"Master Hayden, your riposte is somewhat sloppy today. Are you feeling all right?"
"I apologise Franklin, I have a lot on my mind at the moment."
"We can always leave this lesson until tomorrow, sire. You've progressed far beyond your father's predictions already."
"Thank you, yes, I feel it appropriate."
"Very good, sire."
Franklin bowed and left Hayden in the middle of the sparring room with his thoughts. The windows were thrown wide open for light, and a soft breeze whispered through the room, lifting strands of his pale blonde hair. He examined his reflection in the brilliant, mirror-polished blade of the training sword. Tall, lean and awkward looking, Hayden Julius McCloud was nearing his seventeenth Winter. Being the only son of Duke Ezekiel, Master of Crusades, he was expected to learn to wield a dazzling array of weaponry from all over the known kingdom and beyond. On the white plastered walls of the sparring room hung a menagerie of various wicked looking swords and halberds. Hayden could already outclass Lieutenant Franklin with halberds, axes and bows, but his swordplay was lacking to a degree. He often found himself face down on the mat with a the point of Franklin's blade at his throat.
When his father had discovered this, he'd called the finest swordsmen in the Duchy to McCloud Manor and enlisted them as private tutors. Franklin was the Duke's favoured Lieutenant and took most of Hayden's lessons. He had Master Li for Exotic Weapons and Satch for strength training. Satch had always seemed like a contradiction to Hayden. He was a huge burly man, built like a mountain, but he was in servitude to his father as the manor gardener. When Hayden had asked about it, he'd been coldly informed that as Lord, he could employ who he wanted. Hayden had stayed away from the subject from then on, but it still puzzled him to this day.
He also tended to stay away from his father, on the rare occasions he was home. Because Hayden's mother had died giving birth to him, he always thought his father blamed him for her death. Indeed, there was steel in his eyes when he looked at him. He had never been angry with Hayden, but he had never been loving either. To an outsider it would look more like a business partnership than a father-son relationship. Hayden preferred this, however. He was a much more solitary boy than the other noble sons and daughters he was obligated to consort with. They never spoke ill of him when in earshot, but he had caught their furtive glances and whispered exchanges when he walked out of balls and ceremonies early. As his father was often in the New World with the King's army, Hayden had had to step in more than once as Master of McCloud duchy.
Academia was Hayden's real passion. While other boys would drink and flirt, he would rather study a new language, or a new forge technique which allowed for stronger armour plating. His father had often encouraged this, unless it interfered or clashed with fight training, at which point he would object. It was much easier to follow Ezekiel's orders than to rebel.
The library was where he was going now. For the past few weeks he'd been puzzling out the meaning of an ancient Elven scripture with Virgil; the librarian. They'd made a lot of process the day before, and the possibility of uncovering the full text was driving him to distraction. So far, they'd deciphered most of the smaller words, but the bigger ones often took hours at a time to find references in history texts for. Hayden knew he was lucky to have such a large, comprehensive library at his disposal.
He climbed the spiral stairs and walked through an archway into an airy circular tower. Every wall was covered with bookshelves and a huge ladder stretched three floors up to the top of the third level. At each level was a narrow wooden balcony for easier access to the tomes and novels. Opposite the entrance arch was a giant glass paned window which stretched the whole way up the tower. Hayden remembered his father teaching him geography at the desks beneath the large window.
Virgil was sitting at one of these desks now, hunched over a thick book with a black leather binding. His silvery-white hair hung loosely over the page and his fine silk robe was rolled up at the elbows. He was muttering quietly to himself and making notes in minute handwriting on a separate piece of parchment. Hayden crept noiselessly up behind him.
"Good morning, Hayden." He said, not glancing up from the page. "Not having lessons today?"
Hayden had always been confounded by his inability to surprise Virgil. The old man seemed to seemed to sense he was coming. "Err, no. I'm quite far ahead with them anyway, and I thought this would be a more appropriate use of my time. Franklin suggested it."
"Well if it was the good Lieutenant's idea then, by all means, sit." Said Virgil jovially. He had brought a young Franklin in off the street as a youth, beginning his long service to Duke Ezekiel.
Hayden strolled around Virgil's seat and sat with his arms crossed on the table beside him. "Finished it yet?" he asked. Virgil regarded the page thoughtfully, stroking his wispy beard. He sighed, then pushed the page across the table to where Hayden could read it.
"I have finished most of it. But, there's just this line here I haven't been able to translate." Virgil indicated the first line. "You would think the first line would be unnecessary if we've translated the whole page, but there's no other reference to that word throughout."
"What's the general outline of the page?"
"In my opinion, it seems to have been taken from a religious manuscript. There are multiple references to the underworld, and wild beasts."
"Like 'The Chronicles of the Holy Seed'?" Asked Hayden. Holy Seedism was the prevalent religion of the land.
"I suppose that's a good way to think about it, yes. Appropriate."
"So what does the line read without the word?"
"It says, 'On the altana'redre subsequent events will pass.' I've not been able to find reference to either part of the word all morning."
Hayden had seen that word before, he was sure of it.
"What is it my boy? You have an idea?"
"Virgil, what does it say on the arch over there?"
"'May this stand until the Day of the Red Sun.' Why?"
"Don't you see? On this side of the arch, the inscription is Officianarian. But on the other side, it's carved in Elven!"
A grin spread across Virgil's face. "Of course! This house was built as a joint venture between Elves and Men. Your ancestors."
Hayden jumped off the table and walked quickly to the stairway. "I knew it. Altana'redre means 'The Day of the Red Sun'! I think you were right, with your analysis. It must have been a strong Elven religious theme. It's strange we couldn't find any other pages like this one."
"In any case Hayden, it's a major find. I'll send summons to the university for Dr. Majore. I must say that was very well done for someone as young as you."
Hayden preferred the informal way Virgil addressed him. Being called 'sir' or 'master' all the time was grating.
Just then, a messenger appeared at the bottom of the stairs holding a rolled up parchment.
"For Master Hayden." he said, running up the last few steps and placing the message in his hand. He bowed, then swiftly left. Hayden tore the seal and scanned the page.
"Ah. It seems the Countess of Varla is holding a ball tonight to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of her family's reign." Hayden walked back to the table and handed the message to Virgil.
"So she is. Well, I'll make sure this letter," he waved a neatly addressed page in the air, "gets to Dr. Majore. You'd better go find some fancy clothes."
Hayden looked down at his training robes, sweat stained and patched. "So I do."