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A stormy wind blew that day. It toyed with the fallen leaves of the old forest and whipped the trees into a swaying sea of autumn foliage. Through the rustling boughs, the golden light of the setting sun danced across the armor of the attackers, as if to court the dark figures. The forest itself seemed to welcome this triumphant procession with the red and gold leaves that swirled around them, beckoning them further. We waited. They came out of the forest and stopped. I viewed their ranks as they stood at the edge of the wooded area and looked across the tournament grounds to our city, which they hoped to take by the end of the day. From North to South their ranks extended, shoulder to shoulder, a wave of iron and steel that would soon crash over us. Their banners fluttered in the wind and the long bands flew the colors of the rebels over the heads of this massive army. The grey wolf of the House Wulfgar, the Feather of Iskander, the white axe banner of Hallit and, at the center of the army, the purple banner with the black shield of the House of Utran, with whose men I had once fought side by side. Only a few remained here to protect the Queen, and her banner of blue and gold flew above our heads in the evening sun. Only one house remained true to the Queen and the realm of Nortander. The Leonidar had marched so far with their armies and would follow the line of kings, either to death or into exile. It seemed the Queen had decided upon death. We waited.

The sound of horns signalled their ranks to advance. With a thundering of boots, the army began to stream out of the woods and out onto the meadows of the tournament grounds. A signal rang out from the first wall and resounded up over the three large ramparts on the slopes of the Allen Gor, that would protect the fortress and the city of kings. Around me, the archers raised their crossbows. Soon, the waiting would end.

Like the drumbeat of an execution, the sound of thousands of boots washed up to us. With each step, our death came closer and closer, only our pride on the executioner’s block would be left for us. Then, finally, came the long-awaited signal and from our ranks a black cloud of crossbow bolts was unleashed that climbed into the evening sky and then descended like a swarm of insects onto our foes. Even on the windy heights of the third wall could I hear the sound of the bolts crashing through armor, shields and flesh of our enemies. They would have no lesser price to pay. As the command to reload was issued, a voice sounded over the battlefield, surreal and unimaginably loud. „ENOUGH!“

Following the thundering command, everything stopped. A silence descended upon us, the insistent flapping of the banners in the stormy wind the only reminder of the imminent battle.

A figure emerged from the ranks of the rebels. “Wife of a dead king, men of Leonidar. Listen to me!”

Isamo Tahar, Mage of the School of Westbrandt, once aide to the King and the torch that had set this kingdom on fire, opened his arms as if to embrace us as brothers. Only now, so close to victory, did he dare to show his real face and his smile was sour to those of us that knew his real intentions.

„Today, on this battlefield, men of a kingdom divided face each other! It is up to you, woman, to end this slaughter and heal the wounds of your land!” Only the wind seemed willing to reply to his taunts. “You husband is dead, and with the demise of your son, the bloodline of the Imperials has ended! Release the throne, your family is no more!” Many of us looked up to the royal castle and the stony balcony from which the King had spoken to his people, and where the Queen had spent many a long night waiting for her son to return. But it was and remained empty. Again, the Mage’s voice rang out. “Do you want a woman as your leader, Northmen? A woman without imperial blood, old, weak, and broken?” In silence we stared down at him. “Then I shall show you the power that is worthy of reigning this realm. No dragon slayer will be your leader. Dragon masters will rule!”

Even before he had finished speaking, we saw a shadow pass the sun and dread of what was to come sank down on us. With great wings, the gigantic lizard swooped down out of the golden red sky, as big as a castle, its black body scuffed and scarred. It was an ancient dragon, and in the beating of its wings echoed eternity. It hovered over the rebel army and each beat of his leathery wings sent a sulphuric blast of wind across our fortress. We could all sense the age of this creature, and its very presence threatened to defeat us as we stood paralysed with awe and fear. A murmur made me look up.

The Queen had stepped into the light. Alone, she stood on the stony outlook in the wall of the King’s Keep and her tall, slender figure shone in a white gown like the light of the moon. In her hand she held the Lance of Kings, that great weapon from the time of Dragon Slayers that many a warrior could not even lift. Yet her slender, white hand held the weapon steadily as if it weighed not more than a stem. Her eyes were clear and burned hard and bright as stars. Her long, thin hair and gown blew in the stormy wind like a banner as she lowered the tip of the great lance, kneeling before the ancient dragon. Not loud, but clear and light her voice sounded down from the castle. “Will you forgive me, o master of the skies? Will you forgive what must happen?“

Every ounce of stone, every inch of steel and every man’s heart shook with the mighty voice of the dragon, a voice that carried the weight of the ages and the pain of endless loneliness like a distant thunder. “And will you forgive me, Queen of Mortals, for what I will bring upon you under the ban of this curse?”

No answer came, only an instant of silence. Then the dragon swung his head down and a stream of flame burst forth from his throat. A storm of fire rained down upon the castle walls, devouring wood and flesh in an instant. Screaming, our ranks broke and the flames continued, destroying everything in their path, higher and higher to the woman kneeled there. With her slender arms, she held up the mighty lance that divided the flames, protecting her from a fiery death. No matter how long the dragon rained fire down on the Queen, and though the very stones around her began to melt, he would not be able to break its ancient magic.

Finally, the fire stopped and the dragon let out a roar. His claws ground into the walls, pulverizing stone, armor and flesh like rotten wood. Great gusts of wind from his wings blew us down and the castle began to buckle under his weight. The lizard clawed into the wall and its great mouth shot out toward the Queen, capturing her. Back and forth the dragon threw the slender figure until he finally tossed her into the air, her body crashing into the stone of the wall. If the dragon’s teeth had not crushed her body, that blow surely must have, yet still her hands held tightly the shaft of the lance. In falling, just before she plummeted down to the stony pedestal, her body arched and with all her might she launched the massive lance into the dragon’s throat.

With a gargling sound the dragon let go of the wall. Gasping, he showered us with deep red blood, and two beats of his massive wings took him backwards out of the city. In the eyes of the beast, it seemed that humility and pain had been taken from him and with a murmur that almost sounded like relief, the dying dragon fell from the sky and buried his former master and the leaders of the rebel army under him. Like waves on a pond the army of attackers broke apart, leaderless and confused. We all looked in dismay up to the stone upon which the broken body of the queen lay. Then, in a seemingly impossible act, she stirred and an outcry rang out amongst both armies. Slowly, she got up, willing her body to rise inch by inch, until she stood before us, her white hair billowing in the wind. No words did she have for us, nor for our enemies, yet her clear eyes gazed down upon us.

Like a great thunder, swords, lances, banners and shields were dropped to the ground as both her followers and the rebels sank to their knees, like a wave of humility crashing over the ranks of men. And so, on this day, ten thousands of soldiers of the Northern Realm kneeled before their rightful leader. The line of Dragon Slayers had been restored, and even without the traditions, no leader would ever dare to rebel against the will of this first Queen of Nortander. Even the dwarf guards of Hallit and our elven allies kneeled down before this mortal, whose willpower had defeated the dragon, the pain and even death itself.

Angar Arandir „Dove and Sparrow“

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