Earl RAFAEON of LEUKAS took one ponderous step toward his King, a towering figure of iron readying for combat. Evyan whooped. “Ulfar!” she yelled. “Ulfar, your chance!”
Columbard’s guardsman laughed aloud. Raising his spear, he stepped over into the square held by ASATOR. The white-robed Bishop lifted his mace, futile and feeble, and then he rolled in the dust at Ulfar’s feet. The men of Cinnabar howled and clanged sword on shield.
Rogard held aloof from triumph, ASATOR, he thought grimly, had been expendable anyway. King MIKILLATI had something else in mind.
It was like a blow when he saw Earl RAFAEON’s guardsman run forward two squares and shout to Evyan to guard herself. Raging, the Queen of Cinnabar withdrew a square to her rearward. Rogard saw sickly how unprotected King Flambard was now, the soldiers scattered over the field and the hosts of LEUKAS marshaling. But Queen DOLORA, he thought with a wild clutching of hope, Queen DOLORA, her tall cold beauty was just as open to a strong attack.
The soldier who had driven Evyan back took a leap across the frontier.” Guard yourself, O Queen!” he cried again. He was a small, hard-bitten, unkempt warrior in dusty helm and corselet. Evyan cursed, a bouncing soldierly oath, and moved one square forward to put a Barrier between her and him. He grinned impudently in his beard.
It is ill for us, it is a bootless and evil day. Rogard tried once more to get out of his square and go to Evyan’s aid, but his will would not carry him. The Barrier held, invisible and uncrossable, and the Law held, the cruel and senseless Law which said a man must stand by and watch his lady be slain, and he railed at the bitterness of it and lapsed into a gray waiting.
Trumpets lifted brazen throats, drums boomed, and Queen DOLORA of LEUKAS stalked forth into battle. She came high and white and icily fair, her face chiseled and immobile in its haughtiness under the crowned helmet, and stood two squares in front of her husband, looming over Carlon. Behind her, her own Bishop SORKAS poised in his stronghold, hefting his mace in armored hands. Carlon of Cinnabar spat at DOLORA’s feet, and she looked at him from cool blue eyes and then looked away. The hot dry wind did not ruffle her long pale hair; she was like a statue, standing there and waiting.
“Ocher,” said Evyan softly, “out of my way.”
“I like not retreat, my lady,” he answered in a thin tone.
“Nor I,” said Evyan. “But I must have an escape route open. We will fight again.”
Slowly, Ocher withdrew, back to his own home. Evyan chuckled once, and a wry grin twisted her young face.
Rogard was looking at her so tautly that he did not see what was happening until a great shout of iron slammed his head around. Then he saw Bishop SORKAS, standing in Carlon’s square with a bloodied mace in his hands, and Carlon lay dead at his feet.
Carlon, your hands are empty, life has slipped from them and there is an unending darkness risen in you who loved the world. Goodnight, my Carlon, goodnight.
“Madame—” Bishop SORKAS spoke quietly, bowing a little, and there was a smile on his crafty face. “I regret, madame, that—ah—”
“Yes. I must leave you.” Evyan shook her head, as if she had been struck, and moved a square backwards and sideways. Then, turning, she threw the glance of an eagle down the black squares to LEUKAS’ Earl ARACLES. He looked away nervously, as if he would crouch behind the three soldiers who warded him. Evyan drew a deep breath sobbing into her lungs.
Sir THEUTAS, DOLORA’s Knight, sprang from his stronghold, to place himself between Evyan and the Earl. Rogard wondered dully if he meant to kill Ulfar the soldier; he could do it now. Ulfar looked at the Knight who sat crouched, and hefted his spear and waited for his own weird.
The Bishop leaped, and for a moment there was fire-streaked darkness before his eyes.
“Rogard, to me! To me, and help sweep them from the world!”
She stood in her scarred and dinted armor, holding her sword aloft, and on that smitten field she was laughing with a new-born hope. Rogard could not shout his reply. There were no words. But he raised his mace and ran.
The black squares slid beneath his feet, footfalls pounding, jarring his teeth, muscles stretching with a resurgent glory and all the world singing. At the frontier, he stopped, knowing it was Evyan’s will though he could not have said how he knew. Then he faced about, and with clearing eyes looked back over that field of iron and ruin. Save for one soldier, Cinnabar was now cleared of LEUKAN forces, Evyan was safe, a counterblow was readying like the first whistle of hurricane. Before him were the proud banners of LEUKAS—now to throw them into the dust! Now to ride with Evyan into the home of MIKILLATI!
“Go to it, sir,” rumbled Ulfar, standing on the Bishop’s right and looking boldly at the white Knight who could slay him. “Give ’em hell from us.”
Wings beat in the sky, and THEUTAS soared down to land on Rogards’ left. In the hot light, the blued metal of his armor was like running water. His horse snorted, curveting and flapping its wings; he sat it easily, the lance swaying in his grasp, the blank helmet turned to Flambard. One more such leap, reckoned Rogard wildly, and he would be able to assail the King of Cinnabar. Or—no—a single spring from here and he would spit Evyan on his lance.
And there is a Barrier between us!
“Watch yourself, Queen!” The arrogant LEUKAN voice boomed hollow out of the steel mask.
“Indeed I will, Sir Knight!” There was only laughter in Evyan’s tone. Lightly, then, she sped up the row of black squares. She brushed by Rogard, smiling at him as she ran, and he tried to smile back but his face was stiffened. Evyan, Evyan, she was plunging alone into her enemy’s homeland!
Iron belled and clamored. The white guardsman in her path toppled and sank at her feet. One fist lifted strengthlessly, and a dying shrillness was in the dust: “Curse you, curse you, MIKILLATI, curse you for a stupid fool, leaving me here to be slain—no, no, no—”
Evyan bestrode the body and laughed again in the very face of Earl ARACLES. He cowered back, licking his lips—he could not move against her, but she could annihilate him in one more step. Beside Rogard, Ulfar whooped, and the trumpets of Cinnabar howled in the rear.
Now the great attack was launched! Rogard cast a fleeting glance at Bishop SORKAS. The lean white-coped form was gliding forth, mace swinging loose in one hand, and there was a little sleepy smile on the pale face. No dismay—? SORKAS halted, facing Rogard, and smiled a little wider, skinning his teeth without humor. “You can kill me if you wish,” he said softly. “But do you?”
For a moment Rogard wavered. To smash that head—!
“Rogard! Rogard, to me!”
Evyan’s cry jerked the King’s Bishop around. He saw now what her plan was, and it dazzled him so that he forgot all else, LEUKAS is ours!
Swiftly he ran. DIOMES and boan howled at him as he went between them, brushing impotent spears against the Barriers. He passed Queen DOLORA, and her lovely face was as if cast in steel, and her eyes followed him as he charged over the plain of LEUKAS. Then there was no time for thinking, Earl RAFAEON loomed before him, and he jumped the last boundary into the enemy’s heartland.
The Earl lifted a meaningless ax. The Law read death for him, and Rogard brushed aside the feeble stroke. The blow of his mace shocked in his own body, slamming his jaws together, RAFAEON crumpled, falling slowly, his armor loud as he struck the ground. Briefly, his fingers clawed at the iron-hard black earth, and then he lay still.
They have slain Raddic and Carlon—we have three guardsmen, a Bishop, and an Earl—Now we need only be butchers! Evyan, Evyan, warrior Queen, this is your victory!
DIOMES of LEUKAS roared and jumped across the frontier. Futile, futile, he was doomed to darkness. Evyan’s lithe form moved up against ARACLES, her sword flamed and the Earl crashed at her feet. Her voice was another leaping brand: “Defend yourself, King!”
Turning, Rogard grew aware that MIKILLATI himself had been right beside him. There was a Barrier between the two men—but MIKILLATI had to retreat from Evyan, and he took one step foreward and sideways. Peering into his face, Rogard felt a sudden coldness. There was no defeat there, it was craft and knowledge and an unbending steel will—what was LEUKAS planning?
Evyan tossed her head, and the wind fluttered the lock of hair like a rebel banner. “We have them, Rogard!” she cried.