Chapter the Ninth Council of War
Jaylon walked through the forest to where he had been told he would find Elaran and Thargon. He forgot all of his present cares as the cypress boughs engulfed him in their leaves. A faint green light came from above and transformed the forest into a paradise. The power of the Arakun prevailed in that wood and kept it cleansed from the evils of the outside world.
As he strode slowly to the appointed meeting place, Jaylon began to think about Raora; he knew she would worry when they did not return at the chosen time, and he imagined her joy when they rode up once more. In the past months he had brooded upon the princess's actions often. He could not recall the last time he had seen her truly contented and her mind seemed to be troubled with secret cares. She assumed an unperturbed countenance but the prince read deeper than her outward appearance. She was grieved and her sorrow seemed to be concerning him. Her farewell had been deeply emotional. Truly, the weight of the burden of ruling the castle for a month, short as the time may be, surely contributed to her sentiments, but Jaylon could not drive from his mind the perception that her affection had been especially directed towards himself. The thought was unpleasant and he banished it from his mind as he continued towards the interior of the forest.
As he had not been to the councils of his father and the Lord Elaran he did not know the troubles that engaged them and he was quite willing to leave the present cares of the nation in their hands. At the moment he only thought of how beautiful the world was, and of how the forest was so much more to his liking then the grim, towering, confining walls of Carasul. He had not forgotten the terrors of the Pass, and it hung on the edge of his thoughts that they would return through it, but his mind did not brood on the despondent notion.
At length he passed into the glade where Lord Elaran and King Thargon were seated upon silver chairs. Besides the two sovereigns no other persons were present except for three tall Arakun armed with spears, at each end of the clearing, and guarding the entrances just out of hearing. As the prince stepped out from under the eaves of the forest he tried to conceal his awe of the sight before him.
Before him stood the Lord of the Arakun, one of the most powerful beings in Midegard. His silver locks flowed down over his arm to the ground around him like a fountain. He was clad likewise in a long silver garb and a thin silver wreath in the shape of leaves crowned his head, but he had no other ornament. But Jaylon scarcely perceived anything other than the bright eyes fixed on himself. They shone out, like two deep wells of wisdom, mingling valor and power, an unconquerable will, and a cold determination. His figure was a picture of royalty, and Jaylon felt the peace and power of Losia, the land that remained untainted under his protection.
The prince stood rooted to the ground for a moment as Arakun's eyes held him. In those few seconds Jaylon felt that the Arakun was looking through him and could see his thoughts. At last he released the young princes gaze and turned to the king with a questioning look.
“My son,” explained Thargon, has accompanied me. He is called 'Jaylon' crown prince of Carasul and is my second, as my eldest, Jaron, hath been slain during the battle of Eor. But I fear his mind is young for such dark matters as we talk of at present.”
The Arakun gazed at the prince as if deep in thought, and did not reply for a moment. When at last he did it was to the prince himself, “Welcome, Prince Jaylon to the realm of Losia.” Turning to the king he said quietly, “it is not my place to make known to him what you would have concealed, but if you trust my counsel it will be best to prepare him; for he shall be in the center of the darkest counsels ere long.”
“I have not the art of seeing into the future. So be it.”
“Jaylon,” Thargon continued, the time has come for preparation. The last days have arrived. There are rumors from the mountains, the Darkness is working across the Sea and the forces of the Midengard, great and small, are preparing for war. The last stroke is soon in its coming, and we have decided to wait no longer. Carasul and Losia will no longer wait alone and be found unprepared when the stroke comes. We prepare to meet it -” His last words were interrupted as a new voice joined the conversation.
“There is no need,” interrupted a clear ringing voice from the edge of the glade, “it is upon you.” The prince turned abruptly turned and beheld a maiden clad in armor with a drawn sword in her hand, escorted by two Arakun. “Raora!” Jaylon gave a cry of astonishment and ran to her side, “What news?” he demanded, “what dreadful deed has driven thee to dare the dangers of the Pass to seek us out? And alone? Why? Tell me all.”
“A terrible deed,” she answered, “and even now you may be too late, Carasul is besieged by a great host from the mountains, bent on destroying the city. You must return if you wish to save it, and you must return now. It is in sore need of succor.”
One of the Arakun behind her stepped up. “She does not tell you all ,” he said, “she broke through their ranks single handed and has suffered greatly; she cannot go on without treatment. She has been poisoned.” Jaylon stepped back in amazement. His eyes were burning and his fists clenched.
“My Lord,” he cried turning to Elaran with a look of anguish spreading over his face.
Elaran nodded and turning to her escort commanded, “See that she is well cared for; bring the maiden to the dealers in herbs and bade them employ all their arts to heal her; for she is a daughter of Kings.” The Arakun nodded and guided the princes away into the interior of the forest.
Elaran spoke now, “I know of the hosts in the mountains and they are very great; you will not be able to break though without aid. I will send a company of trained warriors to come with you.” He motioned to one of the guards and he disappeared into the forest. Moments later a horn was heard from the wood in front of them and it was answered by one more farther away. Thargon rose and Elaran took leave of his guests and walked into the forest. The remainder of the guards took the prince and his father away into the forest and provided fresh mounts for them.
By nightfall an army of Arakun had been made ready, and though Thargon did not wish to try the dangers of the Pass at night, they were driven by need to return immediately lest it be too late. A great host it was that set out from Losia. The Men from Carasul that were still able to ride and had not been wounded in the Pass numbered one hundred and fifty, and they were joined by the Arakun–a company of five thousand.
Raora, still too weak to go with them, was loathe to stay behind, but was kept with the wounded until she should have the strength to ride. She reasoned and pleaded, but in vain.
Before they departed the prince found time to see her. “Stay here,” said Jaylon, “For my sake,” and turned and rode to his place in the front lines. Raora looked at the retreating host reluctantly long into the night; indeed it was a grand spectacle, the beautiful locks of the Arakun, swinging out like silver banners, spears brandished, helmets shining. At last she was entreated to come back to the forest and rest, but she resisted the efforts of the Arakun and finally fell asleep with weariness after the army had passed out of view. She was then carried gently to the forest and her wound cared for by the maidens of the Arakun.
Meanwhile the warriors rode on north at a great speed. When they reached the entrance to the Pass, Elaran turned and spoke to the army saying, “Remember who you are! You are avengers and warriors, attacking servants of the Darkness, and this is the first move of the revenge! We shall rid Loresohet from the black armies once and for all.
We must use speed, it is our only friend in these lands and we must out ride the messengers of the enemy who have been sent to watch for us. Revenge!” With that last cry the host turned silently into the Pass and rode on at a great speed.
They held to their course until dawn, and then, taking a short rest, they pursued the road with renewed vigor. They did not stop until nightfall and in this manner, at length reached the end of the pass. In five days they had come through the mountains. The Zarahut had been seen twice on the way there, but had not dared to attack such a great company of Arakun. But, in spite of the efforts of the army, the Zarahut out flew the host and so news of their coming came before them.