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Volume 3192
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

At least we were not chained up.  But there was no real need, Mattlass Kay had us disarmed and dismounted.   Instead, he and his forces rode, as we marched the last leagues on foot.

It was frustrating.  We clearly had the numbers, but we had blundered into the trap.

“This was a really good plan,” I said sarcastically to Aspar Aguus.

He shrugged.

“The approaches to Megas Ark are well guarded,” he said noncommittally.

“So you knew we'd run into this?”

“There are ambush points all along the way,” he replied.

“You great idiot,” I snapped, and then quieted as our one of our captors turned towards us.  “You knew we'd be captured.”

He shrugged.

“It is the only way into Megas Ark.”

“How about ways out?”

He shrugged.

I wanted to kick him.  Never trust an Orgus, I thought.   After all the lies I'd told him, I was appalled at being taken in by his own.

“If only we had thought to split our forces,” I said, thinking of the Pinnace and the squads of Orgus and beasts dragging it along.  Had that been his plan all along?  “We might have had a chance.”

“Alas,” said Argus.

I found that insufficiently clear, but there was no place to ask him.  It came down to guards and sentries I decided.   There was no place that the sentries could conceal themselves from our passing.  Once they spotted us, they would have to retreat before us to remain undetected.  So there were none in our wake to spot the Pinnace when it came.  But if they replaced the sentries and guards after us, then surely those would spot the Pinnace.   But then again, we had been captured in such numbers, it seemed to me that every single Orgus would be needed to bring them in.  Perhaps there might be some time before the sentries took up their position?  These thoughts made my head ache.

“So what happens now?”   I asked.

He glanced sidelong at me.

“We will be taken to Megas Ark, and you shall see such sights as no human eye has ever seen.  Heddo Lettus shall attend.  Then I shall be bound and put on trial for Mattlass Kay's fabricated crimes....”

“I don't like that plan so far,” I muttered.

“Then I shall kill Mattlass Kay and avenge my love.  My men shall spirit you away.”  He paused.  “With your eyes still in your head, just in case you were worried about that part.”

“Just like that, eh?”

“Just so,” he replied.

There was something missing from his plan.  Like the middle.  Idiot.

“All right,” I said, “well listen to me.  If I start talking, just shut up and don't contradict me, all right?”

For a moment, there was a merry glint in his eye.

“I wouldn't dream of it.”


We crested the rise that Aguus had told us of.   Here, I thought, the Pinnace would go no further.  It would park here and wait.  Above us the sky loomed, a jagged crack of bright pink between the forbidding walls of slate.

The Pinnace could restore its buoyancy, I thought.  Could float straight out of here, and then we'd be above, facing the lethal currents.  But better chances than the fate that waited at Megas Ark.  I envisioned a daring escape, a frantic race back, and a wild takeaway to the air as bullets rained burst beneath us.

We descended the long slope, turned along a narrow passage, and then suddenly we were at Megas Ark.

I gasped in spite of myself.   Aspar Aguus grinned.

“Magnificent, is it not?” he said.   Megas Ark, was alabaster white, a shining jewel after the slate blacks and grays of the surrounding walk.  It was a huge circular valley, driven as if punched down into naked rock.  Along its floor were towers and mesas, with bustling roads around it.  The sheer walls of the canyon valley were dotted with hundreds, even thousands of cave openings.

“Inaccessible from the air,” he said voice full of pride, “impregnable from the ground.  A dozen well armed Orgus could hold the passageways forever.  Here, we could conceal our entire nation, and hold out a dozen years and more, against any enemy.”

“Even Markath’s special ships,” I challenged.  “Against ships built to traverse the Jagged Lands?”

That deflated him a little.   “There are not many such ships.  And we have been bringing in heavy guns to defend us from the air.”

“Well, we thought we were safe too,” I retorted.

He didn't have anything to say to that.   As we entered, Orgus, male and female, stopped what they were doing to stare at us in astonishment.  Some followed, others ran to gather more.  For the first time, I saw children, juveniles of all sorts, half tusked little monsters, playing and tormenting each other.   They had none of the quiet dignity of their parents, rather, once they saw us, they ran screaming at us, and our guards were put to effort to shoo them away from me.

“They are sheltered,” Aspar Aguus grunted with amusement, “they have never seen a creature like you.   In time, they will learn the world is full of creatures like yourself, but they will never have an inkling of how unique you truly are.”

“The world is full of red men,” I said.

“Is there really a difference between your kind and theirs, but for a shade of complexion, there's no telling you apart.”

“Bah,” I said, “a few tricks of superficiality.  There's more resemblance between the Orgus and the Red men than either will ever have to the Orovars.”

Despite himself, Aspar Aguus chuckled.

“I'm glad you are here.”

I grunted, given that my only response would at best be obscene, and at worst provoke a riot.

Orgus lined the mouths of caverns, all around us, gathered on the roofs of mesas.  Children ran screaming and squealing ahead of us putting up an unholy racket.   Behind us, the procession had grown to immense proportions.  It seemed like every Orgus in this place must have gathered.  I gazed out over a sea of grim, tusk faced, horn headed, faces.  We came to a sort of courtyard or amphitheatre, taking up our positions at the bottom, while the Orgus gathered in silent rows.

It was going to be a tough audience.

Abruptly, they began to chant as a palanquin accompanied by a troop of guards emerged from a high, large cave mouth, its sides decorated with carven scrollwork.  Slowly the palanquin wound its way down a path towards our courtyard.

Matlass Kay grinned jovially.  I was coming to hate that smile.   He gestured at Aspar Aguus, who stood indomitable, and Aguus allowed himself to be lead over to a sort of standing altar, where Matlass Kay's men held him in place.

“No bindings this time,” Aspar Aguus challenged.

“They did not work so well last time,”   Matlass Kay laughed.  “I think this time, we'll trust to other sorts of restraint.”

“I will see you dead,” Aguus said.

“So many times have I heard those words,” Matlass Kay laughed again.  “And yet, here I am, and those who spoke them now not even dust.”

I licked my lips, and looked around.  Two armed guards flanked me, but I was otherwise unrestrained.   The Orgus who had accompanied us knelt within the amphitheatre, surrounding us.  They showed no inclination to rebel, and in any event, they were unarmed and surrounded.

Matlass Kay caught my gaze.

“Do the arrangements please you, Princess?”  He mocked.   “Never fear, we'll soon find you a place to suit your station better.   A hole in the ground perhaps, or a warm spot in a kitchen, or perhaps a place under the table where you can beg for scraps.”

“I am the Princess Kam Asutra,” I replied with as much chill and regal authority as I could muster, falling back on the old lines.  “And I do not beg.  It is you who will beg.”

Matlass Kay roared with laughter.   His head cocking birdlike.

“Oh she has spirit!  Will she be speaking for you, Aspar Aguus?  That would be fine entertainment!”

The Palanquin arrived, the chanting ceased.  A throne was brought forward.

Heddo Lettus, the old scarred, blunt tusked monster, swept the curtain aside.  His vile eyes squinted, as he shifted his ponderous bulk.  His guards accompanied him to the throne.

I noticed something odd.  The guards seemed to have most of their attention on Heddo Lettus.  Watching him, and not, as I might have expected, gazing around for any threats.  It was almost as if he was their prisoner, not their lord.

Had the senile old monster deteriorated so far, I wondered, that he needed nurses more than protectors?   Perhaps, I thought, there was a chance.  Who knows, I'd talked my way out of worst situations.   All I needed was for him not to remember me.

He looked at me.  His good eye clear and piercing.

“I remember you,” he said, “you wanted to have sex with me!”


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