Blood of the Red is an old school dungeons and dragons story Mark wrote before Prince of Thorns, around 2001, posting it as he wrote it in his online writing group. It’s epic fantasy, featuring a bard as its main character. Although he has no immediate plans, he might at some point in the future decide to post it on Wattpad or re-work it. I think it has a strong and intriguing start and asked him if I could post at least the first chapter here. Do let him know if you like it!
When you’ve time to consider how much hitting the ground is going to hurt, you’ve fallen way too far. Ingold was passing the tower’s third story when he remembered to start screaming. He hit the ground with force enough to bury him calf-deep had the courtyard not been stone-paved. His knees folded and hammered the slabs, followed in rapid succession by elbows and forehead. The lute in his hand became a splintered cloud.
“I thought he’d splat like a melon.” The guardsman hawked up a glob of gelatinous phlegm and angled it after Ingold, to the amusement of his fellows.
Three of the guards watched for a while longer, but a trickle of blood running from beneath the corpse’s head proved their only reward. At length they withdrew from the battlements to escape the thin rain.
Ingold’s return to consciousness began at his extremities. He emerged from oblivion by degrees. First, twitching fingers clutched at life. His arms flexed convulsively. The legs shuddered, reluctant to stir. Green-gold eyes flicked open and, in the motion, admitted a whole world of pain. The depth of Ingold’s groan spoke his agony with all the eloquence one expects of a bard. He rolled to his back. The strengthening rain began to wash away the blood streaming from his nose. There should have been broken bones, but none were broken. Crushed flesh began to knit, each passing minute bringing with it a day’s healing.
The sun had set by the time Ingold found the strength to stagger away. He plotted an uncertain course through gloomy streets drenched with rain. Beneath the sign of the Red Stallion he halted, shifting from one sore foot to the other, squelching in the mud. Ingold raised his face to the torrents falling from the thatched roof. He let the water clean away the gore until only a livid bruise remained. It stretched across his forehead, cheekbone and chin like the slap of an angry giantess.
The tavern food was better than its beer, in the same way that sunburn is better than gut-ache. Ingold picked at the stew and tried to avoid speculation over its content. Some things are better left alone.
The night was young, but at the ‘Stallion the serious drinking starts at noon. The bard let his gaze slide across the clientele; lumberjacks and dockers in the main, big men, brutal, heavy with dirt, focused on their ale. Above the bar a painting hung, black with smoke. It showed a scene from the Lay of Arthur. In his career, Ingold had earned more silver from that song alone than from the entire remainder of his repertoire.
A smile toyed with the corner of Ingold’s mouth. Digging inside his jerkin he drew forth a quartered disk of black iron. It covered the palm of his hand, heavier than it looked, colder than ice. With a sigh he stowed the medallion. If they’d searched a little harder . . . then again if they’d been more lax he would still have the Captain’s purse.
“I sing to you of a Lord of Old . . .”
The voice of a child rose in a far corner, arching above the rumbled conversation. Ingold’s head turned, drawn to the singer as if by an invisible thread.
“Of Arthur thane I sing . . .”
The notes were liquid gold. Every ache forgotten, Ingold rose, still seeking the source. There! A boy of maybe seven summers, standing on the ale-slick table, thick blonde hair matted over a grimy face. A child in whose mouth the Lay of Arthur rang with impossible perfection. The boy was slight, clad in rags. A hulking lumberjack, seated close by, pushed aside his plate, a scowl on thick lips, red within a bristling beard. When the man’s hand connected it lifted the boy effortlessly from the table, slicing off the note. Wall and child met at speed and the frail body slid to a stunned heap.
Every instinct, every ounce of common sense screamed at Ingold to sit. The last thing he needed was attention. Some things are better left alone.
“And I thought the ugliest thing I’d see tonight was in my stew.” Ingold’s voice was conversational but held an edge that cut to every corner of the crowded room.
His eyes, slightly narrowed, fixed the bearded man. The lumberjack stood now, he’d been taller than some men when seated. The bard’s neck tilted back slowly. The man was a forest giant, head and shoulders above Ingold. Arms laden with thick muscle, built by the axe. Twenty years ago when Ingold had been at his prime . . . well it would have been no contest then either.
“Crush him Garvin!”
Several woodsmen pounded tankard on table. A spectacle is always popular.
“Twist his arms off!”
Garvin’s fist was roughly the size of a normal man’s head. It blurred towards Ingold’s face with the giant’s whole body leaning into the blow. The bard interposed his open hand, and the report of knuckle against palm rung in every ear. Ingold’s other hand closed on Garvin’s wrist, his fingers not even close to closing around it. Grunting with effort Garvin wrenched to pull free. The muscles corded along his arm, sweat gleamed on his heavy brows. Ingold held. Blood, the woodsman’s blood, ran through Ingold’s fingers. Behind the bard’s eyes a flame kindled. A wisp of smoke escaped his nostrils.
“In my youth I served in the personal guard of King Attlus.” The bard smiled, teeth together.
“The Red! He has drunk the Blood of the Red!” cried an old man by the door as he made a hasty exit.
Ingold let them run. He even let Garvin go, and the man ran, cradling his broken wrist to his chest.
As Ingold reached for the fallen boy, the child’s eyes snapped wide, deepest blue, endlessly deep.
“I’m going with you.”
“You’d better be able to run!”