Kemann was in mid-sentence and stopped abruptly. He ran immediately to find the Skadivers. He flopped on the sand next to them and startled Terry who fussed at him. Hazgorn and Vyrna were there in an instant too.
“Wake up! Samuel, Genevieve, I need you,” he pleaded.
Sam and Genie opened their eyes in the bright midday light. “Yeah, Kemann. Time to get up?” Sam asked.
“Chocolate. I need some chocolate,” Kemann begged.
“Dude, got your cravings on?”
“Here,” Genie said as she reached into her bag and handed him a half of a bar.
He ate a piece immediately, and sat there in a trance-like state. The sun was obviously bothering his process as he knitted his brow.
“Vyrna, could you give him a little shade?” Genie asked politely.
Vyrna stretched a wing out over the young Wizard, and he seemed to calm further. Hannegelt came running over, seeing the goings-on.
“What has happened?” he asked, taking a knee in the sand.
“We don’t know. He just woke us up demanding chocolate. Now, this,” Sam said.
“He’s divining,” Genie said. “Shh.”
Having been shushed, the small gathering sat in silence for several minutes while the Wizard sat doing his thing. He had been sitting there for nearly five minutes, when at last, he fell back on the sand, unconscious. The others looked at each other wondering what was to be done, and Genie carried a wine skin over from Sam’s gear. Genie shrugged, but thought it was as good of an idea as any. She took his head in her hands and dripped a little wine into his mouth.
Kemann’s eyes popped open. “I thank you, but I need not wine.”
“What have you seen, Wizard?” Hannegelt asked.
“My father. They sit a league from Styric Hold and plan to move at dusk.”
“That means we must fly out in two hours,” Sam figured.
“That sounds right,” Hannegelt agreed.
“Vyrna, is that enough time for Dragonkind to eat and be ready?” Genie asked.
“I should think,” the dragon answered. “Hazgorn and I will tell the others.”
The dragons left the humans to discuss their business. “Gensonn needs a piece of this,” Kemann said holding out the chocolate. “We have been unable to see since we got close to Styric Isle. We think Styric has cast an Obscuring Charm around himself. Perhaps this will help Gensonn break through.”
Gensonn had not slept, or so it was thought, since they had departed from Olden the first time. With the need to penetrate deeper into Styric Hold through divination, he had spent a great deal of energy in the attempts only to end in frustration. Hoping he could recharge himself, he had given in to sleep and was currently out cold on the beach under a Xeltic cloak pitched like a Bedouin in the desert. The others felt guilty at disturbing his slumber, but under the circumstances, they knew they needed to wake him.
Hannegelt spoke softly to him, but there was no response from under the cloak. He jostled his feet gently, but still there was nothing. He nudged them harder, but still the Xeltic apprentice did not move. Kemann pulled the cloak back slowly and revealed Gensonn’s face to the daylight. His eyes were wide open, and the light caused his pupils to shrink rapidly, but still there was no other response.
Dannhelm looked upon him and observed. “He is in Schlafzeit.”
“What is that?” Hannegelt asked.
“It is dangerous,” Dannhelm said. “He divines in his sleep, but in such a state, he is open to the other side coming in. Divination, when awake, is a one-way view, but in Schlafzeit, it becomes an open road.”
“So, you are saying that if he was looking into Styric…” Hannegelt began.
“That Styric could be looking into us,” Kemann finished.
“Correct,” Dannhelm said.
“So all of our efforts to remain hidden from him…?” Sam asked.
“Are probably all in vain? The chances are great that Styric could now know the entire plan,” Kemann said. “Ours, the dragons, and unfortunately, Lord Gildenhanna and Dorsea.”
“That is incredibly bad,” Hannegelt said as he began to jostle the Xeltic out of the Schlafzeit. “Wake up! Gensonn, wake up!” He slapped him on the face and back again.
Slowly, Gensonn began to respond. His eyes blinked, and he shook his head to clear it.
“Oh, no,” was all he said.
Kemann looked at Hannegelt and shook his head. “It is bad.”
“Kemann, Dannhelm said that your regular divination is one-way, right?” Sam asked.
“I did say that,” Dannhelm confirmed.
“Then give him the chocolate,” Sam suggested. “If Styric does know our plans now, let’s see if we can find out what he’s doing about it.”
“Eat this,” Kemann said as he held out the piece of chocolate to Gensonn. “Slowly.”
Gensonn took it and placed it in his mouth. Everyone around him just watched and waited.
“Let’s give him a little space, Fellas,” Diedra suggested. With that they all backed off a couple of steps and sat in the sand around him. He pulled the cloak back over himself to block the daylight and began to flow into his divination trance. Whether it was the chocolate or the fact that he had just been to the Hold in the Schlafzeit—or both—his mind was able to target very quickly into Styric’s movements. The timing was lucky, for Styric had indeed gleaned the entirety of the plan during the Xeltic’s slumber. Now he was acting quickly to keep his advantage. He had only known the information for a short while, but he was already sending his army out to vanquish Lord Gildenhanna and his Wizard.
Gensonn shook himself free of the cloak, and jumping up, he asked frantically, “How long of a flight do we have to Styric’s Hold?”
“About two hours,” Hannegelt said.
“If we departed this instant, we may well be too late,” the wild-eyed Xeltic ranted.
Immediately, Sam called Hazgorn in the Ringspeak and told him the news and the urgency of the departure. In the distance, he could see the dragons diving for fish, but stop suddenly when Hazgorn bugled to them. They circled together briefly, and started back to the beach.
“I suggest we go,” Sam said. “I called our rides.”
“Be ready in two minutes,” Hannegelt ordered. Everyone made bee lines to their gear, and Hannegelt knelt in the sand beside Gensonn. “Tell me what you know, and make it quick.”
In two minutes, the Company was mounting, and the dragons were leaping into the air. Hannegelt had expressed their dire need to Kondyr, and he, in turn, had his dragons making time. Up until this point, all of the travel on dragon wing had been relatively leisurely, having no real pressure to arrive at a certain place at a certain time. Naturally, the dragons flew at ease—until this flight. The gentle motion like riding a camel, which was what the Company had become accustomed to, had now become something entirely different. The wind rushed into the riders’ faces so much that their eyes had to squint to endure it. The gentle motion of the dragons’ wings was now more of trying to ride a kangaroo.
Sam and Genie were exhilarated, but many of the Company were not particularly keen on this new level of excitement. Terry sat on top of Genie’s pack with her wings outstretched and enjoying the speed like a dog in a car window. “Wow, Vyrna, you can really fly!” Genie exclaimed.
“Yes, it is a fortunate thing I have these wings,” she replied sarcastically. Genie laughed and looked over to see Sam smiling at her.
Their good humor would not exactly have been appreciated by some of the others, so it was just as well that they did not hear them. With the strong wind in their faces and in their ears, they were all just short of deaf and blind. But their faces wore a different look. This was their world. These were their friends and families that they were fighting for. Now, they were speeding toward the southwest and Styric Hold for a final showdown. Many could fall. Many would fall. The Hordann folk knew this, and their faces revealed their tensions. Hannegelt had felt this burden for a long time. It was no wonder that he had been short and stand-offish with everyone, including Diedra. But she was the daughter of a leader, and she knew well what was at stake, and the way Hannegelt needed to be in order to deal with it.
Kemann was having a harder time. He was determined to send a message to Dorsea, and ate a piece of chocolate again to try to amplify his power. Perhaps it was too soon from his eating the previous piece, but the effect was not nearly as good. Trying to do it while hanging on to a dragon tearing through the sky did not help matters. The best he could do was to repeat, “They are coming for you. They are coming for you.”
Dorsea was continuing to take refuge under a large, flowering shrub in the grove of trees that their army now occupied in wait. His job was to divine a way into the Hold, and he was deep in concentration to that end. He had, in fact, been at this task for some time, and had not been able to see much of anything. After this much effort and no success, he was reaching the same conclusion that his son had also accepted; Styric had placed a strong Obscurement Charm around his Hold. There was no doubt that the Were-Wizard had become powerful indeed if he was able to achieve all that he had, all working simultaneously. Just to be able to cast a charm strong enough to block a Wizard of Dorsea’s skill was proof enough. It was a fact which caused the old Wizard to question the viability of their plan to defeat Styric. But their course was set, and there was no other option at this point but to see it through, whatever the outcome.
The scent of the Endira flowers, under which he sat, invaded his thoughts. He had been on the verge of ceasing the divination, and this distraction was the deciding factor, for it brought back to mind the time of his youth-- before Styric had been conceived. The flowers did not play a role in the event, but they had been present when the Were-folk had found a way to drug him as he traveled Hordann on his rite of passage. He had been traveling with a group from Gilden Hold, including Gildenhanna, and the flieghenn that they were enjoying had been tainted with some undetectable Were-magic. The young Wizard was taken and unwillingly mated with several of the were-women. Their goal was to try to develop a stronger magic by getting a more potent blend of Jaederon blood to mix with their own. The plan had worked, resulting in the conception of Styric, who was a much of a son to Dorsea as Kemann, but certainly not as beloved. The memory of the waking nightmare of the process was dredged up from the suppressed past by the subtle, unwelcomed fragrance of the flowers.
Dorsea had lost his concentration entirely at that point, and stood up to stretch his weary old frame. He glanced at the flowers and gave them his frown.
“They are coming for you,” came into his head, now free of divinations of his own. “They are coming for you.”
“Kemann,” Dorsea whispered. It took him a moment to figure out the warning, but he then jostled Gildenhanna. “Get up. We are discovered,” he said urgently.
“Styric?” Lord Gildenhanna asked.
“Yes, they are coming to greet us.”
“Their army will greatly outnumber our little band. How long do we have?”
“We are close enough to the Hold to figure that they could be here in very little time.”
“So, do we retreat, or do we die, for Styric will certainly not come out to greet us personally,” the Lord said.
“No, he knows what could happen if he comes into our presence.”
“Let us move westerly, and perhaps we can turn south and swing back around.”
“If we split our army, we could, perhaps confuse them. Send some north.”
“No, they are no fools, and they are many. They could easily halve themselves and destroy us on both tracks. We stay together,” he replied. “Todmenshe! Gather your men. We are moving out to the west!” He had, of course, forgotten that he didn’t speak the same language. It made him feel a little foolish. Looking to Dorsea to translate to the Jawann leader, he saw his friend staring back at him with a concentrated look of resolve in his eyes. “You have something else in mind?”
“If you wish to send the marines and the Jawann to make a different approach, that is well. You and I must continue forward. We are discovered, and Styric’s standing army can be occupied chasing ours around the island, but when they are overtaken, they will be Fated to death. Should we remain with them, our Fate will be the same. We must go to the Hold.”
“Right through his army, I suppose?” Lord Gildenhanna asked.
“Exactly,” the crafty old Wizard said. “I will cast an Obscurement Charm around us, and we will be invisible to his men.”
“We tried that thirty years ago on Zorbian’s Island, and it very ended in the direst of circumstances.”
Todmenshe and his leaders along with some of the marines had gathered after the Lord had hastily shouted something, which they didn’t quite understand. Now they were watching and listening to the two old men trying to work things out. They knew better than to interrupt.
“That was an isolated occurrence,” Dorsea retorted. “And I am much wiser and more powerful now.”
“My lot in life has always been to trust in you, old friend.” He sighed and looked at the men around him. “You will move the men to the west. After a league, turn south and make your way back to Jawa and Gilden Hold. Your service to me will be ended there. My service to you will end at Styric’s Hold.”
“My Lord,” the leader of the marines protested, “we are in your service. Please do not send us away. Do not attempt this on your own, we beg you.”
“Captain, we are discovered. Styric’s forces move to us as we speak. If we stay here, we die. If we move forward together, we die. But if you lead the enemy away, the Wizard and I may pass unnoticed if we are alone,” the Lord explained. Dorsea was quietly translating to the Jawann simultaneously.
“You are asking us to lead his army astray?” Dorsea said for Todmenshe’s reply.
“Yes, and crafty you will have to be to elude them. Do you understand?”
“Ji,” Todmenshe said, knowing that this ‘retreat’ could easily end in the last battle for his men.
“Very well,” the Lord concluded. “Should any of you see Lord Hannegelt, wish him ‘Good Chance, Good Fate’ for me. And I wish the same for each of you, my friends.”
The marines knew that he was saying good bye. They had not known until that moment that their Lord and his Wizard did not intend to return from this battle, or such would be their Fate.
“My Lord…” the Captain began. The Lord looked at him sternly. “Good Chance, my Lord, and Good Fate.” He bowed and turned to his men. “Make ready for retreat to the coast. We leave at once.
Gildenhanna looked at Todmensche. “My friend, our deal is done. Thank you for all you have done for us.”
“Ji, Machten herzen,” he replied. Gildenhanna looked to Dorsea for translation.
“Todmensche says you make his heart grow. It does not actually translate,” Dorsea replied. “You understand the meaning.”
The Barbarian and the Lord bowed to each other, and the Jawann departed without further ceremony, slipping away in the wood without a sound. Gildenhanna and Dorsea just looked at each other. There they were, alone in the wilderness, and about to go face their own deaths.
“Let us eat before we go, for I need to replenish my energy,” the Wizard said.
“We should eat, although I could think of far better fare for our last meal together. I had this prepared at Gilden Hold for us on this occasion. It is the best we can do.”
Gildenhanna opened his bag and pulled out some sweet meats and fruit that he had carried the entire journey. He spread out upon a stump the small purple cloth that it had been wrapped in, and Dorsea reached into his cloak and revealed a wine skin.
“I thought you might appreciate some of your gutsenberry wine with this,” he said.
“I would indeed.”
And so, the two old friends sat and enjoyed the simple fare on a lovely afternoon in the quiet before the turmoil to come. They kept it as far from their minds as they could because this was their time, and they felt they had devoted enough time and thought to Styric over the last thirty years. He had tainted their time on Hordann, and he was now attempting to do more than taint all of Hordann.
“Kemann and Hannegelt will do great things together, my friend,” Gildenhanna said.
“No doubt,” Dorsea agreed. “And with the friendship of those Skadivers, I have had to wonder what their futures will be. Their Earth knowledge could really change the face of Hordann.”
“I do not feel they have that kind of change in their hearts, but certainly some improvements would be welcome. That is to say, if they are not able to return to their home.”
“Their chances of returning to Earth are remote at best. I did try to counsel them in that, but they have to do what they have to do. I was glad to see them go with the Company, however. Likely they will have to remain on Hordann, and their time together will have been a good bonding experience for them and our sons.”
“To our sons,” Gildenhanna toasted, lifting the wine skin.
“To our success,” countered Dorsea, lifting it in turn. After the drink, there was an awkward silence between the two.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Gildenhanna asked. “But save your strength—and mine—and wait to cast your spell until we need it. Agreed?”
Gildenhanna pulled the fine purple fabric from the stump and folded it neatly to tuck it back into his bag, and the two of them began making their way to the Hold directly. Ten minutes of walking brought them to the edge of the wood. They stood before an open field that stretched half a league to the dark Hold. From there, they could see a large force of soldiers marching straight towards them. Dorsea cast his Obscurement Charm, and the light bent around the two, rendering them nearly invisible. Bravely, they stepped out into the open and continued their approach to the ancient Hold.
It was fifteen minutes before they began to come close to the column of soldiers, and they were uneasy. But they continued. The soldiers were following the road out, and their numbers filled it from shoulder to shoulder, so the two Gelts had to step to the side to let them pass. The end of the column was almost passed when the shouts from the front began, and they were pointing to the south. In the distance, Dorsea could just make out that the Jawann had not retreated as they had discussed and were now coming north to meet the larger force.
The two old Gelts could not have known that the retreat had been attempted, but thwarted by another force coming back from the west. The marines and Jawann cut south to avoid them and decided to try to regroup with their Lord before the Hold. But now they were about to be surrounded by the soldiers going to meet them from the road and the soldiers that were in pursuit from the west.
Gildenhanna cursed Chance, and now standing on a cleared road, they could do little else but continue on with their final quest. On they went toward the mountain.
Styric Hold, formerly known as Gallik Hold had been carved into a mountain. There was a curved wall beyond the mountain’s foot, and this held the main gate, which was currently closed. Getting closer to it, Dorsea’s Obscurement Charm began to fail.
“What has happened?” Gildenhanna asked.
“Styric’s defenses have confounded my spell,” the Wizard answered. “Let us make toward that out-building for cover. From there, I shall see if I can divine a way in.”
Their re-appearance had not gone unnoticed by the watch on the wall. With a hundred yards to go to reach this little temple structure, arrows began to fall around them as they hurriedly traversed the distance. When they finally got to the small stone building, the door was unlocked. The smell of men wafted out of the door, and the sight of men soon followed. Five of them, actually, armed with swords and ready for action, emerged from the door.
Lord Gildenhanna drew his sword, and Dorsea his staff and dagger. The men surrounded them and began to close in the circle. At this, Gildenhanna sprang into attack to keep the men spread out. They might have been armed soldiers, but not as well-trained in the sword as they would have liked. The Gelt Lord cut down two of them before they knew what had happened, and the nearest soldier to them joined into the fray from the side. His sword came swinging around at shoulder height, looking to behead the old man. Gildenhanna could not get his sword free to parry quickly enough, and had to catch the blade in his gauntlet. The sword bit deep into the glove, finding a spot between the armored plates and cut deeply into his hand, nearly severing the thumb. But the Lord held on to the blade long enough to sweep his blade’s arc across the man’s face. He fell to the ground, clutching the horrific gash. The other two remaining were concentrating on the Wizard. Dorsea said a word from the Jaederon and a slash of light blinded the two soldiers, allowing him to move in with the dagger and deftly slash their necks above their gorges.
“Would you mind?” asked the Lord, nodding over at the writhing enemy. Dorsea neatly bent over and inserted his blade into the man’s throat, silencing him. “Thank you.”
“You are bleeding badly,” the Wizard said. “Give me the cloth.”
Gildenhanna pulled the purple fabric out of his bag, and Dorsea tied it tightly around his wrist to stop the flow. They could hear distant screams from outside and assumed it was their men in a battle that could only end in slaughter.
“They were good men,” the Lord said.
“Yes. Now, what is this? A small prayer temple? A sentry station?” He illuminated his staff and looked around in the room.
“It is unusual, I’ll grant you.”
“With a column of soldiers just out there, why would there be five guards here, in this building?” Dorsea asked as he pulled back a tapestry hanging on the wall. It revealed nothing but a stone wall.
“Perhaps they were guarding that bad tapestry.”
“Or this door, perhaps.”
“I see no door.”
“Yet it is there. And this building is outside the wall of the Hold, and sits back against the mountain.”
“You think it an entrance?”
“These men were not guarding a bad tapestry, my Lord.”
“So, can you open it?”
“I shall try.” He sat down on one of the guards’ stools and began to work his magic while the screams went on outside.
Lord Gildenhanna went to shut the door to the building and looked out. The scene he was seeing was not the scene he expected.
“You should probably come and see this, old friend.”
Sam had remarked to Hazgorn that he had been very quiet on this driven flight. The dragon did not reply, but kept his pace with the formation. After a few minutes of silence, Sam had begun to worry that he had done something to displease his new friend. He may not have been the most sensitive of guys, but he did feel things. Like most guys, he was prone to insecurity when he felt that he had disappointed someone close. It was a great relief to him when Hazgorn replied.
“Why are we not at the head of the formation, Samuel?”
“Because this is Hannegelt’s charge, Hazgorn,” Sam said in the Ringspeak.
“You are the only human on Hordann capable of leading an aerial attack.”
“I appreciate your confidence in me, my friend, but like you, I dare not overstep Hordann authority.”
There was a hiss that could be heard above the rushing wind. “Humans,” Hazgorn muttered. “So, then, just to scratch my curious ear, tell me—what would you do at the approach of this Hold?”
“Wow, okay. Well, we don’t really know what’s going on down there, but we know that Hannegelt’s father is in trouble, and we may be too late.”
“What would you do?” he asked more pointedly.
“Well, we should fly past the Hold, I imagine, since that would be where Lord Gildenhanna’s forces would be coming from, the west. See if we could spot the trouble.”
“If there is trouble, we need to figure out who is who on the ground so we don’t hurt the good guys.”
“But we want to hurt the bad men?”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone, but if they are attacking my friends, then it is my obligation to help.”
“You speak very idealistically. If we are flying into a battle, you need to think practically. You need to act instinctively.”
“Is that how Dragonkind does it? Instinctively?”
“We may be well-educated, but we are instinctive beings. There must be a harmony between the two in order to achieve one’s Destiny, if that Destiny be any higher than that of a Grossenberry masher.”
“Interesting philosophy. So, are you a Grossenberry masher?”
Hazgorn hissed a loud laugh. Genie and Vryna both looked over at them, nearly faltering, and coming out of formation. Diedra was looking on as well with her head cocked as if to show her curious ear for what had been so funny.
“No, I am not. I merely drink the wine of their labors.”
“What do you do? What is your position in your Hold?” Sam asked.
“I am Historian. Specifically of wars and tactical analytics.”
“Oh, really? I guess I must sound pretty stupid next to you.”
“Stupid, no. Inexperienced, probably. Young, definitely. I did enjoy observing you in Raustorn. I actually learned from you. So, as I said in the beginning of our conversation, I believe you are the only one capable of leading an aerial attack. Think out loud for me, and let’s go over some scenarios while there is still some time before Styric Hold. And remember, you are from Sky Hold. This is an aerial attack.”
“You crack me up, Hazgorn,” Sam replied. “Okay, so we fly past the Hold, which will probably be next to some kind of mountain, since they seem to like building them like that in Hordann. So we come in fast and get to a good vantage point altitude. Enough to see, but still low enough that we can dive with enough speed to make us hard targets for archers without it taking too long to get down low enough for a strafing run.”
“What is a strafing run?”
“You fly in fast and low so you can target small groups on the ground. Anyway, what kind of attack do the dragons favor?”
“We prefer not to kill, so we would tend to release our…selves on a first attack.”
“Release yourselves? You mean you…you know, crap on them?”
“I am not familiar with that term, but I think you take my meaning correctly.”
“Right. So, look, I think we could go with that, but nobody is going to tremble over pooping dragons. Now, fire-breathing dragons, that’ll put the fear of Xelt in them. Maybe try surrounding them with fire, if you don’t want to kill them right away. Fear is the main object. Defeat them without a fight.”
“Now you are thinking like a tactician.”
“Thank Sun Tsu. If I make it back to Sky Hold, I’ll get you a copy of his book.”
“You would have to read it to me, I’m afraid,” the dragon said. “Dragons do not write.”
“It would be an honor.”
“So, Sun Tsu, after that, what next?”
“Next? Maybe you can crap on the guards atop the walls of the Hold, so we can land and get the gates open for the land forces to enter. We may have to scorch the hair on some of the more combative ones, though. Then you drop us off to go after Styric. You can circle at a safe altitude and watch to see if we need help. What do you think?”
“Hmph,” Hazgorn snorted and flew out of formation to catch up with Kondyr. When he got close, he began to bugle in Dragonspeak for a few minutes of conversation with their leader. Hannegelt looked over at Sam as if to ask what was going on. Sam just shrugged an “I don’t know” back. Hazgorn and Kondyr concluded their brief chat, and Hazgorn peeled off and resumed his place in the formation.
“Are you going to tell me what that was all about?” Sam asked.
The dragon hissed his usual little laugh. “You just told me what it was all about. I gave you credit, though. Kondyr wanted me to find out what you thought. It is his opinion that Hannegelt is not a flier, and is too emotional about this attack to be objective. He has seen you in action, and he admires the way you think, Son of Sky Hold.”
“What did you think you were doing, going behind Hannegelt’s back?”
“Hannegelt is on Kondyr’s back, and I was doing my job.”
The dragons began getting very vocal in their own tongue, passing instructions down the arms of the ‘V’ formation. The riders were then told by their dragons what the attack plans were. Sam felt a little guilty about becoming the offensive coordinator without being asked to do so by Hannegelt, and he was more nervous than ever hoping the outcome would be successful.