Iron Broderick is a 100,000-word, testosterone-fueled adventure that crosses the desperation of Spartacus with the genius of Alexander the Great. My co-author, Alan O’Brien, first broad stroked the idea of Iron Broderick to me 30 years ago while we were stationed aboard the USS Portland. Fall 2015 we finally got off our asses and developed a story.
Broderick rises from the streets to command the most feared company of slave soldiers on the Ballo continent. When the king sentences him to hang for daring to love a princess, his company of fellow slaves, fueled by a loyalty honed in battle, rescues him from the gallows. With royal vengeance slowing closing in on them, Broderick’s strategic genius may be the only thing that keeps them alive.
My mother is a princess and of great beauty and a pure heart.
My father, Broderick, was the seventh bastard son of a seventh bastard son. And a slave. You would be reading his words were he still walking amongst us, for he was literate. Indeed, my mother tells me he was quite intelligent and educated. I never knew him, though I feel I have taken after him down many paths. Mother tells me that other than hair color, we are identical in every way. I like to think I have his tactical cunning and strategic prowess, but those are things judged on the battlefield, not here at my desk.
Alas, it is my place now to explain a world coated in blood, a world he created, not out of anger or hatred or revenge, but out of necessity; it was the only way to gain his and his friends’ freedom. Sadly, I am not as poetic or as expansive as tavern singers or scholars, being raised to value truth and honesty above all. I have pieced together what I can of his life from my mother, Kibwe’s journal, and stories told by his friends still alive. Where their information falls short, I have relied on bard tales and logical imagination. I do this not because I feel I need to know from whence I came, but because I need to know from whence he came. I grew up thinking I had to live up to the legend, that I had to walk in the footsteps of a god.
And, oh, are there legends!
I collected them easily enough, but they were the hardest stories to work through because they depend on a certain amount of mystery to begin with. Otherwise, they would be fact, or myth. Like a discarded acorn in rich soil, his small, unusual gestures took root and transformed into mighty deeds that defy belief. I can assure you however, that he was not a giant, thunder did not erupt from his mouth when he spoke, nor did he throw a lightning bolt as a javelin. However, I have to acknowledge that he did indeed fulfill a prophecy, one that only a seventh bastard son of a seventh bastard son could fulfill. Thus, I feel strongly his conception occurred the same night the Seven Sons Constellation fully entered the Seventh House. I suspect that auspicious event occurred at the Erect Stallion, a house of ill repute, the same place he was birthed.
A thin layer of snow dusted the dark alley as Kibwe and his young charge, Herminius, made their way home. The flickering light from their torches showed the snow wasn’t thick enough to turn the world white, but it still numbed their fingers and toes and dampened their hair. Of the three things man needs for survival—food, shelter, and clothing—the former was usually crusty bread and thin wine, the middling was a drafty, small, three-room flat, and the latter consisted of threadbare rags. Luckily, they were able to claim possession of all three.
They passed a door, and Herminius asked, “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” Kibwe looked up at the sign. Erect Stallion. “It’s a whorehouse,” he snapped. “You’re too young to go in there. Keep walking.” For a copper, the redheaded boy would tote Kibwe’s bucket during his weekly trips to the coaler. The old man didn’t really need the help, but it kept the kid out of the back alleys and away from the gangs.
“No,” the youngster said as he turned toward a rubbish pile next to the door. “I heard a cry.”
Kibwe shuffled over to the pile and waved his torch around. “Rats,” he said as he kicked a fruit crate full of the vermin. “Let’s go—” A muffled cry caught his ear that time. He pushed the crate to the side and saw more of the pests burrowing into a small, wadded up, bloody sheet. He shooed the rats away and the bundle wiggled and squeaked again. The thought of leaving it never crossed his mind, but he was worried—curiosity killed more people in the Broderick District than not. He handed his torch to his young companion and picked up the whole bundle. The metallic tang of blood assaulted his nose as he carefully unwrapped the sheet to see a newborn man-child, still wet with his mother’s afterbirth, looking up at him.
A throwaway, he thought. They better hope the Idolites don’t find out about that practice. They might find themselves hamstrung in the square late one ni— The old man’s eyes flashed wide at the series of moles on the baby’s left breast. Before he could stop himself, a cursed thought crossed his mind—The reason my family died—and was swallowed by another. I’ll have to do something about this.
He swung his head around, and scanned the alley. Apart from the rats reclaiming the crate, they were alone. He looked up at the door leading to the Erect Stallion and then back down at the baby. “If some whore threw him out, she’s not going to appreciate us knocking on her door and giving him back.” Then he saw the tied-off umbilical cord. Whatever the reason for throwing the baby out, it wasn’t planned. “That’s a lot of blood. His ma’s probably dead.”
“We could give him to the Idolites,” Herminius suggested. “They have an orphanage for throwaways.”
“What? No! Religious fanatics, all of ‘em! He’ll be one of their morons in a few years. Didn’t you say something about a bitch having puppies?”
“Bring her to my flat. There’s another copper for you if you get it there before I fall asleep. Why are you still standing here? Hurry off with you!” With that, he took the coal bucket and shooed the boy down the street. He then scurried back to his flat in the dark, wrapping the baby in dry swaddling made from his robe as soon as he got there.
“It’s going to be a cold one tonight, little one,” Kibwe said as he lugged his chair over to his stove’s glowing opening. He had just sat down and gotten the infant situated in his lap when Herminius showed up with a whining, milk-laden bitch in tow.
He looked up at Kibwe with bloodshot eyes, holding a puppy under his arm. “All the other ones died,” he whispered.
Kibwe didn’t speak while he snuggled the baby up to the bitch’s teats and watched in fascination as nature found a way to ensure life would continue, even in its most helpless and smallest form.
The sniffling boy kneeled down and put the puppy on one of the hind teats. “Have you named him yet?” He continued to kneel down as he inspected the baby.
“Who? The baby? No. Why?”
“How about . . . Baby of Broderick?”
“’How ‘bout what?”
“Baby of Broderick!” the boy repeated. He stood up to emphasize his point, his eyes no longer red. “He needs a name.”
“Humph. He won’t appreciate being called Baby when he gets older. I’ll think of one later.”
“Okay. We can call him Broderick until you do.” Herminius kneeled back down. “I’ve always wanted a brother.”
“Broderick. Humph! Good as a name as any, I suppose.” The old man pulled a blanket off his chair and wrapped it around his shoulders. “And he won’t be your brother. If he lives, he’ll stay here with me. Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be getting home? Your ma is doubtlessly worried sick.”
“Yeah, I’ll probably get the stick tonight.” Suddenly, the small and curious boy looked years older as defiance shrouded his face. “But I’m not leaving until I get my two copper pieces.”
“Humph!” Kibwe pulled out the agreed on price from his pouch and handed it over.
Although his house was small, cozy didn’t describe it. Haphazardly piled books littered the central room. The only people who read them these days were he and Herminius, who’d taken to spending more and more of his time there the more his unmarried mother fell into the arms of the Idolites. Doorless frames led to two other spaces. One was a kitchen, evidenced by smoke stains on the walls and ceiling, and grease marks that had lingered past the previous inhabitants. The other room was a sleeping space, small, strangely angled, hardly enough space for a single person. Some of the stains found in there were recognizable—ink, chalk, even blood. Overall, it was a typical dwelling for those trapped in the Broderick District. Fortunately, the title, Healer, afforded him a sliver of respect. Even the ruffians left him alone.
Kibwe set the freshly fed and sleeping Broderick on the table to inspect the birthmarks in detail. They were certainly in the right arrangement, a pattern that looked like the stars making up a part of the sky called the Seventh House. And right in the middle of that pattern was a smaller mole shaped just like the seven-pointed constellation known as the Seven Sons. He stared at it for a fistful of breaths and then rapidly shook his head. “Bah! Coincidence, that’s all.” Albeit a laughable coincidence—the kind that weak-minded fools would call the work of the gods. He’d seen, to his eternal regret, how even the intelligent could be gullible enough when it came to certain subjects, to be goaded into believing anything . . . especially if the idea was nurtured with just the right amount of viper oil.
Seeing what he believed impossible made Kibwe wonder if perhaps it was time to turn the simple and the superstitious into true believers before he died without another chance. The proper story, passed along to the occasional gossipy patient . . . . “Well, little one, you are not going to like what I have to do to you tonight.”
He shuffled into the sleeping room, pulled open an old chest—something from a much brighter past—and rummaged around inside. Finding a knife, sharpened to a razor’s edge, he honed an old stag bone until it was needle sharp. He then pulled a thread from his blanket, and wrapped it around the needle.
“Clove oil. Hmm. Where did I put that . . . ?” The bitch lifted its head at the sound of Kibwe’s voice. “Ah, yes. Over there.” Kibwe unrolled a large, leather carrying case filled with small glass bottles containing his healing agents. He picked one and rubbed some of its oily contents on Broderick’s left breast, completely covering the areas around the moles. “This should deaden the pain some, little one. Not all, but it’s the best I can do.”
He picked up his writing quill and ink and drew the connecting lines between the moles, forming the Seventh House. Satisfied with his artwork, he picked up his needle, dipped it in the ink until the thread was soaked, and commenced to tattooing the design permanently into Broderick’s chest.
The first time the needle pierced his skin, Broderick’s howl set Kibwe’s ears to ringing. The bitch jumped up, dropping an upset puppy to the floor, and ran over to sniff her latest charge. Kibwe shooed the dog away and continued working the needle, ignoring Broderick’s cries. After the first few minutes, Kibwe noticed a change in the tenor of those cries . . . they were no longer of pain, but of anger. Nine-month-old memories darkened his smile.