Spring – 1021 YD
Brennan gave a servant’s tour of the castle, showing them through the labyrinth of kitchens, service passages, larders and keeps. His only reprieve from duty were the hours in the early evening, during which the Princess dined with her family. His position was a taxing one, he told them, rewarded by an untaxed wage. ‘Perhaps the only benefit of being a foreigner!’ He added quietly: ‘Many dislike my presence in the Princess’ retinue. Perhaps I was chosen for my origin; the Princess enjoys being contrary.’ Kesia smiled, suspecting even at her age that his appearance had been a prevailing factor.
‘There are rumours.’ Daldria spoke in such hushed tones the girls could scarcely hear. ‘The Duke and Duchess of Lirna are said to host her often.’
Brennan bristled. ‘I can’t speak to her movements, mother.’ To the others: ‘Come! I have a surprise.’
Though he could not show them the grander elements of the castle—Great Hall, Dining Hall, Temple, and so on—he had consent to show them the Northern Tower. With sunset approaching this, after sunrise, was the perfect time of day to share its spectacular views.
Mellena and Kesia skipped up the final steps and flew to the balustrade. They grasped each other’s hand.
To the south and north-west lay the bays, sweeping inward as though drawn by a lazy hand, bearing calmly the darkening tide. North, open fields of folding and swaying barley grew as far as the eye could see—interrupted only by the Barlon River and the Claes, the largest stone henge in the west. Beyond that to the north-east the towering Barlon Ranges stood like guards, miles of jagged mountains hatted even now with snow. The east was open fields also, but different crops grew there, and the sight was littered with occupied roads, ruins, storage silos, and smaller buildings of varying purpose.
Mellena went to look upon the square with her parents as Kesia stared at the mountains. Her fingertips were white against the stone barrier. ‘They say a colony of dragons live there.’
Brennan had approached. ‘So the legends say.’
‘The Song of Light says they take residence in the high places.’
Kesia looked at him. He certainly had an alluring presence. Such dark eyes.
‘Perhaps I am too simple, taking more interest in crop harvests and trade.’
‘But you—have faith?’
He smiled oddly. ‘I doubt I would be welcomed in the Temple. And I could never be seen with the Charge of Darkness.’
Kesia was silent. Miggest’s sacred text was forbidden throughout Lenyol.
He looked at her and rested against the barrier, his expression changing. They stood quietly watching the mountains blend with the clouds in the fading light, as the others chattered on the southern side. ‘This is my favourite place. On moonless nights, when silence reigns, I stand where you are. In the corner.’ His gaze was fixed on the peaks. ‘There is a groove on the right where I rest my arms. No matter the cold; though rain makes it pointless.’
Kesia felt her skin tingle, and her breath cease.
‘I came to escape the other servants, who distrusted me. At first I thought it was a pair of eagles.’ He squinted. ‘Yet how could I make out an eagle at such a distance?’
She reached over and grasped his arm. A flash like lightning crossed their vision—two graces of dragons, black and gold, in gnarled and clawing battle, fires burning and darkness prevailing. She recoiled. Brennan was equally pale; yet a look of recognition passed between them.
‘You have seen them before also.’
Kesia’s eyes darted to Mellena, fast returning.
‘I lack your branch of faith, Kesia, but the dragons are seldom far from my mind.’
Their discussion closed, and they would not find themselves alone again.