Twelve days after leaving Amehtana, on the nineteenth of Jurthe, they sailed across the Strait of Korut between Tanarad and Panei and neared their destination. Naiya’Nal had told Belgrave much about Panei. It was an oblong land, about twice as long north to south as it was east to west. The northern third of Panei was mountainous with the Ozo Mountains to the west and the Tahist Mountains to the east. Four countries covered the rest of Panei and surrounded the Dark Forest which was located in the center of the land. West of the Dark Forest and south of the Ozo Mountains was Vernon. South of Vernon was Pia. The River Kis, with its origins hidden somewhere in the Dark Forest, separated the two nations. East of Pia and the Dark Forest was Nerak. It was the largest nation in the land. The Nerak River divided it into North Nerak and South Nerak. To the north of Nerak, and among the foothills of the Tahist Mountains, was Taor. This was the smallest nation of Panei. Overall, Panei had a much larger population than Tanarad, and after the destruction of Atalan, Panei had become the center of civilization.
The nine ships spent the next day just offshore and out of sight from Akanarj while Ikaro and the others from Panei took a small boat and went to inform the locals to remain inside their houses that night. The tactic worked. The Barbidon garrison in the village did not know there was any threat, and when the small army from Tanarad finally attacked two hours after sundown, it was too late.
In the morning, Ikaro gathered the citizens of Akanarj and asked volunteers to join King Belgrave’s army. Many joined, and the next day, King Belgrave marched an army of three thousand soldiers west toward Elekim. Five days later, after Elekim was liberated, the army had doubled and they were marching north to Efundil. By the time they liberated Nasad on the sixth day of Falil, King Belgrave was sending the citizens of Akanarj home. He doubted they would need more than five thousand volunteers since they were marching faster than the news of King Belgrave’s arrival and the Barbidon garrisons had all been easily overrun after a quick battle.
On the seventeenth day of the month, having already liberated Kimirad and Samiril, they reached Nelfarj. It was a large city divided into two by the Nerak River. It was here that they finally met a formidable foe. It had been almost a month since the liberation of Akanarj and the Barbidons had now gathered an army on the far side of the Nerak River and kept them from crossing.
“We cannot swim across the river,” Commander Sidrahkir advised. “Their archers would cut us down before we reached the shore.”
“Then I am sure they also know that,” King Belgrave replied. “Ikaro, are there any other places to cross the river?”
“There is an area west of here where the river is wide and shallow. However, the Barbidons would expect us to cross there if we suddenly disappeared.”
“If they don’t expect us to swim and they know about the other crossing,” King Belgrave said, “then I think that my soldiers should stay here and build rafts while Ikaro takes the volunteers from Nerak around the long way. We will keep the Barbidons distracted by our presence here along the river so they won’t expect an attack from their flank. When you start the battle and pull them from the river, we’ll cross the river on rafts and surround them.”
“That should keep them fooled,” Ikaro replied. “I will leave with my troops tonight and move under cover of night. It will be about five days until we attack. You will know it has begun when you hear our drums. If we see any Barbidons where we plan to cross the river, then they will be dead before they see us.” Ikaro then left to prepare his men to depart.
“I don’t like the idea of rafts,” Commander Sidrahkir said. “They will be slow and hard to control in the current.”
“Then how about building a bridge?” King Belgrave asked. “If nothing else, you could tie rafts together until they reached across the river.”
“That will work,” the Commander replied. “Also, I think we should build trebuchets and bombard them.”
“Yes,” King Belgrave agreed. “That would be helpful indeed.” He looked over the river. He wondered what plans the Barbidons could be making.
In the Barbidon camp, Za’Lugar stood on a small hill surveying the scene before him. Across the Nerak River was a large army that had suddenly come from Tanarad. He let out a low growl. If Tanarad wanted to fight, he would give them that chance. He commanded all the Barbidon troops in Panei and it would be here that he would stop this menace. He looked over at one of his captains. “Chivwig!” he grunted.
“Awaiting orders,” the Barbidon grunted back.
“Take your company west. I want an advance notice if anyone crosses the shallows. If you see anyone, do not attack; send us a runner and retreat slow enough to draw them to us. I want to be ready when they come.”
The Barbidon growled and ran off. Another one walked over to Za’Lugar. “They will know better than to try crossing the river here. I say we take the whole army to the shallows and meet them there.”
“No, Theltag,” Za’Lugar adamantly replied. “We will fight them here. It will be death for them to linger long. Our forces in Vernon and Pia will be arriving behind them in a matter of weeks.” The other Barbidons grunted approval.
Za’Lugar turned to walk away. He looked back over his shoulder. “These fools overestimate themselves. Let me know what they do.”
Within a few hours, the barrage began. Large rocks began to fly across the Nerak River and into the Barbidon camp. Za’Lugar was quick to leave his tent to assess the situation. His soldiers were running about in panic, unsure of what to do. He scowled. When would they ever learn to stand their ground and take cover? He brandished his sword. “To the river!” he roared. Several Barbidons stopped and looked at him. “Dark curses on all who cower!”
On the opposite side of the river, Commander Sidrahkir suddenly realized something he had overlooked. The enemy could see their trebuchets and it would only be a matter of time before they began to return the attack. “Cease Fire!” he ordered. “Colonel Balvain, where are you?”
The Colonel came running. “Yes, Commander?”
“Send two companies to start cutting down leafy branches. We need to cover our positions with smoke.”
Back among the Barbidons, Za’Lugar was stumped. The attack had ended as suddenly as it had begun. “Theltag!” he called. “Bring me a runner.” Theltag ran off and returned with another Barbidon soldier. “I want to give these idiots a chance to surrender,” Za’Lugar told the Barbidon. “Go to their leader under a flag of truce. Tell him that as surely as Narva lives, he will either submit to us under her command or he will die along with all of his soldiers. Go quickly; I do not want to wait up all night.” The Barbidon ran off towards the river. “Any reply at all will let us know their intent,” Za’Lugar explained to those standing around him.
King Belgrave and Commander Sidrahkir stood discussing their plans inside a building when a captain entered. “Commander, there is a Barbidon crossing the river waving a blue flag with a white bar of truce!”
“They want to talk,” Commander Sidrahkir observed. “Bring him to us, but cover his face so he cannot see our positions.” They stepped out of the building and looked down to the river. They could see the lone Barbidon and the flag he was waving. “We need to get the locals out of the city,” the Commander added.
“Why is that?” King Belgrave asked.
“The Barbidons will return our attack when it becomes evident that we will not surrender. The city will no longer be safe for anyone still living here.”
“Have them evacuate,” King Belgrave said. “However, they shouldn’t have to go very far away; I don’t plan on retreating.”
Commander Sidrahkir agreed. “I will have it done.” He gave the order to one of the captains and then watched as they brought up the Barbidon.
They removed the covering and the Barbidon looked around nervously before he addressed King Belgrave. “I come bearing terms of truce from Za’Lugar, commander of all Barbidon forces in Panei, and loyal servant of Narva,” he began. “You are advised to surrender your army and vow loyalty to Narva. Failure to comply will result in death for you and all the soldiers you command.”
Commander Sidrahkir looked at King Belgrave with raised eyebrows. These Barbidons still thought the Dark Witch was alive!
Maintaining his composure, King Belgrave gave his reply. “Tell your commander, Za’Lugar, that this is what King Belgrave of Tanarad thinks of his offer. I will not be frightened by petty threats. The sword has been found and the king has returned. I have killed the Dark Witch Narva and freed all of Tanarad from her clutches. Tell your commander that if he does not set down his arms and leave Panei, he will surely join the Dark Witch in the grave.”
“I urge you to...” The Barbidon tried to say something, but was stifled as they put the covering back over his face.
“Release him at the river to return to his masters,” King Belgrave ordered. He kept his real thoughts to himself. He should have brought Naiya’Nal. She could have used her influence to make the Barbidons surrender without a fight. It was too late though; he had left her in Amehtana.
Za’Lugar stood on the hill with a few of his captains and watched as the runner slowly swam back across the river. The enemy had let the Barbidon live and Za’Lugar hoped his attempt at a peaceful conclusion to the conflict had worked.
Suddenly, the opposite shore flared up as many fires were started. “So that is your answer,” Za’Lugar said softly. “Only a fool attempts a siege without first surrounding their enemy.” He looked at his captains. “Theltag, Valchet, it’s going to be a long night. Start a rotation to keep the soldiers rested. Hashav and Golvreth, have your soldiers return the attack.” Za’Lugar paused. “They can throw stones at us all they want, but unless they cross the river, they cannot hurt us.”
The next day, King Belgrave was pleased by the way the Barbidons had taken the bait. They were staying in Akanarj, across the river, while Ikaro led the volunteers from Nerak to the crossing. The smoke from the burning branches did more than cover the positions of Belgrave’s army; it also blew across the river and into the Barbidon camp. It would burn their eyes and lungs and make their defense tedious and unpleasant. Now, neither army could see much of the other, but still they bombarded each other.
By the fourth day, Za’Lugar was becoming infuriated with the constant smoke. “Curse these foes and their smoke!” he snarled. Theltag offered him some water, but Za’Lugar declined. “I don’t need water,” he grunted. “I’ve been through worse than the rest of you wimps. This scum had better do something soon or they’re going to be stuck between the river and our soldiers from Pia and Vernon.”
Hashav suddenly ran up to Za’Lugar. “One of Chivwig’s soldiers has come into the camp!”
“Is it the runner he promised to send?” Za’Lugar asked.
“He is no runner,” Hashav replied, “and he says no runner will come. He claims that he alone escaped when Chivwig’s company was ambushed by a mob of common people. They are on their way here!”
Za’Lugar groaned. “This enemy is starting to become annoying. They should know better than to conquer the people of this land and then leave them free to roam.” He looked around. “Prepare the army for battle. They will continue to bombard an empty smoke-hidden riverbank while we deal with this new threat.”
On the fifth day, King Belgrave was anxious. “How will we know when Ikaro pulls the Barbidons away from the river?”
“You will hear it,” Commander Sidrahkir replied. “Also, I have soldiers stationed in the highest towers in this half of Nelfarj. The smoke is thinner up there and they should see when Ikaro advances.”
“I will trust your judgment on this,” King Belgrave said. “The entire plan relies on perfect timing.”
The Commander laughed. “Don’t worry; you’ve got the best soldiers in the world fighting for you today.”
As the day grew hotter, King Belgrave started to hear drums far off in the distance. The battle was about to begin. Most of the soldiers formed up along the riverbank and prepared to cross.
Za’Lugar had a plan. Golvreth and his soldiers would stay along the riverbank to maintain the bombardment back at the enemy. The rest of the army would occupy positions to the north and west to fend off the coming mob. At least the air would be clearer outside the city and they would be able to breathe more deeply.
They could hear the mob long before they could see it. Za’Lugar was not sure why a mob would have drums, but he dismissed the thought that this was an actual army. He would trust the report he had been given. This was only a large mob and nothing else.
Eventually the mob came into sight. As they slowly marched closer, Za’Lugar began to feel nervous. The mob was larger than he had expected. They were marching in an ordered formation and some of the people even wore armor and held shields. A flag was raised and unfurled to show the yellow banner with the chevron of Nerak. The beat of the drums changed and the mob charged with a great shout.
Commander Sidrahkir heard the drum beat change. “Cross the river,” he ordered. “We’re already late for battle!” Soldiers began hauling the rafts into the river and lashing them together as fast as they could. Archers advanced with the ends of the floating bridges, ready to shoot any Barbidon visible on the far bank.
Golvreth’s soldiers continued to bombard the enemy across the river while the rest of the Barbidons had gone to meet the coming mob. He peered into the smoke floating across the river and wished he could see farther into it. Suddenly he saw movement. An enemy soldier in the river! A sudden breeze thinned the smoke and Golvreth saw exactly what was happening.
“To the riverbank, you slackards!” Golvreth roared. Barbidon soldiers ran past him and he grabbed one of them. “Tell Za’Lugar we are under attack,” he ordered. “Make it fast or we will all die.” The Barbidon soldier ran off and Golvreth turned back to the scene at the riverbank. He grunted as an arrow pierced into his arm. With a roar, he ripped out the arrow and flung it to the ground. He pulled out his great sword and stepped forward to battle.
Ikaro ran forward with the men he had brought to battle. Many could die, but this battle would determine the future of Panei and he would do his part. His brother, King Anou, would have been at the battle, but he was in hiding at Nerak Nitil. He could not fail. He would give King Belgrave the chance he needed to cross the river and surround the Barbidons.
Za’Lugar moved to the front of his troops and grabbed a spear from one of his soldiers. He stepped in front of his army looked at his troops. “Meet the enemy as this spear!” he shouted, throwing it into the rushing mob. Loud roars and the clattering of weapons and armor filled the air as the Barbidon army surged forward.
Commander Sidrahkir was the first to step on the shore. Soldiers swept past him to either side as he stopped to fight the first Barbidon to meet them. The Barbidon may have been much larger, but Commander Sidrahkir had years of experience fighting against them. He knew that he only had to keep the creature distracted until the archers behind him could do their job. He stepped past the body and continued up the riverbank. King Belgrave followed close behind.
Golvreth picked his target. He could tell the leaders from the regular soldiers and there were two heading up the riverbank toward him. He stepped in front of them. “I will be dead before you have victory!” he threatened.
“If you insist,” Commander Sidrahkir replied, brandishing his sword. An arrow struck the Barbidon in the head and it fell back.
“I bet he never saw that coming,” King Belgrave laughed.
“The stupid thing still isn’t dead,” the Commander cautioned as the Barbidon rolled over and tried to get to its feet. A quick stab in the back ended its movement. “You never know with these things; some of them just don’t want to die.”
Za’Lugar stood in the midst of battle. His soldiers fought well, but they were slightly outnumbered. It would be a hard battle. Something grabbed his arm and he swung around ready to strike. It was a Barbidon soldier.
“Commander, the riverbank is under attack!”
Za’Lugar looked back into the city. These were not two separate armies. It was a coordinated attack, a diversion, to surround him. “Retreat and form a defensive ring!” he ordered.
As the Barbidons pulled back, Za’Lugar could see the remnants of Golvreth’s soldiers fleeing the city. Valchet suddenly grabbed him. “Golvreth has fallen!” he shouted. “We’ve been flanked and hopelessly outnumbered!”
Za’Lugar knew it was true. The enemy had won and he could do nothing about it. Only one decision remained. He could order his soldiers to fight to the death or he could surrender and save their lives.
Ikaro recognized what the Barbidons were doing and stopped the advance of his soldiers. It would be unwise to attack them in that formation. He had given King Belgrave the chance he needed to cross the river and the Barbidons had already retreated into a well-guarded circle. They watched as the last few Barbidons fled the city and retreated to what remained of their army.
King Belgrave stood on the battlefield. The Barbidon flag of truce fluttered above the throng of Barbidons. King Belgrave and Commander Sidrahkir stepped forward and waited. Shortly after, the Barbidon commander and his captains left their group and began to walk in their direction.
As he walked toward the leader of his enemy, Za’Lugar did not know what to think. He had never lost a battle and now he was only doing what he felt best to save the lives of his soldiers. If Narva returned from Tanarad to retake Panei, he would accept whatever punishment she felt was necessary for his failure. However, that was little more than speculation. At the moment he only hoped that this new king would be merciful.
When the Barbidons drew close to King Belgrave, they stopped and dropped to their knees. “I am Za’Lugar, commander of the Barbidon forces in Panei, and loyal soldier of Narva. I have come to surrender my army and plead for the lives of the soldiers under my command.”
King Belgrave removed his helmet. “Is there no higher ranking Barbidon in all of Panei?” he asked.
“I command all the Barbidon forces in Panei and I answer only to Narva,” Za’Lugar replied.
“Then order your soldiers to drop their weapons,” King Belgrave said. “You need not fear us because we do not seek to kill you. There is much you must be told.”
Za’Lugar gave the order and his captains went back to the Barbidon army. King Belgrave had a canopy erected to provide shade. Soldiers brought a table and several chairs.
King Belgrave and Commander Sidrahkir took a seat on one side of the table. “Commander Za’Lugar, take a seat,” King Belgrave ordered, motioning to the third chair. “I am sure that you led your soldiers honorably, and for that I will treat you with respect.” Za’Lugar bowed slightly and sat down.
There was a brief pause before King Belgrave continued. “Last year there was a major turn of events and it seems you have not yet received the news,” he started. He picked up his sword and set it on the table. This made Za’Lugar slightly nervous, but he did not show it. “A sword discovered, a king returns,” King Belgrave said. “The first of the final three prophecies has been fulfilled. I am not of this world, but I have come and found the sword. It was only days later that I defeated and killed the Dark Witch Narva as she led her army against us in battle. Tanarad is now completely free from the darkness that covered it. I have now come to do the same in Panei.”
Za’Lugar smiled. “There have been rumors from Tanarad, but we are careful not to believe what has not yet been confirmed. Now that I know the truth, I am grateful you have come. My people and I have been enslaved by the Dark Wizard and you have freed those of us who are here.” Za’Lugar dropped to his knees and bowed. “If Narva is truly dead, then I pledge my allegiance to you.”
King Belgrave stood up. “I accept your service, Commander, but you still need to accept my terms for your surrender today.”
The Barbidon looked up at the king. “You have spared our lives. We will do whatever you command.”
“You are to withdraw all Barbidon forces from Panei and return to Sarda,” King Belgrave ordered. “With your army still intact, I trust you will fight to free the rest of your race from their enslavement to the Dark Wizard.”
“It will be done,” Za’Lugar replied as he stood up. King Belgrave held out his hand and the Barbidon shook it.
“You have one month to assemble and remove all your forces from Panei. You may gather them east of Nelfarj before you set sail. I wish you good luck in Sarda,” King Belgrave said.
Za’Lugar bowed and made his way back to his army.