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King of The World's Edge [MultiFormat]
eBook by H. W. Munn

eBook Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
eBook Description: When the Spanish soldiers arrived by ship on the coast of what is now Central America and parts of the Yucatan they were greeted as gods. It was if they have been expected! The ancient god Quetzalcoatl was described as a white-skinned man of miracles and sorcery who one day disappeared to the east from whence he had come. Ancient Roman coins have been found at various locations along the Mississippi River and up into Ohio and along the Ohio River. King of The World's Edge weaves an exciting story within the science-fiction genré along with the fantasy one to give you an extremely interesting story of ancient Roman soldiers and one in particular named Ventidius Varro also called Haro by the native people. A ruler he wants to be and in the new world at the edge of the world he becomes one. A warrior is he and it is a tale of battles and conquering along with self-discovery. They were a lonely, half-starved band of adventurers who had been cast out of their homeland by hordes of invading marauders--and they came to an unknown world as strange, as fantastic, as wonder-packed as the legendary Atlantis. Here they encountered the dread fish-monsters of Piasa, and were captured by the savage legions of Miapan's barbaric empire. But they escaped--and vowed to build a new civilization in the wilderness that would crush the tyrants of Miapan forever! Fighting their way across an uncharted continent peopled by strange civilizations and fierce beast-monsters, the sorcerer Myrdhinn and his small band of followers had only their swords and the discipline of their military training to sustain them--for Myrdhinn, master of Druid magic, had foresworn the black arts when he had become a Christian convert. Yet at last, upon a barbarous pagan altar in the heart of Miapan, Myrdhinn faced an evil so great that he knew he must throw all the powers at his command against it. And when Myrdhinn called up the forces of the earth and elements against his foes, this entire new world was shaken to its foundations! This continually exciting novel of strange worlds and fierce gods has long been rated alongside those of Burroughs and A. Merritt. Now at last it is available to modern readers--a tale that will ring in your memory!

eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2011




Prologue

After the hurricane which swept Key West almost bare, a cylinder of bronze, green with verdigris and thinned by the years, was dug out from coral and debris by a veteran engaged in the work of reconstruction. He, perceiving it to be a most ancient relic, though he mistakenly believed it to date from the Spanish occupation of that island, realized that it might be of more value if unopened. So he took it to the museum in his home town, at which I happen to be curator.

I opened it in his presence, being promised ten percent of any valuables it might contain, should they chance to be of only ordinary interest.

We were both surprised to find in it a tightly rolled bundle of parchment, upon which was painted in rugged soldier's Latin the following letter.

As I translated it, the eyes of my caller sparkled, for he recognized a bold kindred spirit across the years.

I, too, thrilled, but with the zest of the antiquarian; for I knew that at the time of writing, Rome had perished, the barbarians had dismembered the Western Empire, and only in Constantinople survived anything of Roman pomp and power. Yet here, at a date forty years after the fall of Rome, was a man writing to a Roman emperor!

Had the letter been in time to have been of use, the history of the world would have been far different; but it miscarried, and with it all the hopes of its valiant writer. Let him speak now for himself.

* * * *

CHAPTER 1.

The Lost Legion

To whatever Emperor rules in Rome--Greetings:

I, Ventidius Varro, centurion under Arthur the Imperator of Britain, and now King of the Western Edge of the World, known here by such titles as Nuitziton, Huitzilopochtli and Atoharo, send these relations by my only son, who seeks your confirmation of my kingship, that he may rule in my stead when I am done.

It is now, I estimate, full five generations since the legions finally withdrew from Britain, and though I may be, in the early part of these writings, but re-telling what by now is common knowledge in Rome, I cannot be sure of that and it should be told. Bear therefore, I pray, with the garrulous reminiscences of an old soldier, scarred in the services of a country he has never seen.

It is hard for me to believe that since I left Britain forty years ago it may not have been recovered from the Saxon pirates; yet I must assume it, for I remember well that for a hundred years previously we received little or no help.

Nay, when in my great-grandfather's time we Romano-Britons sent to Aetius for aid, pleading that the recall of the legion he had sent left us defenseless, did we get even one cohort in return?

Not though we warned that Britain would be lost--as it has been, unless indeed it is true, as Myrdhinn the seer has told me, that Britain was discarded willfully as of little value to Rome.

How can I credit this, knowing well the fertile soil, the rich mines, the teeming fisheries of Britain? There must be another reason, and Myrdhinn has said it.

An age is dying, the whole world tottering to ruin, overrun by barbarians as we in Britain were; yet for a hundred years no news crossed the seas to us, other than garbled rumors brought by Saxons who were no friends to Rome.

They met our galleys and warships, twenty to one, and sank them. They harried our coast, burning, marauding, pillaging, till hardly a roundship dared venture the crossing of the channel, and trade died. Communication with the continent was shut off. Even the fishing-vessels dared not leave the sight of land, and everywhere the Saxon dragon ships held the seas.

So, understand then that at the risk of boring you with an old tale, I must review the events following the recall of the legions, when in all Britain the only Roman soldiers were those of the sadly decimated Sixth Legion, Victrix, stationed at Eboracum and on the Wall.

If this be known to you, pass on. There are things to follow that will be new, for I am the only Roman left alive in all the world who has knowledge of the marvels I shall describe.

First, after the Emperor Honorius' letter of recall, the Twentieth Legion embarked--leaving Deva and the west country exposed to the fierce mountain tribes of the Silures. Then from Ratae the Ninth marched away and all the low country was helpless.

Two years later, the Second Legion left Isca Silurum and nothing hindered the pirates from sailing up the broad Sabrina.

Lastly went the greater part of the Sixth, and, too weak to hold the Wall, the Consul moved his forces farther south, deserting Eboracum to the Picts and Saxons, who promptly occupied it, settling there to stay.

If the various cities could have agreed among themselves, and together have assembled an army, Britain might yet be free. There were plenty of men with stout hearts and Roman training, and some of these the Sixth recruited to bring up the full strength of the legion, but this was like diluting wine with water.

The cities from which the levies came bickered among themselves, each trying to keep its fighting-men at home, and so, singly too weak to fight off invasion, they fell as they fought, singly. Meanwhile the various British princelings gathered a following and set up petty kingdoms, quite separately from the city-states, and most of these were later destroyed or absorbed by the invaders.

Eventually what remained of the Sixth after three generations of fighting, recruiting and dilution, still calling itself Roman and Victrix as well, clinging to its eagles, retreated into the mountains of Damnonia, the last stronghold of Britain.

And here I must in more detail begin the story of my own particular family and tell how it was affected by these events.

* * * *

Stranger! Know me first. I am Ventidius Varro, then--Roman to the core of me, though I never have seen that lovely city by the Tiber, nor did my father before me. He was British born, of a British mother, and on his father's side was possessed of only one quarter of pure Roman blood. Yet am I Roman, my allegiance is to Rome, and to her goes my love and my heart's yearning-to that delectable city which I shall now never see in life!

The story of my family is the tragedy of Britain. When my great-grandfather was called into the troops, my grandfather was a babe in arms. The island was bled white of fighting-men, only skeletons of garrisons remaining, but by the time of my grandfather's entrance into the Legion firm sturdy substance had formed upon these bare bones of organization. One might say that the brains were still Roman, but all the flesh was British.

The Sixth fought the Picts, the Scoti and the Saxons, and although the barbarians had gained a foothold, they were all but dislodged again and were held with their backs to the sea. Then, just as another year might have decided the struggle, Rome called.

Men were needed--

Rome itself was in peril--my grandfather followed in his father's footsteps, into mystery, and never returned. None of the levies returned, and his wife, left lorn with young children, my father among them, moved west toward the mountains of Cambria and brought up her brood in Viriconium.

Rome sent us no more governors, no more high officials or low. Our fortresses in the west continued to be held by the decimated Sixth, but the very best men were gone, and I do not know where even their graves may he.

Then the Jutes, Saxons and Angli, who had occasionally fought beside us as allies against the Picts, turned against us, and my mother fled across the Cambrian border, looking over her shoulder at flaming Viriconium, where my father with other brave men fought and died that Rome might be perpetuated in Britain.

My early childhood was spent in wandering about among the wild Cymri, whose bravery had challenged and broken all the power that Rome could hurl against them, and which now remained the only corner of Britain which was free from the Saxon peril and which, strangely enough, now protected the culture of Rome. And at last I come to my own time and the story you must know.

Among these Cymri dwelt the strange man known to them as Myrdhinn, but to us across the border as Ambrosius; a man of noble aspect and terrifying eye, of flowing white beard and majestic carriage; a man whose very origin is shrouded in mystery.

If the tale is true, Myrdhinn was sired by a demon in the reign of King Vortigern, baptized instantly by Blayse, the mother's confessor, thus becoming a Christian, but retaining the demoniac powers of magic, insight and prophecy. Others have considered him so wise that he could not be even slightly mortal, and maintain that he was born at the age of eighty at a time co-existent with the construction of Earth and has since been growing wiser!

It is more probable, however, that he was a foundling brought up in childhood by Druids who still keep up their ancient practices in Cambria, and taught by them their mystical lore, though he in later life embraced Christianity. Druidism warred in his heart with Christian tenets.

It is well known that the sages of antiquity possessed knowledge lost to us in these times of decadence, and locked fast in Myrdhinn's brain were many secrets, including that of prolonged life.

I am beaten down by years, grizzled, gaunt and almost toothless, yet Myrdhinn in all the time of my acquaintance remained the same as that of my mother's description, when as a young woman she first saw him among the hills of Cambria, striding along a lonely glen, hale, rugged and strong, the child Arthur holding his hand and half trotting to keep up with the old man's vigorous pace.

They must then have been going to find his friend Antor, to whom Myrdhinn delivered Arthur for tuition, and whose diligent care developed the stripling into Arthur, the hoped-for, the undying--Arthur, Imperator, the great Pendragon, dictator--Arthur, save only for treachery's intervention the savior of Britain.

At that time he was about fifteen years older than I who, still a suckling, knew nothing of the stirring events around me. By the time I was growing calluses practicing with sword and spear, Arthur already was leading forays into Saxon land.

Old crippled soldiers of the scattered legion remnants trained the savage youth of Cambria to a fantastic semblance of the iron ranks of Rome. Again the smiths pounded red iron into white blades, again sow and pig (ratchet and pawl) talked on carroballista and catapult, and at last a ghost of the old Legion marched over the border, with tattered standards, battle-scarred armor, dented shields.

But we marched in full strength! Our metal was bright and polished, our bows strong and arrows sharp (every man an archer, whether a member of the cavalry, engineers or simple legionary), and leading us all the glittering eagles gave us courage.

Sixth Legion, Victrix! Hail and farewell! Thy bones make the fields of Britain greener now.

Something of the old imperial spirit came back. Viriconium was captured, lost and held again, and the Cymri streamed over the border, rebuilding all possible of the past glory. On the plain outside the walls scampered the shaggy Cambrian ponies in laughable contrast to the thundering charge of the Roman horse. But the Saxon footmen scattered before the charge, and as time went by we penetrated deeper into hostile country, winning back foot by foot the soil of Britain to be once again free land for us exiles and lovers of Rome.

Here and there we came upon noble steeds and mares in the fertile lowlands, and by the time Arthur's forces were strong enough to meet in pitched battle a superior force of Saxons, three hundred horsemen smashed the shield walls.

The Saxons, streaming away, left us masters of the field in the first great battle to break the invaders' power, and harrying the retreat the cataphracts pursued, hacking them down and wreaking such havoc that from the survivors of the troop Arthur formed his noble band of knights.

Their leather armor, knobbed with bronze, was replaced with plate; stronger horses were bred to carry the extra weight; and as Arthur came victor from field upon field, armies, chieftains, kings thronging to him, naming him amheradawr (or imperator)--the Round Table came into being and held high court in Isca Silurum.

Thus from battle to battle we passed--our glory increasing, our confidence growing, recruits coming in--sneaking by night along hostile shores in coracles of hide and wicker, creeping by the moored Saxon longships--until flaming hilltop beacons farther than the eye could see marked the boundaries of recovered Britain.

Grumbling, growling to ourselves, watching the Legion grow to double strength, we waited for the word to sweep over the Saxon remnant. Then came unexpected help from Armorica--our compatriots across the sea sailing in round-ships and galleys to our aid.

Myrdhinn had asked for their help, and nobly they answered.

At that time we had but one warship, the Prydwen, a great dromon built as an experiment from a design found in an old book, modeled to be a cruiser which could meet and plow under the enemy galleys. Its like had not been seen in British waters for hundreds of years. Armed with ballistas and arrow engines, driven by oars and sails and with overhanging galleries the better to repel boarders, it towered over the hulking roundships and low galleys, like a proud cock who struts among his family, protector of all.

Already the barbarians were marching upon us, out of Wessex, while at sea a fleet sailed to land forces in our rear.

We met them at Mons Badonicus and spent the day and most of a long moonlight night in killing, while upon the water the allied fleet covered itself with glory.

Armorican, Hibernian and Saxon galleys crashed and flamed to heaven, while among them, ramming, casting firepots, roamed the Prydwen in the arrow-sleet, trampling the foe under her forefoot.

Then to us at last came peace, time to live and love and rest--and for some, time to plot treachery.

Myrdhinn had planned for Arthur a marriage with Gwenhyvar, daughter of a noble chieftain, Laodegan of Carmelide; and journeying thither in disguise to see the maid before wooing, Arthur arrived at an opportune time. The walled city of Carmelide was besieged by a wandering foray of savage mountain raiders, but Arthur's armored knights scattered them and drove them far.

Entering the city, Myrdhinn spoke for Arthur, beseeching the hand of Gwenhyvar as a reward to the city's savior. It was open talk afterward that Myrdhinn had engineered this attack and rescue to bring about his own plans, but I know nothing of the matter, having been far away. I believe him capable of it, for his mind worked in devious ways and he was not a man to do a thing in a simple way if something spectacular could complicate it.

This time, however, if he was at bottom of the matter, his love for a brave show ruined himself, Arthur, Gwenhyvar--and Britain. You see, Gwenhyvar was already in love with a young man named Lanceloc.

Arthur was approaching middle age, Gwenhyvar and Lanceloc much younger. Theirs was the proper union, but how could an ambitious father refuse the great Pendragon, savior of the city? Laodegan commanded, Gwenhyvar obeyed like a dutiful child, and evil began.

"Forbidden fruit the sweetest of all"--so runs the ancient saw. Others knew what went on in all its seamy detail, but noble Arthur, the soul of bravery and honor, remained in ignorance for years.

Then Agrivain and Medrawd, kinsmen who aspired to be mighty themselves and who thought that could be best done by bringing low those already mighty, came sneaking, telling tales, spewing venom upon all that Arthur held dear, and down crashed our hopes for Britain.

Lanceloc, Agrivain and Medrawd fled into Wessex, fleeing their outraged ruler, taking their kinsmen, their vassals, and their friends.

Here they allied themselves with what remained of Saxon power, sending word overseas that it was safe again for pirates to come and murder, rape and pillage, for Arthur was stricken to the heart and Rome had forgotten her lost colony.

So the Sixth marched and the Saxons marched, and both great armies came toward the fatal field of Camlan--and the end of all glory!

* * * *

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