The Sword of Iron Mountain | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Fantasy Bookmark and Share

The Sword of Iron Mountain

Lord Conall Rutherford and The Sword of Iron Mountain Dallas Releford For the third time in five days he sat astride his white horse and watched while his brave men were senselessly slaughtered as they attempted to scale Iron Mountain. Lord Conall Rutherford, who would soon be King Rutherford of Wineland simply because his father, King Guaire Rutherford had been killed only two days ago in a desperate attempt to reach Adaire Castle on top of the mountain, wanted to join in the battle, however wiser men advised against it. From a hill overlooking a wide green valley, he considered their words and their warnings. In the distance, he could see the source of all their troubles, the mountain, the evil castle that sat on top of it and the tower where Princess Sheela Valgarg was held prisoner. Only a few days ago, he had held his father in his arms as he breathed his last breath. When his father was gone, he vowed that he would not rest until the castle lay in ruins and Princess Valgarg was his once again. Taking up his mighty sword, the one known only as Torloch—meaning of great strength—he had challenged his men to follow him. Before he could mount his steed, Night Storm, the elders who had advised his father so well during his life, also advised him that to go forth to battle would not be a good thing. One king had been killed in battle and if Lord Rutherford should die, there would be no one to take command. King Rutherford had told him as he was dying to listen to his advisors and that was what he did. Lord Rutherford thought about his father and his grandfather and wondered if he could do all the marvelous things they had done. His grandfather, King Ruther, had fought many battles and was known as a fierce warrior. His long red hair—traditional in his family—and his deep blue eyes were his most distinguishing features. Lord Rutherford had inherited most of his grandfather’s features, red hair, blue eyes, tall well-muscled frame and a fierce bravery that would do him well in battle and as king. His broad shoulders, slim waist and strong hips had served him well in many battles. His handsome features won him the hand of Princess Valgarg, a blonde, fair-haired woman of great courage and strength. Days before their joining, Lord Varous Pluender, a vicious and evil knight kidnapped her and took her to his castle. Lord Pluender was not a normal man like Lord Rutherford and his kin. He was one of the Valkin breed, tall well-muscled and covered with thick dark hair all over their bodies. Their heads were large as was their frame and they had long sharp claws instead of fingernails. At two hundred and fifty pounds, most of them were almost twice the size and weight of his men. They were the creation of an evil magician named Gernald. Gernald had created the Valkins and he commanded them with a strong arm and an evil heart. His second in command was Lord Varous Pluender a knight who had slain his father and many of his men. Lord Rutherford longed to meet him in battle so he could end his days as he had ended his father’s life. The story of how King Ruther became King Rutherford was as ancient as the beautiful land they lived in. One day, as the story went, King Ruther and his knights aided several other knights who were trying to cross a river, or fjord. These knights were retreating from a recent battle with forces of the evil magician Gernald. Because King Ruther had helped them in their time of need, they vowed their allegiance to him and his kingdom. Forever afterward, he was called King Rutherford because he had assisted them in crossing the fjord. The place where they had crossed the river was called Ruther’s Ford. As the war between King Rutherford and Gernald intensified, Gernald had summoned the demons known as the Valkins to help him conquer the enormous kingdom that was ruled by the Rutherford clan. “Does his Lordship wish to send more men into the battle?” The voice of Anson Niall, chief of a hundred knights who protected him, interrupted his thoughts. They sat on their steeds with broadswords drawn in case something unexpected should happen, which often did happen. Fully clad in a suit of shiny armor and chain mail, he felt hot and uncomfortable even in the early September coolness. He thought that maybe he was just anxious about the battle and the fever wasn’t anything to worry about. Wiping perspiration from his forehead with the back of his hand, he answered, “This farce is only costing us lives. It is useless to send men against a fortress such as Adaire Castle. See yonder, they are slaughtered as we watch. It is an iron mountain that is impregnable. The mountain is truly made of iron. Nay, withdraw our troops immediately. I will consider other ways to do this.” “What other way is there?” Sir Niall asked. “Doest thou have magic of thy own?” “Maybe I do,” he proclaimed returning his sword to its sheath. “Withdraw to the valley below and only confront the enemy if they come down from the mountain. We must not waste lives.” “Your majesty,” Walin Byrne said, “you do not forget Princess Valgarg, do thee?” “Nah,” he answered swinging his steed around and heading back down the hill. The others followed him in silence except for three knights that rode off toward the mountain to deliver his orders. “If only I could fly,” he said. “I would sweep down on that tower and rescue the princess. Nonetheless, I shall find a way to take down that castle and slay Lord Pluender.” Nobody answered. They all knew that any assault on the mountain would cost them dearly and the ability to fly was reserved for birds, dragons and the ancient featherless creature they called a Worlock. This ancient bird had a long beak with teeth so sharp it could rip the flesh from any creature without any effort at all. They rode toward a castle nearby where Lord Rutherford and his family had lived for centuries. He needed time to think, plan and give his men time to rest. They had been fighting the Valkins for seven days and were nearly exhausted. Conall was tired of watching them die. As he rode along in silence, his mind was working hard trying to conceive a plan that would work. The iron mountain was truly an iron mountain with large deposits of iron ore beneath its surface. Gernald had discovered this fact many years ago and used the ore to assist in the building of the castle that cost Conall so many lives. Why had Gernald been so interested in the mountain for so long? Why had he built a castle on a mountain that wasn’t any different from any other mountain its size? Was there something special about the mountain? Conall could think of no reason other than the fact it was rich in iron ore. As small cold hands touched his neck causing a chill to run down his spine and then back up again, he thought he knew the secret. There had to be something special about that mountain and the iron ore must have something to do with it. Of course, Gernald had used the iron to make weapons, but he could have done that by using iron ore from almost any other place in the land. What was so special about this ore? Then he had it. It wasn’t the mountain specifically and it wasn’t the ore by itself. It was something about the mountain that gave Gernald his powers, or caused him to be more powerful when he was near the mountain. That would explain why Gernald hadn’t been seen off the mountain for several years, he thought. Glancing over at Sir Niall who rode beside him, he asked, “Sir Niall, I have an important question that has been bothering me. Perhaps you can assist me with my thoughts.” “Perhaps,” Niall agreed. “What is it that bothers his majesty?” “When you are on the mountain, does your skin tingle, your bones ache and your sword feel heavier than it usually does?” Sir Niall stared at him and then finally spoke, “Yes, of course. How did you know of such things?” “Because I have the same feelings when I’m near Iron Mountain.” “Do you think it is important?” “I’m sure it is,” Lord Rutherford said. “We shall see.” With that said, he kicked his horse and hastened forth as the others followed him. He wasn’t quite sure what it all meant, except he knew his discovery was important. He knew a wizard who was almost as powerful as Gernard. Perhaps old Bien Kambell could help. Perhaps he could, he told himself. After a hearty meal in the great dining hall, Lord Rutherford excused himself and walked down the vast hallway that led to the west side of the castle, a place he hadn’t been since he was young. The hallways were dark and he could smell mildew in the air, hear rats scampering away from his footsteps and hear bats screeching overhead, but nothing deterred him from his mission for it was a matter of life and death. Once the center of attention in the castle and its extravagant social structure, Old Bien had resigned himself to live in the most isolated part of the castle where he studied his ancient books, cast his most horrifying spells and conjured up demons, ghosts and goblins by the dozens. Nobody in the castle dared to venture in his direction, except for his servants who had been blessed by the Wizard. Lord Rutherford thought that he might be the only real person—other than the blessed servants who had so far, managed to keep their heads on their shoulders—to visit Old Bien in several years. He wondered if he would still remember him. Conall felt as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders. His losses had been great, almost too terrifying to even think about. His own father had died at the hands of his most despised enemy, Gernald and his beloved was imprisoned in his castle. When he thought of the lovely princess now a prisoner in the tower, his heart became heavy and his eyes flowed with tears. Knowing he could not and dared not let anyone see his remorse, his sadness, he wiped his tears away and approached the large, thick wooden door that protected the rest of the world from Wizard Kambell. Using a large iron ring on the door as a knocker, he summoned the wizard. For a while, he only heard silence. Then, just when he was about to knock again, he heard a noise behind he door. When the door opened just a little he saw an old gray haired man with small dark eyes peeping through the crack. “Who is it?” the old man asked. “It is I, King Rutherford. I have come to visit for a while and to ask favors of you. Do you remember me?” “Of course I remember you,” Kambell said. “What makes you think I wouldn’t remember you? I’ve known you since you were born. I haven’t lost my memory, yet. You haven’t changed much since the last time I saw you. Come on in. I’ve been expecting you.” “Expecting me?” Conall asked as he stepped across the threshold and into the dark room. “Yes, I knew you would return someday. I’m sorry that I scared you to death the last time you were here. You were just a boy then and now look at you, all dressed up in that royal attire. I knew you would make a good king, Conall. Would you like something to drink? Something to eat?” He pointed at a pitcher sitting on a table and a large tray with cooked meat and vegetables on it. “I just ate,” he said. “Are the servants feeding you well?” “No worry, they feed me like I was royalty,” he said. “You are royalty,” Conall told him. “My father had a lot of respect for you. You helped him many times and I hope you can help me. Your king needs you again, Bien.” “Well, don’t stand there gawking at all my experiments, scrolls and other curiosities. You’ve seen them all before, haven’t you?” “I believe so,” Conall replied. “Have a seat and I’ll pour us some wine.” As the wizard poured two cups of wine, Conall watched him out of the corner of his eye. The old man hadn’t changed much except he had more wrinkles now and his hair was as white as snow. His eyes still seemed to be as alert as they always were. “I have a problem and his name is Gernald.” “I know,” Kambell said. “I have been following his evil trail for a long time trying to figure out what his secret is. If I just knew his secret, what makes him so powerful, I might be able to conjure up a few surprises for him. I heard he captured Princess Valgarg. Are you two still as fond of each other—” Conall didn’t give him time to finish. “Yes, we were going to be married. A short time before the ceremony, Gernald took her from our castle. I have to get her back.” He knew that Kambell already knew everything that went on in the castle and elsewhere. His servants kept him well informed. “Aha,” the wizard said. “How do you expect me to fight someone so powerful. If he didn’t have that special power, I might be able to do something.” “I thought you were the most powerful wizard in the world,” Conall said making a statement rather than a question. Kambell didn’t like questions. “I am the most powerful wizard in the world,” he protested. “But you have to realize that Gernald has a special power that—” “I know about his power,” Conall almost shouted and then stopped himself dropping his voice to a whisper so that only Kambell’s ears could hear. “It is the mountain.” Kambell rubbed his chin and his long white whiskers bobbled up and down. “What about the mountain. It is just a mountain, is it not?” “It is,” Conall agreed. “The horses refuse to climb the mountain even though it is not steep in places. My skin tingles, the hair on my arms reaches up to the heavens and my sword feels as if it weighs twice what it once did. Our men are almost paralyzed in their armor when they climb the mountain. Sometimes their weapons stick to their armor. Do you know what magic this is?” Kambell downed the last of his wine, shook his head and then leaned forward wiping wine from his grizzled mouth. “It is evil magic,” he said. “That is what it is. There is an old legend that I haven’t thought about in a long time.” “I don’t have much time for a long story. What does this legend have to do with that magic, or the mountain?” “The legend says that fire from the sky, lightning, strikes the mountain a thousand times each year. I remember that when I was young, the villagers would go to a place near the mountain when it stormed and watch it. It was supposed to be a sight to see.” “What does lightning have to do with the mountain and magic?” Conall was getting frustrated with the old man. He had always told wild tales that didn’t seem to make any sense to anyone but him. Was this another of those tales? “It might have a lot to do with it,” Kambell admitted. “Lodestone. You don’t know what that is, I suppose?” “Lodestone? The rocks from the earth that picks up metal?” “Yes,” Kambell said. “Sometimes this stone falls from the sky and can attract metal, especially iron.” “Are you saying that the mountain is made from Lodestone? How is that possible? The mountain is ancient and has been there for as long as anyone can remember.” “No, the mountain is made from iron ore, or most of it. I’m just saying that the fire from the sky, lightning, causes the mountain to have the same power as lodestone, only much more powerful. No matter,” Kambell said. “If you want to defeat Gernald, get the princess back and win this battle then you should believe what I’m saying. If the lightning struck the mountain, it may be a lot more powerful than lodestone. This may be the force that gives Gernald his special powers. If you could entice him out of the castle, off that mountain, I can defeat him.” “But how? He stays behind those castle walls and sends his demons against us. We are virtually defenseless against them. They are much larger than we are and they are nothing else but animals. Their teeth are so long and sharp that they don’t need swords, they can rip us apart with those teeth. One of them has the strength of twenty of my men.” “So I heard tell,” Kambell said. Putting his hand on his chin, rubbing it in deep thought, he finally replied with a twinkle in his old eyes, “There may be a way. There just may be.” Impatient, Lord Rutherford asked, “So, what is it and keep it simple. I remember some of those spells you conjured up to help my father. Some of them didn’t work so well. How about the time you created snakes that were supposed to attack the enemy by the thousands. All they succeeded in doing was spooking the horses and biting our own men. None of that now.” Kambell looked at him and grinned. “That was a mistake,” he admitted. “What I have in mind for Gernald is a little more serious.” “Well?” “I’ve been working on a curse that you might be able to use, Conall. Are any of your men afraid of heights?” “Why ask that? They have climbed many mountains including getting halfway up Iron Mountain before they were driven back into the valley again.” “Higher than that,” Kambell said. “Oh well, don’t worry about it. Have your men ready to move into battle tonight. The moon will be full and it will be a good night to assail the mountain. Gernald won’t be expecting us at night. Maybe we can catch him by surprise.” “Don’t you think you should tell the king what you have in mind?” “Of course,” he said. “Come closer. You’ll be the first one to know. This is what we will do.” * * * That night, a pale moon hovered over the eastern horizon. In the darkness, King Conall Rutherford and sixty of his knights followed old Bien Kambell into the meadow outside the castle. Facing the moon, old Bien Kambell stood with his hands reaching up at the sky as if he were trying to grasp the moon. The knights stood silently in awe, watching him as he muttered ancient magic words they did not understand. At first, nothing happened. As they watched, a great wind, cool and brisk rushed in from the east. Cold chills escalated down their spines as small dark spots appeared on the moon. The dark shadows soon grew larger until they could make out the shapes of birds, hundreds of them. As the birds flew overhead and landed in the moonlit meadow, they could see that the creatures were enormous, big enough to easily carry a man, or eat him. They shivered at the thought of hundreds of hungry birds with long beaks and sharp teeth tearing them into shreds. “You want us to ride these things?” Anson Niall one of the bravest knights in the kingdom asked. “How will we stay mounted?” “Bridles,” Kambell said. “The same way you ride a horse, with a bridle. We had hundreds of them made from rope. It will work fine. If you want to go left, pull left and if you want to go down, just kick the bird on the left side with your foot. It’s not impossible.” Sir Niall grunted, letting Kambell know his dissatisfaction with his scheme and the fact that he didn’t approve of his plan. “So, you want us to fly over the mountain, swoop down on the unsuspecting guards, overpower them and fight for our lives while the others in the valley come up the mountain. Is that what you said?” “Yours is a great memory,” Kambell said pounding Sir Niall on is shoulder with his hand. “When I give the command, the rest of the birds will fly to the knights in the valley. They have been told what to do. Are you ready?” Without speaking, the knights cautiously approached the birds. As they passed several carts sitting nearby, servants gave them rope bridles and their bows and arrows. King Rutherford and Wizard Bien Kambell showed them how to properly bridle the birds and how to mount despite their slick feathers. The birds, big, dark and fierce-looking sat patiently while they were being mounted. When the Conall, Bien and Sir Niall were mounted, Kambell gave a signal by whistling and the birds that did not have a rider, hundreds of them, flapped their wings and ascended into the night air. They all watched as the birds flew down toward the valley where the other knights were waiting. Minutes later, they all were airborne soaring over the countryside below them. In the distance, they could see dim lights from the evil castle on the mountain. “I thought you were going to come up with something exceptional,” King Rutherford shouted so he could be heard over the rush of wind. The flapping of hundreds of wings made it almost impossible to be heard. “This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” “What did his majesty have in mind?” “Thunderbolts from the heavens might have made me happier,” he yelled as his bird almost collided with the wizards flying steed. “Thunderbolts would have only made the magic of the mountain stronger,” Kambell reminded him. “I thought of that.” “Aye,” Conall acknowledged, “I should have known.” As they got closer, King Rutherford sensed that something was wrong. Yet, he couldn’t quite put his royal finger on it. For one thing, his skin was beginning to itch as if something small was crawling all over it and his bird was dropping too close to the earth. At their present altitude, they would never reach the top of the mountain. As he looked toward the moon to his right, he saw that hundreds of other birds with knights sitting proudly on top of them were heading in their direction. The plan had been for his men to descend on the top of the mountain and work their way down to the castle while the rest of the force took care of the Valkins near and below the castle. The others were joining them too quickly. Their timing was off. Something else was off, too. They all were flying too low. “We have to go higher,” he yelled at Kambell. “We have to get to the top of the mountain without being seen.” “If you keep yelling, they’ll hear us,” Kambell said. “Kick your bird on the right side and it will go higher. Do I have to tell you everything?” “That would be kind of you,” King Rutherford said. “Why are we going down? I’m kicking and the bird is trying hard, but the harder it flaps its wings the lower we go.” “Has to be that force tugging on your armor,” Kambell yelled back. “It’s having the same effect now as it did before. That proves that the force is as strong up here as it is down there. Keep trying.” Conall did as the wizard suggested. No matter how hard the bird tried to fly higher, it just sunk that much closer to the ground as they approached the mountain. “It won’t work, Kambell. We have to turn back or perish at the hands of the Valkins.” “Turn in the direction of the others and the meadow. Go away from the mountain and we should be able to get higher.” Conall did as he suggested. As they approached the other knights flying in from the meadow, they realized that something was wrong and followed them. “We’re defeated,” Conall shouted. “We have lost again.” “Nay,” Kambell insisted. “We just need to change our plans. Get far away from that mountain and fly as high as we can. We’ll get up high and swoop down on the mountain without any trouble at all.” “I don’t like this, your majesty,” Sir Niall said. “The old man has been in that tower too long.” “I heard that,” Kambell said ushering his bird to the other side of King Rutherford. “Nevertheless, it will work. Once we are high enough, we can glide down onto that mountain like hawks. They won’t even know we’re coming.” “I seem to remember that you said we could land on top of the mountain and take them by surprise,” Lord Rutherford reminded him with a smirk on his face. “Never mind. What is done is done and there is nothing we can do about it.” Without hesitation he urged his giant bird toward the east as the moon climbed higher in the sky. The others followed. As they traveled farther from the mountain, Conall discovered that the wizard had been right, for once, and they were able to climb to a higher elevation. Yet he wondered how high they would have to fly to in order to descend on the mountain without mishap. Not willing to take chances he waited until the trees below them looked like little dark clumps in the moonlight and then he gave the signal to turn around and go back. In the distance, the mountain looked like a small anthill. Lord Rutherford shuddered when he realized what lay before them. As the mighty army of knights—poised bravely on giant birds with broad wings and long sharp beaks—neared the mountain, Lord Rutherford felt his guts tighten, his arms grow weak and something in his throat felt as if it wanted to crawl out his mouth. Trying to steady his nerves, he kept telling himself that he was a king and that no matter what happened, he could not show fear in front of his men. He had to be brave for another reason too. The life of his beloved depended on him. When it appeared as if the ruse might work, just when King Rutherford was confident everything was as it should be, he felt the first wave of terror sweep through his body like a passing spring storm. The second wave came when he realized that his skin was tingling like a thousand ants were crawling on him and his head hurt like someone had shoved a very sharp sword into his brain. They were only a few miles from the mountain and had just begun the descent when the first sign of trouble appeared. The birds spread their wings wide and rode the air currents down toward the mountain as Old Bien Kambell led the procession of thousands of knights. Then they all realized at about the same time that something was horribly wrong. The birds were descending too fast and at too steep an angle, they were out of control on a collision course with the mighty mountain of iron. The mountain, the trees and the ground were coming up at them fast. Never having experienced the thrill of flying before, King Rutherford leaned over the side of his bird and urged the bird to go higher. The effort was futile as the bird continued his helpless glide toward the side of the mountain. Conall felt his stomach grow weak and he became dizzy. His greatest fear, as it had been since he started this foolhardy stunt was that he would fall from the bird and crash into the earth. “Well, Wizard, what do you have to say for yourself now?” Old Bien glanced at the king and yelled, “You wanted to land on the mountain, Your Majesty. Now, it looks like you have your wish?” “Can’t you conjure up some flying dragons or something to help us?” “Dragons are useless now,” he shouted above the sounds of yelling, screaming men all around him. The sky was filled with dark, helpless shapes that plummeted to the earth all around them. The descent was haphazard, something he had not anticipated and he knew it. “Grenald will find some way to destroy everything that I come up with unless we can get him off that mountain.” Lord Rutherford felt anger build up inside him. Had he been a fool to trust the old man? As the creature he was riding drew closer to the earth, he reminded himself that the old man was the only chance they had of rescuing the princess and putting an end to Grenald. It wasn’t his fault that the force was so strong on the mountain. It wasn’t his fault that the birds were affected just like all his men. The force was tugging at his armor and even his sword was stuck to his chain mail. “Well, think of something fast,” he commanded. “Another two minutes and we’re going to be splattered all over that mountain.” “Turn back,” the wizard yelled, waving his arms to the helpless bird riders. “It’s our only chance.” Lord Rutherford looked all around him. Already it was too late for some of his men and the birds. They were crashing into the mountain below. He could hear their screams and he could see the birds as they dropped into the mountain where hundreds of large dark shadows were waiting for them. He knew who he owner of those shadows were. They were the Valkins. Their plan had failed and he was losing more men than he could ever have imagined. “Turn back,” he yelled at the top of his voice knowing that for most of his men, his command had come too late. “Turn back and try to make it to the castle. We’ll have to try something else.” As Conall managed to turn his bird away from the mountain, he thought of all the helpless men he had to leave behind to be slaughtered and his lovely Princess Sheela Valgarg who was only a few miles away in the tower. He knew of the horrible tortures Lord Pluender bestowed upon his enemies and the thought turned his stomach. He could not wait until the day came when he would personally meet Lord Varous Pluender in combat. He would make him pay for all the evil things he had done. Maybe with a little good luck, he would capture him and send him to his dungeon where he would pay for the pain and suffering he had subjected countless people to. Lord Rutherford felt a cold chill develop between his shoulder blades and move down his back as he glanced behind him. Hundreds of brave knights had survived, but hundreds of others had perished on the mountain. There were so many birds, they blotted out the moon. Then something else caught his attention. A blue glow was developing on the side of the mountain just above where the evil castle was located. He twisted his body around so he could see the cold blue light better and his blood felt as cold as ice. As he watched, balls of blue light roared from the mountain and came straight for them. Before he could yell a warning to the others, one of the blazing balls of light struck a bird and it plunged to the earth encased in the blue flaming force. “What now?” Sir Anson Niall screamed as more balls struck other birds. “It’s coming from the mountain. We have to land now. We don’t have a choice, Your Majesty.” Lord Rutherford knew he was right. Despondent, he gave the signal to land in the meadow only a few miles from the mountain. At least, maybe he could save some of his men. It wasn’t likely that Gernald would be able to see them once they were on the ground. And yet, Gernald had powerful magic. The flaming balls were proof of that. Seeing a high rise in the meadow below, he knew it would not be visible from the mountain and it would protect them from the wrath of their adversary. “Down there,” he yelled pointing toward the meadows beyond the low hill. “We’ll be safe there, for a little while. I’m sure Pluender will send his forces after us now that he knows we’re almost defeated.” “We’re not defeated, yet,” Kambell yelled. “I have an idea about how to get upon that mountain and bring him down.” “I hope so,” Conall replied with a sound of despondency in his voice and doubt in his heart. Was there a way? So far, Pluender had taken everything he had thrown at him and had given it back with great pain and destruction. “What have you got in mind?” he asked as they dismounted the birds and stood in a circle under a great oak tree that spread its limbs out like it was reaching for the moon. The other knights were busy making ready for the attack that they knew would surely come. The birds spread their massive wings and flew into the night sky as if someone had given them a command to do so. In minutes, they were alone to face the Valkins on the field of battle. “What do you have in mind?” “I have something,” he said. “I would like to think on this one for a while, Lord Rutherford.” “We don’t have much time,” Conall reminded him. “They can come over that hill at any time. When they do, we’re done for. All of us, including you, Kambell.” Kambell knew it was true. He was as much a part of the battle now as any of the rest of them. He had more at stake than anyone else, though. He not only could lose his life, he could also lose his reputation, something that he placed a high price on. “Let’s have a council of war,” he declared as he walked away from the other knights indicating that King Rutherford should follow him. Under a tall tree with spreading limbs, close to a rambling brook, they planned their strategy. * * * In the calm of a cool September night with the moonlight illuminating their worried faces, King Conall Rutherford, Sir Niall and Wizard Bien Kambell sat on the damp grass in a circle near the brook contemplating the future of the kingdom. Everything was at stake now, the kingdom, their lives and the life of Princess Valgarg. “Whatever you’re planning, it had better be good,” Conall cautioned Kambell. “That last stunt didn’t work because our armor became too heavy as we approached the mountain and the force caused the birds to suffer from confusion. If you’re thinking of us stripping our armor away from our bodies, we have already considered that and ruled that it is impossible. The armor is the only thing that shields us from the sharp swords and long teeth of the Valkins. We have little enough chance as it is, but without armor, we have no chance at all.” “Ye shall keep your armor,” Kambell assured him. “They won’t be able to see you. I’m going to cast a spell on you and your entire army. We all will be invisible.” King Rutherford, being the wise man that he was, and knowing that most of the spells that Kambell conjured up didn’t work, thought the situation over. Finally, he looked at Kambell and smiled. “What makes you think the Valkins can’t smell us. They are animals and animals have keen instincts. Did you not consider this?” Disappointed, Kambell stared at him. “Maybe you’re right,” he admitted undaunted by the fact that his best plan had been killed like a bear with an arrow in its heart. “I’ll think of something else,” he promised. “Perhaps giant hawks with talons so sharp they can rip right through those tough hides of the Valkins.” “The Valkins have bows and arrows that are twice as powerful as ours,” Sir Niall reminded him. “Your birds would be felled before they reach the Valkins.” Kambell looked puzzled. Then turning to the king with a slight gleam in his eyes, he said, “Giant lizards with flame shooting out of their mouths?” “Too much like the giant snakes you created,” he said. “They did more damage to our army than the Valkins.” Frustrated, Kambell looked at King Rutherford and suggested, “Ten thousand female Valkins ready to mate?” Waving his hand through the air as if he were trying to swat a fly, he dismissed the absurd suggestion and looked at Kambell for a long time before saying anything. All of his suggestions were invalid. None of them would work and he knew it. Whatever they did, they had to get it right this time and do it quickly. Time was running out. At any moment, an army of Valkins would come upon them with ferocity unseen in the land since time began. He had a few thousand men and the Valkins had thousands. They would be outnumbered at least thirty-to-one. “Let’s get something worked out,” Conall said as a feeling of urgency built up in him. “What about a terrible storm that will blow the castle off that mountain and all the Valkins with it?” “That might hurt Princess Valgarg,” Sir Niall said. “We can’t do anything like that either.” “Well,” Kambell replied. “We can’t try the invisible soldiers, but we can try invisible Valkins, animals that have the same smell and the same bodies as the Valkins. We’ll make our Valkins much bigger, stronger and deadlier than theirs. They’ll climb the mountain and be on them before they know what happened.” Desperate, King Rutherford glanced up at Kambell when he realized that he might have a plan that would work. They had to try something. “That might work, except we have to have enough of them to overpower the enemy.” “That is easy,” Kambell said. “I’ll create five thousand of them.” “And make us invisible,” Sir Niall said. “It won’t matter if the Valkins can smell us. We’ll send our Valkins to ascend the mountain and we’ll go up behind them. They will kill the enemy and we’ll storm the castle, capture Pluender and rescue the princess.” Already, King Rutherford liked the plan. At least, it was the first suggestion that seemed as if it might work. “We’ll need cover,” he said. “Do you think you can conjure up a good thunderstorm, one that will give us enough rain to cover our assent?” “You strain my resources,” Kambell said and then laughed. “Done. I’ll begin work right away to create the animals. What shall we call them?” “What does it matter?” King Rutherford asked. “They’ll be bigger and stronger than the Valkins,” Sir Niall said. “We should call them something so we don’t get confused when referring to them. Shall we call them Aplins. Remember the ape that was brought from the lands beyond our own a few years ago?” They all shook their heads. The enormous animal was hairy, had a huge head, arms and legs just like the Valkins. Aplins seemed like a suitable name so they agreed that their creation would bear that name. “I must be by myself,” Kambell told them. “You will tell the rest of your men what is to be done so they can prepare. They should remove all armor so the mountain will not have an affect on them. They can take their weapons. I suggest that bows and arrows be used where possible. The force will not affect them because they are made of wood. I must prepare the spell for what is required.” Without a further word, the old wizard turned and walked away up the valley toward a low hill. “Get the men prepared,” Lord Rutherford commanded Sir Niall. “Send about a thousand of them up the hill without armor or anything metal except their weapons. Give the Aplins time to attack before our men are allowed on the mountain. We will do battle again and I have a nagging feeling that many of us will not return this night.” “I too, have that feeling,” Sir Niall admitted as he turned and walked away. When he was gone, King Rutherford stood under the tree alone looking in the direction of the tower on the mountain where Princess Valgarg awaited him. “Tonight, we shall be together,” he promised her as dark clouds covered the moon hiding tears that flowed from his eyes. “Tomorrow we will be wed as was intended.” He wondered if he would live to see the sun rise over the horizon and then told himself that his doubts were unfounded. This spell would work. It had to. His beautiful princess depended on him and so did the rest of his kingdom. * * * King Rutherford stood with several of his knights talking about how they would handle the battle. The wizard had built a small fire on top of the rise to the west of them and was busy chanting incantations, screaming at the moon and doing various other things that any crazy person would do, in the opinion of many of the knights. As they watched him wondering if his wild activities would produce anything useful, he held his hands over the blazing fire and then lifted them up toward the sky. Right away, a black cloud erupted from the fire and lifted up toward the sky. Conall thought he could hear a million voices speaking at once as the long black cloud soared up into the air, dived at them and then roared up into the clouds only to plunge back down to the earth again. The cloud, dark and chilling, looking like a headless snake, disappeared into a small knob not far from them. The green hill shuddered as if an earthquake was about to occur. Within minutes, the earth opened up and the hill split apart as if a woodcutter had cut it into two pieces with a chopping axe. From the deep bowels of the earth came the most horrible screeching sound Conall had ever heard. From the crevice came the most evil-looking creatures he had ever seen. The horses bolted and tried to run away. Only quick thinking on the part of the knights saved the day, or the night, or maybe both. Thousands of large dark creatures with long hair, low foreheads, large eyes and big teeth rushed from the hole in the hill and ran at tremendous speed toward the mountain. In the confusion of the sudden appearance, Anson Niall edged closer to the king who was appalled by the creatures. “Well, the wizard did it again,” he said. “What are you saying, Sir Niall?” “He didn’t make them invisible. Nonetheless, they are bigger and faster than the Valkins.” “There’s something else he didn’t do,” King Rutherford said pointing at Sir Niall. “What?” “He made us transparent instead of invisible. I can still see you except it’s like I can look right through you. What a blundering idiot he is.” “Maybe we can use it to our advantage,” Sir Niall suggested with a little hope in his heart that Old Bien Kambell would keep his pledge to drum up a real storm to cover them. “If we are transparent, we might be able to hide in the rain of a storm.” “Perhaps you are right,” King Rutherford said. “Maybe I’m being too hard on the old man.” “That could be true,” Sir Niall admitted. “Perhaps we all are too hard on him and maybe that causes him to keep blundering since he knows that we doubt his abilities. If we pretend that he has done a good job then perhaps he will do better if he knows we have confidence in him.” “I noticed that he was chanting something when the blue balls of fire were falling upon us. A few minutes later, the fireballs subsided and none fell later. Could he be more powerful than we think? Perhaps you are right, Sir Niall. Let us go forth and compliment him on his success. His ego just needs a little help. I’ll do anything to ensure that Princess Valgarg is rescued and in my arms again.” “We all wish that for you,” Sir Niall said as the two men walked up the hill. The Aplins were still pouring out of the hill like worms out of a rotten apple in the hot sun. Looking back at the Aplins, he asked, “How many of those things did he make anyway?” “Many,” King Rutherford replied trying to avoid dozens of the big beasts that ran all around them. They had to hurry to get out of their way. The Aplins had one thing on their minds, they all wanted a piece of the Valkins. “Bien, I think we have enough of the Aplins,” King Rutherford said as they approached the old man. “You did a great thing. You have created enough of the Aplins to kill every Valkin on the mountain and for that I will forever be grateful. You are indeed a great wizard.” “Yes,” Sir Niall agreed, “you are the greatest wizard in the land. When this is all over we shall have a great celebration. We will celebrate your success, the safe return of the princess and the end of Gernald.” “Aye, that will be a great day, won’t it?” Kambell stood watching as the Aplins burst from the mountain and flooded the valley below with their dark bodies. “There is no way Pluender can survive that onslaught.” “I say not,” King Rutherford replied proudly smiling at Kambell. “We will celebrate a victory before the noon sun hangs directly overhead. “Can you bring on the storm to cover our own ascent to the mountain? As you might notice, we are slightly transparent. With sheets of rain falling, we cannot be seen easily.” “Drat,” Kambell said. “I had hoped we would be invisible. I guess I blundered again, didn’t I?” “No,” Sir Niall assured him. “On the other hand, this way we can see each other but with a little rain to cover us, the enemy will not see us until we are on top of them. You didn’t blunder at all. You just changed the plans a little. We knew you had a surprise up your sleeve.” “I guess I did at that, didn’t I? Well, I guess I better get that storm you wanted. Start your army toward the mountain and I will join you just as soon as the storm is on the way.” They both thanked him and hurried toward the men who were waiting for them in the valley below. The last of the Aplins were just crossing the wide valley toward the mountain fortress. Their masses covered the entire valley and in the pale moonlight, they looked like a giant black, fat snake slithering through the high grass. Mounting their horses, the knights followed the Aplins with their hopes high and their swords held above their heads. This time, victory was sure to be theirs. How could they fail with the army of monsters they had leading the charge? The thousand knights without armor followed the Aplins letting them attack the massive army of Valkins that waited for them at the base of the mountain. The base of the mountain extended in both directions as far as they could see. The knights without the benefit of armor hoped to rush up the hill and capture the castle once the Aplins had cleared a way for them. Behind them, King Rutherford led the rest of the knights toward where the battle had already erupted into an entanglement of bodies and a bloodbath. They were close enough to the battle to see the huge Aplins ripping the Valkins into pieces and tossing them aside. Even with their great numbers, the Aplins were still outnumbered two to one. Despite their small handicap, they managed to drive the Valkins up the hill tearing them to pieces as they advanced. As the battle raged and the creatures slaughtered each other, ominous dark clouds appeared in the west and approached the mountain. Lightning bolts flashed to the earth and thunder roared. Winds rushed by them scaring the horses and forced the knights to cling to their steeds to prevent themselves from falling to the ground. As the storm intensified, the ferocity of the battle increased. “Me thinks Kambell has overdone it,” Walin Byrne complained. “I can hardly control my mount. If the storm gets any worse, we won’t be able to see what is happening, if the winds don’t blow us all away.” “Just keep advancing,” King Rutherford ordered. “Let’s attack and see if we can’t cut through the Valkins. We’ll go straight up the mountain to the castle. We have to reach that tower before he can harm the princess.” “Should you not stay here?” Sir Niall asked with a worried look on his face. “You may get hurt. We need you.” “I have my trusty sword and my friends to protect me,” King Rutherford said raising his mighty sword high above his head. “Follow me to victory or death.” The knights followed him as he galloped up the mountain to where the line of battle had formed. The knights without armor were already cutting a path through the retreating Valkins. Then just as King Rutherford thought everything was going as planned a flash of light, blue light, attracted his attention. Thinking it was just another bolt of lightning that had perhaps struck the mountain, he ignored it for a split second. Too late to warn the others, he realized what it was. The enormous ball of fire exploded amidst the knights and the animals killing hundreds of them. “He’s willing to sacrifice his own warriors to keep us off the mountain,” Sir Niall yelled. Before he could say anything further, another flaming ball came roaring down the mountain toward them. It exploded behind the lines but still killed several knights. Other flaming balls were erupting from the top of the mountain and coming directly for them. King Rutherford felt his heart sink along with his hopes of achieving a victory on the mountain. “Retreat as fast as we can,” he yelled turning his horse around and urging his men to follow him. “We can’t fight those flaming balls. There is not a way for us to do so. Where is Kambell?” As the thunder roared, the lightning flashed and the winds swept some of the men from their horses—with a thousand less men than had followed him to the mountain—King Rutherford rode his horse across the wide valley until he was sure they were safe at last. Turning his mount around, cursing the wind and rain, he looked around until he saw the wizard riding up toward them with a grim look on his face. “We failed again,” he sadly admitted as the wizard joined them. “Those fireballs can’t be defeated. They aren’t anything like us so we have no defense against them. We have to retreat to the castle and defend it the best way we can. We have lost. I’ve lost the princess forever.” “We have not failed, Your Majesty,” the wizard said. “We just have to change our tactics. I never thought Old Gernald would sacrifice his own men. In doing so, he has helped us to attain what we wish.” “What do you mean? Even if those Aplins destroy his army, he still has the fireballs and just about anything else he wants to conjure up. We cannot fight against such odds.” “You forget,” the wizard said. “I was your father’s friend and magician for his entire life. The great sword you carry belonged to him. You don’t know everything there is to know about that sword.” King Rutherford looked at him and grimaced. What was the old man trying to say? His father, King Alexus Rutherford, son of King Ruther had given him the sword when he reached his sixteenth year. The sword had belonged to King Ruther. It was a family heirloom, an object to be passed from father to the first son. “What nonsense are you saying, Wizard? This sword has no magical properties. It belonged to my grandfather, King Ruther.” “All that you say is true. King Ruther had the sword made from iron that was mined on that mountain over there before our family knew that evil magician, Gernald. From the start, King Ruther knew something was special about it. That’s why it is so heavy in your hands when you are on the mountain. It is attracted to the ore in the mountain and to its powers. Even though the mountain attracts all metal, it is the power in the mountain that attracts the Sword of Iron Mountain. With this sword, we shall defeat Gernald and his lowly knight, Sir Pluender.” “How so?” King Rutherford looked at him wondering if anything he said was the truth. “How can I be sure you are telling the truth?” King Rutherford felt a pang of hurt in his heart as he said the words. He knew that the words he said had some truth in them. The old man had failed him so many times, how could he expect him to be successful in anything else he tried to do? “This time I will not fail you because defeating Gernald will be up to you, Your Majesty. Only you can deliver the fatal blow that will bring him to his knees.” Sir Niall put his hand on the king’s arm. “Sire, you cannot believe this and you cannot risk your life when you may be the only chance the kingdom has for survival. Let us do as you suggested, go to the castle and prepare for a siege. Others in the kingdom will help us. Maybe in the castle, the wizard can figure out something to help us. Right now, we don’t have time to waste. You can’t risk your life on some foolhardy scheme.” “It’s not a scheme,” the wizard protested. “This plan will work. The sword is magic.” “Enough of your magic for one day,” Sir Niall said with a scowl on his face and his eyes looked like two burning coals. “The king must be protected.” Holding the beautiful sword out in front of him, King Rutherford looked at it and felt a tingle rush through his body. “Let’s hear your plan, wizard. This better be good.” “It’s simple,” the wizard said. “You must place this sword high on the castle tower where Gernald and Pluender dwell before the storm ends. That is all there is to it.” “What? How can I accomplish even that feat? We can’t get up the mountain. You have seen me try several times. Each time I leave behind more knights than I care to think about.” “You will have transportation this time and I shall accompany you.” “Risk both of our lives? No. If anyone is to go, I shall go alone.” “King Rutherford, you will need me,” Kambell said. “I must go with you to help you. What if you need a spell and I’m not there.” “Tell me how to get there and what to do,” King Rutherford insisted. “We don’t have much time. How am I do get there? What am I to do?” “A hawk is one of the most intelligent, fastest birds,” he said. “I will conjure up a hawk for you to ride because it can fly faster than most other birds. You must place the sword on top of one of the towers in the castle. The princess is in a special square tower far from the castle. Don’t worry about her. She will not be harmed. Remember that the princess is in a square tower so do not place the sword on that tower. When you have placed the sword return here and do not waste any time getting away from the sword. The faster you retreat the better.” “What will happen?” Sir Niall asked. “We all have a right to know what to expect.” The wizard looked from one worried face to the other before finally saying anything. “Gernald has always wanted more power so I intend to give him all the power he wants.” “You expect the sword to give him more power, is that what you mean?” Sir Niall couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “How will giving him more power help us?” “You will see,” the wizard replied. “The bird you seek is coming now,” he added pointing toward the moon that was getting ready to hide behind the western horizon. In a few hours, the dawn would be coming and so would more death from the mountain. As they watched, a great bird sailed from the direction of the moon and gently dropped down onto the meadow floor. Unconcerned, it fluttered its wings and waited patiently for its passenger. King Rutherford dismounted and removed his armor. Handing his chain mail and his other things to Sir Niall, he forced a smile and said, “Do not worry old friend, I’ll be back. This hawk looks like it could fly anywhere it wants to. We have to trust in the wizard. If I do not return, go to the castle and prepare. Do the best you can.” “I shall,” Sir Niall said. King Rutherford wasn’t sure, except he thought he saw tears in his eyes. Knowing that time was important, he took his sword and walked toward the hawk. The others followed him. While Sir Niall and Kambell placed a halter on the hawk, he mounted and sat behind its large neck wondering if he was dreaming the entire thing. The only thing he could think of was the terrified princess in the tower on the mountain. As the hawk ran along the ground with King Rutherford on his back and slowly rose into the night sky, Old Bien Kambell turned to Sir Niall with a grim look on his face. “As soon as that sword is placed and the lightning flashes, be ready to ride as fast as the wind. This time I will not fail you, or the good king. Victory is within our grasp.” “The king has put his life in jeopardy for us. We shall not fail him this time even if it means our death,” Sir Niall promised. Turning away from the wizard, he began preparing the knights for the forthcoming assault. The wind howled, rain pelted them and lightning flashed all around them still they did not let it frighten them or deter them from what they must do. Over the hill, the Aplins were dying by the thousands. They could hear their screams. It wouldn’t be long until the Valkins would come. “When the sword is planted in the tower, be ready,” the wizard reminded them. “This time the force will not hamper you at all.” “You seem confident,” Sir Niall said. “How is this different from any other time?” “Do you think I would have let the king to up there if I weren’t sure?” “Maybe not,” Sir Niall said as he mounted his horse and rode away with the other knights following him. “And maybe you would without realizing it,” he said as his words were carried away by the wind. High above the mountain, King Rutherford finally saw what he was looking for through the heavy rain. The rain was so thick he could hardly see the castle. Urging his hawk to descend, he wrapped his legs around the hawk’s neck and held on for dear life as the tower came up at him. He would only have time to drive the sword into the wood shingles on the tallest tower. A pole with a red flag stood above the tower. He would have to cut it away and make another pass before he could plant the sword in the roof. With one swift blow, he slashed the pole that held the red pennant. As the pole fell far to the ground below he made another pass. Leaning over the bird’s wing, he aimed for the tower as it came up at him fast. His hand stung as he drove the sword into the roof and he thought he had broken his hand. Fighting the pain, King Rutherford guided the bird away from the castle and headed for the meadow below. He could see his men gathered in the field below him. Before he reached them he saw tremendous flashes of lightning and heard incredible booming of thunder. The storm had intensified. Landing not far from where the wizard and Sir Niall were mounted on their horses waiting for the time to charge the mountain, he ran toward them with a hopeful heart. Maybe this time, it would work, he thought. As the approached the others, thousands of lightning bolts emanated from dark clouds, clouds darker than he had ever seen before and struck the sword. Within minutes, the entire castle was ablaze with a blue, intense light. “What is happening? “Gernard and Sir Pluender are getting a little more force than they want,” Kambell shouted with a big smile on his old face. His face was almost as bright as the lightning flashes. King Rutherford could see that he was enjoying himself. As he mounted his steed, he glanced at the mountain again. The light was so bright it almost hurt his eyes. As they watched, the castle slowly disappeared as if it had never existed. Down below them, on the lower side of the mountain, the black horde that had been the Valkins also vanished. “I don’t believe my eyes,” King Rutherford said. “That is really magic.” “Not magic at all,” Kambell assured him. “Just a little, maybe. Most of it was common sense. The sword has the magic. It pulled the lightning from the clouds and channeled it directly into the castle. Even the magic of Gernald cannot defeat the magic of nature and of the heavens.” They all cheered as the castle disappeared. “Let’s get my princess and all the others he probably has in his dungeons beneath that tower,” King Rutherford commanded. Princess Sheela Valgarg ran to his arms as soon as the heavy wooden doors were broken down with axes. Even though she had been a prisoner in the tower for a very long time, she still remembered every detail about her lover. As their lips met and he held her close to him, he vowed that he would make her his queen before the sun disappeared over the horizon that very day. With his arm around her tiny waist, he led her to his horse. Mounting, he pulled her up behind him. With an escort of jubilant knights, they rode with great haste toward the castle in the valley. Behind them, the other knights found no sign of the evil Gernald or his allies. They had vanished with the storm. Under a pale moon, King Rutherford rode down the trail with the woman he loved, happy that she was finally safe with him and was on her way to becoming his queen. The End
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