Hero's Lament

By Michele Elaine Wilson © 2007

Cassandra walked silently through the grass listening to the silence and searching for the sound she wanted to hear. She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes and on opening them she shook her head, turned around and smiled at her father.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, Cassie,” said the White Mage.

“You didn’t, Father,” Cassie said, “I knew you were there.”

“Are you looking for Sean?” the White Mage asked.

“Yes, he is very sad right now,” Cassandra answered. “Father may I ask you a question?”

“Certainly, my dear,” the White Mage replied.

“You and Sean are often at odds with each other. Why?“ Cassandra asked.

“Well Cassie your big brother and I have a huge problem,” the White Mage said with a smile,” he and I are too much alike. Both of us are stubborn and want our own way. Sometimes it is difficult for us to get around our bull headedness and listen to what the other is saying. We are getting a little better I think, however, I doubt if your mother would agree with that statement”

“You seem to get along okay with Brendan and he can be very obstinate,” Cassie said.

“Brendan is very different from Sean,” the White Mage said. “For one thing he doesn’t have such a quick temper. He is also very private. We don’t fight as much as Sean and I do because Brendan keeps his thoughts to himself. Sean is very open about what he is thinking. Sometimes I wish Brendan were more like Sean as I would probably understand him better.”

“Are your feelings for the two of them different?” Cassandra asked.

“I love them both equally, “her father answered. “I think my relationship with Sean, while noisier, is closer then the one with Brendan. Sean and I interact with each other more and as much as he exasperates me I find it easier to relate to him then Brendan. Brendan is just too solitary. Sometimes I feel I really don’t know him. He spends a lot more time with your mother then he does with me and I’m sure she understands him better then I do.”

“Do you think he is like Grandfather?” Cassandra asked.

“In a way he is,” her father answered. “I must say that in spite of the fact he is your mother’s father I really don’t understand the King that well either. Like his namesake he is very solitary and keeps his thoughts to himself.”

“Grandfather has a great deal of sadness in him,” Cassandra said.

The White Mage put his arms around his daughter and held her close to him.  He kissed her on top of the head. “Your Grandfather has had a very difficult life and has had some very heavy burdens to bear. He is a remarkable man.”

“I think his namesake will be remarkable too,” Cassandra said.

“I think all of his daughter’s children will turn out to be remarkable,” the White Mage said with a smile.

Cassandra suddenly stiffened and closed her eyes as her father watched her carefully.

“I know where he is,” Cassandra said.

“Go to him child, you are just what he needs,” the White Mage said.

Sean was sitting under a large tree softly playing his small harp. He looked up and gave a wane smile to his little sister.

“Hello Cassie what brings you out here?” Sean asked.

“I missed my big brother,” Cassie said as she sat down close to him.

“Did Brendan take off again? I thought you were with him,” Sean asked.

“He is off with Master Khigh,” Cassie replied.

“I thought he was staying put for a while,” Sean said.

“I think he planned to but Master Khigh sent an urgent message to him,” Cassandra replied. “I don’t get a sense of danger though I think he just needs Brendan’s opinion on something.”

“Good, Brendan needs a break,” Sean said with a sigh.

“I’ve missed you Sean,” Cassandra said softly. “Will you tell me a story, please?”

Sean was a soft touch for his younger siblings. “Sure, I think I can manage a story for ye,” Sean said with a gentle smile. “This be a story of a hero’s sacrifice.”

The man and his brother sat by the lake. Overhead the gas moon Minos shone a soft blue and white. The grass was lush and green and the hills climbed into a forested mountain.

“I love this spot,” Alton said. “I have often thought of building a home here.”

“Would your father let you come out this far?” Brendan asked.

“I doubt he would really care,” Alton said.

“You are second in line to the throne,” the man said.

“Well once the fair Celine delivers of her son that problem will be taken care of,” Alton answered with a shrug.

“Still the army follows you, Alton,” Brendan said. “Your father keeps Marius too close to home for the army to want to follow him the way they do you. You are their leader.”

“Marius chafes under the burden,” Alton said. “He would be an outstanding leader if Dad would just let up and give him some freedom to act on his own. The people like him but Dad is so worried that something will happen to him. Once the baby comes maybe with another one in line for the throne he will give him a little more space.”

The man shook his head and said, “I can’t figure out your father’s antagonism towards ye Alton.”

“Oh I don’t think it is so much me as the fact that I remind him of my mother,” Alton replied.

“Has anyone told your father that he was the one who married your mother?” Brendan said sarcastically.

“Oh he is reminded of that every time he sees me,” Alton laughed.

“Our Dad says your mother was quite a woman,” the man said with a grin.

“Yeah she was something alright,” Alton said. “I miss her. I know many people think she bewitched Dad but she was a good mother and in her way she was a good wife to him. She was just a little too strange for him to accept. I don’t think he knew what he was getting into marrying someone who was part elf. No offense to you two of course. Once he got over the initial lust he wanted nothing to do with her. When she died he was relieved but then I grew up to look just like her so he is constantly reminded of her.”

“You and Marius seem to get along well though,” Brendan said.

“Marius is a good man and fortunately he is like his mother, without prejudice,” Alton replied. “Well look this isn’t getting us any closer to solving our problem. I can cope with my father but right now he is the least of my worries. What do you two know about this new leader that is gathering troops around him? I know he means us no good but I haven’t been able to gather enough information to know what type of threat he is going to pose to us.”

“We know he is allied with the Dark One,” the man said. “We think he might be one of the heads but we aren’t really sure.”

“Has he filled the stalks then?” Alton asked.

Brendan shrugged and replied, “We don’t think all twelve spots are filled yet. I understand he has had a couple of set backs in recruitment recently.”

“You probably aren’t on his gift list since you are the cause of his having to replace all his heads,” Alton said with a grin.

“Yeah it is sad,” Brendan replied, “but I’m learning to live with it.”

“The thing that concerns me the most though,” Alton said, “is that he seems to know what our plans are. He can’t be anticipating our every move. Somehow he is getting information.”

“Do you think he has a spy in your midst?” the man asked. “I unfortunately don’t see any other solution.”

“Both Marius and I think that must be the case,” Alton answered, “but we can’t figure out who is responsible. There is no one who is disgruntled enough to commit treason.”

“How about bribery,” Brendan asked. “Is anyone spending more money then they should?”

“Nope,” Alton said. “We checked that angle also. We also looked into personal gain. There just isn’t anything that would tempt someone to follow that man.”

“Anyone new?” the man asked.

“No there isn’t anyone who hasn’t been with us for a long time who is in a position to get that type of information to him,” Alton replied.

“Sleeper agent maybe,” Brendan said.

“Checked that out too,” Alton said.

“Okay if we can’t figure out who, can we figure out how to stop the flow of information?” the man asked.

“We are on a strictly need to know basis now,” Alton answered.

“This isn’t getting us any where,” Brendan said. “How about your own spies are they coming up with anything?”

“Not much just that he is a suspected ally of the Dark One but we knew that already,” Alton answered.

“Their have always been people that envy this land of yours,” the man said. “From what we have heard this man is gathering mainly mercenaries. There is something about him that is keeping your old enemies from wanting to have anything to do with him.”

“Hold for a moment,” Brendan said. He stood up and pulled a green crystal from his tunic and concentrated on it. A moment later he reached out his hand to a tall man with silver hair who stepped through the light.

Alton knelt down in front of the man, “Your majesty,” Alton said, “you honor us with your presence.”

The man smiled and nodded. “Rise, young man,” King Brendan said, “it isn’t necessary to be so formal with me. My daughter is ruler now.”

“What brings you this far out Grandfather?” the man asked.

“I have a name to run by you two,” the King answered. “When was the last time either of you heard of the doings of a man called Tarek?”

“He was involved in the abduction of Aaron Chapman,” Brendan answered. “Since that time he seems to have gone to ground.”

“You?” King Brendan asked the man.

“I heard a rumor a couple of months ago that he was on a special mission for the Dark One,” the man replied.

"Okay Tarek has been seen not far from here with a man we have now identified as Soltar. He is the man recruiting mercenaries to fight your people young man,” King Brendan said as he looked over at Alton.

“Has he been identified as one of the heads?” Brendan asked.

“Yes he has. Master Khigh made that identification a little while ago,” the King replied.

“How did he manage that or should we ask?” the man said with a grin.

“Somehow that little granddaughter of his found out,” King Brendan replied. “I imagine she somehow managed to trick her favorite demon into finding out for her.”

“I don’t think she had to try too hard,” the man laughed. “Old Cariben seems quite taken with Mei-Lin. I think she has him wrapped around her little claw.”

“Excuse me sire,” Alton asked, “what does this mean for us?”

“Tarek is a ruthless mercenary,” King Brendan answered. “He is in this for himself only. He follows the Dark One but only because it offers him a better opportunity for plunder. Soltar is the one you need to be concerned with. He is a very intelligent man and a formidable tactician. Tarek is looking for wealth and Soltar can tell him how to get it.”

“What do you suggest Grandfather?” Brendan asked.

“I would suggest  that you three do a recognizance mission,” his Grandfather replied. “You two can disguise yourself with your shape shifting abilities. Alton should be able to pass himself off as an itinerant soldier. If you can get info back to him he should be able to get it to his brother.”

“I report to my father, Sire,” Alton said sounding puzzled.

“This time report just to your brother. You two,” King Brendan replied turning to his grandsons, “report directly to me. I’ll keep a channel open for you.” The King nodded to the three men and disappeared.

“All right little bro” the man said turning to Brendan, “you spend more time with him then I do, what is he up to?”

Brendan rubbed his face with his hands and shook his head, “I haven’t the foggiest.”

“Why does he want me to by pass my father? I know they don’t get along but my father is the King,” Alton asked.

“I’m sure he has his reasons,” the man replied, “but I doubt if he will tell us what they are.”

“If I had to hazard a guess,” Brendan continued, “I would say that he fears your father is becoming too cautious and he feels that Marius is the one to turn to for action. Grandfather has taken a personal interest in the defense of your borders. There are elf patrols all around to help you out as you are well aware.”

“It will be very awkward for all of us, however.  Will your brother agree to do as he wants?” the man asked.

“We are grateful for the elves’ help of course, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like going outside of my father. You are right that it will make things difficult. I’ll talk to my brother and when I tell him King Brendan wants it I’m sure he will agree but he won’t be happy about it,” Alton replied. “My mother had the greatest respect for your Grandfather and Marius had a great deal of respect for what she said. They were more like mother and son then stepmother and stepson. He misses her too.”

The man put his hand on Alton’s shoulder. “Look I’m sorry about this,” he said. “Grandfather is so use to ruling that he doesn’t always see the need to explain his reasons. Unfortunately our Dad is just like him in that respect so chances are we couldn’t get an answer from him either.”

“Sure we can,” Brendan said with a grin, “I’m sure we can get a ‘just do it’ from him.”

The Inn didn’t have the best reputation but that added to its value as a headquarters. Soltar didn’t want a lot of people nosing around and he didn’t fear the rough customers that frequented the place for his protection came from the Dark One himself. There was little that he feared, and truth be told, he really feared only the High Elves and their Silver Lady. A near fatal run-in with her second son pushed him into making the soul stealing deal with the Dark One. His human body was beyond the repair of all but the Master Healers and that was an option he had given away with his allegiance to his master. Only the perverted healing abilities that allowed the Dark One to suck out men’s souls and make them a part of himself kept him from death. Of course most would call the existence he now endured a fate worse then death and if he failed his harsh master then death would have been a better option.

Tarek lounged at a table with some of his men.  He had long had his eye on the riches of Cassiopeia but until now there was little chance of his being able to plunder the rich lands. His alliance with Soltar was one of convenience only. Soltar could afford to raise the army necessary to invade those lands. Tarek had no compunction about using Soltar’s mercenaries as cannon fodder to get him himself near the riches he lusted for. The only concern he had was those sons of the White Mage. That oldest one had foiled his plans more then once and Brendan just plain spooked him.

Soltar looked up as the three strangers came into the Inn.  They all three had the warrior looks of the men from the high plains of the North. Their blond braids were plaited with leather and their clothes were made from the strong yet subtle leather of the herds that ran wild there. The harsh lands of their birth often drove the warriors out into other lands. You couldn’t ask for better warriors. He rose to meet them.

“Greetings strangers,” Soltar said. “You are a long way from home.”

“That is our business,” snarled the one that Soltar had picked as the leader.

“Of course it is,” Soltar said with oily charm. “I was hoping that you were planning to stay for a while.”

“Why?” the second man asked.

“You people’s prowess is well known,” Soltar said with a smile. “I was wondering if you might be interested in a business proposition.”

“Why would we want to do business with you?” the leader barked.

“I am gathering warriors to me who would like the chance of riches,” Soltar replied.

“And we should trust you for what reason,” the second man snapped.

Soltar fought down the urge to lash out at these barbarians. He yearned to tell them that he was one of the intimates of the Dark One and they should watch their tongues lest he thrust the dark fire on them and burn them to a crisp. It galled him that he needed these people. He had plenty of mercenaries but he needed the type of leadership these people were noted for.

The third man spoke for the first time. “Peace my brothers let us hear what he has to offer.”

“Thank you,” Soltar said with a forced smile. “I have discovered a weakness in the land of Cassiopeia.  I believe it can be exploited for our financial gain. Your people are well know for their leadership ability and their ferocity in battle. I am prepared to offer you immense riches if you would agree to join us.”

“A fool’s quest,” the leader snapped. “Many have tried to invade that land and have failed.”

“Others haven’t had the advantage that I have,” Soltar said with clenched teeth.

“Brave words but you have said nothing that makes us believe that you know what you are doing,” the second man said.

“I have a source of knowledge in the enemy’s camp that gives me all the knowledge they have,” Soltar said. “There is nothing that they know that I don’t also know. I have complete and total knowledge. There isn’t a single move that they can make that I won’t know before it happens.”

“Spies can be turned,” the third man said. “Anyone willing to betray his homeland will also be susceptible to bribery to turn him back.”

“I’m not using bribery,” Soltar smirked. “Hatred is a far better hook then the lure of wealth.”

“We might be interested if you can prove to us that you aren’t just blowing hot air,” the leader said. “Fancy words don’t impress me so put your money where your big mouth is.”

Late that night the man and Brendan sat around the campfire. Alton was apart from them watching the movement of the enemy army.

“This is not a good situation,” the man said. “I don’t know how Soltar got the information he did but it is deadly for the people of Cassiopeia. I find it hard to believe that anyone would betray their home like that.”

“What sort of hatred could possible turn a person against his home in this manner?” Brendan asked. “It is a good thing that Alton is normally fair of skin because he turned absolutely white at Soltar’s revelations.”

“This is a betrayal of the magnitude we haven’t seen since ancient time,” the man sighed.

“I wish Grandfather would tell us what he suspects,” Brendan said.

“Since when have the elders given us all the information we needed,” the man said with anger tingeing his voice.

“Easy big brother,” Brendan said as he placed his hand on his brother’s arm. “I think Grandfather is trying to get us the information that we need. As much as we like to think he is invincible he doesn’t know everything.”

“Well he should,” the man said with a laugh.

“My ears are burning you two talking about me?” King Brendan said with a chuckle.

“Will you stop that,” the man said as he lowered his sword. “One of these days you are going to get skewered.” The man and his brother both slammed their swords into their sheaths. They glared at their Grandfather with irritation.

“Silly boys I first taught you sword play remember,” the King said with a smile.  “I’ve got to admit though that you two are pretty good.”

“What do you have for us Grandfather,” Brendan said in a controlled voice.

“Oh sit down you two,” the King said as he seated himself by the fire. “Your young friend is reporting to his brother’s agent so we can talk freely.”

“How did his brother’s agent get through?” the man asked.

“I brought him of course,” the King replied.

“Grandfather we don’t have that much time,” the man said, “who is the traitor?”

“I don’t know,” King Brendan answered. “Now don’t look at me like that children, I’m not infallible. I’ve outlived most of my contacts in these lands by many generations. It comes from the very top however because knowledge is being given that only a select few know so it won’t be much longer before I discover who it is.”

“Soltar said that the traitor is motivated by hate,” Brendan said.

“Hate is the strongest weapon that the Dark One has,” his Grandfather replied.

“Can you at least tell us, sir,” the man said, “why you don’t want King Gilkend to know.”

"Not really,” the King replied. “I can’t really say what it is that is disturbing me about King Gilkend. I sense a mental instability in him that makes me leery of trusting him completely. I would rather put my trust in Marius as a leader.”

“What about Alton?” Brendan asked.

“I would hardly have my grandsons traveling with someone I didn’t trust completely,” King Brendan said.

“Is there any way you can convince Gilkend to abdicate in favor of his son?” the man asked.

“The King has no love for me,” his Grandfather answered. “If I were to make the suggestion he would hold onto the reign all the harder.”

“What does he have against you Sir?” the man asked.

“Being an elf is all that he needs to dislike me,” King Brendan said.

“What does he have against elves?” Brendan asked.

“Tara was part elf,” King Brendan said. “Not only that she was a distant relative of your Grandmother.

“I don’t understand his hatred for a woman he pursued and married,” the man snapped.

“Hatred can not be understood,” his Grandfather said softly. “Suffice it to say that once he got Tara in his bed he realized that she was not one to be used. Gilkend was always used to getting his own way and Gretchen was a very shy and yielding woman. Tara turned out to be more then he could handle. He ignores the fact that she was one of the best things to happen to this land and it was her elfin blood that brought the alliance that has helped keep his lands safe. If it hadn’t been for her the Council would have long ago withdrawn their support. We are spread thin as is and it is galling to have to deal with rank ingratitude.”

“I take it that he doesn’t realize that his daughter-in-law is part elf?” Brendan asked.

“She is?” the man said in surprise. “I didn’t know that.”

“I suspected it a while ago and secretly brought Cassie out,” Brendan explained. “The aura was quite clear to her. Celine herself didn’t know until a couple of years ago. Her mother thought it was best to keep it quiet but she wanted to protect her daughter from discovering it accidentally. Her mother foresaw that Celine would bear a son that had the strong elfin gifts and she wanted to make sure her grandchild was safe.”

“Did you know Grandfather?” the man asked.

“I knew because her mother is one of my agents” the King replied “and for Celine’s safety I felt it was best not to mention it to anyone. How did you discover it my namesake?”

“I just knew,” Brendan replied softly. “Sometimes I just know things. I don’t know how but the knowledge just comes to me.”

“It is a frightening gift, my child,” the King said. “You handle it well though.”

King Gilkend paced his chambers. He was angry at his son and heir. “Damn that boy doesn’t he understand? I know what is best for this land,” he muttered. “He listens too much to that brother of his. Even his wife conspires against me. Why can’t she be pliable like Gretchen? Gretchen deliberately died to thwart  me. She wanted me saddled with that witch Tara. If she hadn’t died I would never have taken Tara my bed. It is all Gretchen’s fault for dying.”

“Husband,” Princess Celine said softly, “are you all right?’

“I’m fine,” Prince Marius said. “It is you I worry about. The child will come soon and I worry something will happen and I will lose you.”

“Fear not on that account, my love,” she answered him. “Your son will be born next month and both he and his mother will be just fine.”

“You know it is a boy?” the Prince asked with a smile.

“Any mother knows,” the Princess said with an answering smile. “No daughter would kick like this one does. Your daughters will be little ladies.”

“Daughters plural?” Marius asked.

“Oh I see us with a large family,” Celine said with a laugh.

“She does what she can, my King,” Lystra said.  “Her father-in-law feels that women should be seen and not heard and that Celine is too ‘delicate’ to know what is going on in the kingdom.”

“Gilkend has always been a fool,” King Brendan replied. “It shocked him terribly when I chose my daughter over my sons to rule.”

“Your daughter was the logical choice,” Lystra said. “Your sons were well aware of the fact that their sister was destined to be the ruler of the High Elves after you. Their total support proves that.”

“Niri was born to be the ruler,” King Brendan answered. “Celine will rule beside her husband when the time comes. In the meantime I value her reports. I wish I could discover who the traitor is and more importantly why he is betraying his country.”

“You have ruled out a woman traitor my King,” Lystra asked.

“As my namesake was saying earlier sometimes I just know things,” the King replied. “Like him I’m not sure if it is a blessing or a curse.”

“I can tell you right now that I don’t like this one bit,” Marius said.

“I know,” Alton answered, “but it would be foolish of us to ignore the Elf King’s desires. We both know that father hasn’t been completely rational for a long time now. Until we can unmask the traitor we will have to rely on the help that we are getting from the elves. It is a great honor that the White Mage is giving us in lending us the aid of two of his sons.”

“I am aware of the honor,” Marius snapped. “The added help from the King of the High Elves is beyond what any of us could ever dream of. I envy you actually being able to talk to him directly.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you were in my place,” Alton laughed. “My knees are sore from knocking together so hard from being in his presence. The only thing that would scare me more is meeting his daughter.”

“I have met his oldest grandson,” Marius said. “He is a tremendous Bard. What about the second one? What is it like working with Prince Brendan?”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Alton said, “I really like Brendan but I am very uneasy in his presence. He has a brilliant military mind and is one of the best swordsmen I have ever seen but there is something about him that scares me. There is no evil in him but there is a feeling of immense power coiled inside of him. My God Marius I wouldn’t want that man as an enemy!”

“Well the tactics he has come up with so far justify your description of him as brilliant,” Marius said. “Will you be able to slip that many of our warriors out though?”

“The beauty of the plan is that the ones who will be going with me all have womenfolk who can cover for them,” Alton said with a grin.

“Like Celine covers for me,” Marius said.

“How is she doing?” Alton asked.

“She glows with good health,” Marius replied. “She says the child is a son but when I ask her what name we should give him she replies that we will wait until he is born before deciding. She also doesn’t want father to know that he won’t be born for a month. For some reason she prefers to have him think that the birth could be imminent.”

“That works in our favor though,” Alton said with a shrug. “If he is busy fretting about his grandchild to be then that leaves less time for him to worry about what we are up to.”

“Alton do you like our father?” Marius asked.

Alton sighed and was quiet for a few moments. Marius kept quiet and waited for his younger brother to answer in his own time. Finally he turned to his beloved older brother and said, “I would like to say yes but the truth is no I don’t like him. It isn’t just the way he treated my mother or his disdain for me I just plain and simple don’t like the man. As strange as it sounds though I do have a son’s love for him, I just don’t ‘like’ him.”

“I kind of figured that,” Marius said. “I have been wondering about my own feelings towards him. I give him the respect due to him as my father and my King however I’m afraid neither of his sons like him. I can only pray that I can be the kind of father my children can love.”

“You have nothing to fear there my brother,” Alton said. “You will be a wonderful father and your children will revere you and love you. Not as much as they love their mother of course but then she is much prettier then you are.”

Marius shook his head and laughed and once again realized why he loved this little brother of his so much.

“Get this straight Soltar,” Tarek said, “you need me and my men more then we need you. There are other pickings that are just as rich as Cassiopeia.  We are doing you a favor by helping out and we will be rewarded richly. If you have any thoughts about trying to do us dirty then forget about it. You may think you have it made in the shade but one major screw up from you and your lord and master will lop your head off.”

Soltar watched as Tarek swaggered away. If looks could kill then the man would be very dead. The unfortunate thing was that he was right since he did need the man for the time being. His men had something that some of the mercenaries did not and that was discipline. Of course those three Northerners were promising. but their commitment wasn’t that deep however if he could only win them over completely to his Master’s side what allies they would be.

Tarek sat down at the table with his men. “Keep an eye on that bastard,” he ordered. “Those heads can’t be trusted. They are part of the biggest double crosser in history.”

“Have you ever thought of joining him?” one of his men asked.

“I’m greedy, avaricious, blood thirsty, and those are my good points, “Tarek said, “but I am not stupid.  Only a complete fool would think that a bargain with that creature is worth the price. I’ll work for him because he is a source of cheap gain but trust is something I will never give him.”

The man and his brother lay near the crest of the hill looking down over the fighting force of the enemy. The arrival of a couple of their Grandfather’s agents allowed them to slip away. The agents were also shapeshifters and as far as Soltar was concerned he was looking at the originals and they were sitting and drinking in the Inn.

“Are you getting the messages that Arthur is sending?” Brendan asked his brother.

“Aye however it is a little disconcerting to hear conversations from there as well as talking to you and getting reports from Alton at the same time,” the man said shaking his head.

“You get use to it after a while,” Brendan said. “Grandfather uses that technique a lot when I’m working for him.”

“Do you like working for him little bro?” the man asked.

“Actually I do,” Brendan replied. “It is a real challenge of course. Mother is glad that he is starting to take a more active role again as it frees her to concentrate her energies on a long term solution to defeating the Dark One.”

The man sighed, “Do you think we will ever see the day when he is defeated, Brendan?”

“I don’t know,” Brendan said. “I really don’t know.”

“Well right now we need to concentrate on the battle at hand,” the man answered. “So far we are pretty well matched as far as man power goes. I really don’t think we need fear of him giving as much help to Soltar as he wants. According to Father they have been pretty effective at keeping him harried for a change. He doesn’t have a real reason to want this battle to go his way other then the normal one of irritating as many creatures as he can.”

“We can’t become cocky though,” Brendan said. “He is not predictable and he may decide he wants to join in this battle full force. We are spread pretty thin after all and we don’t have all that many resources we can pull quickly over here.”

“What we could really use is a battalion of warrior unicorns,” the man said.

“If General Brand is successful in his current campaign, “ Brendan replied, “we may be able to swing that. Right now his troops are tied up but things appear to be going his way.”

“Are you listening to the General too?” the man asked in surprise. “How many conversations can ye handle at one time Brendan?”

“Up to a dozen,” Brendan replied with a laugh. “After that the noise factor gets a little too much to handle.”

“I am giving you all the information I have,” the traitor shouted.

“Steady on,” Soltar said. “I’m just asking if there might be any plans that you don’t know about? Those two Princes aren’t exactly trust worthy you know. Could they plan something without the throne knowing is all I’m asking?”

“Never!” the traitor raged. “They would never have the guts.”

“What do you mean you don’t know where the King is at?” Marius demanded.

“The King said he wanted to be alone for a while,” the officer stammered. “He went to his chambers to study military history in order to come up with a strategy to use against our enemies. When his chamberlain went to tell him that the Ambassador had arrived he wasn’t there.”

Prince Marius dismissed the man with a frown. “I don’t like this,” he said turning to his brother.

“We can’t afford to have him being a loose cannon,” Alton replied. “Things are too dodgy right now to take any sort of risk of him finding out what we are up too.”

“Damn of all the times for him to disappear,” Marius raged. “We need him to keep the Ambassador under control. That alliance is too important to risk and you know how that man doesn’t like to deal with anyone other then Father.”

“We know that Father has a secret way around the castle,” Alton said, “he often decides to disappear for a while when he has a problem he is trying to work out. He will show up eventually. In the meantime Celine can work her magic and keep the Ambassador entertained.”

“The attack will be three prong,” Brendan said as he paced in front of the soldiers. “The Cassiopeian troops will be following the lead of Prince Alton.  Prince Marius is going to have the reserve troops. We will have some of our people with both bands so that we can communicate with you via the elfin gifts. The White Mage’s troops will be following me and the mountain elves warriors are going to be following my big brother. That will be the major surprise in this  battle because Soltar thinks by having the mountains at his back he has a safety shield. He will not be expecting the attack to come from that quarter. The dragon Mei-Lin will affect the transfer portal to get the troops in position and will teleport to the striking position when we need their help to bring them through into the battle itself. Per General Brand if we need them he can get a squad of warrior unicorns to us and Master Khigh has about a dozen dragons that we can also use if need be. We should strive however not to have to use either of the resources unless we absolutely have to. Are their any questions?”

“If we have the chance of the dragons and unicorns why shouldn’t we plan on using them from the start?” Alton asked.

“Both groups have recently come out of battle,” Brendan replied. “They need the rest and if we can handle things without calling on them I would prefer to do so.”

“My apologies Brendan,” Alton answered. “Sometimes I get caught up in the defense of my homeland so thoroughly that I forget that there are other lands fighting too.”

“I understand,” Brendan said with  smile. “I too get caught up in the defense of my home. I’m glad that we have a chance to help you out here though.”

“I have to tell you I really don’t like having my sons out there without us still not knowing who the traitor is,” the White Mage said. He was pacing and as he passed the large crystal in the center of the room it flashed. He and his father-in-law, King Brendan, were deep in the Rainbow Palace in the Chamber that held the conduit to the Source of Light, the main source of magic for elves, dragons and unicorns. The three magic users had brought that power to the worlds of time in an effort to help fight evil. The rise of the Dark One had turned the battle between good and evil into a never ending battle. It was this ability to use the Source directly that marked the White Mage. He was a symbol of the office and his office had led the battle for millenniums and would continue to fight until evil had been eradicated. The problem was that good and evil were too evenly matched so it was a battle that few ever thought would be totally won.

“I have had my agents every where, Angus,” King Brendan said, “and I just can’t get an answer. Nothing makes sense.”

“I know you have,” the White Mage replied, “I certainly don’t mean to imply that you haven’t done everything possible. It is just that the battle is beginning and as exasperating as they are those boys are my sons and I want them to have all the knowledge they need to survive. I have their mother to answer to you know.”

“They are good boys and I’m sure they will be able to lead the forces to victory in spite of our failure to unearth the traitor,” King Brendan said.

The White Mage and the elfin King turned to watch the three females that entered the room. Two of the women were elves and the third was a white unicorn. All three of them were dressed in Healer Blue traveling clothes. The unicorn was named Shannon and she was the elder daughter of Rhiannon, the head of the Healer’s Guild and General Brand, who ran the White Mage’s army. She was a saucy beauty who at the moment was making a unicorn scholar crazy trying to figure out how to woo her for his bride. She was also one of the strongest talents to ever emerge in the field of mental healing. The petite redheaded elf was named Kira. She was the oldest daughter of the White Mage and had a twin brother named Sean. She had managed to capture the heart of the legendary elf Stefan and was noted equally for her sweetness, spirit and redheaded temper. It was the third woman though that held the attention of all who gazed on her. Queen Niri was mother to the redhead, wife of the White Mage and daughter to King Brendan. She was also the Silver Lady, the High Queen of the Elves and one of the most powerful beings in and out of time. Her beauty was without rival. She was tall and slim with ankle length silver blond hair and ice blue eyes. She had prestigious healing abilities.

“It is so good to see you back my dear,” the White Mage said as he went up and embraced his wife.

“It is good to be back,” Queen Niri sighed. She went from her husband to her father and kissed his cheek.

“Where is my twin?”  Kira asked.

“He is on a mission for the two of us,” King Brendan replied, “along with his brother Brendan.”

“Are you putting my children in danger again?” Queen Niri asked.

“Now Niri,” the White Mage said, “you know sometimes I have no choice but to use the boys. They are the best agents I have after all.”

“I don’t have to like it,” the Queen snapped.

Kira brought a cup of wine to her mother. “So what impossible task are they to accomplish this time?”

“Nothing major just stop an invasion of Cassiopeia,” King Brendan said with a smile towards his granddaughter.

Tarek was furious. Soltar had not anticipated the help of the elves in this battle and it looked like those blasted sons of the White Mage were back stirring up trouble. If their ever were two people he hated it was Brendan and his older brother. The two had been nothing but trouble for years.

Soltar was not happy at the appearance of the extra elfin troops. He thought he had spotted the red-gold head of the Silver Lady’s second son. That one had all the worst characteristics of his fabled grandsire and mother combined and that was a very deadly combination. He didn’t know how the Cassiopeian army had managed to sneak out from under the nose of his spy but he intended to find out. At least he hadn’t spotted the red headed giant and with luck that one would be else where. It was bad enough to have to face one of the Lady’s sons but he didn’t want to have to deal with two of them.

“It goes well so far,” Marius said to his brother. The fighting had been fierce but their army had done a remarkable job of holding back the invaders.

“So far so good but we are going to have to get to the head,” Alton replied.

“I don’t like you going after him though,” Marius said. “It is so dangerous and don’t give me that ‘I laugh at danger’ line. I am well aware of your courage but I don’t like you risking your life like that.”

“Get real, Marius,” Alton replied. “I’ve done it before and you know I am the logical choice. We can’t ask the Princes to take that risk for us. As it is I imagine they will probably slip away and accompany me. By the way did you get a chance to see that ‘little’ dragon of theirs? Wow!”

The little dragon was busy holding the doorway open to a troop of crack elfin warriors. Mei-Lin was a beautiful blue-green shade and the pride of her Grandfather Khigh. She wore around her neck the dragon’s sun pendant. As the elves used the life crystals so certain dragons had been given the sun stones. The large jewels were the golden shades of the sun and were clasped in a silver’s dragon claw. They were potent magic and gave the dragons who earned them the ability to keep in contact with Master Khigh, the only dragon who ever was able to unite the independent dragons under a single leadership.

“Okay big red,” Mei-Lin said with a saucy grin “there are your troops. I’m going to go ahead and stick around since I love watching you guys work.”

“Thanks, Mei-Lin,” the man said. “You are more then welcome to hang out with us. Congrats on the sun pendant, I think if memory serves me right you are the youngest dragon to ever earn that pendant.”

Mei-Lin’s smile was as brilliant as the sun. “Yes Grandfather awarded it to me last week. There was the normal grumbling of course that being his granddaughter I had an advantage however we both know I earned this.”

“That you did,” then man said firmly, “that was one of the bravest maneuvers I had ever seen. The mid air timing necessary was awesome to say the least.”

“Just between the two of us,” the dragon whispered, “I was terrified. All I could think was you never teleport blind. I figured if I survived that Grandfather was either going to kill me or be proud of me.  As it was he was proud and lectured me for over an hour.”

“I think he knew that desperate measures had to be taken in order to defeat that rogue,” the man said.

The battle was fully raging. The mercenaries were trying to retreat but couldn’t because Soltar’s troops wouldn’t let them so having no choice they fought the Cassiopeian army and the elf warriors with as much ferocity as they could.

“At you back,” the man called. The man teleported behind his brother Brendan and the two fought furiously for over an hour. The band of mercenaries out numbered them fifty to one but that didn’t bother the two elfin warriors. They had been trained by the greatest swordsman in history. Old Garrett was without a doubt the toughest taskmaster who ever lived however the swordsmen he trained were practically unbeatable.

Wearily the two elves looked around them. “Well,” said Brendan, “that was fun. What next?”

“I imagine,” the man replied,” that now would be a good time to try and catch up with Alton and go for Soltar and hopefully the traitor whoever he is.”

“So once we were able to stabilize the land a bit we had to try and get to the people who had been trapped,” Kira said. “The earthquake had been so sudden and the destruction was so terrible that people could not respond.”

“There hadn’t been any earthquakes there for over a thousand years and the people had forgotten that they could happen,” Shannon continued. “The mental trauma was as great as the physical.”

“We can move more resources in, of course,” the White Mage said. “Most of the people there are not afraid of magic so I don’t think that will be a problem.”

“That fortunately is not a problem,” Queen Niri said. “It is a good thing because we had to use a lot of it this last week. We do need to get help there as quickly as we can. Now, I want to know what is going on in Cassiopeia and how my sons are.”

“The boys are fine, Niri,” King Brendan said. “The battle is going well. Mei-Lin got in some of our troops and Khigh has a battalion of dragons ready if needed and Brand can send in troops also but it is looking like we won’t need them.”

“I just wish we knew who was feeding Soltar information,” the White Mage said.

“King Gilkend of course,” Shannon said quietly.

There was a moment of stunned silence and then both the White Mage and King Brendan started to speak at once.

“Quiet!” Queen Niri commanded. “Let her finish. Why would the King betray his country Shannon?”

“He’s not,” Shannon said.

You just said he was the traitor,” the White Mage said angrily.

“From what you have told us I can tell you right now that he is convinced that he is protecting his country from an invasion by the elves,” Shannon said reasonably.

“Elves do not invade countries,” King Brendan said and his own voice started to raise in anger.

“Will you two listen to yourselves,” Kira said with a snap in her voice. “We don’t invade countries we just plan battles without consulting with the ruler of the country.”

“Now just a minute young lady,” the White Mage started to say when a sudden flash of light temporarily froze everyone in their place.

“I said quiet and I mean quiet,” Queen Niri said. The Queen’s crystal was flashing angrily. “The only two people who are allowed to talk right now are Shannon and Kira. Shannon explain please.”

“I am well aware of the fact that King Gilkend is prejudiced against elves,” Shannon explained, “however irritating that might be to deal with you failed to see that the root of that prejudice is fear. He is terrified of elves. His attempt to marry Tara was his one brave attempt to overcome the fear he felt but it didn’t work. In his case it made the fear greater. You can’t have extraordinary life spans and magic ability without generating fear and awe. All Soltar would need to do is convince the King that the elves that were guarding his borders were there to invade and that he had the troops to protect his country from being over run.”

“I am afraid,” Kira added, “that we showed great arrogance in deciding that we would deal with his sons and not him. Like it or not the man is King of the country and we should have dealt with him.”

“You gave him more ammunition for his paranoia by working around him,’ Shannon continued.

“Kira get hold of your twin and warn him,” Queen Niri said softly.

“Okay Mei-Lin is going to bring the dragons in as a diversion,” Prince Brendan said, “that will give us a chance to get close. I sure wish you would change your mind and stay back Marius.”

“No,” Marius said firmly, “I have stayed back too many times. I am going with you.”

“All right but make sure you stay behind us,” the man said. “We have dealt with heads before and know what to expect. Soltar has his crack troops and Tarek and his merry band with him. If we work this right we can kill two birds with one stone. Here comes the dragons, move out.”

“Dragons, Soltar,” Tarek screamed, “they have just brought in dragons! I am getting my men out of here. What you do is your problem.”

“You aren’t going anywhere,” the man said as he teleported into the midst of the group. Swords flashed and the fighting was fierce from the start. Soltar pulled as much black magic as he could to throw at the group of elves but he knew in his heart that it wouldn’t be enough.

“Father,” Alton called and he fought his way over to a corner where a man was slumped against the wall. A dagger was plunged into his breast. “Father what are you doing here?”

“Trying to save my home from invasion,” King Gilkend gasped. “These men were supposed to stop the elves from taking it over but I have failed.”

“No father,” Alton cried. “The elves were defending us. Soltar is an agent for the Dark One and they are the invaders.”

“Get him,” Tarek commanded. Suddenly Alton found himself surrounded by swordsmen and he sprung to his feet in a effort to try and protect his father.

“You take him Brendan,” the man said, “you are stronger. I’ll defend you.”

As Soltar and Prince Brendan faced off the man’s sword sang out as he stopped Soltar’s men from trying to reach and kill the elfin Prince. Brendan’s life crystal flashed as he shot bolt after bolt of white energy after the Dark One’s agent. Soltar was strong but he knew without direct help from his Master that he would never be able to defeat his enemy. The magical battle ragged for almost an hour while the other three princes and their troops battled. In the end the Dark One betrayed his agent and left him to suffer defeat and death at their hands.

“No,” Marius screamed as his sword plunged into the back of Tarek. Marius rushed to the side of his brother but he knew it would be too late. Alton had fought bravely but Tarek has snuck up behind him and stabbed him in the back. The Prince sank to the ground and cradled his brother in his arms, tears flowing down his cheeks. Alton had given his life trying to defend his father who in his fear had almost destroyed his own country. The King had died knowing that the youngest child he had always disdained  was a hero who loved his home and him.

“My son will be named for you little brother,” Marius whispered.

“So ye see,” Sean said, “hate is the most destructive emotion of all. Hate can blind ye to the truth and make you do things ye never would do if ye weren’t so overcome by its spell. Hate is the greatest evil of all.”


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