I know I'm a bit early, but oh well.
The sample I've chosen is the first 1.5k words of The Shadows of Caldreth. It's best to read it after you've read Through the Flames since it has minor spoilers in it.
Well, here it is. Enjoy.
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As the sun was setting, Caleb rode his horse down the rocky road to the north of Lysaen. The black and white paint had a rough trot, bouncing him in his black leather saddle as though he had not spent much time in the saddle in his life.
He sighed as he tried to slow the horse down a bit. He was in no hurry, but it seemed that she refused to drop below a trot though. It seemed that Katie had not been lying at all when she told him that paints were stubborn.
A fond smile made its way to his face as he thought of Katie. He had met her about seven months earlier as a prisoner in a bandit camp. After he had saved her from a life of slavery, she had decided to help him with his quest.
The near perpetual frown that he had worn in the last six months suddenly surfaced at that train of thought. Everything went back to his quest. It was what kept him from feeling happiness.
A day or so before he had met Katie, his home village of Kirakath had been massacred by a force of bandits. He had been away from the village at the time on a hunting trip, so he had survived. When he had discovered what had happened, only his father still lived, but he had been on the verge of death.
His father's last request had been that he take up the Sword of Kirakath and avenge his village. That had become his quest, his life's purpose. Throughout it, he had expected to die once he succeeded.
It had been six months since he killed Cain Fell, the leader of the bandits that had massacred Kirakath. Even after he killed the man, Caleb continued to live. What he had thought to be his life's purpose had long since been completed, and he was still around.
Often, he asked the stars why he still drew breath. Naturally, he had not yet gotten an answer.
He broke away from his thoughts as he began to take notice of his surroundings. It was so easy to get lost in the monotony of the forests that covered the land of Arcadia that he had not even noticed the inn that was coming up on his right hand side.
His hand touched the soft leather of his coin purse, and he reached into it. Feeling around, he counted out twenty silver marks.
“I must have spent my last crown in Lysaen,” he muttered to himself. It did not make much of a difference to him if he had a gold piece or ten silver marks. They were worth the same amount, after all. Truth be told, he preferred having copper pieces or silver marks over crowns. They were not as high profile, after all.
I guess I'll be sleeping inside tonight. It's definitely better than sleeping on the ground.
He brought his horse to a stop in front of the inn, pulling back on the reins hard. It was similar to the Black Raven Inn outside of Caldreth, but the sign above the door had a picture of a light blue sparrow on it. There were no words written on it, but that did not surprise him too much. Even though he could read and write, many commoners could not.
Caleb slid off of his mare and stroked the pommel of his sword as he walked towards the door of the inn. With it open, he made a clicking sound with his teeth, and the paint began to walk towards him. It followed him as he walked to the back of the building where the stables were. Of the five stables that had been put in, only one of them was free, so he put his horse there.
After that, he walked back to the entrance of the inn, going through the door to the right when he neared it. It brought him into the tavern portion of the inn. A dozen or so tables were scattered in front of the bar, where a middle aged man was standing.
The almost seventeen year old boy walked up to the bar and lightly placed his right hand on its surface. “I'll take some water and a room for the night,” he said as he looked the bartender in the eyes. As he spoke, he lifted his right hand, revealing a silver piece.
“For a silver, you can have my finest bed and all the water you can drink,” the man said as he turned to the rack that was mounted on the wall behind the bar. Next to it were three large barrels that rested atop crates. He removed a pewter tankard from the rack and held it beneath the valve that protruded from the barrel on the far right. Water spilled into the tankard as the innkeeper began to speak again.
“It looks like something's troubling you.”
“I'm fine,” he said without hesitation. He knew that the man was just making small talk. He had been to enough roadside inns to know that much, at least.
“If you say so,” the innkeeper said as he set the tankard in front of the young man. “You look like you could use something a bit stronger though.”
“I probably could, but I'd rather keep a clear mind,” the young man said with a dismissive shake of his head.
“As you say,” the innkeeper said with a shrug.
Caleb brought the tankard to his lips, wetting his throat. It was not the best well water that he had ever tasted, but it got the job done. It helped his dry throat at the very least.
“Thanks,” he muttered as he lowered the tankard and turned away from the bar. He made his way to a table in the far corner of the room.
As he sat down, a pang of loneliness filled him. He had been alone for too long, and he truly missed a number of people. Of those still living, the one he missed the most was not Gabriel Silver, his best friend growing up, strangely enough. It was Katie.
Where are you now? The image of his redheaded companion came to mind, sending a subtle pain rippling through him. Ever since she left after the death of Cain Fell and the Black Crows, he had missed her. Though they had only known each other for about a month before they parted ways and their relationship had been grounded on a perceived debt, she had dominated his thoughts since then.
Is there anything I could have done differently?
The question seemed to come up daily, but he had yet to come up with an actual answer. The closest thing to an answer that he could come up with was that he made a mistake. It was the only explanation that seemed somewhat likely.
Sure, we may have argued a bit too often, but having her around… it would have to be better than this.
Sometime after he finished his water, Caleb found his eyes wandering over his shoulder to the door of the tavern. It seemed perfectly timed with the door creeping open slowly.
His eyes moved back to the tankard immediately. He had nothing to worry about. After all, nearly everyone in the world was a stranger to him. One more showing up did not really make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
As the sound of footsteps drew near after a few moments, Caleb eyes once again went over his shoulder. He took in the sight of a man in his early twenties with a clean shaven face and dark hair tied in a pony tail. He was garbed in black, though his body was mostly covered by a black cloak.
He stopped a few feet away from Caleb and spoke clearly with a subtle accent. “Greetings to you, sir. I don't suppose your name is Caleb Sullivan, is it?”
“I am,” Caleb said stiffly. He had not actually used his surname since the Massacre of Kirakath. He had taken care to leave it off of his name during introductions since then. It stirred wounds that were not fully healed yet.
The man smiled, though no hint of emotion could been seen in it. “That's good to hear. I have something for you.” His right hand slid into his cloak on his left side as he spoke.
A sense of warmness suddenly surged through Caleb's blood, and he felt as though he stood before a large fire.
Out of pure instinct, Caleb threw himself to his right out of his chair. He hit the ground and rolled away, his eyes catching movement. The man had drawn a dagger from beneath his cloak and had brought it in an arc directed at Caleb. If he had not acted when he did, he would have been sporting a nasty cut at the very least.
That was a lucky save. But why in the abyss did he try to kill me?
“You're as good as I was told,” the man said as he pointed the dagger at him. “But the question remains… was that skill, or was it luck?”
“There's only one way to find out,” Caleb said as his hand found the handle of the knife at his belt.