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Vetch is training to be a knight in a magical world. But he's afraid of battle and reluctant to hurt others. He's also nervous around girls. He's kept his fears from his friends but knows at some point he'll be revealed for the coward that he is.
Led by a sorcerer, a massive army of men and inconceivable monsters attack Vetch's homeland. With no idea of the extent of the enemy's power, Vetch struggles against impossible odds to keep himself and those he cares about safe.
Can a young warrior with a too-gentle heart survive?
I've included the first chapter below.
Having filled his pouch with sweet, tart berries, Vetch moved slowly out of the blackberry brambles. He had to be careful, for even though he wore a gambeson, or light armor, the sharp thorns were quite talented at finding hands or hair to catch on. Once clear, he dumped his small basket of berry pickings into a larger basket placed on the ground.
Vetch heard sweet, feminine laughter. From another part of the brambles, three teenage girls about his own age of sixteen were looking his way and sharing a private joke. They were all unmarried maids. Amongst them was Lina, a lovely black-haired, brown eyed girl of the same age as Vetch. Her olive skin was perfect, her face was heart-shaped, and the bright blue, white spotted blouse she wore drew his eye. Vetch thought her the most beautiful girl in the world. She caught his eye and smiled, and he shyly turned away.
“If you stand next to her, she isn’t going to mind,” Cousin Gilder said as he walked up with his own load of berries. Gilder wasn’t just Vetch’s cousin, he was also one of Vetch’s two best friends. He was a couple inches taller than Vetch, but much broader in the chest. “If you talk to her, she’s even going to talk back.”
Vetch glared at Gilder. “I’m not afraid of her,” he said.
Gilder chuckled as he dumped his berries into the basket. “I’m not going to argue courage with you, but if you aren’t afraid, why don’t you talk to her?”
Vetch frowned as he tried to think of a retort. Before he could say anything, Gilder continued. “Listen, I’m not insulting you. I’m encouraging you.”
“Do you see the other squires of our master, Sir Donal?” Vetch asked.
“You’re changing the subject,” Gilder said with a laugh. “In any case, I think they’re closer to the banks of the Ambria River. It’s cooler there, which is nice considering the armor we have to wear even on Seventh Day.”
“Sir Donal says a knight always has to be ready for battle,” Vetch said.
“We’re not knights yet,” Gilder retorted. “We’ve got at least another two years being stuck at the Marshaling Ground doing drills and training.”
“It’s early autumn,” Vetch said. “Once the weather turns cold, you’ll be grateful for the gambeson. It’s as good as a winter coat.”
Before Vetch and Gilder could continue, they heard the sound of a horn. Both boys looked downslope towards the rest of the Lower Valley. There lay the town of Ravenna, and beyond that the final wall of the mountain domain of Ambria. On the other side of the wall was the outer world, farms, forests, streams, and roads that seemed to stretch into infinity. From the forests of the outer world they could see the tiny, tiny shapes of men emerge in great number.
The horn sounded again. This time, the Ravenna town bell followed, ringing constantly.
“It’s not on the hour. And there is no pattern in horn or bell…” Vetch said in a whisper.
“The town’s been attacked!” Gilder shouted.
From other brambles emerged the other squires, Dunn, Rok, Arrog, and Lench. Like Vetch and Gilder, they wore gambesons, or light armor made from quilted wool stuffed with horse hair. So quickly did they come through that berries splattered against their gambesons, coloring them in a mockery of bloodshed. Vetch wondered if this was an omen of times to come.
“To horse! We’ll go defend the them,” Dunn said.
Next to Rok, Dunn was the tallest of the squires. Naturally athletic and a born leader, he was the one that Vetch worried most about taking Lina out from under him. On the other hand, Dunn was Vetch’s other best friend. Just two years ago Vetch and Dunn had pledged to always stand by each other’s side in battle.
“No. We must get back, protect these young ladies, and attend our master,” Arrog said. He was the oldest and by custom, the others had to defer to him. He was broad-shouldered like Gilder.
“Arrog, that’s ridiculous, we can’t just run away,” Gilder said. He brushed past Arrog and vaulted onto his horse. “The town’s in a panic. People need our help.”
“I agree with Gilder,” Dunn said as he too vaulted onto his horse.
“Duty dictates that we return to our masters,” Lench said as he grabbed the bridles of Gilder and Dunn’s horses. “Sir Donal will be expecting us.”
Vetch wasn’t surprised by Lench’s behavior. Of similar height and builds, they had become friends when they first met as new squires five years ago. Since then, Lench’s automatic adherence to Arrog’s orders had eroded that friendship.
“Let go of my horse,” Gilder said with a snarl. “People could be dying.”
“We’re going back to the Upper Valley. Come or I’ll thrash you for not following my orders,” Arrog said as he clenched his hands into fists. He didn’t put his hand on his sword hilt. One did not do such things unless you were ready to shed blood.
The air became tense with the threat of violence. To Vetch the world had turned surreal. For the first time in a hundred years, the town was under attack. Yet his friends were arguing, nearly to blows. As always when people around him argued or fought, he did nothing. He looked over at Lina. Her lovely brown eyes filled with emotion, she mouthed the words, “Do something.”
Courage filled Vetch’s heart. For once he was the one to speak up while his friends debated. “Stop fighting!” he projected with the commanding voice all of them had been taught. To demonstrate his seriousness, he put his hand on his sword hilt. “Those who want to go up the mountain with Arrog can do so. We’ll split up! Anyone who thinks going to town is the right thing to do, go!”
Lench released the bridles. Dunn and Gilder wheeled their mounts and began their descent toward the town. The other young men and women began to mount up.
“If you go to the town, you’ll be reneging in your duty,” Arrog shouted as he began the ride toward the Upper Valley.
Reminded of his duty, Vetch thought of their liege and master, Sir Donal. What would he say if they abandoned duty and went to the defense of Ravenna instead?
The other squires, Rok and Lench, followed Arrog up the slope toward the Upper Valley. Lina turned back and caught Vetch’s eye.
“Should we help them defend the town?” asked Jia, one of the other maids.
“Without armor and with only the knives on our belts, there’s nothing useful we can do. We’ll leave the heroics to others,” said Lina. She smiled at Vetch before riding away.
Her smile made Vetch’s heart beat with pride. He had done the right thing, keeping his fellow squires from hurting each other. Now it was time for yet more courage. Instead of following Arrog, and knowing he would be punished later, Vetch followed Dunn and Gilder toward Ravenna.