A cool, dry wind swept into Nivahl from the east, bringing with it the crisp smell of winter. But even with cooler weather than usual, the heat remained in Nivahl and sweat made the foreheads of the palace servants glisten as the lifted sturdy chests on the backs of horses.
General Haemon sat on his muscular steed and watched them as they moved about the palace yard. It had been a month since Adonia had received a reply from Aiseljah, the King of Daskus. His words had been welcoming, inviting her to his palace for as long of a visit as she wished and promising a rich feast upon her arrival. She had sent a courier immediately, bearing a message that said she would begin her journey to Daskus on the first day of winter and arrive on the fifth. From there, the matter was put into Haemon's hands.
Now, on the first morning of winter, he was in charge of assembling Adonia's entourage. Already he had gathered his best men to guard the Sovereign's caravan- not that there would be anything to fear on their journey. No one would dare attack any group traveling under the Sovereign's banner except perhaps lions, though even they were not often so brazen. It would be an easy journey, though tiring. When all was nearly ready, Adonia and Rhea appeared at the palace entrance at the top of the wide marble steps. The sovereign was dressed in blue silk robes the flowed in the wind, revealing her strong legs at each shift in the breeze. On her head she wore a gilded circlet with a ruby the size of Haemon's thumbnail in the center.
"She looks the same as before." Haemon turned to see his younger brother, Ajax, riding up to him. His hazel eyes remained on the Sovereign for a moment before turning back to look at Haemon. The two brothers looked nearly identical. The only difference was that Ajax's hair was a light sandy color and shorter than Haemon's. "As if nothing ever happened."
"Of course," Haemon said with a sidelong glance at his brother. "What do you want, Ajax?"
Ajax gave a half shrug paired with a lopsided grin. "Can I not simply enjoy the company of my brother?"
Haemon frowned at him. "You should be among the guards right now."
Ajax slumped slightly in his saddle. "How much longer to we have to sit there? I'm tired of being idle."
"If you will complain I will send you back to Father and find a more obedient guard to take your place," Haemon warned him. It was no empty threat either. Haemon had done just such a thing two years ago. Their father had not been at all pleased to learn that his twenty year old son had been suspended from the guard.
"Fine then." Ajax looked almost the the point of pouting, and Haemon let himself chuckle lightly as his younger brother turned his horse away and headed back toward the rows of guards waiting readily. Ajax still seemed to think they were young boys who could laugh and play pranks when no one was looking, but Haemon had moved on from that long ago.
A servant approached Haemon next, barefoot and squinting in the light. "The horses are ready Sir." He bowed stiffly with his palms pressed to his thighs.
Haemon gave a nod and heeled his horse forward toward the steps where Adonia still stood watching. She and Rhea began to descend the steps when they saw Haemon moving towards them.
"Are we ready to leave, Haemon?" Adonia asked as she reached the bottom step.
He nodded as he pulled his horse to a halt. "We can leave as soon as you wish."
"Then let us go now." She walked past him towards the palanquin that waited for her. She stepped through the opaque curtains at the same time that Rhea mounted her tall palomino who frisked impatiently. Once Rhea took up her position behind Adonia's palanquin, the palanquin bearers gently hoisted it up and stood ready. Haemon took one last headcount of the traveling party; twenty guards, eight servants, and five packhorse carrying everything they would need to bring with them. Satisfied, Haemon heeled his horse towards the the front of the group. "Let's head out," he called, and the large gates were pulled open by two servants as Haemon led the procession towards them. As they passed through they were greeted by a crowd of citizens that had gathered in the stone-paved streets of Kei-Vesh. Many of the younger citizens stood on roofs and other high vantage points, the girls letting the petals of wildflowers fall from their hands as the Sovereign's palanquin passed beneath them.
Haemon never glanced at the citizens flanking them. His cool gaze remained on the road ahead of him until they reached Kei-Vesh's outer wall, spanning nearly ten meters tall and two meters thick. The massive doors stood open, flanked by a handful of guards on either side. Once they had passed through the gates, the sounds of the city began to ebb away slowly and Haemon took on a more relaxed seat in his saddle. They paused briefly, so that the bearers could tie back the curtains and let the cool air sweep through the palanquin. After that, Haemon set a steady pace that they held for several hours until the servants carrying the palanquin grew weary. When they came to came to a small stream, he let them break for food and rest.
Haemon let his mind wander off as he leaned against a small tree, eating a handful of dates and gazing at the mountains the lay in the distance. He hoped to reach the mountain pass by the end of the day if time was on his side, but he could not push the caravan too hard yet. Once the mountains were behind them, however, he would need to keep them moving. His eyes drifted idly around the landscape, until he heard footsteps approaching him. He turned and found Rhea coming toward him.
"How long do you intend to have us all sit around here loosing time?"
He frowned, wishing she would not always try to hold authority over him. "We haven't wasted any time. We should all be conserving our energy until we reach the lands over the mountains. You should know the desert between here and Daskus will crush a weary traveler." He paused and squinted at her. "Aren't you Daskan?" She was nearly the perfect image of a Daskan woman with her sleek black hair and tan skin. All she was missing were the grey eyes that were so common is Daskus.
"Half," she corrected him. "But I was raised in Nivahl, by Nivahlians," she said pointedly.
Haemon was surprised, but his voice remained apathetic. "I had partly guessed you were raised in Nivahl. You have some of the Daskan ways."
She shrugged, glancing toward the mountains. "I was born near Kei-Vesh, in a village to the north of the city. My mother probably went back to Daskus after I was born. No one knows why she was there. She stayed long enough to birth me and disappeared a week later." She aimed a glare at Haemon, as if angry he had listed to the story she had freely told him, challenging him to mock her.
Haemon stared back at her levely. "Perhaps we will have a big reunion for you in Daskus. We'll find her and bring mother and daughter back together again."
For a moment she looked ready put a blade through him, but the next moment laughter escaped her lips. "I'd rather be kicked by a horse. Promise me you'll do no such thing."
Haemon let himself smile too. "We will rest here for just a while longer, Rhea," he said, finally answering her question.
She nodded, looking pleased. She turned away and strode towards Adonia's palanquin, which rested on the ground while the servants cooled themselves off in the shallow river. Adonia sat inside, leisurely eating from a small bowl of dried fruit, and smiling when Rhea approached.
Haemon turned back towards the mountains for several minutes before gathering the caravan back up again.