They traveled on through the rugged region all that day, till Sheila was sick and tired of hills. Every time Morning Star came to the crest of one, Sheila sat as tall as she could in the saddle, hoping to see something new. But each time all she saw was yet another ridge before her.
“But there is something different now,” she said to Pelu, who was riding beside her, “something about the air.” The girl took a deep breath, then nodded. “Salt. And fish. Ocean, that’s it. I could swear I’m smelling the ocean.”
“You are.” Myno’s voice was grim. “Campora’s harbor lies on the coast just beyond the last of these hills. We haven’t too much farther to go.”
Campora. Suddenly Sheila felt a chill run up her spine. Up to this moment she had almost completely forgotten the real reason for their journey, caught up as she was in learning the skills of warrior-women. But this wasn’t any simple little cross-country pleasure trip!
Campora. The girl thought of the tyrant of that city, the Emperor Dynasian, and winced. Judging from the stories she had heard from Myno and the others, he sounded very much like someone she never wanted to meet. And what about Mardock, his sorcerer?
Sheila shivered again. Magic was real here. It worked.
Oh, everyone might think she had powers of her own, but it was air just a game! If it came down to a fight between her and Mardock . . . how could she, with only things like a-a harmless flashlight to help her, ever hope to defend herself against an honest-to-goodness evil sorcerer?
Maybe it won’t come to that, she told herself. Maybe we’ll be able to find out where the captive unicorns are held and free them without having to fight anyone.
Sure. And maybe Superman would fly down out of the sky to help them.
Morning Star was sidling nervously under her, and Sheila forgot her own fears and concentrated only on calming the mare. Now that she noticed it, all the unicorns were uneasy, snorting and prancing, for as long as the wind brew from the sea-and Campora.
“They sense evil,” murmured Pelu softly. “They do, indeed.”
Knowing their goal was so near, Illyria pushed her troop on without pause all the rest of that day, her eyes cold, her face grim. As the sun began to slip behind the ridges to the west and twilight came on, she still showed no sign of wanting to stop. Sheila brought Morning Star up alongside Quiet Storm, who was as uneasy as the rest of the unicorns, and cleared her throat cautiously.
Illyria didn’t respond.
“Uh . . . Illyria? If we don’t stop soon, it’s going to be too dark to see where we’re going. We’ll get stuck halfway down this hill, without any place to camp.”
“We’ll camp.” The woman’s voice sounded distant, “There’s a little valley, right down there,”
There was. But by the time the troop reached it, it was too dark to do anything more than unsaddle the unicorns and settle down for the night as they were. Sheila thought back on all that had happened that day, from the adventure at the river’s edge, to all the riding they had done, and sighed wearily. Her eyes closed. Before she knew what was happening, she was asleep.
Sheila came awake with a jolt, staring blankly up into the night sky ablaze with stars. What. . Was I dreaming?
She thought she heard a voice calling plaintively.
It must have been a dream.
Sheila closed her eyes, only to open them again at the sound of a groan. Now, that was no dream. Or, rather, it wasn’t her dream. Illyria, asleep beside her, was moaning, tossing restlessly about. She murmured a name, “Egael,” and Sheila was shocked to see tears glint on her face.
She’s having a nightmare.. Guess I’d better wake her up.
“Illyria?” Sheila said softly, not wanting to wake up everybody else. “Illyria.”
When the woman didn’t stir, Sheila reached out gingerly to give her a gentle shake. And that woke Illyria up, all right! ‘The woman came springing up with a warrior’s trained reactions, flinging Sheila aside. The next thing the girl knew, she was lying flat on her back, Illyria’s knife at her throat!
“Hey. It’s only me, Sheila.”
After a tense second recognition flooded Illyria’s eyes. Fully awake, she slid the knife back into its sheath.
“Don’t ever, ever do that again, Sheila,” she said softly. “I might have killed you.”
“Sorry. It’s just . . . you seemed to be having such a bad dream, I thought you would want to get out of it.”
Illyria sagged wearily. Her braids had come loose during the night, and sitting there as she was, surrounded by the long, silvery-blond waves, she looked much younger than the fierce warrior-woman of the daytime. Why, she can’t be more than . . . oh, maybe nineteen or twenty! Sheila realized in surprise.
“Yes,” said Illyria after a moment, “it was a foul dream. Thank you. Go back to sleep now, Sheila.”
She pulled her cloak about her, looking so unhappy that Sheila couldn’t obey. “You called out a name,” she began hesitantly. “Egael.”
Illyria flinched but said nothing, and Sheila continued: “Isn’t Egael the name of the man you once helped?”
Illyria glared, as though angry at her for prying. But as fast as it had come, the anger faded. Head drooping, Illyria sighed and nodded, “I see Pelu told you part of my story,” she said slowly. “Now let me tell you the rest and get it over with. It began simply enough, a pleasant spring day, Dadan and I out riding for our pleasure.
When we first found the injured man, he lay so still I felt certain he was dead. And a part of me wept inside at that thought because, even with the bruises of his beating on him, he was still so young and handsome that my heart sang. But then Darian cried:
“He’s still alive! I saw his chest move!”
The two of us struggled to bring him safely down to my father’s house. It . . . was a fair, comfortable home in those days, clean and neat and smelling sweetly of hay and herbs. A fine place to tend a wounded stranger.
He woke soon after I had bathed him and tended his injuries, his eyes the piercing eyes of some wild thing. “Don’t be afraid,” I told him. “You’re among friends.”
“You must know-I must warn you-“ he gasped, then fell back into an exhausted sleep, leaving me full of sudden unease.
Nor was I any more at ease when the stranger woke again after a time and told me his story:
“I am… call me Egael,” he said. “And, as I see you have guessed from my accent, I am not from these mountain lands. I am a wanderer, seeing something of the world. But I made a mistake, a bad one: I insulted the soldiers of Dynasian. Ha, your reaction tells me that you’ve heard of him even up here in the countryside.”
Egael’s tone was light, but his eyes were ablaze with a fierce, barely controlled rage. Just then, they weren’t the eyes of a common wanderer at all.
“And what did I do that was so terribly insulting,” Egael continued, “me, a man afoot, while they were tiding so proud and fine up there on their steeds? I didn’t step aside quickly enough to suit them. I didn’t grovel deeply enough in apology. So they beat me and left me for dead.” Those fierce, handsome eyes burned into mine. “And dead I would have been, lady, alone and wounded as I was, after a night without shelter out there in the chill of the mountain air, if it hadn’t been for you. All my gratitude to you.”
“Hush,” I told him. “Enough talking for now. Rest.”
But when he closed his eyes once more, I was more troubled than before. A man who had drawn down the wrath of Dynasian’s soldiers on himself might draw it down on us, too! Our village was isolated enough to have had little to do with the emperor or his men, and after hearing some of the horrible tales of Dynasian’s cruelty that were filtering out of distant Campora, I wanted to keep it that way.
And I doubt that he’s just a simple wanderer, I told myself. His way of speaking is too fine for that.
Egael. What manner of name was that? I had rescued a mystery man, indeed. Surely I should turn him out and be done with him
And yet . . . Egael was so handsome .
More practically, to throw him out now, before he was strong enough to take care of himself, would almost certainly mean his death.
So Egael stayed, and healed with great speed that was almost supernatural. And a miracle blossomed between us. I’m not even sure when I first realized the truth of it, but-though our time together was all too brief, though I knew nothing about him, and he knew little about me, Egael and I fell in love.
But then one night I awoke to the sound of a door slamming. I knew in an instant that he had left, as suddenly and mysteriously as he had appeared. “Egael?” I called, then again, “Egael! Where are you?”
I ran outside into the night, searching wildly, calling his name-Fruitlessly. Egael was gone, gone as totally as if he had never existed. And only the wild, lonely cry of an eagle answered my call.
And as I stood in the moonlight crying for my lost love ... Quiet Storm appeared. Almost as if he had been sent to comfort and help me.
Illyria stirred restlessly and the spell of her words was broken. Sheila knew the rest of the story.
“And the giant eagles?”
“As I’ve told you. They’ve been following us at a distance ever since we set out to free the unicorns that Dynasian has imprisoned.”
Illyria turned away abruptly. Sheila stared at her shaken. Sheila had felt the stirrings of romance already; she had enjoyed being held by handsome Darian, for one thing. And once, pretty much by accident, she and a boy at school, tall, shy Steve, had kissed. But Illyria’s continuing love for Egael was stronger, finer, more romantic than anything Sheila had ever dreamed.
She’s still looking for him, the girl realized. She’s still seeking him everywhere she goes. “I hope you find each other,” she told Illyria softly.
“What’s that, Sheila?”
But to herself she added silently, I hope you and Egael get to live happily ever after.
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away