"I wouldn't rule it out, Torl. Alcevan wants something, but I don't think we know for sure just what it is. How familiar are you with all these silly corridors here in the temple?"

"I think I've got a nodding acquaintance with most of them, Veltan," Torl replied. "Of course I come across a new one every so often, but those are the ones that don't really go anywhere. I can find my way around without much trouble."

"Good. Stay out of sight as much as possible, but do what you can to find out just exactly what Alcevan's goal really is."

"I'll see what I can do, Veltan," Torl promised, "but I think you should stay close to Lillabeth. She needs protection right now."

"I'll get right on it, Torl," Veltan replied in an obvious imitation of something Torl had said earlier.

"Ha," Torl replied in the same flat tone Gunda always used. "Ha. Ha. Ha."

Veltan burst out laughing at that point.

Torl had found an unused corridor that went past the back side of Aracia's throne room. Like most of the rest of the temple, it was not well-made, and Torl had been able to hear what was going on in the throne room. He crept through the shoddy corridor until he could hear voices. Then he put his ear to the wall.

"We don't know this Enalla person who'll replace you when you lie down to rest, Holy Aracia," Alcevan was saying, "but isn't it possible that she'll decide to usurp your temple and tell us that she is the true god of your Domain and order us to bow down and worship her instead of you? Of course, after a few generations, nobody will even remember that you were ever here."

"Is there no way, Divine Aracia, that you can delay the arrival of this Enalla?" Bersla asked. "We have the invasion by the Creatures of the Wasteland in progress right now. Could you not remain here with us until they are driven back? You are wise beyond our understanding, but this Enalla person will have only recently awakened from her long sleep, so she will be as helpless as a child. Should the Creatures of the Wasteland o'erwhelm your people, is it not possible that the Vlagh itself will assume your holy throne?"

Then Aracia's voice, colder than ice, replied. "These matters are none of your concern—neither of your concerns. I will, before this season ends, go to my rest. Enalla is my alternate, and my Domain will be hers while I sleep. You will obey her in all things." She paused and then spoke again in an icy tone. "Why is it that you two are not at the south wall of my temple as I have commanded?"

Bersla floundered a bit. "Most of the priesthood labors there as you commanded, Most Holy. Some few of us, however, have remained here to see to your needs."

"I have no needs, Bersla. You should know that by now." Then Aracia paused, and her voice became even more cold. "You were fully aware of that, were you not, Takal Bersla? This 'see to my needs' pose of yours is but a way to avoid strenuous labor, is it not?"

"We cannot leave you unprotected, Divine One," Alcevan declared.

"Brave are you indeed, small, inconsequential person," Aracia replied in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "First you defy me, and then you will attempt to hold back the servants of the Vlagh, which will most certainly kill you and then eat you. Hear me now, both of you. Proceed at once to the south wall of my temple and give aid to those who have already obeyed my commands. Should that not suit you, go from this holy temple and do not ever return. Know, moreover, that when you depart from here, I will mark you, and neither one of you will ever be permitted to come back to within my walls. Choose, Bersla and Alcevan, and know that which course you choose will not in any way concern me."

Torl heard the sound of hurried footsteps, and the throne room door opened—and then closed.

Torl pressed one hand over his mouth to muffle the sound of his laughter. Then he went west again through the dusty corridor to tell cousin Sorgan and Veltan about this sudden change in Veltan's sister.

After a little while, Torl realized that he was whistling as he went.

Chapter Three

"She really came down hard on those two," Torl reported when he rejoined Sorgan and Veltan at the west wall. "They were trying their best to persuade her to stay awake and keep Enalla from taking over, but she told them to either go to the south wall and do what she'd told them to do, or leave the temple and never come back."

"Well," Veltan said with a smile. "It seems that my sister has finally come to her senses." Then he looked curiously at Torl. "How did you manage to get into the throne room without being seen?"

"I wasn't inside," Torl said. "I was in one of those cobwebby corridors that just happened to have a crack in the wall. I could hear everything that was going on in there, and they didn't know that I was listening. There seem to be quite a few of those old corridors in the vicinity of the throne room."

"They were probably put there by certain previous high priests to give them someplace where they could hear what was going on without being seen," Veltan replied. "They've always wanted that advantage to make sure that no other priest was getting ahead of them."

"Are the politics here always so complicated, Veltan?" Sorgan asked.

"That sort of depends on whose territory we're talking about," Veltan replied. "Things in Dahlaine's Domain are a bit more formal than they are in Zelana's Domain and mine, but Aracia's church takes politics out to the far end—or it did until just recently. Now that Aracia's come to her senses, she might even go so far as to abolish her church." Then he smiled again. "And if Aracia doesn't, Enalla almost certainly will. The priests of her church will probably have to go out and find honest work before spring arrives."

"Poor babies," Sorgan said in mock sympathy.


Chapter One

Trenicia, the warrior queen of the Isle of Akalla, was seriously discontented with winter. The Matans had generously provided her with a double-layered bison-hide cloak, but she still spent most of her time shivering and complaining.

Her language was very colorful, Commander Narasan noted with a faint smile as his army marched up through Long-Pass. Trenicia had, in effect, joined Narasan's army when they'd both walked off and left Veltan's older sister screaming about their desertion. Aracia's arrogance knew no bounds, and the thought that they would all just walk away and leave her totally undefended sent her right up through the ceiling. "I wonder how Sorgan's doing," he muttered as he and Trenicia walked through a gloomy afternoon.