The Heir of Westfell
After young Rory sees the woman who raised him murdered by marauding soldiers, he embarks on a path that alters his life forever. First, he finds he is the only surviving heir to the Duchy of Westfell as well as being the son of the Crown Prince of the Forest Lords. What he is yet to learn is whether he can survive as the central figure in the on-going war between the forces of Life and the servants of the Dark.
Rory peered through the brush where he had hidden as the Outlander soldiers rode away from the flaming remains of what had been his home. He hadn’t been there when they arrived; he’d been hunting for game in the forest. It was the sound of Grandmother Abigail’s screams that had brought him back through the dense woods. Fearing the worst, he had slowly crawled the last quarter of a mile through the densest shrubs he could find to mask his approach from the marauding soldiers. The small log cabin was already in flames when he reached a spot where he could see the clearing, and he had seen two of the soldiers casually toss Abigail’s body into the flames before they mounted their horses and rode away.
Tears made tracks down his dirty face as the roof of the cabin collapsed. Gone. Everything he had ever known in life was now gone; destroyed by a senseless act of brutality by the Outlanders. Grandmother Abigail had raised him out here in the deep woods and, for as long as he could remember, it had just been the two of them. In addition to practical things dealing with surviving in the forest through the different seasons, she had also taught him how to read and write. For a no-name lad of sixteen, Rory was probably far more educated than anyone other than the great nobles of the kingdom. Now, she was gone and he had no idea what to do.
He eased his way out of the thicket into which he had crawled and walked down to the remains of his home. The small broken spade he had meant to fix yesterday was still lying near what had been the back wall of the cabin, so Rory picked it up and carried it over to what had been Abigail’s favorite spot; the small bend in the creek where an abundance of wildflowers bloomed every spring. Kneeling in the center of the spot, he began to dig using the broken spade. First, he carefully lifted up the sod and moved it aside. Then he dug the grave itself. Abigail had not been a very big woman to begin with and he knew little would remain after the fire, but what was left would be respectfully interred where she would be safe from any marauding animals.
The fire was just embers as he sifted through the ashes for her remains. Reverently, he gathered the bones and fragments and gently placed them in the grave. Once he was sure he had found all that remained of Abigail, he filled in the grave and replaced the sod over the top of it. He edged the area with smooth rocks from the creek. He bent his head and quietly said a small prayer to the All-Father.
By now, the sun had completely set and the full spring moon had risen in the sky. When he was growing up, there had been many nights where he had heard night predators prowling around outside their cabin so Rory knew he had to find some kind of shelter in which to pass the night. After retrieving his bow and arrow quiver, he climbed high into one of the trees at the edge of the clearing. He settled himself as best he could, wrapped his arms around his chest in an effort to ward off the chill, and went to sleep.
* * * *
Rory washed the dirt and ash from his hands and arms in the creek. He had spent the morning seeing whether there was anything that could be salvaged from the ruin of his home, but all he had gotten for his efforts was dirty. All of Abigail’s treasured books were gone. He had found a few misshapen metal lumps that may have been her prized candlesticks. There was no trace of anything of value; what little they had must have been taken by the soldiers.
Well, there was nothing for him here anymore. He had briefly considered rebuilding the cabin, but realized that such a task was beyond him right now, if only because he did not have the necessary tools. Besides that, Rory felt uneasy in the clearing, as if expecting the soldiers to return for him, though he had to wonder just what a group of Outlander soldiers would want with a sixteen-year-old no-name like himself.
Recalling what Abigail had told him of the geography of the kingdom, Rory knew the woods in which he stood were located near the western border with the Outlands. An uneasy peace had existed between the Kingdom of Aluria and the Outlands for almost half a century, although there had been raids across the border more frequently in the past few years. North of here were the vast Kendrahl Mountains soaring high into the sky, many of them still snowcapped in the height of summer. East and south were the settled lands of Aluria. Rory decided he would be better off if he traveled both north and east, entering the sparsely settled lands at the foothills of the Kendrahl Mountains and getting a feel for the state of the kingdom before he entered any major cities.
* * * *
The days melted into weeks as he made his solitary way through the vast woods of the Great Forest. He lived off the land, taking whatever small game strayed across his path as well as various edible plants he found along his way, while small creeks provided ample water to meet his needs.
Once he neared the foothills, he began to see signs of other people. First, the game trails he had been following became well-traveled paths. Next came various bits of discarded debris along the trail: a broken leather strap here, an arrow that someone failed to recover over there. Rory found abandoned campsites, the ashes in the fire pits long cold and dead. At the edge of the Great Forest, he found a lone tower with a curl of wood smoke rising above it.
The stone tower was close to fifty feet across its circular base and tapered slightly as it passed between the floors until the parapet was only thirty feet across. The dressed-stone blocks fit together tightly with limestone mortar filling in the tiny chinks in the stone. Small windows with stout oak shutters pierced the walls at the second and third levels, although they were closed at the moment. Green moss covered the lower stones while ivy vines clung to the sunny side of the tower. A single massive oak door leading into the tower stood ajar.
Rory brushed the worst of the travel dirt from his clothes then stepped out from under the trees to stride confidently up to the open entryway to the stone tower.
“Is anyone within?” he called as he stood silhouetted in the doorway.
“Come in, boy. Come in,” came a grumpy voice from near the hearth across the large single chamber.
Rory came carefully closer, trying to make out the details of the elderly figure near the fire.
“Hell, boy, I don’t bite. My teeth aren’t up to it.” The old man cackled a rusty laugh. “Don’t suppose you got any rabbits in that rucksack?”
Rory smiled at the plaintive wistfulness in the old man’s voice. “I have one nice fat hare and a brace of quail I would be pleased to share in exchange for a night’s lodging.”
“Only a single night, boy? You need to work on your bargaining skills some,” the old man muttered. “Well, get the game cleaned while I stoke up this fire.”
Rory spent the next hour cleaning the game and preparing a hunter’s stew of the meat, potatoes, and some onions he found in the kitchen area. Once the pot was hung from a swivel hook over the fire, he finished cleaning and preparing the rabbit pelt so he could use it later to make some form of mittens for his hands before the first snows. Finally, he gathered the offal and took it outside to the edge of woods where he buried it.
After washing up, he went back into the tower and started to look around. For all its unprepossessing exterior, the inside was richly appointed. The furnishings were crafted of oak, smoothed and well polished, with all joins tight and virtually seamless. Fine brocade and colorful tapestries draped the stone walls. They simultaneously softened the room’s appearance while providing an insulating layer between those within and the stone walls. There was a large, compartmented cabinet containing hundreds of scrolls.
The old man watched as the boy prowled the room. When he was standing before the cabinet of scrolls, the old man asked, “Can you read, boy?”
“Yes, sir,” Rory replied. “This is quite a collection. I have never seen so many scrolls in one place before.”
The old man snorted. “Bah. Those are just scrolls about cooking and herbs and such. The real library is on the second level, or should I say, is the second level, since it takes up the whole floor.” The old man sniffed appreciatively at the bubbling stew. “What’s your name, boy, and where do you come from?”
“My name is Rory and I come from the western edge of the Great Forest.”
“There’s no town or settlement in the Great Forest,” snapped the old man.
“I didn’t live in a town or settlement. I lived alone with my grandmother in a clearing about a mile from the Greater Tyree River inside the Great Forest.”
“Your grandmother, you say? I know of only one woman given leave to live within the Great Forest. Abigail was her name.”
“Aye, that was my grandmother’s name,” Rory replied sadly.
“Serve up the stew, Rory, and tell me your story while we eat,” the old man said. “You’ll find some bowls in the cabinet to your right and there’s bound to be some spoons in the drawer below the bowls.”
Rory dished up the stew and poured a glass of wine for the old man from an unmarked flagon, opting for a glass of cold water for himself. Once they settled down, he started his tale for the old man, pausing every once in a while to eat his own dinner. “There’s really not much of a tale. The only memories I have are of the cabin with Abigail. She told me to call her Grandmother Abigail and I did. She taught me to read and write, as well as the skills needed to survive in the woods. We grew various vegetables and, once I was old enough, I hunted for game. We lived a very simple life, and rarely ever saw anyone else.”
Rory took a sip of his water and then continued. “One day while I was out hunting, having gone farther from the cabin than normal, I heard a faint scream carried on the wind. I raced back to the cabin to find it fully engulfed in flames. A group of Outlander soldiers were there. Two were already mounted on their horses and the last pair picked up Abigail’s body and threw her into the flaming cabin. They mounted their horses and the group rode away.
“I dug a grave for her in her favorite spot and, once the flames burned out, I gathered her bones and placed them into it.” Rory shook his head as if clearing the memory of that painful episode, and then said, “Since there was nothing left for me there, I decided to leave the Great Forest so I walked north and east until I found my way to your door.”
Rory was surprised to see tears glittering on the old man’s cheeks in the firelight. “Sir, are you all right? I did not intend to cause you distress!”
The old man reached up one withered hand and angrily wiped away the tears.
“Distress? Aye, that’s the word for it. You see, Rory, Abigail was my daughter, though we hadn’t spoken in over fifteen years.”
“How is that possible, sir? I mean, she was…old.”
The old man chuckled. “Old? Abigail? No, son, she wasn’t old. She’d have turned forty last summer and that’s not old. I suspect her appearance had been altered in subtle ways by her use of dyes and colorings to disguise who she was. By getting you to call her grandmother, she furthered that illusion.”
“But there was no one else there.”
“There must have been someone at some point. Why else would soldiers have gone there? Tell me about those soldiers, Rory. You called them Outlanders. Why?”
Rory thought about it for a moment, recalling the four men on their horses. “Who else could they have been, sir? Abigail always warned me not to stray too far from the cabin ‘or the Outlanders will get you’ was what she would say.”
“Think hard, son. What color was their livery?”
“Black, sir. Everything about them was black. From their boots to their clothes, even the saddles and tack used on their horses, everything was black.”
“Very good. Do you remember anything else about their clothes or their saddles?”
“They were kind of far away and I was having trouble seeing through my tears, but it did seem that the fire glinted off something worn on the left breast of each man’s tunic.”
The old man shook his head sadly. “That’s what I was afraid of. Those weren’t Outlanders, Rory. They were the Duke of Eastfell’s men.” The old man drained his wine and said, “He’s taken his revenge at last. It’s a long story and I am too tired to speak of it tonight. How about helping an old man up the stairs and we’ll see about finding you a place to sleep and some clean clothes.”
Rory reached over and eased the old man to his feet. Rory could feel how frail Abigail’s father was; his thin body seemed to have no muscle to it at all and his bones seemed light. “Sir, what may I call you?”
“Call me? I guess I never did introduce myself, did I? I am Richard, Duke of Westfell, my boy. Since my Abigail is now gone, that makes me your sole living relative and you my only heir.” Patting Rory’s arm, he added, “All in good time, my boy, all in good time. When we reach the third floor, my room is to the right and the one you will consider your own is to the left.”
They climbed the stairs in silence from that point. Passing briefly through the second floor library, Rory noticed the light from the candelabra made the shadows dance amid the stacks of scrolls as they moved to the stairwell to the next level. Reaching the third level, the duke guided Rory to the left. Rory opened the door to a vast bedchamber. The large four-poster bed was dark with age, but the thick featherbed was plump and fresh. “There are clothes in the wardrobes that will probably fit you. Feel free to wear whatever you like.” As he turned to go, the duke said, “You can sleep without worry in this tower, Rory. Nothing can harm us here.” With those words, the duke walked out of the room and across the hall to his own chamber, closing the door behind him.
Rory looked around the room. There was not a speck of dust anywhere. The bed linens were fresh and clean. There was fresh water in the ewer beside the washbasin. How is all this possible? He had not seen any sign of servants in the tower. He knew how much work it was to keep a home clean. Abigail had been quite insistent in daily cleaning. There was no way the duke had done all this.
THE ALURIAN CHRONICLES Book 1:
THE HEIR OF WESTFELL
by Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr.
EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-032-5
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-031-8
Buy this book!
"Rory's life is transformed from the existence of a nobody to being the heir of royalty after his mother is murdered by evil men. He journeys to his grandfather, the Duke of Westfell's, home where he is welcomed and learns that not only was his mother the daughter of a duke, but the father who was barred from his life is an elven prince. Thus, he begins learning how to be one of the nobility and discovering skills that make him a valuable warrior. However, his mother's slaying was only the first dark deed. Jealous men and far darker beings have evil plans for the realm, endangering not only the world of men, but the elves and dwarves as well. Yet, against the vile machinations stand Rory, whose love and whose gifts have made him into a warrior well suited to stop the darkness."
"This tale of Rory's journey to maturity is sweeping in its scope. Mr. Wilcox's world building skills are effective, telling us all we need to know without going into the excessive detail that often makes epic fantasy ponderous and boggy. Fans of Mercedes Lackey in particular should find this a good addition to their shelves, as the tone of the story has a great deal in common with her Valdemar saga." Review by Amanda Killgore
“The Heir of Westfell is the open door, an invitation to a new series of adventures from Christopher Wilcox, Sr., author of the best selling Aethereal series. If you enjoy the days of olde, pixies, nymphs, sexy Forest Lords and wenches, and the special brand of magic that holds them all together, you'll thoroughly enjoy The Heir of Westfell.” - Reviewed By MargeAnna Conrad, Novelspot
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