At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen is not featured in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
One of the beautiful things about sword and planet fiction is you can allow reason and scientific knowledge to be thrown out the window in favor of the Law of Awesome. Abraham Strongjohn most certainly knows like the rest of us that Neptune is an uninhabitable cold gaseous world, but what better a spot for a villain like Vraala the cold-hearted Queen of Neptune to rule over with an iron fist?
Our story begins with three heroes, Ch’Or, Bi’Tik and Ra’Ana, human natives of Mars who have been kidnapped by sci-magic means for the pleasure of Vraala, fighting their way through an ice maze pursued by Neptunian Ice Bugs. After fighting through the labyrinth, they arrive in the midst of a great coliseum where the Neptunian nobles await their bloodshed. An ice dragon is brought forth, but the heroes narrowly manage to triumph over the beast. With the dragon dead at the heroes feet, Vraala holds up a single garland and promises that she will send home whichever of the three warriors can kill the other two.
At the prospect of being returned to Mars, Bi’Tik attempts first to kill the beautiful Ra’Ana, but Ch’Or intervenes to save her from their dishonorable companion. Pleased with this bloody scene, Vraala offers Ch’Or the opportunity to be her consort and rule at her side over all of Neptune, if only he will kill Ra’Ana. Ch’Or refuses and cuts a swath through Vraala’s guard, and with a knife to her throat, he forces the evil ice queen to return both Ra’Ana and himself to Mars. She relents and uses the machine to send them away, but the strange smile on her face indicates to Ch’Or and Ra’Ana that something is wrong. Wherever they were sent, it wasn’t Mars.
Overall, At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen was an absolutely ridiculous affair. Not only does Neptune probably not have a solid surface, the idea that it would be ruled by a lascivious and scantily clad matriarch is one that would be barely justifiable in modern science fiction, much less mixed company. Bi’Tik’s betrayal seemed like a shallow excuse for the male protagonists fight over the female warrior who had already shown herself to be a competent fighter against both the Ice Bugs and the Ice Dragon. One might wonder why she didn’t seize the chance to rid herself of both of them. Still, something just came together here. Maybe it was the thermal swords cutting through frosty carapace. Maybe it was the pathos of fighting for survival in a strange and alien land. Maybe it was how Strongjohn managed to give us heaving bosoms on a planet with a -218C temperature. But something here worked!