This story primarily features stories involving women. If it is illegal in the state, province, or country in which you live; or if you are under the age of 18, please find something else to read.
Language - Violence - Hurt/Comfort:
- There are elements of strong language, violence, physical and/or mental, as well as emotional hurt and discomfort in this story.The events portrayed in this story are fictional and any resemblance to actual events and/or people is purely coincidental.
Jennifer tried to focus on making her mouth move but couldn’t. The arrival of two giants barring their movement forward startled her. These guyslook ready for a masquerade party. Her eyes tracked to her travelling companions. They don’t look prepared for this either. Why didn’t that book tell us this? For his part, Richard had squared his shoulders several times and chivalrously pushed his body forward to be first if there was any trouble. Oh, how sweet she thought as she eyed Carolyn who was simply staring open mouthed at the two men. They are stopping us from going where…we can only guess and I can only hope.
“Who goes there?” bellowed one of the men in a fiercely spoken thick English accent. The spear pointed at their chests from the other man left little doubt as to the meaning of the words.
Richard puffed out his immeasurable chest. “Who the hell are you?” he asked as he advanced aggressively. In an instant, he was hurling through the air as if he were a lightweight before crashing onto the ground and knocking his breath away.
All they could see of the helmet covered faces were the dark brooding brown eyes. Once Richard was disposed of the eyes turned to Jennifer and Carolyn. Wonder what they look like underneath that metal and leather, Jennifer thought before the man slowly asked again, “Who goes there?”
Jennifer swung her gaze away from the men to Carolyn who just seemed to stare at them. She saw the flicker in the woman’s eyes and knew that she was taking in everything about the men and their surroundings. Okay, it looks like it’s up to me and they don’t look like the kind of people to waste any time with small talk. “We are visiting the area, we followed a path and it led us here. Can you tell us where we are please?” There I’ve asked the question!I wonder if I’ll get an answer.
An unknown dialect, which made no sense at all to her washed over her as Jennifer cast a furtive glance at Richard who was still sprawled on the ground confused and dazed. She moved cautiously to help him to his feet and held out a hand. “Here let me help you up.”
Richard’s eyes darted to the giant men to see if they would object to him taking Jennifer’s hand. No way am I doing that again! The men’s stance didn’t seem to take on a more aggressive pose and he accepted Jennifer’s help. “Thanks.”
When the two took several steps backwards they heard Carolyn speak so quietly that is could only be described as a whisper. “My god that’s Norse.” She shook her head in wonder. How can that be?
Richard and Jennifer stared at their friend, whose brow furrowed, simultaneously. What?
Finally composing himself, Richard approached his friend and tapped her shoulder gently. “What did you say Caro…can you understand them?”
Carolyn, refusing to face him, only shook her head. Her full concentration was on the two giants who had moved away from them towards the dim filtered light of the opening. When she spoke, her voice filled with awe. “It’s a dialect of the ancient Norse language.” They saw her face scrunch. Why the hell are they speaking it here? “The Vikings and those like them died out in the fifteenth century and their last recorded colony was in Greenland.” Her eyes sparkled in amazement. “This is incredible.”
Jennifer caught the words and turned her attention to the detail of what the men were wearing. They had steel looking helmets with a long leather nosepiece virtually blocking all view of their main features. Skins adorned their backs and they wore something similar to a kilt down to their knees. Around their waist was a large leather belt and hanging from it, on one side, a sword that looked like it was heavier than her total body weight, and a shield hanging on the other. “Are you sure Carolyn? This could be a joke you know…I’m beginning to think…” The distant sound of an instrument that wasn’t melodious but did have several tones before it ended just as abruptly, interrupted her words.
As if on cue, the darker of the men said, “follow us,” in a thick accented voice that seemed to bounce off the walls and fill the cavity around them. His stance and gesture towards the cave’s exit left no doubt he was serious.
Carolyn turned to Jennifer and gave her a shrug. “Guess we’ll find out soon enough which one of us is right.” Her mind turned to the book she and Jennifer had read. There hadn’t been any mention of Vikings or anything remotely like them. In fact, when I really think about it, the descriptive side of the book was shallow. Why didn’t I notice that before?
Richard, reluctant to follow, hung back until the one that walked behind them prodded him much as he would a sheep. He saw the back of his friend Carolyn heading forward quite willingly and he knew why. Oh, she’ll be lapping up this opportunity, its right up her alley. He then spied Jennifer who, seemingly confused, was turning her head in every direction. She looks as puzzled as I do. I hope she’s right and this all an elaborate practical joke. A push in the back from the giant behind him moved him forward. No way do I want to end up in the dirt again… at any rate not yet. I want out of here but it has to be under my terms.
As they passed from the cave into daylight they had to shield their eyes from the brightness of the land. Snow covered everything. This seems like a late winter’s day but how can it be…its August! When Carolyn’s eyes finally adjusted to the light and she scanned the area, her thoughts cruised over various scenarios for the weather condition. One thought continually surfaced. This has to be a microclimate.
+ + +
For the next half hour as the air warmed up they trekked across the rapidly melting snow covered land. They finally neared what looked like a theme park which gave one the feel of yesteryear with the replica buildings and roadways. Soon they found themselves passing through an entrance marked by bowed wooden oars.
The casual observer might think that builders purposely manufactured the area to look like something from years long gone by, but not to Carolyn. The more she saw the further she lost herself in the realisation that she was not in someone’s idea of joke – it is the real thing. Wow, this is a researcher’s dream. Buildings that had been too small to make out when they approached, now took on a completely different meaning as they came closer to the view. Carolyn found it difficult to keep her curiosity under control and she strayed several times to touch the materials of the workshops and houses that they passed.
A woman who was no less of a giant than the men were greeted them, joined them and cast light brown calculating eyes over the strangers. Her braided chestnut hair was visible from the back of the helmet she wore over her face. The clothing and armoury she wore were similar in style to the men and Carolyn wondered have we stumbled on a people at war? The woman warrior was less impressed with them and after several indistinguishable guttural words pushed Carolyn to keep her on course.
Jennifer watched her friend and the woman warrior. What else can she be? Besides, it fits her look perfectly…just like Cassandra the Mighty. The smile that crossed her face as she thought of her cartoon disappeared. Her expression changed dramatically and her stance turned defensive when she noticed the cold eyes of the warrior survey Carolyn. From Jennifer’s standpoint, it looked as if the warrior wanted to either kill her friend or do something equally horrible to her. Not on my watch!
She stepped closer to Carolyn and tugged insistently at her arm. “I concede, you might be right Carolyn,” Jennifer whispered. “If you don’t stop touching stuff that warrior looks like she will gladly scratch out your eyes or worse if you don’t.”
Carolyn had been so engrossed in the wonder of what was going on she really hadn’t paid much attention to the physical abuse inflicted by the warrior. Now, looking over her shoulder, her gaze rested on the steady cold expression in the warrior’s eyes. Oops, I don’t think she likes me. She pulled her glance away and smiled at Jennifer. “Thanks for the warning.” She felt a warm glow settled inside her. It feels nice to have someone other than Richard care about my well-being. “I’ll be more careful.”
The woman warrior, obviously annoyed by the two women’s closeness, growled indecipherable words. Then, with a swift move of one hand, she pushed Carolyn away from Jennifer.
“Hey, stop that!” That’s it! That’s the last straw. She’s not pushing Carolyn around like that anymore!I’m won’t allow it to happen again and I don’t care how big she is. Jennifer squared her small shoulders and ignoring the vast difference in their bulk, placed herself directly in front of the warrior. Although no one was evident on the streets Carolyn heard gasps of horror emanated from several buildings as Jennifer took her stance.
Richard’s attempt to come to the aide of his friends stopped when a restraining hand with a vice-like grip clamped onto on his shoulder. Helplessly he watched as the small woman confronted the warrior and for a brief moment he closed his eyes. Jennifer’s challenging words had his eyes flying wide open.
“Leave my friend alone! She’s done nothing to you!”
The defiant stance of the small woman brought a glint in the brown cold eyes of the warrior.
For a moment, Jennifer felt a modicum of relief as the look in the warrior’s eyes reminded her of a pebble skimming across a pond. Oh, well in for a penny in for a pound.
Time seemed to stand still as everyone collectively held their breath waiting to see if the warrior understood Jennifer’s words. The only thing the three could judge her mood by was her aggressive body language. Finally, several words greeted Jennifer in the language she didn’t have a clue of understanding. I doubt even Carolyn with her immense knowledge has this foreign tongue mastered.
The warrior woman bent slightly staring into Jennifer’s face the nosepiece of the helmet virtually touching Jennifer’s nose. The warrior’s breathe fanned her cheek and interestingly enough she didn’t have the rancid breath Jenn was expecting. As the aroma assailed her nostrils she recognized the smell of peppermint. Jennifer traded eye contact with the fierce look in the cold eyes that bored into her blue ones. I can’t flinch now or I’m doomed. The rate of her heartbeat, which was threatening to give her away, beat like a percussion drum from a loudspeaker. I have to stand my ground no matter what.
A sound that no one expected echoed in the surrounding silence. It was laughter. She’s laughing at me, what’s that about? Jennifer wondered partially in relief and annoyance.
The warrior turned to her fellows and bellowed out words Jennifer could not understand. “Mit sinn ok Magri. Mit sinn ok Magri.” Since the warrior was pointing at her she could only surmise that whatever she said was not complimentary. The other warriors joined her laughter as they pushed the party of strangers forward. Within minutes, Carolyn, Jennifer and Richard found themselves pushed into a building and left alone.
“What the hell were you thinking Jennifer? That woman could have killed you.” Richard fumed once their captures left.
Jennifer angry at the words responded immediately. “She didn’t! I didn’t see you doing anything to help Carolyn.”
Carolyn sighed heavily. “Bickering will get us no place and right now, we need to look at things logically.” Her inner thoughts took a decidedly different path than her words. Jenn looks cute when she’s angry. I’ve never had anyone defend me like that before…it feels wonderful. “Leave it guys everything worked out. No one was hurt. Now we need to work on what to do next. Do you remember any of this in your grandfather’s notes and stories Jennifer?”
Richard, definitely not happy, grunted and looked around the room. He hadn’t been enthusiastic about the journey since the start and recent events hadn’t helped his mood. “Why did we ever do this? God only knows what’s going to happen next.” With those words he stomped out of the room.
Jennifer, clearly still angry with the man, shook her head at his comment. Jerk.Carolyn is correct.We have to have plans and she’s probably the only one with any sort of answers. “I wish I’d brought the damned book instead of leaving it behind like the note said.”
“What do you mean leave it behind like the note said?” Carolyn suspected there was more to why Jennifer hadn’t brought the book along. Now I might just find out the answer.
Jennifer sheepishly sat down on a rickety chair made of course wood, held together by some sort of flax with a seat of woven straw. She wiggled a bit to find a comfortable spot – none existed. Definitely something you have to get used to that’s for sure. “Look I didn’t mean to keep anything from you but… well…”
“Yes.” Carolyn said exasperated by Jennifer’s reluctance to get on with her explanation. “What did the note say? Would you turn to ashes if you brought it with you?”
Jennifer motioned for Carolyn to sit beside her. Reluctantly Carolyn sat down and immediately frowned at the lack of comfort the chair provided. I think I’d rather be sitting on a hard rock.
“When I received the book there was a note written by the author’s daughter.” Jennifer saw a note of skepticism in the woman’s eyes. “It was simple really. It asked that the book be left behind for future readers so that the knowledge wouldn’t be lost forever.”
“And you did that because a note, which anyonecould have written, asked you to?” Carolyn shook her head in astonishment. “What else do you do because someone writes foolish stuff down?” She closed her eyes and flexed her jaw. “My god Jennifer what other things haven’t you told us?”
Jennifer knew she sounded pathetic and Carolyn’s blunt approach didn’t help. There was something about the poignant inscription that felt like it was speaking directly to me, she thought distractedly. “Nothing that I’m aware of…the author didn’t mention meeting warriors. Or, that they spoke the old language you mentioned.”
“Yes Norse. He did say there was an ancient dialect spoken here but didn’t elaborate…he said they also spoke English. As you know, my focus was on trying to find the place so I didn’t pay much attention to that point.” A thought struck her. Carolyn read the book too! Why didn’t she see any of this? “Besides you read it!” Jennifer accused angry with herself and Carolyn for not understanding.
“I read it from an academic point of view.” Carolyn blushed slightly. “Speed reading so I don’t take in all the details.” She shrugged. “Can you remember anything else that he said specifically about this place?”
“That’s just it, he didn’t write anything specific. It was more a feeling about the place. Almost as if it was a time long past…like something, you’d dream about…part of a perfect world. Frankly, I was disappointed. I think I mentioned that in your apartment.” Jennifer hung her head unable to look directly into Carolyn’s eyes as disillusionment clearly etched her face.
Carolyn noted the hurt expression on Jennifer’s features and wondered about their situation. Well,no matter how bizarre it all is, we’ve reached the destination Jennifer quested for and from my point of view it looks astonishingly promising. Without a second thought, Carolyn impulsively placed a gentle hand on Jennifer’s limp fingers lying on the dark stained wooden table between them. “Hey, did I thank you for earlier?” she remarked softly
Jennifer shook her head. She doesn’t need to thank me. My response to protect her was automatic. “I don’t know how I did it I’m still in shock myself.”
Carolyn with a warm smile nodded her head. “You did a very brave thing for me out there Jennifer and I’ll never forget it.” She looked around the room. “I guess now we wait and see.” With a teasing twinkle in her eyes she added, “Do you think anyone will mind if I touch the odd surface or two in here?”
Jennifer grinned. “I guess not. Do you really think this is all authentic?”
“Well, if it isn’t, someone is a genius at replication and I’d like to meet them.” She looked around the room. “Where did Richard go?”
“Not sure. I wasn’t really interested in his movements.” She shrugged. “I wanted you to understand why I didn’t have the book.”
Carolyn squeezed Jennifer’s hand in understanding then let go. “Let’s go find him and try to prevent him from falling over his pet lip. He was probably upset that he wasn’t the one defending my honour.” Her face lit up. “You know you really were awesome out there Jennifer …”
+ + +
From this point forward in the story, the character’s names are consistent with those of traditional legend. You may find this confusing and the pronunciation difficult to say therefore I offer a crib sheet to help if needed Or, you can do what I do and let the storyline take you on a journey and forget the small points of how you say a name.
Ragnhild is the Queen of Xanadis – The only name to start with an R is the queen’s so anytime you see it you will know it is the queen.
Lady Mercie Fulla - is the Queen’s favourite lady – think of Merci beaucoup the French thank you.
Thorleif Spake - is the Queen’s trusted advisor – I remember his position by thinking of speaker for Spake – he is the personal aide to the queen
Sigurd Hjort - is the leader of the council of elders – and is not as he appears – the word hurt both start with an H and ends in a t.
Urania Haklang - is the leader of the Assembly of Warriors – this is a tough one but a warrior hacks at her foe.
Berdlukare - is the leader of the warrior group the Berserkers – the big B as I like to call her beardeluckare would be close to how I think it should be said.
Mgni - is a traditional name Berdlukare has given Jennifer- it means the Powerful.
Hrafn - is the name Berdlukare has given Carolyn – Raven for intelligence and knowledge
Thorkel Amundason - is the son of one of the first families- he’s been ostracised from the warrior fold.
Xanadis - is the land they live in.-colonised at the end of the last of the Viking pilgrimages
Keeper Larsen - One of the warrior class that helps to guard the gate leading to Xanadis from the outside world.
Olrun - An aged member of the sisterhood of the Haliarunos
Haliarunos - Wise women who used runes. Think of laughter.
Mist - A protector of the sisterhood of the Haliarunos
Muspell - Where the protectors of the Haliarunos reside. I wonder if anyone can spell it?
Pronunciation is often a problem below are possible solutions .
Ragnhild = ER-a-ge-en- hå-i-ell-de =Ra-rjn-hild Ragnhild
Sigurd Hjort = Ess-i-ge-u-err-de Hå-je-o-err-te = Sig-u-erd hj-o-t
Urania Haklang U-err-a-enn-i-a Hå-a-kå-ell-a-en-ge
Berdlukare Be-e-err-de-ell-u-k å-a-err-e Be
Mgni - Em-ge-enn-i
Thorleif Spake Te-hå-o-err-ell-e-i-eff Ess-pe-a-kå-e
Thorkel Amundason Te-hå-o-err- kå-e-ell A-em-u-enn-de-a-ess-o-enn
Mercie Fulla Em-e-err-ce-i-e Eff-u-ell-ell-a
Mit sinn ok Megin. Mit sinn ok Megin =Belief in ones own Might and Main.
+ + +
The keeper’s messenger scurried down the hallway towards the queen’s chambers - there was no time to waste. She knocked softly on the door and waited impatiently for someone to answer.
“What business do you have here?” the Queen’s advisor asked.
“I have an urgent message for the Queen from Keeper Larsen.”
The door closed and the messenger again found herself rocking nervously in anticipation.
“The Queen will see you.” The man waved the messenger inside. “Follow me.”
Once in the presence of the Queen, the keepers’ messenger bowed her head in respect. “My Queen, strangers have arrived at the gate.
A screen of the purest white hair swung towards the voice as the palest of blue eyes intelligently summed up the situation. In a voice as melodic as a morning lark, the Queen clipped out precisely, “How many?”
The messenger glanced up furtively before casting her eyes downward once again in a show of respect for the sovereign of their land Xanadis. “Three, my Queen. What instructions shall I relay to Keeper Larsen?”
Queen Ragnhild, who stood to her full six feet four inches, many called a giant among her people. She sighed heavily and gave her head an almost imperceptible nod. Not now, not again…why are things always difficult. Strangers are a complication I can do without right now. “Have Keeper Larsen take them to the holding building. I will make sure that Spake advises the council.”
“Yes my Queen.” With another bow, the messenger retreated from the queen’s private study to relay the message.
+ + +
The Queen stood at the window and pushed open the reed coverings that gave her a measure of privacy during the day. Before the messenger’s arrival, she had been musing over a particularly difficult matter - the appointment of her successor. For a long time she had dismissed the matter as irrelevant, I forgot how time would eventually catch me. She recalled the insistent pressure from the council to make the announcement sooner rather than later and frowned. If she did not act soon they would select the candidate by proxy. Proxy, be damned!My family has not held sway over this land for generations without a measure of respect for the position. Who are they to advise me when the time is right? She scowled. This is my private matter. I will not allow them to coerce me into letting them make the decision for me!
From her vantage point, she waved briefly to several of the townsfolk on the cobbled street below who acknowledged her presence. The afternoon, in sharp contrast to her thoughts, was beautiful. Soon winter will be gone. She breathed a sigh of relief thankful that the season, which wreaked its own revenge, would soon be over. The rest of the year has been so generous and for that, I must be grateful. She heard a tiny knock at her door and without acknowledgement the door opened quietly - years of trust regarding the person entering allowed such a privilege.
“I assume you are here to request that you take my place at the initial audience with our new strangers, Mercie?” The indulgent tone of the older woman indicated she was not averse to the suggestion.
Lady Mercie Fulla smiled warmly as she bowed in respect before taking a position next to the queen. She had been a member of the royal household from the moment she was born. For her, the building and the protocol that went with it was all she had ever known. Mercie considered the queen more of a parental figure than a regal one and that was evident when they were alone or with others of equal standing in the household. “I would be honoured my Queen if you chose to allow me the audience.”
Chuckling at the younger woman, Ragnhild placed a worn, wrinkled hand on the younger woman’s stronger arm. “I think today it is wiser I interview our visitors personally. The council is already touchy about my favouritism towards you.”
Mercie gave a slight frown before she nodded slightly acknowledging the Queen’s words. I know I’m her favourite, but we both know I can’t be her successor…the council reminds everyone of that fact as often as possible. It really is quite annoying. “May I be your aide at this time?”
Age might be wearing away at her skin, yet pale blue eyes still held the twinkle of the adventurous spirit - a useful trait handed down from the Nordic lands of her fathers. “Ah Mercie, what will I do with you? Yes my dear, you may be my aide. You also realize, don’t you, that it will be you who advises Spake of this. He will not be happy.”
With a grimace, Mercie nodded her head. Of course,Spake is going to be irritated. A stranger entering our land is an unusual occurrence and I’ll be acting just as the Queen’s personal aide would. Then she smiled slightly, I know how to twist him around my little finger. He’s a pussycat to those he cares for and barring the queen, I’m at the top of the list. “I’ll advise him immediately my Queen. I’ll also see that your cloak is ready when you wish to leave.” Mercie bid the queen farewell. “I’ll take my leave now,” she said as she bowed and left the room.
The Queen watched as the younger woman left and, with a heavy heart, sighed. Mercie would be my choice. Unfortunately, tradition preyed profoundly on her selection possibilities. Only two candidates were eligible - Sigurd Hjort of the council of elders and Urania Haklang of the assembly of warriors. They were next in the line of oldest ancestry, which was slightly below hers and had equal merit for selection. On the other hand, Mercie and her family did not arrive in the realm until a hundred years later. This was where time past and time present gave her the biggest headaches. How do I choose with my mind when my heart is swaying me in an opposite direction?
Carefully selecting a tooled leather ancient volume she walked slowly towards the door. Now to see what the outsiders have to say for themselves. It will be interesting. We haven’t had any new arrivals in over twenty years….
+ + +
Mercie normally walked a pace or two behind her queen but instead walked two paces ahead. Today, in the midst of potentially dangerous strangers, they could take no chances with their ruler. If something happened to the queen before she proclaimed a successor civil war and bloodshed would be a distinct possibility. For centuries, peace had reigned with legitimate heirs produced in all the ancestral clans. Over the last hundred years, things had changed and fewer children had been born. People worried their way of life would perish if they had to compromise and enter the outside world.
As they neared the building holding the strangers, the two guards outside the entrance saluted their Queen.
“You have them here Keeper Larsen?” Mercie asked quietly.
“We have Lady Fulla. I will attend with you if that is my Queen’s wish?” The man deferred to his monarch with a slight bow.
The Queen decided to speak for herself as she moved out of the shadow of Mercie’s body. “Has there been any trouble Larsen?” the old woman asked as she inclined her head slightly.
“No, not at all my Queen.” The man blustered as he looked down at the dirt under his feet. “I think it wise you have a warrior at your side.” He knew that at one time their queen had been as masterful a warrior as she was a sovereign. The ravages of time have taken their toll and she is pathetically frail if trouble prevails.
“Mercie and I shall be fine. Thank you for your concern Keeper Larsen. Stay on your toes and do not allow anyone else to enter unless I request it be so.”
“Yes my Queen.” The warrior without another word opened the door and peered inside for any sign of trouble. Satisfied there was no danger, he bowed and allowed his queen and her aide to enter.
Mercie, excited about meeting the strangers, was the first in the room. She had been too young when the last stranger came through the entrance and had to rely on the stories of others. Although she had met the last stranger it was nothing compared to being the first to make direct contact. This is so exciting and what an adventure. Her eyes travelled the area and she saw no one, where can they be? In panic, she turned to the queen who, for her part, stared at the wall furthest from the door. The quiet observance allowed Mercie a portion of calm as she too looked at the back wall where she made out three figures. Swallowing hard, part in fear and part excitement, she waved them forward. I wonder what they’ll be like.
“Guess we are being summoned,” Richard said as moved forward with Jennifer close behind him.
Carolyn hung back to watch the two newcomers. If I see that, they are a threat I’ll be ready for them. What she saw was a young woman who looked nervous clearly drawing her strength from the tall, older woman who watched them serenely. Maybe she is in charge. The older woman’s stance gave the impression of regal bearing - a person looked upon with confidence and respect. We’ll find out soon enough. When Carolyn finally stepped forward, she was amazed when the older woman gasped and her composure seemed to slip slightly when they locked eyes. What the heck is that all about?
Richard sped up his pace and aggressively approached the women. “Why have you made us prisoners here?” he demanded. “Where are we and who are you?”
Mercie, recognizing the bristling anger from the young man placed herself between the queen and the man. One word to the warrior on the other side of the door and this stranger will find himself struck down and spit out. Her eyes racked over the man who was very attractive and although well muscled, had none of the broadness of the warriors of the principality. She held up a hand to sway his arrival and gave him a puzzled glance from her warm blue eyes. Mercie’s gaze always held warmth, which, as the queen told her, emanated from her soul. He will do my queen no harm no matter how strong he is. I shall see to that. I hope he doesn’t try to do something…men were always so impulsive when it comes to the question of their manhood.
Carolyn strode quickly and stood in front of him. “Leave it Richard, we don’t want any trouble,” Carolyn said clearly with a body language that was in stark contrast to that of her friend. “Perhaps if someone could explain to us what rule we’ve broken we might be able to explain and work things out.” As the older woman continued to stare, Carolyn wondered why. Do I have a zit on my nose? “If you don’t understand us, perhaps you might know another language, French, German, Spanish… I might even have a smattering of Danish?” She then proceeded to say, “Bonjour, Guten Tag, Día bueno…and ah…God Dagspoke,” to emphasize the point. None of the greetings seemed to change the older woman’s regard of her. This really is very disconcerting.
The queen’s total disregard for anyone other than the taller woman puzzled Mercie. I wonder why she has entranced my queen. She let her eyes take in the woman. I must admit that she is tolerably beautiful but look at that messy brown hair and her unkempt appearance. She shook her head imperceptibly. This is totally unlike the queen. Is there something familiar about her?
“My Queen shall I explain to the strangers?” she asked in their native tongue. She noted the questioning gazes from the strangers and realized they did not understand their language. I, on the other hand, know English.
The older woman appeared to pull herself out of her reverie, gesturing for all to sit. Mercie pulled a chair out immediately ensuring that her queen sat first - the others sat reluctantly. Wise, aged eyes that had learned much, but still maintained the capacity to yearn for more knowledge, concentrated their gaze on each of the strangers - her gaze hung on Carolyn longer than necessary. Finally, the queen turned to Mercie and nodded.
“We are sorry you have been introduced to our land in this manner, however once you appreciate our …”
“You speak English fluently,” Jennifer interrupted. The astonished look on the other’s faces made her blush slightly. I don’t know why I said that! Stupid, stupid, stupid. Even the warriors used a broken pigeon kind of English.
Mercie gave Jennifer a chilly glance. Apparently in the outside world they obviously don’t understand protocol or respect. The woman’s interruption is impolite. “Yes. As I was explaining before you interrupted me…” Mercie’s eyes flicked at Jennifer in gentle censure, “when you appreciate our way of life, you will understand our caution. To begin perhaps you would care to share your names and how, and more importantly, why you arrived here?”
Carolyn had seen the expression of friendliness disappear suddenly when Jennifer had interrupted. Hmm this is going to be difficult. Her gut told her that the two women in front of them were important, particularly the older one who the younger deferred to in a reverent way. Damn if only I’d studied the Vikings and that era in more detail. I’m certain they dress from that era and the dialect is definitely a derivative of the Nordic I’ve heard. Thank god, my parent’s postings when I was growing up were to various embassies in that part of the world. At least I have a smattering of those languages. I’ve heard them spoken by the natives so that’s a plus.
“My name is Carolyn Black, I’m a university lecturer. To my left is Richard Svorski he’s a businessman and good friend.” She gestured to the woman on her right. “This is Jennifer Finch who works in the entertainment field.” So far so good. “We had information from a book and notes, that there was something different and exciting if we found the correct path through the waterfall. I guess we all wanted to know if it was truth, or a fantasy someone had created for gullible people. I’m glad to see it wasn’t fiction.” Carolyn nodded in a gesture of respect. “May we have the courtesy of your names, please?”
Mercie smiled genuinely at Carolyn. Good the stranger did not lie. Spake advised me that many do when first asked those questions. For some reason this woman told the truth immediately. Mercie cocked her head slightly at the thought. Either she is naive or thought we wouldn’t believe her if she lied. Mercie turned to the queen for guidance. “Shall I make the introductions?” When the queen spoke to the strangers in a quiet clear voice directly, Mercie was astounded.
“Mercie is my personal aide at this time. I am Queen Ragnhild of these lands that we call Xanadis. Welcome strangers.”
Jennifer closed her eyes briefly understanding the younger woman’s censure when she’d interrupted. Darn it that was why the younger one was annoyed. We are speaking with royalty and I wasn’t clever enough to recognize that. Surely, there are certain protocols in speaking with a person of that rank. Thank god, Carolyn spoke for us now. Opening her eyes, she whispered directly to the queen. “I’m sorry for my outburst earlier. I sincerely apologise your majesty.”
A bright smile, showing even though aged yellowing teeth, was the Queen’s reply. Mercie, on the other hand, inclined her head with a warm smile acknowledging the gesture with pleasure. A fleetingly thought crossed Mercie’s mind, Finch perhaps that’s a common name, yes I wonder. I shall ask my queen later perhaps she might know. How interesting to find that both the queen and I find something familiar about the female strangers.
Richard listened to the others and wasn’t impressed. This is going way too slow for me. I want out of here…NOW! “Look, your Majesty or whatever you are, all I’m interested in is getting out of here. You can’t keep us prisoners here…we haven’t done anything,” he demanded. All four women directed their attention to him with differing degrees of annoyance.
“Richard for god’s sake…” Carolyn tried to calm her friend; he is such an ass sometimes.
A delicate hand lifted to stop her words, “The young man is quite right we have no right to keep you prisoners. We therefore allow you freedom of this part of our land. You will of course, require a guide and I will have one assigned. If you wish to leave immediately that is your choice and we shall respect that. Though there will be a condition on your departure.”
Richard scrapped his chair back hard and stood up angry at the delay. Why can’t the girls see that this is all a ploy? A guide she said - more like one of those warmongers out there. Now there’s a condition. What the hell is going on here? “What condition?” he demanded.
Mercie, alarmed by the aggressive stance of the man, stood. Maybe it is prudent at this time to call on the keeper. Larsen will be angry if there is any chance of the queen being hurt and I don’t react quickly enough. She walked calmly to the door, opened it and motioned for Larsen to enter. The keeper entered immediately clearly ready to take on any perceived danger towards his queen.
Mercie received a slightly disapproving look from her sovereign. “My Queen the man may not be stable,” she explained in their native language.
“Young man, please sit down and I will explain my words more clearly.” She noted that the man stubbornly took a firmer stance. “If you do not I will have Keeper Larsen make you sit and listen. I don’t think anyone of us wants that do we?” Queen Ragnhild spoke softly with a hint of steel in her voice.
Apparently, I can do this her way or end up worse for the discussion. Richard remembered his earlier acquaintance with the floor of the cave and reluctantly sat down. Carolyn immediately seized his arm to prevent any other foolish actions. “I guess I have no choice in the matter do I,” he muttered under his breath,
Carolyn squeezed his arm. “Stop you’re not doing us any favours,” she scolded.
Queen Ragnhild smiled slowly. Why is it that these young people all think they know what’s best. “Choices, Mr. Svorski, are what make life more fascinating. My one condition should, if, or, when you leave my lands, is that you will not divulge the location of this place to anyone.”
The silence for several minutes was surreal. No one wanted to say anything and at the same time questions abounded especially in Carolyn’s mind. I want to see everything and experience all that there is to offer. If what I’ve seen so far is just a tiny reflection of what else there is to see, it might take the rest of my life to make any kind of dent in what makes up the fabric of this land we’ve stumbled across.
Jennifer finally spoke. “For my part, I agree. I must warn you that people know of this place and more will find you eventually.” Her thoughts turned to her grandfather and wondered is this the utopia he imagined…perhaps not. As she tried to recall his stories, she had to admit that perhaps she saw them through rose-coloured spectacles. Very much like the vague writings in Professor Clement’s book Waterfalls, Rainbows and Secrets.
Carolyn nodded her head. “I also agree.”
All eyes rested on Richard, who had yet to say anything. “Okay, okay I’ll agree. I for one wouldn’t want anyone else to be as manhandled as we’ve been. You can keep this place a secret for all time…I don’t give a damn.”
“Excellent, we all agree.” The Queen stood up and walked towards Larsen. She spoke quickly in her own language. “Berdlukare will be their guide.”
She spun around to face the three strangers and once again gazed at them intently. “I will take my leave at this time. If you decide to stay for a while, please call on the assistance of your guide. Her name is Berdlukare she understands a little of your language and it will be educational for her as well as you. If you need my counsel, contact the royal house and ask for Mercie.” Her hand gestured towards the younger woman. “She will ensure I receive your message. May Odin be with you Svorski, Finch and… Black.”
+ + +
Once Queen Ragnhild, Mercie and Keeper Larsen left the room, the three friends pondered their predicament.
Richard stood up agitated and ready to leave at once. “Okay you two, you’ve had your fun now we leave.”
Carolyn immediately responded. “Don’t be so stupid Richard we came here for a purpose and that’s only just begun. Can’t you see that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity?”
“Carolyn I’m not like you…and neither is Jenn. We want to leave now, right Jenn?”
All eyes turned to Jennifer. A part of her wanted to leave immediately for she felt slightly threatened by what was termed the ‘keepers’. However, the biggest part of her wanted to stay. For the first time in my life, well except when I met Carolyn, things look right to me - no, it all feels right. Even that sense of bravado I experienced trying to protect Carolyn, felt good inside. I’m more alive now than I ever imagined. I came here to find answers and until I find out if my grandfather arrived here or perished without achieving his dream I must stay.
“I want to stay. Richard, please give us a couple of days then we’ll leave,” she pleaded. “Hey, remember we all have to be at work next week. What harm will a couple of more days do? Will you stay and be good?” she asked with a wide smile.
Richard finally allowed his good natured side to take over and he shot them both a wry look. “How can I say no when two beautiful women are begging me to stay?” Being good is another matter if those goons decided to harass us again. He shook his head. “Okay you both win. Two days and we are out of here, deal?”
Carolyn and Jennifer grinned as they in turn hugged him. “It’s a deal Richard.”
The door opened and in walked a large figure that obstructed the light from the door. When the newcomer came into view, their happy expressions quickly disappeared. Standing and staring at them coldly was the warrior woman Jennifer stood up to earlier.
Jennifer’s eyes opened wide. Oh no, is she going to be our guide?
An amused expression crossed Carolyn’s face as she said in her best quaint English accent, “Berdlukare, I presume?”
A growl emanating from the giant woman was their only response.
Perhaps two days is a bit too ambitious.
The three friends each took a giant step backwards.
To be continued...