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Authors: Rick Shelley

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The Hero King

BOOK: The Hero King
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OTHER BOOKS BY RICK SHELLEY

The Dirigent Mercenary Corps
OFFICER-CADET
LIEUTENANT
CAPTAIN
MAJOR
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
COLONEL

The Spec Ops Squad
HODLING THE LINE
DEEP STRIKE
SUCKER PUNCH

The Federation War
THE BUCHANAN CAMPAIGN
THE FIRES OF COVENTRY
RETURN TO CAMEREIN

The Varayan Memoir
SON OF THE HERO
THE HERO OF VARAY
THE HERO KING

The Wizard
THE WIZARD AT HOME
THE WIZARD AT MECQ

THE HERO KING
The Varayan Memoir, Book 3

Copyright © 1992 by Richard M. Shelley
All rights reserved.

Cover art by Isaac Stewart.

First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, in May 1992. Published as an ebook by Jabberwocky Literary Agency in 2012.

ISBN: 978-1-936535-48-4

CONTENTS

Title Page
Other Books by Rick Shelley
Copyright
Dedication

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21

To the memory of
Alice Nehls,
Friend and mentor.
Without her help,
I never would have found
the cellar room with one door in
and so many ways out.

1
Arrowroot

If a regulation Hero is supposed to constantly get himself out of insane predicaments, I was doing at least
part
of the job correctly. I was getting myself
into
the predicaments like a pro. Forget all that about jumping from the frying pan into the fire, I was going from one popcorn popper into another.

Total panic doesn’t lead to the most accurate memories. Too many impossible things had been happening at once. I had been out on an island in the Mist, the Sea of Fairy, stealing the left ball of the Great Earth Mother … to go with the
right
ball I had stolen a few weeks earlier in the Titan Mountains. More or less in order, I had faced an apparition of the Great Earth Mother herself threatening to destroy me, a beach full of rocks that picked themselves up and hurled themselves at my boat with the velocity of artillery shells, a sky filled with dragons that started to fall and change into other creatures after I swallowed the pecan-sized balls of the Great Earth Mother, and more rocks that turned themselves into soldiers from every period of history. Then Aaron, my new wizard, spit up a two-mile-long sea serpent to gobble up the soldiers.

Then
came the earthquake.

My companions and I were faced with the choice of staying out on the beach and being eaten by the sea serpent along with all the bad guys, or retreating into the shrine of the Great Earth Mother—a building that was already in the process of collapsing under the shaking of the quake.

We went inside and Aaron Carpenter, my wizard, managed to open a doorway back to Castle Arrowroot and the whole batch of us—except Master Hopay, the skipper of the boat
Beathe
, who had been struck and killed by one of the flying rocks—got through the passage before the shrine came tumbling down.

But the ground was still shaking.

It took me a moment to realize that Arrowroot was also being shaken by an earthquake, if not as severely as the island hundreds of miles away in the Mist. The tremor ended quickly at Arrowroot, though, which was lucky. Those of us who had just stepped through from the shrine were shaky enough. Dropping to the floor to ride out this tremor was all any of us was up to. And when the shaking stopped, it took a moment longer for us to realize that it was over. I know that it felt as if I were still shaking after the building stopped.

“We’ve got to tell Baron Resler to get everyone away from low ground,” I said—louder than necessary, but I was still thinking through the noise of the greater earthquake at the shrine. “There may be a tidal wave.” Castle Arrowroot and Arrowroot Town are right on the shore of the Mist.

“How big a wave?” Lesh asked. He was the first to get to his feet, the old soldier, recovering quickly from all the insanity that had gone before, ready to meet the next threat.

“Hard telling. It could be twenty, maybe even thirty feet high or more, hitting with a lot of force.” I just didn’t know what more to say about it.

“I’ll find the baron,” Lesh said. He staggered off toward the great hall while the rest of us got to our feet.

The head of Wellivazey, our dead elf, had fallen and rolled to the side of the corridor when we came through from the shrine. Harkane, formerly squire, now man-at-arms, picked the head up. There were no complaints from the elf, though. His ersatz life after life had finally ended out on that island. To the end, he had contributed to the general weirdness of everything. And his contribution to weirdness didn’t look like it was going to end even now. All I had to do was look at Aaron to know that. Aaron had a streak of pale white skin that ran from his left temple to his jaw and a tuft of the elf’s platinum-blond hair above it, an eye-catching break in the black skin and hair of my wizard.

Timon got up and went to look out toward the Mist, presumably to see if the tidal wave was coming. He may not have heard of such a thing before. I didn’t bother asking.

The eight soldiers who had crewed
Beathe
huddled together. I don’t think any of them had been prepared for anything near what had happened. They had seen their captain, Master Hopay, squashed like a beetle, seen the boat riddled by flying rocks and destroyed, all the rest. They had been volunteers, soldiers with some experience on boats, men willing to risk a voyage out of sight of land. I doubted that any of them would ever be foolish enough to volunteer for anything again.

“We’re back at Castle Arrowroot,” I told them. “The stairs down that way will take you to the great hall.” I pointed, and all eight of them scrambled to their feet and ran for the stairs. I didn’t blame them. Anyway, it didn’t matter now. Their job was done.

“How are you doing, Aaron?” I asked. Aaron had gone through a few more varieties of hell out there than the rest of us. He shook his head but did meet my gaze. The cloudiness was gone from his eyes.

“I’m wondering if maybe I made the biggest mistake of my life when I got into this,” he said, speaking very slowly, spacing out the words. He wasn’t the only one asking himself that kind of question. I wondered the same thing every time I got in deep trouble.

“Not that I had much choice,” Aaron added after a short pause. I nodded. The way he had kept popping into Varay from Joliet, Illinois, back in the “real” world, he could hardly help “signing on” in Varay. And after growing from eight years old to an apparent mid-twenties in a couple of weeks, he certainly wouldn’t fit in anywhere back in the other world.

“If this is what winning feels like, I’m glad we didn’t lose,” I said.

“We haven’t won yet,” Aaron said, and all I could do was stare at him. “All we’ve done is buy a little time to find the cure for the disease. That still lies somewhere else. It’s some
thing
else.”

“You’re sure?” I wasn’t pressing him just because he was new to the wizard business. I’d have pressed Uncle Parthet just as hard. My eyes were drawn to the white streak on the side of Aaron’s face again. He didn’t seem conscious of it—maybe he wasn’t fully aware of it yet, even though he had seen the corresponding black streak on the elf’s face—but I couldn’t help but stare. The memory of how Aaron had pulled the elf’s head on over his own started churning my stomach again.

“I’m sure,” Aaron said. He reached up and traced the streak on his face. I know he hadn’t been near a mirror, but maybe a wizard doesn’t need one. “I don’t know what the answer is yet. But all you’ve done is load the gun. You haven’t pulled the trigger yet.”

That seemed to be a peculiar analogy for him to draw, but I had to reach down and touch myself again, feel the extra set of family jewels.
How
they got there was more than a painful memory. I still hurt from it.

“Where do we find the answer?” I asked.

“I can’t even be sure about that,” Aaron said. We started walking toward the great hall. Timon and Harkane followed. Neither of them said anything. I doubt if they even thought of trying to contribute to the conversation. “If we still had Wellivazey to question, I might be able to find out.”

“There’s no chance at all of pulling him back enough for a few more questions?”

“No chance at all,” Aaron said.

“Well, if not him, how about his father?” I asked.

“We send him a message?” Aaron asked.

“For a start at least.” I took a deep breath. “I have to take his son home to him. Wellivazey fulfilled his part of the bargain. I can’t back out. I gave my oath.”

“I could argue that, but I won’t bother. Even so, you don’t have to take him home right away. I know you left yourself that out. And with general destruction hanging over everything, you
can’t
do it now, not when the Elflord of Xayber wants you dead.”

“I know. But maybe he’ll agree to a truce long enough to get the general problem solved. That affects him as much as anyone else.” But I really wasn’t confident of getting anything but agony from the elflord.

    The great hall of Castle Arrowroot was in a state of complete upheaval. People were shouting and running around, trying to organize defenses against the possibility of a tidal wave, a tsunami. Part of the fishing fleet was out, as usual, and people worried about that but couldn’t do anything about it. There were a number of small villages along the coast—most of them too far away to get a rider to in time.

“You have any real idea what we’re looking for?” Baron Resler asked when he saw me.

“Just in a general way, Baron,” I told him. “An earthquake out at sea can send a giant wave against the shore. How big, I can’t begin to guess, but it could easily be twenty or thirty feet, I think.”

“Strong enough to knock down castle walls?” Resler asked.

“I don’t think so, but no guarantee. I just don’t know.”

He nodded and went off, yelling at people, trying to get work done. Parts of the town of Arrowroot might be in danger, but maybe not. The three hundred yards or so between the shore and the town might be space enough for any wave to break itself down. The castle was right
on
the shore, on a manmade island. But the courtyard was twenty feet above the mean water level, and the walls above that were very thick and secure. The waves would have to top sixty feet to come
over
the walls, and the water wasn’t that deep close to shore. Any really huge waves would break farther out and roll in, so maybe the castle itself would be safe.

My companions and I wandered through the great hall. Each of us grabbed a flagon of beer. Lesh was already there, on his third or fourth round. Aaron got his beer and drank it straight down, and then filled it again.

“You sure you’re old enough for beer?” I asked him. A couple of months before, he had only been eight years old.

Aaron looked at me over the top of his mug. “Right now, I feel even older than Parthet.”

It was enough to bring a smile to our faces, something we both needed.

With a little beer in us, we were ready for food, so the five of us went back to the kitchen to scare up something to tide us over for a bit. With all the commotion going on, there were no servants handy to fetch food out to the great hall, not even for the Hero and heir of Varay. I didn’t mind. Even after three and a half years all the fuss people made over me was embarrassing.

We found places to sit in the kitchen, helped ourselves to sandwich fixings, and ate. The cooks and their helpers moved around us. They were obviously nervous because of the earthquake and all the talk about a tidal wave, but meals still had to be prepared. There hadn’t been any real damage in the kitchen—or in any of the other parts of Arrowroot we had seen. If any pots had fallen, they had already been picked up. Some of the kitchen staff relaxed a little when they saw the Hero sitting around eating and drinking as though there were nothing at all to worry about. They didn’t know that I was too beat to get excited about anything.

BOOK: The Hero King
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