Camon went and fetched his things from the building they had slept in the night before. Per Tachol’s instructions, he left anything that was nonessential. He left what provisions that remained with Jorn along with his waterskin and his bedroll. He put on his extra clothes over his other clothes and the rest, he rolled up with his travel cloak in a tight package about his sword, and he returned to the portico. Jorn was chatting with the elf when Camon came back.
“That was quick,” Jorn said.
“It’s easy to get rid of stuff when you don’t have much to get rid of,” he remarked. “I left my provisions for you, and there is a bedroll there too so you can be more comfortable. We should be back in a few days.”
“Indeed, Paladin. Better you getting on that bird than me. And I thought being at the top of the spire was scary.”
Tachol when back to Ahavah and repositioned his saddle and opened his bags behind his saddle. He removed a second mask and goggles for Camon from one bag. He repositioned the bags to reveal a metal bar with stirrups on it, and he came back over to Camon and Jorn. The elf gave the mask and goggles to Camon.
“You’ll need these. The sun can be bright when you’re flying out over the world, and the mask will make it easier to breathe. I wish I had better clothes for you, but that you have on will have to do. I suggest strapping down anything that is loose to keep it from flapping around on you. The tighter you can make it, the more pleasant flying will be.” Camon worked on tucking in his shirt into his pants, securing his collar and cuffs, tucking in his pants legs into his boots, and securing everything he could by tying it back. Tachol inspected him and raised his eyebrows, “Inventive, to say the least.”
They walked over to Ahavah, and Tachol instructed Camon on how to mount the bird and straddle her using the stirrups to hold himself in place. Camon then did precisely as Tachol said, then Tachol, like a cat, climbed up onto the bird. Camon looked at Jorn, saluted him with a gesture, and then put on the goggles over his eyes and the mask over his mouth and nose. Tachol put his cowl back on and replaced his goggles and mask. He leaned forward on the great bird and tapped her shoulder. The bird whirled around and spread her great wings. She flapped them once while she took a few short hops then again before giving one last heave when she left the portico and soared out over the valley to the east. She circled wide back to the south as Jorn watched from the portico. Ahavah turned northwest and gained altitude.
Camon looked out over the land below as they soared higher still. Even the mountains looked low. Eventually, Ahavah leveled off, and they were soaring high on the wind above the ground that seemed to move slowly beneath them, but Camon could feel the wind rushing by. He kept his head down as much as he could behind Tachol and kept his body close to the bird’s back with his arms tucked in. He was beginning to wish he had some gloves to keep his hands warmer, but he just kept them close as he could and buried them in the bird’s feathers.
As the sun got low on the horizon, Tachol gave the signal, and Ahavah started her descent towards the earth. Tachol looked out over the forest below for a place to land. He spotted a meadow in the forest that would make a suitable landing spot for the large bird. After about half an hour of descent, the large bird circled the meadow a few times to learn the terrain. She then went wide and circled back around in a graceful path as she came in just above the treetops. As she came over the meadow, she flared her wings and flapped them against the forward momentum. Camon lurched forward at the sudden drop in speed. She flapped again as her feet met the earth below. As she did, she hopped once before finally stopping and tucking in her wings. Tachol gave her a pat and dismounted, then helped Camon dismount.
Camon’s legs were stiff and aching from crouching on the bird all afternoon, but he stretched them, and the aching soon stopped. He removed the goggles and mask and looked towards the sky.
“Of all the things I’ve ever done, that has to be one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Flying like that is truly wonderful.”
Tachol smiled, “I guess I’m used to it. It’s a way of life for us. I guess the closest thing you have to this would be a horse.”
“I suppose. But a horse seems rather quaint next to this magnificent creature. How is it that the Rakahim tamed them?”
“That’s ancient history, but they started as ravens as part of falconry of the High Born from whom we descend. Through breeding and magic, they were able to make them grow ever larger until one day, and our patron thought perhaps that they could be used for flight, so he continued a program of breeding and magic until he shaped an animal that was large enough to carry an elf. And over time, our people have gotten smaller and lighter, as that’s more conducive for flight.”
“Incredible, I must say.”
“You did well for never having flown on one before. You’re also the first human I’ve ever flown.”
“There’s a first time for everything. It feels good to be out of the mountains’ cold and back on the flat ground again, though.”
“You should rest,” Tachol said. “Tomorrow will be much longer. We will cross near Maenamsam early and may even make it to Neuasut by nightfall.”
“It’s incredible to think that a journey that would take weeks or months on a horse can be made in a day or so with flight.”
“We cover in an hour what would take a fast-moving horse a day to cover,” Tachol said.
“What I wouldn’t give to have a bird like this,” Camon said.
“It’s possible to learn to fly. That’s not hard. But caring for them is difficult. The culture of the Rakahim centers around the care of these creatures. You saw that back there on the mountain. The rookeries, the city – everything is about making sure that they are cared for and maintained. And in turn, they give us access to the world. They also protect from its dangers by enabling us to live in the high places.”
“I see,” Camon said. “Something to dream about anyway. I need to find some food. I won’t be long.” Camon went into the forest and foraged, finding some tubers and edible mushrooms, which he brought back to the meadow. He ate them while Tachol unsaddled Ahavah and inspected and groomed her feathers. After they were done, Camon lounged back and quickly fell asleep.
He awoke the next morning, and Tachol was up already preparing Ahavah for flight. He resaddled her and repositioned his bags between his saddle and Camon’s.
“I repositioned my bags to keep some of that wind off of you today, hopefully,” the elf said. “Whenever you are ready to leave, just say the word.”
“I’m going to go back to the forest and get some more of those mushrooms to eat, but we can leave after that.”
Camon went and foraged again, coming back with a sack full of mushrooms. He ate them quickly and then told Tachol he was ready. Tachol helped Camon onto the bird and mounted himself. They both replaced their goggles and masks, leaned forward, then Tachol tapped Ahavah. She spread her wings and took a mighty hop as she screamed. She beat her wings several times, hopping along the way before she lifted off the ground, working her wings hard as she went forward. She came to the end of the meadow, cleared the tree line, and relaxed her rhythm, climbing more slowly. She then turned towards the northwest, climbing upwards.
They climbed high above the earth again with the sun to their backs. Camon then spotted the Great River running south as they soared over it, then spotted the North River’s confluence with the Great River at Maenamsam. They soared over the city below and left it going ever towards the northwest. By midday, they were in the wilderness well outside of Maenamsam headed for Neuasut. Camon recalled this land as he had tracked the demon across it. They saw clouds rolling into the west, so Tachol tapped Ahavah, and she went higher. Before long, they were soaring above the clouds, unable to see the earth below. Ahavah didn’t seem to mind and continued as if she knew exactly where to go. The sun arced across the sky from morning into the afternoon, then from afternoon into evening, finally setting while they were still in flight. The light of the moons showed brightly on the cloud tops. Far off to the north, Camon could see the arouras dancing in a light show that looked like magic to him.
Tachol then gave the bird a tap, and she started a descent. They soon disappeared beneath the cloud tops, masking the light of the moons. The gray turned to blackness, and then he could feel rain beating against his face. They dipped down below the clouds, and Camon could make out the Imperial highway that stretched along the way towards Neuasut, and he then saw the town aglow with lights. Ahavah circled high above the city then descended yet further. She circled back towards the east and skimmed over the treetops and emerged over the fields to the north of the town. She turned slightly southwest and then flared her wings and landed with a few bounces on the forest’s edge well away from the city.
The rain was drizzly once they stopped. Tachol dismounted and then helped Camon. Camon removed the mask and goggles, and Tachol did the same.
“Here we are. I hope this was worth it,” Camon said.
“I’d better let Ahavah get out of view. She’s sure to create a stir if anyone sees her.”
“She will come back to you?” Camon asked.
“We are linked by magic in the way that your seers can link with animals,” Tachol explained. Tachol patted her, and she hopped and took flight towards the north. Camon unrolled his pack and put on his sword and travel cloak.
“You’d better stay back for now. An elf in these parts is likely to cause a stir too. I will come for you when I know it is safe.”
“I can respect that,” Tachol said.
Camon turned towards the town and walked briskly across the field towards the north gate. The drizzly air soaked his clothes and cloak, but he kept moving ever more intentionally. He got to the gate, and it was still open. He entered without as much of a glance from the guard posted there. He went down the broad avenue, then down a side street to avoid the main square at the town center. He crossed the main avenue leading west out of the town and into the southwest quarter. He found Somchai’s house and inspected it from afar before approaching. He observed lights in the windows, so he breathed heavily and approached the home, walking slowly and purposefully down the street. He came to the gate, opened it, and walked to the front door, standing in the drizzle for a moment longer. He then reached for the large wrought iron knocker on the door and pounded it several times.
Moments later, Camon heard a rustling, then the big wood door opened, and before Camon stood Somchai.
“May I help y—,” He started. “Camon?”
“Yes, it’s me,” Camon said.
“Do come in. Out of the rain. Quickly now,” Somchai said.
Camon stepped into the house, and Somchai closed the door behind him.
“Who is it?” Lamai asked from the other room. Somchai didn’t answer. He instead brought Camon into the home, and Lamai turned to face him and stopped dead in her tracks staring in disbelief.
“Good to see you, Lamai,” Camon greeted.
“Goodness!” she said. “Please, let me get your cloak and get you a towel.” She rushed off and returned with a dry towel. Camon removed his cloak and toweled himself off. “Tea?” She asked.
“Yes, please,” Camon answered.
Lamai brought some freshly brewed hot tea to Camon and handed him the cup. Just then, Camon heard footsteps coming from upstairs. He turned, and Rune came into the room.
He looked at Camon and then at Somchai then bellowed, “Get him out of here!”
“Rune, if he’s here, it’s for a reason. He wouldn’t be calling on a rainy night if he didn’t.”
“I don’t care. He has nothing good to say. Not for any of us,” Rune said.
“Rune, I don’t like to pull rank, but if I must, I will,” Somchai said. “This is my house, and I get to say who is welcome and who is not.”
“Well, if it has anything to do with my wife and my son, then it’s out of the question,” Rune said.
“A son. Congratulations,” Camon exclaimed.
“Rune and Ratana are the proud parents of a son, Mahn,” Lamai boasted.
“Save your breath,” Rune mumbled.
“Why are you here, Camon?” Somchai asked.
“It’s about Achara.”
“What do we have to do with Achara?” Lamai asked.
“You might want to sit down,” Camon said. He looked at Rune with a glare and said, “It’s a long story, and I will tell you everything.”