Man from the North: Book Two of the Aun Series, page 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One Death March
Chapter Two Stirring Trouble
Chapter Three Runaway
Chapter Four Along The Brink Road
Chapter Five Besieged
Chapter Six The Cold Force
Chapter Seven Howls In The Night
Chapter Eight Home No More
Chapter Nine A Futile Gesture
Chapter Ten Death Of A Warrior
Chapter Eleven An Empty Chest
Chapter Twelve Reunions And Revelations
Chapter Thirteen Makes You Stronger
Chapter Fourteen All That Can Burn
Chapter Fifteen The Ransom
Chapter Sixteen For Freedom’s Sake
Chapter Seventeen The Dance
Chapter Eighteen Home
MAN FROM THE NORTH
Man from the North
Copyright © 2018 by Lee Bezotte All rights reserved.
First Edition: June 2018
Printed in the United States of America
P.O. Box 1654
Moline, IL 61266
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to all who have tried hard to do the right thing and lived with the consequences.
Dulnear used his bare hands to tear into the freshly cooked rabbit. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but he needed to keep his strength up, so he ate anyway. As he did, his thoughts brought him back to many months ago when he fought for his life against the fellow northerner called Tromdel. Though the man was a violent blowhard with a thirst for conflict, he still regretted killing him. He could still hear the clashing of their swords, could smell the sweat and blood, and could still feel the sensation of plunging his sword into the chest of his opponent, forcing the life out of his large, muscular body.
He was haunted by what-ifs. What if he had not killed Tromdel? What if he had never left his home in the north in the first place? All he ever wanted was to escape the violence and hatred of his homeland, but now he had to return there to keep safe those who had become family to him: the kind-hearted boy Son and the quirky little girl Maren. It had only been a few days since he’d said goodbye to them, but he missed them so.
Dulnear was a warrior of the highest order. He was taller, stronger, and more skilled in battle than anyone living in southern Aun. He enjoyed war, and never hesitated to slay anyone who dared to challenge him. But after leaving Tuas-arum, he’d discovered a new way to live. He found that he had a heart, and now that heart was breaking with each step closer to the northern border.
The howling of wolves in the darkness shook the man from his rumination. He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there but his meal was now cold, and the fire had died down to a few lingering flames. He quickly ate the remainder of the roast rabbit and added more wood to the fire. He also added grass and leaves to cause it to smoke as much as possible. He knew that fire and smoke were the keys to staying alive when wolves were nearby.
Dulnear kept his back to the smoky blaze so the beasts would be unable to attack him from behind. He withdrew a dagger from his stash of blades of various sizes and sat with a keen ear for any movement in the blackness that surrounded him. With no stars or moonlight, it was impossible to see anything beyond the light his campfire provided. He knew he wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night, and though he felt his life was as good as over, he had to stay alive until he reached Tuas-arum.
The next morning, Dulnear woke from what could hardly be called sleep. His vision was blurry, and his long fur coat felt heavier than usual. There was a silky haze across the ground that reached almost as high as he was tall. For a moment, he couldn’t tell if he was awake or dreaming, but the dull ache in his chest confirmed he was indeed awake.
Though he was exhausted, he diligently followed his morning routine. He made coffee, read from an old book, and nibbled on whatever rations he had with him. The habit made him feel somewhat normal, despite the unusually bitter circumstance he found himself in.
When he was finished with the meager breakfast, the warrior from the north covered the smoldering embers of his campfire, collected his things, and moved toward the road, with each footstep feeling heavier than the last. As he journeyed, he noticed the haze lifting and he could see more clearly into the direction he was headed.
The land of Aun never did see much in the way of sunlight. The sky was a perpetual gray-white that stretched as far as one could see, and the melancholy air seemed to match Dulnear’s mood as he continued on.
The road he traveled began to slope gradually to the north, and he could see a great distance. Either side of the road was blanketed with tall, lush grass stretched out over vacant fields, punctuated occasionally by derelict buildings and crumbling stone walls. In the distance, he could see the ruins of a large monastery. Old, abandoned holy places were common along the road he was walking, and the sight of them brought him a small amount of comfort amidst his deep sorrow, for they had a way of drawing him to the Unchanging One.
As Dulnear approached the place, he could see that there was very little left of the old structure besides the tall exterior rocky walls. They were gray and covered with moss, reaching skyward, with no roof to connect them. The man was almost certain that a forceful gust of wind would be sufficient to send them tumbling to the ground.
He left the road and walked out into the field where the ruins were situated. He stood in the large, ornate arched doorway and looked inside. Most of the mortar and rock that once rested inside the structure had been removed by nearby farmers to use for making the walls that surrounded their properties. As he surveyed the monastery, he said a prayer.
Dulnear asked the Great Father to relieve his heartache—but there was no relief. He prayed for words of comfort and wisdom—but none came. There was only silence and the faint whistle of the breeze blowing through the ruins, and the gentle sound of a cold, light rain that had begun to fall. He did everything he thought would please the Great Father, yet was weighed down by the greatest sadness he’d ever known.
Still, he lingered in the holy ruins for a while longer, walking around the outside of the crumbled cathedral. As he did, he touched the ancient walls and imagined what the old monks would have thought of his predicament. I would bet that none of them had ever run a man through, he thought to himself. He eventually came upon a cairstos flower growing out from a crack in the stone wall. He stared at the small blossom for a moment, admiring its ability to bloom without soil or very much sunlight. It reminded him of the boy he’d left in Laor, and he gently pulled it from the wall and placed it in his pocket.
When the rain became heavier and more persistent, the man from the north took shelter under a small doorway toward the back of the cathedral. He waited there, staring out into the field behind the structure until the rain subsided. Sighing, he made his way back to the road.
Dulnear continued his long walk north. He had reached one of the many villages that were scattered just past the outskirts of Ahmcathare, the largest city in Aun. From there, he could just barely make out some of the large spires and towers that dominated the distant city’s skyline. Like giant, slender fingers, they reached skyward until they disappeared into the distant haze. He had no interest in visiting such a busy, teeming place, preferring the small communities and countryside. At least there he felt he had more room to move about without bumping into others in congested shops and streets. He had a particular disdain for large crowds, as they often made him irritable and tired. The village, by contrast, contained most of its buildings along a wide main street with ample room for carriages and people alike to move about with little crowding or frustration.
As he walked into the village, a funeral march was slowly moving down the road in his direction. The painted wagon carrying the coffin was driven by a weary-looking man dressed in black, with a tall hat that pressed his eyebrows into an angry expression. Alongside him sat a weeping woman with a veiled face, and walking behind the wagon was group of mourners following them to the cemetery.
The man from the north stepped to the side of the road as the company passed and lowered his head in respect. As he did, he thought about the day his lifeless body would be prepared for burial. It was very reasonable to believe that his own life would be over soon, and he wondered if anyone would mourn the passing of one who had ended the lives of so many others. Other than the children he’d left in Laor he had no family, no friends, and no real legacy. Like many northerners, he was a warrior, and most warriors receive their glory from victories, not from dying.
“Ye here for the funeral?” an elderly voice asked from nearby.
Dulnear raised his head to see an old gentleman standing next to him on the side of the road. “Just passing through. Are you?” he answered.
“Aye. Going to follow behind the other mourners once I catch my breath,” the man said. He wore a threadbare suit and farmer’s boots covered in mud. “I can’t walk the long distances I used to,” he added with a flagging exhale.
“My sympathy,” the warrior said. “Was it a family member?”
The elderly man shook his head and, when he did, wispy white hair was pressed against his forehead by the wind. “Oh no,” he said. “It was one of our village officials. He was very well-respected. Unfortunately, sickness got him, and he had to leave us early.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Dulnear said. He wasn’t very good at offering condolences but was sincere nonetheless.
“Such things happen,” the old man said. “Sometimes it’s better not to try and make sense of them.”
The words of the elderly mourner didn’t agree with the man from the north, who often tried to make sense of just about every experience, but he smiled and nodded anyway. When the man walked off to follow the processional, Dulnear noticed that there was a large inn just down the road. For several days he had slept very little. He had also eaten nothing but what he could forage for or catch along the road. He was exhausted and hungry, and thought that a hearty meal and a mattress might do him some good. He had a long walk ahead of him, and he needed the rest and nourishment.
Attached to the inn was a tavern and, after securing a room for the evening, Dulnear went in for dinner. He had been in many places like this; loud, untidy, and reeking of smoke and spilled beer. There was a long counter along the wall to his left with a handful of men standing next to it as they chatted and drank an early evening ale. Since most people were intimidated by the warrior’s size and demeanor, they left him alone, which suited the man just fine. But there was something about this place that made him feel uneasy.
He ignored the feeling and found an available table at which to sit. It was towards the back corner of the tavern, and from there he could see most of the establishment, including the door. The man never sat with his back towards a door. It was a habit he’d developed living in the north, and one that had saved his life on many occasions.
As Dulnear sat and surveyed the room, he noticed an attractive, yet haggard-looking, barmaid rushing from table to table delivering full mugs of ale. He was impressed by her ability to carry five or six mugs at a time without spilling a drop. However, each time she came and went from behind the bar, she encountered the group of men standing there, and they were doling out obscene comments, arrogantly chuckling and grinning as if she were the object of a lewd joke.
When the barmaid arrived at Dulnear’s table, he noticed that she was even more attractive, and more haggard-looking, now that she was close to him. There was something about her that made him feel relaxed. Before she could ask for his order he asked, “What is your name?”
The barmaid looked as if someone had just asked her the most absurd question ever, then composed herself and answered, “Faymia.”
“Well, Faymia,” he began, “I would like you to bring me the biggest bowl of lamb stew you have, and a mug of ale.”
Faymia gave a frazzled yet courteous, “Yes, sir,” and headed back to the kitchen for the stew. As she did, the man from the north watched the group of men that had been harassing her. They wore formal business clothing but carried themselves less like proper businessmen and more like trashy good-for-nothings. They were boisterous, had an over-inflated confidence, and an air of superiority. In addition, the scented musk they wore could be smelled from where Dulnear was seated. It didn’t take long for him to deduce who the men were.
Slavers, the large warrior thought to himself. They are the lowest of the low.
It was illegal to capture slaves in Aun, but it was lawful to sell someone into slavery if they went willingly. That’s what made the slavers so devious. They would move into a town and throw the grandest parties, many lasting for weeks or even months. Night after night, the townspeople would come and feast on rich foods, drink, and entertainment, all provided by the slavers. This would go on until the partygoers came to expect it, crave it, and refuse to live without it.
That’s when the slavers began to make the people pay to continue their feasting. By then, the people were hooked on amusements and full stomachs, and every time the price to continue grew dearer, they willingly paid it until they had nothing left but their lives, and their lives they willingly gave to slavery in exchange for the promise of more food and more entertainment.
When Faymia returned to the table with the bowl of lamb stew Dulnear thanked her, but the warmth he carried earlier was gone. He now surmised that she was a slave, and he thought very little of anyone who would sacrifice so much for merrymaking and a full stomach. She set the stew on the table and went to the bar to retrieve his mug of ale.
When the barmaid came out from behind the bar with the tankard of brew, her way was blocked by the inebriated slavers. In addition to the usual vulgar remarks and laughter, the man who appeared to be the leader of the unwholesome group took the ale from her and began to drink it.
Fed up, hungry, and especially thirsty, Dulnear did not possess the patience to watch any longer. He stood up from the table, picked up his large bowl of lamb stew, and walked over to the group of musky-smelling drunkards.
In his long fur coat, with the hilt of an impressively large sword peeking out, the man from the north stood next to the barmaid and stared menacingly at the slavers while he scooped large spoonfuls of stew into his mouth.
The leader of the group, looking amused by Dulnear’s presence, asked, “What’s your problem, enormous goat? Did you lose your groomer?”
“I am thirsty, and you are delaying my ale,” the man from the north answered as he took another mouthful of lamb and vegetables from his bowl.
A condescending grin crossed the slaver’s face, slightly buried by his black, well-groomed mustache and beard. He bowed in mock respect, swept the oily black hair off of his forehead, and replied, “My apologies, you may have the rest of it.” He then extended the half-empty mug towards the warrior.
The slaver chortled, then said, “As you wish,” as he poured the remaining ale out on the floor in front of him.
As the man stood there smugly, waiting for a response, Dulnear quickly considered his possible actions, and the consequences those actions could bring. In his tired, thirsty, irritable state, he reckoned that he was going to be dead soon anyway, so there was no use defusing the situation. Besides, it had been a while since he had been in a good fight, and one might help to lighten his mood. He took the bowl of lamb stew he was holding and flung its contents onto the slaver, covering his head and shoulders with broth and vegetables.
Faymia gasped and slipped behind the bar while the five slavers accompanying their now stew-drenched friend froze. No longer smiling, the man brushed bits of meat and carrots off of his shoulders and spat, “Do you know who I am?”
“I care not,” Dulnear answered curtly with nostrils flared.
“I am Tcharron of Daorcathare,” the man boasted, keeping his eyes locked on Dulnear’s.
“Who?” the man from the north replied with an unchanged face.
One of the accompanying slavers chimed in, “He’s the richest slaver in southern Aun.”
“I have never heard of you, nor am I impressed,” the northerner said, keeping his stony disposition.
“Well, perhaps this would help us get acquainted,” the man hissed as he withdrew a dagger from the inside of his vest. His friends followed suit and closed their circle around Dulnear.
For a moment, the man from the north stood as still as a statue. He took a deep, silent breath and held it for a moment as his mind nimbly designed an attack. He started moving with lightning speed. Before the slavers had a chance to react, he sent the soup bowl spinning at the head of the man nearest to him. The bowl ricocheted off the man’s head, hitting the man closest to him, knocking both of them to the floor, clutching their skulls. Next, he hurled his spoon at the man on his left, lodging it into the soft flesh between the slaver’s chest and shoulder. The man dropped to his knees, crying in agony as he attempted to pry the eating utensil from his body.