Another Hero's Journey: Decisions - Part Eleven
The throne room of Sakhmet Palace was crowded and noisy, with all sorts of guests from the highest royalty to the lowest peasants. On the dais up front was Princess Vyssa whispering something into Advisor Wessle’s ear. Meanwhile, Princess Amira reclined in her throne and chatted up a storm with a young Uni who looked like one of her ladies-in-waiting. The audience was divided into two by a long red carpet bordered with golden thread.
On the right side, rather close to the front, were Reuben and Andrea.
“I don’t know who makes bigger ceremonies – Lost Desert or Meridell,” Reuben said, tugging at his long sleeves. “I can’t believe they lent us clothes for the occasion.”
“We’d look rather out of place if we didn’t accept their offer,” said the red Kyrii, shrugging.
The white Blumaroo turned to look at her white and blue ensemble. Golden bracelets jangled on her wrists, and her mane was even pulled back in a striped headband that went with her outfit. “Actually, you look good in that...”
“I do?” Andrea felt her face burn, which had nothing to do with the normal climate of the Lost Desert. “Uh... well, thanks...”
Any further conversation between them – or anyone, for that matter – was stilled by the rhythmic trumpet blasts. The recognition ceremony had begun, and the Usul and Aisha princesses took their places, standing before the crowd. The former spoke first, silencing any more whispers in the crowd.
“First of all, we would like to thank you all for coming on this special day, the day we commemorate the restoration of peace and order to the Lost Desert, and recognize the heroes and heroines who have made it possible, who have risked life and limb, who believed in something we did not...”
“Yes, you didn’t either, dear sister,” Amira chimed in, but the Usul didn’t seem to mind at all. “But the same rings true for me, and for most of us here, I’m sure. To think, our destiny hung from an old legend!” Clearing her throat, she went on. “Now, without further ado, we would like to present the four brave adventurers who have traversed the shifting sands to rid us of the sandstorm plague.”
She gestured, as though pointing to something way back. A steady drum roll began, which blossomed into a victory tune punctuated by other musical instruments. Soldiers decked out in their livery marched down the aisle in two neat lines, each one with a sword. With amazing synchronicity, they drew their blades and raised them high, creating a glistening steel roof over the carpet, just high enough for someone of average height to walk underneath without having to bend over.
“I’d like to know who made their swords,” Reuben couldn’t help saying, and flinched as Andrea stepped on his foot.
The white Blumaroo looked. “Okay, so maybe these clothes aren’t so bad after all.”
Underneath the roof of blades marched his younger brother’s group, and all of them were clad in full battle gear. Leather, metal, long robes... none of them were the best options in any event in the Lost Desert, perhaps unless it was a night occasion, when temperatures dipped.
Why was he thinking about fashion, when he could think about his already-famous brother becoming even more famous? Reuben swelled with pride. Sure, he was revered as a hero in his own right and was a pretty well-known weapon smith back home, but Rohane on the other hand... he and his friends were practically household names by now.
The four were now directly in front of the princesses, at the foot of the dais. While Mipsy and Talinia tried their best to curtsy, Rohane and Velm were eternally grateful that all they needed to do was bow; after all, they were the ones in more cumbersome metal armor.
Princess Amira stepped forward.
“We of the Lost Desert are forever in your debt,” she proclaimed. “I am declaring today a special holiday commemorating your courage and strength that everyone will talk about for many, many years to come. If there is anything you need from us, when you need our help, you only have to say the word.”
Velm made a motion as though to specify something and was swiftly elbowed in the ribs. When Andrea saw Reuben snicker, she instantly knew who had nudged the red Techo, who was valiantly trying not to make a scene but was obviously reeling from the unexpected strike.
But no one else seemed to notice – or care, not while Rohane, Mipsy, Talinia and Velm were dubbed honorary Lost Desert Riders and given glistening medals for everyone to see amidst thunderous applause and loud cheers, the white Blumaroo and the red Kyrii among the hardest clappers.
When the four turned to face the audience, the noise was only magnified tenfold as the instrumentalists joined in with a more upbeat piece.
And despite all the fanfare, Reuben managed to catch Rohane’s eye and winked.
The yellow Blumaroo clutched his medal in a gauntleted paw and winked back.
* * *
“Finally... after all those months of being on the road...”
“I know. You might not even recognize the house you were born in – ouch, ow, don’t you know your own strength? Tell you what – the moment we set foot in Trestin again, I’ll challenge you to a duel, sword on daggers. I bet you’ve forgotten my strategies by now.”
“I can’t believe you’re still carrying Father’s old sword. It’s all rusty and... ancient.”
“I don’t fight with it, of course. I just keep it around with me, like a good luck charm... idiot.”
“Watch who you’re calling an idiot, I’m the older brother, remember?”
A smile lit up Talinia’s face as she watched the two Blumaroos bicker on their way to the pier, walking just behind them. “I’ve never seen those two happier in my life. Then again, I don’t know Reuben all too well... but when I first saw him, I knew in an instant that he had to be Rohane’s brother, no doubt about it.”
“They’re... well, to be honest, I’ve never seen a bond of brotherhood like theirs,” said Andrea. “I knew they were very close, but seeing them together... I realized that they’re a lot closer than I thought. It’s amazing.”
“So, Tal, will you return to Terror Mountain?” asked Mipsy curiously, butting into the conversation.
The green Eyrie archer thought for a moment. “On one hand, I’d like to go back and see how things are. But I’d like to come with you and see Meridell. I want to see the place where you, Rohane, Reuben and Andrea grew up in.”
“You forgot that I was born in Faerieland, not Meridell. I just moved there and then... you get the idea. Velm’s coming with us, though. He hasn’t gotten enough of traveling yet.” The blue Acara laughed. “But hey, we could go to Faerieland sometime...”
“I can’t help it. I... feel like I can’t stay in one place for too long. Perhaps I have been destined to be a nomad? But hey, we’re Lost Desert Riders now! They’re the elite force of soldiers that’s always called on for special missions, like looking for the... well, lost.” The red Techo grinned, turning his medal over and over.
Mipsy clapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Didn’t I say I would take you guys on a trip to Faerieland someday?”
The two mages started a friendly banter of their own as well. Meanwhile, Reuben had to remind Andrea to put away her notepad even for a moment and watch where she was going.
“I can’t believe I’ve almost filled it up,” the red Kyrii said excitedly, flipping through the pages. Not only were there a lot of words and several ink splotches, there were even arrows and some stray sketches – including one of the Lenny healer called Selas, who looked like he was screaming at Andrea’s notes about the Medallion of Wind.
Reuben smiled. “Have you ever considered being an artist as well?”
“What – oh no,” she whispered, and quickly shut her notepad, stuffing it into her cloak pocket. “
“That’s a great drawing, I swear! I never liked him... he was one of those who didn’t like the idea of me watching my brother.”
Mipsy and Velm overheard and were breathing down the Kyrii’s back in a flash.
“Ooh, ooh, lemme see!”
“Like I said, Selas does his job well, but he can be rather stuck up... stuck up so high that I’m surprised he doesn’t bump into a Shenkese air ship...”
Reuben snorted. “That’s the understatement of the century.” Rohane and Talinia, who were walking silently for a while, also broke into peals of laughter upon overhearing the discussion about the pink Lenny.
The conversations went on as they stepped onto the pier, which was bleached by sunlight and seawater. The sun shone overhead like their spotlight, which would surely lighten the wood further. But before they could take a good look at the ship that would bear them from the Lost Desert, they saw a cloaked figure glide down the gangplank to meet them, its cloak billowing in the sea breeze.
The stranger landed neatly before the group of six and then threw back the hood concealing his face. A Halloween Kougra stared at them with piercing yellow eyes and raised his paws.
“Greetings. I come unarmed and in peace. I am looking for the new honorary Lost Desert Riders.”
To be continued...