek only to help you.”
“I am pleased to hear that, good sir,” Rokey replied, “for I would be in no state to hinder you whatever your motives should be. I am…most…grateful.” He made one last feeble attempt to rise, but fell back heavily to the ground. The stranger knelt down beside him and threw back his hood. Rokey was amazed to see what appeared to be a lad not much older than he. He had short blonde spiked hair and a lean, almost feminine face. Then he noticed the ears. They were long and tapered up to a point. Not the ears of a man at all.
“You’re – an elf!” he exclaimed, and then he fainted.
When he awoke a few minmarks later; the elf was still there, kneeling over him. He was the finest looking man Rokey had ever seen. Of course, strictly speaking, he wasn’t a man at all.
“Oh good,” he said, “you’re awake. I was beginning to worry. Where are you injured?”
“My shoulder,” Rokey told him. “The mace.”
“Ah, well let’s sit you up and have a look.” He gently helped Rokey to reach a sitting position, and then examined his shoulder.
“I don’t think anything is broken,” said the elf, and then he reached into a pouch that he wore at his hip and pulled something out. It looked like a wad of leaves. “Open your mouth.”
Rokey looked dubious. The elf smiled.
“Trust me,” he said. These will make you feel better. Just chew on them.”
Well, Rokey thought, he did save my life. He opened his mouth and the elf popped the leaves in. They tasted bitter, but as he chewed, he felt energy returning to his body, and the sharp pain in his shoulder was reduced to a dull ache.
“What are these?” he asked, amazed.
“Rembis leaves,” Flaskamper explained. “They grow in the forest where I live. Well, used to live.”
“Forgive me sir,” said Rokey. “You have saved my life and I have neither thanked you nor asked your name. I am Rokey. I offer you my heartfelt gratitude, for without your help I would surely be dead now. I shall repay you one day if I am able.”
The elf helped Rokey stand up and then shook his hand.
“I am Flaskamper,” he said. “My friends call me Flash. Your gratitude is payment enough. You’re shivering. Let me fetch your robe.” He went to get Rokey’s robe from the ground nearby, stopping on his return to retrieve the bag of gold from one of the dead men’s hands. He helped Rokey on with his robe and handed him the purse.
“There you are, my friend,” said Flaskamper. “The rembis will help you heal quickly. Since nothing appears to be broken, I think in another day you will be fully restored.”
Rokey held out the purse to Flaskamper.
“There isn’t much here,” he said, “but you are welcome to it. I wish I had more of a reward to offer you.”
Flaskamper smiled and shook his head.
“As I said, no reward is necessary,” the elf repeated. “My motives for acting were purely selfish. I was bored and your predicament gave me a bit of exercise. Listen, since your campsite is in no fit state for the living anymore, I would be honored if you would come and join me and my friends by our fire tonight.”
“Others?” Rokey’s head came up. “You are not alone then?”
“No indeed,” said Flaskamper. "Three others await me just over the hill there. If you look carefully, you can barely see the light of our fire.”
“Three other – elves?”
“No. I’m the only elf in these parts, as far as I know,” the elf told him. “I travel with a dark, frightening man, a fair, sweet maiden and gentle giant. Now if that doesn’t spark your curiosity, I don’t know what else will.”
“It certainly sounds like an intriguing group,” Rokey admitted.
“So what say you, Rokey,” said the elf. “Will you accept my hospitality?”
“I will, sir” said Rokey, “with many thanks.”
* * *
The rest of the company stood as Rokey and Flaskamper approached the campfire. Stamford came forward to greet them.
“Flaskamper,” he said, his teeth clenched into something that vaguely resembled a smile. “We were beginning to wonder what had become of you. And you have brought a guest, I see. Greetings to you sir.” He dipped his head slightly. His voice was light and friendly, but his eyes told Flaskamper a different story. He would get a serious dressing down, if not worse, when they were alone. He forced his apprehensions aside and introduced Rokey.
“Rokey, may I present my friends and traveling companions,” said Flaskamper. “This is Stamford, our leader. The lovely lady is Fia, and that colossus over there is Lorq.”
Rokey exchanged greetings with each of them: Stamford, the tall, imposing leader of the group, with his dark skin and coal black eyes; the woman, Fia, was indeed a beauty, with green sparkling eyes and fiery red hair. It was the giant, though, who made the biggest impression on the boy, for he had never before seen one. Even seated, it was clear that Lorq towered over them all. He wore his curly, reddish-brown hair cropped very short; his face and features were broad and had a look of gentleness that seemed ill-matched to his huge frame.
“Put down your things and come sit with us master Rokey,” said Fia. “You too, Flaskamper. We are eager to hear what adventure you managed to find for yourself.”
They all sat down by the fire and Flaskamper filled them in on the earlier events.
“Roamers,” said Stamford. “Lowlifes that prey on unsuspecting travelers. ‘Tis well for you, sir, that our friend here has sharp ears… and a curious nature.”
“It is indeed,” Rokey replied. “I had no knowledge of such dangers. Travel is…new to me.”
“If I may ask,” the leader continued, “what brings a novice of the Noble Contemplative so far from his monastery. Or does the blue robe no longer mean what it has for so many years?”
“No, you are right sir,” Rokey answered. "The blue robe’s significance has not changed. I was, until today, a novice of the Brotherhood. I have left their service, but as I had no other clothing, I am permitted to wear it until I reach Forrester. There it will be incumbent on me to purchase more suitable attire and to burn my robe.”
“My understanding is that it is most unusual for someone to leave the service of the Contemplative,” said Flaskamper. “What –”
Stamford held up his hand to silence him.
“It is not our business to concern ourselves with the personal matters of others,” he said reproachfully.
“Indeed,” the elf said, chastened. “My apologies.”
“In any case,” Stamford continued, “your young friend needs rest, and it’s late. Why don’t you go and settle him into your tent. Then come back here. We have a few matters to discuss.”
Flaskamper winced. He knew what the matters were and was not looking forward to the discussion. He got up and motioned for Rokey to follow him. Rokey gathered up his blanket and pillow and followed the elf into his tent.
“Don’t be too hard on him Stamford,” Fia said gently.
“He did a very brave thing, saving the boy’s life,” Lorq added.
Stamford growled, and said nothing. A short while later, Flaskamper emerged from the tent and sat down again by the fire. He waited for the harangue to begin, but Stamford sat in silence, smoking his pipe.
“Alright, let’s have it!” the elf cried out. “I can’t take all this quiet. Just tell me what a stupid, fool thing I did and get it over with. Just for the record though, I’m not sorry I saved his life. It would have been wrong for me to just leave him there. Now go on. Chew my head off.”
“Flaskamper,” said Stamford, “if you want to play the gallant hero, that’s your privilege. But why was it necessary to bring him here?”
“He was hurt, Stamford. And scared – ”
“And pretty to look at?” Stamford retorted.
Flash reddened, but said nothing.
“You don’t fool me,” said the dark man. “Your little sword is guiding your big sword again. Well fine, you’ve earned your bread, now go butter it. Give the boy a poke and send him on his way at first light.”
“I can’t do that.” Flaskamper protested. “He’s asleep, and he’s fresh from a monastery for pity’s sake. Besides, I don’t even know if he fancies boys or not.”
“What of it?” said Stamford. “You saved the lad’s life. The least he can do is give you a tumble. If he’s a virgin, so much the better. You know what they say, ‘the fresher the milk –’ ”
“Yes, I know, I know,” said the elf, “but I don’t want to get my milk that way.”
“Since when?” Stamford asked, arching an eyebrow. “Have you undergone some religious conversion in the last – how long has it been now – nearly five whole days since your last conquest?”
Flash let the provocation pass with uncharacteristic silence. A few moments later, he cleared his throat nervously.
“Um,” he said, “There’s something else.”
Stamford sighed heavily.
“I might have guessed,” he said. “Come on, out with it.”
“I – uh, I promised him that he could travel with us to Forrester,” he blurted out.
Fia giggled, but covered her mouth after a look from Stamford.
“Well, that’s a bit of a dilemma isn’t it,” he growled, “since we aren’t going to Forester! We’re heading southeast, away from Forrester. You do remember that don’t you?”
“Yes, I remember,” Flaskamper told him, “but I got carried away and -,”
“He batted those big brown eyes at you, and you melted into a little pointy-eared puddle.” Stamford stood and went to kneel beside Flaskamper. He reached out and grasped his chin. “Now listen to me, boy; tomorrow morning, you are going to wave good-bye to your new little friend – with or without having sullied his virtue – and we, the four of us, are taking the southeast road toward the Respite ferry. Now, as the leader of this little company, am I making myself perfectly clear?”
“Yes, Stamford,” the elf said miserably.
“Good. Now go to bed,” Stamford ordered. “We’ve a long journey tomorrow.”
Flaskamper tramped off to his tent. Fia watched him go sadly. Then she turned to Stamford.
“Stamford–” she began.
“Don’t start with me woman!” Stamford said.
“What would be the harm in going with him to Forrester?” she asked.
“The harm is that it’s two days walk out of our way,” Stamford replied, “there’s little if any work to be had there, and our purses, if you haven’t noticed, are considerably light of late. We have a personal recommendation from the mayor of Riversedge to the king of Respite, which should clinch us some lucrative work, for once without us having to stick our necks out too far.”
Fia gave Stamford her most engaging smile.
“That’s all true. You’re absolutely right,” she said.
“But,” he said. “Come on, I know there’s a but.”
“But I think it would mean a lot to Flaskamper if we could,” she told him. “It seems he may be taking an interest in someone that’s deeper than a quick tumble and a kiss good-bye. I think that we should encourage it, though I know it rubs sorely against your nature. We’re not destitute yet, and we’ll still have our letter from the mayor tomorrow, a week, or a month from now.”
“We’ve barely met the lad, Fia,” the dark man protested. “Why go to all that bother for a total stranger?”
“We won’t,” she countered. “We’ll do it for Flaskamper. He’s obviously smitten. Why not make him happy, for a couple of days at least? Who knows? Something meaningful may actually come of it.”
Stamford sneered at Fia.
Fia smiled sweetly in return.
Lorq suddenly became fascinated by the fire.
“Obviously I shall not prevail here without being branded a troll,” Stamford declared. “Very well. You tell him in the morning. I’m going to bed before you talk me into adopting the little bastard.”
As he stomped off to his tent, Lorq looked at Fia and snickered.
“You’re so clever, Fia,” he said with admiration.
He’s a kinder man than he’ll have anybody know,” she said. “I just help him to show it sometimes. She stood and stretched.
“Are you going to bed, big fellow?” she asked.
“I’m going to sleep by the fire,” Lorq replied, “in case there are any more of those roamers out there.”
There were no more disturbances though, and the company slept well through the rest of the night.