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Vladislav brought in medicine men from all around to help Miloslava, but they were helpless. Miloslava fell into a deep sleep and Vladislav understood that she needs a miracle. He ordered Ragnahar to prepare his men and everything for leaving Preslav in the morning.

Vladislav went to the acropolis, found himself a suitable place to rest and fell asleep the second he closed his eyes. He was dreaming that he’s in the mountains. Surrounded by beautiful rocks and looking at endless forests beneath him.

Then PERUN visited him in his dreams and said: “Go into the heart of the mountains. There you will come to a hill where the mountain spirit dwells. On top of the hill you will find a chasm that will lead you to a cave lake containing the sacred waters of life and death inside of it,” PERUN spoke.

You will need just one arrow. Soak its arrowhead in the sacred water and bring it back to your army,” added the god.

“You will meet a guide along the road and he will bring you to the sacred waters,” conluded PERUN and then simply vanished.

As the morning came, Vladislav left Preslav for the Marhat fortress. He took the still unconscious Miloslava with him and Ragnahar with his men were leading the way.

They came to their destination at noon. Samo was greeting both Ragnahar and Vladislav. After a short update on the events, Ragnahar went on to rest because he did not get much sleep while preparing his men for departure. Miloslava was taken care of by local medicine men and Vladislav was discussing future steps with Samo.

As they both drank a bit of dark mead, Vladislav confided to Samo: “I had a strange dream last night…”

“Involving an arrow,” said Samo.

“How do you know that?” asked Vladislav.

“PERUN visited me in my dreams and told me what to do. But he didn’t say what will the arrow be good for,” replied Samo. Vladislav just nodded.

“Avars are expecting a direct attack on Nitrava. We have to go to the mountains to meet PERUN’s will, but first we need to secure the hill Tribech, which was once an impregnable fortress and now it’s just used by Avars as a lookout. We will build our main base there, from where we will start our attacks on Nitrava,” continued Samo.

“As you command,” replied Vladislav. “By the way, Ragnahar saved my life back in Preslav,” he continued.

“So he proved himself loyal. I’m pleased to hear that,” replied Samo and both went to rest a bit.

In the meantime, Drahomir was alone in the woods north of Marhat. He found a group of wolves that immediately laid down around him like he would be the leader of their pack. Drahomir sat down, closed his eyes and just inhaled the ambience of the forest. This was filling him with energy that he desperately needed.

In the evening all of them met at a feast and were enjoying a cloudless, kind of magical night. Soldiers opened their beer and wine reserves, hunters caught a variety of animals and prepared them for dinner. Some food was offered to the gods by throwing it into the fire while others sat quietly with closed eyes and thanked the gods in their own personal way. Drahomir did not touch the prepared meat, nor did he complain. He remained faithful to the wine brought from Moravia.

Vladislav came to the feast and greeted Drahomir: “My brother, I’m glad to see you!”

“Likewise,” replied Drahomir. “Sit down and tell me more about the sick puppy that you brought home,” he added.

“Don’t be so rude. I fell in love with her and her name is Miloslava,” said Vladislav.

“Don’t worry, she’ll be all right. We’ve got the favor of gods on our side and we’ll do something about it,” said Drahoslav.

“I guess,” said Vladislav sadly.

Drahomir wanted to cheer him up so he used his unique sense of humor: “And what about her? Did she fell for you as well? Did you use your legendary, or should I say magical skills of seducing women?” he asked laughingly.

“Oh, brother, I missed you,” replied Vladislav with a smile and both drank some more wine.

After a night of gaining strength, morning came upon Marhat. The sky turned red and after a while it turned into a yellowish glow. Each day was getting warmer and warmer. The time was right to continue with the campaign and everyone knew it, even the Avars. The army was ready to march at noon.

“There’s no activity among the Avars,” said Drahomir who was watching the enemy across the valley on the Zobor and Tribech fortresses since the morning.

“We will move right away through the mountains as planned,” replied Samo. The plan was to attack Avars from behind by moving the army along a wide detour through the mountains. This way Avars couldn’t see the approaching army and annihilate it on flat land.

The strength of Avars lied in their horse archers, who used several ancient tactics like flanking, encircling, parting shot, feigned retreat or shooting from circles. But the most effective one was the hit and run tactic, where by performing cycles of attacking and retreating, while shooting arrows at the opponent all the time, they were able to inflict devastating results. Therefore if it was possible, it was better to avoid a direct confrontation with them on flat land.

As the army descended from Marhat to northeast, Samo said to Drahomir: “One day we will have to strengthen these mountain passages between Nitrava and Vah valleys, because even though Nitrava is our golden egg, we should never forget about the heart of this land and that are mountains filled with ores and other resources. We need to think of the future without Avars commanding our lives, where trade can grow thanks to safe trade routes.”

The army was passing a hill which was hiding the remains of an ancient fortress*. “All of these high hills once protected the people and people couldn’t imagine a life without them. They were filled with fortresses with key importance,” said Samo.

“Vladislav and Drahomir, join the scouting unit and check out the hill for yourself,” ordered Samo. The army used mounted scouts to look for enemies from higher ground and thus preventing potential ambushes.

“As you wish,” replied Vladislav and they both took off and joined the scouting unit for a reconnaissance mission.

After reaching the top of the hill, Vladislav spotted the remains of fortress walls and he said: “Samo was right again. There they are.”

* fortress on the hill Uhrad

“Isn’t it a magical place?” asked Drahomir.

“Yes, indeed. Look as the steep slope on its eastern side,” pointed out Vladislav.

“The fortress had to be highly vulnerable from the direction where we came from,” noticed Drahomir. Then they both went downhill to the north and reunited with the army.

The Venedian army marched for another several hours and rested at the edge of the forest till nightfall. Then it moved through the valley to the east. Avars were not able to spot them at nighttime, so this was the safest way to get across the valley without being attacked by Avars who had the numbers. But rivers coming from the mountains were enormous this spring and flooded some areas which caused delays, therefore this safe cover of the night lasted only till dawn.

Avars stationed at Tribech alarmed the Zobor fortress and its army went on a mission to hunt down the Venedian forces.

“They are coming!” screamed out a soldier from the back.

There was only one possible chance to avert a disaster and that was to retreat to the north to a relatively small hill called Khotoma. The Venedian army crossed the river Nitritsa and started to climb the hillside. This is when Avars struck.

Venedian swordsmen covered the retreat and with every slash of their sword they made a step back towards the hill top. Venedian archers were spraying arrows on Avar horsemen and this madness lasted for several minutes till the whole Venedian army gained an elevation advantage and Avars regrouped and were thinking through what to do next.

Samo knew that the Venedian army has to avoid Avar horsemen and horse archers and get to the Tribech mountains in one piece. There was no other way than to pray to their gods for help. The army fell to its knees and called upon PERUN to perform a miracle.

So it happened. A wave of thick mist was falling from the northern mountains covering everything in sight. As the mist came close to the Avar army, Avars decided to retreat to their fortresses, because it wouldn’t be wise to risk a close combat attack of the opponent in an area which they know far better than the Avars do and with this mist helping them.

The whole valley was covered with a dense layer of mist and only the hilltops had clear view.Suddenly a rider on a horse appeared before the Venedian army. It was the daughter of a northern tribal chieftain called Kvetoslava that was leading the northern army.

“I’ve united the northern tribes and came here to join the fight for independence! You can see my army up on the Chihots and Rokosh hills to the north,” said Kvetoslava. She wore a purely white dress with primroses in her blond hair. Drahomir was amazed when he saw her. His heart started to play the rhythm of love.

Kvetoslava didn’t look like a warrior, or like a woman from the rough north. She looked like she was out of this world. Something intangible sent down to Earth to caress it with her beauty.

Kvetoslava raised her left hand to signal her army. Horns roared from the mountains and thousands of soldiers were put into motion.

Samo approached Kvetoslava and spoke: “Honorable Kvetoslava, your positive reputation is well known to me and I admire what you and your father have done for your people. Please feel free to rest in our supply carriage and have some food until your army reaches us.”

Drahomír interjected Samo’s welcome speech and spoke: “It won’t be necessary. I’ll take it from here.”

“Dear Kvetoslava, would you like to have a walk in the woods with me?” asked Drahomir.

Kvetoslava nodded with a glamorous smile. Drahomir approached her horse, helped her down and they disappeared before anyone could say a word.

As they were walking down the hill, noise from the approaching army was getting closer. They both entered the woods and Kvetoslava spoke: “We don’t need this mist anymore.” The thick layer of fog started to disappear around them and they could easily see the depths of the forest.

Surprisingly, Drahomir was not amazed by the things that were going on. He had his own secret to worry about, but now he just wanted to get to know Kvetoslava. So he asked her about her past and how she got to lead such a huge army.

Kvetoslava started explaining: “My parents were unhappy for a long time, beucase they weren’t able to conceive a child. Father was so in love with my mother that he couldn’t leave her to simply find luck elsewhere. So they stayed together for a long time and… it looks like gods wanted to reward them.”

“What happened?” asked Drahomir.

“They found me on a walk through the woods like this one. I was still a baby lying in a wicker basket near a really old tree. I love to return to that tree. He’s my oldest friend,” said Kvetoslava smiling like it wasn’t a big deal.

“That’s amazing,” said Drahomir. “What about you snapping the finger and the mist was gone? How’s that possible?” he asked.

“Well…,” Kvetoslava looked at Drahomir and she smiled like never before. Even her eyes were smiling. “My father once told me that I’m a gift from the gods. I don’t know about that, but there were some indications even when I was still tiny. Everytime I was sad, it was raining all the time. Guess what weather there was when I was happy?” asked Kvetoslava and smiled at Drahomir.

“I understand,” replied Drahomir and smiled back at Kvetoslava. “But now it looks like you’re able to control your powers. Am I right?” he asked.

“After some time I learned how to control them and use them as I pleased. But some things are beyond my will. It looks like everywhere I go the plants around me feel the same what I feel,” said Kvetoslava.

“They look all right to me. They’re blooming and…,” said Drahomir and as he looked back he realized, that the grass where Kvetoslava walked on was covered with instantly grown and exceptionally beautiful flowers. “You’re truly special. I’ve got some powers myself,” he said.

“You too? What kind of powers?” asked Kvetoslava.

Drahomir closed his eyes. He was able to hear animals that were even far away.

From all the sudden a pair of grey wolves approached Kvetoslava and Drahomir. Behind them were six beautiful white and grey pups that immediately ran towards Kvetoslava. The pair of wolves just laid back and rested while she played with the younglings.

In the meantime Samo and Vladislav were discussing their next steps.

“I need you here, Vladislav, you cannot just leave us and go to your loved one,” said Samo.

“Let me just send a messenger so that I know how she is doing,” replied Drahomir.

“Sure, we can arrange that, but now let’s focus on getting to the Tribech mountain ridge. The easiest way will be through the Maple tree hill,” concluded Samo.

As the both armies merged and Drahomir came back from the walk with Kvetoslava, they all moved south through the mountain passages to get to the Maple tree hill and attack Tribech from its most vulnerable side, the mountain ridge.

As they were approaching the eastern edges of the Maple tree hill, they spotted lots of Avars waiting for them on the hillside.

“We need to bypass them. Let’s continue through the forests down south!” ordered Samo and the army continued their movement southwards thus avoiding the confrontation.

At the end of the mountain pass there was an inconspicuous hill fully covered with a variety of leaf trees. The united Venedian army settled for the night in the ruins of a huge ancient fortress* that was hidden there.

Even though the hill was covered with trees, it was possible to see the surrounding areas and the Lower Nitrava plains that were just to the south. Noone would attack a place with such elevation advantage and there were still enormous earth walls surrounding the former fortress with bastions to the south and east and a rocky acropolis on the north-west. Samo gave his army some time to rest, but early in the morning, when it was still dark, the army moved westwards towards the Tribech mountain ridge.

“We’re lucky that these mountains aren’t used by people as they were in the past and therefore they are covered by forests,” said Drahomir. In older times central fortresses were placed upon the highest hills and they had auxiliary fortresses around them. All of such hills were cleared of trees and they had all sorts of barriers on their hillsides instead so that they could slow down enemy advances.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to prove yourself again in combat,” replied Samo.

Quietly and without any traces they moved through thick woods till they reached another ruins of an ancient fortress**. This one was smaller but part of the ancient Tribech fortress complex. Its outer earth walls were still visible and there was a second wall surrounding the top of the fotress. This fortress was used for defending a passage to the Tribech mountain ridge.

* fortress on the hill Hrusov
** fortress surrounding the Black castle near Zlatno

The Venedian army didn’t have time to feel the magical beauty of these places. They proceeded through an ancient fortified ridge. Rocks from destroyed walls could be seen everywhere. The ridge was covered mostly with beech trees and bushes, therefore even though Tribech was only a stone throw away, Avars stationed at Tribech could not see the approaching danger.

At the end of the rocky ridge was a relatively wide square with ruins of the huge Rocky Gate located at the edge of the mountain slope. “This gate was used as one of many entrances to the Tribech mountain ridge,” said Samo while feeling the pain this place has experienced when everything was falling apart. After a short while they reached the Tribech mountain ridge.

“No Avars in sight,” said Vladislav quietly while securing the area.

“Maybe they retreated to Tribech,” thought Drahomir aloud.

“Probably,” said Samo. “Now we will move to the Bear’s mountain,” he continued.

As the forefront of the army reached the Bear’s mountain, Samo explained to his scholars: “This mountain is named after a gigantic bear that lived here long time ago. The legend has it, that this bear helped the locals to defend themselves and when he died of old age, the whole civilization that lived here was lost.”

“I feel his presence. He’s putting on his skin,” said Drahomir.

“What are you talking about?” asked Vladislav.

Drahomir closed his eyes and as all the others were looking at him, the earth started shaking and it sounded like rocks would be ripped apart. Suddenly a huge black paw arose from the ground. Soldiers that were closest to the scene stepped back in shock. Only the subcommanders stood firm and waited for what was going to happen.

The long lost warden of these mountains has awakened. With his black fur and red eyes he rose from the ground, stood up on his rear legs and bawled out so loudly that even the Avars stationed far away in Nitrava could hear it. The soldiers stopped covering their ears and were looking at the giant bear as he was approaching Samo and all of his subcommanders.

The bear came to Drahomir and stretched his nose towards him. Drahomir reached out his hand and the bear licked it gingerly with his huge tongue which was several times bigger than Drahomir’s hand. All the others realized that the bear is on their side.

“What does such a pet eat?” asked Vladislav and started laughing.

The bear looked at him seriously and Vladislav went silent.

The army had only a short distance to go and the black bear led the way. VELES, god of all livestock and wide pastures of the underworld, could not stand by and watch how a simple mortal disturbed the dead and resurrected such a monster. So he decided to cast a deadly disease on the whole army by poisoning their food supplies.

As the army reached the Small Tribech hill, which is only across the main Great Tribech hill, Samo and his subcommanders started discussing tactics on how to attack. Unexpectedly the bear started running towards the enemy, broke through the palisade and before Venedians realized what was going on, the enemy soldiers were flying in all directions.

The beast was in his element. When it was still alive, it used to feast upon its enemies, protecting the people who controlled these mountains. Now it couldn’t even taste the blood of the living. That’s why it just used its enormous power to smash the Avars away and pick the remaining ones in its jaws and throw them even further away.

The Venedian army stormed the enemy positions and overran the relatively small numbers of Avar defenders. After a short while the fighting was over and thus Samo spoke in front of the whole army: “From now on these mountains will be just ours. They will belong to the Venedian people and the black bear will defend them against our enemies!”

Samo sent a messenger to Marhat with an order to bring Slavomir to Tribech. He was the best specialist for refortification of the fortress and therefore Samo’s first choice.

Half of the soldiers had their first meal on Tribech. Unfortunately the food was poisoned and they became sick right away. Samo gave orders to the remaining healthy soldiers to find new food sources, take care of the sick ones and work on reconstructing the fortification. He knew that he’s got a mission ahead of him, so he went to his tent and fell asleep right away.

PERUN appeared to him in his dream again. “On your way to the sacred waters of life and death, you will find an arrow specially crafted for you by SVAROG. Dip the arrow in the water of life and death and it will help you to defeat your enemies. You will need just this one arrow. The water of life and death will poison your enemies,” explained PERUN and Samo slept deeply till the morning.