Officially I am working on The Wanderers Pentad Book IV: Peacemaker, but I got sidetracked the other day. Below is an independant concept that jumped in my head; the prologue from Foolkiller. Thoughts? (Note: Gamespot helpfully removed all tabs, apostrophes, and god knows what else. I'm replacing apostrophies, since I can't force tabs in, but I may miss a few.)
"In the Name of the King"
The woodland path was littered with diffused light as a spring breeze blowing the leaves caused the shadows to jump and dance. The trail cut through the mountains and was little used; connecting the capital with only the frontier and a few remote mountain villages. The surrounding wilderness was lush and verdant this time of year, the recent rains nourishing the temperate foliage, and the gregarious chirping of the birds and chittering of the squirrels only lent to the pleasant atmosphere as a lone traveler led his horse down the path towards the capital. He was not a young man, nor was he aged; rather a competent-looking fellow in the midst of his third decade of life but the lines on his face hinted to the nature of his past, as did the broadsword belted to his left side that swung in its baldric with each leisured stride. He wore a black leather sleeveless jerkin over a shirt of chain mail but it was shrouded by a forest green cloak that draped his shoulders in heavy fabric adorned with a bronze and silver brooch, circular in design with a owl perched in a gnarled tree featured within, all in elaborate knot-work. The brooch was also an allusion to the man's past; for no one of modest means could have come by it honestly.
The traveler wore a soft smile as he paced along the path leading a black stallion behind him. This was no draft animal but a war horse, fifteen hands high, whose muscles rippled with each step beneath a velvety black veneer. A hand-and-a-half bastard sword hung from left side of a weathered saddle, within easy reach for a rider. On the horse's rear was secured a bedroll, a tent, and an unstrung longbow along with a quiver of arrows hanging off the saddles right side just ahead of the saddlebags. The man himself had dark, reddish-brown hair grown out just shy of shoulder length and a scruff on his face that easily a week's worth of growth. His blue-green eyes scanned the flora contentedly and he took a deep breath of the clean spring air, relishing the picturesque scenery and superb weather.
The path angled downhill through deep canopy cover as it wound towards the sounds of rushing water. A waterfall was ahead and the path connected by a narrow, but well-constructed wooden bridge that spanned the thirty-foot gap created by the falls; it was a landmark the traveler was well familiar with and he looked forward to taking a respite on the structure and gazing out over the vale below; in fact he had procured fresh apples just this morning with the intent of enjoying them with his steed once he got there. His appetite whetted, he picked up his pace subconsciously as the sound of the roaring water grew closer, the canopy thinning somewhat as he neared the bridge. Just then the peace of his surroundings was shaken; a girlish scream pierced the morning air followed by gruff, raised voices. Instantly the traveler's smile faded as he rounded the last bend, the bridge coming into view and on it; an altercation. Three men, soldiers by the armor and tabards they wore, bound two children; a boy and a girl. The boy couldn't have seen more than twelve winters and the girl less than ten. As one soldier tested the ropes binding their arms behind their back another was affixing two ropes to the balustrade of the bridge each ending in a noose. The girl was in a full panic, crying and resisting, and the guard working at her bindings cuffed her hard behind the ear. At the strike the boy began to resist as well, but a backhanded stroke from the armored gauntlet of the ranking officer ceased his struggles as well. The traveler grimaced, a look of cold anger passing over his features, but he led his mount wordlessly onwards towards the scene.
"Quiet you," the officer commanded, "lest we visit your family once you've met your end!" He shook the boy roughly as the other soldier physically pulled the girl back to her feet. The third finished with his work and now the two subordinates looped the nooses over the children's necks and tightened them. The girl now only sobbed in resignation as the boy's blue-eyed gaze turned and caught sight of the stranger approaching the bridge. His stare was haunting and forlorn and he said nothing but soon the officer turned to see what had drawn his attention. "Hold, traveler," the officer said in a commanding tone, taking two steps towards the end of the bridge and holding up one mailed hand in a gesture to stop, "in the name of the King."
"What business compels the King's soldiers to hang children?" the stranger asked tersely, coming to a halt at the end of the bridge.
"No business of yours," the officer said dismissively, beginning to turn, "keep your distance until this work is finished."
"It seems my business now," the traveler remarked dryly, "since you hold my passage witness to murder."
"Tis not murder but justice!" the officer snapped, his subordinates bristling at the stranger's tone and audacity, "They're poachers; slaughtered deer in the King's forest."
"An impressive feat for a girl of nine years," the traveler released the reins of his horse and took a step onto the bridge, his arms hanging at his sides and the sunlight glinting off of steel bracers that protected his forearms, "to fell a stag."
"The girl was complicit!" the officer spit as one of his subordinates moved around him and leveled a pike in the stranger's direction, "I'll not offer another warning, traveler, stand back lest you find yourself compelled to join them!"
"Perhaps I will," the stranger moved forward at an easy pace, hands held low to either side, "tis as good a day as any to die and I've always enjoyed the view."
"There's a price to pay for your drollery," the officer signaled the pike-wielding soldier, "and your lament will be upon your lips as you meet your Maker!" At the signal the soldier dashed ahead, lunging at the stranger's abdomen with his pike, but the traveler moved fluidly to his right; turning his body and seizing the pike's haft in his left hand even as his right went to the hilt of his sword. For a moment the pair was frozen, the soldier tugging against the traveler's surprising grip, but then the stranger spoke in a calm and clear voice.
"And now: a dilemma," he said, a bemused smile crossing his face, "would you be disarmed or slain where you stand?" He pulled the sword loose in its scabbard, a glint of morning light playing off of exposed steel. "Truth be told tis not a choice of yours to make. Even if you release your hold on this weapon I could take your life before you've a chance to draw your blade," his eyes gazed over to the reddening face of the officer, "which is valued higher; the lives of a pair of hungry children or three of the King's men?"
"You've drawn steel against the King's soldiers," the officer pulled his own long sword free; "such is the same as drawing against the King himself!"
"My weapon has not cleared its sheath," the traveler clarified, "so I've not drawn on anyone yet. What happens next rests on your shoulder, ser."
"Kill him!" the officer commanded as the remaining soldier raced around, his pike at the ready, but no sooner was the last word given voice than the stranger's sword swept up out of its scabbard, taking off the first soldier's left arm at the shoulder. The second roared as he thrust his weapon at his enemy but a flourish of the traveler's broadsword knocked it wide as he whirled the pike in his left hand and delivered the point into the man's unarmored throat. He pressed forward until the soldier went backwards over the balustrade to fall to the water far below, the weapon still stuck in his throat. The officer, sensing an opportunity, raised his long sword and rushed at the stranger's back but the traveler pivoted around and parried his attack high even as he pulled a dagger with his left hand and stabbed it up to the hilt into the soft tissue under the officer's chin, pinning the man's mouth closed and driving the blade up into his sinus cavity.
"That was an incredibly foolish decision to make," the traveler chastised him as the officer's weapon slipped from his grasp to clatter down onto the bridge; "combat should always be avoided until you've a measure of your enemy. Now I can rightly identify you as the King's soldiers. That gives me a gauge of your abilities and the reactions I can expect but you," he leaned in close to the struggling officer, obviously in terrible pain, "what do you know of me?" he hissed, glancing down slightly at the brooch pinned to his cloak, "Clearly naught!" he suddenly withdrew the dagger and grasped the officer by the white cape attached to his armor, sheathing the broadsword before wiping off the dagger's blade as the officer's hands went to his throat, trying to stem the flow of blood. Finishing he turned his attention to the children, walking over to them and cutting the bonds on their hands before putting the weapon away and removing the nooses over their heads. "Are you hurt?" he asked, lifting the girl's chin to examine her cuts and scrapes.
"Behind you!" she cried. Almost quicker than her eye could follow the traveler spun around, his broadsword clearing his scabbard once more and taking the officer's hand off at the wrist, the dagger and the hand gripping it falling to the bridge. The traveler followed the stroke by thrusting the blade into the officer's chest, piercing his armor and seeking out his heart. The officer's face bleached of color and he seized the traveler with his left hand, gripping hatefully at his cloak, his eyes glassing and fixing on the brooch.
"Greylore," he hissed as he crumpled to his knees before folding backwards. The traveler pulled his sword free from the officer's chest before walking over to the first soldier, who was still lying on the bridge. The flow of blood had nearly ceased from his severed arm and the man was ghastly pale, his breathing had slowed to shallow gasps.
"God receive your soul," the traveler said solemnly before sliding the broadsword between his ribs and ending his suffering. He cleaned the blade of the weapon and returned it to its scabbard before dragging the bodies to the balustrade and hoisting them over, followed by their weapons, leaving only bloodstains as evidence. Then he looked over to his steed, still standing placidly at the edge of the bridge. "Strider," he called to the horse and the stallion obediently came forward. The traveler took the reins and led the horse near the children, who still stood where hed left them. He delved into the saddlebags and came up with a small sack of bright red apples. He removed one and then passed the bag to the children. "Here," he said when the boy hesitated, "take them." Reluctantly the boy obeyed, mumbling a word of thanks. "Do you live near here?" the stranger asked, both nodding in reply, "then best you run home. Speak not of what happened today, to anyone. You've not been to this bridge, do you understand?"
"Yes, milord," the boy looked down at his feet, "thank you, ser. You've saved our lives."
"I only did what all good-hearted people long to do," the traveler explained, "only that I am blessed with ability."
"Please ser," the girl spoke in a meek voice but her green eyes did not shy from his gaze, "may we know your name?"
"I am a traveler," the man waved off her request, "no need that I ever be any more than that."
"I would know your name, ser," the girl insisted, unafraid, "that I may include it in our prayers."
The corner of the traveler's mouth lifted in a moment of contemplation, and then he spoke: "You may call me Alec; that will suffice."
"Thank you Ser Alec," the girl offered him a pretty smile, "I will keep your name even when I'm old and gray."
"Then you'd best become old and gray," he smiled at her and tousled her blonde hair, "get yourselves home and be wary the King's soldiers. Better to leave a carcass than become one yourselves."
"Yes, milord," they both replied as the traveler turned and fed the remaining apple to his horse. Once it was gone he gave one final smile to the children and then continued across the bridge, his mount following loyally behind him. Once he was out of earshot the boy turned to the girl with an astonished expression on his face. "Do you know who that was??" he asked.
"Said his name was Alec," the girl replied, not really paying attention as she watched the traveler disappear down the trail.
"That's Alec Greylore!" her brother said excitedly.
"Who's Alec Greylore?" his sister asked, finally turning her attention to her sibling.
"Who's Alec Greylore?" her brother was incredulous, "Alec Xavier Greylore; the Foolkiller."
The girl began to question him but then an old tale she had heard when she was only six came back to her; a tale of the son of Duke Greylore, a promising young knight who had gone astray, a fallen paladin, "we were saved by Foolkiller?"
"Come, best we leave this place," her brother said as he pulled her along, "and we never speak of this, not to anyone!" The pair of them sped up the trail, opposite of the traveler's direction; the only evidence left at the bridge of the morning's conflict being bloodstains and two hangman's ropes dangling in the wind.