Fantasy-Drake-Rider: Call-Up

Heart of Telmerath "Ever Loyal and Vigilant"

Drill-Master Varis bent over the map laid out on the table, blunt finger jabbing at lines denoting a hill overlooking a river. “If we can push them back and take this hill it will give us an advantage.”

Horse-Captain Gale frowned and shook his head. “The problem is they hold it, giving them the high ground. If the Drake-Knights were available to soften the Tremalaine defenses, I might consider it. As it stands now…”

Varis grimaced. The war had taken its toll on everyone, but the enemy’s new ballista system, designed to shoot multiple missiles and built in massive numbers, devastated Telmerath’s aerial guardians. Now some of the kingdom’s best warriors were relegated to courier missions and ineffectual high-altitude boulder drops. “Maybe a small group, under cover of darkness-”

Gale looked at him sharply. “Telmerathian soldiers do not skulk about like some back-alley mug-hunter, Drill-Master. Is that clear?”

Varis’ lips tightened at the rebuke, but he refrained from speaking. His Majesty’s Cavaliers, comprised of nobles, wouldn’t know how to sneak in anyway. Unless the sneaking consisted of backroom deals and visiting ladies of questionable virtue. He shook his head to drive out the unproductive musing and turned back to the map, eyes searching for some thrust that could set Tremalaine on the defensive.

The tent-flap furled and one of the guards, Leftenant Wexler, poked his head inside. “Sirs, Drake-Lord Miathes is here to see you.”

Gale straightened up and smoothed out his red tunic bearing the insignia of the Cavaliers, a purple shield bearing a rearing horse. “Show him in, Leftenant.”

A tall man with broad shoulders, clad in the sky-blue tunic and trousers that marked him as a Drake-Knight, but without the purple trim that would proclaim him Drake-Lord, strode past the sentry without fanfare, a grim look on his face. “Gale,” Miathes said without preamble. “I need to call up some of your Cavaliers for my unit.”

The horse-captain opened his mouth, but the larger man slapped down a rolled parchment made of vellum, bearing the Royal seal. “Here’s the King’s writ, in case you were thinking of protesting.”

Gale frowned and turned away from Miathes. The Drake-Lord let it go; he knew no officer worth their salt liked losing men, no matter the circumstance, but especially with a war on.

Varis snatched the parchment, broke the seal, and scanned the contents. “Ten?” He winced at the tone of his question, but plowed on. “Normally, it’s one or two. Ten will put a huge hole in our lines.”

Miathes nodded at the scroll. “That authorizes you to fill your losses by shuffling soldiers in from other Cavalier units.”

Gale turned back around, eyes blazing. “Why us? This will gut our effectiveness for at least two months! Transfers, training, integration…” He tossed his hands in the air. “Why?”

Miathes scowled. “His Majesty heard about the breakthrough led by two of your men. That, plus other successes, swayed the King to the idea his Drake Knights would be wise to draft from this unit.” The drake-lord held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I know this a hardship for you, but it is a great honor for those chosen. Would you deny them that?”

Gale deflated, rubbing the back of his neck in weary defeat. He flicked his head at Varis, who took up the conversation. “Milord, we have several long-time veterans-”

Miathes shook his head. “I’m breaking protocol on this recruitment. His Majesty’s Drake Knights have been stagnant, and we need to adapt. I want…need younger soldiers. Soldiers with fire and ideas. I’ll start with the two that broke through the Tremalaine lines.”

Gale tensed again at the thought of losing his cadre of youthful warriors, but Varis murmured, “Captain, it is well-known that Leftenents Damon Forester and Yallo WindFern dream to one day join the Drake Knights. They are good men, but we shouldn’t fight to deny their goals.”

Gale’s fists clenched. “Fine. Make a list and give it to him.” He gave Miathes a short, curt nod, and said, “If you’ll excuse me,” before storming out of the tent.

Varis watched his commander leave, a pained look on his face. “My apologies Lord-”

Miathes waved away the apology. “Don’t. I imagine I would react much the same way.”

“Still, etiquette and all that.” He managed a weak grin. “You really are getting two of our best. I had my doubts about Forester, but he’s proven to be a voracious learner and one hell of a Cavalier. And Yallo is the standard to which I hold a Cavalier in this unit.”

Miathes smile came more naturally. “Good. That just leaves eight more, eh?”

The two men huddled closer to the table, intent on their task. Neither noticed Wexler, third son of Pelias, Earl of WindFern, narrow his eyes in hatred at the praise heaped upon his elder brother.

***

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Fantasy – Drake-Rider: Yallo

Damon groaned as he eased down next to the crackling campfire, waves of steam wafting from the bowl of thick stew he cradled in his callused hands. A stiff breeze stirred the flames and rattled a loose tent flap. He concentrated on the snapping sound, allowing it to drown out the screams of wounded horses and men being butchered or put down.

“Horse-meat stew again, eh?” Yallo pulled up a free log and perched next to Damon. “Wonder which poor bastard’s it was?”

Damon scooped a heap up with his fingers and plopped it in his mouth. “I try not to think about it,” he mumbled around a hunk of meat.

Yallo grinned and tapped his friend on the arm with his fist. “Manners, Forester. Your mother would be appalled right now. We’re not peasants.”

Damon glared at his friend and fellow Cavalier. “No, we’re not. They are on the front-lines without armor except for a few scraps of half-rotted leather scrounged from the dead, wielding swords not fit for the Barbarians of Klanda, and dying in droves as their spears are more worthy of a child’s toy than a warrior.”

The slightly older man’s lips furrowed beneath his bushy mustache and he studied the contents of his bowl, shoulders slumped. Damon flinched and opened his mouth to say something, but the words died like so many men during this war. The two battle-brothers sat in silence for several minutes, the shouts and bustle of the base camp fading before their insistent thoughts.

Yallo broke the silence first. “You have the right of it, my friend,” he clapped his hand on Damon’s shoulder, “and I apologize for my thoughtless words. Tremalaine blades care not if Talmarathian blood spilled is noble or base-born, and neither shall I.”

Damon glanced sharply at Yallo, who caught his gaze and held it. “Know this; any who may speak ill of brave Talmarath soldiers, whether they be high-born or low, shall deal with Yallo, son of Pelias, heir to the Earldom of WindFern Valley.” He nodded, eyes still holding Damon’s. “This I swear before Anais, Mother Protector of Talmarath.”

Damon’s throat tightened and he turned his head. “How long have you known?” he murmured.

Yallo’s grin resumed its normal place. “For certain? Not until now, but there have been hints.” He laughed as Damon’s head whipped around, eyes wide. “Peace, brother,” he said, holding up his hand. “Your secret is safe, I believe. It has only been since our friendship has grown to include the realm of social interaction that I have noticed.”

A ragged roar rose from the assembled men of the rear-area, echoed from the passing figures gliding overhead. The Drake-Knight squadron dipped their wings, a salute to their horse-riding brethern, as they flew to the front.

Damon craned his neck as they zipped by, watching their flight path far after the horizon took them, lips curved upwards hard enough his cheeks ached. Yallo chuckled when Damon returned to earth. “What?”

“You and I share the same dream,” Yallo said, eyes twinkling. “And I have every faith we shall make it.”

Damon downed more stew as the camp returned to its normal dull wave, his shoulders a bit more relaxed.

Click here for the preceding stories of Damon and his character sketch. Hope you enjoy!

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

Battle Brothers

Leftenant Damon Forester of His Majesty’s Cavaliers yanked his blade out of a Tremalaine infantryman and continued to hack his way through their lines.

Blood flew, men and horses screamed, and the ground churned into a frothy morass of bloody mud.

Damon felt hands find purchase on his person. The desperate grasping and tugging overbalanced him and he tumbled to the ground.

Dirty faces surrounded him, while blades flashed in the dying sunlight. A cacophony of sound arose as sharpened edges quested for the fatal chink that would spell his doom.

He slashed back, ineffectually, until his enemies tore his sabre from his grasp. Weaponless, he kicked and screamed and flailed and prayed.

His hope fled when men pinned his arms and legs to the ground.

A Tremalaine soldier’s face twisted into a cruel sneer as he lifted his blade for the killing stroke.

Damon closed his eyes.

He opened them in confusion as death cries rattled in the air around him.

His fellow Cavalier, Yallo, reared his horse back; it’s ironshod hooves tore and pounded Damon’s would-be killers. Yallo’s blade flicked out to rend and maim flesh.

The Tremalaine troops scattered, or died, depending on the speed of their reactions. Ironflank, Yallo’s warhorse, circled around Damon.

Yallo kicked himself free of the saddle and landed beside Damon. He reached down and Damon grasped his hand. Yallo heaved and pulled Damon off the ground.

Damon’s chest and shoulders shook, his breath came in ragged gasps. He looked at Yallo and his eyes widened.

Damon pulled his dagger, and in one swift movement, sent it tumbling across the sky right beside Yallo’s face. A yell faded into a gurgle.

Yallo turned to see a Tremalaine soldier who attempted to stab him in the back sink to the ground, a dagger protruding from his eye socket.

Damon and Yallo looked at each other and nodded. Yallo remounted Ironflank, while Damon pursed his lips. A piercing whistle cut through the sounds of Hell to bring Wintergreen, Damon’s warhorse, to him at a gallop.

Damon grabbed his fallen sabre and remounted. A half-grin crossed his face and he gestured toward the archers and ballistae that kept the Drake Knights at bay.

Yallo grinned back. He made a sweeping gesture to indicate Damon should go first.

The two friends wheeled their horses together and charged into the thick of the fray once more.

His Majesty’s Cavalier

“Thrust. Parry. Cut.”

The commands came in an increasingly quick cadence. Damon swung his sword faster and faster, trying to keep up with the drill-master. Sweat dripped down his face, flung off with each move. There were only two spots in His Majesty’s Cavaliers, and twenty officers were vying for them.

Damon vowed he would be one of the two.

Fortunately, his letter patents had passed inspection for his past year in His Majesty’s Lions, the infantry of Talmarath. Unfortunately, the first elimination test involved sword-work, the weakest of his martial abilities. Where most nobles spent their childhood mastering the intricacies of the blade, he spent his hunting game, illegally most of the time, with a bow.

The drill-master’s cadence stopped and Damon’s arms dropped with exhaustion. Breathing became more akin to gulping as his burning lungs drank greedily of the air.

“Battle Circle! First pair, Forester versus Yallo!”

The Gods are against me, Damon moaned in his mind.

He steeled his features to hide his inner turmoil, threw back his shoulders and swaggered into the circle. Damon knew why he faced Yallo; one of the weakest against one of the strongest to start the weeding process.

He saluted Yallo with his blade and took up a high guard. Yallo saluted and immediately went on the offensive.

It was over in four moves.

Damon found himself on his back with Yallo’s sword at his throat. The drill-master bellowed the match over and the other officers congratulated Yallo on his victory.

Damon stood, face red with shame, and walked out of the battle circle toward the barracks. The drill-master pulled him aside for a moment. “Forester, you need serious work on your sword skills. Come back in a couple of years when you’re more ready,” the drill-master said.

Damon refused to let his head hang in defeat and stalked off. He passed the archery range and an idea took root.

He grabbed a recurve bow and quiver of arrows. He headed to the stables and requisitioned a horse.

He galloped past the range and shot several arrows to get used to the motion of the horse. When he hit three bulls-eyes in a row, he reined his horse toward the battle circle and charged forward.

He fit his arrow to the string and sighted in on the knight who seemed to be winning. He took a deep breath and loosed as the knight started to raise his blade for the “killing” stroke.

The arrow hissed through the air and clanged against the blade, tearing it out of the hands of the surprised knight. Damon kept charging and rapid-fired arrows, pinning cloaks to posts and making knights dance as arrows landed directly between their feet.

The only one who didn’t move or dive for cover was the drill-master. Indeed, he stood with his arms crossed and a hard look on his face.

“Forester!” he barked out. “Enough!”

Damon halted his barrage and trotted his horse over to the drill-master. He dismounted and stood at attention, looking the drill-master right in the eye.

“You will report to me every morning three hours before any other officer for remedial sword-work,” the drill-master said.

Damon started to grin, but saw stars flash in front of his eyes as a heavy fist crashed into his jaw. He spun to the ground.

The drill-master knelt down beside him. “And if you ever pull a fool-ass stunt like that again, I will have your hide on my wall. Understood?”

Damon groaned his acceptance.

“Get up, Cavalier,” the drill-master said. “You have work to do.”

He walked off and Damon thought he heard a soft chuckle.

But he wouldn’t swear to it.

New Blood

Taric pulled the cowl of his cloak further over his face. He couldn’t afford to be recognized. This undertaking would get him strung up if it became known.

He had traveled ten leagues on a rumor from Joren, the stable-hand at Lord Grath’s estate. Joren overheard Lord Grath talking with a visiting noble from the Kingdom of Oheren about a man selling false letter patents. The nobility of Oheren were up in arms, but the man had yet to be caught.

Damon hoped his trip wouldn’t be in vain. He had bribed a local tavern-keeper for information, and now he stood in a dark alley in the middle of the night waiting for a contact while hoping not to be arrested.

“Oi,” a soft voice called. “The basilisk gazes.”

Taric sighed in relief. “And statues gaze back.”

A hunched figure hobbled into the fading echoes of lamplight. A filth-encrusted hand beckoned for Taric to follow.

Taric followed.

The hunchback led Taric through the twisting alleys until he had no idea where he was. A small hovel came into view and the hunchback disappeared inside. Taric paused a moment to take a deep breath and pushed through the door.

Inside a young woman, a few summers older than Taric’s fifteen, sat behind a table filled with writing implements and scrolls. She wore her dirty blonde hair over the left side of her face, hiding it completely. A single green eye gazed piercingly into what seemed to be Taric’s soul.

After a single infinite moment, she beckoned him forward to a seat in front of her. “So, you are the one who wishes to become ennobled?”

Taric nodded.

“You have the payment?”

Taric placed a small bag filled with coins on the table. She emptied the bag and nodded. “Very well.”

She unrolled a parchment and rattled off Taric’s new life. “You are now Damon Forester, third son of a minor lord from Tarune Province in the Kingdom of Aanar. It is far enough away that you should never meet anyone from there.”

She rolled the parchment and held it up. “Before I give you this, I have some conditions.”

Taric raised a questioning eyebrow.

“First, you must never use your new position to oppress the peasantry that may come into your influence.” Her eye hardened. “If you do, I will hear and I will see you exposed. Do you understand?”

Taric gulped and nodded.

“Second, you may never reveal who I am or even the fact that I am a woman. If you do, I will hear and…”

“You will see me exposed. I understand.” Taric reached out his hand. “May I?”

She hesitated a moment as if she weighed his word against his soul that she had glimpsed. She handed over the scroll. “Here you are, milord. Remember your bargain.”

Damon grasped his life and tamped down all the questions that bubbled in his mind. He stood straight, nodded, and made a sharp turn out of the hovel and into his destiny.

His Majesty’s Drake-Knights of Talmarath awaited.

***

A little bit of fantasy for the Moonshine Grid at Yeah Write this weekend. Click here for more if you’re interested, and I hope you enjoy!

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn