The Palace at the Roof of the World

The sky’s cold air crushed Barrin. The Roc’s talons kept him in their clutch for days, for months. Perhaps for hours. He could not tell anymore; all he felt was the cold. His fingertips kept constant contact with the scaly claws that held him, but they no longer felt the surface below them.

The roc’s wings flapped like gentle thunder over and again and again, ever north, ever north.

Perhaps Barrin slept. Perhaps he passed out because he could find no way to breathe. Perhaps the cold suffocated him.

When he woke, sunlight streamed in a deep window set in a whitewashed wall onto the mattress he lay on. One hand brushed the rough fabric. He started.

A nearby form jumped when he jumped. “Hold on, little warrior, hold on.” The form stepped more clearly into view. “Gave me a surprise, there, and that’s not wise to do.” A mostly-bald man with long white hair smiled down at Barrin. “I’m sorry. My roc thought you were another snowyak falling off the cliffs. They do it often enough, brainless beasts, and that makes a good, easy meal. Sometimes I think Stonefeather is as brainless as the snowyaks!” He offered a dry chuckle.

“Where…?” Barrin couldn’t find more words. His throat burst into flames of pain.

“Here. Drink. The skies aren’t a good place for someone who isn’t used to them.” The man offered Barrin a massive mug of cool water.

Barrin imbibed deeply. One set of fingertips gripped the cool, smooth lacquer. The other set felt nothing.

“Now, as for where. You’re at the top of the spine of the mountains you fell off of, in the palace of the North Wind.”

Barrin furrowed his brow, but he kept drinking.

“You’re from one of the towers, right?”

Barrin nodded as he kept sucking in water.

“Well, I guess you’re not as trained as we thought you were. It’s our job to protect you from the worst of the cold and all it contains, so you can do your job and wake the trees and remind the sun of its duties. We know how important you are!”

Barrin finally finished the great mug and handed it back. He noticed the man’s hands dwarfed the cup. Finally he realized the old man was huge; at least three paces tall.

The old man raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“You’re – you’re huge!”

“You are a keen one. I’m sure you’re the pride of all your fellows.”

“But – how could a roc carry you?”

The old man quirked up a corner of his mouth. “Well, it’s easy when I’m not exactly human. Hollow bones and thin as a rail. Made for flight, I am. Fashioned by the North Wind as a servant to those in the gardens.” He offered a shallow bow. “Haliesen by name, and Stonefeather’s my brainless roc what caught you as you fell. And, if you’re quite recovered, we should deliver you to the gardens. You have a duty to fulfill, don’t you?”

Barrin ventured to sit up and swing his legs out of the bed. “Wait… there’s sunlight.”

“The palace of the North Wind is still safe. She’s come to say goodbye.” Haliesen’s eyes glimmered. “If you hurry, you might see her yet. Maybe you can convince her to return to the gardens; save your partner a trip.”

Barrin paused, a stab of guilt in his heart, but he nodded. “Yes. Yes, I should.”

This is the fourteenth chapter of Summers’ End.

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