Ok so heres the next chapter, glad you enjoy it :)
Chapter 2: The Red Emperor
Four Years later
Mcgrath lay on his bed staring up at the cream coloured ceiling in his quarters with his arms folded behind his head. He spent a lot of his precious spare time like this between lessons and helping Sir Alan, deep in thought. Sometimes he even fell asleep like this.
Mcgrath had now reached fourteen summers, a tall, slender lad with the promise of being handsome and broad shouldered by the time he finished growing. He excelled at his lessons and already held promise for being an excellent horseman. He often went out hunting with the game keepers, and though his aim with the bow wasn’t brilliant he had proved himself handy with the knife.
Already Sir Alan joked about the young ladies who visited the manor, giggling and blushing in Mcgrath’s presence. Mcgrath enjoyed their company but the ladies always seemed so silly even if he did find some off them quite attractive. He hadn’t noticed that before, the female form. Even in the preposterous dresses they wore with the thick lace ruffs, corsets so tight he questioned how they could breath and their bosoms almost around their ears, their beauty could not be denied.
He had learned to blot out his thoughts of her as they made his heart ache. He hoped she was well, maybe she had gained employment somewhere that they didn’t require a cook. With a start he realized she must be sixteen now. He wondered what she looked like. Pretty he guessed but not like the overly made up ladies who swanned around the place, their faces made pale from the lead paste, their lips blood red and their waists sucked pencil thin. Natalia wouldn’t be in that he imagined.
A sudden yell made him sit up suddenly. A few weeks ago some of the Kings soldiers had
been posted to the Chateaus grounds as a protection for barbarians stalked the forest. The barbarians dressed in wolves fur, often with long grimy beards and carried fearsome, primitive weapons. Mcgrath had been separated from his hunting party a few weeks ago and spotted a few of them lurking about. He had been terrified as he hid that they would capture him. He had heard tales of them using human flesh for belts and boots.
Mcgrath dashed over to the window, the sight nearly stopping his heart. A horde of barbarians, their leader on a horse as red as flames were charging towards the chateau swinging their swords above their heads. Mcgrath looked down at the guards, the barbarians had attacked during the lunch break as the guards fumbled about pulling on swords and helmets. Already the arrows had begun to fly, three soldiers falling before they could pull their armour on. Mcgrath looked up in time to see a flaming arrow sailing towards him. He leapt aside as it smashed through the windows, the arrow hitting his bed and immediately his bed erupted into flames.
Mcgrath scrambled to his feet, running out into the hallway. Sir Alan had gone into the City on business, Mcgrath usually accompanied him but today chose not to. Feet thumping on the stairs he burst into the foyer just as a solider came through the door.
“Run lad! Go to the dark forest, the barbarians believe its haunted so they wont follow you. RUN!” he yelled giving him a firm shove.
Mcgrath stumbled out the back door and began to run. His long easy strides carried him across the grassy fields behind the house as he headed towards the forest. Sudden hoof beats made him look around, the barbarians leader galloping his horse towards him. Mcgrath sprinted but the horse caught up. Mcgrath looked over his shoulder to see the barbarian draw his sword.
Remembering what Sir Alan taught him, at the last second he dropped to the ground, the sword missing his back by mere inches and the horse sliding to a halt ahead of him. Mcgrath stood to run but already the well trained warhorse had wheeled and charged for him again. Scrambling, Mcgrath stood to run but a rabbit hole caught his foot, Mcgrath falling heavily. The horse beared down on him just as Mcgrath felt the dagger that always stayed in its scabbard on the side of his tall boots. Snatching it he took it by the tip of blade and flicked it, the dagger flying through the air and plunging straight into the barbarians chest. The barbarian screamed, falling from his horse that immediately galloped off.
Not wasting a moment Mcgrath ran as the battle raged behind him. Just before he entered the Dark forest he heard the sound of breaking glass and turned to see the manor already aflame. His heart sank, but at least it wasn’t Sir Alan’s own manor but instead one of the Kings many manor house littered throughout the kingdom. As Mcgrath plunged into the forest he also felt glad that Sir Alan had gone into town. He just hoped that he wouldn’t worry that he had been captured or killed.
Mcgrath pushed his way through the forest, the long branches grasping at his clothing like fingers. The leaf litter lay thick on the ground, Mcgrath’s boots swishing through the dry leaves. The late afternoon sun barely slanted through the eerie trees with their rough bark and their long needles that whistled when the wind blew through them.
The forest seemed like a maze, every tree looked the same, the ground never undulated and there were no identifying features like rivers or boulders. Mcgrath stumbled for hours, he didn’t know if he was still going the same way or going around in circles. He felt so venerable without his dagger, he wished he had a sword or a bow and a quiver of arrows. He wished he could go back and that all this hadn’t happened. He was tired and night had dropped like a veil on the forest. Very soon he could add cold to the list. Shattered, both in spirit and strength he collapsed against a big tree, tucking his knees up under his chin and wrapping his arms around himself.
He must have dozed slightly because when he woke he could see a light in the distance. He stared at it, flickering invitingly between the trees, the scent of meat cooking drifting towards him. His stomach growled angrily, demanding to be fed as he forced himself to his feet. He knew it wouldn’t be the barbarian’s, the solider said they were superstitious of the forest and they would probably still be looting the manor.
Mcgrath spotted the solitary figure on the other side of the flames and stopped. He looked unusual, dressed in scarlet breeches, a scarlet shirt with a ruffled cravat pinned with a huge ruby and tall black boots. From a tree branch hung a long velvet cloak the colour of blood with a ruff made of a golden lion‘s mane. He wore a wide leather belt with an gothic gold buckle studded with rubies which from it hung a long handsome sword with a twisted, gothic handle also bedecked in rubies.
Behind him his horse stood tethered, a tall coal black stallion bedecked in silver armour that lifted his head with his neat ear pricked and snorted suspiciously. The man looked up, like most horseman knowing to trust their steeds instincts and followed his horses gaze. He had strong jaw and a sharp nose, but strangely handsome face with slowly greying black hair.
“Don’t be shy, lad, come join me,” he called.