Chapter 14

Half of Tanarad saw the brilliant flash from the White Pillar as the Dark Wizard Gerzh annihilated with the power of Shime’Kar that was protecting Mara’Uto. Prince Belmet glanced south and saw pieces of the structure thrown high into the sky. “Victory!” he shouted. “We have victory!” The soldiers he was leading toward Amehtana cheered with him. Their jubilation was cut short, however, when a dagger suddenly flew through the air and stuck into the ground at the Prince’s feet. A soldier of darkness emerged from behind a rock. His face was concealed by his hood and various arms, some of obscure design, were strapped to his clothing. A soggy bandage covered an unhealed wound on his leg.

Prince Belmet and the soldiers with him halted their march and drew their weapons. “Careful,” Prince Belmet warned the soldiers, “where there is one of soldier of of darkness, there are usually several more of them.”

“There are five hundred of us and I doubt there are more than fifty soldiers of darkness in the entire world,” one of the soldiers advised. “I think we can take them easily.”

Prince Belmet opened his mouth to reply but a harsh unintelligible command from the soldier of darkness interrupted him. Many more soldiers of darkness began to emerge from hiding and the Prince knew there were too many. “Defensive formations,” he ordered. “We are hopelessly outnumbered!”

The disorderly mob began to converge and move forward, but the first soldier of darkness held up his fist and they stopped. He began to walk toward them alone. “Zog Zog,” he announced. “One sword to spearhead the darkness. I will only speak with the one who has just taken the throne of Gerzh. All others will be destroyed.”

“There is no new master of evil,” Prince Belmet replied. “The Dark Wizard Gerzh has been defeated by the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar and his throne abolished, not usurped.”

Zog Zog frowned and softly growled his frustration. “Offer me passage to the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar or I will make my own path though all the world stand against me.”

Prince Belmet did not know what to say. The soldiers of darkness that had always terrorized the world were now claiming allegiance to his allies. “I... um... well...” he stammered, “We can take you as far as the gates of Atalan, but the rest of them will have to stay here,” he said, motioning at the other soldiers of darkness. “Can they be trusted not to wander away and attack anyone?”

“They would not be soldiers if they could not be trusted to follow orders,” Zog Zog growled. “Now take me there before I grow tired of your dawdling.

Moments later, Prince Belmet and ten of his soldiers were escorting Zog Zog back toward the battlefield. The soldiers busy clearing and burying the dead watched distrustfully as they passed. Twice they passed enemy soldiers that were still barely alive and Zog Zog briefly stopped to perform an unknown rite and finish them off. “There is no need to prolong the pain when death is certain,” he explained.

As they neared the entrance to the causeway, the Great King noticed them. “Belmet, what is the meaning of this?” he roared. “You know better than to fraternize with the enemy.”

“Father, he wishes to speak with the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar,” the Prince replied. “I had no choice since we were badly outnumbered.”

The King looked at the soldier of darkness. “You are a disgusting creature. What makes you think I won’t have you killed where you stand?”

“My death would be your death,” he sneered. “Zog Zog,” he growled. “One sword to spearhead the darkness. I will speak only with the one who has taken the throne of Gerzh. All others will be destroyed.”

Great King Felarikam glanced back toward what was left of the White Pillar. “It is doubtful any of them survived the Dark Wizard’s destruction.” He looked back at Zog Zog. “I cannot allow a mindless barbarian like you and your kind to traipse across this land unchecked. I will allow you to take a boat across the bay, but my soldiers will escort you with orders to kill you if you approach Atalan.” He turned to the soldiers around him. “Get this man a boat and keep a close watch on him,” he ordered. After Zog Zog left, the Great King turned to his advisors. “I want the soldiers of darkness completely surrounded but do not attack until we know for certain this man’s intent.”

A short while later, Zog Zog was in a boat by himself, rowing toward the White Pillar. Soldiers in two other boats kept their distance and their arrows aimed toward him. As he neared his destination, he could see several women drying their clothing near the base of the White Pillar. They watched him suspiciously as he neared.

“Foul slave of Gerzh,” Ikarla’Yol greeted him. “What business brings you to the White Pillar so openly and with the Great King’s permission?”

“Zog Zog. One sword to spearhead the darkness. I seek the one who has taken the throne of Gerzh that I may know my new master.” He stepped from the boat. “I have been told that the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar is my new master.”

“It may surprise you,” Ikarla’Yol said, “that your former master was destroyed by a helpless girl as she slept.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Zog Zog replied. “Where is the girl you mention?”

“We cannot allow you to see her right now,” Ikarla’Yol said. “She was not hurt by the destruction of Gerzh, but it has left her vulnerable to all forms of evil. I will not risk exposing her to anyone that may attempt to harm her.”

“If you think I will harm my master,” Zog Zog growled, “then you are greatly mistaken. Take me to her that I may see her for myself. If I do not see her, then I will assume you are lying and the thousands under my command will revert to the orders given by our previous master.”

The threat frightened Ikarla’Yol, especially the part about the thousands under his command. It had never been guessed that there could be that many soldiers of darkness in the entire world and if it were true, they would be a force to be reckoned with. She gave in to his demands. “Follow me and I will take you to see the girl, but if you do anything to harm her, you will be killed immediately.” She paused. “There is also the chance she will kill you the same way she destroyed the Dark Wizard.”

She led Zog Zog up the staircase that wound its way up the side of the White Pillar. Mara’Uto was at the top in what had once been a room inside the tower but was now the top of the tower, still asleep and wrapped in the wet blankets.

Zog Zog knelt and bowed when he saw Mara’Uto. “My sword is yours to command.” he said. “Your allies are my allies and my followers are your followers. You alone will be our master and only death will terminate our service.” He looked up at Ikarla’Yol. “How long will she sleep?”

“She will be kept asleep until her injuries have all healed,” Ikarla’Yol answered. “I expect that will take about a month.”

Zog Zog stood up. “Then I will stand guard and protect her from all who may attempt to usurp her throne while she is weakened. Those under my command will join me in this duty.”

“The girl does not want your allegiance,” Ikarla’Yol argued as the other women spread out defensively around Zog Zog. “Yesterday you tried to kill her and she will want revenge the moment she wakes up. The girl is already well protected and there is no room for your thousands of followers on this small rock. Go back where you came from before I decide to remove you by force.”

Zog Zog turned and moved to the stairway but stopped to speak. “Your words hold little meaning when you claim to know the will of the sleeping,” he growled.

Ikarla’Yol breathed a sigh of relief when the soldier of darkness had returned to his boat and began rowing back to the shore. “Their allegiance may be sincere,” she said, “but if only Mara’Uto can give them orders, then I do not want to have to deal with them until she wakes up and we can convince her of their loyalty.”

“Their mindless devotion would be an asset to the Sisterhood,” Andara’Cas suggested. “Not even the Great King could acquire such a battle-ready army with no cost to him.”

“I think we can convince the King to allow them to live until Mara’Uto can take control of them,” the Supreme Mistress agreed.

“The acquisition of power is a delicate matter,” Holuna’Kov advised. “Our true motives for keeping them alive should remain hidden or the Sisterhood will be branded as the enemy.”

“Suspicion has always clouded the world’s view of the Sisterhood,” Ikarla’Yol said, “but they also depend on us for protection against the evil forces they cannot fight. The majority will ignore our actions and not question our intent. We can only hope the Great King goes along with the plan.” She turned to leave. “I will convince the soldiers of darkness to move southeast of Amehtana. The rest of you gather the Sisterhood and meet me there. We must prepare.”