Midsummer memories: Shorthand for the gloss that time, distance, and circumstances can add to simple recollection. We recall the summer celebrations of our youth as times of untainted happiness. There were never untimely storms during our youthful Festivals of the Air, our kites and gliders were always the best, the brightest, the highest-flying. The feasts always had the best food and drink, the music’s remembered harmonies are unmatched by later song.
As you get older, your appreciation of the holiday is tempered by adult realities. It’s easier to recall the year the windstorms cancelled the balloon race, and the year the roasting pit collapsed, and the times you couldn’t celebrate at all because responsibilities interfered. The years when things all went well fade into a blur, for they could never match the midsummer memories of youth.
But as we topped the rise beyond the Ylui gorge, with the Yris valley spread below us, glowing in the midday sun, the distant view of Carn Yris and the Vale of Bellflower and the pale slender tower of the Yimsin Chancel promised a last, halcyon Festival of the Air. I wonder now, if we’d known then that it was to be the last, would the mingled strands of memory hold more pleasure and less pain, or the other way around?
We would not make the short distance from the ridge top to Carn Yris by daysend—I could have walked it easily, and a rider on a decent mount could have been there by midafternoon—but there is no slower mode of travel than that forced by a Royal Progress. I had been fighting my impatience all the way, for I was impatient to leave the Royal retinue behind in Bellflower, and take the Hasve Trail east through the Ymravath hills to the Falarin River.
The Falarin River, jewel of the east, highway to the Queen of the Falarin, most beautiful among cities, Fahalanahr. I’d not seen it for ten years. I supposed another ten days or so was not too long to wait. I had hoped to be there for the Festival, when the Royal Household set out from Aurora City, more than forty days past, but then I’d no experience with the massive logistical nightmare that is a Royal Progress.
When the King travels on Progress, expecting to be away from the end of the Minor Session until the Little Storms blow him back to Aurora, the Household must travel with him—all the key functions of government, from the Court of Justification to the Privy Purse and even the College Secretariat. And the King’s personal Household, although Jeraint travels comparatively light. And the Household Militia. And the detachment of Guardians, with their equipment, including a jetcar hovering ridiculously at a near-standstill over the slow-moving mass. And the crowd of hangers-on, and travelers-with, everyone from minor scions of various Great Houses, appointed by their Holders to keep an eye on Royalty, to Guild representatives and Council heralds from Charter Cities, pursuing a whole range of agendas.
Jeraint, thirty-ninth High King of Veran, was making no effort to push the pace. He was young enough—barely thirty—to endure the exhausting regimen of travel, interspersed with the still more exhausting regimen of seeing and being seen at every stop on the road. He did not, unlike his uncle before him, content himself with a short stay at the nearest Great House, major Guild House, or House Minor, with a pro-forma inspection of each’s balance and a lavish meal or two.
No, we’d already stopped in dozens of small House Towns, visited mines, reclamation plants, forestry camps—he’d even spent a day with the poolers of Clearwater House, taking daybreak meal with them at the barracks, and joining them at their project site, splashing happily about passing along building materials for the retaining wall they were installing at a fishing pier. He was holding up well, but some members of the Household were showing distinct signs of wear.
Still, we had picked up the pace a bit the last few days, taking barges down the Mirissi River from Gallyvaran Pass, in order to be at Bellflower for the Solstice Hunt. I was of two minds whether to stay with the progress through the entire festival, or whether to leave the morning after the Hunt Feast to continue east for Fahalanahr. I wasn’t part of the Household, but I had been trying to make myself useful to the College Secretariat; at least enough to earn my travel accommodations under their auspices. The last thing they needed was another newly-minted Adept with barely-adequate clerical skills rattling around among the deedboxes, but I had the recommendation of senior faculty. And even a retired King’s Champion rates some accommodation.
So they suffered me, and I acquired a first-hand view of the more mundane functions of a Herald’s Court, tracking life-tenancy transfers and grant dispositions, recording census data, preparing memoranda for research, archiving personal testaments, and other such minutiae. A far cry from the more glamorous functions I’d trained for, but every small datum of knowledge has its value.
I was walking beside one of the big wagons loaded with deedboxes and other Secretariat impedimenta, near the middle of the baggage train. It had been dry enough to make even a well-maintained trail like the Hasve a little dusty, so I had hauled my old bernus from the pack. Its folds protected my nose and mouth from the dust, but I caught more than one amused glance from the drovers.