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Authors: Nathaniel Turner

The Chimaera Regiment

BOOK: The Chimaera Regiment
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The Chimaera Regiment

Nathaniel Turner

Copyright © 2014 Nathaniel Turner

All rights reserved.

Dedication

To SB, for supporting all of my efforts.

Contents

Acknowledgments

There are always more people to thank than there is space on acknowledgments pages. With that in mind, I shall endeavor to be succinct. I thank my wife, who has had the patience and wherewithal to endure my idiosyncrasies, my self-deprecation, and my incessant desire to write. I thank my folks, who always encouraged me to write, and to improve my writing. I thank my friends, for promising to read whatever I wrote, no matter how many times I told them it wasn’t worth it. I thank my college professors
in the Baylor Classics Department, who taught me everything I know about Greek myth and culture (but I take full responsibility for any apparent shortcomings in my representations thereof). Finally, and not least of all, I thank God, by Whose inspiration and endowment I am even capable of putting pen to paper, and without Whom I would be so much hot air and empty space.

 

Dramatis Personae

The Alkimites

Hector,
youth

Bronwyn,
youth

Caradoc,
youth

Duncan,
warrior

Einar,
warrior

Cyrus,
Lord of the Alkimites

Gregory,
warrior

Rhoda,
Hector’s mother

The Chimaera Regiment

Derek,
Lord of the Leonites

Fero,
Lord of the Ferites

Martin,
Leonite captain

Lochan,
Leonite warrior

Cassus,
Leonite captain

Sharian,
Leonite warrior

Bregdan,
Leonite warrior

The Tribes of the Forest

Eitromal,
Lord of the Keldans

Veither,
Keldan warrior

Folguen,
Keldan warrior

Tiernach,
Lord of the Termessians

Harratha,
Queen of the Emmetchae

Reina,
Princess of the Emmetchae

The Guardians

Alastair,
of the Grayan tribe

Aneirin,
of the Alkimite tribe

Bayl,
of the Drengari tribe

Drystan,
of the Leonite tribe

Liam,
of the Liffan tribe

Selron,
of the Dallen tribe

Tate,
of the Viterral tribe

Others

Brynjar,
Drengari warrior

Fornein,
hermit

Fintan,
Sundan warrior

Azos,
Sundan warrior

Wellyem,
Lord of the Wellites

Novamic,
Lord of the Sidians

The Divines

Kyros,
King of the gods & god of fate

Carys,
Queen of the gods & goddess of love

Aeron,
god of death

Anthea,
goddess of providence

Ariane,
goddess of clarity

Astor,
god of war and strength

Aulus,
god of protection

Prologue

As the strong winds pressed against him, the boy flung open the door to the log cabin. Standing alone on a hill outside the Imperial City, the wood structure was a monument to the story its aging inhabitant had prepared. A brick chimney rose from the west end of the house and smoke billowed from its top. The domicile’s rustic style was reminiscent of ancient times.

As the boy entered, he was greeted by the warmth and smell of a fiery hearth. A man with graying hair and ragged beard sat in one of the two massive armchairs next to the fire. Without turning, he called out, “Come on in, child, and sit down. Close that door, too, or we’ll both catch our deaths of cold!” His voice was strong and clear, the way a good Storyteller’s voice should be.

The boy tugged on the door, but midwinter’s snowy gusts still forced their way in. When at last the door latched and the wind’s whistle dulled, the spry boy leapt to the comfortable armchair across from the Storyteller. “Do you have a grand story tonight, sir?” he asked expectantly.

Even in the dim light of the flames, the boy could see a smile spreading across the Storyteller’s beleaguered face. “Yes, young one, I’ve got perhaps the grandest story this land has ever known. And it’s true, too!” The man turned and looked through a frosty pane at the blizzard that blanketed the lands with snow. “Besides,” he added, “not much else to do on a night like this, ‘cept tell grand old stories.”

The boy beamed, drawing a laugh from the Storyteller. Leaning toward the fire, he began, “In the time of your forefathers, all the men of the world lived in small towns and tribes in the wilderness. There were seven very special people among them, heirs of an empire from a bygone age. These Seven Heirs were protected by the Seven Guardians, who were formed by the priests of Aulus; they were relics of the last empire, technological constructions of old.

“The Heirs lived as peasants, unaware of their heritage. The Guardians alone knew their true identities. But the machines had sworn not to reveal anything until the proper time.

“But not all of the Guardians were faithful stewards! There came an especially cold winter, and an icy wind covered the land, pushing the birds south in autumn; ‘twas an augury of the onslaught of the Traitor and his charge.

“The Traitor’s name was Drystan; as all the Guardians were, he too was called a lord, although he submitted himself to the one he was set to defend: Derek the Leonite. Drystan acted as advisor and general to this foul man, always a soldier, never a guide. The cruel pair, Derek and Drystan, sought conquest. Ambition and greed drove them as they rallied their tribe. After Derek won leadership of the tribe by rites of combat, he commanded all tribesmen who were of age to join his army and to pursue domination of the world.

“That army was one of disgrace. To be a warrior is an honor only when it is a choice; and for folk to be enjoined without regard for ability is to denigrate the whole lot. The boys, too, were pledged to be enjoined no sooner than they were of age. Derek led this army and sought war on nearby tribes; through the Duel of Lords, he quickly gathered a powerful force.”

The Storyteller paused to eye the boy inquisitively. “Do you know how he accomplished that?” he asked, testing the young one. The boy nodded vigorously. The Storyteller raised an eyebrow at him; “Tell me,” he ordered.

The boy explained in a loud voice, as though reciting his studies in the classroom, “The Duel is described in the second section of the Code of Lords. It says: ‘When two tribes are set against each other in rites of war, a Duel of Lords may be called. If the Duel should be accepted, equal preparations must be made between combatants. The Duel of Lords is a test of skill, not of wealth. The loser’s tribe must thereafter submit to the victor’s.’”

“Exactly!” the Storyteller replied. He was satisfied with the boy’s understanding, and he was about to continue with the tale when the boy interrupted him.

“How do they get people to follow the Code?” he asked, furrowing his thin brow, “Couldn’t they just cheat? And what of the tribes that don’t know the Code? Would they be subject to it, too?”

The Storyteller frowned. “The Code is known to all men. It is the written form of the laws connate for us. To deny the Code is to provoke the wrath of the Divines. The ferryman waits at the River Neth for a man who acts such.”

The boy was not satisfied: “What about those who don’t follow the Divines? Aren’t there stories of men across the Sea who reject the Seven?”

Shaking his head, the Storyteller answered, “All that matters is that a man obeys the gods; if he disclaims the Divines and their powers and even their existence, and yet he follows the Code, then he is blameless. But the men across the Sea go against the gods, and they suffer the results of their actions.”

The boy slowly nodded his understanding. When the Storyteller was satisfied that he would not interrupt again, he resumed his narrative: “After a year of victories, Derek’s forces became three thousand strong. This occasioned that Drystan lead Derek to a rival heir for the first time. The poor boy was young and unaware of his heritage. When the Leonites attacked, no Duel of Lords was offered. Derek led his army into the midst of those nomads and left none alive; they would not risk the survival of any heir. Selron, the boy’s Guardian, attempted to rescue him, but Drystan fought and slew him.

“This rampage of Derek the Great continued for another two years; through it, he procured a total of seven thousand men in his army and five dead heirs. Another Guardian was destroyed; the other three could not be found. Drystan and Derek began their journey north to attack the Alkimites, the tribe of Hector, last righteous heir of the Empire, who was protected by Aneirin, the most powerful of the Seven Guardians.

“On his way, Derek came to the Ferites, a tribe of great warriors. Derek challenged Lord Fero to a Duel of Lords, but he was defeated. Yet Fero was lenient. He pledged a union of their tribes on a single condition: that Fero and Derek rule the joint tribe in council. Fero praised cleverness above strength, and so, because he desired to make a name for himself and to be honored among men, he was willing to abandon the Code of Lords. Derek agreed to that conciliation, unwilling as yet to die. Since they would follow Derek’s plans, he became the head, and the Ferites were the army’s girth, and the Traitor its bite. Together, they selected a new title for the army: the Chimaera Regiment.

“The Valley of Kyros, home of the Alkimites, was fifty days’ march away. Eleven thousand men, under the banner of Derek the Leonite, marched onward…”

Chapter One

The 2040th year of the Sixth Era

The third of the month of Anthemen

Early in the fifth hour

The Guardian Lord Aneirin lived more like a hermit than a warrior. He dwelt in a cave in the cliffs along the west end of a wide rift valley. Aneirin stood at the mouth of that cave, on the edge of a precipice, looking over the entire dale. It was the largest valley on the western shore of the Sea, stretching seventy miles across. The sun kept it warm throughout the year; the weather turned cold only in the harshest winters. Surrounded by mountains on three sides and by cliffs to the west, its only easy entrance was a pass on its southern edge, only two hundred feet wide. Along its inner edge, a plateau separated the fertile land from the mountains; this plateau was covered by a thick forest.

A man would have been shivering at the mouth of that cave, in spite of the warm fire inside. Aneirin, however, showed no signs of discomfort. Autumn had not yet begun, but it was already so brumal that the short mountains around the valley were snow-capped. The early chill had forced flocks south before their usual time. It was a bad omen, and Aneirin’s three guests had confirmed his fears. He slowly shook his head, its abnormal shape reflecting sunlight into the cave. He had the face of a man, but his cranium arched back so that his head looked like the horn of a bull. His skin was a silver matte without any wrinkles or deformities.

His brothers had narrowly escaped destruction at Derek’s hands. Tate, Alastair, and Liam each traveled north to relay the tale. “Drystan has betrayed us,” Aneirin said softly; his lipless mouth worked fluidly, lacking the tremulous movements of organic jaws. The musical tones of his speech were free, too, of the harshness of human voice as he repeated Liam’s earlier words.

Tate’s golden eyes narrowed as he looked at the rock beneath his feet. “Selron and Bayl never stood a chance,” he said. If he had been able to weep, he would have. The loss of his brothers weighed heavily on him.

“Hector,” Aneirin said, speaking of his own charge, “will need to be told of his heritage. He will need to travel to the obelisk and get directions to the Library. Only when he has the blades can this evil be stopped.”

“Are you sure?” Alastair asked of him. His green eyes glinted in the morning sun. “Perhaps Derek will challenge the Alkimites to a Duel of Lords. Even if Cyrus loses, Hector can fight back from within.”

Aneirin shook his head again, more forcefully now. “Derek and Drystan completely destroyed each of your tribes. He will not do differently, especially when he is so close to the throne,” he explained.

“Perhaps,” Liam interjected as his blue eyes twinkled with hope, “Derek will believe that the direct heir of the Empire would be the leader of his tribe. Then he might change his tactics.”

“No,” Aneirin replied, “We can’t take that chance. Besides, Drystan knows better. And let us not forget the dishonor due anyone who violates the Code in rebellion. Such a man could never be Emperor. Hector must reach the blades.”

Tate nodded his agreement. “Aneirin is right,” he told Liam and Alastair, “This is the only way.” Turning to Aneirin, he said, “You should go to Hector and give him his mission. We shall remain here and rest until your return. Then we will gather an army for the Alkimites to use against the Leonites.”

Aneirin nodded in turn. He departed immediately. He had need for neither provisions nor protection, and so required no preparation. In the space of a moment, he was quickly making his way down the treacherous cliffs to the valley below.

Meanwhile, the Alkimites were unaware of the misfortune that harried Aneirin and his kind. As Lord Aneirin was leaving his home, Hector was fast asleep. In a normal year, he would be in the fields at that time of day, harvesting the wheat he had planted in the month of Ariamen. Instead, the unseasonable frost had killed most of the spring crop. Hector made the onerous journey to the southern fields on the twentieth of Carymen, as he had every year since his father’s death, only to return empty-handed. Now, instead of toiling in the lea, he was wandering in a dream.

He could see that he was not in the Valley of Kyros, but he did not recognize his environment. He was surrounded by massive structures that stretched from the earth up to scrape the sky with their apices. They seemed to be formed from a mishmash paste of stones. Turning, he walked down the path, which was made from a similar lithic paste. The world was unworldly, and the boy did not know what to make of it.

Then his setting changed. It twisted. Images seemed to shatter. The structures still surrounded him, but they had shifted. They were dark and brooding. He was not alone anymore. A man had come into that place. He was stout and terrible. His darkness chilled Hector's spine. He carried a formidable blade and he was steeled for battle. “You must be ready,” a feminine voice declared to Hector. The voice was awesome and frightful, yet friendly and intimate. Even so, Hector could not tell whose it was.

He looked at his foe. The man charged with his blade held high. Terrified, Hector tried to flee, but his limbs were limp. The man swung the sword in a long, falling arc as his battle cry ripped through the still air.

Hector awoke with a start. He was drenched in sweat and panting for breath. He cast about for signs of his somnial enemy. By chance, he glanced out the window of his room to see that the sun had already risen nearly to its zenith.

Forgetting the dream as a contrivance of a young mind, he berated himself for sleeping late. He had promised to help Caradoc to sell vegetables that day. He dressed hurriedly and departed his home, calling a goodbye to his mother as he went.

The boy's dark hair tousled in the wind, and he thanked Anthea for it. He had not brushed his hair after waking, and it had been wild and unruly. A few gusts and a brush of his hand set it as straight as it ever was. He walked briskly through the village, greeting those already at work: the smith, the farmers, the tailor, the leather-workers, and the baker. But he ducked away from his fellow youth, hiding his face as he passed. Usually, he was able to dodge their lazy watch, but today, he was not so fortunate. Three striplings saw him as he passed by the barracks; they were eager to tease their favorite victim.

“Hey-y,” one called, “Lookie who it is! Hoy, Hector, hold back a pace and talk with us!”

“Ay, he’s a right fine friend of ours, isn’t he?” a second one pretended, giving a rumbling laugh that jiggled his considerable girth.

“Leave me alone, Affet,” Hector rejoindered the first boy, “I’m heading to the marketplace and I’d rather not be later than I already am.”

Their veneer of civility faded as quickly as it had arisen. “What for?” Affet demanded, “It’s not like it’ll do you any good. You couldn’t sell a rabbit a wagonload of carrots.”

“Much less grow half that many,” the third added, snickering.

Hector sighed. He stopped and turned to face his tormentors. “Fine,” he said calmly, “I get it. I wasn’t allowed into any of the guilds. Can’t fight, can’t farm, can’t forge. The best I can do is scrounge enough food from the fields to live on. Now leave me alone.”

“Ho, ho!” laughed the second boy, named Lippus, clutching his gut as it shook with mirth. “It sounds like Hector don’t appreciate our friendship!”

“Ay, right you are,” Affet remarked, “Let’s see if he can answer for his unkindness!”

As they advanced, Hector found somewhere within himself a burst of courage—or perhaps foolhardiness. He settled into a defensive stance reflexively and smirked.

The third one, a small, wiry fellow called Jarn, lunged. Hector slammed his palm into Jarn’s shoulder, twisting him in the midst of his charge. He fell to the dirt.

Lippus gave a hearty roar and attacked. Hector sidestepped. He threw his elbow into the other boy’s side. The blow never reached Lippus’ ribs because of his corpulence, but Hector still escaped him. Lippus stumbled over his downed compatriot. Affet sneered and settled into a fighting stance.

Hector had been denied entry to the warriors’ guild, but not from lack of trying. He was strong, and he was fast, but his technique was weak, unfocused. Affet, on the other hand, was one of the guild’s newest members; his admission had been unanimously supported. In a contest of strength and skill, Hector was at a severe disadvantage.

Affet moved fast. He took two steps forward and threw a jab with his left fist. Hector backpedaled, trying to dodge. Affet crossed with his right. Hector reached for Affet’s wrist, pushing it aside. Affet followed the momentum and brought his left forward. His fist collided with Hector’s cheek. The blow was jarring. Hector released his foe and stumbled.

Affet took advantage of Hector’s disarray. He pounced, dragging Hector to the ground and pinning him. Lippus and Jarn were not far behind. As Affet pummeled Hector with punches, the other two kicked him wherever they found an opening. Hector tried to shield himself from the blows with his arms, but to no avail.

Suddenly, Affet was hauled off his quarry. He yelled his objections, but they were tossed aside by the interloper. As Affet crashed into a nearby crate, Lippus and Jarn fell silent. Hector heard scrambling as the three bullies pitter-pattered their escape. When all was quiet, Hector slowly stretched out his aching limbs to see what had happened.

A man was standing over him. He had dark hair, like charcoal, and a full beard. There were two swords sheathed on his belt, one on each thigh. His brown eyes glinted in the noonday sun as he furrowed his brow. He knelt by Hector, causing his leather raiment to creak. He held out a hand to help the boy off the ground. “You alright?” he asked, his voice deep and hoarse.

Hector glanced from the man’s haggard face to his scarred hand. Frowning at himself, he reached out and grasped the proffered help. The man pulled him to his feet sharply. “Thanks,” Hector mumbled. He felt his face and noted several new knots and bruises. His ribs ached, his arms were sore, and his legs begged for him to lie down once more, but he ignored them. He looked again at his rescuer.

The man raised an eyebrow at him. He seemed displeased at the boy’s attitude, but he let it pass. At last, he said, “My name is Brynjar. What’s yours?”

Hector swallowed. He tasted blood. “Hector,” he answered. “I am Hector.” Brynjar nodded, smiling broadly. He had the look of a seasoned warrior. But something about him turned Hector’s stomach. The boy saw in this stranger everything he lacked in himself, and it infuriated him. He had always wanted to be someone bristling with strength and confidence, but instead, he had gotten himself pounded by a few whelps.

The foreign warrior glanced around as if examining his surroundings for the first time. “Tell me, Hector,” he said, “Where is Lord Aneirin?”

Hector frowned. “He doesn’t live here. I don’t think he’s been here since I was born.” He snorted and added, “I’d be surprised if he was even still alive.”

Brynjar glowered at the boy’s response, but again, he let it pass. After a moment, he asked, “Where can I find the lord of your people, then?”

Hector gestured. “The north end of the village. Past the marketplace,” he directed. “Need anything else?” Hector recognized the annoyance in his voice. He was trying to be helpful, especially since Brynjar had just shortened his beating, but he felt more jealousy than gratitude.

Brynjar, though, did not seem to notice this time. He thanked the boy and started off north, leaving Hector to continue trudging toward the marketplace with his face downcast.

*

The 2040th year of the Sixth Era

The third of the month of Anthemen

Early in the seventh hour

Two hours later, Lord Aneirin was only a few minutes from arriving in the village of the Alkimites. Brynjar was waiting impatiently to meet with Lord Cyrus. Hector, meanwhile, was no longer selling produce with Caradoc. He and his friend had retired to the other side of the market. Hector had told of his fight with Affet and the others, and of the arrival of Brynjar, the mysterious stranger who had half the town whispering.

But Hector was done telling stories. As the two boys sat chewing on saccharum, Hector stared at Bronwyn. The young woman was one year Hector’s senior, and she was two years older than her brother, Caradoc. She had taken over the vegetable stand a quarter-hour earlier, as she often did. She and her brother had always been close, especially after their parents had died two years prior. She had been happy to extend that friendship to Hector, as well. Hector had always admired her, even adored her, but in spite of her amiable manner, he lacked the courage to say so.

Bronwyn’s auburn hair encircled her fair skin and fell, untamed, just past her shoulders. Her eyes, hazel with a hint of green, always seemed to hide a mischievous smile. Her femininity proved well through her lithe figure, and Hector longed to be close to her.

Of course, she blithely carried on their friendship, unaware of his longing. Hector wished she could see his hope without his exposing it. He wished he did not have to risk his heart in order to gain hers. On occasion, he would ask Caradoc whether his sister felt anything for him, to which his friend confessed ignorance.

Hector stayed his eyes upon her as she laughed at something. He did not hear what. The glint of the sun caught her hair. Hector’s smile, breaking free of his restraint, helped him squint against the gleam surrounding her as a crown.

When her resplendence faded, so did Hector’s delight. Gregory, Hector’s cousin on his mother’s side, was talking to her. Gregory was two years Hector’s senior, and he was a better swordsman and strategist by far. Already a member of the tribe’s meager guard, he was prized by the Alkimites in every respect; many suspected that Lord Cyrus was grooming the boy to be his successor. On the other hand, most of the tribe knew Hector as “Gregory’s cousin.” His only friends were Bronwyn and Caradoc, and Bronwyn was more enamored with Gregory than most Alkimite girls. Caradoc could relate, and he often tried to downplay his sister’s love-light for the young soldier.

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