he seas of Mars were nearly dry and though life had ceased to live in them long ago, Sandria was still in love with their color and clean, pleasant, salty sweetness that filled the air of her seaside villa. Even with only two faint moons for company, she loved walking beside them at night, watching the reflections move under their influence. Theirs and the far off stars of the white galaxy. "I would not die knowing you were not waiting for me, my husband," she said, speaking to his spirit. Her husband who had passed on over three years ago, killed near the great monolith, the volcano called High Dome, whose fires burned eternally, but murdered there, in a moment of peace offering to the neighboring country, killed by a usurper. "But it is not my time, yet, is it, my love? I will live another thousand years before we stroll again under new lights of that far off pavilion of suns."

Sandria was only twenty-three actual years old, Martian years, much too young, many felt, for her to marry the once king of the land, but she knew her journey. She knew what she needed to do.

"Yes. I will live until then unless I die tomorrow, husband of mine. My sweet Tharsmen."

************************************************

he Martian war drums of her land were huge affairs that four men had to carry and two played. There were eighty of them on the field, now, their deep explosive booming in unison filled the sand blown valley from side to side with reverberations that shook the guts of brave men from one end of this place of death to its furthest wind swept corners, for there was no more waiting. The enemy was marching forward with their pathetic little drums no one could hear.

Queen, Sandria of Cartheasis, gave the signal of death with a nod of her incomparably beautiful head. Her wild ebony crown of hair swimming with the winds of Mars in glorious curling and twisting tresses that flowed wild and free for but the battle band of gold tied around her forehead, her countenance focused, her brow like flint, he blue eyes like the far away fire filled stars of the black heavens of hell, she was imposing, there, standing tall with long sword and poniard at her belt.

A scream from coarse vivid throats cried out orders that echoed out into the baking air of sunlight in ever widening circles. The Cartheasis command spat instructional authority to those that drew sword and lifted spear, loaded arrow, and hefted their heavy shields and spears. Green pennants wavered over the hill tops of the crater, transferring the order to her two million men along its worn upheavals to the front of each forward position to prepare to march down through the red stone and sand from her command dais to the middle of the depression where they would meet up with that hated race that had killed her husband, three years before his day. Sandria's mouth was dry with anticipation and her sword longed for the taste of blood upon its edge. When all was set, she and every general, every drummer, every pennant wielder, water carrier and cook would move onto the field of battle. Seen from the near side of the crater to its most northerly edge, the battalions there began their march into the lower sandy plains. The Detstros would not leave this valley alive, or she would not. There was no compromise in her blackened heart. There would be blood or victory. Nothing else mattered. ?Either to conquer or to die'. That was the battle cry of the hour, and she had waited patiently and far too long for its arrival.

A legion of trumpets flared, now, in air like cries of the damned with their shrieks of spine trembling sounds and soul shrinking tones as the prepared of Cartheasis shouted with their deep male tongues the battle cry, "Conquer or die," over and over.

A scent of victory was in the air. Sandria could almost smell the banshees moving in around both armies, ready to claim the dying and to some measure, see their darkening shrouds converging on the Detstros. And then their approach slowed, waiting till the Detstros entered further onto the crater floor, ever moving, unlike them against their enemy who had at last advanced themselves. Cartheasis was in motion at last at the precise moment of their planning.

She and her generals had anticipated concern on the side of the Detstros but it was too late for a change of strategy for them. Their lot was cast and theirs was solidifying.

Three blasts from the forward horns sent aft ranks to the sides at a sprint, the Detstros were soon contained on three sides and their ranks faltered and then reformed. Death was coming.

hinner ranks than theirs, faced them now, perhaps, but men could only fight side by side so densely gathered. If there was more area covered, she and the generals reasoned, more enemy would fall quicker and being surrounded, it would be easier to hold them in place and whittle at them like fields of grain before the sickle.

With forces heavily split in the enemies advantage, for they had fielded over three million men, the generals of Cartheasis were eager to see their rear ranks break formation and head back up hill at a fevered pace. They dug in the sand where markers were placed, uncovering large bows hidden in the red soil attached to frames. They swung the war engines up on pivots, hastily cleaned the simple apparatus off with brushes and loaded the first salvos.

Without hesitation and by command, they fired the arrows as long as three men over the heads of their troops and into the orderly rows of the Detstros . The army scattered at each missile, it halving men in two with the exaggerated flutes of each arrow, killing at least fifteen to twenty warriors at a time. Ten releases later and the Detstros's orderly array was in ciaos and soon after, the fired balls of burning oil deeper into their enemy.

The two armies crashed into each other with sinew and arm swinging like rags in a strong wind, spilling the life of each other upon the sands of Mars, a billion miles from their worshiped peaceful gods and the loving mercy some men still believed in.

With deeper lines falling upon each other's necks, ripping at one another's golden throats, hacking at limbs, spearing bodies over the screams of earlier wounded men on both sides, dying by bloodied blue Martian blades, double edged axes, thrown shafts with serrated edges and cruel, piercing, hooked arrows, almost all was set in motion.

The clang and drum of tempered steel upon hardened bronze shields rang throughout and across the red crater like explosions from a blackened cloud choked sky, sweeping through the lungs and hearts of those who waited for their rotation at the gore drenched fighting line. Each face was twisted, each mouth set in grim determination, and too many in misshapen agony in their pain and dying.

Sandria spat orders over the tumult of noise; "Send the mounted troops on their way," she cried, ripping the gossamer cloth off her breast and tossing it to the hot wind. Stripped above the waist, she drew her long sword with one wicked pull, not waiting to see if her orders were carried out, knowing they would be. "Forward to death," she cried at the top of her voice, it's high pitched scream drawing every eye of the Cartheasis leadership.

Holding the sword overhead, whipping out the poniard with grim resolve Sandria began a long stridden march down into the valley of sorrow and the dying, the side of the steep crater swimming in battle dust that filled her nostrils with scent, the air smelling of the copper in men's blood.

Quickly, they charged, now, into the heart of the battle, set in their goal. Every stride of the men moved in sink with the queen, every mouth of leadership shouting, "To conquer or to die," they cried in unison, over and over, drawing weapons in both hands, setting their eye on a weakening enemy, setting ivory teeth into grins of death, looking forward to clashing with all the weight and power of their body's strength.

Back on the ridge, a Captain yelled quick orders before joining them, sweeping his long arm through the air, holding a white pennant. The mounted troops on the outside of the crater, unseen by the enemy, charged into motion around the perimeter of the battlefield; half one direction, half in the opposite. The fearsome Keatoom, the Martian reptilian horse and their riders, would surround and kill all but the last of the leadership of the Destros on the opposite side of the crater, cutting off their retreat from the rear. Their orders were to prevent their escape. The queen would deal with them. The plan was set in iron -- if they prevailed.

Sandria flew into the battle with her bodyguards and officers, swinging her long blade with both hands, thrust and stab, distract with the long blade, stab with the poniard, killing the enemy with untold furry and through the horror of battle's long practice bouts, perfected and honed. Her flesh became as blood, splattered and dripped with her enemies. She would not retreat. All here would die, even if she were one.

A large Detstros warrior fought his way valiantly through a series of Cartheasis, clearly heading for Sandria.

"Hold!" she told her twice bodyguards whose job it was to protect her at all costs, but they were bound to obey her word.

Stepping over fallen bodies with full resolve, whispering beneath her breath she prayed to her husband; "Is this my way back to you, sweet Tharsmen?" as they both swung their blades.

Sandria was intelligent enough to know she could not match the Detstros warrior's power, and though fast, he was not as fast as she.

She bent low over the ground as they both swung at waist level and only glanced his blade with hers, letting her long sword flip viciously through the sand and spin into it, there. But she was in close, now, and set her poniard in the giant man's inner thigh, cutting the major artery as he screamed his surprise and pain as Sandria pivoted, picking up an axe off the ground and stepping to the far side of the warrior from behind. The queen cut half way through the man's large knee. Incapacitated, the two body guards moved in closer to the man, knowing Sandria had won. And with a thoughtless finality, she decapitated the beast with the heavy two handed axe and retrieved his head before it had a chance to die, its eyes blinking in her face, dribbling gore, the mouth trembling and then it was still.

She tossed the large head into the line of battle and the Detstros retreated from the thing, while before their eyes appeared a half naked wild woman, beautiful beyond all description fighting with furry that spun and chopped, stabbed with the spike on both ends of the battle axe's shaft, and raised arms and legs to the sand, heads ghoulishly falling from bodies, gashes splitting open trunks as the enemies line, through her leadership, dissipated, until their were too few Detstros to call a battle line. Many of the enemy threw away their weapons and kneeled before the onslaught and slaughter of the surrendering Cartheasis', but they were cut down where they were. The men of Cartheasis had their orders. No one left the battlefield but them. And suddenly, with the three sides having merged, sealing all four, the enemies bodies continued to fall and quickly disappear from stances.

Before the Cartheasis claimed victory, however, a sizeable force was sent up over the crater's edge into the distant camp of the Detstros, at the foot of the outer upheaval by captains of the force that had been ordered before the battle ceased, to do so. There they destroyed all things living, men, women, animal, and set fire to their tents. By the time of their return, the only Detstros alive were a few of the generals and the defeated king of this land.

The bottom of the crater smoked with burning arrows in the fabric of bodies that smoldered, too, in burning pools of thick oil within the dust, while the voices of the victors shouted their relief and joy at living to see their families again.

Sandria migrated over the shouts of praise and honor from all her men as she walked to a stone peak above the valley floor left there by the meteor strike untold millennia ago. She took to the stone and stood above the mea lay of shouting men, crying her praise and adulation to she and their country, singing and weeping for the fallen, but glad to still be alive. Raising blooded axe and sword, she quieted her army.

Her naked form, but for a loincloth and sandals, weapons belt and golden wristlets, and the battle band about her brow, Sandria was a dramatic figure standing there upon her stone edifice in the wind of victory, more than splattered in gore.

From a flat place in the stone, she stepped forward, her body guards to the side and behind her. She shouted, "And who now dares come against Cartheasis? Who dares to kill her king or queen, now? I say unto you men of Mabacca," (Mars), "no man shall rise again to the kind of corruption of these Detstros ilk."

he chorus of voices rose, deafening still to those alive but soul filling to hear at this time.

"They have misplaced the trust of all peoples in misusing their power which shall be no more. And what fantasy shall now come to our lands, again to rape and kill, to plunder and burn. None, I tell you, none. We have won their world, it is ours for the taking."

The men shouted long and loud.

"But we will be generous to the people of Detstros and to their king, if he wishes it," she shouted, pointing with her stained axe as the defeated king and his generals that were being escorted to the base of the stone.

A huge hooing of voices arose from the men, their ridicule and scoffs were well aimed at the helpless, downcast creatures who hid their shame at defeat and the guilt for starting this war. All but their king who stood defiant and proud.

"We will not invade and utterly destroy his country, until this day -- the greatest on all of Mabacca. He has seen the power of our arm, but we shall let him see the power of our kindness, at last, and there shall be peace between our peoples. No more shall the sons of Levitta," (The ancient ruler that founded Cartheasis), "die due to these few who stand before you. No more shall their forges be allowed to produce weapons but plows to till and tools to build with they make. They shall be under the fair yoke of this, our world, now, which we shall return to them, in time," The cheering began to rise once more at her oration and Sandria raised her voice again to thwart its power, "that all may benefit with justice to all who respect and honor the ancient laws."

Sandria looked down upon the King, especially, as he glared back at her, glad to see his counselor beside him speaking something to his ear with some conviction, and she was glad. She wanted that man to live.

The roar of the men filled the vast crater to ear ringing volume, again. The war drums beat out their powerful reverberation, only adding to the strength of her words and when the assembled calmed, again, all eyes were upon their exquisite naked queen.

The defeated king said nothing, but stood there like a flamboyant colored bird in his stylized clothes of war.

"Six of you that have lost brothers, step forward," she told the crowd, nodding to the guards surrounding them. They knew what was to happen. It was customary after each conflict and war.

The guards pushed the generals, only, out in a line and had them kneel.

"You six, I give you power to kill or let live one officer before you. Chose and let no man say other. It is for you to decide." Sandria warned all her men, again. "Let no man say other." she said, in a firm voice. "It is the custom."

All six where beheaded, their heads put on pikes amid shout in the wind, blood dripping down the spear shafts to the men who had lost kin. They smeared their blood across their foreheads and cheeks.

"Bring the king and his counselor to me," Sandria commanded, and they were brought up to the flat place where she and her guards stood. Two additional guards from below stood just below the level place as there was not room for all of them, long knives drawn.

Speaking to the still proud king, Sandria addressed him with a commanding manner. "Kneel before the ruler of your lands and swear loyalty to Cartheasis, and your queen," she ordered, "or suffer as your generals have suffered," she purred in a voice she knew would challenge his control, almost knowing what he would try. She was counting on it. Hoping for it. More than any other individual, this corrupt thing was most directly responsible for Tharsmen's death, her beloved.

"I swear," he hesitated, a snarl on his lips and without kneeling, "to kill . . ." he attempted to say, but never finished his sentence.

A hidden knife from his belt was drawn and swung at her but Sandria was too adept at hand to hand fighting, knowing this was going to happen, anyway, and took the momentum of his slow arm and swung the usurpers fist and knife into his own body, through the center of his big fat belly. It cut deeply and painfully. From there, as he let go in pain and surprise, Sandria instantly took the knife away from him and cut him till he turned away and went to his knees. Facing the men of the army, the queen dropped her sword with a ringing, grabbed the king by his hair and swung her heavy axe, holding the head as the body dropped to the floor of the crater.

Amid cheers and screams, holding the head aloft, Sandria eventually dropped the lifeless thing to the sand and turned to the one remaining Detstros still alive. "Kneel," she ordered, and the man did as was required of him. She asked the same of him and he acquiesced, swearing loyalty to all things.

"As ruler of the two lands of Cartheasis and Detstros, I shall confirm and consecrate you ruler and governor over your country until such time that we as a nation deem you a wise and honest ruler and no longer a threat to the peace of Mabacca or us. Do you accept this position, friend Sevrontae?"

She knew the man from before the death of her husband. He had been to court many times. She was certain he was a good man, and honest man. Wiser than his former king.

"I accept, my queen," he said.

"That is good," she told him.

Turning, she said, "Bring consecrated oil," and oil was brought and Sevrontae, the new governor of Detstros was set apart through the laying on of hands in a simple worded ceremony and escorted back to the countries capitol to enforce the laws and conditions he had sworn to uphold.

he war was over.

************************************************

"I have no tears for us, anymore, beloved," Sandria prayed at her husband's tomb. "My heart has too many bands of steel about it, now. Our war was won. You are avenged, but it will take time for me to touch you with my heart as I once did. Wars make terrible lovers."

"Pray for my soul as I strive to be worthy of your tears, as I pray for yours, my sweet. I have too long been a prisoner of you death. Too long, my sweet."

With these words, Sandria slid to the base of Tharsmen's sarcophagus and felt the smooth polished green and white marble of his eternal abode. A place where she knew someday, she would rest beside her beloved husband, and they would at last find sweet love, again.

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