Chapter 41

King Belgrave opened his eyes. The frigid wind rushed around his body. King Belgrave’s feet were numb and he was beginning to shiver in the winter air. “How much further do we have to go?” he asked the bird that was taking him to Sarda. “I don’t think I can take this cold for too much longer.”

“Hang tight,” Erom’Reven replied. “I’ll fly lower below the cloud. It won’t be much warmer, but you’ll be able to see just how close we are.”

“How long have I been sleeping?” King Belgrave asked.

“Longer than I had expected,” the bird answered. “You fell asleep just before we reached the coast of Panei. Now we are approaching Sarda. Listen carefully and you should be able to hear the waves crashing against the cliffs.”

The bird was right. He could clearly hear waves in the distance somewhere in front of them. They suddenly came out beneath the clouds. King Belgrave gasped as he realized just how close they were. A long series of tall rocky mesas was sticking from the water. They stretched far into the distance, and beyond them was the mainland of Sarda

“Sailors call these rocks the Dragon’s Teeth because of their appearance and because these waters are treacherous,” the bird explained. “There is no telling how many lives have been lost from ships striking against hidden rocks in the water.”

The giant bird set King Belgrave down on the first mesa. “I have to leave you here,” the bird said. “Good luck with your endeavor.”

“I need to go to the mainland of Sarda,” King Belgrave protested. “You can’t just leave me stuck here on this rock in the middle of the sea!” The large bird ignored him and flew away toward the south. King Belgrave growled and pulled his coat tighter. He sat down against a rocky outcrop and pulled out the food and water that Queen Desi’Rel had packed for him. “Stupid bird,” he muttered, biting into the bread. “It might be able to talk, but it’s still just a birdbrain.”

When he finished his meal, he gathered his belongings and stood up. I might as well take a look around, he thought. He heard a soft chirping coming from the other side of a large outcropping. He put his hand to his sword and slowly walked around the outcropping. There was only more of the same barren rock of the mesa. He relaxed and took a few more steps. A sudden explosion of movement and a shrill squawk beneath him caused King Belgrave to jump back and pull out his sword. “Oh, you’re just a baby dragon,” he chuckled, noticing the creature that he had just discovered. The tiny dragon stood no higher than King Belgrave’s knee. It began flapping its wings and hissing at him. King Belgrave stepped back. He noticed several other small dragons emerging from their hiding spots. They seemed irritated by his presence. He brandished his sword in front of him and slowly walked backwards.

The first tiny dragon hopped closer to him and growled. “I did not mean to scare you,” King Belgrave argued, even though he knew that the beast could not understand him. The dragon did not care. It opened its mouth and lunged. A puff of flame came from its mouth, but the power of King Belgrave’s sword drove the fire back at the dragon. The small creature choked on the returning fire and, while unharmed, jumped backward in a panic. The other dragons began to speed up their approach, hissing as they came.

They never attacked. Arrows suddenly flew from behind another outcropping and the small dragons were dead. One was thrown over the edge of the cliff by the force of the shot. A Barbidon stepped into view. “You are lucky that we arrived as soon as we did,” he said. “The tragoshes may be small, but they have some of the sharpest teeth in the world.” A few more Barbidons stepped into view. “I am Lajivilth. Lugar told us to be on the lookout for your arrival. Fortunately, we were on Tooth Tev and saw the bird bring you down from the clouds.”

“Thank you for coming,” King Belgrave replied, putting away his sword, “but how did you get here? I was told that boats could not sail in these waters.”

Lajivilth grinned. “My race has inhabited Sarda for thousands of years and we have tunnels linking our land to places such as this. Come with us. I can take you as far as Wegorish.”

“Is that where Lugar is?” King Belgrave asked.

“Not quite,” the Barbidon replied. “Lugar is actually at Nazval with the army. We will have someone take you there from Wegorish.” He turned to the other Barbidons. “Hoglawilg tragosh a gohrwilg.”

“What did you just say to them?” King Belgrave asked, following Lajivilth to the other side of the mesa.

“I used our native language and told them to gather the tragoshes,” Lajivilth replied. “They will be put to good use.” He stopped beside a stone door that was half the size of a Barbidon. It blended into the surroundings so well that King Belgrave could barely see its outline. “Here is the entrance to our hidden labyrinth. It is warmer inside and we will be safe from searching eyes.”

“Searching eyes?” King Belgrave asked.

Lajivilth quickly scanned the sky. “The dragons of the Dark Wizard sometimes fly this far south. I would not want them to know that you were with us.” He opened the door and crawled inside. “Follow me and watch your step,” he said to King Belgrave. “It’s a long way to the bottom, so hold tight to the ladder.”

King Belgrave looked in after the Barbidon. There was nothing inside other than a hole in the ground with a ladder sticking up from it. He looked down and could see Lajivilth climbing down, almost completely blocking the light from far below. King Belgrave stepped onto the ladder. It was rickety and shook with every movement, but he decided that if it was strong enough to hold a large Barbidon, then it was strong enough to hold him. He slowly began his descent. The cross bars were far apart since it had been made for a larger creature. The other Barbidons followed after him, but he slowed them down.

He looked around when he reached the bottom of the shaft. They were standing in a chamber large enough for several Barbidons to stand side by side. The area was illuminated by several torches that were mounted on the wall. Lajivilth briefly talked with a new Barbidon and turned to face King Belgrave. “My orders have changed and I have to stay here. Ragwulch will take you to Lugar,” he said

Lajivilth took the tiny dragons from the other Barbidons, lashed them together, and handed them to Ragwulch. “Tragosh char lagarawulg thagegigogug tuvaj choshu.” He turned back to King Belgrave and bowed. “I am honored to have met the king who pardoned his defeated enemies.”

“Thank you again for helping me,” King Belgrave replied. He turned to face Ragwulch as the other Barbidons quickly climbed back up the ladder. “How long will it take us to get to Lugar?” he asked

Ragwulch laughed. “We will get to Wegorish late tonight and stay there a few days to get you better equipped for the cold before we travel to Nazval.” He held up the bundle of tiny dragons. “Lajivilth said to sell these and use the money to get you outfitted in thagegigogug fur.” He grabbed a torch and began to lead through the tunnel.

King Belgrave followed Ragwulch. “What is a thagag ig ug?” He laughed, stuttering on the strange word.

“Thagegigogugs are really hairy herd beasts that roam throughout Barbidonor. We hunt them for their meat and hide,” the Barbidon answered. “Clothes of thagegigogug fur will be warmer than what you are wearing now.”

“Why do you have such difficult names for things?” King Belgrave asked.

Ragwulch looked back over his shoulder and grinned. “You aren’t the first to ask that question. No one knows the origins of our language, so many of us wonder how the thagegigogug got its name.”

“I know what you mean,” King Belgrave said. “Some of the things we have in my world could definitely have been better named. For example, we make olive oil out of olive fruit, but then we also have baby oil.”

“I hope you don’t make that out of babies,” the Barbidon replied.

“Fortunately, it is only named baby oil because it is meant to be rubbed on babies to keep their skin from getting rashes,” King Belgrave grinned. “There are so many other examples that I could give you, but many would require me to try explaining things not of your world.”

“I am content with the example you have already given,” Ragwulch said.

“How do you say, ‘are we there yet,’ in your language?” King Belgrave asked.

“Gashog tetechwel vijlav,” Ragwulch answered. “It is a long journey for us tonight, so let me know if you need to rest.”

“I’ll be fine,” King Belgrave said. “I slept most of the way here. Can you tell me what changed with Lajivilth’s orders that made him have to stay behind?”

“Lugar is preparing the Barbidon army at Nazval,” Ragwulch explained. “There have been rumors from northern Barbidonor telling of dragons bringing in more and more enemy soldiers to the Dark Wizard’s castle, so Lugar wants Lajivilth to keep a watch for any sign of dragons flying between Sarda and Panei. Lajivilth and his soldiers may not be able to see anything through the thick cloud that now covers the world, but any signs of the Dark Wizard’s movements would assist us in preparing our strategy.”

“It sure sounds like Lugar has been busy since I had him leave Panei last spring,” King Belgrave said.

“He certainly has,” the Barbidon agreed. “They were still flying the colors of Narva to conceal her loss from the Dark Wizard when they returned, but as tales of prophecy spread through the shadows, the initial resistance began to grow until it could no longer be kept a secret. We are now a massive army on the brink of open war against our enemy.”

“What has kept him from attacking already?”

“There are several reasons why we have withheld our attack. First, the Dark Wizard’s fortress is nearly impenetrable. It is located in the center of a wide lake that is filled with ravenous spoonfish and the only way to cross the lake to the fortress is by a narrow bridge. There is also the Dark Wasteland between Barbidonor and Lake Corpiscus, and few who enter that region ever return. I am not the strategist, but I believe that Lugar is waiting for winter’s cold to freeze the lake so that we can cross more rapidly and in larger numbers. The second reason why he withholds the attack is that Lugar is adamant that other prophecies must be fulfilled before the Dark Wizard could be defeated. Finally, Lugar said that unless you went with us, all of our efforts would be in vain and nothing would be accomplished.”

“I don’t think it would be futile without me,” King Belgrave suggested. “Unless the Dark Wizard himself was there, all you might be up against would be a few handfuls of enemy soldiers. It shouldn’t be too hard.”

“I guess you haven’t heard,” Ragwulch said. “One of Lugar’s scouts reported a new Dark Witch guarding the fortress this summer. She calls herself Vemrok, and because of her, Lugar will not begin the assault without you.”

“I was told there were no others,” King Belgrave said. “I was told that the last two Dark Witches never had the time to train a replacement, so there couldn’t be any others.”

“Your wife told Lugar the same,” Ragwulch explained. “However, it was not long after Lugar arrived at Sarda that the Dark Wizard departed from Sarda with Vemrok remaining as the guardian of his fortress.”

King Belgrave stopped. “How did Lugar know about my wife?” he demanded.

Ragwulch stopped and turned around. “My king, this is Sarda. At times they have hunted us for sport, but my people have been faithful soldiers of the Dark Witches for as long as the Dark Wizard has ruled. We can recognize a Dark Witch hiding in a crowd just by the look in her eyes, the way she walks, and even the way she fixes her hair. Your wife talked to Lugar the day after you defeated him at Nelfarj and he recognized her as a Dark Witch. Her allegiance may have changed, but her mannerisms will always set her apart.”

“Does Lugar know where she is now?” King Belgrave asked.

“There has been no contact with her since he left Panei, so he probably assumes that she is safe with your army,” the Barbidon replied. “Come on, we must get to Wegorish today.” Ragwulch turned and continued walking. King Belgrave followed behind him and did not mention that Voth had taken Naiya’Nal hostage.

As they walked along, King Belgrave began to feel warmer and took off the furs that Commander Sidrahkir had given him. He let Ragwulch carry them. The tunnel stretched on further than he could see, with the occasional bends, side tunnels, and shafts leading to other rocky islands of the Dragon’s Teeth. When they finally reached the exit at Wegorish, Ragwulch had King Belgrave put the furs back on before they left the tunnel.

When they opened the door of the exit, King Belgrave flinched as an icy blast hit him in the face. A heavy snowfall was already building up on the ground. “It looks like we’re having our first winter storm,” Ragwulch yelled over the howl of the wind. They were at the end of a street lined with shops. Most of the shops had closed for the evening, but one building at the far end of the street still had a warm light shining from the windows.

“Welcome to our land,” Ragwulch grinned. “We’ll spend the night at the tavern and tomorrow we’ll get you equipped for our land.”

King Belgrave shivered as he followed the Barbidon down the frozen street. They stomped the snow off of their boots as they stepped onto the porch of the tavern. He could see the silhouettes of other Barbidons through the opaque windows. He could also hear talking and laughter coming from inside.

Ragwulch opened the door and halfheartedly pushed King Belgrave into the room, stepping in behind him and shutting the door. “Wegorish, I bring you the real king of Sarda!” he loudly announced.

The room was instantly silent and all of the Barbidons turned to look at them. King Belgrave felt awkward and out of place with their large black eyes staring at him. He tried to step back, but Ragwulch was in his way. The bartender broke the ice and bowed to King Belgrave. The others, following his lead, dropped to their knees and bowed. King Belgrave didn’t know what to say. Ragwulch sensed this and spoke for him. “It’s been a long walk from Tooth Shil, so the King’s a bit too tired to make a good entrance. Give him a good hospitable Barbidon welcome, and I’m sure that he’ll warm up to you.” The Barbidons cheered and went back to what they were doing.

“Ragwulch, if I hadn’t known where you were today, I’d accuse you of bringing a random stranger from the countryside!” exclaimed one of the Barbidons. He pulled a chair from the next table over. “Come over here, young king, and let us get to know you!” he said, motioning to King Belgrave.

Ragwulch gave King Belgrave a small push on the back. “That is Shughult. He is the captain in charge of the soldiers in this city. Go make yourself feel at home.” He turned to the bartender as King Belgrave made his way across the room. “Give me a malt chigel for myself and a flamed lendi spirit for our king. I’ll also need a warm room for the both of us.” He tossed a few coins onto the bar.

The bartender looked at King Belgrave and then leaned toward Ragwulch. “Lendi spirit? That’s a kingly drink indeed, but perhaps I might offer something a bit more cheerful, something to put him at ease among our kind.”

“Not tonight,” Ragwulch interrupted. “I want him to get some rest tonight. Tomorrow, perhaps, you can let him sample some of our other drinks.”

The bartender nodded, prepared the two drinks, and placed them in front of Ragwulch. He counted out some of the coins and passed back the rest. “It’s on the house for the king,” he stated.

Ragwulch took a large gulp from his malt chigel, passed back the coins, and slammed his fist on the bar. “I paid you so keep the change!” he growled. He started laughing as he grabbed the drinks and carried them over to the table where King Belgrave was sitting with Shughult and some of the others. He set the flamed lendi spirit in front of King Belgrave and pulled up a chair for himself. “Anything new from the north?” he asked.

Shughult shook his head. “Nothing from Nazval since you went looking for Lajivilth, but we did get a runner from Shigorich telling that a rockslide blocked the eastern road this morning. Now you’ll have to take the western road to get to Nazval.”

Ragwulch frowned. “I would much rather pass through Shigorich than Holich. Those idiots at Holich...” He quickly glanced at King Belgrave. “I mean those Barbidons at Holich,” he corrected, “try to rip you off in any way possible. The last time I traveled through there, they tried making me pay just to eat the food that I had brought with me!”

The others at the table laughed. “If they try to pull anything when the king is with you,” another said, “jetil igwulgel shigshig gul!” He jumped up and stabbed the table with his knife. Two other Barbidons pushed him away from the table. Ragwulch rolled his eyes and took another large gulp of his malt chigel.

“Gesharv ajoth lashgowilg letetigu tawg!” Shughult shouted, pulling out his sword and pointing it at the other Barbidon. He stood there for a moment before he put his sword away and sat down. The other Barbidon put away his knife and sat back down at the table.

Ragwulch leaned closer to King Belgrave. “Drink up!” he encouraged. “Don’t mind the outburst. It’s just another fine example of our culture. The first got mad, called the Barbidons at Holich pirate scum, and then demonstrated that he thinks they need punished. Then Shughult intervened and told him to watch his behavior around you. You need not worry; you aren’t in any danger here.” King Belgrave smiled and reached for his drink. The rest of the evening went smoothly without any more outbursts from the rowdy Barbidons. It was mostly gossip so King Belgrave didn’t get too involved with the conversations.

The following morning, Ragwulch led King Belgrave out into the city. Despite the snow on the ground, the city was bustling as the Barbidons went about their business. Many of them noticed him and stopped to bow their heads as he passed. The first shop they entered had many shelves of strange items, buckets of dried plants, and unlabeled jars of strange items. King Belgrave found the dried spoonfish to be especially intriguing. The shopkeeper was busy with something at the counter when they walked in, but took the time to look up and smile. Ragwulch slowly made his way over to the counter. He picked up a small jar and looked inside it. “I didn’t know that moldy worms had any medicinal value,” he said.

The shopkeeper stopped what she was doing and laughed. “It’s supposed to cure foot warts,” she explained. “You burn them and dump the ashes into a pail of water and then soak your feet for a few hours. I personally don’t believe it, but those folks from Vethlish insist that it works. I normally don’t have them out, but with the way things are, with our soldiers coming and going, I sometimes do have customers from Vethlish.”

Ragwulch put down the jar. “You wouldn’t happen to have any tragoshes, would you?”

She shook her head. “No, those are too hard to get, maybe three a year if I’m lucky. They’re very expensive, and they sell as fast as I can get them.”

“What’s the going rate for them?” Ragwulch asked.

“Twenty ruth and a quarter,” she replied, “although I won’t pay more than fifteen for my stock, depending on the quality of what I’m brought.”

“I happen to have six to sell,” Ragwulch said, pulling them out from beneath his coat. “That is, if you’re interested.”

The shopkeeper’s eyes widened as she looked at the tiny dragons he held. “Six tragoshes at once!? That’s almost worth a small fortune!” She stood up. “I’m not sure if I could take them all at the moment, but I’ll go check.” She gave a quick bow and disappeared into the backroom of the shop. She soon returned with a small sack of coins and dumped them out on the counter. “I’ll give you eighty-five ruth for the lot of them,” she announced.

“We’ll take it,” Ragwulch replied. He placed the tragoshes on the counter as she counted out the coins for him. She then put them back into the sack and handed it to him. “Could I get a small jar of igshor cream?” he asked.

“Oh, you must have itchy scalp,” the shopkeeper noted, bending down to reach under the counter. “That can get quite bad, especially during the winter with everyone wearing their fur caps.” She placed the jar on the counter. “That will be one ruth and a half.” Ragwulch gave her the money, took the jar, and left the shop with King Belgrave following behind him.

“She’s the best healer in Wegorish,” Ragwulch said as they stepped into the cold, “but she can get a bit talkative at times.” He looked at the sack of money he held. “Now we need to get a winter suit made for you.” He sighed. “That’s five streets over.” He led King Belgrave through several alleys and they finally arrived at a furrier’s shop.

A bell rang as they opened the door and stepped inside. Racks of furs and goods made from furs filled the shop. A Barbidon sat at a small table in one corner measuring and cutting a strip of fur. “Welcome,” he greeted. “How may I help you this fine day?”

“I need an outfit made for a king,” Ragwulch replied as the furrier bowed to King Belgrave. “I need to get him better equipped for our winter.”

The furrier stood up and picked up his rope measure. “You have come to the right place. What type of fur would you prefer?”

“I was hoping to get it in white thagegigogug with black or brown for the boots and mittens,” Ragwulch answered.

“White thagegigogug, eh? Fortunately, I received a fresh bundle of pelts yesterday.” He knelt down beside King Belgrave. “Set your sword and shield against the wall and stretch out your arms. I need to take your measurements.” King Belgrave obliged. “And I think we’ll go with black for the boots and mittens. Will you want any specific markings drawn on anything?”

Ragwulch sighed. “Just the outfit will be fine, although, if you could duplicate the red dragons that are on his shield, how much extra would it cost?”

“I can’t say for sure until I see just how much fur I use, but I’m guessing that the full suit would cost about fifty ruth and the dragons an extra five,” the furrier replied, “but since this is for our king, I will gladly offer my services at no charge.”

“I can pay,” King Belgrave interrupted. “I came to defeat the Dark Wizard, not take advantage of Barbidon hospitality.”

“He’s right about that,” Ragwulch agreed.

“Very well,” the furrier said, finishing up the measurements. “Come back tomorrow morning and I will have a suit ready for you. I’ll have a final cost figured for you then.”

“Thank you,” King Belgrave said, picking up his sword and shield. “I look forward to wearing the handiwork of the Barbidons.”

They left the shop and Ragwulch took King Belgrave just down the street to another shop. “It’s about time for lunch,” he said. “This diner serves the best sifdria in town; although, you’re always welcome to try something else.”

“What is sifdria?” King Belgrave asked.

“It’s a big mixture of vegetables stewed together,” Ragwulch replied. “Here they do it a bit different and add chunks of cheese and arvdil meat for the extra flavor.”

“I’ll have to try that,” King Belgrave agreed as they entered.

The diner was hot and steamy inside. Many other Barbidons had also come for lunch, so it was crowded and noisy. Ragwulch told one of the waiters that they both wanted sifdria and then led King Belgrave to a table near the wall. King Belgrave recognized a few of the Barbidons in the diner as the ones that were in the tavern the night before. One pulled up a chair beside them. “A runner from Lajivilth came through here an hour ago,” he said. “A dragon was seen flying near the Dragon’s Teeth around dawn, but it wasn’t carrying anyone.” He turned to King Belgrave. “Lajivilth doesn’t think it was a random flight. He thinks that the Dark Wizard knows you arrived and is trying to find you. I said I’d let you know and sent the runner on to Nazval.”

“What symbol did the dragon have on it?” King Belgrave asked.

“Symbol?” the Barbidon asked. “I did not know the dragons had symbols on them.”

“It is something that I learned at Nasad,” King Belgrave replied. “The Dark Wizard brands them with different symbols. There is one though, that has turned out to be quite helpful. It had a symbol of a circle around a semicircle, and a longer line bisecting both.”

“Ebiron,” Ragwulch said, “but why would this dragon be working against the Dark Wizard?”

“The dragon with the ebiron symbol works for my wife,” King Belgrave explained. “She can send it where she wants. Send a runner back to Lajivilth. If he sees another dragon, I want him to look for the symbol. If it is ebiron, then I want him to hail the dragon and see what it does. Otherwise, it’s probably best that he try not to be seen.”

The Barbidon nodded. “I’ll let him know.” He bowed and went back to his own table as the waitress set two bowls of steaming sifdria before King Belgrave and Ragwulch. Ragwulch picked up his spoon and began to eat, but King Belgrave had to ask for a smaller spoon that could fit into his mouth. By the time they had finished, it was mid afternoon.

“So what would you like to do now?” Ragwulch asked when they left the diner. “We could either head back to the tavern for the rest of the day or look through a few shops.”

“I’d like to look around,” King Belgrave answered. “I don’t think there’s anything for me to buy, but I’d like to get a good glimpse of Barbidon culture while I’m here.”

Ragwulch nodded and led him down the street. They perused through several shops and King Belgrave bought himself a new dagger. It was longer than his old one, but it would still work. They then returned to the tavern for the rest of the night. It was still mostly empty when they arrived, except for an elderly couple that had come for a late afternoon tea. They smiled and waved as he walked by and he returned their greeting. He laughed when they left. “I would never have expected the Barbidons to be tea drinkers!”

Ragwulch and the bartender laughed. “Only the ones that grow calm in their old age,” the bartender said. “The rest of us prefer a bit of zest in our drinks, if you know what I mean.” He poured some drinks, put some rolls on a plate, and set them before them. “Have some rolls and bit of weri and relax. I have to finish cooking the baked gigiwivith for tonight’s crowd.”

“Oh, I forgot those were in season,” Ragwulch said. “Save a flipper for King Belgrave. I don’t think he’ll have many more chances to try it.”

“Leaving already?” the bartender asked. “You only arrived last night.”

“We hope to be on our way to Nazval by midmorning tomorrow,” Ragwulch replied. “He really needs to get to Lugar and his thagegigogug suit should be ready by then.”

The bartender smiled. “I’ll save two flippers specifically for him. The rest, as always, are first come first served.” He disappeared into the backroom.

Ragwulch took a sip of his drink. “Gigiwiviths only come this far south during the winter. When it’s warmer, they tend to stay around the northern coast of Sarda where we don’t hunt them.”

“What do they look like?” King Belgrave asked, tasting his drink.

“It’s an animal about the length of my arm, but a bit wider,” he explained. “They have four flippers, whiskers on their face, and eat fish. The flippers are very tender, so I know that you’re going to enjoy it.”

King Belgrave laughed. “I have no problem with trying new foods,” he said, biting into a roll. “I just like to know what I’m eating.”

They sat in silence for a while, sipping on their drinks. Eventually Shughult entered the tavern. He noticed King Belgrave and Ragwulch sitting at the bar. “I knew I’d find you here!” he exclaimed. The Barbidon took off his fur hat and sat beside Ragwulch. “A runner from Nazval arrived this afternoon,” he said. “A small contingent of enemy archers was seen moving south along the Barbidonor River two days ago. A group of our soldiers ambushed them at the Ford of Naglish, but one escaped back into the Dark Wasteland. Lugar has called for all available soldiers to assemble at Nazval immediately in preparation for a counterattack. He wants to set out by the end of the week, although, once he finds out that you’re on the way, he may hold off until your arrival.”

Ragwulch grunted. “That is a major change of strategy for Lugar. I hadn’t expected him to consider any attack at all until he knew for certain that King Belgrave was with us.”

Shughult leaned closer. “He should find out tomorrow morning. I sent a fast runner last night when you brought King Belgrave here. I don’t know though, I hadn’t expected Lugar to give this order either.”

“Perhaps this order didn’t come from Lugar,” King Belgrave suggested. “Perhaps it is a ruse by the Dark Wizard to leave most of Sarda undefended so he can move his army unopposed and surround us at Nazval.”

“How long has it been since Nasad?” Ragwulch asked.

“It’s been over a month,” King Belgrave answered, “If I remember correctly, we entered the tunnel of Nasad at dawn on the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth of Nalil. No one knows for sure, though, because the dark cloud kept us from seeing the light of day during the entire battle.”

Ragwulch nodded. “Then this is perfect timing for a ruse. With Wegorish, Hovarwish, Holich, and the other western cities emptied, and with plenty of time to have sailed from Nasad, Vemrok from the north, the Dark Wizard from the south,” he paused, “King Belgrave, I really hope you’re wrong about this.”

Shughult’s eyes slowly widened. “You’re right; the eastern road is blocked. There is no way that runner would have gotten here until tomorrow morning, even if Lugar had sent him the day before yesterday.” He jumped from his seat and ran for the door. “I had better stop the others from marching north!” he yelled.

Ragwulch finished his cup of weri and sighed. “Drink up and enjoy yourself tonight. Against our nation of battle-hardened soldiers, the Dark Wizard will have to fight for every step that he takes on our shores.”

“I have no doubt that your confidence is well founded,” King Belgrave replied, biting into another roll. “I just wish that we had realized his strategy sooner.”

They sat in silent contemplation of the impending attack. When some other Barbidons entered the tavern, they left the bar and sat at a table against the far wall and near the fireplace. Soon the tavern was getting crowded and the bartender brought out the baked gigiwivith. King Belgrave enjoyed the buttery taste of the meaty dish. He would have asked for more, but he was too full after eating too many rolls that afternoon. He noticed that many of the other Barbidons, while enjoying the comforts of the bar, were dressed for war. A group sat near the doorway sharpening their swords and a knife-throwing contest was taking place in one corner. Others sat boasting of their exploits in previous battles.

Eventually Shughult returned. He was breathing heavily and his face looked a bit flustered. He stopped at the bar for a large cup of chigel before coming over to sit with King Belgrave and Ragwulch. “No one knows who the runner was or where he came from,” he announced. “I sent out runners everywhere to warn the rest of Sarda, so hopefully nowhere will be undefended if the Dark Wizard attacks.” He sighed. “I fear that Wegorish may be the best prepared for an attack right now, but we’re also the most vulnerable.”

“How are we vulnerable?” King Belgrave asked.

Shughult unfolded a map on the table. “The other cities would only have to defend along their coastlines,” he explained, pointing at the various locations. “Here in Wegorish, we also have to defend the Dragon’s Teeth. If those are taken, the enemy can take our tunnel and come out behind us.”

“I thought that the Dragon’s Teeth could not be approached by ship,” King Belgrave stated.

Ragwulch shook his head. “An experienced seaman could navigate the rocks with difficulty. A Dark Wizard with no regard for the lives of his soldiers would ignore them.” He looked up at Shughult. “You did double the guard, didn’t you?”

“No,” Shughult replied, shaking his head. “I left only a few sentries. If the Dark Wizard comes as King Belgrave suggests, we’ll at least have some warning. I’m not going to waste any soldiers guarding those rocks when I’d rather guard the coast here. If the enemy takes the Dragon’s Teeth, the sentries will let us know and we’ll just set a large fire at our entrance to block the enemy from coming through. Wood is already being stacked.”

Ragwulch put his finger on the map, pointing at the Dragon’s Teeth. “If the Dark Wizard plans on taking these as part of his strategy, then the earliest we’d be under attack here would be early tomorrow morning if the assault started right now at Tooth Shil.”

Shughult nodded. “Barring any sorcery, I think we should be able to hold them. I just fear that the warning may arrive too late at the other cities.”

“I hope that the Dark Wizard’s purpose for such an attack would be to find me and not to punish your race for turning against him,” King Belgrave said.

“Now that is just morbid thinking,” Shughult said. “Drink well and enjoy yourself tonight, my king. The Barbidons can defend their own lands.” He stood up. “That goes for all of you,” he said loudly, pointing around the room. He held up his cup of chigel. “Drink up like there’s no tomorrow!” he shouted. The Barbidon tipped back the cup and downed it to the cheering of the others in the tavern.