Find Part 1 here.
The meeting at dawn at the west gate was uneventful. The night guards unbarred the town gate and let them through. They rode silently through the dawn mists. Delia pulled her cloak around her tighter. The weather was getting colder. Summer was nearly at an end and fall would arrive soon. With luck, this would be finished soon, and she could go back to the palace and learn more about being an elf than fighting.
They rode steadily, only stopping at noonday to rest the horses and eat. Then it was back in the saddle. Delia rode beside Captain Catari after they left their lunch spot. “How long until we reach the king, Captain?”
“Another day. We’ll camp tonight and begin again in the morning. It will be after dark when we arrive even riding late into the night tonight. It seems to me speed is most important right now.”
Delia agreed with him. “And Iyuno?”
“We don’t know where he is. His forces are spread throughout the mountains.” His look went hard. “He attacks anyone not pledged to him. We’ve lost many elves.”
“Gallett told me about his family. I am truly sorry, Captain.”
“Thank you.” He looked at her. “This prophesy, do you think it will come to pass?”
Delia shook her head. “I don’t know, Captain. I only heard about it when I was returned to the elves. It seems to me to be far-fetched. I’ve only practiced magic for a handful of months. I don’t see how I could be more powerful than Iyuno or his nephews. They’ve had decades or hundreds of years of practice and study.”
“I’ve heard you can do some amazing things.”
She shrugged. “I can throw fireballs, which isn’t common but not unusual. I can throw an invisible heat ball, kind of like force that pushes. Master Kaepli taught me how to put an opponent to sleep but he taught that to all of his apprentices, as well as how to build a protective wall and how to take it down. But again. He taught that to his apprentices at the same time.” Delia shook her head. “No. To be honest, I don’t feel special at all.”
“Don’t discount your abilities, Princess. I do not have those skills and neither do any of my men. Perhaps Master Juner does, but if so, he’s never told me.”
Captain Catari pulled away from the head of the small column and dropped back to check on the rear. Delia gave some thought to what he’d said. Perhaps it was true, then. Sisruo, Kaya and the others were powerful elves, as was Master Kaepli but even though Kaya and her father knew about pulling power from fire, they’d never said if they’d tried it themselves. And who knew what she herself could do if pushed. Though what else could push her after being tortured for days in Iyuno’s dungeon, she shuddered to think.
They made a quick stop at sundown, again to let the horses graze and grab a cold bite of food for themselves, then remounted and rode into the night. It was close to midnight, Delia thought, when they finally halted for the night. The horses were hobbled so they could graze or sleep. The elves didn’t set up tents. Everyone rolled into their bedrolls and slept under the stars.
The next morning came all too soon for Delia. Cold biscuits and jerky were handed around as breakfast and water from the stream was all there was to drink. Delia was stiff and cold from sleeping on the cold ground and wet from the heavy dew that had fallen. She retrieved her horse and saddled her herself, tying the damp bedroll on the back of the saddle. I’ll take it down and spread it out to dry at noon-tide, she thought. That way it will be at least a little drier when I have to sleep in it tonight.
They formed up and rode just as the sun began to brighten the eastern sky. The second day was much like the first. Delia found herself dozing in the saddle. She nearly fell off of her horse once when it stumbled. That had frightened her, but she realized as she looked around, nearly everyone else was in the same condition.
More jerky was for supper when they stopped just before sunset. She pulled out the apples and handed them around to Kaya and Aduello. Her horse whinnied her happiness when Delia presented the little mare with it, on the flat of her hand. The filly munched it messily then leaned down to lip up the pieces she’d dropped. A small kindness, Delia thought as she stroked the horse’s neck. A battle was coming, she could feel it and perhaps the little mare wouldn’t live through it.
They mounted up and Delia looked at the guards, Kaya, and Aduello. Perhaps none of them would live through it. She felt bad about Gallett, especially. He really shouldn’t be here. He was too young. Did he even have any power yet? How would he defend himself?
She dropped back one spot to talk to Master Juner. “Master, I worry about Gallett.”
The mage nodded. “Young yet, it is so. But the troop is fond of him. He’ll be protected.”
“That’s good to know.” She took a breath. “And how are you? It’s been a hard ride.”
He smiled at her. “It’s true I’m getting old, but my strength is not diminished. Tell me about the spells Master Kaepli has taught you.”
They spent many miles talking about the protective wall, the sleeping spell and much more. Delia was surprised when Captain Catari raised his hand to halt the troop.
In the dark, everyone behind her stopped because she was stopped. Was something wrong? She looked around, trying to sense trouble coming.
“We’re here,” he announced. “Stay here while I ride ahead to announce us.”
Delia breathed a sigh of relief but didn’t stop trying to sense the darkness around them. Knowing her uncle, this would be when he’d attack.
For once, she was glad to be wrong. Captain Catari returned. “Forward!”
They rode into a well-guarded camp. Defensive spikes and ditches surrounded the tents. Guards were on duty, as far as Delia could tell, every thirty feet or so with fires. Elves from the camp took the horses as the Captain, Mage Juner, Aduello, Kaya, and Delia were led to the king’s tent. Even at this late hour, he was still awake. Master Kaepli was with him as well as Mystesto and Neoni, looking at maps on a table in the middle of his tent.
King Ucheni opened his arms. “Daughter, come, let me give you a hug of welcome.”
Delia had tears in her eyes when he released her. “Father. I was so worried about you.”
“And I you, daughter.” He grinned at the others in the tent. “Look, my daughter who was lost has been returned to me!”
After grins all around, she introduced Kaya and Aduello. The king shook both of their hands. “Thank you for keeping her safe.”
“It was she who kept me safe,” Kaya told him. “She arranged our escape.”
Ucheni nodded. “A tale for another day, I’m afraid. You’ve come at a desperate time.”
Delia stepped back from the map table. “How may we help, Father?”
“Master Kaepli?” the king invited.
The mage stepped forward. “Iyuno is just about finished blocking us into this valley. But,” he nodded to the king and Delia. “It’s a trap of our own choosing.”
Delia didn’t think ‘trap’ was a good thing.
“We have set up hidden traps in the passages leading here. We’ve trained more elves in how to use the sleeping spell.” He looked at Delia. “And now, we have the Princess of prophecy.”
Delia blushed under everyone’s stare. “And the plan, Master Kaepli?”
“We draw them down here. A challenge was issued, from the king,” he nodded to the king, “to Iyuno.”
Delia’s heart sank. She knew from personal experience how powerful her uncle was. “A duel?”
The mage nodded. “We have to stop Iyuno himself. Stopping his army isn’t enough.”
Ucheni spoke. “My uncle has accepted. We know he’ll try some trickery. We’ve done what we can to defend against whatever it may be. We meet tomorrow at mid-day. So. Go. Rest. The battle starts tomorrow.”
Thank You! Come back next week for Part 46.