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A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only]

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A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only] Empty A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only]

Post by Tenebris Thu May 23, 2019 5:33 pm

[I will be adding new chapters in posts below]

A Knight of Leostonnia
A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only] 1-grai11

Chapter one.

The silver moon in the vastness of the open ocean sky resembled a sickle blade hanging low. Patches of snow shone brightly beneath it, and while it was almost a month into spring, the wind whipping across the fields still held a touch of winter’s bite. Hunched against the icy gale, two riders were making their weary progress along a muddy road, passing fields, abandoned hovels and isolated clumps of woodland. They travelled in silence, one behind the other, offering no conversation. The only sound accompanying them was the steady clomping of hooves, the jingle of track and the ghostly whisperings upon the wind.

The lead rider drew his travel-stained cloak tighter around his shoulders as the wind picked up. His features were completely hidden in the deep shadow of his hood, yet his eyes glinted in the moonlight. He rode a massive warhorse, over sixteen hands high at the shoulder, and had his shield baring the heraldry of a Black Dragon strapped to his back. In stark contrast to his companion, he rode in the languid manner of one who had spent most of his life in the saddle. The second rider looked decidedly awkward, slumped in the saddle of a mange-ridden mule. The plodding beast was a picture of misery, head hanging almost to the ground as it trudged through the mud, laden with heavy packs and chests. This rider was shivering, for while he too wore a cloak, it was threadbare and moth-eaten. His head was nodding towards his chest, losing the battle to keep his eyes open, he pitched sidewards.

The second rider awoke with a muffled yelp, and after a brief, inelegant struggle, he hauled himself back upright. “I will not wait for you if you fall of again, Lud”, said the lead rider without turning. Lud’s hood had fallen back, exposing his brutish head. His hair was shaved short in a vain attempt to rid him of lice, and his eyes were pigish and uneven, he had only one ear, the other having been hacked off by a noble of Leostonnia many years earlier for a minor crime, and his jutting jaw and heavy brow made him look like a simpleton. He glared at his master’s back, and pulled a grotesque face. “Make that face again, Lud, and I will cut off your thumbs” said his master. “Sorry Mi’Lord” said Lud knowing that it was not some idle threat. They continued along in silence once more. Lud blinked the sleep out of his eyes and concentrated on his surroundings. He thought they looked Vaguely familiar but it was hard to say under the cover of darkness, and besides, it had been years since he set foot within this part of Leostonnia. “Where are we, Mi’Lord?” he said last, “Lampton, home of my nephew” came the reply.

It felt strange saying those words thought Solomon, six long and difficult years had passed since he was last within the Castle of Lampton. It felt like a lifetime. Six years ago he had left when his Lord father the King appointed him to become the Duke of Candor, thus handing his previous lands of Castle Lampton and all its titles to his young Nephew Bertran, while under the watchful eye of Baron Montcada. Bertran had been just a boy when Solomon had left, and by now he would be all but unrecognisable, on the cusp of becoming a man. Solomon had traveled far across the realm of Leostonnia and beyond seeking the glory and prestige bestowed upon the favoured Knights of the realm. Seeking the divine favour of the Light itself, he had bested the foul monsters and creatures in the forests of Leostonnia, championed the oppressed within the bizarre queer City of Anthropino were corruption and criminal activity was rampant. Through the years he had fought in a dozen duels of honour, once even against a Rogue Dragon who ruled as a Tyrant over a modest village whose loyalties were to no known Kingdom.

Duke Solomon Wyrmfyre, Prince of Leostonnia reined his destrier in as he toppsed a tussocked rise. He drew his hood back. In the years since he once lived within Lampton, gone now was any hint of softness in his appearance, the years on the road and ruling within Candor having hardened his body and his mind. His eyes were dark and stern, and his cheeks rough with stubble. His hair inbetween journeys such as this and on errant quests seemed unwashed and at the moment hung past his shoulders, and his face was tanned. As alert and lean as a hunting wolf, he stared over the fields into the distance. His eyes narrowed. “Master?” said Lud, after a minute “What is it? I see nothing”, “Exactly, where are the lights of Castle Lampton, we should be able to see them on the horizon from here”  came the reply from Solomon.

The mighty fortress dominated the landscape for miles around, and its men-at-arm always kept its beacon fires burning through the hours of darkness. Nevertheless, the western horizon was ominously dark. “Perhaps someone forgot to light them?” offered Lud, but Solomon shook his head. “There is something wrong here” he said, his eyes glinting fiercely in the moonlight. “I’ll move quicker alone. Follow after me, and keep to the road. Do not tarry.” Lud nodded. With a flick of the reins Solomon urged his destrier into a canter and began riding towards the distant silhouette of Castle Lampton. The sickle of the moon was touching the horizon by the time he drew close. Dark and ominous, his once castle loomed above him. He circled around it in a wide arc, scouting for danger, but saw no sign of life other than a startled fox and a mated pair of owls hunting for prey. Solomon’s expression was grim.

The scent of ash filled the air, and several of the Castle’s towers had collapsed. There were no sentries upon the walls, and no light in any of its windows. By all appearances, it was utterly abandoned, and had been left to ruin. Nevertheless, Solomon’s experience had taught him to be cautious, and he completed his wide circuit around the castle before he began his approach from the south, angling towards Lamptons main gatehouse. Out of habit, he ensured that the wind was always in his face, so as to mask his scent from anything up ahead. The Drawbridge was lowered and in a state of disrepair, and the rusted portcullis was up. Solomon rode through the gatehouse into the courtyard beyond, staring around him at the ruin of his once home. The keep was a burnt out shell, its pale stone blacked with soot, and the wind howled mournfully through its empty halls. The stables were completely gone, with nothing but a few charred stumps and charcoal marking where they had stood. The North-east wall had partially collapsed, the debris scattered on the ground like grave markers.

Dismounting Solomon tied his warhorse to a fireblackened post before climbing the stairs towards the keep. One of its doors was gone, while the other hung forlornly on one hinge, creaking in the breeze. Drawing his sword, he moved into the Keep’s dark interior. He passed through empty halls, his expression betraying none of his surging emotions. The inside of the Keep was now open to the sky, the upper floors completely gone, and the stars were visible high overhead. A few thick supporting beams remained intact, but even these were charred and looked as though they might fall at any moment. The Grand stone staircase that rose from the main entrance hall still stood, rendered pointless now that it climbed to nowhere, and its steps were thick with ash. Bones and scraps of armour protruded from the debris in one hall, and these Solomon inspected carefully, turning them over in his hands in an attempt to discern what tragedy had befallen his Nephew and his old home. Chipped bone showed evidence of heavy sword blows, and he prowled deeper into the ruin, he found more evidence that a great battle had taken place here some years earlier.

Without a conscious thought Solomon found himself in a small annex off the western wing, where the Castle’s shine to the Light had been located. No divine power seemed to have protected it from the fire that had clearly ravaged the keep, and only a few jagged shards remained of its once beautiful stained glass windows. Something caught his eye, and Solomon sheathed his sword and knelt before the fire-blackened altar, half buried amongst the rubble, a small golden chalice remained intact, lying on its side, it was covered in soot and chipped. This was the same chalice used in sermons by the priests of the Light, Solomon picked it up and placed it reverently upon the altar. Closing his eyes, he began to pray.

There was a noise outside and Solomon was instantly on his feet, sword drawn. Moving silently and keeping to the shadows, he ghosted back through the ruined hall. “Master?” called a voice. “Silence, fool” Solomon hissed back, stepping from the concealing darkness of the ruined keep. “What happened here, Mi’Lord?” said Lud. He half climbed, half fell from the saddle, and tied his mule to a post alongside Solomon’s steed. Solomon’s eyes were locked on the ground at the peasant’s feet. “Stand still”, he ordered. “What?” said Lud turning to face Solomon. “Be still! Stop moving”, said Solomon, and the peasant froze. Solomon moved forward, studying the ground intently. There were prints in the mud that he had not noticed earlier. “Back away over there” he said gesturing. “Shall I prepare you some food Mi’Lord?” Lud asked doing as he was bid. “Fine, but no fire” Solomon replied, not looking up “It would be seen miles around”.

Careful not to disturb the tracks, Solomon crouched and studied them intently. They were difficult to read, for the prints were old and crossed over themselves time and again. Nevertheless, after several minutes Solomon had identified the tracks of nine separate individuals and their steeds. He judged that they had made camp here a week ago, perhaps two. His eyes narrowed when he came across one particularly clear hoofprint. The Depth of the track indicated a horse heavily burdened, and the mark of its shoe was clear. In the centre the imprint was the Blacksmith’s mark. Solomon recognised the heraldic device instantly. “Monfort” Solomon spat. Standing Solomon marched towards his waiting warhorse, and called for Lud to make ready to depart. “Where do we go, master?” said the peasant as he hurriedly began packing up his pots. “To visit an old neighbour” Said Solomon, his voice filled with rage.

Last edited by Tenebris on Sun Jun 16, 2019 8:11 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Post by Tenebris Thu May 23, 2019 7:51 pm

Chapter Two.

“Monfort!” The sky glowed with pre-dawn light. The peasants of Monfort had been awake for hours, working the muddy fields. Many of them had halted their work as Solomon had passed by, leaning on hoes and muttering under their breath. Solomon had ignored them, his head held high and his face a grim mask. Though they were neighbours, Solomon had never set foot on Monfort lands himself, neither truth be told any member of House Wyrmfyre in over six generations without blood being spilt ever since the days of Monforts defiance in rebellion. The border between Monfort and Solomon’s old lands of Lampton had long been disputed, changing hands countless times over the centuries. As Solomon had ridden towards the border, his anger had deepended for it was clear that the Monfort family had claimed much of lampton land in his absence. By the time he arrived outside the gates of Castle Monfort, a formidable bastion built atop a natural rocky bluff his rage was incandescent.

“Monfort, Sanges Monfort!” Solomon bellowed again, wheeling his warhorse beneath him. Nervous men-at-arms looked down from the castle ramparts at him. All of them garbed in tabards bearing the heraldry of Monfort. Sanges, Marquess of House Monfort and Solomon were of similar age and had a long history of antagonism. Since childhood they had been raised to loathe one another, and even though they had fought together in dozens of occasions and House Monfort was still sworn vassals of the King, they could never be anything but rivals. Lud licked his lips, hundreds of bowmen were stationed along the walls and a pair of mighty trebuchets were positioned atop the gatehouse. Scores of men-at-arms barred the way, shields locked together. Solomon was undaunted, refusing to be intimidated by mere peasants. “Show yourself Monfort!” he shouted “Solomon, Duke of Candor and Prince of Leostonnia demands it!”

At last, a young knight appeared atop the gatehouse. His hair was dishevelled and he was still blinking the sleep out of his eyes. Solomon did not recognise him. “What is it you seek here, my Prince?” called the Knight. “Fetch your master, and be quick about it” shouted Solomon rage still consuming him “I will not bandy words with you or any of Sanges lackeys”. Lud winced as the Knight’s face reddened and several archers seemed to nock arrows to strings. “I am a Prince of the blood, any man who dares loose an arrow in my direction will meet the entire wrath of Leostonnia and the King”. His face flushed, the Knight turned and disappeared from sight. For long minutes, Solomon and Lud waited while men-at-arms and peasant bowmen shuffled their feet awkwardly. Lud tried to shrink, making himself as inconspicuous as possible, while Solomon paced back and forth before the gatehouse, his mount snorting and stamping its hooves in agitation.

Finally, the ranks of men-at-arms in front parted, and an elderly Knight appeared, his expression cold. This Knight Solomon recognised, though he could not recall his name. The Knight bowed curtly, just low enough not to be openly discourteous. “The Marquess of Monfort and his lady bid you welcome, my Lord Prince Solomon” said the Knight. “My Lord is currently sitting for breakfast, and asks that you join him”. Solomon dismounted, and a peasant ran forward to take his reins. “Stay with the horses” he said to Lud, before turning back towards the Knight of Monfort. “Lead on” said Solomon. The Knight nodded, and turned on his heel in a militaristic manner, leading the way into the Castle.

“My Prince, what a pleasant surprise, your grace” said Sanges with a sardonic half smile. “I would of thought you would be preoccupied now as the illustrious Duke of Candor”. The Marquess was a lean man in his early thirties, handsome in an angular, sharp featured way. His hair was a pale brown and he sported a slender goatee beard. His clothes were finely made, and edged in silver. A long table laid with a spread fit for Solomons Lord Father the King himself was laid before Sanges. Rich aromas made Solomon’s stomach knot, and he began to salivate despite himself, it had been more than two weeks since he had eaten a meal not prepared by his manservant Lud, who was a poor cook at best. “Sorry to disappoint, Sanges” said Solomon, dragging his gaze from the food on display. The Marquess of Monfort did not rise from his high-backed seat, a subtle insult that Solomon did not fail to notice and he looked Solomon up and down.

“My, my it is quite the sight to have you here. It has been what, five years since you left the Lordship of Lampton to your Nephew?”, “Six”, “Six years” Said Sanges, taking a swig of wine. “How time flies. Please, sit. Be careful though these chairs were imported all the way from Brysur at not inconsiderable cost”. “I will stand, thank you”, said Solomon coldly. “As you wish” said Sanges, shrugging. He gestured towards the food on the table. “Eat, drink. You look half starved”. “I did not come here to eat your food, nor to trade insults Sanges” Said Solomon. “Oh?” replied Sanges, “Then to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”. “I have returned to visit my Nephew and come to find only ruin” said Solomon, “And to suffer the insult of seeing Monfort peasants tilling Lampton land. I have seen no sign of even one of my nephews vassal Knights nor even his Guardian Baron Montcada. I come here to call you to account for these transgressions, Monfort, and I swear by all that I hold holy in this world that if you have done harm to my Nephew and his Household, I will kill you where you stand”.

Holding Solomon’s gaze, Sanges reached out and plucked a shelled quail’s egg from a silver plate. He popped it between his teeth and washed it down with another swig of wine from his ornate giblet. “Are you done?” Said Sanges, dabbing at his lips with a silk napkin. “Long has the Monfort line looked upon the lands of Lampton with envious eyes. I should have known that you would make a play for them in my absence” said Solomon. “Did you slay Bertran with your own blade, Sanges, or did you have one of your Knights do the deed for you?”, “I am no murderer of children, and I would be well within my rights to demand justice for such an insult, offered in my own hall no less. However, you are clearly aggrieved and not in full control of yourself. What creature did your Nephew offend, Solomon, to see it suffer so, the Wyrmfyre line perhaps might be cursed?”, “Hold your tongue Sanges, such words are treasonous to the royal line”, “Well I warn you Solomon, do not throw your baseless insults and accusations in my direction again or I will not be so tolerant, I would not wish what has befallen to your Nephew upon anyone, even you, but my patience can be pushed only so far”.

“I saw men garbed in the regalia of Monfort patrolling Lampton lands” Said Solomon in an even voice, regathering some control of his temper. “And I know that your men have camped in the ruins of Lampton Castle. What explanation do you offer for this?”, “I would not have an empty unguarded land bordering my own” Said Sanges in a matter-of-factly manner, “Without a standing military force, Lampton would be a breeding ground for miscreants and outcasts, a haven for bandits or worse. I am merely ensuring the protection of my own lands by sending patrols into your Nephew's former lands. I have annexed a portion of Lampton lands as a result to pay for this additional militia, in lieu of recompense for whom should I claim recompense from? As I said before you are now Duke of Candor, far from these lands”. “And what of my Nephew, what became of him?”, before Sanges could answer, a side door to the chamber opened and a lady swept into the room, trailed by handmaidens. Rose scented perfume wafted into the room in her wake. “You know my wife, Lady Beatrice”.

“Your Wife?” Solomon said with a certain degree of shock. The last time he had seen Lady Beatrice had been within the halls of Castle Lampton, she was Baron Montcada’s Daughter, and the old Baron while he had always been far more of a father than Solomon’s own had hoped to make Solomon and Beatrice court one another. He had known her to be a warm-hearted and beautiful young woman, born of a wealthy and respectable noble family, and he had always found her company engaging, but the last he spoke he told her he loved another. He remembered the memory vividly, he told her of his love for the Mystery Sapphire Knight, Khada Dis “It pains me admitting it, like a scar on my very soul. I love her without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love her simply without issue or pride. The Sapphire Knight has buried herself into me so that she is my almost every waking thought, her wild ferocious personality combined with her kind faithful heart. She is an enigma I will never fully understand or comprehend, but I no longer care, all I know is that without her my heart aches I cannot marry you Beatice while my heart still longs for her” Solomon had spoken those words so long ago, and him and Beatice parted as she fell to tears.

“Solomon, I thought I’d never see you again” said Beatice as she rushed across the chamber hugging him tightly, tears in her eyes. Solomon was brought back from the memories of his past as he raised his right eyebrow inquisitively down at Beatice. “You married Sanges?” said Solomon. “He is a good man, Solomon, and a dutiful father”. Beatice spoke softly “You have children, congratulations” Said Solomon, stepping awkwardly away from her embrace. “Beatice tell me, where is your father, where is my Nephew. What happened to Lampton?”. Fresh tears welled in Beatice’s eyes and Sange’s own expression darkened. “I’m sorry, Solomon” Beatice said.
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Post by Tenebris Sat Jun 15, 2019 9:24 am

Chapter Three.

Solomon stared at the empty plate in front of him. Despite its quality and his hunger from his several days of travel on the road, the food had been like ash in his mouth. “It was ablaze by the time my Knights and I arrived”, said Sange. “There was nothing to be done. It burned solidly for two days, and it was a week before the embers cooled”. “The Light must have graced and looked over me”, said Beatice. “Only my two handmaidens, a stableboy and I escaped”, “How she didn’t break a leg leaping from her window, I’ll never know” said Sanges in an almost sympathetic manner. “Two Knights and a handful of men at arms, how could they have killed them all?” Asked Solomon still attempting to grasp what he had been told, “There were fifteen vassal knights, as well as what, forty men-at-arms? Fifty? At lampton, it is inconceivable that so few men did this”. “They were no men, they seemed as though shadows made real, demons” Said Beatrice. “You saw them, you said?” Asked Solomon. “Only from afar, I was in my champers preparing for bed when I heard them arrive at the castle gates. It was late. I heard the voices of the Knights welcoming the newcomers, as if they knew them. Their voices wereraised, not in alarm but in surprise, joy even. At first I thought maybe it was you, Solomon, returning to visit your Nephew, but I was mistaken. The screams started soon after that”.

Solomon leaned forward, focused completely on Beatices words. Her face was pale and drawn, and her eyes misted over as she took herself back to that fateful night. “I know its hard” Said Solomon. Beatice composed herself before continuing. “I left my room and was coming down the stairs. There were bodies everywhere. The screams were deafening. I could see one of them clearly through the open doors of the main hall. He - it - was covered in blood, from head to toe, I ran to your Nephews room, but one of those sinister monsters had already been there”, she sobbed, and it took a moment to contain herself before continuing once more “He looked as though he was sleeping, his eyes closed, but there wasso much blood… The Baron was there too. He died with sword in his hand, blind as he was, the brave old fool. I ran to my room, and barricaded the door. I stayed there until I smelled smoke. The floor started to get hot. When the heart became unbearable I leapt from my window”.
“The Knight you saw” Said Solomon, “DId you see his heraldry?”, “I’m not sure, but I remember white, black on white his shield, the black figure on the shield seemed to coil and swirl through the haze of the night”. Solomon released a deep inhale as he seemed to collect himself “I think I know who it is, a Black snake on a white field, that could only be the heraldry of Donovan of Arlons”. “The Knight that defeated your brother the Crown Prince at the tournament in the Capital?” Said Sanges, “Am I right?”. “You are”. “Arlons?” Said Beatice “Where is that? I am not familiar with the name”, “I am not surprised” Said Sanges, “For it is a cursed place. It lies within the borders of the Nightwing domain through the rotting forest and within the swamp. The unclaimed Dukedom”. Beatrices eyes widened with horror. “And that is where I go” said a solemn Solomon.

Arlons, realm of the Damned. Lud stared agead with wide unblinking eyes as the barge made steady progress across the black waters of the River Logres. His gaze was locked in the near distance, where a solid wall of fog rose up, linking the icy black water with the overcast sky, concealing the shores of Arlons as the Leostonnians knew it, but it was the realm of the Nightwings, the accursed dominion of rot and decay. The man servant shivered. “It is like the edge of the world” said Lud. “And we are going straight towards it”, “Nonsense” replied Solomon, “It is fog, nothing more”. He was turning a sword over in his hands, marvelling at its workmanship. The blade was flawless, gleaming silver and the pommel was beautifully crafted with an embedded jewel. They were approaching the midway point of the Logres, and the river’s black water was flowing fast and deep beneath them.

Squad guard towers could be seen along the river bank in the distance behind them, on the Northern side of the Logres River. These towers were positioned all along the many hundreds of miles across the southern borders of Leostonnia. Funded by the King’s coffers, these bastions had been erected almost Two hundred years earlier. And they stood as silent sentinels, ever watchful for a threat from Arlons. At the first sign of trouble, the massive pyres atop the towers would be lit, one after another, spreading the word faster than an eagle could fly, or rather a Dragon. Solomon’s horse whinnied and shuffled uneasily, hooves sounding sharply on the Barge’s deck. Standing, Solomon moved back to where the destrier was tethered and spoke to her in soothing tones, stroking her neck. Five surly boatmen worked the barge in silence, but Solomon ignored them. Having settled his warhorse, he made his way towards the bow, where Lud sat clutching the gunwale. The Barge rocked gently to and fro, and Solomon, unused to being on the water kept a solid grip on the railing as he moved to the front of the barge.

“No good will come of this”, said an anxious Lud. The Peasant was clearly terrified. The fog loomed hundreds of feet above them, like the sheer walls of a castle marking the midway point across the Logres. The manservant closed his eyes and muttered a prayer as the barge entered the murk. A chill descended on them, its touch wet and cloying, and visibility was suddenly reduced to less than a few feet. The mist seemed to swallow up all sound, making even the lapping of water upon the hull of the barge sound strangely distant. The fog seeped in under Solomon’s armour, making his skin wet and clammy, and he began to shiver. Something ground against the underside of the barge, which began to rock back and forth alarmingly. “What was that?” Squeaked Lud, eyes snapping open, fingernails digging into the wooden gunwale. “Big Fish”, said one of the grim-faced boatmen. Solomon was unsure if the man was joking or not. Within minutes, Solomon was soaked to the skin, his silvery-blonde hair clinging in long wet strands down his neck. The Journey through the fog seemed to last an eternity.

Strange noises echoed around them, creaks, groans and distant screams that Solomon guesed were but birds although they sounded distinctly human. On more than one occasion he was convinced he heard whispering voices nearby, but saw nothing. Lud gave a yelp at one point, and Solomon glared at him. “I felt someone breathing on my neck” said Lud, his voice strained. “You imagined it”, said Solomon with a sign, “Be silent”. Solomon was starting to doubt the boatmen’s ability to guide the barge safely through the fog when the sound of gravel scraping against the hull signalled their arrival on the shores of Arlons. The Riverbank appeared like a mirage through the fog as the barge came to a grinding halt in the shallows. The land was rendered in shades of grey and hidden in mist, but a narrow strip of black sand soon emerged forming a beach in front of them.

Clearly eager to be away, the boatmen unloaded the barge hastily. There was a brief struggle to get Lud’s mule off the deck. The obstinate beast was reluctant to step ashore, and the struggle only ended after Solomon slapped it hard on the flank. His own steed was equally uneasy, but did as it was bid with less complaint, stepping off the front of the vessel and splashing into the shallow black water. Without a word of farewell, the boatmen poled the barge off the river bank and were swallowed by the fog. It was as dark as twilight, though it couldn’t have been an hour past midday. Looking around them, it seemed to Solomon as if all the colour had been bleached from the land. The sun had been shining through the clouds on the other side of the river, but it was nowhere to be seen here. The grass and vegetation was shrivelled and dead. A lone tree stood nearby, it's trunk twisted. A raven the size of a small dog perched on a leafless branch, watching them with its head cocked to one side. Solomon saw movement in the corner of his eye, but whenever he turned to face it, it was gone. “We’re never leaving here alive”, said Lud. Somewhere in the mist, a wolf began to howl.
Archon of the Nightwings

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A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only] Empty Re: A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only]

Post by Tenebris Sun Jun 16, 2019 8:06 pm

Chapter Four.

Something was hunting them. They had barely halted, riding westwards through lonely, wing-swept landscapes and muddy fields filled with rotting crops. They had passed through a number of isolated Human peasant hamlets, but seen only glimpses of the inhabitants peeking out at them through barred windows. The haunted realm had at first seemed to exist in a permanent state of twilight, but the shadows deepened as twilight gave way to night. With no visible moon or star in the sky overhead, the darkness was soon all consuming. Only far beneath the the world into caverns themselves had Solomon ever experienced such utter blackness. Lighting torches, they continued on through that first, nightmarish night.

The Darkness was filled with the howling of wolves, the beat of heavy leathery wings, and the rustle of unseen creatures in the undergrowth nearby. They dared not rest, and pushed on through the night. A multitude of eyes glinted in the torchlight, watching their progress. In a break in the ever-present fog, Solomon glimpsed huge, black-furred wolves loping alongside the road, dogging their progress. Wolves were not the only things stalking them, on more than one occasion Solomon glimpsed hunched figures on the road behind them. “They’re back again,” said Lud, his voice strained as he looked back along the road behind. “They have been there for some time,” replied Solomon. “They’re growing bolder.” “We need to find shelter, we cannot travel on through another night without rest, not hounded by those… things,” stated Solomon.

They continued on in silence as the shadows deepened around them. Abruptly the muddy road turned and veered over a small creek, angling straight into the dark forest they had so far been skirting. The wood was shadowy and threatening, its trees bloated and misshapen. Their trunks were rotten and covered in lichen and fungus. “Do we go in?” asked Lud. “It has to lead somewhere, and we have to keep moving” Said Solomon firmly. With a nudge, he urged his steed on. Its hooves sank into the marshy ground as it stepped down to the shallow creek. The water stank, and was covered in a film of scum. With a kick of encouragement, Solomon’s warhorse leapt forward, clearing the stream and climbing the bank on the other side. Lud’s mule was incapable of such a feat and seemed reluctant to step into the foul waters. As Lud kicked and swore at the stubborn beast, Solomon’s gaze was drawn upwards by the ugly cawing of carrion birds. More than a dozen corpses were strung up in the trees overhead. Hanging from ropes and gibbets. They spin gently as black birds tore strips of fesh from the bodies.

Movement in the trees dragged his attention down from the grisly sight. Shadows were detaching themselves from the surrounding darkness, edging towards them. Solomon grasped hold of the hilt of his arming sword and pulled it from its sheath on his side, holding it in the direction of the creatures brandishing it in the darkness. “Hurry up, Lud!” he hissed. Perhaps catching a scent of the hunters on the breeze, the mule lurched forwards suddenly, almost throwing Lud from its back, and the peasant lost his grip on the reins. “Whoa!” Shouted Lud, clinging on desperately as the mule set off down the roadway, ears flat against its skull. Solomon’s own steed flared its nostrils and stamped its hooves, and he fought to keep her under control, guidingit skilfully with his knees as he held aloft his torch in one hand and sword in the other. He heard something hiss nearby, the sound low and sibilant, and he kicked his steed into a canter. It needed no encouragement, and took after Lud instantly.

Glancing back, Solomon saw a pack of hunched creatures loping after them. He could not tell if they were human or beast, or some horrid blend of the two. Something caught at the plume of his Helmet, scratching upon the rear of his Helm, and Solomon swing his sword with a cry. It was just a branch, and Solomon Swore, berating himself. Foul-smelling sap was dripping like blood from the tree, and it recoiled with a groan, twigs shivering. “Light above…” Solomon breathed. The other trees seemed as though they were leaning in towards them, branches reaching, as the path appeared to grow narrower. Ducking away from snagging twigs, Solomon urged his warhorse into a Gallop.

A Knight of Leostonnia Chapters 1-4 [Read only] Forest10

Within a few heartbeats he had drawn alongside Lud, still clinging vainly to his panicked mule, and he reached out and grabbed the beast’s wildly swinging reins. Solomon forced the animal to slow its wild gallop. Behind him, the road had seemed to clear again. It was half an hour before they escaped the grotesque wood, and Solomon let out a breath that he didn’t realise he had been holding. Up ahead he saw a small farmhouse. Turning up a muddy path he led the way towards it. There was no sign of life at the farm other than a starving three-legged goat tethered to a rotten stump. The pitiful animal’s ribs were clearly visible beneath its stretched skin. It bleated frantically, pink tongue protruding as it strained on its chain. Solomon spied a small covered well, and slid from his saddle alongside it. He began drawing the bucket up from below, hauling it up on its thin rope. His horse lathered in sweat, its mouth flecked with foam. Solomon hoped the well-water was drinkable.

Solomon dragged the bucket over the lip of the well, and lifted it to his nose. Frowning he brought it to his lips and took a swig. He spat it out instantly, coughing. “Bad?” asked Lud. “Bad,” replied Solomon with a sigh, throwing the bucket to the ground in disgust. It split like an overripe fruit, spilling its contents. His stomach churned as he saw bloated worms wriggling in the water. A Woman’s cry sounded nearby, high-pitched and in pain, and it was joined by voices raised in anger or excitement. The sounds were coming from around the side of the farmstead’s barn. Solomon drew his sword and rode towards it. A foetid stench assailed his nose as he approached the barn, something akin to rotting meat and excrement. Rounding the rotting structure, he saw a cluster of peasants gathered around a woman on the ground. They were beating her mercilessly with sticks, and Solomon winced at the savagery of the attack.

The Woman screamed again, but was knocked back to the ground as she tried to rise. The Peasants laughed cruelly, clearly enjoying their sport. Indignation and anger swelled within Solomon, and with a yell, he kicked his steed forwards. The Peasants looked up in shock, then scattered. They took off over the fields, and Solomon dragged on the reins, cutting short his pursuit. “Cowards,” snarled Solomon, shaking his head in disgust. He sheathed his sword and turned his attention to the woman. She was sitting on the ground like a broken puppet, slumped forward over her splayed legs. Her hair was long and unkempt, hanging down over her face. Her thin shouldered heaved with each pained intake of breath. “They are gone,” said Solomon, stepping towards her “They will trouble you no more”. Her tattered lower class garb was ripped at the shoulder, exposing skin that was purple with bruises and cuts. The Girl made no move to cover herself, and Solomon averted his eyes out of modesty. “You are hurt”, he said, stepping close.

Her head snapped up and Solomon caught a glimpse of bloodshot eyes staring out through the girl’s tangle of matted hair. Thin lips drew back to expose filthy, jagged teeth, and as Solomon recoiled in disgusted she lashed out. Seizing his forearm. Swearing, he tried to pull away, but the girl was surprisingly strong and held him in a vice-like grip. With a feral hiss she slashed at him with her free hand, fingers curved like talons. Those fingers were long and bone-thin, their nails cracked and encrusted with filth. Instinctively, Solomon turned his face away from the blow, a movement that undoubtedly had he not been wearing his helmet would have saved his eyes from being torn from their sockets.

With a curse, Solomon backhanded the feral peasant hard in the side of the head. She slammed heavily to the ground, losing her grip, and Solomon backed away. Scrambling on all fours, the girl glared up at him, pure hatred burning in her eyes. An animalistic growl rumbled from deep in her chest. Her teeth were bared and she began to crawl swiftly toward him, like a spider closing in on its prey. Solomon drew his arming sword, and she hesitated. Sensing her indecision, he yelled loudly and took an aggressive step towards her. With a hiss, the girl turned and fled. He watched her go, revulsion written on his face, but his head snapped around as he heard Lud scream “Master!”.
Archon of the Nightwings

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