A little after noon Merla called Silriend over.
“I want you to make our army invisible,” she said.
“What!” said the king of the little people.
“I know they won’t be invisible, but I want it so our enemies ignore them and only see each other. I know you can do that with others, for you make Warph disappear all of the time. This time, however, I want you to stay visible with me and Lorunce.”
“That might be impossible.”
“If you notice, I have asked them to hide. Or at least stay out of sight. I want them to be prepared for an attack, but I want them to not be seen.”
Silriend looked around. There were a handful of people preparing the defenses of our position, but most of our army was nowhere to be seen.
“OK, I’ll try. It won’t be perfect. And they aren’t invisible, people just won’t see them. Except maybe that evil queen of yours.”
“Thank you. This will start in less than an hour, so meet us over there in about 15 minutes.” She pointed to a valley that separated the two armies on either side of use. We had pulled all of our resources back to the hill since it was easier to defend so there was only a river with a small stone bridge separating Queen Marfascence’s army from Zurlfed’s. “On the bridge.”
“In the open and not invisible?!” The little king sighed. “OK, so be it. I will make my preparations and meet you there.”
After Sirlriend left, I followed Merla around the camp and helped the troops prepare. There was no way we could attack either of the two much larger armies, but the will provided natural protection and we augmented that protection with ditches, walls and barriers. For the most part, though, we left the natural land dictate our positions. The more we relied on the landscape, the more the landscape worked for us and helped us. Even the biting flies left our troops alone to harass the other armies.
After Merla was satisfied with the preparations we walked into the valley. We hadn’t gone very far when I stopped and turned. There was not a sign that a single soul was up on the hill. Even the flocks of birds were no longer anywhere to be seen. I scanned the sky and didn’t see the dragon wings. The two massive armies were still highly visible on either side of us and I realized that we were just as visible to them as we walked to the bridge.
“Sirlriend did a pretty good job, didn’t he?” Merla asked. “This should go even better than expected. Just follow my lead and do what comes naturally. You have it in you, you just need to let it out.”
We hit the river before the bridge and soon came to a ford, a crossing much older than the ancient stone bridge.
“You cross here,” Merla said. “Wait at the end of the bridge until I give the signal. And be prepared, for I may signal something else instead.” She made a movement with her hand. “That means to unsheathe your sword and hold it up.”
I nodded and then crossed the river. I walked just opposite of Merla as we approached the bridge. We stopped at opposite ends of the bridge and Merla gave me a thumbs up. I turned and scanned the area between me and Zurlfed’s camp. All was quite. I turned back around and was surprised to see Sirlriend standing in the middle of the bridge. My guess was that we stayed invisible until he was there.
Merla gave the sign to unsheathe my sword, Trower. A flash of lightning went skyward and thunder rolled across the valley. After the initial lightning bolt, Trower radiated a pure white light.
On the other side of the bridge Merla unsheathed Froast. An icy blue flame lit up the valley.
The light of our two swords merged in the middle, directly over Sirlriend’s head.
I studied the light and discovered that Merla was right, that I did understand.
Trower was the power of nobility. It could only be used to protect the downtrodden. It slashed out at those who used fear to control others and protected noble spirits. Froast was the power of freedom. It blocked evil and brought out the good. The swords worked together synergistically, creating a combined power greater than the two could muster if used separately.
However, our challenge did not go unanswered.
In front of me I saw a line of soldiers approaching the bridge. In the lead was Zurlfed himself. He had his own sword, which ate the light around it. It was the sword of fear and death.
On the other side of the river, I could see another line of soldiers approaching, Queen Marfascence in the lead. She held a sword that glowed red. It was the sword that drained and manipulated others. It drew the power from all around it, strengthening as it approached. I suddenly understood how she killed the dragons.
Zurlfed stopped just feet in front of me. I knew that Queen Marfascence was just in front of Merla. I could feel the strength of our swords separating and diminishing. They stood up as walls trying to block the powers confronting us leaving a void in between. I could feel Trower weaken.
“I am glad it is just you,” the queen said. “I did not want to have to kill all of your followers. It is easier to be queen if there are actually some living subjects to bow down to your wishes.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Zurlfed said, as if continuing the queen’s statement. “We will still take care of those who resist us. Of course the dragons will be first. I haven’t had a nice dragon steak in ages. They say it destroys the soul to eat dragon meat, but the power gained is so worth it!”
Zurlfed grew, and his power with him. I could feel the strain and knew Trower could not resist much longer.
“Are you finally admitting your game then?” Merla asked. “I knew long ago that you were working together, even when the king still lived, but it is now in the open at last.”
“So it is,” the queen said. “We will join and create a new country, greater than any that went before. We will have an absolute rule that will last the ages. Eventually we will expand and take the entire world. All will be ours! None will be able to resist.”
“But there is a slight obstruction in our path,” Zurlfed said. “It isn’t much. Our combined armies will overrun all. But the two of you… We’ll have to deal with you directly. I could not take you alone, Lor-dunce, and the queen could not by herself take Merla, but together we are much stronger than the two of you combined. And you had the stupidity to actually call us together.”
Merla gave a low whistle, which I knew was the sign to cross the bridge.
I started to back up and knew Merla was doing the same. Zurlfed took a step forward for every step back I took and I knew that Queen Marfascence did the same with Merla.
“You keep saying ‘you two’, but did you forget me?” It was Sirlriend’s voice.
He pulled out his sword and the valley filled with the golden light of bonding, unification. It was the power of each individual staying true to themselves, yet joining as one. It was the power of Synergy. It combined with the white and blue lights that Merla and I were holding and flowed over everything, recreating the landscape.
But then the landscape changed. We weren’t in the valley, but on a small iceberg surrounded by a rough arctic sea. Sirlriend was not with us, but he didn’t need to be. I could still feel the unity, and Merla’s sword being closer made me reach in and find a hidden strength. My own inner strength burst out, causing Trower to glow brighter than it had ever glowed since its creation. I culd feel Froast and understood that Merla was calling on her own inner power.
“I think the free people of the planet will have something to say about your rule,” I said. “None of us are better than all of us. That is what Sirlriend was saying. I think it is time to end this. Merla, are you ready?”
“Of course, let’s go.”
Our two opponents raised their guards, readying themselves for our attack.
Only we didn’t attack.
We joined hands and found ourselves on the bridge. We had crossed back to our own world, leaving Zurlfed and Marfascence in that other reality.
“Just in time,” Merla said. I gave her a questioning glance. “The wave collapsed while they were still there. When the wave collapses anything still in between worlds ceases to exist.”
“Ceases to exist? What does that mean? Are they on the iceberg?”
“’Ceases to exist’ means exactly what you would think. They are nowhere. They are nothing. They were unmade. They crossed to other side, but for them, there is no other side. Eating the dragon meat closed that crossing for Zurlfed and Marfascence tied her destiny with his. They can’t be in this world, they can’t be in the world of the arctic sea and they can’t cross to the other side. They exist nowhere in any universe conceivable.”
“Their evil is gone from this world,” Sirlriend said. “It is now time to heal. That is my great talent, to bring people together and help them to heal. It is only now, that the evil is gone, that I am unable to unleash my talent.”
“We never picked the swords,” Merla said. “The swords picked us depending on our talents.”
I looked around and noticed that everyone from all three armies were approaching us, but out a shared victory. Sirlriend raised his hands and I could feel that healing power go out to the people around us.
I turned back to Merla.
“I still don’t get this ‘great talent’ thing,” I said.
“Perhaps it is because I worded it wrong,” Merla said. “It is more than talent. There are attributes, or qualities, that we have. Mine is rooted in understanding. The understanding is deep. I can look at something and understand its history. I can understand its value. This is where my sight comes from, both my inner sight and that with my eyes. But from my understanding, I can also influence. My biggest influence is blocking evil. That is why Queen Marfascence could never truly win against me, because I would always block her evil, and evil was the only power or talent she had. Evil, and using people for her personal gain, which is the same thing. If someone is more good than evil, by blocking their inner evil, I bring out their good side even more. So that is my talent, blocking evil and bringing out good.”
“OK. I can see that. But what about me?”
“To start with, you have a deep seated nobility. Don’t blush! Anyway, you should know all about it, since you can yield Trowr. Remember how Baron Picknel defined nobility. You are brave and altruistic. You have a deep humility and have a hard time recognizing that nobility in you. You also have a huge amount of empathy and a deep compassion. People feel these qualities in you and trust you in a way they trust no others, for they know instinctively that you will do right by them. That’s why they follow you. And when they follow you, you bring out the nobility in them as well, or at least those who have a bit of the noble in the first place, like me bringing out the good.”
“He was an ignoble coward. He was vain, selfish and had no compassion, not a drop. People didn’t follow him, they fought for him out of fear.”
“OK, I guess if I do have those qualities and talents that you say I can understand why I’d be the opposite of Zurlfed. But why does that increase my senses of hearing and smell?”
“It comes from your empathy. You have the great power to listen to people and feel for them. That talent to hear comes out by your ability to listen in general. It isn’t that your ears are better, it is that you can listen on multiple levels. You sense the good in people, which brings out your other senses as well, particularly that sense of smell.”
“Shhh. That’s all you really need to know, isn’t it? That you bring out the nobility in everyone, including me? And I bring out the good in everyone, including you, so our powers, our talents, complement one another. People can feel this good and deep compassion, the nobility. As I said, that is why they follow you. It is, at least in part, why I follow you. And even more, it is why people love you. And it is why at least in part, why I love you. Of course, I have so many more reasons that they will never have, and so love you in a way much deeper than they ever could.”
I was stunned and frozen, my mouth hanging half open. She reached over and kissed me long and deep. When we separated she looked deeply into my eyes. After being lost in the depths, a merriment came to the surface.
“And I have to say,” she said, “that even without that promised bath, there is nothing I’d rather be doing now than kissing your dirty lips.” I know I blushed ten shades of crimson, but it didn’t matter. It was all hidden by her next kiss, which was even longer and deeper.
As we separated we were greeted by the cheers of ten thousand and more voices. The birds in the sky sang in celebration at the end of the evil. The land itself seemed to be with us.
I looked around stunned. I realized that I had witnessed a turning point in history as we crossed over from an enslaved people to a free people. A new era was born at that moment, and I was privileged to be there at the beginning.
And so ended our mad quest, in a place far removed from where we would have ever guessed when it began.