Gemini Queen (Volume 1) The Brands of Fate

Journeying to South Riceal, I

Valon adjusted the armor as Valena sat on his bed. He remembered wearing it on once and never having a chance to wear it much after his initial training days, so it had remained in his closet since he’d gotten the set. It fit him just as well as it had then, though he had little use for it now that he was so well trained and definitely wasn’t going to battle. 

The Bjori crest emblazoned on the chestplate made him smile. In another life, he would have been a knight mage of Bjori, or at least expected to lead the army to battle alongside Valena, but Valena had never taken much interest in the martial arts of their country. Given the established peace, it had never been expected that she would take it up either. 

“I don’t see why you have to go,” Valena said. “Can’t we just send a knight?”

Valon looked at her, “We’ve been over this, Valena.”

If it turned out the sinaki had decided to betray her family’s oath to the throne or something else had been happening, the only person who could contain them was an emira by issuing the royal command to the keep, trapping them there without the ability to use magic or get messages out.

“One of us has to go and you are not martially trained.”

“You’re not a mage.”

He rolled his eyes, “I am a mage, Val’. Ezra will look after you while I am gone, and I will be back soon.”

Valena hung her head, “What if something happens?”

“Sir Uriet and Sir Argan will be with me in my unit along with two or three other knights. I won’t be unprotected.”

He kneeled and lifted her chin, “You know why I have to go. If this is a ploy or an attack, the beginnings of an issue, we need to know and end it now.”

Sending a mage would be useless as they would just be conscripted to control the incident.  It was supposed to be a simple relief mission, A mage powerful enough politically and magically to arrest the sinaki would cause alarm. A knight wouldn’t exactly know what to look for and if the knight sent was bought off in the midst, he could be a liability. If Valon could get there and remain hidden for as long as possible, it would go a long way to getting the answers they needed.

Valena sighed and nodded, “Okay…. What about the gollums then? You can’t control them both from so far away. It’ll drain you.”

“They should be fine until I return. I installed memory and leviathan gems in both of them. There won’t be any council convenings in my absence and even if there are, you’ll be fine.”

“Val’,” Valena said and he took her hands. “I…”

“Do you trust me?” She nodded. “Then, trust me. You were great at the tea, the council chambers are just like that but sitting down.”

She sighed and nodded, “Okay… I’ll do my best.”

“You’ll do great, I know you will. If you’d like, you can take our dear brother. That will shut them up.”

Valena perked up, “That isn’t a bad idea.”

He shook his head and finished adjusting the armor, hiding the Bjori royal pins to his veil in his hair. After applying a glamor over his eyes so they appeared as dark as his father’s had been, he cast a charm on his voice, pitching it a bit higher than usual then his hair until it was a bright blonde. With his bag packed free of any royal sigils, he snuck out of their chambers and down to the main courtyard. 

His gollum walked into the courtyard as he arrived carrying Asher’s sword, wearing his usual training clothes. Valon pet Riquel, a black horse related to Amias and saddled her. Balros guided his horse to him. 

“Stay close to me,” he said. “Can you at least promise me that?”

“Of course,” he said. 

“Your Highness,” Asher’s voice whispered at the back of his mind. He closed his eyes and focused on controlling the gollum appropriately. 

“Mage Duraheim repaired it,” his gollum said, offering it to him. “What do you think?”

He watched Asher hesitate to take it before lifting it from the gollum’s hands. He drew the blade and inspected it. 

“It’s… perfect, Your Highness. Thank you for your consideration.”

The gollum nodded, “I could not have you travel with the band south without your weapon. Safe journey.”

He bowed to the gollum and the gollum walked away from the training pitch. Asher affixed the sword to his belt and led his horse to where the rest of the knights were gathering. The captain called out their shift and unit assignments. Valon was assigned to a unit with Asher, Balros, Quest, and Sir Philip Acosta.

“Sir Uriet,” Asher greeted, “An honor to be serving with you.”

“Sir Milrac!” Balros greeted, “No need for such formalities. This is Sir Esther.”

He bowed, “A pleasure, Sir Esther.”

Valon nodded, “The pleasure is mine.” 

Asher nodded and they finished preparing to head out. Valena and Valon’s gollum appeared on the parapets with Ezra and Sir Jupitus, at her side. She regarded them and met eyes with Valon. 

“You journey south to support the southern provinces, but be on your guard. Come back with grace. May Gemini watch over you.”

“Gemini keep you,” he replied with the rest of the knights before Captain Belrose commanded them to move out. He smiled and looked back at Valena with a nod. She nodded back at him and likely watched them leave the castle, heading through the city and south. 

If he remembered, the terrain between north Bjori and south Bjori would grow less treacherous the sooner they left the north. He looked out over the water and saw the banners of well wishes across the great bridge that linked the east and west side of Bjori’s capital city. 

They exited the city and took the southern road as fast as they could manage, watching over the caravan of food and keeping aware of the dangers. 

When they passed through the north’s main gate, he felt himself almost relax. Traveling through the heart of Riceal might have its own dangers, but the farther they were from the Hydra’s Teeth, the less likely they were to run into any sort of trouble that they couldn’t handle. 

“Are you alright?” Balros asked softly. 

Valon chuckled, “I’m on a horse and you’re still not happy?”

He huffed and turned to speak with Asher as they continued down the road. 

They stopped in the forest and set up camp for the night. The forest lit up around them as they ate their rations and stood watch in shifts. Their team was tasked with filling their water canteens and headed to the nearby stream. The water glowed from the bioluminescence of the foliage nearby. He observed it and grinned recognizing some of the plants. 

Drawing his dagger, he cut the leaves just so and tapped the stalks of the flowers to collect the seeds. He took a sample of the soil as well and tucked it away in the bag at his waist. 

“What are you doing?” Asher asked, his eyes were curious. 

“Medicinal plants are hard to come by,” he said. “Knowing what I know of the knights of Bjori, the more the better.”

“I resent that!” Balros called. Valon laughed, whispering a thanks to Gemini over the brambling bush. It wiggled in the light, accepting his prayer. 

“You’re a mage…” Asher gasped.

“I am,” he said before gathering the canteens he’d refilled.

Before they headed back, he noticed the vine dripping over the river and shoved the canteens into Balros’ hands. 

“What now?” Balros asked as Valon, leaped to catch the nearest branch of the tree. 

“What is she doing?” Asher asked. 

“Gemini knows,” Balros replied as Valon inched along and lifted his legs to wrap around the tree and hang upside down. As he grew closer, he grinned, more assured than he had been before. 

“It is our lucky day,” he said, reaching for a flower on the vine. 

“What does that mean?”

“Aquarius vines are rare,” he said, carefully placing the flower in stasis. “They produce the purest water with several beneficial properties, but more importantly, they ward off bees.”

“Like moonstone?”

“Much like it. They say before moonstone was found, they would irrigate cemeteries using water from aquarius vines.”

The royal cemetery used it for the annual blessings around the cemetery. If he could grow it in his garden, he could irrigate it for better magical quality.

He filled one of his specimen vials with water from the vine and whispered another thanks before climbing down. 

“You know a great deal about medicinal plants,” Asher said. 

Valon smiled, “It’s… a hobby.”

Balros snorted, “Whatever.”

Valon took his canteens back and they returned to camp. 

“We’ll reach the central cardinal gate by midday tomorrow if all things go well. Keep your wits about you. There’s been word that the storm to the south has begun to affect the forests and the land. It may not be the Hydra’s Teeth, but it is not the land it used to be.”

Valon worried his lip. It was apparently more serious than he first believed.

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