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Prologue


I've always felt that I had at least one good novel inside of me.
Here is the prologue to it... let me know what you think.

Collins clutched his cloak tighter against the frigid wind. The snow continued to drift down, and a glance at the gray sky revealed no hint as to when it would let up. Taking a look around at the handful of riders around him, and noting their heads bent against the wind, the man urged his mount to catch up to the group's leader. Pulling up alongside the lead horse, the soldier drew breath to speak to the captain. His captain was as good a soldier as there was, Collins figured, but there were times when it was best not to intrude. The men were exhausted, however, and it was time to speak up. "Captain," he said, "we've been at this for better'n a day now. The men and mounts both are spent, and it'll be dusk soon. We won't catch anyone in this state, 'specially not at night." He paused for a moment, studying the way his breath formed white clouds in the chilly air. At first, it had seemed he would get no response. The captain seemed to be staring off into the distance, and Collins almost repeated his statement. But finally a melodious, if somewhat weary, voice responded. "You are right, of course. Sound the halt." The captain turned to face the men. Blond hair spilled down to frame a face that could only be described as beautiful. The captain stood fairly tall for a woman, at a couple of inches shy of six feet. Her form was muscular, yet not hard, though at the moment it was hidden by chain mail. Two almond-shaped, vividly blue eyes drew the onlooker's gaze. What held the gaze, however, was the intensity behind those eyes. Kyndril Illanian seemed to radiate her presence; those around could almost feel her will. Kyndril took a careful look around, satisfying herself that this would be a safe spot to rest. They were on a relatively high hill, with a satisfactory view of the terrain around. No one would be able to approach them undetected. Kyndril took one last look at the forest waiting below them when she froze. Snaking its way into the sky above the trees was a thin tendril of smoke. *************** The chase had begun the day before, when the patrol had stumbled across a sobbing boy of about eight years. Between fits of tears, the boy had explained to the soldiers that someone had hurt his family. Kyndril had calmed the lad enough to convince him to take them to his family. The boy led them to a tidy, if small, farmhouse fairly near the main road. Worriedly, Kyndril noted the lack of smoke from the chimney, as well as the reddish-brown smear in the snow by the door, and her hand drifted to the pommel of her blade. But the boy cried out to the house, and almost immediately, a woman burst through the door, sobbing and laughing, and clutched him tight. "Jarus, we thought we had lost you, too!" When the woman had regained her composure enough to notice the king's lion on the soldier's tunics, she quickly invited them in. Indicating for two of her more experienced men to join her, Kyndril followed the woman into the little farmhouse. Inside, a grim sight awaited them. A man struggled to sit up, but the color drained from his face, and his eyes rolled back into his head, and he slipped into a semiconscious state. Towels had been used to form a makeshift bandage for his leg, but the unnatural angle at which it rested belied its true condition. In the corner of the small room lay an inert form covered by a white sheet. It did not move. Kyndril took stock of the situation and gestured for one of her men. "Bring Braxtus. The man's leg is obviously broken, and he may be hurt otherwise, as well." The trooper nodded and stepped out of the house. The captain turned toward the woman, who was still clutching her son. "My healer will tend to your husband. Tell me what happened." The mother took a deep breath and passed a hand over her eyes. When she had collected herself well enough to speak, she began. "A group of riders came to the house earlier today. We thought nothing of it; it's not at all uncommon. Living so close to the road, travelers often stop by for some fresh milk, a few eggs, what have you. We welcome the few extra coins that it brings…we don't have much money, you know." Kyndril nodded, and prompted the woman to continue. "These were a little odd, though. They all wore black cloaks, and they seemed to be looking for something. Still, though, we thought nothing of it." "I did!" the boy interjected. "I told you they was mean lookin'! I didn't want nothin' to do with 'em! I... I ran and hid." "Hush, Jarus," the mother replied. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "As I said, we see travelers frequently. Lyan, my oldest boy, and Tyria, my girl, went out to meet them. They asked for oats for their mounts, and showed real gold to pay for it. Naturally, Lyan and his father stepped lively to fetch it for them." The healer opened the door then, and the woman took the opportunity to gather herself before finishing the story. "My menfolk were back in the barn, and I was inside fixing the meal when we head Tyria scream. They were taking her! I begged them to stop, but they wouldn't listen; they broke Henel's leg, and hit Lyan in the head. They killed him! They killed my boy!" The woman broke into sobs. Kyndril straightened. "King Jarom does not allow his citizens to be preyed upon." She pulled a silver medallion from inside her cloak, and showed it to the woman. Etched on it was a hammer superimposed on a set of scales. "In addition, I serve Rydor, lord of justice. Those who did this will be punished. And if it can be done, we will return your daughter." The woman merely nodded, unable to speak through her renewed tears. Kyndril moved across the room and knelt beside the healer. "How is he?" The healer continued his work, and replied without looking up. "It is a very bad break, just below the knee. The bone was though the skin. He'll likely always have a limp from it. He should live, however." Kyndril sighed. "Very well. Stay here and tend to him. I'll leave you another set of hands to assist. Get a fire built, and help this woman bury her son. We will return soon." ************** They encountered little trouble in locating the bandits' trail. Jarus had led them to the point where the riders were last seen, and a large amount of hoofprints were clearly visible in the new-fallen snow. It seemed, in fact, that the kidnappers were more interested in speed than in stealth. Kyndril was having difficulty ignoring a growing sense of apprehension. Riders in black cloaks, the kidnapping of a young girl, no robbery apparent, and all a day before the winter solstice. Coincidence, possibly. But it certainly seemed to fit the cultists of D'hurgeon. Try as she might, Kyndril couldn't seem to banish the thought. So she led the men in a relentless pursuit. Darkness fell, and the patrol barely slowed. They stopped to rest a few times over the next day, but only for brief periods. Kyndril felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, and knew intuitively that she was correct. If they were unable to overtake the kidnappers, the young girl would surely become the victim of some dark ritual. By the time she spotted the smoke, her men were exhausted. Kyndril knew that it would be now or never, however, and the soldiers seemed to realize it, as well. Gamely, they urged their mounts down the hill towards the forest. ******************** It was all but dark when Kyndril heard the first low murmur of chanting voices. She signaled for her men to dismount. Briefly, she went over her plan with them. "Approach quietly. Encircle their campsite, but do not show yourselves. Wait until my signal." They nodded in understanding, and some part of Kyndril noted with satisfaction the determination in their eyes. They would not fail her. The soldiers split up, and were quickly lost in the gathering darkness. With all of the stealth she could muster, Kyndril started toward the voices. With her left hand, she briefly grasped her medallion and whispered a prayer for success. Then, she spotted the clearing. Apparently, some woodcutter had built himself a small cabin here in the past, but the structure itself had long since fallen to the elements. His clearing, however, remained, though the forest was beginning to reclaim it, as well. A large bonfire had been built near the center, and a score or so of black robed figures ringed it. One lone tree stood near the fire, and lashed to it was a girl of sixteen or so. Nearby stood a single black-robed figure with his hood cast back, revealing a completely bald head. Kyndril crept to the last tree usable for cover. Not that silence was particularly needed, since it seemed that these people didn't deem sentries to be necessary, and their chanting was reaching a crescendo. The bald man gestured, and two of the seated figures stood and cut the girl loose from the tree. He drew a knife from the folds of his robe, and yanked the girl's head back by her hair. The firelight glittered blood-red off of the blade. "D'hurgeon!" he cried. "Great master of darkness! We come to offer up sacrifice to feed your might!" The chanting fell to just above a whisper. The ringing of Kyndril's blade being freed from its scabbard split the air. "Stop!" she commanded. "There will be no blood shed here tonight! We have you surrounded, and justice will be swift if this does not end now." There was motion all around the edges of the clearing as Kyndril's men made themselves shown. The black-robed cultists outnumbered them, but were apparently unarmed, save for the one knife and a few wooden staves. The hiss of drawn swords was repeated all around the treeline. The chanting broke off in mid-syllable, and several of the cultists began rising to their feet. Kyndril started to take a confident step toward the girl, intent on retrieving her from the bald priest, when a mad grin stretched across his face. "Dark lord! Relish in my offering!" Time seemed to stand still for a moment as the knife descended towards the young woman's throat. Part of Kyndril's mind screamed for action, but her body felt strangely stiff and sluggish. Another part distantly noted that there was no possible way to interrupt the knife's plunge. Tyria had not even finished drawing the breath to scream when the knife sliced across her throat. Her eyes widened, but she made no sound. She would surely have collapsed, but the bald priest kept his iron grip on her hair, his eyes closed and his head tilted back to the sky. Kyndril did not hear the scream that tore from her own throat as she charged through the firelight. She barely noticed the three cultists that attempted to bar her path; the captain allowed training and experience to take over, and the three were quickly dispatched. Her single-minded purpose was to reach the bald fanatic. As she stepped close, the bald man carelessly tossed the still form of the girl aside and moved toward Kyndril. She had barely brought her sword up when the man spread his arms wide and threw himself on the blade. Kyndril's reflexive dodge to the side caused his suicidal strike to glance harmlessly off of her breastplate, and the knife dropped from the priest's nerveless fingers. Sickened by the sight of the leering face nearly touching her own, Kyndril gave the body a shove and allowed it to crumple to the ground. Dropping her sword, she took two steps to the girl's still form. She started to reach for her medallion, but the girl's eyes were fixed and there was blood, so very much blood in the snow. The captain fell to her knees in the snow and let the sobs come...



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Thanks to Olan M. Suddeth Jr. for this contribution!

 


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