In his dreams, Jyson could always fly. The ground would disappear from under his feet and he would soar through the air, the glaring sun not a torment, but a source of energy. But then he would always wake up.
He has often wondered about the meaning of these dreams, and why they were so consistent. Flight was not something he coveted in his waking hours. He was normally quite content with his feet firmly routed on the ground. It was just during the night …
However, this was not a morning given to contemplation. He and his cousin, Samul, had been summoned to the capitol for the first time, and thoughts could not be spared to anything beyond the fact that they were leaving today.
“Do you think King Hubert is going to prefer you or me me?” Samul asked, flashing Jyson a grin over the stable partition as they saddled their horses. “Because frankly, I don't see how he's going to resist my charming manners.”
Jyson shook his head as he tightened the girth. “If he can get past your pretentious attitude, I think you'll do just fine.”
“It's part of my charm, Jy,” said Samul. “Now you, I really don't know what you have to recommend yourself – unless he's interested in broody young knights given to violent bursts and obsessed with keeping their hands smooth.”
“You never know,” said Jyson, frowning momentarily at his gloved hands. “I've heard that King Hubert can be quite the broody man himself. We might find that we have much in common.”
“If he can get past your gloves.”
“Look, I don't wear gloves because I like it and you know it. It was my father's last order to my mothers that my hands never be seen, and I like to respect that.”
“You don't have to get so worked up about it, Jy,” said Samul, daring to laugh. “I just think that it was a very strange request. Did he think your hands deformed or something.”
Jyson tensed slightly, as he thought of the other part of his father's last order – that he never tell anyone the reason. No, his hands weren't deformed, but the truth was almost as bad. “We'd better get going,” he said aloud, opening the stall door. “We have a good two days' journey ahead of us.”
“You're right, I have two whole days that I can torment you non-stop. I can spread it out, instead of cramming it all in now.”
Jyson took a deep breath, willing himself to ignore his cousin. He liked him and all that, and he could be amusing at times … but there were other times when he could be just a bit exasperating.
“Hey, Jy,” continued Samul. “Do you think there's any chance we might see a dragon on our way there? Because that would be seriously cool.”
“It would only be seriously cool if it stays well away from us. Those beasts breath fire, if you'll remember. That's seriously hot.”
“What's this!” exclaimed Samul in an incredulous voice. “Jyson cracking a joke? The world must be coming to an end!”
Jyson sighed. This was going to be a long two days.
“Hey, Jy! What do you think that is?”
Jyson glanced halfheartedly in the direction Samul was pointing. “I really have no idea.”
“Looks like an umbrella bird to me.”
“They live further south – in the jungles. You're not going to see an Umbrella Bird in the desert.”
“It might be lost.”
“If it is, it'll soon be dead. They can't survive without water.”
“Then we should go rescue it!”
“Samul, if it is an umbrella bird, which I seriously doubt, it can fend for itself. If it isn't, then it can definitely fend for itself.”
“You are so hardhearted, Jy.”
“No.” Jyson sighed again. “I am just mindful of the fact that this is a path of protection, and Grandfather has strictly ordered us to not step off of it for any reason, lest we get lost in the desert ourselves.”
“Ah, he just doesn't want us to have any fun,” said Samul.
“I'm more willing to believe that he doesn't want us to not reach the Capitol,” said Jyson. “If we get lost, it's going to be very hard for us to win the king's favor and all that.”
“Ah, well, when you put it in that light, I suppose that this path does have a certain appeal ...”
Jyson closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had predicted that two days' travel in an unchanging landscape would make for a very bored Samul, and he had been right. They were barely half a day away from their grandfather's estate, and Samul was already wondering what the hoped-for adventure had done with itself.
His thoughts were suddenly cut short when a strange feeling spread over him. Not foreboding, exactly, but it was something very similar, causing the hair on the back of his neck to rise. “Something's nearby,” he said, not sure why he was so certain of that fact.
“Really?” asked Samul, excitement rising in his voice again. “What? Where?”
“I – I don't know,” said Jyson, frowning. “But it's …” He turned his head in the direction Samul had been pointing. “It's that direction.”
“That's the umbrella bird,” said Samul. “We've already decided that we're going to leave it alone, boring as the prospect is.”
“No … it's …” Jyson found himself unable to speak as the brown creature that Samul had been pointing to suddenly zoomed towards him, becoming recognizable.
“That's no umbrella bird,” said Samul. “That's a dragon.”
Jyson was unable to speak as he reigned in his horse and watched the dragon glide over the burning sand. Its eyes were fixed on him, and Jyson had the oddest feeling of familiarity, as if he had seen those eyes before.
Just before the dragon reached the path, it veered upwards and soon disappeared far into the hazy sky, and the feeling was gone.
Jyson shook himself and turned to his cousin, who had stopped several feet ahead of him. “Well, there's your dragon. Do you mind if the rest of the trip is uneventful?”
“For today at least,” said Samul. “Can't promise tomorrow. Was it too scary for you? It didn't even blow smoke at us!”
“No it was … let's just get going. We're wasting time.” Jyson dug his spurs into the horses sides and he was off again. Samul was not slow to follow suit.
Soon the dragon's eyes were pushed to the back of his mind and all but forgotten.
“And we have arrived intact and without harm,” Samul announced, as they neared the walls of the Capitol. “And in good time, too. We should be able to have a nice, long heart-to-heart conversation with the king, and still have time for supper.”
“We might,” said Jyson, impatiently. “But I really doubt that King Hubert does.”
“Yes, yes, you're right as always, Jy,” said Samul handing his papers to the guard at the side of the gate. “Well, we'll get supper at least, I'm sure.”
“Yes, what a relief,” said Jyson, handing his own papers to the other guard.
“King Hubert is waiting for you,” announced Samul's guard, handing Samul back his papers. “You'll find him in his throne room.”
“Eh, same for you,” said the other guard, handing Jyson his. “Now hurry up.”
“But sirs,” said Samul. “This is our first time to visit our lovely Capitol. We don't know the way to the throne room.”
“The main road will take you straight to the palace gates,” said his guard, irritably. “You can ask for further instructions when you get there.”
“Thank-you kindly, sir,” said Samul, tipping his hat good-naturedly. “Now, if you don't mind, we'll just be along.”
It wasn't until they were through the gates before he finally turned and acknowledged the look that Jyson was giving him. “What?”
“Grandfather told us that the main street leads straight towards the palace gates,” said Jyson. “In fact, that information is pretty much universally known throughout Rintaria.”
“Ah, but I wanted to make them feel useful.”
“You annoyed them, that's what you did.”
“It's good to be among people again, don't you think?” asked Samul, changing the subject, and gesturing to the crowded street spread before them. “The Capitol is certainly a busy place, isn't it?”
“Well, this is where the king lives,” said Jyson. “Of course it's going to be busy.”
Slowly, but surely, they guided their horses through the maze of people. No one took much notice of them, except for a beggar or two asking for alms. At last they came to the magnificent palace gates.
Samul whistled as they dismounted. “And you thought that the gates to the city were something to look at! Why, I do believe that these are solid gold.”
“Nay,” said the bored guard who stood by this gate. “Merely wood covered with gold plate. King Harold doesn't like people knowing that, though. What's your business, gentlemen, or have you only come to ogle at the gates.”
Papers were again produced and examined, and soon the gate was opened for the pair. No sooner had they stepped in the courtyard than a groomsman approached them and claimed their horses. A moment after that, another servant appeared, bidding them to “follow him.”
“And there goes asking for directions,” complained Samul. Jyson just shook his head.
The palace halls were as busy as the streets, but it was an organized busy. Their guide lead them effortlessly though the people bustling here and there, people even pausing to acknowledge their presence. It wasn't long before they found themselves standing before a pair of magnificent doors, solid oak and carved with the most intricate design, which stood open, showing the way into an even more magnificent room.
Unlike the halls, this room was peaceful. The chandeliers glittered on the ceiling, the carpet leading to the throne was pristine, and every step made on the hardwood floor could be heard. The throne itself was on a platform at least twelve feet off of the ground, and was covered in gold and ivory. The throne was also empty.
“Well, well, don't just stand there!” a powerful voice boomed and echoed through the room. “Come in, come in – state your business! What do you want with the great and mighty King Harold?”
Because of the echoing, it took a few seconds before Jyson focused on the speaker, who was a powerfully built man just exiting his prime, his brown hair just beginning to be touched by gray, who stood just to the side of the steps leading up to the throne. He wore a purple robe and a thick band of gold encircled his head.
Jyson and Samul shared a glance before Samul took the initiative to step forward and bow deeply. “Your Majesty, I am Samul, son of Lord Elar, Grandson of Lord Garan, Baron of Ridaria, and this is my cousin, Jyson, whose mother was my father's sister. We have obeyed your especial summons and are willing to receive the honor of joining your service.”
A broad smile spread across King Harold's face, and before Jyson could think to join his cousin in obeisance, had already gestured for Samul to stand back up. “Ah, Garan's grandsons. Fine young men! Your grandfather must be very proud!”
Before either young man could respond, a woman's voice rang out. “But why do you not mention Jyson's father? Do you consider it a shame to be sired by my friend Dular?”
Jyson at last noticed the two ladies seated in luxurious velvet chairs on the other side of the throne. They looked to be the same age, one with rich, golden hair, the other with hair whiter than snow, though it did nothing to make her look older.
The white-haired rose and took a few steps nearer. “Yes, you have grown into a fine young man. I'm sure Dular would have been proud.” She paused and turned an inquiring look towards the golden-haired. “Do you not think so, Analyssa, my daughter?”
Jyson blinked, as he realized who the pair were – Queen Blanche and Princess Analyssa themselves! And it seemed that Queen Blanche's famous youth was no rumor at all.
Princess Analyssa stood up, flicking her skirt with her wrist so that it billowed around her dramatically. “I wouldn't know what Dular would have thought of him, for I never met Dular,” she said, her voice sweet, yet powerful at the same time. “And I do not think it is propitious for me to state my own opinion, mother.” With those words, she swept down the carpet and past Jyson and out of the room. The smell of desert roses lingering momentarily after her.
“Ah, since we are to be denied my daughter's favored opinion, we may as well get down to business,” announced King Harold. “The two of you will make fine additions to my men, if you resemble your fathers even in the slightest.”
“You flatter us, your majesty,” said Samul, dipping into another bow. “We will pleased enough if only our service can bring honor to you.”