The dead were lined up neatly before her. Their eyes were bright and alert, their breathing even, their pulses strong. No one looking would know that they were dead.
The queen stepped down from her dais, approaching the first of the men. He was a man just short of his middle years, powerfully built, with a scimitar hanging from each hip. He bowed down before her, and she placed a kiss upon his brow, sealing his sentence.
"The Kingdom of the Light welcomes your sacrifice. Go in the Light. Fight in the Light. Be one with the Light."
She continued down the line. Men and women of varying ages received her kiss and her blessing. They were the best fighters in the Kingdom, and they were now Assassins. Her kiss had placed an enchantment on them. They would be faster and more deadly now than any natural man or woman, but once they were deposited in the fight they would not be able to stop in their mission to kill the enemy king and as many of the royals around him as possible. Their minds would be consumed with their mission until nothing else remained.
The enchantment was a deadly one. From the moment the soldiers were imbued with the unnatural abilities, their body began to consume itself. The life-force that should carry them on for many more years was used up at an accelerated rate. No Assassin had ever lasted more than a month after receiving the kiss.
"We will serve the Light. We will fight for the Kingdom of the Light. We will die for the Light."
"Then go, my children," the queen said.
The dead filed out the side door to where they would meet a mage who could give them passage to the enemy palace in Maldor. The spell was draining, and it was unlikely that the mage would survive the experience, but he was another sacrifice to be made for the Light.
"Your Royal Highness," a man said, bowing low before his queen. He was dressed in the colors of the Kingdom: white for the Light, blue for loyalty, and red for blood.
Much blood was shed for the Light.
"Yes?" the queen asked. The man bowing before her was her advisor, and she wondered what new event might have occurred that he would need to see her now, the second time that day.
"A rider came in from the front lines," the man said. He was standing now, but he kept his eyes lowered in respect.
No man's eyes could meet the Light.
"What news?" she asked.
"More soldiers have arrived from Maldor, my queen. A legion, if the messenger is to be believed."
The queen's hand curled into a fist. The battle with Maldor was not going as hoped. The Kingdom was strong, and the war with Maldor was necessary to spread the Light across Saldicia, but Maldor was providing more resistance than the queen had expected.
No matter. The Light would prevail, as it always did. Sending the Assassins would ensure the outcome. With the king of Maldor dead, along with those closest to him, Maldor's resistance would crumble.
And the Light would spread to Maldor.
"Do our lines hold?" the queen asked. Her face was a mask, hiding any anxiety she felt at the news. She unclenched her fist and waited for the answer with forced patience.
"Yes," the man said. "The lines are holding, though we are suffering losses."
"No man who dies for the Light dies in vain," the queen said. "We will hold a feast to honor them in three days time, and help them on their way to joining with the Light."
The man nodded. "I will see the feast arranged, Your Majesty." He hesitated, his shoulders hunching. "The rider…he said they feared Maldor might build siege machines. If the damage to the northern defenses is great, they might be able to overrun our men there."
Siege machines! It was nearly a week's ride from the front lines to the Queen's Palace. The defenses might already be under attack by trebuchets and other inventions of war. The northernmost defenses might already have fallen.
If that happened, the Light would demand another sacrifice.
"Bring me one of the mages," she commanded.
Temporarily alone, the queen could indulge in her tempestuous emotions. She struck the armrests with her fists and let out a quiet scream of frustration through clenched teeth. Transporting the Assassins to Maldor had cost her one mage, though his death had not officially been reported to her yet, and now she would lose another.
Sending a mage to fight was not as dangerous as having one transport a group of twenty Assassins two hundred leagues away, but the magicks the mage would need to use to defend against siege machines and greater enemy forces would be considerable. Mages were not sealed to death as Assassins were, but they knew when they were sent from the palace for fighting that they would likely not return.
When her attendant returned to her, trailed by a pretty young woman in a long black robe, the queen once more looked cool and composed.
"I have brought you a mage," the attendant said unnecessarily.
The mage made a low bow. "I am Tiakoma, Your Majesty. How may I serve the Light?"
"You will go north toward Maldor and help in the defense of our forces there."
Tiakoma nodded seriously.
"You will focus your attentions on any siege machines or other machines of war brought to bear against the armies of the Light. You are not to drain yourself until and unless you see such machines." Mages were far too valuable to fall to a sword before fulfilling their purpose.
"Of course, My Queen."
"You will leave at once. A rider will be accompanying you. Go forth and serve the Light."
"I am pleased to be of service to the Light."
Tiakoma curtsied again and left the room straight-backed. The queen frowned after her.
The Assassins had been stoic, but each had volunteered for the mission, knowing when they did so that they would die performing their duty. They had been trained for it.
Tiakoma did not strike the queen as unintelligent, no one lacking intelligence could withstand the training necessary to become a mage, even if they did have inborn magical ability, but there was something about her attitude…
The queen banished the thought. Tiakoma would go forth and fight for the Light. She would likely die, and her dying would be glorious, for she would die in service of the Light.
All was as it should be.
"Have the assassins been sent to Maldor?" the queen asked her advisor.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"And the mage?"
"He is dying, Your Majesty."
"He died in service to the Light," the queen said. "He will be remembered at the feast. Three days."
"Yes, Your Majesty." The man left and the queen retired to her sitting room shortly thereafter. She knew in her heart that the Light would prevail against Maldor. It was the destiny of the Kingdom of the Light to shine all across the continent.