By the time Benda awoke groggily the next morning, the sun was up and Eradus had already risen and prepared a bit of stew.
“To fortify us for the climb ahead,” he said, handing Benda a bowl, who took it, wiping sleep from his eyes.
Benda noticed that their golek mounts, Dema and Selef, had an air of unusual contentment. Though their wild sable counterparts were nowhere to be seen. Eradus explained this was because they had found raisla in the others, a deep recognition of kinship — one which transcends familial ties, history, geography, circumstance.
“We say that finding raisla makes the bell of the heart toll,” said Eradus. “We hear and are heard. One sets the other ringing.”
“Bells ringing,” Benda repeated, his mind floating off to some sense memory still shrouded in mist.
“That’s right. Finish up, and let’s get on!”
They struck camp, and rode with Dema and Selef to the foot of the mountain, the Cloudspire at its peak growing ever larger in their awareness. When they reached its base, Eradus dismounted, and motioned for Benda to do the same.
“We’ll leave them here, to find their raisla,” Eradus said. “They’ll find nothing better up that mountain and spire — but perhaps we will! Come then.”
The goleks nudged them affectionately, and Selef made a few huffing noises and chirps, which made Eradus laugh.
“Is that right?” he exclaimed.
Benda, scratching the scruff of Dema’s neck, turned to him. “What?”
“He just told me something,” said Eradus.
Eradus looked surprised. “You don’t know?”
“Forgive me, my dear Lost,” Eradus laughed. “I quite forget myself. Selef, he spoke to me in the tongue of his people.”
“I didn’t know they could talk. Well, what did he say?”
“He told me that the chief of their raisla, Machef, asked them why they travel with two kings…”
“Two kings,” Benda laughed. “What does that mean?”
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we, First Minstrel?”
Benda pondered what could be the meaning of this as he patted Dema’s soft hair on the tuft of her head one last time lightly, before turning them loose.
“They say goleks never lie. They never learned how,” Eradus said as Selef and Dema scampered away over the fields to join their raisla.
The two began their ascent along a rough trail which lead up into the embrace of the mountain.
“In any event, they’ll find us upon our return.”
They climbed then all that day and the next, camping light with no fire for two nights. The second night was cold, and Benda wrapped his cloak tightly around him. On the third morning, they rose briskly, and before the sun had risen to its zenith, they reached the base of the ancient crumbling city which formed the base of the Cloudspire. Benda saw it then, towering over him, and imagined himself high atop it, looking out over the sea. Somewhere in his mind, a parallel memory glimmered temporarily into awareness as if through a half-shuttered crystal, and fluttered away again.
Circling high above, they saw a great bird of prey against the crisp blue air, an eagle.
“I have seen this bird, I think,” said Benda. “Perhaps from the corner of my eye.”
“Perhaps in dream,” replied Eradus. “These past few nights, since we’ve entered his domain, he has no doubt been watching.”
They trudged on through the city, which was built into a naturally-occurring cleft in the mountain’s peak, which spiraled upward into seamless fusion with the base of the towering Cloudspire.
At the lower levels were empty storehouses with crumbling rooms, and the ruins of residences, long abandoned. They climbed on. Higher up were more stately buildings, with ornate columns and facades, but no less ravaged by time, and the hand of a whispered lingering violence which once shook this place. And then the base of the Cloudspire itself, a kind of ziggurat in form, accessible via a thin staircase which lead ever upward along the slightly inclined face.
They reached a plateau. From there, the sea opened up all around below them, though the mainland was obscured behind the spire. They noticed too, the eagle circling high above them still, but closer now, closer.
Up they went, another narrow staircase, a false step on which might send one tumbling back down at least to the lower level, if not the curling city below. But no false steps did they make, and when they reached the next level, they rested.
It was well past midday.
“There’s no telling how far up still we have to go,” said Eradus. “Or what we’ll find up there, as the day’s shadows lengthen into dusk and darkness.”
“You’re right, of course,” admitted Benda.
“Let’s circle round this platform to find the spire’s entrance, and we can reconnoiter what lies ahead.”
So they circled round the platform, their eyes on the sheer stone wall of the spire in the center, which stuck up like a bony finger. They circled once, and saw no trace, nor marks where a door or other entrance might be. They circled twice — for good measure — and found still nothing.
“How can this be?” said Eradus bemused “Though we’ve been here only a short time, look the hour grows late, now. And we’re no closer to the goal than before.”
“Perhaps there’s a trick to it,” said Benda. “Let’s look one last time.”
And so they circled thrice the bony finger of the spire’s base. As they went, Benda began to hum a wordless tune that came to him spontaneously. They could see now the full paranoramic sweep of the sea on one side, and the waters of the Edebian Passage far below, and the Kremellian peninsula and its own mountains beyond.
As they completed their third circruit, Benda’s tune built to a crescendo. And nearly just as it did, a secret stair appeared where before there had been none.
Eradus whistled, “Ho, there!”
They did not know its secret then, but this hidden stair had the property that it could not have been visible a moment sooner, nor if they had arrived a moment later, and certainly not without their having thrice circumambulated the axis of the spire’s base.
They took the stair and ascended to the first level. At the top, they found a low arch set in stone, and they passed into it. Inside they found a hollow, and they were very fatigued from their climb, and they immediately fell asleep.
When they woke, it was midnight and outside the low arch, the rays of the full moon beckoned. Benda got up and went out. On the stony landing which made up the first platform, he saw there a very old man with deeply creased, hawk-like features, a short grey beard, and a flowing robe.
He said nothing to Benda, and did not move, but seemed still to acknowledge his presence. Benda, likewise, followed the sharp-eyed gaze of the man off to the far seas. As he looked, he felt that he were seeing a very long way away — an unfathomable distance. And all in an instant, he saw something which shocked him with its familiarity. A great green island in the faraway ocean. A hidden land once revealed and half-forgotten, sprung to life in his heart again, all of a sudden. Quatria.
He said it again to himself in the space of his mind. Quatria. And in so saying it, he woke himself up out of sleep. He was laying in the hollow, behind the low arch. He turned to see if Eradus had heard him cry out, but he wasn’t certain if he’d said the word aloud, or only in dream. The Fifth King, in either case, was sleeping soundly. Benda went back to sleep, and dreamt of the eagle, circling endlessly above them round the spire.