This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

World Castle Publishing, LLC

Pensacola, Florida

Copyright © Kathi S. Barton 2020

Paperback ISBN: 9781951642822

eBook ISBN: 9781951642839

First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, June 22, 2020

Licensing Notes

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.

Cover: Karen Fuller

Editor: Maxine Bringenberg


The castle was going down, thanks wholly to her birds. Queen Dante sat upon her horse and watched as stone after stone crumbled to the ground. In a matter of moments, not only were the walls to the fort destroyed, but the king inside his castle was dead as well. Turning her mount, she headed back to the encampment to ready herself for the long ride home. The birds joined her not half an hour later, their large bodies covered in dust and blood.

“You have done well, my darlings.” They could understand her and she them, but no one else could. She had made them what they were, and she would be the only one to control them. “Have you fed well on his dying cattle? How does it serve a man to have his food dying? His people, they were fed no better, I saw.”

The falcon—she had never named them—told her that the people were headed west. In a few months or less, they would all be dead too. It bothered them when the people suffered because of the king or queen of the castle. But it was to be. Dante could not care for any more in her own keep.

No one would attack her keep. If they tried, she knew them to be too stupid or too drunk on their own mead. She had her birds, all of them bigger than life, made large by the magic that she had given them. Looking at them as they landed around her, forever keeping her safe, she wondered why she had not thought of it sooner when her king was still alive.

“I would have set you upon him. You could have eaten him for your dinner. Though I suspect it would have given you a great deal of belly pains.” The hawk told her she was lucky he had died the way he had. No one would come for her if she had killed him. “Yes, that is absolutely true. But I suffered greatly when he was living. No children to give me comfort in my old age. I thought they might have been just like him, and that would have been too much to bear.”

She would never marry again. Love wasn’t anything she searched for. Not that she didn’t have someone to warm her bed on occasion, but it was nice to be able to send them on their way when she had finished with them. Her heart belonged to no one, and she would not let another man take her to bed by force. All would be well. No one would threaten to come and take over her home, her birds’ home as well.

The hawk used her beak to put delicate things upon the backs of the others. There was aplenty this time. Barrels and smoked meats. Pottery that they would use like it wasn’t worth a king’s gold. They raided the castle each time they conquered. Hawk was the best at getting in and out before they took the place to the grounds.

The eagle took off toward home. She would let the people know that Dante was returning simply by showing up. They would have a feast this night. The food upon her back would feed them for many days. The barrels of spices that had been hoarded in the lower levels of the castle would go a long way toward helping them trade what they did not grow.

The phoenix, by far the most deadly of her birds, shed her feathers in anticipation of getting new ones. After a battle, she would become anew, each time getting stronger, and her feathers, brilliant now, would be brighter still. She could flame a fire so hot that stone would crumble under a man’s feet. The ground would no longer hold a seed within its belly to produce food, and she could kill a man with a single breath so that there would be nothing left of his body.

Dante loaded the last of her things onto the back of the owl. She might be small, she had always thought, but she could carry more than her own weight. And she would pick up her horse, used to flying through the sky like a bird himself, and take him back to the castle. He would be fed and groomed before Dante ever landed on the ground.

The vulture squawked at her, and she turned to look at the two men there. They looked as if they might have been about to kill her, but the sight of such large birds threw them off their duty. In no time at all, the vulture snapped both of them up and ate them down. A gruesome sight, but one that filled her heart with joy. She was safe again. The vulture took off too once she was loaded up.

“Well, my falcon, it is just you and I left.” She told her that she was still armed. “Yes, well, probably not too bad of an idea seeing that they nearly shot us.”

The falcon laid her body on the ground. She was the only one that was fitted with a seat, one that Dante rode on. Scouring the area, Dante made sure, as usual, that the place where she’d camped was as neat and clean as she’d found it—sometimes in better shape. As she climbed on the back of her bird, she held her

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