Prologue
Their Last Meeting

Eagle Plateau, Byrn; Anno Regis 1265

"I often wondered how different my life would be if I had spent my younger years in my native land. Such speculation bears no fruit. My father's decision so long ago made me who I am. I should not wish to change that."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

The rain fell in steady cascades, an ideal time sit at home in silent reflection. In his small cottage atop Eagle Plateau, the Gladian expatriate Tiberius relaxed in a chair by the fireplace, thinking of bygone days. He was in his early thirties and still strong as a swordsman, even though he had not used his skills much since he left his homeland years ago.
Content to stay as he was, Tiberius was none too quick to answer the knocking at his door. Living away from the village left him with few visitors, which was exactly what he wanted. He finally rose to answer the door, but would never have guessed who was waiting for him on the other side.
"Luther!" he exclaimed.
The word 'surprise' was woefully inadequate to describe what he was feeling. Eleven years had passed, but Tiberius instantly recognized his younger brother. Luther wore the ancestral armor of their family under a cloak that warded off the rain. Seeing it again after so many years pricked at Tiberius' heart. He almost failed to notice the young child quietly sleeping in his brother's arms.
"Is that yours?" he asked.
Luther looked down at the child with paternal pride. "This is Mark, my son."
A sense of foreboding crept into Tiberius' mind. He saw the concern his brother tried to hide.
"Why have you brought him here?"
Luther's expression was grave. "A great invasion is about to hit Gladius, a barbarian horde from the West. I want you to watch over Mark until the fighting's over."
"Surely the boy would be safe in his own home!"
Luther sighed and shook his head. "I have a bad feeling about all this. This invasion isn't what it appears... There's something more to it. I don't know what it is, but I can feel it...
"If the front lines fall, the towns will be left wide open. Eagle is the first place they'd hit. Our estate would draw them like flies to a carcass. Most of our fighters will be on the front with me. There won't be enough men to protect it."
"What about the mother?" Tiberius asked. "Why didn't you bring her, too?"
Luther gave a wan grin. "I tried, Brother, believe me, but she wouldn't listen. Stubborn thing refused to abandon her home."
"Sounds like a formidable woman," Tiberius replied with just a hint of teasing in his voice. "A perfect match for you."
Luther smiled, but it quickly faded. His face was lined from the heavy burdens he bore, aged prematurely like their father and Tiberius himself. Looking like a penitent before his confessor, Luther met his brother's eyes.
"Brother," he said hesitatingly, "I want you to know that I'm sorry things turned out as they did. I wish it were different, but I--"
Tiberius held up his hand to stop him. "There's nothing to apologize for. I lost my birthright because I was foolhardy. I have no regrets, but I couldn't live in your shadow. I have made a life for myself here. That is enough for me, and it should be enough for you."
Luther clearly wanted to say something, but could not find the words. Instead he looked down at the child in his arms and said softly, "Goodbye, my son. You're in good hands."
Handing the child to his brother, Luther pulled out a slender, bejeweled knife and tucked it under his son's arm. It was the Dagger of Eolande, the heirloom of their distant ancestress. Caressing the head of his young son one last time, Luther placed a hand on Tiberius' shoulder.
"If I don't return, I know you'll raise him in the way of the Guardian. Take care, my brother, and farewell."
Leaving his sleeping son with Tiberius, Luther mounted his horse and rode off, vanishing into the night. Back in his seat by the fireplace, Tiberius held the Dagger of Eolande, staring at it and the boy now curled up in his bed. Though his brother had tried to hide it, Luther's pain was clear. Whatever he was about to face, he did not expect victory. A man who anticipates defeat often finds it.