Chapter OneLiam Dunham
The lad sat at the wooden table that was filled with glass vials of all shapes and sizes. His eyes anxiously darted back and forth between the colored powders inside the tubes. He dared not choose the wrong one and receive his father's disapproval. Failure always led to a sharp slap across his face. His father was an impatient man.
Liam slowly reached his hand out and grabbed a vial with a reddish, brown powder inside. "Is this the right one sir?" he asked meekly.
"Yes. Very good my boy," his father replied. The man allowed a small grin to spread across his face. "It appears you've studied very hard for this test. That will be enough for today. You may retire to you chamber now. You've earned the rest."
"Thank you my lord," Liam happily replied. He'd been up since before dawn. Today had been an important one. His father had just tested him on a special incantation that he was expected to perform later in the week. He'd memorized the chemicals that were needed in order to invoke the spell; praying that he wouldn't get them jumbled up in his head when testing began. He could finally breathe a sigh of relief. He'd answered every question right which made his father proud.
Liam rose from the table and bowed to his father bidding him goodnight. He then grabbed the candlestick that would help light his way through the maze-fashioned corridors of Dunham Castle. The dark, dank pathways were poorly lit by bracketed torches. If not etched to memory through repetition, one could find themselves wandering the corridors for days on end.
The lad slowly made his way through the castle's hallways towards his chamber which was bleak and stark of furniture. There was a fireplace in order to heat the room during the winter, but little else was provided for comfort. The boy had a cot to sleep in and a stand beside it in order to place a candle. The limited amount of light the taper provided barely illuminated the chamber, leaving the corners deep in shadow.
Liam spent many a night on the edge of his cot straining his eyes in order to study notes he'd jotted down from the mystical book. Having been granted the reprieve, he wouldn't have to stay up until dawn this night. He wouldn't be expected to perform the incantation for at least three days. Liam could afford to let himself relax until then. He'd need to refresh his mind on the day he invoked the spell, but now he was weary and needed sleep.
When entering his room Liam doused the candle allowing darkness to enshroud him. Not needing the light to find his way, the lad walked over to the bed and sat down. He didn't lie down right away. Instead, he let the black of night soothe him as it always did. He often wondered why the servant's children demanded a source of light to sleep by. Apparently, they were frightened of the dark. Liam couldn't understand such an unwarranted concern. Darkness was an ally. In the dark of night the lad could imagine all sorts of wondrous events. He saw himself standing before a grand army. Bloodied bodies of some unknown foe surrounded him as he pretended to be a great warrior making his father proud. How Liam coveted his father's praise.
Kydo didn't grant praise easily. His displeasure was often handled by harsh slaps across the face. Liam had also felt his father's whip on his backside as well; especially when he failed to invoke a spell properly. It wasn't that the boy's brain was dull or addled. He had a very quick mind. It was just that he was afraid to answer a query with a wrong response.
Liam endured the beating she received without protest, assuming he'd deserved them. What he feared most was his father's scorn. He longed for Kydo's respect. That was something the man didn't easily grant. Only when Liam performed an incantation perfectly did the lad get the sorcerer's appreciation. Only then would Kydo give the lad a slap on the back instead of across his face. Only then would the boy receive a smile from his father. Only then did Liam's heart soar above the clouds.
Liam needed Kydo's love above anything else. That was something the sorcerer never shared with him. The boy didn't feel the man was capable of such warmth. His father never told Liam that he loved him. He'd never held him close. He'd never received hugs from Kydo like the servants so frequently bestowed upon their children. Liam wondered why a mere servant should receive such attention when he, born of royalty, didn't receive affection. Why couldn't his father return his love?
Perhaps his father was afraid to give of himself again, Liam thought sadly. Kydo never spoke of Liam's mother other than to say she'd died shortly after giving birth to him. Was that why the man couldn't bestow his love on his only son? Was it because he didn't want to suffer such pain to his heart again; or was it because he hated Liam for taking his wife away? Best not to dwell on such matters, Liam thought as he laid down and closed his eyes. He soon drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Liam jutted his broadsword through his enemy's gut. Blood spurted from the wound as he pulled the weapon from the defeated warrior. He then moved to the next soldier and swung on him. The man was twice Liam's size, but the lad didn't let that fact waver his attack. He forced his foe back swinging his sword fiercely as their blades rang out loudly. Retreating from Liam's vicious blows, the man was soon devoid of his head.
Liam battled his way past the drawbridge and through the gates of the castle, constantly screaming out a war cry. His knights followed without hesitation. Blood and fire surrounded them all as the lad fought his way through the carnage to the very entrance of the keep. A battering ram was brought to the massive door. Soldiers smashed against the wooden portal over and over again. It soon weakened and split apart. Liam's men forced their way through numerous barricades and slew what was left of the enemy. The army defeated, victory was declared.
The youth smiled as he walked through his forces once the siege had been won. He shook their hands and thanking them for winning this battle for his father. They were stunned by his gratitude because no leader had ever bestowed such an honor on them before.
Suddenly a figure dashed from the shadows towards Liam. There was a flash of light. "A dagger," someone yelled. The lad spun around as the figure ran up and stabbed at his back, grabbing the hand that slashed wildly at him. Liam was about to jab his sword through the assassin when he caught sight of his eyes. No. It wasn't a man that fought him. It was a female; a mere child at that. Very brave she was, the lad thought. Bright blue her eyes were. They sparkled defiantly as she stared at him with malice. Her eyes shown with a fierceness that was beyond description, yet Liam was drawn to them like a moth to a flame.
Liam awoke sweating profusely, having never experienced a dream so vivid. While in a conscious state, the boy often daydreamed of leading an army into combat. He wanted to prove his courage to his father, but Kydo wouldn't allow him to train for battle. His life was bound for greater things, so his father told him. He wouldn't allow the boy to forfeit his life needlessly.
* * *
Liam had this reoccurring dream quite often. He'd assumed it was because he'd never taken part in a real battle. Odd that a female suddenly appeared in his dreams, he thought. It intrigued him. He couldn't help but wonder why was he so attracted to this female. Did he not envision her to be his enemy? It was her eyes, Liam surmised. They held such passion.
His interpretation of why the girl appeared in his dream might be in error, Liam thought as he felt his manhood at full extent. He was now nearing his thirteenth year, the age when sexual desires was starting to take full possession of his body. He often awoke in an aroused state. He assumed the reason he imagined a particular girl to fixate on was due to that fact. The lad knew he could take any one of the servants and have his way with them without rebuke, but he didn't want to soil himself with those ugly beasts. He wanted a woman of pure blood to be his first experience at manhood; someone who'd willingly give themselves to him. He didn't know why, but he was troubled by the thought of forcing himself on the opposite sex; a peculiar idea indeed.
The teen reached his hand beneath the blanket and quickly sated his need while thinking of the girl from his dreams. He then rose from bed, cleansed and dressed. He went down to the kitchens and ate breakfast while the hounds pestered him for scraps of the meal. He kicked them roughly away.
Since he wouldn't be tested today, it gave him time to do what he pleased; not an occurrence that often happened. Liam wondered how to spend such free time. He really should seek Roland out and spend this time practicing swordsmanship, but he didn't feel like exerting himself in such a demanding manner today. Perhaps he'd spend the day riding. Yes. That's what he'd do. He'd go hunting. The kitchens could certainly use some fresh meat.
Liam quickly finished his meal and ordered that his mount be saddled and brought around. As the lad exited the kitchen, he once again felt proud to own such a magnificent stallion. The beast was black as night without one scar to mar his appearance. Hence, Liam named the steed Perfection.
The youth walked from the keep and drew in a breathe of fresh air. It was going to be a very good day, he thought. Grabbing the reins from the stable boy, Liam mounted his horse and spurred him to life. He galloped through the main gate. Speeding the animal across the drawbridge, he nearly ran down serfs in the process. He rode towards the forest at a fast pace wanting to distance himself from the castle as fast as he could. As he entered the woods Liam knew that the dense foliage would hide him from the fortress, as well as the far-reaching eyes of his father.
Chapter TwoKydo's Forest
Liam spurred Perfection through the tangled thickets as he made his way into the woodlands. He knew he'd find an abundance of creatures to hunt being so far in. His father had told him that this forest once belonged to King Nicolas Haydon the First. Nicolas had been a power-hungry war monger who kept his people living in squalor and under a constant threat of death. He'd been killed while attempting to invade foreign lands west of Dunham Castle. The peasants rejoiced when the suppressive tyrant was slain during the siege.
Kydo had risen a very strong army since the demise of the former king, defending the lands Nicolas once ruled. The realm, dubbed Davinport by King Nicolas, ran from the mountains in the west, to the ocean on the eastern shore. When Kydo took control of the kingdom he changed the name of the fortress to Dunham Castle.
The ongoing battles still raged. Kydo's provinces were constantly under attack by nearby warlords yearning to claim the territory as their own. Liam knew those land-hungry mongrels fought for naught. Kydo's warriors were well practiced in the art of combat and would give their lives in order to protect their monarch's property.
The youth often daydreamed of running away and joining in these battles. Liam longed to lead an army into combat and vanquish his father's enemies. Better that than to be confined to the castle studying the Book of Spells day in and day out. What good were incantations against one's foes? How could an incantation defeat an enemy? How could conjuring determine Liam's strength and leading abilities? Sorcery wouldn't gain him a reputation of valor, nor grant him fame and glory.
The youth recalled when he mentioned that fact to Kydo one day. He'd received a sharp wallop on the back of his head for suggesting that he fight for his country. Liam could still hear his father's harsh words. Kydo had bellowed, "Young fool! You think your skill with a broadsword is enough to keep you alive? Good as you are at the art of swordsmanship, you'll never defeat your adversaries by skill alone. Soldiers die in battle. No matter how many or strong your forces are, conflicts can be lost. Everything can be taken from you. Look at what happened to King Nicolas. His knights were well trained, yet his fortress was destroyed and he was killed when laying siege on foreign lands. If it weren't for me, this domain would've been divided up by land-hungry mongrels years ago. No my son. You can't depend on warring ways to keep possession of your lands. One must be wiser than that. You must make your enemies fear for their lives, as well as their children's lives. Only through magic can you maintain control over your foes; and yes, even your own people. Only through incantations will you be able to dominate your adversaries and keep possession of all you'll inherit from me. Only through my tutelage will you learn what must be done in order to fulfill your true destiny."
Liam had been commanded to stay in his room for the remainder of the week with orders to study the ancient book. Kydo expected him to learn five incantations during that length of time. The youth did as told. By the end of the week Liam had learned twice that amount and gained his father's respect for perfecting the spells that he'd performed for Kydo with such pride. His punishment hadn't diminished Liam's dreams of valor, but the lad kept his daydreams to himself from then on, never mentioning fighting in a conflict again.
The bushes suddenly rustled jolting Liam from his reverie. Perfection pranced about hoping to be set at a gallop. The wild steed yearned for the freedom of racing uninhibited. Liam had to tighten his hold on the reins so they wouldn't slip from his hands.
After Perfection settled down Liam dismounted. Drawing his longbow from his shoulder, he positioned an arrow. Going to his knees, Liam aimed towards the foliage waiting for his prey to come into view. The bushes rustled again and a stag ran from the tangled underbrush. Liam let go his arrow. It flew through the air and pierced the animal's chest. The creature staggered and then fell dead to the ground. The castle would have fresh victuals when he returned.
Liam stood and returned the bow to his shoulder. Perfection started to snort and stomp his front hooves. The lad knew his steed smelled something close. He walked over and grabbed the reins in order to calm him and the stallion reared. "Whoa boy. Calm yourself. What's ails you? Is someone afoot?"
The youth stood still and listened, but he couldn't hear anything. Perfection was used to the smell of blood so Liam knew that the odor from the stag wasn't what was agitating him. What did his senses pick up that he couldn't? "Come back when I when I call for you my friend," Liam whispered in his mount's ear just before slapping Perfection on the rear. The horse quickly sprinted away.
Hiding behind the foliage Liam waited, silently arming himself as he did. Within a few moments he heard voices in the thickets. Liam saw a man and a child break through. He rose to a standing position and pointed his broadsword towards them. "Halt. Who goes there?" he asked sharply.
Startled, the pair gasped and halted. The man looked stunned to see someone of status standing before him. "Pardon us young sir. We're just mere peasants hunting our dinner," the man replied.
"You're trespassing. Don't you know who owns this forest?"
"I ..., um ..., these woods once belonged to King Nicolas," the man stammered.
"Not for many years. This land belongs to Kydo the Sorcerer now; this forest and beyond its borders. Commoners are not allowed to hunt here," Liam replied.
"We've heard that sire. It's just that my children grow leaner by the day. The woods surrounding our village have become sparse of game, while this forest has beasts aplenty. I have no choice but to hunt here. I have to nourish not only my family, but I have to help provide sustenance for our village as well. We've been tracking that stag for two days. A good runner he is."
"Not anymore," Liam pointed towards the corpse.
"Do you claim his carcass as your own?"
"Yes. It's my kill."
"Surely you won't deprive my children of food. Your pantries must be fully stocked. I'm sure you can spare this one animal. It would be a feast for my starving family."
Liam looked at the pair suspiciously. Starving? What did he mean by that? How could the man claim to be hungry when Kydo made certain that the peasants were content with their lot in life? The man was obviously lying. He was a thieving poacher, prowling these woods for easy prey. "I should arrest you and have you hanged for hunting these woods" Liam retorted angrily. Seeing fear in their eyes he said, "Be gone with you. I'll warn you only once. Go quickly before I change my mind."
The pair paid heed to Liam's threat and ducked into the underbrush without replying. The boy suddenly stopped his retreat and turned towards Liam. Looking Liam squarely in the eyes, the boy spat at his feet. "Curse you and Kydo too," he yelled before following his father into the thicket.
Liam's ire soared at the disrespectful comment. How dare the boy curse him after allowing them their freedom? They'd broken the law, after all. He'd allowed them to flee when by all rights they should be swinging at the end of a rope by sunrise the next day.