"The Prisoner" is an original short story set in the world of A Knight Adrift for an incredible project called "1001 Knights." Developed by Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton, 1001 Knights is a three-book anthology of inspiring artwork, comics, and prose that challenges the traditional idea of “knighthood” to illuminate the wisdom, courage, and fellowship we can all find within. Created by a diverse collection of more than 250 professional and lesser-known artists (view the complete list here), 1001 Knights has been over a year in the making, with a ton of love and work put into its character-rich pages.
But we cannot make this dream project a reality without your help. The 1001 Knights Kickstarter is now underway and has so far been met with tremendous enthusiasm! To support the cause, I thought it would be fun to share a short excerpt from my story and a glimpse at the accompanying title illustration. It is the first time any portion of A Knight Adrift will be in print and the only way to get the whole story (as well as a truly mind-boggling collection of amazing artwork) is to join the quest and support this project on Kickstarter.
So, what are you waiting for? Lend us your strength and rise a knight!
The Prisoner (Part 1)
At the edge of the mountain road, a young squire of sixteen years caressed her brown mare’s mane. An azure cloak, too large for the lanky frame underneath, caught the wind and billowed like a sail behind her. Lips set in a solemn line beneath a pair of anxious green eyes, the girl stared over the cliff at the forest rustling in the valley below.
"I could swear I saw something," the young woman mumbled to herself as she tightened her grip on the sword at her waist. She thrust a finger toward the creaking, verdant depths. Two black shadows darted back and forth amid the overgrowth. "There! Right there among those trees!"
The woodland’s canopy, submerged beneath a shroud of darkening mist, stretched from the base of the mountain to the horizon like a bed of leaves for the stone giants looming above. A solitary, dismal howl echoed upward. Ears stiff and eyes wide, the girl’s horse tilted her head, whinnied, and stomped back from the threshold. Cooing, the squire put a tender hand to the beast’s neck.
“Steady the horses! The storm’s nearly upon us!” A woman bellowed from behind, voice full of youthful bravado.
Mounted high upon a restless steed and wielding a great silver spear, a knight clad in plate armor shouted to the company of soldiers at her back. Etched on her chest was the sigil of dawn, engraved lines of light spreading from the symbol’s center and glinting in the sunset. The knight’s black hair danced on the wind as she swung a leg over her dapple grey and dropped to the mountain path with a thud. Within seconds a blanket of heavy clouds smothered the last light of day and bathed the crags in gloom.
Her face a mask of stoic resolve, the knight yanked a golden cloak over her armor and raised a gauntlet. At the sign, nine men and women dismounted their horses in unison, faces grim, armor clattering. As each wrapped their leather reins tight around their wrists, the knight's guards struck sparks to oil and set torches ablaze. The glowering faces beneath the dusty gray cloaks eyed one another in silent apprehension.
“Aveline!” The knight shouted to the girl. At the sound of her name, the youth was startled from her thoughts and hurried toward her commander. “Aveline, we haven’t time to dally.”
“Sir Julia, I…” Aveline started, but the knight’s admonishing gaze demanded silence. The girl’s brown mare snorted anxiously as she trotted in place. Looking at the wide-eyed creature, Aveline tried again. “Sir Julia, I think a pair of wolves has our scent.”
“We’ve spent weeks hunting a beast. Wolves are the least of my concerns,” Julia chuckled, waving her glimmering hand in dismissal. Thunder rumbled on the mountainside, as though the giants were alive and snoring. The knight narrowed her brown eyes at the sky above, then returned them to Aveline. “Attend the prisoner, squire. See she doesn’t drown.”
“Yes, Sir Julia,” the girl said, her face red as coals beneath days of dust and grime. A handful of snickering smiles spread wide beneath the soldiers’ burning torches. Aveline shot a sidelong glance at the jeering guards, but eager to hide her crimson cheeks, she turned from the knight and pulled her cloak up over a mess of hazel hair.
Slowly, the squire approached the ill-fated cargo lashed to her horse. A woman’s form, bound and bent, lay silent across the beast’s back. Wrapped in a dingy shawl, her shrouded head and roped feet dangled like saddlebags on the creature's flanks. As Aveline reached out a hand to touch the prisoner, lightning spread bright fingers above the dark mountains and with a roar set the sky to weeping. A chorus of snorts and whinnies burst from the startled horses as the soldiers clamored to regain control.
Over the discord, Aveline thought she heard the prisoner laugh.
Rain fell with the weight of stone and in moments each traveler was soaked and bruised. Flickering flames hissed and trembling steeds huffed. Still, the proud knight would not be deterred. As if to challenge the booming voice of the clouds above, she cupped a hand to her mouth and shouted over the riotous torrent.
“Tempest be damned – we push on to the city!” Julia cried. And though her words were drowned amid peals of crackling thunder, the soldiers offered a loyal cheer in return. Aveline frowned in dismay.
Reins in one hand and spear in the other, the knight pointed down the dark path and marched ahead. One by one, the others followed in single file, heads bowed to avoid the rain and watch the contours of the cliff. Parched dirt drank deep of the relentless shower and within minutes the road was drenched and slick.
For a time it seemed the storm would be only an unruly nuisance. But alas, fortune and fate are fickle masters.
Without warning, a chunk of the mountain gave way to the pitiless deluge. Aveline's horse saw its doom first, ears perked at the rumbling that was not thunder. In a second the beast was wild with fear, bucking and thrashing the girl holding her reins. As the boulders crashed into the mountain road, the night exploded in deafening calamity. Soldiers and steeds dodged and scattered. Mud and stone trampled forth. The girl's mare dashed for illusive safety, dragging Aveline toward death.
Before any could intervene, squire, horse, and prisoner plunged screaming over the edge into the darkness below...