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At dawn when they awoke they went outdoors to the rail of the boat to watch its slow approach to the seaport. Everything Lilith had heard about Rumbek was true. Har eyes could not be denied. This capital of the Larund kingdom was by far the largest city in all of Heaven.

The Great Sea of the West Lands is divided into a pair of lobes by the Magodon Peninsula, which is as large as Florida on Earth and anchored to the mainland on the west. But sheer cliffs rising as much as four hundred feet guard every approach to the peninsula by sea.

This wall is sheer sandstone and cannot be scaled by any army. Where it is eroded by gullies the streams fill the entire channel. At the foot of this bluff around the peninsula lie impassible swamps and sinkholes that would swallow horses and trap the wheels of chariots. Also none can pass by land around the Great Sea to the north or to the south. There roaring waves run nigh to the Ice, and often frozen slabs melt and slide into the sea with great thunder. No permanent road can be carved and no tunnel bored to permit passage east or west.

Between Seliah Island and the city of Rumbek lay the much smaller Krone Island and Fanok Island, walled suburbs linked by a network of bridges. Even the smallest islet, Krone, was covered with dwellings and fortifications that alone made it greater than all of Salem.

The mainland was little wider than the road that traversed it. But behind this rose the Nine Mile Wall, that part of the cliffs ringing the Magodon Peninsula which was fortified by angels and nephilim and men. The Nine Mile Wall and the City of Rumbek were one and the same.

The dwellings of the city were carved into the wall, connected by tun- nels with endless ramps and stairs. Where these dwellings faced the open air they boasted a facade of ornately-carved harder stone. Rumbek was so large it even spilled over onto part of Seliah Island. Where Tala Strait met the shore-line road there existed many warehouses and piers for the ships of merchants and for the peerless navy of King Metatron. On the other side of the road, at the base of the Nine Mile Wall, there were storefronts and market stalls beyond number.

A rare mood of unhappiness over-came Lilith when sha saw these shops and this distressed Michael in turn when he saw it. "What is wrong, beloved?"

"I can't excape the memory that I used to extort shopkeepers for their money, when I already had everything I could ever need."

"That was before you embraced Chohkmah,' Michael said. "You are ashamed because cannot fall back on the justification others make that they fell in with the wrong sort of friends."

"I was always their leader," sha acknowledged. "I myself was the wrong sort of friend for them."

Michael took out hyz little leather pouch of diamonds. "I know it hurts, Lil, but you can let it go. The shame you feel now is suffi- cient punishment for the misdeeds of your past. Take three deep breaths! Good. Now, will you help me choose something to purchase for Leliel?"

The tip of a large knife depressed the skin at Michael's neck. The yang holding the blade said, "Give to me what you hold in your hand or I'll let flow your life's blood!"

This would have seemed sadly familiar to Lilith's brother, Melchize- dek, who was accosted in Harran.

"Scout!" barked Lilith. "Run away!" And such was Leliel's training that sha immediately obeyed har mother as though it were a battle com- mand, despite being only two years of age. The robber scowled at Li- lith but dismissed har as any threat. Sha was standing too far away.

Michael carefully offered the bag of precious stones, knowing hy could always make more. While the attacker greedily grasped the pouch a ter- rifying hiss began to be heard. Lilith, standing well away from Mi- chael, extended the dark shaft of the Golden Gift as long as a pike. Sha sliced the attacker's own weapon in twain, leaving only the hilt and letting the blade clatter to the ground. That was Lilith's idea of a warning shot, but it was a hint hy did not take. Hyz other hand stashed the diamonds in hyz pocket and fumbled for a second blade.

When the weapon came out Lilith swept the black shaft closer to the yang's wrist than the first sweep had been. Hy screamed as his hand and the blade it was holding fell to the ground together. Michael kicked the bloody mess away as Lilith brought the Golden Gift to re- pose.

"Hold out your arm and I'll help you," Michael told him.

The yang brought out the gushing stump from under his armpit and Mi- chael laid on hyz hands to staunch the wound. "You should be grateful you attacked a seraph. The way the relic cuts flesh leaves arteries wide open. Only a flame would seal them, otherwise."

Lilith drew near to them. "No rebuke from my teacher?"

"It was a good deed," Michael admitted. "Hy could not have killed me with yz blade for the same reason he's not dying from yours. Hy seemed set on hyz unprofitable course of action even when you offered hym a way out."

When Michael was satisfied the robber would survive hyz wound hy stood up and looked around. Leliel still had not returned from the place where sha had made har escape. Michael noted that many onlookers had witnessed the robbery attempt and the healing of the attacker's arm.

Lilith darted off to look for har daughter. Shortly Leliel came to har father alone, showing off har new talent as soon as sha had learned from har mother that it was safe to come back.

"Where did you go?" hy asked.

Sha pointed to a place high above in the Nine Mile Wall.

"You did well to obey your mother so quickly."

"Thank you father!"

After a long interval that spoke of Leliel's new speed, Lilith re- joined them. "Five levels over our head my Scout was," said sha. "And sha got there so quickly sha was able to watch all that transpired."

"One good thing will come of this, at least,' Michael said to har. "You have been seen wielding the Golden Gift. The Ophan Barachiel has seen you do the same on the frontier and has no doubt spoken of it to many. We should have our audience with the king soon."

True to Michael's words troops arrived and began questioning the crowd that had gathered around the scene. The robber attempted to scramble to hyz feet but Lilith pushed hym back down, digging in hyz pocket for the pouch of diamonds, which sha returned to har husband.

The troops were commanded by a yeoman of the king's court who ad- dressed Lilith as respectfully as hy could while yet being unsure of har identity. "I am Gruen, a humble servant in the court of King Meta- tron. Do I have the honor of addressing Har Majesty the Queen of Sa- lem?"

"I am Lilith, yes, the rightful ruler of Salem. Yet I am dispossessed of that city."

"Your Majesty, you shall be re-ceived by the king at mid-morning to- morrow. A messenger shall be dispatched to Ophan Barachiel in the Dul Valley expressing for the Ophan to return hither. Meantime the king bids you to lodge together with any who travel with you within cham- bers in the highest level of hyz castle. I assure you these lodgings are second in opulence only to those of the king hymself."

"I would be honored to stay at the castle with my family."

Gruen looked unfavorably upon the prisoner as hy was bound. "Were you but common travelers from Adan I would still be filled with shame for what this yang tried to do."

Lilith said, "Do you think the king will listen if I tell hym the yang has already been amply punished?"

"Probably not," Gruen replied, "and more's the pity. No doubt hyz missing hand will argue with hym should hy ever again consider rob- bery."

"But you should try," said Michael. "Reckless forgiveness is all I ever had to teach at the Sunset Discourse, and nothing more."

The Nine Mile Wall angled south and east for half its length, then abruptly changed direction to march south and west. At the pinnacle a razor-thin ridge of sandstone half as high as the Wall jutted into the Strait. This was the skeleton of the castle of King Metatron.

The flesh and bones of the cas-tle were hard stone on the whole exte- rior, and what windows existed were only large enough for archers to fire their darts upon attackers below. There were three hundred ninety steps to the top, yet Lilith and Michael did not ascend them. Instead they were ported individually to the top in seats carried by staves. Thirteen teams of servants handed their passengers off to another team after ascending thirty steps. And all the while Leliel walked beside har parents, summing everything up with one word: "Lazy!"

Their lodgings were everything Gruen had promised. Lilith said to the attendants who waited upon them, "My daughter shall need at least five times the amount of food you would guess a child har age would need, and har chamberpot must be emptied with corresponding frequency."

The castle stood straight out from the Nine Mile Wall and when day became night the lights of the dwellings of the city stretching north from them burned for a time. Michael extinguished the lights in their own dwelling to let Leliel marvel at them, but sha soon fell asleep.

Leliel was gently put to bed. A side-effect of Leliel's new talent was sha tended to sleep much more than sha ever did. Michael and Lilith saw an opportunity to share intimacy, one that that had been delayed for many weeks. Michael and Lilith kissed and began to disrobe.

When Lilith laid aside har weapon, har brass, and the leather that protected har, as well as the mental armor that lay beneath all these, there was revealed, to har husband alone, a yin of exquisite tender- ness who could not deny har sex. Michael this found very provocative.

Afterwards they lay together holding hands, limbs entwined, watching the pattern of light on the wall of the chamber slowly change as the king's subjects who dwelt in the Nine Mile Wall extinguished the lights of their own homes as they would. Sleep quickly overtook them.

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Strangers In Paradise