Millenniums have passed
Since the Elves left our shores
Their lives are not but legend anymore
They live in the memories of man
Their grace and beauty are unforgotten
Their fierceness in war
Will never die in tales
In fantasy, the dragons fly
They guard their secrets well
They whisper warnings into the wind
They take root deep in our imaginations
They burn in our memory
Touch not the Dragons’ Hordes
Unless you would pay their price
The bards sing their tales
They speak of days gone by
When Dragons flew high
To use their flames in war
They serve their masters well
Their rewards sparkle in the sun
In shades of silver and gold
Reality laughs aloud
For the legends are shrouded still
They hide within the Mysts of Time
Guarded by wings of love
They dwell in the minds of men
And exist in the days of Yore
In the safety of their magical havens
One day, it was promised
They will return
They will come to us in glory
To return a favor freely granted
They will never forget
The sacrifices made
By one who lived and died for truth
It is said his body lies in state
Preserved in a shrine of gold
His name cannot die
It is written in the wind
And forged by Elves in the stars
Those who dream, remember
Those who believe, know.
Twelve Elves have proven their worth over the Millennium. They have won the right to shift into Dragon form to become the Guardians of the Elven Empire. They have won this honor through valor, might and compassion. They are prime Elves, the sons of Kings, but they have lived without the hope of meeting their Life Mates for too long. They continue to live their lives for duty, as they fly patrols around the borders of the boundary that Emperor Lothrariel and his Kings created to keep the Empire safe. Slowly, they are beginning to succumb to their Draconian half. It is time something was done to stop this, so their leader, King Gerolth, has set a plan in place to take care of this problem.
Somewhere in the Elven worlds there are Life Mates for these Guardians, and King Gerolth is determined that they will be found, before it is too late.
“Report,” a deep commanding voice echoed throughout the enormous room encompassed in stone. The owner of the voice was addressing a young man who was still dressed in travel gear, as he came into view.
“Father…brother,” Ricard tossed them a mocking grin, as he made his way across the room. His boots made solid clicks on the rock that made up the floor with every step he took, even as his chainmail clinked with each movement. “I cannot tell you how nice it is to see you again, after all this time, too.”
There were three men in the room and they all looked much the same, light brown hair with golden highlights, which hung halfway to their waists. They had blue eyes, with strong squarely shaped jaws, and were tall and powerfully built. They were all dressed as if they were ready for battle. Ricard knew that no one with knowledge of them would enter this room unarmed. If they did, they would not live to tell about it. In this place, it was a matter of survival of the fittest and, if you weren’t ready to play the game, you died. They would also know better than to make a move that would be considered hostile in any way, for that would be considered a challenge, and none of those ever went unanswered.
“Forget the pleasantries, my son, just get down to business,” King Felix snarled, when his son got closer.
“You were right about the Kingdom you sent me to check out, it is ripe for the picking,” Ricard reported. “It will, however, not be an easy conquest. Their armies are well trained and disciplined. Their weapons are kept honed and ready for action. Despite this, they gave me the impression that they don’t know what it is like to fight on a battlefield. I doubt if there is a man amongst them that has ever seen the real side of war. They are not taught to think of fighting as something honorable. To them, it is an evil necessity, something they need to do to maintain the peace.”
“That sounds interesting, but if that is the case, what makes you think it would be so hard to defeat them, and why hasn’t someone done it before now?” His father asked.
“To begin with, there are mountains on all but one side surrounding their lands. There are no passes that lead from one side of the ranges to the other, which will make them difficult to cross. From what I saw, it will be impossible to move with siege machines, unless they are dismantled and carried by hand. I had to leave Chagrin run wild until I returned to this side of the mountains, then I had to kill two men to retrieve him.” Ricard complained.
“What lies on the fourth side?” his father asked.
“An ocean,” he answered with a deep frown.
“Then we will invade these lands by sea.” His father decided.
“Impossible,” Ricard, continued with his report, “The coastal area is lined with deadly reefs and tall cliffs. The only accessible entrance from the sea into this country is through a break in the cliffs of about forty miles and that has been fortified. There is a manmade wall twenty feet thick, and as tall as the cliffs, to bar the way of anyone coming from that direction, and it is heavily manned. They also have a naval fleet guarding that route, which they keep battle ready. Beyond the wall, there is a great city, which I believe houses one of their garrisons.”
“Did you get to see this city?” his brother, Lorne asked.
“I was in the city, once. Strangers are not welcome, as least not ones that they have reason to doubt the origins of. These people do not trust easily.” Ricard answered.
“Were you able to study this gateway that you are talking about? Is there a way through, something they might have overlooked?” The King asked.
“I couldn’t get anywhere close enough, and there is no way to study it except by using one of the highest buildings,” Ricard replied. “That would have meant doing this task through a telescope. I don’t consider that a reliable enough source of information to base a firm opinion upon.”
His father didn’t seem to think so either. “What did you discover about these people, and their government?”
Ricard knew what his father was getting at. If they couldn’t take the country by storm then, maybe, there would be a way to undermine the structure of the kingdom by treachery. It wasn’t going to work. He couldn’t see where any of this was going to be easy. He frowned as he answered, “The King is young, inexperienced and new to the throne. He is, however, no one’s fool. He has a younger brother whom he keeps close, and that young man is very much like him. In case you are wondering, I did my best to test them. I found that both men are incorruptible. I tried to see if I could get past the younger bother’s guard, by using the vices we found successful in the past. None worked. I found that, if he drank to excess, he showed no signs of having problems holding his liquor. It also was something he didn’t like doing. He loves his family and is loyal to both them and his country.”
King Felix frowned, “Inaccessible, unfriendly, if not hostile, prepared for battle should the need arise, and you are telling me, this Kingdom is ripe for the picking? Why? What made you think this? With everything you have told me so far, I have my doubts. Are the people ready to rebel?”
Ricard knew what his father was looking for. The men in his family were conquerors. They were not the type of people who would balk at the sight of a little blood on their hands. It wasn’t going to matter if the innocent got hurt. They were looking for a new conquest, and this one fit. It was the kind of land that a man would kill for; productive, prosperous, as well as well suited for defense. If they could take it from those who lived there now, it would make a good base, as well as make them even wealthier than they already were.
“This country has everything a man could want and need, arable land, beautiful countryside, a temperate climate and women beautiful enough to make a man break into a sweat just by looking at them. They have managed to accumulate wealth beyond your wildest expectations, and even you could satiate your greed on what they take for granted.” Ricard openly sneered. It was no news that he did not agree with the ways of his people, but they were still his.
“You make it sound so interesting, brother of mine,” Lorne stated. His voice sounded insolent and mocking, as he smirked, “you didn’t happen to find an accommodating Princess while you were there to make you sound so soft?”
Ricard snorted, before continuing, “From what I understand, their Princess is the high Priestess. This is something they did not talk about freely, for some reason. Perhaps it is taboo to speak about her role in their religion, or maybe it is something the Royal family is not proud of. No matter the reason, it was a subject I quickly learned to avoid. Sometimes, it is better to back off a little, and listen to what others are saying around you. When they don’t think you are listening they say more. I usually find out more information about countries and the people who live in an area that way, especially if they believe you friendly.”
“You managed to convince them that you were a friend?” King Felix asked.
“That could be useful,” his brother inserted.
“I would like to think that is the way of it, but I honestly have my doubts,” Ricard admitted. “As I said, they do not trust easily, none of them do.”
King Felix laughed, as he rose from a seated position, and moved to Ricard who had been giving his report, to give a congratulating slap on his back. He then wrapped his arm around his shoulders and moved on, to lead everyone into another room. “Well done, Ricard, come join us for supper. Lorne, the least you can do is welcome your brother home, under the circumstances. He is, after all, bringing us news worthy of consideration, if not some that we should act upon immediately. As the commander in chief of our great army, I would like to hear your input on whatever else might come to light during the rest of the conversation.”
Despite the telltale grey in the older man’s hair, and the signs of wrinkles on his face, Ricard still had to move with a brisk step to keep up with him. They moved through stone built rooms, which were filled with the riches their armies had plundered during past campaigns, while the elder son shouted out commands for the evening meal to be set out for them.
The servants ran to carry out their orders, and by the time they reached the table, there was steaming food being brought into the room for their masters to consume. The servants knew that if they were late there would be dire consequences; no one kept the ruling family of this castle waiting. They could be patient when it was needed, but meals were not considered an item that required patience.
Another man, Evart who was younger than the others, joined the threesome, as they made their way through the echoing halls of the building and controlled a frown. He knew that the return of his brother, Ricard, meant that there was going to be another campaign. He didn’t tell them how much he had learned before he made an appearance. He had listened to what they had said through the secret passages that lined the inside of the walls of the space they often used as a conference room. He kept his counsel, but wondered whom they were about to attack this time. The sounds of laughter coming from those four men were usually a harbinger of ill tidings for others. Sometimes, it even meant trouble for him, and he moved to find out if this might be the case. In his experience, it was always best to find out what was forming in the minds of his family, before they had a chance to fully develop their strategies.
“Evart,” their father boomed out. It was delivered in a jovial tone, which held a welcome for him, for a change. “Join us, we are about to sit down with your brother, Ricard, to share a meal. He has just returned with some great news. We could also use your input to plan the initial stages of a campaign to invade the country he was checking over for us.” King Felix’s hearty laugh followed the comment, before another comment was made, “Sometimes it comes in handy to have an accountant in the family. A man can always trust a member of his own family, where he would be ill advised to do so with anyone else.”
Yes, Evart decided, someone was definitely going to be in for a hard time. As luck would have it, that someone wasn’t going to be him this time. Well, he decided, it was about time he heard what this was all about. “I see you made it back safe and sound, Ricard,” he teased. “I see no signs of an angry brother or irate husband dogging your heels this time, so I trust you left the local women to their own devices.”
A great booming laugh followed Evart’s jibe, as the four men reached the speaker and Ricard threw an arm around his little brother’s shoulders. “Little brother, I have never seen so many beautiful women in one place in my life. I have also heard of one who is supposed to surpass them all, although that is the most anyone would say about her, much to my dismay. When such women surround a man, he can easily lose sight of the reason he travelled to their country. He can also find multiple reasons for not returning home. Lucky for father, I am not such a man.”
“I assume you found many reasons to return, right brother?” Evart joked. He was, however, not finding anything he heard particularly worthy of laughter.
“All of them good ones, too,” Ricard answered with a snicker.
The four remained silent only long enough to allow the servants to finish serving them then resumed the conversation the moment they left the room.
“So,” the father spoke first, as they began eating. “Tell us about their defenses, so Lorne can decide on the size of army we will need in the initial strike force.”
For the next two hours, the men delved deeply into the discussions of the travel problems they would be facing, the defenses they would have to find a way around, the military forces of the enemy and the expense of undertaking the upcoming siege. Evart was smart enough to know that he didn’t dare voice any concerns about the people on either side of the upcoming war, for the decision to advance into this new Kingdom had been made. It was just a matter of figuring out how they would accomplish what they were determined to do.
In the end, when the plans were laid out before them, Evart couldn’t help but frown while he looked them over. With all that he had heard earlier, this plan sounded too easy. Something warned him that the sense of security his brothers were exhibiting was misplaced. There was some unknown element missing in the design of this undertaking. He wished he could put his finger on what was bothering him. But, every time he tried to insert a degree of caution into the conversation, or give them a warning not to get too confident, his comments were disregarded. He was cleric and had no idea what he was talking about. It was suggested he would be best left to mind his cyphering. To them, the money side of this was as important as anything else they were discussing. No one, however, spoke of the character of the people they were about to attack. It was something that worried Evart. What were these people like, under the veneer of the civility that Ricard kept talking about? Were they as callow as his bother made out, or were their characters forged in steel and stone? They sounded too good to be true.
The picture that took shape in Evart’s mind, as his brother spoke, was of a country seeped in wealth. Such places, in his experience, were usually riddled with signs of social degradation, political corruption and military weaknesses. The culture of the people Ricard described sounded soft and unassuming on the surface, but his description of their defenses gave him the impression that they were sound. The people had a rigid religious and social order, something that spoke of a society that would not easily be overcome. Things were not meshing in the back of his mind.
Despite all the things that made the people they were thinking of attacking an admirable idea, something about it nagged at Evart’s subconscious. There were missing elements in this story, things that he felt shouldn’t be so lightly dismissed. Ricard mentioned that they were devout, and refused to talk about their religion. Why? Most would be anxious to spread their beliefs to others. Why not them? Also, there had been no mention of an actual religious leader, one that would reinforce the type of lifestyle that was reflected in his brother’s stories. Who led them? What were their beliefs? Why did they hide all these things from the rest of the world? There was no mention of any place of worship, and this didn’t make any sense. People needed direction, and spiritual guidance, to keep them in line. Evart hadn’t met anyone who didn’t. If these people had no belief in a higher order, what was there to bind them? Brute force alone couldn’t accomplish that. He knew that firsthand, because it hadn’t worked for his family. Ruling with the fist and sword had always been his father’s first choice, and the only reason it worked was because of the wealth they had accumulated through the years.