After I’d proposed to River and seen that she was thrilled with the idea of a wedding in The Hearthlands, we didn’t spend much longer in the sauna. We had to start getting ready. I carried her down the mountain where we parted ways. She returned to her family, while I returned to my parents to inform them of River’s enthusiasm.
Then I had to figure out what clothing I needed to take with me while my parents busied themselves with other arrangements. Shayla knocked on my door, saying she’d been sent by my mom to take my measurements for a custom tuxedo. Apparently she’d already been to see River about a dress.
After Shayla left, I just had to pack a few casual clothes and toiletries. Then my parents returned, accompanied by River, who was carrying a bulging backpack. They informed me that the dragons wanted to leave already.
We headed for the Port, where a large crowd had gathered of countless friends and well-wishers. Even Lucas was among them… and Jeramiah, whom I was not quite so thrilled to see. Brett and Bella were notably absent, though I could hardly blame them for not wanting to attend a wedding with dragons present.
It warmed my heart to see Vivienne standing next to Xavier, holding a smiling baby Victoria. My cousin looked adorable in a pale pink dress and a sunhat. My eyes traveled to Kiev and Mona, who were standing near Erik, Abby, Eli and Shayla. As I caught Kiev’s eye, he looked at me apologetically. I guessed he’d heard the latest of my escapades from my parents.
The dragons were already in their beastly forms and there were about twenty-five of them altogether. It was easy to spot those who were getting married since they carried their maidens on their backs. My grandfather and Kailyn located me in the crowd. They rushed toward me, my grandfather pulling me into a strong hug. It felt like I hadn’t seen him for ages. The last time had been just after Kailyn’s death. He’d looked half dead with distress. But now, with Kailyn by his side again, he looked like the happiest man in the world… almost as happy as me.
All the other wedding attendees would be transported to The Hearthlands by the witches’ magic, but since I spotted more than one dragon with nobody on their back, I suggested to River that we fly there instead. How many couples could say they’d traveled to their wedding location on the back of a dragon?
We climbed aboard Ridan, who apparently hadn’t had as much luck with the ladies as his fellow shifters. Then all of us left The Shade to embark on the journey. The others vanished along with the witches, while the dragons headed to a small deserted island not far away from us, where a portal led to the realm of the ogres. Reaching the other side of the portal, we launched into the sky and soared over a sparkling ocean. Excitement bubbled up in me as we finally caught sight of another land mass.
“The Hearthlands,” Ridan announced cheerily.
Reaching the end of the water, we soared over a world of rolling hills, lush valleys and glittering rivers. It appeared to be summertime here, the trees and flowers in full bloom. We continued to fly, and soon I spotted signs of civilization. A magnificent castle loomed in the distance, a sprawling city built around it. We descended in a cobblestone square right at the foot of the castle. The buildings surrounding us appeared newly erected, their stone walls bright and polished. The square offshot into charming streets lined with an array of boutiques selling everything from garments to instruments. Dragon residents milled around us in their humanoid forms and began to cheer.
“You’re back! And with such fair maidens!”
Our dragons greeted their compatriots warmly.
“So much has happened here since you left!” a particularly chirpy man who possessed only one eye exclaimed. “There have been battles and victories, kings lost and found. King Theon has been crowned, and he has a queen!”
I slid off Ridan’s back with River as they continued talking.
“Have you received other arrivals, Charis?” Jeriad asked.
Charis. The name rang a bell. He had been the first dragon to ever visit The Shade. Caleb had speared him in the eye when he’d threatened to burn our island down.
“Other arrivals?” Charis asked.
“We expected there to be a group of citizens from The Shade arriving here. Witches, vampires, even some werewolves…”
“We have seen nothing of the sort yet.”
I tensed, looking at River. They should’ve arrived here way before us, traveling by the witches’ magic. I wondered if they’d gotten lost.
“If you like I can fly you around and see if we can spot them anywhere,” Ridan offered. “They might have arrived in The Hearthlands but not have known where to find the castle.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That would be good.”
We left with Ridan, while the others entered the castle, apparently going to greet The Hearthlands’ new king and queen.
We managed to find them after several hours of searching. Truth be told, I didn’t mind in the slightest that it took us so long to locate them. River and I enjoyed the ride immensely; it afforded us a greater opportunity to take in this breathtaking realm.
The spell of shadow the witches had cast over the crowd was what helped us spot them. They were roaming around a hillock, looking quite lost. Clearly none of the witches knew The Hearthlands well. Rose was with them, but I didn’t think she’d ever been taken as far as the castle and city during her brief visit. She’d spoken of hills and valleys and caves, but not of buildings.
We soared down and they looked relieved to see us. From here, we were able to show them the right direction and soon we were all back outside the castle. The square was empty now, as if everybody had rushed inside with the others to hear the full story of what had happened to their comrades.