On a chill mountain meadow shrouded thick with rolling fog and glazed smooth with hoarfrost; in that twilight interval between dawn and sunrise when the only colors still awake to give the world depth and hue were those all-night revelers, Pearl-Gray and Smoke-Blue, who painted everything with their shade until the world became blurred as if in a watercolor; there, the King of Land waited anxiously alongside his knights, councilors, mages, and retinue.

The King’s encampment was arrayed around the meadow, opposite a steep cliff that fell precipitously to a distant valley below that was now lost in mist. In the dense fog, only the yellow light of campfires reflecting off crown and armor gave definition to King and knight.

In like wise, all that could be seen of the sentries stationed at the edge of the encampment were their signal lights, hung high on lantern poles. Then, at an outpost near the edge of the cliff, a lantern was swung in a prescribed manner, alerting the captain of the guard. The captain, standing at the King’s left side, leaned close to his liege and said not in full voice, but in an awed whisper, “They are coming.”

The King cocked his head in the direction of the sentry, closed his eyes so as not to be distracted by any other thing, and listened intently. Then he heard a sound somewhere in the distance like the faint rumble of hoofbeats or the roll of distant thunder, and he replied to his captain, “Aye, they come.”

Except for a few ambassadors, merchants, and magicians, the folk of Land and the folk of Sky seldom dealt with each other. This was altogether to be expected since the essence of their Domains, were so different as to naturally keep the two peoples apart. To Land Folk, the realm of Sky was mostly invisible. 

This is not to say that people on Land did not look up at the billowy clouds and occasionally perceive the graceful form of a cloud-horse galloping across azure fields, or see a languorous stratus-tree stretch its long, wispy, trailing branches like a weeping willow. And sometimes Land Folk, while lounging on a hillside after a picnic, or resting a moment from tending their fields, would hear a voice on the wind murmur in their ear. Or feel a wind-cat affectionately brush past their cheek. But by and large, men of Land could see little of the realm of Sky that was all around and above them.

And just as Land Folk could seldom perceive the people of Sky, Sky Folk could seldom notice the denizens of Land. They were invisible and intangible to each other except in certain places, like here; and at certain times, like now; and when certain enchantments that are properly woven with care, can make heaven and earth come together.

Have you ever seen clouds settle in a valley before sunrise? When the mists seem no longer vaporous, but almost thick enough to touch? In such a place, before Emperor Sun dawns over the eastern horizon and the warm allure of his radiant face makes the clouds insubstantial enough once more to draw them back towards the Upper Reaches; then and there can a sorcerer chant an incantation that will, for a short while, allow the folks of Land and Sky to meet.

“I hear the sound of hooves pounding like thunder, and the pant of chargers bellowing like the gale,” said the captain of the guard, straining to hear through the muffling mist. “They come like a storm…”

Then with a shout, the captain pointed in the direction of the cliff’s edge where lanterns warned of the fall from the meadow to the valley below. “There! Beyond the deadfall!”

“In the mist,” said the King’s chamberlain, standing at his liege’s right side. “See how the fog roils and billows, m’lord? Does it not look like knights on proud stallions, flanked by standard bearers, lead by a royal rider: a personage of stature and bearing similar to your own?”

The King could indeed see riders approaching through the mist, and raised his right hand for his trumpeters to herald the arrival of the Skyfolk. Servants and lords alike looked up from their campfires to watch vague, ghostlike figures softly, almost silently, emerge from the gray mist that hung over the precipice, solidify into corporeality, and then ride onto the gray-green of the mountain meadow. 

The Skyfolk were pale men, tall and lean, riding pale horses. The company came to a halt but their steeds were high-spirited and anxiously snorted and pranced in place. And though the mounts seemed solid and tangible enough, from time to time their hooves seemed to melt into the layers of fog that lay on the ground, and the billowy ends of their arched tails seemed to boil away into vapor.

The riders wore clothing in myriad shades of gray and blue that seemed to be made of fabrics and skins like wool and leather. They wore hooded riding cloaks as gray as rainstorms; leather doublets laced with thongs along the arms; and blue-gray gauntlets that ended in wide cuffs at their elbows. Their breeches were soft gray leather; and the tops of their blue-gray boots returned almost down to their ankles. Over their doublets they wore half-armor made from a substance unlike any mined from the earth, for it was not shiny like metal, but white like porcelain.

The riders’ uniformly handsome faces were long and majestic with finely drawn noses and mouths, and high cheekbones that made a graceful arc from ear to chin. Their eyebrows were arched inhumanly high, and their eyelids were wide, narrow slits over eyes as pale as ice on a frozen pond. Most unusual of all was that each rider seemed to have a caul dividing his face the way the crescent moon divides the nighttime sky. One side was fair, like day, and the other dark, like night; and their eyes were the sun and moon of each half-visage.

The riders too were solid enough for the most part; but here, at the edge of a cloak, or there, at the heel of a boot, one or another of them would momentarily evaporate in a curl of white mist, and then just as quickly condense once more into solid flesh.

The King, his chamberlain, and the captain of the guard, rode out to the center of the meadow to meet their counterparts. “What ho, cousin?” cried the Land King, in a hearty voice. 

“Well met, cousin,” replied the Sky King, in a voice as gusty as a windstorm, “and timely, too!”

The monarchs called each other ‘cousin’ because the Cosmos was father to all the peoples of the various Domains. So after a fashion, all folk were related, though not closely enough for it to be appropriate to call each other ‘brethren’.

The two kings rode abreast each other and clasped hands in friendship, reaffirming their alliance. The two regents were well aware that their show of friendship could easily be seen by their respective retinue. It had not been too many years since the end of the War Between Land and Sky, and the two kings wanted to demonstrate that they wished for their subjects to abandon any lingering ill feelings. 

“Come to my camp and let us finalize our plans,” said the Land King to the Sky King.

“Aye, but quickly, cousin,” said the monarch of Sky. “When crows the cock, my countrymen and I will fade with the morning dew. We and your chosen man must away by then.” With that, the two crowned heads signaled their retinues to follow as they rode shoulder to shoulder to the Land King’s pavilion. 

In the pavilion, high-ranking nobility, elder statesmen, generals, Masters, and magicians gathered around the two sovereigns as they sat opposite each other at a camp table beneath guttering braziers. Stewards scurried to serve the needs of all in attendance while simultaneously attempting to be otherwise unnoticeable. Each of the worthies looked dour and thoughtful, but unfortunately none of them looked to have a solution to the current crisis. 

“This is Kevin Galwynn, my Master of Enlightenment,” said the Land King, as he beckoned for an unpretentious, slightly rounded, middle-aged man with streaks of gray in his hair and a modest smile on his face, to step forth from the encircling coterie. “Master Galwynn is my best advisor about all things natural and mysterious. It is his task to know things on my behalf,” said the King, as he looked into the half-eclipsed eyes of the Sky King. “And although I regret losing his counsel for even this short while, I can think of no better person to consign to your service. If anyone can divine the meaning of the evidence you have found, it is Master Galwynn.”

The Master of Enlightenment could only nod humbly in gratitude for his sovereign’s trust.

The Sky King turned to confer with his knights for a moment. While he did, the Land King beckoned for Kevin to come closer and lend an ear. “Don’t look so downcast, my friend,” softly said the King, with a compassionate smile. “This will be a great adventure, although I know how you feel about such things. But I speak truth when I say I can think of no better person to go on this mission. So, go forth Master Galwynn, and serve me well.” 

“On my honor,” pledged Galwynn, as he bowed his head to his friend and liege. 

While the two kings returned to parleying about the upcoming mission, and their circle of advisors returned to vehemently reviewing their duties, a somewhat ignored Kevin Galwynn melted back through the crowd and stood unmolested at the periphery. 

Standing alone with his own thoughts, Kevin could not help but muse, “Why did the King choose me? I’m not a fierce knight or a powerful wizard; I’m just a scholar. And—I hate adventures!” 

Shaking his head in disbelief, Kevin could only ask himself, “How, again, did I get involved in all this?

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