In Serein Book 3
The End Of Dreams
Part 1 – To Find The King
Chapter 1 - Manoranta Moments
The day was spring bright, and the land was green.
The black moved sweetly beneath me, relaxed stepping and neck long out in front, finding his own pace in the entourage and just walking, all at ease.
I was quite alone with my thoughts as we approached Manoranta.
And for once, my thoughts were tranquil enough.
The entity in my stomach was taking a shape that was becoming vaguely recognisable as that of a living being. I had given the entity a name so I would not have to be referring to it as “the entity” all the time, although it was a bit difficult to reconcile the whole idea of this being a child that would one day, cry and walk and move.
I had not told him that I had chosen a name.
The hills swooped and dipped and the roadway swept amongst them.
Manoranta Keep could easily be seen out there, sitting above the horizon, tightly contained and so embedded in my memories that it almost seemed a part of me. I didn’t fight my memories anymore, not today, in this caressing free wind, and so they just flashed falling stars of insights and chambers and small symbological knowings, sparks that were of no importance to me.
Flanking me, keeping a respectful distance, were Sir Catena on the left and the Duke of Solland on the right. Their presence was pleasing and gentle.
Ahead, at the very front of our train, rode the Lord Tremain. It was he who was setting the leisurely pace. He rode bareheaded this day and just every so often, the lemon sun flashed the Tadara high blue into my awareness – don’t forget me, here I am. I am still here.
On our way to another stepping stone. Another thing that had to be repaired, reconciled, laid to rest, finished somehow so that there could be future of kinds, only what there would be beyond Manoranta, well, that would be anyone’s guess.
I had made a plan, you see, that would satisfy nearly all objectives, bar the one.
Lucian didn’t know about it either, yet.
Well. The time would come to reveal it and gain everyone's acceptance and acclaim.
We moved down into a dip in the land.
Grazing land, this. Not fertile enough for fields with crooked rows, so this was green, and it was pleasant. Open yet not anywhere near as frightening in its vastness as the horse plains, old, grown into a landscape of small separate trees and copses, and flat carpet grass. Here and there were patches of blue and yellow flowers, and some where the grass grew higher, fatter. Those would be muddy patches where water had raised itself up to ground level and if you were to step there at this time of year, you would soon have black brown earth squidge up between your toes and you would be dismayed and delighted too and giggle.
It was absolutely wonderful to be free of Pertineri.
I stretched a little in the saddle and adjusted my position. We had been on the road since sun up and after a moment’s thought, I brought one leg across to be angled over the front of the saddle, letting my toes be caught by the pommel.
It eased my back considerably and I was glad of all the old soldiers tricks my body had stored for me.
Lucian send me an enquiry immediately.
It made me both smile and shake my head in annoyance.
He pretended to sit behind his shielding but he did to me exactly what he was always accusing me of doing – namely to be tracking along the whole time and not to give enough privacy. Of course, my Lord Tremain would use as the excuse that a pregnant woman could explode at any given moment, without warning, or lose her senses or fall into a deadly fit of fainting or all such dreadful things these kinds of strange creatures would manifest.
No and I haven’t grown a spare head either yet, I sent him and wrapped my irritation up in the strands of the message so he would get the drift.
Hurt, he withdrew immediately and his shielding went up to total blankness.
Really, when it came to certain things, the Lord of Darkness was such a baby.
I sniggered to myself and asked the black to draw level with his leader.
I fancied to see his face and watch his hands and shoulders for a while.
The ancient roadway was a strange affair, grey rocks below the surface of the surrounding earth and grass, flowing like a brook with the least resistance amongst the hills. It seemed carved out deliberately and presented a clip clop surface which was just a little treacherous now and then because of loose stones of various sizes.
I brought my black up to Lucian’s side and turned to look at him, resting my elbow on the crossed leg in front of me and putting my head onto my hand.
He pretended not to see me and just rode on, keeping his eyes narrowed and fixed on the horizon ahead.
I loved to see how his head kept so still and his body and legs were making all the adjustments in time with the movement of the magnificent horse beneath him. The fierce little sun, up above and to the right, reflected in his hair and gave him half a halo this day; it also flashed on the sword’s hilt projecting from his cloak and the golden inlay of his horse’s tack. I traced these things lovingly with my eyes, holding back, keeping myself concentrated on the details in preparation for the main event.
Lucian always held the reins in both hands in a classic riding position. Whoever had taught him had made sure this had become entirely entrained, and it really never varied and his hands hardly ever seemed to move at all; now me, and though I had his learnings, I would lounge on horses as I did now, play with the reins, drop them down completely for who needs them anyway when you’re in a light link to the beast directly?
I studied his profile again. I truly do not know how many times I had looked at him in this way, mostly just briefly and sneaking a quick glance, here and there, but also when he was sleeping or when he was otherwise occupied so my attention to him would have a chance to go unnoticed.
Every time I did this, I was falling in love with him afresh.
Now isn’t that the strangest thing?
For nearly two years I have known this man, and for a year and a half of this I saw him every day yet I absolutely never got tired of him, nor ceased to be surprised at how my own experience of him was extraordinary, every time.
You would think that you get used to looking at the same man, that like anything else you can have or that has become so familiar to you, the joy of it would wear off into a comfortable familiarity or even this hardly noticing of too familiar things, yet it simply wasn’t so.
It seems to me that I must forget somehow in between how wonderful he is to me, strange as this might sound, and I don’t or can’t remember until I am fully faced with the reality of him again.
Every time I look at him like this, I fall in love with him all over again.
Eventually, he turns towards me, a slow and regal movement of his neck that keeps his head entirely on a level, as though his eyes would need to travel only on one single, special plane that he was loath to leave.
Your riding position is unsafe and unseemly both, he send to me with forced neutrality.
Every time I look at you, I fall in love with you afresh. Isn’t that the strangest thing?
He looked away from me and to the left, sighed and did not answer.
Lucian, can I ride with you for a while?
He half shook his head, then brought both our horses to a halt. Behind us, Chay and Eddario raised a call to the following soldiers and so the whole train stopped on a stretch of road between two hills and the view across the land to Manoranta.
Lucian dismounted to the left because there was no room between his horse and mine, came around to the front and pushed his black to the side, raised his arms to me and helped me to dismount.
Without either word nor thought message, he bent and offered me his folded hands and lifted me lightly and steadily so I could get into his horses saddle, then mounted himself behind me, causing the pommel of his saddle to sit uncomfortably against my thighs. The sensation disappeared as he flattened it structurally and re-shaped it so it would fit us both.
He reached round my waist, re-gathered the reins and moved forward, my black following behind as obediently as any well trained dog.
With a sigh of comfort, I relaxed into his arms and put my head back against his shoulder.
Thank you, I sent sincerely.
He did not respond and I let myself fall deeply into the motion of the horse and the sensation of his knees below mine like a supporting chair, his arms around my waist, his warmth at my back, his regular breath in my hair and the rhythm of the horse that carried us both.
I closed my eyes and drifted in comfort with the light breeze and the sounds of leather creaking and the ranks of fading horses hooves on the stony road.
This was happiness.
I would take this moment and I would gently preserve it, create a loving cocoon around it and I would store it right close by my heart, hold it tight to me, keep it with me. It is just a moment, and you might say, and perhaps you would be right, that it was nothing so special, not like the great moments of your life might supposed to be, winning a battle or having a hundred thousand people celebrate your name.
I don’t know why I felt like crying.
Around me, he softened all over.
Shh. We can have many such moments. As many as you need. There is no need for sadness.
I don’t know why I feel this way. It confuses me. Why does my happiness turn into sadness?
He sighed and leaned his cheek into my hair.
I cannot understand the least of it. (but it feels good to hold you this day, here, now)
It does. I thank you for humouring me and my strange needs and fancies.
It is the least I can try and learn to do.
We continued on then in closeness and silence and it seemed to me that that which pulls us all to the ground at every waking moment and precludes us rising up in flight as light as thoughts and fresh as winds no longer had its hold on me this day, and that together we were freer, more reaching, more at ease.
The roadway continued to fall steadily, gently sloping, and soon, the square black shape of Manoranta Keep was no longer ahead and beneath us, but above, for it was built on the highest of the hills that lay in this ancient valley.
At the foot to its approach lay a small hamlet surrounded by a few odd shaped fields, their boundaries defined in that grey stone that lay abundant and invisible beneath the grass; great piles of stones were accumulated in the corners of those fields, pulled from the earth by hands across the centuries.
Soon, there were people too, not many yet there were some, and both of us sighed at their tiny distant figures. Lucian did not need to ask me or to suffer any further ignominy on my behalf this day. I told him that I would re-mount my own horse before we reached them, and to his credit and a small pleasantness to me, he dismissed the necessity of undoing our present arrangement as irrelevant.
I sent him a loving smile and he steered our horses off the path, letting Chay and Eddario take the lead, resplendent both in their ceremonial uniforms of dark blue and silver.
I slid from his arms and down the side of his black and remounted my own horse, taking care to assume the proper position. I arranged my reins and hands. When I looked up I saw him looking at me and our eyes met for a moment.
Our links were deep, automatic, and unrestrained these days. There really wasn’t much left to pretend anymore, nothing much left to hide. It was comforting and painful both in a – to me, at least – deeply moving combination.
The soldiers of the palace guard who were our escort on this journey passed us by in pairs, taking great care to keep their eyes straight and their horses in time with each other. When the last pair had moved along, we joined up behind them and thus made ready for our entrance into the ancient keep of Manoranta.