Of Iron and Devils. by B.H. YOUNG by B.H. YOUNG - Read Online

Book Preview

Of Iron and Devils. - B.H. YOUNG

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1

http://bhyoung.blogspot.com

Introduction

I wrote OF IRON AND DEVILS because I wanted to approach fantasy with a perspective that did not focus on characters that are at the center of a grand world-changing event, but rather at its edge, unknowingly, while following a hard-boiled detective-style story.

It is my hope that you will find the world I've created, entertaining, unique and at times humorous.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Table of Contents

Legal Notes

Prologue.

Chapter 1.

Chapter 2.

Chapter 3.

Chapter 4.

Chapter 5.

Chapter 6.

Chapter 7.

Chapter 8.

Chapter 9.

Chapter 10.

Chapter 11.

Chapter 12.

Chapter 13.

Chapter 14.

Chapter 15.

Chapter 16.

Chapter 17.

Chapter 18.

Chapter 19.

Chapter 20.

Chapter 21.

Chapter 22.

Chapter 23.

Chapter 24.

Chapter 25.

Chapter 26.

Chapter 27.

Chapter 28.

Chapter 29.

Chapter 30.

Chapter 31.

Chapter 32.

Chapter 33.

Chapter 34

Chapter 35.

Chapter 36.

Chapter 37.

Chapter 38.

Chapter 39.

Chapter 40.

Chapter 41.

Chapter 42.

Chapter 43.

Chapter 44.

Chapter 45.

About The Author

Legal Notes

© 2016 by B.H. Young

Cover design © 2016 by B.H. Young

Cover art © 2016 by B.H. Young

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Prologue.

Won't miss this place none too much, Jonvole said as they trekked out where the wall had fallen into the fading darkness of the land.

The dank old keep of Barberdose scare you boy? Bridger asked in his usual choleric voice with a glimpse of judgment.

Bridger always picked at him the most. He was a shrewd moose of a man in a band of thieves that made Jonvole question the honor any thief could have.

Dark and terrible things can fester in these ruins, he said.

Aye, worms, rats, and spiders... dark and terrible things indeed... for a woman. Bridger eyed him again this time with a sneer.

Not any woman you've bedded I'd wager, Bridger, said Derrick with a soft chuckle while counting coins in his hand.

Puts me at unease is all I'm saying. Jonvole had not forgotten the beating Bridger bestowed upon him and would say nothing to raise quarrel.

He was always cautious and paranoid, and Bridger never let him forget the weakness that brought. Jonvole's old gram spared no tale in the late nights of foul and horrible things when he was a pup. The March waits in darkness and halls long abandoned lay betwixt hell and things best not seen, she'd say. Old gram had hundreds of stories for the ruins of the ancient world. The tale of Fogmount scared him the most, though he had only seen it through words. Barberdose seemed eerily to resemble those words. Maybe the mind just tells one what they wish not to hear.

Bridger spat a slab of phlegm at Jonvole's boot. Yet you had no trouble purring like a kitten under dreams of blue skies and fields of sweets within them halls.

A sniff of nightsolts helped bring that to task I'd say, Derrick put in as he started the count over.

Jonvole turned his head away as if not proud of the revelation. I heard noises rising from the lower keep.

And shoving that shit up your nose makes your ears hear no more? You hear noises everywhere that make you cold an awful lot lad, Bridger said.

Bridger should be the last one to cast judgment Jonvloe thought, his habits were of a far fouler nature. The nightsolts were not just to find sleep in the broken halls of Barberdose, but to silence the dreams as well. Fields of cinder, rain of ash, and an army of riders atop steeds of hell, marching, came relentless in sleep and the nightsolts kept them away. The nightmares had infested his sleep now for three weeks and he'd ingest enough of the drug to turn his mind to mush and foam at the mouth if it meant not having to witness that cold darkness again.

Do you plan to count that coin all the way to Helbrode? Reese asked, glancing back to Derrick.

Jonvole tittered to that. Reese was a clean-shaven man who stood out from the rest of them with no hint of a murdering thief in his eyes. He wore a fine red doublet peppered with bronze studs and trousers striped in gray and black. In his youthful days he was a knight, Derrick had told him once, but bedding the wrong lord's wife and daughter lost him title and almost his head. A stripped knight was worse a title than of a plague and even the outland kingdoms of Vildeheim and Maytheral shunned them. Bridger and Derrick still addressed him proper, but not Jonvole. He could see Reese did not like it.

Making sure none of you snaked me while I slept, Sir Reese.

Bridger leaned over to Derrick, sliding his blade half out of its sheath. If I'd snaked you, you wouldn't be here to count shit Elf.

Derrick gave him a sharp grin Jonvole saw. The Treh Elf was confident. There wasn't anything he couldn't do with a pair of blades, and Bridger knew it, feared it, though, he liked to pretend not to, and act as if he could present some smidge of a challenge to Derrick. Jonvole witnessed the Elf rip a man twice Bridger's size from sternum to neck with a fork once. Bridger saw it to. Until that moment, he never thought it possible for the moose to reek of fear.

Normare was a good score, Jonvole said and gave a gentle squeeze to the bag of silver hanging at his hip.

Helbrode will be better, said Reese.

They had never applied their trade in a province capital before for fear of drawing too much unwanted attention. The thought of thieving in Helbrode made Jonvole's guts rumble hollow. No job ever went without bloodshed, as Bridger was all too quick to spill it. In Normare he planted his blade in a man's skull who did not want to part with the family savings. Of course after that, they could not leave any witnesses, so Reese ordered the man's wife and two sons killed. It would have been better had he ordered Bridger killed, Jonvole thought, as he stared at the dirty bastard as he walked with his head lowered. The moose plodded along burdened under a heavy leather coat with pelts stitched at its shoulders. With a quickstep over and push of the blade, Jonvole could get rid the world of the bastard. Or, he'd miss and Bridger would beat him to death?

Praise the Gods for King Freethinker without whom these days of easy pickings would not be possible, Bridger said, spreading his arms and looking to the failing stars.

Praise them again no Irons are on our trail, Jonvole said. He would much rather deal with province guardsmen than that of the Iron High Guard.

Reese tossed a look back to him. Not yet they aren't.

Irons don't worry me much, Bridger said. Just line them up and I'll have my go at them.

Derrick laughed. You'd fair better with a mist cat.

Bridger lost words at that remark and swept his eyes around the fog slithering at their ankles. This ain't no time to be japing about such things dammit...

Derrick laughed again, with firmness in his throat this time. Woman, he said.

Jonvole did not have to guess which of two he would gladly tussle with, as Irons made the savage wildlife seem tame. Bridger talked a stout game, but he knew the smelly bastard would tuck tail at the first sight of any Irons and if he wouldn't the Gods would dress him as a jester to dance in their court once he arrived in their halls.

Some horses would've served us well. Do away with all his damn walking, Bridger grumbled moving away from Derrick's bait.

Normare had no stables, but Helbrode does, Reese said. Be there by mid afternoon I reckon.

They cut through the trees, sliding down the Hill. Jonvole worried his boot would catch under the fog and send him toppling into Bridger, who was at his front. That would surely piss him off, bringing another beating. And towards the bottom his fears were almost realized when Bridger stopped abruptly and he bumped into his shoulder. Bridger turned, caught him by the throat, and pushed his back to the tree. Jonvole saw his other hand was on his pommel, the glaring in his dark eyes was itching.

Watch your damn step boy. His breath smelled of anger and onion.

I tripped, said Jonvole holding his hands in surrender.

Next you might fall on my blade.

Jonvole waited until he was a few feet along the road before falling in behind them. The pines stood daunting in robes of shadows to either side of the road, the gusting wind whistling through their needles. The thin dark made him weary, as if eyes, by the hundreds, watched them stroll along the road. Without warning, breaking the silence, a legion of wings spurred above unseen from nowhere, clamoring like breaking thunder. Thousands of them fluttered, pushing a force of air to the mist, sweeping it into up curl trails at the edge of the woods. The chill in his spine came quick to that. They all slowed their pace and threw eyes to the sky. Even Bridger placed quick hands to his blades. Almost as fast as the migration broke, the stream of birds passed on, their disturbance fading in the wake. Out here in the wild, Jonvole did not take comfort in his superstitions. The birds were an omen, their thrashing, signs of a storm to come. He would earn a smack in the mouth to dare speak of childish concerns, so he remained silent.

Bridger and Derrick both looked back to him then stopped. Had they heard his thoughts he wondered? They were looking past him and he hadn't heard it at first, the squeaking tip toeing further behind him. Reese stepped between them harboring the same curious look that donned their faces. Jonvole walked slower, turning eyes back as he did. Beyond, in the fog an orange bloom wobbled above the screeching of rusted metal and worn wood. Some travelling soul did not realize what they were about to pull into.

Sounds like a wagon, Derrick said.

Reese pulled his sword and then said, Sounds like we'll make to Helbrode sooner.

Jonvole's blade was not as fearsome looking as theirs were. Reese held a saber of silver with dark lining, Bridger wrapped his hand around a polished bone handle broadsword, and Derrick favored his crossbow over the two curve swords at his hips. Jonvole looked down, turning the pitiful rusted dirk he held. Reese had told him he needed to steal something better, but failed to mention he would have to fight the three of them to do so. All he ever got were scraps, but the dagger's point was sharp enough to stab and that is all that mattered to him.

He squinted as the fog rolled over the horse trap wheeling into the opening. Its wood was dark and old, a long pole fastened at its side warped at the top to the weight of the lantern. The frail horse's faded black coat looked dried and pulled tightly against its bones as if the beast should be walking the Shadowlands. The rider sat hunched over draped in a tattered hooded robe of dark green with a scepter rising from the back, twisting in shape and holding a roughened gem.

What the hell is that attached to its back? Jonvole asked in an unsure voice. It reminded him of a weathervane, though he could not recall ever seeing one on a person, or holding a valuable.

Payday, said Bridger.

When the wagon stopped a few feet in front of them Reese hollered. We'll need you to be stepping off your wagon traveler, if you wish to live that is.

The rider lifted his head but his face hid consumed in the darkness under the ragged hood. For a moment, he did not move and Jonvole thought Derrick to shoot a bolt into his chest, but then he slowly climbed down moving slowly as if every reach and step shot aches through bones. Unexpectedly, awareness began to claw at Jonvole. Something he'd seen or heard, but did not reveal itself. A chill swept his skin and cold creeps pimpled his arms and neck. Something was not right, he felt.

Maybe we ought let this one pass... I... think we should let him pass?

Are you daft? Bridger asked then smacked him across the back of his head.

Bridger wasted no time stepping to the traveler. The impatient shit-headed moose wanted first pickings.

We should step aside, Jonvole said to Reese and Derrick but neither replied.

Be needing that jewel as well old man, said Bridger as he ran his hand along the blade.

Jonvole winced before peeling eyes when a hint of twilight rolled under the traveler's hood as it straightened its stance to Bridger's request. A shadowed memory stood clear now. From dreams this Being came. Half the faceplate it wore had no socket, only etched symbols that faintly burned yellow. Bridger saw it to, but had no chance to react before the black blade swept across his throat.

Reese howled and ran to his aid and fell face dead at a glimmer no sooner than he arrived. Jonvole squeezed his hand around the dagger so tight his nails pierced his palm, filling it with warm blood. He could not move nor stop trembling. When The Being caught the crossbow bolt mid air, he pissed his trousers. In half a blink, Derrick fell headless at his side and he fell hollow as a bitter cold crawled up his legs wrapping him tightly in a cloak of dread.

The Being slowly turned to him, the wind pushing back its threadbare robe revealing its jagged armor, forged wicked under shadows. For a moment, Jonvole saw his reflection, marring back at him from under The Being's hood, and darkness and deafness soon followed.

Chapter 1.

The arms of morning began to stretch over the province, rolling down the mountains and atop the trees before splashing into the lowland and pulling itself further with hazed fingers. Cold and crying with dampness, the sigh of its misty breath flogged at the guarding walls of Helbrode. The capital city of Morthet did not shake its old frame to the bitter whispering of the dawn. Its crowd of pitted stone gargoyles perching its walls welcomed the winter-beaten morn unmoved, as they had every morning prior. Their chiseled eyes had seen more rainy winters than any soul dare dream. Witnesses of history watching over the city with mute expressions and tongues that could never to tell the tale. Helbrode stood commanding at the most Northern point of Terongard unchanged and unscathed from the ancient world.

It was a colder this morning than most who were awake could remember. A hard rain had passed the night before, showering the ground with icy water that riled the new day chill under the bruised sky. Windows throughout the city began to light slow as Helbrode pulled from its slumber. Resentful flames that found the new day too bitter, fluttered behind murky glass specking in haze with no order or desire as bleary shadows shuffled behind their bloom.

Sylo pulled the two city guardsmen from the cobbled walkway by the back of their necks and tossed them. The thick shrub where the stone of the castle met the wall swallowed the bodies with a mangling appetite of too long gone without proper quenching. Any other morning this path would have held a dozen or more patrolling boots, but eyes were now blind to the kingdom and focused elsewhere with neglect.

King Norindale Barret held fast at the shores of Vyhoven, learning the error of his freethinking ways, fending off an invading horde from the isle of Dhunwitch. The war was now in its second month and had drained large amounts of guardsmen from the provinces of Terongard to fill ranks of a destitute king's army while leaving behind the lethargic of the rubbish to protect the stewards.

Sylo looked to Jelkin who had the third guard slumped over his shoulder. The Phost Elf struggled as he tossed his catch to the eagerly waiting shrub. He could see the tightness in Jelkin's eyes; the twisted black ink sprawling up his neck grabbing the left side of his face looked to slither under strain along the foggy alabaster of his skin. He sniffed and then spat. The winds riled the stale odor of the dredwood beyond the wall to stir the Snow Elf's senses. Sylo could smell it four miles out before they reached the city. Here it permeated with intense effort.

Hardstone Castle squatted on a swell of land overlooking the labyrinth of stone and tiled roofs kneeling before it. Two walls slithered from its foundation curving down each side of the hill hugging the town with a shielded embrace. To its back, it watched over the open land, standing guard to a vast prairie. Under its banners of an orange sun on a grey field, outside of its protection, the giant dredwood stood vigil, digging its distorted roots deep into the ground, while its skeletal limbs sprawled with casting motion. Deep gouged bark of shadow and ash, a daunting wood said to be the keepers of souls who lost their way. They only smelled of death Sylo thought.

Jelkin ran his hand along his matted locks of silver gray while the smaller ones dangling from his chin danced under tired breath. He folded the crossbow, slid it to the holster strapped along his back, pulling the leather strap tight across his short coat of quilted wool with ring armor at its shoulders. He stepped back over to the puddle of blood steaming in the morning air, plucked the key ring from the ground, tossed it to Sylo, along with a nod, and then backed into the cover of mist to make way for the dredwood.

Beneath the fog drawing down amid rooftops, the pitiful farmer wagons venturing into the market carried squeals of annoyance as the bruised sky began to heal. The city was beginning to wake. But the bowels of Hardstone Castle still laid quiet in dreams. Heartbeats danced at Sylo's ears calmly along the lining of doors in the narrow hall with no smells of burning torches, candles, hearths or readying of new day food. Only the sourness of fur-burdened sweat tickled at his nose. The small thumping came from nowhere when he passed through the kitchen into the servant's hall. The girl tapped her tiny fingers along the wall, inching towards the opening where he stood. Even in darkness, his shadow was cold enough to freeze the youngling in his presence. Curls of red and a face of pink, her young eyes were of broken blue and shattered milk. She could not see him, but she could sense him.

Her eyes rolled around him trembling of what she could not see, breathing soft gasp. They aimed to trick him he thought. It was not wise for anyone to stand in his path. Their meddling fingers would make mockery from time to time and the girls face shone of unawareness to their games. He glanced down to the blue and white striped kerchief tied around his boot. Its colors worn and its fabric ragged. He had tied it there long ago, not as a keepsake to a pleasant memory, but as a reminder to the depths, they would sink to test his patience. Sylo squeezed his hand shut, trailing a cracking of knuckles. The girl did not make a sound and slowly backed into a side passage, sliding her tiny hands along the stone, moving her broken eyes from him.

At the foot of the stairs, he stopped, staring to the door. A twine of floral incense clasped at the wood frame either side the wall to brush away the stench of a servant, potent and not yet changed, it stung heavy at his senses. The thumping chest beyond the door was no longer sleeping and the shuffling of old soles stirred. They had failed once already, but sought to make second attempt, he thought.

The Province Steward drained of color when Sylo pushed through the door into his chambers. Lord Nathaniel Sinthal stood holding a small candelabrum, still in his bed attire. A Crescent of salted hair crowned his head and his face was mid years in pruning. The steward hollered and chugged the candleholder at Sylo, dinging it to the doorframe. Sylo slipped a small blade from his hand, nicking the side of the steward. Frail but still quick in reflexes, the shattering rattled the chamber when Lord Sinthal threw himself through the stained-glass window. The panicked fool was eager to escape a fate he had no control over.

Lord Sinthal slammed to the ground where it began to steep. The steward could feel the throbbing sensation of pain racing through his old body as the ground smacked him with no give. He staggered to his feet, the stinging on his side drowned out the agony from the fall. Wavering back at the window above with daze and fright he scurried down the hill to make his escape, shards of glass licking at his feet.

Sylo lunged through the frame of the second story, hitting the ground running with no shake of balance. The wounded Lord was halfway down the slope, headed for the dredwood he saw. Its mangling crown rose above the mist at the bottom while the rest of it hid in the thick morning cloud. The steward howled in pain beyond the city walls clutching to his side while steepness battled his old legs. He stumbled, tripped, and slid before pulling himself back to his blood soaked feet trying to free himself from the grasping instability of the slope. The steward glanced back to Sylo's unnatural eyes, piercing at his trail, emitting a slight glow akin to that of a storied wraith. Sylo ran harder, controlling the momentum the slope submitted to him.

The base of the hill was impending; the gut of the dredwood began to fade out through the fog. Within arm's reach of the steward and without pause, Sylo pulled the short sword from its sheathe. The blade shrieked and glistened against the deep blue morn and immediately, he shoved the sword into the steward's back. Lord Sinthal went limp and ragged as Sylo raised his dangling feet from the ground and slammed his catch into the rugged bark of the tree. The immense thud of shattering bone against the dredwood thundered the area. The steward drooped twelve inches from the ground like a pinned ornament as blood washed the bark down with its crimson iridescent, crawling along the damp wood, and puddling between its roots. The dew washed bark riled with chaotic presence to the taste of blood. Sylo walked back from his overshoot of the tree and stared at the body.

The horses patted at the ground restless, pulling at the dirt as Marlo sat fixed to his saddle under the limbs of the dredwood, waiting. His long oiled hair was pulled back into a tail and his attire flecked with enough sheathed steel that one might easily mistake him for a traveling merchant of blades. Jelkin eased up along his side.

Thought you were to come through the gate, Marlo said and leaned toward the rusted door at city wall, pulling the reins of the horse leading it up along his side and handing them off to Sylo.

Sylo pained a stare to him as he pulled himself into saddle. An ice blue mist seemed to huddle in his eyes emanating their color; his men were accustomed to the deformation, but it still made them uneasy.

They thought to intervene with slippery fingers. The town bells tolled with violent awareness, rattling the air in an echoing pattern. He looked up to Hardstone for a moment then turned his horse and eyed Marlo once again. They failed, he said with a deep flat voice and kicked his horse.

Marlo and Jelkin fell in behind him and uttered no words nor asked any questions. They knew of whom he spoke of, and spoke of often, his tormentors, the Gods.

The bells of Helbrode stayed at their back as they cut across the prairie confined to the fog's will. Their clamor was a mere faintness to common ears by now, but Sylo could still hear their tune as if he were under them pulling the chain himself. The brown of winter grass flowed under the mist and below hooves and was all that he could see. But he did not need to see where he was going, his path was linear and where it was to end he knew for some time now.

The fog peeled back from the ruins of Dorthenmount, slowly revealing its fractured state as they galloped by. The wolf stepped out along a felled pillar amid the rubble with a slow studying glare to them, lowering its head to Sylo's eyes. It appraised them, pacing then hiked its head, lifted a paw from the stone, and sniffed at the moist air. The scent of three horses was too tempting to pass up, but the selfish beast traveled alone and as hunger tempted, it was a prize better passed off. Then, as if called by an unheard and unseen master the beast snapped its head back the way it had come for a moment and then darted off through a row of stone arches.

No sooner than the wolf had fled, Sylo caught whiff of the approaching reek and slowed his horse to a stop at the edge of the road. Marlo and Jelkin guided their horses up beside him, sweeping their eyes around the little they could see. They did not have his keen senses but followed his actions. Through the fog, he saw the dim light, wobbling, faded orange of its center in the spreading halo growing under slow bloom.

A pitching screech kept company under the odor as the light began to show more than a shadow. The sickly horse walked along the road at a slow pace, pulling the one-man carriage of blackened wood and wrought iron. The rider sat burdened under a threadbare robe with its head lowered under hood, gripping the reins with hands layered in a strange shelling of plate. A single rod twisted up from its back rising above its head with a jewel fixed to a ring at the midpoint of the shaft.

Their horses shied away from the edge of the road at the passing scent that permeated with influence as the wagon rolled by. Jelkin and Marlo could now smell it, and cringed along with their horses. Sylo placed his broad hand to the stallion's neck, keeping it still, watching, The Being pass, with studying eyes. He had been in the draught of the pungent odor before, in dreams. A recollection stood in the deep of shadow, a mere glimmer of fire revealing only fragments laid scattered in light. He stood frozen within the inner ward of a fortress under siege, the scent bleeding into his lungs while the incursion of twisted armor marched, and beyond the curtain wall doused in flame a Leviathan circled its prey.

A hammer of thunder struck the sky, rolling at their flank. Sylo trailed eyes to the wagon as it pushed back into the smog at the further end of the road. They shared a common enemy and their paths were not destined to cross into one another. This traveler came from far away, dried and worn of a suffering well known to him. Something ancient had arrived.

Chapter 2.

Clint Godzton lay in his bed conformed to the backside of Martha Cagmere, gliding his face through her hair of ginger, smelling of champagne orchid and laying light kisses to the back of her neck. The bottom barracks of the Iron Compound were relatively still this early in the day, still enough to allow for an embracing and quick fix. It had been a few weeks since he was able to get Martha alone. As an Iron recruit her time was more strict and limited, and as a seasoned Iron Godzton's actions with her were ill advised. Martha Cagmere was no strumpet, but a recruit in the last weeks of her two-year stead to becoming Iron. She was a vigor soul of thin veiled lips, a curvaceous body, and eyes big and bright as the southern star, that he could lose himself in until the winter ended and came again for eternity. He'd risk the harshest punishment for that.

The candle light danced along their naked bodies and the cold this far down in the barracks seemed absent. With a gentle touch, Godzton trailed his hand up her stomach and caressed her breast, massaging it in his palm as the forming of sweat danced at his fingers. Martha's whispering sounds of bliss climbed the walls with faint hands as she motioned back to him, slowly pressing and grinding, sliding her leg back and curling her foot around his.

Godzton pulled at her hip, her silken skin scented of honey and for a moment, the bouquet disoriented him. At a moment when he was ready to fully embrace her, the uninvited thunderous knock at the door shattered the trance and stopped him. Godzton placed his fingers over her soft lips and stared back to the door. While the Iron High Guard did not expressly forbid relationships between their veteran Irons, it was prohibited between a seasoned vet and a recruit.

Godzton! the voice cried through the door with forceful importance.

What is it? Godzton lay frozen, but wanted to keep going and could feel the playful smile stretching under his fingers.

Overseer Lisbet request your presence in her office immediately sir.

Very well then, I'll be up right quick. Godzton dropped his head into the feather pillow and sighed. Weeks passed since they were able to be alone and all he wanted was to enjoy the seized moment a little longer. But Overseers do not like to be kept waiting.

Godzton removed his fingers from Martha's lips and a low-pitched giggle erupted. He sat to the edge of the bed, hands on knees and looked back to her as she rolled to face him. There can be no finish if there is no start. He sighed again. Martha's cheeks boiled with blush and it was easy to get lost in the beauty of her smile.

Oh it's a good thing you lock your doors, she said. Her face was fighting to keep from bursting into a laughing fit. Always finding the lighter side in any situation, Martha was innocent like that.

This is funny to you is it. He branded a smile.

You have to admit it's a little funny not to mention exciting, a tad dangerous maybe. She rubbed her toes up the side of his torso biting her bottom lip and beaming a seductive gaze at him. We can still have a go at it if you're quick.

Won't be so funny if the Overseers catch wind of it, Godzton stood from the bed and made his way to the dressing cabinet, they'd likely have me flogged raw in the middle of the courtyard.

It's a foolish unwritten rule. I'm but a mere few weeks away from taking the oath. Martha darted a gaze at him. It's not like we're two wild animals having a mindless fuck here and there. She proclaimed with a slight squeal in her voice.

Godzton turned to her, raised brow and widened eyes. The mouth on you, sound like one of those pub wenches.

You arse. Martha jolted up against the headboard and crossed her arms under her dangling breast, moping in a playful manner. Well, we're not. We're in love. That is if you'll still love a dirty mouthed pub wench?

He made his way back over to the bed, bent down, and placed a firm kiss on her soft pouty lips. Of course I will filthy mouth and all. He laid another kiss on her forehead then walked back to the cabinet.

Godzton dressed in the uniform of the Iron High Guard of black breeches, tall sash boots, and signature knee length blue and black leather coat of the Iron High Guard with a medallion of the Iron sigil pinned to the right chest. He pulled his custom arming swords from the rack, gave them a twirl, and then holstered them into the sheath riveted to the upper back of his coat, then slid his trench knife into the sheath at his hip.

We'll finish up later, he said, stretching the corner of his mouth, and made haste for the door.

Arse, Martha said, trying to fight the smile creeping along her face.

With his short cut coffee colored hair, trimmed beard, and bisque skin, his slender frame wore the uniform well. Martha had no fear of forgetting one of the many reasons she fell in love with him, he was eleven years her senior, but she did not care.

Clint. Only she would call him by his first name, only when she meant for him to know her sincerity. Godzton turned to her, one hand still on the knob. I love you, she said.

Godzton blew her a kiss, gave a little wink, and then left the room.

As he made his way down the large narrowing brick hall, his first name spoken in harmony by Martha sparked an old memory of when first entering the Overseer wing many years back soon after his advancement from recruit to Iron. It was to be Godztons first assignment in the field, given to him by Overseer Norddick Haygard, a five-foot tower of hardened shit baptized in fire of a man, long since dead if hell would have him. The years passed quickly, but it seemed like days ago when Overseer Norddick was hollering at him, as he stood panicked in front of his desk. Godzton could still hear the old bastard's words carrying at his side along the walls.

I'm not calling you Clint, boy! That’s a cunt name. The paper says your surname name is Godzton. That's what I'll call you and that's the only fucking name you'll answer to boy. Godzton... that's a name with balls and heft, lets people know they can't fuck around with you boy!

Word spread like a pestilence around the Iron Compound of the scolding name change for the young man who damn near pissed his pants and by week's end, Iron's and recruits alike were referring to him by his surname in jest and it had stuck ever since.

His two partners, Ginrell Stockmare and Laythan Alradur were awaiting his arrival in front of Overseer Lisbet's office. Ginrell had a face of hard mileage hidden behind an unkempt arching mustache, a gut that had started to show signs of too much beer as of late and scraggly long hair draping around his head while light gleamed the top. To his left Laythan Alradur, a soft looking Elven man of Lios lineage who was often mistaken for being younger than his true age. He was quick-witted with slick skin and dark auburn hair, and the better skilled in the arts of alchemy.

Fancy you lad, thought this was your day with your little love, Ginrell said.

Godzton gave him a displeasing sneer. It was.

Overseer Lisbet has a cur's sense at sniffing into ones time, Laythan said, stepped over to them, straightened his coat, and shivered at the morning air.

They all stepped into Overseer Lisbet's office, taking spot in front of her desk. Overseer Lisbet sat reading over various reports. She wore a slim tight fitting robe with a neck-hugging collar and a small brooch of gold in the shape of a heater shield with the Iron sigil raised in its center, signifying her rank.

Her blond hair was tied back into a long proper braid that draped over her left shoulder; her left eye was cloudy in color, blind as a lasting result of an old healed scar that ran across it. A firm chested woman they would say and at forty-three, was the youngest of the three Overseers.

Overseer Lisbet placed the papers down, drummed at the table, and rolled her eyes to them. Glad you could join us Godzton, your men have been pacing outside my door for a bit now, was beginning to wonder if I needed to put a water bowl out there for them, she said with a strict tone to her voice.

Apologies Overseer Lisbet, I was preoccupied, Godzton replied in a heedful manner.

I'm sure you were. A peculiar look with a hint of scorn overcame her face as she rested her forearms, interlocking her fingers atop the desk.

Overseer Lisbet always lowered a squint with her good eye to Godzton. He always wondered if the festering dislike she seemed to have for him was the result of his failed advancements on her in his early days. It was no secret she served as a fantasy for many recruits and some Irons, but it was innocent enough he thought. He had tried to woo her and she threatened to beat him to a pulp, citing the nerve he had of trying to court an Overseer. Godzton did not take her threatening rejection personally; she talked to all the men in the same manner. Of course, none of them was stupid enough to attempt to bed her. Though, seven years should be long enough to lay low a grudge he'd think.

Overseer Lisbet eyed him with a glare of suspect. We received a raven this morning from Helbrode. Lord Nathaniel Sinthal and three of his castle guards have been murdered. The guard's bodies were found in some brush near the servant's entrance and Lord Sinthal was chased out of his quarters in the early hours and pinned to a large tree with such force it took the locals an hour to get his body down, the message said.

Takes a lot of guts to murder a province steward, said Ginrell.

His Chamberward, Luke Barmelden will sit in his stead until the King can promote a new steward from the Crown List officially. But he will not be there to greet you as he is away in the Dyerwin kingdom. Afraid you'll have to deal with the captain of the city guard, she said.

Godzton stood consumed with awe. The murdering of a Province Steward is an act of treason against the realm. Pardon me Overseer Lisbet, but how in the hell does someone get to a Province Steward in his own damn castle? he asked in disbelief.

The war raging on the southeastern shores of Vyhoven with the sovereign isle of Dhunwitch has spread resources thin; with King Norindale calling in reserves from all the regions I'm afraid. Leaving the Province Stewards with fewer of their guards to protect them, they are in a quite vulnerable state. Lisbet looked down amidst the parchments littering her desk and sighed. I'm afraid we are all on hard times and things are getting worse out there.

Her words needed no explaining. Things were bad all over within the Kingdom. Reports flooded daily into the compound of lands corroding from beneath the soil, strange sightings, missing people, and that smell, faint but clear and apparent, lingering all over the kingdom that seemed to precede it all. The Iron was in no better shape, struggling to maintain ranks as their numbers dwindled.

An Iron carriage will take you to Baylin port, Overseer Lisbet said. "From there you can procure passage to Thuune. Helbrode is a few hours ride inland. Once you are there make inquest of the crime and bring Lord Sinthal's killer to justice, alive if possible so that they may face a public beheading in Mystenthel by the King's order.

I've sent a raven back to Helbrode instructing the city guard to seal off the lords quarters until you arrive. She laid out three large-sized lambskin pouches of coin across the top of her desk. This should be ample enough funds for your travels. Gather what supplies you need and make haste. She gave a brief pause and looked to each of them. You have your orders.

It will be done Overseer Lisbet, by the strike of Iron. Godzton spoke the words of Iron.

Godzton took pause with his men at the end of the hallway by the railing, overlooking the courtyard, to collaborate before departing. The curtain walls of the Iron Compound flowed with the rolling land, breaking with mural towers that reached for the sky. The center keep stood guard with stacked towers at its side and arching bridges of stone, dressed with two large banners of the Irons sigil of a broadsword hilt up in the center of a ring on a field of blue. Verbal abuse of new recruits by the drill sergeants carried out from the training grounds and mingled with the clanking that rocked through the air as blacksmiths hammered away at fired metal. Iron Town squatted downhill of the compound but its citizens flooded up, wandering the grounds to peddle their goods or plead for justice for some insignificant matter they deemed important beyond means.

You know lads, Ginrell said. Many of times I wanted to grab hold of those wide hips of hers and take to her like a jack rabbit. His eyes widened above a sinister grin. I heard she likes it where other women would find pain. The excitement on his face grew as he ran his fingers down the sides of his mustache.

Laythan shook his head at his foolish friend. Don't let her hear you say that old man, she'd be liable to cut off your cock and feed it to you.

Aye, that's the kind of woman for me, mean as shit and violent. Ginrell slapped him on the back and belched a laugh.

You're an old drunken pervert bastard, Ginrell. Anyone ever tell you that? Godzton said, giving a poke to the old man.

Aye, me mom. Ginrell slid his hands up and down his stomach grinning.

Their banter was interrupted by the sounds of clanking armored boots walking towards them. Sir Lydus Gephart and Sir Vidimir Woerns of the King's Royal Guard, decked in decorative gray and gold armor and before them, walked Typarion Olvlen, a tall Elven man dressed in noble garb with dual swords housed in sheaths of gold and amethyst at his sides. An Eroalver Elf with skin of fair amber and light brown hair of silk, he was the High Master Adviser to the King and the only Elf in the history of the kingdom to hold that status.

King Norindale thought it a good showing of his Freethinker ways to have an Elf as his top adviser. Godzton never cared for the king or his right-handed Elf. Typarion was a conceited man with a reputation for talking down to Irons and most everyone else as if simple-minded fools not worthy of his courtesy. Typarion glanced Godzton and his men a smug look and demeanor as he trotted by with his armed escorts.

Godzton glared him an equal look of contempt but stood silent as he trailed him down the hall to Overseer Lisbet's office where he stopped and entered as his guards took to each side of the door.

Ginrell pulled a small tin from his coat, opened it and pinched out some finely grounded tobacco, laid it to the back of his hand and snorted it like a raging pig. He's rather become a permanent fixture around here lately. Smug bastard, he said, continuing to sniff at the air.

Probably here with another offer from the King for the Iron to join the war, said Laythan.

Aye. Wonder if he talks to her the way he talks to the rest of us.

Doubtful, Laythan said. She'd cut his throat from ear to ear I'd wager.

"He's always