Six White Horses
by Cyllya (Michelle Chandler)
The town was dark, and only partially because of the thick layer of storm clouds that buried the sun. The buildings were rotted and falling apart with putrid plants growing over and through them.
Cade sighed as he felt a drop of rain water hit his cheek. It had rained enough already. His horseís hooves sunk into the dirt road with an unsettling squish.
"This used to be such a beautiful town," said a sad voice from behind him. He looked over his shoulder at Eileen, whose red hair hung heavy with water. "And it was such a beautiful castle."
He followed her gaze to castle. He would have to take her word for its former beauty. Heíd never seen it before, save for maybe the night he was carried away from it as an infant by Eileenís mother. Right now it was a shadow that loomed in the distance like some monstrous creature waiting for them to approach and do battle.
"I hope it doesnít take you long to make it beautiful again once you become king," Eileen mumbled. She looked downward and nudged her horse forward to catch up with him.
He didnít respond. Such talk was unbecoming of her. The two of them never got along well, so she preferred to act as if she didnít consider him to be the "Lost Prince" as everyone else did.
The thin brown and white dog that rested in front of him on the horse sighed.
"Itís all right, Gala," he muttered, not really believing it himself.
There was some invisible entourage of people surrounding them. Some were the great knights and other swordsmen who had once served Cadeís father and were armed with fine swords and dressed in armor. Some were humble farmers and their sons who were armed with pitchforks and were dressed in animal hide. They followed Cade and Eileen out of sight in hopes that they wouldnít look like an army. Perhaps they were behind some building or tree. Cade couldnít see them, but he could feel their presence and loyalty empowering him and knew that they would be on call as soon as they were beckoned. Gala would perk up occasionally when he heard one of them, uneased by the presence of those he couldnít see. Cade wondered how many people were out there, how many he could count on coming at his command. He had no idea.
"Weíd better hurry. The rain is getting worse," he said to Eileen. She nodded, and they sped their horses to a trot. The ominous shape of the castle loomed larger as they trudged through the deserted town.
A shadow passed over head, and Gala fell off the horse in start. He regained his balance as he landed in the mud on his long legs and began barking viscously at the source of the shadow.
"Gala, thatís no fox!" Cade yelled, trying to steady his fearful horse. The creature that had flown over now turned back around and spread its huge bat-like wings. It circled over the dry fountain in the middle of town and perched on the shoulders of the decapitated statue from which water had once flown.
Gala seemed to be fighting an urge to back up as he lowered his voice to a growl. The dragon roared in response. From its snarling head to the tip of its tail, it was at least twenty feet long with matching wingspan.
Cade quickly donned his helmet and glanced at Eileen. He unsheathed the sword which had, along with his deep gray eyes, been proof to his people that this thin, dark-haired village boy of sixteen years was really the late kingís rightful heir. Its blade glittered in the bit of sun that had fought its way through the veil of clouds. He nudged his horse, which broke into a gallop toward the fountain. The dragon pulled its head back.
"Look out!" Eileen yelled.
Cade jerked at the reins and the horse swerved to the side. A mass of flaming saliva splattered onto the ground and scorched the spot where the horse had just been.
"Glacius!" Eileen shouted. The palm of her outstretched hand glowed with soft blue light before projecting three shards of ice through the air. One shard hit the soft skin near the dragons eye and drew a tiny bit of blood, while the other two shattered against the harder scales. The dragon growled angrily.
"Aim at its wings!" Cade commanded. An arrow came from one of the shadows, only to be disdainfully batted away by the dragonís wing. A few others came from various directions, equally unsuccessful.
Gala ran up to the statue and barked in rage. The dragonís head snapped downward to capture Gala between its jaws, but Cadeís sword impaled its eye. The dragon threw its head back and bellowed in pain, and by doing so unhorsed Cade, who kept a firm grip on the entrenched sword.
"Glacius!" Eileen yelled again. The shards struck the webbing of the dragonís wings and ripped holes through the flesh. The dragon cried out again, throwing a pillar of flame aimlessly into the sky. Falling rain erupted into a cloud of steam in the fireís wake.
Cade grabbed one of the dragonís horns with his free hand, braced his foot against its neck, and pulled his sword loose. The dragon tried to bite him, but only succeeded in swinging him around. The extra weight made it lose its balance and tumble backward off the statue. It stood on the edge of the fountainís basin. Gala ran at it, trying to jump up and grab the webbing of its wings.
Cade sheathed his bloody sword while still being flung about, and he traded hands on the dragonís horn. After a few failing tries, he managed to throw his leg onto its neck so he could grab its other horn as well. Now screeching more in frustration than pain, the dragon leaned backward hoping to capture the human somehow. With more help from Eileenís ice magic, it lost its balance again and tipped over onto its back. Cade squirmed out from under it, and Gala jumped onto the underside of its jaw to keep it from regaining its composure. As soon as Cade could draw his sword, it was thrust into the dragonís throat.
Gala jumped back to avoid the chokes of flame and blood. Cade waited until he saw Gala relax slightly before he dared to retrieve his sword.
Gala grew tense again, but not at the dragon. He looked around with the same annoyed expression caused by Cadeís followers. Cade felt their silent celebration. Someone in the shadows caught his fleeing horse and turned it back toward him.
"Are you alright?" Cade asked Eileen as he mounted. But she was too busy frantically inspecting him for injuries to answer. She calmed down when he removed his helmet. He sighed and helped the mud-covered Gala back onto the horse. "Letís go."
There was a narrow river at the far edge of the town. The bridge was a pathetic mess, so they waded through the water. All that stood between them and their destination now was a small forest of abused trees. The castle loomed larger than ever and peered down at them through the roof of leaves like a cat pawing into a mouseís hole. Fortunately the rain had stopped.
There was the continuous rustling of foliage around them, and Gala sighed in annoyance. However, he soon sat up clumsily and tried to watch the road ahead. Cade slowed his horse, knowing to trust Galaís intuition. He could hear hoof beats coming from ahead.
A horse with an armored rider rounded some bushes and came into view. He held a pole with a Agronian banner on it. He came to a stop, rested the pole on the ground, and commanded, "Halt! State your name and business!"
Cade had already halted upon seeing the horseman. Now he smiled and allowed his horse to take a few defiant steps forward. "I am Cadeyrn, Prince of Bralmia, and I have come to reclaim my kingdom."
Cade couldnít see the horsemanís face, but he was obviously stunned. His horse stepped back and snorted while he was distracted, and he nearly dropped the Agronia banner.
"F-fool!" he was finally able to shout. "Liar!"
Cade smiled again. "What business of yours is it whether Iím lying or not? Thatís between me and my mother. Speaking of herÖ. If Iím not mistaken, you have no companions with you. If you die here, who will tell my mother that Iím coming?"
The horseman started to rebuke him, but then hesitated. The louder rustling suggested the approach of several people. The horseman looked around at various armed men that surrounded him and said nothing. He tried to turn his horse around as Cade began to approach.
"Tell my mother," Cade said with amusement, "that I will have her ugly head by the time the sun sets tonight." He laughed proudly as the horsemen escaped, being spit at but otherwise untouched by Cadeís followers. "And tell her Iím sorry for the death of her little pet lizard!"
Eileen was approaching him from behind. He sensed her uneasiness.
"Are you afraid?" he whispered when she was next to him.
"No." She was lying.
"Good," he said. "You donít need to be, because you wonít fall before I do." She didnít respond, and he suddenly felt uncomfortable having said that. He turned his eyes away and justified himself by adding, "When I become king, it will be my job to protect my people. So Iíll use you for practice now. Or else I wonít have anyone to be my Court Mage."
He looked back at her smiling. She rolled her eyes but failed at hiding her own smile.
Cade rode forward and shouted, "Now is the time for battle!"
The trees erupted into cheers and shouts of "Long live the king!", "Protect the prince!", and "Down with Argonia!". As Cadeís horse began to gallop toward the direction of the Argonian escapee, it was as if the forest itself was being uprooted from the ground to follow him along.
As he and Eileen rode out of the forest and approached the bridge to the castle, he saw the front ranks of his own army for the first time. The Argonian soldiers were assuming battle positions, but they didnít really seem very concernedÖ at first.
"Commander Alaois!" one of the Argonian soldiers pleaded upon seeing the approaching force.
A man in black armor riding a black horse came galloping out through the castle gates: Alaois. Cade had heard so much about this man, the queenís half-brother. Though Alaois was his uncle, Cade was only a few years younger. Alaois was apparently somewhat of a military genius, which is how he was now commanding the occupation of the Argonian troops in Bralmia despite having barely two decades behind him.
Cade put his helmet on, raised his sword high, and shouted, "For Bralmia!"
"For Bralmia!" the forest exploded. It was as if the whole world had shouted at once.
Alaois sneered. "For Argonia!" he countered. He was echoed as well, but with notably less vehemence.
Both sides charged, the Bralmianís rushing fearlessly through the moat to reach the Argonians. Cade dashed across the bridge with as many who could fit at his side. Eileen moved forward a bit more slowly, staying behind the front lines. Her velvet dress provided little protection against swords or arrows.
Cade and Alaoisís swords glanced off each otherís armor as the battle surged around them. An Argonian soldier with a hole through his torso fell against the side of Alaoisís horse, only to be kicked away by his commander.
"Ignis!" Eileen exclaimed. An orb of red light appeared above her raised hand, and a series of three fireballs shot from it. They hit Alaoisís armor and were as ineffective as the sword. She aimed instead at the more vulnerable enemies. The first footman to catch aflame panicked, began to scream, and fell over the side of the bridge into the water.
Eileen screamed as an Argonian horseman rushed at her with a raised sword. Cade halted and twisted around in his saddle to find her. While distracted he felt a powerful shove at his gut. He was immediately on his back on the ground with Alaois standing over him.
"Reboare!" Eileen cried. The magic wouldnít work fast enough to save her.
A bark. A brown and white shape burst from the swarm of warriors and collided with the horseman. Galaís teeth were locked firmly on the manís forearm, which was rendered bloody when he shook his head.
Eileenís magic created a bolt of lightning. It struck her attackerís horse in the hoof. The horse let out a screeching neigh of pain and terror and reared back. The rider and Gala were both thrown. The rider struck some other wounded Argonian, and they both hit the ground to be trampled by the chaos of the battle. Gala landed safely on his paws and disappeared again amidst the scurrying hooves and feet.
Cade dodged Alaoisís sword and fought against the weight of his armor to stand up. The slash across his stomach was shallow thanks to his leather armor. He pressed his palm against the wound, then wiped the blood away on his pants so that he could grip his sword. He turned back toward his enemy, and they circled each other. A slash, a thrust, each hit barely missing the gaps in the armor. Cade parried a blow but was knocked back. He fell down onto one knee. He could sense a wave of unease moving through his people. He scowled up at Alaois. The black-armored commander charged at Cade with his sword raised over his head in both hands.
Cade adjusted the grip he had on his own sword. At the last moment he sprung to the side. As Alaoisís sword struck the bridge where he had just been, Cade drove his sword through the slit between his helmet and the breastplate until it came out through his throat. After a few seconds, he pulled his sword out and abandoned the corpse where it fell.
Gala appeared at Cadeís side. He stood stiffly so that his swooning master could lean on him. He had a wound on his shoulder and blood dripped from his smiling jowls. His barks were full of rejoicing, but Cade doubted that Eileen could distinguish any of Galaís sounds from the next. If he didnít recover his horse soon, his troops would think heíd been killed and decide to flee.
Cade looked up at a Bralmian knight who dismounted and handed over the reins of a large white stallion.
"Thank you, Sir Dylan," Cade said as he mounted the horse. Again he raised his sword and shouted, "For Bralmia!" His troops answered him.
He started at the mass of people. There were warriors and farmers-turned-warrior supporting Bralmian banners as far as he could see. They charged through the water, climbed over an obstacle they faced, and cut down the scattering Argonian warriors with sixteen years of vengeful rage.
Cade removed his helmet and rubbed at his eyes.
"Are you okay?" Eileen demanded frantically as she fought through the crowd. He nodded, but she pulled his hand down and asked, "Then why are you doing that?"
"Because the sunís in my eyes," he answered with a slight laugh. He saw her sigh in relief and smile.
The clouds were parting and had just begun to turn a bright orange. Cade looked up and saw a thin figure retreating from one of the castles high windows. He turned toward the castle gate with a victorious smile. There was nothing between him and evil queenís neck now.