All four of the brothers came upon the clearing in the exact moment.
Jojo had stepped forward.
Jaul had also stepped forward.
Weisheng also fell.
The four of them looked about one another, some with looks of confusion, but others with looks of recognition.
“Who are you?” Aaren demanded, wielding his hunting knife from his boot strap.
Weisheng also drew up his bow, though he could not understand what was just said.
They all attempted to speak, unable to converse with one another, when a light began grow from the pillar. The light grew brighter and brighter until they had to shield their eyes from being blinded.
Then there appeared a figure. He stood before them with glowing golden eyes, wearing only white robes, his feet bare.
Jojo immediately dropped and bowed his head to the ground.
Weisheng and Aaren turned to one another, unsure of what to make of the figure.
Jaul sank to his knees, his eyes transfixed.
“My sons,” the figure said. “I am the Oracle of Hilarum. I called you here ten years ago and spoke that I would summon you back. That was your calling. This is your reckoning.”
The Oracle’s voice rang out great and boldly, a soft glow about him. He looked like no one they knew.
“Look at one another. Look at your differences.”
The four of them looked at one another, noting their differences and relenting on reading stories about the other people of Hilarum, but never seeing each other.
“Jojo of the Lewe, you are of the spirit.
“Aaren of the Sax, you are brave.
“Jaul of the Kors, you are learned.
“Weisheng of the Chi, you are astute.
“You will use these gifts on your journey.”
Their bodies chilled as the Oracle said their names. “You were chosen by an ancient prophecy to unite the people of Hilarum and to restore peace in our world. It is in your destiny.”
“But how are we to do this?” Aaren asked, his voice small and quiet before the Oracle.
The Oracle looked down upon the knight. “In this pillar, your ancestors placed an Opus, one that will show you the way when you know not where to go.”
“The animals,” Weisheng said.
“They will come to you when called,” the Oracle answered. “They carry the spirit of your ancestors.”
“Oracle, what would you have us do?” asked Jojo, bowing in reverence.
“You will travel through this forest to the heart of Hilarum. There you will find the hidden records of your people and of the true beginnings of our world. They have been hidden away by a dark spirit and by selfish hearts. In those records you will find the truth. You will then travel back through the forest to each of your lands and rule them by bringing peace and unity.”
“Rule them?” Jaul asked. “Become Sultan?”
The Oracle turned to him. “It is your destiny.”
When none of the brothers spoke again, the Oracle continued.
There is much to learn about these truths, but you will find help along the way. I urge you to share your knowledge with one another.”
The light began to grow brighter and brighter when Jaul stumbled forward again. “What will we do if we don’t know what to do? I have so many questions.”
The Oracle’s light continued to grow brighter, his voice raising. “I will only appear to you when needed. This is your brotherhood. Call on one another.”
Then in a giant flash, he was gone and the brothers fell backwards, shielding their eyes from the light.
When the brothers opened their eyes, they found that they could now understand each other. The Oracle had unconfused their tongues and marked their left wrists with the same symbol upon the pillar.
They all stood up slowly and Jojo walked towards the pillar. Floating within a small glow of light was a golden ball. It had small lines etched all around it and another smaller ball that ran through a small crevice horizontally.
He took the sphere in his hands and held it up.
Jaul walked up behind him and gazed upon the sphere. “My…”
“Don’t fall all over yourselves, it’s just a golden globe. We’ve got plenty of the like in my empire,” Weisheng said, trudging over towards them.
Aaren said nothing, just raised an eyebrow.
“This is no ordinary decorative,” spoke Jojo. “This is our map, our guide. This is the Opus that the our ancestors have prepared for us.”
Weisheng said nothing at his words just looked around at all of them.
Aaren put away his knife and stuck out a hand to them. “I’m Aaren, a knight to King Leopold of Alexandrea of the people of the Sax.”
Jojo took his hand and shook it. “I am Jojo of the Lewe, my father is the healer of our village.”
The two young men smiled at one another and then looked at Weisheng and Jual expectantly.
Weisheng ignored their hands and folded his arms across his chest. “I am Weisheng, crown Prince of the Chi Empire.”
They then looked at Jaul. He clenched his fists nervously and looked away from them. “I am Jaul, crown Prince of the Kors Kingdom.”
Jojo nodded and then looked back at the Opus. “This is so curious, I wonder exactly how it works. This is my first time seeing gold.”
Jaul’s eyes lit up as he reached for the sphere. “It looks as though the smaller ball is to line up with this small etching right here. So if we move around and line it up, that is the direction we are to go.”
“Should we get moving then?”
Jojo and Jaul shrugged, starting to move around to line up the Opus when Weisheng broke off into laughter.
They looked at him, waiting for him to finish.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “How do we even know any of this is real?”
“Where do you think you are, then?” Aaren asked, furrowing his eyebrows at him.
“All that you have seen... But you still don’t believe?” Jojo said.
At this, Weisheng said nothing.
The other brothers began to walk again, Jaul holding the Opus out in front of him.
“What about food? Supplies? I didn’t ask for this, why am I here?”
Jojo turned around. “We were chosen long ago to fulfill the prophecy.”
“Prophecy? What prophecy?”
Jojo looked around at the other brothers. “Does no one in your lands tell of the dealings of the ancestors? The beginnings of the realms of Hilarum?”
Aaren shook his head no.
“We have a few of the ancient writings, but only in part,” Jaul confessed. “There are none alive that can decipher them. The common language is dead now.”
Weisheng ignored Jaul’s comments and folded his arms. “Those old bedtime stories? About the unification of the four corners of Hilarum? How old King Magnus melted to ashes and was swept away?”
He scoffed and shook his head. “I didn’t think anyone actually believed in that.”
Jojo nodded. “Much of it is true.”
“So you’re telling me that your people, the Lewe, know how to read and decipher the ancient common language?” Weisheng asked.
“Then how do you know the stories?” Aaren asked. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. The history of Hilarum is not a knowledge that is known to the common Saxon people. Only the King has access to the ancient records. We know only that at one time all four corners were one, and that there was a great battle that split us all.”
Jojo nodded. “You all seem to know parts of the history of our people.”
“How is it that the Lewe know of these things?” Jaul asked, his eyes eager.
“Through spoken word, sometimes through song. But I will not sing for you today,” Jojo said, smiling.
“How do you know that the stories you tell are true? How do you know they haven’t been changed? Aaren asked.
Jojo looked at him. “Because, brother. My spirit lets me know.”
“Oh brother,” Weisheng mumbled, rolling his eyes.
Jaul smiled largely. “Could we hear them? Before we begin our journey?”
Jojo nodded. “I think it is the will of our ancestors that you all should hear these things from me. That is my gift.”
“Perhaps we should set up camp for the night and build a fire,” Aaren offered before turning to Weisheng. “Brother, I see you have your bow. Perhaps you could hunt some game for us?”
“It would be my pleasure,” Weisheng replied, brandishing his bow.
The remaining brothers gathered small pieces of wood and Aaren began to start the fire. They were waiting for Weisheng to come back, all gathered around the small pit they built. Jojo and Jaul were examining the Opus again while Aaren whittled a stick with his knife.
Past the initial shock waves of the experience, his mind was now settled into reality. He was now gone from the kingdom, which meant he was no longer in danger of anyone finding out about him and Odette. But now he was a deserter, which was treason against the Alexandrean Kingdom.
His stomach twisted at the thought of never feeling her golden hair between his fingers, or her body pressed up to his again. He could still picture her smile, hear her voice arguing with him. He wondered how she had felt when she found out that he was gone.
“Brothers,” Jaul said, setting down the Opus. “How is it that you came to be here?”
Aaren’s thoughts were broken and he looked up. “The Oracle called us.”
“No, no,” Jaul said, shaking his head. “Exactly how were you brought to this place? Both times.”
“A lion,” Jojo answered. “There was a time that as a boy when I ran from it. The lion chased me as a boy. I walked beside it as a man.”
Aaren’s eyes lit up. “For me it was a stallion. Even as a boy, it was the first horse I ever rode. I rode it both times.”
Jaul sat up. “I came across a serpent both times that backed me up against a wall as a boy and as a man.”
After a few moments of silence, Aaren eyed the woods for Weisheng. “What animal do you think brought him here?” he asked.
Jojo shrugged as Jaul answered. “The Falcon.”
“How do you know this?” asked Jojo.
“The Falcon is the sigil of the Chi people.”
“Sigil?” Jojo asked.
“Yes,” Jaul answered. “The people of the Chi are the falcon, just as the Kors is the serpent.”
“He’s right,” Aaren answered. “The Saxon sigil is two great stallions, I don’t know why I hadn’t put that together until now.”
“The Lewe people do not have a sigil,” Jojo said.
“You do,” Jaul said. “One of the ancient writings we discovered has the original sigils for all of the lands and kingdoms in Hilarum.”
“I have not heard of a lion sigil for the Lewe,” Jojo confessed.
“Perhaps it was lost over time,” Jaul contented. “But at one time that was the sigil.”
Just then, Weisheng stepped back into the camp, his forehead sweating. He had a disgruntled look on his face as he threw down his bow. “Not even a hint of life in this damp old forest. It smells like a community bath here,” he grumbled. “If only that falcon would show its face again.”
The other brothers looked at one another and smiled.
“Like the Oracle said, you need only call it.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “So? What did I miss?”
“We were just discussing the sigils of the different lands and kingdoms.”
Weisheng nodded, attending to his bow, seeming disinterested.
He’d like to be back in his bed chambers with Naoki or tormenting some more soldiers. The latter seemed the most tempting.
“Was there another sigil drawn in these writings?” Jojo asked Jaul.
“Yes,” Jaul answered. “It was of a dragon.”
A sudden chill came over them. Jojo nodded, about to speak, but Weisheng spoke first. “Magnus the Great and his dragon Artok.”
“You know of Magnus,” Jojo said.
“Like I said, just from old bedtime stories. Fables.”
“Well, like I said, these are no fables or mere stories. These are truth.”
“I had never heard of Magnus until today,” Aaren confessed as Jaul nodded in agreement.
The fire crackled a little, the night drawing nearer.
“I suppose I should begin now,” Jojo said. He folded his arms before beginning to speak again, all of the other brothers staring intently.
“In the beginning our world was sick with unrest. Brothers fighting brothers, no unity, no peace. The Lewe, the Sax, the Kors, the Chi, and the Atolians all fought one another. They were all scattered throughout, no one held stock of any land. It is also said that there is an ancient magic that lives within our world, and there is always one that looks after it.”
“The Oracle,” Jaul finished.
“Yes,” Jojo said. “The Oracle called upon five men, one from each of the people of Hilarum to rule over their people and to unite Hilarum.
“The first man the Oracle called was Magnus, and he was great. Being that Magnus was the first called, the Oracle gave him the land that was plentiful in all ways at the heart of Hilarum. It was the will of the Oracle that Magnus name the lands of which he had been given to rule and unite his people over . Magnus declared the lands at the heart of Hilarum “Atol,” and his people were named thereof. They bore the dragon sigil and looked like no one. Magnus then took a wife and she was named “Adelicia” for she was worthy.
“The second man the Oracle called was Arod, and he was of the Spirit. It was the will of the Oracle that Arod receive a choice of the four remaining lands of which he would preside over. Arod did choose the lands to the Southwest of Hilarum. It was then the will of the Oracle that Arod name the lands of which he had been given to rule and unite his people over. Arod declared the lands of the Southwestern part of Hilarum “Lewe,” and his people were named thereof. They bore the lion sigil and had skin black as night and hair likened unto it. Arod then took a wife and she was named “Sunniva” for she was a gift of the spirit.
“The third man was Eorl, and he was brave. It was the will of the Spirit that Eorl receive a choice of the three remaining lands of which he would preside over. Eorl did choose the lands to the Northwest of Hilarum. It was the will of the Oracle that Eorl name the lands of which he had been given to rule and unite his people over. Eorl declared the lands of the Northwestern part of Hilarum “Sax,” and his people were named thereof. They bore the sigil of two stallions and had skin white as snow with hair of any color. Eorl then took a wife and she was named “Valora” for she was of great valor.
“The fourth man was Cann, and he was learned. It was the will of the Oracle that Cann receive a choice of the two remaining lands of which he would preside over. Cann did choose the lands to the Northeast of Hilarum. It was the will of the Oracle that Cann name the lands of which he had been given to rule and unite his people over. Cann declared the lands of the Northeastern part of Hilarum “Kors” and his people were named thereof. They bore the sigil of the serpent and their skin was darkened like the ground with hair tangled like the vines of trees. Cann then took a wife and she was named “Alvina” for she was wise.
The fifth and final man was Gerad, and he was astute. It was the will of the Oracle that Gerad receive the last of the lands that remained in the Southeastern part of Hilarum. It was the will of the Oracle that Gerad name the lands of which he had been given to rule and unite his people over. Gerad declared the lands of the Southeastern part of Hilarum “Chi” and his people were named thereof. They bore the sigil of the falcon and had to rule and their skin was white as milk, with hair as black as night. Gerad then took a wife and she was named “Cedrica” for she was kind.”
“So those are our ancestors?” Aaren asked.
Jojo nodded. “Yes, brother. You are a descendant of Eorl the brave.”
The knight’s face lit up and his heart filled with pride.
“I am a descendant of Arod of the spirit,” Jojo said.
“So then I am a descendant of Cann the learned,” said Jaul, smiling brightly.
Weisheng grimaced. “Gerad the astute. What does that even mean?”
“Clever or wise,” Jaul told him.
Weisheng laughed, rolling his eyes. “Learned and astute? Aren’t those basically the same thing?”
“Knowledge and wisdom are two very different attributes.”
The prince shrugged, looking back into the fire. “Well why isn’t there a descendant of Magnus with us?”
Jojo poked a stick into the fire. “That is the next part of the story, brothers.”
“The people of Hilarum lived for many years in peace and prosperity. The brothers all lived in peace but Magnus was different because he was great. He was the King of all of the Kings, the master of Hilarum. He was a leader by nature and was able to sway and influence others with his words. He began to love his power so much that his heart grew dark and he demanded that his people worship him. Magnus grew cruel and tortured any of those that opposed him or put anything else before him, including peace and unity.
“But the Oracle could not kill him. Only man, by their own free will, could do that. Instead, he bade that the remaining brothers take the life of their first brother, in order to keep peace and unity alive in our world.
"The remaining brothers did take up their armies and march into the heart of Hilarum to overthrow and destroy Magnus. But the Atolians were a strong and mighty people and stood strong against their armies. Magnus’s Dragon Artok blew fire into the fields and upon the remaining brothers’ armies.
For Eorl the brave, the Oracle crafted a blade that glowed with the magic of Hilarum. It was the only blade that could pierce the armour of Magnus, for Atolian steel was the strongest in the realm."
The other three brothers were now completely transfixed with the story.
"The brothers made it inside Magnus's throne room and fought him together. Just as their strength was failing, Eorl plunged the sword into Magnus's heart, rendering him to ash that blew away.
The armies of Magnus continued to fight until the Four brothers retreated back to their lands, unable to contend with the Atolians.
Magnus was defeated, but his knowledge of the ancient magic was great and his spirit manifested itself into the hearts of his people. Upon his father's death, Magnus's oldest son Dano cried to his father's spirit in anguish. He took his father's sword and plunged it into his own heart, letting his blood spill out until he was to the brink of death. He then called upon his father again and asked him to take his body. It was there that Magnus the Great was reborn.
It was after this that the Oracle called upon all of the magic and power of our world to erect a great forest, one riddled with power and mystery, in order to separate our lands."
"But why would the Oracle separate the remaining four kingdoms?"
"The Atolians began to scatter themselves and spread the darkness across all of the kingdoms so that they all began to contend with one another again."
Jojo looked at the other three brothers. "Then the Oracle made the prophecy, that one day four new brothers would rise from the lands, unite their people and destroy Magnus once and for all."
There was a pause after Jojo finished. It was eerily quiet and the other three brothers seemed to be taking in his words.
"Wait a minute," Weisheng said. "That Oracle guy didn't say anything about defeating some crazy ancient spirit with a dragon. That's not what I signed up for."
"The Oracle did also tell us to share our knowledge with one another," Jojo countered.
Weisheng shook his head. "I'm telling you, if that time comes, I'll cut and run."
Jaul looked to Jojo. "If our ancestors weren't able to destroy Magnus entirely, how will we?"
"Perhaps," said Jojo, "That has yet to be revealed."