The Fifth King
Benda rode behind one of the knights of the Guard who had discovered him, parched and bewildered on a trail along a beach of Devera.
Though a lush ancient forest prevailed here in the time of the original Drynareans, during this time, few trees were to be found. And the ocean breezes swept as far inland as the Castle of Devera, to which they were en route. As the trees had dwindled, so had the dwellers amongst the trees, and the province was only sparsely populated.
As they approached the castle, though it stood in good shape, it clearly told its age as one of the most ancient in the Kremellian peninsula. What had once been a thriving village around it was now nothing more than a few half-inhabited hovels which sometimes sheltered shepherds and passers-through.
They entered the outer wall of the castle, and dismounted. A stable boy appeared, and led their golek* steeds to rest and feed. The three — Benda, and the two knights of the guard — crossed the yard, and entered the small door of the Great Hall.
The Great Hall was a moderately sized square chamber of hewn stown, whose floor was checked in a curious pattern of black and white squares. Shields bearing coats of arms festooned one wall, and a large tapestry depicting the entirety of ancient Drynarean woodland tribal territory adorned another. The two decorated walls formed a corner around a very modest dais, raised only one step up from the checkered floor. A simple wooden chair sat upon it, made of wood from a legendary tree, the Helemba.
Onto this dais ascended the knight behind whom Benda had ridden hence. With a single flourish, he both removed his hood and flung his cloak behind his shoulders, sitting down upon the throne of Helemba.
Though amnesiac as to his own identity, Benda recognized still the grandeur of a king in his own hall, and bowed to one knee.
“That is unnecesary,” said the first knight. “You are my guest and equal. Rise.”
Benda rose, and the second knight brought him a chair to sit.
“I bid you sit, friend traveler,” said the first knight to him. “I can see you’ve journeyed far, and seen great trials. Be at rest.”
“Thank you,” Benda stammered, sitting down.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am called Eradus Drynarus, First Knight and Protector of the Realm of Devera, Fifth King of Kremel, and King Under the Wood.”
“And this is my brother, Emlad, Second Knight and Protector of the Realm.”
Emlad bowed to Benda. “At your service,” he said, smiling broadly.
“Would that I could return such a fair introduction in kind,” Benda said. “Think me not impolite, but my name now is lost to me.”
Eradus considered for a moment, then said, “Then we shall call you Lost, until your true name be found.”
Benda smiled, “Let it be so, my king!”
“If you would have me be your king,” Eradus said, “then I bid thee, play a song with this magnificent harp of yours, and perhaps it will discover us something of your past. Unless Lost is not just your name, but your music too.”
Benda closed his eyes, sensing deeply within. He unstrapped the harp from his back and took it into his hands.
“I think not,” he said, and began plucking the strings of the magical instrument, Eril.
As he played, the vastness of the Great Hall seemed to increase dramatically in all directions, and into this unbounded space, the knights listening felt themselves tumble.
Benda, at length in a trance brought on by the charms of that instrument, lifted up his voice in wordless harmony with it. Eradus felt the pool of his heart open like the Full Moon had revealed itself suddenly from behind clouds and reflected in it. Emlad stood by in silent wonder.
Words came then to Benda’s lips as he sang, in a language he knew not, nor had ever recollected singing. Though in hearing them pass out of his mouth, he recognized that he once had sung in a foreign tongue, seemingly long, long ago…
Though he himself recognized not its significance, Benda’s song told the tale of a people who had had to leave their homes long ago, setting sail in despair and longing only to return to more untroubled times. Eradus and Emlad, neither of whom understood the words of the song, felt themselves transported nevertheless to a far off land, and felt that same despair and longing communicated with perfect crystalline clarity that moved in waves through them physically, and seemed to connect them to something beyond themselves, and their own place and time. Both men wept openly.
At length, Benda’s song ended, and he put down the harp, Eril, wordless onto his lap.
“Lost be thy name,” said Eradus. “And lost felt I in your song… Are you able to render the lyric into our common tongue?”
Benda shook his head, “Would that I could, my king. For lost too was I — in another land, far away. The words came unbidden to my lips, though I felt the truth of them in heart and in my spirit.”
Emlad replied quietly, “As did we.” He, and his brother the king looked at one another and both nodded.
“Lost be they name,” Eradus repeated. “And let thy station be First Minstrel of Devera.”
Benda got up from his chair, and bowed low before the dais, at the honor bestowed on him.
Eradus continued, “For here, we have found ourselves together. Here we have heard the Great Mystery. Rise, First Minstrel — ”
Benda stood up.
“ — And let us go together toward it. Though none of us three gathered here know these ancient words — for their antiquitity is clear — there is one who may. He who is wiser than I. Let us go together to him.”
So it was arranged that Eradus Drynarus, the Fifth King of Kremel, would set out with Benda Lost, his new First Minstrel to the court of the Fourth King, in the next province over. Benda was given several days to rest and recover his strength. Good simple food, and forest elixir were his in abundance, and Emlad gave him a replacement set of garments in the fashion of the Drynarean woodsmen, and a Cloak of Becoming.
“Draw the cloak around your shoulders, and the hood up over you in time of need,” instructed Emlad, “and you might vanish before the eyes of all but the most skilled watchers.”
Benda bowed low, accepting this gift.
“Should you so desire, I have for you a sword as well,” he held up a short, and beautifully inlaid Drynarean forest blade.
Benda’s eyes fell upon it, and his hand rose up, fingers stroking the inlay gingerly. Suddenly, there flashed in his mind an image as much as a feeling… of himself, but not himself, clothed in mail, and helmed, staring into the eyes of another man, shocked at sudden pain.
He heard in the ear of his mind, words in another tongue which he somehow understood, “You should have dropped your sword — ”
And the vision vanished just as suddenly. His hand dropped from the Drynarean blade offered to him so graciously by Emlad.
“I — I had better not,” Benda said. Thinking better of it, he added, “For what need has First Minstrel for arms of war. That is not his function. I shall keep to my harp.”
“As you wish, First Minstrel,” responded Emlad smiling.
On the third day after, Eradus and Benda set out. Emlad stayed behind to mind the castle and the affairs of state brought to him by such villagers and peasants as remained in the realm. To Benda, Eradus loaned the golek* mount Dema, normally ridden by Emlad, his brother. Eradus himself rode Selef, who was the mate of Dema. Thus equipped, they set out by the High Road to the Fourth Kingdom.
*(A golek is a type of approximately half-rabbit, half-horse animal endemic to the peninsula of Kremel, whose intelligence in certain capacities surpassed even that of their human charges, over whom they saw themselves as guardians.)