The Golden Chalice
« Chapter 1 »
Blaine cursed as he hung upside down under Old Lightning. Old Lightning was an oak tree that stuck its head way above the others in a forest which bordered the village of Broon. The tree had acquired its name after a storm had caused a lightning bolt to rip down one side splitting it in half and leaving it with charred zigzag patterns on its bark.
It had not been Blaine’s week, and it did not look like it would get any better. His older brother Brin had instructed him to meet someone under the tree.
It occurred to Blaine as he swung back and forth that Brin had played a prank on him. His brother would regret it the second he got down. Still, he couldn’t risk cutting himself free because he was too high up. From this height, he would no doubt break his neck in the fall, which he noted, was most likely his brother’s intention from the start.
Blaine muttered a curse as the branch he hung from bowed. Worse still, his brother had used a piece of fraying rope and as strand after strand unravelled under his weight, his eyes flared.
Raising his arms, Blaine grabbed the rope between his ankles and hoisted himself up. He soon picked up his pace when the threads twanged apart in time to his rapid heartbeats, and when the last strand suspending him in mid-air snapped, he reached up and caught hold of the bowing branch.
Blaine closed his eyes and said a silent prayer, but it went unheard as the sound of cracking wood forced them open. Seconds later, he fell.
Smacking into every branch on the way down, he cursed, “Ouch! Damn it! Holy hell! Not again. Ow, son of a––” and with a loud thud his back hit the ground knocking the air out of his lungs.
Feeling like he’d bruised every bone in his body, he cursed, “In the name of all the kingdoms I will kill Brin for this!”
Holding onto his aching ribs, Blaine stared up into the canopy of trees and groaned. It took a second or two, but then he noticed a foul odour permeating the air. In revulsion, he screwed up his face. Cursing his aches and pains, he scrambled back to his feet. Glancing down, he noticed a pile of horse dung and he recoiled from the foul odour permeating his clothes.
Blaine’s lips thinned into a tight line, his eyes narrowing to mere slits. If his brother thought he would let this prank pass without retaliation, then he was mistaken. Freeing the rope from around his ankles, Blaine cast it to one side and straightened his aching back. That’s when he noticed a piece of paper speared onto the bark of the tree. Ripping it free, he gazed down at the message.
If an idiot falls out of a tree and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?
“Blaine, stop messing around, Benic wants you,” Brin called out from the edge of the forest.
No doubt his brother thought it amusing to gloat at his successful prank. “I’m on my way,” Blaine said through clenched teeth.
“Then hurry, Benic wants you to run an errand for him.”
He’d run the errand, but not before he’d beaten the holy hell out of his prank-playing brother for trying to kill him. Best he ran now, Blaine mused.
“Oh, he said to be quick about it,” Brin called out.
“Damn it to hell,” Blaine muttered under his breath.
Spinning around, Blaine placed the note in his pocket and started back to the cabin he shared with his brothers. They were born in the Kingdom of Palaso, but now worked in the Kingdom of Oberon as bounty trackers.
Benic was the oldest brother at twenty-eight, Brin was next at twenty-seven and Blaine was twenty-six. They also had a sister called Auzara, who was the youngest at twenty-four.
Nengar ruled the kingdom of Oberon. He was the leader of the Calliston army. His army of Calliston Warriors lived in a castle in the City of Caddoan, Oberon’s main capital.
Oberon bordered two kingdoms, to the west was Orca and to the east was Tethys. Blaine’s kingdom, Palaso, was northwest across the Sea of Dragons. Palaso bordered Hyperion in the south and Titania in the east.
Blaine’s sister, Auzara, lived in Palaso but from time to time, she visited Oberon. She had further strengthened their connection to Oberon by attracting the eye of a Calliston Warrior. Like her brothers, she was a Palaso Warrior. Her relationship with Cugar a high-ranking Calliston Warrior was a fiery one. Cugar’s closest friend and fellow officer was Valcat. Valcat also favoured a female Palaso Warrior called Kameko. Both female warriors had a reputation for getting into trouble due to their feisty independent natures.
Blaine had grown close to a young woman called Charity Tyr Elise. Charity lived in Galleria with her father and her uncle’s son, Toby, about twenty miles southwest of Caddoan.
Charity often visited Caddoan on behalf of her long-suffering father, where she would sometimes head out to Broon, Blaine’s village. Broon was only seven miles west of Caddoan so it did not take long to get there via the city.
Glancing back at Old Lightning, Blaine mused he should have known his brother was setting him up. Stomping back to the cabin he tried to avoid both his brothers until he could get out of his rancid smelling clothes. Once clean, he vowed to teach his brother a lesson, but as was the theme of his week, he did not make it.
“Blaine, over here,” his oldest brother Benic called out.
Blaine rolled his eyes. “Just give me a minute.”
“I’ve given you long enough, over here, now!”
Benic was a gentle soul, but it did not pay to cross him. Cursing for the umpteenth time that day, Blaine headed over to his brothers.
Glaring at Brin, he said, “Yes?”
When Benic caught sight of Blaine’s ruffled hair, torn clothes and general disarray, he quizzed, “Have you been fighting again?”
With a calmness that belied how he really felt, Blaine replied, “No I have not been fighting.”
“Then why do you look like a herd of cattle have just run over you?”
Blaine glanced down at his clothes. His boots had scuff marks, his tunic had a tear down the front and one of his trouser legs was now flapping in the breeze causing a chill to reach areas he’d rather it did not.
“Why in the nine hells do you smell like you’ve been rolling around in manure?” Brin asked as he recoiled from Blaine’s offensive smell.
Because I have been rolling around in manure, you prank-playing clot pole. Blaine gave Brin a knowing look. “I don’t know, you tell me?”
One of Benic’s brows arched. “Have you been drinking?”
“No I have not been drinking. Brin gave me a message to meet with someone by Old Lightning and I fell for it.”
None the wiser, Benic asked, “And?”
Blaine stabbed an accusatory finger at Brin. “Ask him!”
When Benic looked at Brin, Brin shrugged his shoulders. “How would I know? I saw a note addressed to Blaine lying on the kitchen table so I passed the message on to him.”
Blaine did not believe there was a note and without warning, he lunged at Brin. Caught unawares, Brin landed on his back with a now irate Blaine sitting on his chest. When Brin tried to unseat him, Blaine wrestled with him until Benic grabbed both their collars and hauled them back to their feet.
“If you don’t stop fighting, I’ll bang both of your heads together,” Benic warned. Their older brother’s threat stilled their fight.
“Admit it you lackbrained-clot-pole, you did it on purpose,” Blaine accused.
Brin had no idea what Blaine was talking about. “I swear there was a note.”
Blaine paced back and forth. “He tricked me into the forest and then laid a trap that almost broke my damn neck when I fell out of Old Lightning!”
Benic held his brothers apart. “Shame it didn’t knock some sense into you.”
“He tried to kill me!” Blaine maintained.
“The hell I did,” Brin protested. “There was a note addressed to you on the kitchen table, so I told you about it.”
Catching a whiff of the manure on their clothes, Benic led them to the river. Before they could react, he pushed them. Splashing into the river they surfaced, then swore.
“Wash that stench off and I might allow you back into the cabin,” Benic chastised.
Blaine mused his day could not get any worse. How wrong could an idiot falling out of a tree be?
Clambering onto the riverbank, Blaine tore off his top, well there wasn’t much left of it, anyway. Throwing it onto the ground, he headed toward the cabin to put on some dry clothes. That’s when the baker’s wife turned the corner with a basket of fresh baked loaves. Startled to see a near naked Blaine standing outside his cabin, she dropped the basket, screamed, turned on her heels and ran home.
“What?” Blaine asked.
Pointing down at Blaine’s trousers, Brin smirked. “I think she saw more than she bargained on brother.”
Gazing down, Blaine noticed the tear in his trousers was now groin height.
Frowning, Benic picked up the discarded food and shaking a loaf at Blaine, he ordered, “Damn it Blaine get inside the cabin before someone else sees you.”
Glaring at Brin, Blaine warned, “This is not over.” With that, he headed upstairs.
Benic raised a dark brow because the brothers played tricks on each other all the time. Halting Brin, he asked, “Did you play a prank on him?”
“Are you sure about that?”
“I can prove it. The note is still on the kitchen table.”
Following Brin, Benic picked up the note. His brother was right. When Blaine joined them, Benic handed him the note. “Brin is telling the truth, here, read this.”
Studying the note, Blaine realised the handwriting was the same as the note from the tree. “Who left this?”
Brin shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea. It just appeared on the table this morning.”
Folding his muscled arms across his chest, Benic glared at Blaine. “I think you owe your brother an apology.”
“Fine, so I made a mistake, I’m sorry.”
“Brin!” Benic prompted.
“Fine, so I accept his apology.”
“Good,” Benic said. “All we have to do now is figure out where the note came from.”
When Brin left to change into dry clothes, Benic asked Blaine, “So who did you upset this time?”
“No one,” Blaine protested.
“Well there must be someone.”
“I assure you I have not ticked anyone off in… well, in days.”
When Brin joined them, he plucked an apple out of a bowl on the table. Bouncing it off his arm and back into his hand, he teased, “I find that hard to believe.”
Screwing up the note, Blaine bounced it off Brin’s forehead. “Next time you see a note and deliver the message, find out who it came from first.”
“So have you figured out who left it?” Brin asked as he bit down on the apple.
“Think, there must be someone,” Benic said as Blaine shook his head.
It then dawned on Blaine who could have played the prank on him, Charity Tyr Elise. He had no proof, least not yet, but that would all change once he found and interrogated her. Hell, it wasn’t his fault if she could not take a little constructive criticism. All he’d done was point out her sword skills needed a little refining. The last time they’d sparred together he’d disarmed her four times. Then again, maybe whacking her across the rear with his sword every time it happened didn’t help. Female warriors could be so touchy.
Reading the expression on Blaine’s face, Brin guessed, “Charity Tyr Elise.”
“You think Charity rode all the way out here to put that note on the kitchen table?” Benic asked.
“Yes!” Blaine and Brin said in unison.
Benic knew Charity and Blaine had a habit of winding each other up over the least little thing. “So what did you do to make her so mad this time?”
“Nothing, I swear I did nothing.”
Benic raised a dark brow.
“Well, I may have criticised her fighting technique here and there, but that was only because she has an annoying habit of losing her sword to her attacker.”
“I see,” was all Benic said.
“What do you mean, I see?”
“I mean you should know better than to criticise a woman. Trust me, no good will ever come from it and they never let you forget it.”
Brin picked up a second apple. “You’re right, but I think Blaine was right to tell her. If she can’t take criticism, then she should not play around with swords.”
With their earlier spat now forgotten, Blaine agreed, “Thank you.”
Brin grinned. “You’re welcome.”
Benic wagged a finger. “Take care little brother; next time you spar she might stick her sword where the sun doesn’t shine.”
“I was trying to help her,” Blaine reasoned.
Benic shook his head. “Well it appears she did not take kindly to your advice.”
Maybe not, but it would not stop him from giving it again in the future, not if it saved her life one day. Changing the subject, Blaine asked, “Brin said you wanted me for an errand.”
“Yes, I need you to ride into Caddoan and pay Franklin for repairing our boots.”
Blaine took the money. Wagging a finger, he chided, “Fine, but if I cross paths with Charity, I will throttle the witch.”
“You will do no such thing,” Benic cautioned. “Do not start trouble in Caddoan.”
“She hung me from Old Lightning with a fraying rope. She chose a branch that was about to snap and put manure where she knew I would land!”
Benic rolled his eyes. “And if you’d kept your wayward tongue from flapping in the breeze, you would not now be talking about it.”
“You wouldn’t be so forgiving if it was your butt, back and head that hit every branch on the way down,” Blaine chided.
“Most likely not, but then I’m wise enough to keep my mouth shut where women are concerned.”
Sulking, Blaine argued, “You’d tell Auzara.”
“That’s different, she’s our sister, she doesn’t count.”
Brin smiled. “Maybe you should lie low for a while in case she has something else planned for you.”
“She won’t get the chance. If I find the prank-playing harpy, I will put her straight on a few things.”
“Good luck with that, you’ll need it,” Brin cautioned.
Walking across to the corral Blaine swung up into his saddle. “Trust me, she won’t be in a rush to do it again.”
Brin looked at Benic and laughed.
Shaking his head, Benic sighed, “Our little brother has a lot to learn about women.”
“Especially Charity Tyr Elise,” Brin added. “Do you think we should follow him?”
“No, if he’s got any sense he’ll leave well alone.”
“I bet you any money he’ll be in more trouble by the end of the day,” Brin teased.
Sniffing Brin’s wet clothes, Benic ordered, “Get changed, you reek.”
Laughing, Brin ran upstairs.
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