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Authors: Nathaniel Turner

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BOOK: The Chimaera Regiment
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As if on cue, the other boy spoke up to comfort him. “I’m sure Gregory just needs some vegetables for the barracks,” he suggested.

“I’m sure,” Hector repeated, unconvinced, as his eyes flitted between the two. He studied each smile and each gesture for signs of a deeper interest than a few carrots. As he watched, he began to grind his teeth in jealousy.

Caradoc patted his shoulder. The younger boy heard a crowd gathering to the west. “Hey, forget sis for a minute and c’m’ere,” he said.

For a moment, Hector stayed stubbornly put, but as the commotion grew louder, his curiosity bested him. Hector could not remember any event in the village that had gathered so much attention at once. He wondered if it had anything to do with Lord Aneirin. After denying his existence earlier that day, Hector had reminisced about the oft-told tales of the ancient warrior, and the chance to meet him was enough to pull his eyes from Bronwyn and Gregory.

Hector’s expectation proved true: Lord Aneirin was pressing through the prostrate crowd when the two boys approached. The Guardian’s eyes focused on the young heir, and his metallic face brooked a smile. Caradoc dropped to his knees, but Hector stood enamored by the lord’s attention. Aneirin worked his way through the throng to reach the boy. He greeted the youth with an outstretched arm, and clasped his shoulder warmly. “Ah, young Hector,” he said, “We have much to discuss.” He glanced at the crowd, then added conspiratorially, “May I invite myself into your home?”

Hector was surprised, but elated. He grinned from ear to ear and exclaimed, “Of course!” With a gesture, he led Aneirin past the crowds and down the street toward his house. Caradoc rose and followed. The rest of the folk began to disperse, some back to their daily duties, others in pursuit of the Guardian lord and their curiosity.

On the western edge of the ruck, two men stood and watched the figures retreat down the street. Both were well-built and their garments—light brown with grey trim—signified their membership in the town’s militia.

One was slightly taller than the other, though he slouched until their eyes nearly met. He had ragged brown hair upon his head and face, and had no shortage of it anywhere else on his body. His green eyes, hooded by a bushy brow, were narrow, but quick and observant. His face was cast in a perpetual frown, and his head always seemed to droop, even when he stood at attention. He looked for all the world as if he were about to fall asleep while standing on his own two feet, and that gave him the edge of surprise in many conflicts.

The shorter man was older; his hair had greyed and his skin had wrinkled, but he was still a fit and capable warrior. His age did not take from his power, but only added experience. Unlike most of the militia, he had seen some genuine battles, and he knew tactics at least as well as Lord Cyrus. His experience notwithstanding, his impertinence and antisocial behavior kept him from responsibility. He did not complain: he was a warrior, and he had no intention of standing far from the clash when the foe came. His dark brown eyes were wider-set than his companion’s, and he could watch the whole field at a single glance. He, too, frowned constantly, not by the nature of his face, but because he simply disliked everything.

When the crowd had moved on, the shorter man said to the taller, “I tell you, Duncan, the way that man walks through here, you’d think he owned the place. And the people don’t help none, groveling and fawning like they do.”

“As I recall, Einar,” Duncan quipped with a smirk, “you was kneeling, too.”

Einar glared at him. He twisted his lips into an angry frown and retorted, “Don’t bother me with trivialities, Duncan!” His face thus contorted, he bridled his tongue until he was satisfied with Duncan’s submission. “Point is,” he continued at last, “I wasn’t waylaying him just to put my lips to his boots! If there’s something here he’s to do, then by Kyrou, let him do it!”

Duncan mused absentmindedly, “I’m not sure he has boots.”

Ignoring him, Einar resumed, “Though why he went to that useless imp, I’ve no idea.”

“Oh, wrack it!” Duncan interrupted, “Go easy on the boy. You know he lost his father a few seasons back. Mayhaps he’s yet struggling under the lot that’s been put on his shoulders.”

“It were six
back, Duncan! If the kid’s still weepy over that, he’s got more troubles than I thought!”

The two men turned away and resumed their patrol, still discussing the advent of the Guardian lord. Aneirin had long kept to himself; his arrival did not bode well for the continued peace of the Valley of Kyros.

Chapter Two

The 2040th year of the Sixth Era

The third of the month of Anthemen

Halfway through the seventh hour

Most tribes in the world then were nomadic, traveling from one land to another with flocks or cattle. The Alkimites were rare in this regard, for they had long established the Valley of Kyros as their permanent home. They had cobbled stones into roads for easy travel, but the rains of spring and the heat of summer had caused them to wither. The cottages that the Alkimites called home were similarly falling into disrepair. Only the lord’s manor was well-maintained; other houses were plagued by termites and rot. The meager house in which Hector lived with his mother, Rhoda, was no different.

Rhoda was standing near the door when Hector, Aneirin, and the crowd approached. Rhoda greeted them with a smile, “Hector, Lord Aneirin! So good to see you, milord!” She glanced past her visitor at the crowd, a meaning glint in her eyes. Reluctantly, the would-be eavesdroppers began to disperse. Only Caradoc remained behind, standing alone on the path. Rhoda invited Aneirin in; her guest smiled his thanks.

After they entered, Rhoda closed the door. “Would you like something to drink, milord?” she offered. As Aneirin and Hector settled into the family room, she walked to the kitchen, but held back a moment to hear his response.

“No, thank you, madam,” he answered politely, “I’m afraid I haven’t the time. Once I have spoken with Hector, I must again be on my way.” Rhoda nodded; she proceeded to the meager kitchen to prepare a cup of hot tea for herself. She often drank tea to soothe her nerves, Hector recalled. Yet he did not know why her nerves would need soothing now.

Aneirin turned to the boy and addressed him. At the sound of his name, Hector bowed his head reverently. The Guardian lord caught his chin and raised his face until their eyes met. “No, my boy, you mustn’t bow to me. I am just a worker, an agent of the Divines.” Hector frowned his confusion, but he did not bow again.

“Have you heard the tale of the old empire?” Aneirin continued. Hector shook his head silently; the Alkimites had not had a true Storyteller for three generations. “Then I shall tell you,” Aneirin declared, smiling warmly. “In ancient times, the tribes of men joined together to form a single government, a ruling power that was more glorious and more peaceful than anyone had ever seen. It had many names in those early years, but eventually, it came to be called the Fylscem Empire. From its capital, Fylscea, the Emperor and his councils ruled all the lands of men for six thousand years. But then, two thousand years ago, the empire collapsed. A few men came to believe that the power and wealth of the empire had corrupted mankind, so they brought about its ruin. Perhaps the most notable among them was my father.”

“Your father?” repeated Hector.

“He was called ‘the Eye,’” Aneirin explained, “They said he was so powerful that he could see everything that was happening throughout the empire. That was how he knew when to tear it down.

“Even so, he always knew that the Fylscem Empire would need to be rebuilt. That was why he prepared me and my brothers as Guardians, defenders of the Imperial bloodline. For seven heirs he made seven Guardians, each of us as unique as those we are built to protect. And for generations we have been successful in keeping those bloodlines safe… until four years ago.”

Aneirin paused and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His expression was solemn, his hands clasped. Hector could not help but ask, “What happened four years ago?”

The lord explained, “Drystan, one of my own brothers, betrayed us. Over the years, he had become corrupt. He was driven by greed and pride. He informed his charge, a young man named Derek, about his Imperial blood. Drystan and Derek began to conquer nearby tribes, and soon, their army numbered in the thousands. With these soldiers under his command, Derek hunted down his rivals. Now, five of the other six heirs lie dead, and two of my brethren were destroyed.” He smiled, but even Hector could see that it was not entirely genuine, not entirely confident. Aneirin stared at him for a few moments, as if he were searching for something in his eyes. “Hector,” he said, “Our foes will not stop until Derek is crowned Emperor over the lands of men.”

Hector took a deep breath, trying to calm his thumping heart. He looked at his mother, who hid her face with her tea. Did she know these things? he wondered. Turning back to the Guardian, he asked, “Milord, why tell me these things?” He sighed, furrowing his brow. His heart continued to thump, unabated. “What could I do about a warlord and his army?” He knew the answer, but he dared not imagine it to be true.

Aneirin hesitated again. “Hector,” he began slowly. "
are the last heir.” The thumping stopped. Hector’s heart seemed to stall at the revelation. He turned to look at his mother; Rhoda spun away, her face buried in her teacup, but Hector saw the tears staining her cheeks. She set the cup down on the table, almost hard enough to break it, and rushed out the door.

As Hector looked back at his Guardian, he felt his hands trembling. It sounded incredible, but his gut told him that it was not a good thing. All the Imperial blood in the world meant nothing if a warlord spilled that blood on the ground. He wanted to speak, but he could not find his voice.

Aneirin continued, “I am sorry to push this on you, Hector. You are still very young, and I worry that you are not ready for this journey. If your father were still alive, it would be his responsibility, but… I think the gods have done things this way for a reason.” He paused again. He knew Hector would be struggling with all of this, but he did not have time to waste. “Hector,” the Guardian forged on, “you must travel east to the Library of the Ancients and retrieve the Blessed Blades of the Emperor.”

Hector was silent. He had questions, but he could not voice them. Where was the Library? What were the Blessed Blades? How could any of this stop Derek? He worked his mouth open and closed, trying to speak. Aneirin saved him the trouble. “You don’t know what any of this means, I know. But you must trust me. This is the only way to save your people.”

His people. The idea that he, Hector, son of Abram, had the power to save his people from a terrible warlord filled the young heir with pride. He took a deep breath, smiling at his Guardian. “What must I do, milord?” he managed at last.

“The Library of the Ancients is in the capital city of the Fylscem Empire, called Fylscea,” Aneirin explained, “That city is east of here, on the coast. But I have not been to the Library since it was sealed after the fall of the empire. I do not know the way in.”

Hector frowned. “But there is a way, right? You have directions, or a map, or something?” he asked. He was tense, afraid of trying to accomplish this great task without guidance, but he was also hopeful that Lord Aneirin could help him; and his voice shook like a reed in the wind.

Aneirin smiled humorlessly. “I’m sorry, Hector, but it won’t be that easy. It has been many years since the Wrack—the fall of the empire. Even if the Library had not been sealed from the inside, I am not sure its entrance would be accessible after so much time.”

Hector was crestfallen. “Then is there any hope?” he asked. He expected a negative answer.

“Yes,” Aneirin replied firmly, “There is. My father did not leave us without clues. He constructed a secret passage into the Library; its entrance is somewhere in the city.”

“Somewhere?” Hector echoed with a grimace.

Aneirin nodded. “He also left us a map, but not with me. But I do know how to find it.”

Hector smiled again, his youthful hope conquering the dejection that threatened to overtake him. “How?”

“In the mountains to the east, there is a small pass. It will take you out of this valley and leave you near a broad river, called Freewater by the locals. That river will take you to Fylscea. But before going to the capital city, stay on the river’s northern bank. You will come to hill country, where Freewater will turn to the south. North of those hills is a forest. Among those trees, you will find an idyllic clearing, and in the exact center of that clearing is an obelisk. That is where my father had the map inscribed.” Aneirin smiled confidently. “I know it doesn’t sound like much, but that will be enough. Trust the gods to lead you.”

Hector nodded. “I do. Besides, you’ll know what to look for when we get there, right?” He was excited by the prospect of an adventure with the great lord who was rumored to watch over his people—over him, he realized.

But Aneirin’s smile faded. Hector did not miss the expression. “You’re not coming with me, are you?” he asked.

Aneirin shook his head slowly. “I can’t, Hector. I have work to do here. Derek is coming to destroy your tribe. They must be made ready for war.”

Hector’s breath grew more rapid. “But,” he stammered, “but what if I run into trouble? I don’t know how to fight. I can’t go alone. I don’t know what I’m doing!”

The Guardian lord placed a comforting hand on Hector’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Hector,” he said, his voice deep and soothing. “You won’t be going alone. I’ll see to that.”

Hector did not know what that meant, but for now, he was able to trust that it would be revealed to him in due time. “Thank you, milord,” he said softly.

Aneirin nodded. “Of course, Hector,” he answered. “I know you must have questions. You are welcome to ask them.”

Hector swallowed, even though his mouth was dry. Slowly, he ventured, “I do have one.” He glanced at Aneirin, whose expression invited him to ask it. “What are the Blessed Blades of the Emperor?” he ventured, “How are they supposed to help?”

The Guardian explained, “There are three blades, each of them blessed by the gods. The largest is a two-handed
, a longsword built for strength and reach. There is also the
, a short sword for close-quarters combat. The smallest is a curved dagger, a last line of defense. They were built by the priests of Astor, and the Champion made them deadly. Through her priestesses, the Caretaker made them eternal. And through his priests, our god-king made it so that none but the Emperor could wield them. They are the symbols of the Empire. Every Emperor in the history of Fylscea has worn them, even in times of peace.”

Realization dawned on the young heir. “So if I’m wearing them,” he said, “then by right, I’m the Emperor. Derek won’t be able to dispute my rule.”

Aneirin cautioned him, “The blades are powerful, Hector, but they cannot change a man’s nature. Derek and Drystan will do everything in their power to see you destroyed and Derek crowned. You will not be invincible. Derek must be defeated in combat, or he will never stop.”

Hector nodded slowly. That prospect troubled him, and fear nagged at his heart. True strength was elusive, but Hector put on a brave face and smiled at his Guardian.

Aneirin stood and gestured for Hector to do the same. “Start getting ready,” he suggested, “Pack light. Focus on dense breads, cured meats—things that will last. Bring an extra coat. And don’t worry,” he repeated, “Everything will be alright.”

Hector nodded. He had no trouble believing that it was true, that everything would be alright. Aneirin was confident, and he was powerful, and if he thought that Hector would be fine, then Hector trusted him, even if the boy did not quite trust himself. He took a deep breath and replied, “Okay.”

Rhoda reentered the house, followed by two others. Hector grinned when he saw his friend, Doc, and his love, Bronwyn.

Aneirin smiled, too. “It looks like your first companions have arrived.”

“Companions?” echoed Bronwyn.

Doc frowned. “What do you mean, milord?”

Aneirin looked at Hector. The boy was slack-jawed, wide-eyed, and a smile teased at the corners of his open mouth. The Guardian said, “A man must be surrounded by his friends, if he is to survive. But I will let Hector explain further.” Turning, he added to Hector’s mother, “In the meantime, Rhoda, would you walk with me?”

She smiled obligingly and nodded. The two of them exited silently while Hector began relating the tale of his heritage to his friends.

Once they were outside, Rhoda and her lord directed their steps toward the house of Lord Cyrus XI. Aneirin apologized softly. “I am sorry, Rhoda, that it came to this. I had hoped that Hector would have more time, perhaps that he would not be needed at all. That he could have lived a normal life.”

The dark-haired woman shook her head, a rueful smile gracing her lips. “Even before you came here today, milord, I knew that Hector could never live a normal life. That boy has always been obsessed with destiny. That’s why he has never done well in his apprenticeships. He wants so earnestly to do something great that he would never be satisfied doing something good.” She laughed a little. “And have you seen the way he pines after that girl? I don’t think he was ever going to tell her his feelings, the way things were going before. At least, not before it was too late.”

“And now?” Aneirin asked, his tone hinting at his amusement.

She glanced at the Guardian and found comfort in his silver eyes. “If he travels the world in search of his heritage, defeats a warlord, and saves his people, and he never tells Bronwyn how much he loves her, then he doesn’t deserve her.”

Aneirin laughed, but the smile did not reach his eyes. When he spoke again, sadness crept into his voice. “I pray that it is such a foregone conclusion.” He glanced at Rhoda. “I am sorry, too, that I was not there to save Abram.”

BOOK: The Chimaera Regiment
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