C H A P T E R A Cottage In The Wood

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The sky loomed gray, hanging dully about the heavens with misty portent. A pale and watery sun sank feebly past the top of a tall tree. Its foliage danced a macabre dance of glee, blown by wind howling a frenzied cacophony to the surrounding forest. Tingeing the breath of the wind was a shadow of frost. It dusted the tips of the reveling leaves with crystals of ice. Along a narrow path, two young travelers on horseback picked their way carefully through piles of fallen rock. Their breath was clearly visible in the cold afternoon light.

Jarrett looked up to see sharp needles of rain pierce the forest, rendering the visibility minimal. He shivered and pulled his cloak tighter against the bitter wind. “I fear the air freezes colder with each passing moment," he called to his companion, a pale wisp of a woman wrapped in an oversized wool cloak.

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"Aye, Jarrett,” she shivered, her teeth chattering in spite of herself. “I’ve n . . . n . . . never known that cold could be thus, pinching every nerve in m . . . m . . . my body. And these rocks, they are so s . . . slippery, I’m af . . . f . . . fraid for Chevalle.” Jarrett nodded grimly. His horse was also having difficulty on the sharp, wet granite. Once again, he glanced at the Gemstone gripped in his fist. This time, his eyes widened when he saw it gleamed ruby-red against his palm. "The stone!” he cried, “‘Tis glowing, and it sends out a warmth that tingles through my fingers. It has lain inert 'til now! Allys, we dare not stop now. Should this stone cease glowing, we've gone and lost her . . . an' I dare not do that." He tossed his head back and spurred his horse forward. In the dim light he looked like a pagan God, tall and well set. His long, reddish-gold hair framed his handsome face in disarray, obscuring his firm jaw and the steely glint in his eye. The handle of his sword shone with a brief flash of a sunbeam glinting at the edge of his hip. His arrogant stance was that of a warrior - one who was accustomed to winning whatever game life deigned to throw at him. True to his word, Jarrett insisted that they continue. The evening's pale light gave way to night's grim cold . . . and cold it was. The wind continued its howling devastation, and the rain had become a driving sleet They could see nothing ahead of them save more blinding snow. They were but two-dimensional figures on a white drawing board. Finally, Allys could stand no more. It was all she could do to fight a persistent urge to sleep. "Jarrett," she whispered as she slumped down in her saddle, "in God's truth, I think I go no further." She started to topple off her mount. Jarrett had not heard her cry over the wind, but he could see she was in trouble. He pulled his horse to a stop and swung down,

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snatching Allys's reins as he did so. As her horse halted, she slipped from her saddle to fall at his feet. "Allys . . . Allys . . ." Jarrett repeated her name over and over in his head. "What have I asked of you? At what cost?" His thoughts tumbled angrily on, refusing to grant him any peace. He reached around to shelter her as much as possible, then it occurred to him that his Gemstone was really the only warmth around. Suddenly inspired, he brought it up to her lips, and then gazed, astounded, as the color flowed back to her face. "Bless Ye, Gods . . .this stone will keep us from the Dark Night of the Soul. No wonder she entrusted it to bring us to her. Methinks it may also keep us alive to get there!" he exclaimed. Still regarding the stone with awe, Jarrett slid his gaze to Allys's face. Her long silver hair floated around her as if it were bewitched, while her pale lashes trembled against her cheeks. He could see the bloodless quality caused by the wind and cold. Allys Terran looked very dead. Beautiful, as always, but definitely dead. She was passing onto the Dark Night of her Soul. Jarrett pulled at her frozen little hands, and closed her fingers around the Gemstone. Immediately, he felt an intense cold he had been previously oblivious to. His back and neck felt numb, and he could feel a chill as if it came from the center of his soul. He cursed himself for his stupidity. While he had been protected by the Gemstone, Allys had borne the full brunt of the weather. He had never even been aware of what she had been subjected to, and now he prayed that he was not too late. Wrapping his hands around her stiff fingers, he closed his eyes and said a deep prayer to the Goddess of Ice.

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Whether the Goddess heard and answered, or the Gemstone had penetrated Allys's hands - one of the main portals of the soul - he did not know . . . nor did he much care as her eyes opened, and she stared at him in bewilderment. "What’s happened, Jarrett? How did I get here? I must have fainted . . . it was so cold and now 'tis warm . . . I feel so tired . . . I just want to sleep . . . please let me sleep, Jarrett." With this, she once again closed her eyes. Jarrett shook her until she opened them again. Excitedly, he told her of the strange properties of the Gemstone. Allys fought to stay awake and listened in astonishment. "Then it is as legend says!” she exclaimed. “The Gemstone will always return to its owner!" Jarrett nodded his head exultantly. " Aye, my love, she did leave us with something, though she may not even know it. We are lucky we found the Gemstone in her bedchamber. Listen carefully, Allys, we must be very careful. This is a more dangerous situation than I could have ever imagined. We must pass the Gemstone back and forth between us if we are to live, for otherwise I fear that we will freeze to the Dark Night of our Souls, and quickly, at that." The wind continued howling, mercilessly flailing Jarrett from every side. It left Allys untouched. She groped for his hand, trying to return the life-giving Gemstone, but he refused to take it, saying that she had not had sufficient chance to recover. In truth he was still ashamed of holding the magikal stone while Allys had been freezing to her Dark Night. Further travel was futile, for visibility was non-existent in the swirling snow. They tried to rest behind the scant shelter of a boulder on the side of the path. They were now too tired to see straight, even if they could have forced themselves to continue. As if in

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acknowledgment of this fact, Jarrett’s feet and hands became numb, followed swiftly by the rest of his body. He felt himself slipping into that somnolent stage which sometimes precedes the soul's descent into the Dark Night. Allys had succumbed to the stone’s mysterious ministrations. She reached for Jarrett's reluctant hand and pressed the stone to his palm. Thus continued the long and cold night, with each passing on the magikal Gemstone just as the other started to answer the seductive summons to a final sleep.

Eventually, the bitter wind rustling through the trees became a soft sigh and the blackness of the night sky vanished. Pale dawn paced stealthily across the horizon, slowly enough to let their eyes become accustomed to the morning's light. In the far corner of the frosted landscape they saw the trailing wisp of fire smoke, unmistakable even at this distance. Each stared at the other with apprehension, then cast a glance at their unusually quiet steeds. Their horses lay cozily curled together, snuggled tightly to defend themselves against the merciless weather. They had not survived. The warning cry rang out loud and clear through the cold white forest. Jarrett and Allys should have been laying there too, cold and inert as their lifeless steeds. They shuddered at the fate they had only narrowly escaped. Jarrett put his arm around Allys and said, "There's only one thing to do, Allys. We must investigate who's out there." Allys nodded her agreement, for with no horses they had but little choice in the matter. They started toward the direction of the smoke, each with a silent prayer that they would encounter some form of help, and not further disaster.

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They trudged along until they were close enough to see where the smoke was coming from. They were taken aback to see an ordinary village cottage in the middle of the wooded area. They crept closer and peered around a few bushes to see the cottage. There was a driveway leading to the front door. It all looked perfectly normal . . . except that it was located in the middle of nowhere. Its very existence in this spot placed it in the realm of the unknown. They watched as the front door opened. A tall, skinny old man walked over, close to where they hid. Instinctively they pulled back, but he came no further. Instead, he gazed up a sky still filled with ominous clouds. He shook his head, then walked over to the cottage and reached up to wrest some weeds out of a flower box fixed to the window. He tugged away for a bit, then suddenly seemed to sense that someone was watching him. He let the weeds drop from his hand, glanced around with a fearful look on his face, and scurried into the front door. There was a loud noise as if he were shooting back several bolts, then there was only silence. Even the smoke from the chimney gave a last few brave puffs and ceased altogether. "Now we've done it," said Allys. "We should not have come up upon him like this. Now he thinks we mean to harm him." "I don't know, Allys, but methinks he's afeard, and not necessarily of us. Actually I do not think he even saw us. Perhaps he has good reason for caution, I know not. But I do know of one way to find out. You’re shivering again, and though the stone has kept us alive during the storm I must admit I feel half-dead. I have my sword and you have your arrows, I think we should we take our chances."

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Thus saying, he strode forward without waiting for Allys' answer. Not willing to be left behind or to be considered cowardly, she curled her fingers tightly around her bow; with her other hand clutching the Gemstone, she ventured onward in Jarrett's footsteps. They reached the front door, and Jarrett knocked boldly. The door was answered by an old woman. She regarded Jarrett quizzically then said, "You’ve returned! Come on in then, I’ll fetch my husband." "No! Er, I mean, yes, well . . ." stammered Jarrett. He was startled at the woman’s exclamation. Neither he nor his young companion had been in this area of Madur before. Jarrett was reluctant to enter, but Allys, not hearing the old woman’s words, pushed ahead of him and stepped into the doorway of the cottage. Jarrett had no choice now but to follow her. The woman smiled to herself as she closed the door behind them. A bright fire was crackling at the hearth. Allys crept closer to the flames, in an effort to ward off a chill which had penetrated her very bones. She seated herself on a footstool and stuck her toes out as she regarded her surroundings. The small cottage room looked welcoming, with pretty chintz curtains at all the windows. There was a furry rug near the hearth, on either side of which were two cozy armchairs. A huge part of the charm of the cottage lay in the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the room. Allys suddenly realized how hungry she was. Jarrett strode over to the window and peered out. The brilliant sun drifted across the horizon, causing the icy scene outside to glitter as if frosted with diamond dust. He continued to stand there for some time, as though he were not quite sure of the reality of their surroundings. The old woman bustled into the room behind them, clucking like a hen over Allys's state of disarray.

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"What have you done to this poor little child?" she asked Jarrett, who stared at her coldly. "In faith, ma'am, I do not know who you are or why you care about our troubles. I cannot see that it is any of your business. I wish only to purchase some horses, either from you, or from any neighbor who might be able to accommodate us. We must then be on our way. We are in a great hurry, and have no time to dawdle. Where is the old man, anyway? Tell him to hurry!" Jarrett's voice was harsh, and his eyes looked as cold as the fabled ring of the Ice Goddess herself. At his words, the old woman's face crumpled. She looked frightened at Jarrett's tone of voice, and perhaps a bit hurt. Her eyes misted over as if she were about to cry. Jarrett cursed himself for the second time that day. Was he so obsessed with his quest that he had taken to ordering around old women? He suddenly felt ashamed of himself, and tried to redeem the situation. "Here, old woman, I meant not to be rude to ye. It's just that we have no more time. I'm tired and hungry, and I believe we almost lost our lives out there in the storm. Please forgive my uncouth behavior, and help us if you can. Without any aid I fear our quest will be doomed." The old woman looked slightly mollified as she took a large handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her nose. She gave several small sniffs and then walked over to the mantelpiece. "Aye, as ye ask so nicely, I will help ye, young man, that I will," she said, as she took down an oddly shaped clock. Allys noticed that the clock said ten, which was probably the correct time, judging the course of the sun. But then the old woman did a very strange thing. She rewound the hands once around, until it said ten again. Allys noticed

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that she had wound the hands backward. How was that supposed to help them? Perhaps the woman was as mad as a hatter! Her next words seemed to confirm this diagnosis, for the old woman crooned, "There, there, now you don't have to worry. I've just given you twelve hours of time, a precious gift to be sure, but it is what you said you needed. Mr. Tibbens will be with you directly, and he will help you get to where you're going. Not to worry, young lad and lass, you can rest now, for you look as though you sorely need to." "B . . . but how can you do that?" questioned Jarrett, his heart starting to pound. A cold knowledge told him that she had done exactly what she said, for it awakened in him some dark and somnolent memory. He felt sweat drip from his forehead, but could not even lift his hand to wipe it off. "Never you mind about that," she said slyly. "Sufficient it is that it is done, and in return, I will ask a small favor. Promise me that you will honor my request." She stared directly at Jarrett and Allys. Not quite knowing what else to do, they both nodded their agreement to her terms. "You must promise not to tell my husband that I have changed the time for your benefit. I am not supposed to ever use that clock. You won't tell, will you?" This time Jarrett and Allys both shook their head in unison, beginning to feel somewhat like marionettes. "Good, then we understand each other. My name's Glinda of the Green Circle, but you may call me Glinda. What do you call yourselves?" "My name's Jarrett, and this is my cousin, Allys. Is there any way that I could know for sure that the time has been reversed? I know what you've said, but it seems awful hard to believe."

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"No doubt, fine sir, but seeing is believing. Look outside!" So saying, Glinda strode over to the window. Allys and Jarrett blinked their eyes and stared. The sky had darkened and become night in just a few minutes. "Is this witchcraft, Glinda? What is happening?" Allys looked troubled as she asked this question.

It was with good reason that Allys was worried. Black witchcraft was a crime punishable by death. Of course, it had to be proven that the witchery was black, as well as the witch or warlock had to be found and charged with the dark spells. Invariably, the only ones ever arrested were the very inept or inexperienced, for any necromancer worth his salt could easily evade the law. Still, the ancient art was frightening at its best, and unmentionable at its worst.

"I told you not to worry, child. It is not of the black arts, but from something almost as ancient, and though not evil in itself 'twas used in evil ways. We are not using it to gain power, so there's naught to be afeared of. Very soon Mr. Tibbens will come to talk to you. Don't forget your promise! Don't tell him about me fussing with the clock, for he will be very angry. He knows how the device works but he will not ever use it, for he wants to save its workings for some rainy day. Well, methinks that rainy day is upon us now, for has not the Queen herself disappeared with nary a trace?" Jarrett and Allys looked at each other. The question mirrored in their eyes was clear to each of them. How much could they trust the old woman, Glinda? Jarrett decided that he would rather err on the side of caution than indiscretion, so he gave his head a barely perceptible shake. Allys caught his drift and looked demurely to the floor.

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To the side of her eye she saw a movement and turned her head towards it. She found that she was looking at the doorway, and what she saw there was a pair of well polished old leather shoes under a pair of tweed trousers. She raised her gaze and saw that the trousers encircled a considerable girth which was then covered by an enormous green cardigan that fit its owner perfectly. The head attached to this strange apparition was equally plump, with red rosy apple cheeks and a smile that made her feel warm all over. His eyes caught hers with a twinkle, and he put a finger to his lips to let her know that he didn't want the others to know he was there. The gesture was too late in coming, however. "Come on in, Mr. Tibbens" Glinda chortled. "He's always creeping up on me, but I always know where he is. Mr. Tibbens, we need your help, come sit by the fire an' I'll bring in some tea." With that, the mysterious Glinda Tibbins of the Green Circle disappeared into the kitchen. Mr. Tibbens walked over to the armchair with a surprisingly graceful bearing for one so large. He lowered himself down and said with another huge smile, "Tibbs Tibbens at your service, what can I do for ye? Call me Tibbs." "My name's Jarrett, an' this is my cousin Allys. We go in search of a lost friend, and we need a pair of horses to take us much further North. Would you be so kind as to help us?" Tibbs rubbed his chin thoughtfully before he replied. "In truth, the thing that will be your main problem is this constant night sky we have around here. Every morning I get up to find it's time to go to bed again. I could have sworn I just got out of bed three hours ago." Tibbs glared at the darkened sky with an intensely puzzled look, shaking his head all the while. Allys could hardly contain a grin at Mr. Tibbens’s discomfort with the time change. Jarrett's eyes became a trifle glazed.

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"I know, sir, that there will be many perils to overcome but we must start somewhere, and that place is here, and that start would be two horses. Do you have any we could buy from you?" "Well, yes, I do. The storms will be blowing colder and colder as ye travel further North, so mayhaps I should lend ye a wagon to keep ye warm." "But what of the horses, they will surely freeze!" blurted out Allys, with horrible memories off their solidly frozen steeds. "They need to be accustomed to this climate, or indeed they will be very uncomfortable," responded Tibbs reassuringly. "As well, they must be fed properly, and should be wearing thick blankets. They must not be allowed to fall asleep, but should be kept moving all the time. It's a simple matter of caring for them and knowing what to do. For ye too, lad, ye must be aware of how to survive in that weather. Methinks I’ll send ye my son to guide ye to your destination and bring back the wagon." Allys looked so upset that he stopped in his speech, and asked what was the matter. She suppressed a sob and turned to Jarrett. "You tell him, I can't bear to think of what we did to our poor horses, because we were in such a hurry that we didn't have time to stop and prepare and . . . and . . . " Here she broke down completely. "And we could have been killed!" She continued to wail for some moments, while Jarrett had the grace to look thoroughly abashed. "You see, kind sir, we hail from the south of the land of Madur where ‘tis uncommonly warm. Our horses were used to warmth and sunlight, and they had no coverings to shelter themselves from the great storm of last night. They froze to their deaths."

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"Well, Jarrett, 'tis mighty rare for a horse to freeze to death. Even those steeds used to the heat of a desert can survive brutal temperatures, and it was not that cold last night. But you, how did you survive that storm if your beasts, sturdier animals than you by far, have perished? There's somewhat mighty strange going on here." Jarrett decided that the whole matter was becoming too complicated to attempt to keep up the masquerade. He felt confused, and he had a sense that he could trust Tibbs and his strange wife Glinda. He decided to tell them some of their story, leaving out only the identity of the woman they sought. He realized that Allys was relieved at his decision. Because of her uncanny ability to sense people, she had felt safe from the moment she had stepped into the cottage.

After a long session with Tibbs and Glinda, many things became clear. The Gemstone was known to them, and they explained how it formed a link between itself and its owner. This link caused it to glow in the presence of whoever owned it, and so could lead others to them. It also formed a protective aura around its owner. Even when parted from the one who owned it, a deep bonding still existed between the two, and the Gemstone could provide the means by which to find the other. If the owner died, however, the brilliant ruby stone became a mere worthless pebble. "At least we know that she has not descended to the Dark Night of her Soul!" exclaimed Jarrett joyously. "But it gleamed strongly in the woods, and there was no one else there,” said Allys. "That's because she ye seek is close," Glinda answered unhesitatingly. "Some things are close in another plane, and thus they are close even though we cannot see them. Some may claim to see ghosts, or apparitions or even creatures from the stars. But often 'tis but a rip in the fabric, either the fabric of time, of space, or even other dimensions we

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cannot comprehend. If the Gemstone glowed so brightly, she must be close but we know not the dimension she's in. 'Tis a good thing ye chose to confide in us or I fear you would have been lost, or killed or both. But it is still wise of ye to be careful who ye trust." The two traveling companions were silent after this piece of information. The enormity of the mistakes they had made and could still make weighed down on them heavily. "How do you know of these things? It seems that you have a large working knowledge of many mysteries," asked Allys, with a great deal of curiosity. To so stumble on this unlikely cottage, and then find that the inhabitants were conversant with the Gemstone, struck Allys as very odd. Jarrett was glad Allys had asked about their new friends, for, though he was curious, he would not have inquired simply because he felt ashamed that he was not being completely honest with them. "Well, it's a long story, " began Tibbs, "but I will tell you somewhat of what you need to know. Many, many hundreds of years ago, the Peoples of this Earth prospered. They had an abundance of strange lore, amulets, scrying stones, and radogems, which is what they would have called your Gemstone. But all that has now vanished. Major earthquakes remodeled the Earthenworld, and changed its face forever - and much that had been written of those times has been destroyed. There is a book I have that tells of these things I speak of. I also have a few items which seem to be of magikal origin by the way they work, but according to the writings that came with them they follow all natural laws. The only differences between them and magik is a different arrangement of their parts. Do ye follow me?"

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"Aye, somewhat. You're telling us that the Gemstone, or the radogem, is a relic from our past?" asked Jarrett, rubbing his chin thoughtfully and with disbelief. He suddenly made up his mind. He looked at Allys for confirmation, saw her nod, then asked with great import. "Do ye know who it is that we seek?" At this question a strange languor hung in the air. It was the Queen herself that they were in search of.

Jarrett and Allys were the Queen’s cousins - they had grown up together, and had known her long before she had ever been crowned Queen of all the Lands, and been given her Name of Power. They were not allowed to use or say her Name of Power aloud - it was illegal and dangerous. They were also not allowed to use her birthing name of Taliesin any longer, as she had now ascended the throne. She had been kidnapped before her naming ceremony, when her Queenly name would have been bestowed upon her. Consequently, it was difficult to know what to call her.

When the Glinda’s reply came, it shocked them. "Aye, we do know who it is that ye seek, Jarrett and Allys. We've known all along who ye were, and all about your plight." "H . . . h . . . how?" stammered Jarrett, now thoroughly convinced that his new friends were great magicians and mind readers. He wasn’t ready for this answer, either. Tibbs replied softly, "Well, ye told us yourselves, young Jarrett, an' ye cautioned us to speak nothing of the fact that we knew ye unless ye'd bring it up yourself. Well, now ye have an' now we

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did." Complacently, he settled into his armchair with a wise nod at everyone. Glinda added, "Truly, you have come a far way this time. It will never be for strangers that Tibbs and I will put ourselves out like this. The last time we saw ye, which was the first time, ye were with the Queen herself, and my son was along with you. We helped to hide ye, and then ye left. Don't ye see, young Jarrett and Allys . . . ye fled from danger after ye'd rescued the Queen, and then you pushed back somewhat through time for shelter." A foreboding gripped their hearts, and they knew that the Tibbins’ spoke true. Jarrett began to understand what had happened to them, and Allys too nodded in comprehension, as she realized that the security she had felt in the cottage was a reflection of the warmth she sensed from Tibbs and Glinda. Some things were beginning to make sense . . .and the impossible was becoming their new reality. "So! This means that we will rescue our Queen, and return here for shelter. Well and good, then. As your son is with us when we return, I can only assume that he leaves here with us in search of our fair cousin. So perhaps we will still set out with the same plan we started out with. One question, good sir, we saw an old man outside your house when we arrived, but he seems not to be a part of your household. May I inquire who he is, and what his business is here?" Now it was Tibbs and Glinda's turn to be surprised. "There is no one else who lives here save ourselves. Even our son lives some distance away. I know not who this could be, and I do not like it." Glinda turned her troubled eyes to Tibbs. He too looked worried.

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"Methinks ye'd best leave right away. You have had your tea, and rested somewhat, perhaps ye'd best just pack up and go. I’ll send for my son, and you should be off within the hour. Have ye had enough to eat?" Jarrett and Allys nodded vigorously, remembering the hot fragrant tea laced with honey, and the warm bread covered with freshly churned butter. Glinda had also laid out a tray of cold roast beef, ham, some fresh cheese and fruit. Now she bustled about, putting together a hamper of food and a stack of blankets. Tibbs went to the window, and with the aid of a dark cloth and the lantern, summoned his son from a neighboring cottage.

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Amidst the bustle of departure, the two cousins tried to formulate a plan of action. "Methinks we should go back to that spot on the path when I first noticed the Gemstone glowing," stated Jarrett. "Then we can see where it leads to, where it glows the most." Allys nodded her head in agreement. "Perhaps we do not have to go as far North as we feared." "Aye, if our friends here are correct, mayhap she can be found through a time or space portal, instead of us traveling more distance in the hopes that we find her." Jarrett was beginning to regret his foolish impulse of leaving immediately to search for the Queen. They had left the very morning she had vanished. He had been so torn up with anger and fear that he had not been thinking properly, and certainly had had no time to think of a plan of action. As a result, he had almost lost both his and Allys’ lives. His actions had certainly caused the death of their two beloved horses.

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He hung his head and thought back to the events of the past week. The pain he felt when he thought of Elantra (for that was the Princess Taliesin’s Name of Power) was almost enough to cause him to double over. He knew it was forbidden to use her Name in his thoughts for such a matter, but no mind, the agony he felt was sufficient repayment for that momentary lapse. She was now the Queen of Madur, Talies, and of all the Northlands, as well as being their High Priestess for her first seven years of reign. A most high office, and a most lonely road to travel. "If she travels it at all," he thought grimly. His thoughts returned to that awful night she had been abducted. They had all been sleeping soundly, tired out after the festivities of the Coronation. It had been a grand ball, the likes of which no one recalled ever having seen before. He remembered her gliding down the stairs with an air of such majesty that many had caught their breath in awe. The silver and whitesilk flowed around her form like the ebb and flow of the sea. Her long strands of blue-black hair were intertwined with pearls, and atop her head glittered the Crown of Office. He doubted that any other woman could have worn the ceremonial robes with such an impact. She was not a tall woman, this queen, nor was she exactly beautiful. Yet she possessed such spirit and character that anyone who saw her would never forget her . . . Jarrett certainly couldn't. He could not let go of Taliesin either, the girl she had been before she became his Queen. His pride in her suddenly became bitter gall in his throat. "Where is this son of yours, anyway?" he snarled at Tibbs. "He seems to take his own sweet time in coming. I'm growing impatient, and I can stand this gadding about no more!" With that he punched his fist into the brick wall of the hearth. "Ow!"

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"Jarrett! Have you learned nothing yet?” asked Allys with asperity. “Here we've just escaped a sure death because of your rashness, and all you want to do is hurry along! We must now plan an' go carefully, or else we may get nowhere. What would be the point of that?" His lips trembling with unaccustomed emotion, Jarrett nodded and strode out of the room. Allys looked equally troubled, as she gently asked Tibbs, "Aye, Tibbs, 'tis time we did leave. Where is your son, will he be with us shortly?" "Oh, lass, he's been here these past ten minutes. He knows what has to be done, for I signaled such to him. He's been getting the horses ready, as well as the wagon." Allys closed her eyes. In truth, she was glad that the burden of responsibility had fallen on shoulders other than those of her rash cousin. She smiled wearily. Jarrett had many good qualities, but patience certainly was not one of them. Suddenly voices could be heard from the yard. Allys opened her eyes to look out the window. She was curious to see what Tibbs’ and Glinda's son looked like. Peering out, she could make out Jarrett, trying to get the attention of a man stroking the mane of a silver horse. The man appeared not to have noticed Jarrett, though it was impossible that he hadn't. Eventually the man turned to Jarrett and said something, for Jarrett became suddenly still. She could not hear what they were saying, but noted that they were now engaged deep in conversation. She took this chance to stare at the newcomer. He was not as tall as Jarrett, but then Jarrett was an exceptionally tall man. His hair was dark, and quite long. He seemed to be strong, from the way he was loading the wagon. He moved with the same peculiar grace she had seen in Tibbs, though there the similarity ended. As if aware he was being watched, he slid his gaze to the window, directly into Allys's eyes. She quickly moved away, though she knew that there could

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have been no chance he had seen her - the distance was too far and the window too murky. Still, she felt as if her soul had been scrutinized, and shivered from the impact. This man would definitely bear watching. The two men started back to the cottage, and Allys waited with some apprehension for them to arrive. Jarrett was the first to enter, saying, "And here is the most beauteous Allys, my fair cousin." He opened the door with a flourish and a bow. Allys punched him in the shoulder, but was glad he seemed more himself. "This here is Roland, who will be our brave leader into the wild and frozen North!" Roland looked at him with a raised eyebrow, then bent to kiss Allys's hand in a style befitting a noble courtier, not a low-born country boy. As if he sensed her surprise, his eyes grew distant with what seemed to be barely veiled contempt. Allys did not know whether it was at himself or at her. His words were courteous enough, however, " 'Tis an honor to accompany you both on such a worthy mission. I will serve your quest with all my heart, and I am ready and willing to die for my most noble Queen." Allys didn't quite know why she didn't believe him. Everything was finally ready as they set off toward the path from which they had just come, this time accompanied by one who knew the lay of the Lands as well as some of its cursed weather. They traveled for an hour or so when Jarrett began to recognize the area they had been in when the storm had begun. "There! There, to the right, I recognize that twisted old tree!" The party turned to the direction Jarrett pointed. It was too narrow for their covered wagon with its separate ponies, but the riders could make their way easily enough. Roland was the first one there, and he called to Jarrett to take out the Gemstone as he dismounted.

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" 'Tis glowing brighter than ever before," Jarrett called out to Allys, as she got nearer. Walking around the path, he held the stone out until it caught the rays of the morning sun. Sure enough, it sparkled as if it were aflame. Indeed, it did seem like a fire, as it flickered both low and high. "Methinks it knows what direction go," commented Roland dryly. "Notice how it glows bright or dim, depending on what way you turn." "So it does. And it grows warmer when 'tis brighter. Here, let's follow it this way." So saying, Jarrett strode off the path and into the woods. The other two followed closely behind. Jarrett walked back and forth as he tried to gauge where the Gemstone glowed brightest. At last he moved towards a break in the trees, and paused, waiting for the others to catch up to him. Pointing directly ahead, he said, "'Tis there I believe the Gemstone is guiding us. Whenever I approach, it becomes too hot for me even to touch. I've my leather glove on now, an' I swear it has burned a hole in it already." The three stood silently, as if trying to sense whether or not there was any danger. Jarrett once again plunged ahead. He really didn't care about danger - he just wanted to find the Queen and make sure she was safe. He came upon a small man-made clearing, in the middle of which was an oblong spot of about two feet wide and three feet long. It was devoid of vegetation. Trees were cleared around it in a circle of approximately ten feet in diameter. No birds were singing, no animals calling. The air itself was holding its breath - not even a wind blew. The snow had settled here, now a round patch of white icy frosting, with an ominous rectangle right in the center.

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Gingerly holding the Gemstone in his gloved hand, Jarrett approached the center of the circle. The stone began to whimper softly at regular intervals. As he got closer to the middle, the sounds grew louder. "Jarrett!" he heard Allys' scream as though it was a mile away. "Jarrett! I see her! I see our Queen!"

Very dimly, transparent as a ghost, they saw their cousin. She was held in what seemed to be an upright standing coffin made of a translucent greenish light. She was gesturing wildly, and seemed to be banging on the coffin lid. She was also giving it several hefty kicks. Jarrett drew close and tried to talk to her, but naught could be heard save the soft tones of the Gemstone. Roland gave a long whistle and shook his head, saying, "Sure enough, she's locked in another time, but she's close to the portal, else we could never see her like this. It’s due to that radogem ye carry that we see her at all." "That's fine enough to say, but what can we do about it?" Jarrett turned on Roland furiously. "Here, calm down, I have to think on this. There's somewhat that can be done but it's cursed dangerous.” Jarrett turned white. "Dangerous? For the Queen?" "The Queen? Nay, she's in more than enough danger all on her own. I meant that it would be dangerous for us, and I'm worried about the little lass.” He turned his eyes to gaze on Allys, who responded tartly, "Perhaps you'd better worry about yourself, for Jarrett and I have been through many dangers before and lived to tell the tale.” Jarrett agreed with her wholeheartedly, saying,

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"Aye, Roland, our Allys is a deceptive little wretch. She looks so soft and vulnerable, but believe me, she's as tough as nails. Don't trust the way she looks, many a man has lost his heart over that innocent little face, only to have it chewed up and spat out before him!" Jarrett laughed loudly as he delivered this speech, and completely missed the look in Allys's eyes. Roland saw it, though, and said. "I wouldn't be so sure that she feels nothing." "Don't be so sure of yourself," said Allys, "for perhaps your heart is next on my list." Roland’s face grew impassive as he said coldly, "Perhaps, young Allys, my heart's not for the taking, an' even if it were, mayhap ‘tis not for the likes of you." With this, he turned his back to them both and began going through the knapsack he had flung on his shoulder. He missed the look of hatred that Allys tossed his way, and Jarrett's amused chuckle. Roland pulled out and discarded several items before he found the strange looking clock they had seen on the mantelpiece in Tibbs' home. He spoke, mostly to himself, "Mayhap something could be done with this. But I’ll have to think on it." While he fiddled with the workings at the back of the clock, Jarrett and Allys stared at their transparent Queen until they were mesmerized by her incarceration. She had stopped flailing about, and now she just leaned back and stared helplessly, tears of frustration welling up in her eyes. Wherever she was, she seemed to be lying on her back. Glimpsed in this world, the coffin was upright. Jarrett could stand it no longer when Roland yelped with success. "We'll have to find out exactly when this was done, an' I'll have to calculate from there. It will be difficult and dangerous, but it can be accomplished." Clutching the Gemstone, he strode over to the Queen. He communicated to her, using a stylus and parchment, the nature of the information he needed. She signaled back, using her fingers

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to enumerate the month, day and time of day she had been imprisoned. Roland finally said, "Stand back and take cover." He had figured out the necessary data for their purposes. Spending some careful minutes with the strange clock, he then dived in next to where Jarrett and Allys were hidden.

The sky darkened swiftly, then lightened, darkened, then lightened, over and over again. They were all nauseous before the sky settled down to an opalescent dawn light. They looked around, and noticed no major changes in their surroundings. Then they saw the queen - no longer transparent, but right there before their eyes. She reclined in an open coffin of beautifully seasoned wood. Peach colored satin was draped softly over her small form. Both Jarrett and Allys almost flung themselves down onto the ground with deep wails of agony. It was horrible to see her so coldly ready for her descent into the Dark Night of her Soul. Jarrett started forward, but Roland caught him by the arm. "We must wait here an' see what comes to bury her. She'll not see ye anyway, for I've left us shifted just a fraction of a second after the time she gave. Thus, no one will be able to detect that we are here. I had to do it this way, for there is great danger. These are no amateurs we are playing with, believe me." Jarrett and Allys nodded. What they had seen so far had convinced them of this truth, and they were glad they had with them a man who knew what he was doing. Suddenly they had all the more reason to be thankful. Drawing up close was a very tall and pale woman. She was wearing a long robe of white, with icy sparkles at the hem. At her head was a tiara of icicles and on her finger was the fabled ring of ice-crystals. Her beautiful face wore no expression, carried no emotion and looked as inscrutable as only a

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Goddess of the Blood could look. They knew, with a great sinking of their hearts, that it was the much-feared Goddess of Ice Herself. Next to her was another figure, so much smaller that it appeared insignificant, wearing a floor-length hooded cloak. It was impossible to see its owner, for the hood was pulled up high about the face. The mysterious figure was shivering, so obviously was not of the Goddess’ frigid domain. Jarrett, Allys and Roland also deeply felt the cold, and Jarrett swiftly surmised that this unnatural temperature was the same phenomena he had experienced the night he had given the Gemstone to Allys. The Goddess must have had something to do with that snowstorm, for its eerie cold was unmistakable. It was a cold that reached into the soul and laid chill fingers around the heart. But why would the Ice Goddess be concerning herself with the affairs of men? In all of Madurian history, this had never happened before. No mind now, those questions could wait. Right now the only thing that was of any importance was rescuing their Queen. The three spied as close as they dared. Roland told them that though they could not be seen by the Queen and her companion, that did not mean they were invisible. "Although the clock's time runs parallel to the real time, so that we are always a fraction of a second ahead, still, any disturbances we make in the environment will be noticed. We cannot risk the Ice Goddess suspecting anything at all, for she could destroy us with no more effort than blinking an eye." The three of them kept as quiet as they could, and watched carefully. They saw the Queen raise her arm and shout aloud to the heavens. Once again the skies dimmed unnaturally, but this time stayed dark for close to twenty minutes. During this, the shriek of the Goddess’ voice could be heard, invoking spells, or incantations, or

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both, no one really knew. Her high-pitched wail reached out into the wood with terrifying impact. All around the trees joined each other in a macabre dance of glee. Their branches leaped and cavorted convulsively, in beat to the pulsating voice of the Goddess. A bizarre cacophony of sound rose up out of the ground and wrapped itself around their necks, their hair, their mouths. Seeping into their souls it crawled its insidious way up into their brains. Exactly how a spectral symphony could thus invade them, they had no idea, but thankfully, the invocations ceased before they all fell truly under its spell and succumbed to madness. The Queen's terrified face on the coffin pillow remained as composed as possible. It was plain that fear had delved deep within her soul, for her usually lively eyes were numb with terror. Then the Goddess reached inside a pouch at her side, and pulled forth a quivering Troll. They saw the ugly little Troll gibbering with fear as the Goddess ripped the clothes from his back with a dagger she kept at her hip. The hooded figure fastened the Troll to the coffin, laying him upside down, directly on top of the Queen. His hands and feet were nailed to the four corners of the coffin. Spurts of blood shot up and smeared the Queen's face and hair as the hammering was completed, and the numbness in her eyes was replaced by a look of agony so strong that Roland and Allys had to forcibly stop Jarrett from rushing forward to try to rescue her. Claps of thunder crashed across the heavens, and lightning tore open the sky. The Goddess screamed vituperations into the wind as she pulled back the Troll's head and carefully slit his throat. She held a gaily decorated golden goblet to the spasms of blood,

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and filled it to the brim. She knelt and held the goblet high, as if in obeisance, then stood up and drank thirstily, draining the goblet. She refilled it, having to squeeze the Troll's corpse to ensure a sufficient supply of blood to fill it to the brim once again. She handed it to the hooded figure on her left, who also knelt, then stood and drank. Once more, the goblet was filled by two bloody figures pushing and prodding the reluctant blood from the dead troll. The Queen was helped to a position where her face was directly in contact with the corpse's phallus. There the Goddess forced her to drink from the goblet. They saw their Queen choking and sputtering and crying. But the goblet was pressed to her lips and tilted back. And pressed again, and again, until it was dry. Finally the hellish ritual was finished. The coffin lid was hammered closed , trapping the blood-soaked Queen. When that was done, the coffin rose of its own accord, and stood on its end. It vanished from sight. The Goddess and her companion walked away towards the North. They also vanished.

The trio were numb with shock. Allys stood up shakily, and said, "I cannot believe what has happened. I feel sick. Were they real, or were we dreaming? And have we lost our Queen again?" "No, we haven’t lost her again, Allys. We did not have to witness these depravities for nothing," said Roland. "At least now we know where she's trapped, an' who with. See that ceremony with the Troll? That was done to appease the Piscies of the underworld. They mine for silver, but the thieving Trolls steal both their silver and their women. So, 'tis the Piscies she's hidden her with. I might have known they had

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somewhat to do with this. They've held her up in a spell, but not one that's theirs. They've stolen it from elsewhere." "The Piscies are well known for their mischievous minds, and some are downright malicious. I can not bear to have come this close and fail," said Jarrett. His face was pale, and his entire body trembled. “Is there anything we can do?” He looked at Roland pleadingly. "Aye, there's somewhat that can be done. I know the origin of that spell, 'tis a most potent one. I could never break it. Indeed, no one could, not even the Ice Goddess herself." "But you just said something could be done! Now you tell me this!" Jarrett felt as if his emotions had risen to the sky and then plummeted to Hell itself. "Ah, but the spell can be finished,” Roland reassured him. “If a spell is broken, it leaves messy auras around the victim. They become easy prey for other spells. It also it weakens the powers of them that cast the spell, and forms an eternal bond between the two. Nay, to break a spell is not the best thing to do, especially when it is attempted by those who know not what they are doing. “But I know the witch who's cast this spell. She can also end it - but probably for a fair price, if it does not concern her. This is the only way I know to go about this thing. The Ice Goddess must have offered her a great deal for the use of it, that's all I can say, for Madrion is not one to involve herself with other's petty battles." "Petty battles! You dog!" Allys had been irritated by Roland's high-handed manner ever since she had met him. Now she saw red. She flew at him, kicking and punching as hard as she could. He grabbed her wrists and held tight, while Jarrett grabbed her around her middle.

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"I didn't mean that the way it sounded,” said Roland. “It's just that Madrion views all the affairs of man as petty, that's all. She generally does not notice us, truly. I meant no disrespect to our Queen and our quest. Please believe me." Allys struggled some more, and then broke into convulsive sobs. Roland added for good measure. "I think you are just tired and frightened. Go ahead and cry, 'tis good for you,” This had the exact result he had hoped for, for Allys gave one last heave and dried her eyes. "So what do we now? At least the Goddess cannot undo the spell - does she know that? Why would she want to keep the Queen trapped forever?" "Why, indeed? What does anyone have to gain?" Roland asked dryly. Jarrett and Allys stopped and looked at him with horror. "It's the throne, isn't it?" Allys's whisper was more of a statement than a question. Jarrett cried, "Then let them have the cursed throne an' we can have Taliesin back again! Nothing is worth this danger to her life." Allys reached over and slapped him on the face. "How dare you say such a thing!" Her voice was shaking with the intensity of her passion. "How dare you! Our Queen would have you beheaded for a statement such as that. Our ancestors fought long to bring peace to our countries. When they were finished they consulted the oracles, which told them peace would last only if they established a Royal Line. “You are part of that line, and you have a duty to honor the trust placed on your shoulders, as I do mine. Our Queen knows that better than any, and she takes her responsibilities seriously. She'll expect no less from you, Jarrett, and you'd best put aside your personal feelings on that matter. Right now would be a really good time to start."

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Jarrett rubbed his face and looked put out by this speech. The comment about “personal feelings” unsettled his very soul. He said nothing, however, realizing that anything else he said would only cast further slurs on his character, and just cause more of an argument with the fair Allys. Experience had taught him that though Allys was as meek as a mouse most of the time, when she was angered, she roared like a lion. Roland chipped in to change the course of the heated conversation with the tact of a true diplomat. "We must now seek Madrion, and ask for her wisdom in this matter. I can almost guarantee that she knows not the intricacies nor the repercussions of this most foul plot. I know her well, and her mind does not stoop to matters of this sort - as a general rule unless there's something happening that we're not aware of." "You know her well, do ye? Methinks we know what sort of woman this witch is, Roland. Lead on, then, for I cannot wait to see the face of her. Your witch had best be careful, Roland, or she'll be hanging by her warty little neck. Witchcraft's a crime in these parts!" Allys had now turned her ill humor on Roland, speaking in a taunting singsong voice usually reserved by children on a playground. Apart from muttering, "An' perhaps Madrion will cut thy tongue out of thy head, where it will no doubt be better off", he ignored her and concentrated on the map he had pulled from his knapsack. Jarrett came to stand next to Roland as he traced out the way to where the witch could be found. He was taken aback at the route they'd have to take, for the way wound long, through the thickest parts of the forest and down to the bowels of the earth. It would take them a good week's travel, and then only by horseback. The wagon and ponies would not be able to travel through the dense forests. Roland volunteered to go on his own, as he thought he'd be faster. He could take two horses and trade his weight back and forth upon them, and thus go a greater distance

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before the horses became weary. Much as the other two didn't want to be left behind, especially in the pursuit of a real witch, they saw the wisdom of Roland's plan. He gave them careful instructions about survival in the extreme weather conditions, and then left quickly. They heard the pounding of his horse's hooves grow fainter in the distance, and then only the silence of nothing. They set up guard around their Queen and waited patiently for Roland to return.

They did not have to wait long. It had been but barely three days when they heard the pounding of the horse's hooves again. Roland swerved into the camp, and swung himself off of his horse. He was panting with such exertion that he could barely gasp out the news. "M . . . m . . .met Madrion on t . . .the road. She was coming over to this place, for she saw a great cosmic displacement in the area they've trapped the Queen. She's was

going to investigate what's been happening, an' she was grateful to me for filling in the details. She's concerned about the use of her spell for capturing the Queen, an' methinks she's angry. I've never seen her that way before!" Here he paused to catch his breath. "She's gone directly to the Piscies of the underworld to find out more about their folly. I really don't envy them." "But what of our Queen? Will she be freed?" Jarrett felt even more uneasy as he heard of these events. Rescuing his Queen from human kidnappers was one thing; now there were witches, Trolls, Piscies and even a Goddess. It was really all too much to take in. "Aye, even now Madrion is working to finish up the spell that's been placed on the Queen. We must stand guard over her night and day, for when the spell is finished, it will be fast, and we must get her away before the Goddess hears word of it. No doubt, as

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soon as the Ice Goddess knows what's happened she will be here. She's got many advantages over us and all we really have is the knowledge of the moment. Keep a careful watch, my friends, for our lives depend on it." Roland sank wearily to the ground. The whole situation was becoming larger than any of them had imagined, and it left him feeling quite helpless. Jarrett sat down slowly next to Roland. His thoughts were confused with the new information he had acquired over the past few days. He let his mind drift to Elantra - a sharp stab of pain reminded him he should not use her Name of Power - and then on to the lost Taliesin. He could feel weak tears gathering in his eyes, and he blinked several times.

Taliesin had been the love of his boyhood's heart, when he had been carefree and innocent in his dedication to the young princess. No one thought much of her title in those days, they were more concerned with enjoying each day to the fullest. Anyway, Taliesin had been fourth in line for the throne, for she had three sturdy, strong and wise older brothers, Hamyn, Troyn and Gervais. Hamyn should have been the king, but he had died in a freak hunting accident. At the time everyone had truly believed it had been an accident. Next lost was Troyn, and his death at sea was labeled a great tragedy for the house of Terran. No one suspected anything but the most evil fortune. Taliesin’s closest friend had always been her brother Troyn. Not even Jarrett and Allys knew as much about her as he did. She was inconsolable in her grief at the news of his death. But everyone still thought the death an accident. Her next favorite had been Gervais, who had been her daddy when the King Ygrive had been busy, or away, which

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was often. It had been on Gervais’ shoulder that she had sobbed away her grief and despair at the loss of her brothers. Later, when Gervais took an arrow in his heart, standing on the battlements right next to his beloved sister, the kingdom realized that all the deaths had been murders. Many believed Taliesin would follow them to their graves, dying with a heart broken too many times to mend. It was recorded in history as one of the foulest tragedies to befall any house in all the Lands. Jarrett, too, had loved all the princes, for they were truly kind and good men. He had grieved deeply with the Peoples of Madur at this time of great misfortune. There was further grief when the Queen Tamsyn died, although no one was really surprised at her demise. She had been sick for many years - indeed, since the birth of Taliesin - and many had thought she would have passed on to the Dark Night of the Soul a long time ago. She was not much loved in Madurian society. Still, her passing brought a fresh wave of grief, like a tidal wave, sweeping over the country. Sobbing wails were heard deep into the night. When her husband, the King Ygrive, suffered a failure of his heart and followed the dark path of his wife and sons, the kingdom was numbed into silence. Pain hung over the cities in nebulous black clouds. Everywhere, all one could see were grim faces. Even the children did not smile, for they too felt the evil filth that had crept into their kingdom and butchered the Royal House of Terran. Everyone waited for Taliesin to descend that lonely path. . . .all except Jarrett, that is. He refused to believe that the Terran line could be obliterated. The Terran blood was in his bones and in his sinew. He took it upon himself to remind Taliesin of the fact that her veins ran with the most royal of Terran blood.

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"Our hearts must not be stifled. Ye must recover, Taliesin. Our Lands depend on ye. Ye must recover," he whispered into her ear, night after night. Eventually she began to respond. Jarrett had admired her more for that first small smile than for anything else she had ever done. Taliesin took the throne a few weeks later, and not one soul would have guessed what it cost her. Except Jarrett, of course. That night of the coronation he had entered his sleeping chambers content that he had fulfilled his duties. Little did he know then that he would find himself here in this place and time. He could accept that Taliesin was gone for good, but he could not, would not ever believe that their Queen was doomed.

Allys had taken the first watch, so Jarrett had closed his eyes with his musings. He now slipped into a weary sleep, and was surprised to find Allys tugging at his sleeve. "Jarrett . . . Jarrett! There's something happening!" she started to shake him vigorously, and he held onto her hands, saying, "I'm awake, Allys, stop shaking me, I'm awake! What is happening?" "Look at the Queen! We cannot see her anymore through the coffin. It is no longer translucent! Quick, we must wake Roland." The two scrambled over to where Roland was sleeping and gave him a good shove. "Ugh! hhrmmph!" Roland made several unintelligible sounds until they finally heard what he was saying. "Come on, let's make a move. The instant that coffin fully materializes we must get her out of there. You two go open the lid, and I'll set the clock back for a few weeks ago. Hurry! She will have fallen into what resembles a drugged sleep to protect her at the finish of the spell. You must call her by her Name of Power to waken her . . . you do know it, don't you?"

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"Of course we do," Allys responded indignantly, as she tossed back her long silver hair. "Aye, I thought you would as you're her kin and all. But I was just checking. Be quick, we haven't much time, I've just about got this clock set." He turned and ran towards the others, just in time to see them lifting the Queen out of the peach-lined coffin. A quick succession of night and day coursed their way across the heavens.

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The sky settled into the pale evening shades of dusk. All was quiet in the little clearing, as Allys and Jarrett struggled to hold up the Queen. She was groggy from all that had happened to her and had no idea of where she was. She knew the arms that held her, however. "Jarrett! Allys!” she cried. “You found me, and I'd almost given up hope. I've been captive in that horrible coffin. They that kidnapped me have a sick sense of humor. I cannot believe they would dare do this to the crowned Queen of Madur, much less the High Priestess of all the Lands. They must be caught and punished immediately!" "I'm afraid it will not be that easy, Your Highness," Jarrett said, with a deep bow. "Oh Jarrett, you must not bow to me, at least not now there's no one else around. And do not call me 'Your Highness', for if anyone's watching they'll know who I am." "The Queen is right," said Roland. "We must be very cautious. We should not let any one know who she is."

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"But what shall we call thee?" asked Allys, with one arm still around the Queen’s waist. "We cannot call thee by thy Name of Power, nor can we call thee Taliesin.” At this name Allys's voice gave out with a small sob, for this was the name by which she'd always known her best friend. "Aye, my dearest friend Allys, once again I have to change my name, when I've not even been given my Name of Office yet" The Queen's Name of Office was the name that the Queen would be known as throughout her reign. The name was always very carefully chosen, as was her Name of Power, after many consultations with oracles, the stars and finally the High Priestess. She would have been instrumental in choosing her Name of Office herself, a situation which had never before arisen in the annals of Madur. "We will have to find something to call thee, then," said Jarrett, slipping into the affectionate 'thee' without even being aware of what he had said. Allys did notice, however, and gave him a sharp look. In Madur it was the custom to use these intimate forms of address only with a best friend, a spouse, beloved children, or revered old folk - never to someone forbidden to you. No one else had noticed his slip, and Allys was glad . . . but she also felt a dark foreboding. She shivered and shrugged it off. Jarrett continued, "How about 'Gemma'? We've been following your Gemstone this long, I've grown accustomed to having it around." He laughed as he said this, and Allys felt somewhat relieved. "Gemma it is! " said the Queen. "I do like that name, Jarrett, and as I am the High Priestess, I may choose my own name. I have no Name of Office as yet, so why should I not use this one?"

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Roland stood in the shadows of the trees, watching this exchange with his usual sardonic expression. Jarrett spied him out of the corner of his eye, and strode over to grasp his new friend by the arm. He spun around to see if the Queen - no - if Gemma was still watching, and seeing that she was, he bowed and made the same elaborate introductions he had made for Allys in the Tibbens’s cottage. Gemma laughed, but looking at her tall, handsome Jarrett standing next to the somewhat smaller but nevertheless just as attractive Roland, she wondered at the stab of pain which shot through her heart. She had no time to think on it, however. A numbing chill was coming directly from the North. "'Tis her, 'tis the Ice Goddess,” cried Jarrett. “I'd know that cold anywhere. It comes with a feeling that sinks into a man's very soul. Our horses were murdered by it, and Allys and I almost followed them in that cold descent. Quick, Roland, we must tarry here no longer!" Roland swiftly agreed with him, and they climbed out of the forest to find their ponies and wagon. The way back was a far different trek than when they had arrived. The wind had picked up and was howling eerily through the leaves. In the distance they spied ominous clouds scudding forward with frightening speed. The air felt as if it were charged with static electricity, as if some energy was pulsing through the atmosphere. They breathed a mighty sigh of relief when they cleared the forest. Everything was just as they had left it, and they piled gratefully into the wagon's covered shelter. Roland hitched all of their horses with the ponies so they could travel as fast as possible, and thus they set off, careening wildly first to the right and then to the left. Luckily the Tibbens’s cottage was in the South, so at least they could flee in the opposite direction of the encroaching cold. They ran the horses as fast as they dared, but could still feel the biting cold gathering around them like an icy vise. The three in the

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wagon were huddled together for warmth, and were faring better than Roland. He had to deal with the full brunt of the wind, and he was almost frozen solid. Jarrett broke free from his cousins and, wrapping a blanket tightly around his cloak, climbed onto the front seat. "Roland, get below or you'll freeze as sure is sure. Gemma has the Gemstone, and it's keeping them warm. I’m thoroughly warmed up now, and I'll take the reins." Jarrett was lying through his teeth, but Roland was so cold he never even questioned him. He climbed into the confines of the wagon, and hunkered down by the others. It was then that he started to fully appreciate the qualities of the Gemstone, for he had not fully comprehended before that it had kept at bay the phenomenal powers of the Ice Goddess herself. They were lucky they were close to the Tibbens's little cottage, for the storm was building quickly. Once again they saw the spiraling wisp of smoke in the distance, tugged and buffeted by the howling wind. Jarrett began to feel that he was on the edge of his Dark Night when Allys climbed out and motioned him inside. Never had he been so happy to obey anyone in his life. She drove the wagon as hard as she could, for she too felt the swiftness with which the cold penetrated, an unnatural type of sensation which seemed to frost her very feelings with glacial thoughts. As Jarrett had said, it was a cold which seemed to sink into one's very soul. She tore into the cottage yard, ringing the emergency bell wildly. Tibbs and Glinda rushed out to see what was going on. Allys waved at them, calling out their names. She could see that they did not suspect there was danger all around, for they looked at her in a puzzled and worried manner.

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She tossed the reins to Tibbs and jumped down, as Roland, Jarrett and Gemma climbed out of the back. Glinda rushed over to Roland and embraced him with an enormous bear hug, which Roland tried to unsuccessfully shrug off. Allys smiled to herself, for to see the mysterious Glinda hugging the unapproachable Roland was just about too much to fathom. It did make him seem a little more human, however. "Roland! The Green Circle have told me that ye were in great danger. Did ye know? Who are these people? Are they safe?" Glinda surveyed the group with suspicious eyes. Allys felt hurt, but moved closer to the older woman and laid an arm gently on her shoulder. "Do ye not remember me, kind dame? Ye did feed and shelter us when we were in perilous straits. Ye were most generous to two lost travelers who had almost descended into the Dark Night of their Souls." Jarrett was listening closely to this exchange and broke in excitedly, "Don't you remember, Allys? Glinda said that she knew us from before, though it was the first time we'd seen her! We're now back in time to when she first saw us, an' we do have the Queen with us! It's all happening just as she said it would!" "What in the name of the most holy of Gods are you all babbling about?” asked Gemma with annoyance. “I'm freezing, an' this cottage looks warm, an' I'm going right in before I freeze to the Dark Night of my Soul. If any of you have any sense at all, you'd follow me, and fast!" She threw open the cottage door with her most queenly flounce, and walked in. The others followed her lead. It was obvious that this Queen was a woman accustomed to doing exactly what she wanted. They took up residence beside the roaring fire. Tibbs decided, from the look of them, that what was required was a wash, a decent meal, and a good night's sleep, in that order.

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He called to Roland, and told him to take Jarrett back to his cottage to clean up, while the young women could clean up in the one bathroom upstairs. "And while you are all doing that, Glinda and I will cook you the most delicious meal you've ever had in your life. Is it a deal?" Four heads nodded a definite “yes,” and all swiftly departed to their respective tasks, only to just as swiftly re-appear with famished expressions. Glinda looked at them and laughed, bidding them to set the table. She showed them where her set of earthenware dishes were kept, and the silver knives and forks which had belonged to her great-grandmother. When everything was ready, they sat down and looked at the table with satisfaction. The smell of Glinda's freshly baked bread wafted seductively by their nostrils. In the middle of the table was a soup tureen, with a most tantalizing smell of beef stew. Piled high on a platter sat a mound of mashed potatoes, on which was some of Glinda’s newlychurned butter. Another platter was filled with peas just picked from the garden, and these too were topped with golden pats. "Let us give thanks to the God of Light, and thank Him for delivering these young folks from danger. And we will give thanks to the Goddess of the Earth for this bountiful feast." Glinda began a wailing chant that lasted about a minute, during which they bowed their heads reverently. They were all too aware of the luck they had just experienced, first in finding the Queen, and then in rescuing her, not to mention escaping with all their lives and limbs intact. Luck perhaps, but there was always a chance that luck had naught to do with it. They prayed their thanks desperately then tucked into the food with equal fervor. When everyone had eaten their fill, Glinda surprised them further by bringing in a huge lemon meringue pie, along with steaming mugs of coffee laced with fresh cream.

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Although everyone had professed a mere two minutes ago that another bite was impossible, the pie mysteriously disappeared. Too soon for anyone's liking, Glinda shooed the young men out of the house to make their way to Roland's cottage and a good night's sleep. She roused Allys and Gemma, who had almost fallen asleep, and sent them off to their beds. Then she bustled around, clearing the dishes while Tibbs made sure the house was securely locked up. He was just stoking the fire when Glinda joined him in the parlor, and they both pulled up an armchair to sit closer to the now roaring flames. Tibbs pulled out a pipe from his waistcoat and lit it, smoking silently for a few minutes before Glinda asked, "Well, Tibbs, what do ye make of all this? I like it not one bit - I feel there's somewhat very wrong here." "Aye, my love, me too. Do ye remember a long time ago, when we got this house?" Glinda nodded slowly, remembering. "Aye," she whispered, "it was a very long time ago, to be sure, but I remember all of it as clearly as if it were yesterday."

Tibbs and Glinda had been just married that day, twenty years ago. They were still brushing the rice from their shoulders when an old man had approached them. He had a basket in his arms, and he told them that they had inherited a little cottage in the middle of the woods. Glinda and Tibbs had been very poor at the time, and owning a house seemed like the most impossible dream come true. It appeared that it was an inheritance from an old friend of both of theirs who had died less than a year ago. They were only to know of the inheritance on the day they married, if that day should arrive, and that was the only time they were eligible for the legacy. That was not the whole story, however.

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"I am so pleased to meet you," the old man had said. "My name is Gareth Eathrow. I have been keeping your estate in trust until such a time when you might become eligible to inherit. Had you never married, it would have fallen upon my shoulders to take care of both homes as well as the baby Roland." "A baby! You never told us anything about a baby!" Glinda was shocked to her very soul. A baby. She had always wanted a baby. But to acquire one in such a manner? She did not know what to say. "Aye, a babe. Both cottages belonged to his father. He decided to use one to ensure that his son had a happy home. This was the way in which he planned it, but you have every right to refuse if you want not the task." "Nay, kind sir, I am most honored that I would be considered for this noble deed. Who is the man who held us in such high esteem that he would want us to raise his only child?" "One of the stipulations of this task is that you do not inquire as to the identity of your benefactor. This is for your own safety as well as that of the babe's," replied Mr. Eathrow. Glinda said, "Just let me see the face of the babe, and hold his little hand." She reached out for baby Roland's hand, and plucked the blanket from his face. A soft, pudgy little paw clasped hers trustingly, and her heart was won. She stared into the baby's face, and saw large brown eyes, fringed with long curling lashes, and knew what her decision would be. She looked at Tibbs and saw he felt the same. "Well, if a friend of ours has passed on to the Dark Night of his Soul, an' this is his only son whom he has wanted us to raise, then raise him we will. Lead us on to this young fellow's home, and happy we are to have been doubly blessed on this our wedding day."

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Gareth had led them to the little cottage in the woods, and shown them another nearby. "That one's for the lad when he grows up. Perhaps when he marries he may want a place to keep a wife. But you must not tell him or anyone that you are not the boy's natural parents, or he may be in danger long before he is able to take care of himself." Tibbs and Glinda had been worried, but still agreed that they must go ahead and adopt Roland. It seemed to be destined that way. Glinda had felt as much from the boy's soul when she had held his hand - for a person's hands are one of the portals to the soul. Much can be discerned by touching hands, if one knows what to look for. Gareth had then handed them the strangely shaped clock, and explained its workings to them. Then he had said something really odd, which was what they both were thinking about now. "The time is now, the time was then Gods mingled with mortal men The seed was sown, the die was thrown Thay Eleana Elantra wal dorwen." They both remembered the poem very well, but still did not have any idea what it meant. Gareth had assured them that when the time came it would prove useful. "Methinks the time is now come, Tibbs, that time, but I still know not what the poem means, nor what to do about it. But I feel it has something to do with the goings on right now." "Aye, you're right enough about that, Glinda, I feel it too. Gareth did say that we'll find it useful someday, an' in order to find it useful, no doubt we'll have to figure out what it means. Perhaps now is the time to tell Roland about all of this. He should know

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of his parentage, and he's well of an age to take care of himself. Do ye think he'll be heartsick?" "Not our Roland, he's too level headed to let anything like this throw him for too long. Methinks he already suspects somewhat. He's changed since he spent that time with Madrion, perhaps she's seen something from the past and told him." "Nay, I do think Roland's change has naught to do with us. I think he fell in love with that pretty little witch." Glinda was truly shocked. "Roland would never do something so silly, I’m sure of it!" "Well, I really don't know about that, but I do know that it is getting late, so perhaps we'd best take our own advice and get a good night's sleep."

Tibbs and Glinda retired for the night. Outside the storm continued to howl, and when everyone awoke the next day, the snow was as high as a tall man; they were snowbound. Glinda got up first and stoked the fire, throwing on enough logs to make it blaze and putting on a tea kettle to boil. Quickly she set the table, and then fried some sausages and eggs. She made some toast, and went to her pantry to fetch her famous raspberry jam. She called to let the others know that their breakfast was ready, and they hurried down to eat. "I've never seen so much snow in these parts. Usually this only happens much further north," said Tibbs. "Well, yes. It has to do with the cold that almost stopped us the first time. I swear it chased us here. It has somewhat to do with what we have to tell you." Allys paused, not sure of how much she should say until the others were there. Tibbs saw her confused expression.

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"It's all right, lass, we'll just wait for Roland and Jarrett to get over here. They'll be here soon enough, once they realize there's no food over at Roland's house!" Allys nodded her head. Gemma insisted they go outside to help shovel the path. Eventually they met up with Roland and Jarrett, busily flinging the snow over their shoulders with huge shovels. "I'm right glad to see you folks!" exclaimed Jarrett. "We were starting to think there was no end to this snow. I've never seen anything like it." "Aye, it's not natural, that's for sure!" exclaimed Glinda, while the others passed significant glances back and forth. Glinda caught the looks and said, "I think that the time has come for you to tell us what has been going on. And we have something to tell you also, something that's important. But let's go inside and give Ro and Jarrett some breakfast, they must be starving." They trooped back into the house, wet and cold. Despondency pervaded the room. Glinda fried up some more sausages for those who were hungry. Tibbs stoked the fire, and as they finished eating, Glinda served her fragrant tea. Jarrett related once again how they had come to be on this quest, as Roland did not know many of the details. Roland told his parents of the events that had followed, how they had found Gemma imprisoned in a coffin of light. Gemma continued the tale at this point, disclosing some facts that the others had not known. "There’s someone who betrayed me at the castle. They must have waited until I was sleeping, then they crept into my room. I know they drugged me, for I normally do not sleep so soundly. But how they got me out of the castle with all those guards posted, I’ll never know. The next thing I knew, I was in this dark box . . ." "It was a coffin," interrupted Allys helpfully.

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"Aye, I know! A coffin, but I do not like to think on it. It's almost as if whoever did it knew of my terrible fear of closed-in places and wanted to torture me but dared not do it more directly." "Do you have any such enemies? For if that's the case, someone somewhere must hold you an awful grudge." Roland looked concerned as he said this, and Allys briefly wondered if she'd misjudged him. "If you do, you must think immediately who they are, for we're all in great danger. We need as much information as we can get." Allys shrugged her shoulders and thought, "Oh, well, he's just concerned for himself after all." The animosity she felt towards Roland kept growing, though she tried to stem it. She turned her attention back to what Gemma was saying. "No, I know of no one who could hate me so that they would do somewhat like this to me. In truth, the only reason I can think that someone would want to get rid of me would be if they wanted the throne." "Aye, we've talked of this before," replied Roland. "Well then, who is next in line to the throne? That seems to be a most likely candidate. It’ll probably be the same person who murdered the princess." "Let me see - I've never really given it much thought. It's been so sudden, my claim to the throne, that I'd not even had time to settle into my days as the Queen when this happened. But . . .just a moment . . . the next in line would have been the Queen Tamsyn's Uncle Uhyrn, who descended into the Dark Night of his Soul many years ago. He had one son, Gervais, whom my brother was named after, but Gervais descended into the Dark Night a few years ago, also. That leaves but one living survivor, and heir to the throne of all the Lands, his son. . . Jarrett."

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Everyone turned to stare at Jarrett. A blood red hue slowly tinged the young man’s face. He got to his feet. When he spoke, his voice shook. "You could suspect me ?" His repressed rage made Gemma go over to stand protectively by him. "Never in my lifetime would I suspect thee of any wrong doing,” she whispered. “And I know that I could stake my life on thy word. I would gladly lay down my life for thee, if that was what the Fates wanted. But never, ever would I doubt thee, you must trust that, Jarrett. I was only answering Roland's question. Come, seat thyself, and we will try to solve this infernal riddle." No one else heard what she said. All they knew was that the danger had passed and Jarrett once again sat down like a civilized man. He saw the wary looks everyone cast his way, and said, "I am sorry, for I understand no one suspects me. I’m just a trifle hot-headed at times." "You're not kidding" thought Allys, with apprehension. She could sense even stronger now the bond between her two cousins, and she did not like it. She could feel great danger, dark and strong, like a wild animal caught in a snare and fighting for its life. She kept her thoughts to herself, however. "Truly Jarrett would have naught to do with any such plot; but perhaps whoever is doing this hopes to bribe him into becoming a puppet king, once the direct line of Terran had been obliterated. It is beginning to seem that it is their evil intent to continue their murder until all the Royal Terrans are gone." Allys could think of no other explanation which would cover the events they had just experienced. Roland nodded his head thoughtfully.

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"Aye, lass, it would fit in with what's happened. But who could it be, and who would have the power to summon the Goddess of Ice to work on his side?" At that they all drew blanks. Not one of them could think of an enemy of the fair Queen, nor even anyone who aspired to the throne. Long ago the Gods of Madur had made clear that the Terran line must rule; anything else would lead only to destruction. The Madurian Peoples had always been very content with their Kings and Queens. "Well, without knowing who or what is responsible, we're no better off now than we were earlier," said Gemma dejectedly. "I don't know what we should do." Tibbs looked at his wife, and she nodded her head. "It seems we have somewhat else of importance to add to this story, Gemma. Some of it has to do with Roland, for there's a mystery surrounding his birth . . ." Roland broke in, roughly. "Aye, father. And I'll always call ye “father”, no matter who my parents are. I know what ye are about to reveal, for I had Madrion scry that time in history for me. I've always suspected, mind ye, but I never asked, for I thought that if ye had wanted me to know, ye would have told me. Forgive me for doing this, but it was driving me mad. I know that I was given to ye as a babe, but I could hear naught of what transpired. But I saw enough." "Ah, Roland," cried Glinda, "it's not that we did not want to tell ye, it's just that we were instructed not to, for your safety, that's all. We never would have kept such important knowledge from ye, not ever. And it's glad I am that Madrion was kind enough to help ye. But if ye heard nothing of what happened, then ye did not hear that which we will tell ye now. But scrying is such a dangerous thing to do, I wish that ye wouldn't."

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Scrying was an ancient practice, where one could see what was happening at another place or time with the aid of a ball of crystal, a mirror, or a body of water . . . really, anywhere there was a reflective surface. Some other methods could be also used, but those practices were more difficult and usually left to necromancers. Due to a distortion in the time-space sequence, nothing could be heard during a scrying of the past or future, which accounted for the fact that Roland knew only half the story behind his life with the Tibbens. This distortion was not present when scrying in one's own time, and unless those being spied on had used a spell of silence, one could hear as well as see.

Tibbs filled them all in as to what had transpired on that day so long ago. He recited the verse, The time is now, the time was then Gods mingled with mortal men The seed was sown, the die was thrown Thay Eleana Elantra wal dorwen." Gemma went pale at the mention of her Name of Power. This was necromancing at its best, if it could pry out such powerful and well-kept secrets. Jarrett and Allys looked shaken also, for they knew the repercussions of the Queen’s Name of Power being known by evil forces. For one thing, she would have to abandon it, and never again would she be allowed to have one, as one Name of Power was all that anyone was allowed. She would need it when it came to the time of her rule, for it was through this name that the Gods of Madur knew her, and they would recognize and help no other. Without her Name, Madur, Talies and all of the Northlands would be deprived of any aid from the Gods at all.

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It was Gemma's duty to guard the Name as one of her most precious possessions, and indeed she had. Allys and Jarrett were the only other living souls to know it, and they had had to go through an intense binding ceremony to bind the name to their souls. It was not even allowed to travel to their thoughts, in case someone had access to what they were thinking. It would be a rare thing to have someone read their minds, but such people did exist. They were known as Espers, and by law were required to wear a badge signifying their status. Gemma remembered no one of that sort that she had seen recently. So that left . . .Jarrett and Allys. Gemma never for a minute doubted Jarrett's word or his honor, but she did not like the two coincidences surrounding her cousin's loyalty. But then again, the verse was given to the Tibbens a long time before she had become Queen - twenty years before she had known that she would have that particular Name of Power. So it could have naught to do with Jarrett. Who, then? She shook her head in confusion. "I take it that you recognize it," Dimly she heard Glinda’s voice cut through her musings. The old woman had mistaken Gemma’s shock for a shock of recognition. "Nay, I do not. I've never heard a language like that before. But I do know that we must never speak it again, save to one who may help us unravel its mystery. It does have something to do with what's happening right now, though, that I know for sure." "Perhaps Madrion may know somewhat about it, and if she cannot help us she may know of one that will." Roland sounded resolute, perhaps more so than he felt. There were so many strange happenings, and he felt profoundly unsettled now that he had heard the rest of the story behind his arrival in the Tibbens' lives. He felt an overwhelming need to see Madrion again, and he knew that she, at least, would have better insights on this whole mess than any of them here. She had traveled far and long, and had picked up many bits of knowledge in her travels.

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The others agreed to meet with the witch. At this point, although they felt a sense of dread when they thought of necromancy, still they were baffled enough and scared enough to give it a try. "How will we go through all this snow? It will take us weeks to get through these snowdrifts." Allys recalled the intense shoveling they had just done; she had felt as if her back would break at times. In places, the icy white stuff had been as high as a man, in others, as high as her waist. To lift it higher in the shovel and throw it upon the sides, which had now grown taller than her head, was hard work indeed. All that to get just the few hundred yards to Roland's cottage! And she was sure the witch lived really far away. Roland saw her look and said, "Well, Allys, methinks this is not a true storm of nature. Remember the cold, and the unnatural chill which seeped into our bones? And Jarrett felt the presence of the Goddess of Ice." Roland thought for a few minutes before he continued. "I dare say that this cold and snow will depart as soon as the Goddess leaves. This is not yet the time of year for such snowfalls. Notice that it was really warm outside? I'd wager my life the Goddess would never have suspected we have a time clock. I'll bet that as soon as she realizes we're gone from that area, she may just go back to her Palace of the North. She may not have realized we've freed the Queen, for that spell she cast on her was unbreakable. And she would not dare check on her, for to do so would have been most dangerous, as she knew we were in the area. You said she tried to stop you on your way as the Gemstone glowed bright. She almost killed you that night, and you would most certainly have descended into the Dark Night of the Soul had you not had the magikal Gemstone with you. If she believed we had the Queen, and if she has been behind the slayings of Gemma’s kinfolk, methinks she would stop at nothing to get to her again." Gemma nodded her agreement,

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"We're lucky she was so certain of the success of her plans. It is not good for anyone to be so positive that they take no precautions. Methinks the Goddess is arrogant to the point of foolishness." She looked around a trifle fearfully as she said this, for arrogant or no, the Goddess of Ice was still a Goddess of the Blood, and thus worthy of respect and honor. She shivered slightly before she went on. What was to become of them if the very Gods walked among them and conspired to bring them down? At this thought she gasped. Was that not part of the verse that Tibbs had just told them? Softly, she repeated that line, " Listen :'Gods mingled with mortal men'. This must be what that verse means, do you think?" They all stared at her, comprehension dawning. It seemed to fit the circumstances. Roland replied, "Perhaps it does, Gemma, perhaps it doesn't. I still think we must get Madrion to help, and if I'm right, this snow will melt away as soon as the Goddess no longer has her attention here. Methinks she is trying to scare us off from where she left Gemma. Maybe if we traveled to Madrion's domain, she will think she's done just that, and the snow will start melting. If not, we have several pair of snowshoes, enough for all, and special bags to sleep in, lined with goose's down, and waxed on the outside to prevent the bag from dampening with snow. They were presents from the people of the North, the people of the Goddess. It seems fitting that we should use materials from her people to help us overcome her own evil, does it not?" They agreed heartily. The general consensus was that they leave in the morning, while it was still dark. That way, they could make the most out of the daylight when they reached unfamiliar territory. With this in mind, they decided to relax for the rest of the day, for they knew not when they would have a chance to do so again. They built the fire up as high as it would

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go without burning down the cottage, and Allys made her secret recipe for cinnamon hot chocolate. Tibbs baked up a special batch of fudge brownies, and they all munched and sipped happily by the fire.

By and by, they heard a tapping at the window. Jarrett stiffened and laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. Gemma and Allys went to stand near their bows. Glinda clucked her tongue at them and said with a laugh, "Never fear, my dears, 'tis but Godolfin, whom I did send to spy out the lay of the land, and to absorb what gossip he might. He's the messenger of the Green Circle. We've been friends ever since I was a little girl.” They relaxed somewhat, and looked at the open doorway with interest. Amid swirls of snow and puffs of steamy breath, they saw what appeared to be a child's figure standing out in the dark night. The little green Elf literally spun into the room, and ended with a fulsome flourish and a bow. "Godolfin at your service," he said in a sweet, highly pitched voices. All except Tibbs and Glinda stared rudely at him. What they saw was a slightly built Elf, about the height of a ten year old child. He had greenish-gold hair which was brushed to a point on his head, and matched his pointed little ears. His eyes were like emeralds, glittering but innocent looking, and he was dressed in a pair of green tights with a green high-necked sweater. On his feet, his green shoes also ended in a point, and at the end of each was a small bell which jingled when he walked. His only concession to the frigid weather was a large, bright red scarf tied jauntily around his neck. Rather than being embarrassed by the scrutiny, Godolfin seemed to like it. He smiled broadly, and bowed several more times. At this point, the three cousins decided to chuck

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their now outmoded sense of reality and embrace a new one where they would be prepared for anything. "Ah, Glinda, me darlin' girl, 'tis toasty warm you have this place. Might I beg a place by the fire?" With Godolfin's words they realized that he wasn't as impervious to the cold as they had thought. They scrunched together closer on the floor, so that he could sit. He ignored the space, however, and waited until Tibbs got up from his armchair, whereupon he plunked himself down in its cushioned depths. He looked lost in the huge chair, his feet dangling inches from the floor, but he seemed not to mind. "I've important news for ye, Tibbs, such that may affect these young folks, if they be who I think they be." Jarrett could not wait to hear what the little Elf had to impart. He commanded roughly, "Go on then, let us hear your news before I grow old and die!" The Elf looked shocked. He sniffed loudly and said with great disdain in his voice, "Well, it may be of grave concern to you and mayhaps to your kin, that you know my news immediately, but it's of no concern to me, I will assure you! I do not have to say anything! ‘Twas but of the goodness of my heart, and my love for the fair Glinda that I did bother to search for news! But I do not have to share that information, if I choose not to! Nay! I do not!" With that he stuck his little nose in the air and closed his eyes, as if waiting for an apology. He might have got his ears boxed instead, if Allys had not used her charm to mollify the insulted Elf. He still looked scornfully at Jarrett, but accepted eagerly and with a smile a cup of Allys' cinnamon chocolate. Allys smiled at the little creature, and begged him to reveal his information. Nibbling at a brownie, he looked into her eyes and seemed to forget his annoyance.

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Grudgingly, he condescended to tell his tale. Being a born storyteller, he grew more and more involved with his story. The others were gripped by the spell, and could not tear their eyes and ears away. "The Goddess of Ice wants the blood Queen of Madur dead." They all shuddered as they heard this, though they knew it well enough. "But she dare not do the deed, for in the blood lines of the new Queen lay enwrapped the secrets of the High Priestess. She would kill the Queen, but dare not pit her puny strength against the wrath of the Great Gods of all the Lands." "So that is why I was not just murdered like my brothers," Gemma said, musingly. "I have been selected by the oracles and by the priests and priestesses, long ago in time, to fulfill the destiny carried by one so great. Never in recorded history has the Queen and the High Priestess been one and the same." "Aye, I knew that you were the Queen, Your Highness, and I humbly beg your pardon that I did not bow earlier," said Godolfin; with that he got up off his armchair and made a lovely bow. He then knelt earnestly at Gemma’s feet. "I knew that you wanted to remain anonymous, but word has traveled far. 'Tis your bearing that gives you away. And I did see you at your coronation. A fair sight it was, to be sure." "You! At my coronation!" Gemma laughed, and pulled the now solemn little Elf to his feet. "I know that I would have recognized you if I'd seen you, and people might have been afeared, as I think not many have seen such as you before!" "Ah, my most beauteous Queen, permit me to beg your pardon, for I was wearing the Device, and thus could not be seen. Forgive me for trespassing on your most bountiful party, for eating of your fine sweetmeats. Forgive me for tasting your vintage wine, and walking on your hallowed floors. Forgive me for breathing your precious air, and for

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gazing on the beauty of your nubile maidens. Forgive my callow . . ." Exactly how long Godolfin would have gone on like that, no one knew for sure, because Gemma bluntly cut him off. "My good Godolfin, you are forgiven, though make sure it happens not again." She wagged a finger at him, while he blushed and coughed in mortal agony for having offended the ordained Queen of Madur. Jarrett snickered to himself at the Elf's discomfort. He thought him a simpering fool, and he had no patience for such. But then, he had little patience for anything; this was one aspect of his personality which could be dangerous, though he would have scoffed at anyone who would have tried to tell him so. Gemma continued, for the Elf had said something that had piqued her curiosity. "And now, good sir, I pray your confidence on a small matter. What is this Device that ye speak of, and how does it prevent others from seeing you while you are wearing it?" "With the utmost pleasure will I answer your question, most elegant Queen of all the Lands. ‘Tis a thing of most ancient origin, and it has been handed down to me through generations of Elves, through hundreds of years, to be sure. It is why I am the messenger of the Green Circle, because I have it, and when I am wearing it I cannot be seen." "I have deduced as much, but do not know what you speak of. If you have it here, please show me, for I would fain see it." Godolfin drew himself up to his full height, and said indignantly, "My most Royal of Highnesses, the Messenger of the Green Circle never travels without his trusty device!" With that he tugged at the scarf around his neck, (which he had not unfastened before, though the room was swelteringly hot), unfurled it with one of his famous flourishes, and showed it to the Queen.

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The bright red scarf became a black velvet cloak, and try as they might, none could see even the merest trace of red in its dark folds. Even Glinda and Tibbs had never seen Godolfin’s famous cloak, though they had heard of it. Now they realized the cloak had form-changing abilities, which was really not surprising with so magikal an item. What did surprise them was that they finally realized that this cloak was behind the odd pieces of attire that Godolfin would often show up in. He had once turned up with an orange hat, once with an annoying purple felt puppet, once with a jeweled tiara. Glinda shook her head at the recalcitrant little Elf. He was supposed to wear the Messenger Cloak of Honor with discretion, so that no one else could see it. Still, she supposed that his way was good too, for who would suspect the precious item to be disguised as a mouthy purple puppet? Glinda asked, "How does it work, Godolfin? We are all most curious, and the Queen may have need of its services before this ill time is done." Godolfin turned to her and said, with a smile, "The working of it is most secret, but I will show you what it can do." He tinkered with the collar of the cloak, pressing down something or the other. They could hear soft whimpering sounds, which sounded remarkably like the sounds the Gemstone had made when they had found the Queen. Suddenly Godolfin straightened up to his full height and threw the cloak over his shoulders. His body immediately disappeared, but his head floated disembodied in the air, until he pulled the hood of the cloak up around it. He then completely vanished. The visitors gasped, astounded. To hear about it was one thing; to see it happen was something else indeed. "Pray return, Elf, I can not talk to someone I cannot see, and believe me, I need to talk to you. I must borrow that cloak."

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This statement caused the instant return of Godolfin. He stared at Gemma in horror. "Please believe me, your most Royal Highness, but I am not allowed to ever travel anywhere without Romul, for such is the name of my cloak. I've sworn a most awesome vow, and will lose my life and my honor if I break it." Gemma was not one to brook any type of refusal for anything she deemed as necessary. While she was a generous maid, and scarcely ever wanted anything for herself, when it come to achieving something for her Lands she could be most ferocious should she not get her way. She could see Godolfin was unhappy to have to turn her down so she pushed on that emotion. She grasped him by his collar and pulled him forward. In a voice ringing with pathos, she cried, "Well, you shall lose your life and honor if you do not lend it to me. I need it desperately. If you saw and recognized me, there will be others, and they may not have the safety of my Kingdom in mind. I cannot risk being seen. I will not sentence you to death myself, but when the word gets around in my Kingdom of what you have done, you will certainly be a dead Elf, and one without honor. Your Green Circle will be shamed. "Make your decision now, Godolfin, and quick. One does not often get a chance to help Queen and Gods at the same time, not to mention the chance to ensure the safety of all our Lands." Godolfin had heard enough. He flung himself at Gemma's feet, sobbing apologies and generally sniveling and whimpering. Gemma had roused a fear in his breast of dishonor, the worst type of fate for Man and Elf alike. A few minutes ago his world had been secure; now he felt that it had crumbled to pieces. The others had some sympathy for his predicament, for they too knew what it felt like to have one's world come tumbling upside down around one's ears.

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"But I ask just one boon, my Queen," Godolfin finally said. "Speak it, Godolfin, but I must ask one of you too. You must not address me as Queen. You must call me Gemma, as if I was just a common born person. This is for the safety of all of us, and you must not forget. But what did you want of me?" "I just humbly beg that I be allowed to follow you and your company. I have never in my life been parted from Romul, not since I became the Messenger, and it would miss me terrible. I cannot account for its actions if I'm not there to tend to it, I promise." Gemma considered this thoughtfully. What he said had some merit, to be sure. He broke in once again. "And Romul has some other properties that can hide someone, not just by making them invisible." "So how does it do that, pray tell?" "Well, you have to adjust these buttons at the back of the collar, and set them to certain types of configurations, and then , pouf! you become someone else!" Gemma sat up in her chair. This suddenly seemed like the perfect way for her to travel with the others without being recognized. If the Goddess got wind of her release, they would all be in danger. Suddenly, it seemed that she had no idea of what she was up against, or exactly what kinds of evil forces were at work. All she knew was that she had to do something, and that this cloak might be of great use in her plans. "I know that I may not travel the road with any freedom right now, for if Godolfin knew who I was, then I can be sure that others do too. Nay, I must construct a disguise through which none could look, then perhaps we will be able to make the trip to Madrion's in comparative safety. Methinks that having an Elf with us will lead suspicion away. For why would an Elf help a Human Queen overcome her enemies?"

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Gemma spoke no truer word, for there had long been an enmity between Humans and Elves. The Humans often raided Elven encampments for crafted Elven silver, and with the theft raped any Elven women in camp. Elven women were notorious for their beauty, a beauty only surpassed by their Faerie sisters, and they were said to drive Human males wild with passion. Whether or not this actually transpired, or the Humans involved just used the Elves' lovely beauty as an excuse for their depraved behavior no one really knew, but the results were the same. These raids fostered the fear that the Elves naturally felt for Humans. One of the prime reasons for this fear was the Human practice of eating flesh and blood. Elven culture could never countenance such a thing, for to them it was simple cannibalism. Most Elves firmly believed that a Human would be just as happy to stick an apple in the mouth of an Elf, and tie him to a spit so that he could roast in his own juices, as they would they would put an apple in the mouth of a suckling pig and roast him. To Elves, flesh was flesh, and they shuddered and had many a nightmare about the whole matter. It was easy to see why the Ice Goddess might not pay any further attention to Jarrett and Allys should they be traveling with Elves and be heading West. She would assume that they had given up their search and accepted the fact that the Queen was dead. The wonderful thing about the Goddess's plot was that she could not check on Gemma, for to do so would render her foolproof plan open to scrutiny from loyal subjects anxious to find her. There would be Scryers, Priests and Priestesses, Fortune-tellers, Necromancers galore, and no doubt many others. No, it would negate all the careful planning as well as the unbreakable spell borrowed from the Piscies to check on the Queen. But they all believed that it was this fact that enabled the Queen to be rescued with no immediate chance of discovery of her escape.

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Gemma decided on the guise she would wear; "Godolfin, can you make me look like a gypsy Elf? I’ve always wanted to look like something like that, as far away from any Queenly duties as I can imagine!" she laughed gaily. "Aye, that I can, most beauteous Gemma of the thousand sighs, that I can, just give me a few moments." So saying, he whipped out a miniature Elven silvered screwdriver, perched precariously on the armchair, and began to work. He poked and prodded at minute buttons on the collar of the cloak, and as he worked, they could hear the same soft, sibilant sounds they had heard from the Queen's Gemstone when they had found her. When he finished, he jumped up from his chair. He twirled the cloak in the air, catching it with a great flourish. "Madam's cloak awaits her," he said with a grin. Gemma stepped forward hesitantly. It was not so long ago that she had come to grips with magikal devices, and she was not so pleased to be dealing with one again. She would not have been the person she was if she had paused for more than a fraction of a second, however. She walked swiftly towards the cloak, grasped it with both hands and flung it around her head and shoulders. She promptly disappeared. "Awk!" squealed the Elf. "Come out, come out, young Gemma, I didn't mean to make you disappear like that, 'tis my mistake. I never use the disguise part of the device, it takes too much time and effort to set it, and I forgot, you do not wear it on this side, I have to turn it inside out for it to work. Oh, what am I thinking of? Oh, what would my poor mother and father say? Oh . . . oh . . . here, let me take that." Gemma had finally untangled herself from the cloak. She had found it an interesting experience not to see her body below her when she looked down but felt, on the whole, that she would not have been entirely unhappy to have missed the thrill of it all.

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Godolfin finally got the cloak turned inside out, and handed it graciously to Gemma. She took it with a little less apprehension than she had previously felt, and put it on more carefully than before. They stared at her in stunned astonishment. Gone was their beloved cousin and friend, and in her place stood a beautiful Elf. Her ears were softly pointed in the typical Elven fashion, and her long greenish-auburn tresses glowed with a life of its own. She was smaller than their Gemma, and seemed to be considerably lighter. Her coloring was a nutty brown, which enhanced the purple and emerald color of her eyes. All in all, the young Elven lass was lovely, and her softly revealing clothes only served to make her seem more enticing. At her slender wrists dangled many a crafted Elven bracelet, and wrapped around her slender frame was a shawl made from lambswool and woven silver. Neatly tucked under her arm was a crystal ball. Allys clapped her hands in delight. "Gemma looks so sultry and mysterious! No one will even care about the Queen and our Quest when they take a look at her!" "Aye, that you're right about, young Allys," said Glinda. "But I was wondering if maybe she looks too flamboyant, and thus may attract attention that way. You'd best be as inconspicuous as possible." "I do agree in a way, Glinda, but that's why I think that it would be perfect. Even if our enemies do suspect something's afoot, they will be sure they're wrong by the very nature of this disguise. They'd know that if we truly had anything to hide, that we'd mouse around, looking all hangdog and down at the mouth. This will be a reversal of their expectations, and they'll not suspect a thing. Just wait and see!" Shaking her head, Glinda realized that Gemma's mind was made up. She said nothing more. "I need a map to find Madrion's home," said Roland, "for though I've been there many a time she regularly changes all the landscape to avoid detection from any that

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would know her whereabouts. Father, may I borrow that ancient one you have locked in the old trunk? She told me the last time I did see her that she was changing the terrain surrounding her home. She said that it would now resemble one of times long past, so no doubt that old map will serve me well. We shall still leave in the early morning, and I fear we may have to go on foot, for the storm continues to blow wildly." They sat still, staring at the leaping flames. Each one had their own private thoughts, and were wrapped up in them.

Presently, it came to be dinner time, and out of consideration for the Elf's abhorrence for flesh-eating of any sort, Glinda served a savory pea soup, with freshly baked bread and butter. There were also platters of fruit and cheese, and a huge apple pie with hot custard for desert, so one was in the least bit hungry. Glinda then tried to pack the lot of them off to bed, but her wayward son refused, saying he had much to do. Naturally, Jarrett refused too, saying he had to help. Allys and Gemma maintained that they were not tired. They really wanted to chat further with the Elf, and Godolfin was more than pleased to comply with this request for his company. Tibbs then decided that he must help his young son, so Glinda gave up her noble efforts and spent most of the night wide awake like the others.

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4

Thus they spent the better part of the night. They were too excited to sleep anyway, so when Godolfin remarked, "Let us make hay while the sun still shines," they agreed, although it wasn't hay they were making, and the sun seemed a long, long way off from shining again. Their preparations were simple; they had to ready small knapsacks, each containing a pair of snowshoes and a special large bag lined with goose feathers. Roland gave them floor length cloaks lined with fur, which they would throw together for sleeping, or hang together and lace up with long stakes buried in the ground to make a shelter against the wind. There was a cooking stand for the fire - this was Godolfin's contribution. It was crafted by Elves out of precious Elven silver. Roland carried a wooden bowl for drinking and a small copper pot to cook their food.

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"It will not be too long of a journey," he said. "And hopefully, not too dangerous. Remember never to eat the snow if you are thirsty, for it takes your body's temperature down to a danger point when it melts, and you could die. We must melt it on the fire before we drink." "That sounds like being at sea and not being able to drink any of the water around you if you're thirsty." commented Allys. "Exactly, Allys," responded Roland. "Just keep that in mind." Glinda packed the food packages with her usual flair. They saw hard boiled eggs, chunks of ham, chocolate, bread and cheese disappearing rapidly into Roland's traveling bag. "Mother!" he exclaimed, "remember that we may have to walk! You cannot pack so much, for we'll have to carry everything." "Perhaps, perhaps," clucked Glinda, never pausing for a moment. "But if that happens, ye can eat your fill and then dig a hole to store the rest. Ye never know when ye might need it, and a meal in the bush is worth ten thousand thoughts about it, that's the God's truth." Roland rolled his eyes skywards but said nothing more. Allys was the only one who noticed this little exchange and she laughed to herself. She loved to see the self-assured and arrogant Roland being mothered by Glinda, and to watch the struggle on his face when faced between the choice of looking silly in front of his new friends, or hurting his mother's feelings. Allys noticed that he always chose the former, and she had all the more respect for him. The comment he had made to Allys in the woods seemed less important as she grew to know him better, but his words about the state of his heart in regards to her rankled her

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soul. Still, she reasoned, perhaps it was not because he found her unattractive, but maybe because he had a true love of his own.

It was close to dawn when the troupe deemed themselves ready to travel. Gemma donned her Elven disguise. The others kept stealing glances her way, for she looked extraordinarily beautiful. She was also seductive, something Gemma had never been before. Roland, Jarrett, Godolfin and even Tibbs could barely take their eyes away from her. Gemma reveled in this new sensation. She acted the part of a gypsy Elf to perfection, even batting her eyelashes and sensuously swirling her hips as she walked. Allys shook her head in disbelief at the craziness of the men, and Glinda clucked her tongue disapprovingly at Gemma's “wanton” behavior. There was no doubt Gemma was having the time of her life. Allys could not find it in her heart to begrudge her young cousin this one chance to be carefree and irresponsible to just have some fun. The days of the past had been fun until this cruel fate had been thrust upon the Lands, the result of which was that Gemma was its unfortunate Queen. These thoughts were far from everyone else's mind, however, as they concentrated on checking the packing of the wagon and making sure the harness would hold tight. Roland figured that even if they could use the wagon for half the trip, it would be worth it. Madrion's domain could easily be as chill as the frigid Northlands. He reckoned that the snow would not have piled up so heavily on the road through the woods. The trees would have sheltered that area. No doubt there were also villagers, impatient to travel in the nearby villages, already shoveling the icy white stuff away.

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The weather cleared and the wind died down, making the chill in the air more tolerable. The sky was a cold steel gray, and there were no clouds to be seen. Hidden behind the bleakness of the sky was the sun, and she seemed unlikely to shine through. Casting a muted light on the day's events would probably be the extent of her exertions today. Roland once again took the reins, as he was familiar with his ponies and the terrain. He also remembered Allys's brief but swift stint with the wagon earlier when she had been trying to outrun the Goddess of Ice's frigid breath. He had admired the strong hand which had driven the ponies on to such frenzied speed, but he was unsure of how much he really wanted to see her have another go at them. So he decided that rather than risk facing her wrath once more, it would be more diplomatic just to take the reins himself, and say that he did not want any other to handle his ponies.

The two ponies in question were the offspring of his own silver mare, Whisper, and he was especially fond of them. He had named the female foal Maddy, after his friend Madrion, and the male was Plutarch, the name of a boyhood pal. The others in the group could understand his sensitivity for his horses very well. Chevalle and Chevette had been more than just horses to Jarrett and Allys. Gemma had as her mount a Madurian stallion reputed to be one of the best types of horses in the world. She had accepted him as a gift from her brother, Troyn, when she was but a child of nine and the pony a mere foal. She had immediately named him Troyn, after her beloved brother, but he had laughingly protested, saying he would never know when she called out the name, if she was calling him or the horse. So she reluctantly named him Tron, the closest name she could think of that she liked.

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The entire group had close ties with their horses, and they sympathized with Roland's concern for his ponies. Surprisingly, even Godolfin understood. Apparently, he bred horses in the time he spent with the Green Circle, when he wasn't traveling about. His mounts were Faerie steeds, however, and could not really be compared to the horses the Humans were used to handling. Faerie steeds were notorious for their tempers, and Godolfin had received many a cruel bite in his time. They were also extremely intelligent compared to their Human counterpart. They could understand the Faerie language, and some of the smartest could paw out with their hooves simple answers to questions. It was said that they had descended from the mythical unicorn, but no one really knew for sure.

Roland's assumptions both about the roads and the weather were correct. The villagers had obviously been busy with their shovels, for the way was clear enough for the wagon to pass in most places. Where it was not, they just had to get out and use the shovels Roland had so thoughtfully stored at the back of the wagon. This did not happen too often, as the weather was nowhere near as bad as they had encountered on the way back to the Tibbens's cottage. The times they did have to shovel their way through the road became less and less as they traveled, and everyone began to share Roland's belief that the Goddess had left them alone for the time being. The weather became progressively better, and at last the chill which had pervaded the air was gone. The sun made periodic appearances, at which time the group would pull the covering of the wagon partly down to enjoy the brief rays. Although the temperature did not dip much below the freezing point, nevertheless it was still cold. But it was no longer life threatening. They began to feel safe from whatever powers had been attacking them.

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The little group could now spend some of their time in a more relaxed manner than before, and they began to get to know one another. Even the three cousins, who were familiar with their kins's every nuance of behavior, began to see facets of character never before suspected in themselves and each other. Of course, Gemma’s change to the Elven gypsy was the most dramatic. She fit into her role so well that at times they thought they had truly brought along a stranger. She loved to talk to any passing villagers, and pretend to read their fortunes in her now-prized crystal orb. That she saw nothing at all within the dim recesses of the ball's glassy curvature worried her not one whit. She would twirl her gaudy skirts and dance made-up dances whenever they stopped at a wayside inn boasting a musician. The others were overwhelmed by this performance, and Jarrett many a time swore out loud and yanked her back to her seat whenever an overly amorous admirer grabbed too lustily. Godolfin was no better, for he would egg her on at all times. He would watch at the door for any newcomers, and then signal to Gemma to start her performance. The men would always throw plenty of coppers, for a good show was worth a lot in these sad times. Gemma danced as though she was born to it. Occasionally she seemed enchanted, and then it was not uncommon to pick up a few silvers from around her feet. At least the money which came in allowed them to eat well, and sometimes to spend a night in a warm inn, whenever she had foreseen good luck for a wealthy farmer in her crystal orb. The presence of Godolfin truly did help with her disguise, and they all would have laid their life on a wager that no one could ever have guessed who she really was. Godolfin pretended that she was his sister, to keep her from coming to any real harm. No one would dishonor a maid who traveled with her kin; had they known she was not related to the Elf, Gemma would probably have been fair game for all and sundry who desired her. None of the others would have been able to convince anyone that a gypsy

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Elf of such sultry beauty, traveling alone with a troupe of men, was of any virtue. For this same reason, Jarrett claimed Allys for his sister, and the group made their way through the Northlands with no real difficulties. Allys became unusually quiet and pensive on this journey. The events of the past weeks had severely shaken her sense of security, and she did not have Gemma's capacity to roll so easily with the misfortunes fate had dealt them. She also did not usually take to strangers. She thought Godolfin amusing, and had no trouble accepting him, but Roland was another story. Taciturn by nature, Roland paid them little attention. He was extremely courteous, especially to Allys, but Allys could not help but feel this courtesy veiled something quite different from what he really felt. She had received an uneasy impression from him when they had first met, and she had never known her impressions to be wrong before. Now that she knew he was no blood kin to the Tibbens (whom she sincerely liked) her feeling had intensified throughout the journey. Although she had learned to respect him and his decisions, and even to admire him somewhat, still this was not enough to allay the strong feeling that something was amiss in his personality.

They had now started to cross wide, flat territory. As far as the eye could see there were no undulations in the land, nor any points to recognize. It was all level, running off to meet the horizon in a calm, peaceful manner. Above them the sky looked bigger than anyone had ever remembered seeing it, as though someone had overturned an enormous blue bowl to catch them under. It was an awesome and frightening experience, for no one except Roland had had any experience out in the barren wastelands of Nature. Roland now turned to the others playing cards in the recesses of the wagon, and called out that they were about half-way to their destination. It had only taken them five

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days rather than the six they had anticipated. They decided to stop and make camp, for it was growing dim. Pulling out their meager rations, they sat to eat by the fire. Glinda's good bread had long since gone, and they were now nibbling on the stale loaf the last inn had sold them. They built up a fire, and Godolfin perched his cooking stand on top of it. They boiled some water which they had tucked away in a deerskin, for the snow was now too sparse and muddy for them to melt down to drink. They had also bought some cheese and fruit with their stale bread, and this was the extent of the evening meal. For a lack of anything better to do, they retired early. They were tired from the day’s shaking wagon ride. Besides, they had enough of each other's company throughout the day, and could think of nothing more to say to anyone. They slept in the wagon, wrapped securely in their bags of feathered goose down. No one had thought to set a watch, for they felt too safe to be worried. No one remembered that overconfidence had served to thwart the Goddess’ plans - she, too, had been overly secure in her unbreakable spell.

That night, the ponies whinnied and whimpered in fear. They saw a whirlwind of air sweep towards them then brake to a stop, as if the wind had some sort of intelligence. They stepped nervously about, as far as their tethers would allow, and their tackles gave several small jingles. None heard, for all were soundly sleeping. No one heard small fumbles in the dark, or saw a flash of light which exploded instantaneously and silently. No one heard or saw anything, for they were sleeping soundly, each wrapped in their own individual dreams. No one witnessed the unfolding of another's dream then, that night, and by the light of the morning, no one noticed anything different in their campground. Nothing at all.

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They rose at dawn, and started preparing for the day's journey. They moved as quickly as they could, for the morning was cold after the warmth of their goose down bags. But Allys just sat and shook, wrapped tightly in her fur lined cloak . . . but nothing could warm her. Again she felt a great unease, but this time it did not center on Roland. It was larger than any she had known before. She felt like crying - it was all she could do not to burst into tears. She could not understand what was happening. The others paid her no mind, for by now they were used to Allys and her periods of sensitivity. They ascribed it to her usual moodiness. They continued bustling about, packing the bags and cooking utensils back neatly into the tent. They had breakfasted on bread and cheese and hot tea. But Allys ate nothing. She was in another world, sleepwalking through this one.

Once they set out again Allys cheered up a bit, and at least listened to the generally raucous conversation. Jarrett and Godolfin, still involved in some strange private competition with each other, were telling bawdy stories of interesting conquests they had each made in the way of female companions. Each was trying to outdo the other, and Gemma and Allys looked thoroughly disgusted. Jarrett and Godolfin ignored the women, for they were caught up in their own need to outdo the other. Jarrett decided to tell a story that would shock everyone. "Well,” he said, “I wander into a tavern on the Madurian docks. I’m in a foul mood and want nothing but strong mead to cool my temper, when I am beset by two nubile young Farasian lasses. As you know, the Farasian women are well known throughout the Lands as the most expert in the erotic arts."

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Jarrett paused expectantly and looked around to see the impact of his words. He was rather hoping to impress Gemma with his experience in the world. Perhaps she would see him in a different light than just as her well-known cousin Jarrett. Besides, he was still angry with her for what he considered her unseemly display at the inns. So when she appeared scornful, Jarrett felt justifiably goaded to continue his tale. He smiled sardonically (a smile well practiced) and carried on his story. "Well, I say that I am full tired, and desire naught but drink and rest, but the maidens insist I follow them to their chambers. They are pretty creatures, dressed in nothing but small silver breastplates with a flowing mass of attached whitesilk. You can see their naked selves straight through that material." He stopped again and looked around at his by now captive audience. Even Gemma had replaced her look of scorn to one of reluctant curiosity. Jarrett was well satisfied with the course of his tale. He noted that even the pompous Elf appeared impressed. "They lead me to the rooms of their mistress, a Farasian noble, and leave me there. I wait a few minutes, then I figure I’ve been mistaken in their intent. I had just decided to leave when she enters. She’s older than the two maidens, but not by much, and is properly dressed in Madurian attire. She seems as though she has been out into the town. She gestures to me that she wants me to stay. “I have no intention of insulting a Farasian noble, so I wait. She disappears into another room, then returns in full Farasian dress, such as the other women are wearing. She then tells me that she knows who I am, and that her handmaidens have made a mistake, bringing me up to her rooms. She’s expecting a messenger to bring tidings of her husband, who’s far away at sea. She seems most anxious that I shouldn’t be annoyed, so I tell her not to worry . . . it’s such a pity to see that pretty brow furrowed."

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"I doubt that you were looking at her 'pretty brow', from what I know of the Farasian costume," cut in Gemma acidly. "I was! She was a most beautiful lady, and although she was extremely well endowed and half naked, I noticed naught but her worried frown," Jarrett said most innocently. He was pleased with Gemma's reaction, and determined to continue. Godolfin also was pleased with the tale, and, mischievous imp that he was, could not wait to see the end result of emotions between Jarrett and Gemma. Allys sat still, watching her two cousins quietly. She took her cousin Jarrett's story with a grain of salt. "I tell her I am sorry to have disturbed her, and that I will take my leave, but she won’t hear of it. I think she feels responsible for her handmaiden's mistake, because she insists they be punished. So she calls them up, hands me a whip and tells me to beat them soundly. Well, you can imagine my shock and horror, to see those two pretty maids stand in front of me with tears in their eyes! And their lady, waiting for me to whip them! “I cannot do it, but she says I must, as her honor as their mistress is now at stake. If I don't, they will never follow her orders again. But she says that if I am not accustomed to using a whip then I must turn them over my knee and use my hand. This I can do, as I do not have to strike them hard. “But their lady makes them take off their breastplates, saying that it would hurt my thigh should they lie across it with their silver plate. They do as she asks. By now I’m suspicious, for the whole event seems rather contrived. But apart from feeling their soft breasts on my thigh, I guess that I’ll have no further contact with the fair handmaidens which I don’t. Their lady sends them away with an imperious wave of her hand. “Then the really strange part comes in. She hands me a small goblet filled with a warm, sweet liquid. It tastes like licorice. She bids me drink, saying that she would be

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most offended if I did not. I swear the potion was drugged, for everything that happened afterward is hazy in my memory. “She walks over to me and beckons for me to follow her to the room at the back. When she opens the door, there is an enormous tub filled with hot water. Two eunuchs stand barely clothed, pouring more steaming liquid into it. Sweat starts to pour over my body, and I feel a strange excitement, such like I have never before experienced. “She strips off the whitesilk and breastplate, and stands naked in front of me! She puts her arms around me, and then she starts asking me questions about Madur, and my family. In truth, I cannot remember if I even answered them. “She makes me get into the tub with her, then the eunuchs step forward to soap her down. They soap every inch of her, right as I’m watching. They move over to scrub me, too, but I said nay. So she sent them away and started to soap me down herself. “She asks me questions about our Lands. This is the strangest thing I've ever experienced . . . I swear I do not remember any question she put to me. All I remember is her writhing and wriggling most seductively as she rubbed her hands all over my body. “I think that I will not say any more about what happened next, for that is private between me and the Farasian woman - wouldn't you say?" Jarrett again surveyed the occupants of the wagon. He noted to his immense satisfaction that they seemed stunned. Even Godolfin was, for once, speechless. Gemma’s face betrayed nothing, and Allys looked at the ground. Suddenly, Jarrett felt ashamed of himself. The event had truly happened, but he was starting to feel the glimmerings of a conscience. No matter how wounded his pride had been by Gemma's actions or Godolfin's snide remarks, there were some things which should not be discussed.

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In his attempt to better Godolfin's stories, he had hurt Gemma, embarrassed Allys, and the sight of Godolfin crowing with glee at the mess just made matters worse. He began to wish that he had never turned Godolfin into an adversary. "Sorry, Gemma, Allys." The sound of his voice made them start. "That was stupid of me, and I should not have ever got carried away with trying to best Godolfin. I say truly that I just made the whole story up," he crossed his fingers behind his back to protect him from the repercussions of his lie, "and I did it just to pass the time away and show up Godolfin. And ye must admit that it was an interesting tale . . ." this he directed at Gemma, who would not meet his eye. Getting no response from anyone, he continued, "And my good fellow, Godolfin, you have been helping us on this journey, while I have been nothing but surly and rude to you. Accept my apologies, I beg you." With this speech he bowed and fled the confines of the covered wagon. Seating himself next to Roland, he said, "It's a good idea, you know." "What?" questioned Roland uninterestedly. "Not saying much." With that terse comment he slumped down next to Roland and stared morosely at the passing landscape.

Roland was beginning to be concerned about their whereabouts. According to the map he carried with him, they should have spotted some mountainous terrain by now, and there were no mountains within sight. He checked his compass and noted that their direction was steady. He shook his head. His calculations and compass told him they should have been close to Madrion's domain, but the landscape continued flatly for as far as eye could see, with no landmarks or changes of any kind.

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He decided to try a different tack. Pulling the wagon to a stop, he climbed down. He told Gemma he would need her crystal orb. Although he was no sorcerer, Madrion had taught him a few tricks. Gemma handed it to him with wide-eyed curiosity. "Can you truly scry, then, Roland? I thought it was some pretty trick I was playing, I knew not that anyone here had any idea how to work this thing." "I cannot scry in the true sense of the word,” replied Roland. “I can only do a few things I learned from my friend Madrion when I spent time with her. She showed me how to call her if I ever needed her, and she gave me this amulet to do it with." He pulled a leather thong out from under his shirt, and showed her a small silvered snake coiled around a tiny sword. The metal of the sword looked to be gold. Gemma gasped when she saw it, for it was formed with such cleverness that it seemed as if the snake would reach out and bite her. "How does this help reach her, Roland?" she asked in astonishment. "It is not very complicated, Gemma. All I need is a reflective surface, and that will be provided by your crystal orb. I then say a few incantations, hold this amulet up to the East, and wait. That's the hard part, the waiting. Sometimes I have to wait for hours in one position. I cannot move once I have invoked the amulet's power - it would kill me or so Madrion’s said. That is why I rarely use it, for if she does not come to me for days, I still have to remain in the same spot." "It sounds mighty dangerous." "The necromancer's art is dangerous beyond belief. It is not common knowledge, but every time necromancers use their power, they run the very real risk of death. Even worse than that, they can lose their immortal soul. So, they never use their powers unless they have to, except for the ones who have already given up their souls.

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“Some sell their souls, you know, so that they can have more power. They trade that precious gift for mere baubles. They cannot ever live for eternity as do those who own a Human soul." Roland looked so troubled when he said this that Gemma was prompted to ask gently, "And is this what your friend Madrion has done? Is that why you look so sad?" Gemma moved closer to put her arm around Roland, something she never would have contemplated doing before. Instead of pulling away, as she would have expected him to do, he took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. He stood there for a minute or so, staring out into the distance. Her heart broke for him, for she somehow knew he was dealing with a private grief. Roland did not speak until he could do so without his voice shaking, so they stood quietly for some time. Finally he said, "Nay, Gemma, she has not sold her soul. But I fear for her every day of my life. My life is bound to hers in ways I cannot tell you, for I do not know myself. I just know what I feel, and what I feel is mostly pain." He looked at her and smiled sadly. "Never fall in love, Gemma, for your heart will be tested and tried until you think you cannot stand another minute of it. Your life will no longer belong to you, and whatever little you do have left will turn your dreams to ashes. Stay free, Gemma, and remain a sane woman." "You make falling in love seem like an awful thing, Roland!" Gemma laughed as she said this, but something about Roland's eyes made her uncomfortable. Jarrett's face flitted across her thoughts, and she felt a sudden chill climb up her back. She shook her herself, Shading her eyes, she looked around. There was nothing to be seen anywhere. As dangerous as Roland's scrying might be, it seemed they had no choice. Their food supply was already depleted. She gestured to Roland to start his ceremony.

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Roland built a fire and burned some foul-smelling herbs. He turned to the East, and held his amulet up high. He sang the melodic incantations he had painfully memorized after years of long, hard study. He kept this up for about an hour, then sank to his knees. Then he went on to sit in a cross-legged fashion, with his arms outstretched straight before him, grasping the crystal orb. Thus he sat for hours. The others kept the fire burning as brightly as they could, for by now it was night and the air was chill. Mostly they sat around the fire, keeping Roland company, although he paid them no attention. He had not stirred from his original cross-legged position. They were discussing how they would set up a watch for the night when they felt the wind suddenly start to blow strongly. They could hear a strange sound in the air, and they looked up to see what an evil-looking bird of great magnitude soar off into the night. Where it had come from, no one knew. Suddenly, Roland lowered his hands with a great sigh, and stared intently into the crystal orb. He said nothing, but seemed to be listening to sounds that only he heard. He nodded several times, continuing his rapt involvement with the orb. They could plainly see emotions flit across his face, but that was all they saw, for even when they peered into the orb they saw nothing but their own reflections. Finally he closed his eyes and started a loud, wailing chant which went on for some minutes. When he finished, he seemed like the old Roland, although it looked as though he would pass out from fatigue. "What happened? Did you see her? What did she say? What was that bird?" They clamored around him, clinging to his return as frightened children to their mother. An owl hooted and Allys jumped. She almost fell over Roland, and she held his arm to keep her steady. She found herself leaning her head against his shoulder. He looked down to

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see the soft silver hair around her small head, and a strange emotion flowed through his body like an unfamiliar wine.

In the nightlight the moon hung in the sky. Its pale light gleamed around their backs, illuminating things they did not want to see. They could feel the eerieness of the empty plains at night with necromancing spells about. Allys was only aware that she glad Roland was safe. She did not know why she felt so strongly, nor could she understand her feelings. He, in his turn, was strangely discomfited by her nearness, and as soon as he could he politely pulled away, handing her over for Gemma to support. Allys noticed what he did but did not mind. She stood closely next to Gemma, her trusted childhood friend, who looked at her beloved cousin and Roland and thought, "Aye, Roland . . . dreams to ashes."

Roland told them what had transpired between Madrion and himself. He said that the huge“bird” they had seen was in reality a dragon waiting for him to move, so that it could carry him off to its nest as supper for its offspring. "By invoking this spell, I become prey to the one who guards this amulet. I must wait until random fluctuations in the Aethyric cause it to fly off - only then can I scry Madrion. 'Tis one of the prices we pay for meddling with the unnatural." They shuddered when they realized the dragon had been there all the hours they had sat with Roland on his lonely vigil. "Anyway, " he continued, "Madrion is waiting for us. We are right on her doorstep, so to speak, but we can see nothing, for she has cast a spell to hide her domain. She will finish the spell tomorrow at dawn, and when we are ready to go we will see where to find her with no trouble. Perhaps we should go to bed now, for there is really nothing to eat,

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and I’m exhausted.” This seemed like the best of ideas. Some of them especially liked the thought of being safe and covered up in the wagon, tucked away safe from the night's terrors.

In the morning , they awoke to a wet drizzle. The temperature had now risen to the point where the rain would no longer freeze, but it was nevertheless still extremely cold. They got up, looked outside the wagon, and groaned loudly. They could still see nothing of Madrion's strange domain, though this time the lack of visibility was due to the weather, not some strange spell. Pulling their cloaks tightly around them, they ventured outside to ready themselves for the day. Jarrett suggested they leave breakfast for when they arrived at Madrion's, for the tea and stale bread it would have consisted of seemed incredibly unappetizing. The trouble it would take to build a fire in this wet was not worth it. They hastily agreed, and stumbled back into the wagon to huddle together miserably until they reached their destination. Jarrett became bored just sitting there, and as he still felt very uncomfortable about his colorful tale of the day before, he decided to join Roland on the bench where he was driving the ponies. He climbed up and made himself comfortable, settling into his furlined cloak and watching his breath condense in the air. He was so busy with his thoughts that he did not pay much attention to his surrounding, which were veiled anyway with the torrent of rain which fizzled over everything. It was with a yelp of shock that he now realized they were passing a tree which was decorated with white ornaments. On closer inspection, the white ornaments turned out to be human bones. A skeleton leered at him obscenely, its skeletal hand reaching out to caress his hair.

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He had just absorbed this shock when he saw a woman of uncommon beauty gliding towards them. She had very black and very straight waist-length hair. Her visage was whiter than any he had ever seen. The only thing colorful about her were her lips, which were a deep, blood red color. She wore common clothes, and had a bandage around her torso which seemed to be leaking blood. "Roland! Pull over! Look, that poor lass is badly wounded! We must help her!" "Go below, Jarrett. That's no lass, and you must not speak with it, no matter what it says. You would be better off below." Jarrett stared at him in fright. He was normally a brave man, but now he felt his legs turn to jelly. He was curious, however, and thought he might never get a chance to see sights such as these again. He decided to stay. The creature came up to Jarrett, and, looking sweetly at him with a tremulous little smile, said, "Oh kind sir, I am lost and wounded. Perhaps you would be kind enough to let me ride with you on your covered wagon?" "Don't answer her!" commanded Roland. He reached under his seat and pulled out a cross made of silver. He waved it vigorously in her direction. The creature shrieked, and Jarrett watched in fascination as her two long incisor teeth seemed to grow even longer. She had kept them carefully from his view when she had been talking to him. The teeth had obviously cut at the inside of her mouth, for there was blood trickling down her chin. Roland then pulled a wooden stake from under his bench. Jarrett noticed with a shudder that there seemed to be dried blood all over it. The creature took one look at the stake then vanished silently in the rain. "What was that?" he questioned Roland, who shrugged his shoulders and said,

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"Don’t ask. You should have gone into the wagon when I told you to, Jarrett. There are some things you are better off not knowing about.” Jarrett would not take this for an answer. He continued to press Roland, until finally Roland said, “These creatures are pathetic examples of the undead. They are tortured and miserable, but still extremely dangerous. Their job is to net as many souls as they can for the ancient beast, who is now no longer able to do it himself. “The only way you can prevent them from taking your soul is to avoid them. You are under Madrion's protection now, so they will do you no harm. Still, if you speak to them at all, then you have given them your permission to do whatever they will with you. Madrion will explain better if you ask her. She told me that once, many hundreds of years ago, these creatures roamed the earth. They preyed on any and all. Then came a time when Human Lore encompassed the knowledge of the Gods, and Humans could do many a thing which to us would be miracles. When that happened, these evil creatures hid, for they did not want to be destroyed. “However, Human wisdom was still like that of an animal. That elusive quality had not evolved along with the knowledge. This became a dangerous state of affairs . . . humans ended up destroying themselves with the very same things which had once made them Gods. “When that happened, the folk who had hid in fear of these new and terrifying Gods with the wisdom of fools, began to reappear - like Godolfin, and the Faeries and Piscies. Unfortunately, the evil scum rose with them and terrorized the countryside. “Madrion had the onerous task of rounding up all the evil undead. When she had found them all, she cast a holding spell over them. Now they are trapped in her domain and cannot leave. They try to lure unsuspecting travelers in - that's how that tree became decorated.

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“Madrion leaves it like that as a warning to any who venture in here, but mostly she uses the spell that hides her lands . . . she believes that keeping out of sight is the best." After this unusually long speech, Roland, lapsed into his customary silence, leaving Jarrett to his own thoughts. Jarrett sat quietly for a while, but then he just had to ask a few more questions. "How large is this land of Madrion's? And how many different creatures live here?" Roland shook his head, "I know not. Every time I come here, I find more places I have not yet seen, and more creatures than I've ever imagined possible. Madrion has given parts of her lands to some of the more responsible of the creatures, and they have made it their home. So anything's possible. Anyway, you'll be safe as long as you don't talk to anyone." Jarrett nodded, now rather unsure of the wisdom of consulting Madrion to help them with their plight. He hoped the women were cold and miserable enough to not want to venture out of the safety of the covered wagon. He need not have worried; they had heard the ungodly scream and had decided that perhaps they would remain exactly where they were. He noticed a dilapidated house on his right. In the doorway stood an old woman, barely holding herself up. She glared malevolently at them as they passed. Jarrett shivered once more. He said, "For one minute I thought perhaps that was Madrion." Roland laughed. "Nay, when you see Madrion, you will know 'tis she. We have not much further to go. Perhaps now you will tell the others to prepare themselves." Jarrett nodded and disappeared behind the curtained doorway. He spent a bit of time answering their questions and telling them what he had learned from Roland. By the time

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they had finished their intense question and answer period, Roland called out that they were finally there. "Now mind the things I have told you," admonished Jarrett. "This Madrion will be as strange as anything we've ever seen. You must not be afeard. Roland will take care of her for us." The others, white-faced, nodded their comprehension. They climbed down from the wagon which had now come to a screeching halt. Looking around, they were not at all reassured by what they saw. Immediately in front of them was a tall, grim castle. Any window it boasted was high up and small, and the doors were forbiddenly locked. The castle was immense, and it was surrounded by the large moat they had just crossed over. The drawbridge closed. They could hear it creaking and clanging as it groaned to its standing position. They were locked in. They heard the sound of bolts being shot back. The front door slowly swung open. A huge woman stood in the doorway. In one hand she carried a lance, and in her other was a shield. She was at least seven feet tall; even Jarrett looked small in comparison. She wore a ferocious scowl and a peculiar type of costume. The long, red silken sashes were feminine and yet the skirt was not a skirt - it was slashed down the middle and sewn up, so that she was wearing a dress which was in reality a pair of pants. She pointed to Roland and gestured for him to speak. He seemed not in the least frightened and spoke with no waver of fear in his voice, "Fair Athiene; I come to speak with Madrion. She is expecting us." The towering giantess stared aggressively at everyone before she stepped aside to let them pass. Allys squeaked, "Thank you," as she tiptoed past the frightening entity.

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Allys was more than a little glad that Athiene had not been the witch, for she was so forbidding . . . but perhaps Madrion would be even worse. Allys sincerely hoped not. They followed Roland, who appeared to know exactly where he was going. He paused outside a large door and said, "Madrion's in here, and I would speak with her privately first, if there are no objections." He knew no one would dare object, so without bothering to wait for an answer, he opened the door and slid quickly inside. He shut it firmly behind him. Allys once again felt a faint premonition of danger, but did not know how to trust her instincts now that she had felt a bonding with Roland's. All she knew was that she was feeling something she had never felt before: jealousy. The others were merely annoyed, but their annoyance grew as the time passed on to fifteen minutes. "Such cheek to keep a blood Queen of Madur waiting," sniffed Gemma. Godolfin agreed heartily, for he was starving. He longed for a hot bath more than anything in the world. Jarrett suddenly rebelled. He jumped up and kicked on the door, yelling at the top of his lungs, "Open up, you scurvy scum, Roland! We're dead on our feet!" He kept on banging until even a serving maid peeked around the corner and giggled. Finally, Roland came to the door and opened it, apologizing for leaving them there for so long. He added, "But in truth, Madrion and I had many an important and urgent matter to discuss." "I thought we were all in this together, and all our information is to be pooled! How dare you cloister alone with her to discuss what concerns us all!" burst out Allys angrily. She took a step towards him and glared directly into his face. Roland looked at her as if she was some type of insect, then said in a steely voice,

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"You and the Queen are not all that matters in this world of ours. What I had to discuss had naught to do with you and your problems." He turned on his heel and led the way into the room. Allys could not remember the last time she felt such rage. If she'd had a knife in her hands it would have been lodged deeply in Roland's back by now. Through her blind fury she sensed Gemma step forward to put her arm gently around her shoulder. Jarrett reached out and took her hand in his. It was thus that they first saw Madrion, the reputed Queen of Witchdom.

She was sitting comfortably on a chair by a window. The brightness of the morning hit her back, making it seem as if she was glowing with the light of the sun. At her head was a golden crown, with twelve silver stars perched atop each peak. Her dress helped the sunny illusion, for it was of a daffodil yellow. It was sewn at the hem with silver crescent moons. They gasped with astonishment. When they had first entered the room, Madrion had seemed to be but a part of the sunbeam - they had not even noticed her. Now she stood up and moved toward them. Though she had moved out of the sun, she still seemed to be a part of the brilliant star. She was about the same size and build as an Elf, but she was obviously Human. Her features were small and delicate, and she had waist-length kinky auburn hair, which framed a young innocent face. Her movements were graceful. She looked lovely in the old fashioned gown she wore, cut low at the neck, with a narrowed waist and flaring skirt. The sleeves were cut to the top of her slim hands, but the bottom part of the sleeves were long and hung to the floor. No one would ever have guessed by looking at her that she was the best necromancer in all the Lands.

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When she spoke it sounded like the wind, so soft and whispery was her voice. There was a sing-song lilt in her inflection. None of them could remember hearing that particular accent before. “I am pleased to welcome you to my castle, though it is but a poor and dangerous place at this time in history. Roland has informed me that you are hungry and tired, so I shall wait until you have had time for refreshment before we sit down to unravel this tangled thing. I have much work to do, but Roland knows this house like his own." Madrion and Roland locked eyes for a mere fraction of a second. Allys was the only one who noticed. Madrion continued, "He will show you your rooms, and take you down for lunch. I will rejoin you this afternoon at four o'clock, in the library, where we can have privacy to work out this mess. I bid you adieu for now," and with that she glided through the door.

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5

At precisely four o'clock, Madrion swept into the library. She seated herself at a large desk in the corner of the room and surveyed them thoughtfully. The interaction between Roland and Allys had not escaped her notice. She now turned to the Queen and said, "Gemma, you may remove Godolfin's device, for my lands are hidden from all eyes and ears. Now, we have gathered here under unsettling circumstances, but let me tell you that I have known for a long time of the coming of this evil, and I have prepared for it." "You mean you knew all about this?" gasped Gemma. Somehow she did not mind the familiarity of Madrion's address. She was much more interested in getting to the bottom of this whole affair than she was interested in stiff formality. Most of all, she wanted them to go back to their old lives as quickly as they could. She did not realise that this was no longer possible. Madrion answered her question,

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"Aye, Gemma, I have known about these events a long time now, and have been readying myself to face the battle ahead." "Battle?" Gemma sounded unsure of herself. "Why must there be a battle? Our Peoples have not fought in years. At the end of the Last Battle the Royal line of Terran was established. It was foretold that this was the only way to keep the Lands from more bloodshed, and to save the Peoples. We promised our God we would always honor this line, and pledge it allegiance. All has been well ever since. We have no need of battle, for though the line has been depleted, I have survived, and I have no plans of descending to the Dark Night of my Soul for a very long time, I can tell you that!" "Ah, friend Gemma, I mean you no disrespect when I speak of foreshadowed events. But that was not all the prophecies in our Holy Book said. Listen, I will read it now." She opened a Holy Book that was on the corner of the desk, flipped through a few pages, and intoned, "When the Lands accept a Royal House that is pure in line and beyond approach, then there will never be another Battle to darken the night of your soul and turn your rivers to blood. But if that line be sullied in any way, or broken, or lost, this promise too will be sullied, or broken, or lost, and an evil will come upon this land such as you have never experienced before. Mark my words, Peoples of the Earth. Guard your sons and daughters well, for you do not know when the evil beast will stalk and seduce them. Better that they be killed now than suffer the eternal torture of the damned." Madrion stopped reading here, and looked around at the small gathering. She saw confusion, fear, pride and many other emotions she did not stop to name revealed on their faces. "Is that what they tried to do, then?" burst out Gemma. "Did they try to obliterate my Royal line? Would Jarrett and Allys have been next, until the Royal House of Terran was

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desolate and barren, and lost forever?" Gemma's eyes were blazing with fury, and she pounded her fist on the arm of her chair as if that would help. It did not. "I do not think that their plans are such, Gemma. Unfortunately, I believe their plot encompasses much larger things than your Kingdom. They have done this thing to you merely as a means to an end." "But to what end?" "Ah, there we have a question to which if we had the answer, we would be many steps further to the solution. All that I do know is that it has been predicted for many years now that there would be the return of the Beast. He has been imprisoned for at least a thousand years, and the time will swiftly come for him to stalk this Earth once more. I think the time is now.” "Who is this Beast, and who imprisoned him?" asked Jarrett. "Well, no one really knows who he is, but it is rumored that he was bound to a prison by the great God who is also the God of our Lands." "So he wants revenge on that God, and that revenge will consist of ruining the Peoples of the Lands." "Not even that. Jarrett, he was imprisoned because of his great evil; he wishes to destroy everything for that same reason." "So we must fight him to scourge our Lands forever and keep them safe. Is that not right?" "I'm afraid so. And there's still one other problem. The Beast has an ally from your Lands, someone who is of the same Royal Blood of Terran. Because of this creature, the blood of your fathers has been tarnished, and I fear that now your Lands may be subject to civil war as well."

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"Woe to our Lands! This is most serious. Who is this creature that you talk about?" It was just like Gemma to appear calm under undue stress. Her tone was even, and she sat forward in her chair. But her body was rigid with tension. "I'm afraid we do not know even that. I was hoping that you would find out about it for me." "I most certainly will!" Gemma stood up as though she was about to march straightway out the door to locate the offender. Madrion smiled and bade her be seated. "It will not be that easy. I have thought about it, and I know where you must go to find out what we need to know. The time is drawing near, anyhow, when you must do something, for I think you are getting closer to your Real Time. You have now been in the past long enough to create a Significant Other. Should you meet this Doppleganger, it will be death for you." “What is a Doppelganger?” asked Allys, feeling certain that she would not like the answer. She was right. "A Doppelganger is the exact image of you." This time Roland spoke. "If you see it, you would die - or at least cease to exist as you know existence. Remember we are in the past." Madrion added, "You must never forget where you are. It can be a dangerous place to be. “Time travel was what destroyed your ancestors. The Peoples of that time had ravaged many parts of the Earth. They polluted the air. They stripped the Earthenworld of her natural protections. They exploded bombs in her womb. “Not content with ravaging the planet, they also ravaged its Peoples. War and rebellion were incited in every country - and they did this on purpose. “The reason was that some scientists had invented the time device. The one you have is one which has survived from those times.

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“Anyway, they had sent people back in time to test it, and it worked. They sent someone back to move a cup from the cupboard to the table, and he went back just a few hours to do it. This was in the beginning stage. It worked, so they sent someone back later to write a letter and see if it was delivered, and it was. “Eventually, their experiments grew more and more ambitious, but the time device still worked. They became brash; they planned wars and assassinations and general mayhem. They noted carefully the outcomes of all these actions. Then they planned to use this device to go back in time to all the different countries and sabotage everything at the last moment. When they knew what the countries had planned to do, because they had already done it . . .if you know what I mean, they were going to move in their forces and so own the world . . . “They did not know that the Earth belongs to no one. It is all so difficult to explain, or to understand. Anyway, the time was set, and they moved their people in place all over the world, just before the end. The few survivors used a ‘Biblical’ term to describe what happened. They called it the Armageddon. " "What happened?" asked Jarrett in awe. He had never heard many of the terms Madrion used, but he well understood the horror she described. "Well, it didn't work. They would try to touch a bomb to defuse it, and their hands went straight through the thing. They would try to stop an assassin from murdering an important man, and again, they were as ghosts. They could stop nothing and the final bombs exploded. The reaction, combined with a fragile Earth's crust, which was already weakened from all their experimental bombs, caused major earthquakes throughout the world.

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“Much of the existing land broke off and fell into the sea. The resulting tidal waves destroyed most of what was left. Any who were not drowned or crushed were burned by the intense radiation poisoning. The birds of the air . . .the fish in the sea . . . all perished. "Life on this planet had grown intolerable, anyway. The air was black, and many had nowhere to live. Murder and mayhem were the order of the day. Only a select few were rich, and these Peoples were even worse than the general masses. They had time and money to spend on their depravities. The wars were their responsibility, you know, for they were the real forces behind the government of the time. They caused the end of many lives." "That's horrible!" cried Allys, almost in tears. "But why didn't the time machine work? It worked for us." "That was the thing they did not realize. Much later, when others tried to piece together the shattered fragments of Humanity, they realized that events which have passed are immutable - they can not be changed to alter the present in any significant way. That's the key, Significance. “Significance was something that they did not know could be measured in a clinical fashion, with a value assigned to each event. Those events which fall below a certain level can be changed, for they would be of little or no Significance. Those of high Significance cannot be altered. And there is also the Limit of Paradox to contend with. “The Present just is, you see, and can never be anything else. The present cannot be changed - it is bound too closely to Destiny. Now protects itself, too. You can use the events of the past to alter the future, for the future is not yet set, although you cannot ever be certain of your success. The future will still always revert to its Fate, or Destiny. But the Present can never be altered.

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“They could move that cup around, and all those other little things, as much as they wanted, but in the end it didn't really change anything. They lost it all." "That is frightening! To be so sure of success and to lose everything, just like that,” said Jarrett. "Well, our ancestors were not known for their wisdom . . . they could do miraculous things, but they could not save their own world. They knew not of the Principle of Significancy, which tells us that nothing in the present time can be altered in any major way through interference from the Past." The cousins pondered Madrion's words. They were very confusing. "You must have access to a time portal to travel, anyway," continued Madrion. "Otherwise it won't work." "But what about the Tibbens' cottage?" asked Allys. "We went back in time then, and it worked." "Aye," smiled Madrion. "But you were not in the Past long enough to create a Significant Other, as well as you obviously encountered no Significant events. You did not know about the forces with which you were dealing with, nor about the Limit of Paradox. I hope the Tibbens are usually more careful with their portal. Their cottage is situated on a powerful matrix in the time and space interdimensional sequences. One day when we have the time, I'll tell you all about that portal. 'Tis not just a time portal, nevertheless, it can be used in the that manner. Did you not wonder why the two cottages were situated in such an odd spot? They have been built there to accommodate a powerful force, and there they have stood for millions of years. Since the creation of the planet Earth’s physical realm, I believe. Most of that time they were invisible to the inhabitants of the planet, for those Peoples would not have been ready for such things.”

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"Anyway, our ancestors never accounted for the Limit of Paradox either. To be concise with my explanation, this is why we must do something to save Gemma from the Goddess." "But she's already saved!" cried Jarrett. "Not so, Jarrett," said Madrion. "Remember, not one event which scores high on the Scale of Significancy can be altered. Thus, logic dictates Gemma is still being held captive by the Goddess. We cannot change that event, much as we'd like to. But there is another thing that we have to do something about. That's the Limit of Paradox. You will have reached it if you pass the time in the Present which you left from, when you rescued Gemma and fled to this time. It has been allright up to now, but soon we will have to do something about it. Too much time and Significant events have passed" "What would happen to us? What is this Limit of Paradox? What does it do?" They clamored for answers. "Well, 'tis this: The events must go as we know they happened. So, if you do not return to the time you left, before this present reaches it, the Present will continue on without you. You will become Irrelevant, or Redundant; your places will be taken by another Gemma, another Roland, another Allys, and another Jarrett. You will be doomed to wander the other dimensions of Time. You, as you know yourselves, will be able to change nothing in your lives, you will be forced to watch others grow old and die . . .you will live like ghosts . . .and you will live for all eternity. You would no longer possess a soul. You would not even be allowed the comfort of death. “Also, considering how you found Gemma, chances are that the future of the Lands will be grim also. When you rescued her, you had no plan of attack, and might easily have been overcome by the Goddess of Ice.

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“Nay, we must not overstep the Limit of Paradox. We must also be careful not to overload it as well, for these insignificant events add up in number, and together a series of insignificant events can also tip the Limit of Paradox. “Indeed, I know not what effect it will cause when you go back so many years in time. We must just be careful not to tax the Limit." "Don't worry, we won't," replied Gemma. "But where are we going? What do you mean, so many years in time?" "You shall be traveling back to your parents' castle by the oceans of Madur, to a time when they were still young and happy."

It took quite a while for Gemma to get accustomed to the thought of returning to her parents’ home. Her mother and father would be the same age as she was now! Madrion had told her it was imperative they go there, for around the time she was born there had been a great outburst of cosmic energy. The day sky had darkened to night, and there had been thousands of falling stars lighting the blackness. Fortunetellers, Astrologers and many Necromancers had gathered to study the phenomena. Countless times, Gemma had heard told and re-told stories of the event which seemed to herald her birth into the world. "It was not what everyone thought, Gemma," said Madrion softly. "There was an unnatural force at work, one that I do not like. Methinks it has something to do with what is taking place right now. I have no proof, for I cannot scry accurately that far back. And the events have also been shielded by a hostile warping of the space-time continuum by a force of some power. Someone knew what they were doing when they decided to shield the event from all eyes. I do not have any clues to help you with your search. I cannot even come with you. You must do this by yourselves. Will you go? I beg you."

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"You do not have to beg, Madrion," answered Gemma. "If you had not asked me, I would have begged you to allow me to go. The honor of the Royal House of Terran is at stake here, and I would willingly lay down my life in the pursuit of this cause.” "I, too," said Jarrett. "And I," echoed Allys. "I gather I'd best go along to keep them out of trouble," remarked Roland nonchalantly. "Then it is settled," said Madrion with satisfaction.

They decided to leave as soon as possible. Roland and Madrion dug out several dusty old volumes and started to peruse them. They were trying to determine the location of the nearest time portal. While they did this, the others bundled their belongings together. Madrion told Gemma that she had no further need of the Elf's device, so they decided to leave Godolfin at Madrion's castle, a decision he was well pleased with. He had discovered an inn at the corner. Being an Elf, he was in no danger of losing his Mortal soul by close contact with the eerie folk in Madrion’s domain. In the Inn, fine mead, merry dancing and music were the order of the day. The characters who frequented the inn were beyond imagination - and they piqued Godolfin's curiosity. There was also one maiden he particularly fancied . . . but what category of the undead she fit into he was not sure. He was determined to find out. Godolfin had shown little interest in the talks which had occurred with Madrion, and was content with himself for the tremendous part (as he saw it) he had already played in saving the Queen and Kingdom by lending them his beloved device. So now proudly wearing Romul as a black ebony cane with an ivory handle embossed in gold, he could usually be seen making his jaunty way down the little road which led

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outside of Madrion's castle. Athiene usually let him out with a disapproving look, glaring down the distance of the three feet which marked their respective heights. He blithely ignored her and continued on his merry way. He was comfortable with places which would have stricken terror into the hearts of any Mortal soul.

The troupe finally set off the next morning with careful directions from the witch. They were in no hurry, for Madrion had told them that no time would pass while they were away except for their traveling time - which would take approximately half a day. They would return to the same time they left. She had also given them a potion which would allow them to sleep on the journey, for otherwise they would have been thoroughly sick and nauseous by the time they arrived at their destination. Madrion also warned them they would still feel the ill effects of time travel for about a month after they arrived, and they must try not to overdo things for the first little while. With her warnings and admonitions still ringing in their ears, they located the time portal and got ready for a whole new set of adventures.

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C H A P T E R A Trip Through Time ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

6

The woods were strangely familiar, although there were differences. The trees seemed younger, and there were also many ancient ones they did not recognize. They remembered them only as stumps they had perched on to rest between the little games they had played as children. The clearing where they had had their tea parties and mock sword fights was gone. Gemma felt a sharp stab of pain in her heart as she remembered Troyn. He had caught her in a game of tag, and she had been kicking and screaming for him to let her go. It was a lifetime ago. The others, too had memories of these woods. It seemed odd that none of these events had yet taken place; indeed, none of the four visitors to the past had even been born. Strange though everything was, the three cousins knew exactly how to get to the castle. They paused at the clearing in front of the moat, and saw that the drawbridge was down.

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“They had no reason to suspect treachery in those days,” Gemma thought bitterly. “ Mother and father were happy then. They knew not that such evil times would befall us.” For a rare moment she allowed herself the luxury of a tear, and then wiped it impatiently away. Now was certainly not the time to indulge in maudlin self-pity. There was work to be done, and many dangers yet to face. “Let’s go. We’ll pose as visiting nobles from the Kingdom of Talies. From the family of . . .of . . .Tiben!” She grinned at Roland “Your father would be pleased we’ve used his family name. Anyway, we’ve all been there, except Roland, but we can cover for him. My father loved to see subjects from his other lands, so we’ll be royally welcomed. He has a reputation for the most hospitable house in the Kingdom of Madur . . . I think we should keep our own names, for no one could ever suspect our true identities.” “That’s a sound plan, Gemma. I remember the guests the King often entertained, and I think our families were here most often. Then again, we all lived close enough.” Jarrett closed his eyes wearily, for with each mention of their families he was poignantly reminded of the fact that the carefree days of the past were gone forever, and even the future loomed desolate and grim. Allys put a soothing hand on his arm, and he could feel an energy pulse through his body to lift his spirits. “Aye, Jarrett,” she said softly, “but what’s done is done and cannot be undone. We have to find out exactly what happened, to have some understanding of what we’re facing. Look over yonder! ‘Tis Aeriane, our old nursemaid. How young she looks. And I don’t recognize that woman with her. ” Aeriane was standing in the courtyard, peering out through the drawbridge gate. She had seen them, and seemed puzzled about what to do.

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“Well, we’d best go introduce ourselves now,” said Roland. ”She knows we’re here, and to tarry any longer would look suspicious. How shall we say we got here?” The question was a good one, for they had no horses or carriage. “I know!” replied Gemma. We’ll say we’re brothers and sisters on a pilgrimage to the great God of the Kingdom, and part of our pilgrimage includes a visit to His highest vassal, the King himself.” They thought this a brilliant idea, for pilgrims were many in this time, and often noblemen sent their children to spend a year traveling and paying homage to God and King in thankfulness for their blessings. Most traveled on foot to get the feel of the land. It was no real hardship, for these pilgrims were heartily welcomed by all and sundry. With this in mind, they stepped forth to greet Aeriane and her unknown companion. “Good morrow, fair dame. We are but weary and footsore pilgrims, here to pay homage to his most royal highness, the King Ygrive of Madur, Talies and of all the Northlands. Please be kind enough to convey our deepest respects and our humble request for an audience, at his leisure.” Jarrett accompanied this speech with one of his famous bows, complete with flourish. Aeriane looked him up and down suspiciously, but her companion laughed and dimpled prettily. She seemed charmed by young Jarrett, as maidens often were. She replied, ignoring Aeriane’s arm of caution arm on her shoulder. “Aye, kind sir, that I will, and with much pleasure. May I inquire as to your names, and from whenceforth you came? The king will surely ask.” A trifle annoyed, Gemma stepped forward and said with her most imperious voice, “We hail from the Lands of Talies, and bring greetings from the house of Tiben. I am Gemma, and this is my sister Allys. Our brothers, Jarrett and Roland Tiben. Deliver our message immediately to the king!”

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Aeriane’s suspicious manner changed noticeably, and she summoned her friend, who was still making eyes at Jarrett, and they both hurried off. Gemma turned to Jarrett and glared at him, poking his ribs with her finger. “We were warned that we must not interfere in anyone’s business or lives here! We’ve come only to watch what’s happened. Can’t you control yourself for even a moment?” “I did not do anything, Gemma! Just asked a pretty maid a question.” He rubbed his ribs and looked at her with a woeful expression on his face. “Aye, I know! But that ‘pretty maid’ was with Aeriane, our plump, elderly nurse from the past! That young woman is old enough to be your mother! Have some sense, Jarrett, she liked what she saw, and you did naught to discourage it. We must be careful not to tax the Limit of Paradox. We are not in our own time now, where you can flirt with any fair maiden you see. We must use our heads every minute we are here, or we will lose them.” Jarrett was annoyed at Gemma’s admonishment. He snapped roughly, “Aye, you are right, as usual! But methinks I can take care of things myself without having you remind me always.” Gemma looked wrathful, but nodded her head grimly. The other two carefully avoided looking at them during this exchange, and now in an effort to ease the tension, Allys remarked “Look, Gemma, see how it’s all different. So many of these people I have never seen before.” They cast their eyes over the brick battlements and scurrying servants, trying to achieve some sense of order in their incredible circumstances. Aeriane came scuttling back, and she addressed Gemma. “Oh, my lady, I’ve told our Queen Tamsyn you’re here, for the King Ygrive is locked up in the sanctuary doing his meditations and prayers.”

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Gemma missed the rest of Aeriane’s message. Thoughts and feelings began rushing wildly through her. She started to feel dizzy, and reached for Allys’s hand. Allys gripped it firmly in her own until Gemma began to regain her sense of equilibrium. Gemma, Blood Princess of the Royal House of Terran, had anticipated seeing her parents again, and she was sure that she had firm control of her emotions. But now that the matter was at hand, she no longer felt so sure. She cast her mind back to her mother. She had never really known her. The Queen Tamsyn had been sick for months previous to her birth. She had not recovered, but had kept herself shut up in her rooms all of the day. Sometimes she ventured forth in the evenings, but that was mostly for a solitary walk along the shores of the ocean. Gemma could remember no time that she had spent with her mother. She had even been glad of it, for the Queen’s ill temper was well known throughout the lands. She felt guilty that she had never even made the effort to get to know her mother. But Gemma’s days had been such happy ones. She had spent her time with her brothers and cousins, and occasionally seeing her father. She had certainly never wanted to spend the time in that gloomy room with her unpredictable mother. Part of the intense grief she had felt when her family had been so foully murdered, when her mother and father had passed on to the Dark Night of the Soul, was just this guilt. Perhaps now she would be able to appease these memory somewhat, and get to know the woman who had borne her at such obvious cost to herself.

Gemma leaned against Allys, feeling the warmth of her dear friend. She tried to stem the flow of thoughts, but to no avail. They just kept tumbling on. She recalled the last time she had seen her mother. Her long raven tresses had been lank and dirty, and there had been an egg stain down the front of her gown. Her eyes had been glazed with mead,

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and her hands shook badly as she had lifted the goblet to her mouth. The face that had stared emptily into the distance had been bitter and unhappy, while the bloated look of her revealed the reason for her malaise. Gemma had often before seen her that way, but it was not until she had been fully grown that she had understood the meanings behind the servant’s whispers, the ladies-inwaiting’s gossip. She passed a hand wearily over her brow, and held back a frustrated tear. It had been her mother’s own fault, hadn’t it? Yet still she did not know. She became aware that Aeriane was staring at her with concern. “My lady, are you all right? Methinks you had best come up to the chamber which has been prepared for you. Perhaps you should leave meeting our Queen for a later time, when you’ve rested somewhat. She will understand when I tell her you’ve been taken ill. Come, my lady, you look as if you will faint right away.” Aeriane put her ample arm around Gemma, while her pretty little friend fluttered helplessly around them. She looked beseechingly at Jarrett. Jarrett looked coldly at the young serving lass, and said, “Aye, Gemma, go with them. Allys, help her along. She must lay down for a while.” Jarrett turned to Aeriane and her friend and said harshly, “My sister is overcome with fatigue, naught else. Take care of her, I pray you, and we shall postpone meeting with the Queen until later. I’m sure she will forgive us.” “That I will, my lord, and I’ll send for the herbwoman to tend to her.” The young girl quickly picked up on Jarrett’s change of manner. She ascribed his swift change of heart as just one of those foibles practiced by noblemen, and she gave him no further thought. They carefully led the yet unborn Queen away, with Allys supporting her as she stumbled into the castle proper. Roland and Jarrett regarded each other somberly, not saying a word, though their thoughts were similar. Had they made a mistake allowing

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Gemma to come here? Yet there had been nothing else they could have done. Eventually Roland spoke up, “She’s much stronger than we give her credit for, Jarrett. Look at what she’s just been through, and she’s still standing. This is just a shock to her, that’s all, and when she’s had a chance to rest she will be fine. No doubt the herbwoman can give her a revitalizing tonic, and with Allys to hold her hands she will recover to face this challenge like she’s faced the others. After all, this is no ordinary woman, but the ordained Queen and High Priestess of all the Lands.” “Right you are, Roland but it grieves my heart sorely to think of all she’s been through and all that she yet must face. If I could relieve her of it I would, but I cannot, and that wounds me further.” “She would not want it that way.” Jarrett nodded slowly, knowing Roland spoke the truth. His admiration for his cousin Gemma soared as he remembered her awesome strength of character. Their musing was interrupted by the appearance of a servant, who stood patiently waiting for a break in their whispered conversation to show them to their chamber. Jarrett looked at him. “We’re ready now, lad, lead the way.” They followed him into the castle, and on to their chamber. As soon as they entered, they began to feel the effects of their travels, as Madrion had warned them they would, and they too succumbed to a deep sleep.

When Jarrett awoke, the thin dusk light was filtering through the curtains on the window. Roland was nowhere to be seen in the confines of the small room, but he gave that fact no further thought as he remembered the events of the past few hours. Gemma!

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Was she allright? He jumped out of his bed and strode out the door. He saw a young lad passing by, and called to him. “ A moment, servant, if you please. My kin - do you know where they be? “ “Aye, my lord, one is outside on the battlements, and the ladies are now preparing for dinner. You sup with the King and Queen tonight!” The young lad obviously thought this would be great news for Jarrett, for he grinned ear to ear. Jarrett gave him a friendly cuff and thanked him for the information. He thought perhaps they had best wash up if they were to sup with the Heads of the Royal House. He felt relieved that Gemma was preparing to join them. Dining with both the King Ygrive and his wife the Queen Tamsyn was something Jarrett had never done before, for as long as he could remember the Queen had always taken her dinner in her own apartments. He was looking forward to the experience, though he felt apprehensive. He called out to Roland, and they both made efforts to look presentable. When they were finally summoned for dinner they were as prepared as they could be, considering the circumstances. Jarrett was uneasy about Gemma’s reaction to the evening, but he was buoyed up somewhat by thinking of the strength which was Gemma’s inheritance. They met the two women on top of the spiraled staircase, the very same staircase Jarrett had so recently seen Gemma descend as the crowned Queen of the Lands. The thought of that fateful evening sent shivers up his spine. The good King and his Queen had no idea of the events which were to shape their lives ahead . . . and ultimately end them. Because they had rested they could take in more of their surroundings. What used to be so familiar now took on subtle but significant overtones. Some things they knew all

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too well; others not at all. The castle looked well kept and cherished, a touch which had been lacking from what they remembered. There were bright flowers in many vases, and the walls were hung with lovely new tapestries. When they had frequented the castle, those tapestries had been torn and faded. Jarrett looked at Gemma’s white face, and slipped his hand into hers. Allys took the other one, and thus they entered the great dining room. The room was ablaze with light, and in the corner a minstrel plaintively warbled an old, well-known folk song of unrequited love. At the head of a beautifully set table sat the King. The two men immediately bowed, while the ladies swept a low curtsey. “Rise, my children,” he said, with a low chuckle. “‘Tis glad we are to see the daughters and the sons of the Noble House of Tiben. We bid you welcome, and hope you enjoy the hospitality of the Royal House of Terran. Pray bid greetings to my most beauteous Queen Tamsyn.” Keeping their heads lowered, the foursome turned to the foot of the long table and repeated their bows and courtesies. Gemma introduced them, “I am Gemma Tiben. This is my sister Allys Tiben, and my brothers, Jarrett and Roland Tiben.” The Queen laughed merrily, and the three cousins realized with a start that this was a sound they had never heard before. “Those are names I’ve always liked. Come, fair friends, do honor us with your presence at our table. Pray be seated!” She gaily gestured them to their chairs and laughed again at their looks of bemusement. She mistook the reason for it, however. “Do not be dismayed or shy to dine with your King and Queen. We exist only to serve you, our Peoples and our God. There’s naught to be afeard of.” To thus hear her mother be concerned about the welfare of others was another novelty to Gemma.

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Although tradition deemed it necessary for them to keep their eyes lowered when in the presence of Royalty, Gemma stole a glance towards the Queen Tamsyn. What she saw could not have shocked her more, for this was not the Queen she remembered. This Queen was lively and energetic, as well as possessed of a disarming grin. Jarrett, too, looked stealthily up, and he saw Gemma’s famous grin on the face of the woman who was her mother. The resemblance was remarkable, and even the King noticed. He said in his loud voice, “I know you should keep your eyes glued to the table when in the presence of Royalty, but I prefer that tradition only be kept for my formal functions. Right now we are friends gathered to sup together, and I for one will never trust anyone who will not look me straight in the eye. Besides, there’s somewhat mighty strange I want you to look at.” So saying, he rose from his chair and went over to Gemma. Everyone immediately stood , as was the custom. He did not chide them this time for he was completely engrossed with looking at Gemma. “I can not believe this resemblance you bear to my wife, ‘tis positively uncanny. Come with me, and you too, dear.” He led them to a large mirror at the end of the dining hall and stood Gemma next to the Queen Tamsyn. Even Gemma gasped at the resemblance, and cursed herself for not thinking of this possibility. She should have brought Godolfin’s cloak, not that he would have parted with it for a trip through time. She thought fast and said, “How can this be, my Queen? I have never seen anything so odd in all my life.” Queen Tamsyn looked at them both carefully, and then laughed. “‘Tis only clear that you were meant to come here to be my friend, that’s all there is to it.” The King led them back to the dining table, but he would not let the matter rest so easily.

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“My dear Tamsyn, you yourself hail from Talies, and you lived there when the Royal Line of Terran made their residence in that part of the country. It was only when we married that the Royal House moved to Madur. I am of Terran, but the Bloodline of the Kings runs through your blood, and it was only by marrying you that I became the King of all the Lands. “I know that you have no sisters or brothers, and that your parents have passed on to the Dark Night of the Soul . . . which, incidentally, was why I took pity on you and married you.” Tamsyn laughed gaily at that, and her eyes sparkled with love for her husband. “Methinks I was the one to take pity on you, for did you not threaten never to rise from your knee until I promised to be your betrothed? Aye, I see you remember now!” She paused and thought for a few minutes. “But . . . I do not recall any other relatives, especially not of the name Tiben.” Gemma seized this moment, for she realized that the King would not be satisfied until he solved the mystery. I would not put it past him to send to Talies for details of our family tree, she thought, for she knew him well. Although she felt guilty for the deceit, still, she reasoned, ‘tis the future of our Kingdom at stake, and if my father knew about this, he would forgive me. However, she spoke some truth when she said, “But that was the name of our father. My mother’s maiden name was Terran. Perhaps that may be of help?” Gemma knew full well that the Terran family was huge, and although her mother’s immediate family was gone, there could still be other Terrans who carried the same look. Jarrett and Allys were Terrans, though they did not resemble the Queen’s branch. Much to her relief, the King took her bait.

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“Aye, then that solves our problem. But why did you not tell us you were related to the Royal House? You are our kin, and must be treated as such. There is Royal blood in your House, and you must be accorded due respect.” “We did not want any special favors from you, Your Highness,” said Gemma hastily, “and we thought that you might think we were begging for favors. We are on a Holy Pilgrimage, and do not require special treatment.” “Nonsense!” roared the King. Gemma remembered his famous hot headed temper and smiled. “We will have no such thing! You are our kin and shall be treated as such. Tamsyn will inform the servants and villagers, so that they show you the proper respect at all times. This matter is now closed. We will eat.” So saying, he rang the bell for service to commence. The time travelers relaxed somewhat, feeling they had just been through a grueling experience. They settled down to enjoy one of the dinners the Royal House of Terran had been so famous for. In truth, they enjoyed the meal immensely. Delicately flavored smoked tongue was the first course, with a dry rose wine. This was followed by a gazpacho, and then the main course of roast capon and braised lamb. Jacket potatoes and fresh baked bread accompanied the main dish, as well as garden peas and corned cob. They ate heartily, nibbling companionably over the cheese and fruit which ended the fine repast. Gemma sighed and declared, “I thought not to ever have such a fine meal at this castle again!” Immediately the words left her mouth, she realized her mistake. “I meant, I thought not to ever have such a fine meal at this castle.” “But that’s exactly what you said the first time, dear,” said the Queen in surprise. Gemma realized with a start that Madrion’s Principle of Significancy had just kicked in.

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She could see from the faces of her fellow travelers that they had noted it also. The King and Queen had not heard the ‘again’. She breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps this would not be quite as difficult as they had feared. She said, “Please excuse me, Queen Tamsyn, I guess that I am more tired than I thought.” “Aye, Gemma, I had heard you were unwell. Did the herbwoman not help?” “That she did, but she also told me that I must rest.” “Then you must go directly to your chambers. We should not have kept you so long in the first place. “ “Perhaps you are right.” King Ygrive looked concerned and said, “I think we should let all our young friends retire, much as we are greedy for their company. They seem exhausted. Anyway, it is time for me to go to my sanctuary for my meditations and prayers. Will you excuse us, my dear wife?” “Of course! I must prepare the menu for the week anyway. Why don’t you all run along?” and so saying, the young Queen jumped to her feet and clapped her hands to summon the servants. The foursome left the dining room with mixed feelings of relief as well as nostalgic ruminations. “I believe we got out of that one rather well,” remarked Roland. “To be sure we did. I am so confused, to see the Queen like that. To think she plans menus! When we were here before, our cook did that. I cannot believe this woman is my mother.” “Well, that’s what we’re here for, Gemma, to find out what happened that time so long ago which changed her so, as well as put the Kingdom in such great danger,” Roland responded, with a thoughtful look about him. “I do not believe we will much care for the answers to the question.”

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“Only time will tell us that, Roland,” remarked Allys with asperity. She did not want face what the future of the past held in store for them all. No one spoke another word as they parted company and headed for their respective beds. They were too apprehensive to indulge in idle chatter . . . too apprehensive to even discuss their fears.

The morning light broke into the castle, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life commenced. Gemma made it her immediate business to inquire about the whereabouts of the Queen. She was determined that she would not pass up one minute of this rare opportunity to get to know her mother better, even though the knowledge might cause her much torment. She was directed to the aviary, and found the Queen Tamsyn pensively petting one of her gray doves. She sat rather sadly, her shoulders drooping in a way that was vaguely reminiscent of the old Queen, and Gemma liked it not one bit. Tamsyn saw her and suddenly the mood was broken, “Gemma!” she called out cheerily. “I’m so glad to see you. I’ve had unsettling dreams all night so I feel a trifle tired. Come sit by me and cheer me up.” Gemma sat down on the proffered bench, and staring wonderingly into the Queen’s eyes, said, “What were these dreams of, my Queen? It troubles me to hear of them. You look as though you should have naught but happiness and joy in your life.” Tamsyn smiled and said simply, “That I do, for I’m blessed with a wonderful husband and three fine sons.” Gemma suddenly realized that she would be able to see her beloved brothers again, though they would be mere children. Her thoughts wandered unbidden,

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“Ah, Troyn, Troyn, my heart aches for thee. And Hamyn . . .thee I never did know too well. Gervais . . . always so mischievous . . . all gone” Gemma could not help these sorrows from pervading her brain. She barely heard the Queen’s next words, “Gemma, Gemma, are you allright? You’re as pale as a ghost.” “It’s sorry that I am, fair Queen, and thanks for asking. It’s just that I had three brothers once, as joyful as the day is long, and alas, they all descended into that Dark Night of the Soul before they’d even warmed a marriage bed.” Tears trickled down Gemma’s face and she could not stop them. “Oh, my dear! My poor dear. “ She felt her mother’s arms about her for the first time in her life. She broke into convulsive sobs, while Tamsyn held her tenderly. Finally, Gemma ceased her crying, and just sat there, feeling comforted. Tamsyn went on, “I knew that thee hast had many trials, Gemma, I could sense them. I’m truly sorry. I feel as if I know thee, and thou art my friend. I know that I cannot begin to comfort thee for thy grief, but know always that the Royal heart of your Queen is breaking for thy sorrow, and that she pledges thee her friendship, whenever it may be needed.” The Queen’s words did more to ease Gemma’s heart than Tamsyn knew, for the words came to Gemma from her own mother. “There’s much strength to be had from family love,” she thought. “Aye, and much sorrow, too,” came her own response. She roused herself enough to reply to the Queen’s gift of friendship. “My Queen, that means more to me than thou know’st. And I must say the same to thee. I know thee deep in my soul, and my soul thanks thee for that knowledge, for it is bettered for it. Thou hast given me a most precious gift, one that I will always treasure. And I assure thee, thou hast a friend in me, at any time or anywhere, my heart will

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overflow with love for thee. I cannot give thee more. I pledge my heart’s blood, my life and my soul to thy service.” These words were much truer that Tamsyn suspected, and they struck a responding chord in her heart. “Friends we are then, Gemma. Forever. “ Thus began the strong friendship between the Queen and her daughter, a relationship which was to provide one of the much needed pieces of the puzzle they sought to solve.

Now that the king had established their kinship, naught else would do him but that they make themselves a part of the court for the time they would be there. They spent many days with the young princes, Hamyn, Troyn and Gervais, and took them on most of their outings. The king was also present at a lot of these events. They went hunting and riding with him, and cheered him on in his mock battles when they weren’t participating themselves. Allys impressed everyone with her deadly accuracy in the use of her longbow. Gemma and the Queen showed off their fencing abilities with each other or with anyone else who would venture to challenge them. Jarrett’s strength lay with his lance; Roland seemed to be equally skilled in everything. The King much enjoyed these tournaments, especially the feasting and merriment which prevailed afterward. True to the God’s word, there had been no bloodshed by war since the Royal line of Terran had been established centuries ago. The line had flourished with many sons and daughters, and peace had reigned in the Lands for as long as anyone could remember. Thus, the tournaments were only an excuse for everyone to enjoy themselves . . . no one took them in the slightest bit seriously. On less strenuous days they would gather on the lawns for a game of croquet; if it rained, they would play cards in the library or read aloud to each other by a roaring fire,

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sipping Allys’s now famous cinnamon hot chocolate. Or many a time they would just sit around, chatting and laughing. They grew to know each other very well indeed, and everyone accepted without question Gemma’s special friendship with Tamsyn. The two could often be seen wandering around the castle together, arm in arm, discussing many frivolous bits of information. Thus when tragedy struck, they were ill prepared; but who is ever prepared for tragedy such as this?

One morning the Queen failed to come down for breakfast. Gemma volunteered to go find her. It was a beautiful sunny morning, the kind of day which makes her glad that she was alive. Gemma contemplated skipping through the courtyard, then discarded the notion as being too undignified for a member of the Royal House. Her heart was singing, responding deeply to the warmth and homecoming she had finally found, so many years back in time. She arrived at the Queen’s chamber and knocked, calling out merrily, “Wake up, wake up, sleepy head, The sun’s come up, get out of bed!”, an old nursery rhyme they’d used when they were children as an excuse to pull the covers off any lazybones who may have been still laying abed. They had loved this game, and Gemma was determined to enter Tamsyn’s room and deprive her of all her blankets should she still be sleeping.

There was no answer. Gemma tried the door, and found it locked, an unheard of event in her father’s castle. Suddenly a waft of unease coldly swept the sun from the sky, and a black cloud loomed dark on the horizon. She knocked again, louder, and then heard the click of the lock being opened. Aeriane opened the door and stared at Gemma, her face gray with shock. Her look was so agonized that Gemma immediately felt the frigid hands of fear tearing at her heart.

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“What’s the matter? The Queen . . .is she allright?” Aeriane stood as though struck dumb, her eyes the mute plea of a lamb about to be led to the slaughter. She opened the door just enough for Gemma to slip in, and immediately closed and locked it again. No one came out all day.

When the King finally came to see what was the matter, Gemma poked her face out and mumbled something about ‘women’s troubles’. He casually accepted the explanation and left them alone. He was not about to interfere in that realm. Allys came by to see if she could help. Gemma asked her to fetch a sleeping potion from the herbwoman. When Allys brought it, Gemma snatched it from her and slammed the door in her face. So things continued until late into the night. Allys could finally stand it no longer, and once again she knocked on the door, this time determined to be let in. She need not have worried, for when Gemma opened the door this time she yanked Allys unceremoniously. Allys was shocked at the way her friend looked. She had obviously been crying, and looked as though she had not slept for a month. “What’s the matter? The Queen Tamsyn . . .is she allright?” she asked Gemma tremulously. The answer came as she had feared, “Nay, she’s not. I know not exactly what’s happened, but it has been horrible. She will not talk, she just stares at the window. She’s cut and bruised all over her body, and her clothes had been ripped off. “She’s been viciously raped, but I know no more than that. Even that I cannot tell for sure. I’m afeard to fetch the herbwoman, for I do not know if the Queen Tamsyn would want anyone else to know. She’s the anointed Queen of the Lands, and cannot act as any ordinary person. I’m afeard to even tell the King, my father. I just do not know what to

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do, Allys!” Sobs of anguish wracked the young girl’s body, and Allys felt her own heart break in response. “There, there,” Allys put her arms around Gemma and thought hard. She too was shocked and disturbed by the look of the Queen Tamsyn and her friend Gemma, but she tried to keep her head. “Does anyone else know save Aeriane?” Gemma shook her head. “Then I think I know what we should do. We must do nothing . . . hush, dear cousin,” for Gemma had started to protest violently. “Remember what Madrion’s told us. We must not make, or try to make any changes in what’s happened. We must just observe, and let Aeriane do what she would have done those many years back. We can just comfort the Queen, and try to find out exactly what went on, that’s the only way we can help the Kingdom now.” Gemma slumped against her cousin’s shoulder. Dimly through her pain she could sense the wisdom in what Allys was saying. “Aye, you’re right.” she said wearily. “Get the herbwoman to brew another sleeping potion, for I fear it’s the only thing that can help Tamsyn now.” Allys looked over to where the Queen lay on the bed. Gemma and Aeriane had cleaned up the blood and bandaged her wounds as best they could, but still she looked a sorry sight. Most frightening was the look in her eyes. Allys thought for a minute, then spoke again, “Perhaps I can try to connect with her through her hands. I have that gift, and maybe I can be of some help there.” So saying, she walked over to the unfortunate Queen and took both her hands in hers. Shuddering convulsively, she dropped the hands as though they burned her. “What is it, Allys? What did you see?” Gemma stood impatiently by her side. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I felt only ice cold, and her soul was nowhere to be found. I also sensed an overwhelming terror which threatened to

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throw me over the edge of insanity if I did not immediately let it be. I had to let go her hands. “ “My poor Queen Tamsyn . . .” murmured Gemma, almost incoherent with her grief. “This is worse than we thought. That cold may be linked to the Goddess of Ice. This must be the event Madrion’s sent us back to witness, it must be. We have to find out more.” “The Queen will not speak, I’ve tried all day.” replied Gemma. “What about Aeriane? Does she know anything?” Gemma shook her head. “She told me that the last time she saw the Queen, she was with the King Ygrive. He had visited her bedchamber and sent Aeriane away. He must have risen around three o’clock to go to his sanctuary for prayer; he always does at that time.” “So the Queen would have been left alone. Who could have entered her chamber? Any strangers would have been immediately noticed by the guards in the hallway.” “Then the window?” They both scrambled to see if there had been any forced entry, or anything else suspicious. There was nothing. With great effort, Gemma gathered her wits and thought hard. “Allys, this is the same chamber that I was sleeping in when I was abducted. ‘Tis traditionally the chamber of the Queen. You could not find anyway that I could have been taken from there, either, and if the same person is behind both of these horrendous incidents, then perhaps they know another way into these chambers.” “A secret way, do you mean? But surely we would have known about it long before, if there was one? How could it exist? The security in this castle has always been excellent.”

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“This castle is ancient. It existed long before my father’s family lived here. It is possible that there was a hidden entryway that no one knew of except those who lived here then.” “Who would that be? Could we find them and ask?” “Nay, that’s not a good plan, for if they know of it, then they must have let the intruders know - so they’re enemies of our Kingdom, too. I think we must look for it ourselves. We have Jarrett and Roland to help. We must keep this all as quiet as possible.” They looked over at Aeriane, who still sat on the bed next to the Queen, mopping her brow with lavender water. Slow tears slid down the nursemaid’s cheeks. “Aeriane!” What must we do now? Should we tell the King what’s happened? We do not know him or his court so well as to know what to advise.” “Nay!” Aeriane almost shrieked with terror. “We can tell no one. No one. If the King were to hear of this, he would search far and wide for whoever did this. He would never stop until he found him and saw him hang from his neck. The Queen needs him here, not gone, and she could never bear the shame of her Kingdom knowing what has happened to her. She cannot stand pity, and there’s many who would pity her. She must just forget this night forever, and so must we.” “Aye,” said Gemma wretchedly, “and that’s exactly what did happen. She never recovered.” “But what about you, Gemma?” Allys whispered. Gemma stared at her in horror. “Do you mean that perhaps I’m the product of this damned union? I cannot be.” She pulled herself up to her full height. “I am the anointed Queen of Madur, Talies and all the Northlands. I am also the High Priestess. My blood cannot be sullied!”

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Allys looked upset. She wisely decided to say no more on the subject. Privately she voiced her fears to Roland later, after she had filled him in on the details of the Queen’s tragedy. “Then we must stay a while longer to see if the Queen is with child,” he said determinedly. “There’s naught else for it. And we must witness its birth, for we must make sure that it was a girl child that was born. We must wait to see what it’s named; only then will we know for sure. This is still tied up with what is happening to Gemma now. We must know the truth at all costs, Allys, or our journey will have been in vain.” Allys nodded apprehensively. She was frightened of what the truth might be.

They plodded despondently through the next few months. By now the King knew there was something dreadfully wrong, but had to accept the physik’s diagnosis, as none other was forthcoming. The renowned physik was Merewyn, and he was known throughout the kingdom as the best in his field. He told them that the Queen had succumbed to an age-old disease of the mind, and that it was incurable. “I do not know what has caused this fearsome disease to take so strong a hold on one so young and healthy. It is not contagious, so no one else must fear being in the Queen’s presence. I can only speculate that it may have somewhat to do with her present condition of being with child, and it’s possible it may lift of its own accord after the babe’s born. There’s no more I can do, but I will return regularly to check on her. Meanwhile, keep her quiet and well fed, even if she does not want to eat.” Shaking his head sadly, he departed the stricken castle. The young travelers were upset, and of course none more than Gemma. She spent most of her time with her brothers, but could not seem to make any dent in their grief over their mother’s illness.

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“The Principle of Significancy,” she thought wryly, but continued her futile attempt anyway. The others wandered about the courtyard and busied themselves with their search for the hidden door into the Queen’s room - but to no avail. Their lives seemed listless and without purpose, for in truth they could do nothing of any consequence, and even what they could do, like search for the door, seemed futile and doomed to failure. Allys wondered idly if this was what being trapped in time would feel like. She could think of no greater torture. The months rolled on, and with them their sense of lassitude grew greater.

As the birthing time drew near, Roland took Gemma aside and said, “You must be careful not to enter the delivery room, Gemma, for if you see yourself being born I fear you may tax the Limit of Paradox, and I really do not know for sure what would happen. Allys will preside at the birthing, and we’ll be directly outside the room.” “Oh, but Roland, I must be with my mother at a time like this! I must!” Roland shook his head, “Nay, Gemma, too much is at stake here. You may be there until the babe’s about to be born, but you must leave. I promise that as soon as the babe’s born and taken off by Aeriane to be washed up, you may go in again to say good-bye, but you must make it brief. We have to be very careful now; you should not see yourself as the babe. Perhaps nothing would occur, but we just dare not take that risk. The babe will be named as soon as it’s born, and my guess is that the King will do it, for your mam will not be able. He’ll already have two names picked out by now, one for a boy and one for a girl. We need to leave immediately after.” Gemma nodded, tears in her eyes. Her new memories of her mother would probably be the most bittersweet memories she’d ever have in her life.

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Soon enough, the calls were heard loud one afternoon, heralding the arrival of the new member of the Royal House of Terran. The King, followed closely by Gemma, Allys, Jarrett and Roland hurried towards the Queen’s chambers. Roland and Jarrett halted at the door, while the others rushed in to see Aeriane and the midwife making the preparations for the labor and birth. The sky darkened. King Ygrive muttered an oath, and rushed to the window. He gazed in awe at the sight which met his eyes. The entire sky was as black as night, and all through the heavens stars were falling to the earth, blazing light trails across the darkness. “Look!” he cried in awe. “Truly this child is born to a great destiny when all the sky contrives to announce its arrival!” They clustered around to look, except for the midwife, who was bustling around lighting candles and muttering, “It’s all well and good to have a destiny but its first destiny’s to be born, no doubt, but I cannot see a thing.” She bleakly glanced at the sky. “Anyway, I like it not. Give me a normal birthing any day.” She lit all the candles in the room, and then, dissatisfied, bellowed. “Get some lanterns!” This brought the others back to the matters at hand, and Gemma poked her head out the door to tell Jarrett to fetch further lighting. Then they sat around the Queen’s bed, waiting patiently. The Queen was having a hard time of it, and she resorted to screaming and swearing. King Ygrive turned pale and said, “I’ve never known my Tamsyn to use profanity. She’s always been such a lady, and always so pleasant and kind. I just don’t know what’s been happening to her lately.” He

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moved closer to hold her hand to try to soothe her, but his presence seemed to aggravate her even further, so he withdrew, looking hurt. “You’d best get used to this, father,” Gemma thought, feeling her heart reach out for him. “It just gets worse from here on in.” But she said not a word. She held the Queen’s other hand, and amazingly, the Queen did seem to know who she was, and seemed comforted by her presence. She stopped her screaming. Apparently the vocal exercise had been good for her, for she had regained the use of her tongue. She tugged on Gemma’s hand and whispered brokenly, “Gemma . . . closer, come closer.” When Gemma leaned down to hear what she would say, she spoke more, but softly so that only Gemma could hear. Gemma nodded and held her hand tighter, until Allys touched her on the shoulder. “You must go now, Gemma, but I will call you as soon as the babe’s taken away. I’ll send Jarrett for you.” Gemma cast one further glance at the Queen, and noting that she seemed somewhat more peaceful now, she left. The midwife worked at getting the babe’s head through, but once she had, it was born with no further trouble. She held it up triumphantly, exclaiming, “It’s a girl child! The Royal House of Terran has a new princess!!” “And she shall be called Taliesin,” said the King, reaching for the baby and anointing her head with holy oil. He started, and almost dropped her, for even seen through the afterbirth, the baby had clear scratch marks and bruises. Around her neck could be seen the prints of little hands, as if the baby had tried to strangle herself. He stared at the small bruised body searching for the Royal sign.

Since the pact with the Gods, all babies born to the Royal House were imprinted with a sign showing something of great import which would prove to be true in the far future.

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Oddly enough, through the scratches, what he saw on the baby was the sign of his own Royal line! “I don’t understand this omen,” he muttered. Why should Taliesin carry the sign of my own mother and father? What sort of portent is that?” He handed her back to the midwife quickly and said, “Perhaps you had better take this little princess upstairs to the nursery to tend her wounds. Aeriane, you stay instead with the Queen. I’ll send the herbwoman up, and send for Merewyn the physik. I just don’t know what’s going on!” He left the room in a hurry, and they knew he’d be headed to his sanctuary for prayers and meditations to try to understand the meaning of the strange omen. Allys ran to the door and told Jarrett to fetch Gemma, which he did immediately, as she was waiting in the room next door. She hurried to the Queen’s side and grew concerned as Allys filled her in on what they had just witnessed. The Queen suddenly started to keen softly, then began to toss her body violently back and forth on the bed. Aeriane was trying to clean up the afterbirth, and she begged them to hold the Queen still. When they finally realized what was happening they grew as still as stone. The Queen was about to give birth to another babe! This baby came swiftly, much too fast to summon help. They were astounded when they looked at her closely - it was another girl. This baby was a beauty, with perfectly formed miniature features. Amazingly, she already had much hair, hanging down her back, long and wet, of a jet black hue. She had perfectly formed nails, and there was a strength about her which was frightening. On her neck was a birthmark, a perfectly formed upside down crown, which caused Gemma to gasp when she saw it. “That’s what the Queen whispered to me a few minutes ago! She said ‘He had an upside down crown’, but I had no idea what she was talking about. Aeriane, what shall

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we do?” Aeriane looked as flustered as they felt, but seemed to be able to think more clearly, “That’s the bastard child of the intruder, I know it! I’ve heard of things like this happening before to whores on the docks. They have twins, but with different fathers. But we must get this babe out of here and away from the lives of the Royal House, for do I fear her. She must have tried to strangle the fair princess Taliesin as she lay in her mother’s womb. She can be naught but a danger to us all. I will hide her in the forest, and she will die of natural causes. I dare not let her live, even - do I?” “I do not know. Aeriane - I do not know. You must do what you think is best.” “Then I’ll do it,” she said firmly. She wrapped the bundle up tightly and hurried furtively from the room. All they could hear now was a sound of whimpering. The Queen Tamsyn was shaking her head and crying, “No . . . no . . .no”. She seemed oblivious to them or anything. “Come, Gemma, we must hurry on, they will not notice we’re gone, they probably will not even remember that we were here. We can do nothing now.” Allys dragged her reluctant cousin down to the stables. They had decided to borrow a few horses for their long journey back to the time portal. “Anyway,” said Gemma wearily, “it’s not as if we’re stealing them, because they really do belong to me and my family. On the tedious journey back, Gemma reflected that this was where the fortunes of the Royal house of Terran had really started to fall. Little had she realized that the events which caused her such pain had their roots in a time so long past.

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7

The time was supposed to be the same time as when they had left, but they could not imagine how that could be. They had gone through so many amazing events in the past few months of their lives that they did not know how to process their new information. They felt somewhat subdued and small in the face of the circumstances they had just encountered. "Whatever shall we tell Madrion?" asked Gemma hesitatingly. "The truth, of course. What else?" answered Roland. "Why do you ask?" "I feel awful about what happened to my mother. I don't know if I feel ready to share that with a stranger, and besides, I do not know what good it will do." "You must let Madrion decide that. She will know what to do, I swear it." But first they had to get back to her domain. It was growing late in the afternoon, so they decided to camp out in the grassy flat lowlands. The same eerie feeling they had felt while they were en route to Madrion's domain the first time overtook them once again.

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"It's the thought of those evil creatures she keeps for pets," declared Jarrett knowingly. "That's why I feel so uneasy." "Don't be ridiculous!" snapped Roland. "She has promised the Gods of Madur to keep the undead safe away from Human folk. Now she suffers the fate of having to live with them. But methinks that if the evil beast gets his way, they will once again walk amongst the living, hoping to trap them in a living death like theirs. "Madrion has told me that she's worried, for one of the folk from her domain has disappeared without a trace. She has no idea how this could be unless it was aided by someone powerful on the outside. Perhaps it is around here, and this why we feel this sense of unease. If it is here, we must keep careful watch, and should we see it, be careful to utter no word to it at all. Is that understood?" They nodded reverently. Roland did not have to tell them twice. They kept a cautious watch that night, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. They planned to keep a watch for the rest of the nights they had to camp out until they arrived at Madrion's domain. It was not until the third night that anything different was noticed. Jarrett saw a brilliant flash of light which blazed and went out so quickly that he was afraid he had fallen asleep and dreamt it all. In the morning when he told the others, they too thought that perhaps he had nodded off. "For how else could we explain it?" asked Roland laconically. "No doubt," added Gemma hastily, seeing Jarrett's familiar scowl darken his face. "I, too have fallen asleep on watch, and I’ve woken to strange dreams. I believe everyone does it sometime or the other."

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"Still, we should be more careful, and methinks we should have two on watch instead of one. I'll watch with Gemma first, then you and Allys. We'll take turns every two hours. Agreed?" Even with the extra watch, nothing more untoward was seen for the rest of the journey, and they began to feel that Jarrett had indeed fallen asleep at his post. Even he began to doubt that he had seen anything.

They finally arrived at Madrion's domain, and Roland used the amulet at his neck to summon her. Because this time he knew that they were close to her, all he had to do was grasp the amulet tightly and concentrate. Madrion would sense his presence and start the lengthy finishing process of the spell which hid her realm from the world. As they had nothing better to do, they sat around and waited, discussing the possible interpretations of the things they had seen in the past. Now that they were no longer at the castle of the King and Queen of the Lands, they began to feel better about all that had taken place. Gemma had been most affected, but now her natural ebullience asserted itself. "I cannot believe that I had a twin sister!" she declared. "One who tried to kill me in the womb!" "You may still have her, Gemma. Methinks she did not perish in the woods like Aeriane planned. This whole mess points to her being rescued and being alive today . . . probably the one who’s responsible for all this havoc. Who else could it be? Madrion suspected that the Blood Lines of Terran had been sullied in some way, and this must be how. The Queen Tamsyn was the direct line from the ancient Kings and Queens of Terran. Any child she bore would have been of the Blood, regardless of its father. This child would have hated the line of Terran for rejecting her, if she knew who she was."

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"Aye, but there's your flaw," said Gemma. "She was just a babe when left to perish in the woods. Aeriane would not have left any clue to her identity, and if she were found, no one would have any way of knowing who she was. No one knew she was born, save us and Aeriane. Aeriane would never tell anyone, for she's mighty loyal to our family. Even so, she still wouldn't tell, as then she have to admit to murdering the babe, or trying to." Roland sighed heavily, "Aye, that's true, Gemma. But the child did have that birthmark. Even so, how would she ever have guessed what it meant . . . truly, if she really did survive. We know not what happened to her, for sure. It's just so convenient and easy to think that an evil twin is the reason behind these tragedies. I guess we always want someone to blame, don't we? I hope Madrion can make some sense of it, for I cannot." "I wish she'd hurry up and let us in, I feel uneasy out here in the open," complained Allys, then added hastily, "not that I feel any safer in Madrion's creepy castle, with those evil creatures lurking around outside." Allys's wish was soon granted, for Madrion's domain slowly became translucent, then it solidified into reality. They climbed back on the wagon and started once again to the home of the witch. Jarrett decided that he had seen enough of Madrion's domain to last him a lifetime, so instead of seating himself next to the driver, he encouraged Allys to join Roland at the front of the wagon. Jarrett really wanted to spend some time alone with Gemma, to see how she was faring after her extraordinary time so long ago. He ignored his guilt at allowing Allys to see things that would be sure to terrify her, so he promised her that she’d see sights she would be truly sorry to miss. Allys had no desire to see sights she'd be sorry to miss, but as Jarrett insisted, up she went. Jarrett and Gemma had the uncanny ability to get what they wanted, and Allys was not sure that this was a good trait to have, for it was almost always done at the expense of

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someone else - usually her, she thought wryly. Nevertheless, she climbed up to the driving seat of the covered wagon and sat down beside Roland, who looked none too pleased to see her. Feeling unwanted and unhappy, she sank within the recesses of her fur-lined cloak and stared blankly at the passing landscape. She was determined to make no move or sound which would show her fear, and thought with a great deal of self-pity, I don't care if people push me around, or don't care about me or don't particularly like me. Here she glared at Roland, who kept on driving, oblivious to the look which was supposed to make him cringe with remorse. I really don't care at all. I'll just be silent and subdued, and I won't feel anything. Perhaps they'll at least admire me. So saying, she watched the skeletal decorations on the passing tree with bitter resolve. Roland, casting an amused look in her direction, was actually a bit impressed. Allys had always seemed to be a soft and useless type of woman, a type he usually despised. He saw the same apparition who had begged Jarrett for help approach them . He leaned over to warn Allys to say nothing to it and she nodded dumbly, staring straight ahead, somehow moved by Roland's nearness. Its visage once again free from blood, the creature drew near to the wagon. Allys really did not want to see this new challenge to her sanity. All the same, she looked the undead creature straight in the eye without flinching, and watched as the creature piteously held out its hand, begging Allys to help it, to let it ride in the wagon. Allys actually started to feel quite sorry for the creature, and began to think that never in her life had she been so hard-hearted, when Roland pulled out the silver cross and bloodied stake. The creature once again emitted the same eerie howl of anguish, showing its elongated incisors now dripping with fresh blood from who knew where, and vanished silently into the forest.

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As frightened as she was, Allys had not so much as moved a facial muscle, and Roland began to feel that perhaps he had been too hard on her. "You allright, Allys?" he inquired, his simple question causing Allys' heart to race much faster than a few moments ago when she had been so scared. She decided that if she could hold her fear in so well that Roland could not see she had been terrified, then perhaps she could hold other things in also, and not continue to make a fool of herself all of the time by showing her emotions so clearly on her face. "I'm fine, Roland, and thank you for asking," she replied evenly, then turned a steadfast countenance towards the passing landscape. Roland stared at her, bemused. Where was the girl who had been frightened of her shadow? In truth, much of Roland's interpretation of Allys's personality had been of his own making, for he had decided when he met her that she was just a dissipated lady of the court, too young to show any signs of it on her lovely face. Allys's habit of falling apart when she was around Roland had not helped matters, either. Perhaps Allys had now had enough of what had been happening, and no longer really cared about what Roland thought, or maybe Roland was beginning to see Allys more as she really was, but the end result was the same. He began to build an unwilling respect for the woman. So they continued their trek to Madrion's home. Roland was just beginning to think that they would make it there with no further incident, when he saw a lone wolf approach and start following the wagon. Roland knew that for the beast to be here in Madrion's domain, it had to be more than just an ordinary wolf. But as it seemed intent on no harm, he let it be. The wolf followed as close as he could get to Allys, and spent many a moment gazing mournfully into her eyes. Allys was no longer fooled by this tactic, and she said and felt nothing. The wolf did not give up, however, for it followed them to the drawbridge of

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Madrion's castle. It was not allowed to enter, of course, so it curled itself up and waited patiently by the moat. "It seems that you have found yourself a admirer, Allys!" Roland joked at her, and Allys bit back the stinging retort which sprang to her lips. Instead, she took a deep breath, then replied evenly, "I'm sure their lives are miserable, doomed to wander the earth forever as the undead. Mayhap he saw something in us that he would fain have but cannot, and that's why he followed us. Methinks that he deserves our pity and our prayers, at least, certainly not our mockery." Roland felt justly rebuked, for although he was not making fun of the wolf, still he did know somewhat of the lives of the undead, and shuddered as he thought on it. Athiene, the gatekeeper, opened the great door, and although she did not look as ferocious as when they first saw her, she was certainly not friendly. She could not speak, for her tongue had been cut from her head at an early age, but she was good with gestures and facial expressions. At any rate, she looked relieved to see Roland safe and sound. Athiene led them to Madrion's library and they waited outside the door until Roland finished his private discussion with the witch. He did not take long this time, for perhaps only a minute or so passed while he was in the locked room. When he came to the door, he was alone, and he closed it firmly behind him. "Madrion said that you're to rest a while; she'll meet you at four o'clock again, here in the library," They had to be content with that.

Madrion entered the library at precisely four o'clock and found them sitting disconsolately around the fire. By their manner, she could tell that they had found some information during their trek into the past, and she urged them to tell her all. Gemma had

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the most to say, naturally, and the others quipped in with bits of information she might have missed. Madrion listened carefully to it all, making no comment and asking no questions, until Gemma had revealed the whole horrifying tale. Then she nodded sadly, saying, "Aye, 'tis as I suspected. I had to have proof, although my heart knew no proof was needed. We must now put my plans into effect, one at a time, and pray to the Gods of Madur that they hear us and answer our prayers. The first thing we must do is get you out of the past, 'tis far too dangerous for you to linger here more than 'tis necessary. So I must find a way for you to escape the Ice Goddess without going back through time to do it. I must think . . . Roland, you will assist me. We shall go to my sanctuary. Perhaps you others can find your friend Godolfin, and persuade him that he is hanging around with the wrong sort of crowd."

Apparently Godolfin had decided to move into the home of the undead spirit he had met at the village pub. She had taken him happily, for he was a strange plaything for her, but now it seemed he was bewitched . . . or something. So they donned the spells of protection Madrion had loaned each of them when they had first arrived in her home. The spells were contained in bits of jeweled baubles; Gemma had a pair of earbobs, Jarrett a ring, and Allys a badge with an image of a golden sword encircled by a silver snake. Gemma recognized it as the same motif that Roland wore around his neck as an amulet. They wrapped themselves in the cloaks they had found in their wardrobes, and set out bravely. Gemma said,

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"We must stay together. They cannot touch us, because we wear Madrion's spell, but I for one do not wish to be separated from you two in a strange place like Madrion's domain." The other two nodded their agreement. True to her newfound philosophy about life, Allys walked ahead of them, her back straight and her head held high. There was not a trace of fear on her face. Even Gemma and Jarrett had noticed a change about her, but could not figure out quite what to ascribe it to. On the way out of the castle, they had paused briefly to inquire of Athiene about the whereabouts of the village pub, and after the initial alarmed look on her face, it became clear that she had no intention of letting them go on their own. So they followed as she led the way, and glad enough they were for her seven foot presence, especially as they crossed the drawbridge and Allys's wolf was still waiting there for them. The wolf once again attached itself to Allys, and so the strange procession meandered along the winding road. As they neared the inn of ill repute, they saw many a strange sight. Lolling about the outside tables were some creatures with black bat-like wings neatly folded and tucked under. The claws which clutched their mead mugs were razor sharp, for as they watched, one casually leaned forward and sliced off a bit of a carcass lying on the table. He lifted it to his mouth which was beak-like in shape, tilted back his head and dropped the morsel in. At another table, a gathering of eerily beautiful women were quaffing their mead mugs with delight, while kicking and punching ever so often at a young boy who was shackled to their table. One of the boy's hands had been severed, and the women were tossing it back and forth between them and the bat creatures, each taking a little bite before throwing it back. Blood splayed everywhere,

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The cousins felt sick, and they looked at the boy with the bloodied stump for a hand. He appeared not to notice them, or his hand, or anything, for that matter. Allys thought privately that she had only once before seen such a look in a Human's eyes, and that had been the Queen Tamsyn’s after her cruel rape. Perhaps it had involved one such as this, she thought musingly. Perhaps these creatures can torture the soul away from the body, and leave but an empty shell instead of a Human being. She was surprised that she was handling everything so well. Normally she would have been retching on the ground, or at least hiding behind Jarrett, shaking with fear. They got to the door of the tavern and Allys entered first, her strange wolf padding softly at her side. An odd smell, like embalming fluid, assailed their nostrils, and Allys felt faint. She remembered gratefully that she had scented her handkerchief with lavender that morning, and she pulled it over her nose to breathe its fumes. On a table nearby, a man with two grotesque heads leered at her, and she looked quickly away. She had to step aside to avoid an ugly squat Troll coupling with a reluctant Piscie lass on the plush, stained red carpet. As if they sensed an alien presence, the occupants of the pub became quiet and ceased what they were doing to swivel their heads over to look at the newcomers. "Fresh meat! Fresh meat!" The words were sibilating whispers back and forth, rising in intensity with each sound. At this moment, Athiene decided to make her entrance, and everyone disgustedly went back to what they had been doing. They knew that any guest of Madrion's was taboo for them to torture or taste. Allys pushed on, ignoring the evil looks of the terrifying undead. She was making her way to the bar, where a striking Faerie woman was tending drinks. She appeared

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tired, but looked up when she saw Allys approach. Her gossamer wings were twitching nervously at her back, but that was the only sign that the Faerie was scared. She had bright orange hair which tumbled down around her shoulders in colorful disarray, and she pushed it back with one hand while waiting for Allys to say something. Jarrett and Gemma had caught up, and now stood demandingly at her side, with Athiene still guarding the door. "We're looking for our friend, Godolfin. Have you seen him?" asked Allys hesitantly. The Faerie seemed somewhat relieved at her question, and answered nastily, "Oh, that arrogant little Elf! Methinks he's got what he deserves, for he lays in the arms of a Stygian Succubus, and I've never known anyone to escape his death who lays with that one. But you're welcome to see them, they're directly up those stairs, first door to the left." The cousins, along with Athiene and the wolf, plodded up the steps. They knocked on the door, and when they got no answer, pushed it open to peer inside. Godolfin was laying on the bed, with a dazed expression on his face. The Succubus was busy combing her long tresses, staring out the window. She started as they came in, and looked frightened, though defiant. "You'll not take him," she declared in a low vicious snarl. "He's mine, he came willingly." Gemma spotted Romul, the cane, propped up against the door, and she started over surreptitiously to remove it. "He's Madrion's guest!" declared Jarrett, "and the witch’ll not take kindly to this." "She can do nothing. The pig came eagerly. I do not have to give him back. Awk!" she suddenly yelped with fright. "What's he doing here? Get him out! Now!" She was staring straight at Allys's wolf, who bared his teeth and growled; long and threatening growls which sent shivers up everyone's spine. Allys was surprised, for she had begun to

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think that her wolf, as she had fondly began to think of him as, was not too dangerous. But she could see the advantage of the situation and took it. "I'll have him tear you to shreds if you do not release Godolfin immediately," she threatened, and indeed the wolf appeared not only agreeable, but it seemed to understand Allys’s words. He padded over to the Succubus, increasing the ferocity of his growls, still baring his jagged teeth. The Succubus gave up in despair. "Allright, allright, take him!" she shrieked. "I don't know how you got this . . . this . . . thing to help you, but I'll not tangle with it. Madrion'll hear of this, you can be sure of it. She cannot make promises and then break them. She said we could have any who came willingly." "Aye, but this has naught to do with Madrion," said Allys spitefully, glad to have some control that did not involve the clever and beautiful witch "So you have no one to complain to." "But I know not why you have the likes of him if this does not concern Madrion," said the Succubus bitterly, pointing to the wolf. "That's none of your concern!" exclaimed Allys. "Not everything in the world has to do with Madrion, you know. Come Godolfin, let's go," She tried to lift the inert Godolfin from the bed, to no avail. Athiene marched over, and shaking her head disgustedly, tugged at the little point of hair at the top of Godolfin's head and tried to swing him over her shoulder by it. At his yelps of pain, she relented somewhat and just flung him bodily over her massive shoulder. In this fashion, they trudged wearily back to Madrion's home.

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8

Meanwhile, Madrion and Roland had their hands full. They were formulating a plan for escape when the time travelers returned to the time they first left, the time when they had rescued Gemma and helped her out of the coffin. They had felt the cold breath of the Ice Goddess then, and knew somehow that she must have been suspicious of their presence at that spot, the place she had buried the Queen alive. Roland felt that a spell to ward off the intense, debilitating cold which accompanied the Ice Goddess was the first one they should invoke, and Madrion agreed. This they worked on for the better part of the evening, and Madrion was exhausted. But they had no time to waste. The four had been in the past for quite a while now, and Madrion was convinced they would soon reach a Limit of Paradox and be lost forever, along with their plans and hard work of the past months. So they toiled on relentlessly.

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Madrion decided they must take Godolfin's Romul so that Gemma could assume her gypsy appearance. "It will be a good disguise, for no doubt the Goddess of Ice has heard through some source or the other that Jarrett and Allys have been traveling with an Elven gypsy, while she has been plotting the kidnap of the Queen. These events will seem to be simultaneous to the Goddess, for she has no conception that such a thing as time travel can happen, as it is not of Magik, but from another power source the ancients used long ago before they destroyed themselves. "The Goddess may also have heard rumors that Jarrett and Allys have been at the castle with the yet unnamed Queen, who used to be the Princess Taliesin. No doubt she will decide that the rumor about the gypsy companion will be the true one. She can prove the whereabouts of the Queen, for it was public knowledge that she was at her castle, and many saw her. No one would really have noticed anyone else particularly, for at that time the Goddess had no reason to watch Jarrett and Allys. So, when reports come filtering in that they were seen in these parts traveling with a pretty gypsy Elf, the Goddess would never dream that the Elf and the Queen were one and the same woman. “She will no doubt check thoroughly that such a rumor would have some truth in it. If she does, she will believe the story with no question, for many will be able to prove they saw Allys and Jarrett with the gypsy Elf. So I think that the Elven disguise will be of help here." Roland thought musingly at the insistence Gemma had shown for the Elven gypsy disguise, even when Glinda had chided her for its flamboyance. Perhaps its very flashiness might be the thing that sent the rumors flying to the Goddess. "But we'll still need more than that to ward off the Goddess," he added. "She's sure to have some other fiendish plan."

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"Well, you forget that we do have more," said Madrion. "We have the identity of the Terran behind this. It is that twin of Gemma's, and it also must be she who has engaged the Goddess in this battle for the throne of the Lands. But I do not know if this woman is aware of the tidings of the Holy Book, for such like them cannot even get near one, much less read one. No doubt she thinks that the Kingdom will continue in the same rich and prosperous manner. Answer me this, Roland, was there any other with the Goddess when you saw her? The sister, perhaps?" "Aye, Madrion, there was a cloaked figure with her, and it seemed to have the body of a woman, though it was too covered to really tell," Roland answered. "Then that must have been her," Madrion asserted firmly. "I'd stake my life on it. Anyhow, be it her or Gemma that rules, the Blood Line's tarnished now, and nothing can change that. There'll be wars and bloodshed, and other things that this generation never thought to see before the year's done." Roland felt cold fingers of fear caress his spine. He was a man of great courage; but a premonition of the devastation of the once peaceful Lands made his blood run cold. Madrion was watching his response. "Aye, Roland, it'll be like that and worse. But for now, we must not dwell on it. Methinks you should take the Holy Book with you and talk to the cloaked figure at the Goddess's side. I will give you a strong binding spell which will render her unable to do anything but listen to you and talk, but I can do nothing about the Blood Goddess of Ice. You have to take your chances with her, but methinks you'll do allright. She's a Goddess, and as such is not innately evil. Gemma's twin seems to have some hold over her, and I think that when the twin is immobilized, then the Goddess will do nothing. You have a spell for warding off her icy cold, and that's all I can give you against the Goddess. You'll just have to use your wits; that's something we'll all have to start relying on."

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"Will you not come with us, Madrion?" "I cannot. I've much work to be done here in preparation for what will follow. You must go alone with your new friends, and know that this is something I have been preparing you for since the first time I set eyes on you." Roland nodded glumly, he'd expected nothing else. He picked up the Holy Book, wrapped it in fine whitesilk, and then placed it in a polished leather pouch. He put the binding and warding-off spells in his pockets, then set off to find the others. Madrion stayed behind to work further on preparations for the coming battles, and Roland paused at the door to look back at her. She didn't notice him, so he closed the door softly and descended the stairs to find his new friends. Allys was just checking on Godolfin, tucking his blankets tightly around his pointed little ears, when Roland entered the room. With worry knitting her brow, she filled him in on the events which had taken place that day. Roland looked equally troubled when he regarded the tiny Elf he had come to consider as a friend. "Will he be allright, Roland? He still seems agonized, and often calls out in his sleep, seeming to be in great pain, and he will not wake. He has slept thus since we brought him back." "I know that the wiles of a Succubus are difficult to dissolve, Allys, and that they can enter a man's sleep and drive him wild. Perhaps you should consult with Madrion, she's busy up in her sanctuary, but she will spare a moment to help with our Elf's sufferings, for she cannot stand to see anyone in pain. I'll show you where she is, come with me," He led her up the stairs to Madrion's workplace and sanctuary, knocked on the door then fled, not bothering to reply to Allys's "But aren't you coming in too, Roland?"

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Madrion called out a clear "Enter," in her melodic voice, and Allys opened the door to face the woman she thought had stolen Roland's heart. "There's no time for such thoughts," her mind whispered to her, so she concentrated instead on the need for help with Godolfin's problem. Madrion listened, then caustically said, "That'll teach that fool Elf to go meddling where he doesn't belong. I have no time to find solutions for every little problem; there's many more important matters that I have to concentrate on. Why couldn't the dull-witted obtuse Elf behave himself!" So saying, she went to a cabinet at the back of the room and pulled out a salve of some sort. She tossed it to Allys, saying crossly, "Have a servant rub this all over that perverse Elf. It'll sting, but no mind, it will work. Now leave, for I've much to do and no time to do it in." She once again bent her head to her work and ignored Allys standing by the door. Allys quietly left, thinking, "And where is that kind hearted Madrion who cannot stand to see someone in pain, I wonder?" She hurried to find a manservant to follow the witch's instructions, and then went to find the others. As she thought, they were sitting in the library, huddled close to the fire. Roland had just finished apprising them of Madrion's plans, so he called to Allys to draw up a chair and sit close to him so that he could tell her what he'd just told the others. This Allys happily did, and so they passed the next hour. The dinner gong rudely interrupted and they rose from the warm hearth to make their way to the drafty dining room. Madrion was already seated at the head of the table, and as the others sat, the servers hastily ladled hot pea soup into their bowls. Chunks of bread quickly appeared, with goblets of a very sweet wine which Madrion seemed to favor.

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They knew the meals at Madrion's castle were meager, so they ate as much soup as they could manage. Sure enough, the only things which followed were a large platter of vegetables and an enormous bowl of salad. Godolfin was the only one who fared well at this meal, for he never partook of the cannibalized Human habit of eating flesh for food. Still, he loved pies and pastries, and fine cheeses, and fresh baked bread with churned butter, and Allys' cinnamon hot chocolate, so even he silently wished for “more food” when the meal was done. As was her custom, Madrion said not one word at the dinner table. She had already informed her visitors of her practice, and that she'd appreciate it if they would observe her ritual with her. When a witch asks a favor of a guest that is staying in her home, it is best for that guest to comply with that request, no matter how odd, so the meal was eaten in solemn silence, and truthfully, they were glad when it was over. They escaped back to the warmth of the library's fireplace, but the easy camaraderie of the previous hour had dissipated with the chilly meal.

Madrion was more than a little worried about the events which had transpired more than twenty years ago. Her suspicions had been confirmed, and she shuddered at the consequences for the Kingdom. There would be no help from their God, for the Blood Line of the Royal House of Terran had been brutally slaughtered; there was no denying that. All they could do now was to try to reassemble the pieces to form some sort of livable future, and she could not see how this could be done without a great deal of bloodshed. So it was thus, with her shoulders sagging and her walk limp that she made her way to her lonely sanctuary to make further attempts to pry secrets from the unwieldy past.

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Her musings were interrupted by a bold knock on the door, and stifling a sense of irritation she called out, "Come in!" Gemma opened the door and stepped in hesitantly. She was reluctant to further her acquaintance with Madrion. But she felt that her rank demanded that she do so, as Madrion seemed to be the only source of help available. Hesitantly, she asked, "I was wondering if you'd fill me in on the details of what we're about to do. I need to know." Madrion replied, "You will be meeting with the Goddess of Ice and her henchwoman. Roland has strict instructions to seek her out and make an agreement. On no account must there be any violence. Do you understand? Gemma replied blandly, "When I find this murderess, this woman who was born from the womb of my own mother, I will kill her with my bare hands. She has destroyed my life, and my family's, and the life of every subject in the Lands. She must be sought and punished, and I will do it." "Nay . . . do not say that, Gemma. There must be no more bloodshed between what's left of the Royal House. That would cause repercussions of a cataclysmic nature. There may be none left to enjoy the sweetness of revenge." "But she cannot go free! She must pay for what she's done." "You must believe me when I tell you that she will, and in a manner not even you could wish upon her. But for now you must swear that you'll let her be, for all our futures depend on this. Swear, Gemma, on your mother’s holy grave." But Gemma was not convinced. "I'll have to think on it, Madrion, and I must discuss it with the others, for they have a right to know what is going on. I will speak to you again tomorrow." Madrion had to be

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satisfied with that, for Gemma quickly swept out of the room before she had a chance to make any further comment.

No one had much rest that night. Apart from being generally worried about returning to their own time and facing what had to be faced there, they also could not get over a feeling that all had been in vain. It was with this spirit that they answered Madrion's summons to another conference in the library. She took one look at them and surmised their general discouragement. She shook her head. This would not do; would not do at all. "You must believe that our lives will be able to resume with some value," she said. "The Ice Goddess is not invulnerable, nor is the foe that you really fight. If we give up before we've begun, then we've surely lost. There are ways to help you, and I've been investigating these possibilities, though I've no answer yet. Still, I must keep on trying, as you must." "We have no intention of giving up," answered Gemma wearily. "It's just that we do not really know what to do now. You say that we must not kill my twin, yet I do not see any other way to overcome her." "And if it was only your twin that we were up against, then I would say 'go ahead'. But it's not. There is a force that's behind this, and if you kill your half-sister, this force would only find some way to use her death for its advantage. It would also find another puppet to do its bidding. Nay, we are much better off as we are, for at least we know in what direction we have to beware. Does that make things clearer?" "Aye, and more murky too," replied Gemma. "I understand now what it is that you say, but methinks we deal not with foes of flesh and blood. I like it not. But I will do what I must."

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"Then do this: you must travel forward to the time from where you left. There you will encounter the Goddess, I've given Roland spells of protection. Now listen carefully: you must not do anything that your sister requests of you, no matter how good it sounds. You must communicate only with the Goddess of Ice. Do you understand? Your twin is treacherous, and guided by the ancient beast himself - and he is most clever." "Aye, I understand, and I will do as you ask," Gemma muttered unhappily. Nothing would have pleased her better than to challenge the wench who was her Blood half-sister to a duel to the Dark Night of the Soul, but apparently that opportunity would not be forthcoming.

With the few spells that Madrion had conjured up and the knowledge of what had transpired so long ago, they started to ready the wagon to take them back to the portal where the Goddess had imprisoned Gemma. Godolfin was infused with a feeling of unfamiliar loyalty to his new friends for what they had saved him from, and insisted that he be allowed to accompany them on their journey back. Knowing the grave dangers which faced them, Gemma was inclined to refuse, but Allys pleaded with her to let him come. Allys had grown fond of the little Elf, and felt protective over him, especially after his most recent escapade. "He'll never survive if we leave him here with Madrion, for without us the Succubus will find him again. We owe it to him to return him to Glinda's cottage where we found him. We really forced him to come anyway, and the least we can do is take him back," she told Gemma. "I know all this, Allys, but it is possible we will not get back. Does he understand this? He would be much safer here in Madrion's domain."

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"And so would we all, but we're coming. Not one of us wants to stay behind. Godolfin deserves at least as much choice, and besides, he's never before been parted from Romul. It's only fair, if we're using his device that he be allowed to accompany us." Gemma reluctantly agreed, and Godolfin gleefully started packing. It was hours later when they deemed themselves ready to travel. They did not pack much food, as it was impossible to find wholesome meat in Madrion's demesne. So all they took was fruit, bread and water. They decided that they would be able to purchase a better dinner at the first inn they encountered. Madrion gave them some silvers and coppers, which she had tucked away for emergencies. They accepted these gratefully, having long spent the coins their beautiful Elven gypsy had danced out of the pockets of men. As the drawbridge rolled down, Allys noticed Greyfriars (as she had began to call him), the wolf who seemed to have become her friend lurking about on the other end. Impulsively, she called to him and turned to Madrion. She begged the witch to let him come with them too. "You know that that is a Werewolf, who eats Human flesh for a delicacy? I cannot risk letting him loose in the Mortal world, for he would do much damage." "No, he wouldn't!" cried Allys, "I'm sure that he would do no such thing. Would you?" She looked at Greyfriars sternly, but the Werewolf could not quite meet her eye. "Well, perhaps he would, but could you not give me a spell to keep him under control? He can protect us well, and will be able to sniff out dangers way before we get to them." Madrion considered. One of the gravest dangers was that they would not get to the portal and their Real Time soon enough. They had already spent too much time in the past, and the events surrounding Gemma’s kidnapping were of paramount Significance to the futures of the Lands.

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Events such as these easily led up to a Limit of Paradox. If they should be delayed, they could tax the Paradoxical Limit. They would be lost forever. Their souls could not endure the split that their physical beings would experience. They would become irrelevant to the future and they would continue on as creatures without souls, bound for nowhere; a fate the evil one would heartily endorse. Madrion beckoned to Greyfriars, and hunkered down to his level. She looked deep into his eyes, trying to communicate the importance of the Humans reaching their destination on time. She searched his eyes for some clue as to the motives behind his apparent attachment to Allys . . . after all, for all they knew, he could be working for the evil one himself. She saw no evidence of that as she scrutinized his inner presence. What she did see caused her to smile. The creature had fallen in love with Allys! She stood and nodded her agreement that the Werewolf could escort them, and went back to her sanctuary to produce a spell which would render the Werewolf harmless in Human territory. The spell would prevent the wolf from killing Humans. It would also mask its true essence to any who might know magik. She handed it to Allys to wear, along with the other two spells Roland had already handed out. Allys took it gratefully and fastened it to the silver chain she wore around her neck. The travelers were beginning to look like charm bracelets with all the spells they possessed. Thankfully, the Goddess was not familiar with witchspells, having supernatural powers available for her own use. Her ignorance for witchspelling was obvious by her disregard of the elementary steps of spellcasting when she had imprisoned Gemma. Madrion guessed that the Goddess's companion, Gemma's twin, did not have much experience with witchspells either, or she would have been able to make precautions against the finishing of an unbreakable spell.

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Madrion was positive that neither the Goddess nor the twin suspected anything like time travel existed in the world of Mortal men, for though the Goddess was of supernatural Blood and could be omnipotent and omnipresent if she so chose, Madrion doubted that she had ever peered into the past. Gods and Goddesses did not experience time as Mortals did. Because they were Immortal, time just existed for them; there was no such thing as past and present in their lives. But there was really no reason that the Goddess of Ice would look into the Human's past, either. No doubt she would have very surprised had she cast her glance backwards, but thankfully it appeared that she had not. One thing that still confused Madrion, however, was the Goddess's involvement in the whole affair. Never had she known one of the Gods of the Skies to meddle in Mortal matters, and she knew that solving this puzzle would give her one more answer to the problems they faced. She sincerely hoped that Roland would find out more about the Goddess's motivations, and so help her with the answers to this question.

A long time ago, Madrion had aligned herself with the Gods of the Lands, the Madurian God Aleph and the Taliesan God Omegon, who were one and the same, and yet were not, who were the beginning and end of all time, and yet did not exist as we know existence. She had perceived great magik in these Gods, or God - one could refer to them in the plural or singular, but He and They were one and the same. Although she knew of many other Gods, such as the Goddess of Ice, she had paid them no mind, convinced as she was that her God was more powerful. She knew that the power was still there, but feared that He had withdrawn His protection from the Lands - He was a true and just God who kept His promises, for better or for worse. She thought again on the writ of the Holy Book,

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"When the Lands accept a Royal House that is pure and beyond reproach, then there will never be another battle to darken the night of your soul and turn your rivers to blood. But if that line be sullied in any way or broken, or lost, this promise will be sullied, or broken, or lost, and an evil will come upon this land like you have never experienced before." Now this time seemed to be imminent. All that they could do was go on faith that it would work out eventually. Faith seemed to be as dust on the wind to their hopes right now, but they could not let that show, for the success of their plans depended on a great performance of confidence.

So it was with great forbidding and a few spells that Madrion sent her young friends off. She had much work to do, and needed the time to do it in. She calculated that she had the same amount of time to get ready for the encounter with the Goddess as did the others, for she planned to join them at the scene of Gemma's ensorcelled imprisonment. She could not travel through time for reasons she chose not to disclose, but she could travel across distance like everyone else, which was what she planned to do. The time she had available to do this was about three months, so she planned to use two of those months in study and preparation, and the remaining one in travel. She hated to cut her travel time so close, but she needed to have some more answers before the encounter with the Goddess. She would have to work very hard to obtain them in two short months. This is why she decided to tell the others nothing of her plans, for she did not want them to be dependent on her. She felt they might, if they believed she would be there. With this in mind, she settled down once again to scry into the elusive past from where her visitors had just returned. There was obviously someone blocking the image

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as she tried to see who the Terran twin's father was. All she could see was the same nebulous gray mist she had always conjured up. She sighed, and standing up, went to her window to gaze upon the stark battlements which surrounded her home. She remembered a time long past, where she had lived in humbler but happier dwellings. Many years had gone since then, and Madrion strained to recall the details of what had been another life.

She had been just a young girl, with no idea of the way her future would turn out. She wondered idly what she would have thought in that time so long past if she would have known of the events which were to shape her life. No matter now, what was done was done, and nothing could undo the past. Suddenly she stiffened, remembering something she had so long forgotten. Perhaps that was where the clue lay! Hurriedly she set out the tools for scrying, and focused her attention on a time misted with shrouds of portent. She concentrated, searching for the answers to the tangled web of murder and treason in the high court of Terran. She readied a spell for listening (due to some strange distortion of the time curtain, scrying in the past yielded no sound, so one was either left to guess what was being said, or to employ the use of a listening spell). Once the spell was invoked, Madrion bent her concentration on her scrying, peering into a crystal orb which was similar to the one belonging to Gemma's gypsy Elf, only much larger.

The day looked cold and grim in the glass of the crystal as Madrion scryed the little cottage the others knew only as the Tibbens's cottage. Only it was not in the middle of

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the woods now; rather, it was in the middle of a great long stretch of what seemed to be flagged stone covered with a light sprinkling of snow. The area was deserted, and there appeared neither bird nor beast to disturb the vast white landscape. Yet the cottage which had been occupied by Tibbs and Glinda Tibbens looked exactly the same as it always had, with no wear and tear. It looked no older; it looked no newer. In the air surrounding the cottage, soft snowflakes were suspended in mid-air, neither falling to the ground nor moving in any direction. If it had not been for the obvious three-dimensional quality of the landscape, one would have thought the scene to be but a picture in a frame. All of a sudden, the stillness was shattered by the front door opening quickly. A very young Madrion come tumbling out, laughing wildly all the while. Following closely was a young man, who was trying to catch her as she fought her way through the suspended snowflakes. "I thought I told you never to do that! What would people think if they saw what you've done to these snowflakes!" cried the man, though he did not seem much annoyed. "There's no one here to see! You know that no one comes around these parts; they think it's haunted!" "And no wonder, with all the silly tricks you play. You should be spending your valuable time on your studies, you little witch!" "So who'll make me?" she laughed and flung her head back. It was obvious she was enjoying every minute of her escapade with the young man, and he did not seem too distressed by her frivolity. "Who do you think?" He caught her in his arms. "Release those snowflakes immediately, madam, or I'll stop teaching you everything I know."

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"You wouldn't dare!" The young Madrion cuffed him on the ear, and he wrestled her to the ground, both of them convulsed with giggles.

Madrion blinked her eyes, and stared once more at the scryed image. She had forgotten how happy she had been then. She stared again at the face she had loved so well, and felt the torment she had thought to have forgotten. Mystyere, the only man she had ever loved, the one who had betrayed her so totally that she should hate him, but she did not. She still longed to feel his arms around her, and shook her head at her folly. But there was much to be gained by strengthening the image, for Madrion was beginning to realize that the answers she had been searching for had been locked into this time and place. Carefully she honed her scryed image to focus on an event she remembered clearly so many hundreds of years later, but had ascribed no particular significance to at the time. She had been seated with Mystyere at the dining table. They had just finished their meal were relaxing with a glass of sweet red wine, when loudly at the door had come a bold knocking. It had been one of Mystyere's strange friends, and this one she had not liked. As she focused the image more strongly in her mind, she could once again see the features of the coarse, evil-looking giant (for that was what she had then thought he was, because of his height, though he had not the corpulent physique of a typical giant) who had claimed friendship with her beloved Mystyere. The two had talked deep into the night, of many things about which Madrion had had no comprehension of at that time when she had been young and innocent. She now strained her concentration to pick up the gist of what they were talking about.

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"'Tis the truth, Mystyere, I cannot live in the Northlands again. The life, it is too grim, the women are too frigid and unfriendly, and the weather, it is much too cold. I am not like my mother, and she must learn that. I believe that I must more resemble my father, though she will not tell me who he is. I have my suspicions!" Mystyere laughed and clapped his chum on his back. "Do you not think that mayhap you play too rough for the women? Not all like to be beaten in the course of lovemaking, you know. I've also heard some rumors that you have been killing them to satisfy your lust. Is it any wonder they are cold and unfriendly? Even if you wish to torture them to death for your pleasure, you need not publicize it, for then they will all shun you." "I care not anyway. I am leaving, and methinks there's plenty out there to interest me. I will not live in the same vicinity as my mother. Hah! She uses me as she pleases. Why must I pleasure her when I could have any maiden at my disposal?" "True enough, it's just that I do not want to see you give up your heritage. There's many riches and luxuries to be had where you come from, and you have always had what you want. You are even allowed to kill these maidens, and nothing happens to you. Do you think that it would be like that in the other Lands? Nay, you would be caught and hung." "That's if they could catch me, and truly my mother would not let me die, this I know. She would intervene and save my life if needed, so I've naught to fear. Anyhow, I only butchered a few maidens to see what it would feel like, and I did not like it. When they're dead, they cannot scream, and it is truly the pain that I enjoy inflicting. I would like to have a chance at that ripe little one, I can see that you do her no justice, for there are no bruise marks on her fair skin."

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He gestured coarsely to the body of Madrion. She was lying on the bed, half asleep and completely unaware of the nature of the conversation. At this, however, she stirred languorously and started to listen idly to their conversation. Nothing gave away what she next heard save a certain stiffening of her body. It had been then that she had learned one of her first and most powerful sorceries, right there on that bed, driven by emotions so strong that she thought they would rip her apart, and still she listened, not moving one inch to betray her new knowledge. How could I have been so stupid? the older Madrion thought, as she continued to watch the crystal orb tersely. You were young, came the answer, floating amidst her unconscious, and she began to lose the image mirrored in the scrying orb. She steeled herself to continue, emotionless, and once again tightened her concentration to hear what was being said. This speech was one she knew by heart, for it was the very one which had broken her soul so long ago. Mystyere glanced at the inert body on the bed to make sure Madrion was asleep before he replied. "Nay, not this one, for she interests me." Mystyere said this. The man who had sworn to love her through all eternity. The man who had told her he loved her more than life itself. Madrion once again felt the searing emptiness which had poisoned her spirit, and the scryed image wavered. She forced herself to go on. "Besides, I have taught her many techniques for pleasuring a man, and I have not yet tired of her. But when I do, I will remember you wanted her, no doubt that will keep her cheerful. She seems to need a man around!" It was these words which had set Madrion on the course she now traveled, for she had realized immediately that only through the Magik Arts could she ever hope to live a

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sane life. She had always known she had the aptitude for the Knowledge, but had never before felt compelled to pursue the Arts, until those fateful words dripped from Mystyere's lips like venom. As if she drew already on that source of power, the young maid rose from the bed and went over to drape her arm around Mystyere's neck, saying drowsily that it was time they went to bed, for she was mighty sleepy. It was then that she glanced at the visitor, and noticed a mark on his neck. This time, from far in the future, she peered intently at the discoloration, calling all her subconscious abilities into play. She focused her mind on the mark, and drew it into her own realm of reality. There it was . . . an inverted crown! Plainly etched against the side of the visitor's neck was the mark Gemma had seen on her twin, the same mark the Queen Tamsyn had seen on her abductor. Madrion carefully let the images go, and returned to her normal state of functioning. So, the plot was becoming thicker, was it? That event had taken place more than a thousand years ago, and yet the creature still existed. He had to be an Immortal, and thus the son of a God, for nothing else could really explain his longevity. And Madrion was willing to bet her life on his being the son of the Goddess of Ice.

But where was he now? Madrion had an urgent feeling that it was important to find him, so she set about another task of searching the likely places he might have been. She asked questions of her necromancing friends, and others who might have come into contact with the man who sported an inverted crown on his neck. After working for at least another twelve hours and turning up nothing, she realized that her search might yet take some time. She had asked all she had come in contact with

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to continue the search for the stranger, and then thought that she had better rest before she passed out from sheer exhaustion. Working the Magiks was always a difficult and tiring task. One always had to be aware enough not to let the evil one grab the soul away when the door to the Arts was opened. That was probably the hardest part, Madrion reflected, for the evil one never seemed to tire or need a rest. He was always there on the peripherals of one's brain, waiting, always waiting for the chance to snatch some tired soul from its rightful owner. Madrion sat down to a sparse meal and felt her exhaustion like waves washing up on the sand. So when she finally made it to her chambers, she tottered on the brink of the large bed and then fell right in. She slept for many hours, and was only roused by Athiene vigorously shaking her. The Giantess pointed the way to the study, and the witch rose from her warm bed. Athiene had been on watch in the sanctuary while Madrion slept, and she had received a summons for her mistress from a friend of Madrion's who dwelt in one of the neighboring Madurian towns. Madrion entered the study and turned her attention to the matter at hand. She peered into the scrying crystal once again. In the middle of the orb was an image of a typical Madurian peasant woman, plumply dressed in plain cotton clothes. "What do you have to tell me?" she asked of Ellyryran, her old friend of many years. "Well, it may be nothing, but I can swear I have heard of this man of whom you speak. He has been living in these parts the past months. He has been in no trouble that I know of, but still the description fits. His name is Korda, and he is friends with no one, save a Faerie wench he lives with, and her Nymphian maid." "Do you know anything of an inverted crown on his neck?"

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"Aye. He sometimes frequents the baths, and my source has checked for the birthmark. It is there." "Then he is the one I seek. What do you think we could do to get closer to him? There are some things I need to know, and only he can give me the answers. I must find someone to gain his confidence, to see if he will reveal his secrets. But who can I trust to do this job?" With a sinking heart, Madrion knew the answer to her own question. There was really only one person who fit the description she had just given - herself! She didn't quite know why she felt so surprised. The man who called himself Korda knew her, and probably even vaguely trusted her, to the extent that he trusted anyone. During her life, Madrion had been careful not to let anyone know anything about herself or her life, so there were few rumors about the powerful witch. No doubt, Korda would only remember her from her friendship with Mystyere, and might believe her harmless. She sighed deeply. She had thought that perhaps she would no longer have to resort to subterfuge to gain her own ends, but obviously she had been mistaken. "Where exactly is he located? And how long will it take me to get there?" she asked Ellyryran. The older woman replied with a shocked, " You cannot possibly mean to go there yourself, can you? These are things you have no experience with, Madrion! You live in that cloistered domain of yours, and you can know nothing of the evils of this world!" Madrion suppressed a smile, and answered her friend diplomatically. "Never fear for me, my dear, for I do know the man, and he will not harm me. He is a friend of someone I knew a long time ago. I will first come to visit you, and I may find it

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unnecessary to see him. Perhaps his Faerie friend will talk? I do not know, but I will be there soon to find out." And with that, Madrion closed the scryed image. She thought fondly of Ellyryran, who knew little of the her real self. Madrion’s spells and secrecy had paid off, for really, no one knew the full scope of her powers. When anyone met her, they usually felt that the rumors of her abilities were grossly exaggerated. Madrion liked it that way, for the less people knew about her, the more power she had over them. But it was a lonely path. Seeing no reason to delay, she decided to pack immediately, now that she had decided the trip to Madur would be necessary. She had wanted Athiene to accompany her, but realized that she would be much less conspicuous without the seven foot Giantess, so she reluctantly packed alone. Despite her brag to Ellyryran, she knew that she would be up against some formidable foes if she was dealing with Immortals (if Korda was such a one). She carefully chose spells and potions she thought might help. She knew that she had to hurry, for Madur was no closer to the time portal where Gemma lay entrapped than her own domain, although it lay in the opposite direction. It would take her at least six weeks to travel there, and then she would need three weeks to travel to the portal. Had she been skilled enough in Aethyric travel, it would have been no problem. But anytime she had attempted travel by entering the Aethyr in one location, hoping to emerge in the place of her choice, she had invariably been hundreds of miles away from her destination. She did not trust Aethyric travel. Madrion desperately hoped that she had time to do all that was necessary, but if she had not, then the others would have to deal with the Goddess as best they could.

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Ultimately, her mission might well prove more important to the future of the Lands, anyway, and if this was true, then it must be given priority. Madrion hated traveling under such time constraints, but there was naught else to do save make the best of it. She was not worried about danger throughout the trip, for she was a powerful necromancer, but still she felt an apprehension such as she had not experienced in very many years. Was it the remembrance of the old romance of centuries ago? No doubt Mystyere still was around, though he lived in an entirely different realm than the one occupied by the planet Earth. He had entered into this planet's plane of existence through the pull of the portal located in the place that was now the Tibbens' cottage. He too was a powerful necromancer, and had taught Madrion all she knew of the arts. Madrion had been too clever to allow the heartbreak of Mystyere’s betrayal to deter her from gaining the knowledge she sought. She knew that a sound knowledge of the Arts could free her forever from any worldly care or attachment. In the end she had used Mystyere, as coldly as he had used her. She remembered his surprise and the sudden respect he had held for her when she settled down to really practice her lessons. She also remembered how he had pleaded with her not to leave him, after all had happened . . . and when she no longer wanted him. It was funny that the very thing she had neglected in order to pursue him was the same thing that eventually brought him to her - and the same thing that caused her to no longer want him. Yes, she had used him, and found that when she reached a certain stage in her development of the Arts that she had no longer even needed him for her studies. She had her own remarkable aptitude, and her skills grew to outdo those of her teacher's.

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Mystyere, having come to truly know her, had fallen in love with her, but she had laughingly turned down his offer of everlasting fidelity. She had humiliated him, this proud man, in such a way that he had returned to his world, swearing that he would never again return. He had kept his word. Now Madrion felt, for the first time since she had last seen him, that she could have used his help just this once. But who knew? Even if he had been here, he might have sided with Korda and the Goddess against her. She would be very careful never to trust a man again.

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The Beast Within The Beast ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Madrion set out on her journey that very evening. She had donned leather pants and boots, as well as a light cotton shirt under woolens. She sported a dagger and a sword at her belt, and there was a quiver full of arrows and a bow strapped to the side of her horse. She was proficient with a thousand years of practice, and if necessary she planned to use weapons rather than witchcraft. Because of the danger involved with the uses of the Arts, no one ever used them unless absolutely necessary. She took her favored Faerie steeds, Bellephron and Undelalia. Faerie steeds need neither rest nor sustenance. They could also maneuver without a driver, for they were highly intelligent animals. Madrion herself could stay awake for days at a time. When she needed to sleep, she planned to do so in her small carapace (a carapace was a tiny wagon, so small that anyone riding in it closely resembled the animals who carried their homes on their backs).

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It was no problem for the Faerie steeds to pull the small wagon. It was a mode of travel few were able to enjoy, however, for only Faerie horses were intelligent enough to drive the roads unsupervised. Access to the valuable animals was strictly limited, and only two or three Humans owned Faerie steeds. Needless to say, Madrion was exhausted three weeks later when she pulled the reins in outside of her friend Ellyryran’s home. Ellyryran bustled out to meet her. She put an arm around the now faint Madrion, and helped her up to the room she had prepared for her. Madrion barely had the energy for a hot bath, and Ellyryran had to rescue her twice from drowning. Eventually she got her to bed. Long after Madrion had passed out she sat, staring out into the starry night sky.

The next morning dawned with a chill in the air, but the day promised to be beautiful. Madur was a temperate city, as it was bordered on all sides by an ocean whose tides rode through hot, unbearable climates. The heat warmed the sea enough to raise the temperatures of the Madurian capital, Madur. The citizens of Madur never had to suffer the intense cold experienced by those of the Northlands, although rain dampened their spirits quite regularly. Today, however, held the promise of only warm sunshine and clear skies. Madrion pried her eyes open as soon as the night sky streaked shards of violet and yellow. She could feel her muscles protesting wildly as she swung her limbs over the side of the bed. She ignored them as she struggled to get dressed. When she was ready, she tapped tentatively on Ellyryran’s door, and pushed it open. Ellyryran’s round face peeped aggressively through the covers. "What do ye want, Madrion? It's the middle of the night, go back to bed!"

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"Nay, I can not, " laughed Madrion, for the sight of her friend with funny looking pins in her hair to curl it for the morning was hilarious. Ellyryran was a witch of some repute, and many things and people obeyed her unquestioningly. Apparently, her hair did not. "I must locate that villain Korda immediately, an' I need your help. Come, get up, Elly! I've no time to waste," and with that she pulled the blankets right off of her plump little friend. She convulsed with further giggles at seeing Ellyryran dressed in little pink bunny knickers. She moved to the other side of the room to cackle when her friend swatted her out of the way. "Come, Maddy, if you want my help, then do ye not think that ye should treat me decently? I'm up now . . . go get us breakfast while I dress." Madrion nodded, gasping for air, then decided to obey unquestioningly when she saw the thunderous expression on Ellyryran’s face. Ten minutes later, Ellyryran pushed open the door to her dining room to find two small glasses of orange juice perched next to plates containing halves of grapefruit, neatly pared, cut away, and decorated with a gay cherry. She could not believe her eyes, for she had forgotten Madrion's eating habits. "Madrion! ye cannot be serious! Pick up your idea of breakfast and follow me." Ellyryran swept imperiously into her favorite room of her home, the kitchen. Truthfully, it was a lovely one, with raised ceilings and many windows. A warm fire burned in the fireplace. She swiftly went to her cupboards and pulled out a fragrant loaf of bread, along with several spiced sausages and a cooked potato. Humming to herself, she set about making coffee and toast. She fried the sausage and the potato together, along with half a dozen eggs from the chickens she kept. Pulling out a jug of cream along with some fresh peach

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preserve from the cellar, she finally sat down to a meal that would have fed Madrion for a month. When she got rid of most of her hunger pangs, and had unsuccessfully tried to get Madrion to eat some of the large meal, she sat back with a huge mug of creamed coffee and said, "Right, Madrion, let's get to work. I can never think when my brain's hungry, that's the truth of it." "Well, you should be a genius after that meal! Never mind - what I need to know now is everything you can tell me of Korda and the Faerie wench he lives with. I must go there and make friends with him, so I need to know of their relationship so that I can best decide my plan of attack. There are things that only he knows that I must know, and I need to decide what's the best and swiftest manner to get these answers from him." "I do not know much, but what I know I will tell you. They have been living here these past few months, and they havn’t wanted any to know of their racial origins. “Korda only goes out at night. The Faerie wench does his bidding during the day. She uses her magiks to disguise herself as a Human, and she wanders the streets of Madur. She wears a Farasian costume, and speaks the language fluently - no doubt helped by some Faerie spell. Methinks some Faerie Queen will be glad to know of her whereabouts. Anyhow, if Korda needs to go out at any time during the day, she binds him with the same spell, and he can follow her with no one realizing his giant origins." "Oh, he's no giant," Madrion cut in. "I have reason to believe he's far more dangerous than that, but I must say no more until I'm sure. So this Faerie is his mistress? I will not threaten her, then, or she may attempt to harm me - then I'd have to stop her. I'd rather not use my powers unless I have to. “Anyhow, I guess I'd better get dressed and be on my way."

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Madrion chose a simple daffodil-yellow Madurian frock for her visit to Korda and his Faerie mistress. She carried no weapon to defend herself, and planned to use no magik. Korda had known her a thousand years ago as Mystyere's woman, and she would not deviate from that impression. Trepidation filled her heart as she neared the unkept and delapidated dwelling just North of the city. Several mangy dogs were nosing in garbage strewn throughout the yard. They glared at her as she walked past their supper. She ignored them and pounded boldly at his door. It was opened by an emaciated Nymph poorly disguised as a Madurian serving wench. She stared dully at Madrion and said, trying to close the door, "We want none of what you're selling, wench. Go away." But Madrion had had the foresight to put her foot in the door as soon as it had opened, so the Nymph was unsuccessful in getting rid of her. "Wait one moment!" Madrion commanded. "I am not here to sell anything. I come to see your master Korda, and I beg of you to let me enter." At Korda's name, the Nymph visibly trembled in terror, and said in a shaky voice, "He likes not to be disturbed. If you value your life, you'd go away now." "I will not. I am here at his request, and I dare not leave, for I have nowhere to go. Just tell him that Mystyere has sent him the prize he requested so long ago. I'll wait here, in the hallway.” So saying, Madrion used the Nymph's surprise to her advantage and pushed her way into Korda's house. Defiantly she stood in the doorway, and the Nymph knew she had no choice in the matter. Shaking her head, she proceeded up a flight of stairs to give Korda his message. She hoped she would not be beaten or killed for it.

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There was no answer to her tentative knock on the door of her master's chambers, so she timidly tried again. This time it was flung open by Ariganna, the blue-haired Faerie who tended Korda's needs. She flew into a rage when she heard the message that Madrion had sent. "A prize, is she? I'll show that . . . that . . . Human what she really is! Perhaps a toad, that's more like it. How dare she come in here, flaunting herself? I'll kill her, that's what, where's my dagger? I'm gone . . . " She flung herself down the stairs to challenge Madrion. Meanwhile, Korda had roused himself enough to demand of Twirla, the Nymph in his service, what was the matter. When she stuttered out the story, he swore loudly and swiftly followed Ariganna. Just as the enraged Faerie was about to stab an already bloody Madrion, he stayed her hand. Madrion was crouched in the corner of the room whimpering loudly. She was holding up her arms to deflect the blows and cuts from her vital organs and her face, so they were bloody and torn. She had made no attempt to fight back or defend herself. She looked worse than she was, for the blood came only from gouges in her arms. She had skillfully avoided most of the enraged Faerie’s blows, for she wanted to appear helpless. She had been careful not to allow Ariganna to draw too much blood, while she had dodged the more voracious knife stabs to her vital areas. As soon as she saw Korda, Madrion put the second part of her plan into action. Flinging herself down on her hands and knees she crawled over to him, groveling all the while. "Korda! You wanted me! Mystyere told me so . . . and yet you send this woman to kill me . . . Korda . . . I only wanted to see you again . . . I remember only how exciting and how . . .how . . . . big you were, and Mystyere found himself another woman, and he

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told me to come to you, and he even told me where to find you. I was so happy! Please, do not send me away, for I have risked much to come your way . . . do you not lust after me any more?" With this, she looked up at him, and the loveliness of her face caused him to start. Indeed, he had forgotten the face on Mystyere's wench of skin and bone. He could remember desiring her when he had first laid eyes on her, and he did remember Mystyere refusing him and promising to send her to him when he tired of her. Well, it looked as though he had kept his promise, though now it must be hundreds of years later. Korda was puzzled, but noticed that the wench was bleeding all over his expensive rug. More to the point, her blood-letting had not by his hand! Filled with indignation, he turned to Ariganna and punched her hard in the stomach. She collapsed to the floor, doubled over in pain. He kicked her in the head. The beautiful blue-haired Faerie sank into unconsciousness. "That'll teach you to meddle with my pretty presents. No one ever gives me anything, and when someone does, you have to go and spoil it," he muttered to himself as he kicked her disconsolately a few more times. He turned to Madrion and pulled her to her feet, shouting, "Get up, wench, and stop bleeding! I did not say that you could bleed, now stop it! Look at all that pretty blood going to waste!" He cuffed Twirla hard on the side of her head, and growled, "Clean them up, or you'll join them!" Then he turned to go back to bed. Poor Twirla was left to deal with two casualties, and an inept job it was that she did of it, too. She rushed off to acquire bandages and quickly returned, knotting them over and over in her clumsy efforts to unravel them. She had no idea of how to dress a wound, either.

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Madrion gave her hoarse instructions, but mostly bandaged herself. As soon as she finished, she stepped over to Ariganna to see how badly the Faerie was hurt. "Well, she'll not be servicing Korda for awhile," she thought, and realized that this could be used to her advantage. Surreptitiously, she touched the Faery's spinal column, and there located a knob of bone that protruded slightly further than the others up her slightly built back. Madrion pressed hard on the knob, and heard a soft popping sound. "There! That will put her to sleep for at least twenty four hours, and Korda will think that it was his blow. Well, that gets her safely out of the way. Now I must act fast." Revulsion was really at the root of Madrion's urgency. She knew what she would probably have to do for Korda to trust her . . . and he had to trust her so that he would tell her what she needed to know. But the thought of the next few hours was enough to make her sick, and if she had not been skillful enough in the Arts to become emotionless, she could not have done it. Anyway, it would still be easier than making love to Mystyere had become after she had found out where his heart lay. So she steeled her emotions, and climbed the stairs, looking to neither one side or the other. She pushed open the door that she thought was Korda's chamber, and seeing that it was, slipped her pretty daffodil frock over her head and climbed woodenly into the bed next to the huge man. Her eyes became a steel-gray as she detached her emotions from her body and let them float off gently somewhere in the blue skies, attached to her only by a slim, invisible cord of light. Suddenly she felt a resounding pain crash through her head, and between eyes half closed with pain she saw Korda leaning on his arm, staring at her intensely. His other hand was raised to strike her again.

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"Perhaps you had best tell me how it is that you still live these hundreds of years later. Have you become that powerful of a sorcerer, that time touches you not?" "Nay, Korda, but I thought you knew that I lived with Mystyere, and only visited your planet for curiosity’s sake. Did Mystyere not tell you of where we came from?" Madrion turned her large gray eyes on him, and drew on every memory she had of innocence to convince Korda that she was telling the truth. Apparently he believed her, for he lowered his hand, although he continued to stare at her aggressively. "Aye, he did mention somewhat of a strange place. I merely thought that he was demented. That was before I knew strange worlds existed, sometimes even contained in this one. At that time I had visited none. I did not take him seriously at the time. Now I'm mighty glad that you are here, because I could use some information on that world of yours. I need to know how to get there and back." Madrion nodded and asked, "But how is it that you are still living? When Mystyere sent me to you, he did not tell me that hundreds of Earth years had passed since we were last here. By all the mortal laws, you should be dead." "I am Immortal." Madrion's attached emotional self, floating from her body like a balloon, gasped. She had not thought to hear him admit his heritage so easily. She had forgotten that most people did not guard their lives and secrets as closely as she did hers. Mentally she nodded her head. Perhaps this would be easier that she had thought. She felt his hands at her throat and suddenly revised her opinion. "And why does the Madrion want to know? Curious little bird? I always kill any I tell about it, just a thing I like to do. A strange whim of mine. You shouldn't have asked."

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"But don't you want to know how to get to Echelon? If you kill me, you won't know how to get there, and Mystyere wanted to see you. He said that he had something for you, a present." Korda released her slim neck, and tried to pat the red marks out of it. "A present? For me? No one ever gives me presents. I must see what it is. I must go to Echelon, and you will take me." Madrion thought quickly. She certainly could not take him now, though she would have liked to take him there and leave him locked to the Chiberian mountainside, where all other dangerous criminals on Echelon were manacled. But the time passage between the two worlds was too different and erratic. If she spent but a day there, it could be the equivalent of an hour of Earth time - or a millennium. It was impossible to calculate the differences between the planes. "I will, but the moons of both planets must be aligned for a crossing to be feasible, and that does not happen 'til the end of this month." It just so happened that this was the truth, and Madrion thanked her lucky stars that the moon was at its lowest ebb. The Gods seemed to be working with her on this matter, a blessing that rendered her bruised head more bearable. She began to wish that she had brought at least a potion for killing pain. But perhaps it was better this way, because a potion would have muddied her mind, and she needed every ounce of her wits about her at this moment. Korda looked indecisive, then said, "Well, I suppose you can warm my bed until then." He pushed her heavily against the bedhead, and started to pull a silken knotted cord from a nail stuck in the wall. He wrapped the cord firmly around her wrists, and then pulled her up to hang from a pulley fixed to the ceiling. Madrion felt that her arms were about to leave their sockets, but thankfully her light weight made the pain bearable. For some silly reason she was suddenly glad that she had just had the grapefruit for breakfast.

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"This would probably hurt Elly more," she thought irrelevantly, and then used her trained mind to switch off when she felt the first blow on her breasts with the heavy metal-studded whip Korda kept fastened at his hip. She woke hours later, her body burning with a pain she did not think it possible to live through. Blood was caked once again over her body, and she could feel her jaw crack as she tried to turn her face. Suddenly she felt a hand on her thigh. Korda had waited for her to wake up.

He roughly pushed her back into the bed, and whispered to her that she could scream, if that would make her feel better, or perhaps she could even cry. Madrion realized that the quicker she complied with this man's depravities, the quicker it would be finished, so she did scream, and cry, and left deep gouges in his back, which he seemed to like. At last, however, he was satiated, and Madrion was thankful that her consciousness had not had to endure this night of torture. She thought briefly of poor Queen Tamsyn, and felt fresh pain and sorrow, both for the unfortunate Queen and herself. It engulfed her like a tidal wave. But something was still not right. Madrion could feel a cold terror rank in the room. She did not know where it was coming from, but it seemed to amplify with each passing second. Horror swiftly paced behind, as well as pain and suffering. More terror, and grim, bloody nightmares, blood dripping, dripping, into a mouth, over a hand, screams, screams, terror and pain. She felt Korda beside her, changing, changing. She dared not look at him face on, but she could feel his body ripping apart, pieces of flesh pried open by some creature hidden deep inside the recesses of him. It stepped out of the now lifeless body that had once been Korda and wandered over to the window.

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In the pale night, she sensed a creature perhaps as old as time itself. It seemed suddenly aware of her presence, and it silently glided over to where she lay, paralyzed with pain and fear. It stared her in the eye, and opened its mouth to speak, then seemed to change its mind. As it turned its face to the window, Madrion mentally engraved the image of the creature on her brain. It was made of shiny metal and polished bone, with bits of Korda still clinging possessively to its skeleton. Some parts of the creature were hollow, and others bore a reptilian resemblance, with horny, crustaceous membranes wound along its body. A pair of black, damp wings quivered batlike at the creature's back, furling and unfurling in a curiously vulnerable manner. It moved with a peculiar kind of grace, seeming to be in constant motion. Then its bony, elongated fingers found Madrion's face, and stroked it with gentle fingers. Its face suddenly stared into hers again, and it took her breath away, for it was remarkable, simply beautiful, with soft eyes and a fine masculine bone structure. An appealingly seductive smile found its way to Madrion's heart, and melted some of the ice that had formed there these many years past. She smiled back, confident that after all, here was a friend. His golden hair fell forward onto his forehead as he bent to kiss Madrion on the lips, and she shivered deep in her very soul, for here was the passion and the love she had long sought. The creature tenderly gazed into her eyes, and she felt happy for the first time in years. He gestured for her hand, and she gave it to him lovingly, all the while looking with enchantment at his perfect face. Slowly he caressed her hand, and then taking it into both of his hands, broke it at the wrist first, and then stared to break her fingers, one by one. The shock of it brought her awareness swiftly hurtling back in from out in the sky,

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attached by the cord of light. The feelings that the creature had induced in her had forced her consciousness back to her body, a place she did not want to be. She had to fight to return it to the calm blue skies. The pain of her wrist snapping had not been as bad as the sudden wrenching away of what had felt like an infinity of perfect love. She quickly focused her mind to ignore the cracking sounds of her wrist breaking, and the agony that accompanied it. This mind trick worked, and the pain receded. The only problem with this technique was that it required a great deal of concentration, and Madrion was too confused and degraded to be able to use her mind properly. The pain washed over her, and she just let it. Fortunately, her other self was still floating high in the skies, and although it was aware of all that Madrion was going through, it felt no emotion. Madrion knew that the time would come when she would have to reconnect her selves, but until she absolutely had to, she had no intention of facing the horror she had just experienced. Going through the physical torment had been enough; dealing with her feelings, which she would have to when she re-connected, seemed impossible.

Madrion mused that if the Queen Tamsyn had been able to use this technique, perhaps she would not have gone mad, for technically, this must have been what had happened to her too. It had changed her from a sweet, loving woman to a cruel paranoid tyrant. Madrion had no reason to label this metamorphosis as anything but insanity, though others had blamed the Queen and said that she had always been like that, only that she had hidden it from the world. They had said that she was a weak woman, who liked the taste of mead too much; they had called her selfish, for she kept to herself, alone in her room, or wandering the deserted beaches next to the castle. Now, Madrion knew what

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had sent the poor woman into such a state. Being assaulted and raped by this horrifying monster was enough to turn any sane person mad.

Peering around the darkly lit room, she realized that the creature had gone over to Korda's body and sort of zipped itself back into it. Korda now appeared to be sleeping peacefully, with no indication that anything untoward had happened. Cautiously, she stood up, and seeing no movement from Korda, she crept over to peer in the mirror that was hanging on the wall. Unbidden came an image, so strong that she could not believe that she had not summoned it herself. She saw Korda, replete after his depraved assault on her body, stretched naked and satisfied on the huge bed. In the mirror image, however, she could see the creature that was also Korda but was not, laying curled up and comfortable, deep within the recesses of Korda's soul. Superimposed on the whole mirrored image was the symbol of a golden sword with a silvered serpent curled around it. "Interesting . . . very interesting." She had known that she needed to be the one to accomplish this mission, but had not understood why until this minute. The amulet she had given Roland had been with her for centuries, and it bore the same symbol of a golden sword wrapped with a silvered snake. She knew where she had got the amulet, and wondered if she would have to face this next terror too.

Mystyere had given her the amulet, so long ago, and had told her that if ever she needed him, all she had to do was summon him with the amulet. Madrion had never used it for that purpose, and had recently given it to Roland so that he could reach her if he needed.

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Now it looked as though there might be more to the amulet than she had previously supposed. It would be just like Mystyere to give her something and not tell her of all the workings and uses of it. But no, she would not contact Mystyere. Not for the safety of the Lands, not for anything in the world would she ever see him or talk to him again. That meant that she had to find all she could right here in Korda's house, and it would not be easy. What she really needed to know was why it had all been done. It was more than sheer evil; this butchery of the Royal House of Terran had repercussions everywhere, and Madrion now knew that the forces at work were powerful and strong. She had to find out about the strange symbol - where it came from and what it meant. She should probably get the amulet she had given Roland and see if it would still have some echo of its past uses. In the meantime, the problem with Korda still existed, and Madrion had to deal with her broken wrist. She knew that she could expect no help from Korda. She decided that she must set it herself, if she wanted it to mend properly. She was aware that she was pushing the consciousness of what had caused the breakage out of her mind, but she did not care. Cautiously, she opened the door, but Korda did not stir. She crept down the hallway in search of Twirla's quarters, for as spinny as the Nymph appeared to be, there was no one else to help her. Finally she located her, sprawled snoring on an unmade and filthy bed. Even the smell sickened Madrion's senses, for it smelt of unnatural and carnal lust. Nevertheless, she needed Twirla's aid, so she went to the young Nymph and roused her. "W . . . wh . . . whaat?" mumbled the still half asleep Twirla, as Madrion's shakes became more demanding. "Whaddya want?"

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"Wake up, Twirla, I need your help. Your master has broken my wrist, it hurts much, an' you must help me set it." "I told you to leave when you had the chance," replied Twirla crossly, but got up to peer at the damage to Madrion's slim wrist. "You'll need medicine for that, let me get some - or you can come with me if you want. Yes, perhaps that would be better, for there is more light in Korda's study, and he has some strange looking implements and apparatus that may be of help." Still rubbing her eyes, she started towards a hallway that Madrion had not seen before. It had probably been masked with a simple spell of invisibility, such like the one she used to ensorcell her domain. Twirla must have the key spell! And though Madrion knew she could not fool Korda into giving it to her, she could certainly fool Twirla, who now thought that she was an old friend of her master's . . . and therefore to be trusted as much as anyone else in the household. “Aye, he does play rough, but he's not that bad,” Twirla commented as she rolled out a sheaf of bandages. “He only hurts us to pleasure himself, not just for the sake of doing it. If he didn't enjoy it so much, I'm sure that we'd have naught to fear from him. He can be generous, he's given me many a pretty bauble made of gold. There's not many that would do that!" Madrion desisted from responding to this extolling of Korda's virtues. She had a feeling that she would be wasting her breath arguing with the Nymph, and would probably only defeat her own purpose in gaining the Nymph's trust. So she agreed with Twirla’s various statements, and edged in a couple of discreet questions hidden in casual conversation.

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"I've known Korda for well over a thousand years; have you known him for very long?" Twirla looked impressed. "I've only known him for about a year now. I knew his lady from before, though, 'cos Ariganna and I grew up together, but she met Korda way before I did, an' she'd often come back for a visit and tell me how much she loved him. She was mighty unpleased to see you here, you now, an' you should go before she recovers, for she'll never let Korda have two women in the same house, the ones he's got outside, she cannot do anything about, but you, she'll kill you." Twirla's speech had rapidly disintegrated during the past few seconds, and now she seemed almost incoherent. Her fingers were wrapped around Madrion's wrist, trying to provide some support for the bones while Madrion wound bandages around the splints she'd found in the old medicine cupboard. The Nymph looked as though as she was perfectly capable of snapping Madrion’s wrist again. Madrion thankfully wound the last bit of bandage and firmly removed her hand from Twilra's grasp. "I think that I will leave, Twirla," she suddenly said, causing Twirla to look at her hopefully. "But I'll need your help. Now that Korda knows I'm here, he will want to keep me - I know of many things that would be of use to him." Twirla eagerly answered, "I'll do anything, for Ariganna is like my own sister an' I would not want to see her hurt. What do you need?" "Korda will come looking for me, so I need a spell to make me vanish. I think that Korda has something like that here, does he not?" Twirla nodded, beginning to see what Madrion was getting at. "But I'll need to search for it, and I need you to warn me if anyone should come. Can you do that?"

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"Aye, that I can do, and I will." She seemed to be relieved that Madrion had asked so little of her. She did not realize that Madrion had asked more of her than she knew, for by enlisting her aid - no matter how small the contribution - caused her emotionally to lean toward Madrion, and could afford Madrion an invaluable few seconds of protection if things came down to the crunch. It was truly fortunate that the Nymph was such good friends with the Faerie, for that gave Madrion the perfect foil for her plan. "I must look now, before Korda awakes . . . for I do not like my bones broken, even for his pleasure.” Twirla nodded, and stepped out of the room to stand guard. Madrion worked feverishly, going through all the drawers and bookshelves to find something that could help her. She had come so far in her search and had gone through so much that she was determined not to leave empty-handed. She searched for what seemed like hours, and was just bitterly beginning to admit defeat when she noticed that the back of one of the drawers was different from the others. Its drawer space was also smaller. She felt and pressed around the back, and almost sobbed with relief when it opened. She could have just smashed it, but she did not want Korda to know that she had even been there in his study. Twirla would certainly be killed if he found out, as well as he would immediately be on Madrion's trail. If he knew nothing, some time would be bought. She peered into the drawer, and saw layers of old dust, showing that the drawer had not seen the light in many years. She reached her hand into the hiding place, and pulled out a steel box with a padlock through it. She thought that it would be best if she left the box, which might buy them even more time, for if Korda glanced in his secret cache, he may still think that there was nothing amiss if the box was there.

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She quickly scryed the lock to see if there was any magik on it, and she received the shock of her life. There was an energy, a bright and pure light that surrounded the box. It calmed and comforted her even as she stood in the monster Korda's study. There was no magikal device on the lock, so she smashed it with the aid of one of Korda's more unwieldy instruments. In the recesses of the box was a bundle wrapped in greying whitesilk. Madrion grabbed it and tucked it under her arm, trying to replace the box in such a way that the lock could not easily be noticed. She wondered wearily why she had ever become a sorcerer, for it always seemed that whenever something really important had to be done, she usually had to use her manual skills. Her hand was now throbbing painfully, and all the mind tricks in the world could not convince her otherwise. She brushed away the remnants of the lock from the desk, and tried to smooth over a new gouge she had left on its worn surface. She put away the instruments she had used for smashing the lock, and quickly glided to the door. Her instincts told her that she had got exactly what she had come for. She ran into Twirla guarding the entrance, and was momentarily confused when the Nymph asked, "Did you find the vanishing spell?" "Aye," she said. "Aye, that I did, and now I must go." Madrion sped down the stairs and out the front door with never a backward glance.

Finding no one home on her return to Ellyryan's, she quickly went to her own room to inspect the result of her theft. She unwound the whitesilk, and found a tiny book, written in a language she had never seen before. Once again, the touch of the book sent tingles

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of warmth and joy flowing through her veins, even though she could understand not a word of what has written on its pages. Reverently, she put the book away, then decided to repair her damages as best she could. There was nothing she could do about her broken wrist, save persevere with her mind tricks, but she could hide the more obvious bruises, and dress her cuts. Then she donned a large caftan and mentally focused so that her posture would be upright. She did not want Ellyryran to see her limping. Finally, she produced a spell of protection and invoked it, knowing that Korda would never be able to find her through it. It would last her through the night. She then allowed herself the luxury of rest. She was awoken hours later by the sound of voices coming from the kitchen. Ellyryan had a visitor, but Madrion decided to forego the pleasure of meeting anyone. She went back to sleep. When she finally woke, it was to the still light of the moon casting beams upon the counterpane she had rolled herself in. Realizing that she was famished, she climbed painfully out of bed and toward the kitchen. Pausing at Ellyryan's larder, she spied a hunk of bread with a small bowl of butter next to it. Seizing them, she helped herself to part of a wheel of cheese, then sat down at the table to munch comfortably. She contemplated the events that had happened to her in Korda's home. One thing was certain, Mystyere was involved in the whole affair on levels that she never could have guessed. She should have known that the affair of so many centuries ago would have had some repercussions in the future, for the passions had been strong and powerful. She had really fooled herself into believing that she need never see him or hear from him again.

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Then the amulet had appeared in her life, and its symbol was one of great portent, which Mystyere had so carefully explained to her as he had hung it around her neck. Now it seemed that the portentous nature of the serpent and the sword was being invoked. Ruefully, she rubbed her wrist, thinking that she had endured little for such hefty information. No one else could have seen that image, either, for it was brought about by the combination of violence and lust from Korda, able only to be seen by Madrion with the use of her inner eyes. That was why she had crawled to the mirror, even though in her misery and pain, the movement had not been easy. It had been worth the effort. She had gained some valuable knowledge about the nature of the enemy. Now all roads seemed to lead in the same direction : Mystyere. He had known the nature of Korda long before she had ever known the meaning of evil. He also knew about the sword and the serpent, and she was willing to wager a lot that he also knew something of the book she had just stolen. Aye, all the roads led to Mystyere, and that was the only direction she would never go. She sighed and stared out at the stars. It was only then that she noticed a still figure, crouched low by the window, looking at her with terrified eyes. Madrion had not bothered to light any candles, so the kitchen was dim, and she had to strain her eyes to see what was lying wrapped up under the windowsill. "Who are you, and why do you hide?" She knew that it could be no one connected with Korda, for the spell of protection would veil her from any who was aligned with him. So she was not apprehensive, and thus her voice was soft. "I'm sorry, my lady. I'm not hiding, but Miss Ellyryon said that I could sleep here, I'm her new serving girl, she hired me this afternoon." "Mmmmmmm" responded Madrion absently. She had already forgotten the existence of the frightened serving girl. Having finished her meal, she rose to once more

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seek the comfort and warmth of her bed. Tomorrow would be time enough to delve into these new clues. When the morning rose clear and calm, Ellyryon was bustling in the kitchen, getting her breakfast ready. She started when Madrion entered. "I did not know that you were back, Madrion! Did you get what you went for?" "Aye, and more," grimaced Madrion. "That Korda plays most viciously . . . not that I expected anything different." She walked towards the table, buoyed up by her spells, but Ellyryon could see right through them. She too was a most experienced witch, and though not as powerful as Madrion, still she could easily see what was under her very own eyes, even disguised as it was by spellbindery. "Maddy!" She rushed over to her friend, trying to hold her up, only to be brushed off by a frustrated Madrion. "You're hurt!" "I'm not, not much, anyway, and it will heal by itself, which is more than I can say for the state of these Lands. You must help me, Elly, no matter what you see or hear. Do you understand? You must help me, for I can no longer do it alone." She groped for a chair and carefully lowered herself on to it. "I will, Maddy, I promise, but I do not know what you have got yourself in this time. What do you want me to do?" "First we must go to your sanctuary, Elly, for I dare not talk about it here in unprotected space. Come, we'll invoke a spell for our privacy." Madrion carefully rose from the kitchen chair, and they proceeded towards the sanctuary. As they settled down in the place of protection, Madrion turned to Ellyryron and said bluntly.

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"You must travel to a place in our Lands that I will show you; there to do battle with the Goddess of Ice." "You're crazy, Maddy!" squeaked Elly. "I can not possibly fight a Goddess of the Blood! She'll annihilate me with one glance." "Normally she would," agreed Madrion, "But these are not normal times, and anyway, I might be there with you. But there will be others to help, such as the yet unnamed Queen of all the Lands." "The Queen!" squeaked Ellyryron once more. "Come, Maddy, why would she care about the Goddess of Ice, or wish to do battle with her? The Queen has the most powerful of all the Gods on her side, and she'd never need to meddle in the affairs of others." "She has no choice, Ellyryron," Madrion then proceeded to tell her friend of the strange set of circumstances that seemed to involve her with the new Queen of the Lands. Ellyryron nodded sagely, and murmured, "Aye, it was writ in the Holy Book, somewhat about this, but as the original book has been destroyed, and most copies of it too, I cannot check the information. The story goes that a woman with twelve silver stars at her head, and crescent moons at her feet will bear the man who will battle the evil one and save our lands. Methinks you have such an attire that you favor. I thought of this when I first saw you in it but I did not believe that it was more than a coincidence. Now I'm beginning to think otherwise.” "That's insane!" cried Madrion vehemently. “I’ll not bear a child, not now, or ever!" "Aye, 'twas also writ that the woman refused the Holy Destiny, and because of her, generations upon generations have suffered. You had best be careful, Madrion, of what you say or do, and be heedful when it is naught but foolish pride that spurs you on, for

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you will live to regret it if it is." Ellyryron spoke hollowly, almost like the voice of Fate herself, calling Madrion on to judgment. Madrion desperately felt like boxing her old friend's ears. "Stop it! You cannot know! I will do as I must, as I see fit!" She felt hot tears coursing down her cheeks, and realized that there was more than just a pinch of truth in Ellyryron's words. She wearily wiped her face dry, saying only, "But I'll think on it, Elly, truly I will." "And where will you do your thinking, that I must go to be with your friends?" "Methinks that I must find Mystyere, though it saddens my heart, and I do not want to." "But from what you say, you may not come back until it is much too late, for the time between our planets is not synchronized." "That's true, but I must risk it. Things may yet work out, and I could be back in time with the solution to our problems. That’s more than we have at the present moment." Ellyryron pursed her lips and looked thoughtful. "Why don't I go, Maddy, and you go help your friends. If Mystyere will help, then he'll help me, and if he will not, then your going will not change his mind." Madrion felt a swift surge of disappointment, followed by relief. She wanted to go to Echelon, but the memories that it brought back were too numerous and too painful. "You mean you'd do that for me, Elly? You know that you might not come back to this time?" "Aye, that I do, lass, but there's naught here to hold me anyway. You remember those dreams of a lover that I always had? They were of a man whose face I've never seen, and whose emotions I've never experienced. I can sense his feelings and they are not of this

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world. Mayhap 'tis my destiny that tugs me in the direction of Echelon, and it may be wise if I turn and follow it." Madrion looked as bemused as she felt. She remembered Ellyryron often telling her when she had one of her dreams, and her plump face had always glowed with happiness. Perhaps she was right, and this event was just another unfolding of the material they called time; and perhaps time was irrevocably linked with destiny. Who ever really knew? "If you're sure, Elly . . . ‘tis a big step for you, but my mind would rest easier if I could start out to the portal where Gemma is imprisoned. I will tell you how to get to Mystyere, and how to find the cottage in the wood. “The moons must be synchronized, and that does not happen until the end of the month, so we must wait awhile. He must come back here with you during the same synchronized moon time, and that will be for only about three days. If we wait until the next time it happens, the likelihood of a vast time difference is much more likely. "It is possible to cross with no time differential during one synchronized moon cycle, for I've done it, and we must pray that it will happen this time. When I find Roland, I will retrieve the amulet from him, and Mystyere can contact me immediately through it, without having to search to find me. It will save us a lot of time. It's just too bad that it does not work between our dimensions, that would be faster yet. Are you sure that you don't mind going, Elly?" "I will mind soon, if you do not stop asking me that! I want to go, Madrion. I think that it will be wonderful!" "Well, you must be careful, and Echelon's not that terrific, I'll guarantee that. It is a country ruled by very strict laws, and they are most ferocious in the enforcement of them."

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"Yes, but you did tell me once that sorcerers are revered and looked up to, and are treated with great dignity and respect? I would like that, for once in my life. Here on this Earthenworld, sorcerers have always been feared and hunted down like petty criminals. 'Tis only been with the establishment of the Royal House of Terran that white witchery was legalized, and even now there are many that would love to burn me to cinders as I stand. “I have no friends, except you, and there's many a day I fear for my life. I grow sick of the ‘accidental' bumps I receive when I go to the market, or the hours I have to stand in line to get my gold from the bank. I know that these people are often just waiting for me to lose my temper and hurt one of them, so that they can scream 'black witchery!' and execute me." Madrion laughed, for Ellyryron though looked so indignant, it was mighty hard to believe that a witch of her status could become so worked up about people's opinion of her. "Yes, but they could never hurt you at all, Elly! So why be bothered with them?" "I know, I know Madrion, but it gets hard sometimes." Madrion nodded. Her life too was isolated, for she did not count the undead that wandered her domain as company. Perhaps Ellyryron was indeed making the best choice for her life. She missed some of her next words, and strained to make sense out of what she did hear, " . . . and seeing that she is my niece, I feel responsible for her, and feel that she needs to come with me. The people already say that she has the power, and her last employer tried to beat it out of her. That was when my brother called on me and pleaded that I take care of her. She's still mighty scared, though, and I think that an excursion like this would be the best thing for her. If she truly has the power, it'll be nurtured and cared for in Echelon, and I can rest secure that I've done what's right for the child."

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"Whatever are you talking about, Elly?" "My niece! Haven't you been listening?" "Yes, but I was momentarily distracted. You say that she has the power? That is becoming more and more rare nowadays. You must be absolutely careful with her." "I do not know if she truly has the power, 'tis just rumored she has. She's too scared for me to really assess if there's anything there or not." "Well, be sure to do it. Where is she?" Ellyryron looked surprised. "I told you, Madrion! She's in my kitchen." Madrion vaguely remembered the pair of terrified eyes under the windowsill. "Oh, yes, I've seen her. But she told me only that she is working for you, not that she's your niece." "See how scared she is? People around here know somewhat of my white witchery, and she's terrified that some will think she's 'tainted' as she calls it, with the same powers." "Poor child! Especially if she does have the power. What is her name? Often it can be told whether or not her destiny lies with the necromancers by the choice of her birth name." "'Tis Bronwyn." Madrion closed her eyes, and felt a surge of electricity through her body. "Aye," she said, "This one has the power, and a lot of it from what I can tell! Take her with you to Echelon, and there see if you can find some worthy couple to bring her up. She will have a happy and productive life there, with many friends. Here she could only look forward to a lonely life of persecution."

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The two strange friends packed what they would need for the journey, and Ellyryron also packed a small valise for Bronwyn. The child's eyes had continued to hold a haunted look of pain and bewilderment. There was naught that Madrion or Ellyron could do to lift it, so they just shrugged and accepted it for the time being. Madrion had given the small whitesilk-wrapped package to Ellyryron, begging her to find out what the small book was about, and what it said. She already knew that there was a huge force of positive energy that engulfed the book and any who came within its vicinity. It had caused Madrion's wrist to heal at an unprecedented rate - she had slept with it under her pillow, and rubbed its warming rays of energy on the back of her broken hand. She could almost have sworn that she heard the sound of the bones as they knit themselves together. What she couldn't understand was why Korda had kept it untouched for so many years. With all that power, she would have thought that he would have been using it for his own gains. Perhaps Ellyryron would find out more about it. At the moment, they had many more pressing things to think on.

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An Appeal To The Faerie Queen ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Madrion's trip to the time portal where Gemma had been kept prisoner was uncomplicated. She had invoked another spell of protection to prevent Korda from locating her. It seemed to be working, so she let down her guard and tried to relax. She wondered briefly how Ellyryron was managing, and then banished the thought from her mind. She realized that Ellyryron had enough experience and expertise in the world to manage without anyone spending fruitless time worrying about her. Instead, she turned her mind to what would manifest when she confronted the Goddess and her evil henchwoman with their fait almost accomplis. She traveled hard, for she wanted to make sure she reached the others before their trek though time. There were things she needed to say to them before they started back for their Real Time. One thing she wanted to tell them was that it would not be safe to travel toward the little cottage in the wood, and instead they should flee to a safe predetermined place when

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Gemma was released. They would have to decide these things beforehand, as they would have no time to discuss anything once the time device had been activated. Also, one never knew who would be listening in that vicinity - for the area had obviously been prepared with care. Godolfin and Greyfriars would have to camp right there and wait for Gemma, Allys, Roland and Jarrett to materialize in the other time, their Real Time : the time when Gemma had been released from the Goddess's spell. Then, instead of escaping into the past, they would have to find a way to leave the clearing without having to resort to the time device - and hope for the best . . . if they were able to escape at all. But now, at least the young cousins and Roland would not have to face the Goddess's wrath alone. Madrion hoped feverently that they had remembered her instructions, especially the ones telling Godolfin and Greyfriars not to follow into the time portal, but to wait outside of it for them. The two from the Aethyr had never experienced time travel, and if they went with the others, their own time would be skewed. It probably would make no difference, but in this era of great Significancy, when each event could not be predicted with any degree of accuracy, it was better to take no unnecessary risks. Most importantly, however, she just plain hoped that she would be in time to talk with them before they dived into the portal. She pulled her horses to a stop just as she neared the clearing in the woods, and she rewarded by the sight of Gemma and Allys. They seemed to be trying to light a fire with damp wood. "Gemma! Allys!" she called, and saw them turn, first with apprehension and then with relief as they realized who she was. Madrion climbed carefully down from her horse, making sure that she put no pressure on her injured hand. She patted her Faerie

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steeds fondly, and reached into the folds of her cloak to pull out some sugar to reward them. Beautiful Bellephron and graceful Undelalia were the reason that she had made it in time to see her friends before they entered the time portal. Had she possessed ordinary horses, she would have needed to drive them all the way, whereas Bellephron and Undelalia seemed to know the direction better than she. What she didn't know, however, was that the Faerie steeds had picked up on the scent of Godolfin, their former trainer from many centuries past. Although they were annoyed that Godolfin seemed not to remember them when he saw them at Madrion's domain, still they galloped as fast as they could in the hope that this time would be different. This time he would recall them, and he would shower them with the love and affection they remembered so well. The memories of Faerie steeds were perfect, which was one reason they were so highly prized; Elven memory banks were far inferior. Although Godolfin could not hope to remember them from the thousands of horses he had trained, the hope in their hearts that their beloved trainer would come to his senses and know them spurred them on to great speeds. Ultimately, they did indeed arrive in time for Madrion to have one last conference with her friends before their confrontation with the Goddess.

Gemma and Allys waved and shouted, "Madrion! You're here!" They ran up to her eagerly. Gemma suddenly became aware of how much she had come to lean on this witch. Although she still did not particularly like her, she felt a strange affinity with Madrion: they had a lot in common. Allys also felt relieved to see Madrion, though for her it was more of a sense of safety that caused her to run up to the witch, rather than any feeling of friendship.

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The two cousins had been acutely aware of Madrion's tendency to isolation, both physically as well as emotionally, and they had resented it. They both were warm and caring individuals, and an encounter with one who seemed so secretive about her feelings caused them to be wary, especially as the one in question was a witch of some repute. "How did you come to change your mind? You said that you had much work to do . . . or have you found the solution to our problems?" asked Gemma breathlessly, as she came within talking distance of the witch. "Not really, but I do have some things happening right now that may provide us with great help. And anyway, I had always planned to join you here, if I had the time. How long have you been camped at this site? A long time, from the looks of things." Madrion cast her eyes about the campsite, and indeed it looked as though the troupe had set up a permanent residence. Allys followed her eye movement, and said quickly, "We've been spending a lot of our time deciding what we'll do when we rescue Gemma, so that we can take her safely away to reclaim her kingdom. We decided not to enter the portal until we had formulated firm plans for escape, and as yet we have not done so. Perhaps you would assist us with it, we're most puzzled about where to flee. We decided that it cannot be the cottage in the wood, for that will be too dangerous for Tibbs and Glinda." Madrion nodded. They had come to the same conclusion as she had, but for different reasons. Although she was concerned for the welfare of the Tibbens, still, one of her main reasons for heading the Goddess off from that vicinity was the cottage itself, that precious portal from where Mystyere would hopefully emerge to help them in what now looked as if would be a battle of gigantic proportions. Not that she cared overmuch for the safety of that villain Mystyere, but the precious portal must be protected from the wiles of any who wished harm to the Lands.

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"I'll help as best I can, but we must wait long as possible for news from my friend Ellyryron. She too is a skillful witch, and I've sent her off to seek help from Echelon." Gemma and Allys looked mystified at Madrion's fond tone upon mention her friend, for neither of them had ever heard her use any such familiarities before. Still, thought Gemma, perhaps she only warms up to others of her kind, and I can not say that I blame her . . . there are many who show fear and abhorrence of necromancy, and would willingly put to death any such as her. It was only my family line who abolished the death penalty for white witches, and that was not such a long time ago. Compared to our histories, that time is but a drop in the bucket. Perhaps that accounts for this woman’s strange manners and ways. Who really ever knows what goes on in another's mind? Nevertheless, Madrion was proving to be a great help with the problems of the Lands, and for that Gemma was grateful. Madrion approached the fire, and murmuring a small spell of ignition, flicked her good wrist at it and watched the fire blaze strong. She did not usually use her powers in this manner, for such trite things were done by her manually, as great care and discretion must be observed upon the use of magik. But today she felt too weary and pained to bother with the usual precautions, and she sank gratefully to her knees before the flames. "Where's Roland?" she asked, "I'll need to consult with him on some matters of importance." Allys snapped, "He'll be here shortly, he went with Jarrett and Godolfin to see what they could forage for food. Godolfin keeps bringing strange weeds and roots and suchlike for us to eat, and in truth, though they have been good, Jarrett had a craving for meat. When they saw a white rabbit run across our campsite, Jarrett chased after him with his drawn sword. I do not know what Roland and Godolfin planned to do, but they followed Jarrett." Madrion rolled her eyes to the sky and got up grumpily, saying,

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"I guess that I'd better go find him, for I'll brook no murder where I go." "But killing a rabbit for dinner is no murder, Madrion!" cried Allys. Madrion turned to glare at her and said fiercely, "Oh, you think not, do you? I guess it depends from whose point of view you look at it - yours or the rabbit’s. “But I will give you another pet to follow you around. When you see him, and grow to love him, remember what you said about his death." So saying, she knelt down to the ground and twitched her nose back and forth, just like a rabbit. Seconds later, the little white bunny sprang out of the wood and into her arms. Closely behind was Jarrett, waving his sword as if he fought a mighty foe. "Shame on you, Jarrett, to be wanting to kill one such as this!" cried Madrion, in her best witch-voice. Jarrett paled a little, but answered the witch's accusation bravely, "Sorry if you disapprove, Madrion, but we're mighty hungry and the thought of a succulent rabbit stew is most enticing. Our ways are not your ways, and we enjoy our meat dishes very much. I did not expect you to be here, anyway." Madrion saw Godolfin stagger out of the forest, a look of disgust on his pinched little face, spluttering, "I told him! I told that arrogant fool! And do you think he'd listen to me? Oh, no, he'd not, no siree, he'd not listen to an Elf who knows much more than him, oh, no he won't, he just started after the poor thing, pulled out that nasty sword . . ." "Thank you, Godolfin, I get the picture." Madrion cut him off with as much finesse as had Gemma when they had first encountered the Elf, and Godolfin seemed to take it with as much good grace. Madrion turned to Allys, and handed her the still frightened little bunny. "Here, Allys, as one of your friends threatened his life, and I rescued him, now I exercise my right of ownership, and present this white rabbit to you as a gift. His life

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now belongs to you." Allys reached for the bunny and shielded it from Jarrett's avaricious eyes. The rabbit was very shaken. His trembling body would not calm down, no matter how much Allys patted and stroked him. Greyfriars padded up to check out the new rival for Allys's affections. Allys tried to hold the ball of white fluff out of his reach, when the rabbit surprisingly pried itself from Allys's fingers and landed at the huge grey wolf's feet. Allys held her breath as she bent to retrieve him, and stopped short as she saw the wolf licking the small rabbit, and the rabbit apparently enjoying every second. Greyfriars crouched down on all fours, and the bunny sprang up onto his back and allowed the wolf to carry him around the campsite. Even Jarrett could not help himself from laughing uproariously at the sight. Soon the hilarious antics of Greyfriars and Bunty, as Allys had named her new pet, had everyone in such stitches that any problems between the friends were forgotten. Madrion smiled to herself and softly uttered a small incantation as Allys rubbed her face against Bunty's soft fur. Allys would be in for a small surprise! Much too soon came the onerous task of deciding what to do about the future - or the present, rather, for they were in the past! It was no wonder that they were so confused and edgy. True to her fashion, Madrion withheld most of what had happened to her, not really sure why she did not tell all, as she had done with Ellyryron. She did reveal enough for the others to feel worried. They felt anxious for Ellyryron to locate Madrion's old ‘acquaintance’ Mystyere. None of this sat right with Roland, for he knew Madrion far better than she thought. He cornered her as the others were preparing to sleep, and demanded to know what had really happened at Korda's house, and who was this ‘Mystyere’ she had never told him about.

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"You've no right to question me!" Madrion hissed through clenched teeth.

There had been an attraction between Madrion and Roland from the start, and Madrion had attributed it to the fact that Roland showed great promise of one day having the power. She often found that those with it were attracted to each other, like herself with Ellyryron or Mystyere. She could never imagine feeling the same way with Gemma, or Allys, or Jarrett. Even though she liked them, in her fashion, there was no affinity between their senses. She also knew that the women knew this, and resented her for something she could not give them. Roland was another matter. The power could easily remain latent in an individual for many years and not manifest, or even show signs that it existed. Only someone with powers of their own could even suspect its existence. Sometimes the power would come and go sporadically in someone's life, with no apparent reason. Or other times, it could wait until that person was on their deathbed before it manifested. To find someone with the latent power, who was still young enough to develop it and had no stain on his soul to mar it, was a rare find indeed. So Madrion jealously guarded her protege, and knowing of his feelings for her, did not discourage them. She reasoned that if he was enamored of her, there was less chance that he would find another who may lead his attention away from the Arts. But this put her in an awkward situation now, she well knew. "We have no rights on each other, and my past is my own to reveal or hide, as I so choose. You cannot cage me, Roland, for I will not let you!" Roland stepped closer to Madrion and wound her long, curly hair around his fingers. "Nay, Maddy, ye speak not the truth, and ye know it. I've a right to know, and ye'd best tell me, now!" He dropped her hair and grasped her hand tightly.

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Madrion crumpled from the pain of it, and tears started from her eyes, while she kept in the scream that threatened to rise unbidden from her throat. Roland immediately realized that something was very wrong, for Madrion collapsed on his shoulder, holding back gasping sobs of agony. "Maddy! what is it? Did I hurt you? I did not mean to hold you so hard. What's the matter? Stop crying!" Madrion managed to choke out a few words to appease Roland, silently thanking God that at least her pain had distracted him from his questions. "Nn . . . n . . . not much, Ro, 'tis just that I fell asleep while I was on my horse, and I fell off an' broke my hand," snif, "an' all the fingers," snif, "an' when you grabbed it like that," snif, snif, "it hurt most fierce. I'm alright now, it does not hurt any longer," said Madrion bravely. "The hell ye are! Why did ye not tell me?" Roland still held Madrion in his arms, but this time gently, as if she was a wounded bird. "I did not think it was important, and I did not want to worry anyone, or shake their confidence in me. You will not tell, will you, Ro?" Madrion looked up at him with guileless wide grey eyes, and Roland could not really find it in his heart to refuse her, or even question her further about a man called Mystyere.

In the cold light of the grey morning sky, Madrion held a conference to decide what must be done if they should have to flee the Goddess, which seemed the most likely outcome. "We must think of somewhere safe to hide," she said, "and I do know of somewhere, but it will be extremely difficult to get there, and once we are there, it may be difficult to get back."

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Madrion was thinking of using the same time portal, but forcing it into an adjacent space, rather than through time. Thus they would end up in an adjacent world, such as Echelon. Because the portal that imprisoned Gemma was not of the type contained in the cottage in the wood, its energy would have to be twisted to land them safely on another world. Madrion could not safely predict where they would end up, or if the time frame would even parallel Earth. She explained as much to the others, and Gemma exclaimed, "But that sounds just as dangerous as dealing with the Goddess of Ice! I will not let that twin of mine drive me into exile! I'll kill her first, and then myself!" Jarrett put a restraining arm around Gemma and said, "Calm down, Madrion has not said that we must do this, she's merely offering us some alternatives. Wherever we go, at least we'll be alive, and able to come back to once again fight for what is rightfully ours - even it is not us but our children that do it!" Gemma looked disgruntled as she pulled away from Jarrett. "Aye, no doubt you'd like that, Jarrett, a life away from the Lands, and all their responsibilities. But I do not feel the same way, for the Lands are my life. Madrion! That plan of yours is a good one, but we will only use it as a last resort. What else can we do?" "Well, as I've already advised Roland, we must first talk with them, for we do not know what they're after, and mayhap we can come to some compromise without bloodshed." Madrion privately doubted this outcome, but felt obligated to at least mention it. Gemma was of the same opinion, but felt equally obliged to at least try to reason with their foes, for any bloodshed would be on her head, the remaining Blood Queen of the Royal House of Terran. Gemma said, with asperity and as if she had the whole matter solved and tied up neatly with a pink ribbon,

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"Agreed, we'll first talk to them, and see what they're up to, and if they'll not talk, then we'll hide until we can come up with a way to annihilate them." Madrion responded softly, "Methinks it will be a touch more difficult than that, Gemma. But we do have something to discuss with them, and that is the matter of your twin's birth. We must find out what it is that she wants from you or the Lands, and if she truly wants to ascend to the throne. Only then will we have something to work on. "Because the Royal Line of Terran has been broken, I cannot reach my God as clearly as I used to, and He has not returned any answer to my prayers regarding the Goddess. It has been my experience that He always does answer, but often at a time when He sees fit, which is usually not the time that I had in mind. He knows our situation, and will honor His pledge to our souls, but I know not what He has in mind for the Goddess of Ice. I alone do not have the power to do anything about her. Mayhap we will find out some bits of information that we will be able to use against her, and that's the best hope I can give. Also, there is somewhere else that we could hide, in these Lands, but it might be easy for them to find us if they should look. Right, Godolfin?" Godolfin looked confused and unhappy as Madrion directed her attention towards him. "Aye, Madrion, Fair Witch of the Lands, Sorceress of Peerless Beauty, Most High Necromancer . . . but you know how they feel about Human Dross invading their territories - and besides, these ones even eat flesh!" He wrinkled his nose with disgust. Madrion countered, "But the Folk of the Plains owe me a few favors, and I have another to offer one Faerie Queen. Do you know of a blue-haired Faerie named Ariganna? I know of her whereabouts, and no doubt some Faerie Queen would be only too glad to have her back. She is enamored of a sadistic brute by the name of Korda who beats her soundly. She has

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with her a childhood friend, a Nymph called Twirla, a most giddy little thing. Anyway, they are in severe trouble, and need help quickly." Madrion neglected to tell them of Korda's real nature, for she did not want the Ice Goddess or her cohort to sense any knowledge of Korda's presence in their minds, and she was the only one there with sufficient disciplined training to ward off any mind prying. Godolfin thought long and hard. "Nay, Madrion, I have not heard of those lasses, but you can be sure that some Faerie Queen will be forever indebted to you should you help her find them. Fareie families place a high value on their kin. An' a Faerie Queen is most powerful. Though she could not hide you from the prying eyes of a Goddess of the Blood, still, she will be able to keep you safe from any other who wants to do you harm. Mayhap if you combine forces with several Faerie Queens, you may even be able to shield us from the Goddess herself!" "Mayhap, mayhap not," Madrion shook her head. "I'll not count on it anyway, but the main thing is that if we can gain permission to enter the Plains of the Outerworlds then getting there will be quick and easy enough. 'Tis the gaining of permission that is so difficult. By myself, I am always allowed entrance as payment for all the favors I've done for the Outerfolk. I will go this eve to beg permission for all of us to enter, if necessary. I'll be back by daylight, and not a moment later. In the meantime, perhaps practice what you will say to the Goddess, and try to say nothing that will anger her. I'm gone." And Madrion closed her eyes and disappeared with a puff of smoke. It was easy for Madrion to enter the Plains of the Outerworlds, for she had been there many a time before, and she knew the trick to gain entrance. All she had to do was think she was there, and she was.

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Of course, although this trick seems easy, it is very difficult and sometimes impossible for Mortals to accomplish. Although the Faeries were grateful that they were not besieged by Human Dross, whom they generally despised, still they could not fathom how it was that the simple step of gaining entrance to the Aethyr seemed beyond the grasp of even the most intelligent of Humans. But of course, it did not require intelligence to do this trick. In fact, what was needed was a great degree of faith, something which many Human Mortals failed to cultivate.

Madrion looked around her. Faerieland, one of the territories of the Outerworlds, looked the same as ever. Lush green trees framed the horizon, and sparkling brooks and busy bees babbled and buzzed in the background. It was as far from the cold scene she had just left as one could get. She saw Maercury, the little messenger Faerie, perched atop a mushroom, staring at her with impertinent eyes. "Welcome, Madrion, back from the Earthenworld. How goes it for you? As you no doubt know, I am here to escort you to your destination, so mayhap you should tell me who you wish to see. I will make arrangements as quickly as possible." Madrion knew that Maercury, although he was professing to be helpful, was also a Faerie guard, and as such was bound to stay by her side for as long as she chose to stay in Faerieland. She told him of her search for a Faerie Circle who had lost one of their daughters, a blue-haired Faerie named Ariganna. "She has with her a childhood friend, the Nymph Twirla, and they both are in great danger. They need help, and quickly." Maercury wrinkled his nose and thought. "I do believe that I know of whom ye seek. Indeed, I think that she is from the Circle ruled by the Faerie Queen Briganne. That Circle has been in mourning for over a year

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now, as have the Nymphs of Altaire, from where Twirla hails. That Faerie Circle and the Altarian Nymphs are close friends, and have been since the dawn of time. "They have not recovered from the loss of their daughters, and their Queen Briganne swears that she will never celebrate until they have returned from the Earthenworld. Queen Briganne has sent many scouts, but have been unable to locate them." Madrion nodded, and said, "They are held in a spell that hides them from their families and friends. I know where they are, however, and who they're with. I must speak with the Faerie Queen Briganne immediately, for their lives are at stake." Maercury's eyes opened wide and he clapped his hands superstitiously. "Then there's no time to delay, we must go straight away!" Maercury soared into the air, catching Madrion's hair and pulling her up with him. This was one aspect of Faerieland that Madrion never really got used to, this sudden taking to the air. She could not fly on her own, and needed a Faerie to help her by touch, to impart his magik on her. With help, she was getting pretty good at helping the Faerie along, and not being a dead weight to his progress. It required a certain relaxing of the body, as well as a streamlining of it with the air currents. Nothing was ever too far in Faerieland, unless one did not want to go there, in which case places could be years away. If one really wanted to go someplace, it usually took only a few minutes of flying to arrive. Madrion and Maercury really wanted to find the Queen Briganne, so their combined desire shaved the traveling time down to thirty seconds. They landed amidst a group of dismally clad Faeries, nothing like the bright young things Madrion was accustomed to seeing. They were walking along with their heads sunk down to their chests, only lifting them to sound a mournful wail.

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"Queen Briganne! I come to see the Queen Briganne on a matter of much importance! Where is the Queen?" A group of young Faeries scuttled up to Maercury, and bowing low, murmured in hushed voices that the Queen was taking her afternoon rest, and would he please be quiet. She would be happy to speak to him later. "But I have news of her runaway daughter, Ariganna! She is in danger, and needs her aid straightaway!" The Faeries let out little squeals of excitement, and flew quickly to awake their Queen with this most worthy news. Quickly, as soon as she understood what was happening, the Queen Briganne prepared a group of followers to help her retrieve her runaway daughter. Madrion apprised the Queen of the situation, advising her to use the utmost caution when approaching the beast Korda. In the privacy of the Royal tent, Madrion told the horrified Faerie Queen of the true events that had taken place with Korda, and she also told her of her suspicions. "But that cannot be, Madrion! He was banished for a thousand years, locked in a burning pit with no escape!" "I know, Queen Briganne, but it has been a thousand years since that event." "But it can not be! Look at you, you are a Mortal, and you are still alive! Mortals do not live that long!" "How do you know that about me, Faerie Queen? I do not remember you there at that time." "I was not there, Madrion, but you have become famous and much discussed among the Royal Circles in the Outerworlds. 'Tis true that the average citizen does not know what you've done, but we do. You are famous! But yet, you tell us that the time is now up, and yet you live, these thousand years later. That is not normal in a Mortal woman. What has happened to you?"

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"I am not at liberty to say, Queen Briganne, and anyway, it will not affect the outcome between you and your daughter. I just wished to warn you, so that at least you will be prepared by what you find. Use every stealth and spell at your command to get those young women away safely, and I beg that you will let me know of what happens." "But how will I reach you Madrion? And I also must repay you for this great help you've given me. You must tell me what it is that I can do to repay this enormous debt." "I will, good Queen Briganne, and 'tis not so much that I ask - only that I beg sanctuary for me and my friends - Roland, as well as Gemma, Allys and Jarrett of the Royal house of Terran. Will you give that to me as my gift?" The Queen Briganne pursed her lips. Human dross in Faerieland! It was unthinkable . . . but then, Madrion had given her a most precious gift. She could not be the one to make a decision like that, however, it would have to be turned over to the High Queen of Faerieland. She told Madrion, and begged her not to think her ungrateful. "But the High Queen is a special friend of mine, and she has known how much I have suffered, and has sorrowed at my side. I will summon her, and plead for your case, that much I can do for you." So saying, the Queen Briganne screwed up her face and concentrated, and presently the High Queen appeared. Madrion and Queen Briganne bowed reverentially, and out of the corner of her eye, Madrion could see Maercury hopping from foot to foot with consternation mixed with abject curiosity. The High Queen seated herself imperiously, and looked at Madrion and Queen Briganne. The Queen Briganne hurriedly told the High Queen of Madrion's news and request. The High Queen wrinkled her nose with disgust, but said,

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"I think that we must repay Madrion for our children, Briganne. We have no choice but to let the Human dross into our lovely kingdom of Faerieland. But they will not be able to practice their cannibal habits here!" Madrion cried, "Thank you, oh most High Queen! I am forever in your debt." But with a sinking feeling, Madrion realized that she had not made arrangements for Greyfriars. A creature of the Netherworld with such a history of violence and blood-letting would most certainly not be allowed into the kingdom of the Faeries. Godolfin didn't matter, for he belonged to the Elven Kingdom, located right next to Farieland in the Outerworld. For that matter, Greyfriars also belonged to a world of the Aethyr, the nefarious Netherworld. His territory was to be found deep in a shadowy and sinister part of the Outerworld. Some called it the Underworld or Innerworld. Many names existed for it, but by whichever one it was called, it usually struck terror to the hearts of any who heard it. Greyfriars would not stand a chance in the Kingdom of the Faeries. Madrion thought for a moment . . . perhaps Greyfriars could use Godolfin's cape to disguise his true nature. As it was an ancient cape of Power, Madrion doubted that the Faeries would be able to discern Greyfriars's true nature. Madrion knew that she had to bring the Werewolf with them, for she could not account for his actions if he was left alone in the world of men without his love, Allys. That decided, she thanked the Faerie Queen, and wished herself back to the campfire of her anxiously waiting friends. Once again, in a puff of smoke, she reappeared in front of their sleepy eyes. It was now close to midnight, so she had returned some time before she had promised, and they were still sitting around the fire, hashing and rehashing plans and strategies.

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"Must you use that annoying smoke, my lady Madrion of the grey eyes?" asked Godolfin peevishly. "I'm sorry, Godolfin, but I do not have your finesse with travel between the worlds. I am not of the Outerworld, and I must admit that I still behave like a clumsy Human at times. At least it woke everyone up!" Carefully she outlined her plans with the Faerie Queen, and watched as they nodded their heads in agreement. "It will only be if we fail to bargain with the Goddess of Ice, you know that, of course?" "Aye, and it feels mighty comforting to have somewhere to go besides Roland's poor parents," answered Allys. "Those folk did not ever know if we were coming or going, what with the workings of that strange time clock. Besides, a trip to Faerieland is something I never expected to happen. I did not even know such a place existed." "So where did you think we retreated to when your world grew too hazardous, with all those mortals who did not believe in us? With those dreadful machines that cut and roared, and flew, and killed? Where did you think we went to then?" demanded Godolfin. "I know not of machines, Godolfin, and I did not know that life on the Earthenworld was once so hazardous. How would I know of Faerieland, if I did not even know that folk like you existed? How, then, would I know that your folk, and the Faeries, and the others, had a place they called home? If I ever heard rumors of Faeries, or Elves, or such like that, I just assumed they lived here on our world." Godolfin shook his head in disbelief. "The terrible arrogance of Humans! 'Tis no wonder that we steer clear of them most of the time. Nay, Allys, we have our own world and our own lives; only a few ever

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venture into the Human realm, and that is usually only for some specific reason. My reason is Glinda, the changeling, I've been assigned to care for her, and make sure that she comes to no harm." "Glinda? A changeling?" Allys was so surprised that she did not know what to say. Jarrett and Gemma also looked surprised, as Godolfin clarified his statements. "Aye, her Elven mother saw a babe she wanted, with curly golden hair, cherub-like cheeks and eyes as blue as cornflowers. She liked the coloring, so she took the child, leaving Glinda in her place. Glinda has known of this all her life, for I have always visited her. Sometimes I took her with me to the Outerworld, but she did not want to live there. So I just appointed myself her natural guardian, and I took care of her. It was I that introduced her to the Green Circle and made her a member before she was even able to speak. I would come to her crib and steal her away for the night, and oh, she would be so crabby the next day. I would laugh so! "Tibbs knew she was an Elven changeling when they married, and she told Roland as soon as he was old enough to understand. There's naught that Tibbs can do but accept it, so he does, although he does not altogether trust the Green Circle - not that I blame him, for neither do I! But anyway, that was how Roland met Madrion. It was I who provided the witch with her Faerie Steeds, for I breed them as a hobby. I sold two horses to Roland with some Faerie blood in them, and when he inquired about the pure bred steeds I had, I told him that I would be delivering them to the witch Madrion. He insisted on coming with me . . .and he didn't leave her domain for well on ten years. Isn't that right, Roland?" Roland looked uncomfortable, and not so willing to answer the simple question.

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"Well, we have no time to be prying into the private affairs of Roland and Madrion, Godolfin, and he does not have to answer that question," Allys said sharply, while privately, her emotions were belying the truth to this statement. "You'll not tell me what I can and cannot do, Allys!" Roland replied, with annoyance in his voice. "Aye, I did stay with Madrion for that period of time. She was teaching me to read and write, and when I learned those arts, she taught me all she knew of science, art and philosophy. We've done extensive work on religion and other things of that ilk. "I resent any implications that there was more to it than that. Madrion has been a wonderful friend to me, and I will fight any who slander her name!" He glared fiercely at Allys, who blandly returned his stare. "Well, I do believe you, Roland, and you've no need to become vehement about the whole thing. Methinks our emotions and tensions are all just rising to the surface, while we seem to wait like lambs to the slaughter. I suggest that we retire and get a good night's sleep, what's left of it." "Methinks Allys is right," yawned Gemma. "Tomorrow we may have to face the Goddess, or die in the attempt. I for one would rather go to the Dark Night of my Soul after a good night's rest than when I'm dead on my feet already."

Now that all the arrangements had been made for their trip back to their Real Time, there seemed to be no more reason to delay. All that they had to go over now were the last minute preparations and plans. Madrion, Godolfin and Greyfriars would wait for them to arrive at the designated time in the same spot where they had left them. Madrion wanted to go over the instructions, and she informed them of how they were to escape into Faerieland if it became necessary.

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"You must link hands tightly, and do not let go, no matter what. Free your minds of any thoughts, especially thoughts of resistance to this travel, for that will keep us grounded in the Earthenworld faster than anything else. If any of you cannot do that, tell me now, and I'll put you to sleep for the crossing." They nodded their heads, indicating that they could vacate their minds for the duration of the journey to Faerieland if it was necessary. "Jarrett will have no difficulty emptying his mind, for it is only half full now," remarked Godolfin caustically, and quickly ducked to avoid an enraged cuff from the man in question. "You must cease these squabbles also, for this too will make our crossing more difficult," admonished Madrion sternly," and it will be difficult enough, dragging all your bodies across the Aethyr. I will not tolerate any who make it more difficult. I will leave any such person or persons behind to keep the Goddess of Ice company. Is that understood?" Godolfin and Jarrett nodded mutely, awed as they still were by this slight but powerful sorcerer. "And Godolfin! I must borrow Romul to disguise Greyfriars, for he will not be allowed anywhere near Faerieland should they find out his true nature. His own home in the Netherworld is too far for us to get him there. What shape should he assume? What shapes can your device make him into?" Godolfin drew himself up to his full five feet of height, and answered indignantly, "My cloak has no limits on its disguising properties! It can disguise anyone as anything." "Then perhaps it can create a facsimile of Greyfriars as he is in his man-form?" "Aye, that it can do, but first I will have to see an image of what his man-form looks like, in order to create it." Madrion frowned, and said,

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"Well, I've ensorcelled him so that he never does manifest in his man-form, for it is most evil. If we can just get the physical image correct, without the evil character that goes with it, that would be good. He needs to walk among the Faeries in an inconspicuous manner so that they are not suspicious. The only form that would convey that impression is one he's familiar with. So perhaps I should suspend the spell that sits upon him. You could see him, and thus create an image of him for the cloak." Allys was petting Greyfriars. He knew that he was the subject of discussion, and was whining and whimpering piteously at her side. She spoke up at this, saying, "But why don't you let him keep his own man-form, then, instead of using Godolfin's device?" "That would be dangerous, Allys, both for us as well as the Faeries. He has a hypnotic magik as a man, and it is very dangerous. He would capture your soul and eat your flesh if you answer his call for love. Should I place a spell on him like I have now, just by itself, the Faeries would see through it. With an image created by Godolfin's device, and my spell to mask his true character, his disguise will be complete. He will be safe. Do you comprehend what I say, Allys?" For Allys did indeed look intensely puzzled. "Aye, Madrion, that I do, 'tis just that I cannot imagine Greyfriars harming anyone, for he is so gentle." "I know, and I must admit that even I have never seen such as him act like this. Mayhap you have some powerful magik that you will not tell us about, that the dangerous Werewolf lays at your feet like a small puppy?" "I do not! I just care about him, that's all, and perhaps he senses it!" cried Allys. Madrion nodded her head.

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"Aye, perhaps that's just it, Allys, the fact that you care about him. Still, I've never seen anything of the like before. But make no mistake, he is what he is, and he is dangerous. So we must go along with my plan, and if you're ready, Godolfin, I will allow him to achieve his man-form for just a moment. I cannot encorcell him while he metamorphoses, so for a moment we will see him as his real self." Privately, Madrion felt that it would be beneficial for Allys to view her Werewolf in his real form, for sometimes the girl's naiveté bordered on stupidity, and at this moment, they all needed their faculties to be as crystal clear as they could get them. So, throwing a handful of dust collected from the footsteps of angels, she whispered a litany to suspend Greyfriars' encorcellment. The muscles of the wolf bulged and pulsated with a peculiar energy. Slowly, his torso elongated, so that Greyfriars now stood up. He flexed the muscles in his arms, for arms they had become. His hair quivered and twitched, and seemed to pull itself into the Human-looking body that was beginning to materialize before them. The same thing happened to his claws, they pulled in and became trim-looking fingernails. His long, wolf face looked as though someone was reaching in from somewhere within the body and pulling at it, this way and then that, molding it into a resemblance of a man's visage. Then that visage took a shape of its own, changing and refining itself until it bore the look of a young god. His hair was a soft, curly gold, and it fell onto his face most attractively. Startlingly blue eyes stared out arrogantly from under long lashes of gold. His features were pure in line, with a sensuous, mobile mouth curved into a grin directed straight at Allys. Allys felt her limbs turn to water as he held a hand out to her, and though she could see the evil glitter in his eyes as he slid his ravenous glance over her body, she could not back away - indeed, it only seemed to make her want him more.

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And then it was gone. In front of her stood the same young man, still smiling, still holding his hand out, but now there was no lust in his eyes, and no magnetism in his body. Allys dropped her hand and backed away - into Madrion, as a matter of fact. "Ow! Madrion! What happened to Greyfriars?" "Nothing much, you just saw him as he truly is, without my restraining spell on him. It was only for a moment, then I ensorcelled himagain. It was not pleasant, was it?" "Noo . . . oo . . . " said Allys with such uncertainty that Madrion gave her a sharp glance. The young woman looked healthy enough, however, without that fevered look that usually clouds the eyes of any who have been bewitched by the undead. "But he was exciting . . . I've never experienced such feelings as I felt when he looked in my eyes." "Allys, you can be such a child sometimes. Anyway, 'tis best to forget about him, because you will never see him again. His type is against all the laws of nature," replied Madrion impatiently. She turned her attention to Godolfin. "Have you found the right combination to hold the image of Greyfriars as you see him now?" Godolfin nodded, still busy with his silvered screwdriver, poking and prodding, each jab producing a different sound. "In a moment, Madrion, I'm almost finished." Presently he handed the cloak to Madrion, and she flung it over the boy's shoulders. There was no perceptible change in the young Werewolf's appearance, but Madrion assured them that the Faeries would have seen through the sole spell that she had placed on the wolf, whereas they would never be able to penetrate the shield of the cloak.

Now it seemed that there was truly no more to hold them back from their destiny. Roland set the time clock for precisely the same minute they had rescued Gemma from

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the time portal. Madrion, Godolfin, and Greyfriars, with Bunty tucked under his arm, had backed off by some distance, to avoid being caught up in the time clock's pull. They, of course, experienced no strange sensations, or darkening of the sky. They experienced no dizziness and nausea, and when the foursome reappeared in their own time, to face the Goddess if Ice, they were not even there to help them. "Come on, Gemma, hurry up out of there!" Jarrett yanked at her arm, trying to pull her bodily out of the coffin. "Ow! Stop it, Jarrett, I'm coming." She pushed herself out, and stepped on the ground. "Where's Madrion? And the others?" Allys looked worriedly at Roland, and they became troubled as they realized that their friends were nowhere to be found. "What is happening, Roland? Where shall we go to?" Allys pleaded to Roland, now feeling lost and lonely without her now familiar wolf and her new pet rabbit. Still worse was the absence of Madrion, an absence felt sorely by them all, especially Roland. "I know not, but feel the air! 'Tis fairly warm, and there is no wind." "Aye! It was not like that when we were here before." "It was until we went back into time. Remember?" "Do you mean that if we had just rescued Gemma and stayed here, then we could have just walked back home as if nothing had happened? That the Goddess did not even know that we had rescued her?" "No, I do not think that. There's something different this time, and I do not know what." "But there cannot be, Madrion said so!" cried Gemma. "If there's something different, it is just that we have not set the time clock backwards, that's all." "Perhaps you're right, Gemma, but I cannot but think that something has changed. Where is Madrion, then? She would never have deserted us."

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"Mayhap something just came up, and she had to go. Perhaps that man from her past showed up." Roland grimaced, for that had been foremost in his thoughts, too. "But even if he did, Madrion would not leave us stranded here with no help, or no message. She would have at least left Godolfin to tell us what is going on. I do not like this at all, there's something strange happening here, I can sense it. The Goddess seems to be nowhere around here. I do remember thinking before that it was odd she had followed our trail into the past, for that is a place that she never goes. Do you recall that we fled that biting cold?" "How could I ever forget that? Do you mean that she never did find out that we had taken Gemma?" "Perhaps not so soon as we had thought she had. So why was she there in the past like that, following us with her cold? Perhaps she was not being antagonistic at the time, for if she had wanted to, she could have destroyed us then and there." "She did not want to destroy me, because I'm the High Priestess." "Perhaps, but she did leave us alone after chasing us to the Tibbens' home. Methinks we were just unfortunate enough to have crossed into the time when she was scouting around the hiding place meant for you. She may not have known who we were, for that time was before she had kidnapped you. Perhaps she was just trying to get us to go away, far from the place she had chosen to hide the Queen of the Lands." "That could very well be the case, Roland, but even if it is so, we still must find Madrion and the others." "What if that Korda found her?" asked Jarrett suddenly. The air became weighty with the question. "He can't have," said Roland painfully. "He can't have."

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Although Madrion had told them little of what had transpired at Korda's house, still they had been able to grasp the fact that Korda was insanely evil. Upon further reflection of Madrion's story, Roland had realized that he had never known Madrion to sleep much, and certainly never deeply enough to tumble off of a horse. Besides, had she been in danger of falling, her Faerie steeds would have known immediately, and woke her by stopping and whinnying in her ear until she had woken. They would never had allowed an accident to happen such as Madrion had described to Roland. Roland had a sinking feeling that Korda had been at the bottom of the Madrion's injured wrist. "I do not believe that he has," said Allys with conviction. "Madrion is far too smart and powerful to get captured by such a one as Korda. Can you not find her with that amulet you wear around your neck, Roland?" "Perhaps I could if I had it, Allys, but Madrion said that it held some peculiar powers, and she needed to do some work with it. So she now has it." "Oh! Well, what about mine?" "What do you mean, yours? Your what?" "My serpent and sword! Madrion gave it to me, she gave Jarrett a brooch, and she gave Gemma earbobs. They contained spells of protection. She gave them to us so that we did not need to be afeard of the undead folk in her demesne. Here's mine." Allys pulled back her cloak and unpinned the badge that Madrion had given her, passing it on to Roland. It was but an imitation of the real amulet, but still, it might come in useful. Roland did not know exactly how, but he asked Allys if he might keep it. Allys said, "Aye, that you can, Roland." Jarrett agreed, saying,

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" You may as well keep it, Roland, Allys will not need it here. We do not have to worry about those strange folk in Madrion's dememse now, except that wolf, and he's not here." "You have nothing to worry about with Greyfriars, either!" burst out Allys, angrily. "That's just your opinion, Allys. I saw with my own eyes what he became when Madrion suspended her spell from him. Your eyes were so full of stardust that you could not even notice any danger!" ejaculated Jarrett, equally annoyed. All were surprised to hear Roland say, in a soft voice, "Leave her alone, Jarrett." Jarrett was so astonished that he immediately did as Roland asked. "None of that matters one little bit now," said Gemma impatiently. "The thing is that we are prepared for a battle, and there's no one here to fight. Our loyal friends have disappeared. What I want to know is, what else has changed that we do not know about? Do you think that somehow we taxed the Limit of Paradox, and are now nothing but ghosts?" "I do not think so, Gemma, for if that were so, we'd see ourselves before us, and they would not see us. No, there's more to this than meets the eye, that I'm sure of. But as long as we feel no chill in the air we should stay here and hope that Madrion is here somewhere, or comes soon. She does know where we are; mayhap she had something else to attend to and thought that she'd be back in time to meet us, but was waylaid by something." "'Tis that 'waylaid by something' I do not like, Roland. Too often, that sort of thing means danger - you know that."

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"Yes, I do, but there's naught we can do about it save worry, and worrying is probably one of the most useless wastes of time that there is. Let's instead make a plan of action. Agreed?" They sat together in shade that conveniently faced the clearing, yet shielded any who hid there from prying eyes. They talked back and forth, throwing forth theories and discounting them with equal swiftness. Before they knew it, the daylight had dimmed into dusk, and they had made no decisions. But with the coming of the night came a familiar voice they knew well. "Hello! Hello! Anyone there?" The foursome tumbled out of their hiding place and almost knocked the little Elf over. "Godolfin! You rascal! Where have you been? We've been worried sick. Where's Madrion? And the animals?" - for none had grown used to the idea of Greyfriars in his man-form, and they still thought of him as Allys's pet wolf. "She's alright! She sent me back to tell you what has happened. We have been mighty lucky. Apparently, when you left the premises the last time with the 'rescued' Gemma, the Goddess did not know of it . You swiftly entered the past, so you never found out that she was not on your trail. So, as you had not been found out, we had to make sure that the Goddess of Ice was too busy hear of Gemma's escape. At that time, before, it was excellent that you did vanish into the past, for we were here to help you. Also, it has given us much time with which to formulate a plan and put it into action. You would not believe what we have done! It was mostly my idea, of course, and Madrion agreed, after I had explained it carefully to her." Evidently Godolfin was on one of his little flights of fantasies, where he was the rescuer of all mankind. Everyone was used to him by this time, and took most of what he said of himself with a grain of salt.

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"Well, what did she do?" burst out Roland, full of curiosity about what his Madrion was up to now. "I cannot say, for she has sworn me to secrecy. No doubt she will tell you when she arrives. She did give me careful instructions that I was to remain as silent as a tomb in pale silver light, and that I will." The cousins thought disgustedly that it was exactly like Madrion, to solve a puzzle, and keep silent about it. But no one voiced their opinion, for they had too much respect for their strange new friend, and they trusted her to do her best to help them.

Roland too was a trifle upset at Madrion's unnecessary secrecy, as he saw it. He was also worried that he would even think to question her actions, he who had been her devoted slave and willing accomplice in everything for such a long time. He had worshipped the ground she walked, and believed every word that she spoke with a reverence that bordered on idolatry. That was some years back, however, when he had been naught but an impressionable young lad; this time was different. He was not so easily swayed by her charm and obvious authority; now he had an authority of his own, for he was a man - no longer a boy. And today he found that he was questioning every move that the witch made, and examining it very carefully. What he was looking for, he was not certain, but look he must. "Well, where is she, then?" he asked Godolfin brusquely. Godolfin shook his head, and answered, "I cannot even say that, my friend. All that I can tell you is that she is safe from harm. She has also made this a safe place for you to be for now, but told me that you

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should go back to the Tibbens' cottage. You must wait for her there. There is no longer any danger of the Goddess of Ice searching for you." "Can you at least tell me where Greyfriars is? I do miss him, and Bunty. Are they safe too?" begged Allys. "Aye, lass, that they are, but I can tell you no more than that. Please do not ask me, for I feel like a string aquiver on a harp, with none who should hear. I beseech you that you ask me naught more, for this harp wishes to play the full melody, and Madrion has forbidden all but a single harp string audience. It sore grieves my heart!" Godolfin hugged himself tightly, as if to prevent secrets from escaping his soul and translating themselves onto his lips. His little head with the pointed peak of hair swung woefully back and forth, warning off any who would question him further. Jarrett glanced dramatically at the heavens, for it was especially when the Elf put on one of his performances that he wanted to wring his little neck. He forbore with true patience, and said instead, mostly to annoy Godolfin, "What I wouldn't give for a nice roast of lamb, turning ever so slowly on a spit, basting in its own juices! I can almost feel my lips tearing at its tender flesh, my tongue savoring of its delicate succulence!" He smacked his lips together in a mock appreciation of pretended flesh, and laughed aloud at Godolfing expression of sour antagonism. Jarrett hit him soundly on the back, and said, "Just joking, old fella! You were looking too grim and worried, and I wanted to take your mind off your troubles. I did succeed, didn't I?" "Puke-guts!" was Godolfin's only reply, and to hear the elegant Elf swear a lowly fisherman's oath caused Jarrett to roll even more with laughter. "Stop it, Jarrett." said Allys to her wayward cousin, and reluctantly, with many gasps and mopping of eyes, he eventually did.

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The morning was cold and unfriendly, with frigid grey little clouds scudding across the large, open sky. The wind had risen too, and there was a chill, damp cold that pierced their bodies to their very bones. They had rested the night in their now familiar wagon, and as soon as they opened their eyes, they unanimously decided to forego breakfast to reach the Tibbens' cottage as fast as they could. They thought longingly of the bright fireplace, and the feelings of warmth, safety and comfort that always seemed to suffuse the cottage in the woods. So they made much haste in their preparations to depart, and once again, Roland led his beloved horses back home. He actually didn't have to do much leading, for as soon as they were sure of their direction, they took off with as much speed as they could muster, and Roland just had the task of slowing them so they could proceed with safety. Soon enough they spied the small cottage, and thankfully pulled into the driveway. As before, in a few moments, Glinda and Tibbs rushed out to greet their son and his friends. They drew them into the warm living room, where the famous fire now burned brightly. Once again, there were fresh flowers in a vase around the room. Their perfumed presence was most pleasing. It only now occurred to Allys to wonder where they came from. There would be no flowers blooming in the gardens for many a month now. Winter already had icy grips on the weather. "Sit down! Sit down!" Tibbs and Glinda bustled around, pulling chairs closer to the fire, and bringing warm blankets to tuck around frozen toes. This done, Glinda disappeared into the kitchen, and the weary wanderers waited with baited breath to see what goodies she would emerge from her fabled kitchen with this time.

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She did not disappoint them. Calling Tibbs in to help, they reappeared with trays of hot, fragrant tea, and hot buttered scones with fresh cream and raspberry jam. Following these tasty tidbits were huge slabs of cheese, and fresh baked buns covered in Glinda's churned butter. They ate with passion, for they had been deprived of dinner the night before and were famished. When they had finished, Glinda passed around a box of chocolates she had been busy making for the upcoming holiday season. She had used fresh cream in her recipe, and fillings such as tender caramel, or exotic walnuts and smooth Turkish delight from the East. The chocolate was such that they had never tasted before, and shamefully, they polished off the entire box while filling the Tibbens in on the events that had led them back once more to their doorstep. It was past lunch time when they had finished, and naturally they were famished once again. Ginda had excused herself an hour earlier, to "whip something up for lunch", which had taken her fifteen minutes. They had paused in their story to wait for her return, for she had adamantly refused any offer of help. Now they could smell the results of her fifteen minute stint in the kitchen. A delectable smell of baking cheese, broccoli and pastry filled the air, and they knew that it belonged to one of Glinda's mouthwatering quiches. Sure enough, the quiche claimed the place of honor on the table, with a huge platter of fried chips of potatoes, and a crisp salad. Jugs of fresh orange juice completed the ensemble, and when Glinda brought out a huge apple pie with hot custard for desert, no one complained too much.

Although Glinda was a changeling Elf, she had lived for so long in the company of Humans that her body had acquired much of the Human dross that filled the Folk of the

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Outerlands with such disgust. Her lovely green coloring had long faded, to be replaced by a sallow yellowish complexion. Her adopted mother had fed her meat dishes, which Glinda the baby had eaten for lack of any other sustenance. This was one reason that she would not stay in the Outerlands when Godolfin had taken her as a young child. Even then she had known that she had committed the unforgivable sin, the sin of cannibalism, which she had hidden from one and all, but could not hide from herself. She went to great pains whenever Godolfin was there to cook no meat dishes, or even to imply of them. The cousins had assumed that it was out of respect for the Elf, but now they knew the real reason, they protected her dread secret from the Elf as if it were their own. "How long did Madrion say that you were to wait here?" asked Glinda of Godolfin, who once again resumed that secretive look on his face which drove Jarrett to distraction. He shook his head slowly and mysteriously, saying, "Madrion did beg me to tell none of our task, and I may not even tell you when she will be back. She only told me that these friends were to rest and relax here in the wood, and they were not to budge until they heard from her." "I do not know how we will do that!" exclaimed Gemma. "I have a kingdom to run!" Godolfin looked at her gently, and with a great deal of sympathy. "I also have some bad news to deliver to you, Gemma, and I wanted to wait until you were in a safe place before I did so. Madrion said that I was to tell you, and to make sure that you do nothing foolish." They all stopped and looked at him expectantly, for he had the tone of one who has news of much importance to impart. Godolfin paused dramatically to make sure that he had a captive audience, and then said, "There is a new Blood Queen of Madur, Talies, and all of the Northlands!" He stared around expectantly to see the impact of his news, and he was not disappointed. Gemma

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had turned white, and looked as though she might faint. Jarrett was standing with his sword drawn, a reflexive movement to the news. Allys had instinctively moved to support Gemma, while even nonchalant Roland looked disturbed. Tibbs and Glinda looked almost as shocked as Gemma. "But that cannot be!" Even as she spoke the words, Gemma knew in her heart that not only could it be, for there did exist another heir to the throne, but the possibility of that heir laying claim so soon after Gemma's disappearance was all probably a part of the heinous plan. "She cannot! I’ll not let her. She is spawned of evil. She murdered my mother, her and that beast that she calls a father. I shall go and kill her." Gemma stood up and made for the door, only to be stopped by Jarrett and Godolfin. Godolfin cried, "Madrion will fix everything! She is working on just that now, and if you try what you want to do, you may ruin her plans for the kingdom by getting yourself killed. The new Queen is heavily guarded, and she would recognize you in an instant." He spoke with great seriousness, which was unusual for him. It showed the depth of his concern, also unusual for him. He had grown attached to his strange new friends, and had shed some of the Outerland's habit of intense self-centeredness in the process. Jarrett spoke urgently too, saying "Gemma! You must stop and think what to do. If you act in this moment of rashness, then she will have won. You must stop, for the sakes of us all!" Gemma turned around wearily, and trudged to a vacant armchair by the fire. She put her head in her hands, and said with some resentment, "Aye, I suppose you're right. Are my people so fickle that they've forgotten me already?"

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"'Tis not that, Gemma, for she faked your death. After Jarrett and Allys went off in search of you, a body was found in the Royal bed, where you slept. Its size, shape and hair were identical to yours, and the features were battered beyond recognition. Found with that body was the body of a young man. They were both naked, and lay together. “It was said that new Queen - you, Gemma, had a lover. She had lain with him and been found out by one of the people, who became so enraged at the High Priestess's abuse of power that he had invoked the now illegal commoner's law and killed both of them as they lay there in sin. The man who butchered them came forward and confessed. He was immediately hanged, even though he pleaded for mercy according to the commoner's law. The people had loved Gemma, and even though she had sinned, they were appalled and shocked by the speed and brutality of events. "They have now become so used to grief in the Royal House of Terran that they accepted it as just another example of the curse that defiled the Royal House. As there was none there to defend Gemma's name or her honor, everyone believed it to be the end of the Royal line. "The only living witness that could have told us otherwise was swiftly executed. It happened too quickly to really question him, which was no doubt part of the plan. You can imagine the people's joy, and their unquestioning allegiance to Bybleonnae, the oncelost daughter of Terran. The witness of Aerianne, the old nursemaid, and papers prepared by the hand of the late Queen Tamsyn herself, describing the inverted crown on her daughter's neck, caused everyone to believe that here was a princess of the true Blood which she is. "They did not stop to question the circumstances of her birth, and why no one had ever heard anything of her before. They believed her story. She said that the Queen Tamsyn had felt that she was so sickly that she would die, so they had sent her off to the

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Far East to find a cure. She told them that the King and Queen did not want her birth announced, because they had received an oracle that the Royal Line would be butchered. There had to be one member of the House remain anonymous, so that there would still be one to take the throne when the rest of the Royal Line was obliterated. Because of her illness, she was to be the chosen one, or so decreed the Royal parents. A pack of lies, with holes through each story, bought by a people so hungry for scraps that they chew on any garbage and think it a great feast. You must not be too hard on them, Gemma, for they have been well and truly fooled." "Why would my mother, and Aerianne, whom I trusted with my life, betray me like this?" "We do not know, most fair Gemma, most gracious receiver of ill-tidings (for in the Outerlands, the bearer of bad news usually had his head lopped off by the reigning monarch, and everyone believed this to be a most fair and equitable procedure), but Madrion is doing her best to find out all she can of these events. She did also say that we may still have to go to the Outerlands to hide for awhile, if her arrangements take longer than she has planned. If we do, Jarrett and Allys might have to return to the castle to put some sort of rein on the new Queen's behavior. She has comported herself with impeccable etiquette thus far, but she is new, and mighty afeared of rejection by the Peoples of the Lands. If she has a chance to settle, however, Madrion says that the Peoples will eventually suffer greatly, for she has great evil deviousness about her. She will smile in your face as she stabs a dagger to your back. But anyway, we do not have to think on that circumstance yet." Godolfin performed one of his most gracious bows, and stood still, hoping that Gemma had indeed accepted the woeful tidings with no wish to harm the messenger. As

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she made no move toward him to indicate malice, he breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed. Gemma's voice sounded unlike her usual authoritative tone, and it seemed that she was making a real effort not to let it shake. With admirable self-control, she murmured, "My throne! My life Blood! Now, all lost to that traitor. I would fain kill her where she stands, but something whispers to me that it must not be done that way. I feel so confused, and not at all sure what is the next step." "But that is why you must listen to Madrion's instructions!" broke in Godolfin eagerly. "She does have a plan, and it is essential that you lay still and quiet while it goes into effect." Gemma shrugged. "I suppose that we may as well do that, for I see no other course of action that could be productive. We shall lay low, then, and bide our time . . . for it will come, I know that also."

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An Unforseen Friendship ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

The next two weeks passed uneventfully, as the four soul-weary friends tried their best to relax and enjoy their brief respite from strife. It was not easy, however, for so much was at stake in the Lands. Glinda and Tibbs shared their concern, but Godolfin could not become too impressed with their plight. "I've seen you Humans put yourselves through much more than this," he said, "and still your race lives like it cannot be exterminated. This is but another problem such as those; tomorrow, it will be something else, and all will have forgotten about this one. Mark my words, for that is how it happens." Glinda snorted, saying gruffly, "Never mind his words of wisdom, for he speaks of centuries when you think of days. He has lived for eons, and has watched the comings and goings of mankind with great interest - as do most of the folk of the Outerworld. But he does not speak realistically for you . . . he means that in a hundred years or more, this trouble will mean nothing." Gemma turned on the pointy-eared little man, saying furiously,

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"That's what you think, that we have a series of meaningless squabbles, amounting to nothing. Well, let me tell you something - If we do not fight when evil invades our kingdom then there will be many lives lost. Not only for now, but for generations into the future. Our very way of life as we know it will be obliterated, and freedom will come to be meaningless." "But it has been my observation that freedom has always been meaningless in your Earthenworld. Even if you say you are free, you seem to be honor-bound by all sorts of conventions, and if not by them, then by people you care about who do. That is not true freedom. This evil that you speak of, it seems that in your world when you conquer an evil, and deem it destroyed forever, that same evil is resurrected from the dead and takes on a life form of its own once again. I am merely making the observation that you do not seem to learn from your mistakes, and remain bent on continuing the old evils, while also introducing new ones. So the end result is worse than that with which you started off with." "You make absolutely no sense, Godolfin, and perhaps it is best that you keep your philosophies to yourself while you visit our world." "Gemma is right," agreed Glinda. "You certainly do talk in a mighty pompous manner for one so small. Anyway, is it not time that you went home to the Green circle? You have been away for such a long time. I'm sure that you would like to relax in your own home again." "I certainly would! But that Madrion charged it upon me to keep these Humans safe, and I will not go back on my word." "I will watch over them, if you want, and Madrion would be just as happy as if you were here guarding them. Go now, and you could come back every now and then to see how we fare."

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"If you insist. I must say that I look forward to seeing my fair Drenda again, for none else is so fair amongst the Elven maidens as she." "Aye, you'd best go, for I've heard rumors that the oh-so-fair Drenda has been seen consorting with Marled the merry-melodie-maker of the Green Circle." "That Marled! I should have known . . . I'm gone!" Godolfin vanished and Gemma burst out laughing. "You certainly know how to handle Godolfin!" she complimented Glinda. "Well, I've only been dealing with him all my life, I should know a few strategies here and there, don't you think? But anyway, I wanted us to have some time alone, just to rest. I cannot even cook my favorite meals with that little Elf around. Now, what shall we have for supper, a grilled rack of lamb, a prime rib of beef, or a roast chicken?" Allys turned a slight shade of green, and said to Glinda, "I think that I am not hungry, I'll just have a hunk of cheese, and I shall go to bed now, for I am suddenly weary." She helped herself to some cheese with buttered bread, a glass of milk, and hurried upstairs with not a backward glance. "Now what's wrong with her?" asked Jarrett in an annoyed tone of voice. "She always seems upset by something or the other." "It may be that rabbit Madrion gave her," replied Roland. "I think that she has become sensitive to consuming flesh. It often strikes one initially as feelings of nausea and weakness. Methinks that Madrion would not have made that gift to Allys if she had not already sensed some sympathy in Allys's soul towards the souls of the animals. I'd wager much on it!" "Madrion would not dare, without Allys's permission," said Gemma. Glinda responded,

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"There's much that the witch dares to do, Gemma, you could not imagine. She probably did give Allys the rabbit for that express purpose. The consumption of flesh repulses Madrion as much as if she was born to the Outerworld. Anyway, if this is so, we cannot in all conscience cook any meat dish, for it will make Allys sick to even smell the food. It will become easier for her later, but right now, her body will be undergoing some changes, and we must be patient. So I will make a vegetable soup, with a beanloaf and baked potatoes for supper, and Gemma, if you will be kind enough to run and tell her, I'll get started." "I'll go" said Roland quietly, astounding everyone. He turned his back to the others and strode away. Knocking tentatively on Allys's door, he heard a tearful “Come in.” He did so, and saw Allys strewn across her bed, her long silver hair streaming around her form like waves upon the shore. She was oblivious to Roland, obviously assuming that it was either Gemma or Glinda at the door. Roland walked over to where she lay, and placed his hand on her head. He stroked the silver hair that spilled forth from it, and Allys immediately stiffened. She yanked herself up to a more dignified seated position. "What do you want, Roland, that you sneak into my room so surreptitiously?" "I didn't sneak in, Allys, you said to come in." "Yes, but I didn't mean you. What do you want with me anyhow?" "I wish only to talk with you. Glinda sent up a message that we will be having a beanloaf with baked potatoes for supper, so if you feel up to it, she wants you to join us." "Surely that's not what you wanted to talk to me about!" "Nay, there's more, Allys." Roland was gazing directly into Allys's eyes as he said this, and it seemed to both of them that the earth had stopped moving. Allys tore her eyes

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away first, remembering that this man was enamored of another woman. She asked brusquely, "What do you want to talk about?" Roland said, softly, "I just want you to understand something, Allys. I don't know why it is important to me that you know this, but it is. "I'll not deny that I find thee very fair. I do not know what else I feel for you, but I do know it tears me apart when you are hurting like this. I know you well, and I know when you hurt. I feel it worse than if it were happening to me. "I must tell you also, that nothing can ever come of it. My heart belongs to Madrion. That, too, I cannot help, and I am sorry that this is the way things are. I can change nothing." Roland looked so sad as he spoke that Allys felt his words twist into her heart like a hot knife. She touched her breast, expecting to find droplets of red blood, but there were none. Slanting her eyes upward to once again look into Roland's, she saw his soul naked before her. In that instant, she knew him better than she knew herself, before he swiftly veiled his eyes. Once more he regarded her with the usual bland stare she had become accustomed to. It was enough. She felt her heart soar like a bird high on wing, and knew that it was enough. It would always be enough. What Roland had given her for that brief instant had irrevocably altered her soul's very existence. Madrion no longer mattered one whit. "I'll get up now, Ro," she said, "and we shall go for a walk before dinner. That will be very nice."

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Jarrett’s Betrayal ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Back in Madur, the ill-born princess was trying her best to corrupt the kingdom. The Peoples believed in her, for her beauty was enough to inspire many romantic illusions about her authenticity. A Peoples desperate for leadership greedily bought the image. She had certainly inherited much of her beauty from her Taliesian mother, but apart from the inverted crown birthmark, there was no resemblance to her father Korda. She was small of build, with an innocent child-like face, and she presented the carefully fostered illusion of someone who could pose no threat to anyone. The new Queen's long, blue-black hair was often pulled back into a ponytail, in an imitation of youth. She danced through the halls, rather than walked. Her sweet smile enticed everyone who met her to shower her with pleasantries and gifts. Most felt that they would do anything to protect their new Blood Queen of the Lands, the Queen Byblyeonnae. It was about this time that subtle changes began to take place in the Kingdom of Madur. The new queen was free with gifts and compliments, but she showed a total disregard for the economics of her Lands . . . and any who found fault with her lavish expenditures were escorted quietly out of the castle by night and summarily hanged.

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The Peoples of the Lands heard rumors of these events and knew that the new queen's secret police force was becoming strong. Some families of the executed made trips to the Madurian castle to beg for mercy. When this happened, the new queen looked upset, and proclaimed to have no knowledge of these events. Invariably, the families who complained also began disappearing. The kingdom of Madur was no longer a safe place to be. The citizens of Madur had begun to learn the first lesson in tyrannical rule: do not complain. Soon, they would be learning others: be invisible; don't trust anyone; report friends and family to the officials before they reported on you. These regulations would ultimately be followed by other stipulations too unfair and awful to even mention. But that would come much later. Even then, the Peoples of the Lands would not blame Bybleonnae. They truly believed that a Queen of the Blood could do them no harm, and if she indeed had any fault, it was only that she had no husband to protect her interests and those of the Lands. So her loyal subjects would scour high and low for a prince fitting for her hand in marriage. There would contests and banns published all over the Lands, and to surrounding Territories. But Bybleonnae would turn them all down, saying that she had in her heart the memory of a dream - the man who was destined to become her husband. It was only he she would marry, but she had not yet found him. So if things ever changed in Gemma's kingdom, it was only to become worse, and Gemma, had she known, would have had her heart broken all over again at the state of the Peoples she loved. The Peoples would continue in their own victimization for many years to come, and eventually they would have so changed that they would hail only Bybleonnae as true Queen of the Lands. Even when Gemma returned and proved beyond doubt her true

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identity, many would still prefer Bybleonnae's lies and rally to the false queen’s side. So the Lands would be facing civil war - the most evil type of war to rear its ugly head.

"How like Korda," thought Madrion, as she closed her scrying image on the crystal. She had been scrying Madur's Probable Future, based on the current events surrounding the Lands and its new Queen. She did not like what she saw. "Murder and mayhem, that's the way he and his evil daughter operate . . . and now I know the Probable Future of the Lands, if we do not stop them somehow." Madrion thoughtfully turned her attention to the Faerie Queen sitting demurely at her side. "So you see, Your Royal Highness, what it is that we face. I am waiting for word from my friend Ellyryan. I have hope that she will be able to help us in this time of great need. In the meantime, I have only Ariganna and Twirla to give us information . . . and they will not." "Aye, Madrion, 'tis just that Ariganna is obsessed with that . . . that . . . that Korda!" the Queen Briganne spat his name out with contempt. "And that naughty nymph Twirla loves her Ariganna, and will not betray him for her sake. But give them time, and they will come around." "But that's exactly what we do not have," responded Madrion dejectedly, chewing her lip. "We must save the kingdom before too much damage is done. We can do nothing if we leave it too late." "There's naught I can do if they will not speak. Perhaps you can talk further to them? Mayhap that will help." "It might help with Twirla, but Ariganna hates me so. Perhaps I will continue to try to make that dizzy Nymph see some sense. I will go now, with your permission." "Permission granted, and I wish you good luck."

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"Aye, and I'll need it, too," Madrion muttered on her way out of the Royal Faerie tent. She cornered Twirla in the corner of the food tent, where she was pouring herself a heady brew of dandelion wine. The young Nymph sat to drink, all the while glaring sullenly at Madrion. "And to think that this is the friendlier of the two," thought Madrion weakly, as she too seated herself, and looked at the recalcitrant Nymph. "Now, Twirla, perhaps you've thought of what I've said, and you've changed your mind about helping us?" "Not on your sorcerous life, you witch!" "I've told you that I'm sorry about the deceit, but it was the only way I could get to the information I needed about Korda." "By lies! Do you know what Kord would have done to us all had he found you in his study?" "I dare not think, but he did not, we both escaped." "I did not escape, I was kidnapped." "But only by those care deeply for you and your friend. They did not kidnap you, they rescued you from a more cruel fate than even you could imagine. Mark my words, Twirla, you were playing with more danger that you knew. Did you know that Korda is an Immortal?" Twirla's widened eyes told Madrion that she had at last made an impact, not that she had ever doubted the power of this particular information. She had been reluctant to use it, however, for it could be volatile news if ever it fell into the wrong hands. As it seemed that Twirla gave her no other choice, she felt that the time must have come for more honesty.

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"If he is, what is he doing there on the Earthenworld? Were we picked to be his disciples, his Messiahs?" Twirla's mouth was now a perfect "O" in light of these new possibilities. "I thought that he was but a giant, what with his vast proportions, and his long life. I never imagined . . ." Twirla ceased to respond verbally, although it was easy to see from her rapt little face that she was mentally adoring Korda all over again. "Enough, Twirla, he was not that sort of Immortal," interjected Madrion impatiently into Twilra's angelic ruminations. "What other kind is there?" asked Twirla dreamily. "Not the kind you're thinking of, believe me. Korda is one of the fallen, an Immortal without redemption. You do not know of these, for they have been bound up in the core of the Earth for close to a thousand years now. How old are you?" "I'm two hundred and twenty-five years old." "A mere baby! No wonder you were so fooled by his evil spirit. But never mind, there were at one time many such unredeemed Immortals, who caused nothing but pain and grief on the Earthenworld. I had never thought to see one again, not as long as I lived, but I suppose that then I had no idea I would live this long." "Why have you lived so long? I know that it is the custom for Mortals to live for no more than one hundred and fifty years, and that is considered mighty old by your standards. Are you an Immortal too, Madrion?" Twirla looked as though she was about to get down on her knees and worship her, so Madrion hastily said, "No, no, my dear, I'm not. I cannot tell you why it is that I live this long, either., that's between me and the Gods of the Lands." Twirla, however, was not entirely convinced, saying,

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"The Queen Briganne told me of what you did so many centuries ago, but I thought that it was another Madrion, and when she asked me to help you, last night, I asked her if that Madrion of old was your ancestor. She said, ‘Nay, that is the one and the same Madrion that you have heard me tell about.’ So you have lived this long! I know that you are an Immortal, you can not hide that from me, you must be! Tell me!" "I can only tell you that I am not, and I still need you help. Will you help me?" "Of course, Madrion, I will, and if you wish me to be a Messiah, I will try, though I do not think I'd be very good at it. Perhaps Ariganna could do it, she was always so much more imaginative than me, and she has more confidence. That's settled, then, I think that I will just be a disciple, I think I can do that. When do you want me to start, Madrion? I must work on my new dress tomorrow, for the Queen said that Ariganna and I must have new frocks, for our old one are full of muck. What color should I choose? May I choose daffodil yellow, like you always wear? I think that would be nice . . . " Madrion led the still-chattering Nymph towards her own tent, where they could speak more privately.

"Now think carefully, Twirla, did Korda ever say anything that could help us, anything that he feared, any ambition he had? Anything at all?" "Not, really, let me see, m . . . m . . . m . . . no, nothing, except that he hated his mother. I think that's just awful, don't you? Imagine hating your own mother. I should have known right then that he was up to no good, but I was angry with my own mother then, and I agreed with him. I never would have lifted a hand to strike her, though, not I , but he wanted to kill his mother! Can you imagine that!" Twirla used the drawl so common amongst the youth of the Outerworlds at the time, making imagine sound like eeeeeeeemag...ine! Madrion hid a half-smile at the young

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Nymph, and thought privately how much Twirla had changed in just the short time since the Queen Briganne had rescued her and the Faerie Princess. "But it's just things like this that are important, Twirla. Did he ever say who his mother was, and why he hated her?" "No, he never said her name, but he said she lived far away. He was afeared of her, too, methinks, though he would have killed any who ever suggested such a thing. But I think he was afeared, I do." "What did he want with you and Ariganna? Do you know?" "Madrion! You are surely not as naive as that!" Madrion laughed at the young girl's horrified tone. "Nay, I'm not such a prude as that! But I meant, did he use you for anything else, for messages, that such thing?" "Well, he used to get us all dressed up as visitors to the Lands of Madur, and we would wander the marketplace, listening in on bits of gossip here and there. We sometimes used to dress up as Farasians, or Taroucs, or even folk from the cruel Northlands. Then we would fool people, and ask them questions." "Questions about what? Think, Twirla. Questions about what?" "Nothing really important, that I could tell. He only wanted to know about the Royal Family. That's the same as any tourists to Madur do, there was nothing so different." "What about the disguises?" "Oh, those were just for fun. Once when we were Farasians, Ariganna was a noblewoman, and we fooled a most handsome member of the Royal Family. Ariganna had him so confused that he did not even know what he was saying! We found out a lot about the Royal family that night, I'll tell you!

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“Ariganna used her magik to disguise even Korda as a beauteous Farasian lass, her serving maid in that disguise. Ariganna would not let him be the noblewoman who seduces the fine young lad of Terran, for she was too jealous, even of another man! So she played that role. That young man never knew what a close call he had. Korda was going to behead him immediately after, because he touched Ariganna, but she convinced him otherwise. She told him they would draw attention to themselves if they committed a murder. But I know her, she was intrigued by him, and she would have been happy to see that young Jarrett again." "Jarrett? Did you say Jarrett?" Madrion gave a low whistle. "Oh, wow," she thought, "Gemma will love him for this! Fancy getting involved with he likes of Korda and emerging unscathed. The lucky bastard!" Madrion had a feeling that Jarrett would have to pay for his little lapse. Now that she knew the whole story, she had every intention of summoning him so that he could speak to the arrogant Ariganna. Perhaps he would have better luck with the Faerie princess than she had had. She had little doubt of the outcome, for Jarrett was a handsome man and she was sure that not many maidens from the Earthenworld or even the Outerworlds would refuse him much of anything. Madrion had no qualms about exposing his tryst to Gemma and the others. She strongly felt that people should live with the consequences of their behaviors. She did not approve of Jarrett's conduct in this matter, either, and would not feel sorry if Gemma would shake a few of the stars out of her eyes and see him as he really was rather than as something akin to a god. Not that Gemma had ever revealed her feelings to anyone, but Madrion was rather adept at surmising things about people . . . sometimes things that they did not even know themselves.

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So when Roland and Allys returned from their walk, Madrion sat curled up in one of Tibbs's giant armchairs, warming her toes by the fire and sipping a small glass of fine sherry. Roland's face lost all color, as he once again found himself mesmerized by Madrion's sheer presence. Allys felt a searing pain in her soul, one that did not shatter any happiness she may have already found solace in, but a new pain which rendered her feelings bittersweet. "Madrion! We did not know where you had gone to. Why did you leave?" cried Roland, with some annoyance. "I had to, Roland," was the soft reply. "I had some communication with my friend Ellyryan, she stepped through the portal briefly to let me know what she had found, and then stepped back in. The time-flux may be severe at the next moon, I do not know, so she may not be back for years. On the other hand, she could arrive with someone I once knew, who will be able to help us, at the next full moon. That is in a little over a week from now. The travel between these planets is most strange, and cannot be predicted to any extent, as far as I know." "I suppose that 'someone you knew' is that mysterious Mystyere?" Roland inquired sarcastically. Madrion winced. "How unlike you to gloss over the most important part of my news, and focus on the irrelevant! I thought I had taught you not to do that! Now, what is the real question, the one of importance?" For a second, Roland was once again the young, untried boy who had first approached Madrion for lessons. He struggled for a second, but the old conditioning ran deep.

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"Why, the important facts were simply that the Goddess was not there to greet us, and neither were you. Therefore, from this I can infer that you were aware that the danger had passed. Presumably, knowing you as I do, you were instrumental in making sure that our arrival into our time was safe. The important question, therefore, was what did you do to distract the Goddess of Ice?" "Correct, of course, your training in logical applications has served you well. What puzzles me is your word usage!" "What's wrong with it?" asked Roland, guardedly. "Nothing, really. It would be a succinct conclusion from anyone else - from you, it seemed like flowing eloquence! What has happened to so loosen your tongue? I have tried for years to do it, but that was one area I could not succeed in." Madrion swept her eyes over to Allys, and knew instantly that the young lass had something to do with Roland's new confidence in her presence. Allys appeared to have lost her tongue. Her mind was racing, however. When had Roland begun to participate in conversation, instead of secluding himself and avoiding everyone? The change had been so gradual that she had not really noticed, but it had certainly culminated in this afternoon's innocent tryst. Whatever the reason, she was happy, for it seemed that the more Roland spoke up, the more confident and leader-like he became. Allys was wise enough to know that leaders were never good followers. Madrion was a leader, that much was obvious, and when Roland began to discover his own strengths, he might find that the cords which once bound him with love had begun to chafe his skin for their very tightness. "But you still do not tell us of the important circumstances that led the Goddess away from our path! What did you do, Madrion?" Roland again spoke, not allowing Madrion to use her questioning techniques to avoid answering his original question.

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"I will tell you in due time." "Well, I see no reason why you cannot tell us now! We have waited here for some weeks, and we deserve some explanation." "When I said, 'in due time', I meant only that you all should be here to hear what I am about to say," said Madrion, rather impatiently. Allys eventually found the courage to speak to the witch, a courage born of concern for her beloved pets. She also wanted to change the subject, for she feared that Roland was acting a little too much out of character. "Where's Bunty? And Greyfriars? Did they miss me?" Madrion realized what Allys was doing, and mentally praised her for being shrewder than she appeared. She answered simply, "They are here, Allys, as well as Romul. Glinda has found a warm place in the barn next to the cows for them to rest. She has fed them, and now they are sound asleep. I think that you'd best leave them be for now. Where's that Elf Godolfin? I asked him to stand guard over you." "Glinda tricked him into returning to his girlfriend in the Outerworlds, and he went fairly gladly." Madrion bit back an oath. "That scoundrel! That just goes to prove that old saying, that an Elf is as trustworthy as a baby in a bathtub. He promised faithfully that he would not leave your side until I arrived." "Well, he did try, but Glinda promised him that she would take care of us instead." Allys tried to cover for the recalcitrant Elf, for she could see that Madrion was becoming more agitated by the minute; first with her little disagreement with Roland, and now this. Madrion burst out, "That silly fool! I gave him the amulet to protect you with! Did he give it to you, then, Glinda?"

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"Nay, he did not," said Glinda, for she had entered the room just as Madrion fired the question at her. "He did not even mention it." "I should have known better than to trust important matters such as this to an Elf! Nevertheless, we shall soon meet him, and I will have him charged with an unfulfillment of duty!" "Is he coming back here?" asked Allys with interest. She was genuinely fond of Godolfin, and didn't want to see him charged with whatever it was that Madrion wanted to have him charged with. "No, Allys, we are going there. There is a matter that needs the assistance of your cousin, Jarrett. Where is he? I haven't seen either him or Gemma since I arrived, and I thought that they were with you." "I do not know, but I am sure that they just went for a walk. They'll probably be back soon." "Doesn't Gemma know that she should not wander around undisguised? She could be seen by anyone, and the tale carried to the Madurian castle! I had thought your cousins had more sense than that!" Madrion felt even more irritated as the conversation went on. She had no patience whatsoever today, and knew that she was just making matters worse, but she just couldn't seem to stop herself. Glinda spoke up, saying, "I did not even know when they left. It is almost dark, and they do not know their way around so well." She walked over to the window, and peered out. "I think I see them, they are just sitting on a fallen log out in the yard." "I'll go get them, Madrion," offered Allys, who also wanted to warn them that Madrion was in a most foul mood, even for her.

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Duly warned, the cousins trooped back to the warm hearth of the cottage. They sat down expectantly, waiting for Madrion to advise them of the events that occurred during their travel in time. Madrion addressed her first remarks to Gemma, saying, "As you know, your twin sister, Byblyonnae, is now the Queen of Madur, Talies and all the Lands. She has perpetuated an evil hoax, and besmirched your name, Gemma." "I know of what you speak, Madrion, for Godolfin has given us your message. Words can not express my rage at that woman, or tell of my fear of what she may accomplish and put my Peoples through." "Aye, Gemma, you have much to be afeard of. I have scryed the future, and though the future is never definite, it is correct for the time scryed. That is to say, if nothing happens to alter the evil twin's course of action, the resulting chaos will be monumental and irreversible. So, we must get to work quickly. I have a plan, sparked by the Nymph Twirla and her Faerie friend Ariganna, whom Jarrett had the good fortune to meet." All eyes swiveled towards Jarrett, some with suspicion, others with confusion. Gemma's eyes looked the most bewildered. Jarrett himself looked as if he had no idea whatsoever of what the witch was talking about. "Aye, Jarrett, you did meet Ariganna and her friend Twirla, as well as the beast Korda. You gave them vital information about the activities and habits of the Queen." "I did not!" Jarrett was up his feet, his face red and his eyes glittering with rage. "Sit down, Jarrett, you did not recognize them, for they were disguised with Faerie magik, a most powerful magik to be sure. Also, they ensorcelled you, so that you do not remember what you told them." Jarrett looked a trifle relieved, and sat down, saying, "Well, if they were disguised, and I was ensorcelled, then it was not my fault!"

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"Oh, but it was, Jarrett, for you agreed to go with them in the first place. If you agree to go with any such as those, then in essence you are giving the evil one your consent to do anything he so desires with you. That is the reason you are not allowed to speak to the undead in my demesne, for if you do, unless you are asking them specific questions to aid you toward a good purpose, you give them your unspoken consent to do with you as they wish. By going with them, you allowed them to ensorcell you." "I've never seen these people in my life!" spluttered Jarrett. "Watch the mirror, Jarrett." Everyone turned to get a view of a mirror which occupied a harmless place by the door. Slowly, the images reflected of the cheerily lit room dimmed and a grey mist swirled about. As the mist lifted, they could see Jarrett standing in a room filled with unsavory people, imbibing profusely of the mug in his hand. He was swaying, his back to the bar, as a nubile young Farasian woman sidled up to him and slid her hands down inside his cloak. They could hear nothing, as the image was scryed from the past, and Madrion had used no spells to enable them to hear. However, they did not need to hear. Jarrett's face turned several hues of red, and he made a slight choking noise. Gemma and Allys looked shocked. "That's Korda!" Madrion's voice cut through the tension like a knife. Jarrett's now florid complexion turned pale white. "What do you mean . . . Korda?" "Exactly what I said," said Madrion complacently. "That Farasian wench is really Korda in disguise. The other - watch . . . is Twirla." Jarrett began making sounds as if he was gasping for air, and Roland took pity on him and led him outside. Madrion stopped the scryed image until he returned, saying that it

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was important they all see and remember exactly what happened, as it would become an important part of her plan. So they watched the order of events Jarrett had once revealed to all. At that time, in his embarrassment, he had professed it had not really happened. Apparently it had. Needless to say, Jarrett could meet no one's eyes when Madrion was through. The witch said, "I'm sorry, Jarrett, to cause you such discomfort, but I did not do it for the fun of it. No, it is the means by which we will save the kingdom. Watch closely again!" The images were different this time. Bybleonnae, the twin that Gemma had never seen, now entered a room that she recognized as hers. They stared at her innocent beauty and felt her charm, even through a weak scryed image. It was no wonder that she had so much power in the Lands, if she could even reach out from a scryed image to the heart of her twin - one she had so wronged - and still wring out a morsel of emotion. Bybleonnae tossed her hair over her shoulder and turned to the far wall. She muttered something they could not hear, and pointed her finger dramatically at the wall beside Gemma's bed. So gradually that they did not notice until it was there, a crack appeared in the wall, about three feet high and two feet across - just large enough for a man to squeeze through. Gemma gasped, saying, "So that is how that brute entered the chamber to rape my mother!" "It is also how they entered your room to kidnap you, Gemma," added Madrion. "That hole in the wall is masked by a potent spell of invisibility, one of exactly the same type that I found in Korda's home, and closely related in genre to the spell that veiled Gemma. So no doubt it was cast by the same person. The only problem with this reasoning is that I was the one to formulate that particular spell, and I know that I did not aid Korda with his evil plans.

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"We do know, however, that the Piscies of the Moor acquired the spell, and somehow through them the Goddess of Ice and Bybleonnae (for I do believe that the cloaked figure you saw with the Goddess was the false Queen) cast it upon Gemma. We just have to figure out how the spells were stolen from me, and then we may have some idea as to exactly who is involved in this plot, and what their resources are, as well as what their ultimate goal is. I fear that whatever it is, it bodes ill for the Peoples of the Lands." "Mayhap Greyff will be able to help you with figuring out where the invisibility spell went to," offered Allys (Greyff was the shortened version of the name Greyfriars). "Aye, you did tell us that one of the creatures from your domain had escaped, which was impossible without outside help. I'll wager that these events are related! If anyone knows what happened, then Greyff will," added Roland. "I knew there was a reason to drag that hound with us!" exclaimed Madrion happily. "Roland, go fetch him, and here is Romul, still with the same setting to turn him into his man-form. Get him to don it before entering the cottage, for the transformation can be sometimes distressing." She unwound a saffron yellow scarf that she wore around her neck, shook it out into Romul's cloak form, and handed it to Roland. Allys quickly jumped up herself, saying, "I'll go too, for I shall be glad to see Greyff and Bunty again. I will have to bring her in too, for she will not want to stay in the barn on her own." So the two new friends departed for the barn, with Madrion's piercing eyes boring holes into their backs. They just did not have the decency to observe her glares. Jarrett was thankful that the heat was off him at last, and did his best to sink as far into his chair as he could. Gemma had not looked at him once. Just before the silence became truly awkward, Tibbs and Glinda started to chat, trying to ease the tension. But their comments were answered brusquely if at all, and the older couple finally gave up

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the attempt. They breathed a sigh of relief when Roland and Allys escorted Greyff into the room. "Hello Greyff, and thank you again for your help with Ariganna in Faerieland. I'm afraid I need your help once more." "You're most welcome, Madrion, I'm just sorry that nothing came of it. I'm willing to help you now if I can." Madrion had tried to get through to Ariganna by using Greyff's extraordinary good-looks, to see if she would reveal anything of Korda that might aid them in their battle ahead. But Ariganna had snubbed the werewolf, much to his chagrin. He had pleaded with Madrion that she restore him to his true form, and he promised that he would have results if she did so, but Madrion's only comment to this scheme was "You must be mad." Needless to say, this had wounded Greyff's feelings considerably, and now he was eager to redeem his diminished feelings of self-worth in any way he was able. "There have been some of my spells stolen from my domain. Do you know anything of it?" asked Madrion, without preamble. Greyff thought hard, every now and then casting covert glances at Allys, whom he loved beyond reason with all the love his undead heart could hold. Eventually he said, "I do not, but there is a Faerie who works in the tavern by your castle, and methinks she seemed mighty nervous when we entered to seek that errant Elf Godolfin, who had been spirited away by a Succubus." "I remember, too!" exclaimed Allys. "She tends to the drinks, and I remember thinking that she seemed mighty relieved when I told her the exact nature of our errand." "Aye," added Gemma. "I noticed that her wings were quivering, as if she were mighty afeard. I had thought that it was just the nature of the place she worked in that made her so nervous, but now I see that makes no sense, as she probably had been

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working there for a while. At any rate, she had to be aligned with the undead in some way if she was there at all, and thus that should have been no cause for her fear." Madrion nodded thoughtfully. "I know of the Faerie you mean. She was banished from Faerieland forever, for she butchered her mother and father in a most brutal way, as well as her two sisters and a brother. The only one that survived the slaughter was a mere baby, and he was left as a changeling with human parents. They did not want any tainted blood in the Outerworld. “The Faerie Queen herself sent a missive to me and asked if I would keep this one, and I said yes. I did not want a anger-filled Faerie wandering amongst mankind. So she is not at my domain of her free will, and I have no doubt that she would be pleased to escape. Well, I shall have to keep an eye out for her, that's all." "I wonder, fair Madrion, if I may beg a boon of you?" asked Greyff. "What is it now?" Madrion liked Greyff, but she certainly did not trust him, knowing his true nature far better than the others. "I wonder if you would let me keep my man-form when Godolfin takes back his cloak. I feel that as I am in the world of men, that I would prefer to be as one. I beg you to grant me this one small favor." Madrion regarded him suspiciously. "What on earth would you want with your man-form? As a wolf, you have so many more benefits. You do not need shelter, and you can run for hours without tiring." "Aye, but I also lack for companionship. I wish to converse, to have friends!" Madrion sniffed her disbelief, but with the combined entreaties of the others, she went against her better judgment and agreed. "How will we save the kingdom, Madrion? Surely you will tell us now," Gemma asked, for it was paramount on her mind.

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"Well, it is just that we have a way to attack Bybleonnae, and it will be through Jarrett. First, Jarrett must get the confidence of the Faerie Ariganna. Then, we will go to Bybleonnae's castle - or rather, Gemma's castle, and try to convince her that we have a message from Korda, her father. Methinks we will use the same route that they used to enter into Gemma and Tamsyn's bedchambers, for I'm sure that they would not suspect us of knowing about it. I also have news for you that may come as a shock, but will help us tremendously in our battles. Korda is the son of the Ice Goddess!" She paused to absorb the effect of her words and she was most pleased. "That is the message my friend Ellyryan has managed to convey to me via the amulet that I took back from Roland. When I received the message, my immediate response was to summon the Goddess of Ice, and to do that I had to return to Faerieland to enlist the aid of the High Faerie Queen. "The Blood Goddess of Ice came willingly enough when summoned by the Faerie Queen. She did not expect to see me there! When I informed her of the whereabouts of Korda, whom I suspected of being her son, I was not disappointed. She was most pleased to discover his whereabouts. She set off immediately in search of him, and as he did not have Ariganna's magik to shield him any longer, she found him where I said he'd be. The Goddess of Ice forced him to return to the Northlands! She told him that his father was about to return, and she needed him there. "This was all a bold stroke of luck for us. I further took the liberty of asking her of Gemma and the Kingdon, and she knew naught of it! I could not believe my ears! When I asked her why she had held Gemma captive, and aided the infernal Byblyeonnae, she said that she had merely done so to retrieve her son, Korda. Byblyeonnae had promised to deliver him to her if she did a small favor of capturing Gemma. I was shocked, for I

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knew that Gods of the Blood do not usually bother themselves with the petty affairs of mortals. Now we know why she helped Byblyeonnae."
“So

you mean that the Goddess of Ice has taken the monster Korda back to the

Northlands, where he can no longer do us any harm?" asked Allys. "Aye, that I do. There was nothing I could have done against Korda, for he has authority which belongs to a time in eternity. He can tap into a source of power that would destroy me, if I tried to do anything against him. It is lucky we are that Gods do not interact with Mortals, as a rule." "But that's what Gareth Eathrow said, when he brought the baby Roland to our house!" cried Glinda, while Gemma tried to keep her quiet. She did not want her Name of Power to ever be in the keeping of a witch, no matter how trustworthy that witch might be. Madrion sensed a surge of energy in the room. She suddenly realized that what Glinda had to say was important. Despite Gemma's obvious reluctance to broach the subject, she gently encouraged her to say what she knew. Casting an apologetic glance at Gemma, Glinda quoted: "The time is now the time was then, Gods mingled with mortal men, The seed was sown, the die was thrown, Thay Eleana Elantra wal dorwen." Madrion drew her breath. This, then, was the other link to the puzzle! She started to think aloud, "The first line obviously talks about time travel; the second, about Korda and his rape of Gemma's mother, Tamsyn. The third line refers to Korda's seed begetting Bybyleonnae. I do not know what the fourth line means, but by the dispersion of energy

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I have been observing in the atmosphere, I know the names to be Names of Power, probably belonging to someone in this room." She cast her eyes about sternly, looking at each occupant of the room in turn. She finally rested her gaze on Gemma. Gemma could no longer stand the tension. She burst out, "I would fain have a word with you in private, Madrion" Madrion nodded acquiescence, and the two women stepped outside the door for a brief talk. Gemma told Madrion of the Name of Power which she had chosen as the High Priestess of the time. Madrion was startled. "I am sorry, Gemma, I had no idea that a Name which is visible enough to appear in an ancient rhyme could belong to the Queen of all the Lands. By tradition, that is impossible. Now you must know, it is not your true Name of Power." "What are you talking about?" cried Gemma in fear. "Well, it is just that if 'Eleana Elantra' was the Queen of the Land's true Name of Power, then it would have carried its own protection. It could never have found its way into any unauthorized usage such as this, unless it had been deliberately disclosed. Are you sure that none who knew it would have told any?" "Aye, for 'tis only Jarrett and Allys that know of it. I did not even have it when Jarrett was abducted by that Korda, so he could not have disclosed it, even while he was ensorcelled. Besides, they both have been through a binding ceremony . . . but my Name of Power is just the second name, not the first." Even Gemma could not bring herself to utter her name of Power aloud. "Only one name! Then do ye know what this means, Gemma?" Madrion's tone was surprisingly soft, as she reached out to brush a stray tendril of hair from Gemma's face. Gemma could feel her stomach spasm in anticipation of dire news. She did not want to

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hear it, and she involuntarily placed her hands on her ears. Madrion gently reached up and moved them, saying, "It will be alright, Gemma. You have sensed this for a long time now, but you did not want to know. The Royal Line of Terran has been butchered; the Royal Line of Terran has been sullied, we can never change these things. Now your Name of Power has been diminished. Your own person has been tarnished, your reputation ruined. Even your Name of Power has been linked to another. It all means something crucial to the future of the Lands. What does it all add up to, Gemma?" Gemma muttered some incoherent words, tears streaming down her face. Madrion persisted, however. "I didn't hear you, Gemma, what did you say? You know that the seeds were sown many years ago." "I know," whispered Gemma, almost inaudibly. "I know. The Royal Line has come to an end, culminating in the tainted blood of my sister. I will never be Queen again." "I cannot say 'never', but I can say that the Line of Terran will not long endure. Perhaps you may still be Queen, but none of your offspring, or those of Byblyeonnae's, will ever sit on the throne. The line will not last that long. I am sorry." Gemma rubbed her fists into her eyes, and wiped away every last vestige of a tear. "I care not," said she. "I will still give my life in the service of this kingdom. From what you have been telling us, it seems likely that I may have to, as might we all. I will give my life to honor my family name, and I will do it proudly." Madrion nodded approvingly. "I know that it is difficult to live through the loss of yourself, as you knew yourself to be. Think on this, however; the soul is like the Phoenix. A new and untarnished soul will be reborn out of the ashes of the old. When you think your soul is dead, it is merely

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asleep. One day it will return with a youth and a fury that will astound thee. Be done with tears, Gemma, for they have already watered a fertile crop. Soon will be the time to reap." With this surprising show of empathy, Madrion turned and entered the warm parlor. Gemma followed closely on her heels. Ignoring any looks of curiosity, the two women seated themselves, and Madrion continued outlining her plan. "It seems that there is some warning in that verse the old man gave you. What we have to do is decipher it, but even if we cannot the answer may still come in time. Many things come to those who wait, though some things must be attended to immediately. "Therefore, we must approach Byblyeonnae in the castle, and somehow gain her confidence. If we can convince Ariganna and Twirla to accompany us, and - even more difficult - receive permission from their mothers to allow them to come with us, then we may stand a chance. “Byblyeonnae knows Ariganna and Twirla quite well, and will trust anything they tell her about Korda. As he is safely tucked away, beyond interference, we may still have some chance of saving the kingdom from grief. We must now travel to Farieland, and solicit the help of the High Faerie Queen." They formed a closed circle of hands, and Madrion repeated her earlier admonishments. "Link hands tightly, and empty your minds. Do not let go of each other, whatever you do, for you will be lost in the mists of the Plains. The mists swirl their way through time, space, thought, and many more dimensions I know not of. So if you become lost there, I will not be able to find you. Even the Faeriefolk would be of no help." Duly warned, the six linked hands. On Madrion’s orders, Greyff had to join them, for she did not trust him on his own in the Earthenworld. He was still shielded by Godolfin's

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cloak, Romul, so would be safe enough in the Outerworld. Bunty was left behind in the Tibbens's care, and though she seemed sad to be parted from Greyff, nevertheless cavorted happily in the Tibbens's small garden. Madrion whisked them away with several puffs of smoke. Through the Aethyr they flew. Madrion could feel the weight of Greyff pulling hard towards the Netherworld. She was prepared for the force because she had encountered the same phenomena when she had traveled previously to the Faerielands with Greyff. At that time, she had learned how to balance the pull, a fact for which she was most grateful. If she had been suddenly surprised by it while she had the weight of four Humans in tow, she might have faltered, and to falter would have been deadly. She would have lost them to the pull of the Aethyr. The travel took longer this time than when Madrion traveled alone. The Human minds she pulled were not as expert as her own at emptying themselves of all but one thought. Arrive they did, however, and it was an exhausted Madrion who roused herself to greet Maercury's suspicious eyes. "So you did bring them? Phew, how they smell!" He wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Your High Queen did order you to be polite to these Humans, did she not?" asked Madrion severely. Maercury turned a slight shade of red and retorted, "I was polite enough! I was merely stating a fact. If you prefer, I will not speak at all!" Madrion knew that the Outerworlders were touchy, and she cursed herself for not tempering her usual imperious manner. She needed the goodwill of this Faerie messenger - if she annoyed him, he was entirely capable of taking them to strange, faraway places instead of to Twirla and Ariganna. So she said placatingly, "I know that their scent is different to yours, but please, I will use a small Faerie spell to rid them of it. They will not mind.” Maercury nodded, saying,

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"I'm mighty glad that you, at least, have the common decency to hide your Human smell, and that of Greyff's. These Humans should be taught some lessons in personal hygiene!" Madrion laughed, and shook her head. "It's not their hygiene habits that is the problem, Maercury, it is but your nose!" "My nose?!" "Aye, your nose! You are exceptionally sensitive to their smell, for you do not encounter Humans often. When I was here last I used a spell to mask my odor, and that of Greyff's. The reason we smell to you is not that our hygiene is deficient, it is just our normal, Human smell, which you are not used to. Humans often feel the same way when encountering animal homes in the Earthenworld. I'm sorry I did not think to mask their odor before we arrived. It slipped my mind." Maercury seemed mollified but glared balefully at them as Madrion flicked her forefinger and thumb in the direction of the mortified Human dross. "There, that's better. Now, I take it you wish to return to the Queen Briganne's circle?" "As soon as possible, dearest Maercury" replied Madrion, through clenched teeth. Maercury held Madrion's hair, and she in turn held on tightly to the hands of the others. She sensed that this would be a rough trip, as the others had never flown, except Roland. He had visited Faerieland with her before, and she had encouraged him to practice the flight procedures in that realm. Roland was aware of many of the customs and practices in Faerieland, which was fortunate. He was therefore quick enough to prevent the Humans from killing the Faerie messenger with his wrinkled nose and rude comments. Through his knowledge and experience, Roland was all too aware of the fickleness of the Faeries, as well as their powers. He knew that an attack on Maercury would have

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led to grave repercussiopns in the Faerie Kingdom, not the least of which would have been their deaths. Luckily, the cousins had grown to trust Roland's judgment. When he put a restraining arm on Gemma and Jarrett, and motioned Allys back, they had paused in their fury. The moment passed without event, a fact for which Madrion was immensely thankful. Presently, they arrived at the Queen Brigganne's flowery tent. Madrion introduced her friends to each other. "Where is Ariganna?" asked Madrion, after all the normal courtesies had been observed. "I last saw her bathing by the river with Twirla. I will send a messenger to fetch them," answered the Faerie Queen. "In the meantime, perhaps you would care to freshen up? If I know those two, it'll be a while before they're ready - even if I tell them to hurry." So saying, the Faerie Queen led them to a bower sheltered by gently sighing palms. She gestured them to lay in hammocks which were strung on invisible trees. Atop each hammock was one of their names, so they quickly settled themselves in and swayed to the soft breeze. As soon as they were comfortably relaxed, a little Nymph fluttered around with a tray of crystal goblets filled with an apricot-flavored ambrosial nectar. They drank deeply, feeling certain they could never have enough of the exquisite liquid. The Nymph hovered over them, carefully refilling the goblets from a large jug. Although they must have each drunk three goblets full, still they did not feel inebriated. Instead, their beings were suffused with profound joy and love. A Satyr hurried forth with a tray of sweetmeats: delicate walnut swirls, rainbow-pane marzipan, lush combs of honey, and cups of candy-cane ice cream which only melted in

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the mouth. Needless to say, most of the company ate until they felt ill, while Madrion looked at them in disgust. She spoke sharply to Jarrett, saying, "How do you expect to win the affection of the Faerie Ariganna when you've stuffed yourself like a pig?" "Never you mind about that, Madrion, my charm's intact!" replied Jarrett. "It would take more than a few Faerie goodies to extinguish it." "No doubt!" exclaimed Gemma. "It seems your ego is intact also." "I did not mean it that way, Gemma," pleaded Jarrett to deaf ears, while Madrion smirked to herself. It was reassuring to see the arrogant Jarrett squirming like a naughty child. "Nonetheless, you must get ready to meet with Ariganna, and see if you can charm her away from the evil Korda. I believe her life depends on your success, Jarrett, so you must not let us down." "I will not, Madrion, I promise." "That's good, then, for you alone are bound to her by bonds in the Aethereal world, and so 'tis only you who can sever the other ties." "Bonds? What do you mean, Madrion? I have no bonds with the Faerie wench!" "Sorry to contradict you, but you made love to her, and that weaves threads of fate into the material we call time. 'Tis not a concept that Humans are familiar with, but that's certainly not to say that it doesn't exist! Contrary to popular opinion amongst the Earthenfolk, Humans do not know everything. “Actually, they know very little . . . perhaps that's why they're so opinionated. They want to cling to their shreds of knowledge, not knowing that, like a snake, to shed one skin is to acquire another. Oh, well, perhaps they'll learn eventually. Hopefully, they still have some time and it will not be too late."

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"Well and good, Madrion, but that does not explain the 'bonds'!" exclaimed Jarrett impatiently. "What? Oh, excuse me . . . I got carried away. Anyway, in some ways, you are bound to Ariganna for all time. Because of this, you will be unable to fully give any woman your entire soul for immaculate bonding. That is a spiritual event as much as a physical one - a fact which many do not know. Bound as you are, you will have readier access to Ariganna's soul than others. It is to there you must go to sever the hold that Korda has over Ariganna'a heart." "I have never known these things, Madrion. They seem mighty serious, and I have no idea how to go about doing as you ask." "There's only one way. You must finish what you have started, and you must forsake all others, in heart and in soul. It's a tall order, but you must do it Jarrett, for, however unwittingly, you have played a part in this Faerie's damnation, and now only you can save her. That's not all . . . it is also the only way to save yourself." Jarrett became pale. Although he understood only half of what Madrion was saying, he could feel the ring of truth in her words with every fibre of his body. Her words crawled through him like maggots through a dead brain. He shuddered. "I know that it will be difficult, Jarrett, but you must do it," continued Madrion, casting only a briefly sympathetic glance at the stricken Gemma. "I will try, that's all I can promise!" replied Jarrett rudely, and wiping the Faerie food from his chin, he rose from the hammock and stalked off. The remaining five looked at his rapidly diminishing figure, and Allys asked timidly, "Was that all true, Madrion? What you said about Jarrett's soul?"

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"Of course it was! I do not lie, young Allys, nor do I hide truths from others." Allys flushed at the barb, and stared at Madrion, trying to discern if the witch knew anything of her feelings for Roland. But Madrion's expression was typically remote. In a few minutes, the Faerie Queen Brigganne entered the bower with news that Ariganna was prepared to receive the visitors. Madrion looked annoyed, and exclaimed, "Well, where has that Jarrett gone to?" Greyff howled with derision and pointed to the edge of the lawn. Jarrett could be seen walking with Ariganna, his arm tightly around her waist. "Reckon he's swifter even than he said, Madrion! Reckon so, huh? Huh?" Greyff was the only one who seemed to find the situation amusing, though he soon sobered up with one quelling look from his beloved Allys. "You have no sense of decorum, Greyff?" said Allys, with fond irritation. Greyff, chastened, hung his head until she said kindly, "but no mind, you've no training in it, and anyway, you're not even Human. You can learn." "What shall we do now, Madrion?" asked Roland hesitantly. He was wary of Madrion's lightning mood changes, and was becoming unsure of his own reaction to her. These were feelings he had certainly not experienced before. Roland did not realize was that he was the one changing. He was growing toward his own destiny, and he no longer accepted as gospel all that his old mentor said and did. Madrion replied to his question with a sharp look, as though she would like to bore a hole into his brain and ferret out his thoughts. "Well, I have to try to reach my friend Ellyryan once again. I want you to instruct Gemma, Allys and Greyff in surveillance techniques, for we'll need them sooner than we'll need battle tactics, by the looks of things."

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"The High Queen a spy on her own Lands?" thought Gemma bitterly. "Is this what I'm destined to become?" She followed the others disconsolately onto the lawn, and watched with amazement as Roland produced a small wand from his vest pocket and tapped the ground. With a puff of colored smoke and a few flashes of light, an innocuous-looking wooden chest appeared. "I did not know that you knew magic like this, Roland!" exclaimed Allys delightedly, clapping her hands together. "I don't - or, at least, I know nothing of this caliber of magic on the Earthenworld, though I do know a few tricks. It's just that now we are in Faerieland and all magic is magnified. Madrion taught me about sorcery in the Outerworlds some time ago. " Now, we will use the contents of this chest to help us with disguises. Though they are not magikal in origin, still they can be of great help to us in our surveillance activities." Roland flung open the chest, and they gazed upon its contents in awe. They spent the next few hours dressing up as peasants, old folk, noble courtiers, and anything else their fertile imaginations could come up with. The disguises were as real as Gemma's Elven gypsy disguise. At last, Allys threw herself on the ground in hysterics over Roland's impression of an overly amorous but ancient lecher. Gemma joined her, howling with laughter herself, thoughts of Jarrett momentarily forgotten. They all convulsed when Greyff did his impression of a sickly old woman, for his wolf-like character seemed to shine right through that particular disguise, endowing the old lady with rapacious qualities it was certain she had never entertained, even in her wildest dreams. It was an image that caused much mirth and merriment when viewed through the eyes of the already hysterical trio.

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Shortly they were summoned for dinner, and there they were joined by Madrion, as well as Jarrett, Ariganna, Twirla and the Faerie Queen Brigganne. As soon as they were settled, Madrion turned her eyes on Jarrett and Ariganna, and inquired sweetly, "Did you manage to recognize Jarrett, Ariganna? He did not forget you." "Aye," replied Ariganna, a starstruck quality to her eyes. "Jarrett is not a man anyone could forget, and I for one was happy to see him again. He has told me of some strange circumstances regarding that former lover of mine - I shall not even speak his name - which leads me to believe he was using us for his own ends, and did not care about me at all." Madrion looked carefully at the shining face of the little Faerie, and shook her head in bewilderment. She had been trying to tell Agiganna the exact same thing for weeks now, while Ariganna had coldly ignored her. Now Jarrett had imparted the same knowledge in her Faerie head, and had succeeded in a mere few hours. As if the silly Faerie even needed someone to tell her these things, when Korda had so brutally beaten her and her friend. Oh, well, there was no accounting for tastes. At least she seemed to be over the bastard. Now would come the difficult part. Madrion would have to convince Ariganna and the Faerie Queen that Ariganna, as well as Twirla, must travel with them to Madur on their quest to dethrone the false Queen Bybleonnae. Only the two Outerworlders could possibly gain an audience with the woman; they might be able to save much bloodshed in the Lands. Madrion needed Byblyeonnae to seek her out, perhaps in the hopes of further gain. For Byblyeonnae to do so of her own free will, she must trust the messengers. Madrion could then cast a spell on Byblyeonnae of such foul repercussions that the people themselves would remember her only with

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horror. The one drawback to this plan was that she had to come to Madrion of her own greedy free will. The only way that this could possibly be accomplished would be for Ariganna and Twirla to gain her trust, and convince her that Madrion was working with her dread father, Korda. It could just possibly work, but much would depend on the two friends. Madrion decided to speak with the Queen Briganne privately, as well as Twirla, and let Jarrett take care of Ariganna. She felt a trifle guilty about what she had told Jarrett, but she had no intention of enlightening him at that moment. All that she had said was true, but she had exaggerated his part in the matter. True, his soul would be blemished, but souls were made for that purpose: everyone's soul was blemished, to some extent or the other. Nor would Jarrett have to remain faithful to Ariganna forever, but at the moment it suited her purposes that he knew not of this, and believed himself bound to Ariganna for life. The time would come soon enough when he would find out differently. So decided, she settled in to enjoy the Faerie fare, and enjoyable indeed it was. They were served soup of pomegranates with a fruity wine cup; this was followed with a dandelion and orange salad, asparagus soufflé and poppyseed bread. Also laid out on the table were various cheese pies, omelets of walnut and raisin, and pancakes with ground apple and cinnamon, served with fresh cream. Though they were full by this time, they still managed to munch on marshmallow chocolates, coconut macaroons and sip creamy chocolate mint drinks. As they ate, Faerie flutes filled the night with Faerie melodies from times long past, evoking feelings and memories of ancient secrets in the recesses of their minds. All that most were conscious of was the joyfulness of the evening, but some felt the deep link to the past and shivered as though someone had walked over their graves.

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Later that evening, Madrion approached the Queen Briganne with her request. Remembering the music of the evening, with its accompanying memories of horrifying events not unlike those unfolding now, Brigganne nodded her head slowly. Perhaps this time, something could avert the catastrophe. There was no need to persuade Ariganna she had already decided to follow Jarrett to the ends of the world if need be.

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C H A P T E R Gemma Is Captured ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

1 3

As soon as permission was granted for Ariganna and Twirla to travel with them to the kingdom of Madur, they made their preparations and returned to the Earthenworld. Much to their dismay, Madrion informed everyone that she would not be travelling with them. "But why, Madrion, when so much is now at stake. Why are you deserting us?" asked Gemma with trepidation. "I'm not deserting you, Gemma, never think that," replied the witch with a smile. "It is just that the time for the alignment of moons between Terra and Echelon will be soon, and I must be here to see what I might see. I believe that the ultimate solution will be forthcoming from this portal direction, anyhow. I will not tarry long. You must do your best to carry out my directions. They will lay the ground-work with which to catch that errant Queen and her allies." "I understand," responded Gemma resignedly. "But what do you mean, the 'moon of Terra'? Surely the moon does not belong exclusively to my kingdom!" Madrion laughed, saying, "Nay, 'tis not the moon of your kingdom that I speak of. 'Tis just that centuries ago, this whole world as you know it, and much that you do not know of it, was called 'Terra'." "Does that have something to do with my family name?" "Aye, I'm starting to believe that it does. At first, I thought it but a coincidence, but now the way events are shaping up, I see connections where I never thought to find them. Bear with me, Gemma, for at some time we will solve this mystery together. Now I must stay here, and you must go. The time is soon, and though the flux of the moon may take a few days, I know not if something may happen. I must be there in case it does. I will travel to meet you in Madur as soon as possible." So it was that they began the disheartening trek back to the castle by the sea - without Madrion. During the journey, they could not believe the things that were happening around the kingdom. There was evidence everywhere of Byblyeonnae's decadent rule. In every public eatery there were people shouting, pushing and fighting. Knife fights seemed the order of the day, and blood flowed freely over small disputes. Sprawled together in conspicuous places were couples locked in lascivious embrace. Young children were thieving and whoring. Many who had once been banished from the kingdom for their depravities had returned. Gemma often bit her lip to keep from flying at one or the other of her subjects in fury. She knew that they would only have thought her crazy. The young Queen had once again donned the Elven gypsy costume, with the aid of Romul, but this time she kept herself covered up and did not dance. She did not trust the atmosphere nor the Peoples any longer. Madrion had kept her promise to Greyff, so he retained his Human form as he accompanied them to the fair Madur. Twirla and Ariganna were once again disguised as Farasians. They were a colorful lot, if rather dolesome, as they sighted the castle in the distance.

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Madrion had fully briefed them on the roles they would be playing, and had advised that they arrive in the city with confident auras, so Allys prodded them until they managed to pretend they were having a wonderful time. Gemma was the most difficult to convince, and Allys had to continually keep poking her to wipe the scowl off of her face. They checked into the Royal House, one of Madur's finest hotels, while continuing the charade they were playing. For dinner, they dressed in fine garments, but ordered service in their rooms; they wanted no risk of anyone eavesdropping on their conversation. Ariganna fingered the note Madrion had dictated to her, and asked, "Jarrett, when shall I send this to Byblyeonnae? I've only met her a few times, and she scares me, even tho' I'm a Faerie. I know there's naught she can do to harm me, but there's something evil in her blood which bothers me. Do we have to see her? Why don't we go back to Faerieland? We could have a great time together! 'Twould be much simpler." "You know that we cannot, Ariganna. Gemma is my friend, and we must help her. I've promised, and I always keep my word," responded Jarrett impatiently. "Aye, and I see how you look at her when you think I'm not looking. Isn't that true, Twirla?" She kicked her friend under the table, and Twirla winced. "Ow! Why do you always do things like that to me, Ariganna? I thought we were friends! And no, I've never seen Jarrett look at Gemma - as a matter of fact, he never looks at her at all !" This was entirely true, for since Madrion had informed Jarrett of the consequences of his actions, he had studiously avoided any contact with Gemma. He could not bear to even glance her way. "That's exactly what I mean!" exclaimed Ariganna triumphantly. "He never looks at her!" "Make your mind up, Ariganna!" snapped Jarrett. "First you say I always look at her, and then you say I never look at her! You complain, no matter what I do!" Ariganna promptly burst into tears, which swiftly changed to racking sobs as she received no response from Jarrett. Gemma glared at him, but he would not meet her eyes. Finally, she stood up, and grabbing his arm, dragged him out into the hallway. "This is a fine mess, Jarrett! You'd better clean it up!" she whispered fiercely. "Ariganna must meet Byblyeonnae, and convince her that we can be trusted! Our very lives, and the fate of the Kingdom lies in the balance, and you're annoyed because the she nags you! Grow up, Jarrett, methinks now's you're chance - in my books, there'll never be a better moment for you to start than this one." Gemma stalked back into the room, her cheeks flaming, and flounced noisily into a chair. Ariganna was still sobbing wildly. Allys and Twirla had their hands full trying to calm her down. Roland and Greyff looked too uncomfortable for words. Everyone was relieved when Jarrett entered behind Gemma and led his weeping paramour away. Whatever he said to her must have worked, for the note was dispatched by Twirla within the hour, and Ariganna emerged from her chamber as radiant as a blushing bride. "Jarrett! My love! I wish to compose a melody for you, as a present for all that you've given me. Twirla will assist me. No one is to disturb me for at least three hours! Come, Twirla dear," and so saying, Ariganna vanished into the drawing room and seated herself at the harp which graced the corner of the spacious chamber. The others sat at the dining table, awaiting news from the castle. They did not have to wait very long for Byblyeonnae's answer. It was sufficient that Korda's name was mentioned to ensure a prompt reply. After a brief debate about whether or not Ariganna should be brought in, as the note was for her, they decided against it. After all, the missive was really a response to a letter from Madrion, and besides, Ariganna had made it quite clear that she did not want to be

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disturbed. In truth, although the envelope bore her name, its contents had little to do with her. Without compunction, Gemma tore open the note and pored over its contents. It was scrawled with a curiously childish writing. "Ariganna, love! So thrilled to hear from you and dying to hear your news. Come to the castle tonight. Show this letter to the guard. I'm afraid I cannot meet your friends maybe another time. But bring Twirla." It was signed, affectionately, Byblyeonnae. "Well, that's torn it!" cried Gemma. "We cannot let her go to the castle with only Twirla to help her. We can’t trust that dizzy Ariganna on her own." "But she will not be on her own, she'll be with Twirla, who seems to have a little more sense," objected Allys. "Besides, we've no choice, do we? If any other goes, Ariganna will be cast under immediate suspicion." "Not if I went as Twirla!" said Gemma brightly. "I have Romul, and if it can make me look like a gypsy Elf, then it can also make me look like Twirla!" She was intrigued by her suggestion. Perhaps it could work! At any rate, it certainly seemed best to have someone trustworthy with Ariganna when she approached the false queen. Then Roland made a more interesting suggestion. "You'd be better to go as Ariganna, if it come to that, Gemma." They were surprised to hear Roland speak, for during the journey he had relapsed to his original taciturn manner. Upon thought, his idea had some merit, for it would truly be best if Ariganna had nothing whatsoever to do with their plans. Allys nodded her head in agreement. But Jarrett was opposed to the idea. He said, "Sorry, but that's just not possible. It's too dangerous. 'Tis a foolhardy plan anyway. Gemma knows naught of Faeries nor Nymphs, nor does she know anything about the relationship these two bear to Byblyeonnae. 'Twould be suicide, for I have a feeling that we'd be playing right into her hands. Anyway, who knows how to get this Romul to change, anyway?" This was one thing they could agree on. Not one of them had any idea of how to change the setting on the cloak. Roland thought for a moment, then reluctantly concurred with Jarrett. "Jarrett's right. Madrion would skin us alive if we took such a risk. Anyway, we really don't know how this cloak works, and it's no good begging Ariganna to cast one of her spells. They would be as unreliable as she is." "We could get Godolfin to help us!" cut in Allys eagerly. "I'm sure he would, and we could get Twirla and Ariganna to tell us all they know of Byblyeonnae, and her relationship with Korda. Anyway, Twirla would be with Gemma, so she couldn't get too stuck. I think we must do this, for I do not trust Ariganna - even if I did, I feel that she would too easily make a mistake that would give us away. Let us find Godolfin! Twirla will help, and Ariganna will too, if Jarrett asks her. Actually, she'll probably be only too glad to help if she thinks it puts Gemma in danger." "Madrion will be furious with us," objected Roland. He still held the witch in awe, and was loath to cross her in such a defiant manner. He thought that Madrion would have suggested this scheme herself if she had thought it even had a ghost of a chance of succeeding. "Let her be furious!" declared Allys belligerently. "We are capable of helping ourselves and making our own decisions. We are not babies!" "True enough," said Gemma. "We are not babies, yet Madrion must be able to rely on us to make good decisions, according to the circumstances. I believe this is a smart move, and I've no doubt Madrion will back me up on it. We will summon Godolfin, and I will go." "You cannot, Gemma! It is much too dangerous!" cried Jarrett. "Or let me go. If Korda can disguise himself as a woman, then so can I." Clearing his throat, Greyff asked in his growly voice, "May I be so bold as to speak?"

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"Please do, Greyff, if you have something important to add to this discussion," said Gemma. "I believe I do, ma'am. I wanted to tell you that Jarrett cannot disguise himself successfully with the cloak as a woman, for he has not the mannerisms of a woman. Please note that when I wore the cloak, I still had wolfish behaviors. Thus, if Jarrett were to don Romul, he would look nothing like Ariganna, because he would walk and gesture like a man. We do not have time to teach him otherwise." Gemma nodded thoughtfully, then said, "Greyff is right, Jarrett, either I go, or Ariganna goes. It boils down to who would you trust with your life . . . Ariganna or I?" Jarrett stammered, "W . . . w . . . ell, you, of course." "Then it must be me to bear the danger. Let us find Godolfin!" So saying, Gemma swept out of the room to shake Ariganna out of her lyrical moment. "Ariganna!" she called, "We have news! Quick, you must return to the Outerlands, and fetch Godolfin. We need him most desperately, for I am to impersonate you and go to the castle." "I will not! I'm busy, I told you! Go away!" snapped Ariganna furiously. She changed her tone to one of sultry sibilance when she saw Jarrett closely following Gemma. "Jarrett, sweetheart, I've almost finished my love litany to you, but this beast stormed in and interrupted me! Send her away!" "My dearest, Gemma will be going away soon enough!" responded Jarrett soothingly. "I've arranged for her to take a most dangerous mission. I must have your help, or she will not be able to go." "A dangerous mission? A very dangerous mission? Why Gemma, dear, you should have said so! I'll fetch Godolfin instantly." She vanished in the disconcerting manner the Outer folk had, and reappeared again in seconds with her fingers tightly clutching Godolfin's pointed ear. His mouth was fixed in a round 'O' of surprise, and his eyes wore a glazed expression. It seemed that he had been in the process of taking a bath, for he was wrapped in a fluffy pink towel. "H . . . h . . . ow dare you!" he spluttered in surprise, when he caught his breath. "How dare you!" "Oh, Godolfin!" exclaimed Allys. "We're so sorry! Ariganna must have just brought you without saying anything at all!" "Aye, that she did! I have no idea how I will explain this to my beauteous Drenda! We were just about to step into a pool of mutual love. It has taken me so long to get her to forgive my absences. The only thing that saved me was the fact was that I had sworn I was faithful!" "But you were not, Godolfin. Remember the Succubus." objected Allys. "She doesn't count!" cried Godolfin in exasperation. "But anyhow, this villain Marled was after Drenda’s fair body, and she had almost decided to take the plunge into the pool of love with him! But I stopped her, and finally persuaded her that she could not be happy without me. I can speak most eloquently, especially when it is for something I badly want. I finally managed to persuade her, and she was just about to make me a vow of mutual faithfulness, when this . . . this . . . Faerie arrived, and grabbed me, stark naked as I was, with never a word. 'Tis fortunate I had this towel still in my grasp, or I'd be facing the destined Queen and High Priestess of all the Lands dressed in nothing but my bare skin! What dishonor! 'Tis bad enough as it is! Oh, Drenda, Drenda! My most beauteous lass! Thou wilst believe I left thee naked at the pool of life, that I've forsaken thee for a wanton Faerie wench!" He eyed Ariganna up and down appreciatively. "But perhaps things aren't so bad." Godolfin sidled closer to Ariganna, who stepped behindJarrett.

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"We're dreadfully sorry, Godolfin, but we need your help," said Gemma, as she moved over to place her arm around the Elf. Godolfin was immediately moved by this plea of help from the Blood Queen of all the Lands, and replied gallantly, "All that I have is yours for the asking, my lady. You already possess Romul, pried from my loving bosom by your flowing entreaties. You know I can give you nothing more of greater value. What do you now need, most High Queen, most radiant of all the suns?" "I must be able to pass for Ariganna. Can you get Romul to do that?" "But of course, my lady! I will just need to spend a little time studying the contours of her fine body. M . . . m . . . m . . . mm, let me see." Godolfin walked closer to Ariganna. Jarrett held her near so she did not move away. The Elf touched her arm tentatively, and as she did not draw away, he continued his exploration of her body with his hands. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. "I don't seem to recall him doing that with you, Greyff," whispered Allys to her friend. "I don't think he has to, I think that he's just enjoying himself, Allys," replied Greyff. As he bent down to whisper in her ear, he accidentally brushed his arm against her breasts. His eyes were glazed, and glued all the while on Godolfin's roving hands. Allys jerked her body away, and glanced around to see if anyone had noticed, but all eyes were focused on Godolfin and Ariganna. There was something strangely erotic in the way the Faerie moved. Suddenly Allys had a better understanding of how Jarrett had succumbed to her embraces, of the lust that must have flared through his loins. She, too had felt a jolt of pure energy as Greyff had touched her, and the feeling disturbed her greatly. She looked at him, and thought, "It must have been an accident. He could not - would not - do that on purpose." So she convinced herself, never willing to see what was before her eyes if it displeased her. Presently Godolfin finished his lecherous exploration, not wanting to prolong his joy for fear of someone - probably Ariganna - objecting violently to the crass use of her body in this manner. Quickly he reached for Romul, and once again produced a silvered screwdriver. They heard the tinkling soft sounds as he adjusted the cloak. Eventually he pronounced himself finished. He handed the cloak to Gemma, and, clutching the pink towel possessively around his midriff, promptly vanished. "You'd think he'd wait until he knew it worked," grumbled Jarrett. "For all we know, it could change Gemma into a toad." "Nonsense, Jarrett, Godolfin's too good for that!" exclaimed Gemma. "Here, I'll try it now." So saying, she twirled the cloak over her shoulders, and they gasped at the transformation. Ariganna looked as though she would explode with anger. Jarrett had to put a restraining arm around her to prevent the blue-haired Faerie from snatching the cloak and ripping it to shreds. "So, does it work?" Gemma asked as she smoothed the scanty Farasian costume over her hips "Does it work? Gemma, you should see yourself!" exclaimed Allys. "Come here to the mirror!" She pulled her friend over, and Gemma gasped at he transformation. She was identical in every way to the Faerie princess, so much so that even Ariganna’s Faerie Queen mother would have greeted her with open arms as her beloved daughter. "Well, I guess I'm ready for an audience with Byblyeonnae. The way I look, I could claim that Korda battered my head so much that I cannot remember a thing. Thus, if she asks me anything I cannot answer, I will not be discovered." Allys agreed, "Aye, Gemma, the way you look now, if I'd not seen it happen with my own eyes, I'd have thought you a crazed Ariganna if you had insisted that you were my cousin Gemma!" As everyone nodded in agreement Gemma began to feel better about her interview with the murderous Byblyeonnae later that evening.

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"I must spend some time in study with Ariganna and Twirla, however, so that I'm truly prepared. Let us go into the drawing room." Ariganna insisted that Jarrett accompany them, so the foursome spent the next few hours going over Ariganna's habits and gestures, as well as every bit of information they could glean. They also spent much time helping Gemma memorize the material. Eventually, the sky deepened to a dark shade of sapphire, and stars twinkled out like shards of diamonds flung across the heavens. Sirius lay bright and bold on the evening sky, waiting patiently for the events of the night to unfold. Gemma shivered in the cool night, and drew her cloak high around her neck. Once again she was faced with an unsettling situation she had no idea of how to handle. She briefly thought of her Queen mother, Tamsyn, and her heart ached. How much more pain would her mother have borne if she had known of the results of the violent brutality visited upon her? She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. Now was not the time and place to dredge up those memories. She needed to concentrate on the task at hand but had no idea of how to accomplish that. All she knew was that she had to gain the trust of the false queen; and to those ends, she had become the unpleasant Ariganna. Luckily Gemma now had some measure of confidence in her acting abilities, gleaned from her recent escapades as a gypsy Elf. She also possessed a good memory, and had retained almost all of the information revealed by Ariganna. She was as prepared as she could be. She glanced at Twirla, and saw by her set little face that she was not relishing the task much more. Already Twirla had begun to grow away from her childhood infatuation with Ariganna. She was starting to enjoy some measure of peace and tranquillity, and had no wish to return to the clutches of Korda - or any like him. She too faced the evening ahead with trepidation.

They made their way silently to the castle, each immersed in her own thoughts. As Gemma trod the familiar cobblestones she thought of the many times she had run innocently happy - down these very same streets, never dreaming of the events that had lain in wait for her. She clutched Byblyeonnae’s letter close in her hand, and so had it ready to present to the brusque and surly guard on his demand. She knew that there had been no need for guards such as he during the reign of her mother and father, the King Ygrive and his wife the Queen Tamsyn. "No doubt evil begets evil," she thought morosely. "And they have to protect themselves from all." She jumped with terror when the guard shouted for her to stop. She clutched Twirla's hand , her heart jumping about wildly in her chest. Thankfully, he only wanted them to wait while he summoned a maid to show them to Byblyeonnae’s chambers. The girl led them to a dark, forbidding door that Gemma knew was a study. No one had used it during the time of her father's reign. The castle was old, and had seen much bloodshed in the time before the beginning. The study was rumored to be haunted by the souls of butchered prisoners of war who had sought the castle for refuge, but had found none. Now, this was where the treasonous viper lay, spawning her eggs of desolation. The maid gave a timid knock on the door, and shrank into Gemma with fright as imperious tones called out loudly, "Enter." The maid just about pushed Gemma and Twirla into the room, then left with alacrity after closing the door tightly behind them. Apparently, she did not wish to have her mistress see her at all. They heard the sound of her footsteps scuttling down the hallway. They felt abandoned. "Come on in, Ariganna, don't stand there at the door like a country buffoon." Byblyeonnae was shielded from view by the enormous chair she was sitting in. The only

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person in the room who was visible was a handsome man in his early middle years, who was seated on the armchair next to her. He rose languorously, as if reluctant to even pay them this small honor, and waved them toward a couple of chairs. Gemma moved forward, certain that she had never felt so awkward in her life. The man eyed her boldly, and then seemed to dismiss her, as he lowered himself back into his chair. Gemma sat, motioning Twirla to do the same. Once settled, she studied Byblyeonnae covertly through lowered lashes, and saw that indeed the woman's charm was a palpable entity in the room. Madrion's scryed image had revealed much of the truth. The man was obviously fascinated, for his eyes never left Byblyeonnae's face as she chattered happily to him. Apart from the initial command to Ariganna for them to enter, Byblyeonnae appeared to have forgotten their very existence. Gemma was relieved, though the real Ariganna would no doubt have been furious at the slight. Byblyeonnae was playing up to the man's attraction for her. She was flirting with him in a manner that was beyond reproach. Her eyes widened innocently at the right time, and looks of confusion, despair and joy flitted across her face in bewildering succession. Apparently, these emotions were related to the story the man was telling - he certainly seemed to find nothing odd in her reactions; in fact, he appeared enchanted with everything about her. Gemma could almost read his thoughts. Aye, right now he's thinking, what a sweet, naive lass, and now, he's desperately sorry he upset her with that piece of news; here, let me rectify it by telling her something nice . . . and wouldn't she look delectable naked in my bed, with just some ribbons in her hair, her legs spread wide apart, her lips sucking a sweetmeat . . . but she'd never do that! Not this innocent lass . . . or perhaps she would . . . Gemma gave up in disgust, for the man's lust was plainly etched across his face, fanned into flames by the young woman's manipulations. Gemma turned her attention to Byblyeonnae. She certainly appeared adorable and harmless . . . as well as a good ten years younger than Gemma, though they were the same age, and Gemma did not look old. Gemma could see that Byblyeonnae's image of youth was carefully fostered by many of her facial expressions and gestures. Gemma took careful note of them, and mentally added them to the small repertoire of acting skills she was acquiring. Eventually, Byblyeonnae dismissed the man with a contemptuous wave of her hand, and bewildered, he let himself out. She turned a steely gaze to Gemma, and asked softly, "So, Ariganna, my father's finally tired of you, is he? Aye, he will play with such as you, but he will never leave his mother's legs." This was spat out in a tone so vicious that Gemma almost fell off of her seat. She collected herself quickly and retorted, certain that Byblyeonnae was trying to bait her, "How dare you insult a Faerie princess, you Human dross!" Byblyeonnae swiftly replied, "Ah, but you're no longer a Faerie princess, my spoilt little brat. You have no one in the Faerie kingdom who is willing to help you. Now you no longer have my father for protection, either. I know that your Faerie skills dim in my Earthenworld, so I'd curb my tongue if I were you. I've a hankering for fried Faerie heart, I hear 'tis a potent aphrodisiac." Gemma portrayed the terror she knew Ariganna would have exhibited at this blatant threat of cannibalism, something the Folk from the Outerlands abhorred. She decided to portray Ariganna as somewhat more docile, though she knew that had the blue - haired Faerie been here in reality, she would have exploded with whatever Faerie magik she had in her. Gemma decided to pretend that Ariganna's powers were indeed diminishing. Although this would put her in a vulnerable position, perhaps it was a stance that would disarm Byblyeonnae, and cause her to reveal more than she intended to. She thought quickly, then said with a sob in her voice,

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"But that is not true about my Kordy. He has not abandoned me, he has just returned to seek a truce with his mother. I know, because he told me that he'd be back to get me. He loves me." Byblyeonnae leaned forward and asked directly, "I thought you had returned home to your mama?" Gemma drew in her breath. This woman was well informed, and quick with her wits, too. Gone was all semblance of an innocent child. Byblyeonnae had shed that deception like a snake sheds skin, and now Gemma saw a bit more of the true woman behind the mask. Vile ambition ran amok on the woman's features, and cold shards of light glittered within the depths of her eye sockets. Her hands were furling and unfurling, looking uncannily like talons. Gemma shivered and said, keeping to the truth as much as possible, "Nay, I was kidnapped, torn from my lover's arms like a babe from her mother's breast. My folk got wind of my whereabouts, and they kidnapped me - but I escaped as soon as I could - only to find my great man vanished, gone as the shadow flees the sun. My heart has broken, and I come to you to help me find him again." "You want to be with him?" "Aye, even if I have to live in the cold Northlands, I must be with him, for without him I will surely die. You must help me, Byblyeonnae! You must! Take me to him." Byblyeonnae shook her head. "Nay, I will never step foot in that vile country again. I had too much trouble leaving the last time." Gemma stored that tidbit of information for further use. So Byblyeonnae had been in the Northlands, had she? She was willing to wager that that was where the wicked Byblyeonnae had grown up. It made sense, somehow, but as she didn't know whether Ariganna was privy to the information or not, she made no comment. Byblyeonnae seemed to be caught in the grip of a nightmare of her own, as she continued with bitterness congealing the venom dripping from her tongue. "It was all her fault, that Taliesin. I should have grown up in the castle, as rightful heir in line to the throne. But no, I was not good enough, so do you know what they did, Ariganna?" Gemma shook her head in genuine bewilderment. She had not bargained on receiving a witness to the barbaric treatment that no doubt this false queen had experienced as a child. "They left me out to die, clothed only in my afterbirth. What kind of a woman could have done that? Only the mother of that Taliesin, whom I hate with every fiber of my being." "Why do you hate her? She had nothing to do with it." "She had everything to do with it!" spat Byblyeonnae, as she rose and flung her glass violently against the wall. "If my father had known that she lay nestled in the folds of my mother's womb, ready to suck the life out of me like a Wampyr, he would have aborted her before he beget me! It was I who was meant to live in the House of Terran, and be brought up as the darling princess. “I would have been perfect, the Peoples would have loved me. When the time would have come for me to rule, I would have been accepted unquestionably. Now I have to deal with vile rumors, and tawdry rebels! Some even dare to question my right to the throne! “It was good that I found that old fool of a nurse, Aeriane. I convinced her that I would kill the fair Taliesin if she did not tell the truth. She had a signed statement from the Queen, attesting to my birth, which the Queen Tamsyn had made her swear only to produce if her beloved Taliesin was in danger. That stupid Queen Tamsyn! Who could be fool enough to leave damaging documents around like that?" Gemma sat silent. She felt as if a great dog had lifted her in his mouth and shook her until her teeth were loose. So the statement regarding Byblyeonnae’s birth was real, as was her old nurse's testimony. No wonder the Peoples of the Lands had accepted this

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queen. But apparently, from what Byblyeonnae said, not everyone believed in her. Perhaps there was still hope. She leaned forward to say softly, "All that is dead news. Why worry with the past when the future lies before us, unformed as clay, that we may mold and worry to form images of ourselves? Think not on that stupid Taliesin. If she still worries you, I know of one who can force her into the arms of doom, and bid her remain." Byblyeonnae started. "But there is none who can do that. 'Tis written in the book of the dead - she cannot be touched. But you know of someone? Who, then? Not even the Goddess of Ice could annihilate her." "The Goddess? Pah! She is nothing. I speak of . . . " Gemma lowered her voice even further," . . . the Others!" "Who?" "The Others . . . " whispered Gemma once again. "I have access to their glories and their miracles." Gemma had just made this up in an attempt to draw Byblyeonnae into a web of her own making. She was confident that Madrion would back up her statements, if it meant getting rid of this scourge to the Lands. "You mean that it is possible to get rid of Taliesin, once and for all?" asked Byblyeonnae, a hysterical look in her eyes, as she turned to catch Gemma's sleeve. "I would do anything to annihilate that thief of my blood. Is it possible?" She turned to stare out of the window. She stood there for a moment, her eyes glittering feverishly. Suddenly, her chest heaved and she seemed unable to breathe. Gemma could hear her chest wheezing for air. "Go, now. I am unwell," said Byblyeonnae, in a strangled gasp. "I will send for you again." Gemma nodded, and gestured to Twirla to follow her. She eased the door open, and walked swiftly to the castle door. She wanted to get as far away as possible from the evil she had just felt. Most of all, she wanted a bath, for she felt as if she were covered in filth. They managed to exit the castle with no one to challenge them. Nonetheless, they went as quickly as they could without drawing attention to themselves. It was with relief that they saw the Royal House hotel. As they neared its doors, Gemma turned to Twirla. "Do not reveal anything of what has just happened. Let me tell them what Byblyeonnae said, for I wish some things to remain silent." "I can't say that I blame you," said Twirla, as she nodded acquiescence. Gemma felt somehow ashamed and bound up by the ghastly story Byblyeonnae had related to her. She could not help but feel sorry for the woman for she felt that much of the her evil nature was attributable to past horrors. "After all, she is my sister," she thought, "and she was left to the Dark Night of her Soul, alone and unloved. Not even beasts are treated like that. Perhaps the Queen Tamsyn and Aeriane did make a dire mistake when they left her so." Gemma was confused. She was experiencing a deep pain gnawing at her insides for the sister she had never had. She shook the feeling off with impatience. When they arrived at the hotel, Gemma dragged herself wearily to their suite. She waved away all questions, and demanded a bath. When she had thoroughly soaked the rank feelings from her bones, she donned her nightdress and wrapped a thick blanket around her shoulders. Waving aside all sense of decorum, she traipsed to the drawing room, where a large fire had been lit, and settled herself snugly into a sofa. Only then would she relate the events to the others. They listened avidly with few interruptions, save Ariganna's unpleasant hisses of anger. Gemma left out most of Byblyeonnae’s vitriolic condemnations of the Terran family, but nevertheless, it made disturbing news. "At least she had no idea that I was not Ariganna. That part went very well, and I was in no danger," said Gemma.

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"Maybe so, Gemma, but still I do not trust her." Allys replied, with a worried look on her face. "She may suddenly decide that you are lying, or that she has no use for Ariganna. She would easily kill you like she's done others." "That's hard to say. I know that if she sends for Ariganna again, I must return. She seems intent on baiting Ariganna. I fear she was just waiting for her to make a wrong move . . . she wanted to push her over the edge, I can tell you that." Ariganna shrieked loudly, "Just give me a few moments with that Mortal, and I'll see her spirited away by some evil ghoul from the Netherlands! I still have much of my powers, you know! I could have her writhing and screaming for mercy in a minute." "Nay, we cannot do that, for then she would have the sympathy of the Peoples for sure. She'd become a martyr, with me the villain," said Gemma. "The Peoples of my Lands would never be easy in their minds about my innocence. They would believe that I had her killed. They would never be sure that I did not have blood on my hands. They may even believe that it was I who murdered my family, for they will say that if I killed one sister, what would have stopped me from killing them all?" "You're right, Gemma," said Roland. "Our best bet will be to get Byblyeonnae to somehow show her true colors; then perhaps you'll stand some chance of regaining the loyalty of your Peoples, as well as your throne. In the meantime, we'll just have to go along with whatever happens over at the castle. Mayhap you're in great danger there, Gemma, but as I see it, we're all in trouble if you do not go. So really, 'tis a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, isn't it?" Roland's words made sense, so they decided to call it a day and wait to see what the morrow would bring. The morrow brought Madrion. She was predictably annoyed when informed of the change in plans, but nodded approval when she heard of Ariganna's antics. She had had enough of the young Faerie's rudeness to last a lifetime. She was very interested in what Gemma had to say of the interview with Byblyeonnae, and exclaimed with delight when Gemma mentioned the book of the dead. "'Tis just as I thought! I met Ellyryran by the portal, and she told me of the book I found in Korda's desk. It had originally belonged to your mother, Gemma. It is also the one and the same as the one Byblyeonnae mentioned, the book of the dead, and in it are some very interesting prophecies. These are not just prophecies, actually, but are truths that must be fulfilled. I do not understand them, but the book is a book of great power - I felt as much when I held it in my hand. It is written in an ancient, spiritual language which only a few can understand, and then only when they attain a certain spiritual level. "Apparently, Korda was not really hiding the book from others. In fact, he was hiding from it ! I guess that was why it lay untouched. Evil ones cannot be in close vicinity with the book, for it is too holy. “Korda has been part of an evil entity since the beginning of time, and thus could go nowhere near the ancient book. Had I been such as he, the book would have annihilated me on the spot. You can imagine the trouble they must have had with it! "The only passages they know from the book are ones that had been translated verbally by your nurse, Aeriane." She stopped at Gemma's surprise, and smiled. "Aye, 'tis odd who is a Holy in this world. There are none others left that I know of, though in truth there may still be some in far away cities of the Earthenworld. They keep themselves well hidden, disguising themselves as ordinary folk with ordinary jobs. "The Holies usually appear in the Earthenworld to protect people, so perhaps Aeriane was there to protect you, Gemma. Anyhow, Aeriane translated some verses from the book for your mother. These were the verses pertaining to you. "It is written in that book that you have a destiny to fulfill, and cannot be destroyed by evil for six decades, at which time your destiny will have come full circle. Then you would revert to being subject to the normal fluctuations of fate, as anyone else. Aeriane read the passages to the Queen Tamsyn, for she begged her for news of what lay in store

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for her babe. She knew not whether it had been conceived by her husband Ygrive, or the man who attacked her. She was already going mad with worry. "Apparently someone overheard Aeriane’s translations, and coveted the Queen's book. They did not realize that any with too many sins on their soul would not be able to touch it, let alone read it. They must have bribed some poor soul with money to steal the book, but as soon as it had been delivered they must have realized its powers. It would have struck the one whose hand it was delivered to dead the instant he stretched out to touch it. "They must have got someone relatively pure to place it in the drawer where I found it - perhaps the same one who had stolen it. However, it was useless to them, except for one very important reason . . . it was hidden from those who would have used it properly." Here Madrion paused for breath. She saw Gemma was disturbed by the news of her destiny. As she was faint and tired herself faint, she told Gemma she needed to rest, but would answer her questions a little later. Gemma nodded understandingly and left Madrion alone with her thoughts. The witch lay back for a few moments, thinking back to her sojourn in the cottage.

She had waited patiently for the alignment of the moons, and had not been disappointed. Ellyryran greeted her swiftly as soon as the moons had fluxed, and Madrion knew that her great trust in her friend had not been misplaced. Ellyryran told her she had found one who could translate the book, but that it would take many years to complete. Madrion knew of no one else on this Earthenworld who could do the translation, for Aeriane, Gemma's old nurse, had predictably disappeared after making her statement about Byblyeonnae's birth. So she told Ellyryran to go ahead. Without a translation, the book of the dead was useless. She knew that they might not receive it for centuries if the planets tilted too far and fell greatly out of line. On the other hand, they could well receive it in a few years, or a few weeks . . . if the Lands still existed. When Ellyryran told her of the significance of the amulet, with its golden sword bound by the silvered serpent, Madrion was suffused with a poignant nostalgia for Mystyere. She was beginning to realize that he too was caught up in this web of intrigue. She had to force her thoughts back to the present to concentrate on what Ellyryran had said. "'Tis an old story, Madrion, so just curl up and listen for it will take some time to relate. First of all, as you well know, the sword is an ancient symbol of power and spirituality. Many think that because it is a weapon, it does not fall within the realm of the Gods of Madur and Talies, but they are wrong. The sword is a symbol of peace, strange as that may seem, but it is. For without it, the powers of evil descend like dark wolves in the night, to devour the grist of a mortal and leave but hollow souls. "The sword has played a great part throughout Humanity's history. There have been many legendary tales of them, such as the Excalibur, or Roland's ancient sword of mystery, Durendel. The serpent, too, is a famous symbol of evil. The significance of the silvered serpent wrapped around the golden sword is a spiritual mystery, and incomprehensible to most. I barely understand it myself, and it was taught to me by a most wise and revered father of the Peoples in Echelon. I will try to explain, however." "Good and evil co-exist, and they must, for there is not one without the other. They hold the parameters of the universe together to protect the eternity and infinity of Existence. If one should cease to exist, the universe would fold in upon itself and disappear. Nothing would be left. "Apparently, this has already happened in some places in our system of stars, but there is naught to worry about. The pillars of good and evil, God and Devil, whatever you want to call them, are intact.

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"The symbol of the amulet, known to only a few, has great power. It must be crafted in a certain manner at a certain time in the universe for it to be fully potent. But when all that is precise, you have an amulet such as this one which Mystyere gave to you. It is the key to the universe. Universal mysteries can be opened up by possession of this talisman. It can also stop this beast Korda, as was shown to you when you lay in his bed. The image came to you because once you had owned this precious talisman. But you gave it away. It no longer belongs to you. You can never wield its power, and the secrets of the universe are now forever denied you." "Why didn't Mystyere tell me?" wailed Madrion in despair. "I have lusted after those secrets for centuries! I would have worked hard, had I known it was but within my grasp. I thought the amulet to be a mere trinket with which to summon Mystyere!" "He didn't tell you because he did not know," said Ellyryran gently. She sympathized with the lay of Madrion's heart, but disapproved of the vein of ambition which ran through Madrion's veins. Nevertheless, she felt the woman's sorrow, and tried to guide her thoughts away from her loss. She continued her story. "These were the first things my master translated from the book of the dead . . . that bit about the Madurian Queen, and the information on the amulet. As soon as I have more, I'll try to summon you." Madrion nodded, asking with resignation, "Does that mean that Roland must now destroy the beast? He has not the skill for it." "I know that, but it seems that this is the way it must be. I do not know what else to tell you." "Nay, Ellyryran, do not think me ungrateful. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the work you've done for me." "And I thank you too, Madrion dear, for what you've done for me. I have now found what I have wanted all my life." Madrion eye's widened, and she smiled broadly. "The man in your dreams? Oh, Ellyryran, I am so happy for you. Who is he?" "The master, that's who he is. The spiritual leader of the Peoples of Echelon. I love him dearly, and he loves, respects, and reveres me. I spend time with Mystyere, too," Ellyryran had slipped these words in casually. She watched Madrion's face drain of color. She knew that Madrion still had feelings for Mystyere, so she probed gently, "Do you ever think of him, Madrion?" "Aye, that I do, I think of how good it would be to see him roasting on a spit in Hell." Ellyryran wisely decided to say nothing further on the matter. She told Madrion that she had to be getting back. Madrion nodded, looking depressed, and Ellyryran's heart went out to her friend. There was nothing that she could have done, however, if Madrion did not want her help - so she stepped over to the other side of the portal and vanished.

Madrion was jolted out of her reverie by Gemma entering the room once again. This time she was bearing a tray with tea and scones, buttered and creamed and filled with strawberry jam - one of Madrion's favorite meals. She smiled up at Gemma, for much to her surprise, and against all her better judgment, she had found that she was drawn to the very young but proud woman standing before her. She admired her strength in the cruel adversity which had hounded her. She did not know of many who would have had the courage to persevere in the face of such misfortune. Gemma smiled back brightly and said, "I've told the others to leave you alone for awhile. They can be a bit of a rowdy lot, what with Ariganna chasing Jarrett all the time." "Does that bother you?" asked Marion. Gemma shook her head, "Nay, it doesn't, not any more. I used to be very close to Jarrett, and I looked up to him. I thought he could do anything, and indeed, he could, but that was when things were normal. Now, I don't know if I knew him at all. I don't even think I knew myself." Madrion nodded understandingly,

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"Great trials produce our real selves faster than anything else I know of, Gemma. Fortunately, that's just when we really need them. Once summoned, however, they never leave, so even if things ever go back to normal, everything is still different because we've changed. We've grown. We've become ourselves, and our old life and loves no longer fit. Ultimately in the end it's better, but you'll have to trust me on this." "Do you mean that I will never love Jarrett again, and look up to him?" "Nay, not at all, and never is a very long word. I mean that perhaps you'll both change, and relate to each other in a whole different way than before, a better way. It's best not to worry about these things, just live and let your life unfold naturally. At least you know you have a destiny designed by the Gods and you fall under their protection now! That's exciting." "I suppose so," said Gemma. "That's probably why I felt so safe last night, with Byblyeonnae." "No doubt, but you must guard against too much confidence in the prophecy. Prophecies are funny things, and may be fulfilled in ways you least expect. So do not be careless. The Fates have decreed only that you will be protected from the Evil ones. It says nothing of what the Evil ones may do to your loved ones." Gemma paled at the thought, and said hurriedly, "I had not thought on that. I will be careful. I promise." The door opened, and Ariganna's pale face peeped in. "This has come from Byblyeonnae. The messenger gave it to me." She handed Gemma a letter with "Ariganna" scrawled across it. As soon as Gemma's fingers touched the letter, Ariganna scurried swiftly out, for she was a bit in awe of the Earthen witch Madrion. Gemma slit open the letter, and read aloud, "Come immediately. You are in great danger. Byblyeonnae." Gemma looked puzzled, and Madrion said, "I do not like the sound of that. You must not go." Gemma shook her head determinedly. "I must. I am protected." "So soon you break your promise, Gemma?" inquired Madrion with a raised eyebrow. "Oh, that! It does not matter. No one else is involved, Madrion, just me." "But you do not know the repercussions of your actions, Gemma. You must not go, I can feel much evil surrounding this letter and request." "I know that, Madrion," said Gemma. "It emanates from Byblyeonnae, I felt it when I was there last night, it is nothing more than a reflection from my evil twin. I have to go, don't you see? She is my sister. Perhaps I can help her!" Madrion looked at Gemma and said nothing. It seemed that Gemma was adamant about bringing grief upon herself for the guilt she felt about her sister. Gemma would just have to find out for herself, and Madrion knew it would be an unpleasant awakening. There was nothing she could do about it if Gemma insisted on the course of action she was pursuing. What would be, would be, and there was naught to be gained by trying to interfere. She sighed deeply, saying, "You'd best tell Twirla to accompany you. Perhaps Greyff would go, too. You could say that he is your protector. It would not seem too strange, for Greyff comes from the same world as Ariganna, though from a different region. Byblyeonnae does not know that. I can give you the key to the binding spell which keeps him harmless. If things become bad, you could release him and hope for the best." "That might be helpful, Madrion, but will he go? He's devoted to Allys." "He will if I order him to, he'll have no choice. I'll place the spell in those earbobs I gave you earlier, so send them quickly for it will take some time to do it. Send Greyff to me also, and bid Twirla ready herself." Gemma scrambled out of the room to follow these orders. She returned shortly disguised as Ariganna's Farasian self. Madrion was issuing instructions to Greyff, but turned to Gemma as soon as she entered the room.

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"Oh, here you are. I've ensorcelled the earbobs once again, to release Greyff from the bonds of my spell if necessary. Be very careful if you do. Greyff can be as dangerous as any you've encountered yet, and will easily turn on you. Do not let him near the earbobs otherwise. Come closer." As Gemma bent to hear Madrion's whispered instructions on how to invoke the key to the spell, Greyff watched them with a curiously resistant look on his face. Madrion handed the earbobs over and Gemma fastened them firmly to her ear. She wanted to take no risks of losing them, or of having Greyff get his paws on them. "Twirla will still be a few moments," she said to Madrion. "She's terrified" "With good reason," replied Madrion dryly. "Are you sure that you want to go through with this?" Gemma nodded vehemently. "I have to. But Madrion, please answer me a couple of questions which have puzzled me. You say that Greyff and Ariganna are from the same world, yet I saw none such as he when we visited Faerieland." "That's because the Faerie world is situated in the lighter, outer atmosphere, the Aethyr. Greyff's world is in the core, and it’s called the Netherworld. In order to get to our Earthenworld, Greyff has to travel through to the Aethyr, and then on to our world. That is why the other undead are fairly safely tucked away, for all the folk in the Aethyr employ an army of police to keep a diligent watch for them. “That's who Maercury is, more than a guide. He patrols the boundaries of Faerieland with many others such as him, and there are Patrol guards in the Elven kingdom also. Nymphlands, Goblinhood, Satyria, Piscieland, and all the other countries that make up life in the Aethyr keep a close watch on the folk from the Netherworld. "Once a terrible war ravaged the Aethyric realms - a thousand years ago - paralleling the one which destroyed the Earthenworld civilization at that time. The enmity between those citizens of the Aethyr and those of the Nether is still so great that they will not allow any of the Netherworlders trapped on Earthenworld back to their home. That is why I keep them in my domain." "Oh," said Gemma. "So that was why you dispelled Greyff's scent, and insisted that he wear Romul when we visited the Faerielands?" "Exactly . . . and here's Twirla. If you're determined to go, you must go now, Gemma. You should not keep Byblyeonnae waiting. I must warn you again; have no sympathy for this woman, for she wants you dead. She also is determined to torture you in any way she can if death will not come. She knew of your claustrophobic tendencies; that was why she chose the coffin to confine you. She is evil and dangerous, and born from the spawn of a fiend from hell. Your mother's genes will not save you from her wrath, Gemma, and do not fool yourself into thinking that it will." "Enough!" said Gemma irritably. "No more lectures, Madrion. I must be gone. Greyff, Twirla, let us go." The trio swept out of the room.

Once more, Gemma approached her beloved castle with trepidation. It seemed they were expected, for the door of the castle swung open ominously as they approached. The maid was nowhere to be seen; instead, the rough guard they had encountered on their first visit jostled them up to the study. They entered, but there was no sign of any living soul. The guard told them to wait, and he departed, locking the door behind him with a noisy turning of the key. Gemma was startled. She ran to the door, but she was too late. It was firmly locked. An instant later, they heard the sound of bolts being drawn forcefully on the other side of the door. Suddenly Madrion's words sank to her stomach like a dead weight and lay there fermenting with a pale stench of bile. She could feel panic rising in her throat, and fought it as she'd been taught. She knew her fear of confinement was irrational. At this moment there was far more to be frightened of than the locked door, but she was finding it difficult to breathe. Her

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childhood illness, asthmasia, had the habit of reappearing whenever she was under great stress. She had noticed the same symptoms in Byblyeonnae the last time she had seen her. Maybe she did have something in common with her sister after all . . .

They did not have long to wait. Byblyeonnae entered, dressed in a leather suit which hugged her tightly in all the right places. It was complete with breastplate cones pointed outward around each breast, looking as sharp and deadly as any dagger. At her side hung a long sword and a whip. She carried a shield embossed with a dragon, and around her body swirled a cloak of purple and red. The outfit looked incongruous with a childlike face thrust upward from the magnificently dangerous breasts. Following her closely were ten guards, each as surly and scruffy as the one who had let them in. They eyed Twirla's Farasian dress appreciatively, and Gemma was glad that her disguise of a Farasian noble allowed her to wear a cloak. Byblyeonnae walked over to Greyff. She eyed him speculatively, all the while talking to Gemma. "Ariganna! Who is this man?" "He is not a man, your majesty," said Gemma, choking on the words. "He is a creature from my worlds, whom I brought to help me. He is enamored of Twirla, so I allowed him to come, as I thought he might be handy." "No doubt Korda would have thought so too, for he liked his bit of meat every now and then, and often tired of the women. He used to complain that they died too quickly during his love making, and that the men were more hardy. I see what he meant, for I could fancy a piece of this myself." There was a matching glint in Greyff's eyes, as though he could imagine the likes of Byblyeonnae writhing under his grasp. Gemma was sorely tempted to undo Greyff's holding spell, and let the Werewolf have his way with her. But the woman was her sister, her own flesh and blood, and there were limits to decent behavior. Gemma was not prepared to cross the threshold of those limits just yet. "Never mind, " continued Byblyeonnae. "I can take care of that later. Now I wish to find out more of what we talked about earlier. These two can stay in this room with my guards, and you will follow me." Byblyeonnae grasped Gemma cruelly by the arm and stepped over to the adjoining chamber. She hurried Gemma into it and closed the door. In a whisper, she said, "Now, Ariganna, tell me of these Others. Where can I find them?" Gemma had been briefed by Madrion, so she was able to reply without hesitation, "They are the Gods of Madur and Talies : Aleph and Omegon." "Nonsense!" hissed Byblyeonnae. "Those are just legendary Gods. They have no power!" "Not so. They did not use their power, because a Royal Line was established in the Lands, the Royal Line of Terran. But events have happened to cloud and muddy the pure Bloodline from the original king, and now your Gods are angry. I have had messages that they are planning to wreak a full destruction on the Lands, but with their timing, that could be in years to come - perhaps not even in your lifetime." "What do you mean, 'their timing'?" asked Byblyeonnae suspiciously. "It's just that they live in a different dimension from you. What passes for them as a moment, a mere second, is like a lifetime for you. Thus, when they tell you that the end times are here, just in the time that they utter the words, centuries of your time have already passed. So while they prepare to wreak their vengeance on the Peoples of the Earthenworld, many centuries will have slipped away, and none of it will have any relevance to you." "Bah! These imbeciles, these Gods of the Lands are no better than their Peoples! Why, then, should I care what happens, if I will not live to regret my life?" Gemma put on her best Ariganna-like expression and feigned a look of stark astonishment. "I thought all of you Humans revered your immortal soul! I thought that was what you lived for! We in the Outerworlds have no soul, and when we die, we are gone

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forever, except in rare circumstances. Your soul is immortal, and will suffer the consequences of your actions on Earthenworld. That's why your Gods move so slowly, I'm sure, 'tis because you have all the time in the universe to pay for your sins." "Bah! Old wives' tales! I cannot believe in such rubbish! I summoned you for garbage such as this? Well, I think it's time that your long-lived life and Mortal soul came to an end - you've been nothing but trouble, anyway!" "Wait, Byblyeonnae! Your father will be most angry if you do away with me!" Byblyeonnae laughed uproariously. "You stupid Faerie! Do you think for a minute that he even remembers your name? I have had word that he had taken another woman, a Northlander named Una. She's young, and may last him a few months, anyway." "But she will die! I have my Faerie life. Korda likes it that I do not pass into death as easily as you weak Mortals." "Why is that, Ariganna? What would it take to kill you?" asked Byblyeonnae craftily. Gemma was also prepared with this answer, for Madrion had anticipated the question. "Well, 'tis very difficult to kill a Faerie. Only another Faerie can kill a Faerie, and that never happens." "Never?" asked Byblyeonnae slyly. "No, never!" snapped Gemma. "We all live to a ripe old age of two thousand years." Byblyeonnae was obviously involved in some deep thinking. Suddenly, she laughed again, and said, "Methinks I've heard of a Faerie who did brutally murder her family. She lives in the domain of a sworn enemy of mine, a most foul and stinking black witch named Madrion. I have a warrant for her arrest, as well as the arrest of her protégé, Ellyryran, but they both seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. Anyway, Ariganna, I'll still have you killed, for I need your Faerie heart to help me capture a man to help me build this kingdom. I hope it tastes better than your vile nature." "I can help you, Byblyeonnae. I know where to find the Gods of old, and they will no doubt be happy to finish off Taliesin for you," pleaded Gemma desperately. Byblyeonnae ignored her, for she had decided that the Faerie knew nothing of any value. "Guards!" she ordered, opening the door. "Take them to the dungeons." Gemma tried to still the pounding of her heart. The dungeons! The dungeons had been boarded up centuries ago, and had be rank with rats, filth and age - and it was very doubtful that Byblyeonnae had ordered they be cleaned. She tried to relax as the guard's fingers bit deeply into her flesh, but could already feel her breathing become more shallow and labored. They reached the old iron door which marked the entrance to the cells, and a guard opened them with a set of huge keys. Gemma almost fainted at the stench. She could feet stinging bile line the edges of her throat. She gagged as they were pushed and pulled down the old moldy steps which led to the dungeon. The guards flung their prisoners face forward onto the filth and left, laughing heartily. Thankfully, they were not locked in a cell. They were left to wander around in a dank pit, pitifully lit by a tiny, muddied window. As soon as their eyes grew accustomed to the dark, Gemma saw why they had been left out of total imprisonment. The cell locks were rusted through, as well as many of the bars, so it would have been of no use to put them in them. Gemma looked a little closer and gasped with shock. Amid the muck and filth gleamed an ominous white. Human bones lay scattered throughout on the prison floor, as though some animal had worried them to death. Here and there, a skull grinned maliciously at her as if pleased the King of the castle's daughter had deigned to join them.

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Gemma fought back her tears, and thought irrationally that her parents had no idea these remains were here in the dungeons, for they would have ordered them cleaned out and properly buried years ago. Then she saw him.

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C H A P T E R A Goblin King ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

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The man was propped up against the bars in the far corner of the dungeon. Only pitiful little calls for help differentiated him from the decaying remains around him. Suddenly, Gemma realized with a firm certainty that these remains were new; they must have accumulated since Byblyeonnae had ascended the throne. The wasted body of the man must be another of her tortured prisoners. Beckoning to the others, Gemma approached him and stooped low in order to talk. "Who are you?" she asked softly. "Can you speak?" The man nodded, and turned his face to her. They gasped in horror, for the man's eyes had been gouged out, the blood dried and caked around his face. He held up a weak hand to ask Gemma to wait a moment. Eventually, he painfully coughed up an answer. "My name's Morgraine," he whispered hoarsely, then collapsed with the effort. Morgraine! The captain of the guards! He had been a proud and handsome man the last time Gemma had seen him, and now here he lay, as emaciated as a very old man. Try as she might, she could see no resemblance in this battered visage to the man she had once known. She forced back a sob. Her panic at being locked up in the dungeon receded to be replaced by a cold dark anger, such as she had never experienced before. She cursed herself for being a fool, determined to help that evil ghoul who just happened to be born from the same womb as her. It was her pride that had brought them to this place, and her pride which had told her she could save her sister. Well, it seemed that her sister was beyond redemption. "Morgraine! Morgraine! Can you hear me?" she asked. Morgraine once again tried to speak, and his tattered voice uttered, "Taliesin! Is that really you?" Gemma was stunned, for it had been a lifetime ago that any had addressed her as such. She was disgused so cleverly, and such was Romul's proficiency that even her voice sounded like that of a Farasian noble. No one could have recognized her under normal circumstances. She suddenly that realized Morgraine was relying on his senses to identify her. Because he was so close to the Dark Night of his Soul, his feelings were more attuned to hers, and his pain had opened his inner eyes. He knew who she was, and under these circumstances she could not bear to lie to him. Gemma had been a favorite of his, and he was always feeding her beloved horse Tron special tidbits when she was not around. She now looked at Morgraine, her long time friend and captain of her father’s guards, and knew that he would not be long of this Earthenworld. "Aye, Morgraine," she cried. "'Tis I, Taliesin. Can you speak? What have they done to you?" Again, Morgraine held his hand up for her to wait. He gasped, "Torture. I can speak some, but mot much." "Why did they do this to you, Morgraine? What did you do?" "They wanted me to swear you had a lover . . . I wouldn't." "Oh, Morgraine! You will lose your life for defending my honor. I'm so sorry . . . I can't say anything. I'm so very grateful . . . the King and Queen would have honored you greatly for what you've done . . . but that's of no help now, for you are departing to that Dark Night of Souls. It seems that you cannot hold on much longer. I will say the Rites,

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for I am still your High Priestess." Morgraine said nothing more. Obviously the effort of talking had cost him too much. His lips curved to what could have perhaps been a smile but actually looked like a grimace of pain. Gemma performed the complex ceremony without faltering. She could see Morgraine’s ’s face, what was left of it, settling into a more peaceful state. For that one small thing, she was grateful. She noticed that Twirla and Greyff were sticking as close to her as possible and Twirla was crying. Greyff had his arm around the Nymph, and was trying to comfort her. All Gemma had for her comfort was the hollow echo of Madrion's words, resounding relentlessly through her brain. "The Fates have decreed only that you will be protected from the Evil ones. It says nothing of what the Evil ones may do to your loved ones." Although she wouldn't have called Twirla and Greyff her 'loved ones', still, she knew she was responsible for their plight, and she felt pangs of guilt gnaw on her already depleted soul. She had to get them out of there! How she was to do that, she did not know. At least her rash actions had allowed her to bring some comfort to Morgraine. She felt that if she could get him some help from Madrion, he might be saved. So much death, and all to do with her. Gemma tried to think. From what she remembered of the dungeons, they were escape-proof. The grisly remains of prisoners lay about to testify to that. So, if they could not escape through the dungeons, what then? They had to have a plan. She continued in her musings, and then asked Twirla if she possessed any magikal skill. Twirla nodded, saying, "I have a little, but it fades after time in your Earthenworld. I am using all of my power to maintain this spell of disguise, as a Farasian." "Then stop, now," said Gemma, "and show me what you can do." Twirla finished the spell quickly, and flexed her fingers. She pointed to the floor, and there appeared a small flask of brandy. "Methinks this will help your friend," she exclaimed, and Gemma nodded gratefully as she helped Morgraine to drink. "What else can you do?" she asked. "Not too much more, Gemma. I can only manipulate physical manifestations, and then only small ones." "Could you open the door?" "Nay, I cannot. I can only make things appear and disappear." "Well, can you make the door disappear?" asked Gemma impatiently. Twirla looked shocked. "Certainly not! 'Tis much too big a task for me. Even Ariganna couldn't do that." Gemma sighed. "I can see that you really aren’t going to be much help, Twirla. But could you perhaps make a fireworks display? At least that would summon the guards, and mayhap we could find some way to wrest the key from them," "I suppose I could . . . but wouldn't it be easier just to manifest the key?" asked Twirla. "Then we wouldn't need the fireworks, and believe me, the key would be easier, Gemma, for you have no idea how much energy a fireworks display takes . . . I know how to manifest the key, for I saw it when they unlocked the door. 'Tis held in my mind. It would be a simple matter." "Much like yourself," muttered Gemma rudely. It was difficult to fully comprehend the scope of the Nymph's minute mind. She stood waiting, and then realized that Twirla was looking vacantly about her, seemingly preoccupied with the horror of their situation. "Then, for heaven's sake, get on with it, Twirla!" she snapped loudly. Twirla looked rather offended at Gemma's tone, but she sulkily obeyed. Suddenly, there was a large,

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familiar looking key on the ground instead of the flask of brandy. Gemma snatched it triumphantly and said to Greyff, "You'll have to carry Morgraine." Greyff nodded his understanding, then hoisted the fragile bundle of bones over his shoulder. Gemma stealthily crept to the top of the stairs, bidding the others wait until she had a chance to see how many guards were posted. Cautiously, she peered over the edge of the peephole, and noted only two guards standing at the top of the stair. They would surely hear her if she inserted the key. She tip-toed back down, and asked Twirla if she could perform more magik. "Aye, but not with the key here, ‘tis too much of a strain." "How long will it take to materialize it again, if you make it vanish now?" The Nymph shrugged. "That depends on what you want me to do." "I just want you to make sounds as though there's someone prowling in the outer chambers of the dungeon. Something, actually. Could you make sounds as though a ferocious lion or a trumpeting elephant is outside?" Twirla grinned happily - this type of prank was more her style. "You will have to manifest the key for me again immediately. Can you do all that?" cautioned Gemma. Twirla nodded, "I think so. I will try." Suddenly, they heard the eerie sound of a wolf howling, followed closely by the cackling laugh of a hyena. The sounds intensified, sounding like the middle of a jungle on a full moonlit night. Twirla stopped and manifested the key back into Gemma's hand. Gemma paused a few seconds to make sure that both of the brutish guards had gone to investigate the strange occurrence, and then she slipped the key eagerly into the lock. Nothing happened. The key would not turn. "Twirla! Twirla! What's the matter with it?" she demanded angrily. "I do not know! That is an exact copy of the key. The only possible reason it does not work is that the lock is ensorcelled. That means that that evil woman has access to magik!" cried Twirla, bewildered. "Maybe you've just not manifested it carefully enough, Twirla. Quick, try it again, before they return!" They could hear the sounds of the guards, noisily calling out with traces of fear in their voices, "Halt! Who goes there?" The key vanished abruptly, and then Twirla once again manifested it. Gemma tried it. This time she was successful. She pulled back the lock, and demanded that Twirla keep it that way with her magik. All they had to do now was to slide the door open. Gemma turned to Greyff, and said, "We'll have to overpower those two guards. I'll make Twirla fashion me a dagger, and I'll take one. You'll have to take the other. Greyff shook his head. "Nay, Gemma. 'Tis too risky that way. Instead, let me have my old form, just for a minute. That's all I will need." Gemma hesitated. The odds of them overpowering the guards were far greater if Greyff was in his Werewolf form, but that might be courting further disaster. However, she had the binding spell and knew that it worked swiftly. Perhaps it might be worth the risk. She nodded her head, and concentrated. With a bit of effort, she got it right, and she once again witnessed the miraculous transformation which marked Greyff's progression to the undead. Greyff slipped out of the door as soon as the process was complete. Within seconds they heard his growl of triumph, and emerged to find the hallway bathed in blood. Greyff had lost no time in severing the necks of the two guards. He was now eyeing Gemma and Twirla lasciviously.

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Gemma quickly invoked the binding spell and Greyff resumed his human form, fresh blood splattered all over the front of his body. He absently cupped his hand around the dripping blood, and putting it to his lips, lapped appreciatively. He still eyed Gemma with a look she did not find particularly comfortable. "Let us go. We must be swift. Greyff, lift Morgraine. Follow me, I know the way out." She led them through familiar passages, hoping to reach the little-used back entrance to the castle. She hoped that the guards would not be noticed for some time. Unfortunately, that was not to be, for within seconds, they heard a cry which signified the butchered guards had been found. Gemma heard footsteps right behind them, and she urged the others forward. She pointed the exit out to Greyff, and bade him hurry, while she herself darted back with the intention of causing a diversion. Gemma's tactic worked, for the footsteps followed her noisy passage to the stairs, and then up to the bedchambers at the back of the castle. She panted with exertion as she made her way to her old bedroom. The hidden passage in her bedchamber was the only way out of the castle's second floor. She hoped that somehow she could make use of it. She arrived at the bedchamber, and prayed silently that it was not locked. Her prayers were answered, as the door swung open easily and she tumbled in. The footsteps followed relentlessly, pausing at the door of the room. Gemma dashed to the corner where she had seen the scryed image of an entrance, and scrabbled uselessly at the wall. It was apparent she would get nowhere. She thought quickly. The only hiding place in her bedroom was in the wardrobe; a few boards were loose in the ceiling, and Gemma knew that, with difficulty, she could squeeze herself in there. She ran to the closet, and tried to open the door, but it appeared to be locked. Cursing cruel fate once again, she tugged and tugged, twisting the knob in a certain way, as she had used to do when the door had been stuck. Finally, it gave, and Gemma entered, closing it tightly behind her. She could hear the soldiers bickering outside the door. They seemed to be aware that the capture of a prisoner was of paramount importance, but were loath to enter the Queen's bedchamber. Apparently, from what they were saying, they were in great fear of Byblyeonnae. They had been given express orders never to intrude in any of her personal rooms except by order. Now they did not know what to do. "Fetch the queen," one of the men finally offered. "What! And let her know of what's happened? She'll have us put into the dungeons, for sure. We may as well enter her rooms, for we're sunk, either way. If we at least find the prisoners, we can put them back, clean up the muck, and pretend nothing happened." The guards seemed to come to an agreement on this. They stealthily turned the knob and entered the chamber, just a second after Gemma wedged the last ceiling board in place. She held her breath as they made a careful search of the premises, and felt immense relief when one of the guards said, "It seems we made a mistake, they're not here." "I heard them come in this room! Methinks we're dealing with foul magik, Gerraud," said one man to another. "They opened a lock with no key; they ate the throats of Rounn and Calip; then they vanished into thin air, leading us with phantom footsteps to Her Highness's chamber. Black magik - foul, black magik is what this is." The men crossed themselves superstitiously - an ancient gesture from times long past, still believed to protect one from evil. "Well, I think we'll let you tell the queen of it, Teruch, seeing that you know so much about what has been happening," said the one called Gerraud, "even though letting you tell the story will only delay our deaths for a mere fraction of time. We'd best go quick, or she'll be furious we did not report this at once - then instead of a quick, clean death, she'll have us tortured."

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The men followed Teruch and Gerraud quickly. They had seen prisoners the Queen Byblyeonnae had had tortured to death. The thought of it cast even fear of dark and dangerous necromancers far from their minds. Gemma almost wept with relief when the men left. Now she just had to worry about getting out of her hiding place and out of the castle. Luckily she knew the castle inside out and was already planning her escape. She figured that she would wait until it was dark, for the old castle was gloomy and dim. Even with every candelabra and wall sconce lit it was impossible to see into all the nooks and crannies which made up an old castle, but Gemma was intimately familiar with each and every one of them. As she planned, she tried to settle in more comfortably. She had a long wait ahead of her.

Gemma had anticipated waiting until the evening, but this was not to be. She heard someone enter the room. By the sound of the voices, she knew it was the Queen Byblyeonnae with the guards. Gemma felt sorry for the men. Brutish as they were, still they did not deserve the fates that Byblyeonnae promised them. Her voice raged on, and suddenly Gemma stiffened, for she heard Madrion's name mentioned. "I must consult the Goblin king whom we helped escape from Madrion's domain. He swore us loyalty, and now that Korda has gone, he is the only one we have with any talent in the magikal arts. Even I know more than those fools I hire. They are renowned for their necromancing skills . . . pah! They know nothing. Now if we could convince that evil Madrion to join our cause, we would be well off, but we have nothing that she wants. 'Tis reputed she is a black-hearted witch, who will do nothing for anyone unless there's something in it for her. Fetch the Goblin king, Teruch! He owes me some favors!" Teruch scurried off to do her bidding. She continued coldly to her guards, "I shall wait to deal with you inefficient men. I too know there is magik at work, but that is no excuse for your inept behavior!" She dismissed the men and told them to wait outside the door. There were things she did not want overheard. She then continued talking, this time to Gerraud, who was the chief of the guards, replacing the 'traitorous' Morgraine. "I would have thought the Faerie Ariganna had something to do with it, but she never could have butchered those guards. She has not that evil power, and those locks were guarded against Faerie magik with the spell I stole from the Piscies when I traveled to visit them." "Your Highness, if I may be so bold as to speak? Were they all Faeries? That man certainly did not look like a Faerie, even one in disguise," stated Gerraud hesitantly. He desired commendation from Byblyeonnae for his quick wits, but feared her temper. "Of course they were all Faeries! Korda told me long ago that he was living with two Faeries! I even met them! Why would the man be anything else but a Faerie? They told me he came with them from their world." "I know nothing of their world, your Royal Highness. Methinks the Goblin King will, however." "He'd better," spat Byblyeonnae viciously. "He was the one who advised me to use the spell against Faerie magik in the first place. He also told me that Faeries are none too bright; indeed, their horses are reputed to be smarter than they are. He swore Ariganna would never be able to figure out how to escape. She has not that kind of mind . . . and Faeries always accept their lot in life, that's just the way they are. Where is Gruelen! He'll have a piece of my mind for this foul up!" Teruch returned, bearing the Goblin King in chains. Gruelen tried to bow to Byblyeonnae, but wrapped himself up in his bonds of iron and toppled over. Byblyeonnae looked at him with disgust. "Help him up!" She ordered Teruch. "And wait outside!" She glared at the Goblin King with malice in her eyes.

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"Gruelen! You have lied to me in return for all the kindness I've shown to you. If you do not produce satisfactory explanations I will punish you soundly." The Goblin King looked at her slyly. He had not been impressed with Byblyeonnae’s ideas of hospitality, no matter how she saw it. He now saw a way to change his fortune. "Your most Royal Highness!" he exclaimed. "I must beg your pardon, but a man of my stature cannot think clearly when bound in chains like a common criminal. Until the coming of such as these, I was of little use to you. But now things have changed. Let me tell you; these folk are visitors from elsewhere - from my world. Although I have not been there for a thousand years, it is my dearest wish to return and to take my family with me. "Let me tell you just one thing; now there are such as these involved, you are way out of your depth. You know nothing of them, nor their ways. It is obvious your visitors could not have been Faeries, for if they were, how could they open the door? It was bound up against any assault of Faerie magic. So who were they? They were not who they said they were; they were spies!" "You're lying to save your own hide, Gruelen! Who else could they have been but Faeries? If they were not who they said they were, how could they look like them? I have met Ariganna and Twirla a few times before. I will swear that these two were the same Faeries I saw in Korda's house!" stated Byblyeonnae angrily. "Those from the Aethyric realms are not like those from the Earthenworld. They can don disguises which seem to make them identical to others. With them, you cannot trust your eyes. I'm afraid I cannot help you further, fair Queen, for these chains seem to bind my brain as well as my body. I am also faint with hunger. I need to eat." Byblyeonnae looked as though she would have liked to strangle the Goblin King; instead, she controlled herself with some effort and smiled through clenched teeth. "And what would His Majesty like to eat?" she inquired testily. "Well, some live oysters would be tasty, and strong mead, for I die of thirst. For the main meal, I really fancy a roast rabbit or hedgehog. I understand that your cooks make a brilliant dish of octopus which I wish to taste." "No doubt His Highness would like a bottle of our fine vintage wine also?" asked Byblyeonnae sarcastically. "Yes, yes, that would be fine. And the chains, milady?" Byblyeonnae glared at him, but at his bland stare gave in to his demands. She knew she would need his aid. "Take off the chains, Gerraud. And send for food. I will eat too, for I am famished." "Aye, your Highness," said Gerraud, hurrying off. After the Goblin King had dined to his satisfaction, he leaned back languorously on his chair. He was a handsome Goblin, with the fine, cruel features and dark looks which defined his race. He hailed from a land known as Muenchen.

During the war which had ravaged the Outer and Innerworlds a thousand years age, Goblindom and Piscieland had split themselves with civil strife. Many of the Goblin people followed the rule of the beast, and thus much of Goblindom sank to the realm of the Innerlands when the beast was defeated. Muenchen had been the flourishing capital city of Goblindom, and Gruelen had been its King. When the kingdom sank, Gruelen had been trapped in the Earthenworld, for the wars which raged throughout the worlds had been simultaneous and related, with spies traveling to and fro, from the Inner to the Outerworlds, and also through to the Earthenworld. The Netherworld had made a pact with a powerful God of the Earthenworld, and together they planned to take over all the realms. This venture had been spoiled, however, and Madrion had been the one who had greatly aided the fall of the growing Nether Empire. Gruelen hated Madrion with all the viciousness he possessed, and would have loved to see her dead. It was a sentiment he held in common with Byblyeonnae.

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Now Gruelen relaxed, replete with his meal. Thoughts of the wars were far from his mind. He picked at his teeth with his long fingernails and stared at Byblyeonnae. He felt lust in every part of his body. Now that his hunger for food had been sated, he was beginning to experience a hunger of another sort. However, he was an intelligent Goblin; he wanted more than a momentary tumble. He knew he would have to bide his time. Byblyeonnae stared back, a hostile glint in her gray eyes. Gruelen smiled a slow, satisfied smile, and his saturnine good looks shone through charmingly. He was well built but small, although he was considered remarkably tall among his Goblin friends. He reached a height of five feet, which was approximately the same height as Byblyeonnae. His arresting feature were his eyes, however, for they lay dark and somnolent beneath his thick black lashes, suggestive of all sorts of lascivious pleasures. Byblyeonnae seemed entirely indifferent to Gruelen's charms however, as she snapped nastily, "Well, you've been wined and dined, Gruelen, now perhaps you can tell me the whereabouts of the Faerie Ariganna and her motley Faerie friends."

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A Queen Offers Her Death ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Gemma lay scrunched in her hiding place. She could feel waves of panic washing over her, then receding into the distance. She had known of this hiding place as a child, but had never used it. Her fear of closed in spaces would not have let her even poke her head in . . . and now here she was, hiding for her very life in that same spot. She thought that it was interesting how one's unfounded fears grew weak and died when one really had something to be frightened of. She thanked God that she had spent so much time in this room when she was a little girl, for knew every part of the castle - except for the ensorcelled hole in her bedroom wall. Too bad she could not find it, but she had not really expected to. It had been rendered invisible with a powerful spell which had lasted strongly for at least twenty years. She shuddered to think of the times she had lain in her room sleeping safely, while this evil access had been readily available to any who wished her harm. It had been like sleeping with a wide-open door to the street. Now, if evening would only hurry up and come! She could feel her leg cramping. Suddenly she heard someone call her name loudly. "GEMMA!" She froze. She heard it again. "GEMMA!" Whoever was calling her knew who she was - and knew her hiding place! Her heart started to pound. It was too soon to expect help from the others, for even if Greyff had escaped with Twirla and Morgraine, it would take them some time to return to the hotel. They would also have better sense than to shout her name aloud like this for all to hear. "Shhhhhh . . . who is it?" she called softly. Friend or foe, no doubt she would soon find out. "Do not say a word!" said the voice, again in a loud tone. Gemma was puzzled. Why should she be silent, when the voice was so noisy? "Because they can hear you," the voice said, "They cannot hear me, for I am in your head." Oh, so that explained it. Now she understood completely. She was just going stark raving mad. "No, you are not going mad. I really am inside your head, because you are wearing me. I am Romul." "Romul?" shrieked Gemma silently. "But you're not alive!" "That is correct. I am not alive. But you are." "I know that I am alive! Don't be silly! What has that got to do with you?" "I am a device that was made in the late twentieth century, around the same time the time portal was constructed. I was made to accompany any who use the portal. I have electromagnetic filaments at the back of the cloak that connect to your brain when you put me on. So, I am inside your head." "Ectronic fillies . . . what?" "Electromagnetic filaments . . . you do not have the knowledge for me to explain in a manner you would understand. We do not have time for me to teach you." "Oh."

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"It is how the device works. It phases with your brain, and thus the manifestation of movement accompanies and completes the holographic image." "The what?" "Never mind. It is a scientific explanation. Suffice to say that it works as you know it." "I thought it was a great magik." "It is. Science and magik are different names for the same phenomena." "Oh. I know nothing of that. Why have you not spoken to me before?" "You have not needed my help. Now you do." "You can help me? How?" "I do not know" "Some help." "Do not disparage my abilities, Gemma. I will know when the time comes. I wanted to make you aware of my presence beforehand. I also had to tell you that you have everything you need to help yourself. You just have to decide how to use it." Romul lapsed into familiar silence, but Gemma felt somewhat comforted by its presence. She decided not to rely on it for help, however, for magikal though it was, it knew no more than she did.

She began to concentrate on the sounds she heard in Byblyeonnae's chamber. If she listened hard enough, she could make out some of the words that passed between Byblyeonnae and the Goblin King. This was how she heard Byblyeonnae's last question. "So where are my prisoners, Gruelen?" She also heard Gruelen terrifying answer. "I do not know where all of them are, milady, but I do know that there's one hiding in the ceiling of your wardrobe." "What?" shrieked Byblyeonnae in anger. "How could that be? And why did you not say so before?" She hurried to the wardrobe door and shook the lock. It did not open, and she tried again. "Gerraud! Teruch!" she shouted, and as they came running into her chamber, she said, "Get an ax and chop this door down." The guards hurried to do her bidding. Gemma listened with a sinking heart as her mother's beloved wardrobe was threatened with mutilation. She thought to Romul swiftly, "Romul! Can you make me invisible?" "Affirmative." "What?" "Yes." "Then do it! Quickly!" "You must adjust the program." "What?" "You must adjust the program." "I don't know how!" "Then I do not have sufficient data to comply with your request." Gemma realized with frustration that Romul needed her to set the workings of the cloak, as she had seen Godolfin do. She did not know how, and thus Romul could not make her invisible. She groaned in frustration. They were gong to capture her at last. There was no doubt about that. She heard Byblyeonnae's waspish tones. "This had better not be one of your little jokes, Gruelen. How would you know that one hides here anyhow?" Suspicion dripped from her words like drops of acid. "By the smell, dear Byblyeonnae. I can smell magik. There was no need to tell you earlier, our prisoner was going nowhere, and I was hungry." If looks could have killed, Gruelen would have been dead on the spot. Unperturbed, the Goblin king smiled fondly at the wrathful woman.

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Byblyeonnae gave up in disgust, and turned her attention to the wardrobe door. Before attacking it with an ax, Teruch wiggled the handle. As luck would have it, it immediately opened. The guards burst inside the small room. "The ceiling! Search in the ceiling!" commanded Byblyeonnae. Fairly soon, Gemma was being yanked unceremoniously to the ground. Byblyeonnae looked at her with fiery wrath. She stepped forward to slap her stingingly across her face. "How dare you try to escape! Who are you, anyway? You are not a Faerie, for a Faerie would not have had the brains to do what you did. You would do better to tell me here, rather than face the torture room. Quickly - spit it out." Gemma looked at her. She had finally had enough. Her temper flared as she looked at the woman who had ruined all aspects of her life, and who now threatened to ruin her. She knew that she was doing the wrong thing, but she could not help herself. She tore off her protective cloak, and said, as arrogantly as she had ever spoken, "I am the Queen of Madur, Talies and all of the Northlands. I am the High Priestess. I was known as Taliesin of the Royal Blood line of Terran." Byblyeonnae gasped , and the color drained from her face. She whispered in shocked disbelief, "Taliesin . . . you!" Gemma continued emphatically, certain that if she paused, her jaw muscles would seize up in fright and prevent her from delivering the rest of her speech. "I now invoke my Name of Power, and all the Powers in the Lands, and I place you under arrest as a traitor. I charge you with the murders of the princes Hamyn, Troyn and Gervais. I charge you with the unlawful kidnapping and imprisonment of the Blood Queen of all the Lands. You have a right remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you. You have a right to retain proper counsel . . . " Byblyeonnae stopped Gemma’s pious recitation of the Holy Rites with another stinging slap across her cheek. "I'm not stupid enough to let any of your loyal subjects set eyes on you, Taliesin." Gemma paused, for the invocation of her Name of Power had failed to work. Madrion had been right, it was no longer a Name of Power fit for a Queen. She felt defeated but refused to let it show. She continued dogmatically, "You have the right . . . " she was cut off this time by a filthy gag being fastened tightly around her mouth. Byblyeonnae gave Gerraud his first and only smile of approval. Basking in this rarity, he moved to bind Gemma's arms and legs. As he was bending over Gemma, Byblyeonnae walked over to stand behind him with a small jeweled dagger. As soon as Gerraud was finished tying his last knot, she effectively used it to slit his throat. She gestured Gruelen to do the same to Teruch. "There must be no witnesses to Taliesin's appearance," she remarked to the terrified guard, by way of explanation. She glared malevolently at Gemma. "If only I could do the same to you. The Goddess of Ice forbade me before, but now she isn't here. And I do not care about the repercussions of this action in the Heavens and Hells . . . on second thoughts, I will do it!" With glittering eyes she approached the bound and gagged Gemma with her small, bloodied knife. Gemma was beginning to regret the hasty action of revealing her true identity. She stared, mesmerized by the silver knife wielded by her maddened Blood sister. She watched the cruel dagger fall to the ground. And Byblyeonnae crumpled up beside it, gasping for air. She too suffered from an ailment which Gemma had sometimes experienced as a child, known as asthmasia. It was a life-threatening ailment, and rest was the only known medication. She could hear the wheezing chest and she saw the aura of panic which suffused Byblyeonnae's body. "It looks like that prophecy means what it says, eh, Byblyeonnae?" asked Gruelen caustically, and Byblyeonnae weakly threw her knife at him.

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The prophecy! Gemma had almost forgotten about it. So it was true, that she would not be destroyed by evil means. Byblyeonnae had been prevented from killing her by the onslaught of the asthmasia. At least she was safe until she was sixty, but that was so far away that she could not have cared less. Briefly she recalled Madrion's warning against over-reliance on the prophecy. The prophecy had never stated she would not be brutally tortured. Byblyeonnae sat on the floor for a while. She seemed to have regained her breath. She had started to recover the second she threw the dagger at Gruelen, and she knew it. The prophecy spoke true and she ground her teeth in frustration. However, she could still hurt Taliesin . . . even if she could not destroy her. She finally managed to haul herself up with the help of Gruelen, and she went to the door. She opened it slightly, commanding a guard to bring her a coffin. She turned threateningly to Gemma, all the while spewing forth vile expletives, most of which Gemma had never heard before. The Goblin King just stood over her, arms folded, a smile of satisfaction on his face. Thus they stood for what seemed to be hours. Eventually, the guard hurried back with a coffin he had acquired at a burial site. The coffin had been just about to be lowered into the ground, when the guard had hurried forth, demanding the coffin in the name of the Queen. He had left the relatives and friends looking helplessly at the corpse laying on the grass. He knocked violently on the door. Byblyeonnae opened it, again slightly, and told him to leave the coffin in the corridor. She then gestured Gruelen to bring it in. Gruelen dragged it into the room and Byblyeonnae commanded Gemma to lay down in it. She gathered up Romul from where it lay on the floor and said, "Methinks this is a useful trinket, Taliesin! How do you use it?" She laughed at the look of agony which crossed Gemma's face, and twirled the cloak up high. "Do you know anything about this cloak, Gruelen?" she asked. "Aye, I think I do," nodded the Goblin King. "And if it is what I think it is, you had better lock it away carefully." "Nonsense! It seems like a lot of fun. What could be dangerous about it?" "Methinks it belongs to the Elven messenger, Godolfin. If it is indeed his cloak, then it is dangerous. Legend tells that it is a cloak of much power and magik, but unlike a familiar, who does his master's bidding, this cloak, Romul, also does its own bidding when it so chooses. It has saved that Godolfin's neck many a time, for on its own, its powers of destruction are nothing like we've ever seen before." "Legends! What do I care of legends! There's no truth to those things." She approached the coffin, and appeared to be going to drop the cloak on Gemma's chest. She saw the look of hope which sprang to Gemma's eyes, and she laughed spitefully. "You really believe that I would lock up this magikal cloak with you? Give me some credit, Taliesin. I know better than that." She tossed the cloak carelessly on her bed. Gemma realized that this woman was not only skilled in physical violence - she seemed to be an expert in emotional brutality as well. She decided to close her eyes, lest they give away more of her feelings. So Gemma lay, incarcerated once more in a coffin, feeling more soul-weary than she had ever thought possible. At least this time, her fear of closed in spaces seemed to have diminished in the face of grim reality. From what seemed like a great distance, she could hear Byblyeonnae and Gruelen talking. Suddenly, somehow, everything began to acquire an aura of peace. She felt as if she were floating along a river, hearing the birds chirp in the distance. She started, and opened her eyes, for the sounds of the swirling river and melodic birds seemed real. But all was as it had been, so she closed her eyes once more. Again, the sensation of floating on a river. Birds calling to their mates. Peace and tranquillity. Through it all, she sensed a presence. A peaceful, comforting presence. A friend.

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Her mind returned to Romul's words. He had told her that she had everything she needed to deal with this situation; she just had to know how to use it. What, then? Her Gemstone was gone. She had given it to Jarrett. It would be of little use to him, for although it would lead the way to where she could be found, he already knew where she was. It would only help him if she was sent elsewhere. But it had been a good decision to turn it over to him, though it could not help her now. What else? Romul was gone, before she had been able to use it. The others would be unable to gain entrance to the castle. Byblyeonnae obviously trusted no one. The ensorcelled entrance in the bedchamber had not worked for her, and besides, she was going to be locked into the coffin, unable to move. Romul didn't know what it was talking about. Still, it had sounded so sure of itself. The only other thing that she could think of was that perhaps somehow she could rely just on herself. That seemed silly, too. What could she do, locked up in a coffin? What did she know, that could help her? Suddenly, the answer to all the problems of her Peoples and her Lands came to her. Clear as crystal. Why had she not thought of it before? "Byblyeonnae." she said, in a clear voice. "Byblyeonnae . . . I have the perfect solution for you. If you will just listen, and bear with me, I promise that you will have everything you need." Byblyeonnae came over to look at Gemma, laying helpless in the coffin. "Pah!" she spat. "What do I care about you and your promises? You can give me nothing, save your death, and apparently, you cannot even give me that." "Ah, that's where you're wrong, Byblyeonnae. I can give you my death."

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C H A P T E R A Temple Of Aleph ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

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Things were in a tumult in the "Royal House" hotel. Jarrett was raging that he would go and rescue Gemma himself; Allys was crying; Roland looked grim; Ariganna was thrilled; and Madrion was busy trying to contact Gemma through the Aethyric plane. "I succeed sometimes in establishing a link with her through the earbobs I gave her. But she resists, and the link is momentary. She keeps yanking the control of her mind back, she will not let it rest," said Madrion finally, in frustration. "That's Gemma," said Jarrett through clenched teeth. "She will always seek to do things herself." "If I could only establish a link, then I would know what we face. But I cannot. I will keep trying. Roland, Allys, perhaps you could help me." "I will, too!" offered Jarrett eagerly. Anything was better than nothing. "I'm afraid I cannot use your mind, Jarrett. 'Tis too undisciplined," said Madrion absently, as Jarrett ground his teeth in further frustration. Madrion gathered Roland and Allys and gave them explicit instructions on how she would like them to communicate with Gemma. They resumed their intensive work, but to no avail. Gemma was unreachable. "Can't you just use your magik powers to free her?" asked Allys in despair. Madrion shook her head. Allys was making a mistake that was common amongst any who knew nothing of the necromancing skills. "I could, Allys, but there is an equal and opposite reaction to any spell I cast. That means if I free Gemma, and ensorcell her here, then I am interfering with a powerful law of nature. If I had time to study all the repercussions of an action such as this, I could weigh the results, and no doubt I would be able to bewitch her to this place. But I do not know anything right now, and we have not the time to find out. “Necromancing is a serious art, requiring serious study; there is much more to it than the power itself. The repercussions of unplanned actions can be awesome and devastating. That is why the skills lend themselves so readily to the black arts, and are so difficult for me. Black necromancers never care about what their spells can do to others, they just go ahead and ensorcell anything they want. Anyway, at least the evil ones cannot destroy her," answered Madrion, as they continued their futile efforts. "What else they may do to her, I cannot bear to think." She finally came to a decision, and nodded to Jarrett. "You are right, Jarrett. We will just have to go rescue Gemma ourselves. I will start work on a finishing spell for the entrance to Gemma's bedchamber, and we will enter from there. Do any of you know how that entrance could connect to the outside of the castle? There would have to be stairs of some sort." "I spent much time at the castle when I was young, Madrion. I know of no secret entrance," replied Jarrett "Well, we will just have to search for it. I will ask Twirla to help me with the finishing spell, for she knew the one in Korda's house, and they might be similar. The spells themselves originate from one I formulated years ago, so it should not be too difficult for me to work it out."

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Her mind made up, Madrion now focused her skills on finding a way to enter the castle. It was not a difficult task and she finished it fairly quickly. She had not wanted to use the secret way to Gemma's room just as yet, but there currently seemed to be no alternative. She called to the others, "I've got the spell we need!" She stood up and stretched, yawning. "Methinks we could go this evening, when 'tis dark. If we can find our way into the castle, perhaps we can rescue Gemma. But only Jarrett and I will go, no one else." Jarrett looked pleased and said, "I will rescue her. Have no doubt about that. I have her Gemstone still, mayhap it will guide us to the correct passageway." Madrion nodded. "Good idea! It may just do that. You know your way about the castle, so we will be able to look for her. At least we know she'll be alive." Carefully they made their plans.

Meanwhile, Gemma had been locked into the coffin. The voices of Byblyeonnae and the Goblin King had grown fainter, so Gemma knew that they had left the room. She used the opportunity to test the strength of the coffin lid, but it held fast. She tried kicking it, but to no avail. She was trapped. Obviously Byblyeonnae was taking no chances. She had listened with some interest to Gemma's plan, but had still locked her in the coffin "to think about it". If only she could get to Romul! It could have helped her. Perhaps together they could have worked on adjusting the program, and it would have been able to turn her invisible. Unfortunately, she had been foolish enough to take it off. Now once again she was paying for her rash nature. She tried to relax, but the peaceful images she had previously experienced were now gone, leaving her only with loneliness and fear. How long she lay there, she did not know, but eventually she heard someone enter the room and open the lock on the coffin lid. The lid squealed protestingly as it was raised, and Gemma stared into the handsome face of the Goblin King. "I liked your plan, Taliesin. Methinks this Byblyeonnae does not have your brains, does she? I will help you, and we shall do it together." Gemma had offered Byblyeonnae the descent into the Dark Night of her Doul as a sacrifice to the Gods of Madur. It was not common knowledge that a sacrificial death of a king or queen of the true Bloodline - and only the first in line for the throne - would cleanse the countries of all evil fortune. Gemma knew of the ancient writ because she had access to the holy books through her office of the High Priestess. Basically, the writ stated that the Lands and its Peoples would prosper for as long as the remaining monarch (the one who would be second in line to the throne) ruled over them with a fair and just hand. And should Gemma choose to die in such a way, her death would not be by evil means; it would be full of honor. Thus the prophecy could not prevent her demise in this manner. Gemma could not think of a better way to end her life than in the service of her beloved Lands. Byblyeonnae had not believed Gemma would go through with such a plan; indeed, she had thought that her half-sister was bluffing in order to get witnesses to the fact that she still lived. The type of mind Byblyeonnae possessed could never conceive of a sacrifice such as Gemma was prepared to make. Gruelen cared not one whit about Gemma's reasons for wanting to make this sacrifice; he only saw it as the most expedient way to rid themselves of the true queen, while simultaneously receiving much good fortune in the bargain. "What do you need?" he asked, as he helped her from the coffin. "Not much," replied Gemma briefly. "You will have to take me to the temple, and I will inform the Handmaidens of the Light. They will perform most of the ceremony. The High Priestess need only attend, which is taken care of, for I am she. At the beginning of the ceremony, they will choose a new High Priestess to take over from me, for I will not be there when it ends. That is all.

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"It has been written about in our Holy Book, but none has ever performed the sacrifice before; it was never needed, for our Lands have prospered for a thousand years now, since the beginning of the end." Gruelen nodded. He admired this woman for her courage, and was eager to help her on her journey into the Dark Night of her Soul in whatever way possible. "Then let us go. We should not keep the Gods waiting any longer." He reached for Romul, which still laying on the bed, and wrapped it around her shoulder. "Here, wear this, I don't want anyone recognizing you." Gemma nodded worriedly, and put it on. She had little faith that it could help her now, for she was not trying to escape, but she didn't want to take the chance that anything could spoil her plans now her mind was made up. Fortunately, she had nothing to fear, for Romul never even ventured a peep to her mind. This contributed to the belief she was starting to have that she was actually fulfilling her true destiny. She tried to accept it peacefully, but experienced a real struggle. In all her dreams, she had never thought to make such a sacrifice. She had always been a woman in love with life - in love with its painful aspects as well as its pleasurable times. However, she could see no other way out of her predicament. Byblyeonnae was the second in line to the throne; therefore, as long as she ruled fairly, the Peoples of the Lands would enjoy a prosperous and happy life. The woman would be forced to change her method of rule in order to comply with the ancient laws. Even Byblyeonnae could not cheat the Gods and their promises to her Lands. Gemma truly did not want to descend into the Dark Night of her Soul. She knew it was a temporary thing, a brief respite for rest before the continuance of her journey of the soul, but she did not feel tired and soul-weary; not yet, anyway, and she did not want to rest. She knew that with the coming of the dawn of the soul, she would be reborn. She did not want to be reborn. She did not want to start a new life. She wanted to live right here in the old one; she wanted to be the one to rule her Peoples. Now it seemed that would never come to pass. She felt a tear of self-pity course down her cheek, and wiped it brusquely away. Why should she do this thing, anyway? Surely Madrion would rescue her? But Madrion did not know of the clause in the Holy Writ, the one stating, "If needed, the anointed and crowned King or Queen have within their souls, hidden away, the spark that will not die. They are allowed to use that spark to light the flames of any fires which have died out. They are allowed to choose which fires they will light, and which they will not. They have the power of choice. If they so decide that an endeavor is justly deserving, and they decide that they will stoke its dead fire, then they may make the sacrifice of their physical temples, according to the Writ of the Holy Book. Let them not make this sacrifice in vain." Madrion knew nothing of the training of the High Priestess or the Writ of the Holy Book for it was kept highly secret from all. The only one who knew of all the Writs was the High Priestess herself, and she would be the one to instruct the new High Priestess when it was time for her own descent into the Dark Night of her Soul. Normally, it would have been the High Priestess who would have advised the reigning monarch of the available options. In Gemma's special case (never before had the High Priestess and the crowned Queen of the Lands been one and the same), after seven years of Holy Rule, she would be allowed to give up her high office, in order to fulfill her Queenly responsibilities. At that time, she would have to marry and produce an heir. It was only because she was the High Priestess that she knew of the clause. Had she been only Queen, she would have had to have been advised by the High Priestess of the option. Madrion would have no way of knowing of the ultimate sacrifice that she was about to make, and would not be able to help her. She wondered if she had made yet another

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rash mistake. She sighed deeply as she followed Gruelen through the castle door, feet dragging behind her. Suddenly, Gruelen put his arm around her. "I had to poison her, you know," he said chattily, as they entered the street. At Gemma's look of horror, he went on quickly, "Nay, she is not dead, only drugged deeply. She had too much of the fine wine for dinner, and it was a simple matter to slip in a small portion of a most useful drug I carry with me. She invited me to her bed, and was most voracious, but then she passed out; the drug has those properties, you know. In the right quantities, it is an aphrodisiac; but after the effects wear off, the victim lies unconscious and near death for several hours. They remember nothing the following day, and suffer only from an intense headache. If they are given too much, then they will die in the aftermath of the love-making. But they will die happy." Seeing Gemma's face, he added hastily, "I did not give her that much. I still need her." Gemma continued to stare at him in shock. "I had to, you know," he said apologetically "for she would never have let me do this." Gemma was speechless. Even after spending much time with the undead, the soulless creatures from the Aethryic, she still could not become accustomed to the matter-offact way they discussed the elements of life and death situations. Also, much as she despised her sister, she did not want to hear stories of her wanton behavior. So she said nothing, giving no answer to Greulen's statements. She hung her head down, signifying that she did not wish to speak, and plodded along, conscious all the while of the restraining arm he had placed about her.

It was now getting dark in the kingdom of Madur, and people were scuttling to and fro, trying to get ready for the coming of the night. Since Byblyeonnae's rule, no one lingered outside after dusk. It was not safe. No attention was paid to the Farasian lass accompanied by the short, darkly handsome man whose pointed ears were hidden by the hood of his cloak. Presently they reached the Temple of Aleph. Its scrolled stone walls faced the oceans. It was not far from the castle if one walked, though to get there by carriage required a much longer route. Gemma looked fondly at the place that she had spent many years in tuition. It seemed only fitting she should end her life here, where she had studied so hard to be the High Priestess of all the Lands. She had truly believed at the time that she would have been the High Priestess for the rest of her life. . . and that that life would have been much longer than promised at the moment. Thoughts of being the reigning monarch had never entered her head in those happy times, and she had been filled with a youthful zeal and anticipation for the tasks ahead of her. She had seen herself as the High Priestess, working hand in hand with Prince Hamyn, who should have been the crowned King. They entered the Temple, and a Handmaiden of Entry greeted them. It was a young girl whom Gemma had never seen before. "I must speak to the seven Handmaidens of Light," said Gemma. The Handmaiden looked troubled. "They are busy, Milady. There has been great trouble in the Lands." "I know that, and that is why I am here." replied Gemma. "It is of vital importance they see me," Gemma's earnestness must have impressed the girl, for she nodded briefly, saying, "I'll see what I can do." She departed through the curtained doorway. Seconds later, she returned with Gwynyth, the Keeper of the Lamp, one of the seven Handmaidens of Light.

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"What can I do for you, Milady?" she inquired politely. "Freygen has told me that you wish to speak to me on a matter of some importance, concerning the welfare of the Lands." "Aye, that I do, but we must speak somewhere where we will not be disturbed." Gwynyth politely nodded acquiescence and led them into a small room tucked away in an alcove discreetly hidden in the corner of the room. She sat down heavily behind a desk and gestured to Gemma and Gruelen to do the same. "Now, what is this all about?" She asked frowningly. She knew of the Farasians and their wild ways, and had no doubt that the man was this woman's lover. She looked at Gemma's slender, ringless finger with disapproval. She resented them requesting her presence, and would have loved to refuse, but such was the Writ that it demanded that any who sought sanctuary or audience in the Temple of Aleph must receive it. Gemma looked at Gruelen, and he nodded. She stood up and removed Romul. Gwynyth gasped and stared at Gemma, her face draining of colour. She crossed herself superstitiously then sank to her knees. "Who are you?" she stammered. "You look like someone I know well, but she has long since descended the Dark Night if her Soul." "Nay, rise up, good Gwynyth," said Gemma. "'Twas not me that was slain in my mother's bed. There has been foul and impious acts committed in this Kingdom. I cannot tell you more, for ultimately that will be treason. I only come to invoke the Rite of Sacrifice." Gwynyth rose stiffly, and embraced Gemma. "Your Royal Highness! I cannot believe that you still live!" She started to cry, still keeping Gemma clasped tightly to her bosom. Gemma struggled free, saying, "Come, Gwynyth, do not weep, for it is a joyous occasion I attend on thee. We must make haste, for it will have to be done tonight." Gemma's words sank slowly into Gwynyth's brain. She started to cry harder, sobbing, "Y . . . y . . . you c . . . cannot d . . . d . . . o that now, Y . . . your . . . R . . . royal H . . . highness" "I must, Gwynyth. And you must stop crying, for that is no good omen for my passing. Think of the trials my kingdom has seen. I cannot let that continue. I must do something." "Then take back your throne!" cried Gwynyth vehemently. "The trials have all come to pass with the new Queen. Now I find that she has no right to the throne, for the true Queen still lives! You must fight her, that is how you will help!" Gruelen oily voice stopped her. "With what army will she fight? The Queen Byblyeonnae has ample means of quelling any uprising. The Peoples will not dare acknowledge this woman as their Queen. They are too frightened for their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. The Queen has reigned a bloody rule, and all know that. They are terrified of her." "I'm not!" declared Gwynyth staunchly. "Then I suggest that you join Taliesin, and perhaps the two of you can storm the castle and regain the rule of the Lands.” Gwynyth gave him a look as if to ask what such filth was doing accompanying her beloved Queen. Gemma turned on him in anger and said, "Be quiet! You know not of what you speak! And my name is not Taliesin, so do not call me that." Taliesin no longer existed. She had vanished the second the crown had rested on her head. Now Byblyeonnae and Gruelen used her girlhood name as the ultimate insult, intimating that she had not yet ascended the throne. Gruelen's mouth curved upward; so he had got through to Gemma after all. He had not believed it possible.

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"So what would you like me to call you, then? You have never been granted a Name of Office." Gemma realized with a start that he was right. She had been kidnapped the day before the ceremony was to be held, the one to award her her Name of Office. "We cannot be having that, Your Highness," said Gwynyth. "'Tis most indecent, your running around for so long with no name. We will hold the ceremony here, tonight, to award you your Name of Office. You cannot even invoke the Rite of Sacrifice without it." Gemma realized with a sinking heart that she was right. The search for an appropriate name would take hours. Gemma wanted to be through with everything by then, otherwise Byblyeonnae would recover and probably guess where they had gone. Gemma knew that she would gather her guards, and that they would slaughter all the Handmaidens of the Temple. She could not allow that. Then she realized something else; she had grown into the name Jarrett had given her. She wanted to keep it. "There's no need for a search, Gwynyth," she said. "I have chosen a name, and as the High priestess, that is my right. I choose the name "Gemma", and henceforth, I shall be known in all the Lands as the Queen Gemma." "Gemma? Gemma?!! What kind of name is that, child? It has no significance!" "It does to me," said Gemma stubbornly, "and Gemma it will be." Gwynyth recognized the stubborn streak she had encountered before in the form of Taliesin. She wisely said no more. Instead, she set about making the preparations which would be necessary to award Gemma the Name of Office. The two women then performed the solemn rite in the small room; the rite which should have been performed as a glorious and extravagant occasion, one of great joy and celebration. There was only Gruelen to witness the Naming, and as he was anxious to get on with the ceremony which would banish Gemma to the Dark Night of her Soul, he hurried them through. "Quickly," he said. "We must perform the Sacrificial ceremony now. Byblyeonnae will awaken soon, and will know where we are." Something was bothering Gemma, however, and Romul’s words came back to haunt her. It had said that she had everything she needed to solve her plight. Something was now burrowing through her mind, and she wished it would stay still long enough so she could see what it was. Suddenly, she knew. "Gwynyth," she asked slowly. "Who was it that awarded Byblyeonnae her Name of Office? And what is the significance of her name?" "We have no time for such discussions," cried Gruelen impatiently. "We must go!" Queen Gemma looked at him coldly. "You dare to hurry me, the Queen of the Lands? I will decide when it is time. Answer the question, Gwynyth." Gwynyth looked uncertainly at Gruelen and answered, "'Twas Tiffault. She would know of the significance of the name. I will send for her, for she is the one who will organize the Sacrificial Rites. Gwynyth rang the bell-pull, and minutes later, Tiffault walked into the room. She almost fainted at the sight of the Queen Gemma, but recovered herself quickly. Gwynyth told her of Gemma's plight. Gemma chipped in information whenever she felt it necessary. Tiffault nodded her head in wonder, and then said, "You must not go through with the ceremony, Your Highness. There must be another way. We will find another way." Gruelen sprang to his feet in fury. "I have risked everything to bring this Gemma to make the Sacrifice. She agreed to do it! It must be done!" Gemma looked at him though narrowed eyes. "Aye, it will be done, Gruelen, never fear. But I will find the answers to my questions before I go. Tiffault . . . what is the significance of the Queen's name?"

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"Do we not need a binding ceremony if we are to discuss these things?" she asked, in awe of the childhood friend who had become her Queen. "Nay, we do not, for I am the High Priestess, and this information is safe with me. He cannot hear it, however." She pointed to Gruelen. Gruelen shook his head adamantly. "I will not allow you to leave my sight." Gemma looked around then had an idea. "You won't have to. Look, we will open these curtains. You can sit over there; you will be able to see me but you will not be able to overhear what we are talking about." Gruelen agreed reluctantly and pretty soon Gemma was ensconced privately enough with the two Handmaidens of Light. Gemma asked Tiffault, "So, what do you know of her names?" Tiffault answered, "Her Name of Office was chosen to counteract the power of a woman who gleams like the sun. At her head she wears a golden crown with twelve silver stars, and at her feet lay crescent moons." Madrion! Gemma thought. It could be no one else. She would never forget the first time she had seen her. She forced herself to continue to listen to Tiffault. "I do not know where she gained her knowledge from, but she was correct. All the portents and omens of that night agreed with her choice." Gemma was silent. So this woman did fear the witch's powers? Perhaps she would be better off waiting here in the Temple to see if Madrion would find and save her. However, she knew that that was unlikely in the time she had. Byblyeonnae would be here long before, and would surely butcher all the Handmaidens of Light. Imagine, to have this knowledge, and not to be able to use it. "Listen, Gwynyth," she said. "Tomorrow, you must go to the Royal House hotel, and ask for a woman named Madrion. You must tell her what you've just told me." Gwynyth nodded and said, "We must also prepare you, Queen Gemma, for if we do not, your sacrifice will be in vain." Gemma knew the preparations were necessary, so she sank down to her knees to iterate the verses of absolution. The Handmaidens of Light scurried to make ready the alter, and to send the ritual bath for Gemma to perform her ablutions. To Gwynyth fell the onerous task of sharpening the sacrificial sword, and she wept as she did it. She did not believe for a second that Queen Gemma's sacrifice would restore the Lands. Finally, the verses were said. Gemma then finished her cleansing rituals in privacy. She had threatened Gruelen that she would not agree to the sacrifice if he had to watch her bathing. He had reluctantly agreed. So, after donning the sacrificial robe, she ascended the stairs which led to the center of the Temple. All around, the scent of incense burned, wafting loftily to the arches of the high Temple. The Handmaidens were gathered around, wearing the ritual robes of black and white, to signify death and rebirth - the descent and the ascent . . . the journeys of the soul. As Gemma rose, voices matched her paces with melodic chants she had never before heard. The sound of a flute played dolefully, and tambourines were tapped at regular intervals. She let the robe drop to the floor as she neared the alter. Nothing was allowed to be placed on the altar except the sacrifice. Reluctantly, she clambered up the cold slab of stone, stubbing her toe painfully in the process. The altar was at least four feet high, with no steps or anything to climb up on. Gemma had to hoist herself up with both arms, then sit on the edge while she inched the rest of her body forward. She had to try several times, her hands bruised and cut with each effort, until she succeeded. She lay on the slab of marble, her head in the correct position, and started to chant the verses of Abriam - the verses of human sacrifice. Gruelen had arrived at the sanctuary before her. He was allowed to be present only because the Rite of Sacrifice had to be open to the public. He watched with cruel

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satisfaction as Gwynyth and Tiffault fitted the sword to the two heavy blocks of stone, one block on each side of the sword, handle and tip. It would be flung on either side of Gemma's shoulders, from behind her head, to fall over the edges of the alter. The only resistance the sword - razor sharp on both sides - would meet would be Gemma's soft neck. In the background, a drum roll started. This signified the beginning of the end, for the ceremony would soon be finished.

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C H A P T E R

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A Midnight Foray Into The Castle ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Jarrett and Madrion prowled around the castle walls warily. Jarrett held the Gemstone in his hand, but as yet there was no glimmer of warmth in its ruby recesses. "The Gemstone does not seem to be able to point our way to Gemma," he said with disappointment. "I'd thought it would, for it found her through a portal. I'd think that that would be more difficult." Madrion wrinkled up her nose thoughtfully. "Aye, you're right at that, Jarrett. Perhaps we are too far from her. I will tune in on the Aethyric plane, to see if I can trace any vestige of magik from the spell which ensorcells the entry to Gemma's bedchamber." Madrion closed her eyes, and taking Jarrett's hand, used her third eye to pace around the ground they had already crossed. "Jarrett!" she whispered excitedly. "Methinks I see it! There's a small residue of magikal energy around that area there, in that sentry box! It must lead to an underground tunnel." "But that's not possible, Madrion. That sentry box is always posted with a reliable guard. No one could enter without his knowledge . . . " Jarrett paused, thinking back to when Gemma had said that they'd been betrayed, that there was a traitor in the castle. "Let's take a closer look," said Madrion. They approached the sentry box cautiously. The sentry on watch, Yauriac of Gwaine, felt very unsettled. There had been too many strange events during the course of this day to suit his fancy. News of the bizarre deaths of Rounn and Calip had flown through the castle, becoming more and more exaggerated with each telling. He looked to the left, and then to the right. No one. Nothing. Still, he felt an eerie dread. He jumped as he heard a small sound behind him, and raised his sword. "Halt!" he cried, in a wavering voice. "Who goes there?" Silence. Suddenly, a large cloud flitted across the sky, engulfing the new-born moon with open arms. Blackness. Yauriac stood silently, waiting . . . fearful. Still nothing. He relaxed slightly, thinking that it was probably nerves. Just then, he felt the icy blade of cold steel flick over his neck, and then more blackness. "He's done for," said Jarrett with satisfaction. He wiped his blade on his shirt sleeve, while Madrion cringed in horror. Jarrett cared not one whit for the witch’s sensibilities. It had felt mighty good to strike back at the enemy, in however small a capacity. Stealthily, they pulled the corpse into some nearby bushes then entered the sentry box. Madrion fumbled with the floor of the box and said, "I've found it, Jarrett. But I cannot pull it up, I think it's nailed shut." The whole bottom of the sentry box was made in such a way that it could be pulled up, and it was cleverly done. As it was comprised of the entire floor, there were no hinges or cracks to show the parameters of the door. But the bottom of the floor was securely nailed down. As the box was old, and had been there by the castle entrance for as long as Jarrett could remember, no doubt no one had thought to check its security. "Help me, Jarrett, mayhap we can pull it up together," asked Madrion, but their efforts proved to be of no avail. "Cannot you use your magik to help us, Madrion?" asked Jarrett breathlessly. "Aye, that I can do, Jarrett, but I do not want to, for it will leave traces in the Aethyric, just as their spell has left traces for us to follow. A clever enough necromancer

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could trace the spell to me. That would give them power over us, an edge we cannot afford to let them have. I feel that soon we will need every advantage that we can muster. So just keep pulling." "Could you not magik up an implement to help us with the nails? Like a hammer?" asked Jarrett pleadingly. Madrion looked at him in startled astonishment, then laughed softly. "Aye, Jarrett, that I could," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "I do not know why I didn't think of that - I'm so caught up in the large matters that I have no time to think of simple solutions." She reached into the small bag which lay at her side, pulled out two hammers, and, handing one to Jarrett, set about the task at hand. Presently, the floor yielded, and the entrance to the tunnel lay exposed. Jarrett and Madrion looked at each other in satisfaction, then down into the black hole. There were iron rungs placed downward, receding into the darkness, and they surmised that they would have to go down before they entered the tunnel. Gripping Jarrett's hand, Madrion swung down first, thankful that she had donned a pair of men's trousers for their escapade. Descending the iron rungs in a dress would have been out of the question. Jarrett held a small lantern which he had tucked into his belt, and now he lit it to illuminate the small tunnel. As swiftly as they could, they made their way toward Gemma's bedchamber, and paused briefly when they got there. Madrion once again fished in her little side bag, and pulled out a vial of liquid. She uncorked it, and a foul smell permeated the small area they were standing in. "Phew!" ejaculated Jarrett. "What's that?" "'Tis but the finishing spell that I concocted this afternoon. I made it as exactly like theirs as I could, that's why it smells so foul. Personally, I would never use the ingredients that they seem to favor, for they are so noxious, but I wanted the spell to be right." "Won't they know from this spell that you were here, Madrion?" "No, they cannot, because I made it like theirs. It will confuse them mightily, if they have a necromancer to investigate it. I'm sure that they do, for they would have needed one to implement the stolen spell in the first place, and to adapt it. But he cannot be very good if he had to steal a spell from me." "How do you know that he did not borrow the spell from you for the exact same reason that you're disguising your spell? What if he does not want you to know who he is, also, or the extent of his powers?" Madrion went pale. Jarrett seemed to have a sound grasp of the more concrete matters that they dealt with, and the thought that she might face a magician more powerful than herself had never occurred to her. "Let's hope not, Jarrett," she muttered, as she threw back her head and quaffed the liquid. She pointed to the ensorcelled hole and muttered a few words. The hole suddenly appeared. "Quick! Let us go!" she said to Jarrett and she pushed him through, following closely. She turned and spoke some other words, and the hole mysteriously vanished. They cautiously entered Gemma's bedchamber, drawn by the sight of a new coffin laying by the bed. They tiptoed over to it, and Madrion whispered, "The Gemstone, Jarrett. It will work now; it will find Gemma for us." Jarrett fumbled in his pocket, but before he could retrieve the stone, they heard the sound of footsteps in the hallway. They looked around wildly to see if they had time to retreat into the hole, but the steps were suddenly at the door of the bedchamber. There was no time. "Madrion! This way!" whispered Jarrett, pulling Madrion into the wardrobe with the troublesome knob. Luckily, he had often played in the room as a child, and knew exactly how to work the recalcitrant wardrobe handle. They barely had time to slip into the wardrobe when they heard the sound of the door slam. Byblyeonnae's voice was heard. She was shrieking at the top of her lungs.

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"Gruelen! Gruelen! Traitor! I'll have your head for this!" They heard the sound of the coffin being opened, and a further screech from Byblyeonnae. They heard her cry, "Guards! Guards! The prisoner is gone, as well as that fiend Gruelen. I know where they go; make haste, for we must catch them before the ceremony's done!" With that, she ran from the room, slamming it behind her as she left. Gemma gone? Ceremony? Neither Madrion nor Jarrett knew what to make of it. They crept out of the wardrobe, and stared at the now open coffin. Jarrett held up the Gemstone, and it flickered weakly. "Methinks she was kept in here," said Jarrett bitterly. "That Byblyeonnae is truly evil; she knows that Gemma is afeared of closed in spaces." "No matter now," said Madrion urgently. "We must find her before Byblyeonnae does." Jarrett agreed, "Mayhap the Gemstone will help us find her, Madrion, for she seems to have left a faint trail." "Aye, 'tis in the Aethyric. The Gemstone can pick it up, for it is finely tuned into her frequency. Let's go! We have no time to waste. We will depart the same way we came, for I have no desire to meet any of Bybleonnae's guards." "Where are we going to find her?" asked Jarrett. "I'm not certain but I think that the only place she could be is in the Temple of Aleph. Why else would Byblyeonnae say something about a ceremony?" "That sounds logical. We should see what direction she takes when she leaves the castle." "It puts my mind at rest somewhat to think that she's there. Because she's the High Priestess as well as the crowned queen, she will be able to derive great spiritual power and sustenance from being there - if she knows how to tap into its energy. But at least she will be safe, until Byblyeonnae gets there. Methinks Gemma would have had the wits about her to hide herself well." They departed the castle as swiftly as they had entered it. Madrion made Jarrett stop so that they could re-nail the door to the entrance. "But this is taking up precious time," he complained. "Perhaps it may seem so to you at the moment, but we may need it. Just because they find the murdered guard does not mean that they will know that we have found the entrance. Remember, it is ensorcelled, and they may be confident that no one could find it . . . and after we rescue Gemma, we still have to do somewhat to aid the kingdom. We may need to enter the castle again. Anyhow, Gemma is smart enough to look after herself. If she escaped as far as the Temple of Aleph, you can be sure that she knows what she's doing, and she probably won't even welcome our help." As she spoke, a carriage careened by, wildly driven by Byblyeonnae. She was standing up, and whipping the horses brutally to get them to go faster. The horses were panicked, maddened by the unrelenting whip, their eyes rolled upward into their heads. Following closely were a dozen guards on horseback, riding their mounts at an equally furious pace. "Methinks they'll beat us there," said Madrion, while Jarrett grinned at her. "Methinks not, Madrion. They are going along the road, a route that is used for the ceremonial passages to and from the castle of Madur and the Temple of Aleph. 'Tis a long and winding route, for it was designed so that all the citizens of Madur could stand by the edge and wave to the processions. It even goes by the docks! But there is a much quicker way, by foot. Instead of climbing the incline, we just use the stairs. We shall get there in half the time it takes for those buffoons to arrive with their fast horses." "That's brilliant, Jarrett," murmured Madrion. "Let's go!"

Gemma lay on the cold stone, listening to the roll of the drum which heralded the end of her existence as she knew it. She began to wonder if she had done the right thing, but felt comforted by her years of training in the Temple.

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They had ingrained in her head that the end was merely a rest for the soul. The Dark Night of the Soul, so that it may sleep, and awake in the dawn to be reborn. She knew all of that, but she had become very fond of her earthly Gemma form. Soul or no soul, Gemma would no longer exist. And that felt sad to her. And what of Byblyeonnae's Name of Office? She had obviously adopted the Madurian laws by using a Name of Office - but then, she had to, for the Peoples of the Lands would have expected no less. So she must have a Name of Power also. She wished that she had asked Tiffault what Byblyeonnae's Name of Power was; not that she would have told her. Names such as those were kept under the strictest laws of all. Any who knew them would have had to endure a binding ceremony to bind the name to their souls. Even if Tiffault had wanted to tell her, she would not have been able to. So who had told of her own Name of Power? She knew that if it had not been sullied, that she would not have been in this position. She thought back to the puzzling rhyme that Tibbs had been so certain would have proved invaluable at some time: "The time is now, the time was then Gods mingled with mortal men, The seed was sown, the die was thrown, Thay Eleana Elantra wal dorwen." Eleana! That was Byblyeonnae's Name of Power. She just knew it - it had to be! And now it was too late to tell Madrion. Gemma had recovered from her initial mistrust of the witch, finding that she had actually become quite fond of her. Now she wished that she had some way to tell her of her new discovery, but that was impossible. There was no way to halt the ceremony once it had begun. Jarrett and Madrion arrived just in time to realize the very same thing. It was against all Writs to interrupt any sacred ceremony once it had started. To do so would incur the wrath of all the Madurian Gods, and would render the Temple void of any spirituality. There was also a penalty of death for all who had partaken of the ceremony, as well as those who interrupted it. So Jarrett and Madrion just watched, agonized. Indeed, Madrion had to sometimes forcibly hold Jarrett back, for often he seemed capable of braving even the worst of penalties in order to save Gemma. "Why would she do this?" asked Madrion, in puzzled astonishment. Then she clutched Jarrett's sleeve, and said, "Methinks I know the answer to that question! Look over there, Jarrett! There's the Goblin King who escaped from my domain a short while ago. I knew that someone had to have helped him escape; now I know who. And I'll wager the kingdom that he has much to do with our Gemma laying there." All of sudden, the doors swung open and Byblyeonnae stood resplendent in full armor, looking very out of place in the serene Temple. She seemed about to stop the ceremony, when Gruelen, the Goblin King, scampered down to stand at her side. She put her hands around his neck and shook him, saying, "You traitorous scum! After all I've done for you, you sneak off with my worst foe?" "Wait awhile, Byblyeonnae," said Gruelen in his most placating voice. "She'll be dead, and you'll be the undisputed Queen of all the Lands!" "You idiot! She will only be reborn after this ceremony to take my place once she grows! 'Tis well known if you have studied the Writs of the Lands. Also, the Peoples would be protected from me! I do not want that. She can not be allowed to complete this ceremony. Guards! Stop them! Take the woman a prisoner! Guards, now!" The guards looked pale and afraid. They did not move. "Now!" she prodded them with her sword, but still they did not move. "They'll not go against the Writs and laws of their Lands, not even for their Queen," whispered Madrion. "She'll not be able to stop this." "I wish that she could, Madrion, for while Gemma's alive, there is at least some hope."

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"Hope for you, that's all, Jarrett. You're not really thinking of the kingdom." "Sometimes I resent the kingdom." "You cannot, not if you love Gemma, for Gemma is the kingdom, and the kingdom is Gemma." Jarrett looked mutinous, as they watched Byblyeonnae climb the stairs to the alter and forcibly try to remove Gemma. Gemma resisted, and Gwynyth and Tiffault came forward to restrain the Queen. They knew they would pay dearly for this when the ceremony had finished, but at the moment, they only knew they must do their duty. The last in the series of drum rolls ceased. The Temple was filled with silence. A bugle sounded, briefly, and the two Handmaidens of the Sacrificial Execution looked into each other's eyes. At a nod from one, they both flung the rocks, as hard as they could, to either side of Gemma's pale, slender neck. The sword flashed sharply, once in the air, and descended unhesitatingly onto Gemma's bare, proffered neck. There was a cry from the Handmaidens of Sacrificial Execution, and everyone in the Temple knelt instantaneously to hear the ritual incantations that suddenly, loudly, filled the room.

"There's something wrong," said Allys. "I can feel it." "You don't know that, Allys," said Roland. "But I do. I've had the ability to sense things ever since I was a little girl. Just like I can sometimes heal people with the touch of my hands." "Well, you certainly helped Morgraine. I thought that he was going to die." "Madrion's potions were what really helped him." "Somewhat - but it was only when you took his hand that I saw the will to live rekindled in him. That's a true gift." "Well, gift or no, I know that something's very wrong. I do not know how I know, but I know. What shall we do about it?" Roland shrugged. "I do not know that there is anything that we can do about it. Don't say anything of this to Ariganna, for if she thought Jarrett to be in danger she would dash off to the rescue, and who knows what that might cause." "I won't. But I'm mighty worried - aren't you?" "Methinks Gemma is a woman who knows how to take care of herself. Madrion is, too. And Jarrett could fight his way out of any skirmish. So don't worry." "You don't understand," said Allys, a tear of woe coursing down her cheek. "Gemma and Jarrett are my family, and I love them dearly. Gemma was almost my sister, for I would have married her brother Troyn. Sometimes I feel as if I already had, and I am but his grieving widow and Gemma's sorrowing sister-in-law." She looked so sad that Roland felt moved to put his arm around her. Once again, that inexplicable feeling seemed to creep over them, slowing time to a standstill. Allys was the first to move, shaking Roland's arm away. "Don't do that Roland. You've already told me the lay of your heart. 'Tis best you just leave it be." Roland stared into her eyes, and reached out to almost touch her hair. He let his hand drop just inches before reaching the mantle of whitesilk which framed her face, and taking one last long look at her, turned on his heel and walked out. Allys was left by herself in the opulent hotel room. She wished desperately that she had Madrion's knowledge of magik, for if she had the ability to scry, she would be concentrating right now on the whereabouts of her beloved Gemma. But she did not, so she would just have to wait.

Madrion and Jarrett felt a thin chain surround their necks, as they bowed their heads in prayer. Surprised and angry, Madrion invoked a powerful spell of protection for her and Jarrett, and saw it hang in the air, motionless. Try as she might, the spell refused to work. They were trapped, and Gruelen's hand lay on her head as if she were a dog. She tried to fight it off, and then realized that even her body was no longer under her

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command. The last thing she remembered was Gruelen's leering face, and his guttural voice in her ear, saying, "How does it feel, my pretty one? To be on the other side of the noose?"

In her last moments of awareness, Gemma heard faint skirmishes and raised voices in the Temple. Then she felt someone grab her wrist and try to drag her off the shrine. She resisted, and pulled away. She was now determined to go through with the ceremony to the best of her ability, and she wanted no one to deter her from her task. She heard the drum rolls, followed by a piercingly sweet blast of the bugle. The time had come. She closed her eyes, all the while repeating the ritual prayers which were part of the ceremony. Suddenly she stopped, thinking furiously. She then called out, as loud as she could, "Thay Elantra Eleana wal dorwen!" She felt, rather than heard, the throwing of the stones, and then she felt a blinding pain across her neck. She sank into the blackness of night.

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C H A P T E R Mystyere’s Return ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

1 8

Mystyere stepped through the portal that led from Echelon to Earth. He arrived inside the small cottage, right by the front door. He quickly perused his environment to see if the Tibbens were around. He heard a female voice, chattering on, and surmised that it was Glinda of the Green Circle. Uncertain of what to do, he knocked loudly on the door, even though he was already in. Glinda came hurrying around the corner, wiping her hands on an enormous apron. She almost fainted in shock when she saw Mystyere standing there. Indeed, even if she had expected him, still she would have been startled, for the piercing gray eyes that stared into hers were mesmerizing - to say the least. He was of medium height, and sparsely built, from what she could see of him. He was enveloped by a swirling gray cloak that perfectly matched the color of his eyes. Embedded in the cape were various gemstones, winking and glittering at Glinda in the light. It looked as though he was wrapped in a piece of the night sky, with the stars twinkling all around. His hair was also gray, the same color as the rest of him, and the only thing humanlooking about him were the tiny wrinkles which creased his eyes. "Greetings, fair Glinda, from a traveler who has come a long distance to aid your world," said the man in a hollow tone of voice. Glinda blinked twice, and cried desperately, "Tibbs! Tibbs! I think there's someone here to see you!" Tibbs came hurrying into the room. He stopped with astonishment when he saw Mystyere, who reassured him, "Do not worry. I have come to tell you much of great importance. But we should at least sit down before I begin, for it is a long tale that I will tell ye. I am Mystyere, Madrion's friend from the past, and I am from the same place where Ellyryran now resides. She visited your world a little while ago." "Aye, that she did," agreed Glinda. "She came through to give Madrion some important messages." "Those messages were from me. Ellyryran passed me the information, and I searched for some answers. I asked her not to tell Madrion of my intervention, for she would not have liked to know that I was aiding her; indeed, she would not have trusted the information had she known it came from me. She does not trust me." "Is there some reason that she does not trust you?" asked Tibbs warily. "She thinks there is, but I swear to you that there is not. I shall prove that to you, if we can just sit down." Glinda nodded uncertainly, and then led Mystyere into the living room next to the warm fire. "Before you begin your tale, let me offer you some sustenance. You look fair tired, and methinks you could use a spot of brandy and a nice hot cup of tea." Mystyere grinned, suddenly taking years off of his face. "I have heard of your hospitality, Glinda, 'tis legendary where I come from! If anyone wants to set a fair table at home, they say they will “set a table like Glinda's”. You and Tibbs are both revered in my country for your hospitality." "Why is that?" asked Glinda in awe. She had never been revered before in her life, and certainly not by an entire strange country.

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"Well, that is all a part of my story, Glinda. I have known of you folk for a very long time. The reason you are so well known in my world is that you have brought up my son as your own. I entrusted the care of him to you, so that an ancient prophecy might come true. I did this to save your world and all its Peoples and souls from annihilation. Do you not remember my servant, Gareth Eathrow?" Glinda gasped. "Gareth Eathrow? What do you know of him?" she asked incredulously. "I was the man who sent him to you. All the portents pointed to the fact that you would be instrumental in the plan. I sent him to you, and you accepted him, as well as my precious son and the cottages." "Oh!" Glinda and Tibbs were beyond words. "I had to give him up, for he was born for the express purpose of slaying one who sleeps for a thousand years. His time is late; he was scheduled to enter your world about a thousand of your Earthen years ago, before the beast slept, but things happened to prevent that outcome. Because of that, there has been bloodshed and pain in the Lands of Madur, Talies and the Northlands. I understand that the Queen lies branded a traitor by her own sister who has wrongfully claimed the throne." Glinda nodded her head sorrowfully. "Aye, that poor little lass. She has had to see much pain and evil in her short life." "Well, I am here to implement a plan that was evolved by the Gods of the Lands centuries ago. I believe that it will also be of some aid to the Queen. But I must hurry will you lend me a horse? It is imperative that I catch up with Madrion. I would have come through with Ellyryran, but I was too far away at the juxtapositions of the moons, and I had to complete the task which I had undertook . . . for it has somewhat to do with Earth's plight. When did Madrion leave?" "She left some days ago, but you will overtake her quickly enough if you ride hard. Methinks she is afeard of horses, for she sets such a slow pace. We will lend you two mounts, so you can trade your weight back and forth between them, and thus make greater time. Do you know the way?" Mystyere nodded. "It has not changed since I was here last. At that time your Earth was just settling back to order, for there were disasters of major proportions when the end came. I came by late enough that the Earth had stopped shaking the fleas off of her back, and had lain down to slumber again. The road to Madur was formed at that time, and I know that it is the same route, for I have consulted with Ellyryran." "Very good, then. Let us go and select your mounts." An hour later, Mystyere was on his way, his knapsack tucked full of Glinda's famous pies. He thundered through the small villages and towns, noting the general apathy and resignation which seemed to mark the brows of all the Peoples he saw. The portents were coming true with a vengeance. He calculated that he would have to ride at least for a day to catch up with Madrion, if he rode swiftly. As the sun shrank beneath the horizon, he raised his eyes to behold the brushes of dusk paint the horizon with bold strokes of cobalt and rust. He now had the choice of whether to continue through the night in unfamiliar territory, or to stop at the small town which loomed in the distance. He decided to throw caution to the winds and brave a night of travel. He could catch up with Madrion by late afternoon. He spurred his horse on, and veered toward the right fork in the road up ahead. He cantered steadily, munching on his supper as he rode. The night continued to thicken, and a somnolent mood overtook him, though he tried to keep his eyes open by singing small ditties he had heard from here and there. He was in the middle of Rum Tum Tiddling, The Pig's A'Fiddling when suddenly something heavy and rank dropped over him, enveloping both him and his horse. "What the . . . ?" he exclaimed, at last wide awake. "Don't move, 'tis a fish net, a fish net, and if you damage it you'll pay for it with your life! Your life! I have a knife, a knife and so does Jaecle."

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"Aye, that I do," cried the mysterious Jaecle. "Don't I, Uncle?" "Didn't I just say, say, that you do?" asked Uncle in irritation. "Come, no more time, no more time. Let us bundle him up. We'll bundle him up!" So saying, Mystyere felt iron-hard fists grab hold of his wrists. Pulling the fish net over his head, the hands tied his wrists viciously behind his back. He was just wondering what spell he would use to get loose when a pungent rag was passed over his nostrils. He passed out cold.

Mystyere awoke to a pounding head and aching limbs. He was tied up with ropes in such a manner that he could not move even a finger; indeed, he felt like a caterpillar in a cocoon, so tightly wound were his bonds. At least he could blink his eyes, and the first things he spied were Uncle and Jaecle, munching happily on what was left of Glinda's pies. It was now afternoon, for the sun was high, and Mystyere could feel its warmth through his snugly wrapped cords. Green strands of leafiness caressed his brow and occasionally impeded his vision, depending on the whims of the gentle breeze which blew through the wood. "Hey! I say!" he croaked, for his vocal chords seemed to be paralyzed. Apparently, they still weren't working well enough to catch the attention of the two thieves greedily devouring their stolen repast. Mystyere tried again. "Hey!" Still no response. He decided to use a more reliable method. He closed his eyes, concentrated, and opened them to find Uncle and Jaecle about to bite into two startled rattlesnakes. He grinned at their squeals and cries of horror, and watched them speedily throw the rattlers to the ground, and cling to each other like two frightened children. It seemed the opportune moment to try reaching them again. "Hey! Hey, you!" he called, his voice gaining some measure of strength by his third try. Uncle and Jaecle only clung closer together, whimpering and whining and glancing around nervously. It was as if they had completely forgotten the presence of Mystyere, and thought the voice to be reaching them from either the heavens or the bowels of the earth. "Over here! Your prisoner!" At that they jumped, and taking one last frightened look into each other's eyes, cautiously swiveled their eyeballs toward Mystyere's direction. "What do you want? What do you want?" hollered Uncle with deep suspicion. "Only that you free me. I will give you money to buy more food if you do." "You have no money," sneered Jaecle. "We searched. Didn't we, Uncle?" "That's right, that's right, no money, no money. Do you think we're stupid? Are we stupid?" Mystyere sighed. It might be more difficult than he had anticipated, getting away from these two. He did not want to use any degree of great magik, for it could be traced in the Aethyr - and he did not want any to know that he had entered the realms of the Earthenworld again. He decided to try another approach. It would either work, or it would make Jaecle and Uncle incensed enough to attempt to murder him. "I caused the snakes to come to you. I caused the snakes," he said experimentally. His ploy seemed to work, for Uncle turned his head to look at him with new respect. "You caused the snakes to come, to come?" he asked, almost fondly. "Aye, I caused the snakes to come, to come," Uncle now smiled hugely. "Jaecle! This man caused the snakes to come, to come," he said happily. "I thought that we were cursed, cursed, but it was only him, it was only him." "Was it only him, Uncle?" asked Jaecle hopefully. "Aye, aye, 'twas only him, only him." Mystyere thought it appropriate to interrupt at this point, for the stimulating conversation seemed to promise much cogitation for the participants. "I am a sorcerer. I am a sorcerer," he said simply, and watched fright scuttle across Uncle's face, to land on the simple features of Jaecle. "Is he a sorcerer?" asked Jaecle anxiously. "That's what he says, Jaecle. Jaecle, that's what he says." "Shall we kill him then, Uncle?"

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"Nay, nay, we cannot kill him, kill him. But we must not untie him, we must not untie him, for he will turn us into rabbits. He will turn us into rabbits." "Will he turn us into rabbits, Uncle?" "That's what I said, Jaecle, that's what I said! Why don't you listen? Why don't you listen! Do I have to repeat myself, repeat myself?" "Do you have to repeat yourself, Uncle?" asked Jaecle quietly. Mystyere had had enough of this inane conversation. He realized that he was getting nowhere with these two. He closed his eyes, and concentrated. Slowly, the cords that bound him started to unravel, swaying sensuously in the air as he became free. He could hear squeals of distress which emanated from his two wouldbe capturers, and heard them thunderously racing through the woods at a breakneck speed. Presently, after much hard work, Mystyere was able to at least free his hands, and unravel the rest of the cords manually. He cursed his evil luck, and his decision to travel through the night. He had lost almost a whole, precious day. Listening intently, he heaved a sigh of relief. At least the two thieves had not stolen his horses, for he could hear them whickering softly in the distance. He continued to unravel the cords. It had taken him almost three hours of concentration and hard work to release himself, but he prided himself that his magik would be almost indiscernible - unless someone was in the exact spot and looking for Mystyere's own particular brand of magik. Cautiously, he stood up, flexing his muscles. A bit of soreness, but bearable. He limped over to where he could hear the horses grazing, and patted them softly. They seemed no worse for wear - evidently the thieves had left them alone. He pulled himself onto the saddle and devoutly thanked Lady Luck. He hoped that the delay had not caused great damage to his plans, but only time would tell that now. He spurred his horses on, riding as swiftly as he dared. The cramps which spasmodically clutched his muscles, due to laying bound for such a long time, caused him to question his ability to ride. Nonetheless, he made some speed, and though he was nowtoo far behind Madrion to catch up to her, he reasoned that he should still be in good time. After all, how much trouble could she get into in just a day?

Gemma struggled to get a grip on her surroundings. She must now be in the Aethyric and composed of pure energy - waiting for the dawn of her soul so that she could make a re-entry into the world she had just so dramatically left. But she was in a mighty lot of pain for a being of pure energy. All she could feel was a heavy weight pressing down on her vocal cords. Groggily, she opened her eyes, blinked twice, and then focused. Nothing had changed. She still lay on the altar, and in the recesses of her vision, she could see Madrion and Jarrett kneeling in front of several guards, with ropes around their necks. All around, the chanting had stopped, as row upon row of Handmaidens began to realize that their Queen Gemma was still alive. Many crossed themselves in superstitious awe, and some were even crying. Not so Byblyeonnae. When she realized that the Gods had refused the Queen's sacrifice, she turned white with terror. Even from a distance, she could see what had happened. Instead of the edge of the sword landing on Gemma's neck and severing it from her body, the entire blade had fallen sideways, so that the flat part of the blade now lay across her throat, leaving her gasping for air, but definitely alive. She could hear murmurings around her, people whispering things like 'miracle', and ' 'tis the true Queen'. Her fear kept growing, rising up through her stomach like red-hot coals burning a hole through her soul. Tiffault and Gwynyth rushed to Gemma's side and carefully raised the sword. There were two long lines on her neck dripping blood, where the edges of the razor- sharp sword had pierced her flesh, but she was otherwise unharmed. They helped her to a

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sitting position, and she looked around they room. All she saw were faces frozen in disbelief, and some with fear. "Release those prisoners!" she croaked, with as commanding a voice as she could muster. "I am the Queen Gemma, your anointed Queen of Madur, Talies and all of the Northlands. Release them at once, and arrest the false Queen Byblyeonnae, and her consort, the Goblin King Gruelen." The terrified guards rushed to do her bidding. In one fell swoop, Gemma had managed to convince everyone in the room of not only her status as the true Blood Queen of the Lands, but also of the treachery of Byblyeonnae's claim. Not one doubted her; after all, they had all witnessed the miracle. Madrion and Jarrett were set free, and they rushed to enfold Gemma in their arms. There were even tears in the cold-hearted Madrion's eyes. The guards then looked around for the false Byblyeonnae; she was nowhere to be found, and neither was Gruelen. They were bewildered, but Madrion spoke up. "They have vanished into the Outerlands. There is a Goblin kingdom there, and no doubt there are some who will shelter them. That they have had help is obvious; there was much magik in the noose they laid around my neck. Someone powerful is at the root of all this, someone with powerful magik. I do not know who would have the skill to perform these tasks, but I will certainly begin a great study of the methods, and I will find the necromancer involved. He will have left traces in the Aethyric. I will find them." So saying, Madrion scooped the noose out of the guard's hands, and stormed off. "We must let the Peoples know that you are back, Queen Gemma. They must also know something of the most foul plot to ruin your name and reputation," said Gwynyth. "I will make an announcement to all and sundry, that they will know of the treachery that you and they have endured. We will after all have an extravagant ceremony to name you to Office. There is nothing in the writs to say that the ceremony cannot be performed twice. The Peoples need this, for they have suffered much, and they need to know that the Kingdom is now under control. A beautiful ceremony will give them hope. I also have a list in my head of all that were traitorous to you. You must have them hanged as a token of your commitment to your loyal citizens." Gemma looked dazed. Only moments ago, she had believed that she had descended to the Dark Night of her Soul; now, she was once again the crowned Queen of the Lands. She had to gather her thoughts swiftly; now was not the time to prevaricate. "Aye, call a general assembly; I will address the Peoples myself. I will also call to execution all who were traitorous to me and my reign. But I will not arbitrarily hang anyone - all will come to a fair trial, as the Laws demanded by my father's reign established." Gwynyth looked duly impressed. In an instant, Gemma seemed to have donned the aura of her ancient predecessors. The majestic powers of fabled pasts flowed through her veins, and Gwynyth thought, now, here's a Queen to be proud of. She looked at Gemma closely, and realized that what the young woman was most in need of was some rest. "Come, Queen Gemma," she said, "I will prepare a room for you to sleep in; you may rest safe and secure there." Gemma looked at her old friend with affection. The offer sounded good, but there were too many things to be done. "Nay, Gwynyth, I can not. I must return to my hotel, for Allys is waiting there, and will be worried indeed. I must go now." Gwynyth looked at her fondly. It was so good to have her back.

Gemma returned to the hotel with Jarrett. There was time enough to let her Peoples know abut her return. Now she had to find out if there was further danger from Byblyeonnae. She would have felt so much safer if they could just have arrested her twin sister, but she had quickly realized that that was too simplistic a solution.

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Byblyeonnae was far too clever to have been simply arrested; she would of course have had many alternate plans in case anything had gone wrong. The Queen Gemma no longer had any doubt that Byblyeonnae was responsible for the murders of her brothers; but she realized that she must have had a great deal of help to accomplish so complex a mission. Now she had to talk to Madrion. "How did you find me, Jarrett?" she asked, as their horses picked their way through to the Royal House hotel. "Well it was just that Byblyeonnae mentioned ceremony, and we figured out that she must have been talking about the Temple. It was just sheer luck that we found you, for if we had had to rely on the Gemstone, it would have taken too long. Not that it would have mattered, for you seemed to have managed to take care of yourself remarkably well," Jarrett responded, a trifle glumly. His visions of riding splendidly to his beloved Gemma's aid lay splintered about his feet, and he was not thrilled. Gemma sensed his thoughts, and said reassuringly, "You have no idea how glad I was to see you and Madrion there in the Temple. I think that that was one of the reasons that Byblyeonnae disappeared, 'twas that I was not alone. Had I been by myself, she might have dared much - but she is frightened of Madrion, I believe." Jarrett looked even more distressed by this statement, and Gemma hastily added, "And Madrion would not have been there in time if you had not shown her the way. Also, the guards know your face and your reputation well, and they were mighty afeard of what you would have done to them had they not complied with my request. So, while Madrion's presence took care of Byblyeonnae, yours inspired fear in the Guards. So between the two of you, you managed to ensure my safety." Jarrett did not look much more pleased; he had seen through Gemma's feeble attempt to mollify him. He could feel his temper rising, for he hated being patronized, and he was still disturbed by Gemma's decision to take the Sacrificial Rite. "Why did you do it, Gemma?" he asked gruffly. "I don't really know. I felt I had to. 'Twas when I was laying in the coffin that it came to me. Romul had told me . . . " "Romul!" Gemma nodded and replied, "Aye, 'tis a device from the time when the time clock was made. 'Tis not alive, but it has a mind. 'Tis most peculiar. It told me that I had everything I needed to save myself right in my own head, 'twas just that I had to know how to use it. I was thinking about that, when all of a sudden, it seemed that I was compelled to offer the sacred Rite of Sacrifice. I had no idea at the time that my life would be spared. 'Twas the same compulsion I felt to shout out the last line from the verse we learned from the Tibbens’. I know not why I did it, but I did. 'Tis most strange." "No stranger than all we've experienced these past times." "You're right," Gemma agreed, and companionably took Jarrett's hand. She leaned over and kissed him softly for a few brief seconds.

As they neared the hotel a window was suddenly flung open with great ferocity. Ariganna's head popped out, shrieking angrily, "You leave him alone, you hussy! He's mine! All mine!" As her head next disappeared completely from the window, they could only assume that the Faerie had decided to come to the door to greet them. Jarrett sighed in resignation. "Here we go again, " he remarked. Gemma said with asperity, "Serves you right!" and the moment was lost between them. Ariganna came immediately running out of the hotel to possessively claim what was hers. "Jarrett! My love! I was so scared that something had happened to you. Come with me, I wish to sing you the song that I've composed especially for you." Jarrett looked at

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her, his eyes unfathomable. He seemed to be about to say something, then changed his mind and submissively followed the Faerie princess. Gemma followed them, and entered their suite to find Madrion poring over some ancient looking books. Her scrying orb was next to one elbow, and the thin magikal cord that Byblyeonnae had used to bind her neck was in her hand. She looked worried. "Methinks Byblyeonnae has some powerful help behind her," she said. "That vanishing trick she performed at the Temple took a bit of magik, I'll tell you. And I can find no traces in the Aethyric on this cord. It baffles and frightens me, for this is impossible. There must be some sort of trace, but there is none." Gemma sat down. "Perhaps they have just developed an invisibility spell to hide the traces, " she suggested unhelpfully. Madrion smiled. "Nay, for if they had, I would have found the traces of the invisibility spell." "Perhaps not leaving traces is a trace in itself. No doubt that eliminates most any necromancer that you know. All you have to do is figure out who's left." Madrion shook her head. "There's none. 'Tis just impossible, that's what. There's just one who may be able to ferret out the information we seek." Madrion closed her eyes, remembering Ellyryran's painful message about the amulet, and the path that Roland was now to embark on. She fingered the amulet at her neck, and made her decision. "Where's Roland? We've much work to do." Gemma paused at the door, about to go look for him, when she decided to ask Madrion what had happened as she lay on the alter. "‘Twas the verse that you called out, Gemma. That, as well as your destiny, cloaked you like a shroud. You must fulfill the role you were meant to play. There are some old tales about the Abriam, and his human sacrifice of his beloved son. 'Tis reputed that because it was made in good faith, that the Gods refused his sacrificial offer and granted his wishes anyway. Perhaps that was what happened to you. “Do not think much on it, Gemma, for ‘tis not wise to dwell on the decisions of the Gods. 'Twas a miracle, and accept it as such. Everyone else has done so. Now, fetch Roland for me. We have some important matters to discuss." Gemma trotted off to find Roland and tell him that Madrion had summoned him. Madrion greeted Roland as he poked his head around the door. "Well met, my friend. Once more, we must work together." Roland smiled sheepishly. He had many feelings for the witch, but he was no longer sure exactly what those feelings were. However, one thing he knew without a doubt was that he and his witch friend would be close until they day they died. "What is it you need from me now, Madrion? I shall be happy to help in any way I can, but I do not think that I will be of much use to you in the search ahead. I know that it is not finished, that soon we will face further assault from the would-be-Queen. “The time will come when we will probably be forced to battle for the Lands; but until that time, when I will be able to raise a sword to shield the Peoples, I had thought that my services to you would no longer be required. I really believed that you would be too busy to help me further with my quest for knowledge." "Aye, that is true. This time, it is you who must help me." Slowly, she unbuttoned the top buttons of her blouse, as Roland swallowed hard. "Come here," she commanded, and Roland walked towards her like a man in his sleep. She pulled out the fine silver chain that fastened the amulet around her neck, and motioned to Roland to undo it. With trembling fingers, he tugged at the stubborn clasp, and the chain slithered into the palm of his hand. He handed it to Madrion, and she took it and stared at it sorrowfully. The loss of the powers that the amulet could have bestowed on her was a great blow. She gestured to Roland to lean over, and she fastened it around his neck. "Why do you give this back to me now, Madrion? We will not be apart as we were before, so that I might need it."

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"You do not understand, Roland," Madrion explained. "It is now yours. I have found out many a thing about it since I gave it to you. Apparently, I no longer have a claim to it. It has become yours, and with it you may be able to scourge the kingdom of the evil that has dogged its trail for many years now." Roland looked startled. "Do you mean that I have a chance to save the kingdom on my own? How is that possible? I have no great skill in the arts!" "I know, and don't think that I'm not upset by the whole process. I had the key to my dreams right here in my hands, and I casually gave it up. “That amulet will allow you to gaze into the Heavens and view eternity, whenever you wish. I would have given my soul to experience such joy, even for an instant." Madrion's stricken look was more than enough to give away her feelings. Roland was silent. He had heard rumors of devices such as the amulet, but he had never really believed that they had existed. He could not now believe that he was heir to the marvelous powers which it seemed to promise. He could feel Madrion's pain however, and he moved to enfold her in his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder, and fought to keep her tears from falling. Since Mystyere, she had never wanted and worked so hard for anything in her life as she had for the powers. She had dedicated her life to their quest, and now they had been cruelly denied her. There was a light knock on the door, which neither of them noticed, and then the door opened. Allys walked in, with Mystyere following closely behind her. They both paused as they saw the couple embracing, and there was an instant when Madrion's eyes met Mystyere's with horror, and Allys's eyes met Roland's with somber acceptance. As Roland and Madrion moved apart, Allys said, "This man's looking for you, Roland." "Roland?" Madrion cried. "You're looking for Roland?" "Aye, Madrion," said Mystyere, his eyes holding hers. Madrion stared at him, feeling an emotion that felt familiar, but that she could not name. Her brain settled the matter for her, however, for it shut off and she fell crumpled to the floor. Allys rushed over to her, massaging her forehead with her fingertips. Madrion's flickered open, and then, locking on Mystyere, she passed out once again. "Let's get her to her room," suggested Roland. He picked Madrion up as though she weighed no more than a feather, and carried her to her bedchamber. "Stay with her, Allys," he commanded, and ignoring Allys's icy looks, said to Mystyere, "Let us go back to the drawing room, sir. We can discuss there whatever it is that you wish to discuss." Mystyere cast a longing look at Madrion, her red-gold hair spilling over the brocaded bedcloth, and followed Roland. When they arrived in the drawing room, Roland rang the bell-pull. "I will offer you some refreshment before we settle in," he said. Mystyere looked at him and smiled. "I can see that you have your parents' gift of hospitality," he commented. Roland replied, "Aye, they always did believe that they were not only providing sustenance for the body, but that good food, lovingly prepared and offered, nourished the soul as well both of the giver and the taker." "They were wise indeed. That is why . . . " he stopped himself. "Why what?" asked Roland idly, as he thought of what sort of tea his strange visitor might like. He already knew that the man was the fabled Mystyere, from the tales Madrion had told him. He seemed to have caught his guest unawares, however, for Mystyere stammered, "W . . . w . . . h . . . y? Oh, that's why . . . that's why . . . I went to them first, before I found you." Mystyere's manner had succeeded in capturing Roland's attention. The man seemed definitely uneasy about something.

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"Oh. You saw Tibbs and Glinda? Are they well?" Mystyere looked totally miserable. "They were quite fine." Roland finally took pity on him and asked, "What's the matter? Is it Madrion? There's nothing between us, if that's what you're worried about . . ." If possible, Mystyere looked even more miserable than before, as he shook his head. Just then, there was a loud knock on the door, and they both jumped. Roland quickly recovered his composure and gratefully went to answer the knock. The tension that surrounded Mystyere was getting too uncomfortable for his liking. He ordered hot tea and strong brandy, and congratulated himself on devising a fine tea menu all on his own. Knitting his brows, he returned to find Mystyere wringing the life out of a delicate lawn handkerchief, one that looked suspiciously like Madrion's, the embroidered M in the corner of it giving away nothing. Roland felt smugly vindicated in his assessment of the cause of Mystyere's obvious discomfort, and he felt a surge of pride that the fabled Mystyere had found his lost love intertwined in his, Roland's, arms. It had a ring of justification, somehow. So he was not surprised when Mystyere said, "I think that you had better sit down, Roland, for I have something of great importance to tell you." Mystyere looked at him, then hummed and hawed, until he finally seemed to be about to say something else when another loud knock was heard at the door. He flung his hands up in despair as Roland jumped up to fetch the tea which had just arrived. Roland brought the tray in, and Mystyere's eyes alighted gleefully on the brandy. Without waiting for Roland, he poured himself a generous glassful, downed it, refilled his glass, then sat down. The brandy seemed to have given him the necessary courage, for, as soon as Roland was settled, he said in a rush of words. "I've something to tell you, Roland, and it's likely to be upsetting to you. I did not mean to hurt you, and never to desert you. But though you were born of my blood, you did not belong to me. I had to do what I did. Madrion had a part in the plan also, but she did not fulfill her promise to the Gods, and consequently, there has been much grief and sorrow throughout your Earthenworld because of her self-will. Because of what she did or, rather, did not do, your world would have been doomed had I not tried to salvage at least some of the plan. It has taken me centuries, but I finally accomplished most of what I had to do. Now it is up to you." Roland went white with fear. This was the second time within the space of one hour that a powerful necromancer had told him that the future of the Lands was in his hands. He did not want to hear it. But Mystyere was by no means finished, "So you now see why I could not keep you with me. Your destiny lies on this Earthenworld. But I did not desert you. I sent Gareth Eathrow through the portal to check on you, whenever the moons synchronized. He also left hidden in the flower box, in the front of the cottage, a device by which I could always scry you, even through worlds. And when you went away from the cottage, I used other means. Did you never see a whirlwind of emotion, rising high in the sky?" Roland shook his head dumbly. He had never even heard of such a thing. "It was just I, using my love for you to travel to your world. 'Twas difficult, and once I almost died from it. That was the time when you used the amulet to summon Madrion. The dragon that lay in wait for you knew your future; knew that you would use the amulet. You did not protect yourself that night, and it decided to come early for you and your friends to feed its offspring. “It knew that it could have done that, for there were no significant events between that time and when it planned to take you. But I was with you, and I fought with its mind. It left me near death, and I was never so angry with you than I was that night. To go to sleep with no watch!"

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Throughout this tirade, Roland had sat in shock. He had grasped somewhat of what Mystyere was trying to tell him, but most of it was too momentous to sink in. "Do you mean to say, sir," he croaked, "that you're my father?" Mystyere looked at him sheepishly. "Yes, Roland. That is exactly what I mean to say." "So who's my mother?" he squeaked. "I'm afraid that she's no longer alive. She was of this Earthenworld; she had to be. Your mother was supposed to have been Madrion, and you were to have been born a thousand years ago, to slay the beast. “But one night, Madrion just refused to have anything to do with me, and she would not tell me why. I tried and tried, but to no avail. I believe that she became so enamored of the power I showed her that she was seduced by it, and put it and herself first. But she cannot escape her destiny so easily. Even now, I hear that the power the amulet could have bestowed on her, the power she wanted so desperately, is no longer available to her. “In her folly and pride, she has given the amulet to you. Now, she will never have that which she has hungered for these years, and we will still have to fulfill our original destiny; that of teaching you of the powers, so that you will be able to slay the beast, as it has been foretold since the beginning of time. We can none of us avoid our original fates." "But how can this be? If that happened a thousand years ago, how could Madrion have been my mother?" "There is much about the witch that you do not know. She keeps everything secret everything that she can, however. But if you wish to know more about her, you must ask her yourself." " Not likely! I know her temper! But I just cannot believe that this is happening," said Roland. "I always assumed that my parents were dead. To see you now, after all this time . . . I don't know what to say . . . what to feel." "I know. I hated to do this to you, but it was the only way. You see, our world's destiny is inextricably bound up with this one. It has been that way in eternity. We have often sent help to this Earthenworld, and in return, the Earthenworld has sent help to us. They have just recently sent one who will be a great magician and prophet - Bronwyn and her tutor, Ellyryran, to grace our Temples with their presence. "But the main difference between our worlds is that the Peoples of the Earthenworld have no idea that Echelon exists, and they hold magik in suspicion. On the other hand, the Peoples of Echelon revere great magik, and they are aware of all the happenings in the Earthenworld. In Echelon, my . . . our world, your actions have been viewed with great reverence, and our Peoples have followed all that has happened with fear and trepidation. When mistakes are made, or hopes not followed, they are sorely grieved, not only for your world, but for ours. If your world is destroyed, so will ours be. That is why you've been sent, and why I'm here." "Does Madrion know?" Mystyere shook his head despondently. "No. I had no authorization to tell her before, and now I do not know how to. I fear that she has drawn away completely from me." "Perhaps we don't need to tell her, " offered Roland hopefully. "Oh, we have to, now," Mystyere said glumly. "That’s a part of the reason that I have returned. She must know of the synchronicity of the worlds, for therein lies the means to save them. The evil that has awoken in the Eathenwold has now at last penetrated ours. That was one of his original goals, to destroy our world as well as the Earthenworld, and to capture all the souls for his kingdom. “But in order to do so, all must come to him willingly. He knows that he must hide his true nature, or no one would look twice in his direction. He is a master of duplicity, and is skilled in deceit, so he has made clever plans.

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“He has found a way into our world. It will be the beginning of the end times for us if we do not end it here, before he has time to infiltrate our Peoples. Bronwyn will be of great help, but she will not be enough. You must be the one to destroy the beast, Roland. Then you must rule the Lands." Roland gulped several times. "What about Gemma?" he asked. "Oh, she will fulfill her Reign of Office. It will be after that that you will ascend to the throne." At Roland's puzzled look, he said. "You, too, will have a long life, though not as long as Madrion's."

"I hear my name. Are you talking about me?" asked Madrion, entering the room. She regarded the guilty countenances staring at her, and sat down. She seemed more or less recovered from her previous fainting episode. "So, Mystyere. We meet again. I hope that the outcome is more pleasant this time." Mystyere looked as though he had swallowed a goldfish. He tried to speak, but squeaked instead. "I came to let you know that the evil which has awoken on your world has been destined to infiltrate mine. We must destroy it." "So, what do you think I've been trying to do with it? Play jump-rope?" Mystyere literally cringed at the sarcastic tone in her voice. "Well, yes, I know, I meant . . . perhaps Roland will fill you in, I find that I am suddenly tired, and could use some rest," with which he rapidly escaped through the door. Left to brave Madrion alone, Roland muddled through as best he could, scared into silence many a time by the ferocious frown on the witch's face. She said nothing, however, and just listened blankly. When he had stammered out the last of the information which Mystyere had imparted to him, Madrion rose dramatically. She kicked the empty chair that Mystyere had sat on and tossed herself out of the door. Roland could hear her bawling, "Mystyere! Mystyere! Where in the realms of Hell are you?" He thought it mighty strange that the usually controlled and serene Madrion should lose it like this. She must have located their visitor, however, for her cries suddenly halted and nothing more was heard. In actuality, she had stormed into her room and collected her scrying orb. She then located Mystyere, who was genuinely trying to find some peace and quiet. She shook him roughly, then called up the image of that fateful night when he had offered her services to Korda. She stood in front of him as he watched, her feet tapping madly, her arms tightly crossed. "So, what is your excuse for that loathsome behavior?" she demanded. He looked at her, with one eyebrow raised. "You've waited a thousand years to ask me this?" he asked. Madrion's tapping foot slowed down, as she began to realize how ridiculous it seemed to be holding the grudge of a broken-hearted young girl for so long. This confrontation was not going as well as it had in her dreams. But she had no intention of backing down. "That doesn't matter. You owe me an explanation." "Why couldn’t you have asked me this then? Was this why you sent me away?" cried Mystyere, aghast. "Of course." "You silly witch." Madrion cringed at his use of the term. He had always used to call her his witch before. Before . . . "Well, that's nonsense. I was instructed to tell Korda those things to gain his confidence. He was never supposed to survive to this time, our son was destined to kill him. But we had no son, because you sent me away without even checking about the reason of my words! Did you love me so little, then?"

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"Nay, Mystyere. I loved you too much." "Too little or too much, 'tis all the same now. The beast has had Korda at his disposal for a thousand years, and has taught him much. He is now a powerful foe, and word has it that he has become the beast himself. ‘Tis rumored that upon awakening, the beast took Korda's form." Madrion felt hot tears course down her cheeks. "Aye, that he did," she whispered, remembering. Angrily, she wiped her unfamiliar tears away. She had not cried in over a thousand years. She had also not felt anything else for that long time. She had frozen all of her feelings. That was how she had kept herself sane. Now, the tears would not stop, no matter how hard she tried. Mystyere looked at her with concern, and reached to place an arm over her shoulder. She shook him away, but her tears would not stop falling. Mystyere tried again to comfort her, but with a second rebuff, he turned on his heel and left the room. He didn't think that he could allow this woman to push him away too many more times. It hurt too much.

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C H A P T E R Roland’s Initiation ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

1 9

Later that evening, everyone gathered in the dining room for supper. Mystyere had been introduced to the others, and his story re-told to an awed audience. He now seemed a well-known friend. By this time, Madrion had recovered from the shock of seeing her old lover, and was now prepared to talk about the pressing concerns of the day. "The strange thing is, there are no traces of the magik that Byblyeonnae used in the Aethyric. 'Tis impossible." "It cannot be impossible if it happened," pointed out Gemma. "Aye, there must be some explanation we overlooked," said Roland. "When we encounter what seems to be impossible, then we must eliminate all instances that really are impossible,” stated Mystyere flatly. "That was what I taught you, Madrion, in your simple logic lessons. Now, we know that all magik has repercussions. Right?" "Right." "Then it stands to reason that the repercussions simply cannot be read by you." Madrion gaped at him. "What do you mean?" she asked acidly. "No offense! But if the magik was worked by an Immortal, you would not be able to find traces in the Aethyric." A God! But that was not possible! It was redundant. Why would a God need to practice magik? "But if it were . . ." said Madrion slowly " . . . the traces would manifest themselves in another plane. We would not be able to track them. Korda is the only Immortal we know who seems to have a vested interest in these circumstances. I have talked to the Goddess of Ice. Her grand-daughter, Byblyeonnae, merely blackmailed her into helping her ascend the throne. Why would Korda care about Byblyeonnae being on the throne? He is an Immortal, after all, and has no interest in human affairs." "When Gods mingled with mortal men," quoth Allys softly, and they all turned to stare at her in dismay. Mystyere nodded his head, "You're right, Allys. That was the verse which was a part of Roland's heritage. It was quoted to me by an old seer who presided at Roland's birth.” "'Twas the verse that saved my life," said Gemma. "That was a part of the reason that your life was spared, Gemma. You showed a faith in the Gods by quoting that line. If you had not, your birthing into the dawn of your soul would have been as painful as your exit, and you would still be called upon to fulfill your destiny. Only it would have taken much longer, and you may have been too late to save our worlds. So you may thank the Gods that you invoked the power - though I believe that your incantation was destined, too." "But if so much is destined, why do we need to do anything?" asked Ariganna impatiently, clinging to Jarrett's arm for dear life. Much of the conversation was above her limited brainpower, but she understood that Jarrett was involved . . . and what involved Jarrett concerned her too. She was also interested in Korda's part of the proceedings, having spent so much time at his side as his punching bag.

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"Well," said Mystyere, taking the young Faerie seriously. "I know that 'tis a difficult concept to grasp, but 'tis equally difficult to describe. The best way that I can do so is to describe an ant farm. "Within an ant farm, each ant is busy doing that which it was born to do. If it does not, the farm will perish. And no matter how hard it tries, the ant can never leave the farm, for 'tis encased in a glass box. Now, the box is the equivalent to our universe. Beyond and around and in our universe, other planes exist, just as air exists within the ant farm, or the table it stands on without, or the sunlight around. Now, the ants must fulfill their destiny in order to survive, but they are not aware that that is what they are doing. Now do you understand?" he asked Ariganna. She stared at him in horror. "You're mad!" she finally said, and tossed her hair. She had understood nothing of his discourse. He shrugged, and gave up. He was rapidly beginning to size up the company in the small dining room. "But what shall we do?" asked Gemma in despair. "We need do nothing, for Roland here will be the one who must brave the elements, and claim his right to the Ancient Powers of Neutrality." "What are those?" asked Allys fearfully. Madrion glanced at Allys's worried little face and answered, "They are Powers that belong to the Gods only. They are beyond good and evil, and are more powerful than both. For good to exist, evil must exist also. That's why the Gods are not good, for the concept of evil will never enter their kingdom. What they are has no name. That is why necromancers call them the Powers of Neutrality. There is no moral value in them, and their worth is greater than the greatest good. They just are." "Are what?" pressed Allys. "Just that. They are. They exist. That's all, yet that's everything. 'Tis what I've aspired to all my life, and have never been disciplined enough to achieve. Now Roland is just about to inherit it as his birthright!" "The meridian of the moon is at the tenth zenith tonight," whispered Mystyere, and Madrion gasped, "So Roland could conceivably be initiated into the Ancient Powers of Neutrality right away, if we but had the sword!" "We do have the sword, dear Madrion. We have always had it. It is here." He reached over to his son's neck and pulled forth the old amulet. The golden sword in the talisman gleamed and winked beneath the silvered serpent. "All that we need do now is free it from its resting place. It has known all along where to hide itself. The amulet has belonged to me since I was born, until I gave it to you, and you gave it to Roland. So now we have everything we need to initiate him. That's why I was so anxious to get here in time, for the eleventh zenith of the moon's meridian is not due for years. We must do it now, ready or not, or it will be too late." "But it could kill him, for he does not know enough of the arts," protested Madrion. "I think he does,” said Mystyere quietly. "I am willing to try, anyway. If I'm killed, so be it," offered Roland resolutely. "Then we've plenty of work to do before midnight tonight. Nay, Roland, sit," said Mystyere, "You'll need your strength, so eat, then rest. Madrion and I will make the initial preparations. You just be ready by twenty-one." "Twenty-one hundred hours! That's too much time! I can be ready by eighteen." "No. If that's the case, then just rest until then. I will come to collect you directly at twenty one." "There is much more work to be done," said Madrion. "Gemma, you must prepare yourself for the Naming ceremony. The rest of you, with Jarrett as your co-ordinator, must start gathering an army. We may well need the Faerie Forces and the Nymph Battalions before we're done. There's much to do, so go do it!"

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So saying, Madrion and Mystyere left the dining room to ask the hotel manager if they could have the use of the roof for the night. It was inadequate, but it was there, which was a distinct mark in its favor. At least they would be close to the skies. Carefully, they prepared for the evening's work. Madrion had hauled up all her books, and Mystyere was busy using his scrying stones, asking for help from anyone he could contact. "The signs look right, Madrion," he finally said, as he looked up. She returned his glance and agreed. "Aye, I knew that the highest alignment of the moon's phantom phase was due tonight, but I never associated it with Roland and the amulet. The phantasmagoria which will be exhibited in the Aethyric will be able to be channeled through the meridian of the moon's phases to bring to life the sword . . . and Roland." "What about the parallax?" "It will be corrected by my parallactic converter. I made it years ago." Proudly, she held up a small object for Mystyere to examine. He took it from her and smiled. "'Tis almost like old times, Maddy?" "If you're not merely a phantom, Mystyere. I still do not trust you." "Perhaps that will change in time." "I think not. I've had a thousand years to reflect on it, still my analysis of the situation is the same. And don't call me Maddy . . . my name's Madrion." They continued the rest of their work in strained silence. Madrion was worried about Roland. She had trained him well for some years, but felt that he was far from ready for the task ahead. Mystyere was not so concerned. He had kept watch over Roland since the time he was a babe, and he had great confidence in his abilities. It was drawing near to twenty-one hours, so Mystyere went to collect Roland. He found him staring morosely out of his bedchamber window, and went over to put an arm on his shoulder. Roland looked up and said flatly, "I suppose you know that what you've revealed to me has turned my life upside down." "I know, and I'm sorry. All that I can tell you is that after tonight, you will be a different person. You will have so many other things to be concerned about that this will fade like a dim memory. You will have to experience pain like you've never experienced it before. Your soul will be shattered and rebuilt, many times over. You will go mad. You will become sane, saner than you could ever imagine. You will not be able to relate to people like you've done before; their antics will seem superficial and foolish to you. “I know that you can withstand this molding of your soul, Roland; Madrion thinks that you cannot, because you've had insufficient training. I know that you can, for much of it has nothing to do with training at all - it has everything to do with your soul’s inner strength - and your soul has been desperately begging for this since ever I knew you. All will be fine - and so will you." Roland looked disbelieving, but he obediently followed his father to the roof of his hotel where the ceremony was scheduled to be performed. Although he said nothing, his father’s confidence in him had deeply touched his soul. He felt ready for anything. When they arrived, Mystyere commanded Roland to peruse several books containing words of ancient mystery. "I do not understand any of this!" he complained, yet Mystyere urged him to continue. "You will find it easier after tonight," he said, "but it is imperative that you absorb some of this now - especially the sections concerning your safety during the ceremony. Here, I'll help you." So they sat, the grey head pressed close to the dark, father and son working hard toward a common goal. Madrion looked at them with an unfathomable look in her eyes, then turned abruptly to finish her preparations.

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The sky glowed softly above them, filled with luminous promise of what was to come. The constellations were starting to wink on, aligning themselves perfectly as Madrion's open book pictured them. She smiled in satisfaction. It was the perfect climate for the ceremony. Carefully, she brewed the potion on the make-shift fire they had lit, and slowly sprinkled handfuls of moondust over its surface. The dust separated and formed the constellations of the sky, mirroring perfectly the heavens. She then poured an inky black liquid into the middle of the potion, and stirred it three times to the West. As the liquid began to bubble, she distilled it into three large sea shells that she had gathered for the purpose, and summoned Roland and Mystyere to partake in the initializing ceremony. She handed them their robes of irradiant silk, and they proceeded to the small stone alter where the ceremony was to take place. Roland stripped his clothes off and donned the thin robe, while Mystyere just put his on over his apparel. Roland was the one who would be initiated, and was the only one who needed to be naked. Just an hour before, he had been subjected to a hot, vigorous scrubbing in the hotel bathtub, by the resident hotel bather, and his skin still stung from the herbs that Madrion had instructed the old man to rub liberally into his skin. Now he stood before the alter, shivering, as Madrion sang out the incantations which would summon the Powers of the Neutrality. They stood that way for approximately a half hour, but for Roland, the time was equivalent to a hundred years. Had it not been for the potion he had previously imbibed, his body would have collapsed from the strain. As it was, his spirit soared, exploring the heavens and hells of this world, the tawdry and the magnificent, the rich and the poor, the evils and the joys. When he came to, he could not remember what he was doing on the roof of a hotel, and he could feel no emotion for the two who held his hand and mopped his brow. "This is the easy part, Roland," whispered the woman witch, Madrion. "You must be strong. This time you perused this world. You must do that in order to encounter the others. Rest now; you've done well." Glazed though Roland's memory and emotions were, he was positive that the witch-woman had never before told him that he had done well. He closed his eyes and sank into a dreamless sleep. As he slept, Madrion unfastened the clasp on the chain holding the amulet around Roland's neck. "We must now retrieve the Sword of Light. But what will we do with the serpent? For he will wake when we summon the sword." "We must do nothing with the serpent. It must accompany the sword into this world for the duality of good and evil to co-exist. We need that to happen in order to summon the Powers of Neutrality." "Right. I knew that," said Madrion with alacrity. "But what shall we do with it?" "We shan't do anything with it. We must wait and see what it does with Roland." "It might kill him!" "If it makes a move to do so, Roland may kill it with the sword. But then the sword will disintegrate, for the sword and the serpent cannot exist without each other. Our work will be for naught, and Roland will become mad." "Why didn't you tell him this before he started? You are his father! How could you let him take such a risk?" "The risk would have been much greater had I told him. The knowledge would have interfered with the purity of his mind, and it would have influenced his decision. Nay, it had to be this way." Madrion warmed the amulet in her hand, and passed it to Mystyere to do the same. She then pressed it to Roland's palm, and closed his hand to a fist, so that the amulet would have some connection to his soul. This was the exact way it needed to be done, for Madrion and Mystyere were originally supposed to be Roland's parents. The circle was now complete. Madrion took the amulet to the alter, and peered upward.

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"It will be some time until the zenith is reached," she observed. "Until then, we can do nothing." Mystyere glanced to the sky and agreed with her. "Aye, we'll have to wait. I contacted ancient Pierian of the Muses, from Thessaly, a land on the Earthenworld before the end times. He informed me that it is imperative not to rush." "Then I'll spend my time in prayer, " said Madrion, "and I'd advise you to do the same." They both bowed their heads, and so spent the next two hours. Madrion then softly rose and woke the sleeping Roland, and together they made preparations to finalize their daring venture into the unknown.

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C H A P T E R A Father’s Secret

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Byblyeonnae and Gruelen stared in horror at the ruination of their plans. Byblyeonnae poked Gruelen and whispered, "The spell, Gruelen! You promised the spell, and methinks we must use it now." Gruelen looked at her. "You know what it would mean to you, to invoke the spell? I have no soul to be afeard for, but yours will be gone forever if you call upon him for help." Byblyeonnae paled. She had never before believed in what she called superstitious nonsense surrounding the soul's descent into the Dark Night. She had certainly never believed that the old Gods of the Lands existed, let alone wielded any power. But watching Gemma call upon her Gods, using her Name of Power, crying it aloud to the Heavens, and watching the Gods respond in so straightforward a manner, had caused her to stop and think. The minute that Gemma had cried the Name Elantra, Byblyeonnae had known in every fibre of her being that Gemma was calling to the Gods through her God-given Name. Gemma had also invoked the Name Eleana, the Name of Power so carefully picked for Byblyeonnae to wear during her own reign. There was no way that Gemma should ever have known that sacred Name. It was most puzzling. Now lay the decision. Should she call upon Gruelen's master to rescue her now? And would the price be too great? What would he do with her soul, anyway, if indeed she had one? Surely it could not be so bad. She swiftly made up her mind, and ordered Gruelen to proceed. He stared at her with a hard look in his eyes, and before she even knew what was happening, they were no longer in the Temple. She felt as if she had been hit on her head with a hammer. The pain was excruciating, and her arms and legs felt as if they had undergone similar torture. She could not see anything, for all around was blackness. Nothing changed, nothing moved, for what seemed like eons of time. All that she could feel was a cold, metallic wall at her back and a slippery surface at her feet. She dared not move, save to sit carefully on the frigid floor. Days seemed to pass, and she felt that she would go mad from pain, hunger and cold. But suddenly a dim light glowed in the corner. It grew steadily brighter and brighter, until she could no longer bear to keep her eyes open. Slowly, the light adjusted, so that she could peer through her clenched eyelids, and she felt a vast relief. "Korda! You beast! How could you put me through this?" Korda smiled at her from his vast, seven foot height, and an uneasy feeling niggled in the recesses of her brain. She pushed it away, not wanting to deal with it, and asked hesitatingly, "How do you come to be here? I thought that Gruelen was taking me to his master." Korda's smile only broadened. "I am he," he said, simply. Byblyeonnae gaped. "You? But of what concern is it to you what happens in the Lands?"

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"You ask too many questions. I cannot believe you have failed in this small endeavor which I have gone to such pains to help you accomplish." "You have never helped me with anything!" Korda strode over the small Byblyeonnae, and cupped her chin in his large hand, tilting her face upward to look into his eyes. "There's much that you do not know, daughter dear," he breathed. "Much." "Then perhaps we should talk!" exclaimed Byblyeonnae a little fearfully. She had never seen her father like this before. "Aye. But not here. Come with me." He stretched out his wings . . . (his wings? screamed Byblyeonnae's mind desperately) . . . and, catching his daughter by the waist, walked over to the metallic wall. The wall parted, and Byblyeonnae saw only a brief glimpse of sky lined viciously with jagged mountains. By the coldness of the air, and the distance of the mountain tops, Byblyeonnae knew with a sinking heart that they were perched atop a mountain range - probably the wild range of the Black Mountain Roquies. As Korda walked to the edge of the slivered wall, Byblyeonnae next saw that they were high up, much higher than she could have believed possible. She became numb when Korda stepped off, out into the nothingness of air. He soared into the cold heavens, Byblyeonnae clutched helplessly under his arm. She fainted.

When she revived, she saw that he had brought her to a place beyond imagination. It was truly beautiful, a long triangle of land carved out of the mountains, high on the top of the tallest peak. It looked out over naught but clouds. The air was cold, yet she did not feel a thing. Her slippers had fallen off on the way up, and she now walked barefoot. She should have been very cold, but she felt as comfortable as if it were a summer’s day. Korda looked different from what she had ever known of him; he looked majestic, somehow. The look of idiocy which he had often worn was now gone, and in its place radiated a look of confidence and firm command. It was as if she did not even know him. She had always before openly despised her father for his stupidity, but this man looked far from stupid. He also seemed far different from the Korda she knew. She observed that the rock surface was not flat. Enormous stone monoliths rose to form a stone circle, carved directly out of the rock. Within the circle, which spanned most of the triangular bit of flatness, were seats carved out of stone. One of the seats was immeasurably larger than the others, and seemed to be formed to double as an altar as well as an enormous throne. Korda noticed her avid gaze, and said, "Come, daughter, for now you will truly belong to us. I am pleased that you have made that decision." He led her to one of the stone seats, and bade her sit. "Presently the others will arrive - and you must prepare yourself. Although you have mangled the assignment you were given, we still need you as a figurehead. You must return, and fight for us. We will be behind you, but it will appear that you are the Queen, fighting for a throne so wrongfully wrested from your grasp. We will commence immediately to defile the Queen Gemma's person, and so you will regain the throne. This time, however, I will remain in control, and you will take your orders directly from me. I want no repetition of that farce that I just witnessed." Bybleonnae nodded helplessly, too overcome with awe to say anything. She sat in the seat that her father had led her to, and watched the azure sky. Suddenly the heavens darkened. Byblyeonnae could see an army of black-winged creatures making their way from above to land on the mountain top. She cringed inwardly, for they carried with them an aura of death. Not the Dark Night of the Soul, but the unthinkable . . . death itself. Death, who had been asleep for a thousand years. With a clattering of wings and a clicking of hooves on polished stone, the creatures landed. They stood in line, three deep, around the edges of the triangle, so that the edges could no longer be seen. Not wanting to be caught staring, Byblyeonnae looked at them through the corners of her eyes. What she saw made her blood run cold. The creatures were ten feet tall, and there were at least three thousand of them. They had huge, black

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wings on their back, and their torsos ended with goat-like feet. Their faces were indescribably ugly. "They're our army of Gargoyles, my dear," said Korda cozily. "They form our guard for this assembly, who will be here directly." They did not have long to wait. With another rush of wind an airborne chariot appeared, driven by black horses with fire streaming from their nostrils. From that chariot clambered three hags, each more repulsive than the next. "Do not look at them," warned Korda, and Byblyeonnae complied willingly. Next to arrive was a dragon, huge and swollen with glut. As he landed next to the chariot, he metamorphosed into a fat and obscene man. He walked up to Korda and leered at Byblyeonnae. "Greetings," he said, never tearing his eyes from Byblyeonnae's body. Korda looked amused and said, "Creeb. Meet my daughter, Byblyeonnae." Creeb almost drooled as he took Byblyeonnes's hand and licked it. Repulsed as she was by Creeb's appearance, still the contact sent shivers of erotic pleasure down her spine. They were distracted by yet another arrival, a strong and lean man, handsome in a rather severe way. He materialized out of nowhere, using no wings or chariots to bring him. He too walked over to where Korda stood and bowed formally, both to Korda and Byblyeonnae. He said nothing. Upon his arrival Creeb edged away and stood back behind the hags. "Just one more, and we'll be complete," said Korda with a smile of satisfaction. He moved over to occupy the seat closest to the huge throne and the others followed, each seeming to have their own places to sit. The hags remained close together, still saying nothing. Byblyeonnae had vigilantly observed her father's instructions not to look at them. The last arrival also said nothing, as he seated himself some way from the others. A pall sheathed him, and his unsmiling countenance served only to deepen the impression. Creeb sat at the seat next to Byblyeonnae’s, though now he paid her no attention. With great swiftness, the other seats suddenly were filled. Byblyeonnae neither saw nor heard the new arrivals; all she knew was that now there were about three hundred seated; all waiting expectantly, all looking at the throne. As nothing further seemed to happen she cast her eyes around, noting the new visitors. They were varied in nature, but most seemed to hearken from the Netherworld. They all seemed to be important from wherever they came from, and many wore crowns of gold and royal robes. Staring at one, she gasped, for it was none other than Gruelen. Either he didn't see her, or he ignored her, for his countenance budged not one iota. All around was now ominous silence. Everyone seemed to be waiting for the throne to be occupied. Suddenly, the guards shouted in unison, some words that Byblyeonnae could not make out, and they raised their right arms in some sort of salute. Then came a sight that she would never forget for as long as she lived. An Angel of Light. A most beauteous face, cherub-like in innocence, framed with a halo of golden curls, gently floating down from the heavens. Magnetism. Charm. She could feel herself being drawn in by his smile. His smile. All else faded, as she gazed on the soul of perfection. Her hurts were gone, erased in an instant. She could feel his warmth, his compassion. His smile was only for her, as it reached into the recesses of her mind, loving her, caring for her. She would have sacrificed her very soul for this man. Slowly, he wended his way to the throne, all the while exuding charm and an aura of power. Byblyeonnae felt as if she were in a dream state, for the very air on the mountain top shimmered and waved, bending the light to form complex images of strange and complicated visions. As the Angel seated himself, he turned to look at Korda, who wore an expression of rapture.

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"So this is the Byblyeonnae? Bring her to me so that I can examine her." Korda did not have to bring his daughter; she had already sprang to her feet, and was now walking rapidly to stand by the Angel's throne. He looked at her, and smiled a smile that was filled with some emotion that Byblyeonnae had never before seen. "Here, child, ascend this throne and lay down. My name is Abbaddon. Do not fear." There was no danger of fear as Byblyeonnae smiled up at him, a smile of innocent love and adoration. She had never felt this way before. She could feel his waves of radiant love reaching to her, reaching out through the years of pain she had suffered at the palace of the Goddess of Ice. Now her heart melted and lay bleeding at his feet. She could feel slippery tears on her cheeks. Tenderly, he reached over and brushed them away, and then lay his hand on her face, stroking it gently. "You will lay with me tonight, " he told her. "You will be mine - all mine." Her heart felt as if it would burst at the honor thus bestowed. She experienced a level of joy and happiness that she had never before conceived of as having existed. "You will stay on the altar for the rest of the assembly. You will listen to nothing, for you will sleep." Bybleonnae nodded obediently, and sunk into a deep, ensorcelled slumber.

When she awoke, it was pale evening, and she still lay on the altar, though this time she could feel the cold air. She shivered and sat up. There was no one else on the mountaintop. She was quite alone, hungry and cold, and once again her body felt as if it had been tortured. The evening sky was magnificent in splashes of purple and azure color, but Bybleonnae was too miserable to notice. Her physical discomfort paled in the light of her more immediate emotional distress. She desperately needed to see Abbaddon! She, who had never needed anyone in her life! Slowly the sun sank deep into the jagged teeth of the mountains. All light was being annihilated. The strokes of color which had illuminated the heavens turned to cold black, and not even a brave star winked on to brighten it. Byblyeonnae stiffened. The blackness was too complete! At this height, the stars should have emblazoned the sky. She also suddenly realized that the frigid air was gone, and the cold slab of marble upon which she lay had softened considerably. Abbaddon had said tonight! And it was that now. A door of light appeared, and it opened slowly. Through it she could see fountains of pure sparkling water playing over stone cherubs. Clouds of flowers decorated the room, of colors and shapes that Byblyeonnae had never before seen. In the center of the room lay the Angel, his wings folded at his back, he himself curled up into a tiny ball. A lump rose to Byblyeonnae's throat. He appeared so vulnerable and helpless. She quickly rose and entered the room. Her feet sank into the soft floor, and she found it difficult to walk, so instead she got on her knees and crawled. As she neared the sleeping Angel, he turned and smiled at her. His face was the most beautiful she had ever seen, and the smile that lit it equally so. She now knew that she was bonded to him for eternity. It had to be so. His softly spoken words seemed to confirm her thought. "Aye. We have known each other for a very long time. But never before have you looked beautiful. Come here." Byblyeonnae obediently moved closer, and shivered as she felt his hands on her body. She curled up close beside him, feeling very safe, so she was quite unprepared for the pain that followed.

Back in Madur, Roland was struggling with the elemental forces. "You must stop fighting us," the voice in his head kept repeating. He knew it was right, but his feet kept sinking beneath the waves anyway. "You must believe in what you are doing," the voice continued. "Believe." Roland tried harder.

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"Stop trying." It was so frustrating. He could not do it. He could not even stand up on the water, much less walk. Suddenly, he was swept to a mountain top, perched on the edge of a dangerous cliff. "Fly," commanded the voice. Roland's knees buckled. He was exhausted. He had been allowed no sleep, no food, in what seemed to him to be weeks. In reality, the moon of Madur had just reached its zenith, and the ceremony had barely begun. He had been participating for sixty seconds. In Earthentime, the ceremony would continue to dawn, lasting approximately six hours. Roland's physical body was safe on the rooftop for this time, fed and rested, but his Aethereal soul was free to roam Eternity, guided by the ancient Powers of Neutrality. Before the sun rose, he would have lived through Eternity - if he survived. "Fly." Roland was too exhausted to resist. His feet stumbled over to the edge. "Hold him!" screamed Madrion. "He'll fling himself over the rooftop!" Mystyere clutched Roland's arm, and held him as he struggled to get free. "What's happening?" asked Madrion fearfully. "Well, I think that he has not managed to separate his soul from his body. Did you not teach him about Aetheric travel?" Madrion shook her head defensively. "Not much. He was not ready." "You were too protective of him." Madrion looked mutinous, but said, "Now is not the time to argue. Methinks he picked up enough of the rudiments of Aetheric travel from his study. Anyway, 'tis too late to worry about it now." Roland was conscious of something trying to hold him back. He struggled, and broke free. He felt his soul slip upward to the Heavens. Looking down, he could see villages and towns spread out along the way. As he watched, he was conscious that they were now very close, though just an instant ago he was soaring high in the sky amongst the clouds. He could also see people walking, even though he was whizzing by at such a great speed. Suddenly, he realized that he was heading towards the ground. He tried to stop, to slow down . . . but he was going too fast! He was going to collide with the cornfield! He braced himself for the impact . . . but there was none. He slid into the ground like a hot knife through butter, and he found himself communing with the Earth. Warm, brown feelings surrounded him, holding him close. He saw maggots and earthworms sidle lovingly through their warm mantle of protection. He felt the nourishing quality of the soil. It warmed him, and brought comfort to his soul. He continued through the damp Earth, then found himself on the bottom of the ocean. He flew through the pale waves, and felt their love. He saw the ocean life, and marveled at the peace he felt in their domain. He decided to pull up and head for the outer sky once again, and he found himself traveling high in the heavens, far above the stars, in a strange lightless existence of nothing. He kept on traveling, amazingly unafraid. The clear nothingness dissipated, to be replaced by feelings. Feelings! Such feelings . . . it made even the most powerful emotions of the Earthenworld seem like childish nonsense. He would have been happy to remain there, but he was yanked unceremoniously back to the ocean top. The waves were as high as before and seemed as slippery. He could hardly keep his balance. He stood, struggling to keep his feet from sinking into the waves . . . the fear was gone. During the rest of Eternity, Roland was to learn many things. He was to realize that his soul was the only real thing he possessed, that when his physical form vanished, he would still exist, forever, in Infinity as well as for Eternity. That was why the immortal soul was in such demand : Immortal beings such as Korda and Abbaddon only lived within the domain governed by good and evil; they could not survive the Neutrality. Human mortal souls were different; upon their last descent into the Dark Nights of their Souls, Human mortal souls could ascend to the Neutral plane, where they would live forever. Ultimately, a human soul would live in whatever plane it had chosen at the end

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of its voyage; the planes of good or evil, or heaven and hell (as the planes were more commonly known), or the higher plane of Neutrality, a higher existence of heaven, where there was no good or evil; there was just existence; and where no Immortal could go; not Abbaddon, not Korda. This was the place that held the secrets of Life. The Immortals were determined to claim the Heaven of Neutrality as their own. They knew that if they could fight and win it, the Kingdom of Heaven would no longer exist, and the traveling souls could not pass from one heaven to the next. The Human souls would be trapped! Neutrality would exist, but admittance would be denied to the Human race. The Human souls would belong to the wicked. Abbaddon's plan involved others such as he; there were hundreds willing to aid him in his plot. He had started to experiment with the possibility of wresting a human soul from its owner, and planting it into an Immortal. He had conducted some experiments on humans from the Lands of Madur; they had been thoughtfully provided by Bybleonnae, in the form of persons deemed disloyal to Byblyeonnae and Byblyeonnae's reign. There had been many. He had tossed the shattered remains of the Mortals into cells, where they wept constantly. He had not been successful in this transference of souls- yet. He was confident that, given time, he would find a way. An Immortal with an immortal soul! The possibilities were endless. Humans would be denied their birthright, and would never be able to reach their ultimate destiny, that which they were created for. The Gods would sigh, dismiss mankind as a mistake, and perhaps try again with a newer world. Humans had made so many mistakes before that it was amazing enough that the Gods still protected and nurtured them. If the fallen Angels of Light got their way, however, mankind would be beyond redemption, for the plan involved the active participation of Humanity . . . and mankind had already proven more than once how ready they were to fling themselves down with the fallen Angels. The beginning of the end times was proof enough of that. All this was in existence but at the moment outside of Roland's awareness. It would find him when he was ready, probably closer to the end of the ceremony. It would be the ultimate shattering of his innocence. If he survived the night, this final awakening could easily push him over the brink to insanity. He would be useless.

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C H A P T E R

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The Sword And The Serpent ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

That morning was like no other morning Roland had ever experienced. He was a different man; he had no recollection of the two white-faced individuals who stood before him. They handed him a golden sword, and he took it wordlessly. It was his old sword, Durendel. He grasped its familiar handle and turned to walk away. In his path, he saw a long silver serpent reflecting the morning light. He was not afraid, for he knew the serpent. It would not want to harm him now. The serpent slithered lazily toward him, while Madrion and Mystyere held their breath. Roland held his sword up high, as if he meant to strike the serpent. The two sorcerers closed their eyes in despair. But Roland brought his sword down thrice, on either side of the serpent's path. He said something to it, and the serpent seemed to answer, then slithered over the edge of the roof. Madrion hurried to Roland's side. He looked at her, and inquired, "Who are you, woman? I seem to recall your face, but I cannot remember further. What is this place, and why did you summon me here? I can see at a glance that it is a most primitive reality, where even the atoms of existence have conspired to create a disharmonic phantasmic image for the creatures who occupy this realm. Tell me more about it, and what I can do to help." Madrion stared at Mystyere in perplexity. She had feared that Roland would not even survive the ceremony; she was now stunned to find that not only had he survived, but he survived to call his home planet a primitive reality ! Mystyere knew what to do, however. "You must sit awhile, Roland - and Roland is your designated name in this existence - and I will allow you to enter my mind, and use whatever you find there that will be of assistance to you. It is written in the book you sent with Ellyryan that a returning traveler will be able to enter the consciousness of those who remained behind, should they grant him permission to do so. I shall grant you permission, and Madrion, you may wish to do the same for then he will know all." Madrion nodded mutely. She did not like this turn of events. To let Roland into her mind! It was unthinkable! Yet she sensed that it was the only way. So Roland gently probed the humbly proffered minds, with much respect. He dimly remembered doing something of the sort at another time, but as it was of no matter he calmly let the query slip from his mind. The first thing he said upon completion of the task was, "Madrion - you've been unkind to the young man you call Roland! Me, that is. Why?" Madrion looked mighty put out, as she answered, "That is not the kind of information that you're supposed to be looking for!" Roland sensed her discomfort, for he quickly said, "My apologies. When I probed your mind, I found it in considerable disarray, and I had to lift your entire thought patterns in order to sift through them to find what I needed. Mystyere's was much the same. Do the creatures from this planet always keep their thoughts so scattered? How do they find things when they need them?"

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"A mere six hours ago, you were just the same," remarked Madrion with asperity. This transformation of Roland's would be difficult to bear. Roland looked puzzled, but said nothing. Mystyere put his arm around his son and offered, "It will take some time to re-assimilate this environment, and its Peoples. But you must remember that this is where you come from, and where you belong." Some comprehension began to dawn on Roland's face. "Is this the mythical Earthenworld that is in such difficulty? I had thought it to be a mere fable, some sick phantasy from a fevered brain. So it is real! And I do know what to do, father." Roland was familiar with the procedures he was supposed to take upon re-entry into his world, the place where the famous battle was to take place. He had just not believed it possible that such bizarre realities could and did exist, much less that he was destined to save one - and indeed, originated from one. His next task was to digest the information he had received from Madrion and Mystyere and to use it to accommodate his passage through this world. Mystyere looked at him approvingly. He had known that his son would manage his task successfully after all, was that not what Roland had been born to do? "Come, let us join the others. They will be concerned." Mystyere led them down the tawdry back stairs of the hotel, supporting Roland's shaky stance. The trials of his journey were catching up to him and he did not look well. They descended the stairs and made their way to the large apartment they had rented. As soon as Madrion lay her hand on the door it was flung open by a distraught Allys, the others standing close behind her. "Roland! Are you alright?" she cried, looking at him leaning against Mystyere, his eyes closed, his face an ashen hue. She hurried to his side, and he opened his eyes briefly to gaze at her. "Allys! My love . . . " he mumbled, as he crumpled into Mystyere's arms. They hauled him to his room and laid him in bed. Madrion hurried to brew a potion which would help him regain his strength, but in the interim, his brow raged hot with fever. When the potion was ready, Allys spoon fed it to the inert body. She stayed with him day and night, sleeping only when Jarrett dragged a small cot into the room. The others came and went, worry knitting their brows. Even Godolfin paid Roland a visit, materializing swiftly out of his world, this time bringing his sweetheart Drenda with him - she rarely allowed him to travel on his own anymore. She was a buxom lass, obviously with other than green Elven blood running through her veins. Overcome with sorrow when she saw Roland with his lovely lass Allys, she insisted that Godolfin return to their home to bring an elixir of life she had carefully saved for a time such as this. Whether the elixir worked, or Allys's ministrations paid off, or Roland's natural strength asserted itself, it was difficult to tell, but Roland's fever abated for the first time in three days. His eyes flickered open and rested on Allys's worried face peering at him with a troubled look. "'Twas worth it," he murmured. "What? Roland, don't speak, save your strength." "Allys - 'twas always thee. Thou'rt my love, and it was also for thee that I have returned." Allys looked uncomfortable. "Sh . . . h . . . h!" she whispered. "You do not know of what you speak." "Aye, that I do, Allys. My soul's always been of thine. I did not know, before. I am so sorry. Allys. I love thee. I cannot help it, for our souls were conceived at the same time, and of the same fabric. I am destined to be with thee, forever, and I have crossed eons of pain to admit it." "Roland! It cannot be! You've told me yourself. Thy heart, 'tis committed to Madrion." Roland moved his head from side to side.

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"Nay, Allys, 'twas my mistake, and my blindness that did make me believe so. And Madrion, she did foster the illusion, also. I was so in tune with the fantasy, that I could not see what was real. Now, my eyes have been opened, and I am thine." Allys closed her eyes. her deepest dreams were coming true; why, then, did she feel so strange? She heard her voice, as though it came from far away, the words strange upon her ears. "That was what thee'd told me then, on my wedding night. Thou'd taken my virgin blood and wiped my virgin tears, and promist to love me only. Then thou didst cast me aside, left me to live alone 'til I took my own life, while thou stole my throne, and my sister dear to be thy consort. I cannot trust thee, Roland." Allys's eyes had dilated as she spoke this strange speech; her words sounded bizarre. Yet Roland knew of what she was talking. "That was centuries ago, Allys. I was at fault, but I was only learning to embrace my soul more fully, as you were. That's what we are here for, to prune and nurture our immortal souls, so that they may prepare us to enter Eternity. Some of us have to return an inordinate number of times to get it right. I knew nothing of these things before; now, all is clear. And thou art the love of my heart, the candle with which I view forever. Believe me, my darling, what is meant to be will be, and there's naught that thee cans't do about it." Allys was sorely puzzled by Roland's words. He was a completely different man now that the one she had known a mere few hours ago. But the difference was that he seemed more himself than she had ever known him to be. The effort that it took for Roland to speak seemed to exhaust him - he became delirious once more, leaving Allys to wonder if his previous speech was not also one born of delirium. Roland rested for a full seven days, and then he pronounced himself fit to get up. He knew that there was a ferocious battle ahead, and that he had to start preparing. "It will not take place for another six months," Madrion reassured everyone. Nonetheless, battle stations were taken, and Queen Gemma set about the monumental task of preparing for battle a nation that had seen no war for over a thousand years. Madrion was the only one who remembered; she had witnessed the first destruction; she did not want to live through another. But apparently, there would be no choice; there had been no choice the last time, either.

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C H A P T E R

2 2

A Preparation For War ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

The forces of evil were gathering all over the world. Out of the slimy pits of hell crawled lurking shadows of demonic heritage. From the Netherworld, Wampyrs sharpened their fangs and Ghouls lasciviously licked their lips. The leaders of the battle moved viciously toward their goals. Humans aligned themselves with forces of the dark, eager for power. Some remained true to the Royal House. But there were not enough. Queen Gemma knew the quiet horror of despair when she saw her small force being drilled by Morgrain, the captain of her guards.

When they had rescued Morgrain from the dungeons, they had thought him to be at death's door. But they had delivered him to his grateful wife, and she had nursed him back to health. Now he wrestled to create an army where there was none - to create something out of nothing, but he could not do it. There were just not enough soldiers. Jarrett helped him, but the task seemed useless. Roland, Mystyere and Madrion were also of little help, for they were usually nowhere to be found. Gemma spent most of her time with Jarrett and Allys, making plans that seemed to go nowhere. The time dragged on, with still nothing happening. They moved back into the Madurian castle, Gemma's home, and continued their wait there. Five, then six months passed, but Gemma's army grew little, and it seemed that time stood still.

It was then that Byblyeonnae came riding back into Madur. Nor was she alone . . . Korda accompanied her. Gemma listened with shocked ears as the messenger poured out his tale. Byblyeonnae had arrived with an honor guard, and had made no attempt to hide her arrival. Swiftly, Gemma dispatched a dozen of her best guards to arrest Byblyeonnae; she had no charges against Korda, save his brutality to Madrion, and Madrion had already told her that she had no time to testify against him. So she settled for arresting Byblyeonnae. To her surprise, the would-be usurper came willingly, making apologies to any and all who would hear her, weeping copiously at every turn. Gemma resisted her impulse to throw Byblyeonnae into the filthy dungeon below the castle - or to slap her silly. Instead, she settled on imprisoning her in a cell in the new prison by the center of the city, and had Madrion ensorcell the entire prison to prevent Byblyeonnae's escape. Not that the woman seemed inclined to do so - in fact, she almost appeared to welcome her incarceration. "I don't understand it," said Gemma. "She's said that she's repented. I don't believe her, but I don't know what she hopes to gain by being my prisoner. She will only hang for the murders of my brothers." "That's if you can prove anything, Gemma," cautioned Allys. "All that we can really prove is that she kidnapped you, and traitorously ascended the throne." "Aye, but that's more than enough to hang her. Hear, they are building the scaffolds now." In the background was the sound of hammering and sawing. As soon as Byblyeonnae's trial was over, Gemma intended to implement the sentence.

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She was positive that the jury would give a verdict of guilty, and the penalty for treason was to be hanged by the neck until dead. She actually looked forward to seeing the last of the woman, for could never forgive nor forget the murder of her brothers, and though she always felt deep sorrow when she confronted her half-sister face-to-face, the rest of the time she felt sheer antagonism. She said reflectively, "Still, it's mighty strange that she is here at all. I just know that there's more to it than is apparent. And I'm positive that she would not allow herself to be hanged. So perhaps we should be prepared for an attack of some sort before tomorrow." "Well, we can be prepared, but I don't think that there's much else we can do," said Jarrett. "We do not have a large force of men; if they decide to attack tonight, we'll not be able to defend ourselves, unless Madrion and the others come up with something." "I know that they're working on something," said Allys. "But Roland won't say what. He just keeps practicing with that sword. It's as if he's planning to fight the entire battle on his own." "I don't know why there even has to be a battle," sulked Gemma. "It's obvious that Byblyeonnae has no rights to my throne, and that's that." "Aye," answered Jarrett. "But 'tis more than just the throne of Madur that's at stake here." "What else is there?" sniffed Gemma. "Well, they're talking about some sort of spiritual battle," said Allys. "I don't understand anything much about it, but it seems that there was a time frame of a thousand years when the Gods made their pact with the Royal line of Terran. I guess that time's now up, and there has to be another battle to determine who has access to our Eternal souls." "You seem to know a lot for someone who doesn't know much," observed Gemma, and Allys blushed. "I know that Roland thinks he's in love with me, but he's just lost his senses. Still, he does try to explain what's going on, though I understand little of his explanations." Gemma chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Well, if that's the case, methinks Madrion told us to gather an army just to keep us busy. No doubt they already know how they're going to handle the situation." "No doubt," agreed Jarrett. "But I still think that we need an army to be ready." "I think that we should ask them what they're planning," said Gemma determinedly. "If we can even find them. I'm sick of being left in the dark." The others agreed wholeheartedly, and they set off to scour the castle for signs of the magikal trio.

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C H A P T E R

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Principles Of Significancy

¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Their search seemed endless. Gemma knew the castle inside out, but at each turn of corridor they ended up back where they had started. Jarrett gave up in despair, and went to tend his beloved horses. Gemma and Allys, after much consultation, decided to ask the Faerie Ariganna for help. Surprisingly, she complied with their request, and they located the three sorcerers for by now, Roland was fully qualified in the necromancing arts. They stared in awe at the paraphernalia their three friends seemed to require for their magikal purposes. They were using an old study at the top of the castle for their spells and potions. Scattered everywhere were foul smelling unstoppered bottles. Small fires smoldered in the corners of the room, and simmering atop each one were mysterious elixirs. Smoke of multi-colors hung low in the room, giving a pinkish-purplish haze to the occupants, who were bent over what seemed to be an old book. Madrion was the first to see them, and she wiped a smudge from her face with a grubby hand, making the small smudge into a large smear. “Hallo! You found us!” she called with a weary smile. “Not with any help from you! What did you do, ensorcell this room so that we could not find it? We’ve been searching for hours and hours, and each time we’d reach this hallway, we found ourselves at the other end of the castle!” exclaimed Gemma. Mystyere looked sheepish as he said apologetically, “‘Tis my fault. We needed to be undisturbed - yet you found us! I’m surprised, how did you do that?” “‘Twas simple - we just asked Ariganna. She gave us a spell to negate your sorcery, Mystyere, she said that it was a simple thing to do. She’s still refusing to leave Jarrett’s side, though, and sent a message to say that she’s mighty bored - the Faerie forces have been gathered for months now, and nothing is happening. She says that they’re threatening to disperse if this continues.” “Tell Ariganna that they will get the battle they so desire, never fear, “ said Roland. “By the end of it all, they may be so soul weary that they’ll wish they never had pined for it.” “How do you know of this, Roland?” asked Allys, walking over to where the tired man was standing. She wiped his brow with her lavender-soaked handkerchief. “We’ve done much scrying of the future, Allys, and it looks grim. There will be much bloodshed, that much is true. We cannot discern all the particulars, for someone has cloaked many activities so they cannot be scryed. There are some disquieting events, however, and we have been working to change some of them, but apparently they are strongly connected to the Principal of Significancy. “Significant events from the past and present have conspired to contribute much to the usually murky future; there is now a Significant Future, which is very rare; it seems that a prophecy from millennium ago is now being fulfilled, but the outcome is uncertain. All that we can do is to wait and see. At least, the beast does not know that I am here, present, on this Earth at this time. Though he may suspect it, it will do him little good,

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for the Principal of Significancy puts me here and now; there is no escaping that fact. There is naught that the beast and his hordes can do about it.” “Does this mean that all that is about to happen is predestined?” asked Allys tremulously. “If it is, then it seems mighty silly to even bother to make and implement plans.” Madrion looked at her thoughtfully. “Mayhap it may appear that way to you, Allys, but paradoxically, we must make preparations and go ahead, just as if we knew nothing of what is about to happen. It is all a part of the predestination - ‘tis only that way in the eyes of the Gods - to us Mortals, we usually do not know the outcome, and must work as hard as if we will make a difference in the order of things. If we do not, if we sit and do nothing, saying that all is predestined anyway, then we unravel the warp that holds the fabric of time together, and we too will perish. All will become nothing once more. It is only by our efforts that we have created this world, predestined though it may be, and if we should cease our efforts, all that will happen is nothing. Do you understand?” Allys looked rather confused, but she said, “Yes . . . sort of . . . I guess . . . no. I just seem to understand that we must continually strive, but I still do not really understand why.” “Never mind,” said Madrion. “It will become clear in time, no doubt. In the meantime, you know all you need to know. How are Greyff and Bunty taking to life in the castle, anyway? I have wondered about them, but have not had the time to check.” Allys laughed. “Methinks they are doing well. They spend much of their time together, strangely enough. Greyff seems to have adopted Bunty as a member of his family. He’s trying to teach Bunty to speak, but no doubt he’ll give up soon enough, for ‘tis a lost cause! He seems to think that Bunty is an ensorcelled animal like himself! “Ariganna and Twirla go back and forth to their home, trying to muster the forces we will need to help us with the battle. Otherwise, Ariganna is busy trying to follow Jarrett about his duties, much to his annoyance. But he treats her kindly, and curbs his usual impatient manner. Methinks he’s learned something from having the Faerie be around him constantly.” “That’s what I intended,” replied Madrion. “He needed to learn that he cannot get off scot-free from the consequences of all his actions. ‘Twas just a piece of maturity that he needed to absorb, and I feel that he’s a better person for it.” “Well, I think that he’s learned his lesson,” said Gemma, who had been strangely quiet until now. “Perhaps it is time to release him from his promise; he has not touched the Faerie since she has arrived.” Madrion looked at Gemma with a puzzled expression on her face. Carefully, she replied, “Methinks that is something Jarrett must decide for himself. When he chooses to release himself will be time enough for his lesson to be learned. Until then, I’ll leave him be, and you should do the same thing, Gemma. Is not the trial tomorrow?” Gemma nodded. “Aye. Byblyeonnae must answer for her crimes. I wish that I could charge Korda, too, but I have nothing on him. Byblyeonnae will hang by her neck, however, I have already ordered the scaffold to be built.” Madrion continued to stare at Gemma. “Are you sure that Byblyeonnae will be convicted?” she asked curiously. Gemma responded with much amger in her voice, “Of course she will be convicted! She is clearly guilty. She must hang; though she is still of my blood, she has sullied it to the point where it can no longer be cleansed. I cannot forgive her for that.” “Is it you, then, who will try her, Gemma?” continued Madrion softly.

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“Of course not!” cried Gemma. “She will have a fair trial, of the sort that all the Peoples of the Lands have enjoyed for centuries, and as was set up in the ancient times of Humans. I cannot deny her that!” “But you would, if you could,” stated Madrion sadly. “And ‘tis that which will be your undoing.” “What do you mean?” asked Gemma. “I would not want to see her unfairly treated. That could never be! She is of my own flesh and blood! I would not see a stranger unfairly treated, much less my own.” Madrion said nothing more, but turned away to further peruse the old book that lay on the shelf by her elbow. Mystyere caught Gemma's eye, and looked away. Roland said brusquely, “When we know more, Queen Gemma, we will let you know. It will be soon, but certainly not before the trial. You may concentrate your energy on that event, for you will certainly need all your strength for it. Methinks the trial will be difficult time for you.” “Aye,” agreed Allys, taking Gemma’s arm. “We will return tomorrow, after the trial. But for now, we should leave them to their work.” Allys led Gemma out of the study, and they descended the stairs. It was just about suppertime, and the others were gathered in the dining room. Ariganna was hanging on to Jarrett’s arm, and Twirla to Greyff’s. Bunty was nowhere to be seen. Greyff spied them, and said, “Here you are! We’ve been waiting for you. Do you wish a drink before dinner is served?” Although the Werewolf addressed both the women, he was looking only at Allys, the giddy Nymph on his arm long forgotten now that his own love was in the room. Twirla shot several looks of hatred toward Allys, as she carefully sat herself between the silver-haired Human and the Werewolf Greyff. Allys noticed nothing amiss and asked, “Where’s Bunty?” The little white rabbit usually joined them for meals. He often served as a reminder to Allys, who had relinquished the habit of eating flesh when Bunty was almost sacrificed to make them a dinner. Since that time, Allys had developed an aversion for the taste of meat; indeed, the thought of eating flesh now made her sick to the stomach. She could barely stand to be at the same table where meat was being served, but if she concentrated she could manage to still the queasiness in her stomach, and perhaps sip a cup of water. She did this now, as she waited for Greyff’s reply. “He’s out in the garden patch,” said Greyff. “For some reason, he did not want to come in - I suppose because the weather’s so nice.” Twirla stifled a giggle, and Allys eyed her suspiciously. “What have you done, Twirla? Is Bunty allright?” Twirla collapsed into giggles, saying breathlessly, “Aye, Allys . . . he’s allright . . . he’s MORE than allright! But I haven’t done anything to him!” She continued giggling. Ariganna glared at her, saying sharply, “Be quiet, Twirla! Can’t you be trusted with even the smallest of secrets?” “What have you done with him?” asked Allys, worry shadowing her voice. She did not trust these Outerworlders as far as she could throw them. Ariganna refused to answer, looking sulkily out of the window. Greyff responded instead, saying, “That is why we did not allow Bunty here at the table, Allys. Ariganna’s gone and ensorcelled the rabbit. Now he can speak! Twirla knew that I was trying to teach Bunty our language, and she begged Ariganna to cast a small spell so that I would not be disappointed. But we knew that you would be angry with us, so we hid him.” Allys rose from the table, her face white with fury.

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“How dare you, Ariganna! That rabbit is of our world, and he is not meant to speak! He will be confused and unhappy! How dare you meddle with things that you know nothing of! If he’s at all harmed, you will have to answer for it, I swear!” Ariganna turned to look at Allys, a sneer on her face and a surly tone in her voice, “And what will you do to me, you pale-haired Human?” Jarrett placed a restraining hand on Ariganna’s arm. “Let it be,” he said easily. “Bunty’s probably not harmed, and no doubt he can be easily changed back. Go and get him, Greyff, let’s see how he is.” Greyff obediently padded out the door to retrieve the unfortunate Bunty. He returned seconds later, holding the white rabbit. “Help!” squealed Bunty. “Help! Allys! Help!” Allys hurried over to the small animal and held him close to her heart. “Bunty, Bunty, “ she murmured. “What have they gone and done to you.? “Don’t know, Allys,” replied Bunty. “Fun! Fun!” “Why were you shouting for help, then?” “Don’t know, Allys,” replied Bunty. Allys looked up at the others, a quizzical look on her face. “Aw, come on Allys, Bunty’s still a rabbit, even though he can now talk, he still has the brain of a rabbit. Don’t expect him to carry on an intelligent conversation.” “Hello, Allys, hello, Jarrett,” said Bunty, almost as if to confirm Jarrett’s statement. Allys looked as though she would become angry once more, but decided against it. She contented herself with saying, “Madrion will be angry about this, Ariganna,” and ignored Ariganna’s sniff of disdain. Everyone unanimously agreed to go ahead with dinner, and the meal proceeded in silence. When they had finished, Gemma and Allys decided to retire early, mostly to peruse the ancient lawbooks found in the King Ygrive’s library. They were searching for precedents for treasonable activities, but had not managed to come up with any events that even faintly resembled the ones surrounding Byblyeonnae’s incarceration.

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C H A P T E R A Trial For Whom?

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The day of the trial dawned new and clear, with a bright blue sky providing a frame for several fluffy scudding clouds. The scaffold had been completed the previous night, and stood stark and grim in the rosy morning light. Byblyeonnae was led to the courthouse by several guards. She was dressed in a dress of crimson hue bordered with appliquéed violets and looked most demure. The crowds that had gathered murmured back and forth about her youth, and the sadness of the whole event. Right by her side strode her father Korda, and he too appeared to be an object of awe rather than fear. He played the part of the champion riding forth to rescue his daughter a romantic notion fostered by Byblyeonnae and Korda during their short stay in Madur. All too soon, the court was in session, with Gemma presided to the left of the judge as was the fashion. She looked strangely pale and washed out next to her more flamboyant sister, and the black robes she was forced to wear as a mark of her office did nothing to flatter the tired aura of her face. She stared at Allys and Jarrett, who were sitting in the front row of seats, and saw that they too felt a whisper of unease. The trial was long and tense. Korda knew Madurian Law as well as anyone, and he defended his daughter with eloquent pleas for mercy, claiming that she did, after all, give herself up, fling herself on the mercy of the court, and that she had been unaware of the plots that had conspired to bring her to the throne. Here Byblyeonnae’s own testimony helped hugely, for indeed she seemed like an innocent child, and many recalled that she had appeared no different when she had ascended the throne. Her main defense was simply that she knew nothing of the plot to capture the Queen Gemma: she subtly suggested that perhaps Gemma had made enemies who wished to see her dead. So convincing was Byblyeonnae that at times Gemma wondered if what they were saying was indeed true - she even began to doubt her own experiences and sanity. Not only Gemma was swayed. Korda and his daughter had everyone eating out of their hands. She pleaded that all she really had wanted to do was to get to know her own sister, a knowledge which had been cruelly denied to her from birth. And the crowds lapped it up. When Gemma complained to Madrion in the evenings, after they returned from particularly grueling sessions, Madrion shrugged her shoulders and said, “Those two knew exactly what they were doing when they returned to Madur, Gemma. They are both formidable opponents, and must be taken very seriously. They would not have returned voluntarily unless they knew that they would be able to extricate themselves from the situation from which they left. They have used the Laws of the Lands to their own advantage.” “Can’t you do something, Madrion?” Gemma pleaded, but Madrion shook her head. She was still busy with Roland and Mystyere. They were dealing with matters not of this Earthenworld, and as it required a great deal of concentration, Madrion had no time nor interest in Byblyeonnae’s trial. What had to happen would happen, there was no avoiding that.

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The trial was drawing to a close, and Madrion had informed Gemma that the start of the battles would commence some time after the verdict was made. So Gemma only needed to concentrate on one thing at a time. She had an awful suspicion of what the verdict would be, and she tried to keep herself from dwelling on the fact that her halfsister might get off scot-free. There was really no hard evidence to prove that Byblyeonnae had anything to do with Gemma’s kidnapping, and certainly none to link her to the murders of the princes. Apparently, the jury thought the same thing. When Korda made his last impassioned plea, there was not a dry eye in the courtroom - even the judge surreptitiously wiped away a tear. “And I give you this lost Princess of the Blood. She was abandoned - yea, left to die, wrapped in naught but her own afterbirth, on a cold, lonely night. What had this babe done that was so wrong? Was she to die to protect her mother’s sin?” There was a low murmur in the court. This was one aspect of the trial that Korda had purposely left for the end. “Aye,” he continued, when the whispered comments had died down. “There’s no one here to prove or disprove my story, but you remember the Queen Tamsyn well, let her character speak for her.” Korda had hit a low blow there. All that the Peoples of the Lands remembered of the Queen Tamsyn was a surly, ill-tempered woman who drank too much mead. They knew nothing of the brutal rape which had led her down her path of self-destruction. Gemma could not reveal the truth, for she had traveled back in time to find out what had happened. Time travel would certainly be laughed out of the courts. So she bit her lip and clenched her fists, and listened, as the wheels of justice that her father had so lovingly set up in his Kingdom slowly ground the Queen Tamsyn’s reputation to the ground. “I was her lover,” said Korda, and paused. He looked around to see the effects of his statement on the crowds . . . the jury . . . the judge and sneeringly, the effect of his statement on the Queen Gemma. Gemma could no longer control herself. She flung the gate of her box open and flew at Korda, prepared to kill him with her bare hands. She would never have succeeded, for his towering height totally dwarfed her. Jarrett and Allys rushed over to restrain the enraged Queen Gemma. The judge called out for a contempt of court, but hesitantly, for it was the Queen of all the Lands that he was dealing with. Allys and Jarrett managed to get her settled down, but the damage was done. She had inadvertently helped Byblyeonnae’s case far more by her rash actions than anything Korda had said, for by her hostile reaction to Korda’s words, she gave credence to his story. She sank helplessly back onto her seat, and carefully averted her eyes from any of the prying stares that assaulted her. She felt utterly defeated. Byblyeonnae had arranged for the murders of her beloved brothers, and caused the death of her parents. She was evil, vile scum, no better than the father who had spawned her, and she was about to escape with no penalties whatsoever. It made Gemma absolutely sick. Korda continued with his assertions that the Queen Tamsyn had met him in the forest adjoining the Madurian castle, and that she had seduced him with her wiles. He had been the unwilling victim. He stated that because of his size and looks, maidens had always fled from him in terror. Thus he was inexperienced with women, and had no defense against the Queen’s soft body. “But why would she want you, if most maidens ran away from your frightening countenance?” asked the prosecutor. Korda hung his head in shame. “Because . . . ” he whispered, so softly that those at the back of the court had to strain to hear him, “because . . . she was sick - depraved - she made me do things that no normal man would have countenanced. I will not explain further.

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“She left her own babe out in the wood, naked and cold, to die of exposure or to be meat for the wolves, I know not what she intended. What else could you expect from such a woman?” Gemma grit her teeth at the blatant lies, and decided that she would insist Madrion and Ariganna take the stand. They had to now, there was no question about it. The court once again adjourned for the day, and the three cousins made their disconsolate way back to the castle. “I should never have tried to attack that scum, “ said Gemma. “I can’t believe I did that!” “You’re only human,” consoled Allys. “I felt like doing the same thing, and I had to hold Jarrett back. If he’d had his sword, Korda would have been dead by now.” “He can’t die, he is an Immortal,” said Gemma bitterly. “But we must discredit his witness. I will insist that Madrion and Ariganna take the stand.” “A Faerie and a Witch?” scoffed Jarrett. “You must be insane! Korda would rip their credibility to shreds, and then assault them when the trial’s over. You cannot let him know they are here ! He has much against them.” “They have their magik,” asserted Gemma, but she sounded less assured now. “But Korda’s an Immortal, and methinks he could call on powers that not even those two could resist.” Gemma nodded reluctantly. “I know that they will not want to testify. Methinks Ariganna is still afeard of him, and Madrion has, in her mind, much more important things to attend to. But what else can we do?” “Let the courts decide, Gemma,” answered Allys. “Like the King Ygrive would have done.” “My father would never have allowed so heinous crimes go unpunished,” growled Gemma. “By his own Laws, he would have had no choice,” replied Allys. “Nor do you, really.” The castle loomed ahead of them, the familiar turrets and drawbridge seeming somewhat smaller than the three remembered from childhood. They slowly wended their way to the front of the castle and entered the great doors. The castle seemed gloomy and dim after the color and noise of the courtroom. No one was around. The castle stood strangely silent. “Let’s go find Madrion and Roland,” suggested Allys. “We’ll have to beg Ariganna first to help us - we’ll never find them on our own,” said Gemma. “She seems to be nowhere in sight. She’s probably in Faerieland with Twirla, continuing to prepare their troops.” “Let’s ask Greyff where she is. At least we always know here he can be found.” The others nodded, and they wandered to the back of the castle. They found Greyff sitting on his haunches, patiently teaching Bunty to hop through a small hoop. The cousins were accustomed to see the pair so involved; what was more unusual was hearing Bunty squeak, “Ow! Help! Stop, Greyff, too high!” They laughed, for the sight was undeniably hilarious, and Bunty seemed none the worse for wear with his unexpected eloquence. “Methinks Ariganna did Bunty a favor, for now he can make his wishes known,” said Allys. “At first I did think that Bunty would be harmed by this spell, but he seems not to be.” “Aye,” responded Jarrett, choking with laughter and calling “Greyff! Greyff!” Greyff looked up and, seeing them, made a beeline for his beloved Allys. “Where are the others, Greyff, do you know?”, she asked him gently. She was still unaccustomed his blatant adoration. “Ariganna’s gone to Farieland to speak with her mother, the Queen Briganne. Twirla is around here somewhere, and the sorcerers are in their sorcery room. Bunty and I were just playing.

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“Aye. I was jumping high,” affirmed Bunty cheerfully. Allys reached down to pick up the furry creature, and stroking his back, said “Methinks we should tell Madrion right away about what transpired today at the courts. She will be interested.” “If we can find them,” Gemma reminded her. “But we can try.” The three cousins returned to the cool shelter of the castle, and climbed the stairs to see if they could locate Madrion and the others. Luck was with them this time, for the sorcerers had not hidden their room with spells and so were easy to find. Gemma knocked hesitantly on the door and it was opened by a still grimy Madrion. “Come on in,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you.” They entered the foul-smelling room, and saw that Mystyere and Roland were hard at work with Roland’s sword, Durendel. Mystyere had a sword gripped in his hands also. He was teaching Roland everything he knew about sword fighting. “Sit down,” said Madrion, pulling up some small stools. “Byblyeonnae will be set free tomorrow; then the battle will commence.” Her unexpected and abrupt statement caused them to start. She looked at them carefully and laughed. “You look as if I’ve told you something unexpected! You all know what will be happening! Don’t look so shocked. Anyway, it is time for Roland to depart. He is ready, and the enemy awaits. His sword will make the ultimate difference, but he must be strategically placed. We have managed to deduce the whereabouts of the enemy’s camps, and so have a fair idea of where to place Roland.” “Who is to go with him?” asked Jarrett quickly. “He cannot go alone, he will need an army with him.” Madrion nodded her head sagely. “Allys will go, as well as Greyff. They will command the Faerie forces, as well as the Elven troops. With them will go the Nymphs, some of the Piscies, and some of the Goblins. It will be an army made up almost entirely of the Outerlanders.” “But why will I not be going?” demanded Jarrett. “Oh, you’ll have plenty to do right here, with your Human army. Madur must be defended at all costs. The Northlanders will arrive shortly, and they are fierce warriors. They will fight for Queen Gemma, for they are an honest if rough folk. The Taliesans are also on their way, and they are sophisticated fighters. But you and Gemma will have to co-ordinate all the activities - and there will be plenty to do.” Jarrett nodded his head appreciatively. He knew well the parameters of warfare, for he had studied it all his life. In a strange sort of way he was looking forward to it. By nature he was a warrior, full of brash aggression, and he often found the realities of his life in a warless Madur somewhat less than interesting. Roland stepped forward, still brandishing Durendel. He smiled at Allys, saying, “We’ll have a dangerous battle on our hands, my fair Allys, but there will be nowhere in the Kingdom that will be at all safe, and I’d rather have thee by my side than anywhere else. Thy healing touch will be appreciated by all, anyway, so thou shalt have much work of thine own to accomplish, anyhow. Does thou have a mind to travel with me, then?” Allys asked impishly, “Is this a proposal, Roland?” He looked a trifle disconcerted, before he replied, “I’ll gladly marry thee, Allys, when the time is right, but methinks that now there’s much of great importance to the Lands that I must accomplish before I will be able to think of our happiness. Canst thou wait a bit?” Now it was Allys’s turn to be disconcerted. She had certainly not expected such an earnest reply from Roland; she had only been teasing him. She answered abruptly, “I was only kidding, Roland. I’ll gladly come with you, but mostly because I know that there is much work for me out there on the battlefield.” She could see by the look in his eye that she had hurt Roland’s feelings, but she didn’t care. She was finding his new devotion to her overwhelming and a bit suffocating, though entirely flattering. He

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seemed put off this time, however, as if his re-integration into the Earthenworld had truly begun, and he was starting to feel the petty emotions and jealousies so common to the Human condition. He turned from her and addressed Madrion, “I’m ready to face anything that fate may throw my way, Madrion, though I could never have done what was necessary without your help. Yours and Mystyere’s, that is.” Madrion smiled tightly. “Our help was nothing, Roland. Had things been different, you would have been born of our flesh anyhow, and everything would have been entirely different. For one thing, your way would have been much easier, for you would have been brought up in the ways of the sorcerer. But what’s done is done - ‘Twas my fault, I admit as much now . So helping you is the least I could do to rectify the wrong I did to you so many centuries ago. I just hope that it’s not too late. “But enough chatter - you must get ready, for tomorrow the die will be cast, and the end will beckon. You must be far away from here by then. You will have to take the quickest route, and that will be through Faerieland. There you will gather the fighting forces, and wait for your summons. You should remain hidden at all times. Ariganna and Twirla must go with you, to act as a liaison between our world and the Outerlands. I will personally see to it that Ariganna goes, though she will not be pleased to leave Jarrett. She will have no choice in the matter, however, for once the trial is done, Korda will surely see her if she remains in Madur . . . and if he sees her, he will kill her.” “But what of you, Madrion? If he sees you, he will kill you for the wrong you did him by sneaking away from his house, and by the theft of that old book. He has killed others for much less,” said Roland worriedly. Madrion shook her head and said, “I have many ways to prevent any from knowing who I am. Ariganna has too, but she is not sophisticated enough in the uses of magik to know how to protect herself adequately. She is sufficiently frightened of Korda, now that she has come to her senses, to make sure that their paths never cross again. She will go with you, Roland, though methinks she will be constantly returning to see how Jarrett is faring.” Roland and Allys, with Greyff and Bunty, prepared for the swift journey to the Faerielands. True to Madrion’s belief, the Faerie Ariganna was all too willing to stay in Faerieland when she heard that Byblyeonnae and her father Korda could easily be visiting the castle. Ariganna held an almost superstitious fear of Byblyeonnae, which exceeded even the terror she felt for Korda. She told Jarrett, in no uncertain terms, that she would return every night to his bedchamber to make sure that he was well. Then, she gathered the others around her, and with the help of Roland and Twirla, whisked them off to Faerieland. Roland bore most of the brunt of Greyff’s natural magnetism for the Netherworld. He was almost exhausted with the effort of buoying him up through the journey. They arrived to the welcome of the Queen Briganne, who had been prepared for their arrival. She beckoned to Roland to follow her into her bower, and there they stayed for many an hour. When he finally emerged, it was with a white face, terrified but resolute. She had filled him in on some of the details of the battle which had been fought a thousand years ago, and he felt that he now had a better working knowledge of his foe. In one way, he wished he hadn’t.

Roland was only now beginning to fully realize what was at stake; more than just the Kingdom, or even the lives of the subjects. No, it was a harvest of eternal souls that the beast had in mind - an everlasting and undeserved hell, so to speak, for the unlucky Humans whose souls they stole. Those who had earned a right to heaven would forfeit that right; and those who had been doomed to hell could enter a heaven previously forbidden to them. The beast had concocted some fiendish plan to use the souls they had collected as tickets to enter the Zones of Neutrality - and to do who knew what damage there?

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Roland was not entirely sure what the Realms of the Spirit were. He had spent time during that fateful night of his initiation dwelling in the places often described as heaven and hell. He had briefly glimpsed the other - the sacred realm with no good, no evil . . . only existence. He did not understand it, could not comprehend it, yet somehow knew that mankind’s collective souls had started out at the bottom, in the place often described as hell, and had to progress onward to heaven, and then further on, to the Zones of Neutrality. To stop the process at any interval of its journey was to do the soul irreparable harm. And this was what the hoards of the soulless had planned for the Human race. Everlasting torment, stuck in one place on the soul’s cycle, unable to enter or exit . . . the brave Human soul, forever aborted. Roland knew that his work was the most important thing possible. He knew exactly what he had to do, and it seemed simple enough, but it had been his experience that anything that appeared simple usually was the most difficult thing to accomplish. The time had been close enough, and the Significancy factors great enough to have permitted an accurate scrying into the immediate future. What he had seen was that the day had been set for the release of Byblyeonnae from her treasonous charges. Byblyeonnae’s release and renewed popularity with the Peoples of the Lands were easily read - so were the signs of warfare that quickly followed these events. Roland had no recourse but to wait, but he knew that he would not have to wait long.

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C H A P T E R

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Their Ghastly Tasks . . . ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Gemma groped in the dark, a feeling of suffocation suffusing her mind. Dimly, she saw a pale light throughout the coffin, and then her throat began to close in panic. She could no longer breathe. She reached out with her hands, and met cold, unyielding wood against her soft flesh. She knew they had buried her alive. The thick blood of the dead Troll hung heavy and viscous in her mouth, and its taste was bitter. She could smell its foul smell from the blood which had dribbled through her hair, now dried in a filthy, gelatinous clot. Her stomach began to heave, and before she knew it, she felt her vomit bubbling through her stomach, through her throat, to lay heavy on her chest. And the silent weight of the closed coffin just closed in, heavy and ominous. There was not a sound, save her own labored breathing and the pounding of her heart. How long had she lain there? It seemed like days . . . but it had only been minutes for the blood of the Troll was not yet cold. His naked body lay atop her, and she could feel a deep revulsion overwhelm her. She clawed hysterically at the coffin, but nothing would give. She pushed at the lid with all her strength . . . but to no avail. Nothing. Stillness. Darkness, save the eerie glow of the aftermagik. She started to sob, then scream, still kicking at the coffin lid. Nothing. Stillness. She felt as if she was alone with her mind, a mind which had suddenly become unglued, and had turned against her. Did the Troll move? Her mind was playing tricks on her. She kept on kicking, struggling with all her might. Nothing. She could feel her fingers bleeding from the raw contact with the wooden lid, but she felt no pain. All she could perceive was terror encroaching onto all the pathways of her brain. Sheer animal terror, and she was willing to do anything she could do to get out of the coffin. She had heard somewhere of animals chewing off their leg to escape from a trap, preferring to lose a limb than remain the victim of their tortured fate. At the time she had found that fact unbelievable; now she wished that she had that same undeniable opportunity for freedom. Even mutilation was denied her as an escape. She knew that she was going mad. Her thoughts rambled on aimlessly. Air! Shouldn’t she at least be able to suffocate to the Dark Night of her Soul? And be saved this terrifying descent to insanity? The air had to be limited in supply. Then she noticed the soft light she had thought was the effects of the aftermagik. Was there a hole at the foot of the coffin? She could barely see its bottom, could only do so if she twisted her body into unimaginable positions, and then only for a moment. There was nothing. So presumably, she would remain there until she suffocated to death. She swallowed hard. At least, the descent into the Dark Night of her Soul would be preferable to this torment. She felt herself sinking into despair. She could feel her terrible isolation like a canker on her soul. There was no one who knew where she was. They had said she was supposed to remain here, no doubt until she was dead. Suddenly horror crawled over her skin with leprous hands. They had said that she would be safe there for all eternity! What had they meant?

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She didn’t need a reply, for the answer to her question flowed like bitter gall in her throat. She was trapped in a time portal, she had overheard the Goddess speaking to her companion. It was as if no time had passed for her. She was in a state of being, suspended in the Aethyr, going neither here nor there. Her body was in stasis. She would need neither food nor water, air nor sleep . . . for eternity. The continuing horror swept over her once again, and she began screaming in earnest, pounding on the coffin lid once more. “Gemma! Gemma! Wake up!” Madrion gently shook her awake. “Was it the nightmare again? You were screaming and kicking, I thought I’d better wake you.” Gemma collapsed in sobs on Madrion’s shoulder. She was still shaking, and beads of sweat formed on her forehead, coursing down her face. Madrion put her arms around the young Queen, and held her as she sobbed her agony out on her shoulder. “Madrion! Make it stop, “ she cried. “Please, please, make it stop. make it go away. I know you can do it, please. stop this, I cannot bear it any longer.” Madrion wiped her brow with her handkerchief, saying gently, “I could give you something to make you forget the whole incident, Gemma, but it would not be ultimately healthy for your state of mind - I’ve told you this before. You must work though this on your own, and in your own time. The only true way out is through it, and though I know ‘tis phenomenally unpleasant, still, I promise you that if you do it this way, you will gain an almost superhuman strength which cannot be achieved in any other fashion. I can promise you this. You must believe me.” Gemma’s response was only to sob further. She continued wailing for well on ten minutes, but eventually, her body spent, she wiped her eyes, and looked at Madrion. “I’m sorry, Madrion. I don’t usually have these nightmares every night, but recently they come like clockwork.” Madrion nodded sagely. “Aye. ‘Tis the trial, it is bringing all of Byblyeonnae’s evil filth back to life in your head. She cannot harm you now, Gemma, you must believe that, and also, it is healthy that you’ve been experiencing these nightmares. It means your subconscious brain is releasing the old pain and terror. “Forget all this for the time being, however, for you must go to sleep now. Tomorrow will be the biggest day in all the annals of Madurian history, Aye, the biggest in all of Earthenworld’s history, for that matter. You won’t want to miss any of it, that’s for certain. Go to sleep, I’ve brought you a mild sleeping potion, which will help your slumber.” Gemma nodded gratefully, drank the proffered potion and sank thankfully into a dreamless sleep.

Once again the next day dawned bright and sunny, as it had been for most of the trial. Gemma dragged on her Queenly robes with limbs of wood, and tried unsuccessfully to rub the weariness out of her eyes. She had been losing too many nights of sleep lately, since the trial had begun, and she felt like she had not slept in months. Her manner and complexion showed her tiredness, for she looked sallow and wan. The dark robes of Office she had to wear during the trial only served to make her look further washed out. In contrast, Byblyeonnae looked radiant, in a soft lilac dress. A purplish-pink cloak, lined in white wolf fur, was thrown casually over the shoulders. She waved and blew kisses to the crowds gathered in the streets, and they waved back, clearly taken by her appearance. Obviously, Byblyeonnae did not mean to die today. Korda stood beside her, his tall frame equally well dressed in a suit of deep moss green. Although he was ugly, his character and aura contrived to make him a man of much attraction when he so desired. It was only the previous day that he had used his magikal glamor to make himself seem like the most loathsome worm, and all had believed him, so powerful was his aura. Today, he stood solemnly, contrasting well with the vibrant sprite at his side, and once in a while he would lean to embrace her with all the fondness of a devoted father. Their depths of hypocrisy knew no bounds.

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Gemma had to face the last day of the trial herself, for Allys and Roland were in Farieland, Jarrett was involved in readying his small army for the battle ahead, and Madrion and Mystyere could not afford to let Korda see them. She saw Byblyeonnae and Korda as their coach made its way to the court house and thought sarcastically, “This affair’s been well orchestrated, has it not? Methinks they have made their plans well. She still has her eyes on my throne . . . but my people will be ever loyal to me. They have known me all their life, and while they may feel sympathy for Byblyeonnae, and truly feel that she should live, that is all that they feel. They would never wish her to take the throne from me. They just don’t want her to be executed, that’s all.” But as there was no one there to agree or disagree with her, Gemma had to let the matter rest. She arrived in the courthouse in plenty of time, and sat and watched morosely. Byblyeonnae talked happily to Korda, her defense attorney and father, while Gemma thought that she had never seen such a show before in her life. She was used to honesty in her dealings, and was shocked to think that some people lived their lives in duplicity. Her thoughts shifted to a poem by an ancient, long dead poet, the famous Anon, from the late nineteenth century, just before the End times. She had had no understanding of the piece at the time, but now she was beginning to make some sense out of it. She had been fascinated by the words and the textures they evoked, and she knew that it was about an evil, though it was really about a fun and traditionally happy event, a party . . . a cocktail party she remembered, though she had no idea of what that was. She hoped that by occupying her brain she could provide herself with a respite from what now loomed ahead, so she mentally quoted the few lines she remembered, my mind screams to shatter caked remains of gibberish chatter pasted onto the coffee trays bludgeoned onto the cocktail haze. Bones of the dead, murky broth simmering low ‘neath the cocktail sauce churning chunks of stewing dread eaten lasciviously with lumps of bread, while fiends of ecstasy romanticize fallacy reveal it’s awful fantasy. Their ghastly tasks unmask the framework of my brain nothing left to sustain the remnants of any mighty Cain. . . She realized that the poem just served to make her more apprehensive, for the images it evoked reminded her too brightly of Korda and Byblyeonnae. She stopped and tried to keep her mind still. Suddenly the court was already in session, the preliminary rituals over. Before she knew what was happenings, she heard the bailiff crying, “The court calls Her most Royal highness, The Blood Queen of Madur, Talies and all the Northlands, the Queen Gemma of the Royal house of Terran.” What was Korda up to now? Gemma did not know, but she did know that she had to comply with his request, according to her father’s laws. She was solemnly sworn in, vowing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “Could you tell the court who you are?’ asked Korda, Byblyeonnae’s defense attorney. He glibly keeping his face emotionless. “What is this question? I am the Blood Queen of Madur, Talies, and all the Northlands, Queen Gemma of the Royal House of Terran, formerly the Princess Taliesin of Terran, and the High Priestess of all the Lands! What a ridiculous question! What’s your point?”

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“I beg Your Highness’s patience for a moment, while I clarify the purpose of my questioning. I am not from around these parts, so please bear with me for a moment. Now, how is it that you came to ascend to the throne? I had thought that your destiny was to be the High Priestess of all the Lands, a job large enough to occupy all your time. But now you are the Queen of all the Lands - a most high office. But I thought that there were others in line for the throne . . . ?” “My brothers were cruelly murdered by that woman!” cried Gemma, pointing to Byblyeonnae. Suddenly she realized that Korda had once again manipulated her into saying what he wanted her to say. She had lost her rational thought; her nights of sleeplessness and terror were catching up on her, and she was definitely losing her cool. She had to get a grip, regain control. She determined that she would remain calm at all costs, and gripped the sides of her chair with a crippling ferocity. “The court has not determined that my client is responsible for the crimes you mention. We would like to ask how you know of these things, so that you can formulate a clear cut verdict of my client’s guilt. Do you have access to evidence not admitted into this court, and if you do, perhaps you should share this evidence with us . . . ?” “N . . . n . . . no,” stammered Gemma, fighting to keep her voice from shaking. “Well, if that’s the case, perhaps you should keep what seems to merely be your opinion to yourself, for I will persuade my client to sue for slander should you continue with your vicious statements. Speaking of viciousness, I hear that you’ve built a scaffold for my client. It seems you have already established her guilt, and wanted to be prepared to hang her as soon as possible. I wonder why that is?” Gemma only stared at him. In this light, the building of the scaffold did seem to be a precipitous move on her part. But Korda was not finished. “My client is only an illegitimate child of a bastard - me. I cared for her as best I could when she was found as a babe and brought to me. I knew who she was immediately by her birthmark. I could not believe that her mother, my lover, would be so evil as to leave her out to die.” “What is the point of this story?” asked the prosecution. “Please bear with me for a moment, your honor, I shall get to my point immediately,” pleaded Korda. “Then get to it,” was the curt reply. But when Korda did get to the point he was making, it was not what anyone expected. “Byblyeonnae never left the Northlands, which is our home, until she came to claim the throne of Madur. She did this out of the kindness of her heart, for she knew there was no one left to take care of the Peoples of the Lands.” “But she kidnapped me! That’s why there was no one left to rule the Lands!” “That has not been proven, Your Majesty. You yourself said that you never saw the face of the other kidnapper. The other you identified as a Goddess of the Blood . . . Now I propose that you have fabricated this entire story! A Goddess of the Blood? Indeed . . . !” Gemma looked frantically around the room, and she could see shades of disbelief mirrored on all the faces. “But why would you do such a thing? I propose further that you were the one to brutally murder your own brothers - you had motive as well as access - and that you have fabricated this entire story in order to murder by legal hanging the only other remaining member of the Blood Line of Terran. “Objection! Objection!” The prosecution was on his feet. “This is irrelevant to the trial in process!” “Sustained,” called the judge, but his voice was lost amidst the shouts and clamors sounding throughout the court room. “Order in the court!” shouted the bailiff, but his voice too was lost in the noise. The news of Korda’s accusation spread like wildfire out to the streets lined with Queen Gemma’s subjects.

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The Queen Gemma herself had to fight to keep herself from fainting. She clenched the rails with brittle determination. She refused to make the scene that Korda obviously expected, and said nothing, with only the high color in cheeks to give away her emotions. Her lawyer had obviously assessed the situation, and was duly incensed. The judge warned Korda that any further unfounded accusations of that sort would result in a charge against him for a contempt of court. Korda seemed entirely unaffected by this admonition, but carried on blithely. “I am merely trying to make a case for my client, by showing that others had motives as well for the heinous kidnapping of the Queen of the Lands. I am gravely sorry if that has offended anyone here in the courts, and I apologize. But everyone must realize that the life of my client - my only daughter - is at stake, and I must try every avenue available to set her free.” At this point, Korda managed to look distraught, and Gemma marveled anew at his chameleon-like abilities. But the damage was done. The jury, consisting of twelve objective subjects of Gemma’s Lands, which meant subjects that knew no one of the court, looked sympathetic. But Gemma already knew what the verdict would be, for Madrion had scryed this point in time. The significant events leading up to the verdict had been great enough to permit an accurate scryed future - something that was extremely rare. The court broke for a short recess, while the jury deliberated their verdict. Gemma wandered disconsolately in the streets, surrounded by her guards. When she walked the streets of her Madur, she would often stop to say hello to this or that subject, a habit picked up from her gregarious father. Today was no exception. Her subjects approached her, and with one and the same voice, most of them pleaded with Gemma to make peace with her half-sister. “She’s all you have left,” said Haelean, the baker’s wife, who had fed Gemma and her cousins hot currant buns whenever they had passed her shop on their way to this or that activity. Gemma knew her well, but this time she had nothing to say to her. Others, too, expressed sympathy for Byblyeonnae, and hoped that thing would go in her favor. Gemma knew that the jury were feeling the very same things, and that a large part of their verdict would be due to the showmanship of Korda and Byblyeonnae, and, a possibility she never doubted for an instant, the subtle use of magik. When she returned to the court houses, the jury was ready to return with its verdict. As expected, the verdict was not guilty. Most of the court breathed a sigh of relief, and the judge called for a moment to respond to the verdict. He breathed ponderously and said, “What we have witnessed here in these courtrooms will go down in the annals of Madurian history. A battle has been fought, to determine the guilt of an abandoned child, who, if she did commit the crime of kidnapping, could be exonerated by the vicious circumstances of her birth. An innocent babe, she was left to pay for the crimes of her mother and her father. I can only hope that our most high Queen of all the Lands will find it in her heart to forgive the past, and welcome into her heart and home her long-lost sibling. Then I believe that the Gods of all the Lands will be pleased. “ Byblyeonnae cried aloud with pleasure. She turned to her huge father, and he lifted her off of the ground, twirling her around with joy. As soon as he put her down, she rushed over to Gemma and embraced her also. Gemma could smell the scent of her expensive perfume, and found her stomach feeling queasy. She pulled away, but Byblyeonnae persisted. “Your Royal Highness, Queen Gemma, my sister! I have wanted to meet you for so long. You cannot imagine my despair when I heard that you had been killed, with that young man. I had believed you to be dead; aye, we all thought that you had descended into the Dark Night of your Soul, following the paths of your family. I did not want to take the throne, but Korda persuaded me that it was my duty. I am so glad that you are unharmed, and here to reclaim your rightful place at the head of the country.”

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Byblyeonnae was fully aware that there was a large audience for her speech. Curious subjects were gathered all around to hear what they thought was the first conversation engaged in by the twins. Byblyeonnae told them exactly what they wanted to hear. The Queen Gemma found herself in a bind. She could not say what was really on her mind, for her subjects would be shocked. They were far too innocent to understand Byblyeonnae’s evil wiles, and most of them believed that the evils that had befallen the Lands when Byblyeonnae had started her rule had nothing to do with her. There were others, of course, who knew the truth, but Byblyeonnae’s guards had made certain that those loyal to Gemma, who knew what Byblyeonnae was doing, had met untimely deaths. “My thanks,” murmured Gemma. But Byblyeonnae was not finished. “I beg of thee this one boon, that I may return to the home of my mother, and spend some time with thee, my sister.” Here, Byblyeonnae wiped tears from her beautiful eyes. She had adopted the intimate form of address, the ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ , the conversational mode of love, and the onlookers nodded their heads with approval. It was only right that these two should address each other as such, for was their mother not one and the same Tamsyn, Blood Queen of all the Lands? It mattered little that they had different fathers; Tamsyn was the one whose Royal Line was directly descended from the ancient Kings of the past. Both of her daughters were of the Blood also. Out of the corner of her eyes, Gemma saw Jarrett standing in the doorway of the courtroom, obviously looking for her. He must have decided that she needed a little moral support. “A little late,” she thought bitterly, but she kept that thought to herself. Jarrett had many good qualities, but sensitivity was not one of them. He saw her and smiled his familiar heart-wrenching smile. Gemma was used to his charm by now, but Byblyeonnae was obviously entranced. Her suggestive eyes reached his across the room, and held them for an instant. He knew who she was, but was entirely unprepared for the reality of her actual presence. Byblyeonnae was a beautiful woman, and she knew how to use her charms. She coyly looked down to the floor as Jarrett approached, and waited for Gemma and Jarrett to greet each other. She knew that Jarrett was aware of her, even though his attention seemed to be centered on Gemma. Indeed, Jarrett had no idea of what had hit him. There was an attraction between him and Byblyeonnae; of that he was certain. But how that was possible, he did not know. He loved Gemma, didn’t he? Even though he knew that he could not hope to have any kind of intimate relationship with her until her Term of Office as the High Priestess either spanned the allotted seven years, or she gave it up to another. He had been willing to wait. But now an alien presence had entered his mind, and he swiftly experienced doubt about all his plans . . . his life . . . everything. He was unaware that Byblyeonnae was still under the glamor that she had worn for the court, a faint magikal spell that influenced any who saw her. So her image naturally instigated itself favorably upon his brain. But Jarrett’s character faults lent the glamor a ring of truth; he was an aggressive and impatient man, and thus had already sullied his body with magikal spells. So his body responded with familiarity to the glamor, and Jarrett was left never knowing why. His rational mind warned him of the immense danger, and kept a tight rein on his emotions, so that none but Byblyeonnae was aware of what was taking place. Byblyeonnae still waited for Gemma’s response to her plea. Gemma did not know what to do, so Byblyeonnae turned her sorrowful eyes to Jarrett with the same plea. “Surely it can do no harm, to have her stay for a while?” he asked. “She’s mighty sorry for any inconvenience she’s caused you.” Jarrett seemed to have forgotten all about Byblyeonnae’s evil ways for the time being; and indeed he had, for even without the glamor he would have been attracted to her looks; with the glamor, and his body

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clamoring for the magik, he was a lost cause. He could not tear his eyes away from Byblyeonnae’s face. This was more than enough for Gemma. “Nay!” she snapped. “There’s no place at the castle tonight for her, as we have visitors, and we are not prepared. But we will be able to accommodate her tomorrow!” Gemma knew full well that by tomorrow, the battle would be well underway, and that it would be too late for Byblyeonnae to worm her way into the castle. Byblyeonnae hesitated a moment, taken aback, her eyes suddenly sharp. Then she relaxed, and sweetly said, “I thank thee, kind sister. But I have prepared a gift for thee, with my own two hands, a gift of repentance. I have spent much time with it, and I beg of thee that I be allowed to present to thee this evening at thy home? I will not feel well until I deliver it into your hands.” Gemma looked and felt uneasy. It was a trick, she knew it was a trick, but she did not know how to gracefully back out of the situation. She thought furiously, determined to think up some excuse, when Jarrett spoke up and foolishly said, “Eighteen hundred hours will be an appropriate time, my dear, and you must stay for supper.”

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C H A P T E R

2 6

A Serpent At Her Throat ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Byblyeonnae showed up at the castle at eighteen hundred hours, bearing a long wooden box festooned with ribbons and flowers. With her were many of the folk from the courtroom, who had overheard that she would be bringing Gemma a gift of repentance, and were curious about what it might be. They followed her throughout the streets, basking in the evening’s warmth. The sun was now low on the horizon. Gemma began to wonder at Madrion’s prophecy that this would be one of the most portentous days in the history of the Earthenworld, that the great battle would be started on this day. Roland lay awaiting it in Faerieland; Madrion and Mystyere were concocting who knew what spells to prevent it; yet there was nothing happening. The evening retained its usual pearlescent hue that often hung low over Madur with the mists blown in by the ocean breeze. Everything was quiet and normal. Byblyeonnae entered the castle that had only months before been hers to rule, and she swept through the foyer, into the drawing room where Gemma and Jarrett sat waiting. Jarrett had been sorry for his rash invitation as soon as Byblyeonnae had disappeared

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from sight this afternoon, but Madrion had assured him that the invitation had not been solely of his doing. “‘Tis the glamor she has put upon her,” she advised. “That is a kind of spell to change the essence of herself to any who behold her, so that they perceive her as what she wants them to see.” She neglected to tell him that his soul was still bound to the Faerie Ariganna in many ways, and thus craved magik, indeed would even search it out if it could not find it. She could give him no spell to counteract Byblyeonnae’s glamor, for it was his own soul responding in kind. Taking sympathy on him, however, she did hand him a potion, saying that it would help Jarrett take his mind off of Byblyeonnae. She didn’t tell him how . . . it was an itching potion, a potion that produced an insatiable itch that could not be doused. As soon as one found the spot that itched, it no longer did, instead another place on the body would flare up. It was a cruel potion, to be sure, but Byblyeonnae’s glamor might have proven to be ultimately more cruel. Jarrett had innocently downed the mixture, and only after it had been safely imbibed did Madrion tell him what it was. He honestly felt like wringing her neck, but wisely decided against it. Laying a hand on a witch was always a risky venture. Instead he petulantly rubbed calamine lotion all over his body, at least the parts that wouldn’t show, and vainly hoped for the best. Thus, when Byblyeonnae made her delectable appearance, he barely noticed. He was too concerned with appeasing the mighty itch, without looking too ridiculous. She said, “Hello, Jarrett,” in her sultry voice, and took his hand. She gazed soulfully into his eyes, and he could feel a distinct stirring in his loins; unfortunately, it was exactly there that the next itch began to work its vicious way to, so he dropped her hand and averted his eyes, hastily crossing his legs and cursing Madrion at the same moment in time.

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Byblyeonnae looked a trifle nonplused at his reaction, but collected herself graciously and seated herself as near to Jarrett as was possible. She smiled lovingly at him, and watched bemused as her smile caused him to squirm sideways. She thought his behavior most peculiar, for men always melted at her smile, and she knew that Jarrett found her attractive. Fortunately, Madrion's bizarre idea seemed to be working. Being too embarrassed, he had not shared what Madrion had done with Gemma, and thus Gemma too found his actions most peculiar. “So, you have brought a gift,” Gemma stated. “I suppose you will have twinges of guilt for what you have put me through. But let’s get one thing straight. You cannot fool me like you can the peoples of my Lands. I know exactly what you’ve been up to. If you think that I’m accepting any gift from you, you must be crazy.” “I knew that you’d not be fooled, sister dear. I am not so foolish as to underestimate your intelligence. But as to the acceptance of my gift, it’s a trifle late for that,” snapped Byblyeonnae. She opened the box at her feet, and out slithered a silver serpent. It was about seven feet long, and its girth looked to be about what a man’s hand could encompass. As fast as the blink of an eye, the serpent stared Gemma in the face, and slithered swiftly out of the slightly open door. “Recognize it?” she purred. “If not, you soon will. And now I must go. This was the only way I could get back into the castle. That tiresome trial! But I was told that I could only deliver the serpent here by invitation to the castle - which Jarrett obligingly gave me.” She stared at Jarrett, who was occupied with trying to surreptitiously reach a distant itch on his back, and shook her head in bewilderment.

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“Didn’t you learn anything from your stay at that witch Madrion’s domain?” she asked him. “Never speak to the undead, let alone invite them into your house.” Jarrett forsook his itch to cry, “But you are not an undead!” “Are you so sure?” asked Byblyeonnae. She let go of her use of the glamor. Jarrett and Gemma felt their bodies go rigid with shock. Gemma remembered Greyff’s transformation, but this was far worse. There was no physical difference in Byblyeonnae’s form, but an immense difference in her persona. The malevolent evil that glared from her eyes seemed intense enough to kill them on the spot. The temperature in the room dropped perceptibly, and Gemma shivered. The room, so warm and cozy a few moments ago, was now freezing cold. In the corner of the room, a few knick-knacks shook and fell to the floor. A distinct odor of decay and putrefaction assailed their nostrils, and the cousins gagged. The light went out, and the roaring fire in the hearth was suddenly extinguished. They could see nothing in the blackness that quivered and quaked about their ears, and all they could feel was the intense cold crawling up and down their spines. Jarrett’s itch entirely ceased to be, as he felt Gemma’s frightened hand in his. A flash of light from the heavens sudenly silhouetted the silver serpent. It was raised to strike at Gemma! Before she could move back, its head reared and its fangs sunk into Gemma’s tender neck. Byblyeonnae had vanished, was nowhere to be seen as more and more flashes of light zig-zagged into the room. The serpent clung tenaciously to Gemma’s neck, sucking out her life blood. Her face turned pale and ashen. “Jarrett! Help me!” she choked. But Jarrett was already doing all he could. He had the serpent in both his hands, trying to dislodge its fangs from Gemma’s neck, but to no

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avail. The serpent had the strength of several men, and Jarrett was unable to budge it one iota. The flashes of light continued to race across the sky, lighting the interior of the room with bizarre thrusts of energy. Gemma’s eyes were now closed, and her breathing slowed. Jarrett cursed his lack of a weapon, for there was no way that he could make any difference to the serpent’s attack. The serpent continued to drink voraciously at Gemma’s neck, its silver body growing warmer with each passing minute. And with each passing minute, Gemma’s breathing grew shallower. Suddenly the door blew open with a smash. Madrion was in the doorway, floating high in the air. She wore an expression of great pain on her face as she whispered, “They’ve anticipated our preparations! I must get Roland here, Jarrett, otherwise Gemma will die. I shall be back.” She vanished quickly into the Aethyr, in search of Roland. Jarrett prayed that she would be on time. Mystyere entered the room swiftly behind the departing Madrion and rushed over to help Jarrett. He muttered a spell under his breath, but to no avail. The serpent continued to feed on Gemma’s bloodied neck. “Foils!” he swore. “My magik has no affect whatsoever on this serpent. I should have known, ‘tis the same one that lay on Roland’s amulet, from the Zones of Neutrality. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. But I can slow the flow of Gemma’s blood, but not by much and not for long. Roland is the only one who can help her now.” Mystyere muttered another spell under his breath, and Jarrett could hear the sucking sounds of the serpent slowing down. He cradled Gemma’s head in his arms, and begged her forgiveness for inviting Byblyeonnae into the castle, but apologies were too late now. Gemma’s pulse was erratic, and she had fainted completely away.

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“Ye Gods!” exclaimed Mystyere, looking out at the sky. “It has begun!” Jarrett had been too busy with Gemma to notice what was happening outside the castle. When he glanced out, his blood froze in his veins. Hoards of gigantic black creatures with wings like bats were descending from the heavens, seizing the folk on the streets and carrying them upward. Screams of agony penetrated the night. The zig-zagging lights had now fused with streaks of red and gold that illuminated the sky with ghastly hue. And all that could be seen was thousands these creatures, carrying men, women, children to the skies. Blood was falling everywhere too, falling out of the sky, like raindrops, splattering everywhere. The stench was thick and cloying. And still they came. Gargoyles, gigantic and strong, carrying off the weak and helpless. And riding on the back of one, her legs stretched wantonly around his head, was Byblyeonnae, laughing wildly, her dress of scarlet blending well into the bloody mist. The flashes of lightening proved to be Abaddon, who was floating in the sky, flinging bolts to the Earth. He caught up to Byblyeonnae and placed his arm around her shoulder. “It seems, fair cousin, that the citizens of Madur are quite unprepared for our attack!” Jarrett held the inert Gemma in his arms and mentally cursed the two in the sky. He could hear nothing of their speech, but could accurately surmise its contents. Where was Roland? If he did not arrive within the next minute, Gemma would finally be the victim of her half-sister’s foul, murderous planning.

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C H A P T E R

2 7

Treason In The Outerworlds ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶

Roland and Allys were struggling for their lives in the Outerworlds. Gruelen had gathered his forces, which included many dissident Elves, Piscies, Gnomes and Trolls. He had fashioned a strong army and had attacked the outer perimeters of Farieland just moments before Byblyeonnae had entered the castle at Madur. They had taken the Faerie Forces by surprise, but the Faeries were not unprepared. Ariganna had finally shown her mettle by preparing the Faerie Forces for battle . . . and ready they were. While she had once been willing to give up her own freedom to dally with Korda, the capture and imprisonment of her homelands was unthinkable to her. She had used some of her constant time with Jarrett wisely, for Jarrett was well versed in the theories of warfare, and probably knew more about it than any other human in the Kingdom of Madur. Although she had had stars in her eyes, and she was none too bright, still, the Faeries trusted her, and she also showed more intelligence than most of them. She therefore was on the alert when Gruelen swarmed into the Faerie domain with his brutal soldiers. She was unprepared for what came next, however. For suddenly, all around, the air screamed with fallen Faeries, their life blood of clear watery fluid flowing to the ground, mingling with the pink colored blood of the Nymphs. There was little green Elven blood, and as far as the eye could see, none of the darker brown and black blood of the Gnomes, Goblins and Trolls. But the Faeries were falling like flies. Roland hefted Durendel with all his might, though the attackers seemed to know enough of his famed sword to keep their distance. Allys shot her quiverful of arrows, but the enemy hoards seemed to have a magikal aura of protection. As she reached for another arrow, she found her quiver empty, and at the same time, the Nymph Twirla darted to her side. Allys turned gratefully to the Nymph, but her eyes became round in horror when she saw the glittering blade of a dagger in Twirla’s hand, suddenly pressed against her breast. “So, how can your precious Roland, or the gallant Greyff save you now?” snarled the jealous Nymph. She forced the silver-haired Allys to walk through the fighting masses, and made her way to stand by Gruelen. “Here, I’ve delivered what I’ve promised. Now, you must pay my price.” “Later, you wretched Nymph,” growled Gruelen. He put his arm around Allys’s neck, and painfully squeezed. All around, Faeries were sinking to the ground in agony, writhing with pain, dying by the hundreds. Their screams were deafening, filling the enchanted air with shards of grotesque emotions. Roland could stand the butchery no longer. And then he saw his beloved Allys, caught by Gruelen’s brutal grip. He called out to Gruelen, saying boldly, “You have no quarrel with the fair Allys. She has done you no harm - she wound never hurt anything. Let her go! Your quarrel is with me, and I will give myself up if you set her free.” “Nay, Roland!” shrieked Ariganna. “‘Tis a trick! He will not let her go, even if you do give yourself up! And the Faeries, they are all an illusion! Faerie Folk do not die this easily, nor do they squeal like stuck pigs!”

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Allys echoed her plea, hoarsely, for Gruelen’s grasp was strong. She was fearful for Roland, and for his destiny. “Roland! Do not listen to him! Leave me! ” But they were too late. Roland had already bridged the distance between Gruelen and himself with long strides. With a laugh of triumph, Gruelen tossed Allys to a waiting Goblin, and had his sword at Roland’s neck. His other hand wrested the sword Durendel from Roland’s grip. Immediately the dying Faeries and Nymphs vanished, and there remained only the Faerie Forces, unhurt, standing, watching Gruelen hoist the sword that was to help save the Earthenworld, and with it, Eternity. Too late, Roland saw the evil scheme. Gruelen had fabricated the scenes filled with the dying and wounded Faerie and Nymphen hoards; ‘twas only a trick after all. And he seemed to have no intention of releasing Allys. Roland had been prepared for many things, but not for the duplicity of the enemy forces; now that ignorance may have cost him the war, as well as the life of his precious love. Gruelen waved Durendel ferociously, obviously elated by his success. The Trolls, Gnomes and Goblins, and others of his army were standing off, leering at the stricken Ariganna. Seconds later, they vanished without a trace, taking Roland, Allys and the fabled sword with them. Ariganna sunk to the ground, clutching her body close to her. Twirla! Her best and favored friend! Betrayer! And Roland and Allys, Jarrett’s friends. He would never forgive her, she knew. What could she do? Her body filled with wracking sobs, as she retched and moaned on the grasses of Farieland.

Roland found himself atop a mountain, where cold and icy winds blew sharp and strong. He couldn’t stop shivering. Gruelen was by his side, but Allys, along with Gruelen’s hoards of fighting soldiers, was nowhere to be seen. They were alone on the mountain on a flat plateau of land, with stone chairs and a stone throne carved out of the very rock, protruding upward from the belly of the flattened mountain top. Gruelen looked at him with an evil grin. He laid the sword Durendel on the ground next to Roland, and said with a leer, “The master has said that here you were to stay, out of harm’s way. I cannot separate you from the sword, for it will not leave you. But I can make sure that you will be no trouble to us in our conquest of the Earthenworld, and the Eternity. I’ve always fancied having a mortal soul! What a rite of passage it will give me!” He reached into the pouch that hung below his belt and withdrew a fine piece of silver rope. He tied Roland’s hands together, and then his feet, brutally joining them behind his back, so that he could not move. He then looped the rope around Roland’s neck, so that if he should try to straighten up he would strangle himself. Then, just to make sure that Roland was secure, he hoisted him up onto the throne, (which also doubled as an altar), and trussed him to the four corners of the stone. Roland lay on his belly, his hands and feet cruelly bound behind his back and neck, and cords of silver binding him further to the stone altar. Roland could feel the bite of the frigid wind as it nibbled his ears and toes and fingers, and he felt the frozen familiarity of the stone beneath his stomach seeping through his belly, freezing his innards as surely as if he was being cooked on a fire of ice. “Why do you not just kill me now, Gruelen, and be done with it?” he said to Gruelen, his chattering teeth making the words almost incoherent. “We cannot! Surely you know that yours is a destiny that cannot be snuffed out so simply. The master suspected that you had been re-born into this time, but until you activated the power of the amulet he could not be sure. You did not know that by releasing the sword, you also released the serpent who never sleeps, who paces his time

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on this land, who covets all the souls in the galaxy for his own use, the serpent who is many things and all things of this world.” “Aye, I knew that, Gruelen. I knew that I had to let him go, for that was the only way I could conquer him. I know who he is, and I know how to destroy him. I also have the means with which to do so.” Here, he stared meaningfully at Durendel, still laying on the ground below the altar. “But you will not have the opportunity,” laughed Gruelen. “And the fair maid Allys will be a welcome addition to my bed!” With more uproarious laughter, Gruelen vanished, leaving Roland stranded on the desolate frozen mountain top. Roland groaned and tried to lift his head to survey his surroundings. All he could see was the bleak shards of jagged mountain teeth scraping the steel-gray sky. He tried to move, to lay on his side, but he was totally unsuccessful. The sharp cold stone just bruised his already cold body, and the energy he expended with his futile movements seemed hardly justifiable, considering his dire circumstances. But he could not just lay there. He searched his memory for some spell to unfasten the silver cords, but when he found one and applied it, it bounced against a ferocious counter-spell, locking the silver ropes intact. The resulting pain from the collision of spells left him gasping for air, but still he persevered. He next tried a spell to surround himself with some warmth, but once again he failed. This mountain top obviously sheltered the hub of the nefarious mob; and they had ensorcelled it well. Still, Roland knew that buried within his head was the correct spell to help him; he just had to search for it, and to keep enduring the pain when his unsuccessful attempts created a backlash of torture. He was well aware of the price of magik. He scoured his brain for further help. He reluctantly tried a simple spell for transportation, and doubled up in torment when the resultant repercussions almost rendered him unconscious. He had realized through his pain-hazed brain that a simple transportation spell would certainly have been guarded against, but he had to try. Now what? Nothing seemed to work.

All of a sudden, he knew that Gemma was losing her life. She had trod down the first steps to the descent to the Dark Night of her Soul. She was about to die. He also knew, with a ferocious certainty, that him and his sword Durendel, would be the only things that could save her. He knew also that Allys, his one and only love of all time, was in mortal danger. And here he was, trapped on a solitary mountain top, with the birds of the air as his only companions. Totally useless and of no help to anyone at all. He focused his energy, and searched for Madrion. He could see her, in his mind’s eye, not her physical presence, for he had no reflective surface on which to scry an image, but her soul, her spiritual entity. She was searching for him, desperate to find him. He strengthened his resolve, and called to her through the Aethyr, hoping that he could reach her. As she had been desperately searching for him, he had little difficulty getting through to her. Swiftly, he told her of his circumstances, and how he came to be there. “Not even your magik can help me now, Madrion! I have tried all manner of spells, and found none to be effective, and the backlash has almost killed me.” “You stupid man!” Madrion’s piercing shriek into the recesses of his brain almost caused Roland to pass out again. “Use the sword!” With that, Madrion removed herself from Roland’s mind to clear it up so that he could focus on the sword. Roland cursed himself even more than Madrion. How could he be so stupid as to forget the awesome power of the sword? Quickly he opened his mind to the sword’s power, taking care not to allow its sharp edge to cut off any smidgens of his brain, and when he had accomplished this to his satisfaction, he allowed the power to open itself up in full force.

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A thin slice of golden light shone suddenly from the sun, a slash in the gray clouds allowing it to shine through with magnificent splendor. The light seemed to focus the sun’s rays with inordinate intensity, focusing on the silver ropes that bound Roland. With a burst of heat, the cords were burnt off, leaving Roland's wrists and ankles slightly scarred. He whooped with joy from the unexpected freedom, and quickly stopped himself as his concentration broke and the sky grew cloudy once more. He reached for his sword and knelt, holding it up by its blade, pointing toward the light. The blade cut his hands, and drops of scarlet blood spilled onto the stone altar. Still he held on firmly, as the sword lifted him to the edge of the mountain, and quickly, as if he were attached to a long rope, swung him down. He was aware that he was entering the Aethyr, and he clung on grimly. His blood was flowing freely now, splattering down his arms, dripping into his eyes. He did not loosen his grip.

Jarrett lay Gemma’s head down on the floor, while Mystyere watched with pity. It was too late. The serpent still lay with her, sucking lustily, its silvered form now warm and glowing scarlet with stolen life. Jarrett stared out of the window, where the Gargoyles cavorted and played, tossing the Humans back and forth to each other in the starry night sky. Byblyeonnae and Abaddon were no longer to be seen. “No doubt,” Jarrett thought bitterly, “making more fiendish plans. She has succeeded in killing Gemma, and to think that I actually found her attractive!” Tears coursed down his eyes, and he turned once more to the fallen Queen, trying to chaff her wintry fingers. He sent a fervent, silent prayer to the Gods of the Lands, hoping against hope that it would be answered. He refused to believe that it could end like this. Abruptly, a shaft of light shone in the heavens. Sunlight, one mere shaft of it, lighting the world as if it were the middle of the day. Howling and shrieking in terror, the Gargoyles fled, each carrying his fair share of Humans. Roland stood by the serpent, sword upraised, and following swiftly behind him came Madrion. Finally, the serpent took notice. It ceased his sucking sounds, and licked the entry of its mouth with a forked tongue dripping red drops of life. Lazily, it stared at Roland, and uncurled it’s body, which had been writhed ecstatically around the now inert form of the Land’s Queen, Gemma. In slow motion, it took the form of a man - a handsome man, full of beauty and grace. Madrion gasped with fear. It wore the face of the creature that dwelt inside of the beast Korda! The one who had broken her wrist! She choked back her horror and rushed to Gemma’s side. Swiftly she beckoned to Jarrett to give her his arm, and she with her magikal skills she started an infusion of blood flowing from the strong and hearty Jarrett to the lifeless Gemma. With practised fingers she alternately massaged and pressed on Gemma’s heart. It was all she could do . . . but she did it well. Gemma’s heart finally gave a small thump, and started again. That done, she now had time to divert part of her attention to the man-serpent, for although the upper body was shaped like a man, the lower extremities were still those of a serpent. “So, Roland, we meet again,” it said in a raspy whisper. “And are you now sorry that you did not kill me when I separated from the amulet? You should have, you know.” Roland said not one word, he just stood still, Durendel raised to kill. The man’s face melted into sharp fangs and molten breath. The serpent had now taken the shape of a dragon! Madrion held her breath. It was the dragon who had kept watch over the amulet, trying to catch Roland unaware, in his days before his enlightenment, hoping that he would relax his guard and allow it to carry Roland off as a tasty morsel for the dragon’s offspring. Roland had taken his training to heart. He continued to stand still, for once again the dragon had retained the lowered body of the serpent. He waited, his sword still uplifted, ready to strike. His long years of training stood him in good stead now, as he remained

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motionless, neither looking away, nor attempting to speak. To speak to the serpent would have been folly, for it was no longer the small, harmless thing who had escaped from the clutches of the relentless amulet. Now it had become the foe that Roland was destined to fight, the harbinger of all evil. The dragon-serpent blew a fiery breath at Roland’s face, but still Roland did not flinch. He experienced the searing pain, but knew that his sword and its properties kept him safe from any mortal damage. “Still no reaction, Roland?” whispered the dragon-serpent raspily. Roland said nothing. Slowly, the cruel head of the dragon melted, and the serpent took the shape of Allys. Her long silver hair flowed down her shoulders, and tears of grief flowed down her cheeks. “See what you’ve allowed to happen to me, Roland? You promised me love, and yet you left me to suffer and die at the hands of our enemies.” She reached her arms out to the now rigid Roland, and begged mournfully, “Please, Roland, do not leave me here. Give them the sword, lay it down. Only you, of your own free will can relinquish it. Do it, for me, I beg you.” Her shoulders shook, and her body became racked with sobs. Roland looked suddenly indecisive, and seemed about to reach out to her. But at the next moment, the serpent’s tail waved sinuously along the floor, and broke Roland out of his hypnotic stupor. The serpent had taken Allys’s likeness, but still retained its own lower regions. He knew that Roland was waiting for him to metamorphose completely, losing any remnant of the ancient reptile, so that he could slay him. He could not slay him while he was in the form of the serpent, for the serpent, the sword, and the amulet were all inextricably intertwined. To slay the silvered serpent with the golden sword would break the existence of the world, and the Zones of Neutrality would be lost forever. Roland continued to stand still, although the pain the serpent directed at him was now breaking his heart. Indeed, it was more painful than the dragon’s searing breath on his face, for in truth he felt guilty and anxious about Allys. The serpent knew that, and he knew exactly what would hurt Roland the most. But he really did not reckon on Roland’s intensive training that had lasted one simple Earthen night, when eons of time had passed through Roland’s brain. Roland held fast to what he had been told to expect, and did not budge an inch. The serpent decided to try another tack. With Allys’s beautiful small face, the lying serpent said, “What about Gemma, my cousin and our Queen? Will you let her die, drained of her life blood? The serpent will keep the blood warm until he can feed it to Byblyeonnae, his lover. Then Gemma’s life blood will truly rule the Lands. Do you want such a grisly death for Gemma?” Madrion swiftly interjected, “Don’t worry about Gemma, Roland! Jarrett’s life blood’s flowing into her veins. Methinks her cheeks start to flush, and she is warm again. Thou’rt doing well - do not hesitate, or listen to him!” With a roar of rage, Allys’s visage metamorphosed into the evil countenance of the serpent, fixing Madrion with a baleful glare. “You again!” it roared. “You will pay dearly for what you have done. I will be back, Roland dear, do not venture anywhere. When my soul’s done having fun with this one, your trials will have just begun.” With these sparse words, the serpent coiled itself swiftly around the crescent moons that adorned Madrion’s hem, and slithered its way up her spine. Slowly, it began to squeeze. “You have the choice, fair Madrion. Come with me willingly, or I will tighten these coils until your eyes pop out of your head,” it whispered in a seductive rasp. Madrion’s head bobbed up and down in an undignified manner, and she choked out, “Aye, that I will. But release me at once.” The serpent did as she asked, and as it slithered out the open window and into the sky Madrion rose with it and followed. Mystyere rushed to catch her hand, but she shook her head sorrowfully.

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“‘Tis as we knew it would be, Mystyere. Keep well. I shall look for Allys and send her back if I can.” Gemma stirred, and clutched Jarrett’s hand. Her eyes flickered open, and as she saw Madrion rise upward in to the sky, she murmured irrelevantly, “So she is a witch, after all. I always knew that she was.” Roland looked at Gemma for a moment, baffled rage on his face, and then out the window where Madrion could be seen following the serpent up into the skies. “I must go with them. I must help Madrion, even though I know that this is yet another trap to lure me to my demise. I will go.” He summoned the power of the sword, and holding it tightly once again in his bloodied hands, he felt it lift him gently toward the heavens. This time, no sunlight gleamed to light his way.

As soon as Madrion, the serpent and Roland could no longer be seen, the fire in the grate flared up, and all the lights in the castle shone with brilliant array. Gemma struggled to sit up. She pulled the needle that had delivered Jarrett’s life blood to her body out of her arm, and said crossly, “What’s this nonsense? Where’s Byblyeonnae?” She glanced down at her dress, which was drenched in blood, and screamed in terror. When she regained a brittle control of herself, she asked, sobbing, “What’s been happening, Jarrett?” “Do ye not remember, Gemma? Thou hadst almost passed on to the Dark Night of thy Soul once again. Do ye not remember the serpent’s bite?” Memory flooded back to Gemma’s brain. As she swayed and almost fell, Jarrett stepped closer to support her. She held closely to Jarrett’s arm, feeling her legs give way under her. Mystyere and Jarrett helped her to the couch that lay by the fire, and they settled her down, tucking a blanket cozily along her form. “We all need a brief respite,” said Mystyere with authority. “Wait here.” He left them for a few moments, and swiftly reappeared with a bottle full of Madurian brandy and three small glasses which he proceeded to fill to the brim. Handing them around, he said, “There are two maidens in the kitchen quivering with fear. Apparently, at the start of the attack, they were so afeared that they hid in the kitchen cellar. I’ve instructed them to fetch us some tea, to make supper, and to draw you a bath, Gemma. They badly need to do something to take their minds off of what has just happened. “There’s naught else that we can do at this moment - I will know and I will tell you when we have to be next prepared. I could not do so today, because the serpent had not yet properly incubated, and it was hidden from us. Now that he has fed, and on your blood, Gemma, I can monitor his whereabouts. He’ll not be able to take us by surprise, not this time. And anyway, he has failed in his attempt. He would have gained much more power had he drained your blood to the descent of the Dark Night of your Soul, Gemma, but he was foiled. “He knew not that Roland had grown in strength and authority, and thus was able to summon the power of the sword. He knew that if he did not desist in his murder of Gemma, that Roland had the power to annialiate him - though Roland too would have descended into the Dark Night of the Soul. He knew that Roland would do it if he had to . . . that’s how he was able to save Gemma. I pray to the Gods of all the Lands that Roland can still conquer him, and I pray that we live to see Madrion and Allys safely away from the evil ones.” The three sat in the now warm room, staring at the flickering fire, saying nothing, each lost in their own thoughts. Presently, one of the surviving serving wenches appeared at the door, saying with a brave smile, “Supper’s served, Your Highness . . . if you would be so good as to follow me.” The three rose and somberly made their way to the old dining room. It looked so shabby now, in comparison to the meal shared with the King Ygrive and the Queen Tamsyn, years ago

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in time. Gemma sat wearily at the seat that her father had occupied and looked at the table. The serving girls had evidently put their hearts into the meal. There was a steaming meat pie in the center, with a bowl of gravy nearby. A mound of pale mashed potatoes beckoned with mouth watering buttery goodness, and the three fell upon the meal as if they had not eaten in months. They washed it down with a full-bodied red wine, and at the end of the meal, Gemma and Jarrett felt almost human. When they had finished, coffee was served with more brandy and a fine sacher torte that was one of the maids specialty items, and had been found hiding in the cupboard. They sat around, and finally the wall of silence that had surrounded them crumbled, and they began to talk in earnest. “I never thought, when I returned to my mother’s and father’s world, that it would all end in this!” exclaimed Gemma. Mystyere looked pensive as he replied, “‘Twas not to happen like this, Gemma. If things had gone as had been planned a thousand years ago, then this would have not happened. But Madrion and I experienced a gross misunderstanding - we were both young, and much in love, and could not understand each other’s point of view. So the beast Korda was not slaughtered on schedule, and so he was able to release his father Abaddon. This in turn caused it to be necessary for the sword Durendel to be released, and thus the serpent. But the good news is that if the serpent can be foiled, then it will be unnecessary to fight the battles. But we cannot use the sword to kill the serpent as long as it keeps any remnant of its snake form. That is why it retained its lower regions, even though it became a dragon, and Allys. It is more dangerous when it becomes others, but also more vulnerable. The trick is to know who it is, to know that the form is but the serpent in disguise, and to swiftly kill it before it has a chance to re-formulate. That requires a lot, for if one is mistaken, one would kill an innocent person.” “Then the task is a difficult one,” responded Jarrett. “That’s why Roland had so much training that I can hardly recognize him as the same person now.” Mystyere nodded his head. “Aye. It will be a difficult ask that lies ahead young Roland. But I have the utmost confidence in my son. He has already passed though tests of fire and of pain. He will conquer the evil in the Lands. Have no fear.” “But at what cost?” murmured Gemma, thinking of Allys, of Madrion, and of her mother and father, her brothers . . . a tear coursed down her cheek. “‘Tis always that way with problems, Gemma.” Mystyere continued. If they are ignored, they grow and take on a life of their own, and they can destroy. That’s why problems need to be dealt with immediately, so that they do as little damage as possible. But it is the Human condition to procrastinate. Thus it was with Madrion. She thought she had all the time in the world to make her way, but she missed a crucial turn in her life, because she found it too difficult to address the problems between us. Had she been able to, then, we would not have to be going through this now.” “But probably the Gods knew beforehand that she would not go through with it then, Mystyere.” said Gemma. “And thus they built in this back-up system, so that Roland would still exist to slay the demon.” Mystyere laughed. “You’re a fine pupil, Gemma! You learn fast. I know much about predestination; I have studied it thoroughly. yet when it comes to applying it to my own state of existence, I forget!” Gemma smiled. “I think that’s only natural, Mystyere,” she said. She was beginning to like this man from Madrion’s past. “We all tend to cloud issues if they strike too close to home.” “But what shall we do now?” asked Jarrett. He could not bear to sit and wait, though he knew that Roland was handling the situation as best he could. He just had to do something himself. Mystyere understood Jarrett’s nature, and sympathized. “Well, there are no wounded; the Gargoyles have kidnapped a huge segment of the population. My guess is that the rest of the city lays in stunned silence, mourning the

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events of the past few hours. I did not want Gemma to tax her already weakened condition by speaking to the remaining citizens, but I fear that we must do just that. Nothing else will keep their spirits up like hearing that Gemma is still alive. I am sure that they think that she is gone.” Gemma stood up resolutely. She had been thinking the very same thing, and worrying about how to evade Mystyere and Jarrett’s protective presence to check on her beloved Peoples. Now Mystyere had given her the perfect opportunity. What she didn’t realize was that Mystyere had used the same approach on her that he had used on the serving maids. If Gemma was busy, she would have but little time to brood.

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2 8

Madrion and the serpent climbed to the Heavens. Madrion followed it to its lair, the unapproachable mountain top that had so recently held Roland prisoner. As she rose, she could feel layers of evil permeating the atmosphere. Her body began to feel heavy, and the sorcerous activities that surrounded her began to impinge on her own magik, causing her to falter and almost fall. The serpent seemed to sense her difficulty, for all of a sudden the angelic man who had broken her wrist appeared. He placed his hand over the same fragile wrist bone, intimating violence. Madrion cringed at his touch, but he only smiled fondly at her. She had to struggle to wrench her glance away from his mesmerizing stare, for within it lay the road to madness. She settled on closing her eyes firmly. The serpent retained the form of the handsome youth, and he now placed his arm seductively around her waist. Against her will, Madrion could feel flames of desire wiggle and writhe their way up her spine. She knew that she had insufficient magik to

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guard against it, so she just used the same trick she had used previously: she froze her mind out of the situation, and it seemed to her as though she were a long distance away, watching the scene happen to someone else. “What do you call yourself today?” she asked it, and with a low chuckle, it replied, “As always, I have many names, but you, fair Madrion, may call me any name your heart desires.” Madrion suppressed the urge to call the serpent by the name that came to her mind, and said instead, “I choose to call you nothing.” “Choose what you may, Madrion but remember that we are bound by spiritual ties.” “That was your plan, was it not?” asked Madrion. “You knew that I would lay with Korda to save the Kingdom and my domain, if I had to. You then entered him, and so lay with me yourself, to form this bond. What will you do with it?” “I can tell you that now, for you cannot escape. I will use you to ensnare Roland. Indeed, you were doomed to this fate since you scorned the love of the only man who ever truly loved you. Had you stayed with him, your end would have been entirely different. But you did not, much to my relief. My trick of so long ago worked. I entered your mind, when you were too young and inexperienced to recognize or stop me. I planted the seeds of anger and suspicion in your brain, and there they found fertile ground. You’ve helped my plans far more than you’ve hindered them, Madrion, and for that I am grateful, and will show you mercy.” “How dare you meddle with my life? You do not even know the meaning of mercy.” As she spoke through clenched teeth, Madrion thought furiously - the only man who had ever truly loved her? Mystyere? She barely heard the serpent’s response. “True enough. But you know the many infinite and intricate meanings of mercy, and I can use our new alliance to great advantage. I can pick your brain as a vulture pecks at

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gibbets of meant from its prey’s head. But you must call me a name, and if you do not choose one, I will, and I will force you to use it. And each time that you do use it, you will experience a pain in your heart like none you’ve ever felt before.” Madrion laughed bitterly. “So where’s your mercy now,? For Apochrycal is the name I last knew you by, and that name has spilled enough blood to fill the oceans of the Earthenworld ” “My mercy is that I allowed you the power of choice; as all great rulers do, and I thought that you would see it my way. I could have killed you even then, Madrion, and I would have had I known what you would become. But it is too late for regrets now. I have another name that I wish to be known by. It is my final name, and will be worshipped by all before I am through. My new name is Namiath, and when I am the ruler of all the universe, the world will bow down and worship me.” “You still have to rise above the two-edged sword that Roland wields, and past Roland himself. You know who he is, don’t you?” The arm around her waist tightened cruelly, and Namiath said, “Indeed I do. And I know that I will conquer him through the love he bears for you. I, too, have kept close watch on him through these past years. I know of his origin, and of the father who was your lover. If you had only taken Roland to your bed, my way would have been clear. But you would not. Never mind. I will still prevail.” By this time they had entered the Aethyric realm, and their travel was speeded up. Soon they arrived on the mountain top. “Roland will soon be here,” remarked Namiath companionably. “So we’d better get ready.” He snapped his fingers, and Allys appeared, her long silver hair gone, her head shaved to the skull. She looked sickly, and would have fallen if her neck had not been

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shackled to some invisible but stalwart wall. Madrion moved over to her side, and tried to support the thin form, but Allys did not seem to know her. Madrion’s heart did indeed break when she saw Allys’ limp body. She struggled to formulate some small incantation that would help the girl, but her magik was ineffective against the power of the mountainside. Namiath snapped his fingers again, and suddenly the seats were filled with the same motley crew that had greeted Byblyeonnae when she had risen to the mountain top just months before. They all sat and waited. Soon enough, Roland appeared. He glanced around, saw Allys and Madrion, and with a grim face strode over to the man on the stone throne. Namiath just smiled, and did not even bother to change his form to part- serpent. “He’s too confident,” thought Madrion uneasily. “I wonder what he has in store for Roland.” She was soon to find out. With a mighty clash of thunder, the heavens broke open, and through the skies shone the fabled gleaming ladder that led to the Gods. Namiath looked gleeful, as he spoke loudly. “You have promised me that I may keep the Humans that willingly follow me. I have the Madrion, and she has come of her own free will. I also have the Allys, who gave up her life to save the Roland. Now, I only have to have the Roland give up his, to save the others, and I will have them all.” A voice of beauty thundered forth from the skies. “I did say that you may keep Humans who came to you willingly. But these ones came as sacrifices. You know that does not count, that just makes them martyrs after their deaths, and at total liberty to enter the Kingdom.”

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“But I am allowed to have them for the duration of their lives - that you have promised.” As it replied to this statement, the voice from above sounded sorrowful. “Aye. That was one of the pacts I made with you a thousand years ago, to persuade you to wait in the Abyss of Despair. I would have destroyed you, but I could not, not without endangering everything else that I cherish. So I must leave the solutions to the Humans. They are resourceful enough, and will be able to conquer you and your evil plans.” “I understand. But You have also made me a promise not to interfere with us, either, not until the end.” “Aye, that I have, too.” The voice sounded even sadder. “You must do as you must. I will wait.” Namiath turned gleefully to Roland. “See! I have permission to do as I will. And I choose to torture them at my leisure. I will have their souls, and yours, too, soon.” “Not if I have anything to do with it.” Roland brandished the golden sword Durendel, and swung it toward Namiath. Namiath just sat and smiled. “No, Roland!” cried Madrion. “Do not touch him! This mountain contains all his power and it is the equivalent to the power of the sword. If you swing it at him, the magik will bounce back and kill you; just like the spells you tried here earlier.” Roland lowered his sword. “I knew that this opportunity was too good to be true,” he said, as he looked at Namiath. “So what do you really want?” “Come with me, and I shall show you,” stated Namiath flatly. “You must agree to come. Madrion and Allys also.” Roland looked at the two women. Madrion nodded her head, and said simply,

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“We must take Allys, too, for then at least she will be with us. We cannot leave her now.” Roland nodded grimly. “We will come, if you unshackle Allys, and allow Madrion to restore her with one of her medications.” Namiath looked impatient, but scowled a surly, “Proceed.” The shackles around Allys’s neck vanished, and she would have collapsed onto the floor if Roland and Madrion had not caught her. Her eyes were closed, and there was a wheezy sound to her breathing. Her tattered dress barely covered her shoulders, and Roland unfurled his cloak to cover and warm her. Madrion spent some minutes with Allys, rubbing her small hands and willing strength back into her bones. Reaching into her pocket she withdrew a small green bottle. Carefully she uncorked it and spilled some down Allys’s throat, all the while murmuring soft incantations. In a few minutes, Allys began to recover. Her eyes flickered open, and she looked at Roland with horror. She shrank from his touch and clung, crying bitter tears, to Madrion. “Methinks she was better off not knowing what has happened, Roland.” Roland just looked at her. First Gemma, now Allys. He felt his fury bubbling up inside of him, like a volcano, about to explode. Carefully, he placed a lid on his emotions, as he had been taught to do, and contained the anger: he would save it for later. Madrion waited for Allys to stop crying, and swiftly added a potion of nonremembrance to the elixir in the green bottle. She forced Allys to drink a little more, and mercifully, her memories began to recede. She docilely allowed Roland to take her hand, as they turned to Namiath expectantly.

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The stone floor beneath their feet began to rumble ominously, and they hastily stepped back. The ground slid away, revealing an endless looking flight of stairs, descending low into the bowels of the mountain. Cautiously they followed Namiath as he led them down. After what seemed like hours, they perceived a door at the bottom of the flight of stairs - no, two doors, exactly alike. Namiath reached around his neck and withdrew a silver card. He placed it in a slot near one of the door’s entrance, and silently the door slid open. They all stepped inside the huge room. Madrion saw immediately that it was a laboratory, similar to the ones the Humans had used to test the time travel portals.

Madrion associated the work with great evil, for the experiments on the dimensional and spatial travel had marked the end of the civilization that had existed. If the Gods of the Lands had not intervened, no one would have survived, for the destruction had been pretty complete. Now here was Namiath, playing with the same tools. She felt frightened once again. “Although you Humans have a spiritual aspect to yourselves, I have determined that your souls are subject to certain Laws. When the Human race discovered that emotions and feelings could be measured and affected in a scientific way, they did not take their study far enough. The energy that is the soul is precious energy indeed. It is more or less valuable, depending on the quality of the soul. Look here - I have captured the soul of Byblyeonnae, but it does me little good, for though it is a powerful one, it is bent toward the dark side, and thus will not buy me the ticket I so need to enter the higher Zones, the Zones of Neutrality. Her soul would never have made it that far, so it certainly could not take me.”

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Namiath gestured toward a clear panel set into the wall of a machine. Allys and Roland stared as though their eyes would pop out. They had never seen anything like the laboratory, and had certainly never come to close to anything resembling the machines that Namiath was now manipulating. A light shone in the panel, and a beautiful crystal shone with shards of deep blue and purple. The stone seemed to emanate raw feelings, and the three recoiled sharply from the bizarre radiation. “I have crystallized her soul,” said Namiath with satisfaction. “And I can use the crystals to power the machine I have built. When I have sufficient crystals, of the correct hue and density, coming from certain souls, I will be able to power up the machine and enter the Zones of Neutrality!” Namiath gave a resounding laugh, and they stared with revulsion at the dark crystal. “But . . . but . . . that means that Byblyeonnae is now of the undead!” exclaimed Madrion in horror. “Certainly! Did you not discern as much, by your last encounter with her?” “We were not there, when she came to the castle,” murmured Madrion. “Only Gemma and Jarrett were there to receive her.” She closed her eyes. Long ago, it seemed, she remembered telling Gemma that Byblyeonnae would pay for all the evil she had committed. Never had she thought that Byblyeonnae’s punishment would be so awful. “You surely can guess what it is I require of you?” asked Namiath. “I need your souls, especially that of Roland’s, for he’s already visited the Zones of Neutrality, and thus his soul will be exceptionally good for my purposes.” “But he must give it to you, willingly, and not through sacrifice, Namiath,” replied Madrion wearily. “You heard the Gods. They were specific. Roland would not give up his soul to you willingly. And any other way would simply be a sacrifice.”

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“But I have a way to get Roland to give his soul to me, willingly. I have a trade for him. I will restore the Lands, with the Queen Gemma as their Queen. I will also restore Allys to full sanity, and return her to the Kingdom of Madur. Life can carry on there, just as it was. I will cease all hostilities, and will still the rebellions of the Outerlands. In return, he just has to stay with me here, and sample the beautiful and exotic women I have at my disposal. He will wear fine clothes and costly jewels, and will sup on the greatest delicacies. He will drink fine wine and smoke the most delicate opium. When he is ready - for there is no rush - he will return to you to live out the rest of his natural life. I will only require his soul upon his death.” “Do not take his offer, Roland,” said Allys, taking his arm. “I am certainly not insane, though he may try to make you think that I am. He is filled with deceit. If you give him your soul in this bargain, you will in effect be making a pact with him - and that is truly dangerous. Once he has your word, there is no guarantee that he will honor his. In fact, I do not believe that the word honor exists in his vocabulary.” “Allys is right, Roland,” said Madrion. “He will just wait until he has gained full power, then he will continue to steal the souls. He will need them for his continued survival in the Zones of Neutrality.” Roland nodded. He did not need much convincing of the serpent’s duplicity. “I will not consider your bargain,” he told the ancient master of lies. “I will just remain here until you release Madrion and Allys. If you will not, I will remain here always.” The serpent shuddered. “I had feared as much,” he said. “But Madrion here has battled with me in the past. She knows of my strengths and weaknesses. I will wrest from her a repayment for her part in my incarceration. And Allys, I will keep as an innocent hostage. You I cannot

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keep against your will, but I will not allow you to stay against mine, either. Go now, Roland, and repent your hasty decision.” With a loud cry, Namiath changed into the shape of the serpent. Roland began to feel sharp pains throughout his body. The serpent’s magik was working against the sword’s, and Roland’s body was being destroyed in the process. Swiftly, he caught the blade of the sword in his hand, and concentrated his powers onto the magikal sword. The pain nearly doubled him. The magik was backfiring, and causing his own magik to be used against him. He ignored his agony, and continued to concentrate. Shifting his consciousness out of his body, for that seemed to be the only relief available to him, he continued to probe the recesses of the sword’s power. Suddenly he felt a warm relief, a strength flowing through him. Madrion! She had honed her consciousness to match his, and was helping him. Then another consciousness joined them, a sweet, pure and peaceful mind and soul. Allys . . . she too had joined her destiny, and with a ferocity born of desperation, she had tapped into her inner healing powers and added her help in the battle of wills. “Roland!” He could hear Madrion’s thoughts in his mind. “Roland! We must get him away from this place! Its power is too great, and we can make little headway. Make him a promise of Echelon; we can lure him to the portal, and from there, as he steps through the worlds, we can create an interference, and thus lose him in the threads of time and space!” Roland understood Madrion’s message but had little time to address it; he was still too busy trying to retain his hold on his own sword and his own magik. The serpent writhed with glee. He could feel Roland weakening, and thrust his powers toward him with all his strength. Suddenly, he sensed another force, holding the man upward, forming a protective net around him. No matter, he could easily destroy that fragile web. He knew that it originated from the witch Madrion and her friend Allys,

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so he turned his mind sinuously in his brain, and encompassed the minds of the two women standing with Roland. It would be a simple matter to destroy them as they stood, but Namiath hesitated. If destroying them had been the goal, he would have achieved it a long time ago. He wanted something more, something more lasting. He lusted after their souls. And Roland and his sword Durendel were the only things in the world that threatened to stop him. As long as Roland and his sword existed, he could not own the world outright. He could never own the power of the sword. It would always limit his abilities. Abruptly, he ceased the struggle. Roland reeled back as if pushed. Slowly his consciousness trickled back to his corporeal body. “You see that I can easily overpower you, as well as your women, if I wish,” he rasped. “Why don’t you just comply with my request, and save these women who love you? Give me your soul, Roland! I will give you these women for your own. I will destroy your enemies. I will make your life upon the Earthenworld as sweet as can be.” “I will not. And you cannot fool me with your wiles. I demand a fight to the death, on neutral ground. Then, and only then, will the battle be honorably won. If you should win and I die, you may have my soul. If I win, and you die, then the Earthenworld will be rid of you, for you have no soul to linger on. That is the only bargain that I will agree to.” Namiath listened carefully to Roland. He was aware of the prophecies, and knew that Roland was destined to win in a battle against Abaddon; there was no prophecy regarding a battle between him and Roland. “I will fight you, Roland, and I will do it wherever you choose. I will choose a form, and retain no semblance of my true serpent nature. Thus, should you destroy me, you will not need to fear oblivion. You may choose the time also. I will be there.” Namiath was playing right into Roland’s hand.

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“Then I will choose the time of this evening, at twenty-one hundred hours. The place will be the woods where I grew up, by the cottage of my parents.” “Agreed. But I will keep the women until that time. Go and prepare for the end, Roland.” Roland glanced at his friends. “They will not be harmed,” added Namiath. There was really nothing else to do but leave and make preparations for the coming evening. Roland clutched at his sword once more, and the beam of sunlight shone brightly on him and Durendel. They both descended into the Aethyr, and then made their way back to the castle of Madur. Madrion smiled to herself. Roland had received her message after all. She knew that Mystyere would see to the rest. Roland arrived at the castle and sought out its occupants. He drew Mystyere aside to tell him of the latest developments. “We will have to enter the Aethyr in order to be at my home by the appointed hour. Jarrett and Gemma know not how to travel in this mode; we will have to carry them. Methinks we should go there now, and prepare Tibbs and Glinda for the upcoming battle.” Mystyere agreed. “I know what Madrion had in mind when she suggested that the battle be fought by the portal. I have some arrangements to make there, so we should go as swiftly as possible.” They informed Gemma and Jarrett of their plans, and the two cousins affirmed that they were ready to travel immediately. The foursome slipped into the Aethyr, and started the journey that would have taken them two weeks in the Earthenworld. As the Aethyr contained no set time or space, the two necromancers could easily rearrange it to suit themselves, and thus could summon the cottage in the wood as their desired exit. This Roland and Mystyere did, carrying Gemma and Jarrett. Because of their passengers, their time was considerably slowed, for they could not travel as quickly as if they were on their own.

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Presently they arrived at the small cottage that had become so familiar to all. Roland alighted and ran to the door, pushing it open. “Tibbs! Glinda!” he called, but there was no sound. The cottage remained ominously empty. Hastily, he searched the rooms. Tables were overturned, chairs jammed into walls. The door into the famous kitchen was pulled off of one of its hinges, and it now swung drunkenly back and forth. Roland felt cold fear clutch at his heart. Where were his parents? Gemma, Jarrett and Mystyere were equally concerned. The house had obviously been wrecked, and its occupants kidnapped. “‘Tis one of the evil ones,” said Gemma bitterly. “They’re adept at destroying families.” “But methinks they’re still alive,” insisted Mystyere. “‘Tis Roland they want, and it seems that they will use any means available to snare him. They will not kill the old folks, for they are too valuable alive as hostages to bargain with. But come, we must unshield the portal, and that will require much work on our part.” “Can we help?” asked Gemma. “Nay, this work requires much sorcery. But why don’t you wait in the cottage?” “Aye, we shall clean it up,” declared Gemma. “It breaks my heart to see it this way.” “I must summon Godolfin,” muttered Roland tersely. “Perhaps he knows what has happened to them.” Mystyere agreed. “We can use whatever news he has for us, and he may be able to throw in some of his Elven magik to complement our own.” Briefly, Roland once again vanished into the Aethyr, and promptly returned minutes later with Godolfin and Drenda, Godolfin’s Elven wife. With them they brought Greyff and Bunty, along with Romul. Drenda and Godolfin looked very worried.

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“I do not know what has happened, Roland,” declared Godolfin. “But it has happened recently, for I just saw Glinda yesterday. I was telling her of the savage dissension that has broken out in the Outer and Innerworlds. It is unbelievable. Previously peaceful peoples have turned against their own kin, and brutally murdered them. Mothers have eaten their own babes, and fathers have whipped their children to bloody deaths. It is the most violent and sadistic episode of our histories. And the same is happening everywhere in the Earthenworld. It is as if the Peoples have gone mad. They are gnashing their teeth and mindlessly butchering any other living things that cross their paths. Only a few have been exempt, and those are more scarred than the rest, for they are aware of what is happening.” Mystyere looked grim. “‘Tis all happening as foretold. We can do nothing about the Peoples; they have been infected with powerful and uncontrollable emotions straight from the mind of Namiath. Believe me, he is reveling in this. All that we can do is to continue with our plans. ‘Tis the only way. We must concentrate, and keep our minds clear. He will be here in one hour, and he will not come alone.” Roland and Mystyere worked hard at unshielding the portal. They had to clear a way for it to be used, as well as keep it sufficiently shielded from Namaith’s perceptions. “It seems odd that he would agree to come here, to a place of my choice. You would think that he would suspect a trap.” “Ah, that is because he relies too much on the prophecy. The prophecy states that you will slay Abaddon. It also states, “Thay Eleana nay Elantra wal dorwen.” “But that is a part of the prophecy that Gareth Eathrow gave to Tibbs and Glinda!” “Aye, it was I who sent it to them to protect you. Its meaning is that only when one twin vanquishes another, as will happen today with Gemma and Byblyeonnae, only then will you wake the sleeping sword and slay the enemy, “wal dorwen”. So Namiath has

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known all along when you will slay Abaddon, and he is counting on it. As long as Gemma and Byblyeonnae were alive, he was safe, for the prophecies do not mention him. All that he expects to happen is that you will slay Abaddon, and that either Gemma will slay Byblyeonnae, or Byblyeonnae will slay Gemma . . . he does not really care which. But as soon as Abaddon has been slain, he will attempt to kill you, now that you have promised him your soul if he does.” “Why does he want my soul so badly?” asked Roland apprehensively. “It is because yours is a special soul, Roland - have you not guessed at that? It has lived before - indeed, so has the maiden Allys’ soul. Your souls have been bonded together for all time, though many lives that you did not even recognize each other. When you did, the results were always explosive and not very positive. ‘Tis because there is great power in you both, and until you learned how to use it, it used you. But now is the time for your destiny to be fulfilled. And your soul is even more valuable at this time because it has traveled to the Zones of Neutrality and returned. “Namiath has become a dedicated scientist, for it is only by mimicking the creator that he can hope to create. He has not the power of creation within himself. He has formed a machine that is capable of draining the soul from the body and crystallizing the energy. He then uses the crystals to power the machine he has built to transport the soulless to the Zones of Neutrality.” “But surely the God above all, who dwells in the Neutral Zone, will prevent his entry, Mystyere!” “But that is the difficult part, Roland. That God has no experience with evil, of any sort. That is why the Heavens and Hells were created, so that they could each fight with themselves, and the Zones of Neutrality would be protected. Only one who has battled both the Heavens and Hell could ever enter that Kingdom. All the good in one’s soul has

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to be burned away by equal evil, and thus become shining clean. Only then can it enter the Highest Heaven of all. Yours has already done so, it has achieved the exact center point between good and evil. Such a soul is rare indeed, and now Namiath has it in his grasp. You can understand why he will not let it go.” Roland turned pale. “There is so much at stake.” “But we will prevail, never fear. Methinks they have arrived.”

The sky had swiftly darkened as they spoke, and had now become an intense red. It reminded Roland of the color of blood. On the horizon could be seen hordes of gargoyles, casting black and frightening silhouettes against a crimson backdrop. As lightning began to pace the sky, Roland knew that Abaddon was amongst the evil creatures. He clutched the hilt of his sword defiantly, and marveled at the changes he had experienced since the day he had so fearfully crept to Madrion’s domain to beg her to teach him something of the black arts. Now he was a totally different person, and yet he was still the same. Another paradox, something he could not quite understand. But he did not need to, all he needed to do was revel in his newfound sense of confidence. The time was now twenty-one hundred hours, and Namiath appeared before him in his serpentine form, with Abaddon at his side. A cage materialized to their left, and in it, with their throats shackled, were Madrion, Allys, Tibbs and Glinda. Tibbs looked most uncomfortable, for with his considerable girth he could not quite fit into the small confines of the cage. Roland felt his anger bubble forth once again, and he challenged Namiath to the fight that would determine the future of the worlds. Namiath coolly metamorphosed into the form of an angelic creature, his beautiful face seeming innocent and pure.

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“The time has come, Roland. The fight is to the death. But as we all know, first you must slay Abaddon. For you will never die until you have fulfilled that prophecy, this we know. So, I will wait to see the end of the battle, and then it will be my turn.” Abaddon howled furiously, and turned on Namiath, reaching for his throat. Namiath raised his finger and pointed it at his friend, and Abaddon fell to the ground in agony. “You will do as you’re told. I will brook no interference from such as you. You have served me well, and will be remembered fondly. Do not spoil our friendship by rebelling now.” “But wait, Namiath,” spoke Madrion hoarsely from the cage. “Remember the verse. First, Gemma and Byblyeonnae must fight to the death, for one must vanquish the other in order for the prophecies to truly be fulfilled.” Namiath smiled slyly. “That has already been taken care of,” he said. “Look!” He pointed to the cottage. Gemma! Roland and Mystyere had completely forgotten about her. “She’s no longer there. The battle between her and her twin has been raging while we stood in idle chatter. On my advice, Byblyeonnae used a small spell I gave her and dragged the Queen to the Innerlands to resolve their differences.” At that very instant, Jarrett came rushing out of the cottage, as if on some bizarre cue. “She’s gone!” he shouted, and paused to stare at the gathering. Namiath looked at him pityingly and said, “We know. By now, she will be fighting for her life in the Netherworld. Perhaps we should check, just to see how she is faring?” He snapped his fingers, and they were all transported to the eerie lands of the Nether.

The countryside was dark and forbidding. All around were trees devoid of life, brittle skeletons on the landscape. Gemma and Byblyeonnae were circling each other warily.

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Byblyeonnae held a dagger in her hand, but Gemma was unarmed. She was bleeding from various nicks and cuts on her body, but seemed otherwise unhurt, though she looked as though she was tiring. Jarrett tried to rush to her aid, but was unable to move. Namiath had cast a few spells to keep the onlookers from interfering. Byblyeonnae feinted at Gemma, and Gemma ducked. She used her impetus to push Byblyeonnae, and the knife went flying from her half-sister’s hand. Quickly, Gemma snatched it up, and made to slash at Byblyeonnae. She seemed unable to complete her move, staying the dagger inches above her half-sister’s face. Snarling with rage, Byblyeonnae snatched at the blade, dislodging it from Gemma’s hand. With a loud whoop of glee, she descended on Gemma, making huge swipes at the Queen’s face and body. She gouged a slice from her arm, and Gemma cried out in pain and clutched at the blood bubbling forth. Seeing her chance, Byblyeonnae closed in with the intention of slitting her twin’s throat. Gemma was not as unprepared as everyone thought her to be, for as Byblyeonnae raised her hand to slash, Gemma stuck her foot out and tripped her, pushing her down as hard as she could. Byblyeonnae fell on the blade held murderously in her own hand, and before anyone really knew what had happened, she lay inert in a pool of her own blood. Gemma defiantly walked to where Namiath and Abaddon stood, and said, “I did not really kill her. You did that, when you stole her soul. There was no one there to kill.” Namiath nodded. “Very observant of you, Queen Gemma. But no matter, the prophecy has been set into place and we can now begin this fight in earnest. Abaddon - You thought me unfair when I said that Roland must first slay you. But I did not tell you that I would allow you an advantage. Right now, he is ensorcelled and he cannot move. This I could only do in the Netherlands, for the energy here feeds my own magik. This is why I suggested that

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we come here. I promised him that I would fight him in a place of his own choice, but I made no promises regarding you ! So now would be a good time to murder him. Take Gemma’s dagger, and do the deed. Quick, before I change my mind.” Abaddon did not have to be told twice. Swiftly he reached for the dagger, laying bloodied with Byblyeonnae’s blood, and he approached the statue that was Roland. His task was not to be so easy, however. He encountered difficulty from an unexpected source. Greyff had been watching the happenings, and was filled with agony when he saw Allys taken captive. He could now bear it no longer. He knew that she loved Roland. That did not upset Greyff, for he loved her totally with a mindless passion. He had never considered that she could return his love - that was not a possibility, and he would not have wanted it, for he knew that it would not have been healthy for Allys to love him as a lover. His love for the Human woman was pure and unadulterated. But he also knew what it would do to Allys if Roland was murdered. As he was from the Netherworlds himself, he was quite at home and neither Madrion’s spells nor Namaith’s had the slightest effect on him here. He had watched Gemma’s battle with her sister, and as they had been suitably matched he saw no need to interfere. But he could see that Roland was in trouble. He howled and flung himself at Abaddon’s throat. Startled, Abaddon fell backwards, grasping the Werewolf by his head. Greyff was no match for the ancient demon, and once Abaddon overcame his surprise, it was a simple matter for him to take Greyff’s head and slowly turn it around and around until it snapped. But the time had been sufficient for the three necromancers to communicate and swiftly pool their powers to break the spell that held Roland.

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With a scream of hatred, Roland broke free from the binding spell, and held Durendel high up in the air. As Greyff breathed his last dying breaths in his own homeland, Roland brought Durendel smashing down, slicing Abaddon in two. Namiath laughed and broke the spell that held everyone inert. “Now it’s my turn, Roland. With that stroke against Abaddon you have also killed the beast Korda, who sometimes provided a host body for Abaddon or me. The prophecies are all now truly fulfilled. We start afresh, and no one knows who will survive next!” “Aye, I agree,” panted Roland, pulling the sword from the body at his feet. He picked up Bunty, who had darted to Greyff’s side the instant the holding spell had been removed. Bunty was crying little bunny tears, and sobbing, “Greyff! My fren’ Greyff! I’ll jump higher, don’t go, Greyff, Bunty loves thee.” Roland stroked the little rabbit’s head, and felt in his breast a deep sorrow. The Werewolf Greyff had given his life to save his. “But we will go back to the forest where I grew up,” Roland said to Namiath. “That is where I will do battle with you. And the Gods will watch.” Namiath snapped his fingers once more, and they were transported back to the small clearing beside the cottage. Cautiously, Mystyere probed with his mind to make sure that their incantations were still in place, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Madrion, too, checked the clearing, and she smiled. Namiath would be battling more than Roland and Durendel today! Roland once again drew the sword Durendel. He stepped toward Namiath with a menacing smile on his face. Namiath had retained his angelic form, as he had promised Roland not to use his serpent body for protection. He casually pointed a finger at Roland, and a bolt of lightening flew toward Roland’s chest. At the last moment, the sword

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seemed to act as a sort of conductor, and it absorbed the power of the bolt. Roland remained unharmed, and he continued to approach Namiath, his sword still held high. Namiath looked a trifle less confident, but he swiftly metamorphosed to a dragon. Hot currents of air singed the watchers, while Roland received the full blast of the dragon’s fiery breath. He felt all of the pain, as though he was truly burnt, but knew that the sword was actually protecting his physical form. He lunged at the huge monster before him, and gashed his side wide open. The dragon, crazed with pain, swatted Roland with a mighty paw, but Roland jumped out of the way, stabbing the paw as he passed. The dragon roared in agony, and suddenly standing in front to him was the form of Roland’s foster mother, Glinda. She was bleeding from gashes to her arm and side, and she held out her hands beseechingly to her son. “Please, Roland, do not hurt me,” she begged. But Roland knew the form to be a deception, and so he advanced further. Swiftly, Allys stood before him, bloody gore laced into her silver hair. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks, and she cried, “Oh, Roland my love. I am in such pain, help me!” Still Roland advanced, as the form of Allys was backed into a corner. “Now!” shouted Madrion, and a doorway opened up immediately behind Namiath.

All that could be seen through the doorway was the deepest, blackest space, sprinkled with a few stars. Namiath could not see the gateway behind him, and so as he stepped backward, took his final step in the Earthenworld. A loud scream of agony was all that could be heard as Madrion, Mystyere and Roland sealed the inter-dimensional portal. They rushed to free the prisoners, and Roland held Allys in his arms. She leaned her head against his shoulder, and felt a warm sense of peace steal through her body. Everyone was hugging everyone else, and Bunty tugged at Allys’s hem, nudging her

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ankle with his nose. Tearfully, she reached down and picked him up, and arm in arm they made their way, with Tibbs and Glinda, to the small cottage in the woods. The Ghouls, Gargoyles and Goblins who had accompanied Namiath tried to slink stealthily away. “Not so fast!” cried Madrion. “I have special places waiting for you in my domain!” She turned to Mystyere. “I have not much to offer, but I do have a duty to shield the Earthenworld from such as these. I know that you cannot return to Echelon, as we’ve sealed up the portal. Therefore I will invite you to share my humble abode with me, and to help me with my duties.” “I’d be honored,” smiled Mystyere, as he took her arm.

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T

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Chapter 1

Bronwyn yawned and stretched languorously on the wide bed. She gazed with satisfaction on the snowy-white sheets with their lacelet quilt, and she sighed a huge sigh of satisfaction. This was the life! She could barely remember the terror-filled existence which had been hers on the Earthenworld. She leaped out of bed and flung open the

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windows, breathing deeply the clean air which was Echelon’s birthright, a birthright its Peoples fought to maintain by a strict adherence to the magikal rules of science, rather than the more messy practical ones of science. They liked it better this way; everything was still accomplished just as efficiently with the only waste products being but dim after-glows of magik. Bronwyn had a natural gift for the magikal arts, a gift which had been feared and envied back in the Earthenworld. She had been an outcast, viewed with suspicion and mistrust. The only person she could go to for help was her Aunt Ellyryran, a witch of some repute, but in the fashion of the Earthenworld, Bronwyn had also feared her aunt, though she herself manifested much of the same inclinations. She had wanted only to die. Bronwyn’s father had other plans for her, however. Ellyryran and her brother Elias had been close to each other when they had been children, and Elias had always trusted her, though many others were terrified of her powers. He knew that she could help his beloved daughter, and so he had delivered her into her hands, even though Bronwyn had struggled with terror and shame to be cast in the image of a witch... for even then, she had known what she truly was. It was due to her aunt’s friend Madrion that they had been allowed the opportunity to travel to this world of Echelon, where witchcraft and magik were revered rather than feared. It was the best decision Ellyryran had ever made. For with her arrival in the world, she had felt immediately at home. There had been many friends to greet and guide her, and she had ample help with Bronwyn’s complicated education. The master Mesian had been her most loyal friend and mentor, and Ellyryran, even at her ripe age of fifty-six had fell hopelessly, irrevocably in love with him. He had shared her feelings, and they had formed a deep and lasting bond which they knew would last their lifetimes.

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Together they had advised and loved and nurtured Bronwyn with her remarkable powers, and they generally treated her as though she was their own child. Bronwyn had grown to love and care for them too, and sometimes barely thought of her true father and mother back in the Earthenworld. As far as Bronwyn was concerned, her life was perfect. She gazed out to the clear blue sky, and watched several birds playfully scudding in the heavens, chasing fluffy clouds back and forth. A soft warm breeze caressed her face, and she turned to get dressed for the day. She donned a cool summer dress of robin’s egg blue, and scraped her raven locks back to the nape of her neck, where she fastened them with a turquoise pin. Ready to face the day, she skipped downstairs for her morning meal. Ellyryran was already bustling back and forth, preparing an enormous breakfast with her usual skill. She always insisted that no one was prepared for anything unless they had ample nutrition to fuel their brain cells, and she never allowed anyone to leave her breakfast table until their plate was clean. It was for this express reason that Bronwyn and Mesian had conspired behind Ellyryran’s ample back to purchase a pet for the household...a pet with a huge appetite. They decided on a white haired simianine, a pet which resembled a cross between an Earthen monkey and dog. They were lovable creatures, very intelligent with voracious appetites. They named her Musket, and she fit the requirements for the job admirably. She was immediately adopted, with Ellyryran being none the wiser about the real reason behind the new addition to the household. The small family now sat at the breakfast table, munching on buttered toast and omelets. Musket was the most surreptitious of the lot. He had quickly learned the ritual

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surrounding mealtime in the Creonn household, and was always eager to fulfill her duties as best she could. She could eat a remarkable amount. “I wish I saw more of you, Bronwyn,” complained Ellyryran. “You’re always off with those friends of yours. We never see you.” “But that’s what you said you wanted me to do!” protested Bronwyn. “You said that you hoped I would make many friends and be happy. I have, and I am, so you should be pleased.” “I know, I know. It’s just that Mesian and I have wanted to go over some matters which concern you, and we will need a good week of your attention to do it. When do you have that sort of time?” “Never, it seems,” replied Bronwyn, then hastily changed her answer as she saw Ellyryran’s scowl, “but I shall make time. Next week, when I have finished teaching the little ones how to maintain images. Okay?” “Guess it’ll have to be,” muttered Ellyryran, as she buttered more toast for Bronwyn’s plate. Bronwyn carefully passed it on to Musket, and smiled innocently at Ellyryran’s look of surprise to see her finish her breakfast so quickly. Musket licked her chops. “I must go now, Elly, honest, or I’ll be late, and who knows what mischief those children will get into if they are left on their own for even a minute.” Bronwyn rose, hoisted the pile of ancient books which lay on the side table, and hurried out the door. Ellyryran and Mesian smiled fondly at her departing figure. Bronwyn hurried through the woods. The small cottage where she instructed her students beckoned familiarly to her, and she smiled with sheer pleasure. Entering the small cottage, she noticed that somehow today, it looked different. Ellyryran never knew that Bronwyn gave her lessons in the building; since their arrival in Echelon, many years

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back, in the same cottage, Ellyryran had expressly forbidden Bronwyn to ever go near the old house. She had assumed that Bronwyn had heeded her words. However, Bronwyn was the type of child to try everything out for herself; should someone warn her way from something, then immediately that would be the very thing she longed to do. So it was with the cottage. In all the years Bronwyn had been there, however, nothing untoward had ever happened, so she had started to believe that old cottage was as safe a place as any in which to be, and that Ellyryran was just being overprotective. Today, however, things were not the same. There were subtle changes, but changes nonetheless. And someone had cut fresh flowers and placed them in every vase in the cottage. “Who’s here?” she called. There was no answer. Hesitantly she entered, looking cautiously from right to left. It had been a long time since she had felt the metallic taste of fear line her mouth, but it was there today. She focused her thoughts into her head, and attempted to scry whatever presence had been in the cottage. She could see no one. In her mind’s eye, the cottage had been untouched. No one had been there. But what about the flowers? The flowers have always been here too, her scryed image told her confidently. “But that’s impossible!” Her scryed image was silent. Bronwyn turned and

quickly left the cottage. Whatever danger she was willing to face herself, she could not allow her students to be exposed to anything such as this. She closed the door firmly behind her. The mystery of the cottage would have to wait. Calmly she shaded her eyes with her hand, searching though the dense green foliage for any signs of her students. This too was mighty odd. They were always on time, and were usually early. Suddenly a horrible suspicion crowded her mind. She searched for signs that the children had been here. A schoolbook was lying, torn and

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muddy in the small bush by the side of the walk. With wooden steps she made her way over to pick it up. She turned it over to read ‘Jeoremy Steor’, just as she knew she would. He was nowhere in sight. She retraced her steps to the cottage, and scrutinized the area carefully. There was no other sign that the children had been here. There were no sign that anyone had been here, except for the cut flowers in each vase. Bronwyn felt tears of fright course down her cheeks. There was no help for it. She needed help. Ellyryran would be furious! And the parents of her students...what would she say to them? “Elly! Mesian!” she screamed their names into the Aethyric. They would hear her, would come to fix this horrible puzzle. Frantically, she ran through her spells, searching for any which might guide her to the whereabouts of her students. She had just vainly attempted her fifth when the door burst open and a agonized Ellyryran entered. “Bronwyn! Is it true? Can you really have brought the children here? You know not what you have done!” “Where have they gone, Elly? Are they safe?” Ellyryran shook her head. “I know not. Mesian is attempting to contact Madrion, through use of his brain patterns. I do not know if it will work.” “But why can we not just go though the portal the way we came? Surely they will simply be there on the other side, in the Earthenworld.” Elly looked very sad as she said, “That is no longer possible. Madrion has used the portal to confine a fiend of their world, one who would threaten Echelon as well if he but could. Should we use the portal, we run the risk of freeing him.” Bronwyn went white. “So that is why you forbade me the use of this cottage. Why did you not tell me of all that had happened, and warned me of the danger?” “I did warn you to stay away from here, Bronwyn. I did not want to tell you why, for I felt that you had had enough fear in your young life, and I wanted to save you from

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more. “Tis my fault. In trying to save you from horror, I have allowed you to create more.” “Do you mean that the children have been abducted by this demon?” “I know not...we can but try to find out. I must tell their parents.” “Wait! I will go though the portal to find them. I will not return if it is not safe to do so, if I run the risk of bringing back the fiend with me. Instead I will sacrifice myself. I must do this, I cannot just leave the children to their fate. You must help me. Do not tell their parents now, for perhaps they are safe and sound on the other side of this portal. I will try to find Madrion, and consult her about our return Methinks she will be able to reach into the confines of the portal to aid me...or even Roland, whom you often speak of, or Mystyere, who is from our world. Surely someone will be able to help us. Let me do this, before you contact the parents - they will die of grief and worry, I know so. If I do not return within a few minutes, you will know that I have failed. It will take me none of Echelon’s time to find out. I am determined to go. Help me, Ellyryran. help us. Think of it as my initiation into the ancient arts, here I will prove myself, or die trying.” Ellyryran looked at the stubborn face in front of her and knew she had no choice. Reluctantly she agreed to unlock the portal door to let Bronwyn enter. “It will only be for a moment, beloved Bronwyn, you must be swift.” Bronwyn nodded tersely and prepared herself, clutching Jeoremy Steer's exercise book closely to her heart. She must find and return her students, at all costs. She knew of the strange

properties of the portal, but thought Madrion and Ellyryran had taken too many precautions. She did not believe the fiend from the Earthenworld posed a danger any longer. And she felt sure that her budding sorcerers had merely stumbled onto the spell for releasing the portal. For if the fiend was truly a danger to all, surely he would already

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be present in the room? She waited, and as soon as Ellyryran released the spell, she quickly slipped through the portal. She found herself in a strange twilit world, where long shadows bowed and bent to a whipping wind. Splattering drops of rain cooled her cheek, and she shivered in her summer dress. She tuned her senses to seek any sign of her students, and paused carefully to check for each of them. She had four students in all, Jeoremy Steor, Aillaex Neander, Devrail Keanne and Arthrae Haille. Aillaex and Devrail were girls of about twelve years of age, and Arthrae and Jeoremy were her two male students, also approximately twelve years old. The perfect age to get into a lot of trouble. Still scanning, she picked up a brief whiff of Echelon air. They must have been here, though whether or not they still were remained to be seen. She turned to the small puff of air, and walking closer, discovered another a few feet away. Someone’s breath still contained Echelon air, though by the minute amount it appeared to be only one of her unfortunate charges. She trod carefully, uncertain of this strange world and of what it might hold for her. The ground beneath her feet shone with a faint purple hue, and here and there a green phosphorescent light shone through fissures in its surface. Bronwyn felt not at all safe. She could still discern small traces of Echelon air, however, though they were becoming progressively fainter, so she continued slowly on her course. Finally came the time she had been dreading. There was nothing left to track. She slowed in frustration. What should she do now? Suddenly she noticed that the phosphorescence was becoming brighter; the cracks in the ground were widening. She shook her head to clear it, then looked again. Her eyes had not deceived her. Slowly, very slowly, the cracks were widening, and the light was

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beginning to hurt her eyes. She closed them and stopped where she was. She seemed to be making little progress in this world. She could feel the light pressing against her eyelids, pushing them back into her head. Her eyes were beginning to hurt. She fervently hoped none of the children had been stuck on this world, they would have been terrified. Carefully she invoked a spell of protection. She was wary to do so in these strange circumstances for one never knew when a barrier could bounce one’s spell right back onto oneself - a painful and potentially life-threatening occurrence. But there seemed to be no adverse spell-invoking conditions, and she felt a warm mantle develop around herself, protecting her from the strange light. She decided to just stand there and wait to see what would develop. A crack broke wide beneath her feet and she fell, spinning, down a deep hole. She braced her body for contact, and tried to invoke another spell to protect herself, but she could not manage another one as well as the one she had already used to protect her from the light. She hoped it would be enough to also cushion her body. When she landed, it was with a soft and gentle yielding of the bottom of the hole...and the light dimmed. She no longer needed to protect her eyesight. She finished her spell, and looked around. She jumped when a cold and slimy object smeared itself all over her palm. Quickly she withdrew her hand and wiped it against her blue cotton dress; she could see nothing which could have made that sensation. There was nothing there. Then she felt it again, all over her face, her neck, her hair. She screamed and tried to push whatever it was that was making the slime, but her hands could feel nothing. Thus she struggled, until she heard a soft voice say in a nasal whine, “Hello. I am Wort. Who are you? Why do you come here?” Bronwyn no longer had to feel the slime, for the creature was no longer touching her. She swiftly scanned the area, but her original scan remained correct. She could pick up no one in the area.

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“Who are you? “ she asked. “Why can’t I see you?” “That’s absurd! ‘Tis I who cannot see you!” replied Wort. “Why do you lie? And why do you come here to frighten us?” Bronwyn thought swiftly. It was obvious she had encountered a different species - one who could not see her, as she could not see them. She decided that honesty might be the best policy, as she could sense no evil. She ignored the fact that she could sense nothing else, either. “I am Bronwyn of the Brown Eyes,” she stated flatly. “I come in search of my students - I believe they were kidnapped.” “Not by any of us,” came the quick answer. “We can’t even see your kind. Why would we want to kidnap any of yours?” “I didn’t say I thought you were to blame,” said Bronwyn hastily. “It’s just that this is where the portal brought me. I was just wondering if perhaps you knew anything of those whom I seek? Their names are Jeoremy, Aillaex, Devrail and Arthrae. Have you seen them? Or do you know of any who could help me?” There was some silence, as if Wort was contemplating her question. Finally, “Never heard of such outlandish names. Bronwyn thought for a moment. “Perhaps they were, but you knew not? That is possible?” “Nope. Any who enter this realm has to get past me. No one entered.” “So you are a sort of sentinel?” “Of course. ‘Tis a most high office.” Bronwyn realized she was getting nowhere. The creature obviously knew something, for if it had found her, it would have found the others. At least one of them had been here, for she had tracked down the brief puffs of air from her Echelon. But where were they now? She needed to trick this creature into saying more, and into releasing her. They’ve never been here, not at all.”

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“Then you need to notify someone if there be any danger to your world?” “Of course.” “Then you should know that these children can be dangerous. I have often known them to be up to this trick or that. I would recommend you let them go, for keeping them could cause you to lose your office, which you so rightly prize.” “Oh, I will not lose that! I was commended on my vigilance.” “So you did find them.” “No, no, I did not!” “What were you commended for being so vigilant at, then?” Wort seemed stumped. “‘Twas nothing.” “Tell me.” “No.” Bronwyn had been prepared for this answer. She held up Jeoremy’s exercise book, and cried triumphantly, “Jeoremy was here. This book glows with the remnants of him. What have you done to him? If you have hurt him I will destroy your world. I can do it, too, for I am a powerful sorcerer. How else do you think I withstood that destructive beam of light?” “She’s speaking the truth, Wort,” cried another, higher pitched voice. “I think we should give the child back to her.” “Who’s that?” asked Bronwyn. “‘Tis my leader. He says that I am to give the boy back.” “One child! Where are the others?” “That I truly do not know. I will give you back this one on the condition that you never enter our world again - your kind is a most disruptive presence.” Bronwyn promised to never enter the twilit world of Wort’s again, assuring him that they had only stumbled there by accident, not by design. Wort seemed disbelieving, but suddenly

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Jeoremy became visible, trussed like a bird for the table. He was also gagged, and as he struggled, they were both suddenly lifted and deposited back on the purple dirt which comprised this world’s surface. “Go away quickly!” was Wort’s good-bye remark. “I shall be back in a few hours. You must be gone by then, or we will keep you here forever. We’d rather you go, however, for you are not of our kind, and will only bring dissension to our World.” Bronwyn swiftly untied Jeoremy, and grasping him by his grubby hand, ran as quickly as she could to the portal she had arrived in; in this case, the portal manifested not as a cottage but as a mere displacement in the atmosphere. Bronwyn had memorized its whereabouts, however, and as they sank gratefully into its center, the comforting surroundings of the cottage began to become visible. “Oh Bronwyn!” gasped Jeoremy. “‘Tis glad that I am you found us. I was terrified. I am so happy to be home.” Bronwyn looked at the small boy, covered in purple dirt, and wondered how to break the news to him. She decided that the direct approach was the best. “I’ve only found you, Jeoremy, not the others. And we are far from home, we are in the portal. It only looks like our cottage. Where are the others? What happened?” Jeoremy’s face crumpled. He had so desperately wanted the events of the past few hours to be but a nightmare, something from which he would wake up and find everything was back to normal. Now it looked as though that was not about to happen. “What happened, Jeoremy?” prodded Bronwyn. “You must tell me. We have to rescue them.” “Can we do that, Bronwyn?” asked Jeoremy, hope dawning in his eyes. “Please tell me that we can.”

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“Perhaps. We will try. But you must tell me everything, exactly as it happened. I need to know it all.” At Jeoremy’s frightened face, she added, “I will not be angry with you. But you must tell me the truth.” Slowly Jeoremy nodded. “It was when you had all twenty of us students, before you picked us to tutor. I was playing with Arthrae, Aillaex and Devrail. We never thought that the voice could hurt us. We didn’t know, we thought it was a just pretend game, and that the voice was but a sample of the exercises in imaging you were teaching us to do. We first heard it a year ago, on this very day. It told us that we had to keep it a secret, and that we would be given a huge reward on this day, exactly a year from that time. It told us that you would be so proud of us, that all of Echelon would grow to know of what we had done and be surprised. We would be famous.” Here Jeoremy paused to wipe his eyes, but Bronwyn urged him on. This was worse than she had expected. “We did many things that it told us to do, and they always turned out perfectly. It helped us in all our assignments, and it showed us new ways to do them. It made us seem brilliant, Bronwyn, and that felt so nice. You were so impressed, our parents were so happy, and we could see nothing wrong with what we were doing. It told us that if we told anyone, it would stop helping us, and then we would be dumb and stupid like the rest of the kids you decided not to help.” Bronwyn was appalled. Obviously the creature was playing on the young children’s negative traits, nurturing and feeding him. The damage to their souls might be irreparable. She sincerely hoped not. Her own soul bore deep gouges and blemishes, from her tortured time on the Earthenworld. She knew how painful and difficult it could be, to try to cleanse the soul, and she most certainly did not want her small charges to have to bear the experiences which she had borne. Now it seemed she was too late.

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“So this is why I chose you four to tutor?” she asked, all the while knowing the answer to her own question. “Yes, Bronwyn. We were not the brilliant students you thought us to be; we had help.” “So what happened today?” she queried further. “The voice spoke, and it told us that we must repeat a chant, over and over. ‘Tis odd, but I cannot remember one word of it now. Then, when we did that, a hole appeared in that wall over there, and through it was only blackness. The voice told us that we must enter the hole, but I would not. The others did, and they left me here. When they had gone, I looked closer at the hole, to see where they might be, but I saw nothing. Then a tremendous force pushed and pulled me into the same hole, I could not resist. I ended up in that strange world, with Wort, and Gort, his leader. They would not let me go, and they tied me up with nasty invisible fingers. I fear they were going to have me for dinner, but you arrived and scared them.” Bronwyn sat back in the old armchair. She thought furiously. Never in her life had she ever felt so young and stupid, and she fervently wished that she was as old and wise as Elly. Elly would know what to do. She knew that she would have to go through the portal to find her missing students, but where to? She knew enough of these types of magik to realize that the portal could have conceivably deposited them anywhere. But she had absolutely no idea where. The cottage was not real; this she was aware of. The portal had just been fashioned to manifest in that way whenever feasible, for it was a form most forms of life were familiar with. She also knew that trillions upon trillions of Otherworlds existed, and that the portal was a doorway to them all. Planets flung to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, and dimensions which existed at the same place but in different moments of time; and each

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had their own time-sequence. For each planet, there would be a separate one formed each second. How on Echelon was she to find the correct one? She closed her eyes. She had to summon help. “You’ll have to help me, Jeoremy. Focus your attention on my thoughts, and Jeoremy

concentrate on strengthening the images, just like I taught you to do.”

scrunched up his face, and tried as hard as he could to help his friends. They worked for well on an hour when Bronwyn stopped him. “We’re getting nowhere, Jeoremy. Methinks we’ll have to just pick somewhere and hope for the best. It will be close to this portal, for wherever they are, they will not have had time to get too far away. Do you have any item which belongs to them? ‘Twas your exercise book which led me to you. If we have some objects which are theirs, then we may be able to locate them in the same manner.” Jeoremy dug in his pocket and pulled out some grimy fizzle-pops, and handed them to Bronwyn. “Will that do? Aillaex gave those to me this morning. She bought them at the sweete shoppe, and kept these ones for me.” Bronwyn picked them up distastefully. “You were planning to eat these, Jeoremy? Even my simianine Musket would have better sense than to swallow such as this! But no doubt they’ll do for tracking down Aillaex, and where she is, no doubt we’ll find the others.” Bronwyn held the fizzle-pop distastefully in her hand and concentrated. She could feel brief glimmers, very faint and far apart, but glimmers of Aillaex none the less. She had absolutely no idea where the child was, but she knew that wherever it was, it was not pleasant. But Aillaex was alive. She mentioned nothing to Jeoremy about her fears, saying only that she had found brief traces of the girl, and that she would need help to find out more.

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“There’s a sorcerer in Elly’s world, named Roland. He has visited the Realms of Neutrality and has great powers and wisdom. If I could only get his help, mayhap we could find them. But I fear entry into my old home, the Earthenworld, for if we go there, we will release the ancient beast who waits. We have had no luck with trying to summon the Earthenworld. We cannot go back to Echelon, for we run the risk that the beast will follow us there.” “Where is the beast now, Bronwyn?” asked Jeoremy fearfully. “I know not. It could be anywhere in these dimensions of time and space, as well as a few dimensions we know nothing of. When the witch Madrion and her friends threw the beast into the portal, they had distorted the space-time sequence, so hopefully the beast is trapped in a time or space warp. But they do not know for sure.” “Wasn’t that kind of irresponsible of them, to just toss the beast into whatever poor worlds were on the other side of the portal? That beast could have hurt so many Peoples!” exclaimed Jeoremy. He didn’t like the sound of this monster one little bit. “No, Jeoremy. They were not so silly as that! The beast originated from the Heavens of the Earthenworld. His powers are confined to that place, as well as Echelon,

Earthenworld’s sister planet. He can hurt only the Peoples from that realm.” “That means me!” squeaked Jeoremy. “And Aillaex! And Arthrae! And Devrail! Oh, Bronwyn, what are we to do?” “Don’t worry too much, Jeoremy. He is now confined to a separate plane of

existence, and cannot break through to harm anyone on Earth or Echelon, and while I am here, you are safe.” “Why is that Bronwyn? My powers do not work on this planet. I tried them, and they failed me completely. Yours will not, too.”

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“Nay, Jeoremy, mine will. I know not why, but my powers scan far and wide, even much further than Echelon and the Earthenworld. ‘Tis most unusual, for in those worlds, my powers are not unnaturally great - I can do no more than Ellyryran or Madrion. But where my power differs is that they are universal, and are linked with the planes of Neutrality. I do not understand them at all, but apparently they are rare. Ellyryran has not yet allowed me to explore the parameters of my magik, she has said that I am still too young. However, at this time, I really have no choice, and she knew that. ‘Tis the only reason she let me come. I cannot let her down, nor can I let down your parents. We must locate the others on our own. Come, let us approach the portal once more, holding Aillaex’s fizzle-pop; perhaps we will be drawn into the world in which she lives.” Cautiously they held out the bedraggled fizzle-pop and approached the small door to the cottage. Gingerly, Bronwyn opened it and peered outside. The streets were teeming with life. Their little cottage appeared to be set in the middle of a busy town, and all around people were hurrying this way and that. Bronwyn let out a sigh of relief. At least it was a population of humanoids. With travel through the portal, one never knew what one would come across. Carefully she assessed the apparel and entered her information into her storehouse of memory. She usually could remember every event in her life, with a memory bank much like the computers used in the ancient Earthenworld. She had built her mind along the same principals, with painstaking effort and much help from Mesian. Now it only took her seconds to access the information she required; a compilation of all the attire she had just viewed, made into clothes which would fit her and Jeoremy. With the information, she would be able to create clothes which would blend in with the Peoples of this world. Carefully, she fixed the portal so that it would continue to remain at this particular point in time, so that when they were ready to leave, it would still be the same place.

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There was no concern about being left behind; where the had left, the portal always remained, as solid and comforting as one’s own home. She then concocted a spell for Jeoremy which would ensure that there was no problem with the language. She herself had made one years ago for herself, when she had first entered the realms of Echelon. Although she no longer needed it to communicate with the Peoples of that world, she had kept it as a part of herself. She thought that it would come in useful when she had to travel to other countries of the world of Echelon. She never dreamed that she would first be using it to travel through the portal. She handed Jeoremy his bright red suit, and he wrinkled his nose with scorn. “I have to wear that?” He asked in disgust. “That’s the sort of thing girls wear! I won’t wear it!” “Do you want to help your friends, Jeoremy?” asked Bronwyn sternly. “For if you do, you will not argue with what I ask of you. This is the type of clothing that is worn on this world; we must blend in with its Peoples, and not draw attention to our presence. Look at what I have to wear! And I’m not complaining, though I most easily could!” Bronwyn held up a mere speck of fabric. The dress was minuscule, by any standards, and it left most of her legs bare, as well as her bosom and her arms. It too was garishly colored, and she grimaced at the paint box she had also conjured up. “The women of this world paint their faces like the clowns of our world.” Jeoremy’s eyes opened wide. “You mean with huge smiles and red dots on their cheeks?” Bronwyn laughed heartily. “No, silly! I just meant that they put paint on their faces, and the clowns of our world also put paint on their faces! They do it to look better, that’s all, to enhance their facial beauty.”

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“Why would they care about their appearance?” Jeoremy was truly mystified. He had never heard anyone being concerned about the way they looked before. Bronwyn laughed again at his small puzzled face. “‘Tis just that they live in the realms of their physical beings. They have not evolved enough to see and appreciate beings encased in the outer shell...instead they admire the shell itself. ‘Tis much like valuing the wrapping of a gift more than the gift itself.” “I’ve never heard of anything more crazy than that!” exclaimed the small boy. Bronwyn replied, “‘Tis an evolutionary process that all Humanoid realms must go through, Jeoremy. ‘Tis but a phase in their development. My planet, the Earthenworld, was like that before the end time. They had to go through much bloodshed and pain to even step onto the threshold of true Humanity. Still most of the population refuses to change. It will be hundreds of years yet before they reach the stage of the Peoples of Echelon, though they are not as undeveloped as the Peoples of this world. Get dressed, now, Jeoremy, and I will do the same, though I swear I will feel naked in these clothes.” Jeoremy gave her no further argument, and thus, duly garbed, they ventured out into the streets of the unknown planet.

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