Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 2
It Takes Two

The next morning, Bronze awoke before the sunrise. Stretching luxuriously, he attempted to awaken his sleepy brain. He yawned widely, swept his whiskers back and blinked his bright blue eyes. A shiver went up and down his body as he stretched again.

Bronze crept out of his bed, shivering in the cold air. It was still the gray hour of the morning, a few minutes to the hour of the DawnBird. Only a short time ’til dawn. His tail stiffened as he remembered. Report at dawn! He raced to the washbasin, hastily trying to lick himself as he ran.

Five minutes later, a considerably more awake Bronze trotted out his door. He sniffed the air, staring up at the sky. It was dappled with moonflyers; their wings shimmered a soft silvery blue-green. They whirled past the stars, glittering and glowing, their moth-like bodies blurring in the mist that rose from the gargantuan waterfall that thundered nearby. He breathed in the lovely aroma of before-dawn air. It was said that the DawnBird was one of the most magical times, second only to the hour of the DarkUnicorn in the middle of the night. He believed it; today he could almost feel it swirling around him.

Nrael Isle was a very magical place; in fact, it was rumored to be the most magical place in all of Aerema, perhaps all of Rinyoana. The isle was usually surrounded by mist or fog, except in the heat of summer. It was well-protected, too. No invading army would dare to attack an island in the middle of the upper ledge of a waterfall. Two channels, created by Ryath when the island was first settled, were the only way to get to the isle. Any boat without the checkpoint’s approval would be swept over the waterfall. The thunder of thousands of gallons of water falling hundreds of feet into Wobniar Bay was enough to daunt the bravest of foes.

But the future residents of Nrael City would be sheltered from the bone-shaking roar. A valley, edged with craggy natural walls, would isolate them from most of the waterfall’s effects. But Ryath’s tent - perched on a flat and windswept plain near the waterfall’s drop - was not immune to the fog and roar.

He could see her tent faintly in the dawn light. It was backlit by the rising sun. Mist rose up behind it, thrown up by the tremendous waterfall. He glanced back down at the road and blinked sleepily. A long way to go early in the day.

He trotted down through the steps. His paws gripped the rough gray stone; it was still slick from the early morning dew. They were quite wide, built to handle creatures from the size of a large dragon all the down to a Lertral. Squirrel. Hmm, I haven't had breakfast yet. He hopped off the last step, and started his way down the road towards Ryath's tent.

Perhaps fifteen minutes later, he saw the center of what was to become the city. A flat grassy clearing was filled with tents and the rough foundations of stone houses. A little ways off, a field of grain waved in the morning breeze.

He trotted past the wooden carts that lay vacant on either side of the road. A herd of ten draft horses from Plainsland had migrated up to Nrael City. They hired themselves (and their carts) to carry things down this road. Their intelligent mouse partners hitched and unhitched them. Supposedly, they were making quite a profit.

The dawn light hit Bronze’s face. He shook his head and began to run up the path that led to Ryath's tent. His medallion bounced on his chest as he leaped up the rough stairs to the top. He leapt up the last few steps and screeched to a halt, blinking up at the silver wolf that stood in his path. The wolf, silhouetted against the dawn sky, extended a large and slightly intimidating paw. “Alexandra kàn Zenith. Are you here to see Ryath?”

Bronze squinted up at the wolf, then turned and walked a few steps around her so she wasn't silhouetted by the dawn sun. Alexandra? But that was who… “Yes. Good to be working with you.” He extended his small copper paw, too.

They shook paws, he smiling up at her. Her golden eyes sparkled with curiosity. She smiled slightly, though a hint of suspicion remained in her eyes. “Ryath asked you to come at dawn as well?” She had a hint of skepticism in her voice.

“Yes, late dawn.”

“Hmmm.” Her eyes gave away very little of what she was thinking. Their heads snapped up as Cristo trotted out from the scrubby wood behind Ryath’s tent.

“Good morning!” Cristo whinnied, and sniffed their faces. “We’ve been expecting you,” he said, and dropped his head to graze. “Have you had breakfast?” he asked between munches.

“No, not yet,” Bronze replied.

“Oh, well, Ryath’s cooking breakfast right now. She made extra toast for you two,” he said, and lifted his head to watch the tent flap. “Go on in, I think she just finished.” He dipped his head again and bit off another mouthful of grass. “Though, you’re welcome to some of my grass if you’d like,” he said, chewing.

“Um, no thank you,” Alexandra said. She followed Bronze into the tent, but nearly crashed into him as he stopped abruptly. Alexandra’s jaw dropped open in amazement.

Ryath was cooking breakfast. Ryath had never seemed to realize that – as she was in a tent - she’d have to settle for food that wasn’t as tasty as she had back home. Consequentially, breakfast was a thoroughly magical affair.

She was barefoot, as usual, and dressed in a deep green cotton dress with delicate silver embroidery at the sleeves and hem. Her hair was half pinned up today, a circlet of delicate braids crowned her head, while a cascade of soft curls twirled down her back. With one hand, she directed four pieces of golden brown toast to hover in mid-air. With her other hand, she called a dish from across the tent to soar into her hand. She caught it easily as the toast fell elegantly onto the plate. She set the platter down on a table nearby and called a jar of jam across the room into her open palm.

She caught the jar and began spreading a munificent layer of beule jam on each slice of toast. The toast carefully stacked itself again. She cut it diagonally with a sparkling knife she had seemingly picked up out of mid-air. She set the knife down and it twisted into particles of dust in the light.

“Here, have some.” She put the platter down on a lower table for the two as three more plates sprang into being out of nowhere. Alexandra took a slice. It was surprisingly good, the toast crisp and fresh, though no fire was visible.

A flame, brilliant blue with a corona of reddish orange, flared to life in Ryath’s palm as several eggs cracked themselves into a bowl and whipped themselves into a froth. She pulled a frying pan out, from a box this time, and poured the eggs into the iron pan. It hovered over the glowing flame, as the eggs appeared to toss themselves. Alexandra and Bronze watched her display of magic, their toast forgotten. A few minutes later, the pan flew off the fire. She closed her fist around the flame in her palm as it vanished into sparks which twirled and spun through the air, spreading a refreshing scent of sea air before sizzling into nothing.

She set the pan down on the table and snapped her fingers. Three forks fell out of nowhere onto the table in a clatter of silver. Ryath plopped down on one of her many cushions scattered throughout the tent. “Come, come, eat! It’s perfectly safe,” she said, chomping down on a piece of toast to demonstrate. Three glasses soared through the air from the box of cooking supplies on the floor. They clinked to a stop in front of the three, one filling with sparkling water, one with apple juice, and the last with orange juice.

Ryath sipped her apple juice before forking her portion of scrambled eggs onto her plate. Bronze eyed his orange juice warily. Just how she knew I like orange juice… he thought, before turning back to his toast. For a few minutes, there was silence as they all crunched toast, chewed scrambled eggs and sipped their drinks.

Then Ryath finished her eggs and wiped her mouth on a napkin that appeared startlingly from mid-air. “Well, I haven’t even said good morning to you yet! Good morning, Bronze, you too, Alexandra. Bronze has told me you are studying to become a Warrioress. Is that true?”

Alexandra shook her head. “No, that’s not quite true. But Lord Ténebrous has promised me a position in the training course if I fulfill my duty as his messenger faithfully for several more years,” she responded.

“I see.” Ryath paused. “I sent off a letter this morning to the messenger’s office, excusing you from that duty. And, in due time, I’ll make sure you are given a position in the Warriors course. I’m sure Taiga kàn Bolshevik will be glad to have you.” She smiled at Alexandra’s surprised and pleased face.

“But in the meantime, I have a duty for the two of you. Lord Ténebrous is leaving for the Northern Realms this week, and I need someone to be the stand-in Captain. I, unfortunately, am much too busy to take up the post myself.” Alexandra and Bronze glanced at each other. Was this headed the way they thought it was?

“So, I reviewed every official I had. No one noble was capable enough to handle the job on their own, and no two would consent to work together. Their agendas would prompt them to hinder each other at every turn. No, they wouldn’t do at all. I’m appointing you, Alexandra, as Captain of the Guard; and Bronze as Assistant Captain.”

Alexandra’s mouth opened slightly. “Are… are you serious?” she asked.

Ryath nodded and made a complex spell casting movement with her right hand. The badges on their chest glowed suddenly, and the letters shifted about in a complicated, swirling pattern before settling into a new inscription:

Lady Alexandra kàn Zenith

Stand-in Captain of the Guard

Appointed by Ryath

Lord Bronze dé Menthe

Assistant to Lady Zenith

Appointed by Ryath

Bronze stared down at his medallion. A lord! He wondered what his mother would think. The Menthe clan was small and poor, but closely-knit. His mother, a barn cat with big dreams, had given him his first start in the army at age fifteen. Over the past five years, he had worked his way up from private to third assistant army distributor. And now, Assistant Captain of the Guard! His mother would be so proud. “Thank you, mi’lady!”

Alexandra didn’t know what to think… All she’d ever wanted was to become a Warrioress, and had never imagined what she’d do if given such an enormous responsibility… She glanced at Bronze. I’m going to need a lot of help. “Thank you.”

“Your advanced post calls for a little magic, but luckily you already have plenty of it.” Bronze lost the rest of her words in a thrill of excitement. Magic? “…sparked your natural reserves. You may feel a bit odd for a few days while you get used to it.” Ryath finished.

Alexandra frowned. “Mi’lady, I… I don’t know if I’m the best choice. I’m not much of a leader, I don’t think, I…” she said, and gulped. “I’ll do my best of course…”

“It’s a big responsibility, but I think you can handle it. Besides, Bronze is there to help.”

Bronze nodded. “I think we can do it together… What do you say? Partners?” he said, stretching out his paw to Alexandra.

Alexandra smiled shyly. “Partners.” She shook his paw.


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