A Hunter's Oath (First Chapter/Rough Draft)

A Hunter's Oath (First Chapter/Rough Draft)

A Story by Kieran Shuttleworth
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The introductory chapter of my current project, a rough draft tentatively called "A Hunter's Oath". Here we see two of the main characters meet for the first time, in bloody and tragic conflict.

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“Rally! Rally to me!” The mounted officer had shouted, his plumed helmet waving in the air as he looked about frantically, searching for the bowmen who rained death upon his small troop from the cover of the trees. The officer’s sword was only half-drawn from its sheath when an arrow found his throat. The man toppled to the earth, choking on his own blood. In a moment, it was all over, and not one of the soldiers remained standing. 

The outlaws emerged from their hidden places beside the forest-road; moving in to loot their fallen prey in frenzied excitement. Myra, arrow still knocked, couldn’t help but laugh when she realised the fight was over. “That was almost too easy!” she called out to no one in particular. 

“Like stealing from a blind man,” shouted Rill, already removing a gold ring from a soldier’s finger. “There can’t be more than a dozen of these poor fools!”

“I almost feel sorry for them,” said Fenner, kneeling over a fallen man to slit his throat. “I hear these Hundings pay their tribute to the Imperials in gold to keep their own men out of the wars. Just imagine their faces when they realise we’ve taken both!” the big man let out a booming laugh. 

“Alright, calm down you feral dogs.” Garth said, ignoring the looting as he unstrung his bow with a almost overdramatic care. The leader of the band, Garth cut a striking figure, with green tunic and a cape of crimson velvet. “Get into that wagon while we’re still young. And if any of you ruffians find any wine and start drinking before we get back to camp I swear you’ll all be sent straight to bed with empty stomachs!”

That brought a smile to Myra’s face. “Oh let them be,” She said with laugh as Garth strode up to stand beside her. “This is the first good haul we’ve had in a long time. Let the boys have their fun.”

“Yes, it is good to see them all in high spirits again.”

“Damn right. I swear if we have another season of this, we’ll have the give Fat Fenner a new honorific. You said yourself that we’ll have to pack up and move to fresh pastures before the year is out. Let’s celebrate a little when we can.”

“I did say that,” Garth’s face grew serious. “But now I think we’ll have to move out sooner. I wanted to wait until the fighting in the Midlands had calmed a little before we made the trip south. Word is that hordes of savages are pouring over the mountains daily. All the northern forts are already abandoned. The client tribes are working themselves into a panic waiting for their warriors to be returned to them. If the the Mornai don’t decide on a new emperor soon and send the Legions up here, all the north will be overrun.” 

Garth laid a gentle hand on Myra’s shoulder and gave her one of those forced smiles she had come to appreciate. “Too much competition will be bad for business,” he said with a wink. 

“All the more reason to have a little fun now,” she said with a wry laugh, forcing back the concern as Garth always had. “If it’s wine you’re looking forward too, I have a little stashed away back at camp. I just might be convinced to share…”

“Such wicked temptations.” Garth shielded his eyes with his cape with his usual flair. “Am I decedent Imperial to stoop to such sinful behaviour?”

“So I take that as a no?” 

“Well I didn’t say that, did I?” 

The two laughed as they went to join their companions in the looting. Rill was at work trying to soothe the mules which led the wagon, the only mounts that hadn’t bolted from the bloodshed. Otho, the youngest of the band, reemerged from within the wagon, two modestly sized sacks in his hands. “Not much in hard cash. Its mostly cloths and beads and such. Might be more tucked away somewhere.”

“Might as well take an axe to the thing,” Garth said. “We’re not dragging a whole damn wagon back to camp. But keep a hand on those mules Rill, if nothing else we will eat well tonight. Fenner! How much of that fancy Iskandari spice do we…” Garth trailed off. Suddenly, the bandit chief had gone tense and still.

“Garth…” Myra’s hand went to the quiver of arrows at her thigh. 

“Woah! Steady girls!” The mules suddenly started straining at their reigns while Rill fought to keep them in control. 

“Something’s coming.” Garth slowly drew his sword from its scabbard, letting his unstrung bow-staff fall to the ground. “It’s bad… real bad…”

Garth turned suddenly with sword poised. Myra’s gaze followed to where Garth was facing, and the chill of fear touched her heart. 

A man was standing on the road, where no one had seen him before. Like some shadowy apparition he seemed, or some forest-devil born from darkness. He wore a heavy cloak that hid nearly his entire form, so worn and ragged it looked like the hide of some wild animal. His face was mostly hidden in the shadow of his hood, yet through the blackness Myra could see the man’s eyes, cold and pale and hateful. 

“Hold it right there!” Joren, who was nearest to the cloaked man, had an arrow half drawn on his bow and aimed at the stranger. “You had better turn you’re arse right around and go back the way you came, friend.” The stranger only stood his ground, still and silent as an image of stone.

“Myra…” Garth hissed through gritted teeth. 

“Are you both deaf and blind? I’ve sent three men into eternity today. I won’t hesitate to put an arrow between your damned eyes!”

The stranger laughed, with a voice like a wind rising from the grave. 

“Myra…” Again, she hardly heard Garth’s whisper.

The stranger spoke; “You won’t hesitate? You have already hesitated long enough. But then, perhaps you don’t know me so very well. A fatal mistake… because I know you all, and the prices attached to each of you…”

“MYRA!”

Before Myra could react, Rill had drawn and loosed his arrow in one smooth motion. The arrow had hardly left the string, yet the stranger had already fallen upon the outlaw. The arrow sped away to disappear into the shadows of the forest. Myra could scarce remember seeing the stranger move, let alone draw his sword. Yet there he stood, broadsword held high, streaked with Rill’s blood, who sank lifelessly to the earth, blood and brains spilling from his cleft skull. 

“For god’s sake Myra! Run! Get away from here!” 

The outlaws scrambled for their weapons, but the stranger was on them like a fox in a henhouse, a whirlwind of steel and blood as he cut them down. Garth grabbed Myra by the shoulder and thrust her behind him. She started to protest, went to knock an arrow to her bowstring, but Garth cut her off with a sharp, desperate look.

“It’s no use. We’ll both die here unless I hold him off. Get out of here. Stay alive. If not for your own sake, then do it for mine.”

“It’s not her life I want, Garth of Gorinium. It’s yours…”

Garth turned, sword poised. The stranger was standing there, his sword dripping with the blood and gore of the once proud outlaw band, now a ruin of corpses laying amongst the fallen soldiers, hunted and hunter lying together in death. 

Garth let out a nervous laugh. “And if I let you take my head, you’ll let her go?”

“I don’t care. I’ll have your head either way,”  

Ho ho. A cocky one, aren’t you?” Garth raised his sword into a fighting stance.

The stranger said nothing, motioning his head towards the slain men behind him. 

“Come then. Let’s dance.”

Garth lunged forward, sword aimed for the killing thrust through the heart, a battle-cry on his lips. His speed was astonishing, yet the stranger was faster still. Steel met steel. The thrust was knocked aside. Garth was thrown off his balance. He fell back, landing hard on one knee. He held his sword high to block an incoming attack. It was too late. Sunlight glinted off the sword’s edge. Blood sprayed on the ground, and Garth’s head fell from his shoulders. 


Myra said nothing. Could say nothing. She only stared into nothingness, her breath stilled. She took a slow step back and then fell to her knees. 

The stranger stooped over Garth’s body and lifted the severed head up by the hair. His face was a blank mask as he stood up again and looked at the stunned woman. He twisted the hilt of his sword in his hand, as if considering what to do next. Then he shrugged, and turned his back to her. 

“Should have quit the bandit life while he was ahead.” The stranger said over his shoulder. He walked back to the wagon, gathering up all the loot and the heads of the outlaws, which he loaded into the back of the wagon. He took the reigns of the mules, and then he drove away, without giving Myra a second look. 

The spell of fear was broken on Myra, and her limbs shook with grief and rage, letting her bow drop from her hands. She fought back the tears, but they stung her eyes and only made her angrier. Damn them all, she thought to herself. What happened to them? Once they were gods of the forest, the bandit king and his band of brothers. They held no fear from wood or beast or man, they were the hunters and the world was their prey. Now what had become of them? Their bandit king was a dead sack of meat left to rot on the road, and her, the huntress, cowering in the forest like a frightened child. Like dogs on the loose, they thought they were predators, but then the wolf had come, and turned them into prey. 

© 2019 Kieran Shuttleworth


Author's Note

Kieran Shuttleworth
This is largely unedited, and many setting details need updating to match later chapters already written. I would like to know how well this works as a first chapter. Would you be interested in reading on? Is the dialogue engaging?

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Added on March 25, 2019
Last Updated on March 25, 2019
Tags: fantasy, tragedy, swords, bounty, hunter, romance, dark, blood, bandits

Author

Kieran Shuttleworth
Kieran Shuttleworth

Bonnells Bay, NSW, Australia



About
Hi there. Like most everyone here, I am an aspiring writer, looking to practice my technique amongst like-minded people. I like to keep my reading varied, but my passion truly lies with gritty adve.. more..

Writing



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