As my co-author Gordon Faulkner is signing copies of our book Wings of the Overlord today Saturday at Inverness Waterstones (1200-1400), I’m making a departure from the usual Short Story blog.
This is an excerpt, which can be read as a complete story (having been tweaked for this presentation).
* * *
“Do you recall hearing about Regloma Troglan?” Alomar asked with a grin.“Indeed – a famous duellist – oh, about fifty years ago,” supplemented Fhord, remembering the books in the Archives.
Alomar chuckled. “If our bookworm can recall, all the champions he unseated were special–”
“No, I can’t remem – wait, they held their champion-sword for less than two quarters each?”
“True enough, but no, I was thinking of their personal lives. Perhaps that was an unfair question. Of course, I’m speaking from personal experience now. All the champions he unseated had something to lose which meant more to them than any championship – be it family, wealth, esteem in business, whatever.”
“Go on,” urged Fhord eagerly.
*Courdour Alomar had entered the Lorgen’s Fable inn on his way through Endawn when he thought he recognised an old acquaintance, though he was lief to think he was mistaken.
Then the man, slumped over the table in a shadowy corner, rose unsteadily and swerved, demanding another drink.
In the light now, though unshaven and wearing old and patched clothes, his black hair in disarray, the man was Reall Demorat, until but recently a champion duellist of Endawn.
Recognition did not flicker in Demorat’s eyes as Alomar held him by the shoulder and guided him back to his shadowy table. The warrior ordered another bottle of wine and settled down to talk.
Strangely, after the first new goblet of wine, Demorat seemed to sober up, and recognition slowly dawned.
After their first expressions of surprise and pleasure at this coincidental meeting, Alomar asked, “By what ill fortune have you come here, Demorat?”
“Regloma!” Demorat seethed, gripping the wine bottle till his callused knuckles whitened. “I owe it all to that devil-spawn cheat!” And, shakily, he poured another goblet full to the brim.
Demorat raged with an obsession that the present unbeaten champion duellist, Regloma Troglan, was a fraud, for he employed two henchmen to threaten any champion or contender listed to fight Regloma. The threat was basic enough: lose the fight if you wanted to see your family without disfigurement or death.
Despite the amount of wine Demorat imbibed, Alomar tended to believe his friend; such chicanery was typical for the city of Endawn. “But you weren’t married – nor even involved with any–”
“My body – they threatened to cremate me!”
Of course, now Alomar remembered. Demorat belonged to a rare sect who staunchly believed that they must be interred after death; to be burned to ashes meant that the soul would dissipate and wander aimlessly for evermore. He had to admire Regloma’s men, they had chosen the only chink in Demorat’s personal armour. What was a duelling championship title compared with eternal oblivion?
After a while it became evident that Demorat wished to leave, though now almost incoherent. Alomar gathered that the hostel where Demorat slept shut its doors shortly; and the streets of Endawn were not safe after mid-moon had passed.
Alomar paid for the wine and, with his right arm round Demorat’s back supporting him, Demorat’s limp arm round the warrior’s neck, and taking the main weight on his right shoulder, Alomar guided his drunken companion out into the dark alleyway.
Demorat vaguely indicated they should move to the right.
They had not gone far when Alomar’s sixth sense detected movement in the shadows. He stopped, propped Demorat up against the rough-stone wall, and withdrew his sword as the four attackers stepped out of the darkness.
Alomar was hard put to it to keep all four at bay, but presently one of his assailants erred in his judgement and the warrior’s sword ensured that no more errors of judgement would be committed by that man.
Demorat seemed to realise his life was at risk, and, though drunk as he was, he reached for his sword: with his trusty blade in his grip, he tended to sober a little, and clashed swords with one of the remaining three.
Alomar shattered the sword of another attacker and as its blade fell with a loud ring to the cobbles, the two other assailants faltered then backed off, and soon took to their heels.
Aware of the silence at his side, Alomar turned: Demorat was crouched against the wall, his back to Alomar. The other assassin lay dead; but a knife protruded from Demorat’s side.
To withdraw the blade now might mean a slow death, life-blood oozing away; Alomar gripped the handle and with a tremendous jerk he snapped it at the hilt, leaving only the blade slightly protruding. Gently lifting Demorat to his feet, Alomar adopted the same carrying method as he had earlier before the attack.
When the two distinct thuds sounded Alomar pitched forward with Demorat, unmindful of the hard cobbles.
There he lay, unmoving though his ears were attuned to any untoward sounds from the night.
After some time had elapsed, he risked rising watchfully and slowly.
Whilst he had been fortunate, his companion had fared badly: one arrow shaft had sunk in the nape of Demorat’s neck, the other in his arm roughly in the same position where it had been limply resting over Alomar’s neck.
They had silenced Reall Demorat’s drunken accusations for ever.
As he was in a strange city Alomar had no wish to answer questions. With regret he left the murdered champion to the street rats. He had a purpose to fulfil, however, and he would not rest until he had accomplished it or – pleasant thought! – he died in the attempt.
The latest of a long round of duels had been publicised for the next day; Regloma Troglan was billed to fight a brash young contender for his title.
As Alomar took his seat in the duelling room he wondered at the manner of leverage Regloma’s men had used on this contender.
For the majority of the audience the fight was excellent – and there were plenty of thrills – especially when the lithe youngster from Lellul narrowly missed drawing the champion’s blood. But to the eye of Alomar there were a few flaws in the duel. The subtleties were missed when they should have been grasped; openings remained open, to be ignored or unseen.
The warrior looked about him, studying the older, worldlier members of the audience. Strangely, there were few. It was as though the men who had once duelled stayed away by design, knowing too well the travesty of their art that would be performed this day.
All who watched were the sensation-seeking public, ever-watchful for a killing, though by tradition the challenger had the choice of first-blood or death. This aspirant from Lellul had chosen first-blood – as had all Regloma’s protagonists.
At the duel’s close, when the contender received a cut, lost his sword and somewhat grudgingly acknowledged defeat, Alomar tossed his poniard down into the arena.
The dagger thudded into the wood boards and the cheering subsided. His intentions were explicit enough: he challenged Regloma to a duel.
Because of the public challenge, Regloma had to accept. “Two days hence – and who, pray, shall I have the pleasure of depriving of pride?”
Alomar tendered a false name, claiming he harked from Carlash which was so far to the ranmeron few if anyone present would know the peculiarities of a Carlash native. “First blood,” he declared.
That night he expected an encounter with Regloma’s henchmen and he was therefore not surprised to come upon an altercation in an alleyway close to his lodgings.
The spindly silhouette of a tall man towered over a cowering figure at the end of the alley adjoining the inn.
Alomar ran up, shouted, “Stay, villain!” and his voice echoed in the narrow confines.
At that instant, the spindly fellow pivoted round, snarled something unintelligible and slashed his sword side-ways, against a knotted rope that stretched upwards. A wet-wood cage crashed down, trapping Alomar before he could jump clear. He smiled grimly. They had snared him well.
Now, each man lifted a long spear out of the heap of rubbish in the corner and advanced on him.
He felt the wet-wood and appreciated their choice: it would not be cut by axe-stroke, let alone sword; and the combined weight of the cage was too great to lift. He was trapped like a wild mountain beast.
“We want words with you, man of Carlash,” said the tall one. And he jabbed the spear through the bars: Alomar dodged only to be sharply pricked from behind by the other, smaller henchman.
“Say your words, then,” growled Alomar.
“Lose your duel with Regloma, friend. Or else we must perforce claim your life. If you lose, then regard the debt paid.”
Yes, they had chosen well. Somehow, they had guessed aright; he would not welcome being killed as a caged animal. And, as was the custom, because he was at their mercy, his life was theirs – to claim at any time.
Alomar nodded and they both relaxed. “You leave me no choice.”
He grabbed the spindly man’s spearhead, ignoring the cut hand, and pulled the weapon towards him.
So surprised was the fellow, he had no opportunity to let go. Alomar pulled the man’s head through the bars, jerked suddenly, and the crack of vertebrae sounded loud and awful in the night.
While the other tried stabbing with his spear mainly out of rising fear, Alomar parried with his sword and relieved the corpse of the cage keys; they were soon covered with his hand’s blood, slippery and awkward to manipulate, but he finally unlocked the cage.
As he stepped out, the other spearman turned and ran down the alleyway.
Alomar picked up the fallen spear.
His throw was deadly accurate.
*The same motley band of spectators was assembled.
Adjusting his bandaged hand, Alomar studied the steely eyes of the gaunt Regloma. He was a good swordsman and not to be underestimated.
After the salute, they closed and the first clash of blades sent a roar of expectation from the crowd.
Thrust and parry, attack and retreat, until sweat covered both men and the crowd as one sat on the edge of its seat. Word of the long duel had obviously passed out into the street, for many of the once-empty seats were filling.
After a lengthy period of fierce swordplay, Alomar decided he had sufficiently worn down the wiry body of Regloma. At their next clamorous clinch, he snarled, “I killed your two henchmen, fraud!” And he whispered his real identity.
His words had immediate impact. Regloma pushed free and shakily backed off, amidst cat-calls from the crowd. Those once-smug eyes briefly reflected fear: now, he must fight in earnest.
Another clinch, and Alomar said, “I shall let you win this fight, Regloma – but any more you wish to win will be done so on your own merits... or I shall return...”
Alomar had no wish to become a champion, fighting duel after duel, as if by rote. He had needed to be footloose and uncluttered. He let Regloma cut his hand and disarm him, though no one would have guessed.
He kept a wary eye on the champion, however, ready to use his poniard should betrayal enter Regloma’s heart.
But Regloma accepted his defeat in victory. He was acclaimed with tumultuous cheers, the most riotous praise for any victory he had ever “achieved”.
Leaving the champion to his triumphant circuit of the arena, Alomar caught an empty look in the man’s eyes.
A bitter pill to swallow, indeed, to taste the ecstatic jubilation of the crowd, knowing it would be for the first and last time. For once tasted, it would become a drug.
*Cobrora Fhord shivered not only with the cold. “And –?”
“And,” supplied Alomar, “Regloma lost his next duel and never again won, though he travelled to all the duelling houses in Floreskand. The audiences of Endawn’s duelling rooms once again comprised duelling men.”
* * *
WINGS OF THE OVERLORD by Morton Faulkner
Available from Amazon UK here
Available from Amazon COM here
Available post-free worldwide from the book depository here
So begins their great quest that tests the trio to the limit. Exciting obstacles include raging torrents, snakes, feuding warrior hordes, lethal fireballs, terrifying electric storms, treacherous mountains, avalanche, betrayal and torture. The travellers start out barely able to tolerate each other but, gradually, as their problems are overcome, they grow closer. The strength of comradeship is evoked and also selfless sacrifice. Their story is rich in history and threatening events that beset them on their quest.