One Last Quest, Part Five

He woke as the train shivered into the station at Dreamport, the pilot fighting the magic of the rail. Outside the windows, it was gray-drizzle morning, and fine droplets frosted the panes. Cathal stretched. Lachlan levered himself into his chair, aching more than usual. It must be the wet.

The faint rain dampened his hair and stuck in beads to Cathal’s, glittering against the valet’s darker blond. There wasn’t enough to soak, only enough to make clothes cling and chafe, to wet the ground, and slow small puddles collected where the cobbles were uneven. All the greens of the city blazed in the wet: pines everywhere, dark or muted; oaks and ashes with brighter leaves. The City Redwood stood straight and proud with drizzle-slick, bright bark and rosemary needles. Moisture streaked the basalt of the great basin, and of the cliffs all around. Away to the north, across the crater, the bay lay calm, with only the occasional whitecap breaking the rippling blue-gray surface. Here and there, earthy peat smoke, traditional for Dreamport, curled up in rich tails from the forest of chimneys below and around them. The streets bustled, coursing between buildings like veins.

Above everything floated the sound of the falls, tumbling hundreds of feet from the Ennis to the crater floor, there to land in a white torrent. Cathal couldn’t decide where to look first, and seeing his wide eyes shine, Lachlan felt a pinch of regret. Perhaps he should have brought Cathal here before; there were dozens of places the young valet must have longed to see that Lachlan could have shown him.

Lachlan had wasted decades on moldering with his furniture. Of course it wasn’t reasonable to expect anything more from a wreck, but his interest in being one waned by the moment. He was afraid—being out-of-doors, out of his rooms like this, how could it fail to spike his pulse?—but whenever he felt the urge to return to seclusion, he thought of Adeon, and he looked at Cathal, and he thought his fear would pass. When had he let it stop him before he was hurt? Why should he let it stop him now? Why had he ever? So many years.

They went inside, though Cathal had to put the bags down to open the door. “So where are we bound?” he asked.

“Fourteen Emmerick Road, number six.”

“How do we get there?”

“I don’t know,” Lachlan confessed. He stopped short in the middle of the station. When he looked down at the polished granite floor, it reflected his face and body back at him, mocking his resolve. He set his jaw and looked away. “We’ll hail a cab. They’re supposed to know how to get everywhere.” It seemed wrong to get in a carriage so close to their goal. He remembered walking all over with his friends, driving ever nearer to their destinations, opposed by more and still more vicious enemies, but to get in a cab? It wasn’t a proper quest by half.

Still, there were challenges. First they discovered none of the drivers would take them into Old Town—the address, they said, was in Old Town. They weren’t allowed, they explained, to take anyone down into the crater. Cathal looked down at the walkways to the bottom, juggling the bags, forlorn.

“Let’s find lodgings,” Lachlan said. “We need to anyhow. We haven’t come all this way just to turn around and go home as soon as I speak to Adeon.” He hadn’t realized he’d been thinking that way until the words came out, but damned if he would waste the opportunity.

Cathal dropped the bags. It was an accident, Lachlan thought; his valet’s face glowed, so excited that words to describe it didn’t exist. “What will we do?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sightseeing, perhaps. There’s a square with all sorts of fountains, I think. Perhaps the University, and the Royal Palace. Temple Row is something to see. The humans have a dozen gods and goddesses at least, did you know that?”

“I have an idea about it,” Cathal said, picking up the bags, “but you know how it is, don’t you? You think you know something, and then you see for yourself, and you were wrong.”

“That’s so.” He’d thought he knew something about humans until he’d met Mariella, here in Dreamport, and fallen in love with her, and she wouldn’t have him for the longest time—what felt like the longest time. He’d learned just how long five years could feel. “Well, we’ll go and see it. The temples are spectacular, as good as the one at Shirith. I don’t suppose you’ve seen that either.”

“I haven’t.”

He took the chest again and laid it in his lap. “I’d say we’ll go, but I’m sick to death of the People.”

“Can’t blame you.” At last, Cathal got the bags balanced. They stood in wordless communion for two heartbeats, three, and then set out to find lodgings. If there was a moment when Lachlan decided he would not return home, it was this one, but for now it went unmarked, lost in a frustrated blur. They couldn’t find lodgings on the ground floor, no matter how many places they went to inquire—and right near the train station, inns proliferated so abundantly that Cathal joked someone must have scattered a handful of inn seeds.

At last they settled on the one with the widest staircase, a place called the Hunted Hart, and managed to acquire a single room on the first floor. Lachlan ordered breakfast in the common room while Cathal stowed the bags upstairs.

While they ate pickled herring and onions on rich black bread and drank strong coffee, they discussed how best to reach Old Town, whether on one of the footpaths or on the lift. The lift seemed best, in the end; Lachlan wanted to reach Adeon now, today, as soon as they could do it, and any of the paths would be terribly hard work for the both of them.

The falls weren’t far. They could be heard from the Hunted Hart, and as Lachlan and Cathal approached they grew louder and still louder, roaring enough to make talk nearly impossible. In the roped-off waiting area the two tulon forbore speech, but Lachlan saw all he needed in Cathal’s youthful face, in the posture of his body: mouth open at the massive, gleaming gears and pulleys, his fingers trailing the maroon velvet rope at his side. When they boarded, there was more. Cathal all but pressed his nose against the glass window of the pedestrian car as it progressed smoothly down the side of the falls. They passed the other car on its way up, all steel and brass filigree hanging from titanic chains. The lifts moved like the counterweights of a clock, both the passengers’ side and, across the falls, the overwhelmingly huge freight lifts, laden with wagons covered tight against the spray. And all around there was Dreamport: Dreamport the beautiful, Dreamport the great.

As they slid below the level of the Redwood’s needles, the roofs of Old Town spread before them, hundreds of slate peaks in black and gray and red and green. “So many people!” Cathal exclaimed, seeing them all move on the streets below, in the markets and the squares, like salmon in a stream. He was silent again after that, silent with wonder except for his little gasps, which grew louder as they drew nearer the ground.

They debarked, Cathal gazing all about him, flabbergasted. Lachlan remembered feeling the same way for over a week when he’d first come here, and if the humans stared at him, he hardly noticed, enchanted as he was by his valet’s amazement. All the way to the cab stand, Cathal’s mouth worked, but when at last his bottom struck the wooden bench under the stand’s roof, he turned to Lachlan. “Lord,” he said, so hushed Lachlan could hardly hear him through the falls’ roar, “Lord, I never knew.”

It brought tears to Lachlan’s eyes, but he blinked them away and said, “Now you do.”

They sat silent until a carriage rolled up. It wasn’t long. When Lachlan and his chair were safely stowed, and Cathal climbed onto the red-leather seat beside him, it rolled away again, clattering over the cobbles. Immediately, Cathal parted the curtains on his side to keep looking out, but Lachlan stared at the curtains themselves, red in the warped square of sunlight from Cathal’s side.

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