If you've listened to the most recent episode of A Knight Adrift (and you can here if you haven't already), you'll know that our brave Knight Aveline is at a fairly significant turning point in her story. The reaction's been extremely positive and encouraging (thanks friends!), which is great because we're finally out of the foundation-laying portion of Aveline's journey and ready to move into the true story I want to tell.
In discussing the future of the tale with friends, I've grown more and more excited at the prospect of introducing all of the cool new characters and places I have in mind, and developing Aveline as she meets and explores them. Some folks are already familiar with one new character (who will for now remain nameless; tantalizing, I know) from when I was publishing the tale as a significantly more boring series of blog posts, but there are still others I've created who are far from meeting our errant knight (and the audience).
One of these characters is called "Rourke," and since the podcast and blog format is pretty flexible, I thought it'd be fun to release an introductory tale about the character! Rourke is a bit of a mystery and will likely remain so for some time, even after Aveline's inevitable meeting with this important individual.
I'll probably record the complete tale at some point as a supplementary podcast, but for the time being, I figured some would enjoy a very brief snippet of Rourke's story. It's brutal and dark, but my hope is that through Rourke, you'll get a brand new perspective on the land of Valerius and the forces that drive it, as well as an introduction to a character completely different from Aveline. Thanks for reading and enjoy!
Rourke's Tale, Part 1
“Thinks he can best me, that bastard,” a young woman muttered to herself. The words were muffled by a gray scarf wrapped tight around mouth and nose. She pressed her body close to the massive, outstretched tree branch. Her fur-lined leather jacket and tousled hair blended with the bark and summer leaves, rendering the woman’s long, lithe form invisible.
If only Rourke could see me now, she thought as she crawled forward inch by inch. Indifferent green ants marched by in a line.
Below, a family of boars grazed in a tiny, sunlit glen, enjoying the golden aura of the late day’s light. One of the animals, a protective mother larger than a farmhouse and covered in spiny hair, stalked the perimeter of the small clearing, staring for long moments into the dark twilight depths of the forest beyond. The low whine of chattering insects vibrated the air as a soft breeze carried the sweet smell of summer blooms.
A predatory grin spread across the hunter’s lips as she watched the scene. From the folds of her camouflage, she unsheathed two long, shining knives with silent, practiced fingers. The woman released a shallow breath and continued to wait, certain that the time was close to prove herself; the time to descend upon her prey. Out of a nearby tangle of bushes and vines, a low, threatening growl rumbled forth. The mother boar immediately halted her patrol to perk her ears and listen in suspicious fear. Her long tusks trembled. The young ones stopped chewing.
Above, the hunter readied herself, pulling her knees up and crouching in her concealed position. She let her eyes wander over her weapons: one of the knives broad and curved like a sword, the other straight and thin like a needle. Though the blades were polished and clean, nicks in the sturdy metal gave testament to their past experience.
A vicious snarl shot from the overgrowth, rousing the young beasts from their sun dappled reverie. A black wolf the size of a horse strode through the thicket. Eyes bright and jaws wide, a long strand of saliva dangled from its fang-filled maw. Leaves and twigs clung to the fur covering its enormous, heaving frame. From its black eyes to its barbed tale, two streaks of crimson fur ran across its back.
A second later, several growling companions stepped from the brush, flanking their pack leader. Two of the gigantic predators nipped at one another’s’ necks in open aggression before focusing on the more vulnerable prey before them.
The young boars squealed in terror, their desperate, porcine screams echoing through the quiet forest. The largest wolf bared its teeth and dove at its prey, as its slobbering, smaller companions dashed forward a moment later to join in the pursuit. For her part, the mother boar stood her ground, stomping into the dirt beneath her hooves and lowering her head in challenge. The creature’s tusks shot forward from its jaw like two battle-hardened spears. She seemed determined to protect her young at any cost, even if the task cost her life.
As the wolf pack closed in, the young boars turned and ran, leaving a trail of trampled brush in their wake. The mother moved to block the smaller predators from following, but as she did, the red-streaked leader dodged her tusks to plow into her side. The wolf’s jaws sank deep into unprotected flesh and the mother boar let loose a furious scream. Swinging her massive body with enough force to topple a tree, the boar flung the wolf from her bloody flank, clear across the formerly peaceful space where it struck with a thud against a massive boulder.
The mysterious woman watched the battle with gleeful satisfaction. She stood up on the wide tree branch, still crouched low, but no longer concerned with concealing herself. Below, the boar and wolf were too focused on their bloody dance to notice the human form lurking in the tree above. The enormous creatures circled each other, eyes locked in primal tension as they shuffled from side to side amid the ruined grass and leaves.
The woman casually stepped off her perch, long knives flashing, mouth open and screaming. She hit the forest floor with an assured thump and rolled forward between the two ferocious combatants. Her eyes shined with a confident gleam as she glared in the direction of the stalking wolf. The young hunter brought her weapons to bear on her prey and screamed again in challenge.
The animals froze mid-step and gawked at the human in shock. Blood trickling down her side from a collection of small puncture wounds, the mother boar emitted a surprised yelp. Slobbering teeth bare and red, the black-eyed wolf barked in anger.
“Pleasure to meet you, beast. May you prove me worthy with the honor of your pelt,” the young woman said in the direction of the predator. Uttered between bared teeth, her greeting was chilly and threatening. For a moment, the woman stood straight and bowed toward the beast. Behind the distant mountain ridge, the sun continued to sink. Light glinted off the woman's long, black hair. As the wolf squared its shoulders and prepared to charge at its new quarry, the woman chuckled and grinned. “This is gonna be fun.”
TO BE CONTINUED...