It took quite a bit of effort to pull his arrows out of the tree trunk, and he broke two of them in the process. Then he went on back down the hill and put his bow under his blankets. ‘I think maybe I should just keep this to myself,’ he mused. ‘Nobody’s going to believe me anyway, so let’s not make an issue of it. A man should never miss an opportunity to keep his mouth shut.’

‘They’re almost finished, Padan,’ Torl reported late in the afternoon two days later. ‘And it looks to me like those church Regulators are doing most of our work for us. They’ve managed to persuade all those church soldiers to stay where they’re supposed to instead of running off toward goldie out there.’

‘Goldie?’ Padan asked with a light smile.

‘She’s one of my favorite pets,’ Torl explained. ‘I just love pets who do all the work, don’t you?’

Padan scratched the side of his jaw. ‘I’m not sure, but it might just be that those Regulators have changed things just a bit. It’s possible that terror can overwhelm greed, I suppose.’

‘It might not be a bad idea to let cousin Sorgan and Commander Narasan know about this,’ Torl suggested. ‘If the Regulators can hold all those church soldiers right here instead of letting them dribble off toward old goldie in twos and threes, a certain change of plans might be in order along about now.’

‘You could be right, Torl,’ Padan agreed. He looked at Rabbit. ‘How are your legs holding out, little friend?’ he asked.

‘I still know how to run,’ Rabbit said. ‘I take it that you’d like to have me spread the news?’

‘If it isn’t too much trouble,’ Padan replied. ‘And maybe even if it is,’ Torl added quite firmly.

‘It sounds like those Regulator people might have made all our work here unnecessary, cousin,’ Skell said after Rabbit had told them what had been happening.

‘Maybe,’ Sorgan said a bit dubiously. ‘I still think we’d be better off if those idiots were still running this way like their lives depended on it. If they slow down a bit, they might decide to take another route to get to that gold desert out there.’

‘I don’t think so, Cap’n,’ Rabbit disagreed. ‘When Longbow, Torl and I went up onto that west ridge to find out if the yellow sand wasn’t what it seemed to be, we were able to see a lot more of that desert out there. The sand that looks like gold but isn’t peters out a couple miles off to the west. Longbow says that the dream-lady’s using it to bait those church armies, so she put it just exactly where we need it to be.’

‘I’d surely like to meet this lady,’ Skell said. ‘I think we might owe her about a thousand pounds of thank-yous.’

‘If it turns out the way she seems to want it to, Skell,’ Sorgan said a bit dubiously. ‘But if something goes wrong, things around here could get real wormy in a hurry.’


Aracia and her brothers and sister, as well as the children, gathered near the geyser at the center of the basin late in the evening not long after the church soldiers from the south had finally completed the bridge that everybody thought was important, and it seemed to the warrior queen Trenicia that the sole purpose of this gathering had been to watch the little girl Lillabeth sleep. Trenicia was fairly certain that Lillabeth could sleep without an audience, but Aracia’s family seemed to be very interested for some reason.

Queen Trenicia of the Isle of Akalla had been much confused from the very beginning by the male-dominated cultures of all these other lands. On the isle Trenicia ruled, men were little more than house pets who spent most of their time trying to make themselves look beautiful. They even painted their faces on special occasions.

There were some ancient tales - quite probably pure invention -that stoutly maintained the absurdity that at some time in the distant past men had been dominant, and that they’d treated women as mere chattels. The tales went on to describe in some detail the events of a certain day when a large group of women in search of firewood on a southern beach had come across the wreckage of what appeared to have been a large raft - or something that went beyond a raft - from some far distant land, and in various places in the wreckage, the women found weapons that had been made of some material that quite obviously was not stone.

Had the women who’d made this discovery been docile, Queen Trenicia was fairly certain that the history of the Isle of Akalla would have been much different. The women, however, had been anything but docile. After many centuries of being treated as property only, the resentment of the women had been enormous, and a goodly number of the discoverers of those metal weapons returned home with the weapons in their hands and firmly demonstrated their discontent.

The males of the isle were horrified. Quite suddenly, the women of Akalla were total savages who refused any and all commands and responded to the faintest hints of disapproval with brutal efficiency.

The men fled at that point, but the women weren’t satisfied by mere flight. They wanted blood.

Trenicia was almost certain that the stories from the past had been exaggerated, but there might have been some justification for the behavior of those ancient women. At any rate, the wanton slaughter of the men of the isle finally alarmed the older and wiser women, and they reminded their savage younger sisters that if there were no men, there would be no children, and in a little while there would be no people on the isle.

The random killings had slowed at that point, and the women began to herd the surviving males into log pens. Then they brought the men out - one by one - and offered them to the other women. If a man was old or ugly or happened to have a bad reputation among the women, all the women rejected him, and he was killed right on the spot.

The practice of killing unwanted males had slowly disappeared in the society now dominated by women, but the males still believed that their very lives might depend upon looking desirable.

And so it was that the men of Akalla now spent every waking minute searching for ways to make themselves pretty. That, of course, made it totally impossible for the men to take on any chores whatsoever, so it fell to the women to plant, cook, harvest, govern, and fight any war that came along.

All in all, Queen Trenicia saw nothing really wrong with the current arrangement, and she was completely baffled by the peculiar arrangements in other societies.

Trenicia still could not understand why all the local gods - and their pet children - were so interested in Aracia’s pet, so she turned to the beautiful child Eleria, who was sitting some distance apart from the others with a peculiar expression on her lovely face. ‘Why is everybody so curious about Lillabeth?’ she asked.

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