The summit was nearly level, and wider than she had expected from her view from its foot. She turned to survey the ground. Beyond her, the plain, dotted with villages, stretched down to the sea, and a medium-size city sat against the coast. An island, little more than a speck of light on the horizon, stood in the distance. In the way they had come, the forest was a dense green circle centered on the peninsula. Beyond it, to the limit of her sight, she saw two walls cutting across the tongue of land that was the peninsula, rising like steps out of the ground.
A soft sound, so quiet that she couldn’t tell what it was, caused her to turn. At her left stood what looked at first like a horse. She knelt and looked into its eyes.
Ave, domina, a strong, sweet voice said in the back of her mind. Te eligo. Ex mundi omni te elegi. Te amo, et nos nunquam posthac separabimus. Portia felt a rush of emotion, and then her soul was knit up with this . . . creature. She still didn’t know what it was.
“Hail,” she whispered aloud in Common. “What are you?” There was another rush of emotion, an almost painful click in the back of her mind, and this time the voice there also seemed to be in Common.
I am Rhinseth. I am yours and you are mine, forever until all worlds end. There was a strong breeze, and Portia realized that this magnificent creature, which she had taken for a horse, had wings. Mount up, it said.
“As you wish,” she whispered. Then, as it bent its head, she placed one hand on its neck and vaulted onto its back. She had expected to have to ride bareback, but instead she landed in an essentially standard tilting saddle, with a few slight modifications. The presence in the back of her mind searched her, and then the ground vanished in the first downstroke of the wings.