Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 3
Hot Wax and Cold Snow

Raven had never seen such snow before. Lady Astral, an arctic fox and a native to this land, assured him that this was normal; but the great sheets of white were unnerving. Huge sparkling drifts wafted across the ground and crystalline flakes fell from the heavens constantly, turning a gray day into a white night.

The fire crackled in the fireplace as he warmed his fur capes in preparation for the meeting. Several nomadic tribes had finally agreed to see him, including some influential elk herds and wolf packs. Otherwise, he wouldn’t venture out into this hideous weather. He growled. When he was King, he would simply conquer all who dared to resist him, instead of these ridiculous agreements that Ryath had insisted upon.

He felt a twitch of unease in his stomach at defying Ryath. But it didn’t matter; she’d be gone soon. When I have the power, she will be gone and I can do whatever I wish with it. He growled again, in pleasure. I will have the power. Ryath would appoint him - that seemed certain again. After all, she had appointed two creatures to command, one of which was his messenger. She obviously considered his role too important and his job too difficult to be accomplished by any one of his nobles. He wondered if his letter had gotten through yet.

“Lordship?” A large snow eagle swooped into the room. His tan feathers were speckled with lighter flecks – the first indications of his winter plumage of snowy white. “Your elk escort is waiting. It is time to leave.”

Ténebrous nodded grimly and left his chair. He shrugged on his overcoat of wooly fur. It was warm and toasty, though all too soon that warmth would leave. Thankfully, the natives had greased the outside so it wouldn’t pick up moisture as easily as his last coat had. He deftly buttoned the closure and tied the hood tight. The natives had laughed at the ebony panther all wrapped up in such a strange garb, but only once. He had given them all a scare, but hadn’t killed them. That would cause unnecessary trouble.

He followed the snow eagle out into the cold fall air. The first snowstorm of the season had hit yesterday - unusually early. The local shamans had predicted the storms would begin in early November, not early October. This frigid storm had whirled its way through their predictions, regardless of the season.

A roughly made sled, pulled by four elk, stood a few easy paces from the cabin’s doorway. Ténebrous floundered through the snow, grumbling internally, and leaped into the sled with the vestiges of his dignity intact. The elk nodded to each other, amused, and the sled glided quickly through the featureless snowy white hills. As the elk ran, he wondered if Zenith and Menthe were doing as well as he would have.


“Alexandra!” Bronze yelled. “We have trouble!”

“What is it this time?” she called back from her room in Bronze’s office tent. The canvas walls and simple furniture weren’t particularly appropriate for the captain’s office, but they didn’t care. It was functional, and that was all that mattered.

“Apparently, Ténebrous promised thirty people positions in the exploring patrols, and there are only twenty slots. So, somehow, we have to refuse the position in the exploring patrols to ten people, without angering them.” Bronze said. He hurried into Alexandra’s office and hopped up onto her desk.

She pushed back her chair to lay her lupine head on the desk’s smooth and cool surface. “He seems to have tried his hardest to make life difficult for his stand-in…” she muttered, and raised her head. “What if we offer the other ten, slots in…” They thought for a moment together.

“Say, how about we give them the choice between exploring and cartography work and their current position and allow the patrol leaders and the head cartographers to have the final say?” Bronze said after a few minutes.

“Sounds good.” She nodded and fished out a document from another file folder. “But I have another problem: we’re running out of rice; the shipments from Swampmurd haven’t arrived yet. I received a message bird from the shippers. Apparently, they’re crossing the border from Swampmurd to Plainsland, but a rockslide blocked the road. They’re clearing it, and they should be underway again in five days. If they hurry, the rice should be here is about a week and a half.” Alexandra said.

Bronze rubbed his temples and stared out into the distance. “Too long. Is there any patrol nearby that could help?”

Alexandra reached down under her desk and pulled out a folder of neatly filed papers. “Yes, Unit Six. They have nothing scheduled.”

“Great.” Bronze curled his tail around him. “I’m glad you can keep all your papers straight. This reminds me of all the paperwork as a distributor.” He yawned, then sprang off the desk as the bell gonged yet another visitor. “All work and no rest,” he grumbled, trotting out.

“Be polite, Bronze!” Alexandra called after him with a grin.

An indistinct muttering reached her ears as Bronze spoke with the visitor. “Tawny xi Naranja here to see you, mi’lady!” called Bronze back to Alexandra.

Alexandra sighed. “Show him in.”

A plump and pompous owl swooped into Alexandra’s office. “Your ladyship.” He bowed. He wore spectacles, an unusual feature in Aerema.

“Afternoon, Naranja.”

“I am most admiring of your prodigious jump to this post; you must possess great natural talent and skill,” he said with an obsequious smile.

“Please, spare me the flattery,” Alexandra replied. “Can I help you with anything?”

Tawny blinked his spectacle-magnified eyes in surprise and fluttered onto the chair by Alexandra. “As you may have heard, I am an architect of immense ability, and I have some plans I’d like to submit to you. They concern the Academy.”

“Interesting. Have you shown them to Ryath yet? It is Ryath’s approval you will have to obtain; I just supply the men and the means to build it,” Alexandra advised him. “If you’d like me to give you my opinion on your drawings, I’d be glad to. But I cannot authorize anything,” she continued.

Bronze smiled. Alexandra had a gift for coordinating people and planning, and he with working with people and detailwork. They were a great team. “I would indeed love to hear your opinion,” the owl bubbled. He unrolled the scroll under his arm and showed it to her.

She talked to the owl for almost an hour, pointing out some errors in the architect’s calculations and making suggestions. Eventually, she asked Bronze to show him out the door.

The sun was setting as Naranja finally left, and Bronze and Alexandra were exhausted. Though it was only early DuskBird, they sent out their orders for the next day, ate dinner, and called it a day.


Bronze awoke early the next morning and checked in on Alexandra. She was still fast asleep. Thank Domovoi. They had both worked so hard the past few weeks and she needed her rest. He needed it too, frankly. But he was too hungry to sleep, and the cook wasn’t even up yet. It was still several hours till DawnBird.

He fluffed his coat and stepped out into the still, cool air. The camp was silent and calm, a perfect time for hunting. He twitched his whiskers in anticipation. It had been several moons since he had last hunted his own food - he wondered if he still had the knack. He trotted down the path towards the uninhabited wilderness area to the south of the city. The tall stone cliffs didn’t shelter it as well as the rest of the valley – it should be cold and damp there. He trotted down the wide stone staircase. The soldiers had taken to calling it merely ‘the Steps’, though Ryath had named it the Ascendance.

The pale gray stone gleamed in the moonlight. Moonflyers whirled overhead, their glittering bodies wraithlike against the stars. He watched their path among the fog that enclosed Nrael Isle at night. Like little stars, glittering in a white nebula of fog… he thought. A flash of color caught his eye as he glanced down at the Steps. He gasped. Brilliant symbols gleamed in a halo around his paws. He blinked, but they remained, rippling in the pale stone. The stone felt almost alive…with a personality of existence. He suddenly realized what forever meant.

He shivered. It must be a spell Ryath placed on the Steps… an eternity spell. He tore his gaze away from them and trotted down the stairs. Ripples of multi-colored symbols flashed into life as his paws touched the cold gray stone.


A half-hour later, he carried two non-sentient rabbits in his jaws. His hunting skills had not been affected by his hiatus and his newly sparked magic had sharpened his senses. He trotted back up the steps towards the office tent. To his dismay, a light gleamed through the canvas walls – Alexandra was up again after only a few hours’ sleep. He set the rabbits on the shared kitchen table and trotted into her office.


Two enormous eagles were perched on the visitor’s chair. One he recognized immediately, the red-tailed eagle messenger of Unit Six, but the other was a snow eagle from the Northern Realms. The snow eagle was exhausted, and no wonder. The route from the North to Nrael was very difficult, especially in early fall and impossible after the winter snows.

“Bronze, you’re just in time,” Alexandra said with a tired smile. “Gareth tells us that the unit has reached the rockslide, and they’ll reach Nrael in about five days. And…” She glanced at the snow eagle.

“Turf EagleSnow,” he replied. An unusual name for Southern Aerema, but the North obviously had different customs then the rest of the continent.

“…Turf was about to give us his message from Lord Ténebrous,” she finished. Bronze leapt up onto Alexandra’s desk.

Turf shook his feathers. Bronze saw he was missing a couple primary feathers. “Yes, mi’lady. Lord Ténebrous is trapped in the Northern Realms; a freak snowstorm has blocked the passes through the Triplets.”

Ténebrous trapped ’til spring? This is news, Bronze and Alexandra thought together.

“Here is his message. I hope none of the ink has run; it was a hard flight.” He stretched out his leg. A thick roll of parchment was tied to it with a red leather clasp. Alexandra nodded to Bronze. He undid the fasteners and handed it to her.


Lady Alexandra, Lord Bronze,

It appears I am trapped in the North till the thaw comes. I can only hope they will come sooner rather than later so I may relieve you of the burdens of my post.

Inform Ryath that I have met with the two most powerful herds of elk, and the three most powerful packs of wolves as well as many, many tribes of every creature imaginable. Most have agreed to join the Kingdom of Aerema, though a few are still reluctant to give up their sovereignty. Rest assured, I am working on that.

To Lady Alexandra and Lord Bronze, I recommend the following actions this winter:


A long list of orders filled the next two pages. Raven concluded the letter coldly.


Good luck with your enterprises. I look forward to seeing you in the spring.


Cordially,

Lord Raven ze Ténebrous.


Alexandra rolled up the letter and filed it away. “Thank you, Turf. Please, rest in the camp ’til you feel well enough to return. The eyrie is the tall cliff to the east of here. Apply there and tell them I sent you.”

Turf nodded gratefully and fluttered out the door. Alexandra turned to Gareth Sepoy. “Thank you for the message. Please tell the unit I am pleased with their work, and I look forward to their arrival here in five days.” Gareth nodded and soared out of her office and into the sky.

Alexandra smiled. “An early morning hunting trip, eh? I smell rabbit on your fur.”

Bronze nodded and stretched. “Apparently my hunting skills haven’t diminished over the past moons.”

“Is there one for me?” Alexandra inquired hopefully.

Bronze nodded. “What would I do with two rabbits?”

“Make rabbit stew, of course,” Alexandra answered.

“Rabbit stew?”

“My mother used to make it. She cooked everything for the pack back …” She stopped.

Bronze ignored her unfinished sentence politely. “Really? My mother didn’t do much cooking, except for roast rat. She didn’t trust rats to be clean enough to eat. Mice, birds, and rabbits we generally ate raw.”

Alexandra smiled. “Meat is better cooked.” She paused. “How about I teach you how to make rabbit stew? We probably have time before the rest of the camp wakes up.”

Bronze smiled. “Sure!”


A few hours later, the early morning rabbit stew was all eaten. Bronze, though dubious of the effect a few of Alexandra’s spices would have on the stew, was amazed at the flavors that swirled through the broth. Alexandra was pleased at Bronze’s enjoyment of her cooking, and offered to make fried sparrow the next day, if he’d catch them. He agreed readily.

Bronze met with the Chief distributor to relay the news of the five-day delay of the rice. The distributor, a burly woodchuck, had chartered a boat from the small port town of Cremtom to bring wheat to cover the gap. Later, Alexandra and Bronze took the message Ténebrous had sent to Ryath. When Bronze informed her of Raven’s confinement in the North, she didn’t seem worried, or even surprised

“Storms do come up in autumn, occasionally. I knew it was a risk when I sent him,” she said, staring off into the distance. “But I’m sure you two can handle the responsibility ’til he returns in the spring,” she continued.

“The only thing that’s worrying is the early snowstorm’s implications. This is going to be a very hard winter - you can count on it. Make sure the permanent shelters are built for everyone on the island before the first snowfall and that our stores are full of goods that keep well,” she ordered. Bronze nodded.

She flipped through the pages of orders Ténebrous had sent. “Feel free to ignore any of these,” she said, handing the parchment back to Alexandra.

“Alexandra, I’d suggest you start training with Taiga, and Bronze –” She reached behind her and handed him a couple of large books. They were bound in two different shades of leather. One gleamed a nutty brown. In silver lettering, it proclaimed itself a Beginning Tangible Spell Guide. The other was bound in soft red suede. It had dull iron clasps, and was embossed with maroon words that read ‘A Book of Greater Works.’ He took them, feeling a jolt in his paws. It felt like he had dipped his claw in hot wax. It didn’t hurt, but it felt… odd.

“– see if you can learn these,” she said. “These are a branch of magic different from what you’ve seen before; these are creation and alteration spells. Start with the first book, the beginning book. And be careful; they are quite powerful. Go easy with them at first.”

“They’re what I used to create the steps, and...” she smiled, “other things.” It was a strange smile, crackling with energy but unfocused somehow…


After a half hour, the two left Ryath’s tent, and watched the sun set over the spray from the waterfall. The entire bay gleamed orange and the sunflyers – their wings already becoming smaller and more delicate to adapt to the winter sunshine – twirled into the mist. The sun sank into the bay’s clear water and the stars peeked out.

Alexandra and Bronze walked back to the tent in silence. A few aspen leaves twirled through the air above their heads. Fall was coming.

 

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