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A Fairy Tale chapter six

The Battle



“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.

It wasn't long before, in the far distance, they saw a black line appear. After some time they could see it was a constantly shifting shape, then, when it came closer, they could see individual figures. They would slap, with their weapon, their armored chests as they took a step. The noise which was just a hum when they first appeared grew and grew until it was a thunderous clash of metal on metal.

When the leading element of the dark army had come within a hundred feet of the bottleneck of the funnel they stopped and continued their din of weapon on armor. Suddenly, at some unseen command, they all stopped, and there was silence.

The Royal troops in the valley shifted from foot to foot, weapons ready, nervously awaiting the dark elves assault. The tableau remained unchanged for minutes; the King, with Art on one side and Alet on the other, stood motionless on their peak.

Every thing remained static for long minutes until, again at some unseen command, the dark elves surged into the bottleneck. The caltrops killed many as the sharp steel spines ripped through their boots and pierced their flesh, but there was no stopping the multitude. There was pandemonium when the two forces met and the brief flashes as elves died was almost hidden by the dust of their rapid disintegration. The dark elves weapons and armor were no match for the steel spearheads of the Royal troops but they kept coming, almost suicidally throwing their bodies on them.

It was not all one sided though, as trooper after trooper wearing the Royal colors flashed into eternity. Alet was almost overcome by the slaughter taking place below. Art stood there stoically but his jaw muscles could be seen clenching and unclenching. The King hadn't moved an inch since the battle started but turned to Alet as she gasped, “Why do they keep coming, can't they see it useless?”

“ My dear, Alet, look out there and you'll see mile after mile of dark elves waiting their turn. They have us outnumbered by a large margin but they're not stupid. This is just to try to see what we have. I'm sure it will stop soon and we will see something else.”

It didn't stop very soon but something else did enter the fray. From the dark elves masses there arose a large group of sleds and shot forward. As they reached the bottleneck the riders on the sleds started pelting the Royal troops with fireballs. Although they weren't huge they were deadly and were decimating the Royal troops.

General Gavers came up to the the top of the hill and addressed the King, “Sire, I expected they would copy Art's sled, but I didn't expect this.” The dark elve's sleds were not light wicker as Art's was, but a heavier wooden one with some type of covering on the bottom. General Gavers gave a signal and a bugle call rang over the area. Hearing this, the Royal troops ran for their fireproof barriers at the foot of the hill with the fire sleds following.

Another signal from General Gavers brought forth another bugle call and a line of elves in the Royal colors came from the backside of the hill to the top. They commenced a barrage of fireballs at the dark elves sleds. Some were successful in reaching the occupant but most hit the bottom of the sleds and the covering on their bottoms was not flammable.

The retreat of the Royal elves had allowed a large contingent of the rebel army to invade the valley. The only thing that saved The Royal troops was the dark elves eagerness. They all tried to get through the bottleneck at the same time and many jams occurred, slowing their entry.

The Royal troopers were behind their fire barriers and pushing them forward while fighting the dark elves at the sides of them. The fire sleds couldn't get at them from overhead now because of the overhangs on the sleds but came lower and lower to attack them from the rear. This allowed the Royal elves on the hill to throw their fireballs directly at the sleds occupants and soon there were only a few fire sleds left and they flew back to their side of the bottleneck.

The troopers and their barricades kept pushing forward while the enemy kept pouring through the bottleneck. There was soon about equal numbers of elves of both sides in the valley. The dark elves were stopped from reinforcing their fighters when a barrier was pushed to the opening, cutting off replacements.

Now there was a pitched battle in the valley as the roughly equal sides fought with any available means, but slowly and surely the steel weapons in the hands of the Royal troops turned the balance in their favor. Some of the dark elves attempted to pick up and use discarded weapons from the fallen Royals but soon learned the folly of trying to use them without the silk gloves of the Royals.

The death flashes from the melee tapered off until there was just one here and there and then there were none. All the dark elves in the valley were gone. The dark army withdrew back to their lines some hundred feet away.

Alet was ecstatic as she clapped her hands and did a little dance, “They're quitting, we've won, we've won!”

Art put his hand on her shoulder to stop her frisking, “Alet, stop. We've won nothing, they're just regrouping. I don't think the will attack again today but this is far from over.”

The King agreed, “He's right, Lady Aletta. They will be back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow until it's over. Look down in the valley and see how many fewer troops we have now than this morning and tell me what we have won. Now come, we must meet with Prime General Gavers and plan for tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come.”

Just before they left they looked out over the rebel army. Here and there they could see occasional flashes as the wounded there gave their last breath. They then turned and walked down the hill towards the headquarters building.

They found General Gavers in the large conference room surrounded by his staff issuing orders as fast as he could make a decision, which was very fast indeed. Messengers were rushing in and out of the room and the glimmers of faery flights could be seen frequently.

When the King, Art and Alet entered the room all conversation halted and all bowed. The King held up his hand, “Please continue, we will just stand off to the side and observe until you're done.” The raucous chaos immediately resumed.

After quite a long time The General walked to them, “I've taken care of the immediate items and my staff can handle the rest. Let's go to my office where we can have some quiet and get some refreshments and food brought in.

They gathered around Steve's desk and dug in to the food and drink he'd arranged for. Steve took a deep drink of ale and lowering his mug sighed, “That hit the spot. Let me fill you in on how I think we did, Your Majesty.”

The King interrupted, “Please, the titles are for the court and in public, I intend to call you Steve and you may call me Oberon or Sire if that's more comfortable for you. Now continue, I'm sorry to have interrupted.”

Steve smiled, “That's okay, Sire, your house, your rules. I've had the troops in the valley replaced with fresh ones. Those elves fought valiantly, I was so proud of them. Overall I think we did about what I expected. We lost a few more to the firesleds than I thought we would as I hadn't expected them to have those heavy ones. I figured they'd copy Art's sled, but I don't think they have many more of them. They wouldn't have had time to build many more. We gave them some surprises too and we have more to use.”

“ I think I'm pretty cognizant of what went on today, Steve. What are you planning for tomorrow?”

“ Today was a defensive battle on our part. I wanted to see what they had that I didn't know about, the firesleds as an example. I don't think they have much more of that sort of thing, they're too much more of a mob than an army. I think their big weapon is the Ifrit and we're not sure where it is and we have to find out. That's where you come in, Art.”

“ Me? What do you mean I come in?”

“ You're my chief scout, aren't you? Well, actually, my only one so far. I want you to make a night flight and see if you can find it. There's no moon tonight and they won't even know you're there if you don't make any noise.”

“ How am I going to find it at night? If it's not having that light show in it's covering cloud it'll just be a hill or a big rock to me.”

The King said, “Art I can give you a spell for night vision better than an owl's. If they can find a mouse in the dark flying high overhead I'm sure you can find it.”

“ Uh, thank you Sire.... I think.”

Steve said, “One more thing, Sire. As I said, we fought a defensive battle today to feel them out. But a war was never won fighting defensive battles. We have to go on the offense. We have a good, strong place to retreat to if it doesn't go our way tomorrow but we have to go on offense.”

“ I have to agree, Steve. I put you in charge because you are a military man and I'm not. I haven't even been in a fist fight for over nine hundred years.”

“ Er, uh, If you say so. I have another question, Sire. How did you fight an Ifrit before, what did you use to defeat it?”

“ We never have fought one.”

“ But you must have come in contact with one before in your long history if they've been here. Can't you give me any information on them?”

“ Steve, I thought you knew. An Ifrit isn't native to my world, it came from yours.”

“ WHAT! I mean, what? My world? I never heard of anything like that at home. You said you knew what it was, how did you recognize it if it was from my world?

“ When I was visiting your world in my youth I ran across it. If I remember correctly, it was in what you call the Eastern area or something like that. It fits the description exactly of what we have here.”

“ When was that, Sire? Do you remember what was used to kill it?”

“ I'm sorry, I'm not sure of the time. I know I was young and it was quite awhile before my last fist fight, I remember that much. As to what they used, I don't know, it wasn't my problem at the time and I left before it was settled. I do remember that they were sure that magic would do it, but I don't think they were trying to kill it. I think they were trying to make it harmless somehow.”

“ That gives us a start at least. Art, get on the phone to Tom and have him study up on ancient mythology and try to find out about an Ifrit. There must be something.”

“ Steve, I love Tom like a brother, but having him to try studying ancient mythology would be like looking through a keyhole with a glass eye, pretty much useless. I do know a professor I could have him contact to do it. He would love to and it wouldn't cost very much either.

“ Hang the expense, I'll pay for it out of my own pocket if need be, just get the information.”

Art grinned, “I never thought I'd hear that, old scrooge offering to pay something himself, The next thing you know he'll be spraying compliments like a fire hose.”

“ Can the remarks, smartass, and call Tom.”

The King cleared his throat, “Can you two stop your juvenile spat and get back to serious matters? We have to figure out how they were able to get an Ifrit into this world.”

“ I assume, Sire, that you believe as I do, that there is human involvement on the rebel side.”

“ Yes, Steve. I don't see any other way. We elves are great when it comes to copying things, but not so much for innovation. I wasn't surprised to see sleds as they had seen Art's, but someone else came up with the idea of making them fireproof and using them to throw fireballs. An elf wouldn't have.”

Alet spoke up, “I'd like to say something here too, it's not just the males that are in danger, females are too. What can we contribute to make victory more certain? What about the Lows, how can they feel like they're contributing more than just being troopers and dying. That's all they're being used for now. I heard a human use the term 'cannon fodder'. I asked him what it meant and he said it meant 'expendables troops'. Sire, most elven power is in the Highs, but you're the only High anywhere that's exposed to danger. That's not fair.”

The King say back in his chair, deep in thought, for some minutes. No one said a word. Then he leaned forward, “Who was it said an elf couldn't come up with a new idea. Huh, I guess it was me, and I was wrong. Steve, you'll have a contingent of Highs here tomorrow for you to use to your best advantage. It's about time for them to learn some responsibility for society too.”

“ But they have no training, Sire. I couldn't order them into that blood bath you saw today, they'd be slaughtered and just get in the way.”

“ They have training, Steve, just a different kind. They've been fighting duels and training for them for centuries. Can you find somewhere where it will be elf on elf, individual combat that will make a difference?”

“ Hmm, I have no doubt that their Highs are somewhere safe, running things from the background. Probably the human or humans are there too. I've always wondered how long a war would last if the politicians were exposed to it, maybe we'll find out. That's another little job for you, Art, on your midnight sled ride. See if you can find anything. In fact, you better get going, one of the moons will be coming up just before dawn, but it's dark now so hop to it.”

“ Yes sir, oh illustrious leader. I'm right on it. Does that mean I don't have to kiss your boots before I leave, oh great one?”

“ You don't have time right now, just do it twice when you come back, now scoot.”

The King was shaking his head, “You two are going to give me gray hair before my time and that's not due for another millennium or so. Alet, you thought of this so you're responsible for it. I want you to organize a female elf's corp to take over a male elf's duties wherever they can. Clerks, medical people, drovers, messengers, that sort of thing. That will free the males to do the jobs that require strength, like digging fortifications. To borrow a phrase from a wise man, now scoot.”

Art and Beryl mounted the sled and lifted into the air. With the spell the King had given Art they could focus to see the smallest detail on the ground so they could stay a long way from the rebel's army and still observe them. It was similar to the farseeing spell but gave more detail.

As they silently slid along, mile after mile, parallel to the enemy they saw little activity until Beryl whispered, “Sir Art, what's that moving there,” pointing to a large black mass among the rebel forces. Art focused on the mass but was puzzled as he could see no detail, just a very large non-shape that seemed to be whirling in different intensifies of black. As it slowly crept forward it engulfed the shapes of the sleeping elves and behind it there was a completely bare trail leading into the night.

“ Whatever it is, Beryl, it certainly doesn't care for the lives of the ones it rides over, unless it's harvesting their life forces. It must be the Ifrit, what else could it be?” When a green speck started shining in the mass Art banked quickly away and ducked behind a hill and sped a distance. He then popped up for just a second and watched the speck fade away.

“ I'm sure now that's it. I think it sensed us but when we disappeared it quieted again. It's moving for the front, but at that speed it'll be a day or so before it gets there. Let's move on and see if we can find their headquarters.”

They flew on for a few more miles when coming up over a hill they spotted some bright light in the distance. Slowing they cautiously approached but were still some distance when they could make out a large elaborate combination house/tent sort of thing. It was obviously movable, but not very quickly because of the extravagant and luxurious furnishings.

They could see a double ring of fancily dressed guards encircling the portable capitol, but they couldn't see inside.

Art sneered, “If that's not their headquarters I'll eat my hat, but we'll have to get closer to see what's going on inside. Let's land and sneak up, Beryl.”

“ Alright, Sir Art. Uh, I didn't know you had an edible hat. Where do you keep it?”

They sneaked through the foliage to a point that with their enhanced vision they could see through the large windows. There was a large conference table in the center of the space with many elaborately decorated dark elves seated around it, but the most striking figure was the immense human standing at the head of the table.

His hulking figure was dressed in all black elfin garb and his lack of any jewelry or ornamentation only emphasized his dominance over the group. The fact that he had two large pistols in shoulder holsters affirmed his command of the group. Standing in the background behind each of the elves was their staff.

The human was wildly gesticulating and shouting, although Art couldn't hear anything at that distance. The elves were almost cowering in their chairs as they listened. The human was undoubtedly angry, probably because there was no immediate victory during the last day, and was berating these influential leaders among the dark army.

“ We can't do anything here, Beryl. Let's beat it and go tell the General.”

“ Alright, Sir Art. Uh, what are we going to beat?”

They flew very high and at top speed back to the encampment to find the General and the King just leaving headquarters even though it was past midnight. He reported quickly and concisely what he'd discovered to both of them.

The general thought for a few moments, “There's nothing I can do tonight but get some needed rest so I'm fresh tomorrow.

Sire, if you would, you might see if we have enough sleds to carry a force to their headquarters as you don't have to sleep. Art, go to bed.”

Dawn saw the King in his place on the hilltop with Art and Alet at his side. Slightly behind them was a line of High female elves, powerful in their own right, ready to pit their magic against the rebel wherever it was needed. Alet had worked through the night organizing women to take their places where they were qualified.

Behind the women were medieval siege machine being pulled up the hill not by troopers but male elves released from their mundane duties by female elves to take their place as warriors and strong backs. The trebuchets and catapults took their places on the hilltop. Seen below there were stacks of wide wooden planks hidden beside the high stone hills close to the bottleneck. The fresh Royal troops waited close by.

In the distance could be seem the dark elves, either putting on their armor or already standing in ranks, waiting for the day's bloodshed. They didn't look in the least discouraged by the previous day's failure to achieve victory. General Gavers came up the hill and stood with the King, “They don't look like they want to surrender, do they Sire.”

“ No, they don't, Steve, and that in itself is a little odd. Elves are practical, even if brave. After yesterday I would expect to see some sign of hesitation. They expected to simply overwhelm us within a few hours, and when it didn't happen I thought I was going to see some doubt, but these elves look like yesterday never happened.”

“ I think I can explain some of it, Sire. We have something like it on my world. I know that the elves don't have organized religions like humans but somebody has been preaching to them. From the the few prisoners that we captured we got a view of what some, maybe all of them, believe, that if they die in battle they go to a place where everyone is a High. That's why they're so ready to go for broke.”

“ That may be, Steve, but they still have to die to get there, and that's not their nature. I don't believe that will hold up too long when they see the elf beside them flash into death. I guess we'll have to wait and see.”

“ Did you check on the sleds, Sire? Art said there was at least a hundred guards around that headquarters and maybe fifty elves inside. The army isn't very close but could get there in less than two hours if they see fighting or are told by a faery. It will have to be a quick in and out raid with enough elves, at least two hundred fifty, preferably more trained elves.”

“ So many, Steve? Why?”

“ Sire, this isn't a contest, this is war. We don't want a fair fight, we want to win with the least loss on our side possible. I'd put a thousand there if I could. Don't forget, we don't know if the human has other means at his disposal.”

“ I've had new sleds made all night and again today. I think we'll have enough for the volunteers.”

“ You got that many volunteers, Sire? From the Highs?”

“ Almost every one when I gave them a speech on the glory of victory, the adulation of their friends, the adoring looks of the females, and that sort of rot.”

“ In other words, you lied like a rug. Oberon, I tip my helmet to you, you would make a great General.”

“ Steve, my friend, I'll be satisfied if I make an adequate King. You'll have more than your three hundred by tonight, I guarantee it.”

They turned as the heard a low, thundering sound from the rebel army. It was not like yesterday, a mad rush. Today the whole army marched as one, walking toward the bottleneck. Those not in front spread to the sides and started scaling the steep stony walls on both sides The sound was made by the hundreds of thousands of feet within hearing distance pounding the ground.

Before the rebels even reached the bottleneck the catapults started releasing their deadly loads. The High females who could stepped forward and put a fireball in the basket of the catapult, the arm flew forward, hitting the padded forearm with a loud bang and hurling the fireball among the rebel army.

The muscular Low males quickly winched the arm back again and another fireball was released. The other catapults followed and soon there was a constant rain of fire falling on the rebels. Wherever the fireballs hit, either elf or the ground, they splattered over a much wider area, spraying many of the rebel troops with burning, sticking, fire. The rebel army came nowhere near the bottleneck.

Now the troops in the valley picked up the wide planks and placing them on end in the bottleneck let them fall forward, covering the caltrops until the bottleneck was covered from side to side with a wooden floor. More troopers followed with more planks, racing to the end of the already laid ones and dropping theirs.

This continued until the whole area of deadly caltrops was covered. There were ropes attached to the planks so that if there had to be a retreat they could be pulled from the bottleneck, again exposing the caltrops.

The troopers in the valley rushed through the bottleneck and waited for more who followed from the small passes on the sides of the valley until there was a force of thousands facing the rebels. Then the archers entered the valley and deployed along the back of the hills.

The siege weapons were not idle during this time. The catapults could still reach some of the rebels trying to scale the steep walls, and the trebuchets, engineered centuries past to throw over hundred pound stones over hundreds of yards, had no difficulty throwing much larger fireballs incredible distances into the troops on the ground and those climbing the walls farther out.

At a bugle call Royal troops marched forward in a line almost shoulder to shoulder. The archers came through the bottleneck and formed a line behind the spearmen. At another bugle call the archers shot over the Royal troops and sent a shower of steel arrowheads into the enemy. When the two lines met the the depleted front line of the rebels was easily destroyed by the steel points on the long handled spears of the Royals.

It continued like that for more than an hour. There were Low elves running behind the archers, picking up the spent arrows with silk gloves and rushing to fill the quivers of the archers More low elves were bringing baskets of new arrows to replace broken ones and ones stuck in the clothing and armor of retreating, but still alive, rebels.

But there came a time when the space became too far between the Royal troopers, even with reinforcements, as the walls of the funnel widened. At another bugle call the Royal troopers started an orderly retreat. The rebel army didn't even follow.

Now the dejection that The King had been looking for in the morning was apparent on the dark elves faces. Many were sidling between their comrades to get farther back in the ranks. Fighting broke out as those in the rear who had seen nothing of the carnage in the front lines started killing those they thought were deserters. It spread for awhile but finally died as the ones trying to slip away were killed or stopped trying to leave.

The trebuchets kept up their barrage until the rebels retreated out of their range. It looked like the fighting was over for the day. The rebel dark army was dispirited and didn't know what to do until they received orders. The Royals couldn't go farther in the funnel until they changed tactics or changed strategy.

General Gavers approached the King. “You might as well come in, Sire. There's a better place for you to be right now.”

“ Oh? What did you have in mind, Steve? I think I give spirit to the troops when they see me here.”

“ You do, but I had in mind that you and I go down among the troops and not only the troops. How about the High females that did just an amazing job today? Some of them are in the infirmary resting from using their power so much they passed out. How about the Low males that pulled on those winches until their hands bled and their backs cramped? Don't you think they'd appreciate their King wiping their fevered forehead or shaking their bloody hand or telling them their family will be fed while they're recovering from a wound?”

The King stared at Steve for a long moment, “Thank you, Steve, for showing me where my real duty lies. It's with the people. Let's go.”

As they walked down the hill Steve said, “You've a real opportunity here too. Did you ever think you'd see High females and Low males working together in harmony? They were even joking with one another and jibing back and forth. I saw a High lady pick up a Low when he fell from exhaustion. Isn't that what you told me you wished for a couple weeks ago?

They spent the next hours among the people, first the infirmaries, where they reassured males and females alike that they had done their duty well and were to be commended. Many were stunned to meet their King, who they had never had a thought of seeing, much less touching his hand. Many tears were shed, not from the pain of wounds, but from the gratitude of the people to the King, and from the King to his subjects.

Next they walked among the troops, those who had been in the lines, hoping not to die, but willing to do so if it meant protecting their families and country. Shaking hands, just a few words exchanged, these were the things that straightened the backs and lifted the heads of the weary.

Their next visit was to the female's corp, where the High and Low ladies commingled in their chores and were amazed at the common thoughts and attitudes the others had. Friendships were forged here, never to be broken. Here, the King was impressed by the strength of the ladies spirit whom he had assumed were a weaker sex.

And then they walked among the people, from the stable boy to the wealthy, reassuring them and being reassured by them, and everywhere the awe in the faces, that their King strode among them in common struggle with the enemy and with life itself.

When they finally sat in the Generals office, eating and drinking, the King sat quietly and studied the days visits. After they finished the King spent a few minutes studying Steve, “How did such a man of violence ever understand how necessary it was to do what we did today, Steve?”

“ I don't consider myself a man of violence, Sire. I consider myself a man of peace who uses necessary violence when needed to insure peace. There's a difference there somewhere.”

“ Either way, you're a man who makes a difference, and that's the important thing for a man to do. Speaking of that, where's Art and Lady Aletta?”

“ I sent Art on a scout flight and he should be back soon, and I think I see Alet coming down the street now, I had sent her to check on the sleds and your volunteers.”

Alet entered shaking her head, “I don't think I've ever seen a bigger bunch of children than those elves you have conned into this venture, Sire. They're strutting around, showing off their swords, and bragging about how brave they are. Didn't they see what went on the last few days? Don't they know that they may die tonight?”

Steve said, “No, Alet, they don't. They know that some of them may die, but it's not going to be them. That's how all troops feel until it's crunch time, then some of the smart ones will have sick stomachs and loose bowels. The others will have to see their friend with his entrails hanging out, or even their own, to realize what's going on. I'm going to have to talk to them before they leave.”

A few minutes later Art entered, “Oh boy, that food looks good, I'm starved. I'm surprised there's that much left after Steve was done. What did you do, roast a whole cow?”

“ Aren't you supposed to report first, smartass? Then I might let you have my leftovers after you kiss my boots.”

“ Why don't you hold you're breath while you're waiting? That way you might pop some those whiskey veins in your face.”

“ Why you little...”

Alet bawled, “Stop it, you two. You're bigger brats than those High youths. We've things to discuss.” The King just sat there with a small grin on his lips.

“ Alright, Alet, you're right, I'll take care of smartass later. I just looked through my messages and here's the report from Tom on the ifrit. Just let me go over it for a minute and I'll summarize it.

They sat quietly while Steve scanned the report. His eyebrows rose a few times and he gave small snorts from time to time.

“ Okay, here's the parts that concern us. It says here that the ifrit is known in Arabic literature and even mentioned in the Koran. He's a powerful creature of fire that can only be overcome or killed by magic. According to your professor they were thought to be killed off or enslaved. Maybe this one is enslaved by that human that we know of. Where he found it is anybody's guess. How or where it came from is not our immediate concern, it's what to do with it.”

“ I guess I'm the one that has to take care of that, Steve. I have the strongest magic, that's why I'm the King. But I may need help if this creature is stronger than I am. I'm going to have my strongest Highs on that hill with me tomorrow to allow me to tap their power if needed. It will be up to you to keep us safe until we win or die trying.”

Alet gasped, “Sire, if you and all the other Highs die there will be nothing left.”

The king said, “That's not true, Alet. The Lows have only seen any benefit from the Highs only occasionally. They'll live as always, but under a different system. I don't think it will be better, but maybe fairer.”

“ I don't think we have to be so fatalistic, folks. We've done a pretty good job so far. Their morale is down and ours is up. I've trained good troops before but none better than these. Do you think you could quit loading your face long enough to make a report, smartass?”

“ Oh, sure, [gulp] ah, well, the ifrit has sped up some and will be here tomorrow. I can't be any more accurate than that though. Their army seems a little dispirited but when the ifrit passes they buck up some and seem more cheerful.”

“ I've laid out a route to lead the sleds for our attack on their headquarters so none of them will see us. I think that when we leave everyone should leave in different directions just in case they have spies here, and I picked out a place where we can meet before we go there.”

Steve asked, “Art, who's going to be leading this raid.”

“ I guess I am, Steve, why?”

“ In a pig's eye you are, you don't know beans about leading a boy scout troop across the street, much less a raid. You'd have all our elves killed. I've been talking to Beryl, did you know that he's a fully qualified troop commander and has been in combat before? No? I thought not. You're just the head sled because you know the route, but he's in command. He's already put those men in squads so they're not just running around willy-nilly.”

“ You don't know how happy and relieved I am, Steve. You're right, I don't know jack and I'll be glad to have someone else who does. What should I do when we get there?”

“ Whatever Colonel Beryl tells you to. If he tells you to bury your head in the sand you'd better be digging by the time he's finished talking. Sire, I hope you don't mind me promoting Beryl, he needed the rank to get some respect from those Highs.”

“ Of course not, Steve. The army is under your command, and I think Beryl needed it too. He's been a captain for only two hundred years or so in the militia but I saw him in combat once and he's good.”

“ Art, call those Highs together, I want to talk to them. The King gave them a speech, now it's my turn.”

Art sent a faery to Beryl and soon they saw the young Highs marching in formation toward them with Beryl counting cadence. He called them to a halt in front of the Prime General.

“ What the hell is this, Colonel Beryl, why aren't these troops at attention. You there, stand up straight and pull in your gut, are you a trooper or are you a coffee drinker. You, yes you, what are you looking at? I know where I am, I don't need your help, you're supposed to be looking straight ahead, not at me. Colonel Beryl, have these troopers been told what their mission is?”

“ Yes, sir, they have.”

“ Alright, now listen up. You have been treating this like a picnic you're going on. IT'S NOT! This whole war being won by our side may depend on you, that's how important this is. Look to the elf on your right. YOU, that's not your right. The elf you're looking at may die tonight. Now look to your left. It might be this one. If it's neither one, it might be you. Some of you aren't going to return. Some of you are going to die. Who comes back and how many depend on you and how well you listen to your orders. If you disobey an order and manage to come back I'll kill you myself. Do you understand?”

There were a few weak, “Sure, Yeah, Yes.”

“ WHAT? I can't hear you.”

Colonel Beryl yelled, “YES SIR.”

“ WHAT”

Now all of them, “YES SIR.”

“ Colonel Beryl, carry on.”

As they marched away the majority of them were straighter and looked more determined and also much more thoughtful. Art followed them to the sleds. Each was given the direction to fly and where the meeting place was. They had been briefed on what to expect and that their expectations might be wrong.

They flew off in groups or singly in all points of the compass. Then Art and Beryl left, each on his own sled, and by a roundabout route went to the assembly point where they waited for a short while when the sleds started arriving.

They had started with two hundred fifty sleds, two elves to a sled. Only two sleds had failed to arrive when it was time to leave. One more did arrive just as they were a short distance on their journey and quickly caught up.

It was still early in the night, but they had a long way to go at the speed of the slowest sled and they wanted to arrive before the meeting broke up and the participants scattered. There was a dim faery lite on the back of every sled as they flew single file through the dark sky.

At a prearranged spot Art led them to a landing. From there Beryl took groups to their spots surrounding the building but far out of sight. Each group had a volunteer faery messenger with it and Beryl had many more.

The groups sneaked carefully through the foliage until they could see the lights of the buildings. A messenger from Beryl to one group started them making a racket. The guards sent out a few elves to investigate. The group kept retreating while making noise, leading the investigators farther afield. Another group silently slid in behind them. At a call both groups attacked and wiped out the guards.

The fight sounds had made the guards at the house nervous, especially when the first group didn't return or answer shouts.

Another disturbance started in a different quarter. A larger group of guards went out. They didn't return either.

Now panic set in at the house. Someone in the house threw a switch or called up a spell. The effect lit some intensely bright lights on the building, doing nothing but killing the guards night vision and showing them clearly. Beryl and Art could now fly their silent sleds directly above the building, from where Beryl could direct his different groups to the best advantage.

Beryl directed archers to advantageous positions and had them pick off individual guards, commanders when possible.

The inhabitants of the house sent their staffs out to help the guards, these were more powerful elves and soon fireballs were flying, unaimed, into the night, to no effect but to start small fires which quickly burnt out in the mowed area that stretched away from the building.

The flashes from dying guards when they were hit by a steel arrow shook the guards but not nearly as much as it did when one flashed from an unknown source. Art was overhead with a powerful, almost silent air rifle, shooting steel pellets into the unprotected necks of the guards. One unheard phhft from the air rifle, one dead guard or one staff member. An older, more powerful elf came out and spelled a very bright light far overhead that died when he died with a pellet in his neck.

The guards were now huddled against the build walls, holding anything they could to ward off the increasing flight of arrows. That's when Art dropped a fireball on the canvas roof of the building and he and Beryl flew a distance away. The guards broke and ran for it. If they made it through the lines of the attackers they didn't stop but raced for the safety of the army. Most didn't make it.

The most powerful elves boiled from the inferno, throwing mostly useless spells everywhere. They were met by a rain of arrows and a few second later a maddened party of young sword wielding elves. The huge human was the last to leave, exiting with smoldering clothes but with both pistols firing wildly.

There were more deaths from that volley in the Royal ranks than there were previously. Art spelled a shield around the human when he first saw him. It didn't stop the bullets though, it only kept the air inside it from freshening. The man had been panting when he emerged from the building. It didn't take long for him to run out of oxygen.

First the small flames and sparks on his clothes went out, then he slumped to the ground, unconscious. Art flew quickly to save him from being butchered, removed the shield and gave him a good crack behind the ear to make sure he stayed out. Binding and gagging him, he tied him onto the back of his sled.

When they left, not much more than an hour after arrival, they left no sleds behind, but there some with only one rider instead of two. Art left Beryl to lead them home and rushed with his prisoner to headquarters.

He arrived to find Steve dozing in his chair and the King and Alet pacing. The King ordered, “Let him rest, Art. I think he passed out from exhaustion worrying about you and he's not a young man.”

“ Me? He was worrying about me?”

“ You young people are so blind sometimes. Don't you realize he thinks of you as his son?”

“ Who? Me? You must be mistaken, Sire, he's always criticizing me.”

“ And what father doesn't do that to his son. Tell the truth now, don't you look up to him for guidance?”

“ Well, sure, he's the one that knows all about this stuff, not me.”

“ And don't you think of him as an authority figure?”

“ Of course I do, but I look at you the same way.”

“ And aren't you two always bickering”

“ Sure, we both enjoy it and know it's not really serious.”

“ You've just described a father, son relationship. Now, tell the truth again, don't you feel a deep affection toward him?”

“ That old goat?......... Yea, I guess I do.”

“ There you are, Art. What you do about it is up to you.”

Just then a trooper entered the room and snapped to attention by stamping his foot on the floor when he saw the King. This brought the general awake, snorting and yawning. “Oh, there you are Art, where the hell have you been, chasing Alet again? Well you found her, she's right there. Why haven't you reported yet?”

“ I didn't think you'd hear me over your snores, that's why. I've been out pulling your fat out of the fire again, and do I get any thanks? No, it's always Art do this or Art go there, while you take a nap.”

“ Why you... what the hell do you want trooper?”

“ Sir, theres a man tied to a sled outside, should I untie him?”

“ NO, get three more troopers and carry him in here. I've got the human here, Steve. We lost some elves but they showed themselves to be up to the job. Beryl's bringing them back. The place and everyone important is wiped out.”

“ That Beryl is a good man, I knew he'd get it done.”

Art started to reply to that statement but the door opened and four troopers struggled to carry the huge human in and dropped him unceremoniously on the floor. He was awake now but didn't look happy as his eyes flashed at the rooms occupants.

“ Will that be all, Sir.”

Yea, no wait, get four more troopers and wait right outside, if you hear a lot of fighting in here come in and kill that man.”

Steve walked over to the prone figure, “We're going to take that gag out in a minute and ask you some questions. It's up to you if it goes easy or hard. There's no Geneva Conventions on this world and I'm not above a little torture after what you've done. Take the gag off, Art.”

Art mumbled as he removed the gag, “Go here, Art. Go there, Art. Take the gag off, Art.”

“ What are you whining about now? Get that gag off.”

The man spit out some pieces of cloth and said, “Ask whatever you want, it makes no difference now, you're all as good as dead.”

“ Yea, I've been as good as dead lots of times. Who are you and where did you come from?”

I am Basit Gamal, I came from nowhere, I was born in the desert and I claim no country as mine.”

“ How did you get here, and why?”

“ I was approached by one of the dark ones and hired to help them to find the ifrit. I came the same way I assume you did, through a gate between our worlds. When I found a sleeping ifrit the wizard woke it and captured it. The head man wanted me to get it to the gate. I hired a large van and did that. What more do you want to know?”

“ How did you end up running things? You were just an errand boy.”

“ I was not running things, I was just the figure head because of my size and my guns. I was taking orders like everyone else.”

“ Then who was? Where can we find him?”

“ It was all planned and run by the head man and the wizard. I don't know his real name. He just posed as one of the group that was supposed to be advisors to me running the war. You can't find him, he was one of those killed last night.”

“ Alright, then where can we find this wizard? Was he killed last night too?”

The hulking man gave a leering grin, “No, he wasn't there, but I can tell you exactly where he is.”

“ Where is he?”

“ He's with the ifrit, under the cloud hiding them both, why don't you try getting him there.”

“ Do you know a way to do that? Do you know how to stop it or kill it?”

“ If I did, I would tell you, I don't want to die either, but now we are all doomed. There isn't any way to stop it. Only the wizard knows how to control it and he wants all of you dead.”

“ What for? Why does he want to destroy everything and everyone?”

“ Not everyone, just the King and his group. Then he would be in charge with the head man dead. They want to invade our world and be King of both worlds.”

“ What kind of megalomania is that, to what purpose?”

“ I'm just the errand boy as you said. Why did Hitler or Kublai Khan or Attila or a hundred others want to take over everyone? I just wanted the ton of gold they promised me. I had it too, and was about to leave when you stopped me. I wasn't going to stay and see what happened.”

“ Gee, I'm sorry that we interrupted your plans, but you're going to see them anyway because you're going to be on that hill in the morning with the rest of us. If you can think of anything I think you'd better let us know as soon as possible or you'll end up as a crispy critter too.”

The morning saw the cortège of dignitaries lined up behind the King, Lord Cyral and the Council members, Art, Alet and the tightly bound Basit Gamal. All, except the latter, were there to unite their power to the King, if needed. General Gavers stood to the side.

The rebel army stood just out of range of the trebuchets, seemingly uninterested in the hill before them. The time past with no appreciable movement from either side. Then, in the distance, could see a stirring in the massed troops as they split, allowing a clear passageway between them. The ominous cloud of the ifrit made its way toward them. It was in full display, the angry flame colors dancing in the sooty swirling mist.

While still some distance away fireballs shot from the cloud and arced their way through the sky toward the hilltop. The line of Councilors and Highs nervously fidgeted as they approached but held their places. Each of the fireballs had been aimed at a siege machine. Soon the catapults and trebuchets were nothing more than burning timbers as the attendants of them rolled to put out their flaming garments or beat them out with their hands.

The cloud came closer and then spewed a huge fireball straight at the King, but it hit the shield the King had called up to protect himself and those around him and dissipated harmlessly.

The King called upon his power and became taller with each passing second until he reached his full grandeur of close to ten feet. Then he launched a massive fireball that sped and struck the cloud with a resounding thunder. The cloud expanded for a bit, but then began drifting away, tendrils of it creeping along the ground like spasming snakes. Wherever a dark elf came in contact with one of these they began choking and gasping until they flashed into death.

As the cloud dissipated it revealed the ifrit, first the head, a smutty looking square shape with a devil like visage and two huge horns twisting above the crown and the spiked ears. It's hair was a mass of flames that curled down it's back to the immense shoulders and heavily muscled arms and brawny chest. It wore a loin cloth of some strange material that looked to be scaled. Below were sturdy thighs which melded in the backward jointed, goat like legs and black hooves instead of feet.

It was at least equal in height as the King. Some distance behind it was a small wizened elf who was obviously directing it as he waved his hands in arcane spells and could be seen mouthing cabalistic commands.

The ifrit raised his hands and threw not a fireball, but a red flaming arrow that hit the King's shield with devastating force. That was followed by another, and another. The first did nothing, but by the third the King could be seen to stagger a bit, then he released a bright blue fire arrow and repeated it again and again. The air itself between them was hissing and snarling from the heat as the arrows flew back and forth.

The King called to Art and Alet, “Put your hands on me, let me draw power from you.” They not only did that but Alet grasped the King by one of his legs and hugged it. Art, being taller, was able to encircle the King's waist. They could both feel the power drain from them as it went into the arrows.

“ It's not enough,” the King said. “Councilors, join hands and touch me.” Only then did the ifrit seem to feel the power of the King's arrows. The duel continued for some time.

General Gavers tried to think of some way to end the stalemate. He had a thought, a slim chance, but anything now was worth a try. You wouldn't have thought that a man his age could run as fast as he did to his office, pick up some papers and rush back up the steep hill. He ran to the bound Gamal and twisted him to face himself, “Do you speak Arabic?”

“ I speak seven languages fluently and four more enough to get by, why do you ask?”

“ Can you read this?” as he showed one of the vellum scraps he held.

“ I only read six, but yes, I can read that.”

Steve pulled the prisoner close to the King, “Sire, listen to what he's reading, there might be a spell to stop him. Now read that out loud as loud as you can, your life depends on it too.

Gamal shouted one of the lines on the velum, the King repeated it in a booming voice. Nothing happened.

“ Read the next line, Gamal, quickly.” Again the line was shouted and repeated by the King. The ifrit stopped his barrage for a second and looked a little puzzled. From the little elf behind him came a command and he resumed his attack.

“ Don't stop Gamal, read the next.” When the King bellowed this one the ifrit stopped and looked down at himself as if bewildered about what was happening. It didn't matter what the little wizard shouted, the ifrit just stood there.

“ Dammit, Gamal, read that last spell now.” After the King boomed out the last spell the ifrit became very agitated. The little wizard became even more upset and strode forward and kicked the ifrit in the ankle. The ifrit ponderously turned and stared down at the wizard, then raised one hoof and stomped the wizard into the ground.

The ifrit started to walk away but then stopped as bursts of flames started spurting from his joints, they grew longer and brighter when he abruptly exploded in a fiery holocaust. The blast killed the dark elves over a vast area and they disappeared in one bright flash. The shock wave knocked all but the ones in the Kings shield to the ground.

A stunned silence fell over the whole assemblage until General Gavers spoke, “Well, there's another little problem taken care of.” He turned and walked away.

They gathered in Steve's office a short time later. Drinks were flowing and the food was disappearing at an astonishing rate when Art said, “That was quite an appearance you put on there, Steve, is that what you consider a little problem?”

“ Sometime when you grow up and can handle the truth I may tell you some things that will curl your hair, sonny boy.”

“ They didn't curl yours but they must have scared some into hiding. I see yours are getting pretty scarce.”

“ Why you...”

The King interrupted, “Children, mind your manners, there's a lady present.”

“ Thank you, Sire, but I'm used to babies squabbling, I help in the nursery sometimes. I'm just glad this is over.”

Steve said, “Just until the next time, Alet. There's always a next time. But I think something good came out of this, I see the different classes of people mingling. Don't you think so, Sire?”

“ Yes, I do, Steve, and I'm going to do my best to see it expand, it's been too long coming. But before I leave does anyone have any questions?”

“ I do, Your Majesty, but just one.”

Why certainly, Colonel Beryl, what is your question.?”

I just wondered if you knew why Sir Art never answers my questions?”

He didn't get an answer to that either.

Chapter 7, “The Aftermath” will be forthcoming soon

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