The next day the warrior troop moved on, headed for Campora and the rescue of the captive unicorns. And Sheila, aching in every muscle, went with them. There wasn’t any choice. It was either ride with them or stay behind in the middle of nowhere. She endured what seemed an eternity astride Morning Star, She was so sore she could barely stay in the saddle and wondered if she would be able to walk again. When they finally stopped for the night Sheila almost fell out of the saddle, clinging to Morning Star for support, then sank gratefully to the ground, exhausted.
“Hey, what’s this?” It was Myno’s rough voice. “Resting? Not yet! We have work to do!”
“Come on, lazy girl, up!”
And Sheila forced herself through the agony of a rigorous workout with the sturdy ex-slave, running, climbing, lifting. At last it was over, Myno dismissed her with a disapproving shake of the head, and Sheila gladly began to sit down once more.
“Oh, no. Not yet.” It was Illyria, looking down at her with a wry smile. “Come, girl. Take up your sword.”
Groaning, Sheila obeyed. No wonder Illyria had said that many women couldn’t endure a warrior’s training!
She wasn’t so sure she could endure! But if she failed…
Dian expected her to fail. In fact, Dian wanted her to fail! Sheila pictured the smug look on that dark-eyed face and clenched her fists in anger.
Sorry, Dian. I don’t give up so easily.
Just because of that, Sheila vowed, just because Dian thought she was nothing but a-a weak little girl, she refused to fail. She would become a warrior.
Even, thought Sheila wearily, if it kills me!
Gradually, much to her amazement, things began to get better. After two days of misery Sheila found herself feeling quite at home on Morning Star’s back, even without stirrups. No longer aching with every jolt, Sheila realized she could keep her balance easily even when the high-spirited young unicorn threw in a good-humored buck or two!
Things were getting easier when she was on foot, too. One amazing day she actually found herself outracing Myno, and not even panting-well, at least not to much.
“Good,” the ex-slave told her. “Very good!” and gave Sheila an encouraging slap on the back that nearly knocked the wind out of her.
As time went on, Sheila really began to look forward to the lessons in swordplay she received from Illyria. At first, of course, the woman would easily knock aside the girl’s weapon, rapping her sharply on her shoulder or chest. But little by little it dawned on Sheila that the grace and speed needed to be a good swordswoman weren’t all that different from the skills needed to be a good third baseman. Once she realized that, she picked up fencing moves so swiftly that both she and Illyria were delighted. At last the day came when Sheila was able to hold her own in a duel for so long that Illyria called a halt, grinning, and said: “At first, I admit, I had my doubts about you. But-here, Sheila. This was Darian’s sword until he outgrew its grip. It’s a good blade. Wear it with honor. You are a warrior after all!”
The days that followed passed in a blur for Sheila. To her secret wonder and delight, she no longer spent her time exhausted and aching. And when she chanced to catch sight of her reflection in a pool, she was stunned. Who was this lean, hazel-eyed girl? She recognized herself only by her freckles! Fat had disappeared, replaced by hard muscle, and though her skin had burned painfully in the hot sun at first, now it had tanned to a smooth golden brown.
Sheila drew back a little, studying herself. Her jeans were holding up pretty well, but her shirt had been patched so many times with so many different colored scraps of material that she looked like a character out of a fantasy tale.
Well, I am! she realized with a shock.
Gone was the soft city girl. In her place, Sheila realized with some pride, was a strong young warrior-woman who could ride all day and do what needed to be done without complaint. She rested a hand on the sword hanging at her hip and smiled.
Of course, the heroic life still left a lot to be desired. Just once it would be nice to sleep on something softer than the ground. And as for provisions: well, at least clean drinking water was no problem. The power of Goodness was so strong in the unicorns that all Quiet Storm had to do when they came to a pond or stream was touch his silver horn to it, and the water instantly became sparklingly clear.
Too bad my own world doesn’t have unicorns, thought Sheila sadly.
But even with clean water to drink, the problem of food remained. There was little to eat save what the warriors happened to catch along the way: rabbit and lizard mostly.
Sheila had to stop herself from daydreaming about cheeseburgers and ice cream.
But at least the others were beginning to treat her as one of them, almost as a friend.
All of them except Dian, of course. She continued to be hostile, until Sheila cornered her at last. “All right, Dian. I’ve had just about enough of this. I don’t hate you. Why do you hate me?”
The other girl gave her a contemptuous look. “I don’t hate you.”
“Oh, no. You just go out of your way to try to make me feel like-like something you want to step on! Look, Dian, I’m not stupid. Every time you see me, you either glare at me-particularly if I dare to crack a joke with Darian-or talk to the person next to me as though I’m invisible!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Excuse me. I have to go take care of my unicorn.”
“All right! I don’t like you. You don’t like me. Let’s just leave it like that.”
Sheila sighed. As Dian stomped away, Sheila thought, Spoiled brat! Before I came, you were the youngest. Everyone babied you. But now I’m here, and you’re so-o-o jealous!
Well, that was just too bad. From now on, Sheila decided, she would simply ignore the girl, and that was that.
But it wasn’t so simple. The next day, while Sheila was running with Myno, a loose rock rolled into her path, sending her sprawling.
“An accident,” Myno told her, but Sheila, rubbing a scraped knee, wondered.
The day after that Sheila and the others were tying the tents onto one of the pack horses when the rope she was pulling suddenly snapped in two; all the carefully packed bundles came tumbling down on top of her.
“An accident,” Pelu assured her, but Sheila realized that the women were watching her uneasily.
Great. Now they’re wondering if I’m a jinx!
There didn’t seem to be much she could do about it,
The next day Sheila was with Morning Star, trying to groom the playfully fidgeting mare, when a furious Illyria came storming up to her.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Sheila blinked. “Grooming Morning Star. Why-“
“Here you’ve been after me to give you something important to do. Fine I told you to go out with Kara and Nanine on a scouting mission this morning. But they couldn’t find you! What are you doing here?”
“But-you never-nobody told me-“
“Don’t try to lie to me! I sent Dian to tell you-“
“Yes! I sent her on the mission instead of you!”
“But, Illyria, you don’t understand. Dian never said-“
“Are you trying to put the blame on her?”
Sheila sighed. “No,” What good would arguing do? It was just her word against Dian’s, after all.
Oh, Dian, Sheila thought, somehow I’m going to get you for this!
She found out that afternoon, when it dawned on her that everyone in the camp was surreptitiously watching her. Did they know Dian was to blame for what had been happening? Were they testing Sheila to see how she would react?
And just where was Dian? Suddenly suspicious, Sheila decided to find out. She wouldn’t have gone very far from the camp, not by herself with night coming on.
Wait a minute. What was that flicker of motion, there in the shadows? Sheila pretended not to notice, but she knew . . . that was Dian, all right, holding what looked like a saddle girth.
Sheila straightened. I’ll say it is! It’s Morning Star’s girth! I’d know that weave anywhere! I’ll bet Dian’s up to no good!
Carefully Sheila stalked forward as she had been taught, moving silently as a cat, till she was right behind the other girl.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked coldly, and was delighted to hear Dian actually scream with shock.
“Oh . . . I .. . found this lying around, and-“
“And you were picking it up with your knife? Oh, come on! What were you really doing? Cutting the girth just enough so it would snap? So I’d go tumbling off Morning Star and make a fool of myself?”
“No!” Dian drew herself up haughtily. “Besides, there’s no mark on the girth. You can’t prove a thing.”
Sudden inspiration made Sheila laugh. “Oh, I don’t have to,” she said, trying to make her voice sound cold and mysterious. “The spirits will do that for me.”
“I-I don’t believe you.”
“Have you forgotten I’m a sorceress?”
“You don’t have any magic, not any powerful magic!”
“Don’t I? Apologize now, Dian-“
“Then the spirit voices will get you-tonight!”
She shouted the last word. Dian gasped, and fled.
The night was still and calm. The only sounds to be heard were the faint chirpings of insects. The camp slept. And then ...
“Dian. Waken, Dian.”
The voices were shrill and ghostly.
“Dian. We call to you. Waken.”
The girl sat up with a gasp. “Who . . . who are you? Where are you?”
“We were summoned,” whispered the voices. “You know by whom. We were summoned from the Other World. We are here for you, Dian.”
“N-no. Go away.”
“We are coming to get you. We are all around you.”
“We are coming closer . . closer . . . We are HERE!”
At that, Dian screamed in sheer terror. The others jumped wildly to their feet. Swords flashed. And amid all the confusion, Sheila stood up calmly and switched off her cassette player. The “ghostly” voices she had recorded stopped immediately. She smiled sweetly at Dian.
“I did warn you,” Sheila said calmly.
There was a moment of startled silence. And then all the camp burst into laughter.
“Well done, Sheila!” called Pelu. “Oh, well done!”
“Clever, indeed,” said Illyria. “But I think we’ve had enough of feuding between you two. Sheila. Dian. Come here, shake hands and have an end to it.”
Triumphant, Sheila held out her hand. Dian hesitated then turned and rushed off into the night.
Illyria sighed. “She’ll be back. All right, everyone. The excitement is over for the night. Go back to bed.”
But Sheila couldn’t sleep. The memory of Dian’s hot hating eyes remained in her mind. And she couldn’t help but wonder, had she just made a very bad enemy?
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 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