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."
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."