Dova wound the cloak more tightly
around his body and leaned closer to the neck of the horse,
scrunching up his shoulders against the harsh morning wind. The fog
obscured his vision, making him furrow his brows.
He didn’t like this, not one bit. What he couldn’t see, the other side couldn’t either. Not that it mattered much. In this war-ridden country, what did it matter what your eyes were showing you? They had dared to kill the Valhyn, what more a simple man like him.
Still, this was his last hope so even at the risk of his own death, he would go. At the very least, what awaited him here would be a quick one, instead of the slow demise the other side was offering, where everything he held dear might be stripped away without warning, slowly but surely torturing him until he breathed his last in a war he had been born into without having asked to.
Dova tightened his grip around the reins and took a shallow breath. Whenever he thought of what they had announced half a year ago, he would once again be filled with red hot anger. What nonsense! They could not outlaw love. Did the Cejta not understand that they were only driving their men to rebel?
He sighed when that thought crossed his mind and tried to regain his calm. If he went to the north still burning with rage, they might have second thoughts about his motifs.
Dova glanced over his shoulder, back to the northern states of Ellysrha where he had grown up or, well, from now on that would be the south to him. There lay pain in his gaze but he saw no other way. He sighed again and turned back, determination entering his eyes when he spurred on his horse.
The hooves swirled up the fog, making it dance around him, but they did nothing to clear the path in front of him. He just followed his memory of where the northern court was supposed to lie. Finally, the border of Elhan appeared in front of him.
His heart raced while his mouth turned dry and he glanced around furtively. If they found him before he crossed the border, he would be put to death. He knew there were patrols, he knew there were guards. Running into one of them … it was much too easy.
Just then, the fog around him seemed to intensify, shielding him from view. Dova raised his head, looking around more openly. He almost wanted to stop but he did not dare to. He gritted his teeth and once again spurred on his horse.
"Just wait. Just wait for me."
He didn’t know when he passed the border. He just rode on, the rhythmic sound of the hooves dull in the endless gray plain. Finally, he heard sounds up front. He squinted and stared ahead, hoping to see something to make sure whether this was friend or foe.
A sound escaped his lips when that thought crossed his mind and he almost wanted to laugh at himself. Friend or foe? How would he tell? A deserter like him, right now, there was no friend on either side.
The fog slowly cleared and then, abruptly, the horse jumped and he was out in the open, staring at the mountain range in front of him and the castle halfway up. He gulped again and glanced over his shoulder but there was still thick fog behind him. He could even see the place he had come from like a gate to another world.
Dova shuddered but then turned back to the front. He slowed down the horse and finally, he even dismounted and walked forward, the reins clasped tightly in his hand.
He had not gone far when a voice sounded behind him. "Dova of Soaran’s court, what are you doing here?"
Dova whirled around, reaching for his weapon. To know his name and the place he came from … this person had to know him. But then when he turned, he saw a man wrapped in a black cloak, the hood hiding his face. He had no idea who this was.
The man gave a faint huff that almost sounded like a laugh. "The wind told me."
At this, Dova actually took back his hand and his shoulders sagged. "You are of the Aldhar? I apologize for my reaction. You scared me."
The man didn’t say either way and only looked at him from under the hood. "Why are you here? Aren’t the men of Elhan too proud to send a spy?"
Dova tilted his head to the side, unable to look at the other man. The Aldhar were on the other side, whatever side that now was. A deserter like him … even an Aldhar might not understand.
He took a deep breath and then sighed just as deeply before he looked back. "I am no spy. I am simply a man in love. And while I love my country, I love that person more. So I am sorry but with how things are, I cannot go on any longer. When you go back … please don’t tell them. He is still out there and I am afraid …" He shook his head, not wanting to say it as if the words alone could make the worst possibility come true.
The other man slowly nodded. "You are turning sides because of the law they laid down. Well, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. I do not fault you. Since you have made the decision, go on then."
The man motioned toward the castle but Dova still hesitated. He glanced over there but then still turned back to the man. "You seem to know about these things. Do you … do you know if they turn them away?" His gaze was hopeful. The Aldhar did not lie for fear of losing their powers so whatever this man was willing to say, it had to be the truth.
The man looked up at the gray walls, his face still covered by the shadows beneath the hood. "Do they? That might depend. Do you truly want to join their side?"
Dova hesitated at that. Did he want to? It wasn’t that easy to say. His brows furrowed and he lowered his gaze, staring at the ground that did not seem different here compared to how it had looked in Elhan. This country of theirs … how had it come to be split like this?
When he looked up again, he could only sigh. "I would be happy if there was no war and I never thought it wrong to support the Cejta since the Valhyn himself had it created. But they are taking our freedom now and I am not willing to follow along with that. I think it wrong. For the first time, I think they are wrong.
"Maybe all this time, Rhaen Arias was able to see something we couldn’t. Maybe there was indeed something about the Cejta that should have tipped us off even before this. I don’t know. I simply don’t know anymore. But I know I will not regret this decision. That, I know for sure."
The man nodded and then motioned over to the castle again. "You should go then. Just remember this: Some things might better be left unsaid. The creation of the Cejta being one of them. Say to the wrong person that the high family was alright with it and you might come to regret that."
Dova nodded, thankful for the advice. To be honest, he was afraid to slip up. If everything worked out as intended, then he would not only be responsible for his own life but Thaim’s as well. How could he take that lightly? "I will keep that in mind."
Dova nodded again and then turned around, his gaze focused on that castle in the distance. In the end, that Aldhar had not given him a true answer to his question. Maybe he hadn’t known or maybe he hadn’t wanted to say. Whatever it might be, Dova still knew that he could not turn back. No, that option had long been left behind.
He got closer to the mountain range and finally, he saw the guards on patrol outside. They looked at him and paused in their round. Dova stopped in his tracks as well, waiting for how they would react. His fingers around the reins clenched and he gulped, silently praying to Eloindha that he would make it out alive.
The guards exchanged glances and then, they made their way over, spreading out to encircle him. "What are you doing here?" the one in front asked.
Dova forced himself to keep calm and looked at the man directly. "I came to join you." He did not explain further, feeling that it wouldn’t be the right thing to do at this point in time.
The Aldhar were different from the Velheyn. To talk about his feelings with one of them didn’t seem too strange to him. Instead, he had felt calm and collected after the first shock wore off. He wouldn’t have minded telling that man more.
In this case though, he was worried. It might be prejudice on his side but he felt like the Velheyn did not deal as well with feelings. It might be the pride in their bones that kept them from doing so. To admit feelings was to admit a weakness and even more so if the recipient of those feelings was a half-blood like Thaim.
He was ashamed to admit to it now but when they met, when he found out about his heritage, he had looked down on him for his birth. And when he realized that he was already falling in love, he had been unable to comprehend it, lashing out instead. If this was his own reaction, then how could he expect these men to understand?
The guards looked at him doubtfully but they did not attack immediately. This should be a good sign.
Dova did not dare to heave a sigh of relief just yet though. The one in charge just seemed to be thinking about how to deal with him. He had not come to a decision yet and until he did, there was no reason to be happy.
The guard finally looked at the others and then motioned at Dova. "Mind if we search you then?"
Dova shook his head. "Of course not." He raised his hands, making clear that he would not attack.
Two of the guards walked over, the first one taking his sword from him while the other searched for other weapons. When they were sure that he was weaponless, they searched him more closely and then took a look at the horse. When they had made sure that there was nothing suspicious on him, they nodded at the man in charge.
He stared at Dova in return, his eyes cold. Who knew how often somebody had come here, pretending to want to join their rebellion while they were actually just spies? In war, everything was possible and this war had gone on for much too long. Who could you really trust anymore?
Finally, the man tilted his head to one of the guards. "We’ll let you in but somebody else will have to make the decision whether you can stay." And whether he could stay alive most importantly.
Dova nodded, still holding up his hands. He turned to look at the guard the man had just indicated and then held out his hands when he saw the rope he was holding. Clearly, they weren’t taking any chances.
Seeing him comply without questions, the men seemed to relax slightly but they still bound his hands tightly and then tugged, making him follow along while they made their way up the path to the gray castle on the mountain.