The warrior queen stood on the Hill of Bluff and stared down at the bustling port below.

Barbarus Arnottus, ruler of Napierion, watched as vessels from the land of the Great Dragon unloaded their cargoes. Sometimes huge ships brought large people from the fabled Americas, to the delight of local merchants. She enjoyed watching the seamen with their brawny arms and sweat-soaked muscular thighs.

But control of the Port of Napierion had slipped into the hands of a wily opponent, her predecessor Alanus Dickus.

She realised now it had been a mistake to allow Dickus to establish himself again inside the walls of her city. She had not anticipated his ability to transform a minor regional bureaucracy into a formidable power base. His unassuming headquarters had proved to be a Trojan horse.

The regional forum led by Dickus had accumulated a huge war chest by selling water rights to the Udderus Plentus, a clan of cow herders who had recently moved into Heretuscany. Dickus had used his fortunes to acquire vital assets in the region. His forum controlled the once-abundant waterways that had produced the crops on which Hustings had depended for its survival.

Once a thriving fruitgrowing centre, Hustings was known as the Dustbowl of Novus Zealandus. As debts mounted, its leader, Lawrencus Yulus, was desperately looking for a quick nuptial with Napierion and hopefully a hefty dowry.

In the coming months, Barbarus would have to deal with his amalgamation campaign, but Napierions had no interest in amalgamating with Hustings or anyone else.

However Barbarus was wondering whether the clumsy tactics of Lawrencus could yet be turned to her advantage.

Distracted by his vain bid for amalgamation, Lawrencus might be vulnerable to an electoral coup that could radically reshape his council table. There had already been mutinous mutterings in the wealthy Anglo Saxon enclave of Havus Northus about Lawrencus’ grandiose plans.

Barbarus had quietly decided that an alliance with Alanus Dickus against amalgamation could deal Lawrencus a crushing and humiliating public defeat.

Cleopatra had worked her charms on Mark Anthony. Barbarous would have to use all of her wiles to woo a veteran campaigner like Dickus.

She cracked her whip thoughtfully.

A group of men in striped blazers jumped out of the way of the blades on Barbarus’ chariot as she thundered along the Paradus Marinus. She slowed as she passed the site of the museum that would represent her crowning achievement.

Even now, Barbarus smiled as she recalled how she duped Lawrencus Yulus for one million denari for the building of her museum. She had promised him one million in return for his Lawrencian Colosseum, but had never made good, saying that she was obliged to respond to the thumbs down given to the proposal by Napierions.

Lawrencus had been incensed at what he called her “democratic cowardice”.

To the south, the man who now called himself Lawrencus Yulus Amalgamatus stared at the chicken entrails lay spread out on the table in front of him

Lawrencus prodded a piece of blood-covered spleen with his knife. He had never understood how people could find omens from the gods buried in chicken bowels, but the Heretuscans had been doing it for centuries and had even taken to peering at sheep entrails for portents of the future. As a former shepherd, he had had seen plenty of things come out of a sheep’s backside and wisdom certainly wasn’t one of them.

But as he stared at the pile of fowl innards, Lawrencus began to see a pattern taking shape. A pile of intestine on one side vaguely resembled the ranges overlooking the Plain of Heretuscany. A knob of fat on the other side could, with a bit of imagination, represent Havus Northus, he thought.

Lawrencus felt his heart begin to beat faster. This was more like it. The gods were smiling on him after all, although he wished they wouldn’t post their messages in the backsides of fowls or sheep.

As he prodded with his knife, he spotted an ugly lesion. That must surely represent Napierion, he decided.

The viscera was proving visionary. A mucous blob, which he took to be Hustings, had oozed down the slightly sloping table until it had merged with the lesion.

That was it. The portent for amalgamation. The gods were finally on his side!

Now he would instruct his loyal clerks, the Numbus Crunchus, to produce a report showing that amalgamation would produce massive savings. With his partly-built Lawrencian Colosseum looking more like Stonehenge in Brittanica than imperial Rome, he needed some pretty fancy figures —- and fast.

Meanwhile, Alanus Dickus stood in front of his coffers. Golden coins glinted in the gloom of the vast vault.

He was back in Napierion, the city he had ruled as Alanus Caesar Dictatorious several decades ago. It had taken time to build up his new empire and he needed to reshape

the region’s map before the Torus ruling party did it for him.

An alliance now with the Iron Maiden Barbarus might woo her into a sense of security and when the time was right, he would do his own bit of amalgamating, outwitting both Barbarus and Lawrencus.

He wondered what the gods had in store. Taking a couple of gold coins from a wooden chest, he told a eunuch to go and find a freshly killed chicken.

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