Chapter 22

It was only a two day march to the base of Mount Chozea. As they approached the mountain, Captain Haloz suddenly stopped and looked back. The other soldiers also stopped. “I see lunch,” he softly announced. He pulled out his bow and placed an arrow on the string.

“What is it?” King Belgrave asked, walking up beside him. Captain Haloz pointed through the trees slightly to the left and King Belgrave could see the broken silhouette of a large deer. “That thing is three men tall! Are you sure you can kill it with one shot?”

“As sure as I am when I aim at enemies in battle,” Captain Haloz replied. “It still does not know we are here. For your assurance, I will move closer before I attack it.”

King Belgrave stood and watched as the Captain and the Red Exemplars silently made their way through the woods toward the large beast. Commander Sidrahkir stepped up beside King Belgrave. “That is an elkenar antelope,” he noted. “It is on my list of things to avoid.”

Belgrave smiled. “I bet there are many things on that list of yours that you brave daily. I may feel uneasy about this creature, but it is still near the path we are taking. I think they should be entitled to their fun after marching with us for so long. If they kill it, we feast tonight. If things go poor, we probably would have had to fight it anyway.”

“I would still rather risk having it attack us than to risk forcing a fight,” the Commander said.

A sudden loud rustle and the shouting of soldiers ended their discussion. The Red Exemplars had shot the beast, but only enough to wound it. It ran into the midst of the Red Exemplars to attack them, but the pricks of their spears hurt the animal even more. In its attempt to escape, it ran at King Belgrave. He pulled out his sword, and as it passed him, he struck its leg as hard as he could. The sharp pain enraged the deer and it kicked Belgrave in the chest.

Belgrave went flying, but the angered deer still hadn’t finished with him. As Belgrave lay on the ground trying to catch his breath, a soldier stepped between him and the charging beast. The soldier was holding one of the glowing daggers that the Lunari had given King Belgrave at the temple, but he had thought he had lost them in the eruption. The deer tried to gore the soldier with its antlers, but the soldier was too quick and grabbed hold of them. The soldier swung unto the creature’s head and plunged the dagger deep into its forehead. The elkenar antelope fell dead to the ground just short of King Belgrave.

The soldier jumped from the head of the fallen antelope and ran over to King Belgrave who was surprised to see a very recognizable face. It was Naiya’Nal. She removed her own helmet and then pulled off Belgrave’s helmet. “Are you hurt badly?” she asked, pulling off his breastplate.

He reached up and embraced his wife. “I only had the wind knocked out of me, but I may be a bit bruised,” he answered. Her sudden appearance began to explain a number of strange occurrences along the trip. “How long have you been with us?”

She smiled. “You didn’t expect me to stay behind and not be around to save you from danger, did you? I have been with the army ever since you sailed from Amehtana. Commander Sidrahkir and Captain Haloz both knew and promised not to tell you.”

“Then why didn’t I see you?” Belgrave asked.

“You definitely saw me,” she answered. “I have stayed nearby the entire time, but you just weren’t looking for me.”

“There have been times when I saw things that I would not expect from an average soldier,” Belgrave admitted.

“Yes,” Naiya’Nal replied. “You were never told that I killed the na’karden. I shot a Barbidon officer standing in front of you on the riverbank in Nelfarj. I could not follow you up the temple of the Lunari, but I was permitted to retrieve the daggers you threw.” She reached into her pack and took out the other Lunari dagger. “The other is for you,” she said, handing it to Belgrave. “I would have stayed in Amehtana as you ordered, but Belgrave, my place is by your side. I will follow you wherever you go, and nothing you say can turn me from that.”

Belgrave had nothing to say. He was just glad to have her with him. They sat in silence for a few moments with their arms wrapped around each other.

Suddenly Belgrave turned his focus to the situation around him. He could hear Commander Sidrahkir yelling somewhere in the forest. “Captain Haloz! Don’t be a clod and go rushing in all the time! King Belgrave was hurt because of you.”

“I’d love to stay and enjoy the moment a bit longer,” Belgrave said to Naiya’Nal, “but I have soldiers to keep in line,” He stood up. “Commander!” Sidrahkir came running a moment later. “Leave Captain Haloz alone,” Belgrave ordered the Commander. “Are there any others hurt?”

“Only three Red Exemplars and you,” the Commander replied.

“Then go see if Captain Haloz requires any assistance instead of yelling at his mistake.” Commander Sidrahkir bowed briefly and ran off. King Belgrave turned toward some of the other soldiers who were emerging from the trees where they had hidden from the beast. “Set up a camp,” he ordered. “There’s enough meat here to feed us for a long time!”