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Al Clark Al Clark
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The Celdranian Chronicles intro/ch 1

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She had a friend.

My children were quite young when my ex left me. I invented a charecter named Sir cedrick and three princesses to try and explain the complex issues of divorce. Over time, as the children grew older, simple fairy tales turned into more complex stories. One weekend, my middle daughter age 13 and I sat up for hours and actually pulled all the stories and adventures of sir cedrick and why he got bannished from the kingdom into one novel. That was 15 years ago, and now my GRANDkids want to hear about sir cedrick! Figured it was about time I put the story down rather than make it up off the top of my head every time they ask to hear it!. This is the start of chapter one.

The rider carefully led her horse up the narrow trail towards the crest of the saddle between the two peaks. Deep blue eyes peered out from under her hood, scanning the ground for sign of the man she had been pursuing for 3 days.  A bent twig here, an upturned rock there, signs invisible to all but the most skilled trackers.  He was good… very  good. But she was better. She had been on his trail since coming across the remains of the citizen three days ago. Bandits, trolls, and orcs still roamed these hills, but this was not their doing. The kill was quick, clean, and professional. The body had not been looted, so it wasn’t for gold or food that the woodsman was killed. He had been dead barely a day when the rider came upon his body. As the rider examined the scene and searched for sign, she drew a mental profile of the attacker. The woodsman was big, and by the looks of the skins he carried, and the well worn bow still on his back, he was a skilled hunter. His sword was still half sheathed, but his skinning knife was lying a few yards behind the body. The tracks on the ground told the rider that the fight was quick. The woodsman had just enough time to slash once with his knife while trying to draw his sword. A half second later he was disarmed, then a blade was run through his ribs,  severing his aorta. Death was assured, and mercifully quick.
From all this, the rider learned much. The depth of the tracks told her that the attacker was probably  male, about 165 lbs. By the length of his stride, she knew he was just under 6  feet tall. The fact that he was able to take down a much larger man, one who was skilled in outdoor fieldcraft, told her that he was a trained bladesman. The length he went to hide his trail, and the skill in which he did so, told the rider that he was a skilled tracker. Whoever he was, he was  dangerous prey!. This did not bother her ...she had hunted dangerous game before, both of the multi  legged variety as well as the two legged kind. She would track him down, and by blade or hangman’s noose, release him of his lifely duties. There was a high price to be paid for harming those she was sworn to protect!
He was getting tired..his stride had shortened. He was leaving more sign, covering his tracks less. The hunt had gone on now for over 72 hours with no rest or sleep for hunter OR pursued. The rider pushed her own fatigue to the back of her mind, knowing the most dangerous part of the chase was just up ahead. He would be tired, but that made him all the more dangerous. He knew she was close behind, and would soon pick a spot to try and turn the tables on her. It was, after all, what she would do in his place.
The trail soon left the deeply wooded vale, and climbed into the foothills. Rolling hills became rocky outcroppings and sheer cliffs. The rider’s wariness doubled. There was more than one hunter in this area.. More than one prey. She knew these hills well… knew the dangers they held even under the best of circumstances.  Lithely she step through the shadows, half crouching,  as she made her way up the trail. The grey cloak upon her back blended in with the rocks, and gave her a shapeless look, aiding in breaking up her outline to any who would try and stop the pursuit with an arrow from afar. Her deerskin boots made no sound as her feet avoided loose rocks, twigs and debris that might give warning of her passing. She turned her gaze back from the heights above her, to the ground in front. Something caught her eye that wasn’t hidden. Something had come this way without any attempt to hide its passing.  Claw marks in the grass, attached to a paw print easily the size of her mounts hoof said that a cave bear had just passed these ways moments before! For all its great bulk, bears moved relatively quiet as they foraged. Although normally not aggressive, Cave bears could become one of the most dangerous beasts in the hills when provoked.
  Instinctively, the woman’s right hand silently drew an arrow from the quiver slung on her back. Her left hand quickly felt for the pommel of her sword, and slipped off the leather thong that kept it secured in its scabbard. Her eyes turned from scanning the area around her, to the head of her horse. The huge jet black beast quivered its flanks as its nostrils flared, sniffing for danger. Its giant head bobbed slightly, as its ears perked forward and slightly to the right. The horses dinnerplate sized hoof nervously stomped the ground as it sensed its rider’s apprehension. She resisted the urge to stare off in the direction of whatever her mount had sensed. “Tunnel vision kills!” she thought to herself, repeating the words of her instructor from long ago. Words that most often were accompanied by an open hand to the side of the head, or a boot to the back side that she never say comingd. Knowing that her horse’s senses were far superior to her own and would alert her to any danger from that direction, she continued to scan the rocks and ledges that lined the ravine. Slowly she bent down and tossed some fine dust into the air, noting that the wind carried it from behind her towards the bend in the trail ahead. “DAMN!” she cursed softly. Her scent would be carried downwind, while any threat would be that much harder to detect! Her conscious mind reached back to her training. She inhaled deeply, taking note of whatever scent she could. Her eyes did a 180 scan, never lingering on any one thing. She noted all things, from footing and traction, to possible avenues of evasion and escape. Sun, shadow position, noise of insects, landscape, cover and concealment availability, most likely avenues of attack, all flowed instantly through her mind, and was processed. The rider then let go of all conscious thought, and allowed her training and instincts to take over. The teachings of her mentors, as well as her own battle experiences, had shown her that once the inevitably eminent ambush was sprung, adrenalin would push her rational thought process  to the back of her mind, and she would react on pure training and instinct.
•        The slightest shissshh sound that may have been just the wind, or something far more deadly came from across the narrow gorge. There was NO mistaking the “shunk” of an arrow burying itself deep into flesh, nor the roaring bellow of rage and pain emanating from the Cave bear around the bend not 30 yards up the trail! In an instant, 2000 pounds of muscle, teeth, claw and wounded flesh came crashing towards her. Muscle memory honed by hundreds of hours and thousands of arrows worth of practice kicked in faster than her thought process could keep up! Draw back the bow, Right thumb knuckle finding the exact spot on her cheek that it has found countless times before. Breath, Relax, Aim stop breathing, loose, the arrow, rolling dodge to the right, ignore the burning pain as razor sharp six inch claws shred her leather jerkin from shoulder to hip, rending armor and flesh like a dagger through over ripe fruit!

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