she herself knew what wisdom was, doubted she
would recognize wisdom if it came flying at her in the
night like some winged attacking reptile.
Quite possibly she had never been able to recognize
it, and only of late was she aware of this.
The one adviser whose word she would really have
valued now had been gone from her side for years,
and he was not coming back. She was never going to
see him again, except, possibly, one day across some
battlefield. But perhaps when they met in battle he
would be wearing a mask again (she had never
understood why he did that so often) and he would go
And now, at this point in what had become a
familiar cycle of thought, it was time for her to
think about Ariane. Ariane her daughter, her only
child, and of course his daughter too.
The Silver Queen’s intelligence sources had con-
firmed for her the stories, now four years old, that
Ariane was four years dead, had perished with
some band of robbers in an attempt to plunder the
main hoard of the Blue Temple. Well, the girl was
better off that way, most likely, than in Red Temple
Had that plot, to put Ariane on the throne of
Yambu, been a real one? Or had the real plot been
to force her, the Silver Queen, to get rid of her
daughter, her one potentially trustworthy ally?
Even when convinced of the danger, Queen Yambu
had been unable to give the orders for her daugh-
ter’s death. And besides, the auguries had threat-
ened the most horrible consequences for her royal
self if she should do so. In the end, as certain of the
auguries appeared to advise, she had sold Ariane
into Red Temple slavery.
Her own daughter, her only child. She, Queen
Yambu, had been lost in her own hate and fear ….
Would Amintor, she wondered, if he had been
with her then, have had the courage to advise her
firmly against destroying her own daughter? Not,
she thought, once he knew that she was determined
on it .
. . . and now, of course, in this pointless cycle of
thought, remembrance, and self-recrimination, it
was time for her to recall those days of her love
affair with the Emperor, before her triumphant
ascension to the throne. Only rarely since that tri-
umph had she felt as fully alive as she did then, in
that time of continuous, desperate effort and dan-
ger. Then her life had been in peril constantly. She
had been in flight day after day, never sleeping
twice in the same place, alert always to escape the
usurpers’ search parties that were frantically
scouring the country for her.
That was when she had met him, when the love
affair had started, and when it had run its course.
She had been an ignorant girl then, only guessing at
the Emperor’s real power; then, as now, he had had
no army of his own to send into the field. But he had
saved her more than once, fighting like a demon at
her side, inspiring her with predictions of victory,
outguessing the enemy on which direction their
search parties would take next.
There had been hints, she supposed, in those
early days of love, as to what he expected as his ulti-
mate reward. More than hints, if she had been will-
ing to see and hear them. Still she had begun, naive
girl as she then was, to think him selfless and
unselfish. And then-landless, armyless, brazen,
bold-faced opportunist after all!-he had proposed
marriage to her. On the very day of her stunning vic-
tory, when enough of the powerful folk of Yambu
had rallied to her cause to turn the tide. The very
day she had been able to ascend the throne, and to
order the chief plotters and their families put to a
The man who called himself the Emperor must
have read her instant refusal in her face. For when
she had turned back from giving some urgent order,
to deliver her answer to him plainly, he was already
gone. Perhaps he had put. on one of his damned
masks again; anyway he had vanished in that day’s
great confusion of unfamiliar figures, new body-
guard and new courtiers and foreign dignitaries
already on hand to congratulate the winner.
She had refused to order a search, or even to
allow one. Let him go. She was well rid of him.
From that day forward she would be Queen, and
her marriage, when she got around to thinking of
marriage, would have to be something planned as
carefully and coldly as an army’s march.
There had been, naturally enough, other lovers,
from that day almost twenty years ago till this.’
Amintor was, she supposed, the most durable of the
bunch. Lovers was not really the right word for
them though; useful bodies, sometimes entertain-
ing or even useful minds.
But the Emperor yes, he had been her lover.
That fact in some ways seemed to loom larger as it
became more distant down the lengthening avenue
But, she thought now (as she usually did when
the thought-cycle had reached this point), how
could any woman, let alone a Queen, have been
expected to live with, to seriously plan a life and a
career, with a man like that . . . ?
The Silver Queen’s thoughts and feelings, as
usual, became jumbled at this point. It was all done
with now. It had all been over and done with, a long
time ago. The Emperor might have made her
immortal, or at least virtually ageless, like himself.
Well, as a strong Queen she could hire or persuade
other powerful magicians to do the same for her, as
they did for themselves, when it began to seem
Only after she had refused the Emperor’s offer of
marriage, and after she had banned that impossible
pretender, that joker and seducer, from her
thoughts (the banning had been quite successful for
a time)-it was only then, of course, that she had
realized that she was pregnant.
Her first thought had been to rid herself of the
child before it was born. But her second thought-
already she was beginning to pick up more hints of
the Emperor’s latent power-was that the child
might possibly represent an asset later. As usual in
her new life as Queen, far-sighted caution had pre-
vailed. She had endured the pregnancy and birth.
There was no doubt of who the father was,
despite the baby’s fair skin and reddish hair, unlike
those of either parent. The Emperor had been her
only lover at the time. Besides, the Queen could find
redheads recorded on both sides of her own ances-
try. As for the Emperor’s family . . . who knew? Not
any of the wizards she had been able to consult.
One thing certain about him; he had been, still
was, a consummate magician. The Silver Queen
appreciated that more fully now. At the time, as a
girl, she had only begun to recognize the fact.
And even now-actually more often now than in
those early years of her reign-the idea kept coming
tantalizingly back: what if she actually had mar-
That would have been impossible, of course.
Quite socially, politically impossible for a Queen to
.marry one that the world knew as a demented
clown. No matter that the wise and well-educated
at least suspected there was more to the Emperor
than that. But what if she had done it, used her new
royal power to make it work? There would of course
have had to have been a strong concurrent effort to
revive her husband’s title in its ancient sense, one of
well-nigh supreme power, of puissance beyond that of
mere Kings and Queens.
Would she have been acclaimed as a genius of
statecraft for marrying him and trying to do that?
Only, of course, if it had worked. More likely she
would have become a laughingstock.
In any case it was nonsense to think about it now.
She had been only a girl then, unwise in the ways of
ruling, and how could she ever have made such an
But he might have been able to make it work. What
if she had let him rule beside her, had let him try ..
Maybe, she thought, it was the memory of the
Emperor’s fierce masculinity that was really bothering
her tonight. On top of everything else. There had
been something stronger about him in that way than
any other man she had ever invited to her cot, though
physically he was not particularly big.
Enough. There in the dark privacy of her tent, not
giving herself time to think about it, she clasped her
right hand firmly on Soulcutter’s hilt and drew it
halfway from its sheath. Still there was no glow, and