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.