Sunderland Miniseries – Part 5: Helgrind or Valhall

About: Part five in the series. If you haven’t read the previous parts, part 1 can be found here. : )

corvus_corax_jouveniles

Gunnar had found a moment’s respite and set up an improvised camp within a small clearing he had come across after a full day’s arduous stumbling through the forest. A playful wind danced through the swaying bamboo around him and Eben, rustling the leaves of the canopy whenever it brushed against them. Through the clearing ran a small but rapid stream. It had been the sound of moving water that had lead them to the clearing. Red lines currently covered most of his exposed shoulders, forearms, and torso, gifts given to him by unwilling terrain on his way into the clearing. They had become a source of great irritation, and stung as shallow cuts tended to do when exposed to sweat. The sun overhead shone from clear skies, which to Gunnar’s great relief had improved the area’s humidity.

Eben was dozing in the shade of the canopy above, off to the eastern side of the clearing, when Gunnar made his way over to the stream. He found the blue skies and lush green around him oddly comforting, and as he splashed water on himself as his thoughts returned homeward. He thought of his sister. News of Torald’s death must have reached her by now. Gunnar stood up and straightened his posture. Ine would no doubt also know that Hreidar had survived.

Sighing, he closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them only to stare into the rush of water by his feet.  “Odin,” he all but breathed. “I have done the unforgivable, I killed my own brother.”

Tracing the water upstream, Gunnar allowed his gaze to rise. “Torald was by no means a good man,” he continued. “But he was still my brother.”

Forming fists with his hands, he closed his eyes again. “I have so much,” he went on, arms trembling under the strain of his fists. “Anger in me. Mine is not like the fire burning in your son’s heart, however. I feel cold, as if I am cursed to live in eternal winter.

“Taking my brother’s life satisfied my anger, but I wonder. Am I still worthy? How do I prove it?!” he added with more force than he intended to. “Upon my death, will I be among the chosen? Or will I be reunited with my wretched brother in Hel?”

A sudden rustling snapped his attention around toward the western edge of the clearing. A man came stumbling out, clad in heavy, plated leather armour which had been dyed black. The man wrestled with what looked like a halberd that had a thin sword-looking blade attached to it at the top. Taking it as an omen, Gunnar dropped into a dead run toward his axe, which he had left next to Eben. He had it in his hands before the stranger had untangled the halberd from the bamboo. However, as the stranger became aware of Gunnar, the man chose to turn around and flee the way he had come.

“What is happening?” Eben muttered  behind him through the groggy haze of sleep.

“Trouble coming our way,” Gunnar responded. “We stand a better chance if we get to choose the location. I might even be able to hide you.”

“Stow me away under a bush and I swear I’ll find a way to shove your axe up your ass with the blade first!” Eben growled. “I will not have you enter the Great Hall without me. Where you go, I will follow.”

“As you wish,” Gunnar replied, yet as he prepared to make his way through the thicket he felt something heavy envelop his heart. Gritting his teeth, he decided then and there that he would compose a poem in Eben’s honour if they did die in battle.

Rather than dwelling on it, however, Gunnar strode to action. After putting his axe aside, he packed up their improvised camp and made sure Eben was securely attached to the stretcher. Not wasting any time, he tied the stretcher to his body before picking his axe back up. However, before he could even a single step out of the clearing an unnatural tremor went through the canopy. He froze.

Appearing out from amongst the leaves came six people, seemingly soaring through the air. Encumbered and prone, he could not react in time and was thus surrounded. At first, he prepared himself to die, but when no one moved he looked closer at his assailants. They were talking amongst one another, quite calmly. Then he saw her, and as the flash of recognition widened his eyes laughter came over him. The assailants, though they did seem taken aback, did not react adversely.

“What in the nine realms is going on?” Eben demanded.

“I have no idea,” Gunnar admitted. “The girl from before, she is back and she brought friends. They do not seem intent on attacking yet.”

“Well, if they are all half as good as her we are as good as at the gates already,” Eben lamented, voice bitter.

“Whether today is the day we meet our fate or not, it is out of our hands.” Gunnar felt a chill run through him as calm spread throughout his body. It seemed to emanate from his spine. “Only the ravens know, where we stand come nightfall. Be it Helgrind, or Valhall…”

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Nightwind

I am the chill in the air,
she told me.
The reassuring touch,
Come nightfall.

Like her sister,
And the other divines,
When she speaks I am compelled to listen.

I am not like my twin,
Daywind lacks my subtlety.
I am the breeze that stills,
Bringing peace of mind ~
sleep is my gift,
A blessing of a blissful kind.

I know what she wants,
It isn’t worship.
I know before she asks,
While sharing this bed of mine.
Warmth, and her blessing returned,
In kind.

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A Single Breath

It is out of your reach, if only by a fraction,
of course, you could get it yourself ~
Eventually.
I have tried to share what little I know,
a handful of words at most.
Alas, you live too fast.
Your heart thunders, and your feet follow suit.
Your mind is probably not far behind.
I asked you to stop,
to listen to the sound,
of roaring rain,
and of actual thunder ~
to hear the whispers of the wind,
to yield, and open your eyes to wonder.

But how could you possibly have heard?
When by your standards,
it takes me a century ~

To just breathe.

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Poetic, prophetic, pathetic: Court Jester

Out of all imaginable afflictions,
Haunting creative minds,
I wonder,
Which is most tragic?
The artist lacking talent, but full of ambition ~
Or the squandered gift of one bereft of such motivation?
Poor is (s)he who indulge in the grandiose delusions,
Under which I have become a thrall.
Bereft of ambition and wanting of talent,
A whimsical jester,
Dancing to the lyre of inspiration ~
Like a puppet on strings,
Wielded by an inattentive muse.
Heavens no, we shan’t have any more of this nonsense,
In my court.

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Sunderland Miniseries – Part 4: Heaven is High

About: Part four in the miniseries, you can find part one here.

sunderland village

Although the village seemed quite run down, even bordering on abandoned, Xiao Qing had come to think of it with warmth. Making her way through the carefully constructed facade, a familiar set of thoughts came to her. She often wondered what she might feel if she ever visited another village, one that did not have to hide, one that could be loud and proud of what and who it was. Perhaps a well-polished facade would make her feel anything but welcome. After all, her kin had been a thorn in the imperial flesh for generations. However, as she made it into the core of the village, she broke her mind free of such contemplation.

“Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away,” she whispered and put her mind at the immediate task at hand.

She found her father where she expected him to be, outside Old Lady Gao’s house. Lady Gao was the oldest person in the village, and with the exception of her father there was no martial artist more adept. In terms of wisdom, however, her father was not Lady Gao’s match. Something Xiao Qing would never admit aloud, of course, but if someone could make her father come around it was Lady Gao.

“Surely,” Old Lady Gao was saying as Xiao Qing arrived. “You must see the need to find her a good husband. She is not going to be young forever, and children are more important now than ever.”

“You are right, of course,” her father replied while making eye contact with Xiao Qing. Her father had always had a degree of hardness about him, the way he walked, talked, and even gazed. Many averted their eyes rather than face him, but not Xiao Qing. She had learned to decipher the varying degrees of steel, and right now he was not pleased with her involving Lady Gao in what he considered a private matter.

“First I must apologise,” he then continued, facing Lady Gao. “To cause such trouble for the village in this matter.”

Xiao Qing waited, knowing that even though her news were important she could under no circumstances interrupt them now.

“Secondly, I must apologise to you personally, Lady Gao,” her father went on. “When a young man capable of besting me presents himself, they shall certainly have my blessing. Alas, I am a martial man and my wisdom in these matters are nothing compared to yours. As such, I must trouble you to sort out the arrangements. I know Qing Er has the most profound respect for you and would be very happy to receive such an honor.”

With that her father made a short,but respectful bow, refusing to lift his head. A frown deepened Lady Gao’s already wrinkled lines, clearly upset that she had been unable to aid Xiao Qing in finding a swift solution to her marriage problem. Even so, the old lady insistently helped her father up, saying that she would of course help with the arrangements. Xiao Qing furrowed her brow, but quickly hid it by formally greeting Lady Gao and her Father.

“Qing Er, you have returned,” her father greeted. “Something has happened.”

With her father, questions were often statements. “Yes, Father. I encountered two armed and armoured men two Li south of the village. Their eyes were green like bamboo and blue like water, they spoke words I could not understand. They are dangerous father! They are not practitioners,” she hesitated. The corner of her father’s lip betrayed a subtle twitch.

Before the twitch could develop into a full blown scowl of disapproval she hurried on, “Their death aura was more intense than anything I have felt before. The village could be in danger. They cannot have gotten very far, they should be dealt with swiftly. I could not do it myself. I’m sorry, I have failed you, Father.”

Her father quickly offered Lady Gao a formal bow and excused himself, “You will tell me everything on the way,” he told Xiao Qing and made for the eastern fringe of the village. “Quick, come!”

“I was patrolling the fringes of the forest at the southern chain as you instructed me when I came upon them,” she began as she followed her father. His pace was brisk and since his legs were longer than hers she almost had to trot to keep up. “I trailed them for a while, masking my presence. They knew I was there somehow, the bigger of the two noticed me first.”

She glanced up at her father, who towered at least a head over most people. “Strong and ferocious like a tiger, broad across the shoulders, and taller than you, Father. What’s more is his speed, he even forced me to use Mist Step technique.”

At hearing that her father suddenly stopped mid-stride. His expression was blank, Xiao Qing swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “I hope you realise the graveness of your error,” he said, voice cold and flat. “There is no way to know with certainty that they are not some new kind of disaster hired by the Emperor to erase all trace of our linage. Go to the southern Gate, I will bring some people I can trust.”

Cursing her lack of foresight, Xiao Qing stomped her way to the southern gate. It was true that the two men she had fought could have been hired by the emperor, and it was also apparent to her now that she thought more closely about it that they had indeed seemed to be searching for something. They had not, however seemed to speak any of the Sunderland dialects. That had provoked her curiosity at first, more than anything else, well that and the fact that they looked so strange. The rush of facing a foe she knew nothing about had perhaps clouded her judgement, but she still felt that she had made the right choice. If she had not, well, it was not yet too late to rectify.

Once she arrived at the gate she had to wait a short while before her father reappeared with two other men and three women. Xiao Qing found herself fidgeting, they were not the people who usually worked under her father. Why he would bring the heads of the council instead worried as well as reassured her.

“Tell me how they fight,” her father commanded without breaking a stride as he approached.

Xiao Qing greeted the others quickly and fell in line in beside her father. “One of them carries a sword and a shield, I have not seen him fight yet as I struck his pressure points before he could move. The other one carries an axe as long as I am tall, and he is deceivingly fast.”

The  five elders of the council exchanged glances, but it was Hu Guang Ling who spoke first. Being the oldest person on the council, in fact only Old Lady Gao was older among the villagers, Elder Hu commanded a great deal of respect. Although her hair had since long lost its glossy black sheen and greyed, age had not significantly diminished her beauty. Even as a widow, she had suitors.

“Girl, you are certain of what you saw?” Elder Hu demanded. To which Xiao Qing nodded in response.

The youngest amongst the elders of the council was Zhe Shu Li. Unlike Elder Hu, Elder Zhe was still in her prime and a proud mother of four capable sons. She radiated motherhood and was never want of sage advice. It was she who spoke next.

“Could it be an apprentice perhaps?”

“I would have known,” Elder Qin Ting Peng replied. “If Fu Tou had an apprentice. He is my good friend, after all!”

Elder Qin was the kind of man who upon reaching the mid-point of his life had become a voracious reader, and even dabbled in art outside of cultivating his martial arts. A long white mustache reached from his upper lip to the centre of his chest, and it swayed whenever he spoke with enthusiasm. Xiao Qing had often thought he looked scholarly, only lacking a hand fan to complete the look.

It was raven-haired Elder Jiang Qing, garbed in the deepest of blues, who spoke next. “If it is not an apprentice, it must be Fu Tou. Who else would brandish such weapons?”

“Impossible!” insisted Elder Qin, mustache trembling. “If he had come out of seclusion already he would have informed me. By my estimate he should be at least another five years.”

Out of the five, Elder Meng Rui was the most quiet and contemplative. His quiet manner stood in stark contrast to his sharp and quick mind. Out of all of the Elders, he was perhaps the person who most reminded Xiao Qing of her father. Both men had similar builds and posture, and Elder Meng was certainly a capable swordsman. Grey streaks shone through Elder Meng’s otherwise dark hair, and if one only gave Elder Meng and Xiao Qing’s father a sweeping glance they could have passed for brothers.

“Xiao Qing,”  Elder Meng enquired. “Can you describe the appearance of the man with the axe? Do not leave out any details, no matter how strange or seemingly insignificant.”

“Yes, Elder Meng,” Xiao Qing answered. “Although visibility was limited in the downpour, I could see clearly a few things. Both men were of pale complexion yet carried themselves like soldiers. The man with the axe was taller than Father, very broad across the shoulders. They wore strange armour, which looked like tunics made from countless metal rings. Oh,” she added almost as an afterthought. “The man with the axe had markings on his arms. What they were of I could not see.”

“It is entirely possible, judging from Xiao Qing’s words,” Elder Meng theorised. “That it is in fact Fu Tou and that something has gone wrong during his seclusion. We were all there at the Gathering of Heroes when Fu Tou acquired the [name of manual],” Elder Meng went on as he made a snatching gesture with one hand. “Even if Fu Tou is capable of understanding the manual it will take a few decades or more for him to master it.”

“If it is our old friend, Fu Tou” Xiao Qing’s father said. “And his seclusion has been interrupted, then he  is walking fire entering demon, all the more reason to make haste. However, I suspect that there is in fact something else at play. The Emperor is always coming up with new methods to kill us. Regardless, we need to deal with the situation expediently.”

“Cai Shu speaks true,” Elder Hu agreed. “If Fu Tou has indeed lost all ability to reason, we should restrain him before he hurts someone else. Let us make haste. Xiao Qing, lead us to where you last saw them!”

“Yes,” Xiao Qing replied, then offered a quick bow and then took off using her qigong. The Elders and her father quickly followed suit.

 

part 5 – Helgrind or Valhall

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Compulsion

There is a feeling that I don’t have a word for, which I suspect might be because there probably isn’t one for it. If I were to describe it, I would begin where it begins – in the chest at the solar plexus. It has connotations of urgency, it makes my fingers itch – crave the keyboard and a blank page. This feeling will haunt me until I have filled that blankness with words, but not just any words. If you picture for a moment a rainy autumn day, a room that’s poorly lit, cold air leaking inside through a window that’s slightly ajar, and the low-pitched roar of rain – I’d say you’re getting closer to what I’m feeling. This emotion is the one emotion I cannot ignore, because it makes my thoughts crawl along the length of my arms across my skin – like goose bumps pouring out of my fingers.

The words that appear on the page form an incandescent blur that I cannot really see. My eyes are stuck peering inward as they somehow just defocus. It brews inside my chest, this feeling, until it becomes a storm I have no choice but to brave. It is manic, insanity, and I dive head-first into it armed with nothing but inadequate words. I always stumble until I reach the harbour I always end up at, the one at the very core of what makes me who I am. Docked there, I watch as it rages through me. I observe from the inner eye of this storm. At this point my fingers tremble, but calm settles my mind.

For as long as I can remember I have waged a war against this emotion, fought the same fight time and again. It can be triggered by the simplest of things. I do not know why, but I do know that this intense need to introspect and search my soul is never going to go away. So perhaps it is not strange that I go a little crazy in my search for higher meaning, deeper purpose, in everything I do.

It has taken me a long time to build this harbour where I am currently anchored. However, now that I stare at the raging sea inside of my chest I begin to feel that I no longer need it. It’s not that I am confident in my ability to swim, but rather that I no longer fear the water – or the depths into which I might sink.

Sometimes I write because I have no other choice. I have no other choice, but even if I did, I am too hooked on this feeling to ever let it go. I am too committed to this war of mine to ever stop.

Even if it ends as abruptly as it began… 18 minutes later.

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Bathroom Oaths: pooetry

I am not the type of person,
That buys into New Year resolutions.
But sure, goals well thought through,
And also the turning of a new leaf,
A blank chapter as it were ~
Is all good and well.
But I don’t quite get it.
How come for some,
The most meaningful realisations,
And the resolve to carry them out,
Comes not from serious pondering ~
Or pensive thought,
But rather it hits them…
When they’re taking a shit.

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