Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 1
Ryath's Dilemma

A gentle bright bay stallion cropped the late September grass. His strong white teeth mowed the two-inch high grass quickly and efficiently. His long black mane cascaded down his arched neck. A strand of raven hair partially covered the triangular spot of white on his forehead and a diamond-shaped splotch of white decorated his black velvet muzzle. He lifted his delicate head and chewed his latest mouthful. He twitched an ear as a sunflyer - a butterfly-shaped, ethereal mote of sunlight - flew over his head.

It isn't particularly tasty... he mused, grinding its dry strands into something more palatable. He dipped his head again, flicking his ears about. His tail was coal black and cascaded down almost to the ground. His back - dappled with perfectly circular rings of hair - shone in the afternoon light.

He gazed up the hillside at the lone figure that sat overlooking the ocean. He snorted, then muttered aloud. His voice betrayed his nervous concern for the girl who sat there. “I do hope she’s okay…” He swished his tail gently, brushing the grass. “She gets into so much trouble.” His eyes shone with worry.

“She's probably sitting on the edge... or even off the cliff. Pah.” He sighed and returned his attention to grazing.

Ryath was indeed sitting off the cliff again. Her bare feet, crossed in a comfortable position, dangled fifty feet above the beach. Her sky-blue dress draped around her and fluttered in the ocean breeze. Her eyes were closed and a serene smile played on her lips. A wind whipped across her face, pulling her long auburn curls over her shoulder.

Her hands, their tapered and elegant fingers held in a gentle curve, rested lightly upon her knees. Her thumb rested upon the inside of her index. The rest of her fingers curved gently inward to touch her palm. She meditated quietly, completely absorbed in her own thoughts.

Suddenly, she opened her eyes – a swirling and shimmering silver. They faded to dull gray before warming to a bright green. She stretched her cramped limbs and stood while shaking out her skirts. She walked back onto the cliff and gazed out into the sky.

Thank you... she said silently.

The wind whirled about her. It will be my pleasure, Ryath, it seemed to say

Best wishes and good luck.

The wind gave a sudden gust of acknowledgement before it blew away, out to sea.

She stretched her arms, before walking back to her horse. Her bare feet crunched in the grass, and her skirts swished quietly. He flicked his ears back, peeved. Her eyes shifted from bright green to pale gray with a hint of yellow. “Cristo, you shouldn't worry so much. I'm perfectly able to care for myself.”

“Humph... if you say so. I still think that someday...” he mumbled.

“Yes, yes; that the wind will be careless and accidentally drop me,” Ryath said with a slight smile. Her eyes regained some of their green.

“Exactly.” His eyes reflected his anxiety.

Ryath shook her head. “Well, in that case; I'll just sprout some wings.” She stroked his shoulder.

Cristo stared at her quizzically. “I can never tell when you’re kidding.”

Ryath smiled. “Of course not. I never tease you; you’re much too serious.” She hopped aboard him, and gathered up a lock of Cristo’s thick black hair. “Let’s get going. I finally know what to do, and I haven’t got much time left.” She nudged his neck and he cantered smoothly towards the trees.

The small golden-red cat shuffled his papers impatiently. His claws were slightly extended to hold the parchment. He flicked his lithe tail irritably. The golden tips to his copper colored fur caused faint tabby stripes to shimmer along it. A silver medallion glittered on his chest. It proclaimed him Bronze dé Menthe, a third assistant army distributor.

He shook his head, pulling his whiskers back in frustration. “Dogs. I give them what they ask for and they want more. Dogs drive me nuts.” His speech was clipped and abrupt. He stared at the canvas wall of his tent as if he wanted to destroy it.

The silvery tone of a bell filled the air. He looked up from his paperwork and sighed. “What!” he yowled. Probably more documents for me to notarize, sign in triplicate and misplace.

“Now, Bronze. Is that any way to treat a lady?” Ryath's voice flowed through the tent.

He nearly fell off the tall stool he was atop. “L-lady Ryath! I'm... I'm so sorry!” He leapt off the stool and ran to the tent door.

He hooked out his claw and pulled the rope that held the tent door closed. It fell to the grass in a heap as the tall canvas door rolled up. He peeked out nervously and gazed up at Cristo’s head. Cristo was very, very tall compared to a cat.

Ryath dismounted from Cristo and knelt in front of the small doorway. “Good afternoon Bronze. Do you have a moment? I need to talk to you.” Her voice calmed his lingering annoyance, even though there was a sense of urgency in it.

Bronze's bright blue eyes clouded. “Yes, of course mi'lady... Please, come in.” Why does she want to talk to me? he thought to himself. Well, I’ll find out soon enough. He hoped it wasn’t anything bad.

Ryath sipped the mug of tea Bronze had ordered for her. It was Charain root tea, something that tasted vaguely like rose hips. Ruby coloration rippled in the depths of the hot, delicious beverage. She swallowed it, feeling it warm her throat all the way down.

“I’ve been having difficulties finding someone to replace Lord Raven ze Ténebrous as Capitan of the Guard while he’s in the North. Most of his choices would be quite incapable of the challenge.” Ryath closed her grayish-yellow eyes wearily.

Bronze opened his mouth for a second, but quickly closed it.

Ryath raised a single eyebrow, opened her eyes, and regarded him calmly.

He coughed in embarrassment. “But, Lady Ryath, erm… why are you informing me of this?”

She smiled. “Because I’d like to discuss this with someone with a decent head on their shoulders.” Bronze blushed at her praise. “I read your suggestion for improving the supply lines. Ingenious ideas. I’ve passed them on to all of our branches.”

“Thank you…” he said quietly.

“And plus, I believe you have worked with Ténebrous and his officials a great deal.” Ryath leaned back in her chair and set her mug of tea on the sideboard.

“Well, yes, that’s true.”

“So! Do you have any thoughts about Ténebrous or his minions?”

Bronze stared absent-mindedly at his mug for a few moments. “I’m… not sure I trust Raven. He does run the army impeccably, though sometimes he’s overly harsh. Several of my friends are frightened of him. He’s a bit overwhelming at times, comes of being about four times the size of everyone else. ”

Ryath nodded. “And what of Astral pi Lumina?”

“Well, she has her merits. Clever and honest – but she tends to panic under pressure. I don’t think she’d be any help at all in a crisis. For one thing…”

They talked for over two hours as he gave his opinion on every appointed official in the army. He did his best to be completely honest and objective, though it was difficult – especially with Ryath hanging on to every word. That was unsettling.

“All right, Bronze. Who would you choose for the stand-in captain?” Ryath asked. Her eyes swirled to deep navy blue. He tried to concentrate. Her shifting eyes could be very distracting.

He thought for a few moments. “Well… I’d choose Alexandra kàn Zenith. She, ah, works as a messenger for Ténebrous. Currently, that is. She is working to become an elite warrior.”

“Any reason why you’d choose her?”

“She’s clever and a skilled warrior. I watched her practice against Bjorn sta Rakinson, a bear warrior. He’s very strong and skilled. I won’t forget that battle: she won, despite enormous odds - she’s a wolf, after all. She’s very good at keeping secrets and loyal to you above all others, even Ténebrous. She’s said as much.”

“Interesting.” She nodded, her eyes shimmering to a brilliant, turquoise blue. “Would she be a better leader than Ténebrous?”

“Once she got used to it, I think,” Bronze replied. “Which wouldn’t take long.”

Ryath laced her fingers in thought as her eyes swirled to gray. She was silent for a long, long time. “Thank you, Bronze. You’ve been quite helpful,” she said finally, her voice oddly distant. “I’d like you to meet me at my tent early tomorrow morning, as soon as the DawnBird flies.”

Bronze’s mind raced. Whatever for? “Certainly, Lady Ryath.”

Ryath and Cristo trotted back to Ryath’s tent in silence. The road through Nrael city was deserted; the residents were eating their evening meal. The clatter of forks wafted from the windows of newly-built houses and from the campfires of those whose dwellings had yet to be completed. She exited the town and began the steep climb up to her tent on the other side of the island. After a few minutes climb, a silver wolf appeared along the path. As she detached herself from the shadows beside an oak tree, Cristo jumped several feet to one side in surprise. The wolf's tail stiffened with embarrassment. She swept her head low in a bow to Ryath, her golden eyes closed in a show of respect. “Lady Ryath, I do apologize for surprising you.”

Ryath nodded. “Apology accepted.” Cristo shuddered slightly, shaking off his nervousness.

She rose from her bow. “I have a message for you from Raven ze Ténebrous.”


“Ryath. I hope this finds you well,” she recited. “I need to speak to you immediately. It is of urgent importance. I don’t trust my…” She paused and began again, her eyes glittering. “I don’t trust my messenger with the details, so I will have to speak with you in person. Ténebrous,” she finished.

Ryath pondered this for a few moments. “Please tell Raven this: I am quite busy at the moment. I am aware of the matter of which you wish to speak with me about and - if I am correct – your questions will be answered on Coronation Day. In the meantime, please prepare for your departure to the Northern Realms. I am relying on you. Good day, and good luck.” Her eyes glinted an impenetrable gold.

The wolf nodded, concentrating. “Yes, mi'lady.”

“And, what is your name?”

The wolf’s golden eyes widened in surprise. “Alexandra kàn Zenith, your ladyship. First assistant messenger, and assigned messenger to Lord Raven ze Ténebrous.” She bowed. The medallion badge on her chest clinked modestly.

“Just the wolf I wanted to see!” Ryath smiled, her eyes flashing to a sparkling green - the color of new spring leaves.

Alexandra stepped back a pace in reflexive surprise. “Me?”

“Yes, you.” Ryath almost laughed. “Take my message back to Raven, or he’ll wonder what’s become of you,” she said with a smile. “And please come to my tent at dawn tomorrow; I’d like to talk to you.”

Alexandra smiled a little. “Yes, mi’lady.” She bowed, then shot off through the trees.

A strong black paw extended its gleaming bone-white claws. Small battle scars decorated his silky knuckles. Iron hard muscles bulged beneath his pitch-black fur. A strong chest, rippling with muscles, was a foot above Allegro’s head.

He cringed beneath the words spouting from Ténebrous's ferocious maw, a tapestry of black and white, of throat and teeth. Allegro's deep brown eyes couldn't help flitting up to it every few seconds and imagining what he would look like, disappearing into Ténebrous's throat.

“So, Allegro hàj Sonata, you have failed.” Ténebrous's voice was a calm and smooth melody. Allegro gulped and began shifting his weight from paw to paw, his muddy coat a sharp contrast to the luxurious blood-red carpet beneath.

Raven ze Ténebrous lounged in an ornately carved cherry-wood chair. His tail curved in a gentle arch to the ground. He was a black panther, of extraordinary size and strength, but seemed completely relaxed, almost asleep. He cleaned imaginary dirt out from beneath his claws - the epitome of lazy, benevolent indifference. Allegro knew better. Raven was furious, and desired nothing more than to give him a few scars of his own.

“All I asked was for you to capture the Northern Tribes’ marmot spy, a simple task. I could have done it myself in about fifteen minutes. You failed completely after several hours’ effort. I should have expected it from a beaver.” The tip of Raven’s tail twitched as he glowered down at the frightened and filthy beaver.

“I... I’m sorry sir,” Allegro whispered quietly, shaking with fear.

Raven slashed one paw out. Before Allegro could leap back, the chain around his neck - proclaiming him a member of the Aeremain Army - had snapped. It tumbled to the ground, the silver links clattering.

Raven resumed his relaxed position. Allegro glanced up at him, waiting for worse. At his feet, the metal chain burst into flames, the sudden flare of light dancing against the tent's walls. The flame died and vanished into a pile of ashes. A thick black tail swept out and scattered them into the air.

Allegro looked down at his paws again. “I t-t-take it I'm discharged.”

Raven smiled suavely, a slow and sure movement. His ivory teeth glinted in the torchlight. “Correct.” A tense pause stretched between the two for a moment. Then he carelessly clicked his claws. “You may go.”

Allegro turned and fled, scattering mud clumps.

Lord Ténebrous sneered at the fleeing beaver, a cruel smile curling at his lips. His eyes flicked to the ashes twirling through the air. A beam of torchlight had illuminated them to sparkling silver. They whirled past the light and fell into darkness. His smile faded as his mind drifted inexorably to Alexandra’s message. Like I will, a dust mote, a shooting star, enflamed to sparkling light for a finite instant, destined to go dark all too quickly. He shook his head, banishing the thought.

He slunk out of the chair, his paws falling almost noiselessly to the ground. It was disturbing, though. Ryath rarely refused to speak to someone bold enough to ask for an audience. To refuse an audience to the Captain of the Guard, someone she herself had appointed… that was unthinkable. He reached up a strong paw, knocked the window's velvet drapes out of his way and glared up at the stars.

I was sure I had it, undoubtedly. What could have gone wrong? Ryath was bound to appoint him, he was the highest official she had and certainly the most gifted. He was brilliant, something he acknowledged regularly. Besides, if she doesn't trust me, why would she send me to delegate with the Northern folk? She must be testing me... why else?

He stared out into the valley. The armed forces were stationed across from the future site of Aerema Castle, where the Coronation would take place. His thoughts strayed back to Ryath's choice. It can't be any of my lower officers. They are incompetent fools - surely Ryath could see that. No one else comes even close to my skill and power!


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