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Alaric Swifthand
cover design © 2002 Judith Huey.

 

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Alararic Swifthand

Steve Lazarowitz

 

Book One

1.

If you have never been there, it is hard to conceive of the city that is Modron. Like many great cities, it is an unlikely mixture of elements. Here the lowliest beggar may be seen standing only yards away from the mightiest warrior. A young waif in a torn tunic might stop to converse with a finely garbed craftsman. At any time, an unlikely personage (such as a great mage or powerful noble) might traverse a street that has not seen the like for many decades.

In addition to the people, the architecture of such a city is just as varied, due to the number of cultures that add to its structure and the number of years such work takes. Toward the center of Modron is a section built of old stone that should have long since turned to ruin. The architects of the area had vanished ages ago and their origin, or indeed any hint of information about them, has been long lost to history.

Many legends and tales begin on the streets of Modron. My story is just another. I was born Alaric Mason, but over the course of time, acquired the name Swifthand. I am still amazed at the implication of the label, for I can never see it when I look at myself in the mirror.

I was born in Modron. My father was a tailor, my mother a seamstress. My parents were wonderful people, but their existence was not one with which I could identify. The very concept of spending the rest of my life pulling a needle through cloth was abhorrent to me. Hence I did everything I could think of to avoid following in my father's footsteps.

I stayed out late. I drank. I pursued women. I started keeping company with a rougher crowd. Many of my older friends were already being considered for guard duty on the walls, while the younger, including myself, spent most of our time practicing with wooden swords, the only kind we could afford.

My tongue was somewhat sharper than my weapon, which was a pity for I was far from the greatest of warriors. Consequently, I was constantly forced to defend my brash attitude. I received more than one trouncing at the hands of far larger opponents. Once I realized I was unlikely to grow much larger, I started working on my speed. I practiced constantly, building upon my already impressive agility. This soon became my most obvious asset, though I was not a weak man by anyone's standard.

By the time I was seventeen, I had weaseled my way into the town guard. Unlike the larger, less intelligent members of our group, I was not offered a position on the wall. Instead, amidst much jealousy, I was selected to train for the palace guard.

By then my ferocious reputation kept the jackals at bay. Though there was much griping, I suffered no assaults over the matter. Or perhaps I was saved by the fact I finally had a metal sword.

I worked hard and learned rapidly. I found I preferred shorter blades with which I could duck inside an opponent's guard more easily. I learned to fight as if I were dancing, though I don't know where I picked up the style. It was effective nonetheless.

Within a short time I was one of them, working too many hours each day for not quite enough to live on, but it didn't matter. I was happy for the work. For a time, everything went smoothly. Then Theona entered my life.

I will never forget the day I first became aware of her. She was talking with another young lady, blue eyes sparkling at some intimate jest. She threw back her head, long blonde hair painting a slow arc in the air above her, giggling as girls do. Her dress was pastel blue, long and finer than anything found in my father's shop. It was her lust for life that first drew me to her, but there was more to Theona. Much more.

I'm not certain at what point she noticed me watching, but from then on, she kept turning her gaze in my direction as if to verify I was still interested. She tried to be casual, but I could see she was intrigued by the opportunity to spend time with a guard. It didn't matter that I was wasn't much older than her. I was something new and exciting.

Many times after, I tried to imagine what I might have looked like to her that day. Still seventeen, if only barely, hair blonde like hers, but of a darker shade and not quite as long. I cursed the fact I hadn't trimmed my beard in a couple of weeks. As I've already mentioned, I'm not a large man, but Theona was comfortably smaller, the way I like my women. Of course I was wearing my guard's outfit, a suit of brown leather armor that was probably older than I. Fortunately my gruff appearance didn't put her off.

Whenever she was at the palace, which seemed to occur with increasing frequency, she always made certain I knew she was there. After a while, our surreptitious glances became deep scrutiny. Finally, we conspired to meet.

To be honest, I don't remember much of that encounter. I was awestruck by her wit and charm. She was entertained by my rough manner, a thing to which she was not often subjected.

She was young and pretty. Perhaps when she was older, she would be beautiful. She was everything I thought I could want in a woman. There was only one problem. She was the daughter of a noble and thus our rendezvous had to be in secret.

It was only a matter of time before we were discovered. Let me at this time say, though we saw each other when we could arrange it, I had always treated her honorably. Our romantic relationship was never consummated. The fact made little difference to her father.

I will never forget the day I was called before Count Herlic, the man in charge of palace discipline. A small man, with thinning brown hair, small brown eyes, a small nose, thin lips and a voice like a bassoon. He looked me up and down, trying to keep the smile from his face. Whether he was amused at the thought of my punishment or my relationship with a competitor's daughter is still not clear to me.

I had often passed this room while going about my duties and it was well appointed indeed. Tapestries on the walls, a hand-woven rug on the floor, golden candlesticks on the desk and me and my nicely aged armor in the midst of it all. Standing there, waiting to hear the Count's decision, I found the rich trappings more than a little intimidating.

The Count had a way with words or at least got them at a good discount. The lecture I received that day rivaled a full sermon for sternness and length. I pretended to pay rapt attention, but my mind could only consider what was to come after.

At length, he wound down and delivered his sentence. I will never forget his words as long as I live. "Tomorrow at dawn, you are to accompany the King's tax collector to the City of Broken Swords, protect him from harm and deliver him safely back to the palace. Until those taxes are paid in full, you are not to return to Modron."

And there it was. I was to be sent to the roughest frontier town they could find, a place that hadn't offered tribute to the King in time out of mind, and collect taxes. It was common knowledge the Broken Swords was part of The Southern Realm in name only. I wondered who the tax collector had angered to receive such a sentence. If I failed, I would be forever barred from my home. Worse yet, I would never see Theona again.

Theona. What was I to do? That I loved her with all my heart might be an understatement. I would have to find some way to see her before I left. And Count Herlic was certainly not going to make that easy.

I betrayed no inkling of my plans. Instead, I bowed my head and looked intimidated, a task that didn't require much deception. When finally I was dismissed, I was escorted to the barracks under guard. Apparently I was to be watched until after my journey began. And so went my chances of seeing Theona.

The rest of the day, I did little but sit and reflect on my future. Suddenly, being a tailor didn't seem half bad. As the day wore on, I found I could stand it no longer. I simply had to find a way to see Theona, one last time.

I studied the two men who had been sent to watch me. Not really men. Boys. One dark haired, one fair. Probably a couple of years younger than me as well. They hadn't even been given armor. I could take them, if need be. But should I? And then I thought again of the noble's daughter and realized I had no choice.

Being a guard myself, I knew as soon as they convinced themselves I wasn't going away, pretty much after the first hour, they'd relax a bit. Start talking to each other. It was only natural. I waited until they were thus involved, before I leapt into action.

I had been disarmed, of course, but still had my speed. I tripped one, while pulling the other's short blade from its scabbard. I didn't want to kill them, nor was it necessary. I knocked the prone one out with the sword's pommel, then pointed the blade at the second, who now conveniently had no weapon to oppose me. I made him bind his friend. Just as he finished, I knocked him out as well. I kept the blade and ran. Escaping the palace unseen was somewhat easier that it looked. After all, a guard's job is to keep intruders out, not in.

As I ran through the streets, drawing more than an occasional stare, I started to wonder what I would say when I reached her. Would I bid her farewell? Would I ask her to come with me? If I did, would she be willing to trade her life of luxury for the uncertain future of a fugitive? What would I do now, in any case?

I knew I had to decide soon. I was rapidly approaching her father's residence.

Chapter Two

Baron Kelrak's domicile was more akin to a mansion than a house and the grounds upon which it stood were vast indeed. I had passed the high walls surrounding it many times, but never before had I ventured within. I was risking everything, but Theona was worth it.

It was not difficult for me to scale the wall, though a less agile person could not have made it. I thanked the gods I'd kept in shape. From atop my perch, I scanned the area before lowering myself to the ground. I moved as quickly as I could without making noise. As I approached the house proper, I wondered how I was going to find Theona's rooms. A wrong guess would cost me.

I circled the mansion, looking for external clues. That it was made from stone clearly illustrated the Baron's wealth, for the nearest quarry was not close. Hedges and flower beds surrounded the three story structure, creating several lovely pathways and more than enough cover to make it easy to remain hidden.

Two of the upstairs rooms had curtains that would befit a noble's daughter; brightly colored wisps of silk. One of them was next to a drainage pipe that ran down from the roof. At least it would be an easy climb.

As I began my assent, I noticed several sharp clicking noises--no doubt some industrious gardener busy trimming a nearby hedge. I froze. Only when I had determined the sound was coming from around the side of the house, did I continue. I pulled myself up the pipe, knees scraping against stone, but there was nothing to be done about it. I ignored the discomfit and continued.

A short time later, I gained the ledge, though the term might be somewhat generous for so slight a protrusion. Though I trusted my balance, discovery at this point would be more than a little dangerous. I slid my feet slowly along, using what handholds I could find, until I came to the window which, fortunately, was wide open. I stuck my head in and looked around. Theona sat on the bed, writing. I envied her the talent. Perhaps one day, I would learn it.

I climbed through quickly, making so little noise she didn't look up until I stood before her. She almost gasped, but caught herself. I didn't doubt a lady in waiting sat just beyond the door.

"Alaric, what are you doing here?" she whispered.

"I have come to ask you to leave with me."

For a few moments she looked puzzled, as if she did not understand the question. At last she spoke. "Leave with you? To where?"

I shrugged. "What difference, as long as we're together? There's a whole world out there, waiting to be explored."

 

 

"Alaric Swifthand" Copyright © 2000. Steve Lazarowitz. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

 

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Author Bio

Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz is a writer with a singular goal. He tries to make people think. His short fiction has been compared to The Twilight Zone, which very much appeals to him. "We live in a world of wonders, some of which are shrouded in shadow. My job is to remind people of that.."

His award winning short stories and innovative articles and essays have appeared in Jackhammer, Exodus, Planet Relish, The Wandering Troll, The Hood, Conflicting Spectrums, Dream Forge, Aphelion, Titan, Twilight Times and many other ezines.

More information on his writing can be found at his web site.

 

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  Reviews

In ALARIC SWIFTHAND by Steve Lazarowitz, Alaric Mason becomes fantasy's answer to the Wild West with fantastic stories of impossible feats and adventure. His escapades bring to mind James Fenimore Cooper's extraordinary hero Hawk Eye, with a modern twist guaranteed to provide excellent entertainment.

Lazarowitz links the adventures of his hero into three books, the first telling of Alaric's love for Theona, the daughter of a baron. Since Alaric is a simple palace guard, he scarily bears notice in Theona's world. But when he saw Theona through her back and laugh with complete abandon, Alaric fell in love with her lust for life. Intrigued by the opportunity to spend time with a guard, Theona was fascinated with Alaric simply because he was new and different. As the daughter of a noble, Theona's relationship with Alaric had to be kept secret.

When their affair is discovered, Alaric finds himself banished from Modron. He must accompany the King's tax collector to the City of Broken Swords, protect him from harm and deliver him safely back to the palace. Until the taxes are paid in full, he cannot return to Modron. Taking on terrific risk to life and limb, Alaric scales Theona's wall in attempt to persuade her to accompany him out of the city, promising, ""What difference, as long as we're together? There's a whole world out there, waiting to be explored."

They arrange to meet in a tool shed, but as the door slowly closes, Alaric sees Theona lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Before he can seek help, the Baron discovers him there holding the knife that slit Theona's throat. Alaric flees, vowing to clear himself of the blame for the foul murder. Along the way he discovers a magical sword and answers beyond his imagining.

In the successive books, Alaric continues to expound upon his fantastic adventures, creating a world of happenstance and imagination that will delight the reader. Over time Alaric comes to be known by the name of Swifthand, although he admits, "I am still amazed at the implication of the label, for I can never see it when I look at myself in the mirror."

Readers of fantasy and adventure, take note. Steve Lazarowitz has a flair for adventure and the irreverent resulting in an original tale with a powerfully original voice. ALARIC SWIFTHAND was a finalist in the recent Dream Realms award contest. I highly recommend it!

Reviewed by Cindy Penn for Word Weaving.com
 



Alaric Mason, a light-hearted young man possessed of more skill than motivation, finds his life turned upside down when the woman he is forbidden to love is murdered. Theona, Baron Kelracís daughter, is found dead, her throat cut, and Alaric is accused. Forced to leave his home of Modron, Alaric sets out on a series of adventures and soon earns his new name: Alaric Swifthand. As he runs for his life, without hope and alone, he finds a magic sword that does more than meets the eye, a sword with an agenda of its own. Along the way, he meets a cast of original and entertaining characters; Graham, the giant; assassins, trained and skillful killers who wield magic to aid them in their dire pursuits; the Drintu, a rat-people who live beneath the earth; the undead, and a necromancer wizard whose power Alaric can never hope to beat.

The story is filled with wonderful surprises; locked chests, golden keys, wicked princes, lovely ladies who arenít always who they appear to be, and one who knows more about the thieves guild then a lady should. Alas, although Alaric is a masterful swordsman and warrior, his luck in love fails to match his prowess in battle.

From the depths of the Labyrinth of Kerrenar to the Dangling Dagger and its ghostly inhabitants at the entrance to the Cavern of Longing, Steve Lazarowitz takes his readers on a wild ride of adventure. In the words of Alaric Swifthand, "Adventures happen. You have to deal with them..." And Steve Lazarowitz deals with them in a highly entertaining fashion. He is a master of the cliffhanger, and has created a real page-turner in Alaric Swifthand. Clever and witty, written in a light, entertaining voice, Alaric Swifthand is a story any lover of fantasy or adventure wonít want to miss.

Reviewed by E. L. Noel for Dowse Book Reviews.
 



If you enjoy speculative fiction and spend much time on the Web, chances are you've heard of author Steve Lazarowitz. If you hadn't before, now you have and believe me, if you read his fiction you won't be sorry.

Lazarowitz is master of the plot twist and nothing shows this better than his once-serialized novel, Alaric Swifthand. The novel, comprised of three novellas (the first two were previously published in Dragonsclaw, but the third is new), reads like a serial. Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger and includes a plot twist that throws the reader off.

With such a structure it would be easy to lose plot continuity, but the story remains strong and cohesive. By the end of each section it seems that events had to happen as they did.

Alaric Mason, later to be called Swifthand for a battle he had not intended to fight, lives in a dangerous world and often finds himself thrust into situations more perilous than he could conceive. Almost everyone he meets has a secret, sometimes shocking, sometimes deadly. His adventures lead him to a powerful magic sword, rat people, and maidens in peril.

Though the setting is medieval, the book is filled with modern sensibilities. Though this could have cut into the story's credibility, it does not. It actually works very well and rounds out some of the already interesting characters.

With swift action, surprises, and thought-provoking problems, Alaric Swifthand is a joy to read.

Reviewed by Jonathan Fesmire, author of Seeds of Vision and Children of Rhatlan.

 

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