Chapter Two

    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 distraught.
    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 his.
    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 love me!"
    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 than ever.
    " 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.

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