I'm thinking of doing a possible AU fic, but I'm not sure.
TITLE: Valka's Saga
RATING: PG (violence, mostly)
NOTES: I'm so sad. I can't believe it's the end. I want to keep writing about these two, and I think I just might. :D
She led us out of the main city, into a small village just east of Hrothgar’s hall. The huts were built of mud and branches—the forest was only feet away.
“There is a woman here,” Wielow explained. “She was old when my grandmother was a little girl…she is quite mad.”
“The perfect advisor,” Herger said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
I held back a laugh as we came to a campfire. The woman was wrapped in a black cloak, her clouded eyes staring in two different directions.
“We seek your council, Madam,” Wielow said to the woman.
“We? Or he? Step closer, Buliwyf.”
He did as she asked. “You know me?”
She huffed, and spoke what she thought should have been the obvious answer. “I have ears! Warrior says the wind; chieftain says the rain! But why seek you me? Met you your match?”
He did not look pleased.
“Wars are won in the will,” The crone continued. “Perhaps you’ve been fighting in the wrong field. Slaughter them till you rot…you will accomplish nothing! Find the root; strike the will.”
“How?” Buliwyf asked.
“The mother of the Wendol…it is she they revere. She is the will.”
“Where do I seek her?” He asked, his patience wearing thin.
“She is the earth, seek her in the earth.”
He sighed, frustrated. She spoke again as he walked away.
“And Buliwyf,” She said. “Beware the leader of their warriors…he wears the horns of power. He too you must kill!”
He said nothing, and we continued on.
The Arab mounted his horse. “Do we have anything resembling a plan?”
I shrugged in response. Herger, on the other hand, smiled widely.
“Ride till we find them,” He said. “Kill them all.”
The Arab rolled his eyes. We went in a line from the city, Buliwyf and one of Hrothgar’s wolfhounds in the lead. For a long while we rode. The marks of their cavalry were in plain sight as we moved through the forest.
“A child could follow this,” Helfdane said.
“They have no fear,” Herger agreed. “No fear of us at all.”
The Arab and I looked at each other, worry creasing our faces. Did they know we were coming? A bark from Hrothgar’s wolfhound drew my attention upward. At the crest of a hill, the burnt remains of huts still smoldered. They were surrounded by bones, piled waist high in places.
“Bear skulls,” Herger said.
“The dog does not approve,” Weath added, the wolfhound growling loudly.
I was about to reply, but then I looked at the Arab. He sat straight up on his horse, and I could see the thoughts racing over his eyes.
“Bears,” He finally said. “The claws, the headdresses, the skulls…they want us to think they are bears! How do you hunt a bear?” The question was louder, addressed to no one in particular.
“Chase it down with dogs,” Herger said.
“No, no,” The Arab insisted, cutting him off. “How do you hunt a bear in winter?”
“Go in its cave,” I said. “With spears.”
“Where is the cave?” The Arab asked.
By this time, we knew the answer.
“It’s in the Earth,” Weath said, echoing the wise-woman.
At this, we looked to the top of the hill. Edgtho rode toward us.
“The next glen!” He called. “There are many fires.”
“Is there a cave?” Buliwyf called.
To our good fortune, both Edgtho and the Arab had been correct. We could see the Wendol from our perch above them. They had built bridges across the river that went down into the chasm, and their movements were slow—almost lethargic—much like a hibernating bear. It did not take us long to formulate a strategy; Edgtho volunteered with Weath to disguise themselves and kill the Wendol that guarded the entrance, on the other end of the bridge. The rest of us followed, the light from our torches doing little to scatter the inky blackness as we descended. It seemed like we went down for hours, but the river became louder, and that was a good sign. The path before us forked. Edgtho went ahead, but came back just as soon as he disappeared. He gestured silently to our Armor—anything that made noise must come off. With no other choice, I removed my mail jacket and left it on the pile of gear. All of us, save Helfdane—he refused to be parted with his leather breastplate—were now only in pants and tunics, our only protection the weapons on our backs. The tunnel shrank in size until we were crawling on our stomachs. We were moving through a kind of trench, straight across the living quarters of the Wendol. Helfdane’s breastplate loosed stones as he moved, and I tried not to breathe as one of the Wendol stood up, his ears pricked for any noise. My eyes locked with Buliwyf as he looked back, one hand on his sword. The Wendol stood for one more minute, but finally he returned to his fellows. We continued until we reached another cliff, overlooking the falls. Below us, a group of Wendol had gathered around a fire. They were chanting in some strange language, and it became clear that this must be where the Mother lived.
“How will we reach them?” The Arab asked in a hushed voice.
Buliwyf looked around. “There,” He said, pointing to another cliff behind the falls. “We will swing across, and then we will have to swim.”
The others nodded, but the Arab turned a strange shade of green.
“You do not like heights?” I asked him.
“I do not like heights,” He repeated.
“There is no other way, little brother,” Herger said to him, a grin fighting for control of his face.
“You will not go first,” I told him, trying to offer comfort. “It will not be difficult to cross.”
Edgtho went first, Buliwyf after him. Weath and the Arab followed, and Herger winked encouragingly at me before disappearing into the falls.
“Will you go last?” I asked Helfdane.
“Aye,” He said. “I’d rather get stuck here than you, Valka. Now catch that rope and go on.”
I nodded, one hand struggling to grip the wet rope as it came back to me. I held it as tightly as I could, the water shockingly cold as I swung through it. I slammed into the cliff face, slipping down it with a gasp as I lost my hold on the rock. Weath had grabbed the rope and sent it back to Helfdane, but he was too late for me. I found my fingers slipping on moss and water, and I thought for certain I would fall. A hand grabbed my wrist and lifted me up; I found myself face to face with Buliwyf. He nodded to me, and I returned the gesture. Once Helfdane came across, we began to climb down the cliff. The water was frigid, and I held my axes above my head as we came closer to the Wendol. Buliwyf held a knife in between his teeth, keeping as low as he could. Edgtho came upon them first, and the fight began in earnest. I jumped from the water and drove my axe into the stomach of one, throwing the other into the spine of a second, where it landed with a splintering sound. Herger pulled it from the corpse of the Wendol and threw it back to me, before looking to a cave that was lined with skulls.
“Go!” He cried to Buliwyf. “Finish her!”
Buliwyf hesitated, almost reluctant to leave us to the Wendol. I pushed him back toward the cave, my lips meeting his for the briefest of moments.
“Go on!” I said.
He seemed reassured, and disappeared into the cave to face the Mother of the Wendol.
I do not know what transpired between the Mother and Buliwyf, only that when he came out he was white as the snow on the mountains.
“Is it done?” Herger asked, breathless, as more Wendol ran above us, winding down the long path in our direction.
“It is done.”
“A path leads down,” Edgtho cried. “Down here!”
We followed him, running as fast as we were able. Even so, the sounds of the Wendol grew louder. They were gaining on us, and we all knew it. Helfdane fell heavily against a rock, and he did not get up. I stopped, coming to his side as the others continued on.
“What is it?” I asked him.
His hand was pressed to a wound above his heart; blood had begun to emerge at the corners of his mouth.
“I think,” He said, each word heavy as a stone. “I have run as far as I care to go, little Valka.”
I bit back tears, taking one of his hands. “I do not want to leave you to them, Helfdane.”
He smiled. “Today was a good day. Go on, now. Go.”
I nodded and ran. After a few minutes, I came to the others.
“Helfdane?” Herger asked me.
I shook my head.
We had reached a dead-end. I could hear thunder around us, as Herger suggested we fight in pairs.
“Thunder!” I said to them.
“Just what we need!” Weath replied. “Rain, on top of it all!”
“No,” Edgtho told him, realizing what I meant. “The thunder cliffs! There must be a way to swim out!”
The pool near us was our only hope.
“What if we drown?” The Arab asked.
“Well,” Herger said, ever the optimist. “If they do not follow, we will know why! Too far to swim!”
We dove into the water, and I took a deep breath. I realized as I breathed that I had a pain in my side. Looking down, there was a gash there I had not seen before. I held my breath and dove. The tunnel was long and twisted, and after a while my lungs began to burn. Edgtho was in the lead, and I saw him swim up through a hole in the rock face. The water above him was clear, and he must have reached the ocean. I made to follow, but my boot got stuck beneath a loose rock. I struggled with it, the sudden force of water slamming me into a jagged stone—a stone that dug right into the gash on my side, tearing it open even further. Blood rushed into the water, and I lacked the strength to pull myself through the hole. I got my torso through, but my arms would pull me no further. Edgtho dove again, swimming down to me as I released the air in my lungs. He grabbed me under my arms and pulled, his eyes widening as he saw the blood all around me. We reached the surface and I breathed in blessed air, Edgtho and Herger helping me to the shore. Buliwyf fell to his knees as we reached the sand, looking even paler than before. Ahead of me, I saw a roughly hewn cave. It looked like a storage cellar, but it had been abandoned for one reason or another. I crawled toward it as Edgtho and Herger helped Buliwyf to his feet. What I did not expect was the drop. I tumbled inside, pain shooting like fire through my veins.
“Go on,” I heard Herger cry. “I will follow!”
I did not hear a reply. My mind became clouded, and I did not know how long I lay there. I only knew the pain in my chest, spread from the deep wound in my side. It seemed an eternity; the only sound my labored breathing and the waves that broke like thunder on the cliffs outside.
“Valka?” Herger’s voice.
I opened my eyes and saw him jump down, landing on the packed dirt of the cave with barely a noise. He ran to me and examined my wound.
“How did this happen?” He asked, still soaking wet from our escape.
“I do not know,” I told him.
He made to remove my tunic, perhaps to see what could be done.
“Leave it,” I said, placing a hand over his. “I am finished, my friend.”
I saw the tears in his eyes. “What would you have me do, little Valka?”
“Stay with me.”
He took my head into his lap and began to idly stroke my hair.
“Someone must have lived here,” He said at last, looking around. “There are papers, and the embers still glow in the hearth.”
“I think I will write my story down, Herger.”
He understood immediately. With effort, I sat up, bracing myself against the earthen wall. For hours I wrote, until the tool dropped from my hand.
“Herger,” I said, my own voice failing. “Finish it.”
He took the writing utensil from me and wrote for a while. Suddenly, he stopped. His eyes were glued to the necklace that fell at my chest, barely rising with my shallow breath.
“That is Buliwyf’s,” He said quietly, realization dawning on his face.
“We are married,” I told him. “Tell my father, when you see him.”
Despite himself, Herger could not hold back the tears that fell from his eyes. “Your Buliwyf has been poisoned, by the Mother of the Wendol.”
I was not surprised. I saw the color gone from Buliwyf’s face when he told us the task was done. I nodded, but said nothing.
“I will tell Voltarr,” Herger said. “My child will bear your name, Valka.”
I smiled at him, and with the last of my strength returned my head to his lap.
“You require a wife, first, my friend,” I said weakly.
He laughed, and continued to write. Sometimes I would dictate the tale, other times he would write with no prompting from me. I could only wonder what his words were. My vision began to darken, and I felt no more pain from the wound in my side. I blinked twice, and saw my mother standing in the corner. She wore a white dress, her chestnut hair in waves to her slim waist. She had a gentle smile on her small face, and after a moment she held out her hand to me.
I did not speak, only lifted my arm and reached for her. Herger said nothing, but fresh tears came to his eyes. He knew as well as I that my time on this earth was over. Behind my mother, two women appeared. They were clothed in armor that glowed like the sun, with rich red velvet capes billowing out behind them. Massive grey wings spread from their shoulders, and on their fair-haired heads they wore grey and black winged bands. In their left hand, they each held a tall spear. I felt my heart beat faster—the Valkyries had come for me. They smiled at me, and bid me take my place among them. I heard Herger talking softly.
“Lo, there do I see my father. Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers. Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call to me. They bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where they brave may live forever.”
I felt my mother’s hand, and knew no more.
I wrapped Valka in the linens that were on the bed here. With effort, I lifted her from the cave and burned her body on the beach, facing the sunrise. Buliwyf’s amulet remains here, with the story. I will wall this cave shut, so that her tale will live forever. My heart aches, but I know now that I will take a wife and be a father to children, as I promised little Valka. We returned to Hrothgar’s city, where the final battle was fought. The Queen was tending to Buliwyf, but she left us when I entered and asked to speak with him. I told him of Valka’s passing, and saw a look of grim determination on his face. He looked inches from death, but I knew that he would fight with us. I was not wrong. Buliwyf came out as the rain poured from the sky. He slew the Horned-One with his last remaining strength, and the Wendol fled. Buliwyf thrust his blade into the ground and sat, triumphant, as thunder roared above us. Within moments, he had gone. I know he and Valka will find each other again in Valhalla, and that gives me peace. The Arab will return home and write his own account, as he promised Buliwyf. Their story will not end here, and I am glad of it. My children will know it, my grandchildren will know it, and my great-grandchildren will know it. I have nothing of mine to leave here, nothing except these words, to tell you that I am true and real—not a spirit of the mists, but a man, who was friend to the bravest warriors on this earth. As the Arab said, I remain a true and faithful servant, and Herger is my name.
I wiped my tears away as I put the last page back into the chest. I moved closer to the entrance, and began to weep in earnest for the lives lost all those years ago. Still, as evening turned to night and night became the morning, I began to worry for myself. It had been one week, now, and I was desperate for help. I called and called again, until it felt like my throat would split open and bleed. Tears came again to my eyes, rolling down my cheeks like water over a fall. I closed my eyes and breathed in the salt air, hoping it would not be my last sunrise. Suddenly, I felt something strange. A rough surface against my face, followed by something wet and cold. I looked up into the eyes of a dog, who wore a rescue vest on his back. He barked twice, and I heard feet running toward him. A man with a helmet and a matching rescue jacket smiled at me.
“Don’t worry, Ma’am,” He said. “We’re gonna get you out of there.”
I smiled despite myself. After a minute of muffled voices, the man jumped into the cave and spoke to me.
“Are you hurt?” He asked.
“Just my arm,” I said.
He nodded. “We’ll have a medic take a look at that. I’m gonna lift you up and my friend Hank is gonna help you out, okay?”
“I have a purse here,” I said to him. “And that chest there—please don’t leave them behind.”
He nodded. “We’ll get them, but let’s worry about you.”
He lifted me from the cave and into the arms of another man, who I assumed was Hank. He was stockier than his friend, and lifted me to the surface with ease. He carried me to the waiting ambulance, where the paramedics disinfected and bandaged my arm. They examined my license once my purse and the chest had been brought up.
“This is her,” One of them said. “The girl on the news that’s been missing. Better call her mom and let her know we’ve got her.”
I smiled at how relieved my mother would be, and didn’t struggle as they put an oxygen mask over my face. Everything was going to be all right now.
One week later, life had returned to normal. I was back in my apartment, Valka’s chest now safe in a glass case in my bedroom. I was working on getting the manuscript published, and so far it was going well. I had an editor who showed interest, and things were looking up. I pulled on my blue pea-coat and white striped scarf, walking out the front door and into the cold morning. I walked into my usual Starbucks, this time garnering applause from the staff behind the counter.
“Welcome back!” One of them said.
“I watched the news every day you were missing,” The girl named Venora said. “I’m so glad you’re okay!”
I smiled at her. “So am I.”
I took out my wallet and ordered my usual mocha and pumpkin bread.
“On the house,” Venora said with a grin.
“Thanks,” I said.
I took my order and was about to leave. I looked outside at the wind as it howled, remembering how bitingly cold it was. Instead, I sat down at a table in the corner, near the windows. For a while it was quiet, just the music and my pen as it scrabbled in my journal, continuing the story of Valka and Buliwyf.
“Do you mind if I join you?” Asked a familiar voice.
I looked up. The tall, bespectacled man had returned, a folded newspaper in one hand and a coffee in the other.
“Go ahead,” I said with a smile.
He sat down and held out his hand.
“Benjamin,” He said.
“Valerie,” I told him. “Nice to meet you.”
“This is going to sound strange,” He said. “But have we met before? You seem very familiar.”
I felt a blush creeping to my cheeks, and my heart beat faster, though I didn’t know why.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Maybe I just have one of those faces.”
He laughed. “Maybe.”
It was the beginning of what I knew would be a beautiful relationship.