Life in the Kingdom of Mavinor had long been lived by the precepts of a set of holy documents known as The Scrolls. The Scrolls provided a set of rules and principles setting forth how the people of Mavinor should live their lives and had been written a long time in the past by men believed to be inspired by a deity known as The Author.
In these latter times, the people of Mavinor have begun to turn away from the precepts contained in The Scrolls. When they were attacked by the army of the neighboring kingdom of Xamnon, every copy of The Scrolls was destroyed. The content lived on in the minds only of those who had taken pains to learn it. This knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next, but over time, fewer and fewer remembered. The effort to rewrite them continues, but the task is incomplete in the time of the reign of King Onestus…a time when the king finds that he needs their guidance more than ever.
The sun rose slowly over the mountains in the east, its rays of light trickling down onto the surface of the sea directly south of Mavinor. They crawled across the sand of the shoreline and angled up the walls of Mavinor’s majestic palace, sending light glittering along the mica-chipped surface of the stone. From a distance, the city appeared to rise from the sand and shadows like a mirage, shimmering in the heat of the new day.
From where Onestus lay, however, the warmth seemed a thousand miles away. He rested on a pile of pillows that somehow failed to prevent the aching in his bones; he was tucked in beneath a pile of soft furs and blankets that failed equally against the chill of the early morning air. He stared out the window, dreading the moment when he’d have to slide his legs over the side of the bed, entrust himself to servants, and dress for the day.
Onestus was a tall man, broad of shoulder and thick boned. His hair, once a magnificent dark mane, had mostly turned to gray. His eyes, still sharp and filled with life, were the focus of a weakened visage. They diverted attention from his failing body to his active mind and aided him with the illusion of health he sought to weave.
The aches were worse in the morning. By noon, he’d be able to stand upright and walk without a limp. Careful planning had removed much of the activity from his day, and his closest guards and attendants, the only others who were aware of his condition, were loyal and vigilant.
Despite all of this, Onestus knew that it was only a matter of time before the truth would have to be revealed. He was old, he was tired, and now he was ill. He would not be king of Mavinor forever, and without a new king – without the right king – the city might fall.
The door to his chamber opened, and a slender young man entered. He wore a simple dark tunic without adornment. His hair, the same gold as the sunlight, glimmered richly. Onestus caught his eye, and the boy smiled.
“Good morning, sire,” the boy said. He held a tray of fresh fruit and bread, and he carried it to the table beside Onestus’ bed. “I’ve brought your breakfast.”
“Good morning Talmik,” Onestus said. “I’m not really hungry.”
“And yet you must eat,” Talmik replied. “Today is important. Have you forgotten that you are scheduled to meet with the scribes? There are rumors of a breakthrough in the translation.”
“There are always rumors,” Onestus muttered. “They spread rumors so I won’t question them incessantly on their progress.”
Talmik stood silently and waited. Onestus sighed and pushed back the covers, bracing himself for the cool air. He was almost disappointed when he found that the sun, just creeping over the sill of his great window, had warmed the air considerably. The chill never came, and a few moments later he was seated by that window, sipping hot tea, eating breakfast, and watching the city below come to life.
In the distance he saw two groups of soldiers drilling, some facing off against one another with swords and spears, others targeting man-sized bales of dried grass with bows and crossbows. He could hear their shouts floating on the light breeze. Armor and weapons glittered in the sunlight and flashed as the soldiers simulated battle after battle.
He caught sight of General Sicarius striding along the outer edge of his troops, their ranks a wash of brilliant red and gold, stopping now and then to commend a warrior on a particularly brilliant move or to redress some inconsistency or failure. Wherever the general walked, men stood straighter and weapons clashed with greater zeal. Eyes followed when he moved on. There were a lot of failings in Mavinor, but the abilities of the general in charge of her armies were not in question. He was a strong leader who would not tolerate anything less than perfection from his troops.
The kingdom’s crisis had little to do with strength of arms or prowess in battle. Onestus was more than an administrator. His position was that of spiritual leader and guide. Those of faith remembered carefully. At one time, The Scrolls had resided within the thick and protected walls of Mavinor’s main house of worship, The Author’s Temple. Priests had studied those words and spread their wisdom. Kings and their armies had clear direction and shared purpose. So much had changed.
The Scrolls were being recreated. There was a careful oral tradition running through Onestus’ people. While recreation was far from complete, a great deal of the ancient teachings had been recovered, transcribed, and stored. Onestus did not doubt their veracity; his own memory was clear, and he could recite long passages without hesitation. He had contributed to the reconstruction himself.
Now he faced an important crossroad. He was childless. With no heir to the throne, Onestus knew that he needed to appoint a successor, and soon. His health was failing, and he did not wish to leave Mavinor without a leader for fear of the confusion and turmoil that might result. There were passages in The Scrolls dealing the succession to the throne. He remembered them but not well enough to recreate the words, and anything less would be unfair to the kingdom. Any error in following The Author’s guidance could lead to ruin. If he acted recklessly, trusting to his memory to guide him, he would be setting himself up to fail, and it was beginning to look as if this might be his last act as king. He had to get it right.
Onestus turned at the sound of heavy footsteps beyond the entrance to his room. Talmik crossed the chamber and opened the door. Four impeccably uniformed guards stepped through. A fifth man, Kenrick, captain of the king’s personal guard, stepped forward, his helm in the crook of his arm.
“It is time for the council, Lord,” he said.
Onestus nodded. He drained his tea, which had grown tepid, and stood slowly. Talmik stepped forward, as if to help him up, but Onestus waved him away.
“I’ll be fine,” the king said to his trustworthy aide. “Bring me my raiment.”
Onestus stood still and held out his arms. Talmik quickly draped him in a robe trimmed in fur. It was a bit too heavy for the weather, but no one would question it. The extra warmth helped Onestus’ joints, and he was going to need his wits about him for what was to come. If the scribes did not bring him what he needed, he’d have to find another way to save Mavinor. He wasn’t certain he was up to the task.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “I do not wish to be late.”
He started for the door, and the guards filed in around him, Kenrick leading the way and Talmik trailing directly behind. If he stumbled or faltered, no one would see. For once their precautions were not necessary, but all of them knew it was a charade they could not keep up forever. They walked in silence, and none among them smiled.
~ * ~
The Great Hall was empty when they arrived. The guards spread out and searched the huge room, checking in alcoves and behind pillars. It was mostly a ritualistic precaution, but they took it as seriously as if they had a death threat in hand. Onestus stood and watched them from an antechamber at the bottom of the stairs that led to the Great Hall. He could only imagine the number of times he’d witnessed this same scene. When he was much younger, he’d watch the guards with impatience. Now it calmed him, seeing that they did not deviate from what they had been taught.
When the hall was cleared, Onestus entered and took his seat at the head of a long, glossy wooden table. During better times he’d taken that same seat to oversee sumptuous feasts. But now the room echoed when anyone moved, and he felt alone and lost in the center of it.
Not long after he was seated, hurried footsteps sounded. Onestus turned and watched as a small group of men entered the chamber. They were an odd lot, robed in brown and burdened with sheaves of paper, furled scrolls, and one enormous leather-bound tome. Onestus frowned. Normally his reports consisted only of the portion of The Scrolls that had been reconstructed since their last meeting. Sometimes there were many pages…other times the scribes produced no more than a paragraph from their research. They very rarely brought the source of their research before him, and his curiosity was piqued. Perhaps this time the rumors of a breakthrough had been true?
There were six in all: two scribes, two historians, and two priests. All were devout believers in The Author and in The Scrolls. All had dedicated their lives to bringing those holy documents back to their full splendor. It was tedious work. They constantly questioned the eldest and the brightest in the city, filling in missing passages, working their way from one subject to the next with painstaking care. Some passages from The Scrolls had been discovered in other works: passages recorded verbatim in epic poems or the songs of bards. Even historians from time to time recorded passages in order to study them more carefully in the context of their own work.
The eldest of the group, Cantos, bowed very low, holding the oversized book in his hands so that it nearly brushed the floor.
“Rise, Cantos,” Onestus said. “Tell me that you have come to me with a new revelation regarding The Scrolls and not to read me a story.”
Cantos stood and smiled broadly at Onestus. The king caught a glimpse of the smile; he almost returned it, but he held back the urge because he felt that it was always best to remain distant and watchful with Cantos. Although he was the most knowledgeable expert on The Scrolls the king had ever met, Cantos had a past. He had once allowed his greed to overcome his sense and had embezzled money when serving as a tax collector. Cantos had repented of his crime and had returned the money, but only his charisma and his value to the kingdom as a scholar had allowed him to continue in any position of importance.
Onestus liked Cantos. He believed a man could change and also that it was the very nature of faith in The Author to believe that the lessons of The Scrolls allowed a man to better himself. At the same time, as king, he could not afford to let his faith in the man cloud his judgment.
Cantos stood straight and placed the book on the table before Onestus. The king reached out and traced the letters beveled into the smooth leather. The title caused him to stare visibly.
The Chronicle of Haggiselm
Onestus glanced at Cantos.
“This is a history?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” Cantos said. “It’s a poem. A very long poem. I don’t have to tell you of the exploits of Haggiselm. They teach of his adventures and his courage in every temple. There are shelves in the library filled with nothing but histories, stylized legends, and the lyrics of songs dedicated to Mavinor’s greatest warrior.”
“And yet,” Onestus said, “you have brought me this single volume.”
Cantos nodded. He reached out and flipped the book open to where a thick gold ribbon marked a page near the center of the huge book. Onestus brushed Cantos’ hand aside and began to read. He began at the first stanza on the left-hand page; he stopped reading and gasped halfway down the right.
“Is it possible?” he asked.
At his question, the tension in the room melted away. The scholars seated themselves close to the king, who continued to pore over the text. Onestus read aloud so softly that none could hear, moving his finger carefully from word to word and racking his brain to provide the accuracy he needed…the memory.
It was a familiar story. He knew he’d heard it told, and he believed that he’d read it as a younger man. It told of how Haggiselm, fearing for the future of the kingdom, had ridden off on a great quest.
The book appeared to include the entire text from The Scrolls, giving the account of that quest, including its purpose. Under attack from the armies of Xamnon, in fear of losing all that was precious to the city, the king sent Haggiselm on a long journey, entrusting to him two objects of great power. The first was the Medallion of Mavinor. The second was the Ivory Sabre. According to tradition, both of these were gifts to the kingdom of Mavinor from The Author Himself.
Haggiselm carried the items away by night and rode hard into the Northern Mountains, where he hid the Medallion in a place described as a labyrinth of sorts. It was to remain there, secreted away, until the time when Mavinor needed it most. When that time arrived, a group of thirteen men would set out to retrieve it, and the one who returned bearing the Medallion would be Mavinor’s next king. When Haggiselm’s task was complete, he took the Ivory Sabre but never came back to Mavinor. It was almost as if he had disappeared, and no one knew whatever became of him.
At this point the poem diverged from The Scrolls and returned to its own rambling style. Onestus glanced up at Cantos.
“Is it accurate?” he asked.
“It is,” Cantos said. There was no uncertainty in his voice, and Onestus felt a great weight lifting from his shoulders.
“This matches up with what we had, then?” Onestus persisted. “There are no gaps?”
“It is the next sequence,” Cantos said. “It confirms the location of the Medallion, and it confirms the quest. It is what you have been searching for.”
Nothing more was said, but the implications of Cantos’ words hung heavy in the air. Onestus sat back with a heavy sigh.
“You have the transcription for me?” he asked.
A heavyset blonde man with a scraggle of beard stepped forward. He held out a single scroll that was carefully tied with gilt ribbon. Onestus took it, but he made no move to open it.
“There are copies?” he asked.
“Of course,” Cantos replied. “It has been appended to the main scrolls, and copies have been secreted in the temples. We were careful, as always.”
“Do not speak to any of this,” Onestus said, standing more quickly than he meant to. The room spun for a moment, but he gritted his teeth and managed not to show the momentary weakness – at least he hoped he had. “I will study this and prepare an announcement.”
“You will sanction the quest?” Cantos asked.
Onestus nodded. “What choice do I have? A kingdom must have a king. The Scrolls have returned their wisdom in our time of need, but to be worthy of that wisdom we must act upon it.”
A tremble shot up the king’s spine as he turned to exit the hall. He reached out and managed to catch himself on the edge of the table. Onestus regained his bearings and straightened. Talmik moved closer to help, but Onestus waved him away.
“We haven’t much time,” Onestus said. “Give me this afternoon to study what you have brought. Tomorrow I will issue the proclamation. In the meantime, I expect each and every one of you to study what resources you have and to think about those among our finest and strongest who might suit the quest. We will have to make our choices quickly, and yet there is no room for error. If we send one not worthy of the quest, he will fail. I do not believe the waning faith of Mavinor would survive such a blow. Once we have committed to this, those who doubt will be looking for the quest to falter. We cannot allow that to happen.”
“Surely finding thirteen warriors won’t be so difficult,” Cantos said. “We have the entire city to choose from – the army – there are heroes aplenty.”
“It isn’t a matter of finding thirteen heroes,” Onestus said, cocking an eyebrow in Cantos’ direction. “It is also not necessarily true that they will all be great warriors. The key is in finding those who are called. There would seem to be obvious choices, but in issues of faith the easy way is very seldom the best.”
Cantos nodded. “We will do what we can,” he said.
The scribes hurried to gather up the rest of their papers and scrolls. Talmik and the guards surrounded Onestus and formed a narrow corridor with their bodies that stretched back toward the anteroom and the stairs beyond. Two guards slipped out and checked the way, finding nothing as Onestus had known they would. He followed after them slowly, and his guards filled in behind.
~ * ~
Sicarius looked up as his lieutenant and right-hand man, Tarsus, stepped into the doorway and knocked gently. With an omnipresent look of intensity on his face and insignia of two golden swords crossed over one another on his military uniform, Tarsus entered the room.
“What is it?” the general grated. He was deep into plans for refortification of the city walls and not in a mood for interruption.
“There is someone here to see you,” Tarsus replied. “It is Valdan, of the king’s guard. I informed him that you gave instructions not to be interrupted, but he insists that it is very important.”
Sicarius straightened; his expression shifted from annoyance to keen interest.
“Show him in,” he said.
Tarsus bowed, and he backed out of the door. A moment later he returned, leading a tall man in the ornate armor of the king’s private guard.
“I trust you are well, Valdan,” Sicarius said.
“I am well,” he said. “I have word from the palace that I wish to share with you.”
“By all means,” Sicarius replied.
“He will summon you tomorrow,” Valdan said, “but not until he has had a chance to confer with his advisors. They have recovered a new segment of The Scrolls.”
“They are always recovering segments of The Scrolls,” Sicarius said. “You have taken quite a chance coming to me openly, in broad daylight.”
“I know, but this is urgent,” Valdan said. “There is to be a quest. The king will decree it tomorrow. There are to be thirteen champions chosen; he believes that most of them will come from the military.”
Sicarius smoothed the map he’d been studying idly and then pushed back from the table and stared up at Valdan.
“A quest?” he said. “For what?”
“They will seek the Medallion of Mavinor,” Valdan said. “The Scrolls say that Haggiselm hid the Medallion in the Northern Mountains…against a time of need.”
“Need? There is never peace, that much is true, but there is no more particular need now than there has been at other times. The legend that I remember said that the Medallion should be sought when…” he grew silent.
Valdan finished the sentence, “When Mavinor needed a king.”
Sicarius sat very still for a moment. “This opportunity is a fool’s folly,” he said. “We will not support the quest. I tire of living by the words of a mythical being. Haggiselm himself was so lost in legends that we don’t know the truth of his life let alone any quest he might have undertaken.”
“The king is convinced that it is the only thing to do,” Valdan said. “He is not well. He has tried to hide it, and he is a strong-willed man, but time is growing very short.”
Sicarius nodded. “Of course,” he said. “It changes nothing. The time for living in our past is coming to an end. This…fool’s quest…will be the final straw.”
“The Scrolls were very clear,” Valdan said softly.
Sicarius shook his head, a look of disdain coming over his face. “You will tell no one of our meeting, of course?”
“Of course,” Valdan said, bowing his head.
“Good. Return to Onestus and your duties. I have a great deal of work to do and very little time for it. I will see you tomorrow at the palace…when I am summoned.”
Valdan nodded and backed out of the room in silence. Sicarius waited until he had left and then called for Tarsus.
“Get our officers in here,” he said. “I don’t care what they are doing or what other orders they may have received. They don’t have to come all at once, but I need to see them all before day’s end. Be discreet. I don’t want word getting back to the palace that anything odd is going on here.”
“By all means, general,” Tarsus said.
A moment later, Sicarius was alone with his thoughts. He turned and gazed out his window in the direction of the palace. After a few minutes he shook his head, and he smiled.
Onestus summoned Sicarius at the break of dawn and waited in his chambers, where his breakfast lay on a tray, mostly ignored. He wanted the general to know before anyone else in the kingdom – the general’s wisdom in searching out the thirteen would be invaluable. No one knew the capabilities of the army or its heroes better than Sicarius.
In recent years Onestus had felt Sicarius distancing himself, but he’d attributed this to his own weakness and inactivity. Sicarius was a man of action, and he had his hands full defending the boundaries of Mavinor. It was no wonder he had little time for anything but routine reports. To his surprise, Onestus found that he actually missed the company of the tall, gruff, bearded warrior. It had been too long since they’d shared anything but a passing conversation. He hoped that his general felt the same.
There was a knock at the door, and Sicarius swept in, not waiting to be announced. There was a clatter of armor and weapons in the hall, and Onestus heard someone curse. He glanced up and watched Sicarius’ grand entrance with a wry smile. The general walked past the guards, proudly clad in his uniform, which displayed the insignia of a six-eyed spider, the bite of which was the most venomous and lethal known to man.
“Impatient as always, I see,” he said. “Good morning, Sicarius. I pray the day finds you well?”
“It found me better before my duties were interrupted, sire,” he said, speaking frankly as always. “I am sorry if I have injured the pride of any member of your guard, but when I’m summoned, I expect that I am welcome. You’ll pardon me for not surrendering my weapons or allowing a search.”
“It would be entertaining indeed to see them push the attempt, old friend,” he said. “Sit. I have important news, and I need your counsel. It has been far too long since the two of us spoke freely.”
“My duties keep me away,” Sicarius said. He bowed ever so slightly, nodding his head in respect.
“Yes,” Onestus said. “There is always someone pounding at the gate, isn’t there? You have done an admirable job and are to be commended. This time, though, it is not exactly a matter of war or defense that concerns me. It is a matter of faith.”
“Perhaps,” Sicarius said, taking a seat across from the king and reaching for a piece of the uneaten fruit on the breakfast tray, “you have mistaken me for a priest?”
“Hardly,” he said. “We have had a breakthrough in the recreation of The Scrolls. I believe it to be a sign. There are – circumstances – that make me believe this particular bit of The Scrolls has come back to us in our time of need.”
Sicarius held his tongue. It was well known among his own men that he was not a man of faith, and he believed it was high time the kingdom was run by a more practical set of rules. The kingdom’s enemies were constantly at its gates, and though – in the past – its strength had been rooted in their possession of The Author’s Scrolls, the recreation of those scrolls steadily ate away at Onestus’ time and at his mind. It distracted him from the day-to-day business of his kingdom and his people. Sicarius stood at the gates and fended off the wolves while his king chased what Sicarius considered to be myth and shadow.
Still, it was wise for even a general to keep his thoughts to himself when they did not parallel those of the king. Sicarius believed that if he was patient, his own philosophy would show itself as truth. But he didn’t want to sacrifice his position and authority in the attempt to hurry it along.
“The segment of The Scrolls that has been recovered most recently involves a warrior. You are familiar, I’m sure, with the stories of Haggiselm?”
“What boy of Mavinor did not study the epic stories?” Sicarius asked in reply. “Of course I am aware of those tales – they are part of my very being. It was stories of heroism and adventure that drew me to the military, and I admired Haggiselm more so than any of the other mythic heroes.”
“The Scrolls are not myths,” Onestus said, sitting up straighter.
“I did not mean to imply that they were,” Sicarius said placatingly. “There are songs, stories, legends – Haggiselm was chronicled in many places other than The Scrolls.”
Onestus nodded and relaxed. Then he continued.
“Then you are also familiar with the Medallion of Mavinor?”
Sicarius kept his face devoid of emotion. It would not do for the king to realize the information had already been leaked. The king was old, and he was growing weak, but he was not a stupid man, and Sicarius was not ready to lose his source. It had taken him months of recommendations and hard work to place a man so close to the throne.
“I have heard of the Medallion, yes,” he said. “It has been lost for many years.”
“Not lost, exactly,” Onestus replied. He lifted a scroll from its stand on the table and unrolled it. As Sicarius sat in silence, Onestus recited the recovered segment of The Scrolls. When he was done, he glanced up to catch his general’s reaction.
Sicarius considered his response carefully.
“It is a compelling tale,” he said at last. “One can almost picture the pass in that far-off mountain range and the great warrior secreting away the Medallion. Still, it isn’t very – detailed. The Northern Mountains extend for many miles, much of which is unmapped. There are other legends of those mountains as well, and few of them end happily.”
“The wisdom of The Scrolls is not always evident on the surface,” Onestus replied. “It is there to be studied and then acted upon. We will be naming the thirteen beginning today. I would value your opinion as we make those decisions.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence during which a hundred inappropriate responses rose to Sicarius’ lips but were bitten back. He raised his eyes slowly and looked directly at the king.
“I will pass on the call for the thirteen to my men,” he said carefully. “I will make it clear that you seek only the strongest and the bravest. If they should ask, I will explain to them that this quest is written in The Scrolls and that you believe the outcome will greatly affect the future of Mavinor.”
“We are not going to make an open call,” Onestus said. “We will choose the thirteen ourselves and summon them. It was in their selection that I’d hoped to have your guidance.”
“I would recommend any man under my command for such a mission,” Sicarius said with a shrug. “There are some more proficient than others, but their abilities are well documented. With all due respect, sire, I believe my services would be better utilized overseeing the defenses of the kingdom.”
Onestus opened his mouth as if to push the issue, but he sat back. In that moment he looked older and wearier than Sicarius ever remembered seeing him. The general felt almost guilty for his lack of support, but still he held his tongue. He believed he was acting in the best interests of the kingdom and was firm in his decision. Protection was his duty and his purpose.
“I will keep this to myself, as you requested,” Sicarius said, rising. “I wish you all the best in your selections.”
“Thank you for your time,” Onestus said. “I am certain that The Author will guide us in our decisions and that they will prove the right ones. You are right to put your duties first.”
“If I may take my leave, sire?” Sicarius said. “I have an entire regiment awaiting my inspection, and the sun is rising quickly. They must be growing restless.”
“Of course,” Onestus said. “Do not keep them waiting. We will begin our selection this afternoon. By tomorrow morning we should be ready to summon the thirteen. I wouldn’t want any of them to succumb to the heat before we have the opportunity to send for them.”
Sicarius smiled, but he did not laugh. He turned on his heel and left the king’s chambers without looking back. Onestus watched the man go until he was out of sight, and then he took a deep breath and turned to Talmik, who had reentered the room. The young man stood still, waiting for instructions.
“Summon the elders,” Onestus said. “Summon the scribes. Have wine and food brought to The Great Hall – enough to last the night if necessary.”
Talmik nodded and turned.
“Talmik?” Onestus asked softly.
The aide turned back.
“Before you summon the others…send me Ignatus.”
Talmik heeded and departed. The king stared out the window in silence, bracing himself against the coming storm of the day.
Ignatus obeyed Onestus’ summons immediately. The old soldier was compact and lean. His hair was dark with a hint of gray at the temples though he was bald on top. His sideburns extended down to a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. Unlike General Sicarius, Ignatus handed over his weapons without question when asked. He stood very still, just inside the door, waiting. Emblazoned across his breastplate was a sunburst with the letters IHS in the center. Above the letter H was a cross, and below it the image of three swords in a semicircle. The letters stood for Ignatus Heroicus Sanctus, the venerable and heroic Ignatus.
“Come in, old friend,” Onestus said. “We have known one another far too long to be bound by ceremony.”
Ignatus bowed nonetheless and entered the room. He walked over to the table and took the seat that Talmik had pulled out for him.
“I have something very important to ask you,” Onestus said without preamble. “A breakthrough was made today in the recreation of The Scrolls, a breakthrough that is currently of vast importance to the kingdom.”
“Any breakthrough is of importance,” Ignatus said.
Onestus nodded gravely. “That is true, of course, but let me speak openly. I have not been well. The last year has been a difficult one for me, and it seems at times that I grow weaker with every passing day. There will come a time, and not so far in the future, that Mavinor will need a new king.”
Caught off guard by the king’s statement, Ignatus paused briefly. “You have many years left, my lord,” he then said. “You are stronger than you believe.”
“That may be true,” Onestus replied, though his smile was tired and showed no credence. “Still, it would be unwise of me to trust the fate of an entire kingdom to my own failing health. Our enemies are constantly at our gates, and though General Sicarius has kept them at bay, military might alone is not going to win the day. The work we are doing with The Scrolls is slow and tedious; attendance in the temples is lower than it has been in my lifetime.”
“The people are faithful,” Ignatus said. “They are merely confused. It is a difficult time, and in difficult times it is leadership that turns the tide. They will turn to you.”
“I hope that is true, Ignatus. But what I will announce tomorrow will test us all. We will be calling on our bravest and our most faithful. We have recovered the tale of Haggiselm. Tomorrow I will call together thirteen men chosen for a quest.”
“The Medallion of Mavinor,” Onestus said. He let the words hang in the air and noticed how Ignatus stiffened. Then the old warrior relaxed.
“Could it be?” he said. “Haggiselm is a legendary warrior. Songs and the tales of the elders make him almost mythic. I know that the Medallion existed – that much I have read for myself – but can this quest actually be validated?”
“It is in The Scrolls,” Onestus said. “The tale they tell is far more subdued than that of the old songs, but it is basically the same. The Medallion was hidden against the needs of the city in the Northern Mountains. It is clearly written that if we are to find our new king, we must recover it.”
“Why do you tell me now?” Ignatus asked. “Surely I should learn of this along with the rest of the kingdom? It is a momentous occasion, and I will want to be present to wish the thirteen well.”
“You know me well enough to understand why you have been summoned,” Onestus replied. “I want you to lead them, Ignatus. When I said the quest should include our strongest and our bravest, I was speaking of you. You have won more honors at arms than any among us save Sicarius, and no one in Mavinor has more experience in battle than you. There is no other to whom I would trust such a journey.”
Ignatus sat for a long moment without speaking. Emotions warred through the scarred and weathered lines of his face. When he broke the silence, his voice was low and filled with emotion. He did not meet Onestus’ eyes.
“I have fought many long years in the army of Mavinor,” he said. “I have seen men grow from children to mighty champions. I have seen great warriors fall to chance and others rise to greatness. I remember when Sicarius was but a bold youth, and I served in your guard when you first took the throne.
“In all of those years I have not rested. I have had no family other than Mavinor’s army, and no purpose other than to serve. Now I am old – too old, I think, for facing off against the young and the strong, and too wise to chance it.
“I would have come to you within the week because I have an announcement of my own. Now I fear that it is ill timed, and yet I believe it is still the correct decision. I am laying down my sword, my lord. I am far past the age when I should have surrendered my role, and I wish to devote myself to higher purpose. It is with a very heavy heart that I must decline this quest. My days of fighting and adventure are over.”
It was the king’s turn to sit in silence though his was tinged with shock. He shook his head as if clearing something from his ears.
“You are laying down your sword?” he asked at last. “I cannot fault the truth in what you say – if any in our kingdom has earned a rest, it is you. But it is that very dedication – that strength of spirit – that I need so desperately on this quest. We cannot afford to fail, Ignatus.”
“I am not the only strong warrior in your service, my lord,” Ignatus said. “I will help to train those who are chosen. I will support you and your mission in any way other than being a part of it. My decision was made long before we spoke this day, and it would be a disservice to us both if I were to rescind it out of pride – taking the place of one more worthy. If I felt in my heart that this was something I was meant for – that this quest called to me – I would lay down my life to be included. It is a sacred quest, and those who are meant to have a place in it will be chosen. I am flattered that you first thought of me, but I do not believe that you will be afforded an open choice in this. I believe that The Author will guide you.”
“You are right, of course,” Onestus said. “Still, I am afraid that General Sicarius is not going to be of much help, and his men are very loyal. I asked him to be a part of the choosing – to join the counselors who will guide me – and he refused.”
“I am not surprised,” Ignatus said. “Sicarius’ mind works very differently from yours and mine. He believes in only one thing – the might of his strong right arm.”
Onestus nodded. “It is more of what I mentioned earlier. Our people need something to restore their faith. We offer them stories of faith, signs of the truth behind The Scrolls, but it has been a long time since such a sign was delivered to them in any real manner. Our enemies pound our gates. The very Scrolls we were entrusted to defend have been destroyed, and many despair their ever being completely restored. It is time for something new – something magnificent.
“In our time of need the tale of Haggiselm was presented to me, and I will act upon it. I wish that you would reconsider, but I will certainly honor your wishes. I do not want any man on this quest against his will. It will be long and arduous, and to fail will not be an option. The Medallion must return to Mavinor.”
“It is a quest worthy of champions,” Ignatus said. “There are many I can think of who would be exemplary choices, but I think that will wait until we see what The Author brings before you. You can count on me to train those who need it and to support them in any way possible.”
“Your loyalty has never been in question, old friend,” Onestus said. “Your advice, as always, is sound. Sometimes I need to stop trying so hard to rule every moment of every day and let myself be led by a higher power.”
“The thirteen will be found,” Ignatus said, rising. “My guess is that they will surprise you in ways we could not anticipate if we debated the subject a thousand nights.”
“I hope only that you are right,” Onestus said. He rose, glad for once not to feel the shaky weakness in his limbs, and clasped Ignatus by the shoulder. “We will know soon enough. I must leave you now. The wise have gathered, and I am to meet with them. We will work as long as it takes for us to name the thirteen. I am afraid that it may prove to be a very long night.”
Ignatus saluted smartly, turned, and left the room. Onestus watched him go. When he was alone again, he sank back into his chair. Talmik stepped from the shadows by the window.
“We’d best be going, sire,” he said.
Onestus nodded, distracted.
“I hope,” he said as he rose once more, “that the last two meetings are not what I have to look forward to in the days to come. I will do whatever is needed to find the thirteen, but I can’t help believing that time is growing very short.”
Talmik didn’t answer. He held out Onestus’ robe, and the king stepped into it, showing more strength and purpose than he had at any other point that day. Without another word they exited the chambers, passed into the quietly assembled phalanx of guards, and on toward The Great Hall. The empty corridor echoed with passing and then fell into total silence.
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