The thirteenth unicorn, p.29
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.29

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 26

  BATTLE AT THE RIVER

  Louise, Casey, Joey and Jenny ran through the forest. The trees were busy slapping at flames and they had to duck and dodge the whipping limbs and thrashing roots. When they came to the edge of the forest, the grisly battle that was taking place in the field before them, stopped them in their tracks. Although it was dark, the night was lit from above by the stars and the moon, and from below by several hundred torches that were flung to the ground once the battle began. On this side of the river, hundreds of dwarves were hewing through the ranks of the snakers, while hundreds more were constructing a bridge across the river. The bridge was going up so fast that it was almost like a living thing, growing before their eyes. But that was not the most amazing thing about the battle. The most amazing thing was the tornado of activity on the other side of the river. There, an army of one, a monstrous bear was mowing down the snakers like a wild fire in a dry straw field. Nothing could stand before the bear's wrath and fury. Eventually, the snakers on the other side of the river threw down their weapons and fled in terror, hoping to regroup with the main army. Louise made the kids turn around. She did not want them to see the death and destruction that was taking place in front of them, but she could do nothing to keep them from hearing the battle cries of the dwarves and the death cries of the snakers as the battle raged on. Thankfully, in a matter of minutes, the battle was over and the bridge was complete. The dwarven army then split into two units, one unit crossing the bridge and pursuing the snakers that had fled from the bear, the other unit circling around the forest in the other direction. Louise spotted Amos, back in his human form, at the top of the bridge. He was speaking with two dwarves.

  “Come on children, let’s make a run for it,” she cried.

  Louise and the kids burst from the forest and sped to the bridge. All of them were shouting for Amos who, upon seeing them, ran to meet them and snatched all of them up in his great hairy arms and hugged them tightly.

  “I am so glad to see you,” Amos cried. “When I saw the forest in flames and under attack, I feared the worst.”

  “We feared the worst as well,” said Louise, wiping here eyes with the sleeve of her dress. “If you had not have got here when you did, I think it would have been the end of us, the Twilight, and everyone in it.”

  “The elfin army isn’t here yet?”

  Louise shook her head. “Not yet. Messengers have been sent, but we have no way of knowing when the army will arrive.”

  “What about the big snaker army? When are they expected?”

  “I’m not sure now. They have been delayed. It seems they have been felling trees up around Long Lake and sending them down the river. The snakers here have been pulling the trees out and piling them up against the forest. This whole attack is nothing but a diversion. I expect the real attack will come when the big army gets here. My guess is that they will light the wood they have piled against the trees and try to burn a road into the forest.”

  “Then we need to push back the snakers that are here and remove that brush pile.”

  “Do we have enough dwarves to do that?”

  “We have enough!” said Nob proudly as he and Gob walked up behind Amos.

  “Gob! Nob!” Louise and the kids cried together. The dwarves bowed low to everyone, just as if this were the dance floor at some formal ball and not a battlefield strewn with bodies and soaked with blood.

  “You have come just in the nick of time and have saved the day,” said Louise.

  “Perhaps,” said Gob. “The battle is not over yet though and I feel that my axe needs to separate a few more snaker heads in order for me to feel better about our odds.”

  “He’s right,” said Amos. “If the forest still holds, you and the kids need to return there. It’s the safest place for you right now. I’ll accompany you, along with Gob and Nob. The dwarven army has divided and the plans are to drive the snakers to the river on the other side of the forest. Once there, they will push the snakers as close to the forest as they are able and we will be waiting within the forest with elfin archers. If all goes according to plan, we should be able to crush these snakers before the big army arrives. And hopefully, the elfin army will be here by then.”

  “You’re right, Amos. Let’s get these children out of here.”

  Louise placed her arms around the children protectively and ushered them back into the forest, with Amos on one side and Gob and Nob on the other side. Once inside of the forest and away from the carnage, Amos, Gob, and Nob took turns recounting their adventure; from acquiring the horse and wagon from Mr. Miller, to the standoff with the blacksmith at Mountain Rest, to the mustering of the dwarven army. It turns out that the mob in Mountain Rest did regain their courage and managed to whip the town into a frenzy, with talk of witch craft, black magic, murder, and dwarven gold. The whole town turned out to storm the gates of Dwarvenhall and as they marched to the Western Gate with their torches, clubs, and pitchforks, they were met head on with an army of grim faced dwarven warriors. Needless to say, the townspeople lost their courage and, throwing down their torches and weapons, fled back to their homes in the darkness and barred their doors and windows. The dwarven army marched right down the main street of Mountain Rest unchallenged. They marched all the way to the North Road and then straight to the Twilight. They marched all night and all day, without tiring, and now they were faced with another sleepless night, this one of battle, fast and furious.

  Gob wrapped up the story as they arrived in the tent city where things were still in a state of panic and confusion. Amos led them straight to the center tent and the two guards at the tent door admitted them at once. Marcus was waiting for them at the fire pit and Amos briefly retold their story and their plans to crush the remaining snakers.

  “We are indebted to your people,” said Marcus to Gob and Nob. “You have saved the Twilight and, perhaps now, our army will arrive in time to repay the debt when the hive arrives.”

  “The hive?” said Amos.

  “Yes,” Marcus replied. “We have sent out scouts and have confirmed that this horde is not just a large hunting party, it is an actual hive. The numbers are so large that the queen fears nothing and travels with the hunters.”

  “Does the estimate of five thousand still hold true?” Louise asked.

  “Yes, there are at least five thousand marching this way. They will be here by nightfall.”

  “How many of those five thousand are queen's guards?” Amos asked.

  “One thousand. One thousand of these snakers are queen's guards.”

  “God help us,” Louise whispered.

  “You are right to be afraid,” said Marcus. “But we do have a plan. For now, though, we must deal with the snakers at our door.”

  Marcus nodded to one of the guards. The elf went outside and blasted three long notes upon his horn. The notes echoed clear and sweet throughout the forest and all who heard them felt their spirits lift and began to make their way to the center tent. Soon the tent was filled with elves and more kept coming. Marcus climbed to the top of a nearby hill and addressed the assembly.

  “Brothers, as many of you now know, a dwarven army has arrived from Dwarvenhall to aid us in our hour of need. This army has already battled and defeated the snakers on the north end of our forest. There, they have split into two units, each unit one thousand strong. One unit is flanking our forest on the east and driving the snakers south, while the other unit is flanking our forest on the west and also driving the snakers south. The plan is to drive the snakers to the river and, then, as close to the forest as possible. There, we shall be waiting within the forest with our bows and arrows to greet them. This army must be defeated before the hive arrives or their numbers will be too great for us to overcome.”

  Marcus’s voice somehow carried throughout the entire tent and everyone present heard him clearly, though he did not shout. Now, however, he rose up taller and thrust his arms skyw
ard and his voice echoed like thunder.

  “Hear me, oh elves of Faerie! This is a call to arms! String your bows and fill your quivers! Go now to victory and go quickly! Listen for the Keeper’s horn then let your arrows fly. Faerie!”

  “Faerie!” the elves shouted in return, thrusting their bows and their swords skyward. “Faerie!” they roared.

  All of the elves present then sped from the tent, their faces grim, and their eyes glittering dangerously. Some of them already had their bows slung across their backs, with full quivers hanging from their sides, while others hurried to the armory. Amos sent Louise and the children to the armory to help fill quivers and to get them out of harm’s way. Then he, Gob, and Nob ran to the southern end of the Twilight, where hundreds of elves were hiding behind the trunks of trees and hundreds more were hiding in the branches up above. Amos and the two dwarves, not having bows and arrows, hid further back and waited.

  “I have a question,” Gob whispered to Amos.

  “Yes?”

  “When we arrived here by boat it took us a while to reach the tent city, but just now we have traveled from the tent city to the edge of the forest in a matter of minutes. How is that so?”

  “The forest is always changing,” Amos replied. “Maybe it has grown smaller because it is under attack. Or maybe the Keeper is shrinking the forest so the elves may easily patrol and guard the borders. That is my guess anyway and that is all that I am able to tell you, my friend. Listen, I hear the sounds of battle!”

  The sounds were faint at first, but grew steadily louder. The snakers on the western side of the river arrived first. The dwarven unit pursuing them had split once again, this time into two units of five hundred. One unit slowly followed the snakers around the forest, while the other unit hastily looped around to get in front of the snakers to prevent them from fleeing up the river. Once the snakers realized that they were trapped, they retreated as close to the forest as they dared and there, they prepared to make a final stand. However, the dwarves did not advance and waited patiently until the unit on the other side of the river arrived. They too had divided, one unit slowly pushing the snakers south, while the other unit sped around to cut off any chance of escape.

  “This is it,” said Amos. “Get ready.”

  The snakers on both sides of the river had their backs to the forest, waiting for the dwarven armies to advance. Two age-old enemies faced one another down, both sides knowing that there would be no survivors for whoever lost the impending battle. The tension and silence of the moment was maddening. The wind had ceased and even the river seemed to be sliding by noiselessly. Then suddenly, an elfin horn pealed forth from within the forest. The snakers did not even have time to turn around before a rain of arrows descended upon their heads, killing hundreds where they stood. At that instant, the dwarves rushed forward with a mighty cry, wielding their broad axes and long knives with deadly precision. The elves too poured out of the forest with their long spears and their terrible and shiny swords. The snakers were crushed in the middle and the battle ended as quickly as it had begun.

  “It’s over,” exclaimed Gob. “I’ve never seen an army defeated so quickly and so thoroughly!”

  “Yes,” Nob agreed excitedly. “There shall be many songs of this battle for many years to come.”

  “Do you think we’ll be in any of the songs?” Gob asked.

  “Most certainly,” Nob replied. “We shall be heroes, no doubt.”

  “Not if the hive gets here before the elfin army,” Amos reminded them. “Come, we have much work to do and I fear none of it shall be pleasant.”

  Dwarves and elves worked side-by-side into the night, dragging the logs and brush away from the forest. They piled the debris far enough way from the forest, so that the heat from the flames would not harm the living trees. Then, they gathered the dead snakers from the battlefield and heaped them upon the pile. Once the pile was lit and the smoke was rolling skyward, the elves and the dwarves retreated into the Twilight to rest and regroup.

  Amos, Gob, and Nob, stopped by the armory to get Louise and the children.

  “Is it over?” Louise asked anxiously.

  “It was a decisive victory,” Nob declared.

  “A total rout, I might add,” said Gob. “I’m working on a song about the battle now. Would you like to hear it?”

  “Not now,” Amos interrupted, smiling at the dwarves and their indomitable spirit. “But you shall definitely sing us your song when this is all over.” Then he turned back to Louise. “We are on the way to see Marcus. We have to make plans for the battle against the hive.”

  Louise nodded and gathered the kids together. They followed Amos and the two dwarves out into the night. With the battle over, the night noises had returned. Cicadas, crickets, and katydids composed a symphony under the stars that no orchestra could match while fireflies provided a light show, winking their greenish-yellow lights by the hundreds. The cool night air was refreshing too, bearing the fragrance of honeysuckle and wild holly on a gentle breeze. On the way to the center tent, everyone began to feel their worries and tensions slowly melt away. Upon arriving there, one of the elfin guards opened the tent door for them to enter. Louise went inside first, followed by Casey, then Jenny and Joey. Gob and Nob entered next with Amos coming in last. When they came upon the fire pit, Marcus was there waiting for them. He was huddled about the fire pit, in deep conversation with three other people. Casey gasped, then suddenly shot past Louise, running for the fire pit.

  “BEN!” she cried.

  *****

 
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