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Africa’s Northern Plains at the base of the Oweinat Mountains 8,000 BCE

Byrgamon, Queen of the Amenti, reached for Kedare, running her fingers across the warm skin and hard muscles of his chest. “Our marriage and this plan of yours will turn the world upside down,” she said. “Two rulers, one country. This means I can finally bury my Journal of War.”

Contentment overwhelmed her being, fed by their recent lovemaking. Kedare brought a new life to her tired world, and she was suddenly free. Free from battle and death, free of the loneliness of a queen at constant war. Free to experience love.

“Bahk-ir will not like our arrangement,” Kedare said.

His words spoke a sharp and brittle truth, intruding on her happiness. A shudder came snaking down her spine, for she dreaded the day she must inform Bahk-ir of her and Kedare’s union.

Kedare stroked her shoulders and pulled her close. When he held her tight, he rolled until he covered her, heart to heart, hip to hip. “We should take your Journal of War and close the Temple at Gebel together. Come with me to Cyrenaica, where we will announce to the world our plans. Summon Bahk-ir there and we will meet with him together.” Nose to nose, he peered deep into her eyes. “My love, I do not trust Bahk-ir. Please do not meet with him alone.”

“Calling him to Cyrenaica would be a great insult to such a powerful man,” Byrgamon protested weakly. “He is a mighty warrior who has fought many battles for his country–for this he deserves a measure of respect. The retirement I offer will be too sweet for him to re–”

“The General,” he insisted, cutting short her words, “is a mighty and powerful man who desires much beyond what he is due.”

Deep in her heart, Byrgamon agreed. Lately, Bahk-ir had come to speak of the Magic of War as their power, and he watched her with bright possessive eyes. While he had come to repulse her, he was commander of her army. She could not ignore him.

Outside, the wind howled, jerking at the tent ropes, making them hum. Byrgamon cocked her head, detecting a faint song of loneliness out on the distant plains. She strained to hear more, her eyes fixed on a point beyond Kedare’s face. In her peripheral vision, the tent flaps fluttered angrily, allowing a foreign, dusty odor to invade the tent. She shivered.

Ancient and dry–the smell of vast time . . . and sadness.

She stiffened with alarm, feeling the cold of eternity at her toes.

“Gamon, my love,” Kedare said, hugging her tight, rubbing warmth back into her rigid body. He turned her chin, reclaiming her eyes and attention. “You are not alone in this battle.”

“I am not . . . threatened by anyone. I am Queen,” she stated with finality. She shook off the morbid mood that had grabbed her and turned her thoughts to their bright future.

“This great kingdom of ours will be born, not from an act of aggression, but from an act of love.” She moved her hips suggestively, drawing his quick response, lightening her mood. His love always made her feel invincible.

“I am a great queen, accomplished in the Magic of War,” she declared. “I am a woman in love, eager to begin life with my true heart. With these two forces behind me, what could possibly stop me?”

The Eastern Frontier, Two days ride from Gebel

General Oman Bahk-ir swirled the goblet of wine, feeling the future fall right into his hands. “Byrgamon, my Queen, we will unite into a power the world has never known.” He strode to the tent opening. Before him, as far as the eye could see, was the army of Amenti.

I am the Lord of War. My army is the greatest fighting force on the northern plains.

Next, the queen would be his–and then her powers. Once he took control of her power, he could command the battleground from the comfort of the palace. The Lord of War would then take the world.

He threw his head back and smacked his lips, savoring the exhilaration, for he was on the brink of attaining his life’s dream. The years of sacrifice and his long career of mean living conditions were at last going to yield him what he deserved. When he possessed the secret of the magic symbols in the Journal of War . . . gold, power–the world would be his.

The sound of an approaching horse intruded. A rider bearing the General’s banner came from the direction of Gebel. Bahk-ir recognized Tareq, his man in the queen’s household.

The rider came up to the General’s tent and swung off a horse lathered dark with sweat. He offered a salute. “General.”

Bahk-ir commanded his young slave. “Take the horse and walk him cool before you water him.”

The boy sprang out from the darkness and took the horse.

With Tareq following, Bahk-ir strode into his tent. After sitting at his desk, he motioned for the rider to help himself to a water skin.

“My Lord,” the rider said as he took the skin. “Forgive me for arriving at such an hour. Matters of interest to you have developed in Gebel.”

“Go on,” the General encouraged after the man drank.

“Of late, the Queen has been restless. Since she returned from Cyrenaica, I have seen her stare with longing across the mountains toward the great sea. In the early mornings she often times will appear in an instant, as she does with her magic, and I see the hem of her cloak wet with dew, as though she had just walked the plain. So I rode down the mountain in the direction of her longing. There, about a day’s ride out on the plain, I found a cluster of tents with one great tent some distance off alone. I waited and watched. In the heart of night, I saw queen Byrgamon meet a man there, then she returns to the city before the sun rises.” The rider paused to drink again.

General Bahk-ir slowly absorbed Tareq’s words, his mind stunned by this report of the queen’s betrayal. A chill began ebbing into his heart. “What else?”

“After observing their behavior for many nights, I knew I could approach quietly under cover of their lovemaking. I was able to move near enough to listen for some time while they repeatedly–”

As Byrgamon’s full betrayal became clear, Bahk-ir felt his face grow hard with anger. A cold wave of resentment famed outward from his heart, smothering the hot fires of his ambition. Pressure grew within his head as a great roaring wind battered his ears, even though the walls of the tent lay quiet.

The rider rushed on. “They would talk afterward. The queen intends to dispose of the journal and consort with this man, Kedare, after she has bought your compliance. There is talk of combining the two armies.”

Bahk-ir’s toes curled within his sandals, gripping an earth suddenly rolling in chaos. His fingers squeezed the hardwood arms of his chair, longing instead to wrap around the traitorous neck of his queen. Rage filled his throat, defeating any words.

In the lengthening silence, the rider anxiously moved from foot to foot, looking at the tent opening. “Shall I go, sir?”

Bahk-ir looked up, having forgotten the rider even existed. He stared at the man intently, reviewing all he had said. “Did the queen say how she intended to dispose of the magic book?”

“No, my Lord. She gave no such details.”

“Huh,” Bahk-ir grunted. He reached for a small chest on his desk and counted out several gold pieces. As he walked past the tent opening, he glanced out and saw the servant boy walking the rider’s horse some distance away, barely visible beyond a small dip in the terrain. “Does anyone else know what you have shared with me?” Bahk-ir asked.

“I always acted alone, as you instructed.”

“Excellent,” the General said. “You deserve to be rewarded handsomely.” He handed the gold pieces to the rider, who took them eagerly. As Tareq inspected his treasure, Bahk-ir smoothly stepped behind him and slipped a sharp dagger into the man’s ribs. Tareq cried out with pain, but Bahk-ir already had a hand over his mouth. The rider sagged to the floor, scattering the gold pieces across the carpet.

General Bahk-ir wiped his dagger clean on the rider’s robes and set the dying man on his so the bleeding would spill internally and not one the carpeted floor. As the man moaned through his last breath, Bahk-ir’s brown eyes turned westward toward Gebel and the queen.

The rider’s shocking news initially brought a cold feeling to swell in Bahk-ir’s heart, reaching to chill his mind. But his thoughts were on fire now. He dragged Tareq’s body from the tent and pitched it down an incline where in disappeared into the shadows. He returned to his tent and collected the fallen gold pieces.

“My Lord, he is cool,” called the servant boy from outside. He held the reins to the now rider-less horse.

Bahk-ir walked out and tossed the boy one of the gold pieces. “Bring me a fresh horse,” he commanded. “One I can ride hard.”