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Wenceslas : The First King of Bohemia

By Cody W Urban All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy


Picture Braveheart—with more heart and more action, about the first king of Bohemia. His deeds were so great, it wasn’t until after his death was he titled saint and king—a good king. The young duke must choose what’s right for the people over the wishes of his pagan sorceress of a mother. This forces him to struggle with his own personal demons caused by his mother’s curse through a ritual she forced upon him on his birthday. Now, he must raise an army and storm Prague to wrestle the throne from her grip before she enacts the same curse upon his beloved younger brother all while she schemes a catastrophic conquest over Bohemia at the hands of a foreign enemy. A historical epic of passion, betrayal, conflict, and bold endeavor for peace.

Chapter 1


The First King of Bohemia


Cody W Urban

Author Foreword

Destiny. I have always been fascinated by it. The driving inspiration in my debut novel, Nicholas: The Fantastic Origin of Santa Claus, was the intrigue of a normal boy who would inspire the ageless legends of Santa Claus. There was no way a young orphan would ever think his life would eventually bless and enrich the lives of children for over a millennium after his time on Earth. Another element of literature I find captivating is the idea that there’s more to every story—elements that never found their way to the page because it didn’t serve the overall arc of the author’s story, but in themselves can tell a whole other story.

When I was in third grade, we read in class the book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, and my imagination danced in delight with the notion that there can be so much more to a story than simply what appears at face value. While this has captivated my interest in books like Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Geoffrey McGuire, it has pushed me to try and see if there is more to every tale told, even stories we are entirely familiar with. One day, I do believe I will find an iconic villain and interpret their motivations into an original story that will build sympathy for a character that audiences have historically hated. Disney reinvented Maleficent, the villain from Sleeping Beauty, and did that exact same thing.

This novel, however, is not the interpretation of a villain. This is seeing a fable and seeking the story behind it. This is finding a historical figure and finding the destiny on his shoulders. Most people, typically, when I told them I was working on a screenplay about Good King Wenceslas made a perplexed expression. “Why does that name sound so familiar?” they’d ask. I’d remind them of the carol, and most would instantly recognize the tune of the song. Very, very few would ever know the lyrics. Somehow, Good King Wenceslas has found a way into our ethos, but has faded from contemporary relevance. I think that’s lamentable and having examined the historical man behind the classic carol, it has become my mission to share his story and revive him back to social relevance. Is this fictional? Yes. Is it factual? Yes. Is it fable? A bit. If my story was not a culmination of all those, well, I would feel it wasn’t a story worth telling.

I took the Wenceslas story as I interpreted the historical documents and legends about the man and wrote a screenplay, which placed as a finalist in competition. As of the writing of this manuscript, the screenplay remains available for purchase and production by Hollywood. The screenwriting award became fuel for my motivational gas tank, and so I felt the inner desire to embark on letting my fingers dance upon the keyboard again to lay out the life and times of the first king of Bohemia, one remembered in legend and song as Wenceslas the Good.

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas looked out

on the feast of Stephen,

when the snow lay round about,

deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night,

though the frost was cruel,

when a poor man came in sight,

gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.

If thou know it telling:

yonder peasant, who is he?

Where and what his dwelling?

Sire, he lives a good league hence,

underneath the mountain,

right against the forest fence

by Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.

Bring me pine logs hither.

Thou and I will see him dine

when we bear the thither.

Page and monarch, forth they went,

forth they went together

through the rude wind’s wild lament

and the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,

and the wind blows stronger.

Fails my heart, I know not how.

I can go no longer.

Mark my footsteps my good page,

tread thou in them boldly:

Thou shalt find the winter’s rage

freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master’s step he trod,

where the snow lay dented.

Heat was in the very sod

which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,

wealth or rank possessing,

ye who now will bless the poor

shall yourselves find blessing.


Good King Wenceslas. You may read that title and think nothing of it. But shall we not question what traditions have passed down? What truths eventually form fables? What fables become accepted as truth? Was this man, who spent the majority of his life as a Duke, ever a king? Was he good? Indeed, I would hang my life on the good reputation of this man, but shall you take my word for it?

What is good, for goodness sake? Is good working tirelessly to lift up the downtrodden, aid the poor, and bless the people around you? Is it good to forsake all for the love of brother and country? Is it good to overcome a black widow spider of venomous wickedness, even if it comes in the guise of one’s own mother?

The song opens with the line, “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.” This is what he saw: fire. Yes, the snow lay round about, frosting the winter wonderland as far as the horizon reached, but, alas, such beauty was eclipsed by the fearsome vision of his home devoured in fiery carnage. The strong, handsome young man paused, holding solid as a statue, beholding the Castle of Tetin falling in a hellfire inferno. This had been his home for the past many years. While the rest of Bohemia, in the year of our Lord 924, was a wild land littered with enemy raiders, impoverished, oppressed peasants, and agents of a corrupt, pagan Regent, Tetin was a bastion of security, comfort, and preparation. Now, as the flames danced in Wenceslas’s glossy eyes, he watched it all taken from him in a blink.

He dared not stay upon the brink of personal lamentation for long. Tetin was his home not solely for the residence, but for the residents within. He had only just returned from a charitable undertaking he was wont to perform and had no further information to tell as to the source of the conflagration or who may be trapped within the burning keep. He raced through the crunching fresh snow, leaving me behind to do my best to keep up. Who am I? It fares not the story well to divulge that as of yet, for I am of little importance paling in the light of Wenceslas. Sure, bards will one day sing tales that will endure for generations, growing the fable further and further, and one lowly page will play a role in the carol. I am that page, yet not apt to speak more of myself at present.

Wenceslas battled the inferno, evading the falling debris, more familiar with the terrain of his former haven than the invading army of flames. Like a wraith, he flew through hell, not to succumb to the fingers of smoke employed to choke him, to rescue a loved one of dearest importance: an old woman.

Bringing her outside the smoldering keep, he rested her soot-coated corpse upon the sleet and knelt down before her. He clutched her hand, leaned in close to listen for any breath to be heard, seeking any hope at present—there was none to be found.

The inhabitants who outlived the burning of Tetin Castle surrounded the scene like shadows looming over the grieving. One chiseled brute fashioned of more brawn than brain, and yet retaining the chivalrous heart of a knight, stooped beside and touched her shoulder and puffed a heavy, doleful, “My lady…” No more could be spoken, though our hearts united to form a choir singing a silent dirge of lamentation.

“Who…” I choked, hardly able to speak from both grief and smoke trapped in my throat. “Who could have done this?”

Wenceslas looked up to the inferno and caught sight of a shadowy figure standing amidst the flames, immune to their bite. Nobody around seemed aware of this ghastly ghost, a sable demon born of hellfire, home within the furnace of destruction. The kinetic light of the fire flickered just enough glow to illuminate the face of the dark presence. He recognized her at once. Wenceslas’s muscles tightened, fighting the sting of his heart, grappling with the awful truth he’d sacrifice life and limb to avoid facing.

“I know exactly who,” he said, almost growling. He took a swallow, choking down the precognition of what this new reality set upon him would mean for his imminent destiny. “My mother did this.”

Chapter I


From an angel-eye’s view, just east of the very heart of Europe, lay the land of Bohemia. In a geographically natural basin, the land was one of plenty and protection, though land-locked and often surrounded by potential enemies. To the west and south, a thick forest and the Carpathian mountain regions formed a buffer between them and Hétmagyar. The Danube River was one of the few geographical borders to block the pass from the Carpathian Basin up north into the Czech land of Bohemia. To the north and west stood the proud Ore Mountains, which divided them from the Germans and the rest of Saxony. As part of the Empire of Great Moravia, Bohemia flourished. Mining and agriculture made income, but nothing kept trade as vibrant, nor the culture as alive, as the production of ale. Ales from the lightest golden hue, to rich ambers, to pitch-black stouts, this liquid fueled the economy.

At the center of the basin, along the wide, flowing Vltava River, stood the capital city of Prague. The city typically bustled with the trade of prosperous merchants and the splendid enjoyment of ale, not to mention the myriad activities of religious affairs. Though the ruling family had established Christianity as the state religion, pagan roots ran deep. Within one generation, since the first Czech prince to adopt Christianity was baptized, several churches now populated the verdant landscape. After the baptism of the Duke and Duchess by Archbishop St. Methodius of Sirmium, apostle of the Slavs, they built Bohemia’s first Christian cathedral in the municipality of Prague.

This day was an exception to the clamor of the energetic city while as many as could fit crammed into that very cathedral to witness the fashioning of royal matrimony.

“I do take thee to be my wedded wife,” came the vows rolling off the lips of the charming nineteen-year-old groom. It was a day of sparkling mirth for the duchy when a princess of the north married the Duke of our land. Amid the scarlet and ermine robes of attending lords and ladies, with gemstones anon, the rugged, tall, dashing Vratislav, son of Borivoj, progenitor of the Přemyslid Dynasty, stood facing his bride Dragomira. She wore a regal wedding gown and headdress that belied her stunning figure. She was a woman of such primal beauty she could potentially use her feminine wiles to influence even eunuchs to eat from the palm of her hand.

“In the presence of God and our witnesses,” Vratislav continued. “I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful husband in sickness and in health, in days of good fortune and in bad, in joy as well as in sorrow. I promise to love you as Christ loves the Church, to honor you, and to cherish you till death do us part.”

Vratislav was the second Christian Duke of Bohemia. His father, Borivoj, found Christ at the ministry of the two missionaries Cyril and Methodius. It is my assumption that Borivoj found hope in a foreign religion when a revolutionary of the name of Strojmir deposed him from his glorious title of Sovereign Prince of Bohemia. At the time, the duchy dwelt in much more security as a territory to Great Moravia. The sovereign Svatopluk reestablished Borivoj as head of his land after the overthrow of Strojmir, but his conversion stuck. In fact, of Wenceslas’s grandparents, it was his grandmother’s conversion that carried the most weight as Ludmila became a staunch supporter of making Bohemia a Christian land and she endeavored tirelessly to evangelize Bohemia.

Now, as she stood watching her son Vratislav holding hands with his bride within the cathedral her husband had built, she felt the future salvation of her people was imminent and unquestioned. Her son’s bride had recently been baptized and adopted their religion above her own hereditary dogmata; further proving the expanse of the gospel was forthcoming. She and her lineage would sooner discover such a conversion would come through dreadful conflict.

Enough of that, for now.

This nuptial day was a day of celebration. As traditional custom, the bride and groom smashed a plate under their feet. They kept stomping, breaking it into as many pieces as possible. The more pieces meant the more prosperous and blessed their wedding would be. Ludmila couldn’t help frowning at the superstition, feeling that was one more pagan anachronism ultimately to be swept away, but she wouldn’t allow her disdain to overcome her thrill.

Watching the plate break felt a stark contrast to the unity the very day represented. Dragomira was a Hevelli princess. Forging an alliance with Bohemia, in her father’s eyes, would strengthen their defenses from Germania, as it seemed to expand like a sponge soaking in water, but instead of water, territory. Havolans were a tribe of people occupying the coveted region of Berlin and Brandenburg, territory Germania seemed posed to acquire. This notion was not lost on the lords of Bohemia, fearing this union may indeed drag them into a conflict not their own. After Great Moravia disbanded, it seemed their de facto governance became Germania with a protective tribute instated. However, they were not entirely composed of dread, for if they had Hevelli support, Hétmagyar may hold back from Bohemian borders. Certainly, the future was in flux, and it was the duty of the guests to set trepidation aside and celebrate their master’s matrimony.

As the grand spectacle morphed into a reception party, bride and groomed supped from the same bowl of soup—again, another tradition to symbolize unity. Ludmila, gleaming with vitality and glee, came to the couple, unable to contain her dearest desires of blessing. “I am so proud of you, my son,” she said. “I have no doubt that your father smiles down upon you both this day.”

“Thank you, mother,” Vratislav replied.

“If only he could be here,” Dragomira added, supporting the emotions of her new husband. You see, Borivoj died when Vratislav was only one year old, a fact of true despondency to the young Duke.

“If only,” he began to say, paused to reflect upon his thoughts, then found a less grieving method of speaking his mind, “If only every son would have their fathers at hand for the critical steps toward manhood. It is my determination to be present for my son’s wedding day.”


Not much longer than nine lunar cycles later would he find Dragomira in a chamber, glistening with sweat, surrounded by handmaidens and midwives. Indeed, this was the day of days, when the lineage of the Přemyslid Dynasty would persevere through the birth of Vratislav’s firstborn son, Wenceslas.

“Push, my lady,” the midwife ordered.

“Do not lose heart,” her handmaiden encouraged.

“Any who endeavor to tell me to not lose heart will lose their heads when this torture ends,” Dragomira said through gritting teeth, and red, closed eyes.

The maiden turned aside, emotionally struck by her lady’s words. “Mind her less, dear one,” the midwife told her, preoccupying her arms with supporting the Duchess. “Many a mother releases her deepest wrath just before releasing her newborn. As this pain shall pass, so shall her executioner sentencing,” she added, trying to manifest a modicum of levity within the tense chamber.

“My heart is neither derelict nor wayward,” Dragomira declared, riding the wave of adrenaline and proud desire to conquer her pain. “I push a mighty leader of men from my loins this day. Come hell, come the shadow of death, come the devil himself, nothing—ahh!—nothing will impose this birth!”

So she had spoken, so it came to be. Within the hour, the maids welcomed Vratislav into the chamber who became able to lift the newborn boy in his swaddling cloth, bringing him close to his face. He saw his own facial features upon the cranium of this stranger. “What an alarming sense to see such familiarity in one whom I have only just met,” Vratislav breathed softly, finding the astonishment of holding his son taking precedence over the simple bodily function of breathing. He continued, waxing poetic, as he marveled at the little person in his hands. “What a swift transformation of heart to be willing to lay your life down for one you’ve only just seen face to face for the first time. No greater glory has ever befallen my eyes.”

“No greater glory, my Lord,” Dragomira agreed, breathing heavy sighs as she began the recovery process.

“Indeed,” he said with a cunning smirk. A name they had toyed with during the pregnancy carried the weighty meaning of no greater glory. While Dragomira was fervently in favor of naming their son with such a hopeful name, Vratislav felt it rather presumptuous. Now, holding the infant, he couldn’t quell the admiration brewing within and felt the name to be superb. “We name him Wenceslas.”


“Come along, my darling,” Dragomira urged her four-year-old son into a high chamber at the top of a castle spire. The tot had no inkling what to expect and until this frightful night had no reason to suspect his mother would do anything to harm him. He was a typical active child, climbing everything he found as soon as his legs found the strength to stand. Indeed, he could even roll over from his front to his back earlier than more infants his age. His parents lived in the bliss of truest pride for their little boy, and he grew a subconscious contentment knowing he was cherished. Being a beloved son, he thought quite possibly he would find gifts atop the spire he and his mother had just climbed, but once the weighty wooden door creaked open, he found something starkly different.

He found what appeared like a satanic ritual. Candles fluttered, blood smears formed ancient cyphers on the rock walls and floor. Wafting smoke of incense filled the dim room. A dusky cloaked individual carried a candle to others to light them. Drooping was the predominant description for this individual; from his hunched posture, saggy, wrinkled skin, and hanging jowls, to the bags under his wearisome eyes and hairs dangling from his nostrils. He didn’t seem to pay the mother and child any mind, keeping his focus on his preparations.

Dragomira knelt down before Wenceslas to ease his trembling. “Darling, this man is Bartram, an devotee of my order. You know how your papa and I have always spoken how you will grow to be a mighty warrior and great leader?” The tot nodded, silently not sure what to make of the rich blood spread about the place. “Tonight we take a step toward that destiny, to seal it, to forge it into reality. With the lifeblood of sacrificed goats, we’ve scribed runes that proclaim your greatness, your dominion in the world of men, and your submission to a mighty divinity.”

His suspicions of blood had proven correct, but he still didn’t know what to make of it. He was far too young to challenge the spiritual dogma of religions, but he was keenly aware of the difference between the altars of basilicas and the ritual before him.

“The chalice,” Dragomira directed the acolyte. He lifted the small goblet and turned to hand it to her.

“My lady,” he said, whispering, sounding much like a snake, handing her the cup.

She took it and smiled at her son. “Your fourth birthday. You grow faster than a mother’s heart can keep up with. The day draws nigh when you shall vanquish our enemies underfoot, slaughtering all who oppose you.” Despite the cruelty of her words, she still spoke them as though she were reading an abridged tale for a toddler, keeping a lilt in her voice that adults often maintain when addressing the sweetness of younglings.

Much of what happened afterward became a blur to the lad. He drank the liquid of the chalice, composed of some type of medieval narcotic, drugging and entrancing him. Before long he found himself stripped to the waist and atop a table. The incense smoke wafted about Bartram as he circled the table, chanting an extraterritorial dialectal. Wenceslas’s muddled vision followed the hooded acolyte but stopped upon sight of his mother dragging the sharp end of a stiletto knife along her forearm, draining blood down into the chalice. She didn’t flinch from the pain. She didn’t resist it. She enjoyed it.

Holding a small goblet of her twisted pleasure in a crimson substance, she moved toward her son, and set it down on the table beside him. She then watched Bartram rotate a poker in a bed of lustrous coals. He prepared a brand, heating it to a glow. Dragomira waved her hand to move the incense smoke toward her son. “Breathe deep, my darling. Breathe in the goodness of the incense, and then exhale. Breathe in your strength and exhale all weakness. Then you shall drink deep of my blessing, passing unto you the hope of triumph my god has endowed upon me when my father performed this very ceremony for me as a young girl. In a world of wholesome and debauched luck, we pledge ourselves to the god of the adverse. When others find poor fortune and trip over their own feet in a daze of infelicity, you will stand tall since the one who commands misfortune will be your master and ally. Serve him, he shall spare us the mischances of the knaves.”

“Ma...mama?” Wenceslas trembled. Even at four, he knew drinking blood was wrong. The notion of drinking his mother’s blood amidst such darkness fought flatly against the nature in which he had been thusly raised, and it frightened him so.

“Be still my love,” she hushed, rubbing his brow softly. To her servant, she ordered, “Hold him.”

Bartram grabbed the lad’s arms and pinned him down, only exasperating his terror further. “The time has drawn, my lady. The moon is full on the eve of his birth. Our god waits for none.”

“I need no reminder of that,” she replied, withdrawing the rod from the coals, disturbing some embers. At the end, an intricate design glowed white-hot, turning gradually orange as the air touched it. “A symbol of the pledge, marked upon our flesh, declaring our fealty unto him for the duration of our days.”

Wenceslas hoped she would keep the hot brand as far from him as possible, but as she moved toward him, explaining the nature of the design, he had to come to terms with her intentions. “Mama, no, please!”

“Still, my darling. Show your courage. Be soft, displaying bravery in the face of pain.” Then she moved it ever closer to him, and Wenceslas screeched. Dragomira gave a glance to Bartram, silently impressing upon him their necessity for their operation to be kept quiet. Holding the poker in her left hand, she held his arm with her right. This allowed Bartram to firmly hold the lad’s mouth shut with his calloused palm.

Wide-eyed, the boy watched the brand near his flesh, and he tensed every muscle to brace for the searing pain. He tried to scream, but Bartram’s hand muffled any possibility of sound. What could he do? He was too little, too weak to fight it. An inch from his epidermis, he could feel the warmth, the brand came within a hair’s breadth when the door to the chamber opened with a sudden slam.

“What the devil?” Vratislav asked, perplexed at the sight. Spurred by the sight of his son in danger, he slapped the brand from Dragomira’s hand and gave Bartram such a shove he nearly fell to his backside. He swiftly picked up his boy and held him close, wrapping his arms about him to form a paling from the mother.

“My Lord, I—”

“Dragomira,” he fumed, “before we were wed my family made our stipulations abundantly clear. You were baptized, proclaiming your soul the property of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You became a follower of Christ. Under that conversion, we were permitted to wed.”

“’Tis but a simple ritual of my people, my Lord. The Hevelli—”

“Enough!” He silenced her. “The faith of Bohemia stands on unsettled ground as it is. The nobility tends to resist the conversion and their faith dangles by a frayed string. I will not see my wife, the Duchess, practice witchcraft, let alone upon my heir!”

“It is merely a rite of passage among my people.”

“Under no circumstance will any of this be permitted in my keep, my city, or in my country. You are the Duchess of a Christian land! These are your people—this is your faith. I forbid this! Utterly forbid this!”

She looked down and pressed her hand to her chest. On their wedding night, after Vratislav removed his bride’s gown, he found a scarred branding just above her bosom, one matching the very glyph at the tip of the branding iron. She told him it was a symbol of her kinfolk, representing religious persuasions she had forgone at her conversion. At the time, she played the role of helpless damsel; clearly fearing her husband would not look on her with favor for the scarred flesh. Seeing his bride distraught, Vratislav promised he would not take it into account, loving her, cherishing her, finding her beautiful in spite of it. He trusted her and her new focus of worship.

Now, he found her trying to impose the same branding upon his heir and he wasn’t entirely sure what to make of his wife’s motives.

“Are we understood?” he asked her, softening his tone, wont to chivalrously seek to aid any downcast damsel. She knew just how to sway her husband, manipulating him by tears welling in her eyes.

“Without question, my Lord.”

Vratislav flickered a sneer toward Bartram, silently letting him know he was not welcome within his keep. Hugging his boy tighter, he withdrew from the room and made his way down the spire.

“I know not when we shall find another opportune time to make the ceremony on your son,” Bartram said privately to his mistress, recomposing himself.

“It will come. I have absolute certainty of that,” she replied, confidently.


“Have at it!” the seven-year-old Wenceslas cried out, waving a plank of wood about. The end had been tapered to a point making the board resemble a sword. His makeshift sword collided with that of his father’s as the two entered a lighthearted melee under the barren branches of a winterized tree in the bailey of their Prague castle. While the trees looked starkly naked, the crest of the causeways above wore a fresh layer of snow and along doorways and windows hung mistletoe, pine wreaths, and colorful streamers. The day of Christ’s Mass had recently passed, St. Stephen’s Feast Day lay behind, and a new year drew nigh. Enjoying the peacetime and mirth of the holidays, the two enjoyed some father and son bonding, connecting their hearts through the clashing of faux weapons. What brings males together more than playing war?

“Good, son. Watch out now!” Vratislav called out and made a parrying twirl that swiftly brought his wooden blade right toward his son’s neck. “A-hah! Slain!”

“I think not!” Wenceslas rebutted, striking his sword into his father’s so hard that both of them lost grip. Instead of retrieving it, he presently switched to hand-to-hand combat and jump upon his father, tackling him to the grass. The two became a pile of squirming limbs and laughing faces, engaging in more of a tickle fight than a real brawl.

“My Lord,” came the soft voice of Dragomira. As though she was an entirely different person, looking soft and sweet, she strode up to her family with a subtle smirk unsuccessfully hiding an anxious secret. “Vratislav, my love.”

The two combatants paused to look at her, eager to find out what was so important that it should delay their skirmish.

She gently pressed her palm upon her belly, her cheeks blushing, and said, “I have splendid news.”

During the past four years, the family put the wretched night of Dragomira’s hex behind them by trying to ignore it as best they could. While it took Wenceslas a year to even treat his mother with a modicum of the same affection as he had before, he still harbored in his subconscious a sense of distrust. Consciously, he felt as though the whole episode was simply a nightmare, and the lack of repercussions or even conversations about the ordeal solidified this notion. Vratislav also took time to treat his wife like a bride again, which is why it took four years for this next pregnancy to arrive.

And arrive it did. Much to the same tune of Wenceslas’s birth, in a private chamber, surrounded by handmaidens and midwives, and glazed in sweat, Dragomira fought the full body strain of each contraction. Her attendants did their best to calm her and soothe her with each contraction, but nothing could stay her erupting fury.

Outside the door, young Wenceslas peaked through a gap between the wood frame below the top hinge. He observed his mother in a state he had never seen her before, nor could he have ever imagined her in. He clutched his chest, breathing heavily with a sense of dread. No, it wasn’t fretting the labor pains his mother suffered. What made his heart race and palms sweat was a foreboding of what his mother might do to this new child. At this moment, the notion of it all being a nightmare was lost to him and the reality of such darkness surged heavily upon his chest, pressing upon the spot that nearly succumbed to the searing heat of the brand.

It was only a matter of time before she would enact the same ritual upon his newborn brother, Boleslav.


The next four years came with peace and tender memories as Wenceslas gladly took his little brother under his wing. The age gap never hindered their friendship, but actually sealed a deeper bond of guardianship in our hero’s heart for his sibling. The royal family of Bohemia enjoyed those days, for they were the sweetest they’d be for a long time. Before our hero was born, the realm Bohemia belonged to, the empire called Great Moravia, had crumbled. The strength fell with the death of Svatopluk, who had solidified the borders after dethroning his uncle. For good or for bad, Svatopluk maintained a period of freedom for the lands within his realm. Like an iceberg chipped away by eroding waves, the death of Svatopluk beckoned the incessant raids of Magyars, which had been breaking the once strong realm into quasi-isolated duchies, each fending for themselves, doing their best to defend themselves, finding only diminutive resources in coming under the authority of German King Henry the Fowler by paying regular tributes.

During this interim were the golden formative years of Wenceslas’s childhood, where he developed a cherished love of family, home, and country. Little involvement had the twelve-year-old with those outside the walls of Prague Castle, and even less outside of Prague the city. He knew the political dealings of fiefs, though it wasn’t relevant to his mind. He was aware of impoverished serfs, would say a quick prayer for them, and go on his merry way. Such cheerful days, alas, had reached their twilight.

“The Carpathian Basin; the bane of Great Moravia,” sighed Vratislav, hovering over a map speckled with figurines like an elaborate chess game spread upon a sizeable meeting table. Surrounding him were his trusted colleagues, lords of Bohemia, military commanders, wise advisors, and dearest allies. Orel, a refined rich man with an affinity for gold, who in his fifty-three years of life on earth had never let dirt find its way under his fingernails. Letting his subordinates labor through all hours of daylight kept him happy in his luxurious manor, and he had no shame of it. Beside him stood Meinrad, a wise fellow with a gentle demeanor and also a Lord of the land. He was only but a decade older than Vratislav, but was an old soul with an uncanny sense of shrewd discernment.

With them sat Reinhardt, a wizard-like sage complete with flowing beard and robes, who, in his mid sixties, had seen the ebbs and flows of political stratagems. While his son handled affairs of their estate, he enjoyed the sagely years counseling the Duke of his beloved country. The young Radslav, Duke of Kourim, attended the meeting as well. His duchy was small and, after the collapse of Great Moravia, became a tribute territory under Prague’s throne. Vratislav never actually annexed the principality and allowed for Radslav to act with a fair measure of independent autonomy. His attendance was diplomatic, to maintain positive relationships with his governing neighbor, as well as to keep his ear to the ground for suspicion of a coop. Should Bohemia go to war, he may offer a troop or two for the cause to keep up appearances of aiding alliance, but was hesitant to go further than that.

I had mentioned military leaders, and while there was a small handful of them, the prominent one was Mareczek, the forty-year-old captain of the guard clad in dark leather and armor and the only one there appearing to have a history in warfare, as evident by his scars and rough, calloused exterior.

Amongst them stood a handful of other nobles who acted more as spectators, caring more for their own affairs to be further involved. A Lord had his manor and their serfs who created a village within the Lord’s borders. The Lord was supported by their economy through taxes in return for protection by the Lord’s hired swords. A similar system on a larger scale composed the duchy, where the throne taxed the nobles for a greater security, forming a united economy of trade and commerce. Nobles could live rather autonomously lest the threat of war stepped upon their stoop. Many of them struggled with the emerging reign of a new religious system that brought in bishops who threatened their control over the populace. They also detested a government sanction issuance of tax money diverged from noble pockets and given to men of the cloth. Taxes becoming tithes insulted them, and so, while many of them loved their Duke, had a difficult time with his imposed faith.

“Such an unruly lot,” Reinhardt commented. “When Arpad lead them to crush Pannonia and conquer the Moravian Slavs dwelling in the basin, those who were not slaughtered were subjugated. Reports have reached my ears that they have put them to slave labor to construct a citadel in the Transdanubian.”

“Built on the backs of Slavic slaves and paid for by the raiding of our lands,” Vratislav lamented. “That Carpathian Spire, forged by the sweat and blood of our adjacent kin, should be made ours, if anything, to secure our southern border.”

“Hétmagyar has ignored our precincts on these raids,” Reinhardt began. “Theirs is a troublesome government for they stop not the works of pillagers and seem never bent toward diplomacy. Methinks these are systematic methods, like stepping into a pond to test the temperature.”

“I fear my few stationed troops at the southern villages imbibe less on watchfulness and more on ale. They ought to serve as a deterrent!” Vratislav commented. This was more of an accusation of Mareczek’s tactics than a commenting theory.

“My liege,” Mareczek began in his raspy voice and disciplined temperament. “Reinhardt is correct, and it is clear to me they plot their strikes against towns without posted guard.”

“I have ordered posted guard at any vulnerable location!”

“They make past watchful eye,” Mareczek explained, starting to point out the most recent locations of raids. “They’ve bypassed our garrisons and struck these peaceful villages whilst they dream. They mock our borders, sire. They mock each and every one of us. Do they bait us or simply seek to invade inch by inch, I cannot say. Fears me this shall continue lest we act forthwith.”

Orel rebutted, “You mean open war? Hétmagyar brought Great Moravia to ruin by similar means. How could one duchy fare any better?”

“Not just one, aye?” Meinrad added, gazing at Radslav. He nodded in response to give an assurance without solid commitment.

“Though the union has disbanded, the lands remain, many still as sovereign as Bohemia,” Reinhardt noted.

“Aye,” Vratislav said, thinking aloud. “They think we feeble, yet I know it in my heart that we hold strength. The people—the people are still strong, though they know it not. Yet their eyes gaze toward us to champion their cause! Too many of my people have been victimized. Livestock stolen, women raped, the thatched roof of squalor dwellings made tinder for the fire.”

“Our borders must be secured,” Meinrad said. “A grave subject, it is, the discourse leading men to war. If the Carpathian Basin could be secured by Bohemia, such a buffer it will give to our lands security. Security and access to fertile lands currently under Magyar occupation.”

“Then, do I mount troops and ride?” Vratislav questioned.

“They need to fear us, Sire,” Mareczek told him. “Victory in this fight will not vanquish our enemy, yet it will prove one thing; Bohemia is a sovereign state not to be trifled with. They have an opening just there. Let us stab them through the heart.”

“My troops numbers are too small, I fear. Lords, I need your knights. Will you join me should this escalate?” Vratislav asked, tentative of venturing further down the road his sights set upon. Vratislav moved, and when he moved, his council followed, and as they deliberated the fates of mice and men, their voices drowned out down the stone corridor.

Only a moment passed before the hand of a youngster reached upon the table of war and snatched up a few of the figurines.

It was Wenceslas, procuring a few toys to entertain his younger brother. While his maturity did beckon Boleslav to act a bit older than his age, typically it was the older sibling that had to decrease himself to meet his brother. One way to meet on similar levels was playing warfare with these trinkets, and the battleground was none other than the unique landscape of a Christmas tree, decorated as the wealthy could afford, adorned for yuletide.

“Take that, stuhak!” Wenceslas said, mouthing the sound effects of steel swords clashing with armored hides.

“No. I’m no stuhak! You be stuhak!” Boleslav protested, unnerved by playing the villain in their drama. What good is it for a four-year-old to argue with a twelve-year-old?

“You are stuhak,” the older brother explained, enforcing the roles of their game, keeping himself the gallant hero to face the demon of Bohemian folklore. “You have to try to kill me! Fight!”

Wenceslas’s figurine ran along the pine needles, scaling the branches with the spring of a wild hare, and charged Boleslav’s toy. Before he could land the killing blow, the adversary dropped to the floor.

“I’m not playing. I’m not stuhak!”

On the brink of a Cain and Abel moment, Vratislav strode in, trying to mask his gravity with fatherly tenderness. “My boys,” he said, pausing in the orange light of the setting sun, shining through lattice frame of a fenestral window. “You shan’t have your father home for a time. He rides to war.”

“War?” Wenceslas said, running the notion of it all through his mind. “Are we not at peace?”

“Still, my son. In Prague, as of now, we are safe—rest sure of that. You, your brother, and your mother, are safe. There are many of our people who do not enjoy such security. They know not what hour of what day their home may be burned asunder, their property taken, their livestock stolen. Can you imagine such atrocity?”

“Depends,” Boleslav said, scratching his head. “What’s a trocity?”

“Something very, very bad,” Vratislav said with a smirk at the cuteness of his youngest.

“You go to war to give them the safety we have at home?” Wenceslas reasoned.

“Aye, son. And making a stand now will preserve our freedom and safety here in Prague and throughout all Bohemia.”

“How long shall you be gone?”

That was the stinging question. Any warrior leaving his family for the battlefield never knows the answer of that crucial question. “Would that I knew such a guaranteed answer. Alas, I know not. I cannot discern the future, but I do know this; I love you—both of you, my sons.”

Vratislav looked directly into the eyes of his firstborn, seeing the future man within rising ever closer to the surface, faster than he ever could have expected. “Preparations must be made. We shan’t be riding forth presently, but in short time. I will likely miss your birthday, so let me give your gift early.”


“Are you taking me riding?” the lad asked as he and his father moved from the gate toward the stables. It was a brisk day, but the air was still. The sun drew toward the horizon, painting the clouds pink and fiery orange. About them a number of stable hands moved about, mucking out stalls, walking ponies, brushing manes, and wrapping up a number of chores before it got too dark. They approached one such stable maiden, Marie, a tall, thin, thirty-year-old, as she coiled up a rope.

“You think a simple trot upon horseback would suffice for my son’s thirteenth year of life? We have been riding many times.”

“I still enjoy it all the same,” Wenceslas replied as his mind began to wrap around the idea that his father wasn’t simply departing on a commercial errand, but to the abode whence men’s lives are readily taken and not given back. In fact, now he was growing to maturity, he was more hopeful his father would start taking him on business outings. His father had made it clear that was his intention, and while a young boy doesn’t eagerly leap for responsibilities, they do relish opportunities to feel adult, like one who is trusted as a man and not sheltered as a babe. As much as he wanted to move into that stage of development toward manhood, he knew his father would try to keep him as far away from the battlefield as possible and it would do no use to even ask to go with him.

“I do as well. Every time you have ridden one of my own and treated them with respect and care. You have proven yourself, my boy. And you will enjoy our rides all the more with your own steed.”

Like it was rehearsed, Vratislav gave a nod to Marie, who in turn moved to face the stable entrance and called, “Libyena!”

Two things came into the boy’s sight at the moment, and he wasn’t sure which to invest the most attention toward. Would he look at Marie’s daughter, a lovely, fair maiden, likely only a year younger than he was, whose dimpled cheeks and few freckles only made his heart melt all the further. Or should he marvel at the ink-black foal with the shiniest, softest coat he’d ever seen. Libyena walked the young horse over to Wenceslas and courteously handed him the reigns. They shared a brief smile, both too shy to speak to each other, especially in the company of their parents.

As Libyena stepped back, Wenceslas began to pet the freshly brushed hair of the horse—his horse. Now he began to realize what happened. He was given his own personal mount, and what a spectacle of sable beauty she was!

“She’s ever so beautiful,” Wenceslas uttered.

“Milana is but a young filly,” Vratislav explained, “though she’ll serve you well if you take good care of her.”

“I will, Papa. I promise.”

Vratislav consigned his hand to his son’s shoulder, pivoting him to face him to hear the fatherly counsel. “Taking care of a horse is one step toward learning to take care of a nation. That is your destiny, and I know at your age, such a surmounting burden is unlikely for you to comprehend. That is fine, though. For life comes in seasons, one step after another. Ergo, owning a horse is a step after owning your wardrobe and toys, for she will rely on you to ride her and see to it she is fed, groomed, and given proper living quarters in a clean stable. Yes, we have stable hands who shall own the majority of the work, and that is part of governing too.”

“Aye,” he replied, growing slightly bored of the lecture and eager to play with his new pet.

“Does that mean you march out here daily and bark orders?”

“No?” he replied, unsure if that was the answer his father was looking for.

“Do you act like some swine-minded tyrant?” he asked and then began mocking with the put-on voice of a grouch. “Do this, do that, lick my boots spotless!”

Wenceslas laughed. “Never.”

“Indeed not. Treat them as you yourself wish to be treated. You must make sure that they tend to her needs, and yet, be heartened to acquire the tasks yourself. There is no shame in hard work of your hands. Though many a rich man may look down upon the labor of paupers, forget not your heritage from the Ploughman. Take honor in the deeds of your hands, the sweat of your back. By Providence you were born the son of a Duke. The same providential decree made them born of a different ilk. You did nothing to earn a birthright, son. The same chance could have put you in the womb of a beggar. Thusly, you must live with compassion, and treat any and all as though you were in their garments. Does that make sense?”

“Aye,” he replied, rather sure he got the lesson. He turned to pet his steed, but now his father knelt down to meet him eye to eye, his hand still firmly placed upon his shoulder, instilling a greater sense of gravity to his words.

“Tending to the needs of your filly is one step, managing the affairs of servants is another, but taking care of your family is paramount to all. If you cannot tend to the matters of your family, how can you govern a duchy?”

Wenceslas chuckled. “You couldn’t.”

“Then you must promise me you will take care of Boleslav.”

“I will.”

“Look at me, son,” Vratislav said in stern affection. “Look here. Your mother, she is good at heart. I know it. Yet fears me that—nay…” Wenceslas squinted at his father, trying to figure what it was he was having such difficulty in saying. “Promise me, will you? Promise me you will look after your brother and your mother.”

“I promise, Papa. I will.”

Vratislav nodded, feeling assured of his son’s dedication, and followed up with a smile. “Dusk shall set upon us anon. Shall we return inside?”

“Ey? I thought we were going for a ride?” Wenceslas protested.

“A-hah! That’s my boy!”

And the two mounted up to go for their jaunt. Milana was a tad too small and still untrained, so she required extra work to maneuver. This didn’t slow their rapid bond—horse and master instantly took a liking to each other.

Vratislav endeavored to savor every moment of this ride with his son, and yet the time fled faster than their horses could gallop. A dark premonition shadowed his heart. He was bound to depart for war and he was not sure if he’d return. In the earthly plain, this side of Heaven, this could very well be his last ride with his son.


From Bohemia, an army can march along a path and round a bend facing south upon the Transdanubian Region of the Carpathian Basin. From there, one can see a beautiful spectacle of the oblong valley, however, the view is not quite panoramic. Facing south, the mountains obscure the view to the left where the northeastern region, a minor valley of the larger basin, lay flanked by buttes of greenish schist—a course grained rock abundant in our country. This is only important to note because it was the crucial flaw in the landscape that initiated a critical situation.

Vratislav camped his army behind the bend in the foothills of the alps where he made his laborers push the heavy siege works along the lengthy trek to the southern rim of their borders. Before breaking dawn, he sent scouts ahead to scan the valley and survey presence of the enemy. The three who departed met an ill fate once their enemies spotted them and killed them before they could fly back to their army. The cunning Magyars sent a small company to ascertain the source of the scouting run, where they encountered the battle-ready Bohemians. After vanquishing a platoon’s worth of men, the excited and boasting Bohemians pursued with haste to overtake the fleeing enemy troops before they could alert greater numbers to their presence. This drew the Bohemian forces from their siege works, leaving a squad of soldiers to watch the camp. Following their leader, they moved around the bend overlooking the basin. Riding at the forefront of his army, Vratislav drew his sword, known as Svelto and held it high, summoning mettle within his troops, valor within himself. Svelto had a meaning of quickness, such as moving as fast as lightning. His father, for the safekeeping of his family and country, passed down the sword to Vratislav. That was exactly why he brandished it with honor at this battle.

The cavalry lead the chase with the infantry shortly behind and coming around the foothills they ran directly into the faces of a staged regiment of Magyar soldiers.Typical warfare for a pitched battle was to send infantry ranks first behind a volley of arrows with spear-wielding pikemen placed at front to hold off a charge. The infantry and archers main objective was to scatter the ranks and break the lines so that the cavalry could sweep in and overwhelm the isolated troops. This was not a pitched battle—this was spontaneous. This was the recipe for chaos and mass casualties on both sides.

Having the high ground and, to Magyar chagrin, far greater numbers, the Bohemian forces pushed them back down the slope toward the grasslands. Vratislav, atop his horse, enveloped in regally trimmed armor, and swinging his sword beside his comrades, reasoned any moment they’d turn and retreat for a fortress he could see in the distance. What he saw was a tall tower built into the side of a cliff, the Carpathian Spire, the Magyar stronghold positioned to prevent invasion from the north. Thinking they may retreat to the refuge, he feared this mission would develop into a siege. He was prepared for such a turn of events, but truly loathed the notion of prolonging this mission to an interminable struggle of attrition. If he could keep them from returning to the citadel, he just may pressure a surrender out of the garrison occupying it, and with that captured, he just may be able to hold the northerly region of the Basin, safeguarding the southern perimeter of Bohemia from ever facing incursions again.

How optimistically he thought that the only bad luck he’d find was the death of his scouts. How wrong he was.

It wasn’t long, after forcing his enemy further down the slope, when out his left peripheral he spied an ominous mass. After some brief inspection, his eyes focused on the form—he beheld an advancing Magyar army posted in the northeast schist valley. The Bohemians made their way down the hill in the heat of battle without watching their left flank and now at once found themselves outnumber and fringed.

“Regroup! Form ranks!” Vratislav called out. “Our left flank, watch! The enemy charges nigh upon us.” His horn blower trumpeted the signaling notes to alert the warriors out of earshot to the change in direction.

There was little they could do, and as he ran options through his head, the list was frightfully small. In that brief moment, as his front lines turned about to hold their ground, he reasoned that this army charging upon them had staged in the schist valley, awaiting orders to invade Bohemia. While the situation punched his gut with despair, his courage redoubled with the belief that holding off this army would secure his land.

“Pikemen, move to intercept. Foot soldiers, keep our southern line. Missile troops, point east and let your featherbacks fly!” Vratislav ordered.

This was it. Should he fall this day, it would not be in vain. He would give his all to keep his home, his family, safe. When he thought of his sons, all fear fled like shadows at dawn. As a father, there is something innate born within the moment you hold your newborn. Call it what you will, it is as ferocious as a lion and just as fearless. Laying down your life for the sake of your child becomes trivial, a deed one thinks not twice upon. What spurred Vratislav further was that he represented all the fathers in his realm, and he fought for their children too. Nothing would stop him easily.

Like a landslide colliding with an avalanche, Bohemia met Hétmagyar. The two forces clashed in a haze of blood, flesh, and metal. The Duke drove his steed, using his shield to deflect the spears and staves of his foes, hacking limbs from his opponents with his crimson-coated blade. He had taken many heads before the legs of his horse were sliced from under him and down they crashed.

Before recovering, he felt as though he landed under a raincloud drizzling a spray of blood. As he stood, he found scarce patches of his person not soaked in the blood of his enemies and comrades. In spite of the grim coat of scarlet painting him, he gave no more than a second’s assessment before raising his weapon and fending off the Magyar’s about him.

The dark, dynamic clouds above looked like cottontails compared to the utter carnage below. Vratislav and his army battled vehemently, long and hard. With all their forces, conjuring their greatest valor, struggling with passionate longing for freedom and Bohemian security, they simply didn’t have enough to quell the Magyar beast.

“My Lord,” Mareczek called, drawing Vratislav’s attention toward a behemoth of a Magyar. This monstrosity stood over seven feet tall with legs like tree-trunks and biceps with greater girth than pumpkins. His face was long like a horse, with a jaw the size of a normal man’s forehead. “Let us bring him to knees and we may put fear in the hearts of our enemies.”

Vratislav nodded to his canny captain, raised his hilt to his shoulder, and drove right for the massive Magyar. The beast tussled with a club that appeared seventy pounds in weight and gave the impact of a stampede when struck by it. With one swipe, Vratislav lost his shield and gained a broken arm. If not for the chainmail sleeve covering his arm under the armor gauntlet, the spikes on the club surely would have grated the flesh off his bone. Moving faster than his foe, having dexterity as the only advantage over such a colossal opponent, Vratislav evaded the next few swipes before lunging for a stab. Alas, the club met his blade with such intensity, he found himself flung like a ragdoll yards away. He refused to release grip of his hilt to all end. Recomposing himself and tucking his broken left arm to his side, he realized this two on one fight was missing a combatant.

Where was Mareczek?

That’s when his ears perked to the distant sound of Mareczek’s voice calling nothing else but, “Retreat! Save yourselves!”

He looked back and saw the cowardly swine riding a fallen soldier’s mount and leading a rapid recession of Bohemian soldiers. Had the fiend motivated Vratislav to face the behemoth and turned tail the moment after? Or did he cleverly send Vratislav to certain death all for the sake of leaving his corpse on the battlefield?

Vratislav had no way of knowing. At that moment, all he knew was he was now ever more outnumbered, but still accompanied by the few gallant Bohemians who would not so easily abandon their Duke.

“For Bohemia!” Vratislav shouted, raising his sword, and leading the last stand against the Magyars. Having lost much already, Vratislav laid it all down right then and there. Resigning himself that this was the end, he gave everything so that his homeland would persevere. Every Magyar he took down now was one less that could invade Bohemia later. If anything, they would delay their planned invasion for loss of soldiers. He would create such a mass of Magyar casualties the scar would run so deep they would never dream to invade his home ever again.

Amidst his swinging sword and haze of bloodshed, the club of the behemoth tore into his shoulder, reaching so far as to graze his skull. He found himself flat upon his back on the bloodstained grass, gazing up to the massive gray clouds above. The gargantuan Magyar eclipsed his vision and dropped his club upon Vratislav’s face.

In the world of mortal men, Vratislav, Duke of Bohemia, breathed no more.

Chapter II


Rushing along the banks of the Vltava River, beside the lush green forests and rolling hills under the rising sun shining through wispy cirrus clouds, came Mareczek accompanied by his squad of horse-mounted troops. Since their departure of the Basin, the majority of riders dispatched to their posts or returned to the manors of their lords, thus upon reaching Prague, the centralized capital of Bohemia, he was down to roughly thirty soldiers. They all looked grim and disheveled, and while one might expect them to appear utterly distraught at the hands of defeat, Mareczek remained composed and confident.

Maybe even pleased.

Through the massive gate and down the boulevard of the city toward the castle, through the outer wall and to the stables, Mareczek dismounted and told a maiden rather pointedly that he must see the Duchess. Their meeting did not take long.

“Many Bohemians fell, though not without taking hordes of Magyars with them. Just by the hair of my beard, we made retreat and lived,” the captain reported to Dragomira.

“And my husband? Does he live?”

“Nay, your grace.” That’s when a hint of character crawled out from under his stoic guise and a trace of a smirk found its way to his lips.

“He fell a gallant hero, I am sure,” she said, turning to walk along the stony promenade. Mareczek promptly followed like a leashed hound. “And the timing could not have fared better. My firstborn, heir to the dominion, stands in his minority, too young to rule affairs of state. His birthday draws nigh and portents say to expect a full moon once more on his night.” Dragomira couldn’t entirely withhold her zeal, though she knew how to keep poised.

“My lady?” her captain asked, feeling confused.

“Worry your mind not on my matters. I speak of the spiritual that will manifest into the physical in time not far off. Yet, as of now, I am acting Regent, and hold the authority to bend Bohemia to my will. Saxony shan’t have a foothold upon this land any longer. Soon as the fire of war just fought has cooled, from the ash will rise an alliance that will see Saxons and Germans to their knees and that wretched religion of Cyril shall be an anachronism forgotten in the lore of legend.”

“Mine is not to trouble with future heads of state nor relics of worship. Mine is to wield sword and soldier to your bidding, my lady.”

She smiled, feeling far superior to her subordinate and finding mirth in his ignorance of the true nature of her schemes. “Fare ye well, Mareczek. Find rest, for your burdens of battle are no longer at hand. I must be rid of company as I proffer this grim news to my son.”

“Aye, my lady.”

“Should he ever ask for account of the conflict in the Carpathian Basin, his father died a gallant hero so that those who could escape the onslaught might live. Understood?”

“Without question, your grace.”

Dragomira departed through the cold halls past the thick tapestries both designed for glamor and insulation, down toward the courtyard where once Wenceslas played wooden sword games with his father. There, the young Duke played with his brother, showing him how to properly spin a top upon an oak bench. Despite a chill in the air, outside felt warmer than within the stone keep, and allowed for much more light.

The light in the young lad’s eyes was soon to dim.

“My loves,” the Duchess said, stopping between the trees upon the patio walkway.

They both looked at her, and at once Wenceslas knew. He had been anxiously awaiting word of his father and when he beheld the squad of soldiers return to the keep sans Vratislav, he knew he would be given some report that day. He busied himself with entertaining Boleslav to preoccupy his mind to prevent it from wandering toward the grim possibilities. Maybe his father was successful and took the Carpathian Spire and secured a foothold in the Basin. Maybe there was a stalemate and so he sent his captain back for reinforcements. He could not say.

Before his mother even had to speak, the look in her eyes told him the rueful account. Little Boleslav was too young for such a level of intuition, but Wenceslas knew at that moment. He knew that his father would not be coming home.


The courtesy of the victorious allowed Bohemians to return to the aftermath of the battle and retrieve the bodies of their fallen. A visible blight upon the land and a magnet for scavengers encouraged the Magyars to allow the foreigners to remove the bodies and make it easier for them. After those who stayed with Vratislav’s camp watched Mareczek, a handful of noble knights, and the squad of soldiers ride past in a retreat, they knew what befell their army. Waiting for the brink of dusk, they ventured out into the grotesque display to find their Duke, kinsmen, and any heads of state. The operation was quick and quiet. The laborers of the morbid deed found hacked limbs, mangled flesh, and pools of blood so rich the earth had yet to swallow it. Within the macabre scene, they found their Duke, nearly unrecognizable for his torn flesh and smashed skull. If not for his stately armor, he’d simply appear a mound of red pulp mingled with metal.

His body was transported back to Prague and placed within a marble coffin, majestically engraved, with his likeness carved into the cover. Mighty pallbearers, Mareczek having the honor to be counted among them and holding the head of the coffin, carried the heavy object into the noble family tomb.

The world around our twelve-year-old hero moved slowly as he watched somber citizens lay flowers atop the marble statue of Vratislav, lying honorably with both hands gripping the hilt of his sword. His actual sword, Svelto, had been taken by his mother to pass along to his heir. All Vratislav ever was became confined to this cask of stone. All his hopes and dreams now lived on in his two sons.

Boleslav rested his teary eyes into Dragomira’s gown. Unlike his older brother who experienced the sinister side of his mother, Boleslav was just a young, innocent lad, who found the world’s safety and security in the bosom of his nurturing mother. She was his comfort and hope, she was his home and peace of mind and heart. Flanking her opposite side stood young Wenceslas, standing proud in honor of his father, and not inclined to find amenity in his mother. She no longer was that source of wholeness a toddler runs to when hurt—she was a source of hurt. While his mind never settled if the event eight years past was just a clear nightmare or true event, he always kept his affections at a foot’s distance. She was still his mother, and he did love her. He wanted her affection and approval, he also wanted to honor her as the scriptures taught him to. But she was no source of comfort.

“Your thirteenth year,” she spoke to him with subdued expectancy, “your manhood, your rule, draws nigh. You will find yourself in few years hence a greater man among men than even your father was.”

His proud exterior broke and he dropped his gaze. The words of his mother were a pathetic attempt to console him, if they truly were even meant for that at all. The real impact of her words reminded him of the greatness of his father, his love for him, and how of the entire world he longed for his papa’s shoulder to cry upon.

Alas, those shoulders were absent, the very source for his incessant urge to weep. Where was his comfort?

There, just a couple paces away, stood his beloved grandmother, Ludmila. She had always seemed so vibrant for her age, but this day brought out the gray in her hair more than ever. Despite the utter grief in her heart at burying her son, decades after burying her husband, there truly was an air of confidence about her. That confidence was a beacon of strength that drew the wayward Wenceslas to her bosom as a moth to a candle. She stood like a lighthouse glowing a beam of guidance and safety just when Wenceslas found himself tossed in the torrent of emotion.

“Grandmother,” he sighed, clutching her tightly. She wrapped her arm around him and in her strength, he found the security to weep. “I—I cannot live without him.”

No words can mend a broken heart, and in her wisdom, she knew nothing she could say would set the world right. It was what she said in silence that spoke to the grieving soul of her young grandson. The two held onto each other, letting each wave of grief splash upon them, and they silently kept the other standing.


The leadership of Bohemia became rather convoluted shortly after the funeral. Dragomira declared herself the Regent of the land, having been the widowed Duchess. However, as matriarch and widowed Duchess before Dragomira entered the land, Ludmila had every right to rule. In the royal meeting room around the mapped table Vratislav’s council had strategized over before, lords, magistrates, and leaders of Bohemia came together to put the matter to rest.

“With age comes wisdom,” Reinhardt orated with his wheezing voice, straining from tired, old lungs. “Duchess Ludmila has been of the ruling class of our land longer than Dragomira has been alive. Dragomira, while I hold no ill-will against yourself, my favor rests with your predecessor until the maturity of Vratislav’s heir.”

“Noted,” Dragomira said, cutting any deliberation short. “Though inconsequential. From the moment I received news of my husband’s death, I assumed responsibility as Regent, and such a grave burden I do not take lightly. Never have I scorned my new home and by the side of the Duke I have stood all the while Ludmila has enjoyed her fading years in Tetin. Should she take charge, I fear she would spend her twilight years simply catching up to where I already stand.” Dragomira sounded as though she were simply making a wise point guised in humor, but Ludmila felt the sting of her insult all the same.

“Now see here,” Ludmila chimed in, stern and yet with calm demeanor. “Few know the roots of Bohemia as I do. Was I not the second baptized by Cyril to make a Christian—”

“Ah, the heart of the matter,” Dragomira interrupted.

“You think we all have simply paved the way for you to change the religious convictions of our land, but you have been blind to the misgivings of your people!” Orel spoke up.

“I have not been aware of such—”

“Because you have not been aware at all, retired snug in your bed,” Dragomira said pointedly. “Ludmila has endeavored for her tenure to make us submit to the whims of the papacy, subservient to a foreign god, yielding all to a religion originating from circa Jerusalem. Do we look like desert dwellers here, Ludmila? Are we descendants of Abraham?”

She pouted a bit, but never lost her composure. “We have opened the door to the way of forgiveness and redemption.”

“At the hands of a sad martyr nailed to a stake,” Dragomira replied before turning to the council about them. “If you follow my rule, I promise we shall return to the nature of Bohemia and stay true to the spirit of the land. Bow before me, and you will prosper.” Her imbedded commands were not lost on Ludmila, but seemed to hold sway over a great many individuals present.

“My friends,” Reinhardt started again. Even those who vehemently disagreed with his support of Ludmila attended his words. He had been such an esteemed sage of the duchy that few disrespected him by interrupting his words. “Since Libuše the Prophetess took Přemysl from his plough and installed him prince of this land so many generations ago, those closest to that lineage have remained in power. Granted, we had direct Moravian control for a season, they were but our brothers, and the Slavs our cousins. Ergo, should not a cousin of the Přemyslids reign in the stead of Wenceslas? Not a Hevelli Princess, as honorable as she may be, who has no blood vested in this family dynasty?”

“While I appreciate your favor, Lord Reinhardt,” Ludmila said, “I cannot accept a divine right to rule based on the prophecy of a pagan.”

“You dare insult the Lady Libuše!” a noble shouted angrily.

“Now, give heed,” Radslav interjected. “When our lands were wrought in plague, our ancestors trekked upon the brink of shadow only just after our traverse from Croatia. We needed a new home; we sought salvation. Libuše rebuked the plague by means ofof animal sacrifices, teaching us to do likewise and keep it at bay. Whether Bohemia is of Christendom or not, Kourim will continue to erect the bones of goats and deer just as tradition teaches us.”

With murmuring agreement, others added:

“And she was the one who put Přemysl in charge!”

“Our traditions have kept us safe!”

“Who is to say the persistent raids of Magyars are not direct retribution for these deeds,” Ludmila argued. “We invoke the scorn of the Lord our God when we sacrifice to idols!”

“That very argument can be used in the reverse,” Dragomira noted. “Just because the sun has risen every day does not mean it will rise tomorrow. There are great forces at play here that we dare not antagonize. Out of the myriad gods, goddesses, deities, spirits, and vili governing the elements of all things, you say there is only one god who will sentence eternal damnation should we not pick him out for singular worship of all the many others. Quit this charade, for it shall only turn our backs further from the one who raises the sun, moves the stars across the heavens, and brings summer to conquer winter. Side with me and side with nature.”

“Till Wenceslas takes the throne, we follow the Regent Dragomira,” one chimed in.

“I say protocol dictates we align with the matriarch of the realm!” rebutted another.

“Political affairs require energy and worldliness! Dragomira hails from many leagues from here. To scorn her might scorn our Hevelli allies!”

And the feud persisted until the final decision was reached to split the responsibilities of regency, splitting the leadership between the two, with Dragomira keeping the capital and Ludmila returning to Tetin.

“May I go with you?” Wenceslas asked his grandmother. All his life she had been there, and bereft of a father, he realized she was the only one who could raise him to be like his father was.

“And why might you want to do that?” she asked, giving a pleased grin.

“I wish to be like my father before me. You have already raised a man like him once, you can do it again!”

“You flatter me,” she replied as she went along with her handmaiden to make way for a cart to ride away from Prague. “Who will watch Boleslav in my absence?”

“And why do you fret over Boleslav?” Dragomira asked, emerging from a doorway.

“You will poison your boys with your seditious doctrines,” Ludmila accused.

“Which is my choosing, and not of yours.”

“Mother, please. I wish to accompany grandmother home,” Wenceslas said, breaking the tension.

“To stay with her?”

“Mayhaps for a time. I wish to see her home safely.”

“What a benevolent young lad,” Dragomira praised, grabbing his chin with pride. “Yet I will not see you go before your birthday.”

The two regents locked eyes for a moment while Wenceslas asked, “Then may Grandmother stay the night and be here tomorrow for it?”

Silently, the women waged a mental war. If they could shoot fire from their eyes, each would have unleashed an inferno incinerating the other to ash. “The elder Regent has many tasks ahead of her. She cannot be troubled.”

“No trouble at all. I would much prefer to stay for my grandson’s birthday. Stay in Prague for that matter, to keep an eye on things.”

“Splitting responsibilities of regency is the decision of fools. I acquiesce only during the time it will take for Bohemia to see me for what I am, the rightful Duchess and ruler.”

“I see you for what you are, Dragomira. Which is why I wish to keep an eye on Wenceslas and Boleslav more than anything.”

“They are not of your concern and neither is Prague.”

“Oh, mother. Please!”

“My darling, this grandmother of yours doesn’t belong here. She belongs home and has many tasks before her.”

“I see I do.”

With that, Ludmila departed. There was little she could do. Her grandsons were at God’s mercy for the time being.


“I have no worries, my dear,” Ludmila said, comforting her handmaiden who worried over the rejection her mistress had faced. They rode in a horse-drawn wagon and accompanied by a few armed riders for protection. Reinhardt joined her for his manor lay en route and he felt he could deliberate affairs with her along the travel. “Ours is a great land and will be once more when my grandson takes control. If only his mother didn’t lay claim to him as well.”

“Dragomira can do as she pleases,” Reinhardt said. “You will still be able to perform great deeds for your land, such as strengthening our borders.”

“I really am not entirely savvy as to how I might do that. Not that I hold ignorance to the issue at present, yet I am unsure of the best method to correct the situation.”

“Dear me,” he sighed. “My lady, that is why woman was not meant to rule. Would there be one adult male of the Přemyslids left.”

“My gender has naught to do with my disinformation. I only intend to seek wise counsel to uncover the true straits we lay in. I would hope for your wise counsel, and yet if that is how you see things, mayhaps I ought look elsewhere.” They shared a chuckle.

“And yet still my hopes for the heir to rise to power are the same.”

“We have fought long and hard for the respect of the pagans, and now that they see a champion in Dragomira, this dual regency will be a farce. I will be naught but a figurehead with no true claim to authority before long. I am sure she will undermine me at any chance available and her cronies will do naught to hinder her.”

“Pagans—no doubt performing their moon-worship rituals this night, and sun worship in the morrow. I thank you and your late husband for introducing us to a doctrine that worships the creator of the moon, stars, sun, and beyond. They are narrow minded, though who could blame them?”

“Blame them?”

“Would you not rather give worship to one you could actually see? Would that God walk among us in flesh once and a while.”

“I see. He did, you know.”

“As the gospels say.”

“I would adore meeting him face to face. Invisibility forces faith, and that’s the sad quality pagans lack. It takes no faith to trust that the sun will rise, or the moon will be a crescent or full.”

At her last thought, Ludmila gave pause. “Stay true to your convictions and even those of other beliefs will follow you regardless.”

“You say they will worship the moon tonight? Is it full this evening?”

“Aye. The radiant lady of the night—”

“Driver!” Ludmila called forward. “Turn round. Return to Prague!”


Under the arc of the bright full moon illuminating the blackened land, the carriage rushed over the gravel and to a skidding stop. Without hesitation, Ludmila hurried her old bones out of the wagon, hoisted up her skirt for mobility, and rushed to the doorway where Libyena swept the stoop.

“Dragomira. Wenceslas. Where are they?” she asked, too busied to speak more coherently.

“I know not, m’lady,” the young gal spoke, startled by the old maid on a mission. “I think, maybe, in the high spire.”

Ludmila looked up toward the window in the highest tower, noting the flickering glow of candles. The pale blue light of the moon bathed the tower around the orange hue. “And the moon is full…” she gasped without finishing verbalizing her thoughts. Without another word to the maiden, Ludmila pushed past and into the keep.

“Lady Ludmila,” the chief steward said pleasantly. “I heard you were bound for Tetin, yet you return at this late hour?”

Ludmila made her way past, not trying to be rude, but far too focused on her goal to trifle with conversation. Down the corridor and up the dark stairway, approaching the sound of a young boy’s frightened voice, a woman’s hush, and the droning of a raspy old man’s chanting. Her heart sank for dread of what she envisioned. Vratislav had told her little of the affair several years ago, but enough to give her alarm. Now that he was gone and Dragomira the Regent, her true loyalties surfaced, setting Ludmila to fear the ritual she may attempt upon her grandson.

Within the chamber atop the stairs, where everything appeared as before: candles fluttered, blood marks formed ancient symbols on the stone walls and floor, incense smoke wafted about. The only difference was that the subject was no longer four, but thirteen as of the start of the new day.

The acolyte ripped open Wenceslas’s tunic, exposing his bare chest. Bartram had to work much harder than before to hold the lad down, but he still proved the stronger in spite of the thrashing about.

“No. Stop it. Get from me!” Wenceslas cried out, squirming. His fears of the nightmare now had realized into a tangible hell he could not escape from.

“The time has come, son,” Dragomira told him in her soothing tone and nurturing guile. “Time to finish our pledge to the god of bale fortune, whom we serve. The dark Lord, Chernobog.”

Bohemian folklore included a number of nymphs and demons shared amongst Ukrainian and Slavic regions, such as the aforementioned Stuhak or Vodník, the water imp who lived in ponds and stored the souls of his drowned victims in porcelain cups. As frightful as this demon sounded, he was a fluffy puppy next to Chernobog. Wenceslas had heard the name before in the markets from a travelling merchant, selling charms and trinkets for soothsaying and other witchcraft. He never partook of any of the pagan wares, but hearing of foreign lore—that is to say, lore of religions outside of Christendom—was such a fantastic tale to his ears. Chernobog was a sinister bugaboo whose name was seldom ever spoken. Aware of the malevolent connotation to this word, he tried all the harder to rip away, but the acolyte pressed him down firmly upon the table. Just as the boy snapped aside to run away again, Dragomira lifted her palm to his lips and blew a mind-numbing powder from her hand into his face.

Unable to withstand the inhaled narcotic, he went limp upon the table. From the bed of glowing coals, Bartram withdrew the brand and handed it to Dragomira. As she readied it, he continued to go about his subdued chanting. With the lad as feeble as a puddle, the Regent seized the opportunity and pressed the scalding brand upon the boy’s bare chest. The sheer pain quickened his senses and woke him from the drug-induced stupor. He started with a scream, but found he still could not fight the pressure control of Bartram, forcing him to wait until the drugs kicked back in.

“You have the branding—now to finalize the fealty. Irony, the intrusive evangelists teach a cannibalistic practice of drinking the blood of their savior, yet have the audacity to condemn our traditions. We do not drink the wine of a carpenter, but the blessing of a predecessor; namely me.”

She poured her blood into a goblet, brought the rim to her son’s mouth, and forced the sanguine fluid into the lad’s mouth. Drugged and pinned, he had no choice but to comply. The thick, repulsive drink gagged him, but his coughs and recoiling reflexes couldn’t dam the flow down his esophagus.

“Drink deep, my darling,” Dragomira continued. “Refuse weakness, welcome this strength. I am forever within you now, and my patronage of Chernobog, my affair, my blessed oneness, is now yours as well. Drink in the promise and blessing from this dedication.”

All mental grips with reason became lost to the young boy. He now embodied the horror of his nightmares and there was no Vratislav to come to his rescue.

But there was his grandmother.

At last, Ludmila barged in, taking in the scene quickly, and gazed for a brief moment upon the goblet. “You didn’t!” she gasped.

He most certainly did,” Dragomira mused as if the boy willingly partook of this sinister ritual instead of being forced by her own hand.

In a snap, much faster than anyone expected her to be able to move, Ludmila snatched the burning poker, wielding it like a sword. “Stay back! Back, you devils!” She made a few swipes that drove the acolyte and Regent back, putting herself between them and the boy.

“Come, come, old crone,” Dragomira said with such a softness to portray she was far from losing the authority in her own castle. “You knew your way was but a vapor. The Duke is both my son and my disciple. Would you kill me for my religion, you must kill him as well, for now he has pledged fealty unto a god not of your own.”

“You blasphemous wretch!” Ludmila cursed as she pulled Wenceslas up from the table. He was too heavy and too limp, making the process prolonged. Bartram moved to retrieve the boy from the elder Duchess, but Ludmila showed she was not simply toying with the hot brand—she rammed the glowing end right into his eye! Steam rose from his seared flesh as he screamed over the pop and sizzle sound. Dragomira tried to take the moment to grab her, but Ludmila pulled it back and swung it about, keeping the Duchess at bay.

Ludmila plopped Wenceslas’s feet upon the floor, forcing him to stand, though she bore the majority of his weight as she dragged him from the chamber and down the stairs.

“To where might you go, wench?” Dragomira demanded, not keeping far from her son. “You would abduct the Duke from my own hands?”

Ludmila ignored her and began repeatedly calling out for Boleslav. “Boleslav! Come child!”

“How dare you! You miserable wench!” Now Dragomira called out wildly. “Guards! Guards, come hither this instant!” Alas for both their efforts, they were in the center of a stone stairwell, adorned with hanging carpets and tapestries, rather isolated from the rest of the keep, where their voices absorbed into the walls without traveling to distant ears. “His soul is spoken for, his fate sealed. And such equal outcome is destined for Boleslav. There is naught you can do to stop what has been done and what is inevitable.”

“You will not poison his heart further, you sorceress,” Ludmila told her, finally reaching the foot of the stairs. She looked back for her path for a brief moment, which Dragomira figured was long enough to reach in and grab her son.

It wasn’t.

The feisty grandmother revolved in a snap and slammed the bar of the poker into Dragomira’s temple, knocking her skull into the doorframe, rendering her a bloody mass of an unconscious Regent upon the cold floor. This was Ludmila’s turn to escape.

“Would that be whom I think it is?” Reinhardt asked at sight of Ludmila emerging from the keep. He moved his old bones in a hurried fashion to help her aid the recovering lad and load him into the wagon. Shortly after, they heard the clamor of heavy, rapid footsteps and angry voices within the nearest wing of the household .

“Drive!” Ludmila ordered the driver. “Make haste!”

“Grandmother?” Wenceslas said, barely able to open his eyes. The rocking motion of the wagon over gravel did its part to bump his mind back to reality for the moment.

“There, young master,” Reinhardt comforted, running his fingers through the boy’s hair. He then looked at Ludmila, silently asking for an explanation. As they moved through the city and on through the outer wall of Prague, Ludmila explained to the sage what transpired within the castle.

“I will keep him with me. I’ve been raising the boy, why should I not continue?”

“She will undoubtedly know to find you in Tetin.”

“She will undoubtedly not attempt to take him by force where I hail from. There, the people rally behind me as Regent. I may not be as fortified as Prague, and yet I am not without defense.”

“That may be, but cunning are her ways. And you will surely face exile from Prague, making you furthermore the lesser Regent in this dual-leadership regime.”

“’Tis but five years till he is of age. I have half a decade to mold him into everything Vratislav was, and maybe more. Oh, I rue the day Borivoj and I agreed to our son marrying that wretched Hevelli Princess!”

“My dear lady,” Reinhardt said soothingly. “Were the days past to change in such a way, never would this young man ever have been born. No, he is here for a purpose.”

“Indeed,” she agreed, calming down more as Prague disappeared in the expanding distance behind them. “God will have his way in my grandson’s life. He will forever change Bohemia for the better. I know it, without doubt, God has a hand on his heart and soul.”

“She said,” the boy strained, still lost in a daze, “she said soul is spoken for?”

“My dear son,” she comforted. “The Maker of souls is the Savior of souls. Do not let that apostate’s pagan rhetoric torment your mind.”

“I can’t… she can’t…” he tried to say, the thoughts too cloudy for him to grasp clearly. “What about Boleslav?”

“We must hide first. I will not be welcome near the capital. You—you have a choice. I cannot detain you like a prisoner.”

“I never, never want to see her again.”

“I think that is for the best. We have time. He is still very young. You must prepare, for you will have to face her again some day. Therefore, when you are ready, we will save Boleslav.”


“Show me my son, you old crone!” Dragomira demanded, flanked by her armored knights on horseback, facing the front gate of Tetin Castle.

Ludmila stood atop the causeway, overlooking the gate. She had the vast majority of her armored soldiers about her and on the ground behind the gate. In a clever move, she had her servants, even maids, donning armor and holding weapons like staves and spears, present and visible. The idea was to appear as though Tetin was heavily guarded and formidable—it truly wasn’t. The facade seemed to work for Dragomira’s forces failed to storm the gates, but kept their distance.

“This is not land under your governing body. Be off with you!” Ludmila demanded.

“You have abducted my son. Think not I wouldn’t raze this keep to ash to have him returned to me.”

“And if he chooses not to come back to you?”

“Let him tell me himself.”

“He would rather stare at the sun till the rays of fire scorched the very sense of sight from him than see you ever again.”

“Do you risk open civil war? You, who profess a penchant for peace and brotherly camaraderie, would rather see men go to arms, blood spilt, deaths of your countrymen, all for your selfish claim to the offspring of my womb?”

The lad heard this and his stomach sank. It wasn’t hard to notice some commotion and the attention of the whole population centered at the entrance to their homestead. He approached casually until his mother’s voice chimed in his ears like the shriek of a ghoul haunting a cave—or at least that’s the effect her voice had on his nervous system. Fighting anxiety, he scaled the stairs to the causeway and kept himself out of sight.

“Dragomira, you very well know that—”

“Go away!” came the shout of a young man.

“What was that?” Dragomira asked. She thought she heard her son’s voice, but it was spoken so rapidly and under the words of her mother-in-law that she couldn’t rightly tell. A mother has an uncanny way of picking up the voice of her child out of a din of other voices, but when her son spoke such a phrase of rebuke, she couldn’t set her mind to accept the identity of the voice.

“I said,” Wenceslas strained, holding back tears. “Go away!” He kept himself hid behind the stones of the wall, not able to cast his vision upon his mother. He hated how he hated her, but he felt no choice but enmity with his own mother.

“Come hither, child. Let us return home.”

“He clearly does not wish to see you, let alone accompany you. Your presence here does naught but torment his soul. Have you not done enough to grip his heart within a vice?” Ludmila spoke, proudly defending her grandson.

“My son,” Dragomira continued, ignoring Ludmila. “I give you but one last chance. Return with me now or I will leave. As Regent of this land in your stead, there is much work of great good and importance I bear. Little hours of day am I offered to trifle with such pitiable affairs as this. Come now, or I shall take my leave.”

With one hand, Wenceslas clutched at his scar, still feeling the stinging burn. With the other he wiped snot from his nose that flowed along with the tears from his eyes. Struggling against the thick lump in his throat, he forced out, “Go!” and then could speak no more.

Waiting a minute or two, Dragomira stood in silence before returning to the carriage that brought her to Tetin. She faced a long, lonely five-hour ride back to Prague. The bitterness she felt toward Ludmila, and even Wenceslas, blackened her already dark heart.


Roughly 900 years before, a wild preacher who lived in the desert and ate locusts began a movement, both spiritual and political. He challenged the powers-that-be, he challenged the religious rite, and he proclaimed a message of repentance and renewal of life. His work included a cleansing ritual of immersion in water. That act could be performed in any body of water, but his ministry took place on the banks of the Jordan River. Then came another prophet who wished to take part in this water ritual, to which the preacher denied any right to do so. “I am not worthy to even untie your sandals!” he humbly proclaimed.

“It is fitting to fulfill all righteousness,” the prophet told the preacher.

Ludmila followed this tradition to fill her grandson with righteousness. Wenceslas had been baptized as an infant in the cathedral in Prague where his parents were wed. Now, he was at the age of accountability. In Judaic teachings, below this age a child would not be judged harshly for their sins because they were too young and immature to have much understanding of their actions. With a ceremony called a Bar Mitzvah, young boys would enter manhood and read through the hundreds of codes of law in the Torah texts, understanding thoroughly the gravity of what they pledged to obey. Now they were accountable, and should they depart to the heavenly realms, they would face judgment as an adult, fully aware of their actions and responsibilities.

Now that Wenceslas was thirteen, he was accountable and capable of a second baptism for atonement and repentance. Ludmila enforced this without delay, because his pledge to Chernobog was a facade—he had been forced without any decision of his own to partake. Baptizing him at once would secure his destiny in the embrace of Christ.

At least that was her hope.

As the boy plunged under the water in a bath built within the church of Tetin by the hands of an ordained priest, Ludmila thought of the paradox that brought them to such a convoluted juncture. Wenceslas was old enough by Heaven’s eyes to be accountable, but by the political regime of Bohemia, he was five years too young to act as the Duke that he was.

The beads of water rolled off the lad’s skin, lit by the warm glow of candle flames. He stood up in the barren church—only the three of them attended this private ceremony. Ludmila feared a need to keep her grandson out of public eye for a time, which meant this was a secret baptism. Her guarding servants kept watch outside.

Wenceslas parted the V-cut at the top of the ceremonial white gown, now gray and pressed against his skin, laden in water. He looked upon his chest and there he saw the wretched, detestable scar of the brand and shuddered.

“I thought you said baptism would clear me of it.”

She frowned, finding her words were easily misunderstood.

“Baptism undoes your mother’s curse on the inside. Fears me that scar will remain till death or kingdom come.”

“Then I am cursed…”

“Let us remove that notion from your mind! You are Wenceslas, heir of the throne of Bohemia, descendent of Premsyl, and destined to lead your people to peace and prosperity. How can one accursed do such a thing?”

He couldn’t answer that, but she wasn’t sure he was convinced. Ludmila had much work ahead of her.


General education had been lax at this time in history. Only privileged few could afford the scholarly tutoring to learn reading and writing, understanding arithmetic, and studying socio-economical science, along with the diverse lessons to be found in religious lessons. Wenceslas had tastes of these things, but Dragomira held him back. Vratislav left the primary role of educator to his wife while he personally busied himself with the affairs of state, though giving a lesson or moral here and there was not beyond him. Dragomira came from a tribe not quite as sophisticated as the Bohemians and never felt books and scrolls to have much value. Her philosophy was that a warrior could never master the sword lest he dirty himself in the blood of slain opponents. This trend of thinking permeated all her ways of behavior and teaching. Her boys would learn to be ruthless and cunning leaders by being ruthless and cunning leaders, not by reading of other ruthless and cunning leaders.

Ludmila knew there was truth in learning by doing, but also learning by being. She knew of a story in the Old Testament where Saul, the young man anointed to become the King of Israel, found himself in the company of prophets and suddenly began to prophesy. Ludmila would immerse her pupil in the lifestyle and company she wished for him to become. He would eat, sleep, breathe, and study—absorbing the lessons of being a pious, yet mighty, man among men.

“You are a knight for God’s kingdom first before becoming a king of your land,” she instructed him as he sat at a table in the study hall, surrounded by books, scrolls, and maps, lit by the cerulean light of early morning.

“I am not to be a king, rather a Duke,” he interjected.

“The point is all the same. And never sell yourself short, young one. A merchant is king of his wares, an artisan king of his crafts. Know ye not what fate may offer you. Yet Providence may hand you a great many gifts, you are the one with the power of choice to seize them or not.”

They continued with their lessons, day by day. He studied the Bible and began to excel at reading, writing, and mathematics. Ludmila was pleasantly content with keeping her pupil locked away in her keep. Now, this did not come easy. At first, a messenger from Prague would ride to the castle daily to inquire of the young Duke.

“Her Regency requests the boy be returned home,” they would ask and be readily denied. After a few weeks, they would arrive weekly. After several weeks, they would arrive monthly. Finally, a squad of stubborn riders came forth.

“We are ordered not to leave until we have seen the Duke and heard his say on the matter.” It took hours of coaxing the guards before Ludmila finally acquiesced and allowed her grandson to make a statement. The boy came upon the causeway, this time less fearful and ready to boldly proclaim his intentions. Without his mother there before him, he could do this without guilt and fear.

“Young Duke, we are ordered not to return to Prague without you or without word from you. Will you join us hence?”

“Nay, I shall not,” he replied firmly, yet pleasantly.

“Do you willingly stay or do you feel yourself coerced? Her Regency wishes that you know that should she hear word you are kept against your will that she will send forth troops to liberate you from the keep.”

“Only one of us will fly to Prague. The rest shall remain to see to it you are not smuggled away.”

“I thank you for your concern,” he said, already growing a sense of diplomacy and leadership. “I am well.”

“You are not sequestered here?” the first pressed, suspicious of the lad’s response.

“Thank you, sir, I am not. You may tell my mother that I am well and fare better here. You may also inform her that I wish that she send Boleslav, sans the Regent herself, to stay with us.”

“Very well, young Duke,” the knight replied before turning and leaving.

Wenceslas hoped against reason that he would see his brother sent to visit. His plan was that he would arrive for a season, but Ludmila would keep him with her permanently, raising the brothers together as they should be, safe and protected from the vile corruption of their mother. He hoped and prayed for this with all his being.

Boleslav never came.


Atop the spire in the castle of Prague, Wenceslas laid upon the hard, cruel table, surrounded by all the demonic elements as before, except for this time they had gone even more Satanic and abstract. Snakes formed lashes that tied him down to the table, holding him from escaping. The villainous acolyte now moved through the smoke as a wraith, a tangible shadow whose very presence felt like a weight of a house crushing down upon him.

Dragomira held the flaming brand, her eyes sable black, devoid of whites or iris. Her skin seemed scaly, like a serpent’s. Such dread engulfed the boy, he felt as though shadow was eating him from his belly outward, immobilizing his limbs.

“Betraying me means death,” the sorceress told him, lifting the flaming brand. The fire wrapped about the poker, bending around her body like a living snake of bright orange flame. “Everyone, everything you love, will die! Because of you, rejecting your true master, you will bring ruin to everything you do. You had power at your fingertips, now you have decay.”

She moved to brand Wenceslas, but the brand was now a sword, spewing forth flames. He could feel the sweltering heat drawing thick beads of sweat to coat his body, pooling all around him. He looked down—it was now pools of blood. He looked back up, unable to move more than his eyes, unable to speak, and now—with the flames devouring the air in the room—unable to breathe.

The sword stabbed him through, a pain all too similar to the branding.

The boy screamed!

He moved—he could finally move. The snakes no longer held him, only bed sheets covered him. The smoke and flames were replaced by darkness softly touched by the blue light of a waning moon gleaming through his window. He was no longer in the chamber of wicked rituals.

He was in his bedchamber within Tetin Castle, warm under thick quilts, safe, and secure. Holding a lamp, like an angel carrying the light of hope, his grandmother appeared in his doorway and moved over him like an additional blanket of comfort.

“My dear child, be soft. All is right,” she soothed.

“That was the third nightmare this week,” the lad said, catching his breath as he steadied his heartbeat by coming to terms with reality. “They get more frightening each time.”

“You are a force for light in the darkness. You must not allow it to have this control over you.”

“I do not let it control me,” he protested.

“Then why are you trembling, waking with the shriek of a siren’s call?”

“I am afraid.”

“Fear is control. Evil has only as much power as you let it. Fear means you give it a great measure of control in your life.”

“Then what must I do?”

“We shall continue our studies. To know the strategy to win the war between good and evil, you must understand both sides.”

He nodded silently as she massaged his back, further soothing him back to relief and sleepiness. While he trusted her words fully, he had a hard time focusing. All he knew was that his mother was a vile beast and his brother—the one his father made him promise to look after—was nowhere safe but in the company of evil.

“I miss Boleslav,” he sighed.

“I know, my dear,” she agreed.

“When will my mother give him over to us that he shan’t grow as evil as she?”

This was a superb topic for discussion the next morning in the study where Wenceslas sat at the table with his books and scrolls, absorbing the tutelage of his sagely grandmother.

“We are not here to judge your mother,” she explained. “We are all made of the same dust, and we’ve all made ourselves filthy.”

“Some more than others,” he muttered.

“Do not interrupt,” she said and then considered what he said. He was either referring to Dragomira or himself, both possibilities needed correcting. “And that is beside the point. The beauty of our existence is free will. Even Lucifer, a high-ranking general among archangels in the Heavenly Kingdom of God, also had the gift of choice and so he chose a path of hubris that wrought ruin and downfall. Mankind lives in the wake of his impact when he fell to earth from the heavenlies. Thus we live with the same choice, do rightly, or do wrong.”

“I choose right,” Wenceslas said, the eager, good student.

“Yes, and many think they are choosing right, so what is right? Could you not argue what is right for you and justify it, though your right may indeed be wrong unto me?”

“How would I do that? If it is wrong to you, it is not right.”

“Indeed, yet it is often the goal of many to twist the wrong into right. Are taxes right?”

“A government needs the income of taxes for the good of the realm.”

“Indeed. And what if someone had to choose to pay a tax or starve to death. Is it right then?”

“I would say not.”


“Every person matters. I dare even say, every living being, from man to beast, those who crawl, those who fly, even those that grow roots into the earth and drink of the sun’s rays—they all matter. To neglect one, especially to their ruin, would be a crime not only unto the one but to all, for we all need each other.”

“Which one of us is the teacher and which one the student?” she asked in humorous irony. The two shared a laugh. “It pleases my heart to hear you say such words.”

“I have them in my heart by the goodness of my father,” he said, gleaming in bittersweet pride.

“And what is goodness? Are you good?”

“I do not know…” he said, unconsciously rubbing the scar on his chest. Ludmila noticed this, but made no issue of it. She was well aware that he wrestled with the notion that he was branded the property of evil spirits and there was no escape.

“Is goodness doing or being?”

“I would have to say both.”


“Jesus was both good in his deeds and identity. He was intrinsically good as he was the son of God. Yet he proved he was good with the exploits of his life. His selfless death on the cross, to ransom the souls of all men and women for all time was the pinnacle of showing his goodness.”

“Then, if you are made in the image of God, and he is good by very nature, are you not good by nature?”

“Yes, yet as you have said, we have choice. Everyone was made of dust and with that dust we have choice, and every single one of us has chosen evil.”

She nodded. “At least at one point in our lives. Then we have the crux of the matter, central at every life: choose the forgiveness and redemption or stay the course down the stream of our selfish decisions.”

“I know what I choose.”

“And do we condemn those lost down that river?”


“And why not?”

“Because they are us. As I have said, we all need each other, we are all connected, we are all capable of the same decisions. To see someone lost down a filthy stream of sin, I should see myself. I should have instant compassion and do what I may to rescue him or her as I would myself.”

“Be sure to remember that on your throne,” she told him, feeling that their educational discourse had come to a conclusion and she would return to her other duties and let her pupil catch up on his reading. That’s when he remarked under his breath what she did not expect to hear him say.

He said, “I don’t want the throne.”

“And why is that?”

He thought a second, not sure how to say it, not sure how to expose a wound. “I am cursed. I am unworthy.”

“And who is worthy to be in charge?”

“I know not. Yet, those who are worthy are obvious.”


“Father was worthy.”

“A great man was your father, yet no saint, no embodiment of perfection. No king, sultan, emperor, or Duke has ever been perfect, nor have any been worthy. In fact, from my experience, it has been those cognitive of their unworthiness who have lived the exemplary lives worthy of the authority vested in them. We have discussed sons of men made in the image of the divine. Is not the apex of kingship found in our Creator?”


“Then any he calls sons are princes, and daughters are princesses. Even the lowliest, filthiest peasant is true royalty should God call him son.”

He thought, and rubbed his scar once more as a physical action mirroring his pondering. “Does he call me son?”

“Now, I could tell you in the affirmative, for at the core that is what I wish to do, though I am inclined to have you live your stead. If everyone is truly royalty, who then are worthy to govern?”

“I do not know.”

“You have alluded to Christ as good in both nature and deed. He is called King of Kings, is he not? What did he do as such?”

“Many things.”

“He wrapped a towel about his waist and washed the feet of his disciples.” Wenceslas pondered this for a moment, but before his thoughts ventured too far, Ludmila spoke further, “I challenge you; go and give alms to those in need. Serve them, my son. See where that takes your heart to not just do good, but be good. To be a blessing for someone shall change the world from your inside out. Imagine how much more you could do as leader of the land.”

Ludmila was not wont to delivering a theoretical axiom without practical application. The very next day, she took Wenceslas to Tetin town. He hadn’t left the castle in a fortnight and that wasn’t ever to traverse far. The town wasn’t all that far either, but he had never been there.

The two walked amongst the crowd; a veritable human anthill of grungy folks moving about their personal business. Wenceslas spied a dirty old man, begging, squatting in the mud. He raised his palms to each person as they passed by. “Please, I lost everything in a raid. I have not for use to fend for m’self.”

They passed a market stand with fish drying on racks just before setting eyes on the beggar and now he had an idea. Wenceslas glanced from the racks to the poor man and then back before approaching the racks and the vendor present there.

“You sir,” Wenceslas addressed the mud-squatting beggar as he approached, holding out a fishing rod. “Know ye how to use this?”

“Aye. Alas, all me tackle was taken.”

“If you can fish, you can feed yourself,” the lad told him, letting the grimy old codger grab hold of the rod with his frail, withered hands. He barely had the stamina to even hold it—he hadn’t eaten in so long.

Wenceslas expected this. That is why he held his other hand behind his back, concealing a gift for the beggar. He withdrew his hidden arm and then handed a slimy trout upon the beggar’s lap. He looked up, speechless, unsure what to make of the gesture.

“Easier to fish on a full belly,” Wenceslas said.

“You will see,” Ludmila told her grandson as he returned to her, glowing with the right sort of pride a man ought to have, “the good life worth living is a life spent serving others. The better your life shall be should you strive to better the lives of those around you.”

“Come, grandmother,” the eager lad said, grabbing her hand to lure her along. “Let us find another soul in need.”


The deeds of young Wenceslas were various and many, though small in such a way as it was with the beggar and the fish. He’d rush his studies to return outside and help farmers till their plot of land, or with harvests of wheat and barley, mucking out stables, and thatching roofs. No job was beneath him and the dirtier he was when he returned to the keep, the greater his sense of honor. He had graduated from that youngest stage of life to the next, the one of the ranger, the farmhand, the laborer. It was time to put adolescence behind and enter the wild world of adventure and responsibility. He took this horse by the reins eagerly and would not let up.

After a year of such outings, he ventured even further than Tetin, outside the walls and nearby farms, toward even smaller, impoverished villages such as Vidoň, where he first met one who would later be his closest friend—me. My father had died in a raid defending his land, keeping Magyar scoundrels from finding his wife and son. With him gone, she and I returned to live with my grandfather, though he was rather sick. She was a seamstress, always working her fingers to make clothing, blankets, and anything needing a needle and thread. Alas, she never made much profit.

We had no resources to buy a pony or donkey, so travelling from our village to anywhere further than Tetin was nigh impossible. Magyar raiders were not the only threat, but also wolves and thieves posed a serious threat to a sojourning mother and nine-year-old. We stood in the market; I called to passersby to come and scope my mother’s handiwork while she threaded her work behind me. I was only the loud, obnoxious spokesman for our enterprise; she handled the exchanges of wares and currency.

On a day not unlike others, where we hadn’t sold much to afford food for dinner, my throat had gone hoarse in my attempts to coax potential shoppers. I did not complain of my throat, because I knew my mother suffered worse than I. She had caught my grandfather’s cough, hacking away a hundred coughs an hour, day and night. I dared not complain when she suffered worse.

“Thinks me we ought retire,” my mother said in a whisper as to not aggravate her lungs.

“Retire? We’ve yet to sell nuthin’!” I replied so eloquently. “And grandfather hoped we could get a little something for this here cabbage head.”

“Did he?”

“I’ve had cabbage comin’ out me ears! Sell it and buy some meat!”

“Your voice has worn tired and my fingers too cold to—” she coughed. “Too cold to keep workin’ out here.”

My face felt heavy, drawing my distressed gaze to the dirt we stood on. That’s when a wooden object in a hand moved before my eyes.

“Here,” came the stranger’s voice. “This is for you.”

I looked at him. I had not known him, but by his caliber of clothing, I took no longer than a second to reason he was of a higher class. I followed his arm and found that the wooden object was a top.

“What prompts such charity, m’Lord?” my mother asked.

“I have two and he has none. It seems right to share,” he replied.

“Bless you,” mama replied, moved by the offer. “Say thank you, Kohl.”

“Thank you,” I mumbled, grabbing the toy from him. I thought myself too old for toys, but that was because I didn’t have any. I now looked forward to taking this home to spin it away. Though I was initially a tad cynical of charity, I was too excited to even care.

“Truth be told, I could use a blanket. Something thick and warm.”

“Then I have what ye seek!” mama replied. It didn’t take long for the young man to choose a blanket and pay a fair price for it. It was enough to afford food for the next week!

“I thank you. My name is Wenceslas,” he announced.

That name I knew. This was the young Duke!

“That I know, my Lord.”

“If yer the Duke, mayhaps yer hungry? Fancy a fine, fresh cabbage to go with that blanket?” I asked.

“What an astute salesman!” he replied, seemingly praising me while brushing my sales pitch aside. “I know you shall take good care of your family. Happy travels. I take my leave. Fare ye well!”

“Be safe, young sire. The sun is nearly set. We abide close by, yet you have aways.”

“I can manage,” he said before he departed.

I did not know until much later that two pairs of shifty eyes were set upon him as he left the market. Nor did I know they were bound to follow him. I did hear one of them give a peculiar cough, which brought me to examine two rough fellows nearby, but nothing made me think anything amiss about them.

Wenceslas traversed the twenty-minute trail from Vidoň to Tetin Castle. He walked along the lush green pines, pleased with his deed, when he stopped in his tracks, sensing something. Giving a quick glance over his shoulder he found the two vagabonds who watched him at the market stalking toward him.

Without hesitation, Wenceslas took off, dashing through the dense pine needles, spurring the chase. The two thugs were more spry than the boy hoped and were able to keep up in their chase. It did not take long for the grown men to catch the thirteen-year-old and overpower him, especially when holding a blanket became more like a sail resisting his momentum. They grabbed him and lifted him so his feet no longer touched the ground.

“Unhand me at once!” he cried out.

“Young Duke! Your mother’s worried sick over you!” the first vagabond spoke as they rested his feet back to the forest floor.

“I very much doubt that. Now, release your grip.”

“Apologies, sire. Yet when Her Regency gives order—”

“And pay,” the other chimed in, giving a cough that he clearly worked hard to hold back.

“We do as we’re told. Now, you’d best do as you’re told. Stop squirmin’, settle down, and come along. ’Tis time to come home, it is.”

As much as he wanted to return to Boleslav, the thought of facing his mother was like that of facing death. The longer he stayed from her, the better he felt, but also the more afraid he became. She continued to dematerialize in his mind, forming something more outlandish and sinister than ever she had been. On his better days when he spent his time doing charitable works, the nightmares never plagued him. Yet, on some days when he had more time to think about himself rather than on others, the nightmares came. Now, that very nightmare had sent two tangible agents of her wickedness to apprehend him and drag him back to her snake pit.

To keep them from taking him home, he’d struggle as best he could. He writhed and squirmed, fighting with futility, but the brutes pummeled him, first with their fists and then with their boots. He was now a pulp on the ground, bloody and bruised, and was sure to be easier to manage. As soon as he was returned to his feet he pushed back.

“Leave me! I am certain Her Highness would be sure to repay thrice the damage done unto me to those who did the damaging.”

The two scoundrels pondered this for a moment, looking to the other for thoughts. Was the lad right? They were sent to kidnap the boy, for sure. But harming the heir was likely a felony.

Whether he was right in his statement or not mattered little to Wenceslas. He only needed a distraction. The moment they looked to each other, the boy threw the blanket he had recently purchased over their heads. He took that brief reprieve to scurry off like a bunny chased by a fox.

Giving his all to escape, he looked back to find the pursuers rid of the blanket and giving determined chase. With his eyes off the route through the brush and brambles, he missed his step and slid down through the damp bushes of the hill—a good forty-yard steep slide. He would have had a devil of a time finding himself in the mess of briers and twigs, let alone those chasing him. With the waning light of dusk, the vagabonds thoroughly lost sight of their target. To them it looked as though he turned a corner in the forest and simply vanished. Straining their eyes in the dim twilight proved futile.

Wenceslas stayed still, catching his breath, recuperating from the tumble, and giving time for his pursuers to make some distance from him before he moved. His journey home in the dark relied on the soft light of a crescent moon and the stars to discern the shadowy landscape he was very familiar with to figure his route home. At long last, he limped through the front gate of Tetin Castle and then on through the doorway to the foyer.

Wenceslas, with black eyes, cuts, and a broken nose, limped into his grandmother’s embrace, finally able to rest from the weary trek.

“Oh my dear boy,” she said softly, patting his back, consoling him. The shear idea that he was nearly kidnapped and taken from this bosom of nurturing security made him shudder nearly to tears, but he fought them. He accepted that childhood was behind him and manhood was on his horizon. “We must be more covert with you.”

“Nay. I dare not return to sequestering myself to the keep for fear of vagabonds. There is still much for me to do. I must not hide. I must be stronger.”

“That as well. I had thought of this for the past few months, and now my decision is made for me. I held onto your father’s sword, Svelto, to pass down to you. We must add fencing and battle tactics to your lesson plans.”


When the leader of a nation rallies his troops, men are the fighters who go to arms. That had been tradition for centuries. Ludmila had seen her fair share of men in her life lift the sword and swing it for the first time, train with it, then ride off to war. Too few of the men closest to her ever returned, such as her husband and son. Nonetheless, she had been so familiar with the art of swordplay that though not an expert, she was still a source of wise counsel. Hiring an official instructor, she took the boy into the courtyard and had fencing added to his tutelage. The instructor fenced with Wenceslas, honing his skills, day after day, but still the lad lacked the fighting spirit. Ludmila paced, supervising and coaching.

“Move quickly, with aggression. Now, strike!”

He didn’t strike. He hesitated and the instructor placed the blunted blade to his pupil’s padded chest. Wenceslas grimaced, feeling pathetic.

“You give pause for what?” she asked her grandson.

“I know this be but a farce of the real battle, and still I harbor no desire to shed blood.”

“And why is that?”

“I seek to save others. Not bring them harm.”

“Subduing an enemy is saving him. You save him from harming others. You save your comrades and countrymen from any foul deeds that enemy may wrought upon them had you not laid him low. You do not fight for the sake of fighting. You fight to do the very good your heart wishes to see done. Apply that sense of charity to your blade.”

This made sense to him and he figured he’d give it a try. Back on his feet, he was ready. The two blades connected repeatedly and Wenceslas worked his feet to parry and lunge appropriately. He was getting it, but the more he thought of how well he was doing, the more poor his strikes became.

“You have your father’s reflexes. Also his lack of precision,” Ludmila commented.

Wenceslas struggled, working up a sweat in his movements, but kept his fortitude. Thinking he’d found an upper hand, he lunged unsuccessfully, opening vulnerability. The instructor seized the moment and made the harsh lesson by heavily knocking the boy down. He’d never initially act with such brunt force had it not been for Ludmila having told him to go hard on the boy. As much as neither of them wanted to see him harmed or embarrassed, they both wanted to see him excel to where he could fight and fend for himself.

“Rise up. Try again,” she said pointedly.

“I can’t,” he puffed, catching his breath.

“Rise now! I hold your father’s sword, Svelto, in my possession. It belongs to one worthy to wield it. Shall that be you?”

“I can’t do this!”

Ludmila moved, hovering over her grandson, sitting on his rear in the grass. She got right in his face to lay reality upon him, and said softly enough for only the two of them. “Will Boleslav save himself?”

He knew exactly what she meant. Though her words were inspiring before, now they materialized within. She just lit his fire. Without a word, he stood with transfixed determination and dueled the instructor with ferocity. Was he suddenly a master swordsman? By no means, but he was now on his way because he believed in himself and his mission. That belief drove him for the next several years.

By the age of fifteen, he was now a formidable opponent. Using youthful energy and the muscle gained by joining farmers and stable hands, he had grown strong, fast, and agile.

“Apply your faith. Apply your belief. Apply your vision. Integrate it all to everything you do. If the Holy Ghost resides in you, tap into him for strength, resilience, cunning, and skill,” Ludmila taught him. And he did. He grew wise in the learning of economics, religious studies, mathematics, and politics. He also learned a lesson more than most aristocratic students ever would, and that was humility. He labored with peasants regularly and was keen to their plights. He also knew trades and crafts. He understood crops and livestock raising and shed himself of the naivety of how the world works. Ludmila wisely crafted a rounded individual in her grandson over the years.

In fact, the next time he saw the same two vagabonds out to kidnap him, instead of turning and running, he drew his blade and stood proudly against them. He travelled along the road back to Castle Tetin and heard the discernible cough that drew his attention behind him to find the two scoundrels approaching. The pride and confidence in his skill made Wenceslas seem to stand three feet taller as he drew his sword and lifted it high, looking threatening. Wenceslas broadened his arms, puffed up his chest, stood tall, and raised his blade. “Come and have at me, should you so dare!” he challenged.

One lunged forward, the other held him back. They weren’t compensated enough to suffer injuries, namely fatal ones. Without ever crossing blades with their target, they backed off and fled like whipped pups with their tails tucked into their hindquarters.

Facing the instructor, he used his reflexes and agility, acrobatically parrying, running, sliding, dodging, and all around toying with his swordplay tutor. He certainly integrated and applied it all into the craft of fighting.

“Come on. Give me your best!” he taunted his tutor.

His opponent parried, making a swift move aimed for a fatal stroke. With speed, and now precision, Wenceslas blocked the faux blade, spun around, and landed his foil upon the instructor’s neck. Wenceslas needn’t speak lest his words sound like gloating; he only acknowledged his victory with a cunning smile.

“You’d subdued me earlier if ye hadn’t spent half our time runnin’ around bouncing off trees and walls,” he jested.

“Made you dizzy didn’t it?”

“A unique fighting style you have developed there,” Ludmila praised.

“If I can keep my rival too busy guessing, he would never see my blade coming.”

“And now you may see this blade coming. Svetlo, your father’s sword.”

Grasping the hilt of his father’s sword brought courage to his bones and near tears to his eyes. Now, he felt he might be able to be a warrior, a champion of light. He would vanquish all evil before him, whether by sword or deed.

Yes, Wenceslas was becoming an upstanding young man, full of dignity and honor. His only vices were his regular nightmares. Working diligently, he fought them, ignored them, and gave them as little credence as possible. The real problem began when his nightmares came in the hours of daylight.

Walking through the village of Tetin on a typical day, he saw Dragomira standing, shrouded in black with her eyes fixed on him. He sensed cold chill run up his back and his gut felt laden with stones. She was here and she had found him! He no longer feared abductors now that he travelled armed and capable of brandishing his blade. Seeing her made him feel like a four-year-old boy, once more strapped to a table. He cowered and recoiled back into a woman carrying a crate full of chickens. The crash ended up with the crate cracking open and a chicken pecking and clawing its way free of Wenceslas’s backside.

“What do you think yer doin’?” the wench snapped, wrestling the angrily clucking hen.

He looked back up and his mother was gone. Without paying attention to the lady, he moved quickly between shops, tents, passing foot traffic, and anything in the town. He moved in a way to scan his entire surroundings without being easily exposed. The result, with nothing to be found, made him seem like a wild lunatic. His pursuit ended in vain, leaving him huffing and puffing on the outskirts of the village with his mother nowhere in sight. He worked to catch his breath, swallowing the pure trepidation he had experienced.

I saw him standing there, steadying his heartbeat, looking about frantically. “How fare ye, m’Lord?” I asked.

“Kohl, aye?” he confirmed.

“Aye. Ye look to be surrounded by unseen snakes.”

“You could say that,” he sighed as he approached. Now he caught sight of a line of beggars, on the edge of town, wallowing in filth with forlorn gazes. “Every week adds a new beggar to this road,” he noted sorrowfully.

“If you don’t mind my speakin’. ’Tis the Regent, I say. Her taxes made many a destitute Bohemian.”

Wenceslas lived under a rock in ignorant bliss. He was unaware that his mother had adjusted taxes that imposed greater poverty. Those he had worked with likely didn’t complain to him fearing they would have insulted the son of the lady seated upon the throne. Examining the line of beggars, he eyed a fellow named Gregor, in his fifties, missing his left arm, leg, squatting in the mud, holding his crutch. “You, sir. What’s your story?”

“Servin’ Bohemia’s military cost him an arm and a leg,” Kohl answered for him. “His son, Streiter, works the fields, but earnin’ not nigh ’nough.”

“Do you speak?” Wenceslas asked, curious why Kohl served as his mouthpiece.

“I an wry,” Gregor mouthed a reply.

“Dear me. What happened?”

“Taxers took his tongue for expressin’ Regent resentment,” Kohl explained. Gregor opened his mouth wide, showing the gaping hole where a tongue ought to be. Wenceslas sighed, heartbroken, as he surveyed the scene. What was he to do? What could he do?

“And your mother?” he asked, having noticed Kohl was alone.



With a heavy creak, the thick oak door opened to the foyer of Castle Tetin. “Come, come. All are welcome,” Wenceslas said, leading a procession of weary beggars into the keep. Most of the ragged folks rush to the warm hearth and held their fingers just close enough to the flames before burning their skin. Two orphaned sisters, Tilda and Brynn entered next and joined the cozy bunch trying to find warmth. Tilda was the oldest at fourteen, Brynn younger at twelve. Along came a mother of five ranging ages from three to thirteen. Following them came a tall, burly young man holding his arm around Gregor as he hobbled on his crutch over the stoop into the foyer. “Streiter?” Wenceslas asked.


“Greetings. You and your father are most welcome.”

“We cannot thank you ’nough, kind sir,” he said in his deep voice before continuing to usher his papa to the hearth.

Wenceslas watched them proceed until his eyes met Ludmila’s stare. She evinced a mixture of scorn and pride, two emotions men would think to be as oil and water that only a masterful woman could manage to combine.

“I know, I know,” Wenceslas confessed before she even said a word. They spoke from opposing sides of the influx line of people. If memory serves, Wenceslas brought in a gathering of nearly thirty folks, half of whom I’ve forgotten their names, but all were ragged, homeless, poor, and many orphaned like myself. They looked in stark contrast with the luxurious atmosphere of the castle, but such a triviality never bothered Ludmila who loved mankind with equity. “I couldn’t leave them out there. They’ve lost property and livelihood either by the taxes of my mother or raids. They may freeze if they remain out there.” Her expression changed but the emotion was still something indiscernible. “I do not plan on them staying for free. They’ll work to earn their keep.”

“We have enough work?” she asked.

“This castle has vacant rooms and winter draws nigh upon us. They stay outside they will die frozen. We likely save their lives.”

“Tomorrow shall be just as cold. Maybe colder.”

“Aye,” Wenceslas started, not finishing his thought for fear of her reaction. The perceptive grandmother caught on quickly what his intentions were. They weren’t to stay the night, the week, or even only the month.

“Very well. For just one winter.”

Since my mama had been killed in a raid and my grandfather succumbed to his illness, I had been bereft of family. What I found now was different, but still family. Wenceslas became the elder brother I never had and Ludmila the grandmother I never knew. Many of us were as orphans of diverse ages and genders, but all equally lost and lacking anything substantial. We now had a sense of home, if even for just a winter.

And what a winter it was! We all pitched in with any and all chores available and the work never felt like work, it was a privilege to have work for our shelter, a hearth to stay warm by, food to fill our bellies, and a cot within a cozy castle to keep out from the elements. What made it all the more special, Ludmila would often join us after supper to sit in the main hall and share stories with us. On Christmas Eve she sat upon a stool, floating like an angel over the gathering of servants seated on the floor, and shared with us the stories of Saint Nicholas.

“Much like as the magi brought the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn king, so Saint Nicholas gave of what he had to those who had not. He stood up against the wrath of the Roman Empire even when his religion was outlawed and fought vehemently to lift up the oppressed and downtrodden.”

“I’d like to be a saint,” I remarked, enjoying the notion of doing good works and people remembering them for generations.

“Maybe you will be,” Ludmila said. “Though we know not what our lives will be in their sum. Saints are only proclaimed thus at the end of their days.”

“Methinks you ought be gettin’ such a title, m’lady,” I added.

“Stop interrupting,” Streiter gruffly scolded me.

“All is right,” Ludmila said to stay the hostilities. “And thank you, young one, but I think myself unworthy of such a title.”

“If you don’t mind me sayin’” I started, then looked to Streiter to make sure he wasn’t bound to slug me, “and if others won’t be hatin’ me for speakin’ my mind.” Streiter frowned and looked away. “From my experiences, it’s the ones who do the most good who think they deserve the least.”

“Astute observation, young one,” Ludmila praised. “And the key to that is the power of our heart to decide our own paths. Some might have you believe you are born one way, live that way, and die that way. I choose to believe I can choose otherwise. I would experience an abyss of sadness if I entered the grave hardly different than I was when I vacated my mother’s womb. The pure beauty of being human, a beauty of symmetry, is the ability to be both good and bad, joyous and sad, and we can be broken and whole at the same time. We can be lost, and redeemed. Oft are we redeemed without embodying such salvation and still living the lives of the lost.”

Wenceslas stood behind the gathering, just as engrossed as the rest, when a dark presence emerged into his peripheral. “And you are lost,” came the gut-wrenching, all-too-familiar voice of his mother.

“Ahh!” He turned to face her, but she was not to be found. All became silent. He felt daggers pressed upon him—it was the stares of the company around him, trying to reason why he just gave such an alarming outburst. “Nothing. Worry not. I am fine.” Everyone looked back to Ludmila to continue her sermon and story. She looked gravely at her grandson, but couldn’t pursue the matter and went back to her oration.

Wenceslas left and stood in the hall, pondering, breathing, wondering what was happening to him. He started to reason that she was a phantom to haunt him, but his mother wasn’t a departed ghost from her corporal form. Was her witchcraft so exceptional she could drift from her corpse and move about at will? Or was the curse she vexed him with manifesting itself in her guise? He did not know.

“Now, Saint Nicholas traveled with Scandinavian Vikings for a spell and on that voyage, rescued a slave from execution, adopting him as his own son. The boy’s name was Zwarte Piet, who…”

Her stories continued regularly through the winter, then the spring, then summer, autumn, and the next winter again. When she gave us allowance to stay within the keep for one winter, that winter rapidly became two years.

Wenceslas and I grew a great brotherhood during this time. I knew I owned a place in his heart when he donned upon me the nickname Cabbage. It was silly, maybe insulting, but I appreciated the sentiment all the same. During that two years, he withdrew more and more over time. One minute he was warm and happy, the next was as though he were lost in a fog, seeing things—or at least trying not to see things. Yes, he’d show up to help with chores, aide in the rebuilding of homes, doing any and all he could to support those around him, but when moments of darkness would set upon him, he’d withdraw to isolation. At times I watched and it was almost clear a cloud suddenly overshadowed his light within. He was never rude, always cordial, but when I’d inquire of it, he’d simply tell me, “I know not of what you speak.”

I did not know at the time, visions of his mother haunted him regularly.


And while the ethereal Dragomira haunted Wenceslas, the corporeal one worked the deeds of a witch. Surrounded by cohorts she had swayed to her ways, Bartram the acolyte, and a number of other cloaked figures stood around an altar in the field, surrounded by rock walls. A virgin girl hung from a stake, her wrists bound together and to a wood stake. She was barely covered and shivering, both from cold and terror.

“There, there, fair child,” Dragomira soothed. “You have been chosen for a great honor. Chernobog, our god, delights in your flesh, your fair skin, your soft hair, your doe-like eyes. And above all, your purity. Purity, like a gourmet feast, is not meant to be admired only by vision, but to be consumed.”

Dragomira blew into her palm, floating a cloud of noxious powder into the girl’s face. With a scream, she couldn’t help breathing in the narcotic and rapidly she sank into a drugged, half-awake state. Dragomira ran the edge of her razor-sharp dagger along the girl’s forearm and let her blood pour into a chalice.

“We consume her purity in more than one way,” Dragomira spoke, looking at the crimson fluid filling the cup in her hands, though addressing those around her. “For this, I am a priestess. The dark arts of the Hevelli are not so different from old, clandestine customs of Bohemia. Not all know of these arts, no.” She now faced them, looking sultry, seductive, her lips painted as red as the blood in her hands, her eyes naturally dark and alluring. “Only the elect, the chosen, the powerful. Another religion has found its way here and set up camp. Even in that foreign faith do they drink the blood of one called the Lamb of God. Here, we drink of this virgin blood for cleansing, for dominance. To your eternal health, ladies and gentlemen.”

Dragomira took a sip. Mareczek was always rigid, but even this made him frown. Others who would serve Dragomira in many ways throughout this account were there and introduced to her ways. And though repulsed at first by the nauseating notion of drinking a young girl’s blood, they relished the next action of the custom.

An orgy.

Dragomira opened herself up like a flower blooming in the moonlight unto most anyone there. As did the other women, whether they did so willingly or not. The virgin on the post was the main course of this nocturnal nightmare. Everyone had their way with her.

Even Dragomira.

I dare not speak the details of such insipid incidents. Only certain reports have been told to me. They make my stomach churn to imagine the insidious sights of it all. No, I shan’t speak more on it. Though, these activities started and became rather popular amongst a certain class of people pining for Dragomira’s favor, and then, in turn, the favor of her favorite god, Chernobog, the foul being of fire and wrath, who takes great delight in the misfortune of all.

If Wenceslas was to ever rescue his homeland, he’d need to hurry before his own mother incurred the wrath of the Almighty to do with Prague as he did with Sodom or Gomorrah.

Chapter III

St. Stephen

The eve before Christmas Eve, the house had become abustle with decorating and chores, making the next few days’ workloads lighter so everyone could enjoy the festivities. Not everyone made such a to-do about December 26th, but Ludmila, in her reverent heart, felt a fondness to honor the feast day of Saint Stephen. In the nine centuries since the birth of Christ, already had the hagiographies employed a number of venerated saints. Stephen was one of many, and one she wanted to honor. It also did no harm in extending the festivities of Yuletide one further day into the feast of Stephen. Who could complain about an extra day’s revelry?

Truth be told, in her spirit, she envisioned her grandson Wenceslas as Stephen. Now that he was seventeen and on his way toward an age capable of taking his rightful place on the throne of Bohemia, he was still a young man, devout, pure, and headstrong. While he didn’t think nearly as much of himself—esteeming that his brooding over the hex his mother put upon him kept him from ever reaching such a lofty potential. He did not think himself as courageous, but she knew better. Stephen stood up to the Sanhedrin, the highest council of religious leaders in the Judaic rite and professed boldly the gospel of the Messiah—a Messiah they never accepted as bona fide.

“What did this council do in response to what they deemed blasphemy?” she asked her audience attending one of her storytelling nights. Everyone was, as usual, solemnly focused upon her words, careful to glean the depths of wisdom and meaning from them. “Had him sentenced to death and executed by method of stoning. What a cruel and barbaric way to die! Could you imagine the coarse rocks rending flesh off your bones whilst other stones pummeled your bones to brokenness?”

Not one listener wished to truly imagine such an atrocious fate, and still we all kept silent, engrossed. I was now about fifteen, surrounded by folks from ages six to sixty, and in spite of age differences, Ludmila’s orations put us back in the state of adolescence. I was not sure if Wenceslas let himself be chided back to mental childhood, but I could tell he attended her words with full gravity.

“Saul, a pharisee, stood watch over the execution. He was a part of such deeds. He put many a believer to death by this method and persecuted scores of others. He was violently cruel to disciples of this would-be Messiah. Well, later Saul experienced the veritable presence of the Savior, was touched by the Holy Ghost, and was renamed Paul, whom we now know as Apostle Paul. What a remarkable transformation! He lived the rest of his days serving the one he killed saints for worshiping! Surely, his life was spent making amends for his cruelty, but we know that we need not labor to earn the atonement, aye? Our loving God, through the sacrifice of Calvary, gives forgiveness freely, with abundant measure. Before even meeting Christ upon the road to Damascus, I think God planted a seed in Saul’s heart by the last words of Saint Stephen. As he nearly succumbed to death, battered, bruised, and bleeding to finality, his last words were a plea to the Almighty to forgive his executioners.”

She gave pause and allowed a tear to roll down her cheek. I think I would not have wept at all had her tear not inspired some to appear in my own eyes. I glanced up to my big brother, and caught the end movement of Wenceslas running his fist from under his eye. The tale must have pricked a tear in his eyes too.

CHOP! Went his axe through a log upon the chopping block along the side of the castle wall. The morning of Christmas Eve, Wenceslas pondered his life. He knew his time for the throne drew closer with each rising sun, but he felt utterly unworthy. He was no brave Saint Stephen and champion for good like Saint Nicholas. He was just a teenage boy who enjoyed working the land, spending time with friends and family, and living a life of serene simplicity. Chopping firewood to him was relaxation, peace, and productive.

“Good morrow, m’Lord,” I said as I approached, announcing my presence. “Allow me. ’Tis best to break these into thin chunks.”

“Thanks, Cabbage, but I can manage.”

“You’re nobility and I’m your page. I should—”

“I said I can manage,” Wenceslas snapped. After a quick sigh, he looked up and gave me a smirk, enough of a friendly gesture to show me he meant no offense. I wasn’t sure what was eating him, and in light of the tear I saw him wipe away the night before, I wanted to delve a little into his thoughts.

“Quite a story ’bout that Saint Stephen fellow,” I remarked, moving the logs closer to him. He grunted in response. “How fares ye, sire?”

“Would that I just chop my logs.”

“I can take my leave. A lad can take a hint.”

“Cabbage,” he called to me as I turned to depart.


“You know for sure thinner is better?” he asked with a smirk.

“I pride myself in knowin’ most ‘bout everythin’.”

“I thought so.”

Knowing he wanted to be left alone with his ponderances, I took my leave. Had I known what would happen to him shortly after, I’d have stayed behind to help. After I left, Wenceslas continued chopping away until he had a good sized pile, which he carried over the crunching snow to the woodshed. He dropped the logs in a cascade of wooden noises, but before turning to leave, he paused, sensing something amiss. At the conclusion of the din made by the falling firewood, he thought he heard the tail end of the unmistakable cough made by his kidnappers. He looked about to see if those ruffians had returned.

Shadows and stifled footsteps moved along the outer rim of the shed like ominous wolves out for their prey. He hadn’t seen his would-be captors for two years, but still his hair stood on end when he was alone and had the sensation of being watched or pursued. Quietly he picked a log up as he heard their steps approach the woodshed doorway behind him.

In one swift move, he span around and slammed the log into the face of the first vagabond while unsheathing his sword. His blade met the other vagabond’s and they locked glares.

“Time to come see Mommy,” he grunted, trying to overpower his foe through intimidation, now seeing his cohort was on his back in the snow, nursing a facial wound.

“I come when I am ready,” Wenceslas growled in reply, certainly not yielding or showing a hint of fear.

Nursing his bleeding nose and rising back to his feet, the second said, “You got no say in the matter.” With his free hand, he drew his sword as well. It looked like the two were compensated enough to willingly face losing life or limb to apprehend the young Duke. Neither of them knew just how well trained he had become in the past two years. With moves he created during sparring matches with his fencing instructor, Wenceslas made quick work of both of them. He pierced the first’s arm while the one behind moved in. The second attacker had no chance and before he knew it, Wenceslas’s blade ran through his chest. Both stabber and stabbee were surprised at the turn of events. Wenceslas had to swallow the truth that he likely just took a life, but he felt instantly justified in his action. He didn’t hesitate. He pulled his sword from his victim’s chest and quickly placed his blade to the throat of the broken-nosed assailant.

“Shall you yield or suffer the same fate?” he asked with ferocity. He had tired of living a life looking over his shoulder, waiting for the unexpected moment when they’d attempt what they narrowly failed at before. He wanted to be rid of them for good.

“Nice work, young Duke,” another voice said from behind him. Wenceslas did not know there was a third person this time. In a snap, he pulled back his sword then reared so to keep the vagabond and the new individual in his sights. A scowling, black-bearded man in his forties, looking weathered and grim strode out from beside the shed, poised with more nobility than the kidnappers. “I see escorting you to Prague shall be by your leave and yours alone.”

“And who might you be?”

“Curious. You ever inquire of the identity of these scalawags?”

“If they are but messengers, then I want to know who sends the correspondence.”

“That would be your mother.”

“By that fine ring on your finger, I see she’s vested you authority with a signet.”

“Your mother takes very, very good care of me.” Wenceslas didn’t appreciate the twinkle he had in his eye. “Verily, I am Gommon. This was not the course intended, yet we have reached this moment nonetheless. May I take this filth with me to the Duchess with your answers?”

“To what questions?”

“Grab him,” the bleeding vagabond said, recomposing himself for another skirmish.

“Silence,” Gommon snapped, using the back of his hand to enforce his directions to the underling. Then, with sangfroid, he addressed the Duke. “Shall you claim your birthright after your eighteenth birthday?”

“I am Duke, am I not?”

“She seeks to know if you will side with Hétmagyar, thusly opposing Henry the Fowler. She also wishes to know if you’ll honor your religious fealties and abolish this wayward sect?”

“I have every intention to do exactly the contrary on both accounts,” Wenceslas told him with utter clarity to his resolve.

“You dare have me tell her this?” he asked, taken aback by being fully aware of the enmity this would create between him and his mother, including all her subordinates and political supporters.

“Afraid she’ll slay the messenger?” Wenceslas asked, maybe a little too cocky than he intended. Gommon dragged the living vagabond with him back to his horse and mounted.

“I am not the one to be afraid, young Duke,” he said. “Verily, one makes his bed and must slumber in it, and yet, you may find said bed riddled with snares.”

The moment he wheeled about and rode off the scene, Wenceslas saw that wretched demon in the guise of his mother standing between the distant pine trees, staring at him. He had held his composure and kept his courage through the entire ordeal. The moment he saw her, he would have preferred receiving six swift kicks to his stomach than the heavy boulder he felt in his gut.

He withdrew to the keep, stopped before rounding the corner, looked back to the woods where he saw his mother.

The demon was gone.


“‘Fear not,’ declared the angels suspended in the heavens, proclaiming on mountaintops,” Ludmila said before the gathering. “‘For I bring glad tidings of great joy for all men.’ Ponder this, if you will. This statement almost seems redundant: Glad tidings of great joy. But it was a way of over-emphasizing just how jubilant this moment needs to be. Jesus later told a parable of a man throwing a great banquet and all his invited guests ignored it, too busy with their own affairs to be bothered with attending the party. So he sends his servants into the streets to gather any and all he can find for it was imperative that people come and celebrate. The angels did likewise. They went nearby and found dirty, rugged shepherds out in the fields. To them it was likely a night among countless nights, dark, cold, commonplace. To Heaven, this was the moment of all moments, the night of all nights. God became flesh, the hero had come to save mankind, the King of Kings was born. The angels went to find who they could and told the shepherds this amazing news. ‘Come to the stable and see the Savior laying in a manger. This is good news of incredible joy!’ And they told it on the mountains and in the skies, singing just how significant this moment was. The first Nativity and every one since was to be a moment of happiness.

“Then magi came from afar to pay homage to the poor king resting in the dirty stable. They brought magnificent gifts worthy for a king, but even they pale in value to a king of kings, priest of priest, Savior to all mankind. What would you bring?”

It took a few heartbeats to realize her question was not rhetorical. “I dunno, Mum,” I muttered.

“If you could play the lyre, would you play it for him? If your talent is painting, whittling, knitting, would you craft a masterwork to honor him? This was the King of Kings, who created all creation from naught and yet spilled his blood to ransom each and every one of us. Is he not worthy of your very best? This Christmas, I challenge each of us to consider once more another year devoting all that we have, giving our very best for that child who brought goodness and light to a dark world.”

We had heard numerous orations pass the lovely lips of the Duchess Ludmila as she’d share the tidings of great stories. This night felt different to more than only myself. It was not lost on me that as she told the nativity story that Christmas Eve, it had an emotional impact upon Wenceslas. He withdrew to a balcony, fell upon his knees, and wept.

“Father, I am lowly and unworthy,” he prayed. “I am no Stephen. I am no Nicholas. I am no magi. My soul has been stained. You deserve far greater than any deed wrought by my hands, even if they are the very greatest of deeds I can do. Whether you would take me to your kingdom or sentence me aside from your presence, still I give you my all. For you are worthy of all I could ever give.

“And from here on, I purposed in my heart that whenever foul thoughts or the corruption of my tempting demon dressed as my mother should ever invade this life, would that I wrestle them with deeds of unadulterated goodness, for your namesake.”

“You’ve been seeing a demon?” Ludmila asked, stepping out onto the balcony.

“Please, give your heart no trouble over my orisons,” Wenceslas said, rising from his knees and rapidly adjusting his demeanor.

“My dear grandson,” she said, pulling him close, holding his arms, gleaming with pride. “You look more like your father every day. And every day, I love you more. More until my heart cannot stretch further to contain any more. But as the sun rises on the morrow, it stretches just further, making just enough room to love you all the more.”

He didn’t know how to respond. She wasn’t trying to illicit a response. She only wanted to express the sentiments within.

“I wish Father was here.”

“That we share in. But he died protecting you and our land. He died knowing that his valiant son would carry on his legacy, leaving the world of mortals with every confidence that his son was destined for greatness and goodness.”

“I don’t feel destined for anything. I’m constantly plagued by grief, fear, sadness.”

“Did I not just hear you tell the Almighty you would overcome that with deeds of good?”

“Aye, but—”

“And have you lost that resolve in the course of a minute?”


“Then honor such a vow. You are good, through and through. Let not forces of evil trouble your foundation. Stand true.”

“I will.”

“You will.”

“For certain, no evil will bend me to its will. When the clouds form, under it I shall be the sun. In the name of Vratislav, my father, you, my grandmother, and Christ my Savior, I will!”

So he proclaimed it. So it was to be. He returned to the family and enjoyed that night sleeping the rest of the forgiven. He joined the celebrations of Christmas Day. And as we prepared the feast to enjoy the day after, his eyes gleamed with pleasant anticipation on whatever God had in store for him. Words can heal and quicken a heart and Ludmila’s set his on the course once more toward a hopeful future. Though he knew not what the future hid, he faced it bravely for the moment. He also comfortably made himself at home in the present, relishing the mirth of the saintly feast day.

I know I did. Taking Tilda and Brynn by the hands, I danced to my heart’s delight. People of various ages danced, drank, sang, and feasted on roasted duck and kolaches, which were a popular Bohemian treat: a puffy pastry with fruit filling. I saw Wenceslas clapping to the rhythm, standing among the remnants of Christmas decorations, bathed in the golden hue from the lamps and roaring hearth. First his hands paused mid-clap, then a dark cloud veiled his face as gravity pulled his expression to the floor. He saw his mother again, across the room, unaffected by the jubilant atmosphere and warm light. She was a black sponge soaking it in and letting none come out. She was a void.

I knew he was wont to suffer such bouts of depression without warning, but I was also preoccupied with twirling two beautiful maidens, one older than me and the other younger. I was not sophisticated enough to know the steps to these songs, though I had gleaned a few techniques to dance successfully to the minstrel’s tune. After a movement or two, my eyes scanned the room, not seeing what I was looking for. Where had Wenceslas gone?

Visible puffs of steam billowed from Wenceslas’s mouth as he stood on the snow-dusted balcony. Part of him expected that returning to a place where he made a holy vow he would be emboldened to rid himself of the darkness. He stood there only two nights prior and found the light. He would go there seeking it again. At first, it was not to be found.

What he did find was a poor man, approaching fifty, trudging through the woods, footsteps crunching loudly in the snow, breaking sticks and gathering them in a bundle. Twilight and falling snow set upon the land, yet this fellow ventured out, facing the predators of night, seeking necessities, hoping he would return home soon. Wenceslas watched him for a spell, letting his mind wander from his fears when suddenly Dragomira stepped beside Wenceslas from the shadows.

He started, but controlled himself. He would not give into this ghost. He would not give her anything she wished, even if it was only to coax fear upon him.

“You portend noblesse oblige, and yet stare at a simpleton striving for winter fuel as you might watch an ant bear wheat kernels,” she spoke. He resisted her, tried to ignore her. He would not give in. He frowned, wondering if her poison crawled out of the dark recesses of his mind to let him see just what type of person he truly was. “Dare not deny it. You relish your privilege, knowing ants function only in serving giants like us. Take the throne and crush any ant you desire. You fear morality? Those in power set the framework of reality, and thus morality.”

“Leave me alone,” he growled. “I will not give in to you.”

“Conversing with shadows, I see,” I said as I stepped out onto the balcony. I didn’t wish to startle him, nor did I want to insult him. But what is one to do when you see your admirable friend speaking like a man possessed?

Wenceslas looked around and caught a quick glimpse of his page before looking back to the old man in the distance. He noted that Dragomira was gone and he also wished not to discuss the matter with his me just as much as he avoided it with his grandmother.

“Cabbage, you know everything…” he started to say.

“It’s a cross to bear,” I replied in jest.

“Who is that man?” he asked. I moved to the balcony to follow his stare.

“Looks like Horst. Father of five, lost his wife in the raids.” His tale was owned by many, one I knew all too well.

“Magyars…” Wenceslas sighed. He had so many items of massive scale he needed to face, but little he could do until his right to rule came. It was about nine months until he turned eighteen and he would have it be the happiest, carefree nine months of his life if he could.

“Longer the Regent dallies and nobles can’t agree, everyone suffers. Horst... let’s just say it would’ve been an insult to wish him a happy Christmas,” I explained.

Horst, with his bundle, schlepped off through the snow, likely heading back home.

“Whence does he reside?”

“South, along the forest fence. A league from here. If I am correct, and you know me, I’d say he went a huntin’ and found naught. So he gathers fire-fuel and ventures home.”

“Not too far.”

“Pardon? A league, sire!” I had to stress the distance just in case he felt the itch to pay him a visit. Snow fell heavier with every passing minute, giving me the sense something heavier was on its way.

“St. Stephen’s Feast extends the tidings of Christmas but a day further. Why should I not share the wealth given me with a man—a family—in need?”

“Unless that was rhetorical, I’d say ya shouldn’t ’cause the frost is a scorned badger from frozen hell.”

“Help me gather victuals. I’m going with or without you,” he instructed as though he never heard a word I said. In fact, it was the prime opportunity to do another good deed and weaken the darkness posed to possess him. This was how he would fight the curse and live up to the vow he made on Christmas Eve.

“You always know where I’ll be,” I sighed, knowing my place was by his side.


Ludmila wouldn’t have wanted to hear that her grandson vacated the premises at the cusp of nightfall for a number of reasons: abandoning her with the family he brought into the keep; threat of Magyar raiders; threat of wolves; threat of those who would abduct him and drag him back to Prague; threat of any nocturnal accident. Aware of her reservations, Wenceslas figured it would be far easier to ask forgiveness later than permission first. To speed things along, he joined me in the kitchen as we filled a sack with a roasted duck, nuts, dried fruits, loaves of bread, squash, potatoes, and skins of ale. What was a Bohemian feast without good strong beer?

Wenceslas and I stepped outside holding the sack of food and we collided with a wall of bitter cold. I emerged reluctantly, using Wenceslas’s tall stature and broad frame as a shield against the wind.

“You don’t have to come with me,” he told me, giving me one last opportunity to turn back. I did consider it for a moment, but felt I’d regret it for the remainder of my days had something happened to my friend.

“Someone’s gotta guard your rear,” I feigned bravery.

Driven by a charitable determination, Wenceslas and his page pressed into the flurry over deep, crunching snow. For the first part of the journey, we only fought the snow, but then we travelled uphill. The ground began to lift to an incline, and he pressed on the climbing way with slow, painful steps, approaching the very storehouses in heaven from whence the snow came.

Wenceslas and I battled the bitter gale that had turned to a full-blown blizzard. He drove on as though he were made of fire with heat instantly breaking the chill of the wind and dissolving the snowflakes to nothingness. As for me, it felt as though every layer of clothing had been torn from me and the fingers of frost gripped my flesh, squeezing it, ready to break it from my bones. The worst part was the cold upon my feet. The snow was up above my ankles and my feet were starting to feel moist, meaning the cold dampness had penetrated my defenses and was posed to storm my nether extremities.

“Do not lose heart, you mighty warrior,” he said, trying to lighten my mood. I shivered too much to speak. Looking down upon my freezing feet, I noticed the figure of Wenceslas ahead of me getting closer. Was he thinking of turning back? Oh how I wished that were the case. He slowed, looking about lost. He wasn’t considering heading back, but he was wont to never travel further than Tetin and now we had traversed a distance greater than he’d gone in four years.

“To the right,” I said bluntly. With a nod, Wenceslas headed right. He trusted my sense of direction and we plowed on. “Woulda been faster with horses.”

“And more noticeable. Grandmother is not fond of me leaving the castle, especially at night.”

Neither was I. And yet, we trudged along, pressing on. My mind drifted back to the quickening heat of a hearth fire, or freshly baked kolache, breaking open with steam rising from the open pores of warm, flaky pastry. Then I dreamed of ham, fresh off a roasting spit, glazed in sweating juices flowing from the seared meat. Oh, how anything hot sounded so good. I wanted to jump into a hot spring, or a pot of boiling stew, or even molten metal bubbling in a kiln. Anything, whether it roasted me alive, sounded better than freezing where I was. Alas, as much as my imagination tried, the mere shadow of remembering warmth was obscured behind a wall of ice. We had to press on through the rude wind’s wild lament and bitter weather.

“Not much further, methinks,” I called out.

It elicited no response at all. I worried under the clouds shedding flakes of snow, Wenceslas pressed through his depressing fog. He marched on, head low, focused and determined. My fear for his emotional state was true. Dragomira, or at least whatever apparition the world of spirits had conjured up in her appearance, walked beside him. She glided upon the snow, unaffected by the frost or wind, continuing her quest to taunt Wenceslas.

“Give him a meal and let him die later on. What will you accomplish? So a poor family enjoyed one more night of life, you prolong inevitability.” Wenceslas ignored her. “Take your throne, seize power, and you can help those like this peasant.”

“You want me to help peasants?” Wenceslas at last conceded.

“I want you to take hold of your destiny as a mighty leader. Become a dictator and have ants like this peasant do your bidding. From your palm, dogs will lap up your treats. You shall give and take away as you see fit.”

As I pulled my coat tighter, I remarked, “I’d wanna light a fire if I didn’t think the flame would freeze.” I tried to get him to laugh, to lift his mood, anything.

“Would a hunter allow a maimed hound to slow down his chase? Lose this pathetic page!” Dragomira told him.

“I would not be so cruel,” he told her, breaking her charm over him, lightening his spirit, he called back to me. “How fares ye, Cabbage?”

“The frost fails my heart. Not sure I can go longer,” I confessed.

Wenceslas stopped and waited for me to catch up before he removed his outer cloak and draped it over me. Surely the act of goodness quelled the demon from taunting him further. I could see it as his face seemed to radiate a sense of humble joy once again. His shadow had passed.

“My Lord, please, I can’t—”

“I insist,” he said firmly as he helped bundle me up. Don’t misunderstand me—I wanted the cloak, maybe even needed it. I understood proprietary and my master made yet another action that broke down the wall between monarch and servant. “Now, step in my footprints so your feet shan’t sink in the snow,” he directed.

Moved by his warmth, I nodded and complied with the novel idea. He plowed ahead of me and I stepped in his footprints. Indeed, it did help my feet overcome the cold. Mostly, my blood warmed by such an act of kindness. How he prevailed through the bitter chill sans his cloak, I do not know. We trudged further and found ourselves at the rim of the southern forest. What should be evergreen was blurred white in the flurry.

“Could it be much further?” he asked just before a sudden arrow passed inches before his nose and struck the tree to his left. We both looked about, keen on finding the source of the wayward featherback. Not further than a thirty yards did we see the shooter; a sable silhouette against the alabaster background, holding a bow, readying another arrow.

“Glad he’s a poor shot,” I commented.

“Hold where you are!” came the voice from the shooter, only the voice was surprisingly different from what I expected. The voice was female.

“I’m glad she’s a poor shot,” Wenceslas corrected me.

“That bolt was a warning!” she continued. “What brings you hither?”

“I am come looking for a man named Horst,” Wenceslas answered, shouting to overcome the din of howling winds.

“What business have you with him?”

“I bring him a St. Stephen’s feast!”

After a pause to let the thought set in, she lowered her bow.


As we traversed the winter badlands, our little community at Castle Tetin had finished their party and settled in for the night, ready to drift into the realm of dreams escorted by the river of ale. Most revelers slept where they fell, in chairs, on the floor near the hearth, or on the table. The solemnity of St. Stephen’s feast day had passed into the welcome imbibing of beer and exited into slumber.

Never one for wanton revelry, Ludmila and her faithful servant found themselves the last two awake. He had enjoyed a cup or two of strong ale, but felt his duties outweighed his enthusiasm for a party and kept himself conscious for her sake.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” she shooed him away from tidying up the aftermath. Truly, from Christmas Eve, Day, and the Feast of Stephen, the castle looked more like a tavern than a gallant palace. The servant set the plate down under his mistress’s orders. “After repenting for excessive wine and beer, they’ll help you clean in the morrow.”

“Very well, madam.”

“And where’s that grandson of mine?” she asked, examining the pile of unconscious bodies and not seeing Wenceslas among them.

“Retired early, I understand.”

“He understands many things; enjoying a holiday is not one of them.”

They might have chatted for a few minutes more had not someone knocked at the door. The sun had settled under the horizon and the wind roared with icy scorn—both good reason not to expect a visitor.

“Was that the door? Who in their right mind might venture here in such weather?”

“I’ll see to it, madam,” he said. As the Servant sauntered off, Ludmila eyed an uneaten chicken leg inches from a snoring partier.

“I do loathe seeing good food wasted,” she said softly to herself.

Just as her mouth neared the meat for a bite, a sword swiped it from her hand. The hand wielding this sudden sword was Gommon. He moved the tip right toward her throat and sneered.

“As we loathe seeing our time wasted, Duchess,” he said.

Tunna, a new accomplice to Gommon, donning a goatee and earrings, shuffled the servant, stabbed through the heart, back into the room until dropping him. He joined his threatening partner to surround Ludmila.

“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded.

“Soft, soft, my lady,” Gommon shushed her. “One servant has departed to the hereafter this night; a pity to send others. Soft, lest we wake a poor soul destined for our steel.”

“You dare intrude upon my keep, slay an innocent man, and threaten your Duchess. How ignorant you must be to dare think this shall not have consequences.”

“No doubt it will,” Gommon replied, savvy of some scheme.

“What is it you seek?” she asked, shooting daggers with her eyes.

“Where’s the boy?” Tunna asked bluntly getting to the point.

“Do you see him here?”

Gommon wrapped his hand around her mouth and pushed his sword to her cheek just before the point of breaking through her skin. “Games are best played by children. We are not tots. He may not be down here, though I would wager he resides in his chamber above. Take us to him.”

They drove her out of the hall, past the foyer, and up the stairs. Violently thrown down, Ludmila slid along the stone floor and crashed into the door. She cried out, hurt, embarrassed, terrified.

“You do harm to the Duchess, grandmother of the Duke,” she told them.

“That runt dishonored his mother,” Tunna grunted.

“You call him Duke, yet he has no throne. Regarding his administration, we have asked. He gave his answer, now standing in the path of Bohemia’s future.”

Bleeding, Ludmila fought her wobbly knees to stand. She was the guardian of her grandson and was mentally preparing herself to fulfill the pinnacle of such duties.

“Where is he?” Tunna asked.

“You think I’d tell pond scum like you?” she asked, finding her courage. “I’d sooner marry a rooster.”

Tunna cupped his hands around her neck in a cold rage. He kept his face so utterly stern, he seemed as fixed as a statue. She fought with futility. Her aged arms were no match for this brute’s strength.

“He’s asleep. Not to be disturbed,” she squealed for lack of airflow.

“Cannot think up something better?” Gommon laughed.


Not long after Ludmila spirited her grandson into her custody did Dragomira execute a purge of Prague to rid the city of anything related to the religion of the Nazarene. She started within her own household by questioning her closest, most trusted servants where their spiritual convictions were bound. Having pruned her handmaidens and manservants who worked closest to her, it was time to enlist their aid in the weeding of her castle. They’d in turn ask probing questions in an act of espionage amongst the other workers, such as gardeners, groundskeepers, chefs, and stable hands. When a family who worked the stables were found to have strong fealties to their Jewish Messiah, they were dismissed of service and sent away from the castle. Finding no homestead or work in the capital city, the father of the family made the heavy decision to travel back to the land his grandparents once occupied. It was just at the northern rim of the Bohemian Forest, one so dense it served as a natural buffer to invaders, but was also filled with undesirable lands due to peat bogs and wild animals. With the land vacated, the father decided his family could make another start at life there. So he packed up his pregnant wife, daughter, and three sons and ventured into the wilderness with bleak hope for some kind of unforeseeable future.

This man’s name was Horst. He now sat with his four sons, Bedrich, Andel, Emil, and Ivan—who were each utterly cute under a filthy exterior. Horst, a wild and wooly man who would appear deranged if not for a refined demeanor, had only recently returned with sticks to heat their fire but brought no meat to cook upon it. They sat in their tiny thatched hovel before a meal so small mice would beg for seconds. Despite its quaint meagerness, it held a cozy sense of home.

Bedrich looked at the measly chunk of bread in his hand with a frown. “Mold…” he noted, too forlorn to say much more.

“Eat around it,” his father said, using far too much energy to keep his facial expression from showing the sorrow he truly felt.

“Won’t be much left then,” Bedrich added.

Horst paused and sorrowfully handed his son some of his bread. He’d sleep another hungry night, but at least he could sleep knowing his son didn’t starve. He’d gladly rip his arm off and cook it over the fire to feed his family if he didn’t need it to eventually provide for them. What could he do but try with all his might to ignore the dire fact that their way of life could go on only a little longer. He sat quietly in a room filled with palpable despair.

A knock at the door swiftly broke the tension. His daughter was out, also trying her hardest to seek some game to feed the family, but she wouldn’t knock upon her return. His first thought was that tax collectors made the trek to his house, but that seemed absurd in such weather. Just as he rose to get it, it burst open, revealing his daughter allowing two strangers into their cramped little shack. Before Horst could even speak, Wenceslas passed through the front door with a warm smirk like he concealed a delicious secret.

“Pardon me,” he said, barging in.

“What is the—” Horst tried to say, far too taken by surprised to think clearly.

“Make way,” Wenceslas ordered the boys as he and I quickly laid out the feast upon their table. Horst’s eyes gleamed as though he had witnessed heaven visit earth.

“My God…” he uttered, hardly sure what to think. Could this be a nobleman simply forcing way upon his home to dine? Would he share a bite or two with the hosts? Horst was unsure—all he knew was that he hadn’t seen half as much food in a month. He was too stunned to ask his daughter about them. She removed her hood, finally showing her face to those she just escorted to her home. She was dangerously beautiful and was fully aware of it, though she never took advantage of her lovely charms.

Wenceslas turned to face his host, but took a moment’s pause to take a look at the archer. Finally, he spoke to Horst and said, “Unfair weather has been no stranger to this household. ’Tis my hope to give you reprieve from such troubles.”

The moment I finished setting the table, I moved quickly to the small hearth and placed my hands inches from the flames, the only source of light and warmth in the hovel. “At last, heat,” I sighed.

“Please, do not dally. Dine!” Wenceslas told the family, noticing they paused to figure out exactly what he had meant by his greeting. The boys charged into the meal consuming mouthfuls upon mouthfuls—even pigs eat with better manners. As though the meal was soon to dissolve before their eyes, they shoveled it in as fast as possible before it could vanish.

“Boys, easy! Make it last,” Horst directed. Then he faced his benefactor and said, “See, sir, I could never—”

Andel, the youngest of the family, grabbed Wenceslas’s hand like he grabbed the hand of an angel. “Thank you, mister…”

“Wenceslas,” he replied.

“Dear me,” Horst gasped. “The Duke?”

Wenceslas ignored his astonishment and continued his talk with the tot. “And your name?”

Now turning shy, he replied, “Andel,” and hastily returned to feast before it disappeared.

“Apologies,” Horst said, acknowledging he was remiss in not introducing himself and his family. “I am Horst, and these are Bedrich, Emil, and Ivan. My daughter, Libyena, you’ve met.”

“With increasing pleasure,” Wenceslas said, looking her in the eye before she turned away to avoid his gaze. He gave her an honorary bow despite her cold shoulder. She wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. “Please, sir,” Wenceslas continued to Horst, trying to guide he and his daughter to the table. “I knew not how ravenous your boys might be and I’d face sorrow to find you didn’t get in a bite. Please, dine.”

And dine they did. Wenceslas and I had already eaten, so he simply hovered about the table, conversing with Horst as I remained a statue fixed beside the fire and going nowhere anytime soon. Libyena stayed quiet, but ate with far more refined manners than her brothers. Horst also spoke little, but would answer Wenceslas’s questions and such. I didn’t pay them much mind; I was quite content enjoying the soothing warmth travel from my fingertips and fill my body, thawing my frozen corpse. Just when my fingers were likely ready to cook like sausages on a roast, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Let us be off, Cabbage,” Wenceslas told me. I eagerly wanted to argue with good reason that we stay the night in Horst’s dwelling and depart at first light, but I didn’t. I knew my master far too well. He’d not want to impose upon these folks. Leaving his cloak on my shoulders, he bravely stepped outside, seemingly immune to the cold like some demigod born of forged steel.

“Oh good, back in the blizzard,” I remarked, stepping back outside, feeling slammed by a blanket of arctic air that stole the very breath from my lungs. Horst stepped just behind, humble and sentimental, trying to find a way to speak his gratitude and bid us farewell.

“Lord, no words can... no words…” he said.

“Then speak not. Take the good you have and share it with others. That is my life’s mission, and I hope good was done to your house this night that you would share with others when you see the opportune moment.”

“Aye. True words those are, I see. Good words to live by.”

“Then we take our leave. I shan’t forget you, Horst, nor your family. May God bless and keep you. May his face always shine upon you.”

“And same unto you, my Lord. Godspeed.”

Wenceslas and his frozen page marched out into the falling snow, facing a slight hill. I was gladdened how we simply needed to cross the precipice of this hill and then it was downward for the majority of the trek home. “If only we had a toboggan,” I noted. “We might’ve been able to sled back to Tetin with greater haste.”

Just before he was able to reply, we heard Libyena call out to us from behind. She said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” Taken aback, we both stopped, turned, and faced her. She wore her hood once more, concealing her lovely countenance, in a cloak now dusted with fresh white flakes. “Why would you? I’m a peasant girl. Used to tend your stables in Prague. After you vanished, your mother dismissed my family, leaving us destitute.”

It took a moment, but suddenly Wenceslas seemed to remember her. She was the girl who first offered him the reins to his steed Milana. “I—I am sorry.”

“That was more food than we see in a month. You go back, sleep warm in your castle, done your deed, all is made right.” I don’t think either of us had any clue what this damsel was talking about.

“If that’s how you figure me—”

“All is not right! Not that I’m not grateful for actual food—I am! What when it’s gone? The Magyars plague us so long as that witch of a Regent—”

“Hold it!” Wenceslas snapped

“Your mother! As long as she and her nobles bicker over politics, basking in their riches from the over-taxed people, nothing gets done! Nobody is safe and it’s only time until they invade full!”

He gave a moment, narrowing his eyes upon her as he sized her up. “Learned words for a peasant girl.”

“My father is smarter than he looks. Time in the castle does shed light on the ways of the world. We ‘peasants’ understand far more than you all give credit.”

“So, I look down my nose at peasants, you figure?” he said, walking closer to her in a slow, unintimidating fashion. “That is the pathetic verdict you give my character? I have you figured too. You shun courters until your brothers can care for your father. You hide your striking beauty for fear some man may take you from them. Not any man, a nobleman. You know such a face he might find fitting artwork amongst his tapestries in his manor. Such is your view of any in wealth, whether justified or not. You made your verdict and judge the same over and over again.”

Libyena had nothing to say—he was right.

“I shall not stand here defending my integrity. My place is only to let my deeds speak for themselves. Yet I will say this; I am not uncaring. I have—like you—a brother whom I care for like nothing else in the world. And with that, a country of brothers and sisters, a land I call family, and I would see my borders secure and my people safe!”

“When that happens, I’ll not think you a liar. Until then, I shan’t expect a thing to change. Nothing ever changes but political hands for their own schemes, agendas that only make life worse for those with no say.”

Saying what she had to say, she turned and strode back within her hovel, leaving Wenceslas and I in the cold.


Outside the closed door to Wenceslas’s chamber, Tunna squeezed the last bit of life from Ludmila like squeezing the juice from an peach. Still he performed his morbid duties with an ice-cold expression, showing no hint of emotion.

“We will find him, have no fear of that. Bringing the Regent’s runt home was half our duties,” Gommon explained. “Taking your life was the other.”

Terror filled her eyes. Ludmila wasn’t afraid to die. She had every confidence in her eternal fate. But what would become of her country, her household, and most especially, her grandson? These thoughts gripped her with fear as she gasped, “Wenc…” Her corpse fell heavily upon the floor.

Thus the life of the saintly Ludmila was spent.

Treating her body like a rug, the two went on their search for their target. Gommon pounded on the door. “Come out here, you little brat!”

When the wooden door broke open, the two intruders found the room empty. Aside from his bed and wardrobe, the dark room had nobody within.

“Where the hell is he?” Tunna grunted.

Finding a sense of black humor in the situation, Gommon commented, “The grandmother died to save an empty chamber.”

“What next?”

“Burn the place down. If the brat is here, he shall perish with this lot.”

With the mistress of the keep and her servant deceased and everyone else unconsciously enjoying the realm of slumber, be it because they were inebriated or simple tots resting with peaceful dreams, it was not hard for the two to find a store of oil, then douse the drapes and furniture. After that, they went outside and placed straw bales along the perimeter of the castle and soaked them in oil as well. Tunna tossed a lit oil lamp upon the wall, shattering it, causing a cascade of liquid flames to fall upon the bales and igniting them to a quickly spreading inferno. The fire breathed to life and rose up along the side of the building. Tunna followed the glow of the lights up to the upstairs window, keeping watch for any sign of Wenceslas. Seeing none, he portrayed the minutest hint of a frown.

“Let us leave lest anyone drawn to the light comes hither who would later accuse us of this. We agree; the boy was inside when we burned it.”


And the two departed. I am not sure how much longer it was from the time they left until the time we arrived, but before the situation became too dire, Streiter woke up to the smell of smoke. It took a moment or two for his dreary mind to snap to an alert state, but once he grasped the fact that smoke filled the hall and he could hear the roar and crackle of fire consuming tinder, became conscious.

“Fire?” he said aloud, hoping there might be a chance of someone else awake enough to calm his concern. Nobody was. Based on his headache, he figured everyone else wanted to sleep off the ale and avoid waking. As he stood, he now saw the smoke rolling into the hall. “Fire! Get up! Up you lot!”

Streiter moved frantically to rouse the slumberers. Tilda was the first to awaken in groggy startlement. “Whoa, what?”

“The castle! Tetin burns!”

Tilda rose and moved toward the doorway where she found the seeming epicenter of the blaze. Moving toward Bryn to wake her, she said, “The way is blocked. We find a way out upstairs.”

“No. Where is smoke bound?” he asked, grabbing his father and throwing his body over his shoulders.

Tilda took a moment to think about what Streiter meant. He always used words sparingly as though he were on a budget. “Up?” she asked, not questioning if that’s truly smoke’s desired direction, but if that was the answer Streiter asked for. He said nothing but glanced a look her way. She suddenly understood the danger of going upstairs and being suffocated by the smoke. “I see. We must find another way. Streiter, what do we do?”

It didn’t take long for him to think of a way and not long after did a table smash through a window in the castle wall, forming a ramp over the sill and broken glass. That was about the time Wenceslas and I approached. We trudged our way back, passing through the trees, dying to get somewhere warm. The hike downhill was much easier than before, but now back on level ground, pressing through snow was simply far too exhausting. Recognizing the terrain, I knew we were getting close.

“Hope your grandmother won’t give you an earful for leavin’,” I said, feeling my limbs quicken with anticipation of warmth and rest.

“Do you smell a fire?” he asked. I thought I did and nothing could make me more excited.

“Oh sweet glory, please let there be a roarin’ log to warm our—”

We both paused upon sight of the castle burning asunder. Before we could do much more than gawk, smash! A table broke through a window, the legs gripping the sill, the top acting as a ramp. All the party-goers rushed out, climbing the ramp, many collapsing and coughing the moment they reached fresh air. Tilda and Bryn escorted crippled Grigor by having one hop down and lend a hand as he clambered over. Streiter emerged last, holding a six-year-old girl in his arms, unconscious from the smoke.

Seeing Streiter’s exhaustion, Wencaslas helped him put the girl down in the snow amidst the din of coughing and hacking. “You are safe. Light for my eyes!” Streiter exclaimed. Wiping the smokey tears from his face, he glanced about to see if everyone was accounted for. “Is my lady with you?”

“Grandmother? She’s not with you?”

“No, sire!” It didn’t take long after realizing she wasn’t outside that she must therefore be inside. Streiter turned and bravely declared, “I’ll fight the inferno—”

“You have done well enough, Streiter!” Wenceslas called back, blocking Streiter from entering, as he charged through the window.

His luxurious home now looked like the bowels of Hades. Wenceslas wrapped his cloak around his face, fought the smoke and heat, dashing about. Too many times he moved too swiftly for the fingers of fire to grab hold of him, but he came dangerously close. Nothing would slow him. His mission was to find and rescue his beloved grandmother, mentor, counselor, and friend. He dodged falling debris, flying embers, and reaching flames. Moving with the same spry skills he uses during sparring matches, he averted the flames as we would an opponent’s weapon. Like an intense, fiery parkour field, he aerobically moved his way through the obstacle course.

Coming up the stairs, he peered through even denser smoke. Nearing futility, he finally saw Ludmila’s lifeless body. Had he the time, he would have sat beside her and wept, but his life was in danger. Not that he thought selfishly of his own survival over the devastating loss of his grandmother, but he was also in charge of over a score of individuals who waited outside, watching their home and shelter burn asunder. He would mourn, but it would have to wait. On top of that, though the body he lifted into his arms appeared lifeless, he clung to a sliver of hope that she had only succumbed to smoke inhalation, but was revivable.

Outside, I grew impatient, standing among the others, watching and waiting in anxious anticipation. I felt we had tarried long enough and someone needed to help our master. Flinching to rush in, I stopped as we saw what we feared most: Wenceslas rising through the flames, leaping from the window, clutching the corpse of his beloved grandmother.

He fell to his knees, now in fresh air gaining a fresh understanding of how his world had changed forever. There really wasn’t anything to say. Nobody enjoyed watching our benevolent leader sob over his departed loved one, but nobody thought any less of him for it.

“Who...who could have done this?” I asked.

“I know exactly who,” he replied. “My mother.”

Chapter IV


Having felt satisfied that her castle and city were purged of any trace of Ludmila’s abhorred religion, her sights now rested on the rest of her domain. Dragomira’s ultimate plans for the nation were still obscure at the time, but what was clear was she wanted the rich—particularly those in her favor—to be powerful and as wealthy as possible, not seeing a cent taken by tithe from any clergyman. Taxes were raised to a level that brought so many to utter ruin. Many turned to a life of crime, too proud to beg. Well, some started begging and never found nigh enough, so burglary proved more profitable. Either way, should she offer a monetary reward to take up arms, there would be volunteerism unlike ever before. Men would arm themselves out of desperation for a warm meal.

Was that her end game; build an army of starved individuals like a legion of hungry dogs ready to be let off leash to devour any prey before them? Or would they be an army so weak that they would easily fall before an enemy—an enemy she wished to conquer her land? At the time, few could say exactly what she was scheming. Most either enjoyed it or suffered it. What was clear was it was a radical purging. Exterminate Christians and beggars and recreate Bohemia as she saw fit.

Alas, that extermination included certain influential individuals who stood opposed to her schemes. While there were many, the prime two were her own mother-in-law and her own son, Wenceslas.

Dragomira, adorned with more jewelry and glamor than when Vratislav lived, strode proudly out from the castle toward the stables under the morning light shining through the blanket of clouds. Flanking her, like pups wanting a treat, walked Tunna and Gommon.

“You left no trace? None could know who lit the blaze?” Dragomira asked.

“Burned asunder,” Tunna replied.

“With the Duke trapped inside?”

“We cannot be quite sure of the boy’s fate,” Gommon added.

“Cannot be sure?”

“The crone breathes no more, Highness. That I do assure you of.”

“Killed by me bare hands,” Tunna added, rather pleased to brag about his work.

“Yet there is a chance he escaped?” Dragomira pressed.

“He hid like a worm,” Gommon explained. “His grandmother refused to inform us of his whereabouts, but we are mostly certain by her account that he hid within the premises.”

“And if you are incorrect? If he should show his face alive?”

“I say he died in the fire and an impostor goes about under pretense to commandeer his inheritance,” Gommon told her, trying to pose a scheme.

She thought with pleasure. “Clever, Gommon. His own soldiers will ensure his demise even if he were to resurface. Either that or he shall crawl back to me and beg for mercy for his betrayal. Should this impostor seek to garner noble support, they will turn him over or kill him. At present time, alas, both are splendid outcomes.” She stopped at her horse to pet it, but halted and sniffed the air, portending a repulsed expression. “Oh, what odious stench!”

She spied a stable girl, one belonging to the family hired to replace Horst’s, mucking the stalls, with Milana—Wenceslas’s grown black steed—tied outside.

“You, filthy mongrel girl,” Dragomira called out to her. “Why do I smell horse dung?”

“Beggin’ pardon, Majesty, yet that is what stables smell like.”

The grand Duchess walked over toward the lowly servant bearing a casual, even pleasant expression, and then struck her with a horse whip. “I warned you once. I want my stables to smell of lilacs! Should I hear a sassy reply like that from you ever again you will beg for the same single lashing. Understood?”

“Aye, Majesty,” she replied like a mouse before slinking off, hiding her sobs.

Dragomira strutted back to her horse as if nothing happened. Even ruthless Tunna and Gommon trembled in her wake. She continued, uninterrupted by the brief interlude. “Mother-in-law strangled and the Duke... Alas for my son, yet hopes are not spent.” She glanced back to her Prague castle, thinking of her growing Boleslav. “Reward yourselves. That girl—I didn’t strike her face.”

She gave an approving smirk to Tunna, knowing him to be the type of swine happy to have his way with one so young and fair. “A hundred gratitudes, Highness,” he replied before sauntering into the stable, licking his lips.

To Gommon, she turned and asked, “And you? How might I reward your fealty and obedience?”

He glanced over to Milana. Such a magnificent, black beauty any man would covet. He felt that his rank and prestige was rising and so should his stature upon a mount of magnificence. “I fancy that sable steed, my lady” he replied.

Dragomira approved and said, “Very well. I understand her owner recently passed.”

She had taken his throne, why not give away the parting gift Wenceslas was given by his father? If Wenceslas never hurried, there would be no Bohemia left for him to save from her cruel hand.


The fires never touched any structure in the outer courtyard, such as the Groundskeeper’s quarters (which had typically been rather packed since Wenceslas brought this rabble to live at the castle) and the stable. These were the dwellings for the mothers and young children as the able-bodied folks took care of important affairs, such as burying Ludmila and her servant. As for the keep, there was little to salvage or save from the blackened ash and debris remnants of the fallen castle. Few items were even recognizable anymore; others bore some distant resemblance to a happy home of yore never to be seen again. What still stood seemed as though a painter made a brush of charcoal and colored everything black and gray.

As the sun passed overhead, a fear struck us who didn’t want another sleepless night crammed together upon the hay beside goats and sheep; there was no place to stay anymore. Wenceslas let us rest through the early morning hours, but he kept his distance. Now, in the afternoon, he crouched over the freshly dug grave, squeezing dirt through his fingers, breaking it up with white knuckles, sprinkling the bits down upon his grandmother’s final resting place. Having done this, he stood and remained silently motionless for at least an hour.

Yards away, myself along with Streiter and the others, bundled together as fresh snow started to fall upon our weary bodies. The uncomfortable night before was at least warmed by the massive fire burning Tetin Castle. Such warmth carried through the courtyard and made a post-blizzard night tolerable. There was no such bonfire this night unless we labored to start one. If we didn’t, we’d meet death by way of freezing.

Wenceslas was our captain, so we waited on his direction. Though many in our company were more than twice, or thrice his age, he was in charge. We stared at him—a solid statue before the grave.

“He still keeps vigil,” I noted, breaking the silence. “I know well the burden he bears. Lost me mum, pop, grandpop, and me dog.”

“Must you talk so much?” Streiter asked.

“Leave me be. I’m nervous!” I defended. He was devout to God and devoted to Wenceslas, but Streiter was a brash boor with me.

Wenceslas, out of earshot, stood brooding. I think it was his downcast spirit that formed a welcoming environment for the Dragomira demon to step up beside him. “Such a failure. You betrayed your mother, a being of might and power. I am death to all who get caught in the howling winds beneath my wings. She was caught in the draft.”

“I should have been there for you,” he spoke to the grave, ignoring the wretched temptress beside him. “I ought to have been there as you always have been for me.”

“She died in her weakness.”

“She lived in her goodness,” he rebutted.

“What do you know of goodness?” Dragomira whispered as she stepped back, dissolving away. She must have vanished from his vision the moment I arrived.

“Whenever you’re ready…” I urged without sounding too pushy.

“I have tarried too long here,” he spoke aloud. “I have hid here in safety, the security of Tetin, ignoring my duties in Prague. I was naive in thinking one day Boleslav would come to me. I was abiding, hoping time would slow, enduring serene days before my time on the throne of Bohemia. I never wanted to go there, never wanted the throne for it must be such a burden for one who truly wishes to use the power for good. I am sorry, Cabbage. You are on your own.”

After words that felt like a heavy punch in my gut, he moved to walk away. I couldn’t let him leave. “Where will you go?”

“Prague. If my mother is capable of such atrocity, I dare not imagine what poison she has wrought upon…” his words trailed off, but I knew he worried for the heart of his brother.

“You gotta take care,” I told him, worried for him. “If she’d slay your grandmum, would she hesitate with you? Mayhaps her men burnt the castle hopin’ to catch you in the blaze!”

“If she thinks me dead, others might as well. I must depart before she does damage to my land not easily mended.”

“You go alone, yet it may cost your life. We’re—well—we’re lost without you.”

“Do not worry about me.”

With a nervous chuckle, I replied, “Kinda me I’m worried ’bout.”

Wenceslas trudged away from the grave, leaving me to think he really was going to abandon us. But he called back, now with some lightness in his tone, “Come along. I shall find you shelter on my way to the capital. I will not leave you like sheep without a shepherd.”


As the wind howled, blowing the snow into stinging needles of ice, Wenceslas, wearing a heavy hood, lead his entourage to the front door of the nearest Abbey. As of this point in time, Dragomira’s purge hadn’t quite reached Tetin, seeing how as of a day before it was the Regent Ludmila’s territory. With this Abbey en route from Tetin to Prague, it was touched by her reach, yet not overcome by her. Does that mean we came upon devout, pious followers of Christ? We could only hope, yet it wasn’t to be found. Indeed, such individuals did exist still in Bohemia, but with the land torn between two rulers of such opposing religious views, the religion itself suffered, and with it the good works of public service. Without any negative expectation, Wenceslas went to the door ready to expect the type of kindness Jesus taught of. He rapped heavily upon the front door of the dark, half-dilapidated church.

A wooden slider opened the slot, revealing Krystof the priest, who spied the strangers outside the door with vexed suspicion. “Aye? State your business.”

“I seek your shelter for homeless,” Wenceslas told him.

“Don’t got one no more. You all have no place to weather this storm?” he asked, showing a modicum of concern for our plight.

“Wouldn’t be here if we did,” I said, unable to help myself for being tired of the cold dampness permeating my whole being.

Wenceslas subtly stifled his cheeky companion and I got the hint. “The shelter looks deserted.”

“Desecrated more like,” he replied resentfully. “Her Regency shut her down. Likely the Abbey’s to go next.”

“Alas for those served by such a parish. Where would they find alms?”

“Alms are found whence can be spared by the likes of those who still attend our congregation. Not much to praise about, yet there are some.” He sighed, looking at our rabble, and said, “You can join inside. We’ve got a mass goin’, take the back pews, find shelter from the winter for now.” Krystof opened the creaking door, making way for our troupe.

Once inside, we felt a noticeable difference from the cold outside and all started rubbing warmth into limbs. It didn’t take a keen eye to see that the affluent, austere members crowding the front made grimacing expressions to the grimy, noisy lot in the back.

Krystof came up close and quietly to Wenceslas to say, “You’ll find the back suitable. Only the rich seem to rule the front seats.” He marched away before he could entertain any protests of class divisions in the house of God. Wenceslas could instantly think of a handful of verses written by Apostle Paul of Tarsus that taught otherwise, but thinking much on his studies reminded him of his mentor and again he grieved for Lady Ludmila.

An aged cleric stood at a dais, droning on and on in Latin, too transfixed on his liturgical recitations to watch over the rich taking communion. I didn’t know Latin. I’m sure Wenceslas did, and I’d be surprised if anyone else in our company understood a word of it.

A hefty, bald Lord in regal attire with a pointed goatee, swayed about, holding a goblet of wine. “I say, Cleric, at least make it rhyme,” he said with a drunken slur. “A little poetry bringses class and sophistication to the dismal... dismal... house.”

Noticing his goblet of wine, I saw they had laid out a table with the Lord’s Supper upon it and my cold, hungry body couldn’t hold back. “Ahh, eucharist. Nothing’ll reset my bones like some body and blood,” I said before leading the procession up to a line of the rich parishioners hoarding the communion table. I reached toward the table when the drunken Lord slapped my hand aside.

“You’ll be losing your hand should you reach any further,” he told me.

“This not a house of God?” I asked, shaken. Maybe I was out of touch with the ways of church, seeing how Ludmila oft brought in priests to perform a mass within the castle. It was different in her parish; all were equals.

“A house of order,” the bald, pointy goateed Lord rebutted. “And order ascertains higher echelons partake first.”

Alzbeta, a nun who just brought out another skin of wine and platter of bread pouted to me. She had come to Tetin on a number of occasions, and while we weren’t close, we did recognize each other. “There’ll be some left when the nobles had their go,” she told me, sympathetically.

Streiter and I glared at the rich who laughed and swayed about. The aged cleric seemed dead to the world. The lords and ladies ruled this church, and there was nothing we could do but wait like dogs for scraps. Our group began to move away when the Lord spied lovely Tilda.

“Now, lass, I’d happily allow a lovely maiden to have a go,” he told her as he pulled her toward him. She didn’t like it, but also had no idea how to respond. He guided Tilda along toward the table, pressing a firm hand to her rump.

“Please remove your hand,” she told him, embarrassed and unsure how to deal with the situation.

He responded by pulling her in tighter, liking the cat and mouse game. “What’s the matter, missey? Be calm.” Then he moved his hands around her all the more until Wenceslas grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm into such a position where the noble became fully at his mercy.

“Tilda said to remove your hand,” he said with indignant fire in his eyes.

“Now you’ll remove yours!” he replied, pulling back, puffing himself up through flared nostrils. The drunken nobles rallied around their pinned comrade. Wenceslas relinquished his grip by choice, but stood his ground. “Have you any idea whom you’ve grappled? I am Domeczek, Lord of—”

“I care little of your pretentious title,” Wenceslas audaciously interrupted. “The one title I’d prefer call you is brother, as in brother in our spiritual fealties. Yet that is not the caliber of folk I have found hither. What a nauseating sight. I have been here for but few minutes and already sat quiet for far too long.”

The noble horde began shouting, but their ringleader, Domeczek, spoke highest above them. “Spoken too long, aye. You lay no claim over this house of order.”

Wenceslas noticed all eyes on him. Even the cleric glared. “Is not the church to be a pocket of Heaven on earth? You hoard the eucharist as if you bought it.”

“I’ll—I’ll have you know,” Domeczek said, fighting his alcohol-laden face from sinking him to the floor. “If not for my tithes, this place wouldn’t be standing.”

“If not for your apathy, the shelter would still be standing. We have travelled far for a shelter, knowing there once stood one here. I find it a wreck for the wreck of drunken nobility merrymaking in the halls, crowding the supper till there’s not but scraps for those who should find refuge and sanctuary here.”

“That was the Regent’s doing,” another noble announced. “Don’t go blaming us for the collapse of a religion within our land. She’s the one snuffing out our candle.”

“Oh aye. She’s the villain here,” Wenceslas conceded. “And surely you all are innocent bystanders.”

“You impugn our good character,” Domezcek said. Wenceslas continued.

“We could focus on the evil and atrocities in the world at hand and be lost in a deluge of darkness. Or we can fix our hearts on what can be done for the good. Fix them not on all the bad you behold! Set them on what you can do that’s good, compassionate, merciful, kind, and loving. Should we do this, we’d see the world changed, the darkness absorbed by the light, overwhelmed by the good. That’s when we will see Heaven enter earth by way of the church. The church only works if it exists for others!”

“Or to solve problems,” I added, feeling the tremendous surge of inspiration as my master did.

“And we’ve a hell of a lot of problems in Bohemia, have we not? We can sit there and count them till we suffocate. Or we could undo them, even through little acts of plain, simple goodness.”

The gathering stirred, riveted with this new orator. Even numbers of the noble ranks who stood opposed to this newcomer nodded in agreement. This was likely the best sermon they’d ever heard in their lives, maybe even the only one not in monotonous Latin.

“Who the devil do you think you are to act so impudent?” Domeczek asked.

“I am…” he paused to consider if revealing his identity was for the best, then proceeded. “I am Wenceslas.”

“Heir of Přemysl!”

“The Duke? Heard he’s dead!”

“Died in a fire!”

Wenceslas finally removed his hood and proudly announced, “I am very much alive.”

A din of astonishment arose in the sanctuary until Domeczek seemed posed to preserve the favor of his colleagues. “And very much inept!”

“I’d not see blood shed in here, but gladly defend my honor if you’d be man enough to meet me outside.” Wenceslas said right when he pounded a goblet of red wine down his throat and slammed it upon the table.

“Very verily…” Domeczek said, pointing toward the door, stumbling toward it. Tripping over his feet, the large noble ate the floor that night. First there was a hush, then a raucous laugh.

“Would any of you be kind enough to show me where he dwells? I think I found me and my people a place to stay the night.”


To the northwest of Prague, settlers of Bohemia found a salt spring. Over time, it became an outpost for trade until a rich man decided to bathe in the saltwater hot springs and found them vitally refreshing and cleansing and so established his manor there at the base of a hill. The Czech word for salty is slany, and so Slany Hill became the name of the butte and upon its dale now stood the village of Slany just within the protection of the descendant of the rich enthusiast of the salt spring. How fitting that saltiness would define the town and hill where Domeczek was Lord.

His reluctant page escorted us to his keep and helped his master to his bedchamber to sleep off the excess wine while we made ourselves at home. We could hardly call it home for it lacked the warm charm of Tetin. Maybe it didn’t. I do not know. It had elegant tapestries over the windows, a hot hearth, well-crafted brickwork, and a number of relics that would belong to a pious man of faith. Alas, the master of this house was nothing like the mistress of Tetin. Lady Ludmila was why we felt ever so much at home there. Here, well, I was unsure how long Domeczek would abide our presence. I was ready to leave at a moment’s notice and felt it prudent to prepare breakfast and consume it sooner than later.

The groggy, horrendously hung-over Domeczek finally rose in his bed, half bathed in the near-noon light. Blinking and moving his eyes around, he quickly knew he was in his chamber, however he had no idea how he got there. Sitting up, he felt as though a blacksmith had used his head for an anvil all night. His stomach writhed and lurched while his chest felt as hollow as a pumpkin. The moment he emerged from his quarters, eager to find some pleasantries to abate his hangover, he stopped suddenly at the sight of a half-naked, one-armed, one-legged man. Was he still in a drunken stupor or during his inebriation had he found some hallucinogenic mushrooms? He had no idea. All he saw was Gregor who said, “Ooo mowiee,” to mean good morning without a tongue. He followed this by shoving a piece of bread into his mouth and then hobbled upon his crutch down the hall, leaving the master of the house at a loss as to his surrounding situation.

Not long after did he make his way into the kitchen to find Wenceslas, myself, and Streiter eating bread and eggs.

“Ah, there he is!” Wenceslas greeted. I could tell by Domeczek’s instant wincing response that any loud voice would inflict crushing pain to his skull.

The mischievous one in me seeking a bit more retribution for his unsavory ways with Tilda the night before spurred me to shout an octave louder, “Good mornin’, my Lord!” Indeed, he grabbed his head once more to massage the throb from his temples.

“You all—I met you last night,” he said.

“You can call it that,” Wenceslas replied.

“I recollect little. Though I recall I was a bit of a boorish mule.”

“Beggin’ pardon,” I chimed in, “but to say that would be puttin’ it too nicely.”

The three of us chortled, only exacerbating Domeczek’s pain. “I would rather claim no identity with the crude fellow you beheld last evening. It was as though another version of myself crawled out from the catacombs of my heart and commanded me as a puppet.”

“I am rather pleased to hear that,” Wenceslas said. “Strange for me to offer the master of his keep a welcome seat, but some victuals may reset your marrow.”

As Domeczek joined us for breakfast, I gained a new perspective on his character. He was still a bit salty, a refined, austere individual, but he had a genuine kindness filled with good motives for the world around him. He explained to us that he hit some low ebb of depression for the state of his religion as more and more Dragomira abolished it. Many of his cohorts who once stood opposed to her tearing apart the churches and stripping pastors and priests of their possessions were now siding with her out of fear. He fled to the church for guidance, but after a goblet of wine too many, his demons found a foothold and out came a bitter, angry snob. Being a prominent Lord in the region, the other members of nobility present only followed his lead.

Domeczek and Wenceslas shared a stroll amongst the many laborers of Slany Manor. He figured fresh air would clear his head a bit more and for once the winter weather took a respite and the sun broke through the clouds. Streiter and I walked closely behind, both surveying our surroundings and attending the conversation of the two leaders before us.

“Christendom; it’s dying in Bohemia,” Domeczek lamented. “Dragomira sees to it. Not that drowning my lament in wine shall solve this dismal situation. Her Regency has not made all her plot plain, though one by one she lures further lords to her side. They seem glad to join when they see such monetary rewards. Not just monetary—many a tale of her debauched orgies have my ears heard.”

“This cannot go on longer. She’s only Regent in my minority. Knowing these days are numbered, it is why she had me killed.”

“Those rumors spread far and wide faster than the rivers flow. By public opinion, you are deceased.”

“Givin’ us some advantage, eh?” I asked.

“None,” he replied bluntly. I thought I had a good idea, but he clearly saw little potential in it. “She has issued warrants for the capture of your impostor. In the few days since your so-called demise, she has already spread a further rumor that a young fellow of similar visage tries to claim your identity for the sake of commandeering the throne.”

“Impostor?” I asked. “What kinda gambit she playin’?”

“So when I say who I am, people will seek the bounty instead of believing who I am. If those who assaulted Tetin were not fully sure if I died in the fire, this imposter ruse will make it harder for me to surface. In a state of economic depression, the promise of money can motivate a man like no other.” He paused. I thought that didn’t sound quite like him and I think he didn’t agree with what he said. “Nay, hope motivates men even more. Stirring hope in their hearts will spur the reform we seek. I shall have to prove myself to them.”

“Forgive my pessimism, yet it may be too late to accomplish anything,” Domeczek spoke. “What Her Regency has done to weaken our lands has only opened many a door for our enemy as they pillage our people. More and more, citizens cling to Dragomira for leadership, and yet she cares not, she does naught. You face the enemies of ruffians who would seek to claim a bounty on your head, the raiding Magyars who press further into our borders, nobility seeking to gain all they can from the Regent’s schemes, and Dragomira herself. You, Wenceslas, have the support of a handful of wayward peasants.”

“Any you?” Wenceslas asked with those sincere eyes that warrant trust from any beholder. Domeczek paused. “Have I the support of Domeczek, Lord of Slany Hill?”

“Verily, sir. You do.” There was no doubt in our hearts that he was earnest.

“If I can have yours, then I can have the support of others,” Wenceslas said. I could tell there was a kingly being shining through his young, ragged exterior. He truly was shedding the adolescence and fear of political responsibility to become the man he was destined to be. I hoped he’d continue this trek without crossing the darkness that would overshadow him at moments such as these.


“I have seen a fungus grow and fester in these lands for three generations,” Dragomira said with a demeanor of controlled fire. “It will be stopped and this land cleansed of the outbreak infection.”

Cold morning light broke into kaleidoscopic colors through a stained-glass window of the royal, embellished room. On the most elegant, ornate, oak throne, Dragomira sat at the table surrounded by her bejeweled, well-fed nobles, magistrates, counselors, and commanders for a meeting to discuss the affairs of state. Mareczek—now brandishing a gruesome facial scar from his battles—Meinrad, Gommon, Tunna, Orel, and Hnevsa, a bearded, scowling, rich man with a long face and drooping nose sat closest to the Regent out of some show of loyalty by proximity. Radslav, visibly older than before, now a much more stern brute, maybe even appearing more fearsome than even Mareczek, attended the conference in a seat that displayed a sense of neutrality to the controversial topic at hand. His darker tone belied his Bohemian nationality, for he had some Hungarian in his blood, though was Duke of Kourim, which laid upon the western edge of the central region of Bohemia. He and his family had always been loyal to the Přemyslid throne, and few even knew of the Magyar heritage he owned. All these powerful rulers sat around the table along with Domeczek who now felt more like a spy on behalf of Wenceslas than simply an inept Lord unable to sway the opinion of his peers. Stroking his goatee, clandestinely he slid his crucifix hanging around his neck into his tunic.

Dragomira glanced to the side and caught sight of her younger son, now ten, peering into the meeting hall of Prague Castle. She placed all her lost hopes for her firstborn in Boleslav now. She waved her cherished son over to her. “Come, my darling. Learn the family business.”

Boleslav approached silently and sat upon a small chair nestled beside his mother. The nobles glanced distaste for a child at their hearing, though none had the stones to challenge Dragomira and kept perfectly silent.

“Great Moravia’s fall came at the wake of an estranged religion that breeds weakness and dissention,” Dragomira continued. “This has been my public platform since my assumption of the throne of Bohemia as Regent. We figured the minority of my firstborn was at a soon end, and thus my rule. With his death, I now have another eight years as Regent and shall henceforth enact my full vision for our realm. Bohemia must return to its roots to become the nation it was meant to be.”

“You have cancelled tribute to King Henry the Fowler,” elderly Meinrad spoke up. He wasn’t allowed a seat close to Dragomira because he had stood as a staunch supporter of Ludmila until her demise. Now he had but one Regent to report to and didn’t see eye to eye with her in most respects. “You irresponsibly forge enemies on both sides of our land.”

“Henry the Fowler has no claim over us,” Radslav noted, proudly proclaiming his support to the Regent’s rebellion against a governance previous Bohemian leadership had pledged loyalty to. “We are not his subjects. Aye, with the fall of Moravia, Germania offered us protection, for which we have paid. Should we not need his support, we should not be forced to pay for what we need not. We are sovereign.”

Henry the Fowler was fixing fowling nets when report came to him that he was to be crowned king—thusly he was given the epithet Fowler. Henry was a man of the wild, and of the people, as well as a devout man of faith. When Moravia crumbled, he honored the Přemyslid rulers of Bohemia, Borivoj and Ludmila, because they shared the same faith. If Dragomira expunged Christ out of Bohemia and stopped paying a tribute, she ensured enmity with the king.

“A sovereign land has secure borders! We incur the wrath of the Fowler whilst we cannot repel the Magyars,” Meinrad continued. “All the while our very own citizenry suffers under your religious reform and regulations.”

She frowned, thoroughly exhausted of having her will questioned by any. “When one has an infestation of rodents, do you not simply light a fire and smoke them away?” This line brought a smirk to her lips.

“These ‘rodents’ you speak of are Bohemian citizens, Highness,” Orel noted, trying his best to keep respectful to the mistress, but making his objections clear. “You propose their exile, imprisonment, and execution! You propose—”

“It’s hardly proposing what’s already been happening,” Maraczek said with a raspy growl in his voice. “She wishes to kindle the fire further, and it is our honor to comply.” Dragomira loved having her ego fanned.

“These are our own people!” Orel continued.

“Then should they not behave accordingly? Why should the nobility and government be forced to share our tax income with priests? Wherefore does clergy have a stake in what has been rightfully ours? Hence the dissention this foul religion fosters.”

“If we are not Bohemia for the people that make Bohemia, then what are we?” Meinrad added.

“You cannot kill off your population!” Orel continued.

“The last noble who impudently determined what this throne cannot do fell from a tall spire,” Dragomira said, spewing venom in her charming way.

“You threaten me?” Orel questioned indignantly. “You admit to a hand in such treachery?”

“Treachery? I rule here!”

“Only during the minority of your son; you are but Regent.”

“I will be queen!” she shouted like an erupting volcano. She had sights on an even loftier title and throne and was more than willing to do any and all it took to reach it. Insolence to her directives would not be tolerated. Boleslav gleamed with pride at his mother who few dared to question. She was the most powerful person in his world and he aspired to such greatness.

“All gave pause, daring not to utter a word. She had her dogs well leashed,” Domeczek told us at his manor that evening. He returned from Prague forlorn and downcast and went right for the wine before Wenceslas had the good sense to stop him.

“Sir, you forget yourself,” he told Domeczek.

“Am I not master of my own household anymore?”

“Aye, no question. You have been a gracious host and answer to none in your own house.”

“Then stand out of my path!”

“Please, let us talk through the council’s meeting and form our stratagem. Hope is not lost; I am sure of it! You may drown your fears with the fruit of the vine after should you find no prospects in our plans. Surely you found others who would side with us?”

He agreed to Wenceslas’s wisdom and we retired to the hall and stood close to the warm hearth.

“Tell me, Domeczek, what has vexed you so?” Wenceslas asked.

“Her corruption. Men I have thought to be good have grasped hold of a different level of what they would call good. Men I trusted to be upright behave more as those I consider questionable in their moral standards and set a different standard to live by, one that I would see bringing Bohemia to burn.”

“They are unaware of this corruption?”

“Surely not, at least, not at first. But if they redefine what they think is good and live accordingly, then they have twisted. Should Dragomira twist them further, they may break.”


“Either their own ruin or loss of self-control, simply existing as her puppets. They already are her puppets, but I mean thorough sycophants, worshipping her as a goddess, a bringer of light.”

“I fail to see how anyone could see that. She brings darkness, truly. They must know of her evil.”

“As I said, at first, most assuredly. Some still, even. But once you’ve considered a thing good, which you once thought wrong, then this darkness is perceived as light. She has shed light on a new morality through her practices and preaching, like an angel bringing some adulterated light of wisdom. They think by joining her in her detestable practices they please her, then they enjoy it, then they accept it as though they transcended us feeble ones who cling to an inadequate ethic.”

“Yet, they abuse and torture, even murder those who do not side with her. Paint their flesh inside and out in the blood of human and animal sacrifices. They press burning hot brands upon children. Children!” Wenceslas shouted as though he were arguing with his mother herself.

“You know of only some of their rituals unless you are privy to them all by some means unknown to me.”

“She has practiced her abhorrent rituals upon me. She has left her mark on me for likely the rest of my days. She will do the same to Boleslav lest I stop her first.”

“Know ye of her orgies?”

“Little to nothing of them. Tell me that have not garnered popularity with those who walk upright.”

“Oh yes. Most certainly, she has brought more and more nobles, captains, lords and ladies, foreign and domestic, into these events. I only know of them by report from trusted colleagues. Those she may not have fully corrupted, who only attend to remain in her good graces.”

“Good graces, please. To refer to such iniquity with such a term.”

“They shame and soil their souls to remain alive and prospering under her rule. That is how it starts before she twists their views.”

“To see that which is clearly wrong as good? Good is good, damn it! Nothing changes that!” Wenceslas seemed to have been cornered and forced to defend an axiom he had trusted his entire life. Never had he been challenged on what was truly good.

“Amongst mortal man with no fellowship of the Holy Spirit, no love of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and no submission to the discipleship of Christ, a definition change of good can happen on a whim, albeit a charismatic whim driven by emotion. The emotion of happiness is rather strong, and so is the drive for acceptance and affirmation. Truly, it starts with them as the will to survive, the strongest urge within any living creature. From there, they seek happiness, and happiness is intrinsically good. If one is happy in a lifestyle not fitting with our current ethics, maybe shun those ethics and remain happy, and therefore good.

“She has washed the minds of those closest to her and continues to do so with others even now,” Domeczek continued with a sigh of lament. “Our cultural ethos has adopted the Judeo-Christian ideal of ethics and morality, like a code imprinted upon our psyches as we have been raised with such indoctrination. While we bend or break it at times, we never really transcend it. The night we met—a night of my everlasting shame—I had broken that code. Alas, I was very much cognizant of my actions like an ethereal observer, and yet I gave some form of consent to my inebriated corpse to run amok for the night, justifying it with my grief. Then I would repent the next day and every day since, especially every time I set eyes upon our young lass, Tilda. Such awareness and conviction I hold because the code is steadfastly engraved upon my heart and mind.

“Dragomira, on the other hand, was raised outside that code. Sure, as she introduces an alternative set of ethics, primarily those pertaining to sexuality, we balk. Even those who most regularly, even vehemently, bend or break the Judeo-Christian ethics of intercourse see such wanton orgies, public displays of sex, they, of course, cannot cope with it. It takes the very foundation out from under them. But out of fear, in this case, they embark. Some may embark driven by curiosity. With continued affirmation from someone they revere, such as the Regent, that this deed—one their very psyche knows to be wrong—is good, they start to let themselves enjoy it. Once they find happiness in the deed then the paradigm has shifted, for we equate happiness with goodness. At a subconscious level, once the evil thing has given them happiness, affirmed by a force of power, this act is now good. The feelings of guilt and shame are not good, so they are ignored or painted over by the approval of others. It makes it very difficult to reach those lost in this kind of fog, a fog of dubious goodness.”

“How does one define good, then?”

“I am not sure I am apt for the defining. Maybe we look to natural law and order?”

“I have thought that, but quickly reject the notion. Animals do not practice monogamy.”

“Maybe some do,” Domeczek countered, with a smirk at the anthropomorphic thought.

“Maybe. But if the animal world does not, then we can conclude that it’s not necessary for mankind, right? I disagree. Animals, some, eat their young. Some eat fecal matter. Males fight to bloody death over a harem of females.”

“Heh. Do not some men perform likewise?”

“Aye, and yet at heart we can agree that bloodshed and even murder over a mate is not good. Same with the consumption of one’s progeny. What an odorous notion! Surely the uncivilized know that to be immoral.”

“Indeed. Then how do we define good?” Domeczek pondered, stroking his goatee.

“God. Let him be our scope.”

“Granted and I would agree. And yet, do we not find that scope cloudy at times?”

“How so?”

“Well, take when Peter is given an angelic vision to eat unkosher animals. What was once bad was now pronounced good.”

“Fair enough, and I think there’s more to be said on that matter. If only my grandmother were here. What she would say? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know she’d say something; something that sets this matter straight. Goodness? Well, God may have made a new covenant, also that word may have been for gentiles. Either way, from cover to cover, the Bible makes clear a number of issues of morality.”

“Such as lying?”


“Hmm…” Domeczek hummed, still stroking his pointy beard. “I recall the midwives of Egypt told by Pharaoh to murder male Israelite babies. They failed to obey and when questioned, they lied. They said the babies were born before they could arrive and such. Either way, God was pleased with them. Surely he was pleased that they had protected the baby boys of his chosen people, but their means of lying, well, did it justify the end? Was lying, in this case, good?”

“I...I know not.” Wenceslas’s head had sunken, hung low. It was like the light didn’t reflect off him as much as a moment before, overcasting him in gray.

Amidst our conversation, I didn’t know that Dragomira’s foul spirit filled the air. I did notice Wenceslas stand up and walk over to the hearth and stare at the dancing flames, but I had no idea why at the time. His cloud of depression had stormed in and settled over him.

“You will never overpower the might of the Regent,” Dragomira told him. “Go before her, bow down, worship her god, and pledge fealty unto them both. She may, out of respect for the first tenant of her womb grant clemency. All your friend speaks is true, and there’s more truth than that. I redefine order, and you may be a member of this as your brother is.”

Wenceslas trembled and shook his head. Domeczek watched this with Streiter and I to his sides. “Not all nobility attends her drunken orgy rituals. And to achieve anything, he needs noble support. We may be able to coerce some to our cause. But will they follow a young man vexed with self-doubt? He has strong convictions and positive intentions, and yet, I cannot think him ready to rule.”

“Pardon, m’Lord, but you know not the weight upon his shoulders. He faces a mother that murdered his grandmother and has wrought great harm to him. He is ready to rule, though he thinks not of himself. He is ready to save his brother. Nothing’ll stop that.”

“I will face my mother,” Wenceslas said. “She will give me my birthright.”

Domeczek nodded, pleased to see the young man’s resolve. “I will stand by your side when you do. The favor of the nobility we must garner. Let me see who I can gather together.”

“It’ll not be in vain lest he be eighteen?” I asked.

“That day draws nigh,” Wenceslas said.

“And we dare not dally,” Domeczek said with gravity. “Young sir, you spoke some heavy truths in the cathedral to me. While many escape me in a cloud of wine, I do recall a sense of esteem for you greater than any. Will the character of mankind you spoke of be the man we work to install upon our throne?”

“With my every breath, that is my greatest hope.”

“Speak it. I find the greatest success in my life and the lives of my cohorts have been of those who speak their future into being. Do I claim them all prophets? Nay. Yet, my belief lay in the maxim that what we speak, we believe. What we believe, we act upon. What we act upon becomes our transformed reality into that which we spoke.”

“I believe in a man I am unsure I can ever be. I believe in a Bohemia I know not will come to pass.”

“It is that wavering that will never rally support of your cause,” Domeczek said gravely. Wenceslas nodded. He wrestled two people: the man he felt called to become and the torment of his mother still crippling him from within. She continued to saw away at his resolve so his structure could never stand as tall as it should.

“Master,” I spoke up. “If you don’t mind me sayin’ this, but you are the kindest, courageous man I’ve ever known. I know little as to why you doubt yourself. But whatever you set your heart to become, you’ll be he!”

“Thank you, Cabbage,” he said, breathed deeply, then looked at Domeczek. “I will be the champion Bohemia needs. I will take the throne, and as Duke, will restore the livelihood of our people and undo that which my mother has wrought.”

“Very well then. We garner your allies. It may not be easy to rally them together, but once they know you live and are determined to right her wrongs, they ought to oppose her and frustrate her efforts for the last few months till the end of your minority. Then we must begin as soon as possible.”

“When do I meet them?” Wenceslas asked.


Waiting for a day when Domeczek could coordinate the meeting of trusted lords took many days. Biding time about Slany Manor made Wenceslas restless. He was more than content to stay in Tetin in the company of his grandmother, but now that he was forced from home, he faced the bitter cruelty of the nation he was to lead. Simply waiting about, even though busying himself with reading and helping the servants with their chores, was more torturous to him than facing the wounds of war against the wrongs done in Bohemia.

For that reason, when he stepped outside to collect firewood in the early morning, he noticed a black plume of smoke rising to the south, looking like the curved, puffy tail of a squirrel standing upright. Turning to pack up to ride toward the epicenter, he found Domeczek.

“Glad tidings!” he said with as much zeal as the stoic Lord could portray. “This afternoon, I have a meeting with a handful of lords whom I believe will support your plight.”

“Splendid. Must I attend?”

“I think it would be imperative to display the authentic Wenceslas before their eyes lest they have cause to think me a liar or madman seeing ghosts.”

“I see a fire to the south. Fears me a raid by Magyar hands. I must go and see to it,” he told him as he went to fetch his warmer cloak, scabbard and sword, and mount one of Domeczek’s mares. Streiter was working in the stable when Wenceslas came in and I just so happened to be heading outside to inquire if he needed my services for the day—that’s what I would have told him if he asked anyway.

“That raid may be leagues away. I cannot allow you to go and take the chance of being absent from this meeting!”

“Go, I must. Streiter, gear up. Cabbage, fetch any essentials and mount up. Domeczek, my friend, I will do all I can to return in time. Yet the very deeds I seek to do with the throne I can do right now. I have abided whilst you prepared this meeting, doing nothing to serve my country. A message must be made to these raiders for once and it is my place to do it.”

“Very well. Godspeed. And remember, keep your identity secret. We must be careful as to when we should publicly unveil that you live. Let not any of the Regent’s forces find you, for it may wreak havoc upon our plans.”

“Understood,” Wenceslas said, now mounted and flanked by Streiter and me. He wheeled his steed around and charged southbound and on to the town of Kladno. There we found hellfire judgment: houses, shops, and markets burning. Dark clad Magyar raiders, riding armored horses, drove through the burning town, swinging barbed maces and swords fighting and slaying any men brave enough to defend their property.

Townsfolk scurried in utter dread, others fell slain. Mothers tucked their children close behind crumbled walls, behind barrels and crates. Where the raiders were not, townsfolk worked to put out the fires consuming their homes and shops. A Magyar raider loaded a horse with plunder while his cohorts guarded him from the angry Bohemians. A ragged Bohemian man charged with a pitchfork but found himself swiftly cut down by the raiders.

“Papa!” screamed the sound of a fourteen-year-old girl who broke from her mother’s protective arms. She ran across the wet dirt and ash to the bloody lump that was her father, crying, screaming in anguish.

“The bitch has no father now,” a raider said in Hungarian.

“Better take care of her,” his filthy cohort added right before striking the girl and throwing her over his lap. The townsfolk rallied, ready to save her, but dared not advance further into the wall of Magyar blades. Seeing their work accomplished, the town asunder, their sacks laden with booty, and a young girl to satisfy their insidious pleasures, the dozen raiders pulled to the edge of the town, ready to drive off, leaving wanton destruction behind.

Let me tell you, they found their destruction not a mile out of town. Just after revolving about, setting their backs to the townsfolk, they charged down the road. As the dark riders drove on with their swag, an arrow from nowhere struck the first raider, the one holding the girl, right through the neck. He died before his corpse hit the ground.

The hand-bound lass, with tears streaming down her red cheeks, scrambled to her feet without thinking and scurried toward the trees and thickets. The only thought she could focus on was safety from the band that kidnapped her. The riders wheeled their horses about, trying to ascertain the origin of the arrow. Were they ambushed? No sign was present.

A handful of riders rode to get the girl when they found she had run to the company of Libyena, holding her proud bow strung and ready for another shot.

“If any of you rats would like a bolt through the throat to match, come,” she taunted confidently. “If you enjoy living, let us leave.”

As the girls backed away, the raiders called her bluff and drove in. Libyena shot one between the eyes, but couldn’t possibly draw and string another in time before being overrun. “Fly!” she told the girl who began the awkward sprint while her hands were bound in front of her. Trying to ready an arrow was futile for Libyena when the Magyar beast wrestled it from her and slammed a gloved fist through her cheek, throwing her to the frosty sward. Disoriented, she found the villain wrapping a coarse rope around her wrists while another grappled the younger girl. All she wanted was to make a stand. Hope was nowhere lest she make some for herself and for her countrymen. Being skilled with a bow, seeing the rising smoke, it made sense for her to do what she could to make a stand against the raiders. Now that she saw her security stripped from her, and surely her clothes would be next, her hopelessness crashed to the ebb of despair.

That’s about the time we arrived. Coming along the path and rounding the bend, we could see through the snow laden pine branches the distant flames of a burning town rising behind several savage foreigners who had no right to step foot upon our soil.

“Go!” Wenceslas told us and gained speed. Streiter kicked his horse into a gallop, leaving me shortly behind. I was a page, an armor bearer, a lowly servant. I was no warrior. So I left the gallantries to those made to wield a blade. When the raiders turned, they may have had a second to breathe in the shock of Wenceslas and Streiter colliding with them like a battering ram. Instantly, three raiders fell slain, heaps of bloody pulp. The fourth lost his arm and the girl from his lap.

I wasn’t entirely useless. I was a literal stone’s throw away with a reasonably strong arm and a sure aim. I chucked a rock right into the skull of the raider who labored to tie up Libyena. Wenceslas drove through, sword swinging, slicing flesh, hacking away at the assailants. Streiter came in just behind, both forming a whirlwind of carving blades while my pitched rocks were as hailstones pelting them from above. We gained an advantage in the fight, but being outnumbered left Wenceslas’s back vulnerable for a brief moment—all the moment needed for a Magyar to drive a scimitar.

“Behind you!” I called to warn my master. Just when it was surely too late, Wenceslas turned to find the Magyar frozen and then fall limp with a bolt in his back.

We all took a moment to see that Libyena had retrieved her bow and shot the arrow that saved Wenceslas’s life. The last Magyar fell back beside the bleeding, armless raider. Before the armed Magyar could even wish to put up a fight, two sword tips were placed at his throat.

“You have no place in Bohemia. Return to whence you came and let it be known that our land is free from the likes of bandits who pillage and rape. The only reason I do not slit your throat is so you can deliver this message.” The raider nodded, terrified. His cohort gradually turned pale from blood loss as he used his free hand to hold the end of his nub that was once an arm. Wenceslas chased them to a horse, forced them to share one, then used his sword to slap the horse’s rear and sent him off on a gallop, out of sight. “My message to the Magyar raiders is same for all Bohemia. This land is free! No longer shall we suffer a plague of destruction to cross our borders and harm our people!” he called out after them.

“It has not been free for the past six years,” Libyena said as Wenceslas marched over to the little girl, drew a dagger, and cut the ropes that bound her hands.

“Not anymore,” Wenceslas said, now offering a welcoming smile to the terrified girl, charming her to know he was a friend, that she was safe.

“Why’d you come, anyway?” she asked. I couldn’t figure why she nagged him so much. Wasn’t it clear he worked to fix things? Locked within her vault of a heart she truly loathed Dragomira, and seeing how my master came from her womb, I guess he merited her wrath as well.

“I could see the fires of Kladno from over a league away.”

“Hadn’t stopped you before,” she said. “Now you decide after years of our people’s suffering that you’d tread out to give meals and tackle a dozen Magyar raiders and all will be right? This is but catching one snowflake of an entire flurry.”

We had no idea how to react. “Yet all I am able to do is one flake at a time,” Wenceslas told her. Libyena took a Magyar mare, looking ready to make it her own.

“More needs be done,” she said. “I fear the signs of the times mean the flurry shall become a blizzard. One flake at a time shan’t be nigh enough.” She hopped upon the mare.

I, for one, was rather perturbed by her insolent attitude, insulting my master. “Fly, m’lady. Battle’s no place for a fair maiden,” I told her.

“Says the boy who threw stones,” Streiter jabbed at me.

“I haven’t a sword yet!” I defended; annoyed that he turned the attention upon me.

“Thanks for saving me,” she said. With that frosty thanks, she jockeyed off into the woods. Wenceslas was not sure what to make of her. She was beautiful, and her love for her land drew his admiration all the more. What could he do to prove his intentions were noble? If he couldn’t win her support, how could he acquire the nobility’s?

The structures smoldered. People bandaged the wounded; others mourned their dead. Many were too hysterical to even notice as we rode our horses into the town, leading the Magyar mounts behind us. The rescued girl sat nestled in front of Wenceslas upon his steed.

“Mama!” she hollered at sight of her. The townsfolk finally turned to see the girl and their plunder returned. The girl’s mother stood to see her daughter upon the horse. From the ground, she sprinted up to her, and let her daughter jump into her embrace.

“Oh, my darling. My darling!

Overwhelmed by emotion, she sobbed into her daughter’s hair. The girl’s grandfather rose and approached me, likely because he was too intimidated by the two warriors accompanying me, seeing me as less threatening. “Who is the man who returns my granddaughter?” he asked me, his eyes glistening.

“Why, that’s Duke Wenceslas,” I replied proudly.

“Cabbage!” Wenceslas spoke to me, reminding me that he was to keep his identity secret.

“Aye, right!” I didn’t know what to do.

Voices started to rise, many murmuring things like, “The imposter?” and, ”Could it really be?”

“You dare claim to be the Duke,” a wounded merchant shouted, limping forward from his damaged cart of wares. “Heard of the imposter have we! And of the reward on your head!” The rabble started drawing together, growing ever louder in a din of arguing. I defaulted to following Wenceslas’s lead, but he looked sternly unsure of how to best handle the situation. Finally, the grandfather stepped before us like our defender and advocate.

“Friends! Whether he is the blood-born heir of Bohemia, or some peasant with similar features riding ’bout in his guise, what does this matter? Did he and his cohorts not slay our oppressors? We faced ruin, and the plunder has been returned. We faced great loss, and my granddaughter is home. This man, no doubt, is our friend, our champion. What a good, good man is he!” That silenced them. After a pause of catching each other’s glances and humble nods of agreement, Wenceslas seemed behooved to speak.

“Believe my identity or not, yet the Regent is posed for my death,” he said and then something came over him. No longer did he feel vexed by the voice of his mother speaking within him, but two other voices: his father and grandmother. He was his father’s son. He had the righteous blood of Ludmila in his veins. A new attitude quickened within. “ I will take my throne and enact justice and protection throughout our land on a scale far greater than ye beheld this day. Till that day, my identity must remain anonymous. I ask you for no repayment, but your silence.”


The clandestine meeting of lords had commenced. Domeczek, with Wenceslas delayed in Kladno to restore order and peace in a recently plundered village, had to handle the meeting alone. Orel, Meinrad, and a cadre of other leaders and retainers, along with Tilda, Gregor, and a few others of Wenceslas’s friends, joined Domeczek within his barn. They came together with the temerity to seek treason on Dragomira—for which reason such secrecy was of utmost importance.

“And why is he here?” Domezcek asked Meinrad as he entered with Radslav shortly behind. Meinrad made his animosity with Dragomira no secret, but neither did Radslav make his support of her secret. When Domeczek gauged the members of her council a few weeks before, he sensed nothing within Radslav he could trust in regards to the proposal to install Wenceslas and dethrone his mother.

“The Duke of Kourim fears the wrath of the Fowler more than the Regent,” Meinrad informed Domeczek.

“No such sentiments could I discern at the council.”

“I agree. He knows best how to play for the favors of those in power. If the heir has rightful claim to the throne, he would work to harvest the winner’s esteem, though feign fealty to her Regency till that day comes. Keep in mind his duplicity, though the law is on our side which gives Wenceslas due authority. I do think we can trust his nature to cling to the most powerful to ensure his cooperation with our plight.”

“You are a wise sage, Meinrad. Greatly respected throughout the land. I will disdain my apprehension and defer to your insight.”

“No need for flattery,” Meinrad laughed. “And yet I thank you to carry on with the heart of our gathering.” Domeczek agreed and greeted those who gathered about. Most of these individuals were of a wealthy class and unused to the dirty, uncomfortable setting of a barn. Some sat upon barrels of ale, others on bales of hay. Few found fondness in the meeting place, but acquiesced regardless.

“What makes a problem a problem is not that a vast supply of searching is required for its solution,” Domeczek opened, “but that a vast supply might be required if a requisite level of intelligence were not applied. I seek the intelligence of this gathering to expedite that solution’s arrival. A village fearful of wolves will pine for a protector. Dragomira has set wolves and has more to unleash. Keeping all in jeopardy, the masses turn to pups themselves, eating from her palm, begging for crumbs of hope. For this cause, I conject, she allows the raids; kill off the weak, destroy her enemy religion, and let Hétmagyar take Bohemia.”

“Seems to be her scheme, yet I cannot fathom the reason of it. What does that gain her?” Orel asked. “Lest she lay in bed with Prince Zoltan himself, though I see that highly unlikely. They are a nomadic people, seemingly only traversing whence they wish, absorbing the goods from any they want. To entertain notions of organized civil treaties with such a barbaric lot would be utterly thoughtless.”

“I see few options, good Orel. Favor with them, I conjure,” Domeczek continued, stroking his pointed goatee. “Let them grow fat on our land, using their raiders to weed out of the land any she wishes to disappear. Or some type of scheme to allow them passage to Saxony? Her Hevelli tribe has always been at odds with Germania.”

“We are the Fowler’s buffer from Hétmagyar,” the sagely Meinrad spoke, sounding like he was thinking out loud. “Which is why our tribute has never amounted to more than we could spare, but has been enough to maintain a strong alliance that preserves our stability as a state. If we crumble, it would serve to hurt Germania.”

“Hurt, maybe,” Orel responded. “It would likely lead to open warfare, but the Fowler is strong—very strong. Should she open a road through Bohemia upon which Magyars may march right into German borders, I truly do not think it would be the Fowler’s downfall.”

“Let us tuck aside the discussion of German warfare and consider the crux of what you, Lord Orel, just said,” Domeczek said. “Whether it leads to German downfall or not would not matter to us if already we were crushed asunder. The havoc I intend to contend with is at home, here. We must act now if at all. Power has gone to her head and it seems every rising of the sun dawns light upon a new machination she has envisaged.”

“My thoughts of her have been as plain as the beard on my face from the very onset,” Meinrad said. “She has yet to take my life, maybe by my cunning craftiness or she fears backlash from the people should evidence point to her. Though, I do fear my days may be numbered in her eyes the longer I stand clearly defiant of her methods. The other problem for why she has not killed me is that I have not acted out of accordance with the law. Meeting in private like this may be considered an act of treason. Less treacherous, to be sure, should we find legal cause to dethrone her. She is rightful Regent at this current juncture.”

“And Boleslav’s tenure is a decade away!” Orel added. “We tarry till then, there will be no Bohemia for him to lead. I do not know what action we could take within the scope of the law.”

The gathering sat in silence. Gregor and his group didn’t speak. Not only was he without a tongue, but they were all peasants and naturally inclined to speak only in turn, especially in the presence of nobility.

“Do you propose we dethrone her by force?” Radslav asked.

“We cannot usurp her,” Meinrad responded. “Such a coup will undoubtedly fail.”

“And I do concur with Meinrad’s wish to act in legal methods,” Orel added.

“It is legal for the heir to take the throne,” Domeczek said. “Wenceslas is rightful heir.”

“Alas, the boy is dead,” Orel lamented. Tilda and Gregor caught each other’s gaze, sharing a delicious secret, ready to bring it to light like unwrapping a Christmas present.

“If he wasn’t, would you favor him?” Domeczek asked, with a cunning smirk.

“Do you say the Duke lives?” Radslav asked.

“If I told you he does, would you favor him?”

“I dislike entertaining suppositions,” Orel protested. “But indeed, I would!”

“Very well,” Domeczek said, pleased. “When he reaches Prague, we will stand behind him. His death was a false report, ask those here with me. He has lived with me, taking refuge from the one who sought his death, the Regent herself. She has violated the law and is unfit for the throne. Wenceslas lives and is rightful heir. We plan a positive change for Bohemia entirely within the law!”

Before Gregor and Tilda could speak a word to affirm everything Domeczek had spoken, Radslav sauntered aggressively to the barn door and shouted back, “You plan insurrection!” He threw the door open, revealing Mareczek and his legions of armored soldiers. “Yet fail to plan ahead of my Lady.”

“She was wise to have us lay in wait till you incriminate yourselves,” Mareczek growled in his raspy manner.

“You trespass upon my property and spy upon the Bohemian nobility who works completely in accordance with the law!” Domeczek protested.

“You, the ‘nobility’, disappoint me,” Mareczek grunted, which was sort of his way of laughing. “Bohemia will finally function when we’ve expunged all traitors.”

He nodded to his lethal battalion, spurring them to draw weapons and storm the barn with lethal intent.


Returning from rescuing the town of Kladno, we made great haste to reach Domeczek’s manor in time for the meeting. Though sure we had missed the beginning, I reasoned making a late appearance might actually prove to be all the more dramatic, which in turn would stimulate the enthusiasm of those present. The problem was, when we arrived, we saw the royal banners and standards of Bohemia dance along the horizon as riders trotted away. Wenceslas dismounted, but kept silent. He tried to figure out what had happened.

“Think they adjourned without us?” I asked.

“We shall see,” he replied and marched toward the barn where the meeting was to be held. Outside, we found a number of horses that did not belong to Domeczek’s stable, so we figured there were still some members present. Quite possibly, after Domeczek expressed his plans, some refused and rode off. What that would do to spoil their plans of usurping Dragomira, I could not say. Nor did it need to be said, for my theory of the event turned out to be dead wrong. “Domeczek? Are you hither?”

“I hear nobody inside,” I noted softly. Streiter nudged me with his elbow and hushed me as Wenceslas opened the creaking barn door. I think we all shared a sense of foreboding, but even such a sixth sense did not prepare us for what we were to find within.

“Dom—” Wenceslas began, but stifled suddenly. “Oh God!” he breathed.

I pushed in behind him to see what he beheld and found a grotesque sight of death. The noble cadre and their retainers dangled from the rafters, nooses chaffing their necks, their faces contorted in utter repugnance. Those the murderers didn’t feel worthy of hanging like butchered beef were left in bloody masses on the straw floor.

I’m sure I looked green and squeamish when my stomach wanted to rid itself of all its contents. Even Streiter, who rarely showed any sign of weakness, or even much else going on inside for that matter, turned white as snow. When I realized I wasn’t bound to vomit, my mouth did choke out the words, “Does your mother’s depravity know no limits?”

“Speak not to dishonor the—” Streiter said, once again trying to shut me up.

“Kohl has every right to question her deeds,” Wenceslas corrected my rebuker. “I have a good mind to question her myself. To curse her for this.” He didn’t speak further, but walked inside the mangled scene cautiously making sure not to tread upon the corpses strewn about our feet. We looked about at the visible signs of a struggle—broken and smashed items, dismembered hands still clinging to the hilts of swords or daggers—looking for any sign of life. Did anybody survive the massacre?

At last, mingled with the thud of a moving board, came a low moan of a middle-aged man. We looked and saw a collapsed table heave as though it were breathing. Wenceslas didn’t delay a second and went to move the table. “Give me a hand,” he directed. Streiter was quick to the response and the two moved the wide wooden table and revealed Gregor pressing his hands to Tilda’s neck. Between his fingers spewed a scarlet geyser of blood.

“I an wop weh bweewih,” Gregor tried to say with his tongueless mouth. He meant to convey, I can’t stop the bleeding. The three of us crowded the situation, eager to change the course of the current event, yet it was futile. Shortly the blood stopped spewing; her heart no longer pumped. She was dead. There was nothing any mortal man could do.

“Father…” Streiter whispered softly, trying to soothe him.

“She’s dead,” Wenceslas sighed, stood back up, turned, and kicked a plow over to its side.

“You did all you could,” Streiter told his papa, pulling him back from the corpse while I grabbed a rag and draped it over Tilda’s face.

“I know this is my fault!” Wenceslas shouted toward an open space, sounding as though he were defending himself from an indictment.

“None accuse you, m’Lord,” I said, flabbergasted by his outburst.

Wenceslas turned to counter me, but bit his tongue. He was talking to someone, unseen. He was taunted once more by the demon in the visage of Dragomira. We couldn’t see her, but he did. He felt her, heard her, saw her, and became trodden by her presence.

“All this was futile!” He declared, gripping the hilt of his sword and heading toward the barn door. And as he faced with temptation for evil, he fought it with greater goodness. He would go find something wrong and set it right. “Come if you will, yet I require it of nobody. I need no Lord of the land to escort me to face that witch who birthed me. I go to Prague, and I will claim it!”

Chapter V


The distance from Slany to Prague could be covered in four hours with a horse moving a steady rate faster than a man walking. It’s a number of leagues through lush countryside, green rolling hills underneath the sheets of snow nestled beneath the distant white capped mountains of the Bohemian borders. We trekked, bound for the capital of our nation, where we believed they took Domeczek as captive to coerce information out of him. His body was nowhere to be found in the wreckage of the massacre in his barn. Was he in hiding after having escaped the hands of the brutal men who ransacked his property? We doubted it as much as we wished for it. If Wenceslas could seize the throne, being only a few months shy of the end of his minority, then he could pardon Domeczek and any other prisoners who were unjustly incarcerated. To break such longstanding tradition, he’d need magistrate and noble support, which he had yet to garner.

Having packed and readied late in the day, we camped for the night in minor silence. When I say silence, I mean I was the only one talking. Gregor was a man of very few words, likely embarrassed to speak. Streiter kept to himself, far too introvertedly dealing with the loss of Tilda and our friends to even chide me for flapping my gums too much. I was nervous, like a squirrel not knowing where his home tree was, where I’d find my next acorn, feeling as though any branches of safety were too high for me to climb. My natural response to this anxiety was verbal vomit. Wenceslas endured my talking well. Streiter, I knew, blushed with chagrin, but knew that his spite for my talking fell short of the true matters of importance abounding.

Streiter and I caught a few trout while Wenceslas built the fire. As I cleaned them, the dagger inspired the rhetorical slew. “I need to train with a weapon,” I said. No response. “Streiter, how’d you get good with a blade? I mean, Wenceslas had formal trainin’. I’ve seen him fight. It’s like he conjures up some archangel of countless battles in the heavenlies who’s wrought conquest over the legions of darkness.”

“Waxing poetic again, I see,” Wenceslas said, trying his best for a sense of humor despite the gravity upon his heart.

“It comes as it comes,” I replied. “Still. How’d ya learn to fight like that?”

“Training and improvising,” he noted. “I believe the Holy Spirit moves like a dancing river. If I can step in time with him, I can move mountains.”

“I’ve heard many a sermon on faith that moves mountains. Or tellin’ mulberry trees to jump into lakes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried it. Many a times; commanded healin’ over me family. Yet life passed. No healer am I. No prophet. No warrior. M’Lord, have ye any use for me?”

“Yes, Cabbage. Much use indeed.”

“You are useful for breaking silence,” Streiter added.

“You break it then. Tell me, how do I fight like you? I’ll never have the luck of affordin’ the type of trainin’ Wenceslas got. You, well, you’re a peasant like me. Yet you wield a steel widow-maker like a woodsman wields an axe.”

“You do what you want,” he replied, gruff as usual.

“Serious. What I want is to know how to fight like you.”

“My answer is: you do what you want,” he said, and before I could press the issue, he clarified. “I do it for I want it. My dad was a mighty warrior. Brave. He would not have lived with such loss if he were not as brave. He wanted it. He did it.”

“So to reason what my dialoguely-challenged cohort here’s tryin’ to convey,” I said, chiding him a little, “You have to want it. Probably want it through and through. You’ve had to protect yourself, I reckon, once your father was left unable to do much in ways of defendin’ himself or his son. So you saw what you needed to do to protect your lives and property. You wanted it so much, you believed you already had it. Through that faith in having the thing you physically had yet to receive, it made manifest in your life. Maybe that’s faith that moves a blade with precision. Faith that moves mountains.”

He stared at me with blankness and then nodded. “Aye. Something of that kind.”

“And Wenceslas must use a similar driving force, but manifests further a desire for goodness. If God Himself is all benevolent, then he mirrors that level of altruism. By alignin’ himself with the Holy One, he moves in tandem. Then, like you, Streiter, he receives what he wants at a higher level, for it becomes what the mover of the universe wants!”

Again, they both stared at me in silent astonishment for a few beatings of a heart.

“You two are completely amazin’ my mind!”

The next day, as we continued along the byway toward Prague, we cut over to the small village of Svrkyne. Though there were many trees surrounding this town, they were renown for the vast plains where they grew crops of wheat and barley, used primarily in the production of ale. We figured we could stock up on a few provisions in the early morning hours when merchants would be setting up shop. Having come such a close distance from Prague, roughly a three hour’s travel as the crow flies, we needed to be additionally covert. Wenceslas wore a riding hood over his head and we made sure anything distinguishing us as people of any class of wealth was carefully concealed. We’d be simply poor travellers who had the only luxury of three steeds to ride upon. One look at Gregor and it was clear we were bad off.

The problem with being so close to the capital became more apparent when we came into town and saw an unexpected taxation line. We were aware that Dragomira had increased the taxes upon her citizens, but now she collected them with a cadre of armed soldiers to guard the collector. Nobody enjoys paying taxes, but this looked more like legal robbery in the daylight. As much as I detested the sight, Wenceslas loathed it all the more.

A grim Bohemian tax collector, flanked by even meaner-looking guards, grabbed two sacks of grain from a poor farmer. “Wait, wait,” he grunted, peering through an opening in the farmer’s tunic underneath his grimy scarf. There he say two twigs joined by a thread of twine looped around his neck forming a cross. “That looks to me like a verboten religious relic.”

“’Tis me business, sir,” the farmer replied. “I ain’t got no parish to place me prayers in. I have me fields. That and the relic ye point at. Not more than that.”

“Nevertheless, we charge half more for those still perpetrating the misdemeanor of false religious fealties.”

“Meanin’, ye say I am to be charged more for wearin’ two bits of wood ’round me neck?”

“One more sack of grain would do.”

“Sir, please!” He started to tremble. “Harvest was months ago. Crops don’t grow in snow. Take more, I may got naught left by next harvest.”

“I will cut you a deal,” the collector sighed, feigned for an instance a sign of civility and kindness. “Should you not argue your case to save a third sack of grain, I shan’t charge you a fourth for insubordination.”

The farmer moved to speak, but calculated in his uneducated brain the better outcome. He glanced to his son, who looked even more runty than I did, to bring over another sack. He scrambled as fast as he could, handed it to his papa, and then the two lumbered off with heads drooping low.

“Next!” the collector called out as though he had no hand in robbing an honest citizen of his country. Next came a thin, scraggly man clutching tightly to his dirty, yet adorable, son. We’d later find out this man’s name was Oldrich and his son was Oliver. Oldrich was nearly forty, though he looked much older under his bird’s nest of a beard, and Oliver was about eight. I could tell that they had bad news for the tax collector as they delayed trudging up to his table. “Now, now. Do we have all day to wait on you?”

As they shuffled wearily to the front of the line, Oldrich began to explain, “I, er, cannot afford the two sacks of grain, sir.”

“Be that my problem?” the collector replied, almost looking excited. He relished the opportunity to put people in their place. I had once talked to Wenceslas about such things and he would say that the collector had suffered such abuse in his life that he only knew it as an outlet of his own character. He had been stepped on, and since he couldn’t step upon his abusers, he would step on those he could. It formed a vicious cycle, keeping the weakest and meekest under the tread of boots.

“Well, sir—”

“What can you pay?”

“If I give even one sack, my family will starve. And yet, for fear of my life at your hand, that’s what I brought to give.”

“One sack?” he asked as an exclamation of astonishment. “You live on Bohemian land and yet refuse to earn that privilege? You think birth here offers you any right to freedom. Nothing is free. The air you breathe belongs to the Duchess! And you will pay for it!”

Oldrich did his best to argue, but the collector would hear none of it. He turned to the guard beside him and said, “Take his sack and a finger.” My jaw dropped. Wenceslas and I were not the only ones upset by the sentence the collector had spoken. The town went aghast, fretting with murmurs. “Oh, dare not start! You want protection from enemies, yet shan’t pay for it? If you like it not, leave the borders of Bohemia. You will find other lands tax their peoples too. It’s the nature of running a nation!”

Oldrich raised his right hand displaying his missing two fingers. “M’Lord, two fingers I’ve spent already!”

“So what cost will it be to lose another?”

“This hand’s nigh useless! Hands are me livelihood.”

“Unless you can pull another sack of grain from your ass this instant, you have heard the penalty.” Oldrich had nothing he could do. The guards pressed the poor man to the table, overpowering him no matter how much he shouted and squirmed.

“Let him go!” Oliver protested, trying to bend the soldier’s arm from his father. It was like trying to bend the trunk of an oak tree. They threw the boy to the side like swatting a fly, sending him sliding in the mud of melted snow.

The guard, brandishing a meat cleaver, raised his arm, ready to strike. Most eyes looked away. Mine and many others squinted, wincing at the gruesome prospect. But just before the cruel hand crashed down to dismember Oldrich’s finger, a hand noosed a cord around the wrist and tied the other end to soldier’s belt, locking him in an awkward position. It happened so fast that it took me a moment to realize what Wenceslas had done. He tied the hand holding the meat cleaver to the belt behind his back, locking him in a useless position before Wenceslas shoved the guard aside.

I do wish he would have warned me about what he was going to do so I would have been more prepared. Just when the collector and the other soldier moved to apprehend Wenceslas, Streiter drew his sword and held it at the soldier’s throat. I grabbed my dagger and vaulted over the table, leaving it placed just under the tax collector’s stubbly chin. Aside from feeling repulsed by this man’s countenance, I also frowned by the smell of the dagger—I hadn’t cleaned it since preparing the dinner the night before and it reeked of fish guts.

“How dare you outlaws—” he tried to say before Wenceslas interrupted with fiery indignation.

“No, how dare you! The people are the backbone and flesh of a nation and yet you treat them as dung to be discarded! Taxes have their place, yet not at the cost of their livelihood or lives! Yes, we must fuel an economy as our hearts pump blood through our sinews and yet if the blood were sick, we’d become corpses. Bohemia will die should we maim those we most depend upon!”

I don’t think anyone ever made the idea of taxes sound like such a good thing all while speaking of lifting the burdens of the poor.

“Fine words for an outlaw,” the collector grunted. “Yet you may versify all you wish. You’ll never get away with this.”

“Beggin’ pardon, but methinks he already has,” I told him, closer to his ugly face than anyone else as I kept the dagger fixed to his neck.

Wenceslas instructed us in what to do: we stripped the men of their belongings and all clothing, sat them atop their horses facing backwards with their hands bound behind their backs, gagged their mouths, and sent the horses on toward Prague.

“I pray you do understand this is for your good,” Wenceslas told him.

“Aye, keep me alive so I may slit your throat later. Sounds good to me.”

“Bohemia will not venture further down the dark road the Regent has taken us on. In the bold, bright Bohemia to come, you must find a place in it. Ruthlessness will not be welcome here, but a humble, stout heart will blossom for sure. This road goes to Prague. Be happy I didn’t chop off your finger, or any other body part for that matter. God knows you deserve it.” He smacked the rump of the steed with a “Ya!” and the horses cantered off down the road.

Now the townsfolk truly emerged from their places where they watched the events unfold to greet the man who rescued their taxes. Some looked as though they stared at an angel of grace, others held a stern, angry expression as though they beheld an insurrectionist who would make them all considered enemies of the state. Wenceslas sighed. He didn’t enjoy playing the central role of a stage performance, and yet these moments made him such. Surely, as Duke on the throne, he would have to entertain audiences regularly. The other issue was that while he didn’t feel himself worthy of leadership, he wasn’t sure if he should continue to make his name known. Either way, he made his bed and would sleep in it. To outdo the sinister voices in his head that would sway him to corruption, he earnestly sought doing as much goodness in the world around him. That included the deed he had wrought upon the tax collectors. Now, there were going to be repercussions. He was leading the charge for change, a change that might not come easily. How he hoped legislators would side with him when he approached the capitol, and he would force his mother to abdicate. If such a peaceful, legal means of overthrowing her would not happen, he would need the power of the people to stand with him.

“Good people of Svrkyne,” he said, addressing those surrounding him. “Arm yourselves, reinforce your shelters, stand with one another. When your neighbor needs help, for pity sake, help him, lest it be you in need next. Do not stand idly by and let evil pollute your homeland!”

“A fine deed ye done!” came an angry, old voice. A seventy-year-old leathery curmudgeon stepped forward from the crowd, glaring at Wenceslas. His name was Erdmann, an elder of the town, brewmaster who oversaw brewmasters. He was a Meinrad of peasants. “Save an innocent man’s finger, right. Now we are all in danger!”

“Danger, aye,” Wenceslas replied, remaining calm and collected. “You’re in danger regardless. But remember, fear has big eyes.”

“Heard that proverb have I too. I’ve heard this proverb as well; ’take the world as you find it.’ We should not plan and then try to make circumstances fit those plans. Instead we should make plans fit the circumstances. I do not overestimate the danger you put us in out of wayward fear. It is wiser to withdraw from a situation that you cannot win than to go on fighting and lose, aye? By a strategic retreat you can return to the battle or argument with renewed energy at a later date.”

“You want a battle of Bohemian proverbs? ‘The fish stinks from the head.’ A corrupting influence often spreads from a leader to the rest of the organization. As Dragomira has polluted Bohemia from the head of the realm, will you be the head of this village? Would you remain in peril without action? Would you keep hiding and running, waiting for the day when your lives are better by no work of your hands? Or will you join me and fight for freedom, making hope for your lives right now!”

“Join you?” Erdmann asked, not realizing he was speaking to someone marshaling troops. Wenceslas wasn’t sure he was either, but let himself get carried away in the spirit. He spoke from his heart and felt the king within him speak. He knew he was royalty, he was trained by wise men and women, and he heard his father’s voice alive inside. He wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it and would ponder it later. “Join what? An insurrectionist? And who might you be?”

This time I waited for him to answer instead of blurting it out and giving away his covert identity. This time he spoke for himself with a great fountain of pride pouring forth.

“I am your Duke. I am Wenceslas, son of Vratislav, grandson of Ludmila.”


During the time of Wenceslas greeting, meeting, and stirring up the pride of the people of Svrkyne, the horses carrying the gagged soldiers and tax collector made their way down the road at a brisk pace until they came into the company of a travelling regiment of soldiers. At this point in time, Magyar raiders had yet to reach the villages nearest Prague. Whatever machination Dragomira was cooking up by not protecting her borders didn’t seem to apply to her personal turf. It likely didn’t apply to the lands of lords who supported her, never questioned her, and obeyed her every whim.

Zikmund was a Lieutenant under Mareczek. He was a soldier of honor who sought glory he could be proud of. He did his best to think little of the questionable nature of his orders at times. He felt by admirably serving the leader of his country, he would attain glory. He kept his armor polished, his dark beard perfectly trimmed and styled, his sword clean, and expected a high caliber of excellence from troops under his command. He rode with his head held high, leading a group of twenty soldiers, along the forest byway until he came upon a peculiar sight of three naked, gagged, bound men.

“Halt!” he commanded his squad, slowing the pace of his mount to a slow trot approaching the three horses with three nude fellows borne upon their backs. “What do we have here?”

One of Zikmund’s soldiers cantered closer to the tax collector and removed the gag from his mouth. After stretching his jaw and licking his dry lips, the collector replied, “I am Her Regency’s tax collector. A number of outlaws attacked us and did this to us.”

“Outlaws? Not under my watch. How many were there?”

The Tax Collector eyed his companions briefly. He didn’t like the idea of saying it was three teenage boys that got the better of them. “Too many to tell.”

“I know this man,” one of Zikmund’s soldiers spoke out. “I have been assigned guard to him during his collections before. He’s who he says.”

“Anyone have a spare cloak for sore eye’s sake?” Zikmund asked, wishing to cover the nudity. As his men scrounged something up, he leaned closer to the collector and said, “Show me where you faced these outlaws.

“Yes, sir. Svrkyne.”

“That is just yonder. Let us be off. Make haste!”

In the meantime, we helped redistribute the taxes seized. Many mentioned the idea of Wenceslas being the rumored imposter, but they really didn’t care when they had their sacks of coins, grain, or livestock back in their hands.

I think Wenceslas actually tarried there out of fear. He didn’t truly want to face his mother. He feared her more than anything in the world. I think he had an inkling that once in her presence he would become the panic-stricken, tortured little boy that he was in the spire that dark night so many moons ago. I wanted to encourage him to press on with his mission, now that the grief of losing Domeczek, Tilda, and our companions wasn’t quite so fresh and his mind taken off mourning to help some people in need. However, the moment I moved to speak, another small voice called out.

“Wenceslas! My Lord!” Oliver frantically ran into the square like a squirrel fleeing a fox. “The tax men return! They come with an army!”

My heart sank. Not only would we have no chance fighting them, but coming into Prague in shackles would likely make his gallant entry far less effective.

“Ye see? Look what ye brought!” Erdmann shouted, raising his shaking fist. He was more terrified than enraged.

“Scramble, the lot of you,” Wenceslas told the town. “They seek us. Your taxes were paid. Now hide.” To Gregor, he instructed, “Hide with them. Stay here. I will come back and fetch you.” Gregor nodded. I really don’t think he felt insulted to be left behind. He really had little ego and humbly knew that he would be a hindrance if events turned nasty. To Oldrich, Wenceslas said, “Sir, take your boy and hide.” Zikmund’s ranks drew closer—hooves pounding the road echoed through the trees on the town’s outskirts.

“I can never repay you for—” Oldrich tried to say as we scampered to our horses.

“And you’ll never have to,” Wenceslas replied, cutting him short as he mounted his steed.

As soon as I sat atop my horse, I asked, “Let’s see what cloth these mares are cut from.”

“Ya!” Wenceslas yelled, and we were off, pushing the horses to their limit to escape the onslaught of Bohemian soldiers ready to either capture or kill us. We drove into the winter landscape at full gallop likely right when Zikmund’s group arrived.

“We seek the outlaws who defied Her Regency’s tax collectors,” he announced as he and his squad, along with the trio bundled in cloaks, arrived with aggressive grandeur.

“We want nothing to do with them!” Erdmann said, moving closer to Zikmund as if to garner trust. “We had no hand in their doing,” he said coming inches too close for Zikmund’s comfort.

Trust was not made. The Lieutenant planted his boot to the old man’s face, slamming him down into the muck. “And see that you do not, peasant. Now, where did they head?”

“Off. Rode off,” he huffed, frightened, exasperated. Now he wasn’t so sure who the bad guys were. Why help this brute? With a modicum of self-loathing, he pointed down the direction we had ridden. “That way. They flew yonder.”

Zikmund flickered a glance to say Erdmann had better not be lying. Then he nodded to his men and led the charge. As we three drove on, weaving through the trees, I had the inkling to look back and survey the scene behind us. Being winter, leaves were gone and so only evergreen plants and trees provided any cover. Over the white road I saw emerging from the woods and outskirts of the village a large band of armed soldiers. The soldiers may have been wearing light armor, but their horses were bred and trained for a chase such as this. Domeczek’s mares were simple, fair animals. Yes, they had the heart of a horse eager to run, but they were laden with the gear and supplies we just gathered at Svrkyne. If Zikmund never saw us, I would have felt we could have gained some distance and hid somewhere. Alas, his eyes distantly spied us, the light layer of snow covering the ground didn’t hide our tracks, but made them clear as day, and they were drawing nearer.

“Um, sir! They gain on us.”

“How many?” Wenceslas asked back.

“More than enough.

“These horses ride heavy,” Streiter noted.

Once they were within two hundred yards of us, Zikmund waved a hand signaling to his archers. They drew their bows and let arrows fly. The bolts struck the trees as we passed by.

“That was close! That was too close!” I panicked. As the Bohemians advanced, the archers volleyed again. A bolt pinned my horse in the rear thigh. With an agonizing whinny, the beast buckled. “Whoa! Going down!”

“Cabbage!” Wenceslas shouted and reached out a hand. Just in the midst of my free-fall with the horse, he clutched my forearm and dragged me up to ride behind him.

We continued our sprint, dashing through the Bohemian countryside. I noticed Streiter’s horse was taking the lead and gaining some distance from us.

“This won’t work. This’ll slow us down,” I noted.

“Will you quit whining!” Streiter shouted.

“Leave me be!”

“You never stop yapping!”

“Listen Brawn. I’m Brains. Brains do the talking!”

“Thought that was mouths!”

We rode up and then down a slope. The rise in the ground gave some cover to our backs and respite from the raining arrows. The downhill charge gave our horses some extra speed. To our left we saw a secluded wooden hut.

“Streiter. See that shack?” Wenceslas asked.

“Aye,” he called back to us.

“When I say, we leap from our steeds into those bushes. Hide our tracks. Make for the shack!”

Streiter nodded.

“Don’t lose them!” Zikmund called to his troops as they charged the base of the hill. Their eyes were off us for the moment and this was our best chance to lose them.

“Now!” Wenceslas gave word and without hesitation, we took a diving leap over some snow-covered shrubbery, rolled, and swiftly drove toward the shack. We grabbed branches, ran in a straight line, and dragged the branch behind us to try and make the snow roll over our footprints. Reaching the shack, we went around to the back and I looked just when Zikmund’s horse reached the top of the hill.

Distantly, he could see the backs of our horses ride down the path and vanish through the trees. I paused, hoping they’d take the bait. I needed them to think we were still upon those horses and they’d give chase so we could steal off in another direction and lose them entirely. But the cunning Lieutenant paused like a dog trying to catch a scent. He waved to his men to slow their pace as he eyed our moderately covered tracks in the snow leading to the shack.

“Let us not dally!” The tax collector barked, seeing the moving branches where our horses ran by. “They went that way! Let us be after them!”

“I am not so sure,” Zikmund replied. “Half of you, follow after yon horses. The other half, come with me.” The collector moved to join the group chasing the horses when Zikmund stifled him. “Not you. Let your guards follow them. I need you with me to identify the perpetrators should we find them in this hut.”

That tore it. Even with eleven men, we were more than outnumbered three to one. We had no choice but to hide and pray. Before Zikmund could reach the shack, we ventured inside to find it was a brew house. Stacks and stacks of casks, some fermenting, others conditioning, all full of beer waiting to be ready to drink.

“Our lucky stars! A brew shack!” I exclaimed. If they would catch us, I’d want to go into incarceration drunk off my ass, too inebriated to care.

Streiter spied through a slit in the wood wall. He saw Zikmund dismounting and leading men our way. “They’re onto us!” he whispered.

Wenceslas cracked open a cask and said, “In! We hide in these!”

“I always dreamed of dying in a pool of ale,” I noted. I was first. I hopped in, plunging into a bath of beer, and Wenceslas slammed the top down. I had just enough room between the lid and the bubbly surface of the fermenting ale to breath. I wished this beer was in the conditioning phase. Fermenting, it smelled foul and not pleasant to drink. Conditioning ale is only aging for better flavor, but beer nonetheless. Through the liquid filling my ears and the walls of the barrel, I could hear the muffled sounds first of Wenceslas and Streiter hiding into casks and sealing themselves in before hearing the noise of Zikmund and his men opening the doors. How I hoped he’d see no sign of life and then assume the tracks leading to the shack were actually those of someone leaving earlier after having made their daily inspection of their beer.

Having left a handful of troops outside to catch anyone who tried to escape, Zikmund and his men looked pleased with the sight of a brew shack before them.

“The Duchess shall be pleased we found a hidden cache of ale. The folks are holding out so we won’t tax them on this.”

“Nobody here, m’Lord,” a troop noted.

“Search thoroughly,” he replied. The men scoured the place, searching every crevice. Zikmund grabbed a stray goblet and opened a spigot on a cask—my cask! I felt the beer move a bit beneath me as some drained out. Zikmund lifted the goblet filled with ale, examined it, sniffed it, and took a draught. “Splech!” he exclaimed with a sour expression.

“Maybe that one’s still fermenting,” the tax collector pondered.

Zikmund nodded with a keen gleam in his eyes. Bohemians know their beer, and this may have been a yeasty taste, or it may be the salinity of a sweaty, young lad mingling with the flavor. He had another notion and I could follow his thought. Intuitively sure of what he was about to do, I sank beneath the surface. The yeast in the wort was fermenting the sugars extracted from grains, turning the liquid to alcohol and expelling a thick foam to the top. That foam and the dark murkiness of fermenting ale hid me. He removed the top of the cask, but I was submerged, hidden beneath a foamy layer of the opaque brown ale. Zikmund looked satisfied for a second, but I couldn’t help myself. The pungent beer worked its way into my nostrils, tickling me and I burped. The bubble drew Zikmund’s attention. Could there be someone hiding within this fermenting wort? He reached in. All his men watched, anxious for a discovery.

I had to know. In the ale, I opened my eyes. Yes, it stung terribly, but my life was in danger. I watched the gloved hand come a hair from my nose and I squirmed ever so slightly to evade his fingers. I wasn’t sure if he’d reach around further or pull out, but something stole his attention from my cask.

Outside, Oliver popped out from among the trees and lobbed a stone through a window. The stone struck Zikmund in the cheek. All attention darted upon Oliver, drawing their full wrath.

“Get him!” Zikmund demanded, furious at the action of this delinquent. Everyone responded to the order and charged off. Oliver sprinted through the woods like a hare, leading his pursuers from the shack. The grown, armored adults lumbered through the woods where the nimble boy could slip through with ease.

He vaulted from a fallen tree log and down into a pit. The pit was his own, he had used it on other occasions. He pulled a white, snowy blanket over the surface. His jump left no tracks, no sign of him or where he had gone. Unless by happenstance a soldier would step upon the blanket and sink down upon him, he was perfectly concealed.

Zikmund and his men moved right past, lost in their search, but hungry to catch the one who left his cheek bleeding and bruised.

I was first up and out, catching my breath. “That was too close. Looks clear!”

“For now,” Wenceslas added as he emerged from his cask. “We must make haste! You heard him. They will confiscate these barrels in place of unpaid taxes. We cannot stay here.”

“Guessin’ no time for a pint, then?” I had to ask. Something to calm our nerves after such an ordeal.

“C’mon,” Streiter said, patting my back harder than I would like, moving me toward the door where Wenceslas scouted to see if our way was clear. “Yer too young anyway.”

“Say what? You’re only like two years older than me!”

But they were right. We had to get moving. Off the three of us went. Wet and chilly in the winter air, reeking of yeast, without our horses and supplies, and yet still determined to take over Prague.


In the year of our Lord, 924, the nation of Hétmagyar was growing, expanding, and becoming a greater threat to the whole of Europe. About the time we reached Prague, Magyar General Szalard marched upon the Italian city of Pavia, which was in the northern region of the country, south of Milan. He and his army overcame their defenses, stole a great cache of plunder, then burned the city to the ground. Europe was growing ever more aware of the intensifying threat emerging from the east. Only a week later, they had marched as far north as Gothia and France, striking Provence and pillaging it as these raiders were wont to doing. They couldn’t plant a foothold there for Louis the Blind fought them back and defended his city. The Magyar’s main nemesis was Henry the Fowler and it seemed as though they sought a road to reach him by undercutting Bohemia entirely before heading north. After pillaging Provence, but being thwarted, they might just reconsider circumnavigating our land and simply marching straight through Bohemia. Having been testing the waters with raids, it was surely becoming clear that ours was a perfect road to reach Saxony and then Germania.

Dragomira seemed posed to pave the way for them. If she was clearly an enemy to her own nation, the nobility and legislators would be forced to overthrow her, which might lead to civil war. While the prospect wasn’t all that bad to her, it was possible such a turn of events could result in her death—a prospect she was very much not in favor of. Instead, she works to preemptively destroy anyone with any power or authority that might oppose her when it was clear she’d allow the Magyars to march through Bohemia and into Saxony. Cancelling the tribute to King Henry the Fowler was already putting us at odds with Germania, but making an open channel for his greatest threat to march into his provinces would surely mark us as his treacherous enemies. If those who had a problem with that future were dead, who would stop her?

That was why Domeczek stood at the gallows with a rough rope looped around his neck, chafing his skin. The other nobles were executed in his barn. Because he was labeled the ringleader of these dissenters, his execution would be public as a sign for all. It’d do poorly for national morale to see more than a couple lords executed on the same day. But making this one scapegoat a sacrifice upon the altar of Dragomira’s schemes could indeed inspire patriotism to her flag. His face was cut, his body lacerated, his eyes blackened with deep bruises.

From a balcony overlooking the stone and mortar courtyard, Dragomira oversaw the scene of the execution in the stone courtyard filled with citizens of Prague, members of her council, lords and ladies of the realm, and without her knowing it, Wenceslas, Streiter, and myself. The moment Wenceslas laid eyes upon his mother, he clutched his chest, feeling the sheer pain of her branding upon his chest once more. His skin burned, his heart ached. The glowing branding iron might as well been a sword, for it surely felt as though he was stabbed through.

“Three generations ago,” she began her oration before the mob, speaking with authority and confidence with a refined accent. All eyes spied her beauty, all ears attended her words. Truly she was fair. Truly she inspired all to enjoy the words she spoke as her voice almost came across with the melodious beauty of singing. She couldn’t sway my heart, but I could easily tell why she was so loved and respected. Wearing hoods, we scaled a palette of crates and barrels to survey the scene.

“Cyril and Matthias ventured into our lands and brought with them a foreign god. Since his coming, Great Moravia has fallen and the Magyars only burn, pillage, and plunder our lands. And followers of this estranged way have done what? Conspired and connived treason! These treacherous worms must be sought out and exterminated. Bohemia must be rid of this vermin infestation without delay. This man you see before you was not only a follower of this way, he also connived treason. Verily, I have made such motions to abolish the way of Cyril and Matthias, the religion of some Jewish man from Israel. He and those like him may have surrendered to the will of the Prague’s throne, or they could have vacated to a land willing to tolerate such an insolent art of worship. No, he and his cohorts plot treason. They are enemies of our state! Those he coerced have been put to death when they raised arms against the Regency’s royal soldiers. Now he faces death.”

Boleslav stood beside his mother watching the events unfold. He tugged upon her sleeve and asked, “Must he die?”

“For social progress, betimes certain ones must be sacrificed,” she replied privately to her son. She hoped to influence him, to sway him, to mold him to be as much like her as possible. Though Wenceslas couldn’t discern from the distance what they were saying, he knew in his heart it was cold and malicious. He could barely gaze upon her, but he couldn’t mute the sound of her voice. Everything about her tormented him.

“You are so utterly, pathetically weak!” he heard her speak. Now she stood inches from his face. She smiled, delighted with his torment. He half expected to see fangs in her mouth and she’d bite at him like a viper. This was his taunting demon. Her evil enveloped him, weakened by her cruelty. He trembled, sweat, and chilled in terror.

The real Dragomira turned and faced Domeczek, not at all sympathetic to the prisoner who had clearly undergone brutal pain from torture and utter embarrassment. She asked, “Have you any final words?”

He tried to summon his courage and strength. She had been spewing falsities and slander this whole time and he endured it. He cleared his throat and straightened his posture as best as his sore, bruised flesh and aching bones would permit. Now was his chance to set the record straight and hopefully appeal to the sensibilities, even the mercy, of his countrymen.

“Well, I—”

“Traitors merit no final words,” Dragomira happily interrupted, shouting louder than he spoke. “No plea. No mercy!”

Domeczek tried to speak again, but Dragomira gave a glance to the executioner, standing ready at his post. He nodded in reply to his Duchess and pulled a timber lever. Domeczek fell. The rope went taut. His heavy frame crashed down. His neck cracked.

Domeczek, Lord of Slany Hill, was no more.

I winced and looked away. How I had grown to adore this man. We had a rough start, but he made amends. He proved himself a man of highest quality. He was one I would consider a friend. Now he was gone. Murdered publicly.

What made it all the worse; people cheered!

“And the same for any who will harbor the same treacherous sentiments against my throne and our land!” Dragomira declared.

The Prague citizens cheered all the more, praising her. During Wenceslas’s days of hiding, her type of religion had gained popularity. Rampant orgies, sacrifices to dark gods, the wearing of charms and soothsaying were making a way into popular culture. Darker rituals lingered out of public eye still; deeds of witchcraft and sorcery were wrought in the shadows of Bohemia. Now, another sacrifice had been made through the death of an innocent man. I felt nauseous by it all.

“They meet murder with laud,” I sighed.

“There he is,” Wenceslas said in hopeful astonishment. He spied Boleslav, standing beside his mother, looking cold, expressionless, burdened. Without thinking, he began to unsheathe his blade, ready to do what he came here for. We were in no position to disrupt a public execution. Why he thought now was a better moment, I couldn’t say. It was clearly reckless abandon at the sight of seeing his truest prize. He wanted more than anything to rescue his brother.

“Wait, sir. What’s the plan?” I asked.

“Save my brother, claim my land.”

“Eventually, aye. No doubt. But would it work now? She’ll not allow it. Not here, not now, not surrounded by guards and patron confederates. Her forces bend to her whim, the citizenry relishes her. Nobody, in the heat of it all, would think twice to tearing you to shreds. You’re no good to us dead.”

“You see what Boleslav beheld? What she poisons him with? I would rather die to spare him from further corruption. The seeds of darkness my mother sows festers within, sickening the heart, mind, and soul. He mustn’t suffer it!”

“If you charge in, I will gladly die at your side,” Streiter said gravely. At first, I thought he was no help at all in the situation. Then he followed with, “If you seek my counsel, I agree with Cabbage.”

“Aye. Listen to Cabbage. Cabbage only steers rightly,” I added. Wenceslas stared at his brother, watching he and his mother retire into the castle. He stared, longing to save him, longing to set things right. The life they lived was never what Vratislav ever hoped for his sons. “We’ll return here, save him with an army of your supporters. There are many who will follow you and will give Dragomira no choice but to abdicate. The three of us fare no chance. With Bohemia on your side, it shall be so.”

“You think it will happen?”

“I don’t think so. I know so. I know the people. I know you. I know they want you and will follow you.”

Wenceslas nodded, determined to drive doubt away.


Villagers put out fires, others tended to wounded, some just sat and sobbed. Houses and shops had collapsed, most everything lay in disarray. That was the state of Svrkyne when we had returned from Prague. Walking back, we slowed our pace upon sight of the destruction.

“My Lord,” cried a familiar voice. We looked and it took me a second to remember where I had seen the face of this scruffy, goofy-looking crofter before. Then it dawned on me—it was Horst! Libyena’s father, whom we had delivered the St. Stephen’s feast to a month before, had come north to Svrkyne.

“Horst?” Wenceslas asked.

“Aye, sire. See, I was on the road nearby when word reached me that the Duke had rebelled against tax collectors. I had to come at once to see you again. My eyes surely twinkle in delight to see you.”

“It fares me well to see you too, my friend.”

“What the hell happened here?” I had to ask.

“See—” Horst started to reply but was cut short. Clearly I asked too loud, for as Horst moved to respond, Erdmann loudly cried his reply.

“You! You’re what happened here,” he cried out, hot-headed, barreling right for us.

“I…I do not understand,” Wenceslas stammered, taken aback.

“That Cap’n Zikmund, come roarin’ in, tore the town apart lookin’ for you outlaws! He found a hidden cache of ale and claimed it for the Regent. Then went on a rampage to make sure we hid nothing further from their rights of taxation. That beer was for trade, to keep our economy livin’. Now that is gone too!”

Our hope of connecting with citizens ready to fight for change diminished when we saw that those we wanted to ally were blaming us for their problems. We wanted to be their solution. Wenceslas paused, surveying the heartbreak and grief rampant through the citizens of the town. I knew he lacked confidence. He felt he was to blame for the deaths in Domeczek’s barn, and the death of Domeczek as well. He also carried the burden that he was his brother’s keeper and was falling short in keeping him from evil. How could someone plagued by guilt and self-doubt expect to lead people to a brighter tomorrow?

Maybe he needed just a little push? Someone to warm up the crowd for him? I may not have been skilled with a blade, but as Streiter so often enjoyed noting, I did have a proclivity for prattle.

“Listen, Bohemians. Citizens of Svrkyne,” I said then cleared my throat. “I know no mortal man as angelic as me master, Wenceslas. If makin’ a kolache means an eggshell must crack, so be it. He fights to rescue our country, to make it far better ’an what you see today. Such a process shall finish sweet, yet, alas, an eggshell must break here or there. I don’t dare diminish the grief ye have suffered. Not at all. And as much a burden as you lot feel, Wenceslas has it borne heavy upon his heart as well.”

Wenceslas moved to try to stifle me, but I stepped forward, placing him behind my peripherals, and pretended not to see him.

“Those of the Moravian Mountains claim a prophecy. When the land lay in utter peril, a champion shall rise. And when he does, the men of the mountain shall ride forth as his army.”

“And you dare say that this whelp be the fulfillment of this prophecy?”


“Not by what’s foretold! The prophecy says he’s to be a king!” a village elder named Selmer added.

“Well, he is a Duke. Minor technicality, I say.”

They weren’t convinced. Everyone gathered closer to see the commotion. As one villager relayed what I said to another, the gathering became a din of naysayers, all working to contradict me or any other who actually agreed with me. Most were not as concerned with fulfillment of prophecies as they were with the destruction of their property.

“Friends, we can rebuild,” Wenceslas called out. They hushed to attend his words. For as much as I know he doubted himself, I think my words gave him new vigor and that sense of royal authority quickened in his heart. He was his father’s son, his grandmother’s grandson once more, and that identity exposed itself with great charm and magnetism. “I am not here to claim what my friend has claimed. I am also not dead, not as dead as my mother would like. Meaning I have breath and as long as I breathe still, I will work to rebuild a better Bohemia and let this realm be as good as it can be. I plan to claim the throne from the Regent who has done all she can to bring ruin to my people. I will take it from her. Not because I want it. What I want is peace in my land; what I have is the responsibility for the well-being of every Bohemian man, woman, or child. ’Tis a responsibility I dare not take lightly. To claim my throne, Dragomira would have to abdicate her seat. Having been to Prague, seeing her publicly execute an innocent man after secretly slaying a score of other innocent Bohemians, seeing her armies she commands, and hearing the cheers of her supporters lauding the wicked deeds she has wrought, I know now that coercing her abdication will be no easy task. That is why I need your support.”

“If you are the authentic Duke, why should we endorse you? How knows we you will be any different from your mother and her ilk?” Erdmann asked. I sensed he believed this man before him was not the imposter, but the genuine article. I think he needed someone to play devil’s advocate so why not be him who does it? “I speak of the ilk of rulers and tyrants who build great societies on the backs of my ilk, yet we get no credit, no glory. We are left forgotten in the annals of times, unrewarded, and burdened with taxes. We want freedom of such rulers.”

Wenceslas could speak for himself, but what difference would it make. If Erdmann saw a black goat, what good would it be for the goat to say he was white? The only way Erdmann, and those he represented, would see a goat of another shade would be if one whom he trusted vouched on behalf of the goat. Not that I thought Wenceslas was a goat. He was more, of all animals, like a dog in my opinion. Faithful, loyal, optimistic. The problem is I’d rather avoid sounding as though I compared my Duke to a dog.

“Now see!” Horst exclaimed, ready to defend his champion. “Not oft do the have-nots receive from those who have. Sure, once in a while, we see the rich toss a pittance in alms to those in need. It helps them sleep at night or feel like they’ve earned favor with whatever deity they venerate. Oft they do this in public eye to coerce the opinion that they are kind, giving individuals. It gains them popularity for these are estimable qualities. But seldom—if not never—do the rich give in secret without any hope of reward but simply out of a sense of duty for their fellow man. The lad has proven himself one who cares for the people. He has done so with me and my family, givin’ us a feast without our askin’! I know he has done so with others who hail from Tetin region. I know he will do so with the whole of the land.”

I was moved. I was sure Wenceslas was choked up by such words. I could hardly believe my ears to hear such eloquent words flow from the lips of someone who looked to be such a wild bumpkin.

“I hear you, I do,” Selmer said. “And much do I hope for a saving grace such as what you all claim. Still, what this Duke Wenceslas needs is a miracle.”

“What I need is an army,” Wenceslas replied. “I do not think overthrowing my mother will be impossible. And once legislators of the land see that the people support the exchange of the throne, they will not fear her treachery and risk their lives to uphold the law. But they must see that. If they see an army behind me, they will bend. As of now, once my minority ends and I own legal claim to the throne, she shall denounce me, likely put me to death, and any magistrate attempting to stop her on the law’s behalf would surely share my fate. That is why I need an army.”

“I served in your father’s army,” Selmer replied, looking vengeful now. “I’ve seen how the wounded veterans of battle are treated!” He motioned toward Gregor. I reasoned that in the hours of our journey to Prague, he had met Gregor and figured out some of his back story. The conversation, I was sure, was probably a little awkward. But now, Selmer used him as an example, which not only irked Streiter and me, but Gregor himself.

Incensed, the crippled man stood, using his crutch, and said with his tongueless mouth, “’O We’emaf, I oof amofeh ahm am eh!”

“What’d he say?”

“My father said,” Streiter translated, “‘For Wenceslas, I’d lose another arm and leg.’”

People began to murmur again and I sensed the tide was changing. Now, a new face stepped forward and removed her hood. It was Libyena. She must have been travelling with Horst, but kept her cover from Wenceslas. Maybe she was embarrassed for how she had continuously given him the wrong end of the stick, accusing him and blaming him when all along he had been the solution. Now, it was time to make an allegiance and encourage the support of the people. She lifted her bow proudly as though making a pledge.

“If it means killing Dragomira, I’ll serve your army.”

“I mean to overthrow her; not kill her. She’s my mother for goodness sake.”

“A woman who sold her soul to the devil has forfeit maternal bonds,” the local friar noted.

“I wish to not get off track. I need the support of the people. If you will not have me, I do not wish to impose myself over you. The choice of a free people is yours.”

Erdmann glanced at those already favoring the Duke and saw hope glimmer in their eyes. “It would seem this boy be our only option—and not much a promising one at that. We’ll have you, Good Wenceslas. But what you need is a bigger army than this motley body.”

“Aye,” Wenceslas said with cunning charm and infectious zeal. “Then let us raise it!”


For Wenceslas, the mission was quite similar to many deeds he had already been doing. Only now, it was to work at a much larger scale. There was no question that out of royal men to walk this Earth, Wenceslas was more a man of the people than the glamour of the throne. Yet, while he did carry a great sense of the common peasant, it was truly the place of a commoner to relate to other commoners the deeds and call to arms Wenceslas had. That’s where Horst and I came in. We both passionately revered Wenceslas as our Duke, and we also spoke the same language of paupers. This was not a simple marshalling of troops to bear arms. Convincing farmers to neglect their crops for a season of civil unrest to build a better nation was no easy task. But if they saw he was already a champion in their plight, a sort of Hercules swinging his sword Svelto for the cause of righteousness, then their courage might ignite.

“How fares the recruitment?” Wenceslas asked Horst at our next gathering. We had only spread out for a few days before reconnoitering.

“Several maybes, a small handful of affirmatives, a few get the hell off my lands. See, I lack your charisma, sir. How does one convince others to fight for you? You’ve convinced me and I’ve seen you do it. Yet, is it right to send you to the borders of Bohemia preachin’ your own gospel?”

“My message is the gospel, my friend, and I do not presumptuously claim some newer testament or ancillary revelation. My message is the Gospel of Christ as it pertains to this very people in this moment in time. Far be it from me to attempt filling the role of Jesus, but it makes sense to me, agreeing with what you alluded to, that you and others rally support.”

“I have no idea how you convinced me to fight for you, sir. I just know that I will.”

“That answer is simple,” Wenceslas replied, drawing my presence, Streiter’s, and a dozen others. “You do not fight for me! You fight for yourself! As I noted, the message is the gospel, which is a message of freedom and peace. Live as free men, for freedom is power. I know I have been guilty of this myself, feeling the world, God, and others were all to blame for any heartache I may have. But if the Gospel is about washing away our sins and showing that the Almighty finds us worthy of laying down crown and life for, we are clearly something special. Indeed, made in his very image. Am I more in his image than you? Are you more image than me?”

“I see, you mean to empower people; tell them they have worth and value.”


“And as delightful as a message as that is, how will it stir them to fight?”

“I mean to do far more than stir them to fight. For the crux at hand, aye, we must go to arms. And what then? Return to some system of society that tramples the poor and ostracizes the infirmed? The people need help, but more than that, need to know how to help others.”

“I feel what you intend is far more than simply a system of alms. I know you are generous, but do you own enough to feed everyone?”

“Nay, but everyone collectively has enough to feed everyone.”

“I do not forsee you able to convince everyone to give up what they have lest you tax it from them by force, making you no better than the Regent.”

“Exactly, it would be wrong to force anyone to live charitably, for if their giving is not by their own conscience, then I would simply be robbing them of their goods to give to those who have not earned it. And simply giving and giving alms over and over will likely not solve anything either. What I see is a community drawing together by brotherly love, sharing what we have by choice, and nurturing everyone to contribute. Everyone has something to give, all have been blessed with a gift of Providence, no matter how big or small. To give a man a fish, he will eat, but without dignity. To do so repeatedly, I run the risk of robbing the man of pride and education on how to fish for himself. I enable him to simply soak in the mud with outstretched arms waiting for fish after fish, meaning I work twice as hard to support him as he does nothing.”

“And yet, I know you are not so cruel as to let him starve either.”

“Exactly. Toss him a trout, but verily, he needs a rod, so that not only may he fish for himself and catch both food and dignity, but he may be able to fish for the next man, wallowing in starving mud. It would be evil to rob him of pride and enable laziness, but it would be evil to ignore him entirely, waiting for his death by famine. I see a land enacting Heaven’s Kingdom where all can fish and feed each other. Should we not be perturbed by the world we live in, where the hungry go unfed, the naked remain cold, the homeless lost, the grieving bereft, the ill alone to fend for themselves? What sort of hell on earth we make for ourselves when we have the power to make it heaven!”

“You’re a wise man, sir, learned beyond my tutelage,” Horst commented bashfully. “Quite possibly after some ponderin’ I’ll see what it is you’re gettin’ at.”

“My good friend, I feel the miscommunication is by my doing. You ask me a great question, one that deserves equally as great an answer. I feel in my heart a burning, like a geyser just swelling to blow. There’s so much I wish to do and lest I have patience for the changes I wish to make, I can grow quite frustrated with the dismal state of mankind. Forgive me for not polishing my response.”

“He says we’re not just tellin’ people to put their life in the hands of another man, but to seize their own destiny, am I right?” I asked, chiming in. I could feel Streiter’s stare telling me that while there were a number of eavesdroppers, this was primarily Horst’s conversation with Wenceslas to which nobody had been formally invited to join. Though his glare was rightly so, we knew Wenceslas wasn’t prone to upholding trivial formalities, especially when knowledge was at stake.

“Quite right, Cabbage,” he replied. “It is my firm contention that we are more responsible for our own strife than we’d like to admit. While, yes, some turmoil is thrust upon us, even then our own reaction, attitude, and emotions are within our realm of control. We are not to be simply victims, walked on by anyone, be it governing powers, spirits, nature, deities, or parents. We can choose our response and be victims or victors! And while I contend we have more responsibility for our own problems than we want to admit, we have even more control in the solutions to our problems than we often have the courage to believe.”

We all kept still, soaking in the words he just said. While I hadn’t felt burdened or shackled by problems since Ludmila graciously welcomed us into her keep, at that moment I felt liberated. The sentiment was shared by all of us, including Erdmann who had seen the gathering and decided to join. He was a recruit signed on to help with the recruitment process, but was just as lost in the program as Horst was. Even I, the mouth ready to speak at a moment’s notice, was not entirely sure what our publicity would be.

“I think I see, m’Lord,” Horst said humbly. “We are to point out the problems in—”

“Methinks it would be a rare fellow who is unacquainted with his own problems,” Wenceslas said. “Let us not focus on the problems, but the solutions. And as we embolden the Bohemians to believe that they have the authority to solve their problems, we show them that when working in community, we can accomplish so much more. No lone wolves. We partner together, and build God’s kingdom till it expands to the borders of Bohemia and beyond. I do not build a kingdom, or duchy, for a throne to Lord power of men. We build something strong where people can be free to work hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, sharing each other’s burdens and lifting up the low. Let us awaken the dreams locked in the vaults of hearts!”


And our fires were lit, our passions ran high. Horst knew exactly how to preach this gospel now. We all were more sure of what we were convincing the people of—not just installing a new ruler to overlord the land, but to take part in an effort for a better tomorrow.

We dispersed, all of us. Wenceslas went to homes and farms, helping rebuild, helping plow, helping work. To churches, he helped plaster and paint the broken walls. At the dilapidated home of a widow, Wenceslas placed a fresh crafted support pillar under a cracked beam and raised the roof with all his might. She wasn’t a prospective recruit. It mattered little to him. He would look after orphans and widows in their distress with no hope of reward. But eyes were watching. The audience of prospective men who would join his ranks did see, and were moved.

He often came to blows with Bohemian soldiers, but our side ended with the upper hand and proffered mercy for their lives. “I pardon you, soldier, for doing your duty,” he’d say while crossing blades with soldiers. Always in his agile style of fighting, with slick moves, he struck his opponents to the icy morass. “I should hope, yet, when I am your commander, you shall better watch your feet.”

He would have been easily called a renegade outlaw had he not actually been working the deeds of a ruler over his people. No magistrate could fault him. Truly any soldier who would fight him was working an act of treason, but Wenceslas was ever gracious. One of her majesty’s abounding tax collectors journeyed down the path from Blansko, having robbed the citizens there of money, food, provisions, and livestock. His armed guards trotted alongside the wagon laden with their plunder when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by Wenceslas and a handful of angry Bohemias ready to make a stand.

“Stay your weapons and earn no ill favor with your Duke,” he said.

“Duke? Take me not for a fool!”

“And as Duke of the realm I declare a refund of all these excessive taxes to the people.”

The guards drew their swords, ready for a fight when Streiter jumped from a tree bough where he had been hiding in wait. As quickly as he landed beside the tax collector holding the reins, Streiter’s dagger was place firmly to his throat. “You wish to argue it?”

There was no argument. The taxes were refunded, the troops stripped of their weapons, and the three sent back to Prague empty-handed. We quickly returned to the poor village of Blansko and were greeted triumphantly. Wenceslas and his entourage distributed the goods back to the overjoyed, emotionally-overwhelmed people.

“Take it, refunded to you by way of Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia!” I cheerfully proclaimed. It had been so long since the people had much hope or seen any sign of kindness. I almost thought they’d forgotten how to cheer, how to celebrate. “You may have heard it said that good things come to those who wait. I say the wait is over. The wait is surely over if you wish it to be, if you make it happen! Join Duke Wenceslas and forge a new future for our realm!”

Recruitment didn’t only take place in town squares; we ventured to churches and taverns. At one tavern, we found a plethora of veterans, folks who had been recruited by their lords to go to battle even though they were farmers, fishermen, carpenters, candle-makers, cobblers, and brewers. They never sought the glory of battle, but in accordance to fealty unto their Lord for protection, they’d been called to arms. Now, they drank their sorrows for having lost friends, family, and limbs.

I hopped upon a table and said, “Hear ye, hear ye! Forgive me for interruptin’ your ale, yet the time of peaceful imbibin’ may be drawin’ to an end. If you’d like to see ale flowin’ like rivers, that you can sink your beards into without fear of reprisal, there’s one who champions the cause of your peace. Who doesn’t want peace?”

They stared at me for a moment and went back to their drinking, revelry, or silent sulking. I was as annoying as a mosquito and they squashed me with their ignorance. Streiter touched my shoulder and spoke to me. “I know these folks. My heart is theirs.”

“Feel free to speak with them.”

He grimaced—public speaking was not his forte by a long shot.

He stepped upon a table, cleared his throat. “Excuse me,” he said. Nobody looked. Nobody cared. “Er, please. I have something important to tell you.”


“Hey you lot! Ya don’t wanna hear me, but listen to him!” I shouted.

First my outburst resulted into a cacophony of upset grunts and gripes, and even a belch or two. But once their eyes truly saw how tall, muscular, and threatening Streiter appeared, they quieted and gave him a trial period of attending his words. They wanted to see if he was worth their time.

“You’ve heard of Wenceslas, the Duke. He raises an army and needs your support. I know many of you have fought before. You still suffer. I know your pain. I fight with my Duke because I believe he’s the best. He’s our future. He needs each and every able man. I’ve been asked, why would I fight for him, why would I be willing to die for him? The answer is simple: My father served in the army of Vratislav. I’ve always wanted the honor to fight for my country. Yet since I’ve come of age, there has not been a glimmer of that honor worth the effort. Then I met Wenceslas and no greater honor could I have ever dreamed have I found in him. Reclaim your honor and the honor of our homeland. Join us!”

While it wasn’t quite as elegant or poetic as I would have spun it, I had to admit when I saw the overwhelmingly positive response of the patrons of this tavern that Streiter’s words were spoken perfectly for their ears.

While Horst, Streiter, and I acted as heralds of the Duke, and the Duke worked tirelessly to frustrate the over-taxation of his people, to help those in need, return what was taken, and defend those in danger, Dragomira wrought havoc still. Her sights were not entirely on the poor, but the religious. With fiery fury she labored to sweep Christendom from her land.

A bishop, dressed in night gown, answered the side door of his parish, holding a candle, and found himself facing Mareczek and his army. This little parish was far south west from Prague, deep in what was Ludmila’s territory, which is why it still stood untouched. Now, her reach extended to the borders of the realm without any other Regent to deflect her.

“What is this?” the bishop asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. A couple nuns, also in bed clothes, came up from behind to see what was the matter. They reasoned someone in need came to them and so they rose to fetch food if needed. They did not expect armed soldiers holding torches.

“By royal decree,” Mareczek spoke, almost sounding like wheezing, “all religious activities practiced here have been deemed illegal.” There was nothing the three members of the cloth could do. They went to bed soundly thinking they were safe and still legal only to wake in the middle of the night to be treated as criminals. Of course, Mareczek performed these duties at a time when the populace slept. They wanted to avoid entanglements with rebels who allied themselves with the imposter riding about as the Duke, portraying the gallant hero who would rescue the land from Dragomira’s tyranny.

It wasn’t long later when the horses pulled the bishop, nuns, and those residing within their shelter, bound by the wrists away from the sanctuary. Their fates were now indeterminate; would they be sentenced to imprisonment, exiled from the land, or executed? They could not tell. All they knew was they had to keep up a brisk pace so not to fall and be dragged through the icy ground tied to the soldier’s horses leaving the burning Cathedral behind. Hellfire devoured the holy house.

At another instance, south of Prague in gray zones where both Ludmila and Dragomira had ruled, Mareczek continued his march under his Regent’s orders. He argued with a priest outside a hovel of a shack filled with homeless suffering various maladies and wounds. Their health was poor from weathering the winter without shelter, having lost their lands to Magyar raids or taxation.

“I beg you,” the priest pleaded with the captain of the guard. “We simply take care of those who cannot care for themselves.”

“Then you’d best join them! For it is clear that you cannot fend for your life either.” Mareczek shoved the priest into the building and shut the door. He nodded to his men who proceeded to block the doorway with a heavy stone. “Burn it down,” he commanded.

“With them inside?” a hesitant soldier asked. He knew he was bound to obey his captain’s orders, but he couldn’t stomach this atrocity and had to question it. He had joined Mareczek in their sweeps of religious institutions before. Most were imprisoned or sent shackled down the river, either to their death, or some other fate banished from Bohemia. Only the highest clergy had been executed, and only a few done in public eye made with a grand spectacle of eradicating a traitor to the state. Now, this far south, at a very isolated shelter, Mareczek’s actions turned even more vile than before, to a murderous point. Surely he had Dragomira’s consent, even instruction, to carry out such a deed.

“With them inside,” Mareczek replied with more ice in his voice than lay on the ground around them.


In the elegant, yet cold bedchamber of Dragomira, Radslav dressed himself, satisfied from a night of fornication, as Dragomira sat upon her elegant bed, robed in a sultry style in the linen sheets and fur covers. She had no shame welcoming other men into the bed she once shared with her late husband. And men she bedded were ones of influence or some proficiency she wanted. To her, it was like absorbing a special gifting of another individual and then wielding it herself. Once she gave herself to these men, she owned them, she manipulated them as puppets. This was her way of stringing them. Now, the Duke of Kourim was her pet. He had control and power over the eastern side of Bohemia, he also had hereditary connections with Magyar leaders.

“Have your raiders hit Brno. The people will expect us to surrender. I will be the wise diplomat.”

“Zoltan”—that is the high prince of Hétmagyar—“will make us monarchs of this Magyar land and yet you cannot control it now. If this renegade band defeats my strike, he will lose confidence in our agreement.”

“You speak of the imposter, posing as my son?”

“Please, do drop the charade with me. I have confidence the genuine Wenceslas lives,” he told her, buttoning his tunic.

She narrowed her eyes, glowering. “He chose enmity with the bosom that gave him life. In my heart, he is but dead. Dead to me, dead to the realm.”

“Lest he be but a phantom, his reanimated corpse has frustrated your deeds.”

“Our deeds.”

“I am at your whim. Yours, forsooth. Yet, if I can see chinks in your armor, so will Zoltan.”

“I will treat with Zoltan. He will trust me as you do.”

“I hope you do not treat with him as you treat with me,” Radslav said with a smirk, expecting her to reassure him that he was her one and only.

“I treat with whomever as I will.”

Her schemes continued, but so did ours. Horst would walk up to farmers and tell them about Wenceslas not unlike the Apostles traveling with the gospel. “I tell you, truly, see. He’s the one we’ve waited for. Vratislav’s rule was too short. His defeat sent us on a downward spiral, see. Wenceslas toils along the climbing way to bring us up.”

And those farmers would spread word to other farmers. “He ain’t like no uncaring noble!” they’d say to others. “Goin’ through a blizzard, he gave his page his cloak and had ’im step in his footprints.”

And so the story would spread.

“Why walk in his footsteps?” a thin maid asked a fat maid within the keep of a Lord and lady. While their master and mistress remained in Dragomira’s good graces, it didn’t mean that their servants followed along. Their allegiances began to side with Wenceslas.

“Oh, I’ll tell you,” the fatter maid replied. “To keep his page warm. ’Cause Wenceslas’s heart is so big, his body is so warm from the Holy Ghost within.”

And on the tale was told.

“He’s an angel with inner warmth, so the ground itself turned hot!” a lass told a lad as he shoed a horse.



“That’s truth?”

“True to life. Heard it from a reliable source, I done. This Wenceslas couldn’t stay in the keep of the Regent, she’s a foul, wicked witch, she is. He’s divinely ’pointed, heir of the throne, blessed by God. Magic powers has he.”

And on it went. A shriveled old man shared the story in the dark drinkery, lit by the flickering glow of candles and the fiery hearth, with other grim, gruff, calloused, leathery men.

“So this seven foot, mighty Duke can rebuke the very cold,” the elderly man explained, “and uses his supernatural giftin’s to help the poor. He quells evil! Chosen by heaven!”

“What choice have we?” a barrel-chested, stocky man gruffly replied, believing every word he heard. “Gotsta join this valiant warrior.”

The gathering nodded and chugged their mugs of ale.

That was how it started at taverns until bards got word and set the tale to poem and melody.

“Heat was in the very sod,” a bard sang in a tavern. “Heat from the light of God shining in his heart, a heart to tear evil apart. Sir Wenceslas, the good and just, with a heart so pure, free of lust, emits miracle heat, turning ice demons to dust.”

The song itself would adapt and change as well. All in all, word of Wenceslas spread far and wide. Word so provocative and true, Dragomira could no longer ignore it, especially when her own son heard word of it.

Boleslav and a young wide-eyed, wiry page named Čsta, who was about twelve, practiced throwing knives at a target. Thunk!

“That’s what I heard,” the page informed Boleslav. “Heat rose from his footsteps.”

“I have not set gaze upon my brother in years. He has always been the better than me. I did not know he had divine prowess over nature!”

With jealous exertion, Boleslav chucked his knife right into the target.

What was vastly now known in Bohemia became known beyond the borders. While he fought Bohemian tax collectors and soldiers, he also held Magyar raiders at bay. The message he sent home with the few defeated lives he spared was very clear.

“You are not welcome in our land!”


On a hillside overlooking the Vltava River running right alongside the spectacular city of Prague, strong-armed servants set down a regally embellished litter complete with canopy and curtains. Dragomira emerged from the curtains where she found her soldiers holding Tunna and Gommon beside some horses. The light was deep orange, the clouds overhead reflected the orange of the setting sun, and gradually turned to a pink and then purple. The splendor overhead contrasted with the cruel plans Dragomira was ready with.

Tunna and Gommon tried to squirm, but the armored brutes held them in place to face their Duchess. Before Dragomira spoke, a rustling and heavy panting sound arose beside them. From the brush emerged Mareczek with two wranglers wrestling bound wolves. Gommon turned white, Tunna remained calm, but sneered. He had a sense of where this was heading. Handlers worked to soothe the spooked horses. They reared and neighed in fright at the sight of the muzzled, leashed wolves.

“The impostor ploy has failed!” Dragomira said. “Those who were supposed to turn on the imposter and either kill him or apprehend him have instead sided with him and now go about disrupting our tax lines. Can I blame them? No, for those who were first set with the charge of his death or apprehension failed.”

“Well, you see, it—” Tunna attempted to say.

“Oh, my dear mercenary,” she said, softening, speaking to him as one might a sympathetic child. “You succeeded in slaying Ludmila, yes?”

“That I can assure you of, Highness.”

“Yet failed miserably when it came to Wenceslas?”

“Alas. I did me best.”

“Then you have served me to your end. Your usefulness is but a dry well.” She nodded to a wrangler. “That one looks hungry.”

In a snap, a soldier tied Tunna’s wrists to a rope lashed to a terrified horse. Gommon went even more white, but kept his lips shut. Between the two of them, he was the one with more charm and tact. He would woo her to let him live.

“Let us see the speed of this mare,” Dragomira commented with a sense of satisfaction.

“My—your—no!” Tunna stammered, but never pleaded. He glowered at her as though he’d rip her head off the instant his hands were unbound. “You dane have me—”

But it was too late. A soldier kicked the horse’s rump and took off running down the hill, dragging Tunna behind. His feet may have kept pace for two steps before he fell and dragged face first in the sward and dirt. The wrangler let a wolf go and seeing the horse running, kicked in the predator instinct to chase some prey. Tunna traveled only a few yards before the wolf reached him, smelled his bloody flesh, and decided to make a meal of him.

Now Gommon’s blanched whiteness slowly turned seasick green. He likely wet himself when Dragomira turned and faced him with a smirk. “And dear Gommon, your—” she began, but he interrupted.

“I will right this! I can! I pray!”

She narrowed her eyes dubiously at him. “Very well. Enlighten me.”

“We… we plant a spy amongst your son’s ranks.”



From Horst, Streiter, and myself, along with the rapidly spreading tales of this Duke rising to power, men crawled out from hiding, left their fields and shops, and took up arms. They travelled to meet the captain of this army where he lay in hiding: the Macocha Abyss. In a famously deep gorge near Blasko, Wenceslas and company made their clandestine encampment. Women handled cooking and laundry while the men formed arrows, strung bows, or coiled chain mail. Others mended wounds from their recent adventures fighting either Bohemian soldiers or Magyar raiders. The faction was growing, the camp filling, and the time to march on Prague was drawing ever closer.

From his diverse adventures of fending raiders and tax collectors, Wenceslas found an arrow protruding from his thigh and Libyena worked on removing it.

“You know what you’re doing?” he asked half in jest.

“Alas, I only know how to make wounds…” She yanked the bolt, popping it out. Wenceslas gasped, trying to save face and exude masculinity. “Not heal them.”

“Not so bad.”

“Yeah?” she asked, wholly doubting him. Now she doused the wound with wine and Wenceslas bellowed from the alcoholic sting! “Behold the big, mighty Duke!”

“Let me shoot you with an arrow and see how you fare!” he replied and wrestled to reach her bow. To stop him, she poured more alcohol on his wound. That shut him up.

“You are lethal! How did you get so good with a bow and arrow anyway? Surely you are an adept huntress, yet I have beheld skill that puts bowmen combatants to shame.”

She took a breath, reasoning if she was sure she should open herself up to him, making herself vulnerable. She lifted the string around her neck, raising a trinket of St. Nicholas from out her blouse.

“I have him to thank.”

“St. Nicholas, patron of archers, sailors, and children. My grandmother… she told me oft of his lore. An inspiration to me as well.”

“You? Truly? You’re neither archer nor sailor. Are you a child?”

“Hardly. Just such a devout man stood for what he believed even if it was outlawed by the empire.”

“Things haven’t changed much, whether in Lycia or Bohemia. Powers of corruption rise, working wanton violence and oppression. Things simply do not change.”

“But they will. I promise you.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

“I don’t. I only have faith.” He paused. They both shared a moment of pondering, a moment of absorbing the other’s company, enjoying their presence. When the silence lasted longer than he would like, he added softly, “May Nicholas watch over all children.”

She looked at him with wonder—maybe he really was authentically a good person. Maybe he was even much more than that. Before she could conjure a reply, I walked up with a couple new recruits, one redheaded and the other silver-haired despite being rather young. They carried sacks of supplies into the gathering. I walked them right up to meet Wenceslas. The ginger one was named Blazej and he had a thick, wooly beard, if wool was ever orange. The silver-haired was Vandalin, and he was one who would have been fairly wealthy had Magyar raider’s striking his province not plundered his livelihood, nor had Dragomira not taxed him double based on his religious convictions. Everyone wanted to meet the Duke, at least see him. These two didn’t believe me when I said he really wasn’t seven feet tall and capable of commanding fire to fly from his feet and palms.

“Sire. I bring new arms who bring weapons and foodstuffs!” I announced to him as we approached.

“Grand. We need all we can get,” he replied to me then faced the two. “Glad to have you both. I am Wenceslas.”

I jabbed my elbow into the side of the red-headed warrior. “Told ya he was no seven feet tall.”

“Seven. Last I heard I was eight!”

“Seven by tales told me, sire. And you could—”

“I could emit fire from my hands and feet. Aye. Fables. All fables. Yet what you have heard of my intentions likely prove true. I face my mother and her forces to overthrow her. I will surely, yet regrettably, have to exile her from our land after. Either way, we will rebuild the nation, bring freedom and peace here again and secure our borders. Never will a brother fear for the safety of his brothers.”

“Those are your plans, eh?”

“Aye. You good in battle?”

“Shepherds by trade, but many a wolf have I felled alone.”

Wenceslas nodded, pleased with his spirit, as Horst marched up.

“The camp’s fillin’ up, I see,” he commented optimistically. “Won’t fit here forever, nor will our supplies.

“Aye. With southern borders secure, it’s time we drive north.”

“To Prague, then?”

“I want that with all I am. Alas, we need support of nobles and their retainers,” he noted. “I have been pondering long and I think I know a rich town ripe to entice for our cause. To Kutna Hora!”

Kutna Hora was rich indeed. Like Kourim, a duchy within a duchy, Kutna Hora was once ruled by a Duke and Duchess made vastly wealthy by the silver mines within their territory. They protected a number of smaller, prospering villages, and even at the request of Wenceslas’s grandparents, established a cathedral close to their castle. We would not be able to tell what state we’d find the cathedral when we arrived, but the current Lord of the manor was once the page of the Kutna Hora Duke. When the Duchess died before ever providing the Duke an heir, he died not long after from a broken heart. His best friend and right hand man was not but a lowly page, like myself, who inherited the estate by documented will and testament.

The problem with the wealthy is that they rarely care for the troubles of the world. Even peasants within this territory prospered enough from the silver mines that the pinch of Dragomira’s extensive taxes truly didn’t diminish their standard of living by enough to inspire them to go to arms. Wenceslas hoped that he could treat with the Lord of the keep, appealing to the side of him that spent the formative years of his life as a pauper to use his resources now to support Wenceslas. There was no doubt in our minds that Dragomira had already made the same attempt, but the page-turned-Lord was wont to simply accept the tax burdens he must pay and keep his own to himself. Dragomira didn’t speak the language of the poor. Wenceslas did, and if he couldn’t, Horst or myself could.

Wenceslas rode a horse, leading a procession of warriors. At the clearing before the estate, he waved his men back and spoke to his commanders, “Hang back here lest we arouse alarm. I want him to see the army we have so to inspire confidence, but I would not appear threatening to inspire dread.”

“Seems wise to me,” Horst agreed.

“Horst, hold them back and keep weapons sheathed. Streiter, Cabbage; with me.” And off we went over the grassy plain, slowing as we neared the gate of the surrounding wall to the castle. I rode full of high expectations from this encounter, but those lofty hopes sulked downward as we surveyed the scene before us. The foreboding place looked deserted, displaying neither sight nor sound of life. We scanned about, curious what to expect.

“Where’s our welcome?” I asked.

“Looks to be none,” Streiter replied.

My keen eyes peered about until I spied a sniper in the shadow of a spire, aiming for Wenceslas. I only had a second to conceive of what I saw. For once, I was too startled even to speak. Just as the arrow released, I pulled Wenceslas over and the arrow struck his horse down.

At that moment, the gates opened, revealing a full heavy cavalry, and they cantered forth to seize us. I heard voices, but they were drowned out by the screaming whinny of the horse that just received an arrow in its back.

“We are betrayed!” Streiter called out.

“Fly! Fly, now!” Wenceslas ordered, seating himself behind me on my steed, urging us to flee as fast as we could. We drove over the plain toward our army. Arrows began to fall around and behind us—many coming far too close for comfort. One surely ripped through my cloak.

“Haste! They gain! Make haste!” I panicked. Our horses drove as fast as they could. I thought for sure that this would turn into the first battle of this Bohemian Civil War. We’d reach the army, I’d dismount and hide, Wenceslas would take charge of my steed, and then he’d lead the troops into battle.

That wasn’t what Wenceslas had in mind. In fact, he had every intention to avoid the conflict as much as possible. In his perfect world, he’d arrive at Prague with countless thousands of soldiers and Dragomira would surrender without a single drop of Bohemian blood shed. Then he’d banish her and take custody of his younger brother, raising him to be the man their father Vratislav was. With that dream in mind, Wenceslas did not want to lead an army right for his own army and ensure a bloodbath.

He veered left when we ought to have gone right, drove into the woods and hopped off among the thickets.

“Split up! They seek me. I will draw them off!”

He dashed off before his friends could argue the point. Neither of us liked it, but once another arrow landed close enough to spook my horse, I kicked him into full gallop and drove toward the army with Streiter right behind. I couldn’t see it, but I heard Wenceslas calling, taunting, shouting in a way to draw the attention to him. He did so in a way that identified him as the Duke, the one they were truly after. When he was sure he had drawn their attention, he turned and sprinted through the woods.

Like a fox fleeing hounds, Wenceslas nimbly leapt over boulders and slid under fallen trees, purposefully taking the least horse-friendly route. His pursuers would have a much more difficult time navigating the terrain than he would. Using his parkour-like fighting style, he bounced off tree trunks, rocks, stumps, and slid down the slick hill of moist foliage. He rapidly evaded the oncoming troops until reaching a river frozen solid. Spring was just starting to wake up, but winter’s chill still held sway over the state of this tributary.

Hearing shouts and the trampling noise of hooves, he had no choice but to charge on across the ice. Sprinting down the bank, he dropped to his knees and rode the slippery ice into the open. As he slid, he drew his blade and with it he repeatedly punctured into the frozen river, making cracks and slush behind him. With his momentum no more, he tried to run across, but his feet kept slipping. He wanted to disappear across the opposite bank, but working to maintain balance turned his run to a walk.

“Try as he might, the worm shall never flee the crow!” Gommon stated to his captain as he trotted upon the bank, moving out of the forest. He sat proudly upon Milana, Wenceslas’s mare, the horse he had taken from Dragomira as payment for the assassination of Ludmila. The captain parked just beside Gommon with a host of troops forming a rank behind. “Go get him.”

“My Lord, ’tis the brink of spring,” the Captain countered. “Fears me that ice won’t hold our weight.”

“You have arrows. Shoot him then!”

The Captain waved to his archers. They drew, pulled, and volleyed a spray of arrows. Wenceslas was a bit far by now—only one arrow reached him which he was able to bat away with his sword. The spin upon the slick ice caused him to lose footing and he crashed hard. Gommon’s army couldn’t hold in their boisterous laughter.

“Ready your feather-backs,” the captain commanded and it was at that moment when Gommon remembered that Dragomira would prefer to have her son retrieved alive. What she’d do with him after was her business, but with the people now rallying behind their champion, it would serve well for her to make a public spectacle of any who would rebel against her.

“Hold!” Gommon commanded. “A living prisoner might be received with greater favor. Go and retrieve the buffoon.”

“My Lord—”

“Did I stutter?”

“No, my Lord. It’s just the ice—”

“If we return to Prague without him and the Regent wants my head, I’ll see to it yours falls from your shoulders first.”

“Sir.” He punched his armored chest, waved, and led the way with his cavalry behind. “Single file. Do not crowd,” he commanded. If the ice could support a single mounted rider, then moving over a spot one at a time would prove a safer method. The horse hooves slipped and slid as they crossed over the frozen waterway. Wenceslas backed up slowly to not slip, watching anxiously. He finally reached the other bank and found sure footing. He ducked behind a tree to avoid any more missiles the Bohemian archers sent flying at him. From behind cover, he watched cracks extend under the advancing regiment.

“Come on,” he said, hoping to see the cracks grow and the ice weaken under the scoring he already made with his sword earlier.

In spite of the hooves finding little traction, each trot gave the captain further confidence that they would be able to cross in safety. He kicked his horse and started to quicken his canter with his men shortly behind speeding up to keep pace. Without his command, his horse halted when it felt the cracks growing underfoot. What could the captain do? He had no choice. He couldn’t face Gommon. He told his horse to continue before the riders behind him caught up.

It was too late.

When he hastened his pace, his troops followed likewise, but when his horse stopped, the horses behind couldn’t stop. They slid up into him, one horse after another, like dominos, they collided forming a heavy mass of armored cavalry.

And they began to drop. The ice gave way to their weight. As more dropped below the surface, the horses scrambled and screamed. The riders tried to flee the freezing plunge, but as the ice tilted sideways under their weight, it formed a slick slide dropping them into the water. The icy sinkhole spread wider and farther, and closing near the bank, the frigid current sucked the Captain down with his horse. The current underneath the frozen surface was swift and forceful, carrying away the riders to either break through the ice or sink beneath it. The river broke open, further freeing the current, a waterway longing to breathe the spring warmth. A heavily armored cavalry floated helplessly down the white water.

Gommon glared. Partly he blamed himself for pushing the troops across a treacherous path, but he emotionally raged at Wenceslas as though the fury in his gaze would stop his heart from beating. For the fear of his mistress, he hated Wenceslas and lamented his very existence.

“Fie! Your end draws nigh, boy! I ensure it just as I did with that old wench!”

Wenceslas glared back. He recognized this man as the one who came on behalf of his mother, the one who told him he should fear the repercussions of rejecting her offer, and so this was the man he would have blamed for the death of his grandmother even had Gommon not admit to it himself. I’d never think there was a murderous bone in his body, but somewhere lurking in the recesses of his mind was a sinister voice. The Dragomira Demon emerged from the shadows of the ferns surrounding him and spoke.

“Shall you finally prove yourself a man worthy of my blood? He has wrought much wrong in your life—does he deserve to live still?”

“Everyone has been given life by God…” he said, trying to conjure an argument to contradict her, but he couldn’t. He agreed with her, a situation he dearly resented. Never would he think to listen to the voice of his mother, the one always badgering him, pushing him, challenging him in ways that did not sit right in his gut. He knew the man he wanted to be: Vratislav. He knew the kind of heart he wanted to have: Ludmila’s. But this time, her words moved him. He did indeed deserve to die. He killed Ludmila and Wenceslas also blamed him—not to mention Dragomira—for the deaths of the Bohemian soldiers who drowned under the ice just seconds ago, honorably obeying their commander.

Streiter, Horst, and I, along with a handful of others, finally arrived on scene. Gommon reared back on Milana, looking large and imposing. Wenceslas recognized his mare at once and tallied theft of his father’s parting gift as one more reason to incur his wrath. Horst distracted the horse when Streiter bounced from a stump and made a flying tackle, dismounting Gommon and slamming him hard into the bed of rocks along the riverbank.

“Streiter!” Wenceslas called out to his faithful, strong-armed servant as he watched Streiter rise up and clutch a mace that had fallen from Gommon’s belt. “Finish him now!”

Streiter was a man of duty and when his master gave word, he acted. With his great might, he swung his arm and the last thing Gommon ever saw in the world of mortals was the spiked mace moving fiercely toward his face.

I shuddered, but did not judge the situation for truly this was part of the ugliness of war. As much as Wenceslas would have there be no civil war in his quest to supplant his mother, the unrest was certain and she’d do all in her power, sacrificing honorable lives even, to maintain her rule. Wenceslas wasn’t sure what to make of it. He felt the weight of Gommon’s death as though by his own hand. It felt both cold-blooded, but justified. The part the aggravated him the most was how his tormenting phantom with his mother’s visage looked pleased with his action.

“Looks like countin’ on nobles and retainers would be wastin’ hopes,” Horst noted, lamenting the way this trip to Kutna Hora turned sour.

Wenceslas had little to say, nor did he wish to discuss it shouting over the din of a babbling river. He took the long way round, but we all reconvened at the Abyss. The solo journey gave him time to ponder things, to try to reason his next move.

Chapter VI


The maidens of our camp welcomed us warmly, taking our weapons, offering hot meals, and warm fires to sit by. Wenceslas came and sat quietly for a good long while. We ate, we eyed him, we had no idea what was running through his head. When I went to offer him a bowl of stew, he took it warmly. Before I could speak, he said, “Gather the men, we must speak.”

“Aye, sir.”

“And Cabbage,” he stopped me. “Keep a weather eye on them. Keep an ear open. Fears me that someone is not what they seem.”

“Do you mean—?”

“I dare not speak it, though, yes.” I gulped, nervous at the suspicion of a spy among us. “Somehow they waited for us, expecting our arrival at Kutna Hora.”

“No. Not possible! That would mean one among us would—that just can’t be, m’Lord.”

“And why is that?”

“Say someone had been sent by your mother to spy and report your movements in order to set a trap, that person would come among you expecting to see the worst version of whatever tale she has concocted to smear your name. Then they’d come and see who you are, truly, and that the two reports would mix like oil and water. They’d see what caliber of a man you are and surely recant their fealty to the Regent.”

“I would love to believe that, Cabbage. Alas, she has ways. I have heard—both of us have heard—reports that she seduces… she sways their minds, twisting their very moral ideals, making slaves of them, borderline worshipers out of them. I fear that all the leadership, therefore the wealth and power, of Bohemia has been corrupted by her venom.”

“Sir, I’m no theologian. The very idea of havin’ to say that makes me laugh. I know no more about the Bible than what’n your dear grandmother has taught me. I know that sin can seem good, even if one were to convince his mind that sin was good, then they might enjoy it free of guilt. But I just don’t think our hearts can be convinced. Doesn’t it say somewhere in that book that God himself writes his law upon our hearts. I remember her sayin’ somethin’ ’bout that.”


“Well, there you go! We can tell ourselves all day it’s good and fun to step on others, seek to fulfill desires of bloodlust and booty, rampant sex orgies, what not. Dark, terrible stuff to us, fine by your mother and fine by those she’s convinced in their heads, to partake of. But I don’t think their hearts have been convinced.”

“Well, you and I both know likely about theology to the extent of my grandmother’s teachings. I more than you, though I speak that in no austere, superior way. I mean, she has had longer to educate me, teaching me the art of literacy, and so I have read the scriptures cover to cover. And in my reading, it talks about the heart leading you astray. That it can be deceitful. So, true, she sways their minds and likely twists even their hearts to further deceit beyond what we are taught to be wary of naturally.”

“Hmm…” I thought, trying to comprehend all he had just said. I didn’t expect him to so easily contradict me. “What if the heart was a more powerful tool in our bodies? So, it can be swayed by emotion, which I dare say can be a more driving force over thought. We see that in women, but any man honest of himself knows he’s prone to steerin’ by the rudder of emotion whether he allows it or not. So, in good things, such as love, we may allow emotion to fill our sails and pull us out of calm water of logic. Right?”

“I do believe I am following you and your analogies. It sounds fairly similar to some of my own ponderings.”

“Rightly so. We both’ve been raised by dear Lady Ludmila.”

“Which is why I loathe the idea of my brother raised by the Regent,” he said, trying not to lose composure to the swell of emotion the train of thought had surged within him.

“Sure, I know that. I saw that the day ye last set eyes upon ’im...and your mother. I saw emotion fill your sails and nearly pull you to ruin. She’d have had you arrested and tried as a traitor, and since you’re not of legal age to take the throne, nor did you have any more military support to stake your claim other than my muscle—oh, and Streiter’s. That’s past, we are here, now, ready to follow you. You didn’t let your mind be overcome by your heart at the time.”

“Well thought, my friend,” he praised, tracking along well with what I was saying. “Mind and heart are a sort of checks and balances system, one for logic and reasoning, the other for emotional feeling. Both valid, strong, and both can be swayed to good or evil.”

“I dare say, I think emotion can be more powerful, though the mind can keep it in check. How oft are people caught up in the throes of passion and take actions they’d never thought possible? Often, emotions can overpower us. I wonder how many adulteries have taken place that were logically thought through as opposed to simple, emotional impulse? That story, the one of David and—?


“Goodness, no. Well, actually that works too. He saw this boor tauntin’ God’s people and the Almighty himself and the swell of passion drove him to arms, ‘comin’ the only one brave ’nough to face ‘im. That’s a good decision, I dare say, was made by emotion. Thank God it worked. No, I was thinkin’ of a bad decision, by lust, that damsel he saw from his rooftop.”


“Aye, that lass. One angelic beauty she must’ve been to charm ‘im so without even tryin’. So the king, a so-called ‘man after God’s own heart’ goes and commits adultery and has her husband killed. It’s awful! There’s a moment where emotion again proved to be the stronger force.”

“I see. You make a good claim to the power of emotion, but how does this—?”

“So, if we use our minds to focus on the good—my hundred apologies for interuptin’ you, m’Lord.”

“Please, carry on.”

“Right. Set our minds on the right, the just, the holy, we can be in the light—God’s light. There’s where he can write his laws on our hearts and allow our emotions to not be deceitful, but to help govern us. So you have all these nobles and magistrates, legislators, dukes, and duchesses whose support and allegiance you need, but ye fear their hearts now belong to the darkness. Their minds have been twisted and likely so too their hearts. What shall it take to break those hearts free?”

“I think you mean to say no logical argument will do it?”

“Hell no. Especially since both their heads and guts agree right now that evil is good, sin is fine, tellin’ ’em otherwise would be speaking to the wind, your words flying off like autumn leaves to the wild. But when they see you, the man ye are, the man that has inspired us to leave farms and family and go to arms, something’ll happen. I do say God is very much with you, sire. He’s with ye and his light shines from you, whether you want to believe it or not, ‘tis! Ye’ve set captives free! We’re inspired by your charity to be willin’ to lay down our lives for you. Let them see that charity and God’s light of goodness shine from you and he’ll stir in their hearts. Inspire their hearts and invoke a change of mind. Then they’ll step into the light again and most certainly side with you just as this whole camp of men have.”

“Cabbage,” he started and paused for a moment. I think he choked back a swell of emotion again, using his mind to triumph over tears. Then he warmly smiled and told me, “Gather those men.” I knew he was under a great deal of pressure with raising an army, planning insurrection against a tyrant, and knowing all eyes were watching him with high expectations. The fact that he could still find a smile to share with me showed his budget of kindness seemed to never run dry.

We gathered round him as he finished his stew then he stood up to address us.

“I know that today did not go as planned. I am grateful to God above that not one of you were harmed. All were spared. I am also grieved at the good men who lost their lives simply doing their duty in compliance to those superior to them. At the whims of mad men drunk on power, at the whims of a witch sick and twisted in her cruelty, they followed orders honorably. Let us mourn them as they deserve.”

He took a pause, a moment of silence, and my heart stirred. He showed such good character in light of those who were poised for his capture. I know I wasn’t the only one thinking of how much he would honor us, those who fought alongside him, should the same fate befall us.

“You are valiant men. You are loyal to your Duke. I know this. I know not if it is clear to you all that my intentions of marching upon Prague is to force a truce by sheer threat. Threats are cheap, they cost no bloodshed at all. My hope is that the Regent will abdicate upon sight of such a force not to reckon with—namely the men of the land, my people, my brethren. My hope was first to instill such confidence in the hearts of leaders who might tarry at this moment. I know that there is nobility that would side with our cause if they were not afraid that it was a losing plight. If they sensed victory at hand, then their families and property would remain safe, and then they too might join. That was the point of Kutna Hora.

“Clearly that did not go as expected. At this moment, I am at a loss. I want every confidence that marching on Prague would not see one drop of your blood shed, nor one life lost. Unless more recruits join our army, I cannot be sure, and so time to march may not be at hand.”

“Maybe that time is sooner than later, m’Lord,” spoke a familiar voice. It was that redheaded warrior.

“You have my attention, er—?”


“Please, share what you know.”

“I hear tell that the window of opportunity may be at hand. The Regent cancelled tribute with the Fowler and she cannot be sure if he will send troops to march upon us. She sent a garrison north to intercept lest they invade.”

Wenceslas rubbed his chin, pondering this news. He both calculated on how this would work for his march on Prague and also what international affairs of state he would be inheriting once he took the throne.

“Prague is a hive with fewer bees,” Horst noted.

“Yet with bees nonetheless,” he replied. “I shan’t let this operation be futile. If the Regent will defend herself, I will need warriors. Who has ideas? Cabbage, you know everything! I need able-bodied vulture-feeders itching to fight.”

That’s right when a new idea dawned on me, one that hadn’t before. I was stuck in the mode of seeking farmers and peasants. Now that he told me he truly wanted some muscle, a new notion finally surfaced in my brain.

“You speak rightly, sire,” I told him, grinning ear to ear. “I do know everything and I do know the answer to your question.”


A dank dungeon, defined by pervasive inkiness, dripping putrid water, droning moans of prisoners in pain—this was where we were headed. Rats. Filth. The zenith of degradation. This was where we would find our army.

A jailer, burly, glistening with sweat and grime, coated with hair, patiently waiting for his life to pass by as he spent his years sitting in such an abysmal prison, sat still until his sitting was interrupted by heavy banging upon the iron door. He sighed, not wanting to be disturbed from his nothingness, but knew tending to such matters was his duty. He shuffled along, passing cells filled with mucky inmates. He reached the door and as he pried it open, light struck through, burning the ubiquitous blackness. All eyes squinted, prisoners shielded themselves. He saw Wenceslas accompanied by Streiter, Horst, and myself. We had several others behind us, armed and ready should this become similar to Kutna Hora.

“Who the devil are you?” he asked angrily.

“Your Duke. I am here to speak to the warden.”

Though the jailer didn’t like his routine of sitting in the nothingness, listening to the cacophony of wailing souls, he liked trouble with the warden even less and so it was his pleasure to administer the meeting. As I entered, I couldn’t help the utter dread that this warden would see to it that I would be placed into one of these cells. I shivered at the prospect, but Wenceslas’s courage maintained my resolve.

So we ventured further in to another door where we were instructed to wait as the jailer went through. Wenceslas eyed the abominable surroundings with disdain. Not that he was so hoity toity and above the grime of it all, but that he loathed the idea that these were considered living conditions. He also was very much aware that more than half the inmates were placed there by Dragomira or those following her lead. Wenceslas very much doubted they were the kinds of convicts he would place there if he had to. That was our hope. The problem was removing them from behind bars.

“Keep lively,” Wenceslas told us. “We may not depart this place without a brawl.”

Sadly, I felt responsible if that would happen. This was my clever idea. Oh how I hoped and prayed that I didn’t concoct a plan that would put us behind these same bars. When we heard subtle commotion and footsteps approaching the door, all our hands gripped our hilts and made ready for an ambush. The door opened and out stepped the warden; a pale, somber, and sinister snake of a man. He slithered out from his chamber with the jailer just behind.

When he spoke, he sounded not at all as I expected. I expected a hiss, something like Mareczek. He was actually cordial in manner and warm in tone. That didn’t mean we could trust him any. He was also on Dragomira’s pay.

“The Duke, son of Vratislav, how might I be of service?” he asked.

“I come to liberate captives and will not be leaving without them,” Wenceslas spoke bluntly. He wanted to get the business out in the open and enter the conflict sure to follow without delay. Gripping our hilts, his men braced for action.

“Your word is my will, sire,” he replied. I wanted to see the conspiracy he was up to, but I saw no duplicity about him.

“Just like that?” Wenceslas asked, easing the grip on his weapon.

“As I see it, all this is yours, though your mother carries pretense otherwise.”

“That is a welcome relief.”

“Never bought that impostor ruse for a minute. In fact, it was because the rumor spread so rapidly, I knew that it was a plot for your downfall. How I do wish you came to me sooner. Your aid would be my good pleasure. Your father saved my life in battle. Fealty to him and his lineage is my vow.”

This was unexpected, but most welcome. He spirited us away into a courtyard. I was a bit more naive and trusting, deferring to whatever Wenceslas thought best. Streiter and Horst looked always on their guard, fearing any sort of ruse that may yet rear its hideous head. In the courtyard, we waited only for a moment or two before we found ourselves surrounded by the inmates, still shackled, and accompanied by the few guards the prison had to offer. We met with a plethora of grungy, scowling, menacing characters bearing chains, many peering through bars. They looked intrigued, for this was entirely out of the typical mode of daily life within this dungeon. Some of these men never even saw the light within this courtyard, having been sentenced to the deepest recesses of this pit. Wenceslas didn’t dally. He lifted the key the warden had given him and walked about. Noticing Krystoff, the priest of the cathedral where we had first met Domeczek, we moved closer to him. Oh how long ago that day seemed. Oh, how different our lives had become and how different they would be before long.

“The Regent has sentenced many captives without legal cause. There are men of the cloth here, those who simply worked the mission that Christ had given as parting words before ascending to Heaven. Men who would toil day and night following the creed of what the Apostle James says is perfect and pure, to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to not conform to the world. Yes, there are people shackled here for simply not conforming to the Regent’s sad vision of a world. This should surprise not any disciple of Christ. He said that this would happen, and to you it would be a blessing.”

Now he lifted the key for all eyes to see, almost taunting them, rubbing the fact of their incarceration into their faces. I’d expect many a convict to lash out at him like a leashed dog foaming at the jowells at the sight, but they didn’t. There was something about the way Wenceslas spoke that stayed them. They felt neither insulted nor taunted, but welcomed. His charisma carried and touched their hearts, whether they were the faithful whom he spoke of or not.
“Today, I have the very honor and privilege of embodying that blessing.” Using a key, Wenceslas unlocked the cuff around the wrists of the incarcerated priest, now bedraggled, unshaven, and filthy. I could still see it was Krystoff, though. He wouldn’t say he enjoyed his time in prison, but he always took it as a test of his faith and knew he would grow closer to God and stronger in spirit from this tribulation. “I offer you freedom and request your patronage. Will you stand by my side?”

“Aye. Anything for you, sire,” he replied with a shaking voice. He was there when Wenceslas first gave an impromptu public oration that stirred their hearts of the people. Wenceslas was to this priest more a man of faith, more a man of conduct in step with his Savior’s, than an clergyman he had ever met.

“I offer the very same to all here who were unlawfully imprisoned.”

A monstrously tall, muscled, mean figure stepped to the end of his chain leash. His eyes flashed murder. I was wholly glad that this brute had been placed here, and I knew it was no easy task for anyone to shackle him. When I heard Ludmila tell the tales of David fighting Goliath, this man was very much like the giant I pictured Goliath to be.

“Listen to me,” he said in his baritone voice expected of one his size. “I deserve to be here. My family starved so I stole a single loaf of bread from a baron. Three years hence have I served. Understand it, do I, that this crime I commit should have some justice. I think not the punishment suits the crime, though far be it from me to question magistrates of the law. Yet, I must speak my mind. You, Duke, would not come to this hole of hell to liberate captives in search of recruits lest ye were in desperate need of arms to bear swords at your side.”

He was clever and well spoken, albeit a tad untactful, but he was cunning. I gave him that. At first I felt as though he saw right through Wenceslas and outsmarted him, giving him the upper hand and control of this encounter. But Wenceslas did not falter. He stood strong, head high, shoulders back, like the top wolf in a pack. Then the giant fell to his knee.

“Should you release me, my Lord, I swear fealty unto you and you will have my sword. Pardon me, please. I deserve it not, yet should you grant this favor, I pledge my service to you unto whatever end.”

Wenceslas narrowed his eyes, appearing a bit dubious, though I felt he was expressing it mostly out of custom. He was very trusting of folks and more so to those who sounded as genuine as this man. He heaved a deep breath as he considered the proposal before him.

“Your name?”

“Humbert, m’Lord.”

“Humbert speaks well,” Wenceslas said, speaking to the throng of grungy inmates around us. “He speaks true. A proposal has been set before me. Does he speak for you all as well? Will you offer the same?”

“Aye!” they shouted.

“Such a bargain, I can agree to. I will hold you under oath and absolve you of any crimes of your past and make you free henceforth. God will be your judge should you fail this pledge.” Wenceslas nodded to the warden and then commanded his jailers to release the prisoners. “A second chance at life comes to you like a ray of sunshine on a bleak winter’s morn. Not oft do men in shackles see such a hope. My God is a God of redemption, to redeem the whole world! Let us find redemption and renewal in our lives this day. Today you are set free for a second chance at a better life. Tomorrow, we work shoulder to shoulder as brothers to rebuild, restore, and renew our land, Bohemia!”

And freedom rang loud and clear that day.


“I’ll never leave you again, girl,” Wenceslas said soothingly as he groomed Milana, nuzzling close to her in the moonlight. He found a secluded area within the Abyss to enjoy solitude; time to think, and time to bond with his long lost steed. His men prepared noisily for battle in the background, but the commotion didn’t pull Wenceslas from the state of peace he found as he ran his palm along her coat following the brush with the other hand. A moment’s peace was more precious than gold to him, and his dark spirit always found him at such times. He knew she was coming as the vision around his eyes dimmed to a vignette, his gut tensed, and blood fled from his fingertips.

“Try as you might, you’ve already failed as son, Duke, and brother,” Dragomira told him as she emerged from the shadows behind the sable stallion. “What worth has a man? Is not the sum of his days counted in the very end and his value measured then? What will you show for it? You abandoned your brother, the one your dead father gave you charge of protecting. You had true power proffered by your mother; you rejected that. Your work allowed Domeczek, Tilda, Brynn, and many others to die. Is their blood not on your hands? Your life is but a mess of futility. One minute do you not cling to the Apollonian, the next the Dionysian? One minute you’re a warrior, the next a clergyman. Be all things and yet nothing at all. I gave you a destiny, will you reject it forever unto your last days only to find that it was my destiny that merited your only hope at true value? You dare go to war against me? You are not the valiant fighter your father was, and having rejected the power given by my god, you will falter, fail, and drag all these paupers to ruin for treason.”

He was done listening to her. “Leave me, witch!” he shouted.

“Well, excuse me!” came another voice from behind, sounding offended. Wenceslas turned to find Libyena coming to him.

“Not you, my lady.”

“If not me, then who do you speak out against? Surely not your horse?”

“Surely not my horse. Though she was a gift from my father, I never forgot the damsel who handed her reins to me first.”

“That was a lifetime ago,” she said with a blush.

“Does seem to be, does it not? How much has changed…” The changes he thought of were the many wrongs in his life, leaving a sourness to his stomach.

“Then you speak to ghosts?”

“I’m worried that tomorrow I’ll be too late.”

“For what?” she asked, taking his hand and looking him in the eyes. She had grown to know there were two sides to Wenceslas; a man hopeful and optimistic and a man vexed by some darkness dragging his heart into the mud. Both, however, were still men she admired. He on the other hand wasn’t sure how to answer her question without divulging everything and opening up a level of vulnerability he was not sure he was ready for.

“If your brothers were in danger, a demon swayed them to evil, you—”

“I’d rent heaven and earth to protect them from that. It’s why I am here, I want to help make a better world for them to grow up in, so they may grow to be the best men they can be.”

He gulped. He knew she was beautiful inside and out, but hearing her speak the same thoughts he had about his brother showed him they shared something deeper. He only just started to move to kiss her, an act that seemed clear she was ready to return, when Horst arrived.

“Sir,” he said. “You have my consent to kiss my daughter, yet—”

“Papa!” she cringed.

“I want you to know that, see. But, maybe you could kiss her later. The meeting’s gathered. Let us be about our plannin’.”

Horst was right and Wenceslas marched after him, not sure how to face Libyena after such an awkward interlude to a budding romance.

The Macocha Abyss was alive and bustling, more filled with troops than we had ever seen or imagined. We now had an army worthy of being called that. Farmers have muscle from working the plow and hoe, but some of the former inmates had nothing better to do than pushups and other exercises. These soldiers added to our ranks were quite beastly and formidable. Wenceslas had the force he wanted and I had given it to him. Well, at least I had the bright idea.

Now, as we strategized, my gut turned from proud elation to a knot of yarn fit for a housecat. I didn’t kid myself or anyone around me—I was no soldier. Combat sickened me, confrontation terrified me. Give me a battle of words and wits, then I might enter valiantly. But now that a true skirmish drew closer, I drew sicker and sicker. Yes, we had a fighting force at last, and I currently had the secret plan to fall back to rear ranks, avoid the conflict, and simply lurk in the shadows as those who could fight would shine in the light of valor and glory.

A couple torches illuminated the meeting of leaders hovering over a map drawn in the dirt with rocks, leaves, and sticks posing as geographic markers for reference points. Maybe it wasn’t exactly to scale, but we all knew the land and terrain well enough to follow along as Wenceslas dictated the stratagem.

“We will strike here with but a tenth of our forces. I want these men armored to the extreme. Shields, plating, pauldrons, mail, solid helms. These men will take a pummeling, to be sure, and I need them ready to withstand it for a moment. Another tenth will station here, hiding in the thickets and woods, ready to storm later. We will set the ruse that we are weak. Let them think that is the whole size of our army. They will defeat us, we retreat back to here. Eighty percent back here, ready for the ambush. Then my other ten percent storm in. I see one possible issue with the gate. If only I could have but one man inside, someone small to go unnoticed, to open the gate.”

I was tracking along with him this entire time, expecting him to make a nomination for the infiltrator. But he stopped talking. In fact, everyone was silent and still. I looked up to find out what I had missed only to find all their eyes fixed upon me. What an eerie sight to see so many pupils all reflecting the flickering flames of the campfire. But it quickly became more eerie still when I realized they had nominated me to infiltrate.

“Sure,” I gulped. “Pick on me. Guessin’ I know how to handle this, eh?”

“Why of course, Cabbage. What don’t you know?” the ever diplomatic Duke replied.

“That, I don’t know.”


A driver of a supply wagon pulled his mule to the side of the gravelly path bound for Prague. Under the light of the setting sun and rising moon, he pulled down his breeches and took a leak on the bushes while whistling a tune. I had been waiting for such an opportunity for hours now and this was my best shot. I emerged from a ditch alongside the road and kept on the side of the wagon opposite the urinating fellow. As best as I could, I kept my footsteps from making a sound. I hoped any noise I did make would easily be interpreted in the man’s mind as the sound of his mule growing restless or the lowing of nearby cattle.

I furtively boarded the wagon, finding it laden with—of all things in the world—cabbages. I couldn’t resist quietly chuckling to myself as I thought, I have to tell Wenceslas about this. I dug in and drove down into the hundreds of green orbs composed of waxy leaves. As soon as I heard the trickling stream cease, I stifled my movement. Regrettably, I wasn’t entirely covered up, but in the dim twilight, I’m sure my skin tone and the pale green of the heads matched like gray on gray. As long as he didn’t reach into his cart, I should be fine.

We walked right by, hopped on, and flapped the reins telling his beast of burden to get a move on. As the wagon rocked and wobbled, I used the momentum to bury myself further under the heads. There I waited as he drove on to the outer wall of the capital city. We heard that with the rumors of insurrection about, any peasant or traveller coming into the city was thoroughly inspected and required papers to certify reason of passage. None in Wenceslas’s camp had these documents and we didn’t want to spend the time seeking some to forge. Wenceslas always had this way of checking the moon and feeling pressed on time. His birthday was also upon us and with him finally turning eighteen years old, he had every legal right to claim the throne. With an army marching upon the capital, no magistrate would fear Dragomira to stand by the law.

“Little late for a delivery,” I heard the gruff gatekeeper say to the driver. My eyes clandestinely peeked through the gaps in the heads and I could see the glow of a lantern grow and dim, swaying this way and that. I reasoned the gatekeeper walked with it about the wagon to search for anything amiss.

“Give a pardon,” said the driver. “’Tis been a terrible long, long day.”

When the light neared me, I shut my eyes. Not out of fright of being caught, but to keep the light from twinkling upon my eyeballs.

“Alright, move along.”

The wagon lurched and rolled as we proceeded through the gate and into Prague. He travelled only a little ways before stopping, dismounting, and greeting with another merchant friend of his. They sounded like tight chums and were quickly off for a pint. That was my best shot.

I scrambled out from under the cabbages and slinked through the dark alleys and back to the gate. I kept to the shadows, moved up the stairs, and there found a thick rope holding weights. It took only a second to analyse that this was a pulley system that worked the gate. Engaging certain weights would weigh the gate down from resistance. Engage the other weights and they’d do all the work in pulling the gate up. It would be an effective, advanced system should it not be tampered with, which was what I entirely planned on doing.

With a small knife, I began to carve away a layer of the rope. At the time, it seemed prudent to me to get as much work done now in the cover of night as possible. If the rope was weakened, then tomorrow when the army needed access, I could cut the rest and be done with it. This was working out swimmingly; I could come in here, weaken the rope, wait for the battle to commence, and I could wait and hide in this tiny loft for when I needed to slice the cord, the gate would open easily, the army would march in, and I could quickly move to Wenceslas’s side. I’d join the triumphant heroes without ever needed to immerse myself in the gore of an actual battle.

This was working out perfectly until a thick arm grappled me from behind and slammed me to a stone wall. Needless to say, I was disoriented. I found myself able to discern a heavy voice say, “What ya doin’, boy?” But with the wind knocked out of me, I needed a moment to respond. He didn’t like it and he slugged me once more. That one hurt worse than the slamming into the wall. “I asked what’re ya doin’?”

“Beg pardon, sir. I’m hard o’ hearin’. But, I’m only doin’ me job, sir,” I replied, trying to diminish suspicion.

“And what job might that be?”

“Well, you see, I, uh…”

“Thought as much. Yer comin’ with me!” He tucked my head into his sweaty armpit and dragged me off.


As the Magyar armies worked to invade Germania through Saxony, I had invaded the capital city of Bohemia… and failed. As they took me to the dungeons beneath the elegant castle, Dragomira enjoyed the evening with her beloved son. A waxing crescent moon, like a cocked frown, glowered down upon mother and son enjoying the night sky beauty.

“The moon and your birthday will soon agree, darling. How time passes swiftly. Not long till you turn ten. A fine age for the moon to fill on your day, to open the door to a new life of power and promise unlike you have yet known.”

“Did Wenceslas have this power?”

“He did. He rejected it, the same as he rejected me… and you. He gave up on his heritage. You would never do that, would you?”

“Never, mama.”

“You are such a handsome boy turning to such a handsome man. Oh, the man you will be! No one will challenge you. You will squash your enemies underfoot, spilling their blood, ruling in triumph and conquest.”

She still spoke with the same lilt and smile that any mother would use when speaking to their beloved child. The subject matter never even slightly changed her tone. Before Boleslav could respond, a soldier intruded from behind with news.

“My Lady. Forgive my interruption. We found an intruder.”

“To my keep?”

“To your city.”

“How can this not wait for the morrow? Must I be pestered by the misdeeds of hoodlums and gutter rats?”

“He was at the gate. We think he was a spy sent by the revolutionaries.”

She narrowed her eyes and then acquiesced. After tucking Boleslav in, she changed her expression from endearing to sinister before marching down accompanied by her armed guard into the catacombs.

When she arrived, she found Mareczek and other soldiers interrogating me. I had been strapped to a cross beam over my shoulders, lashing my arms uncomfortably to my sides. The brute had just tried to force me to spill my business at the gate. I was terrified, but had to try my best to rely on my truest weapon, my tongue. If I could spew enough verbiage vindicating me, they might truly think nothing of me, or even trust me as a spy, which of course I’d turn back on them.

“Nothing, sir. It was a small hole to hide in for the night. I fear robbers muggin’ me in the streets. I‘ve nothin’ but me skin and I wouldn’t see them take even that from me.”

“You are a spy sent by the impostor claiming to be Duke.”

“Imposter? Never heard of ’im.”

“Feed me no lies! Witnesses claim to have seen you with the band of outlaws down south. You’ve been identified as one considered closest to their leader, one of his inner circle even.”

“They likely make false reports hopin’ for reward from your palm.”

“Captain, any word?” Dragomira asked, announcing her presence.

“Please, m’lady!” I said having now seen she had arrived. Seeing her up close, I could see how any man would fall victim of her wiles. “I left Wenceslas’s company weeks ago. He’s a mad man, workin’ with a handful of savage mountain barbarians. I left by my skin for someplace free, safe. What better place than the impregnable Prague, m’lady.”

“What business had you at the gate?” she asked, looking dubious, seemingly sifting right through my lie.

“As I told your brutish servant here, nothin’ but seekin’ shelter till daybreak.”

Mareczek slugged me across my cheek. I wanted desperately to rub my face with my hand to nurse the sore, but couldn’t with my arms strapped to my sides. While I stretched my jaw to massage my throbbing cheek, Mareczek turned about and grabbed a lead sprinkler from a bucket another soldier had brought in. This was an orb fixed to the end of a wand, the orb had several punctured holes and within was hot lead. All it took was a slight shake to make scorching hot lead flakes to sprinkle out and upon the victim of this cruel form of torture.

It burned dearly, stinging my skin, feeling like a thousand mosquitoes with razor stingers buzzing about and stabbing my flesh. Again, with my arms strapped sideways, there was nothing I could do to swat away the burning mosquitoes.

“What!?!” I pleaded, desperate to stop the painful shower. “I told you all. What more?”

“We caught you with a knife!” Mareczek pressed.

“Did I not say I was fearin’ muggers? ’Twas my only defense for brigands. Stop it, please! Anything anyone says is a lie!” He relented for the moment, but I was sure I hadn’t convinced him to trust me.

“’Tis far too late of this eve to attend this,” the Regent said with a yawn. “That and he is but an idiot brat. Use what will crack his mind by morning and we shall resume.”

“Aye, your Highness.” Mareczek’s eyes gleamed as he grinned, delighted to use what torturous idea he had concocted. He reached and grabbed a bucket filled with some strange, dark goo from a soldier. He waved the bucket before my face, wafting up some putrid fumes that instantly made my eyes water and face cringe like biting into a raw lemon. “Smell nice, eh?”

“Not particularly,” I replied.

He reached in and lifted a palm full of the substance. “Dog shit.”

Now I knew what it was and the dreadful thought that he was going to force me to eat it filled my mind. I clenched my lips shut, locked my jaw, and would not make it easy for him to shove that in my mouth. Then, to my surprise, he slapped it right onto my upper lip and pressed some up into my nostrils. He hadn’t the idea of feeding it to me at all and now I wasn’t sure what was worse.

“Oh, oh god, that’s awful!” I gasped. It was everywhere. Nowhere was safe. I couldn’t’ cover my face to escape the fumes. I couldn’t flee it. I writhed and squirmed, but there was nothing I could do to escape it. With my arms tied to my sides, I could do nothing to be rid of the feces rammed up my nostrils.

“That ought to suffice,” Dragomira remarked, pleased with herself and her servants. Pleased to let me wallow all night in the hell of canine fecal matter, she had the nerve to add, “Have a pleasant evening.”


As the sun awoke from his slumber and bathed the springtime land of Bohemia in its golden rays, Wenceslas, donning full armor and regal cuirass, marched toward his steed with his confidants—Streiter, Horst, Humbert, Erdmann, Selmer, and a handful of others—cloistered just behind. They had moved from the Abyss in the night and now camped near Prague and with first light, it was time he made his army ready. He had been over the plan with them, but he felt the dire need to hash it out again. These were peasants with no formal education at all let alone learning battle strategy. If any had served in the military at all, it was as infantry knaves told explicit orders and given no explanation. Wenceslas had been trained in warfare tactics, but even still, this was his first time leading an army. He put his knowledge, cunning, and wits to use, but he was still too new to be confident.

“The first wave will be the most vulnerable,” he said during his strut. “I am serious, any armor what can be spared I want on them. Bucklers, helms, shields, whatever can be spared. Remember, unless at utmost need, spare lives. We go to fight our countrymen who will in short time be our allies and brothers in arms. We need them fit and plentiful for when that time comes. Forget not, they are but a body obeying a corrupt head. We remove the head, the body knows not what to do.”

“Then we shall have a new head, see, one to steer our body rightly,” Horst added, always a bit of the sycophant. Wenceslas appreciated the enthusiasm, but also ignored the comment. Putting him on a pedestal made a spectacle of high expectations out of him that he wasn’t sure he could fulfill. He didn’t want to let down anyone, especially those who left their homes and land to come march beside him.

He reached Milana and mounted atop his mighty horse then rode about, pulling the attention of his camp toward him. “Hear me, Bohemians!” he called out, rallying his troops. “Today we fight. Hold the countenance of those you love, those you would die for in the forefront of your minds. It is for them we risk all! For peace!”

The spirits of his forces swelled with enthusiasm. Troops strapped on their thick leather, mail, sheathed swords, clutched spears, strapped on helms, and made ready for battle. The assigned lieutenants organized their squadrons, those who had a horse mounted up, others marched on. His eighty percent staged back, hidden in the woods while the other twenty marched on. Closing in on the gate, they split, Wenceslas leading one group right for the gate while the others kept in hiding. As soldiers saw the rebel army advancing, they pulled back within the wall and drew the heavy wooden door shut. Wenceslas pointed out troops lining up on the upper causeway of the gate parapet and had his few archers lob poor shots toward the top of the wall. These shots weren’t meant to be accurate, they were meant to make them duck. The idea was to keep them from shooting at Wenceslas without his men killing them.

They rallied and from slots in the stone towers shot arrows that ricocheted off the shields and helms worn by these troops. They ran, shouting, building their confidence and courage, right for the gate. Under the parapet, they had a minor amount of overhanging stonework to shield them, but the few men in the rear were the most vulnerable.

Sixteen muscular men hoisted an oak trunk as a battering ram while others held their shields over their heads to protect them from above. These were his heavy-armored soldiers, hopefully impenetrable in their armor casings. They ran and plowed into the thick wooden door repeatedly as the shields held overhead deflected arrows and rocks thrown down upon them by the troops above.

Wenceslas would have them do this until it was clear that his forces were inept. If he could take Prague with so few, then it would make a sad testament for the military he’d soon be in charge of.

As for the one in charge, Čsta, acting as messenger boy, rushed in to a royal chamber, finding Dragomira with Boleslav getting ready for the day. He bowed respectfully before delivering his news.

“Good morrow, Čsta!” Boleslav shouted out jubilantly at sight of his friend.

“Your highnesses,” he said, taking no time with pleasant greetings, “We are under attack. The outer wall. They believe it’s, um, Wenceslas’s forces.” He wasn’t sure how she’d react to the news and faltered a bit with hesitation.

“Indeed? I did wonder when this would come to a head. His birthday is upon us and so he wants to steal the throne from me and do so in open war. How fare they? How large an army?”

“Futile and pathetic, Highness,” he replied, glad that he knew she’d be pleased with such an account. This placed a big grin on her face before she moved to go and survey the situation.

Boleslav, on the other hand, stared out the high window toward the commotion with eyes of longing and deep concern. His family had been rent apart, his own flesh and blood older brother, who he had once admired, was waging war against his homeland. This was the house he was born in and after so many years away, he would return not as welcome heir but as conquering warlord? This didn’t sit well with Boleslav. He wanted his family back together and all to be made right. He also did not want to see Bohemian lives lost over a family quarrel. Maybe the best way would be to let Wenceslas in and have him confront his mother and his mother confront him. Maybe when they see each other, they’d remember their familial bond and love for one another.

Meanwhile, Wenceslas and his men heaved the battering ram to no avail—as was planned. The fight was only growing more intense as it went on, but they kept safe. They held their shields above their heads, blocking arrows, rocks, and hot oil from reaching their flesh. Overhead, they felt the pelting and beating. Their arms grew tired from keeping shields raised and heaving the battering ram, and the longer they remained in this spot, they were susceptible for flanking. If a squad had dropped down the wall further away and crept up, they would be vulnerable and the fighting would intensify to a level Wenceslas was hoping to avoid. As his cohorts grew tired and the time passed, it was time for a change. The drama had played out long enough and if they carried on longer, someone was bound to lose limb or life.

“Right! I think we have drawn enough attention,” he noted subtly to those closest to him. “Ready, Humbert?”

“Aye,” the giant replied.

“No use!” Wenceslas called out overly loud, making sure anyone above or behind the door could hear his shouting. “We cannot breech it. This was futile!”

“You failed us!” Humbert shouted, following along. “I told you that we needed more men! Away! Retreat! Save yourselves!”

They dropped the battering ram and, with their shields held above their heads still, they fell back, running in full retreat.

“Cowards! Never should anyone trust an inmate! No honor!” Wenceslas shouted, chasing off after his running ranks.

Atop the parapet, Dragomira strode forward, meeting Mareczek. She noticed the retreaters fleeing to the woods and nearly chuckled at the comedic sight. “That was it? The grand assault?” she asked with a lilt of subdued laughter in her voice.

“He’s but an overgrown boy without guidance and a true army, my lady,” Mareczek replied without emotion. “What say you, Highness? Let them flee?

“Pursue. Swifter extermination than gallows or burning cathedrals. Bring me my son alive, if possible, in shackles. We shall make an example of him. If I would execute my own flesh, how much swifter would be my just retribution to anyone else who would cross me.”

“Yes, my lady.” Mareczek nodded with a punch to his chest before promptly turning to his soldiers. “We pursue! Open the gate, mount riders. Make haste!”

Wenceslas and the other staged group of a few hundred warriors watched as garrisons behind Mareczek poured out, emptying the gate guard. Having seen the general direction that the invaders had fled to, they drove into the woods after them. Since Wenceslas’s force was on foot, this pursuit should be quick and easy. As their troops vanished into the woods, the few guards left at the Prague gate quickly shut and sealed the large door.

“This is it. Victory or honorable death,” Streiter spoke, building his courage and enthusiasm.

“Preferably the first one,” Wenceslas replied. “Be ready to charge in. But where is Kohl’s signal? The gate is shut.”

“Sent a boy to do a man’s work,” Streiter replied, insulting me behind my back. I know because he told me later.

“Give him better credit. I am sure he is handling this. He is on top of the situation.”

How wrong he was. When Mareczek’s men drove out into the woods, I was still suffering in the dungeon cell. I was busy scraping my bleeding nose along the rough, jagged stones composing the wall of that wretched torture chamber. I had suffered dearly as the pungent sting of the feces burned up into my nostrils. Yes, I breathed through my mouth the whole time, but the stench was still just as pervasive and atrocious. Another aspect that made this truly torturous was having something upon my nose that I couldn’t wipe away.

At first, I tried to sit and meditate, allowing my mind to wander into some higher plain, transcending the hell I was in, but it proved too difficult a task. I couldn’t ignore it, I couldn’t focus on anything else. Too many of my senses were occupied with suffering that I was stuck in the present with nothing to pass the time. And as always, fun moments pass by like a boat rushing down a rapid river and terrible moments crawl like a maimed animal. Time crawled so slowly that it seemed to me that Wenceslas’s assault had been delayed a couple days. No, it had only been a handful of hours.

Making the sad situation worse was knowing that my rescuer relied on me to even enter the city. I was trapped and unable to complete my duties, which would likely hinder Wenceslas’s march on the capital, the very march I needed to be liberated from the torture chamber.

“Get off. Please, get out!” I whined, rubbing my nose to a pulp, my eyes in tears. I whimpered in despair, feeling all was hopeless.

“You work to aid my brother?” came the voice of a young boy. This was wholly unexpected, but any distraction from the smell and pain was more than welcome. I turned and saw the young Duke Boleslav in the now open doorway. I supposed that I missed the sound of the cell door opening because it was drowned out by my wailing sorrow. Then, I pondered the question he asked me. Yes, I had been asked this question multiple times during this incarceration and lied through my teeth to save my skin. Now, I was met with a beguiling young man, a few years younger than I was, and in his eyes I saw something comforting.

“I—er…” I stuttered, trying to comprehend why he was here, why he was asking. I assumed by the noise of commotion outside that Wenceslas’s assault had begun and those who would be occupied with interrogating me were preoccupied with the invasion, but would they send a boy in their stead? I didn’t think so, and for some reason, taking a step of faith, I trusted the young Duke. “Aye, sir. I do.”

“I do not know why my mother wants him dead or why he attacks home,” he noted. “She speaks so poorly of him, and yet in my heart I doubt the reports entirely true. And yet here he has come to his home city with an invading army?”

“He doesn’t want to kill anyone, young master,” I replied, careful to be honest and appeasing—he was, after all, my only hope at the moment for freedom. “He’s not been welcomed home and has been denied the throne of his birthright. Your mother has raped this land, oppressed innocents. Wenceslas—he works to right it all.”

“And this is the propaganda my brother has fed you? I know my mother’s methods can be… I mean to say, she works for good too.”

“It can’t be propaganda, m’Lord, if I’ve experienced it firsthand.”

“What shall he do to me if he succeeds and takes Prague?”

“Just as he’s always wished, to be your elder brother, protect you, and look after you. Just as he wishes to do for all of Bohemia.”

Without a word, or even much emotion, Boleslav approached and began to untie my bindings holding my arms at to my sides, mounted upon the crossbeam. I was surprised, taken aback, but so utterly relieved. I couldn’t tell which I needed to do first, rub my aching, throbbing, stiffened arm muscles back to life, or wipe the itching, burning dog defecation from my nose. The nose took precedence; though as I wiped and scratched, my whole arm ached as I’m sure a tree branch feels when the wind forces an inflexible limb to bend. My cleansing was futile for it had mostly dried and hardened.

“I thank you, m’Lord, most assuredly. Yet, if not too much to ask, for pity’s sake, please bring me a wet rag to remove this dung from my face!”

Boleslav was most accommodating, and I did not tarry with the cleansing. I knew the first group of men were fleeing into the woods, hastily driving for the rendezvous with the ambush. How I hoped that Mareczek’s cavalry wouldn’t plow over them before they reached the ambush—it would have meant the death of them.

Wenceslas and Streiter on the other hand had little option left but to make for the gate and try to open it, this time with real exertion. This was no diversion tactic, this was when he truly needed entrance to the city and to march upon the castle, storm the citadel, confront his mother, and claim his birthright. He, Streiter, Horst, and roughly eighty others tried to lift the gate, hoping I had already broken the counter-weight making it moveable. They struggled to no avail. Though a legion of troops had moved north to intercept Germans and Mareczek had moved a company of troops beyond the city to chase the invaders, Prague was wisely not left without defense. The guards left behind used the same defense strategy as they had before, lobbing arrows, throwing rocks, pouring hot oil. Only this time Wenceslas’s men weren’t so heavily armored. They had shields, helms, mail, leathers, and such, but the best, most durable armaments had been given to the first wave because he knew they’d absorb the heaviest beating. Now, because the gate was still locked tight, this group took just as hard of a beating, pummeled from above.

“We cannot hold out much longer, m’Lord!” Horst declared, trying to knock the scalding oil aside with his shield without it touching his skin.

“I will stay by your side to the bitter end,” Streiter added, hoping to encourage his master. He had to weigh the heavy options and consequences. His only backup option would be if his ambush captures and disarms Mareczek’s army and marches them back as hostages for ransom, the price being entrance and surrender of Prague. The problem was he knew Dragomira’s captains feared failing her more than death and so dying in battle for her would have been better than surrendering. He needed entrance to the keep and to sound the alarm horn which would signal to Mareczek he no longer had a city to defend because it had been taken, then there would be no need for conflict and bloodshed.

“You are good men and I’ll be damned should it be by my poor judgment that you all meet your doom. Hold a minute longer, hang tough, and let us try to break this door down!”

Leading the manhunt, Mareczek realized that he had been moving in circles. The dogs now jumped about, leading their masters in all directions. Those they had chased had moved in a hundred directions and circling about the ambush spot.

“Seems to me these rebels lead us in circles!” Mareczek called out, signaling a halt. “Does any man have a sight on any of them?”

Nobody had any sign. They could track them, but they’d keep tracking them to all directions leading back to this same spot. Mareczek started to sense the plot for a trap.

As Wenceslas and his men fought to open the gate with all futility, holding onto saving their skin by a thread, I sprinted to the gateway and plaza within. Within the gate, I dashed back toward the weight structure, my head drenched with my hand still wiping a damp rag on his nose. The smell felt as though it had fuzed with me and there was no getting rid of it. That torment wouldn’t slow me from accomplishing my assigned mission. As the soldiers defended the keep, focused on trying to successfully strike down the invaders working to break down the gate, I easily slunk by them, jumped up and climbed the woodwork scaffolding like a spider. I had to reach the spot I had already weakened. As I neared it, I heard soldiers calling out to me, having now set their sights on me. Before any could reach me, in one mean stroke, I cut through the rope.

The weight dropped and the gate now had slack. I think this happened the very moment Wenceslas resolved to retreat, hoping for his secondary plan to prove promising. Upon hearing the crash of the weights, Streiter reasoned what had finally taken place. Though Wenceslas was pulling back, ready to guide his men to safety, he grabbed the wrought iron bars that reinforced the wood planks and lifted. When Wenceslas saw this, he helped thrust the gate upward, clearing a path.

The soldiers who scrambled to catch me were instantly distracted with the sight of their gate opening, exposing them to the furious rabble forcing their way into the city. Their commander, Zikmund, left by Mareczek to stand charge over the defense of the city, regrouped his men. When Wenceslas’s company opened the gate and stormed through, they instantly found themselves face to face with soldiers.

Commander Zikmund crossed blades with Wenceslas, but stifled instantly upon sight of him. “Wenceslas?” he gasped.

“Aye,” he replied with an assuring, sincere nod.

The battle seemed to freeze in time as they held gazes. Zikmund presently backed away, dropped to a knee, and set his sword on the ground before them. Being the commanding officer, his men had no choice but to do likewise.

“We fight the heir, our Duke!” he announced to them. Then, softly, humbly only lifting his eyes to see Wenceslas’s knees, he added, “I was told that you had died and some impostor with a similar countenance went about seeking to commandeer your identity in order to enact a coup upon Prague. I even hunted you, thinking you to be that imposter. No, I served Vratislav in the battle of the Carpathian Basin, though as one of the youngest infantrymen in his army. He fought that we might escape and survive. I live today by his courage. I knew my Duke and see his face in yours. You truly are the living son of Vratislav, are you not?”

“I am,” he replied. Then Wenceslas faced the host of soldiers he now commanded. “No contempt I hold on you for doing your duty, but if you will not yield, I will fault you for assaulting your Duke.”

“We yield, sire.”

“Prague is yours!” I cheered from the wooden frames above. “We have victory! Bohemia is saved!” The rest of our invading army rapidly joined my cheering and we made a triumphant noise, all cheering, “Victory! Prague is saved! Our future is saved!”

Chapter VII


Our jubilation barely lasted a minute before Wenceslas hushed us. He held his hand up, drawing our attention and silence.

“Victory is at hand, but not certain as of yet. Someone sound the horn. Tell Mareczek’s forces that the city has been taken. He will return and you—”

“Zikmund, sire.”

“Zikmund, you must report to Mareczek what events have transpired hither. He will be accompanied by hundreds of my men. Work with my men and see to it that he sees to reason there has been a changing of the throne in Prague. Keep peace at all costs unless he will not stand for reason. That horn will be signal for the Regent as well. To her, now, I must ride. I must enforce the exchange of the throne.”

Wenceslas added a slight growl to his voice as he spoke the last bit. I knew the terror that seized his heart. Last time he set eyes upon her, he was stricken with such terror he was nearly immobilized. He had to constantly take action that would build his confidence and passion so that he could not be swept away in the current of fear.

He whistled and called for his horse. Libyena came riding upon Milana. She was given charge to hold her then release her at Wenceslas’s beckon call. Seeing Milana gave Wenceslas an added boost of courage and energy for the task of facing his mother. Being his father’s parting gift, this mare reminded him much of his father and almost gave him a sense of his presence, as though the valiant Vratislav stood right beside his son, giving him the encouragement to boldly accomplish his quest.

Now Libyena came riding upon Milana’s back and did not look prepared to hop off.

“And your plan?” Wenceslas asked Libyena.

“Helping you. Hop on!”

“No place for a maiden.”

“Save it for a distressed damsel.” Wenceslas smirked, loving her strong will and devotion.

“Libyena!” Horst bellowed. “I think it wise ye stayed here.”

“No time!” Wenceslas announced as he mounted his horse, putting Libyena just behind him. “We ride!”

As they drove hard down the boulevard leading from the entrance plaza to the castle, I was glad Wenceslas did not ride alone. Truly, a son is impervious to the feminine wiles of his mother, but she had another vexation cursing his mind. He now had back up, reinforcement in Libyena, who was both impervious to psychological manipulation based on childhood trauma as well as feminine wiles. Wenceslas was in good hands having her company with him. As he drove Milana, pushing her speed to maximum upon the cobblestones and gravel paths, he felt the same way.

“Best to keep warm,” Dragomira said, grabbing a garment. With a handful of servants, ladies in waiting, and guards, Dragomira and Boleslav readied to depart. Within the royal chamber, she wrapped a cloak around her son’s shoulders as the servants gathered dufflebags and sacks full of possessions and clothing to take with them. Boleslav, hoping that this confrontation between his mother and brother, one that he helped to orchestrate, would lead to reconciliation, moved slowly and resistant of rushing.

“Why do we flee? He is family!”

“Not anymore. Family does not invade family.”

“Why are we at war with family, with my own brother?”

“He is a failure,” she replied with a snap, not willing to delay their departure and moving to lead the way. “When one of greatness seizes power, they want such greatness upon their heir. You, Boleslav, are my great heir. Certainly not him. Not anymore. Come now.” But Boleslav didn’t budge though she had made it to the doorway, flanked by servants holding the door open.

“He is still my brother, is he not?”

“Come, Boleslav. Now!”

“No! I wait for him. We can right this!”

“Damn it all!” Dragomira grabbed a nearby chair and threw it into the wardrobe, breaking both. She was not used to suffering any who spoke with such insolence to her to continue living. This was her beloved son and heir, and so she’d not harm him. “Damn it! You trust him? He lusts after your throne, thinks himself better than all I have taught you. You think he would not hesitate in killing you? Killing me?”

The notion of being killed by his brother was upsetting enough, but anything that threatened to harm the most cherished, beloved person in his life—namely Dragomira, his mother—infuriated him more than anything. His lip trembled, disturbed by both the very mention of an idea of her death as well as the fact that his mother just shouted at him. He was scared and saddened for having upset her. He didn’t know what to do, but he did know he loved her and admired her. He’d comply with anything she said.

He’d never confess to having let that prisoner—me—loose in order to incite the confrontation between her and his brother.

Mareczek busied himself rallying his troops from their manhunt when he heard the heavy baritone hum of the Prague signal horn blaring. It took not only him, but his whole company by surprise. His riding men came to an abrupt stop and the dog handlers signalled for their sniffers to halt.

“It fears me this pursuit is but a ploy,” he proclaimed, voicing a concern he had been weighing until the alarm confirmed his concerns. He ran through a number of scenarios in his head, one of which was those he pursued had routed them back to the gate, which would simply mean yet another futile attempt at storming the keep. The first assault was none other than a ruse to draw a legion of troops from the gate to leave defenses lower. “To the keep! Prague lay in jeopardy!”

Just as he turned, he found a wall of mountain men and freed prisoners, some on horseback, others on foot, all armed with miscellaneous weapons, looking wild and ferocious. Like a nightmare, he soon discovered his whole legion had been encompassed. The rebel horde that first attacked the city numbered roughly forty. What he found now were hundreds of militiamen, ominous and threatening.

“Ye be right, General,” Erdmann grunted, trotting his horse forward. While he may not have appeared as a gallant knight in shining armor as Mareczek’s men were, his unkempt, wild, scruffy, and dirty appearance gave him just an extra edge of hostility that would make one think twice before contesting with. “Prague faces a change as her Duke assumes his throne.”

“Now see here—” Mareczek growled, seeming ready to fight.

“The Duke Wenceslas, rightful heir to the throne, prefers not spilling Bohemian blood,” Humbert noted, gripping his mace, displaying strength and courage. “Drop your weapons for peace? Or disobey your Duke’s first command and be responsible for the lives of his men?”

Mareczek wheeled his horse about, overwhelmed, furious. How did it come to this so fast? One moment he’s working alongside his Regent, trusting she has the realm under her cunning command, believing that her firstborn was a buffoon, incapable of even managing a flock of sheep let alone a country. Now, like a rug pulled out from under his feet, it had all changed.

“You ought do as he says,” Krystoff added.

Upon sight of the Bishop he had incarcerated, Mareczek’s temper popped like a cauldron of oil poured on an open fire.

“I say fight! Men, dare not fail your Duchess!”

Mareczek charged at the priest who sidestepped the horse. The Bohemian rabble moved aside to let him pass by, untouched, not crossing blades, not engaging. Mareczek paused and looked back, coming to a tough reality: his men dropped their weapons and he was now all alone.

“Even your men acknowledge the rightful ruler of the land,” Erdmann noted. “I think ye better do likewise. Wenceslas be your leader now. He who digs a pit for others falls into it himself, as the proverb goes. You’ve been digging snares under the Regent’s command, though now you find yourself ensnared.”

Scorned, enraged, Mareczek exhaled a gasp of utter disgust then kicked his horse into a full gallop and drove off.


Prague is a large city, rich with history, cultural architecture, and a bustling economy. Having evolved from being Bayonheim, the home of an ancient king millennia before my time, the city had seen many changes and exchanges of leadership, even exchanges of names. Augustus Caesar sent a governor to rule over the Germanic tribes occupying the land during the childhood days of Christ who named the city after himself, calling it Maroboden. Several centuries later, Slavs migrated in as Germans moved out, and they changed the name finally to Prague.

With these exchanges of ownership came this new historic moment, when son went to arms against mother. Upon Milana, his sable steed, Wenceslas and Libyena drove swiftly past markets, houses, buildings, and folks. The streets stayed far less crowded as the sudden surprise attack against the outer wall had put them in a state of alarm. Shops were closed, parents guarded their children in their homes. Little did they know that one who worked to make their lives better invaded their city.

Together, Wenceslas and Libyena galloped from the city and right up to the front of the palace. He hadn’t seen home in years now, but the time for nostalgia would have to wait. He needed to stay focused on his mission. He would not be defeated by his mother. He would rescue his brother from her snare. He needed to keep his heart pumping, his adrenaline racing, his resolve secure.

With her front hooves, Milana crashed through the front door as Wenceslas drove her to do. Guards and servants stumbled back, wary of two armed riders atop a horse inside the castle. He must have appeared like a wild savage storming the luxurious home, but time for clarification would come later. He couldn’t falter, he couldn’t slow down, he couldn’t soften.

“Mother! Dragomira! Where are you?” he shouted, not allowing a moment’s hesitation or fear to touch his heart. To keep strong and powerful, he rode Milana further into the castle. Up the stairwell, down the hall, and just as he did with the front door, had her hooves crash through the door into Dragomira’s bedchamber.

Wenceslas dismounted and searched about frantically. The place was empty and signs of open drawers, broken furniture, and a few garments strewn about helped him come to the uneasy conclusion that she and Boleslav had departed.

“She’s not here,” Libyena sighed uneasily.

“This was supposed to be it!” Wenceslas fumed, nearly ready to throw the same broken chair his mother tossed when she threw her fit only moments before. “The end of all this. I would ride here, claim my throne, evict the witch, and save... save Boleslav.” Remembering his true reason for coming, he thought it was possible that his brother may have been left behind, or he had finally escaped her grasp and now hid in the citadel. “Boleslav! Where are you?” He ran about, shouting, calling for his brother. When he moved to leave the chamber, he ran into Bartram, disguised as a typical servant, looking less creepy despite his eye patch concealing the wound given him by Duchess Ludmila.

“Pardon me, my Lord,” he said with his whispering voice as he stepped in with a proprietary bow. “Your honor, my Duke, has returned! What joy shall return to these halls to see the heir restored.”

“You—you look familiar,” Wenceslas noted, vaguely recognizing him as the very same acolyte his mother worked alongside when administering the pagan. Though ever plagued by that night, Wenceslas actually had been doing his best to push the entire episode out of memory making it possible to forget the countenance of the man before him.

“I was but a servant in your father’s keep, sire. I worked in laundry last I set eye upon you.”

“Servant here. Tell me whence has Dragomira gone to?” Libyena broke in, not wishing to waste time. This helped Wenceslas break from the fog of trying to recognize the man and concentrate on the quest at hand.

“She’d sooner exile herself than remain as another takes the throne from her, whether he has rightful claim or not. She has departed. Fled down the Vltava.”

The two hustled to the balcony and looked out across the vista. They could see down the river leading south Dragomira, Boleslav, and a number of servants and guards, within small dinghies. Mareczek on the last boat paddled hastily to catch up to his mistress.

“All wrong!” he fumed, slamming his fist upon the railing. How he wanted all this strife to conclude this very day with all his being. He had sacrificed so much sleep and time dwelling on this moment being the finishing touch to his endeavor, and with one unexpected turn of events, it was stolen from him. He’d not stop until he set this right. He would save his brother. “I follow after them. I go now!”

“Why? You’ve claimed your capital.”

“Saving my duchy was ancillary, forsooth. As necessary as it was, my brother comes first. I go now to save him, to fulfill my oath.”

He worried that seeing he thought less of the country and more for family would dissuade her trust in him as leader of a nation, but it did not. It demonstrated his devotion and love more than ever. He did not covet power or authority, but he remained true to his word, loyal to those he loved. Libyena would remain by his side.

“Let us be off, then!”


“Thinks me more adequate fortifications are needed for Prague,” spoke a Lieutenant named Vysehrad. “A mighty fortress where far more soldiers can bunk and be called to action with immediacy. If only a few hundred mountain men could storm the keep so effectively, what say when a full invading army draws hither, say Hétmagyar?”

Why he spoke to me, I wasn’t sure. Or maybe he spoke to Streiter, who walked just beside me. He must have assumed we were generals in Wenceslas’s militia and might swiftly be elevated in rank under the Duke. Planting seeds of thought in future governing powers was a shrewd move for this Lieutenant, and altogether wise.

By this point, the capital city lay in a bizarre state of flux. The mountain men and the Prague soldiers strolled along together toward the palace, seeking orders and guidance. Was the exchange of throne final? Did the Regent abdicate or resist? Word had not spread far that Dragomira had fled the keep and with Mareczek gone, the next in command needed to assume command of ranks. Zikmund was rather gracious to us, showing a remarkably different caliber of knight than he showed earlier. It seemed he was a bit of clay that moulded best to the quality of individual he reported to. When we first saw him, he operated under ruthless Mareczek and even more ruthless Dragomira, so that side came to surface. His commanders said to mistreat peasants and seek the head of the Duke imposter, he’d obey without hesitation. Now that a kind, noble Duke assumed the throne, he seemed much more charitable. His entire life was spent as an obedient soldier, submissive to any authority above him. Now he was in charge of the ranks and needed to act accordingly. Alas, he was not sure who to be.

Vysehrad seemed more sure of himself and the protocol for such a situation than Zikmund, but maybe that was because the light of accountability did not so brightly shine upon him as it did the captain.

Finally, to give us that needed instruction, Wenceslas raced right up to us upon Milana with Libyena hugging his back. By his canter, it seemed he was not prepared to stop, but to keep driving on.

“Make way, I depart the city!” he called out.

“Where goes you, m’Lord?” I asked. Wenceslas, understanding the need for some immediate word, kept up the pace and looped about us.

“After my brother! She and my mother fled down the river and I go after them. Cabbage; you, Horst, and Streiter speak for me. Keep the country running, business as usual. I shall return forthwith. Yah!”

Leaving everyone bewildered, Wenceslas drove swiftly away. We all stood in paused silence, living a moment in our lives without precedent. A moment passed before I felt the weight of eyes gazing upon me.

“Go on. You heard the man,” I barked, letting the instant power flood right to my head. The idea that there still may be dog dung on my face didn’t even slow me down. “Back to posts. We must repair the gate. Shops must open. Life as usual, ‘cept for no persecutin’ believers or poor folk. Got it?”

Riding hard, they pursued the boats. His path carried them high on the hills, through trees, moving with purpose. The castle was built upon a cliff overlooking the river, forming a suitable rear defense, but by now Dragomira had already made progress down the waterway and it took some travel to reach them. Even catching up to their distance still meant a swim to the boats. For that reason, Wenceslas rode past them a little ways, moving uphill, coming to a place he was fondly familiar with; a brink. As a boy, he had pondered the idea of leaping off this cliff, and might have had his mother not stifled his boyhood recklessness. What a different sort of person she was to him back then.

Coming to a brink, now beyond the boats, Wenceslas readied to fulfill a boyhood fantasy.

“Last chance to hop off,” he told Libyena

“I’ll see this through.”

“You might change your mind in a moment,” he remarked with a smirk. “As might you, Milana.” He draped a cloth over his horse’s eyes, blinding her to the peril he was about to put her in. If she saw the drop coming, she’d surely halt, no matter how obedient she was to her master. With a “Yah!” he drove Milana at a full charge right at the cliff. Libyena held on tight, not flinching, not cowering to the action about to take place. Wenceslas kept focused and fear never crossed his mind.

Altogether, they took the plummet and plunged into the Vltava river. Submerged, he kicked off the back of his horse and guided Libyena away as well. He need space for Milana to kick and thrash about without those hooves striking him or her. All three popped up, taking in mouthfuls of air, as Milana whinnied with fright.

“Milana. Are you alright? I am sorry to have had to do that.” He tried to comfort his horse, but she paid no mind to his words. As soon she she got her bearings, she swam swiftly for the shore.

“I’m fine too. Thanks for asking,” Libyena remarked sarcastically. It was of little use, he was already paddling out into the river. He and Libyena swam out to the boats as the current began to hasten, carrying them along.

“Come. Hurry. We must catch them before their river-steeds reach the rapids!” he called back. The boats got closer and closer, white and brown half tubes bobbing in their vision as they rocked in the waves of the water. They began to drift by rocks, randomly bounced off of them as the water started to turn white with splashing bubbles and spray. Fighting the current and dodging obstacles slowed them so that Dragomira’s dinghy had already passed by them, but they were able to reach another, one with two guards who came along for her protection. They had certainly spied the two swimmers moving toward them and one was ready to defend his boat.

The guard tried to whack Wenceslas with an oar, but he caught it and with a strong lunge, he pushed him overboard. As the guard’s weight fell backward, it pulled Wenceslas up. The two worked to counterweight the other and kept the dinghy from capsizing. Wenceslas gave him another shove, but this time released the oar. He tripped over the rail, lost balance, and had nothing but a single oar to cling to. He was lost in the rapids.

The other guard tried to fend Wenceslas off, but was unaware of Libyena on the other side. She had clutched the boat and worked her way around. To keep from capsizing, she clambered in the other side and pushed the guard off just as the rapids turned even more volatile. The boat hit rocks and bounced aside, but their vision was nothing but a thick spray of white water. Trying to wipe the dampness from their eyes meant releasing the side rail, which could instantly hurl them overboard from the sudden drops and climbs the river hurled them on.

Without a moment’s reprieve to catch breath or bearing, Mareczek steered his dinghy right alongside Wenceslas, drew his blade, and swung. If not for the bouncing of the boats, his blade could easily have found its mark. A swell of water moved the boats apart for the moment and Wenceslas finally figured out his surroundings.

“Why, Mareczek? Why fight me?”

“Loyalty!” leaning right with the sway of the dinghy as his oarsman pushed the rudder, steering right into Wenceslas. They clashed blades in a fight against each other and a fight to keep from being flung overboard. Their wet metal met each other, stroke for stroke, as Libyena used the remaining oar to steer their boat around the boulders.

The driver of Mareczek’s dinghy did likewise, but instigated a fight with Libyena oar to oar. Whenever the rocking would bring them close enough, he’d swing his oar like a wooden club. If she wasn’t so nimble, he’d likely had struck her into the rapids.

“Be loyal to Bohemia. I am Bohemia!” Wenceslas growled as the two locked in a stalemate for a pause in their skirmish. Before Mareczek could reply, they bumped along a swell in the current and dislodged from each other. Those steering the dinghies brought them back together and so the combatants continued their brawl. Their iron continued to clang as they awkwardly fought the shifting movements of the boats. With her eyes on the liquid road, Libyena took a nasty hit by her opponent’s oar and lost focus on steering to fend him off before he struck again. The boats approached a fork in the river. Dragomira’s dinghy headed off to the east. Libyena was too preoccupied in an oar to oar fight to steer accordingly.

“Follow east! East!” But it was too late. The dueling dinghies rode along the rapids away from Dragomira. Wenceslas lamented this could be her escape. To where did she go? Where would she take Boleslav? How long would it take to find them? “This is west!”

“All’s not lost! The channels meet again. The river will reconverge.”

“Aye, ’tis the west channel with the whitewater and a fall!” he noted. The channel Dragomira had taken, though swift rapids caused by the downhill direction, contained far less obstacles in the river, which made for the passage to be far smoother. The channel Wenceslas now traveled along carried them right for a waterfall. It wasn’t more than twenty-five feet, but the force of water pounding you into the rocks beneath would likely be the oblivion of the dinghy, let alone the riders within.

The drop approached quickly, though still a few hundred yards away. The two boats engaged in another skirmish. Libyena steered her boat into the other, pressing it to the side. Being so close, Wenceslas and Mareczek wrestled with arms more than swords.

“You’ve chosen the wrong side,” Wenceslas told the captain. “You served Vratislav; now serve me!”

Mareczek wasn’t interested. He’d made his bed with Dragomira, as she had literally with many others. His fealty was in her hands, and by pagan rite, so was his soul. Of all, his true loyalties was with Bohemia. He went with his Duchess’ wishes out of faith that she had the right method for preserving the glory of the realm. But as he rode along a waterway in retreat from his nation’s capital, he felt the dire possibility that his work was not for the best of Bohemia. Was it possible this young Duke spoke rightly to him? He wrestled the words as he struggled with the speaker. His pause only lasted briefly until Libyena pivoted her oar, turned, no longer contending with Mareczek’s boat, just in time for it to crash.

As the speed of the water quickened with proximity to the fall, their pace was swift enough to capsize the dinghy and break it apart upon collision with the bolder. Mareczek and the other now had to swim the rapids until they clung to rocks for safety while Libyena and Wenceslas floated along in their boat.

“That’s over,” Libyena sighed with glad relief.

“Just wait,” Wenceslas replied, grabbing the rails, peering over the bow, and bracing for the drop. His plan was to spring out from the boat before it crashed, so that if it did break apart, he’d have some distance from the jagged pieces lest he be impaled upon one. “Do as I do. Before we collide with the water below, jump away from the boat!”

He just barely had the time to finish his instruction before the bow dropped straight down. Their guts rose to their chests as gravity and the heavy torrent of falling water drove the boat down the twenty-five foot fall. Feet from the surface, they leapt and flew from the boat before taking the plunge. The impact with the water coupled with the crashing torrent above them drove them deep and bewildered for the moment. It wasn’t long before they found each other and shattered boards of the destroyed dinghy to cling to. Catching their breath, they rode along the slowing flow of the river. The two channels convened once more into a tranquil setting and now, in the distance, they saw Dragomira’s boat reach a larger, regal, river cruiser ready to set sail.

“It’ll be a devil catching them with wind in their sails,” Libyena pointed out.

“We pursue nonetheless. We have only a slight breeze. We catch them when the wind dies.” Wenceslas began to paddle, moving them along toward the distant barge.

Libyena murmured softly to herself, “When the wind dies, she dies.”


The crescent moon illuminated the Bohemian countryside, reflected in the shimmering water of the Vltava River, and shone upon the luxury barge, now anchored. Wenceslas and Libyena finally swam up to the cruiser, holding the wreckage of the dinghy, which included a length of rope. With a plan in mind, he tied up the rudder, fixing it in place, before proceeding to climb up like a silent spider. Silence was key, and being sopping wet, rising from the water, in a remarkably calm body of water, made it all the more challenging.

With stealth, Wenceslas and Libyena crept on board and hid behind cargo crates as a guard marched by. There looked to be only two men keeping up the nighttime vigil. Others snored on the bow deck under the stars. Their snoring made the noise of movements less noticeable. As soon as the path was clear, they slunk into the main tent in the center of the cruiser. It was a luxurious tent of colorful drapes and tapestries, filled with silver dishes, mirrors, pillows and two beds upon which lay fine linen sheets, quilt blankets, and sleeping Dragomira and Boleslav.

Wenceslas moved to his brother and paused to look upon him—he hadn’t seen his beloved brother this close in years. He had made a promise to his departed father to look after this young boy, and he was bound and determined to do so at any cost. The barge had a few smaller boats, such as the dinghy that Dragomira had used to reach it earlier that day. If he could most quietly grab his brother and steal him away with all stealth, depart in one of those boats, and return him to Prague, he could keep him safe from the twisted machinations of their mother.

Just as he moved to lift the boy into his arms, he saw in his peripheral Libyena reaching a dagger out to Dragomira. To make an extended reach in a flash, he drew his blade and placed it to obstruct her stroke. They glared at each other, both equally as disturbed by the other’s action, each sensing treachery in their motives.

“You would save your enemy?” she whispered, expressing her exasperation in a subdued gust of breath.

“I would save my mother,” he replied, looking as though his very sentiment was a given fact that all members of the human race should understand. One does not take the life of the womb that birthed you into the world, no matter how demented the owner of said womb had become.

“The sentiment is moving,” came Dragomira’s voice. It struck out like a missed note having been spoken audibly, piercing the silence. Wenceslas was far too shocked that all at once his nerve was robbed from him. Libyena, seeing her opportunity of vengeance dissolving away brushed aside Wenceslas’s blade and lunged to plunge her dagger deep within the heart of the Duchess.

She was too late. With a quick stroke, as though she’d rehearsed the situation numerous times before, she grabbed and squeezed white powder from a pouch at her bedside and blew the toxic dust into their faces. First it obstructed Libyena’s vision and then she felt the instant effect of the airborne narcotic. She stumbled and Wenceslas caught her, but couldn’t even hold himself up as he too started to feel the mind-numbing effect.

“Guards!” Dragomira called out. As the guards responded, Wenceslas fought his stupor and smashed his blade into a lit oil lamp. Liquid fire sprayed everywhere, igniting his sword, and starting to catch the surroundings aflame.

Boleslav woke up with a start at all the commotion. “Wenceslas?” he asked, both with perturbed alarm and glad surprise. Joy at seeing his brother couldn’t last long as the tapestries, linens, and even the canvas tent began to catch fire.

“Bol, stay back. I am come...I defend you!” Wenceslas tried to say, gripping his mind to reality, fighting the onset of losing consciousness. The toxins ate away at his reason, souring his brain. He moved to fight the guards with his flaming brand, spewing embers
everywhere in a dazzling display, destroying everything. It kept them at bay.

“He’s bound to burn the ship!” Dragomira exclaimed as she rushed by and grabbed Boleslav closely.

“Mother! You… you murdered, violated your… our people!”

She wasn’t interested in debating the ethics of her deeds. She was more interested in retreating with her son safely from the burning barge.

“The cruiser’s aflame!” the helmsman shouted.

“Let us steer ashore!” a mate called back.

“The rudder, it’s… it won’t budge!” he complained, flexing to turn the wheel to no avail. In the panic of their boat burning asunder, nobody thought it prudent to check and see if the rudder was caught on something. Wenceslas’s rope held it still. No, they saw the flames swelling and able bodies rushed to douse the fire with all haste. Their efforts were futile. Not only do tapestries and canvas make wonderful kindling, but the fire was started by spraying oil, which cannot be put out through the work of water.

“Abandon ship!” Those in the tent clearly heard the voices of guards and sailors calling out the imperative to depart the barge.

“Boles…” Wenceslas uttered as he fell to his knees and collapsed upon Libyena. The tent filled with smoke as the fire swelled to a living inferno devouring everything. Boleslav reached for his brother but was instantly snatched away by his mother who rushed them both outside. She emerged from the flaming tent, coughing and hacking, accompanied by her guards.

“Highness, we ought abandon the ship forthwith,” the helmsman announced, running over to her.

“Very well. Move quickly!”

“And what of the intruders?” her guard asked, wrapping a scarf around his mouth to keep from further smoke inhalation.

“I will not be his fate,” she said, pondering out loud. The fact that Wenceslas had saved her life from Libyena’s blade was not lost to her, but the fact that he boarded her ship at night to do what manner of harm still prevailed in her calculations. “Let the flames or the river have him.” Dragomira, Boleslav, and company rapidly rushed from the flames and boarded a couple dinghies. Boleslav grabbed the rail and held back, fighting tears and an onslaught of emotion.

“No. This isn’t right!”

“Not another word!”

“He’s my brother! He’ll either burn or drown, neither of which I’d see any of my family suffer!”

“He has chosen his fate. With his nuisance out of our lives, none shall contend for your right for rulership of the realm.”

“It’s not about the throne! I can’t forsake him!”

“He has forsaken you and your mother! Now, board here!” She pulled him into the boat far more violently than either of them were happy with and the oarsman paddled the dinghy away from the burning barge. With eyes of ice, Dragomira glared at the flames, truly accepting that this moment would be the finality of her firstborn son.

The burning canvas collapsed upon Wenceslas, whose back took the brunt of it all, protecting Libyena. The burning sensation did its work for drawing him back to consciousness. Choking and sweating, Wenceslas awoke enough to grab Libyena, scrambled up, and dove through the flaming tent canvas, and like a fireball, dove overboard. Somehow he had shown a remarkable resilience to the powder’s effect. Maybe Libyena had inhaled the majority of it, maybe he had started to develop a tolerance since his mother had used it upon him in the past. Either way, he was still drugged and dazed when he crashed into the water.

Both he and his companion sank like lifeless corpses. He had exerted all he could muster to dive from the flames, now he dropped below the surface into the bluish blackness. The drugging apathy was not all that immobilized him; he also felt a crushing defeat in losing his brother yet again. As his eyes opened, his mind coming to by the bitter chill of the Vltava, he saw an ethereal water vili, some type of nymph or mermaid approaching him. His heart rate elevated as his excitement rose to see something mortal men rarely caught glimpses of.

But all at once, his heart stopped. This was no lovely vili; this was his tormenting Dragomira spirit. Like a mermaid ghoul, she floated close and into his face.

“A pathetic disappointment. Forget her, forget yourself, sink to the bottom and stay where you belong. Drown in the river, drown in your sorrow, drown in the shame of your pointless life spent chasing the unattainable and rejecting the glory I had offered you.”

He wasn’t fond of ever listening to her poisonous words, but he lost his brother, he was literally drowning, and her message of despair nearly pulled him to the nadir of hopelessness. That’s when he saw Libyena’s hand. As she sank, her arms lifted above her head almost appearing as though she was reaching for him. He could let himself drown in despair, but here was a damsel who needed him. He fought through his demon’s venom and chose to do right once more. His strong arm grabbed around Libyena and he pulled her to the surface. He gasped for air, sucking in huge draughts of precious oxygen.

Lifting Libyena’s head above the water, he shouted, “Libyena. Libyena. Wake up, m’lady!” But she was limp and turning blue. He moved to swim to the nearest shore, paused, then gazed to the opposite shore beyond the remnants of burning boat. There he saw Dragomira and company on the bank retreating from the boats into the woods. Dragomira turned and caught a glimpse of her son pulling the woman’s body ashore. She frowned at sight of his persistence at living. He lost his chance at rescuing his brother, but right now he had dire need to rescue Libyena.

“Wake up!” he shouted, placing her body on the muddy bank. He felt so exhausted and still drugged by his mother’s narcotic that his muscles felt more like hollow tubes ready to collapse and bend under even the slightest weight. The only thing driving him was adrenaline-based fear. He couldn’t lose her. While he was well aware of a growing fondness and affection brewing in his heart for this young woman, he had been too occupied with his quest to save his brother and country to allow any notion of romantics to dwell in his mind. In spite of that, he still knew his heart would ache to near death should he not be able to save her. Shaking her body about, he cried out for her to hear him in the recesses of her subconscious, “Libyena! Please!”

With a cough, she choked out the water, reviving slowly. It took her a moment to stop coughing and choking the water from her airways, not to mention her mind needed to recover from the drug that knocked her out in the first place.

“Oh thank God! You’re safe now,” he comforted her.

“You… you saved me.” She hugged him tight as she kept coughing to expel the liquid from her lungs.

“I just… I couldn’t lose you too.”

“I was so scared. I thought death had surely taken me.” She held onto him while catching her breath. She wanted to say she was mostly afraid that death had taken her from ever seeing Wenceslas again. She too had been rather preoccupied with the revolution to let herself dwell on her attractions, but when life was on the brink, one tends to focus on regrets at hand. The two were only just realizing that the other might share similar sentiments, but sharing them was a dragon not easily slain. From fear, yes, but also they suffered severe exhaustion. “I’m so tired. I feel I could sleep till next autumn.”

“Aye. Much has this day brought. Even worse was how the very warmth of my blood was robbed of me by that powder. We must rest. We camp here tonight.”


A campfire roared under the starlight. Wenceslas placed another log upon it and jabbed the base with a poker stick. Nestled just beside, Libyena slept. She had managed the deep slumber of one without any energy left. Her muscles were tired, her brain was tired. While she missed her mark in taking the life of the wicked Duchess whom she blamed for the death of her mother, the failure was not something to brood upon. While she wished that Dragomira never drew breath again, she was quite comforted in the fact that she had retreated from Prague and likely Bohemia altogether. Now, beside the man she admired so deeply, she felt thoroughly safe and secure. There she was able to slumber in spite of the sticks and rocks of the riverbank that lay under her.

Wenceslas, on the other hand, was unable to sleep. While his body and mind both longed deeply for rest and peaceful dreams, he simply could not attain it. He pondered, brooded, and wallowed in lament. He really was the failure his mother told him he was. How he longed for the voice in his head to go mute, to stifle her words of contempt that drew forth self-loathing and misery, but he was impotent to do so. Somehow, someway, he was vexed by her for what seemed to be an endless occasion, likely for the rest of his days. He thought maybe the only way to silence the demon that taunted him would be to take the life of the real Dragomira—a prospect that didn’t sit quite right with him. He stared at the glowing, smoking tip of the poker and then rubbed his chest scar. After all these years, it still had not healed. The pain reached into the core of his being as though his very soul bore the same scar. He wondered if on the other side of mortality, when he stood bare before Judgment if his ethereal spirit would also bear the same branding. Would it ever heal?

“You’re alone,” came that all-too familiar voice. The sound sent chills down his spine, and though he already felt hungry for lack of sustenance, he felt all the more hollow inside. His demon now sat beside him, staring at him. He knew she tended to appear during moments of doubt, or when he would dwell on his pain, or his guilt of not fulfilling his promise to protect his brother, or when feeling the crushing burden of ruling a nation. It seemed anytime he was enveloped in something negative, she’d arrive to draw him deeper into a black cloud. His typical method to combat this was goodness. He’d act charitably, shining with nobility. If he could embody the best version of himself that he could be, she’d typically vanish. At this low ebb, however, he didn’t see any way out. His defenses were down, he was vulnerable, and now much more susceptible to any temptation.

“You’re not real,” he told her pointedly, carefully keeping his voice subdued so not to wake Libyena.

“Oh, I’m more real than you know. Do you see or hear God? I know you do not, yet you see and hear me. What would make me less real than that celestial entity whom few claim to have ever conversed with? Does not the very scriptures speak of death to any who set eye upon him? Who then makes witness of this deity if all who see him never live to speak of it?”

“The answer to these question I’d expend the effort of sharing with any who deserve the conversation. Speaking to you would waste my breath.”

“You dare equate me as the swine of which you would not cast pearls before? You are pledged to Chernobog. The ritual has been made and cannot be undone. No matter what that crone of a grandmother has taught you, you have a chain leash upon your soul that no blood of a carpenter could chisel in twain. You belong to him, whether you embrace his power or reject it. Why do you think you encounter so much failure? The death of Domeczek, the ambush at Kutna Hora, the fact that twice in a day you lost your brother. And now you consider the possible inevitability that you will never be rid of me lest you take the life of your own mother. And at heart you know very well the futility of even pondering such a venture. You know you will fail at that as well.”

Wenceslas looked away, ignoring her. He may have been vulnerable, but he knew better than to entertain the thoughts she placed before him. He hoped if he ignored her long enough, she’d expend her energies and dissolve away. Dragomira, on the other hand, had it in mind to attempt a different tactic. She moved about like a slithering snake, motioning toward Libyena. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t help but follow her movements.

“You’re alone, in the woods, with none around to hear even a stifled scream. Have your way with her.”

As much as he detested her toxic words, the truth of the matter was that the shadow of this thought had passed his mind. The way he briefly considered the situation was if she and he were married, and found themselves along this secluded riverbank, he’d very much enjoy making love with her. As a virgin young man of a ripening age, he was not immune to passionate lusts. That was why he would take certain precautions to keep his chastity until the day he entered the solemn covenant of marriage with his bride, then, and only then, would his bed be blessed by the Almighty. So, as a virgin boy on the cusp of eighteen years, alone on a riverbank beside the woman who had been stealing his heart, it was impossible for the thought of romance not to pass by his mind. The problem was when his taunting demon exacerbated the temptation.

“I would not impugn the honor of my flesh, nor this lady’s.”

“You’re now the ruler of Bohemia. Don’t sculpt falsities of piety in stone. You meet out blessing and honor. You decide it. Your wish is law, all is your domain, even her, this woodsy vixen. You want her. Take her.”

“No!” he protested.

“Did not your God make sex? Did he not intend to make it good? I can tell you by vast experience that it is good. And yet, there is amazing variety. As much as you enjoy a good porridge, you enjoy a fine stew, or a well-crafted Kolache, yes? Why lock yourself into some prison where only one dish, and one alone, is served for all time till death do you part?”

“Because the same One who crafted sex gave guidelines for his design. I would prefer keep my bed sacred and the members of my body designed for the action of union with my bride holy. Marriage was not the invention of man’s gladness, though I do believe, sans experience, that it shall offer great joy. It is, rather, an invention for man’s holiness.”

“Very well, enjoy your silly notions of honor and piety, and let the simple pleasures of life waft by. You will regret it when old, gray, and impotent to bed your wife, that you had lost so many joys of sex.”

“I doubt that.”

“Doubt as you will, you are not without opportunity this very night. What if you were to marry this vixen? You are now the ruling Duke, you can take her as your wife. Sleep with her here and now, and enter your covenant at a later time.”

“The type of intercourse you speak of leads only to guilt. Should I exert power over her, it would be rape. If I seduce her beyond the line of morality we both adhere to, we would be liable of sin. God made sex to be good, a beautiful union of two beings becoming one flesh. It is not simply drawing physical bodies closer, but their hearts, minds, and even spirits unite. I think such a union is only achieved when the sanctity of sex is preserved. You treat your intercourse as you might treat an itch to be scratched. You are of those who belittle the union, who violate that holiness, and water down the fires that rise to the heavens. I will have that kind of love-making and no other. Why cheapen it? I shall not. I tell you I will not and you must leave me be!”

Dragomira vanished the moment Libyena rolled over. She was now wearing a corset and stockings, displaying her goods wrapped in lingerie. Arching her back and enhancing the smooth contours of her body, she asked, “What’s the matter, Wenceslas? Don’t you want me?”

He did. Now seeing her like this, he wanted her all the more. He wanted to caress her smooth skin, feel the rounded edges of her frame, join with her, unite, be as one, experience the ecstasy that he knew in fantasy to be this lovely woman. “Have your way with me, darling,” she coaxed.

He reached for her with a trembling hand. His stomach writhed in nervousness, his skin flushed with excitement, blood drained from certain areas of his body to flood others. He was on the brink of drowning in the temptation before him, but he fought the arousal. Grabbing his cloak on the ground beside her, he threw it over her body to hide her with a shout, “Silence!”

“What was that?” Libyena—the real Libyena, donning far less scanty attire—asked as she woke up at the sound of Wenceslas’s shouting voice. He blushed with embarrassment as the vision faded to reality.

“You—uh—looked cold,” he deflected. While she was a bit suspicious if that was all that had happened, she—like the rest of his company—grew to know that Wenceslas had dealings the unseen. Nobody thought less of him for it, though they had good reason to doubt his sanity at times. It’s difficult to think less of a man with a heart of gold. Disregarding the outburst that woke her, she sat up, wrapping the cloak around her for warmth, and smiled at his gesture. Feeling perfectly safe around him, she nuzzled up closer.

“Have you slept at all?”

“Sleep escapes me.”

“For what it’s worth, your vigil comforts me. I’ve had many a sleepless night. Anxiety, fear, they make poor bedfellows.”

“Well said.”

“One never knew when another raid would strike, if that would be the end of a loved one. Too many nights I went to bed worried if I ate, would there be any victuals to come the next day. I worried that my father worried too much to the loss of his health—what if we had lost him? Dear me, so many nights wasted accomplishing nothing, and yet toiling all the same.”

“The bane of rest is stress. A snare I’ve been caught in more than I’d ever like.”

“Then you came. Since, well, I’ve felt safe. I’ve slept. The worries that plagued my mind have lost their grip. Sure they arrive once in a while, and then I remind myself of you, and, well, they fade.” He smiled but couldn’t face her. After the self-doubt and depression he’d only minutes before been wallowing in, her praise felt ill-fitting. He looked out at the water, noticing the sky had brightened enough to make a silhouette of the mountains across the Vltava. “If only you could give yourself the safeguarding you offer to others.”

“If only I could safeguard them all. I let him slip away,” he muttered, thinking aloud, wrapping his head around everything, rejecting her optimistic view of the wretch that he was. “Had we taken her life, Boleslav would be safe. I detest myself for thinking it. I would rent my head apart to never let such a thought find a foothold. Nonetheless, you may have been right. I know revenge is an endless circle, yet I know what I must do… and I hate myself for it!”

He was spewing emotional vomit, but like vomiting, it is rather difficult to dam the stream once flow starts. Libyena knew this, and wisely knew that one regularly feels better after purging the infirmity from the body. She let him spew his feelings forth. She looked upward, searching the heavens for ways to console this man.

“No more stars. The sky-candle rises nigh.”

“Aye,” Wenceslas replied, taking a break from his train of thoughts, enjoying the shift in tone, feeling able to breathe after the suffocation of vulnerably displaying his emotions.

“Ere your coming, ’twas always night. You’re a morning dawn…” Hell with it, there were no words she could use to console him, but she knew one way. She grabbed his chin and pulled it to face her. There was only one way to say what she needed to. She pulled him even closer and kissed him. They were both stunned at first, both by the experience of it, and by the pleasure. Having their lips locked together, feeling the warmth, sent waves of ecstasy through their bodies. Wenceslas lost all defense, he couldn’t stop it, he didn’t want to stop it.

Their romantic spark, alas, could not become a flame. Wenceslas paused and asked, “Do you hear that?”

“Footsteps,” she affirmed. Something elusive drew nearer.

Wenceslas grabbed Svelta and rose promptly to face the trotting sound as it came ever closer. Finally, the shadowy haze of the intruder could be seen, but now they couldn’t discern it from friend or foe. It simply lunged about, almost impartial to their presence. Finally, through the bushes trotted Milana. With a sigh of relief, Wenceslas sheathed his blade and went to pet his precious pony.

“Milana. No rider could ask for a better equestrian friend,” he told her as he brushed her black coat.

“With the rising of a new sun, Prague awaits its Duke,” Libyena said, gathering their things and moving to the horse. “Let us be off.”

Riding back through a clearing in the mountains and trees, Wenceslas slowed the canter to marvel at the golden light gleaming upon the majestic city of Prague. Riding on his swift steed, the traverse took no longer than an hour. As he approached, he knew this would be a new epoch in his life, and he needed to be ready for it. He was filling his father’s shoes, a task not taken lightly.

“Prague. Such a beautiful city,” he commented.

“It’s your city now,” Libyena told him with a peck on his cheek.

“Forgive me for arguing, but the city and the country belong to the people. I only have the duty of serving them.”

“And we will all fare for the better with you serving from that throne.”

He smirked then pushed Milana up to speed again. He would find his brother and save him; that much was his solemn vow and determination. But for the moment, a country needed him, and with his love by his side and God above giving his nod of approval, Wenceslas knew nothing would hinder him.

Chapter VIII

Henry the Fowler

“Henry, Henry! I bring grave tidings!” came the voice of a page chasing on ahead of another group of cohorts who ventured into the woods to find the Duke. Henry was busy lacing the string of his birding net at the time. Always the avid outdoorsman, a lap of luxury never kept him locked in citadels for long. As a youth, he’d spend every second of daylight in the sunshine, running along the brooks, leaping from rocks, and climbing trees. Catching game had become such a fond hobby of his that if he wasn’t a Duke, it would have been his career—a prosperous one at that with how adept he was at catching avian game. Against his boyhood dreams, he was royalty and raised as such.

Born in Memleben, Henry was the son of Otto the Illustrious, Duke of Saxony, and his wife Hedwiga, daughter of Henry of Franconia and a great-great-granddaughter of Charlemagne. Royalty, power, and authority coursed in his blood; a fact that would prove ever truer in his descendents. He was married and expected a son at any day now. Aware of paternal duties, he felt it prudent to venture out and see what his nets might have caught before the snares of fatherhood kept him from his hobbies. Alas, he caught nothing and needed to mend his traps, which was what he busied himself with when the page had called out.

“What news do you bring? Is Hatheburg—is my wife in labor?”

“No, my Lord. Not that I am aware of, that is.

“Well out with it, good welp. Can you not see I have fowl to catch?”

“Aye, m’Lord. I came to tell you that you are now Duke in charge of all Saxony.”

“My father has passed?”

“He has, sire,” a magistrate confirmed strolling up amongst a few others.

And at the moment, Henry was ever to be known as Henry the Fowler, for the moment he stepped into the office of authority, he held in his hands fowling nets. And with the same fastidious dedication to excellence he exerted in his fowling, he exerted for Saxony, strengthening his land, creating prosperity, and triumph over enemies. His good works gave him popular renown and put him in positive light with the king. Six years later, when King Conrad, ruler over all Germania—which included the Saxon duchy—lay on his deathbed, he had but one recommendation for successor: Duke Henry the Fowler. The assembled Franconian and Saxon nobles duly elected Henry to be the German king, following Conrad’s wishes. As the coronation ceremony plans were underway, Archbishop Heriger of Mainz offered to anoint Henry according to the tradition, but he refused. By choice, he was the only king of his time not to undergo that rite. No, he wasn’t some apostate, but he felt the office he now held was not a place to live for personal gain, but one that came with a greater burden and responsibility to the people he shepherded. He wished to be king not by the church’s will but by the people’s acclaim.

How alike Wenceslas he was, and yet as Wenceslas drove Milana into Prague, so to were the Fowler’s forces marching south in preparation for a confrontation. Shortly after Henry was coronated as King of Germania, Dragomira came to power over Bohemia and canceled the tribute payment made for German protection. In fact, when a new king rises to power, he is often challenged, and Henry was no exception. While he did elevate with public acclaim and the support of the majority of his dukes, Duke Arnulf of Bavaria did not recognize Henry as king.

Arnulf was known as Arnulf the Bad and Arnulf the Evil, because he found himself in desperate need of defenses against Magyar raids and chose to rob churches to fund his reinforcements. His mother also married Conrad, the king of Germania, making him the king’s stepson, and likely candidate for the throne. When Henry was given the throne, he felt ousted and supplanted, and so rebelled against his kingdom, a fight that lasted a number of years. That issue compounded by the threats of Hétmagyar always moving closer and closer, Henry had little time to exert on collecting wayward tributes from uncooperative duchies located within the border fringes. Having received word that his envoys had been assaulted by Dragomira and also receiving report of her harsh mistreatment of Christians within her realm, he knew it was time to act. With Arnulf subdued, he had another wrong to right.

As he marched down to Bohemia to confront Dragomira, Dragomira herself was on her way out of Bohemia and heading into Magyar territory. Riding in an ornate regal litter marching upon the shoulders of four muscled servants, Dragomira, beside Boleslav, gazed out upon the Bohemian byway they traversed and noticed an encampment of transients, looking pitiful and filthy. This was along the southern rim of the border and nearing the trail into the Carpathian Basin. Most of these folks had lost all they owned to raids but feared venturing north in search of aid for fear of the ruthless tax collectors. Seeing such an ornate litter surrounded by armed guards, it was clear that someone of wealth and prestige now passed by them.

The loathsome sight before her broke as Mareczek rode up on horseback. “My lady, scouts report Magyars—”

“Mareczek, my faithful captain, I will not be dishonored to gaze upward to my subordinate.”

“Apologies, Highness.” He promptly dismounted and marched beside her, leading his
horse alongside the litter. This puts her feet above him, pleasing her dearly. He thought very little of the issue having been used to a life of discipline, accustomed to being treated more as her pet than her honorable knight. After bedding him on occasion over the past years, he was well satisfied and eager to please. A dog knows where to find his treats and eagerly pleases his master.

“What report brings you?”

“We approach the enemy as we exit our lands. Scouts have surveyed ahead; a large host of Magyars lay in wait. They outnumber us ten to one, if not moreso. What is our plan?”

“Ours is but to reason why, yours is to do and die, my captain. Trouble not your stout heart, for we do not proceed toward an ambush. We approach delegates of Prince Zoltan. This treating has been scheduled for some time, and while the situation in Prague is not as I had foreseen, it will hinder not these plans nonetheless. Ere the death of Vratislav, this treating has been my endeavor whether Wenceslas marshalled renegades or not. He simply keeps my throne warm till I return, and that return shall be quite the conquest in the company of these southern allies.”

“They are not our enemy?”

Just then, on the other side of the litter, a beggar appeared, pleading with the wealthy mistress of the procession. He was withered like a rose in the desert, reeked of urine, and even had what appeared to be fecal matter—though mud was more likely—smeared on his cheek.

“Alms, my lady? I beg, I’ve not a bite in days,” he asked with a trembling voice. He clearly was the only one brave enough to test the waters of generosity within this litter. He was unaware of whom he spoke with at the moment as none of these folks had ever set eyes upon their Duchess.

“The product of your own poor decisions, I suspect. What claim upon my possessions do you dare expect? Was it I that put you in destitution?” He kept trying to speak, but she cut him off before half a word was beyond his lips. “Maybe cast blame upon raiders, yet was it their fault you had no defense of your property, no muscle to keep them at bay? Poor planning on your part, shrewd dealings on theirs. Blame weather, poor soil, governing bodies; that’s your decision to delude yourself into thinking you had no ability whatsoever to make something of value with your miserable days on mortal land. No, you would blame all but yourself and yet still grip some stakehold on misguided audacity that you even have the right to request some share of what I have earned and done well in keeping.” To Boleslav, she added, “Dear, close the curtain.”

“M’lady, I’m only desperate to feed me young son. Pray, I pray your gracious kindness.”

“You mentioned not any offspring before. Would you dare fabricate some falsity regarding your own progeny upon sight of my own son, hoping that my soft maternal instincts would presently prompt charity and undermine everything I had just said? I very much doubt the existence of this aforementioned son of yours and advise you against lying to your Duchess.”

“My—er—” he stammered, grabbing the side of the litter as though he grabbed hold of her hand. “My Duchess, you know the strife we folks endure down south!”

“You interrupt my meeting with the captain of the guard, dare look me in the eye, ignore everything I speak to you, offering my valuable time and attention out of the charitable goodness of my heart—time I will never get back and time more than you deserve—then lie to me and lastly you lay your filthy fingers upon my carriage! I hope you enjoyed setting your eyes upon my lovely countenance, for my alms to you is granting it to be the last thing you shall ever see. Guards! Grab this man and gouge his eyes. Boleslav, my dear, shut the curtain as I asked.”

Boleslav obeyed his mother, looking upon the tramp without any hope for him, unsure of how to feel about this. She turned, clearly with no more to say, to face Mareczek and continued with a pleasant voice as though nothing had happened. With the cacophony of the beggar screaming to fight the grip of the guards seizing him fading in the background, Dragomira spoke again with Mareczek.

“One thing I will miss not: the beggars that pollute Bohemia. That will change when we return. Much will change indeed.”

“We will return then?”

“Oh, indeed we shall. We will most certainly return to Prague as conquerors.”


“Out of the city, you revolutionaries! You dane think a rabble of peasants and outlaws can storm the capital and install your Duke to supplant the Duchess? Where is he then? If he is the heir, should he not be here?” questioned Hnevsa, the ringleader of noble naysayers. A tumultuous argument between the townsfolk elders, magistrates, and nobles broke out. I did my best after the fighting to calm everyone down, following Wenceslas’s instructions. We all figured we could sit tight and wait for his return, which we figured would be about an hour or two. As the sun rose, I heard an argument rising in volume outside the keep where we stayed the night. Little by little, elders of villages met with the upper class to discuss the future of Bohemia.

“I told you that we all need to sit tight till Wenceslas returns. The country can manage without a Duke or Duchess for a day,” I told them.

“He has been gone far too long!”

“The land lay in unrest!”

“We trust him. He would not simply drive his mother out and then leave the throne to whoever claims it first.”

“Verily, it appears as much. He had the pretension to claim the throne, then withdraws from the capital on a whim? This land needs a stable ruler!”

“And that’d be you, ya presume?” Selmer questioned dubiously.

“We support Wenceslas alone!” Erdmann added. “A fish stinks from the head, they say. We want a new head.”

“What if he or the Regent never return? What then? Anarchy?”

“Better than changin’ hands with one tyrant to another!”

This sparked another cacophony of bickering, a blurry cloud of shouting words that none could follow. I spewed my fair share of arguments, but I doubt anyone heard me—I could hardly hear myself. But somehow, over the din, we heard another voice chime in loud and clear.

“Prague!” came the voice of our Duke. He rode upon his horse’s back with Libyena fixed behind him. They looked even more disheveled than after the skirmish the day before, but his resolve looked unquestionable. “What happens here?”

“He’s back!” Erdmann rejoiced.

“He wouldn’t abandon us,” Streiter noted with eyes like daggers aimed at the nobility.

“I told you lot not to question ’im!” I added.

“You are my people, as my family,” he said as he dismounted and walked toward the stairs leading to the foyer of the castle, giving him some height over the crowd, not to exert authority, but to be seen and heard. His authority was crystal clear by his confident tone and posture. An air of authority swelled around him. The austere nobles even backed away, revering their leader. “Of course I would not abandon you, especially at such a cusp as we have met this day.”

“My Lord and Duke,” Hnevsa said, clearing his throat. “This civil war was a mockery of peace and civilization. None would question your legal right for the throne.”

“That so? How well did you know my mother? As well as some men here with whom she worked schemes and pacts during pillow talk? Never was it her intention to relinquish the throne to me, not as long as my religious fealties remained firm.” Wenceslas sighed—he had hashed over this over and over and lamented the need to explain his actions once more. The difference now was that he spoke with those who had allied themselves with Dragomira. These were the ones he needed to sway emotionally before appealing to their senses. “Faction rivalries have only dug a greater rift between the peoples of our lands by the deeds of my mother. Those who follow the way of the cross, those who do not; rich versus poor; powerful against weak; one Duke against another. I say this needs to end. Let us rebuild this land’s social paradigms to something better. Germania operates as a conglomerate of duchies, under a monarchy. This has worked to give duchies, like Bohemia, autonomy. We work in cooperation with the others, as a whole, we can make this vast kingdom function and prosper. That grand-scale axiom works for the whole and its parts. We are made of nobles, counts, and dukes—such as yourself, Kourim Duke Radslav,” Wenceslas added at sight of Radslav working his way into the crowd.

“And I have yet to prove myself to you, this I am aware of. What side will I take? Will I favor the poor at the expense of the rich? Shall I become a greedy tyrant? I speak now and shall live by such a word that neither are my intention. Our people have been overtaxed!

“No, I cannot do away with taxes, for we still need an economy. Taxes are not meant to be a burden or hindrance. What if I saw you working the fields and paying taxes out of your grain, and you saw the next fellow in the hatchery, paying taxes from his hens, and the next brewing ale, paying taxes from beer, and we congratulate each other for doing our labor for the good of not only the self, but for the community as a whole? You want protection from raiders, taxes must pay for that, but no evil use of such brutal force by tax-paid soldiers shall be seen under my watch. Soldiers who make an income off taxes will do well to remember they exist for the protection of the people the serve. Councilmen, magistrates, lords and ladies whose wealth comes from the labors of the people would do well to remember that we only exist to serve the body, to make decisions that benefit the community as a whole.

“Our throne has forgotten that, and so too have the powers-that-be. Just as the taxpayer has forgotten the necessity of levied taxes for the sake of a better realm. Let us stop seeing each other as foes, and more as partners. Every part of the body is essential for health; a healthy and stable economy is essential for the prosperity of each individual part. Will you pardon this government its mistakes and stand with me as we rebuild prosperity?”

The crowd cheered with excited glee. True, those who already knew Wenceslas’s platform cheered the loudest, but as the nobility processed what their Duke had spoken, they understood there was good for all at hand. They too joined in the increasing glee until that glee was broken.

A horn blew sounding an alarm. That horn was the same that blew the day before when we attacked Prague. This signal meant that Prague was now under attack.


Henry the Fowler, King of Germania, accompanied by a host of soldiers, advisors, dukes, and even his son, Otto, had assembled and traversed to Prague. While he let his duchies perform as autonomous countries, the kingdom as a whole needed unity. The whole is as strong as the sum of its parts, and when parts would refrain from paying their tribute, or acting out of line in any other way, the strength of force was needed to correct the situation. Henry was ready and expecting to lay siege to the capital, especially after confronting a legion of troops Dragomira had stationed up north to intercept them. When that legion saw the might and glory of the German King and his cohorts, they knew they stood no chance to keep them at bay and so allowed him passage without conflict.

Now, appearing before the Prague gate, his herald let the voice of his trumpet before calling out, “’Tis my honor to announce the arrival of King Henry the Fowler, ruler of Germania. Will you allow him entrance?” The guards left at the parapet were clueless—so much had changed in the past hours. If Dragomira was still commanding them, they might have held him back, but now they were under the command of the young Duke.

“What say you, Lieutenant?” asked a guard to Vysehrad.

“Allow him passage unhindered. The gate’s in no shape to hold off another attack, and this army is well more than thrice the size of the one we faced yesterday. Whatever summons the king himself must be grave news, and if he passes without incident, his demeanor may stay loftier.”

Not long afterward, King Henry rode behind his heraldry down the boulevard right for the plaza before Prague Castle. Riders hoisting banners galloped in, flanking the king’s procession. Recognizing the banners, Wenceslas knew who approached, so when the herald made his announcement, it was a moot point and simply formality. All Bohemian eyes watched as the gallant king in his gleaming armor and coiffed attire trotted up. He stopped and surveyed the scene—such a disarray of people. Peasants and vagabonds mingled with magistrates and lords.

“I say, who stands in the charge of this city?” Henry asked. Everyone stepped back, motioning toward Wenceslas. Clearly there was no question in the noble minds any longer as to who commanded the realm. Wenceslas, bedraggled from his sleepless night, nodded, but kept his air of authority and confidence.

“I am.”

“Verily, you are not the Duchess Dragomira, Regent of the land, whom I am come to treat with. Where is she?”

“To my knowledge, south, quite possibly no longer upon Bohemian soil. That is as much as I know.”

“Fears me we have arrived at a juncture of great interest. And you are, sir?”

“I am your servant Wenceslas, son of Vratislav. My liege is most welcome to our humble city and it would be my honor if you and your choice delegates would retire with me into the keep to discuss what would bring our king to grace us with his presence.”

“Have you no idea?”

“My liege, for the past many moons, I have been at odds with my mother. At first, I was considered a corpse, but with my life verified, I was considered an outlaw revolutionary. For not a full sun’s arc have I been ruling Duke. Even then, some news has not escaped my ears that our accordance has been broken when she cancelled tribute. May I make it plainly clear, my liege, that it is my full intention to reinstate the payment in full.”

“Very well then. That settles matters cleanly. I fear the burden of my voyage was unnecessary!” he said with a laugh. After promptly dismounting, he marched forward with a grin and outstretched hand. The two clutched the other’s forearm in a warm greeting. “Duke Wenceslas, it is my pleasure to meet you. Let us retire to your keep and you may regale me with accounts of your days as a dead man and a revolutionary.”

“It would be my honor, sire.”


“I hope you have not refunded too much; Germania requires its share,” Henry remarked in response to Wenceslas’s tales of disarming tax collectors and returning the goods back to the people. Wenceslas with a handful of his confidants; Streiter, Erdmann, Selmer, Libyena, Horst, and myself; with Henry and his entourage, strode into the war room mid conversation. Otto, who was about Boleslav’s age, though a bit younger, walked close by Henry’s heels. This was the same room where the table held the map of south east Europe where Wenceslas once commandeered the figurines to play with his little brother—Wenceslas refused to let nostalgia grip him and purposed that he would return when nobody was around to come back for some sentimental greetings with his old home. The air smelled much the same, but the atmosphere was different with so many strangers crowding the hall. “Not that I would see the farmer families and paupers suffer under over taxation, as your mother had.”

“I believe you would not. Heard tales, have I, that you turned down an anointing coronation?”

“Haha! Verily, I am one of the people. Much like yourself. I dare dream that church and state ought to be separate, and yet in balance; not one in the same. Not that I conjecture that the Almighty have no say in civic affairs! Rather, that there be a formal checks and balances system between the two parties. Much like David, King of Israel, stood in check by the prophet Samuel and the Levitical priesthood. I know my standing with Heaven, and Conrad, blessed be he, would not have looked to me to fill his seat lest Providence had ordained it. No, I knew God had selected me, yet I need the people to select me. I would not install myself dictator over them by claiming either heritage or divine right. I would be the result of their choice and not have it any other way.”

“Nor would I.”

“And yet here you are, blood heir to this throne taking the stead when surely many eager eyes locked their countenance upon it.” Wenceslas glanced back, beyond his nearby companions such as myself. I followed his gaze and saw a host of Bohemian nobility, some Dragomira had seduced, others maybe she had not. Either way, they way they beheld their ruling Duke standing with the king surrounded by an entourage of, what they believed to be, simpletons, put a cross, scorned expression on their faces. “We will speak more on that anon, I am sure. Nevertheless, here you stand, young man, taking over your duchy younger than I was when I took command of Saxony.”

“I believe you are the rightful descendant of Charlemagne, and I believe in what you stand for.”

“And what do I stand for?”

“Unity.” Reaching the war table and map, Wenceslas stopped and drew their gazes to it. “To unite the lands into one greater kingdom, an empire even. No longer Duke against Duke or king against king, but have us draw close under one banner.”

“Empires have risen and fallen; oft do they topple once they expend their own citizenry as property, marking them as cattle. How would a greater kingdom than what I own better mankind?”

“To thwart endless war and political gambits that waste time while good people live in fear.”

“Indeed,” Henry grinned, pleased with the answers he received. I think he was playing the role of devil’s advocate, probing the young Duke for discernment regarding his character. “And what do you stand for?”

“Father,” Otto tugged at his papa’s cloak.

“Not now, son. Do not interrupt,” Henry replied warmly, but directly, before he looked about for an attendant to tend to his tot’s needs.

“Who do we have here?” Wenceslas asked, squatting down to look Otto in the eye.

“My son, Otto. My firstborn,” Henry replied proudly. “I brought him along to glean the workings of ruling a kingdom.”

“I see. Greetings, young prince.”

“Greetings,” Otto replied with shy manners.

“Otto, you play games?” Otto nodded. Wenceslas took from the map the king figurine and handed it to Otto. “I loved playing with these when I was young. One day you’ll be a king. Promise me you’ll be a good one?”

“Aye, sir. I do!”

“Then this is yours.” Otto took it with a smile.

“Say thank you, son,” Henry directed.

“Thank you!”

“My pleasure, young prince,” Wenceslas replied as the attendant came and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder to draw him away. “That is what I stand for.”

“Giving trinkets to tots?” Henry replied with a chuckle.

“Building up the next generation. Living charitably, giving first before ever taking.”

“Good answer. You want peace as do I, and I could use your support to get it. The barbarians and Slavs oppose me in the north and the Magyars in the south. Between these foes have been buffers such as Bohemia. Another buffer, or at least one I considered so until they have acted treacherously as of late, are none other than—”

“The Hevelli.”

“Indeed. Your mother’s tribe. It is clear what she has been up to. Princess of my enemies marries into your family. Weaken Bohemia from within, let Magyars invade from the south so to cripple us on both fronts. Had she allied with the Magyars at the onset of her regency, the nobility would not have stood for it. So, little by little, she has allowed your realm to crumble, rewarding choice leaders with her goods whilst the others suffered. Bring Bohemia to the breaking point before making a truce with Hétmagyar. Then my buffers would be my enemies. I can spare only so much, but if I offer you troops, will you and yours retake the Carpathian Basin and push back our adversaries? We do this in a joint effort to repel the enemy front; the German east will finally be secure.”

Wenceslas paused, weighing this decision. “When do we strike?”

Henry laughed once more—he had taken a shine to this new Duke.


Rising to a high balcony overlooking the castle walls, bailey, courtyard, the Vltava River, and the city of Prague, the two leaders of men, each sipping a goblet of red wine, strolled and surveyed the land.

“You will make a fine Duke, my friend. Even a king if that ever possible,” Henry told Wenceslas.

“I have no aspirations for a throne higher than this.”

“Well enough. Deal with matters at hand, perfect them, then seek loftier goals. That is how I work. When birding or hunting, my mind is wholly on the game I seek and nothing else. The matters that may hinder my focus will not find solutions on their own, so I will deal with them when my current task ends. Wise enough for me!”

“And what if too many tasks plague you?”

“Take them in stride, one at a time. Oh, and forget not the power of delegation. I am not above making my own bed, though I have servants to do that. Not that I would relish the servitude to the point where I can lay in a bed of laziness. My mind and body oftentimes need be concentrated upon another task, which may affect thousands upon thousands. That is when best to let servants do what they do that I may do what I do without hurdles.”

“I have a number of those I can trust to help me, and yet there are many who do not trust me. I fear they may even stage a coup.”

“They will follow you, lad. Look, I sense a kindred spirit in you. One like me where we have no taste for superiority. Aye, ye have spoken rightly that I have the blood of Charlemagne, therefore inherited right of rulership. Many will flock to that and concede to me being one of superiority if by nothing else. Do you not have the same? Your land’s beloved prophetess Libuše, daughter of Krok, and her sisters, both also endowed with the supernatural. You have her as ancestor! By their love Přemysl, and of Libuše, what respect ye gain. What a lineage we both lay claim to.”

“As you prefer leadership from the bottom up, not granted by top down, I do the same.”

“That is the very kindred spirit of speak of, lad. Do they not don me the name Henry the Fowler? Will history remember me as such? Does the lore of your land not oft call him Přemysl the Ploughman? Does the lore not say he removed his peasant’s bast shoes before donning the royal vestments, yet ordered his attendants to bring the shoes with them and keep them always at hand as a reminder to the people that a peasant had risen to the highest rank, and to his successors to stay humble, remembering always their origin, and to evermore defend the peasantry.”

“I dare say, my king, you have greater knowledge of our legends than half of Bohemia.”

“I dare say I see the lore of your ancestor very much alive in you, his spirit at work in you. You have not ventured far from his path, and I commend you for it. I say we alike have forsaken a sense of superiority to embrace the humility needed to care for the greatest to the least in our lands. And yet, casting aside superiority does not mean relinquishing power and authority. I say, live with that, walk with that, embody that power and that authority.”

“I do try.”

“I have noticed, and yet could still smell indifference about you.”

“I do try to rid myself of that as well.”

“You need to think like the pack general. Have you seen wolves? These are wild, fearsome beasts, and one might think no two could work in accordance. And yet, when a pack leader prevails amongst them, the wolves live in peace. You are a lamb, Wenceslas, surrounded by wolves. Let them not sense ye to be prey. Let them sense a ferocious, bloodthirsty beast within. Then they will gladly work in tandem with you.”

“Have you always had such confidence?”

“My, hell no!” he laughed and took a hefty draught of wine from his goblet. “I was a shy boy, preferring the company of rocks and trees than people. How is your prayer life?”

“I would say I once walked humbly with God hourly. With so many preoccupations, seeking the Almighty has become a less regular affair, to my shame.”

“I mean not to shame you, son. Nor should you welcome shame from any source. Rid yourself of it. Shame’s only good for a second, not a season. Let it point you toward correction then discard it as you would pissing down wind. Haha! You are a leader of men, son. You need no fear, guilt, shame, grievance, doubts, or disillusionment about you or you are more like a maimed deer, prey for wolves once again.

“On prayer, though, you need to be about it. See a storm coming of whatever form, be it famine, political discord, or damn dark clouds, ye best be praying. And not some feeble prayers like some knave at battle who could not even bear half a sword without straining a muscle. When you picture Jesus Christ our Lord rebuking storm and sea, what mannerisms appear in your head? Does he walk up all hunched over and fearfully say, ‘please, storm, please, sea, if you could find it in your heart, mind you cutting out your blowing?’ Heavens no!” He laughed boisterously.

“I picture a man among men, standing tall, proud, mighty and commanding that devil weather to pipe down! And it does!”

“He was Jesus, though.”

“Right, verily enough. Take that centurion fellow. The one with a sick servant, who tells our Lord something like, ‘I too am a man of authority. I tell people go and they go, come and they come. They jump when I say jump. You, Jesus, need not come visit my servant. You speak it and it will be so.’ I paraphrase; you get the point.”


“What is the Lord’s response to this gentile fellow? He says never in all Israel has he seen such faith! Of all God’s chosen people living in the Promised Land, it is a gentile invader who has the greatest faith! Does he stand in weakness? No. Does he act superior and try to command this Jewish rabbi? Nay to that as well! He simply acts out of confidence, in power and authority. That is the sort of faith I seek, the sort of prayer life I do my best to live.”

“I like that. I like it very much.”

“Sure you do. I just prescribed success for you. Conrad, former king—he and I did not always see eye to eye, you know.”

“Do tell.”

“Well—haha—a humorous tale it is. We argued vehemently about title rights in Thuringia. I thought he and I were still opponents when he lay on his deathbed, and then he turns and tells Eberhard, his younger brother, that he wants me—me, of all people!—to succeed him! Nobody could believe it. I hardly could comprehend it, let alone those who had much higher claim to the throne, such as his very own brother or stepson. Eberhard even took half a year after his brother’s passing to even accept Conrad’s dying wishes and report the news to me.

“What I mean to say is, Conrad saw something in me. He considered me the only one capable of holding the kingdom together despite internal rivalries, not to mention the incessant Magyar raids.”

“I can relate.”

“Even more so now you have a throne of your own. And why not let another stalwart fellow have it and rule in your stead?”

“I see it as a platform from which greater good can be accomplished.”

“And what is good?”

“Alas, I am ill-equipped to answer such a philosophical conundrum. It would seem everyone has a different answer to that. Do I say, ‘morally excellent, virtuous, pious?’ Do I say, ‘something that brings joy and mirth?’ Do I answer with, ‘something positive, propper, appealing?’ But when we see good, taste it, feel it, experience that which in essence is good, we know it—we know it without means of defining it. I dare say all living beings recognize good when it stands before them, whether comprehending it is ambiguous. And I seek it with all I am, for me, my loved ones, and the whole realm.”

With a laugh at the play on words Henry held in his ready response, he replied, “Good answer.”


Atop the gate parapet, Wenceslas, Libyena, her father Horst, Zikmund, myself, and others gazed out watching Henry’s procession ride away from the outer wall. Young Otto, holding the figurine Wenceslas had given him, proffered a friendly wave up to our Duke. He smiled back, but seemed statuesque. His warm smirk for the lad faded faster than the German host disappeared out of sight.

“Well, that went swimmingly then?”

“I suppose so,” he replied.

“Looks like we got ourselves another fight on our hands,” Horst commented. “Not like we hadn’t had one already. At least this time we aren’t takin’ arms against our own kinsman, eh?”

“The Regent had given the raiders much leeway,” Zikmund added, “issuing orders to engage them should they cross a line.”

“And what line might that be?” Libyena spoke out, incensed. “Burning of poor people’s land? Slaughtering our livestock? Or raping women, abducting children, murdering our people?”

“Would that I say the latter, yet my honor holds me to speak truthfully. The line was if they threatened the property of any who had made some special allegiance with her personally. I know not what form of communication she made to coordinate these raids upon our people. Should a Lord be in her good graces as such, and, say, they owned an alehouse. Should the Magyar raiders go near it, then we were to attack and defend. Most often, they knew which to avoid in the first place, somehow. She used her armies more for persecuting those of a religion she wished expunged from the realm. To my shame, I followed these orders, but a soldier is to obey his orders for honor, lest he be shamed. It fills my heart with confidence, good Duke, to have you at our command.”

“My hope is that all the land feel accordingly, Captain. It will take a united land to repel our enemies to the south.”

“Different now, yes?” Horst asked. “Henry’s sendin’ German knights our way. We have more men this time round.”

“Forsooth,” Wenceslas said with a sigh. I was not sure what was depressing him, but still he looked downcast and perplexed. “An ensured victory when the whole kingdom unites together against a common threat instead of conflict with each other. We can rest safer with that.”

“So, when do we strike?” I asked anxiously.

“We assemble and march to the Carpathian Basin and join a host of German soldiers where we shall make a stand and invasion so profound, no Magyar would dare set foot upon Bohemian ground again. To make ready for war, we have three weeks.”

Chapter IX


“Oh that’s good,” groaned the Magyar General in his Hungarian tongue, lying beneath the former Regent of Bohemia. Dragomira, as she had with all her bedfellows, straddled him in the dominant position, riding him, relishing the pleasure of sex as much as using it as a tool for manipulation. As with any man she needed services from, she would welcome into her chamber, join with them, and from that point forward, she would command and own them. In a military encampment, Dragomira was given a palatial tent, nearly as elegant as her chamber in Prague or upon the luxury barge on the Vltava river. Filled with colorful carpets and tapestries of Hungarian designs, the lavish tent was where she welcomed the few generals of the camp to treat with her, enjoy her treats, and afterward be at her beckon call. While her plans with Magyar Prince Zoltan were in accordance, she disliked the notion that generals over hundreds of thousands of soldiers were not on her leash. Sex-leash them, then the myriad men were technically under her as well. “Thousands draw under your command. Marching from afar regions of Hétmagyar, assembling here to march through Bohemia to reach Saxony,” he reported, discovering how much lauding her fanned the flame of her intense pride, driving her giggly with pleasure.

“More, damn it, more!” she squealed.

“You’ve left Bohemia weak… Defenseless… Confused…” he continued, barely able to hang on. “In days, we march… crush… invade…”


“Prince Zoltan will make you queen!” he groaned, fighting to keep from finishing, sensing she too was approaching the pinnacle of satisfaction. The problem was, he too relished power, and bedding a princess of the Hevelli and future princess of Hétmagyar sent waves of excitement through all his members. “A conquering queen over all Germania!”

“Ooh! What I love to hear.”

“Queen… my queen… oooooohhhhh!” He convulsed with delight, reaching the end of this sexual encounter with extreme satisfaction. Dragomira on the other hand was not as amused.

“Do not tell me you are finished,” she said with ice in her tone, frozen and glaring.

“Oh, dear, my, my lady,” he tried to respond but couldn’t help laughing from the pure ecstasy. “My apologies, m’lady.” But his mirth only mocked her scorn to fury.

“Did it not occur to you that I was not finished?” she asked, rising off of him and throwing her soft night gown on. The used lover rose and hugged her from behind.

“Your lieutenant is but your enchanted servant, my lady.” She turned, faced him with a smile, and thrust her arm. The handsome general was caught off guard instantly, struck with a terrible pain in his abdomen. Looking down, he found that she ran him through with a sword. Perplexed, the Magyar crumbled down to the floor, moaning until death took him.

“Knave. Is there a man in any nation with sufficient stamina to leave my flesh appeased?” She clasped the hilt to retrieve the blade when a naughty notion struck her. She pressed the hilt to her groin, and then writhed to make a rubbing motion, pleasuring herself with the shaft stuck into the bowels of her dead lover. Like a scorpion, mantis, or spider, who consumes their mates, Dragomira was not above some bizarre necrophilia.

Biting her lip, enjoying this far too much, she came near to the satisfaction she had earlier when Boleslav stepped through the doorway curtain. “Mama?” he asked for her, fortunately unable to see much through the gray gloom of midnight and the cascading drapes flanking the bed. She stopped her activity and fastened her robe as she rounded the bed to face her son.

“Yes, darling?”

“I miss home. I cannot sleep.”

“An unsatisfying night for the both of us,” she sighed, though Boleslav was clueless to her meaning. Taking him by the hand, she led him from her tent back to his. “Come, let us share a story and help you settle to sleep.”

And such were the nighttime activities of Wenceslas’s mother during her exile from Bohemia. Wenceslas on the other hand had spent the last few days organizing and meeting with lords and military leaders regarding the march down south. Constantly he met with resistance, bickering, and naysaying. At every turn, he felt disrespected and undermined by those he was in authority over. Never once in their company did he lose his nerve or temper, but followed the Fowler’s advice precisely; he remained proud, upright, and firm. While he could have rested upon his laurels and enforced his bloodright as next in line of the Přemyslid dynasty, he felt that would simply seem as a dog barking as loudly as possible, though it posed no threat. No, he prefered to seem as the calm, collected top dog who no one wanted to upset lest they face the wrath of a fearsome bite.

Wenceslas went to bed nightly exhausted from maintaining such a front, facing such adversity and anxiety weighed him down and chipped away at his sanity. Bathed in the pale moonlight gleaming through the window of his bedchamber, Wenceslas slept a busy sleep—tossing to and fro, sweating and nearly hyperventilating. Dragomira’s wraith nestled down on his left and whispered into his ear.

“I have already claimed the wealthy and powerful in my hand—chained, enthralled to me. Do you hope to sway them, to overpower my charms? Even with the blessing of the dark god, you lack the wiles of a beautiful woman. They receive gifts only I can give that you cannot. What hope have you? Bohemia belongs to me. As do you. No, follow your wayward religion to your heart’s content. You violate its very tenets, do you not? You are to honor your mother, not let her rot in exile! You sin against your own god after betraying the one you are branded by. You leave yourself in enmity with any divine order—what hope have you?”

While hearing these words infect his dreams, he writhed and rolled about, gasping for air under her suffocating verdicts. Finally, like fresh air blowing into a stuffy cell, Ludmila moved in on the other side and shouted into his right ear, “Wake up!”

Wenceslas startled awake just in time to see a dagger driving directly for his heart, intent on murder.


Bartram, donning a dark cloak, and without his eye patch displayed a sinister scar in the shape of Wenceslas’s brand. Bartram swung his hand down, gripping a crooked dagger, attempting to assassinate the Duke.

With swift reflexes, Wenceslas caught his assassin’s arms just in time, keeping the dagger at bay. Being far the stronger, Wenceslas rolled and threw the acolyte to the stone floor before grappling him and making him a prisoner.

“I need men I can trust!” Wenceslas growled with stress, only a couple hours later walking toward the dungeon antechamber. Libyena kept to his side and I trailed behind, carrying a lantern. Pervasive darkness scattered in streaks away as our fiery oil lamps proceeded down the stone hall.

“You have a woman you can trust,” Libyena commented, with strides trying to keep up with Wenceslas’s quickened gait. “That should count for some.”

“It does, and I know I have many I can trust. Mark my words, though, treachery is afoot and I will root it out.” Wenceslas and Libyena arrived to a dungeon doorway at the same time as Horst and the redheaded warrior, Blazej.

“Who is he? Why attack you?” Horst asked, short of breath. I think the idea of Wenceslas under attack put him in a panic.

“I cannot rightly say.”

“Why would anyone try to take your life?”

“To install Dragomira again,” I answered.

“Few things make sense,” Wenceslas said, exasperated, running his hands through his hair. “Why did my mother retreat so easily? Where would she run to?”

“You weren’t meant to win the Fowler’s heart,” Blazej sighed. Our eyes locked in on him. His flickered a glance toward ours then to the ground before he began to appear jittery. Wenceslas looked dubiously at him. The Warrior trembled, blanchin upon the slip of his tongue.

“What means you by that?” Wenceslas asked. Thinking I was on the same thought as Wenceslas, I stepped in behind him to prevent him from fleeing like a mouse from a cat. He sighed and started breathing funny, stepping away from the scene until his back bumped into me. Though he was taller than I was, I planted my feet firmly and made myself a well. He had no place to go.

“I mean to say that she may have not expected you to have won the Fowler’s heart.”

“Did she know I was bound to treat with him? How would you have any knowledge of what she may or may not have expected?” Wenceslas asked, pointedly, sternly, and yet still with grace,

“I—er—Sire, you won my heart, ye did. But, but, but… your mother seduced it.” He tried to sidestep me, but Horst grappled him from behind so he couldn’t retreat.

“Best spill your guts, lad,” Horst told him like an uncle advising his nephew.

“Beggin’ pardon, m’Lord. The pages, we call her the black widow, stealin’ minds and even the most stout of hearts, by her charms! By my troth, ye have made me your servant by choice. I seek to serve ye, your highness. Ye have undone the spell she’s vexed me with through her wiles.”

“Tread carefully!” Wenceslas demanded, getting in his face with fire in his eyes. He truly despised facing any of his mother’s bedfellows. “What did she tell you? What is her strategy?”

“She knew King Henry marched to claim taxes, hoped you’d be entangled with him in battle when she returned with an army—”

“To kill you and Henry,” Horst uttered with revelation.

“’Twas you who clued her forces to our whereabouts at Kutna Hora!” I reasoned.

“To my everlasting shame,” he sighed with honest disgust.

“She planted you among us to send word of movements. When the force failed at Kutna Hora, you kept her clued to when the hammer would fall, did you not?” I continued, unravelling these mysteries and riddles.

“Seeing that our invasion was successful,” Libyena continued, tracking along with me, “She pulls back until she can return amidst the carnage or aftermath of a battle with the Germans?”

“She must have expected Henry would strike and lay siege, a fight that would wear down both armies, till she would sweep in to claim victory over both,” I continued.

“Aye,” the redhead replied, still trembling. “At least, that’s me knowin’s of it all. Not that she ever told all to a simple page as myself.”

“Page? You mean spy!” I accused.

“Easy, Cabbage,” Wenceslas calmed me.

“See, lad, good on ye. Truth feels better don’t it?” Horst added, still playing the uncle-like role. Blazej nodded with doe-like eyes up to his Duke, seeking mercy.

“Ye won me heart, Highness,” he spoke. “And ye won the Fowler’s. Naught what the Duchess ever suspected. Do with me as ye will. I am but your humble servant.”

“That remains to be seen,” Wenceslas countered. “Leave me. You have done enough.” Grateful for such mercy, as opposed to death on the spot, the redhead slunk away.

“She sent an assassin because ye didn’t battle King Henry?” Horst questioned. “While more sense it makes, I’m still not followin’ all the details.”

“Nor am I. High time to find out,” Wenceslas stated as he led our procession through the heavy door into the dungeon chamber. Streiter and Vandalin turned wooden cranks. The ropes, lashed to Bartram’s wrists and ankles, stretched him on a rack. How glad I was to be on the opposite side of the torturing within this dank hole.

Wenceslas nodded, signalling his men release the tension. Horst, Libyena, and I stood aside, ready to help in any way we could. “The riddle of treachery has seen light of solution. Kutna Hora’s ambush was by none other than Blazej.”

While Vandalin blanched as white as a sheet, Streiter puzzled. “Blazej?”

“That redheaded warrior,” I chimed in.

“He was your friend, Vandalin,” Wenceslas noted.

“I—I know how that must look, m’Lord. Pray, rest assured, as assured as I may let ye rest, that I knew not of his treachery.”

“You speak rightly, my friend. I beg, tell me otherwise if it were so.”

“My fellowship with ‘im was not more than sharin’ a draught of ale at the tavern from whence we came unto you from. That same tavern we heard your man, Kohl, here, singin’ the tune of a new Duke makin’ better lives for us all. We were the first to enlist. What other dealings he had outside that tavern, I knew not.”

“Understood. Vandalin, rest soundly,” then he looked down at the sweating, squirming weasel upon the rack. “You on the other hand, I would hope you find no rest till I have had my fill of information. No rest for the wicked, less for traitors who seek underhanded, unchivalrous methods of robbing a man of his life; murder whilst he slumbers.” Wenceslas spoke as though he had something foul on his tongue, displaying such utter disdain at the assassin. “Will you speak now?”

“I dare not betray our god,” he wheezed in reply, both from strain of the rack and from his natural rasp in his voice.

“You dare not betray me!” Wenceslas barked, striking his fists upon the rack, gnashing his teeth at the wretch before him. I had never seen him reach such a temper of rage, though I had never seen him under so much pressure before.

“I have sworn unto—”

“Swear to me!” Wenceslas growled and then nodded to Streiter and Vandalin at the cranks. His men racked him once more until Bartram screamed in agony.”

“Mercy! I beg for mercy!”

“Think a worm like you deserves mercy? Would you have shown mercy and stayed your dagger or let it plunge into my bowels? I think not!” And following his cues, the two crankers tugger further, nearly pulling him in twain. I wanted to default to trusting my Duke and friend, but he seemed possessed. How nearly right I was. The Dragomira demon had emerged from the shadows, visible only to Wenceslas.

“Give him no mercy! He sought your death!” she told him.

Wenceslas locked eyes with her, and found he let her sway him. With a nod to his men, they dropped the tension and Bartram caught his breath. “Speak,” the Duke ordered.

“I speak only truth. Yet, you and I belong to the same order. You are branded a slave to Chernobog, thus are cursed.”

“Not what I want to know!”

“The curse draws you into shadow, and darker the shadow the longer you rival with our god.”

“Show him a man of power; a man who slaughters all in his way,” Dragomira told him, taunting him. “Show everyone in this room that you will not tolerate insurrection. Your will is law, your will be done, unquestioned!”

“I will rack you till you split, you vile scum. I will rack you should you not tell me why you tried to kill me!”

“Your days are spent. He has no more use for you, nor patience for your insolence. Chernobog seeks your blood.”

“What does he speak of?” Libyena asked, but amidst the commotion, I don’t think Wenceslas heard her, or he wasn’t interested in replying at the time.

“Again!” he ordered his men.

They began tug-of-war with Bartram’s flesh anew. Watching a man in such agony was nothing I could stomach. I was grateful at that early morning hour, I had no dinner left to churn in my gut.

“Ere the full moon…” Bartram tried to say through his pain.

“Make him bleed! Show him!” Dragomira told Wenceslas.

“Make him bleed!” Wenceslas ordered, echoing the commanding voice of his demon.

“Ere the full moon… Boleslav… next heir.” Wenceslas waved his hand to stifle his men. “Your blood shall not curse Boleslav. He will use the blessing to be true servant of our god!” Incensed, Wenceslas lunged forward and punched him repeatedly, kneading his face into bloody dough all while Dragomira continued to control him, ordering him to continue.

“Do not hesitate. Hold nothing back. Unleash your fury!”

“Wenceslas!” I called out. Horst, Libyena, and I stepped in to stifle his tirade.

“This isn’t you, son. Come hither,” Horst told him with fatherly tenderness, luring Wenceslas from the torture victim to the corner of the chamber. I grabbed the lantern to shed light on the dark space. “Take a breath. This is not you.”

“By force Boleslav was taken. By force I will take him back! That filth knows where he is and what her scheme is. I will extract that from him.”

“See, we rely on you. We know you. You are kind, son. You are good.”

“That is why it is so difficult,” he replied, softening his tone, releasing some tension.

“Every man has a beast within; yours is a dragon. By my eyes, you keep that dragon well leashed. What we just saw—that most certainly was not you.”

“No! It is not! It is the curse of my mother—the bane of my life, my mother’s wretched voice in my head, plaguing me without end! I hear her, see her, an apparition, always mocking.”

“See, we all hear echos of dark pasts,” Horst continued his counselling. “Trick is lettin’ it go. Longer you wrestle, the longer it lives in you. But I believe in you and that your inner goodness will outshine any dragon within.”

“How am I good with evil poisoning my thoughts?” he asked. The two stood, unable to speak, unable to cognitively form words to answer that pivotal riddle. “Because I know in my heart that you are good over any evil,” Libyena told him, so tenderly that she nearly shed a tear. With Libyena taking him by the hand and Horst wrapping a fatherly arm around Wenceslas’s shoulder, they returned to the seen.

“Again?” Streiter asked, ever the compliant drone, never questioning his Duke.

“Nay! I pray ye grant mercy. My flesh, my bones can endure no more,” Bartram wheezed, trying to writhe, but unable to because of being so strictly lashed down.

“Then tell me what I want to hear,” Wenceslas told him, sounding more like a firm lion than hot-tempered dragon.

“Verily, my Duchess is but a priestess for Chernobog and I her Acolyte. You do recognize my scar affixed over me missing eye?”


“Given me by your grandmother. You remember that night? The blood ye drank.”

“Must we speak of this?”

“You hold the promise, the blessing of Chernobog. In our rites, to pass it on to the heir, the promise must be imbibed by way of blood. I was to draw your blood to bring to her. She seeks your blood ere the full moon.”

“To enact the rite upon Boleslav…” Wenceslas said, coming to conclusions.


Wenceslas slumped over, tired and taxed, gazing out at the gallant city of Prague from the high vantage of the palace balcony. The city was bathed in soft orange and purple, early morning light, beautiful and ready to greet a new day. There, thousands of citizens dwelled under the shadow of the high castle seated upon the hill. Mothers roused their children, shopkeepers swept the porches, and merchants made an early start at assembling carts with wares. Street urchins ran and played. Constable knights marched about, ensuring peace and civility. Magistrates, accompanied by their pages and protégés, migrated from their homes toward courts laden with parchments scribed with their latest law examinations. Prague awoke, alive and vibrant, safe as hatchlings cozy beneath their mother hen.

Only, the mother hen of Prague was Wenceslas, head of the land, and not as safe and secure as his citizens. He took solace in bearing the burden for them all, but one burden he had yet to shoulder—Boleslav’s. I knew he needed friends, an ear to vent his angst to, a shoulder to lean on. While such a wiry lad at the time I couldn’t bear his weight for long, I would rather face damnation than not try and lift up my friend. Libyena felt the same way, as I am sure did Streiter and Horst. Streiter, not much for words or emotional counsel, took a more pragmatic approach toward his Duke’s troubles and rode south in search of Dragomira, seeking any word or report of her movements and whereabouts. Horst on the other hand knew that his Duke may have preferred the company of peers and would wait with ready and available fatherly comfort for when Wenceslas sought it. When Libyena and I came to him, we had no words to say, but gave a comforting presence nonetheless.

“Dragomira will work the same curse on my brother she did unto me,” he spoke, breaking the silence.

“What curse?” Libyena asked.

“That harkens a tale of memory I would rather not recompose. What I will say; it has left a mark upon my very soul, one my grandmother strove to erase, yet was unable to unwrought. My mother and that acolyte of hers performed some ritual upon me, one that would either lead to blessing or curse—blessing by her standard that is. It would betroth my soul to some foul deity known as such whose name I would not utter lest the resplendor of day be turned to the gloom of night. I have pledged myself to the Almighty of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To that deity I serve, and yet abandoning my mother’s god I face a curse of torment, one I endure all my days.”

“You endure it not alone,” Libyena told him, grabbing his hand. I was glad there was one present who could comfort him in that manner, more than a brotherly friend could.

“She would enact the same upon your brother?” I asked to clarify.

“The ceremony, by tradition, can happen only on a birthday with a full moon.”

“Why is that?”

“I know not. Why were the Israelites instructed to put a lamb’s blood over their doorways to avoid the angel of death? Religions will do as religions will. Though, I have heard a sage or two speak that there is a spirit quickened with the light of the moon. The nature of that spirit, they say, is based upon the beholder.”

“They behold this spirit?” I had to ask.

“I speak metaphorically. I know not if there is some conscious entity or some ethereal force, an astral energy. Do we not hear more of strange occurrences on nights of full moons more than others?”

“Verily,” Libyena replied. “Lore of fell creatures and beasts who draw forth from shadows to bask in the light of night.”

“Indeed, and I also hear tale of poets and prophets, artisans of myriad crafts who draw forth greater inspiration on nights of the full moon. If the moon can move the ocean’s tide, why not the tide of men’s hearts? We know so little of the celestial bodies and their influence upon us. The lore of my mother is that with that spirit, aligning with the position of the stars—as in the same position of one’s birth—this rite can enact a pledge that draws the one toward this foul god, putting one in favor with him.”

“Boleslav—he’s got one this year, eh? A birthday with a full moon, I mean.” Wenceslas nodded in reply. “Now I see the anxiety oppressing your heart of late. Why, on the day of seizing Prague, you would forsake all to ensure his safety. Why you are unable to sleep, for every waking hour is another hour drawing closer to that day when—” Libyena nudged me to shut my mouth. I was spewing verbal vomit once more, only this time reasoning out the events before me without realizing that I was only pushing my friend to despair over them.

“When will this date be?” she asked softly.

“Eleven days.”

“Pity it’s a fortnight till the Fowler’s ranks join ours,” I noted, likely not helping matters again.

“Pity, for I am needed here, for then I am torn in twain, half seeking my brother, half required in necessitating the welfare of the nation. As much as I would like to go after him, I would need an army, and far be it from me to risk lives of men in ambition to save my brother.”

Before either of us could say any word of solace and encouragement, a rider rode rapidly through the castle gate and a voice calling for Wenceslas shouted. It was Streiter, rushing upon a lower causeway, shouting up toward the balcony with some urgent update.

“My Lord! News from the south!”

“I will have it,” Wenceslas called back.

“An army, sire!” he called back, out of breath. “An army fit for invasion! Magyars make ready to invade!”


“The forces have amassed. We could invade tonight,” said a Magyar chieftain, speaking his native tongue of Hungarian, dressed in regal attire befitting his cultural heritage, donning tattoos and piercings on his visible skin—and surely many more on his skin that wasn’t visible. Most of his face was hidden by his turban and large, sweeping beard and moustache.

The army Streiter spoke of was enormous. Thousands upon thousands of dark, hairy, formidable soldiers marched in ranks filling the Magyar camp within the Carpathian Basin just south of the mountains buffering the region from Bohemia. An intimidating ancient bastion loomed over the camp; the spire Vratislav beheld when he entered the land years before and entered the battle that would claim his life. From this spire, Dragomira oversaw the camp and the presiding generals and chiefs that had come under her orders by their prince to stage for invasion joined her, begrudgingly awaiting her directions. The chieftain, in his fifties, brandishing a mean scimitar, conversed with Dragomira, adding his counsel to her reign. “Let us assault Bohemia whilst they dream, give them no quarter, let no time for scouts to spy us lest they prepare for our advance.”

“Dare not undermine your Prince’s authority endowed in me,” she replied sans emotion. Mareczek stood close beside, eyeing the thousands of foreign soldiers marching below with discernible concern.

“I do not undermine you, mistress,” the Chief confuted with some indignation in his voice. This boor had not been bedded by Dragomira yet and so operated without her leash of manipulation. He also shared the blood of cousins with the general she had killed in her tent nights before, and while she gave report that he tried to rape her, giving due cause to her murder, he knew his cousin was not that sort of man and so distrusted this foreign Duchess. “I serve my prince, assuredly, and any he places in command. Yet, I am a warmonger and proud to be. Battle is in my blood, my sinews made of strategy for conflict. I only offer my counsel.”

“Your expertise in war and advice has been duly noted. Now, off with you. Take your leave till I seek your counsel on my terms.”

He scowled and grunted as he proceeded to exit. Mareczek’s eyes remained fixed upon him, ready to react a moment’s treachery, but there was none. The Chieftain complied and departed, taking a diminutive amount of tension from Mareczek’s flesh, giving him some contentment to speak his mind.

“My lady, I—”

“Steady your nerves, my darling Mareczek. You trust your Duchess, do you not?”

“Implicitly, Highness.”

“Let not worry agitate you. Once Boleslav has made his pledge, we shall reclaim our land.”

“Will it be ’our’ land when conquered by Hétmagyar?”

“Purging Bohemia of that religion was no easy task, though we made tremendous progress. That was but a single duchy. Before us stands a kingdom, looming upon the horizon, ever the pot brewing a horde of followers of that insipid faith. We shall purge it from them. We shall claim all Europe, then the Levant. I care not for the dogmatic differences of Muslim, Jew, or Christian. Whether they agree or not, they all call upon the same deity, they all breed as rabbits, luring more and more into their clutches. With Hétmagyar, we shall conquer to liberate them from the plague that has swept the lands. Remove Bohemia and have access into the heart of Germania, where we can rent the heart of the Fowler himself and take his throne.”

“You shall take the throne, or will Zoltan?”

“If I am his queen, what shall it matter? Lament not the Magyar rule over Bohemia as a province of this new empire. A plot of dirt is a plot of dirt whether owned by someone or another. You beloved home country shall not be changed and you can become a mighty leader of your land. Oh, what a glorious future we stand upon the cusp of, and this future I will see Boleslav made a king, wherefore I remain here, to enact the rite of blessing him to lock secure his destiny.”

Beaming she gazed out upon her mighty army ready to bring her dreams to fruition. Mareczek’s resolve wavered silently as he stroked his facial scar. He swallowed hard the difficult truth that one whom he has sworn fealty, faith, and life to may have lost her mind to madness, inebriated upon hubris.


“Then that is it,” Radslav commented with a sigh. “Dragomira directs the enemy to reclaim her rule.” Wenceslas and his closest confidants met to discuss the next plan of action within the palace war room. In an effort to garner trust and acclaim amongst the ruling class, he also welcomed into this fellowship Radslav, Hnevsa, and a number of other nobles, to join with his military captain, Zikmund, to speak on behalf of the military.

“Wherefore would they proffer her the throne and not claim it for themselves?” Wenceslas asked, seeking wisdom. “No doubt the royalty of Hétmagyar has countless dukes and princes looking for a country to make their own. Why would they side with Dragomira when she’s most vulnerable and has so little to offer?”

“Likely all will be revealed in due course of time. Alas, our fears meet culmination this day. Bohemia is no more.” I didn’t like his cavalier attitude to the invasion of our land one little bit. He spoke of a atrocious catastrophy as though it were as bad as a stubbed toe.

“Says the Duke of Kourim!” I shouted. “Little claim in our affairs have you save for what you’ve conceived. And were Wenceslas clearly the foreseeable victor in the conflict to come, no doubt you’d act his best confidant!” Radslav pointed his blade to my Adam’s apple, clearly disliking what I had to say.

“Impudent tongue for a rube.” Wenceslas slapped Radslav’s blade aside, allowing me to breathe once more.

“Kohl is my trusted advisor. If you dislike what he has to say, you take it up with me.”

“I shall not have my honor impugned—”

“Honor?” Streiter grunted, intending to be under his breath though loud enough for all to hear. We waited for him to continue, but as a man of few words, his word was spoken.

“You allow Bohemia to fall in enemy hands, making us slaves, and seem to suggestion we sit and wait for it to come to pass,” Horst clarified, giving meaning to Streiter’s one word contradiction. “What honor have you in that?”

“Death, while some say may be a door to another life, may very well be a doorway unto itself; death. What honor have we in the void of the great beyond? I would see as many days as I can. What would you do with death looming over yonder mountains?”

“I see no alternative,” Wenceslas chimed it. “We fight!”

“We have not the resources to fend off so potent a foe!” Hnevsa countered. “By the time the Fowler’s troops arrive to ally with Bohemia, there shall be no Bohemia. It will be occupied territory, whether we fight and die, or surrender and live, the outcome shall be a Magyar flag upon the Prague citadel.”

“Has my mother so seduced your hearts that you no longer believe in our freedom? Care you not for our future?”

Radslav, with a grunt of a laugh, sheathed his sword and stormed out. “Freedom is but a child’s notion. This land has decayed far too long. The time has come to forge a new destiny! You shall see it, before long, before your end, you will behold a new destiny not yet imagined in your head.”

Upon his departure, Wenceslas took in a deep breath, keeping himself calm after flinching with tension at the nauseating words of his contemporary.

“Truly it is time for a new destiny. Not whatever Radslav has conjured. Such a hope of peace can only be bought by willing hearts of steadfast courage, who believe in doing what is good above all. Zikmund, you and your troops likely will not be enough to repel this onslaught. I will need those willing hearts—the same who joined in taking Prague, and more. Many more.”


“I know you have a prophecy,” Wenceslas continued his oration before the vast gathering of elders and townsfolk. When folks like Erdmann and Selmer, who were skeptical to begin with, had seen Wenceslas achieve what he set out to achieve, all while never losing his spirit against greedy corruption, they were able to gather hundreds of other Bohemians to come meet their champion. Hearing how he had returned unjust taxes, set prisoners free, helped the poor, and chastised the wealthy all amidst his mission—a successful one at that—to claim the throne, the numbers we had recruited seemed to quadruple. Here, hundreds more gathered from all around, folks from every town, of every class, came. Rumors had spread about an imminent invasion, and many wanted to know their Duke’s plans to engage such a formidable force. Many had the inkling this would be a moment of summoning to fight for their country, but Wenceslas did not want to impose a draft. He wanted men to fight because they believed in the cause. He knew that then, and only then, would each many truly embody their fullest potential as a force to be reckoned with.

“A prophecy of Libuše about a king summoning the men of the mountain, when all appears bleak, when the occasion is dire. The prophecy has stood for generations to give us hope that if ever the land of Bohemia were threatened of annihilation, at the utter nadir of desperation, this champion king would raise his sword and summon to him the mighty men of the mountain and they would be nigh invincible. I have always taken that mountain, though spoken of Blanik, to be metaphorical of all the mighty men of Bohemia.

“I have not the office of king. Nonetheless, I call upon the men of the great mount Blanik who tire of politics standing in the way of liberty. I call on every farmer to leave plow behind to ensure a future harvest of liberty. I call every fisherman to cast aside his nets for the hope of catching a forthcoming of prosperity. Will you who swing axes to fell oaks swing it to fell our enemies? Will you who swing sickle and scythe to hew straw swing blades to cut off our invaders. I see our lands peaceful once more, where government works for the people, not other way round. I see a hope for our children’s children, to grow adept at their crafts, prospering at their endeavors, enjoying bountiful flowing milk, honey, and, of course, ale! To see this day, I call my people to forge this destiny with me. I have called, will you join?”

And they joined. The people were so inspired there was no question. Where before one out of every hundred who heard of his good deeds in recruitment for the invasion of Prague joined the force, now it was one out of every ten, or even better. Warriors pieced armor on their bodies; new armor, armor handed down through generations, or armor pieced together from myriad sources such as leathers, furs, washboards, buckets, and buckles. Weapons were as Wenceslas had said in his speech, axes, sickles, and scythes, along with maces, swords, staves, and spears. Hunters were made into archers, butchers into infantrymen, and herders into cavalry. Warriors of various shapes and sizes marched. Others rode horseback. All were savage and bloodthirsty. All believed in their vision for the future.

All believed in their Duke.


“You only make the slaughter of peasant knaves all the easier, leaving them no quarter for hiding, putting them front and vulnerable for destruction,” came the sinister words of the Dragomira demon. Wenceslas had won the hearts of his citizenry, but not his own. His constant torment of doubt and fear never vanished; he only could snub it and press ever onward. Watching his recruits arrive from far and wide to Prague, staging to march south, he took some time of solitude to be with Milana. Alone, the pressures of commanding an army waned for a bit, and at last he could be a boy and his pony.

That is, until the demon arrived to spew her slime upon his soul.

“You speak all you wish, say what you will, I care not. I do know this: you advise me toward the polar opposite of truth, of righteousness. Should you say the sky is cloudy, I will know it to be clear. Should you say venture right, I will know I am bound left. You tell me to surrender, then I shall keep fighting. You speak fight, I will withdraw. You say sin, I will hold fast to my convictions.”

“Think your contradictions make you stronger and live in your fallacies. Boleslav has already fallen to shadow, claimed by the devil himself, and you send men to their peril in a vain, selfish, ambition.”

“Damn it all! Be gone henceforth!”

“You speak with such cruelty to me or your horse?” came Libyena’s voice from behind.

“Why is it you sneak upon me so?” he asked, trying to calm down, turning to face her and finding a kolache in her hands.

“Why is it that every time I happen to, I find you cursing the air?”

“I know not how to answer that without you thinking me a lunatic,” he replied, not meeting her eyes, unwilling to allow her to see right through him. He shuffled Milana toward the stable hands to occupy himself from facing vulnerability.

“What distresses you so?”

“Much. Too much to recount. Too much for discourse.”

“I know not if these curses are real. Prophecies either. Where drawing upon the prophecy of Libuše has quickened the hearts of the people, faith in a curse may deaden it. Grammarcy, let not this curse trouble your heart. If it does exist, only you can break it.”

“For such surmounting weight upon my shoulders, measure upon measure, I know not how long before my knees fail me.”

“For what it’s worth, I know you will reach your brother before all’s too late. You will have the strength yet to lift him up from the mire holding him.” Her words were what he needed to hear. Her feminine intuition brought her to a deeper understanding of what tormented Wenceslas. He was too moved to speak. Seeing the pastry, bundled in a cloth in her hands gave him an outlet to transition the flow of conversation that may have only brought him to tears.

“What is that you bring?”

“Heard tell it’s your eighteenth birthday. Those who love you—your troop and volunteers that is—occupy themselves in errands on battle’s eve. Those who have resisted your governance can do so no longer. You now reach legal age to rule, though I see them not celebrating either. I made you a kolache, Wenceslas. If anything, may I be the only one to honor you on this day.”

“I have never been fond of birthdays,” he choked out, unaware that the sentiments had put a frog in his throat. After gulping it down and preserving fortitude, he added, “Thank you.”

“It’s apple.”

Wenceslas was again too moved for words. Somehow, whether again by feminine intuition or diligent research, or possible happy luck, she had made his favorite. Later, before a single lit candle, Wenceslas walked into the palace bedchamber with Libyena close behind. He softly touched a crucifix on a stand, making silent petitions to the Almighty, driving doubt away.

“Shall I go or stay?” Libyena asked. Wenceslas, muddled in dark emotion, remained silent. He wasn’t sure how to answer that—ask her to stay and face emotional vulnerability or ask her to leave and be left alone, despite a deep longing for comfort. “You appear in need of company. I’ll stay a spell.”

Wenceslas nodded, too vexed to speak, yet inwardly overjoyed that she could read his thoughts when he was clueless on how to convey them. Libyena sat beside him on the bed, stroking his hair, comforting him. “Do you remember our first meeting?”

“I had oft wondered if you did.”

“I so wanted to hop atop your fili and go for a ride. To ride and be free. Alas, I was bound to the orders of my mother, who in turn, was bound by the orders of her master, your father. I had to hand the reins over, though I loved your horse, a horse you had never met before.” He remained silent, but followed along all the same. His eyes told her he was listening, only he lacked the spirit to bring anything to the conversation, leaving it one-sided for the moment. “Never would I think the two of us would ride that same horse together on such an exploit as chasing your mother along the waterway. That is such a peculiar thing about fate, is it not? My father met my mother at a church service, no less. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it would seem a bear would be easier to tame than my father’s hair.”

They laughed. “I had noticed Horts’s hair was always unkempt.”

“That is puttin’ it to the mild. My mother mistook him for a beggar—poor as she was, she had been tending to horses her entire life, taught by me departed grandpappa, and so she had at least a small amount of money. Moved by a sermon on thinkin’ of others before ourselves, she went straight to him and offered him alms! He was embarrassed to be thought of as so lowly, and she was embarrassed for being so presumptuous. And so, into grasp of love they fell.”

“Had that not taken place, there would never have been you.”

“Like I said. Fate is mysterious.”

“You’ve heard the lore of Prophetess Libuše, aye?”

“What Bohemian hasn’t?”

“On the road one day among days, her father, Krok, rode in a carriage with his three daughters when the wheel had broken. Along came a nearby ploughman, tending the fields, who saw them. He was young and kind enough to give them his own wheel off his wagon. Krok resisted of course, but the ploughman said he wouldn’t be needing it for some time and so convinced Krok to accept the gift while refusing payment. He said it was right of any man to tend to the needs of a damsel in distress, let alone three of them!”

“I can only assume this ploughman was Prmysl?”

“You speak rightly. Libuše was in enchanted right away. Long later, after the death of her father, she was put in charge of the realm, acting as queen and judge. That is, until so many men of the nobility resisted the idea of a lady ruling over them. They demanded a king, and they desperately desired one of their ilk. She would have suffered mock and ridicule, maybe even upheaval, had she not chosen a groom from amongst the ruling class. So she proclaimed she had the prophetic revelation that a man plowing a field, with one broken bast sandal, near the village of Stadice, was to be her groom. And so the councilors departed and there they found him, brought him to her, they were wed, and generations later I am come along. Fate truly has some master plans.”

“She is a prophetess, known for many future-tellings. So she knew he would have a broken sandal?”

“It would seem so, though my grandmother never liked talking much of the pagan prophetess being correct in her prophecies.”

“Then, did she speak half truth? Knowing by the divine that Přemysl would have a broken sandal and yet selfishly choosing the man she had met and loved? Or was Přemysl truly prophesied to be her groom, and she was fortunate enough to have already met him and known him by his generosity?”

“Alas, we will not know this side of heaven.”

“And so history goes; one little action and reaction at a time. We call it fate, or it has solely been what has simply come to pass. We may never know.”

“I lead men to battle tomorrow,” he finally said, opening up to the true matter weighing his heart. “Many will not see the day after. Many will not return home to their families.” He loathed the prospect so dreadfully it made him nauseous, causing his hands to tremble.

“And you think you act selfishly?”

“Saving my brother should not mean risking lives.”

“Look at me,” she ordered, forcing his head to pivot and face her. She made the most sincere visage possible. “Wenceslas, you’re the least selfish man I ever met. We’re honored to fight at your side. You did not draft men to fight, the people have chosen to. You go to save your brother, but they go to save theirs. They fight to save brother, sister, father, mother, son, or daughter. We all have loved ones we fight for. Do not fret over the decisions of others to willingly lay down their lives for their loved ones. Nor be so presumptuous to entertain the notion they all will die exclusively for you.”

She chuckled, trying to find humor in an exaggeration, enjoying some needed levity. Her chuckle made the St. Nicholas trinket bounce from her blouse, drawing Wenceslas’s eyes. Indeed, it was a challenge not to let his eyes focus beyond the trinket and upon the other objects her blouse contained. He grabbed the trinket and said, “If only to have the courage of this saint. I mean he was a man unhindered by fear. He saw wrongs and righted them, even in the face of tyranny. Oh, to be the Scarlet Rider and to dote gifts upon the children of the land, bringing nothing but joy and glad tidings.”

“You do the same, albeit of a different sort.”

“Hardly. My tidings bear ill-news of war, recruiting men to their deaths, only leaving children bereft of their beloved parents. I am the enemy of the children, a harbinger of war.”

“Don’t be absurd, Wenceslas! Though an element of truth you have spoken, ’tis but twisted with darkness. Wherefore do you get such wicked thoughts?”

“My mother. Her voice ever chiming in my head.”

“Shut that bitch up!” That stunned him. He’d sooner be the son who honors father and mother and disallow any to speak slander against her, however, she was right. Can slander be labeled thus if the words are spoken rightly? “Ignore her, for she speaks nothing but lies. You know this in your heart. At times, we must reason, we must use our heads for wisdom and discernment. But what does your heart say? I know what it says: You will save your nation and your brother.”

“I do think my heart says that. If only it portended truth.”

“These dark days shan’t tarry forever. You’ll be as Nicholas and lighten the burdens of the people, meeting out joy and mirth for the children of generations to come once these foul battles lay behind. Just promise not to forget about me when all is done.”

His eyes alone pierced her heart, making a solemn vow. How could he ever forget about her? He wanted to tell her that, and there was only one method of so doing. They kissed. They kissed passionately as two lovers do, working to embrace every piece of the other, savoring every sensual caress as if the next time they parted, it could be the last.

For it very well may have been.


The sun peaked above the horizon, painting the sky orange and the clouds pink. The darkness had fled with the brightness of a new day. Birds sang their songs and bees emerged from their hives in hunt for nectar. Children awoke and wished their fathers, elder brothers, uncles, and even grandfathers farewell—that is if these men lived close enough to the Prague encampment to stay this last night with their families. Many did not and woke that morning, ate a bowl of gruel and some fruit, and were ready to face this battle for the sake of the loved ones they left behind. The soldiers geared themselves, mounted their steeds, reported to commanding officers, and made ready to move out. The Bohemian army assembled to go and defend their realm, ready to march behind their commander and Duke.

The doubts and discord of Wenceslas’s heart had subsided and settled with the light of Libyena’s kindness, giving him courage, strength, and confidence. Alas, as she was the source of overcoming discord in his heart, this new day was the source of causing a new issue of strife.

“I will not have it!” Wenceslas exclaimed whilst making long strides to Milana, arguing with Libyena. Apparently, all this time, she had been under the impression that she would accompany the soldiers in their attack, having been a member of Wenceslas’s inner circle and a key member of his revolution all this time. The idea had never crossed her mind that she was no longer invited.
“What? Am I no good with a bow?”

“Finest ever seen. ’Tis not like that, my love. A battlefield is no place for a woman!”

“Marry! We put a pig on the throne!” While he disliked her insult, he’d much rather have her scorn while alive than dead. She did not fully understand that he did this to protect her. Maybe she thought he would not be taken seriously as a military commander in this battle if he welcomed the company of female soldiers. She knew he needed the support of the nobility, but to reject her with male chauvinism as a gambit to garner their respect was unlike him. “I have been part of battles throughout your campaign!”

“I was not acting Duke, commanding a bona fide army into battle. I was but a renegade, and even then did we not keep you from the front lines?”

“Nearer still, and ready with aid and an archer’s support! What has changed now?”

“You know what has changed.”

“What has changed in our feelings for another should matter not in seeing you till the end.”

“Till we wed, I have no say in your affairs. Ask your father.”

“He feigned such chauvinism ere tellin’ me to ask you.”

“Then we agree,” he said as he mounted Milana. “You stay here—you stay safe.” Without giving her a chance for another word, he wheeled his steed about and galloped off to the head of his ranks. She began, from his last word to her, to sense his reasoning. It was all in an effort to keep her safe. Maybe that was for the best. With Horst going to combat and—Heaven forbid—both she and her father would die, who would tend to her brothers?

Watching him ride off, she chose to forgive him and instead say a silent prayer for his protection. How she wished that their parting words were not in anger. How she hoped to see him again, that this was not their last parting.

Chapter X


“Oh, comrades, you’ve endured hardships along with me,” said Čech, standing at the summit of a tall hill overlooking the lush land before him. He and his brother Lech had set out from their Slavic homeland between the Vistula River and the Carpathian Mountains in search of new lands of prosperity and peace. Tired of war, crime, Magyar raids, and overcrowding, he and his brother plowed ahead, leading a troupe of fellow expeditionary families, spending a long time in their search and now upon Mount Rip, a green, fertile country lay before them. “When we wandered in impassable woods; finally we arrived at our homeland. This is the best country, predestined for you. Here you won’t miss anything, but you’ll take pleasure in permanent safety. Now that this sweet and beautiful land is in your hands, let us pray.

“God, bless our Promised Land, by thousandfold wishes wishful from us, save us scatheless and breed our issue from generation to generation, amen.”

Thus the story goes that this was how the forefather of Bohemia found our land and settled therein. They mingled with some tribal natives called the Boii, which was where “home of the Boii,” became Bohemia, for the Germans called the land “Boii Heim.” Lech later felt scorned by how the majority of their settlers had chosen to call themselves after Čech, their leader and so ventured further north. Legend says he and his people populated Poland, while we had stayed put in our home, calling ourselves the Czech people, inhabitants of Bohemia.

Now, not far from where Čech first set out in search of a new home, Wenceslas led his army of thousands out from Bohemia in order to defend it from an invasion force. The armies of Bohemia marched and rode behind Wenceslas, mounted proudly upon Milana. We moved with determination, fortitude, and courage; camped one night and were up early and back on the road of travel. Coming to the gap through the Carpathian Mountains, we camped the night and had scouts move on ahead with a handful of others. Keeping the majority of the army back would keep their movements inconspicuous. Wenceslas had given them some interesting instructions regarding boulders and such. Warfare strategies were not my forte, though I had always prided myself in the knowings of all that surrounded me. While I wasn’t entirely sure of his endgame, I did comprehend that these boulder schemes would help us in the battle.

At first light the next day, we moved along the climbing way through the gap to catch up with those sent on ahead. Cantering along, Wenceslas scaled the mountain trail and joined with Erdmann and Selmer who were just given report from a returning member of the scouting party.
“A fell army awaits past yonder bend,” Erdmann said in a manner to not illicit tension.

“We’ve set what ye requested,” added Selmer, offering some further encouragement.

“Glad to hear it. Then, shall we proceed?” he said without really asking a question. I tucked my horse in close behind his, and as usual, Streiter was right beside us both. We came over a summit, rounding a bend and beheld a sight that proved Erdmann’s “fell army” was only a euphemism for something far scarier.

The Magyar army was massive. From our high vantage overlooking the Carpathian Basin, it looked as though the valley nearest our mountain base crawled with ants. There was a countless horde of enemies before us, and upon sight of we Bohemians, the Magyars gathered. I was sure commanders barked orders that their men affect weapons, armor, and fall into formations ready to face the army looking down upon them.

“They fly to arms! Bohemians, on the ready! Form ranks!” Wenceslas called out. Every subsequent commander barked orders down the chain of command till every one of us was instructed and prepared to engage the enemy. Wenceslas stared at his enemy, surveying the scene, eyes scanning for Boleslav, but not finding him or Dragomira.

My mind was far preoccupied on other things. I gulped, like swallowing a whole apple. My brief life flashed before my eyes. Here I was to go embark on the chaos and carnage of warfare, and I was not yet ready to do so. There were others more adept at heroics and valor; I was a talker. My job was speaking, theirs was wielding. I worried I’d be more of a hindrance than a help in this fight, as feeble and pathetic as I was.
“You can do this, Cabbage,” Wenceslas told me. Of all matters at hand, giving me encouragement was high enough a priority. It was another reason why I loved the man so much, for when facing the likelihood of death, I felt far reassured that I faced the dreadful with him by my side. His courage was my strength. I took another deep swallow, this time cramming my trepidation down within, putting it far out of sight and mind.

Wenceslas wheeled his steed about, surveying both his force and the enemy’s. I don’t think anyone could have been able to discern the fear surmounting within him. He kept it well concealed. Only a fatherly figure like Horst could have guessed that this young Duke carried such a burden. Being near the front only because he—like Streiter, Erdmann, Selmer, Humbert, and myself—was part of Wenceslas’s inner council, he called out, “Your men follow you to hell and back. As do I.”

Those around him, who could hear what he said, shouted a triumphant cheer of agreement. I yelled out, declaring that our Duke was going to be victorious. Wenceslas locked eyes with Horst, the man with wild hair. They shared a moment too profound for words. Finding hope, he faced his army and mustered inspiration.

“Many of you stood by me as we claimed Prague,” he declared. “Now the whole of Bohemia stands on the brink of annihilation but for the might of those who cling to the goodness in this world! I tire of a border in constant jeopardy because a grave enemy has no respect for this people. Our Bohemia was once part of Great Moravia. Alas, it fell. Our land was blessed by prophetess Libuše! Do her words fail?”

“Nay!” we called back.

“When Čech and Lech brought our ancestors here, they called it our Promised Land. Has that promise been broken?”


“In the annuls of history, great nations rise and fall, some to be forgotten. What says the history of Bohemia? I believe bards shall tell our tales and sing songs of the valor, the courage, of those who believed in peace and forged it for themselves! I want peace! I want liberty! Do you?”


“Then Bohemians, my brothers, let us fight and take it!” Wenceslas turned and led the command with his arm raised, holding his sword high and mighty. And all at once, I was now at the beginning of a conflict of arms, a battle where men’s lives are easily stolen and never returned.


Seeing our leader raise his sword, the Magyar Chieftain shouted, “Támadás!” which was attack in Hungarian. And without hesitation, the formidable force charged at us, racing for the dale of the mountain, heading upward for us. It looked like a swarthy wave of locusts sweeping over green pasture, consuming all in their wake. We all were ready to flinch, to spring, to jump into action at our leader’s call.

Wenceslas swung his blade sideways, not the command to advance, but the command for the group that made preparations to pull out blocks upholding boulders. These were the preparations he gave instructions for that he set Erdmann to oversee. Anytime I’ve run up a hill, my eyes get fixed upon the ground and not the path ahead of me. Looking upward can be dizzying and disorienting. So, as the enemy warriors charged up the hill, their eyes were primarily focus on the ground ahead of them and not on the threat of boulders tumbling downward to crush them. Twenty hefty boulders rolled down the hillside right for the Magyar ranks. Even if any lifted their eyes to see what they were bound for, they were packed too closely to dodge the massive rocks. While the boulders took a number of lives, it also pushed many troops to some disorientation, trying not to trip over those evading the rocks and such. This made them, again, less aware of what we had in store.

“Let fly your war-needles!” Wenceslas called out with a wave of his hand, calling for a volley of arrows. Signalers either blew horns or waved flags, signaling further down the lines for archer to notch their feather-backs, pull back on the cord, and snap the release. As the enemy troops tried to avoid being ground to paste, these sharp-tipped bolts rained down upon them. Many pierced shoulders, limbs, feet, and skulls. The fallen only tripped up those behind as they pressed up the hill. By the time Wenceslas called for another volley, many Magyars were ready with their shields above their heads to deflect them. Without wasting time for them to regroup and even unleash a volley of arrows themselves, Wenceslas called the order I feared the most.

“Now! Charge!”

And we were off. Foot soldiers and cavalry, all legs moving rapidly. I was glad to be upon a horse, feeling higher than the carnage with an extra buffer in the steed beneath me. Others took to flight with greater swiftness, plowing on ahead, driving downhill, gaining speed, ready to ram into the enemy. The two waves collided. Instead of a splash of water, like slamming a rocky coast, I saw a gory sight of hacked limbs, war utensils, and blood splatter all spray up in the air as the fearsome fighters of both sides entered the fray. Over my head, a saw the gray shadow of another volley of arrows pass by, landing beyond our front fighters, striking enemy ranks behind.

Wenceslas gripped Milana’s flanks with his legs and swung a sword on both sides. He was like a steel whirlwind upon four legs, slamming through the enemy ranks, slicing and piercing any and all in his wake. I had a sword and felt inept at wielding it, so I steered my horse into conflict with Magyar ground troops. Wherever I saw a fellow fighter engaged in a skirmish with an enemy, I drove my horse to trample over the enemy, offering respite to my comrade. My strategy worked, keeping me from any direct conflict while still doing my part in taking down our opponent. That is, until a Magyar lance pierced my horse’s rib cage just before my shin. He bucked forward with such a strong pivot that I was vaulted and hurled to the ground. There I lay for the moment, feeling like a sack of potatoes, heavy and immobilized.

The Bohemians hacked away. The Magyars drove through. Blood sprayed. Limbs flew about. Utter carnage and mayhem was all I could behold from my lowly vantage. I knew I needed to rise. I knew others counted on me to do my best as much as I counted on them. I refused to let fear grip me. I refused to succumb to the temptation to lay about, feigning unconsciousness so not to draw a foreign blade. As soon as I found my way to my feet, a forceful commotion struck my back and knocked me down once more.

Turns out, I was the target of a Magyar axe-wielder, but Streiter protected my rear. The affray swirled about me, chaos and destruction everywhere. For a brief moment, I watched Streiter dispatch the axe-wielder, giving me a moment to jump to my feet and almost instinctively run my sword through the bowels of another Magyar who had his sights set upon Streiter. We looked to each other with a brief nod. While we had many troubles and disagreements, the two of us were as brothers. With all we had been through at the side of our common friend and leader, we both knew life would not be the same without the other and each would do any and all to preserve the other’s life. During that nod, we became the target of another enemy, but this time, Zikmund intercepted the spearman, protecting us both. We were on the same side and he fought to keep us alive, much unlike his manhunt when we hid within the ale barrels.

A Magyar flipped Oldrich to his back. Trying to block the next blow, the enemy scimitar sliced off the poor man’s bad hand. He screamed in agony! Everywhere, men cried out in pain, gut-wrenching, blood-chilling sounds one never expected grown men to ever make. When I felt ready to vomit from the utter gore before me, I saw him.

Wenceslas moved like a whirlwind of dual-bladed fury, sweeping his swords about as Milana bounded over, upon, and through the end lines. He seemed unstoppable, a one-man onslaught. Suddenly, a Magyar rider crashed with him, knocking him to fly from Milana. As he rose, he found a clear opening to the Magyar Behemoth. We both knew from tales told by those who last ventured to this same battlefield that this was the monster that took his father’s life. He was massive, a veritable Goliath, with muscular girth of a bull and the height of an oak tree. I felt stricken with the terror of a small child, immobilized, useless, and ineffective. Wenceslas on the other hand was emboldened, energized with the true sight of vengeance before him. Whether this truly was the behemoth of lore or simply another brute enemy matching the description, either way, he embodied the essence of the one who took Vratislav’s life. There would be no slowing our Duke, despite having been knocked from his horse.

Wenceslas engaged the monstrosity, swing both blades with agility and speed, but the foe deflected his swings with the stroke of his mighty club. Using the Magyar warriors flanking him more as springboards instead of obstacles, Wenceslas planted his boot in the groin of one, launched and leapt from the shoulder of another, and came down upon the behemoth, only to be struck aside by the brute’s gargantuan fist. Wenceslas gave his all, but in the end, his fight just couldn’t cut it. With a hammer blow, the Behemoth sent one of Wenceslas’s swords flying. A typical combatant wore heavier armor and a shield. Wenceslas’s style was about speed and agility. Without a second sword, he was all the more vulnerable. All he could do was parry or deflect each stroke of his opponent’s club. The problem wasn’t evading it, but when he took the brunt with his sword to deflect it, it was more like trying to block a landslide. The sheer impact made his bones feel like wood shattering to splinters. He experienced a heavy thud in his heart as the shockwave rippled through his whole body. Stunned, staggered, he received a backhand, an uppercut, and an elbow until he buckled.

The battle stopped, turning to a blur. Most men on either side beheld the showdown between their beloved giant and the Bohemian Duke. Whilst engaging brawls still carried on, eyes viewed peripherally to spy how the Behemoth had pummeled Wenceslas, raised his club, and readied to lay the fatal stroke. I was too far away to reach him, and even if I could, I’d been fodder for this giant. Streiter still had my back, though I knew he was keen to the situation. Who could do anything to save our Duke? Who could fell such a monster? The Behemoth moved for the killing blow only to be stymied by Horst. The aged woodsman pierced the brute’s arm with a spear, running it through the fiend’s massive bicep, spewing blood everywhere. With a growl and a turn, the spear was plucked from Horst’s hand. The Behemoth pivoted and carried his barbed club, held in the arm not pierced, into Horst with such ferocity it looked like it flew through him, obliterating the man. He was cut down, more pulp than man now. Horst, with blood spewing from his lips, flickered Wenceslas a look. It said, “Protect my daughter.” That was all he could muster with the very conclusion of his life.

Horst’s demise spurred Wenceslas once more. He retrieved his father’s sword and the moment the Behemoth withdrew his club from Horst’s corpse, Wenceslas leapt high and crash down like an angel of death. With gravity drawing him down, his blade found the neck and beheaded the gargantuan. Wenceslas killed the most formidable warrior of the Magyar army. Was it possible the day was won?

In this brief moment, time slowed as Wenceslas comprehended the situation surrounding him. He mustered all he could, prepared as best as possible, and brought the finest forces he could assemble, and it just wasn’t enough. Bohemia was losing the fight. Everywhere he spied, his men lay dead in pools of blood and entrails. Others crawled from their slain horses. Soldier’s shouldered wounded soldiers back from the front lines. Hacked limbs of man and beast in a crimson array adorned the foul scene. While he saw equally as many fallen Magyar soldiers, we still had a higher vantage, and gazing down the hill, he saw still thousands upon thousands of enemy troops to take the place of their fallen comrades. Glancing back, Wenceslas had none to replace his fallen men. Calculating quick and clear numbers, his army would fall by attrition, only making a dent in the enemy’s horde.

“Retreat! Retreat!” he cried out, not wishing to wait for his numbers to be fully depleted. He didn’t have a second plan, but he knew that the current stratagem could not carry on. He lost so many, he lost Horst, would he be responsible for losing more? He needed a new plan and he needed to fall back to conceive of it.

“We run?” Streiter asked.

“Aye! Back! Fall back! Too many of our men lay hewn.” The Bohemian army pulled back toward the slopes. Archers did their best to hold back the Magyars from pursuing. I turned and sprinted at full pace, hoping to outrun whatever gave chase from behind. The Magyar thighs likely were tired from the uphill charge where as mine were fresh. I counted on that to save my life. As we reached the slopes, finding rocky cover and narrow passage at the gap, our pursuers slowed down. Our archers kept them at bay for the moment, but it would only be so long till they regrouped and plowed over us.

Wenceslas collapsed aside a boulder, winded. Our troops gathered about, many collapsed from exhaustion and nursed their wounds. All around me, I saw others unload the wounded warriors they escorted from the battlefield. Some looked as though they’d never live to see the sunset. Everyone was panting, huffing and puffing, trying to regroup and find composure. I came and watched Wenceslas holding onto the boulder with all he could to keep standing. He knew others watched him for strength. Having made a hasty retreat, morale had dampened. He figured that seeing him sit would worsen it further. He needed to look tall, proud, mighty, and ever in charge of the situation. I, the trusty servant as ever, used the hem of my tunic worn over chain mail and tried to wipe the blood off Wenceslas’s face.

“No!” he resisted.

“You’re coated in battle-sweat,” I informed him.

“It’s not of my own,” he said with a trembling voice, having not the heart to say whose blood it may have been. To any from a distance, he may have appeared the proud tactician, standing tall, surveying the scene and conjuring our next move. Knowing him well and standing so close, I saw him look utterly distraught as he watched his men hobble away from the battlefield.

“What’s the plan then, eh?” Erdmann asked, coming from behind. He was among the night laborers who planted the boulder traps who were exempt from riding into battle on the first wave. Alas, there really was no second wave. These meager numbers of those who had our rear wouldn’t have helped the situation if and when their Duke signaled for them to advance. All they truly offered after their work in setting the boulders was an appearance of reinforcements to help keep the Magyars at bay from following our retreat.

“German troops have not yet arrived,” Wenceslas replied, catching his breath. “I cannot in good conscious watch lives lost needlessly.”

“What then was this encounter good for?” Erdmann asked, now dubious of the tactics.

“If anything, to demonstrate to our enemy we shall not allow them easy passage into our lands. That statement today has been made.” He could not tell them that this attack wasn’t only to repel an invasion but to find and rescue his brother before the night of his birthday, the night upon which his mother would execute the pagan ritual, branding him a servant of Chernobog. Not only would the tale be too long to tell, but the whole of the report might hinder the favorable standing he had with the elders of Bohemian villages, let alone the nobles with whom he already possessed a rocky relationship with.

“You marched too early!” Selmer spoke up, rushing over with a limp, hearing the tail end of the conversation. “Not giving enough time for the Fowler’s garrisons. Did lives perish needlessly?”
“What would you have me do? Let them waltz into our land and ambush the Germans as they arrive?”
“We had to fight, to make a stand,” Streiter added, seemingly appearing out from nowhere. From whence he heard the words spoken in accusation of his Duke, he was ready for the defense, advocating on his behalf.

“A stand was made, at terrible cost,” Erdmann noted.

“Our Duke does not need reminding of the casualties of warfare,” I spoke up, moved by how Streiter entered the midst in Wenceslas’s defense and feeling the need to do so myself. “Every departed soul leaves a weighty mark upon his shoulders, a burden he bears.”

“Aye. Fair ‘nough,” Erdmann conceded. “Yet, they’ll tarry only so long till they overrun us. Pity the destruction of that giant of theirs—fine slayin’ if I might add—pity his demise did naught to halt them. Hoped me that seeing their champion fall by the hands of our own, they’d rethink their fight. They advance all the same. What be our next move?” Before Wenceslas could answer, Zikmund rode up upon his horse. He looked worse for wear, smeared with blood and grime, but being the experienced combatant, somehow survived the conflict reasonably unscathed.

“Sire,” he called out. “The enemy regroups. Our archers can repel them only so long. Scouts spy movements of their own archers. Enemy feather-backs shall rain upon us like a storm before long. If have you no plan accordingly, might I suggest we make way back to a key spot in the gap, forcing their ranks to condense as through a funnel?”

“Wise is your military counsel, my captain,” Wenceslas replied. His demeanor had changed, though. Somehow, someway, our Duke had found cunning. Had his mind hatched some scheme? “And yet I know what I must do.”


“A duel?” The Magyar Chieftain asked, flanked by his closest advisors. He stood before Streiter, Zikmund, and myself—emissaries of Bohemia. In the distance, Wenceslas and a number of others stood watching. What had transpired was the three of us cleaned up, donned the most regal vestments available, and waved a white flag. Eventually, the three of us were welcomed forward to treat with the Chieftain as another handful, including Wenceslas, were allowed to approach behind and remained put. Following rules of warfare common amongst civilized nations, we were welcomed before this leader to make an accord. While I never once considered the Magyar nation a civilized one—with them having no qualm with raping and pillaging, acting more as pirates of land—this man was of their nobility. Having seen much warfare and bloodshed, also having been one to entertain countless foreign guests and delegations in the past, he was one to actually embody some form of civility amongst an army where little was to be found. “You propose a single man to man fight to decide the outcome of our battle?”

“By the honor of both parties, the one left standing decides the terms,” I added, doing my very best to put on a posh accent, to not slur or shorten my words. Using Lady Ludmila and Wenceslas as character inspirations, my goal was to have him believe I was a well-educated ambassador, worthy of his audience and not some rube he could easily swindle into some devious scheme.

“Who are the combatants?” he asked, running his fingers through his sweeping, flowing black beard.

“Leader of your army versus ours,” Streiter said tersely.

“And your leader is—?” We moved aside only slight enough to provide view of Wenceslas, who sat tall and proud atop Milana, his armor gleaming in the noonday light. “You mean that child?” The Chieftain bellowed a laugh at the absurdity before him.

“Do you cower from a fight with one you deem a defenseless child?” I asked, adding pomp to my fake posh accent.

“What honor would there be in slaying so young a boy?”

“Ah, if it be honor the Chief seeks, honor you shall have. For you see, while from your vantage in surveying the battle, you may have missed the crucial moment when your tallest warrior fell slain.”

“I am aware,” he replied with a grave sneer.

“Then honor would be found in vengeance for his life, aye? For you see, our Duke Wenceslas—that child you referred to—was the one who felled your behemoth of a warrior.”

“I see,” he uttered with disdain, quite possibly growing warm to the idea in exacting revenge.

“Are you the leader who would enter this fight?” Zikmund asked, sounding proud and refined. All at once I felt my put-on accent and demeanor was clearly shown for the phoniness that it was when compared to Zikmund’s.

“Say we simply slaughter you all and claim your land? Looks easy enough, seeing how we sent your men in full retreat with ease,” he gloated. “We could even slay you here where you stand.”

“And hang your heads in dishonor the remainder of your miserable days,” Streiter concluded. He was always a man of fortitude an honor, so he spoke the language and knew how to shame anyone before him who gave him the opportunity.

“We know you know rules of warfare and a treating under a white flag ought be honored,” I added. “You may shame yourselves, or allow us leave with your refusal at the expense of many lives, or save honor and manpower through our request.”

“I ask again,” Zikmund said. “Are you the leader who would fight?”

“I am not,” he replied, both looking repugnant at the question, maybe relieved that he wasn’t the one who would face the Duke who felled his best warrior, and looking saddened that he was not the one to exact revenge. I soon found out what he was more likely exuding at the moment; he was not the leader in charge and lamented being subordinate to those who were.
“I see,” I replied and then proceeded to call out loudly our challenge to any ear around to hear. “The leader here not got the balls to face young Wenceslas? If he’s not man enough to—“

“Hold your tongue!” came the angry call of a man’s voice. He was for the moment unseen, and yet the voice was familiar. On the verge of recognizing it, he appeared. The one who stepped forth was none other than Radslav, the Duke of Kourim, who up until now had been allegedly a member of the Bohemian council of nobility and ally to the throne of Prague. Why he showed his face here, assuming the role of leadership over the Magyar invasion force left me baffled. He strode out with his nose in the air, appearing as austere as possible. Upon sight of him, we all blanched. I looked back to Wenceslas to catch his expression and found him paler than I’d ever seen him. While nobody truly liked Radslav, nobody thought he would defect in this manner. “I command this army here, under her Highness Dragomira. No chance she would enter such a duel and thus rightly I step forward in her stead. Do you presume to tell me should I slay your royal brat, total victory belongs to us?”
“Radslav, Duke of Kourim,” Zikmund gasped. “You work in league with the Magyars?”

“Slav, Czech, Magyar; these bloods course through my veins. Who better to usher in negotiations?”

“Traitor!” Streiter barked.

“In all contests, is there not a victor and failure? The key to triumph is situating yourself with the side victorious, as I have done here. Ere long, I truly could not predict the victor in this conflict. I do observe it all rather clearly as of now. Hétmagyar will appropriate Bohemia, forming an empire, upgrading the duchy to a kingdom under Emperor Zoltan, and Dragomira will be my queen bride.”

“Not on your life, you filth!” Wenceslas shouted, inches from drawing his blade and taking Radslav’s life, duel or not. The two locked eyes with fiery contempt.

“Betimes ya prove yourself to these men lest you seize control of Bohemia and they turn on you,” I spoke, dropping pretense, but trying to be cunning enough to lure the man to a fight based on his own courage and ambition, not by my pressure. “Fight now, garner respect, and keep full ranks. Surely the foreigners who support you will feel more trust to endow having seen you put your life on the line for all their sakes. That and the Bohemian army you presume to take command of will have this memory of your courage and shan’t falter at your word.”

“Quite cunning, young knave,” he lauded with a sarcastic smirk, likely seeing through my ploy. “Spew beguiling words to coax me into what you would expect my ruin. Ye take me for a fool?”

“Quite honestly, m’Lord, you had the whole of our realm hoodwinked, countin’ myself, one whom I proudly say wouldn’t be so easily fooled. I do not take ye for a fool of any sort. You are truly a man of crafty cunning, which is why you do see to reason, forsooth. That pass, the gap whence the lot of our military force has camped, is best into the land. You know this, wise Duke. ‘Tis why you’re here. Ya know while we hold the high ground, we’ll fight to death defendin’ it. You can show little courage against a single stripling, or lose soldiers by bloody handfuls, both on the side whom ye command and the side ye plan to command.”

Locking eyes with Wenceslas, the two had a showdown of stares, a skirmish of the minds. Clearly, Radslav sized up his opponent and then spoke a dignified, “I accept.”


Soldiers on both sides had gathered about and stood, forming an arena upon the grass. Radslav and Wenceslas, each in full armor, including helm, sword, and shield, stepped through opposing sides of the man-made ring, each flanked by their confidants for reassurance. Quite assuredly, Radslav’s men only fanned the flame of his ego, telling him how well he would fare in this contest. While in hindsight that may have been the best tactic on my part to encourage and inspire my friend, I actually did contrary by trying to coax him out of it.

“You don’t have to do this,” I told him.

“I will all the same.”

“I know for why you enter this duel, yet cannot see to the end. If I know everything, one thing is unsure still, whether or not you will win. Never have I seen Radslav bear arms. That does not mean he hasn’t had some good trainin’! He may very well be the best there is, though never needed to show it for there’s always been an underling at his beckon call.”

“All will be revealed, Cabbage. I do not walk in there with pomp, but with piety. I pray and say my aspirations are of a noble, righteous cause. God will ultimately decide the victor as long as I perform my very best.”

“Aye. And that you will. That you always have done.” I slapped the visor down on his helm, letting him know it was time to proceed. The two combatants raised their swords—a salute, a signal. Both stood ready at battle stance, fixed for the skirmish.

The fight commenced and each man moved closer, hopping and bouncing on their toes, ready to be light on their feet if not for the pounds of armor. Each made a lunge, a bob, a weave, but for a while, neither took a stab.

It was about this time when up high on the ridge of the gap, Libyena and Gregor had made their way to the location. Riding a horse together, they trotted up and gazed down. What they beheld was not the spectacle they expected. Gregor, who served in the army under Vratislav the last time Bohemians shed blood on this hillside, knew the carnage to be expected. Libyena, who only heard tales of warfare had a slight vision in her imagination. They found a single combat ring aside a war-torn, bloody field littered with fallen warriors. Without knowing all the details, they were able to ascertain that somehow, over the course of the battle, a single combat duel had been called for and accepted, thus bringing the entire conflict down to this one showdown to decide the outcome for all.

With mock movements to test the water, Radslav and Wenceslas lured their opponent into a brawl. A hit and deflect, a swing with a block. Each made a strike, but with reserve. Each were sizing up the other and hoping the aggressor would make a fatal lunge, opening them up for the strike. Seeing this lunge and withdrawal style was going nowhere, Radslav decided to incorporate a little psychological banter to heat up his opponent to make poor decisions.

“Come along boy. Come hither and kiss your new father.”

Hating the very notion those words expressed, Wenceslas lashed out. They had at it, striking, swinging, landing blows upon the other’s armor, shield, or blade. Wenceslas made five swipes for Radslav’s every one, using speed to swiftly sweep around his opponent and make sharp jabs with his sword. Radslav had brute force to his advantage. Being a bit older and slower, he had strength. Taking a momentary opportunity, he made a mighty swoop that connected with Wenceslas’s shield with such torrential impact he was hurled aside and into the ring of Magyar warriors gathered about the ring.

With grunts, jeers, and cheers, they violently threw Wenceslas back into the ring, right toward Radslav’s blade, but he narrowly blocked it and evaded as he stumbled back in. Radslav took another couple mighty sweeps before Wenceslas could react and evade. Any other fight I had ever seen Wenceslas in, he fought more like a running deer, light and swift, not easily caught. Here and now, he lumbered about without the strength to fully defend himself. Radslav took another stab, but Wenceslas blocked it in a move that looked clumsy and accidental.

“Ah, doing fair. Maybe with me as your papa ye might learn a trick or two. I venture to say I shall be a far better father than that swine Vratislav.”

Why I could see what Radslav was doing and Wenceslas couldn’t, I’ll never know. What I knew then was that the goading was working. Wenceslas had his fill of Radslav’s adverse words and found that it was clearly time to tear him apart. They exchanged blows, over and over, tiring each other out. Finally, Wenceslas took a slam, losing his shield. He was already tired from the battle and slowed by the cumbersome armor. Now being on the ground, he reminded me of a turtle, flat on its back, with little it could do to rise once more.

When Radslav towered over his fallen opponent, probably ready to spew some more of his vile rhetoric, Wenceslas sliced between armor plates on Radslav’s leg. Seeing him stumble back, Wenceslas found the strength to stand and charged. They pummeled each other, matching blow for blow, block for block. Again, Radslav charged up another muscled swing that connected with Wenceslas’s blade so forcibly that it flew from his grasp. To dodge Radslav’s blows, he planted his foot upon his foe’s wounded knee, sending screams of pain.

As Radslav buckled back, Wenceslas recovered his blade. Moving rapidly, using this brief respite, he ditched his armor. I thought it unwise at first, but then considered just how much more damage he could do if not impeded by his heavy armor weighing him down. I sprang into action and helped him remove the heavy chest plate before Radslav was recovered. Still with thick leather, gauntlets, and mail for protection, he was now far lighter and more agile. This was more his element and fighting style. As the Magyars taunted him for being an imbecile in forsaking his armor, I eagerly anticipated the display of skill he was bound to show us all.

Now they faced off once more, but it was an entirely different match. Wenceslas evaded every blow and moved about his opponent faster than he could follow. With jabs and swings, Wenceslas worked to wear down Radslav’s energy before wearing down his armor. Knowing full well that this fight would lead to the outcome he desperately wanted, such as declaring victory of the Magyar army without any further bloodshed and then having clear passage to find his brother, he felt driven. Passion, excitement, energy, Wenceslas displayed it all with his swift moves, floating about his opponent, striking his blade, planting his fist, thrusting a kick. He landed blow after blow, slammed, sliced, then finally tripped the befuddled Radslav flat on his back. Wenceslas placed the tip of his blade to Radslav’s black, bushy goatee, striking the pose of victory.

“Do not tell me this is whence you feign to slay me, and yet hold off out of your pathetic notion of mercy,” Radslav jeered with a growl. Wenceslas remained silent, for that was exactly his intention. “Your father, for the swine that he was, would have had the manhood to take the life of his adversary. Do you not have the spirit to live up to even the wretch that he was?”

That pushed Wenceslas toward wrath, and when he most certainly considered taking the life of the fallen opponent before him, out stepped Dragomira, clad in black, displaying as much cleavage as ever, moving with such grace she looked to be floating an inch off the grass beneath her. Surely, this was his haunting demon once more to push him to take an action out of evil.

“Prove yourself a man,” she said in her smooth, sinister way. “Do what must be done, foolish boy, or drop this pretense, run, hide, and let those of quality rule. Do it or die!” Wenceslas was coated in sweat, after the exhaustion of both fighting in a melee before and skirmish now, he was also plagued with mental weariness from the guilt of the lives lost in battle to the fear and dread of not reaching Boleslav in time. Coupling that with the moral dilemma of taking the life of Radslav and the taunting of his demon, Wenceslas found his wit’s end.

“No! You die hag!” he shouted, swinging his hand to swipe the demon away, but his gauntlet-gloved palm connected with Dragomira’s throat. He grabbed a being not ethereal, but corporeal. Her eyes widened, but she did nothing but glare at him, firing her rage with her eyes. His eyes widened in total alarm and fright. He honestly did not know or expect that he would find his actual mother. “You? You’re real?” he gasped.

A hush fell over everyone. We heard the wind sigh even as the landscape, turning orange with afternoon, silenced in awe of the bizarre turn of events. Here we saw our Duke grapple his own mother by the throat and the exclaimed astonishment that she was real. We all watched, with the most dumbfounded expressions, as Wenceslas released his grip and staggered back.

“This curse—damn it all!—it confounds my senses!”

“Ah, the curse,” Radslav guffawed, recomposing himself, finding an upper hand. His foe was now vexed with confusion, wrestling madness, and therefore weak and exploitable. Wenceslas was vulnerable and Radslav was eager and ready to take advantage of it.


Libyena watched with nearly tear-filled eyes from the distance of the high hill overlooking the basin before her. She always had keen, hawk-like vision—a natural blessing that made her so adept with a bow and arrow—and while Gregor watched some blurry dots move about in a gap within a crowd of countless people, Libyena could see it all. She realized that she had stopped breathing shortly after Wenceslas removed his heavy armor and had to remind herself that her lungs needed air. While all the details of the events escaped her, and there was no way to hear the words spoken within the gathering, she could clearly see the rival reclaim his sword, standing tall, and imposing, ready to enact in imminent dispatch upon Wenceslas.

“Superstition. See, that’s where I draw strength,” Radslav spoke, pulling down his tunic and lowering his breastplate to show the mark of the brand upon his sternum. Wenceslas knew that brand all too well for it was the same marking seared upon his chest. He shuddered upon sight of it. “My opponent believes it, then Chernobog’s very dragon resides in me. His fire courses through my veins!”

With sweeping, powerful strokes, Radslav slammed Wenceslas’s sword aside. With precision, he jabbed, sliced and stabbed Wenceslas repeatedly to a bloody rag. Never making a fatal incision, his strokes and stabs only repeatedly formed flesh wounds, slicing his clothes and skin, drawing blood, creating a swell of pain. Wenceslas tried to move, tried to dodge, but he was slower than ever now, and slowing with every wound he suffered.

“That’s the power of superstition, boy!” he continued, laying his mean strokes. “Not for those who believe it, but for he who controls believers. When the sad saps believed their endearing prophetess, did not Libuše coerce and manipulate them, installing a rube for a king of Bohemia? She chose for herself a husband she also could manipulate, alongside her nation. How? Divine ordination? Portents and prognostication? Nay! But by the very weak-minded simpletons and their love of superstition did she wrought utter control over all around her. Such cunning! Such wise shrewdness. For that, I and your mother alike, rule here, and dominate you!”

Radslav took a couple more piercing whacks until Wenceslas dropped like a bloody pincushion. His friends, his comrades, all watched him bleed. I felt entirely helpless, bound by our accordance that this fight was single combat only. There was naught to be done. Libyena needed to do something, but couldn’t. Zikmund looked down, ashamed to behold the torture and demise of his new Duke. Mareczek squeezed past spectators and watched Wenceslas with a look of indifference. Dragomira smirked and with a graceful gait, made sweeping strides into the circle.

“That is enough,” she said, not with a barking order, but the subtle spoken word of a master over a submissive dog. Radslav stayed his blade, sheathed it, and caught his breath, stepping back to let Dragomira assume command of the situation. I watched, wondering how she had amassed such stature with the Magyars. Did she have some claim amongst them? Was Radslav an unaware, simple thread in this tapestry she had woven? Turning to Mareczek, she spoke, “Gather your men.”

Mareczek, clearing his throat as he marched into the circle, locked eyes with Zikmund and spoke loudly for all the Bohemian soldiers to hear. “My loyal Bohemian soldiers. Zikmund. Commanders. Unheard of events we have weathered. Remain true to your fealties. Form ranks. I am your general under Her Ladyship. We march aside, separate yourself from the peasantry.”

Zikmund flickered me a glance, but humbly complied. He then looked back with forlorn eyes to the bleeding pulp of Wenceslas before he called to his men and led them aside, leaving the mountain men and lay-folk militias alone, facing an even greater threat alone. Dragomira now looked at us. She seemed to give a pause when her gaze crossed paths with my own. Quite possibly, she remembered me from her dungeon. She truly was so frightful that I cast my eyes away from her, unable to challenge her glare for more than half a second.

“Turn. Flee. Leave here and return to your miserable, pathetic lives,” she told us. “In two days’ time, there will be no Bohemia to retreat to. You will find yourselves subjects of an even greater nation, one that will absorb all of Germania. You will be, should you pose no further insurrection to my sovereignty, imperial citizens of a grand, unmatchable empire. Amnesty, clemency, I offer here and now only. From this moment in time, at this spot, you all are no longer welcome.”

“We do not abandon our Duke!” Streiter started to proclaim, challenging her. Somewhere within he had no sense of fear. “We stand and—” I stopped him.

“It’s futile,” I told him with a hushed voice. “We made an accordance and must stand by it lest he forfeit honor.” I knew, at least somewhat, how to speak his language. The word honor with all its meaning struck the right note to quench his fire for the moment. As much as I wanted to achieve that lofty idea of honor, I also liked living, and we were in no position, sans any prospect, of preserving our lives. If we reneged on the single-combat duel, we’d be killed for sure and our Duke we’d die to save still in their clutches. “Retreat for hope’s sake.”

“Return to your mud holes, peasants,” Radslav taunted.

Wenceslas watched as we withdrew. Holding Streiter’s shoulder and pulling him away was by far the hardest action I had taken in my life, and would be the most shameful moment of my existence. I wanted, as Streiter, to live my pledge to serve my Duke. Streiter would not have minded dying right there in the fire of glory, drawing his last breath as he plunged into the heat of battle with the surrounding enemies. I, on the other hand, knew it would do no good. With Zikmund and all Bohemian soldiers now against us, we were even more horrifically outnumbered. We would have to find another way—even though I didn’t believe there was one. Hundreds of men who came to fight with him now turned their backs and marched away. We left him completely alone at his most weak and vulnerable moment.

“Impudent little brat,” Radslav said, wishing fully the right to take Wenceslas’s life. He had much more to say, but decided to state it all with his boot right into Wenceslas’s face, and after all Wenceslas saw was blackness.

Chapter XI


“I pray! Unhand me!” cried Vera, the Hevelli princess within the luxurious bedchamber of the Brenna Fortress. She already suffered a black eye, bruised cheek, and a few scrapes on her arms. Now, her husband, Gniewko, held her by her hair, nearly lifting her off the floor. She sobbed, both from the pain in her scalp, and from sheer terror at the hands of her enraged husband.

“You reject our faith, you reject me, your own husband!”

“Not rejecting you, m’Lord. I welcome you! Please!”

He threw her aside, into the solid wall, letting her collapse upon the wolfskins carpeting the floor. Only the light of the roaring hearth lit the room, causing dancing shadows to move in the starkly contrasting room. Gniewko lumbered over her, a tyrant enveloped in shadow. “We have pledged to Chernobog. Has this escaped your memory?”

“As I told you, I have heard the gospel. It has changed my heart. Do we prefer a world of cruelty or love?”

“I thought you loved me!”

“I do! I married you. I am sworn and bound to you!”

“As we both are to our god!” he kicked her in the stomach so hard she coughed up blood. Seeing his beloved light gray skins now stained with her scarlet blood only enraged him further and he kicked again. “There could be nothing said to me to rob my fealty and sworn convictions to our god. This way you have chosen is utter weakness, madness even. You break your bond with Chernobog, you break your bond with me!”

“That is your choice, then. I have made my own.”

“You are a foreigner to me, now. Not a part of our wend any longer,” he fumed, grappling her and throwing her over the edge of their bed, pinning her down from behind. She was too weak to fight before, but after the beating she had just suffered, she was nothing but a limp rag. “We conquer foreigners. We subdue them.” Lifting her skirt, he added with more darkness in his tone. “And the maidens of foreign conquests are good for but one thing.”

Then he took her from behind, forcing himself upon her. The more she fought, the more torture the deed became to her. She squeezed her eyes shut, though it couldn’t hold tears from escaping her eyelashes. At the next pounding, her eyes popped open and there she found her six-year-old daughter, standing, staring from the doorway gazing from a goatskin curtain, dumbstruck as to what she beheld.

“Stop it!” Vera shouted.

“Like hell!”


Gniewko paused, looked up, and saw his daughter standing there, frozen in terror. Her skin looked even more pale, contrasted by her raven-like hair. “My darling,” he started to say softly, but then turned vile. “This is no longer your mother. She is my foreign captive, a citizen of a foreign god who our god has subjugated. None shall quell him. Let me show you what we do with servants of foreign gods.”

And to Vera’s utter horror, Gniewko continued to have his way in spite of the audience. She squirmed, she fought, she writhed. At last, with one strong lunge, her arm broke free of his grasp. Reaching back in a snap, she dug her fingernails into his member, drawing blood. He cried out, hitting the apex of rage, drew a flint knife from his belt and jabbed it down into Vera’s back. Now, as she slowly died, suffocating from fluids filling her lungs, her monster of a husband continued to have his way until he finished. Pulling his loins to cover his nakedness, he walked from the corpse and knelt down before his solidified daughter.

“My darling, my love,” he said, softly running his fingers through her hair. “I am sorry you beheld that. And yet, I am glad. For I presume ye shall never forget it. Now we know, do we not? Now we know what happens to those who turn against our beloved Chernobog.” She nodded, trembling, unable to speak. “Our future is brighter without this insipid religion poisoning our wend. We have, with Saxons and the like, far too many enemies abounding to deal with such a threat spawning, festering within our borders. All will be well now. There, there, my dear sweet Dragomira.”

And so, the Hevelli princess grew and came of age, marrying into the Přemyslid Dynasty, working favor with any and all around her to usher in a future free of Saxons, Germans, and most certainly, free of Christians. For in such a religion, she saw thorough weakness. If the Christian God was powerless to protect her mother, then he was inept and his followers impotent. To her greatest shame and chagrin, her firstborn escaped her grasp and made his spiritual bed with the same spirituality that she blamed for the demise of her mother. How she refused, like a solemn vow within herself, to let the same ill fate befall her second born. It was in Boleslav all her hopes rested. To reach those goals, she would need to crush Wenceslas.

Wenceslas was a crushed apple from whence one makes cider. He was beaten, bruised, and bled out of both his sanguine lifeforce and all his hope. On his hands and knees, lost in the void of despair, he stared into the abyss. Darkness enveloped him, consumed him, losing him into abounding shadow. At last, with a halo light of hope, Ludmila sat before him. As the Dragomira demon had haunted his subconscious, so too did now the presence of his mentor and guiding light emerge within the recesses of his mind. She said not a single word, and yet he was aware of her presence, watching, waiting, and comforting.

“I wonder if it would have been better had I never been born,” Wenceslas whispered to the black air.

“What an absurd idea!” she replied with her natural lilt, breaking her silence. In contrast with the somber tone of the abysmal pit he dwelt in, her voice chimed like a loud cathedral bell, shaking with potent resonance to his core. “Do not hastily lay hold onto absurd notions that shackle you as an anchor, dragging you further submerged to despair.”

“I inherited a responsibility I never asked for, never earned. How could someone so cursed and corrupt lead a nation? How could I be a brother’s keeper?”

“All are capable of good. All are capable of evil. All need forgiveness.” He had heard her say this before and now her voice echoed a sublime ring of one particular axiom he had yet to truly ponder and conceive. “The longer we tarry in resent, we prolong her hold on you, bound in irons, further anchoring your heart. You know how to unclasp these shackles.” She smiled warmly. This idea felt more absurd than a better world without his very existence. To pardon his mother of her crimes would be an injustice to himself, to all whom she had wronged, to his very grandmother whom she had assigned assassins to dispatch.

“I only want to save Boleslav!”

A hand reached out and drew his face upward and forward. Now Libyena sat before him, but the halo light had vanished. They were in the darkness once more. “Wenceslas... kiss me…” she told him ever so softly. Before he could even comply, she pulled him forward. Longing for comfort, he he did not resist, but pressed his lips to hers. Suddenly, something had changed in the skin he touched, the smell around her, the sound of her breathing. Where he felt comfort before, now his body twinged and tingled with nervous anxiety, even fear. The one he kissed was no longer Libyena. He pulled back, horrified to find his lips were locked with his own mother’s. She stared hard and cold, piercing his every defense, stabbing to his very soul.

“This anguish you brought upon yourself.”

“Please. All I ask is you do not put Boleslav through the same torment wrought upon me!”

“He embraces the destiny you refused. I am ever intertwined with you. We share blood. You will never be rid of me, nor I you, as long as you draw breath. The anticipated moment draws nigh where we shall rob you of that breath entirely.” She kissed him again. No matter how hard he fought, he was gagged, suffocated, drowning in this darkness.

Finally, coming back to reality, the despicable thing he kissed was not his mother. Wenceslas found himself forced to drink narcotic poison from a goblet. Amid torches, relic statues, and burning incense, Dragomira forced drugged Wenceslas to drink her vile potion. His arms were tied back to a column, holding him further immobilized. In his drugged, half-conscious stupor, the bonds held him upright more than they held him captive. Dragomira pulled back and tenderly brushed his cheek as she stepped away, leaving Boleslav standing there, gawking. He didn’t fully comprehend everything going on, but did not wish to incur the wrath of his mother by questioning her. Watching his own flesh and blood brother hang there, such a sight of blood and mangled flesh, lost in a daze, and wholly pathetic, made Boleslav uncomfortable.

Before he walked away, he was able to discern the groaning voice of his half-conscious brother saying, “I only...wanted to save Boleslav.”


Meanwhile, I trudged up the hill toward the Carpathian Gap, amongst my fellow defeated comrades. The dejected Bohemian warriors schlepped along the road home, silent, heads hung low, feeling rather worthless and hopeless. We came with thousands, roughly twelve thousand strong. After the deaths of the battle and the desertion of the regular army, we were a couple thousand left. We were the poor, outclassed, dirty gathering simply putting one foot ahead of the other. The few horses in our possession were used to transport the wounded from the battlefield of insuccess. As we pressed onward, we came upon Libyena and Gregor.
“You deserted him?” she asked in a way that sounded more like an emotional accusation.

“Do not dare!” Streiter retorted, ready to pound anyone who pressed further upon his wound of dishonor.
“All is lost, lass,” spoke Erdmann. “With gravity, we knew that would be a possible outcome. While none wished to dream of it, such is the reality. Everyone lay their sights downcast for shame, and yet all fought truly with courage. Trust not in words, but in deeds, as the proverb goes. We could speak of the deeds on yonder field, yet the deeds have been done. And so, it shall come to pass the we must all carry ever onward to whatever fate befall us.”

“And what becomes of Bohemia?” she asked, doing little good to hold back her emotions. Seeing her tremble and hearing the crackling in her voice made her sadness all the more apparent. I dreaded her reaction to the report of her father.

“Ya can’t fight to save a nation when that nation no longer exists,” I said. Streiter stopped as he watched Gregor limp from the horse and glower at him. Streiter couldn’t meet the gaze of his father. While Gregor was not present to be privy of all the details, he could do just as Erdmann said, and see the deeds. He saw us all turn our backs upon Wenceslas, who was more than our captain, but our friend. Gregor said nothing, though if he had, few of us would have understood him. His silence spoke louder words of shame than even his tongueless mouth could have ever hoped to express. After a few passing moments of silence as the rabble stopped and found places to camp and wait out the night, I heard Libyena’s voice finally ask what I feared.

“Where’s my father?”

“My lady,” said Humbert as he marched up and set down a wounded fellow on the weedy grass beside a rock. “He fell, bravely, in battle.” She made the brief sound of a whimper, but bit her tongue and fought back her tears, like a dam withholding the torrential flow of emotions.

“He fought brave, he fought true, just as the rest of ’em,” I said, finding a swell of affectivity forming a lump in my throat and moistening my eyes. “When our Duke faced their mightiest foe, he found a moment of fatal danger. Your father valiantly swept in to his defense, at the risk of his life. After Horst’s death, Wenceslas gave himself up so that no more blood might be shed.”

“Except his own…” Streiter added, eyes still locked to the ground under his feet. He writhed as though he had tasted the most foul and bitter food, and truly the bitterness was shame, a flavor he could no longer stomach. “Alas, by my everlasting shame, I cannot be the man you are, father.”

Gregor’s eyes filled with such rage, he looked ready to strike his son, but with his one arm, he drew him in for a hug. This was not the tender hug of a father and a young boy, but a manly embrace among comrades. Gregor, in spite of his ailments, was a sage, a mentor to be heeded. While understanding his speech was never easy, his little actions, expressions, and attitudes were one that younger men looked to for guidance. His son was no exception, but one who truly esteemed his father to be the wise sage. This hug instilled in him pride once more, a masculine comfort only ever given by the advanced men before you. I once had that in my own grandfather, may he rest in peace. I also had that relationship in Wenceslas, for while he was only three years my senior, his heart was stages ahead of my own. I was still but the ranger, the adventurer, the stage of life between beloved son and valiant warrior. No, I had just survived a battle. While it is imperative for the maturity of every male to pass through the warrior days of life, not all do find the opportunity to live that in a literal sense. I did, however. Boys who grow to be farmers or fishermen may find their days of a warrior battling off a predator wolf or a storm at sea. I was a warrior, tried and true, and I stood in the company of warriors and sages. Gregor’s hug for his son was an embrace of all defeated warriors and truly my masculine soul was soothed and eased by it as well.

Gregor then whispered into his son’s ear. Streiter’s eyes caught that I leaned in, straining to hear the indiscernible. He said, “My father asked, ‘Is this what he stood for?’” No one could speak. Guilt and sorrow crushed us all. I think we all knew in our hearts what Wenceslas would do in this situation, and while we were clueless as to how he would wisely execute his valiant plan, we also lacked the temerity to carry it out.

“No, this is not what he stands for,” Libyena said, hushed, drawing from within a sense of dauntless resolve. “He’d fight to the last breath.”
“Aye,” agreed Streiter, firming his proud jaw, standing taller, finding hope in reckless tenacity for honor.

“He’d take venturesome, immediate action. Not wait for bloody nobles and politicians to debate fates in some council in a remote room only to add to our problems. Nor would he tarry in despair over a loss.” Everyone attended her words, thirsting for inspiration. Those of us who knew Libyena and her developing courtship with our Duke thought of her as a de facto Duchess for the moment, giving us further reason to look to her for guidance. On top of that, there were no nobles present, this was a band of country folks, backwoods bumpkins, peasant farmers, servants, and livestock wranglers. And we of the lower class felt the surmounting weight of our nation’s future in our hands.

“Listen, Bohemians!” she continued, hopping upon her horse, giving elevation to her voice and stature. “You can head home—if you can call it that anymore—and let corruption topple corruption in an endless cycle of war, tyranny, and treachery. Or we can stand for what we believe in. The hope of a bright and beautiful morn where, from highest to lowest, freedom reigns true and just. Who will join me?”

“I wiew!” Gregor spoke, loudly. While not exactly discernible, it seemed clear he said that he was joining the cause, whatever that may be, to rescue Wenceslas and our land.

“Splendid! Who else?”

“Hell, if a woman and a gimp are first to battle, I’ll be damned to stand behind,” Selmer spoke with a cough.

“Count me in, as always,” Streiter said, regaining his proud composure.

“I wouldn’t be expectin’ to head to another fight without ya by me side,” I told him. “We need more brawn, as much as we can muster.”

“Nay. Brawn can only traverse so far. We need a little brain.” Streiter and I shared a moment, a bond of friendship fostered through surviving hell together.

“Aye,” was about all I could utter.

After Humbert stepped forward to add his name to our roster, others came alive with eagerness. With nods and grunts, the party came to a positive consensus. We would risk it all at the chance of a better future.

“Aye, we have a motivated rabble to go back into harm’s way, ready to lay life and limb on the gamble that we might have some notion of a shrewd plan. And what plan do ye have there?” Erdmann asked, with as much enthusiasm as a maimed goat.

“What would Wenceslas do?” she asked.

“There’s a strong chance he’s still alive,” I noted. “With the right diversion, a small team may be able to enter that spire, with stealth, and retrieve him.”

“If such a team could manage such a feat, then we ought take the very life of Dragomira,” Libyena countered.

“And Radslav,” Streiter spoke, seething from the treachery.

“Aye, kill the serpent by removing it’s foul head,” Erdmann added. “Inspiring words may only take us so far. We must trust in deeds, and a fine deed ye have concocted. Draw the attention with a diversion, one that may take a wretched Magyar life or two in the process, whilst some of ye rescue our Duke and take the two heads of this hydra. Now, what diversion have ye in mind?”

The eyes flickered to me. While this did put a knot of nervousness in my gut by seeing so many eyes gazing upon me with expectation, I felt some rather superb self-esteem at seeing how my reputation persisted in keeping me known as the one who could form the right plan.

“I know what we ought to do.”


As the sun set, and the light turned a deep red along the horizon, painting the sky rich purple and magenta, Dragomira basked in her glory, longing for her plan’s imminent completion. She stood upon the balcony of the spire, overlooking the Magyar encampment beneath her. Having already achieved an early victory with a smaller death toll than expected, the warriors partook of a great deal of celebratory wine. Many were already unconscious from inebriation, other swayed and sang cultural hymns of yore. Levity filled the drunken encampment, and Dragomira was more than happy with it. She felt no danger, knew of no threat. Everything was falling into place and soon her second born son would take the place of her first. She would have a mighty heir, and in her progeny, live immortally. Boleslav stepped up beside her, still confused. He did not at all feel victorious in the recent events, but torn in twain over a house divided.

“Why treat my brother like a prisoner, mother?” he asked, careful to sound unassuming, but as an inquisitive lamb out for knowledge. “Why do we torture him? Can we not reason with him, help him see the errors of his ways and bring him back to us?”

“You have many questions that I am not primed to respond to. Many of which I cannot truly answer for you. After tonight, after your pledge, you will see. You will see. Answers long sought shall be revealed in the spirit.” Fighting a deep, inner conflict, Boleslav gazed downward. “You do trust your mother, do you not?”

“Aye, mother dearest.” She pulled him toward her and pivoted in a way to stand behind him, holding him from behind remarkably much like a lover might. He had his father’s height, and yet was still shorter because of age. They looked out at the beautiful sunset with longing.

“You know I do all this for you?”


“You are my hope and joy, Boleslav. My all in all, my everything. Every deed wrought, whether joyful or tiresome, I do gladly for the sake of your future. You will see, that everything works in cause and effect. The wisdom lay in being the causer, not the effected. One may cause strife, the others will give to prevent further affects. Do cause your life to be all you dream it to be, my beloved. The power of the great mover, one who chooses the effects of others, will be one with you tonight.”

Not long later, as darkness covered the whole of the valley, our time to strike had come. We were bound to cause a devastating effect upon the bane of Bohemia. A full moon pressed upward over the horizon, arching ever higher, beaming brightly over the still tents of the Magyar camp. The bustle of boisterous drunken gaiety had subsided, mostly because they had imbibed enough to reach the point of unconsciousness. Some were still awake, sitting by fires, not yet ready to fall asleep. Others, who quite regrettably weren’t directly involved in the confrontation with the Bohemian army were issued orders to stand watch. They were awake and alert, but soured by not being able to join the revelry of their happy cohorts.

While the sounds of crickets chirping, night owls hooting, and the distant howl of a wolf filled the atmosphere of the night, a new noise, one dissonant from the rest, emerged. A male’s voice droning incoherently singing a song rent the stillness of the night. The sound drew the attentions of the alert Magyar sentires. Where is it coming from? What is it? They looked about perplexed. With their celebratory sounds having subsided, the revelers didn’t think it was another Magyar party. The sound also came from the north, away from the camp, toward the hills and dales whence the the fallen corpses of combat still lay.

The sentries at the edge peered through a misty night fog, not quite set at alarm for the pathetic attempt at singing posed no real threat. They were ready, however, should this turn into something of danger. Finally, Gregor, shirtless, tied to the horse, trot slowly upon a horse right for the camp. Ropes lashed him to the horse, for having only one leg made him lopsided and in need of something to secure him to the beast. He feigned drunkenness, singing as best he could without a tongue, a folk song.

“Spring has now unwrapped the flowers, day is fast reviving. Life in all her growing powers, towards the light is striving. Gone the iron touch of cold, winter time and frost time. Seedlings, working through the mould, now make up for lost time.” This of course sounded much different when sung as a man with no tongue.

“What the hell is that?” a sentry asked another in their Hungarian language.

“A half drunk man.”

“He’s half drunk?”

“No. Half a man.”

Trotting amiably along into the camp, all eyes were too stunned by the bizarre, nonthreatening character swaying about, singing, waving his arm and the nub that was once his other arm. The awake, drunken reveler rose, finding great amusement in the spectacle, and before long a crowd had grown from those awake in the camp to come behold Gregor in all his glory.

Behind the spectators, shadows dashed by. Many of our most nimble warriors, clad in the darkest of colors, swept into the camp with stealth. I was among them, being one of the younger members, light, swift, and small, I went first to clear the way with Libyena close behind. Nobody raised a concern about a woman amongst our ranks. Such trivialities were put aside for lack of time and wherewithal to even care about it. My gut was a rock of nervousness, but with the speed of my racing heart, the blood coursed with energy and enthusiasm for the mission at hand. I was going to rescue the savior of our land.

The only problem was, I was caught. A large, tattooed hand caught me from behind and pulled me over to face the grungiest, Magyar I’d ever seen. There was grit and grime all over him, even in his teeth, and particulates of who-knows-what meshed into his bird’s nest of a beard.

And he held me fast, sure to call the alarm.


“The blood of the damned,” Dragomira commented sadistically as she squeezed one of Wenceslas’s many cuts incurred by Radslav’s blade, pouring blood into a goblet. “Steal what you call your curse and make it Boleslav’s blessing. He does not reject me. He loves.” The pain woke Wenceslas up from his stupor, finding the object of his scorn and dread right before him, draining his blood with a smile.

The setting in the room appeared much like the ritual she practiced on him when he was a young boy, only intensifying the immobilizing, gripping fear of living a nightmare. Radslav served as Dragomira’s aid, much as Bartram had in the previous rituals. Wenceslas looked down at his blood filling the chalice when Dragomira relinquished her grip, stopping the flow.

“And he shall be one of us,” Radslav added. “One of our Lord’s heirs and servants, an ally in our quest of glory.”

“What... what do you do?” Wenceslas asked, finding himself still working to wake up and clear his head.

“Giving him your birthright,” his mother replied, still speaking with soft elation. Wenceslas rose up and a guard placed a knife to his neck. His heart began to race, bringing oxygen to his brain, helping him find focus. Focusing on a clear objective at hand was simple motivation: he needed to stop this ritual from inflicting Boleslav. He looked out with drugged eyes and saw his brother sitting upon a table, shirtless, awaiting the branding, appearing very much like Wenceslas did the night Ludmila rescued him. If only she had arrived sooner, maybe he could have overcome so much of his grief and torment. No, the branding seared through his flesh to his very soul, shackling him to this crooked deity, opening the door for his demon to ever take the guise of his mother only to beguile him deep into her web of corruption.

“Has the middle of night drawn upon us?” Radslav asked, grabbing the sensor and spraying incense smoke about them.

“Nearly. Patience, my love. Our plots have been accomplished, bringing us to this long-awaited eve. We shall brand my son to our way, and brand the future as ours.”

Wenceslas could do so little to stop the tide from coming in. But we were doing our best to change that. As the grimy, drunken Magyar pulled me closer, as if to inspect me in the pale light of the full moon, he finally realized what he held. He choked out something in Hungarian that I couldn’t discern.

“Would you mind unhanding me?”

“You’re no woman!” he exclaimed, realizing the beardless body before him was no female to have his way with, but a whelp of foreign origin.

“Thank Heaven for that.”

“The hell?!” he cried out, and then grunted something else indecipherable, and the very moment he opened his mouth, ready to shout for others, it seemed as though an arrow appeared from nowhere, now running over his tongue and through the back of his head. He moaned for only a second before collapsing.

“You’re most welcome, Cabbage,” Libyena noted as she crept up, withdrew her arrow to use for later, and then moved along.

“Oy! Only Wenceslas gets the privilege of callin’ me that!” I said in a shouted whisper.

“Silence!” Streiter forcefully whispered in my ear before pushing me along.

As we made our stealthy way toward the spire, the Gregor diversion could only last for so long before the next phase of the plan. Once we had Wenceslas, we needed a way out and the current plan was to set the drunken camp into disarray. A sleeping Magyar woke up at sight of Gregor and stared in amazement until mysterious hands grabbed him from behind, covering his mouth to keep him silent, and whisked him back to his death. One by one, stealthy Bohemians silently took down the enemies. Our men ventured to take as many out as possible. Others, passed out from inebriation, were tied down to whatever heavy object lay nearby. Should our invasion turn to a battle, they’d wake and be unable to enter the fray. Our saving grace was their intoxicated state, which made them more like living sacks of grain than actual ill-boding warriors.

If they were conscious, our men took them down quickly and quietly. If they were unconscious, they preemptively subdued them. This slowly, but surely, evened the odds. My only trepidation now lay in how the Bohemian soldiers, back under the command of Mareczek, were stationed elsewhere, but nearby if called upon. They partook in no revelry, for they had nothing worth celebrating. Many likely were still awake, too perturbed by the swift changing of command and shifting of allegiances to sleep. I hoped against reason that they’d never need to be called upon, keeping us from fighting fellow Bohemians, just as Wenceslas was always wont to do.

As our forces worked their furtive endeavor, we pressed ever onward toward the base of the spire. Climbing the exterior stone stairs of the bastion, Libyena, Streiter, and I paused at the sight of a host of soldiers standing guard. There was no easy way past, and without scaling the wall on the far side, there was no way around.

Humbert crept up behind two spectators, watching the Gregor spectacle from a distance, cracked their skulls into each other and quickly pulled their bodies aside into a tent to keep them from being found. Selmer snuck upon another Magyar and slit his throat before trying to hide his corpse too. A Magyar bystander noticed the movement and as he went to inspect, he found himself run through by Humbert’s blade. Selmer also slithered up behind one, grabbed his mouth to silence him, then grabbed the back of his head and thrust his arms in opposing directions with such rapidity to crack the fiend’s neck. This silent takedown would have worked like the others had not an spearman stepped out from a tent just in time to see his comrade killed.

“Intruders!” he shouted in Hungarian. Selmer snapped and pitched his knife through the enemy’s face to cease his call immediately. His scream, nonetheless, alerted the camp which resulted in an uproar. As those gathered around Gregor jumped into action, Bohemians engaged them instantly in battle. Many were presently taken down unaware, others were slaughtered the moment they withdrew from their tents. Others awoke to two troublesome truths: they were tied down and they had skull-smashing headaches from too much alcohol. At the onset of the fight, the Bohemians had the clear advantage and were taking the camp by storm.

The uproar from the camp was all we needed. The guards moved toward the ledge of a parapet to survey the situation in the camp below. Surely, as they spoke to each other in their native language, they debated if a dispatch of their company were needed below to put down the uprising or commotion. They were essentially the last line of defense before their commanders and didn’t wish to break protocol, and yet it was very possible the commotion below was all started by some drunken brawl and some sober minds may have been needed to restore peace. I could see their dilemma—I couldn’t care less about it. Their distracted eyes and debating mouths made it far too easy for us to ambush them.

First we each knocked one over the side to a fatal fall. As the others turned to defend themselves, Libyena’s arrows dropped one after another. Trying to ascertain what befell them proved futile—we slayed them in their complete astonishment instantly. Before they could even draw their blades, Streiter and I cut down those Libyena’s arrows hadn’t already killed. Feeling proud of myself, almost unstoppable even, I said, “Let’s make haste!” A victory like that makes one taste sweet confidence. I was ready to take on the whole Magyar nation myself.


As Bohemians fought the Magyar forces with all their might, many valiant warriors fell slain. The wanton bloodshed bellow had little impact on the foul ritual taking place above. Radslav inscribed the pagan markings on Boleslav’s skin with charcoal just before Dragomira blew the noxious dust from her palm into her son’s face. This was an act of mercy, to help him not feel or experience the pain of the searing brand burning into his flesh. Otherwise, Boleslav was docile and not in need of the powder to subdue him. Having learned a thing or two by the way her first son reacted, she prepared her son’s mind for the rite and procedures of it. He welcomed it, trusting his mother above all else. He passed out on the table, slumbering peacefully amidst the Satanic deed wrought about him.

Wenceslas slowly worked his mind to clarity, but still couldn’t fully shake the drugs overpowering his senses. Seeing the very thing he would die to prevent, he squirmed all the same, but ropes tying his arms to a pillar and the knife to his neck held him from doing further. He could only watch through a blurry lens; hating himself, hating it all! In spite of the presence of the genuine Dragomira, the demon in her form appeared and taunted him.

“Behold your failure. You live to see the downfall of your nation and branding of your brother. He, unlike you, welcomes power, will relish authority, and will rise to the heights you never could. He will be a king, an emperor, a god among men. You have forsaken it and this mantle has passed to him. Look now, behold all you have lost, you artless bootlicker.”

“I cannot see! Not through drugged eyes!” he said, looking her in the face. The guard eyed him like a lunatic. He shouted into open space.

“So pathetic, you are comical!” she laughed. “You know full well your mother simply accomplishes what has been done unto her, a rite passed down through generations. She, as all parents, only wishes for a better life than she herself had, hoping that generations onward, her descendents would blossom in bountiful prosperity over and over, laying hewn any and all that would hinder such growth. Stand not in her way, for you seek to hold back an unstoppable tide.”

“Give heed, bawdy bitch!” Wenceslas shouted, driven mad by rage, looking her square in the eyes. At last he came to the crucial moment that she would no longer have power over him. Cruel as her deeds have been, vulgar as she may be, while loathing the works of her wretched hands, he was going to let it all go. Like a snake shedding skin, he was ready to drop the baggage weighing him down to shackle him no further. Letting his rage subside with a deep breath, he opened his heart for peace, self-control, and—dare he admit it—forgiveness. The brief notion that Dragomira has suffered the same curse by possibly even more cruel hands gave him, for the first time in his life, a sense of compassion. Focusing, breathing, gaining peaceful clarity, it made perfect sense to him that saving Boleslav from his mother had been an endeavor sought after incorrectly. Maybe it was the right path for one who lives by the sword, but conquest was not his life’s ambition. His Savior taught that to live by the sword means you die by the sword. His ambition was of a spiritual conquest, one where he would draw individuals toward happiness, peace, love, and hope; where they would come to spiritual enlightenment and salvation in such a way as to transform them like caterpillars to butterflies, becoming something far greater and more beautiful than ever before. Somehow, from the deep-rooted hatred of his mother, he lost his way. Why not apply his ambitions for mankind toward the very closest people in his life, namely blood relatives, such as his mother? To truly save Boleslav from his mother, he truly needed to save Dragomira from herself. Doing this would be impossible if she was simply an enemy, like a Magyar, to be vanquished. He would need to fight her, her cohorts, and her schemes, but for her heart and soul, he would reach to rescue her. His sagely grandmother had communicated this axiom to him from beyond—it was time to forgive.

With another exhale, expelling his tension and angst, he said with a remarkably calm demeanor, “Our fight has ended. You have no place in my heart anymore. For you have been simply the manifestation of the curse and my wrath for wrongs wrought upon me. I let you go, I release you, and therefore myself from your claim over my heart. I am rid of you and made free, now and forever!” Letting the demon dissolve into the ether, Wenceslas shouted to the real Dragomira, “I give it all up. You can hold me down no longer! Mother, I pardon the evil you have done to me and I will save you!”

Dragomira simply rolled her eyes and continued with her ritual. Lifting the white-hot iron brand from the coals, she brought it toward her son, drawing inches closer to Boleslav’s flesh. There was nothing Wenceslas could do to stop it. She completely ignored his cries. Upon Boleslav’s scream in pain at the brand searing into his skin, Wenceslas crammed his fingers down his throat. After only a moment, he vomit onto the guard. This both cleared his head from further toxins in his stomach and also distracted the Magyar guard who now found himself coated in bile. Seizing his moment of astonishment, Wenceslas rammed his knee to the groin of his guard, then jumped and drove his foot through his jaw.

Still tied to the pillar, he daringly pressed the ropes binding his wrist right into a candle flame, lighting the dry cords and burning his skin with it. He fought the burning pain searing his wrist and with all rage, he finally ripped through the binds. He practiced a controlled rage, that which anyone can find with an indignation toward evil and injustice, as opposed to a blind malice which finds its way into controlling the bearer of it. Wenceslas was empowered and driven, angry at the evil done to his brother, an evil that laid claim upon his mother’s heart. He now would fight it, undaunted and unburdened by his own personal resentment. It was not his mother he was going to battle with, but agents of her wickedness he would overpower to achieve the justice and restoration he so desperately sought. He grabbed the knife of the fallen guard and hurled it into Radslav’s arm as he moved to hand the blood goblet to Dragomira.

“Leave... Boleslav... alone!” Wenceslas spoke, loud and firm, his jaw clenched, huffing with rage. While Boleslav may have suffered the branding, he had yet to drink of the goblet filled with Wenceslas’s blood. His hope now was that he could keep this atrocity from taking place and only half the ritual would be accomplished and therefore nullified.

“Guards!” Radslav called out, pulling away, grabbing his bleeding hand, drawing the knife from it. After tossing the dagger with poor aim in Wenceslas’s general direction, he drew his sword just about the time when four guards rushed in to join Radslav in engaging the escaped captive. Nothing could stop the torrential force that was Wenceslas’s fury. Pouring from his passion, he moved about like a parkour athlete, dodging their weapons, deflecting their blows, bouncing from walls, chairs, tables, with the agility of a gazelle. He struck down guard after guard, cutting them asunder until all that stood before him was the wounded Radslav, ready to enter the skirmish with but one good hand.

“Impressive display of acrobatics, young Duke. Seems your style best fits engaging multiple foes at once, and yet you are unable to best a single opponent. Dare we repeat the butchering I wrought upon you yesternoon?”

Wenceslas didn’t care to share words with the swine before him. He simply moved his blade at him, parried, blocked his strokes, then with both swords locked, Wenceslas let his fist knock Radslav aside. Just when he rushed for Dragomira, who was gathering up her drugged son into her arms, a dozen armed foot soldiers gathered into the room, blades drawn and pressed upon Wenceslas. He had nowhere to turn and stood very little chance in outmatching twelve foes.

“And to think you came from my womb,” Dragomira said sternly. Boleslav was still mostly passed out, dazed under the narcotic, and she held him up in her arms, wrapping a blanket over his half-nakedness. Wenceslas beheld the scar, still smoldering, now producing puss, on his brother’s chest, and felt he had tasted total, utter defeat. That’s where I found him and I was more than primed to pull him out of it.

Suddenly an arrow split through the neck of a soldier who stood before Wenceslas, keeping him at bay. Blood splattered and he crumbled to the floor. As the others glanced down at the wayward arrow, Streiter and I plowed through the guards from behind. I didn’t use much skill, I simply kept swiping and swinging my sharp blade through whatever Magyar flesh stood before me. Wenceslas joined the fray, the three of us slicing through soldier after soldier with Libyena lobbing arrows to strategically cover our rears. The twelve did not take long to fell, having caught them by surprise, but before we knew it, Radslav had risen and opened a portcullis, bringing in another squad of Magyar guards.

Wenceslas unleashed his fury upon Radslav and the poor sentries flanking him—they were little more than fodder for Svetlo. Pummeling him to bewilderment and finishing with a kick to the chest, Wenceslas cast Radslav down a stairwell, likely to doom of a broken neck. Streiter and I engaged the soldiers while Libyena weaved away from danger to lob bolts through enemies. The large room felt like a chaotic display of rapidly moving weapons and blood splatter.

Dragging Boleslav’s limp body to a staircase, Dragomira threw a crank, dropping a portcullis down like a guillotine to block a doorway, the very doorway Libyena stood in. She had no time to get out of the way, but in her effort to flee, the spikes skewered her sleeve and pierce her arm, pinning her down.

“Ludmila stole my first born. I shall not lose my second!” Dragomira cried out. With that, she fled up the stairs. Though determined to break her clutch on Boleslav, Wenceslas went straight to Libyena to help her from being pinned by the massive metal gate.

“Just scratched. Go. Save your brother!” she told him before he could reach her. With a silent nod, he accepted her permission not to be the chivalrous hero for this moment, then dashed off after his mother forthwith. This left only Streiter and myself to hold off the few remaining Magyar soldiers. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue had not more arrived, one being only slightly less in stature to the behemoth from before. Could he have been the younger brother of that heathen monstrosity? I was given no chance to inquire, for as soon as he arrived on scene, I wanted more than anything to be rid of this hive of enemies out for my blood, for it seemed absolutely sure that they were going to have it.


Magyar soldiers from all ends of the camp ran to join the combat against the Bohemians, overpowering them. Even with such a surprise attack and having taken down hundreds before the brawl began, hundreds among thousands was only but a dent. While many of the Magyar forces were fighting hangover headaches, they were still pummeling the invading army by sheer strength of numbers.

Mareczek, Zikmund, and the legion of Bohemian soldiers stood at attention, ready for whatever their commander ordered. Having heard the commotion, they awoke, dressed, geared, and mounted. Now in place upon a small butte overlooking the battle under the moonlight, amidst scattered torches and campfires, Mareczek held them from taking any clear action. He knew the hearts of his men—they hated the Magyars and longed to aid their comrades. After acting under orders of their Regent Duchess for so long in taxing and subduing their own kinsmen, watching them fall under massacre whilst they fought with greater courage than they had ever witnessed made them long dearly to defend their own people. For if not to defend their own countrymen, what was their purpose in donning the armor of a knight?

“Your word, sir?” Zikmund asked with urgency.

“Let the Magyars deal with the invasion,” Mareczek replied with his gravelly voice at a whispering level. He knew his Duchess would have him join the Magyars in repelling the attack, but he would hold back from acting as she wished, or how his men wished, as he weighed the options. Zikmund had not the same level of patience.

“Those are our people they slaughter.”

“Do not forget your place!” Mareczek barked back, while beholding the gruesome fighting, conflicted, torn within, and gripping the hilt at his hip. Without giving the slightest command, he seemed to allow his horse’s hooves to inch closer toward the fight as if driven by the unseen. But which side would he defend?

Within the fray, the massive and mighty Humbert held his ground, but Bohemian warriors all around him fell slain. I hear from reports that he was a force to be reckoned with, a sight to behold, as he used any and all within his grasp as a weapon, even hurling the bodies of his slain foes into oncoming ranks of Magyars. Blazej was not far from him and found himself outnumbered. Despite his valiant efforts with a battleaxe, an enemy lance impaled him, taking him to his doom. After his treachery against Wenceslas, he was more than glad to meet death fighting to regain his honor. All about, warriors like him, fought with all their hearts, as one man taking down ten or twenty enemies but sheer force of passion, and having done their all, still could not fend off such surmounting waves of adversaries.

“This was sure death,” Humbert grunted as he and Erdmann drew back toward each other to watch each other’s rear. Seeing wave after wave of enemy soldiers pushed them to reach hopelessness.
“Aye,” Erdmann sighed, thinking of all his loved ones back home for whom he fought. Preserving their well being gave him courage in the face of imminent death. “Yet for our land, our people, would ye not have come all the same?”

Humbert looked over his shoulder to find Erdmann looking over his. They locked eyes to affirm the other, then turned back and fought with revived vigor against the onslaught of enemies. The two-thousand Bohemian warriors had been whittled down by fifty percent, and yet the scores of Magyar soldiers seemed undaunted.

Mareczek trotted upon his horse ever closer to the combat, holding, plotting, trying to make some final decision that would most certainly seal the fates of the men around him, one way or another.

“Orders, sir?” Zikmund pressed, watching his commanding officer inch closer to the combat, but without explanation. Mareczek watched as a whelp, no older than I, bravely danced his feet about to dodge the lethal strokes of an enemy scimitar. He had already suffered a wound or two, coating his visible skin with blood and sweat. Seeing the future of their nation bravely willing to risk it all moved him. Everything Wenceslas told him aboard the boats as they fought the Vltava rapids came rushing back to him. Years before, when his Duchess asked him to ensure the death of his Duke in battle, he did so with hopes of reward. Then, over time, it became clear that those rewards were never exclusive for him, but shared with all her bedfellows. Guilt and shame set in, taking the place of ambitions bent on lust, but he refused to acknowledge it, squashing it down, letting it fester, rotting his heart and soul. Now he faced a new dawn. If he considered Wenceslas his Duke, then betraying Dragomira and her foreign relations would not be an act of treason, but fealty toward his flag. Mareczek was a Bohemian knight and so would act as such.

“To arms! We fight!” Mareczek cried out to his ranks.

“For which side?” Zikmund asked. Drawing a knife from his belt, Mareczek flung it with the precision of a skilled hunter. The blade found its home, nestled into the cranium of the scimitar wielder, giving the lad respite from his foe.

“For Bohemia and the rightful Duke!”

Erdmann, when he knew his life was within inches of termination, swinging his blade, fighting the knots in his gut from unadulterated fear of the great beyond, stopped at the sound of cavalry hooves. Could it be that the ranks of mounted Magyars had formed and now swept through the tents of the camp slaying anyone in their wake? No, it was the legions under the command of Mareczek, the traitor. Thinking he was to meet his end by the hands of Bohemians made him ready to surrender to the clutches of death if only to pass from the despair. He watched the ranks of armored Bohemian knights swarm in, catching the Magyars from behind, tearing the enemy legions to pieces. Mareczek and Zikmund led their forces into a bloody brawl, rescuing the militia warriors.

The fight finally seemed fair. The thousands of Magyar soldiers who were caught in their drunken stupor were now finding themselves overwhelmed by the Bohemians. The tide had changed, victory was sure to belong to our side.

Now, the camp was split on the north of the spire and on the south. We had launched our attack on the north, which gave Streiter, Libyena, and me access to the spire to find Wenceslas. Those camping to the south were in the company of the chieftains, and so kept themselves from imbibing as much as those not so near senior ranking leaders. This to say, half the army wasn’t quite as drunk or hungover, and they also had the time to gear up and form ranks to ride in and quell the attackers.

A few thousand Magyar soldiers, in full armor, atop their steeds, prepared to join the battle at the other end of the massive campsite. The Chief marched over and hopped atop his horse, looking cross and annoyed that he was disturbed so early in the morning. He put off marshalling his troops as he tried to sleep, figuring that if his forces could squash an invasion by an already defeated army, then these slavic soldiers under Radslav’s command would prove their salt. At hearing they now spilled Magyar blood, he was incensed.

“Treachery! Radslav’s own soldiers turned. Kill them all! Kill every last one of them!” The Chief shouted with vitriol spewing from his pores before he drove his horse at the forefront, leading the charge to mop up the Bohemians. Just when our men found an upper hand, the battle went to an even higher level of intensity and danger.


Dragomira, holding her drugged youngest, beheld these events from atop the spire. Her heart sank at sight of Mareczek’s infidelity, but began to beat anew when she watched the Magyar cavalry marshal to storm in from behind. She turned from watching the carnage below to face Wenceslas as he reached the top. He caught his breath, fuming with rage. From the drugs, he had at least some form of sleep, but from blood loss and lack of food consumption in nearly twenty-four hours, he suffered a head as light as clouds and a stomach as twisted as a braided mane.

“Try as you might, you have already lost,” she spoke coldly to him. “You make some wild endeavor to save your brother, and from what? Power? Peace? Prosperity? Our nation has only been locked in civil war because of you. Those dying below only fight because you filled their heads with lies. Had you never convinced them of my so-called evil ways, they would be simply snug at home as a better government establishes a foothold north and further north. You, and you alone, have sentenced them to death all in a selfish ambition to tear this family apart!”

“What is your plan, mother?” he asked, almost wishing he had called her by her first name since any son speaking the word mother draws to the conscious and subconscious mind imagines of nurturing safety—an element he has been without within the scope of his relationship with his mother. “Speak whatever twisted truths you wish, you brought all this upon us and you can undo it. Should I surrender my pursuits this moment, you’d have Bohemia torn asunder, subjugating our own people and any others to tyranny. If you quit, we shall find peace. Who then is the one causing the turmoil and discord? So what then is your next plan? I could slay you now and you know it. I could—”

“You would kill me, would you not? Your own flesh and blood mother. My womb formed you. Through great pain, I birthed you. My breasts nursed you. My hand dried your tears. My arms nestled you to still your trembling heart. I am—”

“You have been the cause of my tears and trembling heart! You have been the cause of my nightmares! You cherish only your lust for power, not even your family! You care not for me. You care not for Boleslav!”

“Everything I have done has been for him as it was for you before you made it clear to me that you ceased to love me as a son should. I give my all for you two! I give my all to my Boleslav!”

“Look at him! His chest seared like roasted duck, branded like a swine, locked now by your insidious rite to a false god whose claim is for the wicked. What mother does this?”

“Only the greatest!” She moved to pour the goblet’s dark red liquid down Boleslav’s throat, the final act of the ritual.

Wenceslas lunged for her when a barbed chain caught him from behind. He had been leashed by a grim Magyar with spiked armor, and a plethora of swords and knives. He was the wiliest, spikiest fiend in the enemy army, one with a penchant for all things sharp. Inspite of his greatest resistance, Wenceslas was dragged into confronting this new adversary. The skills of dodging, weaving, deflecting, and leaping came to his aid now more than ever, for this foe seemed to swing and throw sharpened daggers and his barbed chain at the same time—a whirlwind of razor-sharp blades and metal chains.

Meanwhile, a hulking mass of Magyar warrior lumbered toward pinned Libyena back within the ceremonial chamber of the spire. He pulled a dagger from his shoulder that I had planted moments before. Now he wanted revenge, blood from the trapped vixen. Or maybe he wanted to take her hostage, coercing our surrender. He raised a spiked mace, ready to lambast her to pulp. She tried with everything to rip away, but couldn’t lift the portcullis, or tear through her leather armor binding her sleeve fast enough. When she was sure to be pulverized, Streiter rammed into him. The two wrestled, and for all Streiter’s might, he had a quarter the brute’sstrength. After a solid uppercut to the fiend’s jaw, the Magyar toppled away, but amidst his fall, was able to smite Streiter with his mace, breaking his arm, knocking him feet away and into a stone pillar.

Their skirmish bought Libyena enough time to finally rip free, roll, and grab her bow. The moment the massive brute found his footing to stand menacingly tall, she released the feather end of her arrow and swiftly shot the bolt through the foe’s chest. Alas, he didn’t drop. After withdrawing my blade from an enemy’s sternum, I turned and found this beastly foe was the last Magyar in the sanctum. Last, but the most deadly. He charged at Libyena like a landslide. Reacting on instinct, my nimble limbs vaulted me up and I grappled him from behind. I grabbed the flat end of my sword with one hand and my hilt with the other, pressing the iron into his neck, choking the life out of the hulking mass while slicing his throat. It seemed it took that much violent exertion to finally fell yet another behemoth. Streiter watched me take the monstrosity down from sitting on the floor, back resting against the pillar he was hurled into.

“At last,” he said with strain in his voice. “The boy becomes a man.”

“I do hope you learned something from my demonstration, my pupil,” I replied, catching my breath. “For I shan’t be performing it again. The next one is on you.”

About the time we cleared the sanctum, the Chief’s cavalry plowed into the
heart of the brawl, decimating Bohemian forces. Once more, the tide had changed and the knights under Mareczek were locked in brutal combat. Soldiers cut down soldiers on both sides. Mareczek and Zikmund fought like lions, wielding both horse, sword, and shield as though they were one with these iron extensions.

Swinging scimitar and mace, both of which were captured from fallen enemies he had slain, Humbert moved like a whirlwind of lethal force. He torn down horse and rider, left and right, never stopping, never tiring. He knew his limbs throbbed and his eyes’ vision had clouded from sweat and blood, but nothing would slow him down. It seemed with every death of an ally near him, he fought with even greater vigor and strength. Unlike the last battle, there was no retreat. It was fight or die.

First Zikmund’s horse met an enemy blade, and shortly afterward, Mareczek’s was cut down as well. Now grounded, they fought all the same. An enemy charged upon Zikmund from behind, but Mareczek intervened and cut him down. Zikmund was not as fast to cover Mareczek’s back. After standing over his latest kill, a stray spear sank right below his heart, dropping Mareczek to his knees as weakness and pain filled his body.

“Mareczek!” Zikmund shouted in alarm as he broke Mareczek’s fall, but couldn’t hold him for long. Enemy forces swarmed and overran them, flanking them from all sides. Seeing his commander down, and felled by work to protect his hide, lit a new fire in Zikmund’s heart. He rose and fought with renewed aggression. Hacking and slicing limbs from the soldiers and steeds flooding his way was all he could do. Like Humbert, they had to keep moving, keep swinging. And as they were both a cyclone of metal, the horde of Magyar soldiers never seemed to dwindle.

“Now, my love, you have finished your pledge,” Dragomira spoke tenderly to her son as she finished emptying the chalice of blood into his mouth. The spiky Magyar pressed Wenceslas’s head over the ledge, nearly toppling him over. From his strained position, he managed to catch a glimpse of the final deed, Boleslav choking, but made to swallow the sanguine fluid. Boleslav was still in a drowsy state, but in Dragomira’s mind, she had accomplished a marvelous deed. She watched her eldest wrestle over the brink and glanced at the warfare below now lit by the light of early dawn. The sun had yet to peak over the horizon, but the sky had turned dark blue and rich purple, reflecting a light cascading over the basin. She saw the Bohemian knights and warriors whittling down as regiment after regiment of Magyar soldiers swept in to mop them up.

“Soon your men will be but bloodstains in the field. And to whom shall the finger of blame point? Oh dear me, would it be that wayward Duke, the heir to Prague’s throne? Did he really dare to deem himself worthy to usurp that lovely Duchess Regent as she ushered in a treaty of peace with Hétmagyar, turning the land to a kingdom under a new empire? Now the land will be bereft of their finest men, all because their acclaimed Duke brought them like sheep to the slaughter. What shall we say then? Gouge out his eyes and tongue that he may never again sway the hearts of the people to his foolish machinations? Let him live out the remainder of his days as a pathetic lump of flesh and bones, useful for nothing? Let him live out of honor for my womb’s first tenant or set him to death as mercy to keep him from a lifetime of uselessness? What shall we do? Which decision shall we take? Either one will have little impact upon the king of Bohemia, Boleslav, who will reign with such authority and honor that once Zoltan selects a successor, Boleslav shall rise to be the very emperor of the ruling power over all Europe. He shall be the causer of all effects, the harbinger of death to any and all who denounce his glorious name!”

Wenceslas shut his eyes while still grappling the metal thorned Magyar warrior who wrestled to push him over the ledge of the spire parapet. Fighting despair, seeking Providence, hoping against hopelessness, what was he to do? He would have loved to see his younger brother elevate to such a prominent position, but not as a tyrant, but a benevolent giver of peace and justice. He knew should he rise to power as a disciple of Chernobog, he’d be the same as Dragomira if not worse, for if power corrupts, greater power equates to greater corruption. Alas, the pledge had been made whilst his men dropped in great numbers, massacred by an army ten times their size. He had two choices, fight and face death to himself and his companions, or surrender and suffer a lifetime of torture and tragedy for himself and all who chose to follow him. His dilemma was so utterly abysmal, he wished that the choice would be made for him.

And in that moment, the din of battle below and the clamor from within subsided. There was a strange pervasive silence all at once. Those locked in the throes of combat took a respite to hear something that hushed the cacophony of bloodshed. What caused this silence that quelled the noise?

Not silence... Distant drums.


All eyes looked toward the pass high upon the hills of the north western mountain range of the Carpathian Basin. The eastern horizon had begun to glow red as the sun began to rise for the morning. The dim, soft hue gently stretched over the shadowed battlefield and illuminated the forms of the German army. The legions sent by Henry the Fowler had finally arrived, had reached Prague and were surely given word that Wenceslas’s marshalled troops already marched south to meet an invasion force. With all haste, they drove down, traversed the gap, and now looked down from the high ridge to behold the fight.

Their drums beat to a cadence that their foot soldiers marched to and their cavalry trotted with. They were here and ready to save Bohemia. We already had the enemy lodged into combat. Many still nursed hangover headaches or suffered minor wounds. The Magyars were surely tired and the Germans were fresh and geared for war. With a trumpet blast, the Germans charged. The sun finally peaked over the horizon and the golden light gleamed upon their shining, polished armor. All eyes, both Bohemian and Magyar turned at the thunderstorm and beheld the gleaming armor of our salvation colliding with their enemies, tearing them apart. They were an unstoppable avalanche that crushed all in their path.

Mareczek, struggling to survive, noticed Zikmund watching the spectacle without his mind on his surroundings. He knew the Fowler’s forces were bound south, but in the heat of it all had forgotten to expect them. Feeling woebegone in the dismal situation of their lopsided battle meant this sight of rescue elated his heart so much that he had forgotten the warfare still carried on. The Chief, thirsty for one more kill before facing defeat, charged at full gallop right for Zikmund. Mareczek conjured his every last bit of stamina, pulled the spear from his flesh, used it as a sort of cane to prop himself up with, then hurled it. Zikmund, upon hearing the gallop, turned to see the Chief speeding toward him when suddenly the spear skewered his chest with such force that he flew off his horse. Once again, his life had been saved by his commander.

“Captain!” Zikmund rushed over to Mareczek as he crumbled back down.

“I pray, though I know not to which god anymore, yet I pray my honor can be restored. Mayhaps fighting for the Duke means favor with his God. Maybe… just maybe… I can find eternity with him. I know not.”

“Your honor is restored, for that there is no question. You go to the halls of your fathers, the very finest warriors who preserved the line of Přemysl for generations.”

“I fought... I die for his peace. Make sure Wenceslas gets it.”

“Aye,” Zikmund replied, speaking a last comforting word to still the soul of his commander. Thus the redeemed general gave up the ghost and moved to the realm beyond mortality. Zikmund clutched the armor of Mareczek, deeply saddened by the loss and humbled by the honor of being his companion for his final breaths.

The Germans, routing the Magyar forces, blew another trumpet blast. It called for their enemy’s surrender lest they wished for further annihilation. Wenceslas, continuing to wrestle his opponent as Dragomira watched the Germans plow through her forces, heard the trumpet sound which only emboldened him all the more. Dragomira also heard this, and put her into similar standing where Wenceslas had just been, for now her defeat seemed imminent. She started to pull Boleslav away to retreat to someplace safe.

“You have nowhere to run to!” Wenceslas called after her, landing a solid punch to the foe, knocking him aside.

“As Prince Zoltan’S bride, we shall claim Bohemia, Saxony, and then the whole of Europe. Mark my words on this! Let Germania slay Radslav as leader of this invasion army. Let them foolishly believe they had won final victory. They shall turn their backs to return homeward, foolhardy and vulnerable!”

In the stairway, Radslav finally revealed himself. A broken, sprained, bloody mess—and now scorned. He had been beaten so badly, but pressed on with the hope of promises made to him by Dragomira. Upon word that she used him as such a pawn in her schemes and never had any intention of fulfilling his greatest desires, he turned savage with rage.

“Treacherous wench! Is there no man you do not seduce for your wiles!” He raised an axe to hurl at her. Wenceslas took the barbed chains from his Magyar foe and slung it around Radslav’s wrists. He then vaulted and kicked Radslav over the precipice to his doom. His heavy body plummeted down linked to the spiky Magyar. The instant the chain leash went taut, it whisked him over the edge as well. Down both adversaries went, no longer of any threat.

“You... you saved me?” Dragomira muttered, perplexed at the event before her. She had seen him protect her from that damsel upon her luxury barge before, but thought little of it. Now, as he seemed thoroughly poised to subjugate or slaughter her, he stopped Radslav’s revenge and preserved her life. Was it possible that all this time, Wenceslas did not have vengeful intentions for her, but truly had mercy?

“Justice will still find you,” Wenceslas said, regaining his composure, sheathing his sword, and ready to move in and take Boleslav from her. Dragomira staggered back, overwhelmed, stunned.

“I can’t... You saved me?” Her mind couldn’t process it. Not only had so many events flashed before her from sure victory to certain defeat, she needed to think of a new plan. In all her shrewd schemes this very outcome had never crossed her mind. She had every possibility mapped out in her mind and was ready for each and every one of them, but now they were all flung aside, leaving her naked before the toughest decisions in her life. All this while trying to conceive of the notion that her firstborn son may not have been her enemy. She had only known two types of people: the ruthless you ally with or those whom you squash in your way. Wenceslas was not one easily squashed, but was also neither ruthless. He had forgiven her, but her psyche was not ready to accept it. She thought all men were either like her father, or those her father destroyed. Somehow, some way, her firstborn son became a man entirely different from every paradigm she had ever understood. “You couldn’t… save me?”

“Yet I am here to save Boleslav...” Wenceslas started to say as he marched right for her, “...from becoming you!”

In a last effort, Dragomira lifted her palm to her lips and puckering for a blow of the noxious powder. If anything, she would put him to sleep and make her way out of the situation. She would figure out her next scheme as it came. Now she couldn’t harm her son, but needed to escape him all the same. Sprinting at her to reach her before she could blow the powder from her palm, Wenceslas took in a deep breath. Just when Dragomira went to exhale, Wenceslas rushed in, blowing with all his might, driving the white cloud into her face instead.

She dropped Boleslav to the stone floor as she stumbled back over the ledge, dazed by the noxious smoke filling her airways. Wenceslas clutched the skirt of her gown to hold her from falling to her death. As much as he would have liked to be rid of her, his heart just couldn’t seek such vengeance. She’d face justice another way, but he would not one day stand before God as judge and be unable to say he didn’t do his all to save his mother’s life.


I came upon this scene around this moment. With Libyena ahead of me, we rushed along a causeway to another set of stairs to find Wenceslas holding Dragomira by her gown. His efforts couldn’t last long as her dress tore under her weight. We both stopped, stunned, unsure how to help him. By the time we could scale the stairs to the parapet she dangled from, she was sure to have ripped free and fallen.

“Mother, please!” Wenceslas told her, begging for her to help climb back up, but she was unable to. The powder she used against so many had stripped her of all awareness. Boleslav slowly came to, fighting the stupor and massaging his eyes to come into focus. When they cleared up enough, he saw his brother holding his mother over the brink. He tried to raise her with all his might, but what seemed clear to Boleslav was that his brother had pushed her over.

“I can’t... You wouldn’t save me. You detest me,” Dragomira muttered, only proving further to her younger son that his older brother held her over the edge in effort to make some sadistic message.

“Wake up! Mother, I’m trying to help you!” Wenceslas shouted.

The skirt ripped and in increasing fashion, shred away until Dragomira entered a free fall. Wenceslas’s watery eyes watched as his mother plummet to her imminent demise. She fell until Libyena’s hands caught Dragomira’s hips. From the quick momentum, her body pivoted over, slamming her head against the stone wall below. Taking only a second to let my mind catch up to the events before me, I presently gave Libyena aid in pulling Dragomira’s unconscious body to safety. Her forehead had been gashed with blood pouring forth from whence her skull crashed upon the rock. She looked pale and lifeless, which was why I thought at first that she was killed. Looking at her chest, I caught that it still rose and fell from her breathing.

“Mother!” Wenceslas called out.

“She breathes still, m’Lord!” I replied.

“You...Libyena, you rescued her?”

“I only did what you’d do,” she replied, seemingly unsure if she took the right action, but her love for Wenceslas triumphed over her thirst for vengeance in taking the life of Dragomira. Though a story below him, I could see his eyes glisten with delight in the lady who stole his heart. He knew her intentions, he also knew they were justified, but her action to save Dragomira meant more to him than it did to anyone else.

It meant very little to Boleslav, however. All he saw was his own brother release his beloved mother over the ledge and now she lay unconscious with blood seeping from a wound to her head. “Mother?” he asked, whimpering, terrified. He loved her more than anything in the whole world. She was his world. He couldn’t stand the sight of her in this state, nor could he suffer the presence of the one who put her there in the first place. “What did you do?” he asked of his brother with his judgment already made.

“I—I saved you, Boleslav.”

“Saved me? From what?”

“From what? From her!”

“Then you admit this crime?”

“I—nay! You have understood wrongly! Did ye not behold me just now trying with all my might to lift her back to safety?”

“After putting her in that peril in the first place! I saw you drop her! You dropped my mother!” He did not wish to stand there and argue with the villain before him, for at present his mother lay in need of his comfort. By her side he must be. Though still regaining his strength after a night of drugged half-consciousness, he managed to clamber up to his feet and find his way to the stairs to the lower causeway. Wenceslas, unsure how to handle his brother reasoned it only best to stay by his side.

Boleslav continued his wobbly sprint down the causeway and slid to his knees beside his mother. “Mother! I am here! Your Boleslav has come hither. I am with you. Mother?” With great sobs, he shook her to awaken, but to no avail.

“She’s still alive, young Duke,” Libyena tried to console.

“Cracked her head’s all,” I added. “Surely she will be right in little time. Let her sleep it off, you’ll see. She’ll wake with an achy noggin’s all.”

“Mother? Mother!” Boleslav persisted as though we weren’t even there. He shook her, but she wouldn’t wake. Wenceslas slowly approached, rubbing his every aching body part. I think as his heart rate began to subside and relief of all his trials set in, so also grew his terrible hunger and pains of prevailing fighting. He needed to give his brother a little space to come to terms with what had befallen them. He needed to trust that this emotional reaction came on the heels of having the vile ritual enacted upon him while overcoming the effects of the narcotics and mentally wrestling the tumultuous changes swirling about him like a whirlwind. When he could settle and heal, he’d see to reason, surely, that Wenceslas did right by him. Wenceslas was now the Duke in charge of our home. Our home, it would seem for the moment, was presently protected and safe.

The dark sky turned to lighter shades of blue as the land bathed in a shower of the fresh, golden light of dawn. A new day had begun and a new beginning for our people. Thus a new chapter in the history of Bohemia started this very moment. Hundreds upon hundreds of Magyar soldiers and cavalrymen retreated, fleeing the combined German and Bohemian forces. They fled south, back into their own country. To what end, I could not say, nor did I truly care at the moment. As long as they vacated the Basin, they were further from any region of our homeland.

Upon a piebald horse, a German General sent by King Henry the Fowler cantered up and dismounted amongst scores of ragged Bohemians of both the militia marshalled by Wenceslas and the regular army now under their superior officer Zikmund.

“I declare a victorious day!” he announced triumphantly. “The northern range of the Carpathian Basin has been expunged of Magyar forces. The Bohemian duchy, a province of Germania, lay secure and no longer poses as a road for conquest by Hétmagyar to march through and enter Saxony. Our people are safe!” He and the host around him cheered boisterously. The general waited for the men to settle before he asked, “Who among you leads the Bohemians?”

Eyes from folks like Erdmann, Selmer, and Humbert glanced toward Zikmund. At the moment, they were not even sure if Wenceslas still lived. Last they had seen was Wenceslas brought away like a sheep for the slaughter having put his neck out on behalf of all his Bohemian kin. Whether he lived still or not, until a rightful ruler had taken the throne of Prague, in their hearts there was no other in charge. Zikmund gave a solemn nod to Humbert, conceding that he proclaim the name of whom they all adhered to.

“The Duke, Wenceslas,” he spoke proudly.

And as victory set into their minds, the surviving Bohemians began to cheer. Yes, many lives had been taken, many of their kith and kin lost to death. But as they realized what victory now meant, they knew that their deaths were not in vain. From the grave, they would rest victorious, having given up their ghosts for the sake of a better future and the protection of their families. Everything that their Duke had spoken that convinced them to take up arms and march to war now gleamed in the brightening horizon, nearly tangible. Their laud turned to chants, and they only chanted one singular name. With all their hearts, they cried out with the elation of victory the name of their champion: “Wenceslas! Wenceslas!”

From the high precipice we occupied upon the spire, the chanting choir of hundreds of voices shouting in unison filled the air. Boleslav didn’t know what to make of it all. Before his mother had drugged him, that is she put his mind to rest as an act of mercy that he might not experience the full pain of the branding, she was the most powerful person in the realm. Generals, dukes, and even a prince all seemed to bend to her will. Now, his treacherous brother was the source of chanting revelry by a massive army below. How could this happen? How did so much change within one night? He clutched his mother’s limp body close to his bosom, sobbing upon her, trying to keep himself from hearing the cheering. He couldn’t drown it out.

“You—you cheer his name?” he asked of the crowd far below, with seething rage dripped from his words. The three of us had no idea what to say to him. I knew it was Wenceslas’s place to speak to his brother, but he stood at a loss. I looked over at him and could see that he was wholly heartbroken at his brother’s despair.

“Bol—” he tried to say.

“What solace do you hope to give? What if she never wakes? What if her life pours out with her blood. Her blood is on your hands!”

“Boleslav, please, listen to reason. This was never my intention.”

“You did this!” he glared at his brother, eyes puffy and red from tears. He couldn’t seem to bear the sight of his brother and so returned to his sobs upon his mother’s chest.

Libyena tightly hugged Wenceslas’s side and kissed his cheek. “Yes, Wenceslas. You did. You did all you set out to do. Peace has been won.”

She looked out at the rising sun, seeing a hopeful future. I followed her gaze, thinking of the same future she beheld in her mind’s eye. Then I looked at the reveling Bohemians, wishing to be down there to relish the victory with them. I wanted my friend to enjoy the celebration as well, but when I looked at Wenceslas, he was nothing but forlorn, saddened by the grief of his brother.

Alas, this victory was not all that he hoped it would be.

Chapter XII


A kaleidoscope of light washed in through the myriad colors of stained glass upon Wenceslas and his bride, both standing before Krystoff, the officiating priest of their wedding ceremony. We stood with a massive host within the restored cathedral of Prague and it would seem the entire nation rejoiced in this union. I say it would seem that way, for lurking in the shadowy badlands of certain hearts rested a surreptitiously brooding plot for something far different. And until that plot reared its grotesque head, the realm enjoyed a peace under their good Duke. Following the tradition set by his ancestor Libuše to wed a peasant ploughman, the Duke married a pauper woman of the woods, further representing the positive relations between nobility and peasantry.

Wenceslas lifted the veil, revealing Libyena looking more beautiful than ever. At Krystoff’s word, they kissed passionately. Though not the first time their lips had met, this was their first kiss as husband and wife before God and country. At this, the country rejoiced and I knew surely that our God smiled down upon this union. I was given the honor to stand up front, close to the bridegroom, dressed to fool anyone that there might have been nobility in my blood. I stood alongside Streiter and Boleslav. I think the younger Duke only took the honorable position out of tradition. He stood proud, cleaned up and adorned in regal vestments, stoically watching the jocularity about him. While he never expressed any disdain or resentment, my keen eyes caught that there was subtle contempt in his eyes for his brother.

“I present to you the Duke and Duchess, Wenceslas and Libyena!” Krystoff announced after the crowd settled their excitement for their kiss. Once more, the attendees erupted in mirth. Hand in hand, the bride and groom strode down the center aisle with Streiter and myself, shortly behind. We passed by Libyena’s brothers and other boisterous Bohemians of the lower classes. We passed the dignified nobles, who, though they looked happy, kept their clapping subdued and proper. Hnevsa clapped with a frown. What did I care? There was nothing he could do to oppose his Duke. The people loved him, he won peace for them, and had every right to Prague’s throne. Everything felt secure. Everything felt perfect.

Only one member of the royal family was absent from the ceremony. Dragomira sat in a chair, dressed in bland apparel, looking moderately kempt, facing with braindead vision out the window. The royal family agreed that, while it was customary for members of the family to attend a wedding ceremony, that her presence may have fouled the tone. Boleslav insisted that their mother would not wish to be present for a religious ritual that negated her spiritual convictions. He also argued that the people ought to preserve a memory of her in her prime, not feeble and infirmed as she was now. Her handmaidens placed her in a chair from a high chamber of the castle to look out the window down upon the front of the cathedral so that she might be able to witness her son emerging from the ceremony as a married man. If there were still any gears turning in her brain, she would surely wish to see this. She watched like a drooling gargoyle, nearly lifeless.

The bride and groom exited the sanctuary before a massive host of overjoyed Bohemians. Not everyone could squeeze into the cathedral, but everyone was invited to attend the festivities. Wenceslas and Libyena warmly greeted everyone in their paths; Humbert, Selmer, Erdmann, Zikmund, Vandalin, and many others as the gathering rejoiced in this glorious day. Truly everything, at least for this day, felt right. Everything was the way it should be and how I prayed it would never change.

But that simply was not to be.


Eight years later, that wretched plot had materialized and was ready to emerge. Now at twenty years old, Boleslav had developed some mature features, looking more like his mother, yet certainly more masculine. Sitting in a dark chamber lit by a few sparse oil lamps, he joined the clandestine meeting with Hnevsa as well as two of his peers, Čsta and Tira. Hnevsa’s beard had grown more bushy and his scowl more permanently affixed to his countenance.

“Too long do we tarry on this plot,” he grunted. “Evermore the people convert to the religion of their Duke, which falls in line with the religion of the presiding kingdom. How do we dare claim his birthright by lineage when he denounces his very ancestral spiritualism. Does not his church spit in the very face of Libuše, our prophetess? Dare we allow him to continue to strip our land of our heritage?”

“What shall we do?” Čsta asked. “The Lady Dragomira paved the way for the return to our spiritual roots, and those ends met futility. The longer we remain a party of Germania, the more certain the overall conversion of the people shall be.”

“Weakening us at our core,” Tira added. “Leaving us but servant lambs without spine to stand for ourselves. What shall we say then? Be simpletons so easily squashed by Magyar forces thirsty for vengeance of the bygone promises unfulfilled? If we care for the realm at all, we must remain strong. There is no strength in the way of the Christ. We speak of a man of God who commands submission to one another and his father, to follow in his stead by washing the very feet of those subordinate to us! If we care at all for our people, we must remove this blight and the one instigating it.”

“The people do love him,” Hnevsa spoke again. “Especially the commoners; they adore him. It would appear innocent and sweet from the outside, but within there lurks such atrocious weakness. It fares no benefit for our future. There is a difference between noblesse oblige and irresponsible spending of our funds to help those who can do not to help themselves. A lopsided imbalance of financial circulation will topple our duchy!”

“Not to mention the wrath of our ancestral gods, whom Germania knows not the worship and rite of. An odorous notion only to become the more realized with these proposed allegiances Wenceslas has planned with Saxony. They intermarry with Angli folk of Britannia, spreading their religion over all Europe. Do we wish to allow him to forge this destiny further? And yet, supplant Wenceslas, we still remain under dominion of the Fowler. Shall we stay a duchy forever?” Čsta asked this with treason in mind, which all of them fully understood. Their eyes moved over toward Boleslav, who had been silently soaking in the conversation, weighing the options.

“What do you propose I do?”

“You have come of age, into manhood, my Lord Boleslav,” Tira said with the tenderness of a dear friend and confidant. “Maybe you should be ruling Duke. From the seat of power in Prague, our land’s future would be by your will.”

“And to what end?”

“The end of your making,” Hnevsa bellowed. “Only you can secede from Germania and reestablish the bonds of Hétmagyar left severed since the days of Dragomira.”

“This can only be accomplished by his death,” Boleslav spoke coldly.

Nobody replied. Nobody preferred to speak with a cavalier tongue regarding such morbid matters. Hnevsa cleared his throat and said, “Germania has squashed many rebellions. Seceding from the kingdom can only be done with alliance reinforcements. Our neighboring Magyars would be but our only option. Would they ever ally themselves with Wenceslas who went to arms against them? I dare say not on our lives. But the son of Dragomira who never held any enmity with Zoltan’s people may be just the one to usher in such an alliance.”

Emerging from the shadows from behind the crooked nobles came Dragomira, much like Wenceslas’s demon. She moved in, floating just off the ground, her gown and arms moving with the grace of black smoke.

“You know what to do, my love.”


“Kohl, may I have a word with you?” the Duchess asked me as I walked through a courtyard toward a meeting planned with counsellors regarding certain foreign affairs. The year before had been tumultuous outside the Bohemian borders giving rise to rumors that the Fowler was working to marshal an army for one final climactic assault upon the heart of Hétmagyar. In the previous eight years, the Magyars had found a way around Bohemia and sacked Saxony, forcing a tribute out of Henry’s pockets for a period of time. Fed up with that turn of events, he rallied his forces and fought back, defeating the Magyars in the battle of Riade, repelling them from his territory. Then, feeling a need to expand, conquered northward, advancing in the name of Christianity, crushing the heathen king Gnupa and seized Hedeby as his own. This gave motivation for Haakon the Good to unite the Norse lands and stand strong against southern invaders. Wenceslas felt beholden to Henry, but when it came to conquest for Christ, he refused adamantly. There was never a reason to expand the gospel by use of the sword. We discerned that a handful of victories filled the Fowler’s head with pomp and so he felt a bit unstoppable.

Hétmagyar, however, was far worse. After crushing a Byzantine and Bulgarian alliance army, the emperor of Constantinople was left forced to pay tribute to the Magyars. If they could force an empire to bend to their will, what were their next plans of assault upon the Kingdom of Germania? Either way, such foreign affairs needed to wait as my lady, the Duchess consort needed me for some domestic matter.

“You may always have a word with me, m’lady,” I replied.

“I need you to speak some sense into Wenceslas?”

“He gone and given too much to charity or has he hired more servants than Prague has need of?”

“Neither—though that does remind me of some other issues at hand as well. Nay, he is off to see Boleslav and I fear treachery.”

“What spurned this on?” I asked. She proceeded to tell me of how the events unfolded.

“Where are you headed?” Libyena asked, rising up under the sheets of the bed within the royal bedchamber of the Prague castle. She had only just awoken from a full night’s sleep to find her husband up, active, and nearly dressed. Wenceslas, now donning a trimmed beard, dressed himself with purpose. He looked as though much pressed on his mind, but he was determined to do whatever he had in mind to do. He kept so focused, Libyena had to ask him a second time. “My love?”

“A messenger woke me with a note; one I never expected. My brother has invited me to join him to the feast of Cosmas and Damian.”

“Boleslav invited you?” she asked. It’s not as though Wenceslas had another brother and she needed to differentiate which one had invited him. But with just how emotionally distant he had been from them for the past eight years, the very thought of him even sending a note at all was worth alarm, let alone an invitation to a religious event.

“For years he’s shunned me,” Wenceslas spoke as he continued to fasten clothes. “I knew not what to do in order to reach him, to rekindle a brotherly bond. He has been cared for, but has been living sans father, mother, and even older brother for any nurturing guidance. I invite him to anything and everything, hoping he would come, draw close, and become my friend once more. The vehemence with which he rejected my invitation to attend the feast of Saint Nicholas kept me from spurning further vitriol by welcoming him to Christmas. I feared my mother’s curse had him. That he might have lost his way to darkness entirely. Maybe his brooding lay behind him and he realizes all he has missed out on.”

“Or maybe he still blames you for her fate. He’s never shown even a modicum of forgiveness—not that you’ve ever required his forgiveness. Truly, you have merited his gratitude, that which he has yet to give. I do not know what to think of this, love. It concerns me.”

“Either way,” Wenceslas said as he sat to slip in his boots. “He extends a white flag. An opportunity I shall seize.”

“Don’t go,” she said abruptly. “I don’t like it. My heart feels unsettled at this.”

“This is my only chance!” he replied, sounding more harsh than he meant to, but he was instantly perturbed by her intrusion. He was glad at these tidings, nervous of how to handle the situation rightly, but fear had never crossed his mind. “You and I have always shared the bond of being our brother’s keeper. Your brothers I have kept as my own. They have lived in want of nothing. I hold it not even as a debt to them or you, but do so gladly out of love for you and what has become my family through matrimony. Boleslav has become your family likewise. Please, think higher of him!”

Wenceslas marched off, too upset to stay and continue with such words before either party of the argument said what they would regret. Into the washroom, he rinsed his face from the basin and paused, looking into a mirror, longing to take the right action, worried that Libyena may have been right. He only wanted this reconciliation so strongly that he would avoid logical reasoning to achieve it. At that moment, he noticed a grayish smear upon the glass of the mirror. Reaching to wipe it off, he found there was nothing on the mirror, but some darkening apparition within the reflected image itself. Squinting to see it clearly, he saw that which he never wished to see again. The Dragomira demon had appeared in the reflection, looking just as before, staring intently at Wenceslas.

“I am rid of you,” he said, grinding his teeth with rage. “I have been rid of you for nigh a decade.”

“You will not help your brother. Try as you might, he is but my servant, and servant of Chernobog.”

“Lying hag! Get off my shoulder! I won our fight!” She sneered at him with disdain as she faded into the visage of Ludmila.

“Grandmother?” He paused. After he turned he saw neither Ludmila nor Dragomira present. Why would he see these ghosts once more? Since forgiving his mother in his heart, he hadn’t felt even her slightest presence. Why had she returned? What did Ludmila have to do with this? Were they both warnings from beyond the grave? Dragomira’s demon had always tried to push him in the opposite direction of the Godly path and so it served to reason that she’d prevent him from going to Boleslav on the mission of peace and camaraderie. Ludmila on the other hand, she only stood there, silently looking emotionless—sad if there was an emotion to ascribe to her.

Wenceslas shut his eyes, took in a deep meditative breath, and opened his heart to the wise words of his ancestors. Asking God, angels, his departed father and grandmother, and any voice of wisdom, what was he to do this day. The only prevailing thought that filled his mind was, “Beware this day.” With such grave counsel, he decided to press on with his plan with a little extra wariness about him.

“With whom were you speaking?” Libyena asked as he emerged from the washroom.

“My mother came to me as she used to. She only has ever come to stop me from doing what was right. Therefore I know in my heart that treating with Boleslav is the righteous act to take.”

“You mentioned your grandmother.”

“Like you, she gives me warning. Do not forbid me. I must do this.”

He leaned in and kissed her, quick and soft, then departed, giving them no further chance to speak. He never allowed himself to part on harsh words lest they be their last words spoken. It was a habit based on a promise he made to himself.

Heading down to the stables, Wenceslas marched up to a stable hand who prepared Milana upon sight of his approach. Two other servants rushed to attend to him, shared some words with their Duke, then mounted their steeds to make ready for the journey at the side and beckon call of their master. That’s when I arrived, eager to follow through with the request of my Duchess.

“Libyena enlist you to stop me?” he asked before I could even utter a single word.

“Maybe,” I replied, too cut to the quick to form a better answer.

“My brother finally opens a door, shall I not walk through?” Wenceslas asked as he mounted his horse. He seemed quite primed to leave before hearing any word of rebuttal.

“Listen,” I said, staying calm, sounding tender, trying to evince the tone of a true friend seeking nothing but sincere concern. “I don’t know what’ll happen when you join Boleslav. Maybe all you dreamed, that he has had a surprising change of heart. But Boleslav’s been a cold shadow since the battle of the spire, when your mother took that knock to her noggin. He was deep in her pagan ways and has shown little zeal for our new religious way. And now he invites you to some feast for minor saints?”

“Cabbage, I have always lauded your uncanny knowledge of many things,” he said, truly not wishing to argue. He maintained humble poise even in the face of our adverse concern. “And yet, you do not know what will happen.”

“Not on this one, no.”

“Then I choose faith. I have proclaimed many axioms of faith, and thusly I shall live as a man according to faith.”

With that said and once more not leaving any room for further debate, Wenceslas galloped off, prompting the couple servants to follow likewise, vanishing through the castle gate and toward the road through the city. I breathed a heavy sigh. I trusted Wenceslas more than any other in the whole world, and knew to trust his intentions were always noble and charitable. However, Libyena’s foreboding notion had infected me so I too felt trepidation over what may take place when Boleslav met with Wenceslas.

“Prepare me a mount,” I told a stable hand.


About the time when Saint Nicholas of Myra was seventeen years old, the saints Cosmas and Damian were arrested under the persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian. These two were twin brothers, inseparable throughout their life. Born in Arabia, they became physicians by trade before feeling the call to live the lives of missionaries for the Gospel of Christ. While the anointing lay more heavily upon the twins, their three younger brothers joined them, assisting in their work. These five brothers would never part from each other, even when captured by Roman soldiers who threw them into the Syrian dungeons of Aegea, tortured then crucified them, and ultimately beheaded them. Their familial bonds of brotherly love were greater than any adhesive known to man. No matter what faced these brothers, they’d stand by each other to the bitter end of their lives, bonded shoulder to shoulder as they stepped toward the pearly gates welcomed into the heavenly realms.

Very much aware of their lore, Wenceslas felt that it was likely that his brother had chosen such a fitting feast, one that commemorated these brother martyrs, as a clear sign of kinship. The day had turned gray and gloomy, with only a slight drizzle as Wenceslas had traveled to the northeast of Prague. He came toward a fortified outpost, a stronghold reinforced with ramparts built by one of Přemysl’s heirs, where the church of Cosmas and Damian had been built. Wenceslas rapped on the hefty abbey door, but received no response. After tugging at the handles to try and budge it, he found the door barred shut.

“I’ll check round back,” he said, turning to the servants standing by their horses. “Maybe we came to the wrong place?”

“I know of no other such other parish dedicated to the martyr twins, m’Lord,” one replied.

“Nor I,” he replied, expressing his confusion aloud. Wenceslas wandered around and found everything deserted. Not even a friar to be seen. Upon hearing a scuffle and thuds, he returned to the porchway and discovered his servants were now gone! Only a bush swayed nearby the horses. Lost, confused, growing concerned, Wenceslas gripped the hilt of his sword as he searched around, walking down the a stony paths about the complex. Though he was alone, he knew that scores of soldiers bunked nearby, and it wouldn’t be long before a regiment might happen to march here.

He stopped at a sound. Footsteps! Shuffling footsteps crossed behind him, but when he turned, nothing was there. The prevailing sensation of being followed, being watched, being in danger struck him through and through. Emerging from the shadows on two sides come Tira and Čsta. They loomed about him ominously, like predators stalking prey.

“You two, what are you about? I am come for the feast of Cosmas and Damian, told me to be hither, and yet I cannot find any sign. My servants have vanished and you two appear anon. Speak!” They didn’t say a word, but simply looked coldly upon him. At another set of footsteps, Wenceslas turned and faced Hnevsa, who moved swiftly and intrusively right into his face.

“Highness,” he said without any sense of fealty in his tone.

“Hnevsa, I will have you tell me what scheme takes place here.”

“Simple changing of the guard, my liege. We consider your methods, however altruistic your desires may be, not a benefit of the realm. When the usefulness of a Duke has run its course, it makes only sense to supplant the one and install the other.”

“You betray me!”

“Call it what you will, our cause is honorable in the end.”

The three launch their attack, but Wenceslas, with his hand gripped to Svelto, drew his blade and swiftly deflected their strokes. The ever competent swordsman, he parried and blocked their attacks, fending them off, moving swiftly about them. His youthful manner of using agility and speed to dodge swiping blades had waned over the past eight years, but not entirely. Now a bit older and and not quite as flexible, he still moved with swiftness. Though he slammed their blades aside and leapt away from the next stroke, the three were competent swordsmen themselves. A swipe here and slice there began to tear away his attire and skin beneath.

I arrived shortly after the confrontation began. The thought even briefly crossed my mind to report to the soldiers stationed at the fortress nearby, but without true knowledge of any sinister plot, I couldn’t very well tell them the Duke’s life was in danger only to find that Boleslav’s invitation was innocent. I dismounted to find Milana leashed to a column. The place was as quiet and desolate as a morgue, nothing like what I expected. True, festivities for martyred saints were typically solemn and so finding the hushed sound of somber reflections would not be surprising. But the place was desolate. I looked about and seeing some shadowy form within the nearby brush, I peered in to find one of Wenceslas’s servants with a broken neck, stashed in the shrubbery to keep hidden. The sight of mangled man was not new to my eyes, but still my gut clenched and the hairs about my person stood on end in a fright. I drew my sword and span about, making sure nothing was able to sneak upon me from behind. Now I knew something was amiss and when I was a moment from rushing toward the ramparts I heard the distant clanging of swords. I rushed to find the source of the sound, sure it was Wenceslas holding off whatever attack had befallen his servants.

Now looking tattered and torn, Wenceslas continued to fend off his attackers. How he wished for his agility of ten years ago. He didn’t make the fight easy on his attackers though. Seizing him was as difficult as grabbing a wet bar of soap. No matter how hard they tried, even moving in methodical advances, working in tandem, the three were kept at bay by their single opponent. Wenceslas bounced off a wall and kicked Tira away, leapt, swung on a tree bough and landed heavily upon Čsta, crushing him down. He sprang from the body, moving with desperation, aware of their fatal intent. He knew if he ever slowed, that was when he was vulnerable. Taking two down for the moment could throw off their unified strikes and allow him single combat.

Now, he dueled Hnevsa, locking arms and blades together. Wenceslas took the advantage and the opportunity to try and dispel this conflict through words of reason. “Even these acts of high treason I am willing to absolve you of should you drop your weapons this instant!”

“It can hardly be considered treason if we act under the orders of our Duke,” Hnevsa replied, now gazing beyond Wenceslas to someone else. Now his eyes gleamed with loyal pride.

Wenceslas halted, puzzled, backing to turn around and see Boleslav, a glowering statue of malice. While having little time to think through what had taken place before finding himself thrust into the kiln of life preservation against betraying hands, he had given some thought as to why he was brought there. He couldn’t believe it was truly Boleslav, but that these conspirators had hatched this plot in his stead. There was no way his own brother could condone such an atrocity, but if they acted out of accordance with him and let the realm believe Wenceslas was slain by some band of brigands, then their hopes would still be fulfilled in Boleslav taking the throne. Now that he saw Boleslav there, unwilling to help, expressing cruelty with his eyes, he knew that this whole plot was of his own design.

That made it clear to him, but if it didn’t, the dagger thrust into his back, just below his ribs, made it all the more clear. I rounded the corner just in time to see the assassin stab Wenceslas from behind. The blade even protruded from his chest having gone all the way through his torso. Wenceslas, stunned, overwhelmed, and now in terrible pain, fell to his knees, pulling the bloody blade out from his body. Hnevsa stood there, holding the murder weapon.

“No!” I cried, unable to bear the sight of my greatest fears coming to fruition. What Libyena tasked me with preventing now took place with me only yards away. I rushed in to save myfriend when the three assassins moved in to tackle me. Having my blade drawn, I lopped off Hnevsa’s head before any of them could even reach me. I was hungry for the lives of the other two, but before I could recover from my fatal stroke, they grasped me and wrestled me down.

“I will see you hanged for that death, page!” Boleslav shouted at me.

“God will care for my health and salvation, but you have lost yours long ago!” I cried out. “You will die in sin forever!”

“Hold him!” Boleslav commanded the other two before turning to watch his brother die. That’s when I noticed that Boleslav trembled uncontrollably. He shook with fear, guilt, shame, and yet he pressed on as though he knew he must overcome all negative emotions that may hold him back from this murderous act. Wenceslas looked up at Boleslav whose icy countenance bore profound hatred for his brother, himself, and the deed at hand.

“Why?” Wenceslas asked, barely able to utter a word.

“Need you ask? Truly?” Boleslav shouted back, enraged with his brother for making him feel the sharp stab of guilt all the more. “I do what I must. I am a good son; I obey the wishes of my mother, who suffered the loss of her mind at your hand. At her will I avenge her!”

Dragomira stood behind Wenceslas, tempting Boleslav. Her tempting demon made her presence known to her enthralled son now unable to do anything but bend to her will.

“Finish it. Take everything from him. Exact revenge. Seize your throne. Take it!” she ordered him. Boleslav grabbed his brother’s tunic into a fist, pulling him closer. Wenceslas still remained slumped upon his knees, now lifted up by his brother’s rueful hand.

“I... I... hate you!” He glowered at his older brother, almost accusing Wenceslas for
killing himself. As much as he hated all of this, he seemed to hate Wenceslas for it. Maybe he blamed his brother for not saving him before the curse was branded upon him. Somehow, no matter what, he could never ever put blame upon his mother. Never could he see her as a villain. Never would he entertain the slightest hint of enmity with her. For all this, he blamed himself and Wenceslas. Clear conflict tormented his mind.

Wenceslas’s strength fled and Boleslav eased him down upon his back, laying on the cobblestones outside the abbey. All I could think of was that if we brought the Duke to a physician with all haste, his life may be saved. I was pinned, now with a knife pressed to my neck. I would have gladly forfeit my life if it would have meant saving his. The knife truly didn’t matter to me, but then again, I could do nothing to save him if I were a corpse.

“All I have ever done, I have done for you, brother,” Wenceslas said, choking.

“You lie! Do not say that! Do not dare tell me such things when they have no resonance of truth!”

“Help! Someone, please, help!” I called out, desperately hoping one of the sentries nearby could hear me and come. I kept trying to break free, and finally broke one arm loose, slugged the captor holding the knife, and fought like a wild cat.

“I made a promise. I—I would have given my all. Now I have given my all—all to protect you from the curse.” Wenceslas needed to take these moments to complete his life’s mission. Where all I wanted was to save him, all he wanted was to save his brother. He cared little for the beating of his own heart, but needed with all his might to go into the world beyond mortality knowing that his brother was on the right path.

“He lies!” the demon told Boleslav.

“Silence!” he shouted back. Wenceslas rolled his head back, looking to whence Boleslav shouted. Nobody was there. He understood for sure now. The very curse had poisoned him, and without the tutelage of Ludmila to guide his steps, Boleslav was victim to darkness swallowing his heart, luring him upon the road of corruption.

“The torment, I know,” Wenceslas spoke to his brother, ignoring the pain in his chest and back, fighting to speak though it suffocated him to do so. “You see her, hearkening to you with every decision you make, swaying you one way or another, never giving you peace, melting your will to a pusillanimous more. Darkness will grab you if you let it. Goodness is not letting it enslave you.”

“Do not listen to him!” the demon told him again. “Take his wretched life! He is evil. Your mother must be avenged!”

“Stop it! Leave me!” he shouted, waving his hands about as though he were brushing away a moth flying in his face. It finally sank in that the deeds she plotted were the evil ones. There was no way that what she said about her brother could be true. And the same torment of heart that plagued him, he now knew, his brother suffered as well. Here now lay the only one who could understand him and heal him, and he just stole his life. Oh the foul wretch he felt at that instant.

“I rid myself of her, not by embracing her, not by fighting her, but meaning to save her. I rid myself, by forgiving her.”

“What if…” Boleslav pressed his teary eyes shut, trying to reason out his next action, trying to find a way out of the mess he was stuck in. “What if I wish to save you?”

“Let it all go. Let her go, let me go. Forgiving others of their sins was my way out. Maybe accepting forgiveness can be yours.”

Boleslav opened his red eyes to find his demon had vanished. Now he looked down upon his dying brother with a clear mind, from the place of a true heart not tainted by the demons pressed upon him. “Wenc—what have I done? Wenc—”

“If this will save you from the curse, all is well with my soul as I pass on. I forgive you, my brother Boleslav. May God forgive you likewise.”

“What am I to do with this?”

“Accept it. Mine and God’s. Welcome it, embody it, live it.”

Boleslav broke down into sobs at this. Seeing the cruel Duke seemingly take on a change of heart, the two who kept me at bay stared in bewilderment. They were unable to follow along with the event before them for they never knew of the visions of foul spirits in the visage of Dragonira, nor did they understand the powerful force of love that Wenceslas held. Using their astonishment for my advantage, I finally knocked them down, broke free, sprinted, and slid up beside my dying friend.

“Wenceslas. I’m here,” I assured him, grabbing his hand. He looked at me with eyes that told me he was grateful to have his faithful friend by his side as he met the very end. I couldn’t bear to think that this was the end so I shouted out for anyone in earshot, “Help us! Please! Anyone!”

But Wenceslas’s face told me that he had accepted this and wished to calm me down, to not fear what would take place within a moment. Blood pooled all around him, his skin turned pale, his lips blue, his eyes began to lose their twinkle, and his breathing had turned shallow and raspy. I wasn’t sure if he could speak anymore for he seemed to hardly be able to inhale at all. But his face told me what he needed to. Then the brothers locked eyes for him to express to his brother his final emotive message. Wenceslas raised a loving hand to his brother’s cheek, only just brushed it with what little strength remained in his muscle, before his arm fell limp to the side. His eyes rolled back, his breathing stopped, and the candle of his life snuffed out long before his wick ever should have been spent.

“This cannot be! This fate I shan’t accept!” Boleslav said with his teeth clenched tightly together, wrestling the abysmal truth he had placed himself in. As Wenceslas died, the younger Duke broke down, weeping, wailing, convulsing, reddening—a great swell of emotions surged through his body with no proper outlet. Now he couldn’t see to reason, he would rent reality apart to forge a new one of his liking, one where he had not betrayed his own brother to death. “Help him. Please, help him!” he told me as though his command was something I could obey.

“He’s—he’s gone. He’s gone.” All strength fled. My back became as flimsy as parchment, my face contorted uncontrollably with sheer sorrow seizing me, squeezing tears from my eyes as juice from a lemon.

“This cannot be! Help him, you fools! Do something! Set this right! Anybody!” he screamed, having turned bright red. Tira and Čsta couldn’t figure this out. They simply stood presently like planks of wood, impotent, useless. At last, the nearby regiments responded to our shouts for help. Down the alley, a couple armed soldiers arrived with Zikmund at their command. How grateful I was to see the commanding officer and one that I had known personally. Upon hearing the cries, they rushed over to help. Now they saw down the alley a murderous scene; beheaded Hnevsa and another body laying in a pool of blood. “Arrest those men! They conspired against the Duke!” Boleslav commanded.

“You ingrate!” Tira said with a growl at Boleslav. “How dare you betray us!” Without hesitation at the command of royalty, the soldiers seized the last two assassins as Zikmund came forward to inspect the scene further. The soldiers wrestled the two into submission as they pulled them away from the bodies, allowing Zikmund to come closer for a better examination of the corpse by my side. Now he saw what Boleslav meant about conspiracy against the Duke. Now he beheld an evil he had never expected.

“No... What happened?” Boleslav fought from hyperventilating. He came to a dark
truth, swallowed hard, shut his eyes, and accepted what had happened and why they came to pass.

“And arrest me!” Boleslav dropped his head in utter shame upon Wenceslas’s
chest, sobbing upon it. He would gladly trade places now, if that were possible. Time had come that his cruelty met with justice. I watched, stunned, as Boleslav stood and held out his arms to Zikmund and his soldiers. His breathing had calmed, his emotional turmoil had subsided. Now, welcoming the rightful consequences of his actions and forgiveness of his departed brother, he became humble and at peace with facing death as punishment. “I was the one. I killed the Duke.”

Zikmund drew his blade and placed it to Boleslav’s neck. Now, he wasn’t thinking entirely clear. Zikmund had learned to adore his Duke and would easily lop off the head of anyone who confessed to have harmed him. However, seeing that this was also royalty, his fealty bound him to stay his blade. Along with that, the seemingly cavalier way in which his young Duke had confessed and proffered his head for the gallows seemed like some ruse of a sort. Zikmund wrestled to figure this out and kept his sword to Boleslav’s neck till it could be made clear.

“You admit your crime?” he asked.

“No need for trial. Execute me now,” Boleslav spoke, straight-faced with sorrowful eyes. Zikmund couldn’t comprehend this, but driven with rage at the death of his liege his arm reared for the swing instinctively.

“Halt!” I shouted before he could strike.

“He admits murder! Not only that, but commands me to take vengeance upon his life.”

“He does, I know. Would that the villain of this plot see the death he deserves. Nevertheless, this man shan’t be executed for a crime forgiven him. The Duke’s dying words pardoned him.”

“Prithee, say anew?” Zikmund responded at the zenith of perplexity.

“I’m adviser to the Duke. Mark my word as reliable. I would never concoct a lie to absolve a murderer lest be by the will of the one whom I obey. Arrest these two, but this man has been pardoned.”

Zikmund flickered malice toward Boleslav, but soon remembered his propriety. He was a commander of the ranks at his Duke’s disposal, bound to the throne of Prague, and therefore, by heritage, bound to Boleslav. Without a word, he withdrew his blade and marched to pull away the conspirators.

Boleslav’s watery eyes turned to meet my own. I swallowed hard, not sure what to say when all of a sudden I thought of that mission through the blizzard to bring Horst and his family a Saint Stephen’s feast and the words he told me.

“Mark my footsteps, tread within them boldly…” I sighed aloud. “Wenceslas once told that as we went on mission of charity. He always walked in the footsteps of his Lord, living as disciple of the Savior. He told me to tread boldly after him and so my life has ever been just that. He forgave you a sin you never deserved forgiveness for, yet knows me in my heart that he only acted by Divine will. You must follow in his footsteps likewise. Tread boldly, never tarry, never wander astray. Boleslav, be not the man ye have been till now. You ought be his legacy alive still amongst mortal men. You had better honor that.”

Boleslav gulped down his shame, nodded, then scuffled to Wenceslas’s body and collapsed upon it. “I regret it all,” he wept. “I shall, I promise, dear brother. I will honor you.”

Chapter XIII

The Good King

On that day, Boleslav became the ruling Duke of Bohemia. On that day, he became a penitent man. Renouncing the religious ways of his mother, he decided to embrace the discipleship life of his brother. His first act was to give his brother the funeral he deserved under the banner of the God he lived his life dedicated toward. Light snow drifted from the heavens upon the somber congregation of thousands from all echelons gathered to mourn the loss of their beloved leader. His life had been tragically cut short, but in those few years on Earth, he had a lasting impact none would soon forget.

Servants slid the top of the marble coffin onto the casket housing the body of Bohemia’s champion. Libyena watched, utterly forlorn, unable to stand, crumbling in grief to the snow. Boleslav watched her. He reached to touch her, but stayed his hand for fear. There was nothing he could do to assuage her grief, nothing he could do to comfort his mourning sister-in-law. To my knowledge, nobody ever told her that Boleslav had a hand in her husband’s death. With Hnevsa, Tira, and Čsta publicly accused for the treasonous assassination, there was no reason to add fuel to her fire by placing a target on Boleslav’s head. There was no telling what she might have done to him if she knew of his involvement. Not that I was truly beholden to the new Duke, but I saw how he changed and trusted that it was best to keep an heir of Přemysl on the throne, especially one who now followed in the footsteps of Wenceslas.

Though the people grieved the loss of their beloved leader, Boleslav, from that day forward, truly endeavored to carry on his brother’s legacy. His next act to embrace the religion of his grandparents, father, and brother was baptism. Krystoff lifted Boleslav from a pool, finishing the outward cleansing ritual signifying the inward transformation taking place by the sanctification of Christ’s atonement. He repented of his crime, imprisoned the conspirators before magistrates sentenced them to death, and spent the rest of his days a penitent man. He never seemed to take his new role for granted, in fact, regularly appeared to embody it with humility and even requested that I remain a royal advisor for the sake of keeping him on the track laid out for him by his brother. Looking heavenward, tears streamed down his cheeks as he finished the baptism, he entered a new life. He knew more than anyone this was a life he never deserved, and humbly welcomed each day as mercy and grace.

Ludmila once taught us back in Tetin that the proper order of a man’s life in the fallen world after Eden was sin, salvation, then service. Sin was never a good thing, and yet it was what every man and woman was prone to no matter what they tried to avoid such a fate. Then, the will of Providence was that none perish in that sin, but accept the salvation gift of Christ the Messiah. Following that, we weren’t simply saved to sit and wallow in salvation without anything further. Nay, we have been saved for a purpose, to use this salvation to serve others, to benefit all mankind, all nature, eventually making the whole world a better place to live in. Keeping me on as advisor meant keeping Boleslav accountable to Ludmila’s teaching.

Men and women of the cloth, along with Boleslav, passed out alms to the poor. His works of charity continued through the years as he aged. He raised his children with love, leading them and the people of his nation in the ways of justice and mercy, paving the way for Christendom to flourish within his realm. At the food line, Boleslav lifted up his five-year-old son, Strachkvas, into his arms. His son was named in such a manner to remind him of the feast of Cosmas and Damian, a literal meaning of terrible feast, keeping in mind the feast day in which his brother’s life met tragic end. He would never let himself forget that day lest he fall prey to temptations and old habits instilled in him under the maternal ways of Dragomira.

“Here son,” he said as he lifted Strachkvas to better see the food line. Giving bread to his little boy, he had him place the loaf into the hand of a shriveled widow. She accepted warmly, with a nod and smile. “It is better that we make sure that everyone has something to eat rather than fill ourselves with gluttony. We ought work that none go hungry.”


After a few decades, when he was about forty, he ultimately took part in the effort to repel the Magyar raiders and invaders from his land for good. As mentioned before, the battle in the Carpathian Basin sent a strong message to Prince Zoltan and so his route into the heart of Germania was made elsewhere, yet made nonetheless. Constant warfare popped up here and there, constantly putting the Fowler’s people into turmoil. After word of Wenceslas’s death, raiders began to trot within Bohemian borders once more, even though Boleslav made great efforts to keep his people secure.

Working with Otto the First, son of the departed Henry the Fowler, in a well coordinated joint-effort strike including various duchies of Germania, they beat back the Magyars once and for all. Boleslav commanded the Bohemian army and our portion of the overall fight took place at the famous Battle of Lechfeld; the decisive moment in time when Germans and Bohemians ultimately repelled Magyar forces.

The last straw came amidst a number of rebellions, such as in Franconia as well as in Swabia and Lorraine. Whilst Otto labored to put down these revolts and restore order, Hétmagyar saw prime opportunity for raids upon numerous provinces and duchies, including his home in Saxony. Otto had many difficult situations on his hands regarding the civil battles with rebellions, one such was by his own son-in-law, Conrad, the Duke of Lotharingia. Pooling his resources, cunningly reasoning the Magyar movements before they happened, the king ordered his troops to concentrate on the Danube, in the vicinity of Neuburg and Ingolstadt. He did this in order to march on the Magyar path of communication and route them to their rear whilst they raided Augsburg, which was where Boleslav and our Bohemian forces had marched and stationed. Augsburg was many leagues to the southwest of Prague and just little northwest of Munich. On the outskirts of Augsburg lay Lechfeld, the open spot primed for a bloody conflict.

The Magyars crossed the river outside of Augsburg and upon sight of us, immediately attacked our army. This initial conflict took them by surprise, which gave us only a momentary advantage. They arrived sooner than we expected for our scouts seemed to arrive with word of their approach only the moment before the enemy arrived. The Swabian legions, stationed only half a league away, heard our horns blow at the onset of battle and rode in to our aid, which forced the enemy to retreat after a short skirmish. As Otto received word of the conflict, he ordered a portion of his troops to remain put to keep the enemy communications cut off. For Otto, it became evident that this was the time to attack his enemy, sweeping in and driving the horde of raiders in for a massacre. He did not hesitate in doing so, coordinating with the armies of his duchies to strategically move around them, routing the enemy retreat, flanking them on all sides. Like cornered beasts, they savagely fought back. I think their numbers were far greater than Otto had ever expected—Magyars seemed to breed like rabbits and have numbers of uncountable quantities.

That’s when Conrad, his estranged son-in-law had arrived. As part of his revolt against the king, it was said that he had cast his lot in with the Magyars. Was it all a ploy to earn their trust and then stab them in the back? Or did the report that his father-in-law lay in jeopardy finally tug at his heart to honor familial ties? I could not say, but was glad all the same to see him lead his ranks in and catch the Magyars unaware. Despite repeated volleys of arrows from these fiends, Otto’s army washed over their line, swept through it, treading our enemies under our hooves, leaving thousands hewn behind us. Whether he truly had defected or not, Conrad earned honorable esteem that day, an honor credited to his name after he died in battle. Due to the warmth of summer, he loosed his mail which, alas, opened a vulnerable spot at his neck, right where a Magyar arrow found its mark.

A Magyar commander feigned a retreat through a small gap in our legions with part of his force, in an attempt to lure Otto’s men into breaking their line in pursuit, but to no avail. In fact, enraged farmers and common folk, utterly ready to be finally rid of these nuisance raiders caught the retreating warriors by surprise. As the Magyars kept their eyes behind them to view if they were pursued or not, they never saw the sickles and shears of farmers ahead of them, waiting to cut them down as they drove away.

The German line held formation and routed the Magyars from the field. Duke Conrad’s Franconians, the three Bavarian divisions, Otto’s Saxon legions, the two Swabian divisions, and our Bohemian army united with such strength, our lines seemed nigh impenetrable. The captured Magyars were either executed, or sent back to their ruling prince, Taksony, son of Zoltan, missing their noses and ears. Hétmagyar ended their nomadic ways and persistent raids upon Europe to their west, finally settling down and founding the nation of Hungary.

Thus did Boleslav lead the Bohemian knights in this bloody fight that took thousands upon thousands of lives, but ultimately brought the end of ninety years of warfare. For generations, the Magyars had been pillaging not only our people, but any land to their west. At last, we would have peace. Boleslav was never quite the man at arms as his brother was. He was more of a politician, reveling in debates and councils that determined the fates of men. But in this case, he dirtied his hands, donning the armor of a gallant knight, a mighty commanding Duke unafraid to enter the heat of battle.

When asked, Boleslav said that this was what Wenceslas would have wanted.


The impact of Otto’s victory had a lasting effect upon not only Boleslav and Bohemia, but also upon the legend of Wenceslas himself, forging the legacy to last throughout the ages to come. Because of the ultimate defeat of the Magyars, Central Europe experienced peace with secure borders. This opened the opportunity for Otto to achieve his greatest feat in unifying the nations into one large empire; the Holy Roman Empire, a nation of economic growth and security. This meant he had transcended the title of King to that of Emperor.

A craftsman pulled a tarp from a statue, revealing a marble Wenceslas, honored by this monument in his likeness. At sight of the national hero, the Bohemians erupted in applause with patriotic fervor. At last, the true vision of Wenceslas had been realized; his duchy entered a period of long-fought peace, a chance for prosperity. Now came the age of farming bountiful crops where workers need not look over their shoulders in fear of raiders. Mothers let their children out to play without a weather eye upon the landscape. Merchants opened shops for their wares and towns bustled in commerce sans the terror of Magyar strikes. The people feasted, brewed and drank magnificent ale, and slept soundly at night by warm hearths.

Boleslav and his son clapped along with the revelling throng of boisterous Bohemians. He stared at his brother’s visage hewn in stone with such heartbreaking remorse mingled with resonant pride. How he wished his brother could have been there for that very moment to taste the harvest of he had sewn decades before. Boleslav still felt the darkness within that no matter what he did for the good of his brother’s name, he never could make right the evil he commit. While he knew he never could atone, he welcomed the grace of his God and the parting forgiveness of his brother, for if he had never experienced either or both, he never could have lived with himself beyond a day.

And a prophetic legend arose of the Duke Wenceslas, that when the Bohemians and their ancestors, the Czech people, would find themselves in dire need, on the brink of annihilation, when peace and freedom for the realm would face certain doom, Wenceslas would rise from the great beyond with an army of men from the mountain of Blanik and overthrow tyranny and preserve peace. This prophecy passed on for generations forevermore.

And even still, Boleslav felt the need to do even more to honor the name of his departed brother. That opportunity never would have arrived had he not achieved victory at Lechfeld, for the result of that battle culminated years later at Aachen; the grand coronation spot for every German King. In honor of the event, it had been upgraded to it’s highest level. Thousands of spectators beheld the regal ceremony where Boleslav marched up to Emperor Otto the First and knelt before him. Now that he was head of an empire, Otto didn’t rule over duchies, but kingdoms and so he upgraded many dukes into the kings of their realms.

“Boleslav,” Otto spoke with tender authority, rising up from his throne to stand over the kneeling Duke. “By power vested in me, as we unite the heart of Europe to an empire of security and peace, I dub thee King of Bohemia!” Amidst a respectful applause, before the ceremony could even continue, Boleslav cleared his throat, trying to keep respectful, but desperate to express what he needed to.

“Your servant thanks you, my gracious emperor,” Boleslav said, his eyes upon Otto’s feet out of humility. “If I have found any favor with you, if you will have me, may I make one request?”

“Name it,” Otto replied, looking intrigued rather than bothered.

“You honor me with the title of King, and yet I ask that the world not think of me as the first of my kingdom. Verily, there is one who truly earned it long before I, whose reign was cut short by treacherous hands. My hands have only endeavored at all cost to carry on his legacy, to honor his name. If you will, my liege, I beg that you would declare my brother the king.”

Otto kept silent for the moment until Boleslav drew up his gaze to look his emperor in the eye. He found Otto smiling down upon him. “In my heart of hearts, I had hoped you might make this request, and yet out of respect for you in response to your harty hand in battle at Lechfeld, I refrained from imposing this upon you. Your elder brother had shown kindness to me in my childhood, had done right by my father, and his deeds have been an inspiration all my days. His deeds to live by shall carry on for those to come. Posthumously, as emperor over your kingdom, I declare Wenceslas the first king of Bohemia.”

Tears welled in Boleslav’s eyes as he sighed with profound relief. At last, he felt at peace with achieving glory for his brother. He honored him in a way that’ll transcend time and legend.

“Thank you, my Lord,” Boleslav choked out, his throat closed with emotion. “And aye, what a good, good king he was.”


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Lacey Schmidt: The Trouble with Super is that you can't stop reading it. Mr. Barrett's characters are all to easy to relate to even if you don't have a super quirk of your own, and their plight is both heart-rendingly funny and heart-warmingly sad at the same time. It's a bit like Office Space meets the Matri...

CookieMonster911: The story overall was an adventure that is appealing to any age. The way the characters develop adds a more human characteristic to the novel. The writing style itself is amazing because you can learn every character's thoughts and emotions. The awkward love triangle and jerk moments adds to the ...

John Reed: Seadrias masterfully captures the impressiveness and complex scope that a science fiction novel should provide while carefully crafting an entire universe that will leave a reader in awe from start to finish. The only flaw I could find is that I wish I could have read more. This book is certainly...

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Toria Danielle: I must congratulate Erin Swan on completing such a beautiful work. The Rising Sun is well rounded and leaves nothing to be wanted. ALL of the characters and their development are beautifully written. The plot is extremely well thought out. Creating a whole different type of universe is difficult ...

Hawkebat: Playing both Kotor I & II and Swtor I found the story line interesting and it held me until chapter 35 Very good story and plot flow until then, very few technical errors. I felt that the main character was a bit under and over powered, as it fought for balance. The last few chapters felt too f...

ga1984: I really enjoyed it! Characters were deep and plot was pretty complex. A bit on the violent side but it doesnt detract from the story. Very dark but situations make sense. Ends kinda abruptly and later chapters will need some editing work. I'm assuming there's more in the works?

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Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."