Although it’s rather late, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and that those students among my readers had a lovely break.This story is the first part of two, the second half of which I’ll post on Tuesday. I hope you enjoy!
Brutus Regium was a legend among men. He was a beast slayer, a rare example of a man of pure courage and will, who strode out into the wilderness and beat it at its own game. He wrestled with bears and won; he out-shouted trolls; it was even said he outran wolves, though doubtless some stories cropped up that were either embellished or had nothing to do with him originally, just because of what a popular figure he became. When he arrived at a town, all the men cheered for him, and all the women fawned him; he was the kind of man where men proudly pointed to their scars after loosing to him in a barfight or a duel.
There were also a number who desired to emulate, or even impersonate his fame. Among this group was Torun Bravis, a man who loved Regium’s popularity and revered state, but had no desire to do any of the things his idol had done to become famous, like kill monsters. He’d much rather join rich people in their halls and common folk in the taverns to celebrate and have a good time. Being Regium made him someone – otherwise, he would likely have become a farmer, and he had no intention of tilling the earth for his daily bread.
In all honesty, though, Bravis revered Regium above other men – the man was his hero. And yet, ironically, he dreaded ever meeting the famous warrior, since any conversation between the two of them would likely involve the fact that Bravis stole Regium’s identity. Personally, he thought it was a miracle that he hadn’t run into his mentor already, especially with them both traversing the countryside independently and unknowing of the other’s location.
As of now, Bravis was headed to Paltoren, to grace the Lord Karkomin with his presence. The noble lord would declare a celebration to welcome his arrival, and then Bravis would have all the alcohol and women he desired.
The catch with pretending to be Regium was that Bravis had to look like him. Now, not exactly like him. There were precious few pictures of the rugged warrior, and few more who would recognize him on sight. But Bravis had to look like he was a real warrior, with a long fur cloak, a large sword strapped to his side, and a buff physique. It was unfortunate that he had to work to maintain this body, but it was well worth it.
As he entered the city, the townsfolk all looked up in astonishment at him, captivated by the sight of such a powerful man astride a tall and beautiful horse. They parted down the center of the street, and he rode unhindered up to the gates of the castle at the crest of the hill. Only then did he halt and dismount, and the guards at the door approached him.
“Who are you, and what is your business with Lord Karkomin?” asked one of the guards.
“I am Brutus Regium,” replied Bravis imperially. “Perhaps one who knew that name would not be so presumptuous.”
“Pardon, sir!” The guard bowed apologetically. “I had no idea that it was you! Please, enter!”
The guard brought him inside the castle. The guard bade Bravis to wait in the atrium, and then hurried off to fetch his master. He was not gone long, and soon Lord Corval Karkomin entered, his arms wide to receive the perceived hero.
“Welcome, Regium!” he said. “I did not think you would honor us with your presence, but I am glad that you have come. You shall dine with me tonight!”
“Thank you, my Lord,” Bravis replied, bowing. “It would be an honor.”
The meal was a large affair, and it was attended by every resident of the castle, an impressive number for that part of the country. Bravis had rarely seen so many people at one table, but he also avoided the larger cities, where people were more likely to have seen the real Regium. He was surprised that the hero had never visited the prosperous land of Paltoren.
Among the guests was Karkomin’s large family, including his wife and his seven children, all ranging from twelve to three years in age. They were anxious for stories of Regium’s exploits, especially the two eldest children, Timaen and Gavin. It tested Bravis’s mind considerably to remember stories of his hero’s adventures and to create some of his own, but it entertained the children, and that made him happy – partially because they bought his lies.
Telling these stories also placated the adults in the room: those young men eager for some great deeds to aspire too, the older men seeking news of other realms, and women looking for a reason to dote on him. Bravis focused his attentions on this last audience, when the other two and the children would allow him. And it was all going quite well, until the door burst open and a harried, burnt, and exhausted man stepped into the room.
“My lord!” he exclaimed. “The town Giastones burns – dragon!”
“Well then,” replied Karkomin after a moment to take it all in. “We must organize a force to meet it at once. Regium, surely you will lend us your expertise?”
But Bravis said nothing, merely staring in shock at the messenger. Why did he have to come now, of all times? How could anyone expect him, Bravis, to fight any such monster? It was unfair! He wasn’t cut out for that kind of work!
He couldn’t quite explain that to the present company, though, now could he? Not when they expected him to help. How could he get out of this mess?
“I, uh, don’t think I can help,” he said, struggling for an excuse. “You see, I have a previous engagement that I really must be getting to-”
“Surely it’s not so important that you can’t hold it off to save lives,” Karkomin cut in. “After all, if it goes well, it shouldn’t take more than a couple days, if you’re only worried about time.”
No, he wasn’t just worried about time. A dragon, of all things!
“Just, let me think about it tonight,” Bravis said. “I shall have my decision in the morning.”
When he got into his chambers, he paced back and forth. He had absolutely no skill that would help slay a dragon, but, pretending to be Regium, he was expected to act as Regium would. All Bravis wanted to do was escape, which was the other option weighing heavily in his mind. He looked out the window.
“Why did Karkomin have to give me a room so high up?” he muttered.
“To make the decision more difficult,” came a voice from some dark corner of the chamber.
Bravis wheeled around, to see the pale face of Lord Karkomin refecting the moonlight.
“What – how did you get in here?”
“I have my ways. I also know you aren’t Regium.”
“But, how? Have you met him before?”
“No. But a hero like him wouldn’t make excuses and buy time to not save lives. But you have done both. Tell me, why do you desire to be like him if you do not desire to be like him?”
“You can’t pick and choose his life. Either you must go through the struggles and the celebrations, or partake in neither. You cannot enjoy the festivals without earning the peace through hardship.”
“No. Surely Regium would be ashamed of you if he ever met you. Surely you know that. But now you have the opportunity to do something good. So make the decision that your hero would make. Help me.”
Bravis considered this a moment. “Fine. But I take no responsibility if this goes ill. I have no skills of any value to this.”
“You have a sword, and the nerve. Perhaps that is all you will need.”