When Benda awoke, his traveling companion Eradus was nowhere to be seen. He had evidently vacated the protective hollow where they had sheltered overnight on the Cloudspire. Benda got up, shook the dust from himself, and went outside.
He found Eradus there, marveling off into the distance.
“We must have climbed up higher yesterday than we realized,” Eradus said to him. He pointed off toward the mainland, toward Devera. “I can nearly see my castle from here.” It was hidden, in fact, within a grove of ancient Drynarean woodland, but having visited and traversed the domain, Benda could intuit its location.
“Climbed higher than we thought — or were raised up in the night.” Benda’s dream flooded back to him, but for now he guarded it close to his heart, and did not speak of it.
“Aye,” replied Eradus. “It is a place of magic, and we must be on our guard.”
Benda turned to look back at the base of the great tower, under a hollow of which they had spent the night. And behold, he saw a stair spiraling up from the platform on the naked face of the tower, where the day before there had been none.
“Aye,” he said. “Magic.”
They mounted the stair case, carefully choosing their foot steps, and ascended thus for what felt like hours. They arrived, progressively, at a first, a second, and then a third small landing. At each landing, there was a flat ring broad enough for two or three men to stand abreast, and no more. And the central tower width reduced accordingly. At each, they found another naked stair, each more treacherous than the last.
After the third ascent, they arrived finally to broad a flat top, which stretched for an indeterminate distance — one which seemed somehow larger than what they would have expected the tower below to be able to support.
In the center was a mountain, as if in miniature, reduced perfectly to scale to fit within the confines of this strange plateau. And as they circumambulated this uncanny moutain, on the foot of the far side, they discovered a castle. It had plain, unadorned walls, was far smaller even than the Castle of Devera, and seemed to consist only of one walled courtyard, and a a central keep of three or four levels.
Circling it, at length, they came to a gate, large enough for two goleks to pass, side-by-side. It was shut, and there was no one about, so they knocked upon it.
There was no reply. So they knocked again, and waited. Several times.
“Hail!” Eradus shouted, with hands cupped in front of his mouth. “We two have come to seek the Master of this place.”
After some long minutes, they heard the voice of a gate-keeper, from behind the barrier, somewhat muffled.
“Who goes there? Be ye beggar, minstrel, or king?”
Eradus and Benda looked at one another. Eradus said, uncertainly, “One of each?”
“And this is Lost, the First Minstrel of Devera.”
From behind the gate, the voice responded, “You lost your minstrel? I thought you said you were two…”
“Lost is his name, and we two have come seeking it.”
“Haven’t got any. Good day to you.”
“Please,” Benda spoke up finally. He put his hand on the door. “Quatria.”
Eradus looked at him, uncomprehending.
He repeated the word, “Quatria.”
“I need… to remember.”
The muffled voice responded, irritated, “I heard you the first time. I’m just trying to find the right -”
They heard the clatter of keys, and a lock turned inside the door. It creaked as it swung open inwardly. And in the passage beyond, they made out the slight form of a small, frail old man. Benda noted that this was not the mysterious robed figure he’d seen in his dream, and together with whom he’d looked impossibly far — out over the sea — to Quatria.
“Come in, come in, already,” the little old man said. He wore about his shoulders a simple, threadbare and faded smock.
They entered the passage and the man closed the gate behind them and locked it.
“Do you… have many visitors?” Eradus inquired.
The old man smiled craftily, “You never can be too careful!” and he stuffed the ring of keys into a pocket.
He put his hands on his hips, and looked at them. The courtyard behind him was all but empty. A chicken walked by, and scratched at the dirt. In the distance, they heard a goat call.
He looked at Benda, and at the harp Eril on his back. “So, I guess you must be the minstrel then?”
“In truth,” Benda replied. “I don’t know what I am. I am… well and truly Lost.”
“Aren’t we all?” he turned and beckoned them to follow him to a far corner of the courtyard, which had a an over-hanging roof. There was a table and some chairs.
“Sit; let’s be out of the sun.” They did so.
“I’m afraid I have little to offer you. That old hen hasn’t laid in days, and the goat is dry. Some wine would be nice, but alas…”
“Thank you,” said Benda. “But we haven’t come seeking wine.”
“I do have a little though,” said Eradus, producing a skin from the folds of his cloak, of which Benda was not aware that he carried.
“Excellent,” the old man said. He ambled over to a crude cabinet, opened it, and pulled out an old and tarnished goblet.
He came back and set it on the table. “This goblet has the property that if wine be poured into it by the hand of a king, in good company, and good song, it will never go empty.”
“So, pour the wine,” he said. Eradus did so.
“Take up the harp,” said the old man. Benda did so.
He produced some crusty old stale bread. He cracked the crusts, and gave one to each of his visitors.”
“And sing me a song of old Quatria…”