Authors: J. K. Swift
Tags: #greek, #roman, #druid, #medieval, #william wallace, #robin hood, #braveheart, #medieval archery crusades, #halberd, #swiss pikemen, #william tell
J. K. Swift
Published by UE Publishing Co.
Copyright 2012 by J. K. Swift
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Chris Ryan, collecula
Edited by Vincent Hillier
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or
Erich stood over Gissler’s body and absently stroked
the three stumps on his right hand that had once been fingers. A
crossbow bolt protruded from Gissler’s upper chest. Erich took a
moment to admire the unknown archer’s skill, for if the shot had
struck a fraction of an inch lower, Gissler’s chainmail vest may
have spared his life. Or, perhaps it was merely luck. That was far
more likely. Luck, or rather, its absence had killed far more
people than skill ever would.
Erich’s brows furrowed and he crossed his arms.
There was something odd about the angle of the bolt. And the entire
shaft was crusted in dried blood, all the way to the tips of its
A crash and the sound of splintering wood caught his
attention. He turned away from the corpse and saw Reto climbing
down from the top of the cage wagon. The bald, leathery-faced man
cursed as he dropped to the ground.
“Nothing here. Found a strongbox but no coins,” Reto
He pulled something flat and heavy that was tucked
under his arm and tossed it into the trees.
“What was that?”
Reto shrugged. “Parchment. Maybe a book. That one
got anything good on him?”
Erich nodded. “A fine sword. Take it and the mail
vest, but leave the clothing.” They were too stiff with old blood
Reto scurried over and picked up Gissler’s sword. He
whistled in appreciation and tucked it into his belt. His small
eyes darted over Gissler’s corpse. “And what is wrong with those
boots? Look broken in and comfortable to me. Might be my size,
Erich held up his hands. “Take them. But if you do,
you offer up your own boots to one of the other men, if they want
them. And you can carry that sword for now, but when we get back to
camp it goes into the pool.”
Reto flashed his teeth for only a second before
bending to pilfer Gissler’s corpse. Erich watched as his man tugged
off the corpse’s boots and ripped off his tunic to get at the
Erich told himself he should be enjoying this moment
more. This was, after all, one of the bastards who had killed most
of his men those many months ago. The past half-year had been
beyond difficult. But that was nothing new for him.
Erich’s father had been a grain farmer until his
wife died when Erich was ten. Life had been hard while she was
alive, but with her passing, Erich’s father and even the land
itself seemed to give in. The crop shriveled and the next year
blight finished it off. They starved for a season, earning what
they could by begging, and, unknown to his father, some minor
thefts. The next year the community hired Erich’s father as an
He was to take everyone’s animals up high into the
Alps to forage for summer pasture and would not return for three
months. He left in early spring, leaving Erich alone on their rocky
land to fend for himself. When his father returned in late summer,
Erich was gone.
He fell in with rough men, and realized that to
survive, he would need to be rougher yet. After ten years, and many
a hard lesson learned, he formed a brigand band of his own. They
did well, flourished even. Until he lost half his men when they
made the mistake of ambushing Gissler’s group.
Erich had built his band back up to twenty men, but
he needed half again that number if he had any hope of seizing even
the smallest merchant caravan. Especially considering the quality
of his current followers.
He looked at the sword sticking out of Reto’s belt
and wondered if it was the same blade that had cut off his fingers.
He could not remember the look of the sword, for it had happened
too fast. The man behind the weapon, however, was another story.
Erich could still hear the contempt in his words:
He will not be
any good with a bow for the rest of his miserable life.
He was right, of course. Erich also could no longer
grasp a sword handle in his right hand, and had resorted to
practicing with his sinister hand. It was still clumsy and awkward,
but he knew with time he would adapt. What other choice did he
Erich wandered to the side of the road and peered
into the trees at the leather-bound object Reto had discarded.
Turning his head to protect his eyes, he squatted and retrieved the
book from beneath a prickly bush. He turned it over in his hands,
surprised by its weight.
So, this is a book
It was the first time in his life he had ever held
one. He unfastened the intricate buckle and fanned through the
first few pages. He grunted with disappointment at the lack of
pictures, then squinted at the flowing script and wondered at its
Reto was right. The book was worthless to men like
them. He closed it and ran his hand once over the smooth cover. But
there were others who valued these curiosities more than gold.
Erich tucked the book under his arm and walked over
to a horse grazing at the side of the road. She cast him a sidelong
glance as he approached and snorted, but did not consider him
enough of a threat to give up the sweet tufts of grass overflowing
into the road from the forest floor.
Someone had unhitched her from the wagon and left
her to roam free. Her coat still bore harness marks, and
unfortunately, a prominent Habsburg brand on her rump. Erich would
have to leave her behind. No horse trader within a thousand leagues
would buy a stolen Habsburg mount.
Four years ago Erich knew of another group of
brigands that had been brazen enough to take three of Duke
Leopold’s horses from a stable in Andermatt. Habsburg soldiers
hunted them for weeks, and when they found them, the horse thieves
were hung and quartered. Their torsos were dragged through
Andermatt until they fell apart. Their limbs received a similar
treatment in various villages to the east, and the thieves’ heads
were sent to Altdorf to be placed atop poles in the town square.
The Habsburgs placed a high value on their horses—much higher than
the lives of men such as Erich.
He glanced around, wondering where the other half of
the two-horse team was.
If someone had been fool enough to steal
one, why stop there? Why not take them both?
His eyes picked up two skid marks carved into the
surface of the road. They were the width of a man’s shoulders and
led from the wagon to the forest edge. Puzzled, Erich followed the
trail a few steps into the trees where the dense brush swallowed it
Reto came to Erich’s side and scratched his stubbled
head. “Looks like someone stole a horse and dragged something in
there. What do you think it was? Another strong box maybe?”
Erich could see where something large had brushed
aside branches to enter the woods, but then he could make out no
further trail. He pointed to a single drop of blood on a rock at
the road’s edge.
“It was a person. Someone on a stretcher made of
branches. Someone hurt.”
“Should we follow them?”
“Follow what, exactly?” Erich said.
He stared into the trees. Their trunks swayed and
creaked in the breeze. He swore he could feel them staring
He shook his head. Like the crumbled bits of a dried
leaf on a windy day, the trail had simply vanished.
The whispers came for Seraina in sleep, as they
often did. Some time ago, or perhaps only moments before, she
recalled sitting down against a giant spruce and closing her eyes.
Seraina could still feel the ridges of rough bark pressed against
her back. That sensation was a tie to the waking world and she
latched onto it, resisting the pull of the voices.
Her visions were rare and, so she was told, a gift
from the Great Weave. Something to be treasured. But these voices
calling from afar, differed from the ones she had heard before.
They grew, both in volume and quantity, and as they became louder,
they seemed to insist that Seraina listen. No, they
to be heard. Finally, Seraina understood.
They were screams.
Wails of terror, pain, fear, and rage. The
realization tore Seraina completely away from the waking world. The
comforting reassurance of the tree’s bark against her back was
gone. She found herself hurtling through gray mist that clogged her
nostrils and filled her mouth as she drew in deep breaths to ease
the frantic pace set by her heart. The screams became louder, the
anguish so unbearable, she clapped her hands over her ears knowing
full well it would do little good.
She had to help them.
The mist cleared. Not gradually, but all at once,
like the goddess Ardwynna herself had banished it from her forest
realm with a clap of her hands.
Seraina floated high above the ramparts of the
Altdorf fortress. A great host encircled the keep, pouring through
and over broken sections of the outer walls. In the distance, the
sky glowed with the heat of a thousand fires as the town
The winds carried Seraina lower, in an erratic swoop
like a swallow chasing mosquitoes. But this bird had no control
over her descent and Seraina soon gave up trying to direct her
flight. She took a deep breath and surrendered herself to the Winds
of the Weave, knowing full well where they meant to take her. She
closed her eyes, but that only brought the gruesome images of war
into focus. There was no way to shield one’s eyes while trapped
within a vision.