Chapter 1 – The Orphaned Heir
Riding in the woods outside the castle walls was one of Faelin’s favorite pastimes. It allowed him time to himself, away from the ever-watching eyes. For this all too brief a time each day he could be a boy and not the son of the king. He relished his time riding with only his fencing instructor Felsik to accompany him.
Faelin was tall and slender as most active boys of fourteen are. He stood straight and tall from the many years of being admonished for not keeping his stance erect. He was happy for the most part and most generally wore a smile on his face. His unruly brown hair was a constant source of concern for his mother as she was forever trying to make some order to it.
This day would however be different and soon his time of pleasure would turn into a time of grief and uncertainty. Unbeknownst to Faelin and Felsik was that during their ride in the woods, the castle was being overrun by the evil warlord Othar and that his father and mother would soon to be dead.
Felsik from that day on would be father, mother and mentor to the boy, a charge he took quite seriously knowing he was shaping the rightful king of the realm. His dark hair was starting to gray and in his eyes was both the look of confidence and intelligence. He was athletically built and a master of the sword, having been devoted to learn all he could about the weapon from an early age.
Othar and his men, charged the king’s castle gate at a full gallop and clove the heads off the three guards as they entered the courtyard.
Sitting on his horse watching his men dispatch the king’s guard, Othar had a stern look upon his face. He sat taller in the saddle than most men of the time. He had a massive chest and stout arms and legs. On his face he wore a full beard and mustache with long gray hair flowing down past his shoulders. On his right cheek, just below the eye, was a scar earned in a battle long ago.
His men had taken out their crossbows upon entering the castle walls and were in the process of picking off the men on the outer walls. The alarm was raised and men rushed out from the buildings only to meet with a similar fate as those that were already slain. Some were shot down with arrows from the deft crossbows, while others were cut down with sweeping strokes of the horsemen’s swords.
Disorganized the king’s men didn’t stand a chance and were easily dispatched by Othar’s battle seasoned warriors. From the courtyard they began to search the buildings and discovered those that were hiding and trying to escape the attack.
Inside, the castle was in turmoil. Guards were running around trying to come up with a plan of defense. No plan, however was to come to them and they were left with only one option and that was to try to hide the king and queen, but even that was going to prove impossible.
Finally the kings men were forced to gather themselves around the king and queen in the most defensible place they could find. Othar and his men were just mopping up the remaining guards outside the castle. When Othar was satisfied there was no longer a chance of losing the battle he dismounted and went into the castle. Now his full attention was on finding and killing the king.
Meanwhile Faelin and Felsik were still riding in the woods, with no idea of the fate about to befall the king and queen, when out of nowhere one of the king’s servants appeared. He was a stout lad, about the same age as Faelin with blonde hair, blue eyes, ruddy cheeks and broad shoulders. He knew that Faelin and Felsik were riding in the woods as usual when the attack began, so he slipped out to find them.
Out of breath when he found Faelin and Felsik, the servant was unable to speak at first. Dismounting they went to the boys side and helped to calm him down, so he could tell them what was wrong. Felsik went to his horse to get water and gave the servant a drink to both help revive him and settle him down.
After a minute the servant regained his composure and began to tell the two what was happening. At once Faelin wanted to go to the aid of his father, but Felsik stayed the boy from leaving.
“How on earth did you escape the castle?” Felsik asked the servant.
“I was in the kitchen when I heard men rushing about. I stopped one of the other servants to find out what was going on. He told me we were under attack and that I should hide,” said the servant, Melsner.
“But that doesn’t answer my question,” said Felsik.
“I’m getting to it,” replied Melsner.
“Well get on with it, please,” said Felsik.
“So, there I was in the kitchen looking for a place to hide when I saw a crack in the wall. I’d never seen it before in the few years I’d been in his majesty’s service.”
“What was it?” asked Faelin.
“I knew it had to be man made cause it was perfectly straight up and down. I pushed on it and it disappeared. Then going a few feet to the left I pushed again and nothing happened. I then went to the right of where the crack was and pushed there and it reappeared. I pushed some more and the crack widened. As I pushed I started to see that it was a door hiding a secret passageway.”
“You mean there’s a secret passageway into the kitchen?” asked Faelin.
“Yes, and to my way of thinking nobody knows it’s there. Anyway I opened it wide enough to squeeze through and once inside I closed it tight. I felt along the wall and found a torch, so I lit it and started to follow the passageway.”
“Where did it come out?” asked Felsik.
“Just down the hill outside the walls of the castle,” said Melsner. “My first thought was to come find you two as I knew you would be riding in the woods as usual.”
“Can you find the entrance again?” asked Felsik.
“Sure I can, but why would you want to go into the castle now?” asked Melsner.
“I don’t want to go into the castle now, but I do want a place for us to hide for awhile,” said Felsik. “Quick now, show me where it is.”
Mounting their horses Felsik help Melsner up behind him and they rode off to the hill where the entrance could be found.
In a short while they were there and Melsner pointed to it, but it was so concealed that neither Felsik or Faelin could see it.
Melsner dismounted and walked to the entrance as the two followed him leading their horses. When they came upon it Melsner pointed once again and this time they could see it. It appeared to be a cave entrance, but it was well concealed by large rocks making it perfect for Felsik’s purpose.
“This will be the perfect place for us to hide for the next few days,” said Felsik. “Let’s get the horses inside.”
Once inside Felsik found and lit the torch Melsner had used to light his way out. Looking around he could tell it would be a fine place to hide for the next few days anyway.
“Melsner, do you think you can sneak back into the kitchen and get food and water enough for us to last three days?” asked Felsik.
“I believe so,” said Melsner. “When do you want me to try?”
“Right now,” said Felsik as he handed him the torch.
“Yes sir,” said Melsner.
Once Melsner was out of sight Faelin and Felsik were left in the dark so Felsik went out to find anything he could to make into a torch. Soon he returned with a tree limb. Just outside the entrance he broke off the end and went straight to his saddlebag where he produced a piece of cloth. Wrapping the piece of cloth around the limb he lit it on fire. Searching the wall of the cave he found a place where he could stick the makeshift torch.
“Now that we’ve got some light in the cave we’d best try to make our stay as comfortable as we can,” said Felsik. “I’m going out to cut some of that long grass I saw as we rode up.
“And I’ll take the saddles and bridals off the horses and tie them up over there with the rope in my saddlebag,” said Faelin.
When Felsik returned with the first load of long grass the horses had been tied. Felsik laid the grass down and went out for more to make some beds for them to sleep upon. Faelin divided up the grass for the two horses to eat.
With the grass laid down for their beds and blankets spread over it, the two laid down to rest and wait for Melsner to return. As they waited Faelin asked, “Do you have any idea what we should do?”
“My boy, I hate to tell you, but your life is not worth much right now. Whoever attacked the castle has already found and killed your mother and father.”
“No, they can’t be dead,” cried Faelin.
“I’m afraid so and as the king and queens only child you are the rightful heir to the throne,” said Felsik.
“Yes, I guess so and as the heir he’ll want me dead, too,” said Faelin. “Who do you think it could be?”
“It can only be Othar. He’s the only one with enough power and gall to pull it off,” said Felsik.
“But why? My father is a good man and a good king.”
“That has nothing to do with it. Othar or whoever it is did this for power, plain and simple,” said Felsik.
Melsner returned and he was laden down with all kinds of foodstuffs for them to eat. He brought with him dried beef, some fresh vegetables and fruits, bread and there was more that he could not carry on this side of the secret door. All three of them went up the passageway to get the rest of the supplies, which consisted of flour, water skins and a keg of ale.
They had enough supplies to easily last them three or four days. Felsik thought that it would be plenty of time for the search for Faelin to subside. Still, to be on the safe side they would leave in the middle of the night when they did leave.
Felsik said, “I think we should stay here until Friday night. When we leave we should make our way as fast as we can to the woods. From the woods we’ll head toward Riverton and where the Slizer River exits the Lilcoth Forest. There in the forest we’ll seek refuge and decide if we want to stay there or move on.”
Faelin said, “I’ll go along with whatever you think.”
All the while Melsner had been listening to the two talk, but he wasn’t sure if he was part of we or not. When they had the matter settled he spoke up asking, “Am I to go with you?”
Felsik responded, “Do you want to go with us? Before you answer remember we’ll be fugitives on the run. There will most surely be a reward for our capture, dead or alive. At any rate it will be a life without roots and most certainly we will have to scratch to survive.”
Melsner answered, “Then you will need me more than ever. I mean, being nobles, things have come easier to you than to me. I’ve had to scratch, as you say, for everything all my life.”
“Then it’s settled, you’ll come with us,” said Faelin. “You may just be the one that saves us all in the end.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that sir, but it will be better than trying to fend for myself. Besides I need to have something and being the king’s servant is better than nothing,” said Melsner.
“Do you know how to cook?” asked Felsik.
“Not really, but I’m willing to learn,” said Melsner.
“Go out and gather some wood for a fire. There’s plenty just to the left as you go out the entrance.”
Soon the fire was going and they had a nice stew going with beef, potatoes, carrots and onions simmering in a nice thick broth. The aroma filled the cave, but to keep it and the smoke from going out the entrance they hung the two blankets over the opening.
They sat down on the ground around the fire and talked about what they should do. Felsik began the conversation, “I’ve been thinking over our options and I still think the Lilcoth Forest is our best choice. We can pick up supplies in Riverton and then go into the Lilcoth Forest to hide.”
“How long do you think we’ll stay in the Lilcoth Forest?” asked Faelin.
“As long as it’s safe. We should be fine there for quite some time. There’s bound to be plenty of game to eat. There a creek that runs through it as well as the river so we’ll have enough water to drink and fish to eat. There are berries to pick and later on we can grow some vegetables as well.”
“Sounds great. Sleeping on the ground, living off the land, working ourselves to death. I can’t wait,” said Faelin sounding every bit like a spoiled brat.
“It won’t be that bad. We can build a shelter, make beds, get a stove and a pump. We’ll go hunting. You like to hunt and fish. Melsner will help with the chores. We’ll make out just fine, said Felsik.
“Yeah, you wait and see. I’ll make you a fine servant, your highness. I’ll keep you and care for you like a proper servant should,” said Melsner.
“Oh, I don’t mean to sound so down, I guess I’m just feeling a little sorry for myself. You are right it will probably be a lot of fun,” said Faelin.
“We understand. You have every right to feel sad,” said Felsik.
“Yeah, Felsik’s right. Losing your home and your parents all at once like…,” Melsner was saying until Felsik cut him off.
“But let’s think of better things like eating this wonderful smelling stew and fixing up this dreary old cave.”
“Yeah, we can hang curtains and put doilies on the chairs if we had any,” said Faelin sarcastically.
Felsik just looked at him and without saying a word Faelin knew what he was thinking.
“Alright I’ll try to look on the bright side of things, but it won’t be easy,” said Faelin.
The rest of the day they spent eating and resting. That night they went out before the moon came up to cut more grass for the horses. When that was done they curled up on their make shift beds and went to sleep.
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