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A Fairy Tale - Chapter Five

War preparations

This is an ongoing story... you may not understand it unless you start at the first chapter

“ Get your troops ready to move into position, General. The next time we meet will be on the battle field.”

The King and his entourage departed shortly after he and the now Prime General had gone over the many details for the upcoming campaign. General Gavers had asked for topographical maps and was told there were none.

“ Well that's a fine predicament, Art, how can I plan an engagement when I don't have any idea of the terrain?

“ Do you really need to, Steve? I could probably show it to you if you want. They are just following a road that leads to the Capitol and I could show you that from the Capitol to pretty close to where they're at now.”

“ How are you going to do that, smart ass? I suppose you've got a little airplane in your backpack.”

“ No, but I can fly you there, dumb ass, if you're brave enough to fly with me.”

“ Ooh, are you now going to disrespect your Prime General? Maybe I'll have you taken out and shot.”

“ Then who's going to fly you, Prime dumb ass? I'll be back in a little while and then we'll see who's laughing.” They were both laughing as Art and Beryl left to go to the inn and get his wicker flying sled.

When they returned and flew over the tent the General came out and yelled, “Another thing you didn't tell me about, smart ass. How can I plan anything if you don't tell me everything.”

“ If I told you everything I know, you might still be stupid, you know. Do you want to see the terrain or not? Beryl, stay here, no one's going to try to kill me while I'm in the air. Climb on, Steve, and let's go.”

Steve hesitantly sat in the extra seat and they took off. Art may have put a little more than was needed to get off the ground as they shot high in the air, but smiled at the curses he heard behind him. He flew at a very good speed to the Capitol, then much slower for some hours, down the road the rebels were using until they could see smoke on the horizon.

“ I don't think we should go closer, Steve. That thing could throw a fireball and I don't want to try that again.”

“ That's alright, I've seen enough of the road, can we look over the country on both sides for a ways? There has to be a better place than that flat road with all the buildings.” They flew out a ways from the road while still some distance from the Capitol when Steve called, “Just circle this area, Art, I want to get a better look.” After some minutes he told Art to return to the training area.
When they landed he called Art into the tent, “Call up some faery messengers, I have to get orders off to the troops that are in that area to make some mock attacks in force. We have to lure the rebels off that road and lead them to where we want them. If we can make them think that's where our main force is they'll have to counterattack. We'll retreat and repeat until they're committed to following us.”

“ I assume you found a good place for us to fight them. What makes it a good place?”

“ Look, I'll draw it out. They won't get there before we can get our main force in place. Did you see those two ranges of craggy hills that start far apart but converge like a funnel? If we can lure them there, they'll be packed in tight and won't be able to put on a wide front but with only part of their army that they can crowd through at one time. Their numerical superiority won't mean so much.”

“ Won't they be able to climb the hills and flank us? If they do that what do we do?”

“ Yes, they could, but it's going to be hard to climb those steep slopes, and I'm going to have a surprise for them. How fast can you get some barbed wire here? Let's see them go through some steel barbed wire. And my men will be there with shotguns if they do.”

Art called Tom and ordered the barbed wire while Steve made arrangement to pick it up.

“ Sergeant Barkely, get in here. How many caltrops do we have with us?” Barkely yelled an answer. “That's all? Art, call your buddy back and have him go to my compound and pick up some caltrops and let me use your phone to call ahead so they don't shoot him.”

“ What the hell are caltrops, Steve? I've never heard of them.”

“ Have you ever seen little girls playing jacks where they pick up things? It's the same thing, it's got four legs and one is always pointing up, but these are bigger and sharpened. I sure as hell don't want to use land mines where our side could get into them, but caltrops do a good job and they're steel, too.”

“ Are you going to put them in the funnel to slow them?”

“ Yea, some, but can you get me some more flying sleds like you have? I'd like to put more behind them so they can't leave very fast.”

“ I think so, they have a sport here where they use them, and I'd bet you'd get some volunteers to fly them, too.

“ See, smart ass, now we have an air force too. Barkely, how are the logistics going?”

“ Pretty good, Colonel, I mean General. I received word that the portable kitchens are just about in place and the wagons are on the way, too. We should be able to leave in the morning.”

“ Uh, Steve, I don't want to appear stupid, but what's all this about kitchens and wagons, and what are logistics?”

“ Don't worry, Art, you don't have to want to appear stupid, it's your natural state. Do you think these thousands of troops are going to march for days with nothing to eat, carrying all this equipment? Besides food, I have to make sure they can get medical treatment if they need it as there will be plenty of blisters to take care of plus accidents. If none of them die on the way that will be a good thing, but don't count on it.”

“ Oh, that's logistics. I guess I never thought about it.”

“ Live and learn, Art. We need wagons to carry the tents, medicines, food for noon break, extra water, heavy equipment and a myriad of other things. They can carry their personal weapons, but it doesn't make sense to go into battle with hungry exhausted troops. At the end of a day of marching a good hot meal will do them good, that's why we have kitchens set up.”

“ Alright, I stand corrected. Talking about food, why don't we go to the inn and have some of Lani's good cooking, I'm hungry.”

“ You go ahead Art, I've a hundred things I have to do before I eat and sleep. Tomorrow I want you on that sled scouting ahead of us to make sure the way is clear and we don't have any holdups. See you in the morning.”

After Art left Sergeant Barkely approached the General, “Don't you think you're being a little hard on him, Sir. He's just a civilian, a pretty good one, but still just a civilian.”

“ Barkely, if I didn't like him so much I wouldn't bother, but when I care for someone I try to give them some of my knowledge. Besides, you've heard him lay into me too, he's holding his own, don't worry about him.”

Just after dawn the next morning Art and Beryl flew over the encampment and watched as the tents were struck and the troops took turns at the mess tent having breakfast. It had rained very heavily during the night and, although the camp was on a hillside, all the traffic was creating a muddy quagmire.

They landed for a few minutes and the General told them to scout ahead to see if the storm had created any bad spots on the road. They were gone for almost two hours before they flew back and landed.

“ Steve, there are some muddy spots, but they're drying fast, I don't think they'll bother you. The problem is a bridge that isn't in good enough shape to take what you've got. We looked it over and it's not good, but we looked upstream and just a way is a good place to ford. It's a hard bottom and pretty shallow, I think that's your best bet.”

“ Good, that's just what I wanted you to do. Take some marker flags and show the best place to leave the road to get to the ford. Then continue with your scout, but look out for any ambushers too.”

The rest of the day was uneventful and the troops reached the bivouac area only a little later than planned where they set up camp and had a hot meal before falling asleep on their blanket rolls. The General and Sergeant Barkely were finally able to dismount from the horses they had been on all day, riding up and down the long line of men, seeking any trouble spots.

And so it went, day after day, get up, break camp, grab a quick breakfast and start the day's march. The wagons with the hurt or too ill to walk were starting to fill. The medical wagon was kept busy, lancing blisters and salving burns from careless troops with their steel weapons.

They would stop for a short breather mid morning, a longer one midday for a quick cold meal, another break mid afternoon, and then on to the next encampment. Some days they wouldn't reach it until after dark if there was a delay during the day.

At dusk one day, when Art and Beryl landed, the General beckoned them. “Art, we'll be in place in a few days but I just got a report. The rebels have veered a bit from their path but not enough to lead them to where we want them. I don't think there's enough troops there to make them think it's our main army. Now is when I need one of your ideas, cough one up.”

“ Steve, I don't have the foggiest idea what to do. I'm so tired from all this flying I might fall asleep standing up. Let me think on it and if I can come up with something my illustrious General can't I'll let you know. All I want now is something to eat and sleep.”

As Art stumbled toward the cook tent Beryl cleared his throat, “Sir Art, do you know the doubling spell?”

“ No, I never heard of it, what does it do?”

“ Only one of the very powerful can do it. A High tricked my father by making it look like he was paying him when he only gave him half of what he owed. Could you do that with those troops?”

“ If I understand you, I could make something look like two of them? Is that what you're saying?”

“ Yes, but I don't know if it will work with troops, and if you don't know it, I guess that it's a dumb idea.”

“ Well, I'm sure going to find out.” Art summoned a faery and sent a message to Lord Cyral. By the time they were done eating, a larger than usual faery was hovering with a note in his hand in front of Art's face. He took it and read it. “Beryl, you're a genius, it will work on troops if I'm strong enough. I'm too tired to try it now but after a night's sleep I will. Let's hit the hay.”

“ Alright, Sir Art. Uh, did the hay do something wrong and where is it?”

In the morning Art approached the General, “Steve, I may have the answer to your problem, but I'll need some help to test it. Can I use Sergeant Barkely for a minute?”

“ I'm just desperate enough to let you expose him to one of your harebrained schemes. Sergeant Barkely, get in here.”

“ Sergeant, just stand there for a moment, this shouldn't hurt at all.”

The Sergeant took a step back, “Wait a minute, what are you going to do to me?”

“ I'm just going to make you double.”

“ What! What the hell does that mean? I'm already big enough, I don't need to be double.”

“ I'm explaining it wrong. I'm not going to double you, I'm going to make a copy of you.”

“ General, do I have to go along with this?”

“ Let him try it, Sergeant. He wouldn't do anything to hurt you... I think. If he does we can always shoot him.”

Before this got way out of hand Art, cast the spell and there were two Sergeant Barkely's standing there.

The original one jumped back with a few oaths better to not be repeated here. The copy jumped back in the same way but without the oaths.

The General was open mouthed, “Is it real, Art? Or is it like a hologram?”

Art stepped forward and gripped the doubles shoulder, “He's solid enough as long as I can hold the spell, but I need to see if he can act independently. Sergeant, go and sit down.” The double went to follow but Art said to it, “No, you stand at attention.” The double complied with the order, but clumsily. Art released the spell and the double vanished.

“ Steve, that wasn't difficult at all, but I have to see if I can do it with a group of men and how long I can hold it. Can we do that?”

“ We can sure as hell try. Sergeant, get about a thousand troops in formation. Let's just see how good this guy is.”

After the formation was called to order, the General told them what was maybe going to happen. As these elves had heard of the spell they were not too apprehensive. Art concentrated and suddenly there were two thousand elves there, but almost immediately they disappeared again.

Now the General was worried, “What's the matter Art? You had them there for a second or so.”

“ Yea, but the effort of doubling so many left me with nothing to hold them. Let me try something else, can you just put two hundred fifty in a group?”

“ You heard him Sergeant, put two hundred fifty in a separate group.”

“ No Steve, I mean four groups of them. The hard part is doubling them, holding the spell is very easy.”

After the troops separated Art quickly doubled each group, one at a time. “That's the secret, doing smaller groups. I first tried two groups at a time to see how hard it was and it was a whole lot harder than just one group, it gets exponentially harder the more troops. I'll bet I could do thousands if I just do them in smaller groups.”

“ If you can, that would take care of the problem, Art. Can you fly out there and do it today? We have to get the rebels onto the right path.”

“ Sure, Beryl and I will leave right after breakfast. I won't be able to land close to them though or the rebels might sense me. Better send word I'm coming, I don't want to get killed by mistake.”

After a few more experiments they went to breakfast. They left after eating and flew down the route they wanted the rebels to take. The last few miles they flew low and slow until they saw the Royal troops, then pulled the sled into some brush and continued on foot.

They were taken to Vice General Doyel's tent where Art introduced himself. “Good day General, I was sent by General Gavers to see if I could help you.”

The General eyed Art skeptically, “Yes, I received word you were coming, but what can one human do that a thousand elves can't.”

“ Sir, I think I can get you another thousand or more, would that help you? Are you knowledgeable about the doubling spell?”

“ Yes, I've heard of it, but only the most powerful elves can do it. Where are you going to find one that will come here, in a dangerous area?”

“ I am one, Sir, if you'll permit me to demonstrate. Will you please call your troops together in groups of no more than a hundred?”

“ Very well, I was ordered to cooperate with you but you're going to have to show me something for me to continue.”

After the troops were grouped Art quickly doubled each group, then doubled them again for a total of three thousand. “Do you think that will be enough to convince them that this is the main force, General?”

General Doyel stood there in shock. “I didn't think anyone but the King could do something like that, but can they fight? This will do the job if they can.”

“ No, I doubt if they can fight, but they can charge. How have you been trying to get the rebels to change course?”

“ I've been sending a small force to attack the smaller force they have at the head of the column, When their main body sees that they send reinforcements and we retreat. We've been able to pull the head to where we want them some but the main body doesn't follow very far. I've had to keep a reserve and not send my whole force at one time.”

“ If you send half your force and all the doubles would that pull them over? That would look like two thousand five hundred troops. The doubles don't have to fight, in the confusion of battle no one will see if they are or not. I can double the ones left so it looks like you have a thousand in reserve.”

General Doyel actually smiled, “Human, er, Sir Art, I think you may have something there. They have tried to send scouts to see if the main body was behind us but we've been able to stop that. If I send half of my force they'll be able to wipe out the column head. That's sure to bring the main body to follow, even if we have to do it again. I apologize for being skeptical, Sir Art.”

“ Don't apologize yet, General. Let's see if it works first. Tell your elves to control their doubles, they follow directions very well.”

The troops raced down the hill, followed closely by their doubles who were shouting and waving their swords and spears just as convincingly as the troopers. They collided with the column head where the fighting was a bedlam of intermingled bodies until the main rebel force sent an overwhelming number of their elves to reinforce the head. The main body followed in case more were needed.

The Royal force stayed engaged until the rebels reinforcements arrived, then did a fighting retreat until the reinforcements broke off in fear of the possibility of being wiped out by the whole Royal army.

After the officers who were in charge of the engagement reported to the General he turned to Art, “You, Sir Art, have saved the day. It went even better than we thought it would. Their troops couldn't tell the real troops from the doubles and most of them were fighting the doubles while our troops had no such difficulty. The column head was destroyed as were many of the reinforcements.”

“ I'm glad, General. Do you think it pulled the main body to where we want?”

“ It looks that way, they're advancing toward us and we have to move back now just enough to keep them coming. In another day they'll be committed to this route. We'll keep harassing them to make sure they are.”

The troops and what was left of the doubles marched out of sight of the rebels and Art was able to remove the spell. The relief he felt was nothing next to the feeling of fatigue from holding the spell so long. Beryl put Art's arm around his shoulders and half carried him to the Generals light carriage.

When the General climbed in he saw the shape Art was in, “Sir Art, I didn't realize what a stress you were putting yourself under. Rest now, but we may need some doubles again to keep up the appearance of a large force. I may have something that will help you, it's been in my family for a long time but I can't think of a better time to use it.”

“ What is it General? I don't think I could do that again for a few days. I might be able to double some but I don't think I could hold it long.”

“ It's a spell stone, Sir Art, and it's supposed to be a strong one. Once you double the troops you transfer the spell into the stone. It will eventually wear down, but I hope it will hold it long enough.” Glancing at Art he saw he was talking to a sleeping man. He looked at Beryl, “Guard this human well, he may have saved the Kingdom.”

Art slept the rest of the day and through the night. When he woke the next morning he still felt a little fatigued but was much better than the previous day. After breakfast he climbed back into the carriage and slept some more, waking in the early afternoon. He directed Beryl to get a couple of troopers and retrieve the sled from it's hiding place, then went to see the General.

“ Good afternoon General Doyel, thank you for the use of your carriage. How are things going?”

“ No need to thank me after what you accomplished. I would have carried you on my back if need be. I think they're getting a little suspicious after not seeing many troopers. Are you rested enough to double some?”

“ I think so, how many will you need?”

“ As many as you feel you can do without tiring yourself too much, we may need more later. What I've been doing is putting half of my troops in sight while marching the rest in sight on one side and out of sight on the other, then while out of sight they return to the starting point. If I could put all my men in sight and have the doubles appear and disappear I think that'll work. “

“ Alright, I'll double your troops, maybe ten at a time, that will be pretty easy, then I'll transfer the holding spell into the stone. That way I should have plenty reserve if we need it. Can you march them past me, ten at a time?”

“ Right away, Sir Art, then you go and get something to eat, you missed dinner last night and all you've had today was breakfast. We have to keep your strength up.”

Later in the day the General sent for Art. “It worked, Sir Art, they were getting ready to send a large group at us, but when the doubles started appearing and they could see all my troops on the hill they changed their mind and are just advancing at the normal rate.”

“ When will they have to stay on this route?”

“ I think they're committed to this route now, it would take them days to turn that large an army around and go back to their original one. Let's hope the spell stone lasts for another day to be sure. We could make another large attack with just a few real troopers and the doubles, but I don't think it's necessary.”

Mid morning of the following day General Doyel sought out Art. “Sir Art, I'm releasing you of duty here, I'm sure your talents are needed more elsewhere now that the whole rebel army is now on this route and can't go back. I've sent a report on your actions here to Prime General Gavers and to the King. I don't think we could have done it without you and I so stated.”

“Everyone does what they can, General. My actions were no more important than the lowest trooper here, I just did my part. What will you do now?”

“ I expect I'll receive orders shortly to completely disengage with the enemy, until then we will continue with our harassing attacks, at least as long as the spell stone keeps the doubles here. You be careful now, I've been privileged to meet you.”

Art and Beryl returned to the proposed battle area to finding the troops setting up a more permanent camp. Tents were still being used for the most part, but buildings had already been erected for kitchens and mess areas as well as for headquarters and sanitary facilities. He was directed to the headquarters building.

Upon arriving he had to talk his way through various levels of bureaucracy until he ended at Sergeant Barkelys desk. “Oh, hi Art, go right in, he's been waiting for you.” This gained him some ominous looks from the Generals, Colonels, and lesser ranks who were sitting there, waiting their turn with the top man.

“ Well, you finally decided to show up, where the hell have you been?” He turned to the trooper that was there, “That's all for now, distribute those orders and then wait outside.”

“ You know where I've been, Steve. I was pulling your fat from the fire. I'd have been here sooner if it wasn't for all the people guarding your exalted presence. When did you get so high and mighty?”

“ Yea, I know it's a pain in the butt, but if it wasn't for them handling most of the problems, I'd be up to my eyebrows with everyone who thinks only I can fix it for them. Did you see all the people waiting to see me? Half of them could fix their problem by the first private they asked, but I can't ignore them because they have clout.”

“ Okay Steve, I'll run right out and get you a hanky for your tears, It comes with the big money you're making. But they said you wanted to see me, what for?”

“ It seems from the reports that you managed to do a fair job down there, Art. The word has gotten around that you're some kind of miracle man. I want you to be my aide and then you can deal with all those whiners out there while I can get some work done.”

“ You know darn well that I did a pretty good job there, Steve, and I almost broke down doing it. As far as being your aide, I already told you I don't know anything about the military, so no thanks.”

“ I'm not asking you to handle anything military, those problems you pass up to me. But if it's about toilet paper or too much salt in the food you take care of it and keep those clowns off my back. They all know that you've somehow got the Kings ear so they're not going to give you any trouble you can't handle. Barkely hasn't got the chops to do it, but you do. Do I have to get on my knees and beg?”

“I'd pay money to see that, but you'd cheat. Alright, if you think I can, I'll try. But don't come whining if I can't.”

Art went to the outer office, “Okay Barkely, I'll take over.” He looked over the schedule. “I believe you're next General, what can I do for you?”

“ I have to see the General, it's of the utmost importance.”

“ I'm afraid he's too busy right now, maybe if you explained it to me I could help you.”

“ Well, maybe. The billeting area is too far from the mess hall and my troopers don't get enough time to digest their food before they have to rush back to it.”

“ Sergeant Barkely, do you have the camp layout handy? Thanks, let's see now. Yes, you are a little farther away than most. I'll just switch you here next to the stables, how's that?”

“ The stables? With that stink? You'll have to do better than that.”

“But that's the only spot open, I'm afraid. Why don't you see if you can trade places with another General? I think that's your only resort. Okay, who's next?”

And so it went for the next few days until word spread about who was handling complaints and the number of people in the waiting room dropped significantly. Most were now of a military nature that either Sergeant Barkely handled or were referred to the General.

Art and Steve had fallen into the routine of meeting in Steve's office for coffee before the daily cattle call started. “You're doing a fairly adequate job as my adjutant, Art, but I need you for something else too.”

“It would break your heart to give a compliment, wouldn't it. Even Barkely says I'm doing great”

“ I give compliments when due. I think I gave Barkely one within the last four or five years when he saved my life. What are you whimpering about?”

“ Never mind. What do you have in mind for me now? Nothing pleasant, I expect.”

“ Just the opposite, you get to fly your little wicker basket all day, just sailing around in the clear blue sky with not a worry on your mind.”

“ Clear blue sky, huh. Look out the window, Steve. Do you see those lightning bolts everywhere? I'm not flying in that.”

“ Did I ask you to? Wait until the lightning stops and there's just a little rain. I'm sure you won't melt, but we have to know the disposition of the rebels and where the Ifrit is in their army. Is he in front or back?”

Art sighed, “I guess I'll have to, but I'm not going to get close and be chased by one of those fireballs again, I almost didn't get away the last time.”

“ That's why I picked today, with this rain they'll have their heads down and not see you at all.”

Art and Beryl pulled the sled out of storage and loaded some lunch and drinks on the back. Then Art conjured a shield that extended over their head to keep some of the rain off. Donning slickers they took off and flew down the path toward the rebels. When they saw General Doyel's battalion, they landed.

“ I won't say good day today with this weather, General, but I am glad to see you. What can you tell me about the rebel's location?”

“ We were told to break off contact with them late yesterday so we're not too far ahead of them. I would estimate between five to ten miles, but it might be more if they've stopped for the weather. I'd be very careful from here on if you're thinking of approaching them.”

“ Thank you Sir. I'll be doing just that.” Art put the sled in the air again, but lower and slower, taking advantage of the terrain and foliage to stay hidden. He popped up higher at intervals for a quick peek. During one of these he saw the vanguard of the rebels in the distance. They didn't seem to be moving.

Keeping well away Art flew a parallel coarse, taking a quick glance when the hills allowed. The rebels were huddled in groups with canvases over them, one of each bunch looking out from under. When he reached the end of the column he could see why they weren't moving, the preceding ones had trampled the ground into a quagmire of knee deep mud for the followers.

He had seen no sign of the Ifrit yet but may have missed it between his peeks so he started up the other side just as cautiously. When he reached the approximate middle of the army he popped up again. He was startled by what he saw. The same angry cloud of dark colors laced with flashes of bright, angry shades of red and yellows. The rain that fell on the cloud exploded into steam immediately.

The sight surprised Art so much that he didn't drop behind the hill fast enough as a huge fireball flew at him from the cloud. Thinking fast he waited until it was very close before dropping below the hilltop and flying away at top speed. The fireball didn't have time to follow before it crashed into the hill and sent flaming bits everywhere, starting fires in the trees but they were quenched by the rain.

Having obtained the information wanted Art flew at his best possible speed at so low an altitude until he was sure he was out of danger when he raced at top speed back to the encampment. He and Beryl put the sled in storage to dry, then went to report.

“ I got what you wanted, Steve. The Ifrit is in the middle of the army but why is that important?”

“ Lordy, I have to teach you everything. If they had him in the head of the column we'd have to use different tactics. As it is, if he stays there, he not going to be trouble until later. If that army is two miles long now when they get squeezed in the funnel it'll be five or more miles long and the Ifrit will be at least two miles from the front. He won't be able to do much from there.”

“ I wouldn't bet on that, Steve. That first one he threw at me lasted for at least twenty miles until it petered out. But I think he has to see you to do that.”

“ That's more information you didn't tell me. Will you please think for a while if there's anything else I should know.”

“ I'm not trying to keep secrets, Steve. It wasn't that long ago I was a vacationing carpenter fly fishing in the Ozarks, and now you want me to be a military genius? It's not going to happen.”

The General frowned while thinking, then slapped his desk, “Yea, you're right, Art, I shouldn't expect you to know it all, but, dammit, if you do think of something, tell me quick. It's the little things that can trip us up. Can you take up the outer desk again in the morning? They found out you were gone somehow and Barkely has been going nuts with the lunatic crowd.”

“ Sure, I'll be here. Hey, wait a minute, there is something else I found out. When he throws one of those fireballs, if you wait until the last second and duck behind something it tries to follow you and hit's the something instead of you, trying to follow you. Does that help?”

“That's exactly what I need, Art, good job. Barkely, get in here. Send someone for that combat engineer elf, or whatever he calls himself. We need some portable fireproof barriers built in a hurry.”

Art slept good that night after finally getting a compliment from the General. The next day it was back to the desk, interrupted by quick scouting flights to see how close the enemy was getting. After office hours he spent some time teaching the volunteer sled fliers how to avoid the enemy.

The next days were a madhouse with the officers from the Generals on down, scurrying around, trying to get the preparations finished that they should have done the week before. General Gaver's troopers had strung the steel barbed wire on the hilltops, hidden until someone came close, by an ingenious method. It could be released to self coil when needed, thereby allowing the Royal elves to charge from the hilltops when it was time.

The small end of the funnel opened into a valley more than twice the size of the funnel opening, allowing a large group of Royal troopers to confront the smaller group of dark elves that could come through at one time. The caltrops that were sown in the funnel would slow them even more.

The valley itself was surrounded on all sides by high hills, with a narrow pass at each side. This was also barb wired and would be manned by Royal troopers behind it armed with the steel headed spears, backed by humans with shotguns.

The steep hill opposite the opening of the funnel was where the reserve force would be hidden, along with the archers. At the base of this hill were the wheeled fire barriers, wooden structures faced with roofing slates to repel fire.

Now everyone was sweating, waiting for the rebel forces to arrive. The King had arrived and stood on the hill all day to show his support for his elves and humans alike. There he would stay during the battle, using his powerful magic as best he could.

General Gavers was on the hill too, pacing back and forth, trying to think of what he'd missed or could correct. Art stood just on the back of the ridge behind the King, ready to do whatever he could.

As Art stood there, someone suddenly gripped his shoulder. He spun quickly to find Alet standing there with a calm look on her face, “Alet, what are you doing here? There's going to be a bloody battle here soon, you must get into shelter.”

“ Where else should I be, my hero? I have power too, and it's my world that's in danger here, not yours. You have no right to say I must leave. I will do what I can the same as you and the King. Now put your arms around me, I'm chilled.”

They stood there with their arms around each other, waiting for whatever comes.

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