||Twilight Times Books
||Jan 1 2002
Twilight Times BooksBook One
Some fantasy heroes, like Conan, have great strength. Some, like Aragorn, have destiny on their side. And then there's Alaric Swifthand. He's not extremely large or very strong or particularly intelligent. He doesn't know any magic spells, and he has no thieving ability at all. In fact, were it not for his uncanny ability to fall headlong into dangerous situations, no one would pay Alaric any mind at all. Join Alaric, Theona, Graham and a host of unusual and entertaining characters as Alaric, once again, finds himself in over his head. Never has a hero been less prepared to save the day.
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 as 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 that 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, eyes sparkling at some intimate jest. She threw back her head and laughed with complete abandon. 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 that 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.
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 that, though we saw each other when we could arrange it, I had always treated her honorably. Our romantic relationship was never actually consummated. The fact made little difference to her father.
I will never forget the day that I was called before Count Herlic, the man in charge of palace discipline. 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. Only now, standing there waiting to hear the Count's decision, did I find the rich trappings more than a little intimidating. Worse yet, whatever penance was set, I would be obligated to follow it. The Count however 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 sterness 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 that the Broken Swords was part of The Southern Realm in name only. I wonder 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 might 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. I was scared. 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. 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 that as soon as they convinced themselves that I wasn't going away, pretty much after the first hour, they would 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 pummel and 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.
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 that surrounded 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 that 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 main building, 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. 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 was busy trimming a nearby hedge. I froze. Only when I had determined that the sound was coming from around the side of the house, did I continue. I pulled myself up the pipe, my 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 did not doubt that 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.”
She studied me for a time and I began to grow fearful. I had allowed myself to believe that she would assent immediately. None of my thoughts on the matter prepared me for what was to come next. “Have you lost your mind? Do you think I would give up all this,” she gestured expansively here, “for life with a criminal? For a commoner with no title? I admit that our meetings were fun, but certainly you realize they were just fantasy.” She continued to look at me. I tried unsuccessfully to keep the emotion from my face. “You must have the largest ego in the Kingdom, Sir, if you ever really thought you were that important to me.” She laughed. “In fact, you're lucky I don't cry out and have you arrested.”
I stood there, stunned, unable to believe what I was hearing. Worse yet, the words did nothing to change my feelings for her. Perhaps I believed that somehow, if I could find the right argument, I could change her mind. Then I looked at her face and knew she was telling me the truth. I had been mislead or mistaken. Determined not to give her the last word, I spoke as I backed toward the window. “Forgive me. I had not realized how low the nobly born could sink.” With those words, I climbed out, feeling for the protrusion with my toe. Once I found it, I continued, sliding along the lip toward the pipe. I did not descend immediately however. Instead I paused there, trying to understand how I could have allowed myself to be so misled.
It was a precarious place to reassess my life, but appropriate perhaps because of it. A single slip and it would be over. At any moment, a guard might pass below and spot me. Still, I did not move.
As I hung there, three stories up, I began to grow angry. How could I have come to this, over a girl that did not even care for me? I wanted to hurt her, though I knew it would be a mistake to do so. For a few minutes, I battled with the issue of revenge. I imagine that all young men must face that challenge sooner or later. I will never know how the debate ended, for it was interrupted by the sound of voices.
My first reaction almost propelled me backwards off the ledge, but I held tightly and took a moment to regain my composure. This high up, I could afford no slips. As I waited, I realized that I was in no immediate danger. The voices were coming from Theona's room. I strained my ears, but could not make out the actual words. Slowly, I made my way back to her window, ignoring my body's protests. I could not stay up here for much longer.
The first voice I was able to make out, was that of Alicia, Theona's hand maid. Alicia was actually more of a friend. Certainly she had Theona's confidence. As I listened, I was finally able to make out what she was saying.
“It must have been very hard for you. Are you certain you did the right thing?
Theona's voice was ragged, as if she'd been crying. “How can one ever know? Damn it, Alicia, what would you have done? I had no choice.”
I inched closer, raising my head slightly so I could see inside. Theona sat on the bed, head in her hands. Alicia stood before her almost facing me, a look of abject sympathy on her plump young face. “How did he take it?”
Theona raised her head. Her voice was clearer, though slightly angry. “How do you think he took it? He was crushed. I don't know where I found the strength to pull it off.”
“Your love gave you the strength. That's what love is. When you're willing to sacrifice everything for another.” Even as she finished, she shifted her gaze and saw me. At least I thought she did. “You could have gone with him.”
Theona shook her head. “And have him hunted for the rest of his life? Do you think my father would ever give up the chase before he saw Alaric's head on a pike? You know as well as I, what kind of temper he has. I could never make anyone face that, especially Alaric.” She broke down then. “Oh Alicia, what am I to do without him?”
I had heard enough. No matter the danger, I knew I would risk it all to be with her. I climbed through the window. Alicia smiled at me, but Theona was stunned. She turned on her servant and began to yell. “You knew he was there all along. Traitoress bitch! Get out!”
Alicia, not used to that type of treatment from her mistress, turned and fled. I knew that tears would follow, but I was thankful for her complicity. Theona looked at me and sighed. Neither of us spoke for some time. At last, I broke the silence. “I do not wish to live without you, whatever the price.”
She did not look at me. “Nor I without you.” She fell silent again, wrestling with her hopes and fears. Finally, she looked up. “Tonight at midnight. Meet me at the tool shed behind Aron's Forge. I'll be waiting inside.”
A review by Jonathan Fesmire
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.
The setting is medieval, but 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.
Copyright © 2000 by Jonathan Fesmire
Genre: Action Fantasy
Reviewed By: E.L. Noel
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 Kelrac’s 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 aren’t 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 won’t want to miss.
Reviewed by Cindy Penn
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 Dream Realms award contest. I highly recommend it!
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