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«Kings, Queens, Heroes, and Fools», Michael Mathias

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Chapter One

Lord Alvin Gregory opened his eyes sometime in early winter. They’d been closed since summer began. The unfamiliar room was dark, but warm and earthy, tinged with the smell of fire smoke and roasted lamb. He tried to rise, but his body would not allow it. With the pain came the memory of the wounds he’d taken. From what? He shouldn’t be alive, he knew, but he could tell by the intensity of the pain he was in, that he was. He lay there for a long while before the hazy memory of a woman, elegant and beautiful, carried him back into sleep.

The next time he opened his eyes he found a woman sitting next to him. She wasn’t the woman he had been dreaming of, but she was no less beautiful. It seemed that his waking had startled her, but a warm smile crept across her face soon enough and she went back to cleansing his skin with the damp cloth in her hand.

She had long, straight jet black hair, and dark motherly eyes. The edges of which were just starting to show the lines of age. She was no noblewoman, her clothes were made from doeskin and plainly cut. He wasn’t back in his Westland stronghold at Lakebottom, he knew. He e He couldn’t sort through the fog in his brain to say where exactly he was though. It was a safe place, he sensed, but it was a long way from home.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

He tried to reply to the question, but his throat was thick with mucus and would not work for him.

“It’s all right, Lion Lord,” she said. “I’ll fetch some broth and my mate.”

Lord Gregory suffered the pain of turning his head so that he could watch her go and felt the chill of the icy-cold air that blew in when she opened and closed the door behind her.

Lion Lord, she had called him. It stirred memories from the mix of his mind, but nothing complete enough to comprehend. He closed his eyes again and drifted.

“He can remember nothing,” the woman said sometime later.

Lord Gregory opened his eyes to find her and two men standing in the room.

“Ah, he’s waking again,” the older of the two men said. He was seventy years old if he was a day. His long hair was streaked with silver and gray and the skin on his clean-shaven face was sun-darkened and wrinkled. The old man shrugged off a thickly furred cloak that had been made from several different animal skins. Grayish brown, black, and snow-white long-haired goat skins had been hem-hawed together. It looked warm though. Lord Gregory grew curious when the old man winced his way down to take a seat at the edge of the bed.

“Lord Gregory,” the old man said. “Lion of the West. Lion Lord. Do these names mean anything to you?”

“I know who I am,” Lord Gregory croaked. His own voice sounded unfamiliar to his ears. It was weak and hoarse and it reminded him of his injuries.

“Good, good,” the old man said with a pat on Lord Gregory’s arm. “Do you know where you are?”

Lord Gregory racked his cloudy brain and found the knowledge, but the name of the place escaped him. Then he wondered if it even had a name. He managed to get out two words: “Clan village,” but even though he knew that was correct, he knew it was incomplete.

“Yes, yes, this is the village of the Skyler Clan. I am Halden Skyler, the Eldest, and this is my second son Harrap and his mate Karna. They have kept you while you were resting. Their son, my grandson, Hyden was amongst your group when the dark creature attacked. Do you remember?”

Some of it came back to him. A fleeting feeling of hope bloomed. “Mikahl?” he croaked.

“Aye,” Harrap joined the conversation. He was standing at the foot of the bed. “And an elf.” The word ‘elf’ was spoken with more than a little contempt.

“A tattooed Seawardsman was with you as well,” the old man added from beside him. “You killed a Seawardsman at the festival. Do you remember that?”

Summer’s Day, a great fight with another brawler; gamblers, wagering, thousands of people cheering them on, blood and knuckles and pain-these were the images that came to his mind.

“I lost, I think.” Lord Gregory tried to grin.

“Aye,” the old man looked to his son at the foot of the bed. His grin was full of satisfaction. “This lion will roar again. He just needs a little more time to lick his wounds.”

“He’s not heard of the Dragon Queen and the fall of Westland yet. And…”

A raised hand from the Eldest cut Harrap short. Harrap shook his head in frustration.

“Lord Gregory’s mind’s not ready for all that yet, son. He’s been unconscious for more than a season. Filling his head with too much at once might hinder his recovery.” The Eldest turned to his son’s mate. “You’ve done well, Karna. Could you ask Tylen to come for a while each day to help our Westlander get his body used to moving around again.”


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