Chapter 16

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Third Month of Autumn

Third Era, Year 352

Over the months it took to reach Ryal, the army grew and small battles became more and more frequent. Nydia was mildly wounded in one conflict, and in another Kian nearly lost his life. It was thanks to the healers reaching him before he bled to death that he survived. Ardan was forced to watch as Caolan barely kept his composure during those tenuous hours when no one was certain whether Kian would live or die. Caolan refused to leave his lover's side, and Ardan was afraid to leave Caolan. Finally, several hours after being brought in from the battlefield, Kian's condition began to improve.

Three days later, he was able to ride and fight again, thanks to the powerful healing of Dyna and her healers.

But the greatest battle was outside the city of Ryal. When they arrived outside the city, they found Overlord Kane Farcher's army waiting, and the battle lasted into the night. Caolan had built a force of three thousand rebels, but their enemy had at least another thousand, if not two. Despite this, Caolan's army wore tirelessly at the defenses into the night, until the defenders withdrew around midnight. Caolan took advantage of the retreat to regroup his own forces.

Ardan was the first to see the horseman approach with the white flag nearly glowing in the night, but everyone else quickly noticed. The horseman stopped a safe distance from where Caolan was standing with his advisers, Ardan included.

"Overlord Kane Ferchar would like to negotiate," the man called.

Caolan glanced at Ardan, who nodded. "Let's see what he has to say."

The others agreed, and Caolan called back, "If he meets me here, we will talk."

The man turned his horse back to his army, and it was several minutes before two horses returned, once more under the white flag. Caolan and his advisers went to meet the men.

The Berk overlord stared at Caolan for a long moment, then looked straight at Ardan. "I knew there would be trouble someday when we never found you."

"You wanted to negotiate?" Caolan demanded.

Overlord Kane Ferchar gave him a calculating look, then nodded. "I would rather not have to deal with so many rebellions anymore. You can have all of your lands, if you can meet my one request. Berk is a frozen country, with very little time for farming. Trading with Phelin and Algoma is too difficult, because there is no way to pass the mountains other than by boat, and the seas are dangerous at all times of the year. Help us build a pass through the mountains, for the benefit of both our nations."

"Why would I agree to that?"

The overlord shrugged. "Because otherwise this war will continue until one or both of us is dead. And even if you win, Berk will always need more than the tundra can provide. Someday, another Berk ruler will once more try to take Phelin or Algoma. But if we arrange a beneficial truce, things will be far more peaceful. I would prefer peace, and I'm sure you would, as well."

Caolan glanced at Ardan, then back. "Allow me to consider this for a few moments."

The overlord nodded and turned his horse away to give them a decent bit of privacy. Caolan turned to his advisers then.

"We should agree," Nydia said. "His point is true. We don't want war to be constant. It's better to have peace than conflict."

"I agree," Kian added. "But we should set the agreement so that we don't help create the pass until we've had at least half a year to repair Phelin, if not longer."

"Make him wait a year," Dyna agreed. "It's the least punishment he deserves after holding this country hostage for nineteen years."

"The pass will take several months to carve from the mountains," Ardan commented. "Even with magic. He must agree not to invade us or Algoma during construction or before, or the deal will be broken."

Caolan nodded. "Let's end this."

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