Another Hero's Journey: Dreams - Part Two
The boat ride took much shorter than expected, and as Reuben stepped onto the damp wooden pier, he suddenly realized how different this part of Meridell was from what he was used to.
There weren’t a lot of mountains – if there were even any mountains. Most of it was flat, forested and a lot more crowded, with shops and other random stalls that had popped up all over the place like mushrooms. Shoppers and shopkeepers alike added their voices to the bustling cacophony which, though loud, wasn’t annoying to Reuben at all. Not even the little Yurble kid rushing past him, trailing his parents behind and nearly pushing the oblivious white Blumaroo over the side of the pier could annoy him.
He was in quite a good mood – it was probably the letter that stuck out from the pocket of his brown hooded cloak with the insignia of the Crown that gave him such a sense of importance. In fact, Reuben half-expected an entourage of footmen to escort him to the castle –
“Master Reuben Deivrann, first son of Sir Reynold Deivrann and Melissa Amaranth?”
The Blumaroo nearly dropped the bag that was slung over his shoulder and, for the second time, escaped toppling into the bay. The clear, ringing voice that sounded not unlike a large brass gong belonged to a red Skeith clad in a regal gilded blue jacket with matching breeches and cap. The six tassels on his yellow epaulets moved ever so slightly with the cool, salty breeze.
“How’d you know my name?” Reuben spluttered, righting himself till he was standing straighter than a ramrod. The hood of his cloak blew right over his eyes, and he quickly threw it back.
“For one thing, it’s on your bag,” said the Skeith, pointing to the label on the strap. “And I am Mr. Harold Kingsrock, Second Order Scribe to the King and assistant to Duke Justin Larkian, chief scribe, and your guide for today. I was sent by his Highness, King Skarl, to escort you to Meridell Castle. Now then, shall we move on, Master Deivrann? Or would you prefer a more subtle title – Lord Deivrann?”
“Nobody even calls us the Deivranns anymore,” the white Blumaroo pointed out, still recovering from the shock of encountering Harold. “Ever since historians found out that we were descended from an ancient family of really famous earth mages, we became the Terraflares. Or you can stick a dash between the ‘terra’ and ‘flare’; doesn’t really matter...”
“Lord Terraflare then, as you wish? I just find Deivrann a more dignified name than Terraflare, no offense to your honorable lineage.” Harold Kingsrock adjusted one of the three medals on his left front pocket, the one that looked like a gold crown on top of entwined red and blue ribbons, before half-leading, half-dragging Reuben off the pier and onto more grassy ground.
“Just call me Reuben. Please. It’s a lot easier on the tongue.”
The Skeith bowed, and his esteemed guest fidgeted on the spot as he watched Harold clap twice. Instantly, they heard a clattering of hooves, culminating in a skidding halt that was anything but clumsy or poorly practiced, and the sounds of riders clambering down from their perches, their feet slapping the ground.
All the riders had the same crown-shaped badge as Harold did, and wore the same uniform, but theirs were red, had flowing scarlet capes, and lacked epaulets. There were five of them in all, plus seven Unis who were as decorated as their riders. They all formed a neat row and saluted together before launching into a barrage of chatter.
“Greetings, Master Reuben.”
“The castle awaits!”
“Good to see you are alive and well.”
“His Majesty sends his regards!”
“I thought I would never live to see the day!”
But among them, one royal Uni stood out. He shook his creamy mane and looked at the astonished white Blumaroo with an equine smile. From the ranks, the Uni stepped forward, and bowed his head before him.
“Reuben Deivrann, son and heir to the late Sir Reynold Deivrann, knight of the Meridell Crown, do acknowledge my regards to your family, Lady Melissa Amaranth and Honorable Rohane Deivrann, savior of Meridell. It was quite unfortunate that I never caught a glimpse of your younger brother when he was in the castle, recognized for his great feat. But then he – “
“He what?” asked Reuben desperately, cutting him off. “Isn’t he still in the castle or something, probably relaxing before a trip back home?”
The Uni hung his head sadly, and Harold gripped Reuben’s paw. The latter let go, however. “It is... quite hard to explain,” he whispered. “But for now, let us focus on more pressing matters.”
“Wait a sec.” The Blumaroo stiffened himself and tried not to show any apprehension on his face upon hearing about his sibling. “I know you... aren’t you Fidelity?”
“You remembered,” said Fidelity, nodding. “I have accompanied your father into many battles; he and I have always been great friends, and it is an honor to meet his son, growing into a hero in his own right. The last time I caught a glimpse of you, you were mourning for your father and his last stand... his very last stand. And now here you stand, surer, more confident than ever before, a hero in your own right.”
Reuben felt his entire face burn. “Why do I have the feeling you gave that exact speech to Rohane, or may be planning to?”
The Uni shook his head, once again looking quite depressed. “Never have I gotten even a glance of your younger brother, no, never. Just heard some court gossip, which may not be gossip at all. I am sorry, Master Reuben.”
“Will you guys just quit calling me ‘master’ or ‘lord’ or whatever already?” asked the white Blumaroo, gritting his teeth to keep from smiling and taking back his words. Deep down inside, he liked the attention. Very much. “It’s Reuben. Now then, isn’t that a lot easier to say?”
Silence reigned in their group. Harold raised a fist to his mouth to clear his throat, but not a single cough escaped his lips.
It was Fidelity who broke the silence.
“Come then, we have wasted enough time hanging around till the mold and moss take over us. Care for a ride, Master – I mean, Reuben?”
“Now, isn’t that much easier to say?” said Reuben, grinning. “So, where to next?”
“The castle, sire.”
The footmen, after saluting to Harold and Reuben, got to their mounts. The Skeith was next, mounting a green Uni that winced as he bore Harold’s weight. Apparently, it seemed that Fidelity had been reserved for the VIP of the day.
“It would be my honor to take you to the castle,” said the royal Uni, bowing again before allowing Reuben to hop onto his back. “And I would like to add that it would be my honor to teach you the proper way to mount.”
“Heh, sorry,” said the white Blumaroo, grinning sheepishly. “But thanks for making sure my head didn’t grow too big.”
“My pleasure – Reuben. If you want, I can also use that nickname your father gave you when you were a little boy –”
“No, no, I think my head will be fine, thanks.”
* * *
The ride through the Verdant Forest was not as Reuben expected when the mouth of the forest loomed before them – it wasn’t as crowded with trees as he had thought, and there was even a clear path towards the castle. In no time at all, the unmistakable flash of color that was Meridell Castle slowly became more incipient over all the green and brown of the forest, and all Reuben could do was gape in awe. He had heard of the castle through his father, but never actually got to be in it.
“Lucky duck, my little brother,” he commented. “He got to see what was inside.”
“Oh, well, if you’ve lived in or near the castle practically your whole life, it won’t seem as impressive as it was when you took your first step into it anymore,” replied Harold. Leafbrown, the green Uni he was riding, galloped so that he and the Skeith were almost beside Reuben and Fidelity. “I live in King’s Preserve, the somewhat woodsy plain that’s only a few hops and skips to the heart of the Meridellian monarchy. That’s also where many of the knights and important nobles live too.”
“My father once told me that he was offered a house in the Preserve,” said Reuben wistfully. “But he turned it down, since he wanted to live with my mother, who couldn’t stay in the Preserve.”
“Why?” asked Leafbrown and Harold simultaneously.
“Melissa Amaranth, well... you know a flower called the King’s Poppy, right? Well, its pollen can make her very sick, and you know that the poppies only grow in abundance around King’s Preserve,” replied Fidelity, eyeing a bush full of large violet-red flowers with long stamens. “In fact, whenever she and Sir Reynold come around, she has to take several different medicines to keep from getting ill, or take the long route to the castle to keep from passing the Preserve.”
The Uni paused so Reuben could adjust his sitting position. “Well, looks like this is it. King’s Preserve, a.k.a. the last step towards home.”
The expanse of land that surrounded the castle – at least, mostly the front – was indeed a forest that was dotted with several spacious houses, but still retained that woodsy atmosphere, courtesy of the many trees that were left to grow all over the place despite the onslaught of civilization. Now the group rode down a path through the Preserve, drawing ever closer to the castle, which was actually within an enclosure of stone walls and a moat, with every canter.
Before Reuben knew it, they were nearing castle territory.
“Welcome to the castle, sire,” Fidelity said with a smile as he and his troupe started slowing down.
To be continued...