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Excerpt for Shield Knight: Apprentice by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

SHIELD KNIGHT: APPRENTICE

Jonathan Moeller

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Description




Antenora is the apprentice of the Keeper of Andomhaim, and she might be the only hope of the Keeper ever finding her way home.

But Antenora has made many enemies, and they are coming to take vengeance upon her...

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Shield Knight: Apprentice

Copyright 2019 by Jonathan Moeller.

Smashwords Edition.

Cover image copyright RF License : STANDARD | Print & Web | Unlimited Digital Impressions, up to 250,000 Prints neostock-s020-liepa-dark-witch-42 - Original file (2938x4589 pixels) & ID 92835340 © Kelpfish | Dreamstime.com.

Ebook edition published March 2019.


All Rights Reserved.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.

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Author’s Note




This novella takes place during the events of SEVENFOLD SWORD: TOWER.




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Chapter 1: Exhaustion




Gavin wasn’t sure what to do, so he went to the bakery.

He was a Swordbearer, a Knight of the Order of the Soulblade, but the city of Tarlion was the best-defended place in the High King’s realm of Andomhaim. He held a benefice as a vassal of his friend Dux Constantine Licinius of the Northerland, but the Northerland was far away. Gavin would have preferred to leave for the Northerland weeks ago, but as long as the Keeper was in Owyllain, Antenora would remain at the Tower of the Keeper.

Should Gavin leave for the Northerland without Antenora and the children? He disliked the thought immensely. Gavin had duties in the Northerland, and Dux Constantine needed his sword. But Antenora also needed his help, and if he left, Gavin feared that she would neglect both herself and the children. She loved their sons, but she could get so wrapped up in her work that she forgot about everything else.

Perhaps he would ride with Tarlion’s garrison on its patrols. Tarlion was the heart of the realm, but there were still entrances to the Deeps along the coast, and sometimes kobolds and deep orcs emerged to raid the outlying villages and farms. Gavin didn’t hope for any trouble, but it would give him something to do.

To clear his mind, he went to the bakery.

It was a little past dawn, and the streets of Tarlion were full of traffic. Tradesmen went to their workshops, while laborers went to the docks. Fishermen hauled their catches to the forums to sell, and messengers in the colors of various nobles rode through the streets, their horseshoes ringing against the flagstones. Most of the houses of Tarlion were built of brick or white stone quarried from the nearby bluffs, roofed in fired clay tiles or greening copper. Gavin saw the proud battlements of the Citadel rising on its crag, the pale shaft of the Tower of the Moon tall against the blue morning sky. Below the Citadel he saw the spires of the Great Cathedral, the Tower of the Magistri and the Castra of the Swordbearers, and the white shape of the Tower of the Keeper as well.

Martia’s bakery was on the Via Panem off the Forum of the North, and the air smelled of both wood smoke and baking bread. Some of the bakeries specialized in elaborate cakes and tarts, while others produced loaves of rough bread in great quantities to sell to the poor of the city. Martia’s bakery was one of the larger ones, a squat building of red brick with a dozen chimneys for its various ovens. Gavin opened the front door and went inside, and the wave of heat hit him like a physical blow. Martia’s apprentices and workers had completed the baking for the day, and hundreds of loaves were stacked on tables, waiting to be picked up or delivered.

“Gavin, lad!” said a rough voice.

Gavin turned and grinned. “Camorak.”

The Magistrius stepped towards him. When Gavin had met Camorak nine years ago at Dun Licinius, Camorak had the bloodshot eyes of an excessive drinker and the gaunt frame of a man who did not take care of himself very well. Camorak looked much healthier these days. In fact, he was getting downright paunchy, probably because his wife liked to make cakes and he liked to eat them. Most Magistri wore the white robe of their order, bound with a black sash around the waist. Camorak never liked that, so he instead wore boots and trousers and a tunic beneath a long white coat that was turning gray at the hems from dust.

“Magistrius,” said Gavin. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“Nah, I was just on my way to the Tower of the Magistri,” said Camorak. He clapped Gavin on the shoulder. “Martia! We’ve got a visitor.”

Camorak’s wife hurried over and smiled when she saw Gavin. Martia was a sturdy woman with a pretty face – not fat, but strong, likely from years spent kneading dough with her hands. She wore a gray dress with an apron, her graying hair tied back from her face with a kerchief, a faint sheen of perspiration on her forehead.

“Sir Gavin,” said Martia, and she performed a quick curtsy. “It is good to see you. How are the children?”

“Healthy,” said Gavin. “And loud. Well, Philip is loud, anyway. Carlon mostly watches his brother shout at things.”

“Aye, sir knight, boys are like that,” said Martia. “Our boy Mallister is at the parish school today, learning his numbers and his letters from the priest. It will be good for him, but he had a devil of a time learning to sit still long enough.” She smiled. “Would you like to join us for some breakfast?”

“That would be very kind,” said Gavin.

They retreated to a table in the corner of the bakery, and Martia produced a tray with some bread and a pitcher of watered wine. The bread was fresh and hot, and the wine spiced. Gavin ate, noticing that he drew a few odd looks from the workers. Not many Swordbearers would visit a bakery themselves. Which Gavin thought was a shame, since it would do many of his fellow Knights of the Soulblade good to visit the people of the city. Then again, he didn’t draw as many odd looks as he would have thought since he visited Martia’s bakery whenever he was in Tarlion and Martia herself was married to a Magistrius.

“I hope you don’t mind that the loaves are misshapen,” said Martia. “These are the ones we can’t sell at full price, the ones that don’t turn out quite right.”

“Not at all,” said Gavin. “They are delicious.”

“Besides,” said Camorak around a mouthful of bread. He still had a soldier’s rough manners. “Sir Gavin is worried about something.”

“Aye,” admitted Gavin.

“What troubles you, sir?” said Martia.

“Antenora,” said Gavin. “She is working too hard trying to find a way to bring the Keeper and the Shield Knight back to Andomhaim.”

“If anyone can work out how to do it, she can,” said Camorak. He broke off another chunk of bread. “When it comes to magic, I’m like a candle, but she’s a forest fire.”

“Literally,” said Gavin, remembering the time Antenora had burned down a large part of the forest in the Vale of Stone Death to cover their escape from the Anathgrimm and the Mhorites.

“Heh,” said Camorak. “True enough. Besides, I’m only really good at healing. She’s good at all aspects of magic.”

“But I think this is beyond her reach,” said Gavin, voice quiet. “That will not stop her. She will try to build a mighty spell or a magical device to reach across the miles and bring Ridmark and Calliande back here, but I fear that is beyond the limits of her strength. She shall exhaust herself in the effort, and I worry that she will do herself harm.” He shook his head. “I have duties to Dux Constantine in the Northerland, and I should have left for Castra Marcaine weeks ago.”

“You could go without her,” said Camorak. “Common enough for the womenfolk to remain behind while the men go to war. Hell, it’s even normal unless your wife is the apprentice of the Keeper of Andomhaim. You have those halfling nurses, aye? Rotrude and her daughters?” Gavin nodded. “They’ll look after the children.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to leave Antenora,” said Gavin, staring into his wine. “She might push herself too hard. I think it is impossible for even her to find a way to transport Ridmark and Calliande through magic, and if I am not here to remind her to eat and sleep, she will work herself until she is ill.” He took another long breath. “And if those Maledicti sorcerers come after her again…”

“Heard about that,” said Camorak, the good cheer vanishing from his voice. “Some undead warlocks from across the sea tried to kill Antenora and the dwarven ambassador from Khald Tormen, didn’t they? Lord Corbanic was right furious.”

“They were there to kill Antenora because she had been aiding the Keeper against these Maledicti creatures,” said Gavin. “And if I hadn’t been there, they might have done it.”

“Those Maledicti transported themselves here from Owl…from Owe…” said Camorak.

“Owyllain,” said Gavin.

“That place,” said Camorak. “Could Antenora…I don’t know, work out how they did it? She’s clever enough to do it.”

“Maybe,” said Gavin. “But the Maledicti are centuries old, and they were more powerful than her. Calliande told me that undead creatures can often summon greater magical force than living men and women since the undead don’t have to worry about accidentally killing themselves.” He shook his head. “I’m worry she’ll push too hard and hurt herself.”

“You are a good man, Gavin Swordbearer,” said Martia, her voice quiet. “Some men, if their wives frustrate them…they would beat their wives into obedience.”

“That would be unknightly,” said Gavin. And he loved Antenora, though she exasperated and baffled him at times. No doubt he did the same to her. He loved her and couldn’t imagine himself hurting her for any reason…which was why he did not want her to hurt herself.

“It seems improper for me to offer counsel to a knight and a Swordbearer,” said Martia.

Gavin smiled. “I don’t think that would stop you.”

“Probably not, no,” said Martia. “But she might need you to distract her.”

“Distract her?” said Gavin.

“Get her pregnant again, lad,” said Camorak.

Martia’s gave her husband an arch look. “Or find something else to hold her attention. Maybe something with the children, or perhaps something in the city. Or maybe someone who needs healing.”

“She hasn’t been to the Court of Novices in the Tower of the Magistri for a while,” said Gavin. It was customary for the Magistri to sit there and offer magical healing to anyone who needed it, though many of the commoners were so frightened of the Magistri that they only came to the Tower when desperate. “Perhaps that could…”

Camorak snapped his fingers. “I’ve got an idea.”

“What is it?” said Gavin.

“Caius is coming to the city this afternoon,” said Camorak.

“Caius?” said Gavin, and he smiled. “As in Brother Caius?”

“Bishop Caius, now,” said Camorak. “The bishop of the dwarves, they’re calling him. But after the Maledicti tried to kill the dwarven ambassador, High King Arandar sent a message of apology to King Axazamar in Khald Tormen. Caius and his escort are carrying Axazamar’s answer, and they’re due to arrive this afternoon.”

“How did you know this?” said Gavin. “I hadn’t even heard that.”

“Well, one of the novices I’ve been teaching is the youngest son of the new Comes of Westhold,” said Camorak. “His older brother is a knight of the High King’s household, and he heard it in the Citadel when the advance messenger came from the dwarves.”

“It’s a wonder anything can be kept secret in this city,” said Martia in a dry voice.

“It is,” said Camorak. He took another drink of the watered wine. “It really is.”

“She would like to see Caius again,” said Gavin. “In fact, she would feel obligated to see him. We traveled to a lot of different places in the old days.”

“We did a lot of mad and dangerous things in the old days,” said Camorak, “and we’re only still alive by the grace of God. How we didn’t get killed a dozen times over, I’ll never know.”

“You weren’t even with us for Urd Morlemoch and Khald Azalar,” said Gavin.

Camorak shuddered. “Now there’s something I don’t regret.”

Martia smiled and squeezed her husband's hand. “Well, I am glad you survived.”

“That is a good idea, bringing her to see Caius,” said Gavin. “Thank you. I think I’ll do that.”

Camorak grunted. “I give advice to young people all day. About damn time one of them listened!”




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A half hour later, Gavin walked into the library of the Tower of the Keeper.

It was a round room of stone, with ample light admitted by the narrow windows. The walls between the high windows were lined with bookshelves, and the shelves overflowed with books and folios and scrolls and even a few small stone tablets. Here were found rare and forbidden books located nowhere else in the realm of Andomhaim.

Gavin’s wife sat at a table, surrounded by a dozen books, a frown on her pretty face as she read.

Antenora was fifteen centuries old, but she did not look it. She looked like a woman of Gavin’s own age, maybe even a little younger. She had vivid blue eyes and black hair that hung to her hips in curly masses, though at the moment, it was tied back to keep it out of her eyes. Today she was wearing a simple blue gown, her staff propped next to her against the table. Her expression was intent as she read a book, and from time to time she scribbled something down in a small notebook. Gavin glanced at the book, but he didn’t recognize the words or the alphabet.

“A good book?” said Gavin.

Antenora blinked, looked up at him in surprise, and smiled. “Not particularly, I fear. One of the first Keepers found it in a dark elven ruin. I suspect it is an orcish translation of a dark elven book of spells.” She grimaced. “I had hoped to find clues to working a spell of travel here, but the orcish warlock who translated this book inserted his own commentary. His thoughts, I fear, are neither comprehensible nor brief.”

“That is unfortunate,” said Gavin. He wasn’t sure what to say, so he decided to plunge right in. “Caius should be arriving in Tarlion today.”

Antenora blinked again. “Is he?”

Gavin nodded. “The dwarven ambassador reported the attack of the Maledicti to Khald Tormen, and King Axazamar sent a message back. I think he chose Caius to bring it.”

Antenora laughed. “Likely King Axazamar wants a few weeks of peace and quiet without preaching. I understand the church in Khald Tormen has been growing, and King Axazamar is very aged by dwarven standards. Likely Caius wants to baptize the King before he dies.”

“Probably,” said Gavin. “Lord Corbanic will be greeting Caius at the gate, and I thought we could meet him there. Maybe bring Philip and Carlon.” Antenora frowned. “We went into a lot of danger with Caius in the old days, so it would be good to see him again.”

“The old days,” murmured Antenora. “It still seems very recent for me. I suppose we see time differently.”

“I suppose,” said Gavin. “But I know what you mean, at least a little. It’s been nine years since we met, I know…but it sometimes seems like yesterday.” He had traveled so many miles and seen so many battles since he had left Aranaeus with Ridmark and Calliande all those years ago, but it sometimes seemed like it had only happened this morning.


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