The King and his men galloped across the lands passing the quiet Cardion Valley. Clops of mud flew into the air as the horses trampled the wet ground. Heading over the hills and toward the entrance of the Dragon Forest, they could see the rows of quaint small houses with smoke coming from their chimneys
As they approached the entrance, they stopped to hear their instructions from their King. They all gathered there to listen. The breath from their horses filled the air as their large chests heaved in and out. They had worked the beasts hard on that night.
Before heading on, Sir Peregrine saw the others stopped. He directed his men toward the King to listen. The King saw his head Knight approach.
“My Lord.” Sir Peregrine said as he and his mount came to an abrupt stop.
“Peregrine, take your men near the Northern entrance and we will enter here. Meet us in the center of the Forest near the lake. Mind you, it is deep. The way can become like an illusion. The Forest, it comes alive.”
“Enter in?” Peregrine asked. “My Lord, is it wise for the King to enter into the forest?” The men were silent. “Perhaps you should allow me and my men to enter first.” King Alexander pondered this idea for a moment, and then heard a sound coming from behind.
They looked and saw an approaching rider. As all the men turned to the rider, they all recognized the King’s messenger.
“My Lord.” The boy huffed as his horse slid to a stop in the muddy earth. Then he spoke with great urgency. “A message …from your scouts… in the Black Hills,” he said as he dismounted and handed the King the note. Amazed that this young man had ridden the great distance from the Black Hills, the King read on. The message must be urgent indeed.
The King dismounted his horse and rushed towards the exhausted man. Taking the note, he eyed his Knights. They looked confused.
He walked a few paces as he read the words scribbled on the note:
“My Lord, as your loyal scout, I have asked this devoted messenger to bring you this most urgent warning. Lord Caragon’s men have been hiding in the Black Hills. Only I and a handful of my men have survived. Caragon’s men have left Hildron castle and are headed toward the Cardion Valley and, as I write this, they ride with the intent to destroy all in the Valley as they head toward the Cornshire and, finally, the Castle of Illiath.
“There is not much time to act. I pray you meet Caragon’s men before they enter the Valley.
“Your loyal servant...”
King Alexander stood silent with his back towards his men. He had never felt more alone than at this moment. The dilemma was staring him straight in the face.
How could this have happened? He thought. His mind raced. He raised his eyes toward the Forest with its black trees staring down at him. The moon was now covered by dark looming clouds. Several black crows encircled them above. They cawed and broke the silence of his thoughts. He alone knew what the forest possessed. He knew what his son faced. He also knew the capabilities of Caragon’s men, and how the men of the Cardion Valley were mostly farmers, not soldiers. They would be no match for the evil knights of Caragon’s army of Hildron riding toward them now. He pictured the people asleep in the small thatched homes unaware of the events about to take place. The faces of the women and the children of the village all crossed through his mind.
Something had to be done.
“Sire.” Sir Peregrine interrupted the King’s thoughts.
Peregrine dismounted and walked toward the King.
“Caragon’s men,” Alexander whispered. “They tricked us. They saw us leave the castle and are now headed toward Cardion.”
Alexander searched Peregrine’s face, but found no surprise. Puzzled, the King turned toward his Knights. His eyes met theirs. They saw the worried look in their King’s eyes.
“We’ve not much time,” The King answered.
“Yes, sire. What about the Prince?” Peregrine asked.
Faced with this dilemma, the King had to weigh the importance of his young son’s foolish night ride and the evil that headed toward his people.
“You there!” The King shouted at the messenger. He put his hands on the young rider’s shoulders and looked deep into his anxious eyes. “Ride back to the castle. Ride as fast as you can. There isn’t much time to waste.”
“When you arrive at the gate, give the Constable the note. Tell him to prepare the Castle for siege and to send a garrison of my Knights to meet us in the Cardion Valley hills. Tell them of the urgency. Now ride!”
With that, the messenger hopped back on his horse and shouted at the frightened animal to move. The men watched him ride off toward the kingdom. Then they turned their eyes on the King.
“We’ve only minutes to spare. All of you with me ride toward the Valley. Sir Peregrine,” the King turned toward his head knight.
“Yes, my Lord!” He shouted in reply and placed his hand over his heart. “I will lead my men into the forest and retrieve your son.”
“Do nothing out of foolishness, Peregrine,” Alexander said. “The Dragon is real.”
“We will approach with caution, my Lord,” Peregrine answered and bowed his head.
Relieved, the King wanted to hear just that. He quickly mounted his horse. He looked regal on his mount as his silver armor glistened and his scarlet cape flowed in the slight breeze. The Sword of Alexander was safely inside its sheath attached to the King’s belt. His heart told him to trust his old friend, Peregrine, once more. At sixteen years of age, they fought together in battle. Peregrine fought as a squire, Alexander as the Prince. For his courage, Alexander knighted Peregrine there on the battlefield after he became King. From that moment on, Peregrine swore allegiance to Alexander and his bloodline.
Alexander would have to trust him once again this time with his son’s life.
“I trust you will bring back my son?” He asked his head Knight and all the men with him.
“Yes, sire.” Sir Peregrine knelt down in submission to his King. “We will find him or die, my Lord.”
He placed his hand over his heart. His armor was cold from the night air.
“So be it.” the King said.
He quickly jerked the reigns of his stallion and rode off with his band of men. Peregrine watched his King ride off into the distance.