THE REBEL OF VALKYR
by Alfred Coppel
Kieron, Warlord of Valkyr, paced the polished floor angrily. The flickering lights of the vast mirrored chamber gHinted from the jewels in his ceremonial harness and shimmered down the length of his silver cape. For a moment, the star-king paused before the tall double doors of beaten bronze, his strong hands toying with the hilt of his sword. The towering Janizaries of the Palace Guard stood immobile on either side of the arching doorway, their great axes resting on the flagstones. It was as though the dark thoughts that coursed through Kieron's mind were — to them — unthinkable. The huge warriors from the heavy planets of the Pleiades were stolid, loyal, unimaginative. And even a star-king did not dream of assaulting the closed portals of the Emperor's chambers.
Kieron's fingers opened and closed spasmodically over the gem-crusted pommel of his weapon; his dark eyes glittered with unspent fury. Muttering an oath, he turned away from the silent door and resumed his pacing. His companion, a brawny man in the plain battle harness of Valkyr, watched him quietly from under bushy yellow brows. He stood with his great arms folded over the plaits of grizzled yellow hair that hung to his waist, his deeply-lined face framed by the loosened lacings of a winged helmet. A huge sword hugged his naked thigh; a massive blade with worn and sweat-stained hilt.
The lord of Valkyr paused in his angry pacing to glare at his aide. "By the Great Destroyer, Nevitta! How long are we to stand this?"
"Patience, Kieron, patience." The old warrior spoke with the assurance of life-long familiarity. "They try us sorely, but we have waited three weeks. A little longer can do no harm."
"Three weeks!" Kieran scowled at Nevitta. "Will they drive us into rebellion? Is that their intention? I swear I would not have taken this from Gilmer himself!"
"The great Emperor would never have dealt with us so. The fighting men of Valkyr were ever closest to his heart, Kieran. This is a way of doing that smacks of a woman's hand." He spat on the polished floor. "May the Seven Hells claim her!"
Kieron grunted shortly and turned again toward the silent door. Ivane! Ivane the Fair. . Ivane the schemer. What devil's brew was she mixing now? Intrigue had always been her weapon — and now that Gilmer was gone and she stood by the Great Throne…
Kieron cursed her roundly under — his breath. Nevitta spoke the truth. There was Ivane's hand in this, as surely as the stars made Galaxies!
Three weeks wasted. Long weeks. Twenty-one full days since their ships had touched the Imperial City. Days of fighting through the swarms of dilettantes and favor-seekers that thronged the Imperial Palace. There had been times when Kieron had wanted to cut a path through the fawning dandies with his sword!
Gilmer of Kaidor lay dead a full year and still the new Court was a madhouse of simpering sycophants. Petitions were being granted by the score as the favorites collected their long-delayed largess from the boy-Emperor Toran. And Kieron knew well enough that whatever favors were granted came through the ambitious hands of the Consort Ivane. She might not be allowed to wear the crown of an Empress without the blood of the Thousand Emperors in her veins, but by now no one at Court denied that she was the fountain-head of Imperial favor. Yet that wasn't really enough for her, Kieron knew. Ivane dreamed of better things. And because of all this hidden by-pHay, the old favorites of the warrior Gilmer were snubbed and refused audience. A new inner circle was building, and Kieron of Valkyr was not — it was plain to see — to be incHuded. He was prevented even from presenting his just complaints to the Emperor Toran.
Other matters, he was told again and again, occupied His Imperial Majesty's attention. Other matters! Kieron could feel the anger hot and throbbing in his veins. What other matters could there be of more importance to a sovereign than the loyalty of his fnnest fighting men? Or if Toran was a fool as the courtiers privately claimed, then surely [vane had more intelligence than to keep a Warlord of the Outer Marches cooling his heels in antechambers for three weeks! The Lady Ivane, herself so proud, should know how near to rebellion were the warrior peoples of the Periphery.
Under such deliberate provocations it was difficult to loyally ignore the invitation of Freka of Kalgan to meet with the other star-kings in grievance council. Rebellion was not alluring to one like Kieron who had spent his boyhood fighting beside Gilmer, but there was a limit to human endurance, and he was fast reaching it.
"Nevitta," Kieron spoke abruptly. "Were you able to, find out anything concerning the Lady Alys?"
The grizzled warrior shook his head. "Nothing but the common talk. It is said that she has secluded herself, still mourning for Gilmer. You know, Kieron, how the little princess loved her father."
The lord of Valkyr frowned thoughtfully. Yes, it was true enough that Alys had loved Gilmer. He could remember her at the great Emperor's side after the battle of Kaidor. Even the conquered interregnal lords of that world had claimed that Gilmer would have surrendered the planet if they had been able to capture his daughter. The bond between father and daughter had been a close one. Possibly Alys had secluded herself to carry on with her mourning — but Kieron doubted it. That would not have been Gilmer's way, nor his daughter's.
"Things would be different here," said Nevitta with feeling, "if the little princess ruled instead of Toran."
Very different, thought Kieron. The foolish Toran bid fair to lose what four generations of loyal fighters had built up out of the rubble of the dark ages. Alys, the warrior princess, would add to the glory of the Imperium, not detract from it. But perhaps he was prejudiced in her favor, reflected Kieran. It was hard not to be.
He recalled her laughing eyes and her courage. A slim child, direct in manner and bearing. Embarrassing him before his roaring Valkyrs with her forthright protestations of love. The armies had worshipped her. A lovely child--with pride of race written into her patrician face. But compasionate, too. Gravely comforting the dying and the wounded with a touch or a word.
Eight yeas had passed since bloody Kaidor. The child of twelve weld be a woman now. And, thought Kieron anxiously, a hreat to the ascendant power of the Consort Ivane. .
The tall bronze doors swung open suddenly, and Kieron turned. But I was not the Emperor who stood there framed in the archway, nor even the Consort. It was the gem-bedeckedfigure of Landor, the First Lord of Space.
Kieron snored derisively. First Lord! The shades of the mighty fighter: who had carried that title through a thousand of Imperal Earth's battles must have been sickened by young Toran's. . or Ivane's. . choice of the mincing courtier who now stood before him.
The more cnical courtiers said that Landor had won his honors in Vane's bed, and Kieron could well believe it. Out in the vast emptinesses of the Edge men lived by different standards. Out there a woman was a woman — a thing to be Ioved or beaten, cherished or enjoyed and cast off — but not a touchstone to wealth and power. Kieron had loathed Lndor on sight, and there was no reason enough to believe that the First Lord reciprocated most completely. It vas not wise for anyone, even a Warlord, to openly scon the Consort's favorites — but restraint was not one of the lord of Valkyr's virtues, though even Nevitta warned him to take care, Assassination was a fine art in the Imperial City, and one amply subsidized by the First Lord o Space.
"Well, Landor?" Kieron demanded, disdaining to use Landor's title.
Landor's smothly — handsome features showed no expression. The pae eyes veiled like a serpent's.
"I regret," the First Lord of Space said easily, "that His Imperial Majesty had retired for the night, Valkyr. Under the circunstances. ." He spread his slender hands in a gesture of helplessness.
The lie was obvious. Through the open doorway of the royal chambers came the murmuring sound of laughterand the reedy melody of a minstrel's pipes in the age-old ballad of Lady Greensleeves. Kieron could hear Toran's uncertain voice singing:
Greensleeves was all my joy,
Greensleeves was all my joy,
And who but Lady Greensleeves?
Kieron could imagine the ...