Kahangrorn rang to her cries.
Though she raged and screamed for her slaves, none dared to approach her. The messenger
who had brought the news had been disembowelled on the spot and her hands were still
bloody with his entrails. She stormed at the thick stone pillars of the great hall and
clawed at their unyielding flesh as if she would tear them apart and bring the tall roof
crashing about her.
"I will bathe in his blood! I will feast on his flesh! How
dare he? How dare he usurp me?" she ranted.
Flecks of froth flew from her lips and she span round and ran the
length of the hall to the heavy oak doors. She flung them apart as if they were mere match
wood, then sped through the dark corridors and up the twisting stairways to the
battlements of the Fortress of Kahangrorn. Standing on the southern walls, staring like
one demented into the blue distance, she shrieked forth a storm of filthy curses. Shareth
the Heart stealer, Empress of the Icemark, dread ruler of the Frozen Empire, was
The object of her invective was Prince Luxor, Lord of the Free and
Moonprince of Midnight. Though it was two moons now since the War of the Solstice had come
to a sudden end with the fall of Ushgarak, the news of Doomdark's defeat had travelled
north at a snail's pace as the last cohorts of the Doomguard struggled across the Frozen
Wastes towards the sanctuary of Icemark. Only six out of six hundred men had completed
that terrible journey but fewer still survived the road that led from the Outlands,
through the Kingdom of the Giants, to the borders of the Frozen Empire. Just one warrior
reached the gates of Kahangrorn, only to find death there at the hands of the Empress, by
way of thanks for his travail.
None but the Wise knew that Doomdark, in earlier moons, had
himself journeyed through the northern wilderness and found the ice-locked land of
Icemark. And few even of them knew that there, in brief union with a cold Queen of the
North, he had spawned a daughter. She was called Shareth and was, perhaps, the only thing
that Doomdark had ever loved. The Witchking left her in Icemark for her own safety,
fearing that some would seek to use her against him, but his long-roving vision kept watch
over her. As she grew and matured in evil under Doomdark's distant tutelage, she gathered
about her the trappings of power and came to rule a kingdom if anything, more foul than
When she learnt of Doomdark's death at the hand of Luxor, she was
not stricken with grief, for grief was beyond her. Her consuming fury sprang from other
sources. Someone had dared to touch her father, had dared to challenge and destroy her
flesh and blood. To Shareth, it was almost beyond belief that a pitiful Prince of the Free
had the temerity to take that pleasure from her, so long had she planned in gruesome
detail the murder of the Witchking and the seizure of his domains. Doomdark had tutored
her too well in his own ways, for her to feel anything but delight at the thought of
disposing of one whose power outweighed hers. The insistent ache for power and dominion
burst to sharp pain when she learned that the Moonprince now ruled Midnight. Midnight
washers! Midnight washers! Though Doomdark might not have planned it so, believing
foolishly that his only daughter loved him in return, and crying out even with his dying
breath, "Avenge me, Shareth, avenge me! " she was about to wreak a terrible
revenge upon the Free and their Moonprince.
The battlements of Kahangrorn darkened as the storm clouds
gathered, summoned from the ice-barriers of the North by Shareth's wails and shrieks. Safe
in their watchtowers, the soldiers of the Iceguard tried to joke.
"The she-hag's brewing up a hurricane!"
"Someone's going to catch it, mark my words."
"Nothing like a good dose of plunder and frightening to clear
the air, that's what I say."
"I'll wager two-to-one it'll be the snivelling Dwarves who
get their come-uppance this time."
"Nah! Haven't you heard? Some nancy prince from south of the
Wastes has tickled her fancy - she's blowing him a kiss, that's all"
Shareth raised her long arms to the sky and cried into the wind,
uttering words no man could understand. The storm, however. seemed to leap and swirl as
her strident voice pierced through the air. Across the Frozen Empire, from Fangrorn to
Imiriel, the dark sky became a boiling turmoil . Then, as Shareth shrieked, the great
storm gathered itself and sped southwards across the Icemark.
Shareth turned and fled to her tower, her fury spent for a while.
Her private room there had no walls or windows or ceiling, only mirrors. The Empress flung
herself upon the silken sheets of her bed and looked up at herself. She liked what she
saw. The anger of the past hours had brought a rare flush to her cheeks and now that she
had set her revenge in motion. her marble-sculptured face had softened to perfection. With
slim and nimble fingers, she smoothed the white satin of her gown.
"l am so beautiful! ' she cried, 'l will make the whole world
She smiled seductively at herself and then turned to look in a
different mirror. Like her father, the Witchking, Shareth had only ever loved one thing in
her life and followed his example faithfully; he loved Shareth, so did she. Night after
night she fell asleep surrounded by her own ravishing reflections. Even in dreams she did
not escape herself, and she woke each morning feeling more beautiful, more irresistible
" I will journey to Talorthane tomorrow," she whispered
to herself, "And have the Giant for a while. His praises are so clumsy but he loves
me so much !"
The arch Empress began to giggle like a maiden. Dreamily, she
stroked her long, white arms and wriggled from the bed. She approached one of the mirrors
closely, blowing a soft mist of breath onto its polished surface, then watched entranced
as the mist melted away and her own image took form again before her. She twisted her face
into a grimace and bunched up her shoulders.
"Your hair is like an eagle's nest, my love and your nose is
as cold as a mountain," she bellowed at herself, finally collapsing back on the bed
in fits of laughter at the wit of her parody.
Night fell swiftly upon the Icemark, hastened by the storm that
flew from the North. From the great City of Varangrim, a motley battalion of Giants
gathered swiftly together at the approach of the storm clouds and marched towards the
borders of the Frozen Empire, hoping to forestall the onslaught that such foul weather was
apt to carry in its wake. Likewise, from Carudrium and Carorthay, the Dwarves sent forth
their warriors towards Fangrorn to challenge, if needs be, the marauding Iceguard.
Further south in the City of Imorthorn, the Lords of the Fey met
in council to discuss the import of the great tumult in the sky. Some were for raising the
alarm at once and marching on Thigrak and Glormane, fearing that the Dwarves had betrayed
them to the Heartstealer. Others were waiting, reasoning that even if the Dwarves had
betrayed them, it would be better to fight the Iceguard in the deep and tangled forests
than to march forth onto the open plains. The Lord of Imorthorn, however, was adamant that
the storm was destined for other lands.
"You will have heard by now, surely my Lords, of the war that
has been raging in the lost land of Midnight far, far to the south west of our Icemark.
Though it is now two moons since its conclusion, the news of the Moonprince's victory has
travelled slowly. Rumours of a secret traffic betwixt the Heartstealer and the Witchking
have come to our ears for many moons now. Indeed, on the eve of the Solstice itself, did
we not waylay a band of dark and foul warriors riding north from the Gate of Varenorn? I
know it is many, many moons since any of our number has dared its terrors but that is the
only passage we know of that still leads to Midnight. I am sure the Heartstealer sends the
storm not against us but against this Luxor, this fabled Moonprince of Midnight. Look,
even now the storm turns southwest!"
The Lord of Imorthorn raised his arm and pointed to the tall
windows of his hall. The council turned and looked out at the dark, flying clouds. There
was a murmur of agreement and then confusion as they argued what they should do if this
was indeed the truth of the matter. At length, they agreed that their brothers in the land
of Midnight, the Fey of the legendary Forest of Dreams and other forests now long
forgotten, must be warned of the peril that approached them. Meanwhile, they should make
ready for war, for there was no foreseeing Shareth's plans. If she had designs upon
Midnight, the route of her armies might well pass through the Kingdom of the Fey and there
was small hope that such a passage would be peaceable.
Accordingly, as the night deepened, the Lord of Imorthorn climbed
to the Tower of Hawks and took his swiftest bird, a white falcon, from the mews. Round one
of its jesses, he wrapped a thin strip of parchment, fastened it there with hot wax and
pressed his seal upon it. Then, unhooding the falcon, he spoke softly to it and lofted it
into the turbulent sky. In a moment it was gone, winging its way towards Midnight and the
Citadel of Dreams.