Monday, December 14, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Ar, Part Two

Dardaniel marched down to the cavernous chamber housing the Haakens’ skyships, and lingered at the entrance. Immense white marble columns and stained glass windows stretched to lofty heights where pointed arches formed an elegant vault. Under the glimmer of pale golden globes levitating in the vast dimness, the main horizontal boom, to which the Prince of Ar was tethered, extended above the azure-hued, mirror-like floor. The heavy galleon, Widdemar’s black and red flagship, floated in its moorings thirty feet from the floor, slowly swaying from an unseen and unfelt breeze. Well above its main mast, smaller booms held two smaller vessels. One was Feldorian’s tiny racing yacht, the Archonian Shadow, famous from the time Dardaniel’s father competed in flying regattas. The other was the Silver Cloud, a mid-size skyship the remainder of the family used for errands simple magic could not satisfy.

Dardaniel observed his valets, Malvolian and Feyward, glide effortlessly up a staircase spiraling between two slender pillars. Queasiness gripped him as they raced to the top and proceeded across the Silver Cloud’s narrow boarding plank. His legs felt like cotton, and merely gazing at the vault high above the skyships made Dardaniel’s discomfort grow even worse. Unlike his forebears, the wizard suffered from fear of heights, a calamity he’d never revealed to anyone. The nephew of an Air Admiral? The son of an illustrious daredevil? Alas, even his mother’s djinni blood failed him miserably. Dardaniel was convinced it was Ethrenielle’s doing, for he believed she’d secretly inflicted upon him a curse which could not be dispelled and grew worse with time. He loathed flying.

His two aerial servants peered down from the Silver Cloud’s railing, gawking at him. Dardaniel briefly closed his eyes and wiped moisture pearling at his brow. He would no more climb up those unguarded stairs than he’d fly through the air. The mere concept of not standing on a firm surface made him light-headed. “Blast! Hate to waste my best spell this way,” he muttered. Resigned to his fate, he spoke arcane words and popped through a dimensional portal to reappear on the Silver Cloud’s main deck.

Dardaniel could not help uttering a distressed yelp when his feet landed on the skyship’s planking, which he seamlessly turned into a cry of victory at the sight of the aerial servant crew watching him. They glanced at each other with slightly confused expressions. “All right, you know the drill,” bellowed Dardaniel, acting with all the bluster he could command. Somehow, his feigned bravado made him feel more self-assured. “To Grünfold we fly, and by dawn I wish to reach the thickest of glens. By the Fell Winds, do carry on I say!”

Captain Zephylon, a large and grizzled old aerial servant, nodded and ordered his crew to action in his native language, eerily hooting, howling, and hissing like a strange wind prying through a window’s cracks. They flew about the ship to cast off and unfurl the sails from three masts, one upright on the main deck and two outrigger beams protruding below the midship deck. The Silver Cloud glided through a colossal rose window at the chamber’s opposite end. The magnificent stained glass was a grand illusion concealing a wall of force yielding passage only to certain vessels that had been invited in by the House of Haaken.

Dardaniel cringed as the skyship crossed through, but the night’s darkness thankfully masked the dizzying sight of the floating islands of Ar and farmland, thousands of feet lower. The Silver Cloud slipped away into a moonless sky, serene and quiet, save for the creaking of wood and occasional luff of canvas. The wizard took a deep breath and addressed the captain. “I’ll be in my quarters. Send for me if you encounter anything unusual.” Zephylon bowed, stern as a gargoyle.

The wizard promptly retreated into the forward deckhouse and into the lord’s bedchamber. His valets followed him and stood at his door. One advantage of a non-human crew is that they needed no quarters of their own. Aerial servants dwelled in the air, around the sails or in the ship’s wake, not always visible to a naked eye. They performed well-enough as retainers and feared naught but the worst of storms. Dardaniel wondered for a fleeting moment whether they ate and slept, and quickly discarded the incongruous thought as pointless and irrelevant. He dropped on to the edge of the bunk, relieved by the sight of surrounding bulkheads, firm planking beneath his feet, and a solid overhead. It occurred to him that perhaps he also suffered from agoraphobia to some degree. As he pondered the concept, his eyes were drawn to a lantern hanging from the ceiling. Swaying back and forth, it betrayed the skyship’s soft pitch and roll, inducing another unpleasant sensation in pit of the wizard’s stomach. Fighting off hints of nausea and the nagging realization that air sickness would make everything infinitely worse, Dardaniel lay down and sank his face into a silken pillow embroidered with the arms of Haaken.

To be continued.