Chapter 18

They rested in the forest for two days after their hard trek through the weeds. King Belgrave allowed the Red Exemplars to stand the first watch, but then he rotated in the other soldiers. The area under the trees was open and clear of undergrowth, but a dense fog floating above them blocked the view. The fog made King Belgrave uneasy. Most of the time it would hang in location, but occasionally it stirred as if something was moving through it. There were also occasional noises that sounded like flapping wings. “I do not think we are alone,” he said to Commander Sidrahkir as they sat watching the fog above them.

“We are being watched,” the Commander replied. “If they are what I think they are, I hope they stay in the fog where we cannot see them.” Belgrave gave him a concerned look. “Tweenks,” Commander Sidrahkir explained. “According to legend, they are like owls with arms. It is said that they cannot see in the dark.”

King Belgrave walked over to one of the thick tree trunks. “How long would it take for us to chop this down?” he asked.

“I would not advise angering anything,” the Commander cautioned.

“Then I have a second suggestion,” King Belgrave said. “Burn the tree and hope the fire drives them away. If it works, we could eventually burn a path right through the forest.”

He suddenly stepped back and gasped because as soon as he said this, the fog above him suddenly stirred and he could hear the sound of wings and the scratch of claws on the tree. The noises grew and grew and he knew there was more than one of the creatures up there. The stirred-up fog began to thin and the outlines of the creatures began to take shape.

“Fire,” a voice whispered, echoed by many others. They understood what Belgrave had just suggested!

Commander Sidrahkir stood beside King Belgrave and readied his sword. “I have only heard two stories about tweenks and neither of them had a pleasant ending.”

“You cannot pass alone,” the voices whispered.

“They are definitely intelligent,” King Belgrave said. “I think they are trying to tell us something.”

“Fire. You cannot pass alone,” the whispering voices repeated.

“They only mean to confuse us before they attack,” the Commander said. He raised his sword.

There were several loud squawks at Commander Sidrahkir’s action and two of the creatures swooped down out of the tree. Before anyone could react, one knocked the Commander to the ground and the other took his sword. The two creatures then flew off into the forest.

“Fire. You cannot pass alone.” The whisper went out again as Captain Haloz helped Commander Sidrahkir to his feet.

“They are trying to tell us something, not hurt us,” Belgrave said. He looked up at the creatures on the tree. “What do you want?”

“Fire. You cannot pass alone.”

“Are you asking for fire?” King Belgrave asked them.

“Fire. You cannot pass alone.”

King Belgrave was beginning to get frustrated. “It would be easier if they spoke more than five words,” he muttered.

Suddenly the two tweenks returned and perched on the tree just beyond King Belgrave’s reach. They dropped two bones on the ground. “You have been summoned to the Mind,” they whispered. “The two who take the bones will go.”

“Commander Sidrahkir,” King Belgrave said, “take a bone. You’re coming to get your sword back.” King Belgrave picked up one of the bones and the Commander reluctantly did the same. The tweenks grabbed them by the arms and pulled them up into the darkness.

King Belgrave was glad that it was too dark to see. He could feel the wind rushing past his body and the tweenk changed direction to avoid unseen branches. By the time the tweenk set him down, he did not know where he was. It seemed to be a platform made of sticks and it was hard to walk on the uneven surface. He could hear more of the creatures around him. “You are in the presence of the Mind,” the tweenk who had carried him whispered. Behind him, Commander Sidrahkir gave a shout as the other tweenk dropped him onto the platform.

“The Prophecy,” a voice deeper than the others whispered. “Show your sword that you may see.”

The glow from King Belgrave’s sword illuminated the area and he could now see that he stood in the center of a large nest high in the trees. Commander Sidrahkir stood behind him. They were surrounded by tweenks. In the center of the nest was another tweenk that appeared larger and older than the others.

“Who are you?” King Belgrave asked.

“I am the mind that thinks for all of our kind. We are one race and through me, one being.”

“What do you want from us?” King Belgrave asked.

“We do not allow strangers in our forest,” the large tweenk explained, “but you are no stranger and have been long awaited. We know why you are here and we can help you. Give us fire and we will carry you and your soldiers through the forest.”

Commander Sidrahkir frowned. “If I had a torch, I’d burn this...” He was interrupted by a cacophony of shrill shrieks from the tweenks around them. King Belgrave gave him a disapproving look and turned back to the large tweenk.

“Why do you need our fire when you cannot see in the light?”

“We are a cursed race,” the tweenk said. “We are forced to live here in the darkness and protect the home of the bright ones from all intruders except those who fulfill prophecy. The forest is ours and rarely do those who enter survive our rage. Our only enemies are the beetles that often venture from the weeds and hunt us as food. With the fire you bring, we will destroy them. You are the prophecy and you bring fire with you. We could leave you to brave the forest alone, but none of you would survive. Give us the fire we need and we will take you to through the forest.”

“Will you take us back through the forest on our return?” asked King Belgrave.

“We are the only way in and the only way out. Give us the fire and we will uphold our end of the bargain.”

“We will give you fire,” King Belgrave agreed. “Could you please give back the sword of my Commander?”

“I want to speak with him alone,” the tweenk replied. “You will be taken to your soldiers. When they are ready, we will transport you all through the forest. We will bring your commander to you.”

“Thank you,” King Belgrave thanked the Mind. “I’ll see you soon,” he said to Commander Sidrahkir as he returned his sword to its sheath. A tweenk picked him up in the darkness and flew off with him.

Commander Sidrahkir had been in many battles against many enemies, but now he was alone and surrounded in complete darkness without a weapon. He took a few deep breaths to try calming himself. “What do you want with me?” he finally asked into the darkness.

“I am aware of your fervor in defending your king,” the sinister voice replied. “In your attempt to protect your king, you almost incited us against you.”

“Defense keeps me alive,” the Commander defended. “I won’t give something a chance to kill me just to prove it won’t. I have seen what happens with taking chances like that. Curiosity killed my kitten!”

“Silence!” It was still a whisper, but much louder than before. Commander Sidrahkir tensed up, but then the voice returned to normal. “You are a military commander. Such rank does not come easy and only those who excel will ever achieve it. You have undoubtedly proved your worth, but even those of high rank are not above error. I am letting you know of your error with the hope that you will take heed of my advice.”

For a few moments, the Commander stood in silence contemplating this. “I understand,” he said. “I need to follow King Belgrave and let him lead me instead of me trying to lead him.”

“You are correct,” the tweenk replied. “Assist him. Let him make the choices and decide what needs to be done. I am sure that you will find it to be worthwhile.”

“And what about taking the initiative to do what I think must be done?” the Commander asked.

“Live only for prophecy and not for yourself. I promise that you will have no regrets.”

Commander Sidrahkir bowed toward the voice. “Thank you for the personal attention,” he said. “I will think about what you have said.” He heard his sword fall in front of him so he picked it up in the darkness.

“One more thing,” the tweenk said. “Hold out your hand.” The Commander held out his hand and they gave him what felt like a large talon. “There may come a time when your King will need our assistance. If you are under the cover of darkness and pressed on all sides by enemies beyond count, blow on this whistle and you will summon us to the aid of your King. I wish you good luck, Commander. Farewell.”

Commander Sidrahkir tucked away the whistle as a tweenk grabbed him and began to fly with him through the forest. This time the flight was less frightening since he knew he would not be harmed. Soon he could see a faint light in the forest and the tweenk set him down next to King Belgrave.

“We’re near the edge of the forest,” explained King Belgrave. “The tweenks would have taken us the rest of the way, but the daylight hurts their eyes. Fun flight, wasn’t it?”

“You had it easy,” the Commander said.