In the perpetual lands of Integer, the casta stallions, a breed of horse only found in the Casta lands of Integer, ran and played with each other in the abyss of open land. A local farmer, adjusted his eyes to the morning light, only to see the beauty that was the onset of spring, and the beginning of the mating season for the castas. The look of a casta was almost the complete opposite of a val, with large, rugged and muscular legs, and a very fine, silky light brown coat, topped with a thick dark brown mane, softer than the silks of Crimeare and as strong as the cobwebs made by the spiders in the Deep Woods. The castas pranced and capered on the hill steppe in the crisp, chilled air. Their heads swayed from side to side, sending a perfect waves through their manes, attracting a mate. The castas with the most perfect and elegant manes were the ones who succeeded. A sight to behold for any wandering traveller, thought the farmer.
The horses pulled the heavy carriage along the Ice Passage. Davos was optimistic that his horses would be able to heave the carriage through the mountains, although a heavy blizzard had made the passage almost impassible. Not to mention the travelling north was harder than going south, something the Plysters hadn’t realised when they made their way down to Praevalidus. As a safety measure, Made Blythe suggested placing bells on the lead, rear, and mid horses to ensure the cavalcade stayed together. A party of a hundred travelling through the Dythe Mountains was dangerous enough, but a cavalcade of more than two-hundred was near suicide. The jangles of the horse bells bounced off the granite mountain faces, only to be absorbed by the thick fog mixed snow that had descended onto them.
The day didn’t feel the same to Isaac. A lot of things had happened over the past two weeks, but today, he felt empty, like part of his soul had been lost. In some respects, it had. Praevalidus, the great Legion Fermata, rulers of the Southern Regions, were now obliged to serve the Plysters under the new monarchy that would be initiated within the next half a year. It had been a roller coaster for him. The weeks and months leading up to him signing the treaty with the quill that had been passed down to him by his father had been a constant battle against stress and inadequate planning. But the endeavour had paid off somewhat, with the Plysters gaining very little from the treaty they had signed with the Fermatas, and the latter keeping what they believed was the most important thing to fight for during the deliberations, their sovereignty.
Only time will tell whether the treaty will bind Pravum together.
It was cold around the Winter Islands in the north of Pravum, but the sun shone, and the sea gleamed and shimmered. The unusual conditions gave the sailors a break from the battling against heavy waves, and crashing rain. On the deck were loose nets and pieces of rope, untied to the sides of the little wooden boat. Their catches had been good for the day.
The fishermen had woken up before daybreak, ready for an entire days’ catch. Within the first hour, catching had been successful, with half of the net already full, the captain worried about whether they had enough space to fit their days’ catch in the hold. The heat of the sun meant that their usual winter clothes were too much to wear throughout the day, but became chilled when they stopped working, especially when the wind dropped, and the sails flapped and danced around untidily.
For a few hours, the fishermen drifted in the Winter seas, with the high, shear, and rocky coastline of the Winter Islands on the horizon. It would not be for another three hours until they would return home. Even longer if the wind didn’t pick-up. The oars would have to be dragged from the hull of the boat, and the fishermen would have to row their way back.
Eventually, the wind picked-up, and the crew went back home to sell their catch. A good sail.
Rae-lyn grabbed the reigns tight and kicked the horse with his heel, prompting it to ride fast. It did as she commanded, and galloped, sprinting in an attempt to catch-up with Rugyard, not losing a single footing, its feet sticking to the ground firmly, getting faster and faster. She was riding down a small, slightly steepened slope, and wasn’t sure whether the stallion would be able to handle the gradient at this speed; her scepticism quickly proven wrong. The stallion threw itself down the slope, its breathing getting deeper, eyes fixated on the ground in-front, meticulously placing its hooves on the firmer bits of dirt and worn-down grass at such a speed, that it was difficult for Rae-lyn to comprehend what was happening. The amateur, yet highly experienced, hunter, sat-up from her saddle, keeping the reigns close and tight, kept her body low and close to the horse’s back, emulating Rugyard’s posture.
The two Guards kept the two, excited and amorous hunters, within eyesight, but not so close as to interrupt with their activities. They also didn’t want to gallop at the same speed into the Rhine woods, since they weren’t participating, but would intervene if needed.
The Rhine woods were a densely-populated area of tall trees, with a medium to high canopy, only allowing but little sunlight to touch the ground; it wasn’t dark however. The trees were tightly packed together, but not so much that it was impossible to gallop between the spaces of the trunks. Thin green leaves, hanging firmly to the branches, were in close proximity of one another, almost creating a blanket over the trees, concealing the ground from the wonders of that lay in the Magnanimous Moors. Some trees were aged, some were small saplings, that would soon be trodden on by the hooves of the four horses that had entered the thick wood. Copious undergrowth was intruding the space on the path Rae-lyn was following, littered with prickly bushes and spiny needles at the end of leaves; but this didn’t faze the determined hunter, she didn’t feel the contact between her leg and the ends of the leaves. All she felt was the blood rushing through her body, the adrenaline pumping inside as she dashed through the woods, her mind hungry for a clean and impressive kill.
It was pitch black in the cellar. The cellar of countless numbers of papers. Pieces of parchment with important, unimportant information. Information containing acts of deviant behaviour, acts of goodwill, treaties and allegiances. It was the Praevalidus archives. A chamber far below the Red Dragon castle, a fifteen minute walk down a steep, narrow, spiralling staircase into pitch black.
The woman walking down, walked carefully, each step as delicate as the first. Her touch shining the way, until eventually she came to the heavy, iron-wood door that would lead to the archives. Inserting the key, she heaved it open with the strength she had built-up over the years of heavy lifting.
The wide and long corridor was blacker and darker than the night sky. Embers of the touch fell to an abrupt death to the ice cold floor.
Ting noises of feet and claws scratching the floor filled the room for a brief moment. The vermin that had somehow found their way into the archive. The woman jumped at the sound, but the vermin didn’t frighten her. Breathing deeply to calm her nerves, she continued walking to where she needed to find the parchment of interest.
‘Damn those little scampers,’ she mumbled.
See below! It’s still happening!
‘How far away from land are we?’ The disgruntled man said in the cabin, looking unwillingly at the stale bucket in the corner.
‘Not far, should be there by nightfall!’ The Captain said, shouting down to below.
Dawn had only just broken, and they’d approach the city by the eve, then be docked by nightfall. The man didn’t feel like he could take anymore bashing. He hated the sea, even at its calmest, which it never was, especially in the Casbian sea. The man tried to remember how long they were at sea for, but couldn’t for life, work out how long they had been at sea, since he’d spent the entire time in the cabin, throwing-up the entire contents of his stomach into a wooden bucket, until there was nothing left, and even then, he wretched at the smell.
A large storm had formed far in the west, and had been blown eastwards by the prevailing winds. The trip was only from the Winter Islands, in the north of Pravum, to Praevalidus, in the south. It had proven too much for the disgruntled man, but the other sailors embraced the challenge, enjoying every moment the storm threw at them.
It annoyed the ill man. The fact they were born with the gift of sea-legs and thrived on the water. Why can’t I be like them? But the tables would turn when they were to set foot on land, when he would walk to the Tower of Imperium, and start his training to become a Praevalidus Guard.
He chuckled to himself at that prospect. That was a mistake. Up comes breakfast. A quick lunge for the bucket. Dammit! A wave had hit the beam, and sent the bucket flying away from his reach. He stumbled over, holding his hand tightly over his mouth. Building the nerve, he stood and ran, with what little space there was in the small cabin. The bucket, he needed the bucket, otherwise the sailors would surely throw the man overboard if they were to find vomit all over the cabin.
There! He pulled the bucket to his face, the foul stench of the previous days’ vomit still lingered. Now, today’s stench began.
The sailors, meanwhile were chuckling to themselves, looking down into the cabin, seeing the spectacle that was the ill man trying the catch the bucket as if it was a prized possession. He didn’t care. What good would it do if he did care what they thought of him? After they moored in Praevalidus, he would never lay eyes on them again.
‘I’ve never seen such a dedicated man hunt down his bucket for a chunder!’ A sailor shouted down to the ill man. ‘You’re certainly a passionate passenger keeping that bucket safe! You two make quite a pair!’