Belgrave slept very well that night. It was his first night in Nebulum with a soft bed and it was much better than the scratchy furs in Jun Joon’s hut and the cold rock in the cavern. After the strenuous day, he slept so well that he felt he had only just fallen asleep when he awoke early in the morning to the sound of horns outside.
Within moments of sitting up, Joha had entered Belgrave’s room. He brought breakfast and behind him came several others carrying Belgrave’s armor. Belgrave examined the suit as he ate the sweet pastries that Joha called peasters. The breastplate had the same red dragons as his shield, but the back gave the appearance of dragon wings. The rest of the armor also went with the dragon theme. The helmet looked like the head of a dragon with red gems for eyes and a ridge of stiff red hair along its back. The armor for his arms and legs had small dragons etched into it.
When he had finished eating the peasters, Joha helped him into fresh clothes and then began to put on the armor. He started with the boots. Then he moved up to the legs, then the waist, then the torso and the arms, all the time testing the armor to make sure it fit perfectly. Belgrave put the helmet on himself.
He took a few steps. The suit of armor was indeed light and permitted more maneuverability than he would have expected. He picked up his shield and pulled out his sword. He took a few swings of the sword and he felt as if the armor was a natural fit. Joha also gave him a small dagger that he strapped to his belt.
Belgrave followed Joha outside. There he saw Luscoi and Commander Sidrahkir fully armed and sitting on horses. A third soldier on a horse held a pole with a flag wrapped around the end. A fourth horse did not have a rider. The Commander only gave Belgrave a brief nod, but Luscoi greeted him.
“Good morning!” he greeted. “I trust you slept well.”
“I did sleep well, but a few more hours would have been welcome,” Belgrave replied. “Early mornings just aren’t my thing.”
“Neither is fighting battles in strange new worlds,” Commander Sidrahkir added. “Don’t worry; before you know it, our world will be your world.”
“I see the smiths have given you a fitting symbol,” Luscoi noted. “The double dragons have never been used before, and to see that a new leader has risen will strike fear into the enemy. The other soldier riding with us is Tytane. He will carry your flag into battle.”
“King Belgrave, ride on this horse,” Commander Sidrahkir said, motioning to the horse without a rider. “His name is Aorist. He has seen battle and knows what to expect.”
Belgrave walked over to the horse. It was almost all black, but had a white patch on its forehead. The horse turned its head to look at him as he approached. Belgrave then saw a nasty scar running the full extent of the right side of the horse’s face. “It’s blind!” Belgrave exclaimed, noting the missing eye.
“Do not question the loss one eye,” the Commander stated. “There is no other horse better than Aorist. He goes with us willingly and even the Barbidon swords give him no fright. Aorist has gone into battle with one eye for several years and his resolve overcomes what he lacks physically. He will not let you down.”
Sure enough, Belgrave could tell the horse was eager to get moving. Joha helped him get situated in the saddle and quickly instructed him how to control the horse. When Luscoi and Commander Sidrahkir began to ride, Belgrave’s horse instinctively went beside them. The horse sure knew what it was doing, but it would still take Belgrave some time to get used to riding.
The army stood in formation, waiting for them just outside the village gates. Luscoi had informed Belgrave that they had two thousand archers and almost four thousand infantry soldiers. The infantry were heavily armored and armed with spears and swords. The archers were lightly armored with most of the armor made of leather. The archers surprised Belgrave. “They’re all women!” he observed.
“Men and women, we are all in this together. They fight because if the men fought and lost, it would only be a matter of time before lives of the women and children are also ruined,” Luscoi explained.
They took their positions in front of the army and Luscoi addressed the soldiers. “The Dark Witch Narva is marching an army of Barbidons toward Gorraf, even as I speak. We will meet them in battle at the Cliff of Rodanth. It will be a hard day, but our hope is renewed. Today will be a new beginning for Tanarad and all of Nebulum. King Belgrave fights with us and we will stand beneath his banner.”
At this, Tytane raised his staff high and a white flag bearing the two red dragons unfurled and caught the first ray of the rising sun. For a moment, the soldiers were silent as they looked on their new flag. Then a cheer spread through the ranks as the hope of victory began to grow. Luscoi raised his hand to silence them. “Today we fight for the future of our world,” he yelled. “Despite the uncertainty of battle, I will know that I fought for the prophecies!” Once again, a shout spread through the army.
Commander Sidrahkir gave an order and the drums began to beat. Belgrave watched as the soldiers began to march toward the cliff they would defend later that day. After the entire army had begun marching, they rode to the front of the column, where Luscoi and Commander Sidrahkir led the way.
Several hours later, they arrived at the cliff and took their positions. King Belgrave smiled with amusement when he noticed the huge letters of someone’s name carved into its face and understood how the Cliff of Rodanth got its name. The archers spread along the top of the cliff with a few companies of infantry soldiers to guard their northern flank. The rest of the infantry were in the large field at the bottom of the cliff where they believed the Barbidon army would pass. Belgrave, Luscoi, Sidrahkir, and Tytane sat on their horses in front of the army.
Belgrave could see the birds begin to fill the sky. “Deathbirds,” Luscoi muttered. “They have flocked to every battle since the beginning of time. No one knows how they do it, but sometimes they even arrive before the armies.”
Belgrave sat watching the deathbirds for a few moments when he noticed something much larger than a bird flying toward them over the trees. It had a slick black body and large webbed wings. “Dragon!” an archer on the cliff yelled before Belgrave could ask what it was. As the great beast flew closer, Belgrave felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.
The beast landed in the center of the field. “Hold your ground!” Commander Sidrahkir shouted. “Together we can withstand its attack, but separated we would be crushed.” He glanced at King Belgrave. “I hate dragons,” he muttered.
“Would it be better to retreat?” Belgrave asked.
Luscoi frowned. “The problem is that they usually attack indiscriminately, unless something draws their attention. Stay where you are. King Belgrave, Commander, I’ll take care of this.” He slowly edged his horse away from the others.
The dragon slowly staggered forward as if choosing a target. Luscoi pulled out his sword and swung it over his head. “Archers,” he yelled, waving at the cliff with his sword. The dragon lunged and breathed a large fireball at Luscoi. Belgrave could feel the heat as the screaming man and the horse were incinerated. At the same time, arrows filled the sky and the dragon was dead before it could attack anyone else.
Sidrahkir leaned close to Belgrave as the king stared unsettled at the first casualties of the battle. “Look away if you need to,” he advised, “but keep in mind that you are looking at the price of victory.”
Belgrave shook his head. “This whole world has seemed a bit unreal to me, but seeing Luscoi get killed and knowing it could have just as easily been me has forced me to grasp the reality of the situation. I may be in a strange world and surrounded by strange people, but I have the same fears and am just as mortal as the man beside me.”
“You’ll get through this battle and be better for it,” Sidrahkir encouraged.
Moments later, the Barbidon army marched into sight. Belgrave recognized the Barbidons as the strange biped creatures he had seen carved in the cavern. They were almost twice as tall as a man and looked more frightening now that they were marching toward him, intent on battle. Their grey-blue skin looked thick as leather and the sparse hair on their bodies was thick and wiry. Some of them had strange markings painted on their faces to make them appear more fearsome. They carried large swords, clubs, and maces. Their armor was dull and beneath it they wore blue cloth.
Above the Barbidon army, fluttering in the breeze was a banner of black and purple, the colors split along the diagonal. “The Dark Witch is among them,” Sidrahkir told Belgrave.
The Barbidon army stopped just out of range of the archers and began to make as much noise as they could by shouting and rattling their weapons. Belgrave’s army began to grow intimidated and silent at the sight of their foe.
“To life or death, Tanarad will follow you,” Sidrahkir said, barely loud enough for Belgrave to hear.
When the Barbidons began to advance, Belgrave remembered the words of Luscoi and Jun Joon. It was his job to lead these people into battle, not someone else’s. He pulled out his sword and turned to face the army behind him. “One dragon is dead, but I still live,” he shouted. “Archers!”
Arrows flew across the sky and into the ranks of the coming Barbidons. Belgrave watched some of them fall, but it did not seem to make a difference. The infantry readied their spears and swords. A moment later, the Barbidons were upon them. The clash of the two armies was harsh and many soldiers fell before the frenzy of the larger Barbidons. The men struggled and fought hard to hold their ground, but soon they found themselves pushed back against the cliff.
Sidrahkir was fighting bravely alongside Belgrave, but took the time to dismount from his horse. “Get off your horse,” he yelled at Belgrave. “You’ll be less of a target that way.”
Belgrave did not have time to act on this command because one of the Barbidons pushed his horse down, knocking him to the ground. Belgrave was stunned for a moment, but quickly rolled over and got back on his feet. Sidrahkir had jumped in front of him to fend off the Barbidon. A well-aimed arrow killed the Barbidon and the Commander turned to Belgrave.
“King Belgrave, are you alright?”
“I’ll be fine as long as I stay alive,” Belgrave replied.
Colonel Balvain ran up to them. “We cannot hold them much longer,” he yelled through the chaos. “We are being driven against the cliff!”
“We must do what we can,” the Commander yelled back, swinging his sword at the enemies around them.
“Pull the soldiers to the right and wheel the far end away from the cliff,” Belgrave suggested. “Then we will have the Barbidons between the archers and the infantry. It will divide their attention.”
“Good idea,” Commander Sidrahkir replied. “Colonel, get the men moving!”
Under Colonel Balvain’s direction, the army slowly edged its way to the right. Belgrave felt sorry for the soldiers on the far left of the army who were still between the cliff and the Barbidons and had little chance of making it out alive. It took some time, but the maneuver worked. The army was now surrounding the Barbidons on two sides. The archers were now raining down their lethal shots upon the rapidly thinning Barbidon army. The dark flag faltered and fell.
Suddenly there was a bright flash and Belgrave fell to the ground with no idea of what had just hit him. When he looked up, he did not see a single soldier or Barbidon still standing, but a solitary figure stood alone in the center of the battlefield. She wore a black cape over her black armor and purple robe. Her pale face contrasted against the dark hood she wore. In her hands she held a staff with a glowing orb on one end and a jagged blade on the other. She had used magic through the orb to knock everyone down. “Narva,” Belgrave heard someone whisper.
The archers on the cliff were trying to hit her, but their shots all went astray and fell harmlessly to the ground. Belgrave knew she had to be the Dark Witch and he needed to destroy her before she did any more damage. Belgrave picked up his sword, stood up, and began to step towards her. When she noticed him, she readied her staff and moved his way. The archers stopped firing as they came near to each other.
“Your conquest ends here!” Belgrave yelled, swinging his sword as hard as he could. The Dark Witch stepped out of range so his sword swung harmlessly in front of her and he lost his balance. She struck him across the chest with her staff and his sword flew from his hand as he fell backwards to the ground. She reached down, pulled him up by the shoulders, and gazed at his face.
Narva was puzzled. Who was this new leader of Tanarad? He did not look like he even knew he was fighting against a Dark Witch. How had he recovered so soon after her blast? She was a Dark Witch, and while she could have easily killed him, he did not seem very afraid. She would take him to her master. Perhaps such mindless bravery would amuse him. Regardless of what she did, he would not be much of a threat and she could return for him once she had dealt with any other survivors.
The Dark Witch noticed a movement somewhere behind Belgrave that drew her attention. “You are not worth my effort,” she uttered with contempt, throwing Belgrave back down and stepping past him.
“Naiya’Nal!” the Dark Witch remarked. “I should have known to expect you here. I heard about your tirade at the castle two months ago.”
Belgrave rolled over. He saw the Dark Witch slowly walking toward a young woman wearing silver armor over a purple robe. The woman was kneeling on the ground, poised to rise, and her hand was grasped around the staff with the white flag. The flag bearer Tytane must have fallen! Narva stopped moving just a short distance from the woman and Belgrave wondered how the Dark Witch knew her.
“It was not without worthy cause,” the kneeling woman replied. “Even your master has no control over prophecy.”
“It is blasphemy to deny your purpose,” Narva stated. “Do not make the mistake of lowering yourself to the level of these ignorant fools.”
“Narva, you have made your mistake,” Naiya’Nal said calmly.
Narva looked at her quizzically. “What mistake?”
“You cannot fight two dragons!” Naiya’Nal yelled. She jumped to her feet and swung the flagstaff at the Dark Witch. Belgrave watched as the two women began to fight with their staffs. The tattered dirt-stained flag fluttered open as the two women fought each other.
She cannot fight two dragons, he wondered. They are only fighting each other. Unless... He pulled out his dagger, jumped to his feet, and rushed to attack the Dark Witch. As he thrust the dagger into her back, she twisted around and smashed her orb into the side of his head. Everything went black.