The Fourth King
What remained of the once lush Drynarean forest thinned out on the north-western edge of the province of Devera, where now passed the newly-dubbed Benda Lost and Eradus, king of that land. Their golek mounts, named Selef and Dema — intelligent beasts themselves — had guided them carefully through the trackless forest without incident.
As they reached the edge of that wood, Eradus drew the party to a silent halt, and held up his hand, pointing off over the hills of Mareto. In the falling evening light, Benda Lost could make out in the distance, where the hills gave way to steeper mountains, a glowing white figure, a four legged creature with horns. No, he squinted, looking closer. Antlers. A stag of marvelous stature, seemingly luminous from within. Benda felt his heart leap forward in joy at the sight of it.
“Surely, a good portent, the sighting of this beast!” said Benda, once the creature had vanished. They had watched it for several long breathless minutes.
“Aye,” replied Eradus. “But night falls, and soon will come the Hunters. We shall camp here.”
And so they did, and in full light of day, on the morning next, they traversed those hills, and came near the place Eradus estimated the glowing stag had been visible to them the night before. There was a lush green stream bed, near a clear mountain spring, flowing from a cleft in the rock. They stopped to water their steeds, descended to drink deeply themselves, and filled their water pouches. All were rejuvenated, and pressed on.
Come nightfall, Eradus directed them to make camp in a sheltering rock cove which he knew along the trail along the mountain pass which linked the two kingdoms of Devera and Edebia, into which they had now entered. The next day, they followed in the same pattern, riding during daylight and camped at night without incident. And on the afternoon of the third day, they arrived at the Castle of Edeb, dwelling of the Fourth King, Martis Ovnis Delgar.
As Eradus was well known in this place, news of their arrival reached the ears of the Fourth King before they had entered the town surrounding the castle. Newer considerably than the Castle of Devera, Eradus noted to Benda that the castle here was larger, and the village more populous and vibrant.
“It brings me joy to see the bustle of this place,” he said to Benda. “I come here whenever my duties, and the seasons, permit.” They went on in silence a ways, through the village outskirts. A small band of children formed in their passing, running behind and teasing after their golek mounts, who suffered their games with good humor.
“Martis is wiser by far in lore than I,” Eradus said after some time. “If anyone will know the significance of the song you sang, it is he.”
When they approached the gates of the outer wall of the castle, an escort of three guards rode out to meet them. Their golek mounts took the time to smell Selef and Dema, and vice versa, as according to the customs of those people, while Eradus and the guards made small talk. When all was in accord, they rode on through the close streets of the outer castle, and passed before the inner gates. All dismounted, and the goleks all were lead away to frolic freely together at pasturelands preserved here within the outer bailey of castle expressly for this purpose. The entered the inner wall and looked about at the fabulous stonework of the artisans of Edeb.
In no time at all, Eradus and Benda Lost were ushered ceremoniously into the hall of the Fourth King, who embraced Eradus, and welcomed him into his home. To Benda, he introduced himself with a certain vigorous solemnity, reciting his full name and title: Martis Ovnis Delgar, Fourth King of Kremel, and King Under Cloud.
Benda bowed low, with Eradus introducing him in turn, “This is Lost, First Minstrel of Devera.”
“Lost?” Martis replied quizzically. “It is a peculiar name. May you here be Found, First Minstrel of Devera.”
He lead them then into a side chamber, a more comfortable salon off the Great Hall and throne room. Many plates of delectable foods were spread on a long table in the salon.
“Make yourselves at home, my friends. Eat, and drink, and let us speak together of pleasant things.”
They ate together then, as night fell and lamps were lit, and starlight twinkled into view. Wines were brought, and the three contented themselves in one another’s company and conversation. At length, Eradus told the tale of their discovery of Benda Lost, who he and his brother had found parched and bewildered, and his subsequent recovery at their castle.
“There is a mystery here,” Martis observed. “That a man is shipwrecked alone, with no knowledge of his past, his companions, or his home…”
“Aye,” agreed Eradus. “And that mystery deepens, my dear friend, in the discovery that this lone lost man is a singular musician and minstrel, who sings in an unknown language which is yet comprehended somehow still in perfect clarity and completeness by the ears of the heart.”
“You speak too kindly of a lost wayfarer,” said Benda.
“Then let what was lost be found again,” said Martis. “Sing us this mysterious song, the power of which has brought you all this way.”
“If it please you, my lords,” Benda said, addressing the two kings, “I shall begin.”
Benda took up the harp Eril then, and plucked masterfully at its strings. Though he remembered not yet its provenance, he could sense deeply that the instrument was made just for him, as it responded to him, and he to it with a kind of seamlessness which as he played transported him and his listeners to another realm.
He sang, then, a song — different than the one he’d sung before the Fifth King in his hall, but which he felt was somehow contiguous with it. Another voyage in the same country, if you will. As before, he lifted up his voice in harmony with Eril, not knowing what would come out, and a sweet and mellifluous melody in an unknown tongue poured out of his lips.
In their minds’ eyes, the three men shared a vision narrated and moved along by the words of Benda Lost in the mysterious language. The story of a man, wandering alone in a cold place. He sought the red spear which had been driven into the ground at the Place, generations ago. Though neither the First Minstrel, nor the Fourth and Fifth Kings knew the words (Martis, in fact, recognized a few of them here and there), they all saw this same man, toiling through the cold to find the Place, around which all the world turned.
And when he arrived to where legends said it should be — must be — he found it was broken, cloven with violence a little ways above where it jutted out of the snow.
The witnesses to that song saw the man jostle the part of the shaft and point still wedged into the snow, and it would not budge. So he took up the broken shaft, and set off, trying to find the New Place. Through the words, and the music, and the emotion of Benda’s performance, they understood intrinsically, each of them, the gravity of this man’s actions, and that if he did not find and mark the New Place, around which all things must turn, all would spin out, and tumble into darkness.
Benda’s last mysterious couplets hung in the air, and with a few concluding plucks, the harp Eril fell silent. They sat a time without speaking, marveling in the silence that came after, as they had marveled in the fullness of the song, and the visions it had inspired.
After a long time, Eradus spoke. “I feel that I have seen this man before,” he said. “Perhaps in dreams.”
“And I,” Martis added, “have heard this tale before, long ago, I think. Though in another language, and without music. Let me try to remember…”
“You recognized the language?” Benda said, excited.
“Not quite, but I recognized some words which sounded something like Ancient Kremellian,” replied Martis. “Though, I might not have understood so well their significance, were it not for the inner luminous vision your playing enjoined in me.”
“In all of us, I think,” Eradus agreed.
Benda nodded, “Yes, I saw him too. Real as though he were here, standing among us, and yet not. Distant and imminent, at once.”
Martis continued: “I don’t remember well, nor with completeness, the saga I heard in my youth, but I believe this man is called by many names. I shall call him the Old One — older than any living man. The Survivor. He was said to have watched generations rise and fall. And whether it was he who had driven at the dawn of time the Red Spear originally into the Place, or whether he was present at that ceremony when some other hero or king performed that sacred act, I know not.”
“The legends say that the wickedness, greed, and negligence of the people summoned forth a being from the Outer Darkness, who feasted on cruelty, and who lead them in their turning away from the Place. All things were tilting out of balance, and the Red Spear was broken. And this is segment of the tale of the Old One, who was the last to still remember what to do, and his effort to set things right.”
Eradus asked eagerly, “And did he succeed in this undertaking?”
“I don’t recall in full,” Martis said. “I think he plunged the shaft of the Red Spear into the New Place, but the enemy was not beaten, and the people did not change their ways, and it was not enough to stop the changes already underway.”
Benda recalled then the song he’d sung at the court of the Fifth King. “And the people were sorrowfully forced to leave their homes, and sojourn across the waters.”
“Like you,” Eradus said. “The Lost.”
“Across the waters, yes,” said Martis, gesturing upward. “And across the sky. For in those days, the two were joined.”
They sat again in silence for a long time.
Eradus finally spoke, “While we’ve learned something today about the music, we’ve learned precious little still about our musician, and why he knows songs of far off times in a language whose outlines only the most well-tutored among us can begin to understand. Would that we had more to go on, so that he who is Lost may become Found.”
“Go then to the Arches and pass through with my blessing,” began Martis. “Cross you to the Isle of Edebia. There you will find the ancient and abandoned city which was once our ancestral capital. And in its center, ascend to the Cloudspire. At the top lives an old man, a sage — not the Old One of legend, to be sure — but one far older and wiser than I. For he was my tutor in youth. It is he who spoke these rhymes to me so many years ago, and he who — if his mind has not failed him — may have the key to this lore, and perhaps a way to find what has been Lost.”
So it was agreed, and they rested a few days in the Castle of Edebia, and refreshed themselves. And on the third day, with their mounts, they headed north to the Edebian passage, the waterway which split the mainland from the Isle, and all that lay beyond.