Leo and Mendrek sat upon their horses waiting for Aravoen to come to his. Stareonor and many of the royal houses, together with the wizards, waited for him as well.
Aravoen at last came followed by Leonora. Leonora wore a flowing black dress; the collar of pure gold thread with small gems of green that brought out her flowing beauty.
As he was reaching Elben, Leonora pulled his robes and turned him around. She removed a glowing stone from around her neck and placed it around his neck
“This is the star of Othrendor,” she said. “It is mine to give to any that I wish to have it. I give it to you to return safely. Let it be a light for you in darkness and a way to always feel me close to you, My Lord.”
Aravoen picked the ring of Samhain from his pouch and took in a breath.
“My aunt said it is for the heirs of Ebill to bestow the ring of eternity to those that took their hearts,” Aravoen whispered, well aware of the numerous stares around them.
“I give it to you,” Aravoen said. “White Lady of Elvhelm. Keep it and know there is a time we shall wander in the halls of the Easel as one.”
He slipped the ring onto her finger and knelt to kiss her hand where he had put it. He stood up a little dazed, but happy. He saw the same happiness resonating from Leonora’s face.
Then forgetting that all were watching them, she looked into his eyes and felt the urge to hold him for one last time. She threw herself into Aravoen’s arms, fighting tears of pain and love. She turned her face to his and their lips met for a lingering moment. All else ceased to matter, as they heard or saw no one but themselves.
The kiss lasted for what seemed like eternity. Had the two opened their ears then, they would have heard the gasps of shock from a few and the sighs of conclusion from others.
“Return to me the way you have left,” she said, drawing back a little. Aravoen held her in his hands not looking anywhere else but to her. Little by little and in a shilly-shally way, Aravoen moved apart from her. He mounted Elben and by unneeded consent the three, Aravoen, Mendrek and Leo, trotted off.
Unexpectedly a clear, sad and beautiful voice swam through the air. Leonora was singing the song she had sang before Aravoen left for Horowitz.
Just wait a while now,
Always the hero comes home.
He goes where no one will go
But always the hero comes home
Hope I have to wait for him
Always my hero comes home.
Leonora watched as the horses left and in a small inaudible voice, save for those very close to her, she said, “I love you, man of Eduin, and my heart goes with you.”
As the horses disappeared down the street, Leonora broke into a run and went to the wall. There she looked over the gate as the three horses passed through the gate of Elvhelm. She looked at Aravoen’s back as he rode off. Rapidly, Elben reared and turned. Aravoen looked at her. Raising his sword in the air, Aravoen bowed his head to Leonora.
“A wia denimar uos deri ior sadiri,” Aravoen said in such a voice of high majesty and might that all the elves on the wall turned in fear and shock.
Stareonor, who had reached Leonora, was also shocked by the way Aravoen said this. His daughter had surprised him with the expression of her feelings. He was going to lose his daughter, and now he feared it more than ever. And the man was of such high standing that he could not refuse him.
Like his father before him, Aravoen has won the heart of an elven lady, and this time the lady is my daughter, heir to the throne of Elvhelm, Stareonor thought, holding his daughter. She cried into his shoulders. He could feel the salty water passing through his robes from her eyes.
* * *
The journey across the Valoin was short and fast. By the time they had reached the Valmiera, with its fast flowing water moving boneless through the fields, the horses were sweating like it was raining.
They were tired, and had it not been for the graveness of their task, they would have stopped. They passed the walls of Tiros like a blur of white. Soon they were in the forest and by nightfall, they were in the open at Lake Mamorin.
There they decided to rest if only for a while. Aravoen lay in a restless slumber for a while overlooked by Leo and Mendrek. After what seemed like a few seconds, or so Aravoen thought, they began their journey north.
As sunlight broke the horizon, blessing the sky with its painfully bright and hot rays, the party passed into the great and intimidating shadow of the Meorinian el Surilcor (Mountains of the Moon). Through a small passageway in the mountains, they came to a rocky train. Here, they had to tread slowly. Any misstep by the horses would throw them down.
At the end of the day, they had entered the Tolemac valley; the vast plains with wild flowers growing all throughout. The plain ran as far as their eyes could see. Small knolls rose in the distance like little mountains.
Aravoen dismounted and squatted on the ground. He smelt the grass and touched it.
“Something is amiss here, My Lords,” he announced to his fellow travellers.
“The land of the horse kings is here,” Mendrek said. “A land full of hope, but on the brink of destruction.”
“Ride now to Caerso Uden,” said Leo. “Fast as the light we must be and quick in action like the weather. Nothing but plains and flowers stands between us and the ring hills. Hopefully before this day ends we will be there.”
Aravoen mounted his horse and they rode on through the plains against wind and against whatever dark thing haunted this land. Wind blowing in their faces, cloaks flying in the wind and hooves pounding the ground like sticks on drums they tarried through.
* * *
“Welcome to the city of the horse lords and their golden hall,” Mendrek cried.
The ring hills were four hills that were arranged in a circle on a plain. The hills were joined together by a thick six-foot wall that ran from one hill to the other. Its wide width enabled ten men to walk side by side and only breaches let the defenders see what was down.
The great gate of wood and iron lay in the eastern wall while the small reinforced wooden gate lay in the northern wall. Here were the hardest and toughest parts of the walls. But they were still the only parts vunerable to attack.
The city itself was on the inner small hills. On the middle hill, a great hall stood that gleamed gold in the night. The other houses of stone built on the lower hills were hidden by the walls. An inner wall of wider proportions lay behind the wall. Here were war engines and catapults, for defence.
Mendrek, on his white horse, led the three forward stopping at the gate. The strong iron doors stood as giants ready to defy any invader.
“Who goes there?” asked a gruff voice from above them. They looked up and could see a tall spear protruding past the battlements.
“Strangers and friends,” Mendrek replied. “All mingled in one.”
“Earose welcomes no strangers at this time of war,” was the sharp reply.
“We bring aid,” Mendrek said.
“Yes,” Mendrek said. “We have come to rid you of what haunts you.”
“Caerso Uden is not opened at night anymore, Lord Hauma commands it,” the voice said. “Who are you? Answer the question now.”
“I am Mendrek the golden wizard of Horowitz, head of the wizard council,” Mendrek announced. “My companions are Aravoen, Lord of Eduin, heir of the thrones of the Easel, and Leo, son of Stareonor, King of Elvhelm. We have come as aids from the rest of Elasia.”
“A wizard, an elf and a man,” another voice, princely and calm, said. “If ever I saw a more outlandish company, it would be this. And what would you Mendrek, bearer of the worst of news, bring to my lands and people that would give us hope?”
“I bring friends who will and can help you whatever the case.”
A moment of silence passed as the men on the wall made no reply or statement. Mendrek turned up to face them and said, “Do we have your…?”
He was cut short by the creaking of the gate, as a small crack opened, wide enough to let a single file of men through it. Mendrek led them through, followed by Leo and Aravoen bringing up the rear. There was total darkness apart from the small torches that lined the street of the city. The street was not paved or bricked like those of other cities. It was dusty and rough. As they penetrated deeper into the city, they heard the great creak of the gate and a thud announcing it shut. They heard the clicking of many locks as the night breeze was cut off from outside. They waited at the beginning of the dusty street.
They heard approaching footsteps behind them. They could see men coming down the walls holding torches in one hand and spears in the other. Their shields were swung on their backs with sword hilts gleaming in their sheaths. Their mail-covered bodies looked worn, but their sunken eyes showed that they were lively. Their beards were long and overgrown with lines of great strain visible, even in the dim torch light.
At their head strode a kingly figure, his long red hair flowing down and brushing his shoulders. His beard was fully grown and hid the thin lips he possessed. He held himself in an erect form. His grey eyes looked around, sharp as a hawk, ready for any surprise. He was young but the lines of tension made him look a lot older than he actually was.
He stopped in front of them and grabbed a torch from one of the men beside him, using his left hand. His right hand moved to the hilt of his sword that lay in its scarab. He shone the torches at them, first at Mendrek and then the other two.
A sign of relief broke on his face when he saw Mendrek. Putting the torch down, he sighed and looked at Mendrek.
“There is a lot to do, Hauma Lord of the Golden Hall of Earose.”
“I know, master Mendrek,” Hauma replied. “But tonight you must sleep and rest; we will talk in the morning. Take them to the guest houses,” he ordered the other men. He walked away from them, towards the wall of the city.
The other men led the three riders to the inner parts of the city, passing through so many gates and walls that they lost count of all they had been doing. At last, they approached a large hall just below the golden hall and were ushered inside where they found warm beds and food.
“Your horses are safe with us,” one of the men said.
The three ate and tried to sleep the remainder of the night away.
* * *
A loud crash and some screams woke them up from their light slumber.
“Archers, fire!” a strong gruff voice bellowed.
Aravoen swung out of bed, rushing out whilst fumbling with his sword. He was followed by his other two companions.
What their eyes met was appalling. Above them at the golden hall, a tall figure in black robes stood sending curses at the men near them. He had a group of some fifty uruks.
Aravoen could make out Hauma in foray. He was leading his archers’ assault on the figure.
“Come, we must help them.” Mendrek rushed past Aravoen.
Aravoen and Leo rushed to where a group of Earoseian archers stood hurling arrow after arrow up with a twang.
“Master Mendrek,” Hauma cried over the masses, “we have this under control. Go back to rest.”
“I said we came with aid,” Mendrek replied, “and I meant it.”
“Where are your foot soldiers, if you have any today?” Aravoen asked.
“We are horse lords,” Ethelberd said.
Aravoen had not seen him. His beard was wet with sweat.
Another scream erupted from near them as a fire spell hit the archers near them. Bodies were thrown into the air as the fire caught.
“Leo, come with me,” Aravoen said. He walked up to Hauma. “Give me thirty of your men. I have a plan. One of them should know a secret route up there.”
“So, the king and I will provide a cover for your approach.” Mendrek knew the plan easily.
“I do not know if any of these are brave enough,” Hauma said.
“We will go,” a tall sturdy man said. His face was blood-stained and his armour was blackened at certain parts. “My brothers and I. We number to about forty.”
“Eldweg,” Hauma said. “Captain of the first horse. You must be tired, my friend. You have been here from the beginning.”
“And I have watched many of our men die.”
“Very well,” Hauma gave in.
“Mendrek, help us with that wizard,” Ethelberd cried after another set of magical missiles hit them.
Aravoen broke off with Eldweg and his group. All the men looked tired and battered. Their armour was chinked and rusty. Each had its very own black spots. Their helmets were dented and chipped.
Slowly they ascended towards the golden hall. Aravoen and Leo were in the middle of the single line of warriors. The side path up to the golden hall was covered by shadows from the wall. The uruks could not hear anyone approaching, but the attackers could hear the jeering uruks.
Eldweg stopped the line moving, and motioned to Aravoen with his hand. Aravoen and Leo slowly crept to the front where Eldweg crouched. They were hidden from view by massive stones and barrels.
“There,” Eldweg whispered. “We managed to get behind them.”
“So what is the plan?” Leo was curious.
“Eldweg,” Aravoen whispered, “how good are your archers?”
“On horseback…” Eldweg looked downcast. “…We are the best. On the ground we are good enough.”
“There no horses here,” Aravoen said.
“So we must use your good enough,” Leo said.
“Aim for the necks,” Aravoen said quietly. “Pass the order down.”
“But look, we go all the way down there,” Eldweg whispered back in shock.
“Yes,” Aravoen said. “We will creep up and form. We are forty so we must be accurate. We kill forty of them and as for the other ten; I hope we all have sharp blades.”
“Let’s hope Mendrek and King Hauma keep Moldrin occupied,” Leo said.
Slowly the group made its way into the open. They tried to be silent and were fortunate that the uruks were noisy in their assault of the Earoseians a level down.
“Draw,” Aravoen whispered.
They drew their arrows silently.
Each man targeted an uruk. Only Leo and Aravoen tried targeting two.
“Steady boys,” Eldweg whispered.
At that moment, one of the uruks turned in their direction.
In a split second, a volley of arrows raced towards the uruks that had just begun turning to the new attackers.
Loud shrieks of pain and death echoed through the night air. The arrows had done their job. Moldrin turned and locked eyes with Aravoen.
“You again,” he cursed.
“Charge.” Aravoen dropped his bow and ran at the ten remaining uruks.
“Moldrin!” Mendrek’s voice boomed from below.
“Mendrek.” Moldrin was terrified. He instantly disappeared on the spot, leaving the uruks leaderless.
Aravoen and Leo led the Earoseians forward. They hacked down the remaining uruks, cornering them against the door of the golden hall.
“Shields,” Aravoen cried. They formed a strong line of shields, pushing the uruks, using their sharp battle veteraned swords to hack the uruks to death. As they approached the doors of the hall, Eldweg and his men stopped.
Leo turned towards them. He saw the fear in their eyes and tapped Aravoen on the shoulder.
“Let’s stop here,” he said.
Aravoen also saw the faces of the Earoseians and knew it was folly to get them any closer. Whatever Moldrin had done to this hall had to be corrected.
They are afraid of this hall, Leo, Aravoen said.
We best get them out of here.
“Let’s get down now,” Eldweg said at last.
Their descent was easy as they used the better path. Aravoen was locked deep in thought as he walked besides Leo. He knew this war was far from over.
“Thank you,” Hauma said once they had reached the other fighters. “Now I beg you, go rest. Tomorrow we have a long day.”
Aravoen and Leo nodded. Together with Mendrek they returned to their lodgings. No words were exchanged but they all knew the importance of their various tasks. Earose had to survive.