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Interlude: Greece, 1941

The young man was born in Dymi, a small village on the northern coast of the Peloponnesus. The village had seen its share of history down through the millennia but the young man considered it a relatively uneventful, drowsy corner of the world. He was born into a fisherman’s family and expected to join the fleet by his sixteenth year. Secretly, he thought he might have enjoyed that fate.

His name was Nikolas and what he formerly wanted is of little concern to this story.

One warm June morning Nikolas walked from his house to the coast. He had vague plans to meet up with friends there but if they hadn’t woken yet he would take a swim and find something else to occupy his time. He encountered a pleasant lemony fragrance on the air and took a detour through a olive grove to see if the linden trees had bloomed. The fragrance, however, led him from orchard to a lonely tree clutching the edge of an eroded cliff. The Adriatic Sea thundered below and Nikolas sat down to watch it. He suspected that the warm air and pleasant smells relaxed him and before he knew it he had drifted into a pleasant nap, head resting against the rough bark of the linden.

He awoke to the sound of a voice. Startled, he looked in every direction around him. Somehow, while dozing his legs and arms had slipped into the hollows of the roots and become stuck. He tried to free his right hand but it would not budge.

“Struggle not,” the voice said. “You will injure yourself.”

The young man craned his neck in search of the source of the voice. At last it dawned on him that the voice was coming from behind him, somehow coming from the linden itself.

“How is this possible?” asked the young man.

“I have need of assistance,” the tree said. “You shall be my vessel.”

“Are you a dryad?” Nikolas said. “Have a wandered into a sacred grove?”

“I am no god,” the voice said. “But I am also not a tree. This is a form I have crafted for myself in the long wait for an opportunity. The world is afire. The moment has returned. You shall help me.”

“I do not want to help you.”

“Unimportant. You shall help me. I am a king. I come from a distant land to escape usurpers. You shall carry me back to my homeland so I may resume my dominion over my subjects.”

“Like hell I will,” the young man said and was about to say quite a bit more until he felt a small prick of pain at the back of his neck. There was a trickle of warmth and then more pain, quite a bit of it. He had hit his head upon a thorn of some type, a long one that had lodged deep within his neck. His mouth filled with a sour taste.

“Continue to struggle and I shall punish you,” the King said, and the voice no longer came from the tree but within his own mind.

“No!” the young man said, finally managing to free one of his arms. He clawed at the back of his head, feeling nothing by the sticky residue of his own blood.

He tugged at his legs and other arm but with little force. His limbs grew stubborn, trembling as a new will superseded his own.

“So be it,” the voice said. “You have made your choice.”

With time Nikolas would come to appreciate that the voice came from a king and that a king demands much of his servants. He would even learn to appreciate the benefits of being a servant. But, like Bucephalus, he was first broken. The pain was part of that process, the terror of losing control of his limbs another.

But it was only when he saw where his traitor legs took him that he knew the true cost of resistance. He begged his king for leniency as his own hands sought a knife and honed it sharp. Tears stood bright at the corners of his eyes as he murdered his father, mother, and little sister. Then the king bid him leave his home, never to return. It was days before his king let him mourn them and by that time he had no more tears left to shed.

His king used this time to learn more of the world. The magnitude of the task before the king gave even Nikolas’ master pause.

“You are loyal,” the king said. “But I shall have others. Go out into this world find the men and women who will help me reclaim my dominion.”

Nikolas nodded, grateful for the power to do at least that.


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