Burn the Map

...and the atlas and the guide book and the GPS and everything else that thinks it knows where you're going. 'Cause I'll tell you a secret, friend: They don't have a clue.

Welcome, traveler!  Is it a new world you're looking for, or perhaps a very old one?  Either way, your journey begins as soon as you click one of the links to the left (or up above, if you're inclined to the mobile devices).  Think of them as portals to other times and places... I mean, you could think of them as simple navigation buttons, but if you're going to do that, there are zillions of websites you could visit.  But you didn't.  You came here.  So saddle up, suit up, buckle up...  Grab your blaster, your sword, your spellbook...  Basically do whatever it takes to feel ready for adventure and dive into stories where no explorer or mapmaker has dared set foot.  Oh, and I almost forgot...  Where you're going, you might as well burn the map. 

Chapter 1

As birdsong filled the air around him, Daniel gazed longingly at the gleaming blade in the small clearing, standing serenely in a pool of sunlight, just like in all the minstrel's songs.  Surely this must be a dream.  Knights came upon such things, or squires occasionally.  Lords and warriors did, and kings certainly, but not millers' sons with no birthright and no holy quest.

            And yet here it was, a beautiful sword so perfect in proportion, so richly ornamented, that Daniel little doubted its worth could buy and sell his whole village a dozen times over.  For one such as him, even to desire such a thing was a mortal sin of vainglory, but he could not resist its call, a faint, ringing song brushing at his heart like angels' wings.  Cautiously, looking about with trepidation, he took three halting steps forward and closed his hand gingerly around the grip.

            “What are you doing there, boy?”

            The imperious shout shattered the magic of the moment, casting the glade back into the grayness of an overcast morning.

            Daniel recoiled from the sword, drawing inward and casting his eyes down.  He had still seen no one, but the voice said enough, and it said it loudly and in a single word: Nobility.  “Nothing, sir,” Daniel replied, as meekly as he could manage.

            “That's as may be expected,” the noble snorted, striding into view like a peacock fanning its tail.  “What have we here?”  Daniel took a step back as the noble thrust forward.  He was richly dressed and perhaps a year Daniel's elder in stature, though his eyes were younger, as naïve as they were petulant, and fixed hungrily on the sword.  This was not the nobility of songs for which Daniel so yearned.  With not a shred of Daniel's hesitation, the noble boy reached for the hilt of the beautiful sword and wrapped his leather-gloved fingers around it.

            Daniel cringed away as thunder smote the air, flinging the noble flat onto his back.  Daniel scrambled to his side, feeling for breath and listening for a heartbeat.

            “What have you done!?”  The shrieked words filled the clearing with rage as an older noblewoman rode in at the head of a full hunting party.  “Seize him!”

            Daniel knew better than to run.  In a trice, two strong yeoman had pinned him against an oak at the clearing's edge.  The woman barked more orders, at which other members of the party surrounded the young noble and tried desperately to revive him.

            “If he doesn't recover soon...” the noblewoman threatened, glaring at Daniel.

            Finally the stricken boy's eyes fluttered open; quickly he climbed to his feet and cast his gaze about.

            Settling his eyes on Daniel, he flung out a skinny arm, its finger pointed, and uttered a single word.  “Witchcraft!”

            Daniel observed the young noble's trembling finger, his quivering jaw.  Now even his temporal nobility seemed to have abandoned him; he looked scared, embarrassed, and childish, traits that peasants outgrew years earlier.  The sword's song still crooned to Daniel, whispering a reminder of how he'd known the boy's authority in the first place.

            Abruptly, Daniel lifted his chin and flared his nostrils.  “Unhand me,” he demanded, shaking free of the yeomen, “and be silent, boy!  I am son of Baron von Ruder, squire to Count Brunwald.  Touch my master's sword again and you'll get far worse!”  Striding to the blade, he gripped it with confidence and pulled it from the earth.  “Stand aside!  It's bad enough my pious master keeps me in paupers' rags to pay for these endless Crusades without having to waste my time explaining myself to every petty noble on the road.  Make way!”

            In a moment he was gone, and none so much as questioned his outburst.  His tale might reach the wrong ears in time, but he smiled despite his fear, for one thing at least was certain:  No miller's son had ever owned so fine a sword.