Riva watched the city of Castellan approach over the horizon as the sun rose above them. Dalziel looked up at her from the pilot’s seat. “Are you certain about this?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Renna and I could certainly use you here. Three making their way in the world is easier than one alone, even in Castellan. Besides, I like the idea of having a woman around that I’m not related to.”
Riva chuckled and then smiled at Dalziel. “I appreciate the thought, but there’s someone I need to find, someone who will miss me terribly.” For a moment she considered the possibilities, though. It would be so easy to write a letter and ask that it be delivered to her cousin, a letter explaining everything. Maybe then her Knight could meet them at the skyport, join them for a life of piracy and adventure. She had seen him as a Pirate more than once… if her Knights were the same man after all.
She sighed and Dalziel looked at her, concerned. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just… your offer is very tempting. You do not know how tempting.”
“Then come with us. We can help you find this friend of yours and the four of us can take off for a life without limits, without boundaries. In the Windborne, we can go anywhere.”
“Is that what you’re calling her? The Windborne?”
He nodded. “Sea or sky, the wind carries her.”
She sighed again. “I can’t. Not right now at least. I have to stand on my own for a while. But maybe… maybe later, in a couple of years, maybe then I can join you on the Windborne and we can sail off for adventure.”
“Will you at least agree to keep in touch? I don’t have many that I can call friends, and I’d hate to lose track of one.”
She smiled. “I would love that. Never can tell when a Castellan streetling will need a Pirate to come to her aid.”
“And I would come to your aid in a heartbeat, sweet Riva. I swear it to you. If you ever need my help, a rescue run, or even just a day out of the city, you let me know and I’ll be here as quickly as the Windborne can fly.”
She nodded. “I will do that.”
— — —
Dramsol watched events unfold from within the silences of his mind. Everything looked to him like events were proceeding on the intended paths, though Gabriel’s actions… even the Mother seemed to panic a bit when that happened.
He just wished that he could scry Marus more closely. Knowing the Emperor’s mind, and the contents of that interview, would help matters immensely, but a shield closed over the room as soon as Gabriel had entered, one that Dramsol could not pierce. He wasn’t his mother after all.
With that thought as a reminder, he composed a quick message and sent it out, knowing that she would hear him, no matter where she was.
Mother, Goldeneyes is on her way to Castellan. I’m not sure whether her memories have been affected by whatever threw her here, but she remembers enough to know who she is, of that I am certain. There is still no sign of her Dragoon. I wish you were here.
It wasn’t much, but it would have to be enough.
— — —
Riva stepped off the Windborne and waved good-bye to Dalziel and Renna. The pirate’s life would agree with them, she could feel it. And they’d stop by from time to time to check on her so it wasn’t like she would never see them again.
They had traveled together such a short time, so why did it feel like she was saying goodbye to old friends?
The Windborne lifted off again and Riva watched her make her way towards the west, towards adventure and treasure and challenge. Then she squared her shoulders and turned herself towards the city of Castellan. She had a contact to find and then the small matter of locating a Knight whose face she had never seen, and hoped was the one she had seen in her dreams.
— — —
The city of Castellan was built on a hill overlooking a great plain. In the beginning putting a keep in such a defensible position made sense. Then the keep became a castle, and then a city surrounded it and then buildable land became an issue. The city-state of Castellan started to run out of it. The people tried building up for a while, multistory towers of buildings, but then someone in the Palace got the idea to block off some of those lower levels with earth, sort of leveling out the terrain so to speak. Whole buildings were buried to make way for new ones.
But the old buildings weren’t collapsed. They were buried intact. This created something of an opportunity for the lesser-fortunate in the city, and the downright shady. Before long the denizens of the streets and their compatriots were burrowing through from one buried chamber to another. Some were used for storage for the shops above. Others were homes for those with nowhere else to go.
Matters became even more interesting, though, when the Dwarves moved in and began actually carving their way through the bedrock that formed the hill upon which the city stood. By the time that Riva set out in search for her mother’s old friend, the city was actually two cities, and undercity and an overcity.
For a moment Riva didn’t know just how to go about looking for this Dwarf, Kodran. It was frightening, the sensation of being alone in a city she did not know. And after what had happened, she was more susceptible to her fears than she would normally have been. It didn’t help that within moments of stepping off of the Windborne Annie vanished into the crowd. She supposed that she saw some children and decided to go play.
She hoped desperately that he wouldn’t get herself lost or hurt or something. She’d always managed to find her way back to her, no matter where either of them had gone, and she’d been doing that for untold centuries. Her display as they flew out of Pallantia proved that much. She sent a desperate plea to a God she still loved, no matter where she went. Please, God, look after my little dog. She paused and sent a thought to the voice in the back of her mind. You, too, Puppet-mistress. Annie had better find her way back to me safe and sound or you and I will have words. She actually thought she heard a chuckle.
After a moment she forced herself to walk, and look around at the city, and finally she found a soldier who was talking to some boys who seemed fearless around him. Fearless was good. It meant that this soldier, at least, was no threat to those smaller than he.
The armor was enough to set her to trembling again, but she walked up to him as the boys ran off, continuing their game once he had retrieved their ball. “Please, could you help me for a moment?”
He turned to look at her curiously. “Miss?”
“I’m looking for the Dwarf, Kodran. I’m not even certain how well known he would be in this city, but if you could point me in his direction…”
“Do you know him, miss?”
“He… he was a friend of my mother’s. She said that I could trust him.”
For some reason, the soldier seemed to soften. “Yes, miss, you may trust him. He helped me years ago. His shop is in the Merchant’s Quarter, near the edge of the Dwarven enclave in the overcity. Just go that way until you start seeing children everywhere you look.”
She looked in the direction he indicated, and then nodded in understanding. She turned back to the soldier and smiled. “My thanks.” She bowed before leaving in that direction.
The soldier watched her walk away, a strange look in his eyes. For a streetling, the girl was very well spoken, and very well mannered at that. She had been gently raised, he was certain, and the circumstances that would put the daughter of nobles on Castellan’s streets… were intriguing in their possibilities.
— — —
Luckily Riva only got turned around three times before she found her way to Kodran’s shop. A collection of wagons were outside it, unloading their goods while a dwarf with a full head of thick black hair and a matching beard watched them from the side, a board and charcoal stick in hand. She took a deep breath to quiet her trembling stomach and walked up to the dwarf, one hand holding the straps of her haversack on her shoulder.
The dwarf looked up at her as she approached. She saw his eyes widen when he noticed hers. This was going to be more difficult than it had to be if those outside of Pallantia had heard about her unusual eyes. “Would… would you happen to be the Dwarf, Kodran?”
He nodded slowly. “That would be me, yes.”
She looked down at her feet for a moment, considering how best to introduce herself given the many people around. She kept her voice low. “My mother told me once that I could trust you. That you were a friend of hers and that you had kept her safe when she walked Castellan’s streets under another name.” She shook her free wrist, letting the bracelet fall and showed him the silver edge of it where it sat under her sleeve cuff.
He looked at the bracelet and nodded slowly, his eyes glistening with tears. She took a moment to slide the bracelet back into hiding. “I heard about your mother. She… she was a very good friend to me, as was her father before her.” That’s right, in this world, as in others, the dwarves were exceptionally long-lived. At least five centuries, if not longer. “Why are you here?”
“I need to hide. To be anonymous for a while. I’m… I’m looking for someone and it might be easier to find him if he doesn’t know who I am or where I come from right away.”
Kodran blinked for a moment. “Dreams?” He kept his voice very low. She nodded in response. He sighed and closed his eyes. “Castellan dreams have made more Castellan princesses…” He nodded, then. “Very well, but you will tell me everything. Maybe I can help you find him.” He paused. “Trust goes both ways, streetling girl. What name are you using?”
“Riva. My mother gave it to me. I am Riva.”
“Very well, Riva. Follow me, and bring that package with you. Might as well get you used to things as quickly as we can.”
She picked up the paper-wrapped bundle with her free arm. Then she followed him into the shop and into a back room where Kodran was able to close the door to give them some privacy.
“Now,” he said as she set the bundle down on a table, “just who are you looking for and why would the Imperial Princess need to run in order to find someone?”
She sighed. “This is really complicated. I’m looking for two people, actually, and I’m hoping that they’re the same man… I believe that they are the same man. One is a Knight, a Knight-Captain, actually, who used to be a streetling. We’ve been… corresponding for several years. Ever since the Coronation, when I found my guardian threatening him in a corridor of the Palace. The other… is either a Knight or a Pirate, and my guardian is his twin brother, and he has a scar on his forehead, across the bridge of the nose up into his hairline. They are both in Castellan.”
Kodran blinked in surprise. He knew that boy, remembered him as a streetling, remembered him to be uncommonly mature for a child thrust suddenly out into the world on his own. How many years had it been already? “And why would you have to run?”
“Because my brother and my guardian knew that I was dreaming, and I only found out yesterday that there really was a brother. They never told me. They didn’t want me to know.” She clenched her fists in anger. “I warned them. If I ever had cause to believe that the man in my dreams was real, no one would keep me from him, not even my brother the Emperor.”
“So why don’t you march up to the Palace with that bracelet of yours?”
She sighed and looked at her hands. “Retribution. Plausible deniability. I’m not going back to Pallantia and my uncle would be honor-bound to return me to my brother or face military response. If he can say that he does not know that his sister’s daughter has come to Castellan then he can simply let me be. I do not intend to let him see me, if I can help it.”
“I’ve heard stories about your brother. Does he really…”
“He adores me, and I do not think he intends to ever surrender me to anyone else. So years ago Illian and I made sure that he did not have that legal right.” She sighed. “I have Illian’s blessing and that is all I need.”
Kodran considered the matter carefully. “Are there any other reasons why you would choose anonymity?”
She laughed softly. “I wonder how long it will take my correspondent to realize that his Princess is right in front of him.”