Natalie held the talisman in her left hand. She had been trying to work out since early morning how to stop the Darl without actually saying “stop”, the word which still connected in her mind with the death of Argantha. It was when Blade attempted to order the Darl to halt their advance that she had seized on the command word to use.
Holding forth the talisman, Natalie shouted “Horses Halt!” Bright light flashed from her hand.
The effect was immediate. The Darl horses stopped as suddenly as if they’d run into a wall. They reared and pranced sideways, but could not go forward, despite the urging and spurring of frustrated Darl riders. It was a tribute to the horsemanship of the Darl that only three men of the entire Darl army were unseated and thrown down.
Natalie practically cheered, but her elation was short-lived.
Chief Barlang hesitated only a moment before swinging out of his saddle to the ground. Seeing him, Jalath did the same, shouting “Dismount and Charge” to his band. Barlang repeated the order, raising his saber and sweeping it forward again. The order was repeated by the other Sub-Chieftains, and the Darl line surged forward again.
Natalie’s eyes fastened on the Chief’s saber as she groped for another command to use. It was as good a chance as she could see. Holding forth the talisman again, she shouted “Weapons Down!” Once more the talisman flared brightly.
Chief Barlang’s saber was ripped from his hand and slammed to the ground. The same happened with all of the sabers of all of the Darl, and their bows, arrows and any additional side weapons all practically jumped free of their bodies to thud to the ground.
This effect was repeated among all the warriors of the other tribes, as they found themselves disarmed as well. Even the airborne archers could not hold onto their bows, and a rain of bows, arrows, and small weapons pelted the ground beneath them. The Aryloi quickly descended, but the Jista riders found, as every other warrior was finding, that they could not lift their weapons from the ground. Every single weapon of every tribal warrior everywhere on the field was as firmly stuck down as if it had become rooted into the soil.
Chief Barlang’s eyes filled with fury and his face contorted in rage. “I do not know what you are, that you can do this, but I can still wring the life from your body with my bare hands!” He rushed at Natalie.
By this time, Blaadfork had gotten another flame-breath drawn, but had held off breathing fire directly at the Darl because of Natalie’s actions. After all, they had come to prevent death, not cause it, and it looked at first as though Natalie was prevailing.
Now, however, Natalie stood between Blade and Barlang, and the dragon didn’t have a good way to stop him.
Timmoth saw the situation and charged forward from the side. He knew as he ran, though, that he would not make it.
Natalie, caught off guard, froze, but was startled even more to feel hands on her shoulders. She knew, without looking up, that there was no one standing behind her. No one had been that close. She was puzzled and confused.
Without her willing it, Natalie’s hand reached down and drew forth the dagger of Dunnaut from its sheath. That was when Natalie knew the source of the hands on her shoulder, knew who it was who stood behind her.
She grasped the dagger with both hands, though her left still also held the talisman. Assuming a slightly wider defensive stance, she held the dagger extended forward, blade upward. “Halt!” she commanded.
Chief Barlang skidded to a stop, and around him the rest of the Darl did the same. What stopped the Chief, however, was not Natalie’s command, but the sight which filled his vision.
The sunlight streaming over Natalie’s shoulder struck the dagger in her hands and reflected forward, causing it to flash and blaze, appearing nearly four times its true length. Natalie herself had a glow about her, and there was a shimmering above and behind her that Barlang’s mind saw as wings. Nearly all of the Darl nearby him would later say the same.
Behind Natalie, the warriors of the other tribes could not see everything the Darl saw, but it was clear to them that the little girl who had stood beside the dragon as they waited together had been transformed somehow.
Blaadfork saw clearly the form which appeared behind Natalie, and understood instantly that it was the spirit of the Crystal Knight Dunnaut. He nodded and was content to wait.
Timmoth had stopped when the Darl did. Although he could not see Natalie as the Darl saw her, an image formed in his mind. He realized he was seeing Natalie through the eyes of the Darl Chief, and he was simply stricken in awe at the sight. The future-dreamer closed his eyes and stood motionless as a statue, savoring the present.
Natalie was not sure what was happening, but even to her the dagger appeared more like a sword raised before her. She drew a deep breath and held her position, afraid to move and dispel whatever effect she was causing.
Chief Barlang reeled back a step. “The Shining Blade…” escaped his lips like an expelled breath.
Summoning his will again to his control, Barlang pulled himself erect and pointed at Natalie, challenging her. “Who are you? Where did you obtain that weapon, and by what right do you wield it?”
The hands on her shoulders tightened slightly, prompting her, but Natalie did not have to be told that this was the critical moment. It was for this, she saw clearly, that the dagger was created. She met Barlang’s gaze steadily over the short distance which still separated them.
“I am Natalie, of a world called Earth. I have this weapon because it was presented to me by Seer Orlauf of the Castle Tonnalt on a world I visited with the dragon Blaadfork. This weapon was fashioned at the command of the spirit of the Crystal Knight Dunnaut, being taken from a shard of the breastplate of his armor, which was destroyed when he was slain. At his direct instruction, the completed weapon was held by the Seer until such time as one of another world should come to the Castle. That off-worlder was me, and when Seer Orlauf was satisfied that I met the conditions laid down by the spirit of Dunnaut, he presented the weapon to me, telling me its story and the words spoken by the spirit concerning it.” A smile spread on Natalie’s lips as she understood at last. “I wield this weapon because it was created specifically for me, to come here and stand before you and stop this war.”
For a long moment, there was complete silence as the Darl Chief stood staring at Natalie, or rather at the apparition he saw of her, and no one Else about him dared speak. Then he did the one thing Natalie even now least expected, the one thing she would not even have dared imagine.
Chief Barlang knelt upon his right knee before Natalie and bowed his head. When he raised it to look at her again, he spoke in a plain voice which nevertheless carried in the silence to all around him. “The prophecy is fulfilled. My lady, the Darl are yours to command.”
By ones and twos, then half-dozens and dozens and scores, the rest of the Darl also knelt before an astonished Natalie.
Behind her, even the dragon was amazed.