In today’s excerpt from The Reign of Dragons, Galenos is traveling to a neighboring city to ask an old friend for help. But although he used to be in good shape as a mercenary, he has spent the past two years ruling from behind a desk. How will he fare on this journey?
Swallow Your Pride
Galenos and his armed escort was making slow progress. The first few days, they marched along Kyratia’s paved roads, which were maintained and guarded by the mercenary company. Even in the best parts of Kyratia, villages were still scattered far apart, with most of the land unclaimed by civilization. Between them were the Wyld lands: areas dominated by the forces of Wyld magic, full of monsters that defended their territory against human encroachment, and extremely dangerous.
Over the past two years, Galenos had started a program to bridge the gaps between villages with small outposts. Most weren’t manned by mercenaries, but by civilian volunteers, trained to defend the most basic motte and bailey fortress against minor monster attacks. They provided safe haven for trading caravans and other travelers.
The outposts gave them a hot meal and a bed for the night, and Galenos gratefully slipped into the deepest sleep he’d had in months.
But once they crossed the border into the mountains, the path was steep and rocky. Their train of ox wagons were forced into a single line that meandered up the slopes.
Not for the first time, Galenos lamented the loss of his marewing, Nightshade. With her speed, he could have flown to Petropouli and back in the time it was taking to walk there. She had disappeared the night that all the marewings were driven away from Kyratia and never returned. Most of the riders had recovered their mounts, but Galenos was afraid to call her, and she didn’t come on her own.
The truth was he had neglected her long before she finally disappeared. As a mercenary, he had spent every day with Nightshade. As a duke, he could barely make time to visit her once a week and flew with her even less often. There was no place for such a dangerous monster in the capital and people had distrusted her.
But he missed his old companion. He wondered what had become of her. Had she gone back to the wilds, living free with other marewings? Or did she fall to the gryphons or another deadly monster?
This walking would kill him. Galenos tried to hide it from his guards, but he wasn’t used to the heavy travel. Once, he had been a battle-hardened warlord, but the last two years had kept him trapped behind a desk. Now his feet ached with every step.
Every morning, he woke up feeling tired and sore. He stretched to ease his muscles, but each day, his steps grew a little slower and he was forced to call for more breaks.
The guards had kept silent about their duke’s discomfort, but one afternoon, one of the men approached him and held out cloth-wrapped bundle. “Sergeant Navera sent this for you, Your Grace.”
Before Galenos had finished unwrapping the clay jar inside, he recognized the smell. The pungent herbal ointment was made for senior riders to soothe their muscles after long hours in the saddle. He looked up at the other man with a frown.
“Do you think I’m so weak that I need this?” He looked around at the other guards, who carefully avoided his gaze. “Do you all think I’ve gone soft, sitting behind a desk all day?”
“No, sir!” they answered in unison.
Galenos glared down at the jar in his hands, and then the absurdity of the situation hit him. He started to laugh. “Well, I have gone soft,” he said with a shake of his head. “I guess I’d better swallow my pride and take all the help I can get, or I’m going to slow down our progress.” He nodded to the guard who’d given him the ointment. “Thank you, and I’ll thank Sergeant Navera myself when we get back. She’s a smarter person than me.”