When I neared the highest point I could take Wen, I dismounted and handed the midnight black stallion to the guard before hurrying along one of the trails that led to some of the ten cave entrances. The two gatekeepers bowed as I passed and fled inside.
Mintale was there before Vanamar’s handler could even finish saddling him, demanding someone prepare his own beast.
“I do not need your reprimanding or sniveling presence right now.”
Mintale clicked his fingers at the handler who was rushing to saddle his mare. “I know. I’m merely here should you need any help.”
That surprised me, and I raised a brow at him. We both knew he would be useless should I need a battle companion. I knew where every spy encampment was to the west stretching toward The Edges and the gray and whispering sea. I would hide myself—probably a lot better without his presence—just fine.
Vanamar grunted, turning his horn-flecked head to the trainer to growl at him for pulling the straps too tight. “Get out.”
The young male vanished, and I got to work on checking the saddle and reins before leading Van to the wider side entrance. The caves tunneled inside the peaks of the twin mountains, the scent of hay and rotting chicken carcasses staining the damp dirt within. Below them, the kingdom spread like glittering jewels hit by a ray of light, rife with energy and dazzling with hidden danger.
Furbanes were Allureldin’s fastest mode of transportation. Though not just anyone got to own a beast for themselves. We bred them, but not often for it was not only difficult but also dangerous, being that the females did not care for it and would try to remove the male’s horns, limbs, or even genitalia. For now, there were only eleven.
Over ten feet tall with a torso of fur that resembled that of a grizzly bear and a feathered wingspan that spread farther than that into the skies, furbanes were horned creatures both feared and envied by many.
Vanamar’s folded wings twitched as we exited the cave, and he opened his mouth, releasing a roar that displayed teeth as long as my arm and shook the snow from the skies. Stuffing my hands into his fur, I hoisted myself into the saddle, then took the reins wrapped around the curled horns atop his head. “Rah.”
He began to run, and within seconds, we were airborne, my stomach dipping as we soared into the harsh glow of early morning. Glancing over my shoulder, I wondered if Mintale had decided to stay behind, but then I heard his bellowed shout. Smirking, I shook my head, my knees clasped tight over Van’s sides as I leaned forward, spurring him to fly faster.
Twisting cobbled streets, shopfronts, estates, and dozens of smoke-throwing chimneys soon faded into dirt roads, cottages, villages, and endless patches of green forest. Our world was a realm of beauty even though we’d done our best to tear it apart.
Smoke rose from campfires to the west, and I beckoned Van east, toward the trade entrance of the Gray Sea. I steeled my spine, hunched down, and we flew higher into the clouds. It would be a day’s journey to The Edges.
To the sole reason Rosinthe was a hostile continent on the cusp of war.
The Whispering Sea churned like a roiling serpent below, and I refrained from holding my breath as we descended and crested the darkening waves.
We’d only heard tales of what lurked beneath its waters, and I had very little desire to find out if they held any truth.
It took what seemed like the entire journey to recognize what it was that had my teeth chattering. For it wasn’t the Whispering Sea, and it wasn’t the cold.
The cold was my friend. Aside from the beast beneath me, perhaps my only one.
No, the emotion that caused it was better left unnamed and ignored.
“We need to leave the beasts behind,” Mintale said, reaching my side, his voice barely carrying over the wind.
“No,” I said. “We won’t be long.”
We sped forward to where the sea narrowed, then fell off a cliff to skirt between the mines. The Edges were home to those who had been exiled or owed the kingdom an unpayable debt. Beyond the minuscule stretch of farmland, tiny village streets wove in every direction toward the sea and the coal mines.
In the center of the dust-saturated land sat a church for the humans who prayed to a different deity, and I wondered, idly, what king or queen before me allowed such a building to exist.
Freedom was something Rosinthe prided itself on. We were a continent under rule, but a continent that welcomed almost anyone and their offspring. Almost anyone.
Our races mixed and were allowed to. Royal children played with human children, and should an unlikely pair link—a lifelong bond only breakable by death—or choose to pledge vows, they were welcome to.