Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Trials of Seffin Phel: Bandits of Moftal

Dear Editor,

My name is Stephen Monteith. I'm submitting my story, The Trials of Seffin Phel, a fantasy story of approximately 12,000 words. It begins the adventures of a young man in a medieval setting who starts as a simple blacksmith's son and becomes a crime lord's apprentice, a cursed fugitive, a demon-fighting monk, an adoptive father, and eventually a hero of the continent.

This is the first step in Seffin's remarkable evolution, his introduction to the most powerful man in the kingdom. I've also included the first chapter of the next installment so that you may have a better idea of where I hope to take the series, should you choose to publish it. I have several more adventures outlined for him that take him across kingdoms, through warlords' territories, and into wizards' castles. Along the way, he'll meet magicians and monks, kings and warlords, priests and thieves, and more than a few demons. He'll be hated and reviled at times, but eventually he'll find what he left his home to find in the first place.

I look forward to hearing from you, one way or another. Thank you for your time.


Stephen Monteith

Searching a drawer, Seffin found some flint and steel and he lit a nearby lantern, filling the shop with a soft, golden glow.

"Why'd you light that lantern, boy?" Tren growled from his seat. "I'm trying to sleep."

Seffin shook his head. "You can sleep later, Tren. We need to talk." He pulled another chair over and sat down across from the older man.

"If it's about my drinking, then you're wasting—"

"It's not about you," Seffin interrupted him. "I need your help."

"You need my help with what?" Tren demanded, lifting his head. "What's so important that it couldn't wait until I'm good and sober?"

"Is there anything that can wait that long?"

Tren's eyes narrowed. "Was that supposed to be funny?"

Seffin sighed. "You're not as drunk as you look, are you Tren?"

The cobbler rose to his feet, wavering only slightly as he did so. "Never as drunk as I look, Seffin." He went to a cabinet, removed two goblets and a bottle, and poured a drink for both of them. Leaning back in his chair, Tren took a long drink. "Now tell me why you're looking for me at this time of the night."

Seffin picked up his goblet and looked into it for a while before speaking. "Lan beat me tonight." He took a gulp of the red liquid, coughing briefly after he swallowed.

Tren squinted, his eyes yellow in the lantern light. "Well, that was predictable."

"What did you say?" Seffin demanded.

"Oh, be reasonable, boy. You're a thief and you were caught stealing. You're fortunate a beating is all you got in return."

"I won't be beaten again."

"You're only fourteen," Tren responded, taking another drink. "Life's got a great number of beatings still in store for you, rest assured."

"Not from him." Seffin got out of his chair and started pacing. "He's not my father; I won't take anymore beatings from him." His chest and face still ached from the punches he had received. He brushed his hair out of his face and lightly rubbed his jaw, wincing as he did so. That's going to be sore for a few days.

Seffin stopped pacing and turned to his old friend. "I need your help."

"What, you want me to threaten him?" Tren scoffed. "No, I don't think I will. He's stronger than I am, and just a bit younger besides." He raised his cup to his lips again.

"I'm running away, Tren."

"Are you, now? Well, I hope you're not planning on staying here." He took a drink.

"I'm not." Seffin took a breath. "I need you to help me find Arka Subo."

Tren choked and sputtered, spilling his drink all over himself. He thumped his chest and coughed several times to clear his airway. "Are you insane, boy? What do you want with him?"

"I want a job."

Tren shook his head. "You'd be better off shoveling dung out of the elders' stables. Arka doesn't take apprentices."

"He'll take me."

Tren slammed his goblet down, pointing a bony finger at Seffin. "Whatever crazed plan is rolling around in that head of yours, knock it loose right now. You're not going to work for him."

"I don't care if you think he'll make me his apprentice; I just need to know where he is."

"And what are you planning to do once you've found him? He won't take you on just because you ask him to."

"I'll buy my way in."

"With what?"

"Everything I've stolen this last year; everything you've been holding for when he next visits. There's quite a lot of it, as you know, and I want it all."

Tren rose to his feet and stood nose-to-nose with Seffin. "Listen to me, and listen well: I deal with Arka Subo; you don't. We're thieves, you and I. We steal, and that's all we do."

"And Arka buys what we steal and sells it in some other part of the kingdom," Seffin said, backing up slightly. "I want him to teach me that. I don't want to just be a thief."

"I don't care what you want," Tren practically roared. "He's not just a buyer, Seffin. He's part of something bigger than swiping gold coins and candlesticks, and the less you're a part of that, the better."

"What do you care, Tren? You've been a part of it for years. You made me a part of it yourself."

"That wasn't my idea. I've been acting on orders. Remember that silver goblet that you stole from Elder Nutgui during the winter? The one I agreed to hold for you until you felt like giving it back?"

Seffin shrugged. "What about it? Arka bought it; and you said he wanted to buy more things from me."

"Exactly; he wanted you to keep stealing. I didn't even want him to see that damned cup. If he hadn't seen it, then I'd have talked you out of this life a long time ago."

"Oh, be reasonable," Seffin mimicked Tren's earlier plea. "Do you mean to say that you didn't want me to be a thief, but you taught me to be an even bigger one just because Arka asked?"

"That is what I'm saying, Seffin. In this lifestyle, there are no personal decisions, no ideologies. When men like Arka give orders, you follow them. Their authority is more absolute than the king's."

The younger man paused for a moment, considering Tren's words. "Well, maybe I'd like to have that kind of authority someday."

"You still don't get it, do you, Seffin?"

"No, you don't get it, Tren. I will find Arka, with or without your help. If I have to, then I'll wait until the next time he comes to Dennai and talk to him myself. I just need the things I stole. Hand them over now, and I'll never bother you again."

"If you go looking for Arka Subo, then you won't bother anyone ever again."

"I can take care of myself." Seffin stooped and picked up the empty leather satchel off the ground, holding it open in front of him.

They stood for a moment like that, the old thief and the young thief, watching each other with iron-hard stares. It was Tren who moved first, finally daunted by Seffin's determination. He sighed and picked the lantern up off the table. "Follow me."

He led Seffin out the back door and into a shed. Inside were needles, cutters, spools of thread, and other tools of his trade. He set the lantern on a table and walked over to a barrel that stood in a corner. "Help me roll this." Together, they moved the barrel off to one side. Tren picked up a shovel then and started digging up the ground where the barrel had been.

A foot or so into the ground, Tren uncovered the first of the items. He pulled out a small leather pouch, jingling with coins. "Keep this on your person," he instructed. Next, he pulled out a three-branched silver candelabrum, wrapped carefully to prevent tarnishing. He wordlessly handed it to Seffin, who tucked it inside his satchel.

By the time they had finished pulling treasures out of the ground, the satchel was half-full. Seffin hefted it a few times, noting how heavy it had become. "Where do I find Arka?" he asked, helping Tren to refill the hole.

"He's based in the city of Moftal, on the south side of the forest."

"That's not too far from here."

"No, but those packs you're carrying will slow you." They rolled the barrel back into place and returned to the house. "You'll need to stay to the highway, besides."

"I can make better time cutting through the woods."

"There are bandits in those woods, boy. Where's your sense? Carrying that much loot with you, you'd be dead by the end of your first night out there." Tren sighed, setting the lantern back on the table inside the house. "Now that I think of it, you'd be better off riding my horse."

He looked at the older man in surprise. "You want me to take your horse?"

"I never ride her, anyway," Tren said, pouring himself another drink.

Seffin dropped the satchel full of treasure next to one with his clothes and other personal items. "I thought you didn't even want me to go."

"I don't want you to get yourself killed along the way, either, do I?"

"Be honest, Tren." He sat down across from him again. "You were yelling at me just moments ago, so why are you helping me now?"

The old cobbler took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, rolling his cup between his hands. "Three things can come of you seeking out Arka Subo. One, he could kill you just for asking him. That's not very likely to happen, though, especially if you come bearing gifts. Most likely, he'll just turn you around and send you right back here, which is what I hope he'll do."

"You don't think he'll take me on as an apprentice." It wasn't a question.

Tren shrugged. "He could decide to do that. Arka can be ... unpredictable at times. It's one of his more dangerous characteristics." He sighed again and took a long drink. "I never meant for you to remain a thief, Seffin. I wanted you to stay away from this life; I owe that much to your father. But, you've taken to it; like a drunkard to cheap wine." As if to emphasize his point, he took another drink.

They sat in silence for a while. For some reason, Tren's invocation of his father touched Seffin more deeply than when anyone else had mentioned him. He looked back and forth between Tren and the satchel at his feet, weighing the one's warnings against the power represented by the other. I know what my father wanted for me. He wanted me to build a life here; but there's nothing for me here. He told himself that quickly, and clung to it as the truth.

"Do you mind if I sleep here tonight?" he asked aloud. "I can leave at first light tomorrow."

"You'll have to sleep here in the shop," Tren murmured, staring into his empty cup. "There's only the one bed in my room."

"That's fine with me."

"Oh, that's fine with you, is it?" Tren slammed his cup down again and stood up. "You have no idea what you're getting in for, boy." He turned his back on Seffin and climbed the stairs. "No idea."

Seffin watched him go, almost rising to follow. Then he sighed and hung his head. Moving over to a bench, he pulled off his boots and soft-leather vest and lay back on the hard wood. Tomorrow, everything will be different.

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