Red Knight Chronicles, Vol. 1
By Ray Morand
In Book One of the Red Knight Series, Judicator, Gwendolyn the Celebate, is kidnapped to join an “army of the dead” led by Victor. She embraces the future and her new identity as Captain Isobel. Isobel revels in her acceptance by the other warriors, and tries not to be too disturbed by some shady areas in Gwendolyn’s past. She is impressed by the Army’s domestication of dragons, and the sophisticated magical powers possessed by some of them. Though “Gwendolyn” has died and Isobel has taken her place, it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to kill her, or Victor, or both.
ISBN 1-59431- 299 pages Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Cover art by Maggie Dix
Also avaialble in RTF and HTML formats
On the day that changed her life forever, Gwendolyn the Judicator dragged herself toward the small, stone cottage she shared with her brother, Sigfried. Shared, that is, whenever one or the other of them happened to be in town. Sigfried was a bard, and since he was a bard, he often traveled far and wide seeking to discover the perfect song. Because of her brother's wanderlust, Gwendolyn often had the cottage to herself and she looked forward to a quiet night. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so frustrated with the nobility, and their inability to see things as they were--not just from their own lofty world view.
Gwendolyn was a Judicator, presently assigned by King Sebastian to work from Duke Erikson's capitol city of Valegard. She had been promoted to that position after serving in the Ducal Guard for about two Winters protecting Duke Erikson, his Family and holdings. She traveled among his Lands serving as an enforcer of the King's Law, being judge, executioner, and occasionally serving as a scout, or spy, among the neighboring allies' and enemies' territories.
She pulled the deep, black hood of her woolen cloak over her curly black hair as she watched the looming, gray storm clouds rolling in from the east outer ring wall as she left the keep proper and nodded to the Guard on duty at the Inner Ring wall before continuing on. The duke's capitol city of Valegard had several such walled partitions between the keep and the main gate to make it difficult for invaders should the city ever be attacked. No one could remember how long it had actually been since anyone had challenged the duke let alone put his capitol city under siege.
Her white stone, thatched cottage was within the Third Ring of Valegard, where visiting nobles were generally housed if they had not been invited to stay within the Keep Walls. If was definitely a step up from the sod house in the backwater village she had been born in, and left as soon as she got her siblings apprenticed off so she could join a passing merchant train as a guard. She learned sword craft on the job as a merchant guard, whether under attack by brigands, fighting for her life against orcs or goblins, or when being trained by veteran guards who didn't mind passing on what they knew. Once she finally made it to Valegard, she took her earnings and bought a cottage near the Outer Ring. After receiving her commission in the Ducal Guard she soon had enough money to move a better home, closer to the keep.
The recent visit to the duke had not gone as well as she hoped. All the information she had been gathering for him along the border with Ludnikan disturbed her more than it had him. The details she gave him of the gruesome murders, violence and corruption occurring in many of the outlying villages showed some kind of organized effort, maybe a new group of bandits or warlords possibly from across the border. It definitely was humans, for goblins and orcs would have been more random in their violence and no goblin would have been able to encourage local officials to look the other way. No one could be that corrupt to deal with the chaotic, primal nature of goblins or orcs. He merely brushed off her concerns and asked for her to handle another matter. Her routine Judicator duties for a local village council seemed more important to him, than a possible problem on the border.
Gwendolyn fished the key to her home out of the small, soft leather pouch she had stuffed in her right knee high boot and opened the door. She had not been home for over three weeks so the air inside was a bit stale and musty but nothing appeared to have been disturbed inside. She draped her saddlebags on a wooden chair at a table made of thick polished hardwood that was set off to one side in the main room near her fireplace, and placed her backpack and satchel on the floor next to the chair.
She glanced around the room again and chanted a few arcane words her sister Aryn, an Adept of the 5th tier, had taught her. When she was done all the strategically placed candles in the room were suddenly lit. It was one of only a few spells her sister was able to teach her. Gwendolyn really didn't have an aptitude for magic beyond simple cantrips but was happy to at least be able to cast a few that made some mundane tasks a bit easier. Aryn was much more attuned to the weave of magic and had an aptitude for the mage arts. She was said to be on the fast track to one day being the top of her field, maybe even a 1st Tier Mage if she kept her focus on the arcane arts and not on the boys.
After a cursory glance around the main room she relocked the front door, hung her cloak by the door, and headed toward the only other room in the cottage, the bedroom. Again nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary so she sat down on the down filled mattress of her bed, a real bed, one that she had been dreaming about climbing into on the way back from her last mission. It was one of the few luxuries she had, and spent quite a bit of coin to get. She quickly pulled off her boots and sword belt before lying down on the quilted covers. She said the spell to extinguish the candles and was asleep almost the moment her head hit the pillow.
Gwendolyn didn't get to sleep for long, a few candle marks later she heard a metallic click that jerked her awake. She silently rolled out of bed, her sheathed sword was in her left hand, the right pulling the sword free with only a slight hiss of metal against leather.
A brief creak told her that the front door was being opened and the intruder was in the cottage. She didn't risk lighting the candles, for she knew the cottage and its furniture location better than her intruder, so she would use the darkness to her advantage.
Gwendolyn heard words of magic being chanted off to her right in a feminine voice and lifted her sword in a two handed stance hoping to strike the mage before she could finish casting the spell. However, before she could complete the swing into the dark space she suspected the mage to be, the room suddenly flared with a magical, heatless illumination, almost blinding her . When her vision returned she saw her sister wearing the embroidered red and black robes of her school of magic, standing near the empty hearth. Gwendolyn sighed and lowered her sword.
"My, is that any way to greet your sister?" Aryn commented calmly, then sat in the most comfortable, cushioned chair in the main room that was close enough to the hearth so that one could warm their feet against a fire if one had been present.
"Aryn, you should know better than to break into someone's house, my house, in the middle of the night," Gwendolyn retorted.
"I did not break in--" Aryn started.
"You magicked the lock--" Gwendolyn wiggled her fingers for emphasis on the word magicked.