The tale of Cyprian, the Once-Fabled Prince
The young Prince leapt from his horse and strode into his father’s palace, his head held high.
“We did it, father! The legions at Nordania fell before our might like wheat to the scythe.” He filled a goblet with wine and crossed the palace chamber in eight steps, sat next to his father at the table and put his feet up, his armored boots leaving mud stains on the linen.
“They never had a chance.” He took his helmet off and shook his hair out, sipped his wine and leaned back to savor his victory.
“Excellence in battle is good, Cyprian,” his father said, looking over a parchment, “but you are still my son and I am your father. You do not stride through my palace as if you own it, and you do not put your muddy boots on my clean linen!” The King pushed Cyprian’s feet off the table and they hit the slate floor with a clang, making a couple of servants pause and glance up.
“Yes father,” Cyprian said.
“When I am gone, you will be King. There is no doubt of this, you are my son and my only heir. There will be a coronation ceremony to formally proclaim you as my heir. And once I am dead, this palace will be yours, and you can stride about covered in mud and stark naked for all I care! But for now, I am still your King and you will abide by my laws. Even - no, especially - in my own palace!”
“I am very glad the campaign went well. Congratulations, I am proud of you. Yes, you are an excellent battlefield commander. I shall award you a medal tomorrow. But never forget your place.”
“Now you know Paridan has had no queen since your mother died. The Dame Gloriana is arriving later, and I need you to be attentive and respectful. And in clean clothes!”
“Yes father.” Cyprian stood and gave his father a brief bow, clicked his heels and strode from the courtyard. On the way he tossed his goblet to a servant, ensuring that the wine spill out and stain the man’s doublet. “Get that cleaned up, or I’ll have you lashed!” he said in a harsh whisper. The servant nodded and bowed, backing away with fear in his eyes.
The remainder of the day was occupied by Dame Gloriana’s arrival. Her Savadomo arrived first, a nosey, bustling woman who got in everybody’s way to ensure the palace was up to the Dame’s expectations. Cyprian did his best to simply avoid the Savadomo, who he saw as nothing but a meddlesome nuisance.
When the palace was cleaned out and the kitchen inspected, the plates and forks polished and the wine tasted, the Savadomo left to attend her Dame.
“Can we just kill her? Please?” Cyprian asked as he and his father relaxed briefly, before the Dame’s arrival. “You know Gloriana will probably thank us.”
"That’s the Dame Gloriana to you, young man, and No. I am courting the Dame Gloriana to secure a contract between our two kingdoms, and I won’t have you meddling in affairs you don’t understand."
Cyprian slammed his hands on the table, glaring at his father.
"Don’t understand? What do you mean, don’t understand?! I am a capable military commander and strategist. I’ve led successful missions and raids where the odds seemed impossible. My sword - MY sword - is what keeps us above the commoners. Don’t tell me I don’t understand."
King Charotan regarded his son with a blank expression and took another sip from his goblet.
“Yes you are. Yes you did. On the battlefield your strategy is unmatched. But at a council meeting? In the courtroom? In the bedroom? You are still a brash impetuous boy with a lot to learn. Don’t let your military expertise - or your arrogance - cloud your head. Now go, get changed. Or I’ll have Dame Gloriana’s Savadomo do it herself.” The king tried to give his son a kind, fatherly wink, but Cyprian stood and stormed off to his chambers, still fuming.
Dame Gloriana was a broad, red faced woman, with a wide bosom and wider hips. She entered the palace courtyard accompanied by her Savadomo and a Court Advisor and followed by half a dozen servants and retainers. What should have been a brief, formal reception became a flurry of confusion as the King’s servants and the Dame’s servants collided with each other in their haste to attended to the royal courts. King Charotan looked on patiently with a look of bemused acceptance, while Dame Gloriana seemed bored and impatient and the Savadoma fumed.
Finally everyone was seated, drinks were poured, and the King stood and raised a goblet. Chairs were scooted back as various people followed suit, hoping to win royal favor.
"To the Dame Gloriana, may her benevolence be outshined only by her beauty."
There were polite murmurs of “to her beauty,” and Cyprian had to stifle a laugh. The Savadomo shot him a visceral glare as he raised his glass and shrugged.
The evening dragged on with formal pronouncements, music, wine and eventually dinner. By the time the dessert was served, the young Prince was so bored with the entire affair he begged leave from the table and went to get some air.
Cyprian was walking past an open door when he heard his name, and paused to listen.
"…and Cyprian, that young fool," one voice said, “He’s the King’s right arm on the battlefield but he’s impetuous and stupid. He’ll have to be eliminated before…”
“Shhhh!” hissed another, “someone’s outside!”
“before the King catches on,” the first voice said in a whisper, “or the Dame Gloriana’s plans to become the Purple Rose will be in jeopardy!”
“How? He’s good with a sword…”
“Poison? No, I know - a duel! He’s an arrogant boy, he’ll not refuse a duel.”
“And with Cyprian out of the picture,” the second voice said, "the King’s forces will be that much weaker. Lord Margan will be able to crush him single-handed, leaving the Dame Gloriana to rule both kingdoms as one."
Cyprian considered bursting in and killing both conspirators, but his sword was in his chambers. He debated telling his father, but he knew the King would just openly ask Gloriana, which would let the cat out of the bag. No, Cyprian decided, he would resolve this his own way. The King would know nothing of the Dame Gloriana’s betrayal until Cyprian was standing over Lord Margan’s corpse in public duel, and he could expose the witch for who she really was. Then he’d get the respect he deserved!
The young Prince crept away from the open door, secure in the knowledge that Lord Margan, whoever that was, would soon be a lifeless corpse.
Cyprian wanted to savor the attention he was due the following day, his medal ceremony. His armor was polished to gleaming silver, and everyone stood in attendance as the King pinned another medal to his sash. Cyprian turned to face the audience and bowed to their applause. But somehow it felt muted, forced. Whether it was because of Dame Gloriana’s presence, he wasn’t sure, but at his medal ceremony HE should be the center of attention and he was not. He thanked his father and held his head high as he strode stiffly from the chamber. He gave the Dame Gloriana a quick glance and a nod as he passed; she seemed to be evaluating him with a calculating eye. As he left the chamber, not five minutes after the ceremony began, he was actually glad it was over.
Over the next few days, while King Charotan entertained the Dame Gloriana and her gaggle of servants, Cyprian devised a plan. He would invite Lord Margan to the palace as his own guest; let the King meet him; let the Dame Gloriana wonder what was going on. He’d expose the plot and challenge Margan to a duel; then sit back and watch as Dame Gloriana is arrested and King Charotan proclaim Cyprian the official heir to the throne!
“This Lord Margan will be here soon,” Cyprian said to his friend Gregor, “as my official guest. He’s apparently well versed with a sword. I’m better, but I have to be careful. If, and I mean if I lose this duel, I need a safeguard. What do you have, some medicine, something, that will make me unkillable?”
“A drug? A necromantic potion? So you can never die?”
“Yes. Yes!! Make me immortal! If I win, they will know I am their master. I lose the duel, they will all see me raise up again and know I am their god!”
“And if you win this duel, and the next, and the next,” Gregor said, “awards to the victor. But eventually, death will claim you, Cyprian.”
“Death will never claim me, sir!” Cyprian said haughtily, “give me that potion. I shall be immortal! Let the mortals live their decades, I shall have centuries! Truth be told, I hope Margan wins the day, then I shall rise, their immortal King! Let them know Cyprian, the King of all time!” The young Prince slammed his fist on the table, his eyes fixed on the future. “Yes!! Cyprian, the Immortal King. They shall never have to remember me because I shall never be a memory!”
“Yes, very good. Now this potion, you need to --”
“Just give me the vial, I know what I’m doing!”
The palace had barely recovered from Dame Gloriana’s Savadomo bustling about everywhere when they had to do it all again for her champion, Lord Margan. King Charotan took it in stride; his son rarely arranged palace events of his own, and the Prince hosting Dame Gloriana’s champion would be a good show of unity between the two kingdoms.
Cyprian wanted to make sure the palace looked like an imposing military fortress, with every one who could wear armor, dressed and armed.
Lord Margan arrived to fanfare, as trumpets rang from the parapets to announce his arrival. Prince Cyprian welcomed the champion with such formal court panache that even the King was impressed - his son did know how to handle court affairs! There was a parade of horses, and a jousting tournament, and a duel between two soldiers. Cyprian’s soldier won, and the Prince assured Lord Margan that the soldier’s family would be compensated for their loss.
At dinner, King Charotan was seated next to Dame Gloriana, flanked by Cyprian and Margan. Wine flowed, musicians played and servants brought platters of food until everyone was enjoying what promised to be a time of prosperity between the two Kingdoms.
Finally as the evening was beginning to wind down, Cyprian stood, raised his goblet and tapped it with his ring finger.
“My friends, my Lords and Ladies, a toast.” The room hushed to silence, all eyes on the handsome, armored Prince. King Charotan looked up at his son with admiration.
“Let me be the first to congratulate the Dame Gloriana on showing King Charotan and myself what a bounty of fortune she brings from her own lands.” He paused for polite applause before continuing, “and to Lord Margan for allowing us the opportunity to show our might, in the court and on the battlefield. Let all men know, the strength of the Charotan name shall never diminish!” More polite applause, but people weren’t sure where he was going with this. King Charotan gave his son a quick glance, and Dame Gloriana and her champion put their heads together to discuss something.
"Before the evening draws to a close, I would like to give Dame Gloriana the opportunity to tell us about the Purple Rose, and what plans you have after you defeat my father in battle and assume dominion over both Kingdoms. Dame Gloriana?"
The entire chamber was suddenly in uproar, and King Charotan did not know whether to glare at Gloriana or his son.
“I – this is…” she sputtered, not sure what to say.
“This is heresy!” Lord Margan said loudly, “and an insult to the Dame’s good name. Cyprian, heir to the Kingdom of Charotan, I charge you with insulting the name of House Gloriana and I challenge you to a duel if you will not recant your accusation!”
“Right here? Right now?”
“Right here! Right now!”
“I hope you know what you’re doing, boy,” King Charotan said as Cyprian leapt from the table and strode across the room. The Prince brushed a hand across his mouth and surreptitously slipped a tiny vial between his lips. He held the fragile glass between his teeth, popped the cork with his tongue, quickly swallowed the bitter liquid and spat out the vial. Before he reached the center of the room he could already feel the potion working, making his limbs feel agile. Is this what death feels like?, he wondered.
He watched as Lord Margan excuse himself from Dame Gloriana, draw his own sword and march to the center of the room. The visiting Lord glared at Cyprian, and the two combatants saluted each other with their swords before stepping a few paces apart. After a moment another man joined the foes in the center of the room.
“My Lords, Ladies,” said the Master of the King’s Revels as he stepped between them, “a duel, between knights valiant and noble. Lord Margan, you stand to defend the honor of the Dame Gloriana and accuse Prince Cyprian of slander. Do you wish to proceed with the duel?”
“Most certainly,” he growled.
“Prince Cyprian, you stand accused of insulting the Dame Gloriana, and have accepted this duel. Do you wish to proceed?”
"The truth will out. My sword shall have vengeance."
The Master of the King’s Revels raised one hand, and turned to face his King. "King Charotan, the foes have spoken. This is a duel to the death. Once combat has commenced, it does not end until one man is dead. May the gods have mercy on both your souls."
He lowered his hand quickly, and the entire room fell silent.
Cyprian felt the weight of the sword in his hand. It was comfortable, powerful. He may be arrogant, some called him foolish, but when he held a sword and faced a foe, he was the commander of his own destiny. He watched Lord Margan, looking for clues. They circled around each other, both looking for a weakness.
Lord Margan had been raised to fight. From the time he was seven, he’d held a sword in his hand every day. He knew every move, every style, every feint. He knew his way around a duel, and he knew of Prince Cyprian’s weakness. He knew the Prince’s arrogance would make him overconfident, and clumsy.
The crowd watched as the pair circled each other. Cyprian noticed the slight limp in Margan’s right hip, and how he always blinked before he raised his sword. He raised his sword, and Margan knocked it aside. He raised it again, and Margan knocked it aside. Margan always parried to the left.
Cyprian dipped and lunged, his blade slipping between plates of armor. Margan blinked, but continued, parrying Cyprian’s second thrust and returning with a thrust of his own. The young Prince danced aside, flicking Margan’s blade away and easily landing a second hit, his blade slicing between two of Margan’s ribs. Blood trickled down the outside of Margan’s armor, and Cyprian turned to give his admirers a quick, flippant wave. Margan seized the opportunity and thrust hard, his blade catching Cyprian under the arm. Cyprian spun back and parried the next blow, followed by a riposte that Margan failed to dodge. The visiting champion thrust and feinted, and Cyprian followed the feint with a counterattack that left Margan gasping on one knee. Ever the arrogant showman, Cyprian walked casually around the prone swordsman, jabbing and teasing at him with the tip of his blade.
He closed in for the killing blow and Margan grabbed the blade, letting the metal slice through his hand. He pulled Cyprian’s sword toward him, throwing the young Prince off balance.
With one quick, decisive thrust, Margan’s sword pierced Cyprian’s belly and emerged through his back, glistening red as the Prince’s blood flowed freely onto the palace floor. Cyprian fell to his knees before Dame Gloriana’s champion, but laughed as his foe stood to deliver the killing blow.
“You’ll never truly kill me,” he gasped, and fell to the floor.
The crowd erupted in tumult as King Charotan stared in shock at his dead son.
At one of the long dining tables, Cyprian’s friend Gregor casually stood, excused himself and left the room.
Cyprian gasped as a semblance of life returned to him, and he blinked and tried to sit up. It was dark, and he struck his head on a low wooden ceiling.
He reached up and felt old, damp, rotten boards over his head. With minimal force he pushed them aside and was immediately assaulted by the smell of mold, decay and rotting wood.
The young Prince sat up again and looked around. The last thing he remembered, he was in a duel with Lord Margan, missed an obvious deception and fell to the blade. But he knew he was immortal - the potion guaranteed it! He knew he must get up and see Gregor immediately.
Cyprian’s eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light. He’d been stripped of his armor and laid out in - he looked around - in a tomb? But he was immortal! This was absurd! He swung his legs out of the coffin - the rotted wood splintered as he moved - and stood up. He was in his royal garb, his red tunic and midnight blue trousers, but faded and moldy. He reached the door - yes, it was a small stone room with a heavy oak door! - and he pushed the door open.
Cyprian stumbled out into a graveyard, rows of headstones and the occasional mausoleum. He turned to look, fearing what he would see.
'Cyprian DelaCourte, 1526-1551. A loving son and noble Prince.'
Well, yes, he’d been killed - he missed an obvious move - but he was back now and he had a lot of work to do. First, find Gregor. Find out the state of affairs of the palace. He’d expected to rise from the dead as soon as mortality left his body, rise and kill the stricken Lord Margan and then deal with the Dame Gloriana and her ludicrous Purple Rose plan! But no matter, a few days, a few weeks, he could still accomplish his goals. This might be better, actually, if it’s been two weeks and everyone thinks him dead. What a surprise that would be!
He brushed himself off, straightened his tunic and headed for the castle. Was old, fat Gloriana still there? Was Margan still there? He couldn’t wait to see the look on Margan’s face when he returned from the dead to finish the job!
Cyprian stepped over rotted tree branches laying across graves in the cemetery and looked up to get his bearings. The palace was - he blinked, and looked again. The east tower of the palace was destroyed, just a ruin of brick and stone! He increased his pace, running toward the entrance. The great doors hung open, the metal hinges looking old and rusted. With a shove he pushed the door open a little further and strode in, expecting to see the King and his advisors waiting to greet him with admiration and surprise.
The grand chamber of the palace was a lifeless ruin, the tiled floor cracked and broken. Most of the windows were missing glass and trees were growing - inside - their trunks splitting the tiled floor. Other than trees and decay, the room was a lifeless shell.
Cyprian turned and dashed from the palace, his mind whirling as he considered what could have happened. How long had he been dead?!
He raced up to his chambers, stepping over broken tiles and fallen roof beams. His room looked as if it had been abandoned, just left to die. But his chest was still there, and in it - hopefully - his armor! The chest was locked, but he always kept a spare key under - aha!
He swung the chest lid back and laughed when he saw his own armor, gleaming silver and good as new! He stood and stripped off his old tunic, and began the process of dressing into full plate mail.
He paused and examined his body - he looked extremely thin, emaciated, his skin a sickly gray pallor. He grabbed the breastplate and held it up like a mirror.
Cyprian cried out when he saw his reflection in the polished metal - gone where his piercing eyes and luxuriant, long hair. His hair was grey straw, his eyes nothing but lifeless black orbs. His nose - his nose had completely rotted away, leaving a ragged hole that looked like some syphilis sufferer.
What the heck had happened?!
Cyprian finished dressing and felt much more prepared for anything once he was in full gear! He strapped his sword to his belt and strode out of the room, his heels clanging on the faded tile floor.
The King’s chamber was in the same state of disrepair, looking abandoned and lifeless.
Cyprian dashed from room to room, and nothing looked right - it looked as if the palace had been left to die!
He made his way out of the palace, and returned to the cemetery. He had a terrified, sinking feeling and prayed to any good that might listen that he wouldn’t find what he was looking for.
The largest mausoleum in the cemetery was open, and inside a stone effigy of his father atop a sarcophagus. Cyprian rested his hands on his father’s image for a long, silent moment, before once again venturing outside.
Walking in a blind stumble, his sword clanging at his side like a flaccid mockery of his prowess, Cyprian followed a road away from the palace. Eventually he heard the unmistakable sound of a blacksmith’s hammer, and followed it to a man working a forge.
“What happened?!” he tried to ask, but all that came out was a wheeze and a breathy hiss.
“Oh! You scared me,” the blacksmith said, “ain’t seen many of you around in years. Need to talk? Need a voice? I can’t imagine how it is, you undead soldiers. Here you go.” He offered Cyprian a wooden mug of water, which the Prince swallowed eagerly. He had the oddest sensation of drowning, and realized it must be his exposed sinus cavity.
“What happened!” he asked again.
“What happened when? You’ll have to be more specific than that.”
"King Charotan! The Dame Gloriana. Prince Cyprian. Do I look familiar to you?"
The blacksmith studied Cyprian for a moment, then pointed at the blazed embossed on his armor. “Oh, you’re from the palace. Hey, I thought the necromancers had taken all they wanted out of that old place years ago. Did ya just wake up?”
“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PALACE!!”
“Okay, okay, relax, lemme think. This was all before my time, stories my father told me from when he was a boy. So the last King to rule there, King Charrot or something, he had a bastard of a son. Dunno if the son was actually a bastard or just a mean, arrogant cuss. The King, he was courting a Purple Rose lady, Dame Glora or something. The King’s son challenged her son to a duel, I forget why, and lost. Her son killed him, dead. So there was a civil war around here, both Kingdoms fighting over spoils, the old King, Charrot? He died of a broken heart. No wife, now no heir, he died and the palace never recovered. Dame Whatsis, her and her men took it over, then some other upstart King invaded, Nordania maybe, and people have been picking over the spoils ever since.”
“When - when did all this happen?” Cyprian’s voice was hollow, remorseful.
“Oh, my. Must be, eighty years now.”
“Eighty? I’ve been … dead for eighty years??”
“Must be a blow, eh? Sorry for that, old man. Look, I’ve got work here. There’s surely an undead regiment you can join somewhere, keep walking. Try the Corellian stronghold, they’re always looking for recruits.”
Cyprian left the blacksmith to his work and continued alone.
As he walked, he thought back on the man’s words.
‘right bastard of a son…lost a duel…palace fell…no heir…’
“I am,” he thought to himself, “the true King of Paridan. The LAST King of Paridan! I am a King without a Kingdom. And I cannot die.
'they will never need to remember me, because I shall never be a memory! I am nothing, now, not EVEN a memory!! Eighty years. I was supposed to have gotten up off the floor and finished off Margan right then, not rot in a coffin for four score! I should have listened to Gregor about that potion…my arrogance has cost me everything.”
Excerpt from the Stronghold records, June 12, 1632:
A lone undead claiming to be Prince Cyprian of Paridan arrived at the Stronghold last night, seeking admittance. He was allowed in under guard and escorted to meet with Richard. Provincial records verify his claim of heritage. The undead seemed particularly adept with a sword, quick and ruthless and talented at counterattack.
Addendum: After a week’s detainment, he was assigned to one of Chao’s companies, and appears to be a skilled fighter. He may be useful.