They had been traveling for nearly two weeks now, the small caravan of carriages being led by the newly-crowned Archduke Callum and his wife Archduchess Rayla. Every morning was just as cold as the last the further north they went, making Rayla grateful for the thick wool cloak, padded boots, and heavy clothes she was wearing for the first time. Glancing over at her husband, Rayla thought on everything that had happened in the last few years.
After returning Zym, Queen Zubeia worked with King Ezran and Queen Aanya on forging peace between Xadia and The Pentarchy. The talks took several weeks, but soon the two young monarchs left for their respective kingdoms with words of peace with Xadia and stronger bonds with each other. During that time, Ibis had taken Callum on as an apprentice and Rayla was made captain of the new Dragon Guard. It was heartbreaking to say good-bye to his brother, but Callum knew if he was to be an effective advisor for Ezran he needed to do this. Plus, Ezran needed to start believing in himself as king. For the next four years, the two would work in Xadia to better themselves and foster the fledgling peace between elves and humans.
Callum took to sky magic like a fish to water, ironically. After seven months he had mastered every spell Ibis taught him and even created a couple of his own. By the end of that year, he was given the rank of Master. Also, within that year, he had connected to the sun primal and ocean primal. Rayla spent the year training Queen Zubeia’s newly selected Dragon Guard; from dawn to dusk, she had them train in all manner of fighting, be it hand-to-hand, weapons, stealth, or intellect. They would not only be able to outfight any who tried to take the spire, but outthink them as well. She also received a long letter from her father, Ethari, apologizing for how he reacted to Runaan’s death. She knew he missed him and forgave him.
Over the next year, Callum learned Sun and Ocean magic simultaneously. Due to the opposing natures of the elements, he would often be in a grouchy mood. However, with some meditation and being free with his feelings in admitting he missed Harrow and his mother, he was able to master the two. Word from Ezran revealed that Neolandia, Del Bar, and Evenere were still is disarray from the Battle at Storm Spire. Rayla learned that Silvergrove had posthumously pardoned her parents and removed their ghosting. However, they would keep her ghosting in effect for her actions in regards to the mission. It was with a heavy heart that Rayla accepted that she was exiled from Silvergrove.
However, she didn’t have long with her sadness because the third year is when Viren made his return. The legendary Startouch elf, Aaravos, had been freed and dark magic was running rampant. Callum was forced to confront his own morals about the situation. Yes, dark magic had saved the kingdoms of Katolis and Duren from famine, but his mother died, and Duren entered a brief civil war with the death of both of their queens. Sure, dark magic healed Soren and allowed him to walk, but Claudia had become something unrecognizable, forcing Soren to separate himself from the monster his father was and the one his sister was quickly becoming. Seeking advice with Ezran and Queen Aanya, the three agreed; to keep the peace with Xadia, dark magic needed to be extinguished. With this firmly set, he connected to the earth primal. So, as Rayla dealt with rebel forces in Xadia, Callum returned to the human lands and started the second mage war, later known as The Primal Wave. In a week, he eliminated the dark mages from Katolis. Having never killed before, he found that it sickened him how brutally effective he was at it. However, he knew he had to be strong, unbending like a mountain. This wasn’t about him, but future generations. Sure, they might call him a monster, but at least they would be free to do so. Fear quickly spread and mages ran from Katolis and Duren. As he was not allowed in Neolandia, Del Bar, and Evenere, Callum entered covertly to eliminate their supplies of magical ingredients. Viren had tried to confront him, thinking Callum was still the same unsure and timid child. That proved to be a fatal and costly mistake when Callum took his head. With word of the most powerful dark mage now being dead, the remaining dark mages refused to set foot in Katolis or Duren, fearing for their lives. With his work done, Callum mastered the earth primal as he returned to Xadia. Rayla was having a difficult time, having to fight her own kind seriously. Things came to a head at the end of the year as once more a combined effort of dragons, elves, and humans fought off Aaravos’ forces. Through sheer luck, if nothing else, they had managed to win and kill the nearly immortal elf, at the cost of dozens of lives. They were also able to capture Claudia, who was sent back to Katolis.
Their final year in Xadia was spent cleaning up and repairing the damage from Viren and Aaravos. The elders at Silvergrove had begrudgingly removed Rayla’s ghosting, but she no longer felt that it was home and only planned to visit her father. She also spent time training her replacement. Callum connected to the moon and star primal. While it was fun to be connected to the same source as his girlfriend and even learn a few spells from her, Callum was wary about becoming too connected to the star primal as he believed no one should know much about the future. So, while he did master the moon primal, Callum only became an adept with the star primal. Their year ended with a letter from Ezran asking them to return to Katolis. Just before they started their journey back, Rayla wanted to visit Silvergrove to see how her father was and to give him the coins containing her three other parents, as well as enjoy the summer solstice festival. On the last night of the festival, Rayla proposed and Callum happily accepted.
However, the happiness was short lived. Two weeks later, on Callum’s eighteenth birthday, they arrived in Katolis and learned that Neolandia, Del Bar, and Evenere were more stable now and slowly starting to build their power back up. Once Callum dropped his marriage on the court, it was like throwing grease on a fire. A few tried to persuade the prince not to marry her, but Callum advised them it would be in their best interest to let this marriage happen. Ezran gave his blessing for the marriage, provided Rayla knew everything that came with it. As Ezran was only thirteen and far to young to marry, if something happened to him, Callum would be king and, by extension, Rayla would be queen. For the next month Rayla found herself taking history lessons with Opeli, leaning the kingdom’s seven-hundred-year history.
Two months later, they were married and Rayla was crowned the first elven princess. After their honeymoon, Ezran had them act as ambassadors. For the next three years they traveled between the Pentarchy and Xadia meeting with various dignitaries and doing their best to keep the peace. It wasn’t always easy, but they had each other and were happy. That all changed last winter solstice.
Callum and Ryala were visiting everyone at the Banther Lodge. The holiday was spent enjoying time and winter fun with friends and family. The day after the holiday, Ezran spoke to them both about needing their help.
Six Months Ago
“An arch what?” Rayla asked confused.
“An Archduke and Archduchess,” Ezran, the now-sixteen-year-old king of Katolis replied.
“Ez, there hasn’t been an Archduke for nearly two hundred years. Why do you want one?” Callum asked his brother.
“A few reasons. The main one is, I need help,” Ezran said with a sigh. “As you know, Neolandia, Del Bar, and Evenere have been building themselves back up since the Battle at Storm Spire and the Primal Wave. Going by your ambassador reports and what our spies have learned, they will soon be at a threatening level. However, I cannot just declare war on them without a good reason. With offense off the table for now, I’ve decided to do for defense. The northern part of Katolis has been left relatively defenseless and open. For centuries we didn’t have to consider the other human kingdoms a threat and put most of our defense towards the Breach. Now, we need to fortify our northeastern border or we could have an opposing army in Katolis for days before we know about it.”
“Why us, though?”
“Yeah, I was just coming to terms with being called Princess. What’s this Archduchess thing?” Rayla added.
“As you know, Callum,” Ezran began, addressing his brother first, “I’m sixteen and two years away from marrying. However, being king hasn’t left me with a lot of free time to meet and socialize with others around my age. Should something happen to me, you’re next in line for the throne, Callum. If that should come to pass, I’m hoping that making you Archduke will show some of the kingdom’s naysayers that you are capable of running the kingdom.”
Ezran then turned to Rayla to answer her question. “An Archduke or Archduchess is just below the ruling King or Queen. They govern a large portion of the kingdom, make laws for the lands they oversee, they cannot declare war, but they can mobilize the part of the army they are over for defense. They also give rulings; unless it’s something that requires the King’s decision.”
Rayla nodded her head, seeming to understand what her young friend was telling her.
“If you’re sure, Ez,” Callum began, to which Ezran shook his head in the affirmative, “Then we’re going to need to plan this carefully.”
For the next two weeks they would spend hours every day planning what was to happen. Everything from picking the city, and making improvements to it, to the soldiers that would be under their command. At the end of those two weeks, Callum and Rayla were made Archduke and Archduchess of Katolis.
“Have you ever been to where we’re going?” Rayla asked, looking over at Callum as they steadily rode their horses along.
“Sorry, but no,” he replied, with a shake of his head. “I have heard of Hartho, however. After humans were exiled to the west of the breach and war erupted, Hartho was founded as part of Katolis’ northern defense, as it’s close to Duren and Del Bar. Once peace was established, it began to slowly fall into disrepair as it’s nowhere near the Breach.”
“So, why are we moving there?”
“After mom’s death, dad was so busy focusing on Thunder that he let a few things in parts of the Kingdom slip a bit. We’re going to fix that; Ez wants Hartho to be reestablished as a northern fortress and a testing ground.”
“A testing ground, what for?”
“Have you noticed how cold it is, even though it’s a week away from summer?” Callum asked, looking around them as the horse trudged through the snow. “Once summer is here, it’ll warm up. Average temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit and on particularly hot days it can get all the way up to 80. Now, imagine what the middle of winter is like around here.”
Rayla considered what Callum told her. The area was currently cold enough for a good amount of snow to still be on the trail this close to summer. Winter would be nightmare when the season arrived!
Seeing that she seemed to get it, Callum continued, “When I was training in Xadia, I took in everything I could, not just magic. I watched how the cities themselves functioned; their infrastructure and facilities. I was able to come up with some human variants for a few of them that should help improve life. Hartho is to be the city where we try these changes. If they prove successful, Ezran will be looking to convert cities throughout the kingdom.”
“Do you think it’ll work?”
“I have no idea,” Callum replied honestly, a small touch of uncertainty in his voice. “We had a team of builders and craftsmen come ahead of us to start laying the groundwork three months ago. Hopefully, we can get some of the important changes done before winter arrives.”
“What sort of changes?”
“Improvements to the mountain farming, by converting to contour and glasshouse farming. According to the records, while Hartho is surrounded by mountains, it’s also surrounded by incredibly fertile farmland that’s being underused. With a few changes, it’s believed we could increase the area to plant crops; and thereby increasing crop yields over a dozen-fold.”
Rayla let out an impressed whistle. It would be a major accomplishment if it came to pass.
“I’m also hoping to implement light orb poles throughout the city. In winter, it’s darker for much longer as the sun isn’t up for nearly as long as it is in the summer. Daylight only lasts for eight hours, on an average winter day. With the light orb poles, the streets would be lit. This, will help people save oil and they won’t have to carry lanterns with them; should they decide to leave their homes.”
As the two rounded a bend in the path, Callum called out, “There it is,” gesturing to the small city that was still a few miles away from them.
As they led their horses to the side of the trail to gaze at their new home and city, letting the rest of the caravan pass them, Rayla took in the view. On the far side of the city was a massive tower that was part of the new northern castle called, Harrowing Thunder Palace. Ezran named the castle this, both as a way to remember his father and to remind people not to become fixated on a single goal. Atop the tower was a massive flagpole that had the Katolis flag flying at its top and immediately below was another flag. This flag was near navy blue in color. In the middle was a golden arch curved up; the arch was adorned with five golden columns that were slightly thicker at the base; this was the flag of Hartho. The arch represented a mountain and the columns represented the towers of the city. Around the large tower were several smaller towers and there were other towers spread throughout the city.
“It looks small,” Rayla said as she gazed at the city.
“Yeah,” Callum replied in agreement as he nodded. “Hartho has a population of 71,409. It’s not even half the size of Spansberg, the city where we met Villads. A little less than half of the buildings are occupied, many of them need repair and more need to be knocked down. Under our leadership, though, Hartho will grow and become one of Katolis’ shining jewels.”
Rayla smiled at her husband’s words. She leaned over and laced the fingers of her right hand in between his, before giving his cheek a soft kiss. With a gentle prodding the two rode their horses hand-in-hand towards their new home. They were hopeful that what they were going to do here would impact the kingdom and the world in a positive way.
Ezran sighed as he looked up from the documents he was reading.
“How do you think they’re doing?” the young king asked Bait, his old pet glow toad, the room’s only other occupant.
Bait, who was getting on in years and could no longer deny it, was resting comfortably on a pillow on the corner of the desk. The aged glow toad turned his head towards Ezran and gave a few short grumpy rumbles before turning a dull light shade of pink and giving his tail a slow wag.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Ezran nodded in agreement. “Rayla’s helping to keeping Callum grounded and Callum is helping her not to strangle everyone, they’ll be fine. Though I do worry about how the people will react to seeing an elf for the first time. Sure, word spread with their marriage, but I never had any cause to send them to Hartho when they were ambassadors and only recently have elves started to live here. So, I doubt anyone that far north and away from the Breach has even actually seen an elf.”
Hearing the rain start to fall outside, Ezran stood up to look out the window. As he stood at the window, he watched as two small water droplets came together and formed a larger droplet before tumbling down the glass pane.
“Good luck you two.”