The raven’s wings flutter, heavier than they had felt even just a scant couple hours before. It is used to longer flights, but the encounter with the burning corpse of the Hearthwomb has wracked its nerves and sapped its strength.
It would rest soon, it just had to reach the shores of the Black Lake, the most important stop so far.
Already the dead sands of the Hearthwomb’s resting place give way to nature’s reclamation: the shrubs leaving room for beeches, pines and chestnuts to grow tall and green. As the sun proceeds to drown itself into the sea, the shadows stretch, as if the trees and the farms were pulling them behind themselves.
The raven is growing ever more tired and it seems to stutter and stumble during the flight, but the will behind its eyes is growing more and more excited. She had heard much of the capital, of the shining city of lights and alabaster, and it would soon be time to look upon it with her own eyes, even if shielded by the sight of a steelbeak raven.
Beneath the bird, the farms are growing in size and number, cutting up the countryside in rich lots of tilled land, where people were starting to come back inside for the evening. Many tarry in the fields, picking fruits under the gaze of their rulers, but to the will behind the raven the lack of chains, whips and taskmasters looks puzzling.
How could they fill their quotas then? Is there any secret art behind Anthilian agriculture that makes it more efficient, so much that slaves can be allowed the time for rest?
But no – she realizes in a flash as the raven follows a group of people leaving the fields to come back inside, eating and chattering together as one. These are not slaves…
The raven perches on a nearby tree, looking down at the family meeting up for dinner.
The sight brings her to a moment so far in the past… a moment she has lost forever, since…
The raven lets out a shrill caw and flies away in a flutter of wings, as if the branch had scalded its talons. No need to linger on the past.
She is focused on the future – and the future awaits her just a few miles ahead. The mirror-like surface of the Black Lake cuts through the horizon, appearing between the shoulders of sheer cliffs and pine-covered hills. It stretches in a long westward curve, like a fat sickle. Many towns litter its shores, and even more ports and channels and ships – so many ships! It’s like watching a gathering of seagulls, but their wings do not bend as they cruise the almost-motionless waters of the Black Lake.
The raven reaches now higher, taking a better view of the strings of towns and piers and rows of ships, so many that it seems like the immobile surface of the lake is glittering with spring flowers.
Then it shifts its gaze to the east, and there rises the gates and houses and towers of Carthaza.
The bird slows down, supporting itself with a warm current from the sea as it glides towards the alabaster towers; beneath it, the hustle from the city’s population rise in a confused mumble and chittering, as do the various smells, especially those of roasting meat. The raven hesitates, instincts taking over for a moment. It has indeed been a while since it last ate – and if it does not, it is going to grow weaker and weaker and ultimately useless.
But it cannot risk to be seen – the city has a thousand eyes and more. And ravens this south, and in the capital? A bad omen.
Therefore, it perches on top of a brazen blade sprouting from the black dome of the one alabaster towers and looks down. The will behind its eyes opens her mouth in wonder. As far as she can see, there is no sign of slave-mills, or burning forges and chants of sacrifice and glory. All she can see is white-padded streets, courtyards ripe with fruits, domed houses and right in the centre, the six-sided towers that were put there right after the Capsizing.
She has seen the might and pride of the Anthilians – she has seen their mistakes and their folly. But in this place, she can also see their majesty and a shadow of their glory, the last forgotten echo of a people who used to have their home at ever corner of the heart. A people who shaped flesh and mind and stone better than any other before or since. A people that held the globe in the palm of their hands and decided how fast it would spin.
The wind catches the raven’s wings. It lets out a low caw as if in challenge, but the people below, filling the streets with their colorful robes and their myriad of affairs and trades and chatters have little time for a bird’s call above the towers. It’s unlikely they can even hear it.
The raven sits on the dome and waits for the last few drops of sunlight to bathe the hillside. The Black Lake, faithful to its name, grows ever darker, its Stillwater cruised by boats. Many are setting for the port, while others, carrying candles and lamps, head out to fish. Others yet reach for the channels and rivers flowing out of the wide lake, carrying with them their precious shipments.
This is the pulsating heart of the Land of the King. The last remnant of the empire that once could build such wonders as the Hearthwomb, and that now grows like a mold over a beautiful marble statue.
And yet – for all their faults, the Anthilians of that evening are not pulling slaves by their collar, they are not using their flesh and their soul as subjects of their cruel amusement, and they are just sharing an evening together, crying and laughing and singing praises to their King.
The will behind the raven lets it rest for a bit.
She does not feel like pushing it anymore. A moment of respite will do it good.
That’s what she says herself as she lets her gaze linger behind the raven’s eyes, gawking at the last refuge of the King’s Men, and wondering if one day, if she plays her cards right, she will be able to walk there in Carthaza herself.
Author’s Notes: thanks for reading.