The Wounded King Chapter One: Ardia's Quest 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... "Tristan..." Two bodies littered the bestiary floor. Tristan had hit the first - broken a clay pot across his head - but was too late to save the second. Friar Jaime, his friend of nineteen days, lay bleeding. Stepping over the assassin, Tristan knelt beside the old man, gripping trembling fingers slick with blood. "Brother... I'm sorry..." There were torches in the woodland. He could see them through the stable door. And the panic of his animals - the squawking ravens, howling dogs and straining horse - told him all he needed of the nature of those pursuing the monk. Cries of alarm were going up amongst the villagers of Elswich. The friar convulsed. Had the assassin not buried his blade so deep in the old man's back then Tristan would never have got the drop on the intruder. By taking this wound Jaime had saved the young falconer's life. The monk's hand shifted, gripping, pressing a tiny scroll to Tristan's palm. "Take it, boy.... it's all that matters..." There were tears in Tristan's eyes, perhaps the adrenaline of hitting the intruder who had chased the friar in here. Or maybe a reflection of the grief in the old man's faltering eyes. "Jaime... I don't know what..." A scream cut the night air. The first watchman had fallen to the marauders. They were coming across the ditches, raiding the outer homes. "Go now... you must go..." Jaime's voice was a wheeze caught in bloodied lungs. He closed Tristan's fingers around the scroll then let his arm drop, his body subsiding into the pooling blood. "No... what... I..." More screams. The horse in the stall was snorting and reeling, an embodiement of the panic sweeping through Elswich. Tristan's other arm reached out and took the assassin's short sword. He could feel the lightness of the Western steel... the hilt wrapped in hemp... the sheath's seasoned leather. His other hand felt only the scroll, heavier than the sword by the weight of Jaime's sacrifice. He could not think of the blade - of what it implicated. Nor could he think of the friar, nor the fate of his animals, nor the villagers he had spent his life with. He could not think, could not feel. His legs carried him to the far stall, where he untied the bucking horse. There was no time to saddle it. Hauling onto its back, he let it bolt towards the stable door that had swung open as Jaime staggered in here. "Tristan!" A man, a farmer, had appeared in the doorway, moonlight painting terror on his features. "It's the only horse!" "I'm sorry!" He did not stop the steed. It knocked the villager aside and took Tristan out into the screams and darkness. The village, like a single beast, was squealing as the marauders entered. With a twist of the reins the horse steered westward and vaulted the ditch. It carried him away... ...out into the night... He would ride until morning, to the town of Argeria... where even now there waited the companions who would change the world with him.