As the enthusiasm of they who guard me intensified, I selected brave Lazakan to lead the army of the “Guardians of Divinity” against our foes.

But then, most certainly at a suggestion from me—which I have for some reason forgotten—brave Lazakan did send the Guardians forth to gather up all the people of Holy Palandor to join us in our holy campaign against Dahlaine the usurper and his heathen allies.

And so it was that victory was within our grasp as we left Holy Palandor and marched to the border which most temporarily stood between my people and the Matans.

And victory was now most certainly within my grasp, and soon would I be King and God of all the Land of Dhrall, and in good time of all the rest of the world as well—as had most certainly been the intent of the world and the heavens since before the beginning of time.

THE WARRIOR QUEEN

1

Queen Trenicia of the Isle of Akalla no longer felt any obligation to remain here in the Land of Dhrall. Her sometime employer had turned out to be a person without the slightest hint of integrity, and Trenicia had revoked their contract by contemptuously throwing all the jewels that Aracia had given to her at her former employer’s feet. Given Aracia’s dishonest nature, Trenicia was fairly sure now that the jewels were little more than cheap imitations of genuine gems. In the light of that, Trenicia realized that she should be looking for a way to return to the Isle of Akalla, but for some reason she found that she was most reluctant to do so.

When she got right down to it, though, she was fully aware of the reason for that reluctance. In all her life on the Isle of Akalla, she had never once seen a man who was anything but a tame house-pet. The notion of a man who commanded an army struck her as most unusual, but there he stood, not ten paces away. His name was Narasan, and when he told his men to do something, they immediately obeyed him, and that would have been unheard of on the Isle of Akalla.

Moreover, Narasan had exquisite manners, and the touch of silver in his hair made him look most distinguished. It was his tight-fitting uniform that revealed a well-muscled body, however, that quite noticeably raised Trenicia’s interest in this peculiar man.

There was nothing particularly pressing taking place on the Isle of Akalla right now, so Trenicia saw no real need to rush back home, and there were quite a few much more interesting things happening here in the Land of Dhrall.

“The wars on the Isle of Akalla aren’t nearly as complicated as your wars are, Narasan,” Trenicia said. “Of course, we don’t have armies as large as yours, and we really don’t have to go so far to reach enemy territory.”

“What would you say would be the size of the standard army on Akalla, Your Majesty?” Andar rumbled in his deep voice.

“Probably no more than fifty warrior-women,” Trenicia replied, “and it’s usually only about twenty miles to the enemy’s part of the isle.”

“That has a familiar sort of ring to it, wouldn’t you say?” Brigadier Danal suggested to the others. “It sounds quite a bit like the squabbles between those assorted barons and dukes that we used to go fight for them.”

“Except that we were paid to do the fighting,” Padan added. “It sounds to me like the women-warriors on Akalla fight their own wars.”

“Isn’t that just a little bit illegal?” Danal asked with a faint smile.

“You’ll have to excuse my friends, Trenicia,” Narasan said. “They all seem to think they’re hilariously funny.”

“Do you see me laughing?” Trenicia asked Danal quite firmly.

“Ah—no, ma’am,” he replied. “There is one thing that’s got me just a bit puzzled, though. The people here in the Land of Dhrall all seem to have weapons made of stone, but that sword of yours is made of steel. How did you come by it?”

Trenicia shrugged. “Every now and then a boat that came from some other place washes up on one of the beaches on our island, and there are all kinds of things on those boats that are made of metal. We’ve learned how to heat it so that we can pound it into the shape we want.”

“What are all those wars on your island about?” the deep-voiced Andar asked.

“Pride,” Trenicia said with a blunt honesty. “We all feel that anything we see is ours. Since I’m the proudest woman in all of Akalla, the island is mine. I had to kill quite a few people to persuade the others that I really am the queen, but now that they understand, things are much more peaceful than they used to be. Peace is nice, I suppose, but it does get sort of boring after a while. That’s one of the reasons that I accepted Aracia’s offer. I thought that if I could find a war of some kind in some other part of the world, I could keep all the other proud women busy enough that they’d stop trying to sneak up on me and kill me, and not being killed is fairly important, wouldn’t you say?”

Several days later at about noon, the somewhat boisterous Padan came into the cabin at the stern. “I think we might have reached the place where we’re supposed to go ashore,” he announced. “There’s a good-sized bonfire on the beach, and if I’m not mistaken, the man standing by that fire is Longbow’s old friend, Red-Beard. I’m just guessing here, but I think that maybe Veltan’s big brother sent him here to guide us to the place where Dahlaine wants us to go.”

“Good,” Narasan said. “Let’s go talk with him. He’ll probably be able to tell us how things are coming along.”

They all went out onto the deck of the Victory, and Trenicia immediately saw the large fire on the beach.

The sandy beach was snowy white and the woods to the west of the beach were glorious in shades of red and gold. There appeared to be a mountain range beyond that wooded region, and the mountains were rounded and gentle, and much more pleasant than the rugged range in Veltan’s Domain far to the south.

“Would you like to come along with us, Trenicia?” Narasan asked politely.

“Of course,” she replied with a smile. “I’m just as curious as you are, Narasan.”

The sailors on board the Victory lowered several of the small skiffs down into the water of the bay and then rowed Narasan and his friends ashore.

The native on the beach was, in fact, Longbow’s friend Red-Beard. “What kept you?” he asked them with a faint smile.

“We stopped every so often to find out if the fish were biting,” Padan replied with a perfectly straight face. “Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be hungry.”


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