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The Eye Of Valeria
The Valerian Chronicles: Volume One
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-870-2
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Young Adult
eBook Length: 262 Pages
Published: September 2011



From inside the flap

What does it mean to be a king? Is it a thing ordained by the gods, or to be seized with an iron fist? Or, is it something else entirely, something visceral to a man himself that makes him a king? And what happens to the man when that crown is taken away?

Balazar, née Valerian, is such a man. At the age of fifteen this heir to the throne of Valeria is stripped of his very identity when his city is sacked by the power-mad regicide, Fantar. Fleeing with his life, and living under an assumed name, Balazar begins a fifteen-year struggle for revenge, as Fantar ravages city after city all around the Inland Sea.

Reviews and Awards

Review by Koen Peters

What does it mean to be a king? Is it a thing ordained by the gods, or to be seized with an iron fist? Or, is it something else entirely, something visceral to a man himself that makes him a king? And what happens to the man when that crown is taken away? Balazar, a Valerian, is such a man. At the age of fifteen this heir to the throne of Valeria is stripped of his very identity when his city is sacked by the power-mad regicide, Fantar. Fleeing with his life, and living under an assumed name, Balazar begins a fifteen-year struggle for revenge, as Fantar ravages city after city all around the Inland Sea.

The Valerian Empire is torn by war, with all but one of its former royal family remaining, Valerius. Sadly, Valerius is not a lucky man. His past failures haunt him still, all his attempts to regain a foothold in the war proven futile. Fortunately he’s not finished just yet and he finds himself putting everything on the line for one last shot at success. The fact that he arrived at the place he was meant to be because of a shipwreck and an irreversible passage in previously unknown land should definitely not be mentioned.

The Eye of Valeria tells us about Valerius’ ascendancy to heroism, his drive to become a giant among dwarves. He succeeds at that last part quite literally. His shipwreck lands him in Kantar, a land inhabited by two warring tribes, one of which is about waist-high. Valerius, or Balazar as he calls himself, finds himself caught up in their war and tries his hardest to put his past behind him. He does not succeed. The two tribes act in mysterious ways and seem to have an unnatural lack of culture…

This makes the events appear rather odd at first, but as the story progresses you’ll find that it all does make sense, in a way. The two tribes have a very complicated and peculiar relationship, and as the hints begin to stack you can start making sense of why they behave so unnaturally. I thought the plot was actually pretty good, with some nice twists along the way. In general I didn’t find the story all that impressive though, since there was no real drive to keep on reading which is definitely an important aspect of a novel. It’s only towards the end that the road gets rougher and the story gets interesting. Still waters make for smooth sailing but it’s only during the storm that true character is shown.



The Eye Of Valeria (Excerpt)


PROLOGUE

Amidst the vast and barren reaches of the mountains south of Zagorbia stood a single chimney of rock so smooth, so cylindrical, and so lofty it might have been carved by the hand of man. Formed in the vent of a long extinct volcano, it had emerged inches at a time over the millennia as softer, surrounding rock was worn away. Now it stood, lofty and alone, like the last remaining column of a once grand and opulent palace. Around it, for as far as the eye could see, spread a vast panorama of jagged peaks with dazzling caps of snow and plunging valleys, blue with afternoon shadow. No men made cities here, none even came to keep sheep or goats. So far as was known in Zagorbia and the other cities of the north, no men had ever even been here, let alone returned. The mountains, all agreed, were impassable. And this pillar was unknown.

Atop it now, however, stood an ancient and seemingly enfeebled mage, his robes whipped by the wind and the twin streams of his hair and beard flapping like pennants. How such a figure could have ascended that height-indeed, how he could even have reached a spot so utterly remote-only the gods might know. Yet there he stood, as stiff and rigid as the very stone.

Overhead, the sun pursued its normal course, but the mage beheld it not. For in his withered hands, cupped before him as if in prayer, he held a large red gem. It was on this, and only this, that he bent his wizard’s eye. A deep, fiery red, the gem pulsed and glowed like a thing alive. And like a man in a trance, the mage gazed deep into its heart and marked not the passage of natural time.

Evening came. The wind, which had blown full from the west and the distant sea, dropped, then changed, then dropped again as the sun dipped into a distant haze, and all was still. And still the mage stood, his shadow now lengthening to infinity, the rock rising in the gathering gloom like a beacon, tipped with a ruddy glow. Yet it was not quite night. Still the tip of the sun shone above the world’s rim when, of a sudden, the gem seemed to explode in a brilliant red flash. The force of it knocked the mage back. He staggered, stumbled, teetered briefly on the edge, and then, flailing his arms and loosing a long, high pitched wail, he plunged into the abyss below.

Thorngere stopped to draw a ragged breath and wipe the sweat from his brow. It was hot. Overhead, the noon sun stood almost still. Yet here, on the north east slope, snow still clung in the shadows and under the corners of jagged rock. Rivulets of water cascaded down the steep gradient and in spots, formed rushing streams ankle deep. Thorngere kept to the dry rock as much as possible and wound his way upward, ever upward towards a distant mountain pass.

For days now he had been climbing. Why, he did not know. The month before, in his ship’s haven far to the south near Dulcai, a dream had come to him, bidding him take ship and sail. Six times it had pulled him from sleep, leaving him with but a fading image of an ancient face and a distant trail, before he had summoned his crew and gone. Ten days he had been at sea and the dream had remained the same. Then, one night as they lay at anchor in a hidden cove south of Zagorbia, it had changed. Leaving his ship and crew, Thorngere had marched inland. Two days through trackless brambles and across tortuous ravines he had marched with naught to guide him but the sun. Then there had been this trail. And the dream, coming on him now like double vision, guided him upwards.

He went. On and on, up and up, following a trail a goat would shun, day after day. He went without rest, almost without sleep until now, his great strength drained and the muscles of his legs-long inured to hard climbing from a youth spent in the mountains-turned to pulsing sap, he was nearing the point of complete and utter exhaustion. But he was also nearing the peak. Loosing a heavy sigh, he started up again.

"Whatever it is," he muttered, "it had damn well better be good."

Dusk found him at the pass. Or, to be more precise, inching his way around the edge of the pass on a shelf of rock hardly wider than his foot and with his back tightly pressed against a wall of stone. Following the face as it curved around to the east, the shelf widened at last into a broad plateau. In the center of this and hitherto hidden from view, rose a huge pillar of stone. It was a startling apparition; a smooth white column rising like a tower into the night, and Thorngere was momentarily stunned to find it there. Following its flank upwards with his eye, he was even more startled to see a stiff, angular figure, all bathed in a deep red glow, standing at the top.

It had to be, he thought and let out a wild yell.

But the figure paid him no mind. Frowning, Thorngere approached the base of the column in search of a means of ascent.

No sooner had he reached it than the mage-for that, thought Thorngere, he must surely be-let out a long piercing wail. Looking up, Thorngere saw a flash of brilliant red, then a body plummeting. Stretching out his arms, he caught it like a child.

The mage was still alive, but he had plainly suffered from the blast. His eyebrows had been burned away, and the uppermost hairs on his cheeks were singed and crinkled. Around his eyes the skin glowed a deep red, like iron heated in a forge and his eyelids fluttered spastically. Gradually, the red glow faded and the man opened his eyes.

"So," he said as if nothing unusual had occurred, "you’ve come."

"Aye," said Thorngere, "I’ve come. But if it was only for the saving of your scrawny hide, you’ll wish you’d called a closer neighbor."

"I am Volkmir," said the mage, once the two were comfortably ensconced before a cozy fire in his nearby cave. "Formerly Chief Advisor to His Majesty, Valerius Everreigning, King of Valeria and all the Inland Sea, and Royal Tutor to His Highness, Prince Valerian, heir to the Throne. Lately I have been merely Keeper of the Eye. My servant here is Chad," and he indicated a small, dark complected man shuffling about the fire. "But to answer your question, young friend, from what I’ve just seen-or rather, been forbidden to see-you were not summoned here for an idle exercise in gymnastics."

"Forbidden?" said Thorngere, coming up reluctantly from the depths of his mulled wine. He was weary. Very weary. The dance of the fire, the heat of the wine, the deep cushions of his chair all seemed to lull him, seduce him into slumber. Looking vaguely about at the rich furnishings, thick tapestries, racks of scrolls and other oddments about the cave, he wondered how on earth-or in spite of it-the mage had managed to get everything here. But that, he reminded himself with a shake, was not the point. "What forbidden?" That was the point.

"Sight, my boy. In case you didn’t notice, the Eye has struck me blind."

"Blind?"

The mage drained his wine and, sighing heavily, settled himself back in the chair. "Yes," he muttered, "quite blind and quite fast-though perhaps not fast enough." Then, louder, "But I wouldn’t worry, my boy-it usually passes in a day or so."

"It’s happened before, then?"

"Oh, yes. Several times. But never like this. This was like getting hit with a club."

"Looks it, too. But, what do you make of it?"

"The best, my boy. The very best. I take it to be a most encouraging sign!"

The warrior raised an eyebrow. "Encouraging, you say? I can see how that makes sense. Why don’t you have some more wine-it will sober you!"

"Ah, Thorngere," Volkmir chuckled, "there is much you do not understand about this stone. For it simply to knock me off my perch and dim my eyes is gentle treatment indeed. It could have done much worse. Look at Fantar!"

"He had the stone?"

"Briefly. It was for the Eye he sacked Valeria. But all it got him was a nickname."

"’One-Eye’!"

"Precisely. And if you ask me, the only reason he got off that lightly was because he was a bastard son of King Valerius. Anyway, after that one little episode, he threw the stone into the sea."

"So, how did you get it?"

"Oh, we wizards have our ways. But, actually, I think it was more a case of the Eye coming to me than me to it. It was looking for a steward, you see: someone to look after it until such time as it could return to its rightful master. And in return for my services these fifteen years-or perhaps to better enable me to serve-it has allowed me some little use of its powers.

"So, do you see now why I say this blindness is encouraging? That those powers are now withheld can only mean that the time for The Return has come. That too, I believe, is why you were summoned."

"What ’Return’? And what about me?"

"You have been summoned to undertake a mission of vital importance. A mission only you can perform. It is one which has been in the hands of the gods, lo, these fifteen years, ever since the fall of Valeria. Now the time is ripe and you must summon the king!"

Had he his wits about him, Thorngere would have spat at talk such as this. Now, however, with the urge to sleep swelling in him like a malignant mushroom, he only asked, "What king?"

"The King," intoned the mage, his voice chanting the phrases: "Valerius Everreigning, High King of Valeria and all the Inland Sea, Valerius Everreigning, Master of The Eye."

"Thought he was dead."

"He who Ever Reigns never dies," said the mage. Men may be mortal but the Eye lives on. Now is the time when it must pass. It is the son you must seek-he who was Valerian but now IS Valerius."

"Thought he was dead, too," said Thorngere. He was beginning to wonder just how sane this old windbag was.

"So thinks the world and so thinks Fantar One-Eye. And so, I believe, it was meant he should think."

"Look," said Thorngere, "I’ve had a rather hard day. Can we just get to the point?"

"You know the tale of the fall of Valeria: how king and heir were counted among the slain...?"

"Yes, their heads were left to rot on pikes before the ruined city. I’ve seen them there."

"So you were meant to see. But you interrupt me. How the king was found on the field of battle but how the son, being too young, was found later with the women?"

"Yes, and how, despite his youth, he put up a valiant struggle. I’ve heard it, I tell you."

"Well, that young man who wore the prince’s armor and died protecting the honor of his city was not the king’s son."

Suddenly, Thorngere no longer felt tired. "What? Who?"

"The real prince disobeyed his father and went to the battle dressed as a common soldier. Early on, he was struck unconscious and did not return to his senses until late that night. Then, seeing that all had been lost, he made good his escape.

"Now," Volkmir went on, holding up a cautioning hand, "why this should have been I cannot say. I know not all the powers of this stone, and of the powers behind it, or their motives, I know even less. But I believe that time was not ripe then. Fantar’s power was ascendant. It could either not be denied or was not meant to be denied: I know not which. But I believe that, had the stone passed then, the boy would have died. Instead, it came to me. And the boy-though I am sure he himself knows not why and probably even wishes at times it were otherwise-the boy, as I say, survived and has been living since under another name. That’s where you come in: you must go and fetch him."

"Why me?" said Thorngere, up and pacing now. "Why don’t you just summon him yourself? And why now? I mean, if Fantar’s power could not be broken when he was just starting out, how can it now when he is master of the whole Inland Sea?"

"To answer your questions in reverse order," said the mage, "I know not how the stone, or the powers that rule it, intend to oppose Fantar, or even if that is their intention. It has not been given me to see things as they will be, only as they are. But I do know that in all things there is a certain cycle-a rising up and a falling off, an ebb and flow, if you will-and that while Fantar would certainly appear to be much more powerful now, that may not actually be the case.

"However, that is mere speculation on my part. I only suggest that the wisest course is to trust the visible promptings of destiny.

"As to why I do not summon Valerius myself, three things: first, one does not ’summon’ such a king; second, I am a very old man and the promptings of my own destiny in no way suggest I go tramping around the countryside; and third, the stone summoned you for the job."

"But..."