A Warrior’s Revenge

Pending Publication May 2020

« Chapter 1 »

 

The wind roared as the boughs of trees bent under its angry wrath. Ravens tumbled in the skies, and like black raptors they fought the violent currents of air for dominance. Beneath them, a small boat lifted on the crest of a rogue wave, tossed like driftwood, it hurtled toward the rocky shores. Above, ominous clouds formed like spectral ghosts cloaking a wicked Halloween sky. Hunting, seeking, they stalked their prey like eternal wraiths.

Prayers sent out to the sea gods went unheard as thunder roared in the skies, but in a twist of fate, the boat reached a sandy cove between towering rocks. Exhausted, the men stumbled, then ran for the safety of the old stone tavern perched on the cliffs.

Before the first man could open the tavern door, a vicious gust of wind wrapped around its iron latch and flung it open, startling the sheltering locals inside. Eight men, battered and weary, staggered into the tavern. Turning, the largest man grabbed the edge of the door and with a guttural curse, he forced the door shut then slammed the latch into place.

Silence fell as the locals stared at the men as if avenging ghosts had just entered. The crackle of a log fire enticed the men to pull up chairs and huddle close. Blowing into their frozen hands, they coaxed life back into their weary bones.

The Seafarer’s Tavern was in the Kingdom of Orca and close to the border of Oberon, and when the strangers entered, the locals stared in silence.

Dripping pools of water onto the cold grey flagstone floor, the strangers mumbled their discontent.

Breaking the uneasy silence, the innkeeper walked over to the men. “Can I get you gentlemen anything?”

The oldest man cocked a brow. “Bring food and a round of ale, something hot, bring plenty; we have a thirst and our bellies have not seen food for nigh on a day.” He had a scar down his left cheek and a tattoo of a spider’s web on his neck.

“Yes sir, I’ll see what I can do.”

“Make it quick,” the man shot back, his look dark and brooding.

The innkeeper knew his kind, knew to keep his mouth shut and do as ordered. His tavern was miles from the nearest village, but its proximity to the coastline and cove meant he often-entertained strangers. The locals in the tavern were from a handful of dwellings dotted high on the towering rocks above the cove. Wary, the innkeeper headed into his kitchen to organise food and drinks for his unwelcome guests. The last thing he needed on such a stormy night was trouble, and they looked like trouble all right. He’d met their kind before and hoped they were only passing through.

Fidgeting on a stool that rocked back and forth on uneven legs, James, the youngest of the eight men, cursed, “What’s taking so long? My stomach feels like its throat’s been cut.”

Brody, the oldest man barked, “Still your wagging tongue you whining whelp, we have more pressing issues to deal with than your empty stomach.”

James lowered his gaze and fell silent. He knew when to still his wayward tongue. He still had a scar close to his lip where Brody had backhanded him one day.

Brody, the leader of the rag-tag bunch of bandits, was a tall, well-built man. When he barked orders, his men jumped to attention. Only one man did not fear him, Vance, his younger brother. He was an equally disagreeable wretch. He was shorter but of a stockier build. The rest were just criminals who had nothing better to do than follow the two brothers around on their thieving little quests. Each searching for the wealth that the brothers promised was just around the next corner.

“So where is this godforsaken temple you spoke about?” Vance asked his brother.

Brody leaned closer. “It’s rumoured to be a mile from the cove. I’ll ask the innkeeper when he returns with our food.”

Unconvinced that circumnavigating a rough sea was worth the effort, Vance quizzed, “And what do you expect to find when we get there?”

Brody smiled, “Gold.”

Vance sneered. “And why would monks have anything of worth at a temple?”

“I once met a man who stayed there. He said he could not believe how rich the monks were. So I thought they might be interested in sharing it with the needy, namely us.”

An evil smile played the edges of Vance’s cruel lips. “When do we attack?”

“Once we’ve eaten our fill, we’ll take advantage of the storm and creep up on them.”

Vance grinned. “After we surprise them, they’ll shake in their boots and give us anything we want.” Vance then mocked the monks of the Phoenix Temple by pretending to be a cowering monk.

The more ale the bandits drank, the rowdier they became, and the innkeeper grew nervous when a fight broke out between a stranger and a local.

Grabbing Angus off the man, Brody warned, “Stop messing around, we’re leaving.” Finishing his ale, Brody strode toward the innkeeper. “Sorry about that, my men get a little rowdy when they drink.”

Eager to see the back of the men, the innkeeper asked, “Will you be staying in Orca long, sir?”

“No, just passing through, so if you can give us directions to the Phoenix Temple we’ll be on our way.”

The innkeeper was under no illusions that the men were looking for trouble, but there was no way he could send word to the monks with the storm still raging outside. “Follow the coastal cliffs for about a mile and you will see the temple overlooking the sea.”

“Is that to the right of the cove?”

“Yes,” the innkeeper nodded. He wanted nothing more than to see the back of the men before they started trouble in his tavern.

Grabbing James and shoving him back out into the wind and rain, Brody ordered, “Scout ahead, we’ll be right behind you.”

“Yes sir,” James said. Wrapping his cloak around him, he ran across the road and along the cliffs. The wind grew fierce the higher he climbed, but the streaks of lightning that arced across the sky lit his way in bursts of light. Behind him, his friends followed.

***

“Brother Gabriel.”

“Yes Abbot.”

“I fear the storm grows stronger. Brother William has informed me he forgot to secure the livery stable doors. If the storm continues, the horses could become spooked and injure themselves. Can you make sure they are safe in their stalls?”

Gabriel bowed. “Yes Abbot, I will see to it straight away.” Donning a heavy woven burgundy cloak, Gabriel raised its hood and hurried out of the main temple and across the courtyard toward the stables. Shielding himself from the wind and rain, he glanced up to see the stable doors swinging back and forth.

A clap of thunder roared in the skies as streaks of white lightning speared the black ominous clouds. Grabbing one of the large doors, Gabriel forced it shut. Holding it in place, he reached up and slid the bolt that secured it into place. Leaving the second door open, he headed inside to make sure the horses were in their stalls.

A horse called Warrior at the far end of the stables hoofed the ground in agitation. Reaching out, Gabriel calmed him with gentle strokes, and soothing words. Untying him, Gabriel led him into a stall and bolted the door. Stroking his velvety nose, he soothed him again as another clap of thunder rang in the skies above.

“It’s okay boy, it’s just a storm, nothing more, you’re safe in here,” Gabriel soothed.

Out of the six horses that lived at the temple, Gabriel favoured one in particular. On first seeing him, he’d felt an instant bond with the tall black horse. He didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to call him Warrior.

The monks used the horses to till the land behind the temple and to deliver produce to local villages. They planted lavender in an open field and in a walled garden; they grew herbs and vegetables in raised beds. The salty earth made it difficult to grow certain plants, but with shelter, the monks became successful at growing a good range of food. They also had a walled orchard of fruit trees for making preserves. The monks had even become expert bee keepers, collecting honey and making beeswax candles, some of which they sold in the local village close by.

Whenever Gabriel worked outside, Warrior would follow him around. Gabriel always said Warrior seemed above the mundane chores of the temple, for he was strong and proud, more like a warhorse than a workhorse. He always thought the stoic looking horse seemed out of place at the temple.

Smiling, Gabriel stroked Warrior’s mane. “I have to go now but I will return when the storm has abated.”

Warrior neighed as if understanding him.

When Gabriel turned to leave, a streak of lightning lit up the sky outside and standing in the open doorway was a tall-silhouetted figure. Lowering his gaze, Gabriel noticed a sword in the man’s hand.

Confused, he called out, “Can I help you?”

When more figures appeared, Gabriel knew something was wrong. “I asked if I could help you?” When the men did not answer, alarm bells rang in Gabriel’s head. Something deep within him stirred, a memory distant yet just out of reach.

Uncomfortable, Gabriel stepped closer. “I’m afraid you must leave; this is private property.”

A clap of thunder roared in the sky as lightning glinted off the three drawn swords. There was only one way out of the stables and the intruders now blocked Gabriel’s exit.

“Did you not hear me? I asked you to leave,” Gabriel said in a firmer tone. His heart raced; he knew the men would not leave simply because he asked them to. His thoughts turned to the monks in the main temple. He had to warn them, but he could not fight three bandits who brandished weapons. He was a lowly monk, trained only in the way of prayers and tilling the land.

Seconds later, the temple bells rang out. It was a warning, but as suddenly as their deep tones joined a chorus with the claps of thunder, they stopped. That could only mean more intruders had breached the temple’s doors.

With a raised sword, he entered the stables. “I suggest you come along quietly.”

Sensing trouble, Gabriel asked, “What do you want? We have nothing of value here.”

“My men will be the judge of that. Now lets you and I take a walk, shall we?”

Gabriel stayed put.

“My men are already in the temple, now move,” Brody growled.

When Gabriel reached the men, he tried to run to the main temple, but as he ran around the stables, a fist collided with his face. Dazed, he fell to his knees in a splash of muddy water. Reaching down, two of the bandits grabbed his arms, and laughing, they dragged him through the mud.

When a clap of thunder and a streak of lightning lit up the sky, Gabriel lifted his gaze. The man in front glanced back at him, and that is when Gabriel noticed the tattoo of a spider’s web on the man’s neck.

Angry, the man struck Gabriel in the face, slumping forward, he fell unconscious. Kicking the large studded doors open, the bandits dragged him inside the temple, then dropped him onto the cold stone floor.

Concerned, the Abbot asked, “What have you done to Brother Gabriel?”

“Don’t worry, he’s not dead… yet.”

“What do you want?”

“We want anything you have of value,” Brody snarled.

“But we have nothing, we are simple monks living simple lives, we have no need for riches.”

Brody backhanded the Abbot across the face. Staggering back into the other monks, he repeated. “We have nothing of value.”

Pointing down at Gabriel, Brody ordered, “Vance, wake him.”

Grabbing a pitcher of water off a long trestle table, Vance threw it in Gabriel’s face. When the shock of icy water startled him awake, Vance hauled Gabriel to his feet.

Gabriel wiped blood and water from his face, but two of the bandits grabbed his arms. Stepping in front of Gabriel, Brody asked, “Where is the gold?”

“I promise you we have no gold,” the Abbot implored.

Brody’s fist slammed into Gabriel’s stomach, winded he gasped for air.

Shocked, the Abbot pleaded, “Please, you must not hurt Brother Gabriel.”

Brody punched Gabriel again. “I’ll stop when you gather what valuables you have and place them on that table.”

The monks had nothing of value except homemade wine, preserves, fruit and vegetables. “All we have is the produce we grow,” the Abbot insisted.

Again, Brody’s fist struck Gabriel’s stomach, winded he fell to his knees gasping for air.

“In case you are wondering, I will kill him,” Brody threatened.

“Please, take anything you want, just let Brother Gabriel go.”

“Search the temple, now!” Brody ordered his men.

When his men returned empty handed, Brody’s rage grew. The temple sat high on the cliffs dashed by the sea’s crashing waves, and as the storm continued, he ordered, “Bring him!”

“No wait!” the Abbot pleaded.

The bandits grabbed Gabriel and dragged his beaten body outside. Following his men, Brody warned, “Know this Abbot, I will throw you one by one off the edge of this cliff until you give me what I want!”

The bandits dragged more monks behind Gabriel. They would all meet Gabriel’s fate unless the Abbot did as they asked.

When the Abbot tried to help Gabriel, a bandit knocked him to the ground. Landing in the mud, he pleaded for the monk’s lives.

Facing Gabriel, Brody warned, “Give us what we want and you will live.”

Defiant, Gabriel gritted his teeth. “There is nothing to give.”

Brody’s fist struck Gabriel’s jaw and, splashing face down in the mud, he cursed.

“Kill him,” Brody ordered.

Vance grabbed Gabriel, and drawing back his hand, he struck him across the face. Splashing in the mud, Gabriel teetered on the edge of the cliff but defiant, he got back to his feet. Lightning arced across the sky and grinning, Vance kneed Gabriel in the stomach. Doubling over, he fell to his knees.

Laughing, Vance raised his foot and kicked Gabriel in his chest. Unbalanced, he fell off the cliff, as the Abbot yelled, “No!”

“I want gold!” Brody yelled above the raging storm.

To save the monks lives, the Abbot confessed, “There are two gold rings in my private quarters, take them.”

“Show me, now!” Brody bellowed.

Complying, the Abbot headed back to the temple. Entering his quarters, he opened a cabinet and took out a small velvet pouch.

Before he could open it, Vance snatched it out of his hand. Glancing inside, he smiled.

Happy that they had something to show for their trouble, Vance and Brody ushered the monks into the temple. Keeping quiet about the gold rings, Brody ordered three of his men to stay behind. They were to make sure the monks did not go for help. Once they had given them sufficient time to escape, they were to follow them over the border and join them at the Skylark and Thistle Inn in Caddoan.

Hiding the rings from the rest of the men, Brody and Vance gathered five horses from the stables including Gabriel’s and ordered his men to leave. And as the storm raged, they headed for the border of Oberon.

***

A bloodied hand reached up and took hold of the damp stalks of long grass. With all his strength, Gabriel dragged himself back up onto the cliff top. Rising to his feet, he tore off his rain-soaked cloak and threw it to the ground. Feeling dizzy, he pressed a hand to his temple and winced. Gazing at his palm, he saw a pool of blood washed away by the rain. He remembered hitting his head on a rock when he’d landed on a ledge below the cliffs. Shaking his head to clear his vision, Gabriel fell to his knees and rising, he headed back to the temple. The Abbot had tried to save his life; it was time to repay the favour.

Creeping into the temple, Gabriel watched as the bandits threatened, taunted and abused the monks. One by one, the bandits beat them and then he noticed the Abbot lying on the stone floor with a deep gash to his head. Enraged, Gabriel stepped into the room and before the bandits could react, he snatched a sword from one of their hands.

Stepping into the circle of bandits, Gabriel ordered, “This is your last chance to leave.”

The bandits laughed. “Or you’ll what, pray for our wicked souls?”

“Time for prayers is over,” Gabriel warned, his dark feral eyes no longer filled with compassion or mercy. Gone was the pious monk who tilled the fields. Something more dangerous lurked, a desire for revenge.

Grinning at his partners in crime, Gill ordered, “Kill him!”

Vincent, Hugh and Gill charged with swords drawn and in a flurry of spinning blades, twists and turns, Gabriel had the bandits lying dead at his feet. Something had taken him over, an instinct so ingrained, so natural, so raw it had unleashed a skill that even Gabriel did not know he possessed.  As each bandit had attacked, Gabriel had meted out his own brand of justice so swift that his fellow monks stared in mortified shock.

Gabriel’s chest rose and fell as his rage slowly subsided. Then a gentle voice broke the uneasy silence as Brother William said, “Brother Gabriel, you are bleeding.”

The sword fell from Gabriel’s hand as he swayed back and forth. Feeling dizzy, his knees buckled and collapsing to the cold stone floor, he fell unconscious.

 

 

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