It’s always difficult to decide where to begin a story. For Rune: A Tale of Wizards and Kings, I decided to start with Jalina kicking Rune out of her group.

I thought it might be fun to share this short scene, which happens about a month earlier, when they first met.

If you want to read more about the characters in Rune, the print edition of the graphic novel contains an exclusive short story, The Hidden Academy of Tangene, which takes place when Rune and Justin were teenagers.

“We’re hopelessly outnumbered.” Rune eyed the fifty bandits that had suddenly appeared at the edges of the wide clearing.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” Justin muttered. “We walked right into their trap.” He quickly examined the terrain. “There’s no way out. Try to negotiate with them. If that fails, we’ll have to fight.”

“We won’t make it.”

“But it’ll cost them. At least those that we kill won’t be around to kill others in the future.”

Rune sighed.

“Just don’t tell them who you really are, Rufus.”

“Understood, big brother.”

The two readied their swords and waited. A large man with a scarred face urged his horse forward, stopping within earshot but well out of the reach of their blades.

“Well, well, what do we have here?”

Rune shrugged. “Just two men hoping to convince you not to kill us.”

“How do you figure you can do that?”

“Dead bodies are so messy. If you leave us here, someone who cares about us might find our remains and come after you. So you’ll have to bury us. Digging a hole that deep is a real chore.”

The bandits laughed. “Have to admit, no one has ever tried that line of reasoning before.”

“I can cook,” Rune offered. “My brother sews well. Maybe we could join you. We just finished a guard job and don’t have a new contract.”

“Take you in so you can slit our throats in the night? I think not.”

“We’re no oathbreakers,” Rune said angrily.

“Your honor may have value wherever you’re from, but here in the Kingless Lands it means nothing.”

“Fine. Put us under guard or tie us up. We’re not worth much to you alive, but we’re worth even less dead. We only have a few coins between us.”

“Sorry, boy. We’d kill you for those swords you’re holding alone.” He raised his hand and several bandits raised bows and notched arrows while the rest readied their blades.

Before they could attack, however, the air filled with arrows that came from the distant trees. Several men and horses fell and the bandits turned to meet the new attack.

Two dozen men on horseback plunged out of the forest, weapons raised. Leading them was a dark-haired woman, riding with her sword drawn, yelling a war cry.

“It’s Jalina!” the bandits cried. They turned and fled but the newcomers chased after them.

Rune and Justin held their ground as the clearing turned into a sudden bloodbath.

When it was over, Jalina and her men regrouped and circled them. Rune hesitated only a moment, then sheathed his sword. Justin followed his lead.

“Thank you, Defender,” Rune said, bowing. “My name is Rufus. This my brother Justin.”

Jalina dismounted and strode up to them. She offered her hand and Rune shook it in the tradition of the Kingless Lands. Jalina nodded approvingly, then shook Justin’s hand as well.

“You’re not complete savages, I see, even if you are fools. This is no place for two men on foot traveling alone.”

“If not for your intervention, we would have learned that lesson too late.”

“Where are you from?”

“We are originally from Valheigh but we’re returning from a job in Tangene.”

She glanced over their clothes. “Merchant guards?”

“Yes, Defender.”

She examined them more intently. “How old are you?”

“Twenty years.”

“Was that talk of cooking and sewing a ruse or do you really have those skills?”

“I spoke the truth. Why?”

“I have a problem. I shouldn’t leave you two out here alone to be killed by the next group of marauders but I doubt you can afford to pay for my protection.”

“Ah, I see. If we work for you, you can let us travel with you without giving charity,” Rune said.

Jalina grinned. “So do we have a deal?”

Rune smiled and glanced at Justin, who nodded. “Yes, Defender Jalina. We have a deal.”