Two days after accepting the assistance of the Awa in crossing the sea, King Belgrave was startled to see the fins of a na’karden headed toward the shore. Moments later, he realized that it was being controlled by the Awa that were sitting on its back. They stopped the large sea serpent as close to the shore as they could get it without it beaching. Several of the Awa left the na’karden and swam to the shore.
The Awa helped them swim out to the beast with their gear and climb up onto the netting that was draped over its back. They explained that specially shaped spikes along the sides of the na’karden gave it open wounds and that it would keep from submerging into the stinging seawater as long as the spikes were in place. An Awa controlled the direction that the monster would swim by another spike in the top of its head. “The na’karden is not a very intelligent creature,” one of the Awa named Dofun’Be explained, “but we have found them to be useful in times of great need.”
King Belgrave was not entirely pleased, however. “Isn’t this cruel to the na’karden?” he asked.
“It is,” Dofun’Be agreed, “but the wounds will close and heal once the spikes are removed. Believe me, we do not like to be cruel to animals any more than you do, but there are times, especially during war, when it can be necessary. This na’karden will be released when we reach Tanarad.”
“What about the soldiers that I want to send to Nasad ahead of me?” King Belgrave asked.
“Another na’karden will rendezvous with us tonight,” Dofun’Be replied. “The others can transfer aboard.” He paused. “The Awa are also prepared to take several more na’karden to guard the waters near Nasad if you wish.”
King Belgrave shook his head. “I do not know what all will happen at Nasad, but I think that the battle will be fought on land since the armies of Tanarad and Panei do not have many ships.”
“We’ll see what happens,” Dofun’Be decided. “We may or may not be there.”
Despite the calm seas and easy weather, King Belgrave was anxious the entire voyage from Tayve to Tanarad after Tealea had warned that he may find himself unwelcome and that the men elected to advise him had turned against him. If they had managed to take his kingdom, it could be a difficult battle to regain the throne. He hoped that the people would know better than to follow the traitorous council. When he had left Amehtana four months before, he had not thought the five men capable of such deeds, but now the council was spreading their poisonous lies that he was a tyrant. King Belgrave’s only relief concerning his throne was the knowledge that the five brothers had opposed the political takeover and he knew that he could count on them to support his return if they were still alive.
It was a warm evening when the na’karden carried them into the Bay of Anamnesis and to the port of Amehtana. It was evident that the citizens of Tanarad had indeed rebelled against the council members that had aspired to take the throne. The five bodies hung in gibbets from a high pole for all to see and served as a warning to anyone who would have the audacity to follow their example. The five brothers were standing on the dock to greet them when they arrived.
“King Belgrave,” Thag shouted as they came close, “we did what was necessary to keep you alive. The council attempted to undermine your power since you stayed away longer than they had anticipated and would have killed you when you returned.”
King Belgrave frowned as he stepped from the ship. “I should have been the one to administer justice.” He put his hand on Thag’s shoulder and smiled. “Don’t worry about whether or not I approve of your methods. There will no longer be a council.”
Thag shook his head. “I doubt that there would be time to replace them even if you wanted to do so. Deathbirds have been flying north toward Panei and something worse approaches from the south.”
“We can discuss this in the palace,” Commander Sidrahkir interrupted. “We have been away for quite some time and King Belgrave should be given some nice comforts to welcome him back.”
King Belgrave smiled. “I would like a cold glass of Josloy’s kendi to drink.”
“A plate with some very tender tidri would go well with that,” Naiya’Nal added. “I am growing tired of living on dried elkenar antelope.”
“We will see what is available,” Thog said, “but it is hard to guarantee such pleasures considering our current circumstances.”
Thag took King Belgrave’s arm and led him toward the palace. “Come, we are very glad you have returned.”
King Belgrave looked up at the bodies of the five council members as they walked past the place where they hung. The council members had been helpful when he first needed them a year before, but they had begun to question his decisions and try to override his authority shortly before he had left for Panei. “How much of Tanarad was under the influence of the council?” he asked.
“The people are of little concern now,” Theg answered. “The people of Tanarad remain committed to you as their king even though a few of them were blinded by the poisonous lies. Prophecy will always hold precedence and those who stand against it will not succeed.”
“There are more urgent matters than the people,” Thag added. “The uniting of the three rings has set events in motion; things that demand your urgent attention. The darkness is growing and we believe the Dark Wizard has launched an attack from the South.”
“That’s impossible!” Commander Sidrahkir scoffed. “There hasn’t been a ship large enough to be worth using for an invasion in over a hundred years, not to mention, the land in the south is an impassable desert that is too wide to be explored. Even if the Dark Wizard did try to march an army across the hot sands, they would all die before they were halfway across.”
“Great dragons fly, a hero rises,” Naiya’Nal said softly. “I would have expected a commander of your renown to have studied the older prophecies and the life of Josloy.”
The Commander laughed. “I never cease to find it amazing that you are more learned than I am. Everyone knows the name of Josloy, but no one remembers much about his feats. Tell us what he did.”
“A thousand years before Voth, Josloy led a great army across the desert, through a pass in the mountains, and then across the breadth of Etnyben to defeat the Dark Magicians. Voth has had many more years than Josloy to plan any attacks, so I think that it would be easy for him to reverse the feat. Besides, if I remember my geography correctly, it is possible to bypass the mountains by sailing farther south.”
“We cannot guess how the Dark Wizard could do it, but there is a shadow growing on the horizon,” Thug said. He stopped walking and pointed south over the Bay of Anamnesis. “We first spotted it several days ago, but it has been slowly growing ever since.”
King Belgrave looked south where the man pointed. “I cannot see it,” he said.
“It is very faint,” Thig replied. “It is still barely above the horizon. Notice how the yellow in the sunset fades to gray.”
Commander Sidrahkir gasped as his eyes found the cloud far in the distance. “The desert is far below the horizon,” he said. “They must be closer than they appear.”
“How long do we have until they arrive?” King Belgrave asked.
“I dare not say,” Thag stated, shaking his head as they stepped into the palace. “There is no army in Tanarad capable of fighting against the Dark Wizard. I have ordered everyone to follow the deathbirds to Panei where we will have allies. Only the five of us stayed behind to await your arrival.”
King Belgrave stopped walking and pulled away from Thag. “So you would just hand Tanarad to the Dark Wizard?”
“King Belgrave, I think it is a sound strategy,” Captain Haloz stated. “It would be much quicker to take all of Tanarad to Panei than to bring all of the soldiers of Panei to Tanarad.”
“This small sacrifice will also allow our armies a greater amount of time to prepare,” Thig added.
King Belgrave sighed. “Then we will have to go to Panei,” he said. “We can stay here and leave in the morning.”
“The wind is stronger than normal,” the Commander said. “It may only be a matter of hours before we see sails on the horizon. We should leave while we still can.”
“I do not believe Voth would be rash enough to invade without knowing our strength,” Naiya’Nal said. I believe he could be fooled into holding off his attack until the time of our choosing.”
“How would you do that?” Thug asked.
“The city is empty,” she answered. “If he finds the city well lit, then he will anticipate a much more difficult attack than if he found it deserted.”
For a moment, no one spoke as they all thought about this suggestion. Finally, Captain Haloz broke the silence. “Most commanders hold off their attack if they find a waiting enemy.”
King Belgrave nodded. “The Dark Wizard may think he can march straight to Nasad, but he should hesitate if Amehtana appears to be standing in his way. Fill the city with light and then we will head to Panei tomorrow morning.”
Within an hour, the sun had set and every lamp in Amehtana was burning. The dark cloud blew grew closer and eventually blotted out the stars. A number of large ships entered the bay, but they all stayed just out of range of Amehtana.
Shortly before dawn, Commander Sidrahkir had just laid down for a quick nap outside the southern end of the throne room when he heard a familiar sound and an arrow bounced off the stone wall behind him. He instinctively grabbed his shield and ran back inside as several more arrows struck the ground around him. “We’re under attack!” he shouted.
Captain Haloz ran in from the other side. “We’ve been surrounded! I have the Red Exemplars protecting the courtyard. Have your soldiers guard the sea side.”
The Commander rallied his soldiers as they heard a loud shout from the bay. The barrage of arrows had ceased and the enemy was now attacking. “Protect the palace! Show this dark enemy the strength of Tanarad!” He grabbed one of the soldiers. “Wake the king and queen. Go quickly!”
King Belgrave was awakened by a loud scream in the hall and Naiya’Nal shaking him. “Put on your armor,” Naiya’Nal ordered Belgrave. “The enemy has attacked.” King Belgrave jumped from his bed. Naiya’Nal was already wearing her armor over her purple robe and her black cape hung from her shoulders.
“What was that scream?” Belgrave asked, putting on his armor as fast as he could.
“I think it was a guard,” she answered. “It would seem that the enemy distracted us with their ships in the bay while they sent soldiers by land to attack us from behind. I believe we are surrounded and they have entered the palace.” She handed him his sword. “We will have to fight our way out.”
King Belgrave held up his sword and walked to the door. He could hear the sounds of battle in the hallway outside. “I will push the door open,” Belgrave said. “You be ready to kill any enemy soldier you see.”
Naiya’Nal shook her head and laughed. “Step back from the door,” she said. “I want to enter this battle with a bang.”
Belgrave smiled and stepped back. Naiya’Nal held both of her hands out in front of her and ran toward the door. A large burst of flame broke the door off its hinges and slammed it against the far wall of the hallway. Naiya’Nal stepped into the hall and held her arms out to either side. Lightning flickered in both directions and Belgrave could hear the screams of those she struck.
He stepped out behind her. Bodies littered the floor, but more of the dark soldiers were entering the hallway from the throne room. “Stay here,” he ordered Naiya’Nal “Keep the hallway clear.” He lifted his sword and charged. The dark soldiers were slightly shorter than he was, but they still fought relentlessly.
“King Belgrave!” Commander Sidrahkir shouted from the center of the throne room. “We need to get out of here. We cannot hold them much longer!”
King Belgrave fought his way through the enemy until he joined the Commander and his small group of soldiers that the enemy pushed back from the bay side of the throne room. “We can escape through the hallway,” he said. “Naiya’Nal has it cleared.”
Fire suddenly engulfed the white curtains hanging at the bay end of the throne room. The curtains soon fell to the ground in a burning heap, revealing a large dragon towering over a figure wearing a black robe. The dragon stepped over the figure and the flames, and looked straight at Commander Sidrahkir. It roared and lunged.
The Commander ducked and rolled to the side as the mouth of the dragon barely missed him and snapped through two of the other soldiers. He remembered years before when a dragon had bit him and fought his way through the enemy soldiers to get away from the beast. Finally, he broke through the enemy and sprinted toward the far end of the throne room. The dragon stepped past the other soldiers and pursued him.
He looked over his shoulder. The dragon was almost upon him. “Stop,” a voice yelled in his ear. The Commander suddenly ran into something. He turned and saw that he had run into Captain Haloz. “I don’t care what you’re running from, you should never look back,” the Red Exemplar scolded. There was a loud roar and a crash, and the Commander looked back to see the dragon lying dead, pierced in the head by many arrows.
King Belgrave watched the black robes and dark smoke billow around the dark figure as it slowly entered the room. It held out its hand and lightning flashed across the room. The soldiers left fighting beside King Belgrave fell to the ground. The figure had no visible face, but the identity was unmistakable. The Dark Wizard Voth, the enemy of King Belgrave, had finally shown himself. “Who dares contest my authority?” the Dark Wizard bellowed.
King Belgrave held up his fist with the ring. “You have no authority in this world,” he yelled. He brandished his sword and ran to attack the Dark Wizard. Voth let out a wicked laugh as his magic pushed King Belgrave backward to the ground.
“You do not know how to wield the power of the three rings,” the Dark Wizard stated, advancing toward King Belgrave. “You have taken two of my witches and are attempting to take my kingdom. You will die.” King Belgrave tried to hold up his sword, but the magic of Voth was too strong for him to move. The Dark Wizard pulled out an ancient sword. Its edges gleamed with the cold malice of the many spells cast upon it. “This is the end,” the Dark Wizard said, raising the sword high.
Naiya’Nal stood alert and silent in the empty hallway. She could feel the presence of her old master standing in the throne room. She remembered the murder of her parents and the last words she had spoken to the monster that had enslaved her, that if they ever met again, one of them would die. Now the Dark Wizard was going to kill her husband if she did not stop him.
She grabbed a double-bladed sword from an enemy corpse on the ground and rushed into the throne room. The enemy soldiers fell before the power of the weapon that she used as she rushed toward Voth. King Belgrave watched from the floor as Naiya’Nal attacked Voth. She slashed at the Dark Wizard with a fury beyond anything Belgrave had ever seen from her, but it was useless. The magic of Voth threw her down beside Belgrave. The Dark Wizard raised his sword once again.
Voth was distracted and turned suddenly as five arrows flew toward him from several directions. The magic pinning King Belgrave and Naiya’Nal to the ground was broken and they could move. “Run!” Captain Haloz yelled as the Dark Wizard began to move toward the closest of his new threats. Naiya’Nal jumped to her feet and pulled Belgrave up. The enemy soldiers fell before them as they ran toward the Captain and Commander Sidrahkir. “Run to the Dark Forest,” the Captain said when they were close. “The Red Exemplars will hold them here. Commander Sidrahkir will go and protect you, as will the five brothers once they escape from the palace hallways.”
“I fear this attack is merely a feint,” King Belgrave said. “Let us escape and then you retreat as well. Meet us at Nasad where the real battle will take place.”
Captain Haloz nodded. “Just get out of here, King Belgrave,” he replied. “The Red Exemplars can care for themselves. We will see you at Nasad.”
Voth stood among the carnage in the burning palace. His enemy and former Dark Witch had escaped. His dragon was dead and he would have to call another one. He lifted his head and yelled. “Veytabijnor Kezh veykrig Amehtana.” He turned his head and saw Hlueqwik, one of his lesser commanders, step from a hallway.
“Tuvibellv uodvem eyt koot puv Heslek pellik uvwom eyt,” the lesser commander said. “Weyt ensund em plnoys?”
“You need not worry about the death of Heslek or the taking of his weapon, Tuvibellv,” Voth replied. While the woman can wield the power of Tuvibellv, she will not be overwhelmed by our numbers. Now that they have seen what we can do, let them escape to tell the rest of the world of the doom that is coming.”
“Livs tes puv sdiys uieyt puvoq sueiplos hw envy llim i. Nasad jo ycveq eyt tlnvssv ot snoixuv si Lebuv.”
“First spend the day spoiling this city,” Voth countered. “I want anything which could be useful to be placed on the ships. Signal Lebuv to send a healing ship to shore. Gather your wounded soldiers. The isded should cure them sufficiently for Nasad. We will depart tomorrow.”