Aravoen rode on north, the River Githri rushing past in full strength. As Aravoen crossed the river, he noticed the stormy clouds gathering in the south. He wondered whether Leo and Ralyn had reached Elvhelm.
As it approached dawn, a great forest of trees stood before him: the woods of Brithon. The tall, great trees likened to those of the Guardes Wesselren; broad leaves that formed a huge canopy, encouraging a huge undergrowth. The only difference was the whiteness of the barks.
Aravoen made his way into the woods. It was very silent and this alarmed him. Aravoen had the dim feeling that invisible eyes were watching him.
Gripping the reins of Elben more tightly, he increased his pace heading further north, looking for the elven city of Brithor. He rode on for a long while, but the feeling was still there. It was growing more and at an alarming rate.
Like a bolt from the blue, Aravoen heard the sound of boots coming towards him. Looking in their direction, there was nothing, but when he turned back, he saw three elves, arrows well drawn aiming at him. There was no way to avoid them and he had no time for this.
The elf in the middle was tall and had striking green eyes, his long silver blond hair was tied in a braid behind his ears. Around his neck he wore a small silver star that shone as bright as the sun. His mail that covered his soft coloured garments tightly fitted him.
The other two were not as princely as the one in the middle. Their hair was shorter but same colour. Their eyes were not as striking and they looked younger than the one in the middle.
“Who are you and what are you doing in our forest?” the one in the middle asked.
“I am Aravoen,” he replied.
“Aravoen,” he snapped. “I am Mindacil, elf of Brithor, son of the Lord of Brithor, who welcomes no strangers to these forests.”
“I come from Lord Stareonor, your king. I come to ask for your aid.”
The elves lowered their bows and glared at Aravoen.
“Lead me to your lord and surely, he will know it all well.”
“Stay there,” Mindacil ordered. With his two companions, he went aside and spoke in low tones. Aravoen could not read what they were saying, but could see the changing expressions. Aravoen just waited.
The elves came back and one of the younger ones took hold of the reins and led Aravoen deep into the woods. Mindacil walked beside Aravoen.
“You are Aravoen,” he said suddenly. “Hidden prince of Eduin. If you should succeed, you will become Elurin and you seek aid for Earose.”
“Yes,” Aravoen said.
“You are in luck,” Mindacil said. “The dwarves are visiting with their retinue. Something to do with new treaties as regards the border of our land and their mountain. But they have other reasons as well.”
“According to them, they are waiting for a lord from the south to come and ask for their aid. You happen to be the lord,” one of the other elves said.
“We too have seers and their king is in constant communication with my father.”
* * *
“When will we reach Brithor?” They had been walking for quite some time and the only difference was that the footpath was becoming wider.
They had come to a large clearing where the trees had wide trunks that tapered towards the apex. There were gaps shaped like doors and windows.
“Welcome to Brithor,” Mindacil said.
Aravoen was blown away. It was a beautiful and radiant city. Unlike Elvhelm, this city had no stone structures. Everything appeared to be made out of the very forest itself. As Aravoen and the elves walked through the city, the elves just bowed to Mindacil and the other elves.
They came to a great hall where three gaunt-looking dwarves with braided beards and thick brows stood with a tall man that looked exactly like Mindacil, save for his sea-blue eyes.
“Welcome, My Lord,” he said, addressing Aravoen, “to Brithor, and I hope my sons have been gentle with you. We have been expecting you. I am Edel, last general of the north frontier.”
Aravoen raised his eyebrows to form an arch.
“Leo informed us of your coming. He has set out from Elvhelm.”
So Leo had reached Elvhelm already and was marching north, Aravoen thought to himself.
“I wish not to waste your time.”
“Rah,” one of the dwarves said. “Show some dwarves respect, laddie.”
“Forgive me, master dwarves,” Aravoen said, dismounting Elben. “I am Aravoen of Eduin and I seek help for the horse lords of Earose. Honour me with your names, My little Lords.”
“I am Slithbron,” said the largest and broadest. He had thick brows with dark brown eyes. His thick mane of hair made him look fierce. At his side, he had a battle-axe made of the finest metal Aravoen had ever seen.
“I am Gothorad,” said the shorter and sterner looking one.
“And I, Ludwirg,” the harder-looking dwarf said.
“We are the three princes of the three clans of the dwarves of Dwarven,” Slithbron said. “I head the Duthringist, Gothorad the Dlenthrig and Ludwirg the Sluth von Ushugur. Our armies tarry and fatten in the dwarf city under the mountain, so what is this you need from us?”
“And we heard that small part of ‘little’ lords.” Gothorad said.
“Figure of speech,” Aravoen said. He watched the stern short dwarf’s brow darken slightly. “Not meant literally.”
“These matters are to be discussed in the hall,” Edel said. He took all the dwarves, his sons and Aravoen and led them into the hall. Inside were large chairs and stools for the dwarves. They sat and Edel turned to Aravoen.
Taking this as permission to speak, Aravoen began, “The Earoseians need the help of all they can get. If they fall, so does Elasia and Sarzgat takes all. The foul armies of Novorgord besiege the ringed hills as we speak. I come asking you to ride out with me. Let the armies of the northern legions of elves and dwarves be seen once more in Elasia. Leo marches from Elvhelm and Mendrek is aiding Hauma. Little the chance is, but should we find the city still standing then victory is ours.”
“How can you be sure of the fall of our land with the fall of one simple kingdom?” Edel asked.
“It is the truth,” Aravoen said. “The seer in Horowitz told me.”
“I might not fully trust a seer who gives opportunity for certain things to change, btu,” Edel paused turning to the dwarves. “The old coak is close to perfect. What say you smiths?”
“It requires thought on our part,” Ludwirg declared.
“A lot of it sharp my sharp eared friend.” Slithbron chuckled at his indirect swipe at the elf.
“Please,” Aravoen begged, ignoring his impatience, “what say you masters of the north?”
All the persons in the room looked into the air thinking. Aravoen grew impatient as the others thought. It seemed they were enjoying having so much control over this situation.
“Small chance of victory,” Slithbron said out of the blue. “What are we waiting for, My Lords? Assemble the armies.”
“Assemble the armies,” Edel said.
“Our armies are away far deep in our mountains,” Slithbron added.
“Use your secret messengers,” Mindacil said.
“You have been watching us,” Ludwirg erupted. “Told you brother, never trust elves.”
“It was necessary in these times, master dwarf,” Edel said calmly.
“What times are these?” Ludwirg asked, beyond the point of reason.
“Brother, calm down,” Slithbron interjected.
“We do it to protect ourselves,” Edel whispered.
“From who?” The dwarf was on his feet, hand on axe ready to duel the elf general or his son.
Aravoen saw this and was angered by the useless time wasting. He slammed his fist on his chair and cursed loudly enough for the whole world to hear him.
“Stop this useless duel,” he roared at the dwarf. “Do your brothers argue, master Ludwirg?”
The dwarf shook his head, his beard swaying with the movement.
“Then why does it bother you?” he asked, now bringing his face right up to the dwarf’s. “So what if the elves have a little dirt on your secret method? It is not like you do not know some of their secret methods.”
Ludwirg swallowed hard and lowered his eyes from Aravoen’s. Aravoen waited for the dwarf to answer him.
“Yes we do,” the little stout figure murmured
“So go use your messengers; we leave within the hour. Let your armies meet us right next the Sutur foothills.”
Aravoen did not like the small fact that he had been almost rude to the dwarves. Yes, they were providing the help, but that did not give them the leeway to light up the ancient chaos between two of the most ancient races in Elasia. Sighing, to callm himself down, he knew he had to do what had to be done to save Elasia. Even if it meant burning a few tall egos. Not that their owners were tall.
Slithbron stood closely followed by his brothers and went out to gather their might to prepare a march on the ringed hills.
* * *
The lines of dwarf and elf marched behind them at a terrific speed. The dwarves with their axes and heavy mail armour and the elves with their light body-hugging armour, spears, and swords at their sides. The elf shields were long and wide whilst those of the dwarves were round and heavy; two contrasting peoples but one in mind and purpose, for now.
As they broke through the thick canopies of the woods, the falling sun stared at them from the west. Aravoen rode with Mindacil and Slithbron, deep in conversation.
“Whoever thought that elf and dwarf would march together?” Slithbron remarked.
“How about friends marching for the common good of Elasia?” Mindacil replied lightly.
“Never, Master Mindacil.” Slithbron spat on the ground. “That is a tradition never to be broken, not by us or not yet at least. This is a damn necessity.”
“You two are quite a pair.” Aravoen smiled heavily.
“You should see their arguments,” said Ludwirg, who had jogged up to them. “They make the fires of Vorudin look like a mere spark.”
“Vorudin?” Aravoen was surprised.
“Vormus, which is what everyone but the dwarves calls it,” Mindacil answered Aravoen.
They all laughed and marched on in peace. There was a little uproar when it was time to cross the Githri. The dwarves did not wish to climb on the horses of the elves, but the elves did not want to waste time.
It was Aravoen that reached a compromise for all. He told the dwarves to climb on the horses and in turn, the elves would give the dwarves a bit of gold. Edel looked at Aravoen with a hot eye but saw the wisdom in the compromise. They crossed the river and the gold was promised on return to Brithor.
The moon was at its highest, but the clouds covered it and blocked the light. Aravoen heard the sound of hooves around them. The dwarves banded together and the elves formed battle lines ready for a small skirmish.
Aravoen spoke. “Who goes there? Speak or face the wrath of the elves and dwarves.”
Aravoen heard two sets of feet approaching. He looked forward in the darkness and saw two figures standing there. One of them raised their hand and in a familiar voice said, “Aravoen, friend of the sacred lands, time is not our ally. It is I, Leo, and I ride with a thousand men.”
“Leo.” Aravoen rushed forward and greeted his friend joyfully. Edel came up to them and recognised Leo.
“My Lord.” He was shocked. “It is an honour to fight with my prince.”
“Come, we must ride and Aravoen, we must speak.”
“Hello, Aravoen,” Ralyn said, holding out her hand. Aravoen shook it and looked at the woman next to Leo. The difference from the angry and weak girl that had gone to Elvhelm a few days ago was great.
Aravoen introduced the dwarf chiefs and the elves to Ralyn and Leo. Not that Leo needed any introductions to those of his kin. The party again set off towards the south. Aravoen rode with Leo and Ralyn for some time.
“My sister requested me to give you this,” Leo said, putting his hand into the small bag at his side. He drew out a small bracelet. At the points where its silver gold chains intersected, shapes like stars formed. It had a small blue-green diamond in one of the spaces. Aravoen looked at it before putting it on his hand.
“She wrought it herself,” Leo continued, “and begged you to always look on it when all hope is gone and time wavers away from you.”
“Thank you, Leo,” Aravoen whispered, “for bringing it to me.”
From the corner of his eye, he could see Ralyn looking at them with a shocked look in her eyes. Soon it was approaching dawn and the dwarves were once again forced to ride on the backs of the elves’ horses.
Hard and strong, the elf horses rushed. Aravoen could hear the constant curses of the dwarves. They had been hoodwinked into riding with the elves. It was for a good cause though. Aravoen knew it.
He did not know how many leagues they covered the rest of the night. He just hoped it was enough.
A soft whisper of anticipation crept up to where he was at the head of the host. Ralyn was closest to him, neck and neck. He could make out the hard line of her mouth. Mindacil, Leo, Edel and the dwarves on their backs rode a step behind him.
Aravoen squinted into the distance. The elf whispers were for a reason. To his right single isolated rays of sun began pricking the night. Their time was almost over. He was about to let out a curse of desperation when he saw it in a distance.
As more light broke, Aravoen could see the smoke rising a short distance away. They were now on the hill looking onto the ringed city. The hordes were failing to force their way through the large gap near the entrance of the soft stream. Aravoen looked down at through the gap and saw the small group of men defending the gap.
To the gate, the defenders were giving in and fleeing to the second wall. They had come in the nick of time. Aravoen turned to Leo.
“Give them hope, My Lord,” Aravoen said.
“Blow the horns,” Leo shouted. “Blow the horns of Brithor.”
The horns were blown, soft and fierce, yet loud. The winds suddenly blew in their faces and the stench of blood, fire and stone sailed to their noses. Forming lines, the armies of the elves and dwarves prepared to descend on the enemy.
Soft thuds announced the landing dwarves.
“Form lines,” Slithbron ordered. It was time for battle. Aravoen drew his sword and raised it to the sky.
“Handria hungers for the blood of Sarzgat’s host,” Aravoen roared, spinning Elben around to join Leo behind the forming ranks of their awkward army.