Excerpt from Hunt for the Star
Moonlight. It seemed to bathe the forest in a magical aura. The dewy ground glistened, leaves shone and anything unsightly was hidden in shadow. But everything was not quite a picture of serenity. As he trembled in fear, staring down the wrong end of a blade, Dell couldn’t help but regret the actions that led him there.
It was not curiosity that brought him outside the town boundaries and into the woods, but a dare, and Dell was determined to show that he could be brave. Even stumbling blindly through the brush and whacking his head on the odd branch did not sway the sixteen-year-old to turn back. He was convinced that someday he would be someone of importance, perhaps a great warrior or even one of the King’s royal guardsmen. Spending one night in the woods bordering Corsin seemed an easy feat, but then again he had not expected to see anyone else.
He spotted something in a small clearing, slightly illuminated by the stars. There he was, waiting patiently by his black horse. Dell’s eyes widened. This man could possibly be a bodyguard of some kind – he certainly looked the part. Dell wondered if he should risk a closer look. Dressed in black, the man looked dangerous yet he had a face to suggest a peaceful temperament. The boy saw no danger and crept closer, watching the black knight double check the straps on his mount’s saddle. The horse jerked uneasily as the knight pulled a little too tight on one of the straps. The man backhanded the animal and Dell stepped back in shock, stepping on a dry stick. Snatching his helmet from the saddle horn, the black knight turned his head from side to side, scanning the trees until his eyes rested at the spot where Dell stood motionless.
‘Come out.’ It wasn’t a command but it wasn’t a request either, but it was enough for Dell to comply. The black knight looked searchingly around before his eyes rested back on Dell. ‘Are you alone?’
‘But the woods are a dangerous place. Were you not taught this?’
‘Yes, I was.’
‘Then why are you here, boy?’
Dell thought back to the morning when he saw his neighbour, Ethan Hestrom, make his way toward the hill in town. He knew that if he was to become someone of significance, then he would have to get help. Dell recognised Ethan to be that someone, and he was desperate to be able to join him and his friends and practise his swordplay. However, he was not as helpful as Dell had hoped. Instead, Ethan Hestrom put him to the test and dared him to spend a night in the woods.
‘I’m here to prove my worth,’ said Dell finally.
‘To prove your worth,’ echoed the knight. ‘To whom?’
‘An older boy … a man really. Ethan … he is a good fighter!’
‘And you want to be a good fighter like him,’ smiled the man. ‘What is it that you are supposed to do for Ethan?’
‘Survive the night,’ replied Dell with a forced laugh, thinking that this man before him must have done countless great deeds to prove his worth.
But the black knight did not think the remark was funny. ‘Do you think you will succeed?’
Dell was silent. There was a chilling sincerity in the knight’s tone and suddenly he decided he did not want to be there at all, enclosed in silent darkness.
The black knight wrenched Dell around and slammed him against the trunk of a tree, and with a dull metallic sound came forth the knight’s sword. Tears streamed down his face as he watched the tip of the blade blacken and he could only hope that this man was playing a trick on him. No amount of moonlight was going to make this experience magical as a warm, wetness trickled down his leg. Then he heard it, announced by a rustle in the trees. With a multitude of deep guttural growls, the silence fell. Dell turned back to the man who had put a helm on his head and all that stared back was an angry black skull. Dark shapes leapt from the trees and converged in the small clearing. Yellow eyes, horned heads and needled teeth filled his vision. Surrounded by horror, there was one bead of hope when he heard the distant call of his father.
They are looking for me! He let out one long wail and heard the chorus of shouts from his parents in response. He sighed deeply and felt as though he was about to be saved from this nightmare, and then the black knight issued one command: