Waterfalls, Rainbows and Secrets
JM Dragon
Part 6
© 2006 by J M Dragon
e-mail:  jmdragon


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. 

Berdlukare stood silently as she watched the council of elders and the assembly of warriors glaring at each other from opposite ends of the great hall. The door then opened and Queen Ragnhild flanked by Tholeif Spake, her wisest advisor and her favourite lady in waiting Lady Mercie, walked in . She grows prettier every day. She gave the Lady an imperceptible nod and the slight movement of Berdlukare's lips gave the impression of a smile, which was something the warrior never did.

A loud chanting accompanied the progression of the Queen to her rather plain throne of intricate carvings of the past and not adorned with the jewels one might expect. Once seated, the hall calmed down and silence prevailed until the queen motioned for her senior advisor to speak.

Spake, a small man with sharp intelligent eyes, an angular face that wasn't handsome, moved to the centre of the room and held out a manuscript. "Queen Ragnhild wishes that you agree her decree that the new strangers enter the compound, what say ye?" He heard the murmurs from several of the members and kept his eyes transfixed on the document.

Sigurd Hjort, the leader of the elders, stood up and turned to the Queen with an expressionless face. "My Queen I think it too dangerous at this time. Our people are already uneasy with their arrival and there is much talk in the streets that this is the final omen from Odin."

The expression on the Queen's face remained neutral as she turned to the assembly of warriors for their verdict. "You have your right of speech my warriors. Take it now."

Urania Haklang, the leader of the warriors stood up. She was a brave and competent warrior with a fearsome profile along with quick-witted intelligence, which overcame many who attempted to outwit her in the political arena. "We wish for Berdlukare to speak. She has the knowledge of the strangers the rest of us do not. Though it pains me to say this, her understanding is more than yours my Queen."

Mercie gave out a small snort of indignation on behalf of the Queen. "Who is Haklang to doubt my Queen's words?" Queen Ragnhild heard Mercie's quietly muttered words and smiled silently as she shook her head. My favourite is very protective, and though it is a testament to her loyalty, it might not be good for her in the end. Things will change eventually and, if Mercie doesn't change with it then she will not endure. We have not survived in this place allowing dissention from anyone, even one of my rank. Autocracy has always been paramount with my ancestors. Even though I allow this gathering to have its say, I can overrule at any time.

Spake crossed the room and summoned Berdlukare who moved into the centre of the aisle and faced the leader of the warriors. She inclined her head slightly in respect before facing the Queen and bowing until given permission to speak.

"Berdlukare, our most decorated warrior and the fierce leader of my Berserker Legion, please speak. We will consider your counsel carefully."

Berdlukare lifted her head and gave the Queen a look of deference as her eyes turned briefly to Mercie before facing the members of the council in the room.

"I speak as one who has walked the path of the strangers since their arrival. Their curiosity is, as we would expect. The male wants to leave now and that would be of no loss for he is spineless and has nothing to offer us. The two females appear to want to stay and they have much to offer if they remain. I call the smaller female Mgni for she has the spirit of a warrior and we could train her in our ranks. The other female I call Hrafn. As the raven, she is the one the others look to for knowledge."

As the gigantic warrior voiced her opinion, there were gasps and outrage voiced around the hall, especially when she spoke the names she had given the two women. It was rare indeed to bestow traditional names of such caliber on strangers without any deed to match the honour.

Haklang stared at Berdlukare. She is not one to have her judgment swayed by emotion. If she voices this, she means it…they must have proved this to her.

Keeper Larsen stood up and expressed a motion to speak and when the Queen nodded he remarked, "Berdlukare cannot make such appraisals. She is mistaken for it is not her place to associate our greatest heroes with these strangers," he said forcibly. "I say no to the proposal and we send them back from where they came."

There were jeers and roars of approval and disapproval from both sides at Larsen's comment. Spake held up his arm to silence the hall as another stood to speak

For once, I agree with one of my warrior brethren." Hjort felt good at this moment. How strange it is that the warrior assembly had not consulted each other prior to the meeting. This is a good omen for my eventual ascension to the thrones. If Urania Haklang cannot maintain the support of a simple contingent as her assembly she is not fit to rule and there is only one choice, me. He thought gleefully. It might not be a bad thing. It would solve the problems of the interlopers. I will systematically remove all the strangers that have entered our world and brought so much discontent when I'm in power.

Haklang stared hard at Larsen. He is one of my best warriors and intensely loyal therefore I expected him to support Berdlukare. There had not been time to consult with all her assembly of warriors. This is not what I expected or wanted. Hjort cannot hold the upper hand in this! I have to dissolve his smarmy smile now! "My Queen you asked for our counsel and you now have it. My assembly of warriors will not oppose your request."

Queen Ragnhild gave another expressionless glance in the direction of both leaders. Clearly, there are problems. I saw several of the council of elders look displeased at Hjort's declaration. This is not good, not good at all. Motioning for Thorleif, she spoke to him privately. "Shall we table the discussion for now and gather more information?"

"Yes, my Queen I believe that would be wisest."

The Queen stood and waved her hand to silence the mutterings of those assembled. "I, Queen Ragnhild Halfdan, hereby decree that we reconsider this matter tomorrow at this time. Hjort dispatch the most recent of our newcomers to accompany Larsen and spend the day with our strangers. I expect that will solve much of the disagreements between us. That is my final word today on the matter." As she and her entourage left, the room erupted in the same chanting that had greeted her entrance.

Mercie knew the Queen's moods better than most and felt her distress keenly. The arrival of the strangers threw more kindling on the embers of a tension that had smouldered for months. The old woman's face was now showing the strain. "My Queen do you need me?"

Ragnhild smiled at her favourite. "No, my child you may go. With today's events I have much to reflect on." Her eyes focused on Thorleif Spake. "I will need your counsel my old friend. Enter my chamber and join me for lunch," the Queen said before entering her private chamber and closing the door. My intuition maybe right when I saw the stranger called Black. Berdlukare appears to confirm my suspicions I think she sees it too, though my warrior does not possess the knowledge I do. I wish I were twenty years younger and I would extinguish the threat myself.

Mercie, with tears in her eyes, turned to Thorleif. "She cannot bear this alone Thorleif. What can we do to ease her burden?"

Thorleif Spake had a soft spot for Mercie for like him, she was loyal to the point of putting her life in jeopardy for their queen. However, things must change and soon when the Queen chose a successor that would be so. Right now, they needed to prevent the Queen from dwelling too long on the strangers. It is not good for her, not good at all. It probably has already brought too many memories to the surface. That Clements' man has much to atone for at the gates of Hel.

"Mercie, I will speak with our Queen. You must not worry so for her. Despite the fragility of her body she is still strong in spirit." He patted the young woman's hand. "Just be there when she requires your counsel."

Mercie turned towards the outer door. I have an idea that might help, she thought before switching around to give the old man a warm hug. "I will always be there when my Queen needs me," she said as she let go and rushed away.

+ + +

The leader of the elders, Sigurd Hjort, deep in thought paced the creaking wooden floorboards of his private room. The old Queen is not thinking straight. If she were then we would have sent the three interlopers away immediately. Better still, the warriors could have dispensed with them, and that would have settled the matter. He heard a knock on the oak beamed wooden door and smiled slightly before opening it.

"Why have you called me here?"

Sigurd had expected that reaction and allowed a cynical expression to cross his face. "You and I have the same path. Perhaps we should consider an alliance that might be beneficial to both of us."

The visitor looked at the man sternly. "We have never sought the same path Hjort so why would it be any different now?"

For a moment, there was a slight shift of discomfort in the leader of the elders before he resurrected his confidence and merely nodded his head. "You and I both want what is best for the people. Our Queen is old and is allowing sentiment to cloud her judgment. You and I both know that with her doddering ways these days the people are unsure of her. They have not forgotten her liaison with that outsider…their memories are as long as are their lives. Perhaps she has forgotten the episode they, I fear, have not." His cold eyes penetrated the man. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say to you?"

For a few moments, there was silence before the visitor spoke again. "That was a long time ago. Our Queen serves her people well and continues to do so. It is not our way to question her decisions. I ask again, what do you want Hjort?"

Hjort sighed heavily, walked over to the window, and looked out onto the cobbled street below. He saw the townspeople walking along and thought they rely on the elders to keep our traditions. "I want only that after you spend time with the strangers you tell the Queen again what you stated earlier."

Keeper Larsen eyed the man with distaste. He hadn't wanted to embarrass his leader with his pronouncement and it hadn't been easy to doubt one of his own, particularly Berdlukare. She has only known the strangers for less than a day. Why has she taken it upon herself to claim them in such a special way? In the end, he had told the council what he thought right and felt secure with that decision. On the other hand, an alliance with the leader of the elders was something he would never embrace. "Are you asking me to ignore any element of what Berdlukare said? It is possible that what she voiced was correct."

Hjort moved to within a whisper of the warrior's powerful body and let his finger slither over the body armour of the warrior. For Hjort it was an intoxicating feeling to be that close to someone who could be gentle with the children and within a hair's breathe change into a killing machine. The warriors of Xanadis have the might of the ancients and the hand of Odin to guide them. "As a loyal Xanadian I want you to tell the truth as you did today…the people do not need to see these strangers in the heart of our town. Think of our Queen and how her subjects will view her," he said with malevolence.

Larsen heard the elder's tone and felt his back stiffen. "That would only help you and your plans to be King of Xanadis Hjort," the keeper gritted out. "I need to go. My Queen's task awaits me."

Hjort eyed the man carefully. I knew he would be stubborn and loyal. A smile crept across his face. Ah, but I have another factor working for me. After all, I am the one who will choose a candidate to spend the day with the strangers. The queen had insisted that the last stranger to enter their province should be that person so the elder really had no say in the matter. If I take a little license and see the person in private first who would know? He sneered. A little manipulation here and there never hurt anyone.

"Then go keeper Larsen for tomorrow we will surely agree on something."

Larsen didn't like the sound of Hjort's words or the sneer that accompanied them. "I pity the last of the strangers if he must convince you."

With a carefully placed cough, Hjort announced arrogantly, "Finch will do exactly as I say."

Larsen glared at the man before he left the room and exited the building moments later. He breathed in the fresh air in deeply as anger still bristled beneath the surface. Hjort is a person you stayed clear of unless you want to burn in his deviant fire. I will not be a moth to his flame.

If only Berdlukare hadn't used the traditional names, I would have agreed with her appreciation of the situation. How dare she consider those outsiders worthy of the names of our most treasured heroes? He knew that there was only one thing to do - he must be critical of everything the strangers did and report accordingly. Our Queen must not be deceived again as she has been in the past. I will die first!

+ + +

Queen Ragnhild slumped over her cherry wood writing desk. The day was proving to be tiresome in many ways. Why, is it that my people are beginning to distrust my judgments? Is it because I'm old? She then considered the fact that the strangers were a commodity she had no right to inflict on her people again. Oh why did love have to inflict so much pain on so many. How had I been so wrong?

Time they said has a way of making people forget, but not so here. How could she expect her people to do something that she could not? It is so many years later and I still feel the pain deeply. For so long it had been easy to believe that her brain had cleansed her soul - the arrival of the strangers reminded her that she had failed dismally.

Then there is the matter of the young woman called Black, she looks so like my mother, perhaps the tapestry of Xanadis is true and I allowed sentiment to cloud my mind so long ago. I should have followed its teachings rather than my heart. If only Alun had not betrayed me so, if only…

+ + +

Like an old oak in a ferocious gale, Berdlukare stood still as she waited for her leader, Haklang to speak. "I did not expect Larsen to react as he did. What say you on this my friend?" she said with a pensive expression.

Berdlukare considered the question carefully. "Larsen speaks only the truth. He is loyal to all in Xanadis. He would give his life without hesitation for our people and our Queen."

With a crash of a strong fist against wood, Haklang stood up and walked to the window. She took a moment to watch as her warriors practice on the cobblestone of the inner courtyard and squelched her temper. "I do not expect dissension in my warriors and I will not allow it to continue."

"What is your wish?" Berdlukare furrowed her brow for she had never seen the leader of the assembly of warriors so agitated and didn't understand why. The strangers are of no threat. If they were, I would have known immediately and dealt with them accordingly.

In a steady unemotional voice Haklang said, "Larsen might prove a liability. If that becomes so you must do what is necessary to see that it does not continue."

Berdlukare did not flinch for she would do her leader's bidding. She nodded slightly in agreement. "As you wish. What of the strangers?"

Haklang's eyes conveyed the message clearly before softly answering, "You must do what needs to be done there too my friend."

Berdlukare replied, "There will not be a problem, least of all with the strangers."

The conviction of Berdlukare's voice made Haklang sigh. "I hope you are right my friend."

"I must attend to my duties. I will take my leave now," the tall warrior said.

"May Odin be with you." Haklang watched Berdlukare leave the room before her gaze turned to a tapestry on the wall. Through the centuries, the tapestry foretold all that was before and all that would be. As she traced a finger down the needlework, she wondered if the soothsayers back then really had seen this happening. If fortune and Odin are on my side, Berdlukare will dissolve the threat to our lives here in this land. She sighed heavily and prayed to the gods that she had made the right decision and had the strength to counter any of Hjort's devious plans, because he is sure to have one

+ + +

Mercie had been unable to influence Haklang into persuading Keeper Larsen to be lenient in his opinion. Though they had an amiable conversation, it was clear that the leader of the assembly of warriors refused to influence the outcome. As she left the hall of warriors, for a moment Mercie contemplated trying to appeal to Hjort's better nature. Then she berated herself for being foolish as there wasn't a better nature to the man, he is an out and out bully and I can add cruel into the bargain. It was hard to identify his character with that of his father, for the old Hjort have been kind, intelligent, and fearlessly loyal to the Queen as he was to her father before her. It is a perplexing situation how a generation could go so array. As she headed away from the chambers towards the royal house, her eyes rested on a man exiting the elders' compound who looked vaguely familiar.

Impulsively she spoke out to the stranger, "Hello, have you business in this area?" Few of the general populace ventured inside the inner courtyard and even fewer close to the leader of the elder's door. She was fascinated and mildly… no greatly curious.

The man tipped his head a fraction and then gave her a beaming smile that captured Mercie's attention. She immediately recalled the stranger. "Finch… yes you are Finch one of the last of our residing strangers."

"I am that person my Lady. How may I be of service to you?" Mark Finch had met this young woman briefly on one or two occasions.

Mercie smiled warmly. He had integrated himself into their culture proving to be a model citizen and a great bonus to the community. He had a special affinity for teaching the young people about changes in language as well as other useful information. The Queen, who had only met the man when she granted his acceptance into the community, would occasionally comment on his manner and helpfulness. It would be remarkable, if he shared the same relations as the new arrival Jennifer. "Finch, do you have business here in the compound?"

"I have concluded the business my Lady. I am to meet with the strangers tomorrow." Although the man continued to smile Mercie thought she saw a slight furrow, perhaps a frown, appear.

"Ah, yes, the Queen has asked a very important task of you Finch." Her voice hardened. "I hope you understand the magnitude of the request."

Mark heard the inflection of censure in her voice. Only those strangers that could adapt by bringing something to the people that could they could use within the parameters of their culture were important to the community. Their laws strictly forbid any changes to the fundamentals of the language or their way of life. English is a secondary language and used for outsiders only therefore, Mark had to learn to converse rudimentarily in Norse. One of the reasons why I'm so excited about tomorrow is that I will have the opportunity to talk in my native tongue again. "Do not fear Lady Fulla, I understand my role. I will be just and honest regarding my observations of the strangers."

"Thank you Finch. Oh, Finch is your last name common name among your people?"

Mark Finch gave her a puzzled look. "Not as common as Smith or Jones but it is not uncommon. Why do you ask?"

"No reason. Now, I must leave you. I wish you a fruitful visit tomorrow with our new guests." Mercie sighed heavily as she left the man. His expression is enough for me to know that Hjort made his perspective very clear and that he expected the man to agree with his version.I don't have any proof, but in certain circles, they all know Hjort has his own agenda and uses any means to achieve that. Should I speak with Councillor Spake? He might know what to do if that is the situation. She knew that Spake would tell the Queen what she said for he never kept anything important from her. No, I cannot do that, but who can I trust to help me? She wondered. My first priority is saving the Queen any embarrassment.If the decision of Keeper Larsen and Finch is to vote against royal opinion because of Hjort's influence, it will surely cause my Queen humiliation. She opened a gate standing between the chamber of the council and the royal house and entered a beautiful, peaceful courtyard. She needed such a place to contemplate her precarious and possibly dangerous thoughts.

+ + +

The next day Richard woke first and opted to go outside and survey the area around the hut they had used for sleeping quarters. He marveled at the cleverness the builders had with the theme park he was sure they were now in. Reality is never this authentic. He was the only one thinking in those terms. After the tour by the sullen woman called their escort – he thought of her as their guard - the potential of the find enthralled his comrades. How can they think this is real? All we saw were a couple of huts that were little more than hovels. Sure, we saw the remains of that oared vessel and it probably was magnificent in its time, but of Norse decent…come on. Carolyn is seeing what she wants and not looking for reality.

Except for a couple of old timers, dressed in a version of sackcloth chic, people had been rare. The apparent residences would often tip their heads slightly when they encountered them, but left quickly. I suppose they are park employees. He thought at the time as he watched them journey over a rise and through a walled gate less than half a mile away. I wonder what's inside there. It's probably the main part of the theme park. There certainly isn't much out here to attract visitors…unless you happened to be Carolyn. She and Jennifer appear to be having a ball. They are acting like chattering student's silly over some new fad.

Carolyn had been watching her friend for a few minutes prior to asking, "See anything you want to explore Richard?" He had been very quiet since they had opted to stay a couple more days and she was disappointed. He should have known her well enough after all this time that until she knew how the place ticked, trickery or not, there was no way she would leave voluntarily.

Broad shoulders shrugged before Richard turned to face her. "Not really." His gaze turned questioning. "Have you wondered why they haven't allowed us into the main compound?"

Carolyn considered the question carefully. Yep, I've mulled that very point over on more than one occasion. When she sank into the comfort of a bed the night before, she was grateful for whatever they offered. The bed, which was very firm, was a notch up from the sleeping bag on the rocky hard ground. "Good point. Berdlukare arrives anytime now and when she gets here, we'll ask. I'm sure there isn't anything sinister…she probably thought that we'd taken in enough yesterday."

It was a plausible explanation and one he could have run with if she hadn't mentioned their guard. Berdlukare has a distinctly wicked presence about her. He couldn't put a finger on why he thought that, but it gnawed at him as soon as he saw the woman. He felt Jennifer, in particular, had to watch her step. The woman's eyes, akin to a feral animal watching its prey, rarely left her. I need to mention that to Jenn, she probably doesn't have any idea what was going on around her. She's too engrossed with Carolyn and her findings. "Okay. What do you really make of all this?"

"Seriously?" she continued once he nodded his head. "I think it's the genuine article. I suppose it could be an elaborate hoax, drawing one into believing something that isn't. I think the only way to find out the truth is to get into the compound."

The door creaked open and Jennifer, with her arms stretching over her head and yawning loudly joined them outside. "What a glorious morning! I hope they are going to feed us soon I'm starving."

How can she keep such a trim figure when she eats like a horse? Carolyn's mighty intellect was at a loss for an answer until she settled on metabolism. And…she has a sunny personality in the morning no matter the weather or the situation. Inwardly she laughed. That's something that Richard and I know all about. They were the relatively reflective types until the first coffee had entered their systems to jolt it awake. I'd murder for coffee.

Then Richard, seemingly reading her mind, announced, "I noticed that the fireplace has been used in the past for cooking and there's a pot and framework to hold it over the flames."

Yes! Coffee! Carolyn thought.

"I'll see if I can get it working. Then Jenn, if you don't mind maybe you can work your cooking magic…maybe some coffee." After Jenn nodded in agreement, he left the two women to the morning sunrise.

Jennifer smiled. We have the provisions and I don't mind cooking. "He's not the talkative type first thing I see."

Carolyn shrugged. "Who is?" she asked before smiling slightly. "Ah yes of course, I almost forgot…you are. How can you be so perky first thing in the morning?"

"Simple really, it's the start of a new day and with it comes all the promises of a new experience." Jennifer said happily. It had been one of her grandfather's favourite sayings. He was a great morning person.

"Well, not all experiences are good ones… speaking of which, here comes the wicked witch of the south. Maybe she'll be cooking breakfast." Carolyn remarked wryly.

Both Jennifer and Carolyn watched the giant-sized woman approach them holding a sack. The bag was so big that either of them would have to drag it along the ground if they attempted to carry it. Berdlukare however, walked with it as if it were nothing more than a feather pillow.

"Mgni, Hrafn…take this," she clipped out. Neither woman understood what she said except for the guttural take this. Even that they didn't have to interpret as the large woman threw the large sack towards them and it landed at their feet with a thud.

"I guess good morning isn't in the vocabulary," Jennifer said quietly as she coughed from the dust the bag created. Both women bent down and attempted to pick up the sack – it weighed at least a ton. What on earth is in there?

Berdlukare watched them with amusement but offered no help. When she spoke again it was in a stringent, gruff tone, "Eat, I'll be back soon."

The massive woman left quickly and both women stood with their mouths agape and their eyes wide in question.

"Did you understand what she said Carolyn ?"

Carolyn shook her head and pulled at her end of the sack as Jennifer took the other end. "Not a damn word. I usually need to ask a couple of times before I make it out…the accent is way too broad."

Inside the hut, they heaved the sack onto the table as Richard, crouched at the fire pit, looked up with interest. "You ladies need any help?"

"No," Carolyn gasped. "We have it."

"It will be interesting to see what she's brought us." Jennifer remarked as she pulled at the rope holding the bag closed. "Who knows it might be a peace offering after her treatment of you yesterday." She laughed sarcastically. "Yeah right when pigs fly!"

The first item out of the bag was a flagon the size of a quarter wine barrel followed by an enormous cheese wheel. Soon the wooden table held the drink, cheese and three wonderful, still warm, breads.

"There's still more," Carolyn said as she reached farther into the sack. First, she held up on full length heavy woolen cloak followed by two more. "These must weigh a good fifty pounds each." She laughed. "I could have used one of these after I came out of that waterfall," she said as she slipped into the coat.

With amusement, Jennifer watched as Carolyn modeled one of the coats, it really fit in with her usual fashion sense - terrible. "It sure looks warm." But, her mind was more on eating and when she spied the cheese again her eyes grew wide. "This is the biggest piece of cheese I've ever seen. It must weigh at least twenty pounds." The aroma had Jennifer's stomach protesting for food. "Hey breakfast! I guess they might call it a continental breakfast… a little different, but what the hell…food is food. What do you think is in this jug?"

Carolyn, sweating by that time, took off the coat and flicked back an offending strand of hair that refused to stay put. "Well let's just see." She grunted and pulled hard on the cork stopper until it popped off settling in her hand. The strong sweet smelling aroma assailed her nostril and made her eyebrows crease. This isn't coffee. "Okay, who's brave enough to try this first?"

Carolyn waved the flagon towards the others. When Jennifer took a whiff, she wrinkled her nose. "I think I'll pass."

Richard, who had left the fireplace and joined them, grimaced but took the jug. "Here let me," he said with bravado shaking his head. "How bad can it be?" He took a deep breath, put his lips to the rim of the jug, tilted it, and took a sip. He spluttered instantly when the liquid hit his throat and burned. His eyes popped wide. "This must be at least a hundred proof! Someone has a sense of humour for this isn't what I'd call a breakfast drink."

Carolyn slapped him on the back and gave him a quizzical look. "By the looks of you I don't think I'm going to like what's in there."

"And I was hoping for orange juice." Jennifer laughed as she sat at the table and began to pull apart the bread that had her mouth watering. At least this doesn't appear dangerous. She broke a large piece of cheese off the wheel before breaking that too into smaller pieces. "Here you go…help yourselves." When she saw the disappointed look on her companion's faces she said, "Hey, it's better than nothing unless you're allergic."

"Yeah, you're right. I guess we take what we can," Carolyn said before looking at Richard. She pointed to what looked like a kettle. "Do you think we can get that contraption working to make some coffee? I think we all could use some."

"I was almost there when you walked in. Give me a few more minutes." He crinkled his nose. "Believe me, neither of you want to taste the stuff they brought us. It's foul!"

Can't be worse than Carolyn's coffee Jenn thought with a grimace.

+ + +

Mark Finch walked as fast as he was able alongside Keeper Larsen. The warrior had said little other than to confirm their task ahead, which was a different version from what elder Hjort explained earlier. That of course was no surprise to him, for everyone in Xanadis knew Hjort disliked newcomers. When he received orders to meet with Hjort, Mark filled with trepidation for the elder was renowned for his cruel treatment if he found that something was not according to the laws. Often those decisions were debatable and open to interpretation for usually the elder's slimy hangers-on had a hand in the wrongdoing attributed to another. For the entire time he was there he made it a practice to keep out of the way of anyone involved with the council - especially Hjort.

When Mark arrived to the land, it was all he had ever dreamed of and he never regretted his decision to stay. Upon reflection, he had the odd regret of leaving what seemed like another world and lifetime. The memory of a child popped into his mind and he dwelled on it for few moments before he shook it away. Now is not a time to dwell on old memories, now is a time for the future.

"I will oversee the women Finch and you take charge of the man. Berdlukare will not be far away if you have any trouble," Larsen directed.

The tone of Larsen's voice gave Mark little room to manoeuvre but he didn't mind. It will be good to hear about the changes that have happened since I left it all behind.

Mark replied, "Thank you Keeper Larsen."

Mark pulled the hood of his cloak up then felt a strong hand on his forearm. "You will tell only the truth to our Queen and the council Finch."

"I would not do otherwise Keeper Larsen," Finch replied quietly. There was no doubt in Mark's mind that if he didn't tell the truth he would be at the other end of this warrior's sword. Now caught between the warrior's version of truth and Hjort's, his only hope was that Larsen would see what he did and that it agreed with the elder's leader. Otherwise, my life in this wonderful world will be over one way or the other.

They continued walking briskly towards the outskirts of town to the spot where the first people landed and where Odin foretold they would enter a new life. Though the centuries the few outsiders that arrived and remained have never made significant changes to this way of life Mark thought. New arrivals have helped not only with remedies for the sick, but also with safety improvements to some of the structures. He smiled as he looked around. For the most part it is as the first arrivals built it- a civilisation thought wiped off the planet and long forgotten.

As they neared the hut of the strangers, Berdlukare appeared and exchanged words with Larsen. Though he had mastered the language enough to get by, Finch was unable to understand the complex fluid conversation between the two warriors. What he did notice that was unusual was a distinct body language change and wariness between the two.

While waiting, Finch looked at the smoke billowing out of the small stack on the roof. At least the strangers had the where-with-all to use the provisions they brought. I wonder if they have coffee with them, real coffee. He walked closer to the hut and was surprised when the door opened and a European looking woman stepped out. She cast her eyes carefully over him as she held a beaker of steaming liquid in her hands. Mark knew that aroma immediately…coffee!

"Hello." Carolyn eyed the man much as she would a scientific problem – critically. She guessed him to be sixty or thereabouts and noted that he looked remarkably fit for someone of that age. He must be one of those that age well. He had a friendly twinkle in his eyes that made her feel instantly at ease.

Mark smiled gratefully. The woman spoke English and he knew if her language had been French, German or any other for that matter he would have struggled. "Hello. I'm Mark."

He speaks perfect English, that's a relief. She held out her hand and smiled brightly. "Carolyn, Carolyn Black. Dare I say you're not a native of these parts yourself?"

The man took her hand and with an infectious smile replied, "And you would be perfectly correct. Although I call this home now and I'm very happy with my life here. Have you completed breakfast?"

"Sure, we are just finishing up. I'll tell the others it is time to go." She held up her coffee cup and raised an eyebrow. "Unless you'd like to join us for coffee first."

Larsen picked that moment to approach and the conversation terminated. Damn, I would have loved that cup of coffee. "Sorry, thank you anyway. This is Keeper Larsen he will be your guide today along with the other woman in your party. I will guide your gentleman traveller, please ask the others to join us."

"Absolutely, I'll get them."

Larsen glared at Finch as the woman left them alone, "You will follow Berdlukare to the gate and I will dispatch the man on your path." Larsen gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. "Go now!"

Mark wanted to tell the warrior that he had as much right to decide how he spent his time with the strangers, but the glint in the warrior's eyes told him otherwise. He turned away and walked a short way to the unhappy looking giant warrior, Berdlukare.

"I guess it's just you and I Berdlukare, must be my lucky day," he said flippantly glad that his words were lost on the warrior. As they moved towards the road leading to the gate, they heard rapid footsteps coming up behind them. Mark turned and saw Richard running towards them. At least I will have someone other than this warrior to talk with. "Hello," he called out with a wave.

To be continued...

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