Read Forever Knight (The Champion Chronicles Book 3) Online
Authors: Brad Clark
The Champion Chronicles III
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Brad Clark.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopy, recording, or any other – except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without prior permission of the author.
The Champion Chronicles
Knight Fire (Forthcoming)
Sword of the Kingdom: Brace Hawkden (Coming 2017)
Other Books By Brad
Rewards of Vengeance
You can follow Brad on twitter @BooksByBrad
The carriage rumbled across the small creek, cracking the layer of ice that covered the cold water that flowed underneath. It rocked from side-to-side as it crossed, causing the passengers inside to roll uncomfortably against the sides of the carriage. The three inside were bundled tightly in furs, even though they were protected from the biting winter wind.
The jostling caused one of the passengers to let out a high-pitched cry. The other two ignored her. She had been complaining from the moment the towers of the castle disappeared under the horizon.
Queen Elissa glared at Melanie, who continued to whine well after the carriage continued on its smooth ride. “It was you who insisted on coming, I am sure you recall. A trip to the north in the middle of winter was going to be cold.”
“I did not expect it to be this miserable,” Melanie snapped back. She had been Elissa’s friend since they were little girls playing in the castle gardens and was granted some leeway in how she spoke to the queen. But it brought a harsh stare from the other passenger.
“Mind your manners,” Kimmie said. “She is the queen.” Even though Kimmie was the same age as Melanie, she took her responsibility as the queen’s personal attendant and caretaker seriously.
Melanie tossed her hair and buried herself deeper in her furs.
“It should not be much longer,” Kimmie added, looking hopefully at Elissa.
But just as the words left her lips, the carriage came to a stop. All three looked expectantly at the door, hoping to see the land of Thell when it opened. The carriage rocked slightly as the drivers jumped off. They could hear their escorts talking, but their words were just muffled noise.
Elissa ignored the pleas of her companions to keep the door closed and opened it to look outside. A burst of cold air came, followed immediately by more cries and complaints from Melanie. Elissa continued to ignore her friend and looked around, hopeful to see the city of Thellia. Instead, she saw only trees.
A heavy snow was falling and it stuck to the empty branches of the northern woods. The flakes were large and floated down slowly in the still air, making it a pretty sight that she rarely saw. South Karmon got cold and some snow fell, but not like the northern parts of the kingdom around the White Mountains. She had never seen really deep snow, but she had heard many tales of it. She thought maybe they had gotten stuck in the snow, as she could not see the ground. She bent over to look forward towards the team of horses that pulled the carriage. The snow barely covered their hooves.
Seeing that the snow wasn’t too deep, she stepped down from the carriage. That was when she noticed the footprints that had been made by her armed escorts. It went up towards the horses, and then around and out of sight. She glanced up to the roof of her carriage, and there was a guard with his bow strung and an arrow nocked and ready to fire. He wore a thick cloak to keep some of the cold out, but it was not enough to keep himself warm. As she looked closer, she could see his hands shaking. It was either the cold, or something else.
She followed the footprints in the snow and met up with the rest of her escorts. As she approached, they all fell silent and turned to her.
“Your Majesty,” the leader said with a bow. She only remembered him as Sir Kern and it took effort to not to include his title when talking to him. He was one of the oldest knights that stayed in service after the Karmon Knights had been disbanded. Some had gone off to their homes to live out the rest of their lives in peace and comfort. But many only knew the life of a knight and even though their duties had changed, their loyalties had not. Kern was one of the first to announce to the queen that he would stay to join her city guard. He also had immediately volunteered to lead them north when arrangements for the journey were being planned.
His sword was strung across his back, in easy reach if he needed it.
“Kern, why have we stopped?” Elissa looked around again, this time more carefully. They were in what appeared to be a shallow valley. Their tracks had led them across a small creek, hidden by the snow, but exposed by the carriage’s tires. A slightly sloping hill rose upwards all around them, except from the direction that they came. The trees were sparse, allowing the snow to build up. If they waited here too long, they might really get stuck in deep snow.
“Hollin has returned from scouting our path,” Kern replied. He nodded to the young man who stood a half-step behind the veteran soldier.
Elissa studied him closely as he stepped forward to speak. His wide shoulders and looming presence were well-suited for sitting atop a warhorse, clad in plate armor and wielding a two-edged broadsword. Not much older than herself, he was one of the youngest soldiers that lived fulltime in the castle. He gained some level of notoriety by being the squire that had been taken down by Conner during the Summer Festival Tournament. She had heard that he had held some animosity towards Conner because of that, but he certainly never showed it around her. He acted proper and disciplined like all knights had been trained to be.
“Your Majesty,” Hollin said. “Our path to the north is being watched. Two scouts at least. Probably more.”
“Prince Toknon is expecting us,” Elissa said. “Maybe he has sent some of his men ahead to greet us.”
Hollin glanced at Kern, who gave a slight nod. Hollin continued, “I spotted them only because of their red surcoats. And I am sure I saw light reflecting off steel. The Thellians are many things and careful is one of them. If they were tracking us, or spying on us, it would be hard for us to find them. These scouts were careless.”
“If not Thell, then who?”
“The northern Taran army wears red surcoats,” Kern replied. “It allows them to easily see one another in the snow.”
“Taran soldiers?” Elissa exclaimed. “Here?”
“It may not be that unusual. Tarans by nature are a suspicious and curious people. It would not be beyond them to be scouting our land just to see what we are up to. And what the Thellians are up to as well.”
“What do we do?”
“We keep our swords loose in their scabbards and our bows strung. But we pretend we don’t see them. We continue on just as we have been. If there are more of them, then we will unhitch the team and we’ll ride hard for Thellia. Hollin, two others, and I will stay back to do what we can to stop them. Everyone else will ride as your escort.” He glanced at the carriage. “The two in there will slow us down. We would have to leave them.”
“What!” Elissa exclaimed. “I could not do that! Melanie has been my friend for as long as I can remember. And Kimmie is just a young girl.”
“We will arm them and they will help us defend your trail,” Kern replied coolly.
“You will do no such thing!” Elissa snapped back. “They are young girls. They have never held a sword before. They would not know how to defend themselves.”
“Your safety must come first, my queen. You are open and exposed here in the wilderness and we must do all we can to protect you. And any and all who can defend you must do so.”
“Not them,” Elissa said in as commanding a voice as she could muster. “That is my command. Do you understand? If we must run, then they will be with me.”
Kern bowed his head in acknowledgment, his face stoic and frozen from showing any more emotion. “Of course, Your Majesty. Your will shall be done as you have asked.”
Without another word, she returned quickly to her carriage and pulled more furs around her, trying to regain the warmth that she lost.
“What is going on?” Melanie asked.
Elissa gave her a friendly smile. “It is nothing. We will be going shortly. They said something about watering the horses.”
The carriage bounced again as the drivers returned to their seats. A moment later, the carriage lurched forward, but at a slower pace than before. They could feel a slight incline as they started up the hill that would lead them out of the small valley.
Elissa’s heart began to pound which made her warm up. The thought of being attacked again sent a chill of panic up her spine. It was less than a year since she had last been in a carriage that had been attacked. Her guards were killed and she was pulled into the woods likely to be killed herself. And if it hadn’t been for her dear friend Conner, she would be dead right now. An emptiness overcame her as she realized how much she missed him. She hoped that Marik would be back from searching for him by the time that she returned. He was gone a long time and there had been no messages from him, either. Although she had been spending most of her days doing the business of the kingdom, she still fell asleep at night wondering what Conner was up to.
She looked over at Kimmie and Melanie and saw them as the most delicate of ladies, even more than she was. They had never seen troubles or any life-and-death danger. They lived their lives in a bubble, just as she did until she was kidnapped. But even if she understood the danger of the wild world, she still had no more capabilities of defending herself than they had. If there really were Tarans out there, and they decided to attack her carriage, they would not find any opposition in here. She knew her escorts were brave and capable, but they were not invincible.
Elissa cracked a side window open just enough to see outside. A rush of cold air burst into the interior of the carriage. The other two ladies cried out, but Elissa ignored them. She could see a tree line in the distance that was dense with evergreens. A company of soldiers could easily hide out there unseen and attack them without warning. They would have precious few seconds to set up a defensive position. Her team of four horses were some of the best steeds in the kingdom, but they would not be able to outrun mounted centurions for long. Eventually they would be caught, and then she would have to defend herself, Melanie, and Kimmie. But she had no sword, not even a small knife. But even if she had one, she had no idea how to use them properly.
But if Conner were here, all would be well. He would be able to stand in front of her and defend her from any number of soldiers. She knew he was that good, for she had seen it with her own eyes. She had been witness to countless hundreds of boring tournament games where courageous men fought one another. True, it had not been real combat, but she had seen broken bones and blood. And none could have stood up to Conner. He was amazingly fast. Too fast for anyone else. If he were here, she would be safe. Her heart ached for him to be here. Not only to protect her, but to be with her. It made her mad once again to think about how he left, and how she had just let him go. Once Marik returned with him, she vowed to never let him go again.
With her mind now on Conner, she forgot about her predicament and any thoughts of being attacked by Tarans. She settled into her furs, finally getting warm once again.
The carriage came upon another fairly steep hill and Elissa could feel the front end rise up as she was pushed back against her seat. She glanced out the window again and she could see the snow-covered peaks of the White Mountains. They had been visible for many hours, but it had been from a distance. Now that they were close, the amazing details of the mountains were clear. They rose up sharply from the ground with many tall cliffs jutting out and showing grayish stone. The lower half of the mountain was almost completely covered in tall evergreens, but after a certain height, the trees thinned out and all she could see were the white snow covered peaks. She knew that the western portion of the mountain range was the shortest. The farther they went to the east, the taller and grander the mountains were. It was amazing to her that the mountains that she saw now were dwarfed by the peaks to the west. She would have to plan a summer journey to see them.
The carriage had turned directly west, to follow the mountains and the Razor River that ran along side. It was a fast running river that never completely froze up in winter. The river bed was littered with rocks of all sizes and there many places along the river where the rocks and stones made a nice ford where horses, wagons, and carriages could cross. With the fast moving river and the icy cold water, it would have been a dangerous crossing, but it would have been possible. Fortunately for them, their destination did not require them to cross the river until they passed into Thell. Several more miles to the east, the river made a sharp turn to the north where it had spent eons cutting through the mountain range. Not only did it split the mountains in two, but it offered an easy way to travel north to the Thell. Or for Thell to march south to them.
She watched silently in the cold with her window open. Several times, Melanie whined about the cold, but Elissa simply ignored her. She needed to watch the land as they passed it by. The river was intriguing to watch as it was constantly changing. There were large rocks that had fallen from tall cliffs and landed in the river, or maybe they had been carried downstream over many thousands of years. She even caught a small white-tailed deer sipping from the banks of the river. It had looked up at her as they passed, but as soon as one of their horses had snorted, it darted off.
Soon, the carriage made the sharp turn to the north to follow the river, but it came to a slow stop. The carriage rocked slightly again as the drivers climbed off. The three ladies inside shared a frightened look.
With her heart racing, Elissa moved to open the door.