William the Rash re-entered his glorious city amongst urine soaked straw and shame-faced men.The farmer was directed to the inner Bailey and the King entered the castle through the kitchen way, enduring silent, curious stares.
Ignoring his blisters, William strode into his council chambers and called for his advisors. Before they could convene, he’d declared war.
It was to be a one day battle, an afternoon’s sport at best. William acknowledged that the Shautu had power, but no magician could withstand the onslaught of one hundred trained men. Alongside his calvary, William had assembled a squad of trained archers, the finest in the realm.
The Eld Forest was pitiful in the face of such an army. In the space of a few days, the leaves of the sycamores had somehow turned a sickly yellow, the pine needles appeared brittle and spare. The army milled about, bored and baffled.
“I don’t relish slaughter, but the man was most unreasonable. Stiff necked and proud.” His comment was directed to Lord Torpaine, a seasoned veteran who rode at his side. He was flanked on his left by Ondred, resplendent in hammered chain mail over a tunic of brightest green. The others of the original party had already repaired to their various locations. William had called them cowards to no avail.
The King, Ondred, and Torpaine rode to the edge of the field that separated the Eld Forest from the main road.
Torpaine shaded his eyes from the glaring sun. “Sacred forests must be in great demand these days. Is this the best the Elyon could do?”
William shrugged and took a sip of wine. “The fool covered in lice and pigeon feathers called it sacred.”
“At least the rock is the right color and shape,” said Torpaine.
The rock, ever conspicuous, was set against the forests edge. Today, its surface didn’t shine white, but reflected a dull, bleached gray.
“Once we were inside, the charlatan sought to disguise his poor surroundings with illusion,” offered Ondred. “But the light of day, coupled with our own perceptions, shows us the forest as it really is.”
Torpaine narrowed his eyes, checking the sun’s position.
Rather than embark on a full scale attack, William began the assault with a squad of archers. They were Casoria’s finest: hard, sure men. They rode into the forest at a cantor. The wood was easily entered.
“Just as I expected,” William signaled for his cupbearer again. “Soon I will have the sorcerer’s head on a pike.”
“As he deserves,” said Ondred, his mail flashing.
Torpaine focused on the back of the head of the last rider and didn’t reply.
Less than an hour later, two of the ten archers emerged.