Coming December 2018!
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 earns the sobriquet, Iron, for his ability to win under the direst of circumstances, however his sentence to the royal gallows, for daring to love the princess, reminds him he’s still a slave. A last-ditch rescue by the slave army he commands pits him against the full military might of the kingdom, and the only way to escape royal vengeance is to direct it elsewhere. Using his strategic genius, he goads the king into battle with a rival nation. Broderick soon learns, though, that the princess carries his child, marked for death by the king. Now, to save the royal destiny of a slave’s get, Iron Broderick orchestrates the final conflict in the one arena where he has ultimate control…the battlefield.
Chaper 1 – Seven
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 turned the thin layer of snow covering their grimy world into a twinkling wonderland. It 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 needed 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 possessed all three.
They passed a door, and Herminius stopped. “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” Kibwe looked up at the sign. Erect Stallion Whorehouse. “It’s a boarding school for lost women,” he snapped. “You’re too young to go in there. Keep walking.” For a copper, the redheaded boy toted Kibwe’s bucket during his weekly trips to the coaler. The old man didn’t need the help, but it kept the kid out of the back alleys and away from the gangs.
“I know what whorehouse is, Kibwe. That’s not…” The youngster turned toward a rubbish pile next to the door. “I heard a cry.”
Kibwe shuffled over to a pile of trash and waved his torch around. “Rats.” He kicked a fruit crate full of the vermin. “Let’s go.” A muffled cry caught his ear. He pushed the crate to the side, revealing a colony 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 boy, 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. Another thought swallowed it. 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. Throwing the baby was not their original plan. “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 scurried back to his flat in the dark and wrapped 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 lugged his chair over to his stove’s glowing maw. He had 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, eyes bloodshot, holding a single puppy under his arm. “All the other ones died,” he whispered.
Kibwe snuggled the baby up to the bitch’s teats, fascination overwhelmed him as nature found a way to ensure life would continue, even in its most helpless and smallest form.
The sniffling boy kneeled and put the puppy on one of the hind teats. “Have you named him yet?” He continued kneeling as he inspected the baby.
“Who? The baby? No. Why?”
“How about…Baby of Broderick?”
“How ‘bout what?”
“Baby of Broderick.” The boy stood up to emphasize his point, his eyes no longer red. “He needs a name.”
“Humph. He won’t appreciate that name 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 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.” In a heartbeat, the small and curious boy grew 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 Kibwe’s house was small, cozy didn’t describe it. Books piled in a haphazard fashion littered the central room. The only people who read them these days were Herminius and himself, the former spending more and more of his time there as his unmarried mother fell deeper into the arms of the Idolites. Doorless frames led to two other spaces. One, a kitchen with smoke stains on the walls and ceiling and grease marks that had lingered past the previous inhabitants. The other strangely-angled room doubled as a sleeping space and storage closet, leaving barely enough freedom for a single person. Ink, chalk, and even blood covered the walls. Overall, it was a typical dwelling for those trapped in the Broderick District. Fortunately, the title, Healer, afforded him a sliver of respect. The ruffians left him alone.
Kibwe set the freshly fed and sleeping Broderick on the table to inspect the birthmarks in detail. They’re certainly in the right arrangement of the stars making up the Seventh House. And that small mole in the middle, seven points. I’ll be damned if that doesn’t look exactly like the Seven Sons constellation. He stared at it for a fistful of breaths and rapidly shook his head. “Bah! Coincidence, that’s all.” Albeit a laughable coincidence—the kind that weakminded 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 the time wasn’t nigh to turn the simple and superstitious into true believers before he died. 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 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 holding 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 tattooed 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. He shooed the dog away and continued working the needle, ignoring Broderick’s cries. After the first few minutes, the cries changed tenor. Kibwe no longer heard pain, but anger.
Nine-month-old memories darkened his mein as he recalled what brought him to this hovel.