Writer In Progress: The Bridge at Ardendale, by J.W. Kent

This month I bring you a tale set in medieval times. A time of kingdoms, swords, pubs, and beer. Hang on to your helmet and be swept away in this excerpt of THE BRIDGE AT ARDENDALE.


The_Bridge_at_Ardendendale_coverThe rain started again just as darkness fell. The sun had tried to come out earlier in the afternoon, but gave up in despair and ran off with its tail between its legs. The rain drops fell softly into the forest, dripping off of oak leaves turned red with autumn. Not a bird or small animal stirred, contented to be holed up somewhere rather than brave the chilly damp evening.

Looking strangely out of place, a road snaked through the forest, almost lost between the massive trees. “Road” was actually a kind word for a track barely wide enough for two wagons to pass, and then only with a great deal of profanity. However, someone had put a large amount of effort into the road, because it was not a morass of mud, and was stable enough to not show deep ruts.

Along this road a man pathetically trudged westward, leading what may well have been the ugliest horse the world had ever seen. The big boned rangy yellow horse carried a large pack, carefully tied on with a diamond hitch. Over this pack, hastily thrown on as if as an afterthought, was a very fine cavalryman’s saddle.

The horse made a sound not unlike a rusty hinge on the gate to a crypt, and nudged the man in the back with its nose.

“Look ye black hearted demon spawned heap of shite, I’m cold, wet, and tired too. There’s supposed to be an inn up here soon, so put a stop to yer bitchin’.”

The man, wrapped in a sodden, heavy wool cloak, turned back and started again down the road. He wore a large, broad-brimmed hat that might have been stylish, had it a plume, and hadn’t been very wet, beat up, and old. His high boots also had a worn look about them, although they were obviously very fine. His gleaming blue eyes, about all that was visible of his face, scanned the trees on either side of the road carefully as they continued on.

Perhaps an hour passed before the horse snorted and again uttered the horrible grating sound.

“Aye, ye misbegotten offspring of an Illesian whore and the hangman’s mule… I smell wood smoke meself. Just pray it be the inn and not some bandit’s fire.”

Sure enough, not much farther, up a low hill and around a short turn, sat a stout wooden structure with a battered sign crudely worded with “The Beached Whale.” Off to the side, just as stoutly constructed, was a stable.

“I’ll be damned,” softly spoke the man, “We’re a hundred miles from the sea; why in hammered hell would a retired sailor open an inn in these gods-be-damned dreary assed woods?”

Stopping just at the edge of the light from a sputtering lamp hanging on the signpost, the man loudly shouted, “Halloo.”

A tall youth armed with a pike stepped out of the stable and tentatively hollered, “Halt and state your business!”

“Me business is to be not cold and wet, and to fill my empty belly with some’at that resembles ale and food,” replied the man. “And fer the gods’ sake boy, put that damned pike away before ye hurt yerself.”

The youth sheepishly lowered the pike and said, “Of course sir, sorry, we’ve had trouble with bandits around lately.”

“Aye lad, but if it cheers yer heart any, there are a few less of the bastards to the east of here than were up to mischief this mornin’.”

The youth walked up with a smile. “Here, let me take your…uh… horse?”

“Oh good god no,” said the man stepping between the youth and the animal, “the beast would just bite yer face off. Better I take care of the bastard me own self.” He turned and looked out into the darkness. “Dog!… dog?” He paused a moment, then shrugged under his cloak, and followed the boy into the stable.

The well cared for stable was occupied by five horses, tall sleek animals that rolled their eyes when the man led his packhorse inside. “Hah, aye, he’s an ugly, mean old bastard, but I won’t let him eat ye,” he laughed. The boy pointed to a stall, as far as possible from the other occupants, and said, “You can put him in here. Name’s Ben.”

The man removed his hat and shook the worst of the water from it. “Pleasure, Ben, I’m Fergus,” and hung his cloak over the stall door to dry. Fergus was revealed to be in his fifties, mostly bald, with a beard now more white than red. His weather-beaten but good-natured face smiled at Ben as he said, “Just toss some feed at the hellish beastie, and he won’t destroy the place. Just stay the hell away from him. He really will bite yer face off.” As if in response, the animal in question showed big yellow teeth and made the hideous grating noise, causing the other horses to whinny in terror. Ben stepped back, “Holy shit!” Fergus just laughed, and pointed at the far better- looking but very nervous steeds with his chin. “Soldiers?”

“Aye sir, some mercenaries passing through,” replied Ben, still keeping a suspicious eye on the hellish beastie.  Fergus grunted, and began to remove the pack from his horse.

A few minutes later he walked into the common room of the inn, looking over the five well-armed men seated at the table by the fire. Their conversation stopped as they in turn appraised Fergus, noting both the backsword with long straight quillions and knuckle bow on his hip, and the ring-pommeled bastard sword slung on his back. He nodded at the seated men, and smiled at the innkeeper, a chubby, bald, aproned man with a wooden leg, who greeted him. “Welcome, welcome sir.”

“I be needin’ a place to sleep, some ale, and a bite of whatever I be smelling in the pot,” Fergus said, as he took a seat by the wall at a table across from the fire.

“I’ll send Donna right over with the ale and stew, but our rooms are all taken,” said the innkeeper, wringing his hands and nodding towards the mercenaries by the fire. “That’d be alright,” smiled Fergus, “I’ll bed down in the stable, least I’ll be dry.”

Fergus studied the mercenaries while he waited for his drink. Their weapons, mostly cut and thrust swords, were well cared for, and he didn’t notice any rust on the bits of chain mail they wore. The oldest, seated closest to the fire, had short dark hair shot with grey, and looked back at him with narrowed eyes, as if Fergus looked familiar to him. The youngest, a tall skinny man in his early twenties with longish unkempt yellow hair, was far more interested in watching Donna, the barmaid, as she brought Fergus’ ale over to him. Fergus’ attention shifted to her, as she placed a large foaming tankard before him with a wink. “I’ll be right back with some stew,” she said.

“Many thanks…uh… darlin’.” Fergus stammered as the dark-haired girl, with plenty of soft curves in all the right places, darted away. He glanced back at the mercenaries, and raised his eyebrows, causing a chuckle from them. As Donna walked back with a large bowl of stew that appeared to be mostly squirrel meat and turnips, the best outfitted of the mercenaries stood, and with a quiet air of authority said, “Travis, go check on the horses.” With a sigh and a reluctant “Aye Captain,” the dark-haired man pulled on his cloak and went outside. The Captain walked over and seated himself across from Fergus. He was in his mid to late thirties, and handsome in a way that reminded Fergus of Aldermar nobility. Fergus took careful note of the beautiful cut and thrust sword at his hip, thinking how does a common merc, captain or no, come to have a blade like that, pray tell?

“Evening, oldtimer, surprised to see anyone travelling alone in these parts; it’s not a bit safe nowadays. We ran off some bandits east of here just yesterday.”

“Aye,” said Fergus with a nod. “I left six of the black-hearted bastards cold and quiet along the road this morning, mayhap the same bunch.”

“Six!” cried the yellow-haired youngster, taking his eyes off the girl for a moment. “How does an old man kill six bandits?”

Fergus glanced at yellow hair with contempt, and turned back to the Captain. “I only killed four. That beast from hell out in the stable that be thinkin’ he’s a horse stomped a mud hole in one, and me dog took another’s throat out.” Fergus shook his head sadly and continued. “A damn shame the dog got to the one with the crossbow too late; bastard killed the best damn’ horse I ever had. Was a gift from the fuckin’ Earl of Bamberg, he was.”

The Captain raised an eyebrow and started to speak, when the door banged open with a curse. “The son of a bitch bit me!” Travis, the unlucky man sent to look in on the horses shouted, holding a rag to his bloody shoulder, “God damn horrid ugly fucker bit me!”

The boy Ben right behind him said, “I’m sorry, master Fergus. I tried to warn him, I really did, but he just had to get a better look at your greatsword.”

“Greatsword?” echoed the Captain. “That what you used on those bandits?”

“To answer yer question, no, I used this,” pointing with his thumb at the bastard sword hilt on his back. “They was on foot,” said Fergus with an evil grin. Then shook his head and muttered, “That damned demon horse must be my penance fer somewhat I done once, I swear he only carries me pack so he can be around to torment me… How bad be ye hurt lad?”

“I’ll live, you old bastard, but you should put a fucking sign around that thing’s neck to warn people.”

“Hah! I tried that once, and the hellspawn just ate it.” Even the slightly mauled Travis laughed at that, and went to patch his shoulder and get another drink of his ale.


Links to the book.





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Also available in paperback from Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.


Where to find the author online.

??????????????????????DeadPixel Publications http://www.deadpixelpublications.com/jw-kent

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/JWKent

FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/jw.kent.71

Amazon Author Profile http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00GS22MLE

Smashwords Author Profile http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Ceannt

About Darke Conteur
Darke Conteur is a writer at the mercy of her Muse. The author of stories in several genres, she prefers to create within the realms Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy. A pagan at heart, her personal goal it to find her balance within nature; exploring the dark through her stories and the light through her beliefs. When not writing or working with crystals, she enjoys knitting, gardening, cooking and very loud music.

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