Turos and Turok wandered through the city of Torheem admiring the magnificence of the place. “I have no doubt that this city is second only to Atalan,” Turok decided, gazing up at a tall spire rising from the center of the city. “They say that Torheem was built by Torham, almost five centuries ago.”
“Age does not define magnificence,” Turos countered. “Atalan was only built less than two centuries ago, and as you said, it is the greatest city that we know of in the world.”
“Age may not define magnificence, but it can contribute to magnificence,” Turok explained. He walked over to a statue on the side of the road and ran his hand along the surface. “Time can also detract from magnificence. This statue of Torham and his wife Saho’Kol on a horse was probably very magnificent when it was carved centuries ago, but now it is worn by the weather and the stone is beginning to crack. The magnificence of this statue has been lost and cannot be regained.”
“Another statue will eventually take its place,” Turos said. “Perhaps it will be a statue of you.”
“Not just of me,” Turok grinned. “You’d be there too, trying your best to look just as grand.”
The two brothers laughed and continued their stroll down the road. A short while later, one of their attendants met them. “The Prince Hifur requested that I ensure that his two Princes remember to attend the ceremony this evening,” he said.
“I don’t know if we can make it,” Turos said, trying to act serious. “We were considering starting early on our hunting excursion.”
Turok gave his brother a playful nudge. “Don’t listen to my brother. We will be at the ceremony.” He glanced over at Turos. “And we will be on time,” he added.
“Very good,” the attendant replied. He lowered his voice. “Prince Turok, you will be pleased to know that Madam Lene’Mel arrived with the fleet from Atalan today. She is currently resting after her journey, but she will be at the ceremony.”
“It will be a pleasure to finally see her again after all this time,” Turok said. “Tell me, has our mother also come?”
The attendant shook his head. “No, I was told that Princess Lu’Kan remained behind in Atalan.”
“Well, we had better hurry back to the palace and get cleaned up,” Turos said. The attendant gave a quick bow and hurried away while the two brothers slowly began their walk toward the palace.
“It is a shame that mother decided not to come to Etnyben this year,” Turok said. “I was very much hoping she would have come. Now it will be at least another year before we see her again.”
“I for one don’t blame her for wanting to stay in Tanarad,” Turos said. “We’re at the other side of the world, twenty-five hundred nura away from home, and few women wish to brave the long journey across the seas, even when taking the time to stop and relax at the many islands along the way. Besides, we’ve already promised father that we will not accompany him in the campaign against Nazada, so we might as well begin our journey home after our hunting excursion on Torham’s Point.”
“You may journey home if you wish,” Turok said, “but I have other plans for myself.”
“What plans are these?” Turos asked.
Turok smiled. “Just you wait and find out,” he said.
The sun was setting as Turok and Turos entered the large palatial courtyard where the ceremony was to take place. Numerous fires provided light. Lines of tables were spread with food and drinks and the merrymaking was already beginning for some of the guests. Many others bustled about, greeting each other and sharing tales of courage and adventure. Most of the guests were soldiers, and the ceremony was their farewell, the final time of rest and merrymaking that they would have before they began their march south toward Nazada the following morning. Some would be promoted in the ranks; others would be the brunt of jokes; but all would have a great time at the ceremony. The other guests were wives, fiancés, and girlfriends that had accompanied the soldiers as far as Torheem. They would not be permitted to join the soldiers in the field and this was their final time together until the soldiers returned from their campaign the following year.
“Ah, on time and looking splendid,” their father, Prince Hifur, greeted, glancing at their shiny army. “I half expected the two of you would already be off chasing antelopes on your hunting adventure.”
“Not tonight,” Turok said. “I have other things to attend to.”
“Would this have anything to do with Madam Lene’Mel?” Prince Hifur asked. “I heard that she arrived with the fleet today.”
“Yes it would,” Turok answered. He spotted an attendant escorting the attractive young woman toward them through the crowd. “Excuse me,” he said, walking away and leaving his father and Prince Turos.
“Lene’Mel is a fine woman,” Prince Hifur commented. “Now I can only hope they will choose to marry.” He paused for a brief moment. “Turos, when are you going to find a nice woman to marry?”
Turos tried to hide his embarrassment. “I... I haven’t yet met the right one,” he replied.
“You’re too picky,” Prince Hifur said. “Just keep in mind that neither you nor your brother have an heir, and until there is an heir, neither of you will be permitted to accompany the army to battle.” He put his arm on Turos’s shouder and leaned closer. “Although, considering the way the two of you are always competing, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had already found a woman and were already married in secret.”
“I assure you, that is not the case,” Turos grinned, “although now that you mention it, perhaps I may need to consider speeding things along and get married before Turok.”
“I don’t recommend it,” his father advised. “You’d make a fine soldier, but I would rather you stick to hunting beasts rather than men for as long as you can. Besides, one day you will meet the right lady for you and then your life is going to change drastically.”
“You make it sound so bad,” Turos said.
“It isn’t bad, but it’s not something to rush into,” Prince Hifur explained. He glanced over at the table being prepared for them. “I think it is time to start the ceremonies.”
As if on cue, the drums and trumpets sounded and the guests began to take their seats. Turok brought Lene’Mel before his father and she bowed before Turok led her to her seat beside him. Turos and Prince Hifur also took their seats and waiters began to check the tables and bring out more food and drink as necessary. A band began to play various melodies, and a minstrel started reciting tales of great heroes and exploits from years past.
Turos enjoyed the succulent delicacies set at their table. The meal included his favorite food, juicy arvdil steaks, lightly grilled over glowing embers of lendi wood, and basted with juice freshly squeezed from hortett berries. The spiced tidri pie for dessert was a nice touch, and did much to satisfy his appetite. When he was finished eating, he leaned back and watched, mostly in boredom as Turok slowly ate and exchanged small talk with Lene’Mel. Eventually his gaze turned to the soldiers and he wished he could have the opportunity to join them in battle. Finally, he sat up and looked at his father, Prince Hifur.
“Father,” he started, “why is it that my grandfather, Prince Lartha, at fifty-six years of age, looks almost as old as my great great grandfather, the Great King Sigam, who is now one hundred thirty-one years old?”
“I won’t pretend to know how it works,” Prince Hifur said, “but the Lunari say that the lives of men will shorten as the numbers of men increase. After our cities spread around the world, the lives of men would remain between five and ten decades. When the Lunari appointed Saflan as the first Great King, they said his reign would be long, but the reigns of his successors would be short in comparison, and as you know, he reigned one hundred thirty years. Now your great great grandfather is the Great King, but there are rumors that he may only have a few decades of life left. By the time the throne comes to me or your brother, Turok, we will probably be old men, but we will still be younger than our ancestors.”
“That is unfortunate,” Turos said. “Our ancestors had many years to seek their fame and glory at a leisurely pace, but we are forced to rush headlong and struggle to obtain our fame before our short lives come to an end.”
“It may seem that way, but I still don’t recommend always rushing into things,” Prince Hifur said. “There will always be time to obtain fame and glory, and your time will come soon enough.”
Prince Turok interrupted them. “Father, Lene’Mel has agreed to marry me!”
“Congratulations,” Prince Hifur said. “When do you plan on having the celebration to take place?”
“We haven’t planned that much yet, since she only just now agreed,” Turok explained, “but I think we would probably return to Atalan first.”
“I think that is a splendid idea,” Prince Hifur agreed. “Unfortunately, I will be leading the army at the bottom of the world and will be unable to attend.”
“I can be there,” Turos said with a grin, “unless I’m too busy with my own marriage.”
Lene’Mel laughed. “With your reputations, I’m surprised the two of you aren’t fighting over me.”
“It certainly would be expected,” Prince Hifur agreed.
He stood up and the rest of the guests became quiet and focused their attention at the royal family. “Thank you all for attending this ceremony,” he began. “I believe that you all have enjoyed this meal and the entertainment and are eager to get on with the rest of this evening’s events. However, before we continue, I am pleased to be the first to announce that my son, Prince Turok, has finally arranged to be married to the beautiful woman now sitting beside him, Lene’Mel.” Applause filled the room, and after a few moments, Prince Hifur turned to his son. “Turok, would you like to say a few words?”
Turok sheepishly stood up and grinned. “You all know that I like to inspire others by my exploits. I know that some of you here tonight have not yet married.” He glanced over at Turos. “So I urge those of you who are unmarried to follow my example and ask that pretty girl beside you. After all, there is no better time than the present, especially since most of you are marching off to war tomorrow!” The crowd laughed as he sat down.
Prince Hifur once again addressed the guests. “As you all know, I like to make a few promotions at the start of every campaign. Colonel Mekaan, I know you’ve been working toward being promoted to Commander, but Commander Athalam will remain...” He paused and looked down at some notes on a piece of parchment. Those nearby knew that Prince Hifur was playing to the Colonel’s suspense, but most of the guests thought he was going to be disappointed. “Ah,” he continued. “It seems as though Commander Athalam is being transferred to the Great King’s Royal Guard in Atalan. Colonel Mekaan, congratulations on your promotion to Commander!”
“Thank you, my Prince,” the new Commander called out from his seat in the courtyard. “I suggest you start making up new ranks, because I don’t plan to stop at commander!” Laughter filled the courtyard.
Prince Hifur looked at the parchment once more and appeared to be having a hard time reading what was written on it. “Is there a Colonel Uungluk here? Uungluk? I’ve never heard of a Colonel Uungluk” He gave a rather puzzled look and then turned the parchment upside down. “That’s better. Colonel Kulgnu, congratulations on your promotion to Commander.” He looked out at the crowd. “Commander Kulgnu will be leading the five new brigades that arrived in Torheem today.”
Someone slipped another piece of parchment to Prince Hifur and whispered in his ear. The Prince read over the new parchment and smiled. “Captain Silif, it would seem that your company doesn’t approve of all the inspections you put them through and they want you to prove your skill and fortitude to us all. Attendants, bring out the cup and the rack!”
The guests cheered and applauded. Several solders carried a wooden contraption into the courtyard. It was a beam with very long supports on each end, almost like a sawhorse, but they laid it so that the beam was on the ground. A board was propped against the beam, between the supports. Another attendant brought a very large cup as the red-faced Captain Silif made his way between the many tables to the front of the courtyard.
“Just so there are no questions, I will tell you the rules,” Prince Hifur said. “You will prove your skill by drinking the entire cup of ale and then hanging from the rack by your knees. Your fortitude is determined by how long you can continue to hang without falling or regurgitation.”
“Drink! Drink! Drink!” the guests shouted. The Captain took the massive cup and an attendant filled it with ale. He held it to his mouth and began to drink the liquid as fast as he could. The Captain managed to swallow most of it, but some dribbled down the sides of his face in his haste. He then lay down on the board and bent his legs over the beam. The attendants began to raise the beam until the Captain was hanging upside down by his knees.
“Fall! Fall! Fall!” the crowd urged. The now wide-eyed Captain Silif shook his head to show his disagreement with the crowd as he struggled not to laugh. After several long and quite evidently agonizing moments, the Captain dropped from the rack and struggled to catch his breath as his soldiers cheered his attempt. Several attendants helped him to his feet and he slowly staggered back to his table.
Prince Hifur glanced at his parchment again. “There will be plenty of time for more of you to prove your skill and fortitude throughout the evening, but first I have one more promotion.” He turned to face Turos. “Prince Turos, as of this day, you are now twenty years old,” he announced, “although technically, that isn’t a promotion.”
“Make him prove!” someone shouted. Several others joined in and soon the entire courtyard was calling for Prince Turos to prove his skill and fortitude.
Turos stood up and motioned for the guests to let him speak. They soon quieted down. “I will prove my skill and fortitude,” he announced, “but only if Prince Turok will challenge me. I’d hate to try and prove myself without a standard to be compared with.”
Turok jumped up from his seat. “I challenge you, Turos,” he shouted. “There is no way I would let you beat me in front of all these people!”
“Then it’s settled,” Prince Hifur announced. “Bring out a second cup and rack.”
The attendants brought out the equipment as the two men made their way to the proving ground. At the urging of the guests, they drank the ale from the large cups and lay down on the racks. As the attendants began to raise the racks, Turos clenched his fist and pointed at Turok. “TUROS THE TINY IS TINY NO MORE!” he roared at his brother. Laughter filled the courtyard and Turok could not keep from joining them. Ale spilled from his mouth and nose and he fell to the ground, losing the contest.
Turos swung up and caught the beam with his hands. He let his legs drop and then let go of the beam, deftly dropping to his feet. He turned to face the guests and raised his hands in the air. The soldiers cheered his performance and shouted his name repeatedly.
He turned to his brother. “Better luck next time,” he said. “I think we should get you cleaned up before you return to Lene’Mel.” He led Turok from the courtyard and into another room.
“That was a mean trick to play on me in front of so many people,” Turok said once they were away from the crowd, “but it was probably one of the funniest things we’ve done.”
“I can only imagine what it will do for our reputations,” Turos said, handing Turok a towel. “This is one of those things that every soldier would mention when writing home.”
Turok began to wipe the ale off his face and armor. “I doubt it will do much harm to my reputation, but your reputation just rose above that of the Great King!” He finished cleaning himself. “We should get back to the ceremony and enjoy the rest of the festivities.”
Turos agreed and they made their way back to the courtyard.