The Empire Chronicles
Irayan of Stanyshaul
By: L. Craig Woods
Editor's Note: If you have not yet read Part I and II of this story, please go to the Fantasy archive and
look up last month's issue, first. Thank you. TDS.
Twelve days later, news arrived that the princess Irayan and a large
group of armed men were making their way inland from the Eastern Sea, and
would reach the castle by noon on the morrow. A huge feast was planned
to welcome home the princess and the castle parapets were filled with
people when the train of soldiers arrived and began setting up camp
outside the walls of the castle.
Theobold understood that most of the more than 1,000 warriors would
continue on to join up with Kroydon, as a token from his brother-in-law,
King Cripen of Bowatsland. The rest of the warriors were apparently the
personal bodyguard of Irayan and would stay on at the castle with the
princess. Like the other residents of the castle, Theobold was on the
walls as the foreign army made camp on the great plains that surrounded
them, hoping for a glimpse of the princess. He had expected that she
would arrive in a covered pavilion, or at the very least astride a
handsome stallion, but the entire army appeared to be completely afoot
and he could detect no sign of a gilded princess amongst the motley
rabble that milled below the walls.
No matter, he thought. I will meet her soon enough.
Indeed, the next morning Theobold was summoned to the audience chamber to
meet with Princess Irayan and once again he donned his best robes,
wanting to make a good first impression on the young princess. He had
already planned how he would play upon her feminine feelings and had high
hopes for a successful meeting.
When he entered the audience chamber, however, he was forced to rethink
Theobold was surprised to see that instead of the usual pair of castle
guards beside the dais, there were now six guards in the room, all of
them from Irayan's personal bodyguard. Two stood behind the dais, two in
front and two more on either side of the doors. These were huge, shaggy,
barbarian warriors wearing iron-studded, leather armor and furs who were
armed with long, wide swords and a few even carried huge battle axes.
But his greatest shock came as Theobold gazed up at the throne and beheld
Princess Irayan. The young girl he had known so many years ago was no
longer evident; the woman who now sat on the throne looked as hard and as
dangerous as the guards who flanked her.
Irayan was dressed in leather breeches with high boots, along with a
leather breastplate overlaid with pagan designs worked in silver. Over
her shoulders was draped a long cape of thick fur and she wore a short
sword at one hip and a deadly looking dagger at the other. Surrounded by
a thick halo of unruly hair that fell past her shoulders, her face had
been hardened by years of sun and weather and she had the look of death
about her. Theobold swallowed with some difficulty and made his way to
the dais. He stopped some feet in front of the guards and bowed his
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