Chapter Two

Andar had been careful to keep his opinion of the warrior queen Trenicia strictly to himself, of course, but she was always there when he needed to speak with the commander. It wasn't that she ever interfered or anything like that, but just her presence made Andar uncomfortable.

It might have been the massive sword she had belted to her waist that disturbed Andar so much. Women were not supposed to carry weapons like that. Women were supposed to be soft and gentle—and subservient, of course. It seemed to Andar that Trenicia's very existence was a violation of some natural law dating back to the beginning of time.

Of course Andar had never even heard of the Isle of Akalla until the Trogite fleet had reached the temple of Lady Zelana's sister early last autumn. The notion of a place where women were dominant was so unnatural that Andar was almost positive that it was some kind of hoax. He was quite certain that a man was the true leader on the isle, and that Trenicia was nothing more than an elaborate deception.

But she could run for at least a half a day, and her shoulders were even larger than Andar's were. She had all of the characteristics of a warrior—except that she was a woman. Commander Narasan treated her with respect, and the two of them seemed to get along quite well.

As the army continued the march to the east, Andar continued his private argument with himself. Queen Trenicia wasn't really supposed to be with them—but she was. Queen Trenicia was supposed to be in some fancy palace surrounded by servants who were supposed to respond to her every whim—but she wasn't.

Andar's whole world seemed to be turning upside down, and he didn't like that at all. "I really wish that we'd stayed home," he muttered to himself.

They reached the coast several days later, and the Trogite ships were still anchored where they'd been when Commander Narasan's army had disembarked to begin the long march to Mount Shrak.

Then Sorgan Hook-Beak rowed over to the Victory, and Narasan was already standing at the rail waiting for him. "We need to talk, Narasan," Hook-Beak called.

"Of course," Narasan replied. "The weather, maybe?"

"Very funny," Sorgan said without smiling. "Can we get down to business?"

"Sorry," Narasan apologized.

"I've been talking with several of the men who were with you when you arrived at the temple of Lady Zelana's crazy sister. I gather from what your men told me that the priests aren't any too bright. If I was going to be dealing with people who had something besides air between their ears, I might be able to get away with an advance force, but from what I've heard, the 'Holies' down there wouldn't even know what I was talking about. I'm going to have to make it simple for them by putting my whole army down on the beach at the same time. Then I'll be able to persuade Lady Zelana's stupid sister that I've got enough men to protect her and her 'holy of holies' when the bugs attack her precious temple."

"And to find out how much gold she'll be willing to pay?" Narasan asked.

"That is sort of important, Narasan. Anyway, if we agree that putting my entire army ashore will be the best way to go, I'm going to need about a hundred of those wallowing tubs of yours to get me and my people in place."

"It makes sense, friend Sorgan. As soon as you get your men ashore, though, release those ships. I've got a lot of men who'll still be camped here, and I'm fairly sure I'm going to need them when the Creatures of the Wasteland come storming in." He looked rather speculatively at his friend. "Would it bother you if I made a few suggestions about dealing with Lady Zelana's sister?"

"Not one little bit, Narasan. You know her and I don't."

"First off," Narasan said, "push up your price just a bit. Money doesn't mean anything to Aracia, so she probably won't pay any attention. When you talk with her, act sort of arbitrary. Tell her that if she doesn't agree to do things your way, you'll take your men back to the ships and sail away. She will pay what you ask and agree to keep her priests from interfering, but agreeing with everything you say will make her feel a bit on the defensive side. You'll need to use any lies or ideas you can think of to keep her that way. If she believes that you've got the upper hand, she'll do just about anything you demand of her. Always be abrupt—and even arbitrary—particularly when you announce that you're going to tear down a major part of her temple to get the material you'll need to build a fort. Don't ask her; tell her. Her fat head-priest will probably start screaming as soon as you announce that you're going to dismantle a major part of her temple. I don't know if I'd kill him right there on the spot, but you can make a few threats—draw your sword or hit him in the mouth with your fist. Always keep Aracia off balance if you possibly can."

"You can be a very nasty fellow when you set your mind to it, old friend," Sorgan said with a broad grin.

"That's where I made my mistake when I was there, friend Sorgan. I avoided 'nasty' because I was trying to be polite. 'Polite' doesn't work when you're dealing with someone like Aracia. Push her—and keep pushing. Don't give her time to object."

"A suggestion, if I may?" Andar said, stepping in.

"I'll take all the help that I can get," Sorgan declared.

"I'd say that Keselo came up with the best answer," Andar said. "Pick out the best liars in your army and send them out into the countryside to pretend that they're scouting. When they come back, you'll want them to start telling stories about all the terrible things the bug-people are doing to the ordinary peasants—eating them alive, pulling out their livers, having their eyeballs for dessert—that sort of thing. If Aracia's priesthood is totally terrorized, Aracia will do almost anything you tell her to do."

"You're even nastier than Narasan," Sorgan noted.

"I received my training from the best, Captain Hook-Beak," Andar replied modestly.

"We'll try it your way then," Sorgan declared. Then he grinned. "I've got a hunch that I'm going to have a lot more fun than you two will. You'll have to face real bugs. All I'll have to do is deal with imaginary ones to make sure that big sister's frightened enough to do just about anything I tell her to do."

"I think you'll do just fine, friend Sorgan," Commander Narasan said with an answering grin.

It took several days to load the Maags on board the ships Sorgan had borrowed, and then, when all was ready, the burly Maag joined Narasan and the others on board the Victory. "We're just about ready to start," he advised. "If it's all right, I'll go on ahead. It won't take long to unload my men, and then I'll send the ships back here to pick up the rest of Narasan's men and take them on down to the mouth of Long-Pass. I'll send word of how things are going from time to time, but I don't really expect much in the way of trouble."