Read an Excerpt
A Call for Freedom
Leinad entered Nyland wearing the garb of a knight and mounted on a white stallion named
Freedom. He stopped at the drawbridge and took in the splendor of the majestic castle Pyron Mid. The gate towers stood tall as if to proclaim it an impenetrable fortress that no army in the kingdom could ever hope to seize. If Fairos were to fall, it would be for one reason only: The King wanted it. Such was the case, and so it was that Leinad was chosen to accomplish the impossible. Unsure of the future but obedient to and confident in the King, Leinad was willing to be the King’s sword. And so Leinad had prepared himself to challenge the mightiest force in the entire kingdom. In his heart he knew the King was with him.
The moments passed, and Leinad’s stillness began to draw attention. Normally a visiting nobleman would cross the drawbridge and announce himself to the gate guards. Leinad waited beyond the threshold, a clear message of insult never before witnessed at Pyron Mid. The keeper of the gate called for another guard, and after a short exchange between the two, he called down to Leinad.
“Sir, state your name and your intentions. We shall herald your arrival to Lord Fairos.”
Leinad paused before speaking. “My message is for Fairos only.” Slaves, overseers, and guards within listening distance stopped and gazed at Leinad in growing curiosity.
“Lord Fairos is not expecting visitors, and he will not come dancing to your whims, sir,” the guard replied. “I suggest you depart at once.”
“My message is from the King, and I will wait here until Fairos hears it!”
The gatekeeper and the other guard exchanged words again, and the guard disappeared.
Time passed, and Leinad continued to wait. He suspected that Fairos was in no hurry to respond and was sending his own message by his delay. A general movement of people toward the front of the castle was evident as word of Leinad’s arrival spread.
A group of slaves under the close watch of an overseer was returning to the castle with a supply of bricks. As they passed, an adolescent boy caught Leinad’s eye. Leinad smiled with compassion at the young lad, whose face revealed the weariness and subjection of a slave without hope. In a moment of transformation, the lad’s face brightened in hope and disbelief. He turned to the slave next to him, and Leinad could hear the excitement in his voice.
“It’s Leinad!” he exclaimed.
“Leinad’s dead, boy,” the man retorted. “And this man’s a dead man too.” The man turned to look, but the overseer shouted and cracked his whip above their heads.
Fairos finally appeared on the gate wall above Leinad with an air of authority and arrogance. Keston, the captain of the guards, and five of his men appeared in the gate below a moment later.
“Tell me, sir!” Fairos shouted. “Who is it that insults me with his presence and an absurd message from a make believe king?”
Leinad sat tall upon Freedom. “My name is Leinad, and I come by the authority of the King and by the might of His sword. I do not wish for harm to fall upon you or any of your men. Hear the words of the King: ‘Let My people go!’”
Fairos did not move or respond, but the people did. An audible rumble of voices flowed like a wave around the castle. Keston responded too. Leinad had humiliated Keston before his own men. His anger was obvious. He drew his sword and advanced with the five guards. Partway to the drawbridge, Fairos spoke.
“Hold, Keston!” He paused. “Well, you certainly are not a nobleman, but rather a slave with no name in Nyland.”
“I am no slave, but I am a servant…a servant of the one true King and His people,” Leinad said.
By now all labor had ceased, and most of the castle guards were on the wall or exiting the gate below to see the activity beyond.
“Kill him, Keston!” Fairos commanded.
Keston and the five guards resumed their advance toward the drawbridge. Leinad dismounted on the far side of the bridge and drew his sword. When Keston reached the bridge, he halted his men.
“Stay here–I will finish him myself!” he said.
Leinad walked onto the drawbridge toward the castle. Keston’s gait was sharp and full of fury.
The two met near the middle of the bridge, and Keston did not break his stride or offer the greeting of mutual respect normally exchanged before such a fight.
Keston’s sword struck first with intense aggressiveness. Although Leinad had seen Keston train and fight, he had learned from his father never to underestimate his opponent. He parried Keston’s barrage of cuts and slices and studied him. Keston’s frustration became increasingly obvious as he attacked with combination after combination against an opponent whose defense was flawless. Leinad matched Keston’s speed and power while he held his ground.
“I have no quarrel with you, Keston,” Leinad said. “It is Fairos I must face.”
“You will only face Lord Fairos on your back after I am through with you, bleeding and dying at his feet!” Keston said in a rage. “That sword will belong to me once and for all!”
“Very well, Keston. The choice is yours.”
Leinad deflected Keston’s last offensive cut, and his last cut it was, for Leinad began an advance that brought gasps from the onlookers. With increasing speed and power,
Leinad’s sword sliced through the air faster than Keston could counter. With each break in Keston’s defense, Leinad made precision cuts in his flesh. First, the tip of Leinad’s sword cut through Keston’s left shoulder–then his right thigh–then his abdomen. Within a moment, Keston was bleeding from a dozen places, but his sword arm was still whole. Leinad’s dominance was obvious, and Keston was growing weak from exhaustion and loss of blood. His rage turned to submission and defeat.
In a last-chance effort, Keston tried to deflect a chest high cut and lunged forward with a thrust at Leinad’s chest. Leinad easily parried the thrust to his left and executed a powerful bind on Keston’s sword that forced it from his grip. Without a sword and bleeding from all over his body, Keston fell to his knees before Leinad with his arms open wide.
“Have mercy, Leinad,” Keston pleaded. “My life is in your hands.”
Just then Fairos, full of rage, broke through the crowd and started across the drawbridge.
Leinad stood before Keston with his sword pointed at Keston’s chest. “As I said, Keston, I have no quarrel with you. Swear that you will raise no sword against me or the King’s people, and you shall live.”
A sword cut through his chest from behind.
“You have disgraced me and all of Nyland!” Fairos withdrew his sword from Keston’s body. “No one does this to Lord Fairos and lives!”
Keston fell to the ground and died. Leinad stepped back in horror, amazed that Fairos was capable of such ruthlessness to one of his own. Fairos raised his sword to Leinad with hatred in his eyes.
“You are a worthless slave, and I will dispense with you once and for all.”
The last time Leinad had fought Fairos, he’d faced death at the edge of Fairos’s sword. But that was before he met the King. This time was different, and so was Leinad. His sword belonged to the King, and so did his mission. He remained silent and prepared himself for the fight, for he knew that Fairos had shut his ears to words.
The two men engaged each other. Both were extremely skilled–both were very aware of the other’s mastery. Fairos’s arrogance was obvious, and he made an offensive advance as if to probe Leinad’s abilities. The swords screamed through the air, steel to steel. Fairos brought a powerful slice across Leinad’s torso. Leinad met the sword with the flat of his blade and countered with a quick cut across Fairos’s chest. Fairos could not regain protection with his sword in time and jerked his body backward to escape the deadly edge of Leinad’s blade. Seeing that Fairos was off balance, Leinad brought another slice from the right. Fairos pulled his sword across his body to meet Leinad’s sword, but the force of impact was too much to counter, and the razor sharp edge of Leinad’s sword cut into Fairos’s left shoulder.
Fairos did not flinch from the pain, and the wound did not appear to be deep. He paused and glared at Leinad and then at the blood trickling down his arm. Leinad knew that Fairos had been victorious against many mighty enemies, but he saw something in Fairos’s expression that he had never seen before–fear.
Leinad allowed Fairos his moment of reflection and was thankful for a break to regain his breath and his composure. He was strained but not exhausted. The King had not only trained him beyond mastery, but had conditioned him as well. The few times Leinad had fought outside of training, he had dealt with fear himself. Now, however, there was no fear within him. He was not fighting for his life; he was fighting for the King and for the people. He carried the mission, the sword, and the skill of the King with him.
By now the people watching from the castle and all the other onlookers were nearly still, watching two masters fight to the death. Those on the fringes of the scene were compelled to draw closer.
From the heights of the castle gate wall, Lady Fairos and her son watched with apprehension. “Kill him, Father! Kill him!” the boy screamed.
Leinad readied himself for the next engagement. “The King demands the freedom of His people,” Leinad said sternly. “Release them and no one will die.”
“You are a fool to believe that I would give you that which has made me great,” Fairos said.
Fairos attacked with renewed fury, as a warrior fighting for his life and his reputation. The sound of the clashing swords rang out over the silence of the awestruck crowd. The fight moved from one side of the drawbridge to the other.
Leinad became more aggressive and advanced relentlessly on Fairos until he was nearly off the castle end of the drawbridge. Both men were beginning to tire, but Fairos’s fight began to look desperate. He returned an aggressive combination to put Leinad in retreat. As Leinad moved back, he stumbled over Keston’s body and fell backward onto the drawbridge decking. Fairos, seeing an opportunity to finish the fight, brought a two-handed cut from above his head down toward Leinad, who was lying faceup. Leinad rolled to the side. Fairos’s blade tore into the wood of the decking, just missing Leinad’s shoulder.
Leinad’s rolling maneuver threw him off the drawbridge, and he was just able to stop his plunge into the moat by grabbing the edge with his left hand. He kept his grip on his sword, knowing that Fairos would be on him in an instant. He placed his sword and right hand on the deck of the drawbridge to lift himself, but Fairos slammed his foot down on the flat blade of Leinad’s sword, pinning it to the deck. Leinad looked up into the sneering face of Fairos.
“Well, slave, it looks like you have failed again. I am king here. Your death will be my proclamation!”
Fairos raised his sword to deal his final blow to Leinad. In an instant, Leinad used his left elbow as leverage and pulled with all his might to yank the sword from beneath Fairos’s foot. The smooth steel of the blade slid easily on the decking. Fairos’s foot slid forward with the blade, and he fell backward onto the drawbridge near its edge. Leinad threw his sword on the drawbridge and swung his body away from Fairos and onto the decking. Fairos was preoccupied with keeping himself from falling into the moat, which allowed Leinad enough time to reach his sword.
When the scrambling was over, the two men once again faced each other.
The fight wore on, the two swords a relentless blur. The onlookers continued to assemble and position themselves for a better view.
Leinad drove the fight hard, and Fairos could only defend and retreat. The endurance of the prime of youth, the masterful training of the King, and the sword of deliverance overcame the ruthlessness of a battle experienced warrior and his arrogance. Leinad’s continual barrage of powerful and precisely placed cuts eventually drove Fairos to the ground and onto his back. His sword was still in hand, but there was no more fight in him. With one final massive crosscut, Fairos’s sword was blown from his grip. It skidded across the drawbridge and plunged into the murky waters of the moat below.
The mighty Lord Fairos lay helpless before his “slave.” Both men were breathing hard, and sweat poured from their faces.
“I will not plead for mercy like Keston, slave,” Fairos said with disgust between breaths.
Leinad stood over Fairos with the shining blade of his sword aimed at Fairos’s chest. “Let the people go, Fairos,” Leinad commanded.
“I will never let them go. You will have to kill me!”
Leinad looked at the guards, overseers, and slaves–all stunned, waiting for his action. He didn’t want any more bloodshed. If he killed Fairos, the loyal guards could turn the scene into a massacre of the slaves. He needed Fairos to order the release of the people. It would be the only peaceful way to free them. He looked down at Fairos and stared into his eyes.
“No, Fairos, I will not kill you. I will do something far worse than that to you. I will let you live. You will live with the shame that a lowly slave on a mission from the King defeated you.” He withdrew his sword and held it high in the air. He turned and faced the people.
“People of Nyland!” he shouted. “Let it be known that by the might of the King’s sword, mighty Fairos was defeated. I challenge Fairos to another contest tomorrow. If he defeats me, I will serve as a slave under his hand until my heart beats no more. If I am victorious, let this be proof that the King reigns and that He will bring judgment upon you for enslaving His people.”
Leinad sheathed his sword and glared at Fairos once more. “If there is any honor left in you, meet me here tomorrow.”
“I will meet you and kill you, slave!” Fairos said.
Leinad walked past him to his horse, Freedom. TESS HAD BEEN WITH A large procession of slaves returning with a new load of bricks for the castle when she first saw the crowd gathered about the drawbridge. As the slave caravan moved closer, Tess watched the last sequence of the fight between the two men and sensed something familiar about one of them, even from a distance.
She tried to move faster, but the nearest overseer detained her. Her mind dared not think the impossible, but she could not quench the hope rising within her heart. For weeks she had mourned the death of Leinad. Then, when he spoke to the crowd, she felt as though her stomach flipped within her. She broke from the other slaves and ran toward the drawbridge despite the severe punishment she knew she would receive. The mere thought that her dearest friend might still be alive was all she needed to abandon caution and seek out the truth.
Leinad had finished speaking as she passed Barak at the head of the slave caravan.
“Leinad!” she called.
Barak released the coils of his whip and unleashed a vicious lash toward her back. “Back in line, slave!” he bellowed as the tip of his whip tore into her back.
Tess screamed and fell to the ground in pain. Barak took a couple steps forward to execute more punishment, but Leinad heard her call and her scream. He drew his sword and quickly covered the distance between them.
Barak’s whip split the air again, racing to tear more flesh on Tess’s back. Leinad precisely crosscut with his sword just above her head and cleanly severed one-third of Barak’s whip. Leinad slowed his approach but continued toward Barak with the wrath of a protective tiger. No one around challenged or stopped him, for he had just beaten the best swordsman in all of Nyland.
Barak retreated a few steps, then pulled back what remained of his whip and directed a lash toward Leinad this time. Leinad sliced the next third off the whip. Barak threw what remained of his whip at Leinad and fell back against a cart full of bricks.
“Stop him!” Barak yelled to the other overseers, but they did not move.
Leinad closed in on Barak and pressed the tip of his sword into the fat of Barak’s neck. He glared into Barak’s pale white face with fire in his eyes. Barak looked like a frightened cornered rat.
“Many slaves have died at your evil hands, Barak,” Leinad said. “If you ever harm another slave, I will hunt you down and bring justice by the edge of my sword. I swear it!”
Leinad turned back to Tess. She was already on her feet and running to him. She leapt and hugged him with both arms locked around his neck.
“Hello, Sunshine,” he said, gently returning her embrace.
“I thought you were dead,” she said tearfully, still clinging to his neck.
“So did I. But the King brought me back.”
She stepped back and looked into his face as if to reassure herself that he was real.
“Let’s get out of here, Tess,” he said, and they walked to Freedom.
Just before they mounted, Leinad saw Fairos walk over to Keston’s body, pick up his sword, and return to the castle. The humiliation he had just experienced seemed to fuel his anger with every step. When he reached his guards across the drawbridge, he stopped and pointed to one of them.
“You! Draw your sword!”
The guard hesitantly drew his sword, and Fairos attacked him. The guard defended himself as best he could, but Fairos quickly ran him through, and he fell dead at Fairos’s feet. Fairos pointed to another.
“Draw your sword!” he commanded.
Again, another fell. Then another, until all of his guards cowered before him. He threw Keston’s sword to the ground and pointed toward Leinad.
“I am Lord Fairos! Tomorrow he dies! Double the work shifts of all slaves!” Fairos turned and entered the gates of his castle.
Leinad mounted Freedom and pulled Tess onto the horse behind him. “Have faith, people!” he called. “The King will set you free. Have faith!”
Leinad took Tess to the sanctity of the countryside to let her taste freedom once again…at least for a day.
From the Trade Paperback edition.