“Hoist the sails! We’re bringing her into port.”
The large captain of The Wind Rose boomed instructions at his crew as he took the helm. The change in the ship’s energy was palpable; Rowan felt it in her bones. That isn’t to say that everyone felt the same way. Many were excited or, at the very least, relieved, but a sizable few felt an anxious trepidation at the prospect of being taken to a foreign land. Seeing the response, Rowan started to realise how only a couple were actually from Llen Fær; the majority were from Særis and Ferran. Rowan’s heart went out to those that were scared, but she decided not to dwell on it. She was far too ecstatic for that. Instead she took hold of Seres and they both looked over the prow of the ship.
For the second time in her life, Rowan looked upon the capital city of Midiris. Two rivers cut through the city’s flanks and its walls extended out to sea, shielding the harbour. The entrance to the harbour was guarded by several ballistae and a great Soulforged chain, said to house the very essence of the first Aegis Admiral of Llen Fær. Rowan recalled Tyris telling her how the walls divided the harbour in to baileys, much like that of a castle. As they sailed past the Aegis Chain, Rowan saw that it was true. Before her lay a star shaped sea fort lined with ballistae and similar weapons. Behind the fort rested even more walls. With the addition of the defense fleet, attempting to take Midiris by sea would make a fool’s errand seem like the work of a genius. Even by land, the city would not fall without a serious fight with wall after wall lying between the city limits and the palace at the heart of the city.
Instead of sailing towards either of the commercial ports on the north and south of the city, they went straight for the docks of the court and royal navy. It was a sign of Dralik’s importance and how seriously he was taking the voyage. As they approached, one of his men sounded a horn which was greeted by a triumphant fanfare from the navy headquarters that spread throughout the city like wildfire. The sheer volume shook the ship to the core and sent the waves running. They were welcoming their princess home.
“Cast the lines and drop the anchor,” Dralik roared, “We’re bringing the princess home.”
In response, every single man and woman in his command cheered in glorious exultation. When they started to quiet down, Seres whispered to Rowan, “I really wasn’t expecting this.” She was blushing awkwardly at the welcome.
“What about the captain gave you the impression that he would be anything but subtle when we arrived?” Rowan asked her pointedly.
“Given graciously,” added Rowan with a mock smile.
“I’m going to look awful in front of all my subjects,” Seres sighed. “I don’t have a dress or any make-up and there’s no time to get any.”
Rowan gave her a massive smile in response. “You dinnae need to worry about it. This subject has already seen you looking much worse.” After a second or two, she heard the sound of stifled giggling from behind Seres’ hand, which she was using in a futile attempt at hiding her own growing smile.
“I’m still a princess. I have an image that I need to maintain.”
“Going by the sound of that welcome, I don’t think your image is going to be tarnished by a few people seeing you in peasant garb, especially when you are accompanied by a full escort.”
“I’m sure of it. Now let’s go see the captain. I want to know what’s going to happen to everyone now.”
The two of them walked over to Captain Dralik as he was overseeing the readying of the gangplank. He nodded to them. “Your Highness. Miss Rowan. I bid you both a joyous return home. What can I do for you?”
“Well,” Rowan started, “we were wondering what was in store for us now. Seres is obviously going home, but what about the rest of us?”
“We would have asked you sooner but we were both somewhat nervous,” Seres added. “And I think the others find you rather intimidating.”
“Hah!” he laughed. “I’m as soft as a mandra.”
“And probably just as dangerous,” Rowan interjected.
“She’s good,” Dralik boomed at Seres. “To answer your questions, Miss Rowan, I’ll make sure everyone is given a place to stay; somewhere they can rest and clean up. Clothes as well. They’ll be treated well. I’m sure Her Majesty will grant them passage home if they so desire. As for you, I will be escorting you to the palace alongside Her Highness.”
Neither Rowan or Seres were expecting that. In unison, they asked, “Why?”
“Because Her Majesty will want to see her daughter’s protector. You have done much to keep Her Highness safe these past years and that is something that should be honoured.”
“I didn’t do it alone,” Rowan responded.
“You may have escaped with the help of the others, lass, but last time I checked, none of them took on the extra burden of Her Highness’ torture in addition to their own. If anyone is deserving of this honour, it is you. It has already been cleared with the palace. And fear not, the invitation will almost definitely be extended to Master Amran, Miss Maro, Lord Ædarik as well as those in his company when I make my report.”
“Thank you. Though I must say I’m still surprised. You’re placing a lot of trust in us, especially me. Why?”
“You can’t just ask that, Rowan.”
“Hah! It’s okay, Your Highness. The reason I trust you, Miss Rowan, is because I’ve spent the entire voyage along with my crew making sure that you are worthy of it. The same goes for everyone else. My Empaths found you to be genuine and nothing you said while the shadows were listening suggested that you were a threat. Not to us at least.”
“Was my word not enough?” Seres objected.
“Begging your forgiveness, Princess, but no. After everything that could have happened to you, it was entirely possible that you were an agent of some kind. I’m sure you did the same for me before we even started this voyage.”
“We did,” Seres admitted.
“I’d be worried if you hadn’t. Now let us go to the palace. Escort on me. Keilan! Guide the lord and ladies to the Særan embassy. Tenra! Escort the other passengers to the old officer barracks and send a runner out for a healer and a surgeon.”
Like a well oiled machine, the crew of The Wind Rose got to work, following the captain’s orders. Dralik, himself, escorted Rowan and Seres down the gangplank before taking them to the palace in the company of ten men and women from the crew dressed in navy parade uniforms. The imposing presence of the captain kept anyone from getting in their way as they marched onwards. Instead, people gawked respectfully from the sidelines.
At first, the procession walked through the utilitarian naval district with its whitewashed and depressingly square buildings. Tyris had always joked that everyone in the navy with an eye for aesthetics always designed ships instead of buildings.
After a mile of walking, they reached the giant gatehouse that seperated the naval district from palace district. The guards on duty were already standing to attention well before they arrived. As they approached, the guards saluted and beckoned them through.
The palace district wasn’t actually named for the royal palace at its heart, which was in a bailey of its own, but rather the highly decorated homes of the Midiran nobility and royal court. Rowan’s jaw dropped at the sight. Every single mansion was a palace in its own right it seemed, with architecture to match. Not only that, but the walls were also works of art beyond compare. Each mansion was a canvas that told a story for the ages in vibrant colour and masterful execution.
Before long, they were finally at the gate leading into the final bailey and the palace which was no less impressive than the ones outside. However, unlike the lesser palaces, the royal palace took a much simpler approach to allow its beauty to shine. Instead of being painted like an elaborate mural, the palace was painted in a sunburst style, darker towards the bottom and becoming brighter and brighter as its towering spires touched the heavens.
“Welcome home, Princess,” Dralik boomed.
“I can hardly believe it,” Seres replied. “Well, umm, I guess now is the time to extend that welcome to you as well, Rowan.”
“It’s amazing. This is my first time seeing it so close.”
“I’m glad it doesn’t disappoint.”
“You can gawk later, lass. Queen Elarin awaits.”
With that, they were once again on the move into the palace proper. The interior glistened with marble and gold and the walls were lined with tapestries and murals that put the palaces outside to shame. The flag of Llen Fær with the flame sitting on a silver chain hung above the large, heavy doors to what Rowan assumed was the great hall.
Instead of being taken to the great hall like Rowan expected, they went down a corridor to the left of the large doors towards a much smaller audience chamber. Inside they were greeted by a Ferran woman with burnt orange hair touched with silver and a crown.
The sight of her mother brought tears to Seres’ eyes.
“Welcome home, my beloved Seres.”
Author’s Notes: I apologise for this being a short chapter, but I didn’t want to push myself after the vaccine as it really took a lot out of me. Was anyone else absolutely wiped after they had theirs? To top it all off, both my phone and my laptop battery is dying on Friday, so I’ve basically spent a fair chunk of time since I recovered trying to fix the laptop and getting an upgrade for my phone. The latter has been especially difficult due to a weird technical issue where my contract was being treated as PAYG by the system. Thankfully, it’s all sorted now and I should have a brand new phone when I wake up. Anyway, thank you for your patience in waiting for this chapter. I hope you enjoyed it and are looking forward to the next one.