Broozer The Barbarian Knight Mage – Dave Bailey

Broozer The Barbarian Knight Mage

Battle Against The Blind Giant Of Wandermere

“Broozer! Broozer! Get up, boy. Get down here.” Egwald yelled from the front door. When Broozer didn’t come running immediately, he apologized profusely to the three knights standing at the door and begged their patience.

The tall, white-haired old, man requested the use of one of their torches and climbed the creaky steps up to the attic where the tall, burly lad slept on the floor with only a thin, brown sheet to protect him from the dank chill.

Exhausted from a long day of hard labor and service to his master, the poor, overworked kid had fallen into a deep and dreamless slumber.

“Get up, you lazy, worthless, good-for-nothing rascal!” The old man screamed with a wicked kick at the boy’s ribs.

Broozer leaped to his feet, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Yes, Master Egwald.” his deep voice rumbled through the attic. “What time is it?”

“Doesn’t matter the time when the king calls for us, boy!” the surly old geezer barked. “Now, fold up your sheet and wash your face quickly to make yourself presentable. Prepare a bag for a few day’s journey if needed. And grab some bread from the kitchen. We ride as soon as the horses are ready.”

Broozer knew better than to ask any more questions than necessary. His grouchy old master had a short fuse and was already in a foul mood at this early hour of the morning. The lad had received beatings for far before, even when he hadn’t done or said anything.

He did as instructed and met the other men at the stable, well before Egwald was ready. He ate his bread quietly just outside the stable door while the other men laughed and jested inside. Broozer wished he could be anywhere but here with this old man. After he finished eating, he practiced sticking his three throwing knives into the side of the stable wall.

“Boy! Boy!” Broozer heard the old man screaming from the house. “Where are you, lad?”

The startled horses jumped back nervously when Broozer let his bag hit the ground and he took off running for the large stone mansion the old bragged about having built over the blood and bones of a dragon he had once slain on this property.

He helped carry the Egwald’s bag and a knapsack of food that the maidservant had quickly thrown together for them. Broozer rode out with Egwald and a dozen other men.

They met up with the king’s men still waiting at the front of the house, who took the lead. Egwald and his men fell into line behind them as they raced down the path to their destination.

Broozer wondered where they were going. His heart beat with excitement and a sense of adventure. It brought back memories of his childhood. Racing bareback with his father and brothers over the desert sands of Agaza as his father taught them to shoot arrows, wield their swords, and fight bare-fisted.

All those happy memories had come to a screeching halt though, when the armies of Langland came seeking to extend the borders of their kingdom. Broozer had been only twelve at the time. He watched as the dark knights of Langland had run his father through with a sword like a stuck pig.

When his brothers reacted, the archers shot them down like swallows. Broozer hadn’t stood idly by either. He had been one of the first to pull his knife and stabbed the knight guarding him. Broozer slipped the blade between the joints in his armor.

The young lad would have finished the job, except that his blade snapped when the knight jerked toward him and beat him down. The wounded knight raised his sword high over Broozer’s head, but an order from Egwald had stopped him.

“Don’t! He’s just a child. Remember that the king’s orders are to take the young ones to serve as slaves and for manual labor.”

The knight snarled angrily, but lowered his sword as ordered. Other knights had stepped in to tie the boy up and brought him to serve as Egwald’s personal servant. Egwald told Broozer that he spared his life and given him another chance because he admired the boy’s instincts, courage, and quick reflexes.

Broozer hated Egwald and the knights of Langland for what they had done to his family. But over time, boy had come to admire the code that the knights lived by. Even though he wasn’t allowed to become a knight himself, he sought to emulate them and even trained with a few of the men who were kind to him.

Most of Egwald’s men had respected the boy initially. But the old man had grown ill for a long period of time and become very weak. Only recently had he regained his health and had attempted to return to his former activities.

Few of the men who served Egwald admired him or respected him any longer. They knew it wouldn’t be long before he would die. Then there would be feuding and even bloodshed as they fought to take his place.

Broozer wanted no part of it even if they would have allowed it. To them, he was just an outcast slave there to do the bidding of his master. As far as they were concerned, he was nothing but a work mule. Tall, strong, and powerfully built, only to carry their burdens and help Egwald out.

In the six years that he had served Egwald, the lad had never received anything other than the food he ate and clothes on his back. These had been handed down to him from the others until he outgrew them all. Now, the lad stood head and shoulders over most of the other knights who served under Egwald.

His master had finally been forced to have clothes sewn for Broozer, but even those were of the cheapest material and poorly made to remind him that he was nothing but an outcast among them.

Broozer rode close behind Egwald in case the old man needed him. He was glad that his master was doing better. The months he spent caring for the old geezer while he was bedridden had been pure agony. The old man had nothing better to do than to curse him and make his life miserable.

Now that the Egwald was up and around, he was busy enjoying life and left the lad to himself. Until tonight when the old man came kicking and screaming to drag him out of bed. Broozer worried that the lack of sleep and the hard ride would cause Egwald to fall ill again. The lad was determined to do whatever he could that night to make his master’s life easier.

There was also the unspoken threat that if anything happened to Egwald, then Broozer would lose his life as well. At the very least, his future would be uncertain. As bad as it was within the old man’s mansion, at least the boy had never gone hungry. Life could be worse.

His thoughts were interrupted at the sight of royal guards standing around a campfire along the edge of the road. They were impeccably dressed even at the early hour. Broozer looked on with unabashed admiration when they came to a halt. Every one of them was at least as tall as he was, if not larger. And if being a regular knight under Egwald seemed like an impossible dream, then Broozer saw no possibility of joining their ranks.

“Come, Sir Egwald,” one of the royal guards said after greeting the group. “Your king awaits you in the royal tent.”

Broozer leaped off his horse and helped his master unmount as gracefully as the old geezer could. He was breathing hard and looked like he was in pain. The strong lad let the old man hang on to his arm for support until he steadied himself.

Egwald wouldn’t want to hang on and appear weak before the other knights, so Broozer just walked in sync with the old man staying close to his side in case he got wobbly again.

When they arrived at the door, Broozer paused to let Egwald squeeze in past the guards. When he tried to step through though, one of the guards reached out a hand to his chest to stop Broozer from entering. “You may not enter without the king’s permission, barbarian.”

Broozer didn’t think about what he was doing. Instinctively, he gripped the guard’s wrist and twisted it away from him until the man was on his knees. The next thing he knew, Broozer had the swords of half-a-dozen men at his neck.

Egwald apologized profusely, but the king didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the scene. He waved Broozer on into the tent. The guards backed away from him as the king ordered but didn’t put away their swords. Several of them followed after the lad, but the king waved them back out.

“It’s crowded and hot in here already. We have more than enough guards in here as it is.” King Jensen said.

The guards inside didn’t seem to think so, they shifted nervously and placed their hands on their swords as his large frame moved closer to them. Broozer stayed close to Egwald and followed his lead. He had never been near royalty and wasn’t sure quite how to behave. He had never had any formal training in proper protocol.

“Relax, son.” The king said pointing for them to be seated. “You’re safe here. I remember when Egwald brought you back with him, and I’ve heard of your valiant deeds and heroic efforts over the years. I’m glad Egwald brought you with him. I’m sure your presence will be of great help in spite of my people’s prejudice against your kind.”

Broozer listened carefully. He wasn’t sure exactly which of his efforts the king was referring to. The lad didn’t think of himself as anyone heroic. And he wasn’t sure why someone like the king would have taken an interest in remembering someone like him.

The king didn’t act at all like the tight, uppity snob Broozer had expected based on his interactions with other noblemen and women who had come to visit Egwald’s manor over the years.

The king smiled warmly and motioned with his finger. Several servants popped out from various locations and began pouring drinks and serving heaping plates of fruit and food. Broozer took a few sips and nibbled at the food while Egwald and the king made small talk.

The food was delicious and the ride had been long. It was almost dawn and time for breakfast. Broozer dug in voraciously as he listened to them discuss matters of the kingdom. Most of it was boring, and little of it made sense to him. He tuned out and focused on the food. His ears picked up when Egwald asked why the king had called for them to join his party.

“It’s probably nothing,” King Jensen sighed. “A group of knights came down here the other night from Swordbreak. They were supposed to have been bringing me some very important items.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, my lord,” Egwald interrupted.

The king continued, “They never arrived. So, we sent out a second group to search for them. They disappeared as well. I came with my finest soldiers yesterday and sent out scouts into the surrounding woods and fields. One group never returned.”

“Which way did they go?”

“They headed into the Woods toward Wandermere.”

“Highway robbers?” Egwald whispered. “We haven’t had highway robberies for twenty years since you became king. If this place is dangerous, then you should not be here, my lord,” Egwald said.

Broozer wanted to smile at the insincerity he recognized in Egwald’s voice. The fear that laced his words though was very real. It was not the king’s safety the old man was worried about but his own.

“No,” the king shook his head gravely. “I don’t believe so. The land is prosperous. And keeping the roads safe has always been a priority for me. We deal swiftly with those who attempt such things.”

“Simple highway robbers would not be so foolish as to attack a band of soldiers and knights,” Broozer said thinking out loud.

“Hmmm. My young friend does have a tongue after all,” the king said with a smile.

Broozer glanced at Egwald who was not smiling. He sighed and sat back in his chair. The look in the old man’s eye, let him know that he was in for a beating when they returned to the manor.

“There is the possibility they wanted the artifacts the men were bringing badly enough to attack a group of trained soldiers. But, truth be told, we don’t know quite what to make of it yet.”

“We will find out who did this, my king,” Egwald proclaimed confidently

The king nodded and stroked his beard, “I hope so too, Egwald. That is why I have called for you and all the lords of the land like yourself. They should be here soon to help us get to the bottom of this mystery.”

“I and my men shall lead the way,” Egwald proclaimed loudly as if trying to convince himself that heading into the woods where three other groups of armed soldiers had disappeared were a perfectly normal thing to do since he wanted to be the first to impress the king.

The king smiled. It was the broad easy smile of someone who was constantly looking for the positive things in life. Nothing like the pompous expressions of someone who took themselves too seriously like Egwald and the other nobles that Broozer was used to seeing. He found it refreshing.

“Thank you, Egwald. I know I can always count on you. You have served me well and faithfully as you did my father before me. And I am pleased you brought this child of Agaza. They are fierce, brave-hearted warriors and some of the best trackers I’ve ever known.”

Broozer cocked his head to the side and wondered how the king could have learned that about his people simply from fighting them in the War of Fire.

“We ride at first light with whoever has arrived by then. Get some rest till then.”

Broozer finished cramming the last few bits of food from his plate into his mouth as he stood to follow Egwald. There were many questions that he wanted to ask the king about his people, but Egwald was tired and wanted to get some sleep. The grouchy old grump would chew him out if he did. So, Broozer kept his mouth shut and nodded respectfully on his way out.

He quickly prepped a place for the old man to sleep and then headed down the hill towards the woods on his horse. Broozer wanted to get a headstart and find something that would make himself useful to the king. Perhaps then, he would get the chance to gain an audience to ask the king to tell him more about Agaza and what was going on with his people.

Several soldiers turned to look at him on the outer edges of the camp as he rode by, but no one challenged him or asked him where he was going. Watching a barbarian ride off into a death trap didn’t worry them.

Let him come back with the location of the robbers’ hideout or even a few of their heads, and he would be sure to gain the king’s favor and an audience.

The full moon overhead lit up the path before him until he arrived at the edge of the woods. The horse stopped at the edge of the woods and refused to step into the darkness.

“C’mon, Rebel!” Broozer said as he gave it several kicks to the ribs and tried to urge it on. The house refused to budge.

Broozer slid down from the saddle and tried pulling the horse along with him as he walked into the woods. It pulled back its head and reared up. Broozer grabbed the horse by the throatlatch and cheekpiece of its riding tack and pulled it back down before it got too high.

“Whoa there, Rebel! Calm down,” he whispered as he tied it to a sapling at the edge of the trail. “Fine, stay here and keep watch. I’ll be back.”

The lad stepped into the woods and waited a few moments for eyes to adjust to the darkness before moving forward. The silence was deafening. Strange for a forest. No crickets chirped. No owls hooted. Broozer didn’t even hear the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind.

A sense of dread washed over him and a slow chill spread up his spine to the base of his neck. Broozer stopped walking and concentrated on listening into the silence.

The eerie silence seemed to be growing even more silent by the second. He remembered a place like this long ago when he was hunting with his father. They raced out of there and managed to make it safely home. His father told him that these were the kinds of places that witches made their abodes.

Broozer was torn between continuing on to find the king’s men and the urge to flee this place as quickly as possible. He decided on the latter. Better to return to the king alive than to disappear along with the others.

As he turned back to his horse, Broozer heard the fluttering sound of wings. He looked up but couldn’t see anything in the little light that managed to filter through the leaves and branches of the shadowy darkness. It grew louder and more intense as if these things were flitting all around him.

Bats? Moths? Owls? Something worse?

His heart pounded and his first instinct was to run as fast and as hard as he could back to his horse Rebel. With his first step back, he felt the whisp of wind from the wings wafting over his face. By his second step, he actually felt the brush of wings trailing over his skin.

The lad instinctively stopped running and took a few steps back away from these things. He drew his sword and waited. The fluttering and flapping sounds continued to draw closer. Broozer kept backing away from them in the direction he had been headed deeper into the woods.

Was this some sort of trap? Was it to keep him from fleeing? Were they hunting him? Were they leading him somewhere?

Broozer backed away several steps and things grew silent again. He waited a bit, and soon heard them again as if they were advancing in his direction. He held his sword out and forward. Pointed in their direction.

The sound of their fluttering wings paused briefly and switched into a high-pitched hum as if they were gathering themselves and synchronizing their flying pattern. Focusing their formation to attack. The little light that did filter down through the trees seemed to dim and the darkness grew heavier around him.

Broozer lowered his sword and instantly, the humming sound faded and the fluttering returned. He considered throwing one of his knives in their direction, but then he wouldn’t be able to find it in the dark.

He tried walking off the trail to the side, but the fluttering intensifed. Broozer moved back onto the trail and it diminished. He then tried to leave the trail on the other side and the same thing happened.

“Fine,” he muttered. “I get it.”

He stepped back onto the trail and slid his sword back into its sheath. Broozer continued walking until he came to a fork. The lad started down one of the trails, but the fluttering of wings intensified. So, he turned down the other and it let up. Broozer continued walking in that direction.

The same thing happened every time he came to a fork on the path. The fluttering would only allow him to take one of them. If he attempted to walk down the other, the fluttering things in the darkness would press in closer and push him back.

“Where are we going?” he asked over his shoulder.

No one answered him. Not that he expected one. It didn’t matter how fast or slow Broozer walked, anytime he stopped the fluttering would pick up immediately.

After about the third time of testing his starting and stopping pace, Broozer began walking extremely slowly. The sound faded away, but as soon as he stopped moving forward, the fluttering began again.

“Fine, let’s just hurry up and get to where we’re going and get this over with,” he growled as he began walking again at a normal pace with his usual, long strides.

The trees grew thicker around him and the darkness deepened. The air grew heavy and Broozer felt as if it were getting harder to breath. He gulped air in through is mouth as though panting, even though he wasn’t running or exerting himself.

Broozer was strong and fit, used to hard, heavy manual labor in Egwald’s fields. He often ran from one end of the farm to the other without breaking a sweat, but just walking through the woods had him feeling exhausted.

He paused to catch his breath, but the fluttering soon started up again. Broozer didn’t start walking immediately, and the whisping of wind and the brush of wings began drawing closer. So, Broozer sighed and started walking again.

The lad realized that he could see where he was stepping. It was as if the ground in front of him were glowing softly. But when he looked to the sides or even behind him, all was dark again. He could see the path in front of him just fine to avoid tripping on stones or branches that had fallen in the way.

It was the weirdest sensation. As if something or someone was guiding him somewhere. Broozer had no idea if this were good or bad. He felt no fear. Only the instinct that this wasn’t right and he should leave. But there was no going back now. He had to follow along and see how this all played out. Hopefully to find those who had gone missing before him, and somehow use his wits, skills, and strengths to survive and escape.

The path Broozer was on, eventually came to a small clearing. He could once again see the pale moon and twinkling stars overhead. The scenery was beautiful, but the scent of the woods had given way to a foul stench. Broozer pulled the edge of his shirt up to cover his nostrils. He paused to listen.

The fluttering sounds behind him had stopped and didn’t start up again. That was a relief. He looked behind him, but the woods were still complete darkness. He was completely lost and would never find his way back in the darkness. At the very least, he would have to wait until the sun came up to try to find his way back.

Broozer looked around the clearing. Whatever brought him here had met for him to come to this particular clearing. He was curious and wondered what it was. It wouldn’t take him more than fifty paces to cross it to the other side. He used his sword to draw an arrow in the ground back the way he had come. He also broke the branches on a few saplings in case rain or something else happened to erase the markings on the ground.

He turned and continued moving across the clearing to the other side of the woods. As he peered into the darkness of the woods, the foul stench grew stronger. Broozer could sense something there. Watching him. Waiting for him. Broozer backed out into the clearing again.

The faint outline of a dark mass coming toward him. It wasn’t huge. The shadowy figure didn’t come up much past his knees. Broozer could hear it breathing heavily as it came closer. It let out a warning snort before charging. A wild boar.

It came in fast and low. Snapping at his legs and slashing with its tusks. Broozer’s fast instincts and quick reflexes allowed him to leap over the creature. It was so low to the ground that his sword wasn’t much use. He quickly moved out of the way each time it charged and attempted to stab at it. But its hide was thick, and he couldn’t get much leverage trying to hack at it while leaping over it.

The boar came in again. Low and fast. Broozer stood his ground. Leaning into his sword. Allowing the boar to impale itself with its own weight. It let out the loud and furious squeal of the stuck pigs Broozer had heard on Egwald’s farm.

Then, Broozer heard the terrifying sound of answering pigs. Coming in his direction. Charging from the woods. His only hope was to leap up into the safety of a tree, but they were coming fast. Broozer knew he wouldn’t make it to the other side of the clearing before they got to him.

He pulled his other knife from his belt and met them face on. Once again, he impaled let the lead pig impale itself on his sword. The weight of the other pigs behind it pushed it even deeper onto his sword.

Broozer pulled it free and leaped over the next one trying to come around it. It barreled past him, but he landed in the path of a third pig coming in behind it. It’s tusk slashed the side of his leg as he tried to spin around it.

He screamed in agony and brought his knife down furiously into its side, just behind its front leg. Driving the blade deep up into its heart. Then again just as quickly, stabbed it again on the other side of its front leg deep into its throat. Attempting to hit its heart or slash any major arteries in the vicinity.

By then, the other pig had already come back and knocked him off his feet. Broozer went down hard. Its teeth and tusks tearing into his leg once again. Broozer screamed again. More in rage at it being so bulky and hard to kill than at the pain itself.

The frenzied pig came back for another attack. Broozer rolled out of the way and slashed at it. His blade cut deep into the pig’s side, infuriating it. It’s tusk slashed into his arm and up his shoulder. Then it twisted back and bit into his chest before he could ram his knife deep into its chest and cut its throat.

The pig fell on top of him as it bled out. Its warm blood pouring out over him. Broozer pushed the heavy weight off of himself with his good arm. His left arm numb from the pig’s vicious attack. He tried to stand, but his wounded leg gave way. Broozer fell back to the ground. His head heavy and numb from the loss of blood that he himself had suffered.

Broozer heard something shuffling toward him and looked up to see a shadowy figure moving in his direction. He struggled to push himself back up onto his feet. Careful to balance his weight on his good foot. Broozer raised his sword and yelled. Warning it not to come closer. But the sword was heavy. His head felt heavy. His legs felt heavy. The knife slid from his fingers and Broozer slumped back to the ground as the shadowy figure loomed over him.

The last thing he saw before passing out was the wizened, old face of a woman leaning over him. Her lips were moving, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.

When he came to, Broozer found himself in a small hut. It smelled nice. The hearty scent of soup wafted from the kettle over an open fire. The memory of the fight with the boar and his brood came rushing back. Broozer focused his attention on various parts of his body where they had slashed and bitten him on his legs and chest. He felt no pain.

Broozer pushed himself up carefully on the small bed in a corner. It was way too small for him. His legs stuck out over the edge onto the floor. His legs were bandaged as was his chest. He peeled back the gauze covered in green goop. The slime still covered his chest, but Broozer could see no wound or even any sign that he had been bitten. He reached down to unwrap the bandages around his leg. There were no wounds at all. It looked as if he had never been bitten or slashed open at all.

Had he dreamt the entire event? But if so, why were the bandages on him at all? The lad used the back of the bandages to wipe away the rest of the green goop and slime from his body. He checked but only had two of his throwing knives with him. He must have left the other one out in the field with the pigs. Broozer felt a bit wobbly. He stood up and walked over to the fire.

The young man lifted the lid and sniffed at the steam that burst from the pot. It smelled wonderful and his mouth watered instantly. No one was around, so he reached for a bowl and spoon to pour himself a healthy portion. Then sat down and a stool to chow down.

The warm broth filled his belly and soothed his hunger. He felt the weakness in his legs slowly dissipate and strength return to his bones once again. He had just finished his first bowl and was reaching over to fill it up again when the door burst open and the old woman walked in with a bundle of herbs and plants in her arms.

“Hm. Up already? Eh? You heal fast. Guess we don’t need these.” the woman mused. Broozer froze still holding the lid over the pot. He placed it back down and returned to his stool. “Um. Your stew is quite tasty.” he finally stammered awkwardly.

“It is. Is it?” she asked turning away from Broozer to hid her smile. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to eat from random pots in a witch’s hideaway in the middle of a forest? It could be dangerous for your health.”

“Oh. Um. No, ma’am. She never did. We didn’t live near forests. And I haven’t seen her for many years.”

The old woman finished arranging the bundles of plants and hobbled over to him. She sat on the chair sitting across from the fire.

“Hm. I can see that you are Barbarian. lad. I thought Barbarians came from the deep forests and mountains to the North. Many powerful and dangerous old crones up there. Where are you from, boy?”

“Agaza, the barren lands to the west. But we do have witches there too.”

“Oh, I believe it, boy. One of the most powerful in fact. Vulmeis Gwistroll. Have you heard of her?”

Broozer shook his head and looked down at his soup. “It’s been many years since I left.”

“Brought here as a slave when Langland sought to expand his kingdom.”

The young man looked up at her briefly in acknowledgment, but then hung his head again. This time in shame. The woman took his bowl and refilled it.

“You are Barbarian, lad. Barbarians live free. They serve no man. What happened to your family?” the old lady asked as she filled a bowl for herself.

“My fathers and brothers are dead. My mothers and sisters, I have no idea.”

“I am sure they died valiantly. Your father and brothers, I mean. Defending their lands and their freedoms.”

Broozer shook his head and set down his bowl. He was no longer hungry. “Our leaders met with the emissaries of Langland as a sign of respect when they first arrived. But it was a trap. Our men were shot down like stuck pigs.”

The old woman’s eyes bored into his and she cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. “Almost like the pigs you slaughtered tonight. I was shocked to find you alive. That boar was huge and so were its sows. You must be a mighty warrior to survive that kind of an attack.”

Broozer scoffed and shook his head. “I’m no warrior. I’ve never been a page or even a squire. Because I’m an outsider, they will never let me become a knight.”

“Well, two things, lad. First, those wild pigs would have torn a normal man to shreds, stomped him into the mud, and dragged his innards into the bushes to feed their piglets. You lived to tell the tale. With a little help from me of course.”

The young man looked down at his legs. “How many days was I passed out?” he asked, suddenly worried that Egwald would have his hide for disappearing for so long.

The woman chuckled. A deep, belly laugh that made her whole body shake. “Not long, lad. About the time it takes to cook a pot of stew. I brought you in and bandaged you up. Then I put on this pot here and went out to fetch more herbs from the woods. When I came back, you were already up and around.

“Wow! You are a great healer.” Broozer said in amazement.

“Harumph! Those herbs are good, and I helped with a small healing spell. But your body healed extremely fast. I was hoping you would be up and around again in three days’ time. But that was more your body taking care of you more than anything I did.”

Broozer picked up his bowl and slurped down a few spoonfuls as he pondered the old crone’s words. Finally, he looked up her and asked, “So, what was the second thing you were going to say.”

“Secondly, you don’t have to become a knight to be a mighty warrior. I can sense it flowing in your veins. But you don’t an old hag like me to tell you that. The fact that you survived that attack and healed so quickly on your own is proof enough. The blood of the ancient race still flows within you. Might and magic belong to you, boy. Your father? Was he the leader of your people?”

“One of them. They ruled and made decisions together.”

“Leorakel!” The woman whispered in a hushed voice. “The Oracle of the Lions. I’ve heard of them and their demise in the time of wars. You must be one of the few remaining members of your kind. You must honor your ancestors and walk in your destiny.”

“That sounds pretty vague. What does that mean exactly?” Broozer grunted.

The old woman smiled and said, “That is for you to discover for yourself, lad. Throw off the shackles of those who enslaved you. Live free like the Barbarian you were meant to be. Return to your country. Gather your people. And lead them as your fathers did before you.”

Broozer scoffed again and finished the last few scoops of his soup before answering.

“That’s a stupid idea. They killed my family and all the warriors there. Egwald and his men would kill me too if I even mentioned that idea.”

The old lady knelt down and brushed the hair from his face. “They deceived your father and the other warriors. Your people didn’t know who they were dealing with. Men without honor like themselves. You do. You’ve learned their ways. You know who you are dealing with.” Soft grey light from the predawn sky filtered through the cracks in the window and under the door. Broozer set down the bowl and stood to his feet.

“Thank you for the soup, and thank you for healing me. It’s getting light and I must get back. I will ponder your words. But today, I must help my master and the king find some missing travelers. Otherwise, they will kill me before I have a chance to step into this destiny.”

The old woman smiled and nodded. She touched his arm and closed her eyes briefly. “Then let me help you on your journey. Return to your horse. Lead the man you call master and the king down to the river. Follow it up to the falls. There you will find a cave. There is an old giant who lives there. He has no eyes. Only a keen sense of hearing. Defeat him, and the king’s men shall be returned to him.”

“How do I defeat him?” Broozer asked.

The old woman smiled and patted him on the cheek. “You are a mighty warrior, lad. Your path is your own to choose. Your battles are your own to fight if you choose them. Remember whose blood flows in your veins. You are the son of the Leorakel. You have the strength of a lion, the speed of a gazelle, and the wisdom of an owl. Don’t worry about the how. The best of plans can fail. Keep your wits about you and improvise. You are young and your heart is yet pure. Let it not become blinded by greed or hate. Then your heart will guide you home.”

Broozer thanked her and headed up the trail in the direction she pointed. The rising sun lit his way and Rebel seemed excited to see him again. The horse carried him swiftly back to camp where the king was addressing the latest newcomers to the group and giving his men final directions.

“Where have you been, lad!” Egwald screamed angrily when he arrived. “I need my breakfast. Put on the tea.”

The old man raised his hand and swung out to slap him. Broozer easily ducked it and stepped back. The young man had never done that before and had always absorbed the shock of Egwald’s blows. The old man’s eyes widened in shock and then narrowed angrily. Broozer gazed back at him without flinching as he backed toward the fire and began to prepare the old man’s pot of tea.

“Don’t think you won’t get a beating if I think you deserve it,” Egwald growled as he settled down to wait for Broozer to pour him a cup. “The men will tie you down like a hog if we have to.” Broozer didn’t answer. He focused on preparing breakfast. Served the old man, and then headed over to see the king.

“Hey! Where are you going, boy? Get back over here.” Egwald started to scream.

Broozer didn’t turn to look back even when he heard the old man choking and coughing at the end of his yell. Egwald’s men saw him coming and bunched in closer as Broozer approached. He circled around them and pushed through others in the crowd as far as he could till he stood almost at the front of the line.

“Remember, we are simply gathering information to assess what happened. So, stay with your leader. Don’t try to play hero. If you see anything strange, come straight back here and tell me. We will all ride together to bring back our missing men.”

The men turned to leave making more room for Egwald to step forward. He waited for the king to acknowledge him.

“Well, well! Look who showed up. Our missing man made it back and is still alive. I overheard Egwald looking for you this morning. I guess he hasn’t killed you yet like he was threatening too earlier.” King Jensen said with a broad smile.

“Who else would make him breakfast?” Broozer quipped.

The king laughed heartily, “Yes, these noblemen wouldn’t survive a day without someone to put food in their mouths. So, are you ready ride? I’m hoping you learned the tracking skills of your people and can help us figure out what happened to our missing groups.”

Broozer took a deep breath. This might just be his chance to prove himself to the king. Could he trust what the old woman had told him?

“I spent the night walking those woods. I believe I know where they might be.”

The king raised his eyebrows and cocked his head, waiting for Broozer to continue. “Those are dangerous woods.” The king mused.

“If you follow the river to the falls, you’ll find a cave. That is where they seem to have gone.” The king looked off into the distance and rubbed his beard.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of people disappearing near the Wandermere Falls. When I was a child, there were tales of a giant who lived down there. But that was a long, long time ago.”

Broozer’s heart sank. Had the old woman just guessed that was where the missing men might be. If this was an old tale, then it might just be an old wive’s fable. Had he given away too much information? He should have gone down there first to check it out, confirm the old hag’s words, and then come back to tell the king. He could kick himself for being so impulsive. He didn’t even know which direction the river lay. What if the king wanted him to lead the search party.

“Well, good. That might save us time scouring the woods.” The king said. “Let’s go straight there and find our men.”

The king sent for his horse to be brought up immediately. He ordered the men to return once again. While they were coming, he entered his tent to put on his armor.

“Come, Broozer. I might have something for you.”

King Jensen ordered his largest guard to take off his armor and give it to Broozer. The guard glared at Broozer but did as the king commanded. Broozer slid the pieces on and found that it fit fairly well other than being a little tight around the chest.

“You look good, barbarian,” the king roared with a loud laugh as he slapped Broozer on the back. “You will ride beside me and lead the way. Don’t worry about Egwald.”

Broozer smiled and nodded. Inwardly, he was worried about how to lead them men if he didn’t even know which way the river ran. And even once he got there, he didn’t know if the falls lay upstream or down. And here the king thought he had already been down there.

When Broozer stepped out from the king’s tent, Egwald’s jaws dropped. He stormed over and reached up to grab the lad by the ear. “What are you doing, stupid boy! Get that suit of armor off. You’re not worthy to wear any knight’s suit. Especially not one that bear’s the king’s crest.”

Broozer grabbed the old man’s wrist and pulled it from his ear. Just then the king stepped out through the door and waved the old man back as he strode to leap on his horse.

“It’s quite alright, Egwald. I told the lad to put it on. He has an interesting idea about where the men might be. And if he is right, may well need it to protect his life.”

The king turned his horse to address the men. Egwald glowered at Broozer. “What did you do, boy. You should have come to me first. You’re going to get it when we get back to the manor.” Broozer didn’t reply, but he did stare long and hard into Egwald’s eyes without flinching. The king began to address the men, and Broozer turned away from Egwald to listen to the king.

“We’ve just gotten a lead on what may have happened to our men. So, instead of wasting precious time searching, we’re all going to head down to the falls.” The king yelled out.

As he started to ride away, Jensen yelled over his shoulder, “C’mon, Broozer. Where’s your horse. Ride up here with us.”

Egwald and his men scowled at him as he trotted over to untie his horse. “You’re no better than you were yesterday, barbarian,” one of the men scoffed.

Broozer ignored him. “Come, Egwald,” the lad urged on his way back. “This is what you wanted. To ride with the king at the front of the line. He is inviting us.”

His words seemed to soothe Egwald’s bruised ego and perked him up. He ordered his men to mount up while Broozer waited for them. He didn’t like them any better than before and knew that his relationship with them would soon change. However, he didn’t see the need to antagonize them any more than necessary. Besides, if the old lady’s tip didn’t pan out, and they didn’t find the men there at the cave, then he would be right back where he started.

Broozer took the lead with Egwald hot on his heels as they moved up the ranks toward the king. He was fine with letting others lead the way toward the river. They soon came around a bend in the road where the river came into full view. Before they arrived at the bridge, the king and his men turned off the road and headed upstream toward the mountains. He was relieved that they seemed to know which way they were headed.

The tall, dark mountains loomed ominously over the forest that surrounded them. The plains soon gave way to the mountains as they continued along the path up the stream. The cliffs grew taller and higher the further they went. The wild beauty around them amazed Broozer. He could see the water pouring over the rocks high above.

He had never been this close to the mountains before. Even though they looked majestic from a distance, they were even more fantastic up close. Mist floated in the air around them as they drew nearer to the water shooting down the chasm on each side of the high cliffs.

The path along the river narrowed and the men were forced to spread out. Broozer rode beside Egwald who tried to make small talk to understand how the lad had gotten into the king’s armor. The lad answered his questions as ambiguously as possible without giving away much information. He was busy scanning the sides of the gorge for signs of the missing men. But there wasn’t much to go on.

The king had stopped at the edge of the trail. They had come as far as the horses could go. The king turned back to look at Broozer as if to ask what they should do next. The lad slid off his horse and moved past the men. He leaped up onto a boulder and made his way around the sides of the cliff toward the falls.

There was a narrow ledge that he was able to move along. The wind from the falling water churned the thick mist up into his face. Broozer put his head down and continued to make his way back behind the falling waters.

The ledge widened as he got closer to the falls and soon opened up under a wide overhang so that he was able to safely walk under the falls without fear of slipping into the churning water below.

He turned to see King Jensen and the royal guards close behind him. Egwald and his men were close behind them, as well as the rest of the men that had gathered at the king’s command during the night.

Broozer hoped with all of his heart that this would pan out. He was going on a whim at the words of an old crone that he had met in the woods. She seemed like a nice old lady. But for all he knew this could be a trap.

He looked down where the ledge met the water. It was shallow along the edges. The overhang protected the shoreline and the water was calm near Broozer’s feet. He saw something glimmering, and slid down into the water carefully on his hands and feet. The lad waded out a little and reached down to pull out a sword and shield.

“What is it, lad? What did you find there?” King Jensen asked.

Broozer turned it toward him so that he could see the crest. He handed it over to one of the men who slid down into the water to join him. Broozer reached down into the water and pulled out two more shields. And then several more after pulling them out of the water.

The first few were shiny. But the others after were old and rusty as if they had been down in the water for much longer.

“Those first five there belonged to my men,” the king rumbled angrily. “But those others are from long ago. I was a child when I heard of people disappearing around here. Some said it was a giant. Whatever it was that took them has returned.”

“Death to the giant!” the men roared in unison.

Several of the men had brought torches along and lit them up. Broozer turned to enter the cave. One of the knights beside him put out an arm to stop him.

“Let the men go first, boy. We’ve been trained to fight our entire lives.”

Broozer wanted to argue, but the fact that the man’s voice held no disdain or animosity toward him for being a barbarian, threw Broozer off. There even seemed to be a sense of respect toward him for having brought them straight to the cave. So, Broozer deferred and took a step back to let the knights go first.

“It’s okay, lad. You’ve done well already.” King Jensen said with a pat on the back.

The rest of the knights all drew their swords and followed close behind. Egwald and his men didn’t even bother to look up to acknowledge Broozer as they went past him. But Broozer could sense that the old man was seething again.

“The giant is blind, but he has a keen sense of hearing,” Broozer told the king.

He looked back at the falls and things clicked into place. “He can’t see but can feel the water. That’s why he walks upstream to the road where he catches travelers. The sound of the water falling guides him back home.”

“You sure know a lot about this giant for a stranger in our land,” the king said somewhat suspiciously. “It sounds like you know him or at least have seen him. Did you come across this blind giant last night?”

Broozer shook his head. “No, but someone told me about this particular giant.”

There was a long pause as the king studied Broozer’s face. Finally, he said, “Well, I hope they told you how to kill this thing.”

“So, do I. But unfortunately, they didn’t. Although they didn’t seem to like it very much. So, if they knew, I’m sure they would have killed it themselves.”

The king started to reply, but the last of the men were filing into the cave when someone up at the front shouted back for the king. King Jensen lit his torch off of one of the other men’s torch. Then he lit a second and handed it to Broozer.

Broozer noticed a thin white line running along the cave wall along the left side. He asked the king about it. “The first man in runs chalk along the walls as he walks. That’s how we find our way back out.”

There was a small fork halfway down, and the king followed the white line till he came to his men. They had entered a cavern. The knights had fanned out as they waited for the king.

“There are several tunnels leading out from here,” said the royal guard who had pushed Broozer back. “We’ll have to break up into smaller groups and spread out to search this place.”

He waited for the king’s command. The king turned to look at Broozer. The lad looked around the cavern and said, “If he really is blind, there must be something else that guides him.”

“A blind giant,” one of the men behind Broozer scoffed. “Really?”

Broozer didn’t turn to look, but the voice was familiar. It sounded like the voice of one of Egwald’s men. Broozer ignored him and closed his eyes. The king raised his hand and a hush fell over the men. There was the faint sound of water dripping from the far end of the cavern.

“Do you hear that?” Broozer asked, pointing in the direction he heard it coming from.

He moved in the direction he heard the sound coming from. Water dripping from a stalactite. There was a large tunnel nearby.

“That looks big enough for a giant to walk through, and he uses his hearing to find it.” King Jensen replied.

He waved his men on forward through it. Broozer waited beside the king for the rest of the men to pass through. A few noded in acknowledgement as they walked past with a newfound look of respect in their eyes. Broozer glowed inwardly. It felt good to be able to do something that they approved of and found helpful.

They followed the rest of the men down the tunnel a long way. It felt as if they were descending deep into the earth. The came to another even larger cavern. Broozer could hear the sound of running water leaping and splashing over the rocks as it rippled its way across the wide, cavernous, rocky floor. The sound echoed off the walls of the chamber.

The men had stopped and huddled in the center. The cavern was so large that the low light from their torches threw long shadows from the stalactites and stalagmites, but failed to reveal the walls along the edges.

All the men looked to the king and Broozer as they joined the rest of the group. The king turned to look at Broozer expectantly. Broozer felt like the king was doing this purposefully and giving him room to prove his worth which he appreciated.

Broozer paused and closed his eyes. Listening for any sounds other than the running water. He couldn’t hear any.

He finally opened his eyes after a brief pause and said, “We know our giant likes water. He uses it to mark find his way up the river. He may continue doing the same here. At least using the sound of it to guide him through this cavern. We should try following it for now and see where it leads.”

The king nodded and the men moved in the direction of the running stream. “Be careful. We don’t know what else may be down here.” The king cautioned.

Several of the men lit new torches to replace others that were burning low. The men moved together as a large group along the river. But it didn’t take long until they came to the end of the river. The river hit the end of the cavern and disappeared underground.

“What now?” Someone behind Broozer asked.

Other men started murmuring among themselves. Broozer closed his eyes to listen. The king raised his hand once again and a hush fell over the band of knights and soldiers. Off in the distance to the left, Broozer heard a quiet howling sound mixed with a soft hum. Like wind blowing through the eves up in the attic of the manor where he slept.

Broozer held out his hand to the closest man with a torch. He gave it to Broozer who nodded in the direction the sound had come from. The king and other knights nodded back at him and followed closely behind him as he led the way.

As they drew closer to the sound, the ground began to slope downward along the edge of the cavern wall. When they arrived, the flickering light from the torches lit up the sides of the rocky cavern exposing a giant black hole that led deeper down into the mountain.

Broozer crouched and scooted himself down the slope with one hand trailing the ground to keep his balance. He glanced back to see the other knights following close behind. The slope finally leveled off and they came to a fork in the tunnel.

He raised his hand for the men to stop. When they grew silent, Broozer listened intently down one side and then the other. A soft crackling and feeling of heat wafted up from the second one. He pointed down that side and the men nodded in acknowledgment.

The king was no longer in sight, but Broozer didn’t wait for him to come forward. He checked to make sure that the person responsible to mark their trail was still leaving a white trail along the walls. Then he continued heading down the tunnel.

The air around him grew warmer and as they came around another bend, Broozer could see a soft, red glow in the distance. It grew brighter as they got closer to it. Eventually, it became so bright that they no longer needed the torches to see.

When he entered the cavern, Broozer stepped aside to let the other men through. They fanned out around him, waiting for everyone else to join them in the cavern. Finally, everyone was in and the king came up beside Broozer.

“What is it? What’s going on?” he hissed quietly to the group standing near Broozer.

“I think we’re getting close,” one of the men answered before Broozer had a chance.

He was busy studying the cavern around them. The ground ran for a good way toward the center of the chamber they were in before dropping away into a fiery red glow. A smoky mist wafted up from below. The scent of burning lay heavy in the air.

Every once in a while, the wind would whip around the cavern, churning the smoke and mist wildly upwards in the chamber. Broozer couldn’t tell how high it was though since the smoke above the pit blocked their view of it.

A low moan echoed through the chambers from the pit before them.

“I fear we have arrived at the entrances of hell,” one of the men hissed. “Maybe we shouldn’t be here.”

“Yeah, maybe this isn’t the giant’s lair,” whispered another.

Another low moan echoed from the pit and off the cavernous walls around them. Then a low growl. Shadows moved across the smoky mist above the fiery pit.

The men backed toward the tunnel exit leaving more space around Broozer who stood his ground. He pulled his sword out of its sheath and flipped it between both hands as he recalled the words of the old crone.

“Who goes there?” a guttural voice rumbled out over the edge of the pit as the wide forehead of the giant began to rise up from the pit. “Welcome. You’ve arrived just in time for my feast.”

The rest of the giant’s head appeared. His long strands of hair floating in the drafts of warm air that rose up from the pit. Only dark shadows covered the area where its eyes should have been. Then its shoulders and chest appeared along with its long arms. It stood in the pit up to its waist, and from the waist up was still almost three times taller than Broozer.

A wave of relief rushed over him. The old woman had spoken the truth. He felt vindicated and all of his effort to bring the king here worth it. He turned to smile at the king who looked at him as if he were crazy.

“What are grinning for lad,” the king whispered.

“We can’t fight that thing,” another hissed.

Broozer raised his finger to his lips to silence them. He pointed to his eyes and closed them to indicate that it had none. Then pointed to his ears hoping they understood that the giant could hear the slightest sound. Finally, placing his finger over his lips again for them to be silent.

King Jensen nodded and motioned with his arms for them to prepare their bows. The men who had them stepped forward and waited for the king’s command.

“I can hear your silence, silly people. Did you come to join your companions for dinner?” the giant asked in a sing-songy voice.

The king raised his hands and the archers raised their bows. A few had crossbows and they raised those as well. The king waited a beat for the giant to finish its sentence then brought his hand down sharply. The archers let loose a volley of arrows at the giant’s head.

The giant ducked as the arrows hurtled in his direction. It was surprisingly fast for such a large creature. The arrows all missed by a wide margin except for one. An archer’s aim was low or else it was aiming for the giant’s neck. But it only brushed through the giant’s hair that was still wafting in the smoke.

It disappeared completely for a brief moment before it popped back up again and peeked over the edge of the pit.

“Hm. I see you want to play. Nice. I like games. Are there any rules I should be aware of before we begin?” the giant asked mockingly.

The king motioned for the archers to fire again. Another volley of arrows flew through the air a second time. This time the giant didn’t bother to duck. He raised a giant ax in front of his face that deflected the pointy missiles. Then it stood back up to its full height and swung its ax low across the ground in front of the pit.

The razor-sharp edge of the gigantic weapon grazed the ground along the edge of the pit. Rocks and bits of gravel flew out of the ground in their direction. Broozer threw himself across the king, knocking him down before either was hit. Several others had good sense and quick enough reflexes to do the same. But most of the men took the brunt of the stony shrapnel.

Broozer heard them screaming in pain and agony as sharp bits of rock chewed into parts of their body that weren’t protected by their armor. And others were completely knocked out by the larger stones that bowled them over.

A few of those that were okay, crawled over to the king and dragged him back to the tunnel along with any of their friends that were still breathing. Broozer lay completely still and watched the giant listening intently to hear what they were up to as they scrambled around.

“What? Leaving so soon. What rude dinner guests. Guess I’ll just have to come and drag you back for the main course.” The giant said with a loud laugh that echoed through the chamber.

The giant raised its other hand that was also holding a giant ax. It ran the blades along each other as if sharpening them and sparks flew from the honed edges.

The giant ran the other ax along the ground even harder, sending another volley of rocks and rubble in their direction. Broozer threw his arms over his head to protect himself. The blast of stony rubble left his arms sore and numb.

He heard others behind him screaming in pain and agony. Broozer twisted his head to look over at the tunnel. The king and several men were just inside, leaning up against the wall for protection. The king motioned for Broozer to join them. He shook his head silently.

“Come on. Doesn’t anyone else want to play this game before we switch to phase two?” The giant rumbled playfully.

“I can still hear five of you in this cavern breathing as those who are awake. The rest are either unconscious or dead. It’s a shame. Fresh meat always tastes better than those who are dead.”

Broozer grimaced at the grotesque way the giant spoke of them. He could see Egwald lying not far behind him. Broozer couldn’t tell if he were alive or not. Another man that Broozer recognized moaned as he began to regain consciousness.

This wasn’t going at all like Broozer had imagined. The old crone had said he should use his strength and speed and wits against this evil fiend. But she hadn’t warned him of how fast and brutal his beast would be.

The lad knew that he wouldn’t defeat this monster groveling on the ground with his head between his arms though. So, he stood slowly to his feet.

“How does this work?” Broozer challenged the giant. “Aren’t you supposed to ask us a riddle, and if we get it right, then you have to let us go on our way.”

“Bwahahaha!” The giant burst into guffaws of laughter. “I like your style, boy. I do. I do. And no, you’re confusing me with the trolls. You don’t get any free passes here with me. It’s mano-a-mano. A duel to death or I hunt you all down. Unless of course, you make it all the way back to the pass before I catch you.”

“Well then, let’s get to it,” Broozer bellowed.

The giant burst into peals of laughter. “Sure, if you insist. But you should have stayed home today and let the men do the fighting today. I almost feel bad killing one so young who hasn’t had time to live. Of course, that means your flesh will be soft and tender. I just hope you aren’t too scrawny and have some flesh on you.”

Broozer glanced back and motioned the king and his men to leave while he held off the giant. He wasn’t sure if he had much of a shot at defeating this giant regardless of what the old lady said. He would do his best and fight fearlessly as his father had taught him when he was a boy.

If he did die, he hoped it would at least give King Jensen enough time to escape. He liked the king with the easy laugh. The king seemed like a good man who tried to do his best for his people. Even though he had brought war on Broozer’s land, war was the way of the kings. He couldn’t bring himself to hold a grudge against the man.

Unlike the other nobles, the king seemed sincere and genuine. It would be a shame to have one of them take his place if the giant killed them all that day. It was better to have Jensen ruling over his people back in Agaza than some other douchebag who didn’t give a rip about anyone other than themselves.

The lad waited until he saw that the royal guards had pulled the king back and had left before stepping forward to face the giant. It lowered its axes and took a long, deep inhalation.

“You smell different than the others. You’re not one of them. Why would you choose to die for them?” the giant asked curiously and almost gently.

“It is my duty and my destiny,” Broozer replied as honestly as he could without giving away too much information.

“Hm,” the giant murmured. “As I said before, I like your style. I sense no fear within you. Your heart is yet pure. Walk away, and I shall let you leave. There are more than I need here already.”

“I can’t leave these men behind for you to gorge on,” Broozer replied while thinking of something positive to say about them that was truthful even though he didn’t like most of the men. “They are husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. They have families I must protect.”

“Bah! None of those things mean anything to me,” growled the giant. “I once had all those too before I was cursed into this place. As I said before, leave and I shall let you live. The rest stay here with me. This is my final offer and my last warning.”

Broozer took another step forward. The giant raised the ax in his right hand threateningly. Broozer didn’t budge. The giant roared angrily and pulled back its arm as it had previously. If he waited until it blasted rocks in his face, he would never survive.

He leaned in and leaped forward to meet the giant head-on. Broozer flipped the sword into his left hand and drew a throwing knife with the other as he raced forward. He threw the knife and reached for the other while watching the ax in the giant’s right arm to time his attack. The giant turned its head without missing a beat.

The ax swung forward. Coming down low in his direction. Broozer threw the second knife and continued running until the ax was almost upon him. The giant ducked but kept his swing steady.

Then Broozer leaped high into the air, pulling his feet up as high as he could toward his chest while flipping the sword back into his fighting hand.

The ax swept clean under him where his legs had been and then on past as it scraped the ground. Another blast of sand shrapnel scattered against the wall of the cavern.

As he reached the zenith of his jump, Broozer caught the sword so the tip was pointing down. He grabbed onto the blade with his hand and pulled it back over his head. Then flicked it forward with all of his might as he would any of his other throwing blades.

He wasn’t far from the giant’s face and his aim was true. The tip of the sword pierced the giant’s face, just above the bridge of its nose and in between where its eyes should have been. The blade sank deep into its head. It wobbled for a moment as Broozer landed on the ground and rolled to the side.

The giant started to raise the other ax in its left hand before toppling forward silently directly onto the hilt of the blade and driving it even deeper into his brain. The ax fell forward as well and the blade sank into the ground at his feet.

Broozer reached out and grabbed the handle of the giant’s weapon. It wasn’t as heavy as he expected. Almost as if it had been forged of some strange alloy. The lad took a practice swing before bringing it down over the giant’s neck.

The blade was just as sharp as Broozer expected based on the way he had seen it slice through rock and stones. The giant’s head came off with a single swipe. Broozer grabbed the head by the hair and dragged it forward.

He pulled the other ax forward as well before pushing the giant’s body back down into the flames of the pit below. He squinted as he looked down at the crumpled heap below.

After staring down thoughtfully for a few moments, Broozer circled around the pit toward the back of the cavern. There were several tunnels leading off in different directions. But he could hear the sound of voices distinctly from one of them.

Broozer found the men that the giant had been gathering for his feast in a large dungeon-like area. They were at the bottom of a pit. He went back out and weaved tresses from the giant’s head into a long enough cord to pull them out. Most were weak and frail from having been without food for several days.

That seemed strange if the giant had been planning to make a feast of them. But none of the men knew why he hadn’t eaten them before.

He led them back out to the pit where they gathered the men who had been wounded by the rocks. Many hadn’t survived their wounds. Even old Egwald was dead. Broozer didn’t feel sadness over his master’s death, but nor did it bring him any joy. Someone else would try to claim him as their slave. None of them would simply let him go free based on the words of some old crone to fulfill his destiny.

The lad knew his journey ahead would be long and arduous. It would take time to fulfill his destiny. He still had much to learn. But the event of the day gave him hope. They gave him something to cling to and believe that maybe the old crone was right.

Broozer let the men with torches lead the way as the group followed the white line back through the tunnels. He grabbed onto the giant’s long tresses and found that it slid along behind him fairly easily.

He didn’t know why he did it, but he dragged it along behind him. He stopped once or twice to rest in each of the main caverns. Some of the men tried to help him, but none of them could budge it.

They all looked at him with a newfound look of respect and awe. Even more so than earlier when he had led them straight to the giant. After they made it out of the cave, Broozer let the head roll down the ledge and through the waterfall. From there he let the current of the stream carry it down the river as they made their way back to the bridge.

The look on King Jensen’s face and that of his men was priceless. They looked from the bobbing head to Broozer and then back again. There was great rejoicing over the return of the missing men.

After sending a group of knights to return the missing men home, the king stayed behind with the others to retrieve Egwald and those who had perished within the cave. They mourned the men’s death and gave them a hero’s funeral.

Egwald’s men squabbled over the land. In the end, King Jensen split it up amongst three of them. They all claimed him as their own slave, but the king put a stop to their arguing. He gave Broozer his freedom and invited him to join the royal guard.

“I would be honored to have a man as brave and as strong as you protecting our kingdom, Broozer.”

Broozer thanked him but turned down the offer. “I have never been trained as a knight. Most of your nobles would not accept me. They would see me only as a Barbarian. They might respect me for killing the giants, but they still wouldn’t accept me as one of their own.”

The king was disappointed but seemed understanding of Broozer wishes. He asked what Broozer wanted as thanks for having saved him and his men.

“I am still young. Allow me to take some time to travel and experience life throughout the land. Maybe with time, I will find my place in this world and understand how I can best fit in your kingdom in my own way.”

“Very well, lad. It shall be as you wish, on the condition that you are willing to come to our aid if the kingdom has need of it and I request your help. I will knight you anyway to aid you in your journey. It matters not what others think, they must respect what I say as king.”

Broozer acquiesed at the king’s insistence and allowed the king to knight him. The king gave Broozer great treasure and lands to the north of Langland near a city called Firebend. Far enough in the wilderness where Broozer felt comfortable but still close enough to access needed supplies when desired.

There he built a house and hired someone to care for his lands while he set off to journey the kingdom and make his way back towards Agaza to see where the old crone’s words led him in the fulfillment of his destiny.

Later, Broozer went back into the woods looking for the old crone and her home near the clearing where he had killed the boars, but he never could find it. He wanted to ask for more direction before heading off into the wild unknown. But the words that rang over and over in his were, “Your path is your own to choose. Your battles are your own to fight if you choose them.”

Broozer was in no rush to find the Leorkel or do whatever needed to be done. If it was truly his destiny, it would all play out at the right time. For now, he just wanted to explore the land and enjoy life. Trying to be a hero and save others was hard work.

Besides, he was still young and there were many things he wanted to do before taking on that burden. He enjoyed wandering the woods, fishing, making friends, drinking ale, and doing all the things he had never had a chance to do before.

Dave Bailey

Dave Bailey started writing short stories when he lived in Brazil to help his students learn English. Now, he lives in Florida again where he continues to write fun and inspiring sci-fi and fantasy fiction stories. You can read his weekly short stories here on his blog. Make sure to join his advanced reading crew so you know when new stories become available >>>