Preparation

It was a marvellous sight.

The feast and festivities had gone on so long that a tinge of dazzling dawn light singed the eastern horizon, behind the towering teeth of the Dragonspine Mountains. The sun was once again stretching her feelers of light into the world.

The House of Cannon rose up proudly out of the night as the sky brightened to deepest blue. Strong dwarf towers and elegant human-built gables emerged on the hillside, thrown into sharp relief by the diffusing dawn - the very building symbolised union and teamwork between humans and dwarves.

And to hail the sun's arrival, a deep roar expounded from the mountains as a reptilian, batlike shape splashed across the landscape. And it was clear that in his absence Inhar had magically metamorphosed - his jaws were wider, his wings broader and his scales glistening like polished steel in his heavenly spotlight.

"Ha haa!" roared Jack gleefully. "If they think they've come for Inhar then they've got another think coming!"

As if in response to this defiance, Inhar let loose another roar and, finally, a jet of fully fledged flames, which seemed to melt into the heat of the morning sun behind him.

"Oh ..." said Lila, slightly scared. "He's not a baby anymore, is he?"

"What did I tell you?" said Hamon matter-of-factly. "Dragons don't stay like little puppies for long."

"He's not even fully grown yet!" shrieked Lila.

"Big enough to defend himself, though, don't you think?" said Jack with relish as he turned towards the host of forest dwellers herding across the plain.

Grimlock came over to them as the detachment of hairy, tattooed outcasts reached the first foothills.

"The odds are against them," he said darkly. "The dragon clearly does not want to join them, yet they turn out in force anyway?"

"I told you no good would come of this!" Hamon cursed. "They're still not giving up and -"

"No need to worry at all," said Grimlock sharply. "We have nearly twice their force and an angry dragon on our side. Who's going to win - the owl or the mice?"

The gathering below seemed to have sent out a parley, a weathered man astride a stormy steed, galloping at pace up the stony track that led to where Grimlock and his company were waiting. He came to a halt, unravelled a rotting roll of parchment and began to read in the strange, lilting accent of the forest.

"I am an emissary from the Great Pandor, Guardian of the Forest, who sends word ahead of his party."

The messenger paused as if expecting to be silenced, then continued.

"Pandor decrees that property of the forest dwellers has been stolen -" Inhar alighted with a clatter of claws atop a dwarven stone tower."- has been stolen, and if it is not returned to him he will - he will take action against those who possess it."

"Of what object does he seek return?" said Grimlock commandingly.

"A small, golden medallion, stamped with his family's logo and imbued with certain magical gifts."

Lila shuddered. Her mind immediately wandered back to the forest - to the medallion Jack had dropped in the forest and which had ended up in one of Lila's many pockets on their journey. She had completely forgotten about it.

"We know of no amulet, talisman, charm or medallion that has been stolen from you," said Grimlock impressively. "Now state your other purposes, for it is clear that your fellows are armed and fit for battle."

"You have denied the Guardian his rightful property," replied the messenger. "We henceforth declare war on this house, until it yields the heirlooms of our forest tribe!"

And he pulled a halo of holly berries, as if from nowhere, and cast them at Grimlock's feet, with a mouthful of his own spit. He then turned his steed sharply on the spot and cantered swiftly down the hill towards the main group.

Several humans and most of the dwarves made to follow him, cursing angrily, but Grimlock said, "Wait."

Hamon was looking at Lila, who was too slow to disguise the look of uncertainty on her face.

Grimlock turned to his company.

"Prepare for battle," he said, characteristically grim, "however brief it may be."

The End

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