The Heroes of Mithal
- I -
As Braden ducked his way through the crowded, bustling market streets of Stolfast, dodging shoppers and tradesmen, he wondered why the city guards insisted on shouting such pointless commands. In spite of being almost completely out of breath he pressed on, grinning like a madman; this was what he lived for. Some thieves prided themselves on slipping in and out of a building undetected, or lifting a purse from an unsuspecting victim, but not Braden. What thrilled him the most was the chase. For him, the real excitement came from outrunning, outmaneuvering, or outwitting his pursuers.
When he risked a glance behind him, the two guards were close enough for him to see the triumphant looks on their faces—the looks of hunters who knew their prey was trapped. Braden’s grin widened as he picked up the pace, rounded the corner, and ran straight into the stone wall.
The two guards stopped short and exchanged a smile.
“That was…new,” the first guard chuckled.
“If that was some bizarre attempt to gain sympathy, it didn’t work,” the second added.
“Come on Stiles, I didn’t steal anything,” Braden protested as they hauled him to his feet.
There was no sympathy in Stiles’ eyes. “Only because we caught you in the act.”
Manno, the shorter and less stern of the two guardsman, regarded Braden with something bordering on respect. “I must say, I’m impressed. How did you ever get past those locks?”
“How indeed?” Stiles demanded. “The answer is that you couldn’t possibly have, on your own. Who helped you?”
Manno placed a hand on Stiles’ wrist. “Ease off, Stiles.” Then to Braden, “You’d be better off if you told us, really. You’re in a lot of trouble this time.”
The color had drained from Braden’s face. He gave Stiles a sickly smile. “If you don’t mind, I’m just going to pass out now.”
* * * * *
“Is this how you plan to live the rest of your life—failing at robberies and running into walls? You could be doing so much more.”
Braden rubbed his aching head. He didn’t need to open his eyes to tell he was in the prison. The smell gave it away. But the unfamiliar voice aroused his curiosity. He opened his eyes and his suspicions were confirmed: stone walls, iron bars, and flickering torchlight that dimly lit the space around his cell. A man stood on the other side of the bars, his face hidden beneath the cowl of a dusty brown robe.
“Who are you, the new magistrate? You must be. All the rest have long since given up on me.”
“I am nothing of the sort.”
“So...what do you want?”
“You have a gift, Braden. I am here to offer you the chance to use your gift for something important, something other than yourself.”
“So what’s in it for me?”
The hooded man sighed. “You’re missing the point. But if you need a selfish reason I’ll give you one: do as I ask and you may just find the answers you seek.”
“Alright I’m in. What’s the score?”
“There is no ‘score’. Just go to the southwest corner of the marketplace. There you will find an exotic woman clad in brown who needs your help. You must hurry, there isn’t much time.”
“Is she pretty?” Braden’s head jerked at the sound of a heavy door opening in the distance, and when he looked back the man was gone.
For a moment he wondered if the mysterious man had ever been there at all. Regardless, he did not intend to wait for the real magistrate to show up. He lurched to his feet. Wobbling only a little, he backed up against the wall opposite and lunged toward the door. There was a loud clang as his body hit the bars and bounced off. Braden cursed as he hit the floor. His head was swimming, and he felt as though he might be sick. A prisoner in another cell shouted at him to be quiet. Other prisoners began to clamor, then abruptly there was silence. The magistrate was coming. Desperate, he threw himself at the door again, but this time there was no impact. When Braden opened his eyes he found himself on the other side of the cell door. A smile flashed across his face. Then he vanished into the shadows.
- II -
The sun had not yet set behind the city walls, but the marketplace was nearly deserted. A few transactions were still taking place, primarily those that were best done with as few onlookers as possible, but most of the merchants had already departed. Soon even these less savory deals were concluded, and yet the strange woman remained. She had the bronze skin characteristic of the people of Mithal, a city to the north, and wavy, shoulder-length black hair. Beneath a heavy brown cloak was nothing but a tight leather vest, just a shade darker than her own skin, that did very little to hide her trim, athletic body. The trousers too were of the same leather, just loose enough to allow freedom of movement. She was taller than most of the women of Stolfast, and although she tried to keep her face hidden beneath the cowl of her cloak, she could not completely conceal her beauty. The fresh blush of youth had faded, but the mature self-assured grace that had replaced it commanded respect as well as admiration. No man approached her. She had the bearing of one accustomed to being obeyed, with piercing eyes that seemed to evaluate everything they fell upon. The eyes filled with concern as the sun finally fell below the city walls.
[Note: This was graciously edited by Jeremy Bates. If you'd like a free but thorough edit of the first two pages of your manuscript, check out his blog at Jeremy Bates Books]
- Solterryn -
Solterryn is a world far from our own, where magic is a reality, but Wielders of magic are scarce. The continent of Everryn is encased in a magical Shroud, and ships sailing from the east of the continent find themselves on the west coast after a short journey. What lies beyond the Shroud is a mystery, although it's understood that humans came to the continent on three ships, long ago, before the Shroud existed.