Chapter the Sixth The Pass of Entyra
The company rode away from the city at a great pace due north. By evenfall the next day they had reached the foot of the mountains that bordered Losia from Loresohet.
Within that host only three hearts did not quail at the towering mountains of which many dark rumors had been spoken, and the few who had ventured in had never returned. Eradrim, who lived beyond them, was glad to be near his own land once more. Lord Thargon had once been through the mountain passes as a youth and was not ignorant of their terrors. And Jaylon, heir of the throne of Carasul, feared nothing, for he had a great faith in the ability of the king and the Arakun. Now his mind was not dwelling on what may be concealed in the mountains, but was wandering elsewhere.
Near midnight they came to the beginning of the Pass of Entyra winding through the cliffs. Many hundreds of years ago it had been cut into the mountains as an enormous road to the lands beyond. Its true origin was unknown, and neither Man nor Arakun had built it, but both confessed it was an awesome work. For years it had remained concealed from the world, until the lands around it became inhabited. In ages past it had served as a kingdom for Men, but when they left it had fallen into ruin. Rumors were heard that once, before the coming of Man or Arakun, it had been inhabited. By what or whom was unknown, but these were generally held to be false tales.
As they rode up to its entrance all the men were filled with awe. It seemed as if giant immortal hands had fashioned it. On either side great cliffs of the mountain side rose so high that the sky far above was simply a patch of dark blue amid the black frowning walls of the Entyra.
In the center of the entrance was a square block, chiseled from stone, marking the beginning of the pass; and though the edges had been weathered, it was still majestic. The realm beyond had been named after this remarkable structure. The Entrya.
In the ancient days, it had powers to inform the inhabitants of the pass when any unbidden mortal trespassed; and in this way no enemy was able to enter. The only army strong enough to enter and drive terror into the hearts of men was fear. Then they were conquered.
The army passed slowly around it, but none had the heart to touch its ancient stone. Its massive sides frowned down, built with hidden malice in its interior. It had long since lost its power, but they would not go unnoticed.
When the last of the riders had passed around it they heard from behind them the sound of a bird, uttering a shattering screech. The army did not look back, and only Jaylon dared a glance at the Entyra. Hovering over its top was a black creature but he did not try to make out its features. Their presence had been revealed.
The moon was little more than a crescent and the promise he had made to the maiden Raora, was going around in Thargon's mind. It should be easy to get back in a month. He had allowed more time than he had expected. Nevertheless a warning in his heart urged him onward.
Jaylon was thinking of his painful parting from Raora and wondering if he should ever return. But he must, he told himself, he had promised.
Eradrim knew these paths all too well and he was measuring the strength of their company against the strength of the nearest band of creatures from the hills that was probably afoot at that very moment looking for mischief.
The following day went well until dusk. The company rode swiftly and the sun had only just set and when the king halted the journey. He put up a hand for silence and listened intently. A hoarse shout was heard from somewhere in the cliffs, and another, not an echo, answered it from the opposite side. The king gave a signal and the troop rushed along the road at a rapid speed.
Suddenly, a man cried out from he back of the group and fell from his horse. Jaylon turned and rode back. A well-aimed arrow had pierced his throat. This could mean but one thing. The creatures of the mountains were pursuing them.
Dismounting, he folded the man's hands upon his breast, knelt and kissed his forehead and carried him off of the main road where he might be safe from the merciless pursuers. Then mounting his own steed and taking the reins of the fallen rider's horse in one hand, he raced back to the front of the line. The mountains had been awakened.
The army raced off at a great speed, flying over the rocks. At last, Thargon could see fleeing was of no use. The enemy was gaining and the company could hear their heavy footsteps on the ground behind them. King Thargon summoned a halt and the riders formed a circle with their spears outward; they did not have to wait long.
A stream of black came issuing down from the hills. Wolves, jackals, the men of the hills and other worse creatures soon surrounded them. A company of men armed with bows took refuge in the center of the ring and began to shoot until their arrows were spent. Mounds of black carcasses piled up all around the road but the enemy hardly seemed to grow less. Often one of their own soldiers breathed his last, pierced by poisoned arrows, or hewed down by the pitiless attackers. These creatures had gathered for one purpose, and after many years, they descended from their haunts to answer a voiceless summons.
Eradrim, messenger of the Arakun Lord, was not alarmed; he knew the secrets of the mountains, and their inhabitants. He was not unaware of the losses the company and he only waited to act until he was sure the army would not be able break through to Losia without him. Then, standing up in the stirrups of his horse, he lifted his right arm and shouted in a commanding voice, “Bera hara, onen carple Neratiren, bera hara!” (Depart, by the wrath of the Neratir. Depart!) His terrible figure rose against the moon and struck terror into the hearts of his enemies. Jaylon did not understand the words, but his enemies evidently did. Uttering horrible shrieks of fear, they fled. Eradrim acted without delay. He called to the king, and leaped from his horse to the ground. The Arakun said nothing of what had just taken place, nor of why the enemy had fled but told the king to command the troops to follow him. He seemed to know a more secure road through the mountains. Saying nothing, he galloped back, retracing the company's route from the beginning of the pass. Jaylon looked about him bewildered, but he did not doubt. He had seen Eradrim command the enemy's host to leave, and threw his confidence for the first time into another's hands. With a cry he galloped after the Arakun. The rest of the company of riders followed him, but no one could outpace the horse of Eradrim. Far above the moon saw a silver streak rush through the darkness of the pass.
The Arakun charged unceasingly for a mile, and a terrible spectacle he made. His sword was drawn in one hand, his spear brandished in the other. The horse's hooves did not seem to touch the ground as it flew over the dark rocks on the floor of the pass.
At last, he reined the horse and it halted and swung round to face the rest of the army. Jaylon soon arrived at his side, breathless, but he never forgot that ride. The wind was singing in his ears, and he had felt the spirit of battle for the first time. But it was all lost as he gazed at the Arakun ahead of him, riding as if on the wings of the wind. That had been worth seeing, and a respect and love for Eradrim entered his heart for this warrior.
Until this moment, he had always thought himself superior and though he was neither haughty nor discourteous, he was higher than many in rank and, he believed, in character, feeling little respect for anyone besides himself. He was charitable, but very proud, and he never entrusted his heart to anyone. Now it was different; he felt he had met his equal.
The rest of the army rode up moments later and the Arakun began to explain his plan. There was between the mountains a different path leading north-east that he had not spoken of before because it was a roundabout course. It embraced the edge of the mountain and was very narrow. So narrow that they need not fear the enemy's attacking them again. “At least,” he murmured under his breath, “not for many days. They have awakened the wrath of the Neratir.” The king said nothing, meditating on the advantages of the plan, but Eradrim allowed no time for objections and led the host around the cliff.
The men rode in single file at as great a speed as the cliff would allow for three days and nights. The weather was cold and uninviting and a chill wind was blowing. At the break of the third day the path had changed its course and was running northwest, taking them back to the road. At noon the next day, they could see the end of the path and the main road through the mountains beginning once more. They returned to the road and came to the end of it in another hour. Two massive boulders marked the end of the dreadful pass. Even the bravest among them all did not regret leaving it.
Beyond, was a rocky, barren terrain, the last signs of the mountain's wrath. They crossed the desolated waste in little over an hour and by evening were at the gates of the cypress trees of Losia, weary in heart and strength, and their numbers much decreased. One hundred and fifty warriors had dwindled to a mere eighty-seven.
As they approached the beginning of the wood, four Arakun came out of the trees and greeted them. “Hail, Lord Thargon,” cried the leader as they approached. The king responded and explained his journey, but it seemed to be already known to their hosts. After a few words with the Arakun, Eradrim rode into the woods and disappeared. The prince was disappointed, and assumed he would not see Eradrim again.
The riders dismounted and their horses were given into the care of an Arakun maiden. Jaylon watched in amazement as she murmured a few soft words to them in a strange tongue and they followed her into the forest to be rested and fed. The wounded men were taken away by a group of soldiers.
The rest of the company was directed by a troop of guards clad in silver and led through the forest to Elaran.
Jaylon, who remained with one of his wounded companions, observing the healing skills of the Arakun, did not accompany them.