In keeping with my tradition of starting something but never actually finishing it, I thought that I would post up the first 1000ish words of my current project. I won't be likely to give this an update since there is the possibility that I might seek to get the finished, refined (read: very different) product published, and publishers don't like anything that has been published online.
(C) Copyright 2013 James Wonnacott
I am but a simple scholar.
What is left of my life is all present here: my body, frail and aged; my books, thumbed and with pages worn by constant use; and my pens.
Nothing else. As I say, I am but a simple scholar, and a simple man is wont to lead only a simple life.
I am a simple scholar, but I was once much more.
I have always believed that there are only two qualifications required in order to call yourself a historian: the ability to write, and events worthy of remembrance to write about. I first voiced this conviction many years ago in the lost days of my youth, and perhaps then they possessed an air of the prophetic about them. I doubt, however, that even in those days I could have foreseen the stories that it would fall to me to chronicle. A saga of treachery, of darkness, deceit and woe; of the intervention of gods and the fall of the unassailable.
My tale is not a happy one, for the world has fallen far from its former state. It is a tale scribed in blood, dominated by betrayal and hatred and ignorance. But it is also a tale of heroism, of courage and honour. It is the tale of two brothers and their stand against the coming dark.
It is the story of Ballista Ronell, Praetor of the Empire, last and greatest of the heroes of old, and of Mattias, the warrior who should never have been. These pages belong to them; to them, and to the men who followed them to the edge of the abyss, ever on the verge of annihilation, and who dared to challenge the gods themselves. They stood their ground and fought one, final battle against impossible odds.
And they lost.
There exists no memorial to these men. Betrayed by the empire they fought to protect, they lie in shallow graves, publicly dishonoured and then ignored. But not forgotten.
This is their story. It is a painful one to recollect, and I doubt that I shall survive its telling. I am sanguine about that. I look out of the narrow window of the room that has become my dwelling and gaze upon the streets of the city of Myrsi, capital of the largest empire that has ever existed, and I know that I have grown weary of what this world now becomes. A new age is beginning, a younger age, and in such times there can be no place for a tired old scholar.
And so I write.I
Here we stand,
By this world forgotten,
Cursed we few that remain.
Unbowed and unbroken
Yet weary with memories
And burdened with lost hopes to sustain.
- Marcus Leofris, Of the Fate of Armies
A wash of crimson light spilled slowly into the darkness of the Dural night above Setteran, heralding the new dawn and dancing wildly in the vast golden domes of the Adjudicator’s Palace to give the impression of a thousand fires raging across the city. It was an impressive spectacle, and one with which Mattias Ronell was well-acquainted.
The scene gave birth to perhaps the greatest irony of all, he thought; that the greatest reward for his service in keeping the province safe was to see the city – his city – burn each day in the glittering domes of his home below.
He sighed and cast his eyes elsewhere, tracing the too-familiar labyrinth of the city’s streets over to the northern gate, the end of the province of Imperial Durallen, and all that those things represented. Somewhere, a solitary bell tolled, its mournful, lonely pealing distant and forlorn, but the sound was carried away by the breeze, leaving the city shrouded in silence once more.
“I thought I’d find you here, brother.”
Clad in standard issue legion plate, Ballista Ronell was an imposing man. His weathered features regarded Mattias with amusement from beneath the helmet of an Imperial Captain-General. Mattias turned to face him, his face solemn. Ballista met his gaze for a moment before his face cracked into a grin and the two embraced.
“Why did you come here?” asked Mattias after a while.
Ballista shrugged. “Morbid curiosity I suppose. Wanted to find out why you spend so much time here.”
“And have you?”
“Apart from that you enjoy being depressed? No.”
“This city represents the only hope for order on this gods-forsaken continent, Ballista, and it is that which is defended by the blood of the legions. But it is a fragile hope, one that will only last whilst it is defended not only by swords, but by men who know what it means. We cannot afford to forget that. I cannot afford to forget that.”
Ballista looked at him and smiled again.
“You are right of course, little brother. That is why you are the politician and I the soldier.”
Mattias smiled back, some measure of ease returning to the patrician cast of his features as he faced his sibling.
“We each serve in our own way. It’s good to see you, Ballista.”
“Likewise. I wish that I could stay longer, but I’m here on business,” answered Ballista.
Mattias frowned. “Business?”
“Aye, the business of war. The fires have been lit, the legions are marching. It won’t be long now. The Emperor wants war.”
Mattias shook his head.
“Surely not here? Gods know we need it, but surely the Council would never let him-”
“He’s the Emperor, Mattias. He does what he likes, and gods damn the rest of them. Durallen will fall.”***