A serious fantasy series that doesn’t take itself seriously.
An old man, a young armor-wearing girl, and a farm boy walk into a story, and this is what you get; a fantasy series of monsters and mayhem where each day leads them into new troubles and intrigue. Fred is the farm boy, a serf bound to his lord by the debt of his deceased parents. He’s thrown out into the world against his will and into the company of an armored young woman by the name of Pat and her cloaked, bearded companion, Ned. Together they make an unlikely group as they wind their way through troubles with perilous plant monsters, dangerous dog-beasts, and a good book that refuses to be put down. Literally.
Everything was normal for Fred until the old man showed up.
Fred was a fine lad with his dark brown hair, fair complexion and dark eyes. He was also a serf by occupation and title, and that left him with little other choice but to labor on Lord Damskov’s estate. Fred hadn’t been born a serf, though. He was a freedman until his parents died when he was ten, and they left their debt to the lord unpaid. By law he was forced into the servitude of the debt owner, and there he remained for several years. The first ten years of freedom had given him an independent streak, but he kept his mouth shut to keep the peace. Days slipped into weeks, and then months, and still he continued to live and work on his lord’s manor. Now he was a young man of fifteen, and still chained to the estate. That is, until the old man came and wrecked his life.
The day started out as many others had before it.
The sun rose and he along with it, and Fred had trudged out into the plots assigned for him to manage. There were several acres of crops to weed and water, and after that work was done he could manage his own little plot of dirt used to grow his own food. If Fred left the supply of food up to his lord then he would have died of starvation.
Beyond his fields stretched miles and miles of farmland that traveled over the rolling hills, interrupted only by sparse clumps of trees and bushes, and the occasional manor. A river ran close to the manor on which he lived and wound its way west toward a town he knew existed but had never seen. He didn’t have any curiosity to see it, either; he was far too busy tending his small patches of rocks and weeds.
Fred was just setting to work when the old man came walking close by on the wide dirt path that led from the main road to the manor house. The boy was interested in this stranger, for strangers were a rare sight. Even more rare was such a stranger as this, what with his ragged brown cloak draped over his shoulders. The ends dragged along the ground behind him and covered any footprints he left in the dust. There was also the white, unkept hair which trailed down over the old man’s shoulders and draped over the front and back of the cloak. He had wisps of white hair over his head, but his eyes were well-covered by a pair of bushy gray eyebrows and he had a long, white beard that stretched down to his waist. The old man carried a staff in his hand, but though his pace was slow and feeble he didn’t lean his weight against it.
Fred was startled when the stranger lifted his head and turned those old eyes on him. They were a bright blue, brighter than the clear sky above them, and held an energy which wasn’t seen in his step. The old man tottered over to Fred and looked the lad up and down. A small smile graced his mustached lips, and he nodded his head. “Can such a fine lad as yourself tell me where I might find the nearest town?” the old man asked him.
Fred shook his head. “I haven’t been farther from this manor than a mile, and the town is somewhere beyond that to the west.”
“Can you help me find it? I am old and haven’t much strength to be wandering over all these winding roads,” the stranger requested.
“I can’t. I’m not allowed to leave the manor without permission from my lord.” Fred dared not disobey his lord’s laws.
The stranger pulled at his beard, and the smile remained on his lips. “I see. Well, I suppose you wouldn’t want to disobey your lord for a short adventure.”
Fred was ruffled by this challenging patronage. “It’s not that, it’s just that I’m not allowed to. I could get whipped for leaving the manor.”
The old man held up a wrinkled old hand and nodded his head. “I see what you mean, young man. The risk certainly isn’t worth it, not when you don’t know what dangers lurk outside these peaceful fields.” The stranger glanced out upon the plowed and fallow fields that were spotted with the pitiful huts for the workers. Fred’s own home was a short distance from them. “But I thank you for the help and will leave you to your work.”
The old man turned away back to the main road, and Fred had an urge to wander after the strange fellow. He shook off such a foolish idea, but he thought that perhaps he could give the man one small bit of advice. The boy wondered at such a stranger and why the feeble old man wandered the roads in such a condition. “What are you searching for, sir?” he called out to the man.
The stranger halted and half turned to the young man. Fred flinched back from those blue eyes so focused on him, and the stranger had a raised brow.
“What was that, boy?” the stranger asked Fred.
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended, but you seem lost. Were you searching for something in particular?”
The man softly chuckled and nodded his head. “Searching for something? Yes, I was searching for something. Perhaps I will find it in the next town.”
“Well, if you were wanting better directions you might ask up at the manor house,” Fred called out. The young man nodded to his right where lay the large house. “My Lord Damskov certainly knows the way, or any of the servants who go to the town.”
The old man inclined his head in a short bow. “I am much obliged for the help, though I believe I have heard enough to know what to do.” Fred thought the statement odd, but the man wasn’t finished with speaking to him. “Perchance may I know the name of the serf who is so helpful so I may recommend a reward to your lord?”
“My name is Fred.”
“Have you no other name?”
“None that I have been told,” Fred replied, and the man nodded.
“I see. Well, Fred, it was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope our paths cross in the future.”
The man moved up the road toward the manor, and when he passed Fred stepped out of the field onto the path. He watched the stranger far longer than he meant to, but the old man held such a strange fascination with him. He felt as though he had seen that face before, but a long while ago. Perhaps when he was younger and his father had taken him on his few short trips from the estate. The old man disappeared around the buildings which surrounded the manor, and Fred shook the thought from his mind. He had fields to hoe and bugs to fight.
Fred didn’t think much of the old man while he toiled away the day, but the night was without distractions. He lay down on his bed of hay in his weathered hut of a home, a sorry mix of dried clay and wood beams with a hint of dilapidation. He stared up at the patched, wooden ceiling and sighed. He had hardly thought about anywhere away from this place he had always called home, but the stranger’s questions got him thinking about the outside world. There were so many places he only knew the names, and so many sights of which he had only heard tales. The fine capital city of Tramadore, home to the ruler of the land in which he lived, and the large Market Town with its wealth of goods from all over the lands. Fred turned his head to the side and glanced around at the four bare, thin walls around him. He wondered what lay beyond these plain, plastered walls.
The boy sighed and rolled onto his side to face the closest wall. He wouldn’t find out what lay beyond them, so there was no sense thinking of such places. He was bound to his lord for life, especially with the debt his parents owed for several years of failed crops. He would marry when he found the right girl and have children, and be trapped to this small piece of earth for the remainder of his days. Fred closed his eyes and welcomed sleep. It helped him escape this empty sort of life, at least for a while.
The sun rose the next day as it had countless times before, and Fred rose with it. He trudged out into his fields and had been at work for an hour when a messenger from the manor house came up to him. “Good morning, Fred,” the boy greeted him. The residents of the fields were few enough that everyone knew everyone else.
“Good morning, Sebastian,” Fred returned. He was grateful for the relief from his hoeing. “What brings you out here?” Occasionally Sebastian would come out to chat if there were no messages to be taken to town or one of the neighboring manors.
“Lord Damskov asked me to fetch you. He said there’s something important about which he wished to speak with you,” Sebastian informed him.
Fred raised an eyebrow, but an order from the lord could not be long ignored. He set his hoe against his house and followed Sebastian to the manor house. Fred had only rarely been around the fine, tall buildings of house, barn, and stable, particularly the wooden lodge that made up the main home of the lord. Lord Damskov had no family, but his wealth bought him all the comfort he ever desired. This included fine wine and women, both of which could be found in large quantities in the nearby town when he was in the mood to acquire such diversions.
Fred was escorted through the open double doors and into the spacious dining hall in a side room off the high, raftered entrance hall. Lord Damskov was seated at the head of the long table in his tall chair. He was a man of about fifty with graying black hair and a thin, pinched face. His long nose looked down on his inferiors, and his thin hands counted his money with the precision of one highly trained in the art. The young man was surprised to see the stranger at his lord’s right hand. He also saw there was a girl on Lord Damskov’s other side. She wore a light-weight suit of armor beneath a stained traveling cloak. Her hair was long and golden, but tied in a tight braid and tucked into her armor. She had blue-green colored eyes, and looked to be about the same age and height as himself. Her face had a sour look to it, and Fred thought he wouldn’t trade his spot with his lord’s if it meant sitting beside such a girl.
Lord Damskov noticed them enter and waved off Sebastian. “That will be enough, boy. I wish to speak with Fred alone.” Sebastian bowed and left the four to themselves. “Fred, come here. I wish to speak with you about an important matter.” Fred moved to stand on his lord’s left side, and the boy had trouble keeping his focus off the old man. The stranger had those bright blue eyes ever on him, and the gaze was unnerving. “You recall that I am owed a great debt by your family?”
“Yes, my lord.” He could not very well forget it; his entire life revolved around the debt.
Lord Damskov gestured to the stranger. “This man has offered to pay your debt and be your new lord.”
Fred’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped open. He would never have believed his lord capable of selling him to any bidder. “But my lord, my parent’s debt is owed only to you. It can’t be sold-”
“It can, and if I see fit it will be,” Damskov interrupted him. “This gentleman offered more than you are worth to me, particularly since you are a mere boy, and only through my mercy have I asked for your opinion on the matter. I must guess by your outburst that you are not pleased?”
Fred stiffened. His lord’s voice was low and threatening; Damskov dared Fred to outright refuse to the arrangement. Fred surprised him with a show of spirit. “I would much prefer to remain on your estate, my home for my entire life, and work out my debt to you and you alone.”
During Fred’s impassioned speech Damskov’s face reddened until he was as flushed as a tomato. Just as Fred finished his final sentence Damskov sprang to his feet and knocked his chair over. He sputtered out his indignation. “W-what insolence from a mere serf! What disloyalty! I give you land to work as your own and a place to call home, and this is how you repay me?”
Fred noticed the old man watched him intently; the stranger pulled on his beard and had a smile on his wizened old face. “I’m not trying to be insolent or ungrateful, my lord, but I would rather work out my debt to you.”
“You shall not!” thundered the lord. “I will not have such a serf on my land for a day longer!” He turned swiftly to the old man. “If you will pay the promised price then I shall be glad to have such an impudent boy off my hands!”
The old man nodded solemnly, though his eyes remained on the boy. “I am in need of a boy with spirit and energy. This one will do just fine.” Fred saw the girl open her mouth, hesitate, and then snap it shut; her scowl deepened.
The old man’s words gave Damskov comfort, and his anger cooled. He straightened his clothing and bowed to his guests. “Then I would like to invite you to dine with me before you leave.”
The girl was alarmed by the suggestion, but the old stranger shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t take such an offer. Our business demands we hurry away.” The stranger stood calmly from his chair, and the girl followed suit. He put his hand into his cloak and removed a large leather satchel. He untied the string and the sides folded out to reveal a large pile of gold coins.
Fred and his lord were in awe by the easy display of wealth; Damskov recovered first and coughed to hide his surprise. “Well, I’ve forgotten what we agreed to as a fair price. It was thirty gold coins, wasn’t it?” Fred was taken aback by such a sum; his debt was not more than a few coins and he hardly guessed he was ever worth so much.
The girl, too, was stunned. “It is not! The deal was for half that sum!” She was calmed by a look from her companion.
“I see you are a shrewd man. As I’m sure the boy will be worth more than twice that sum, and certainly more than I will pay you, I accept your amendment to our deal.” He fastened the bag shut and held it out to Damskov. “This satchel contains forty such coins. I’m sure you wish to count them.”
Damskov eagerly took the bag and hugged it to himself. “I trust you, kind sir, and may you have better fortune with this boy than I find myself having.”
The old man glanced over to Fred and his eyes twinkled with a strange light. “I’m sure I will.”
With that simple exchange Fred’s debt, and his body, passed hands from the life he had always known into the hands of this eccentric old man and his strange female companion.