April 1st - Alowca
Cathal sat quietly on the quayside, watching the distant sails on the horizon and remembering his own perilous voyage from the lands of his birth. The wide oceans were the mightiest of all Khagister's wonders, possessed of such power that they could consume whole islands - or so rumour told.
He wondered what strange summons had stirred the heart of his former liege to the path of voluntary exile, travelling leagues uncounted to a distant land in search of... he wasn't entirely sure what it was Duke Xerxes sought, be he suspected Martyrdom may figure strongly. For a man who had striven his whole life in furtherance of the faith there could be no other fitting end.
Martyrdom. His mind turned to his first liege, the man who had welcomed him into his service when first he made landfall in Alowca, Duke Absolute Reach who received the gift of Martyrdom. Reports of that battle spoke of Denariel herself leading his spirit to its just reward, but what had touched him most was that a man so imbued with life was willing to lay it down in the service of his faith and his friends.
There were those who made a cult of death. Who saw no greater honour than to die with their companions on the field of battle. They gloried in Martyrdom for its own sake. But not Duke Absolute, he had been a man who lived his life to serve that in which he believed, and in so doing he had stood firm when asked to make that ultimate sacrifice. Not for glory. Not for honour. But because his time had come.
In his short years Cathal had known many of life's pleasures. The pleasures of the flesh had been ripe and fulsome in the flesh-pots of Cagil, and the savoury meats and sweet fruits of the wild lands had taught him to love the bounty bestowed on mankind. He loved life, and sitting there by the booming ocean he would have been content to pass a century in peace and comfort. To never lift his hand in violence or shed the blood of another man, but that was not the cup he had been given.
That was not the cup any of them had been given. For if men such as Cathal lived life for their own pleasure then all was lost and the Realm of Alowca would become a distant memory, kept alive in the hearts of a faithful few who remembered a better time.
With a hevy sigh he stood up and dusted the seat of his tunic, careless of the curious eyes observing the increasingly well-known knight, or the wild rumours attached to his name.
"That's Sir Cathal," said a local fishwife, one of a group gossiping with a sailor from Wetham.
"They say that Denariel herself cast him upon these shores," interjected one of her companions.
"Yes, and he has the gift of prophecy," the first woman continued.
"He looks like no prophet I've ever seen," the sailor's voice was heavy with sarcasm, "and I've seen many a strange religion in my travels. Why he's barely a stripling, what God in their right mind would choose him as their mouthpiece?"
"Well I heard from a neighbour of mine who runs a fruit stall over by the northern gate that when He returned to the wilderness he was accompanied by a squadron of horse such as no one's seen in these parts in many a long year. Desert spirits risen from the badlands she says, each with the strength of ten men."
"I heard that he raided as far as Iglavik, leading the Ori's a right merry dance," a nearby rope-maker decided to join the conversation, "and when they finally cornered him that Khagister himself turned his men to ravens and carried them to Martyrdom."
Cathal turned to the growing crowd, "Yes, I raided as far as Iglavik. I walked across the fields of our enemy and I saw the sorrow in which his people live, and I was cut to the marrow with shame. Shame for the ease in which we live, arrogantly supposing that the blessings of The Trinity are ours and ours alone. We are empty vessels who have spilt our bounty upon the ground where it seeps away, wasted and forgotten."
"But empty vessels can in the fulness of time be refilled, and your wagging tongues will yet testify the truth of the wonders that are to come," and he left them to their idle chatter for he sensed there was yet more bloodshed ahead, but many in that crowd wondered at the words he had spoken for prophecy takes many forms, and they talked at length of the strange young man who carried so many of their hopes and dreams.
"Ho there My Lord, I have an urgent message from the Pontifex!" the rider thunder to a halt as he intercepted the column of cavalry, easily identifying Sir Cathal amongst the black clad horsemen.
"Gregor, give this man some water. It looks like he has ridden hard to catch us."
"Yes My Lord," Gregor loosened the canteen at his saddle bow and passed it to the rider, even as he passed a sealed envelope to Cathal.
The youth inspected it for a moment, studying the Pontifecal seal to ensure that it was genuine, and then breaking it open. Contained within were the Letters Patent of the Duchy of Alowca and a personal message confirming the new rank.
Some moments passed in silence and the rider took a deep drink from the canteen, replacing the stopper and passing it back to Gregor when he had finished.
"Do you know the content of this message?" he turned his attention back to the rider.
"Yes Your Grace, and I am also to present you with this," he drew a heavy signet ring from his pouch and handed it to the stunned young noble, "Is there a reply?"
"Tell My Lord Pontifex that I will accept the appointment until such time as a more suitable candidate is chosen."
"Very good Your Grace," and with that he was galloping back towards Alowca, a shadow disappearing into the closing night.
Cathal looked at the ring in the palm of his hand, an ancient heirloom of the Realm worn by men of much greater stature and virtue than he, and a tear slowly pooled in his left eye, trickling down his cheek. He slowly slipped it onto his finger.
"May The Trinity give me the strength and wisdom to fulfil this trust."
"Hail Duke Cathal!" his men hammered their lances against their shields.
"Enough!" he silenced them, "There will be more than enough time for celebrations when we return from the front," and the company passed the rest of that night in silence.