Chapter 20: Invaders and Liberators
Through the serenely blue skies flew Kes'thara and Mathias onward to Therinsford. In the far off distance Mathias could make out the vast range of the Spine Mountains. Seemingly infinitely, the mountains stretched from North to South, separating Alagaesia from the great sea. To his right, Mathias could make out a majestic band of greenness, the dominion of the elves. However, it was the ground below them that had the rider and dragon's full attention.
Endless green plains flowed a few hundred feet below them, upon which thousands of Imperial citizens traveled daily to one city or another. And though these people appeared as small dots from where they flew, Mathias and Kes'thara could tell there were too many travelers this day. Far too much travelers than there should normally be. Some they could see came from the city over which they would soon fly, Yazuac. Others they could see making their way from Daret, and others from further North, of Carvahall, Therinsford and Ceunon. All of these people were certainly heading for safety from the invaders, to the heart of the Empire, Ilirea.
Or at least, that is what Mathias and Kes'thara had figured as they examined the traveling humans. It was a reasonable thing for the humans to do, for thousands of Urgals were seen by spies, sprinting past Therinsford towards other cities. King Shnarvoz perhaps was using the massacre as an excuse for the Urgals to conquer other cities as well.
However, Mathias and Kes'thara knew such a journey for the humans would only prolong the inevitable. Before leaving Gil'ead, Kes'thara and Mathias had watched thousands of Nomad troops march out of the city. Fadawar simply laughed as his warriors moved to conquer the capital while he held Lord Soren's boy captive. There was nothing that could be done, or at least Mathias and Kes'thara could think of nothing. For Fadawar was far too fast to be killed and besides, he would have slain the young lad if they tried anything. And if the boy were to die, they knew not what would become of Lord Soren. The loss of his son may break him, which would demoralize what little fighting spirit the Gil'ead militia still had. They wished they could do something, anything to save the city, but it proved best to wait. To wait for help, for reinforcements, for other riders, and for the Elves.
Till one day a rider and dragon did arrive in the city, Luxor and Fraethr. Apparently Murtagh had ordered them to watch over Gil'ead while Mathias and Kes'thara were to defend Therinsford from the Urgals. The only good thing to come out of their leave was Lord Soren's gift. For he gave Mathias a gift of beautiful silver armor, one which he wore now.
It was a set of silver chainmail, greaves, gauntlets, boots and pauldrons. Over the mail Mathias wore a red tunic, the emblem of the Varden displayed upon it. Covering the mail on his legs was a simple set of red trowsers, and upon his head a silver helmet.
Mathias had figured this switch was a waste of time, What difference does it make on which who defends which city?! he thought in frustration. His right hand, encased in a gauntlet, curled into a tight fist in his annoyance.
Luxor doesn't want to fight his own kind, remember that's what he and Murtagh said.
I know that Kes'thara! But I had to kill my own kind just a few days ago! It was terrible, something I do not wish to go through again! his eyes fell in depression. Then suddenly his brows lowered as he said And the fact that he gets to keep his blade clean of his kin's blood, it's unfair!
Don't compare your situation to his small one. If he were to fight in Therinsford, he would be forced to kill members of his own tribe, people he would know. He may even be forced to fight Nar Garzhvog and Shnarvoz themselves. The fighting he would have to do in Therinsford would be much more difficult for him than the fighting we did at Gil'ead. You did not know any of the men you killed that day, they were of a different nation entirely.
Doesn't make this situation any less of a waste of time though!
How do you know? Kes'thara said. To you, it would be like having to fight the other riders, or Gil'ead soldiers! That's what it is like for Luxor, do you really think he would have been able to fight against a faction he had been loyal to all his life?
Mathias chose not to answer her last remark; instead he examined the city of Yazuac as they began to pass above it. The simple village was made of randomly set up wooden buildings and dirt streets. Over the years in the peaceful Empire, Yazuac had been rebuilt and it's population expanded. Countless Yazuac citizens either packed up to leave the city, or were already on their way out. Some of the people were lucky and traveled outside on horseback or on boats on the Ninor River. Most however, were not so fortunate and instead traveled on foot towards Ilirea.
After about a half of an hour passed, Yazuac was behind them. In silence Mathias looked about at the world around them, forcing himself to forget his annoyance. Instead, he began to count the mountains of the Spine, starting from the ones to the South. About ten minutes passed before he had counted as much as he wished before counting the more Northwestern Mountains. Although, as soon as he started numbering the Northernmost ones, something very curious caught his eye.
"Kes'thara!" he shouted in triumph. "Look to the Northeast!" Kes'thara turned her collosal head to her right, taking in what it was her rider had spotted. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight; innumerable figures, fluid and speedy in movement were all amassed in a great multitude. Stopping for a moment, Kes'thara repositioned herself in order to have a better look at the thousands. All the figures were proceeding southward in-between the Southwestern forests of Du Weldenvarden and the Northern mountains of the Spine. Yet, the sight that gave them the most hope and joy was a much larger green figure flying over the multitude.
"Do you think?" Mathias asked her with renewed determination.
It must be! Kes'thara answered him. They were in agreement; the sight that lay before them was certainly the Elven army. Of who they were certain had arrived to assist the Empire, much sooner than they had expected no less!
"Should we go meet them?" Mathias asked his dragon.
Of course we will. I'm sure they will have some of their troops fight in Therinsford, so it would be wise to know their plans. With the last of her remark, she gave out a mighty roar of friendship, one which echoed about the lands. A few moments later, a roar could be heard from the dragon above the elves, the deep cry of Firnen. Oddly, Kes'thara and Mathias noticed that his roar was not one of pride or friendship, but was filled with sorrow and helplessness.
"What do you think is eating at him?" Mathias asked as they flew towards Firnen.
I am not sure small one Kes'thara said to him. But I could tell as a dragon, he gave out a cry of great torment. I'm not so sure he is even fit to fight.
"Aye" agreed Mathias as they flew closer to the green dragon. A third of an hour or so had passed before they could make out any finer details of the dragon. Yet when they did, what they saw shocked them completely. The rims of Firnen's eyelids were blood red as enormous spheres of water fell from them constantly. Though this was not what surprised Kes'thara and Mathias most; the one who rode him was not Arya, or at least it did not seem to be Arya.
Upon Firnen rode a warrior encased from head to toe entirely in golden armor. The golden armor itself was almost as beautiful as a dragon's scales; from the sun's rays the armor reflected lights of many colors. On his neck flowed an enormous cape that flapped all about him in the wind. The inside of the cape was crimson comparable to Thorn, the outside of the cape was a deep blue of the sea. At Firnen's left side was strapped an enormous white shield, as tall as a man and just as wide. A large claymore lay on the warrior's left leg, Tamerlien on his right. Everything about the gold knight, his armor, his weapons, his posture, all of it was a display of absolute might. Well, everything except perhaps the lower part of his belly, which while still covered by armor, was enormous.
Without saying a word, Firnen began to descend, Kes'thara soon following as they flew down to the elven army.
He can't be Arya said Mathias in a doubtfull thought. He has two swords on him, Arya only uses Tamerlien. And he has a huge shield, yet Arya prefers smaller and more simple shields.
But why then is he riding Firnen?! Kes'thara asked him as they descended. What would make this one so priviledged to ride upon her dragon?
I plan to ask them when we touch down Mathias answered. They were now close enough to the elves to make out the armor and weapons they bore. The elves wore light flowing metal armor, clearly designed for ease of movement while offering protection. Strapped to the sides of the vanguard elves were short swords, but in their strong hand they carried long spears. Groups behind the vanguard held mighty bows and also short swords. All bore round shields half as tall as a man with their lesser hands. And upon their heads rested metal helmets in the shape of a dragon's head.
Moments later, gently Kes'thara and Firnen extended their wings to slow their fall. Both landed soon afterwards in front of the elven army. Mathias and Kes'thara were immediately deafened with the musical shouts and cheers of the elven soldiers. As quick as he could, Mathias unstrapped himself from the saddle, then jumped down onto the ground before him. With a loud clang the golden knight did the same, and then walked towards one elf without a word. Wondering what was happening; Mathias likewise followed the golden knight. The elf he was headed for had bright silver armor, clearly heavier than the standard elven armor. He also bore a couple of katanas strapped to both of his sides. To Mathias, he smiled slighty, but the way he did so was unsettling for Mathias. Shaking off these emotions, he walked towards the elf, followed by Kes'thara and the still weeping Firnen. For a moment, he couldn't help but glance at Firnen's sorrowful state; tear after tear left his eyes, splashing upon the grass and soaking it. Eventually Mathias was right next to the elf and the golden knight.
With a bright, yet shady smile, the elf said "It is an honor to meet you Mathias Silverblade!" Then to Kes'thara he said "And an honor to meet you Kes'thara Moonscales!" He then turned around to the rest of the elves and said in the Ancient Language "What are you all staring at? Continue to march! The Empire needs us and there is no time to lose!" As one, the army then proceeded, walking past Mathias, Kes'thara, Firnen, the golden knight and the elf. The elf turned towards Mathias and moved his mouth, yet Mathias could not make out anything he said. For the marching of the elves around him was too loud of a noise for Mathias to hear anything else. A moment later, the elf did a motion with his hands and said something, and then a second later, all was completely silent.
"I apologize," said the elf. "I forgot men do not have as keen hearing as the elves."
"No it is fine, thank you" Mathias said to him, realizing that he had cast a spell to diminish the sounds of the soldiers around them. "What is your name, friend?"
With a cold, yet small smile, the elf said "I am Lord Dathedr, given command of the Elven Armies in these times of war."
Surprise enveloped Mathias as he thought to Kes'thara Why would he be in command? Where is Arya anyway?
Ask him about the gold one already!
Without thinking back to her, Mathias asked Dathedr "Who is he?" He gestured at the golden knight, "What has he done that that would permit him to ride Firnen?"
"That is not for you to know," the golden knight answered Mathias in a muffled metallic voice.
He must sound that way because of his helmet Kes'thara thought. Mathias nodded, examining the large ornate helm which covered all of his face. In fact, Mathias could see nothing of the golden knight's skin, nothing save for the whites of his eyes.
"And why can't we know who you are?" Mathias asked him.
"Because the queen herself wishes it" the golden knight answered him.
Renewed surprise overtook Mathias, why would the identity of this warrior need to be kept secret? So he blurted out in his frustration "Where is she anyway?! Why isn't Arya Drotning here to lead her troops?!"
Calmly, yet coldly in the Ancient Language Dathedr said "There are certain," he hesitated for a moment, "limitations that have come up. Limitations that unfortunately have prevented her from joining future battles."
"What sort of limitations? Is she in Ellesmera still?" Mathias asked him.
"That information is also confidential," Dathedr said.
Growing more annoyed by the second, Mathias asked "Is there anything that you can tell me?"
"That Arya Drotning has chosen the best warrior of the Alfakyn to take her place as rider of Firnen" Dathedr said. For a moment, Mathias had to hold in laughter, he found it difficult to believe that the greatest Elven warrior would be obese.
After getting over his amusement, he out a great sigh, turned to Firnen, then said "And why do you cry Firnen? What has happened?" Firnen's eyes for a moment widened in annoyance as he pointed with one of his claws toward the feet of the golden knight. No thoughts came from Firnen, yet Mathias noticed desperation in his face, he was trying to tell him something.
Looking at where he pointed, Mathias asked him "His feet?" Firnen shook his head, then Mathias looked again at where Firnen pointed. After a long moment, he asked "His shadow?" Now Firnen's head nodded, but had an expression in his eyes which told Mathias that he didn't say the full answer, but he was close. Moving about, Firnen tried to communicate with Mathias via movement of his claws and wings, but he didn't get far before the gold knight interrupted him.
"Enough!" he shouted, which immediately stopped Firnen, fresh tears then resumed to fall from his eyes.
"Can he not speak? Why does he weep so?" Mathias asked Dathedr with concern while turning around.
If there is anything we can do to help we will Kes'thara said to Firnen more than anyone else, though he ignored her statement.
"Ever since he arrived back in Du Weldenvarden with Arya he has been like this" Dathedr said without care. "Anymore than that I cannot say." A dark smile formed across Dathedr's face as he looked at Firnen, Mathias then looked over to Firnen himself. He almost bellowed in surprise when he saw him, for he was no longer crying. Instead, his eyes were squinting with a dark hatred at Dathedr, a hatred Mathias had never thought possible a creature could display. Firnen's great teeth were bared in rage, he was growling uncontrollably, his body trembling in black anger. And though he could not hear any thoughts Firnen had, Mathias was certain Firnen wanted nothing more than to tear Dathedr apart.
"Enough!" the golden knight yelled at Firnen again, this time in greater annoyance. When Firnen's gaze was upon the golden knight again, tears immediately returned to his eyes. A few moments he shuddered as large spheres of water fell from him again. Kes'thara, upon seeing this, extended one of her silver wings and draped it around Firnen.
Everything will be alright Firnen, the Empire will be saved. You will see Kes'thara said as an attempt to comfort him. Quick as lightning Firnen's head moved and looked into hers, his wet eyes still sparkling with crystalline tears. Slowly and in an expression of complete certainty, Firnen shook his head back and forth many times. He then looked upon Mathias, Dathedr and finally the gold knight, before sighing mightily. An instant later he lifted Kes'thara's wing off of him with one of his arms, then launched into the sky, flying away.
Now turning his attention to Dathedr, Mathias asked "What is going on Dathedr? How can you expect him to fight like that?!"
"Oh he will fight that is for sure" Dathedr said. "We need him in the battles to come." His expression then turned sour, "As for what is happening, I already told you. He has been that way ever since he came back to Du Weldenvarden with Arya Drotning."
Then why did he look at you like that?! Kes'thara asked him in anger. Dathedr shook his head back and forth a few times.
"My my, you two ask a great amount of questions that can't be answered!" he responded with a slight smile. Then with a small frown, he said in the Ancient Language "You two need to learn that I cannot give you the answers you wish, the queen has ordered it." And with a neutral face he said "Now, shall we discuss the tactics we will use in the battles to come?"
Grudgingly and with immense effort, Mathias said "Very well Lord Dathedr."