The royal party reached the top of a hill and started down into a valley. Through the coach windows Princess Evaughnlynn saw Bar Dor in the distance. It was completely unlike any
fortress she had ever seen. The outer wall surrounded an area large enough for a city while there was a sizeable unwalled town in front of the fortress centered on the main gate.
She turned to her father, slumped on the other side of the coach asleep. “Father, wake up. We’re approaching Bar Dor.”
Neima leaned over Evaughnlynn to see out the window, causing Badger to sit up from where he had been sleeping with his head on her lap. Ragnon blinked several times and opened his eyes to
look directly at Badger, who yawned widely. Ragnon also yawned, then watched the badger turn in a circle before settling down again. “Me to,” he mumbled. He sat up and looked at
his daughter. “What is it?”
“Bar Dor. It’s not what I expected.” She pointed out the window.
Ragnon leaned over and looked out. He nodded his head and leaned back with his eyes closed. “The Freemen army is largely cavalry, not infantry. That takes a lot of room and a lot
of support. This is the support depot.”
“We have cavalry stationed on the coast but that fortress isn’t much bigger than Hawk’s Keep.”
He nodded his head, but still didn’t open his eyes. “We have cavalry, but not like they do.” He shifted his body and sat up. Then he yawned and sighed. “The Freeman
have scout patrols along the border and company sized fortresses with signaling devices to relay news. But response beyond normal patrols all comes from Bar Dor. Even though many troops
are on the border at any time, there’s a large number of cavalry stationed here.”
Ragnon looked at Evaughnlynn for a few moments, then shrugged. “Look, we have border posts but friendly neighbors on the north and south, so they’re small. All we have to worry about
are the seasonal raider bands landing on the coast or savage bands encroaching from the Wildermarch. For that we send out patrols. Our only real danger comes from the sea. We put
our heavy cavalry on the south coast to prevent raiders from landing while Hawk’s Keep and Tower Farm hold the north.
The Freeholds has a very long southern border with two unfriendly neighbors, neither of whom can control their lands beyond the major cities. That’s why traveling to Anglia two years ago was
He nodded his head toward the window. “Bar Dor has grown into a sizeable town since the last war. The Freeman believe overwhelming force on the border will be enough to detour an
invasion. Their standing army is not much smaller than Anglia’s, but it’s spread out along the border and controlled and supported from here.”
Evaughnlynn looked out the window again. “No wonder an invasion was planned from the west, it bypassed most of the Freeman army.” She leaned back and looked at her father. “But I
still think there’ll be an attack.”
Ragnon leaned forward to face his daughter. “And you’re here to treat the sick. And I’m here to make sure you go home when you’re done. The Freeman army is quite capable of
defending the country.”
Evaughnlynn could see the small river which ran down from the mountains to the town before flowing off toward the coast many leagues away. The vision rose up of the fields and town burning
like the village of Yalding had when Tower Farm was attacked.
“It’s only a possibility, not an eventuality. The Freeman will not be an easy prey for the Dark.”
“I know, Sorcha, but I sense something at the edge of my mind whispering that the Dark Ones are on the move.” Evaughnlynn sighed and turned to her father. “Will you talk to the
Freeman Captain General about my belief that the sickness is part of a greater plan?”
Ragnon smiled. “Certainly, my dear.”
Evaughnlynn turned back to the window of the coach. The only part of the fortress wall she could see rising over the town was the battlement, along with part of one side wall. Cut-stone
towers with catapults on the flat crenelated rooves stood at each corner. As they approached the town she saw that the river had been diverted to run around the fortress in a wide mote and
there were arrow slits in the tower walls to allow archers to pick off anyone trying to scale the walls.
Neima touched Evaughnlynn on the sleeve. “May we go to the Warrior’s Temple in Bar Dor?”
Evaughnlynn turned to her. “There’s a temple in Bar Dor? I thought the only temple in the Freeholds was in Bar Krouth.”
Neima nodded. “It is. The Warrior’s Temple is different. We consider dying for our people the greatest sacrifice one can make. To honor those who have fallen a smaller
version of the temple in Bar Krouth was built after the war so that those who fall in battle can be celebrated there each year. The names of all the fallen are engraved on the walls of the
Warrior’s Temple so that all Freemen may know who they were.” She smiled up at Evaughnlynn. “My father’s older brother was killed on the border many years ago. We have a family
celebration every year. I’d like to tell my father I saw and touched his name on the wall.”
Ragnon leaned over and patted Neima on the knee. “Then, of course you shall.” Neima turned and smiled at him. He shook his head. “Your smile is as powerful against men as my
daughter’s. Be careful with it or you’ll have a gang of courtiers following after you, begging to do your bidding, just like she does.” He grinned at Evaughnlynn.
Evaughnlynn flashed a return smile and looked out the window again. Now she knew what Sorcha had meant when she told her that Gunther’s father was on the wall of heroes. However, the
scene out the window was bothering her. “Something isn’t right.” She shook her head. “The town’s too close to the fortress to survive a siege if there were an invasion from
“Well, we’re a captain of war now, are we?” When she turned back to him, her father held up his hand. “I know, I know, you’ve read all the war scrolls in my collection and pestered your
poor uncle to the point of distraction, but there’s much more to war than defending a small keep in a backwater area.”
She settled facing him with her hands on her lap. “Are you saying a large force couldn’t take Bar Dor?”
Her father nodded his head to one side. “Good question.” He smiled quickly. “By the way, Bar Dor is supplied for a long siege because they supply the fortresses on the
border.They also have heavy cavalry sally gates in the rear and side walls.” He nodded his head again at the look of surprise on her face. “It would not be a comfortable
siege with heavy cavalry popping out in the middle of the night to say ‘boo.’”
“You’re saying that they couldn’t attack the city?”
He looked at his daughter’s eyes boring into his and her forehead wrinkled in concentration. “Don’t wrinkle your forehead like that. It’ll leave lines.” He smiled.”
“Father! Be serious. Can they attack the city?”
“Yes, but they’d have to get here first. It’s protected by the land.”
“What?” She sat back in her seat, staring at him with a distracted look in her eye for a moment, then she blinked several times and nodded her head. “Of course.”
He nodded his head several times as well. “If an army crossed the southern border word would reach Bar Dor with in an hour, two at the most. An hour later a division of cavalry would
ride out. You should see it, they do it twice a year to be sure they can do it right.”
“One division against an army?”
“That’s right. One division. Their job is to force the enemy to halt their forward movement while the rest of the Freeman army moves to attack the enemy flanks.” He leaned
back. “Do you remember how we held the raiders back in Yalding during the attack on Tower Farm?” He wove his hands back and forth in front of him. “We crisscrossed in front of
their infantry forcing them to move at a walk behind a shield wall or get destroyed.”
Ragnon slapped his knee with his right hand. “A Freeman cavalry division is something to see in battle. The center of an attack is heavy cavalry and the flanks, light cavalry.
Nothing stands against them.”
“Father, the army coming against them will have wizards, and the gods know what else—orcs, goblins, even trolls? What change will heavy cavalry have against wizards?
“Unless you’re there, you mean? You forget the Freeman have fought wizards before and won.”
“They had wizards on their side then, too.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s all speculation at this point. We’re not even sure there’s going to be an invasion, let alone a battle. The purpose of attacking the dwarves in
Hollow Mountain was to avoid facing the army on the border by hitting Bar Dor from the west. The dark ones may well have given up on an invasion when Faolan destroyed the gremlins.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” She sat back in her seat and looked out the window again. “But, something is going to happen at Bar Dor. I can feel it.”
Gunther sat just outside the town in front of the fortress and watched down the road. He could see the princess’s coach and riders crossing the farmlands and estimated they would reach the
town in ten minutes or so. He began going over what Faolan had told him to say in his mind. He desperately wanted to get it right.
Following the dark wizard and his men cross country had been easy for Faolan, who could see invisible marks on the ground to tell which way they had gone. Gunther had understood and even seen
the marks. What he hadn’t been able to understand was how Faolan knew those particular marks were made by the wizard’s party. There were many marks on the ground. But he had
listened, and nodded, and tried to remember.
The frightening part had come when they approached Bar Dor. Faolan had left him and circled ahead so that he would be in the city before the wizard. Gunther had then followed the wizard
right to the town and waited some ways back for him to enter. Then he had gone to the fortress gate and reported himself as an apprentice blacksmith coming to meet his master, who was already
in the fort. He was frightened and concentrated on what Faolan had told him about Bar Dor being just another big cavern with bigger holes in the roof. It helped. He went through
the gate and began looking for the tavern inside which Faolan had told him about.
Sometime later Faolan arrived and made him memorize a message for the Princess. Faolan said it would be several hours before the princess and her party reached the town and that Gunther
should wait in the tavern until it was time to meet the royal party. When it was near time, Gunther had left the fortress and gone to the edge of town to wait.
The princess’s coach arrived and Gunther waved at the big man in the lead as he hurried over. “I have a message for the Princess,” he said when Bullnose dismounted and bent over to look down
“Have you, now?” Bullnose looked right and left, then motioned Gunther to follow before he turned and walked to the coach and opened the door. Bullnose lifted him into the coach,
saying, “Faolan sent a message.” He closed the door behind Gunther.
The king regarded the dwarf with his head cocked to one side. “What message?”
“Your Majesty.” Gunther bowed. “Master Faolan bid me tell you that the stoneless wizard went to an inn in the town and registered for three days. He is clearly here to meet
another wizard who must already be here because the sickness is here. However, the sickness is only in the poor area of the town and the military authorities have the sick quarantined.”
Evaughnlynn jerked forward in her seat. “Tell Master Faolan not to watch the wizard, but to report which inn he’s at as soon as possible. The dark wizard the stoneless one is here to
meet will be looking for watchers. Not only does he risk capture or death, the presence of a watcher will let the dark ones know we are aware of them and their plans.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” Gunther bowed to her, then glanced at Neima and smiled. He turned and bowed to the king again before he jumped out the door.
Ragnon looked at his daughter with his head tilted. “We know their plans, do we?”
Evaughnlynn smiled. “Not completely, but Faolan could put himself in sever danger. Remember what his uncle said about following the wizard Padraig in Anglia. Padraig’s dark power
let him know he was being followed.”
The king nodded. “And you don’t want Faolan confronted by a wizard without you.”
“They can’t touch his mind, but they can kill him with a curse.” She shook her head. “He’s been lucky so far. They seem almost afraid to attack him.”
“Afraid?” He leaned forward.
“When I was struck by the wizard the first time he didn’t curse Faolan even though Faolan stopped the attack. I’m sure there was a dark wizard involved at the battle of Windy Hill and nothing
happened to Faolan. But there were definitely wizards in the Samhain attack and they also left him alone. In fact, except for the attempt at knocking down the gate, the wizards were not
involved in the fight.”
Her father leaned back. “You were there at Samhain. They were probably afraid of you.”
“I have let it be known far and wide that I carry a dru stone, nothing more, other than it had been held by the elves. I’ve gone out of my way to keep Lord Arnol convinced I’m but a silly
girl. One false truism maintained by men is that young men are inexperienced while young women are silly and foolish.” She smiled at him. “A truism, I’m happy to say, you’ve never
been stupid enough to believe.”
Her father’s eyes misted up. “All who knew your mother knew that ‘truism’ to be false. She was my most trusted advisor, my best friend, and,” he leaned forward to pat her knee, “but for
you, my heart.”
She smiled at her father, but her mind was already trapped in the realm of Fear. Will Faolan heed my warning? If not for himself, for the sake of keeping our plans unknown to our
enemies? They know we’re coming, but they don’t know we know they’re here. We need that edge if we’re to win this battle, whatever it may prove to be.
Brother Drogo sat in his room, alone, waiting. The Master had promised that Brother Fulradt would have a stone for him. Anger and fear had stretched his mind so taunt it had no room for
shame. I will kill that deviate dwarf. I know he’ll be here with his secret wizard, but his master can’t protect him all the time.
His mind oscillated between remembering how the dwarf grabbed his stone of power and mentally creating an alternate version where he moved fast enough to protect the stone. He had sent his
acolyte, Uric, out on an unnecessary shopping trip to get rid of him. The boy was a constant reminder of his powerlessness.
Suddenly a sense of power rose in his mind and Drogo came to his feet. A stone of power was nearby. The door to his room opened by itself and a few seconds later a tall man in his
sixties dressed as an Anglian trader strode in. Brother Drogo went to his knee. “Milord.”
“Rise, Brother, we have much to do.” The room door slammed shut behind the newcomer. “The witch will arrive within the hour.”
“Here, Milord?” Drogo’s heart pounded.
“Not here—the city. I had the approach watched and my men reported her eminent arrival. Our plan is working so far.” He reached inside his coat and withdrew a small cloth bag
which he tossed to Brother Drogo. “Here’s your new stone of power. The Master told me you had to sacrifice yours in his service.”
He looked appraisingly at his equally tall associate. “You are also of the Mountain People. Good. The talent runs deep in us.” He pointed at the bag in Drogo’s hand.
“Your new stone is unusual. There is only one other like it known, and it’s held by a brother of great power. The Master expects great deeds of you. This stone will make you
Brother Drogo heard what was said, but the words drifted through his mind without retention. He was too absorbed in the power flowing into him. His mind was filled with images of the
cursed dwarf screaming in pain as a killing curse struck, or as a ball of fire enveloped him. Even the image of the secret sorcerer felled by his curse fleeted past. But that image
brought him back to the hotel room.
“What we’re going to do here will change the world.” His eyes centered on Drogo. “So, move carefully and act only according to the plan.” Brother Fulradt swept across the room and
dropped into the only comfortable chair. “Where’s your acolyte? I have a task for him.”
“Out on an errand for me.” Brother Drogo walked to the small table and held up the decanter of dark red wine toward Brother Fulradt, who shook his head.
Drogo poured himself a goblet. “Have you any word of Brother Knobu?”
A deep chuckle came out of Brother Fulradt. “I didn’t know you two were so close.”
Drogo turned to his superior. “His mission in Bar Elam was to kill the witch. Yet you said she was soon to arrive. I was but concerned that his failure meant we’d lost another
brother to her powers.”
“Brother Knobu is alive and well. He was not presented with an opportunity to attack the witch.” Brother Fulradt turned in the chair to look out the window. “The Master
anticipated the witch’s interference in our plans. Alternate attacks were prepared based on the possibility her actions forced the abandonment of our original attack. Her presence here
is now part of our plan. If she plays her part as we expect, we’ll see the downfall of the Freeman.”
© Copyright 2020 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.