Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. Enjoy a new chapter every week. Prior chapters can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 5—Guardian
In the Hall of Truth, Thoth’s voice resounded: “Juel, we desire to appoint you to the office of Royal Guardian. If you accept this appointment you will be given many valuable gifts; you will also be required to aid, protect, and teach those who are worthy. Are you willing to function in this office?”
Overwhelmed, Juel bowed his head. “I am.”
Thoth, Ma’at, and Sekhmet stood shoulder to shoulder and spoke in unison: “We three Lords of Freedom appoint you to the office of Royal Guardian and seal upon you the new name of Alexandros, which means warrior, defender, and protector.”
The trio turned their gazes to Sheba. When Sekhmet beckoned, the sentient black tiger took her place beside Juel—now and hereafter to be known as Alexandros.
Alexandros regarded Sheba briefly, and then looked back at the three lords. Something grand was transpiring here, something he was privileged to be part of.
Looking back at Sheba he wondered how he had ever supposed that the creature beside him was a mere mountain predator. Her tail lashed slowly against his leg, perhaps purposefully.
“Sheba,” Thoth’s voice rolled. Her head was raised and her eyes focused. “We confirm your name and appoint you Regal Guardian, to stand with and protect Alexandros.” She lowered her head briefly, affirming acceptance.
The three lords smiled and relaxed. Then they escorted Alexandros and Sheba out of the Hall of Truth and into a beautiful garden. Cobblestone pathways wound between towering trees and flower beds, with stone benches throughout. There was a flowing stream with arching bridges, and fish-filled pools. Songbirds chirped in the branches above, lending a jovial note to the garden’s serenity.
“There will be an orientation tomorrow,” Ma’at said. “You’ll meet here with Thoth and after that embark on some rigorous training.”
Alexandros nodded, noting two figures approaching. One was a man, standing above average height, looking physically fit. His brown hair was neatly parted and his attire semi formal. The other figure was a tigress, much smaller than Sheba but every bit as stunning. When the two reached the group, the tigress padded over to touch noses with Sheba.
“Fredrik,” Thoth said, “As planned, Alexandros here has been commissioned Royal Guardian; Sheba will serve as Regal Guardian.”
Fredrik smiled warmly and shook hands with Alexandros.
Ma’at followed up, “Fredrik is your steward and guide. He will take you now to your living quarters and get you settled in. There you’ll find a treasure—one you’ve missed but never lost.” She added a mysterious smile.
Alexandros furrowed his brow. “I don’t understand.”
“Come along, Alexandros; you will in good time.” Fredrik clapped his shoulder, turning him to go.
“We’ll be on our way now as well,” Sekhmet said, leading Sheba and the tigress in the other direction.
Alexandros felt a pang. “You’ll see that Sheba has water and somewhere to hunt?”
Sekhmet nodded curtly, glancing back. “Of course; her training begins at sunset. You’ll rejoin soon enough.”
Alexandros and Fredrik left the garden and passed into a city. Roughly a hundred buildings spread before them, widely spaced and beautiful, each one individually unique. Lining streets that appeared to be paved with gold were a variety of trees and flowers.
Alexandros looked at his tattered sandals and dirty feet, striding down the gleaming street, and was struck by the contrast. It was a marvelous place, but he wasn’t sure he belonged there.
They passed through the city and beyond, to a winding river which they crossed. From there they entered a mountainous area which they traversed for a time, coming to stop before a marble homestead the color of swirling cream.
Fredrik gestured toward it. “This home and property have been prepared especially for you; consider it yours.”
Alexandros gaped, speechless as they passed between towering columns and through a silver door. Beyond was a large carpeted room with plush couches and high-backed chairs. Pictures of rivers and stars adorned the walls, and thick pleated drapes were drawn back from large picture windows on two of the walls.
The view was spectacular, he saw, as they moved through the room: there was a spacious patio with fine furniture and a glass top table, then a grassy area with several large fruit trees and a flowering hedge. A pathway of stepping stones bisected a rose garden, blooming in every color imaginable. Beyond that was a sizeable lake, its waters smooth as glass, with reflections of the setting sun sparkling like diamonds.
The kitchen and dining area had a table, chairs, and cabinets made from clear heart hickory. The area was open and spacious, with high ceilings and a large window through which the lake was visible.
Troubled, Alexandros turned to Fredrik. “I am a simple man accustomed to a basic cabin when I wasn’t living rough, sleeping on a bedroll under the stars. How do I go from that to living in a palace like this?” He turned in a slow circle, sweeping one hand above his head.
Smiling, Fredric said, “We anticipated that.”
At the far end of the dining area, opposite the window, there was a door. Motioning for Alexandros to follow, he stepped over and opened it. Stepping through, Alexandros sucked in a breath.
Before them the ground sloped into a beautiful canyon of pine and birch trees. There were cliffs and streams, even a waterfall; it was almost a mirror image of the area he’d traversed on the way to the cave.
Fredrik extended his own hand. “If you prefer, you can live plenty rough out here.”
Alexandros shook his head, chagrined. “Okay; at least I have options.”
Fredrik clapped his shoulder and led him back inside.
Moving on, down a long hallway, they entered a room lined with shelves, brimming with easily a thousand books. Plush, exotic rugs covered the library floor, and in the center of the room stood a finely crafted table and matching chairs, for written correspondence, in-depth study, or round table forums. As well, there was a couch and half a dozen ornate chairs, placed strategically throughout the room.
Alexandros froze in mid-step noticing a familiar figure, scanning the books on one of the shelves. Hearing them, the man turned and a smile broke over his kindly face.
The man nodded, heading over. “Why are you so shocked, my boy? This is what I’ve been preparing you for, all these years.”
Tears brimming, Alexandros embraced his mentor, realizing this was what Ma’at had meant: the treasure he’d find that he’d missed but never lost. Solomon was his friend and teacher, but more than that, he owed his life to the man, who had become a father figure. Until that moment, Alexandros hadn’t known how lonely he’d been since Solomon departed.
The three of them sat around the table and Solomon said, “I hold the office of Sublime Teacher. Part of my responsibility is to find and instruct those who have the potential of being worthy and able to serve with The Lords of Freedom. There is much to explain, but first, let’s discuss your name.
“Alexandros is a noble name, fraught with meaning. It is the perfect fit for a man such as you—your boyhood is past and you are now indeed a man. However, I should like to call you simply Xan, so as not to exhaust my lips in uttering such a long name over and over. How would that be, my boy?”
Xan considered and then nodded, liking the nickname already. “Will Thoth object?”
“He will not object, but your full name, Alexandros, will be used in ceremonies. This is a common practice, but it is well you thought to ask. Do you have any other questions?”
“Actually, yes: why me?”
“A very succinct question and the answer is this: you have the unique combination of skills, character, and courage that makes you the perfect candidate for Royal Guardian.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about all this from the start?”
“Because you needed to learn and grow, prove yourself, and then be tested. For our purpose, in the Hall of Truth, your testing would not have been nearly as revealing, if you’d known of it beforehand.”
Xan paused to absorb that; then he said, “Can you elaborate?”
“Certainly: during the years we spent together, I tested you in many ways—especially with regard to your willingness to learn, improve, and apply the things you were taught. Your final test before coming here was threefold.
“First, you were to recognize the dragon dream sent by Thoth and Ma’at was prophetic. Next, you had to be willing to follow the dream and find the hidden canyon. Lastly, the three snakes you and Sheba defeated represented the powers of destruction, chaos, and tyranny. In defeating each of them, you proved your valiance, courage, and tenacity when faced with peril.”
Xan nodded to himself; then met Solomon’s eye. “What about Sheba?”
“Sheba was instructed to drive you off, without harming you. This would show whether fear ruled over providence in your heart. As you persisted, arming yourself in defense, you became part of her test.
“Sheba is more than a mere predator, as you well know, but she still has wild instincts. When you fashioned a spear from the tree branch and your knife, Sheba knew it posed a threat. Her test was to learn to trust you and allow a bond to form; without that, the missions ahead are already doomed.”
Fredrik spoke up. “Many others have passed all but this last test—man and beast both.”
Solomon nodded gravely. “You and Sheba are among the cream of the crop, but the road ahead for you will be hard. We have every confidence, though, that together you will succeed.”
“Where are we?” Xan asked, after a lengthy pause.
“Because of all that I taught you about the planets and stars you are ready to learn more. When you went through the dark tunnel of stars, you were moving from your realm to this remote and unknown sphere.
“This area, including the city and surrounding mountains is a fortress known as The Heart of Freedom. It is the primary base of operations for the Lords of Freedom.”
All fell silent for a time until Fredrik stood from his chair. “I have arranged dinner if anyone is hungry.”
Xan responded, “I could sure go for a big hunk of leftover boar.”
Fredrik paled, but Solomon laughed out loud. More times than either he or Xan cared to remember, during the long winter months, they’d survived on such a dish, marinating the tough meat and seasoning it as best they could. When one of them managed to bring a deer down, catch fish or snare a rabbit, it seemed that they had dined as kings. Xan also told them of wild boar meat that he and Sheba had shared.
Fredrik shook his head, once they explained the joke. “Fortunately, your home here includes food, cleaning, and maintenance as needed, year-round. Sadly though, there will never—ever be left-over wild boar on the menu. One can only ask so much, after all.”
Solomon and Xan chucked, as the three followed Fredrik to the dining hall.
After an enjoyable meal of bread, stew, and cake with strawberries, each shared many fond memories. Then Solomon excused himself, explaining he had many preparations to make for Xan’s continuing instruction. He would depart at once, despite the late hour, but in a day or two they would have another extended meeting.
After Solomon left, Xan asked Fredrik about some items on the counter. Fredrik explained that they were used to ease the task of preparing food and then demonstrated how each one worked. Xan was amazed and looked forward to trying each of them himself.
Fredrik then led the way up a winding staircase to a loft area where Xan would sleep and dress. Walking to the far wall, he opened a large closet and stepped back.
Xan stepped up next to him and peered inside. To his surprise, there were tunics and leggings, vests and jackets, all of different colors and cuts. Boots of varying height and gloves, along with an array of hats and helmets were stacked on one row of shelves as well. It was like looking into the window of a merchant’s shop, back in Merker.
“These are your new clothes,” Fredrik informed him.
Xan was incredulous. “Why in the world would I need, and what would I possibly do with, all these clothes?”
Fredrik closed the closet door and led Xan onto a small balcony that overlooked the canyon. “I understand your feelings, but please be patient. Some of these clothes are for wearing in the wilderness, some for battle, some for stealth on night missions, some for winter, some for the desert, and others for the jungle. Then there are the meetings you’re expected to attend, some formal some less so; as well there will be social occasions and ceremonies, not to mention whatever I’ve missed.” Fredrik flashed a grin. “Rest assured, in time you will be thankful that you have so much.”
Subdued, Xan gazed over the surroundings. The view was breathtaking, and for a moment he was overwhelmed. “Thank you for explaining. I realize there is much for me to learn, and I hope you will be patient with me.”
Fredrik responded with an easy nod and then escorted Xan through the rest of the house. There was an attic where various items were stored: weapons, armor, excess furniture, and other things. On the main level of the house, in addition to the entrance living room, the library, and the kitchen/dining area, there was a casual sitting room. On one wall of that room was another stairway, this one leading down to a lower level.
The hallway they were in continued, but Fredrik stopped at the casual sitting room. “The hall leads to my sleeping and dressing quarters. You’re welcome to see it, if you desire, but first I’d like to show you the lower level of the house.”
Xan followed him across the casual sitting room and down the stairs. The room there had two facing walls of glass in golden panes as well as a skylight. Through one window the lake could be seen; through the other the canyon was visible. The skylight revealed twinkling stars and a full moon.
The room was open, laid in green tile with gold accents. A partition stood, folded open, in front of an area one could change clothes in, and in the center of the room was a small pool, its tile matching that of the floor.
“This area is ideal for meditation and recuperation. The water temperature in the pool can be regulated, and there are underwater ducts that can be set to release massaging streams of either hot or cool water. I’m sure you’ll find the tub very welcome, after a hard day’s practice.”
Xan nodded, thinking that the tub looked very inviting, right then. He had not been training but he’d been hiking, climbing, sailing, and fighting snakes, and he needed a bath. He’d enjoyed cold springs and hot springs in the wilderness, but never both at the same time.
As though reading his mind, Fredrik said, “I have some reading to do, so I’ll leave you for now. Feel free to soak in the pool and then change into some other clothes. I took the liberty of bringing some down here for you; you’ll find them in the changing room. If you need anything else, you’ll find me in the library.”
“Thank you, Fredrik. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
After soaking in the pool and enjoying the underwater torrents of water, which soothed his aching muscles, Xan changed into the soft clothes left in the changing area and headed back upstairs to the loft.
He was very tired but seldom in his life had he felt so comfortable. Removing most of his clothing, he settled in between two fresh white sheets on a soft mattress and decided that he would try living inside, at least for a while.
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