The sun was setting against a sky so gray with tension that Trevalian felt he could reach out his aura and cut it in two. It would be dark soon and he was still hundreds of miles from the relative safety of his castle. His horse trembled beneath him as a crack of thunder shook the already foreboding sky.
Perfect. There would be wet to go along with the other adjectives he was going to apply to himself in the near future, such as cold and exhausted.
"There, there, Kreyton," Trevalian said, stroking a hand down the matted mane of his horse. He would have to sort that out when he got back. It had been too long. Too long for both of them.
It wasn't necessarily the fortification of his castle that made him feel safe. After all, if his enemies wanted him they could have him at any time and there was nothing Trevalian or anyone else could do about it. Peace was a fragile thing. Now more than ever.
His gaze wandered to the forest to the east. They were currently standing in a field of rolling hills and lush green grass. There was a wind blowing that felt ominous and carried the scent of coming rain.
Kreyton gave a contented huff and shook his head, shuffling his feet in anticipation. Trevalian figured that his horse never particularly liked traveling. Walking or running down sunny dirt roads in the summer, sure, but Trevalian didn't have time to travel in such a leisurely manner. He needed the horse to get around and to not draw undue attention, but its limitations in the realm of speed were something he didn't have patience for. There was so much to do.
"Well, if you're ready, friend," he said, gripping the reins once more and feeling Kreyton's muscles tense beneath him. "Here we go."
Trevalian wiped some of the beading sweat off of his brow and concentrated on the ground in front of them. His hands left the reins and twisted up toward the sky, seemingly of their own accord. Eyes closed, he let out a long breath that began as a whisper and ended in a sort of groaning shout. In front of them the very air seemed to twist and turn until something of a distorted hemisphere stood before them.
"Ride on," Trevalian said, gripping the reins once more. He patted Kreyton on the neck and channeled all of his remaining strength into just staying on the horse's back as it jumped into the hemisphere of air and they were propelled forward at inhuman speeds.
It wasn't as though they were in one place and suddenly in the next. The travel was more like being physically ripped from existence and dragged through the ether like so much dirt and spit out on the other side.
Trevalian let out a ragged breath when they were through and felt Kreyton shudder again, uneasy on his feet.
"Well done," he said. He leaned forward to whisper into Kreyton's ear. "A warm stable and no travel for at least a month. You have my word."
Just ahead, on top of a rocky hill, was House Temperence. Its five spires reached into the sky like the fingers of an upturned hand, bordering the large central tower. It was his and it still took his breath away when he saw it.
The stream had spit them out just beyond the forest that led to the nearby village of Memora. A fourtunate exit as it put them on the road and an easy walk up to the castle. Still, Trevalian dismounted and pulled the reins around the side so that he could lead Kreyton up on foot. It would take longer, but the horse was tired and had been through more than enough for one day. More than enough for a week, really. He'd never travelled by stream this much in a single week before, let along a single day.
Here there was still plenty of daylight left and the sun was still beating down warm on them from above. Of course, he had been premature to think that the weather would reach him from so far away. It was possible that it would be raining here, but it was a pessimistic view. His present situation precluded itself to a dim view of the world, but that didn't mean he had to adopt it as wholeheartedly as he had. There was still life here. There was still a chance and the peace was still intact.
The peace was still intact for now.
As they walked up the dusty path to House Temperence, Trevalian extended his aura towards it. He could feel the anxiety inside before he knew what exactly it was. There were no unfamiliar forms inside. The aura touched each one and shaped around them and he felt that he knew them all. That, at least, was a good thing. Still, the feeling of dread was hanging in the air and he didn't know if it was what he brought with him or what already existed here.
When they were a few hundred meters away from the gate, one of the guards up on the wall called out to him. They exchanged the customary passphrase and response, and the guards got to work quickly opening the gate and preparing for him to enter. By the time that he was inside the gate there was a bucket of water and carrots for Kreyton, as well as a warm blanket and Jaffa, the groomer, who looked less than pleased at the sight of the horse.
"I did my best not to push him too hard, Jaffa," Trevalian said. "He's strong. I know he has limits."
Jaffa's expression hardened. "You have limits as well."
"Let me worry about my body. Make sure Kreyton gets a good brush down and no riding for at least a week."
"Let me worry about the horses," Jaffa said. He patted Kreyton on the next and led him away toward the stable.
There was a stirring behind Trevalian and he immediately stretched his aura behind him and sensed Lana standing behind him. "He's more worried about you than the horse, Val," she said.
He turned around to face her. "There's nothing to worry about," he said with a smile.
She frowned. "You say that like I can't see you standing here in front of me. Look at yourself."
Trevalian looked down and saw his dirt stained riding shirt and leather pants. His overcloak was in one of the saddlebags, but that wouldn't have made his appearance much better as it was caked in mud up to the knees. He could only imagine what his hair looked like.
Lana, on the other hand, looked immaculate. Her dark brown hair fell in a perfect arrangement around her shoulders, touching the pale skin there before falling away behind her back. Her blouse hung off her shoulders and billowed at her waist in a way that reminded Trevalian of the clouds that had hung over his head only several minutes ago, and her gray trousers were pressed and untouched by the dirt of the stables that they were standing in.
"You leave without saying a word and everyone around here starts to ask questions," she said.
"I know," he said. "It had to be done."
"You couldn't spare a minute?"
Trevalian narrowed his eyes at her. Of course he could have. It had slipped his mind. Of course they would have worried or feared the worst. There was just too much to do and not enough time to think through all of the consequences.
"I need my army," Trevalian said.
Lana's expression darkened. "They said that you were off to start--"
"I don't care what they said, Lana. I need my army." Trevalian turned and started walking toward the central tower.
Lana swallowed, tried to regain her composure but struggled against the weight of his words. "Val, please at least come inside and have something to eat. You're about to fall over." She followed after him, gesturing towards the kitchen and dining hall.
"I didn't have time to say goodbye and I don't have time for trivial matters like eating." He reached the large double doors to the central tower, paused, and turned to face Lana. "Get my army."
Lana nodded and turned, then walked away toward the barracks tower that stood in the southwest corner of the castle. Trevalian slipped inside the central tower and stalked his way through the foyer and into the war room. The walls here were adorned with shields and swords and spears, all decorative and dull and cold against the touch of his aura. He was tired enough now that it was difficult to control. A piece of it was still traveling along with Lana, pressing against her and against those she was talking to now. She was rousing soldiers from their beds, informing the lane masters so they could inform their troops. Next would be the champions, but they would come in their own time.
He sat at the head of the large stone table that dominated the war room. It was like the weight of an entire person falling from him as he slouched down in the seat. He adjusted the pillows for a minute before giving up and standing again. He couldn't fall asleep until this was sorted. When it was over he would retire to his room and sleep for an entire day. But now it was time to work.
Now it was time to plan for war.