Benda lost track of all time after the storm at sea. With his companion Ofend washed overboard, and the barrels of provisions they’d brought from Quatria similarly lost at sea, Benda went without food or water. For how long he did not know.
Down to only one oar and his single square sail in tatters, Benda gave himself up for dead. And in this hour of darkest despair, the will of the sea brought him to currents which carried him aground in a small cove on the far north shore of the Kremellian peninsula. Though his memory was as tattered as the sail of his poor vessel, and he knew it not, this was the realm of Devera, the Fifth Kingdom, and ancient homeland of a tribe of forest-dwellers called the Drynareans. He was still a long way from home, he sensed, and safety.
He feebly climbed out of the boat, his feet touching down onto hot sand, for it was a little past midday. Before departing it, he kissed the side of the boat which had carried him hither — alive, if not intact. He recalled not from where. But he spied the harp which had been given to him by… someone he could not recall. Strapping it to his back with a bit of cord, he set off.
Though Devera was once home to a great forest primeval, by that era, the woodlands had retreated well back from the shores. And there was no cover he could see, though he sensed perhaps the odor of a trickle of fresh water somewhere nearby. He crawled on his belly in the hot sand toward the direction his intuition inclined him, his harp strapped across his back.
It was thus that, some hours later, when the sun had begun to lengthen shadows, that two Knights of the Guard of the Fifth Kingdom found him, insensate and muttering, stretched out on the road along the sea. At the sight of this poor, miserable wretch, the two knights dismounted.
“Ho, there!” the First Knight saluted him. The Second Knight fondled the pommel of his sword under his traveling cloak in readiness.
“Water,” Benda managed to croak out, just barely.
The First Knight readily obliged, seeing the sorry state of the man whom, judging by the instrument strapped to his back, he took to be a roving minstrel. He produced a skin filled with revivifying herbal water, a family variation on an ancient Drynarean recipe, and handed it to Benda. He drank deeply, and after a long moment, felt the strength to sit upright, and attempted to hand the water back to the First Knight.
“I am in your debt,” he said, hoarsely.
The knight waved his hand away at this, and with another gesture encouraged him to keep going. “Drink your fill, my good minstrel,” he said to Benda, looking back to the Second Knight, who released his hidden grip on his sword.
“Pray, tell me your name,” said the First Knight to Benda. “And from whence you have come, in such a state.”
Benda drank more of the liquid, which he found marvelously refreshing. And he thought for a long moment, trying to recollect the answers to these questions set before him.
At length, he shook his head, saying, “Forgive me, good sirs, but I know neither who I am, nor from where I have come. I know that I came by sea, and my vessel ran aground on these shores. Beyond these most simple facts, I am at quite a loss. My apologies.”
He handed back the near empty cask to the First Knight, who this time readily accepted it.
“Apologies are unnecessary, Harper. You have obviously traveled a great distance, and suffered much. Any one can plainly see you are in need of secours. Come, ride with us if you are able. We shall take you to a place where you can rest, and recover yourself. And when you are ready, you can tell us your tale in full, and perhaps sing a song of your travels on that great instrument of yours.”
At this, Benda smiled tenderly. “I humbly accept your offer, though it may be I lack the strength to rest astride your mount.”
“I will see that you fall not,” said the First Knight, who helped him up into the saddle, and took his place behind him. The Second Knight mounted his steed, and they set off at a trot.
“Whither do we go?” said Benda.
“To the castle and court of the Fifth King,” replied the knight.