“The only disturbance to the cold night air was the horses snorting out steam as Berdlukare gazed at the tiny cottage where the tracks they had been following led. Larsen looked to his Queen for orders as Mercie gave them both a quizzical look.
“This is the end of the trail. Larsen, do we know who lives here?” Berdlukare whispered.
“I’m sorry my Queen I do not…” His words halted as he turned to the Queen’s consort who exclaimed.
“It’s the old crone Haliarunos, Olrun.” Mercie stared at the old cottage as memories flooded her mind. I remember it well when I was a child and we stumbled across the place when we were playing in the forest. A sad tear trickled down her cheek as she recalled her dead brother’s face.
Berdlukare turned to her consort in surprise. “The Haliarunos Mercie? I thought they were all dead.”
Shaking her head Mercie explained, “No my Queen. Olrun is the last of the sisterhood. I met her once when I was a child. Edmond and I were playing in the forest and found the cottage by accident. She was very frightening to small children after all the stories we heard about her eating children for breakfast. Edmond was older so he was the brave one and told me it was lunchtime and that we had nothing to fear. I remember holding tightly to his hand at the time,” she said lovingly.
“Did the old hag hurt you Mercie, for if she did I will…”
“No! No, my love she did not. Besides Edmond protected me, I was only five and he was thirteen and in training to be a warrior,” she said with pride.
Queen Berdlukare smiled slightly. Yes he was a true warrior and very brave. “Larsen, proceed. We need to know if our travelers have been here.”
With a nod, Larsen jumped down from his horse and knocked decisively on the old door. There was only a second between the sound of the knock and the door opening wide as a dark cloaked warrior appeared and bowed in respect.
“Mist, why are you here?” Larsen demanded.
“First Councillor Spake and Mgni needed a guide to the last of the Haliarunos.” Mist cocked her head. “I was the only choice.”
“Are they here now?” When the warrior nodded, Larsen turned to face the Queen and her consort. “My Queen we have found them.”
Queen Berdlukare vaulted with ease from her steed and then deftly helped Mercie to dismount. With Mercie’s hand in hers for support, they moved towards the door. Larsen peered inside the small cottage and when he was satisfied that there was no danger signaled the Queen to advance. Cold brown eyes traveled over the young warrior woman who bowed slightly as the Queen stooped and stepped inside with Mercie following close behind. Larsen did one final check of their surroundings then entered and closed the door.
The room was deathly quiet as the Queen’s foreboding glare surveyed the cottage’s occupants. “So this is where you rushed off to without word, Spake. Why are you here?” she asked with a menacing tone. “Mgni, I’m surprised to find that you are here too.” Her eyes caught and held the only other person in the room. This must be Olrun. “Are you Olrun the last of the Haliarunos?” she demanded
The old woman stood up and bowed slightly before she let her intense blue eyes lock on the Queen. So this is the great Berdlukare. “I go by that name my Queen but not that title. Welcome to my humble home,” she said as she inclined her head. “May I offer you refreshments?”
Berdlukare surveyed the room. Small and claustrophobic. “Larsen, take the warrior outside. I will call you if I need you.”
Larsen wasn’t happy but with the Queen’s present mood he wasn’t going to argue the point. He motioned to Mist and they both left the cottage.
Spake swallowed and said, “If I may speak your majesty?” The Queen gave him a quick flick of her wrist and the old man smiled slightly before continuing. “We came here today to speak with Olrun and understand the tapestry of Xanadis. Mercie was worried about its meaning and Mgni and I decided to try and help.”
Berdlukare fixed her gaze on her consort. She should have spoken with me first and not brought these other people into this! Doesn’t she trust me? “Why have you not spoken to me of your fears Mercie?”
Mercie hung her head in a mixture of embarrassment and fear. I know that look in your eyes for I have seen it before…you think I do not trust you. “I did not want to lose anyone else I loved to battle,” she said quietly. “I felt that the acceptance of more strangers into our lands would herald the downfall the tapestry depicted.” Her eyes raised and sought those of the Queen. “I’m so sorry I spoke out of turn my Queen.”
Berdlukare’s eye’s softened fractionally at the honest reply. She will never lose me in battle I promise that!
Jennifer had been silent since the Queen’s arrival. Her distress at Mercie’s disclosure about new strangers, which could only mean Carolyn, did not stop her from wanting to help her friend. She decided it was a good time to speak up. “It’s my fault,” she announced. “I quizzed Mercie about Carolyn and when she told me briefly about the tapestry I wanted to know more…I needed to know more. I care deeply for Carolyn and I don’t want her banished if it’s a misunderstanding regarding strangers.”
All eyes turned to Jennifer’s impassioned plea. The surprise to all was when Olrun spoke.
“Mgni it is foolish to speak in such a manner. You do not know what is going on around you or the people you call friends. The runes depicted in the tapestry of Xanadis set the fate of this land centuries ago. It is now in motion and all who are here now are a part of it be it for good or evil. Your friend, the Hrafn, is part of the tapestry and her destiny will be fulfilled, as will yours Mgni.” Her eyes turned to Berdlukare. “Is that not so my Queen?” the old woman then directed her gaze at the fire instead of the people in the room. Ah foolish children all of them. If only they knew what I do.
Berdlukare fumed internally at the audacity of the women speaking without her permission and would deal with them later. She considered the question posed to her carefully. “It is true. All who live in the land now are part of Xanadis and its fate. Will you travel back to the town and explain the tapestry accurately to us Olrun.” Her face hardened. “We must be ready for whatever is to befall us.”
“I will do as you have requested my Queen.” She stifled a yawn. “Perhaps it would be better if I arrived tomorrow for it is getting late.”
Mercie and Jennifer exclaimed at the same time, “No!”
Queen Berdlukare glanced at the two women and shook her head slightly. I’m not so intractable that I don’t understand their concern at the delay. “I think it might prove wiser if it could be now Olrun. I promise you a comfortable bed and meals of your choosing, if you would honour me with your presence.”
The old woman smiled showing her rotting teeth. “I will be honoured to accept the royal invitation.” She collected several items and stuffed them into a leather satchel. “I am ready to go,” she said and slowly exited her home.
Mercie looked across at Mgni in the darkness. At this moment we were on opposing sides and I’m sure neither of us expected this would happen. The question now is how will it end.
+ + +
Carolyn gazed out of the window onto the dark courtyard below. Her thoughts had drifted to the feelings she had for Jennifer and what would happen next in their relationship. The more I think about it the more scared I get. Her eyes stared at the glistening stars above her head it was a magical evening and one she dearly wished she could share with her friend. There I go again scared one minute deliriously wanting the next. Talk about vying hormones. God I wish Jenn were here to give me that smile of hers and say everything is going to work out, because right now I’m not sure.
I just need to get out of here. She’d completed the task set for her by the Queen and waited for someone to come and get her so she could finish the test. As the time passed and no one came she tried to leave in search of any sign of life but the door was locked. Anyone would think I was dangerous.
She sighed, moved away from the door, sat back down at the table and began drumming her fingers. A few seconds later her thoughts strayed to the last days of her journey to return to Xanadis and Jennifer…
Carolyn gazed up at the cloudy sky knowing there wasn’t a hope in hell that a rainbow would appear. She peered at the map clenched in her hand and felt the fatigue of the three months she’d been searching take its toll - her eyes wouldn’t focus. Sitting on a rocky outcrop, she pushed back the tangle of dark unkempt hair out of her eyes and tried to work out where she was. This is ridiculous I must have searched every damn inch of the area and I know we were here the last time. In the previous three weeks of her travels there was no evidence that anyone had set foot in the place. The two years of vegetation overgrown had obscured any evidence that any living entity had ventured on the path she was taking. She flicked a hand through her bangs hoping that they were the reason she needed to squint at the fine print of the map and groaned. Her eyes searched the heavens as she shouted, “If you can hear me Odin a sign would be good. I’m about out of food, energy and ideas.” I’m not giving up though…I’d rather die… if I go back all I’ll do is waste away and die anyway.
Standing up she felt the muscles in her body protest. She’d been walking continuously snatching only cat naps during the darkest hours to rest in the last week. She looked down at knapsack she’d dropped at her feet and closed her eyes before sighing heavily. Damn, I don’t think I have the energy to pick it up. If I don’t then I’m going to be dead even sooner than I already predict. Her knapsack was her lifeline for it held a small tent and the essentials to survive. She only had the meagre rations left from her last venture back to civilisation. That had been over a month earlier and she was rapidly running out of the main ingredients to live and keep moving. I’m no hunter so I haven’t a chance in hell of ever fending for myself. “More likely, an animal will eat me instead.” Her head jerked as she heard rustling in the undergrowth and saw a squirrel foraging for nuts. “I wouldn’t be a match for even you.”
Three day’s later, totally exhausted from fatigue and lack of nourishment, Carolyn looked around her and decided that she’d be dead within the week. Her rations were depleted and she was at least three days from a road that someone might happen to drive on but there were no guarantees. Doesn’t matter anyway ‘cause I’m not going back to an empty life. I’d rather die knowing that I gave finding Jennifer my best shot. Strange really, I’m doing this and if I find her she might not really want me around…what will I do then.
Her eyes dropped to her waterproof gear as she saw first one dark patch then several and suddenly she was engulfed in a flash storm that soaked even her gear as she huddled under a tree hoping that lightening wasn’t part of the package. A half an hour later it was over and the most glorious rainbow flooded the sky. Carolyn blinked several times wondering if it was an illusion -it wasn’t.
She looked towards the rainbows end and saw it pointed within the waterfall close by her position. Does it look familiar? “I don’t care this is my last chance,” she said heading towards the waterfall hoping the rainbows end would reveal the secret entrance she yearned for…
Carolyn kicked herself mentally. We’re going to make it no matter what they say. I know it and as strange as this is sounding in my head, I think Odin did listen to me that day. She smiled broadly. “Jenn will think I’ve lost it.” So much for my practical ways, she prayed to Lofn didn’t she, why couldn’t I pray too.
She sighed again, stood up and moved to the window. As her eyes searched the darkness of the courtyard for any sign of movement she sent up another silent prayer.
+ + +
The journey back to the town had been uneventful and silent. When they entered the royal courtyard, Larsen pulled his horse alongside the Queen. “My Liege , I am at your service.”
Berdlukare looked at the warrior and felt an allegiance with him that went beyond what she felt for any other warrior she had known in her life. I can trust you with my life and you will never fail me. Is it better to allow you peace by not knowing the future? On the other hand, am I being cruel in not allowing you to help when we need someone like you? She gave a scant smile and replied, “Collect Hrafn and bring her to the royal chamber. I think it wise we are all here to hear what Olrun says.”
Larsen gave the Queen a puzzled frown and without permission said, “She has not proved that she is part of us my Queen.”
The Queen bristled at Larsen’s questioning her orders but before she could reply the old hag Olrun intervened. “The Queen is correct Hrafn should be here.” Hmm, so this warrior Queen is intuitive. I did not expect that.
Mercie and Jennifer heard the exchange, passed each other a look of quizzical interest, and then averted their gazes. Right now, they were not batting for the same side.
Larsen said, “I will do as you ask my Queen.” Once the Queen gave him a slight nod, Larsen dismounted before disappearing into the darkness of the courtyard.
The Queen flexed her jaw in anger. “You all shall accompany me to the royal chamber,” she commanded.
Mist held back as the others entered the main building. She had done her duty and she was no longer necessary for what would happen next. A noise, barely discernable to most, captured her attention and she pulled away from nuzzling her horse and looked at the open doorway of the royal building. She gasped in surprise when she saw the Queen standing there watching her.
“My Queen, how may I serve you?”
Berdlukare felt the slight tug of her lips attempting to create a smile. I love the element of surprise. “I said everyone!”
“My Queen, my duty is done I’m no longer needed,” she said with a false sense of bravado.
The Queen bristled with annoyance. Am I speaking a foreign tongue these days that everyone seems to ignore my orders. “Ah, but according to Olrun you are. Therefore you will remain!” Berdlukare starkly ordered
“As you wish my Queen.” Mist allowed one of the servants beckoned from the darkness by Berdlukare to take her horse.
Berdlukare smirked, at last my demands are not falling on deaf ears.
They entered the royal building and set off with the others for the royal chamber.
+ + +
The royal chamber would probably be described as an eclectic mix of different periods in history. The ticking of a semi-contemporary timepiece in the room seemed out of place and at the same moment wasn’t. Various animal skins adorned the outsized wooden framed bed producing an almost pagan abandon within its space. Throughout the room were large wooden chests with magnificently carved depictions of Dracos, sea battles, hunting scenes and various villages. Each piece had its own story to tell and it appeared as though with passing years the style of furniture and the carver changed dramatically. In a corner of the room stood dainty pieces along with an ornate writing desk that had the appearance of a French renaissance piece. On the main wall in pride of place was an enormous tapestry that drew the observer’s attention immediately – it was why they were all there.
Jennifer walked over to the tapestry intent on knowing exactly why her friendship with Mercie had become fragile. Her friend was now an advocate for those that didn’t want strangers to be allowed into Xanadis. How can you change so my friend? Only a short time ago you were my strongest supporter and now that appears to no longer be true. I think you abhor my presence here as much as you would an enemy.
First Councillor Spake placed a gentle hand on Jennifer’s shoulder. “Mgni you must look beyond your own desires to see why some of the people here fear this.” He pointed to the tapestry. “If you look and listen with an open mind and heart you will understand.”
Jennifer turned her gaze to the old man. He reminds me of my poppy. With a slight grimace she softly said, “How can I have an open mind when someone I care for dearly is going to be banished for something that happened centuries ago and is more than likely a myth.”
Olrun had heard the dialogue between the old man and the woman they called Mgni. It is as I expected, a manifestation of distrust is buried deep on both sides. Her attention turned to the new Queen and her consort. Mercie has grown up into a beautiful woman.She has tamed the beast that lies within the heart of the Queen. She saw the underlying rage glimmering in the Queen’s eyes. Or has she? She sighed. It is a pity Mercie is allowing her soul to follow the path of corruption by ignorance.
There was a knock on the door and Larsen appeared with a confused looking Carolyn at his side. When her searching eyes finally rested on Jennifer the confusion disappeared at once.
“ My Queen, as you requested the one we call Hrafn is here.” He noticed that the warrior called Mist was in the room. Hmm, why is she here? “Is that all you need my Queen?”
Queen Berdlukare stroked a hand over her strong chin as her thoughts engaged in the potential consequences of what was occurring. I’m a warrior in my heart and I need to have a battle plan, action is what I know best and action is the only true source of power here in Xanadis. “Stay.” She spied the Haliarunos. “All that need to be are present …is that not so Olrun?”
The old hag turned a rotting toothed smile to the Queen and inclined her head positively. “That is so my Queen...for the moment.”
Berdlukare moved her gaze to that of her consort who was at her side glaring at the woman they called Hrafn. Perhaps some of my warrior ways have rubbed off on my love as hers have on me. The Queen allowed her shoulders to relax and reached for one of Mercie’s small hands and tenderly held it in a securely. “Shall we entice the truth my love?” Berdlukare whispered as she bent her head so only her lover could hear her words.
Mercie felt the gentle reassuring pressure on her ear from the woman she loved and her heartbeat responded erratically to the tender touch and the softly whispered words. The truth, can anyone really know the truth of a moment in time. Her eyes flashed to her friend Mgni and she felt the sorrow of the loss of their genuine camaraderie. I hope you will understand once you have heard all that is told this night and not judge me as unjustly cruel. Her gaze turned for a few seconds to the woman Hrafn. She has that decidedly confident gait that sometimes goes before a fall. I remember that the old Queen once warned her about that. However, there was still the question hanging in the air as to why Queen Ragnhild had been fascinated by this woman. I am fairly certain she did not feel threatened by the woman. Am I wrong to condemn Hrafn for my foolish fears? Her lover’s words drew her from her thoughts as she replied quietly, “Let the truth be out my Queen.”
They walked over to the tapestry and Jennifer smiled encouragingly at Carolyn and motioned for her to stand beside her. When they were mere inches from each other both women smiled.
“I’m not sure if I dare ask why I’m here,” Carolyn whispered as the others moved to be closer to Olrun.
Jennifer raised her eyes to the ceiling in a rolling motion. “To be honest, I’m not sure why either of us is here, but it all has to do with our future. Oh, and the future of Xanadis and its people…I guess that’s about the gist of it.”
Queen Berdlukare bristled as she heard the two strangers conversing in their own language. With a glimmer of fierce disapproval in her expression, she spoke clearly in her own tongue making as the two women jump at the sound.
“Did you answer my question Hrafn?”
Ah, I wondered when she’d get around to that. “Yes I did Queen Berdlukare.”
All eyes turned to Carolyn who was a little daunted by the old woman in the room. I wonder who she is. She seems to be searching my soul from the inside out.
“Provide me with your answer and I shall tell you if you can remain here when we have completed what we must do now,” the Queen pronounced defying Carolyn to question the decision.
Okay, so the Queen wants my answer but isn’t prepared to say if I’m right or wrong immediately. This all sounds weird and not very good for me. Besides exactly what is, going on right now…even Jenn is unsure or maybe she doesn’t want to upset me. Questions, questions and no answers, sounds like my field of expertise. Clearing her throat slightly, she gave Jenn a quick reassuring smile and replied, “You asked me this question. If my people came through the gate in a threatening way, whom would I support in the battle that would ensue? Is that a correct interpretation?”
There was a murmuring in the room as each considered how they would answer such a question.
“ That is correct and your answer Hrafn?” I’m impressed she is indeed worthy of the name I bestowed on her long ago.
Jennifer frowned and felt her heart beat rapidly as she tried not to look worriedly towards Carolyn. I have to have faith she’ll know all the right things to say. More to help herself than her friend she gently wrapped her fingers with Carolyn’s as she waited for the reply.
“ Xanadis is like a droplet in time, hung precariously in the air as the second hand attempts to dislodge the moment and move on. There can never be another place like it again. That’s why we need to treasure it and, will on pain of death, defend its being and that of its just ruler.” The words spilled from Carolyn her lips fluently harbouring an innocence of truth that held the others in the room in amazement.
Queen Berdlukare was silent as her eyes caught Carolyn’s for any sign that the words she spoke were not of her making or her heart. She saw nothing but an honest reflection of how the woman perceived their existence in Xanadis. Then she composed her thought as to what was ahead. “Now Olrun begin your story, we have waited long enough.”
Jennifer turned to Carolyn with a beaming smile on her face. God I’m so proud of her. How did she think of that for it was perfectly wonderful? “You did good Carolyn.”
Carolyn returned the smile. “I hope so I wouldn’t want to disappoint you now would I.”
Jennifer felt the wonder of the words fill her heart as she silently replied you will never ever disappoint me. Their attention drew to the old hag who began a story of long ago…
The storm ripped open the sky for one final deluge of rain and thunder. In the wake of its passing a rainbow appeared in the distance as the only element of light that showed in the dark sky. They headed towards it blindly as the Draco and the three ships in the flotilla bobbed around in the lake inlet where the rainbow had seen fit to despatch them in the black of a night sky during daytime. As the once glorious vessel now looked ravaged and ill suited for any further journey the oarsmen awaited the direction on what to do next by their leader.
Halfdan peered at the surroundings where the unexpected storm had left them. His eyes scanned first the horizon, which had them surrounded by mountains, and then he saw the odd glimpse of vegetation on shore. “Perhaps this place was worthy of more deliberation.” He looked at the oarsmen who had battled bravely and won over the might of the storm - they needed rest. I suspect that those below will want to feel their feet on hard ground too. Their quest for further discovery and claimant of lands further than any had gone before had been his dream since he was a boy. As the youngest son of a royal family he had no claim to the Norse throne and therefore wasn’t involved with the bitter inner fighting that sought to rip their life apart at the seams. His request of his father to take a small convoy to the lands of the snow and ice was met with a tolerated amusement. However he had relented and been given command in his father’s name the newest Draco in the fleet along with three explorer vessels. Under his command were fifty men and their families, two personal advisors and Heidr the witch.
Halfdan’s closest friend and advisor Edmond Hjort, stood alongside him and asked, “Sire, how did we arrive in such a place? I can see no passage way back from where we came.”
It was true, the land appeared locked around the lake and though it lost itself along the horizon he did not recall that they had passed that way. “I do not know Hjort. I’m sure we will find out soon enough. Let us rest for now and take measure of the land for my father.”
Halfdan turned to the warrior at his side, a wry smile creasing his lips. My ever-faithful Berserker. His father decreed that he take a small party of warriors along on the voyage and under duress Halfdan complied. During the many months of their journey he cane to realize that the berserker protected him out of respect rather than through his father’s orders. “Will you scout the area for any sign of life and if there is game we will relish that by the campfire this night?”
The large man, well muscled and with a glowing chestnut mane of hair gave his master a blank look and then marched away to collect his small band of warriors. If there is game to be had then my warriors will bring it back.
The folks on the ships were grateful for the feel of land beneath their feet and some commented on how lush the vegetations and general land conditions were. The murmurings continued into the night as the warriors brought back three wild boar and the fire that night boasted the most delicious roasts.
Halfdan, with his back to the fire, looked out onto the lake reflecting on the comments made during the meal. Might this finally be the place? It appears to support a new community.
“My lord you are pensive did the meal not sit well with you?”
A woman’s voice caused him to swing around and stare at the woman for a few seconds in surprise. “You sneak up so well Heidi; it must be the witch blood in you.” Halfdan smiled at the pretty woman and motioned for her to move closer to stand at his side.
Heidi had been named for the witch in the Song of Sybil who had been raised from the dead by Odin, a farseeing witch, wise caster of spells and cunning in magic allowing her to see through all the worlds. Her mother had thought it appropriate when her gift of sight had been noticeable as a child. Her talents had brought her to the kingdom Halfdan when she had been a very young woman wanting to learn more from the court Haliarunos. Several years later when the opportunity had arisen to set off on an adventure, she had accepted it with alacrity. “That might be my lord. The people are happy with this new land. From what has been seen so far, it seems to be abundant with food.”
Halfdan nodded. I’m just not sure if this is place we can call our home. “Yes there is much joy, but is that because it is many moons since we last stepped on dry land.”
Heidi gave the man a keen glance. He has inner strength and cares about our people. I was right to choose him as my master. “There is one way to find out my Liege.”
The royal lord understood immediately. It might be the answer. “Then so be it Heidi we shall have the runes read this night.”
As most were already at the fire the announcement of the runes being read caused a stir of excitement as the tablets and potions Heidi used in her foretelling were centre stage.
It was not long before she began to speak. “The land is blessed with abundance for prosperity of the mind and the body. Our homelands will soon be no more and only this place will remain filled with our traditions as it must be for all time. If we stay our lives will be joyous for many centuries and we will see little change but for the strangers that enter our lands in the future. These strangers will bring us hope for future generations and we must welcome them with tolerance but remain vigilant for evil lurks within…we must remain true to our ways. If we stray from the path that is set for us decay will begin and the land we will call home will be lost to us forever.” Heidi paused as she closed her eyes and filled her spirit with the future and if she should say all.
Lord Halfdan placed a gentle hand on Heidi’s shoulder. “Is that all you see?” His voice held a tenderness that the Haliarunos felt within her heart.
She smiled up at him and continued. “In time there will be a battle fought in the name of this land to cleanse it of evil doers. Except that the evil is within the mind and not a true physical presence. When the enemy appears it will not be seen until too late, by then the royal line as we know it will die out at the hands of evil. It will shall replaced by warriors and innocents. A time will pass and all will appear happy again. Yet, the evil within survives and grows stronger and some that have not looked on the face of evil before will accept it in their hearts and embrace it and be forever lost. From the dark shadows, a stranger will appear to reclaim what is theirs. That stranger will allow the light to be saved for the warriors and innocents. Four will follow her to death itself. When the time is right the priestess who walks within the realms of gods and men will be Xanadis’ saviour from her own decay.”
There were many puzzled faces around the fire and Lord Halfdan exclaimed quietly to the witch, “Can we prevent the future as you see it today?”
Heidi gazed into the man’s eyes. He has a gentle soul and one that will be passed down the ages fruitfully, even to the last of his line…a gift that will eventually be a curse and their undoing. “Predictions can change if it is the hand of fates that decree it to be so. Some are better to be left unaltered and allowed to transpire.”
“You called this place Xanadis?”
“Yes my Lord, it is the name of the land that you claim in your father’s name, though he will never rule over it.” Heidi whispered for the man alone to hear.
“How can you say this if I claim it so?” Halfdan did not understand her cryptic remark.
Heidi hesitated and saw a flare of anger in the man’s eyes. So be it then. “He cannot claim a kingdom if he no longer has the throne my Liege.”
Halfdan waved his arms around the fire and shouted for all but the witch to leave and within moments they were alone. “Are you saying my father has been overthrown?” He hissed out angrily as his face contorted in silent rage.
“No my Lord your brother has the throne of your father.” Heidi was not afraid of the man for he would not hurt her and did not have the murdering spirit as some of his kin.
Halfdan closed his eyes for a few seconds. “My father is dead?”
“I’m sorry my Lord that is what I see.” Her voice filled with pity for the man to hear such news with no expectation that it could be proved.
So far away I cannot even know if there is truth here. Though why would she lie to me, there is no profit in such an action. “I have heard enough! In my father’s memory, I shall claim this land and rule over it justly. We will call it Xanadis.”
Over the months that passed, they created the village and the community thrived just as the runes foretold. Then the people proclaimed the Lord Halfdan King of Xanadis and in his honour, the great tapestry was created…
When Olrun finished talking Jennifer exclaimed, “There was no mention that strangers were evil!”
The Queen, not pleased by the outburst, fixed Jennifer with a cold, dangerous gaze. “Mgni I did not give you permission to speak.”
Oh, crap I’ve done it again. “I’m sorry my Queen.” She hung her head apologetically.
Berdlukare took pity on the young woman for they had all been through much. “I think it wise that we all retire and rest. Tomorrow morning I will expect to see you all in the assembly hall before the morning is a quarter done.”
“Queen Berdlukare may I ask a question?” Carolyn asked respectfully.
“Yes Hrafn.” The Queen waited in interest for the woman’s question.
With a small smile she asked, “Do you want me to go back to the library until tomorrow?”
Jennifer scowled at the idea and moved a little closer to her friend.
“I think if I did that Mgni would task me to a fight. Is that not so Mgni?” Most in the room were amazed to see the appearance of a twinkle in the Queen’s eyes.
“You would beat me horrendously my Queen.” Jennifer remarked quietly. “I will abide by your decision.”
Intense laughter filled the otherwise solemn room. “Yes, I would though I suspect you would not fall easily when the prize is so important. Hrafn, go with Mgni I know she will ensure you do nothing ill towards us.” With the flick of her hand she said, “Go now.”
Larsen quickly opened the door of the royal chamber and ushered everyone but Berdlukare and Mercie out.
Mercie stared at her lover who had an expression of puzzlement and determination. She had seen the look before and it was usually just before a battle. In the old days it was fighting, but now it was the political in fighting. Was I wrong about strangers? Has my bitterness over Queen Ragnhild and my brother’s death made me evil in the mind? Wasn’t that the same with Hjort? What are we to do? “I think we need to rest my love. Shall we retire?” May Odin grant us wisdom.
Berdlukare felt a stirring at the thought for it brought wondrous memories of the times they shared their bed together. Each had its own memory and as their time together grew so did their appreciation of the love they shared. Mercie is right we need to rest. “So be it my love for tomorrow I will make decisions that might not be for the good of Xanadis.”
Mercie heard the hesitation in the words. “You will never make a decision that hurts our land or our people my love.”
“With you by my side I know that Mercie: for my life would be meaningless and empty. Now that I have you, there will be nothing in this world that can take you away from me.” The Queen felt the words keenly. Then, in a surprise move lifted the small woman into her arms before deftly dropping her into the feather mattress on the bed.
Mercie looked up and gazed into the passion-filled eyes and knew that tonight they would not be sleeping for sometime. Passionate lips claimed hers and her lover’s larger hands dexterously removed the clothing she wore until she lay there naked. Large, calloused hands moved over her silky flesh arousing her body to a fever pitch. Her breasts felt the first quiver of her lover’s touch as Berdlukare’s fingers kneaded the small mounds and pinched the nipples to humming delight. Mercie was lost in the haze of their mutual passion as the pleasure of their lovemaking removed all thoughts of the strains of the day.
+ + +
Once outside the royal chamber Larsen left the others to check on the security of the palace. Mist, who had been silent throughout the earlier events, nodded at the two strangers before she turned to speak with Olrun. After listening intently, the old hag smiled, slowly turned and fixed Jennifer and Carolyn with a serious expression.
Blue eyes sought out both theirs for several moments until she moved closer to Carolyn and touched her cheek. “Hrafn, the Queen chose your name well. When the time is right you will have to choose your path and it might not be what your heart desires.”
Jennifer stiffened slightly at the words and the contact Olrun made with her friend. She inched closer to Carolyn so that their shoulders touched and one hand unconsciously grasped the larger one while the other hovered over the hilt of her sword.
Carolyn gave the old woman a puzzled frown then replied, “Perhaps, I have never followed my heart only my mind.” What does this woman know of me? Nothing, nothing at all! It was true…until Jennifer. She gently squeezed the hand in hers more to reassure herself than her friend.
Sparkling eyes aged with knowledge gazed intently into Carolyn’s slate grey ones. “You followed your heart to return here Hrafn.” Olrun switched her gaze briefly to Jennifer whose hand twitched at the sword on her hip. “Fear not Mgni, it is not I you have to protect your friend from. When the time is right she will have to choose and only she can know what is best.”
Jennifer scowled. What the hell does that mean? “Maybe her fate is to follow her heart. Perhaps that’s the key to eliminate Xanadis of evil.”
There was a low chuckle from the old woman before she gave her full attention to Jennifer. “Mgni, when the inner struggle begins you will understand.”
Mist shuffled at the door and Olrun turned to the warrior with a smile. “We shall see each other later.” Then she left Carolyn and Jennifer standing in the silent corridor looking bewildered at the retreating figure.
“Did you understand any of that Carolyn?” Jennifer asked quietly.
When Carolyn didn’t reply immediately Jennifer turned her head and saw her friend was lost in thought. “Are you ok?”
With a shake of her head, Carolyn finally responded. “Yeah,” she said unconsciously before focusing on Jennifer. “Would you believe I’m exhausted? Any chance we can just go home to sleep. I feel all washed out after the events of today.”
Damn I should have known she’d be shattered. I know I’m on my last reserves. “Come on, let’s go. I know Poppy be waiting up for me wondering what’s going on.” As Carolyn gave her a slightly exasperated look Jennifer smiled and patted the broad shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll pack you off to bed and I’ll do the explaining.” She reached out, entwined her fingers with Carolyn’s again and nodded in the direction of the door. “Let’s get you home.”
As Jennifer predicted, Mark had indeed been waiting for her to return with concern etched onto his weathered face. A beaming smile crossed his face as Jennifer entered the small cottage before intensifying at the sight of Carolyn. Has she passed the Queen’s test? She must have why else would she be here. “Well, am I glad to see you both…tell me what’s been happening?”
Jennifer hugged her grandfather and kissed his cheek. “Poppy, Carolyn is exhausted. In fact, we both are. Let me get her settled first then I’ll explain.”
Mark looked past his granddaughter and saw the weariness in Carolyn’s features. She looks terrible! “Of course, of course go ahead. I’ll put on some arrowroot tea.”
A few minutes later, Jennifer watched as Carolyn sank onto the straw bed too exhausted to take off her clothes. From the timbre of her breathing, she knew Carolyn was asleep immediately and with a shake of her head and a slight grin, she removed her friend’s boots. Then she bent down next to the bed and tenderly smoothed back the hair that fell over the closed eyes. She watched the sleeping form for a few minutes until she whispered, “Sleep well Carolyn. I think you passed another test today. Sleep well my friend I lo…” Jennifer didn’t finish the sentence but kissed her cheek and began to move away. Carolyn’s hand grasped her forearm as she muttered some sleep filled incoherent words and sighed deeply.
Jennifer gazed down at her friend. She is my love, and the woman who means the world to me and I will do anything for her. Her mind then flashed to Olrun’s revelations. Fate and evil two of the most powerful words in the universe and we are going to meet them both. She felt goose bumps rise on her arms. I don’t care what Olrun said for I know that love can defeat it all. She looked down at the sleeping Carolyn. “For your sake I just hope that the others can see it too,” she whispered. The smell of the arrowroot tea permeated the room and with another tender glance at Carolyn, she left her love to sleep.
+ + +
The next morning Jennifer exited their small cottage and threw grains of feed to the chickens in the even tinier yard at the back of the building. We really should think about moving to a larger place. God what am I thinking. She shook her head and laughed. “It isn’t like I can go to the local real estate office and say fix me up.” I wonder how we would go about getting a larger cottage. As the chickens clucked around her, she glanced at the sky. It was barely morning and she could count on one hand the number of hours she had slept. To say the least, yesterday was eventful. I’m still not sure what it all means to us…including Poppy. All I know for sure is that I’m not letting Carolyn go! "If she leaves I leave.” Worse case scenario is that I lose what I fought to find for years, but she’s worth it. I don’t want to live without her and I have a feeling she feels the same way. “I hope she does,” she whispered.
She frowned at the rising sun for it meant they were to be at the assembly hall within the hour. Hey, maybe breakfast is on the menu as well as saving Xanadis. “One can only hope,” she said laughing before throwing the last of the grain on the ground. Once back inside she made her way to Carolyn’s room that which little more than a broom cupboard, but her friend didn’t seem to mind. Carolyn rarely used the place except to sleep. She spent most of her waking hours learning as much as possible for the Queen’s test. Surprisingly, she’d made many friends along the way too. Though why I’m surprised I don’t know, probably because she loves to share her knowledge. I think she has more friends here in a month than I have after two years. I listen to her sometimes and it makes we feel inadequate, except Carolyn doesn’t seem to notice that’s why I’m certain she cares about me. She wondered if Carolyn really had the same feelings or if the words echoing in her mind were a manifestation of her desires. Maybe she is excited about Xanadis and I am a means to an end? Her mind flashed to their visit to the temple. She was quick to end our intimacy…perhaps she only reflected what I wanted out of pity. With a frown, she lifted her fist, knocked gently on the old wooden door and waited for a response. Just as she was about to knock again, the door opened and she saw a smiling Carolyn.
“Good morning,” she said brightly. “Betcha never thought I’d be up on time?” Carolyn grinned good-naturedly which shocked Jennifer for she never knew her friend to be the early morning type.
But she has been since she arrived. With a pace backward to allow Carolyn out of her room Jennifer shook her head fractionally. “Well, you’re usually not exactly the brightest button in a morning. What’s so special about today?”
Carolyn tipped her head to the side and stared at Jennifer. She’s cute and those muscles she sports these days are hot, very hot. Or, maybe it’s the warrior stance she’s acquired in the two years here…whatever it is I’m all in favour. Reminds me of her cartoon heroine, talk about fiction mirroring real life. Darn I still have a present for her I must get my act together here. A smirk traveled over her face as she replied. “Adventures my dear Jenn, adventures. I could also do with a shower and I figured the early bird gets the worm. Oh, and when we get back this afternoon I have a present for you, remind me will you, you know what we absent minded academics are like.”
Jennifer felt a tinge of disappointment that she wasn’t the reason for the good mood, ah well I’m being selfish again. But she has a present for me…that’s a great sign. “Sounds like a plan to me. I’ve beaten you to the shower but I’m boiling more water for you.” Her eyes averted to the fire pit in the cottage and the large cauldron filled with water. Their showers were a make shift affair but classier than most in the town. Her grandfather had commissioned a tank from the blacksmith and built a wooden stanchion for it high enough for a person six feet tall to stand under comfortably. The mechanism worked with a bowl filled with holes as the showerhead and a rope lever that allowed water to pass through it. Crude, but effective was what her grandfather said when it was completed. The pain was actually in the filling of the water tank. The shower was enclosed it in small shed like building on the side of the cottage and it required climbing a ladder to place the water inside.
"You are so wonderful Jenn, what would I do without you.” Carolyn cheerfully replied before walking over to the fire to check on the temperature of the water. When she’d awoken to the sound of the chickens squawking around the yard outside her window she had looked out to check that a predator wasn’t stalking them. Instead, she saw Jennifer feeding them lost in thought. I wonder what’s she’s thinking I hope it’s something to do with me. She saw a frown edge its way onto her friend’s face, ok she looks unhappy now. Hmm maybe now I don’t want it to be about me. I know what will get rid of that frown I’ll offer to make the tea this morning, can’t be that hard can it? “I know, I’ll make the tea this morning…sound good to you?”
“I’m sure you’d do just fine. I’ll take the water up to the tank for you and…I’ll make us a drink before we return to the palace. Maybe they’ll give us breakfast.” Jennifer masked a grimace at the thought of her friend making tea, god her coffee was bad enough.
Carolyn heard hesitation in her tone but decided to ignore it. “You’re one in a million Jenn, sounds good to me.”
When Carolyn re-entered the bedroom to gather her clothes and washcloth Jennifer sighed heavily and began the laborious task of shifting the water to the tank. At least I don’t have to go to the palace with a terrible taste in my mouth; Carolyn and catering do not gel at all.
+ + +
Queen Berdlukare’s eyes traveled over each individual who had come before her. First she spied Mercie. My beloved Mercie, after all that you have been through I fear we have more trials before us. Speaking with her was First Chancellor Spake. Thorleif, I respect you because my predecessor did and now for the first time since her death you look alive again - that can only be good for the people of Xanadis. Mgni stood in another part of the room. You have been our friend giving us marvellous unselfish support. She then looked at Larsen. He will battle to the end as a warrior and give his life as I would. She knew she was frowning as she felt the tightness around her eyes as her gaze passed over the others. Olrun, now the last of your kind…for so long you were a mystery yet not. Mist, is one of the mysterious warriors of Muspell - a true protector of her faith. Finally, her eyes rested on the last of the strangers to enter their land – Carolyn Black or as she preferred, Hrafn. She has done what no one else to my knowledge has - returned from the outside world intent on staying. Her impressive answer to the question the Queen posed had been a shock. It would have been enough for her to understand the question, her answer should have been irrelevant yet it was not. No, her answer, although surprising, was so right.
Berdlukare felt the pull of all the eyes in the room and she waved to the food. “Please sit everyone and have breakfast. I know we had a late evening and this is an early session. Once we have full stomachs we shall discuss what will happen next.”
Everyone complied enthusiastically and sat at the seat nearest them. Mercie sat to the left of the Queen and the right of Mgni. Perhaps our friendship is all in the past now.I hope not for she is my family too. I have just never told her. “Did you sleep well my friend?”
Jennifer switched her attention immediately from her concentration of Carolyn who had taken a seat opposite her and was now engrossed in a conversation with Olrun. “I had enough sleep to function Lady Fulla.”
Mercie cocked her head and frowned slightly at the use of the formal title. “You do not consider me a friend Megin?”
Jennifer sighed heavily. “I do Mercie, but you must forgive me. Yesterday you were intolerant of strangers and perhaps you forget that I too am a stranger.”
Mercie knew she deserved the minor rebuke. Everything Olrun said indicated that strangers were not a threat. Still I feel the over-powering need to ensure that none of the people I love will die at the hands of the hatred caused by strangers entering their lands.My love for Berdlukare is all that keeps me going there is nothing else in the world that keeps me here. “You could never be a stranger to me Mgni for you and I have traveled far since we met.”
“Do you consider my friend in the same breath?” Jennifer asked quietly. Perhaps that was my undoing…I was too friendly with the people who had the most power.
Mercie gave her friend a serious glance and then turned her eyes to the one they called Hrafn. There is something about her that I doubt, but at the same time trust. How can that be? I feel out of control and for what? Even the old hag who once said I would be the one to cause the Queen the most pain in her life. That was not so, I made sure I never upset my Queen…I loved her. “You love her as I do the Queen, Mgni?”
Jennifer decided that at least she could be honest with Mercie for she was certain her friend would say nothing. She doesn’t like her that is evident in her expression every time she looks at Carolyn. “I do. I guess I always have although most of the time I didn’t realise it.”
“Does she love you too?”
A frown gathered prominence on Jennifer’s forehead before she spoke. “She loves me as a friend and I’m happy for that,” Jennifer replied as her eyes instantly moved to Carolyn who was in an animated conversation with Olrun. I’d trade everything for you to talk to me like that.
Mercie turned her gaze for a few moments to Hrafn and she sighed. “Unrequited passion is never easy. Have you talked of this with her?”
Jennifer shook her head as her fork moved the food around on her plate. “We have an understanding I think. Besides, there are too many other things to sort out first. Love can come later.”
Love can come later…how forlorn an expression. It is so untrue for love is important any time especially in the darkest of times. It is the only element that saves us from ourselves. Mercie felt sadness on behalf of her friend. “Then we shall speak no more of this.”
Queen Berdlukare stood up and began to speak. “We are gathered here to solve the puzzle of Xanadis’ future. Olrun can you read the runes for the future after the tapestry ends.”
The old woman drew her attention away from her special companion and stared hard at the Queen. I have been expecting this question and my answer will not be what she wants to hear and surely, that will anger her. “My Queen, I cannot do as you ask.”
The room became deadly silent as the old woman defied the Queen’s request. Berdlukare frowned as she felt rage begin to build. “It is your duty to read the runes when requested by your ruler.”
“It is my duty and if you had asked me to read the runes for your sake I will gladly comply. However, you have asked for the future of Xanadis to be revealed and I cannot do that.”
The Queen fixed a cold, dark gaze on the Haliarunos. “Is this supposed to be a riddle Olrun?” Her voice dropped significantly causing a tangible edge in the room.
Olrun stood up and faced the might of the Queen face to face. “What is not generally known and probably only the sisterhood knows of this after such a long time…” She trailed off to find the right words.
Unconsciously Carolyn said, “She can’t reveal the fate of the land to anyone but the lineage of the original requester.”
Shocked at the reply, Jennifer spluttered out the drink she had taken spraying it over several bread rolls. “Oops, sorry,” she said feeling her face heat up. God, where did she come up with that? I know she’s good but that good!
Berdlukare’s icy gaze switched to Carolyn before she asked, “Is that so Olrun?”
“Hrafn is indeed worthy of the name for she is correct. How did you know of this Hrafn?” Olrun asked feigning mild surprise. From our first meeting I knew the extraordinary tie this stranger has with Xanadis.
Carolyn gave a wry smile glancing across at Jennifer and winked. “Back at home while I was waiting for a particular book to come into my possession I had time, lots of time to acquaint myself with some of the old Norse customs. I guess that’s one I remembered better than most.” Well that’s true in a way. Except I can remember every damn thing I read and I found out scant information of the original group that were supposedly lost back then.
Thorleif remarked quickly, “What does this mean? Will we have to wait to find out what the outcome is by relying on fate?” He snorted at the ridiculous notion.
“The lineage is dead, it died with Queen Ragnhild,” Mercie quietly said.
Olrun gave Carolyn a long stare before she turned her attention to Queen Berdlukare.
Jennifer noticed the glance and wondered what the old woman was thinking. I don’t care what happens as long as Carolyn is ok. That’s the most important thing to me. “May I speak my Queen?”
Berdlukare inclined her head slightly to affirm Jennifer’s right to speak.
“Why don’t you ask another question that is not directly about the fate of Xanadis but perhaps for yourself and those you care for? Would that be attainable Olrun?”
Berdlukare stared at Olrun impatiently as the old hag didn’t reply immediately. “Olrun?”
These strangers are too clever for one so old. Perhaps people like me no longer have a part to play in this world. “Ask your questions my Queen and I shall read the runes for you. Let me prepare but a moment.” Her eyes caught Mist. “My belongings if you please.”
The warrior, who had been silent and almost invisible in the room, stood up and collected the leather satchel that held Olrun’s possessions. She handed them to her with a slight bow before taking her seat once again.
Moments later Olrun was ready for her party trick. Carolyn’s cold logic told her this kind of thing was old wives tales and definitely had no impact on what would happen. If people believe this stuff it tends to happen because that’s what they want to see happen, in my view. It should be interesting to see it in action though.
Mercie clutched her lover’s hand in loyal support as Berdlukare with one last glance around the room spoke authoritatively. “Will I remain Queen through my lifetime? Will the people look on me as a just ruler as those that have gone before me?” If I am to die, I want to know now and have Mercie know that it is what must be.
Olrun threw the runes on the table and studied them for what appeared like an eternity to some in the room, others were skeptical and slightly amused by the spectacle. Then the old woman cleared her throat in a theatrical way and gave her attention to the Queen.
“Yes you will remain Queen, your lifeline is strong and though plagued with uncertainty and tragedy you will overcome them for a love that is as yet unknown to you.”
Mercie at first felt relief then her face changed almost comically as she felt her heart sink at the mention of a love that was unknown. What can that mean?
Berdlukare waited with her lips tightly shut saying nothing until she heard the rest of her fate declared.
“The people will call you the sword of the saviour of Xanadis. Some will hate you and you will have to defend that with all your might but most will love you for what you will do for this land.” Olrun went silent her eyes closed in concentration.
“If I am the sword then who is the saviour?” Berdlukare asked solemnly.
Olrun’s eyes flicked open for a few seconds then pressed them tightly shut before she opened them and looked at the runes on the table. “The saviour is with us now my Queen. It is not yet time for her to show herself but she is among us this day.”
“In this room?”
Olrun sought to deflect the question but the belligerent tone meant she dare not do that. “Yes.”
Several voices murmured and Larsen and Thorleif as they were the only males in the room looked around them. Olrun had definitely implied the saviour was female.
Mercie, with her temper flaring at the ridiculous statement, stood up. “If we are to know what is happening around us let us all ask Olrun to read our runes.”
Olrun felt the surge of anger from the young woman and could understand it though she thought the Lady foolish to wish such a thing. “Is that what my Queen wants for me to partake of the runes for all here?”
Berdlukare’s lips twitched in amusement at Mercie’s annoyance. If that is what my love wants then so be it. “If you are able Olrun.”
“As you wish my Queen. I must warn you that sometimes the runes are not always kind.”
“I do not care about that old woman just tell us! I shall be first,” Mercie exclaimed, her emotions running into overload. I have what I yearned for my love and help in ruling our land, why is this so important to me? Perhaps I’m going mad!
Olrun picked up the runes and turned to Mercie. “What is it my Lady that you wish the fates to tell you?”
“Will I rule at the side of the Queen for my lifetime?”
Selfish, selfish desires. Olrun threw the runes and deliberated over them and then caught Mercie’s eyes in warning. “Yes for your lifetime.”
With a defiant glare Mercie belligerently continued. “Is that all you see in my future?
“No my Lady. Perhaps it is wiser to have but the fringes of your fate in these turbulent times.” Olrun attempted to move on.
Mercie snarled at the old hag. It is like the first time I met her when I was five and wanted her to tell my fortune. She never forgot the petulance of the old woman and the prediction that did not come true. “Tell me all I insist.”
Jennifer shuffled in her chair and she saw a side of her friend she had never encountered before. Looking at the Queen, she realized that she had not seen her consort act in the manner either. I wonder why she is being so petulant and arrogant.
Olrun spoke quietly. “You will bring pain and sadness to the Queen though you have meant well, you will meet evil at the borders and only the just will absolve you.”
Sitting down with a slump, Mercie felt the weight of the words swamp her as they had when she was a five. Now she understood them perfectly and it became clear that the Queen referred to wasn’t Ragnhild as she had always thought, but her beloved. I must think I can change all this I know I can, I must!
Berdlukare glanced down at her now silent partner and decided to end the session. “This is finished!” She fixed Olrun with a gaze. “What is your council Olrun?”
“The power of Run is almost upon us my Queen. As Haliarunos it is up to me to attempt to turn back the tide, may I request volunteers?”
Berdlukare considered the request and inclined her head positively. “I will allow those that wish to help you in your quest speak up without fear.”
Jennifer was the first to speak and quietly replied, “If you are to go on a journey I’ll gladly go with you.”
Carolyn eyes widened when she heard Jennifer’s unselfish offer. I cannot allow her to go into danger without me. “Me too…I’m in.”
A chuckle emanated from Olrun as she smiled at the strangers. “It is as it should be that you both travel with me. Long ago, I knew this was to be my last adventure in this lifetime and to pass on my legacy to one who is worthy. Mist will be our protector as she has always been.”
The silent warrior woman lifted her eyes to Olrun then towards the Queen who nodded. “As you request Olrun, it will as it’s always been.”
Berdlukare thought about this new turn of events, Mercie is acting out of character, Mgni is being as unselfish as usual and Hrafn is an unknown quantity. Mist what of Mist I must ask my friend Larsen we know so little of the warriors of Muspell. “I will allow Olrun all she needs. What say you First Councillor?”
Thorleif had to blink several times before he realised the Queen was talking to him then he spluttered out, “Why yes, yes my Queen I agree. Maybe I should go too?”
Olrun’s eyes misted over and Berdlukare saw that split second lapse of emotion. “No my wise friend they have need of you here.”
“If it be the Queen’s resolve I shall accompany them.” Larsen finally voiced.
Berdlukare turned to Olrun. I do not want Larsen to go for I need him here. If evil is waiting in the wings, I will require his help to combat it. However, if Olrun feels that he is needed then I will accept it for the sake of Xanadis.
“Keeper Larsen is needed here my Queen for the evil will besiege you from behind and you will need his help.”
“It is your fate to stay by my side.” Berdlukare smiled slightly as she saw the bristling pride the remark made on the leader of her Berserkers. “When will you leave?”
Olrun threw the runes one more time and gazed at them in a trancelike state. Her voice was a mere thread when she spoke. “Today my Queen before the day is half over we must leave the town walls. If our mission is a success some of us will return to help Xanadis recover after the cleansing.”
Only some of you Olrun, what will become of the others I wonder?” Then so be it, please eat and collect your belongings for the journey. Anything you need we will provide. May Odin speed you on a successful path.” Queen Berdlukare looked down at her consort mentally shaking her head, something isn’t right, Mercie has compassion for all and yet in the last two days a torment of evil words seems to have bitten her. Perhaps we should have remained in the country longer. “Let us depart Mercie for we have other matters of state to discuss this morning.” Her hand reached down for Mercie’s and gently helped her up as they left the room without another word.
Larsen looked around at the people left in the room and wondered what was going on. I can’t believe these people are the defence of Xanadis, an old woman, two strangers and one warrior. He moved towards Olrun and inclined his head slightly. “Is there anything you need Olrun, a few of my Berserkers perhaps?”
The old woman smiled at the keeper. He has served Xanadis well, in more ways than anyone will ever know. “No, all is as it should be.”
Larsen reluctantly accepted her refusal of his warriors and turned away until Olrun’s hand on his arm stopped him. “Is there something I can do for you?” he asked.
Aged eyes that had seen much and experienced lifetimes repeatedly, gazed intently into his for a moment. “When the time is foretold you will indeed be welcomed into the halls of Valhalla. May Odin be with you warrior.”
Larsen nodded his head slightly. “Valhalla is what all warriors strive for. Thank you.”
Thorleif took that moment to seek out Jennifer. “This is not your fight Mgni, let others take the burden.”
Jennifer smiled at the old man as she once again she thought of her grandfather. “I’ll be fine. We have Mist with us and I’m sure she’ll protect us from whatever is out there. Besides, it will be a great adventure.”
“Some adventures my young friend end in tragedy. Please be careful. I will expect you back soon to tell me of your exploits.” Thorleif smiled thinly. “It will keep me going.”
On impulse, Jennifer leaned towards him and kissed his cheek. “Then I shall be back to tell you everything. Will you do me a favour and tell my grandfather where Carolyn and I have gone? Perhaps not the location, but the general principle. I think we’re running out of time if we have to leave before the half day.”
“I will do so happily Mgni. May Odin be with you and your friend.” He smiled softly before leaving the room.
Carolyn had watched those not embarking on the journey, leave. Each looked at the situation differently. I can see that in their manner and the depth of their expression. The Queen is allowing what she believes to pass as it should and will intervene only if she feels it necessary. Her consort, Jennifer’s friend, is a wild card. Grief has made her suspicious and it can’t have helped when Olrun mentioned a new love entering the Queen’s life. I’d feel the same if…oh well that’s for another day. Carolyn turned her gaze to the silent warrior standing patiently waiting for them to depart. Mist I wonder what her story is. She gives nothing away and clearly, Larsen and the Queen are not familiar with her or their stances would have shown that. Hmm, interesting, very interesting. Her eyes moved to Jennifer who had a gentle expression in her eyes as she conversed with the old man. A warm smile crossed her lips as she saw them together. Jenn you’re such a push over but at the same time, I think you have an inner strength that defies the universe. You make everyone welcome until proven that the friendship is worthless. I hope I never do that. Then she tracked to Olrun, who was staring at her when their eyes met. What is it with people here? She looks at me as the old Queen did. I’m going to have to find out why.
Olrun moved close to Carolyn and said quietly, “You look around you Hrafn as I do. Perhaps you have the gift.”
Carolyn laughed at the remark. Her head shook side to side as she smiled at the old woman. “Oh no not me, I’m just a great scholar of human mannerisms it helps in my work…or did.”
Olrun digested the information and smiled showing her rotting teeth. “Here you could enter the sisterhood and train under me.”
“Yeah, and what would that entail exactly?” Carolyn felt Jennifer move close to her and she flashed her friend a bright smile as she waited for the old woman to answer.
Olrun gave Jennifer a brief look and then replied, “You would have to give up everything you hold dear and embrace the gift.”
With a shrug, Carolyn glanced at Jennifer whose expression was unreadable. “Sorry not my style, but it is an interesting offer. Time is marching on so perhaps we should begin.”
Jennifer pulled herself rapidly out of the morose feeling she felt at the mention of Carolyn giving things up. I hope that doesn’t mean me. “I agree let’s go for the sooner we get to where your storm is gathering Olrun the sooner we can fix this and get back.”
Olrun gave them both a long look then nodded and left them to converse with Mist “Well that went well don’t you think?” Carolyn remarked cheerfully as Jennifer stood at her side.
“To be honest, I hardly know what to think anymore. A friend I thought I knew is almost a stranger to me,” Jennifer replied absently.
“Hey, you don’t mean me do you I…” Carolyn asked upset that she might be the cause after Olrun’s previous comment
“No, no never. I was talking about Mercie. How can she be so different? It’s like someone has taken possession of her body and …oh, it’s difficult to explain since you don’t know what she was like before.”
Carolyn stared at her dejected friend. It is hard to lose something as tangible as friendship. I know that all too well especially when I thought I’d never see you again. If we do what needs to be done then maybe she’ll return to you. I did. She had the perfect explanation but replied instead, “Hey, I’m sure she’s just having a couple of bad days.” She shrugged. “It happens to us all.”
Jennifer lifted her head. “Yeah, I’m sure you’re right. I guess we’d better go. Do you think we need a change of clothes and stuff? Olrun didn’t say how long this would take, did she?”
“Hmm, now that is a question and a half.” Carolyn scrunched her brow. “She didn’t, did she? It almost as though it is irrelevant.” She shrugged. “We shall find out won’t we…come on let’s go.” They moved towards the waiting Mist and the old woman who inclined her head slightly towards the door.
Their journey had begun.