Hi guys! I’m sure you heard me talking about my upcoming fantasy book by now (The Myth of Kalvartr). I posted up a cover on my facebook page not too long ago (you can see it here) and there is a sample of the first chapter on my personal website (here). But now I’m going to post another viewpoint of my story: a character named William Snowbourne. This will be the second chapter of my novel, but for the first time I will be posting it up for everyone to read. Enjoy!
Chapter Two: The Great Hunt
A roaring fire filled the hall. The hearth had been there since the time of Luthin, the first king of the Frozen Lands, and by tradition it was lit each morning. Long tables surrounded the great fire in the wide hall, and they were covered with plates of spiced meats, a variety of stews, baskets of bread, sweetened rolls, and jugs of ale and wine.
Palites, citizens of the Frozen Lands and of Stormhaven, the capital city, were sitting to these tables. A grand feast was underway this night, celebrating the results of the Great Hunt – a ceremony held once a year in which hunters competed against one another to bring home the largest prey to honour the God of the Hunt. The King, Lord Ferriden Greymane, was near the fire congratulating the victor this year, a rather large man with a bushy beard. His wife, Queen Elorana, was sitting next to their daughter, Princess Tanya, at the table reserved for the royal court. Both were fair-haired and usually slim, though the Queen was expecting another child.
William Snowbourne swirled the wine around in his cup and watched the King recite the customary words that followed each year’s competition. He knew them by heart.
‘… and let us give thanks to the God of the Hunt, for providing us with the means of gathering food in our hostile country!’ He kissed the wolf pendant around his neck, and several others chimed in their agreement. ‘Now, my brothers and sisters, let us finish our feasting and return home with the blessing of fulfilment and prosperity!’ He clapped the victor on the shoulder and returned him to his table.
William drained the rest of his wine and rose out of his seat. Now that the ceremony words had been spoken, it was no longer considered rude to leave. He picked up his fur coat from the table and started down the long hall to the great doors that blocked out the coldness of the Frozen Lands.
He stopped. Normally he would ignore such a call, pretend he did not hear it and leave, but it was the King who called and so he could not disregard it.
‘Yes, my lord?’ William turned to see him approach. He was a middle-aged man with fair hair that hung about his shoulders and a short, braided beard. He wore white and silver fur and a circlet encased with the finest emeralds.
‘Are you leaving already?’ asked King Ferriden.
‘Nothing escapes your notice, my lord,’ replied William, twisting up his expression.
Ferriden chuckled and put an arm around William’s shoulders, leading him back towards the fire. ‘You mock me, William. Your father would have beaten you for it.’
‘Then it is suitable that he is dead, otherwise I would have been beaten on many occasions,’ retorted William.
‘It is a good thing your father and I were close friends,’ said Ferriden. ‘Otherwise I would have beaten you myself by now.’ He saw the grim look on the other’s face and shook his head. ‘William, you must learn to forget the past. How many evenings have you sulked away from good food and good company within my hall? I am beginning to lose count.’
‘You need not worry, my lord,’ said William, staring grimly into the flames. ‘I simply do not enjoy crowds, is all.’
Ferriden snorted. ‘Lies! You were the heart of my hall once! You did not even enter the Great Hunt this year. What else am I supposed to think?’
‘That I have grown out of hunting and celebrations,’ replied William.
Ferriden leaned in towards him, his frown deepening. ‘Do not lie to me, Snowbourne. It has been almost two years since her passing. You must learn to let go, to forget what happened. No good can come by lingering.’
‘I will linger if I want,’ said William darkly. He glanced towards the double-doors again. ‘May I leave now, my lord?’
The King eyed him warily and then slowly nodded. ‘Yes, you may go. But heed my words; else your life will become a very empty one.’
‘It is quite empty already.’ William bowed his head to the King, then to the Queen and Princess. ‘Your Highnesses.’
He then left the King by the fire and threw on his coat to embrace the chill outside. It was a calm night with a clear sky, and William was able to see every guiding star. The King had chosen a perfect day for the Great Hunt to take place.
Once, William had looked forward to the hunt, prepared for it for many days, but now it was another reminder of the one he lost.
He grasped the rings hanging around his neck and held them tightly as he trudged through the snow. His house was not far from the King’s Hall, nestled amongst a few other homes away from the vendors of the town. He passed the inn, the windows dark and lonely. No one would be there tonight, not even the innkeeper. Everyone gathered at the King’s Hall for the Great Hunt, even those with businesses that demanded their presence. To not show up would be offensive to the God of the Hunt.
William reached his doorway and kicked the snow off his boots before entering. He shut the door behind him and hung up his coat. It was a small home, cosy for a single man. A hearth was at the back wall and a bed positioned nearby. The kitchen consisted of a washing area and a few cupboards. A trapdoor opened up to reveal a set of stairs that led below into an icy storeroom.
William sat on the chair in front of the fire and pulled off his boots, placing them close to the hearth to melt away the leftover snow. He then picked up a jug of wine on the nearby end table and poured up a tankard full. The Frozen Lands had many wineries, making the best wine in the world, and William was sure that this mug full would not be his last tonight.
‘Look at you,’ he murmured, ‘drinking in front of the fire every night. You would think you had better things to do.’
Truthfully, there were many activities to do within town, and more out of town. Sitting at home in the glow of the fire would not bring meat to his table, or money to his pocket. The King had been very generous with him when Sonia had died, filling his cellar with food and giving him a considerable amount of silver. They were not gifts he would have given to any man, but to a friend.
William looked down at the rings around his neck. They were both silver, but one was lined with gold specks. That one was Sonia’s, his late wife. He was not prepared to be widowed in his early twenties. Surely the gods were very unkind in their plans for him. He was not even left with a child to ease his wife’s passing. No son to show her strength, no daughter to show her beauty. He was utterly alone.
‘Curses,’ he muttered, dropping the rings against his chest. His mind had wandered off again. He tried very hard to keep his past buried, but somehow it still managed to slip past his defences and surface. He drained his cup of wine and started to pour another when a noise outside startled him.
The mug clattered noisily to the floor and William cursed and hastily picked it up. He moved to the window and looked out, curious of what could have caused such a sound. He saw the torchbearers standing tall along the wooden wall that surrounded the town, unaffected by the noise.
Perhaps they did not hear it, thought William.
Yet to not hear the deranged scream was surprising.
William pulled on his boots, warm on his feet now, and pulled a torch from the stack in the corner. He lit it in the fire and journeyed back outside, his curiosity getting the better of him.
His breath left a trail in the air, and after some amount of shivering he realized that he had left his coat inside. He tried to ignore the cold as he made his way around his house, moving the torch to illuminate dark corners. When he circled back around to his doorway he stepped inside for a moment to retrieve his fur jacket and then continued his search around the nearby houses. Surely the noise had been close for him to have heard it while inside his home.
Yet once all of his footsteps joined into one path, William gave up his hunt for the noise and headed back towards his own house. Perhaps he had imagined the scream, haunted by his memories of the past. The guards had not heard it, after all.
A spot of red in the snow caused William to halt his steps. He lowered the torch towards it, examining the spot. It was clearly blood, yet he wanted it to be wine or dye. A similar spot appeared, staining the snow. Then another and another.
William cautiously looked up, slowly and fearfully. The hair on the back of his neck rose. There was a body upon a roof, visible in the moonlight. Blood dripped from its fingertips onto the ground below from defensive wounds upon its hand.
The torch William was holding dropped to the ground, hissing as it died in the snow. He backed away from the house, frightened not by the sight of a bloody body, but by the way this man had been killed. He recognized the wounds from his past. At the time it had been declared animal induced. Clearly the healers had been wrong. No animal could have done this.
Which meant Sonia’s death was actually a murder.
William found himself running, not to the comfort of his own home, but to the King’s Hall. He slowed his pace as he neared, trying to regain some form of composure. He could not just burst into the hall and declare his news to everyone. He did not want to bring panic amongst the people. Only the King should know.
Taking a deep breath, William re-entered the King’s Hall. Some people turned to watch him, surprised that he should return, but King Ferriden was looking delighted, if not a bit smug, possibly thinking that his words had some effect upon his young friend. He waltzed across the hall to meet him.
‘I knew you would come back,’ said the King, handing William a cup, but the latter declined and shook his head. ‘What is wrong now? Lost your taste for wine?’
‘I must speak with you,’ whispered William. ‘It is urgent.’
King Ferriden studied him for a moment or two, unused to seeing his friend behave this way, and nodded. ‘Very well.’ He addressed the people next. ‘I am to disappear for a moment! When I return, I expect the fat boar to not be all eaten!’
The hall roared with laughter as Ferriden pulled William into a room off to the side. He shut the door behind them. ‘What is it, Will?’ he asked.
‘A dead body,’ William blurted out, ‘upon a roof in the housing area.’
Ferriden paled and placed his goblet upon the table in the room. It was the charting table, yet it had not been in use for many months, it seemed.
‘A dead body,’ repeated Ferriden, ‘upon a roof. Are you sure it was on a roof? Are you sure –’
‘Yes, yes!’ said William impatiently. ‘I know what I saw!’ He took a deep breath. ‘It was the same as Sonia. The same wounds! The healers blamed an animal, but you and I both know that animals cannot place bodies upon roofs!’
Ferriden rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘I will look into it after the ceremony is over.’
‘After?’ William frantically shook his head. ‘No, you must look now! My lord, this is a serious matter!’
‘Yes, I know,’ said the King patiently. ‘But it is also the day of the Great Hunt. What will the people think if I leave to investigate a murder? They will think they have displeased their God, that the hunt this year was not fruitful.’ He placed a hand firmly upon William’s shoulder. ‘I promise you my friend, that once the ceremony is over, you and I will see to this problem firsthand. For now I must send some guards out to retrieve the body, secretly and without alarming anyone. Do you understand?’
William slowly nodded. ‘Yes, my lord.’
‘Do not fret, Will.’ Ferriden smiled and picked up his goblet, but William detected a hint of falseness in the King’s kind words.
‘You know what happened, don’t you?’ asked William curiously.
Ferriden looked down at his chalice. ‘I have an idea, but I would rather not say anything until I have seen the body for myself.’ He took a sip of his wine and gave William a calculating look. ‘These days are becoming dark, young William. Very dark.’
The King left the room and William heard him addressing the people once more. He heard laughter and much clapping, but he did not follow the King out. He stayed put within the room and sat in the chair close by the charting table. He would wait there for King Ferriden, no matter how long it took. The Great Hunt usually lasted long into the early morning. Once the plays were over and the food devoured, people began to slowly file out of the King’s Hall, retiring for the night.
Yet it was still early and William feared he was in for quite a long wait.