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The Phoenix Ring

By:Alexander Brockman

1

Sixty Three Years Later

Aidan trudged along the dusty path, a bow on his back and a knife at his side. It had been three days since the boy left the only home he had ever known. He had run out of food on the second day, and was feeling the familiar ache of hunger in his stomach. He had no idea how far Allenna was from his village, too small to have a name, but he knew that he would reach it if he kept following the road.

Allenna was the huge city that served as the meeting place for the council, who ruled all three continents of Sortiledge. Aidan knew very little about the council or city, as few travelers passed through his village and fewer still stayed long enough to share stories. There was no tavern, no hall, and no governor, just a group of farmers, a horse breeder, and a small blacksmith.

Allenna, however, was said to boast several taverns, a group of dwarven smithies, and even a palace. Most importantly of all for the young traveler, the city held a consignment office for the king’s border patrol, who were more commonly called the king’s Rangers. It had been over sixty years since the three races of Sortiledge had gone to war with the nations of the Nefarious Lands, but the council still hadn’t removed the Rangers from the southern edge of their enemy’s territory. It was an extremely dangerous job, as the peoples of the Nefarious Lands had no love for any inhabitant of Sortiledge, and the Rangers were isolated from their homeland by the northern ocean.

Yet Aidan was determined to join the Rangers, no matter how dangerous his path might be. As he had grown up, he had thrived on stories of his father, the greatest Ranger of all. Aidan’s father had slain ogres, trolls, goblins, even dragons, before he was slain himself by a treacherous spy. At least, that is what the boy’s mother had told him.

Aidan angrily kicked a rock out of his way. Six months ago, she had shattered his world. All he cared about was his future as a Ranger, how a spot would surely be reserved for him considering who his father was. Finally, about a month before his sixteenth birthday, his mother had brought him inside and sent the other boys outside. Aidan seethed as remembered how she had cried and begged for forgiveness.

Aidan knew his mother had been a barmaid. She had always told him that his father had slowly won her heart through many visits to the tavern, but the real man did no such thing.

“It had been a long day,” she had said, “and I was tired. He was different from all of the others, young, strong, and absolutely brilliant. We were just talking, but somehow I ended up in his room, and then…” she stopped to wipe away a tear, “when I woke he was gone. He left a bag of gold coins, which is how I bought the farm. He also left a note saying I would have a son, how he knew, I’ll-“

Aidan had left the room then, slamming the door so hard he cracked it near one of the hinges. It had taken six months for Aidan to leave the farm where he had spent his entire life. It was one of the most well-built structures in the village, which would have been impressive if the rest of the village wasn’t falling apart. The farm rested atop a little hill, with several miles of land behind it.

It wasn’t long after Aidan had been born that his mother realized she could never work the farm alone, and so she took in the first boy. Since then, more than fifty boys from all over Gurvinite had stayed at the farm for various lengths of time, but none as long as Aidan. Every single one of the boys had been orphans, and were given a safe place in return for their labor. Some had been kind, others cruel, but it was from the cruel that Aidan had learned the most. He had learned how to fight, how to court a girl, though there were none in his village, and, most importantly, how to shoot a bow because of those boys.

Aidan had also learned from his mother. One of the requirements for staying at the farm was that a boy learn to read and write, as well as simple numbers and reckoning. She reasoned that the skill might be the difference a boy needed to make a name for himself. Furthermore, all Rangers had to possess this ability, so Aidan jumped at the chance to learn the letters and numbers of the language of Sortiledge. She had also taught him how to control the rage that he constantly had to fight. Maybe it was from the lack of a father, or maybe his heart had known that he was being lied to, but Aidan had always felt a hot anger burn somewhere deep in his chest. Since his mother told him the secrets that she had kept for the first sixteen years of his life, Aidan’s rage had become uncontrollable. It became so heavy every time he saw her, or the farm, or anything in his village, that eventually he decided he would travel to Allenna and try to forge his own path. Of course, first he had to survive the trek.

Eventually the boy was passed by an old bearded farmer sitting in an oxen-drawn cart.

“Lad, where are you headed?” The man called down.

“Allenna,” Aidan replied. “Why?”

“You can ride with me if you help me unload once we get there.”

Aidan gratefully jumped onto the back of the cart, which was covered in a strange sort of material that seemed far too expensive to be owned by a farmer. The boy took a closer look at the man. He was dressed in long, gray robes that, again, seemed far too expensive for any farmer to buy. But what truly startled Aidan was what sat at the man’s side. It was about two inches thick at its widest, and tapered off to a point after two feet of intricately carved wood. It was a wand.

“What’s the matter lad? Never seen a sorcerer before? Classic village folk wouldn’t know magic if it smacked them in the face.”

Aidan became very still. Magic was something that was spoken of only in whispers at his village. Even sixty years after the Great Wars, the scars had still never healed. Some of the older people had once been soldiers, and they still vividly rem

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