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The Battle At Land’s End Pt 1: A Lapraxus For A King

Minos did not enjoy the sweltering sun of the Aswal desert. It was only his second week as regent and he was growing more despondent by the hour. It seemed the only one who could make sense of the chaos was the unfortunately dead Dalius.

Serpius tried to help, and though he bore the title King’s Steward he had no idea how to do the job. He was a mere butler chosen by fate to do the business of kings.

Minos had just sat down to a lunch of lampreys in olive paste when Serpius, highly agitated, came into the kitchen.

“My lord…”

“Not now,” replied Minos.

“But my lord…”

“Little sucking things,” said an unfamiliar, sing-song voice, “My favorite. Hmmm.”

Minos looked away from his plate of food. He didn’t have the stomach for it anyway but he wouldn’t insult the cook. Dinner the previous day was just as bad: entrails in almond sauce served with a fruit compote made mostly of sugar. As a result he was losing weight.

“Who is it who would eat my lunch?” asked the regent.

“What a fine lunch it is. I am sorry to be late. The weather is foul this time of year.”

“It’s dry and sunny!” declared Minos.

“And so hard on these old bones. Hmmmmmm? I’m almost baking in my skin,” said the lanky man, “I am Lapraxus, at your service!”

Minos was silent but for only a moment.

“GET OUT!” he shouted, and the king’s guard came running, “Get…Get…Get Out!”

Lapraxus sat down and began to eat.

“Remove this man,” ordered the regent, but no one moved. Superstition was stronger than duty. It was another issue he would discuss with Cheiron.

“Not superstition,” advised the long faced stranger, “I have given them peace of mind. I would give it to you but you are not inviting. Is it why you suffer so? Hmmmm?”

“What do you mean?”

“It is a small gift that will pass,” he replied, “For now they have not a care. Excellent! The lampreys are once again superb.”

“This…interesting food,” asked Minos, “Was it prepared for Lapraxus?”

“Yes my lord,” replied Serpius.

“You knew he was coming,” reasoned Minos, calm masking his anger, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought you knew,” explained Serpius.

“They all thought you knew,” added Lapraxus, “I hate to be announced, don’t you?”

Minos sat silently as Lapraxus devoured his lampreys. When he was through, Minos let him know it.

“Now that you’re refreshed, I beg you to leave,” spoke the regent.

“That is impossible,” replied Lapraxus with a smile.

“Ambicatus!” he called, but Ambicatus did not come.

Minos groaned helplessly.

“There is no way to get rid of you?” he cried.

“You must not be allowed to succumb to internal pressures until all the accounts are settled. International trade would be greatly impacted. Hmmmmmm?”

“This is about self-preservation!”

“Isn’t it always?” agreed Lapraxus.

“You have been assigned to Antallis,” assumed the regent.

“Not to Antallis, to you,” corrected Lapraxus, “I have been assigned to you.”

“I have a meeting with Daedalus in ten minutes,” said Minos, “Don’t get comfortable. You won’t be staying. My accounts are nearly settled. Only a few revisions remain.”

“All contracts must be rewritten,” corrected Lapraxus.

“That won’t be possible,” replied Minos, walking off, “Good day.”

Lapraxus dutifully followed.

“I don’t see how you can make a profit on any of these deals,” he objected.

“You don’t see what?” asked Minos, wondering if he’d heard correctly.

“The cleric agreed to some very bad terms,” explained Lapraxus, “As if he was trying to bankrupt Antallis. Not revisiting them is a demonstrable folly and proof of the need for my presence here. Hmmmmmm?”

“Well that’s something else altogether, isn’t it?” said the regent, disarmed and happy for it, “Perhaps you’d like to hear my learned man’s description of the bowels of the earth.”

“Charmed,” said Lapraxus. The bowels of anything disgusted him.

Daedalus had outfitted the throne room with the necessary technology.

Three limelights were positioned at exact intervals and adjustable lenses were set to focus them into beams. At the point where the beams converged was set a table, and on it a marble stand holding a clamp, into which was set a crystal of immense proportion, unbroken, but looking like a fallen stalactite.

It was as if the calcite sheath had been stripped away and it’s central tube stuffed with a foreign substance, but this was not a stalactite. It was an unnaturally formed crystal with a hole bored through the center and filled with colored liquid.

“These stones were taken from the floor of the Temple of Shamash,” said Daedalus, “At first glance they seemed a natural device, but a second look convinced me I had found the lost…”

Suppressed laughter found it’s way to their faces as Daedalus spoke. Icarus was seated behind him and pointing exuberantly at himself, taking credit for the actual find.

“Yes, well,” continued Daedalus, unaware of the reason for the distraction, “This rock did not occur naturally. I am reminded of the story…”

The laughter was more pronounced a second time as Icarus wildly gesticulated that it was he, not Daedalus, who made the actual supposition.

“I assure you it is not whimsy,” protested Daedalus.

Turning to Icarus he saw the angelic face of his precious scribe, “Yes, well, to get on with it, these are the words in the rocks, so let’s…get on with it. Icarus will draw the curtains as I light the lamps.”

Each light burned a different color due to the minerals that made it. When the beams were properly focused a three dimensional image popped into the room, uncomfortably close to the Sword Master’s left boot.

The person appeared not to notice, nor did she notice when Cheiron tried to push her away. His hand merely became part of her as it passed through. Pulling it back he feared it gone, but no damage was done.

“Test…test…does it work?” said the apparition in an ancient, long forgotten tongue.

“In the language of the Titans,” said Daedalus, “she is asking, ‘Am I employed?’”

“Strange words to be coming from a rock,” observed Minos.

“Perhaps this will clarify things,” suggested Daedalus.

“It’s not working,” she said, “Call Hyphast Arts and get a technician down here.”

“Roughly,” explained Daedalus, “she is saying, ‘I am unemployed. Call Hephaestus.”

“What sort of employment does she seek?” asked Lapraxus, “Hmmmmmm?”

“The next stone will answer that question,” said Daedalus.

He replaced the previous one with it’s equal and a man popped into the room.

“That’s got it,” said the man, “Keep the needle at the red line or it’ll kill it stone dead. Hahahahahaha.”

“He said,” explained the doctor, “that the position she seeks is filled but there is work for a seamstress who can also dye fabric.”

“Why would anyone find that funny,” wondered Minos.

“Who now can speak for the Titans?” asked Daedalus, and the others sagely agreed.

“Are there more of these crystals?” asked the regent.

“Many,” said Icarus, eager to get a word in.

“We suspect it was the temple library,” added Daedalus, “The stones we have seen are records of employment transactions. We can assume that a society that kept records of such trivial matters will have kept records of the more profound as well.”

“You wish to go back to the caves and retrieve what stones you can,” Lapraxus said, reading the learned man’s mind, “It is a fool’s wish. The Stones of Hephaestus are once again lost to the present. Hmmmmmm? Or would you rather be in the caves when the Earth moves again, which will happen in five days, eight hours, sixteen minutes and a few seconds?”

“You know this?” asked Daedalus, stunned and amazed.

“Lapraxus knows what the creatures of the earth all know,” frowned the lanky man, “It is a talent taken from you.”

It was the first Daedalus had heard it.

“By whom?” he wondered.

“By Marduk, of course,” frowned Lapraxus, “Hmmmmmmm.”

“When the earth moves again, in five days is it?” began the regent.

“Five days, eight hours, fifteen minutes and…forty-nine seconds…”

“Yes, yes,” said the regent, “What will happen?”

Daedalus cleared his throat.

“Without the testimony of the Titans to fine tune my calculations,” he explained, “I am only able to give generalizations. I hesitate to…”

“I am not Prosus Antallis!” bellowed Minos, “Out with it or you go back to Athens!”

The new regent of Antallis listened intently but could not comprehend the scale of the catastrophe his learned man was describing.

“My lord, your grace, I implore you, leave this valley. Take as many as you can to the highlands,” begged Daedalus, “I have seen water fall from the mountains. I have seen Gimric pour like a flood into the lowlands. They know not that they run to their doom, but doom it is and it is right around the corner.”

Minos put his hands together, his fingertips touching, considering the new request.

“How?” he asked, “When? Where have you seen all this?”

“In the balloon with the Queen of Sarmatia,” Daedalus replied.

“Hippolyta?” queried the regent.

“She was here, my lord,” explained Serpius, “courting the king, but after she raked him we, well we…”

“Raked him?” asked the regent, “I was told an infection was badly tended. Was it not the whole story?”

No one spoke, certainly not Serpius.

“Out with it man!” ordered the regent.

“We told her to leave.”

“You told the Queen of Sarmatia to leave!” bellowed the regent.

“Yes, my lord. We thought she was deliberately worsening the king,” he explained.

“She did not go quietly,” added Minos.

“No, my lord, she threatened to return…with her army…and pay us back in kind,” said Serpius, sweating from his brow.

Minos sat back in the crystal throne. Lapraxus did not move. The court stood, still as statues in the garden glen, as the news sunk in.

“When will she be coming?” Minos asked Lapraxus.

“Next spring at the latest,” the lanky man replied, “Yes, that is why I have come. Why has it taken this long for you to understand? Hmmmmmm?”

“Well,” said the regent, and he addressed his court, “I have not long been here, but I see I won’t be staying. In a few short months the white water may flood Antallis and the Gimric may decline to sell us food. When Hippolyta returns, let her find a city bereft of victims. We shall build new homes among the peaks of Kriti.”

It was the last straw. Four thousand people, their belongings and animals would make the trek to the top of the mountains; eight thousand feet up and over ninety miles north as the crow flies. They would meet hunters, soldiers, madmen and kings. Cheiron expected to lose a tenth of them along the way.

High up in the White Mountains, Taros had just gotten the news.

“Lord Taros,” crooned Menjik, who was limping from his recent ordeal, “You look so evil. It’s a good thing! How quickly your hands have healed. Your friends…I’ve met them before haven’t I? I distinctly recall the big man…”

“They’re all big,” grinned Taros, “You’ve met Epimedes. Careful, there are two of him and I don’t know where the other one is.”

The big man smiled and offered one of three hands, just to see Menjik faint.

“Good job,” said Taros, “Now we won’t have a hot meal until tomorrow.”

“Untrue,” corrected Jasius, “Idas has long been the world’s second greatest cook.”

“Who is the first greatest?” wondered Taros.

“That would be me,” replied Aeonius, “Fear not. I have taught him everything I can recall about food and how to prepare it.”

“Lead on,” said Taros, and they carried the nine toed innkeeper into his establishment.

The place was nearly empty. A white haired old man nursing an ale was the only customer. Aeonius knew there were others upstairs.

“Taros,” said the mind reader, “Your brother is here. He is in pain.”

“Prosus? Here?”

“Third door on the left,” Aeonius told him, “Go lightly. Almathea is with him.”

Taros went quickly up a rickety flight of stairs and jumped to the landing. Before him was a hall. Someone was screaming behind the third door on the left.

He opened it, his sword drawn, but he sheathed it at the sight of Persea holding her uncle’s hand and Almathea scraping dead skin from his infected face.

“By all the gods, what has happened?” yelled Taros, running to his brother’s side.

“O papa,” whispered Persea, “Now that you’re here I don’t know where to begin.”

Taros almost couldn’t bear to look at his brother. A hole was closed in his cheek. Almathea had cleaned and re-sewn it shut with goat’s gut. It was covered in paste but the king still tried to speak.

“Taros, I beg you. Return to Antallis,” prayed the king, “Seek Minos. I am told…he is regent now. Taros, grandfather Dalius…is dead…he was eaten…by lions…at the mouth of the Idaian cave…that I was told.”

Epimedes stood at the door, waiting for the king to finish, but he wasn’t done yet.

“I hear the sirens,” he wheezed, “I see the waves lap…on the far shore…if I do not see you again Taros, love me and keep our people safe.”

“Do not speak so,” said his brother.

“Taros,” said Prosus again, “You should have always been king. I know that now.”

“Father. Go,” insisted Persea, “He is not as dead as he fears. Antallis needs you.”

The road to Antallis was also the road to the Idaian cave where the Cabeiri had offices. At that time it was an eight thousand foot drop to the salt flats at Land’s End. Not far beyond that was an old hillfort on the edge of the savanna.

The road to Antallis made a detour around the graves of the Gimric before crossing a three mile wide riverbed. After that was Antallis Peak seen from the wrong direction; the city gates were a quarter way around the mountain and five hundred feet higher. With a good horse the journey might take three days, but for the Captain of the Cabeiri it took three hours. Such is the advantage of knowing your way around Corybantia.

“Taros,” greeted his uncle the regent, “I heard you had joined the Cabeiri.”

“I trust you found the kingdom in a god’s own mess,” laughed his nephew.

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” remarked Minos, but he wasn’t laughing.

“A king’s revenge,” chuckled Taros, “The priest so scuppered the economy the only way out was to burn the books.”

“I don’t think it’s funny,” said Minos, “but now that you’re here it’s not my problem. You are the rightful King of Antallis. I’m going back to Lasithi.”

Lapraxus, sitting unnoticed in a dark corner of the room, shook his head vigorously.

“No, no, no,” he chirped, just like a bird, “The Sarmatian Queen must find an empty city; one she can pluck with abandon.”

“Why?” asked uncle and nephew together, but before he could answer Taros carried on, “is a Lapraxus sitting in the presence of the Regent of Antallis?”

“Calm down, he’s no threat,” advised Minos, “I want to hear his reason.”

Lapraxus complied in his birdsong voice.

“Hippolyta is judged unclean. It will cost her much to be purified, and we must leave anyway. They are your words,” reminded Lapraxus, “What riches are left behind must belong to Hippolyta. In this way her enmity is our advantage, her rage our strength and her allies are enriched. In equal measure her power is reduced. Circe will see Antallis as the aggrieved but noble victim. It is for you to consider, my lords. Hmmmmmmmm?”

“See why I keep him?” nodded the regent, “Of course, it’s your decision now.”

“It sounds like you’ve already made it,” observed Taros.

“True, true, so true,” sang Lapraxus, “Nothing can stop the exodus now.”

“I will see our people to Lasithi,” offered Taros, “but you shall be their king!”

“Lasithi! Good gods, anywhere but there,” howled Minos, “The White Mountains are perfect. Menjik has a wonderful community called Grapes In A Bed…”

“It’s a roadhouse,” corrected Taros, “Hardly the place to raise your kids.”

“Mount Ida is nice,” offered Minos, “It has lots of good water and terraced farming is in fashion these days. It has a wonderful view…”

“It is the home of the Cabeiri and the back door to the glen,” reminded Taros.

“But Lasithi is my home,” complained Minos.

“Which is why you, and not I, should be the king of it,” insisted Taros.

“Lord Taros would make a terrible king. Hmmm?” agreed Lapraxus.

Taros said nothing in response to the insult. Maybe, thought Lapraxus, the opposite was true because he could not see his mind. Lapraxus had heard it might be so.

“Lapraxus has thrown down his challenge,” said Minos, “are you going to answer it?”

“I will not give him the advantage,” replied Taros.

The lanky man sat back.  Now he knew why the Brotherhood of Lapraxus feared the bastard brother of King Prosus.