I won’t lie to you: I’m a bit nervous about meeting Krull the Warlord. For a start, he has a reputation as a pirate, mercenary, and right evil bastard. A reputation he’s proud of. Plus, he’s completely insane: he recently rode into the Emperor’s palace on his horse. Plus, I wasn’t allowed to come here unless I agreed to be blindfolded for most of the journey, which was by boat. All I know is I’m somewhere in Krulland. Well, I’m assuming I’m somewhere in Krulland.
“Course you are,” says the man himself. “Where else is this cold?”
He has a point. It’s proper brass monkeys out there. Inside the longhouse, however, it’s toasty warm and surprisingly cosy, with kids taking lessons in one corner and women weaving in another. I’m offered a cup of hot spiced wine, which judging by the smell has been spiced with mostly vodka.
Krull the Warlord is drinking neat aquavit. He tells me to call him Kael, which is what everyone calls him around here. In the Empire his official name is so long that, “I need to start saying it five minutes before I arrive anywhere,” which is a sign of his incredibly high status. He has three victory names, which is astonishing for a man not quite thirty years old.
“Emperor pays me to wade into skirmishes and bang heads together,” he says with a shrug when I ask him how he brought peace to the Saranos Islands and subdued the Draxan riots. “Half the time my reputation precedes me enough that I don’t really have to do anything when I get there.” He looks almost disappointed about this.
He’s a big man, tall and broad as you can only be when you’ve been wielding a war hammer since you were a teenager. Kael might have trained at the Imperial Academy, as is his right as a Chosen Warrior, but as he explains, “My father thought I ought to learn early how to fight, how to take care of myself. It was always going to be my destiny to run Krulland, to take care of my country and defend my people, so when I was about eleven he sent me out into the woods by myself to learn how to survive. I learned a lot of things then, not least about how dangerous the cold is and how awful hunger is. I spend a lot of time in the winter trying to shield people from that.”
He doesn’t look like a man who worries about whether people have enough to eat. He looks like someone who might be considering whether to eat you.
I ask about his latest controversy. Is it true he adopted a slave from the New Lands and enrolled her in the Imperial Academy?
“I didn’t adopt her, no. She’s an adult. Mostly. Let’s call her my protegee. Most kids going to the Academy have some family backing, people to sponsor them and help them make contacts, which, let’s face it, is more important than actually graduating. Ishtaer didn’t have any of that stuff, and since I’m the one who found her and freed her and all that, I thought I might as well continue keeping an eye on her.”
The rumour is that she’s Thrice-Marked. For those not up on the vernacular of the Chosen, this means that she’s been given three Marks from the gods, three special gifts. Even one Mark is incredibly rare, and to have two like Krull even rarer. To have three is unheard of. At the Academy, plenty of students I talked to thought it was a hoax.
“It’s not,” says Kael shortly. “I’ve tested her Marks, and so have other senior members of the Academy. They’re genuine. She appears to be the first Thrice-Marked, and the first female Warrior, the world has seen.” Sounds like a myth or legend, I venture. “Well, it ain’t. Go and ask her yourself if you doubt me.”
I’m far, far too scared of him to doubt him.