“Now that I got you here,” Murice said. “About the head.”
Helen moved past the entrance and sat on her usual seat of dusty rose fabric. She leaned back on the cushions. “Yes?”
“Well, remember that it had shards of stormstone on the side? When I looked more into it, I noticed that they were embedded into the skin. And I thought to myself, why?”
Helen sat, looking politely bored.
“I mean, the only way that it could happen is if the head was slammed into a rather large chunk of the stone. So, using a bit of earth magic, I contacted the elemental to verify a few things.”
“The fact that there was indeed a rather large chunk of stormstone where the head was located, for starters,” he said. “And that various parts of it was carted out by various characters. Including a person with a dragon.”
Helen smiled slightly. “It is true that my beloved found a shard of stormstone. He put it in his vaults to keep it safe from harm.”
“And if it gets put into harm?” Murice pressed. “A stone of that power should have been felt by every mystic in the castle.” He blinked, stunned at the passing thought. “Sage. She was agitated by something when I passed by her that day. And that package…” He glanced at Helen, who looked back with pursed lips. “That was the stone, wasn’t it?”
“Of course it was,” Heg’ort’ugbent said, appearing back in the cloak and looked ready to go volcanic. The elemental tossed the bone fragment at Murice’s open hands. “Anyone with half a brain could have found it was. And shame on you,” it continued, turning to the princess. “You should have not had your betrothed take it. Only an elemental of air can use such a stone safely, seeing that it is directed to the winds.” It waved a thick finger at her. “You have no idea what a stir you caused, I would say.”
“What do you mean?” Helen asked.
“A stone like that, when our fathers released it out of their grasp, was so powerful that its presence could be felt for leagues around. The giants and the ogres are fighting over what they could find. Your western enemies are looking for it any shards as well. If anyone finds out that there is a shard in your kingdoms, the conflict will be bloody.”
“We have the dragons,” the princess retorted.
“But dragons are of all elements,” Heg’ort’ugbent continued. “They will have to pick sides. If they fight against each other, what will happen?”
“That I do not want to know,” Murice said, eyeing the chunk of cartilage in his hands. It looked like a roughly carved piece of pale jade, shimmering slightly in the light. “This came from Silvi, I take it? It looks interestingly beautiful.” He held it up to a window and turned it around, marveling at the shimmering. “I wonder…” he trailed off, placing the chunk on a table and went to one of the many bookshelves in the tower.
Heg’ort’ugbent eyed the rummaging teacher and turned its attentions to Helen. “I must know,” the being said. “I need to know how your kingdoms got a hold of the stone.”
So Helen explained what happened that day, what her betrothed found, and how the discussion turned to storing it. She left nothing out due to the elemental’s direct questions.
“I see”, the entity said when Helen finished. “Are you sure that the stone is in Foghaven?”
“I am very sure,” she said. “We would have received word that the stone was taken.”
“That means nothing.” Heg’ort’ugbent turned to Murice, who was now poring through a large blue tome; a small length of ribbon dangled from the spine. “I need to take this young person to the Kingdom of Foghaven so we can verify that the stormstone is still safe. And, hopefully, offer it to the winds.”
Helen calmed the sudden flutter in her heart. Foghaven! Her betrothed! “Are you mad?” Helen questioned. “The stone belongs to the Kingdoms!”
“And what are you going to do with it?”
“Well…” Helen hesitated. “We did discuss about having it in a museum as a national treasure,” she finished lamely.
Heg’ort’ugbent scowled, the only emotion Helen saw on that androgynous face. “A museum? Who is the mad one here!”
“Now, highness, Earthkind,” Murice said, still thumbing through the book. “Let us not argue.” He placed the ribbon between the pages and closed the book. “I will inform the King what is happening. I am sure that he will be not pleased that you are interested in this, Heg’ort’ugbent, but to borrow a saying from your brethren, when you reap the winds, you harvest the storms.”
“I can assure you,” Helen said, rising from her seat, “that any winds we reap will be our responsibility to harvest. And I can also assure you that any kind of conflict regarding this will be taken care of.”
“What conflict?” Edward said, stepping into the tower. He noticed the elemental and sketched out a bow. “A greeting, Earthkind,” he said. “What is your business here?”
“The elemental,” Helen started before Heg’ort’ugbent could answer, “thinks that the kingdoms are in danger. I am not sure if you know of this, but my betrothed discovered—”
“The stormstone, of course,” Edward interrupted. “Father informed me of it a moment ago. Which is why I am here. I need to take you to Foghaven so we can talk to the royalty there.”
“So you are in agreement that the stone could be in danger?”
“Not just the stone,” Heg’ort’ugbent warned. “It needs to be given back to us so there would be no conflict between our cousin orcs and gnolls.”
“Or the giants,” Edward said. “I have heard reports that the northern provinces have been witnessing increased activity with the giants. It seems they are looking for something.”
“The stone,” Helen breathed.
“Of course, you-!” Heg’ort’ugbent bit back an insult. “It is very hard to get a clayfolk annoyed, but you are making a magnificent effort, highness.”
“She does have that knack of it,” Edward agreed.
Helen sighed. “So what happens now?”
Heg’ort’ugbent frowned. “I think you should take her, Prince. If we were to go, I feel that it could cause some tensions. And besides,” the being smiled, showing off teeth of glittering stones, “I think the lady would like the ride.”
“Now, Silvi,” Edward said as they were ready to mount the magnificent beast, “Helen is perfectly alright. She will not harm you.”
The dragon snorted out a richly green plume of smoke.
“I know, I know. Still, we are in a hurry.”
Silvi made a motion that appeared to be a sigh, and settled down on the ground, all six legs splayed out.
“Is it safe?” Helen asked, eyeing the dragon.
“Of course it is,” Edward laughed. “But like all dragons, they are highly protective of their riders.” He used one of the legs as a step, sat on the leather saddle, and extended a hand to me. “It is perfectly safe.”
Helen lifted her riding skirts – a simple thing of yellow wool with slight embroidery on the panels – and followed after him, placing herself behind.
Sivli shuddered terribly, threatening to shake the duo off.
“No!” Edward said sharply, giving the reins a quick pull. “Helen is a guest!” The shuddering slowed down.
“Does she usually do this?” Helen asked worriedly.
“Only for non-riders,” Edward responded. The shuddering stopped, and he patted a bony plate in front of him. “There we go, darling. Nothing to worry about.” He turned a bit to Helen. “When I first took Mariel, Silvi shuddered only for a moment. Nothing this bad, oddly enough, but it goes for all guests.”
“Whenever you are ready,” a groom said, stationed a few feet away from them.
“Ready, sister?” Edward asked. Helen nodded.
The dragoneer pulled on the reins, and Silvi raised herself up. A moment later, she crouched down and propelled herself up, using her flapping wings as lift. Soon, she was slowly gaining altitude.
“Oh my,” Helen said, looking around and seeing herself clearing the stable roof and seeing the roofs of the castle, glittering in the afternoon sun.
“Ready?” Edward said when they reached proper flying height.
“For wha-?” Her question turned into an excited scream of delight as Silvi zoomed past the castle.
Helen could barely catch her breath; the speed was exhilarating. She flew speedily above the game forests, around the bell towers tolling the half-hour, and finally into the open fields.
“Amazing,” she said to herself, looking down at the land, a patchwork of greens and browns. She pitched her voice to be heard over the rushing winds. “I can see why Mariel likes this.”
“You gain a new perspective,” Edward roared back. “It is an exciting experience.”
Indeed it was. As Silvi rode on, Helen admired the view of the fields, the occasional farmhouse, and then the river.
It must have been a good half-mile wide, the flow of water carving a swirling swath across acres of land. She saw the occasional longboat carrying its load of cargo to and from the provinces, as well as various water-lizards cruise along the river’s course.
“If you look to your left,” Edward yelled, interrupting Helen’s thoughts, “you’ll see where we are going.”
She did so and gazed in wonder at the city looming in the distance. Plumes of smoke punctuated the sky like exclamation marks, signs of various eateries and blacksmiths. Many of the places were roofed in gleaming metals, some burnished bronze while others in silver. In the middle of it all, a cube of stone surrounded by numerous towers, the roofs capped in domes of gold, with the main roof festooned with flapping flags. Dragons of many kinds swirled around the city, coming and going in their daily activities.
“Beautiful,” Helen said to herself.
Silvi curved around and coasted down to a beaten-earth pathway, landing somewhat roughly near a pair of raw wooden doors.
“Did you enjoy the ride, sister?” Edward said as Silvi slowly settled down, allowing the two to get down.
“It was amazing,” Helen said, smiling. She waited for her brother to dismount before she got down herself.
“Welcome, sister,” Edward said, smiling and waving a hand towards the castle and the approaching staff. “Welcome to Foghaven.”