THE STARFIRE CRONICLES

-         BOOK TWO –

 

                    THE VALLEY TO VIKTORIA

 

        Chapter 1. 'The Valley of The Shadow of Death'.

 

     Out of the darkness of sin and death, I must get out of this oppressive valley called 'The Shadow of Death '. High above me so very high, there is a light. So bright that it even pierces through the darkness of this valley. I must leave this dark dismal place and find the source of that beautiful light. As I reached the edge of the valley, I found a gate through which a steep and narrow path leads up into the mountains toward the light. There was a keeper guarding this gate so that no one could pass through. I asked the gatekeeper: "What must I do to pass through your gate?" He said: "Only children of the KING may pass through my gate." I looked up at him and said: "But Sir, I have lived in the 'Shadow of Death' all of my life, as have my ancestors. Is there no other way? I must find a way up to that light!" For a moment we both looked up high into the mountains at the beauti­ful light, then he said: " You must find the Gentle Shepherd, he is the only one who can adopt children into the KING'S family. Look for him beside the river of 'Living Water'." I thanked the keeper for his help, and then started walking along the edge of the valley searching the 'River of Living Water '. I had not walked far before I found it, the most beautiful river I have ever seen, and I wondered how I could have lived here my whole life and have never come across this river before. Under a large olive tree where the mountains meet the valley and the river becomes slow and peaceful, I saw the Gentle Shepherd. He was teaching a group of disciples who had become the KING'S children, the Gentle Shepherd was the KING'S only son.

 

When he had finished talking with his disciples and they had walked away, I slowly walked up to him and said: "Master, the keeper of the gate said you could show me what I must do to become a child of the KING. I must leave this dreary valley and find my way up to that glorious light that I have seen so high above the valley of the 'Shadow of Death’. Will you help me? I don't know what to do! The Shepherd looked down at me, and without saying a word his eyes cut right through me. I knew nothing I had ever done was hidden from him, everything that I am lay exposed to him. Then he said: "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one becomes a child of the KING except through me! You say you want to be a child of the KING, then you must lay down your life and follow me! Do you accept the once and for all sacrifice I made on the cross to pay for your sins?" I fell down on my hands and knees at his feet and said: "Oh yes my Lord! Please accept me into your family. " The Shepherd answered me of the KING. Take this scroll with you; it is sealed with my Father's seal. Show it to the gatekeeper and he will let you pass through. Go my son and begin your journey, and remember I will always be with you even unto the end of time!"

 

With the scroll in my hand and the Shepherd's words in my heart I began walking back to the gate I had found that morning. The road through the valley of the 'Shadow of Death'is broad and the gate at its end is wide, for there are many follow it unto their eternal death. It is this highway, which leads straight to the 'Lake of Fire'. The highway's name is 'Eternal Death' and the gate is called Hell, this is why the valley is called the 'Shadow of Death'. There is only one other way out of the valley, the narrow path leading up into the mountains with its little gate. Only a few ever find this gate and its rugged and dangerous path. The travelers who do find this gate cannot enter without first going to the Gentle Shepherd and receiving a scroll from him. This steep and narrow path was my destination, because it is the only way that leads to the KING and that beautiful light that I have been watching from this dark valley. But the greatest thing that I received from the Shepherd is eternal life. When that small gate came into sight I couldn't stand it any longer, and started running. I was in such a hurry that I didn't watch where I was going, my foot caught in some roots and I fell down on my hands and knees. After I had picked myself up again, I stopped run- ning and  began to walk until I reached the gate.

     I reached  the gate as night  was  falling on the valley, the  gate was locked and the keeper had left his post for the  night. I  didn't know what to do. Off to my right I saw a small cottage with  beautiful trees and a small spring  cascading down in a succession  of pools  before it flowed  across the  valley to the  river. So I walked over to the cottage and knocked on the door, the keeper who opened the door  was the  same  one  whom I  saw at the  gate that  morning. He looked  at me  for a moment  and then said: "I see you  have been to  see the  Gentle  Shepherd, come on in and  stay  the  night. It is far  too late to start  your journey up into the high  country tonight." We went into his cottage and sat  before a  warm fire while  a second  gatekeeper was in the  kitchen  preparing  a meal. When he  saw us come in, he  poured us a  hot  cup of tea to  drink  while he  finished  cooking. When  we sat  down  to eat the  keeper who had been cooking said a blessing over the food and then we began to eat. Until now  I didn't  realize  how hungry I was, I  didn't stop eating  until I  had three  helpings. After  dinner we went in and  sat by the  fire  again and  talked  about the Gentle  Shepherd, his guardians and keepers, then I began to tell them the story of my life.

     "I have  been  rejected by my family and  neighbors all of my life. One day  many years ago I  grew tired  of it  and left home. From that time until I met the Gentle Shepherd I have been wander- ing from place to  place looking for  someone who  would accept me just  as I am. But everywhere I  have gone, they have always tried to change me into a mirror of themselves. I longed for a life with a  reason  to live, but there  was no one who  could help me. They were all too busy, traveling down the highway of 'Eternal Death ', and  would  just push  me aside. But the other day I looked up and for the first time in my life I saw the' KING'S Light 'high in the moun­tains. Something  happened to me  brothers, I could  no longer stand  being in  this valley another day." So I walked over to the edge of  the valley and  began  to search  for a path  or road  up into the  mountains  that would  lead me to the 'KING's Light'." I looked  at  the keeper I saw at the gate and said: "That is when I met you and you revealed the truth to me about the Gentle Shepherd  and sent me  to him." The  keeper I had not  met walked over to me and  said: "Son, your  journey has  only just began on the path of 'Eternal Life', it will  lead  you into  the high  country  of our KING. Your way  will be hard and full of obstacles that are placed in your path by our Lord's enemies. You must keep your eyes on the  KING  and  your  heart open  to the voice of the  Shepherd  or you will  stumble  and  fall." I was quite upset when I heard this and said: "But Sir, the  Shepherd  said he  would  always be  with me, won't he  keep  me  from  falling? Won't he  guide me and  keep my enemies from  hurting me?" The  first  keeper  answered me saying; "The Shepherd loves you, he wants  to guide you  and  protect you. But my son, your  own will  can  separate  you  from  his will, he cannot  help you if  you turn your back on  him." When you stumble or loose your way, cry out to him  and he will hear  you." When he finished speaking  they brought  me to a  bedroom where could wash and sleep. After they left, I lay down and quickly fell  asleep in a peace that I had  never known before in my life.

     In the morning as one of  them prepared  breakfast, the other  began to fill a backpack for me to take on my  journey up into the  mountains. I sat and  watched him  as he filled  the  backpack and  stopped him when I saw him  putting a book into it and  asked him;  "What is that book?" He  said: "It is a  book of the  Gentle Shep­herd's own words  to his Father's children. Read them every day on your journey, they  are food for your  soul and a comfort in times of trouble, keep it  with  you  always  my son." I looked  at that  precious book and tears came to my eyes, for the first  time in my life I had the answers.  With the  backpack ready  we sat down and ate breakfast, and then I  prepared to leave. As I was leaving, he gave me a set of armor.

     When we reached  the gate the gatekeeper opened it for me and gave me this warning; "There are many paths on your way leading to  the left and right. Do not  take  them, they  only  lead  you into  danger. Stay on the straight path, there are houses  and  cottages  along your way, one day's  travel apart. You must  spend the night in  them, the KING'S enemies  will not leave  you alone out in the open,  they hate  His  children  and will do anything they  can to hurt them." Then  he  helped  me  get  my backpack  on and  bid me farewell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 Chapter 2. 'The first house'.

     I put the book in my  pocket and started  up into  the moun­t- ains. At first, the path wasn't very steep and I was  making  good time, but  soon it became steep and rocky. I made my way slowly up the first pass. When I Looked  back I was  already far  above  the  valley, from here  I could see the  heavy darkness  that hung over the  whole  valley like a thick  fog through  which no light could pass. What a joy to  see blue sky, and the sun so bright and warm. I never knew it could be so beautiful, in the valley it was always  cold,  dark and damp. But the day was passing and I had to make it to the first house before dark, so I made my way down into a small canyon  where I found a stream coming down  out of the  mountains. After a long  cool drink I started up the next  mountain. This one was much taller than the last and the trail much harder to follow. Not too  far up I found another trail also leading up the mountain and much  easier to travel. I didn't know what to do. Which  trail was the one that  went up to the  KING? As I stood there, thinking about these  trails, I heard  the  Shepherd  saying; "Stay  on the  straight  and narrow path, for many  are  the  paths  that lead to  destruction. I knew it was the Shepherd's voice, but when I turned around no one  was there. After  hearing his words I was sure that the small rocky  trail that went straight up the  mountain was the right one. So I  started  off up  the trail  knowing  the  sun was sinking fast and I had to find the house  the gatekeeper  spoke of before dark. Walking  as  fast  as I  could  go, I found  a meadow  about  halfway  to the  summit. There  were  several  places where other travelers had made camp, and I was so tired that I felt lay- ing down by one of them and  building a fire with the wood left by the last  traveler. But the keeper's words kept coming back to me; "You  must  stay the night in the  KING'S  houses! "So I left  the meadow behind and pressed on toward  the  summit of this mountain. As I walked on  thoughts  kept coming into my mind,"You will never make it, it's too late. You should have stayed in the meadow, turn back now  before it gets dark." I cried  out to  the Shepherd, "My Lord, help me, I am  so tired  and there is  still so  far to go." Then again I heard his voice; "You will make it my son, I know how far you can go! Look up the mountain son, on the right side of the road." As I looked up, I saw a  light that had not  been there be- fore, it  was still  a long  way off, but  seeing  my  destination  gave me the  courage to  keep on  going. The  path had  grown very  narrow and was high above the canyon's floor with nothing to break my fall should I stumble.

     With the sun now  dropping  below  the mountains, fear  began to build  in me  again. But now  the  KING'S house was much closer  and if I continued without  stopping  it could  be reached shortly  after  nightfall. It was getting  so dark that  I could hardly see the path, I knew even  though the house was so close I could never make  it. To my  surprise I saw a  small light leave the house and come down the path toward me, but just  then I tripped over a rock in the  path  and hurt my  ankle. When I stood up it hurt so badly that I could not  walk. Unable to walk I sat on a rock and  waited to see if the  one coming  down to me was from the KING  or one of  his enemies. I sat  there  with my  head  in  my hands  so ashamed  of myself for failing the Gentle Shepherd on my first day's journ- ey, when I felt  a  hand  on my  shoulder. Raising my head I found one of the Shepherd's servants  standing before me, he looked like one of the gatekeepers I had seen at the gate. He was looking down on me with compassion and said; "Take courage my son. The Shepherd told us  of your  coming. When you  didn't arrive  before  dark he spoke to me of  your  trouble  and  sent me to  bring you the rest of the way. Take off your  backpack  son and let  me bind up  your ankle." As I removed my  backpack, he  pulled a small chest out of his robe, opening  it, he  took out  a balm which he  rubbed on my ankle and then bound it up with a long strip of cloth. He then put on  my  backpack and handed me his light, picked me up and carried me all the  way to his  house. His arms were  strong  and his feet as sure  footed as  a hart, it took  very little  time for  him to  travel  the  rest  of  the way  to his  house. I  could  feel  the  Shepherd's  peace  as soon  as we  passed  through  the  door. The Shepherd's servant laid me  down on a couch in front  of his fire- place where I quickly fell asleep.

     Later that evening he  awoke me and said; "We have a visitor, I think you will  want to see. I will  invite him inside." He went over to a door and when he opened it the Shepherd came walking in. He came over and knelt down beside me, and placed  his hands on my ankle. As  soon as  he touched me  I could  feel all  of the  pain leave, and  the  swelling started going down. I could  feel warmth and healing flow  through  me, it  took only a moment for my ankle to be  completely  healed. Then we sat down  to eat  a meal  which the servant had prepared while I was sleeping. The Shepherd picked up a loaf of bread and blessed it saying: "Father, bless this food You have  provided for us, let it nourish our bodies, as we do the work You have given to each of us." After we had  finished eating, we gathered around  the fire and the  Shepherd told  stories about himself and the KING. The Shepherd  turned to me and said: "Son, I want you to stay  here for  a few days  and read my book, there is much  you should learn  from it before you go on. I must leave now and return  to my  Father's  work." He spoke  a few  words  to the  servants  as he walked out the door. Seeing the  Shepherd reminded me of  the copy of his  book  they had placed in my backpack, so I searched  the pack  until  I found it  and  spent  the rest of the evening reading his book. I found  a place where it told about his ministry in  the valley. He had  come  to  the valley  long ago to make a way  for us to escape the powerful kingdom of his enemy and  the power that our own  evil deeds held over  us. Then in the  end the Shepherd proved his great  love for  all men, the price he had to pay was to give his life on a cross, like a common criminal.But this was not the end, three days after he was placed in a tomb his Father the KING, came and raised him from the dead. He is  now our Gentle Shepherd, the only one who can save us from evil.

     This was  more  than I could  take, I laid his book  down and  began to cry. How could  this be? That he would  lay down his life for  me and accept me into his family. I cried that  night until I fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning the Shepherd's servants were already up and preparing breakfast.

     After we had finished eating, I went outside and found a tree  that overlooked the canyons and valleys far below. Sitting against its trunk I began to read the  Shepherd's book again and  meditate on what I  had  read. When  I was  leaving the  valley, I  thought this would be an easy and  uncomplicated  journey  up to the  high country. But as I sat there, reading his words I began to see that I could never make it alone. After sitting against the  tree read- ing and thinking all morning I began to grow sleepy, and soon fell  asleep. I still cannot  understand what happened next; I found my- self  walking  with  the  Shepherd. We  were  up  in  the  highest  mountains  where the snow stays  year  round and the air is always  so fresh and clean. The mountains  were  very  steep, but we never  grew tired and although we were walking  through  snow I was never  cold. Then I saw the KING'S palace, it looked as if it was made of  pure gold and every  precious gem in the world. As I stared at the  palace, the Gentle  Shepherd said: "This is my Father's palace, it will be your eternal home, my  child." As he  finished speak­ing, I woke up. The  sun was  now low as  I started back,  walking slowly along and  thinking  about my dream. I wondered  what  it would be like to live there. Having lived  my whole life, in the  valley of 'The Shadow of Death '.

     After two more days, it was  time to  leave  this  house  and  continue my journey. What a  time of  joy it has been resting here so high above that gloomy valley I grew up in, and reading my book of  the  Shepherd's  words. As I prepared  to leave, the  Shepherd  came walking  up to the house. I dropped everything and ran out to meet him, I fell to my  knees before  him and  said; "My Lord!" He looked  down at me smiling  and said: "Hello, my son; stand up and let's walk  on to the house; I have good news  for you!". The love and joy that I  feel when I am  walking by the Shepherd's side are so beautiful that  there is nothing to  which I can compare it. We walked on  back to  the house  talking  and laughing  all the way. After  entering  the house, he told  me to go  and finish  packing while he talked with his  servants. I had  everything  packed away in my backpack except for  the Shepherd's book, I just  sat there, looking at it with tears running down my cheeks. Silently he walk- ed over  and  knelt down  in front  of me, reaching out to  dry my tears with  his own sleeve. As he  did, I noticed something that I had not seen before, I saw the scars  on his wrists where they had hammered those nails as they hung him  on the cross. I reached out and touched the scar and said; "My Lord, how could they do this to you?" The Shepherd looked at me and said: "Son, there was no other way. I am the only  one who  could  pay  the  price for man's evil deeds, and defeat Father's enemies! Now my son I will tell you the  good news, I will be walking with you to the next house." I didn't know what  to say, the joy that  filled my heart  when I heard him say these words  was beyond  description. In a short  while we set out on our journey for the next house.

 

 

            Chapter 3. 'The Shepherd's Road Crew '.

     As we started walking  down the road the Shepherd said: "Son, I  am walking with you to the next  house  because the road is out up ahead and I will have to take you through the  mountains. It is a  very dangerous  journey." We walked  on for a while  and then I said; "My Lord, as  long as you  are with me  I will  be safe. But Lord! How is  it possible  for the  road to  be out? This is  your road to Father's palace." The Shepherd looked very sad as he said: "Fathers' enemies do everything they can to keep his children from  being  able  to  come up to him. That is  why I told you  when you first  started out  on your  journey to spend the  night in one of my houses. Fathers'  enemies are also your enemies." When I placed Father's seal on your  spirit  it made you shine like the sun, and our enemies cannot stand it. They would kill you if  they  could." We walked on in silence  for a while, I didn't  know what  to say, how could anyone hate  Father or His son, the  Gentle  Shepherd? I decided  to ask him;  "My Lord, you are the  Gentle  Shepherd, how could anyone hate you or Father? He  said: "Son, Father  has  many  enemies. Not everyone  is seeking  his  light, there are  many who love the darkness because Father's light exposes their evil deeds. There  are  also  beings  called  demons  who  chose  to  walk  in evil. Son, we are  quickly approaching  the  place  where  we must  leave  the  road. Follow me  closely." We left the road and headed up the  mountain, the  Shepherd  carefully  chose a  route  that I could follow. As we  climbed high up  the mountain I could see his road  crew far  below us. Working  hard  to repair a badly damaged  stretch  of the road  where  Father's  enemies  had caused a large avalanche. There was also a company of Father's  warriors standing  guard to stop the enemy from causing any  more  damage to the road or attacking  His  workers. As we  passed  by them, I  saw a small company   of enemy warriors  coming up the  creek  below  the road crew. As they drew near the road crew  they  hid in the  rocks and started  shooting  fiery  darts  and  arrows at the road crew  and warriors, but Father's warriors turned on them with their own bows and arrows. The enemy was gone almost as quickly  as they came.  I was so  interested  in what  was  going  on down  below us  that I  didn't keep my eyes  on  the  Shepherd  and  slipped  on  a  loose  rock  which caused me to fall down the mountain. I caught  hold of a bush  and cried out; "Lord, save me!" The  Shepherd  knelt  down and took a  grip on my hand  and  pulled  me  up  onto  the trail. When he had me safely on the trail he  said: "Son, I told  you  to keep your eyes on  me. You must obey  me, keep  your  eyes  on  me because the  pathway is  very steep  and  rocky. You  will stumble and fall again if you allow  your eyes to wander. My  son, I  love you, but you must obey me." He had never talked  to  me  this  way  before, but his voice was so full of  love and  compassion that it was all I could do to look up at him,  with my eyes' full of tears and say; "Forgive  me my  Lord, I know  your  words  are true. You truly are the Gentle Shepherd; Lord I am still  so weak and  it is  hard to keep my  eyes on  you alone.  I feel  so helpless  and un- worthy of your great  kindness." After  this  we  continued for  a little while until we came to a small  flat  where a spring flowed out of  the rocks. The  Shepherd  said: "We  will  rest here for a while, before  returning  to the  road." I was  glad to  stay here after our journey across the mountain's steep slopes. It  had been  a long hard walk since we left the road and  this  was a beauti­ful place, filled  with  trees and  bushes of  every  kind. The  water which flowed out of the crevice, was so cool and  refreshing  that I drank  all that  I could  and then  filled my  water bottles for  later on my journey. We rested for a while and then it was time to  follow the  Shepherd  down to  the  road, it was  very steep  with  places where I could not climb down on my own. When we came to one  of these the Shepherd picked  me up and  carried me until I  could  walk on my own again. Soon we reached the road again and continued our  journey to the house  walking  on the  road. There was  still  another three miles to walk from where we rejoined the road to the house, and  the sun was  already  below the  mountains. When I saw this house it  was good to see that they had a fire going. Because we were high in  the mountains now the nights were cool, and I was also very  tired after  our journey  across the  slopes above  the road. This house was  only a  two‑story  cabin made  of stone  and logs, but I was  glad to  see the end of our walking for this day.

     When we  entered the  cabin the  keepers  already had  dinner  prepared for us. As we  sat down to eat the Shepherd said: "I will  have to leave you here. You will be  walking by  yourself again as  you journey to the next house. Do not turn to the left or right my  son, stay on the straight  and narrow road. You will drop down and walk through a  valley, there are  many dangers in this valley. It is  called  the 'Valley of  Self-Indulgence'. If you  listen to my words  and stay on  my road you will make it through without harm. You will  find  the next house  just after  you leave  the  valley floor, do not stop until you reach it my son. I must leave you now my son, remem­ber  my words  and you  will  do well." After  we had  finished  dinner  the  Shepherd  said "Goodby" to us  and left the cabin. I went to sleep  early  that night  because I was  so tired  after  our cross-country journey. The watchmen arose early  in the  morning  and  went  about  their work, but  I stayed  in bed for a while. When I got up, I found  that they  had break­fast  ready for me. I went back upstairs to my room and repacked  my backpack  be- fore eating breakfast. As I was finishing my food, they came  back in carrying supplies for  the  house, I asked  them where they had to go for the supplies  and one of  them said; "They were left for us by  Father's  warriors  yesterday  as  they  returned  to their  barracks  which  are not  to far from here. They keep  us supplied so  that we  will be able to care for  Father's children when they come to our cabin."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Chapter.4 'Thieves'.

     The sun was up and it was  time to leave the  keepers' cabin, so I thanked them for their kindness  and put  on my  backpack. As I  started  walking  up the narrow mountain road, I began checking my  armor to make  sure that it was all in place  before I crossed the  summit. I checked  my helmet  and breastplate. Then looked to see that  my sword was securely  belted around  my waist. And that my shoes were ready for a long day's walk, and my shield ready for use if any of  my enemies  should show up. After a while  I passed  over the summit and  saw the 'Valley of Self-Indulgence'down below me. This  was the  largest  valley  I had  seen since  leaving the valley of  'The  Shadow  of Death', it  stretched  out as far as I could see to my left and right. I could see the KING'S  road head- ing straight  across the valley. But there  were many  other roads going  up and down the valley. And far away  where it looked  like  the valley opened up into a large prairie  there was a small vill- age, but I  couldn't  tell  if it   was one  of the  KINGS' or the enemy's. This was a very wide valley,  it must have  been at least  fifteen miles  across. I knew  I could  make it  to the next house if I obeyed the Shepherd's words and did  not stop walking until I was there. After entering the valley I saw  a beautiful  garden up ahead of  me a  few minutes  walk  down  a side  road. As  I  drew  near  the  road  to  it  I  began  to feel  very tired. Forgetting  the Shepherd's words, I turned into  the road  and walked  down to the  garden. I said to myself; "It is near the KING'S road, I will go  and  eat  lunch  there  and  rest for  a  little  while." As I  entered  the  garden I  found  it was full of every kind of fruit, nut and vegetable a man could want. After eating all that I could, I took  off my  backpack and lay down  my armor and sword. Sitting  against the trunk of an apple  tree, I thought I  would  rest  for a  while  before returning to the  KING'S  road. But  after a  few  moments  I fell asleep  and when  I awoke it was late after­noon, I knew that  I had  failed my  Lord again. I stood  up to  put on my backpack and armor, but it was gone, I  began  to shake with fear, while I was sleeping my Lord's enemies had come and  stolen every- thing. All that I had left was the scroll  the Gentle Shepherd had given to me beside the river of Life, I had  placed  it in my vest pocket before leaving that morning.

     My enemies  had  not  harmed  me while I slept, they had only stolen everything I had  with me. So I ran all  of the  way to the  KING'S  road, and then walked as fast as I could, toward the other  side of the  valley hoping to  reach the house before dark. When I  was about halfway across I saw a company of enemy  warriors coming  down the  valley  from the  village I had  seen at the  end of the valley and I didn't know what to do. As I stood watching the enemy  warriors, a legion of Father's warriors came riding  down into the  valley from the mountains on the far  side. Riding on their horses  and  chariots. When  the  enemy saw  them they turned and prepared for battle. Fathers' warriors  quickly  crossed  the  valley, when they met  the  KING'S  were so strong  that the enemies  were sent running in  every  direction. Fathers'  warriors  collected all of the swords,  shields and other things of value that  the enemy had left on  the ground, and  rode across the  valley toward me. Their horses were  very swift  and  soon  they  were  at  the  crossroad  where I was standing. When we met they  stopped and asked me who I was and where I was going. I said: "I have come from the valley of 'The Shadow of  Death ' and I am  going  to the KING'S  palace. My name is  Bezal, beca­use I  have  lived  my whole  life, under  the shadow of 'Death'. I have  come  from the  garden  down this  road where I ate lunch and then fell asleep. While I was sleeping those warriors, you just  broke up, stole my  backpack  and  armor. I am  now  trying  to get  to the Shepherd's house  across this valley." One of the  warriors came  riding up to me  on a silver  horse and held  out a sack to me  saying;  "This must be yours!" When I took the sack and looked in it I found  my backpack, armor and  even my sword, this  warrior  had  recovered   everything  that  had  been  stolen  from me. So I  lowered  my  eyes  and bowed to him saying; "Thank-you  noble  warrior!" He looked at me shaking  his head and said; "Bezal my son, you have  disobeyed the  Gentle Shepherd, now it is impossible  for you  to reach  his house before dark! Now go over to that  warrior with the gold and  blue  chariot and he will give you a ride to the far side of the valley.  It was a beautiful chariot which was painted royal  blue and had the  KING'S  seal on each side and the  warrior's  coat of  arms across the front. Both were made of pure gold inlaid into the chariot, it also had a gold trim and was drawn by two pure white horses. As I climbed into the chariot the royal  warrior said: "Quickly  my  son, we have a long way to travel!"As soon as I was in he took off.  I have never seen  horses so  swift as these were, but even  with  the great speed of these beautiful horses. The day was  nearly spent  when we reached the edge of  the moun­tains. The warrior  slowed to a  stop and let me out of  his chariot  with this warning; "You must not  stop and rest, or turn to the left or right; continue with all haste to the  next  house. You must be there before dark because there are  many  enemies  of the Shepherd traveling through here seeking to destroy anyone who has the KING'S seal upon them. Go now  and do not tarry  or go  astray!" As I started  walking up the road  I could see the royal warriors were  fighting with  another company  of the enemy, like the others they could not win this battle. In  a few  minutes with  their swords  flashing  like the sun they had  scattered the enemy again, I wondered why they fought against the royal warriors when they knew they were going to lose. I wanted to stay and watch the warriors  finish them off  but remembering  the  warrior's and Shepherd's  words I turned  and headed  up the road  for  the next house as fast as I could.

     The sun  was  already  dropping  below the  mountains  on the  other side of the valley. If I didn't find the house soon, I would be out  after dark again. The road was winding along  the edge  of a small canyon  and growing very  steep so  that I could only  see  a  little stretch of the road. It was  starting to get dark when I first saw the lights of the next house, it wasn't too far away and I  was  sure that  I could  make it before  night­fall. As I walked along  thinking  everything  was  going  great, six  of  the  most sinister and  vicious  looking  creatures  stepped  out  in  front of me blocking the  road. They  had  tails like  a scorpion, fangs like a boar, scales like a  dragon with fire and smoke  coming out of their  mouth  and  nose. I  had  my  sword  out  and  my shield up, but how could  I fight against  six of these evil creatures? I was  so frightened that I could hardly keep walking. Again I cried  out to  the  Gentle Shepherd  and he heard me. Immediately a small  company of warriors left the house and  with swords  drawn  headed  down  the road  as fast as their horses could run. As the warriors  closed in on these creatures they lowered  their swords. And bolts  of blue fire  like  lightning  came  shooting  out of their swords knocking each of them over. But  they  arose  again  and  threw  a  few of their own sulphur yellow and red balls of fire out of their mouths at the war­riors.  The  KING'S  warriors  were  too powerful  for them. Each time they threw their balls, the warriors  deflect­ed them with their shields  and  knocked their enemies  over again  with their blue  fire. When the warriors were almost upon them all six creatures fled  to the  other  side  of the canyon where  they turned  once  more and  fired their  balls at  the warriors. Again they put their shields together and  deflected  all  of the balls. By now the creatures had many wounds  and  did  not care to  fight any longer, it looked  like the warriors had  won this battle. But now another creature came flying  up the canyon  on a  great  bird that looked like a vulture, it had a  bow and began firing flaming arrows at them. This time the warriors  lifted  their shields over their heads and caught every  one of its  arrows. Then all at once they brought up their swords, and  with  one  huge  bolt  hit this evil creature and its bird. It sounded  like  thunder  when it hit them and both the creature and bird disappeared  all at once in  a  cloud of burning sulphur and smoke. When the others saw this  they  fled down  the canyon  in terror, again  the royal  warriors  were  victorious  over  our  enemy. A warrior rode over to me and helped me up  on his  horse. This was  the first  time I had  ridden on a  horse, but here I was riding with the royal warriors!

     When  we  arrived  at the  house  the warriors introduced the keepers  to me, then went to the stable to  feed  and water  their horses. One  of  the  keepers  took  me to a room where I would be staying so I could put my backpack away and wash up before dinner.  After bathing and putting on clean clothes I returned to  the main  room where I could smell  dinner cooking. This  was a  large house and  was built like an inn with a large kitchen, dinning room  and parlor  which had a beautiful stone fireplace. There  were  twelve warriors in this company, they were a special company the Shepherd sent to  areas  where  the enemy  was causing  a lot of  problems. With all of  these warriors, the keepers  and myself; this was the largest number of people I  had yet seen in a house at one time.

     The warriors were gathered around the fireplace in the parlor  talking about this evening's  battle, and seemed concerned that so  many of these creatures were here  at one time. There was a keeper  standing in the doorway to the kitchen watching the  warriors so I  walked  over to him  and asked if  he would  tell  me about  these creatures that had attacked me today. He  led me  over to  a small  table where we could sit  and talk. As we sat, he asked one of the other  keepers to bring some  hot tea for us. Then he looked at me and began to tell me of these creatures and their history.

     "Son, the ones who blocked your way were physical  crea­tures,  but they  are controlled by spiritual beings. They are very deadly  but not very  brave, you  saw  the  way  they  fled  when Father's  warriors confronted them. But you must remember  my son, by  your- self they would have over powered you." I stopped him and said; "I have  never  seen  animals like these before, what are they called and where  do they come from? In the valley  we never saw anything more  dangerous  than a  wolf or bear! "He  sat silently  watching  the warriors  for a moment  and  then said; "My son, you will find many things  up  here that are  never  seen down in the valley  of 'The  Shadow  of Death'. Our Father prevents them from ever  going down  to the  low  lands. This is why you have been seeing so many of  Father's royal  warriors, our enemy  has been  trying  to send his troops down  to the  valleys  in an attempt  to destroy all of the humans there. You asked  me where  they come  from. Son, there are many lands which the people in the valleys have never seen  or  even heard of. Father protects the valleys from them and those who dwell there, only those people  who chose  to become  his children  ever  learn  that these lands exist. The creatures you  saw  today come from a land in  the far north, it is controlled  by  the  one  whom  you  have  heard  the warriors  and keepers call the  KING'S enemy. He is also called the ' Lord  of  Darkness 'and many  other  names. He has been at war with the KING for a very long time, even before there were any men. At one time  he  was  the  KING'S  most  loyal and  powerful  warrior, and the  KING loved  him like a son. But one day he chose to make war with the KING, he  wanted to make himself King and sit on our KING'S thrown. One third  of the royal warriors  were so sure  that  he  would  win  the  war  that  they  joined the ' Lord  0f Darkness ' in  his  war  against  the  KING.  There is no one more powerful then the KING! And he threw  all  of  them  out of his palace and striped  them  of  his  Seal, now they roam the world trying to hurt the  KING  in any way they can.  The other ruthless creature you saw, riding on that fiendish  bird was  one of these  fallen  warriors. And his  bird is  from one  of the  north lands, controlled by the 'Lord  of  Darkness'. Most of these animals have  never  been given a name, they are  the work  of the Dark Lord  and  his  evil  warriors. These  animals have  physical bodies, but they  are filled with  the spirit of one of the fallen warriors. They use these  animals to  fulfill the desires of their evil master, the 'Lord of Darkness'.  When you were first starting your journey, you were warned about beings called demons. They are not very powerful, they  are at  the  bottom  of  the dark  lord's warriors  and   are   used  to  harass  the  KING'S  children  and warriors. It is far more dangerous here than it  was when you were in the  low lands  where you  started your  journey.  You must pay close  attention  to the  Gentle Shepherd  and his  warriors, much closer than  you have so far or you will be captured or  killed by our enemies! You will face many dangers from now on that  you have  never  before  encountered, and there  will not always be warriors close by to save you from them."

     I thought for a while on  what this  keeper had  been saying, and wondered if he might be much more than a keeper of this house. He  seemed  so much  wiser  then  the others I  had talked with, I could feel an authority in him I hand never felt except when I was with the  Shepherd. I looked down  and said; "Keeper, I don't know who  you are, but  I  can feel  an authority  in you, which is not there when  I talk  with  the  other  keepers. I have already been through so  many things  that were beyond  my  imagination when  I lived in the  valley, it has  become  much  more  dangerous than I thought it would. Can you tell me about what I am going to be fac- ing next and how to  get through it safely? "He laughed  at me and said: "Yes Bezal my son, you  have  guessed  correctly. I am not a keeper, I am a commander  over the KING'S companies of warriors in this area, there are seven  legions under my  command. But I enjoy  helping the keepers when I  stay in  their houses, my name is Asa. In answer to your  question,  there will be many more of  the same kind as you have just faced, and times when there  are no warriors close  enough  to  rescue you.  As  you  travel  higher  into  the  mountains  the danger will grow  stronger and harder to escape. So you must follow the Shepherd. But  dinner is ready now, we must go and join the others."

     As we all sat down to eat, I noticed that they had all became  very quiet. Commander  Asa  stood up  and said a blessing over our  dinner, I watched  the warriors as I was eating and it seemed most  of them had no interest in eating, they just sat there in silence.  Suddenly the  Gentle  Shepherd  walked in through the door and sat at the head of the table, quickly one of the keepers  brought  him a plate of food. The Shepherd blest his food, and then we all went back to our dinner. When we finished eating the Shepherd took  Asa and the warriors aside  and spoke briefly  to them. Then  warriors  went  back to  sitting by the fire and  Asa and the  Shepherd came  over to where I was  sitting and  sat  with me. The Shepherd said: "I must leave as soon as we  finish talking. But there  are  a few things I must  tell you son, it has become  too dangerous  for you  to walk by  yourself. I have called a few  warriors down  from the  north  to travel  with you, they are a specially trained corps who will help you through and help  train you in warfare, training you  would have received  in the begin­ning if the enemy had not been so  active. They are called the 'Warriors Of The North',they should be here soon, don't leave  until they  join you. Asa, keep  your war- riors together, our enemy has been sending large companies in this direction. I must leave now, the dark lord is gathering his stron- gest  warriors  together  and I must be there  to stop him, goodby my friends." Then he turned and walked out into the night.

     We sat in silence  for a while, and then Asa said; "Son it is  getting  late, you should go  to bed. I will come and get you when the  Northern warriors arrive!" I was tired, but there had been so much  excitement and I still had so many questions I wanted to ask Asa, that it was hard to go up to my room and sleep. But I knew he was  right, so I said; "You are right Asa, there is so much I want to know but I guess I can't learn it all in one night. I will take your advice  and try  to get  some sleep. Good night!" I arose and went  up to my room and lay down, but I couldn't sleep, every­thing I had seen and heard kept going through my head. Eventually I must have slept,  because the next thing I knew was Asa  gently shaking  my shoulder and saying; "Get up my son, the  Warriors are  waiting  for you, and your  breakfast is ready."

     I got up and quickly put  everything in my backpack  and went  down to meet ' The Warriors Of The North '. What I saw was  beyond  anything  I could  have imagined, these  warriors were the biggest and  strongest men I have ever seen. I was  almost afraid  to walk up and  speak to them, but one of them saw me and said; "Come here my son! ", so I went  over to him. He said: "My name  is Golden, I understand they  call  you  Bezal, we  will change  that soon, you  are no longer under the  shadow of  the Dark Lord! Eat your break­fast, quickly now,  we must be on  our way. There is a long way to travel  today, you can  rest in  Silver's chariot if you want, you will ride with him  for now." I ate  a little and then thanked the keepers for their kindness.

 

           Chapter 5. 'The Warriors Of The North '.

     When I saw their  chariots, they  were just as  impressive as the  warriors. Each chariot  matched its  rider's armor, and their horses  were white, without any spots or blemishes, and wore armor which was  the same  color as  their master  and his chariot. Each chariot had the KING'S seal on its sides and the warrior's coat of arms on its front.  As I walked over to Silver's chariot I saw his shield hanging inside on a bar made to hold his armor. When Silver  came into the  chariot he  said: "Son, put your pack down and take a hold of the  chariot." As soon as I did, he  took the  reins and with Golden  in the  lead we  were on  our way. The road  was only wide enough to go single  file here, and the warriors seemed to be worried about  another attack  by the enemy, but we made it to the summit without  seeing any  of them. As we passed through, I could see that we were  entering a large  plateau, with mountains rising so high on our east, that their  tops were always white with snow. On every  other side the land fell  away so that  we could not see  beyond the  plateau's  edge. The road  now ran  along the  foot of these mountains  and  widened  out  so  that  we  travel  with two chariots across. 

     The warriors quickly changed formation  so that Golden was in  the lead  followed by Silver and Platinum, then Nickel and Copper,  and last came  Bronze  and  Iron. As we traveled  along, I said to  Silver; "I know  your name  Silver, and Golden's. But I have never been  introduced to the others, will you tell me who they are?" He said: "Beside us  is Platinum, he is  a strong  warrior, one  I am always glad  to have beside me in a battle. Behind us is Nickel on the left and  Copper. They are young but very  brave and  love the KING with all of their hearts, they  will  become  mighty warriors one day. I think they  will  some  day lead  their  own companies. Last is Bronze on your left  and Iron. They have  been with Golden for a long time, they were with  him even  before I came. They are very wise and strong in battle, but I think they will be return­ing to the KINGS  palace before  too long  they have  served Him  well in battle." I looked around at these  mighty warriors and wondered what I, who had never lifted my sword  against the enemy was doing with them. I felt so small and worthless among such mighty men.

     Silver pointed to a place several miles ahead of us and said:  "You see that grove of trees next to that little river?  The enemy  has  attacked us  there several times. Keep your  sword and shield  ready to fight as we go by!" It looked like a beautiful park and I  could not  see anywhere the enemy  could hide, but I did as Silver  said and put all of my armor on and held my sword and shield ready  for a battle. As we drew near  the warriors tightened  their char- iots together and turned toward the trees. The land was  flat like a table so it wasn't necessary to stay on the road. We slowed to a  walk as we entered the grove, and just as Silver said hiding among  the trees and along the riverbank was about twenty of those things  which had  attacked me in the canyon. Silver said; "Bezal, stay in the chariot and  don't fight unless you have to." I was so fright­ened he  did not  have to  tell me twice, but there were  three of them  for each  warrior and  it was  not long  before  one of them spotted me and  came over to the chariot. I turn toward it with my shield  up, but  it  came  around  with  its  tail and knocked the  shield out of my hand  with one blow. I jumped  out of the chariot and  tried to keep it in  between me  and  this thing, but  it was  quicker than it looked and  soon had  a hold  of my arm. I did not notice them in the canyon, but  these things had  two arms as well as four legs. It had such a tight  grip on my arm that I could not  break free, I kept  poking  it with  my sword but  its hide was so tough I didn't hurt it much.  Then it pinned me  on the ground and started  trying to sting  me with its tail. My armor protected  me from  its sting,  and I continued  to poke it with my sword. I was quickly  growing tired  and knew  I would have  to do something or  this thing was going  to finish me off.

     I saw what  looked  like a soft spot under its arms, and with a final effort thrust my sword  into it. It screamed  in pain let- ting go of me and backing up holding its arm. This greatly encour- aged me, and I found the strength scramble over to my shield,pick- ing it up, I slowly worked my way back to Silver's chariot. Before  I could get in that thing was on me again, this time it kept blow- ing  fire out of its mouth so that I had to keep my shield  up and  could not  see it. These things were much smarter  than I thought, when I brought my shield up in front of me  this creature  which I will call a dragon, came at me and knocked me into  Silver's char- iot. My head  hit the wheel  and everything went black. If  only I could  have seen it, Golden and the others had  just  finished off  the  other dragons and were turning back toward the chariots  when a whole group of those vultures came flying down on them. Iron saw the  dragon  that was attacking me  and hit it with a bolt of blue fire which put an end to it. But the warriors were so  busy fight- ing they could not come  to help me.  A fallen  warrior turned his  bird down and as it  flew close  to the ground, it picked me up in its feet and began to fly up into the  mountains  where it dropped me  on a high ledge. The warriors  won the  battle with  the other birds and fallen warriors, but didn't  see the vulture carrying me away.

     When they returned to the chariots, they saw that I was miss- ing and began to search around  for me. From the  ledge  where the vulture had dropped me I could see them searching around the river and trees  without  success, so I tried  yelling at  them but they were  too far  away to  hear me. Crawling over to the edge I began looking for a way to climb  down but  there was nothing to hold on to. Above  me was a crevice in the rock  which ran  almost to  the top  of the  mountain, it was just  large enough  to stand in. But like the rest of the mountain, was  so smooth that it could not be climbed. I stood  there and looked at it for  a while not  knowing what to do. Then I  heard the Shepherd saying; "Son, put your back to one side and your  knees to the  other, and you will be able to climb out!"I did as the  Shepherd said  and was surprised how easy it was to work my way  up the crevice. But soon  fear  overtook me  as I looked  down  at  the  ledge  falling  far below me. I was so frightened  that I could  not  climb any  farther. Unable to climb  higher and too frightened to  climb back down I froze where I was.

     Back at  the river  the warriors  had finished  searching and  Golden had all of them except for Bronze and Iron prepare to leave  the plateau with him. Bronze and Iron he sent  up  into  the moun­tains  to continue searching for me. These old warriors knew their enemy  well, this  was not  the first  time they had  been sent to rescue a fallen warrior. As they rode to the foot of the moun­tains they began searching the mountains for places the enemy would  try to hide a warrior. Iron was first to spot  the small ledge high up on the mountain and pointed it out to Bronze. They had  left their chariots behind and took only a horse and some rope with them into  the mountains. The only  way to the  ledge was to  ride all of the way to  the top, and then  climb back down. They were not  long in reaching  the top, where they  discovered the crevice leading down to the ledge. Bronze tied  a rope to his  horse and began  working his way down  to the crevice, as he  entered  it he  saw me  stuck down below him and called up to Iron; "He's in here all right, but he's stuck down near the bottom. You will have to tie your rope to mine, it's too far  for me to reach him." Iron tied a  rope to his  horse and then to the  rope Bronze was on, after untying the  rope  from  Bronze's horse he  began to slowly walk his horse forward.

     As Bronze worked his way down, I  heard  something  above me, looking up saw him. Encouraged by this I tried  again to climb  up the crevice, but Bronze called  down to  me and  said; "Stay where  you are, I will be  there  soon!" So I stopped climbing and waited for Bronze to reach me. When he finished coming down, he was right below me. Bronze  placed  himself  so that  I was  sitting  on his shoulders, and told me take hold of the rope as he began the climb back up. I was  surprised how strong  Bronze was, he climbed up as if I wasn't even there. We quickly reached the top, where Iron was pulling  the  rope up as  Bronze climbed up with me. When they had put away their climbing gear, I rode back down the mountain behind Iron. He told me about their battle with the  enemy and search for me afterwards,  and that the others had continued  on ahead of us. As we reached the  foot  of the  mountain  Iron  and Bronze  began talking to each other about our journey to catch up with the other warriors. Iron said; "Bronze, we are going to have to ride without stopping to rest if  we are  to reach  them  before  morning. They should have reached the  house  where we  were going to  stay late this evening, and  it is not safe for us to  stay out  here in the night." Bronze just  stared at  the  ground for a  moment and then said; "You are right Iron, but I  don't  like  pushing  our horses that hard. Since  there are only  two of us now, I don't  think we have any  other  choice!" As they were  talking we  reached  their  chariots and  they began  harnessing their  horses to the chariots and replacing their  gear. I asked  Iron; "How  far is it  to this house you spoke of?" And he  answered, "About five  hours ride, if we do  not stop  for anything!" So we took  off  ridding  like the wind, I never knew  horses could run  so fast, but these were  the KING'S horses.

                   Chapter 6. 'The Outpost'.

     It was already dark when we  started ridding and  the sun was  about to rise when we arrived  at the house where  the rest of the  warriors  were  waiting  for us. When  we reached the  gate it was  locked  for the  night. So Iron started  knocking  on it  until he awoke the guard at the gate  then Bronze took  the  horses  around behind  the house to the stable. The guard then went to  prepare a meal for us  before we went to bed. After feeding and watering the horses, Bronze came in and sat down, he was so tired that  he just sat  there with  his eyes closed  as if he  were asleep. When  the keeper came in with our food Iron said: "Wake up brother, and  eat something before  you sleep!", then  he turned  to the  keeper and  asked, "Did the rest of our brothers reach this house safely?" The keeper gave him a nod as  he  set a full plate of food in front of each of us. When we were finished, the keeper lead us upstairs and  gave each of us a room. I was so tired that I didn't even undress, I just fell down on the bed and went to sleep without even getting  under the cov­ers. Some­one must  have looked in on me  because when I awoke my shoes had been taken off and the covers had been placed over me.

     The others had allowed  us to continue sleeping  in the morn-   ing, so it was nearly noon when I arose and went down­stairs. Iron and Bronze, being the warriors that they were had slept only a few hours  before getting  up and joining  the other  warriors. When I joined them, they were  planing the next  stage of  their journey. Golden said to me; "Son, you  will be  staying here  this time. We will return for you  in a few days, we are going to be  fighting a very  dangerous  troop of enemy  warriors and it will be better if you are not with us.Stay here and enjoy yourself until we return!"

     I was glad to be able to stay for a while because  I was get- ting sore from ridding their horses. Sitting beside Silver I asked the keeper; "Have you seen the  Gentle  Shepherd  lately?"  And he  said; "I expect to see him here when the  Warriors  of  the  North return from their battle with our enemy!" This  made  me happy and after eating a little I began  to walk  around the outpost. It was  not a  house like  those we had been  staying in  down below, this place was set up in the normal  military fashion. It had a stable,  a barracks which had  a kitchen and  living quarters in it, and an  armory  with a  blacksmith  to  repair the  warriors  weapons  and chariots. It was not  as comfortable  as  those  first  houses but compared to camping along the road  it was a  good  place and with the wall  which surrounded it, it was also safe  from our enemies. As I walked  around, I turned  and walked over  to the black­smith  and  watched  him as  he  rebuilt a  wheel from  one of the chariots. He was not as large as the Warriors  of  the  North, but he must have been just as strong. When he  had  finished repairing  the wheel he  reached  down and picked  the chariot  up  with  one hand and slid the  wheel back on with the other. When he  finished  I walked up to him  and said: "Are you  also  a  warrior? When  he looked up  he said: "No  son, I was  at one time, but the Shepherd has allowed me  to finish  my  service  here  as his blacksmith, I will be  going  home to  the KING  soon. Who are  you, son. I have never seen  you here before?", he  asked  as he  walked back  into his shop. "You are  right Sir, I am  called  Bezal. I am on my way to the KING'S palace, I used to live in the  valley of 'The Shadow Of Death'. I arrived here  last  night. Tell me  Sir, what is your name? He looked  at  me for  a moment  and then  said: "My name is Moses, but you can call me Mosie! If you have nothing to do, I can use your help  around the  shop today." Since the outpost  was not very big and it  was not  safe to go outside of its walls I  said: "Sure  Mosie, what  would  you like  me to  do? He set  me to work  cleaning the shop and then bringing  in a fresh supply of coal for  his forge. While I was carrying  in the coal  Golden came over and  said: "Bezal, it looks like  we are  going to be  spending the day here, Asa is  bringing  some of  his warriors  up to  help in this battle. He is also bringing a friend  with him who will be staying here  with you while  we are gone, and  as you have heard  when we return  the  Shepherd  will be  with us. I think you  are going to enjoy your  stay here. "There was  so much  happening  all at once that I didn't know what to say, so I just said:"Thank-you Golden!"       So for  the rest  of the day  I wondered  who  this friend of Asa's was  that Golden thought  would make  my stay so  enjoyable. When we stopped for lunch  I asked Mosie  about this battle  which could bring  the Gentle Shepherd, the Northern Warriors  and Asa's men together  all  at  once. As we ate, he said: "There has been a great build up of fallen  warriors  and  their creatures  two days journey to our west. They have  been preparing  for a march on the low lands, if they are not stopped  it could  be the  end  for the people in  the valleys. This  is too  much  for even  the Northern  Warriors  to handle  by them­selves, so the Shepherd sent for Asa's warriors to join them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Chapter 7. 'Snowflower'.

     Later that day, just  before the sun  went down  Asa  arrived  with his  warriors. I had  never  seen  anything  like it, he came ridding up  with forty-four chariots and one hundred  mounted war- riors behind  him, and several wagons  at the rear filled with all of their camping gear. And in  the center  of his  warriors  was a pure red chariot with silver armor and a coat of arms  that showed  a bald eagle  standing on a rock with a  fish in its talon. As the warriors rode up they began to  circle the outpost and prepared to make camp for the  night. Asa, a few of his captains  and the war- rior in the red chariot came on into  the outpost where the keeper and the Northern Warriors  were waiting  for them. As they rode in the  other warriors who  stayed at  the outpost  began  to  gather around  them. Mosie turned  to me and  said: "Bezal, you have done enough today. Come with me and meet our visitors!".

     As we walked up the captains began taking care of the  horses  and chariots, while  the keeper, Golden, Asa  and the  red warrior turned to walk  into the  barracks. But when  this strange warrior  came close to us I could see  what was  so different, the red war- rior was a woman! When she saw Mosie she turned and gave him a big hug and  said: "Father, I didn't  know  you were  still here!". He smiled and said: "Yes my daughter, it  is not  time  yet for me to return to the KING. I want you to meet a new friend". He turned to me  and  said: "Bezal, this  is my  daughter  Snowflower." I stood there, looking at  her I wondered why she had been sent here while a battle as big as this  one was going to be taking place so close by. But the keeper  and Warriors  knew  she was  coming  and  must have  thought we would be safe here. She stood looking at me as if  she were a Captain  inspecting his warriors, and then  said: "I do not  understand  why they  call  you  Bezal, you  are not  under a shadow.  You may  not  be a  warrior  yet, but that will come soon enough! Come, walk  with me for a  while and tell  me about  your­self." I said: "Thank-you  Snowflower, I would  enjoy that. May we  walk over and look at your chariot and horse?" As we walked along, I began telling  her of  my past in  the  valley of 'The Shadow Of Death' and my journey up into the  mountains and that I was headed  to the KING'S palace. I told her that I  had been  named Bezal be- cause I had lived  under the shadow  of death  for so  many years. Then I said  to her:  "I can see that you  are  as beautiful  as a flower, but why did Mosie name you Snowflower?" She said: "I think it was because my hair is as red as a snowflower, ask him later if you want. But now there is something which must be done  before we go any farther, it is time  to get  rid of your  old name and give  you a new one. You are no  longer under a shadow, the KING'S light  radiates from you like a  beacon, and the Shepherd's seal  is upon you for all to see! I will  give you the  name  Starfire, for soon  the KING'S blue fire will come from your hand destroying any enemy who stands against you!"

     When we arrived at her chariot she began to explain that each  of the KING'S warriors had  their own colors and coat-of-arms. She  said: "My colors  are  red and silver  as you can see. My coat-of-arms  is a  bald eagle  standing on a rock with a fish in her left talon.  My shield is white  with a purple border  and a snowflower in the  center. We will have  to design  your new shield  and your coat-of-arms soon so  father can begin  building them  for you and also your  chariot." This was almost too much to take all at once, Golden said  I would receive a new name soon, but he never told me a beautiful woman like Snowflower was going to come and give it to me. And now she was talking about me having a horse and chariot of my own too. I began to wonder if this was  okay with the Shep­herd, so I asked her: "Have you asked the Gentle  Shepherd if it is okay for you to do this? I want a  new name, and a horse and chariot of my own; but I don't want to do anything that would be  against the Shepherd's  wishes!" Snowflower smiled and said: "Starfire, one of the Gentle  Shepherd's  messengers  appeared in my  chariot on the  road  from where  I was staying  and told  me this  is one  of the reasons  I was  being  sent here." I thought I must have misunder­stood what  she said  so I  asked: "A messenger  appeared  in your  chariot? I have  never heard of this happening!" She laughed at me and said: "You have  not  met the  Shepherd's Angels? They are his messengers, the  fallen  warriors  were  also  angels  before they turned  evil and  followed the Lord  Of  Darkness. They are spirit beings and can appear wherever he needs them. If he needs to speak to you and cannot come, he sends  one of his Angels to deliver his message."

     We walked around the outpost  while she  continued to tell me  about these  messengers and other  things I had  never heard of. I  knew so little of what goes on up here in the mountains, and I was  glad to have someone to teach me more about it. When I asked about  the  Shepherd's  messengers  Snowflower  said: "As  you  have been traveling on the KING'S road, have you heard the Shepherd speak to you  even though he was  not near by?" I said: "Yes, several times when I  was in trouble he spoke to me, and told me what to do. And he also spoke to the keepers and sent them to help me when I  hurt my ankle. When I  was  being  attacked  by  dragons  he  told  his warriors  to come to my aid." She said: "Yes, he has done the same for me many  times. It is much  the  same  with his angels, except they show  themselves  to you  so that you  will know it is one of them speaking to  you and not a fallen warrior or demon. Do not be surprised  if one  day the Gentle Shepherd sends an angel to speak to you, or guide you.

     "Starfire, it is time we went to see father and  tell  him to  begin building  your chariot  and  shield, he will help  us design  them for you"Snowflower said. As we  began walking over to Mosie's shop she  said: "I think  your  colors  should be  royal blue  and silver, what do you think? "It was  hard for  me to think  of any- thing  now, but I said: "If you and Mosie think it is right I will accept  them. You and your  father know much more than I do  about these  things, it is all still so new to me and often I don't know what to  think. Snowflower, I think  there  is something  far more important  than chariots  and shields that the Shepherd has  given you and your father to teach me, has he spoken to you about this?" She stopped  walking  and thought  for a moment before saying: "No Starfire,  his messenger only spoke about your chariot and shield. But father  is an old warrior who  has great wisdom, he can answer most of your  questions about the  KING'S army. Ask him about any- thing that is bothering you." Then we walked on into Mosie's shop.

     Snowflower  walked up to Mosie  and said: "Father can we talk to you for a while? "He said: "I always have time for my daughter, what is on your mind? "As we walked into a room at the back of his shop she said: "The Shepherd sent one of his messengers to me when I was traveling here, he told me to give Bezal his new name and to have  you make a  shield and chariot for him. We will also have to design  his coat-of-arms. I have renamed him 'Starfire', and would like to give him royal blue and silver for his colors. But I don't know what to do for his coat-of-arms, can you help us?" Mosie went over to his desk  and took out a  pencil and some  paper and said: "So  your  new  name is  Starfire, I like that  much better, and I think blue  and silver fit you well. There are some horses  in the stable  you can have, and there  should be every­thing we need here to build your  chariot. Like the others it will be painted in your colors and  the KING'S  seal on  its sides, but we will  need your  coat-of-arms for the front."Snowflower spoke up and said: "Father, when I first saw Starfire, I had  a vision of him as  a great war- rior, with the KING'S blue  fire coming from his hand,  destroy­ing any enemy who stood against him. That is why I named him Starfire, and gave him royal blue and silver  for his colors." Mosie thought  for a  moment and  then  began  drawing. We stood  behind  him and watched as he drew a coat-of-arms with  a warrior on  top with his  sword drawn  and  ran through  an anvil, and a shield with a white star in the upper left. Then he said: "What do you  think of this? The shield  is blue with a white star, and the warrior is silver". I said: "I like it Mosie, but I sure don't feel  like a  warrior!" Snowflower  said: "I like it too, and  Starfire, you may not  feel like a  warrior now  but you will". Mosie  said: "I will  begin to work on this  as soon as I can". We thanked  him and  went to find  Asa, Golden and the keeper to find out what was going on.

     While we had been talking, Asa and  the Northern Warriors had  been planing for the battle they  would all be fighting  tomorrow.  Asa said: "I have sent one of  my warriors  down to  bring another  two hundred  warriors  and  thirty-eight  chariots, they are to be here at sunrise tomorrow. The enemy camp we will be attacking sits on top  of a  small mountain, we will  need to  split our warriors into  three  groups, I will  lead one, Golden one  and  my captain Starkberg will take the third. There are two ways into their camp, the one  on the north  is broad and  flat enough for our chariots, but the second is  on the east and is no more than a trail. Golden and I  will  take  the  chariots  up  the  northern route, Captain Starkberg  will  take his  warriors up  the eastern route. Captain Duktig will keep  fifty warriors hidden  in the forest in case any of our enemies try to escape!" The keeper  said: "Who is Duktig? I have never heard of him." Asa said: "He is a new captain the Shep- herd sent to me a few months ago, he is a good warrior, but he has only  recently been  raised to a captain. He  is not ready to lead  his warriors into a battle." As Asa was talking, we walked in  and Mosie came walking silently up behind us like the old warrior that he was and said: "What is the name of this camp you are going to?" Golden said: "It is  called Blodkulle  because of all of the blood that has been shed there! "Then  Golden said: "Mosie, do you think you will have  Star­fire's  armor and  chariot ready  before we re- turn?" Mosie  said: "How long will  that be?" Asa answered: "About seven to  ten days, if they  have not sent  more warriors  than we last  heard of, but no  more than  two weeks at  the  most! "Mosie said: "It will take at least  that long, I have had a lot  of war- riors come through lately needing work  on their chariots." Golden said: "I understand. Well do your best."

     Snowflower  had been looking  at Golden  with a funny look on her face. Now she curtsied  and said: "Sir, how did you know I had given Starfire his new name, and that the Shepherd's messenger had told me to have father make a  chariot for him? "Golden laughed at her and said:  "I had a visit from  one of his messengers too. And Snowflower, you don't need to be so formal, my name is Golden. Asa  and I knew that was one  of the reasons  you were  being sent here  during this battle. The Shepherd wanted you and Starfire to become  friends, I think he  might have  work for  the two  of  you in the future, but he has not told me of it. So have a good time together  while we are gone. And Starfire, do what you can  to help Mosie.It  will be good for you to know how a chariot  is put together, Mosie  will not always  be there  to fix it for you". The keeper stood up  and said: "Friends, it is time  to eat dinner, we will go into the front room  while  my men  prepare the table for us. Asa, will any of your  captains be  eating with us? Asa answered: "No, they will eat with their  warriors. It is  better for them not to appear  to good to eat or sleep with their men.

     While we  were all eating  and then preparing for bed, no one  noticed a small  band of enemies gathering  on a hill top near the  outpost. There were not too many of them, only  about fifteen, and they were not the Dark Lord's warriors, only a band of men who had joined his  army thinking  they would gain  power over others from him. They camped that night with no fires or lights, and  placed a sentry  to watch the KING'S  warriors  who were  camped around the outpost.  They thought all of the warriors would be leaving in the morning for the battle at Blodkulle, they did not know that Mosie, Snow­flower, the keeper with  his men and I, would still  be there. They figured  they would  find the  outpost  empty  except for the  keeper. In the morning  at sunrise the  warriors, Asa had sent for arrived. Asa and the  Northern  Warriors  had arose early and were  out dividing the warriors into the three companies they had spoken of yesterday. The captains with the new warriors rode up and  were told how  to divide  their men. Asa had  forty‑four  chariots  and seventy-five warriors, Golden had  the  Northern Warriors, thirty-eight  chariots  and  seventy-five  warriors,  Starkberg  had  one hundred  and  fifty  warriors and  Duktig had  fifty war­riors; all together  there  was three  hundred warriors and  ninety chariots. Just as the  sun was  beginning  to shine  on the snowy peaks  Asa and Golden came  in and said goodby to us.Then they headed down to the Valley  of Self-Indulgence where they would  turn north up the main valley road and into the White Mountains to the enemy camp.

                 Chapter 8. 'Surprise Attack'.

     As Asa and his warriors were  leaving the keeper  sent two of  his men  up on the  walls to keep watch, he and  Mosie had been in  the KING'S army for too many years not to  expect the enemy to try  something at a time like this. The Lord  Of Darkness always had at  least a few of his scouts watching the KING'S warriors, and he was  right. As the warriors left one of the men left the enemy camp and  found a horse they had  hidden at the  bottom of the hill and went  to warn the warriors  at Blodkulle. The rest  began to  work their  way down to the  outpost. The keeper  had  chosen his  men well, I don't  know what  their names  were but they  had eyes like a hawk or an  eagle. As the enemies began to come  down  the mountain one of them left his place on the wall and began talking  to the keep- er, and then went to speak to the  rest of the keeper's guard. The keeper came to Mosie's shop where we were gathering the  materi­als to build my chariot. The keeper came in and said: "Mosie, it is as I expected. The Dark Lord has sent a few of his warriors to attack  the outpost, thinking I would be left alone. I have a guard of six  warriors and the four of us. I don't  know how  many of them there  are, and Starfire has never fought in a battle yet. We do not have enough of  us to  fight them  outside the  outpost, do you have an idea  how we  can win this  battle?" Mosie stood there, looking at each of  us for a moment and then said: "Yes, I think I do. See if your men can get an idea how many there are, and what kind of war- riors they  are. I will prepare Starfire and Snowflower  while you get your men  ready. Leave the main gate  unlocked as  if you were not expecting anything!" The keeper gave him a nod and left.

     Mosie looked at us and said: "Snowflower go and prepare your- self for  battle," and  she said: "Yes, father,"  and left for her room. Then he looked at me and said: "Starfire, go and put on your armor and return to me." So I ran to my room where I had  my back- pack and  armor under the  foot of my bed. As I pulled them out, I remembered my fight with the dragon on White Mountain Plateau, and how I had failed the  Northern  Warriors  there. I  wondered  if I  would fail Mosie  and the keeper  this time. But there was no time to sit  around  thinking of  past failures. I put on  my armor and sword and grabbed  my shield. As I headed back to  Mosie's shop, I met  Snowflower  coming  out of  her room. Dressed  in  her  armor Snowflower was again the  'Red Warrior' I had  seen ridding in the center of Asa's warriors.  If I had  not known it was  Snowflower, I would  not have  been able  to tell her  from any  of the  other warriors. We walked  together  back  to  Mosie's  shop in silence. Shortly Mosie  joined us  dressed  in his  battle scared armor, it was a deep green and on his shield  was a lion's  head in gold. He saw me  looking  at his  shield and  said: "When I was young I was captain  of a  small  company  of  warriors. They  called  us  the  'Young Lions'. Each of us  had our own  color and a lion's head on our  shield. I think  I am  the  only  one  still  in  the  KING'S service. We will have time enough  for stories  later, now we have a battle to fight. I  have spoken with  the keeper,  his men  have spotted ten to twenty of the enemy. There are only ten of us which  means there  may  be  two  warriors  against  each  of  us. I have placed the keeper's men around the gate where they won't  be seen. The two of you to stay  in here until  we have taken some  of them out and locked the gate behind them. Then come out and do what you can to  help us. Snowflower, watch  Starfire  and help  him if you can. Oh! one  other thing, the keeper's  men said  these are  only men that we will have  to fight, they  must have  thought that the keeper would be left here alone."

     I was glad to have  Snowflower with me and to hear that there  were none of those strange creatures of the  Dark Lord's among the  enemy warriors. But I also wondered what would happen  if I had to  fight two men at the  same time. Snowflower went  into the back of  Mosie's shop  and shortly  returned with two  bows and  quivers of  arrows and  said: "Have you  shot  a bow  before?" I said: "Only a  little, I lived in a  small town in the  valley and we  did little  hunting. At this range I think I can hit my target." So she strung the second bow and handed it to me with  some arrows and we sat by the door and waited.

     Suddenly the gate flew  open and  fourteen  men ran  into the outpost. They ran straight for the  keeper and two of his men with  their swords drawn. But as soon as they  were in the others closed  and locked  the gate  behind them. Mosie and the  guards  attacked  them from behind, the keeper and the two men from the front and we  began shooting arrows at the ones in the center. They were so sur- prised that  we were  able to cut them down to  seven  before they  knew what  was happening. Snowflower  and I  dropped  our bows and  came out with our swords to help  the others, but they had already  taken out four  more and the  last three  surrendered. When it was  over the keeper's men took the three  prisoners to a small room in  the stable  which  was built  like  a jail  to hold  prisoners the KING'S warriors would transport  occasionally. It was large enough  to hold them until the warriors returned, and the Shepherd himself  was going to be with them.

     Mosie  came  over  and  said: "Starfire, Snowflower. You  did good,  it would have been a hard fight without  your help. You are more  of  a  warrior  than   you  thought   Starfire,  it  appears  Snowflower  was  right. I  think  you  will soon  become a warrior worthy of your  own  chariot  and  coat-of-arms, and Starfire is a good name for you. Your  arrows were flying  like lightning. Snow- flower, well done my daughter. I am glad  we are on the same side, I would not  want to  face you  in a  battle." We then  joined the keeper and his men in the living  quarters. When we were  all sit- ting with a  cool drink  the keeper  said: "Thank-you  Snowflower, and you  too Starfire. Both of  you did  well today. Maybe  now we can have some peace and you will be able  to help Mosie build that chariot. Mosie told me  your colors are blue and silver, and there will be a white star  on your  shield. I would  like to  suggest a seven‑point star, seven is  one of our  KING'S numbers. He uses it to show completeness." I answered: "Thank‑you  keeper, that sounds good to me. If seven is one of my KING'S numbers I will be glad to have it on my shield. If it  would not be  too much to ask, I need your help. This was the second battle that  I have been in. When I first started on my journey  the keepers at  the gate gave me this armor  and sword, but no  one has taught  me to  use my  sword  in battle. Will you teach me how to  fight like a warrior, and how to use my sword  and shield?" They all  laughed at me  and the keeper said: "Is that  all you want? Come see  me each  evening  when you are through helping Mosie  and I will teach you  as much as  I can while you  are staying  here. But you  are also  going to  have to  find time  to learn  to ride  your  chariot  and get  to know your horses. Snowflower will  teach  you this." I thanked him  and each evening  after that  he gave  me  lessons  in using  my  sword and shield. When he had finished talking, one of  his men  came in and asked  him what  they  were  to  do  with the  men they  had taken prisoner. The keeper said: "Take  good  care  of them, they may be prisoners but they are not to be mistreated. We will hold them and let the Shepherd  decide what he wants to  do with them. The Shep- herd will be  coming here with Asa and the Northern  Warriors when the  battle  is  over." Then  the  guard  turned  to me  and said: "Starfire, you  should find  some time, to come  to our stable and get to know your horses." I said: "Thank-you sir, I will do that."

     Since it  was already  early evening  Mosie  decided  that we would not start on my  chariot until  tomorrow and  suggested that I go and meet my  horses. So I  left them  and slowly  walked over to  the stable. As I was about to enter, Snowflower  walked up be- hind  me and  we  went in  and found  the guard  in charge  of the stable. I said to him: "Sir, would you show me the horses that the keeper has given  to me?" He said: "Come with me son," and brought us to two  dark brown  horses and  said: "Starfire, these are your horses. Their names are  Stjarnfall and Sorglos." Stjarnfall had a white star on his forehead and a  black mane and tail, Sorglos was dark brown  without any  other colors  on him  at all. I asked the guard: "What do their name's  mean? They  seem to be in some other language," he said: "Yes they are, Sorglos means  Lighthearted and Stjarnfall  means  Falling  Star!  They  are in  the language  the  Northern  Warriors speak  in their  homeland." We stayed with them for  a while and went  back outside  just as it was  getting dark. The stars were shining  bright and  there was  not a cloud  in the sky. Winter was  coming on, but the nights were still pleasant. It was  dinner time so we  went back to  the barracks  and joined the others for dinner.

     The next  five days were quiet and uneventful. Each morning I  went to  Mosie's shop and  worked on my  chariot and shield, early  afternoons were spent  with my horses, and each evening  I went to  the keeper for lessons in sword  fighting. Sometimes  at night be- fore  going to bed I  would take out the Shepherd's book  that the Gate keeper  gave to me at the  beginning  of my journey and  read for  a while. There was still so much to learn, and so little time now to  read his words. On the  sixth day we  finished building my chariot. It was ready now to be painted. Mosie mixed up some royal blue  paint and we painted the chariot and shield. Then Mosie told me to  take a couple days off while he painted the KING'S seal and my coat-of-arms on the  chariot, and painted  my shield. Before he  painted  them, Mosie showed me a  drawing of what my  coat-of-arms  and shield  would  look  like. The  shield  was royal blue  with a silver  seven‑point  star in the upper  left and a silver  warrior on the right  with  his  sword  drawn so  that its tip touches the star. The coat-of-arms was a silver warrior, with his sword thrust through  an  anvil. I was so happy that I just said: "I don't know  what to say Mosie, this is beautiful. May I keep this drawing?" He laughed  at  me  and  said: "I will give  it to  you after  I have finished painting  them on  your chariot and shield. Now run along and let me get busy painting them." So I left him and went to find Snowflower and told  her what Mosie had done, she said: "Father is a very good artist."

     With nothing much to do, I spent the next two days with Snow- flower. We talked a lot and walked around  the outpost. The keeper  had been sending his  guards out  patrolling  the area  around the  outpost each day, since  they had not  found any enemy warriors we  were allowed to take short  rides  on our horses near the outpost.  This was the first  time I had  been outside  of the walls since I  came here. The mountains were covered with fir and pine trees, and  there were many  small streams  and  springs around. I really felt like one of the KING'S warriors as I rode around on my own horse.

 

               Chapter 9. 'The Warriors Return'.

 

     It was now  the  eighth  day  since  the  warriors  left  for Blodkulle and we were watching each day for their return. But once again evening  came and they  had not  come back. Asa had  said it might take up to ten days, but with so many of the KING'S warriors  I thought they  would have already come back. I knew the  Shepherd  would be with them  when they came, and I was  really looking for- ward  to seeing  him again. On the  morning  of the  ninth day, my chariot was  ready and the keeper allowed  Snowflower, Mosie and I along with two  of his  guards  to ride  back down  the road a few miles. Riding down  the road that  day with  Sorglos  and  Stjarn- fall  pulling  my new  chariot  is  something  that  I will  never forget, it was the first time that I had been allowed to ride in a chariot by myself.

     When we had ridden about  three  miles down  the road  toward  White  Mountain  Plateau, we stopped at  a small stream to let our  horses have  a drink and  enjoy the view. From this  spot we could  see many miles down the road. We ate a  small  breakfast there and  then returned to  the  outpost. Around lunch five  fallen warriors  came  ridding by on  their birds, at first we  thought the outpost was going  to be attacked  again, but the Dark Lord had some other mission  for them  and they  flew on by. The  keeper  gathered his guard,  Mosie, Snowflower and I in the front room of the bar­racks. When we  were all  seated  he began: "Those evil  warriors  we saw today were  in a great hurry to get wherever it is they were being sent. I cannot remember  seeing five of  them flying  together be- fore. They came out  of the  northwest so I  think they  must have  been at Blodkulle.If this is true then the Shepherd  and his  war- riors must  have finished  cleaning  out the enemy  camp there and will be returning soon. We should not be riding around outside the outpost until they  have had a chance  to patrol the  KING'S roads and remove the small  bands that are roaming  around, like the one that  attacked  us  last  week. Until they  return, my guards  are keeping  watch day and night, they  are  good  men, no enemy  will  come unseen."

     Shortly after  the  keeper  finished  talking, the  guards on  watch blew  their horns long  and loud, and from far down the road  we heard another  horn  blown in answer. One of the guards came in  and said: "The warriors have  returned, and the Shepherd is riding  in front of them!" The gates were  opened and we all  gathered in front of the barracks to meet them as they rode in.

     As I had seen when  Asa and  his  warriors came, the captains  circled  their men  around  the outpost, but the Shepherd, Asa and the Northern Warriors came riding on into  the outpost and stopped in  front  of us. The keeper's  guards  took  their  horses to the stable and the rest of us  bowed before the Shepherd. The Shepherd said: "Arise  my  friends, come  inside  and  talk  with  me for a while". When we were all seated around the Shepherd and the keeper had  brought in  cool  drinks  for  everyone the  Shepherd  began: "Father's  warriors  have  been  victorious again. But the Lord of Darkness is beginning to gather many of his most evil creatures in one of the northlands east of the Northern Warriors homeland. I am going to send them back to their home to fight our enemy there for a  while. I am not going to  send you with them  Starfire, instead you  will be traveling  on to a  fort called  'Blue Lake '. I will send a  few of Asa's warriors with you because there are no houses or outposts  between  here and  Blue Lake. Asa, I need you to take your men and go east to the high deserts. There have been a lot of problems  with small bands of enemy  warriors near the 'Great  Dry  Lakes'.  Mosie, I would  like you to  stay  here and  continue the good work you have been doing. You are a good servant Moses, there are great rewards waiting  for  you, when you  return to  Father's palace!  Snowflower, you have been doing a good job with Starfire; Will you  go on  with him  to Blue  Lake, or stay  here with  your father a while?"Snowflower said: "Shepherd, I will do whatever you want me to do. I have had a good visit with father, but you are my Lord, I will  obey  your  command. If you want me to go with Star­fire, I will go!" The Shepherd said: "I knew you would Snow­flower, but I wanted  you to  choose to  go  with him." It was dinner time  when the Shepherd  finished talking to us. As we sat  down to eat, I asked the Shepherd if these things we saw fly over us had a name and where they were  going in such a hurry. He said: "They are the Dark Lord's  top servants, he calls  them 'Djavulsk  Stratrovare'. They are  fallen angels  and do not  deserve  a name. If you  must  speak  of them, call  them  the dark ones  or evil ones. They were going back to the Dark Lord  whose realm  is far  from here in the  southeast, several  months  journey on horse back." After dinner I went to my room and began to pack my things for tomorrow's journey to Blue Lake.

 

     Asa chose  ten  of  his  warriors  to go with us to Fort Blue Lake. The rest of his men began to  prepare for the journey to the  'Great Dry Lakes'. We were to  leave in the  morning and  would be traveling together on  the first day. Then Asa  and his  men would continue east and we would  turn north. The three  warriors we had taken  prisoner  were to travel  with us to  Blue Lake  where they would be  tried for  their crimes against the  KING  and  then put in prison  until they had  paid for their evil deeds. The Shepherd said  that he  would be  going down  to the  western valleys where  there were some more  people that  had been  searching for the way out of the darkness just as each of us had at one time.

     In the morning  when I came down  with my pack, the  Shepherd  stopped me and said: "Starfire, I have a gift for you from Father.  Come see me after breakfast!" So after eating I found the Shepherd  beside his chariot, which was  the most  beautiful  chariot I have  ever seen. It was white, but it  reflected  light  like a pearl or  precious opal, and his shield was  the  same with the  KING'S seal  inlaid  in pure gold. As I  walked up  to him, he was talking with Asa  and a few of his captains. He stopped talking as I approached and  took  a package  out  of  his  chariot, which he handed to me saying:  "When we met  you became  a child of my Father, the KING. Today you  have  become  a warrior of  the KING, and your name has been changed  from  Bezal to  Starfire and  Moses has  built  your  chariot and shield. My keeper has given  to you two of my Father's horses. And  now  I give  you this  package  which  I have brought from my Father  for you, it  is your new  armor and sword. I bowed and said: "My Lord," as I took it from him. He then said: "Open it son, and put your  armor  on." When I had done this, He said: "Now give me your sword."  I held  it out  to him, and as he took it he said: "Son, kneel  before me!"  When I had  knelt  before  him, he took my new sword and placed its  tip on my head and said: "I name you  Starfire, Warrior  of  the  KING. Arise  my son, and put your sword away. Now my son, go if you wish and say goodby to Moses and the  Northern Warriors, you must be on your  way soon."  So I left and went  and found  them all  gathered  in the front room  of the barracks.

     The keeper had set out plenty of food and drink  for everyone  and we had  a big  feast  on our  last night  together. I tried to spend  some time with  each of them  during the night, but all too soon it  grew late and we  had  to go to bed. As I lay in bed that  night, I  began to think back  on my  journey  with  the  Northern Warriors. It  had been a long  journey and there had been some bad times, like  when the evil  one and  his bird  took me  up on that ledge. But I also  learned more  about them and their homeland. It is far to the north,  where the sun  never sets  in the summer and the  mountain tops  are  always  white  with snow. And Golden said  that many of  their folk  have traveled the seas for many  genera­tions and were known  to be  the most ferocious warriors on earth. Until they found  the Shepherd  they were the meanest and cruelest people ever  known, feared  by all  people  on earth. Now, most of them  have become  children of the King  and have  become a strong people and under his guidance have put a  stop to much of the Dark Lord's evil in the northlands. When I was  talking  with Mosie and Snowflower, I found  that they  were also from  the Valley  of the  Shadow  Of Death, about four day journey from where I lived. Their city was  at the far northern end of the valley, on the west  side of the  Highway  of Eternal Death, it was called  Westside  and is the largest city  north  of the river  of Living Water. When I was talking with Asa he  said that  he was from  a city  north  of the Great Dry Lakes, it was founded by his  great grandfather  and lay in a small fertile valley. Eventually I fell asleep.

 

 

         Chapter 10. 'The Journey To Fort Blue Lake'.

 

 

     In the morning, just as it was  beginning to  get  light, the  Shepherd came in and awoke me saying: "Son, it  is time to get up. You  have a long  day ahead of  you today. I will be leaving  with the  Northern  Warriors  soon. So I will  have to say goodby for a while  again. Winter will be  coming soon, and  Blue Lake  will be a good place  for you  to stay. I will  come  and  see  you in the spring. Now  get ready son, I will see you outside.

     When I came down, I found Asa and his warriors all ready with  their camp broken and chariots all ready for travel. The  Northern  Warriors  also had  their  chariots  outside the  outpost with the Shepherd's at the head. As I brought my chariot out, I found Snow- flower and the ten warriors at the rear, the three prisoners  were  in a wagon  with the  driver's horse  tied behind. As  I pulled in beside  Snowflower, a warrior  beside Asa blew  his horn  and  the journey began. We were traveling with forty‑six chariots and three  hundred warriors on  horses, except the one driving the wagon with  the prisoners. As we were  leaving, I heard the  Shepherd take out his horn and give  such  a majestic  blow that it  was hard not to turn around and follow him.

     It was not quite a  day's journey  to the road  where Asa and  his men  would leave  us and  ride  over  the  crest of  the White Mountains. So we  began  an easy  ride  up the  KING'S  road wound  around the foot of a mountain called Red Rock, because of the out-  cropings of red granite near its peak. The road ran constantly up-  ward, but it was wide  and gentle, which was  good for  me since I  had so little experience with  my chariot. We reached  the fork of  the KING'S road and the eastern one Asa would take just before the  sun dropped behind  Red Rock. This fork had  a wide area which had been used for camping many times  before. Asa's men  began forming  the chariots into a circle and then brought their horses inside of  it. After this Asa sent some of  us to collect  fire wood, because  we had  now climbed  up until  we were  just below  the  snowline. Before dark  we had the  fires built  around the  circle and Asa's  cook and  his  helpers had  prepared dinner for  everyone, and the  prisoners had been brought from the wagon and placed in the center  by a large fire with  several guards. After eating  we walked back  to our chariots where Snowflower, the  ten warriors traveling with us and myself talked for a while before going to sleep.

 

     In the morning as Asa's men began to  break camp and his cook  prepared a small breakfast  for us, Asa came over  and asked us to  come and eat  with him. When we  arrived at Asa's chariot his cook  brought over our breakfast and the  four of us began to eat. As we  were finishing  Asa said: "My friends, today we  must part ways. I am glad to have met you Starfire, you have already come a long way since I first saw you.  But this is  the life  of the  KING'S war­riors, and we  will  meet  again someday.  For now  you will still have Snowflower with you, and she has much to teach you. Blue Lake is a beautiful place to spend  the winter, I think the two  of you will  enjoy  yourselves  there. It is a  big place  with  a lot of people,  but sometimes the snow can  get deep and cut off the fort  from the rest  of the  KING'S  forts  and houses. Snow­flower, take care of  yourself, and watch  over Starfire  for me. I still think  the Shepherd has plans  for the two  of you, and it might  be good for  you to  learn to work  together. It is time  to  leave now my friends,  so must I say good-bye and may the  Shepherd's  love and peace be with you always".

      We then went back to the  warriors that were  traveling with us. They had all of our chariots and the wagon  with the prisoners  ready for us when we returned.  They had placed Snowflower and my- self up near the front with  only two warriors  in front of us. As  soon as we were ready, our little  group started down  the road to  Fort Blue Lake. It would be down hill all the way to the fort now,  because our camp near the  Eastern Road sat at  the foot  of three  mountains where the road travels  up a canyon  and over the crest.  We would continue to travel around  the foot of Red  Rock and then  follow the western fork  of  Blue  River  to the fort. The day was clear but much cooler than when I first began  my journey, and the  aspens and  willows were  all turning  yellow, winter could not be far away now. As midday drew near, one of the warriors in front of us began to search for  a place to stop  for lunch. Before long he  found a small spring near the road where we could water our horses  and get a  bite to eat. When we  stopped, the warrior  driving the  wagon helped his prisoners over to the spring so  they could get a  drink and sit for a while in the shade. After a while  when every-  one had eaten and  the horses had  drunk all they  wanted we began our journey again. It wouldn't be  long now  before we crossed the  Blue River and began our last leg of the  journey. So we  traveled  on until late afternoon when we first saw Blue River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 Chapter 11. 'Fort Blue Lake'.

 

     As we approached the river I could see that it had  been made  out of the same red granite that I saw on Red Rock. It looked very  old and  worn from all of the horses and chariots that had crossed it through the years. Down to our right I  could see the beginning  of Blue Lake, it look like  a very large lake. Then  the road left the river and began to travel up the  side of another mountain and  then leveled off  for a while. It was on  this level  area that we  saw Fort Blue Lake, it was so big that at first I thought it was a castle. It was  several stories tall and made out of the same rock as the bridge, and had a entrance wide enough for a  chariot and a  large iron gate. As the first two  warriors turned on to  the lane  leading to the fort, one of them pulled out his  horn and gave one  long blow. While he was  blowing, another  warrior inside the fort gave a  blow on his horn and the gate began to rise. When the gate was up we began to pass through, and as we came out the other side  I saw that  there was  a large  courtyard  in the  center, I still  think that this fort should have been called  a castle, it was too big and strong to be a fort.

     When we had all gathered in  the courtyard some  men came and  took our horses and chariots  to their  stable, and  a couple war-  riors came and  took the prisoners  away to their jail. There  was one other man who reminded me  of Asa, so I thought he must be the  Commander of Fort  Blue Lake. The warrior  traveling  with  us who had  the  horn walked  up to him  and said: "Commander  Stenkross, I am  Captain Balder. I have  delivered three enemy  warriors that were  captured at the Outpost to your guards. This is Starfire and Snowflower  whom  Commander Asa  asked  us to escort  to Fort Blue Lake. We  are on our way east to  the High Deserts  where Asa  and the rest of  his warriors are  traveling now. With your permission we  will stay  the night and leave tomorrow  morning  at the first light". Commander Stenkross said: "Captain, take your  men  to the  south wing, you will find food and rooms there. Asa's warriors are  always welcome  here!" Then he  turned to  Snow­flower  and me, and  said: "Good evening Snowflower, I am glad to see you again. It has  been a while  since  you  passed  through  here. Starfire, I don't  think I have ever met you before, but all of the  KING'S  warriors  are welcome here at Fort Blue Lake. The two of you can find a room  in the  south wing with  Captain  Balder. Come see  me  later this evening, I would  like  to talk  with  you  for  a while." He then turned and walked  off in the  direction the  guards had taken the  prisoners. Snowflower and I began walking across the courtyard and joined Captain Balder and his men in the south wing.

     As we entered I found that it was  much more comfortable than  it appeared from the outside, it had beautiful carpets  and tapes- tries showing many of the things that I had read  about the Gentle Shepherd in his book, which I always kept with  me in my backpack.  There was also a large fireplace which was made out  of pure white  marble, with  gold and silver  inlaid on  each side and  along the top. There was a man waiting for us beside the fireplace wearing a  uniform that I had not seen  before, it was black and  purple with  gold buttons which  had  the KING'S  seal on  them. Captain Balder said to him: "Good evening Sergeant, I am Captain Balder and these  are my men, your commander sent us over to you for a  night's lod- ging. These two warriors are Starfire and Snowflower, they will be  spending the winter with you." The sergeant  said: " Good evening, my  name is Starklad, you can forget the Sergeant here. We are all friends and there is no need for  rank! You  will find  plenty  of empty  rooms  on the  second  floor, go on up and pick any one you like. We will eat supper soon, come and join us if you like." Then  Snowflower who was standing behind  me said: "Well Starfire, shall  we go and find  ourselves  a room?" I answered: "Yes, I would like  to get settled in before it is time to eat, and the commander ask-  ed us to  come see  him this  evening. I think we  should go right  after supper."

     So we went up to the second floor and found a wide hall which ran the length  of the south wing. There were rooms on  both sides  and a large window at  each end. I walked  down to the east end of  the hall and looked out  through the window  which had a good view  of Blue Lake. It was beginning  to get dark, but there  was a full  moon rising which gave  plenty of light. The lake was so calm this evening that  it was like a  huge mirror, and  I could  have stood there looking at it for a long time. But there was much to be done  so I began to look for a room. The corner room was open and when I  went in I found it empty, and that it also had both a south and an  east window which had a good view of  the lake, so I laid my back-  pack near  the bed and  went into  the bathroom to wash  up before  supper. Snowflower had followed me down to the window and took the  bedroom across the hall from me.

     A little later there was a knock on my door, when I opened it  there was  one of  Starklad's  men standing there. He said: "Star­fire, supper is ready. If you  will  follow  me I will show you to the dinning  room." As I was  closing my  door he  walked  over to  Snowflower's door and knocked on it, when she answered he said the  same to her. Then the three of us walked downstairs to  the great-  room and then turned to the east where we found a dinning room and  kitchen. The warriors who came with us were already  there when we  arrived, and  there  were  others  who  appeared to be some of the sergeant's men, but there was a small table  set aside where there  was a group of large  men who had long  blond hair  blue eyes, and  dark green and brown clothes. When we were seated I asked  Captain Balder: "Who are those men over there?" He said: "They are some of  the KING'S best warriors, from a land far north of here.  Have you  heard of the Warriors of the North?" I said:  "Yes captain, I rode  with them for a while, just before we came here the  Shepherd sent  them north to their homeland for a while." Balder looked surprised  and said: "You rode with them? That is a  great  honor. Well these men  come from the same land as they do, you should find some time to  speak with them  before  they  leave." Then no  one spoke much while  we ate.

     When we had finished eating, Snowflower  came over  and said:  "I am going to the kitchen and talk  with the ladies for a moment,  wait for me and we will  go see  the Commander." This surprised me  because I had not seen any women on my journey except  Snowflower.   As Snowflower left for the kitchen, Balder said to me: "Come with  me and  I will  introduce  you to  those warriors."  We got up and walked over to their table and Balder  said: "Good evening Gentle-  men, I am Captain  Balder and this  is Starfire." The one  who sat  closest to us looked up and said: "And a good evening to you Capt-  ain Balder, what  can we  do for you?" Balder  said: "Starfire has  been riding with the Northern  Warriors lately, and I thought that  he might enjoy talking with you." He said: "Thank-you  captain, we  would enjoy talking with him. Have a seat Starfire." As I sat down  he said: "So Balder says you have  been riding  with our brothers,  do you know  where  they are now?" I answered: "Yes sir, the Shep-  herd sent them north to their homeland. They went down the  KING'S  road and then were  going to take the  highway north. The Shepherd  was going to travel with them as far as the valley  of 'The Shadow  Of Death'. The Shepherd also sent  Commander Asa  and his men east  to the Great Dry Lakes, Captain Balder is to meet them there. Sir,  I must leave soon with Snowflower,the  commander asked  us to come see him this evening. Will you tell me who you are, and what  your  warriors  are called?" Another warrior sitting  on the far side of the table said: "Son, we are called 'Vikings', we live near Golden  and his  folk. I am  Sigurd, and  these  are  Rolf, Biarki, Kraki, Gylfi and Frey. Our home is called Midgard." 

     As Sigurd stopped speaking  Snowflower walked up and he said:  "You must be Snowflower! Are you Moses the blacksmith's daughter?"  She curtsied and  said: "Yes sir, Moses is my  father, how did you  know?" Sigurd said: "This is not our  first journey  to this area,  I have spoken  with Moses a few  times when we  stayed at the Out- post. I remember him speaking of a daughter with hair like a snow- flower, so when you  said your  name was Snowflower  I figured you  must be his daughter. You are very beautiful just as he said!" She  said: "Thank-you sir, I don't want to  interrupt you, but the Com-  mander asked us to see him  this evening. With your  leave I think  we should go now." Rolf said: "Daughter, you may come  and go any- time you desire. We are  not your  Masters, we are  your friends."  So I stood up and said: "Then as our  sister  has said, I think we  should be  on our way  to see the Commander. Thank-you for talking with me, and if you  will be here, I would like to speak  with you  some more tomorrow."

     We left the Vikings and walked into  the greatroom  where one  of the Sergeant's men  had built  a fire, stopping  there  I asked  Snowflower: "Did you  find the  ladies you were looking for in the kitchen?" She said: "Yes, most of them are the same ones that were  here when I  passed through last  time, I wonder  what it would be like to stay in one place for a long time. It seems  ever since we  left Westside I have never had a place I could call home." Then we  began walking again. As we left the  south wing the  moon was high  in the sky, it gave so much light that we did  not need a lantern.     It didn't take long to cross the courtyard and find  the Com- mander's office which was in the western corner of the north wing.  There was a light on so we knocked on his door, a moment  later he  opened it and invited us in. As he opened the door Commander Sten-  kross said: "Come in my children and have a seat." We followed him into his office and sat down in two chairs which were covered with leather and had silver inlaid on its hardwood  arms and legs. Like the greatroom  in the south wing, his  office had beautiful tapes­tries on  the walls  and a  royal blue carpet. Stenkross was still  wearing his  uniform, which was  sky blue  with gold  trim, walked around behind his solid  oak desk and  sat in a  chair that looked fit for a king. Turning to us he said: "Welcome to Fort Blue Lake! I understand the Shepherd sent you here to spend the winter. It is usually  quite peaceful  here once  the snow  begins to  fall, and there have  been times when it gets too deep for  anyone to travel except  on snowshoes  or skis, but  even  then  we still  send out scouts and you can go with them if you want. As long as the weath- er is good  you can take your horses out for a ride. But never  go out alone. The enemy is always looking for warriors who are alone,  and will take them prisoner whenever possible!"    

     While he  was  talking  a woman  came out of his house, which was behind  the office, and stood behind him. Stenkross turned and said: "This is my wife Gelfiun." Stenkross reached out and rang  a bell  which  sat on  his desk, a household  servant  appeared  and Stenkross said  to him: "Bring  Gelfiun's chair!" We  waited while the servant disappeared and with the help of another servant quic- kly returned with her chair and placed  it on his  right  and then disappeared again. As she sat down  she said: "Good  evening Snow­flower." And she said: "Hello Gelfiun, it  has  been a  while, too long I think." Gelfiun was  a tall  woman  with  long  black hair, dark tanned  skin and  brown eyes. She was  wearing a long  powder blue and  brown dress, which made her look very beautiful in  this room with all of its tapestries and royal blue carpet. As they sat before us  it made  me feel like  I was very small, on  the way to Blue Lake I  was  feeling  like I had  finally  become one of  the KING'S warriors,  but now as I  sat before  the  Commander and his wife I understood how small I really was. This was a man and woman with real authority, who were used to being obeyed.

     Commander  Stenkross began  speaking  again: "Snowflower, you have stayed here with us before, I am sure you will enjoy yourself  and get along fine. But this is  Starfire's  first stay in a large  fort, and I would appreciate  it if you  would spend  as much time with him as you can. There is so much for a  new warrior to learn,  and you have been with the KING'S warriors for  most of your life.  I remember Moses' first journey  into the  high country, I was not much older than you are now. Starfire, listen to your  sister, she  is a wise young woman. We will be  sending  some scouts  out again  soon,you may go  with them if you wish. They will  be going around  Blue Lake  and exploring  some of the trails that lead up into the mountains. They will only be out one  or two  days." I said: "Yes,  I would  like that, I have not  ridden one  of my  horses since we were at the  outpost. I think  I will  take  Sorglos, he's  a good  horse for  riding. But I  don't have  a saddle, could  you lend me one?" Stenkross said: "There are plenty of saddles  in the stable,  you can use one any time  you want." We talked  for a while longer and then it was time to go back to our rooms. As we walked  back I  asked Snowflower how long it had been since she had been here. She  said: "It has been about five years now, father  was still  a war-  rior then and he left me here for the winter. It was a hard winter  and the  Young Lions were  going to be on  patrol until  late that  spring. He came  back for me  just  before they returned to  their  fort, which was near the eastern foot  of the White  Mountains. It  was the next year that  I became a  warrior, but I look forward to  the day when I stop being a  warrior and become a  wife and mother  instead."When we reached our rooms,we said good night and went in.

     The next morning  just before breakfast,  Captain Balder came  and knocked on my door. When I answered  it he said: "Starfire, we  are leaving now, but I wanted to say goodby to you first. Maybe we  will meet again someday." I said: "Captain, I am glad to have been  able to ride with you. Say hello to Asa for me when  you see him."  As Balder was leaving he said:  "I will do that, goodby Starfire."

     After  Balder  had  left  I got  ready  and  went down to the dinning room and ate breakfast. Then I went to a little park which  was in the middle of the courtyard and sat on one of  the benches.  It was a beautiful morning, but there was a lot of clouds building  up and it  looked like it would soon  be raining. As I sat there I  began to wonder what I could do to stay busy for the winter. While  I was sitting and  thinking, I heard a familiar  sound, it was the  sound of a blacksmith  at work. I stood up and began  walking over  to the north  wing  where I could  hear  him  working. There was a  large door with chariot  tracks coming out  of it. As I entered, I  found that  this was  where  they  kept all  of the  chariots. The  blacksmith was over on the west side next to the Commanders house,  and I found that the armor was kept against the same wall also.

     I walked up to the blacksmith and said: "Good morning Sir, my  name is Starfire." Without  taking time to  look up he said: "Good  morning son, I am  Svartsmed. Do you  need something?" I said: "No  Sir, I have nothing to do, and when I heard you in here working it  reminded me of Moses the blacksmith at the Outpost. So I thought I  would come and see  you." He then stopped working for a moment and  said: "Well I am glad to meet you Starfire, there is always plenty  of work here if you want to help. But I like having someone around  just to talk to, so don't feel like you have to work  when you are  here." I don't  like to stand around while someone else is working hard, so I did what I could to help him.

     Then it was time for lunch so we went to the dinning room and  ate. After lunch I went and found the Commander and asked him if I  could go out of the fort for a while, but he  said I would have to  find at least one  warrior to go with  me, so I began  looking for  someone who had nothing to do and wanted  to go out. I found Snow-  flower and  some of her  friends in the  stable saddling  up their horses and she  said: "Hello Starfire, I was just  about to go and  find you. We are  going down to  Blue Lake  for a while, would you like to come with us?" I just looked at  her for a moment and then  said: "Have you  been talking to  the Commander?" She said: "No, I  haven't seen  him today. Why?" I said: "Well I asked  him a little while ago if I  could go outside and  he said that I would have to find some other warriors to  go out with me. And now  here you are asking  if I  want to  go out  with  you. I'll go  get  one  of my  horses."

     As we walked our horses out of the stable I asked Snowflower:  "Who are your friends?" She said: "They are a few  of the ladies I  knew when I  stayed here five  years ago. The others  are warriors  stationed  here, the  Commander does not like  ladies going out by themselves so we always take a few warriors with us. Are you ready  to ride?" I said: "I think so." She went and spoke to the warriors  and when they returned the warriors put  their horses in  front of  us and  led  the way. As we came  to the gates, the  guards raised them for us and dropped them again as soon as we passed through. I  said to  one of them: "Why are  the gates kept  closed  all of the time, I haven't seen any enemy warriors around here?" He said: "It  is because even though you may not have seen them, they are around  here most of the time. That is why we go on so many scouting trips  around Blue Lake, Red Rock and up to the pass on the Eastern Road.  They don't travel the main  roads much, but they have  many trails in  the back country where they  can travel  without  being  seen. The  Eastern Road is the best  route over the White  Mountains for quite a few miles in either direction, so both the KING'S warriors and  the enemy  warriors travel over it a lot except when the snow is too deep."

     We turned south towards Red Rock, and rode along passing over  Blue River and then turned north-east until  we reached Blue Lake.  The clouds had become dark gray  and a wind was beginning to blow,  and the lake was getting ruff with white caps on  the small waves.  It was much bigger than I thought, it was about fifteen miles long  and  two or  three wide. Snowflower  came up  behind me  and said:  "What do you think of Blue Lake  now?" I said: "It is very beauti­ful and much bigger  than I thought when we  came the other day, I  would  like to  come back  sometime when  it is clear. This is the first time I have seen a lake this big, there aren't many lakes in  the valley. Someday if the Shepherd is willing I would like to see the Ruby Sea." Snowflower said: "Who knows  what is in the future,  but now we will have to leave soon, the rain is just  about here."  We began  to ride down  the shore of the  lake until we found Blue River and followed  it upstream  until we came to  the red granite  bridge on the KING'S road. Turning north we rode back to the fort.

     As we turned into  the little  lane leading  to the fort, the  guards at the gate  were watching for us and opened  the gates. We rode to the stable, took off  our saddles and  put our horses back  in their stalls. When we left the stable the warriors went back to their work, but most of us went to the little park, and sat on the benches. There was  a few  rain  drops  beginning  to fall  and it wouldn't be long before the storm was upon us. But after  our ride  this light rain felt good. Snowflower was  talking with two of her  friends, so I went over and joined them, sitting on  the ground in  front  of the bench. Snowflower said: "Starfire this is  Skadi and  Girda, we spent a lot of time  together during my last stay here."  She looked over at Skadi and said: "Starfire, you are looking at a spring bride. Skadi is  going to  marry  Commander  Stenkross  and Gelfiun's son this  spring, his name is Knute." I said: "I am glad for you  Skadi, and what about  you Girda, have  you found a young  man?" She said: "No, I have not been looking  for a husband. There  is plenty of time for that, and there  is too much that  I want to see and do before I get married."

     It began to rain hard so we  moved into the  greatroom in the south wing. One of  Starklad's men was building a fire and another was lighting the chandeliers  which gave the room a  warm and com-  fortable  feeling, even though it had become  cold and stormy out- side. Girda went to the  kitchen and spoke with  one of the cooks,  who brought  out a pot of tea  and cups for us. Once we were alone again Skadi asked: "Starfire, where are you from,  and why are you  still alone? By now you  should have found  a wife yourself!" So I  said: "I am from a small village near the  River of Life. I was so  unhappy there and because the folk who lived in my village did not want anything to do with me, I did not even consider  marrying one  of those "Valley Women". Since I left, I have  never stayed in one place very long. Snowflower is the first woman I saw after leaving  the valley, and she is the first woman who has treated me with any  kindness. Mosie did a  good job raising  his daughter, she is both  a very  good warrior, and a  beautiful woman." Snowflower began to turn  as red as her hair and said:  "Thank-you Starfire, I haven't heard many men  talk about  me like that  except  my father. But I think you see me as  much more than  I am, you are also becoming a  good warrior yourself."

     Then one of the other ladies I didn't know spoke saying: "You  are a very handsome man Starfire, I wouldn't  mind having  you my-  self. But I think you and Snowflower make a good couple, why don't  you stay  until spring and get married with Knute and Skadi?"  Now it was my turn to  turn red.  I answered  her  saying: "I think  I agree with  Girda, I have only been  out of  the valley  for a few months, there is much I would like to see and do. The Shepherd has  been guiding me along and the last he has told me was that I would be staying here for the winter. I have no idea what he has  planed  for me next. If the Shepherd told me that he wanted me to spend my life with Snowflower, I would be very happy. But I cannot  be try- ing to  take control  of my life, the Shepherd is the only one who knows  what is best for me. He is the one who rescued me from  the miserable  darkness of  the valley." Then she said: "I don't think anyone  has told you  my name yet, I am  Sevea. I don't  think the Shepherd  will keep  you  wandering  for  long, a  handsome  young warrior like yourself, needs a wife to come home to."

     As we were  sitting and  talking  a group of warriors came in and sat at  another table near us. One of  them was Knute, when he  saw Skadi he came over to our table and said: "Hello Skadi, do you  mind if I join you?" She said: "Of course I don't mind Knute, come  and sit with me." He pulled up a chair and sat  next to Skadi, and  then said: "What is a  warrior doing sitting among  so many pretty  ladies?" Sevea smiled and said: "Oh Knute, your just jealous! This  is Starfire, he came the other day with  Captain  Balder and Snow- flower. It is your job to protect us, he is  just a visitor. Where  would you rather be, with the Ladies? Or those smelly  horses?" He  laughed and said: "I guess you are right, why stand in the rain if  you can sit here in comfort with the women?"  Then Girda said: "So  Knute, what did the commander have your men doing today?" He said:  We have been  bringing  supplies  up to  the storage  rooms on the fourth  floor. There  should be  more coming  in any day  from the Highland  Farms up  north, if they  don't  show  up  soon we  will have  to go looking for them. Well it looks like  dinner is ready, shall we eat in here or join the others in the  dinning  room?" We all agreed to stay and eat at our table.

     Knute went and told one of  the waiters that  we would eat in  the greatroom,  and then returned to our table.  After he was sit- ting in his chair again, I asked him: "What are you storing away?" Knute said: "Food and clothes mostly, but there is also  some kit- chen and household supplies, and one room holds  medical sup­plies.  We keep the outposts and forts  supplied from the White  Moun­tains to the valley. Many of the  keepers  should be  coming in soon  to bring their winter supplies back to their houses and outposts." As Knute  finished speaking, two waiters brought in our dinner.

     For a while no one spoke, then I asked  Knute: "Is this where the road crew came from that I saw near the second house?  And the  warriors who left the supplies for the keeper?" He said: "No, they  would not have  been from  Blue Lake. There are other  small posts  closer to  the valley  that would  have  taken care  of a job like that. We  might  bring  them  supplies  for a  season, but a small amount like  that would  have come  from close by. We do  not have road crews here, if there is a slide blocking  the road near by we  will go  and remove it, but repairs to the  road are taken care of  by the KING'S road crews. I think they would have come from a post  on River road, you might have seen  River road  leaving the KING'S road a little before  the first house." I said: "Yes, there  was a place where I was not sure which road I was supposed to take."

     When I stopped talking Snowflower said: "We took a short ride  down to  the lake  today, but I want to  get out of  these women's  clothes and take a real ride. Do you know how  long it will be,  before the scouts  go out  on patrol?" Knute  said: "Snowflower, I cannot understand why a beautiful woman would want to put on armor  and ride around on a smelly horse, and sleep in the dirt! But if I  am right, this is only a  small storm  and they  will head  out as  soon  as it leaves. I think they  will leave in one  or two days."

     Skadi spoke up and said: "Snowflower, I agree with Knute. Why  not leave the warring  and scouting  to the men. We have plenty of  material here, if you would like to make yourself  some new dress- es. And if you remember, we also make tapestries for the forts and outposts too. We would welcome your help, you made some very beau- tiful ones  last time." She said: "Thank-you Skadi, but there will  be time for that when the snow falls. I may be a  Woman, but I was  raised with the warriors and I happen to like  ridding in my char-  iot or on my horses. I do not think they are smelly at all, and as  for sleeping in the dirt, I sleep much better under the stars than  in a room on a bed. Someday I guess I will have to hang up my arm-  or, but  not today. For a while yet I am still 'The Red Warrior'!" 

     Knute stood up and said: "It is time I went back to  my work.  There is  still much  to do before I  can sleep  tonight." I asked him: "Can I  help you  Knute?" He said: "No, there  is nothing for you to do, but you can come  along if you want to." So I  stood up  to go with him, but just as we were  about to go  Snowflower said:  "Don't leave us yet, there is something I was about  to say that I  think  Starfire should hear. I don't think that I have told any of you this  story before." As we sat down again Snowflower began her story.

     "When I was still a little girl, my  father had a  blacksmith  shop in Westside. One day I was playing in our  yard after school,  a group of women came  walking through  our town. They  were  very  strange, and wore dark brown robes  with hoods and no shoes. I be-  came frightened and ran back to the house for my  mother, when she  came out to see what was wrong these women stopped in front of our house and called mother out to speak with them. They began talking  with her so softly that I could not understand what they were say-  ing, but mother  kept agreeing  with them. Then one of them handed  her a package  which she  took inside, when mother came  out again  she was dressed in a robe like theirs and walked back out to them.  Suddenly I knew if mother walked  away with these  strange women I  would never see her again. I grabbed her robe and pleaded with her not to leave  me alone, but one of  them reached  out and tried to  pick me up saying: "We will take this little  one too." I squirmed  out of her hands  and began  to run, not even looking  where I was  going. I ran until I couldn't run any longer and  hid in a hedge."  "After a while when no one came looking for me, I crawled out  and went to  father's shop. When I  found him I  told him what had happened. Father  stopped  working, closed up  his shop and walked home  with me. When we  went in we found the dress mother had been wearing lying on the  floor where  she  had dropped it. Mother had  left with them taking nothing but the robe  they had given to her.  Father sat in a chair with his head in his hands and would not say  anything  until late that  night. When  father finally stood up he said: We will leave Westside, there is nothing left here for us!"

     "The next morning father went to his shop  and put all of his  tools in our wagon  and then  came back to  our house. He packed a  few of our clothes in the wagon, put me beside him and we rode out of town. When we reached the highway we turned  south and rode for  several days  sleeping  in the  wagon.  We did not  see mother and those women, but on  the sixth  day the  Shepherd came  ridding up  as we were about to stop for the night. He asked if  he could stay  with us, and  father said yes. So we found a  place where we could  pull the wagon off of the road and the Shepherd camped  there with  us. Father put me in the wagon where he had made a bed for me, and  then sat and talked with the Shepherd late into the night."

     "The next day father  told me that the  Shepherd had accepted  us into his  family and we  would become  warriors in his army. We  went to the outpost where father built a chariot and then joined a  small group  of warriors, which  later became  known  as the Young Lions. Except for the time I stayed here, I have been ridding with  the Shepherd's warriors  ever since. Maybe now  you can under­stand  why I am more comfortable  with my chariot   and horses  under the  stars, than I  am living  like a woman  in a house wearing dresses and taking care of children all day. I have nothing  against being  a wife and mother and maybe; well maybe someday I will find a hus-  band and settle down."

     Everyone sat in silence for a while then  Knute said: "I have  heard of these women who took your mother.  They are called Troll-  kvinna and live  in the coastal  mountains near the  Ruby Sea. You  were lucky  to escape  them, they have  been known to  offer young  girls as a sacrifice to the Dark Lord. Your father was wise to get  out of the valley  because they probably  would have come back for you. The Trollkvinna are very wicked and serve the Dark Lord as if he were the KING." When he  finished speaking  I asked: "How could  these women be from the coast, since there aren't any roads across  the Coast Range?" Knute  answered: "You are right  Starfire, there  are no  roads, but if someone  wants to cross on  foot there are a  few paths across if you know where  to look. There is  one west of  Snowflower's town, and that is probably the one  they were using."  Once again  we stood up  to leave, said goodby  to ladies and  walked up stairs to the fourth floor. Knute  said: "Well Starfire, this is about all there is  to see up here." There were  two large  doors with  hoists which the warriors  were using to lift the sup- plies. There were few windows since no one came  up here except to  get supplies  or store them away. There were  stacks  of boxes and sacks waiting to be  stored all around  the doors. Knute began in- specting them and telling the warriors where to  put them. I asked  him: "With  all of  this in  storage  already, why do we  need the  shipment  you said is  coming?" He said: "Over the  winter much of  what you see will  be used up. The shipment  coming from the High-  land Farms is mostly dried food and should be the last  one coming  in for  this year."  I looked  around  for a while  and then said: "Thanks for showing me around Knute, if you  don't mind, I think I  will go back down." He answered: "No, go right  ahead  Starfire, I  will see you again sometime."

     It was getting late so I went back to my room  for the night.  After lighting a lamp, I took out the Shepherd's book and read for  a while, but I couldn't find anything about these evil women Snow-  flower and Knute were talking about. While I read the Shepherd al-  ways  seemed so  close, as if he  were sitting  right beside me. I  began to grow sleepy and turn out my  lamp, but as I lay on my bed  the room became as  bright as day. Standing at the  foot of my bed  there was  a man who  was so bright  I could not  look at  him. He said: "Do not be afraid Starfire, I am one of  the Shepherd's mes- sengers, my name is  Karlek. The Shepherd  has sent me to give you  this  word: Starfire my son, do not  let the  Trollkvinna  concern you, my warriors  are  preventing them from  crossing the  Coastal  Mountains. I have placed you  among many young warriors so you can  have some friends your own age."

     "I want you to choose six of them to be a small company of my  warriors. Take Snowflower and five others, she can help you choose  them. You have been  doing well  my son, do not be  afraid to call  yourself a Warrior, you  have earned  the title. Now my son, sleep  well. My messenger will speak with your Commander and give him in-  structions  for your  company." Then Karlek  came  over to  me and  said: "Starfire, the Shepherd loves you and will always  be watch-  ing over you. Obey the  word I have  brought to you, I must go now  and speak with Commander  Stenkross. If you need  his help, do not  be afraid to ask him. He has been with the Shepherd many years and  understands what you are going through, he is wise  and will guide  you along while you are here."

     Then Karlek  disappeared from my  room and the  light quickly  faded away. I lit my lamp  again and began  to write down the word  Karlek  had brought  to me before  I could forget  anything he had  said, and then putting out  the light lay  in the dark thinking on  what the Shepherd had said.

     When I awoke in  the morning I went down  for a cup of tea, I  did not feel like eating so after my tea I went  out to the little  park to sit for a  while. It was not  raining but the clouds still  filled the sky looked like it would start again at any time. While  I was sitting there the commander came and sat beside me. At first  he said  nothing, but then placing his  arm on my  shoulders said:  "Son, don't  be afraid, the  Shepherd will  not ask you to do any-  thing that is  beyond your  ability. Karlek came and  spoke  to me  last  night as he told  you he would. I will do anything  I can to  help you, as he said, do not be afraid to come and  see me anytime  you want. My son Knute  and  Snowflower  will help you choose your  warriors. When you have formed your  company come and see me and I  will  tell you  what  you are  to do next. I must  leave  now, but remember, my door is always open to you."

 

               Chapter 12. 'Starfire's Company'.

 

     Commander Stenkross left me sitting on the bench and returned  to his office. It was  beginning to rain again, so I left the park  and went looking for Knute. Since he had been working on the four-  th floor with the supplies, I went  up looking for  him there. But  I found no one up there, the supplies had been put away and all of  the warriors had left. I did not know what  Snowflower had been up  to, so I went to the kitchen thinking maybe the ladies there would  know where she was. The foreman told me that she had went with the  ladies to their rooms on the other side of the greatroom, he said:  "Try room  #3, that  is where they  usually go." I knocked  on the  door and it was answered by Girda, who said: "Hello Starfire, come  on in." When  I entered  her room, I saw  Snowflower, Sevea, Skadi  and a few others I had not met. As I sat on one of the beds I ask-  ed if they had seen Knute this morning. Skadi said: "Yes Starfire, he has  left the  fort for a few hours. He should be back shortly, do you need something?" I said: "Yes, I was visited  by one of the Shepherd's messengers last  night, his name was Karlek. He told me to form a company and to have Knute and Snowflower help me out. So I have been trying to find them this morning."

     Girda said: "Let's move out to the tables, I think we will be  more comfortable there and Knute should be coming  in with his men  for lunch soon. That way we will be able to see him when he comes,  and Starfire can tell us what this is all about." So we walked out  and sat down at the table  nearest the door. When we  were sitting  at the  table, I began to tell  them about my  meeting with Karlek  last  night and the  commander  this morning. When I had finished,  Sevea said: "I wonder  why he told you to choose  Snowflower to be  one of your company, I would think he  would have told you to find  six men. Did he tell you what you would be doing?" I said: "No, he  said he was going to talk  with the Commander  about that, and the  Commander told me to have Knute help me and then come see him when  I had chosen  them." Girda said: "Well it seems the  only thing we  can do is wait for Knute  to show up and see  what he has to say."       Just after noon Knute came in with  his men. As soon as Skadi  saw him  she said: "Knute bring  your lunch in  here and talk with us, Starfire and Snowflower need to talk with you." He waved to us  and went on into the dinning room with his men. Shortly he return-  with his lunch and said: "Okay, what is so  important that we need to talk about it now?" I said: "Knute, I saw one of the Shep­herd's messengers last night, his name  was Karlek. He told  me to form a  company,  he said  to choose  six warriors  and to make sure Snow­flower was  one of  them, he  also  said he  would talk  with your  father last night. This  morning I was  sitting in  the park, your father came and spoke with me and told me  the messenger  had also spoken  with him  and that I should have  you help me  in choosing them.  Karlek didn't  tell me  whether I was  to choose all men or both men and women since Snowflower is to be one of them. Will you help me?"

     Knute thought  for a while  and then  said: "Yes, I will give you all  of the  help I can. I think I  should  have  a talk  with father before we begin to choose your warriors, maybe he  can tell  us what kind of company this is and what your work will be. I will  go see him  after work." So I  asked him: "Where does  your father  have  you working  today?" He said: "We are  working on some minor  repairs on the water lines coming from  Blue River to the fort. It  is nothing serious, but it has to be done before winter. I must go now, I will come  and find you  as soon as I  have spoken  with my father." We sat around for a  while after finishing  our lunch and  then went our own ways.

     I began to look for something to do, since we couldn't go out  of the fort alone, and the rain kept coming down there was nothing  to do  outside, so I went to  see Svartsmed in  his shop. He said:  "Hello Starfire, it's good to see you again. What have you been up to?" I said: "Not much sir, but last night I saw a messenger in my  room. Have you ever seen one?" He said: "No son, I have never seen one, but I  know  many  folk  who have. I am only a  blacksmith, I guess the Shepherd has never had  anything that  important to tell me. You should feel happy that the Shepherd has chosen to speak to  you  this way. What did he look like  Starfire?" I said: "He was a  big man, and wore white robes. When he appeared, my room became as  bright  as day, and I could  hardly look  at him. He said his name was Karlek and gave me a  message from  the Shepherd, he told me I  am to put together a company of seven warriors, myself, Snowflower  and five others."

     Svartsmed had been working  on the floor of one  of the char- iots set his tools down and said: "It looks like you are rising up fast Starfire, many  warriors  never get  the chance to have their own company. I am happy for you, you must do your best to obey the  Shepherd's commands. Has he told you what your company is going to  be doing?" I said: "No, not yet. I think he has told the Commander  what he has planed, but they are not  telling me until  I have put  the company  together." Svartsmed  sat with me a while  not saying  much, then  he said: "Well I need  to get back  to work. There are two chariots  here which need a wheel put back on, you can help me if you want." I said: "Sure, what  do you want me to do?" He walk-  ed over to one of them and said: "When I pick the chariot up slide  the wheel back onto the  axle for me." Svartsmed  surprised me, he  was not much  bigger  than I am  and  chariots  are  heavy. But he reached down took hold of the bottom of the  chariot and lifted it  high enough for me to slide the wheel on, and then walking over to  the second chariot he did it again. He said: "Why are  you looking  so surprised Starfire? I work with heavy things  every day, if you  keep coming here and helping me you will grow much  stronger too!"

     We finished putting the wheels on and worked some more on the  floor he was  working on  when I came  and then he  said: "That is  enough  Starfire, you shouldn't  do too much of this until you get used to it. Thanks for your help and telling me of the messenger's  visit. Let  me know  what you  learn  about  this  new  company of yours." I said  goodby and  walked out into the  courtyard, it was  still too early to go in for dinner and the sky was finally begin-  ning to clear so I went back to  the park for a while  and thought about Karlek and his message. Then as  the sun  was setting I went in and sat by the fireplace in the greatroom.

     Soon after I  went in Knute  came in, walked  over and sat on  the couch. He said: "I have spoken to father, he would not tell me  much more than he told you. But I did get him to tell me  that you will be  here until spring and you will be given a basic train­ing. This means your  company will be given short scouting trips, guard duty, you will go out on at least one trip in the deep  snow where you will learn  to use  snowshoes  and skis, and if  there are any battles  with our enemies you may  be asked to fight in them. When I asked  him if you should choose men, women or both he would only say it  was up  to you.  Since the messenger  told you  to include Snowflower,  I think you should  have at  least one  more woman in your company it would not be good for her to be alone."

     I thought about what Knute was saying, and then said: "Yes, I  think you are right. If you don't have anything  against it I will  let Snowflower choose one or  two women. I wish I  knew more about  why I am  being asked  to put this company together, it would make it easier to know  how many I should  choose. How many  men do you  know that we should ask to be a part of this?" He said: "I am hav-  ing the same problem as you are, I know of many young warriors who  would make a good company, and most of them need  little training.  If you are  going to be  sent into  battle I would choose  all men  except Snowflower and her companion, but if you will not be fight- ing, then you might think of four men and three women. If only the  Shepherd would tell us why you have been asked to do this and what your work will be!"

     The servants were preparing the tables for dinner  when Snow-  flower and her friends came in. Seeing Knute and myself sitting by  the fireplace, she came  over and asked  if we would come over and join them for dinner. We stood and walked back to their table with her and sat down. Skadi had went to the kitchen and brought back a  tray with tea and cups for everyone which she placed in the center  of the table, and then  sat next  to Knute. I began  to tell Snow-  flower of my plan to have her choose the women in our company, but  that I did  not know  how many  to have  her choose. Then I asked:  "Since Karlek told me that  you are to  be included, has the Shep-  herd spoken to  you  about this?" She  said: "Well not exactly, as  Asa said more than once, I knew the Shepherd had something in mind  for us but he never said what it was. Now at least we know."

     "I do not  think we  are being sent  into battle, if that was why you were forming a company he  would have told  you which war-  riors to  choose. The  Shepherd  knows  that you  do not  have the experience you would need to lead men into  battle. So our company  is probably being formed for a less dangerous task. I wish I could help you but you must choose the number of men and women."

     I thought  for a moment and  then said: "Okay Snowflower, you  can choose  two more women to be a part of us, and Knute will help me choose three men. That will make the seven warriors Karlek told  me to have in our  company." Knute  nodded  and said: "I think you have made a  good choice  Starfire, come  with me  tomorrow and we will choose your warriors. We will be finishing our repairs on the  water lines. I will send someone to  your room  in the morning." I  said: "Thank-you Knute."

     We went in and ate with the rest of the warriors that evening  and then returned  to a table on the far side of the room where no one was sitting. When we were all sitting around the  table, Snow-  flower said: "Girda, Sevea, I want the two of  you to join us. You  are both  good warriors if we  should  have to fight, but  you are also kind and gentle women if our mission is one of mercy. Are you  willing to  be become members of Starfire's  company?" Girda said:  "I will join you  Snowflower. I like  this fort, but there  is not  anything  holding me here. Still, I would  like to stay  for Knute  and Skadi's wedding." And Sevea said: "I also will  join your com-  pany Snowflower, I trust  your judgment. If you think  I should be  a part of this I am sure you  are right." Snowflower said: "Sevea,  you think too much of me. I do not have this great wisdom you seem  to think  that I have, but I am glad  you are willing to be a part of us. As for Knute and  Skadi's wedding, before we came  here the  Shepherd  said we  would be here for  the winter. So I am  sure we  will still be here since it will be early spring."

     After listening to the ladies talk for  a while I said: "Well  it looks  like Snowflower  has done her  part already, and I thank the two of you for  accepting Snowflower's  invitation to join us.  And I agree  with you Sevea, I think  Snowflower's  wisdom is much  greater  than she thinks  it is. Life has been hard  for you Snow-  flower, but that hardship has given  you the  wisdom and knowledge  of a woman much older than you are. You have taught me more than I  learned in  all of the years I  spent in the  valley!" Once more I  must have embarrassed her, she turned  red and said: "I don't know  what to say, but I am  glad to have each of you  for my friends. I  think we will be a good company  whatever  the Shepherd has chosen  for us to do. When Knute has helped Starfire to choose our men to-  morrow, our company will be  complete. Then we will  have to start training together until we become like one person."

     The next morning  there was a soft knock  on my door just be- fore daybreak. Opening the door I found one of Knute's men waiting  for me. He said: "I am  Olaf, the  Cooks  have  prepared  an early breakfast for us. Come down as soon as you  are ready!" I said: "I  will be right with you Olaf." It was just light enough to see what I was doing so I quickly dressed and hurried down to Knute.

     As I was eating, Knute said: "We will not  be going far today  Starfire, there is  a place just  above the fort  where  the water line is still  leaking. I have  chosen to take  the three warriors  that I think you should have in your company with us. You have met  Olaf, this is Viktor and Storvik." Then he turned to the three men  and said: "This is  Starfire, he will  be your new  captain if you  choose to join  his new company. I have already  given you my per-  mission to do so, but it is your choice. We must be on our way."

     We went to the stable where they had  prepared two horses for  us, one  carried hand tools and the other lumber which  might need to be replaced. Then we began  walking up the water  line until we  came to  a bend in  the line. We had  walked about  five miles and were a thousand  feet above  the fort. From  here I could  see the  whole lake, it was about fifteen miles long and  a little over one  mile wide. There was a dam at the north end  of the lake which the  road crossed  over before  turning  north again and  following the river. It was this bend which was leaking, and the water had wash-  ed away the dirt  and rock  which were  supporting  the line. Olaf quickly had the leak  repaired  and we began  to rebuild the rocks  using dirt  for mortar. When the rocks  were up to  the top of the line, the timbers  were placed  over it and then  another layer of  rocks were  placed over  the whole  thing. Then there  were a  few small repairs along a nearly  level stretch of  the line before we  began our hike back to the fort. As we walked along Knute began to  tell me about the three men he had chosen for my company.

     "Viktor is the  son of a captain  under Asa. He has been here with us for two years, and has proven himself to be one of my best  warriors  many times. If you  need help Viktor is  a wise  man and will give you good  advise. Storvik is  the son  of Sigurd, one of the Vikings  you met, he is worth  more than  two or  three  of my other  warriors. You will have nothing to fear with Storvik beside you, he is quickly becoming as great a warrior as his father. Olaf  is the son of Sif who came to Blue Lake when she was not much more  than a  girl. He is the  youngest, but no less brave  and will not  fail you no matter what the  Shepherd has planed  for you. Each of  these men I have chosen for you are one of my  best warriors, they  are men I would not have  parted with, but  for some reason I felt  this is what the Shepherd wanted me to do!"

     I looked  at each man  for a moment and  the said: "Thank-you  Knute, I still  don't  understand  any  of  this  myself. You said Olaf's  mother is  called  Sif, who is  his father?" He  said: " I don't know, he  was born shortly after she  came. She came walking  along the  road nearly  starved to  death and was  spotted  by the guards who sent a  warrior out  to bring her in. I was  very young  myself when  she came, the old warriors  say her family was killed  by enemy  warriors and  she was taken  prisoner by  them until she  escaped and wandered here. I think one of them must be his father,  but she has never said anything  about it. Don't let it worry you,  Olaf has  fought beside  me many  times and  I trust  him  with my life. He is like my brother."

     We had walked about half way back to the  fort and I had been thinking about this company I was being  placed at the head of and  asked Knute: "Why do you  think I am supposed to have  women in my  company?" He answered: "As I said before, I don't  think your mis- sion is one of warfare. But it could  also be that you will not be  leading this company for long, and that it is only to train you to  lead others." I said: "That could be true Knute, but  is there any  other kind of work  which  the Shepherd  might send out  a company like this to do?" He  answered: "Yes, there are  missions which he  would send men and women out together on. Most of the  ones I know  of have been into the valley to help families  which he knows want  to leave  and become  his children. It may be this is his plan for you, but there was one time  when he  sent a small  company out to the Ruby Sea to rescue a  woman who had  been kidnaped  like Snow-  flower's mother  was. Only  the  Shepherd  himself will be able to tell you why the seven of you have been brought together!"

     I thought on this for a while and knew that I did not want to  go back down into that miserable valley again, and wondered what I  would do if that is what the Shepherd was going  to tell me to do.  Then Knute said: "Don't worry about it Starfire, the Shepherd will  not ask you to do anything  that is too hard  for you. When we get  back to the fort, you should get  your men and women  together and  talk for a while before dinner. You need to  begin to find out who  works best  together. You can keep  your men in one group  and the  women in another, or pair them together, it is your choice but you should make it soon."

     When we were getting  close to the fort  I said: "I will tell  the men to meet me, and go find the women as soon  as we get back.  Maybe they can help me decide what to do, it would sure  help if I  only knew  what we are  being trained for. Thank-you for your help Knute." Then I went up to  the men and said: "Brothers, we are go-  ing to have a  meeting  shortly  after we get back  to the fort. I will go and find the women and meet you in the  greatroom. We need  to begin to make  plans for our  company, if you have  any ideas I  would like  to hear them. Knute thinks  very  highly of  you and I trust  his judgment." Olaf said: "Yes Sir, we will  be waiting for  you." I answered him: "Olaf, I am  your brother, not  your Master.  My name is Starfire, not "Sir". Save the titles for those who have  earned  them, I am  less of  a warrior  than you are  and have not earned any titles. In this company we are brothers, no one is more  important than another."

     After arriving at the  fort I asked  one of the  women in the kitchen  if they knew  where Snowflower and  her friends were, she said: "I have not  seen them, but  you might try Girda's  room and see if they are  there. If no  one is  there, I would  look at the commander's house." So I thanked her and went to Girda's room. She  was there with Skadi but they  didn't know where the  others were.  When we  returned to  the  greatroom  the  warriors  were  already  waiting for us, so I asked them to wait with  the warriors while I  went and found Snowflower. I walked across  the  courtyard I found them sitting in the park with  Gelfiun. As I reached  them I said: "I have been looking for  the two of you, Knute asked us to have a  meeting this evening. The others are waiting for us  in the great- room. As soon as you are able I would like you to come and join us there." Sevea said: "We are nearly through, and will join you when  Gelfiun has finished her instructions."

     I returned to the  greatroom and  sat down  with the  others.  Turning to Viktor  I asked him: "Knute said  that your father is a  captain  with  Asa, but he  didn't say what his  name was. I would like to know if you don't mind." He said: "Yes he is with Asa, his  name is Vastervik. He has been in the Great Dry  Lakes for quite a  while, I think it has  been nearly  three years since  I have seen him." Then I  asked him: "How  long have  you  been  here?" And he said: "About five years, father stayed here with mother and I, un-  til she died and then he went back out with the warriors again. My  mother was Rosmarin, she was a very beautiful woman, it is too bad she died so young. But the Shepherd knows  when it is time to take  us to our  eternal home." I said: "Well it could have been so that you would be here now, who knows where your father might have tak-  en your family if it had not been for your  mother's illness. I am  glad you  are here  Viktor, Knute believes you are a very wise and  brave  warrior. I need someone  beside me who is wise, it could be that you will be our real leader!"

       Then I  said: "Storvik, Knute  said  you are  worth  two or three warriors and that Sigurd is your  father, but that is all he  told me  about you. I am  glad to  have a Viking  among us, but is there anything  else you  can tell me  that will help  us put this company  together?" He answered: "There is  not  much to  say. The Vikings go wherever the Shepherd needs us. I have been on the road  almost all of  my life. We stayed at a  fort somewhere  when I was  very young, but I don't know where it was. Father never would tell  me what happened to  my mother, but I remember  that she was there at that fort with us. After that we never stayed in  one place for  more than a few days. It was good to see him  again when they pas- sed through here  the other day. I am a Viking, but now  Knute has placed me in your company and I am now one of you."

     As Storvik  was talking  Snowflower and Sevea came in and sat with us. I said: "Well we are all here now. We must begin  to make  something out  of this company, if any of  you have an  idea as to  what I should do please  tell me!" Snowflower  said: " As you know  Sevea and I have been talking  with Gelfiun, she said we are going  to be sent out  soon on a scouting  mission, probably  to look for  those supply wagons because no one has heard from them. But no one  seems to be  willing to tell me  why the Shepherd  has included us  women in your company when it would be better  for you to have had  all men. But I  guess  you are  stuck  with us, at least  you have three good  men to  help you." I said: "Snowflower, I have not had  to fight very much, but I  know that you are  worth having around.  You would not  have chosen Girda  and  Sevea  if they  were not at least as valuable as you are. We need to have someone each of will  know will be fighting beside us if we  should have to, do you want  to keep all three of women together or do you want me pair each of you with a man?" Girda  said: "Snowflower is as good  as most men,  we do not have her experience. If the three of us are together and  we should get separated from you men, Snowflower would be our only hope. I would rather have at least one man with us."

     So I said: "What about  you men there  are four  of us, would you rather I pair us together and place Snowflower over her women,  or give each of you a woman for a partner and I will go wherever I  am needed? Or maybe I should  put the three of  you together since  you are  our best  warriors, and I will  join Snowflower  with the women." Viktor said: "If a man spends to much time  with one woman  he may become too  close to her, and forget  the others if trouble  comes. This would be okay if we are not going to be  sent where we  will have to fight, if you are going to pair us  with a woman than  you should keep changing who we are with so this does not happen."  Then Olaf said: "Viktor is right,  if you put me with one of these  beautiful  ladies  for too long, I think  it would  be time  for a wedding. But Girda is right, we should not put all of the women in  one group. At least  until we know  more  about what  we are being sent out to do."

     Then Storvik  said: "You  might  try  two  groups  instead of three,  so that we can watch each  other and try to  prevent this. It will  also be harder  to separate us  that way, and if there is trouble we should try to become one group of seven as  quickly  as possible.  The enemy will have a hard time trying  to separate all seven of us, that is one of the reasons the Shepherd does not send out companies of less than seven. If you remember  Starfire, there were  seven when you were with the Northern Warriors, and although you  only saw six Vikings that  is because  Erik  was away, he was going to join them again before they  were far from here." I said: "Yes,  I think you  are  all speaking with wisdom. There may  be a reason  why the  Shepherd has given  me three men and three women, but it  does not look like you should be paired off. Still we must come up  with some  kind of order  among us, we cannot  ride seven across, and  when I was  with the  Northern  Warriors, they always rode  in the same order. Everyone knew  where the other was."

     Since this seemed to be the best  idea we had, I was going to begin giving each of them a partner when Knute walked up and said:  "We are going to go out  in search of the  supply wagons tomorrow.  Sergeant  Anderson  will be going with me, and father has asked me to bring you along also. This will be your first  mission out as a  company, so  I am  going  to put  you in  the  middle.  Anderson's   company  will be  in the lead and  I will take the rear. There is seven in each company, so there  will be  twenty-one  of us. Star­fire, I  want you to ride at the rear  of your company beside me."

                   Chapter 13. 'The Search'.

     So we had our first mission, to go in  search of missing sup- ply wagons with Knute and Anderson. Early that morning  the stable  help had prepared our horses and chariots for  the journey. Short-  ly after breakfast we pulled out of the  fort and turned north. No  one knew how far we would have  to travel to find the  wagon comp-  any, if we had to ride all of the way to the farms it would be two  hundred miles each way. As we began Knute asked me: "Well Starfire  what do you think, you have  now become  a captain  for real. This  mission is not  a game, if the wagons  have ran  into some kind of  trouble we may have to rescue them from the enemy. We will not let  our enemies take even one of them prisoner!" I said: "I am glad to  hear that, if I were in their place it would be  a comfort to know  that. I still do not understand why I have  been placed over these  men and women when  I have no experience  leading people. It would  have been better if Viktor or Storvik had been  captain instead of  me. What am I going to do if we do run into trouble and I am sepa-  rated from you and Anderson? Am I to go back to Blue Lake, or keep  fighting the enemy until they are all dead or we are?"

     We were  approaching the dam  at the north end of  Blue Lake,  and Knute didn't answer me until we were on  the KING'S road. Then  he said: "Starfire, I know you have  little experience, and I can-  not give you an answer  as to why the Shepherd  chose this time to  make you a captain. I think your  ability  to lead is greater than  you think, many times we do not understand what  we are capable of  until we are in a place where we must use everything we have with-  in us. You must remember, we may not have to fight  at all on this  mission. But if we do, what you are to do will depend on where the  fight takes place. If we are close to the farms and you must leave  the battle, it would be better  to go there than try  to go all of  the way to Blue Lake. I do not think that you or any of your comp-  any will ever leave a battle unless there is no other choice."

     Now it was  my turn  to have  nothing  to say. We rode on for quite a while before either of us spoke again. Then I  said almost  too softly for Knute to  hear me: "Knute, I have  began to look at  you as the brother that I never had, and  Snowflower as my sister.  I had sisters in the  valley, but they wanted  nothing  to do with  me. They would not even admit that I was their brother. Now we may  be ridding into a battle, I don't want to lose either of you. I do  not know what I would do if I were to lose one of you!"

     Knute spoke with the same  authority that I had  heard in his  father's voice: "I do not intend to let any enemy warrior cause me  harm, as for  Snowflower, she also  has many  good warriors around  her if she  should need help.  You know that she is a good warrior and that  the Shepherd would not let her ride with his warriors if she could  not take care of herself. You can be sure  that when we return all  three of us  will still  be alive  and well."  I said: "Yes, I am sure that you are right, but  I don't want  to lose the one thing that I longed for all of my life.

     Knute and I continued  to talk as we  rode along. Then as the  sun was  beginning to set, Sergeant  Anderson  stopped at  a place where there was a good  spot to spend  the night. We had  not seen  any sign of the wagons yet, and as we set  up camp he sent out two  scouts  on horseback. The rest of  us prepared  to spend the night here, after dinner Knute put two of his men  on guard. My chariots  were next to Knute's so we only built one fire and placed our bed- ding around it. In the middle of the night I heard something, when  I looked up it was Knute's men waking up  Viktor  and Olaf to take  their turn  on guard. In the  morning  Anderson came  over and sat  down with us, he said: "My scouts could not  find any trace of the  wagons, but they did find the tracks of at least one large company  of our enemies who could not be more than one day  in front of us.  If the wagons are on the road they will find them before we do. Do  you want to try to overtake them?" Without  thinking I said: "Yes,  we may be the only hope  those men  in the wagons  have. We cannot  let them down!" Then Knute said: "And you are the one who was wor- ried about being a  new captain. But you are  right, we cannot let  the enemy find  our supply  wagons  without a fight. Maybe  we can  stop them from finding it at all."

     So we quickly  broke camp  and began  to ride as  fast as our horses could  for a long time. As the  day passed  by there was no  sign of our enemies, but as night drew near we could see some dust  rising from the road a few miles ahead of us. We could see that we could not catch up  to them today, so Knute  slowed down and began  to look for another place to stay for the night. When we came to a  small  creek flowing  down to Blue River, Knute signaled for us to stop. Now as  we  prepared  to  spend  our second night beside the road, Knute,Anderson and myself came together for another meeting.  Anderson  said: "We have  gained much ground  on them, and it will not be  long tomorrow  before  we  catch  up to them. I will send a scout tonight to find out as much as he can about  them. We should  try to make our plans now, while we have time  to think about it."

     Then Knute spoke and said: "We still do not know  how many we  will be fighting against. That dust rising  this afternoon did not  look like a large company to me, it was just too small. This morn-  ing  Anderson  said there  were signs of a  large company, I would like to know what  happened to the  rest of them. If they left the  road they are probably waiting somewhere for us. Has either of you  seen any  signs so  far of horses  or chariots  leaving the road?"  Then I said: "I have been watching the side of the road as we tra-  veled, and I have not seen anything at all. Is there  somewhere up  ahead of us where they could hide the missing warriors?"  Anderson  said: "There is a place where a mountain runs beside  the road for  about thirty miles, there is a small river on the back side of it.  It would be a good place for them to be able to attack us from the  front and back at the same time."

     We sat  and thought for a  while and then  I asked: "Have you  already sent that scout out?" Sergeant Anderson said: "Yes I have,  what did  you  have  in mind?" I said: "Well if  this mountain you spoke of is close enough, we should send  another to see if he can  spot anyone behind it. At night they will probably have fires bur-  ning like we have, which could be seen for miles."  Knute stood up  and said: "I will go and send  one of my men." As Knute  walked a- way, Anderson  said: "For  someone  who has never lead men before, you are coming up with some good ideas. I think you are right, and  the scout will find them hiding behind Bergvagg, which is the name  of that  mountain  because  it looks  like a  rock wall. There  is plenty of food and water for the horses there, and no one  can see them  from the  road." As he was  talking Knute came back and  sat down  again. Anderson turned and said to him: "I have been talking with  Starfire about Bergvagg, I am sure your scout will find them hidding there. This means that we will have to do something  about  them before we can go after the others. But there is one other way  we can go, and that is for you and I to attack them from the south  end and send Starfire on to take care of the  others and then con- tinue on in search of the wagons. What do you think?"

     Knute was not quick to answer, when he  did he said: "I think  you are right. But it may be that they already have the wagons be-  hind the mountain, we will have to have some way  to tell Starfire  to come back if we find them there. If we sent a warrior on horse-  back, I think he  could catch  up to him before they  have time to travel very far." Anderson  seemed  to think  that would do, but I  was worried again about being left alone. Knute tried again to re-  mind me that I had some of the best warriors at Blue Lake with me.  I said to him: "I understand  that Knute, and  I still  don't know  how to thank you enough for being so kind. But this is going to be  a real battle, not just more practice  among ourselves. I have not  done very well in real battles, I still remember  quite well being  carried away by that evil bird at White Mountain Plateau. I do not  want to be the one who caused any of these ladies  to get hurt be-  cause I went and made another  stupid mistake." They laughed at me  and Anderson said: "Do not  be surprised if they are the  ones who  keep you from getting hurt or even killed!"

     As we were  sitting in silence, my warriors came and sat with  us. Olaf said: "Starfire, we have  been listening  to the three of  you talk. Knute  and  Sergeant  Anderson are  right in  sending us after the small group  of warriors. If there is a  large group be- hind Bergvagg, it will be  all they can  do to  take care of them, and someone  must go after the  others. They cannot  be allowed to escape, and the wagons may be with them. We do not know where they might try to take them if they  should find the wagons. We will be  able to  take care of them easy enough." Then Viktor said: "Do not think so  little  of us Starfire until you have seen us fight in a battle  against our enemies, we may  surprise you." And Snow­flower said: "I  do not plan on letting anyone  hurt me  or anyone around me, just because we are women does  not  mean  we cannot fight. We will take care of ourselves, I think you know well enough that the Shepherd  has  not sent us  with you  so that  you  would  have to watch over us like children, but we do appreciate your concern for us."

 

     We all  went to  sleep after that  until the sun was about to rise, when Knute  came around  and woke us up. He reached down and  shook my  shoulder and said: "Starfire, we were  right. There is a  group of them  behind  the mountain, but it is not  as large as we thought. Also, the wagons  were not with them, so  maybe they have not found them. The scout we sent to the small group you are head-  ed for did  not come back last  night, you must  do everything you can to  find him." I answered: "I will find him Knute, we will not come back until he is with us!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               Chapter 14. 'Battle At Bergvagg'.

     Soon we were on our way again, it would be a while  before we  came to the place where we would leave Knute and Anderson. I could not think of anything but the battle we would soon be fighting and  the missing warrior. I could only  hope that we would find him un-  harmed, and I wondered if we would be fighting against men or some  of the Dark Lord's evil beasts and other  strange creatures. I had  not seen any of his evil creatures for a long time and hoped there would not be any of them in this company of enemy warriors.

     As we came to the place where we would be leaving Knute said:  "Do not be  afraid Starfire, you have a good company. When this is over, you will understand that  the Shepherd has not  made a miss-  take in  putting the  seven  of you  together." I said: "Thank-you  Knute, I will try not to  disappoint you or  the Shepherd. We will  do everything we can to find Anderson's warrior." Then Knute turn-  ed off the road and joined Anderson's  company and the two compan-  ies worked their way slowly around behind  a small mountain. There  were only seven of us now, and we rode as fast as our horses could  carry us towards our enemies. We were  not far behind them now and  it would not be long before they knew we were there.

     They must not have been traveling very fast because we caught  up to them  before they  reached the far end of Bergvagg. They had  been going slowly because they had several prisoners in the center  of their company, and each  of them was carrying a heavy load that  looked  like it had been stolen from  the wagons. When they saw us  approaching them at full speed, they dropped their  packs and pre-  pared to fight. There was only about twenty of them and two stayed  behind to  guard their prisoners, the rest  formed a line in front  their stolen treasure. We could not drive our way  through them to  the prisoners, so we stopped  just before we  reached them. Before  their chariots had  even stopped  Viktor  and Storvik  had already  jumped out and were running at them with their swords drawn. Snow-  flower had her bow strung  and began shooting at  the two warriors  standing over the prisoners, Olaf and  I quickly joined Viktor and  Storvik while the women worked their way around the enemy warriors  to their prisoners.

     Viktor and Storvik were everything that Knute had  said about  them and  more. By the time  Olaf and I  reached  them, Viktor had already taken out four warriors and Storvik had two. Olaf moved in  beside them  on the  right, so I went  to their left. As we  split them into  two groups, the women captured the warrior Snowflower­'s arrows had missed, freed the prisoners and then tied their prison- er up with  the ropes. Anderson's  scout was there  and four other men, who found  their swords  among the  baggage  behind the enemy warriors and began  to attack them  with the women  from the other  side. There were now twelve of us and it looked like we were going  to be able to take  care of this  whole company  shortly and be on our way back to Knute and  Anderson, but just as  the last warrior  fell, there was a roar and four  dragons began  throwing their red and yellow fiery balls at us.

     As I had seen the other warriors do, Viktor, Storvik and Olaf  came close together and held their shields like a wall in front of  them. The other men and I formed two more lines behind them and we  slowly made our way to where the dragons had  been hiding behind a  pile of rocks and brush that lay at the foot of the mountain. They  were not brave enough to come and help the warriors  and must have  thought we had already discovered them. I remembered the  bolts of blue fire  that the  warriors had used  against the other  dragons and wished that we could do the same. Suddenly I saw  the Shepherd  giving me the  new sword and shield back at the outpost, and heard him say: "Use your  sword  my son, and tell  your warriors  to use  their swords too. Your swords  are no different  then the ones you  saw the other warriors using!" So I called  out to them  and said:  "Use your  swords and  give them a  taste of  the Shepherd's  blue fire. Aim your swords together at one dragon at a time." We start-  ed with the dragon  on our left, it was strange and  even a little  frightening the  first time I saw  blue fire come  out of my sword  like bolts of lightning.

     We were hitting each of the dragons with all twelve swords at  once, but while we were taking out the first three, the forth sent  a ball of fire down  at our feet  in between Storvik  and Olaf. It  passed through them but  hit one of the  new warriors  on his legs  knocking him  over and giving  him a bad burn  before he could get away from it. As he fell he knocked Sevea and Girda down also. The  warriors  who were still  standing  turned  and took out  the last dragon, then as the dragons lay smoking the ladies  began treating  the warriors wounds and the rest of us began  to gather the fallen  enemy  warriors  and lay  them  on top of  the dragons, and  piled  stones over them. The stolen goods were placed in the chariots and five of us each took one of the warriors. Since there  was no sign  of the wagons ever being with this group and the prisoner wouldn't  talk, we turned back to join Knute and Anderson.

     It was  early afternoon  when we began our  journey back, the  warrior who was ridding with me looked well enough  so I asked him  who he was and if he knew where our enemies had stolen the baggage  we had found. He said: "I am from the  Great Dry Lakes, my name is  Rahoe. I was taken prisoner about a week ago  as I traveled  south  on the  KING'S  Road, but I don't know where  they were  trying to take me. They said  very little near me, and when  they did it was  in a strange tongue. I want to  thank  you for rescuing us, and if you don't mind, what is your name?" I said: "I am Starfire, and we are  from Fort Blue Lake. We are looking  for some  missing supply wagons which we thought might be with these enemy warriors. Do you know who these other warriors are?" Rahoe said: "No, they were not with me. They were already prisoners  when the enemy  captured me, and they did not allow us to talk." Then I said: "We will be meet- ing  Knute and  Anderson  at the  far end  of Bergvagg. After  you have spoken to them, I am sure you can be on your way again. Where were  you headed when they captured  you?" He said: "I was  headed for the  southern  end of  the  valley of The Shadow  Of  Death. I don't think  this little  band had  anything to do with the wagons you spoke of, those packs  they were  carrying  came  from another larger group who  were the ones  which captured us. We were handed  over to that small band which broke off from them early this morn- ing to take us somewhere."

     We traveled on in silence  for the rest of way.  When we rode  into  Knute's camp  behind  Bergvagg, we found  the supplies  were there and  the men who  had been driving  the wagons also. Pulling  our chariots  to a stop next  to Knute and  the supplies, we added  the packs in our chariots and brought the rescued warriors and our  prisoner to Knute and Anderson. Since what would  be done with the  prisoner was Sergeant Anderson's job, and Knute would take care of  our new warrior's, we went over to where one of Anderson's men was starting  a fire and  a couple others  were  preparing  a camp for their company, and began making our camp next to them.

     As we often did when  camping out, we made a  circle with our chariots and built a fire in the center. After putting our bedding  around the fire  we put a pot of  water on for  some tea. I walked over to Knute and asked what they had found  out about the wagons.  He said: "We didn't see  the wagons here  because  they had burned  them. The warriors  you rescued  except  for Rahoe were  the wagon  drivers. They must have been trying to bring them to another group  somewhere." I said: "Knute, we also meet  up with  four dragons at  the far end of Bergvagg. We were able to kill  them but one of the  warriors got his legs a little burnt  by one of their fireballs. I  think he was the only one who was hurt."

     After talking with Knute, I walked back over to our camp, but just before I walked through the chariots I found Sevea sitting by herself near her chariot. It looked like  she had been  crying, so I  sat down beside her and said: "What is wrong Sevea? Why are you sitting out here crying?"  She said:  "Starfire,  you weren't sup- posed  to see me here.  I am  all right,  you can go  and join the others, I  will join you in  a little while." I could see  she was trying hard to keep  from crying again so I said: "Sevea, I am not  going to leave you out here to cry by yourself. If you won't  tell me what  is wrong at least  I am going  to sit with  you and  give you  what comfort  I can!" She said: "Thank-you  Starfire, but  it really isn't  necessary. If you  must know, Girda's  sword  cut me when we fell and  I have  been  trying to  clean it before putting  a bandage on it." I thought it must be worse then she was  letting  on, so I said: "Sevea, will  you let me  help you  or should I  go and bring  Snowflower? If you would rather  have a woman's help, I understand." She said: "No Starfire I don't need  a woman, you can  help  me if  you wish. It is  here on  my side."  She had  already cleaned it well  enough so I  helped her put a bandage on it which she had been  making, then we walked in and sat with the others.

     Later that night when the others were sleeping  I heard Sevea  crying again, I walked  silently  over to her  and sat beside her.  She said: "Starfire, what are you doing up?" As I reached  out and took her in my arms I said: "I could hear you crying again. I know  your side must hurt, but you would not be crying like this because of a small wound. Will you tell me  what is making  you so upset?"  Sevea sat there with me for a while saying nothing, then she said:  "Starfire, I don't  think you would  understand. It is enough that  you care so much about me, but there really isn't anything you can  do to help. I will tell you a little which you might understand, I  have seen  some things  which  will  come to  pass. There  will be people hurt, and I cannot bear to see this  happen to them. I can-  not tell you what I have seen because I was told  not to reveal it  to anyone at this time. You are a good man Starfire, and I am glad  to have  you here  to comfort me  but that is  all you can  do for now." After thinking about what she had  said for a while, I said:  "I will let  you keep your  secret for now, but when  we return to  Blue Lake you must tell me what this is about."

     We sat there until  we both fell  asleep, I woke up early but  Snowflower  and  Viktor were  already up. They were  smiling  as I walked over to the  fire which they had  rebuilt. I said: "Why are  you smiling so much?" After being up with  Sevea most of the night  and still thinking about what she had told me I really didn't feel  like any  jokes. Snowflower  said: "It looks  like you  have found  yourself a lady!" Viktor  didn't  say anything, he just  sat there  quietly  laughing, but when  I looked at  him he said: "What can I say, Starfire? It's only normal to think you have  something going  on when we find  you sleeping  beside Sevea. If you  don't tell us what is going on, what else are we to think?"

     I looked at Viktor and Snowflower and said: "I can't tell you  about it now Viktor, I don't  really know myself. But you must be- lieve me, I was not with Sevea  last night  because we have  some- thing  going on! I will  tell you  what  little  I know, first did  either of you know  that Sevea was cut  by Girda's sword when they  fell yesterday?" Viktor  said: "No, she never said  anything about  being cut." I said: "I didn't think so, I found her by her chariot  last night trying to dress the wound by herself. I don't think she  wanted Girda to know what happened. But late  last night after you  had all fallen  asleep, I heard her crying again. She was not hurt badly enough to be lying awake crying, so I  went over to see what  was wrong. All I could get out of  her was that  she has  had some kind of dream  or vision about people she cares about  being hurt.  Snowflower, she wouldn't say  what is  going to happen or who will  be hurt. I want you to see if you can find out for me."

 

 

     As the  others were  getting up  Snowflower  said: "I will do what I can." We made some  breakfast  and then  began preparing to  head back to Blue Lake. After the chariots were packed  Snowflower  took Sevea aside and sat down with her where they could talk with- out being  heard and  said: "Sevea, I can  see there  is something  wrong. I heard you crying last night, if  Starfire had not already  went over to you I would have. You wouldn't tell him what is both- ering you, but I am your  sister and you know there is nothing you can't tell me. Now open up and tell me about it, we can't have you  going around crying all of the time!" Sevea said: "I told Starfire  that I cannot tell  anyone about  it now, didn't he tell you? I am  sorry Snowflower I love you like a sister but I can't tell you ei-  ther. I had a  dream which  I know will  come true, people  I care  about are going to be hurt. It makes me cry to know what is going to happen to them and yet not be able to stop it."

     When Snowflower came back and told me she couldn't get it out  of Sevea  either I went  over and  said to Knute: " Knute there is  something  wrong, and I can't  find out what  it is." He said: "Do you have any  idea what you are  talking about?" I answered: "Well  it has to do with a dream and people being  hurt, but I don't know what the  dream was  or who  will be  hurt." He said: "Then  there really isn't anything you can do until  you find out. Don't be too  worried about it, most of  these dreams never  come to pass." So I  thanked him  and went  back to the  others, I knew  I have  to get Sevea to tell me the truth about her dream.

     The men we brought  were  ridding  with Knute's company so we pulled out onto the road and began  our journey  back to the place  where we spent our second night. Knute's company rode in front and  Anderson's  brought up  the rear. I rode in  silence all  that day thinking  about  our battle  with the  enemy and  the dragons, and  about Sevea and her dream. For some reason I just couldn't  forget  about that dream of her's, I had a  feeling that I  was one of the  people she saw. After we had made camp I took Sevea aside again.

      We went down  to the small  creek and  sat down, and I said:  "Sevea I know  you don't want to, but you must  tell me what it is you dreamed. Somehow I know  it involves me." She  answered: "Yes, it might, but  I didn't  see you. If  I  am to  tell you, you must never tell anyone what you have learned! I cannot say  a word if I  am not certain  of this." So I said: "Sevea unless  it was to save  someone's life, I will never tell anyone!"

     She looked at me for a while and then she pulled me close and  began  very slowly and quietly: "Starfire, it was not completely a dream. What I did in the beginning has already  happened, and  be- cause of it I am going to  have a baby. As you know I am  not mar- ried or even engaged, and the man is going to marry another woman.  Fort Blue  Lake is  too small, as soon  as my baby begins  to show  everyone in  the fort will  know about it. I  cannot stay and  let them find out who my baby's father is, it would hurt many people I  care about." She began  crying  again  so took  a hold  of her and said: "Sevea, will you tell  me who he is?" She was crying so hard she could hardly talk, but she managed to say: "It is Knute!"

     Now I knew  why she had  been  crying  all day, and I  knew I would have to find a way to help her. I said: "Does Knute know you  are going to  have his baby?" Sevea had  stopped crying  enough to say: "No, I haven't told him yet." I made her look at me and said:  "Then don't say  a word to him  about it. I love  you Sevea, and I  want you to marry me when we get back to Blue Lake. I want  you to tell everyone  at the  fort that  I am  your  baby's  father." She started  crying again and  said: "Oh Starfire, I can't let  you do  this. I love you too, but I can't let you marry me just because of  my baby!"

     For the first time since we sat down  to talk  I was able  to laugh. I said to her: "I can't think of a better reason to get  us to do what we knew was right  all along. And you were  the one who  was trying  to get  me to marry  Snowflower. I think  you were the  reason the Shepherd kept me  from asking her, because I  did think  of it  more than  once since I met her. But now  I am sure  that I Want You  Sevea. Unless the Shepherd  tells us different  will you  please marry me as soon as it can be arranged when we return?" She  suddenly looked happier than I can  ever remember  seeing her. All  she could say before starting to cry again was: "YES."

     I sat and held  her for  a while, it seemed so  different now  that I had asked her to  be my wife. Before  I was just  trying to  comfort a  sister, but now this lady would be with me for the rest of my life. Sevea had been thinking to, and she said: "Starfire, I  thought  my whole life  was ruined  because of one stupid mistake.  And maybe it should have been, I knew what I was doing  was wrong.  Skadi has  been one  of my best  friends for a  long time and this would  have destroyed her  marriage with Knute. It shouldn't  have  ever happened but we were out with a couple warriors and  what was  only going to be talk between  two friends ended  up a baby. I had  always wanted Knute, but I  guess I wasn't  enough of a  woman for  him and he chose Skadi with all of her fancy dresses and coach."       I began to understand what had been  going on, Sevea had been  in love  with Knute  long before  he chose  Skadi, but had stepped back  without saying a word and let her best friend have  him when he chose Skadi  over her. It was just  more then she  could handle  when Knute showed a desire for her that night. I looked at her and  said: "Sevea, I have the real woman  here with me, and  unless the  Shepherd tells me  I must, I am  never going to  let you go. But I  think  it would  be better if  we went back  and joined the others now. Dry your eyes now, and you don't need to worry  anymore about 'Our baby'." Then we walked back up to our camp.

     The creek was not very far  away from  our camp, but everyone had stayed  away while  we sat  and talked. When they saw  us come  back to the fire they began to fetch water for washing and cooking  dinner. Snowflower who was sitting by the fire  had a  funny smile on  her face, she could see the difference in the way Sevea looked  and said: "Are you still going to tell me you two don't have some-  thing between you? A lady  doesn't have that look  on her face for  nothing! I may not be married, but I have seen that  look before."  Girda said: "This time I agree with you Snowflower, the first time  I think Starfire was just acting  like the good Captain  I know he  is becoming. But  no woman is going  to go from  crying all day to  this without having something awfully good  happen to her, come on  Sevea tell  us all  about it." Olaf said: "I want  to  know what's  going on to, if my Captain is involved."

     Sevea said: "Starfire, is it okay?" I said: "Sevea, it is all  up to you. You can tell them as much as you want to." So she said:  "Starfire has  asked me  to marry him, and I said yes. When we get  back I want the  three of us to  get together with  Skadi and plan  our wedding."

     After dinner  we all  went to  bed early, it had  been a long hard day and even with Sevea's news nobody felt like saying up and  talking that night. I went  to my bed and  lay down, but just as I  was about  to drift off  to sleep I heard something beside  me. It was Sevea putting her bed next to mine, she was trying not to wake  me so I  didn't say anything  and went back  to sleep. I think she was trying to show the others that we were not joking.

     In the morning we left early  and headed for  the place where  we had spent the first night out. As we rode Storvik, who had said  nothing  yet rode up  beside me and said: "Starfire, are  you sure you know  what you  are doing? You have  not shown any  desire for Sevea before this, what made you change your  mind so suddenly?" I  said: "Storvik, I understand your concern, but although  I did not  let it show I knew all along that I would like  to have her for my  wife. But I did  not want  to ask  any lady  not knowing  when the Shepherd might send me away for a long time. Yesterday  when I was  talking with  her I began  to see that  it was only  because I was  afraid of being rejected, that had kept me from  telling her. As I  sat with her I knew it was the  right time, so you see  it was not  sudden  at all." He said: "It sounds  good to me  Starfire, I know  Sevea will  make a good wife  for you, I just wanted to  make sure  you were marrying her because you love her."

     No one else  said anything  that day and I  wondered what was going through  their minds. Each time I  looked back at  Sevea she had a happy smile on her face, and I remembered when we first  met she had said she didn't like ridding  around on smelly  horses and  wanted to find a husband and  settle down. Now that  she could see  her desire being met it is no wonder she was looking so happy.

     That evening after  we were settled in  for our last night on  the road, the ladies  went off  by themselves  for a  while. After they came back  Sevea told me what  happened, she said: "Girda and  Snowflower  asked me to go  talk with them, when they got me where you men couldn't hear  us Snowflower  said: 'Sevea, you are hiding  something  from us. What did you do or say that  would cause Star-  fire to ask you to marry him?  We all know perfectly  well that he  did not want  to get  married now!' Then  Girda  said: 'What Snow-  flower just said is true, we have all talked enough  with Starfire  to know  he cares  about all of us  like we were  his sisters. The only one he has  ever said  he might want  to marry is Snowflower!  And now  you tell us  he just asked "You" to marry him, we want to  know what you have  done to him.' I didn't know what  to say Star-  fire, I couldn't tell  them the  truth, but  I didn't want  to lie either. After setting there  silent for a  while with both of them staring at me I said: 'I can't tell you what  made Starfire decide  to ask me now. He told me that he  was sure that  I was the reason  the  Shepherd  kept him  from asking  you Snowflower, you  know he really did want you and probably  would have later. He said now he  was sure that I was the one  he wanted and I was not about to turn him down!' I didn't  tell poor  Snowflower  that I  had  taken her place, but it was true and I couldn't tell them  about Knute. They  weren't satisfied but I wasn't  about to tell them  anything more. Do  you think I  did right?" I said: "I don't  know what  more you could have told them  at this time, it should be  enough until  we talk to  the Commander." We ate our dinner together and  then went to bed.

     In the morning Knute came over and said: "What is this I hear  about you and  Sevea?" I said: "I asked her to be my  wife yester-  day, but we  don't want to  wait  until  spring like  you are." He said: "You make sure to treat her right Starfire, because you just  got one of the best ladies  at this fort. I was thinking of asking her myself at one time."

     We then began the last leg of  our journey back  to the fort.  We had rescued  our warriors, recovered some  of  the stolen goods  from the supply  wagons, removed  two companies of enemy warriors,  four dragons and had  one prisoner. It had been a  very successful  mission, but now that I had accepted Sevea my whole life was about  to change and I didn't know what to do. I was just a  warrior try-  ing to follow the Shepherd, who rescued me from  the Valley. I was  worried that the Shepherd was going to show  up and tell me what I  was about to do was wrong. What was Sevea going to do if the Shep-  herd said 'No'. As I traveled  along, I think I must  have come up  with every possible thing that could go wrong.

     Then suddenly the Shepherd appeared in  my chariot, and said: " Son do  not be  concerned, the others  do not  see me! You  have been  quickly growing into a good warrior and you have been faith- ful to follow  my  commands. I know what you  are trying to do for Sevea and of your concern that you may be  going against  my will. You are  doing the right thing  Starfire, Sevea has been asking me to  send her  someone  like you  ever  since  Knute  rejected her. Because you  have desired  to  do what is  right, and  because you were  willing to do my will even if I told you 'No', I am going to give you  the desire  of your hearts. I want  you to go  ahead and  marry her Starfire, and I will keep you at  Fort  Blue  Lake until  after your baby  is born. Do not be  afraid my son to  do what you know is right!" Then the Shepherd disappeared.

     Now I think  I must have  looked almost  as happy as Sevea, I had made one of the biggest decisions of my life and  the Shepherd  had just told me I had  made the  right choice. Now I could hardly wait for this trip to be over so I could tell Sevea what the Shep- herd had said. This was going to be the happiest time of my life.

 

             Chapter 15. 'The Commander's Choice'.

 

     We were quickly approaching Blue Lake now and I was glad this mission  was over, but there  was very little  time left to decide what I was going to do when we got there. As we  interred the fort  I rode my  chariot over  to the Commander's  house. I found him in his office and went in to ask him for help. Stenkross said: "I see  you are back, have a seat my son and tell me about your first mis-  sion as a Captain."

     I said: "Thank-you Commander, I think you will  be happy with our success. We recovered almost everything from the supply wagons and rescued our warriors, we killed some dragons and I am sorry to say enemy warriors  breaking up two of their  companies near Berg- vagg, and brought back  one prisoner. Commander, I do  not think I will ever be any good at this, these warriors are men,  not beasts and it is against everything  the  Shepherd has taught me, to kill  them. What am I supposed  to do?" He  said: " Starfire, it is good you  feel this way, because you are right, they  are men just like us. But this is  a war between the Shepherd and the Dark Lord, and in war it is sometimes necessary  to kill men as well as  beasts. It is not fun, but sometimes we are called as  warriors to do so."      When he finished I said: "Commander, there is one other thing  that is bothering  me, but I said  I would  tell no one  about it.  I need help in knowing what to do, but if I can't ask you where do  I find the  answers  I need?" Stenkross  said: "Son, whatever  you need to  talk about will  stay  with me, no matter what  it is." I  said: "Commander, I need your help. But I am afraid of  what might  happen if I tell you what is wrong." He  said: " Is there anything you can tell me without being afraid of saying something you prom-  ised not to?"

     I said: "Well Sevea and  I are going to  get married  as soon as possible, I have spoken  with the Shepherd and he  said it  was okay. I love her  Commander, but there  is a  problem  and  I need someone's help but I told  Sevea I wouldn't tell anyone about it!"  Commander Stenkross sat silent thinking for a while and then said: "Starfire, you do have a  problem. Does this problem  concern only  Sevea and you, or are there others  in the fort  involved also?" I  said: "It should be our own, but before  long the people are going  to know and I don't think they will let us be." He said: "Starfire  tell me about this problem, I will not let Sevea find out that you  said anything. I will find some way to help you." When  I said no- thing the Commander said: "Tell me about it  Starfire, I will com-  mand you to  tell me what is  going on here if it  will help you."  Then I  said: "Sevea is  going to be my  wife in a few days, and I  promised  not to  tell  her  secret  to  anyone." Stenkross  said: "Gelfiun!" A moment  later his  wife came  into the  office and he said: "Go get Sevea and join us here in my office!"

     We sat in  silence until Gelfiun returned with Sevea. Gelfiun sat beside the Commander in  her chair and another was  placed be- side me  for  Sevea. Stenkross  began: " Starfire has told  me you  want  to marry him, is that  true?" She  said: "Yes  Commander, we  want to be  married now if you will give us  permission." He said:  "I want to know  why you are in  such a rush, this is not like you at all Sevea. I tried to get Starfire to tell me but  he won't say  anything. Now I am asking you to  tell me what  made you do this?"  She began to look  worried first and  broke down crying  again and  said: "I can't tell you Commander, I will leave Blue Lake before I  tell anyone." Then Gelfiun  with tears  in her eyes  said: "Sevea, you are like my daughter, and you are not going to leave our fort,  no matter what has happened we will find a way to help you." Sevea  said: "Starfire you  said  you  wouldn't  tell  anyone!" Stenkross  stood up and walked over  to her  and said: "And Starfire has kept his word my  daughter. Now I don't want to have to  ask you again,  tell us what is wrong."

     She stopped crying and for the  first time since  I met her I  saw Sevea get angry as she said: "I am going  to  have a baby, and  "Your Son" is my baby's father. Knute doesn't want me, now I  have  his baby and he has my best friend Skadi. Knute doesn't know about  my baby yet, no one knows except Starfire and he wants me anyway."       Then  I said: "She is telling you the truth Commander, I knew about this before I asked her to be my wife. And on  the way  back the  Shepherd told  me he wants me to marry Sevea, that I am doing the right thing. I asked  Sevea because I love her, I just  didn't understand that I loved  her so much  until she told  me about our  baby. Our  problem is  not that  Sevea is going to have a baby, or that Knute is its father because no one knows that except us.  Our problem is that even if you will  marry us now, Sevea is  going to have  her baby  too soon. I don't know  what  to do, I don't  want  everyone talking about  my wife as if she was  running around with  every warrior in the fort. Sevea is as pure as any  other woman in  the fort and deserves their respect."

     Gelfiun came over  and took Sevea  in her arms  and said: "My  poor little  daughter, we will  keep your  secret, since  Starfire loves  you so  much we won't  tell Knute what  he did  to you. But don't you ever forget, that's my grandbaby inside you Sevea. Sten-  kross could we send them away on a long honeymoon?" He thought for  a moment and  then said: "No, it is  too late  for that, winter is  already here. It will be okay, Gelfiun you can take  care of their  wedding." Then he turned to me and said: "Well Starfire, I can see  why the Shepherd chose to make you a Captain. It takes a good  man and a good warrior to take care of his company like you have."

     "As for  your problem, Starfire I know  you are innocent, but if my son is to  be kept out of this  you are going to have to ac-  cept his guilt. It will be hard, but it will not  go unrewarded. I  know my son, he may have made a few mistakes, but he is one of the  best warriors at this  fort and is also  the one who  will take my place one day. Knute owes  you more than he will  ever know unless  you choose to tell him someday."

     "Sevea, I asked  Gelfiun to  be here  because  she  is rarely wrong in knowing when our  young ladies  are telling the  truth. I  trust you, but when Starfire was willing to disobey me refusing to  tell me what he knew, it most likely that you were going to try to  cover up  the truth too. I would  not have  believed you  when you told us what Knute did to you  if she had not accepted your story.  I know you never  wanted to be  a warrior, but you  went ahead and  became a very  good warrior  anyway because we  asked you to. Your  warrior days are over now Sevea, we do  not ask a wife  and mother  to fight in our  battles. We will find a  larger room for  you and  Starfire to live in, and when your time comes we  want you to come  and stay with us. As I told Starfire, that your child will be born  too soon  after your  marriage cannot be  hidden. You will have to accept what comes because of your mistake. Do not  hold it against Starfire for coming  to us, he was only trying  to protect you and  would  not tell us your  secret. You two can  go now, Gelfiun will let you know as son as she has the fort ready for your wedding."

     We then  left the Commander's  office, Sevea walked across to the great room, but I had to bring my chariot to the stable first.  I found  her sitting near the fireplace  waiting for me with a pot of tea. As I sat down beside her I said: "I only wanted him to let  us get married  now before  anyone  knows about  our baby, but  he wouldn't stop until he knew the whole story. When I  wouldn't tell  him, he sent for you." Sevea  said: "I know Starfire, it is better  that they found out now anyway." She leaned over and kissed me and then said: "I am  glad now  that I have  you  instead  of Knute. I think that I love you far more than I ever loved him. Oh Starfire,  I am so excited, just think in a few days you will be my husband."  I said: "Yes  my  love, in a  few days. But it  is starting to get late and for now we must go to our own rooms."

     As Starfire was  talking,  Snowflower, Girda and Skadi walked up and sat  down next to Sevea.  Girda spoke for them: "We want to have a  party for you  Sevea, will  you come  to Snowflower's room tomorrow night after dinner?" Sevea  said: "Thank-you, of course I will." We talked for a  while and then  since I could  hardly stay  awake I said: "I am going  to leave  you now before I  fall asleep  here." Snowflower and Girda who were also yawning said: "Me too!"

     That night the Shepherd came to Knute  in his room. His  room grew bright as it had  when Karlek  came to my room, and the Shep-  herd said: "Knute my son, what is this you have  done to my daugh- ter Sevea? Do you  think I do not know  what you are  up to when I  send  you on a  mission?" He said: "What do  you mean  Shepherd, I have tried to do the best I can for you each time we go out.  Have  I failed you?" The Shepherd  said in a  stern almost  angry voice:  "Yes my son, you know  what you  have done, why are you  trying to  hide it  from me. You could have had Sevea for  your wife, but you  chose Skadi. Because you could  not leave  Sevea alone  now she is  going to  have your child. Starfire has stood up and taken her for his wife because he loves her too much to  let her be disgraced by  your evil deed. He is also  trying to  protect your  reputation as his  future  Commander. I will not let this pass by, you  must  go to  Starfire and Sevea and ask them to forgive your evil deed. And you must go tell your father and mother what you have done!"

     Knute put  his head in his hands and said: "I didn't know she  was going to have a child. I will do as you ask Shepherd, and will  you forgive me? It seems I have hurt  everyone around  me for only  one night of pleasure." the Shepherd said: "I forgive you my son."

     The next day as a snowstorm came in covering Blue Lake with a  foot of snow, Knute came and  found Sevea and I in the  great room  and said: " Starfire, Sevea, I need to  talk  with  you. Will  you come with me to  my father's office?" I said: "Sure Knute." We got  up and followed him over, his  father was not in his  office so we  went back into the house and found him sitting by  their fireplace  with  Gelfiun. Knute  said: "Father, may  we  talk  with  you  and mother?" Both of  them looked  up and  Stenkross  said: "Of course son. have a seat and tell me what you need."

     Knute did not speak for a moment and then said: "A while back  we were  out on  patrol, and Sevea was  with us. There was  a time  when  I was  very close  to Sevea and  I think  she felt  the same towards me. But then I decided to ask Skadi to marry me and drift-  ed away from  Sevea. One night I went  over and sat  talking  with  Sevea late into  the night, then I went too far  and now the Shep-  herd has told me that she is  carrying my child. I know that Star- fire is going  to marry  her and I am  glad to see  she has  found someone she really wants. But I don't know  whether I am  supposed  be the child's father or stand back and  let Starfire? Sevea, I am  sorry, I didn't  mean  for this to  happen to you. But now that it has I cannot change what  took place, all I can do is  accept what  you, Starfire and father decide is right."

     Commander Stenkross  spoke first being  commander of the fort  and Knute's  father: "I should have  made you break  up with Skadi and marry Sevea, but since Starfire truly loves Sevea he will be a  far better husband for her than you. It would not be good for  the child to have two fathers, so I would rather you never  say a word  about being  it's  father. Starfire  and  Sevea  are  the  child's parents and the final word is theirs, you will do as they ask."

     Sevea spoke next and said: "Knute, you could not have brought  this child into the world by yourself. I could have run  away from  you that night, I know you  would not have  stopped me. You know I  wanted you for my husband, it was more than I  could do  to refuse you, now we  pay for  our deed. Starfire and I are  going to raise  our child, it is better for you not  to try to be  it's father. If  Starfire is willing I would like you to be an uncle." Then I said:  "Well it seems the two of you have already made the right decision  and there is nothing more for me to add, except I would be glad to  call Knute my brother. And  Knute, I want you to  know that I hold nothing against you. If the Shepherd were here he would want me to  forgive you, as he has forgiven me each time I have hurt him and I do. Knute please try to learn from this so it won't happen again."

     When Knute said nothing Gelfiun began: "Knute, I don't  think  you understand what you  have done. You came here hoping  we would  let you walk away  from this evil thing  you have done  so you can  follow in your  father's footsteps. Do you  understand at all what  you have done to  poor Sevea, or what  it will do to Skadi  if she  should ever find out who  the father really is of  Sevea and Star- fire's  child? I tried  to raise you to  be an honorable  man like your  father, and now you tell  me my own son  has cheated  on his wife. If Starfire  had not stepped  in, you  would  have de­stroyed Sevea's life. Do you have anything more to say for yourself?"

     Knute  sat in  his chair  and would  not even look  up at his mother. Gelfiun said quietly: "Then as Starfire  said if our Shep-  herd were here he would want us to forgive you, my son  we do for-  give you. But  this  cannot  go  unpunished, if  your  father  has nothing  more I  want  Sevea  and Starfire  to go  back  to  their friends, but you stay here I have  more to say  to you!" Stenkross  said: "I have nothing more, do as Gelfiun asks."

     After Sevea and I left, Gelfiun said: " Knute I love you, you  are my only son. But your behavior has been unacceptable,  so I am  asking your father to take away your position as  Fort Blue Lake's  future Commander. I think  Starfire should  be put in  your place, but that must be left to your father  and our Shepherd. Stenkross,  what do you say?" He stared  at Knute for a moment  and then said:  "I want  more than anything else  to see my  son take my  place as Commander, but  I think  your mother  is right. I am not  going to  make my decision  until I have  spoken with  the Shepherd. For now  you will keep your position, I will send for you after I have made  my decision. You may go now son."

     Knute left and joined us in the great room, the room was full  because of the snow, so as Knute sat down he said: "Can we go some place where we can be alone? I would like to talk  with the two of  you." I  said: "We could go  up to my  room if you like." He said:  "That will  be fine, it won't take  too long." So the  three of us  went to my room  and sat  on the bed. Knute said: " Well Starfire,  it looks like you are going to take my place as the next Commander  if my  mother has  her way. But father  will not go along with her unless the Shepherd tells him to. If I had known what was going to  happen because of what  I did to you that night Sevea, I would not have  even went  near you, but  it is too  late now. I thought you  should know what mother has in mind for you Starfire, and Sevea, I  really am  sorry to have  caused you so many  problems. I guess it  took my mother asking father to remove me from next  in command to  understand  how serious  this is. Maybe the  Shepherd will  let me keep my  place under father, but I  think  he will  probably agree with mother and  give it to  someone else  if not you." I said: "I  would like  to see you keep  it Knute, and I believe  the Shepherd  does to. He has  not guided you  along and given  you parents like  Commander Stenkross and Gelfiun just to cast you aside now. Do not  be afraid, I believe your position as our future Commander is sec-  ure, if you do not have anything more we need to say in private, I  think we should not stay up here alone with Sevea." He  said: "No,  let's go back down."

     We passed the rest of the day talking with the  people in the  great room. That evening was Sevea's party  with her friends, when  they went to Snowflower's  room I walked over to  Svartsmed's shop  to see if he might still be there. Normally he would have shut the shop down by now, but this  evening I found  him still  there with the forge going. When he  saw me come in  he said: "Starfire, it's  good to  see you. I hear  you are going  to marry  Sevea!" I said:  "Yes Svartsmed, as soon as  possible." He said: "Son, we  are good friends now, why don't you call me Unkel since you are joining our  family." I said: "Okay Unkel, I came because I would  like to give  Sevea something to remember our wedding, but I don't know anything  about this  marriage stuff, did you  give your wife  anything when you married her?" He smiled  and said: "That was a long  time ago, but  yes I  did give her  a ring before  we were married and  then another at the  ceremony. That  is the  custom  at the  Shepherd's  forts. I  would  like to make  a gift of  your rings  if you  will  accept them."  I said: "Oh  Uncle  Svartsmed , I would  love that. Sevea will be so surprised when we give her the first ring."

     Svartsmed said: "Come with me Starfire." He closed his forge,  then we left the  shop and headed  for his room which  was next to  Sergeant Starklad's. After going in he went to a dresser and pull-  ed out  a box, when he  opened it he  held it out to  me and said: "These were my wife's, choose one  and we will make it into a ring for Sevea." I knew  that Sevea  liked rubies, so I took out a ring with small rubies surrounding a diamond. After he put the box away we went back to his shop and he remade the ring so it would be the right size for Sevea. Svartsmed then handed  me the ring and said:  "Take this to Sevea and put it on her finger, and ask her again to marry you. There isn't  anything she will  want to hear more, than for you to keep telling her how much you love her. Send Sevea over  to me  tomorrow and  we will make  the ring  she will  give you." I said: "I don't know how to thank-you  Unkel Svartsmed, I will do as  you asked, and if  you have any more  advice I will be glad to hear it."

     Then I left his shop and went to see if  the ladies had  fin- ished their  party yet. They were not in the great room, but Knute was there and so I asked him if he  had seen them, he said: "Skadi came  out a little while ago, she said they will be  out short­ly." So I  told him what Svartsmed had done for me, and asked him if he could help me do something special so  Sevea would always remember  this evening. He said: "Yes, I think we can do that."  And then he  left. When he came back he said: "Well there is nothing  to do now  but wait."

     I didn't notice what Knute had done, but as we sat and waited  some of his  men were  letting the  people know  what was  to take place. When the ladies came out most of  the fort was assembled in  the great room and  champagne had been passed  around for a toast.  Knute told me to go over to the fireplace and he brought Sevea and  Skadi over. When  we were all  standing there, Knute rang  a small bell which sat on the mantel and the people  became quiet. Then he  said: "Go ahead Starfire." I was so  nervous standing  in front of the  whole fort that I could hardly speak. Sevea was  nervous too, not knowing why she had been  brought in  front of  everyone. Then I said: "Sevea, I want to ask you  again  in front  of everyone to  marry me." She  said: "Oh, Starfire! Of course  I will  marry you.  There is nothing I want more." I pulled out the ring Svartsmed had  made for her and said: "Then I give  you this ring  as a symbol of  my love for you!",and placed it on her finger.

     With that everyone began cheering, raising their  glasses and  making toasts to our marriage. This was almost too much for Sevea,  who began  crying again, but at least this time they were tears of joy. I think  she must have  been the  happiest woman  in the fort this night. I didn't understand before this how much such a little  thing means to a woman. After we had thanked Knute and his friends  for all they  had done, we slipped  back into  Sevea's  room so we could be alone for  a little while. When she had  closed the door,  Sevea turned and wrapped her arms around me and said: "Starfire my  love, this ring is so beautiful; I will cherish it all of my life.  And I want you to know that my love for you will never die!" After  I gave her a kiss we sat down and  I said: "Sevea, I didn't under-  stand  how much  this would  mean to you. I went to  see Svartsmed  this evening and he told me this is the custom at Blue Lake. I had  no idea something so small would make you this happy. I would like  you to tell me about your party and what this evening really means  to you."

     Sevea  began: "After  dinner  Girda  took me  to Snowflower's room, which they  had prepared  for my party. The room  was almost too small for all of the ladies they had invited. We  talked a lot  about the wedding and what  you and I are  going to do afterwards.  Greeth, Sergeant Starklad's daughter, said her  father was willing  to make your room and Snowflower's into one for us. And Snowflower  said she will move  down to room two across  from Greeth tomor­row.  Starfire, this means we will have the whole end for our house. And  Skadi told me we could use her coach whenever  we want, but she is  going to have Svartsmed make another for us as a wedding gift. And  right in the middle  of my party, Gelfiun  came in  with a present  for me. When I opened  it, it was a wedding dress, she said it was the one she wore when she married  Sten­kross. Starfire, wait until  you see it, I don't think I have ever seen a dress so beautiful as  this one! Gelfiun has  almost  finished  the arrangements  for our  wedding, but she won't tell me about it, she said she  wants it to  be a  surprise for us. Oh  Starfire, I am boring  you with  all of this girlish talk about my party? I could go on for hours."

 

     "When my party was over we came back to the great room. I had no idea that you had anything planed for me, so when Knute brought  Skadi and  me up in front  of everyone I was  very surprised. Then  you asked me in front of the whole fort  to marry you. Starfire, I  cannot even  begin to make you understand how much that means to a girl. This ring you gave me will stay on my finger until the day I  die. It is a  constant reminder of how  much you love me. When you first  came to the  fort with  Snowflower, I thought  you were her man, and I knew  she was a  very lucky girl. But when you  told us  you were  only good friends, I began  to wonder if  there might be  some way for me to make you my man. I didn't  know then that I was  going to have a baby, when  I found out, I thought I  had lost you  forever  because no man  wants a lady who's  going to have another  man's baby. But this  evening you stood  up in front of  the whole  fort and told them that you want me, Sevea for your wife. Oh Star-  fire my Love, how can I ever find enough ways to show you how much  this means to me?"

 

     I think I began to understand that evening how strong Sevea's love for  me really was, before  I thought  she was  just happy to have a husband and a  father for her baby. Now I knew our love was real and would last, I knew I could never love another woman. So I  said: "Sevea, I told  the fort, now  I tell  you again. It  is you that I want, there will never  be another! Before they  miss us we  should go back out to the others. But first come here." I took her  in my arms and held her in silence for a  little while, and a bond  seemed  to be formed  between us at  that time which was so strong that nothing will ever be able to break it.

          Chapter 16. 'Sevea And Starfire's Wedding'.

     During the next few days after our meeting with Stenkross and  Gelfiun, she had made arrangements with the Chef to make a special  dinner and cake for us, Stenkross was  to  perform  the  ceremony, Starklad would have his men form an aisle in full uniform which we were to walk up to the front through, she had a Blue Lake  uniform  made for me to  wear instead of my armor, Girda and  Snowflower to walk behind Sevea and carry her train, and many other things which kept her busy. On the afternoon of the seventh  day everything was ready, and we were standing at the door of the great room.

   When the  door opened I saw  two rows of Starklad's men forming an aisle from the door  to the fireplace where  Stenkross and Gel- fiun were  standing. all of the tables had been removed except the one next  to the stairs, on which  sat a large white cake and more food than I had ever seen in one place. Viktor who  had the second ring  which I was  giving Sevea was  walking  beside me, then came Sevea who was being escorted by Svartsmed and behind her Girda and Snowflower who carried  the ring she was  giving me. As we entered  one of Starklad's men gave a blow on his horn, and all  of his men  raised  their  swords  forming  an arch  over  our  heads. When we reached Stenkross  and Gelfiun; Viktor  and Svartsmed  stood on my left and Sevea, Snowflower and Girda stood on my right.

     As Stenkross  was  about to start  the ceremony, the Shepherd  appeared  behind him  and said: "Commander  Stenkross, may I  take your place?" When  he  turned  and  saw who  was  speaking, he and dropped  to their knees. But the  Shepherd said: "Arise my son and daughter, this is not a time to be humble. Stand beside me." 

     Then he looked at Sevea and me, and said: "Hello my chil­dren, this is  a very important day for you. Today you are  becoming man and wife,  from now on  your lives  will be  as one. Starfire, you asked me on the road if it was my will that you marry  Sevea and I  told you that you  had made the right  choice. I want  to reassure you again,  it was  my will all along for the two of you to  marry and become one. This is one of the most  important  reasons I sent  you to Blue Lake. You have done well my son, Father and I are  not ashamed to call you our son."

     "Sevea my daughter, each night you cried out to me for a hus- band, I heard  you. When the  time was right  I sent you Starfire.  Today we are fulfilling the desire of your heart, today you become  Starfire's wife and the mother of his children. It is not time yet  for you to lay down  your shield, but your  time will come soon my  daughter."

     Then he said: "Starfire, do you  accept Sevea  for your wife,  do you  promise my Father  to love and cherish  her until  you are separated  by death?" I said: "Yes my  Lord, I want  Sevea for  my wife, I promise  Father to love her and  never leave her no matter where you send us, I will stay with her until Father calls us home to his palace!" He turned  to Sevea and  said: "Sevea, do you also  accept Starfire for your husband, do you promise my Father to love  and obey him until the day comes when you are separated by death?"  She looked at  me with  tears in  her eyes  and then  back at  the Shepherd and said: "Yes my Lord, I want Starfire for my husband. I  promise Father to always  love and  obey him, I will stay with him and bear his children  no matter where you send us. He is  the man  you have given to me, he is  your answer to all  of those nights I  cried out  to you  for a mate. I accept  him  completely, and will never leave him.!"

     Then the Shepherd  said: "Starfire, Sevea, with the authority  my Father the  KING  has given to me, I now pronounce  you Husband and Wife. What I  have joined together  through my  Father, no man can take apart. You are  now one  in my  Father's  sight." He then turned to  Stenkross and Gelfiun and said: "Would you finish  this ceremony my son  and daughter?"

     They  stepped forward, one on each  side of the  Shepherd and  Stenkross said: "Starfire, do you have anything to give Sevea as a reminder of your wedding vows?" I answered: "Yes  Commander  Sten- kross, I have a ring!" I turned to Viktor and he gave  me the ring Svartsmed  had made for  Sevea. Then  Stenkross said: "Place it on her finger Starfire." So I took her right  hand which she held out to me and put the ring on her ring finger. Gelfiun turned to Sevea and  said: "Sevea, do you  have  anything  to give  Starfire  as a reminder  of  your  wedding  vows ?" She  said:  " Yes  Mastarinna Gelfiun, I have a ring!" Sevea  turned to Snow­flower  who gave her the ring Svartsmed  had made  for me. Then Gelfiun said: "Place it on Starfire's finger Sevea." I held out my left hand  to Sevea and  she put the  ring on  my finger. As she  did the  warrior with the horn gave another blow  on his horn, and the  Shepherd said: "Give  Sevea a  kiss  Starfire, she is  now  your  Wife." So  as we stood before everyone I gave Sevea  a kiss and then we  turned and began  walking back down the aisle formed by Starklad's men.

     The Shepherd then  turned to Stenkross  and quietly said: "It is time  to meet  with  your  son as  you  asked, meet  me in your office with Gelfiun  and Knute." The Shepherd then  left for Sten-kross' office, Stenkross found Gelfiun and Knute and followed him.  The  Shepherd sat behind the  desk with  the three of them  before him, he looked at Knute for a while before speaking and then said: "Knute, you have dishonored your parents and me. I placed you sec-  ond only to your father and mother, and you have chosen to do what  even your warriors would not do. But what you have done is not be- yond repair, Starfire has  already done much to  repair the damage  you caused for a few moments of pleasure with a woman you knew was  not the one I gave to you. The Commander of  my forts cannot allow  himself to do such evil acts!"

     "I have already forgiven you Knute, and so have your parents.  Your mother would have me take your position as Blue  Lake's  next  Commander away, and make  you a common warrior. Your father  would  overlook  what you have done and go on as if it had never happened  doing whatever he must to cover up your  evil deeds. Starfire told  you the  truth, he is a  good man who  can see truth  where others miss it. He was  correct when he  told you that  you have not been  placed second  in command for  nothing, you are in  the position I  chose for you before you were born, and I will  not remove it from  you. Knute, learn  from your  mistake and have compassion  on your  warriors when you find  one of them has committed an  evil deed as  I have had compassion on you."

     "Gelfiun my daughter, I understand how you  feel in this mat-  ter. Sevea is the daughter you never had, and you  love her as you  would have your own. But Knute is  also your son, you must forgive  him as I have. You made  your choice from  what your feelings told you was right, and you have made many  wise decisions by following  your feelings. This is one of those times where  your husband made  the right decision by setting his feelings aside and waiting until  I told him  what to do. Stenkross, Gelfiun, you have  been wise in the way you have handled this  matter. Deal with  Knute as you see  fit, but he is  to stay as Fort  Blue  Lake's  next Commander! Now Knute, go and bring Starfire and Sevea to me."

     Knute  left  and  found us  sitting  with  Snowflower, Girda, Viktor and Olaf in the great room. He  said: "Starfire, Sevea; the  Shepherd is  in father's  office and  wants to  speak with you, he sent me to bring the two of  you to him."  When we  arrived at his  father's office, Stenkross and Gelfiun were  sitting on the  Shep- herd's  right and there were three chairs set in front of the desk for us. As  we  sat  down  the  Shepherd  said: "Good  evening  my children, Sevea  I have  been talking  with Knute and his  parents about  what the two  of you did. As  Starfire told Knute I am  not going to take away his  position. Gelfiun would have placed all of the blame  on Knute for  what happened that night, but Knute could not have done this evil deed alone, you must  share the blame with him. Knute is a good and honorable son, he would  not have touched  you if you had told  him to stop. I forgave Knute  for his part in this and I forgive you  as well. You knew that Knute was not to be  your husband, that I gave Skadi to him, and yet you would not  let him go. Now you will bear  his  child as a  reminder of  your dis- obedience. You knew  I could  hear  your cries for  a husband, you should have waited for the man you knew I would send to you. Today I have given him to you, today  Starfire has become  your husband. I know  my children, and I know  who to give  each of  them  for a Mate."

     "Starfire, you are free of any blame in this, I have  nothing  but praise for  you in the  way you have  handled such a difficult problem so early in your leadership of the company I have given to you. As I told you, I will keep you here until after Sevea's  baby  is born. You have  all  spoken a desire to see Knute  and  Skadi's wedding, then I  will send  you on. When the  time is  near I will  come and tell you where you are to go, for now enjoy your time to-  gether and continue to work together as a company. That is all for  now my  children, be at peace and  know your marriage has my bles- sings. You may  go back  to your  party, and  you may  go as  well Knute." With that  the Shepherd disappeared leaving the five of us sitting  in the  office. Then  Gelfiun  said: "Well Stenkross  our Shepherd has chosen to agree  with you, I must accept his decision and as for you my son, I am your mother, there is  nothing you can do that  I cannot  find it  in my heart to  forgive. I love you as only a mother can. Star­fire,  the Shepherd never  gave me a daugh­ter, instead he sent Sevea to me  to be that daughter. Today as my  daughter's husband  you have  become our  son and Knute's brother. It will make me happy if you can accept me for your mother."

     I really didn't know  what to say, I could feel  so much love  being poured out  of Gelfiun toward  us that I was about  ready to  start crying myself and Sevea already was. I finally said: "If you  have chosen  to adopt me as  your son, I cannot  turn you down. No one has ever wanted to  call me  Son  before, except the Shep­herd. I  will call you my Mother and Father for the rest of my days, and Knute  from now on you are  my brother. This is  the best  present anyone could ever hope to receive on his wedding day." Gelfiun and Stenkross stood up and he said: "Welcome to our family son, I want you  always to remember, no matter  where our  Shepherd  sends you from now on Blue Lake is your home, and our door is always open to you.  Now do as our Shepherd said and go back to your party!"

        As we walked back Knute said: "I think I'll  go find Skadi and leave you two alone. The next  couple weeks  belong to you, so  don't worry  about doing any  work or  anything. Viktor  will take care of your company  while you are gone. If you want to go out of the fort or anything just let  father know and  he will arrange it  for you." As he was walking off I said: "Thank-you Knute!"

     We slowly walked back to the great room, it was such a beaut-  iful  night that  we were  in no  hurry  to go  bach inside. As we passed by the park Sevea said: "Starfire, let's sit out here for a  little while, I would rather be alone with you as  long as I can."  I said: "Okay  Sevea, but we really  should go  back to  the party they are holding  in our honor soon." After we sat  down on one of the benches I said to Sevea: "You are so beautiful in your wedding dress, we must find  someone who  can paint your  portrait wearing  your dress. I want to be able  to remember you  looking  like this  forever!"  She said: "Starfire, you sure  know how  to make a girl happy, but I would like to have a portrait of you  in your uniform  also. It makes you  look so  handsome, I am glad  you are  already married to me because when the ladies saw you like this they would  all be trying to take you away." I said: "Thank-you  Sevea, no one  but you has ever  said anything like  that about me before. If you  are ready I think we should go  in now." She said: "I would rather stay out here with you all night, but you are right they will miss  us soon." So we left the park and joined the others inside.

      By this time the folk were starting to leave, but there were  still a few left. The rest of my company were  among them, when we  walked up to them  Viktor said: "Well it  took you  long enough to  come back, we were about to give up on you. Knute asked me to take  over for you while you two enjoy yourselves for a while, I will do  my best  to take  your place  Starfire. Well I just  wanted to say congratulations to you, this is the beginning of  a whole new life  for both of you, I wish you more  peace and  happiness than either of you  have known before." Then  Snowflower  said: "Sevea, I have something for you, they were  my mother's. I have  kept them since we  left the valley, but I  never  wear them. I would  like you to have them." She held  out a small silver box  to Sevea, when Sevea opened it she  found a  pair of sapphire  earrings  and necklace. She said: "Oh Snowflower, they are beautiful but I can't  take the only memory  you have of  your mother!" Snowflower  took her hands and said: "Please take them Sevea, I don't need jewelry to  remem- ber mother,  and  I will never wear them." Sevea  said: "Well okay  thank-you Snowflower, I  will remember  you and your  mother every time I wear them." Then she  said: "Starfire  will help  me put on  this neck lace?" I took the necklace  and as she  lifted her  hair I put it around her neck and then she put on the earrings.

     We thanked  everyone for all  they had done  for us and  then went up to our room for the night. For  the next two  weeks we saw  little of  our friends, to get  away for a while  we took  Skadi's offer  and had her  driver give us a ride in her coach around Blue Lake. By the end of our  time off, Sergeant Starklad  had finished  rebuilding  the two rooms at  the end of the  south wing. With our  rooms  ready we moved  Sevea's belongings up to my  room  which we  decided to use as our bedroom, Snowflower's old room was set up as  a front room for  our guests. Then it  was time to join the others and  complete  our  company  again, father  gave us  short patrols  around Blue Lake and along the  KING'S road. This  continued until  the snow was  to deep and then we  were given patrols  on skis and  snow shoes. Before we began these trips on foot  father sent Sevea  to work in the kitchen and replaced  her with another  lady called  Hjardis, she was  the  daughter  of one of  Starklad's men  called Osterby.

     With my company back at seven  warriors we  began  our patrol of the roads and trails around  Fort  Blue  Lake. Stenkross  never kept us out for  more than  four days before giving us a few  days at the fort. I think he was really doing this for Sevea and me be- cause the other companies usually stayed out  for at least a week.  This continued  week after  week until  winter was nearly over.

     By this time it was clear to everyone that Sevea was going to have a baby  and they  kept asking  her when  it was due. She kept avoiding giving them an answer, but we knew before long they would  have to be told. I suggested we give Stenkross and Gelfiun a visit  and see if they could help us. The following evening  we went over  to their house and asked if they had any ideas which would help us  out. Gelfiun  said: "You will have to tell them the real date when your baby is due, this fort  is too small to try to hide the birth of a baby. Your  baby will  be born two seasons too soon, but that  cannot be helped, it is part of the price you will have to pay for  your night with Knute! I am sorry Starfire, it will  look like you  were the one who  did this to her, but since  you are her  husband they will not look down on you too badly."

      Gelfiun  was right, there was  nothing we could  do but tell  the truth about  when our baby  would be born. There  were some in the fort who looked down  on us because of the  early birth of our  baby, but most  did not seem to be  too concerned about it. All of our company  stood by us  and seemed very  happy that  Sevea would  soon be  a mother. During the  long  winter  nights  Sevea and her friends spent their  spare time making  clothes  for our  baby and some dresses  for Sevea as she  continued to  grow bigger with our  baby and everyone kept guessing whether it would be a girl or boy.

 

     Days turned  into seasons  and at  last the  long  winter was over.  Plans were being  made for Knute and  Skadi's wedding and a little  room was  being turned  into a  nursery in  our  apartment  for our baby. I was  still trying to  get used to the idea  that I was not  only a  husband now, but very soon  I was  going to  be a father also.

 

            Chapter 17. 'Spring At Fort Blue Lake'.

 

     When spring arrived  at Blue Lake  the snow quickly  began to melt away, flowers  and green grass  were everywhere. It was as if  life had returned to the whole fort. Soon Knute and Skadi would be getting married, already the preparations  were being made. As she  did for us, Gelfiun was  taking  care of  everything for them, but  this wasn't going to  be a small wedding like  we had. Gelfiun had  sent messengers  out to all of the forts, outposts and houses that were close enough inviting them to come to  the wedding. She had a  stage built in the little  park, and all of the benches removed so  that there would be room  for setting up all of the chairs for the guests she  had invited. I had never seen  or even heard of such a  ceremony as Gelfiun  held for Knute's wedding, but then he was her only son. In the  final days  before their  wedding the whole fort was busy prepairing the park and greatroom, and the cooks had more  food and drinks ready than Blue Lake had seen in many years.

     Knute had  a sky blue  uniform  like  his father's  which was trimed  with gold and  had buttons  of solid gold. Skadi's wedding  gown was so beautiful I don't think anyone could make a dress that  would have made her look  more like a queen. It was sky  blue like  Knute's  uniform with  real gold as thin as thread  woven into it.  They gave each  other rings like  we did, but the ring  Knute gave Skadi was much bigger than Sevea's and had a large  diamond in the  center, surrounded  by many small gems of  every color. This was a very happy time at the fort, and all work was forgotten except for Knute's wedding and our daily meals.

     As I watched them walk up on that platform there was no doubt that Skadi was as beautiful as a queen. But to me even though  she was about to give  birth to our baby, Sevea was the most beauti­ful  woman on earth, and she was my  wife. I still can't under­stand why it took me so long  realize she was the one  I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Shortly after the wedding Sevea's time came,  Gelfiun and a couple midwives took her up to a room  in the fort's  hospital which was on the third story of the north wing. The floor  foreman opened her room to me and asked  me to stay with her while  we were waiting for Sevea to give birth to  our child. She and her  husband had done  this many times before, for husbands waiting for  their wives  to give birth, she was called Dagmar  and her husband  Geirrod.  When they knew the baby  would come at any time,  one of the midwives  came and said:  "Starfire,  the time has come.  Come with me so you can be with Sevea and your newborn baby."

     As we  entered  the room  Sevea said: "Oh Starfire, I am glad you are here; our  baby is  about  to be born!. Come hold me, this hurts worse than I ever dreamed possible, but it will be over soon  now." I went over and sat on the bed beside her and took her in my arms and said: " Sevea, I would take all of your pain  if I could,  but there is nothing I can do to make it go away.  I hope when you  are holding our child  you will feel it  was worth the pain." Then  it really was  time and  she gave  birth to a  baby girl  which we  named Viktoria.

     This was a night I will never forget, it changed my life see- ing Viktoria being born.  Life ment so much more  to me now that I had a wife and daughter,  I never knew a family could change a man  so much. Sevea spent two more  days with the midwives  and Dagmar.  As I sat alone  for the first time  in months, I wondered what the Shepherd would do with us now, and if he would keep the company he  had me form or disband it and send Sevea, Viktoria and I somewhere  else. He said we  would be here until  after she was born, but not what he  would do with us  after that. On the third  evening Sevea  came back to our rooms with Viktoria.

     When Viktoria  was about a  month old, Viktor came  to me and said: "Starfire, I need to  talk with you. Take a  ride with me to  Blue Lake." I said: "Okay Viktor, but I don't want to stay out too long." We went to the stable and each took out  one of our horses,  I chose Stjarnfall, because he  was the better horse  for ridding.       Viktor choose not to say anything until we  reached the shore of  Blue Lake, then he  said: "Starfire, I have not  said anything about this to anyone, but if I have seen it others must have also. You and Sevea have been married for about a season and a half, and Viktoria is already three weeks old. It is not something that can- not be overcome that Sevea had to have become pregnant before  you married her, that happens  now and then. And most of the folks are not too  concerned since you married her.  But Starfire,  you have  not  been at Blue Lake for three seasons. You cannot be Viktor­ia's father! As I told you, I do not care about this, and I am not ask- ing you to tell me  the truth about  who Viktoria's  father really is. What I  am concerned about is some  of the others in the  fort who will not  stop until  they know, should  they  realize  what I  have already seen. If you and Sevea are not going to tell them the truth, then a believable story must be made to tell them."

     I said: "You are  right Viktor, but I can  only admit to what you  already  know. I cannot  tell you  the truth, because  I have promised  not to say  anything. I am  Viktoria's  father, she must  never be told anything else. She was only born a little  early and  that is what we must  tell the nosey folk you were  talking about.  It is not uncommon for a baby to be born a  little early, and that  is what everyone must  be told. You can spread  the story that she  was born a little premature if you wish." He said: "Okay Star­fire,  if you must keep  the truth to yourself it does  not matter, and a  premature birth should satisfy the folks at Blue Lake. As you were  saying, they have seen enough babies  born early. I will make sure  your story gets to the right ears." Then we rode back to the fort.

     Spring was nearly half over now and I figured we would either  be sent back  out on more  scouting  trips or the  Commander would  send us  off on  something even  longer. So I told  Sevea that she  should prepare herself  to be alone with  Viktoria for a long time  should our company be sent out.  She said: "Starfire, the Shepherd  said that after Skadi and Knute's wedding and  Viktoria's birth he  was going to send us on to some place else. I don't think you will  be sent anywhere without us being with you, but I have  been wond-  ering if he  is going to  send our company  with us or give them a  new Captain?"

     One evening a couple of weeks later,  Knute came to our rooms  and said: "Starfire, Sevea; I wanted  to come and see you and Vik-  toria this evening  because my father is going  to send me and two  companies out on the Eastern Road to see  if we can clear the snow  and rock slides enough to open the road over the White  Mountains.  We will be gone for  two weeks to a month, and  I wanted to see my  niece before I have to leave  tomorow morning." Sevea went  to the  little room where  Viktoria was  sleeping  in her crib and brought her  to Knute. As he took  her from  Sevea he said: "My friends, I  want to thank you  for allowing me to be  my daughter's Uncle, and  not saying anything to  the folk about my being  her father." Then  he looked down at  little Viktoria in  his arms and said: "I would  love to take  you home  with me, but soon enough  Skadi and I will  have a  child of  our own, and you  my little  niece  will  have a cousin to  play with." Knute  handed  her back to Sevea  and said: "Well I had better get back to Skadi and try to get some sleep be-  fore I have to head  out tomorow. Take care of our  little girl my  friends and I will see you when we get back."

     After Knute  was gone I  said: "I feel sorry  for Knute, each day he sees Viktoria  and knows she is  his daughter, but he can't  say a word  about it, even to  Skadi. I hope  they have  a baby of their own soon, I think it will make it easier on  Knute to have a  child of  his own." Sevea said: "Yes, I think you are  right Star- fire. I think it really  hurts him knowing  Viktoria is his child,  when he has to act every day as if you are her  father. He needs a  girl of his own,and I am sure that Skadi is longing to have a baby  girl of her own too, each  time she holds Viktoria I can see it in her eyes."

     A week after Knute and his warriors left to clear the Eastern Road, Sevea and  I were out ridding in the coach Skadi had Svarts­med build for  us when  we saw a small company of chariots ridding  along the KING'S Road. It didn't  take  long  before  I recog­nized who they  were, each of  their chariots were plated with metal. It was definitely the Northern Warriors returning from their homeland in the  far north. I called  to our  driver to  stop and  wait for them, so he  stopped our  coach on the edge  of a small meadow and  shortly the Northern Warriors pulled up beside us.

     I said: "Hello brothers, it's been a long time." Silver said:  "Who's in there!",  then he  recognized me and said: "Oh! It's you Starfire, yes it has been a while  brother. Who is that with you?" I answered:  "A lot has happened since you went north my brothers,  if you are coming to Blue Lake I will  tell you all  about it. But for now, this  is my wife  Sevea and our daughter Viktoria."  Then  Golden said:  "Captain Starfire, we have been sent to Blue Lake to escort you and your  company to the high deserts where Asa and his men are.  I guess we will also be escorting your family,  it looks  like Snowflower  was right Starfire, few warriors  rise to Captain  this fast. If you and your Wife  are willing I would  like to hear  how all of this came about this evening." Sevea said: "Sir Golden, if you would like, you and your brother are welcome to have dinner in our  rooms tonight. We would enjoy  your company, there are few Warriors  like yourselves  who come  through here, it would  be an honor if you would allow us to serve you!"

     Golden laughed  and said:  "Sevea, Starfire's wife should not  be calling us "Sir", my name  is Golden and this  is Silver. I ac- cept your kind offer,  and we are the ones who will be honored  to eat dinner with our brother and his wife. We will see  you back at the fort when you have  finished your ride." Then they took off at a fast trot for the fort. When they were gone Sevea said: "Who are those Warriors  Starfire? I don't think  I have ever seen them be- fore." I said: "They are the "Warriors of the North",  I rode with them for a little while. It was while ridding with them that I met Snowflower and her father Mosie at  the outpost. They are good men and the best warriors I have ever seen, it was Iron and Bronze who  rescued me from the cliff where that evil vulture left me."

     I asked our driver to turn around and take us back so I could  talk with  Golden and his  Warriors. On our  way back  Sevea said:  "Starfire, you never told me about being carried away by a vulture  and left on a cliff, how many  of these  adventures  have you kept hidden away from me?" I said: "I never told you about that because I was too ashamed of it. I didn't know what I was doing and didn't  listen to the Northern Warriors, I almost got killed because I did  not pay attention to what  they told me to do. It is because I did  so many things wrong that almost got me killed and could have hurt  the others  with me  that I didn't  want  to be  the Captain  of a company." She said: "Starfire my love, you have grown  into a war- rior worthy of  the title Captain, and I do not  just say that be- cause I am  your wife. As your  wife I think you are  the greatest  warrior in the world and  I would rather  have you protecting Vik-  toria and I than any other man, but that is because I love you."

     After returning to the fort the driver let us out in front of  the great room. When  we went in, we found the  Northern  Warriors  sitting on  the couches  near the  fireplace, so we  went over and joined them. As we sat down Golden came over to our couch  and sat  beside  Sevea and  said: "So  Starfire, this young  child is  your daughter Viktoria?" I said: "Yes  Golden, she is three  months old  now." He then  took  Sevea's hand  and  said: "Sevea, I am glad to meet  you in  person, you must be quite a lady to be able to catch  Starfire so  quickly. I think he will make a fine husband for you.  But we  can talk  of these  things  this  evening, now I should be telling you why we  have come to  Blue Lake.  As I told you on the road, the Shepherd sent us here to  take you and your   company to  the High Deserts where Asa has been ever since  he left you. Knute will have the road clear before long,  so Sevea and  your daughter will be able to ride in that  fancy coach of yours.  I sent Copper  up the Eastern Road before we  saw you, and Knute  already has the road clear past the summit.  He should find the edge of the desert before the end of the week."

     "The Shepherd said Asa has a small town near one of the lakes  he wants you and your company to stand guard over.  I wondered why  he would not let us come get you, now it is clear. This small town  should make a nice home for  your family Starfire; and by the way,  are there any others  in your company who  have families?" I said:  "No, I am the only one." Golden said: "Well it will make traveling  easier if there  is only  one child  with us. Who knows  maybe the others will  find husbands  and wives in the High Deserts. It will be a few  days yet  before we leave, I am  sure the  Warriors will  enjoy having a bed to sleep  in and good food  to eat for a couple  days. We have been on the road for a long time, far too long."

     "I am glad to find you doing so well Starfire, you had a hard  early life, maybe  now that you are  one of the KING'S warriors it  will be better for you. You look so much happier  and at peace now  then when I first met you.  I remember when I first saw you at the  last of the  KING'S houses, you almost  seemed too  afraid to even come up and say  "Hello"  to us. Now you are a Captain with a wife  and daughter, and soon you  will have your own  post as well. Tell  me Starfire, how have you come so far in such a short time?"

     I said: "Well Golden, it seems  that you and  Snowflower were right. After having  lived in  that dark  valley for  so long, and then failing the  Shepherd every time, I thought  I would never be  able to do  anything right. But you and our  brothers taught me so  much while we traveled  together, and then when  the Shepherd sent  Snowflower to guide me along I found that for the first time in my  life there were folks who really cared about me.  And as I learned  the Shepherd's ways I began to change from the boy you met who was afraid  of everything, into a  young man  who found  that I  could trust the  Shepherd to guide  me along the  path he had chosen for me, and that he really would come and help me when I really needed him. Then I  met Sevea, and as you  have seen, she has  taken over  where  Snowflower  left off. She is responsible  for  the greatest  changes in me. It is a whole new life for me now Golden."

     Then he  turned to  Sevea and said: "Sevea  my  sister, it is good to see that Starfire has found such a beautiful woman for his  wife, but I know  that Starfire  would  not fall in  love with you  just because of your beauty. If a good looking  woman was all that he wanted  he would have  married Snowflower back at  the outpost,  I am  sure she  would  have been  willing.  So what is  your story Sevea, how did you get my brother to fall for you?" She said: "Sir Golden, I am just  a common girl, I don't  understand why he chose me, he is far more than I ever expected to receive for my husband. For  years  I cried  out to  the Shepherd to send me a good man to marry, but Starfire is much more than a good man. He chose me when most men would have turned their backs, what Starfire has done for me is far more than any girl could ever ask for. Later when we are in our rooms we will tell you more of this, I cannot say more here among  the folk. But I will tell you this; I have never seen a man with such a loving and compasionate  heart as Starfire.  He is the "Warrior In Shining Armor" that every girl dreams of, and for some reason he chose me!"

     I laughed to myself a little  and then said:  "Sevea my love, you know exactly why I chose you from among all of the ladies here  at Blue Lake. Golden, I know all of our secrets are safe with you,  we will tell you our story this evening. As far as I am concerned,  Sevea is  no Common Girl as she  calls herself.  She is a lady who  should have  married a Prince, and it  is I who  cannot understand  why she accepted a lowly warrior such as myself."

     Golden just sat  there with a  smile and shook his head, then he said: "I think  I am beginning  to understand  why the Shepherd  put the two of you together, I have never seen such a perfect pair  as you are.  I think you  are going to  go far together,  it is no  wonder the Shepherd had us wait to come for  you Starfire, I think  you really are  ready for the post he  has given to you in the dry lakes now. Do you have room for all seven of us in your rooms this  evening?" I thought for a moment and said: "I will ask Starklad if  he can bring us a table and some chairs for the evening.  Our room  is plenty  big enough, but we  don't have enough  chairs for nine.  There is also three empty  rooms near us for our brothers, you can  stay with us if you like Golden." He said: "Thank-you my brother I  will accept your kind offer. I must leave you now and go talk with  Commander Stenkross, we will see  you this evening  in your rooms.  By the way Starfire, what rooms are  you staying in?"  Sevea said:  "Sir, we have 12 and 13 on the second floor of the south wing."

     After Golden was  gone I said: "Sevea, will you  take care of  having dinner brought up to our rooms? I will go and find Starklad  and get the table and chairs we will need,  and a bed for Golden."  She said: "Yes Starfire, is there anything special  you would like  for this evening?" I said: " No, you can choose  our food, but you  might add a couple bottles of champagne  for our brothers, that is something they probably have not had for a while. And if the cooks  could come up with a special dessert that would be good. Maybe you  would like  to make  something  for  them, I know you  are a  good cook." She smiled  and said: "I will do  that  Starfire, I am glad you like my cooking. It looks like you may be eating a lot of it!"   I left Sevea in the great room, and went in search of Stark-  lad. I finally found him in his room, and he said: "Hello Starfire  what can I do for you?" I said: "Sergeant, the  Northern  Warriors  are going to eat  this evening in  our rooms. Do you  know where I  can get a long table and seven chairs?  And if you know of a spare bed I  could use for a few days, Golden would like to stay with us in our rooms." He answered: "The bed is easy, you will find sever-  al in the linen room, go ahead and choose one of them for him.  As  for a table and chairs we will have to go down to  the kitchen and  talk with the chef.  Let's go and get  your bed first!"  The linen  room was close to Starklad's room and we quickly had  a bed set up  next to the one Sevea and I slept in. Then we  went down and found  the head chef who opened the kitchen's storage room for  us and we  found two tables in there that could be put together into one long  one. Starklad  helped me carry them  up to our rooms, and  then we went back  down and brought up seven more chairs for the Warriors.  I thanked them for their help, and then with  everything ready for  this evening's meal I went to look for Sevea.

 

     I found her  in the kitchen preparing the dessert I had asked her to make.  She was making  a dish I hadn't seen  so I asked her what it was, she said: "It is called 'Spettekaka', it is a special  cake from the  Northern Warriors' homeland. I hope they like it, I  have never made one before.  I found the recipe in the Head Chef's  cookbook and thought it might remind them of home." I said: "Sevea  you are not only a good cook, but you are  also very thoughtful. I  am sure it will  be the best cake they  have eaten." She looked at me and  said: "Oh  Starfire, I love  you  so much, you are  always  saying such  kind things to me. I think you must be  the best hus-  band any woman  ever had, I wonder what I could  have done to have  the  Shepherd send  me a man  like you. Dinner  is almost  done my Love, will you find our guests and bring them up to  our rooms." I  said: "Of course Sevea, if the champagne  is ready I will bring it  up with us and give them a drink before dinner." She said: "Yes my  love, it is over there by the rest of the folks wine, the chef put  it on ice for us." So I left  her with  the champagne  and went to  find the Warriors.

     I found  all seven of  them sitting in a  corner of the great room. They must have come in after I went into the kitchen because  no one  was sitting  there before.  Walking  up  to  them  I said:  "Hello my  brothers, if  you  would like  to come up to  our rooms Sevea has dinner nearly ready, and I have some iced champagne here  for you as well." Golden  said: "Well my brother, do you treat all of your  guest this  well?" I said: "You are the  first  guests we have had since we were married. You are the Northern Warriors, and  you deserve much better than this, but it is the best we have here at Blue Lake. You have chosen to call  a lowly warrior like myself  "Brother", I could  not offer you  anything less than  the best we  have! Now if you will come with me, we will go ready ourselves for  the dinner Sevea has prepared for us."

     They stood up and  followed me  up to our  rooms and I poured each of  them a goblet of champagne. As they were  finishing their Drink of Welcome, Sevea came in followed by several  of the Cook's  help carrying our dinner. All of the Warriors  stood up when Sevea  came in, and remained  standing until she was seated next to me at the head of the table. Then I said: "Golden, will you ask a bless-  ing over  this meal?" He  said: "My little  brother, that  is your honor, but if  you  wish, of course  I  will." Then  he  said: "My brothers, it has been a long time since we have seen a dinner like  this.  The Shepherd has really blessed us this evening,  now it is  time in turn to give him thanks:  Our Lord and Shepherd,  we thank  you for  the great kindness  being shown to us by  our brother and  sister. We would also thank you for this feast you have provided."

     As Golden was  finishing his blessing,  the Shepherd appeared  before our table and said: "My children, I accept your thanks. And  I have come to tell you that you have done well.  Starfire, Sevea,  you have only just  began your  life together, but you are already acting as  one and have shown the proper  respect for your guests.  I have many children who have been together a long time and do not  honor my Warriors like this. Do not be afraid to speak freely with  my Warriors, any secret you wish to share  will be safe with them!  Golden my brother,  now you see why I held you back.  Starfire and Sevea were not ready for you to come escort them to the dry lakes.  Now my friends I must  leave you, you have all  done well.  As you  honor  each other, you  honor  me  and  my  Father." Then  he dis- ap­peared.

 

     After the  Shepherd was  gone  Iron said: "It seems  you have come a long way Starfire, since  Bronze and I  had  to rescue  you from that cliff.  When we came I thought you and your company were  just going to ride  with us to Asa,  but I see we  have a wife and  child to take  with us also. I am glad to see  that you have found the family that you always  longed for Starfire,  but if you don't  mind I would like to eat some of this food Mistress Sevea has pre- pared for us. I have not seen a dinner like this for a long time." I said: "Of  course Iron, we will talk when you have eaten all you can." 

     One of the Cook's servants  had stayed  behind, and made sure that the Warriors plates were never empty. When they had eaten all  that  they  wanted, Sevea  got  up and  cut her cake, giving  each Warrior a large slice. Platinum was the first to recognize what he  had been given and said: "Sevea my sister, where  did you learn to  cook Spettekaka? I have not  even seen  a cake like  this since we left the Northlands!" The rest of the Warriors nodded in agreement  and Copper said: "The Shepherd  was right, no Warrior or his wife,  has prepared a meal like this for us in a very long time.  I don't  know who taught you to cook Sevea, but this dinner is worthy to be  on a King's table. Thank-you my friends, I will remember this din- ner for the rest of my life."

     Sevea answered them: "Sirs Platinum and Copper, you speak too highly of  my dinner. As to who  taught  me to cook, I have  spent  several months  helping the Head Chef here, the  Commander sent me to help  him when I could no longer  travel with  our company.  My mother also taught me what she could when I was a  little girl. We are descendants of the Gladsheim who left our home country shortly after  the Shepherd  came there. My mother  died when  I was still a girl, and my father had to leave  with a company  of warriors, I  never knew  where  he was sent. I was  raised  by the folk here at Blue Lake.  Sir Platinum, the recipe for Spettekaka came  from the Head  Chef's books, this is  the first time I  have prepared one."

     When everyone was  through, the servant took  the dishes back  to the kitchen for us. Then with a nice fire burning  in our fire- place, I said: "Well Golden my brother, now that  we are alone you  can ask us whatever you wish. Sevea, I have spent enough time with  my brothers to know you can tell them anything  they want to know,  and it  will stay  with them. Do not  be  afraid to  tell them the truth." She said: "Starfire, you are my Husband! I will  do as you  ask. Sirs, I will answer your questions."

     Then Golden  said: "Starfire, let's  start  with  you. When I last saw  you, you seemed awfully  close to Snowflower, I was sure  that the two  of you  would get  married when  you came here. What happened to separate you?" I said: "Golden, I love Snowflower, and  will  always think of  my time with  her as one of the best things that has  ever happened to me. It is possible that if  we had been  sent somewhere else that I would have married her.  But Snowflower  is my  sister, and it  is as a  sister that  I love her. I am sure that you  will find she says  the same thing about me.  When I saw  Sevea here  at the fort, I knew I had found  the lady I wanted for  my wife, but I was  afraid to ask her  because I thought she would  reject me or the  Shepherd would send me off somewhere and I would have to leave her behind at Blue Lake, so I didn't say anything to her. So you can see nothing  really  separated  Snowflower  and I, we are  still very close to each other." Then he said:  "I think I understand,  I just  mistook your love for Snowflower. Tell us how you came to become a Captain with your own company."

     I answered: " That is  much  simpler, one night  a  messenger from  the Shepherd appeared in my room.  His  name was Karlek, and he said the Shepherd  wanted me to form a company  of seven war­ri- ors. The only help I received from him was that  Snowflower was to  be one of them. I didn't know  whether I was to  choose men, women or both men and women. But since  Snowflower was  going to be with me I thought it would  be better if she had other  ladies with her when we were  out traveling. I gave  the choosing of  our women to  Snowflower,  and Knute helped me with the men,  giving me three of  his warriors. And that is how I became a Captain, one other thing,  when Sevea had to quit  going out with us we chose Hjardis to take  her place. Maybe someday Sevea will  ride with  us again, but that is up to her and the Shepherd."

     Then Silver said: "When you spoke about  marrying  Sevea, you acted like there was something mysterious about it. Will you  tell us more about this?" I said: "Sevea it would be better if you told  this story, it is really more your story than it is mine!"  So she  said: "Before I knew Starfire, I was in love with  the Commander's  son, Knute. I thought  in time he  would ask me  to marry him, but  about  a year  ago he asked  Skadi  instead  of me. For a  while I thought I could win him  back from her. We were out  on a scouting  mission about a month before Starfire and Snowflower came to  Blue  Lake. One night we were talking after the others had gone to sleep  and the memories and emotions of what we once  had grew to strong.  We did things  that night  that never should  have happened, for a  while I thought we had escaped without anything going wrong. About  the time  Starfire was  choosing  his  company I  knew we  had not escaped, the worst had come true, I was going to have Knute's baby  and he was already engaged to Skadi."

     "I didn't know what to do at first, but I knew I couldn't let  it be discovered what we had  done that  night. I decided that the only thing I could do was to leave the  fort and try to make it on my own  to some  place where  no one  knew me. I didn't  know that Starfire  had already  fallen in  love with  me at  that time. One evening  after we  had fought  a battle  with  the enemy, Starfire found me crying while I was trying to dress a small wound.  He had  never said a word to  me about  his love  for me,  so I  thought I dared  not tell him the truth and  pretended that I was crying be- cause of  the wound. Later  after everyone had fallen asleep I sat  up and  began crying  again, but Starfire  had better  ears than I thought.  He heard  me and came over  to find out why  I was still crying, I  couldn't convince him it was the wound and he  wouldn't go back to his bed without knowing the truth. That night he stayed up and  comforted me until we both fell asleep together.  Our com- pany made  fun of us and  kept saying  we had  something going on.  Starfire had  still not said a word about his love, and I  thought he was just trying to be a good Captain,  caring for his folk. But the next day when we stopped ridding for the day he took  me aside and began questioning me about what I was going to do about  Knute and my baby. When I  told him I  was  going to  leave the  fort he would not  hear of it, instead he insisted on marrying me. Again I thought he was just trying to be a good Captain and  would not let him ruin his life because of me and my baby. Starfire is  the most honest  and loving  man I have ever met,  he convinced me that his love for me was real and it was not just my baby that made him ask me. So I accepted his offer as we sat by that little creek."

     "Because of  Starfire no  one except  the Commander, his wife and Knute know  who Viktoria's father really is.  Starfire changed  my life from becoming  a disaster, into the  most beautiful time I  have ever known.  I have the husband now that I wanted so bad, and  a little girl as well, no woman could ask for a better life than I  have.  Sir Golden,  that is what I could not tell you in the great room. No one here must know that Knute is Viktoria's father!"

     Golden answered her: "Sevea my sister, I told you there is no  need to be calling us "Sir", and as the Shepherd said; your secret  is safe  with us. I can see  now  why the  Shepherd  wanted you to spend the winter here Starfire, I think it was Sevea's  crying out to the Shepherd that drew you out of the Valley  in the beginning. You  were ment to find this fine young lady at just the right time to save her from a disgrace she should never have to face.  Sevea,  Starfire is right, you are a young woman fit for a Prince, and now  you have him. I think the two of you are going to have a life that goes far beyond anything you have ever hoped for or dreamed of."

     "Your lives are about  to take another big change,  as a Cap- tain you have only done what the Commander asked of you. Now Star- fire, you will be the one  who is  responsible  for the safety  of this little town. You will still be under Asa, but he will only be looking  in on you  now and then. You will make  all of  the daily decisions, just as Commander Stenkross does here at Blue Lake. You  are a wise young man Starfire, do not be afraid of  this new chal- lenge the Shepherd is giving to you, if it was too hard for you he  would not  send you. This town  should be a good  place for you to  raise your family, it is in the Dry Lakes, but I think you will be  quite  comfortable there. Sevea, this is  not an  outpost  or fort full of warriors, there are  many  families  there. You  will find plenty  of  children  for  Viktoria  to  play with, and  there are more than enough wives and mothers to keep you company."

     Then Bronze who had been silent until now said: "Starfire, if  I had not known you  before when  you were  just a  new warrior, I would not believe you were  ever anything less  than a Commander's  son. You have truly grown into a Warrior equal to one of us.  What  happened to  change you from  that frightened  little boy into the  Warrior that you are now?" I said: "Bronze my friend, I will never  be equal to one of the Northern Warriors, but thank-you for saying  such a kind thing to me. I still see myself as that frightened boy  you spoke of, I am always so afraid of  making the wrong decision.  If  anything has  changed  me, it would  be Sevea, Snowflower  and Knute. They have always  been there to help me  through whatever I  was facing. But I think being married to Sevea and having a daugh-  ter has changed me more than anything else could have. Maybe it is  because Sevea thinks I am so much more than I am, I don't know."

     After a short  silence  Nickel said: "Brother, I am  not that much  older than  you are, the Shepherd  found me  traveling alone  north of the Valley. I did whatever  I could to make a living, but  nothing ever worked out. Somehow the Shepherd  could see a warrior  in me that I never knew was there.  He brought me to the  Northern  Warriors and I took  the place of a brother who  had resently went  home to our  KING. I was very  afraid of  failing just  as you are now, but  the  Shepherd  knew what he  was doing.  As you can see,  my fears have not  come to pass. Brother, I am sure  you will find  the same will be true in your life.  The Shepherd does not give us  tasks that are too difficult for us, and Sevea  is right, you only  see what  you think  you are  but she sees  what  you really  are. Trust  her my brother, she has more wisdom than you are giving her credit  for. Sevea, I must agree with my brothers, you are a  lady fit to be a Prince's wife. And Starfire if you will  listen to the Shepherd and your wife, you will become that Prince before long."

     I said: "Thank-you Nickel, your words are very encouraging. I  can use all of the  good words I can get from a brother like your- self. I know you speak  the truth, Sevea is a very  wise woman and  she is always telling me things that I could not see.  Somehow she  seems to know the  truth without ever having  to learn it, it just  comes to her and she tells me what I needed to know  before I have  even told her what  was troubling me.  I don't understand it but I  am sure glad she has this gift, it has already saved me many prob-  lems. Sevea, I don't think  I could do the work  the Shepherd  has  given me without you!"

     She turned a little red and squeezed my hand and said: "Star-  fire, that is why the Shepherd put us together.  My life would not  have been worth living now  if you had not  come along and rescued  me. All of these gifts you talk about would have been for nothing.  Because your love and compassion for me are so great, and you were able to over look the evil deeds I had been doing before you came, the good  things the Shepherd has given to me have been able to be  used by  him to help  you do  his work. I would have  been nothing  without you, but because of you these  Warriors say I am fit for a  Prince. You already are my Prince Starfire, and I could not accept  any other." I lowered my head and said: "You should not be calling  me a Prince Sevea, I am only a young warrior in our KING'S army."

     Then Silver said:  "It is time for us to leave, but before we  go I want  to remind you  Starfire, that as a  son of the KING you are already a Prince.  Also,  Sevea is your Wife!  If she wants to  call you  her Prince, there  is nothing  wrong with it. You  are a  lovely young woman Sevea, don't let our humble little brother keep  you from  telling him  such things. He needs  to hear  it from you  until he finally  believes it himself." Silver turned to  the War-  riors  and said: " Let's go  to our  rooms brothers, there will be  time enough to catch up with our brother later."

      After the Warriors  had left  Golden, Sevea and I sat by the fire for a little while longer.  Golden asked:  "Where did you get  such a fancy coach brother?"  I said: "Skadi had it made as a wed-  ding gift for us.  She has one of her own and  thought it would be  better   for  a  family   than   ridding   around   in  chariots."  Sevea said:  "I am glad she did, it is much easier now that I have  Viktoria to take care of.  It also shows the folk that Starfire is  more than a common warrior, at least he is Royalty to me.  What do  you think  Sir Golden?  Oh,  I am sorry brother,  it is a habit to call Warriors like yourself "Sir", common folk should show respect  to the men who have protected us so well."  Golden kneeled down in  front of Sevea and said:  "You are not common folk Sevea,  you are  my sister.  It is okay if strangers use my full title, but you are not a stranger.  You became my sister,  just as if you were my own flesh when you married Starfire. You should not feel that you need to use titles with us, we are your family."

     Then I said:  "Golden,  you have not said anything about what you have been up to since you left. Tell us the news of your home-  land." He said:  "Well there is not much to tell brother,  when we  left the Shepherd  rode with us  to the Valley.  Then the Shepherd said; 'It will  take you  too long  to ride  your chariots  to the  Northlands. I am going  to send  you home  quickly using  Father's  power, prepare yourselves to be sent  home in a moment's time'. He  spoke to  the KING and  in an instant  we were in  Nordligast. The  Dark Lord  had  sent several  large companies  against the  border cities in Gladsheim. The Berserks are some of the best warriors in  the KING'S army, but the Dark Lord had placed several  Djavulsk in  these companies, and along with them came the Litenjatties, Svart-  vargs, dragons and  Snowgiants. So the  Shepherd sent  all of  the Northern Warriors home to fight against this evil army. When  they were broken  apart, most of  them  fled east  to their  own lands, called Thrumheim, Altidkall, Ginnunga and Laufey. The few  who did not were quickly  taken care  of by the Berserks who fight against them all the time."

     "With this  little war  over our  own folk didn't need us any longer, so we headed back down to the High Deserts.  That is where  we were when the Shepherd told us that he  wanted to bring you  to the dry lakes, but he wouldn't let us come get you till now."

     Sometimes it was just beyond me, the things Golden  looked at as being everyday activities.  I said: "Golden you call that noth-  ing to tell? I wonder how many more of these stories you have been  holding back. You should be putting them in a book,  the folk down  here never  see such  things or  even hear about them. Those folks you  went and helped are  Sevea's people,  so I thank you for your brave deeds and those  of our brothers.  I don't know where I come from, my mother  never told me, but maybe you  were  protecting my people  as well. I think Sevea  is right, any man  who lives  this kind of life and thinks nothing of it should be called "Sir"."

     This time  Golden actually  laughed  at me  and said: "Little brother, the Northern folk have been living this kind of life ever  since we met the Shepherd so long ago.  We think nothing of it be-  cause  the enemy lives  on our borders, we must  fight against the Dark  Lord  everyday or be taken  over by him. If you look back on your own  life you will see  that you have  fought more battles in the last year than in the rest of your life. If you keep rising up  in the  KING'S  army your  battles will  only get larger  and more frequent. Do not be afraid little brother, you will never be asked to do  anything that  is beyond  your ability.  Now that  you have  Sevea by your side, you are already beginning to see that she will be the  best person you  could ever  have standing  beside you.  A man's wife  can reach deeper into  his soul than  any brother, and heal more wounds than a doctor. Listen to her Starfire, every­thing she has to say is  important, you should always make  time to hear what she has to say and care for her needs, they must be as impor- tant to you as your own needs are."

     I said: "I will  do my  best to  follow your  advice  Golden. Everything you have said about Sevea so far is true,  the brothers  in my  company have  done their  best to give  me good advice, but what Sevea has to say  to me always  seems to sink  in to my head.  Sevea,  you have been silent for a while,  do you have anything to add?" She said: "No Starfire, I was just thinking about Viktoria."  Golden spoke  up and said: "Little  sister, if you miss  your baby why don't  you go and  get her, I don't mind  having a baby in the house.  Besides, a child  that  young  should not  be without  her mother for too long."  When Sevea  did not get up he said:  "Go on  Sister, go get  Viktoria  from  Knute  and Skadi, if they complain tell them  I sent  you!" Then  she  said: "Thank-you  Golden", and left. When she  was  gone Golden  said: "Starfire, you should  not have let  her  leave  your  child  with  Knute, even if  he is her father. A new mother needs her child close by her,  didn't you see  that Sevea's mind was not on what we were talking about?"

     I sat and looked at him for a while without  saying anything.  Then I said: "Golden,  I know you are right,  but I know so little  of these things. You knew me back at the last house and outpost, I  was still just a boy trying to escape that dark valley. It has not even been a full year since then. When Asa brought Snowflower into  my life it was almost  more than I could handle, no woman had ever treated me like she did.  By the time we  reached Blue Lake  Snow-  flower had taught me to be able to handle a woman's affections, if  the Shepherd had not sent Snowflower,  I could never have accepted  Sevea at all. I call Snowflower my sister, but really  she is much  more than that.  If I had not found Sevea when I did, I would have  asked  Snowflower to  marry me soon.  I had Sevea tell  you how we came together because it is more her story than mine, while she is  gone I will tell you my side."

 

     "We had been sent to  find some  lost supply  wagons, but the enemy  had destroyed them. While searching for a scout and the men who were  bringing  the  wagons we  found the  scout and  warriors were captives of about twenty enemy warriors. We had  to kill  all but two of the ememy,  which we brought  back to  Knute's company. Just as we finished  with  the enemy warriors, four dragons  began throwing their fire balls at us. The last one threw a low ball and knocked  several  of us over, one of the  warriors  we rescued got burned,  but not too bad.  One of  the warroirs, Girda, Snowflower and Sevea  were  knocked down  and Girda's  sword  cut the  top of Sevea's leg. She should  have had one of the ladies help her dress it, but  she  didn't  want us  to know  she had  been hurt, it was deeper and more serious than she told you it was."

     "I was coming back from talking with Knute and found her sit-  ting  on  the  back  of her  chariot  trying to  dress the  wound. When she saw that I was very concerned about her wound, she let me  finish dressing it for her, even though she should have had a sis-  ter helping her. Maybe I would have known then that  Sevea was at-  tracted to me, if I had known more about ladies, then we went back to our camp. Later that  night after  she thought  we were  all a- sleep,  she began crying again.  I  knew she had a bad cut, but it was not bad enough to make her sit  up and cry  all night.  I went over  to her and  asked why  she was crying  so much, she tried to convince me it was just her leg but I could see  she wasn't  tell- ing the truth. Finally  she told  me she was going to have a baby, and  because it  was Knute's  she was  going to leave  the fort. I couldn't let that happen, I didn't want to loose her in my company  and I couldn't let  a pregnant lady  wander  off into the wilds by herself. Really, I think I fell  in love with her the first time I saw her, but I never was willing to admit it. At first I wanted to marry her  just to  protect Knute,  and keep her  from leaving the fort  in disgrace. I think  she knew  it and  would not  accept my  offer.  But while we were ridding the next day,  I finally admited  to myself that the  real truth was that I loved her, and could not  bear  to see her  leave us. She must  have been able  to sense the  change in me.  When I took her aside that  evening she finally ag- reed to marry me, but it took a lot of convincing before she would  believe that I was not just marrying her because of her baby. That evening the ladies began accusing  Sevea of doing  somthing to get  me to marry her because I had told them too many  times that I did not want to marry now and if I did it would probably be Snowflower  because she was the only one I had even thought about marrying."

 

     "We decided that if  the Shepherd  and Commander were willing we would marry  as soon as possible. The next  day was our last on the road, as we traveled along the Shepherd appeared in my chariot  and said; 'You are doing the right thing, because  you are willing  to obey me even if I say  "No",  I am going to give you the desire  of your hearts. Go ahead and marry Sevea Starfire, I will keep you  at Blue Lake until after the baby is born'. Then the Shepherd dis-  appeared,  and it was all I could do to wait until the journey was  over so I could tell Sevea."

 

     "There have  been a few  problems since  then because  of our marriage,  Knute's mother wanted his father to take away his title  as the next Commander, the folks  think Sevea  and I were  playing around before we were married. And a few began to  see that I have  not been here  three seasons,  and were  saying that  someone else must be her father, but Viktor spread the word  that she  was born early and they seem to have accepted that. But most important, our company  has stood  by us and have  done everything  they could to make  our marriage  as easy  as  possible  for us."   As I fiished talking, Sevea returned with Viktoria.

     It was easy to see  now that Sevea was happy  again with Vik-  toria in  her arms. Golden  was right, I should  not have  let her  send our little girl to stay at Knute's. I began to wonder if Gol-  den might have children of his own, and said: "Golden, you seem to  me, to have too much knowledge about  wives and children,  are you  married? Do you have any children?" He said:  "I was married once,  but that was long ago. My wife died young and my children were old  enough to be on their own before I became a Northern Warrior.  One  wife is enough for me,  someday when the KING calls me home I will  be  with her again."  Sevea said:  "What was her name?  And if you  will,  tell me about your  children Golden."  He said:  "Of course  I will Sevea,  I forgot you would like  to hear about such things.  My wife was from a  small castle  on the  eastern border  of Glad-  sheim called Castle Sjoskum. Her name was Volva and I was no older  than Starfire when I saw her walk into my town in Nordligast.

     I knew at  once that I must  find some  way to win  her hand. There were many ladies in my town who were far more beautiful than she was,  and she had two  little  boys with her in the wagon. But I could feel  something in her that  was not there  in the girls I grew  up with. She had  long  black hair  down  to her  waist, and creamiest white skin I have ever seen, and I fell in love with her immediately. I took her boys for my sons,  and before she died she  gave me another son and two daughters.  One day when I was still a  young warrior, I was sent  to fight a company  of enemy  warriors, and while I was gone a small band of men under the Dark  Lord pas-  sed through  town. I don't  know why  they  chose  Volva, but they raped her  and  then killed her  leaving  her body in  front of my house. My Commander  gave me  work in  town so  I could  raise our children, and when they were old enough I joined the Northern War-  riors. I have fought our enemies  wherever I find them ever since.  Sevea, you asked  the names of  my children.  It may surprise you,  but our first daughter we named Victoria and the  second Maria. My  two sons Volva  brought with her are  Carl and Victor,  our son is  Thorr. Well that is all there is to tell of my family.  All of our children are still up in Nordligast."

     Sevea said: "Thank-you Golden, I am sorry you lost your wife.  She must have been something very special to win a man like you, I would like to have been able to meet her and your children.  It is  strange that  Starfire chose the same name for our  first daughter as you chose for yours,  maybe that is  a good sign he will  be as great a warrior  one day as you are Golden." He smiled  and  said: " Yes Sevea, he just might at that, he reminds  me a lot of myself when I was young. When I saw you  with your daughter and heard you call her Viktoria, it brought back  memories of my  Volva and  our little Victoria. It was  almost like seeing my  daughter as a baby again. She is almost as old as you  are Sevea and has childern  of her own."  I said:  " You are a grandfather Golden? I didn't think you were that old. Someday you are going to have  to come and stay  with us for a while so you can tell us the whole story, it seems I  really don't know anything about you at all."

     Golden said:  "Yes Starfire I am  a grandfather,  and like an old man  I am tired.  If you don't  mind I will  go to bed now." I said: "Golden you may go to bed any time  you wish, I am  sorry we kept you up so long. I think we should join you anyway."

     The next morning there was a knock on our door, when I opened  it there was one of the Cook's servants  there with a tray of food  for us. She said: "Starfire,  the Commander asked us to bring your  breakfast up this morning. Is there anything else  you would like?  I picked up the lid and she had already brought more than we would  eat, so I said: "No sister, you  have  already  brought  too much. Thank-you I really didn't expect this. Will you thank the Chef and  Commander for us?" She said: "Of course Starfire", and left.

     I woke up Sevea and Golden, and started a fire because it was  still a  little chilly in the mornings.  As we  were finishing our  breakfast  Silver came and  knocked on our door,  Sevea let him in  and offered him  something to eat and drink.  He said:  "Thank-you  sister, but I have already eaten,  I will have a little tea if you  don't mind." As she poured a cup of tea for him, he said: "Golden,  Knute has returned.  and Commander Stenkross wants to meet with us  after breakfast.  Starfire,  will you come with us?" I said:  "Yes  brother, if you think I should be there.  What does he want to see  us about?" Silver  said: "Knute has  brought  back  news  from the  eastside of the White  Mountains.  The Commander  thinks we should  know what his son has found before we leave for the Dry Lakes."

     As we were leaving Silver turned to Sevea and said: "We won't be long sister,  wait for us here  in your rooms!"  Then I went to  Stenkross' office with the Warriors.  We found  Stenkross, Gelfiun  and Knute were already there waiting for us. Stenkross said: "Good  morning brothers, as you see my son has returned from clearing the  Eastern Road. He has some news I think you should hear, Knute tell  them of your journey."

     Knute said:  "Sirs, Starfire; after we made  our way over the pass we began to see signs of the enemy. At first we thought noth- ing of it,  there are always a few warriors traveling north on the eastside. But as  we made  our way down  to the foot  of the moun­tains, we began to see signs of  large companies. Then  as we were beginning to work our way back up the mountain, another company of enemy warriors came traveling up the  road heading north  like the tracks we had been seeing. We just had time to get off of the road before they came through, there were too many of them to fight and we had no way  of sending for help in time.  This company had only  human  warriors which may  be a good sign,  but we  couldn't  tell  about the  others, the tracks were too  messed up to  be sure. You may make it through without meeting the enemy,  but there is some- thing going on to our north and the Dark  Lord is sending a lot of  his warriors.  I think it is best  if you don't travel alone until  after you have crossed the north-south road at the eastern foot of  the White Mountains."

     Golden thought for a moment and said: "There will be fourteen  of us, and that should be enough to keep  human warriors away, but  if you don't  think we  can take care  of ourselves  Knute, take a  couple of your companies and come with us to  the eastern foot. We  are not against a few extra warriors coming with us." Then I said:  Knute, you know most of the  Dark  Lord's  warriors would not even  think of attacking the  Northern Warriors, and those that do don't  live long. I think you are  just worried about  Viktoria, don't be  worried brother, the Shepherd had us tell them the  true story. So  they know she is your daughter. There is no concern for our safety  as long as they are with us, I have seen them in action and am not  afraid to take Sevea and Viktoria anywhere with the Warriors."

     Gelfiun said  to Golden:  "You know about our son and Sevea?"  He answered:  "Yes sister,  Starfire  and Sevea told us the truth.  Do not worry sister, no one will hear of it from us!"  Gelfiun did  not seem convenced, so I said: "When Sevea and I married, you said  we were  your son  and daughter. Mother, the  Shepherd told  me to tell the Warriors anything they wanted to know,  we only did as he  told us to. I don't  understand why  the Shepherd  wanted  them to know what we have been  keeping secret from  the folks here, but I  know that whatever  the Shepherd has told me to do has been for my  own good. Mother,  you know the Shepherd has more  wisdom than all of us put together, we must trust him!" Then she said: "Yes my son  I know you are right, but I don't understand  why anyone should be  told of  Knute's  misfortune. Golden, I ask  you to  never speak a word of this to anyone. It would ruin his life for word to get out  that a Commander's son had children by women other than his wife."    Golden looked  a little  sad as he  said: "Gelfiun,  I cannot promise never to say a  word as you ask. We will  promise you that  unless told to do so by the Shepherd we will say nothing!" and the  rest of the Warriors agreed with him. Stenkross said: "That is all  anyone could ask of you brothers, it is enough. You will  leave on your journey east tomorow, I will send Knute and  two companies of warriors with you to the eastern foot of the mountains.  Starfire, I am sorry to see you  leaving us. I had  hoped that  the Shepherd would let you stay so we could watch our little granddaughter grow up. Remember  my children, Blue Lake is your home.  You are always welcome here. Come back and see us when you can."

       With the meeting over, we went back to our rooms, and Knute  came with us. On the way he said:  "Starfire,  I know the Warriors  can take  care of themselves,  and you have truly become a warrior  yourself since you came to Blue Lake, otherwise the Shepherd would  not have made you a  Captain and he would not be sending you east.  It is  Sevea and  Viktoria that  worry me, if Sevea  was alone and  dressed for battle, I know she would do her share in a fight,  but  in a  dress and  carrying a  little girl  I don't think  she has a chance against a man  with a sword. I still  love Sevea, Starfire;  even though I chose to marry Skadi and as you reminded me Viktoria  is my daughter. You must keep them in the middle  of your company,  and I will place a full company  in front and  behind them and let the Warriors take the lead."

     I answered: "That sounds  good Knute, maybe you  and I should ride behind  her coach with  Viktor  and  Storvik, I will  put the others in front. As for your love Knute, I could see that from the  beginning. I asked you to be Viktoria's uncle for that reason, you  would have found ways to be close to them anyway  and as her uncle  no one could find anything wrong with your love for them.  If this  is to be our last night here Knute, you might go and  get Skadi so  she and Sevea can have a long visit.  It may be a long time before  they see  each other again." Knute agreed and  went to  get Skadi.  They joined  us again as we were  about to enter our rooms, and we all went in together. When Sevea saw Skadi they went into our bed- room where  they could talk  in private. The rest of us sat by the fire and made plans for our journey tomorow.

            Chapter 18. 'Journey To The Dry Lakes'.

     In the morning we ate breakfast and then began loading a wag-  on with suplies for the trip  because there were  no forts or out-  posts until we reached the  Dry Lakes. Knute's  warriors took what little  they would need in their  chariots because they would only be out six  days. Then  with  our chariots  harnessed  and Sevea's  coach ready we began  the first day's journey.  We planed on stop- ping at the junction of  the KING'S Road  and the Eastern Road. It was about sixty miles and would be dark by the time we reached the  junction.  The road up to the  pass was well patroled by the  Blue Lake warriors, so there was no fear of enemies on this side of the  White Mountains.

     We reached the junction  that evening and set  up camp at the foot of  Red  Rock  mountain, with Sevea in the center and a large fire beside her coach.  Skadi had given her a small  box which was  filled with coals to keep her coach warm and a tent which she kept  in a chest on the back of the coach. After the fires had been lite  for a while and we had eaten our dinner,  we set Sevea's tent near  the fire and filled her box with coals to keep  Viktoria warm that  night. Then we all went to bed with one of  Knute's companies tak-  ing turns standing guard.

     The second day's journey was much shorter,  only about fourty  miles but the road became steep  and narrow so that there was only  room at  times for  one chariot  at a  time. It took  us longer to reach the  pass and it was  still so cold and  snowy that the War- riors decided to travel on through the night using lanterns on our  chariots. Sevea had a small box of coal in her chest  so we filled  her firebox and got  it burning to  keep the  coach warm. The next day after we dropped below the snowline, we found a  place to stop  and sleep for a few hours.

      When we stopped I asked Sevea how she and  Viktoria were do-  ing.  She said:  "We are alright Starfire, this coach was not made for traveling over mountain passes,  but Viktoria  didn't complain  too much, she slept most of the night.  Are we going to be able to  catch some sleep ourselves now?" I said:  "Yes Love, we have stop-  ped at a bend in the road where we can see for quite a long way in both directions.  There won't be  any fires and  we will only have cold food for breakfast. We will stay here for three or four hours  and then travel on  until we find the second  bend in the road, we  will stay the night there.  If we have not seen any  more of those  enemy companies  passing through  Knute and his men will turn back  there.  Let's get some sleep now Love,  we can eat when we wake up  or on the road."

      Later  that day  after  we had some  sleep, we ate  a little dried meat and  bread before taking  off again.  As we went around  the first bend there was a long ridge  blocking us from being able to see the High Deserts. Knute spoke to one of his men who dropped  back and began  climbing up the ridge.  Later the warrior returned  and said:  "The road is  clear Knute, I could  see for  a long way from  the top of the ridge and  there was no one in sight."  Knute  said:  "Thank-you  brother", and  the  warrior  went  back  to his company. Then Knute said:  "Well Starfire, it looks like all of my  worrying was for nothing. But I care about you, Sevea and Viktoria  too much to take a chance that you might meet one of those compan-  ies we  saw going by. Starfire,  earlier I  told  you that  I love Sevea, you seemed  to be  able to feel  it already.  Now before we part I want to tell you why  I didn't marry her  myself before you  even came to Blue  Lake.  As you know I will soon begin to take my  father's place as Commander,  it is not right and  someday I think  the Shepherd will put a stop to it;  but for now there is a lot of  show and formality that goes with the position. A Commander's wife  is looked  upon as a King's Queen is,  she must have an appearance  of Royalty and Authority.  Sevea, although she stole my heart, did  not have the appearance my wife must have and she was spending too much time out fighting with the men. Skadi has what it takes to be a Commander's wife, and I think she will be a good mother also."

     "Starfire, you  have the  better wife, I wish she  could have  been a  little  more like Skadi. Before  you left I  wanted you to know why I walked out on Sevea,  because I know  I hurt her badly.  Please don't tell her  about this, it would only open the wounds I  gave her all over again. She is your wife now Starfire, try not to  hurt her like I did,  she is the  best woman I have ever met,  and you are a  lucky man to have her. I will  be leaving  soon, and we may never meet again, if for any reason it should become necessary  send Sevea and  your children  back to Blue Lake. I will take them in as  my own family, I will  make sure they are  never in want of  anything."

     I really didn't know how to answer him,  to hear a man saying  he is in love with  your wife is  hard to take, but I already knew  they were very close otherwise  Sevea would  never  have  born his child. Sevea had also said herself that for  a long time she hoped  Knute would ask her to marry him, but it was different to hear him  saying he still loved my wife.  I knew I had to say something so I  said: "Knute, I know  you are an honorable man, that is  why I was sure the  Shepherd  would  not remove  your title like  our mother wanted. I will trust that honor to keep you true to Skadi,  as you  have said you had your chance to marry Sevea, but you said: "No!".  I will never send her or my children back to Blue Lake unless I am  DEAD. In that case I thank you for your offer to care for them. My  wife and daughter are my life, maybe when  Skadi bears you a child  you will understand. But today we part as brothers, and should you  ever find yourself in my town make sure you come and stay with us.  After all, your father and mother have adopted us into your family  and you  are the only  brother that  I have Knute!"  He smiled and said:  "Yes, and you are my only  brother Starfire.  I am glad you  understand, I was sure  that you would or  I would never have told you the truth about Sevea and I. You have nothing to fear Starfire  I will  always be true to Skadi,  she is the woman  I chose for my wife. You are the only one who still believed and trusted me after  you knew the truth of what I had done,  even my own parents didn't  trust me. If you need me,  wherever you are,  send word and I will  come with the whole fort if I have to."

     Then we rode on in silence for a long time. I kept looking at that coach in  front of us and longed to be in it with my wife and daughter, talking about them had only made me want to be with them all  the more. But there was  no one to  drive my  chariot for me.  After a while  I said to Knute:  "You know brother,  it is hard to  ride back here when Sevea and Viktoria are right in front of me. I  wish I could be in that coach with them." He said: "Yes, I am sure  it is  Starfire, but if our  enemies come you  wouldn't be of much help to  them inside  the coach. Just think  of me, I had to leave Skadi back at  Blue  Lake  and I won't  even see her  for at least three more days. You have your wife and daughter here with you!"

      Knute was right, at least I had my wife and daughter with me  and we were headed for a new life in our own town somewhere in the  Dry Lakes. I said:  "Knute, I need to go up and talk with Golden."  He said: "Go ahead Starfire, we have not seen any warriors around.  You should have plenty of  time to come back if we need you."  The  road was wide enough  for two chariots here so  I began to ease my  way around the others and work my way up to Golden  who was in the  lead.  As I pulled in beside him I said:  " Brother, we are almost to the North-South Highway and you have not even  told us where we are going yet. Will you  tell me where  we are  going  and how far away it  is?"  He said:  "My little brother you are too impatient.  Will we get there any faster  if I tell  you all about  your town?  Since you are in such a hurry to know I will tell you a little."

     "The town is called Mosseberg,  it is in the southwest corner of the South Desert.  Mosseberg sits on  the edge of a basin which  hasn't  been named,  so you  can call  it what  ever you want, and rename the town to if you feel like it . It is about ten days from where  we will  stay tonight, that  is about  five hundred  miles. There has been little enemy activity there because  Asa's warriors  have chased most of them out,  but you should have more to do than  you ever have before. Remember my little brother, you will be like  a Governor  over this town. There  are enemy scouts going  through and  you will  have to  catch  as many of  them as  you can.  Well that should be enough for you to think on for  a while, you should go back to your  place now, it won't  be long now before  we reach the second bend."  So I slowed  down and let the  warriors pass me until Knute had caught up to me.

     Then he said:  "Well Starfire,  what did Golden have to say?"  I answered: "I was talking with him about the town I am being sent to, and where it is.  He said it is called  Mosseberg  and sits in the southwest  corner of  South  Desert. He also  said we  have at least another ten days to travel, so you will have been home for a week  before we even reach our destination.  Knute,  I really hate these long journeys. I hope  the Shepherd  lets us stay  there in- stead of  sending us on for a long time. Maybe it is having a wife and child  but I would  rather  settle down  for a  while and have  somewhere I can call home." Knute looked over at me  and looked as if he were trying to  keep from laughing as he said: "What  is the  matter Starfire? Losing that desire to travel and see the world so soon?  You have only been married for a few months and already you sound like a man who's afraid to leave home because Mama might not like it. Does Sevea have that much control over you already?"

     I answered:  "Brother, I don't like to be  made fun of! I had  more than I  could stand  of that  kind of  talk when  I left  the Valley. But I  will answer  your question; Sevea does not  control me,  she would never even think of doing  such a  thing. I do  not control  her either,  we are Man and Wife,  not Master  and Slave. When there are deci­sions  to be made  we make them together as one person. I am  surprised it is  not the same between you and Skadi, have you  already made her into your slave? Maybe you did make the  right  choice, Sevea  is a kind  and loving  woman, but she  is no man's slave. We do not  try to  make each  other into  a slave, we work together because of our love for each other."

     Knute looked embarrassed as he said:  "I am sorry Starfire, I  was not  trying to hurt  your feelings. I didn't know you  were so  sensitive about Sevea, I was trying to laugh with you, not at you!  I do not go  around making fun of  my only brother." Now it was my turn; I said: "Forgive me Knute,  I shouldn't have gotten angry so  easy, you are my brother and have never made fun of me before."

     Shortly after we stopped talking, we reach the second bend in  the road. From here we could see a long stretch of the North-South  Road and the intersection where the  Eastern  Road crosses it. The  Warriors came back to  Knute and I and Golden said:  "Brothers, we  have not  seen any  enemy warriors  since we  crossed the pass. We have already been discussing this, but Knute, as for you  and your men it is your choice  when you head back for  Blue Lake. I see no  reason why  you should not turn  back in the morning,  what do you  have to say?"  Knute looked over at  Sevea's coach  and then at me and said:  "I would feel  better if we  stayed  with you  until we cross the North-South  Highway. We can  see a lot  from here,  but there are just too many hidding places down there. If we leave be- fore sunrise, we will cross the road just after dark tomorow."

     Silver  said: "One more day won't make  any  difference, come with us if it  makes you  feel better  brother. I believe  you are right, we should leave as early as we can. They won't expect us to  ride at night, even so I want Bronze and Iron to ride ahead of us.  We don't  need any  surprise  attacks." I  said: "Silver, you  are talking as if there were enemy warriors down there ready to attack  us tomorow. Have you been seeing enemies that I missed?"  He said:  "Yes my brother,  as soon as they saw us they disappeared into the  rocks.  They would not worry me except  that they are dressed dif-  ferently than  any other enemy warriors I  have seen, and they are shorter  with long greasy  beards. Have either  of you seen any of them before?" I never had, but then I have seen little of the Dark  Lord's servents. Knute said: "I have never seen such a man before,  but I have heard far to the south there are  many strange forms of  men, distorted by  the Dark Lord. He must be sending  some of them north."  Bronze said: "I have seen them, they are nothing to worry  about. They are nothing but small men who call themselves Dwarves.  They are strong, and good warriors, but nothing to a Northman!"

     Knute looked very worried and said: "You may think nothing of  them, but there are only seven Northern Warriors here. Silver, how  many do you think there are?"  He said:  "It is hard to tell, they  don't travel together.  I would think I have seen twenty or thirty  since we  came over the pass. Their clothes  are the same color as the rocks, so they are hard to spot." Knute said: "Then we are go- ing to  stay with you until you  are several miles past the road."

Platinum said: "That is fine with me, it never hurts to have a few  extra warriors on hand, we may need them."  Then they went back to  their chariots and made camp.

     After they  were gone I said: "Thank-you Knute, I will feel a lot better with your  warriors here. If you don't mind, I think it  would be better if we didn't  tell Sevea about them." He said: " I  think you  are right, and I hope  we don't  have to  fight  any of these dwarves, they may be  stronger  than Bronze thinks." We then went  over to  Sevea's  coach and  began  setting up  her tent and started some of her coal  in her  little firebox.  I told her: "We  are too close to the road to have a fire, we will have to  make do  with your firebox tonight!"

 

     I had  forgotten  how well  Sevea knew me,  and how  well she could tell the truth with  just her feelings. She said:  "There is  something you are not telling me  Starfire, we are in some kind of  danger, I can feel it. Tell me  what is going on Starfire!" I knew  there was  no way to  convince her  there was  nothing wrong, so I  said: "The Warriors have seen a few enemy  warriors slipping by us  in the rocks, that is all.  It is  nothing to worry about, I don't  think they will attack us." But  Sevea said:  "Be careful Love, if  it was just a few warriors I would  not feel them like this. There  is more going on here than we  have seen.  Knute, if you are will-  ing,  I would appreciate it if you  would send out a few  scouts."  He said:"All you have to do is  say the word Sevea", then he left.

 

     When he was gone I said:  "How did you know there  was  some-  thing wrong, and if you could feel an evil presence why didn't you tell us?"  She said:  "Starfire  my Love,  I know my  feelings are often right,  but I am not going to  stop our journey just because of a feeling. As you see, there was time enough after we stopped."  Then we prepared for bed, but this night I noticed  Sevea laid her  sword beside  her and placed  Viktoria  between us,  which she had  never done before on this journey. I said: "Sevea, what aren't you telling me?" She said: "It is not important, it is just  a strange feeling, and I have  seen strange little  men looking at us in the  rocks. They don't feel evil, but Starfire I don't trust them."

     As she was  talking, a small  rock  was thrown  into our tent with a note on it.  I couldn't  read the writing,  but it  had the  KING'S seal at the bottom. I said: "Sevea, I don't like this, keep  your sword  handy, I am going out to find  our rock  throwing war- rior." Pulling out my sword  I carefully slipped  out of our tent.  It was dark now,  and there was no moon to help me see.  I had not walked far  before I  felt strong  hands grab hold  of my arms and pull me to the ground. Then I heard a strange speech which I could  not understand, but the last two words I knew; the last thing this  warrior  said  was: "Northern  Warriors". As Sevea  had said, this warrior didn't seem evil, he could have killed me instead of pull-  ing me down. So I quietly said: "Okay,  okay; if you want the War-  riors they are over there, let me up and I will take you to them!"    When I mentioned the Warriors,  he let me stand up again, but  kept a tight  hold on my arms.  As we slowly made  our way through  the warriors and chariots the warrior behind me moved  along with-  out making a sound, it was as if I was the only one there. Then we reached the front of the line of chariots where the Warriors were.  When he saw their chariots, he released my arms and said something  that might have been a "Thank-You". He walked forward until he saw  Golden's  gold  chariot  and  said: "Ar ni  den  Northern  Warrior Golden?"  Golden began speaking to this little warrior in the same  speech, but I couldn't  understand  a word of it.  As soon  as the other  Warriors heard them talking,  they all came over  and stood  around the warrior with their swords drawn. But after listening to  him for a while they put  their swords away. Iron turned to me and  said: "It is okay Starfire, this Dwarf is on our side.  You may go  back to your tent, it would be better if you were with Sevea."

     I didn't wait to find out why Iron told me to go to our tent,  my wife and baby were alone and there were strange creatures roam-  ing around  on this side  of the pass. I hurried  back to the tent and found Sevea with her armor on and sword drawn, as I started to  enter  the tent  I heard her say:  "Stop right there,  or I'll run this sword through you!"  I came to a quick stop and said:  "It is  okay Sevea. It's me Starfire!"  She said:  "Oh, I am sorry Love, I  thought it was  one of those  strange men I saw today.  Where have you been?"  I said:  "You are right, they are  strange little men.  When I went outside one of them grabbed me from  behind and had me  on the ground  by himself in a moment. I don't  know what is going on Sevea, but it  seems  that  you  were  right, not all  of these little  men are evil. The one that grabbed  me didn't  try to hurt me, while he had me  down he started talking in a  language that I  couldn't understand, but it sounded a little like the words I have  heard from  the Warriors  homeland. The last  thing he said though was  Nothern  Warriors, so I brought  him  to Golden. When  he saw Golden's chariot he  said something ending with  Northern  Warrior  Golden, then he  and the  Warriors  who seemed  to understand  him  began talking and Iron told me to come back  and stay with you and  Viktoria. Maybe I can  find out what  is going on  in the morning,  but tonight I wouldn't take that armor off or put your sword away.  We can take turns standing watch tonight." She said:  "That sounds  good to me Starfire, but I don't think I will do much sleeping."

     Sevea was really very tired and fell asleep shortly after she  lay down with Viktoria.  I let her sleep the  rest of the night so  she would be wide awake to watch over Viktoria the next day. As it  was beginning  to grow light, Knute, Golden, Silver and  the Dwarf came to our tent.  Golden said:  "So Starfire,  our little  friend took you down without a fight,  I am not  surprised.  These little Dwarves are  about as  quick as  they are  strong, and very quiet.  You are lucky  this one was  on our side  or you wouldn't  be here  now.  He is part  of a company of  Dwarves who  have  been keeping watch over the enemy companies Knute has been seeing going north."

     "This one's name is Cashel, and he asked us to tell you he is  sorry he had to treat you so ruffly last night. He needed to speak  with us, and chose  you  to bring  him through  our camp." I said: "Tell him it's okay,  but next time choose someone else.  What did  he have to  say so badly, as to almost  kill my  daughter with his rock?"  Golden began to talk to the Dwarf in their language,  then  Cashel made a short reply and Golden said to me: "Starfire, he did  not know you  had a child  in your tent. He was not trying to hurt any of you." While  Golden was talking  Cashel reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a small box. Golden said: " Starfire go  in and wake Sevea,  Cashel wants to give her a gift to make up for  his rock."  So I went into our tent,  but instead of finding Sevea  sleeping I found  her sitting near the door  listening to our con- versation. So I said: "Give me  Viktoria, and come on out and meet  our rock throwing  Dwarf!" When we  came out the  Dwarf opened his  box, which was full of necklaces and rings.  Golden said:  "Sevea,  this is Cashel, he wants you  to pick out a ring and  necklace for  yourself and  Viktoria. He said: "Dwarves don't go around throwing rocks at ladies  and children", he hopes these gifts  will make up for last night."

     Sevea slowly walked up to the Dwarf and picked out a ring and  necklace with  rubies for herself  and amethyst for Viktoria. Then she said: "I cannot speak this strange language, tell  Cashel this was not necessary, but I accept his gift and  thank him. I can see  there was no evil in his  actions last night.  I will remember his  kindness for a long time, and tell Viktoria when she is old enough to understand where  her ring and  necklace  came from." Since she was still in her armor she gave Cashel a bow took Viktoria from me  and went back into  the tent. Golden repeated  her words to Cashel in their language and the Dwarf disappeared into the rocks, and we saw no more of the Dwarves.

     When the Dwarf was gone Golden said to me:  "We will not have to travel as hard and fast as we had planed.  Cashel's company has  been keeping an eye out behind them and he is certain there are no  enemy companies  coming  through  for  several  days. Northeast of Asa's hometown there is a large  valley filled with  folk who have turned from  the Dark Lord. He has  been trying to take the valley back for a long time, but the KING'S warriors have done their best to keep the  folks safe. Cashel  said the Dark Lord has placed his warriors all around the valley trapping everyone.  Now he is plan- ing to make a clean  sweep of the  valley and turn it  into one of his Strongholds. I have talked  with Knute, he is  willing to take his two companies and guide you to Mosseberg. We must leave you at  the  North-South Highway and  head for that valley. You should  be safe enough, there will  be twenty-one  warriors. Get your company ready,  we must start our day now." Then the Warriors went back to their chariots and we all got ready to travel.

     This would  be our last day in  the White Mountains, tomorrow we would enter a valley with the Dry Lake Plateau  on our left and a range of mountains on our right. After that we would finally see  the beginning of the High deserts,  and after about five more days  we would be at our new home, Mosseberg. We would be able to travel  a little faster once we were in the desert, Knute thought we could  cut the ten days Golden spoke of down to seven. There was a faster way that would have cut a hundred miles off of our journey, but it was cross-country and too ruff for our chariots and Sevea's coach.      Our last day in the White  Mountains was a long hard day, the  road was not as steep, but it was filled with chuckholes we had to avoid and  it was about  a hundred  and  twenty  miles to where we would camp, it would  be all that  our horses  could handle in one day. I talked with  Knute and we decided  to rest our horses for a day before going on, we would be twenty miles from the Highway and  we thought that would be far enough to be safe from anyone travel-  ing on it. I also wanted to give Sevea and  Viktoria a day without  being bounced around in their coach.

     We saw no one on our journey down to the North-South Highway,  This was a major route and was even paved, it was also wide enough  for four chariots to ride side by side.  I hadn't seen a road this  big since I left the  Valley  and it brought  back memories  of my life  there. I didn't know  what  it would  be like  to live  in a desert, but I was  glad the Shepherd  had not sent us back to that miserable Valley. We stopped  at the far  edge of the highway, and said good-bye to the Northern Warriors and gave our horses a short rest. The sun was already below the mountains and it was beginning to get dark, so we took off on the last leg of our journey, twenty  more miles and we could rest for a full day.

     As we entered the valley we came to a stop and made camp by a  little lake that  was fed by several  small springs  coming out of the foot of the White Mountains.  We felt safe enough in this val-  ley to build  a few small  fires for  light and  a larger  one for warmth and cooking. After sending out a couple scouts to make sure  we were alone, I set  up Sevea's tent  next to  the large fire and she began  cooking us some  dinner. When it was done we called the rest of our  company over  to eat with us, after dinner  we talked for a while and  then went to sleep. I had not  forgotten Cashel's  appearance in  the middle of the  night and  asked our  company to  stay together near  Sevea's tent instead  of each of us staying by our own chariot. In the morning  we explored the  valley and found  that the  small stream  that came out  of the lake stayed near the road  so we would have all of the water we wanted for the next day or two when we would enter the desert.

     It was good to have a day to spend with Sevea and Viktoria, I  was beginning  to miss my  family life already  and this  constant traveling  was really  hard on Viktoria. Today we  just sat by the lake and enjoyed each others company, and talked about the town we  were being sent to. I said: "Golden said we could change the names  of the town  and anything  else we wanted to. I really  don't care for Mosseberg, so I have been thinking of changing it to Viktoria,  what do you think?" Sevea said: "I like that, it means a lot to me  that you want to name our town after our daughter, I think it will  mean a lot to her also when she is older. You are a kind man Star-  fire, most men would have named it after themselves, but you chose to name  it after your daughter. If only all girls could have such a loving father as  you are. I love you  Starfire, no woman  could ask for a better husband than you are!"

     That  evening  Knute came  and said:  "Starfire,  I need some supplies for my men. We only brought enough to turn around back at  the road and make it back to Blue Lake."  I asked him: "How far is it to a town where we can pick up some more food?" He said: "About  two  hundred  miles, so that is  about four days. There  is a town where we  will turn south  on Mid  Desert  Road." I said: "Then we have plenty, go ahead and get whatever you need out of our wagons.  We can refill them at the town."  He said:  "Thank-you Starfire, I  sent my  men out, but this  valley doesn't seem to  have much that  could  be called food, all they  brought back  was a few rabbits."  Sevea said:  "If you will bring them to me,  I will roast them for  you on the fire, and make enough extra tonight for your men to eat  with us."  Knute said:  "That sounds great Sevea, I think they are tired  of eating  their own  cooking, and I  know  your cooking is always good. I will go tell them to bring their game over to you."

     It was like a party that night with  all three companies eat- ing together. We gathered wood  from the trees in  the valley  and  built up the fire after Sevea was through cooking and everyone sat  around it talking late into the night.  We heard many stories that  night of strange men and beasts the warriors had encountered while  fighting the Dark Lord's army and learned a lot about the warriors  hometowns and families. I was gald my family was here with me.

     Later that night after they had went back to their  own camps I told Sevea: "I am glad  the Shepherd has  not sent me away  from you,  I feel sorry for those  poor warriors who have not even seen their families for a long time. I am not sure I could  obey him if he did  send  me off on  a long  journey  without you."  She said:  "Starfire, the Shepherd knows how you feel,  he would not send you away from me now. I think that is one reason he gave us this town,  we need  to stay together now, maybe later  when our children  are grown it will be different. I couldn't bear to  be without you now either, and  it wouldn't  be good  for  Viktoria  not to  have her  father near her  while she is  so young." I said: "Sevea, you said Children!  Are you trying to tell me something?"  She said:  "I am not going to  have another  baby yet, but I am  sure it  is only a matter  of time before  we will have  another, maybe this time you will have a son to raise. I think  it would be good  for you if we  had a son. You could teach him to be a great warrior like you are.  It would be fun to  have a little  boy running  around our house."  I said: "It sounds to me like  you are already longing for another baby to take care of, well when it happens I am not against it."

     In the morning we packed our gear and headed down the valley.  Everything went right and we made it half way down the valley that evening. Knute sent his men out again  and they were able to bring  back some  more rabbits. Sevea being the  kind woman  that  she is cooked  dinner  for the  warriors  again that night, but this time they went  back to  their  chariots as  soon as  dinner  was over. Knowing this was our last evening  in this beautiful  green valley we went for  a walk. Viktoria was starting to get big, but she was not old  enough yet to walk  by herself so  I carried  her. It was late spring  now but there  was still plenty of  wildflowers along the stream. On our way back Sevea  picked some of them and pressed  them in the book  the Shepherd had given to me when we got back to our tent.

     We left early the next morning and headed for the edge of the desert. It was  about sixty miles  so we had a easy ride, and made it by sunset. This was our  first look at the desert  and I didn't  like what I saw. I began to wonder if there  was any water in this  baren land at all,  so I went and found Knute.  He was filling our  water barrels at what was left of the stream. I asked him: "Knute,  is there  any water in this desert, or does it  have to be brought in?" He said:  "Don't look so worried Starfire, it isn't as bad as it looks from here.  Some of the dry lakes are not completely dry,  and others  are only dry in  the summer. There is a  basin next to your town and it almost always has a lake in it. It has been known to dry up, but only  in a very bad drought. Most of the cities and towns in  the  High Desert  are near a lake, the others have pipe­lines  to them from the  closest lake. I have not  heard of any of the towns  being  without water, most  of them  have wells  also." I was  relieved to hear this, and said: "Thank-you  Knute, that is good news. When  I saw this  desert I was afraid  the town was dry  and we would  have to bring our water in wagons from who knows how far away." When I came  back I found  Sevea staring at the desert, so I told her what Knute had said. She said: "I am glad to hear we  will have  enough water, with our children  we will need plenty of  water. I wonder if there will  be enough for a small garden of our own, that is something I always  wanted." I said: "Sevea, if there is any water at all enough will be found for your garden!"

     The next day found us traveling  through a narrow desert val- ley.  When we stopped Knute came over and said:  "Starfire, Sevea;  your town is on the other side of that hill. We must travel around  it because of our wagons and chariots.  Tomorow evening we will be  in a small town called Small Basin City, it is not much of a city,  but we will be able to restock our supplies there. The desert folk  will  take us into their  houses, so we will  be able to  sleep in comfort  for the  first time  since we  left Blue  Lake. Starfire, these deserts get cold at night.  Before we left the  valley I put  some extra  wood in your supply wagons, make sure Sevea has a good fire tonight in front of her tent." Sevea said:  "Thank-you Knute,  I am glad you thought  of firewood back  in the valley where there was some  wood to gather, there doesn't seem  to be  anything here but a little brush. I am glad this will be our last night sleeping  on the ground." Knute answered:  "You are welcome Sevea, but there will be one more night outside after we leave Small Basin."

     Knute was right, it was much colder  at night  in the  desert than I thought,  and we were glad to have the wood he gathered for us. In the morning we headed for Small Basin City, towards evening we could see  Small Basin  a few miles in  front  of us. There was also a  major  road crossing through it going  north-south, I ask- ed Knute: "What road is that?" He said: "It is Mid Desert Road, we will turn  south on it and  then turn  a little  west on a smaller road to your new home." I said: "I am glad  to know  our travel­ing  is almost over."

     It was not  quite dark when we entered  Small Basin, as Knute had said  it was not  much of a city, it must have  been built be- cause of the  intersection of the  two roads. As we traveled  down it's main street I saw a  small business district, the rest of the town seemed to be houses. As we crossed Mid  Desert  Road, I could see that  there were  more businesses  on that street also, but it was still only just big  enough to be able to get  what you needed  without leaving town.  The stable was at  the north end of town on  the highway, after leaving our chariots and wagons there we headed  back into town to the Mayor's house, which was also his office. We waited outside while Knute  went in to talk with him. Shortly they came back  out and  the Mayor  came up to  Sevea  and I  and said: "Welcome Herre Starfire and Fru Sevea. Our town is open to the new  Governor of the  South Desert. Ask for anything you want and it is yours. It would make us happy if you and your Hustru would stay in our house."  I said:  "We would be glad to stay with you Mayor. Is  there someplace  that my company  and Knute's companies can stay?"  He said:  "Yes Governor,  I will send someone to  find a place for  each of them, we have enough folks here to take care of three com-  panies. Come in and meet my Hustru, Fru Sevea,  she has been wait-  ing to meet  you ever  since we heard  the two of  you were coming through our little city." Then he spoke to a couple  townsfolk who  were  standing near, and told  our warriors to  go with them, they would find a house for each of them to stay in.

     Knute, Sevea  and myself followed  the Mayor  into his house,  we found his  wife working in  her kitchen preparing  a dinner for us, Sevea handed Viktoria to me and went in to help her. Remember- ing the titles the Mayor had used she said: "I am Fru Sevea, may I  help you with your dinner?" His wife replied:  "Hello Sevea,  I am  Fru Gerda and your help would be welcome." While they made dinner,  the three of us went into their frontroom and sat down. All of the Mayor's furniture was made out of a beautiful deep brown hardwood,  and the cushions and curtains were royal blue and purple.  When we  were  seated  he said: "I am  Herr  Garmer, and  my Hustru  is Fru Gerda. How long do you plan to stay with us?" Knute  answered: "We  can only stay the night, I am guiding  Starfire to  Mosseberg, and then I must get back to  Blue Lake  as fast as I can. The Northern  Warriors  were going to guide him, but they  had to turn  north at the  North-South  Highway, there seems  to be another war breaking out northeast  of the  desert. A Dwarf  called Cashel  delivered a message to them from the Shepherd as we came down out of the White  Mountains." Then Mayor Garmer said: "If you need to return to your  fort,Herre Knute. I have a company of  warriors and they can guide Herre Starfire  to Mosseberg.  We would be  glad to  take over for you, and that  way Herre Starfire  and Fru Sevea  can stay with us a few days. It  would do  my Hustru good to have some company from  outside our city."  Knute said: "That would be good, I should have turned back  several days ago, and I would like to get back  to my wife also."  We had  a good  dinner that  night,  and Gerda seemed  happy to have another woman and child in her house.

     In the   morning Knute and his two companies resupplied their wagons from ours  after being assured  by the Mayor  that he would replace them for us and headed back to Fort  Blue  Lake. We stayed with the Mayor  and his wife for three  more days before his  war- riors  took  us on to  Mosse­berg. Sevea  and  Gerda  became  close friends, and we  promised to come  visit when  we could,  since it  was only  two days to our town. Then we were off again on the last leg of our journey. The Mayor and his wife decided to come with us to  make sure we got  settled in our  house and help  me take over as the South Desert Governor.

     On the way I asked him: "Mayor  Garmer, I thought  I was just being given a small  town to keep safe from our enemy.  Why do you  call me the South  Desert  Governor?"  He said:  "Because although  Mosseberg  may be a  small town  it is  the Capital  of the  South Desert. If you have been sent to take over Mosseberg,  you are our  new Governer and what happens in the South  Desert is up to you !"  I began to wonder why the Shepherd had not told me about this, and  on our whole  journey the Warriors  and Knute had not  said a word  to me either. Suddenly I find  that I am  "Starfire,  Governor  of South Desert."

     That evening we camped at the intersection of the  Mid Desert  Road and the road that went  to Mosseberg. The Mayor  and his wife also had a coach like  Sevea's, but not nearly as fancy.  It seems  Skadi had given us a much nicer coach  than I thought, it could be that we had the  fanciest coach in  the South Desert. After we had made camp  I asked  the  Mayor: "Why didn't  anyone tell  me about being Governor?"  He said: "Starfire,  would you have been willing to come if  you knew that  you would be a Governor?  What did they tell you? I said: "I thought  we were being sent  to guard a small  town, then I found out I would be  responsible for it's folk also.  But no one ever said a word about the whole South Desert!"

     The Mayor said:  "You know Starfire,  as Governor  you are my  boss now. I wouldn't worry about being called our  Governor, there  isn't much that goes on in the South  Desert that you will have to do anything  about. Each city  has a mayor  who takes care of it's  problems, they will only call you if they need help. There are six  cities in the South Desert, you should  try to visit them at least  once each year. I think they only told you about Mosseberg because  you will be spending almost all of your time there."

     I thought  about what  the Mayor  was saying,  and then said: "Well Sevea what do you think  about being  called the  Governor's  Wife?"  She said: "Maybe that should be:  'Herre Governor's  Fru',  isn't that the  way you say it Herr Garmer?"  He laughed and said:  "Yes Fru Sevea, I guess I  talk like I am still in the Northlands.  Herr means 'Sir',  Herre means 'Master'  and Fru  means  Mistress. Some of the folk down here like to use the northern  titles we had  back home.  You can call yourself whatever you like, after all you are the Governor and his Hustru; Oh,that means wife." Then I said: "I will accept whatever  the folks want to call me,  but I think I  prefer Starfire and Sevea without any titles. I really didn't like  it at Blue Lake when they called me Captain."

     Sevea had not been saying much,  now she decided to speak up.  She said:  "Starfire is right,  I thought we were going  to live a  quiet  life in  a small  desert town, now you  tell us  it is  the southern  Capital. You  also  tell  me I  have  suddenly  become a Governor's  Wife, I was just getting used to his being  a Captain.  To tell  the truth, I am  glad  to hear it. Snowflower told him he was going to be a great warrior, and by the time I met him I think  he already was a great Warrior and  will only keep getting better.  Of course I am his wife, and to me he is already the best there is  on earth. He should be  at least a Prince, or a  King over  one of the Shepherd's lands. But I am surprised the Shepherd has been ad- vancing Satrfire  so fast, who knows what  he is going to do next.  Herr Garmer, Fru Gerda;  No one has said a word to me about what I  am supposed to do as the Governor's Wife. Can you tell me anything  that will help?"  Gerda said: "Don't worry about that Sevea, there  are no  demands put on you as his Hustru.  The folks will probably treat you with more respect than you are used to, but let  them do it. In a small way, their Governor and his  Hustru are like  their King and Queen. They know their King is THE  KING, but they  never see him and rarely see the Shepherd so the governor has become the only ruler  they  know  and  they  treat  him  like  their  King." Our company had been sitting  close by listening  to our con-  versation and now  Snowflower said:  "Well Starfire,  it does look like my little vision is coming true after all.  Now you have come  from a frightened little warrior all the way up to Governor of the  South  Desert. I never thought  when the  Shepherd  sent me to the outpost that the warrior  I was sent to help was  going to rise up to the top  and take  me with  him. I am glad  to be part  of your company  Starfire, not  because  you have  become a  Governor, but because as Sevea says; you are a great warrior and my brother."

     One after another our company spoke up  saying similar things  as Snowflower.  It was hard  for me  to accept my  friends  saying  things like this about me.  So I said: "I am not your Governor, or  even your Captain.  You are my friends and family  and that is the way it must  always be. We have been sent to this new town because  it is where the Shepherd wants us, not where he wants me.  Not one  of you are less  important than I am,  and you are  not to call me anything but  your brother.  I love each of  you as my  brother or sister, and you  will always go wherever  I go as long as  that is where you want to be.  Hjardis,  you are the newest  member of our company, but you are no  less loved  than Snowflower who  has been with me the  longest or Sevea who  is my loving wife.  If there is  anyone  who is charged with  taking care of these  folks it is the  six of you, and I can't think of any other warriors who could keep  them safer than you will. My friends if the folk  want to give re-  spect, then they must give it to you, because you are the ones who have earned it and deserve it."

     Mayor Garmer said: "I have never heard a better speech from a  King, Herre Starfire.  It is no  wonder the Shepherd  has made you our Governor.  If you speek  to your  townsfolk  like you speek to your warriors you will win their love and respect quickly. You al- ready  have mine," and his  warriors  agreed  with him. They stood up and said: "We are at your  service Governor Starfire,  ask any- thing you want and we will  get it for you, and you also  Mistress  Sevea," then they sat down again. Gerda smiled and said: "It looks  like you have also won their love Fru Sevea, you will make a love- ly Governor's  Hustru. It's been a long time since we had a couple like you. There  are going  to be  good times in the  South Desert now that you have come We will have a party when we get to town."

     As Gerda finished speaking, the Shepherd appeared in front of us. This time he came in  person, he looked at each of us and then  said: "Good evening Garmer, I see you have chosen to call Starfire  a Governor.  I did not give him that title,  the only title I gave him is 'Captain'.  Mayor Garmer,  you should have asked  me before  giving out  titles like that. Starfire, you do not  have to accept  this position if you do not think you are ready.  In time it is my  plan for you and you may accept it now, it is up to you Starfire!"  I said:  "Shepherd,  you are my Lord,  I will accept  whatever you want.  I do not know what my choice should be, you must guide me."  The Shepherd said:  "Starfire my son, it is because you understand this that I have brought you up in my Kingdom so fast.  The  South  Desert needs a new Governor, because this desert has the least re- sponsibilities I will give you the title of Governor Starfire."

     Then the Shepherd turned back to Garmer and said:  "Garmer my  son, you were not wrong in this matter. You were wrong in not ask-  ing me first, I have not  given you  the right to  hand out titles  that are higher than your own.  Starfire is my responsibility, you  must let  me be the one to  place him where  I want him, not where you think he should be. You might have got him hurt or even killed  by placing him in a position he was not ready for." Garmer answer-  ed: "Forgive me Shepherd, I thought that was why he was sent here.  Since he was being escorted by the  Northern  Warriors and the son of Blue Lake's Commander, I was sure he was the one you were send- ing to us to take our last Governor's place.  I can see now that I was wrong. Herre Starfire and Fru Sevea, will you forgive me too?"  I said: "Mayor, you do not need us to forgive you when you thought  you were doing our  Shepherd's will.  But if you want it,  you are  forgiven. You must also forgive me for not trying to stop you."

     The Shepherd said:"My children, this has gone on long enough,  I have made Starfire your Governor as you wanted. Now you must all  get some  sleep, you have  another day to  travel yet. Starfire, I will come and  see you after  you are settled in  your new home. I  must leave you now, good-by my children."

     We left early  the next morning,  hoping to be in the city by  lunchtime.  This road was smaller than Mid Desert, but it was well  paved and we were able to make good time.  As we had planed it was  not long after noon when entered  Mosseberg, it was hard for me to believe they called  this a small city, it was the  largest city I  had seen in  my life. As we rode  down a street  called Center, we  passed by the  Capital building  and a park  which was a full city block. Then next  to it we saw  our new home. It was so big that I  thought it should have been called a castle. We had a large stable  of our own and a house that was large  enough that all of our com-  pany could live with us, it was three stories  tall and at least a  hundred feet square. Later I found  out that it was  built so that my personal warriors and  servants could live with us.  There were  so many shops  that it would take  Sevea quite a long time just to know where everything was.

     When we pulled up to the house there was a marble wall around  the yard and a plaque in the  gate post which said: 'South  Desert  G­overnor's  Mansion'. Several  of the  Mayor's  warriors  took our chariots, wagons and Sevea's coach over to our stable which was in  between our mansion and the Capital. Sevea said: "Look at it Star- fire, our house  is almost as big as Fort  Blue  Lake. What are we going to do with all of those rooms?" I said: "I don't know Sevea,  we will have to find something to use them for." The Mayor who was walking beside  me said:  "I wouldn't worry about it,  by the time  your warriors and servants are all moved in their floor will near-  ly be  filled. Your private  floor is the smaller  one on top. The  first floor is for  entertaining your guests, it's rooms are quite large for  holding parties  and dinners  with the  Mayors of South Desert or the Governors of the High Deserts and their warriors."

     When we walked inside we could see  the Mayor was right, each  room was big enough to be a house, some were designed for banquets  and others for dancing and a couple were for having large meetings  with the  Governors  and Mayors  he spoke of. The folks  must have known we were coming today because they had prepared a banquet and  dance for us. The warriors  stationed here and  city officials had all been  invited and some of  the townsfolk. The party was not to start until dinner time so we would have time to bring our belong- ings up to our house and get freshened up after our journey.

     While we were  meeting some of the folks, the mansion's serv- ants had been carrying everything up to our house  and our compan-  ies belongings up to the second floor for them. When Sevea saw the  third floor  which was ours she said:  "Starfire,  even this floor alone  is too big for the  three of us. Maybe it won't feel so big  when we have some of  those children  we talked about on the jour- ney. I still hope to give you a son soon my Love, an important man like  yourself should  have at least  one son.  For now  we have a daughter to love, it won't be long before we have another child, I  can feel it Governor Starfire."  I answered:  "I know how much you  love  children  Sevea, if it  is  time for  our second child, I am  happy for you. I am  also  getting to  trust your  feelings, so we should prepare for this to come to pass.  It really doesn't matter  though  whether you  have any  sons at all, whatever  the Shepherd gives us will be fine  with me. I am your husband Sevea,  not your  Governor. Please don't call me 'Governor'!"

     As soon  as we  were ready  we went  back down  to the second floor and  found the rest  of our company about  ready to  go down also, so we waited for them and went down together.  It seems like  everybody there thought they had to come up and  shake my hand and  kiss Sevea's.  By the time  dinner was ready  I was very  tired of  shaking hands and watching these folks act as if I  was some great  Warrior or King. I even began to wish I was still back at the out-  post when I was a  new warrior and  everyone treated  me like one.  Then the Mayor came over and said: "It looks like  all of this at- tention  is bothering you  Herre  Starfire, you should try  to get used to it.  You may think you are only a Captain,  but the towns-  folk see you as the most  important  person in the  South  Desert.  They are only trying  to give you the honor  due such a person." I  said: "I will try Mayor, but the truth is I am not important."

     After the dinner  and dance Sevea and  I went back  up to our  floor and  I said to her:  "Well Sevea,  what to you  think now of being a  Governor's Wife? Did they  kiss your  hand off  like they shook mine?" She said: "I have never  had my hand  kissed  so many times in  one evening in my life,  but if it makes  them happy, as  your wife I  should let  them do it. As for  being the  Governor's  Wife,  Starfire I am Your wife and I love being your wife.  I will  gladly accept whatever comes with being your wife.  Do you think I  should begin to dress more  like Skadi now that you are Governor?"  I said:  "Sevea,  I want you to dress  like yourself,  if you want fancy dresses then you  will have  more than  you can wear, but if you prefer plain  clothes there  is no reason you  should not wear them. Ask Snowflower, Girda and Hjardis what they think."