Chapter 46: Heroes and Nomads

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The desert of Pehmato (westernmost region of Gyoto)

The river lay so, so far below.

“I don’t want to jump,” said Demys.

“Coward,” said his cousin Odas.

“Coward!” echoed others around him, although he couldn’t see their faces. He couldn’t look away from the river that ran alongside the outer wall of the palace, several stories down. Except it looked even farther than that―as far down as a bird would see it, and further below with every passing heartbeat.

Demys clenched his hands, gripping feathers. Massive muscles moved beneath him. He tore his eyes from the river and saw that he rode on the back of a golden bird. Its feathers shone with the rising sun, the tips of its wings and its tail tinged pink. Odas and the others had vanished. Demys tightened his legs around the bird’s chest, terrified of falling, but after a moment realized that he tilted neither left nor right, and felt perfectly balanced despite the beating of gigantic wings on either side.

What secrets do you wish to know, Earth Prince? said a voice in his head that reminded him of dewdrops, early morning chill, and the quiet stillness of dawn when it found him studying alone in the Academy library in Amrato-feg. I know your heart better than you do. I know your weaknesses and your strengths, and I know what you will come to. I know other men’s hearts as well. I know who will betray you and who will love you, who will serve you and who will kill you. What do you wish me to tell you?

“That’s rather a lot,” said Demys. “How many questions will you answer?”

Only one, said the dawn bird. But one will suffice, if you ask the right question.

A screech drew Demys’ gaze upward. He saw a hawk flying overhead, its talons glinting. “It seems I know that bird,” he said. “But it wasn’t a bird before. What was it?”

That’s not a good question, said the dawn bird. You already know the answer.

Demys looked back down at the sharp, majestic head of the bird that carried him. “Where did the Pehm nomads put your brother’s egg?”

The nomads did not steal it.

“Then who did?”

You’re still not asking the right question, Demys Myagadhar.

The roof of a tent faded into view above Demys’ eyes. He blinked, remembering where he was, and glanced around him. Judging by the light that he could see through the sides of the tent, it must be around dawn―just like in his dream.

For the past four nights, he had slept better, he felt, than he had ever before in his life. Well fed and with a comfortable pile of furs to cover himself with and rest on, he had sunk into dreamless, restful sleep every evening after supper. Except for last night. But the dream hadn’t been a bad one. He only wished it hadn’t confused him so much.

His tent would have fit four or more times in his sleeping chamber in the palace at Amrato-feg, not to mention in his entire suite. But after the open desert, the tent felt like the Peaceful Lands, where the priests said the purest souls became one with God.

Gyara and her men had ridden for days. Demys had lost count. He thought it had been longer than a week, but less than two. Demys had had more trouble staying on the horse they had given him than on Bhoro, and in his weakened state he had fallen off so often that they had to tie him to his saddle. They had ridden hard, and Demys had not managed to keep any food in his stomach for long. He had slipped in and out of feverish dreams.

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