(First time reading? Catch up Here!)
~ Previous Chapter ~
So we come to it at last…
IT WAS THE last day of the year and the first fine day for a three-quarter moon. The residents of Aquila – town, citadel and barracks – filled the Lawn and practice fields on both sides of the river. The Riders and students wore their dress uniforms and the townsfolk were in light blue. Each man and woman bore either an armband or a headscarf, woven in black and gold.
Nineteen white paper boats waited on the bank, resting on a blanket so as not to get wet before their time. Each one was covered with ink – messages from friends, families and loved ones – ready to carry the words to Typhaestus’ realm. Beside them rested eight swans, folded from black paper.
Aquila had come to honour their dead.
Deep in the mountain caves, twenty new tombs had been filled; twelve Riders, one miryhl and seven bonded pairs. It was not only the kaz-naghkt who had paid a high price for the attack on Aquila. The burial ceremonies had taken place three days after the battle, but few could crowd under the mountain to pay their respects. So now they remembered them.
Dean Marshall stood on the bank with the priest of Maegla and together they blessed the boats and swans. “There is no higher service to Aquila, the Overworld, Maegla and the Gods than that given by those we remember today,” the dean said, touching Stirla on the shoulder. “Think well of them.”
The burly lieutenant knelt upon the blanket and lifted a black swan. “Go in peace, Miryhl Spiral. May the gods grant you fast winds.” Lowering his hands into the rushing river, he released the swan and picked up a little boat. “Rider Cieryn, bonded of Spiral, may the Gods reunite you in peace. Bright skies, my friend.”
The paper shapes bobbed gently in the water, resting against the screen held by the priest. Steadily Stirla added more swans and boats, murmuring tributes to each of the lost miryhls and men of his flurry. When he stepped back, four boats and two swans jostled in the river, waiting to be released.
Next came Lieutenant Willym, who had lost three pairs and three men. Then Lieutenant Hlen bid farewell to one pair, one miryhl and four men. By now the floating papers were in danger of sinking, but this was not a task that could be rushed.
Lastly came Lyrai, freshly released from the infirmary, pale and still a little weak. He limped on his bad leg and knelt with the help of Stirla. Once he was stable, he waved his friend back and lowered three more boats into the river, speaking each name with a tribute.
Finally, he picked up the last swan and boat. “Miryhl Harrier and Rider Dhenras, be reunited in peace. May the Gods grant you bright sun and clear skies, with the wind at your backs and the clouds beneath you. Aquila is proud.”
Leaning forward, he lowered both hands into the water and sent the papers spinning with a puff of breath. The current jostled them on its rippling swell to join the others against the screen.
“Aquila is proud,” Dean Marshall echoed, and everyone bowed their heads for the final prayer. “Though they are gone, be they never forgotten. For Aquila you died, and at Aquila your memory will live on. We are proud, we are humbled and we thank you. Be at peace, children of Maegla.”
“Be at peace,” the gathering murmured, and beneath the warm sun on the last day of the year, the screen was pulled up to release the boats and swans.
The symbolic flotilla bumped along together, black swans bobbing, paper boats spinning. Beneath the bridge all went dark, then the water roared over the falls and they disappeared from sight.
Gone, but never forgotten.
* * * * *
* * * * *
And there, I am afraid, we leave everyone for the time being. So, please, raise a glass of your favourite beverage, as I say “Thank you” for coming along for the ride. It’s been fun sharing this story with people again, so I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
In a month or so I will be releasing it as an ebook from various retailers – more to come when it happens – and after that I’ll be diving into book 2 (Rift Riders).
For now, I bid you all a very fond farewell, but look forward to seeing you again on August 26th, when Mhysra and co will be back in an action-packed sequel.
Until then, thank you so much for reading.