Seth and I were enjoying our time in our bath in the peace and solitude it offered. We had moved way beyond needing words now to communicate. Our comfortable familiarity was what we both wanted and we were getting better and better at it. He rested back against my chest my head against his as I gently washed his hairy chest. It was very dirty. I was a little startled when Seth spoke. Not because he was loud since it was little more than a whisper.
“Don't misunderstand,” Seth began. “I pray there won't be an attack, but I like what's happening here now.”
I smiled at that. “Since you mentioned the possible attack, I know you're not talking about you and me right now.”
Seth chuckled. “I like what's happening here, too, but I was talking about Royal Valley.” He said. “What I said to Keith that day is true. We are getting closer as a community.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Uniting under a common cause will do that.”
“It worked with the three countries, too,” Seth said. “I really like everyone I've met from Creid.”
“Me, too.” I paused and sprung a thought on Seth. “I think we should take Max with us to see Christian tomorrow.”
Seth nodded. “Who else is going to A'Dore from this group?”
“None of them are going,” I said. “Yannick is sending another battalion there.”
Seth shifted slightly. “Then why should he go? Does he even know about the going to A'Dore tomorrow and how?”
“He has for a while,” I said. “Yannick told him.”
“He what?” Seth sat up and looked at me. “Why?”
I gently pulled to his previous position and explained what Max told me about their connection. “He had to have friends in Creid.” I said logically. “Max is just closer anyone. I'm glad he has Max.” The further I got with the explanation he relaxed more. “I think Max should be there because of his knowledge of Creid's current condition.”
“Can Yannick afford to send so many men?” Seth asked.
I shrugged slightly. “With whoever is attacking his supplies, he probably thinks it will stop this land blockade of food and other supplies sooner.”
“This whole thing seems to be more than just some angry natives on the warpath and some criminals.” Seth pondered deep in thought. “They are stealing gold to buy what from whom?” He shrugged which I felt more than saw. “They can steal all the gold and then what? Stockpile it?” I knew he was just thinking out loud and didn't expect an answer from me. “What do we know about the northwest portion of this continent?”
I thought about what I had seen and read. “Not a lot. It's cold in winter and very wet. I remember reading that. There were people that went there, but they said there was a huge mountain range and very tall.” I continued to think. “A lot of this continent has yet to be discovered. Most of what we know about our far western coast we've gotten from the Asians. Saw settlements in the southwest. Developed by those from natives to our south and they're usually in conflict with other tribes there. They have limited export and small ships. The Asians reported they saw none in the northwest.”
“And we didn't settle there because it was cold and wet,” Seth followed logically. “We needed to be somewhere warmer to raise crops.” He pondered more. “How much land is still unexplored and have no kingdoms?”
“Plenty of land, but no kingdoms,” I said.
Seth turned around slowly. “Are you sure?”
“About the kingdoms? If there is, we haven't met them yet.”
“But, there could be.” Seth offered. “Something new has happened. Kingdoms rise and fall all the time.” He went on with his thinking. “Think about it. They don't want to destroy us. They can't. There are too many of us. But they can weaken us.” The excitement of what he had come up with was driving him now. “They sent these brute squads that have been attacking, but not really killing.” I was about to say there were and Seth nodded and held up his hand. “Yes, there have been some, but when dealing with criminals it is going to happen.” He was almost dismissal about it. “They've come in and scared a lot of people, stopping production and slowing things down by chasing people away. That will weaken all of us....Blethos, A'Dore, and Creid.”
“To take some of the fight out of us before they invade,” I nodded.
“This all started happening after we became allies with Creid,” Seth added. “These people will use the gold to buy what they need, to do this from other kingdoms like in Asia and others.”
“That's possible,” I admitted.
Seth grinned and then shrugged. “We know it's someone. It's just a theory.” He said to me and his tone said he was probably wrong. He turned to lay back again, but I stopped him grabbing his face pulling into a somewhat hungry kiss.
Here were his doubts again. He was constantly thinking he couldn't think as well as others because he didn't get the education he thought he needed. “Seth, it's a good theory. A theory that you came up with after knowing the facts and what evidence to support that theory.” I nodded. “That's a good one.”
He smiled wrapping his arms around me, “Thank you.”
“Toby is right,” I said softly. “You are smart.”
Seth chuckled as his lips worked on my neck. “Smart enough to kiss you first.”
I pulled him closer as I nodded. “Yeah, that was very smart.”
We bathed and dressed and went downstairs. The morning mayhem was added to with our four guests. Coffee was the most important part of the lives of those in Creid as it was for Seth. Grace had more on staff that kept up with that need. Then adding our sons, it became louder. Dennis had to sit by Beau who was smiling at seeing his new little friend. Toby greeted everyone but sat in an available chair, but he looked at Val and I knew he wanted to talk to him. All were in a chipper mood.
I grinned as Max came in the kitchen whistling. “Good morning, all!” He was a happy man! “I hope you all slept as well as I did.” He got his coffee and sat near me and Seth.
Seth looked at Max. “We have a morning meeting this morning to go over things about Royal Valley and the kingdom. We'd like you to join us.”
Max nodded. “Sure,” he looked at his other three of his men. “A meeting with whom? Should I ask one of my men to join us?”
I grinned. “Only if, like you, they know how we can meet with Christian.”
His eyes widened with new excitement and he leaned in and whispered. “You're going to let me use it!?” He sat back and clapped his hands lightly once and said. “Hot damn!”
Max waved that off. “We say it in Creid.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Especially when we expecting to have a great time doing something.” He smiled even more.
It's a good thing we put in for plenty of supplies. Those four ate a lot!
“What's on the agenda today, Max?” Reese asked eating his second helping of eggs and bacon. Not to mention the three more biscuits took out of the basket.
“We need to start with an introduction to the local militia,” Max said pointing to the three. “I need you three to see that our guys are behaving themselves and we'll meet in the square.” He glanced at me. “I have a meeting. When that's over we'll join you.”
“Do we put on our leather armor?” Reese asked.
Max shook his head. “Not for this.”
“Good,” Beau said in relief. “I get hot.” He explained. The other three chuckled.
“We know, Beau.” Max smiled at Beau. “We do, too.”
Breakfast was consumed and the three headed off to do as instructed. Dennis went with Beau, but Toby came over to Max, Seth, and me. Max had a single eyebrow rise in a silent question.
Seth chuckled. “Yes, he's going, too.”
We went upstairs and uncovered the mirror. Activating the crystals and one more person was having trouble believing what he was seeing. We stepped through to A'Dore and was greeted by Christian and Thomas.
“Max, meet my brother, His Royal Majesty King Christian of A'Dore,” I waved Christian to Max. “This is the Captain Maxwell of the battalion from Creid.”
Max bowed instantly. “Your Majesty.”
Christian shook his hand.
I smiled. “Beside him, this handsome man is my nephew, His Royal Highness Prince Thomas and Crowned Prince of A'Dore.”
“It's an honor to meet you both,” Max said smiling and looked back at the mirror again. “Hard to believe that I'm meeting you at all,” he turned back. “But an honor.”
“Are you one of the two Yannick was going to send?” Christian asked.
Again Max explained what was happening.
We caught up with the latest from A'Dore and we told him what Sam had communicated by homing pigeon with Blethos. Max told Christian about the cut off of their imports and exports.
“Why are they doing this?” Christian asked.
I elbowed Seth slightly. “Tell them, Seth.”
Seth was a little embarrassed. “It's just a theory, but... they're weakening us. They strike and fall back, but don't really do that much damage,” He said. “They do damage because of the numbers of outlaws in the groups attacking, but not really. We only know they're after the gold. I tried to figure out why. They really only started after we and the Creids became allies. We don't know where they'll strike next. We spread our forces out weakening our defense. They know we're allies and now that the Creids are involved they are really hitting it hard.”
Christian nodded. “That's true, but who are they and where are they?”
I looked at Max. “Have the Creids sent anyone to the northwest territories beyond that great mountain range?”
Max looked surprised at the question. “Not officially,” he began. “There were a few expeditions in the past, but not a hundred years.”
“What did they report finding there?” I asked.
“Just more of the same,” Max said. “It was cool there. It hardly snowed because of rainy conditions. There were reports of natives that lived in the area and made a life, but no better or worse than other native tribes.”
Christian looked at Seth. “You think they're there? Why?”
“I'm thinking these attacks are supported by someone with access to resources,” Seth said. “We know of the many settlements there are beyond our borders and know basically where they are. The ones based on ideas and beliefs we don't share. There are the ones based on religions we don't have,” Seth stressed. “We know approximately where they are. We don't know who is in that area. We need to find out. To wage a war so far from their home turf requires backup. Alexander of Greco? The Roma Empire? The Mandaria in Asia!? They were and are empires of this size. I think whoever this wants to the same thing here and we are the first conquest.”
I was nodding, “Which is why we need to find them before they reduce us so much they can just walk in.” I added. “It makes sense.'
“Sending troops would make things more difficult here an in Royal Valley,” Christian said more to himself than us. “We could send some from all three kingdoms.”
“Agreed,” Seth said. “Perhaps a small group of a dozen or so?”
“That could work,” Max nodded. “Yannick was going to have me suggest some scouting parties into the areas outside our borders.”
Christian nodded. “We still might.”
“What made you think of that, Uncle Seth?” Thomas asked.
Seth shrugged. “The size of the attacks and what was done in each of them.” He shrugged. “To start a war of this size from far away is hard, they had to have resources. They themselves have to be sizable. The only place for a group that size had to be there.” He said like it was just logical. And it was.
“We need to get together again and talk about who we send,” I said. “This could take weeks or months.”
“Or longer, but the sooner we start,” Christian urged quietly. “The sooner it ends.”
I felt sorry for the poor pigeons that had to carry all I would write about this and send them to Sam and Yannick.
We stepped back into Royal Valley and Max's only comment, looking back at the mirror was, “Amazing.”
Seth nodded and walked on. “Yep.”
We got to the square and saw no one. There were the usual people shopping and doing errands, but no one from Creid 's, Bethos' or Royal Valley's military. Beau came jogging over from the side.
“We moved,” Beau said. “I'll show you.”
They had moved to a grassy field nearby. We had remained in the square because everyone used it as a gathering point. Now, that had the people knew and what there was to do, moving here made sense. There were some of the guards from Blethos and the men from Creid standing about forming a circle, but there was a division. There was almost no milling around. Blethos' guards were on one side and the Creid were on the other. There were also those from Royal Valley scattered around. Val and Reese were in the middle were sparring in the middle with two of the wooden practice swords. Reese, for as big as he is, had fluid movements. They weren't sparring very hard right now, it mainly gave them something to do.
“Sorry, everyone,” Max said happily with his single clap to get their attention. “I was delayed by the meeting this morning.” He looked at everyone. “I am Captain Maxwell of Creid. Please call me Max” He waved to Val and Reese. “He is Val and Reese and he waved toward us. “And Beau. We and these men are from Creid. My men here will be joining those from Blethos for patrols and duties.” Looking around, he frowned at them. “I assume everyone bathed.” There were chuckles with the nods they had. “So, no one stinks.” He waved both arms around the circle pointing at them. “Intermix, people. Blethos, Creid, and Blethos.”
Darrin walked up next to Seth and me. “Did I miss anything?” I shook my head.
“You will be trusting the man next to you will watch your back and they will trust you watch theirs.” Max continued and the proceeded to tell them what he told me last night about segmenting their minds and they would teach us. “It is important this is done before exercising or exerting yourselves. We'll begin that training in the morning. For now, let's go over the basics. I'm sure Darrin showed you some, but we'll review and do it again. Today you will be sparring with each other.”
We taught them the thrusts and blocks. We told them what to look for and what to pay attention to.
What happened next was more to show the others that what they perceived did not hold true. He put Beau in the circle with Val to spar. What happened next was unbelievable. Val came at Beau who moved quickly he almost became a blur! His thrusts were quick, his blocks seemed to be there before Val even swung his sword. Using his legs to try to knock Val off his feet. Val was very good. He had to be to keep up with Beau. Beau counter-moved all of Val's moves. Val countered Beau's moves barely. There was a spin by Beau as he thrust his leg out at Val, kicking him in the mid-chest knocking him down and like I had done, Val flipped over and back on his feet. There were the “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the others watching.
“Damn,” I said amazed at the viciousness of this sparring.
“Yep,” Max chuckled nodding. “He is very good.” He said proudly.
I was glad they hadn't chosen him as their champion when I first went to Creid! I would probably have lost.
The look on Beau's face was almost pure fury. Every hit was as hard as he could and that alone nearly knocked Val down from the impacts. Then suddenly Val was on his back having been tripped as he moved backward by Beau's foot. Val lost his sword. Beau's face transformed to what it was before and he approached Val. “I didn't hurt you bad?” He asked hopefully reaching down for Val with his hand out to help Val up. Everybody was clapping vigorously.
Val shook his head chuckling. “No, Beau,” He panted a little. “You didn't hurt me badly.” He put his arm around Beau's shoulders and shook and squeezed him in affection.
Beau hugged him. “I'm glad.” He smiled at Val. “You tell me to try hard each time. I did good?”
“Yes, you did.” Val patted Beau on the back. “Give it your best each time.”
Max also patted Beau on the arm as he went to the center of the ring. “I had them do that,” Max began, “Because if Beau tells you to do something, you need to try to do it.”
I wondered if he could defeat Yannick. I was kind of glad Dennis was in school and hadn't seen it. I could have lost a devoted fan.
A few hours later many of those that volunteered had to go to work. Then up walked a man from Blethos' Capitol who took me to Creid that first time with Darrin. “I'll be adding the men from Creid to the rotation.” The new man told me grinning knowing I wasn't expecting him. “I guess that trip to Creid those few years ago was a good idea after all.”
“Quaid!” I greeted happily. “It's been years!” I hugged the man. “How are you?”
“I'm great.” He smiled. “I've been assigned here again!”
“Wonderful!” Seth nodded. “Welcome back!”
I sent the plans for what we wanted to do to Sam and Yannick.
I know it seems like we were just having a good time and we were, but the situation was growing more dangerous as time went on. The gauntlets were finished, loaded, and buried so they couldn't be seen easily. It looked as if we were somewhat ready. There were troops and guards here in more numbers and more patrols. The facts were, we were a prime target for several reasons. A success here would be a statement and cause the other towns around us to give up easier. If we couldn't deal with it, what chance did they have? Second, we had more gold here in one location than anyone but the palace. Third, it would be a blow to both kingdoms in Blethos and A'Dore. The limitations in communication was a problem and also worked to our advantage. Whoever was here to spy couldn't report as readily as they wanted to those in charge. Even if they used the fastest horse and rider, going nonstop, it would take a while. It would be difficult even with homing pigeons.
It was just before dawn. There was only the slightest glow on the horizon when this high pitched whine whistled and woke me up followed by a loud boom and flash of bright light through our window. It was the signal from one of the watchtowers.
Seth and I shot straight up in bed. My blood ran cold as I realized this was it and it was real. They were attacking. I sprang up grabbing my sword, putting my pants and shirt on quickly as did Seth who grabbed a bow and a quiver of arrows he strapped to his back. Quickly putting boots on without really lacing them all the way up, we ran into the hall where all four men from Creid were racing down the stairs. Dennis and Toby were looking out their door as we went.
“Is it happening, Dad? Is the attack happening?” Dennis asked nervously holding Kitty who wasn't sure what was going on either. Toby looked carefully holding a lamp up as it was still kind of dark for him to read lips.
Seth and I stopped. “Yes,” I said.
“Go downstairs to Grace,” Seth instructed firmly. “You three hide in the storage cellar under the house.”
“We want to help, Dad,” Toby said.
Seth nodded. “You can help your Dad and me by getting yourselves as far out of danger as possible,” He hugged them both. “Do it!” The boys were in motion, Kitty was carried by Dennis. He wasn't taking the risk of losing Kitty.
The watchtower that signaled and was still sending smaller ones was to the northeast. We could hear this dull roar that was growing louder. The other guards and soldiers came into position. Archers were the best defense when the enemy was still distant. Seth stood in that row. That roar now became the many voices shouting the charge as men were rushing toward us. There were a thousand? Perhaps more. They were a shadowy silhouette waving swords and spears in the dim morning light. Their archers sent hundreds of arrows in our direction as they arched the sky. We had shields for just this scenario. A moving archer had to stop and take aim quickly and their aim wasn't that accurate. The metal tips hitting the shields and bounced off. There were a few hits on our side as some of the men got an arrow in the arm or legs, but nowhere fatal.
Seth was to give the command to fire. “Steady,” Seth shouted. “Almost there.” He said watching the approach. Once the enemy was in the zone we marked off in our minds. “Now!” The lever was pulled and in seemed thousands of arrows burst out of the ground toward the attackers. There was a whistle as they headed for their targets. The arrows fell into the crowd sending many to their knees injured or dead. They carried no shields as they had not been expecting much resistance like the other towns. They kept coming as they fed on the adrenaline rush of the charge. Their numbers were cut almost in half. “Second volley now!” Again thousands of arrows flew from the ground toward the men coming. Some of them I saw running away when again most still charging dropped, but a few still headed toward us. With their numbers reduced, we could handle them. The men of Blethos and Creid worked well together. The four that were the King's warriors just transformed. They were savage and they were barbarians. All of their faces were distorted in rage as they attacked this enemy. They all gave a hundred and ten percent to the fight. Beau became a blur again and was striking one after the other left and right as his rage was on full. Seth had a determined look on his face and fired his arrows with skill at targets.
The sun had risen more when it all died down. The stragglers who could scatter to get away. We let them go. They could tell whoever what happened.
Seth came over carrying his bow with an arrow ready to shoot but put it to his side. “I have got to train myself to do that.” He pointed at my sword and pulled me in for a kiss. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” I smiled looking him over. “Are you?” He nodded.
I looked around at the many bodies on the ground. Some were still alive and struggling to get up and run like the others, but couldn't. Their cries for help would go unanswered. Others were moaning with arrows in various parts of their bodies dying. I saw both natives and white men struggling to do this.
“Now what?” Seth asked he waved at the injured and dying.
Quaid walked up behind us asking if we were alright. “Those able to be moved will be sent to Blethos' palace and thrown in the dungeon. The others that survive more serious injury will also be sent once they've been stabilized.”
“We need to question some,” I said. “If not all of them.”
Max came over. That warrior part of him wasn't quite gone yet. It was still in his eyes as he growled. “We'll go over them to see who has survived. Those that are dead will have to be dealt with and disposed of to prevent disease.” He looked over at some of his men. “We need someone to go out there and gather up all the arrows that didn't hit anyone. We need to reload the gauntlets.”
Seth and I quickly went back to the manor and got a relieved Grace and our two sons out of the storage basement below the kitchen. We both looked terrible. We were hot and sweaty and I had blood stains on my clothes and assorted bruises from impacts that had made contact.
“Is it over?” Grace asked hopefully rising up cautiously.
I nodded being hugged by Dennis who raced up the steps to do this. “This one. For now.”
“There will be more?” Grace asked.
Seth nodded, “Probably. We need to locate who sent them and where they are.”
I leaned down and spoke to Dennis, but Toby could see. “There was a battle and we won this time,” I said. “You promise me now, neither of you will leave this house. Do not even look out the window that way.” I waved toward the battlefield. “There are things out there you don't need to see.”
Seth nodded. “Say it.” They swore it.
The local militia and others from Royal Valley were doing some of the cleanup while we went through the bodies. Some were dead and others were dying, but they attacked us. I didn't feel any compassion for any of them. They didn't and wouldn't have compassion for us. Ryan did a triage of our injured first. Whatever it takes for our troops. He was still Creid.
Seth and I didn't even bathe before I sent Yannick and Sam the message on what happened. We also had the advantage of getting messages to and from all three kings in days. Not weeks. That wasn't fair, I know. It was an unearned privilege, but it was here and we used it.
Max came in with the other three from Creid. Max was now getting back to himself. His blond hair askew giving him a wild look almost like a lion. Slapped me on the shoulder he said. “You'd make an excellent King's Warrior and Creid.”
I smiled. “Thanks?”
“And Seth! You were quick with those arrows. Right on target,” Max stated impressed.
Seth nodded. “I can't do what you five can do with a sword, but I do well with a bow and arrow.” He said proudly.
“Beau!” Dennis almost shouted with joy at seeing his friend as raced to him hugging the man.
“I shouldn't,” Beau said smiling. “I'm dirty.”
“I don't care!” Dennis said continuing to hug him.
Max grinned. “A little warning.”
My eyebrows rose. “You're giving a little warning,” I pointed out. “Now?”
Max nodded smiling. “I don't know if you know about the crash.”
“The crash?” Seth asked.
I had heard of it, but never experienced it.
“It will happen soon,” Reese said chuckling. “That rush and burst of energy will wane off.”
“You'll barely be able to stand,” Val added.
“You fought hard,” Beau said.
“My advice is go where you want to be,” Max began. “Take whatever off and collapse. You will anyway.”