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Volume 3174a
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

“Until I showed up,” I agreed.

He nodded.

“Yes, until you showed up to throw everything into chaos.  Like a stone thrown into a pond, at first a tiny thing apparently, easily overlooked, but somehow, the ripples spread and spread, gathering strength with each moment.   We watched you dragging a sled behind an Orgus warrior, and thought you merely some pathetic slave.”

He chuckled.

“I actually had some thought of killing the Orgus to rescue you.   Coming to your aid, as it were. Little did I suspect who was the true master.”

“Aspar Aguus is not a slave,” he replied

“No,” he replied.  “he is an Orgus Jed, something we determined quite quickly, and which gave credence to the tales of Jewels of Power.   Do they exist by the way?”

I did not answer.  He shrugged.

“It quite distracted us, this prospect of a super-weapon somewhere out in the wastes, and a captive girl who might actually know the route to Az-Lium.   Perhaps that was our mistake, for neither Japh Leah nor I, and certainly not Pul Bayl, had given any thought to the implications posed by a person who had managed to do the impossible, to tame an Orgus Jed.”

He paused, sipping his own water.  He offered it to me.  I shook my head.

“The incorruptibility of the Orgus is legendary.  Each is a paragon of honour and rectitude, living lives of unswerving loyalty to the Temple of Skulls and its Jeddak.   The Orgus are relentless in their fixation, absolute in their convictions.  To sway an Orgus, that is a remarkable accomplishment.”

“But an Orgus Jed?   Heddo Lettus is as like a god to the Orgus, and those he hand picks as his Jeds...  They are more than chieftains, more than war leaders, more even than heroes.  They are the demigods of the Orgus, possessing every Orgus quality writ large.  Absolute, relentless, incorruptible.  In all the world, only one man had ever succeeded in taming an Orgus Jed, bending that absolute loyalty away from Heddo Lettus.  It was unthinkable.”

“And suddenly, here was a little slip of a woman, someone we'd thought an inconsequential slave, but who had herself tamed an Orgus Jed,” he laughed, “we should have appreciated the danger we were in.”

“Oh yes,” I replied sarcastically.  “You should have all been afraid of me.  Boo!”

“Pul Bayl should have been afraid of you.  But all he knew was bloody directness.  He wanted to kill the Orgus,” Vadak Eth replied, “and he stood there as you ran rings around him, seduced his men out form under him.   He should have feared you.”

“We should have all feared you, particularly Japh Leah and I.  We thought we lead the expedition into the Jagged lands, watching each other, jousting here and there, and all the time, bit by bit, you were making them your own.”

He paused.

“That speech outside the gates of Az-Lium, among the mountains of corpses, by the way, that was magnificent.  You shamed us all, utterly shamed us, broke us with words and put us back together.  I wanted to weep.  I wanted to pledge myself to your cause for the rest of my life.  We all did.  Myself, Japh Leah.  Even as we held back, bound by our respective loyalties, we both knew that we had lost utterly and completely.  The men who walked into that city were yours, bound as tightly as the Orgus to their temple, or a slave to their chains.”

“It was from a play,” I said sourly.  “It was just a play, words on paper, lines written long ago by some cloistered scribe, bitter because his boyfriend had left him for someone more rugged.”

Vadak Eth looked thoughtful.

“Was it?” he asked.  “Interesting.  And did the words contain the conviction with which you spoke them, or the horrific setting that they were uttered in.”

“It was all just words,” I said.  “Quotations, and soliloquies, dialogues and monologues, speeches and chorus lines.  Nothing more.”

“Who were you?  What were you really?”  he asked, as if my words had not mattered.  “We wondered, endlessly, we argued.  We doubted.  Was that part of your strategies?   Is that what you are doing now?”

“Your story changed constantly, to suit the moment.  You seemed little more than a frightened girl, sometimes, lost and floundering out of her depth.   But then, in a blink of an eye, you’d be regal and commanding.  Which was real?  You watched everything and everyone, you listened with an intensity so fierce that it was painful.   You grew before our eyes as we stood by.  You absorbed Aspar Aguus’ desert craft like an Orgus born, casually reading scratches on rocks or marks in sand, as if doing it all your life.  Everyone you met, you twisted to your purposes as if they were clay, halting them as thoroughly as if they'd been clubbed, unravelling them, using their own words and ideas to turn them without them ever understanding how.”

“We underestimated you again and again, everyone who encountered you, underestimated you.  I thought I'd finally marked you as a pretender in Az-Lium when we found the remnants of the old guard.  But somehow, you took command and transformed leaderless and confused malcontents and remnants into a force to be reckoned with.   I do not understand how you have accomplished this, and yet, you did it.”

“They were leaderless,” I replied, “as you said.  They would have rallied around a block of wood. But once they rallied they did it themselves.”

“And yet,” he replied, “they rallied around you.  You're trying to fool me now, aren't you?  I know you are not the helpless thing you pretend.   Remember, I was with you in the temples.  I watched you face a Hekkador, in his place of power, and turn him into quivering knots.  I watched you face the art of Konand Oyl without flinching.  I watched you reach out and all but tear Diome in half, rousing a beaten nation of slaves into a fighting force.”

“You are the second most remarkable and dangerous person I have ever met in my life.  You are like an irresistible storm, as intangible as the wind, and as swift and all mercurial.  Subtle in your works, shaping the very landscape about you, and awesome in your fury.”

I wondered if he'd been off having adventures with someone else.  I didn't feel awesome or irresistible.  Mostly, I'd felt desperate, improvising constantly, stealing lines and bits of dialogue with mad abandon, leaping from crisis to crisis.

His descriptions were so bizarre, so detached from the reality I knew, I found myself wondering if he was just using flattery to get me into bed.   Of course, he seemed so sincere.  Which meant he was definitely trying to talk me into sex.

“You've said I was the second most remarkable person you ever met.  Ton Sabat was the third.  Who is first?”

He smiled.

“Markath Khan.”

I laughed.

“Ah, well, I should have known, shouldn't I?”  I said, sneering.   “It makes such perfect sense from a dramatic standpoint.”

My sarcasm was wasted on him.

“There has never been a man like Markath Khan,” he told me.  “There has never been anyone so extraordinary.  His history speaks for itself.  Out of nowhere he came to Diome, he had nothing, and yet, he has risen faster and further than anyone could conceive.  A penniless beggar, he has made himself the ruler of the mightiest nation in the world.   He has transformed not only himself, but the very city he rules, taking a broken rabble and forging it into an unbeatable sword.
“Everything he does, everything he touches, succeeds spectacularly.   It is as if circumstance does not dare to thwart him.  If there is such a thing as fate or destiny, then Markath Khan is its appointed champion.   The fabric of history, the affairs and dreams of men, the ambitions of nations, the rise and fall of kingdoms, these are like clay to him.”

“I have met him myself, Princess Tay See Lors Kam Asutra, and I will tell you this, he is the most dangerous man I have ever met.  His passion is larger than that of ordinary men, his vision more grandiose, he is seized with relentless purpose.  When he speaks, all fall silent to listen.   His words ring like a gong inside your head.”

“No man had ever tamed an Orgus Jed, but Markath Khan tamed two of them.”

“No man could have raised himself from a beggar to the wealthiest in a kingdom, but Markath Khan did.”

“No commoner could have made himself a king, but Markath Khan.”

“No ordinary man could have restored the broken, dispirited ruins that were the nation of Diome, but Markath Khan did, he turned his adopted nation into a fury beyond reckoning.”

“Every nation, every kingdom, every city and empire he has set himself against has broken before him.  The Orgus and the Green Men kneel before him.  His enemies are scattered to the four winds.  Friends and foe, we are all dust before him.”

He finished his water.

“You have provoked his attention.  You have frustrated him again and again.  He has expended a great deal of effort to meet you, paid a remarkably high price.”

He paused.

“You are an irresistible force, but he is the unstoppable power.  You are wind and  water that cannot be denied.  But he is the mountain that looms over all, and he is the fire that cannot be quenched.  You are like forces of nature, like creatures out of stories, beings of supernatural nature, extraordinary power and implacable will.”

“I think that it will be a remarkable thing when you finally meet,” he told me.

“But personally, when that happens, I intend to be very far away, and very rich.”


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