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A Dark Champion
By MacGregor, Kinley
Avon BooksISBN: 0060565411
Come and sit with me a moment, friend and pilgrim, for I have a tale to tell that many of you have never heard before.
It is one of honor and friendship. One of bravery and nobility. One of strength and loyalty. It is a tale of boys who became men, not because they aged in years, but because they walked through the very fires of hell, arm in arm, back to back, defiant and bold with only one code of honor between them.
We all survive.
We all go home.
We are brothers unto the end.
It is said that the strongest steel is forged by Satan's fires. I have witnessed this myself. For I was once one of their number. Captured in a land known by many as Outremer or the Holy Land, and held as hostage by my enemies, it was there that I found these amazing men.
There were fifty of them in my cell. Cramped and cold, tired, beaten, and worn. But not defeated. Nay, these men could never be defeated.
Not by anything born of this earth.
Though I knew them for young men, and in some cases mere boys, they looked as haggard as any old beggar. Their faces were lined by horror and starvation, their clothes tattered and shredded, their bodies scarred and bleeding from old wounds and new. Still, they fought on with a strength of will that amazes me unto this day.
Out of fifty, five of them emerged as our leaders: the Wraith, who moved with stealth and secrecy while he ran interference with our guards; the Scot, who sacrificed himself for others so that they would not be punished; the Widowmaker, who watched over us and planned our escape; the Sorcerer, who was able to distract and steal whatever we needed; and the Abbot, whose scholarly ways and unending faith reminded us that we were still human even though we lived as animals in a filthy cage.
We named the five of them the Quinfortis, a Latin term that means the strength of five. They kept our spirits and hope alive every day as our captors sought to break us. Without them none of us would ever have made it home.
We would be dead now.
All of us.
It is in their honor that this chanson is written.
I met the man the Brotherhood termed the Widowmaker on the first day of my incarceration. His face had been so misshapen by a beating that he reminded me of some horrid monster. But it was his eyes that seared me.
Intelligent and sharp, they had seen right through me. He offered me his hand, as he had done the others who had been taken against their will, and told me that so long as he breathed, I would be protected.
He meant that.
On the night of our escape from hell, seven men stayed behind to cover our trail.
The Quinfortis, the Phantom, and the Pagan.
While we boarded a boat for home, the seven of them bravely faced our pursuers, alone with nothing more than their bare hands to protect them. Even now, years later, I can still clearly remember the sight of them in the moonlight as they fought like possessed champions while we ran at their behest.
The Wraith, the Scot, the Widowmaker, the Sorcerer, the Abbot, the Phantom, and the Pagan. Men who refused to use their God-given names while imprisoned since they had been reduced to animals forced to fight for bare sustenance.
Men who are bound by their scars and oaths to each other, and by the brand on their right hand that their enemies had placed there to remind them always of that time in the past when they were beasts.
But on the night of our escape, they weren't animals. They weren't men nor were they boys.
They were legends.
The kind of legends whose courage and selflessness should never be forgotten.
I have already told the tale of the Wraith in Midsummer's Knight, about the blessings that have since come upon Simon of Ravenswood.
It is time now that I write of another.
The Widowmaker who is best known to the world as Lord Stryder, earl of Blackmoor -- a man of many secrets and strengths.
A man who has fought all his life and who has yet to realize the beauty that can be found off the battlefield.
And for those of youwho are curious,my name, like those of the others, was hidden during my captivity. The Brotherhood gave me my own special moniker. I usemy Christian name now, but for the purposes of introducing theworld to the heroes I know, you may call me simply the Minstrel. I am a wandering bard, ever seekingmy own peace from the pastwhile I make sure that everyone knows of the personal sacrifices of the men who made up our company.
And now here begins the official tales of The Brotherhood of the Sword ...Continues...
Excerpted from A Dark Champion by MacGregor, Kinley Excerpted by permission.
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