And now . . . the end
On a wide, flat field that stretched before King Adelbert's castle, an ocean of soldiers assembled. They stood in tight phalanx, a mark of their discipline, ready to follow the orders of their leaders who pranced their horses to and fro before the multitude. Tall structures of wood, were dragged forward to the head of the enemy lines. Within, archers waited to shoot their arrows over the rampart walls. Ballista's, giant crossbows, aimed to pierce the stone walls were situated several yards behind the oncoming hoard. They would release, crushing anyone or anything in their way.
For now, the invaders were silent. They stood at attention on the field, waiting their orders.
Inside the castle, King Adelbert's knights and forces anticipated the first blow. There's was a defensive roll against an unmanageable foe. King Adelbert had attended the morning meeting, rallying his people to fight. He saw the number of encroaching soldiers and feared for his success. He called for bravery and swift death rather than surrender.
"My Lord," Queen Grecha said.
"Hmm?" Adelbert was distracted by his worries, but he placed a warm hand on his wife's and smiled at her.
"Do you know that Ysabeaux has been gone these three days and nights?"
"Iliana told me she left to call the dragons. She has not returned."
"And . . . no DragonKind has come."
"I don't think she succeeded."
"Do you fear, my love?"
"Only for my daughters, My Lord. My own life has been lived."
"We will let nothing happen to our daughters. Ysabeaux is crafty and wise. Wherever she is, nothing will take her easily. Be steadfast, Grecha. We are not done yet."
Adelbert smiled down at his wife and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
"I must go and be suited. It is safer for you in the dungeons with the rest of the citizens. Go there, now."
Grecha curtsied and turned away. She hurriedly turned back and sunk into King Adelbert's embrace.
"There now, my love. Go. Iliana is waiting for you."
Adlebert watched his wife leave. He hoped he had been convincing in his determination that they would see the light of another day.
Ysabeaux ran through the corridors of the Dragon's Hold. She could feel the emanating vibrations from the Opal Stone. She followed them, though they seemed weak as if shielded. Often she stopped, having lost the beam, but after a few moments concentration she picked up the pace again, following the meandering, winding corridors down to the assembly hall or up to the outer doors. She could not get a direct bead on the article and then, of a sudden, it was gone.
Ysabeaux turned in circles in a corridor, trying to tune into the wavelength that the Stone produced. She listened, calmed herself, concentrated; to no avail.
Throwing her hands up she darted off to find Braghm and Bryan.
She stopped her run and looked up to see the aged golden dragon who had rescued them. He blocked her way.
"The Opal Stone is no longer here. They have taken it to the battle."
"Who? Who has taken it?"
The dragon closed his eyes, composing his thoughts.
"Belaris has taken The Stone to keep human's from their success. He has engaged my son Etud. The youthful dragons do not know the ways of honor. They are convinced by Belaris that mankind is dangerous, deadly. I know of many men who's honor is as pure as our own. I do not want to fight against men, or, The Dragon Lord Gemarion. I believe Belaris is bringing the stone to the sight of the battle in order to influence the Romans toward ultimate victory. Belaris plans to take the side of the invaders, overthrow Gemarion and rule ruthlessly against mankind. You must all hurry to the battle field, now."
Gemarion looked weary, his eyes drooped. His voice was husky and dry.
"Belaris is being joined in the battle by Eamma, and her minions. They number many and have wanted to overtake Gemarion for years. All Belaris needed was an opportunity and now the time is right."
"I will go."
"Wait . . . Caller . . ."
"If you would speak to Gemarion on behalf of my son. He is young and does not know about the ins and outs of the world and life. He rebels, but only with the spirit of youth and the lack of knowledge that the young posses. He is all I have left."
"I will do what I can, great one."
Sopang moved aside and let the girl run swiftly past. Ysabeaux had to get to the brothers before they left. This information was vital.
On a mount, not far from the battle field Eamma and her forces waited for Belaris. He was bringing The Stone. She reasoned he would not be able to use the article. Both the Caller and The Bearer were not present. Belaris was a fool. But, she thought, if our forces prevail, we may yet see success. Eamma had planned her attack. She would fly her troops over King Adelbert's castle. They would put everything to the flame while the Roman's attacked from the front. Then, she would turn on the army and burn them all to tiny stumps. Without the help of the human's Old Gemarion would be defeated. Eamma knew his minions did not number as many as hers and much of his guard was old and not what they once were in health and strength. She stretched her wings and hissed loudly. The thought of Gemarion stuck in her throat. His ideology of peace and co-existence was an anthem of the past. She was looking ahead to the future.
He turned to see Ysabeaux hurrying breathlessly toward him.
"The dragon Belaris has the Opal Stone. He carries it now to the battle."
Ysabeaux had found Braghm and his brothers with the dragon assembly in the courtyard of the stronghold. Dragons of all colors hovered above them, heading the call to battle. Gemarion stood in the center of the courtyard, his wings half opened. He roared into the sky and the dragons answered with keening whistles.
"My Lord Gemarion," Braghm said as he approached the white beast. The dragon ceased his clarion calls and looked down at the human.
"The Caller has told me that your dragon Belaris has The Stone. He has taken it to the field of battle."
Gemarion roared in anger. He turned his red eye on the brothers and told them to mount the dragons that were awaiting them. Burk ran to his Weirling and started to climb atop her back.
"You are too young for battle, Burk."
"I will go where you go, Bryan. I am not afraid."
"I am. I am afraid that you will die."
"What will be my fate if we do not succeed? Death surely. I will go. You cannot stop me."
Bryan reached out a hand to take his brother's arm and the Wierling hissed, its eyes narrow and threatening.
"You see? You had best not try to force me to stay, brother."
Bryan withdrew his hand, a wan smile on his face. He had thought to save at least one member of his clan from the death he felt so near. Yet, he reasoned Burk was right. What use to live one more day, when tomorrow he would suffer under the heavy hand of a conqueror.
"My dragons!" Gemarion called to his forces.
"We are on the brink of a battle that will decide the fate of us all. This day we fight for more than man's survival, we fight for our own. Dragon Belaris holds The Opal Stone. I charge you to intercept him. Remove the stone from his possession and bring it to me. Go! Go!"
The sky darkened with their passing. The rising sun glinted of a rainbow of colors, yellow, red, green, blue, purple. Across the sky in iridescent display the dragons flew, and all who witnessed them from below ran for shelter.
On the field of battle the Roman army began its advance. Slowly they marched forward, their numbers alone intimidating. On the ramparts of the castle, captains ordered the men to hold. Wait for the best opportunity to loose their arrows. Huge pots of boiling oil and tar waited to be tipped over, cooking the soldiers in their quest to scale the walls.
Closer, closer the troops marched. Their blood red cloaks billowing in the morning's breeze. They paused, shouted something in their language, banged their swords against their shields once, and charged forward. The battle for Briton had begun.
Overhead, Belaris soared. No one noted him. The men were too busy killing each other. The Ballista arrows crushed the rampart walls as they flung headlong from their ratcheted beds. Large chunks of stone flew away crushing defenders and attackers alike. The oil pots were tipped, splashing down the sides of the castle walls to boil anyone who was attempting the climb. The screams and shouts of thousands echoed through the halls of Adelbert's castle.
Belaris settled beside Eamma. He held The Stone high, allowing all the rebels to clearly see it as the sun struck it's milky surface. A hissing cheer went up and Belaris lay the stone nearby. They could see the battle from this standpoint. It seemed that Adelbert was already lost. His castle could not withstand so massive an onslaught for too long.
"We will wait a bit. When we are certain the tide has turned against Adelbert for certain, we will attack the castle ourselves."
"How will you work The Stone, Belaris? You have no Caller, no Bearer?"
"We do not need The Stone, Eamma . . . they do."
Eamma cast a wary eye on Belaris, So, he was not as inept as she thought. He merely held the precious object out of their reach. She turned and walked back to the company of her hoard. He will not lead me, she thought, no one leads Eamma.
Molgus limped along the ground opposite the left flank of the encroaching army. He kept an eye to the skies for Belaris. Hatred for the impertinent dragon loomed large in Molgus. Belaris had always been a rabble-rouser. It was true that the ancient war had cost him dearly, it had cost every one of the hoard a price. Most of them had moved on, made do and succeeded in overcoming the hurts of the past. Belaris seethed inwardly, his personality tainted by his hatred of all things human. How often Molgus had heard Belaris wish for the chance to "show mankind how high true Dragon blood could boil."
Now Molgus waited, seething over the rebellion Belaris had dared to raise. Back far enough from the army's flank that they would not be seen among the knotty pines and rock, the dragons waited for Belaris' attack. Gemarion had assigned Molgus to destroy the left flank of the Legions, Sopang to join with Gemarion against the aerial assault Belaris threatened, and the remaining members of his hoard to proceed with rescues of the humans in the castle, should the Roman's penetrate the defensive walls. Braghm, Bryan and Burk sat astride their mounts waiting for Gemarion's signal. They would fly up and attack Belaris' forces; something they hoped he did not expect.
Screams of the wounded and battle cries of the living rang from the field. The crunch of exploded rock added to the cacophony. Arrows and lances flew in all directions, seeking soft implant into an enemy body. The splash and hiss of hot oil melded with the groans of the dying as the defenders waited for Belaris.
"If we wait too long, Lord Gemarion, we will lose the day."
Braghm looked at Gemarion with deep concern. The castle walls were succumbing to the Ballista, Roman Legionnaires making their way to the ramparts where they fought hand-to-hand with King Adelbert's forces.
The sky darkened with a host of winged dragons. They flew low, blotting out the sun, aiming their flaming breath into the castle grounds. The Romans saw this and stopped suddenly in their quest. Their eyes to the sky, they stared in wonder at the flying beasts that were attacking the fort. Their leader screamed some order and the army surged forward, seizing the opportunity.
"Molgus, attack!" Gemarion rose into the sky with his order given and lead one quarter of his force into the path of the attacking dragons. With talons and fire, he fought them, many so young they did not yet know the proper forms of attack and defense. Ripped by sharp claws they feel atop the hapless Roman army, scattering them. The leader was losing control of his ranks.
Molgus, heeding his Lord's command rose into the sky and, with the aid of his group, set to flame the fifth and sixth phalanx of soldiers. They were running, now, screaming, many of them aflame. Confusion reigned. Here on one side were flying beasts that joined the Romans and on the left there were those who obviously fought against.
Braghm and Bryan rode their dragons swooping low across the soldier's heads. As they came low they used their swords to swipe and slash. The dragons blew their wicked breath out across the number causing the Legionnaires to scatter.
Gemarion roared at the sight of Belaris and Eamma on the hill to the west. He dove, striking Belaris on the side of his head. Belaris shot up to the sky and hovered beneath Gemarion. The Lord Dragon looked down on him.
"Belaris! Traitor! This day you shall die."
Belaris curled his lip in hatred and flew upward as a dart might speed toward a bullseye.
Gemarion waited, dodging at the last second so that Belaris over-shot his mark and sped off in the distance. Gemarion spied the Opal Stone laying on the rock near Eamma's feet. Spinning about he noted that Molgus had destroyed the entire left flank of soldiers, and that many of the Legion were running from the scene, leaving weapons and wounded behind.
Gemarion swooped down and landed two feet into Eamma's side. She toppled over. Quick to rise she turned on Gemarion and swiped a claw across his breast. Plops of red blood fell to the ground, but Gemarion was far from ended. Eamma pounced atop Gemarion as Belaris joined to destroy the Lord Splendor of Dragons.
From above, Burk on his Weirling came close to the scene of the Dragon's fight. He saw Gemarion grab Eamma with one giant, clawed hand and pull her head to the ground. Gemarion held her down with his foot, while Belaris attacked Gemarion from above. Claws flashed, blood flowed and, transfixed by the action, Burk watched.
"Look," he said to his Weirling, "The Stone."
The article had rolled away from the scene of the fight and lay in a small depression. Burk steered his Weirling down, down; whispering in her ear to pick up The Stone. Trapped as she was, Eamma could only watch as The Opal Stone was taken and carried off.
Molgus plunged downward, his talons splayed. He landed atop Belaris' back and sunk his teeth into the back of Belaris' neck. Freed, Gemarion flew up and hurriedly returned to the sidelines, where Ysabeaux stood, her offering spell prepared, waiting for The Stone's return. Burk darted forward, following Gemarion. His Wierling dropped The Opal Stone onto a grassy hillock a few feet away from Ysabeaux, who ran over and snatched the article up into her arms. At last, she could begin the spell that would give The Stone its power. She lit the incense and raised her voice in a chant. Gemarion circled above, providing protection for The Caller.
Molgus flew overhead, Belaris' head dangling from his jaws. He dropped it unceremoniously at Gemarion's feet.
"Eamma has sped away north and her hoard with her."
True, the far northern sky was dotted with retreating dragonkind.
Now, with the onslaught of the dragons finished, the army was commanded to regroup themselves. They continued their forward march toward the castle walls. Gemarion hoisted the now glowing stone into his hands. He closed his eyes and thought, there is nothing here for you but death. Turn about and return to your own shores. There is nothing here for you but death . . ."
Trumpets sounded and war drums banged. The army regrouped, and turned about. They were marching away. Shouts rang out from the ramparts of the castle as the army marched off. They seemed as if dazed, as if they were walking in their sleep. Each man moved automatically, trance-like, stepping in time back down the road on which they had come.
King Adelbert's forces left the castle and harried the Roman Legion, cutting them down from the rear. They followed them all the way to the sea. With shouts of joy and pleasure, they cursed and threatened as the army's ships sped away from their shores.
"Oh, no, I don't care about the house at all. I'm having it taken down."
"But, this house has been in your family for generations, Aldous. Are you sure?"
"Yes. Very certain. Anyway. The original cottage that stood here was destroyed generations ago. My great-great grandfather took that one down and built this monstrosity. It was said that the land was deeded to my family by the legendary King Adelbert the First."
"Well, that should go for something to prove the ancient stories true."
"Not really," Deirdra, "there is no support for dragons, and magic stones, only for those who fought in the battle. Time stretches tales and makes them more elaborate."
"You will let the developers take it all over?"
"Yes, why not? I don't want to live here. A sheep farm holds little interest for me. In any event, it's America for me."
"Yes. There's a nasty war brewing. This fellow, Hitler is making very loud noises. The German's are still carrying on about the Great War."
"Did you ever search for The Opal Stone?"
"Of course, when I was a young man, but, I never found it. I did discover a few daggers, coins, even a sword, once. But, that was all."
They strolled together across the field and down into a ravine. On the other side of the ditch an ancient moss covered well still stood. As they passed, Dierdra looked back.
"Look . . . what is that shining, there."
"In the corner of the well."
Aldous moved the overgrowth aside. Between the cracked and dried mortar, something sparked. Taking a pen knife from his pocket, Aldous chipped away at the mortar and removed two of the well's stones. A pale, white luminescence shown from the edges of a long rotted bag.
He looked up at Dierdra who encouraged him. He pulled gently on the leather sack which disintegrated at his touch revealing a smooth, white ball.
"The Opal Stone," he said, holding it high so that the sun shone through it,+ casting a milky light on the grass.
"This is wonderful," Deirdra said. "What will you do with it?"
"Hmmm, give it to the museum with all the other artifacts, I guess. It is just a stone after all."
Deirdra smiled at him and slipped her hand under his arm.
"Will you write me from America?"
"Of course . . ." and they walked off together, The Opal Stone under Aldous' arm.
Far across the land, in ancient caves steeped in lore and covered in collapsed stone a large winged creature stirred. With one eye opened, the Great White Dragon murmured, "Stone Bearer?"
Word Count, 13,244