The Chronicles of Trivo: Phoenix Ranger, Ch. 1

Enjoy the first two chapters of The Chronicles of Trivo:  Phoenix Ranger (working title).  If you'd like to read more, e-mail to become a volunteer reader.  Provide feedback, and help improve the final draft!  

Chapter 1

Trivo was an elven Phoenix Ranger, quite capable with sword and bow, able to follow a goblin’s tracks for hundreds of leagues without tiring. He had earned a small fortune in bounties during the past few years as part of the Phoenix Guild, and planned to keep earning for years to come. The forests of Tyrn teemed with goblins, as tensions escalated in the kingdom’s borderlands. This caused the coffers of the Phoenix Guilt to overflow, as the Tyrnish crown had grown to rely on the Rangers for assistance in eliminating the elves’ enemies by hunting down renegade bands who traveled near Tyrnish territory. Trivo had been charged by his superiors to assassinate a goblin lieutenant named Asturk Blackheart and brought his young apprentice, Elaina, to fight alongside him.

Elaina was once a Ghost Thief, but had joined the Rangers in exchange for a quick release after pick-pocketing an influential Tyrnish noble. Far from the walls of Tyrn now, Elaina followed Trivo through the forest as he examined each bent twig and hoof print for signs of the Black Hand caravan that was traveling through the forest. The Black Hand was a powerful goblin clan, and Asturk Blackheart was rumored to be smuggling weapons through the Tyrnish forest into goblin territory. Elaina had heard rumors about the Black Hand, describing them as fierce, relentless warriors who resented the elves for slowing expanding their territory into ancestral goblin lands.

She nearly bumped into Trivo as he stopped abruptly to examine a piece of fabric that had been caught in one of the bushes.

“It’s silk,” Trivo stated.

Elaina examined it. It was a small, blue fragment, about the size of her hand. It had small green stitches near one of its edges. “I bet this came from Tyrn,” she told him. “Only a noble or merchant could afford something this elegant, ever since the goblin raids began disrupting the silk trade.”

“Aye. I wonder what such a wealthy person could be doing so far from the city. Gods help us if the nobility are involved. We’ll have to keep our wits about us,” Trivo warned.

Elaina struggled to keep up with Trivo who ran at an even faster pace now. They departed from the main road they had been following, and now kept to one of the nearby trails. Trivo knew these paths extremely well, as he had been traveling them for most of his two hundred fifty years. Elaina, much more familiar with the city of Tyrn, struggled to keep up with Trivo so that she would not fall behind and get lost. She was breathing heavily, although it looked as if Trivo had barely broken a sweat.

“A few more leagues at this pace and you’ll be in fine shape, Elaina. We are almost there!”

Elaina grit her teeth, and began to run even faster, keeping up with Trivo as he ducked beneath tree limbs and kicked up dirt from his boots. Suddenly, he stopped, and she nearly tripped over her own feet to avoid running into him.

“Quick, into the trees. Ready your bow. Cover me from above,” Trivo ordered.

Elaina obeyed. She grabbed onto a low hanging limb from a great maple tree and climbed up ten feet above the ground. Despite the density of the limbs, she still had a view of the road. She straddled one of the limbs with her legs in order to avoid falling, locked her ankles, took the bow that rested on her torso above her cloak, and drew an arrow from the quiver tied to her waist. Phoenix Rangers traveled well-armed in the field, but usually wore light, leather armor to pursue their bounties more easily. Elaina saw Trivo crouch to the ground as he put his ear to the road. His ear picked up the sounds of hooves coming quickly, and he called to Elaina, “They are almost here! Stay hidden for as long as you can.”

For a few minutes, Elaina did so. She heard and eventually saw a carriage carried by two horses quickly approaching. A battle worn goblin in chain mail, armed with a savage battle axe was at the reins. He looked at Trivo grimly, and blood trickled down his face from a cut above his eye.

“Halt!” Trivo demanded.

The carriage driver came to a stop. He dismounted, and grasped his bloodied axe in his hands. The goblin’s chain mail hung over metal plate greaves and Trivo noticed that they had seen action recently. The plates were dented, and the mail was torn in places. His armor was stained black, a technique the Blackheart clan used to make its warriors stealthy at night. He came up to Trivo’s chest, but met his gaze with a proud stance. Goblins were shorter than elves, usually standing between four and five feet. They made up with their lack of height with a relatively muscular build, and were formidable opponents. This one seemed to be no exception. “You’ll have to speak to my chief, though I’m sure he’ll give me permission to kill one more elf today,” the goblin rumbled.

The door of the carriage opened, and a taller goblin in ornate, black plate mail with a two handed sword in a sheath strapped to his waist stepped to the ground.

“What is the meaning of this, guildsman?” the goblin demanded to know.

“Asturk. You are hereby under arrest by authority of King Laertes for trespassing into elven territory, smuggling weapons, and wanton destruction of our forests. Surrender now, or face me,” Trivo declared.

“I thought it would come to this,” Asturk replied, as he reached into the carriage and brought forth a trembling, crying, blind folded, elven maiden and put a dagger to her throat. Her silk dress was torn at the sleeve, and her wrists were bound. “She was with her father’s entourage as they ambushed us near Hel’Fiad, and we’ve taken her as recompense. Let us pass or the brat dies.”

Before Trivo could respond, Elaina let loose an arrow from her perch in the trees, and it struck Asturk in his arm. She cursed. She had been aiming for the space between his eyes.

It was all the distraction Trivo needed, as he launched a dagger that had been in a sheath tied to his boot. It pierced the flesh of the hand the goblin had been using to hold his blade to the girl. Trivo charged, and Elaina jumped from her tree and landed on the ground. She took out a short sword that was tied to her waist, and then gave the carriage driver a menacing look. His black eyes narrowed, and he lunged toward her.

Elaina rolled backwards as the carriage driver made a heavy, downward strike with his axe, plowing the soft earth of the forest. She used the heavy pommel of her short sword to strike the goblin’s nose as hard as she could, and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

In the meantime, Trivo and Asturk clashed sword violently. Sparks flew as metal struck metal, each warrior’s face a fierce visage of hatred. Trivo’s long sword held Asturk at bay as he looked for an opening with a dagger he held in his left hand. Asturk struggled to swing his heavy sword with his uninjured hand, but was becoming exhausted. He slashed at Trivo, but the elf easily ducked beneath it. Trivo plunged his dagger into Asturk’s thigh, and then rolled to the side to avoid Asturk’s counter attack, a heavy, downward blow.

Elaina was quietly making her way to the other side of the carriage. She crept slowly around it and then found herself behind Asturk. She discovered a weak spot in his armor, gripped her short sword, and stabbed him in the back. Asturk, a look of shock and hatred frozen on his features, fell to the ground and Elaina could see Trivo looking at her, dismayed.

“I had him, Elaina. You didn’t need to interfere.”

“It must be the rogue in me. I’ll use any dirty trick to shorten a battle in our favor,” Elaina replied with a wink to her mentor.

Trivo sighed, and then took the blindfold off of the elven maiden who had crouched beneath the carriage during the battle. After he got her onto her feet, Elaina sliced through the cords that bound her wrists together. Trivo removed her blindfold.

“It’s all over. What is your name, my lady?”

“I am Celinda, daughter of Hektor, head of the house of Raven. Thank you for rescuing me, kind rangers,” she said and bowed humbly to Trivo.

Trivo blushed and spoke, “Such thanks is not necessary. The Phoenix Guild pays us well.”

Elaina grinned, recognizing Trivo’s embarrassment. Few of their assignments involved any form of thanks other than a pouch of coins or a hardy slap on the back from one of the senior members of the guild. She spoke and told Celinda, “This is my mentor Trivo, and I’m his charge, Elaina. Are you injured? Would you like some water?”

As Elaina and Celinda got to know each other, Trivo devoted his attention to other matters, and the first thing he did was to awaken their goblin prisoner so that he could be interrogated. He approached the goblin, and kicked him swiftly in the gut. The goblin let out a sharp grunt, and stared up at Trivo in anger. The bright sun created a silhouette around Trivo’s figure, and the goblin squinted to make out the elf’s features. He could see the markings of the Phoenix Rangers on Trivo’s cloak, and felt himself being pulled up by his hair.

“What name was given to you, goblin?” Trivo asked. He released his grip of the goblin’s mane, and awaited an answer.

“I am Ithetuuk, warrior of the Black Hand,” the goblin answered.

“Where is the rest of Asturk’s caravan? The Rangers heard of a great force traveling through these woods.”

“This is all that’s left, thanks to that girl’s scheming father. After the elves attacked, our caravan was scattered, and many of my brethren fell in battle. Asturk and I barely made it out alive, but I guess it didn’t do him much good. Still, thanks to us, many elves will be meeting their ancestors tonight in the land of dark dreams,” Ithetuuk told him, with a grim grin upon his face. “My brothers’ spirits have been avenged.”

“I guess you’d better cooperate with us then, since there’s nobody left to avenge you. I know this girls’ father, Hektor. He is ambitious, and your story of ambush and bloodshed may have some truth to it. The man’s greed nearly cost him his daughter. Unfortunately, no bounty has been posted for your head. Therefore, you’ll return to Tyrn with us. The Phoenix Guild will decide your fate.

After binding Ithetuuk’s wrists behind his back in some interlocking metal bracelets, the group traveled far into the woods of Tyrn, away from the goblin frontier. They passed small hamlets and crossed bubbling brooks, seeing many curious young elven lads who had heard stories of the Rangers. They watched excitedly as the company passed by. The young ones hurled insults to Ithetuuk, obviously excited to see a goblin prisoner up close. The older elves merely shook their heads at the sight of the prisoner, still weary from battles long ago. Trivo lead the group in stern silence, making sure nobody tried to harm their captive. Elaina and Celinda walked a few paces behind, and spoke at length, for neither had met someone outside of their own class.

Endlessly curious, Elaina asked, “What is the court like? Is it true the king feats on dragon during the Yule day, and that griffons are kept as pets for the little ones?”

Celinda laughed. “I don’t think dragon would suit the king’s palette too much. He’s not one for spicy foods. Griffons don’t like to be indoors much either, though I’ve heard one of the Robin House has tamed one and uses it for a steed.”

“How wonderful!” Elaina exclaimed beaming. “Trivo can barely ever supply us with a lame mule, much less a griffon.”

“Beats of burden soften the belly and dull the feet!” Trivo called from ahead.

“The truth is Trivo’s much too stingy!” Elaina told Celinda, and both began to laugh.

“Tell me about the Phoenix Guild,” Celinda told Elaina. “Much is said about them in court, and not all of it is good. My own stubborn father has a bit of a grudge against them. Do you know why this is?”

“Nobles used to make a lot of money by defending the Tyrnish frontier against the goblins. However, as the goblins grew in strength and numbers, the nobles began to hire members of the Phoenix Guild to defend areas that they considered too dangerous, or couldn’t squeeze enough profit from. Eventually, the people of the outposts decided they liked the members of the Guild a lot more, and the nobles were in far less demand. Since no war has broken out, the Guild is able to defend most of the outposts by themselves. Nobles like your father, who once made a great deal of money from the defense of those towns and villages, have much less money coming in from the frontier to fill their coffers.”

“That explains a great deal. My father sees me as a child, and refuses to discuss matters of business with me. It feels good to be taken seriously. How were you able to learn so much?” she asked.

“As Trivo’s charge, he makes me go to a bunch of boring meetings at the Guild, and I have to take notes. Most mentors don’t do that, and are eager to get away from their charges after we’re through with physical training. If you ask me,” Elaina spoke in a hushed tone, “I think it’s because he doesn’t altogether trust me yet. He still wants to keep an eye on me most of the time.”

“Don’t you find that tiresome?” Celinda asked.

“Of course,” Elaina told her, “but I can’t blame him. It’s quite a responsibility for him to have taken on a former Ghost Thief as an apprentice.”

Celinda’s eyes widened. She had heard much about the thieves from the others at court, and most described them as a wicked, greedy, nefarious bunch of ruffians. However, most of the bards’ tales surrounding them spoke of stolen noble property being sold to support those of the poorest sections of Tyrn. The truth, Celinda decided, was probably somewhere in the middle. Although she had heard stories of the thieves which cast them as ruthless butchers, she had worked closely enough with the poor to know that many thieves were just people who had fallen on hard times, and chosen to make to make money outside of the law. Philanthropy was a tradition of the wealthy Raven house, and its execution was one of the few tasks Hektor entrusted to his daughter. Her experiences with the poor gave her a broader view of poverty than most nobles.

After a few more leagues of travel, Celinda, Elaina, Trivo, and Ithetuuk entered the great city of Tyrn. Sparkling white marble from the great palaces dazzled their eyes, reflecting the evening sun. They walked on cobble stones through many poor neighborhoods and finally to the Guild Hall. Celinda and Elaina waited as Ithetuuk was delivered to the Guild’s prisons, and Trivo negotiated a price for the goblins’ bounties. He was able to receive four hundred silver schillings, one hundred of which he would have to share with Elaina. If she could hold onto a few of these until our next assignment, Trivo thought grimly, she could have more of their next bounty. Trivo knew that as poor as Elaina had been most of her life, she was never used to having much money, and tried to give her some advice on how to manage it. Elaina had yet to take his advice, unfortunately.

Trivo, Elaina, and Celinda parted ways at the House of Raven. Celinda said goodbye to Elaina and Trivo, and gave them both some kind words about how much she hoped to see the two of them again. She told the pair to try to find her if they ever had reason to attend court. Some harsh words were spoken between Hektor and Trivo at the door to the grand estate, and Elaina knew Trivo was not negotiating a reward. Hektor was a stern man with a sharp nose and chin. The silver robes of the nobles matched his steel gray hair.

“I’ll be bringing this matter up before the council!” Trivo promised. “The Guild will support my case and your king will agree. You had no reason to tread on the Rangers’ jurisdiction or put your daughter in danger!”

“I don’t have to answer to you or your ruffian friends. I am a powerful noble, Ibasti! Do not forget that!” Hektor cried before slamming the door in Trivo’s face.

Trivo stood in front of the door, puzzled for a moment. Then he turned to Elaina. “Up for a drink?”

“Always, Trivo. You never have to ask me twice.”

Trivo smiled. Elaina was barely one hundred stones, but she drank more than some elves twice her size. Trivo did not know how she managed it. The Ghost Thieves were well known for their involvement in and enjoyment of bootlegged wine, so Trivo imagined she had lots of practice.

“I’m proud of how you handled yourself today, Elaina. You never showed any fear against those goblins, and you did a lot to comfort poor Celinda. Here’s what’s coming to you,” he said with a wink and tossed her a small pouch full of her earnings. “Try not to drink all of it tonight.”

“You only say that because you know you can’t keep up!” Elaina said, and they both began laughing.

* * * * *

Elaina and Trivo stepped into the Barley Hall, a great tavern with an inn, the Red Rooster, next door. Elves mingled with human traders, dwarven mercenaries, and all kinds of revelers. Trivo welcomed a chance to relax, and took a deep breath of the smoke of dreamweed that hovered over the heads of the patrons. Elaina smiled and glanced at the wine bottles and barrels of barley malt behind the bar. Set up across the hall were long, wooden tables with stools and benches on both sides. To the left of the entrance, a small fire blazed, where some of the older patrons warmed their bones and roasted food on long skewers. It was a tremendous place, and it and other taverns like it were an important part of Tyrn’s community.

“Trivo! Who’s your pretty lass?” called a deep dwarven voice from a table in the middle of the hall.

“Steeven, it’s good to see you!” The elf and dwarf shook hands in greeting. “This is my new charge, Elaina. Elaina, this is Steeven, a dwarven mercenary who has collaborated with us Phoenix Rangers many times.”

“It’s good to meet you,” Elaina said with a smile.

“Aye! Well sit your skinny elven arses down, and get a drink.” Steeven made eye contact with one of the barmaids and signaled ‘Two more, here.’

An elven woman came over, holding four wooden jugs brimming with beer, and sat two down for Trivo and Elaina. She gave a nod to Steeven, and said “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” Steeven replied, and flipped a copper coin to her that she caught and put in her apron before grabbing her remaining drinks.

“Drink up! You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Elaina picked hers up, and drained almost all of it before placing it down again and letting out a conted sigh.

“Ha! She drinks like a Phoenix Ranger.”

Trivo smiled at his old friend. Steeven had burnt auburn hair that peeked out from a horned helmet. His beard was a slightly darker color, and came together in a circlet braided beneath. He wore a green tunic embroidered with a dwarven argyle pattern over a shirt of chain mail. Trivo noticed he was unencumbered by his battleaxe, which meant he must have already rented a room at the Rooster next door. His tan leggings mostly covered thick black boots, and a dagger peaked out of one, just in case a fight broke out. His blue cloak had been folded up, and laid on the table to make him a little cooler. Trivo grinned and his thoughts involved memories of old campaigns fought with Steeven.

“I think I’ll have a smoke,” Trivo said, taking a polite sip of his beer. He pulled a wooden pipe out of his pack, banged it against the table, and began packing it with his dried dreamweed. “Would you two care to join?”

“Aye, but I won’t let it slow down my drinking. Tell me, Elaina, have you learned a great deal from our man Trivo?”

“Yes, he’s a good mentor. He taught me how to shoot and how to swing a sword. I’ve tried to teach him how to pick a lock, but I’m afraid I don’t have his patience.”

“I’ve got a strong arm, but clumsy fingers, I’m afraid.” Trivo produced a long wooden stem, held it into a lantern on a table until it began to glow orange, then placed it over the pipe and smoked. He stomped the stem out in an ash tray, and passed the pipe to Steeven. The dwarf took it, and drew in as well. Each held their breath for a few seconds, exhaling simultaneously while beginning to laugh.

“Here, Elaina, try this. Dreamweed won’t pain you the next day like too much drink, but it’ll lift your spirits.”

“Elaina took a deep breath, but even though she tried to hold it in, the smoke left in a fit of coughing. She extinguished the fire in her lungs with the last of her beer and put the pipe down. “Disgusting.”

“An acquired taste to be sure,” Trivo replied, as he and Steeven began to pass the pipe back and forth. In the meantime, Elaina walked to the bar and ordered drinks for herself and Steeven who had both emptied their mugs.

After a bit more conversation, Steeven suggested another round. “I can’t,” Elaina told him. “I’m simply out of coin.” Trivo’s eyebrows raised, but he held his tongue. If it took the skill of a thief for Elaina to hold onto her money, so be it. Steeven did not want for anything. His success as a mercenary ensured that.

“Nonsense. You just want to stop drinking. A contest, then. I’m sure I can drink you under the table. The winner gets the honor of man or woman of the night,” Steeven declared.

Elaina winked at Trivo. “As long as it’s on your purse, I have no objections.”

Trivo smiled and finished his beer. Throughout the night, he watched, making sure nobody tried to take advantage of Elaina in her state. After a fierce bout of drinking, Elaina collapsed onto Trivo and began snoring.

“Victory!” Steeven yelled, and fell backwards onto a wooden bench. A group of elves and humans began laughing and clanking their mugs together. Trivo put Elaina’s arm around him, grabbed her waist, and walked the woman towards the inn.