SPOILERS: This is in the second year, but Summerlee is alive in my reality. I refer to "Divine Right" and give away some of the ending, even though it aired after Summerlee disappeared. This story takes place after "One Desire."
Love of My Life
Marguerite Krux stared at the thatched ceiling above her bed a full five minutes before tossing back the covers and beginning her new morning ritual. Point, flex. Point, flex. She slowly stretched one foot, then the other until the cramps subsided. She stoically repeated the motions with her hands, stretching and bending her fingers.
Her bedroom door quietly opened. Wordlessly Veronica went to the foot of Marguerite's bed and began to rub the brunette's sore calves. Marguerite smiled in greeting at the younger woman. Veronica had seen her through a crack in the door, collapsed with leg cramps, and had since been her early-morning companion. They had never discussed the situation, and Veronica had never told anyone else.
Marguerite swallowed hard as she continued her hand stretches. It hurt her pride to be dependent on someone¾especially the blonde goddess¾just to be able to function. Veronica exemplified good health with her toned body, clear skin, and bright blue eyes. Marguerite tried to feel anger, but couldn't. Over the last few weeks, she had almost begun to see Veronica as a younger sister. An annoying younger sister.
Veronica knew she should tell Challenger or Summerlee about their friend's continuing pain but also realized how fiercely independent the heiress was. Veronica knew what it was to be a woman on the plateau. For Marguerite to recover, she needed to feel strong, in control. A strong Marguerite would stand a better chance of surviving and, in turn, would help the tightly knit group of adventurers survive.
Marguerite sighed involuntarily. It had been two months since she was bitten by the nomigid spider and nearly died. Sinnia had told her to expect aftereffects, but nothing prepared her for the daily cramping of her legs and hands, the blinding headaches, and, most disturbing of all...
"What is it?" Veronica said, noticing the expression on Marguerite's face.
"It's nothing, really."
"I've had other problems besides the leg cramps," she admitted, sitting up.
"Headaches...and I haven't had my monthly since being bitten," she said, blushing.
"You don't think you're... Have you and Roxton...? I mean, the two of you..."
Marguerite lifted an eyebrow at the young woman's crimson-stained cheeks. Veronica had practically raised herself after her parents had disappeared. I wonder what she really knows about men and women, Marguerite mused.
"No, Roxton and I haven't," she answered in an amused tone.
"Marguerite, we need to tell him about this," Veronica declared.
"No," her voice was firm. "There's nothing he can do for me. He'll only worry."
Veronica looked at her dubiously. "It isn't right you're concealing this from him. He loves you."
Marguerite smiled like a schoolgirl¾she couldn't help it. Lord John Roxton, with his rugged good looks, passionate loyalty, and surprising tenderness, did love her, and she loved him. They had spent the past two months cautiously, almost shyly spending time together as a couple rather than verbal sparing partners. He didn't have to wear his feelings on his sleeve¾they were in his eyes for all to see whenever he looked at her: a mixture of admiration, desire, and happiness. The carefully constructed defenses Marguerite had around her heart crumbled when he confessed his love to her. Maybe, just maybe, he was different from all the other men who had clamored after her for her money. She was beginning to believe he was.
"I know he loves me," she said. "But the pain is getting better every day. I'm sure it'll be gone entirely very soon. And the other...problem...will be set to right soon."
Veronica shook her head. "Marguerite, it isn't just you I'm concerned with. It's all of us. We count on each other for survival out here. If you were to have a seizure at a crucial moment..."
"For heaven's sake, Veronica, I've barely left the tree house in two months! It's not like I'm leading a hunting party or standing guard!" she interrupted, losing patience. Thinking better of it, she quietly said, "Please don't tell him."
"I don't know..."
"Please! I'll...I'll do your share of cooking for a month when I'm better!"
"Is that supposed to be a bribe?" Veronica asked with a laugh. Marguerite was no cook. Marguerite smiled at her, knowing the girl had conceded.
"I'll be out in just a minute," she said.
Marguerite waited until she heard Veronica walk to the main living area before she lay back on the bed. Taking a deep breath, she began again. Point, flex. Point, flex.
Journalist Ned Malone gazed at the blonde sitting across the breakfast table from him. He couldn't help it¾she was the most amazing woman he had ever met: strong but gentle, protective but in need of protecting herself. She looked up and returned his grin.
"What's making you so happy this morning?" Veronica asked.
"Oh, nothing in particular," he looked at his bread and eggs.
"I could hazard a guess," said Marguerite cheerfully as she entered the room. Veronica had to hand it to her¾the slim woman in khaki pants and lavender blouse barely resembled the pale woman she had just left.
Marguerite's dark tresses were pulled off her face with ivory combs, making her large gray eyes more prominent. "Any food left?"
"I'm hungry enough to eat a raptor myself!"
Lord John Roxton stepped off the elevator and set down two buckets of fresh water in the kitchen. Seeing Marguerite, he went over and gently kissed her on the cheek.
"Good morning," he breathed softly. She looked up into his deep brown eyes.
"Good morning to you. You've been up and about early I see."
"Yes, my turn for water duty," he sat down at the table and gazed at her affectionately. A shadow of worry crossed his face. Was it his imagination, or did Marguerite look even thinner today? Her pants were too baggy, and her wrist bones looked more noticeable. She shot him a sunny smile and brought over plates of eggs for them both.
"Thank you," he said. She nodded and sat down next to him. The conversation that followed was similar to that of any other morning¾what Challenger was experimenting with, what chores needed to be done, which areas needed scouting. As they laughed and talked, Roxton noted how Marguerite would take a small bite, then push the food around her plate like a child trying to convince its mother he had eaten the dreadful brussel sprouts. This wasn't the time to bring it up¾she was recovering after all, gaining more strength every day.
Professor George Challenger entered the room, deep in thought. His thinning reddish-blonde hair was tussled as if he had been running his fingers through it absentmindedly.
"There's some breakfast left, if you want some," Veronica offered.
"Hmmm? Oh, no thank you. I've been considering our need to preserve food better."
"Isn't the salt we use working?" Malone asked.
Challenger joined them at the table. "Yes, but there must be a way we can rig up some sort of ice box."
"A box of ice?" Veronica asked in confusion.
"It's a place to store food and keep it cold," Malone explained.
"Intriguing idea, Challenger. What do you plan to do?" Roxton asked. He had finished his meal and his hand wandered under the table to find Marguerite's. She entwined her fingers through his and squeezed.
"Perhaps where the stream is frigid, we can rig something up," he replied. "So, where is Arthur?"
"He's still at the Zanga village," Veronica reminded him. "He'll be back any time. You should've gone with him. Sinnia extended that invitation to both of you to visit."
"Yes, well, um..." Challenger stammered. His friends exchanged knowing glances. It had become apparent the Zanga medicine woman was interested in the professor and that he returned the feeling. "Sinnia understood I had to finish some research. I'll...I'll visit the village next week."
"Hello!" someone called from the jungle below.
"That would be Summerlee," Malone said. They all walked to the balcony and saw their older friend waving up at them. To their surprise, a tall woman clothed in golden apparel and a muscular man wearing brown leather pants and carrying an eight-foot spear accompanied him.
"Who is that?" Roxton asked.
"Probably some stray Summerlee has brought home to us," Marguerite replied lightly.
"Let me introduce Sizan, queen of the Amerans," Summerlee positively beamed at the woman next to him. She pulled back her golden hood, and Marguerite was sure she heard Roxton and Malone catch their breath.
Sizan was stunning. Her honey-colored hair, highlighted with shimmering red tones, hung in loose, long curls. Her full, red lips contrasted her ivory skin. Thinly arched brows accented ice-blue eyes hidden under long, dark lashes. She was tall and clearly strong. Her ankle-length sheath with its rich embroidery couldn't disguise her hourglass figure.
"Here's trouble," Marguerite whispered to Veronica, who nodded imperceptibly. Sizan smiled cordially at the women but turned her full charm towards the men.
"You must be Challenger. Summerlee has told me so much about you during our walk from the Zanga village," she said in a soft, husky voice.
"All lies, I'm sure," Challenger joked. Marguerite rolled her eyes at Sizan's girlish laughter.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Queen Sizan," Malone stepped forward and extended his hand. "I'm Ned Malone. Are the Amerans related to the Amazons?"
"Distant cousins, Mr. Malone," she flashed perfectly white teeth at him and continued to hold his hand.
"Here are Veronica Layton and Marguerite Krux," Summerlee continued the introductions.
"What brings you to this part of the plateau?" Veronica asked, stepping between Sizan and Ned.
"I'm in search of a priceless gem," she replied.
"A gem?" Marguerite couldn't help asking.
"A ruby stolen from the Amerans by an evil warlord, Neiro. We recently learned it's buried with him. We know where his tomb is¾at the end of the raptor valley. I need a strong guide to lead me to it," she explained, fingering her necklace of pale pink stones. "We'll cross perilous dinosaur country, and my men are unaccustomed to such dangers."
"No one volunteered at the Zanga village?" Malone asked.
Sizan shook her head. "Strangely, no. The men seemed willing but the women were against it."
"There's a surprise," Marguerite said under her breath.
"That's too bad," Roxton said.
Sizan noticed Roxton for the first time, and Marguerite was positive the queen licked her lips.
"Lord John Roxton, at your service," he said, bowing over her hand.
"A lord? Is that a title of nobility? You have the look of royal birth."
Marguerite's mouth fell open in surprise as Roxton foolishly grinned at the queen. Sizan slipped her arm through his and they walked to the tree house, followed by the other men and Sizan's guard.
"Are men really this dumb?" Veronica asked putting her hands on her hips.
"Only when they're thinking with...with something other than their brains," Marguerite answered.
Challenger was serving cold drinks when the two women exited the elevator. The men had formed a semi-circle in front of the queen.
"So, there's no king?" Ned was asking.
"I have a new king every two seasons. In fact, the royal courting time is about to begin," Sizan said suggestively, leaning closer to Roxton.
"A new man every season? That has potential," Marguerite commented with a grin.
"The king serves his purpose by giving me a daughter, then raising her," Sizan explained.
"Fascinating," Challenger said. "Only girl children?"
"Yes, the queen only has daughters."
"Are your people warriors like the Amazons?" Summerlee asked.
"We use other methods to maintain our society," she said carefully.
"I have a wonderful idea!" Challenger exclaimed. "We can escort you back to your kingdom and see your civilization for ourselves."
"It isn't far," Sizan agreed. "And I believe you'd find it a pleasurable experience," she added, placing her hand on Roxton's knee.
Marguerite's sudden coughing fit attracted everyone's attention.
"You OK, Marguerite?" the hunter asked.
"Oh, yes, fine. Something must've been hard for me to swallow," her voice was sweetly sarcastic.
"Visiting your kingdom and learning more about your culture is a grand idea!" Challenger exclaimed. "We'll leave in the morning."
The queen took Veronica's room that night and turned in early. Her guard stood silently at the door.
"Don't you think it's odd the guard hasn't spoken or eaten?" Veronica asked the group quietly.
"Maybe he's trained that way," Summerlee offered.
Marguerite shrugged. "If he's an example of an Ameran man, they must be dull boys."
"Who's dull?" Roxton asked, looking up from the gun he was cleaning.
"Veronica and I clearly are," Marguerite snapped. "You men are acting like you haven't seen a woman in years!"
"That isn't true! It's just that she's...she has a great story," Malone retorted weakly.
Marguerite rubbed her eyes, a headache beginning. "What kind of story is that, Malone? A romance?"
"Ned, flies were going in and out of your open mouth this afternoon," Veronica teased. The young reporter turned red.
"Sizan is a lovely woman. We'd have to be dead not to appreciate that!" Roxton declared.
Marguerite stood and walked out onto the terrace. Roxton looked from one friend to the next, then followed her out with a sigh.
"Love, you know you're the only woman for me," he began.
Marguerite didn't turn around. "I've met women like her before. She's dangerous."
He wrapped his arms around her waist, and she rested her head back against his chest. Her scent was intoxicating. He kissed her ear, her cheek, then turned her to face him. Slowly he lowered his head to hers. It was a gentle kiss that still betrayed the long-held passion on both sides. Her arms wrapped around his neck while his hands slowly slid down her sides, then her hips, pressing her into him. She pulled away.
"Why?" he asked.
"Not yet," she replied.
He reluctantly nodded. "I'll wait."
She leaned against his strong chest. Her headache was pounding unbearably, but she still thought she heard Veronica's door shut softly.
"Come quickly!" Malone shouted. Veronica, Marguerite, Challenger, and Summerlee raced to the balcony. Through the early morning mist, they could see Ned, Roxton, Sizan, and the guard below. Sizan was holding her leg. Roxton picked her up effortlessly and carried her to the elevator.
"Always the gentleman," Marguerite muttered.
"Sizan has sprained her ankle!" Roxton declared, carefully placing her on the sofa.
"How clumsy of me! I must have tripped over a root," she said with a flutter of eyelashes. "We'll have to postpone our trip to my villa."
"You can recuperate here, of course," Malone offered.
"Thank you. That will give Challenger time to explain his inventions to me. And Mr. Malone, I understand you write stories. Perhaps you'd read me a few? And Lord Roxton," she looked up at him with a big smile. "I'm very interested in learning more about that weapon you carry. Amerans might not be warriors, but we do fight¾the women do, that is."
The men smiled brightly and agreed to her requests.
In the kitchen, Veronica brought a knife crashing down through a large melon.
"Careful, careful," warned Marguerite. "You're liable to take off someone's head."
"Exactly," Veronica said, slicing again. "Why can't they see through her?"
"Take it from me, Veronica," Marguerite said stacking plates. "With women like that, men only see what they want to see."
That afternoon the men neglected their chores to spend time with Sizan. Challenger explained to her how the electrical fence worked, and she hung on every word. Malone read his latest story, and she praised him for his talent. Roxton fired off several rounds from his pistol.
Marguerite leaned on the balcony railing, fighting a knot of jealousy wrapping around her insides. How strong Sizan was, even with a twisted ankle. The queen raced over to the tree stump to replace the can Roxton had shot off. Then she took a turn with the gun. Playfully, she then did a quick kick that knocked Roxton down to his knees. He laughed as the two engaged in some basic fight moves.
"Still at it?" Veronica called. Marguerite wasn't sure if she meant Sizan's flirting or her spying. She chose the former.
"Yes," she said walking into the living area. She screwed up her face and sat down loudly. "Veronica, I want to be strong again."
"I know," the blonde said with compassion.
"No, I mean I want to be stronger than I was before. I want to learn how to fight like you," was Marguerite's surprising response.
"Marguerite, we've been in battle together. You hold your own fairly well."
"That may be true," she said. "But I want to know what you know."
"Roxton loves you just like you are," Veronica reminded her.
"This has nothing to do with Roxton!" she declared. "Please teach me."
Veronica thought for a moment. "On one condition: You tell Summerlee about the problems you've been having. And he has to say you're OK for exercise."
Marguerite opened her mouth to argue, then stopped. Veronica had a stubborn streak, and Marguerite knew she wouldn't relent on this point.
"I'm disappointed. In both of you," Summerlee scolded the women. "Do you know how foolish it was to not tell me?"
"Don't blame Veronica, Arthur," Marguerite said, chagrined. "She only respected my wishes."
He shook his snowy white head. "Marguerite, you will be the death of me. Especially when help was this close."
He quickly combined several herbs with a glass of water and handed it to her. She sniffed it and drank.
"That will take care of the cramps. You may need more. Let me work on something for your headaches."
As the two women walked up the steps from the lab, Veronica leaned over to Marguerite, "Why didn't you tell him about the other problem?"
"Later, OK? Now it's time for my first lesson!"
Sizan tossed her golden curls to one side as she sat on a rock next to Roxton. He smiled over at her.
"That was a good match. You must be a powerful combatant when you don't have a bum ankle."
Sizan's laughter filled the jungle. "I can be a warrior, but I prefer the ways of love."
The words were barely out of her mouth when she began kissing him. Roxton's hands went to her shoulders to push her back, when a strange feeling spread through his body, like tiny electrical charges. His thoughts grew hazy, and all he saw were sparkling red lights. With a tremendous burst of strength, he pulled away.
"Sizan, I'm sorry," he said, still dizzy. Something hard and cruel flashed in her eyes; however, a second later she was grinning.
"Lord Roxton, I find you very attractive. Would you consider leading my search party, then becoming my king?"
"I'm very flattered. But my heart belongs to another," he said as gently as possible.
Sizan stood and smoothed out the wrinkles in her golden dress.
"I understand. But please think about being our guide. I must find that ruby," she said, pulling absently at her pink necklace.
"Again, my answer is no. I'm sorry."
"Perhaps you could train some of my royal guard to fight the dinosaurs?" she countered.
Roxton considered her request thoughtfully. Tears had filled her large, blue eyes. "I could do that," he relented.
The next morning Sizan declared she was well enough to travel. The adventurers prepared their gear. Marguerite slipped on her pack and delighted in the fact she hadn't had a cramp that day.
Roxton asked in concern, "Are you up for this journey?"
"As good as new!" she declared.
They followed Sizan and the guard southward through a valley the explorers had traveled before.
"I don't remember ever seeing your kingdom," Veronica said suspiciously.
"The entrance is well hidden," Sizan replied. They came to a ledge above a canyon. The region was steep but passable. To their surprise, Sizan turned toward the rock face. Practically invisible was a small fissure between the stones. Single file they walked until the opening developed into a narrow path between two cliffs as high as the eye could see.
"I can see why your people are unaccustomed to dinosaurs," Roxton remarked. "Not one could make it through here."
The path ended above a lush, green basin surrounded by high cliffs. With a sweep of her arm, she indicated a small village in the bowl-shaped valley. "Here we are¾Amera. The most beautiful place you'll ever see."
"You must have some civil disturbances, human nature being what it is," Summerlee said as they walked down a stone road. "How do you maintain order?"
"For malcontents, we have the spear," Sizan replied pointing to her guard's large weapon. "It's poisoned."
The clean little town exuded order and precision. Rows of white houses lined a street that ended with a large villa surrounded by a multitude of beautiful flowers. As Sizan passed, the people bowed.
"Interesting," Challenger said.
Sizan led them into the large, cool villa and instructed her male servants to show her guests to the finest rooms. They each were led to a spacious bedroom that had a table and chair, private bath, an abundance of food, and a large bed. Marguerite stretched back on her bed with a sigh. A cool breeze blew the filmy drapes inward in ghostlike waves. A light fragrance hung in the air.
"I could almost get used to this," she said to herself.
Veronica and Malone walked through the town before dinner. Sizan had informed them a large banquet would be held in their honor at sunset. The villagers were friendly but not forthcoming when asked basic questions about Amera life. The couple paused at the town well for a drink.
"I don't like it here," Veronica said surveying the inhabitants.
"Come on. The people are fine, just not too talkative," Malone said, taking a sip of water. "Look at this place! So pristine and uncluttered."
A young man of about 17 years joined them.
"Hello," he said. "I am Montan."
"This is Veronica, and I'm Ned, friends of the queen," said Malone. Montan bowed, then lowered his bucket into the well.
"To be chosen by the queen to be a friend is an honor," the boy said. "I haven't been chosen by her yet, but I'm hopeful."
"Are all the townspeople chosen to be Sizan's friends?" Veronica asked curiously.
"Oh, no, only the lucky men. I want to be a guard or a king. The men who meet with the queen's approval become the royal guard," he explained. "The very favored ones become her king. It's the goal of every Ameran man to be chosen to share the queen's bed."
Ned spit out his water in surprise. "Bed? Did you say share her bed?"
Montan looked at them in confusion. "Of course! After she takes a chosen man to bed, he becomes her property¾either a guard or a king."
"What if the men don't want to remain her 'property'?" Veronica asked, frowning.
Montan shook his head. "That's never happened." He bowed again and walked away from the disturbed couple.
"That must be one of the 'other' ways she maintains her society," Veronica said in disgust. "But how does she keep control over the men?"
"I don't know, but what a way to go!" Ned teased and received a hard punch on the arm for it.
Marguerite paced the sitting room her friends were gathered in. It was late at night, and Veronica and Ned had just finished telling them what Montan had said.
"I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so," she said. "A woman like that is trouble."
Roxton uneasily cleared his throat. "Well, I have something I should tell you," he said and related what had happened between him and Sizan before they left the tree house.
Marguerite's eyes darkened with anger. "That little slut!"
"I'm intrigued, Roxton," Challenger leaned forward. "You said it was like little red lights in your eyes?"
"Yes, and I had the most curious sensation moving throughout my body."
"I bet you did!" Marguerite snapped.
"What else do you remember?" Summerlee asked, ignoring her.
"The lights seemed to be coming from her neck. I know that sounds strange, but that's what I thought I saw," Roxton said.
"I think we should leave in the morning," Veronica suggested. The others agreed.
Roxton rose early and walked to the throne room where they had dinner the night before. Pushing open the double doors, he surprised Sizan, who was kissing one of her guards. She pushed him away when she saw Roxton.
"Lord Roxton. Here are my guards, ready for training," she said softly. She was wearing a strapless pink dress lined with purple and gold threads that left nothing to the imagination.
"That's what I was coming to tell you, Sizan," Roxton said. "My friends and I are leaving this morning."
The expression on her face didn't change, but she looked to the guard on her left. He walked behind Roxton and shut the doors.
"I hope this won't be a problem," Roxton looked over his shoulder.
Sizan shook her curls slightly. "No problem at all."
With a nod of her head, the two other guards rushed to Roxton and grabbed his arms.
"No problem at all," she whispered and bit his lower lip in a razor-like kiss. Before he could yell, her mouth was on his, forceful and unyielding. Roxton struggled as the red lights began to flash around him, but this time he concentrated on their point of origin.
"Your necklace! It's your necklace!" he cried out.
Sizan's hand went to her neck. "A year ago, a kiss like that would've made you my slave forever."
"Those pink stones. They were once rubies, like the one you're in search of."
"Neiro thought he could have my kingdom if he stole the last of the Ameran rubies," she laughed in contempt. "Funny how a little poison can change one's plans. The rubies have helped the Ameran queens for generations."
Sizan seized his rifle and surveyed Roxton, secure in her royal guards' grasp. He would be a fine addition to her collection, after he led her to Neiro's burial ground. He stared at her hands and the rifle it held.
"Does it go this way or that way?" she asked mischievously, swinging the barrel toward his chest. Roxton didn't flinch. "Wouldn't it be a shame if it went off while pointed at your darling Marguerite?"
Roxton looked at his foe with cold hatred. "It would be a shame only for you, Sizan. I'd kill you with my bare hands."
"Maybe so, but Marguerite would still be dead." She circled him like a vulture. "Just relax, Roxton. I can give you so much of what you've been missing."
Roxton struggled to escape, but the guards' grasp was like iron.
Sizan opened one door a crack. "Here come your friends. You must make them leave you."
"She won't leave me," he replied with certainty.
"If you don't want her to die, I suggest you find a way to make her," Sizan's voice grew hard. "I'll be right here the whole time, pointing this at her. And you taught me well how to fire it. One slip and she's dead." She nodded to her guards to let Roxton go as she disappeared behind heavy dark drapery.
Roxton ran his hands threw his thick brown hair. There had to be some way to make them leave and let them know he was in trouble! The doors flew open and in marched his friends. He steeled himself for what was to come.
"I'm so glad you're here!" he exclaimed heartily, pumping Challenger's hand. "Summerlee, have you looked in the south garden? Veronica, please help yourself to some wine. Marguerite, you're looking very pretty!"
"Aren't you ready to go?" Malone asked. "Where's Sizan?
Roxton grinned. "Still in bed."
"Roxton, what's going on?" Marguerite asked warily.
"I'm greeting you. That's what you do when someone enters your home," he explained sarcastically.
"Your...home?" Summerlee asked.
Roxton let out a roar of laughter. "Isn't this wonderful? And Sizan says it's only our summer home. When the rains come, we'll head up into the mountains."
"Our?" Marguerite asked in disbelief.
"You said, 'our summer home.' Our?" she repeated.
"Marguerite, there's no easy way to say this. I decided to accept Sizan's offer to become king of the valley. I'm staying here."
"That's impossible!" exclaimed Veronica, turning him to her. "You couldn't have become her 'king.' That would mean you... Roxton, how could you? That witch!"
He carefully undid her fingers from his arm. "Veronica, I can't let you speak about her that way. I love her."
"No!" Marguerite gasped. The color drained from her face and confusion clouded her eyes. They all stared at him incredulously. Slowly he willed himself to face her.
"It's true, Marguerite. I love Sizan."
"But you love me," she insisted.
"I did love you," he forced a pitying smile. "I always will. But like a brother."
"Like a brother?" she repeated, blinking rapidly. "But when I was sick..."
"That was all true, every word," Roxton felt his heart shatter with each lie. "But now I love Sizan. My place is with her."
Challenger angrily cleared his throat. "Listen here, Roxton, I don't know what's going on, but come home with us, and we'll sort it all out."
Roxton shook his head and chuckled. He slowly walked to Sizan's throne and sat down. "There's nothing to figure out, George. I love this lifestyle. I am a lord back home, and I'm accustomed to a particular way of living. I was certain some of you would understand my choosing this," he said, looking straight at Marguerite. She felt her blood run cold as he leaned towards her. "Do you remember when that village decided I was to be its next king? Remember how we were treated? Remember how the king just returned out of nowhere? I never got to be king. Here, I am the king."
Marguerite felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. If he was under Sizan's control, that meant he had slept with her. Sickened, she turned on him.
"You bastard! And I actually believed your promises of love!" she exclaimed.
"Marguerite, I'm sorry this is hard for you to accept. But I'm the king now," he took a deep breath. "Sizan told me this morning she's having my child."
Marguerite stumbled backwards and would have fallen if Malone and Veronica hadn't caught her. A dead silence followed.
"It...isn't...true," Marguerite said haltingly.
Roxton felt a knife literally turn in his gut. He looked into her deep, gray eyes. "I couldn't wait for you any longer," he said slowly. "A man has needs, and Sizan is very attractive. And very willing."
"You villain," Challenger growled.
Marguerite's thoughts were swimming; the room was spinning out of control. Sizan...pregnant? And he'd promised he'd wait... And I, Marguerite thought with a fresh wave of anguish, can't give him a son...
"We can still be friends." She heard his voice in the distance. "And you're welcome to visit. But do give us proper notice."
Slowly, Marguerite turned and walked to the doors. There she stopped, turned, and walked back to Roxton with her old deliberate strength.
The sound of her hand slapping his face sounded like a small explosion in the large chamber. He didn't move. With her head held high, she left the room, followed by Summerlee who gave him a sad, disappointed look.
Challenger stared at Roxton long and hard. "I thought you were a better man than this."
Roxton shrugged. "I'm sorry, old boy. Things change."
"You have no idea what you've just done," Veronica said, glaring daggers at him. Her tone sent chills down his spine. She angrily stormed out, followed by Malone. Challenger pulled the brim of his hat down and left.
Roxton quickly ran to the window. He didn't have to look to know the guards were pointing their spears at him. He watched Marguerite slowly walk up the stone road with Summerlee carefully supporting her. Suddenly she fell to the ground. He gripped the windowsill until his knuckles went white. He watched as the others raced to her, and Veronica began massaging Marguerite's legs. Ned slowly helped her up, and they began the long walk home.
"Bravo! I must add you to my troop of performers!" Sizan appeared from behind the curtain, aiming the rifle at his heart.
Roxton gave her a sidelong look. "I will kill you. Mark my words."
Sizan clicked her tongue at him. "Bold words for a man about to be put in a cell. We leave for the burial ground in the morning."
The adventurers traveled home in a heavy silence. Summerlee kept a comforting arm on Marguerite who stared without seeing into the jungle. They reached the tree house as night fell.
"Come on," Veronica gently said and helped Marguerite into her bedroom. The room was almost pitch black, for which Marguerite was grateful. Soon darkness would envelop her¾darker, deeper, swallow her whole. She sat slowly down on her bed and tried to speak, but there was too much pain to even form words.
Veronica's heart went out to her friend. Only she knew Marguerite couldn't, at that time, have children. How doubly hard it must've been to hear that scheming tramp was having Roxton's baby! Veronica's blood boiled at the thought.
Marguerite closed her eyes. The old, taunting voices, silent for the past two months, attacked her like a swarm of angry bees: Why did you think he would be different? But oh, he didn't want your money. No, this one wanted your body¾and you didn't give it to him! He's no different than all the others. You're such a bloody fool! You actually believed he loved you? You can't even have a baby, something the stupidest woman can do!
Veronica, too, couldn't find any words, so she placed a comforting hand on Marguerite's shoulder, then left. She was barely outside when she heard soft, wrenching sobs come from the other side of the door.
"I don't believe this," Ned said as she entered the living area. "I don't believe it."
"He meant it," Veronica said in aversion.
The young reporter shook his head. "Roxton's actions don't add up."
"What are you saying, Malone?" asked Challenger irritably. He looked years older in one day.
"In the fiction stories I write, my characters always have a reason for what they do. What was Roxton's reason to be so intentionally cruel?"
"The little tramp made him that way!" Veronica exclaimed passionately. "We all know how she keeps and controls her men!"
Ned looked at her in surprise. "You may be right, but not in the way your think. First, we meet Sizan, who expresses an...interest...in Roxton and his scouting abilities. He refuses her but offers to train her men."
"Malone, we know all this!" Challenger impatiently exclaimed.
"Bear with me for a moment. Overnight his whole personality changes."
"And that rings true to the theory he had...relations with her," Summerlee speculated.
"Perhaps," Malone said. "But something he said seems out of place."
"Everything he said was out of place," Veronica muttered. She didn't know if she felt more betrayed by Roxton's turning his back on their friendship or his harsh treatment of Marguerite.
"He asked Marguerite if she remembered the village that wanted to make him king. He said, 'Remember how they treated us.' How did they treat us?"
"They treated us badly¾we were locked up. And he was forced to fight a dragon," Challenger said slowly.
"Exactly. Then he asked her to remember how the king simply reappeared."
"He had been under our noses the whole time," Veronica chimed in. "What did the king say? Something like, 'Things are more than they seem.'"
"If Roxton was under some duress and wanted to give us a message, how better to do it? He seemed to be telling us that he was being treated badly and that things weren't as they seemed!" Malone exclaimed.
"My God, you may be right!" Challenger declared.
They turned to see Marguerite entering the room. Relief flooded her tear-stained face. "He wouldn't have slept with her! He's in some kind of danger."
Summerlee pulled a chair up for her. "My dear, I honestly believe the only reason Roxton would ever have for hurting you is if he were trying to protect you in some way."
"He did say, 'Remember how they treated us.' Maybe he was trying to tell me not only he was in danger, but that we all were. We have to go back!" she exclaimed.
Veronica gripped her hunting knife. "We will, but first let's make a plan."
Roxton lay awake on the stone floor, watching the first light through the rusted bars of his cell paint the sky pink and lavender. He sat up with a groan and a memory.
"I couldn't wait for you any longer. A man has needs, and Sizan is very attractive. And very willing."
His stomach came to his throat, and he wretched on the floor. Two of Sizan's royal guards marched up to the cell door and stopped. He stared into their blank eyes.
"I'll die before I become like you," he said. They didn't reply.
"Lord Roxton, I will let you carry your gun," Sizan greeted him at the top of the dungeon stairs. "But you'll lead the way. One false move and you'll have six poisoned spears in your back. Have I made myself clear?"
"Perfectly," he spat and took his rifle from her. She wore the golden outfit she had on when they first met. "How did I ever find someone as despicable as you attractive?"
The closest guard quickly backhanded him across the face. "Show your queen respect!"
Sizan smiled as a small trickle of blood dribbled down his chin. "Time to go, Lord Roxton."
Marguerite, Challenger, Veronica, and Malone left the tree house at sunrise. Summerlee, feeling ill, decided to remain behind rather than slow down the rescue team.
"Are you sure you know where this tomb is?" Marguerite asked Veronica for the tenth time. "How do you know they'll be going there this morning?"
"I told you it's beyond the raptor valley. They'll approach it from the west. If we go over the mountain, we'll be there at the same time as them," Veronica predicted
"Marguerite, it only stands to reason Sizan has left early today¾that's all she's keeping Roxton around for, to guide her through the valley," Challenger said.
"That may not be all she wants him for," Marguerite grumbled. She gripped her rifle tighter, trying to keep up with the group. Thankfully, her legs hadn't cramped since Summerlee gave her another herbal drink the night before. The mountain loomed large and purple in the early morning sun. Undaunted, Marguerite quickly caught up with Malone, who gave her a fleeting smile.
"Everything is going to be all right," he said confidently.
She nodded curtly and focused on the path in front of them.
Two raptors jumped in front of Roxton and a third to his right. He fired off two clean shots and the closest dinosaur fell. Unfortunately, the second raptor snatched up one of Sizan's guards before Roxton could turn. The subsequent scream assured him the man was dead. Roxton fired.
He turned and unloaded the rifle into the third raptor as it descended on another unwitting man. The raptor fell, but not before the guard died. Roxton surveyed the scene in horror, then felt a slashing pain in his left shoulder. He cried out, expecting to see another dinosaur, but only Sizan stood there with a fierce-looking blade covered with his blood.
"What the hell was that for?" he shouted in agony.
"Don't think for a moment I don't know what you're doing," her blue eyes gleamed ominously. "One by one, my men are attacked and soon you can make an escape? No, Lord Roxton. Another one of my guards dies, and you lose a hand."
"Let me at least bandage this," he said, holding the wound. "This blood will attract every predator in the jungle!"
"Alright. But make it quick."
Roxton ripped the bottom half of his shirt to put against the wound, then another strip to hold it in place. It was crude, and he continued to bleed. The sun was approaching the noon mark in the sky.
"Here! Up ahead!" Veronica called. The half-eaten bodies of two guards lay near two dead raptors. "At least we're on the right trail," she added, feeling nauseous.
Marguerite surveyed the area without emotion. "How long ago were they here?"
"Recently. Maybe 15 minutes," Challenger said, examining one of the raptors.
"This way!" Veronica forged ahead. "Hurry!"
The combination of glaring sun and blood loss made Roxton woozy but he kept walking. Two more raptors had attacked, but he successfully defended the queen. They were near the end of the valley when Sizan shouted, "Stop!"
She pushed ahead through a dense patch of jungle undergrowth. "It's here! Bring him!"
The four remaining guards roughly shoved Roxton through the palms. In front of him was a simple rectangular tomb about five feet high. It appeared to be made out of one piece of solid white stone. At the center of its roof was a large cistern. Behind the tomb was a 20-foot-high wall of the same stone.
Sizan grabbed the rifle out of Roxton's hands and gestured for him to scout the area. There were no raptors near the tomb¾only sunshine glaring off the white rock. Sizan jabbed his sore shoulder with the tip of the rifle, bringing a fresh cry of pain to his lips.
"Climb up, and check for traps," she ordered.
He tried unsuccessfully to boost himself up, horrific pain shooting through his shoulder and his weak arm trembling.
"You're pathetic," she hissed and ordered a guard to push Roxton up. Once on top of the tomb, he looked around briefly.
"It's clear," his voice was uneven. Two guards lifted Sizan to the roof. She quickly ran to the stone cistern.
"It has to be in here!" she exclaimed like a greedy child. She started to reach in but stopped. "You do it."
Roxton pulled out a brilliant ruby the size of an apple.
"Give it to me!" Sizan dropped the rifle and snatched the gem from him. Sunlight refracted off the stone sending red streams of light across the white surface. "It's mine! I am invincible! And, Lord Roxton, you will be mine!"
"Now!" Veronica exclaimed.
Challenger and Malone attacked the two guards near the front of the tomb; Veronica and Marguerite took the other two. Seeing his friends, Roxton grabbed the ruby from Sizan and hurled it into the jungle with his good arm.
"No!" she screamed and lunged for the gun at the same time Roxton did. With catlike agility, she beat him to it, but Roxton kicked it from her grasp. The rifle sailed in the air, landed, and slid along the flat tomb roof and off the edge.
Challenger swore as the guard he fought knocked away his gun, then forced him to the ground at spear-point. Grabbing a handful of sandy dirt, the professor threw it in the young man's face. Howling, the guard rubbed his eyes with balled-up fists, giving Challenger the perfect opportunity to deliver a knockout punch.
Malone dodged another thrust of the poisoned spear his opponent held menacingly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Veronica handily disarm her foe. As they engaged in hand-to-hand combat, she deftly placed two punishing kicks in the man's midsection.
Marguerite grabbed the surprised guard's spear and whirled him around so the stick was held tightly against his throat, just like Veronica had taught her. Unfortunately, she wasn't prepared for his elbow to be thrust into her stomach. Gasping for air, she fell to her knees and blindly felt for her rifle, but only for a moment. She swung her legs around, wrapped them between the guard's legs, and brought him crashing to the ground.
A shower of dirt and pebbles rained down as Roxton's rifle skidded along the tomb above her head. She saw it slide off the edge and land three yards away, near the wall. She struggled to her feet but was brought down quickly from behind. The guard was on top of her, his hands forcing her shoulders into the dirt.
Sizan reached into her boot and pulled out her knife. As she lunged, Roxton relied on his fencing skills to avoid the dangerous point. He knew his rifle was nearby. He edged backwards, keeping one eye on Sizan's furious face and the other on the roof's edge. He turned and leapt to the ground, landing badly with a dull thud. He looked over to see his wound beginning to bleed more.
His hesitation was more than enough time for Sizan to land behind him and push him into the wall, hard. She held the knife to the back of his neck and turned him around. Slowly she drew a line from his Adam's apple to his heart, pressing in the tip until it drew blood.
"This is your day to die," she grinned at him.
Roxton braced himself for the sickening thrust of the iron blade, but it didn't come. A shot exploded nearby. Sizan lurched to the side. Roxton got the knife away from her, but she fell, dead, at his feet.
"What the..." He looked through the dissipating gun smoke to see Marguerite slowly lowering her rifle.
"Nice shot," he said, sliding down against the wall. She was there in an instant, tearing up what was left of his shirt to make a new bandage.
"Not now, Roxton."
"You have to know... What I said to you... Damn!" he winced as she tightened the bandage.
"John, I know," she said. "Ned figured out your hidden message."
"I didn't mean..."
"Will you never be quiet?" she quickly covered his mouth with hers. He let himself relax into the deep, delicious feeling of her lips against his.
"You forgive me then?" he asked.
"For heaven's sake, how much convincing do you need?" she exclaimed.
With his trademark smirk, he answered, "A lot more."
"Roxton, are you with us again?" Challenger asked. With Sizan's death, her hold over the guards ended, and they had run into the jungle.
"I never really left," Roxton replied weakly.
"Nice move on that guard back there," Veronica said to Marguerite, nodding to the prone man a few feet away.
"I only did what I was taught," she said with appreciation.
Roxton looked at Marguerite quizzically. "Will you be showing me any of those moves?"
Her lovely eyes narrowed dangerously. "If you ever volunteer to help an evil sex queen again, you will."
Two nights later, Roxton and Marguerite sat silently on the moonlit terrace. The others had long since gone to bed.
"So, once Sizan and her chosen king made love, he became her slave?" she asked.
"That ruby necklace was the key. Somehow it gave her power over men," he replied, one hand playing with her dark hair.
"And how big was that ruby you threw away?"
"Marguerite," Roxton gently reproached her. "We aren't going through raptor valley again for you to get some bauble."
"Bauble? That ruby is worth a fortune!" she paused. "And its power is priceless."
Roxton ran the tips of his fingers over her bare arm. "Do you really think you'd need a necklace to keep me after we make love?"
"Look at all these stars, John."
"Marguerite, look at me."
Marguerite met his questioning stare with apprehension.
"Love, if it's because of those horrible lies I had to tell, then..."
"No, no," she placed a reassuring hand on his chest and stopped talking just to feel his heart beat. "I know you didn't mean those things."
He held her creamy hand against his chest. "Then what?"
"What if I'm not what you want? Lord knows I have more than enough in my past to keep us apart!"
"Whatever there is, we'll face it together."
"What if, down the road, you want...and why shouldn't you want that? And then I can't. Roxton, it won't work!" she gestured dramatically.
He stared at her in bewilderment. "I have no idea what you're talking about! Will you please make sense?"
She swallowed hard. "I've had problems after my illness. Cramps and headaches."
"Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded.
"I didn't want to worry you!"
"You bloody little fool," he tried to embrace her, but she held him at bay.
"There's one more thing. It's very important. And I understand why you won't..."
"I may not be able to have children!" she blurted out and, to her horror, began to cry.
Roxton sat back. His poor darling. How she must've been suffering! Slowly it dawned on him how his lie about Sizan's pregnancy must have devastated her.
"It's not that I like children particularly, even though the idea of a baby has its appeal. But not being able to have one, just because of some damn spider¾it's so unfair!" Mistaking his silence for disappointment, Marguerite continued softly: "I understand a lord needs an heir."
"To hell with an heir!" he pulled her into his lap with one hand. "You are what I want¾just you. If you can't have children¾and, for your sake, I hope it's not true¾but if you can't, then that's the hand fate has dealt us. What happens to you happens to me. That's what love is."
She searched his face to see if he was telling the truth and only saw pain. "No, Roxton, I can tell this is hurting you too much."
"What's hurting me is you leaning against my sore shoulder," he said with a twinkle in his eye. He shifted her to his other leg.
She took his face in her hands and kissed him. "Is this better?"
"How about now?" she slowly placed little angel kisses along his neck.
"What about this? Is this a good position to be in?"
"I think that's a very...very agreeable position."
"And if you put your hand here?"
"And if I do this? Roxton? Are you alright?"