In a far off land, many years ago, there was a dark and malevolent being whose name was secret from all. Legend has it that he had inestimable power so that no one could hope to stop him. This dark being entered into a conflict with a boy from which he suffered a great loss.

We tell such stories for comfort when faced with unstoppable foes. Yet, the most interesting part of a legend are the parts others leave out.

The boy was called Malial, the second son of a farmer. Malial was noble in spirit but unremarkable in body. He had two loving parents, a brother who was stronger and faster than Malial, and a little sister who was shy yet kind. The life of this family was not in any way remarkable, nor marked by fate, nor under any curse or prophesy.

The farm was not especially poor and, indeed, was prospering. It was rich in those things that mark success in a farm, animals, crops, and ready coin from the landed gentry. Malial and his brother were both engaged to be married, each to one of two sisters. These twins were considered to be the most beautiful and fair in that particular locality. To be fair on two homely girls, this was not a high standard, but it was the pinnacle of the community, nevertheless. True love, they called it.

In all honesty, this should have been the end of the story. Yet it happened that a lord from a neighbouring province, Lord Brandon, had engaged in a feud with one of the King’s wizards, Lord Melbourne, and lost. In reparation, Lord Brandon, was tasked to supply the wizard with new servants – two men of working age, a kitchen woman, and a serving girl.

Lord Brandon just so happened to pass Malial’s father’s farm and, seeing two men, a woman, and a girl, he took them. As you might have guessed, this was the family of Malial. You might have guessed this, but you would not have been entirely correct. Reality is more complicated than that.

Malial returned from collecting wood in time to see the lord and his men riding away with their captives. The farm was abandoned and the sheep roamed unguarded. He concluded as you just did.

Were this any other boy, he might have realised that he faced a hopeless situation, mourned his lost family, married his one true love and then farmed the land for himself. Malial did not do this.

Were he gifted with the ability to speak eloquently, Malial might have considered seeking the help of the lord of the lands. After all, the local lord had a duty to protect his people even if he was a fat, lazy drunk. Malial did not do this. To be fair, Lord Randolph The Third was pretty useless.

Were he wise in ways of money, Malial might have sold the farm and purchased an apprenticeship with a maker of fine clothes or jewellery. It would almost certainly would have led to a far richer life, more friends, and a significant increase in his life options. Malial did not do this.

Malial took his father’s staff, a few dry morsels, and a knife. Then he set off after Lord Brandon. Faith and hope, his only allies.

Malial slept rough each night. As he journeyed he gathered wild food when he could. Mostly, though, Malial walked and was hungry.

After many days, Malial arrived at the edge of a large woods. Beyond the woods was the castle of Lord Brandon. Now, Malial had never been so far from home. He had no way to know that it was possible to walk thus far in a day and a half; nor did he know that the woods were said to be haunted.

Unhindered by knowledge or fear, Malial entered the woods. He had not walked very far when he was stopped by an elderly man.

“Where are you going, boy?” asked the man.

“To the castle of Lord Brandon, to take back my family,” said Malial.

The old man laughed. “You are just a boy with a big stick,” said the old man. “Lord Brandon has an army and is, himself, a lessor wizard.”

“I have hope and faith that I am right,” replied Malial. He also had confidence that righteousness would see him through. Righteousness and a big stick.

“You would have to kill Lord Brandon,” said the old man with a grin. “Could you do such a thing?”

“I must,” said the boy. “I will save my family, return them safely home, marry my true love, and live happily ever after.” He firmly believed it too.

There was silence. The kind that takes place when two strangers meet and one attempts to to work out if the other is crazy or just a person with a mutual need.

The old man cleared his throat. A wicked grin had formed on his face. “Let me help you,” he said. “I am no friend of the lord and would be glad to see him dead.”

“Thank you,” said the boy.

Foolishly, Malial did not question the man but instead followed the old fellow back to his shack. He did not know that he had made a terrible mistake. Like many mistakes, it was not to be apparent for some considerable time.

The old man fed Malial and gave him a bed to sleep in. The next day the old man showed Malial the castle, the high walls, the soldiers, and the huge iron gates.

Malial looked upon the high walls and knew that he could not climb them. It would not be over the walls that Malial would save his family.

Malial looked as the iron gates and knew that he could never lift them. It would not be through closed gates that Malial would save his family.

Malial looked at the soldiers with their black enchanted amour and knew that he could not fight them. It would not be through fighting alone that Malial would save his family.

Despite feeling like crying, Malial kept a brave face just as his brother had shown him to do. Even so, his hope was wavering and his heart was heavy. He considered his options and saw none. None that were good. He could fight and surely die or he could give up and go home a failure.

His thoughts turned to home. He imagined his mother and sister trapped in a dungeon forever. He imagined what the village would say about him – the boy who went on a quest and came back as soon as things became too hard. He imagined facing himself every day knowing he had given up.

“Do you have another idea?” Malial asked the old man, desperate for another option.

“Yes,” said the old man. “Come with me.”

Some victories are worse than defeat. Had Malial known this, he would never have gone.

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