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The warden threat, p.1
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       The Warden Threat, p.1

           D.L. Morrese
 
The Warden Threat
Books by D.L. Morrese

  ~*~

  ~Stories of the Warden's World~

  An Android Dog’s Tale

  Defying Fate (Combined eBook Edition)

  The Warden Threat (Defying Fate Part 1)

  The Warden War (Defying Fate Part 2)

  Amy’s Pendant

  Disturbing Clockwork

  ~*~

  ~Adventures of the Brane Child~

  Brane Child

  The Scarecrow's Brane

  The Warden Threat

  Volume One of Defying Fate

  * * * * *

  PUBLISHED BY:

  Fuzzy Android Press

  in cooperation with

  ISBN 978-1-4661-0596-6

  Copyright © 2011-2013 by DL Morrese

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  Notes on this Fuzzy Android Edition

  This edition has been vetted by beta readers, systematically edited, and proofread. Anything that still looks peculiar is either intentional or additional proof that no one is perfect.

  Dedication

  This revised edition is dedicated to my old Dungeons & Dragons group, The Mutants of the Round Table (you know who you are), friends and family, and all those who supported me with encouragement, comments, reviews, and suggestions.

  Maps

  Maps and other information about the places visited in this book can be found on the author’s website — https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/

  Chapter One

  From the back of his mount, Donald saw another group of peasants gathering this year’s potato crop from the dry, cracked soil. Sweat dripped from their greasy hair and stained their worn and patched clothing. ‘Find out about the commoners,’ his mother had told him before he had left. ‘They are our people and it is our duty to see to their needs.’ What many of them needed most, an involuntary thought suggested, is a bath, and he immediately felt guilty for it. The Faith taught that the gods determined the fate of everyone. If true, these peasants could no more change their role in life than he could, as much as he might like to, and he felt guilty for this thought too.

  The people toiling in the field to the right of the dust-covered road looked up briefly from their labors as Prince Donald and his guide passed. The prince lifted a gloved hand to wave in what he thought reflected a regal manner. A young girl waved back, briefly, before returning to her knees, plunging her dirt covered hands into the soil.

  His guide stopped unexpectedly after another mile and stooped to examine the road. Donald reined in his serviceable but otherwise unimpressive mount. “What do you see, Kwestor?”

  The ranger replied in a slow monotone. “Dirt, mostly. And a pair of wheel ruts.” The older man’s heavy, well-traveled cloak hung limply on his shoulders in the still air, hiding his movements from his current employer. “Probably a farm wagon, but I could make up something more exciting if it would make you feel better.”

  Donald could not recall how many times Kwestor had teased him before, either directly or indirectly, about his not so secret desire for adventure. The young prince did not honestly expect to encounter dragons or evil wizards. His naivety recognized some bounds. He knew the stories in his library back at the castle were fiction, but he still held out some hope for the possibility of finding a damsel in distress in need of rescue by a brave and heroic prince. Just once would be enough. Then he could go back to Greatbridge and fulfill his duty as the nominal head of whatever noble cause the queen might find worthy of the third son of a king.

  Without standing, the scout lifted his attention from the road, raised two fingers, and motioned to the right toward a thick patch of woods.

  “What is it?” Donald asked anxiously. “Are there two brigands waiting ahead in the woods?”

  “No,” Kwestor replied without turning. He drew out the single word, delivering it with slow deliberation, his voice hinting at some underlying sadness or perhaps disappointment. “I’m going over there to take a poop.”

  The staggeringly mundane nature of what the man said shocked the prince for a moment. His simple statement about an act so routine it seldom warranted comment smashed through the prince’s worldview like a brick through a stained glass window. He found himself lost for words, but he felt he must make some sort of reply. Prince Donald watched with annoyance as the old scout slowly rose and made his way toward the thick copse of trees. He had gone several steps before Donald blurted, “You’re a rather crude man aren’t you?”

  “Just a reflection of my environment.”

  “Poop,” the young prince mumbled to himself. “Poop? Couldn’t he even say shit?” Donald knew he would not. Kwestor never used profanity, although it made no difference. Adventurers did not poop. Well, they did, but they certainly never talked about it. He could not recall one time in all of the adventure stories he read, and he read all of them, when one of the heroes took a poop. The scout’s comment really messed up the ambiance. He could almost hear the bards singing of his heroic adventures, saving damsels, fighting brigands, righting wrongs, and the crowd guffawing at the word, ‘poop’. Well, they could leave that part out.

  “Kwestor,” he called at the retreating ranger’s back. “When you’re done, see if you can find something we can eat.”

  Prince Donald thought he had purchased adequate provisions for this tour of the kingdom when they first set out almost three weeks ago, but they had already gone through most of the travel cakes, dried fruits, and jerked meat with little opportunity to replenish any of it. “I’m going to ride ahead a little way.”

  Donald gave his beast a gentle tap with his heels. It snuffed, shook its large, hairy head, and lumbered forward. The young prince never considered himself much of a rider. His own two legs provided a much better way to get around than the four flat-footed ones of a gond. However, a prince is nobility, and the common people expect nobility to ride, so he did, although he could not see much advantage to it himself.

  The gonds, the domesticated ones suitable for riding anyway, could, admittedly, travel long distances and carry a great deal of weight, but these assets paled when one considered their considerable lack of speed, an intellect approximately equal to that of overcooked asparagus, and their frequent flatulence. Under ordinary circumstances, his feet could carry him further in a day than his gond could. You could doze on its wide back on a long trip, though, and, if more desperately hungry than Donald ever hoped to be or even imagine, you could eat it, or make shoes out of its hide to replace the ones you ate before you became desperate enough to eat the gond. Donald hoped he never needed to find out for himself. The iron rations tasted bad enough.

  He barely noticed the rolling countryside beyond the patch of woods. The small orchards of redfruit trees and partially harvested fields failed to draw his attention. His mind wandered to visit the yet unrealized adventures from his active imagination lying ahead. He spared few thoughts to the here and now.

  A mile or so further along the trail, which the locals generously referred to as the main highway, he realized the noise banging on the closed door to his consciousness sounded like someone shouting ahead. He kicked his gond sharply and leaned forward. The beast responded immediately with a sudden burst of somewhat less slow plodding.

  “Damn!” He jumped down with the animal still in motion. When his boots hit the dry ground, he stumbled forward but swiftly regained his balance. He double-checked to make sure he had not forgotten to strap his sword to his waist that morning. He had not.

  Excitement, uncertainty, fear, and a desire for adventure competed for attention. A desperate need to prove himself out-shouted all of his other inner voices.

  He quickly sidestepped the go
nd, which halted in its tracks within seconds after the prince dismounted, and he sprinted up the small rise before him.

  He could pick out words in the shouting now.

  “Have you got any money?” The voice sounded like it belonged to a young man, but certainly mature, probably large. The accent suggested someone uncultured as well. It did not sound like a merchant demanding payment or a bureaucrat collecting taxes. It must be brigands!

  “Have you got any money?”

  Donald crested the small rise. A scene straight out of an adventure story unfolded before him. A small, one room hovel of aging wattle and daub with a sod roof of dirt and decaying weeds stood thirty feet away. He observed several like this on his journey so far, but he still wanted to believe them anomalous. The type of squalor they portrayed seemed incongruous with his expectations of peasant life in his father’s kingdom.

  Weathered boards, which once obviously served as a front door, lay broken and scattered in the threshold, half inside, half outside. The damage looked recent. A shed stood to the right of the house, probably a chicken coop or small barn, and a man outfitted as a fighter pounded noisily on the closed door causing it to rattle in its rickety frame.

  “Have you got anything?” The man shouted as he banged.

  “No, nothing. It’s all gone.” The voice from the other side of the door trembled. This also sounded like a man but of indeterminate age. Donald could hear sobbing and crying, like that of a small child, coming from inside as well.

  This is more like it! Donald rapidly checked his memory for the appropriate cast of characters. Before him cowered one family clearly in distress—perhaps one of them might even be a damsel—one rough brigand, and, to complete the scene, one hero, which was he.

  He smiled. Drawing his sword in one smooth and, he imagined, very heroic-looking move worthy of a book cover, the prince charged down the small hill toward his chosen opponent.

  If he could have restrained his enthusiasm and not shouted what he considered a brave and fearsome battle cry, he might have gotten a little closer before being noticed, what with all of the crying and banging and shouting. But as it happened, the man at the door received ample advance notice of a new problem approaching. In one fluid motion, which may have been just a little more smooth and possibly a tad more heroic-looking than the one Donald used, the brigand turned and drew his own sword.

  Curiously, Donald felt pleased. Ah, a worthy opponent. His bravado clearly ran the show at this time, his reason having already skipped on to the next chapter and the scene with the appreciative peasant girl.

  Using the momentum of his charge to good advantage, the prince thrust at the other swordsman. Donald showed a lot of power and a fair amount of skill in this thrust. He took lessons every Thursday back at the castle. His opponent, although not quite as large as Donald, appeared to be well muscled and familiar with the art of personal combat.

  As their swords met, the shorter man thrust upward and to his left, forcing Donald’s sword away from his body. Donald’s momentum continued to carry him forward. They collided, or, more precisely, a particularly sensitive portion of the prince collided with a particularly hard and strategically placed knee of the other man. Donald’s sword flew from his hand as he instinctively curled until his head almost reached his bent knees. He groaned painfully and fell toward the ground. Before he landed, his opponent managed to spin around and smack him firmly on the back of the head with the pommel of his sword, saving the prince the further discomfort of feeling the impact of his face hitting the hard-packed dirt.

 
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