Out of King Brinwald’s castle for a moment I thought the dragon had broken its promise. The entire sky was glowing red as if an enormous fire was destroying everything. I was about to say something but realized that it was just the dawn.
“Red in the morning, Snow Demons take warning,” I said.
“A new day a new beginning,” a voice said. I spun. It was Sirlriend. “I think the poor people you call ‘Snow Demons’ will be happy with this new beginning we are going to offer them.”
“Where have you been?” I asked.
“Here, with you.”
“Were you invisible?”
“No, that is physically impossible. Light still reflected off of me and Warph. Confusing people, on the other hand, is simple. People just chose not to see us.”
“Cut your chatter,” Merla said. “We have miles to go today. I want to camp out on the frontier with Slore tonight. Chop, chop. let’s go. Slow jog for now as we warm up.”
Merla acted strange all morning. I’ll admit that my heart sank. She had rediscovered her roots. She came from a long line of royal advisors and magicians. I always knew she was the smartest person I had ever met, but I now knew that it wasn’t an accident. And there was me, a farmer with manure under my fingernails. Well, not literally, but that’s the way gentry thought of us.
We only paused a few times during the day, keeping a breakneck pace most of the time. Merla said few words except to hurry us along. She seemed agitated and angry and had little patience with me. I went as fast as I could and stayed out of her way.
Strangely enough, despite our mad dash across the landscape, I realized that we were picking up followers. At first it was just a few. They appeared to be some of the same peasants that we had met running from the dragon. But the numbers grew. Almost all of them were common folk. Some were soldiers, but not the elite palace guards or the high-end knights. These were common foot soldiers.
At one point when we were pausing for a quick snack, I watched Merla as she spoke to the leader of a small band of soldiers who had just joined us.
“What’s wrong?” Warph asked.
“Oh nothing,” I said. “It just feels like, after spending our life together, our relationship is coming to an end.”
The huge wolf looked at Merla then me. “No, I would say you are about to beginning a new relationship. Can’t you smell the air?” The huge wolf inhaled deeply. “There is change coming, new beginnings in every quarter.”
Warph walked away. I sniffed the air but could smell anything different.
“OK, let’s get going!” Merla shouted to the people around us. “We are still many miles from our destination. We need to pick up the pace! What are you doing, Lorunce, sleeping? Get a move on!”
What was she talking about? I wasn’t sleeping, I was helping some of our followers get moving, adjusting packs and such. I continued to help and shook my head. It wasn’t easy.
The sun was setting when we stopped for the day. There were hundreds of people around us, maybe thousands. Merla, Sirlriend and I set up camp on a small rise in the middle of the throngs of people. Every now and then a person would come to our camp and Merla would give them directions. She had a plan, though she didn’t let on what it was about.
Warph and Soe-Ar disappeared the minute we arrived, but soon returned. They left and returned several times. Each time they had had different wild animals from rabbits to elk. Soe-Ar even came back with his talons full of trout on a couple occasions. In less than an hour the two of them had gathered enough food for our entire improvised army, which Merla told me was just over 3,000 strong.
As night fell, a line of fires sprang up to our north. I couldn’t see the people, but I could tell that there was an army much larger than ours there. Soe-Ar reported that it was about 50,000 people.
“That will be Zurlfed’s army,” Merla said. She nodded to herself, looking pleased.
Less than an hour later another line of fires sprung up to our south. Soe-Ar reported that this army was about the same size as the army to the north, perhaps 50,000.
“Good, good,” Merla said. “That will be Queen Marfascence and her army. She took the bait, as I hoped she would. This is most excellent. I can keep my promise to Vapuro.”
“About Vapuro, I don’t get it,” I said. “A full-grown dragon can take on an army. How did the Queen and her people kill them? Why is that mountain of a dragon so afraid of her?”
Merla made a “hrumph” noise like she was dealing with extreme stupidity.
Sirlriend caught my attention. “Do you think we are the only ones who have magic swords?” he asked.
I thought about, but it still didn’t make sense. How would someone get close enough to actually use the sword? “But…” I started. Sirlriend gave me a look that cut off my question.
“Humans rely too much on magic,” Warph said. “I’m going to curl up and go to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day.”
Merla spun towards me. Her eyes were sparkling in the firelight.
“You need to go to sleep as well,” she said. “Warph is right, it will be a very long day. It will begin an hour before dawn. Be ready!”
A few people entered our camp. Merla turned towards them and started a whispered conversation.
I felt so useless. All I could do was curl up with Warph and try to sleep. It was difficult knowing that the final war was about to start.
But sleep did come.
Before I knew it, I opened my eyes. There was a faint glow of the predawn on the horizon.
“Well, this is it, this is the end,” I said.
“No, it is the beginning,” Warph said.