Up until this night, his stay at Prince Sigismund's castle had been one of relative comfort. He was, of course, a prisoner, but one of royal blood and therefore entitled to privileges that bordered on a life of luxury. For the last two months, everything he could have wished for had been at his disposal. Food, books, visitors, even tours of the countryside had been provided for in abundance. In fact, he had already learned much of Sigismund's lands and of his people and their ways. The only thing that had been lacking was the one thing that he had craved most. The freedom to go home.
Mauritio was a hostage, captured by the victorious army of an enemy of his father, the King. News had been brought by a messenger who had been allowed to visit him in person. News of his family and of the huge ransom that was being mustered to buy his freedom. There was nothing that he looked forward to more than the day that he would be allowed to ride his own magnificent white steed back to the forest home of his own people. And yet, a strange reluctance would seize him as he imagined galloping off into the woods, leaving behind the austere, gray stronghold that had been his prison for so many days since that dreadful battle. Despite his infamy and his dark ways, Prince Sigismund had been a generous, at times even congenial host to him.
Tonight, however, Mauritio had been surprised by his captor. In sharp contrast to his usual civility, he and two of his undead advisors had entered his otherwise private quarters unannounced and the Prince had curtly told him that he was to follow him to the courtyard. It had not been so much the authoritative look on Sigismund's ever pale and severe face, but it had been the presence of his companions that had chilled him to the bone. They were liches. Undead, unholy creatures that were an abomination to Nature itself. The ancient remains of powerful mages who had been undone by their own wickedness in ages long forgotten, revived by the arcane magics that were supposed to have been buried with them.
During the long months of his captivity, Mauritio had seen many of the Prince's undead minions in various forms of power and decay, but none cried out as loudly for Nature's wrath than these cursed beings. Exceptionally tall and regal in posture, but ever stooped over and clinging on to their staffs as if their skeletal frames were about to collapse, these captains of darkness in their age-old, tattered robes and coats of mail followed the Prince whenever he beckoned. Crowns they wore and from their heads, some long, thin streaks of hair still clung to their skulls and the few bits of parched skin that remained. Their expressionless faces would stare at you for hours without moving. It was those unearthly eyes, however, that gripped his heart like a vise whenever they looked at him. Their eyes had long rotted away as had done most of their bodies, but they had been replaced by eerie, magical lights that shore in their age-worn sockets and, in the dark, would illuminate the skull that held them like some grotesque lantern.