A fantasy WIP
Shandra surveyed the battle in front of her, her men were losing the struggle against their eternal enemies - the Ghoron - but she had a tactical advantage that her foe hadn't foreseen. She yelled,"Fall back to the ridge, we can make our stand in the forest, men!"
Without a second's pause, the Geven pulled from the battle and made a controlled retreat to the ridge that separated the woods from the open fields around her village. "Once we're in the woods, their armour and armies are no match for our archers, keep the lines strong, and we can have this day, men!"
The battle had raged, and the fighting was hard, but at the end of the day, the warriors of the Geven tribe stood proudly as their new chief Shandra Connaught viewed them.
Shandra had taken charge on the field of battle. The previous chief, Angus McPartland, had fallen in a fight to hold a vital outpost and with nobody appointed second-in-command, Shandra had taken command and led a charge against their foes. The charge itself came as a shock, for until then the men and women of the Geven had been on the retreat; desperate times call for desperate actions, and with nothing to lose and everything to gain, her bold actions took the advantage and put the Ghoron warriors to the sword.
She stood on the field of battle, her auburn hair blowing in the breeze, and her sweaty body spattered in the blood of her enemies. Shandra had a fire in her veins, and the taste of victory in her mouth, but she realised her troops were all but dead on their feet and required some rest.
Shandra surveyed the men who stood before her with pride, "Warriors of the Geven, today we struck a blow for freedom. No longer will be the victims of the Ghoron. Last night, we stood firm and showed them we wouldn't wait to be attacked again. They felt our wrath; our anger is anger to avenge the brothers and sister who fell in the many battles, over the years, it is a rage filled with the desire to bathe in the blood of defeated."
The Geven and Ghoron tribes remained enemies for so long, and nobody knew or cared what started the feuds. The lands of the Kaladrian Forest have been fought over for centuries. There are tales of men who can blend into the trees and remain unseen for months, but few believe such stories.
Holding the sword of Altanus high, she called out, "We, who are here, salute you. Altanus, Lord of the unknown and bringer of peace!"
The warriors roared in reply, "Shandra, Shandra, Shandra," and the woods rang to the noise of joyous celebrations all night. There was much drinking, singing, and telling stories, but Shandra knew this was only the beginning of the war. She left the fires of her people, and walked slowly to her tent, Shandra enjoyed the thrill of the battle as much as any warrior and enjoyed celebrating even more, but on this night, she had something more to think about - the future of her people.
A war that was destined to change Kaladria, for she had seen the future on a vision quest. Shandra had no doubt the tribe would be victorious, what she doubted was the cost; would the loss of lives be worth the victory? This war needed to be fought on many levels while the Geven were more than a match in the woods, could their forces overcome a fortress? Shandra was worried, as her men and women cheered this victory she couldn't help consider the future of her tribe, Let them have their moment, she thought, we might not see many such times in the future.
The men drank of the Mead as the women of the Geven danced around the fires. The stars lit the sky with everlasting beauty, and peace reigned in the forest - at least for now - despite the victory the guards remained vigilant. Life on the run enforced the Geven folk to be ever vigilant, even in times of joy their weapons were close at hand.
Her tent stood on the top of the rise overlooking the plain of Cardocan, below her lay the vast barren lands populated by mystical beasts and their Lord Flamendor, the great dragon. Flamendor was once the greatest of all the firebrands, but now his realm had passed to the lesser beings. The brave dragon had grown old beyond his years and was unable to fight by the side of his friends, but spirit dwelled in their souls, and this made the warriors as fearsome as ever.
Two things were certain to the warrior queen; the first is that to cross the plain, she needed the trust of Flamendor, and the second was to attack the fortress at Elfenmere, she would need all the troops and dragons the brave dragon could spare.
Elfenmere's strength as a fort is that it can only be taken by an enemy with force with a frontal assault - high cliffs protected the rear of the fort - but this was also its weakness. A small force had the ability to hide on the cliffs and mask their attack.
Shandra strolled around their camp, looking at the men and women enjoying their well-earned victory celebration, she couldn't help thinking How many will celebrate our final triumph - if we have one?
Her mind was brought back to the present, when a voice called, "Shandra, are you not celebrating with us?"
Shandra glanced in the direction of the caller, and then replied, "I will be with the people in a while, Samilia. I have a few things to gather before I come down." Shandra stood silently, thinking about the events of the recent battle and what was in their near future, as she closed her eyes to absorb the spirits of the forest and ask their guidance, she spotted a young bird land on a high ridge not far away. She took this as a sign from the spirits and went to seek out the ridge. The ridge was at the top of a small mountain, and she began her ascent. On her arrival, she found herself on a ridge no wider than a person's body and covered in small rocks. She watched as the bird walked along the ledge, gently tapping the stones with its beak, then for a moment the bird stopped by a pile of rocks and appeared to nod in her direction.
In the reflection of the bird's eye, Shandra thought she saw a cavern hidden far out over the lava plains, but she wasn't certain. The bird picked a small stone up in its talons and flew to Shandra; as she held her hand out to catch the pebble, she thought she heard a voice whisper, "Throw this rock, and I shall receive you in my kingdom."
Shandra didn't understand what was happening, but she believed in the world of the spirits and believed they were talking to her now, so. She threw the small stone as far as her aching arm was able and watched as it appeared to fall from the sky, then to her surprise the rock took on a life of its own and flew out of sight.
The rock dipped and swirled in the steaming eddies of the lava plains before coming to rest on a patch of land at the edge of Shandra's sight. "That isn't right; I couldn't have thrown the rock that far after such a gruelling battle," she muttered,"what about the way it travelled?"
In the back of her mind, a thought emerged; "No, you didn't throw the stone. My powers drew the stone to me, Shandra. Only those of true faith can see me. The cave you see at the edge of the plain is my home. I rarely leave my dwellings these days; there are not many believers and too many out to kill my kind for a safe flight. Once in awhile, I do try to stretch my wings and feel the wind on my face, I need to fly during the dark hours, and I miss the countryside colours. I hear your thoughts, Shandra, you need not worry about the heat, as my mind will be your safeguard as you come to me. All you need to do is to believe in me, and you'll be safe."
Shandra stood on the ledge looking at her destination; she had accepted the spirit into her life from childhood, but now it wasn't just about believing - she was putting her life and the future of her clan in the words she thought she'd heard from a cave she could barely see. With reluctance, she unbuckled her sheath and laid her sword on the ground at her feet, and then she cautiously edged forward to the brink of the flow - still not certain if this was the right choice.
Shandra stood on the ledge overlooking the lava, on her mind she had one thought,“What if I am being misled? I believe in the legend of Flamendor - the greatest of dragons - but is that belief enough to risk my life?”
The rising heat was so hot, she almost fell in the lava. She was about to give in to her fear when a voice echoed in her mind, “I can’t give you what you don’t wish to have. If your belief is strong, you will survive the walk to the cave, if it isn’t, you won’t get more than a few feet from where you stand. The answer to the question lies not with me, but within yourself, Shandra.”
Reluctantly,she stepped forward, stones rose from the lava to guide her footsteps. Now she’d started Shandra had no alternative but to go on in the hope that she had the strength of faith to walk across what seemed an endless fire plain. She was a brave warrior, and had the courage and skill to lead her men in battle but this was not about battle skills, this battle was about an inner belief and that is something Shandra had never challenged before, she had taken so many things for granted. One of those was that as a woman, she would never be given the opportunity to lead her men into battle, but a battlefield command is hard to dismiss; especially when the person wins a noble victory against a numerically superior force. As she had been told, she never took her eyes of the cave at the end of her journey, Flamendor told her this would be a sign of her questioning his decision and would lead to instant death.
Shandra had been walking for so long her legs began to tire, and she wondered if she’d made the correct choice in coming, or would she die here on the lava and her bones never be found. She was at the point of stumbling off the path chosen for her, when the cave came into sight, and sitting on a large boulder at its mouth Flamendor snorted a stream of steam. “I’m glad you made the crossing, Shandra. I saw that you’re a brave warrior but I needed to know how strong the faith is in you.”
She pulled herself up the small incline, the sweat dripping from her long hair down her back. As she looked up at the cave, she said, “It wasn’t as if you gave me the choice. The choice was easy, either go on, or die and never be found. I’ve heard stories about other warriors who came and died on the lava, their bones were never found.”
Flamendor gave a snort of steam, and then commented, “That is true, the lava fields move, and the shadows lie as the sun sets on the blocks. You think you’re walking on a solid platform, only to find that there is nothing to walk on. The lava doesn’t return what it takes, ever.”
Wiping her back with some reeds, Shandra inquired, “If you saw the battle, you knew we were close to losing. Why didn’t you come to our aid?”
The big dragon flapped his mighty wings, and took off for a small flight, leaving her with her thoughts for a short time. On his return, he laid a sheep at her feet, and said, “I could not come to your aid, Shandra, for many reasons. The main reason is I am the last of my breed in this area. There is a legend of another of my kind living across the mountains to the North - but that’s only a legend - I’ve heard on my travels flying over the city.”
She smiled, and then said, “What other reasons do you have for staying here when we needed you?”
Flamendor replied, “I needed you to prove yourself in battle, so I would know you are the person I need to go on a quest. This you did not only in battle, but when you accepted my invitation for this talk.”
She glanced at the barren cave, and then replied, “What makes you think I’ll accept your quest?”
The dragon smiled, and commented, “Because you are here. If you didn’t want to challenge the rules, you would not have taken the honour of claiming the victory at the feast.
You showed true wisdom by retreating in the face of the enemy, leading them into your trap. I suggest that you take advantage of the spring at the back of my cave to wash the dried blood of your body and clothes, you have a long journey and need your rest, My cave has no luxury other than being warm and safe. The cave is yours to rest in until you feel fit to continue.”