in which a boy finds himself thrown into a world of magic and love.
That night Archer didn’t sleep well, he dreamed that the wanderer was stood before the illegitimate king, Jager, in chains, he held himself tall and looked Jager in the eye. Even the ‘mighty’ Jager couldn’t meet his burning stare. Jager banished the wanderer with a wave of his hand. As he was dragged away, the wanderer spoke,
“You can’t find hide forever in your empty darkness; for I will hunt you down like the animal you are and kill you, casting you into the very bowels of hell!” Jager’s face turned pale and his hands began to shake.
“Take him away and kill him!” He shouted, uncontrollably.
“Run while you still can!” The wanderer shouted back.
Archer sat up straight in his bed, sweat trailing down his bare chest and face, the wanderer’s figure he couldn’t remember.
In the early hours of the morning, Archer left the inn to collect his horse, Nightwalker before leaving to find the man commonly called the wanderer.
“If my father knew the wanderer, then how can he be the killer that everyone says he is?” He wondered aloud. Archer glanced around, not being able to suppress the feeling that someone or something was watching him. After a few miles, Archer spotted the forest, its great bulk looming on endlessly for miles ahead. Even from his vantage point at the crest of a hill it looked nerve wrecking, dark, silent, and lonely. Archer gulped, steeled his nerve and kicked Nightwalker on.
By late morning, he’d arrived at the edge of the forest, Archer peered nervously inside the forest, and it looked cold, damp and smelled awful. He was weighing up whether to look somewhere else or not, when his mind was made up for him, behind him on horseback were 10 of Jager’s soldiers. Nightwalker immediately leapt into a gallop; two arrows narrowly missed Archer’s head and thumped into a tree in front of him. The soldiers were fast and gained on them quickly. Another arrow whistled past Archer’s ear and buried itself in the ground. Archer urged Nightwalker onwards and glanced over his shoulder to see an arrow being detached from a bowstring, it came whistling after him and buried itself in his upper arm. He let out an agonized yelp and clutched at his arm, falling off Nightwalker as he did so. The soldiers had surrounded him in an instant.
“We are here on behalf of his mightiness King Jager!” The chief solider announced, staring down at Archer,
“That crown is not rightfully his!” Archer spat, gritting his teeth,
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” the solider said, laughing, “The King requests of you to join his army.”
“Well I’m not doing.” Archer stated, struggling to his feet, still holding his wounded arm. The soldier jumped down from the horse, standing in front of Archer
“Your stupid choice,” the solider said, spitting in his face, “Bind him up!” He commanded, taking Archer by his good arm. He roughly yanked the arrow out of his arm, making Archer bite his cheek so he wouldn’t cry out in pain. The soldiers dismounted and progressed towards Archer. One of them bound his hands behind his back, while another gagged him and put a cover over his head, leaving him clueless of his surroundings. Just as Archers vision was covered, he glimpsed a figure crouched on a high branch in a tree, entirely clad in black.
Like a rag doll, Archer was slung onto the back of Nightwalker, laid out on his stomach. He winced as a rope wrapped around his arms, tying him in place. The soldiers must’ve tied Nightwalker to one of their own horses as he started to walk out of the forest. Archer heard the soldiers talking between themselves,
“Bump him round a bit, it’ll teach him not to be so insolent.”
“Especially about the king.” With a smattering of laughter, they deliberately broke into a trot, Archer bumped up and down helplessly, every so often trying to gasp for air but failing because of the gag. After about an hour of trotting they arrived back at what Archer guessed was the village. Archer could tell by the temperature that it was late evening; he could also tell that he was in a horses stable, still tied to Nightwalker.
“It’s a shame really.” One of the soldiers sighed,
“Why’s that captain?” Another asked,
“He’d have made a good soldier.”
“He might change his mind once he meets Jager.”
“For his sake I hope he does.” The voices got quieter as the soldiers footsteps faded. All night Archer stayed tied to the back of Nightwalker. His stomach ached where he’d been bumped up and down, he was freezing and his head had started to hurt. That night he didn’t get a minute of sleep and the next morning, he had an awfully bad headache.
“Morning sleeping beauty,” One of the soldiers jeered, giving him a hearty pat on the back, knocking the wind out of him in the process “You’ve got an appointment with the king this afternoon.” He continued, leading Nightwalker out of the stables. With every step Nightwalker took, Archer’s head pounded harder and harder.
“Stop talking to him!” the captain ordered,
“Yes sir.” The soldier replied. As all the soldiers mounted, one of them spoke,
“Just one question, captain.” He said,
“We were in Einsam Ward yesterday... the forest of the Wanderer, people say he kills anyone who goes in there, why didn’t he kill us?”
“There are two possible outcomes, one we can laugh at and the other we must be watchful and careful about.” The captain replied, “Number one, he was too scared.” This brought an eruption of laughter from the group of soldiers. Suddenly, an older voice spoke up, which Archer recognised.
“No offence captain, but you shouldn’t speak like that of the wanderer, he’s not scared of anything, not even mighty Jager himself, I saw him once and I am extremely grateful he didn’t see me or I’d have been as dead as the entire wolf pack he was battling. He’s really big, tall and muscular, and his sword, when it flashes by in the light, it’s got engraved words at the bottom of the blade and entwining on the handle changes colour.”
Archer listened carefully to what the captain said next,
“It sounds like he carries his mother’s sword, no wonder it went missing.”
“Excuse me sir, but what was reason number two?”
“Ahh that, well reason number two is that he didn’t want to kill us, because he wanted to follow us and could be doing at this moment.” There was silence between the group of soldiers for a few minutes.
“Captain, do you think he is following us?”
“Most likely, he’s probably even listening to our conversation, he’ll like the fact that Taylor stood up for him.”
“I think he’s a wonderful warrior!” one of the soldiers announced,
“I agree, he’s got guts to threaten Jager.” Another added,
“Aye, a fine warrior indeed.”
“You cowardly ninnies!” the captain shouted, “Who cares about a man that dresses in black and has a fancy sword?”
“I do.” Taylor’s voice sounded,
“Shut up you!” the captain ordered. If Archer hadn’t have had the gag in his mouth he would’ve laughed. He also wondered if the wanderer was watching them. If he was then maybe Archer would have a chance to escape. They travelled for miles, breaking into a gallop as the castle came into sight. Archer was winded time and time again, by the time they had clattered into the courtyard Archer was gasping for breath. Taylor dragged Archer from the back of Nightwalker and took the cover and gag out of his mouth. Archer groaned as the sunlight hurt his head even more.
“I’m sorry lad, I really am.” Taylor muttered, before Archer was dragged away. Archer was led up a small flight of stone steps and into a grand hall, mounted at the top of the steps. Archer finally set eyes on the man he loathed. Jager was sat, drumming his fingers against the throne arm, the golden crown resting on his head. Jager was about average height, he had a thick beard with streaks of grey in it, his face was hardened and the look in his eyes was almost haunted. His eyes flickered to Archer then to whom Archer expected to be the captain.
“Captain Bosa, who is this?” he demanded,
“This is Archer, son of Weiser, your majesty.” Captain Bosa replied,
“Really? Well, he looks stronger than I thought.” Jager smiled, trotting down the marble steps. He stopped when he reached Archer, who gave him a stony glare,
“Well?” Jager asked. Archer didn’t say a word, making Jager roll his eyes, “You’re supposed to kneel before a king.”
“I only kneel before a true king.” Archer started, “I don’t kneel before a greedy, villainous...” Archer didn’t get to finish as Jager had struck him to the floor,
“What an insolent wretch!” he spat, “But I like your spirit.” Archer struggled to his feet,
“I want you to join my army.” Jager said,
“I’m never joining your army, to protect you. I’d rather do the opposite.” Archer answered. Jager’s eyes flashed from green to a burning red,
“Never threaten Jager the mighty!” He roared, hitting Archer once, “Never!” He shouted again, hitting him once more. Archer spat blood at him, making Jager grab his throat, “Do you have any idea what I could have my men do to you for that?” He asked, angrily.
“I have a feeling that I’m about to find out.” Archer said, through gritted teeth.
“Oh yes.” Jager said, smiling cruelly, “Give him twenty lashes, that might change his mind.” He sneered.
Archer was dragged away to the torture chamber. When he got there his shirt was ripped from his back and his wrists were once again shackled to a wooden post. When the first lash came, Archer forced himself not to yelp the first few lashes felt like metal rods, ripping into his flesh. At the fifth lash, Jager came to his side,
“Changed your mind yet?” he asked,
“No.” Archer managed, through gritted teeth. Jager turned to the soldier, who was dealing the lashes,
“Why isn’t he screaming?” he asked,
“He has a strong spirit and has made up his mind, he’s not going to give you the satisfaction of screaming, sir.” The soldier replied,
“We’ll see about that.” Jager sneered, “When you reach the last five lashes, change to the daggerlash.” He ordered, and then seated himself nearby. Archer gritted his teeth, forcing himself not to make a sound, although he couldn’t stop his body from writhing to try and get away. Suddenly it stopped and Archer let out a quiet sigh. His back felt like it had been hit a thousand times.
“Now,” Jager smiled, “Let me demonstrate the daggerlash.” Jager walked to a table nearby and took a whip off it. He dangled it in front of Archer’s face. The whip had one main lash, plus four others, each one had a metal hook fixed to the end of it.
“You can always change your mind.” Jager suggested. Archer gulped and shook his head. “Never.” He managed.
“So be it.” Jager snapped, then he flung the whip forward, the hooks burying themselves into the nearby table, Jager pulled the whip back, sending splinters of wood everywhere,
“He gets these five lashes publicly!” Jager snarled. Archer was pulled to his feet and dragged outside where he was yet again shackled to a wooden post. Almost instantly the courtyard began to fill with people.
“This boy has threatened and insulted his majesty the King, therefore he must be punished!” Captain Bosa shouted. He raised his hand and immediately, one of the soldier dealt the first lash, Archer felt the hooks dig into his flesh and rip chunks of it off. He almost screamed, Jager saw it and laughed. With the second lash, Archer couldn’t help but scream, he felt dazed. The pain was unbearable. He felt war blood trickling down his back; he saw his own blood painting the cobbled floor. Suddenly two arrows buried themselves in the wooden pole. Every head turned to the high wall. A figure, entirely clad in black, was stood, balancing perfectly even against the wind.
“It’s the wanderer!” several people cheered,
“I can’t believe it, it’s actually him.” They all said.
“Jager!” the wanderer called, “Let him go!” Archer immediately recognised the voice; it was the dark figure from the inn.
“You must be joking,” Jager scoffed, “I don’t obey anyone.”
“Have it your own way.” The wanderer replied, he shot an arrow that buried itself beside the other two, except this one had rope tied to it, the wanderer used his bow and slid down the rope, towards Archer.
“Duck!” he shouted. Archer ducked, the wanderer’s feet slammed into the soldier that had been flogging Archer. The wanderer casually leaned over and plucked the keys for the shackles from the soldiers’ belt. He leaned over and unlocked the shackles.
“Run!” he shouted, in a deep, gruff voice, “There’s two horses round the back, take one of them and go to Einsam Ward, I’ll follow.”
Archer scrambled through the crowd and found Nightwalker tied near the portcullis. He glanced over his shoulder and found Jager screaming to his shoulders. The wanderer drew his sword,
“Come on!” he shouted. The soldiers charged forward, the wanderer took one down with his sword, ducking and hitting another. He weaved in and out of the soldiers, injuring any in his path, twisting into almost impossible positions, to avoid the swinging swords.
Archer heard him laughing as a soldier screamed and fled. The wanderer took an arrow from his quiver and threw it, it entered the soldiers’ eye, and he fell and never stood again. After a few minutes, every soldier lay slain.
“They could do with better training.” The wanderer mocked. Jager fled. The wanderer turned and made his way to the portcullis. The crowd parted, fearful yet admirable at the same time.
“God bless you sir” one of them said,
“Good fighting.” Another said. Beneath the hood, Archer wondered if he was smiling or was it impossible for such a serious person to smile.
With great effort Archer hauled himself onto Nightwalker and galloped away. The pain in his back was almost unbearable but he wanted to put as much distance as he could between himself and the castle.