It has been over a thousand years since the last Realm War, when the forces of light banished the demonic shedom back to the Realm of Darkness. Now a new evil threatens the Middle Realm as a self-proclaimed wizard and a mysterious black knight lead an army of humanoid lizards against the kingdoms of man.
As the Wizard consolidates his power throughout the eight kingdoms, Terrwyn and her companions find new allies in their fight against him. Our heroes finally reach Dracengard, but soon discover that the darkness that is engulfing the realm is even more sinister than they originally believed.
e x c e r p t
DRACENGARD: BOOK ONE
By: Christopher Vale
The darkness of the tunnel engulfed the workers as they swung their picks against the hard, gray stone, digging ever deeper into the mountainside. They were slaves, dressed in tattered rags, working endlessly, night and day, and receiving just enough food and rest to stay alive and continue working.
Jon knew he was somewhere in the Scorched Mountains, but did not know anything beyond that. He and the other slaves had been snatched from their homes in the middle of the night and taken down into the tunnel. Jon did not know exactly how long he had been there because determining the days would have required seeing the sun, but he believed he had been at it for months. None of the slaves knew exactly what they were doing digging in the tunnel, except that they were searching for something. What they were searching for was unknown, but they were assured that they would know it when it was found. Jon picked away at the rocks endlessly, driven by the crack of the drakmere’s whip.
The drakmere, reptilian humanoids from the boggiest areas of the swamps, were vicious and cruel creatures with dark green skin, powerful tails, and elongated snouts, not unlike those of alligators. The beasts typically towered over men, standing between six and eight feet tall when upright on their hind legs. Their mouths drooled over their long, sharp teeth as they watched the slaves, and it was widely known that human flesh was their favorite food. The slaves were worked mercilessly by the drakmere, motivated by the knowledge that the least able among them would become the monsters’ dinner.
Humanity had fought with the drakmere, or draks as many called them, for as long as anyone could remember. Until recently, the draks had never before organized into anything more than small raiding parties, and those raiding parties never ventured far from their swamps. In the last few months, entire armies of drakmere armed with iron and steel weapons marched out of the swamps and against the kingdoms of mankind.
As dark, cruel, and evil as the drakmere were, there was none as terrifying as the Black Knight. Even the drakmere, who referred to him as Lord Rayfen, cowered in fear at the mention of his name. The mere thought of him evoked horrible feelings of dread and despair and he would often appear in the tunnels seemingly from nowhere. He always wore the same black armor, with long black cape flowing behind him. None of the slaves had ever seen his face as it was hidden behind a black helmet which formed the shape of a skull. Jon shuddered and tried to turn his thoughts away from the Black Knight.
Jon swung his pick, shattering rock and stone. He swung again, but this time, after the dust cleared, he saw something unusual on the rock wall. He squinted in the darkness to try and make out what it was. As he stood staring at the wall, he heard the hiss of a drakmere behind him. “Keep working, slave, or I shall have you for my dinner,” the monster threatened.
Jon turned around and bowed his head to the drakmere, respectfully. One never knew when a drak might fly off the handle and simply kill a slave for any reason, or no reason, at all. It was certainly best to tread lightly around them. “I think I have found something,” he said. The drak snatched a lantern from the wall and shoved Jon out of the way. Holding the light up, it peered at the wall looking directly at what Jon could only describe as writing.
“I see nothing,” it hissed at Jon, its small reptilian brain clearly unable to decipher any difference between the cracks in the stone wall and what clearly, to Jon, was intentional carving.
“There,” Jon said pointing to it. “That looks like writing, though not any language I am familiar with.”
The drakmere squinted in the dark and leaned in closer. “It looks like nothing more than a crack in the wall to me,” it hissed. “Get back to work!” It turned to walk away.
Jon swallowed hard. “Sir, if you will allow me a small hammer, chisel, and brush I can be sure,” he said through dry lips. The drakmere did not respond, but cocked its head to look at Jon. “If it is nothing, then I can go back to picking, but if it is something, Lord Rayfen will be pleased,” Jon explained. “Pleased with you.”
The drakmere considered this for a moment, its small brain taking longer than a human child’s would to realize that there was no downside for it to acquiesce to Jon’s request. It then nodded its approval and sent for a hammer, chisel, and brush.
With tools in hand, Jon began to lightly hammer at the wall, tapping gently so as to preserve the carvings hidden behind the mountain rock. For hours Jon tapped and chiseled, brushed and cleared, until finally he had uncovered an area along the wall about five feet in diameter. He stepped back and took a lantern from the wall to cast more light onto his project. He heard the crunch of rocks behind him as the drak returned to inspect his work as well. It leaned over and Jon could feel the creature’s breath on his neck. What Jon had discovered was so clearly carvings that even the drak recognized it as such.
“What is it?” hissed the beast.
“It looks like seraph symbols to me,” Jon replied.
“What is seraph?” the reptile asked.
“Some call them faeries or fae,” Jon replied. “Others call them angels.”
“Angels?” the creature hissed in fear and took a few steps back. Clearly it had heard of angels. “Are you certain?” it asked Jon.
“Yes,” said Jon. His mother had been deeply religious and he spent many hours of his childhood with the Priests of Avalon learning of the seraph and the Realm of Light—learning of the Realm Wars and how the seraph, as they called themselves, had saved humanity from eternal darkness.
According to ancient lore, there were three realms. The First Realm, or Realm of Light, was perpetually light—darkness never fell. The Second Realm, or Realm of Darkness, was perpetually dark—dawn never broke. And the Third Realm or Middle Realm, spent half the day in darkness and half the day in light. That was where Jon and all other humans lived.
Legend claimed that over a thousand years ago, the seraph—rulers of the Realm of Light—fought the last of the Realm Wars against the shedom and their demonic forces from the Realm of Darkness. These wars were fought in the Middle Realm where the forces of darkness were defeated and humanity was saved. Of course, that was just myth. Jon had not really believed in the seraph, shedom, or the Realm Wars in several years—not since he was a child. At least, not until he stood in a dark tunnel, deep inside of a mountain, staring at seraph carvings. Could it be true? Could it all have really happened?
The drak ran off, screeching that it had found something and someone should get word to Lord Rayfen. Soon, other slaves crowded around Jon to see the find, but they moved quickly out of the way when more drakmere marched down the dark tunnel to see what it was that Jon had uncovered. All of the drakmere clearly feared the seraph and Jon smiled at their discomfort as he explained again that they were seraph symbols. His enjoyment was short lived, however, because the drakmere soon discussed sending word to Lord Rayfen of Jon’s discovery. That meant that the Black Knight would come to see what Jon had uncovered for himself. Jon might even have to speak to him. A chill ran up his spine. He looked again at the seraph carvings and wondered what it all meant and why the Black Knight would care.
The horse’s hoofs clattered on the cobblestones as Sir Bryn rode his brown gelding down the hill from the castle walls to the docks. Sir Bryn was a large man with an impressive mustache, which covered much of his mouth and lower cheeks. He was commander of the City Guard of Riversmeet, the capital of the Stromland. Sir Bryn wore brigandine armor—overlapping steel plates—covered with soft green velvet and embroidered with gold thread. A long, dark green cape draped over his shoulders and was clasped below his neck with a golden shield. Upon his head sat a golden helmet without a visor.
It was late, but as Commander of the City Guard, Sir Bryn felt it was his duty to patrol the streets on a semi-regular basis to ensure all was well and to inspect his men. More than once he had caught one of his guardsmen asleep or drinking in a tavern when he was supposed to be on duty. Depending on the infraction and the Commander’s mood, such derelictions of duty could be punished by any number of means, from simply being relieved of duty to being sent to the stockade.
Sir Bryn had not intended a patrol this evening, but he had laid in bed unable to sleep, his wife snoring gently beside him. He decided not to waste the night away staring at the ceiling and rose, dressed, mounted his horse and rode off to inspect the city. As he rode through the streets, he saw nothing amiss. All of his men were awake at their posts or dutifully patrolling the streets. All of the reports assured him that everything was peaceful.
He then decided to ride down to the port to inspect the docks. As the name implied, the city of Riversmeet was established along the junction of the Ehren, Dracen, and Strom Rivers, and was a major trade port. While the occasional smuggler was apprehended at the port, the guardsmen stationed at the docks mostly broke up fights between drunken sailors and arrested pick-pockets and other petty criminals.
Sir Bryn directed his horse down a short ramp that led from the cobblestoned street to the wooden dock. He rode along the dock, observing that the night was very quiet and he could hear the water lapping against the ships and pier. He saw that the lights still burnt brightly at the Merry Mermaid, a popular tavern with the sailors. Music floated from the tavern and down to his ears, but no trouble appeared to be brewing there. He rode past the tavern realizing that the dock was mostly deserted, but he soon came upon four of his men out on patrol. He reigned in his horse as the patrol halted in front of him. The men were dressed similarly to Sir Bryn, but carried long lances in addition to their short swords.
“Good evening, Commander,” said Lance Corporal Cerys, the senior-most guardsman on the patrol.
“Good evening,” Sir Bryn replied. “All appears quiet?”
“Yes, sir, no trouble so far this evening,” Cerys replied.
“Let us hope it remains so,” Sir Bryn said as his horse began to snort. The gelding danced around nervously and looked as if it were about to bolt. “Settle down,” Sir Bryn said softly as he patted his horse on the neck.
“Must not like the water,” Cerys volunteered.
“He has been down here numerous times, but has never acted like this,” Sir Bryn said as he looked about trying to find the source of his horse’s unease. Sir Bryn saw something near the river, a dark shape crawling out of the water and onto the dock. “What is that?” he asked and the four guardsman followed his gaze to see the large, dark shape rising from the dock. Then another came out of the water, followed by another.
“You there,” Cerys shouted, “halt in the name of the King!” Cerys began to walk toward the large shape followed by the other three guardsmen. As they approached the shapes, Sir Bryn noticed more and more of the things climbing out of the water up and down the dock.
“Cerys!” he shouted.
“Yes, sir?” the Lance Corporal responded and turned to look at the Commander.
Cerys turned back toward the shapes and heard a hiss before they leapt toward him and his men with a terrifying shriek. By the time Cerys realized what they were, he and his men laid dead on the docks. Sir Bryn spurred his horse to a gallop and the gelding was more than happy to flee down the docks.
“Sound the alarm!” the Commander shouted. “Sound the alarm!” He rode on, shouting until he finally heard the alarm bell ring. He reached the ramp that led up from the docks to the city and guided his gelding up to the cobblestones once again.
He rode toward the city walls as he saw torchlights moving through the streets, the guardsmen rushing to action upon hearing the alarm. He met a dozen of his men coming down to see what was the matter, his nephew Bendal with them. “Bendal, wake everyone and find General Trapp. Tell him we are under attack,” the Commander ordered.
“By who, sir?” Bendal asked.
“By drakmere!” the Commander shouted.
Terrwyn was flying. The Princess soared high above the sea, then dipped down to feel the cool, salty mist on her face. She knew that she was in the midst of a dream—a wonderful dream—and her awareness of that fact enthralled her for she knew that sometimes, just sometimes, she could control what happened when she knew she was dreaming. As Terrwyn flew just above the waves, she began to think of a playful group of dolphins and a school of dolphins suddenly appeared in the blue water swimming along with her. The dolphins took turns leaping out of the cool water, squealing with delight as they jumped beside Terrwyn. Terrwyn glanced up from the water and dolphins to see the beach rapidly approaching. She reached the beach and continued to soar above the white sands. Enjoying the dream’s path thus far, she decided to fly further inland over fields and forests until she eventually crested snow-peaked mountains.
Terrwyn peered down at the tall mountains and green valleys enjoying the magnificent beauty from the clouds. Soon she came to her home, Avonvale, the capital city of a kingdom with the same name. Avonvale was nestled along the Ehren River in a beautiful valley of lush forests and green fields. The river was very wide, almost half a mile at this point, and easily accommodated large ships. Avonvale and the smaller port at Lattingham, south of Avonvale, were always busy with trading ships heading south, often all the way to the Glass Sea. The city climbed foothills which led to the high snow peaked mountains further west. The river ran down from the north and wound east of the city. Much of the city was built along the river but outside of the walls that protected it. The old city, that portion protected by the walls, was now less than half the total size of Avonvale. The castle, home to Terrwyn and her family, stood atop a hill in the center of Avonvale, like a sentinel overlooking the city. The castle’s high stone walls and beautiful spires formed a comforting presence in the sky and filled Terrwyn with pride as she flew overhead.
She soared over Avonvale and continued far beyond her home, following the Ehren River northward into the Stromland. As soon as she crossed over the borders of the Stromland, the sky grew dark and the grass below turned from lush and green to black and burnt. She continued her journey northward until she came to Riversmeet, the capital city of the Stromland. She was unsure how she knew it was Riversmeet, as there was nothing to identify the city other than charred ruins, but she could feel that it was. She abruptly turned around—she did not want to be there anymore. It felt like death, and it surrounded her like a funeral shroud. She wanted to fly back south to the safety and protection of Avonvale. She flew fast, as fast as she could, but could not outrun the scorched earth. Soon she was above Avonvale again, but it was no longer lush and green. It was black and burnt just like the Stromland. She could smell the wood burning from the smoldering buildings and forests. She choked on the smoke as she saw her beloved city and home reduced to ash by red flame.
Terrwyn grew very angry. How did this happen? Who did this to her home? As her dream turned into a nightmare she began to transform physically. Her soft white skin turned to rough, garnet-colored scales. She glanced down at her hands and saw black talons instead of her well-kept fingernails and her delicate fingers extended outward into large claws. She felt her teeth grow longer, sharpening into large fangs as her mouth and nose elongated, morphing into a long snout. As her arms lengthened out to her sides, she grew enormous leathery wings the size of great sails from her father’s warships. She squeezed her eyes tight through the pain when her back wrenched as her spine extended into a long tail and grew tall black spikes which ripped through her skin. The pain ceased once the metamorphosis ended. Terrwyn caught her breath and opened her eyes. She looked down at the ground passing by below her and saw the shadow of a winged dragon where the shadow of a woman had once been. She heard a fierce roar echoing in her ears and realized it was she who had made the sound. She opened her giant mouth and could taste the fire as flames leapt forth.
Terrwyn awoke screaming. Her cream colored gown was soaked with sweat, and her Auburn locks were matted in dark wet curls against her skin. She tossed the blankets off, stood, and walked across the soft carpet to a small table and poured herself a tall glass of water. She drank it down, the liquid cooling her throat and extinguishing the flame her mind told her must continue to burn there. She could still taste the fire; a charred smoky flavor filled her mouth. Terrwyn poured the remaining water into a large porcelain bowl, then set the pitcher down and leaned over the bowl, dipping her hands into the cool water and splashing it on her face.
She did not know how long she had been asleep. Prior to the dream, she tossed and turned in her bed for hours, unable to sleep. Terrwyn of the House of Valestead was a princess of Avonvale and betrothed to Prince Tybalt of the Stromland. The wedding was in two days and no one knew the whereabouts of her husband-to-be or his family. Earlier that day, Terrwyn’s father, King Alexandeon, had received word that Riversmeet had fallen to the Wizard’s army of drakmere. The rumors claimed that no one survived, that the Wizard had ordered the slaughter of not only the royal family, but every citizen of the Stromland. Of course those were only rumors, likely spread by peddlers anxious to attract patrons to their wagons with exciting or frightening news from other lands. But did that mean the stories were not true? On the other hand, what would the Wizard possibly have to gain by such a massacre?
However, that was not all that was keeping Terrwyn awake. Deep in the dark recesses of her heart, she was relieved to hear that her betrothed had disappeared. She did not want to wed Tybalt. She had not seen him since they were children and he had been an impudent child, smearing mud in her hair and putting frogs down her dress. Of course, that was long ago when he was just a boy, but she remembered hating him. Was he still the selfish, mean little demon from their childhood? And how did he expect her to behave as a wife? Was Tybalt expecting her to be a meek, obedient bride whom he would completely control? After all, the marriage was not conceived from love, but rather politics, aimed at making an alliance between traditional enemies. The Stromland had been a political and military rival of Avonvale for centuries and the two ruling families hoped that this marriage would foster friendship between the two kingdoms. But Terrwyn was not accustomed to being meek and obedient.
Terrwyn’s mother, Queen Genevieve, died three years ago while giving birth. Sadly, the tiny infant was also lost. Following the Queen’s death, Terrwyn had assumed her mother’s duties. Her father did not interfere and was glad to let her do it. She ruled her domain with independence and strength. She feared Tybalt and his family would not appreciate the daughter of a rival exerting that same independence and strength in their kingdom. Nevertheless, that did not excuse the relief that Terrwyn had felt upon hearing the news of Tybalt’s disappearance and the possible death of everyone in his entire kingdom. Relief? How could she be so cold and selfish? Was she actually hoping he was dead? Something deep down inside of her said yes and she was very ashamed of it.
Terrwyn returned to bed, her nightmare almost forgotten, as she agonized over her feelings about her betrothed’s fate and her future. She laid down under the covers and closed her eyes tightly, attempting to block the onslaught of thoughts from her mind so that she could get a few more hours sleep. Just as she began to doze again, she was startled awake by voices in the hallway. Then footsteps, lots of footsteps. More voices. She sat up in bed with a start. The hour was certainly late, but the commotion was growing louder and louder.
Terrwyn threw back the covers and stood from the bed. Her feet found her red velvet slippers beside the bed and she took a soft red robe and wrapped it around her shoulders, intending to step into the hall to investigate. Before she could do so, there was a loud pounding at her door. She rushed to it and swung the door open to find her twin brother, Erec, standing in the hall, already dressed in a deep blue, long sleeved tunic which dropped past his waist covering the top of his dark brown pants. Perhaps he had not risen and dressed, but rather had not gone to sleep. Men were allowed to stay up as late as they desired. Except for special occasions and celebrations, ladies were expected to be in their chambers soon after nightfall. Only a woman of ill repute would go outside after sundown. At least, that was the opinion of the nobility, a view not shared by most commoners.
“Erec, what in the Three Realms is happening?” Terrwyn asked as she saw people rushing up and down the hallway.
Erec stared at her, his penetrating blue eyes reflecting hers. He was a very handsome young man with strong features and a clean-shaven face. His hair, lighter than Terrwyn’s—in fact it was almost blond—was straight like their father’s. Terrwyn’s hair was curly like their mother’s and hung in auburn ringlets over her gown. Still, the two favored each other greatly as twins normally do.
Erec got straight to the point. “The Wizard is marching on Avonvale,” he said. “Our scouts report that the Wizard’s army is coming down from the north and shall be here within hours.”
Suddenly, the stories and rumors of the Wizard ordering the slaughter of every citizen of the Stromland became undoubtedly real. Much too real. They no longer appeared to be unsubstantiated rumors, but rather a stark warning of what was to come to Avonvale. Terrwyn swallowed hard. “His army of drakmere,” she whispered. It was not a question but Erec replied just the same.
“Yes,” said the Prince.
Whether the rumors that came out of the Stromland were true or not, it was well known by all that drakmere were vicious and cruel monsters that coveted the taste of human flesh. Knights killed drakmere on sight, much as one would a snake or a rat. Until very recently, the drakmere primarily stayed confined to their swamps, except for the occasional raid on a nearby village. Intelligent as animals go, their minds were far inferior to that of humans, but that in itself likely added to their cruelty as they were not intelligent enough to comprehend compassion. Everyone in the Middle Realm knew that draks were vicious monsters, and now an army of them marched toward Avonvale. Terrwyn hated herself even more for the deep dark relief she had felt when Tybalt was feared dead, now that she might share his fate.
Erec saw the fear in his sister’s eyes. He reached out and wrapped his arms around her and comfortingly pulled her head to his chest. She hugged him back as he kissed her lightly on top of her hair. She knew his embrace was to comfort himself as much as her. “Do not worry sister,” he said placing a finger under her chin and lifting her face to look at him. “We will defeat them.”
Terrwyn smiled. She truly hoped he was right, but her mother had once explained that young warriors were often full of bravado and unable to fathom the possibility of defeat, even as it stared them in the face. Even if Erec had been a seasoned veteran whose bravado had already been stamped out by the horrible reality of battle, he would never have let his sister know he truly feared defeat. “Of course we will defeat them, brother,” she said as she attempted to reflect his confidence. “I trust in you and Father and all of our brave warriors.”
He released her from his embrace. “Good. Now, dress quickly and find Taite. Father says you are to dress in travel clothes…just in case.”
“In case of what?” Terrwyn asked. She knew the answer, but asked the question anyway.
Erec smiled at her reassuringly and ignored the question. “I must ready for battle and join Father to plan our defense.” He walked away with a fun-loving wave and she shut the door and turned back toward her room.
Terrwyn took off her robe and tossed it on the bed just as her three ladies-in-waiting arrived to assist her in dressing. Elizabeth was the oldest of the three, old enough to be Terrwyn’s mother. In fact she had served Terrwyn’s mother and had been present at the birth of all of the Queen’s children. It was considered a great honor to serve the royal family and only a lady of such high station as Elizabeth was chosen to serve the Queen. Her husband, Lord Bannistar, served the King as commander of the city’s military forces. Elizabeth had been a motherly figure to Terrwyn over the last three years and she smiled at the Princess reassuringly as she sensed Terrwyn’s unease.
“Sephene and Anne will help you dress,” Elizabeth said shooting a glance to the younger ladies and taking immediate command of the situation. It was not that she was commanding the Princess or even being disrespectful. Elizabeth simply realized that Terrwyn, like her mother before her, had more important things to concern herself with than how she and her sister would dress. It was Elizabeth’s duty to make sure those type of small, yet important, details of Terrwyn’s life were taken care of without the Princess having to give it one second of thought. Especially now, with the urgency filling the castle like wine in a goblet. Elizabeth placed a hand on Terrwyn’s shoulder. “I will attend to the little Princess,” she said referring to Terrwyn’s younger sister. Terrwyn nodded with a smile and Elizabeth left the room the same way she entered, floating more than walking.
Without a word, Sephene and Anne moved to Terrwyn, unlaced her gown, and pulled it off over her head. Both ladies were Terrwyn’s cousins and each slightly younger than Terrwyn. Anne was daughter of the King’s brother and Sephene, daughter of the Queen’s brother. Lady Sephene removed a sleeveless blouse of fine ivory colored silk from the dresser and pulled it over Terrwyn’s head and arms while Lady Anne found an appropriate light blue riding dress. Anne and Sephene lifted the dress over Terrwyn’s head and down her body, pulling the sleeves down until they reached her wrists. Sephene laced the back of the dress tightly. Terrwyn then walked to her vanity and sat gracefully on the small cushioned stool. Sephene stood behind Terrwyn brushing her hair while Anne knelt on the floor and pulled on the Princess’ stockings and dark brown leather ankle boots. Sephene brushed Terrwyn’s auburn hair into a ponytail clasped just behind her shoulders with a golden eagle set with deep blue sapphires as Anne laced the boot up.
Once dressed, Terrwyn dismissed her ladies to see to themselves. She knew that they were as terrified as she was, if not more so. She left her chambers quickly and made her way to Taite’s room. Taite was only eight years old, ten years younger than Terrwyn and Erec, and Terrwyn wanted to be with her to comfort her. Terrwyn threw the door to Taite’s room open without knocking. She was greeted by Valko, Taite’s large gray wolf, who quickly jumped to his feet with a growl when Terrwyn opened the door. Seeing it was only Terrwyn, Valko settled back down onto the stone floor.
“Terrwyn!” Taite shouted and ran across the room to hug her big sister. She too was already dressed in a green riding dress with her light brown hair braided and tied with a red bow. Terrwyn knelt down to hug her. “What is happening?” Taite asked clearly afraid. “No one will tell me anything.” Terrwyn looked up at Lady Elizabeth who stood silently by the wall watching them.
“Thank you, Lady Elizabeth, I shall take it from here. I am sure you would like to see your husband,” Terrwyn said to the older woman who bowed to the princesses.
“Very much, Your Highness. Thank you,” said Lady Elizabeth. She floated across the room and then turned gracefully and exited while slowly closing the door behind her. Valko did not so much as look in her direction as she left.
“Well?” asked Taite.
Terrwyn took a deep breath. She did not want to frighten her little sister, but Taite knew something was amiss and it would be impossible to hide a battle from her. “The Wizard is bringing his army to Avonvale,” Terrwyn informed Taite.
“The Wizard?” Taite’s eyes widened. “But he killed everyone in the Stromland and fed the royal family to his drakmere,” she said as tears started to well up in her eyes.
“Who told you that?” Terrwyn asked.
“Everyone knows that, Terrwyn,” Taite responded throwing her hands in the air. “I don’t want to be eaten by drakmere.”
Terrwyn took Taite’s face in her hands and wiped her baby sister’s eyes. “Neither do I,” she said looking directly at Taite. Terrwyn kissed Taite on her forehead and stood, taking the younger girl’s hand. “Now, let’s go find Erec and Father.” Taite nodded smiling gleefully. Terrwyn knew that seeing their father would make both of them feel better. He would be busy preparing for the battle, but not too busy to give his daughters comforting words and a hug she hoped. Terrwyn opened the door and led Taite from the room and into the hall waiting for Valko to follow them before closing the door. The Princesses walked off to find their father and brother while Valko plodded along behind.
King Alexandeon stood on the city’s outer wall watching as the citizens of Avonvale filed through the gates. He wore a silver breastplate emblazoned with a golden eagle and a deep red cape clasped with a golden eagle. His arms were armored from the pauldron down to his gauntlets and upon his head he wore a silver helmet upon which sat his golden crown. He wore little armor on his legs. Like most unmounted warriors during this period, he preferred the mobility that came with less armor over the legs and only wore greaves over his boots to protect his shins.
As soon as Alexandeon learned that the Wizard’s forces were marching on Avonvale, he sent riders out into the city and countryside to warn his people. Those who lived outside the safety of the city walls gathered up what food and belongings they could and made their way inside the walls of the city. Alexandeon watched as mothers pulled children behind them, the infirm were carried upon stretchers, and men pushed wheelbarrows full of food and other belongings. All of them frantically pushing for the safety of the city walls.
Erec stood to his father’s right, now dressed for battle wearing a well-polished breast plate over his deep blue tunic. Light gauntlets covered his hands and wrists, and armored greaves covered his boots, protecting his shins. He wore less armor than his father, as his generation generally found armor to be too restraining in battle. A fine flowing blue cape draped his shoulders and was clasped with a golden eagle. He held his shining helmet in the crook of his right arm and his left hand gripped his shield. Erec’s shield, like the shield of all of his father’s men, was white with the emblem of a blue eagle painted on it.
To Alexandeon’s left stood his personal guard, Sir Gwillym. The knight’s face was partially covered by a dark brown beard, speckled with gray which matched the unkempt hair on his head. He wore unpolished plate armor over a blue tunic. Well used, the armor had obviously seen numerous battles. Like Erec, he also wore a deep blue cape draped over his shoulders and clasped with a golden eagle. Sir Gwillym carried no shield, preferring two swords in combat.
“The people are nearly all in,” Erec said gesturing to those below him making their way through the gates.
“And just in time,” Alexandeon responded as he stared off over the hills. He could hear faint drum beats in the distance. The steady beat of war drums. “The Wizard’s army is almost here.”
The drums grew louder and then the first drakmere came into view cresting the northern hill. Then more and more. The monsters did not move in orderly formations as would armies of men, nor did they carry banners. They did, however, carry a variety of weapons including battle axes, maces, spears, and great swords. A drakmere could easily wield a large two-handed great sword with one hand. Tens of thousands of armed and armored drakmere stood before the city walls when the drum beats finally ceased. Atop the northern hill, the King could see the Wizard mounted upon his white stallion, his cloak blowing in the night wind. Beside him was the Black Knight, the man they called Rayfen.
Hearing footsteps moving quickly down the wall, Alexandeon turned to his right to see Sir Tam come to a halt beside Erec. “A message from the Wizard Your Majesty,” Tam informed the King between breaths as he held out a rolled piece of paper. Erec took the paper from the knight, unrolled it and read the message.
“The Wizard offers to let you keep your throne, Father,” Erec said amused at the man’s arrogant brashness. “All he asks,” Erec relayed sarcastically, “is that you swear fealty to him and give him our Dracenstone.” The other men on the wall gruffed at the Wizard’s audacity.
The King stood staring at the Wizard who sat upon his mount, perched atop the hill. After a moment he turned, meeting his son’s eyes and reached out and took the paper. “Sir Tam, who is your best long bowman?” the King asked as he glanced down at the Wizard’s message.
“That would be Turk, Sire,” Tam said without a moment’s hesitation.
“Summon him,” the King responded and Sir Tam shouted the command for Turk to report. The men echoed Sir Tam’s call through the ranks until Turk acknowledged the summons. The rows of archers standing in the streets below parted as the large bowman made his way to the wall. Turk bounded up wooden steps to the top of the wall and jogged along the parapet, carrying his longbow and quiver of arrows to report to Sir Tam as commanded. Turk stood well over six feet tall with stringy black hair falling to his broad shoulders. The King looked him up and down. “You are the one called Turk?” Alexandeon asked the bowman.
“I am, Your Majesty,” Turk said as he bowed his head toward the King.
“Do you see the men atop the hill?” asked the King pointing toward the Wizard and Rayfen.
Turk turned to look at them. “I do Your Majesty.”
“Do you believe you can hit a target at that distance?” asked the King.
“Farther, Your Majesty,” Turk said with an arrogant smirk on his face.
The King laughed at the boast as he handed a scrawled note to Erec. “Attach this to his arrow,” the King instructed his son. Erec reached into Turk’s quiver, removed an arrow and tied the message to the shaft. He then handed the arrow to Turk. The King looked Turk in the eyes. “If you kill the man on the right with this arrow, I will give you as large a chest of gold as you can carry out of the castle.”
Turk’s broad face parted in a large toothy grin, though at least three of those teeth were missing. “I can carry quite a bit, Your Majesty.” He then notched the arrow into his long bow. He pulled the bow string back, aiming it into the night sky. He adjusted for the wind and mentally took the air moisture into account and then loosed the arrow. The arrow flew high into the night sky.
The Wizard Tamesis sat upon his white stallion, his robes of deep purple flowing in the wind, a short conical hat perched atop his head. His gray eyes glanced over his army of drakmere. More than enough to take Avonvale—if necessary. However, it would be so much better for everyone if the King would realize the hopelessness of his situation and surrender without a battle. Seeing the army of drakmere before him, coupled with the generous terms offered by the Wizard, might very well entice Alexandeon to surrender without a fight, thought the Wizard.
Beside the Wizard, General Rayfen sat on a black warhorse, armored in black steel. As always, Rayfen was dressed completely in black. He wore black plate armor over a black tunic and a black cape donned his shoulders. Upon his head sat a black helmet which completely covered his face, the face mask molded into the shape of a human skull. No eyes could be seen in the helmet’s eye-holes, only darkness.
Suddenly, Rayfen’s arm shot out in front of the Wizard and snatched an arrow out of the air before it could strike. The Wizard jumped, startled as his horse reared up in fright. “What is that?” asked the Wizard as he calmed his horse. Rayfen untied a small piece of paper from the shaft of the arrow and unrolled it to reveal a note. Rayfen quickly read the note and handed it to the Wizard.
“It appears the King has refused your terms of surrender,” Rayfen hissed.
The Wizard read the note quickly. “Very well,” he sneered as the paper burst into flame in his hand. “If a battle is what they want, then a battle is what they shall receive. Begin the attack.”
General Rayfen reached into his cape grabbing his sword by its hilt and drew it, thrusting the blade high into the air. The metal was a dark gray color that reflected no light. The blade was long and jagged. He hissed a command even the Wizard did not understand and the great battle horns began to sound, spurring the drakmere forward into attack. The drums resumed their heavy beat as the hordes of armored drakmere moved forward.
The ground shook as the Wizard’s army marched toward the city pounding their drums. Archers atop the city walls rained arrows down on the drakmere, but large wooden shields did their part to protect the beasts. Soon, the draks were at the walls. In an instant, the creatures dropped their shields and slung their weapons over their backs, freeing their hands to begin the ascent of the city walls.
The Wizard smiled.
King Alexandeon gasped as he watched drakmere climbing the city walls. The monsters had no need of ladders or grappling hooks as they could climb straight up the walls more rapidly than a man could climb a ladder. The King’s soldiers were not prepared for this. All of their warfare and siege training centered on fighting men, not monsters. Men would find it very difficult to assault and surmount a defended wall.
Archers fired directly down at the draks. Soldiers threw stones over the side. The men were doing everything they could to prevent the draks from reaching the top, but there were simply too many drakmere ascending to adequately defend the wall. Thousands of drakmere were climbing up on all sides and hundreds began to reach the top.
Lancers thrust their long steel-tipped lances through the first draks that crested the wall, but there were not enough men to stop them all. Drakmere began to pour over the walls and fight hand-to-hand with the soldiers. Many lancers and archers on the parapets drew their short swords and engaged the drakmere in close combat. The soldiers were quickly overpowered—many simply pushed off the wall—by the larger and stronger draks. Archers on the ground shot arrows at the draks coming over the wall, but could not loose their arrows quickly enough to prevent the wall from falling to the draks.
Alexandeon stood upon the parapet, his great sword gripped in both hands as he slashed downward at a reptilian head which appeared at the top of the wall. The sword split the drakmere’s skull and the creature fell from the wall to the hard ground below. Sir Gwillym stood beside the King, a sword in each hand, cutting and slashing at the monsters coming over the wall. One leapt over the battlement and Sir Gwillym used the drak’s own weight and velocity against it, pushing it over the other side of the wall to the city streets below, where lancers quickly stabbed it.
Erec was on the King’s right, fighting valiantly. A drak towered over the Prince and swung its large mace downward at him. Erec raised his shield just in time to block the blow. He then countered with a thrust of his sword just under the drak’s chain mail, puncturing the beast in the gut. With a jerk, Erec removed his sword from the belly of the monster causing dark green blood to splatter his face and helmet.
Turk had remained on the wall loosing arrows at the assaulting drakmere with great accuracy. A drak crested the battlements and Turk shot a arrow through its head at point blank range. Just as the archer was reaching into his quiver for another arrow a drakmere’s battle axe removed his head from his broad shoulders. Beside him, Sir Tam, was lifted into the air and tossed over the wall where thousands of drakmere below crushed his bones beneath their massive feet.
The King quickly surveyed the wall and realized that the current situation was hopeless. The city wall was too low to be adequately defended from the thousands of draks ascending it and it was too vast to be heavily defended at all points. The castle offered a superior defensive position and the King decided that in order to save his army and, therefore, his people, he would need to abandon the city—at least temporarily. He detested the idea of ceding the city wall to the Wizard’s forces, but if his men remained in this hopeless position they would surely all become drak food.
“Fall back!” Alexandeon shouted to his men. “Back to the castle!”
Archers on the ground held their position covering the lancers’ retreat down the stairs to the city streets. They shot their arrows quickly as the drakmere continued over the crest of the wall. The King descended the wooden steps to the street below where a squire helped him into the saddle of his large, black, armored charger. Erec was right behind his father and quickly mounted his brown mare. Sir Gwillym followed Erec and mounted his own brown mare and spurred the horse forward after the King.
Although the city walls had never been taken in the entire history of Avonvale, the King’s regulars had rehearsed the scenario over and over again as part of their training. The men knew exactly what to do. Lord Bryan, captain of the archers, and son of the city commander Lord Bannistar, formed his men up into two battle lines. The first battle line was ten yards in front of the other. The front line shot arrows as the drakmere continued to climb over the wall until the order was given to fall back twenty yards. Then the first line fell back behind the second line which shot its arrows until given the same order and thus the archers covered their own retreat.
“How many arrows do the men have left?” Lord Bryan asked Sir Patrick.
“Only a few, My Lord,” the knight replied.
“Last two!” Lord Bryan shouted and the order was echoed down the line. The men would loose two arrows apiece and then retreat. Both lines of archers shot their arrows and began falling back. They scrambled quickly as the drakmere ran after them, some of the beasts dropping to all fours to give chase. Drakmere were amazing sprinters and could run as fast as a horse over short distances.
Lancers formed up behind the archers as the last line of defense. These armored soldiers stood hidden behind their heavy shields and their long lances extended in a type of phalanx. The lancers allowed the archers to slip through their lines and then closed ranks quickly as the drakmere approached. The lancers stood their ground as the drakmere impacted their lines. The first wave of drakmere were impaled on the long lances, but the second wave leapt over the the lances to attack the men themselves. Every lancer carried a short sword and the swords were quickly drawn as drakmere burst through the lines and the men fell back.
Archers on the castle walls began raining arrows down on the drakmere as the lancers fell back to the castle fighting every step of the way. The lancers formed a semicircle around the castle gate as they fell back inside and the heavy iron gate was closed. Three drakmere made it inside the gate with them, where they found themselves trapped between an iron gate and the sharp point of a hundred lances. The three were quickly impaled. Only eleven lancers of the rear guard made it back into the castle walls alive and three of those were seriously wounded. However, inside they joined the ranks of hundreds more.
With the outer wall now completely undefended, the drakmere swarmed over it and through the city gates which were now wide open. Citizens who had been unable to find shelter inside the castle walls huddled in buildings throughout the city, hiding from the windows, hoping not to be discovered and eaten by the drakmere now roaming the streets of Avonvale.
King Alexandeon was accompanied by Sir Gwillym, Erec, and Lord Bannistar—the King’s senior most commander—as he climbed the steps to the castle keep, a high tower in the center of the castle from which he could direct the battle. He stepped onto the parapet of the keep and peered out over the city. Draks were everywhere.
Alexandeon walked along the parapet scowling at the situation. “How are our defenses?” he asked Lord Bannistar.
“We are in a much better position than at the city walls, Sire,” Bannistar replied. “We shall put up a formidable defense of the castle.”
“Our only hope,” Alexandeon said, “is to force the draks to break themselves on the castle walls. We do not want a siege. We do not want draks roaming the city for weeks feeding on our people. We want them to attack and attack and attack, until there are none left to send against us. Then we shall send the men out to retake the city with heavy calvary to crush any of the foul creatures that remain.” His companions nodded their agreement. “And kill this bastard, this self-proclaimed wizard, and his black knight.”
Alexandeon heard female voices and turned to see Terrwyn and Taite running toward him along the parapet followed by Taite’s pet wolf.
“Father!” shouted Terrwyn. “What is happening?” she asked.
The King looked away not wanting to look his daughter in the eye. He waved his hand toward the city below as drakmere flooded the streets of Avonvale. “Look for yourself, daughter,” he said. “Avonvale is overrun with draks.”
Terrwyn gasped as she surveyed the scene. Thousands of drakmere ran up the city streets toward the castle. “What are we to do, Father?” Terrwyn asked, clearly terrified and confused.
“You and Taite are to go below,” the King instructed her. He motioned for two soldiers. “Escort my daughters to the strongroom,” he commanded. “Stand guard there until relieved.”
“I want to stay with you, Father,” Taite protested as she wrapped her arms around the King’s waist.
Terrwyn pulled Taite away. “We must go. Father’s right, we’ll be safe there.” Erec bent over and kissed Taite on the cheek and she hugged his neck. He then straightened and Terrwyn hugged him as well. “Take care of yourself, brother,” she said.
“I will be fine,” Erec assured her. “I shall see you soon.”
Terrwyn nodded and then followed the soldiers inside. The King turned to Sir Gwillym. “Post your ten best men outside of the strongroom,” he said.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Sir Gwillym and then turned to obey.
“Sir Gwillym,” Alexandeon called after him. The knight turned back toward his king. “Be so good as to fetch the Dracenstone and take it to Terrwyn, please.” The knight nodded and then walked off, as the King turned back to the battle below.
Sir Gwillym moved quickly through the castle with ten of his best royal guardsmen marching in two columns behind him. They marched past a child huddled in fear, clinging to his mother’s skirt. They marched past an old woman kneeling beside the stretcher of her infirm husband. They marched past men and boys who had never swung a sword before, now outfitted for battle and trying to put on a brave face, but unable to hide the terror in their eyes. One such boy, who could be no older than thirteen years, stood alone in a corner gripping the hilt of a short sword tightly in both hands. The boy shivered uncontrollably from fear as tears streamed down his face. Gwillym stopped briefly and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. The boy looked up at the knight and wiped the tears from his eyes. Gwillym nodded with a confident smile and then continued on his way.
The hallway opened up into an antechamber on the far side of which was a large oak door that led to the strongroom. In front of the door stood the two soldiers sent by the King to escort Terrwyn and Taite to the strongroom. Sir Gwillym dismissed the soldiers, ordering them to return to their posts on the wall, then stepped up to the door and pounded on it loudly with his fist three times. There was a short pause before a small window at the top of the door slid open revealing Terrwyn’s blue eyes. She stared at him without saying a word or opening the door.
“Tis I, Your Highness,” Gwillym said with smile. “Your father sent me.” He had known the King’s children all of their lives, but with everything going on he understood Terrwyn’s caution. Terrwyn slammed the window shut and Gwillym heard her slide the bolts open, unlocking the door. With a loud creak the heavy wooden door swung open into the strongroom. Terrwyn stood behind it, peeking around at Sir Gwillym. She beckoned him in with a wave and the knight stepped inside the room.
The strongroom was roughly the size of a large bedroom, though the stone walls were devoid of any decoration. The room had chairs to wait in, four small cots for sleeping, a small table for eating, and weapons on a rack standing near the wall. Candles provided the only light as there were no windows in the room and no fire burned in the large fireplace. Taite sat on a plush maroon rug in the middle of the floor, stroking Valko’s gray fur reassuringly, though it was clearly to reassure herself more than the wolf.
Terrwyn quickly closed the door behind Gwillym and slammed the bolts home, apparently afraid drakmere might be lurking just outside in the hallway ready to pounce on her at the slightest opportunity. She fidgeted with her dress nervously. “How goes the battle?” she asked as she looked down at her feet. Sir Gwillym shook his head as she looked up at him. She nodded her understanding, smoothed her dress with her hands, and walked over to the table where she sat down in a chair. She placed her elbows on the table, leaning forward to bury her face in her hands. Gwillym walked over to Terrwyn and stopped beside her. He then set a brown leather satchel on the table in front of her.
“What is this?” the Princess asked looking up.
“The King asked that I bring you the Dracenstone.” Terrwyn’s eyes widened. She glanced back over her shoulder at her sister whose eyes had also widened. Neither had ever seen the Dracenstone, but everyone knew the legends of its power. Taite pushed Valko’s head from her lap, stood, and skipped over to stand beside Terrwyn. Both princesses stared at the satchel.
“I’ve heard the stories, of course, but I did not know Dracenstones actually existed,” Terrwyn said in barely more than a whisper.
“Well, have a look,” Sir Gwillym said. Terrwyn glanced over at Taite who nodded eagerly, then slowly opened the satchel and peered inside. She reached in and pulled out a large stone oval. It was quite heavy and took both hands to pull it from the satchel. The stone was dark red with specks of gold and felt rough to her touch. Taite reached over and felt the stone, touching it delicately with the tips of her fingers. Suddenly wary of its power and not certain that they should be touching it, Terrwyn slid the stone back into the satchel, taking care to close and clasp the flap.
“One other thing,” Sir Gwillym said. He walked over to the rack of weapons on the far wall. He selected a dagger in its sheath and returned to the table. Terrwyn stood to look at the dagger. Sir Gwillym pulled the dagger out out of its sheath, held the blade in front of Terrwyn and demonstrated a thrusting motion. “Thrust in and twist,” he said. “Then repeat if necessary.” Terrwyn nodded as he slid the dagger back into its sheath and handed it to her. Terrwyn stared at the dagger for just a moment before sliding it into her belt. “I have posted ten of my best men outside this door. They will fight to the death for you.”
“Thank you,” Terrwyn said.
“I will see you soon,” he said with a smile, and then turned and winked at Taite. “Take care of your big sister, Little Highness,” he said. Taite wrapped her arms around his waist in a big hug. He squeezed her close and then patted her head. She let go and he could see she was crying. “It will be fine,” he said confidently and then pulled away. He turned and walked back to the door. Terrwyn followed him. Without saying another word Sir Gwillym slid the bolts open and swung the door inward. He walked away without turning to look at them again. Terrwyn saw him nod to his men in the antechamber before she slammed the door closed and slid the bolts home.
Sir Gwillym returned to the castle wall where he found the King still accompanied by Erec and Lord Bannistar. Sir Gwillym peered over the edge of the wall to see tens of thousands of drakmere below. The castle walls were much higher than the city’s outer wall, and the monsters were having a much tougher time making it to the top. When they did make it all the way to the top it was not in such great numbers that the lancers on the walls could not deal with them. Archers shot volley after volley at the drakmere on the streets. Men poured boiling oil over the side, scalding the creatures attempting to scale the walls. Young boys tossed stones, anvils, bricks, and anything else with a hefty weight at the drakmere attempting to knock the monsters off. Lancers stood at the ready to impale, decapitate, or otherwise dispatch any drakmere that managed to climb all the way to the top of the wall.
Sir Gwillym smiled. “Things seem to be looking up for us, Sire,” he said.
“They do, Sir Gwillym,” the King responded and then looked at the knight. “How are my daughters?”
“They are holding up well, Sire,” Gwillym reassured him.
“They have their mother’s spirit,” the King replied.
Erec watched the drakmere intently. “What is that?” he asked.
“Where?” asked the King.
Erec pointed to the gates of the city which now stood wide open. Large wooden machines rolled through the gates on giant wheels as drakmere pushed and pulled them up the streets. “What in the Three Realms are those?”
“Catapults,” Lord Bannistar responded without taking his eyes off the machines. “Very large catapults.”
The soldiers on the wall watched as the giant catapults rolled past the gates and continued up the hill toward the castle. Erec counted ten catapults in all, rolling up different roads toward them. When the catapults were about fifty yards from the castle walls they stopped.
“Be ready!” shouted the King. It took several draks to pull each catapult arm down where it could be secured to the frame with a restraining rope. Three draks climbed into the bucket of each catapult and one by one draks on the ground yanked the restraining ropes loose and the catapults launched drakmere toward the castle. The catapults were largely successful with roughly two-thirds of the draks launched from the buckets flying over the walls and landing either atop the walls or in the courtyard below. The other third were not so lucky and smashed into the high stone walls before falling to their deaths.
As the draks landed on the wall or in the courtyard, they quickly began to fight the King’s soldiers. After each volley, the catapult arms were pulled back down and more draks climbed into the buckets and were launched toward the castle. As the men fought this new threat, more and more of those draks climbing the castle wall began to make it to the top. The tide was rapidly turning back against Avonvale.
“They are going to overtake the wall unless we force them back,” Erec said astonished at this turn of events.
“Agreed!” exclaimed Alexandeon. “So, what do you have in mind to stop them?”
Erec stood silent for a moment as everyone looked to him. “Hay bales,” he said.
“Your Highness?” Lord Bannistar asked clearly sharing the others’ confusion.
Erec looked up from the swarms of drakmere below, his gaze jumping from man to man. “Flaming hay bales.” His father crooked his head to look at his son.
“Of course! Why didn’t we think of it before? Drakmere are terrified of fire,” Sir Gwillym agreed.
“Right,” said the Prince. “We drop flaming hay bales over the wall to disperse them.”
“And flaming arrows,” said Lord Bannistar.
“Yes!” agreed Erec. The King slapped his son on the back.
“Lord Bannistar…” he said, the command understood and going unspoken.
“Yes, Sire,” Bannistar replied as he turned and began shouting to his men to bring hay bales. All of the hay bales that they could find. He then summoned his son, Lord Bryan, captain of the archers, who quickly joined Lord Bannistar on the wall. Bannistar explained the plan and Lord Bryan left to order flaming arrows.
Before long, men were carrying hay bales to the top of the wall. The order was given to light them and soon the bales erupted into orange flames as they were tossed over the sides of the wall landing on drakmere below. A hail of flaming arrows rained down on the drakmere as well. The monsters began to fall back shrieking in the night.
The Wizard watched as his drakmere ran in terror from the fire being rained down on them. He began to feel his certain victory slipping away because of the drakmere’s primitive fear of flame. His pale skin reddened as he grew angrier. “Fire?” he shouted. He turned to Rayfen. “My army retreats in terror from a little flame as if it had leapt from the jaws of a winged dragon! Any child with a matchstick will be able to route my forces and we will not win another campaign.”
“Then make them too terrified to use fire against you ever again, My Lord,” Rayfen hissed.
The Wizard considered Rayfen’s suggestion for a moment and then smiled. His smile quickly turned to a frown when he thought of the consequences of what Rayfen had in mind. “Is it safe?” he asked the Black Knight.
“They are not easy to control,” Rayfen cautioned. “You must be careful to not release too many or the entire realm could burn, including us. But if anyone can do it, it is you.”
The Wizard nodded. He closed his eyes and held his arms out with his palms facing upward. “Adra melech de daeman adustum,” the Wizard said. He felt the breeze pick up and repeated the words louder, “Adra melech de daeman adustum!” he shouted.
On the castle walls the men were beginning to grow confident as they watched the draks flee in panic from burning hay bales. Lord Bryan smiled as he ordered his archers to shoot another volley of flaming arrows at the retreating drakmere. The archers pulled back the string of their bows, aiming high into the night sky and waiting for the order to loose arrows as black smoke drifted off of the flame. Suddenly faces seemed to appear in the flames of the arrows. A panic caused some of the men to loose their arrows out of fear and without waiting for the order. They were the lucky ones. Those that did not saw the face in the fire leap from the arrow and consume the archer in flame.
Lord Bryan watched in horror as his archers were incinerated in front of him. The captain stared wide-eyed as the flame seemed to come to life, smiled a terrifying smile, and then leapt upon him consuming him. Lord Bryan screamed in agony as he felt his flesh burn. He could hear the flame laughing at him over his own screams and he knew that the fire itself was alive and enjoying the torment.
The King and his companions stood in silent horror as their men were consumed by fire and the screams echoed in the night sky. They watched as the fire jumped from man to man and appeared to chase after its victims as if the flame itself were alive.
“Fire demons,” whispered Lord Bannistar.
“What?” asked Erec.
“Fire demons,” the commander said louder.
“There are no such things as fire demons,” Erec responded sternly as if correcting a scared child.
Lord Bannistar slowly turned his head to look at Erec and pointed to the flaming death before them, the flame moving across the wall like a great predator picking off easy prey. “I beg to differ, Your Highness!” Lord Bannistar shouted at the Prince. The words had barely left his lips when Lord Bannistar himself was attacked by the fire. The others jumped back in shock while the city commander fell to ground screaming in agony. As black smoke poured from his charred body, they saw the flame, which hovered over him, hunch up as a murderer might hunch over his victim. The flame then lifted what could only be described as a head with black eyes and a black smile that appeared to have a demonic delight in killing. Then they all heard the fire laugh. Erec and Gwillym looked at each other.
“Fire demons,” Gwillym said softly to Erec, and this time Erec did not argue the point.
“Right,” said Erec as he sheathed his sword and ripped the cape from his shoulders spinning it around with whirl, the blue cloth flapping in the breeze. Erec tossed the cape upon the fire demon and heard it shriek as he jumped on top smothering the flame out beneath him. He then stood while staring down at his smoldering cape. He turned to Gwillym and his father. “I can’t believe that actually worked,” he said.
“We can celebrate your victory later,” the King responded. “Right now we must find your sisters.” Sir Gwillym led the way as the three men ran along the wall and quickly down the stone stairs. The King followed with Erec bringing up the rear, sans cape. The screams of the men were deafening as they burned alive.
The Wizard watched as the lancers and archers on the castle walls were consumed by flame. His drakmere also watched, more afraid of fire than ever before. General Rayfen looked at the Wizard. “I think you have accomplished your goal,” he said.
The Wizard nodded. “Nuse otto adustum,” he said. The flame refused to obey. “Nuse otto adustum!” he shouted. The flame turned and looked at him. He could see the faces of flame from the wall staring at him, but they were no longer smiling. “Nuse otto adustum!” he shouted again and then added “Beno tuto adra melech!” The flame screamed and hissed at him, but disappeared into the night air as if suddenly deprived of oxygen. The drakmere cheered, astounded by the Wizard’s power to command fire itself. And then, with the fire no longer a threat, the monsters began to scale the, now undefended, walls once again.