Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘Oathbreaker’ by A.J.Rettger organised by Storytellers on Tour, and I’m delighted to share an extract as well as a chance to win a copy of this book for yourself.
I hope that you will check out the book and the author, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
For thousands of years, elves and non-humans alike had lived freely until humans colonized their land and forced them into hiding and subjugation. After years of living as slaves or second-class citizens, the elves rebelled, but their uprising failed, and humans remained victorious.
Mario Deschamps, a new graduate of the Knight’s College, sets off to complete his first deed, an accomplishment that will grant him knighthood and into the ordo equestris. But he has huge boots to fill. His late father, a famous knight and considered the Scourge of Bandits, single-handedly ended the Elven Uprising. Mario’s youthful confidence, vanity, and naivety don’t get him far in the real world, and he quickly finds himself trapped in a political climate where tensions are on the rise and war is inevitable.
In a world filled with monsters, outlaws, bounty hunters, demons, and murderous bandits, Mario is forced to make tough moral decisions. In a world fuelled by violence, hate, and bigotry, things are not as clear cut as he once thought. Lines have been drawn, but to complete his task, he must cross them all. With every choice, the consequences weigh greatly on him, leaving him full of guilt and doubting his path . . . and all the while, in the darkness, someone-or something-is waiting for him to break . . ..
A.J. Rettger weaves an epic tale of politics and prejudice, war and depravity, and legacy and destiny in his action-packed debut fantasy Oathbreaker….
The sound of boots hitting the stone floor echoed throughout the halls of the Knight College. It was still early, and nobody was awake yet, except for one recruit, who had woken up early to reminisce about his time in the college before his graduation ceremony. The recruit went past the southwest window that overlooked the small town of Redfern, the college situated on its outskirts, and went down the small spiral staircase to the East Wing. He had to be extra stealthy in this part of the college because this was where the headmaster’s quarters were. The headmaster was almost always in a sour mood and looked for any excuse to yell at the students.
The recruit stopped halfway through the East Wing and looked down at the dirt courtyard through a stained-glass window. He recalled all the countless hours of training he had endured at the college. He remembered the heat of the sun beating down on his neck while he practised his swordsmanship; he remembered the distinct taste of dirt mixed with blood. He remembered the pain of an instructor’s sword striking him in the ribs, arms, or legs. He looked back on all of these memories fondly. He was grateful for what these gruelling lessons had taught him and was eager to use this knowledge outside of the college.
The recruit continued to walk around the college, day-dreaming about his future life as an ordo equestris. He dreamed of fighting bandits, slaying dragons, protecting the innocent from the wicked, and, of course, rescuing damsels in distress. During his absent-minded walking, he quickly found himself in the West Corridor. This corridor was well known to every recruit because of the giant oil paintings of famous knights that hung there. Every recruit dreamed that someday their painting would hang on the wall and join the illustrious company of knights that had the honour of adorning the wall. During his free time at the college, the recruit frequently found himself in the West Corridor because there, on the wall, hung a painting of his father—Sir Pablo Deschamps.
“I wish you could join me at the graduation ceremony, Father,” Mario said aloud. The painful memory of learning of his father’s disappearance five years ago surged back into his mind. He would’ve given anything to have his father attend. Suddenly, Mario heard the creaking of plate armour to his right and quickly turned his head only to see a familiar face staring back at him.
“I knew you’d be here,” said the knight in full-plate armour.
“Yes, Sir Augustine.”
“Please, Mario, you’re a knight now! Call me Brother Augustine!”
Mario knew this was a huge compliment. Even though he wouldn’t officially be a knight until after he completed his first deed, it meant a lot to him that his mentor would find him an equal. Sir Pedro Augustine looked like he came straight out of a fairy tale. He was strong with broad shoulders; women from town swooned over him whenever he’d head to the market to buy something. His long, luscious, blonde hair was of great envy to many women, and some men. But his eyes, most would say his greatest feature, were as blue as the ocean, and a person could get lost in them just as easily. It was unusual that a man so young would be an instructor at the college; however, Sir Augustine valued education. He saw it as part of his vow of loyalty to the order.
“For the record, I wish your father was here to see you graduate as well,” Augustine said, smiling at Mario.
“Thank you, Brother Augustine.”
“Brother? What nonsense are you filling that boy’s head with now?” barked another voice from behind Mario. He could tell from the gravelly tone and the anger in the voice that it belonged to another instructor, Sir Darius Withers.
“Mario is graduating today Darius. That means he is the newest member of the order. Whether you like it or not,” Augustine snapped.
“Newest member . . . the boy hasn’t even completed his first deed yet,” Sir Darius growled back.
Sir Darius Withers was easily recognizable; four large claw marks had cut across his entire face. The scars, about half an inch deep, distracted from the other features of his face. It was only after about two years at the college that Mario realized that Darius’ eyes were yellow and that the only hair on his head was a small moustache and goatee.
Although Sir Withers was never the embodiment of kindness, he was easily one of the bravest knights to ever serve the order. It was told that a gang of bandits he was fighting kept a tarraq as a pet. Mario had never seen a tarraq in person, but he had seen drawings of them in books. They were ravenous creatures, about as big as a man that walked on all fours, similar to a gorilla. Their arms had long razor-sharp claws at the end, about three inches long and retractable. Depending on the sub-species of tarraq, the sharp spines on the back could either be venomous or not. As if the gods thought that this wasn’t enough when creating such a beast, they decided to fill its maw with sixty-four dagger-like teeth, each about a quarter of an inch long. Unless one was trained in fighting monsters, fighting a tarraq meant certain death — which made it all that more impressive that Sir Darius walked away from the fight alive, albeit scarred for life.
“Mario, go to town and get food for the banquet after your graduation ceremony today, and take Tiberius with you,” Sir Darius said without breaking eye contact with Sir Augustine.
“Yes, sir,” Mario muttered and quickly shuffled away back towards the recruit quarters to grab Tiberius. A poor start to my big day, but hopefully hitting the town with my best friend will turn it around.
Mario’s mind filled with completing great deeds and other illusions of grandeur as he walked back to the quarters, unaware of what the town of Redfern had in store for him that fateful day. In fact, [E1] [E1]he was so busy day-dreaming, that he didn’t notice the foot sticking out into the hallway. Mario immediately fell face first onto the stone floor. His nose began to bleed.
“Watch where you’re going, clumsy!” the owner of the foot exclaimed. It took a while for Mario’s eyes to focus, but when they did, he saw that the person standing over him was Tiberius, and he was offering him a hand back up.
“Tiberius! You could’ve knocked all my teeth out!” Mario shouted.
“I was trying to make you as handsome as our good instructor Sir Darius Withers. Ladies love a man with scars, you know.”
“Always were a jokester. Come on, we have to go into town and get supplies.”
“You seriously don’t know what today is?”
“No, I am well aware. I just wanted to get a rise out of you. Now shut up about it. I’ve heard you talk about this day non-stop for five years.”
“I know, I know, I just want to . . .”
“Live up to your father’s legacy. The great Pablo Deschamps! The Scourge of Bandits and Slayer of Elves. Hero of the Elven Uprising. I’ve heard it all before. Now can we go already?”
“Gladly.” Mario smiled while pinching off his bleeding nose.
The town was wide awake. People were going about their daily lives: the devout entered the temples to pray to the various gods for various blessings, men were kicked out of their houses for their philandering the night before, guards had already fallen asleep during the early morning shift, children ran through the streets with sticks playing “knights and bandits,” merchants were setting up their stands in the market, and of course, people flocked to the nearest tavern. This had only been the third time Mario had set foot in Redfern since joining the Knight College. Recruits had an extremely strict tutelage schedule that was always to be adhered to, but the air always smelled better in town than in the college. Today was no different. The second Mario’s foot left the drawbridge and hit the dirt of the town he felt the rush of freedom surge throughout him. Anxiousness filled his body when he realized that his freedom was only a couple of hours away.
“Well, come on! We don’t have all day!” Tiberius mocked. Mario quickly hurried to catch up with his friend and went straight to the market to buy the supplies.
“Gods, blast it! Looks like they’re still setting up their stands,” Tiberius said, his voice flooded with sarcasm. “Looks like there is nothing to do now but head to the nearest tavern.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Tiberius . . .”
“Oh, come on! One ale won’t hurt! Plus, who knows when we will be seeing each other again since I’m not graduating today.” Mario could hear the subtle disappointment in Tiberius’ voice.
It pained Mario that Tiberius wasn’t graduating with him today. In fact, no one was. He was this year’s lone graduate. Every recruit had to spend a mandatory five years in the college but couldn’t graduate until every teacher agreed that they were ready to become a knight. It had been Mario’s plan since a small child to graduate in the least amount of time, just like his father. “Alright,” he muttered, letting his pity for Tiberius get the better of him. “Just one though. I don’t want to get expelled on my graduation day.”
Since Tiberius and Mario were unfamiliar with the town, it took some time before they found a tavern. Eventually they found one, a run-down establishment by the name of The Crooked Leg. Upon entering, the name seemed to be quite fitting. The walls were less than ninety degrees with the floor, and the floorboards were bowed and curved, making it uneven and difficult to walk on. Bowls slid across the slanted tables into patrons’ laps, and a smell that could only be associated with an infected leg filled the room.
“Gods, it’s worse than our quarters in the college!” Tiberius exclaimed.
“Still want that drink, or do you want to go back to the market?” Mario asked, hoping his friend would forget about his quest, but he should’ve known it would be no use; Tiberius never gave up.
“Two ales barkeep!” Tiberius shouted after sitting at the least crooked table he could find. Before Mario had a chance to find a suitable chair, two mugs were already on the table. He decided to cut his losses and just enjoy the beverage.
“Thankfully the ale tastes better than this place looks!” Mario exclaimed after taking a big gulp. He then realized that Tiberius hadn’t even taken a sip from his mug yet; he was too busy admiring the barmaid. “I swear, that’s the whole reason you joined the order.”
“Mario, I’m offended!” Tiberius said in his most posh voice. “I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and protect the good people of our kingdom from the wicked and vile that hides in the streets.”
Mario shook his head. “So, this is your big plan? Take me out to get an ale and watch you fail at courting barmaids?” he asked, taking another sizeable drink. The sooner he could get back to the task at hand, the happier he’d be.
“You used to be fun, Mario,” Tiberius answered, completely ignoring the question asked. “Remember when we snuck out in our third year to go race horses along the riverside?”
“I do, but do you remember the thrashing we got when we were caught sneaking back into the college?”
“That’s the part that makes it a good story!”
“Well, hopefully today doesn’t end up the same. I want to start being a knight as soon as possible.”
“Yes, yes, I know. What was your father’s first deed again?”
“It was in Weston Hill. He answered a notice that some villagers put up. Apparently, some people had been stealing grain and livestock from the village folk. So, he rode in, fully clad in armour, and tracked down the people capable of the foul deed.”
“How many did he cut down?” Tiberius asked, taking a small sip from his mug while still making eye contact with the waitress at the bar.
“None. He ended up arresting the bandit outfit and took them to the local guards, who then carried out the punishment.”
“Ah, a perfect first deed. The wicked punished with no bloodshed. If you’re trying to beat that, well then you’re fucked.”
“Tiberius! That language isn’t very fitting of a knight!”
“Well, technically, I’m still a recruit, so I can still curse all I want. Damnit.” Tiberius’ coy smile made Mario burst out laughing.
“What did your father do for his first deed?” Mario asked, almost finishing his ale.
“Oh, that’s a great tale, full of romance, drama, and action. Unfortunately, it’s too long to tell over ONE round of drinks.” Tiberius winked while taking another sip from his mug. Mario cursed under his breath but ultimately agreed to another round.
Once again, the service was quick and prompt. Out of the corner of his eye, Mario noticed the barmaid give a subtle wink in his direction while serving the drinks. Mario smiled politely. He was used to women lingering their eyes on him. Like Sir Augustine, Mario was widely regarded as handsome, and was often considered as the best-looking recruit.
“Now where were we . . .” Tiberius paused to take a lengthy drink from his freshly filled mug. “Ah yes! My father’s first deed. It was on the border of Keten and Drussdell. There was a wandering clan of elves, which made the local villagers nervous. So, my father went to disperse the elves, fully expecting a fight, only to find the love of his life, my mother.”
Mario had almost forgotten that Tiberius was a half-elf. He always wore a red bandanna covering his head, which, by design, covered the tops of his slightly curved ears to avoid prejudice. Even the instructors at the academy didn’t find out he was a half-breed until part way through his studies, and by then, they couldn’t deny him entrance nor expel him simply because of his race, as that was before the Elven Uprising when animosity towards elves wasn’t as high.
“So, there they were, my mother and father. Star-crossed lovers. One, a nomadic elf who had lived off the land her entire life. The other, a high-class knight, born of privilege and bound by tradition. A bard couldn’t come up with a better love story!” Tiberius took another drink, this time almost finishing his mug. “My mom left her clan, and her and my father built a small homestead by Gravenport, on the far eastern edge of the kingdom far from disapproving and judgemental eyes.”
“Did you see him often?” Mario said, finishing his second ale in thirty minutes.
“I suspect as much as you saw yours. The life of a knight is lonely—travelling all across the kingdom never seeing your family, all to protect the innocents. What a life.” The resentment was obvious in Tiberius’ voice. Perhaps it was the reason he wasn’t graduating with Mario today. Or perhaps it was because of his race.
“At least your dad got to retire and is now living with your mother. Mine never came home.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Right before the uprising started. I was eleven at the time. Once I heard that he ended the uprising single-handedly, I expected him home within a month, but he never showed.” Tears began to form in Mario’s eyes.
“Let’s go get those supplies, huh? It’s your graduation day!” Tiberius suddenly exclaimed. Mario nodded in agreement.
The sun’s heat berated their necks as they walk through the streets. They could hear the shouting and haggling from the marketplace a few streets away. Mario took the time to observe the people of Redfern while he walked. He saw children chase after one another fighting with wooden swords. He saw women cleaning their porches, trying to make it look as pristine as possible for when their husbands came home from work. He saw an old man lying in the gutter with a rusty sword and wearing what appeared to be a tarnished army uniform. He couldn’t help but wonder how an army veteran could end up so destitute. Perhaps he had a gambling problem or was a little too fond of the drink. Mario’s thoughts about the old man were interrupted when Tiberius stopped dead in his tracks, looking down a side alley. There, in the alley, were two men armed with broom handles beating an elf, who was hunched in the fetal position trying to protect his head with his hands.
“Tiberius, let it go. We have already been out for too long, and we shouldn’t get in more trouble,” Mario suggested, although he knew it would be to no avail.
“Isn’t this why you became a knight?” Tiberius’ voice shook with anger as his hands gripped the handle of his sword. “To protect the downtrodden, those who can’t protect themselves!? Or do you only want to protect them when it is convenient for you!” Tiberius scolded, glaring angrily at Mario.
“We could summon the guards, and I just don’t want to get in trouble with Headmaster—”
“The guards won’t do anything; they’ll see a ‘knife-ear’ getting berated and will sit back and watch or even join in if nobody is around to see it. Look, if you’re so worried about getting in trouble, just go to the market. I’ll meet you there . . . after I handle this.” Tiberius marched towards the alley, still gripping his sword. Mario watched in stunned silence as his best friend marched angrily towards the alley. His conscience begged him to follow Tiberius, but his legs wouldn’t obey. Instead, he stood there frozen in place, unable to take a step towards the elf and his attackers.
Mario continued on his way to the market, although he wasn’t sure why. Tiberius was one of his best friends, who he would do anything for, but when it came time to actually do a knightly deed and help someone in need, he couldn’t commit all because it may result in him not graduating today. The walk to the market was a long and sombre one. Mario was ashamed of what he had done and began doubting if he really had the mettle to be a knight.
What if I’m on the road and see the same thing? Will I intervene then or will I turn tail and run like I did today? Was it because it was an elf? Would I have intervened if it was a human? These thoughts and more plagued Mario’s mind, so much so, that he lost track of where he was and walked right into a fruit merchant’s stand. After the necessary apologies, Mario managed to wrangle his thoughts and went around and bought all the supplies needed for the banquet: eggs, flour, bread, fruit, and some meat. Mario paid and tipped graciously since the merchants had agreed to bring the goods to the college, although it was mainly because he wanted to ease his guilt-ridden conscience.
On the way out of the market, Mario saw Tiberius, leaning on the wall of the entrance, covered in blood. He knew that it was not his blood. Mario didn’t acknowledge him; instead, he looked at the ground and walked back towards the college.
“Tiberius, I’m sorr—”
“Don’t. It’s fine,” Tiberius interjected, his voice was cold and harsh, which was unusual for him but understandable given the situation. Tiberius took a deep breath and continued, “I’ll jump in the moat by the college and wash off, you know, so you don’t get in trouble.”
Mario nodded his head in acknowledgement. The rest of their walk was in silenc
About the Author:
A.J. Rettger lives on a farm near the small town of Aberdeen Saskatchewan with his dog, Zeke. He has a bachelor’s of education degree, as well as a certificate from a private vocational college. His hobbies include playing Dungeons and Dragons, listening to heavy metal, and reading and writing fantasy books. Oathbreaker is his first book.
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