Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The Battle for Illiath
The fire lit up the night sky and provided ample competition for the stars in the heavens. King Alexander gazed up to follow the sparks as they floated ever upward into oblivion. The memory of fireflies dancing in the twilight raced across his mind as he drifted back to the many summer nights of his youth. He smiled as the face of his dear wife appeared among the stars. He knew she would laugh at his nostalgia and the awful timing of the moment.
The night air was much colder now as dawn approached. His breath could be seen through his helmet. As he removed it, he stood and watched the sparks rise only for a moment longer before turning to see his enemy lunging toward his body with a sharp lance. King Alexander stared at the bloody spear coming for his life. He grasped his sword with both hands, turned his body slightly to the left, then with all his might just before the enemy soldier lunged the blade forward, he slashed the dark knight with his sword, severing the cursed man’s body almost in two. Alexander stood over the dead creature’s broken body. Its hot black blood spewed forth and mixed with the mud on the ground. Realizing the creature was some sort of hybrid between a man and a creation of Caragon’s imagination, Alexander knew he and his men were in for long fight.
The King glanced around the smoldering ruins of what was once a lovely village. Yet in his heart he knew all that remained in ashes was replaceable. The intangible people of the village had made their way into the Castle walls to safety long ago. This made him feel more at ease. Sir William hastily ran over to the King when he spotted his sovereign standing alone on a small pile of dirt. Panting from the weight of his armor, he stopped beside the King.
“My Lord,” he said. “You mustn’t remain alone like this. You are far too important. No King should fight in battle.”
“All is well, Sir William,” King Alexander said as he put his gloved hand on the knight’s shoulder. “What happened here is not the real battle.” He turned his eyes toward the castle as he placed his sword back into its leather sheath. “There is where the battle begins.” He looked out over the carnage before them. Many of the enemy lay dead on the muddied earth. Their blood covered the land. The large bodies of the giant Zadoks remained scattered all over the village.
“Strange beasts, indeed,” Sir William said. “I’ve never seen such animals.” He tapped one of the dead animals lying nearby with his foot. Its teeth were still showing in a grotesque snarl frozen in death.
“Yes,” the King answered. “Makes me wonder what Lord Caragon has been up to in those Black Hills.” He raised his eyes toward the hills.
“It seems to be some sort of mutation of wolf and dog,” Sir William stated.
“There were rumors that Caragon was engaging in experiments of some sort.” The King said as he walked over to a dead animal carcass. “I suppose these were part of those experiments.”
“Witchcraft?” Sir William asked.
“Perhaps,” The King answered, shaking his head in disbelief. “I thought I knew Caragon. I was wrong.”
The knights slowly walked through the field in the aftermath of battle with their heads hung low and bodies hunched over. Legs and arms were weighted down with muddy armor. Amidst the smoldering ashes, they collected swords, shields, and spears from the dead. The enemy swords were garish twisted pieces of metal that protruded from wooden handles. Their black shields were dented and bent from the fight. Sir Michael picked up one shield to inspect its quality. As he glanced over the enemy shield, he couldn’t help but note its inferior grade. Primitive, he thought as he turned it over in his hands.
Then the survivors, moving as one, gathered their own dead to bring back into the Castle when the siege was over. The King watched as his men carefully and respectfully lifted up their dead friends and brothers in order to place them on a carriage. Each man was covered with his cape. The insignia of Alexander covered each cape. The coat of arms that belonged to King was that of a lion rearing up toward the left. The colors were scarlet red and gold. Each cape bore this coat of arms. Seeing his men covered by his family crest made the King pause from a sudden wave of emotion. He found it hard to swallow back his tears. He’d known many of these men since they were young boys.
The King’s men felt that they had obviously won the battle as what was left of Caragon’s men retreated into the hills. Lord Caragon himself hastily galloped away toward the Castle on his black steed. Alexander knew that this small battle, a mere distraction from the main siege at the Castle, wouldn’t last long. The King wisely left many of his knights as well as a garrison at the Castle for protection.
Alexander motioned for his men to gather around him. They quickly obeyed their King. With great respect, they listened intently.
“You fought bravely for your King and your people,” he stated. “The battle here is over.”
The men seemed relieved, but their relief would only last a moment.
“Yet I am afraid this battle was a distraction meant for us to lose sight of the real war,” the King continued. “Right now, as we stand here, Caragon’s men are preparing to lay siege to the castle. We must finish here and ride to protect the Kingdom.” The faint sound of Caragon’s men marching toward the castle could be heard by the Knights.
They looked around at each other. Concern for their families and friends washed over each mud-stained face. The once shiny silver armor blotched with blood and dirt looked old and rusted. They reeked of the pungent smell of sweat and manifested sheer exhaustion on their faces. King Alexander stared into the intensity of their eyes. Their returned glances seem to go on forever. The hardened and talented fighters knew in their hearts what lay ahead for them. They also knew what would happen if they failed their mission.
Sir William stepped forward and raised his sword high into the air. “Swords high!” he yelled to his fellow knights. “For the King! For the sword of Alexander!”
“For the kingdom of Illiath! For the King!” they all shouted back in unison. Their voices echoed into the cold night air. King Alexander’s heart swelled with pride as he watched his men. He also had fear in his heart for he still did not know of his son’s whereabouts and a mighty battle was about to begin. Could Peter have possibly survived the Dragon Forest? He did not know the answer to that question, and the incomprehension was almost too much for him to bear.
Peter held on tightly to its scales as the Dragon made its way higher into the night sky. The night air blew through his brown hair and stung his eyes. The cold rush of wind took Peter’s breath away and he found it was hard to breathe let alone speak. He wanted to shout out as they flew together on their new adventure to release his fear and anticipation.
Making their way over the hills of the Cardion Valley, the Dragon and Peter could see the damaged village below. The smoldering ash heaps were all that remained of the little town he had rode through only hours before. Now it was nearly gone. As he looked over the village, the Dragon landed on top of a small hill overlooking the burning ruins.
“This was once a lovely village,” Peter exclaimed as he sat upon the Dragon’s neck. “I don’t know where my father is. But I know that he probably fought here.”
“Caragon’s men,” the Dragon explained. “They began this battle.” His claws sunk deep into the cool wet earth with a slushy sound of mud oozing between his toes.
“Yes,” Peter answered as he viewed the remains of the Zadoks on the ground. “I am glad it is over.”
“The real battle is just beginning,” the Dragon said as it turned toward the castle. “We must go now to help.”
“But when they see you, what will they do?” Peter asked. He knew Caragon’s men wanted the Dragon. “Won’t they try to destroy you?”
The Dragon struggled to breathe slowly as he spoke. “Don’t worry,” he said, spreading his wings wide. “They won’t see me.”
The thundering reverberations of the horse hooves meeting with the wet earth shook the castle walls as King Alexander’s Constable stood atop the outer curtain walls of the mighty fortress. He did not stand alone. Hundreds of the King’s finest soldiers stood prepared to meet with the enemy in a battle that would be written about for decades to come. Together they were ready for this moment in time to begin.
“Spy glass,” Constable Darion ordered as he reached for the glass instrument used to see hundreds of feet away. As the foot soldier handed it to the King’s leader, he swallowed hard in anticipation of what would be seen in the darkness.
The Constable looked out into the darkness toward the now faint light from the Cardion Valley far into the northeast. Only smoke could be seen with glimpses of mounted troops approaching as revealed by the moonlight. “Ready the catapults!” he shouted.
The foot soldiers shouted the orders below into the courtyard where other soldiers manned the large catapults used for launching large containers of tar. The foot soldiers quickly loaded three catapults with the manmade containers of bark. These containers were to be splattered out onto the earth outside the Blue River surrounding the castle.
“Ready to launch,” Constable Darion ordered. “On my order.”
The men eagerly awaited the order to launch their black bounty. Then the order came from above. The catapults were released by cutting the rope holding the arm back. As the rope was cut, the arm swung up and over, launching the tar-filled container high into the sky and over the curtain wall. The Constable and the soldiers watched it launch over the Blue River. As it landed on the ground, the bark container split and splattered the black tar all over the soil. With the success of the first launch, several more followed with the same results. Tar now covered many feet across the land to the north of the Blue River.
“Ready the archers!” The Constable walked over to the archers. They lit their arrows, and quickly scattered across the curtain wall. “Ready to fire!” he shouted.
“On my order,” he said as they raised their arrows into the night sky. The fire contrasted brightly against the black night. Behind the small hills of the Cornshire sat the Sun waiting to rise. Purple and violet colors weaved across the night. The archers prepared to rudely thrust their fire toward the enemy.
“Fire!” Constable Darion shouted with excitement. Then they all watched the hundreds of arrows slice through the blackness and make their way to the ground and the black tar that awaited them. As the arrows met with the tar, fire quickly spread across the tall grasses like a wildfire and lit up the perimeter of the Blue River as if a thousand lanterns had suddenly been lit all at once. As the fire spread furiously through the dry grasses, it illuminated what the Constable had suspected all along. Together he and the King’s men saw thousands of Caragon’s men making their way toward the River as they prepared to cross its cold waters. Now they were met with a wall of fire which prohibited their journey to the castle. The fire rose nearly thirty feet into the air along with a thick layer of smoke seen from miles away.
The King’s men could see giant creatures making their way toward the river’s edge. “Ogres,” Constable Darion said. “Giant beasts loyal to Caragon.” This worried him.
He pointed to the giants as they pulled massive catapults with chains around their backs. Caragon’s dark knights whipped the ogres’ backs time and again to get them to move faster. The Constable noticed that these giant beasts were chained like slaves to the catapults they pulled. He noticed that with each whipping, the beasts grew angrier and angrier. He also knew that the King’s men were no match for these giant monsters. “How did this happen?” he asked. “Caragon must have captured them from the deserts.”
Alexander’s men watched from atop the castle wall as the ogres moved each catapult as close as they could to the fierce fire still burning. It devoured most of the grasses in its path and would soon lack the fuel it needed to burn. The knights began to worry.
“Each rock launched at this wall will not penetrate. These walls are far too strong,” Constable Darion reassured the men. “We cannot let them into the outer courts!”
The men began to scramble below inside the courtyard to get into position. The soldiers atop the wall prepared to dodge the large boulders that would be tossed by the catapults. Fear entered into their bodies as they anticipated the coming battle. Darion thought for a moment about the ogres. There must be some way to defeat them, he thought as he watched the beasts through the spyglass. Each ogre prepared to load its catapult with large boulders. There stood by the river some twelve catapults manned by these obscene monsters. The black knights rode back and forth on their horses in line as they shouted orders to the foot soldiers. The Constable could see dark shadows behind the soldiers. He wasn’t sure what they were, but his body trembled. Suddenly, the soldiers parted and revealed the Zadoks barking ferociously into the night air. The beasts ran to the ogres and barked at their heels. One ogre swung his mighty arm at the wolf-dog and met its head with his large fist. The Zadok flew several feet away but quickly regained its footing. Suddenly, it appeared to Constable Darion that the ogres were not too content with being forced to fight in this war. They were being whipped into submission and pestered by these rabid dogs.
“They’re slaves,” he said to the soldiers. “They are bound to the catapults.”
“Yes, and so what?” the captain replied. “What do we care of the plight of the ogres?”
Darion realized the frustration in the soldiers’ voices so he quickly made known his plan of attack. “If these ogres are but mere slaves being beaten and ravaged by Caragon’s beasts, then perhaps if we free them from their plight they would desire to leave this place and return to their homes.”
“I truly believe,” he continued. “No ogre wants to do battle with the King. They have always lived in peace with us as long as we left them alone in the desert hills of Théadron.” He pointed out toward the monsters as they readied their catapults and fought with the black Zadoks. The King’s soldiers looked on into the night sky still lit by the fire along the river’s edge.
“Perhaps, if we free them…they will return to the Théadron desert. Then our chances for victory increase greatly,” Constable Darion considered as he paced back and forth on the wall. Each captain agreed with the idea of freeing the ogres in hopes that they would run off into the desert toward their homes. “There is no way the Baroks can move those catapults alone.”
“Sir, if we are going to do this, we need to do it now,” one of the soldiers said as he watched the catapults being loaded. Darion agreed.
“Tell your soldiers to mount their steeds with swords and shields,” Darion ordered. “I will meet them at the gate to give them their orders.”
Below the great castle, the villagers waited with the Lords and Ladies of the Kingdom. Above them could be heard horses and shouts from the soldiers as they readied for battle. Crusts of dirt that had once made up the ceiling of the dungeon fell to the ground with each thunderous pound that the approaching army made as it set up its catapults with ogres. Many of the villagers sat and pondered about what would happen next. Small children scurried about the dark dungeon, chasing mice into the wall crevices.
Lady Godden paced back and forth by a few stacks of hay dampened by the dripping water coming from above. She tightly gripped her hands one over the other in a nervous way as the others watched. Lord Byrén walked over to her. Her white hair, pulled tightly back, was glistening in the light of the torch he held as he approached her.
“My lady, please do sit down. There is nothing we can do now, I’m afraid, except wait.”
“Yes, I know,” she stated as she stopped pacing and looked around at the people. Some were sleeping and others just watching the ceiling for a sign. “I just wish I knew what was happening.”
“Waiting is the hardest part for those left behind,” said Lady Silith as she rose and walked over to the pair. “Listen...I can hear men’s voices.” She said as her eyes darted back and forth along the dirt ceiling.
Above them were the King’s soldiers gathering their horses. Shouts from men ordering squires to gather armor could scarcely be heard from beneath the castle grounds. Then the reverberating sound of the enemy approaching met the ears of the villagers. Some women screamed and others clasped their hands over their mouths. Husbands calmed their wives and children while trying to imagine what was happening.
“Sounds like men are approaching on foot,” Lord Byrén assumed. “Our men are preparing to mount. I can hear the horses’ hooves on the dirt. Perhaps the battle will be outside the main walls.” He turned his eyes toward the worried Lady Godden. “That’s a good thing.” He put one hand on her shoulder and her eyes met his. She seemed to calm down.
Just then, through the darkness, a loud explosion was heard. The earth shook beneath the people’s feet and large clods of dirt fell from the ceiling above them. Children yelled as they ran to find their mothers’ arms, and husbands, too old to fight in the battle, rose as one toward the door that Constable Darion had locked. They banged on the door in a fury of panic.
“Stop that!” Lord Byrén yelled as he ran to the group of men. “They’ll hear us! Are you mad? Do you want them to find us down hear? We must remain silent.”
The group of men stopped and turned to the Lord. “We can’t just stay down here and do nothing!” one man yelled.
“We must,” Lord Byrén answered. “That is the only thing we can do.”
“But our homes!” another man yelled.
“Gone, I’m afraid.” Lord Byrén said bluntly as he shook his head. “Small villages are the first to go in battle. Lord Caragon has destroyed all our homes by now if he is already laying siege upon the castle.” He walked back over to the Ladies. “What’s done is done.”
“That is all too easy for you to say, Lord Byrén,” one man said. “Your home isn’t the one being destroyed!”
“Calm down!” Lady Godden shouted. “We must remain calm.” She put her palms up to gently quiet the crowds.
The men stood in silence as they watched the ceiling for more commotion. But all that could be heard was the deadening thud of horses’ hooves meeting the earth in unison.
“Seems they’re riding off now,” one villager noticed.
“But what was that loud explosion?” another asked.
“Catapults,” Lord Byrén answered as he stared above. “Probably hit the outer wall of the court then landed inside the court.” Sadness lined his face.
“My Lord!” a young woman screamed. “Come quickly!”
The villagers and Lord Byrén all ran toward the young woman. She held in her arms a limp girl no older than three years of age. Clearly, the child belonged to her.
“Oh no!” she cried. “Please help her!”
Apparently, some large rocks from the ceiling had fallen onto the small girl’s head. She was unconscious and bleeding. Lady Silith rushed over to her and wrapped the child in her royal robe. Lady Godden ran over to help as well. Together, the three women wept over the small child lying helpless in her mother’s arms.
“We have no medicine in here,” said another woman from behind. “Only food and water. What shall we do?” She looked at Lord Byrén for help.
“We were told not to leave here. If one of us is seen by the enemy, we all would be discovered. All of us would be slaughtered,” He said.
“But the child, my Lord,” Lady Godden pleaded.
“Is there anyone here who can help her?” she asked the crowd gathered around the child. But no one answered. The sound of more explosions could be heard from above, but they were farther away. Everyone looked up at the ceiling and moved back for fear of being struck like the child. Now no one felt safe. Lord Byrén uneasily walked to the door where many other men stood. He inspected it as he held the torch in his hand. It was locked from the inside, but he remembered the Constable’s orders. He handed the torch over to another man who stared at the Lord in confusion.
Lord Byrén knew what was happening outside the dungeon walls. He also knew there was a physician ready to work on the wounded men in the castle. If they could move the child out of the dungeon without being seen, perhaps they could get her to the physician. But that was too risky. If the enemy were indeed inside the castle court, they could spot them entering into the main castle toward the physician’s room, and that would be disastrous for everyone.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to wait. It is too risky for us to leave now in the heat of battle,” he stated. “We cannot take that chance.”
“But the child is bleeding, my Lord,” one man spoke up. His voice was met with another loud pounding from above them. Obviously, the catapults were hitting the castle walls repeatedly. Soon the enemy would penetrate the outer walls and enter into the courtyard where they would be met by waiting soldiers.
All eyes were on Lord Byrén for a decision even though everyone knew what that decision would be.
“No, we cannot risk it. We all must stay here and wait,” he finally answered.
The mood of the villagers fell further into despair. Most knew the child would not make it through the night and many battles went on for weeks at a time. People began to move away from the mother and child to give them some air. The mother wept quietly as she held her daughter in her arms. Lady Godden continued to stroke the child’s black hair as she held back her tears. It was too much to take in one day. She knew her village was gone, destroyed by Lord Caragon’s men, and now a child may soon also fall victim to his evil wrath. An eerie silence fell over the crowd and engulfed the dungeon dark and damp. It was late now and many people wanted to sleep. The men still paced back and forth in an uncomfortable routine. Then, finally cutting through the darkness was a voice.
“My Lord,” a young man said as he stood up from behind a group of villagers. He wasn’t yet old enough to be a soldier, but he wasn’t a child either. His dark hair and strong handsome facial features were lit by the torch in his hand. He was tall and thin, but muscular in build from working the fields. “I have a plan.”
“A what?” a man behind him asked.
“He has a plan!” another young man with curly red hair rose to speak. “We both have been thinking about this since we were locked in here.”
“Son!” the young man’s father shouted. “Not now. Sit down and be still.”
“But father,” the young man made his way over to his father. “I know these walls. I know what we can do.”
“What is all this?” Lord Byrén asked with a quizzical brow. “Who is this young man?”
“This is my son, Will. He is a bit impetuous at times,” his father said. “Please forgive him.” The father bowed in respect toward Lord Byrén.
“What plan are you speaking of, boy?” Byron asked as he walked toward him.
The young Will stood taller as he spoke to the Lord. He realized all eyes were upon him. His dark brown hair was matted with sweat and dirt. His cotton shirt was worn and so were his brown pants. It was obvious to everyone that he was a son of a farmer or a mason. With his red-headed friend, Charles, next to him, he felt brave. “Sir, I have worked in this dungeon for many months helping the King’s men clean it out and prepare it for storage,” he explained. “I know these walls as I know my own hand.”
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Prince Peter sat high on his horse, Titan, as he watched Sir Peregrine’s men make their way through the thick trees of the Dragon Forest. Peter’s hands firmly held his new sword and shield as he prepared for whatever lay ahead. He looked around the forest clearing and noticed that the familiar blue mist was thicker and reached up to Titan’s knees. The mist covered the sapphire lake completely. The sight made the forest appear to float high in the clouds. Within the trees, he then saw the yellow eyes of the Dragon waiting patiently to make its move. What will happen now? Peter thought as he gripped Titan’s mane.
“Hold tight, Peter!” his mother yelled as she led Titan around the corral. The clip clop sound of the horse’s hooves on the dirt made a musical sound as Peter listened to the rhythm. “Try gripping his mane in your hands.” Peter obediently grabbed a tuft of mane in his small hands. He was surprised at how thick and rough the hair was in his fingers. He watched his mother walk with the reigns in her hands as she led Titan around in circles. “Squeeze tightly around his body with your legs to hold on,” she said. “Then you won’t fall.” She looked back at Peter and smiled as the wind blew her black hair away from her face. “You’re wonderful!” she laughed as she watched her son ride his new horse for the first time. The sun was shining brightly on Peter’s face as the smell of jasmine filled the air. He could feel the warmth of the sun on his skin.
Titan whinnied and clawed the dirt again with his front hoof awaking Peter from his memory in time to see Peregrine approach.
Lord Peregrine’s voice was faintly heard as he shouted orders to his men. The voice echoed into the night air. Peter couldn’t make out what was said as the Knight was still too far away. But he could see the light from their torches reflect off the trees and their shadows dance along the ground. Peter went over in his mind what he would say to the Knight when they faced each other. He realized that he looked prepared for some sort of confrontation, but he also knew that Peregrine was supposed to be on a rescue mission. Did he truly intend for Peregrine to know that he knew, of the plans to capture the Dragon’s scales? Peter’s mind was spinning as he tried to figure out what to do next. One thing he knew to be sure, he would defend the Dragon as his father would were he with them now.
Peregrine made his way into the clearing and his eyes met Peter’s. He was shocked to see the young boy on his horse with sword and shield in hand. He raised his hand up, signaling to his men to stop where they were. Then he slowly removed his helmet to make sure the young boy in front of him was really Peter.
“Boy, is that you?” he asked.
“Yes,” Peter answered. He swallowed hard. A large lump had formed in his throat.
Satisfied with recognizing Peter’s voice, Peregrine said, “Boy, what are you doing out here?”
Peter remained silent.
“I say, what are you doing out here in this forest…alone?” Peregrine asked again while he looked around at the mist covered forest.
“I am…I...” Peter stuttered as he searched for an answer. “I am here to...”
“Shouldn’t you be on your way back home now?” Peregrine asked. “Your father is very worried. He sent us here to find you.” He waited for a response from the Prince. “Do you know what trouble you’ve caused?” His voice grew louder as he felt his patience drain. Then he saw some strange thing in Peter’s hands. He lightly nudged his horse forward to get closer to Peter. Only the sloshing sound of Peregrine’s horse walking on the damp ground could be heard in the forest.
“No, I...” Peter said.
Peregrine was much closer to Peter now. His ruggedly handsome, bearded face and dark hair were lit only by the torches, but Peter could see his eyes. Peter did not trust Peregrine’s eyes. He gazed at the curious boy closely. “What is that you have there, boy?” he asked as he spotted a small, but real, sword in Peter’s hand.
Peter looked at the sword and then returned his gaze to the strong Knight. “It is my sword,” he said.
Then Lord Peregrine’s eye switched to the unfamiliar thing in Peter’s other hand. It seemed to him to be a shield of some sort. He looked closer as the light from the torches was far away. He motioned for one of his men to bring him a torch. The squire galloped over to the Knight and quickly handed him his torch. Peregrine took it and raised it up above his head toward Peter. Peter looked down at his shield and grasped it even tighter.
Lord Peregrine’s gaze, illuminated by the torch, moved slowly over the form of the shield. His strong features and dark beard were highlighted by the yellow light of the fire. Peter saw the ominous shadows over the Knight’s deep set eyes and feared him more. Peter had once admired Sir Peregrine as his father’s most noble Knight. Now he doubted the man’s loyalty to his father.
Peregrine squinted his eyes in order to see the detail of the shield. Then, realizing exactly what the object was before him, his eyes grew large and his mouth gaped open. He looked amazingly at the boy and then back at the shield. He knew it was a scale...the scale of the Dragon.
“Where did you find that shield?” he demanded of Peter.
“I...did not...” Peter hesitated.
“Answer me! Where did you find that shield?” Peregrine shouted.
“I did not find it,” Peter said. “It was given to me.”
Peregrine’s horse neighed impatiently and tried to turn away. It nervously sensed something unfamiliar in the woods. Peregrine pulled the reins back.
“Given...to you?” Peregrine asked. “By whom?”
Peter did not answer. This puzzled Peregrine as he knew it had to be a Dragon scale. But how? He wondered. Where did he find it?
“Give it to me.” he commanded as he reached out his hand.
Peter motioned Titan to step backward. “No!” Peter yelled. His horse took two steps back, snorted, and shook his mane.
“Give it to me, you silly boy. You don’t know what you have there,” Peregrine said as he reached out to Peter.
“Yes I do!” shouted Peter. “It’s the scale of the Dragon,” he said with satisfaction. Peregrine’s men gasped and looked at one another. Only then did he realize he should not have made the revelation known.
Peregrine became angry. He moved closer to Peter squinted his eyes, and lowered his voice to an intimidating tone. Slowly he said, “Where did you get that scale?” Peter froze as he watched Peregrine’s men inch their way closer to him. Some dismounted their horses and uneasily walked on the blue mist. Titan whinnied and shook his mane as he took a few steps backward. The two stood there as Peter quickly plotted their escape, but nothing came to mind. Peter regretted ever having left the castle.
Lord Peregrine sensed Peter’s uneasiness and realized he was approaching this from the wrong direction. He sat straight up in his saddle and seemed more at ease. He released the reins of his horse and handed the torch to the rider next to him. Then he raised his hand toward his men. “Now, now,” he said. “We mustn’t frighten the boy.” He slowly dismounted his horse, and as he turned away from Peter he made eye contact with his men. He whispered to them, “When I give the signal….” And they nodded in agreement hoping Peter did not hear him.
Peregrine, in his slyness, walked over to Peter. He removed his gloves and tried to look pleasant in the darkened forest. He reached for the torch once again and the soldier handed it to him. He gazed at the young Prince’s face. He tried in earnest not to look at the beautiful shield made of the Dragon’s scale even though it represented all that he had fought for these many months. He kept his eyes on Peter in order to make the boy feel more at ease. But the plan was not working. Peter grew more frightened as Peregrine walked over to him. He slowly grabbed a large chunk of Titan’s black mane in his hands. He did not trust Peregrine.
“Now, my boy...I mean Prince Peter, your Highness, ” Peregrine said, bowing his head. “Your father is looking for you. He is very worried about you and gave me, specific orders to bring you home safely.” He smiled reassuringly.
Peter raised his eyes above Peregrine’s head and looked toward the dark trees behind the knights.
“Come now, we do not have much time. There is a battle raging in the Cardion Valley,” Peregrine spoke more seriously as he reached out to Peter. “We must get you home so I can help your father.”
Peter’s eyes were fixated behind the knights as Peregrine spoke. “Help my father?” Peter asked. “My father doesn’t trust you.”
“Now your Highness,” Peregrine slowly stated. “Why would he send me out to bring you, his only son, home safely if he did not trust me?”
Peter inspected Peregrine’s men. Their armor was darker and heavier than his father’s and they did not have the Illiath banner with them. He could barely see their faces in the night. He did not answer Peregrine nor look at him. Instead, he held tightly to the sword as he grabbed the mane with some of his fingers. He knew something was about to happen in those dark trees. He squeezed Titan with his legs, signaling him to be ready.
Peregrine grew impatient. He was not amused with Peter’s silence. Nor did he appreciate the boy’s refusal to look at him. “If he trusts me,” he said, “so should you.”
Realizing he was not getting through to the boy, Peregrine decided to forego the pleasant conversation and get what he wanted after all. Lunging forward in a split second, he yelled to his men, “Now!”
The Knights ran toward Peter and Titan as Peregrine tried to snatch the shield from Peter’s grasp. But Peter knew what was happening behind them.
The glowing yellow eyes quickly made their way up the trees as the ominous voice came from within the forest walls. “Ride!” was all it said to Peter. And that is what Peter and Titan did. Peter kicked the ribs of his loyal horse and rode toward the lake. As they made their way, they heard Peregrine yell to his men, “Stop them! Move! Don’t let them get away!”
Peter could hear the commotion of the Knights as they ran to their horses and began riding toward them. But Peter followed the glowing eyes in the trees. He saw the blue mist rising out of the woods as the great beast began to reveal itself. The blue lake was in front of them and Titan hesitated to enter into the water. The Dragon sensed this and yelled, “Do not stop! Ride!” Then blue fire spewed out from its mouth. The ice blue fire hissed onto the waters as they approached it. “What’s this?” yelled Peregrine. Some of his men stopped as they sighted the Dragon at the top of the trees. They sat their on their horses staring at the giant spewing the blue fire from its mouth.
Peter kicked Titan even harder as they galloped faster and faster toward the waters. Peter closed his eyes as Titan jump up over a log. He fully expected to enter the icy cold waters of the lake when Titan’s hooves landed, but they were met with hardened ice instead. Trying not to slip, Titan continued to gallop as fast as he could, leaving Peregrine and his men far behind them. When they made it to the middle of the lake, Peter and Titan stopped and turned to see the Knights. Many of them were still standing in awe at the sight before them. Others were mounted on their horses ready to fight the Dragon. The beast made its way out of the forest deep and revealed itself to the traitorous Knights.
Peregrine quickly mounted his horse, pulled his sword from its sheath, and ordered his men to seize the Dragon. His eyes glared at the giant beast then turned toward Peter still in the middle of the icy blue lake. The hatred and anger inside Peregrine built up inside him as he realized how he had been tricked. Many of his Knights were mounted and ready to obey their commander’s orders. But the Dragon stood ready as well.
Peter asked Titan what they should do. He knew they would be safe on the now hardened lake, but he also wanted to help his new friend. The Dragon perceived Peter’s concern and turned to him. He spread his massive wings wide open and showed his claws. Then he lifted his head high into the night sky and roared. Peregrine’s men stopped where they stood not knowing what would happen next. They had their weapons in their hands and their shields hiding their bodies, but what match were they for the giant Dragon?
The Dragon made the familiar hissing sound as it inhaled a large amount of cold night air. The whooshing sound frightened the men’s horses, but Titan knew not to be afraid. Deeper and deeper the Dragon inhaled as it reared its head back farther and farther.
“Steady men! Remember your shields!” Peregrine shouted. He reminded them of the magic shields Lord Caragon had provided for them. They were supposed to protect them from the Dragon’s breath. He raised his shield up over his head.
But they were no match for the Dragon. A silent pause followed all the hissing and inhaling. Then the Dragon, leaning forward, unleashed all its fury on the Knights in one steady stream of glowing yellow fire projecting from its mouth. The unrelenting fire devoured all the men and their horses in one swipe, but the Dragon waved its head from side to side layering the hot fire in row after row. The fire consumed all in its path. It covered the misty ground all the way to Lord Peregrine’s armor covered boots. Then it stopped.
Peter had lifted the shield up over his head as a precaution even though he knew the Dragon would not hurt him or Titan. He slowly lowered the sparkling shield to see what had taken place. Fire was burning all over the forest clearing. What was left of Peregrine’s men lay smoldering on the ground. Only piles of ashes remained where once proud men stood before their mighty foe. Their metal swords and armor smoldered on the hot earth as smoke rose from the burial ground. Peregrine stood breathing heavily, dumbfounded at the sight. Then the Dragon made its way over to the cowering and ignoble Head of the Royal Knights.
Peregrine took a few shaky steps backward as the giant beast stepped toward him. The earth shook with each impact of the huge clawed feet as the sound of crunching tree trunks snapping in two was heard throughout the forest. The swishing of its tail fanned the flames that were still burning. Its belly rubbed against the flames, but its scales protected it from harm. Peter and Titan walked over to the water’s edge as the Dragon walked past them. They knew they were safe now.
The hissing sound from the Dragon echoed into the night. No other sound could be heard in the entire forest except the frantic beating of Peregrine’s heart. The Dragon lowered its head to the Knight. “You dare to approach me?” it hissed.
It continued moving forward as it looked into the eyes of its enemy. Its magnificent scales glistened and reflected the flames around its body. The scales were mesmerizing to Peregrine. He had never seen such a sight. As he fearfully admired the beast’s scales, he dropped his pitiful shield to the ground. Still holding the sword in his hand, he knelt before the Dragon’s feet. Bowing his head, Peregrine begged for mercy. The Dragon’s large mouth was inches away from Peregrine’s head. Its hot breath graced the doomed knight’s skin and smelled of burning incense. He shuddered at the thought of being incinerated. Peter and Titan stood far away from the spectacle, but they wanted to see what would happen to Sir Peregrine.
Peregrine slowly looked up into the Dragon’s eyes. “Please, I beg your forgiveness,” he sobbed
The Dragon answered only with a hiss of his hot breath as he studied the heart of the man before him.
“Mercy,” Peregrine said as he remained on bended knee before the Dragon of the forest. He bowed his head once again to show his respect. “I beg of you.”
Peter did not believe Peregrine. He still did not trust him.
The Dragon stayed close to Peregrine for a few moments and then slowly raised its large head. It turned to see Peter and Titan behind its tail. As he turned, Peregrine raised his head to watch the beast’s every move. With the Dragon turned toward Peter, Peregrine’s eyes met with the hole in the Dragon’s shoulder. He carefully eyed the mysterious gap and realized that a scale was missing. As the Dragon continued to look away, Peregrine raised his sword high behind him and lunged forward with all his strength. The sword released from his hand and flew into the air twisting and twirling toward the shoulder of the Dragon. Lord Peregrine’s aim was true. The cold blade entered into the exposed flesh of the Dragon’s shoulder and sunk deep into its chest. As the metal met the flesh of the beast, it roared out a painful scream that frightened Peter and Titan. Red blood flowed from the wound. Titan reared up and sent Peter flying to the ground.
Seeing that his aim was indeed accurate, Peregrine grabbed a deserted lance on the ground and hurled it at the wounded beast. The lance pierced the flesh again and sent the Dragon spinning around to face the knight. But Peregrine, in his time of boastful arrogance, forgot his shield on the ground and stood vulnerable to the Dragon’s breath. He leapt through the air and rolled on the ground toward his shield. With the celerity, grace, and beauty of a well trained Knight, he quickly grabbed the shield and held it over his body, still convinced it would protect him. Spying another sword smoldering on the ground, Peregrine grabbed it and hurled it at the enormous body before him. He ran behind a tree and watched the Dragon as it followed him. Then, Peregrine leapt over to another tree where he hid, hoping the Dragon did not see his maneuver. But all the armor and promises of greatness and wealth Caragon had sold him and all the training of his youth would betray him that night.
With one exhalation of the Dragon’s mighty yellow fire, Peregrine’s once proud and strong body was reduced to a simple pile of ashes.
The Dragon, however, was wounded. Peter ran over to see where the beast had been pierced. It lay down on the ground with its head hung low. Peter could hear its heavy breathing. He was afraid.
“We’ve no time to lose now,” the Dragon hissed to Peter. He could see it was in a great deal of pain. “We must go to the battle.” Peter lunged forward and quickly removed the lance from the wound. Peregrine’s bloody sword had already fallen to the ground. He hoped this would help the Dragon’s pain.
The Dragon lowered its head to let Peter climb on top so that they could make their way to the Cardion Valley together. Peter climbed to the back of the massive head and held onto the scales as best he could. The Dragon stood up so quickly that Peter became sick to his stomach from the rapid motion. He regained his strength when the Dragon spread its mighty wings wide open. Peter had not seen the wings spread completely out before and now he realized just how magnificent this Dragon truly was. Peter guessed its wingspan measured almost one hundred feet across with the translucent wings made of thick course leathery skin. .
“Hold on,” the Dragon ordered. Peter obeyed. The giant wings flapped forward and backward in a quick movement. The wind they created blew the trees back and forth as the blue mist rose around them. Titan reared up and loudly whinnied to Peter as his front legs flared in the air. He looked as if he was trying to say goodbye. “Go back to the castle, boy!” Peter shouted to his horse. Peter smiled as the body of the Dragon rose off the ground. Spotting Titan galloping out of the forest, Peter and the Dragon rose up over the forest and circled above it. Peter looked up and saw the moon. It appeared closer to him than ever before in his young life. He could see mountains and valleys on the moon’s surface. He saw the brightness of the stars around them. Then he switched his gaze to the Cardion Valley in the south. He could see the flames of the battle burning brightly and he knew his father needed help.
Together, they flew into battle in order to save his father...in order to save the kingdom.
Monday, August 18, 2008
The Siege Begins
The King rode quickly toward Cardion and Lord Caragon’s army. He jabbed his heels into his horse’s ribs and felt the beast’s strength move them both forward faster and faster. Yet his thoughts remained on his son’s whereabouts. He knew because of the Dragon Peter would be safe in the forest, but something inside him still doubted Peregrine.
“Sire!” a Knight yelled at the King to get his attention. “Look!”
The Knight was pointing toward the Dragon Forest when, together, they saw blue light coming from deep within the trees as it rose high into the sky. The Knight tried to ride forward while looking back. He seemed frightened.
“Do not fear!” answered the King. “All is well. Look forward where you are going.”
The King knew the blue light belonged to the Dragon. And he knew what the blue light meant. Deep inside his heart, he knew his son safely waited with the Dragon.
The Black Banner of Caragon’s army waved in the night breeze as his men moved forward to battle. The golden crest of Caragon, made up of two small dragons intertwined and facing each other, gleamed in the moonlight. Beneath the intertwined dragons was a human skull symbolizing death. Many of his men were on foot and behind them rode the Black Knights called Baroks trained in the art of battle. Their black armor would have nearly disappeared into the darkness were it not for the light from torches they held in their hands. Armor covered their faces and bodies, weighing them down so that their feet left deep impressions in the earth. They held shields before them and had lances in every hand. These metal suits of armor could not be penetrated by any lance or arrow, so the legend said. Yet they had never been tested in battle. The time had come for his men to finally meet their fate in the hills of the Cardion Valley. Huge catapults several stories high were pulled by large oxen. The thunderous sound of the marching enemy echoed throughout the land and could be heard from the Crow Valley.
At the threshold of the valley, they stopped and soaked their arrowheads in black tar. One thousand Black Archers lined up outside of the valley and lit their arrows in one swoop of brush fire. Then they raised their arrows high into the sky as they waited for the order to come from their master. Horses nervously neighed and reared from impatience. The riders had to fight hard to keep their horses still.
Caragon sat mounted high on his black stallion. Together they stood on a small hill to the north of his archers. His men were anxious to begin the battle. But Caragon waited until the opportune moment to commence his plans of revenge on King Alexander and the kingdom of Illiath. His black horse moved in the night as Caragon tried to steady him. The cold breath blew from the stallion’s nostrils as it weaved back and forth on the small hill. Still wanting to run further, the horse remained nervously excited from the ride through the desert plains. Lord Caragon slowly removed his black helmet. The wind blew his long dark hair over his face. His eyes, surrounded by dark hardened features, focused in on the Cardion Valley. With teeth clenched and jaw tightened, he turned his gaze southward to the Castle. He could see another thousand of his soldiers hastening their way to begin the siege. The tall white towers of the Castle glistened in the moonlight. Cold blood ran through his veins as he imagined the fear and dread of the people within the walls.
Just then, a single black crow circled above Caragon. An omen. Its shrill interrupted the dark Lord’s thoughts. He watched the bird fly overhead. He smiled. Then the dreadful Lord Caragon looked to the North toward the Dragon forest. Near the tops of the trees he saw what he had been waiting for all these years in exile. A blue light shone from deep within the trees and rose up as a crown over the forest. It cut through the night like a blue flame of fire. Caragon knew the time had come. He placed his helmet back over his head. Then he raised his arm high into the night sky as his generals waited for the signal. The archers steadied their arrows as the flames flickered. Their heads faced toward their targets as their eyes turned in their sockets to see the signal. The hand of their leader lingered there only for a slight moment. Then he quickly lowered it in a cutting motion the ground.
The archers bent their bows back as hard as they could and then released their flaming arrows into the cold night air. They caught the breeze coming from the west behind them and rose farther into the sky where they reached their pinnacle before bending down again to the will of gravity’s pull. Many arrows met the thatched roofs and began to burn the helpless straw into nothing but ashes. More reached the ground and set it aflame. The savage fires rapidly spread across the farms and roads leaving nothing behind. Caragon had hoped to see the people running for their lives, but he knew the people had long ago entered into the Castle for safety. The archers reloaded, but behind them came the others rushing into the village carrying their black banners. They made their way in before the second wave of arrows flew. The trumpets of Caragon’s army signaled the commencement of battle.
The King and his men had ridden around the Cardion Valley to the East. There they watched through the fire devour the land as Caragon split up his men. The Black Knights entered into the small village, ransacking all the deserted homes and searching for the townspeople. “Baroks,” the King murmured as he angrily watched these evil Black Knights, mutations of man and beast, make their way through the dirt roads and destroying farms and homes along the way. It became too much for him to take. He knew the time had come to end this war with Caragon once and for all. He removed the sword of Alexander from its sheath and held it firmly in his hand. He could feel the power of his fathers before him emanating from the grip.
“He has unleashed the Baroks!” Alexander shouted. He motioned to Sir Thomas to move his men north and for Sir William to head south away from him where he had set up another group to enter the battle from the front. On his orders they were to ride in, flank the enemy, and surprise the Baroks.
With swords drawn and shields up, the King and his men stood ready. The King raised his sword high into the night sky where it lingered for a slight moment. Then he quickly lowered it in a slicing motion through the air. The Knights saw the signal and began their attack on the brutal enemy before them. Sir Thomas led the King’s men northward into the village. Many knights and squires followed him. Their horses screamed and the men yelled with passion as they entered the battle. The Baroks saw the approaching men and ran toward them with their lances held high. Their eyes glowed with hatred and magic from within their black helmets. Arms and shields were held high as man fought furiously against Barok. The King watched Sir William enter from the south as riders clashed with enemy footmen in what appeared to be a slaughter.
Sir William swept his sword into the approaching enemy and struck down many as they swung at his horse. William’s horse reared up and fell to the ground sending the Knight flying from the saddle. Disoriented, he quickly rose and found his sword as an enemy foot soldier ran toward him with his lance. The two faced each other with their weapons. William struck the legs of the enemy and sent him down. Then he released the anger built up within him and ended the duel once and for all with one swipe of his sword meeting metal to flesh. He stood over his kill only for a moment before he headed onward to yet another foe waiting for him.
Sir Thomas remained on horseback, slicing his way into the village. His horse leapt over a fence and landed in the burned-out remains of a small house. Thomas drew his sword and thrust it into the back of an enemy foot soldier who was pillaging the house. The soldier screamed in agony as the cold metal entered his body. Sir Thomas withdrew the sword and turned to swipe another of Caragon’s soldiers. He kicked the ribs of his horse and charged from the burned-out house to lead his men further into the battle.
Then came the Zadoks. These large black wolf-like dogs were a creation of Caragon’s evil magic. Their yellow eyes bulged as they showed their wicked teeth. Caragon’s men held back the giant beasts on leather leashes as they snarled and begged to be let free. With his arm in the air, Lord Caragon alerted his men to release the Zadoks on his mark. As he quickly lowered his arm, the Zadoks ran over the hills without restraint, eager for blood. It was Sir William who spotted the eerie creatures running toward his Knights. Raising his lance high into the air, he shouted a warning to the men.
“Dogs!” he screamed. The knights heeded the warning. But for many it was too late. The Zadoks tore into the arms of the men and pulled them down to the ground. These monsters were not dogs, and not wolves. They seemed to be a new breed of animal not seen before. Their teeth easily ripped through armor and mesh as their hot breath met the cold night air. Sir William galloped over to the fight and quickly dismounted his horse. Slicing through the beasts with his sword and lunging at the enemy with his lance, he valiantly defeated many before they killed more of his men.
From the hill, the King watched the heated battle rage. Through the smoke and fire, he could see to the other side of the village to where Caragon stood. His horse’s black mane blew in the wind and smoke. Both men stared at one another for a moment. Then King Alexander raised his heavy sword high above him and yelled as he reared his horse back in defiance.
All at once, with a swift lunge forward, King Alexander entered into the battle.
At the Castle, the garrison of men could hear the trumpet blast from Caragon’s army. They could see the fire and smoke rise from the Cardion Valley. They watched as legions of the approaching enemy soldiers hastily made their way on foot to the Blue River where they set up their positions. The river, the main water source to the Palace and surrounding valleys, flowed west to east outside the castle gate facing the Dragon forest. The wooden bridge which ran over the river allowed access to the castle’s main gate. Constable Darion knew this bridge needed to be severed. As the tall silhouettes of the catapults rose behind them, Caragon’s horsemen gathered nearby, ready to make their run. King Alexander’s men knew it would not be long before the enemy made its way to the outer walls of the Castle. The Constable stood next to the archers along the curtain wall of the courtyard. He knew the catapults would launch large boulders into the air toward the Castle towers, but whether or not the large towers could withstand the attack he was not sure. Gazing at the bridge over the Blue River, Darion ordered the archers to set it afire in hopes it would give them more time to prepare. The men obeyed and Constable Darion made his way down the ladder and off the wall as the bridge burned. The enemy would have to cross the river in order to make their way to the Castle walls.
Lady Silith gazed out the window of the Steward’s tower and saw her village burning in the night. She held a linen handkerchief tightly in her in her hand. She could see down into the courtyard from high in the tower. The men were frantically gathering the women and children to send them below the Castle for protection. Her eyes filled with tears as she knew many of her people were below. She wept for their fate.
Lord Byrén came up behind her and touched her shoulders. He watched out the window as wel,l only to see the flames from the battle rise into the night sky.
“Do you suppose the King is there, my Lady?” he asked.
“One may only hope,” she answered.
The others paced quietly in the large room of the tower patiently waiting for word from below. Just then, the Constable burst into the room.
“Quickly!” he shouted. “You must come with me.”
He motioned for them to follow him down the stairs.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Lady Godden. “What is happening?”
“The soldiers have informed me that they can see the enemy approaching with much haste toward the Blue River,” the Constable said as he held the large door open.
“The Blue River?” Lady Godden repeated, amazed that the enemy had made its way so close in such short time.
“Yes, we haven’t much time. I must get you all out of here. You are in grave danger!” he yelled back. “My Lords, my Ladies, please…hurry!”
They quickly walked out of the room and down the spiral staircase where a foot soldier waited with a torch. He led them down the narrow dark staircase toward the dungeon.
“Where are we headed?” asked Lord Byrén.
“To the dungeon,” answered the Constable.
“The dungeon?” Lady Godden asked as she lifted the skirt of her dress so as not to trip in her haste. “Are you sure that is…wise?”
“Yes, my Lady. The King has made the dungeon into a safety room for all the women and children,” the Constable answered as he led them farther and farther down. “He knew this day would come and made arrangements for the gloomy dungeon to be cleaned and prepared to hold as many people as it can for the duration of the siege.”
“Wise man, indeed,” said Lord Byrén.
They dutifully followed the torch down to their hiding place. They could hear the rumbling of footsteps and voices in front of them. Finally, they spotted others entering into the large room made of brick and stone in the bowels of the Castle lit by many torches and candles. The Ladies entered first, followed by the Lords. As they made their way in, the Constable stopped at the doorway and handed the torch to Lord Byrén.
“Stay here. You will be safe. Close the door behind me and no matter what, do not open it. No matter what you hear…do not open this door! Understand?” he ordered as his eyes stared sternly at the Lord.
“Yes, of course,” Lord Byrén answered. He knew exactly what the Constable was saying. If, by chance, the enemy were to enter into the Castle, they could find this room. They would proceed to kill everyone in their path.
“Good,” the Constable said. “Lock it after I close it.”
“But what about you?” asked Lady Silith. “Where will you be?”
“Don’t worry about me. I will be with the soldiers.” The Constable placed his hands on the door to close it. “Just do not open the door. Not even for my voice.”
Then he closed the massive door with a resounding thud. After it closed shut, they heard the Constable on the other side as he ran up the steps.
“Oh dear,” Lady Silith cried. She buried her face in her hands.
Then she and the others turned to see hundreds of faces watching them. The people of the villages stared at their leaders intently as they wondered what would happen next. Lady Silith regained her composure. She stood tall as she faced her people. A little girl with dark hair walked over to her and pulled on her burgundy velvet gown with her small hands. She had never seen such fabric before. She gently touched the soft gown and gazed at the gold thread. Lady Silith bent over and picked up the little girl into her arms. Then she walked over to the others who were lying down on blankets and huddled together on sacks of grain. She spotted the girl’s mother and sat down next to her with the child on her lap. She smiled at the mother.
“We will be safe here.” she said, reassuringly, as she sat with the family.
All the people were quiet as they heard the trumpet blast from Caragon’s army outside the Castle wall. They looked up at the ceiling of the dungeon. It trembled slightly from the marching feet on the earth outside and some dirt from the stones made its way down to the ground at Lord Byrén’s feet.
“I’m afraid… it has begun,” he said.