“Farewell!” Anastasia called out, as Sora adjusted the saddle of his horicon.
“G’bye, my love!” Jynn returned.
Sora turned to look at the caster, and Jynn’s face met Sora’s with a big whimsical smile.
“Oh, hush up, Jynn!” Ana cawed.
“Ah, you know I joke, Ana.”
“The only joke lies between your legs, Jynn.” Sora jibed.
Ana cleared her throat.
Jynn retaliated. “Yeah, and if laughter is the best medicine, your face could cure the world.”
Sora laughed. “Ah-ha, I see the caster wishes to have a battle of wits, eh?” he challenged.
Jynn smiled, grabbed the tail of his black longcloak, and bowed benevolently, “Aye, do your worst, your majesty.”
Without hesitation, Sora fired, “If your face wa-”
The King and caster glanced at Ana as if she was a mother trying to get their child’s attention.
“What are you boys, twelve?” Ana asked.
Jynn smiled and couldn’t hold back. “On a scale from one to ten, aye, say true.”
“I know, I know, I’m going!” He locked the heels of his knee-high calfskin boots into the metal stirrups of his horicon. He winked at Sora, took the reins, and trotted away toward the northern gate.
The night was calm and quiet. Sora and Ana stood at the stables of the north city market district. Most of the city’s residents had already made their way home and into the sanctuary of their warm beds. A few merchants and traders were gathering their supplies and closing shop as a cool night breeze blew between the district’s many alleys, rippling the tarps of the covered market stalls.
“So,” Ana said, sighing.
“So,” Sora said, packing his remaining gear into his saddlebags.
“I just wanted see you one last time before you departed.”
Sora grinned. “Ana, worry not. You act as if I won’t return.”
Anastasia suddenly wrapped her arms around Sora’s waist. She pressed her face against the chilled breastplate woven into his heavy dark-brown tunic.
“I’m sorry. I’ve just gotten used to the embrace of a certain-” her hand slid around and grasped at the crotch of Sora’s breeches, “King,” she whispered.
Sora’s face flushed red, as he looked around to see if anybody watched.
Ana’s hand returned to his waist. “Are you sure you have to go?”
Sora began to speak, but his words fell short. He looked deeply into Ana’s eyes and sighed, “Aye, love . . . but I promise you I will be back as soon as I can. If it was something of unimportance, Törbjorn would not have asked to speak in person.” Speaking of the elder of the North, he suddenly remembered the stone ring which the Grim had made for the soon-to-be. “Ana, give me your hand. I have something for you.”
Ana threw him a curious glance and did as asked. Sora reached into a top pocket of his tunic, pulled out a ring, and slid it onto the fourth finger of her left hand. The band was of balamite, a polished ash-gray stone, and fit in the center, a stunning opal.
“It’s beautiful!” Ana exclaimed.
“A beautiful ring for a beautiful Queen. The Grim wanted to present a gift.”
Ana blushed. “I am no queen.”
“No, but soon enough. Have you met with the council today?”
Ana stood, marveling at the way the earthlight shimmered upon the opal. “I haven’t, why do you ask?”
“They sent word this morning stating that preparations are nearly complete. They wanted to meet with me at duskrise. I told them I had business, and if they had questions to ask you.”
“To go over things about our wedding, to see if I approved.”
“I see. I’ll meet with Saael tomorrow,” Ana said. She stretched and followed with a big yawn.
Sora buckled his horicon’s saddlebag. “Get rest, Ana. I love you, but you know I have to go.”
“I know,” Ana sighed. “Be safe, and farewell, love.”
The horicon hummed a seemingly jealous warble.
“Awe, you didn’t think I was going to forget about you did you, Eoshi?” Ana ran her hand along the length of the creature’s nose. It’s sleek white scales were cool and smooth to the touch. Earthlight bounced from them like the opal in her ring.
Eoshi was a gift from Törbjorn to Sora on the King’s thirteenth birthday. He had features standard for a horicon, thee long lizard-like face, the big, bulging eyes, the fierce jaws which housed many pointed, sharp teeth. He walked on two legs, bred for sprinting and traversing distances quickly, had long curved claws, and sported a long, spiked tail. However, he lacked the brownish scales and the umber-colored eyes of his brothers and sisters, but rather scales of silvery-white and huge eyes of emerald green. Because of his unique appearance, its mother rejected him and left him to die in the plains of the Hardlands, before the Grim found him on one of their weekly hunts.
“There, there, is that better?” Anastasia asked.
Eoshi whipped out his long tongue and gave Ana a big, wet kiss.
She smiled. “You keep Sora safe, now!”
Eoshi dipped his head and warbled as if he understood. Sora kissed Ana upon the forehead and pulled himself onto the saddle of his mount. He locked his boots, gave her a final nod farewell, and whipped Eoshi’s reins with a quiet Hiya. He looked back at his love as he trotted towards Providence’s southern gate. He thought of how much he was going to miss her. It’s only a week, he told himself. But he too had become so accustomed to her, waking up next to her, feeling the warmth of her smooth, bare skin against his, smelling the sweet lilac scent of her hair, the passionate spark he felt when their lips touched. Ana held the key to his heart.
As he approached the gate, he saw Jynn patiently waiting, twirling an arrow with his fingers. “Ready?”
Jynn nodded and tossed the arrow up into the air; it fell neatly back into its quiver.
“Ya leavin’, mah Lord?” a voice called from above him.
Sora glanced up to see the keeper of the north gate, a man whom he did not recognize. “Aye. Jynn and I ride to Dymoria.”
The gatekeeper ran a hand through his shoulder length, blonde hair. “Ah-right, but be wary. The gnawers have become dangerous. They killed mah cousin, Haede, a few suns ago.”
“I have heard,” Sora acknowledged. “My deepest condolences to your cousin. I knew him well, he was a good man. That is why we ride at night - to move in shadow. We should be able to reach Goron before the gnawers wake.”
“Wise decision, mah lord. Especially if you only allow this hollow shell of a man to travel wittcha,” he snickered, glancing at Jynn.
The caster leered at the gatekeeper. His hands began to glow.
“Say you, what do you mean by that?” Jynn growled.
“Ah, ya know,” the gatekeep snarled, “you and ya fackin lousy magi. I had a friend nearly die because of one of you. Ya couldn even kill a bilba if it came down to hand tah hand combat, let alone a gnawer.”
Jynn’s hand began to illuminate brightly. “I’d watch that tongue, lowborn.”
“Oh look, the casta grows angry! Wot are ya gonna do? Chuck a fireball at me? Tell ya wot, why doncha draw me up a sigil to make mah cock bigga, give ya somethin to taste on.”
“Enough!” Sora commanded, “What has caused ill?” He placed a hand on the caster’s shoulder. “Jynn, stay calm.” What the hell is this man thinking?
Jynn shoved Sora aside, keeping his eyes on the man above him. “Don’t tell me to stay calm. Who does this whoreborn think he is?”
Things grew silent, but the air between the two men thrummed with tension. Sora was about to speak when he noticed the gatekeeper wink at him and burst out into laughter.
Jynn joined in, laughing so hard he nearly fell off his mount
Sora shut his eyes and grabbed at his temples when he realized he had been jested. The breath of relief he exhaled could have sailed a ship across the Hallowed Sea. “Gods damn you, Jynn! I thought you was about to torch this man.” He turned to Jynn’s accomplice. “And what be your name? I don’t recognize your face. And where is your uniform?”
“Basch, mah lord” the gatekeeper chuckled, “Son of Talon. I’m only covering for’eem. He had to use the privy.”
Jynn reached into a satchel he had tied at his waist and pulled out a silver coin. “As promised.” He tossed it up. “It was good to see you, Basch. I’m sorry to hear of your kin.”
Basch caught it. “Likewise, and it’s ah-right, the world moves on I say. Here, let me get the gate.” He began rotating the massive handle that opened the enormous iron doors of the city’s north exit.
Sora shook his head. “The lengths that you go, Jynn. You paid a man a whole silver piece for a joke?”
“The only joke lies between your legs, your Majesty.”
“You can’t use my own against-”
“Just did,” Jynn winked, and whipped he reigns of his horicon.
Sora could do nothing but smile as the caster trotted off. He was glad Jynn agreed to ride with him. He quite enjoyed his company. He bid Basch farewell and followed Jynn out of the city.
The gate screamed shut behind them. Sora turned around to see Basch throw up a hand in a final good-bye. The night was silent aside from the pit-pat of the horicon’s feet against the beaten dirt path and the whisper of a westward-blowing wind. Sora flipped the hood of his cloak over his head. The wind was cold. “I think the gnawers are going to be the least of our worries.”
Jynn looked at Sora with an expression of concern. “Do tell?”
“There’s a storm coming. I can smell it.”
Jynn expression changed; doubtful, unconvinced. “You can’t tell that from--.”
“Look.” Sora drew Jynn’s attention to the eastern sky. Clouds were beginning to roll in, chasing the flow of the wind.
“We should be fine,” Jynn said. “If there is a storm coming, we’ll be long into Goron before it hits.”
“I pray you’re right.” Sora recalled a few hours prior, when he stood with Ana, and watched the final traces of sunfall in a clear, unmarked sky. “It’s moving quickly.”
Strange things had been happening lately. Frequent storms were one of them. Vicious storms at that. The creatures of Eden were becoming hostile, farmers were producing less crop, and now cold winds had started to blow, though they were months away from frost. Sora thought that all that may be what Törbjorn wished to discuss.
Goron was a half a day’s ride. It stood on the other end of a long stretch of rocky plains called The Hardlands. From Goron, Dymoria was another half day trek. The two rode in silence for a good while, passing vast sections of farmland. Not everyone could afford to live inside the city. During late King Azrael’s rule, the poor lived among the outskirts of Providence, tending to the fields of farmers, the farmers in turn slaves to the crown. The farmers were required to meet a certain amount of produce every harvest. If they didn’t meet that quota, they were cast into the bastille or hung, and someone would take their place. It was barbaric, but all had changed when Azrael passed, and Sora took the throne. Farmers were no longer treated as slaves, Sora understood that if not for the farmers, the people of Providence would starve, and that some seasons didn’t bring forth good crop. Especially in the last few years.
Sora looked skyward, gazing at the planet looming above him. A planet of blue and green, a planet of mystery - the planet of the fallen. He began singing a tune. His voice wavered a bit from each step of his horicon, but it still rang true.
"There lies a land beyond the stars
Between the sky and sun
Where mighty trees direct the breeze
And rocking rivers run
There lies a land above the clouds
A timeless promise told
As wings in flight reflect the light
As radiant as gold
There lies a land where no knows
The powers of the page
While deep within his earthen sin
A traitor waits in rage
There lies a land for all the lost
For Cinhdyr and his fall
Through blood and lust, celestial dust
His loyals lost their call
There lies a land of pleasant chains
The fallen walk in peace
But deep within his earthen sin
The traitor waits release”
Jynn seemed a bit surprised. “Where’d you learn to sing like that?”
“From my mother, I guess” Sora said, holding back a grin.
“She teach you that song as well?”
“Aye, she did - was actually the last song I remember her singing before she passed.”
“No ill caused. It bothers me no longer. She resides with the gods now.”
Another cold breeze blew through the farmlands. He followed Sora’s example and flipped the hood of his own cloak. “You know - she’d be proud of you.”
Sora looked at the caster; his eyes reflected the radiant Earth. “Of what?”
“She’d be proud of what you’ve become,” Jynn said. “The king Eden deserves.”
Those words struck Sora like a sack of stone. The king Eden deserves. For the next few hours, those words looped over and over in his head. He thought of his mother; thought of the songs she used to sing, recalling her voice as she sung them: soft and calm, almost sedative. He thought of Ana, and how they’d met that stormy day and how her voice rang through that rainstorm in the East City plaza, how it reminded him so much of his mother’s. He glanced to the east, watching the black clouds creep their way towards them, concealing the stars along their path. Mother - how long had it been since he’d been able to call someone that? Fourteen, fifteen years now? Regardless how long it had been, he knew one thing for certain. A storm was coming.