The Silver Queen continued to stare at her former
lover. At last she said, “My reports, and I have rea-
son to trust them, said that Ariane was killed, in the
treasure-dungeon of the Blue Temple.”
The Emperor scowled his distaste for that organi-
zation. “Many have died, in that . . . place. But
Ariane did not die there. Even though the young
men with her at the time were also sure that she
was dead. One of those young men is my son, did
you know that? I like to take care of my children,
whenever I can. She is not dead.”
And still Queen Yambu stared at him. She could
not shake off her suspicion that this was all one of
his jokes, perhaps the prelude to a hideous
revenge-she had never been sure, even when they
had been lovers, whether he was a vengeful man or
At last her royal poise abandoned her for the
moment, and she stammered out: “I-I sold her to
the Red Temple.”
The frown was turned at her now, and briefly she
understood what ancient Imperial power must
have been, that Kings and Queens had quaked
“I might have killed you for that, if I had known
about it when it happened. But years have passed,
and you are sorry for that selling now. She has sur-
vived, and so have I. And so have you.”
In anger she regained her strength. “I have sur-
vived without you, you impossible . . . and you say
you want to marry me, still? How do I know you
mean what you are saying now?”
“How do you know when to trust anyone, my
dear? You’ll have to make a choice.”
She wanted to cry out that she did not know
when to trust anyone; that was her whole problem.
“You madman, suppose I were to answer you and
tell you yes. Could you defeat the Mindsword for me
“I’ll do all I can to help you, if you will be my
bride. We’ll see about the Mindsword when it
“It’s here now. Oh, you bastard. Impossible as
always. Leave now. Get out of here, or I’m going to
draw Soulcutter.” And she put her hand on the
unrelieved blackness of that hilt, that rested as
always within reach. “And I suppose you’ll go on
seducing brides, and fathering more bastards, after
we are married?”
He said, softly and soberly, “I will be more faith-
ful to you than you can well imagine. I love you; I
always have. Why do you think I fought for you,
beside you, when you were a girl?”
“I don’t believe it, I tell you. I don’t believe any of
it. Leave now, or I draw Soulcutter.”
“It’s your Sword, to do with as you will. But I
will leave when you decide to draw it.”
She started to draw the Sword, and-at the same
moment called out in a clear voice for her guards.
When they came pushing into the tent a moment
later, they found their Queen quite alone, and
Soulcutter safely in its sheath, though her hand on
the hilt was poised as if for action.
The soldiers found themselves staring half-
hypnotized at that hand, both of them hoping that
they would be out of the tent again before the
Sword was drawn; and already in the air around it,
around themselves, they thought they could feel the
backwash of a wave of emptiness.
Queen Yambu wasted no more time, but gave the
orders necessary to get her troops into the state of
final readiness for battle. That done, she ordered an
With Vilkata’s ranks still no more than barely in
sight, she waited in the middle of her own line,
mounted on her famous gray warbeast, ready to
draw the Sword of-of what? As far as she knew, this
one had only one name.
Now the enemy lines were creeping forward.
There, in their center, that would be Vilkata himself,
waiting for the perfect moment in which to draw the
weapon that he was gambling would be supreme.
The hand of Queen Yambu was on her own
Sword’s hilt. She urged her mount forward, a little.
The Mindsword and Soulcutter were drawn,
Her own first reaction, to the overwhelming psychic
impact of her own Sword, was that she wanted to
throw it away-but then she did not. Because she could
no longer see how throwing it away would make any
difference, would matter in the least.
Nor did anything else matter.
Nothing else in the whole universe.
The Mindsword was a distant, irrelevant twinkle,
far across the field, beneath the gloom of
thunderclouds. While near at hand, around Queen
Yambu herself . . .
Those of her own troops who were closest to her
had been looking at her when she drew. After that
they were indifferent as to where they looked.
Around her a wave of lethargy, of supreme
indifference, was spreading out, a slow splash in an
In the distance, but drawing rapidly nearer, a charge
was coming. Vilkata’s troops, with maddened yells,
the fresh inspiration of the Mindsword driving them.
Some of the Queen’s soldiers, more and more of
them with each passing second, were actually
slumping to the ground now, letting their weapons fall
from indifferent hands. It appeared that they would’be
able to put up no resistance, that the Dark King might
now be going to win easily.
But of course that did not matter either.
With berserker cries, the first of the Dark King’s
newly energized fanatics rushed upon them. The
defense put up by the soldiers in black and silver was
at best half-hearted, and it was weaker the closer they
were stationed to their Queen.
But the attackers, Vilkata’s men and women, were
now entering the region of Soulcutter’s dominance. It
was their screams of triumph that faltered first, and
then the energy with which they plied their weapons.
Next their ranks came to a jostling, stumbling halt.
The Queen of Yambu-not knowing, really, why she
bothered-slowly raised her eyes. The Sword she held
above her head was so dull that it almost hurt the eyes
to look at it.
The Sword of Despair-she had thought of the other
name for it now. Not that that mattered, either. Not
that or anything else.
Why was she bothering to hold the Sword so high?
She let her arms slump with its weight. When her
warbeast, puzzled and suffering, wanted to move, she
let it go, sliding from its back. She stood almost
leaning on the Sword now, its point cutting shallowly
into the earth.
Nor did any of that really mean anything, as far as
she could tell.
The fighting that had begun, sporadically, was dying
out. Soulcutter was winning, all across the
field. If neither victory nor survival mattered, to
anyone, there would be no battle.
Yambu was aware, though only dimly and indif-
ferently, that so far the Dark King’s weapon had
been able to shield him, and a small group of his fol-
lowers around him, from Soulcutter’s dark, subtle
That group began to charge toward her now,
yelling warcries. But its numbers shrank, and
shrank more rapidly the closer it came to Queen
Yambu. One by one the people in it turned aside
from the charge, to sit or kneel or slump to the
ground, giving up the effort in despiar.
King Vilkata’s demons were the last to desert
him. And even before that had happened, he him-
self had given up the attack and was in full flight
from the field.
Rostov, out having a personal look around,
turned his scouting squadron back when they came
to the edge of the field. Ahead of him the General
could see what looked to him like the worst slaugh-
ter he had ever beheld, in a lifetime spent largely
amid scenes of butchery. There were two armies on
the field, and as nearly as he could tell from this dis-
tance, both of them had been virtually wiped out.
But the General turned back, and ordered his sol-
diers back, not because of what he saw but because
of what he felt, what they had all felt when tres-
passing upon the fringes of that grim arena.
Another few steps in that direction, thought Rostov,
and he would have been ready to throw down his
weapons and his medals and abandon life.
He was wondering what orders to give next,
when he saw a giant figure appear in the distance.
With swift, powerful, two-legged strides it drew
closer, also approaching the field of despair. It was
Draffut, called a god by some; although General
Rostov had never seen the Lord of Beasts before,
who else could this be?
There was someone else; a man-shape, riding
familiarly on Draffut’s shoulders.
Draffut did not approach Rostov and his scouting
detachment, but instead halted at another point on