The Power of the Dark Lord

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 

Chapter XIV

Caseldra and Jennifer spent the day covering the entire palace.  They
walked from tower to tower and hall to hall.  Caseldra was checking on the
weaponry and battle readiness if the trolls should be able to attack the
castle.  Meanwhile, Jennifer checked on supplies, primarily food stocks.
She was assigned the task of inventory and rationing of all provisions in
the event that they were unable to break the siege that cut off the
castle's needed supply lines.  There should be adequate stocks in the
supply caves, but at the present time, those were cut off from access.
Several merchant caravans were due within the month as well, but they would
be unable to make any deliveries if the blocked canyon was not opened by
the time they arrived.  What was worse, Robin worried that the caravans
themselves might be attacked by the trolls if they camped nearby.  The
merchants would be taken totally unawares.

Rowana, in the mean time, had taken a fairly sizeable party of men composed
of guards to provide some protection, and members of the merchant guild
from the red tower.  She and Scott led their group out the north gate, a
small entrance in the palace wall that led directly to a pass in the
Crystal Mountain.  The pass wound its way upward and onto a high plateau
surrounded by mountains, but warm and green with grass.  This was the
domain of a band of unicorns that lived in the mountains.  From this
plateau there was an almost vertical path down to the bottom of the deep
ravine in front of the castle.  The only way to traverse the steep path
would be on the backs of the unicorns.  The sure footed, magical beasts
could easily gallop up and down the sharp incline with little trouble,
having even better agility than the mountain goats.  Rowana had a special
rapport with the unicorns, and Scott new the leader of the herd from their
adventure a few weeks before.  Consequently, Rowana and Scott were the
perfect pair to send on this mission.

As they reached the high plateau, Rowana looked in vain for the magical
beasts.  There was no sign of them.  "What do we do now?" Scott asked.  He
knew their mission would not work if they couldn't obtain help from the
beautiful beasts of myth.

"I know not," the girl said as she brushed her thick, red hair away from
her eyes.  "I thought they would surely be here."

"Can you call them?" Scott asked.  He suddenly felt very foolish.  These
weren't dumb animals like dogs that one could summon with a whistle.  The
unicorns were every bit as intelligent as the people who now needed their
help.  Rowana closed her eyes and sat very still.  "What are you doing?"
Scott asked.

"I am following your suggestion," she said.  "I am calling them."  She
again lapsed into silence.  The whole group sat silently, waiting for an
answer to Rowana's call.  She suddenly opened her eyes and pointed to a
little copse of trees in the middle of the plateau.  "There," she said.
Scott squinted into the distance, but could see nothing more than the
trees.  "I shall meet with Firebrand and then return."  The girl urged her
horse across the open landscape toward the trees.  Only then could Scott
see a flash of reflected light glinting from the direction she took.

Rowana disappeared in the trees for several minutes, and then came riding
back toward them.  Behind her trailed a line of beautiful, white animals.
They looked like tall, well muscled horses with very long manes, except for
the sparkling horns and hooves.  Each animal had a slender, shining, silver
horn protruding from the center of its forehead.  The hooves also sparkled
and reflected the sunlight in gleaming silver, looking as if they had been
cast from precious metal.  The largest of the unicorns, and obviously the
leader of the herd followed closely behind Rowana's horse.  He proudly wore
a horn of shining gold and had matching hooves of the same metallic color.
Scott knew the difference in horn and hoof color was something that set
Firebrand apart from the rest of the herd, but he wondered if the
difference made Firebrand the leader, or if being the leader was what
caused the difference.  He assumed he would never know the answer to this
Tuathan version of the chicken or the egg riddle.

"Firebrand has agreed to assist us," Rowana said as they drew close.  "We
may leave our horses here and mount the unicorns.  They shall carry us down
into the ravine where we may then follow the trail back up the other side.
We can then stock them with supplies from the caves and return to the
castle."  The merchants and guards quickly dismounted.

"Firebrand, my friend," Scott said as he slowly approached the big animal.
"You're looking good."  The big unicorn lowered its head and made a soft,
sighing sound as it nuzzled his shoulder, its horn resting against the side
of his face.

"My lord, I believe he wants to carry you," Rowana said.  She was just the
tiniest bit disappointed that the leader of the herd did not select her.
The party quickly mounted the backs of the unicorns as they trotted up, and
once everyone had a ride, Firebrand raised his head in a loud whinny.  The
group galloped off across the plateau, charging for the drop off into the
ravine.  As Firebrand reached the cliff-like edge, he plunged over with
unabated speed causing Scott to gasp and clutch the big animal's neck.  The
unicorns twisted and turned, literally dancing down the side of the cliff,
using gravity to provide the forward momentum and their long, agile legs to
find microscopic and often invisible footholds to break their fall.  The
physical sensation was similar to riding a roller coaster, only much more
frightening.

Reaching the bottom of the canyon, Firebrand managed to transfer his
downward momentum into forward momentum, galloping down the ravine at
breakneck speed.  He gradually slowed to a trot and then came to full stop,
turning to watch as the rest of his herd descended the cliff face.  They
all managed to reach the bottom in relative safety, although the journey
obviously took its toll on several of the merchant passengers.  Their tribe
generally had ruddy complexions, although now many of them appeared as pale
as the high born guards.

"Let us quickly take the upward trail," Rowana said as the mare she rode
trotted up to stand near Firebrand.  A word from Scott to indicate the
direction and the unicorns were off again, galloping along the ravine
bottom.  In a few moments they passed the large cave opening that just a
few days before had marked the gateway to the carriage house in Scott's
world.  It was now just an empty cave.  Continuing on, they came to a spot
where the winding trail rose on the right to snake its way up the side of
the mountain.  Firebrand turned onto it and leisurely galloped up the
rising path, showing no more effort than he had on the straight, level
ground.  The trail continued its upward direction, finally winding through
some large boulders and ending abruptly at a narrow wooden bridge which
crossed the chasm and joined the continuing trail on the other side.
Following that trail would take them out through the two stone pillars and
to the plains beyond.  The storage caves were located both to the east and
west in the rocky foothills that bordered the plains.

But here the group stopped.  Scott and Rowana in the forefront brought them
to an abrupt halt at the edge of the precipice.  The wooden bridge that had
been rebuilt just in the last two weeks was gone.  Only broken remnants of
splintered wood showed where it had been attached to the large posts set in
the stone at the trail's end.  If the group had ridden on down the raving
bottom and had not taken the sinuous, upward trail they would have come
across the rubble of the destroyed bridge where it had fallen.  On the
ground at the unicorns' feet were many of the baseball sized rocks, troll
droppings indicative of the responsible parties of this destruction.

"So much for that idea," Scott muttered under his breath.  As he did so,
Firebrand shook his head, and then walked back away from the edge.  He
turned again to face the ravine, and Scott could feel the muscles in the
big animal's back tensing.  "No, Firebrand," He said quickly.  "Even you
can't jump that far."

"He is right," Rowana said as soon as she realized the unicorn's intention.
"It is too far to jump, even for you, herd master."  At the same time, the
mare on which Rowana sat stepped forward, blocking the path to effectively
cut Firebrand off from his suicidal leap.  The golden horned animal was
obviously upset by everyone's negative response, but he acquiesced by
relaxing his muscles and stamping his feet in agitation.

"Thank you for your help, my friend," Scott said as he patted Firebrand's
neck, "but we must now return to Esbereth.  We won't find an answer here."

* * *

By late afternoon Robin had called a meeting in one of the conference rooms
of the white tower adjacent to the throne room.  The group attending was to
present information and recommendations for him to consider.  Robin then
had an appointment with the high council to inform them of his plans and
progress.

Akuta began by describing the wall that blocked the canyon.  From his
description it was evident that it was considerably more of a construction
than had been the barricade of stone that they had dismantled on the
previous day.  It was apparent that the earlier wall had been nothing more
than busy work to keep the fairies occupied.  This second wall was further
down the pass and was probably being built at the same time as the first
one, only this wall was built to last.  The trolls had undoubtedly finished
it during the second night.  Forell, who had scaled the structure, had
informed Akuta that it would take at least three days to dismantle it.
Melcot and Akuta agreed with this estimate.  And what damage the elves
could do during the day, the trolls would no doubt repair during the
following night.

The next report came from Rowana and Scott.  They told of the destroyed
bridge over the ravine.  It would also take some time to replace it,
especially if the workers could only approach it and carry supplies via the
steep path that only the unicorns could manage.  Any way they examined the
matter, the castle was effectively cut off from the rest of the world.

Caseldra and Jennifer then told of their survey.  Caseldra felt that the
castle defenses were totally inadequate if an attack were to breach the
walls and gain access to the interior.  It seemed that most everyone relied
on the palace guard and the king's knights for protection.  Caseldra felt
that the knights would be able to defend the castle indefinitely as long as
their supplies lasted and the trolls were unable to get inside the walls.
Akuta agreed with her on this point.

Jennifer next discussed the supply issue.  The crisis came upon them so
quickly that no one was really prepared for it.  Normal supplies of feed
and grain for the livestock, as well as food supplies for the inhabitants
were fairly well depleted.  Two of the larger merchant caravans were soon
expected which would bring most of their summer food supplies.  If for any
reason, the caravans were late or did not arrive, there was always the food
stored in the nearby supply caves.  No one foresaw a problem such as this,
so no one had been concerned about dwindling stocks.  As to the severity of
conditions, Jennifer thought everyone could hold out another month with
strict rationing.  But after that the future looked grim.

"Then we are safe, my lord," Akuta said upon hearing this report.  The
trolls are flesh eaters.  If they have nothing to eat, then they shall
either starve or move on.  Surely a month is a long time for such a great
number of these creatures to survive on little or nothing.

"My lord," Caseldra said, calling again for the floor.  "I would it were
true what my lord Akuta supposes, but unfortunately he knows not the menace
we face.  When confronted with a lack of food, trolls quickly become
cannibalistic.  They also reproduce and mature with lightning rapidity.  If
they find no major food source in a month's time they shall just begin to
devour each other.  And then, when they see another food source, they will
reproduce to gain strength in numbers to be able to attack it."  She paused
for a moment to let her information sink in.  "And, my lord, in less than a
month two caravans may arrive totally unsuspecting the peril they will be
in."

"It is clear," Robin said, "that we cannot wait.  We must take an offensive
posture in this if only to protect the caravans.  But in the meantime we
are trapped and starving within our own castle walls."

"Excuse me."  All eyes turned toward the unfamiliar voice.  It was Stan.
Akuta said that he and Alee might be able to sit at the back of the room
and observe.  It was only a courtesy he extended to the human who was
willing to join their army and fight when he could have easily opted to be
sent home.

"This is not an open forum," Akuta said quietly to the man.  He then turned
back to the king.  "Forgive him, lord.  He understands not."

"No," Robin countered.  "Let the human speak."  He bowed to the black man
at the far end of the room.  "If you have insight that might aid us, I
certainly welcome it, my lord."

Stan stepped forward to the table and looked around uncomfortably at the
faces that stared at him.  He had been a soldier and a special agent, and
consequently was used to taking orders.  But he would never get used to
being the center of attention, or speaking publicly before a crowd.  In
order to combat his nervousness, Stan focused directly on Robin and spoke
only to him.  "If you need to tear down that wall, I don't see why it
should take three days."

"You have had little opportunity to examine our world, dark lord," Robin
replied.  "But surely you must see that we have not the great machines and
tools of your world for moving earth.  To destroy the wall we must use man
power with wooden levers to remove it stone by stone."

"Can't you just blast it?" Stan asked.

"Blast?" Melcot repeated the unusual sounding word.

"Yeah.  You know dynamite?"

"This is like gun powder, is it not?" Robin questioned.

"Yeah, just like it!" Stan agreed enthusiastically.

"We use it not.  We have no need of such things in our world."

"Until now," Stan finished.

"It could work," Jennifer said, looking at Scott.  "Couldn't it?"

"My lord," Robin replied.  "What you suggest has merit in your world, but
not here.  Your plan might succeed if we had gun powder, but we have it
not.  And if we had this substance at our disposal, no one in this kingdom
would know what to do with it.  In comparison to your world, we are in the
'dark ages' as my consort continually reminds me."

"Well, what about this magician I've heard about?" Stan argued.  "Couldn't
he zap up some TNT?  If he can make it, I can use it.  I spent some time as
a demolitions expert for the navy."

Robin turned to Caseldra.  "My lady, think you that your father can 'zap'
TNT?"

"No, lord," she answered.  "If he knows not what it is, how can he 'zap'
it?"

"There you have it," Robin concluded.

"Oh man, you can't give up that easily," Stan continued.  "You said you
could send me home."

"If that is your wish."

"Then send me home with a couple of your best guys.  We'll get the stuff we
need and come right back."

Robin thought for a minute, and then looked at Scott for advice.  "Think
you he tells the truth, love?  Can he really bring back explosives?" the
king wind whispered so no one else would hear.  Scott only shrugged his
shoulders and shook his head.

"I urge you.  Agree to this plan, my lord," Alee said, finally speaking up.
"I pledge my honor that he will succeed."

Robin sighed deeply.  "I like not the thought of bringing human destruction
to our world.  But these are desperate times.  I thank you for your offer
and accept.  Go quickly, and take whom you will."  Alee and Akuta left with
Stan.

The discussion then turned to the condition of those in the hall of
healing.  Faylar was to be released on first light the next day as long as
he promised to rest and take things easy for a time.  Jennifer said the
lead healer asked her that he not be placed back on duty with the palace
guard if there was any chance that he might be called to battle.  He would
be totally recovered in a few days if he obtained the rest he required.
Jennifer then told of Rood.  There was no change in his condition.  Sharon
Gates said he was in a coma, but the lead healer called it the sleep of the
dead.  They could do nothing but wait for a change.

This brought the discussion to the new humans that had come to Tuatha.
Both Sharon and Stan seemed to be honorable people, and were willing to
stay for a time and help during the current crisis.  Sharon was a medical
doctor and research scientist by trade.  She naturally felt needed in the
halls of healing and wanted to continue to observe and study the methods of
the healers.  She was currently acting as Rood's nurse.

Stan, on the other hand, was a military man.  He was willing to lend his
expertise to the Tuathan army, but he was not very experienced in fighting
with sword and bow.  But everyone had to admit that had it not been for
Stan, Alee would not have survived.  And even now he was trying to help the
fairies by applying human technology to their problem.

The future of the two humans was uncertain.  Neither seemed concerned about
the difference in time between the two worlds.  And they both expressed an
interest in finding out what had become of Dave Strahan.  He had been tied
up and slung across Alee's horse when the trolls first attacked.  The horse
was spooked and ran off into the Plains of Morinar carrying the bound man
with it.  The siege cut off any further attempts to find the scientist.
For all they new, he had been captured and eaten by trolls, or he may have
died of hunger and thirst on the prairie.

Robin finally brought the meeting to a close.  He had gathered what useful
information he could, and had agreed to try the black man's plan.  Other
than that, there was little else anyone could do.  It would be sheer
suicide to try to physically battle the trolls after dark.  There were just
too many of them.  And so Robin left for the council chambers to talk with
the members of the high council.  As he crossed the courtyard he felt oddly
out of place in what he was doing.  The high council was designed to be a
group of advisors to give him aid and information in his decision making.
But of late, he was spending his time giving them reports of his actions
and getting his advice from his close friends.  This seemed to be totally
reversed.  Robin made a mental note to bring up this odd turnabout of
responsibility at his meeting with the council to which he was now heading.

 

 

 

 

 

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