Chapter 42

The following morning, Ragwulch awakened King Belgrave before dawn. “We need to get ready and go now,” he said urgently. “The city is under attack.”

King Belgrave looked around. Ragwulch held a lantern and the furrier was with him, holding the fur outfit. Ragwulch helped King Belgrave put it on and the furrier made a few quick adjustments so that it fit better. King Belgrave grabbed his sword and shield while Ragwulch counted out and paid the furrier sixty-three and a quarter ruth for the outfit.

“Thanks for the early assistance. I hope that your furs can keep you alive as long as our swords can keep us alive,” Ragwulch said to the furrier as he grabbed King Belgrave’s arm and pulled him out of the room.

They ran through the empty tavern and headed for the door. They could hear the shouting and sounds of battle from outside. The body of a Barbidon soldier crashed backward through a window, knocking over a table and scattering chairs. Ragwulch pulled out his sword, opened the door, and stepped onto the porch with King Belgrave right behind him. A steady stream of enemy soldiers was rushing out of the tunnel that led to the Dragon’s Teeth and spreading out into the city. A large pile of wood was on either side, but none of it was burning. Barbidons rushed from all directions to defend the tunnel, but were still too few to make a difference. One of the enemy soldiers noticed Ragwulch and King Belgrave standing on the tavern porch. “Voth uoj ejil ueytouv!” the Huvudet shouted, raising his sword and rushing toward them.

“Welcome to Sarda,” Ragwulch growled contemptuously as the Huvudet fell beneath his sword. He spat at the corpse. “Luglugwu iteth verog shotoj, shigshig gul.”

Shughult ran around the corner with another group of Barbidon soldiers. He motioned for them to attack the tunnel entrance and then walked over to Ragwulch and King Belgrave. “They’ve landed on the southern coast and surprised the guards at the tunnel. We cannot hold them on two sides; so Ragwulch, get the king out of Wegorish while you still can.”

King Belgrave pulled out his sword and killed an enemy soldier. “There is no defeat while you still defend,” he shouted above the noise. He turned toward the tunnel and readied his shield. “Push the wood on top of them and set the fire.” He raised his sword and charged. “Red is the color of courage!”

Ragwulch and Shughult tried to grab King Belgrave, but he ran too fast. They roared loudly as they followed behind him. Enemy corpses lay scattered on the street behind the three of them. The Huvudets standing at the entrance of the tunnel paused and waited for them to attack. The enemy held against the force of King Belgrave, but the force of the two Barbidons sent them falling backward. The three swords flickered in the torchlight as they slashed quickly against the struggling enemy.

More Barbidons went around to the sides and pushed the two piles of wood onto the tunnel entrance and the enemies struggling there. King Belgrave stepped back as several torches set fire to the wood. The Barbidons quickly killed the few enemy soldiers that had escaped. King Belgrave raised his sword in the air. “The tunnel is blocked, now go defend your shores!” he shouted. The Barbidon soldiers cheered their partial victory and ran toward the southern coast.

King Belgrave slowly walked to the nearest building and sat down on the porch. “I should not have done that,” he grimaced, putting his hand to his left side.

Ragwulch knelt in front of him. “Are you alright? Did you just get hurt?”

“I think that I’ll be fine,” King Belgrave said. “I was wounded at Nasad and it hasn’t fully healed yet. I need to be careful that I don’t tear it open again.”

“You stay here and rest for a bit,” Shughult suggested. “We should be able to hold the coast and I doubt that any of the enemy will survive the fire and smoke in the tunnel. You may have just saved Wegorish from annihilation. Ragwulch, watch the tunnel and kill anything that tries to come through the flames.” He left Ragwulch and King Belgrave sitting in the city.

The battle continued until midmorning. Many of the ships had actually become stuck on the rocks just offshore and were set on fire by a barrage of flaming arrows. The Huvudet soldiers that survived the arrows or fire abandoned their ships. Many surrendered when they swam to the shore, but the rest met the fierce Barbidon resistance that left their corpses to be ravaged by the spoonfish.

Around noon, Shughult returned with a number of the soldiers. They were wet, dirty, and spattered with blood. He sat down beside King Belgrave. “We lost up to a third of our force, but most of that was before we blocked the tunnel,” he explained. “I can only hope that the other cities are faring better.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Ragwulch. “If they got the false message before we did, then their armies would be further away from the cities. There is a good chance that they are nothing more than piles of rubble by now.”

“Then I think that we ought to do something about that,” Shughult said, standing up. “The king needs to go to Nazval and I think that half of our soldiers can go at least as far as Hovarwish. The rest can stay here to guard the prisoners.” He reached down to help King Belgrave and Ragwulch to their feet. “We’ll get you to Lugar as fast as we can.”

In a little while, they were heading toward Hovarwish along the road from Wegorish. As they neared the city late that evening, they could see a thick column of smoke rising from the ruins. Several families stood along the side of the road watching as their homes burned. One of the females stepped forward. “They came without warning in the morning,” she cried. “Lugar called our soldiers to march north so we were left unprepared and now our homes are ruined!”

“Where is the enemy now?” Shughult asked her.

“I think they went north after they set the fires.”

“The messenger did not come from Lugar,” Shughult reassured the citizens. “It was a ruse of the Dark Wizard. The army that has destroyed your city will suffer the same fate as those that tried to take Wegorish. They will be defeated.”

The Barbidon stepped out of the road so the soldiers could pass. “Thank you,” she called.

As they marched nearer to the city, they saw a Barbidon running toward them. It turned out to be one of the runners that Shughult had sent the previous night to warn the other cities. He stopped to catch his breath before he told Shughult his message. “The soldiers of Hovarwish have turned back. They know where the enemy is and will engage them as soon as possible. I would have come quicker, but I had to run through the mountains to escape a few of the enemy patrols. Jigvosheth sent his own runners to warn Latholish and then told me to let you know his plans.”

“What is the best way to pass the enemy?” Shughult asked the runner.

The runner took a few more deep breaths. “I would suggest passing through the hills on their northern flank like I did. There are a few patrols, but they seem to be keeping most of their force closer to the coast.”

Shughult patted the runner on the back. “Good work. Continue on to Wegorish and then rest your legs.” He turned to Ragwulch. “Take the king around their northern flank. The rest of us will wait for Hovarwish to attack and then we’ll stab the enemy in the back.” He turned to King Belgrave and bowed. “I wish you success at Nazval and beyond. Now go with Ragwulch; he will take care of you.”

“Fight well,” King Belgrave ordered as he and Ragwulch stepped from the road.

The two of them headed across an open field toward the Barbidonor Mountains. Once in the foothills, they headed northwest along the southwestern edge of the mountain range. From on top of the hills, they could barely make out the silhouettes of the soldiers from Wegorish moving through the smoldering wreckage of Hovarwish as fast as they could. A brief hole in the dark cloud above them provided enough moonlight to show two armies to the west moving toward each other across the flat fields, each with the intent of destroying the other. King Belgrave shuddered as a strong wind began to blow. It was cold and the wind carried the faint sounds of the battle’s initial moments. Ragwulch put his hand on King Belgrave’s shoulder. “We need to keep going,” he urged.

“Not yet,” King Belgrave replied. “I have always been a participant of battle and never a distant spectator. I wish to see this from a new perspective.”

“Very well,” Ragwulch grunted. He pulled out some rolls and handed one to King Belgrave. “You might as well eat while we have the chance.”

King Belgrave took the roll and nibbled on it as he watched the two armies collide in the distance. The strong wind from the west changed its tone. It no longer told of the courage and glory of the charge, but of the horrific contest as soldiers struggled to survive against a foe with the same determination. What had once been two armies was now a single mass, slowly writhing from the innumerable wounds suffered throughout its midst. King Belgrave turned away. “I have seen enough,” he announced. “War is inevitable and it is a shame that we must suffer such evil.” He sighed. “Let us hurry to Nazval so that we can end this war for good.”

“Let us hope that Nazval is still there when we arrive,” Ragwulch muttered. They turned and walked further into the hills. Eventually, they had to travel closer to the battle, hoping to slip by the northernmost edge. They remained out of sight as they came closer, but they did notice a change in the sound of the battle when the soldiers from Wegorish attacked the enemy from behind. A short while later, the noise of the battle quieted down to just a few Barbidon cheers. “That is the second assault of the Dark Wizard that has been stopped,” Ragwulch said.”

Sometime after they had passed the site of the battle, Ragwulch stopped. “It is nearing dawn. We need to get some rest while we can.” King Belgrave agreed and lay down as Ragwulch built a small fire. He could barely feel the small amount of heat, but it helped him keep from freezing. He soon fell asleep.

When King Belgrave awoke, there was another Barbidon with them. The new Barbidon was asleep, but Ragwulch was cooking some meat over the fire. “Who is that?” King Belgrave asked, pointing at the other Barbidon.

“Holgar,” Ragwulch answered. “Lugar sent him to find you as soon as he recognized the Dark Wizard’s ruse. Here, have something to eat.” He set the hot pan between them. “We will stay here until Holgar awakes.”

“I think we really should be going as soon as we can,” King Belgrave suggested.

Ragwulch laughed. “It is a four day journey from Wegorish to Nazval at a brisk walk. As a runner, I can do it in three if I’ve had plenty of rest. Holgar is an elite runner, specially trained to go longer distances with less rest. If he and I take turns carrying you, then we can get to Nazval faster than if we let you walk.”

“I guess that will work,” King Belgrave agreed. “How did Lugar learn about Voth’s attack?”

“The runner that Shughult sent to inform Lugar of your arrival on Sarda passed the armies of Holich and Latholish. When Lugar heard about them leaving their cities, he denied giving the order and realized the treachery. Runners went to turn back both armies and more went to inform the other cities. He also ordered Lawartholish and Shigorich to send their armies to reinforce Holich and then move north to assist Latholish.

“How long will it take us to get to Lugar in Nazval?”

“When Holgar awakes, we will continue on as far as Holich today, and after a rest there, we will travel to the Fords of Lawarval on the Barbidonor River, where we will take a short break before we continue the rest of the way to Nazval. We should arrive in two days instead of three.”

King Belgrave sighed. He pulled out his dagger and skewered a piece of the meat that Ragwulch had cooked. He bit into the meat. It was salty and did not have much flavor. “What is this?” he asked as he chewed.

“Dried thagegigogug,” Ragwulch replied. “We usually eat it without any preparation, but I decided to warm it up for you.”

“It doesn’t taste too good,” King Belgrave said.

Ragwulch shook his head. “It is not supposed to taste good. It is something quick to eat when on the move. It provides energy, but that’s about it.”

King Belgrave finished eating and lay back down. Ragwulch woke him up when it was time to move on. Ragwulch carried King Belgrave on his back as they rapidly jogged toward Holich. When they arrived, they found nothing more than ashes where the city had once been, but they passed many of the citizens hiding in the hills. Just beyond the city ruins, they found the combined armies of Holich, Lawartholish, and Shigorich had been victorious against the enemy. The three commanders of the Barbidon armies, Vetagush, Hijel, and Chuglot greeted King Belgrave and told of their victory. King Belgrave spent the night safe in the camp of the three armies.

Chuglot woke up King Belgrave, Ragwulch, and Holgar early the next morning. “My king, you need to leave as soon as you can.”

King Belgrave sat up. He could hear the sounds of marching soldiers. “What’s happening?” he asked.

“Our scouts found a wounded soldier from Latholish stumbling along the road toward us. The enemy annihilated their army and is on their way here as we speak.”

The other two Barbidons grabbed their equipment and stood up. “If the road to Nazval is blocked, will it be better for us to cut around their western or eastern flank?” Ragwulch asked.

Chuglot shook his head. “The road is not cut off yet. We have the armies of Lawartholish and Shigorich already marching to meet them. We will try to hold and defeat them to give you time to pass the eastern flank.” He looked back at King Belgrave. “Farewell, my king. I must be going with my army. If we do not meet again, it is an honor to fight for you today.”

King Belgrave nodded as the Barbidon left the tent to go lead the Barbidon army. He gathered his stuff and soon they were running northeast, behind the lines of the Barbidon armies that were marching to stop the enemy. This time Holgar carried King Belgrave. Several Barbidon archers accompanied them until they were safely past the enemy army. They stopped late in the day on the banks of the frozen Barbidonor River at the Fords of Lawarval for another short rest, although Holgar argued that he could keep going. From there, the two Barbidons took turns carrying King Belgrave.

King Belgrave was asleep when they arrived at Nazval shortly after midnight. They woke him up and he walked with them through the empty city streets. They soon found a few Barbidon soldiers. “Chuwog ig Lugar?” Ragwulch asked.

The Barbidon soldier noticed King Belgrave and smiled. “Regashivwilg,” he replied. He led them through the city. Four streets over, he showed them a hidden entrance into a tavern basement. “He’s probably asleep by now, but his guards should be able to wake him.”

“Not if he had too much chigel,” Ragwulch muttered. He led them into the tavern basement. A single torch illuminated the room. One guard stood just inside the door and several other Barbidons were asleep on the floor. The guard locked the door behind them and woke Lugar.

“Ah, King Belgrave!” Lugar greeted with a bow. “We have anticipated your arrival. Now that you are here, I am hopeful that the enemy was unable to achieve a foothold in our land.”

“We stopped them at Wegorish,” King Belgrave replied.

“Hovarwish, Holich, and Latholish were destroyed,” Ragwulch added.

“We only heard of one survivor from the army of Latholish,” Holgar said. “Lawartholish and Shigorich were unable to help them in time, but they were marching there as we left Holich.”

Lugar sighed. “There is only one way to stop this enemy,” he said. “Get some sleep and in the morning we will prepare.” He turned to one of the others. “Summon the captains,” he ordered. “I want to discuss our strategy at dawn.” One of the other Barbidons gathered up some more bedding and gave it to King Belgrave and the other two. “Get some rest, King Belgrave,” Lugar said, lying back down. “I am sure that you are tired after your journey from Wegorish.”