‘You will never have him,’ she sneered, ‘unless you mount every kurgan in Scythia!’

The queen’s notorious indifference to the language, the tonal inflections of those she subjugated, left confusion: had she actually meant ‘not even’?

A sudden explosive sneeze from the shaman, looming menacingly in the firelight beside the dais; the bowl of sacred herbs slipped, tumbling outward past desperate grasping fingers into the holy fire. When the smoke had cleared following this inadvertent solemnification of the queen’s words, the supplicant had vanished into the surrounding gloom pressing close under the great black bowl of sky.

Like skittish beasts of the plains, the silent horsemen never approach, a distant honour guard of bright hair waving like pennants amongst the tall grasses. Oracle, madwoman or goddess? Maintaining their distance during the mound ascent, as has occurred for untold years, they follow in unacknowledged ranks as she descends, vanishing onwards like keening winds through endless grass.

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