The prompt for this story was "Regret & Redemption". It's another short that could easily be a full adventure book. I especially like my main character. At the very end, there's a reference to later events - which is what a future novel would cover.
Reader, I promised that even if in my writings I shield the reputations of some, I would never spare my own. By now, you have facts enough to judge me. In this next entry, I give you more and besides.
Among the men of action I have known, Braudus Flynt was deep in goblin lore. He knew the marks of every Eastern clan; was on fighting terms with every chieftain. Perhaps you’ve read the spurious accounts of him published by Professor Marriden. I swear to you, he was both nobler and sadder than you know.
I traveled with Flynt. I fought beside him. He saved my life, and I cost him his.
I was disguised as usual when we tracked Flynt down at Fort Frontier. I'd heard his name, and when Lord Prast recommended him as the only sure man to reach the ruined cities of the ridge lakes, I had to have him as our guide. Grady approached him while I hung back. This turned out to be the right course, as was proved by their conversation.
“You’re fools,” Flynt declared. Grady replied we were set on it. “I'll not be held liable for the outcome.” Grady warranted that no one could blame him if one of us was so foolish as to make too close an acquaintance with a goblin’s axe. “You’ve no women among you, then?” He’d not yet studied the ten of us. Grady replied we had none and never had. Though, he added, some of the best men he’d ever fought with had been women. Flynt gave my friend a stony stare, but he took our money.
The Easterns tumble down from white-robed peaks into green ridges like blades, and between each line of cliffs lie crystal lakes and fertile lands. Five hundred years ago, the goblins took them, burned the cities, and carried the inhabitants off to their warrens. Back home, I’d read a book about these ruined kingdoms and added them to my itinerary.
Reading is one thing. Scrabbling up and down the sides of ridges, dragging our horses more than riding them, is another. My men had been tested by many things, but even they tired after days of this. Flynt frowned at us more often than he spoke, silently picking out a path that kept us clear of goblin raiders’ common roads.
I watched him every moment, trying to discern the signs he read. He noticed; for one day, he turned in his saddle and addressed me. “If you're to learn anything, boy, you’ll need to actually see what I'm seeing.”
So began a week-long course in wood- and weather-craft, punctuated with the old guide’s curses and ringing cuffs to my head when I failed to recall which compass point was indicated by nature’s grinding ways on stone or the progression of moss on a massive chestnut. Grady told me later they’d been wagering how long I'd take the man’s tutelage before trying to knife him.
How Flynt failed to notice that I never made water in his sight as my men did - inured to my presence as they were - or the lighter tambour of my voice, I cannot say. Except for my lessons and his brusque orders to Grady, he mostly ignored us. He seemed lost, in the vast landscape and in his own, endlessly circling thoughts.
Two weeks out, he announced there would be no more cook fires. The next day, he smacked the pipe from Grady’s lips to make his point. The ridges rose ever sharper. That our guide found paths across them was a sort of miracle. And as the country grew wilder, a sense of our danger stole in and weighed upon our company. We spoke rarely and kept our weapons ready.
At last we reached a height that overlooked a long valley where lake Calis sparkled below us. On the farther shore sat the ruins of a city, towers crumbling away into the surrounding green.
That night, we camped just inside the trees by an edge of the lake under a bright moon. The men were in a better mood, and spoke quietly over their cold supper. The talk turned to women - one's they’d bedded, wedded, or loved.
Flynt grew restless. His habitually sour countenance tightened. “Women,” he spat. It needled me.
“Come, Braudus,” I teased. “You must have a tale of lost love to share with us.”
I was surprised by the violence of the oath he threw at me. He rose and stalked away into the trees. The men laughed, but I was chagrined and quieted them with a word.
After a while, nature spoke, and I took myself into the privacy of the woods. I was just finishing, my man’s trousers still around my ankles, when I heard a harsh intake of breath. Flynt had come up silently, certainly so lost in his own black mood that he hadn’t noticed me at first. Now he stared aghast, and I knew he’d seen me for the woman I am.
I repaired my clothing, buckled the belt, and thrust out a hand. “Duchess Priscilla Grey,” I declared. “At your service.”
“Breaker’s balls,” the man replied and stormed away to our camp.
I did not rush after him. But when I heard shouting, I broke into a trot. Grady was on the ground nursing a split lip. Flynt was nowhere to be seen.
By the Breaker’s own luck, all this occurred just as a foraging party of goblins that had ranged far beyond its normal haunts rounded a spur of the lake. We were still recovering from the shock of our guide’s desertion when an arrow took one man in the shoulder. They were on us like wolves.
Reaching my blade, I gave blow for blow. Even at that younger age, I knew my craft. In the half-light, I thought some of our party broke away. For myself, I was surrounded, axes and clubs held in a ring around me, the snarling faces of goblins putting a terror into me so deep that I was thankful I'd just relieved myself back there in the trees. I kept the pack at bay for a moment. Then they rushed me, and I was clubbed into unconsciousness.
I came to myself under a lightening sky and took in my situation with dread. The positive was that I had finally reached the lost city of Calis. The negatives were that I was tied against a pole in what had been the central square, while surrounded by hungry goblins, and was so concussed that the front of my shirt was stained with my own sour vomit.
I detest those romances in which the frightened female is carried off by villains only to be rescued by her handsome hero. Now I wished for just such an embarrassment.
My fate was delayed by a fight that broke out between two of my captors, a huge male and a wiry female I would one day come to call my friend. The other goblins now cordoned the two, ignoring me. I set to untying my bonds, but my fingers were clumsy from the blow to my head. I was just despairing of my chance, when the ropes parted. A voice hissed in my ear: “No sound.” I turned my pounding head and saw beside me the crouching figure of Flynt.
He had to put me over his shoulder since my legs had the strength of wet wool. We were almost to the protection of a sagging stone wall, when a call went up from my guards. The goblins abandoned their sport in an instant. Flynt broke into a run. Though we turned a corner and saw the forest only yards away, the swiftest of them outpaced us.
I found myself on the ground again, a knife thrust into my hand. “Run!” Flynt shouted into my face. “Or do it yourself before they take you.” Then he rose, drew his blade, and charged the goblins, crying, “Miranda! Miranda!”
It was at that moment that four more heroes presented themselves to my grateful eyes: Grady and three surviving companions came whooping out of the shadows and drove off the creatures, if only for a moment. We made for the trees. All the while, Flynt’s aching battle cry of “Miranda! Miranda!” echoed among the ruins.
Do I regret the death of Braudus Flynt, or the five companions who fell by the lakeside, or the two more we left behind in our desperate flight across the ridge lands? No more than I regret the years I spent at the side of the goblin queen, Gurdig, uniting the clans in hope of ending their ravaging. Or the towns of men that I watched burn. Or seeing Grady drawn-and-quartered before my eyes by that obscene murderer Dickson Jobe. Or betraying Gurdig at the last.
Reader, I do not regret the things I've done.
I abominate them.