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.”