It was a robin that was the first to greet the dawn. The small, plump bird, with a whitish belly and a red breast, emerged from the nest that it had made for itself in a tall pine tree that peered over the Hopetoun palisade, turned to face the golden sliver of light that was slowly creeping out from beyond the horizon, and greeted it with a melodious song. Other birds flitted about at the noise, and soon they were finding vantage points of their own and joining in.
The dawn chorus had begun, and Ymiden had arrived.
Within a break, Hopetoun was abuzz with activity. Most settlers were going about their usual tasks: fetching water; feeding livestock; collecting firewood. Two settlers were repairing a fence and another was tending to her garden.
But they would not stick to those tasks for long, for there was other work to be done and they were expecting visitors.
Darius was nervous but excited as he walked along the dirt paths that passed for thoroughfares in Hopetoun.
As the settlement grew, he mused, and its needs grew along with it, such trails might become paved to manage the increased foot traffic, but they had made it through Cylus and Ashan just fine without churning them into mud, so it wouldn't be until Vhalar that they would need to consider how best to manage the colder weather.
But that was something to worry about another trial. There was a feast to prepare for and, as he reached the end of the path and stepped into the square that formed the centre of Hopetoun, the settlement's leader was ready to do his part, and he quickly joined the growing group of volunteers.
"How can I help?"
By the time the sun had passed its zenith, the simple stretch of grass in the middle of the settlement had been transformed. Rows of tables, designed and constructed by Vega - one of her many contributions to Hopetoun - filled the space. Gentle streams of sunlight pierced the colourful awnings that had been set up, fluttering gently in the cool breeze. Bunting of every colour lined the inside of the palisade, so that no matter which direction one looked, the protective wall around the settlement would remind them that celebrations were at hand. A makeshift stage had been set up at one end, and the scents of different foods intermingled throughout.
Darius was moving among through the crowd of volunteers, having checked, double-checked, and triple
-checked the list of guests that Vega had sent out on his behalf. Immortals, councillors, friends, and every resident of Haven had all been invited. He was particularly interested in seeing Balthazar once more, in the hope that the two could find a way for the two settlements to work more closely together. He had suggested as much
when the pair had been tasked with establishing a new home for the Faldrassian refugees, but little had come from it.
But most of all, he was eager to see his father. Josef had yet to visit Hopetoun, at his son's insistence, but Darius was looking forward to showing the elder Baer around the settlement.
Astra had left Faldrass a few trials earlier to collect him, and they - along with all of the other guests - were due to arrive at any moment, guided to the settlement by the beacon.
Over the following few breaks, the guests would be welcome to mingle, enjoy refreshments, play some lawn games, or join a tour of the Hopetoun Hole
before the festivities began in earnest.