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City of Swords

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In Charlemagne's footsteps, a man who would be Holy Emperor...It was the kind of internet posting guaranteed to attract the attention of the American cable TV show Chasing History's Monsters:...
In Charlemagne's footsteps, a man who would be Holy Emperor...It was the kind of internet posting guaranteed to attract the attention of the American cable TV show Chasing History's Monsters:...
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  • In Charlemagne's footsteps, a man who would be Holy Emperor...

    It was the kind of internet posting guaranteed to attract the attention of the American cable TV show Chasing History's Monsters: "Dog-headed men sighted by tourists in Avignon." Drawn to France to explore the myth of Saint Christopher and the cynocephalus, or the dog-headed, archaeologist and television host Annja Creed finds herself repeatedly and inexplicably targeted by vicious mercenaries. Her best defense is to trace this brutal violence back to its source, which she soon discovers to be a millionaire and self-professed descendant of King Charlemagne.

    Caught up in a romantic and ruthless sixth-century world, the man is convinced that if he collects mankind's most precious and holy swords, he can fulfill his medieval ancestor's failed goal to build the City of God. And he's stealing the priceless relics one by one to arm his modern-day paladins. Now he has his eye on a very special sword--Annja's.

    And he'll have to kill her to get it.

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    His arrow struck deep in the deer's chest but missed the heart. The animal struggled to get up, tangling itself in the tall grass and making a painful mewling sound that caused his throat to tighten. Dragging one leg, he limped toward it. Though always a heavily built man--sturdy, he preferred to think of himself--he used to get around effortlessly. But age had taken its toll, coupled with the fevers that had plagued him these past few months.

    His doctors demanded he avoid roast meat. Who were they to tell a king what to do? Boiled venison was not so tasty, and he intended to savor a properly prepared roast tonight.

    Charlemagne drew his sword, the blade catching the late-afternoon sun and taking on a molten cast. He couldn't stand to see the animal suffer. One slash across the throat finished it.

    "Cette epee, ma chere amie, a deja tue," he said. This sword, my friend, has already killed. A great many men. He spoke French to accommodate his aide, his tongue halting around the words. He much preferred the Germanic dialect of the Ripuarian Franks, or Greek or Latin, or even the exotic-sounding Arabic that he fancied. But his aide was not well versed in languages.

    The two men dragged the deer back to Charlemagne's home.

    He cleaned his blade first, then bathed and dressed for dinner, wearing a linen shirt against his skin and matching breeches. Over this he wore a dark tunic trimmed with a pale silk fringe--the one bit of finery he allowed himself. He preferred to dress like a commoner, leaving all but one jeweled ring in a chest by his bed. Lastly, he put on ivory hose and comfortable shoes. He left the room, but returned to check himself in the mirror. There were guests to consider tonight, and he wanted to appear well-groomed.

    Despite his years he remained good-looking, tall but not overly so, with a thick, squat neck and a nose that belonged on a bigger man's face. His hair was white, but there was an abundance of it. He arranged the curls with his fingers, squared his shoulders, pronounced himself acceptable and went downstairs.

    Among the dinner guests he was about to greet was his son Louis, whom he had recently crowned. It would be good to see him again and to speak of politics and alliances. No doubt someone would ask to hear tales from one of his great battles. Charlemagne had been engaged in one clash after another throughout nearly all his reign, usually at the front of his scara bodyguard squadrons. But sometimes alone when there was no one to bear witness.

    Always with Joyeuse in hand. Mon epee. He patted the scabbard. Three decades of fighting, more than a dozen wars, and now this sword was relegated to putting a deer out of its misery.

    Perhaps he would regale those gathered with that final push he'd orchestrated to conquer Saxonia and to convert the barbarians to Christianity. It was a good story, and he didn't mind retelling it. Then he would excuse himself and retire early, as he planned to venture out again at first light. A few more days of hunting, then he would travel to Aachen, given the onset of November. He'd come to enjoy hunting animals far more than he'd ever enjoyed hunting men.

    Though he would work at it doggedly for those few days, fate would grant him only one undersize buck. Charlemagne's plans to return to the hunt in the spring would never materialize, as he would fall ill with pleurisy.

    "Joyeuse," he said, as he took to his bed a final time. "Mon epee."

    A servant placed the sword at his side.

    Charlemagne wrapped his thick fingers around the pommel. This sword, his one constant companion,...

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