Chapter 15 Forest of the Invaders
They emerged from the dust mine, and shielded their eyes from the bright sun. Before them were hundreds of people, all shielding their eyes. And off in the distance near the horizon, they saw the gleam of an enchanting little city, with a grand fortress sitting on a hill in the very center. It was the kingdom of Tole.
Mr. Anderson found Mowbry and Princess Nallah and had a quick conference. “That looks to be about a two day march,” he said.
“Correct, Sir Dave,” Mowbry replied. “But if you look to the north you will see that they are having issues. Do you see that canal?”
The canal appeared to be a long, snaking mirror, reflecting the sky and clouds, and gleaming in the sun. “Is that madman Rokko creating a navy?” Mr. Anderson asked, staring in disbelief at what appeared to be vessels of some sort, appearing as tiny white dots in the canal.
“That’s what it appears to be,” Mowbry said. “That is the only reason I can imagine that he would dig a canal from the capital city.”
“This is going to be worse than I thought. I wish Admiral Tock were with us right now to advise us.”
“Hopefully they will have found some support and be on their way,” Princess Nallah said.
“We also surmised that the borders were being guarded by dragons. Do we see any sign of those?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“No, but we have yet to figure out Rokko’s strategy,” Mowbry grunted. “The dragons could come into play at any time.”
“I suggest we march down there, then rest, and launch our attack before daybreak,” Mr. Anderson stated.
“Why before daybreak?” Princess Nallah asked.
“It’s always the best time for an attack,” Mr. Anderson responded. “Before people are awake, we can take them by surprise. It will take them a little longer to respond.”
“Why is everyone just standing around?” Jen asked, as the three girls approached through the crowd.
“We couldn’t very well go anywhere without our point person,” Princess Nallah smiled.
“Sorry, it was an emergency,” Jen explained, giving a little curtsy to her friend.
“Well, since we’ve already done combat with griffins and come through a mountain today, and the sun is low on the horizon, I think we should rest now and resume in the morning,” Mowbry suggested. “Besides, we are now home, and familiar with all of the tasty plants here.”
“I wouldn’t quite call it home,” the Duchess Landreth inserted herself into the conversation. “But it’s close enough. And if we defeat that tyrant, my home will be secure. I haven’t seen it in generations.”
They made camp just off the side of the black mountain. Again the natives of the land taking to the trees after a respectable period of foraging for fruits and flowers, and the visitors made their fire circle and set up a lean-to. The trees, bushes, flowers and shrubs all looked vibrant and healthy on this side of the mountains, as opposed to the nearly dead appearance of all plant life on the other side. As they were lighting the fire, the evening star made its sparkling appearance.
They awoke the next morning much refreshed, but dreading the long walk that would take them into battle. They marched much as before, ten abreast so they would arrive at their destination with a strong front, though they found themselves spreading out and collapsing in as they marched over rugged terrain and some dense undergrowth. At about mid day they took a little break, and Jen couldn’t help but sprinkle a little fairy dust on her head and taking a swim above the trees to see how close they were to their destination.
“Not too high,” Mr. Anderson called, as the two Carter girls joined Jen above the trees. “You might give away our position.”
The girls, mindful of Mr. Anderson’s instruction, dipped down to treetop level, so they could peer out of the branches and see what was going on.
“What do you see?” Mowbry called up.
“I see their line of defense,” Gina called down. “They are taking their personnel away from our path and heading north. They are on the move north.”
“Do you see anything going on to the north?” Mowbry asked.
“The boats are shooting at the city,” Julie said.
“Really?” Princess Nallah exclaimed.
“It seems very odd,” Jen agreed. “But that’s what is going on. The boats are definitely warring against the castle. It seems the canal goes right up almost to the castle walls.”
“Rokko has been busy,” Nallah confided to Mr. Anderson. “There was never a canal in the kingdom, much less one that goes from the castle through the mountains and to the river. That is some ambitious work.”
“Well, he may be lacking in common decency, but nobody has ever said that Rokko lacked ambition,” Mowbry agreed.
“But why would their own navy fire against them?” Gina asked.
“Check the boats again,” Mr. Anderson called up. “Do any of them look familiar?”
“They all look familiar,” Jen called back down. “One of them even looks like the Scoundrel.”
“That most probably is the Scoundrel,” Mr. Anderson responded. “Is there a possibility that Admiral Tock and Admiral Dock managed to dig that massive canal in order to help us out?”
“Of course!” Princess Nallah answered. “That must be what is happening! We must get down there quickly and give them a hand!”
“Can we swim faster than we can walk?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“I think we should hold the dust in reserve until it’s time to breach the walls,” Mowbry responded. “We should move out now.”
“Point person!” Mr. Anderson called to Jen. “You need to come down now.”
The girls swam down, but they had trouble staying on the ground, even carrying their armor and Jen’s shield. They marched off anyway, fifty abreast, with Jen in the lead, even though for the next hour only one of ten footsteps ever touched the ground. The day wore on, uneventfully, the guards at the edge of the kingdom seemed to be preoccupied with the naval battle at their doorsteps. Every little stop they made for a rest, the girls again dusted up to check the status.
“The Scoundrel is on fire!” Jen called down, just as the sun was dipping low to the horizon.
“Can you see why?” Mowbry called up.
Budrick swam up to the treetops to verify the girls’ report. “Rokko has deployed a dragon,” he reported.
“What do you mean only one? Isn’t one enough?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“We know from what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard that he has several. That is why we suspected they might be guarding the border. But now it seems that he is using them for a different purpose. We have to be extra cautious.”
“Some of the smaller boats are on fire, too,” Budrick added to his earlier report. “Admiral Dock is minimizing the damage by dropping the burning sails into the water.”
“Sails are easier replaced than sailors or boats,” Princess Nallah said. “I am glad he is one of our admirals.”
“We should engage the enemy within the hour,” Mowbry announced. “Budrick, get down here! We are moving forward.”
Budrick and the girls took their positions, again with Jen and her shield out front. If she were to tell anyone, she would probably admit that she was disappointed in having a fifty man front, because while it brought more firepower, more faircraft to the front, it minimized her importance. And she was disappointed that the borders were not guarded by dragons, because she wanted to test her theory that she could not be hurt by a dragon. But she was a soldier now, and soldiers did what they were told without complaining. Daddy taught her that.
The terrain became a little more rugged as they neared the great city of Tole. Jen did not know it, but they were treading on the remains of ancient ramparts and moats from the days of yore, that had fallen into disuse after they were no longer needed, and reclaimed by nature. A sudden chill came over her as she stepped into a wooded area where the trees seemed to have been farmed, they were all lined up by rank and file.
“Why did it get so cold?” Julie asked, and Jen was glad she did, because she thought it was just her.
“We are in the Forest of the Invaders,” Princess Nallah explained. She continued as they marched, and the time seemed to slip by even quicker. “Long ago, longer than anyone can actually remember when we had open borders with your realm, a mighty warrior king of the giant realm decided he wanted to make war on the Kingdom of Tole. They had traded with us for years, and were always welcome guests, until they showed up with their weapons and shields and tried to take the city by force.
“They had some faircraft, as that is something we frequently traded back then, but they did not have as much as we did, nor were they as skilled in using it. The king of the day, a wise and mighty man by the name of Steev, summoned his chief executioner, and all of his generators. He ordered the mass execution of these people, once a noble race.
“As they approached, carrying shields and spears, painted head to toe in bright colors, with feathers in their hair and animal hides around their waists, they were a sight that struck terror into the army. Here on the outskirts of the city, they stopped and built a great pit, and lined it with stones, then began to dance. They lit fires and danced, and drummed and sang. For three days and nights this went on.
“Meanwhile, King Steev went about his preparations, bringing in the farmers and their families from the fields to minimize the casualties of this unwanted war. He also fortified his perimeter with great earthworks. It is said he had the ability to move mountains, and he was responsible for putting the black mountains in the place where they now stand. He built up the earthworks while the invaders made their preparations. When he saw that the invaders were again on the move, he went out on his noblest horned steed, to speak with the enemy king to find out if there was a peaceful solution to the disagreement.
“Greed was the motive of the invasion and it had nothing to do with their previous terms of trade, or any disagreement between the kingdoms. They explained that their home was no longer habitable, because of a hundred year draught, so they wanted to take over the kingdom as a place for them to live. King Steev tried to invite them as refugees, to integrate them into our society and become one of us, one with the land and the water and the sky. But they said they had their own ways, and refused his generous offer. Then several archers made ready, while their king raised his own spear to threaten King Steev. King Steev called the order, and the executioner with all of the generators holding hands cast his execution talent at them, with such force that they became this forest in the moment, wiping out a whole vast farm. Where once nutritious and delicious flowers blossomed, these trunks have replaced them. And here they have remained ever since, standing where the invaders stood, and you can feel them in your bones as you step amongst these trees.”
Jen shivered a bit, and she didn’t know if it was from the chill of the forest, or the chilling effect of Princess Nallah’s story.
“The Anasazi,” Mr. Anderson said.
“What do you mean, Mr. Anderson?” Gina asked.
“There was an ancient race of people that lived in our own southwestern region, in cities among the cliffs of canyons. They built pits and worshipped in them. At sometime in the distant past, they abandoned their cities. They all disappeared without a trace, and scientists have no idea what happened to them. I think we found them. And still alive, it appears, after all these years,” Mr. Anderson concluded.
“Yes, they are very ancient, but without your story, we really didn’t know much about them. We have no idea what they thought, how they worshipped, why they wanted to conquer instead of living with us in peace.” A tear slipped from Princess Nallah’s cheek.
“We still didn’t know why they wanted to conquer,” Mr. Anderson sighed.
“Let’s get out of this wood!” Jen suggested.
The army walked briskly until they were out of the Forest of the Invaders, and everyone immediately warmed back up. They did not pause, but continued at a brisk pace toward the capital city, until Jen turned around and started walking backward. “I have an idea,” she said to Mowbry, who was right behind her.
“And what might that be?” the general asked. He might have been dismissive if any other girl had suggested an idea, but he knew Jen well, and he knew that she was worth listening to.
“If the empire has dragons but they are only using one, why don’t we attack them with a dragon? A really, really big dragon?” she smiled.
“Dragons are hard to control,” Mowbry said. “And they would probably toast anyone who tried.”
“Not the dragon I have in mind,” Jen said. “Princess Nallah gave me an idea. What if we were a dragon? We could disguise ourselves as a giant dragon, with Lefty in the mouth. I would be in the chest, in case they tried hitting us with anything I could bounce everything away with my shield. And everyone else would make up the head, the body, and the tail. The wings could be like kites out to the sides.”
“How did I give you that idea?” Princess Nallah asked.
“You told the story of the invaders, and how the executioner with all of the generators holding hands managed to execute an entire army at once. We have Daddy and a few other generators, and everyone working together in disguise would seem like a giant dragon, especially with the flame coming out of the mouth.”
“But Tole is my city,” the princess objected. “I don’t want my city, my subjects, or my castle burnt to the ground.”
Jen stopped, and the whole army came to a stumbling halt, as those in the rear bumped into those standing in front. “If we looked big enough and scary enough, and we put one mighty blast of flame into the sky above Tole, that should be enough to make Rokko and his forces to surrender.”
“I confess, it is an intriguing idea,” Mowbry admitted.
“Do we have time to stop and construct that?” Princess Nallah asked.
“We’ve got enough talent here to accomplish anything we put our minds to,” Budrick declared.