This is a rough Prologue to a larger piece I'm eventually hoping to write. Keen for some opinions, even if they are just one or two words *Warning* This type of fantasy is quite dark, so read at your own risk. Thanks in advance! Prologue: By James Taylor Rondol urged his mount for more speed. Towering pines and oaks rushed past him, leaves and undergrowth rustling and crunching loudly as his steed pushed onward. He knew these woods well, having used them countless times to deliver his charges in the secrecy they demanded. He smiled fondly as a monstrous pine, reaching up beyond sight came into view. Her trunk was ten spans across, and massive roots, some almost as thick of the surrounding trees, shot out in every direction. Rondol lay low on his horses neck, and dug his heels in sharply to jump one such root. The great tree, affectionately known to Rondol as Betha, also marked the halfway point for his passage through the woods. He unconsciously felt beneath his deep green coat, a simple thing, that hid him well in the forest, but went unnoticed by those who he would very much like to avoid the attention of. The letter was still there, of course, safely concealed in a hidden pocket. If he was ever captured or killed, a man would have a hard time finding his charge. The pocket was stitched over, to one examining the coat, it would appear to be nothing but another seam. The letter was also wrapped in a thin layer of coarse material, matching that of the coat, and fooling the touch of seeking hands. Rondol shook his head in wonder, marvelling at the genius of his own mind. He was messenger to the King himself, and he had never failed to deliver a charge. He wondered what this particular letter contained. Information was power, but if he broke the seal on any one of his charges he knew he would hang. Still he attempted to puzzle it out anyway. This particular letter was to be delivered directly to Lady Da-- abruptly he pulled his reins back hard, causing his mount to rear up, almost throwing Rondel from the saddle. He held on until the horse settled all four hooves back on the ground, patting its neck to sooth the animal. The objects of his sudden halt were two large oaks, one laying flat on the forest floor, the other slanting across low to the ground, its top caught in the limbs of a large tree to the right. He had not seen the obstacle through the dense growth he had been riding through but a moment before. What were two felled trees doing, surrounded by perfectly healthy specimens, in a region that had not seen a vicious storm in a great many moons? Rondol moved his mount slowly toward the break in the closest tree. It was a perfect break, too perfect. Realisation bloomed, and Rondol attempted to urge his mount to the left, but it was too late. His horse screamed as a shaft punctured its neck. It danced wildly, tossing its head, blood spraying to and fro. He held on, attempting to free himself from the saddle, but succeeding in only getting his left boot free. There was a loud snap as the horse's leg fell into a shallow pit, breaking it, and throwing him from the saddle. He landed expertly, rolling to his feet in one smooth motion and darting over the fallen trees. Rondol ran hard, quickly leaving behind the screams of his dying mount, abruptly changing directions every fifty strides to deter his pursuers. He could hear hooves somewhere moving in his direction behind him, but he dared not look back. Quickening his pace, zig-zagging as well as he could, he ran on through the dense forest. The noise behind him grew louder, however much be pushed himself, and he risked a glance back. His pursuer was dressed all in black, hood pulled forward, astride a steed of the same colour, and horrifyingly with a crossbow in hand. Panicking, Rondol desperately attempted to change directions yet again. He made it three paces, pain abruptly lanced up his leg, and he tumbled to the ground. His face was pressed to the damp forest floor, and he could feel warmth rapidly spreading around the wound in his calf. He knew he had finally met the man that would take his life. But, he would not die like a coward. Ignoring the pain that shot through his leg, he turned himself onto his back, reaching inside his trousers to grip the knife hidden there. The hooded assailant casually dismounted, perfectly at ease, and tossed the crossbow aside. Rondol sat up, keeping his hand hidden where he had a good hold of his knife. “You are Rondol Kath?” The hooded figure asked in coarse voice, thick with an accent Rondol did not recognise. “I am, tell me, how did you know I would be passing through these woods, who betrayed me?” Rondol was surprised at how steady his voice was. The hooded man laughed, the sound coarse and harsh. “The Master knows all, whelp. Do not question him, you need only obey.” He said, moving closer to Rondol. Rondol froze. The Master? Was this strange hooded figure referring to The Master of the Dark, a tale told to scare children not yet off apron strings into behaving? Surely not, he must mean his Master in some far away kingdom where they all spoke as he did. The man stood over Rondol, and he was finally able to see inside the hood. Rondol blinked, he could not make out the man's face, his eyes sliding off where the man's nose should be. All he could see were a pair of deep black eyes, strangely well lit in spite of the surrounding darkness. Rondel shivered, pulling his eyes away. The hooded man leant down, going to reach inside Rondel's coat, it was then that Rondel struck. Freeing his knife from his trousers, Rondel reached up, aiming for the Man's chest, and heart beneath. The hooded man's hand darted down to grip Rondels wrist, and broke it in one smooth motion. Rondel cried out, gritting his teeth as agony overcame him. Such speed... how? “You will learn to obey, underling, I will not be so gentle again,” The man said, cocking his head before reaching down to retrieve Rondol's dagger. “You mean to let me live?” Rondol asked, voice strained, gripping his ruined wrist. “The Master has great designs for you, Rondol Kath. He would not be pleased if you were to die without his consent. You may call me Drak, do you still wish to struggle, Rondol Kath?” Drak asked, again reaching down into Rondol's coat. Using both hands, he sliced the seams protecting the hidden pocket, and pulled out the cloth wrapped letter. How did he know where it was hidden? Rondol shivered again, trying to ignore the agony in his wrist and the throbbing pain in his leg. Drak straightened, discarding the cloth and breaking the seal on the letter. Drak read through the message, occasionally laughing harshly. “If you require me for a task, you must know that I am the King's man, the seal that you just broke will as good as see me strung up,” Rondol said. Drak remained silent, dropping the letter beside Rondol. Rondol glanced at it, and drew a sharp breathe. The letter was resealed, exactly as it had been when first handed to Rondol. “What-” “SILENCE, whelp!” Drak boomed, the sound unnaturally loud. Drak leant down again, and cut strips of cloth from Rondol's trousers around the crossbow bolt in Rondol's leg. Drak then gripped the bolt, and pulled it free in one clean motion. Rondol gritted his teeth, beginning to feel dizzy from loss of blood and the pain. The strips of cloth were tied around the wound. “Your former allegiances are void, you serve The Master now, Rondal Kath. You will continue as you have done, and follow the orders of The Master when they come. The price of disobedience is death.” Drak struck out, slashing Rondol's face. Rondol withdrew sharply, feeling the blood already flowing from the gash. “If you ever forget who you truly serve, you need only look in the mirror, Rondol Kath. You were assaulted by brigands, they killed your house and stole your coins. You managed to kill them. The leader broke your wrist in the struggle, and slashed your face before you killed him. Remember who you serve, Rondol Kath.” With that, Drak walked slowly to his mount, mounted, and trotting the monstrous black animal away, disappearing among the trees. Rondol took a deep breathe, no, he supposed that name would no longer do, he would take a new name. He knew his survival now hitched on how well he was to serve this 'Master.' If his strange servants could find him with so little ease, he was sure he was no longer safe. He needed to obey utterly until he found a way out. He touched his face with his good hand, tenderly feeling gash there. It was deep, and ran in a line from the top left of his forehead, to bottom right of his chin, narrowly missing his eye. It would scar heavily. Scar, he was Scar, a faithful servant to 'The Master.' Some time later, Scar retrieved the sealed letter, found a stout stick to walk on, and begin his agonising journey from the now dark forest. Why did he feel a growing sense of secruity in the gathering darkness? - This prologue is intended for a piece at a later date. Please do not copy or reproduce the piece.