Sketch of Titan
Entering the Forest
The King rose to toast his guests as they sat around his large dining table in the center of the grand dining hall. It was decorated with the banners of each region represented there that night. The fine tapestries his fair Queen had collected on her travels hung on one wall while golden sconces held burning torches which glowed and lit the dim room. Portraits of the Kings of the past hung on adjacent walls. King Alexander’s father, Aléon, posed impressively for his portrait with his beloved stallion, Audun. This enormous painting filled one wall behind the present King’s eloquent chair. As their great King stood, dressed in his finest silver armor with scarlet cape draping to the floor, all the guests stood out of respect for their host. All the golden goblets were filled with red sweet wine and the guests lifted their cups high as the King spoke. Sir Peregrine lifted his goblet the highest.
“This is a great night indeed. As we all gather here tonight to discuss our plans for protecting Illiath, and finally Théadril, from the enemy, unity is key to the survival of our great land, and we all have a duty to serve our people.”
“Here, here!” the leaders said as they began to sit down. One leader, Lady Silith, still stood as she spoke.
“My Lord, as the grateful representative of the great Cardion Valley, I cannot properly express the utter joy and relief of my people upon hearing the great news of your willingness to protect us against Lord Caragon, who at this precise moment is planning his evil takeover of every Valley we know.” Lady Silith looked over all the guests as she spoke. Her burgundy velvet gown trimmed with gold thread glistened in the candlelight and revealed to all the great wealth of the people in the Cardion Valley. They were famous for their fine silks, velvets, and other materials brought over on the merchant ships. Many men of the Cardion Valley would take wagons over to the Eastshire port and bring back these treasures they traded.
When she finished speaking, she sat down to the right of the King, which was an honorable place setting indeed. Her father had served alongside the King’s father, Aléon, during the wars against the many barons who attacked from the east. These gothic brutes tended to rob the merchants who were bringing the Cardion people shipments from overseas. They fought with great brutality. Many of the King’s men were lost in these wars. Lake Silith is named after her father. The Cardion Valley was a peaceful valley filled with small stone houses with thatched rooftops. The people there grew much of the Kingdom’s wheat, corn, and other grains for its breads and flours. Windmills used for grinding these grains littered the valley landscape. Many of the women were fine seamstresses and its men were known for smithing its metals and iron.
Next, Lord Byrén rose to speak. He, too, felt it a great honor to be in the presence of the King at this time in history.
“Our great lands are uniting to defeat the enemy once again, my Lord. As leader of the Crow Valley, I am here to inform you all that we will be as one with the Kingdom of Illiath in battle. As you all know, our small valley is most vulnerable to Lord Caragon. He has, at times, cut off our water supply from the Black River and threatened us with famine. My people are frightened that he will invade our valley and use our lands as an outpost of sorts for his army. This we cannot allow to happen!” Lord Byrén slammed his fist upon the large table. The small Crow Valley lay near the mountains by the Black River. The valley’s townspeople bred fine horses for the King’s stables. They also grew large trees to supply the King with wood for building projects, and grew hay and oats for the horses. They relied heavily on the river for water supply. Lord Caragon’s castle, Hildron, stood ominously to the west of the Crow Valley.
“Here, here!” They all shouted in agreement. The King nodded.
Sir Peregrine listened intently, but without comment. This silence did not go unnoticed. The King’s eyes were upon the Knight.
“I, too, am here to express the concerns of my people,” said Lady Godden as she rose out of her chair. She was the eldest of the Godden family who lived in the Cornshire just east of the Kingdom. The tranquil Cornshire lay nearest the castle. With acres of green hills leading into the mountains near Lake Silith, the land was beautiful. To the south were the crystal clear waters of the Blue River that encircled Peek Island. The river fed row after row of corn and hay that grew full and tall in the bright sun for many a harvest. These cornfields, once the site of the bloodiest battle of the Cornshire war many harvests ago, were once again the place of peace and plenty. The people lived in tall houses made of mud bricks. Each owner had tree lined farms fenced in with wooden beams. Horses and livestock grazed openly on the fields. Lady Godden’s long white hair was pulled tightly into a bun at the base of her long neck. She was dressed in the finest of silk dyed to a deep dark blue. Silver threading and embroidery decorated her long royal gown. Her hands were bejeweled with the oldest and rarest jewels in the land. They glistened as she gestured. Her appearance displayed the regality she had earned.
“My Lord, I have come not to speak of war, but of peace,” Continued Lady Godden. “My people are weary of battle. We no longer see the need to see bloodshed on the battlefield as our only option for peace. We must find a way to appease Lord Caragon of his demands. We must do anything to avoid battle and the death that comes with it. All our valleys have seen too much death and bloodshed...too much loss. We have all seen war and its results. Who here has not been affected by war’s ravages? Our land has thrived lo these many harvests. War would only cause famine upon the lands. My people have worked too hard to allow that to happen. War never causes benevolence, only death. Nothing good can come of it. Here and now we can stop the imminent threat of war. It must come to an end. I say, let us meet with Lord Caragon and discuss this as peacekeepers.”
Mumbles of disagreement from all the other guests filled the dining hall. Heads shook from side to side in contempt of Lady Godden’s speech. The King stood, and when he did so, Lady Godden bowed in respect then sat down in her chair to the left of the King.
“Friends, friends, please,” the King said as he raised his right hand to silence the mumbles of disapproval. “Please, we must remember, this is a venue for all to speak as they feel. All are free to speak on behalf of their people. Lady Godden has done just that.”
Keeping silent as the King spoke, Sir Peregrine rested his gloved hand on his chin as he sat emotionless while the people spoke.
King Alexander left the great table and walked around his guests who remained seated. “Lady Godden, if I may be so bold, has come here on behalf of the great regal people of the Cornshire to ask me to avoid war at all costs. Am I correct my Lady?”
“Yes, sire.” She nodded in agreement. Her eyes remain lowered out of respect of her King.
“And may I assume that you have also come here to relay to me that your people, the fine people of the Cornshire, have a deep desire to allow Lord Caragon to enter into the Dragon Forest if this, too, means avoiding war?” The King asked.
Amazed at his foresight, Lady Godden said, “Why yes, my Lord.”
“And, am I also safe to assume that your people have implored you to come here to beseech me to let Lord Caragon slay the Dragon of the Forest if that is what he so desires, to avoid going to battle? Is this true?” He spoke as he walked over to the large window overlooking the night sky. The full moon was high in the sky as its glow hovered over the Dragon Forest.
“Why yes, my Lord. The Dragon, after all, is a threat to all peoples everywhere,” Lady Godden stated.
The King slowly turned towards the representatives of his great Kingdom. He looked each one in the eye, and as he met his eyes with theirs, they quickly lowered their gaze.
“There is no appeasing evil, my Lady. What Lord Caragon has done is evil in the sight of my people and his very own. He has gone against the Treaty of Cornshire which your father and my grandfather both wrote in order to keep the peace. He was ordered not to build an army, and yet my spies have relayed to me that Caragon has spent the last eighteen moons doing just that. He has acquired a vast army. For what purpose is this army? I pay no heed to its purpose, only its illegality.
“He has over-taxed his people and horded all the money to supply this army while his own people starve and are forced to become like robber barons hiding in the Black Hills waiting to pounce on any travelers in utter desperation.” The representative of the Black Hills nodded in agreement as the King continued.
“He has enslaved people and the Ogres and turned them out of their lands in the Théadron desert. He has gone against all that is good and kind to all of us who cherish these things. His desire is to enter into the Dragon Forest, not to slay the unseen Dragon whom you fear, but to control all of Théadril. His desire is to control all that we have. I refuse to enter into the Dragon Forest. I refuse to bring war into the peaceful forest in order to obtain that which is not mine to obtain. I have already spoken of this with my Knights. This unseen Dragon has caused you no harm, my Lady. Nor will it cause us any harm so long as I govern.” With this final statement, the King finished. He looked at Lady Godden who was now staring at her plate of uneaten pheasant and bread stuffing which the servants had placed on each plate.
“So, you see my Lady. There is no appeasing evil. One must strike at evil quickly. That is the only way. “
“Here, here!” All the guests stood at their feet and clapped in approval of their King’s statement. Even Sir Peregrine rose with respect.
Lady Godden remained seated at first, but slowly rose as she watched her King walk back to his chair. She, too, stood clapping. But her gaze averted the King and his guests in disagreement.
“Now, please, all sit and let us eat this fine feast my staff has been preparing since this morning.” The King said, as he sat down.
Sir Peregrine took a leg of pheasant and ate it heartily. The meat, flavored and roasted with butter and herbs from the Cornshire, melted in his mouth.
As all the guests began to eat and drink, they continued to discuss the matter at hand, when suddenly, a high pitched squeal resonated from the corridor and echoed through the Great Hall and interrupted the King’s speech. Everyone looked around and gasped at the interruption.
The King recognized the voice as that of his son’s nanny. Startled and confused, the King asked the butler to find out what was the matter. But before the man could leave the room, the nanny entered huffing and puffing as she was out of breath.
“Begging your pardon, my Lord,” she said as she bowed. “I regret to inform you that I cannot find Peter anywhere. His room is empty and I do not know where he is! All I found was a note on his pillow,” she said.
“Where is this note?” asked the King.
She handed it to the King, curtsied, and waited as he read it. All the guests watched their King read the note. When he finished, he paused and then looked up. He gazed out the large window and into the darkness. The King quickly left the table, looked at Sir Peregrine, and yelled for his guards.
“Ready a search party!” he shouted as he quickly left the hall. Peregrine nodded in submission and followed his King.
As the note fluttered its way to the floor, the butler picked it up and read it.
I believe it is time to put my sword to good use and be the Prince I was meant to be. I will be back soon with the Dragon scales for your army. Love, Peter
“Oh dear,” replied the butler as he rolled his eyes upward. “He’s just like his father.”
“He must have heard the meeting the King had with his knights,” the nanny said. “That poor boy is out there all alone in the night. Whatever shall we do?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, my dear. The King will find him,” answered the butler.
The Butler stared at all the distinguished guests. He bowed respectively towards them and gazed out the large window. He felt all their eyes on him. He did not know what to do at this moment. In all his years of service to the King, this was the first time he did not instinctively know what to do.
“Perhaps we should all pray for his safe return,” said Lady Godden, as she rose from her seat.
“Indeed,” answered Lord Byrén. “He’ll be back before we know it.”
“A search party?” the Knights asked as their squires and pages helped them quickly put on their armor. “Whatever for?”
“Well, the Prince, as young as he is, has decided to enter into the Dragon Forest this very night,” Sir Peregrine explained as he watched his men get ready. Smiling, he removed his sword from its sheath and ran his fingers over the long blade ever so carefully. “It seems he has decided to retrieve the scales for the King himself.”
“What?” they chuckled as their boots were fastened. “You cannot be serious?”
“That foolish boy! What does this do to our plans?” one Knight asked as he angrily buckled his belt and adjusted his sword. “Everything will be ruined!”
Peregrine, the King’s head Knight and friend, returned his sword to its sheath and looked at the dancing fire glowing in the fire pit. He slowly walked over to it. With the poker he moved the logs around to rekindle the fire’s warmth. A sudden burst of flames lit up the small quarters. The heat felt good on his hands.
“Be patient, my friend. Nothing is ruined,” he grinned as he played with the fire.
“The impudent lad has simply caused our plans to be put into effect sooner rather than later. Actually, the boy appears to have more sense than his father.”
The men laughed.
“We will enter into the forest to retrieve the boy, or so the King will suppose,” he held the red hot poker by the handle. “But in the end, we will have those scales.”
He held up the burning poker close to the ruggedly handsome features of his bearded face until the orange glow reflected off his countenance. “So help me, we will have those scales no matter what the cost.”
Relieved, the Knights nodded in agreement. Their plans had been constructed carefully after much advisement. They weren’t about to let a young boy ruin them this night even if that boy was Prince of the kingdom. Too much was at stake to let go of all they had already conceived. Many of Peregrine’s men had fallen into debt and would have lost their estates had it not been for their leader’s generous offer. Those scales meant money in their hands. When they were fully armored and had their shields and torches, they headed out the estate doorway and to the stables where their squires were leading their saddled horses out to meet them. The night air was cool as the moon lit their way. Peregrine joined his men at his stables. He mounted his horse and joined his men in riding out to meet the king.
The King’s men rushed out to the stables, interrupting the stable boys’ poker game. They accidentally overturned their table sending their cards flying into the air. Quickly, they helped the Knights saddle the horses and lead them out into the courtyard. Each Knight mounted his anxious horse in the cold night air and rode over to the castle gate. There they saw the King mounted on his majestic white steed, the envy of all the land. It breathed heavily in the cold air and its breath could be seen as mist leaving its nostrils. The King, dressed with breastplate for protection and royal cape with the crest of Illiath embroidered onto it, held the reigns tightly as he knew his impatient horse was ready to ride.
“We will split up into two groups. One group will approach from the Cardion Valley, while the other approaches from the Northshore . Call out when you have reached the threshold of the forest. No one is to enter the forest. Understood?” he ordered.
The men all nodded in submission to their noble King. Then they all rode off in one accord, not knowing what lay ahead of them. None of them had ever approached the Dragon Forest before.
Peter rode as fast as he could that night as he watched the Dragon Forest appear larger and larger before his eyes. His horse breathed heavily in the cold night air. Although they were moving fast, the night air seemed peaceful and still. He stopped before entering the Cardion Valley and turned back to look at the castle. He could see the mill tower where flour was made and near it he could see light coming from the Marshall’s tower. As he spotted the light from his bedroom window, he could faintly see men with torches aligned on the castle walls guarding his father.
He had ridden through the Cardion Valley first. This was the first time Peter had ever ventured this far away from the castle. He had been to the Cornshire once with his father for a memorial to the knights who died in battle. But he had never been this far away from home. As he rode through the quaint Cardion Valley, he knew his father, the King, was toasting his guests back at the castle dining hall. Peter slowly entered into the valley. He wasn’t sure if anyone there would recognize him, but then he realized that most people had never seen his face before. He was only allowed to stroll in the Castle courtyard, but never outside the gates. Here he saw small houses with thatched roofs as it was supper time for the people and most were inside now. Wisps of smoke came from all the brick chimneys. Peter could hear Titan’s hooves slosh in the muddy road beneath them. Once in awhile he heard an owl far off, but it was so peaceful here in the Valley.
He passed a house and peaked into the window from a top his horse. Together they stood outside of the home, curious as to what was happening inside. They heard laughter, a child’s laughter. Titan’s ears perked up. Peter leaned forward to see inside the small house. He saw a mother stirring a black pot by the large kitchen fireplace. She was talking to her husband who was playing with his small son. They sat at the dinner table, which was smaller than Peter’s feather bed. The mother served the hearty stew into the bowls and the steam rose from each bowl. Then, the child and father bowed their heads to pray, giving thanks for their portion.
Peter stared at them for a moment. In silence, he sat there watching them, almost envying them from afar.
“Peter, say thank you before you eat your meal,” the Queen said as she sternly looked at her young son. Then she smiled at him. Peter dutifully bowed his head and whispered a prayer of thanks for his meal. As he prayed, the King entered into the dining hall. A servant held out his chair as he sat next to his beautiful wife, Queen Laurien. Peter sat by watching as his mother and father spoke to one another of the day’s events. The three of them sat at the south end of the long mahogany table lined with plates of food and pitchers of wine.
Titan whinnied softly as Peter remembered his family before Lord Caragon brought so many problems to the land. I can almost smell the food at the table, he thought. Back then, the King had time for his son. Peter missed their time together as a family. He could barely remember his mother’s voice.
Suddenly, Titan stirred more vigorously waking Peter from his trance. Peter realized a bit of tear had welled up in his eye and he quickly wiped it away.
“Come on now, let’s go.” He told Titan as he gently kicked his horse’s ribs. He motioned the reigns towards the left to turn the horse around. They went down another street.
Together they walked slowly through the town in silence. Most of the homes had families sitting to supper, just like the one before. Peter’s stomach ached from nervousness. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling inside. The moon above lit up the hills to the east of them. As they rode through the town, a man was outside of his small home gathering firewood for the night. He saw Peter and his horse. “Hey,” he said to them. “Are you lost, son?” he asked. He had never seen the boy or his horse in town before.
“No, I am not lost,” answered Peter. He tried not to make eye contact with the man. He did not want to be recognized. “I am just passing through town.” Then he quickly jerked Titan’s reigns, grabbed a handful of his dark thick mane, and turned him around. As they departed the small valley, they rode off together towards their goal.
They rode over the small green hills north of Cardion Valley. Peter could see his breath and Titan’s breath too. The air grew colder as they approached the Dragon Forest.
They reached the entrance to the forest about the time his father was listening to Lady Godden lecture him back in the great dining hall of the castle, not suspecting his son was gone. There they stood, Peter and his horse, the two of them about to begin their first adventure.
The trees stood as ominously as ever as they guarded their secret with fierce loyalty. They were such a dark green, Peter thought they were black. The moon was high now and giving off its familiar yellow glow in the cloudless sky. The perfect round orb illuminated the way for Peter as Titan slowly approached the edge of the trees. Peter climbed off Titan and grabbed the reigns. He led him through the trees with his wooden sword in hand. The sound of the hooves in the dirt and leaves made a squishing noise. It was the only noise to be heard besides the caw of a black crow above him perched on a tree and the occasional breeze moving through the trees and scattering the dead leaves around them. The midnight black crow stood there on its branch. It appeared to be laughing at them. Peter frowned.
Thick and hard to navigate, the trees with their branches caught Peter’s cape once or twice, tugging at his neck. It startled him as it almost felt like the trees were grabbing him and trying to keep him from going any further. But he knew he must keep going. To get those scales for his father was his only mission. To present his father with those scales would make the King so proud of his son. To do this one thing would stop the threat of war with Caragon and his men. In Peter’s mind, it was the only way.
As they continued in, they could see the trees thinning and revealing a clearing of the forest. The blue mist was getting thicker now and surrounding them. The cooler air went through Peter’s tunic like light through a shade, leaving his skin chilled. Finally, the lake was before them. Its surface was like a smooth sapphire stone. A cloud approached and quickly blocked out the moon’s glow, making it difficult for Peter to see where he was going. Coming in from the east, another breeze put a chill in the already cool night air. They continued walking, searching for the Dragon’s hiding place. Would it be in a cave? Or would it be hiding in the trees? Peter thought hard about what it would look like. Was it really one hundred feet tall as his history tutor once told him? Was it green with red eyes? Did it breathe fire and exhale smoke from its nostrils? Or was that just another tale? No one knew for sure.
Peter stopped by the lake as the cloud moved with the wind and the moon made its appearance once again shining brightly on the lake. As the water moved ever so gently in the breeze, thousands of sparkles of moonlight danced on the surface of the waters like glitter tossed into the air. The blue mist rose just above the water almost like a downy blanket. Peter had never seen such beauty and if he were never to see anything else in his whole life, he would not be sad because he was finally living his dream. He was inside the Dragon Forest.
“Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” he whispered to his horse. Together they looked around the sapphire lake in quiet solitude. The trees encircled the lake as if they were guarding it. They towered over the pair in an almost regal state.
Their silent repose was broken by a whispering voice from behind them.
“Did you hear something?” Peter quietly asked his horse. Titan looked at him and remained quiet. Both of them were scared beyond compare.
“Is someone there?” Peter asked the darkness.
“Is someone there, I say?” Peter hesitated.
“Is someone there, I say?” The darkness echoed.