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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 1

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Ser Larkel Chapter 1


He is faster than I expected, Ser Larkel thought as he barely parried the slashing stroke of his opponent’s sword.  Metal clashed loudly again and again.  Each strike came at him harder and faster.  The attacks came from all directions, searching for a weakness.


Larkel struggled against his fatigue.  He forced himself to slow his breathing and steady his heart.  It wouldn’t do for a knight of the Steel Tide to faint at the feet of his opponent.  He paused to rest and his foe eased his attack to allow it.


How dare he pity me, Larkel thought, attacking with a newfound rage.  He will sob at my feet when I finish with him.


Larkel’s attacks were well placed and strong.  Still, the knight brushed them away with ease.  He saw a smile grace the little knight’s face as he parried a thrust, almost scoring a hit to Lark’s side.


He missed on purpose.  He toys with me!  Larkel fumed. He plays with me like some farmer’s son.  This one thinks me feeble.


Larkel’s anger fueled his aching arms.  He drove forward, cutting away at the child-like figure, but never getting close to scoring a hit.  At the end of his maneuver, Ser Larkel stood in the same place he started.  His offensive moves all turned quickly defensive by the agile stripling.  The sun shone brightly in his face as it had throughout the fight.  No matter which way he tried to go, his opponent pushed him right back to the sun.


Larkel flexed his stinging hands as the little knight allowed him breath again.  This time, he took the break without objection.  His lungs burned, screaming for air.


Two quick strikes made Larkel jump back out of the reach of his foe.  The knight’s hand throbbed from the sheer power of the blows.


The rest break must be over, Larkel mused trying to regain his focus.


Larkel’s distraction must have been apparent to his foe.  The little knight charged in, trying to take advantage of the situation.  Larkel was again surprised at the speed of the little one’s attacks.  The routines were like nothing he had ever seen before.  And each assault brought a series of new ones, not one recycled from a previous attack.  Ser Larkel stopped hoping for a pattern in the fighting style.


The man was ready for this attack.  He had been a knight far too long to fall victim to himself. The old knight knew he was no match for his enemy’s speed or strength.  But over the years, Larkel learned to rely on wisdom and cunning.  Given the choice, he wouldn’t trade those for all the strength and speed in the world.


Larkel faked a look of surprise, threw his weight from side to side to appear off balance, and retreated from the vicious routine.  His opponent followed, pressing his attack hard.  Larkel’s hands went numb from the repeated blows.


Come, little lion, Larkel urged, come finish the lamb.


The ring of steel on steel echoed through the crowd gathered on the tourney field.  The sound of one clash had not faded when the next sang out.  They blended together, making one continuous clang.  It was music to a knight’s ears.


The Song of Steel. Ser Larkel remembered.


His foe launched a new faster routine meant to finish the old knight.  Larkel made his blocks while trying to ready himself for an attack, should the chance ever come.


The only thing keeping the stripling from pushing his way in and punishing Larkel’s lower regions, was the length of his sword.  If this little knight had been able to wield a full long sword, Larkel knew the match would have been over long before now.


The clash of steel began to sing louder across the open green field.


The song of steel plays for the dance of knives to win the veil of victory.  Larkel knew the words well.  As a page, he recited them over and over for his master.  As a young knight, he learned their true meaning.  And as an old knight, he lived by those words.  But the veil of victory, my young friend, can blind a man.


With unbelievable speed, the little knight caught the inside of Larkel’s sword, and then pushed it wide right.  Quicker than his eyes could follow, his foe pulled a second sword from his belt.  It hit Larkel’s sword just below the hilt, while the other struck just above the tip.  The sword stuck deep in the dirt as the stripling spun to strike at his person. 


Ser Larkel realized the young lion stood where he needed to be.  The old man’s legs were open targets.  His sword, The Red Tide, was much too big to make it back in time to stop his defeat.


All isn’t as it seems, when looking through the veil.


With a thought, the Red Tide shrank to half its size, freeing it from the dirt’s grasp. The knight angled the blade to strike with the flat.  “A true knight controls his blade fully.”  Larkel told the little knight when asked if he would pad his blade.


The Red Tide made a humming sound as it sped toward its prey.  It began to grow.  The blade blocked Ser Larkel’s vision of his target for but a second.  In the dance of knives, a second is an eternity.  His sword would have knocked his foe tumbling across the tourney grounds for all to see.  It would have ended the fight with no question as to who wore the veil of victory.  That is, if the knight had still been where Larkel struck.  But he was long gone.


Larkel caught only the shadow of the little knight.  His blade continued through his swing, throwing him off balance.  He stumbled forward, trying to keep his feet underneath him.  The Red Tide slashed the dirt somewhere behind the old knight, sending vibrations up its full length.  A pain jabbed at the knee joint of his right leg.  A trickle of blood ran down the inside of his armor.  The leg buckled and sent him to his knees.  The feel of cold steel at the base of his neck let him know today, he would not wear the veil of victory.


Do you yield, good knight?”


“I yield.”  The words were foul in his mouth.  I just lost to a zyder.


He squinted against the sun to reassess this knight of Kings Overlook.  He learned fast his first impressions were inaccurate.


This was no normal zyder.  The race boasted many accomplishments.  They were the best brewers in all the kingdoms.  Zyder ale was served at every noble’s table, most referred to it as “Short Ale,” finding the name more appealing.  They made the finest furniture as well.  A Throne of zyder make graced many a king’s throne room.  But as swordsmen, this knight was the first of his kind, and much better than Larkel expected.


The knight was tall as zyders went.  This one stood about four feet, giving Larkel about two and a half feet on the little knight.  The race was thought to be a mixture between wood nymphs and brownies, but most inherited the height from their brownie blood and their long skinny feet from the nymph.  The knight’s face was not the round flat face of a full-blooded zyder.  No, it was slimmer, more chiseled


Brown curls of hair danced around the young zyder’s pale, green face and to his shoulders.  His mail was made of black steel with the symbol of the Oak Tree in the middle of his breastplate.  The armor looked to be of Elvish make, same as his swords.


This zyder, known to all as Bigsby Littlefoot, was the only knight of his kind.  Most of his fading race became too rich and fat around the bellies to dream of wielding a sword.  Bigsby’s middle rippled with fine-honed muscles.  His corded arms bulged as he gripped the sword he wielded so well.


But most amazing thing about this zyder wasn’t his unusual physique, or fine elf-made armor and weapons, not even that he beat a knight of the Steel Tide into a breathless frenzy.  It was his feet.  Black leather boots covered the normal-sized feet of the young knight.  A strange sight indeed, for a race best known by their long, skinny, unshod nadir.  Never had Larkel seen zyder wear anything on their feet.  They believed boots would make them lose their connection with the earth.  It had earned them the nickname “Roughfoot”.


The cry of “Bigsby” erupted from the crowd.  For the first time, Larkel noticed how few Roughfoots made the trip to the tourney grounds.  The crowd was large.  But the majority looked to be humans from the nearby town.  Most showed signs of tainted bloodlines, mixed with ork, elf, zyder, and enenth.  Some turned their arms to display the mark of the crescent moon.  These were the refugees from the Kingdom of Tides.  He would find no friends among this crowd.


“Well fought.”  Bigsby announced.


“Not as well as I had planned.”


“In every contest, someone must lose.”


“I was hoping you could handle that part.”


Larkel managed a chuckle at his own joke.  He drew himself from the ground and examined the cut on the back of his knee.  It was not deep, just enough to draw blood.


“I hoped to someday meet you and see the great sword Red Tide,” Bigsby interjected as the old knight rose to his full height.


He knows of my sword and me.  Larkel thought.  “So you know who I am then?”


“Yes, I have heard all the bard’s songs of you,” Bigsby winked at Larkel, suggesting it was more research than pleasure.


Damn the bard’s lips.  Larkel cursed.  May their bladders fill with sand.  “I am truly honored you took such interest in an old knights’ deeds.”  Larkel smiled to try and ease the anger he was feeling.  “I have also heard tales of your victories.”


“Tourney victories only,” Bigsby said, “nothing like the war victories you have lived.”


“But the bards do sing your praises, Ser Littlefoot.”


Larkel, or “Lark”, as he was called, more for his singing than his surname, cleared his throat and began a song.  The rising and falling notes, marked the song as one made by the zyder folk.


Two swords rang out loud and clear,

They scattered his foes far and near.

The Knight of the look, strong and bold,

Our champion in steel, black and cold.

He faced them all for they feared him most,

Bigsby’s swords cut through the host.

Victory taste sweet and defeat so bitter,

A knight of the Vale saw his to be fitter.

The knight of Vale bared his blade,

He cared not for the rules they made.

No blood shall spill, no blood shall spill.

He pulled his blade free, and moved to kill.

The sword past through

Because the champion was true.

The knave lie dead

The king took his head.


“I have been told this is about Ser Treaker of Vale trying to kill you after a tourney match he lost.”


“Yes, it is,” Bigsby admitted.


“They say you moved so quick, no one saw you dodge the blade.  That it cut you from east to west.”  Lark commented.  “Then you killed him with your bare hands.”


“Tales grow more wondrous every time they are told.  Just think of how many times this one was told before it reached Karal.”


“True,” the knight agreed, “It’s not the manner of the death I wish to know, but rather, if it was Ser Treaker.”


Before their duel, Lark would never have believed this little zyder killed the man most called “The Mountain of Death.”  But after being bested so easily by the agile knight, Lark had no doubts about his skill.


“Yes,” Bigsby confirmed reluctantly. “Was he a friend?”


“Ser Treaker was a friend to none.”


Bigsby seemed to be relieved to hear the words.  Lark could tell this was the only man Bigsby ever killed.  A knight often wonders about his first kill.  What kind of person he was? Did anyone missed him, or would try to avenge him.


Lark had been looking for Ser Treaker for years now.  The rogue knight left a trail of dead through the Kingdom of Tides a few years ago. His king, before he descended completely into madness, sent Lark out to bring Ser Treaker to justice.


Tracking Ser Treaker was easy.  The man was as large as a mountain, and most hated by the common folk of the lands.  The small folk had steered him to an inn near the west plains of the Kingdom of Tides.


Lark found the inside of the inn to be in shambles.  The furniture was thrown about carelessly.  Broken bottles and mugs littered the floor.  A bard sat in the far corner, his finger stuck in a hole in his belly.  Blood oozed down his arm.


The old ale master had tears streaming down his cheeks.  He screamed at the four men raping a young girl on a table.  One of the ale master’s hands had a large pike through it, pinning him to the wall.


The old man’s eyes lit up at the sight of Lark.  It was a time when all knew the shiny steel armor of the Steel Tide, as swift and true justice.


“Please sir, my girl.”  Blood ran from the corners of the old man’s mouth and it was then, Lark spotted the black-shafted arrows in the man’s belly.


Lark looked at the four men at the table.  All wore the blue cloaks with the fiery sword of Vale, but Ser Treaker was not among them.  The girl lay prone on the table.  Her long blond hair caked with blood streaming from the cuts on her head. The child’s eyes were swollen almost completely shut.  It was hard to tell where her nose began; it lay flat and broken against her blood-covered face. Her body was fully exposed, save for the scraps of cloth remaining on her shoulders. This rape had gone on for hours with only the old man and the dying bard, man enough to try and stop it.


“I would do up your pants,” Lark announced, startling the four, “It would be a shame to die with your manhood hanging out.”


The four were poorly trained.  Two tried their best to run for the door. In the end, all four lay face down with their insides spilling on the already bloody floor.


All Lark could do for the bard was offer the mercy of a swift death.  The bard accepted the offer with much thanks.  The old man lived long enough to make sure his daughter was going to be all right.  Then with a look of satisfaction on his face, he slipped into the never-ending slumber of death.


Lark tended to the girl’s wounds for the next three days.  From her, he learned Ser Treaker had been the one to first rape her.  He came into the inn to drink with his men.  After he drank his fill, he asked her father, “How much for a romp with the whore?”


When the old ale master took offence telling him to leave, the brute just laughed, grabbed the old man’s hand and slammed the iron pike into it.  Afterwards, he drug her into the main room and ripped off her clothes.  When he finished, the others where happy to take their turn.  She wasn’t sure when he left the inn, or where he was going.  The girl told the story as if it happened to some other girl in some far off kingdom.  Her voice didn’t flutter with the emotion of reliving her brutal rape or the loss of her father.  Lark felt somehow disturbed by the girl’s acceptance of the tragic event.


He told her it was all right for her to cry, but the girl just replied, “My eyes have no more tears to shed.”


Ser Treaker had not shown his face again in the Kingdom of Tides.  Lark spent many gold pieces trying to find the rogue.  The end result of that coin, bought him only the words of his song.  He knew he must find the knight in the song and verify the words rang true.


“I came,” Lark told Bigsby, “hoping the rogue to still be alive.  So I could drive my blade through his heart.  That is if he had one.”


“What wrong had he done you?”


“I swore an oath to a girl our brave Ser Treaker raped in the east plains of my kingdom.”  Lark’s eyes traveled over to his party.  They singled out the young woman standing beside a short boy in red robes.  He did not mean to let his vision linger on her.


She was not the girl she had been in the inn.  She was hardened by the experience. Sylvia spent every waking moment mastering the rapier hanging at her side, waiting for the day she could drive it into Ser Treaker.  Revenge was all she lived for.  Lark wondered how she would deal with it being stolen away.


Lark was amazed to hear Sylvia speak as his gaze left her.


“Ser Bigsby,” she said. “Was it a painful death?”


“Painful?”  The reply came from the fat Roughfoot they called Fray.  “The man’s lungs filled with his life blood and drowned him.  Can’t really think of a worse way to go.”


How about being nailed to a wall and watching your only daughter be beaten and raped? Lark thought to himself.


Sylvia strolled over to Bigsby.  Lark did not know how to take her approach.  She was a master at concealing her intentions.  The rape had given the girl the uncanny ability to play any character, and she used this skill to hide from the world.  No matter how hard Lark tried to get in, the walls Sylvia built blocked him.


She had grown into a beautiful woman.  Her long blond hair flowed down to the middle of her back.  Her alabaster skin accented her stunning blue eyes that cut right to a man’s heart.  The sun seemed to follow her picturesque face as if attracted to its beauty.  Only a slight crook in her nose remained from the rape to mar her perfection.  Every glance from her set his heart racing.  Oh, how he loved this woman and how hard it was to hide it from her.


“In the plains,” Sylvia started, “women wear a necklace called the virgin’s gift.”  Lark noticed the smile when she saw Bigsby fidget under her stare.  “We give that necklace to the man we give our maidenheads.  Our soulmates.”


She drew a small chain from her bag and held it in front of Bigsby.


“The rape has left me unable to bear fruit and therefore not the makings of any man’s wife.”  Sylvia paused to let that take the desired effect.  Lark could see she was playing the role of the grateful victim, but he knew she would have some reason behind the action.  She always did.  “But I do want to give this to the one who made me feel whole again.  It is yours, Ser Bigsby Littlefoot, along with my thanks.”


Lark looked over to Tomment, the young boy in the red robes Sylvia had been standing beside.  The boy’s face was flush as red as his robes.  The mage gritted his teeth holding back any words fighting to leap from his mouth.  The knight knew the robed boy dreamed of winning the prize for himself.  Lark hoped Tomment comprehended his magic could not match Bigsby’s swords.  The boy might be pompous but far from stupid.  Lark watched him until he saw the anger die in Tomment’s eyes.  Then the boy straightened his robes, and sat down to open the huge book he carried.


Lark noticed, and not for the first time, how clean and fresh Tomment’s appearance looked.  Even after a month in the wilds, being chased by eneth, attacked by goblins, and fighting hoards of wildmen, he still looked like he just left the finest inn in the seven kingdoms.


It has to be some kind of spell. Lark thought.


“I thank you m’lady,” Bigsby said to Sylvia as he took the necklace, blushing as he did.  “There will be a feast back at the town, all will be welcome.”  Bigsby gave the crowd a sharp look as he said this.  The zyder must have known the refugees would not welcome a knight of the Steel Tide.  His king gave the order, but it had been the Tide who branded them and killed their parents.


“I am afraid we will have to decline,” Lark chimed in, “We will return to the castle with you, Ser Bigsby, to counsel with King G’Leaze.”


“On what business do you come to the king unannounced?”  This came from the fat zyder, Fray.


“On my king’s business, I bring a vital message from King Gyger.”


“The Mad King,” Fray sneered, “who does he make war with this week?”


The mocking of his king angered Lark, and he took more pleasure delivering his answer than he should.


“You, I’m afraid,” Ser Larkel answered.









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