Lykourgos I: On the Shoulders of Ancients
The Twenty-Seventh day of the Eighth Moon, 872 AD.
The Horndaal, Southern Archic Mountains, Klironomea.
The first thing the prince noticed as he awoke was that today was far colder than the days that had preceded it. It was a frigid morning on the slopes of the Horndaal, dew still resting atop the grass and dawn's first light shining through the clouds in aureate hues. To be fair, when you were camped in an old ruin at the base of a mountain, every morning was frigid, but this seemed... different. He chuckled to himself.
It seemed like some of Dreamwulf's teachings were rubbing off on him after all; his storm-sense was improving somewhat even if progress was glacially slow. Still, he didn't think such ill weather would roll in today. Autumn wasn't set to end the summer for at least another week, and so the autumn storms shouldn't start up yet either.
He looked to the outskirts of the ruins they had camped in, and noticed a few of his company carefully dismantling the remains of the curtain wall, the damp, mossy stones being gently lowered and placed in neat rows behind them while they worked. There were twenty-four of them here in total, including Prince Lykourgos himself, but aside from him they were mostly made up of assorted servants; stable-boys, Farriers and Pages made up the majority of the company, though a few more interesting outliers could be found amongst them.
There were half a dozen Squires in the makeshift retinue, each of them hand-picked by his friend, Ser Romanos, for their loyalty and forthcoming talent. They were certainly good, but none of them could best him in single combat, and that meant none of them could best Romanos either. They were exceptionally loyal to the Violets, but he knew they cared little for his task here, save for Eros Eleutherios. Eros was talented with a blade, singularly loyal to the prince and devoted to learning as much as he could about all the interpretations of the Church. He would definitely be speaking to Romanos about inviting him into the Order when they returned. Quietly, of course; it wouldn't be proper for a bastard to be interfering in the affairs of a Knightly Order of the Crown, even if said bastard was a Prince.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. It would do him no good to contemplate his birth-status here, it only ever led to loathing and scheming. And yet the throne was his by right...
He turned his thoughts back to the members of his company, and for those he may find useful in the future. There was a Cupbearer in his employ; a nimble and sunny young lad with some small amount of noble blood, found by another friend of the prince, who had come across the boy roaming the streets as a pickpocket and beggar. This was his first time leaving the capital since his employ, and was a test of character for the young lad, not set by the prince, but by his old friend, Elikoidi.
Elikoidi and the Prince had known each other since the prince was no older than ten winters, and in the last eight years they had become fast friends and firm allies. Sure, there was a bit of rivalry between them, and they appeared to despise each other in public, but it was friendly rivalry, and both of them had made the deliberate choice to avoid appearing as friends in court. After all, Elikoidi was well-connected and a good spymaster; any seeking to dispose of the half-breed Prince would surely attempt to employ him, and so the prince would learn of the conspirators.
He knew that Elikoidi would have chosen this young lad as the Prince's Cupbearer as a test of loyalty and confidence. If the young Cupbearer, Ilias, performed his duties well and could give a detailed list of the characteristics of a few of the men in the group then he would do quite well indeed, though he may keep him as his Cupbearer regardless of the outcome. He was kindly and cheerful, that much was certain, but quiet unless invited to speak freely. He had a way of moving and speaking that was disarming to most, and downright distracting to those who preferred the company of their fellow man.
His gaze drifted to the embers of the campfire, and the figures tending to the camp chores around it. There were a pair of religious figures, one an Oblate of a monastery worshiping the Carpenter's Son and the Angel Hydran named Dreamwulf, a stout member of the Old Church if ever there was one. Almost every hour of the day, he could be found debating theology, rites and scriptures with the other religious figure, a Presbyter of the New Church, Nasos.
Nasos, much like Dreamwulf, was a devout follower of the Church of the Carpenter's Son, though that was where their similarities ended. He was the fourth son of a minor Noble, whereas Dreamwulf was the second son of an old farmer. Dreamwulf had found faith after the Black Grave had taken his family from him, and he still bore the scars both physical and mental from the toll the disease took. By contrast, Nasos had always been herded towards life in the Clergy of the New Church, and so had never considered alternate views on the faith. Lykourgos had worried that the two of them would come into conflict over their opposing views, however the discussions of their differences only served to enlighten each other as to why they believed in their interpretation of the Holy Edicts.
He was stirred out of his musings by the arrival of Eros, still wearing his padded armour, who dipped into a deep bow.
"Your Highness," he started, "may I speak in confidence with you for a moment?" The prince nodded, and motioned for him to speak. The Squire looked unsurely at the young Cupbearer, who simply smiled back at him.
"The boy will say nothing, you can trust me on that. Continue."
Eros nodded nervously.
"Certainly, my Prince. It's just... I know of your studies and travels, and I know you have your theories and beliefs, but I still don't know what we're here for. An artifact of some sort, discarded in this place sometime after its abandonment when the Old Kingdom collapsed, but I fail to see as how something left here of all places could be useful to proving your beliefs."
The bastard Prince raised an eyebrow in bemusement. Few today knew of the Old Kingdoms existence at all, let alone that this place had once been of import to it.
"And so you are wondering what we are here for?"
The Squire nodded unsurely, before pensively pressing his hand to his chin, and shaking his head.
"No, your Highness. I wonder... what do you hope to find? Not what do we expect or hope to find here, but what do you hope to find in general?"
The Prince nodded twice, acknowledging the worth of the question, and motioned for the Squire to take a seat. Without even being told, young Ilias had pulled a chair up to the small table for Eros to sit on. As the Squire settled in and the Cupbearer moved back into the corner of the tent, the prince picked up a small, weathered notebook, waving it slightly for effect.
"What you see here, Eleutherios, is the latest clue on this trail I have been pursuing for years. In this notebook, a woman details her time with a small company of men and a mysterious child to this place. The child, they all claimed, could hear the voices of angels, and would scribble down their teachings into books in languages that none of them had ever seen before, let alone could read. Somewhere around the mid-point of their stay they buried a small wooden chest into the wall, to seal away whatever the child wrote. They don't say what it contains, but im willing to bet it's the next step in proving my theory true."
The Squire, to his credit, seemed largely unphased by the peculiarity of the situation, only nodding his understanding making to stand.
"Thank you, your Grace. If I may take my leave?"
The Squire blanched as Lykourgos smirked at him.
"'Your Grace' is reserved for the Crown Prince and the King, and I, as you well know, am neither. Therefore, I am 'Your Highness'. You really should know this if you're to become a Knight in the Order of the Violet." He paused, letting the words sink in to the young man, before gesturing for him to leave. As Ilias pulled aside the curtain door to the tent, he called out to him one last time.
"Oh, and Eros?"
The Squire froze in place, wheeling around to face Lykourgos, who nodded once and gave him a far more genuine smile than the smirk he had borne a moment prior.
"In times of uncertainty, it is good to know who's side you stand on."
The Squire nodded in return, his already pale face betraying his understanding of the double meaning behind his words.
"Aye, my Prince."
"Angels be praised, I need a break from these constant petitions. I thought travelling to the middle of nowhere on the border of the civilised world might mean that the petty nobility would leave me alone, though it seems I may have hoped for far too much in that regard."
Lykourgos moved to leave the tent, beckoning Ilias to follow him.
"Come on, let's see how the boys are doing. It'll do you some good to get out of this tent anyway."
The young cupbearer made to follow, hurriedly gathering the prince's cloak and Longseaxe, attaching them to his person as they walked past the rest of their small encampment.
"Well, what do you make of our curious Squire?"
His Cupbearer smiled sweetly, nervously glancing to the smouldering remains of the campfire. Following his gaze, the prince saw the Squire sat on a small log, intently listening to Dreamwulf and Nasos explain the differing interpretations and meanings behind the faith. It was refreshing to see two Clergymen who did not attempt to impose their views, but allowed their flock to come to their own conclusion about their beliefs. He looked back to his Cupbearer, who's gaze had not once left the three of them.
"I'd make quite a lot of him, given the chance."
The Prince spat out some of the water he'd been drinking, and spent the next ten seconds hacking before settling into good-natured laughter.
"Are you alright, your Highness?"
He enunciated the words 'your Highness' in a mockery of the Squire who appeared to be the target of his affections.
"Quite, though I wasn't expecting you to be so direct."
Ilias sheepishly smiled, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Well, one must always speak their mind when asked by royalty."
"Not quite. Only half-royalty."
The servant rolled his eyes and scoffed in a good-natured manner.
"Come now your Highness, you and Master Elikoidi got me this position thanks to me having a few drops of minor-noble blood. I think if I called a half-royal illegitimate, I may also be invalidating my own position here."
Now this was surprising. If he knew Elikoidi, and by the Carpenter did he know him, Elikoidi would not have mentioned Lykourgos' role in Ilias' position at all, meaning that Ilias had come to this conclusion by himself, somehow. Still, this would be a good test for the lad.
"Me and Elikoidi? As I'm sure you're aware, we fell out years ago and have yet to make up. I doubt we would be able to work together particularly well."
"So you say your G- your Highness. I must have been mistaken. It's just that... well, you two spend an awful lot of time together for people who despise each other so much. That and I swiped a copy of a letter your sister wrote detailing Elikoidi's fascination with how you think."
Lykourgos was smirking again now, though wider than before. This young man was a wealth of talent just waiting to be honed.
"Interesting, still, enemies can respect each other."
The Cupbearer nodded.
"Indeed, your Highness. It would explain your sibling's own admittance of admiration for you."
He looked incredulously at Ilias as they passed into the abandoned Greathall of the Castle.
"Roma and I detest each other. Fiercely."
"I was referring to Rhema."
"Rhema? And how the hell were you able to decipher his babblings?"
Ilias smiled up at him. Well, now he knew why Elikoidi chose this one; that was a dangerously pleasing smile. He cleared his head as the cupbearer spoke.
"I had to engage in some... interesting mental gymnastics."
The Prince snorted, looking at the summit of the dilapidated Greathall.
"That certainly sounds about right. Here, come and help me get to the top of this hall, I want to see the view from the highest point in this castle and this is one of the only remaining buildings in a somewhat stable condition."
The Cupbearer nodded, and Lykourgos noticed a very well-hidden gleam of excitement in his cupbearer's eyes. It seemed he was looking forwards to this as well.
"At once, my Prince!"
The view from the top of the Greathall was a spectacular sight. From here you could see everything between the Farwald and the Aenir river, luscious greens and deep blues arrayed against the grey stones and white caps of the Archic mountains. If he had his brother or sister's talents for the arts he most certainly would have called for an easel and canvas, but alas, he was far too busy for such flights of fancy.
"So, a box of some description?"
He turned to his servant.
"Indeed. Should be oak, with a brass latch."
"And if there is no box? If we've come here for nothing?"
Lykourgos turned to him with an irritated expression, three and a half years' worth of mockery being recalled in seconds.
"Mind your tone. If we cannot find it here then we move to the next mountain hall, and then next after that, to the top of Anamanesis if needs be."
His tone had become more bitter, the possibility of a dead end here being all too real. After all, if he couldn't find anything to further his goals and studies here, he effectively had no leads left to scour through, and that would render the last three years of his life effectively moot. The thought of returning with nothing but an empty void where his triumph should have been turned his stomach, until he was certain he would bring up what little he had eaten today.
"It is here. It has to be."
The Cupbearer made a supplicating gesture, looking down at his feet.
"Of course my Prince. Forgive me, I should not have spoken out of place."
He sighed exasperatedly, remembering who he was speaking to. This was not one of his siblings mocking him, nor his father or some lord south of the Einar. This was a servant who had barely reached manhood, and had done nothing to warrant such vitriol.
"I apologise for my crassness. It was unbecoming of me. I only meant to say that I have worked for years attempting to find this box, and believe this to be the correct location. I truly do not know what I will do if I am wrong about this."
They lay there in silence for a small while, enjoying the warming rays of sunshine as a respite from the cold mountain air, the silence a welcome break to the both of them, even considering the previous subject matter. It was quite nice here, actually; despite the cool mountain air, the stones they were led upon had soaked in the warmth of the sun all day, and as such there was a pleasing warmth to be felt. He could allow himself to rest a touch, after all, it was very rare he took any time away from the capital, away from the happenings of courtly life and the constant awakenings no matter the hour. No one would fault him if he enjoyed a little rest for a few minutes, would they?
"Your Highness!" A voice called from the base of the Greathall. He blinked his eyes open, and looked down at the Squire. He didn't know this one by name, but as far as he recalled he was a distant relation of Eros. He motioned for the man to continue. As he spoke his voice took on an excited tone, and his face split into a huge grin.
"We've found it!".
"The box? You've found the box?"
The young squire nodded his head excitedly.
"Yes, my Prince! It's been found, along with a... person?"
The Prince rolled his eyes. Having just found what he'd been looking for all these years, why did they think he'd be interested in a vagabond found loitering around the castle?
"A person? Really?" He asked, voice laden with incredulity.
"Yes, your highness! A young man was found unconscious in a hollow section of the wall. We'd been excavating from the top down when Oblate Dreamwulf said he could hear a difference when tapping the haft of a spear along different sections of the curtain wall, so we took off the next few layers around where he could make out the difference and found a man clutching the box!"
Lykourgos made to climb down, assisting his cupbearer where necessary. This changed quite a few things. He had assumed they meant a person was found nearby, not that they had found someone holding the box.
Maybe it's the child the woman spoke of in the journals? He thought to himself. If that were true, then he would not only have a few more clues in his search for the unifying mythical figurehead in all religions in the civilised world, but perhaps even an answer!
"Have any of you disturbed the body or box?"
The Squire shook his head.
"No your highness. Eros and Nasos wanted it to be left as we found it until you arrived, and after we explained what it looked to be to Dreamwulf he agreed wholeheartedly. It has been left untouched, save for the layer of stone covering it which, of course, has been removed."
He nodded at the Squire. It seemed that Eros and the two young holy men had taken de-facto control of the expedition in his absence. Good. If there was anyone he trusted out of this group, it was the three of them, if for no other reason than one was hand-picked by his closest friend and the other two wore the cloth of the church, and so would never seek to divert a holy mission from its path.
"Show me to where it was found."
The prince had made his mind up. He was definitely keeping Dreamwulf as a member of his personal retinue. The Oblate looked at him with pale, milky eyes.
"I could 'ear an echo when I struck right e're. Marks it out fer bein' hollow that does."
Dreamwulf, for all his strengths, stuck out from the group like a sore thumb thanks to two very obvious factors. Firstly, coming from a rural, peasant family, he was of Skraeling stock. The Skraeling's had been the native people before the Klironomoi had been forced to migrate from Dathan northwards to Klironomea. Ignoring the fact that, by itself, that made some of the more... outspoken members of the expedition feel he was inferior to them, it was compounded by the fact that he spoke in Old-Klironomean, which, despite being extremely similar in almost every regard to High-Klironomean, was utterly incomprehensible to the majority of those nobles and city-dwellers too stuck-up to even consider learning a "peasants language", making conversation hard for him outside of about three people in the expedition.
The second, more obvious factor, was that of his run-in with the Black Grave. Half of his right arm along with swathes of his chest and back were covered in patches of tough, dark grey skin that bordered on obsidian black in some places, and on top of that, both of his eyes, which had once been green according to him, were now a milky white, with two slightly discoloured grey circles where his irises had once been. His blindness may have been a great injustice thrust upon him, but the prince would be damned if he said he wasn't glad for it now; without his other senses improving to accommodate his blindness, the expedition could have been here for days longer than needs be otherwise.
The Prince smiled and nodded, hoping Dreamwulf could at least hear the appreciation in his voice if he couldn't show it to him.
"Oblate Dreamwulf, you excel yourself. Thank you for your assistance."
The Oblate bowed slightly.
"I live to serve, yer Grace."
A few members of the expedition muttered at the use of "your Grace" rather than "your Highness", but in fairness to Dreamwulf, there was little to no difference between the terms in Old-Klironomean. He spied Eros looking pointedly anywhere but the prince, likely still embarrassed about slipping up himself earlier, and the Squire didn't even have the Oblate's excuse of a language barrier.
The prince hopped up onto the remains of the low curtain wall that once served as the boundary of this mountain hall, barely waist high now thanks to centuries upon centuries of abandonment and his expedition's ministrations. Looking into the hollow chamber that his men had uncovered, he could see that it was about six foot long, two wide and one deep. It wasn't carved into the wall in a sophisticated manner, rather the hollow section had been built into the structure, as though it had been uncovered, it's inhabitant and box placed in the gap, and then finally rebuilt to cover it back up.
The box itself was nothing special at a glance, no different from how the notes the prince had found previously described it: oak with a brass latch. It was small enough to rest gently on the chest of the man it had been buried with, who rested his hands around the box in a position that suggested some sort of ritualistic burial, like the men of the north were want to do when someone of importance passed on.
The man himself had dark hair, pale skin and a serene expression on his face. He looked... well, he looked as though he hadn't decomposed at all. In fact, the prince thought with a rising amount of shock, I think he might just be unconscious, or... sleeping.
He gently took the box from the hands of the young man, and moved his now-empty hands to rest on his chest. As he did so, the prince noted the extremely subtle rise and fall of his chest.
Angels above, he thought to himself, he actually is just asleep!
The Prince called out to Dreamwulf,
"Dreamwulf, come up here, would you? You've got by far the best hearing out of all of us. Can you hear him breathing?"
The Oblate cupped his ear, moving it close to the young man's mouth and nodding slowly.
"Indeed yer 'Ighness,"
Ah, so he did hear the reaction when he said "your grace".
"though I am slightly confused as to why I couldn't 'ear it before."
The Prince nodded, his hand pressed to his chin.
"Perhaps the box was compressing his chest, or else maybe he had ran out of air, entombed as he was in the wall, though that raises more questions than it answers, for instance, how has he survived trapped in there?"
Eros spoke up, also clearly in thought,
"And why was he buried alive with his box?"
The expedition members sat around in silence for a few minutes, some clearly just enjoying the respite that the stop provided, though most lost in thought. Eventually, the Prince stood up again, turning his attention back down to the assorted members of his retinue below him.
"We have what we came for now. I want our camp packed, the horses fed and last fires doused in the hour. Afterwards we return to the capital by the Riverroad, crossing to the Coastroad after Aenirhen. Any questions?"
A farrier spoke up near the back of the crowd.
"What of the man we found, your Highness?"
He didn't have to think long to reach a conclusion, but for some reason holding his doubts at bay seemed difficult here, more so than normal anyways.
"Load him onto one of the carts, and try not to disturb him too much. We'll try and wake him when we get to Aenirhen, see if he might know something that can help me with my studies into the myths of old."
The camp stayed quiet, the men digesting their tasks and, if they were honest, putting them off. The silent spell was broken when Dreamwulf, dependable as ever, rose to his feet, clapped his hands together once, and loudly proclaimed,
"Right then, you all 'eard his 'Ighness, and I don't hear anyone moving. Come on, if we wan' get back 'afore 'arvest season we need to get a move on!"
The Prince smiled to himself. He was definitely going to keep Dreamwulf in his retinue.
20 Years Old.
Currently working on a low/dark fantasy piece, "An Angel Called Eternity".