propose to fight the Mindsword, with our help or
It was the Baron who replied. “To begin with, we
mean to avoid battle with Vilkata’s troops unless
we’re sure he’s not on the scene himself-he’ll never
turn the Mindsword over to a subordinate, you may be
sure of that. Your people and ours will exchange
intelligence regarding the Dark King’s movements.
Yes, it’ll still be damned difficult even if we’re allied-
but if we’re still fighting each other at the same time,
it’s going to be impossible.”
Yoldi had another question. “Supposing for a
moment that such an alliance could be made to work,
even temporarily-what do you intend doing with the
Mindsword, after the Dark King has somehow been
Yambu smiled with what looked like genuine
amusement. It made her face more attractive than
before. “Why, I would leave that up to you.”
“You’d turn the Mindsword over to us?” Yoldi
asked the question blankly.
The Queen paused very briefly. “Why not? I can
agree to that, because I think that your good Knight
there is one of the few men in the world who’d never
“And what of my people who are now your slaves,
my lands that you have seized?” This was from Sir
Andrew. He had now mastered his obvious anger,
and was almost calm, as if he were only discussing
some theoretical possibility.
“Why, those are yours again, of course, as soon as
you and I can reach agreement. As soon after that as
I rejoin my own people, I’ll send word by flying beasts
to all my garrison commanders there, to begin an
evacuation at once.”
“And in return for that, what do you want of me?”
“First, of course, immediate cessation of hostilities
against my forces, everywhere. And then your full
support against the Dark King, until he is brought
down. Or until he crushes both of us.” The Queen
paused, giving an almost friendly look to Sir Andrew
and his surrounding bodyguard. She added: “You
really have no choice, you know.”
There was a long pause, during which Sir Andrew
studied the Queen even more carefully than before.
At last he said, “Tell me something.”
“If I can.”
“Did you in fact sell your own daughter into Red
Denis saw a shadow, he thought of something more
complex than simple anger, cross the Queen’s face.
Her voice when she replied was much less hearty.
“Ah,” she said. “Ah, and if I tell you the truth of that,
will you believe me?”
“Why not? Apparently you expect us to believe
your proposal to give us the Mindsword-perhaps at
this moment you even believe that yourself. Still, I
would like to hear whatever you wish to say about
This time the pause was short. Then, with a sudden
movement, the Silver Queen got up from her seat on
the dead tree.
“Amintor and I will walk apart a little now, while
you discuss my offer. Naturally you will want to talk
to your close advisers before giving me an answer. I
trust they are all here. Unfortunately-or perhaps
fortunately-there isn’t time for diplomacy as usually
conducted. But I’ll wait, while you have your
And the two visitors from Yambu did indeed walk
apart, Baron Amintor apparently pointing out some
curiosities of the swamp flora to the Queen, as if
neither of them had anything more important than wild
plants on mind.
Sir Andrew and several others were huddled
together, and Denis could imagine what they were
saying: About Vilkata and the Mindsword, it must be
true, for now we’ve heard it twice. But, an alliance?
But, thought Denis, the Queen was right. He has no
real choice but to accept.
Kristin, crowned only hours ago in hurried but joyful
ceremony as Princess Regnant of the Lands of
Tasavalta, was alone in one of the royal palace’s
smaller semipublic rooms, sitting on one of her smaller
thrones. She had chosen to sit on this throne at this
moment because she was tiredexhausted might have
been putting it mildly-and the throne was the most
convenient place in the room to sit. There were no
other chairs. She could willingly have opted for the
floor, but the fit of her coronation gown, which had
been her sister’s, and today had been pressed into
service. hurriedly, argued against that.
She was waiting for her lover Mark to be brought
to her. There were certain things that had to be said
to him, and only she could say them, and only when
the two of them were alone. And her impending
collapse into exhaustion had to be postponed until
after they had been said.
The room was quiet now, except for the
continuing sounds of celebration from outside. But
if Kristin thought about it, she could remember
other days in this room. Bright days of loud voices
and free laughter, in the time when her older sister
had been alive and ruling Tasavalta. And days from
an earlier time still, when Kristin had been only a
small girl, and there were two girls in this room
with their father, a living King, who joked with
them about this throne ….
Across the room in present time a small door was
opening, quietly and discreetly. Her Uncle Karel,
master of magic and teacher of magicians, looked
in, saw she was alone, and gave her an almost
imperceptible nod of approval. Karel was enor-
mously fat and somewhat jolly in appearance, red
cheeks glowing as usual above gray whiskers, as if
he had just come in from an invigorating winter
walk. As far as Kristin could tell he had not changed
in the slightest from those bright days of her own
girlhood. Today of course he was decked out, like
herself, in full ceremonial garb, including a blue-
green garland on his brow.
He reached behind him now to pull someone for-
ward. It was Mark, dressed now in strange bor-
rowed finery, that he thrust gently into the room
where Kristin waited.
Karel said to her, in a voice that somewhat belied
his jolly face; “Highness, it will look bad for you to
be alone for very long with this-”
She stood up, snapped to her feet as if brought
there by a spring, weary muscles energized by out-
rage, by the tension of all that had happened to her
today. “Uncle Karel, I have been alone with him for
a month already. Thank the gods! For before that I
was alone with Vilkata’s torturers, and you were
not there to bring me out.”
That was unfair and Kristin knew it; her voice
softened a little. “There are important matters that
I must-convey to this man. Before I dispatch him
on a mission that will take him out of Tasavalta.”
Her uncle had winced at the jab about Vilkata’s
torturers, but his relief at her last words was evi-
dent. He bowed himself out silently, closing the
door behind him.
Mark heard the same words from Kristin with
muted shock, but no real surprise. It was hours now
since he had opened his mouth to say a word of his
own to anyone. Many had spoken to him, but for the
most part only to give him directions: Bathe here,
wait there, put this on and see if it fits. Here is food,
here is drink, here is a razor. Stand here, wait. Now
come this way. He had been fed, cleaned up, draped
with robes and what he supposed were honors, then
shunted aside and left to watch from an inconspicu-
ous place during the coronation ceremony.
Now he marveled to himself: it was less than a
day ago-hardly more than half a day-that this
girl and I were riding alone as lovers, on the edge of
the wilderness, both of us still in rags. I could have
stopped my mount then, and stopped hers-yes,
even in sight of that first flagpole bearing blue and
green-and got down from my saddle, and pulled
her down from hers, and lain with her on the
ground in our rags, or out of them, and she would
have loved it, welcomed it. And now….
This audience chamber, in which Mark now
found himself alone with Kristin, was, like the rest
of the palace-like the whole domain of Tasavalta,
perhaps-a larger and somehow more important place
than it had appeared at first impression. It was a
sunlit, cheerful room, beautiful in a high vertical way.
The air moving in through the open windows smelled
of flowers, of perpetual spring; drifting in with the
scents of spring came the music of the dance that
was still going on far below the windows, part of the
coronation celebration. The dance and the music, like
the rest of the day, had become to Mark something
like a show to which he need only listen, and watch.
As if none of it had anything, really, to do with him.