The following morning, many soldiers were already about their business and preparing to march by the time Belgrave stepped out of his tent. Colonel Balvain saw him and walked toward him.
“King Belgrave, Commander Sidrahkir has sent back a message,” Colonel Balvain said. “He gives his endorsement of your selection of Amehtana as your capital and will inform its citizens to plan for your palace as they rebuild. Two of the five brothers are now at Amehtana and await your arrival. As for the Barbidons, he says there was no resistance at Amehtana and the nearby garrisons when they saw their own kind among the Commander’s ranks and realized they were no longer servants of the Dark Wizard. He also says he was not surprised about you and Naiya’Nal, and fully supports your decisions. However, he did suggest that your relationship be kept private until after Tanarad is free and you have entered Amehtana.”
King Belgrave smiled. “A little suspense never hurt anyone,” he stated. “Even the soldiers here know there is something between me and Naiya’Nal, but very few know more than rumors. Anyway, I am glad to hear the Barbidons are giving up with no resistance. The evil enslaving them must be breaking. I do not think we need to bring the army with us while we liberate the rest of Tanarad.”
Colonel Balvain pondered this for a second. “There is potential for things to go wrong if we did not have the soldiers nearby, but it might work. I suggest there be at least four Barbidons and four of us; you, Naiya’Nal, myself, and Tytane. I am not sure who among the Barbidons would volunteer.”
“I was thinking about that yesterday,” said King Belgrave. “That is why I had you send the messenger to Commander Sidrahkir. I do not want the army to slow us down if we do not need them. Do we have enough horses for that many Barbidons?”
Colonel Balvain laughed. “The Barbidons are too large to ride horses. It would be like you trying to ride a small dog. However, they are capable of running long distances.”
“Then that is what we will do. I will have Naiya’Nal choose the four Barbidons and then we will depart for Eema. The army is to disband so that the men can return to their homes. Send another messenger to Commander Sidrahkir to inform him of what we are doing. He may decide to follow our example and also allow his men to return home.”
Belgrave stepped back into his tent. Naiya’Nal was awake and putting on her armor. “I overheard the Colonel talking to you and I like your idea,” she said. “It’s a faster and easier way of liberating Tanarad.”
“Do you already have some Barbidons in mind?” he asked her.
“I would take Gitchvar and Shogwar, and also the two lowest ranking Barbidons among them,” she said.
“What would you do with the Barbidons we brought with the army?” he asked.
“They can stay here and assist in the rebuilding,” she suggested.
When the soldiers had dismantled the camp and were returning to their homes, King Belgrave and the others departed for Eema. At first, the terrain was mostly a mixture of forests and fields as much of what Belgrave had already seen had been. When they passed out of the region of Gadella and into Otopo, the forests gave way to expansive plains where they could travel faster.
When they arrived at Eema, they found the Barbidons waiting for them outside the city gates. “We should have brought the army,” Colonel Balvain said, stopping his horse.
King Belgrave looked back at him. “Are you going to stay there and watch or will you come with us?” he asked. Colonel Balvain had no choice except to keep going. As they drew near, they slowed the horses. The Barbidons showed them no hostility. Soon they confirmed that the citizens had taken back control of Eema.
King Belgrave ordered half of the Barbidons to remain to help rebuild Eema, and the other half to march to Amehtana to aid the rebuilding there. As they rode into the city, they received a warm welcome. King Belgrave turned down a feast that evening, but told them that one day he would invite all of Tanarad to a feast. Naiya’Nal teased that he was just scared of drinking more worret.
When they left Eema, they traveled northwest for two days to Nodnarb, and from there, another day northeast to Eeraman in the rugged region of Wekined. It seemed that everywhere they went, the Barbidons had already handed back control of the villages. The only resistance they met was from a small group of Barbidons patrolling a branch of the Nomota River on their way to Amis. From Amis they traveled northwest for three days through the foothills of the Wulu’Mu’Bar Mountains to Itragoni, the most important harbor of Tanarad. They then travelled four days southwest into Otopo where they came to Higdon. It was a long journey and they were tired when they arrived so they rested an extra day before moving on. From there they went south to Nomota at the mouth of the Nomota River. The trip took three days, but it was easy riding across the plains. They spent one of the nights camped among the ruins of the city where Naiya’Nal claimed she had been born. From Nomota they travelled east along the coast for two days to Isim. In the next three days, they went northeast to Orton, east to Fonu and then southeast to Rayoj, which was at the mouth of the Bay of Anamnesis. The entire western portion of Tanarad was free, and King Belgrave hoped Commander Sidrahkir had it just as easy in the eastern regions of Duhobrek and Heroabe.
As they stood on the coast outside Rayoj after their long journey, King Belgrave took Colonel Balvain aside. “Has your opinion of Naiya’Nal changed in the past three weeks?” he asked.
Colonel Balvain thought a moment before he answered. “She has proven her worth as we traveled, but that does little to change my opinion. I think what matters most is that I trust you to make the proper decisions. As a Colonel in your army, I need to be supportive of your decisions regardless of my own opinions. In the last two weeks, I have decided that you are indeed worthy of my loyalty. If things progress as you suggested in Norl, then I will also choose to be loyal to her.”
“That is a good answer, Colonel,” Belgrave said. “If that is how you truly feel, then I know my next commands will be carried out. You are to return to Amehtana with Tytane and the Barbidons. Naiya’Nal and I will visit Jun Joon to have our questions answered before we go to Amehtana. We plan to arrive within five days of leaving Rayoj. That will give them a few days from the time you arrive to prepare the city for my arrival.”
Colonel Balvain wanted to protest, but decided to go along with King Belgrave’s plans. “We will be waiting for you,” he said.
King Belgrave then turned and walked away toward Naiya’Nal. Colonel Balvain watched them briefly as they sat on the beach watching the sunset. He then turned to leave Rayoj and follow King Belgrave’s orders.