“Of course, you can have my army. Unfortunately, I have only four hundred and fifty men at present. I am not sure whether that will be enough against the Dark Warriors. It is said that for one of them ten soldiers will die.”
“I will command our army,” Prince Victor said.
“Not without me.” King Gregor shook his head. “In no way will I allow that Lysande’s vision comes true, and you’ll find yourself in a grave in front of the town’s gates.” He shuddered at the memory.
Melissa had an idea. “Perhaps the vision will not come true if the fight takes place in another place.”
“That might work,” Lysande said.
“We need to get as far away from the town as possible before the Dark Warriors arrive.” Melissa smiled. “We could ask the dragon for support. If we explain to him that the Black Warriors are a special sort of knights, he’ll help us certainly. He cannot stand knights.”
“I’ll come along.” Prince Victor jumped up but Melissa restrained him.
“You have to get the army as far in the direction of the Unicorn Woods as you can, and you need to prepare the soldiers for the fight.”
“Then, I will ride with you.” Lysande looked at her brother. “We will leave immediately. Gregor, will you lend us two horses? And you, Victor, shouldn’t dawdle either. Get your soldiers going.”
“First, we will eat.” King Gregor leaned back. “It’s easier to travel on a full stomach.” He ordered the servants to saddle the two fastest horses and to pack everything necessary for a journey to the Unicorn Woods. Then, he got the wine glasses refilled, stood up and lifted his glass. His baritone filled the hall when he spoke the traditional blessing for a journey. “Mother of All Worlds, be merciful upon us. Protect Lysande and Melissa on their journey, and crown their business with success.”
Melissa’s bottom hurt and the insides of her thighs were sore. She had never ridden for several days at a piece. Trembling, she pulled the coat closer around her shoulders and thought how good it had been that Prince Victor had found it. Especially since nights were uncomfortably cold. To distract herself, she asked Lysande about the magical stone. “Where did Korosadja come from?”
Lysande shrugged. “No idea. I only know that High Priestess Durimeh got it from a magician one day.”
Melissa turned in the saddle to look at Lysande. The behavior of the magician surprised her. “Why didn’t he keep it himself?”
“He died a little later.”
“And why is the stone not with the High Priestess now? Shouldn’t she watch it?”
“Durimeh is dead, remember? All because she was careless. She showed the stone to many people. When she recognized its true power it was too late.”
Melissa half turned in her saddle. “Why didn’t she find someone to destroy the stone? If it is so very powerful it might have been better to get rid of it; like throwing it into a volcano or some such.”
Lysande put a piece of dry fruit into her mouth and spoke with her mouth full. “She only realized the danger when Ceres conquered her world, and she tried her best to protect the stone. But to no avail.”
Melissa sensed a thrilling story. She detained her horse until it walked beside Lysande’s. “Tell me. What happened?”
Lysande wasn’t a good narrator. Her representation of Ceres and his wars seemed more bland then adventurous. But Melissa imagined she had been there. Her imagination and Korosadja’s magic created a picture in her mind that came close to reality.
Ceres sat in a tent. Melissa was surprised by his height. He negotiated with magicians and nobles in torn gowns about the terms of surrender. Fear flickered in the eyes of the losers.
“Your king is dead,” Ceres said to the nobles. “Appoint me your king, and you shall keep your titles.”
“What good is a title if our countries are devastated,” a young prince mumbled.
Ceres heard it. “For a little tribute, your estates will remain untouched by my Dark Warriors.”
The nobles did not talk. One after the other bowed until his forehead touched the floor. They swore fealty to the new king.
Ceres consulted the magicians. “Give me access to the Gates Between the Worlds, and I will spare your life.”
An old man raised his head. His beard was long and white, his simple tunic charred in many places. Nevertheless, Melissa took him to be the leader of the magicians.
“We will never let you control the gates,” he said.
Ceres waved, and two soldiers grabbed the magician’s upper arms. They pulled him outside, where, visible for all, the hangman waited for the venerable old man with a sharpened ax. One blow of an axe later, Ceres asked once more. The left-over magicians agreed that it would be best for their own lives to hand the gates over to him.
Ceres called his army. Weapons were primed and armors repaired. Finally, the Dark Warriors left for new worlds.