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Catching back up with Lyrai and co. Prepare for scenery!
THE CITY OF Misthome had been home to Havia’s monarchs for five hundred years. For three hundred of those it had been known as one of the most beautiful cities on the Overworld, ever since Queen Evnia had built her palace on the edge of the Mistfalls.
Situated barely a league from the roiling Storm Wash, Misthome sat at the centre of a semicircle of sprawling mountains whose ends dipped into the tempestuous barrier itself. The northern side of this range mirrored the inward curve, leaving Misthome not only at the middle but also on the narrowest point. The mountain upon which the city was built was split into two peaks, with a narrow valley scooped out between them, filled with a sluggish river of clouds. Because of the strong inward pull of the Storm Wash, the Cloud Sea to the north of Misthome was higher than that in the south, meaning a misty flow poured constantly out into the lowered sea in a rippling, ethereal cascade. There it filled the crater that was all that lay between the city and the stormy barrier that protected the Dragonlands.
Yawning along the eastern edge of the falls was Evnia’s Palace, glowing a warm pink in the late afternoon sun. Its cloistered walkways, broad courtyards and jewelled gardens were prime examples of the Havian style, whose climate was milder than that of Nimbys or Aquila.
Rarely rising higher than two storeys, the palace stretched along the valley and across the cliffs, with many windows to appreciate the view. Lyrai wasn’t the only one to catch his breath as the Riders and miryhls skimmed across the crater and up the Mistfalls. The city occupied the western peak, built in descending half-circles, connected by bridges to the mansions and pleasure gardens that shared the lower slopes of the eastern shore. Even without the palace, Misthome was an awe-inspiring place, but taken as a whole it was stunning.
No wonder the Havians were so proud of their royal city. Not even a sullen sky could dim its brilliance. Nimbys paled in comparison.
Lyrai smiled at Corin’s wide eyes. His first sight of Misthome had left him close to speechless too. Even Hurricane murmured something complimentary after their first pass.
It was a far cry from their first stop on Havian soil, at a Rider base built along the same functional lines as Kaskad. Still, Heipointe had been everything they’d needed after the kaz-naghkt attack, and Captain Grynt a hospitable host. Taking three days to recover and farewell their dead, Lyrai and Stirla had soon hurried on, leaving their worst wounded in safe hands and with replacement Riders from Grynt’s flight to help them along. Alas, they’d also been accompanied by Lieutenant Seiryn, an austere officer from the old guard, who was inclined to look down on everyone for being foolish, younger or less well bred.
As they circled over the city for a second time, figures emerged from the pleasure gardens. Away from the fountains and formal walkways, avenues and hedge-mazes, was an open meadow. The figures gathered there, waving green flags to signal permission to land. Swinging away from the town and back towards the palace, Stirla and Seiryn drew up alongside Lyrai in a pre-arranged formation. With gradual dips, the miryhls glided gracefully downwards, bringing the three lieutenants in to land together, followed by the students and Riders in staggered waves.
When all were safely dismounted, figures in the uniform of the royal guard marched down the terrace from the formal gardens and wooded walks to block their access to the city. Anywhere else on the Overworld such treatment would be taken as an insult to the Rift Riders and Flying Corps, but this was Havia. King Heryff had always looked upon them with disfavour. He understood the need for them and even tolerated their presence in his lands, as long as he didn’t have to see them and they remained far away from his impressionable daughters. All because two of his sisters had both eloped with Riders forty-something years ago.
Not that he was holding a grudge, because kings didn’t do such things. Apparently.
Looking at the soldiers, Lyrai caught Lieutenant Seiryn’s eye.
The older man grimaced. “Now you understand why Captain Grynt made no offer to join you.”
Stirla snorted. “We’ve been here before, sir. We know the protocol.”
A man wearing an embroidered sash, proclaiming him as a corporal of the royal guard, emerged from the soldiers. His black hair was overlong and showed signs of having been curled, while every silver adornment of his uniform was polished to a high shine. Lyrai would have guessed he was about his own age, but without any of his experience.
Thanks to the Rift Riders and other Flying Corps patrolling Havia’s borders and outlands, everyone knew a place in the royal guard was the soft option. They were rarely called upon to do anything more strenuous than stand around all day, opening doors.
Unimpressed, Seiryn dismissed the young corporal with a contemptuous sniff.
Luckily Stirla was around to smooth over any awkward moments and stepped forward, saluting sharply. “Afternoon, corporal, I trust all’s well in your city on this fine winter day?” he greeted in flawless Westron, the common language spoken in the West.
A little bemused, the man returned the salute. “All lies well, lieutenant. I offer greetings to you and yours,” he replied, studying their shoulders carefully in search of who was in charge. Difficult to tell with three lieutenants and no captain. “We were not expecting any Riders in the city this season. Might I enquire as to your business?”
Just because the Old Pyrefly didn’t trust their kind, didn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated with respect, Lyrai thought, amused by the man’s hesitance. Clearly he was new to his rank, and not yet certain how far his authority extended – or where it lay compared to the Riders.
“Of course you may enquire,” Stirla agreed, and said no more.
The poor man looked confused, a hint of embarrassment creeping in as he fidgeted.
Lyrai took pity on him. “We are Lieutenants Seiryn, Stirla and Lyrai,” he matched each name with an indicative wave of his hand, “and have travelled from Etheria, bringing greetings for His Majesty.” He could have said more, but it was safer to keep things simple. Especially when this lad was just a gatekeeper.
The corporal eyed them dubiously, as well he might since no Rider bothered with such niceties when it was well known Heryff would ignore them. One of the guards stepped forward to whisper in his ear.
Eyes widening, the corporal stared at him. “Lieutenant Lyrai? From Nimbys?”
So it begins, Lyrai thought sourly, hiding his bitterness with a smile. “Indeed. Lieutenant Lyrai Henstrati Henrykran at your service.” He clicked his heels together in the western way and inclined his head.
“Forgive me, Highness!” the corporal gasped, as the guards clicked their heels and bowed deeply in return. Whispers were exchanged behind him between the students and Riders who hadn’t realised quite who he was until now. If it had been up to him, none of them would ever have known.
“If your men would kindly follow Guardsman Asen, he will show them where to leave their mounts,” the corporal continued, scrambling to regain control of the situation. “And if you, and the lieutenants, would care to follow me, Highness, I will send word to the palace.”
Resigned to such treatment, since it was most likely to achieve the desired results, Lyrai smiled again. If it was a little strained, no one but Stirla would notice. “My thanks, Corporal…?”
The man looked blank, reinforcing the impression that he was new to his position, and perhaps better off in the royal guard than any other military division. “Oh! Ferryth, Highness, Corporal Ferryth at your service. Please forgive me. The unexpectedness of your arrival…” His voice trailed off with a helpless shrug. Because the arrival of a flurry of Rift Riders was such a rare and overwhelming event.
Then again this was Havia. Which explained more than it didn’t.
Exchanging a long suffering look with Stirla, Lyrai caught up with Ferryth as they passed through the ranks of the guard and began the long hike towards the palace. Not that he expected to reach such exalted heights this day, but one could never tell.
After a pleasant but meandering path through the gardens, Corporal Ferryth led them to the guard barracks built inside the lowest wall of the city. Showing the lieutenants into an empty room, Ferryth left with a bow of apology and a promise to bring someone to speak with them soon.
~ Next Chapter ~
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