Markus stopped his pacing in front of a thin brown jug, intricately sculpted and carved with scenes of a great battle. The two small handles were gently gripped by two thin wooden hands that were fitted perfectly into the shelf. The decoration depicted a massive stretch of Arabian sand, with the mighty pyramids stretching towards the sky in the near distance. Camel trains and tents speckled the landscape, with a single figure in the foreground digging alone in the wastes.
The Duke’s hand gently caressed the rough clay surface, feeling the small chips and cracks that had developed over the many years the jug had lain in the depths of the desert. Legend said there was once a great warrior whose soul had been caught in the dyes that painted this jug. Perhaps someday before he died, Markus would break the jug and see if the legends were true; if the ghost of an ancient warrior-king would indeed be at his command.
But he had no need of warrior-kings. He had friends, contacts, servants, and money. What could a ghost possibly do that he could not? His shelves were lined with countless examples of ancient legend and architectural poetry. He had the greatest collection in the whole Empire. Old gemstones that once adorned heathen temples littered his mansion, along with marvelous armors from ancient kingdoms and extravagant cloths of every color from long lost civilizations. Metal tools and crafts born from alchemical processes long forgotten sat glinting dully in the light, their purpose long since forgotten. Scholars and scientists paid large sums of money just to be able to look at his treasures. Someday, he may even let them be studied.
But he didn’t want more money right now. He didn’t want the fame, prestige, or power that his collection offered him… he wanted his servant to knock on his door, and tell him that Mister Schussel was catching his breath in the drawing room with a small box clutched in his hands.
A small sliver of wry humor crept into Markus’s thoughts. Here he was, a Duke of Topside, and he was as anxious as a child on Christmas for a low-born explorer to enter his Villa. His mother would have been appalled, had she lived to see him now.
A sudden lance of bitterness shot though the Duke’s mind. Of course she would have. Both his parents were far more interested in lineage and breeding than anything else, and lived quite well under the grace their blood availed for them. For Duke Markus, things were not so simple.
Times were changing. King Wilhelm had embraced the new age of exploration with astonishing alacrity, and it was only good fortune that Duke Markus’s fascination with ancient trinkets gave him the head start he needed. The Duke had contacts and connections that the more clumsy Lords and Ladies of the court could only dream of, and it was but the work of months to solidify his standing in the League of Gentlemen Explorers, and thereby assure his expeditions free movement throughout the world.