Prologue

    The two men were standing on the steps of the castle entrance. The older man was about forty five years old. He was tall and powerfully built, with black hair and green eyes. The younger man he was talking to one could tell, by looking at them, that he was the elder's son. He is five feet and eight inches tall. Brown straight hair that hung to his shoulders and blue- green eyes that burned with an inner passion. Muscular of build but not overly so.
   The conversation they were talking about was whether the younger man would stay or go. The father was trying to stop him. But the younger knew he had to leave. After about twenty minutes, the older man heaved a sigh and took a step back. Turning the son walked down the stairs and mounted a beautiful black war horse. Pulling the reins around to turn the horse towards the gate. He gave the horse a small nudge in the ribs with his feet. Sending it heading towards the gate of the castle.
   Upon reaching the gate, he reined in the horse to look down into the eyes of the captain of the guard. Earl the captain looked up and said " I am going to miss you my friend.". Then Earl held up a wrapped package to the man on horse back. Taking it from him the man inquired what it was. And Earl told him it was a gift from his wife to the young man. Explaining that she made it for him" She made a warm wool cloak for you. With white wool to represent the purity in your heart. " The young man told Earl to thank his wife for him. Glancing out the gate, the young man said to Earl. "During the day, may your mind be filled with boredom. Watching the common folk pass by. And at night, may your arms be filled with your lovely wife.". Earl reached out to grab the reins and said " May you find what you desire my friend.".
   Giving the horse another small kick, the young man sent it out of the gate. Onto the road away from the city. . . .
 
 

Chapter #1

   She slips through the small crowd in the tavern. Deftly avoiding the unwanted touches and pinches, that the men in the tavern try to give her. She is petite with emerald eyes and hair the color of fire. She doesn't stand higher than a man's shoulder, with high cheek bones and a pert nose. A beauty that any man would give his life to know better. But her problem is that she hates men ever since the baron started making her life a living hell. She has been unable to put men in any other light but that of evil. Including the besotted fools in the tavern.
   Upon reaching the counter, she puts her serving tray down. David the owner is on the other side of the bar. He is thirty four with black hair and a large belly. Turning to David, she places the orders for more drinks. He glances at her and goes to say something to her. The second he opens his mouth, her head flies up and she gives him a defiant glare. He sighs, turning around to get the drinks and setting them on the tray for her. Picking up the tray, she starts to make her way back through the crowd. Dispersing drinks as she goes. One man gets in an unwanted touch she couldn't avoid. She slaps him across the face as hard as she can, before continuing on. He rubs his cheek, watching her move on. Muttering to himself, he goes back to talking with the others at the table. She spends the rest of the evening seeing that the patrons get their drinks and food.
   When it is time to close for the evening. She goes into the back to make sure that all the dishes are done. Washing the dishes and deep in thought. She thinks about how men have treated her like a toy for their exclusive pleasure. It seems as if all her life they had looked upon her in this fashion no matter who they were . And the more nobly born, she found, the worse they were. Especially knights, the way they ride around this world doing whatever they want. Having to bow to them when they are no different from anybody else. Thankfully they don't come through this town more than one a year. That leaves the baron and he has to be the worst of all. His men come into town sometimes and every time they do. They are always giving her grief about how  it would be in her best interest to go to him. She will not warm that evil man's bed, even if it's the only way to survive. This makes her wonder why his men haven't been into town since last fall. They used to come once a month and drink hard in the tavern.
    Finishing the last of the goblets, she carries them out and puts them under the bar top. Then turns around and goes back into the kitchen. Grabs her cloak off a hook by the back door. Draping it around her shoulders, she heads out into the night. The air is still cold at this time of year but summer is not far off. Pausing in the small yard behind the tavern, she looks around her. Checking to see that none of the drunker patrons has stayed to cause problems for her. Seeing nothing more than the outline of the houses in town, if twenty houses, a stable and a tavern could be called a town. She shakes her head and moves on. Crossing the yard, past the stable, to her small, run down house. She opens the door and enters, closing it behind her. Pushing the bolt home so she will be safe for the night. Crossing the room in the dark to the fireplace. She kneels down to get a small fire going for warmth. Ten minutes later, with a small fire started, she stands up and looks about the room. Not much is in the room just a table, two chairs, a chest and a bed. All are sturdily built but nothing much to look at. Waiting awhile for the room to warm up from the fire, she moves over to the bed. Removing her bodice, dress and sandals, she slips into bed and pulls the quilt snugly up under her chin.
   Drifting off into a deep sleep after a hard days work. The nightmares come just like almost every night before this one. It's extremely dark in the forest with heavy storm clouds blocking the moon's light. Lightning plays along the bottom of the clouds and thunder rumbles. She is lost in this wilderness, not knowing how to get home. Picking a direction, she sets out through the woods. Trying to find a path, even a game trail, to lead her out. The bushes and trees reach out to clutch at her as she passes by them. Brushing them aside, she stumbles onward looking for any sign of humanity. Entering a cleft between two small, tree covered hills. She pauses, sensing that something is near. She was sure that she heard no sounds other than the thunder. Nor did anything move in the foliage, around her. Slowly she turns around, seeking anything out of place, looking and listening to everything around her. Frozen to the ground she is standing on, trying to pierce the gloom covering the hill on her right. Seeing or sensing nothing out of place, she continues on around in a circle. Slowly checking the woods until she comes to the other hill. Staring at the hill, she can feel that something is not right. There at the top of the rise, between two bushes, is a pair of steel gray eyes staring back at her. No more than forty feet separate the two of them. Rooted to the spot, she watches those eyes. Those eyes are hard as granite and are hungry for her. A bolt of lightning lights up the hilltop, exposing what is behind the eyes. A huge, black and gray wolf with slavering jaws and raised hackles. It growls deep in it's throat with hunger. The lightning fades and she is off, racing through the woods as fast as she can dodge trees. Running and stumbling, she hears the most spine chilling howl. Knowing that it hunts her, she runs faster. Bushes drag back on her and she can feel the wolf hot on her trail. At first she only knows it's back there, but she grows weary and it is gaining on her. Knowing that soon those jaws will close upon her throat, she glances back. And it is not a wolf chasing her anymore, but it's the baron. Those eyes are no longer filled with a ravenous hunger but with pure evil. She tries to run even faster but her lungs ache and her legs grow weary. A root reaches up from the ground to snag her foot, sending her sprawling to the forest floor. Rolling over and looking back, she stares right into the baron's evil eyes. In those eyes all she sees is success as he launches himself through the air. Aiming to land on top of her and pin her to the ground . . .
   She screams and shoots up to a sitting position in bed. Gasping for breath and covered in sweat, she glances at the window to see the sun is already up. Cursing men under her breath, she slides out of bed. Going to the wash basin on the table, she pours some water in it and cleans the perspiration from her body. Crossing the room to the chest at the foot of the bed. Opening it and pulling out a clean slip and dress, she pulls them the slip then the dress on. Straightening them before putting on her bodice and sandals. Picking up her cloak, she moves across the room to the door and pulls the bolt back. Opening it and walking out into the cool morning air. Moving past the stable to the back door of the tavern and entering it. Once inside the kitchen of the tavern, she grabs some wood, from a bin, for a cooking fire. Getting the fire going, she grabs a kettle and hangs it on a hook over the fire. Putting some meat and chopped up vegetables in the kettle. So there is a stew for anyone who happens to come into the tavern today. Once the stew has started to cook, she gets some flour to make bread.
   Out front, she can hear David setting up for the day. After awhile he comes into the kitchen and looks through the supplies, taking notes on what is there. When done he approaches her with the list in hand. "Jasmine, I want you to walk out to Ted and Nancy's farm and get some things for me." Taking the list and glancing at it, Jasmine realizes that it will take all morning to make the trips out to the farm and back. Sighing, Jasmine removes her cloak from the peg on the wall. Grabbing a basket from under the counter, and walking out through the front to the entrance. She leaves the tavern and turns east down the road to the farm. Glancing at the list and muttering under her breath, she knows it's going to take at least three trips to get everything. But this way, she knows she won't have to tolerate any early morning patrons trying to abuse her.
   Walking down the road, she can hear the birds singing in the trees. Wishing she could be one of those birds and fly free of this small town. Exploring the world and seeing everything on it. The mountains, woods, cities and all the places in between. Getting caught up in the sounds around her, Jasmine almost misses the turn off for the farm. Turning down the trail to the farm. She can see Nancy out in the garden pulling weeds. Nancy is a small, middle aged woman with streaks of gray in her hair. Robust with blue eyes and a ready smile. Walking up to the edge of the garden, she calls out. Nancy glances up and sees her, a smile lights up Nancy's face. "Hi Jasmine, what can I do for you today.". "I have a list here of things that David needs for the inn.". "all right, I'll be right there.". Standing up, Nancy moves between the rows of vegetables to Jasmine. Upon reaching her, Jasmine hands her the list of supplies. Nancy looks at the list. "That's a big order. It's going to take you a few trips. Come on we'll get you the vegetables first. They are out in cold storage, behind the cottage.". Following Nancy around behind the small house, Jasmine doesn't talk much. Thinking only of how Nancy is always nice to her, no matter what mood she is in. Walking down the steps into the storage room, they start to fill the basket with the things on the list. When the basket is full of produce, jasmine picks it up and climbs the stairs out into the sunshine. Nancy following after her, apologizes for Ted not being there to greet her. Walking back around the cottage to the front, Nancy gives her a small hug. Telling Jasmine that she will see her in awhile. Thanking Nancy, Jasmine starts back down the trail to the road. Not wanting to tell Nancy that she doesn't like Ted much.
   Entering the inn, Jasmine sees that the only two people in the place are David and Jerome the blacksmith. Jerome is three years younger than her, tall, very muscular and blonde of hair. As soon as Jerome notices her, he offers her a greeting. "Well if it isn't Jasmine. Find a man yet?". "No I didn't Jerome,  as you know already.". Seeking to shut him up, she says "I see that you are hard at work today.". Her barb strikes home as the smile disappears from his face. "Now Jasmine you know it's hard to have work when nobody needs anything made.".  Jerome turns back to talking to David as she goes back into the kitchen. Putting the vegetables away, she hears him muttering something to David. When done, Jasmine picks up the empty basket and heads back out into the front. Not saying anything to either David or Jerome, she leaves the inn for her next trip out to the farm. Knowing that her legs will be tired by the time she is done.
 
 

Chapter #2

   So now I'm back in the country I was born in. It has been four years since I last set my eyes upon this land. My home is fifteen days travel to the south along the southern border. This part of the country is the northern frontier, where the hill tribes used to raid. But that was back when I was only two years old. Now I have seen the passing of twenty seven summers and not much has changed. The people still tend the land, live and love while the seasons pass on by. But time has stopped for me, so I can find what I am looking for. For seven years I have been on a quest, not to do a heroic deed, but to simply find my one true love. Wandering the continent searching for her, because in my heart of hearts I know she is out there. I still remember the day that I had to leave . . .
   My father stands there trying to talk me out of going. We have had this discussion fifteen times over the last month. Now is the day I am going and he is trying one last time to stop me. " You know son that the house of Tralfer has always stood behind the King. Many times we have laid down our lives for the king and his subjects. Now you are going to break that tradition and leave the king, and his son the prince, without your help.".  I love him dearly but I am getting tired of him trying to stop me. " Dad I have sent off a letter to both of them and they have given not only their blessings, but also their hope that I find what I am looking for. Besides there is your eldest son, my brother, to carry on for the family name.". He crosses his arms in an attempt to look stern. " So you are going out there to find your love? After all the times we went to the palace where all the beautiful ladies come to be courted by men. And I have noticed that quite a few have been watching you. But yet you turn your nose up at them.".  I stand my ground for what I believe in. "Every lady I courted, when I looked in their eyes all I saw was love. But it wasn't for me, it was for either power, wealth, or fame that would come to them if they married me. I don't want a woman that is going to love me because of what I am. I need a good woman to love me for who I am.".  He tries one last tactic on me. " The minute you ride out that gate, you will no longer have any rights as nobility. You will become a lowly knight errant.".  And this one I was prepared for. " I understand father. But I also remember you telling me that I must be loyal to what I believe in. I believe I am doing what is right for me. And therefore I must go, for if I do not go then I have no loyalty to myself. If I don't have that, then how can I be loyal to the king?". He smiles at me for the first time since I told him I had to go. "To think that I would have my own son teach me my own lesson. If I can not stop you, then do me a favor and remember all I taught you about fighting.". It is now my turn to smile. " I remember all of it. A dangerous man will either be strong, fast or intelligent. A strong man is the weakest of the three. For the fast man will avoid the power of the strong and strike as soon as there is an opening. The intelligent man is the most dangerous of all. He will leave no opening while waiting for his opponent to make a mistake. Then make his move with almost no effort at all. If a man has two of them then he is to be watched very carefully. For he will be an exceedingly dangerous person.". He gives a small nod of his head. " You do remember all that I taught you. Well if I can not stop you then take the gold I had put in your saddle bags. It is not much but it will help you survive.". Heaving a sigh, he took a step back." And my son, I do love you.".  I looked one last time into his eyes and said. " And I will always love you father.". Turning and walking down the stairs to my war horse Midnight. A beautiful black stallion that my mother gave me for my eighteenth birthday. Having rode him in combat a few times. I found that he seems to think ahead of me. Having planned what I need to do and being ready to move. Out of the four horses in the stables that are mine, I chose him because he has the endurance that I will need on my journey. On the saddle horn rested my helm and hanging from the saddle was my shield. But now my shield had no crest upon it. Meaning that I had no rights to the house of Tralfer or it's lands. Climbing into the saddle and riding out to the gate. I stopped and gave my fair well to Earl, he was my best friend. Then rode out the gate, hoping to find the love that I was looking for . . .
   I listen to the sounds of the woods on either side of the trail. The warm spring wind is rustling through the trees. The birds are singing their spring love songs. I pull the hood of my white cloak off my head and let it hang down behind me. The sun is nice and warm today, making my journey all the more pleasant. Having been on the road for fourteen days straight, I need to stop and fill my saddle bags with provisions soon. Give Midnight a breather and rest up before moving on in my search for love.
   The woods start to give way to farm land on both sides of the trail. And in the distance there is a small village with an inn in center of the huts. In about twenty minutes I am standing in front of the tavern with reins to Midnight in hand. Tying the reins to a post out front, I enter the door and look around at the interior. There is only one man in here and he looks to be the proprietor. Upon seeing me, he moves quickly to me and bows. Asking me "Good day sir knight, what can I be doing for you?". I heave a sigh," First off, you can stop bowing to me. I don't like to see another debase themselves to me in that manner.". He immediately straightens up and smiles at me. "Secondly, I would like to know your name if you don't mind me asking.". His smile gets even bigger. "David, kind knight.". "Thirdly, if you happen to have a meal that is for sale. I would like to purchase it. And lastly, if you have a room for rent, then I would be in your debt if I could rent it for a couple of days.". His face gets a look of surprise. "We have some stew and fresh bread in the kitchen that is almost ready to eat. But the room is never used and needs to be cleaned up before you sleep there.". Relief enters his face as I say. "That will be fine, I got to goto the blacksmith and see if he can stable my horse for a few days. I'll be back around supper time.". Smiling at me, he says "everything will be ready by the time you return.".
   Outside, I remove the reins from the post and walk Midnight around behind the inn. Making my way to the forge beside the stable, to see if the blacksmith is there. Upon entering, he is stoking his forge with coal. Calling out to him, he puts his hammer on the anvil and moves towards me. He tries to bow to me but I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "That won't be necessary my good man. I was wondering if you would stable my horse for a few days?". He glances at my horse."Certainly good knight.". I walk out front of the stable and grab Midnight's reins. Bringing him in and walking him back to one of the stalls. After unsaddling Midnight, I take the time to brush him down. The whole time the blacksmith is watching and talking to me. I find out that his name is Jerome and he has lived in this town since winter of last year. He seems interested in where I have been and where I am going. When I am finished with Midnight, I grab my saddle bags and close the stall behind me. As we are walking out of the stable,we discuss payment for seven days of Midnight's upkeep. Reaching into the bags, I pull out a couple of gold coins for payment. Handing them to him before I leave for the inn and my meal.
   Entering the inn, I find that the evening crowd is already here. Making my way up to the counter, I ask David if I can see my room now. He takes me up the stairs in the back to a small room on the second floor. The room is completely clean with new sheets on the bed. As he turns to go down the stairs, I remove my armor and put it and the saddle bags in the corner. Pulling out a small pouch of gold out of the bags, I put it on my belt. There is not much weight in the pouch, which means it is almost time for me to find work as a knight. Grabbing up my sword off the bed and strapping it on. I turn and leave the room to go back to the common room downstairs.
   Finding a table by the one wall that is empty. I sit down and wait for my meal. Glancing around the room, I notice that a few town folk are watching me. After a while, they decide that I'm not a threat and go back to their drinking. After a few minutes, one of the men asks what is going on in the rest of the world. Trying to tell him all I know will take a long time. So I condense it down to the basic facts that I know. The others slowly stop talking to hear what I have to say. Telling them about the battles raging in other kingdoms that I have passed through. Getting caught up in the tails, I fail to notice the serving maid place my meal in front of me. When I finally realize that she is waiting for payment, I reach into my pouch and grab a coin for her. Placing it in her hand, I glance up to thank her.
   Dear lord, I am looking into two emerald islands in a see of flame! The most beautiful vision ever I did see! I'm lost in those gorgeous eyes and I can't help it. They pull me into their depths and I refuse to fight it. I feel uplifted and whole for the first time in my life. This is a sensation that I hope never ends, but I know it must. My senses return to me somewhat. How long have I been sitting here with my mouth hanging open like a fool. A scowl appears upon her face and she says. " Well for what it's worth, your welcome.". My mind starts moving again and looking at her I say. "T-Thank you, fair maiden, for your kindness.". She turns and walks back into the back room without another word. Watching her go, I can't stop looking at such a vision of loveliness. The second the door closes behind her the spell is broken. And I notice David is just looking at me quizzically, then he starts to serve his patrons again. Turning back to the man I was talking to, I find that he is deep in conversation with the others at his table. Talking about the battles I told them about and wondering if war will come here. This doesn't bother me because I can't get those eyes out of my mind. Eating my meal and thinking of the angel that just graced my presence with her loveliness.
   I spend the rest of the night listening to the others in the room and sipping wine. As it starts to get late the men start making their way to the door. To get up early and tend to the baron's land. When just about all the crowd is gone, I head up to my room for the night. Sitting on the edge of the bed to take off my boots, doublet and tights. Putting out the candle, the room is covered in darkness. I slip under the blankets and drift off into a sleep filled with a flame haired angel. Having the most beautiful dream of my life.
 
 

Chapter #3

   She is furious with David for working her so hard. First she had to go out to the farm for provisions, then when she got back David made her clean out the room upstairs. Asking him what for, he told her that a knight was in town. She spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning it up and putting fresh sheets on the bed. As soon as she was done, the evening crowd started to fill up the inn. This meant that she was cooking for most of the evening. Then when things couldn't get any worse, David comes in and tells her to hurry up with his dinner. Grabbing a bowl and filling it with soup, she turns and proceeds out into the front. Walking across the room, she notices he is talking to one of the farmers. Placing his stew in front of him, she holds out her hand for payment. He doesn't even notice she is there for a moment. When he does, he reaches down and gets a coin out of his pouch. Handing it to her, he looks up into her eyes. She gazes back into his eyes. She gazes into his eyes and hesitates for a second. She is not sure what is there. But this is the first time a man has ever looked at her this way. His eyes aren't filled with lust or want. His eyes are just two deep well springs that burn. Never seeing this in a man's eyes before it makes her hesitate. Trying to figure out what she is seeing for the first time in her life. Being caught off guard upsets her and her brow draws down into a frown. "Well for what it's worth, your welcome.". His brain starts working again and he thanks her. She turns and walks back into the kitchen, passing David on the way.
   In the kitchen, she is busy cleaning mugs. She can't stop thinking about his eyes, trying to figure out what she saw in them. Spending the rest of the night in the kitchen makes her glad. For she doesn't have to deal with the men in the tavern. Plus she won't have to have him gazing into her eyes again. It starts to get late and the crowd is head home for the night. When she goes out front, he has already left the common room. Cleaning up and hauling the last of the mugs into the back. She finishes up for the night and grabs her cloak off the hook. David comes in and tells her. "We got to be here early tomorrow morning, to see that our guest has breakfast.". Turning towards him with anger in her eyes. "So now we got to get up early and cater to him. Well just how long is this going to go on?". Now it's David's turn to get upset. "When you took this job, I told you that some times you would have to do this! Besides he seems like a good person, so don't you hassle him! And in case you have to know, he will be here about one week!". Taking a step by in the face of his anger, she heaves a sigh. "I'm sorry David, but getting up early to prepare a meal for him then working late into the night is going to be hard.". The frown on David's face eases up a bit. "I'll see what I can do about letting you leave earlier Jasmine. Now why don't we both go get the sleep we need.". Turning towards the door, she says to him. "all right David, I'll see you in the morning.".
   Hearing David close the dead bolt on the door after she is out. She glances around then walks across the grass to her cottage. Entering and securing the latch behind her, she starts a small fire. Knowing that it is going to be a hard week at the inn. Removing her dress before the room warms up from the fire, a chill runs down her spine. Quickly slipping under the covers and waiting for her body to heat up the blankets. Thinking to herself about how this day has gone from bad to worse. The only thing left is if she has one of her nightmares tonight. Drifting off to sleep, her bad dreams don't come to her. Being too exhausted from all the work at the inn.
   Morning comes all too soon with roosters crowing. Crawling out of bed, her eyes feel like they have sand in them. Jasmine rubs her eyes and tries to clear the fog from her head. Opening the chest at the bottom of the bed, she removes a clean dress. Slipping it on and putting on her sandals, she draws back the bolt. Shutting the door behind her, the sun is just starting to climb over the horizon. Looking at the morning sky, before walking to the back door of the tavern. Unlocking the door and walking inside, she shuts it behind her. Glancing out into the front, she finds that David isn't here yet. After the talk they had last night about being here early. Jasmine starts to get mad again. Walking up to the counter, there is a note laying on it from David. Jasmine picks it up and reads it. The note tells her that he will be in late so he can take care of the evening crowd. This way she can leave right after most of them have eaten.
   Pulling up the stool behind the counter, Jasmine waits for their guest to come down stairs. After fifteen or twenty minutes, she can hear him moving around upstairs. After a few more minutes, his door opens then closes. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, she turns towards them. Entering the common room with his sword in hand, he turns towards her. The second he sees her, his eyes light up and a smile appears upon his face. "Good morning fair. . . I'm sorry , will you be kind enough to tell me your name?". Remembering what David said late night,"Jasmine, sir knight.". He crosses to her and gently lifts her hand off the bar. "What a beautiful name you have Jasmine. It's a name that an angel would be proud of.".  Bowing slightly to kiss the back of her hand. An electric current runs up her spine. Gently removing her hand from his. "And what would be your name sir knight?". Looking sheepish, "Forgive me fair lady, my name is William.". Jasmine slips off the stool and onto her feet to take a step backwards. "Would you like your morning meal now Sir William?". Heaving a sigh, "I wish that I could but I must take care of my horse first. I shall return in a few minutes, fair Jasmine.". Turning, he strides to the front door and leaves. Jasmine watches him leave, wondering what that look in his eyes was.
 

(This is a full length story I am working on from time to time. It might never be finished. Maybe someday I will come back to it and finish it. Posted what I have for now.)