His father’s small hold in the center of the Endless forest had been left to its own devices since their ancestor Garv the Lonely built their keep in the First Generation. Woodshold, named after both its geography and its architecture, was a tiny wooden keep set on a large grassy hill. The keep held Hem Garvey, his family, and his courtiers with only a few bedrooms, a hall with a long dining table and a hearth, and a kitchen. It was surrounded by a village that spread to the bottom of the hill with only a few families and households. The village was surrounded by an acre or so of pasture for the modest herds of sheep that most families kept. Outside of that was only the deep dark forest that sprawled for miles and miles of nobody and nothing. Hem Garvey knew the names of many of his subjects and was loved by all of them.
Preston and his brothers, Tim and Garth, never knew any of the comforts of the Old World, or even the cities of the Firstlands. Woodshold had only what they could supply themselves. The structures were built of newpine and blanketwood from the surrounding forest, and clay mortar from a nearby stream. They had no electricity or vehicles, although word had reached them that much of the world didn’t have those either. Firearms had never reached Woodshold, however. They didn’t have any building made in the style of the Old World. They had none of the efficient businesses that ran cheap food companies. Hem Garvey’s sworn men ride the backs of greendeer and carried blades of obsidian mines nearby, to defend against the occasional woodclan that wandered by to steal their sheep and women. He always dreamt of these luxuries and marvelous technologies he had read about in the town’s library.
The times when Hem Garvey held court were his favorite. Woodshold was packed with the farmers, and peddlers, and masons that owed fealty to his father. Hem sat in his ornately carved and burned wooden seat, with his own lordly chamber standing beside him, to advise. Preston, his heir, sat to his right and Preston’s mother Thelma Garvey sat to his left, while the two younger boys played in the corner. Their family’s standard, a black sheep surrounded with dark green of the forest, hung on the banners over their heads.
The peasants bickered and chattered. Sound filled the tiny wooden hall until his father shouted his normal, “Court is being held!”, and the people came to a silent attention. “Drem, what is our first issue for today?” He asked.
The steward pulled out a sheet of parchment from his woolen robes. His skin was the same dirty yellow as the ledger he pulled from his pocket. “First we have Hayon Darkwood with a complaint that the oakwoods have let their sheep graze in Darkwood grasses.”
The petty lord rolled his eyes. “Allright, send both families up to speak their grievances.”
Hayon was the first to emerge from the crowd. He was an old bald man, grey as the sky on a rainy day. His wife was long gone and his siblings as well. He was the patriarch of the Darkwood family, a relatively prosperous family of the Woodshold village. He was dressed in traditional wool robes of the Endless Forest, but it was dyed blue with rare flowers that only the wealthy villagers could afford. How unnecessary. Preston thought, even as a lord’s son he knew better than to invest in status symbols. His father taught him that pride comes before the fall.
Then Thornby Oakwood came forward to represent his simple herding family. He wore only dry rags that Preston could tell had not been washed for a fortnight. He had a long tangly beard the same muddy brown color as his long ragged hair. He had sunken tired eyes the color of moss. He also lacked shoes on the cold stone floor.The Oakwoods had nothing. Nothing but their herd. The ragged derelicts had only the sheep to get them by. Many of the village folk said that they preferred it that way. They were constantly mocked and told they live like their sheep and sleep with them too. The villagers did this despite mostly being herders themselves. Preston never understood the disdain given to the Oakwoods.
Hayon spoke up first, “My Lord, the filthy mongrels have truly invaded my family’s lands. They bring their sheep wives with hungry bellies into my grasses to raid the land of its lush and offer no compensation. They most surely have to be punished for exploiting my land and wasting my lord’s time with this nonsense.” He gave a smug look to Thornby who only stared at his dirty bare feet in a solemn silence.
“It seems that you’re the one wasting my time, Hayon.” Lord Garvey said to the old proud peasant. “Gentle Thornby, what have you to say about these claims?”
His eyes were sunken and sad. He spoke with a raspy, yet honest sounding voice. “My folk, as y’all would know, are a simple one. We only have our flock to treat us to a meal in the evn’n to get us by. The woods have been awful per’lous lately ‘cause o’ the wolves a’ comm’n with full force. I jus’ can’ find nowhere I ain’t gonna lose a couple ewe to those wood devils. Can’t even leave the town with ‘em. Ain’t no space in town with no claim on it, but I need to feed my livelihood. I’m sorry m’lord, and the Darkwoods have my ‘pologies as well. We had no choice but to bring that flock on to mister Hayon’s ‘state to feed the babies.”
“I see.” His father’s stoic response did not surprise Preston. His father scratched noble brown beard as he pondered on the issue. His thoughtful face was the interest of the entire hall. “What do you mean by the wolves are coming full force? Are there far more than there have been before? They have lived in these woods since Garv the Lonely lost his pet dogs.”
“No, m’lord, they jus’ seem to be more ‘gressive tan before, ya know? They used to hang back and not bother the sheeps so much. Now they come righ’ out the woods ‘n’ attack whatever they can. One ‘em most got my daughter Rosie, po’ little thing. The don’t even eat what they take no mo’. They jus’ leave ‘em on the ground.”
“I see your peril here, good man. Henceforth, all lands should be allowed for the Oakwoods flock to graze. At least until we can sort out the problem with the aggressiveness of the wolves.” Hayon tried to object, but after Thornby humbly thanked Hem Garvey, the crowd enveloped them and he was gone.
“What else is there, Drem?” Hem inquired with little interest, yet all of the urgency. Meanwhile, Preston wondered what could be setting wolves off in the forest. He’d lived within these trees for all of his twelve years, climbing and hiking through the Endless Forest, but he had never even heard the howl of one of those beasts. They had come from the Old World, he knew, and they had never become a problem before. They were normally docile like the ones men befriended in his books. There used to be great big savage ones that weighed over a hundred pounds on the Old World, but they hadn’t come with the Landers. They are no longer our best friends. He thought when he remembered an old saying from some of his books.
The affair with the Oakwoods and the Darkwoods was the peak of excitement in the court for the day. The peasants of the Woodshold were always very friendly and there were very few quarrels. They were all ushered out of the hall by Hadric, the fort’s Master Guard. Preston asked his father why wolves are killing Thornby’s sheep so much. He only said, “I don’t know, my son. It is probably only a good year for their pups and there are more of them than normal. They tend to get more aggressive when there isn’t enough food. I’ll send Hadric out tomorrow to scout the woods for anything.” Preston found this satisfactory. His father told him, “Why don’t you go out in the yard and train with your uncle? He’s missed you recently.” Preston had neglected his training lately for reading about old heroes and lords of the Firstlands. I should train if I’d want to be like them. He thought, thinking of the Daren Jordan the Knight of Snow. Preston dreamed of being a hero like Daren, who wiped out bandits for the cold hills of the Axehead, or like Preston Crax the River knight, who ended the Divide by slicing the head off Timothy the Clever on the Crossroad.
“One day, you may be a Knight if the Kinsblood.” Lord Garvey told him with a fatherly smile. Preston was entertained by that. Woodshold had little connection with its king for most of its existence. Before Preston was born, they had received a rider from The Landing. They had told them, after a welcoming feast and and a keg of wine, that Spencer’s line had ended, and a lowborn had stolen the throne. Hem rarely talked about this. He told Preston that he respected the kings and high lords always as strongbloods descended from the Great Landers, just as they had descended from Garv the Lonely. The nobles ruled by right of strongblood with the great Landers and were held as half gods from their noble birth. This new king, however was of low blood, born to peasants, using evil deeds and sly tricks to steal his power over the kingdom. His father sometimes said things like, he had no right to rule. But, the king never bothered them and they continued their simple ways without involving themselves in the politics of the outside world.
Preston decided to go out into the yard. It was outside the hold’s walls, hardly a yard at all. It lay behind the hold where the village ended. It was a patch of mud and dirt and dry grass set beside the castle walls nearby some brush that lead up to the depths of the Endless Forest. On his way out to the yard he grabbed the new sword he had gotten for his twelfth birthday. Black Blake the armorer had crafted it out of obsidian and greenpine with his dusty deft hands. The pommel was carved out of old world oak, a traditional good luck charm in the Endless Forest. He hadn’t even thought up a name for it yet.
Jorge was guiding a boy’s swing, teaching him proper form, when Preston left the walls of the hold and entered the yard. His uncle was a wiry man with shaggy black hair and a scraggly beard to match. He had the same cold knowing face of his brother and his mossy green eyes that Preston shared as well. Jorge had the honor of being Master of Arms of Woodshold. He was in charge of training and organizing the his brother’s levy. This was a job he performed aptly and happily.
Jorge noticed Preston walk out into the yard. Preston’s sword hung off his greendeer leather scabbard, yet he grabbed a smooth blunt wooden sword from a flimsy stand stuck in the mud of the yard. Preston waved to his uncle. Jorge said, “Hi little Preston. Have a nice day at court today?”
Preston smiled at the warm greetings of his family member. He chirped, “It was good, uncle. My father really helped the people today, I think. He’s so smart.” Preston had great admiration for his father.
“Your father is certainly a good judge of issues that those peasants bring him. Did you know he was also a great fighter before he became a lord?” Preston shook his head. He knew all the tales of his father fighting the woodclansmen before Lord Ren Garvey died and gave him his title. “Hey, little Marvin here has been looking for someone to spaar with. Up for a fight?” Marvin was a little boy, about Preston’s age but small for it. He had pale blonde hair that rounded around his weak chin. An easy foe. Preston thought.
“Sure uncle, I’m up for a fight.” He said with an overly cocky tone. It was a warm spring day, one of the first since the harsh winter. The sun was out and the brightest it could be in the clearing of the forest that was the Woodshold. He held up his wooden sword and fell into his stance he placed himself facing away from the oppressive light of the sun. He smiled and waved for the clumsy boy to come at him.
Marvin came to him with his own wooden sword. Preston let him get a feel of his stance and through a couple of swings that he quickly tossed away. Preston listened to the birds chirp and leaves rustle as he knocked away the boys awkward attacks. Then Marvin lunged at his left shoulder with all his weight behind the strike. Preston danced away to his right, letting him fall forward into a patch of mud. He smacked his back between his shoulders as he fell and forced his face full of mud. “Come on boy!” Don’t let him dance around you like that!” Jorge counseled Marvin from a few yards away. Save your words, uncle. The boy is doomed. Preston thought.
Marvin wobbled up from the mud, his white woolen clothes stained brown. He wiped the mud out of his eyes and snorted some out of his nose. But he managed to lift his blade back into the air. He ran at Preston once more in an uncomfortable looking charge for his scrawny frame. Preston hit the blade away. He stepped to the side once more, then he went on the attack. He smacked his wrist so hard the air was filled with a sharp crack. Marvin dropped his sword and whimpered when Preston jabbed his sword into his chest, launching him backwards, back into the mud. Preston knew it was cruel, but he didn’t care. The Knight of Snow was cruel to the bandits. Why shouldn’t I practice? Preston told himself.
“Well done, Preston. You do good work against an unworthy opponent. Too bad you'll never find a real foe so willing to accept your punishment.” Jorge said in an annoyed tone.
That’s when he saw it. It’s bright green yellow eyes shone through the brush around the yard. It was peering out from inside a bushy green landerberry bush. The beast seemed to be watching them. Preston assumed it had been there for a long time. It was still mid-afternoon and its presence near the castle at that time confused Preston. The thick grey fur of the wolf’s face was the extent of what Preston could see of it. It charged him before his uncle even noticed he wasn’t paying attention to him.
Preston didn’t have an instant to think. His instincts took over and he unsheathed his birthday blade. The beast sprinted at him. It was grey and scrawny with a fierce gaut face. It’s eyes were ferocious and told Preston it was there to kill him. It ran faster than anything Preston had ever seen. Preston stood his ground to the charging wolf. It looked like it weighed almost as much as him, even with its starving appearance. As it got closer, Preston could see that it was missing chunks of fur and its sharp teeth glaring at him. Preston held the shining razor sharp blade of the obsidian sword in front of him, waiting for the beast to reach him. Just in time, he swung the blade through the torso of the wolf as it lunged at him an a vicious effort. It was dead instantly. Preston watched it as it slid off the blade and showered blood into the mud.
Jorge and Marvin stared at him. Preston stared back thoughtlessly. He was petrified with fear. His legs felt weak and his heart hammered like a treedigger digging out a nest. Preston decided to ignore the insanity of the situation and proceeded to wipe the blood off his
sword and slide it back in its sheath. Is this what a battle would be like? He asked himself. Suddenly, Jorge boisterously shouted as he slapped Preston’s back, “Well, haven’t we got ourselves a cold blooded killer. You’ve got your father’s instincts, boy. Preston Wolfslayer they’ll call you.”
This excited Preston. He smiled and nodded. “I’ll be the hero of the Woodshold! Fighting off all foes with my mighty Wolfsbane!” He shouted in triumph as he saw another set of eyes peer through the bushes with the orange light of the setting sun.
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