Valkyrja: When Ravens Sing

Out of all the things Eadlin had witnessed in her life, there had been nothing that could have prepared her for this. She had always known that there was magic in the world, but to think it might take such monstrous form was anathema. Magic was something of the Goddess, not this profane abomination Hreidar had turned into. Hreidar would never have tried to kill her, she had to believe that. This thing that attacked them was not him. It couldn’t be.

“Listen to me, brother!” Gunnar roared as he fended off the skull-clad creature best he could. “You have to snap out of it!”

Eadlin took several steps back and almost stumbled over a corpse. She had had little choice, Gunnar was pressed hard to keep up with Hreidar’s onslaught.

“You have gained much honour,” she called out to her battle-crazed champion. “There is no need to fight, the battle is won!”

Hreidar suddenly took a few dancing steps to the side, breaking away from Gunnar. The latter seized the moment to secure his footing and assumed a defensive stance.

“Honour,” Hreidar laughed in a voice that was not his own. “How appropriately human, hollow currency for those dealing in death.”

Red eyes aglow with the same taint as the runes on his body stared at her through the bear skull’s empty eye sockets. A prayer resonated in Eadlin’s mind, she instinctively sought the Goddess’s protection against the cold pull in the pit of her stomach. Fear was a panicked doe caught in the hunter’s noose that was her throat.

“Tell me,” Hreidar continued. “Will honour keep you from drowning in the river of blood flowing through your lands? Will honour silence the screams when you try to sleep at night?”

“The darkness in your heart is clouding your thoughts, brother,” Gunnar growled. “This is not you.”

Hreidar simply laughed and began to pace as if probing for an opening to attack.

“Eadlin,” Gunnar said with his voice lowered. “There is only one creature that laughs that way. Pull your troops back.”

“What kind of creature? What do you mean?”

“They are not equipped for dealing with a Troll,” Gunnar hissed. “Pull them back.”

“It seems we have been found out again,” Hreidar called out to them. “What will they do I wonder? Attack? Kill? It would be the Human thing to do.”

Again rumbling laugher like stone grinding against stone reverberated around them. Eadlin shuddered.

“No,” Gunnar proclaimed. “I will not kill the only brother I have left. But make no mistake, if you pursue as we retreat I will crush you.”

“Spoil sport,” Hrediar grumbled when suddenly a tremor coursed through the man.

He dropped his sword and grabbed the bear skull with both hands and thrashed about as if trying to pull it off. Stunned, Eadlin watched in bewilderment. Hreidar growled, roared, and howled. The glow of the runes intensified and she heard a loud crack as Hreidar tore the bear skull off.

The glow of the runes dissipated, and slowly his eyes returned to their normal mossy green. Silence fell between them, and the song of two hundred ravens rose to a crescendo as they descend to feast upon the dead and the dying. The Valkyries would soon come.

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Valkyrja: Everything comes at a price

Eadlin had a difficult time processing what she was seeing. She found no answers in what little Hreidar had shared with her about his people. And since her own resources had failed her she had turned to the Norseman’s brother, Gunnar, who for the time being acted as her bodyguard but also as commander of her forces. Well, technically they were his forces but they had come to a mutual understanding that would benefit both parties.

“It frightens me, Gunnar,” she admitted as the two of them stood atop a hill surveying the battlefield below. If it could at all be called a battlefield. “I find it difficult to trust my eyes. Just what is that?” she continued and pointed.

Gunnar’s expression darkened. “That, friend Eadlin, is my brother and when I find whoever gave him that bear skull I am going to kill them.”

“That’s Hreidar?” she exclaimed.

“No, not right now. The red haze has him and until it is lifted that beast isn’t even human. See how even my own warriors give him a wide berth? They know all too well that Hreidar cannot tell the difference between friend and foe while the beast has him.”

“The beast?”

A pained expression flashed beneath the anger permeating Gunnar’s visage. “Old magic courses through the veins of my people, the runes are in the blood. It is one of our greatest sources of strength.”

Gunnar shouted and order at one of his men in his own tongue, and judging by the tone he wasn’t all too happy with how things proceeded.

“Everything has a price, friend Eadlin. The runes covering my brother’s body are red, you can even make out their glow from here. They are not supposed to be. There is a darkness living inside my brother’s heart. Eventually, it will devour him.”

“You mean to say that there is something tainting his soul?” she asked but couldn’t quite keep her voice from trembling.

Gunnar gave her a puzzled look. “I cannot say that I know what a soul is,” the large man admitted. “But,” he began but was interrupted by a loud cracking thud.

Eadlin flinched, and as she recovered she saw what had made the sound. An arrow protruded from Gunnar’s shield. If it had been allowed to fly its course it would have been protruding from her eye socket instead. She attempted to swallow the lump blocking her throat but with little success.

“But you southerners are a strange lot,” the bear-like man resumed and cut of the shaft sticking out of his shield with his sword. “It seems the tide of battle is about to reach its final, crushing wave. Come, let us see if we can bring back the human in my brother.”

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The Woman I Love

About: A little something I’d like to dedicate to the woman in my life.

There had been so many thoughts tormenting him for such a long time that he no longer could tell what the pain felt like. It had become familiar, in the same sense breathing was familiar and only felt when he became aware of the fact that he was breathing. Everyone carried something with them, everyone had their own muted aches. Right now his chest was heaving and minuscule beads of sweat decorated his body like ornamental pearls that infused his body with a wet glisten in the calm lamps illuminating their home in the evening darkness. It came over him unexpectedly, a surge of emotion welling up from within him, making his face hurt from a smile he had no control over. His eyes watered and his heart reverberated in his ribcage, rattling the bones in his chest.

At the root of everything was her. He had never really believed in the power love held over people, he had always thought them false pretenders and vain hypocrites. Yet there he stood wearing only a pair of boxers madly in love with a woman he could only describe as the epitome of beauty and intelligence, and the incarnation of everything he had thought impossible. No matter how he searched he could never find words that adequately described her. Whenever he tried he couldn’t shake the feeling that he himself was false. That he wasn’t enough. It was a source of great frustration, frustration that in turn fuelled his need to move. He couldn’t be still, so he exercised. Thus the sweat.

Just as he was in the process of regaining his breath she entered the living room. Her eyes locked onto the towel under him, slowly travelling upwards. It fascinated him, how she always seemed to tremble when she saw him naked or near enough. Seeing her reaction, seeing her smiling eyes banished any and all doubts he might carry when he was alone. The familiar shudder triggered something in him, a need of sorts. If she had asked him to kill someone in that very moment, he would have.

She half ran half stumbled over to him. Steadying the beautiful creature tumbling into his arms with all the strength he possessed, they embraced. The strength he employed was not solely the strength of his arms, but also the strength of his heart. That he was sweaty and reeking did not seem to bother her. Oddly enough, the contrary seemed to be true. Another thing he could never quite understand. He was not going to complain though, the touch of her hands was one of the most intoxicating sensations he knew of.

“Hello my sweet,” he cooed as he panted. “I’m all sweaty and gross, let me clean up first.”

“Nyoo,” she responded playfully. “No escape!”

“No escape,” he laughed. “Have I told you?” he suddenly asked.

“What?”

“That I love you,” he finished.

“Yes,” she replied beaming up him. “I feel like the most loved person on the planet thanks to you.”

It made him wonder what he had ever done to deserve such praise. In his mind he was just a simple man. On the other hand, he wasn’t stupid enough to question something that clearly made her happy. That’s all he really wanted, seeing her happy. If it was his fate to forever suffer from smile-pained cheeks he would consider himself a very fortunate man.

“I will say it again anyway,” he said and blew air against her skin making fart noises. She laughed and tried to break free until he stopped.

“I love you.”

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Valkyrja: Freedom and Retribution

It had never really sunk in, the reality of Sir Alden’s betrayal. Eadlin was royalty, after all, descended from the Goddess herself. To find herself standing on the edge of that very precipice right now was much more than disheartening, it was soul-crushing. She had been putting off dealing with him until now because she struggled with the tempest of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her whenever she thought back on how close she had been to taking the man as her lover. His fate was sealed, high treason, there could be no compromise. The law laid down by the Goddess was clear. Death awaited Sir Alden.

It wasn’t that the traitor was going to die that had her heart throwing an unexpected and therefore also quite infuriating temper tantrum, but rather the fact that she would be denied the satisfaction of killing the man herself. The Norseman had been of little help, when she had asked for his advice he had simply handed her his sword and said, why wait? If he is to die, what does it matter who cuts off his head? You are the one he wronged, you should be the one to uphold the law. She hadn’t even known where to start explaining to him the intricate nature of court politics, so she hadn’t sought his counsel any further on that particular topic. Which was why she wondered at his bringing it up now, it wasn’t like him to dwell.

“It is not my brother Torald’s betrayal that gave me this particular scar,” he said as if he had read her thoughts.

Brought out of her reverie she averted her gaze, not because she didn’t want to meet his eyes, mind, but because she thought she seemed more regal that way. More in control and wise.

“I was once a lot like you, Eadlin.” That he wouldn’t call her by her title irritated her to no end but the Norseman seemed unaware of this since he continued unaffected by her displeased disposition. “When I was still human.”

Now that caught her attention. Her face turned so fast that even the Norseman reacted. He studied her for a moment before he went on, “People I saw as family tried to kill me. I had become too dangerous, too unpredictable, but worst of all I had become independent.”

When she didn’t respond the Norseman grabbed ahold of her hand. Another thing he wasn’t supposed to do, thankfully no one was there to see it.

“Your will is strong but if you don’t have the swords to enforce it the people you call Nobles will descend on you and your lands like a flock of ravens onto a battlefield littered with corpses. You should be the one to execute the traitor, of what use is tradition and law to you if you’re dead?”

“My rule, as you so astutely pointed out, is not unquestioned. I’m in a precarious situation. I have no military to speak of, whereas the nobles do. I am forced to adhere to the laws, because if I do not then what is keeping them from not also doing the same?”

The Norseman shook his head and let go of her hand. “You have me, and I have my brother. Gunnar will honour his word. He will fight for you if you give him some of your land.”

“And you?” she asked slowly. “What am I to give you for fighting for me?”

“Nothing you haven’t already given. You helped me gain my freedom. Now it is my turn to do the same for you.”

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Thought rant

In some ways thoughts are extremely useful tools, but in relying on them exclusively to grasp, understand, and define firmly places the human experience within a fixed framework. For as long as I have remembered I have been staring at that framework thinking, ironically, about how to break out of it. It’s perhaps not a surprise that I turned to the other tool known to me, emotion/instinct/feelings. The process of acquiring further tools isn’t perhaps the way to go, since even though the idea seems appealing I doubt whether or not it would work or even be possible. The question, then, seems to me to be how to redesign the tools we have at our disposal. It could also be that the issue doesn’t lie in the tools per se but rather in how we use them. What I am currently asking myself is what the limitation of thought is, how far exactly can I extend? If I can perceive there being a frame can I reach beyond it? Or is there only a frame there because I envisioned it as such? Am I boxing myself in trying to understand it?

The answer is very likely yes, I see water. Attempting to grab it will certainly make for a pair if wet hands, but in order to hold it I have to be submerged in it. I have to become it. Thoughts… How far can they take us?

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Valkyrja Teaser: Farväl, broder min. (Farewell, brother)

About: Perhaps I should mention a few words about this one. Hreidar, who has previously been referred to as either the Norseman or the nameless person mentioned in Awakening once gave up a part of what made him human in order to survive, which had some permanent consequences. I won’t spoil the details here though! I’ll leave that for a later teaser. Also worth mentioning is that this is all very draftish still. Hope you enjoy!

Hreidar looked down at the man he had just disarmed at kicked to the ground. So much had changed, he almost didn’t recognise his brother. On the other hand, Torald had burned that particular bridge over ten years ago. Gunnar was impossible not to recognise where he stood a short distance away, observing. Even if the situation had not been what it was Hreidar knew that Gunnar wouldn’t interfere. Every bone in that man’s body vibrated with honour and loyalty, uncompromising loyalty to the unspoken code between brothers and sisters in arms. Fortunately for Hreidar, Torald had betrayed that code.

It’s fascinating, really, the Troll whispered into his mind. What? Hreidar demanded and tossed a glance at his shadow. No need to glare at me, the Troll chuckled. I was just fascinated by the concept. Honour, if I’ve understood it correctly the way I’ve seen it in your head it just doesn’t make much sense.

Honour is not just a set of rules, Hreidar replied impatiently. Honour is thing of the heart moreso than the mind. It’s also what’s keeping us alive right now. If it wasn’t for honour, the warband would have attacked already.

He knew that the relevation of his survival would make the warband hesitant to attack, so much would depend on whom they had pledged their loyalties to. Judging by their faces, Hreidar was willing to gamble on the younger of his two older brothers. While Torald would most likely be in power back home, the chances of him gaining more respect than Gunnar were slim. That was what it came down to, respect. Hreidar had even seen Eben among the warriors, he longed to have a word with his long lost friend but didn’t see that happening anytime soon.

“So that’s it, broder min?” Torald spat as he scrambled to his feet. “You would kill your own flesh and blood?”

Oh this man really needs to die, the Troll sneered. Hreidar was more ready to agree than he cared to admit.

Hreidar scoffed. “You lost the right to call me your brother ten years ago. Right now the only thing keeping you alive is the woman behind me. It’s in your best interest to do as Queen Eadlin wishes.”

Torald looked incredulously at him. “The southerner bitch?” he exclaimed and burst out in laughter. “Oh yes,” he continued, his voice drenched in sarcasm. “I will withdraw, go plunder somewhere else and let her warriors fuck me in the ass while I’m at it.”

You should kill him, the Troll insisted.

Hreidar sighed. “Have it your way then,” he said aloud, replying to both his brother and the parasite that inhabited his soul, before lashsing out with his sword in a sweeping motion.

“Give my regards to Hel,” Hreidar added as Torald desperately tried to keep the blood from gushing out of his open throat, eyes bulging with incredulity.

As the body of the man that had at one point in Hreidar’s life been his brother collapsed onto the ground he turned toward the man he still considered family. “So, Gunnar, where do we go from here? What will you do?”

“Well, brother,” Gunnar rumbled in the bear-like manner Hreidar had almost forgotten. “I wont hold Torald’s death against you, he lost any honour he might have had when he betrayed you all those years ago. Even so, he was still our father’s son and should be buried as such. For now I will agree to stop this conflict of ours and tend to his funeral,” Gunnar said at length. “Even so,” he continued after a moment’s pause. “I am ashamed, Hreidar, we never knew. I can still not believe it is not a spectre I see before me.”

I like this one better, the Troll mused. He has a lot more blood on his hands. Quite a dangerous human that one.

Yes, I’m aware of that, Hreidar sent back an impatient thought at Troll. Now be silent!

Alright, alright, no need to be stingy, the Troll whispered back before finally shutting up.

“The fault was never yours, Gunnar,” Hreidar replied. Gunnar had always been the most predictable of his brothers. To Gunnar honour was everything, betrayal just wasn’t in him. Hreidar was wary of him though, when it came to battle and warfare Gunnar could be surprisingly cunning. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t attend Torald’s funeral, but afterwards we should have a long talk, brother to brother. There are things I’d like to discuss with you, call it an undertaking or an endeavour of sorts. A profitable one,” had added almost as an afterthought.

“So be it,” Gunnar agreed. “In four days time I will send word, you and the chieftain-woman have my guarantee of safe passage.”

“In four days,” Hreidar Echoed and bade his brother farewell.

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Valkyrja: assassin

Eadlin studied the Norseman in utter bewilderment, not to mention the addition of searing embarrassment heating up her cheeks. The initial shock at seeing him stark naked had subsided, progressed into arousal, and finally morphed into concern. His indifference toward his own nudity was not, however, the source of her worry. It wasn’t that his body was covered in countless scars, battle souvenirs, either. Well, she had to admit that that there was a measure of falsehood in that statement. Each scar, she knew, told a story and the Norseman’s story was painted on his body as if life had used it as a canvas. His had been a hard life, he wore his pain like a cloak or a mantle that much was obvious.

What had her cheeks burning up was only in part his nudity, his lack of clothes was not what made him appear so truly naked. It was his life, his stories, marks left on his skin by the most violent of crucibles and yet, somehow, there was distinct softness in him. The memory of his scent on the first night she had met him was still with her, strong, and overwhelming. Even his scent had changed, though. There was something about it that made it remarkably difficult to think clearly. That was really at the root of the problem. The source of her worry was that she knew that she had but to ask and everything she saw would be given to her. She knew that if she asked him to share her bed he would. She knew that he would share with her the stories his body hinted at. Worst of all was that she knew she desperately wanted to, but also that she should not.

His eyes interlocked with hers and he pulled out his sword from the intruder’s neck. In the Norseman’s eyes she saw no demands for reward or signs of hidden schemes and agendas. He had killed an assassin that had come for her life, he had run his sword through the intruder’s back in the same manner he would have skewered a fish with a spear, calmly and precisely. A better bodyguard would be difficult to come by.

The Norseman stood there, quietly, as if waiting for her to say something. She, Queen Eadlin of Lodein, stared at her guardian, then at the corpse and the blood pooling on the stone floor of her bed chamber before returning her gaze to the Norseman.

“Thank you,” were all the words she could find.

“Go back to sleep. I will keep watch,” the Norseman replied as if that resolved everything and dragged the corpse out with him, leaving a trail of blood.

Eadlin sighed, she had better send for her maid right away or the poor girl would fear the worst come sunrise. Someone would have to get rid of all of that blood as well. Steadying her breath, not having noticed just how shaky it had been until now, she arose from her bed and went to her door. A number of people and servants had already gathered. Banishing the blush from her cheeks she took charge of the situation and issued the orders that needed to be issued to resolve the matter for now. It would still be a long night ahead, of that much she was certain.

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