Authors: Katie Roman
The Death Dealer Book 1
By Katie Roman
Copyright © 2013
by Katie Roman
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Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
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Cover Artist: Skylar Faith
Editor: Stacy Sanford
Printed in the United States of America
To my parents, Mary and Mike, who don’t seem to mind I’m a bit strange
In the forests of the northern barony of Arganis, a young woman fled for her life. She was a simple farmer’s daughter and had nothing, but it did not stop the advancing highway robber. No doubt he, like others of his sort, was moving steadily south toward the capital of Cesernan. They came into the small port the barony supported and moved southward to the capital for better plunder. Other highway robbers had threatened girls of the village before, but young Nina did not think she would ever be among them.
Nina’s legs ached from running, but she knew he would soon be on her. She had been warned of the dangers of coming home past dark. Her father insisted she stay at her grandmother’s should the sun set before her chores were completed, but she decided to return home in spite of the warnings. As her body labored forward to avoid capture, she knew the folly of her choice.
Come on, poppet, jus’ a lit’le kiss for ol’ Robbie!” A large hand grabbed the back of Nina’s neck. “Play nice wit’ us, love. We won’t bite.”
Please, I beg you to let me go! I have nothing!” She struggled to get free, but Robbie would have none of that. He was a bear of a man. Years of living life on the underbelly made his hands callused and rough, while years toiling in ship yards made his arms strong like hunters’ traps. Nina tried to pull away, but Robbie had her.
There’s always some lit’le thing a woman can offer,” he sneered and began to drag her back down the road. Ahead, a light from the guardhouse of Arganis shone. If she could scream loudly enough, the guards who kept the lord’s house would come out to investigate.
She kicked and continued her resistance, but the robber easily overpowered her. “Help! Someone!”
Robbie slapped her hard across the face. “No one’s gonna come to ya aid, missy. Just you and Robbie out tonight.” He put his huge hand over her mouth, stifling any other screams Nina might have had in her. The light ahead didn’t move or multiply into torches. The guards hadn’t heard. No one heard.
The leaves overhead rustled and Robbie looked up, but there was nothing to see. In his moment of distraction, the farmer’s daughter pulled away; ripping a bit of her dress as she started to run again. Robbie was too fast for her. He pulled her back and threw her to the ground, covering her mouth once more. The air was knocked from her lungs. She tried to cry, but only a whimper emerged.
“Ya really is a stupid girl, ain’t ya?”
The trees rustled again, but he did not heed it this time. He figured it was nothing more than a small woodland creature. That would be his downfall. Robbie did not see the figure jump from the low branches of the trees and land soundlessly behind him. The young girl did.
“Ready to meet your makers, little girl?”
The question is, are you?” an icy voice spoke from behind the highwayman.
Robbie turned and saw a figure outfitted as an executioner. Two pale eyes peered out from under an executioner’s hood and gleamed in the moonlight. A sword was drawn and pointed directly at Robbie. The figure was small, short and scrawny, and he didn’t look as though he would be able to take down a beast like Robbie.
“What’s this? A little boy playing dress-up? Ain’t that a game for the girls of your village?” the robber asked with a chuckle. “Run along home, boy. This is a man’s job.”
Robbie reached out to grab the sword arm of the figure, but he was too slow. The executioner moved faster than Robbie had seen anyone move in a long time. His skill with the sword was far from superb, but there was some amount of training there. Whoever this boy in dress up was, he had been given instruction on sword play from a master. More instruction than the highway robber had with weapons, in any event. In the past, Robbie used brute force rather than skill. It had never been a problem before.
Robbie barely felt a thing. The farmer’s daughter screamed in disgust and horror as the scarred hand of the robber opened up; his blood spilling onto the ground. It was dark, but the moon provided enough light for her to see the blood pooling. The executioner moved swiftly and lifted his sword up for another blow.
Robbie pulled back in fear, clutching his wrist, shocked anyone dared to cut him. The figure advanced and Robbie pulled away and fled as the figure prepared for a second assault. Nina looked at the blood now seeping into the ground. She had seen the slaughter of pigs and cattle, but never before had she witnessed the attempted dismemberment of a human. She cringed.
Turning his attention to the girl, the executioner sheathed his sword. “Are you all right?” He held out a hand, but she refused it and got to her feet on her own.
I’m fine.” The executioner nodded and pointed up the road. The scuffle between Robbie and the swordsman garnered the attention of the guards. They must have been roused by the highwayman’s agonized screams.
The figure nodded to the guardsmen who ran up the path with their weapons drawn. “Who dares to disturb the peace? We’ve punishments for men like you!”
“Wait!” Nina put herself between the three guards, two archers and one swordsman. “The real troublemaker fled into the forest. This man saved my life.”
I mean only to help, so please excuse me, gentlemen.” The executioner’s voice was but a whisper. Taking a few steps off the beaten path, the hooded figure fled into the night. The archers shot a few arrows blindly into the dark.
Stop!” Nina protested.
Miss, did any harm come to you?” the swordsman asked; taking Nina by the elbow.
The group of four headed back to the guardhouse. “Suppose we should go after that one?” a tall, ginger-haired archer asked. He motioned his bow to the spot where the executioner disappeared off the road.
“No!” Nina cried; clutching fast to the archer’s wrist. “He had a chance to hurt me, but he spared me.”
The other archer, a lean, bearded blond said, “He’s a hero, then.”
“We’ll let his Lordship decide what our masked friend is,” the swordsman, who was clearly the leader, said. “Right now it is our duty to see this young woman home and return to our posts. Tomorrow his Lordship George can be notified of what we saw.”
In the port city of Glenbard, Cesernan’s key port, everyone was buzzing with the news of a man who rode through the lands held by and adjacent to the barony Arganis. He helped anyone who called for aid, whether they be rich or poor. It was something virtually unheard of. No one had cared about the lower classes in recent memory, and even the royal guards in the city only protected those who had money to be protected. Sure, a knight seeking attention or a knight with a good heart would occasionally do something to see that those without the funds for bribes were taken care of; however, their good deeds did not last for one reason or another. It was nothing like the activities of the man in Arganis. He persisted, night after night. He had been going about this hero business for nearly six months now, and he showed no signs of stopping.
It’s about time someone gave a damn about us in the muck and filth. The Death Dealer is actually keeping our northern brothers safe, unlike King Frederick’s soldiers who claim to protect us,” the barkeeper of Angel’s Tavern said when the latest bit of news hit the city.
The Death Dealer’…such a foul name. Has he even killed anyone yet?” a teenage girl asked.
Ridley, you foolish thing, who cares what he’s called?” the barkeep said. “Just as long as he keeps protecting the less prosperous people of this kingdom.”
What else do you call a man who runs about in an executioner’s hood?” a drunk man in the corner said with a bawdy laugh. “I suppose ‘The Primrose Protector’ is more suited to your female sensitivities?”
Or mayhap ‘The Daisy Defender’!” another drunken fool called out; raising his tankard to the sky. “To our beloved hero, The Daisy Defender!”
Ridley rolled her eyes. “But he could have other, grander names. ‘The Death Dealer’ is too low brow for such a great hero.”
“A great hero?” The tavern fell silent as the brooding figure in the corner spoke. Very few in the tavern had seen him move from his spot, much less speak openly.
Yes, a great hero, Jack,” Ridley snapped. “He cares about us downtrodden folk. And maybe someday he’ll make his way here to look after us.”
Cares? He sounds rather like a self-serving hero to me. Rides around Arganis on a fine horse with a fine sword. He’s got money backing him, and that’s no mistake. I say this Death Dealer should be handing out some of his wealth, rather than trying to look after the poor in the north. That would really help. He’s probably some nobleman looking for favor in the court’s eyes. Once he gains that, he will forget about us. They always do.” Jack was right there. The other nobles who helped only wanted to show the king they weren’t just glory hounds. But none before had hidden their identities. They paraded themselves around in front of influential members of Frederick’s court.
You sound awfully sure of yourself, Jack,” the barkeep said. “But you can’t honestly believe this man will abandon us as other nobles have. I mean, look at-”
Look at the lives he’s saved
, I know.
Look how he hides his face so he may avoid being discovered
; I know that as well. But mark my words, once he gets what he wants, the Death Dealer will be done with us. Heroes are fleeting men who serve no one but themselves.” Jack fell silent and returned to his ale, leaving everyone to ponder his words.
Tristan Mullery of Escion came from the southernmost area of Cesernan. When Tristan was a young boy, his father, the Duke of Escion, sent him to become a knight in the kingdom’s main city of Ursana. For years Tristan trained hard and long, until his eighteenth birthday came around and he was knighted by Frederick. He survived the trials, took his oaths, and was now proud to carry the banner of Escion for his king and country.
Tristan returned to Escion to learn how to run the land. For one day, he would take his father’s place as the Duke. As tradition dictated, the king could call upon him when war threatened the land or when he was needed for matters of state. Tristan was a fine and well respected knight, and he was being groomed to be one of the finest knights Cesernan had ever seen. He enjoyed most facets of his privileged life…except for the annual tournament. Every year his father made him go into Ursana for the king’s tournament.
Tristan tried to avoid going, but there was no way out. He had been going for as long as he could remember, but only in the last two years had he begun to compete. Now that his father was retired, it was up to Tristan to compete in the tournament for the Duke’s house in Escion. It wasn’t that Tristan disliked the tournament, it was the fact that he never won. The prize of Chief Knight always fell to Sir Benjamin of Salatia. Each year, Tristan left the tournament sullen because he failed to secure a victory; a victory he felt he deserved far more than the poor, country knight. As the son of one of the most prominent noblemen in the country, he shouldn’t lose to someone like Sir Benjamin.
Benjamin was a lesser noble from Salatia, and since first becoming a knight, he had dominated the joust. He took first in archery as well, showing that his years of hunting woodland game in Salatia were not wasted. The knight always placed in the top three for the sword as well. It was as though the man was born with weaponry in his hands and victory in his veins. He had become a knight ten years prior, and Tristan believed after he won his shield he’d be able to best Benjamin.
Beat Benjamin?” his grandfather said with a laugh. “Aye, and mayhap I’ll wear a dress and become a midwife!”
Despite the taunting, Tristan still believed he might win. And he was not alone. Many knights fantasized about unhorsing the great Sir Benjamin. Since the joust was the most important piece of the tournament, young, hopeful knights came every year to compete to gain the honor of winning. Yet every year Sir Benjamin won, making everyone else look like a fool. It was as though Benjamin was a born tilter with a lance in his hand. Tristan hated losing, especially to the same man every year. The man was almost thirty, but he was as young and vibrant as if he’d only just won his shield. Twenty year-olds like Tristan and Prince Drake should have been claiming the glory.