The High Countess Slovenia was a sight to behold, resplendent in the glorious glamour that Israel had cast upon her form.

Israel was a skilled artist and had spent many years plying his work on the high-born ladies of the eastern steppe. He had gained a reputation as a painter of women, unequalled by any in the  Great Kingdom. His work had been the ruin of many men, their free-will and self-determination cast aside by hungry desire. His techniques made simple use of the most powerful of motivations, lust.

In the form of Countess Slovenia he had found a canvas that flowered in his hands. A blood-red rose, breathtaking to behold in its delicate beauty, yet possessed of deadly thorns, tipped with poison. She bore no physical defects or abnormalities on her soft white skin, a rarity in and of itself.  Pure and radiant, when he worked on her it put him in mind of a fine porcelain doll. Sometimes his work on Slovenia left him breathless with a phantom ache of desire  coursing through his manhood. It was a torture that few could understand and he had been sorely tempted to put aside his powders and paints for fear he might go insane.

There was something more to Slovenia though, he sensed greatness in the air around her. He felt the weight of her destiny coursing through his fingers as he carved an erotic phoenix from the ashes of her mortal form. Here was his chance to make his mark on the world. A man, devoid of the flame of passion, yet her body was sword enough for him to cut through to the heart of men.

Shafts of early morning light streamed through slits in the large tent that served as command center for Slovenia’s army. Slovenia herself stood at the far end of a large table strewn with maps and iron unit markers. She quietly observed the disposition of her captains as they entered the tent. Many of them wore the sullen expression of men bearing a heavy burden and a few of them were nervously avoiding eye contact.

When they had all been seated she turned and paced slowly around the table. Favouring each of them in turn with a gentle caress across the shoulder as she spoke.

“Captains of the West.” She said with a soft, dusky lilt that carried surprisingly well. “I know how you feel.”

There was a grumbling murmur from the assembled men.

“Our situation is perilous. Make no mistake, but news has reached me of a curious development in the plans of our enemy.” She continued to pace around the men. Her perfume and beauty, a heady mix that was slowly easing their qualms. Israel, observing from the shadows, was pleased with the reaction his work was getting.

“It seems that Lord Jordan is more foolish than previously thought. He has the advantage, yet instead of driving his armies forward to crush us, he has held up the advance to go hunting instead.”  There was a chorus of insults and epithets and she held up her hands for quiet. Her glamour had done its work and coupled with this news she had them back on side for now.

“My spies tell me that he left at dawn three days ago with some rangers and one of his sons. He was heading north towards the firewall.” She completed her circuit of the seated men and stood proudly in front of them at the head of the table. All eyes were on her.

“One of those rangers belongs to me.”

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