Nix called a halt sunder some low-hanging trees o that we could dry our mounts as well as ourselves. I removed Ruthie’s gear then walked her to an unoccupied patch of grass. She immediately got to her knees and then rolled onto her back. I laughed at her antics. I so wanted to roll about as well, but I felt that Nix would disapprove.
We ate a bit of biscuit and refilled our skins with fresh water. Doughty, Little John and I found a quiet spot away from the others.
“I’m worried,” Little John said. “Nothing has challenged us. Nothing has slowed us, not human or beast.”
Doughty nodded. “By now something would have heard us coming. It’s impossible to move a group this size without attracting attention, so it’s logical to assume that there will be battle soon.”
“What should I do? I’m useless with sword and spear.”
Little John snickered. “You and me both. The one advantage I have is size. I can slink under the bellies of their horses and cut cinches. Then we’ll laugh when Kraznir’s entire army slides off their mounts!”
I rested my chin in my hands. “I’ve been learning some new wards. There’s an invincibility one, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Maybe I’ll set that one up before we enter the forest.”
That’s when the call came to mount, so I saddled Ruthie and as I rubbed her muzzle, I said, “Arq ve naw. Arq se baw.” I repeated it three times, a powerful magical number, hoping that by following the norms, the ward would work.
Was I invincible? Probably not, but it didn’t hurt to think that a few magical words could protect myself, my friends and our entire force.
Nix did not lead the way which told me that he expected trouble. What captain would hide amidst soldiers rather than inspire them by his daring? One who feared death, that’s who.
I pushed my way forward until I was within talking distance of Nix. When Nix and I entered the forest, a loud, piercing scream rattled me so much that I pulled back on the reins, terrifying Ruthie into bucking. I hung on to the horn and gripped her sides with my legs so tightly that my knees ached. I leaned forward until my nose was buried in her mane and spoke reassuring words until her front hooves touched sand once again.
Our ranks were in disarray. Instead of an orderly procession of two horsemen riding side-by-side, many of us stood alone. I, thanks to being near Nix, was engulfed by armed soldiers brandishing spears and longswords. No word was spoken, no orders given. All acted in unison, however, which must be due to years of rigorous training.
I pulled my sword from its scabbard and tried to hold it steadily aloft, but I was no trained warrior. In seconds my arm tired and the sword fell at my side. Instead I did what little I could do: I chanted wards over and over hoping that at least one would keep us safe.
Karznir’s army surrounded us. We couldn’t move in any direction. Only the outer soldiers could inflict damage, but the enemy was as well-trained as we were. They formed a line about ten feet away: far enough that no sword, no spear could harm them.
Nix glowered at me as he waggled his fingers at the enemy. I understood what he wanted: I was to employ a magic spell that would numb the minds of Kraznir’s men. I was to freeze their bodies into living statues. I was supposed to spellbind them to yearn to be free of Kraznir’s leagues and to skip to our side.
I raised my hands, palms down, closed my eyes and screamed so that my voice would carry over those still harbored in the forest, “Tre at na lee.” I repeated it three times, as all wards were meant to. Were their minds numb? Well, it seemed as if they were as all about me all I saw were blank eyes. Good for the enemy, but not for us! I hadn’t learned how to target spells at some leaving out others!
That left Doughty, Little John and I. The wards couldn’t touch us thanks to a reflection ward my mentor had employed before we left. We were the survivors. We could do whatever we wanted.
Doughty rode up next to me and whispered, “What do we do now?”
I shrugged and turned to Little John. He said, “We could sneak off into the forest, across rivers and mountains to another kingdom. But eventually King Taden’s forces would find us, tie us up, and throw us into the dungeon of Siln.”
“Or,” Doughty said, “we could ride among both sides and steal their weapons. If Touchfire can keep the ward alive, we should be able to disarm all soldiers and hide their weapons deep in the forest.”
They looked at me with hope in their eyes. I nodded, raised my hands, and chanted again. Doughty worked on our soldiers while Little John stole Kraznir’s mens’ weapons.
It took hours. Whenever I lowered my hands, within fifteen minutes a man would stir here or there. Eyes might blink. Coughs might rattle lungs. Then I’d raise my hands and chant, “Tre ot na lee,” and “Linx fa bay,” which was supposed to turn them into living statues.
I was greatly relieved when my companions were by my side once again.
“I have an idea,” Doughty said. “Follow me.”
The three of us wove in and out of Taden’s horsemen until we were alongside Kraznir’s. “Did you learn the spellbinding ward? The one the allows minds to change?”
“I was just starting to work on that one.”
He smiled a devilish smile and said,” Well, give it a try. If we can convince Kraznir’s men to join with us, this battle will be over once and for all.”
I closed my eyes and pictured the words in my spell book. I sept my arm across the enemy ranks and softly chanted, “Bae von oz nae.”
“Do it again,” Little John said.
When I was finished, he asked me to send out a suggestion that they come to Siln of their own free will.
I nodded, closed my eyes, relaxed my breathing, and imagined words traveling into minds. Words changing minds. Words changing allegiance.
We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.
Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.
“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered.