New book time! If you’re a fan of this blog, you already know Elwyn the Paranoid Ranger, my character from our AD&D campaign. Well, I’ve written a short story (if 50,000 words is “short”) about a side adventure he has a few years from now (Flanaess-time).
Fourteen-year-old Jarin finds a badly wounded man in the woods, and takes him in. Little does he suspect the stranger is a Level 12 Ranger Lord, and his simple act of kindness could be the key to saving his entire village.
If you like fantasy adventures, especially “LitRPG,” you might like this book. If you like the world and lore of the Flanaess (home of Greyhawk), you might like this book. If you like slow-burn stories that build to dramatic climaxes, you might like this book. If you like memorable side characters and stories that make you laugh, you might love this book.
If you like father-son dynamics and stories that honestly portray the differences in how men and women see the world, this book is for you. If you like friendships that grow realistically from little moments, this book is for you. If you like raw battle scenes, and heroic moments – this book is for you!
(I’m trying out Smashwords’ feature for letting readers choose their own price, so if you visit their site, you could get it for free…or pay $20, if you decide my work has really enriched your life, and you want to encourage me. Whatever you like. I think this story is really great, and I want as many people to enjoy it as possible.)
My dad has been running our AD&D campaign with me, my brother, and a couple friends for almost five years now (my, how time flies!). As we have developed our characters and their personalities, it’s really inspired me with ideas for sketches, and my boys have enjoyed the account here on the blog as Elwyn shares his perspective of our adventures. And then I got the idea for this story.
I said, “That sounds like a nice short story; it’s got a simple yet complete plot – I’ll just write it up as a slightly late birthday present for my brother!”
40,000+ words later…it was more of an early Father’s Day present to my boys, and it’s more of a “novella” than a “short story,” technically speaking…but I still love it. And so does my family. And after a couple rounds of edits and redrafts and polishes, I think you will, too.
Still not convinced? Read the first chapter down below…then find The Ranger of Smylt at your favorite online retailer!
Jarin found the man in the woods. He dropped his basket, mushrooms spilling as it hit the ground. For a moment, Jarin thought he was going to be sick…then he remembered he was already fourteen, practically a man, and blood and such only bothered children.
Tip-toeing forward, as though afraid to wake the dead body, Jarin knelt beside the man. His tunic was brown, with smears of green…and orange. The longer Jarin stared at it, the more confused he got about what color the fabric was supposed to be. It made him think of the mottled light and shadow on the forest floor around him.
Apart from that, it was hard to tell what the stranger was wearing. Something had shredded his arms until almost the entire surface was blood and raw flesh. His legs were the same (no shoes, Jarin noted). Here and there, Jarin thought he could pick out the teeth marks of a large dog or something, but there were so many forming scabs and so much blood it was hard to tell.
The stranger’s face was darker than his own, and marred by blood and swelling. Jarin put out his hand, pulled it back, reminded himself there was nothing to be afraid of, and touched the face.
The stranger’s lips twitched, but he made no other movement. Jarin cleared his throat, arms wrapped defensively around himself, but the stranger did not move again. He was alive though…now that Jarin looked in the right place, he could see the faint movement of breathing.
What to do? What to do? Jarin tugged at his hair. There was so much blood all over the place – that couldn’t be good. His mother always bandaged his cuts and scrapes, but this was bigger than any injury he’d ever had –
Master Ferny! Of course; how obvious. He was always boiling herbs down into ointments and teas and things for rheumatism, and he was even some lay person for Rao or something, which couldn’t hurt. Jarin would take the man to him.
Jarin walked around the (not dead) body, patting his head to stimulate thought. He stepped behind the stranger and grabbed him under the arms to test his weight – and coughed. The stranger looked to be his own height – or even shorter – but that didn’t mean he weighed the same. These muscles felt denser than Acherus the blacksmith’s!
In the end, Jarin pulled shreds of the stranger’s tunic and twisted them into a sling of sorts, looping it under his arms and around his chest. As he tugged the make-shift straps over his own shoulder and heaved the body upward, he remembered his mushroom basket.
Grunting, he squatted beside it, concentrating to keep hold of the cloth harness, and quickly scooped the escaped mushrooms back into the basket before slipping the handle over his arm. Mushrooms grew so readily this year, thanks to the wet weather, but he only knew a couple breeds. You had to be careful to avoid the poisonous ones – like death’s-cloak and nanny-button (not sure why it was called that, but apparently it looked almost identical to gnome’s-hat).
It took Jarin twice as long to return to the village as he had taken heading out – perhaps longer. He also spilled a good handful of mushrooms along the way. That was a shame – they always filled out whatever stew Mother brought home – but it couldn’t be helped.
The stranger started moaning partway through the journey. Jarin paused, about to lower him to the ground and see if he needed help – but then he reminded himself that all the help was in the village…and he wasn’t sure if he could raise him to this dragging position a second time.
Huffing and wheezing, both of them, they finally reached the long stretch of field that lay between the forest and the village. Bailiff Holden had left it fallow this year – the herd kept the saplings down under the eaves of the trees, and cleared up the stalks from last year’s crop.
Jarin shot glances in each direction – to the south, Master Iver’s house, then his own; to the north, another couple houses before the path wrapped around out of sight, where it would flow into the road to Farthing. Nobody was out and about, though, so he’d have to make the last few yards by himself. Well, he could handle it – Master Ferny’s cottage was just ahead, hidden behind the out-building where he mixed his potions –
Jarin would have given a laugh, but he was too winded. The master often spent his days in the out-building – where the long, low ceiling and the many windows kept it bright and warm for his exotic plants. And it was a dozen yards closer than his home. Jarin knocked on the door with a sigh of relief.
After a moment’s delay, Master Ferny opened the door.
“Jarin Falrin’s son? What a nice surprise!” he said; then – “Rao still my heart!”
“I found him in the woods,” panted Jarin. “He’s still alive!”
“Still alive? Amazing!”
The stranger made a choking noise that sounded painful.
“Get him in here! Ah, if only we had a cleric in our little village…”
With Master Ferny’s help, Jarin eased the stranger up onto a workbench (that Master Ferny first had to clear of the bottles and mixing bowls that littered it). For all their care, the stranger gave a half-gurgle-half-yelp that strained Jarin’s heart.
“Now, then,” Master Ferny muttered, stripping off the rest of the mottled tunic with dagger and scalpel.
The stranger’s eyes flickered open, and he cried out.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Master Ferny, though quietly enough he might have been speaking to himself. “Well, at least the chest is uninjured. Jarin, run down to the well and fetch me a bucket, would you? It’ll take more water than I have here to clean this mess up.”
Jarin nodded, staring at the stranger with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. As Master Ferny had said, from his collarbone to his knees seemed basically unharmed (though there were the pale marks of older injuries here and there). Only his limbs and his face seemed to be hurt – but those were so badly mauled, Jarin wondered if he would ever walk again.
“Hustle, son,” said Master Ferny, picking through the bottles on one of his shelves. “These wounds won’t wash themselves.”
Jarin gave a cough, grabbed the bucket from where Master Ferny kept it on a hook, and left.
When he came back to Master Ferny’s workroom, the stranger had stopped whimpering and yelling. Jarin suspected Master Ferny had used one of his tinctures in a bottle, but the master was too absorbed in his work for him to ask. Almost an hour later, the stranger’s wounds were washed and bandaged.
“Hold his head for me,” said Master Ferny, and Jarin propped his elbows on the workbench to hold their patient steady.
“Uh, oh.” Master Ferny touched his fingers carefully on either side of the stranger’s jaw.
With the dirt and excess blood removed, Jarin could see a claw mark running down one side of the face – luckily skipping over the eye socket – and the swollen bruises. But as Master Ferny adjusted the jaw, he could also see how one side moved in a way he’d never seen a jaw move before. It made his stomach churn and his arms feel weak.
“Well, that’s a problem,” muttered Master Ferny, still more to himself than to the others. “Keep holding him.”
Master Ferny pulled out another roll of bandage, and eased the jawbone around until both sides seemed to match. From Jarin’s perspective, he seemed to fuss around with it much longer than he needed to…but finally he was satisfied and started winding the bandage under the jaw and over the head. He brought a strip down to the front and covered the injured side of the face, and finally tucked the end in.
“Poor laddie,” he said at last. “This’ll take a month of Stardays to patch together. All right, young Jarin…”
Master Ferny straightened up, massaging his back. “Where’s he going to stay?”
Jarin smiled. That answer was obvious.