The Wounded King Chapter One: The Mask of Velgovis There is a saying among the Caldane Order: that a story begun in blood will never wash itself. It will be steeped from start to finish and teach us nothing. It was the belief of their founder, Saint Pleodine, that if the junctures of paradise could be documented, then man might prevail against the calamaties that befell all things. His interest was in first causes, in original states and pre-conditions - in the way things were before they went awry. With this he drew the destitute and the dreamers and made of them an order offering wisdom to those in power. They won mixed fortune, as any who would bring a moral compass to the realm of politics. A noble seeking reform; a chieftain wanting godly validation; a minister struggling with the weight of office. By their generosity the Order would wend its way, and with each footstep leave the whisper: that perfect things may be kept so with neither tears nor bloodshed. It is thus a mercy and a tragedy that those monks would never realise... that with their deaths would begin the greatest story our world has ever known... One day had passed. No more. Tristan had fled Elswich in the dead of night, as the barbarians put his village to the sword. He had carried a message, from the last of the monks to die, and then had himself been struck by an arrow. He had passed out at the gates of Argeria, then had had that message stolen from him by the local thieves guild. And in the bloody deeds of reclaiming that scroll he had made the fast friends and allies who now accompanied him. But still, only a day had passed. Now, as sunlight stirred behind the smoke clouds and pierced the treetops of Clendale Forest, Tristan Faulkner stood again in the village of Elswich. And he beheld the ruin. More than leaf litter on the ground. More than fruit in the trees. Those bodies the barbarians had not strung up had been left amid the rubble of burned homes and trampled fences. All was washed in a pall of smoke, from fires which had burned throughout yesterday, as Tristan and his allies rode from Argeria. The church had been gutted, every valuable plundered, and the women and children hidden there made captives of the Hill Tribes. They had been dragged away as the village burned, past a horror-gauntlet of slaughtered men. And the livestock had been taken with them. Tristan came down off his horse and picked his way through the aftermath. His allies were dismounting behind him and conducting their own searches: Kendrick, the man who had funded this journey; Juliet, another survivor of the barbarian raids; Desmond, the traveller they had picked up on the road; Scar, an old acquaintance of Kendrick's; Arlette, an apothecary who had agreed to help Tristan through the worst of his fever; Sable, a one-time student in the Caldane Order; and then Xavier and Brill, two rough-looking Southlanders who had helped Tristan regain the scroll in Argeria. A fellowship of nine, forged by circumstance and promise. Now humbled in the sight of tragedy. In time Tristan found his bestiary. The house which he had lived in since his father's time had been razed to the ground, and amongst the ruin were remains of birds and dogs and rodents - anything the marauders had not deemed fit for food or training. And of course the body of the priest, Friar Jaime, who had burst into his Tristan's stables in the dead of night, passing him a scroll before falling to the blade of a charging marauder. It had all happened so quickly. Tristan had saddled a horse and fled the village, just as the barbarians began their attack. They had been following one priest... just one survivor of the butchered Caldane Order... and for this a hundred villagers had shared their fate. Now Tristan sat in the ruins, staring at the desolation, speechless. And in his hand was the sword... the falchion he had taken from one of the barbarians as he fled... a weapon of fine Western steel... a weapon that no barbarian should have carried. Someone had sent the barbarians here. Someone had driven them to kill the monks then chase the last survivor here, to Elswich. And of one more thing he was certain. The scroll in his saddlebag, the one the priest had given him, the one he had almost lost in Argeria... was the reason for all of this. The bodies of villagers swung in the corner of his vision, hung from the trees. Tristan forced his eyes shut.