Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Curse of Fierabras - Part V

In case you didn't know, check out the new location of my blog over at Wordpress. In a few weeks I'll only be posting over there. Also, things like this serial novel are much easier to navigate over there with the links to each part along the top of the page.

Part V - The Conquest of the Emperor

“You founded the Restoration?” Dante asks.
“Aye, lad,” Jerek answers as he gets to his feet. “Do you remember what things were like before the Emperor took control?”
Dante shakes his head. He has heard stories from some of the villagers back home, but he was too young to remember anything prior to the Emperor. “No, but I’ve heard stories. It is hard to believe they were true.”
“About how there was peace and prosperity?” Jerek asks, turning to gaze out the window.
“Yeah,” Dante says. “Are they true?”
“They are true. Twenty years ago we were enjoying the longest stretch of peace and prosperity that the seven kingdoms had ever seen. Roads were being built to connect us all, speeding along commerce and boosting the economies of all the kingdoms. Soldiers were fighting together as one unit to fend off the barbarian hordes landing on the coast. The seven kings came together regularly to discuss the future of our land.
“The peace had lasted so long that people became lax in their security. Young men wanted to become soldiers because it had become an easy job, requiring no training or skill. The kings stopped traveling with fully armed escorts. It became common to see foreigners in every major city and kingdom across the land. City defenses became neglected as everyone poured their gold into other profitable ventures.
“No one expected things to change.”
Jerek looks down at his feet, a beam of moonlight splashing across his face. He licks his lips and turns toward Dante, a look of anger in his eyes. “The Emperor conquered the kingdoms, one by one. He timed it when a massive barbarian fleet landed on the shores, drawing away the only real army we had. He met minimal resistance. Those who did stand in his way were either untrained or out-of-practice.
“He allowed no survivors to escape to warn the other kingdoms. The roads that we had poured so much gold into allowed him to move from one to the next with incredible speed. With each victory his army grew larger, and soon even the trained army wouldn’t have stood a chance against him. Yet we tried to stop him, outnumbered and weary from the battle with the barbarians.
“That day we learned that the Emperor had discovered a dark magic that hadn’t been around for a thousand years. He had learned the art of Necromancy, commanding an army of the undead. Every soldier that died in battle that day became one of his army. Brother fought against brother, and many found they could not strike a fatal blow against a loved one, even one they knew to be dead.”
Jerek kicks the bucket across the room. The water remaining in the bottom splashes onto the stone wall, trickling down to the floor. Dante remains seated, trying to process what he is hearing. If the Emperor commands the dead then there is no chance of defeating him. There can be no war waged against him. The Emperor would want a war, increasing his own army while diminishing the opposition.
“A few of us managed to escape from the slaughter with our lives,” Jerek continues. “We hid ourselves among the other six kingdoms, continuing to hang onto the hope that someday we’d be able to strike back. Over the past twenty years we have trained ourselves, and others, in the ancient warrior arts. While the Emperor has gotten lax in his own defenses, entertaining himself with diversions like this coliseum, we have been honing our skills and building our own force.
“We’ve watched family and friends get killed or taken away for no reason. We’ve seen our people struggle to survive as the Emperor’s minions have caused our fields and our forests to wither and die. We have stood by and watched the hope of life get sucked out of every city and kingdom. We live our lives as slaves to a tyrant who values no life beyond his own. But the time to strike back is coming.”
“So how did you end up in here?” Dante asks. Jerek sighs heavily and sits back down across from his cellmate.
“I was part of an espionage troupe scouting the capital. One of my men turned on us and raised an alarm. My horse was shot as we were making our escape two weeks ago. I’ve been down here ever since.”
Both men fall silent. Dante’s mind races as he considers everything Jerek told him. Some of the story fits with the rumors he had heard in his village, but a lot of it was new information. He falls asleep and his dreams are filled with hordes of undead chasing after him.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Story - Crisis Averted

This story was written using the prompt: “He was sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper” from Studio 30 Plus. This was an unexpected venture into Science Fiction, but I enjoyed seeing what I could do in under 500 words. I’d love to hear what you think!

Also, don't forget to check out my new blog location at, where you can read (and comment on) this story as well.

He was sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper, trying to blend in. At first glance he seemed like anyone else you might see sitting in the park. His attire might be a little unusual, but the fashion on this planet is so diverse that it wouldn’t be completely unheard of for someone to wear fuzzy slippers, black slacks, and a yellow rubber raincoat. It was the upside down newspaper that was generating startled stares.

Lufain had come to this planet upon hearing a rumor that the most nefarious villain in the universe, Baron Von Munchausin, was here on Earth. This was likely another diabolical scheme to destroy a galaxy. Lufain had stopped him before, but this time he felt out of sorts. He had forgotten to bring his towel. No proper space traveler left home without one, but he was in such a rush that he forgot his back on Delta IV.

His Evil Tracker 4000 had led Lufain to this park. The Baron was close. He could smell the evil aura in the air. His usually steady hands started to shake. He wasn’t ready for another showdown with the Baron, but he had no choice. This young planet needed to be saved, even if they had no idea of the danger lurking among them.

Lufain glanced over the top of the newspaper and spotted the Baron across the street. He was heading straight toward him. His hands started to shake even more. He reached to his side for his towel, but his hand grasped empty air. He couldn’t face the Baron without it. He knew that now.

He took a deep breath and glanced back over the paper. He could see the red fire burning in the eyes of the Baron as he got closer. It wouldn’t be long now before he was forced into action. He fumbled with the handle of his Oblit-O-Matic and dropped it on the ground. He bent over to pick it up and froze. The Baron was right in front of him, glaring at him with those fiery eyes.

Lufain licked his lips, knowing that this time the Baron would be getting the better of him. He braced himself for the fate. He was outplayed. His career had come to an end.


Lufain opened his eyes to see the crushed remains of Baron Von Munchausin on the sidewalk in front of him. The heel of a child’s shoe had crushed his invertebrate body, putting an end to one of the universe’s most wanted villains. Lufain wondered why he never considered that approach before. He looks around to see if anyone noticed, but everything seems normal. Crisis averted. He leans back on the bench, reading the newspaper upside down and trying to blend in.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Going Live on Wordpress

Today's short blog post (on Blogger) is simply to announce the launch of my Wordpress location! I've finally got things fairly organized and laid out the way I want it. So please update your links & follow:

I'll be dual-posting for at least another two weeks to catch those who don't check back very often. But I'd love for everyone to read and comment at the new location. Let me know what you think. Personally, I like having the pages along the top where you can access my poems, short stories, and each part of my serial novel with ease.

Tune in Saturday for the next installment of The Curse of Fierabras!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Story - The Bone-Jarring Tackle

I think I'm just about done prepping my Wordpress location for this blog. I'm pretty sure I'll be ready to begin directing everyone there sometime this weekend, even though it probably won't be 100% ready. As I mentioned before, I will still post in both places for a few weeks and will include a link to the new location with each post. Make sure you follow that blog once I start those announcements because, eventually, this one will become obsolete.

Thank you all for your support so far. This blog has been more successful than I ever anticipated at this point! Tonight I'm sharing a short story memoir that I finished writing for one of my classes. I'd love to hear what you think of it.


The Bone-Jarring Tackle

            “Tell Mom that I’m in the field playing a game of football,” I say to my sister as I hurry down the stairs.
            “Okay,” she says without looking up from her book.
            I round the corner while putting on my Cris Carter jersey. He is my favorite player ever, number eighty for the Minnesota Vikings. When I wear this jersey I feel like I can catch any pass that is thrown my way. While my thoughts are wandering I run into my younger brother, Michael, and he falls to the ground.
            “Watch out,” I tell him as I hurry past. I don’t want to be the last one to the field, or else my first game with these guys might be my last one, too.
            “I’m coming, too,” he says as he gets up from the floor. He brushes some lint from his bright orange John Elway jersey.
            “No, you’re not,” I say as I stop in my tracks. There is no way my little brother is tagging along for this game. He is five years younger than me and will get massacred by the high school guys. Besides, they wouldn’t like him tagging along.
            “If you don’t take me, I’ll call Mom,” he says.
            “She wouldn’t let you play, either,” I say.
            “I don’t have to tell her it is to play football,” he says. “She’ll make you take me.”
            “You are such a brat sometimes,” I say. “I wish you had never been adopted.”
            I know that will get him upset. My sister and I have teased him about this for years, even though we know it isn’t true, because he is the only one in the family with blond hair. It has the desired results. His face gets bright red and tears well in his eyes. His voice gets shrill and he screams at me, even though I’m right in front of him. “I’m not adopted. I’m telling Mom when she gets home.”
            He stomps all the way upstairs to his room and slams the door several times. Little flakes from the ceiling popcorn fall to the ground as he stomps across his room. My sister sits in the chair, unfazed.
            “You’d better go before Mom gets home,” Jessica says without looking up from her book. She is reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which must be interesting because she hasn’t put it down since she got home.
            “Yeah, I’ll be home before dinner,” I say as I walk into the kitchen. I grab a couple of Oreos and head out the door. The brisk autumn air welcomes me as I cross our massive green deck. Leaves of red and orange decorate the branches of the tree in our backyard, stretching above the garage. Bees hover from flower to flower, gathering stores of pollen before the winter comes. The grass in the neighboring yards is fading to a dull brown, but our yard is still a vibrant green.
            I cut through the back yard and enter the field. It stretches east for a mile, covered in grass and flowers and the occasional weed. In the center is a tall fence that the neighborhood kids play baseball around. Many times I’ve walked past them, wishing I could be a part of their game even though I am terrible at baseball. A three-foot wide creek cuts through the center of the field, running east to west. On the south side of the creek is a paved trail that runs parallel to its bending path. At the east end is a covered shelter with a few picnic tables. This is my destination.
            A rabbit is startled from the grass as I jog past. The songs of various birds fill the air as they stop in our trees along their flight south for the winter. In several different places groups of children chase each other in games of tag, their laughter echoing in the air. A mother jogs along the path pushing a red and black stroller. On the other side of the path an elderly couple walks side by side, the fingers of their hands interlocked.
            Most of the guys are already around the picnic area. A football is tossed around among them, spiraling perfectly as it cuts through the air. Conversation and laughter flows freely from the group. They welcome me as I arrive, tossing me the ball. I am not expecting the ball, so it slips through my hands and tumbles away. I mentally curse at myself for being so clumsy. I pick up the football and throw it to the next guy. It falls short and hops into his hands. I can tell my stock is falling already.
            The focus has already moved off of me and onto the last two to arrive. One is tall, the other short like me. They both appear to be athletic, which means they’ll be among the first picked. The taller one is wearing long sleeves and jeans even though it is in the low sixties. The shorter one is wearing a blue soccer jersey and shorts. They are welcomed with a chorus of greetings, and the game can now begin.
            The captains of the team must have been predetermined because two of the guys step forward and declare themselves as being the captains. No one voices dissent. The two athletic guys, unsurprisingly, are the first two selected for the teams. Four down, eight to go. The next four chosen are the ones who were proficiently throwing the ball around before I came along and dropped it.
            I glance at the guys standing next to me to see my competition. I’m by no means physically fit, but I am in better shape than at least two of them and the third has on glasses. I like my odds at being picked next. Surprise overwhelms me when the kid with the glasses is chosen next. And then one of the out-of-shape guys is picked. This always happens.
            I’m always picked last. It has been that way since the early years of elementary school. I was short and shy. I was clumsy at times. I played the least important positions in team sports, like outfield and center. I am suddenly reminded why I only like watching sports. No one gives me a chance because of first impressions, so I never get a chance to get better.
            These guys don’t know that I usually have the hands of Cris Carter and can catch the ball. They don’t know that I can be a shut-down safety like Robert Griffith. I already can tell they’ll have me run routes and not throw me the ball. They’ll have me be the one to shadow the quarterback and force him to throw the ball early. They will never know any differently, and I’ll never be invited to play another game.
            I accept my inevitable fate. I am the last person left, going to the team with the shorter, fit guy. He tells me his name is J.J., and the other guys ask him why the tall guy is wearing long sleeves on a nice day. He tells us his name is Jon and he moved here from South Carolina. I guess they aren’t used to this kind of weather.
            The other team punts the ball to us to start the game and J.J. hops in front of me to grab the ball. He takes off like a bullet, darting in and out of defenders as he crosses the field. He seems to be too fast to be stopped, but Jon comes up and tackles him. We get the ball at midfield. In the huddle I am told to go long. I am always going long. That means nothing.
            The ball is hiked and I run past everyone. No one pays attention to me. Instead they direct two of the guys to guard J.J., leaving me wide open in the end zone. The ball is thrown to J.J. and the other team intercepts it, running the ball back for a touchdown. That team celebrates the score while we huddle back at the other end of the field. When I mention that I was wide open, the guy throwing the ball said he never saw me. He promises to look next time.
            We get the ball back and our guy goes down quickly. We have a long field ahead of us. We huddle and I’m told to line up behind the quarterback and he’ll hand me the ball to run it. Here is my chance. I’m ready to run like Robert Smith, dodging and spinning past defenders. He hikes the ball and turns to hand it off to me. I reach to grab it, but he pulls the ball back in and bootlegs the opposite direction. I’m left running out for a pass, confused by this change of events. He passes the ball and we get a touchdown because someone was left undefended. I don’t care. I wanted the ball.
            Flashbacks of flag football come to mind. I played on a team for two years. I didn’t get to play quarterback or running back or wide receiver. I didn’t get to be a good position. I was chosen to play the center. My duties consisted of hiking the ball and running a short route for a pass that rarely came. I ran so many button hooks that I could still run that route perfectly.
            In two years I never scored a touchdown for that team. I was rarely thrown to, and was usually caught soon after since I ran a short route in the middle of the field. But one game I had my chance. I got the ball and spun past the first defender with a move that would make any player envious. I turned to the end zone and charged forward. I was unstoppable for a play. I reached the end zone and was ready to celebrate my first touchdown.
            And then I heard the refs whistle. There was a penalty on the play. Our quarterback did an illegal block. The touchdown didn’t count. My chance at doing something great for the team vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
            We kick the ball back to the other team and get a chance to play some defense. If I can’t be Cris Carter or Robert Smith for my team, the least I can do is play defense like Robert Griffith. I’ll be the best safety they’ve ever seen, and word of my defensive talent will spread and the high school team will want me to play. They’ll see that I can play.
            They hike the ball and I drop back, watching the quarterback. I see one of the guys break free from the defender and so I start running that way to cover him. I leap for the ball as it flies by, but I’m too short to reach it. He catches the ball and makes it into the end zone. I sigh and accept the fact that my size is not doing any favors for the team. If I were six inches taller, that pass would have been mine. But I’m not.
            The game runs on and I get a chance to catch a few passes every now and then, and even manage to deflect a pass or two. The game is nearing its end, since dinner will be served for most of them in a matter of minutes. We have time for one last drive. I’m running a cross pattern down the field. The ball is hiked. I take off and cut to the right. The ball is in the air. I leap for it and pull in the pass. Wham! I’m hit mid-jump by Jon. I flip in the air and land on my back. The air is knocked from my lungs. My vision gets blurry. The ball is still in my hands.
            I lay in the grass, too stunned to think for a moment. Then reality sets in and I realize that I caught the ball. Against all odds, I made a great play. The aching in my chest is a constant reminder of the hard tackle. It hurts with each breath I take. I can hear commotion from the other guys and I know this is my chance to make an impression. Their attention is fixed on me and how I react will probably impact how they perceive me in the future.
            People start to crowd around me. I brush aside the inconvenient pain and get to my feet, laughing. The thrill of catching the pass fuels my adrenaline. I can tell this isn’t what they were expecting. Anyone else would be lying on the ground still, in too much pain to get up. Or at the very least gasping for air. I am doing neither of those things.
            “That was fun,” I proclaim as I toss the ball to our quarterback. “Let’s do it again.” A few people voice their concern but I brush that aside. The catch and my reaction have done something. It has won some respect. They won’t avoid giving me the ball any longer. I have been accepted as an equal, at least for one day.
We get back to playing, but the game doesn’t last much longer. The sun is getting low in the sky and the sound of crickets starts to echo through the field. I get a few more passes thrown my way and the other team makes sure I am covered. I manage to leap and deflect a pass, too. I never score a touchdown in the game, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve proven myself worthy of belonging on the team.
            After the game ends I head over to J.J.’s house, along with Jon and J.J. We sit outside on his front porch talking about football. We laugh about the catch and the tackle. It was a moment we wouldn’t forget anytime soon. Jon tells me he never expected anyone to pop back up like that laughing. At that moment he knew I was a cool guy. J.J. nods in agreement.
            “Do you play video games?” Jon asks me.
            “Of course,” I say. “I grew up playing Mario and Zelda when I was little.”
            “My favorite game is Dragon Warrior IV,” he says. “Have you ever played that game?”
            “I love that game!” I say in response.
            The three of us continue to talk for a while as the sun gets lower in the sky. We find that we have a lot of the same interests. Jon mentions that he doesn’t have many friends since he moved here in January from South Carolina. He has become good friends with J.J. because they are neighbors, but beyond that it is a challenge. He says it is hard to leave behind friends he knew for his entire life and move across the country. I understand the feeling because I moved back to Altoona two years ago. I had lived here for most of elementary school but missed out on Junior High, where many friendships are initially formed. We’re both trying to find a way to fit in and be accepted.
            I head home as the streetlights are coming on for the night. Dinner is cold, but I don’t mind because I had fun. My brother told my mom that I wouldn’t let him come, but she told him that he couldn’t go play football with us because he’d get hurt. He didn’t like that, but I secretly enjoyed hearing that. It turned out to be a great day, and I had gained two new friends.
            Almost thirteen years later I am still friends with Jon. We’ve hung out a lot, played many video games together, watched lots of football, built a poker table, and many other things. We spent almost two years as roommates. Sometimes it is hard making new friends. Other times it is as easy as playing a game of football with someone you don’t know.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Listicles - Books

Today is the first annual World Book Night in the United States. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of this event until today so I’m not able to be a participant in this great event. I applaud whoever came up with the idea to give away free paperback books to encourage reading among adults. I’ve been an avid reader from childhood and, as an English major, I am a huge advocate this sort of thing. I’m marking my 2013 calendars now for this event so I can help give away some books!

I follow a handful of blogs that post every Monday on this Monday Listicles event. This morning I was pleased to find that this week’s listicle is about books. This is a topic I can easily go on about. I’ve read hundreds of them that I can remember (and probably hundreds from my younger days that I can’t). I’m reading books each semester for my college classes. I read across several genres and indulge in many classics.

I’d like to think I’m an unofficial authority on this particular subject.

While I’d love to be selfish and encourage you to read my Serial Novel as one of the ten books, I will refrain from doing so. It hasn’t progressed far enough to be considered a novel, or even a novella as of yet (I’ve written 4 parts so far). I will direct you to my post where I shared my poem, The Thrill of Books. I believe some other avid readers will be able to relate to that poem.

I thought about doing a list of my ten favorite books. I’ll probably do that list at some point in time, but I think that I will take a different approach to this. I’m going to do a list of ten books that, in my opinion, are must-reads:

1.      The Dragon and the Unicorn by A.A. Attanasio – In the realm of King Arthur books, this one is by far the most unique approach I have encountered. There are four books in this series which is, disappointingly, difficult to find. I scavenged bookstores frequently for years before finally buying them all online. It is not a book that you can plow through quickly, but the angle this takes makes it worth every minute spent reading this book.

2.      The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – I remember in high school being told that there are so many plot and character twists that we would have to diagram them all out on the board. Dumas wrote some excellent novels, including The Three Musketeers, but I feel this one outshines them all.

3.      Hamlet by William Shakespeare – What better way to honor the Bard than by promoting his longest play on the day of his birth (and death)? I’d wager almost everyone has read Romeo and Juliet at some point, whether by choice or because they had to. I’ve read this play many times over the years and I find that my appreciation for it increases as I get older.

4.      Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – Everyone knows the poem “How do I love thee/let me count the ways” but few people have read the collection that it comes from. This is a collection of over 40 sonnets that Elizabeth wrote for Robert Browning over the course of two years. She gave this to him as a wedding present, and you can see how her feelings develop over time until she reaches the point of that famous poem (which is the second to last).

5.      Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I was pleased to see this is one of the novels being distributed for World Book Night. Even if you aren’t big into Science Fiction, this is a novel that you would probably enjoy. I fell in love with this book back in high school, and I still enjoy reading this novel every time.

6.      Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – I know the odds of convincing most people to read a book about punctuation is about the same as winning the lottery, but her sense of humor makes this book enjoyable and memorable. And in this digital age the importance of punctuation and grammar has never been greater. Grandmothers everywhere will be thankful that you know to write “Let’s eat, grandma!” instead of “Let’s eat grandma!”

7.      The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I’m currently making my way through the entire collection of Holmes stories/novels and they have not disappointed. While the vast collection might be unreasonable to expect you to read, this is perhaps the best set of short stories that I’ve come across so far.

8.      The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson – I can do no justice to this book by trying to express how wonderful it is. The ending makes me teary-eyed every time I read it. I still refuse to watch the movie because I don’t want to risk the chance of a bad film tarnishing my love for this story. This is one of the best books ever written in my opinion.

9.       Watership Down by Richard Adams - Who doesn't like books where animals talk? While novels like Charlotte's Web and Animal Farm are excellent, this is better than any of them. I've read this book several times and I am still amazed at how wonderful this story is. This is perfect for anyone who loves reading books from the young adult section.

10.      Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie - I wasn't going to do a second King Arthur-related novel on this list, but I couldn't imagine leaving off either of them. This is perhaps the book I've recommended the most over the years. So far everyone who has read it upon my suggestion has loved it, even if they weren't huge fans of the King Arthur stories like I am. Therefore I am going to say that if you read no other book from this list, you should read this one. You won't be disappointed.

Comment and let me know if you, too, have enjoyed reading any of these books. Comment if you don't like any of these books. Or, better yet, comment after reading any of these upon my recommendation. I'd love to know what you think of these books. 

I'd love to know that you are reading.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Curse of Fierabras - Part Four

Part IV - Jerek

           The desperation thrust misses its mark and Dante stumbles past the guard, tripping over his feet. He skids across the dirt floor of the arena. Dirt clings to the open wounds in his side and his thigh, intensifying the sensation of pain. Dante braces himself for the killing blow that will put an end to his agonizing pain. It never comes.
           A stone pillar comes crashing down on top of the guard behind Dante, crushing him. Fragments of the pillar scatter in every direction. The last remaining guard pauses his advance, uncertain about his odds for success. Jerek steps forward with a sword in one hand and a broken dagger in the other.
           “Stay down,” Jerek says as he advances toward the center of the arena. He crouches down low like a cat, ready to pounce. The soldier thrusts with his spear and Jerek pivots to the right. Jerek counters with a quick dagger thrust and the guard shuffles back a few steps to avoid the attack. Jerek presses forward, feinting with the dagger and striking with the sword. The guard continues to give ground, trying to place some distance between them, but Jerek remains in close.
           The figures get smaller as Dante watches the battle unfold between them. Jerek fluidly moves from one attack into the next, keeping the guard off balance. Dante wonders how many men lost their lives to capture Jerek. Nobody could stand a chance in single combat against this swordsman. Jerek backs the guard into a pillar and the guard makes a desperation attack, much like Dante had done moments ago. It was the window of opportunity that Jerek must have been waiting for. The broken dagger pierces into the guard’s shoulder while the sword slices across his midsection. The guard falls to his knees, the spear dropping from his hands.
           A mixture of boos and cheers fill the arena. Small scuffles break out among the crowd. Dante gets to his feet, his muscles aching and sweat dripping down his face. Jerek crosses back over, slipping the sword into an abandoned scabbard. Two dozen of the king’s soldiers come into the arena and encircle the two victorious men. They take Jerek’s sword bind him in chains. Rage flashes in his eyes but he submits to the imprisonment. They chain Dante and then lead the two men back into their cell.
           Neither man says a word as they are placed into the cell and their chains removed. An hour later a loaf of hard bread and a bucket of tepid water are placed in their cell. Both men tear into the food and Dante finally breaks the silence.
           “I’ve never seen anyone fight like you.”
           “Thanks,” Jerek says between mouthfuls of bread.
           “I want to thank you,” Dante looks down at his reflection in the bucket. “If you hadn’t toppled that pillar I would be dead now.”
           “You ever been in a fight, lad?” Dante looks up at Jerek, caught off guard by his question.
           “I’ve sparred in the practice ring back home, but nothing like this.”
           Jerek nods and bends down to take a long drink from the bucket. He looks back up at Dante, droplets of water running down his chin. “What’s your story?”
           “I shouldn’t be here,” Dante says.
           “None of us should. These are bad times we’re living in.”
           Dante nods as he swallows another bite of bread. “About a week ago the Emperor’s army passed through our town. They stayed for two days, eating our food and drinking our ale. All the young men followed them around and staged mock battles, hoping to get drafted into the army. I kept to myself and tended my wares. When they prepared to leave, they told several of the men that they were part of the Emperor’s army now. When they told me that, I refused their offer.”
           Jerek raises an eyebrow at this, pausing mid-bite. “And they didn’t care for that, right?”
           “I was rewarded by being backhanded and then chained up. They brought me here, accusing me of being a member of the Reformation and inciting riotous behavior.”
           “And now you are going to die, here in this arena, because you didn’t want to wear the royal uniform. Why didn’t you accept? They’d at least be giving you better meals than this.”
           “I don’t know, exactly,” says Dante. He had been wondering that same thing ever since they led him to the capital. Why did he refuse? Few people had anything negative to say about the Emperor, and those who did were usually gone by the next day. “I don’t think the Emperor is as good as we’re led to believe. Towns are being found deserted, crops are scarce everywhere, people go missing and no one seems to notice. But he never tries to fix these problems.”
           “So you think they are hiding something?”
           “Yeah, I suppose I do. I’ve heard stories about what things used to be like, back before the Emperor.” The problem is that no one believes those stories. The Emperor has been reigning for as long as most people can remember. The few who do remember usually keep quiet about that. Those who don’t usually go missing, or end up hanging from a tree alongside a road. “What do you think, Jerek?”
    “Things were better before he came along, that’s for sure,” Dante stoops down to take a drink from the bucket. “That’s why I helped start the Restoration.” Dante coughs mid-swallow, unable to believe what he just heard.

Go To: Part Three - The First Battle