"If the Honored One has truly sent you," said Commander Belasius evenly. "Then we should all be grateful that he has a plan to bring this nightmare to an end."
"It all hinges on the two missing Princes," said Tommy.
"And how quickly Merlin can find them," added Joel.
"If he can find them at all..." observed Sub-Commander Tiberion. "But then it is said that he can accomplish any task once he sets his mind to it."
"Do not be so gloomy, Tiberion," Belasius sighed. "At last we have hope. That alone should add strength to our men." He smiled at Joel and Tommy, "Tell us more of these tactics from your home world. We may have need of their use."
"Well," Joel began, "Not so much new tactics or weapons, but knowledge of your enemy and his tactics."
"Yeah, Merlin showed us that you and your army were being tricked into thinking that people from Entwaith Castle were behind these attacks," said Tommy. "When really its a bunch of goblins and whatnot being stirred up by someone that wants the two castles to fight each other."
"Yes," said Tiberion. "We had begun to suspect as much ourselves."
"Indeed," added Belasius. "We had secretly contacted the other castle to find out the truth of the matter. What we heard was chilling. They had also been attacked, by what they had assumed to be our troops. We were able to convince each other of the truth only after the capture of several goblins during recent battles."
"Then the enemy is making mistakes!" exclaimed Joel.
"Great!" said Tommy. "I hope we can find something to use against him."
"But who is the enemy?" Joel asked. "And where is he? We'll have to find out before we can carry the battle to him."
"Now that the armies of the two castles have joined forces," said Cirrok, the Commander of Entwaith Castle's army. "The Enemy may find his hand forced. He must know by now that we no longer hold our brothers to blame for these attacks."
"That may be why the woods are full of goblins," said Tommy.
"Yeah, I'd almost forgotten what we saw in that vision Merlin showed us before we left."
"Yep, there sure looked to be something big getting ready to happen soon. I bet that he's going to try to bust up this truce of yours and get the two armies back to fighting each other."
"Good point, Tommy." Joel looked thoughtful. "Maybe you had better fill us in a bit more, Commander. Then maybe we can guess what we're really going to be up against."
"No! They can't have spoiled my beautiful plan! They are far too blind to have divined my plans to rule Arcadia as my own kingdom. There must be a spy who has penetrated my forces to learn of my plans. Or... perhaps my goblin troops have gotten careless, the Gods know they are none too bright themselves..." The Enemy's voice muttered on and on as he considered various possibilities. He paced back and forth across the floor of the cave he'd picked to serve as his headquarters. The rough cave walls were gentled by heavy tapestries and the light of ornate brass braziers flickered on the jeweled inlays of the fine wooden furnishings in the Enemy's stronghold.
"There must be some other reason... Some outside influence has upset my plan. I had it all detailed, every nuance was perfect. There is some interloper trying to do me out of the throne that is rightfully mine! When I find him I'll rend his flesh as if it were rotted cloth!"
The dim, flickering illumination fitfully lit the Enemy's face. His sharp, hawkish nose cast shadows across his cheek, contrasting with the utter madness in his eyes. He drew a sword and brandished it about, screaming all the while.
"I shall not be denied! Do you hear me? I shall have my rightful dominion over this land, no matter what you attempt. Arcadia shall be mine! Mine to do with as I please! Mine, all mine! You shan't take it from me!"
The Enemy paced back and forth in the cave- utterly alone.
"Hmmm..." said Joel, looking at the map spread before them on the Commander's table. "If we post a small party of men here- near the woods where we know the goblins are- and put reinforcements here where they can join the fight in a hurry but the goblins can't see them until it's too late..."
"Exactly," said Commander Belasius. "We will have them in a perfect spot for the army of Entwaith Castle to come up out of this ravine- and catch them in a perfect pincer movement."
"So we just line up on either side of them," added Tommy. "And advance until the two armies meet each other?"
"That's right," Answered Commander Cirrok. "But we allow a few of the goblins to escape, follow them, and hopefully catch their master in his hideaway."
"I only pray that our forces are strong enough," said Sub-Commander Tibereon gloomily, "to take them all without losing the men we'll need for the final assualt later."
As the Enemy paced the floor of his stronghold he railed and ranted. "I shall drive them from this world! I will have them fed to my dogs while my ears drink in the delicious sounds of their cries for mercy." He was interrupted by the entry of a particularly large and ugly goblin.
"Master, you sent for me?"
"Yes, I wish you to begin the next assault. Now!"
"Yes Dolt, NOW! Is that so hard for you to understand? Go! I will join you on the battlefield when those fools have committed their full strength. Begin the final assault. Let this be their last battle! Then we shall march on both of the Castles and I shall proclaim myself absolute ruler of Arcadia. Go now, and drink the blood of my foes!"
"Yes Master, I go."
Within half an hour, the sounds of a small army of goblins could be heard echoing through the cavern as they departed to carry out their orders. Before another half hour had passed the battle for rule of Arcadia had begun.
Three hours later, the battle had not yet ended.
"Watch your back Joel," Tommy cried out. Joel turned and slashed his spear at the attacking goblin. The goblin hesitated- and was cut down by one of the swordsman of Keradoul Castle's army. Tommy and Joel moved to stand back-to-back, more concerned with keeping the goblins at bay than killing them. Even though the boys had faced and slain the Ma-tera-kondu when they had to in order to save their lives, all the killing around them now was more than they could stomach. They protected each other, but fought only to drive off the goblins, killing only when forced to do so. Several of the Arcadians seemed to understand and kept close by the two boys, cutting down any goblin foolish enough to approach. There was no lack of foolish goblins for it was as if they had been ordered to seek out and kill Tommy and Joel. The boys kept on the move so as to not become surrounded by the rapidly growing pile of goblin corpses. Even with the added protection of the Arcadian soldiers, the boys found it necessary to bloody their spears. They were not unharmed, either. Both had gashes and scrapes oozing blood from where one or another goblin managed to get through their guard. Luckily they were not seriously wounded, but it was only a matter of time. Again and again they had to slash and stab at the seemingly endless goblins that ran to engage them. They had to kill to live, but they didn't have to seek it out or enjoy it. There were no gymnastic feats here, as there were in the slaying of the Ma-tera-kondu, but there was fear and blood a-plenty. Joel and Tommy both were sickened at the sight of so many deaths, even the deaths of the goblins. They were also saddened when they saw Arcadian soldiers fall, overrun by the goblin horde.
"I'm getting too tired to keep this up for much longer," hissed Joel through clenched teeth.
"Same here," answered Tommy while gasping for breath. "Are we ever... gonna... run out... of these monsters?"
Another hour passed. The tide of battle had turned to favor the men of Arcadia. The last of the goblins were hard pressed to keep from falling to their knees in surrender. Bodies littered the field, both men and goblins, and the calls of carrion birds rang among the nearby trees.
In those same trees, hidden in the shadows, the Enemy waited. With him were fifty of the largest, fiercest goblins ever to be seen in Arcadia. These bloodthirsty monsters were his personal bodyguard and were loyal only to him. They saw the battle being turned against the goblins- gnashing their yellowed fangs with impatience at being held out of the battle. Finally, their master saw that unless he acted the battle would be lost to him. He turned to his goblin-troops and silently began to lead them to the edge of the woods.
"Now!" he screamed. "Slay them all! Let all the carrion-eaters feast this night!"
The men of Arcadia turned to face this newest wave of attackers. Though they were almost spent from the hours of battle, they lifted their weapons yet again, and in defence of their homeland they fought.
As the battle continued, thunder began to roll from the cloudless blue of the sky. All sense of order had deserted the men of Arcadia as they fought in groups of two and three against individual goblins. The fresher goblin reinforcements were beginning to turn the tide of battle against the Arcadians. Joel's spear was knocked from his numb fingers and a goblin stood with upraised sword, ready to strike his head from his shoulders. The goblin roared in triumph and Tommy's shocked eyes saw it's sword blur in a downward arc towards his helpless friend.
"NO!" he screamed, yanking his own spear from the throat of the goblin he fought.
Lightning split the air, the BOOM of it's thunderclap slapping goblin and Arcadian alike to the ground. Joel looked over at what remained of the goblin that had been about to take his life, gaped at a smoldering pile of ash that marked the spot where the goblin had stood, and rolled toward his spear. He snatched it up and struggled to his feet, his ears ringing from the thunder.
"Hold!" came a voice as loud as the thunder had been. "This battle is ended!"
Tommy gaped in astonishment- Merlin stood at the edge of the battlefield, wreathed in a glowing nimbus of amber light, his staff crackling with the discharge of static electricity.
"Camrik," Merlin shouted. "Foul madman, your plans have been laid low. I stand before you to state that the Two have been found! E'en now they sit upon the thrones of their own kingdoms. The missing Princes are now the found Kings. Never shall you rule here, fiend."
"Camrik," gasped Sub-Commander Tibereon. "He is the Enemy? We should have known."
"But Camrik has been missing for many months," said Commander Belasius. "We thought him to have been among the first victims of this- war of goblins."
"I shall not be denied my kingdom!" shouted Camrik. "I have come to far to fail now!"
"Fail you have," boomed Merlin's voice. "You shall never menace this land again. I banish you to the spaces between worlds! I condemn you to never enter another reality, as long as the universe shall last! You shall have only your pet goblins for company... And may they devour your soul for all eternity!"
Thunder rolled again, lightning flashed over and over, and above it all came the voice of Merlin intoning a mighty spell in a language that none there could comprehend. Joel and Tommy covered their eyes as a last flash of lightning leapt from Merlin's staff and danced from Camrik to his surviving goblins and back again. When the glare faded, no sign of Camrik or the goblins remained.
When they emerged from the portal and stepped into their own world once again, the boys were weary to the bone. Merlin stood tiredly and watched as the two boys wordlessly headed for their separate homes to rest. As they passed out of his sight, Merlin smiles kindly.
"You have done well, my lads," he says quietly. "Though you may have forgotten the promise I made to you when all this first began, rest assured that I will not. I have divined your hidden-most desires and for this service to me you shall be granted that for which you do not even know how to ask."
With a weary grunt, he walks off into the forest and disappears into the evening shadows.
A week later, Joel's Mother and Tommy's Father meet at the local grocery store checkout line. As they wait for a register to open, they talk. Later they spend quite a bit longer than necessary in the parking lot, continuing their conversation.
Two weeks later they meet again at a school PTA meeting.
Four months later they meet at the alter and Merlin watches from the back of the church, smiling and unseen by anyone as Tommy and Joel become step-brothers.
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