Chapter Eight: Among Auroral Heights

A ribbon slithered on the winds, weaving between the spires of Metir Keviv. The towers there—with their russet shingles and marble exteriors that seem taken straight from some chivalric romance of yore—loom so high above the clouds that one must stop at alcoves along the stairwells to catch one’s breath, or else faint from lightheadedness and go tumbling all the way back down to the city below. So far from the ratways; from the gutters thick with peasantry who stink of sweat and sties; from the undercity, where hundreds of years worth of markets and homes have been built over, allowed to sink down into the soft belly of the earth, where the only light comes from the uncertain flames of lanterns and the air is cool as decay—so far from that Metir Keviv, there is another. In this Auroral City, the air is still as cool, and oft light comes from candles melted upon desks, but here the scent of smoking wicks and dusty parchment clings to the breeze. Here, the Fair Lady of that city sits upon her perch, up among the clouds. And it was there, in her highest tower, that the one who you call Khal Mhuchelván was born. Then, he was called Aren.

I shot up a finger, cutting Cénath before he could finish his breath. “You can’t be serious. You mean to tell me he was born a month’s trek away from his namesake, in a city that speaks an entirely different language, to a mother whose existence is questionable at best, to a peoples who look nothing like him?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘nothing’ like him,” Cénath said. “They are Valkons after all.”

“You need to read some histories.” I wheeled about, letting my cloak flare out in what I hoped was enough of a gesture to keep him off my tail. But sure enough, I caught the click of his boots as he scampered after me.

“Valkon, Paroeken—hardly a difference,” he said, “and what does it matter? Vakyrve T’ver is one of—no, the greatest wielder of Otherworldly powers. You think someone like him wouldn’t have met her? Please, just let me keep telling the story. It’s not terribly long.”

“Fine,” I said, hoping it would swiften his departure. “But make it quick.”

Well, as the story was going before it was so rudely interrupted—alright, alright, make it quick, I know. Anyways, Khal was born to Vakyrve T’ver, Mother of Magic and Fair Lady of the Auroral City. You can quit your snickering, it’s not that unlikely.

He grew up among the many towers of that holy place, playing with the winds and learning all the secrets that his mother had gathered from the many nooks and crannies of the world. He was swift of foot, and often his mother’s advisors would cry out after him as he sped past like the breeze, pale hair streaming out behind him, having nabbed their purses and ledgers and scampered off with a child’s laugh.

“By all accounts he has quite curly hair, you know,” I said, arching my brow. “And it’s black, not blond. You could at least get that right.”

“I’ve never met him. How should I know what his hair looks like? And besides, it doesn’t matter for the story. Now, as I was saying…”

Aren, who would become Khal, studied under his mother for ten years, gathering each and every morsel of esoteric knowledge that he could, until upon his sixteenth name day when, hurrying down a staircase of one of his mother’s myriad towers, he spied through the window slit beside him a young woman strolling past the window of another tower, across the way. At once, his heart was run through by a thorn of love, and he sprinted up to the nearest balcony and leaned out over the railing to catch a glimpse of her, if he could, making her way along. But whether she had gone up or down, he could not tell, and try as he might—searching with hand to his brow—he could not see her, until, beneath him he heard a groan and the buckling of bars. And the railing gave out. He fell.

“You do realize Khal is very much alive, no?”

“You are an impatient one,” Cénath said. “Of course, I do.”

Aren wheeled his arms about and howled as he fell, past the many spires of his mother’s domain, past the halls of Metir Keviv’s nobility, past the chambers of courtiers and maidens fair, past the studies of alchemists and physicians, past marble, past feasts, past silks, past nobility, until the wind lifted about his cloak and he alighted upon the stench-filled streets of the city below, that Metir Keviv he had never known. And never having come to the ground before, the guards did not recognize him, and his mother mourned for the son she had lost, thinking him dead. So he took up that name, Khal, and searched ever in vain for that fair woman he had seen across the way.

“Thank you for the tale,” I said. “It was a wonderful little piece of fiction.”

“Believe it or not,” Cénath said, halting at the midsection of the street that marked the edge of the market district. “It doesn’t bother me either way. But at least you listened. Now, good day, Chronicler. And may the tides be with you.”

“And with you, princeling,” I said. “But you should know he never visited Metir Keviv.”

Cénath shrugged. “I don’t think you know nearly as much as you think you do.”

“Perhaps. But at least I know the color of his hair.”

“Be that as it may…” But Cénath turned about and left without another word.

I watched him walk a ways, sharing a few words with passersby and laughing to himself, then shook my head, gathered up my cloak, and departed south onto the last stretch of my journey, from Féavoll and into the unknown.