Sheila and Pelu both sprang to their feet in surprise, Pelu with her dagger ready. At the tent’s entrance stood one of the cutest boys Sheila had ever seen. He was tall and lean, and looked as though he had been working out with weights. But in this world he’s probably been working out with a sword! Sheila thought to herself. Shoulder-length brown hair framed a strong, suntanned face that reminded Sheila of Illyria–
“Darian,” said Pelu with a sigh, sheathing her knife. “Don’t startle me like that. I might have stabbed you.”
“Sorry.” He gave her a quick, dazzling smile, then turned to look at Sheila.
“Darian?” she asked. “Oh, of course. You’re Illyria’s brother.”
“And you’re the sorceress.” he took a swaggering step into the tent, looking Sheila up and down. “Kind of young to be a sorceress, aren’t you, little girl?”
Sheila straightened angrily. How could she have thought that this arrogant boy was cute? “Kind of young to be a warrior, aren’t you?”
Darian flushed. “A child like you should be with your mother. Learning to stay in the kitchen, where you belong.”
“Why, you–you–” Sheila sputtered. Oh, why didn’t this language have words like male chauvinist pig in it? “You spoiled little boy!”
Pelu, chuckling softly, murmured, “Oh, no. I don’t want to get in the middle of this! Excuse me, you two!”
She slipped out of the tent, but neither Sheila nor Darian saw her leave. “What’s that?” the boy asked sharply. “Your pack of magic tricks?”
“It’s my pack, yes. What about it?”
“Then it really does have magic stuff in it? Hey, that’s nothing for a girl to carry around! Let me have it before you hurt yourself.”
“I will not! Leave me alone!”
Laughing, he reached for the backpack–and Sheila kicked him sharply in the shin. There was a roar of laughter from the tent’s entrance, and Darian and Sheila whirled to see Illyria standing there, eyes bright with amusement.
“My, my, what a brave little sorceress you are! Brother, I do think you’ve met your match! And I think you just might have had it coming, too.”
Darian, rubbing his shin, glared at his sister. But the he gave a rueful grin and muttered, “I guess maybe I did.” As he left the tent with a limp, he shot Sheila a quick, grudging glance of respect.
Once the tent flaps had swung shut behind him, Sheila blushing, turned to Illyria, more than a little awed at the quiet power radiating from the woman. She was a true leader!
Oh, great! And I just kicked her brother in the shin! “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–”
“No need to apologize.” Illyria gave a deep sigh, but her eyes twinkled. “Poor Darian! It’s not easy for him, being both the only male in our warrior band and the second youngest. He still has a good deal to learn.” The humor vanished from her face. Coolly, the woman added, “As do we all. And one thing I mean to learn right now, my dear, is whether your magic is good or evil. Pelu seems to like you. That’s a point in your favor. But humans can make mistakes. I have a better judge of character, one who is never fooled.”
“I–I don’t understand.”
Illyria pulled aside a flap of the tent. “Storm!” she called. “Quiet Storm!”
The magnificent white unicorn trotted up, his coat and long spiraling horn glinted bright silver in the sunlight. His large, amber eyes studied the girl almost thoughtfully.
“Storm, come closer. Meet Sheila.”
The unicorn stuck his head into the tent. Sheila drew back a little at the sight of that long, sharp horn so close to her head, but the unicorn’s eyes were gentle. And he was so beautiful! His head was lovely, as fine-boned and graceful as the head of a deer, reminding her a little of an Arabian stallion she had seen in a movie. His small ears pricked forward in curiosity. He had a small beard of whiskers beneath his chin, and his breath was as sweet as fresh clover as he nuzzled Sheila. After a moment she dared to stroke his cheek. His coat was warm and soft beneath her hand, softer than velvet.
“So,” said Illyria softly. “Thank you, Storm. You may go now.”
With a snort that sounded almost like an amused chuckle, the unicorn withdrew his head from the tent, carefully turning sideways so he wouldn’t snare his horn in the fabric, and trotted off again.
It seemed to Sheila that she had been holding her breath all this time. Now she gave a long, awestruck sigh. “He’s beautiful!”
“He is, isn’t he?” Illyria smiled. “More important, he’s just told me what I needed to know. No unicorn would tolerate the presence of a worker of evil magic. Welcome to my camp, Sheila of the World of Science.”
`It was said so formally that for a moment Sheila wondered if she should curtsy or something. “Uh, thank you.”
The twinkle of amusement was back in Illyria’s eyes. “Come, be honest now. You’re not really a sorceress, are you?”
Sheila started. How should she answer that one? “Well . . . no,” she began warily, then stopped in panic.
Oh boy! What did I say that for? I just ruined the only chance I had to defend myself!
But Illyria was continuing casually, “I thought not. You’re just too young to have completed the years of study a sorceress needs. Unless, of course, you aren’t truly young. Do you happen to be wearing a Disguise of Youth?”
Sheila blinked. “You mean, am I really an old woman who’s turned herself into a girl?” Could there really be such a spell? “Ah . . . no. I’m a girl, honest.”
“So. You must be an apprentice. Perhaps of this wizard you mentioned, this–Dr. Reit, I believe you named him.”
“Yes. I mean, that’s his name.” Sheila thought quickly. “And I . . . have helped him with a few experiments,” she said truthfully.
“You must make a fine apprentice.” The woman’s voice was as matter-of-fact as if she had complimented Sheila on her bike riding. “Already you wield your powers well.” Illyria paused thoughtfully and looked the girl up and down appraisingly. “And you do seem fit enough, if not as fit as a true warrior. Tell me now, have you ever studied any form of weapon-craft?”
Sheila bit back a wild giggle at the thought of herself in full armor in gym class. “Well, I covered third base on the school softball team. That can get pretty wild sometimes. And I’ve hit a couple homers, too.”
“That is a form of combat unknown to me. Still . . . Sheila of the World of Science, my warriors and I could use the help of a sorceress of good magic in our quest, even a sorceress-in-training. Particularly one who wields objects of great magical power such as that far-speaking box and the foaming potion.”
Objects of power! thought Sheila in amazement. My cassette player and that can of soda?
“Come now, Sheila, look at me. I’m asking you a question. Will you join us?”
“Oh. I–I don’t know. I’ve got to think about it for a moment.”
Illyria nodded in understanding. Sheila turned away, chewing nervously on her lower lip.
Defeating an evil tyrant . . . freeing trapped unicorns to return good fortune to the land . . . it certainly did sound like a worthy cause. In fact, it sounded like every heroic daydream she had ever had.
It also sounded awfully dangerous. You couldn’t get hurt in daydreams, but these people weren’t carrying swords just for fun!
Still . . . it was a worthy cause, and besides, she really didn’t know what else to do except wait and hope that Dr. Reit would find her and take her home.
“All right. I’ll join you,” said Sheila. “At least until I find a way home.”
Illyria, pleased, nodded solemnly. “I’m glad to hear that. But I must tell you this, Sheila: it won’t be easy. There will be many challenges, from the land itself, from Dynasian’s forces, from dark sorcery. Many women have wanted to join me along the way. I accept only those who can endure the hardships of a warrior’s training. Do you think you can endure, and triumph?”
For a moment the sheer strangeness of it all nearly overwhelmed Sheila. Such a wave of homesickness washed over her that she wanted to shout No! I can’t! Just leave me alone! But instead she swallowed fiercely and managed to get out, in an almost level voice:
“I guess I won’t know until I try.” Sheila paused. “But I’ve got to warn you, I’ve never been on a horse in my life.”
“Unicorns aren’t horses,” Illyria replied. “You’ll learn. One way or another. Come, I’ll introduce you–formally this time–to the others.”
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 4: Questions
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away