A Dreamer Among Ruins, Chapter One: Shulric by J. Miles Parker

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SUMMARY: How the story begins; Here, Erik Rhondis learns a shocking truth about his father, and learns of the quest that awaits him.

Dusk had fallen. The ale had grown warm and lost its head. By this time Erik did not mind; he did not wish to be drunk just now. It was not a day for drowning sorrows but for reflection. The noise in the tavern around him was little more than a dull roar to Erik's ears. He pondered the mystery of the old man. Who would call on him at the Vorne estate? He thought over his life; at how in thirty years no one had ever seen fit to contact him specifically. After his mother had died, his life had been a story of near constant anonymity.

Embry wandered over, a fresh ale on his tray.

"Looks like that one's died, Rhondis," he said casually. Erik barely nodded his head at the large barkeep. Embry set the fresh drink down before Erik and took the other, which was still about half-full. Erik sipped at the new glass, tasting nothing. Randle was nowhere to be seen. He could use a friendly face at the moment. Instead, Slade Prock and his group of dandies sat a few tables away, casting disparaging remarks his way with casual cruelty. As per usual, Slade was dressed in the finest silks and jewels anyone in Hon-Taeth could afford. And of course, he advertised his profligacy with every word, glance and gesture. Erik sipped his ale again and thought back to how his day at the Vorne estate had ended.

He had finished in the stables, and by that time the shadows within had grown longer. Erik ran a hand over his brow as he brushed Bronwyn's back. The mare's tale swished lazily in the afternoon sun. Her hooves tramped a little as she tried to fight off a small fly that was buzzing around her rear flank. Erik's brush moved over to her smooth rump. She was in good shape at ten years. Her days as a show horse might be nearing an end, but Erik thought there wasn't a more beautiful horse in the stable yard.

He cast a glance down the aisle where Henry was mucking out Esteban's stall. Master Vorne's prized roan received only the best handling and always slept in the finest stall. Of all the stable hands, only Henry was even allowed inside Esteban's stall. Esteban was not there now, Erik noted; no doubt being trained for the next race by either Brand, the official trainer, or Master Vorne himself. Erik sometimes was glad that the care of that fine animal was never entrusted to him. He far preferred to care for Bronwyn, Mistress Lydia's personal show horse. The poor animal deserved far better than to have to endure the insufferable nature of her owner. She was docile, friendly and strong, barely needing to be led or coached when she was ridden. Lydia had never cared about her horse's temperament and used a crop whenever she rode, despite Bronwyn never giving her reason to.

Erik knew that it was time to move on from the stables. He put back his brush and made sure the tack was all in its proper place. He patted Bronwyn's neck on his way out.

"Good night, girl," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow." He scratched at her withers with affection. The mare's sad, luminous eyes blinked at him.

"Listen, I really do have to go," he told the big mare.

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