Cyrances squinted at the bright sunlight hitting the marbled floor beneath her feet. Damp tresses of dark hair clung to the sides of her face. The morning was already uncomfortably warm. How had this happened? Her fall from Queen of Nephatimis was almost complete but she would not succumb to Amurabis’s demands that she join his harem. He would have to kill her before that happened. Tears of anger and sadness glistened in her dark brown eyes as she thought back to the days when she ruled this land with her husband, King Hannouken.

The people truly worshipped King Hannouken. Many years ago, his descendants had the vision to transform the village settlements along the banks of the two rivers – the Nisai and the Ephramun – into a thriving inland settlement by means of land irrigation. No longer would the people have to eke out a living on meagre crops and a few animals. Vast fields of wheat and barley now thrived in the once desolate flatlands. Groves of date palms, olives, oranges, lemons, pomegranates and other trees swayed in the warm winds offering fruits to the people and shade to the large herds of sheep and goats grazing beneath them. The settlements grew into thriving cities surrounded by man-made canals that allowed merchant ships to sail out into the Galgao Sea to do trade with neighbouring countries and islands. As a result almost one hundred thousand people now inhabited Anun, the main city of Nephatimis.

The centre of the city was occupied by sprawling bazaars and workshops for craftsmen who turned out beautiful trinkets and jewellery, finely crafted pottery, richly woven carpets and rugs, garments of the finest silks and cotton. The air was rich with the aroma of countless herbs and spices, exotic fruits and vegetables. People thronged through the winding avenues and streets of comfortable white bricked houses and mansions in a hubbub of noise and excited barter and haggling.

No one went without in the reign of King Hannouken and Queen Cyrances for this land of plenty was shared with all strands of society. All able bodied were in some form of employment or education and the old and the sick were comfortably cared for.

There were occasional skirmishes between the rival cities, arguing over irrigation rights and petty jealousies. As a result all cities were protected by towering walls and each boasted its own army. Amurabis commandeered the ten thousand strong army of Nephatimis. Amurabis himself had been brought to Nephatimis as a slave, working in the temple for the Grand Sorcerer and either by luck or cunning had eventually gained his freedom. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to he joined the army and swiftly powered through the ranks by his ferocious strength and bravery which no one dared to question.

Had they been asleep to Amurabis’s plans? How had the army of King Hannouken, to whom it sweared its allegiance, turned on them? The morning they dragged King Hannouken from his slumber had left deep scars in Cyrances’s mind that could never be healed. The look of bewilderment on his face as he was jostled from his wife’s embrace by brutish guards, their demonic eyes glowering wildly, insane laughter cackling from sneering mouths. Cyrances never saw her husband again – not as she knew him that is. His kind smile. His loving eyes. His gentle words. The last time Cyrances saw her husband’s face was when Amurabis forced her to the city’s gate to view King Hannouken’s head impaled on metal spikes.