It was dark, but King Belgrave realized that he could hear hushed voices around him. He tried to remember where he was. He had faint recollections of rapidly changing light and shadow. There were feelings of pain, loss, sorrow, and yet it was all intermingled by heroic actions. The cacophony of harsh scenes flooded through his mind and he began to piece together his sporadic memories of the battle, but it was difficult to make much of the jumbled mess. Eventually he recalled how he had fallen asleep on the stairs just inside the tunnel at Nasad. He felt that he was forgetting something so he turned his focus to the voices around him.
“He hasn’t moved and it’s hard to give his body any liquids or nourishment,” a woman said. The voice was vaguely familiar.
“He should have awakened by now,” a man added. King Belgrave could not remember whose voice it was. “I’ll send for the doctor. Perhaps he missed something when we first found him.”
“I do not think that is necessary,” another man replied. King Belgrave recognized the voice of Commander Sidrahkir. “The wound is healing as well as any other. I think that we just need to be patient.” King Belgrave suddenly remembered his injury from the battle. He tried to move his hand to feel it, but his entire left side was sore. His right side was stiff, but he could move a small bit. He gave up and continued to listen to the voices in the room.
“Let him sleep as long as he can,” a strange voice suggested. The voice reminded him of dogs for some reason, but he could not figure out why. “Let him sleep lest he hurt himself more when he finds out that Naiya’Nal is gone.”
“Naiya’Nal!” He opened his eyes and tried to sit up, his right hand fighting against the blanket draped over him. “I must save her!” he shouted. Several hands in the torchlight pushed him back down on the bed. His sudden exertion filled his body with a flood of pain and tears formed in his eyes. “I must save Naiya’Nal,” he repeated a little softer.
Commander Sidrahkir’s face loomed over him in the torchlight. “The mind is willing, but your body is unable to climb mountains right now. Let your body recover first, and then you can go where you need to go.” King Belgrave let out a soft cry and stopped resisting the people holding him down. The Commander smiled. “It is so nice to see you finally awake.”
King Belgrave grimaced. “How long has it been?”
Queen Desi’Rel entered his field of vision. “It’s been about two weeks. We’re safe on the Island of Kimb now, hidden deep in the mountains of northern Panei. There is no way in or out of this place.” She propped him up. “Here, drink some water,” she said, putting a glass to his mouth.
The water was cool and refreshing to his dry throat, but she made him drink it slowly. When he finished, he looked around. King Hevman and Queen Vaersheena were also in the room and he realized that they were the voices that he could not remember when he was waking up. “I hate to put Naiya’Nal on hold,” he said, “but I think that you are right about my body not being ready to rescue her. How long do you think it will take me to recover?”
“As long as you don’t overexert yourself and make it worse, you should be much better in just a few more weeks,” Queen Desi’Rel answered.
“Where are the others?” King Belgrave asked.
“My daughter, Bisela’Var, is with King Liomanel consoling the families that lost loved ones in the battle,” King Hevman replied.
“And King Anou?”
There was a brief silence. “He never made it to the tunnel,” the Commander finally answered. “Ikaro is officially in charge of Nerak, but he spends most of his time sitting along the shore mourning his brother.
King Belgrave painfully put his arms in his lap and ran his fingers along the dried scab on his left forearm. “There will be no forgetting the losses suffered in this battle,” he said.
“Captain Haloz would have been greatly honored if he knew that you had remembered the Red Exemplars in their own manner,” Commander Sidrahkir said. “I too will never forget him. He was like a brother to me.”
King Belgrave looked up at the Commander. “You know how they lived. You know how they said, ‘to the end of the world and certain death.’” He paused and weakly smiled. “I wish you could have been there as the tunnel doors were closing to see the look on his face when I cut my arm. I wish you could have heard him shout, ‘we were the Red Exemplars,’ and seen the silhouette of his final actions in the broken rays of the morning sun. If ever something as morbid as death could be called glorious, that was it.” He paused again. “I am honored to remember Captain Haloz as a Red Exemplar.”
The silence that filled the room after his tale was unprecedented. King Hevman eventually left on his own business. Commander Sidrahkir went and looked out the window. Queen Vaersheena sat on the floor and put her head on her paws. Queen Desi’Rel continued to sit beside King Belgrave, looking at the cut on his arm. Eventually she broke the arcane silence. “Certain death,” she muttered quietly. “One small cut made it certain.”
King Belgrave eventually fell back asleep. When he awoke the following morning, they helped him up to the roof so that he could look around. It was still dark because of the cloud, but there was enough light for them to know that the sun was shining somewhere above the clouds.
A sudden ruckus at the southern end of the island got their attention and they moved to that side of the roof. A dragon was flying just beneath the clouds over the lake. It held a large bundle in its claws. Soldiers rushed the shore, holding their swords in the air. Several archers had managed to find arrows for their bows and started to shoot at the beast even though it was far outside their range. “That dragon is not attacking,” King Belgrave said. “It is bringing something. Tell them not to fire.”
Commander Sidrahkir turned and ran for the door. “I’ll take care of it,” he shouted. Moments later, they saw him sprinting toward the beach, waving his arms. “Cease fire! Cease fire! Don’t shoot!” he yelled as he ran. When the archers lowered their weapons, the dragon swooped low over the water and deposited the bundle into the lake before flying back into the clouds. The Commander immediately began to swim toward the bundle. Several other soldiers followed him.
From where they were, King Belgrave and the others could not see what was inside the bundle, but they did notice that Commander Sidrahkir called for more soldiers on the beach to assist after he looked inside it. When the bundle reached the beach, they watched as the Commander and the soldiers pulled a body from the wrappings and placed it on a stretcher. They draped the flag of Nerak over the body.
“King Anou?” Queen Desi’Rel wondered. She paused. “Why would the Dark Wizard send us the body of a king?”
There was a brief discussion among the soldiers on the beach and the Commander soon pulled the flag back from the face.
“Did you see the symbol branded on the dragon?” King Belgrave asked. “Voth did not send it, Naiya’Nal did.”
The soldiers then raised another flag of Nerak and cheered as it rose above them. They began to carry the body toward the building. “It can’t be!” the Queen gasped, turning to run for the door. “King Anou is alive!”
King Belgrave grinned as the others abandoned him on the rooftop. He would have liked to join them, but his body was not yet ready for the exertion. He was content to stay on the roof while everyone else went to see the king. It was nice to know King Anou had survived after all, and a relief to know that wherever Naiya’Nal was, she too was still alive.
Awhile later, Commander Sidrahkir returned to the roof to check on King Belgrave. “King Anou lost a foot and has a few other minor injuries, but he’s alive and should recover. He woke up briefly when we had him on the beach and he managed to say a few words to me before he lost consciousness again. He said that he brings a message to you from Naiya’Nal.”
King Belgrave leaned back. “I hope that he recovers quickly then.” He looked around. “It is nice up here with the breeze and the canopy above us. It’s a tad chilly, but it might be nicer to sleep up here than inside.”
The Commander laughed. “I’ve slept up here the past five nights. There is no way that I’d stay inside after being in the tunnel for so long.”
“I was serious, though,” King Belgrave replied. “I like it up here and it would be easier to care for me and King Anou if we were in the same place. The view is nice, and even though we have most of the world as our next-door neighbors, it’s fairly quiet and secluded.”
“I’ll go let the others know and we’ll bring up King Anou and your stuff,” the Commander said. He disappeared back through the door.
A little later, King Belgrave watched with amusement as they attempted to bring King Anou’s bed through the door without dumping King Anou. They placed the bed to one side and went back to get King Belgrave’s stuff.
Queen Desi’Rel stayed on the roof, changing some of King Anou’s bandages. King Belgrave slowly made his way over to the other king. “Most of these were only recently put on,” the Queen observed. She picked up a jug of water and began to wash one of the wounds on his left leg. “Whoever put on his bandages did it only recently and did not do a good job of it. These wounds are so full of dirt that it would seem that he was tortured with no regard for his suffering.” She looked up at King Belgrave. “If your wife really did send him, then she saved his life.”
“Sidrahkir said that his foot was gone,” King Belgrave said.
The queen’s fingers skillfully placed a fresh bandage over the cut that she had just cleaned. “He has a blackened stump just above where the ankle should be. It was not cut, it was burned off, and recently too, by the smell. We may have to amputate it a bit higher, but I want to ask him about that when he wakes.” She finished tying the bandage and moved to the next one higher up the leg.
King Belgrave then noticed a curious smudge on one of the bandages. “Take the bandage off of his right hand,” he ordered.
She looked up at him again. “I’m working my way up his body,” she replied. “I’ll get there eventually.” She looked back down. “Besides, I don’t think his hands would have the worst injuries.”
“His right hand is not wounded,” King Belgrave explained. “The bandage has something written on it.”
The queen moved to the other side of the body and picked up the hand. She untied the knot and unwound the bandage. More letters began to show on the cloth and soon they could make out the three urgent words. “Save me. Sarda,” King Belgrave read. He snatched the bandage from the queen and crumpled it in his fist. “I have no doubt that Naiya’Nal sent this,” he said, turning to look at the cliffs on the other side of the lake. “I will find a way out of this place and I will go to Sarda.” He winced as the cut on his side suddenly smarted.
Queen Desi’Rel ran over and grabbed him from behind, holding him tightly so he could not move. “Calm down,” she said softly in his ear. “Right now you’d only succeed in hurting yourself. I am sure that wherever Naiya’Nal is, she will manage to care for herself until you arrive.” She relaxed her grip on him and slowly took the cloth and held it up. “Besides, this may be nothing more than a trap. Wait for King Anou to wake and then we can hear what he has to say.”
“It is her. I know it is her,” King Belgrave argued. “I guess you’re right that I can’t save her yet, but when I can...” He paused. “But when I am better and can save her, I will go to Sarda and nothing will stop me.”
“I hope that is what prophecy destines you to do,” she replied. She continued to hold him for a while longer until she managed to get him to sit down. The Queen then returned to caring for King Anou. “I know it’s hard, especially not knowing what condition she’s in,” she said, “but you’re going to have to be patient.”
When the others returned with King Belgrave’s bedding and supplies, Queen Desi’Rel handed the cloth with the message to Commander Sidrahkir. He quickly glanced at the writing. “I guess we need to find a way to keep our king’s focus off his wife until he is healed.” He set down the items he was carrying and walked over to King Belgrave. “What types of sports do they have where you come from? Do they wrestle or duel or something similar?”
“We have events like that,” King Belgrave replied, “but most of our major sports are played with balls.”
“If you describe them to me, I’ll try to put together something similar,” the Commander said. “You already taught us how to make sandwiches; now teach us these sports.”
“Well,” King Belgrave began, “there’s baseball, basketball, and football. There are more, but those are the main ones that I like. In baseball, there are two teams, one in the field, and the other trying to hit balls and get on a base before the other team can stop them. The team hitting the balls gets a point for every player that gets around to all the bases and returns back where they started. In basketball, the goal is to throw a ball into the other team’s basket, which hangs in the air. The goal of football is to carry the ball past the other team’s defenses and across their goal line. They also kick it at times.”
The Commander sat and thought for a moment. “Kicking the ball,” he finally said, “that would make sense, seeing that you call it football.” King Belgrave laughed. “I don’t know if I can put together one of these games the way you describe it, but you get some rest for a few hours and I will put together some entertainment for later.”
“Considering that you have never seen one of these games, I cannot begin to imagine what you will come up with,” King Belgrave grinned. “I look forward to seeing what you make up.”
Queen Desi’Rel looked up as the Commander moved to leave. “Find Colonel Yerah. I’m sure he’d like to help you.”
“Take some soldiers from Taor also,” King Hevman added.
Commander Sidrahkir paused at the door. “Just wait, I’ll get people from all your countries involved!” He left before they could say anything more.
King Belgrave smiled. “This is going to be interesting,” he muttered.