The First Valkyrie - S. C. Coleman - ebook

The First Valkyrie ebook

S. C. Coleman

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Where did the Valkyries come from? We know them as avenging angel women. They wore bright armor and rode flying horses into battle. Well, there are many legends about them. Here is one more to add to the valkyrja lore. Working with myth, it is sometimes necessary to take liberties with historical folklore. Ok, ok, you got me. There are a lot of liberties taken with this book. In fact, this story does not take place on Earth; at least not what we know Earth to be. At the turning of an age, this world is struggling to oppose a dark force. The well named Dark Queen Magiya is waging war on the whole continent. If her war continues, then soon there will be only beasts inhabiting the world. A young woman, named Eleesa, begins her journey that will culminate in the showdown of ages. The Kingdom, or Queendom, she comes from is known as Bahl. It just so happens, the Dark Queen Magiya rules the land that Eleesa was born in. Eleesa must escape this place to find her true nature. She must first endure a series of tribulations. During her journey she will face a house filled with snakes, a jealous queen, and a mountain infested by bear men. She will meet a bundle of misfit companions along the way including; Diodo the Writer, Jaco/Marco, and even a venomous snake. Her counter-part, Queen Magiya, is busy waging war on the land. At the right hand of the Queen is a General named Hamo. He is a famous General caught between light and darkness. Will Eleesa survive? Will the Dark Queen take over the world? Will General Hamo find peace? You may not like the answer. The forces of light and dark will fight for the souls of those damned few caught in the middle. Enjoy this account of how the first valkyrja was born.

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S. C. Coleman

The First Valkyrie

The Dawn Bringer

BookRix GmbH & Co. KG80331 Munich

Map of the Continent

 

 

 

Summary

 

Where did the Valkyries come from? We know them as avenging angel women. They wore bright armor and rode flying horses into battle. Well, there are many legends about them. Here is one more to add to the valkyrja lore. Working with myth, it is sometimes necessary to take liberties with historical folklore. Ok, ok, you got me. There are a lot of liberties taken with this book. In fact, this story does not take place on Earth; at least not what we know Earth to be. At the turning of an age, this world is struggling to oppose a dark force. The well named Dark Queen Magiya is waging war on the whole continent. If her war continues, then soon there will be only beasts inhabiting the world. A young woman, named Eleesa, begins her journey that will culminate in the showdown of ages. The Kingdom, or Queendom, she comes from is known as Bahl. It just so happens, the Dark Queen Magiya rules the land that Eleesa was born in. Eleesa must escape this place to find her true nature. She must first endure a series of tribulations. During her journey she will face a house filled with snakes, a jealous queen, and a mountain infested by bear men. She will meet a bundle of misfit companions along the way including; Diodo the Writer, Jaco/Marco, and even a venomous snake. Her counter-part, Queen Magiya, is busy waging war on the land. At the right hand of the Queen is a General named Hamo. He is a famous General caught between light and darkness. Will Eleesa survive? Will the Dark Queen take over the world? Will General Hamo find peace? You may not like the answer. The forces of light and dark will fight for the souls of those damned few caught in the middle. Enjoy this account of how the first valkyrja was born.

 

 

 

She was thought to be a foreigner, but after her arrival in Ulsgard, she had found her home. She is none other than the mighty Bjorg. The great mountain god took on the form of a young woman to trick the good people of Ulsgard

-Diodo

 

©.2018

All Rights Reserved.

 

The Pure of Heart

 

In the sleepy town of Umbria, a light blanket of snow had fallen as the sun set. Upon a snow-capped hill rested a cottage of brick and mortar where an old crone lived and waited on her final day. She was renowned for her generosity to the community in the village below. Although she had little, what she did have was shared with all and her kind words of wisdom helped the villagers through many hard times. Despite the village’s love for her only the street urchins visited often. She had lived in the village all her life and never married nor bore children. Thus, the children of the village she treated as if they were her own. On this cold night, as the snow continued to fall, the old woman dragged herself to an old rocking chair while the village children gathered around the crackling fire. She cleared her throat and began one of her many famous stories in her heavy tongued language.

“Now children, pay attention. Should you fall asleep do not worry, for an ancient guardian will protect you. I will tell you of the Queen of the Mountain and her lightening wardens. Our tale, chronicled by an ancient scholar by the name of Diodo, begins in a time long ago before the great northern snow came. This land once sunny and fertile housed a civilization that rose and fell from power. However, the civilization’s capital, which stood upon this vary ground, was not the greatest wonder of this forgotten age. A great battle for the future of humanity was fought here.” The children’s ears perked up at the sound of violence and a young boy raised his hand.

“Was it greater than Horrick’s fight with Ormund?”

“Yes, even greater. The battle was fought between two armies with thousands of men, but would you like to know the real wonder of this battle?” The old woman leaned forward with a glint in her eye.

“What…?” The children leaned forward and whispered their reply.

“It was fought with the skies and among the gods.”

“How?”

“Listen and I shall tell you.”

***

The town of Numo rested in the northern region of Bahl. The land, once ruled by the Council of Carth, now submitted to the dark queen Magiya and her famous General Hamo. The town held the last temple of the One, an0 old cult from before Bahl. The temple was a beautiful, yet quaint wooden hut bound together by reeds. Its priest, the last of his kind, lived in the temple alone. Thus, upon his 60th year in the hundredth year of Her Majesty Magiya, he was surprised to hear a knock at the door. Upon opening the door one of the villagers stood.

“Juno! You won’t believe what I’ve found!” The young man held a small sack woven from cloth and rope.

“Spit it out! What could be the reason to wake me at such a late hour?”

“I thought you Acolytes were supposed to be gracious…”

“Do you see any Acolytes? I’m simply an old steward. The glorious empire of Magiya saw to that, let her majesty live another hundred years!” The shaky old man raised his hands in reverence and spat on the ground at the same time.

“I found a baby!”

“Congratulations! Now return it to its parents!” The man slammed the wooden door and went to return to his bed. Yet again, a knock came at his door.

“Hear me out. Please…” The young man was kneeling on the threshold when the old man reopened the door.

“Fine! Speak boy!”

“I’m just a poor youth and I leave for service in the empire in a few days’ time. I have no means to care for a young girl.”

“Then return her to her parents as I instructed. I do not have time for this.”

“You don’t understand. She has no parents. I asked throughout all the town and none knew her.”

“Where did you find her?”

“In the wilderness while I was hunting for snakes.”

“I don’t care about what you had for dinner. Tell me of the circumstances where you found her man!” Flustered, the young man got to his feet and fumbled over his words in answer.

“She, she…she was naked under a tree. Crying! I couldn’t just leave her there!” Tears began to well in the young man’s eyes. The old man thought of how short this young man’s military career would be.

“Calm down man. Calm down.”

“It was when the sun was setting, and a ray of light struck the tree at such an angle so that the child seemed to glow. It was the strangest thing that I have ever seen with these two eyes. Shadow should have been cast upon the area that she lay. Yet, the sunlight almost seemed to bend around the tree and cover her like a blanket.”

“I think you spent too long in the desert boy. Give her to me.” The young man eagerly gave the child to the old man. He opened the sack and looked upon the face of the baby. She was sleeping quietly as if she had no need for breath. The young man saw something then pass over the grumpy old man’s face. He had never seen this look on the old priest ever since the priest fled to the town in exile. The man’s eyes widened and twinkled for a second. It was the same look that his mother showed him when he pretended to be asleep. Without another word, the old man slammed the wooden door in the young villager’s face. So, the story of Eleesa the Great would begin.

***

In the hundred and twelfth year of the age of Her Majesty Magiya, the empire of Bahl had stretched nearly to the edge of the continent. Only three Kingdoms remained to contest her power. The seafaring cities of Furdvik and Ulsgard lay to the west on the island of Yilia. The cities would send many raiding parties to ravage the continental coast in the past. The infamous Gugre Dragre (Lightening Wardens in the language of Yilia) were all but forgotten. The island was unknown to the main continent, but that was about to change. To the south lay the stronghold of Timujri, from the kingdom of the Maguyari. To the west lay the wildlands of Makai where none dared to enter before. The queen purged any religions from Bahl and conquered the land. However, she over looked the temple of the One in Numo. In fact, this would prove to be the greatest mistake the empire would make. Upon the sixteenth year of Eleesa of Numo, her guardian Juno of Yahcar was on his death bed.

“Let me get the healer. Please…” The young girl’s black hair fell around Juno’s chest as she cried into his tattered robes. The old man was blind now and his voice failed him, but his stubbornness had not weakened. She felt him grunt and shake his head. She brushed his wrinkled cheeks with her own lively ones. His heart had softened over the years with her. His feeble arm dangled over her shoulder in a weak hug. “Why must you be so stubborn, Juno? I don’t care what you say, you’re the

 

only father that I have ever had. I can’t let you go. I’ll be alone.” With the last vestige of strength, the old man raised her chin with a finger. She looked into his old sightless eyes and he smiled. He then pointed to the ceiling and breathed his last. Eleesa collapsed into sobs until she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and saw a boy standing there. The dirt on his cheeks, coupled with his long dark hair and gray eyes, gave him a wild look. She wiped her watery eyes to see the boy better and realized they must have been the same age. He held out a hand and lifted her to her feet.

“Why do you cry?”

“My friend…my father has died.”

“Is death sad?” The boy smiled comfortingly and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“You are a strange boy.”

“And you are a strange girl to me.”

“What are you doing here? We have nothing to offer you.”

“It is not what you can offer me but what I can offer to you. Rumors of the most beautiful girl in the empire circulate the town but no one believes them. I had to see for myself.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that. I only know of the portraits in my book.” The girl blushed and looked at the ground. She was suddenly aware that she was talking to a boy.

“Come young maiden. Let me show you the world then.”

“Oh, I cannot. Juno says I must never leave the sanctuary. He says the world is a dark place and I know nothing of the hatred of men.”

“He is not wrong but there is also love in the world, if you know where to find it.”

“I cannot.”

“I will remain here with you then young maiden.” The two sat down crossed legged but the young girl kept her gaze fixed on the floor.

“You are the one who healed Lenu of his blindness. Although, the town dismissed it as a temporary sickness. Why did you not then heal Juno?”

“I tried.” Eleesa collapsed into sobs once more and the boy returned his hand to her shoulder. The two remained that way until she had no more tears and fell asleep. The boy then got up. He lay the tapestry on the wall over her as he could find no blankets. In fact, no beds were to be found in the house. The boy explored the three-room temple and realized just how poor the man had been. None of the splendor of the temple remained save for a single silver star in the center of the holy room. The boy examined the shiny small silver star which shone brightly, despite the dusty room around it. The old man probably polished it until he could no longer, the boy thought to himself. The star might have once belonged to an amulet that the man wore. The boy sat and pondered why the man had simply laid the star in the center of the dusty room. After becoming bored with the muse, the boy left it where it lay and entered Eleesa’s room. What a miserable life that she lived. A single candle rested on the ground beside a shape in the floor’s dusty blanket. The shape was Eleesa’s and the boy decided it was where she slept. She spoke of books but in fact there was only one that lay in the corner. A tome outlawed by the empire, the book bore the title The Origin of The One. He sat down next to the candle and opened the dusty book to the first chapter; The Three Sisters.

Three women grew from the earth.

From three women came three men.

The first entered the wind with her child to escape the others.

The second was slain for jealousy and returned to the earth.

The third, and most beautiful, hid her face in shame.

Thus, the children of Earth’s daughters lived.

The first child traveled the oceans and islands on the wind.

The second traveled the land but slower than his brother wind.

The third was hardly seen as he tended to his mother in her seclusion.

One day each child, having grown bored, sought out father earth.

Father earth was sleeping and thus gave each a power that they might go away.

The first child was lonely in the sky and wanted someone to travel with.

From this desire, the wind child crafted a mate in the likeness of brother darkness’s mother.

Enraged, brother darkness filled the sky with blackness, so he might blind his brother wind.

The first child, jealous of brother wind, built creatures so he might catch brother wind and kill him.

The third child, bound to the earth, failed and failed until all the land was covered in creatures.

The mate of the wind child bore children, but the child of the wind could not see and so he died in despair.

The dark child’s heart sought to blind his last brother, but the wife of brother wind sensed this.

So, it came that the wind’s mate put a light in the sky to protect the third brother.

The child of the earth, seeking revenge, rode his creatures against the brother of darkness.

Upon seeing this destruction, the wind’s mate cried and woke the Earth.

The Earth rose and shook. All stood still.

Seeking peace, the Earth gave mates to the two remaining brothers.

More sons and daughters arose, and more beasts were created.

Brother darkness however could not be comforted and blinded his last brother.

The third child, unable to see his creations, died in despair.

The children of the third child mounted their creatures and sought out his brother of darkness.

Enraged, the children of the wind sought out brother darkness also.

No longer able to hide, the child of darkness threw himself into the sea.

Brother darkness traveled below the waves until he saw the wind’s mate.

He tried to blind her, but she cried and suddenly the sky lit up.

Then, the child of darkness tried to hide. So, he dove deeper and deeper until he was lost.

A voice came from the sky stating that the light would return if darkness did.

Soon the children of darkness and of the wind quarreled and began to kill each other.

Thus, the light returned and took them with him save for a few chosen to carry on the story.

The children of the beasts left only a portion of the land to the children of darkness.

For the children of the wind they gave a portion as well but broke it from the rest.

Separated, the children of the brothers of wind and darkness quarreled no longer.

Eleesa awoke to total darkness and she sought out the boy. He was asleep in her room with her book opened. She gasped in fright, for her master always told her the book was sacred, and he woke. She fled from the room and left out the front door. She ran to the east until the town was hidden behind dunes of sand.

 

The Harbinger of Night

The great fortress of Timujri stood tall and defiant. Its walls stretched three stories towards the sky. Furthermore, the fortress was placed atop a jagged hill. The fortress was only accessible through a narrow dirt causeway. The causeway connected to a mountain slope directly across from the fortress, which had been blown prior to their enemy’s arrival. Timujri was also surrounded by deep ravines and the trees had been cut down around the perimeter. Timujri guarded the only northern pass through the Gurkorta Mountains, protecting the hills and plains of the Maguyari Kingdom. The fortress had defied countless invaders and had not been breached for more than a hundred years. Tumjri itself was small. It could only support up to two hundred and sixty occupants. Due to this, only Maguyari military units were stationed there. Tumjri also housed the largest collection of Maguyari elite lancers, which totaled seventy. Lightly armored, the lancers were covered from head to toe in hardened leather with iron and bronze plates. Underneath they wore fur and felt tunics. Masked iron helmets with a long golden spire adorned their heads. These lancers were called the Aravut.

The forces of Queen Magiya speckled the surrounding forests with their dark presence. Each of the Bahl foot soldiers painted themselves a deep blue. The Bahl cavalry sported iron chainmail that was painted onyx black. All the Bahl warriors protected their heads with round helmets, made of studded leather and dripping masks of chainmail. The legendary Bahl general Hamo stood at the head of the dark force. He dismounted from his white stallion. The Bahl heavy cavalry approached as they weaved their way through the rows of slingers.

***

“They are challenging us general.” Hamo’s adjuvat whispered into Hamo’s ear as they both dismounted.

“I know that,” Hamo snapped. “General Hasdrubol what are your thoughts?”

“I believe that our cavalry is superior to the Aravut. Our horse are chargers outfitted with the best armor. They have light armored horses, and none have bows. We can easily defeat them in a straight up fight General.” General Hasdrubol, the cavalry general, haughtily stroked his curly black beard.

“While I have seen your prowess in the east, General, I pose this question to you. Have you ever defeated an Aravut unit in a straight up fight?” General Hamo removed his black iron helmet and ran a hand over his long black curls. The light of the full moon showed his falsely young features. In fact, Hamo appeared to be in his early thirties but had lived into his early fifties.

“No one has general.” General Hasdrubol scoffed and then a smile flashed across his lips. “However, they have never faced heavy cavalry in a fight.”

“Exactly General! This is most certainly a trap.” The adjuvat spoke up and Hamo shot him a glare in response.

“Who is this man that speaks to me in such a way?” Hasdrubol looked at Hamo’s adjuvat inquisitively.

“He is my adjuvat. Pay him no mind.” Hamo gestured for his cavalry general to focus on the field once more.

“We must meet them, or our men will think us weak.” Hasdrubol was indignant. He drew his elegant leaf blade from its onyx saddle sheath. “Bring the chariots!” Hasdrubol rode ahead at a trot as the cavalry force followed close behind.

“Hasdrubol! Wait!” General Hamo stretched out a hand as the cavalry broke into a gallop. “That damned fool. Prepare for a siege!” Hamo shouted his order to his adjuvat as he waived a hand in dismissal.

“But General, Hasdrubol will never retreat.” The adjuvat’s fear spilled through in his tone.

“I know but the men will. We need the defenses up to stop the Aravut when they do. None of this will matter once the queen arrives anyway.” Hamo turned and remounted his stallion. “I am going to retire. Tell me once the fight is over. Such a waste… Hasdrubol, may the dark queen speed your passage to after the life…” Hamo whispered a short prayer to Queen Magiya as he rode back into the forest.

***

The dark storm of horses rode like a wave of thunder down the mountain side. The heavily armored horses created a rumbling earth quake in their charge. The cloud of dust rose to block out the moon as the cavalry formed into a long line. General Hasdrubol rode at the front with his sword pointed forward. While the cavalry line opened in parts to allow the chariots through, the Aravut marched at trot in a square formation. The Aravut lancers began to lengthen their lines as the Bahl cavalry came closer. The Aravut seemed to be in no hurry as the massive dark horde bore down. Also, the Aravut were easily outnumbered ten to one. This did not shake their stoic bearing as the Bahl cavalry closed in. They were a thousand paces away from each other, then a hundred, and finally ten. Right before impact the Aravut formation broke and scattered. The lightly armored lancers easily dodged the heavy cavalry and chariots. A tenth of the Aravut forces rode through the Bahl cavalry line. They used the holes created by the chariots to pass through. The rest of the lancers broke left and right. The chariots were unable to change course quickly enough and continued in their charge towards the fortress. Meanwhile, the Bahl heavy cavalry slowed to turn and face their foe. Hasdrubol had a look of terror on his face as an Aravut lance sprouted from his chest and lifted him off his horse. The point of the Aravut wedge formation crashed into the Bahl cavalry rear, completely breaking the Bahl line. Hasdrubol lay broken and dying as his cavalry panicked. The cavalry broke left and right. While the Bahl cavalry was destroyed, the chariots turned too late as they were almost under the Timujri battlements. Flaming Arrows, ballista, and rocks set the chariots ablaze while they turned to flee. None of the Bahl forces were able to retreat up the mountain side and the Aravut returned to their fortress victoriously.

The sounds of dying men echoed through the ravine as Hasdrubol peered towards the sky. The stars were bright, and the moon felt cold on his face. A cool feeling crept through his body as he gasped for air. A hand from one of his fellow riders clutched his own. Hasdrubol looked over at his companion and their brown eyes connected. Tears were streaming down the face of his comrade as the last breath of life left his body. The last memory of General Hasdrubol was watching the graying eyes of a fellow warrior and the still warm touch of his dirty hand. He died under the foreboding battlements of Timujri alone and disgraced.

***

“That is my last friend. I have no friends left…” Hamo whimpered to himself with his head in his hands. The command tent was dark and Hamo refused to light a candle. “I have no one left but my dark queen. Please Magiya, let me die.” Hamo felt a cold touch on his shoulder as he spoke. Somehow the room became darker and the grass below his feet wilted.

“Your time is not here yet. There are many more that will die before you fall General. You are my child Hamo and you are a god. Together we shall blackout the sun with our might. Embrace your rage Hamo and unleash our wrath upon our enemies. For me Hamo…” Hamo looked up and around but no one was there. The room brightened, and the moon shone through the tent opening.

“General? Did you call for me?” The adjuvat poked his head inside.

“Are the lines prepared Hammond?”

“Yes General, but General…”

“Yes?”

“The Aravut returned to their walls.”

“What of General Hasdrubol?”

“They all died.”

“ALL?”

“Yes, General…”

“Very well Hammond. Build the siege camp, this is going to be a long night.”

“Yes, General.” The adjuvat departed, and the tent flap closed.

***

Tears washed the sweat from Hamo’s cheeks as he laid his head on a bed of grass. All around him foot soldiers snoring mingled with the crickets and frogs. A light rain dampened their armor as clouds began to cover up the moon and stars. Hamo curled up and sobbed at the loss of his last friend. He always slept among his men, but he had never felt more alone. Eventually, after hours of quiet sadness, Hamo slipped into a dream.

Hamo was surrounded by a field of mist and he looked all around for some sort of landmark. He could find no signs of life anywhere. He knew this place however. He was standing once more on the field of his first battle with Hamo. Long before he had met Queen Magiya and joined her rebellion, Hamo was a general under the Bahl council. He and Hasdrubol had found each other among the fog and carnage of the Maguyari invasion. This was the battle field but where were the bodies. There was no blood or screams, only silence. Hamo stumbled in the fog calling out for Hasdrubol. He noticed a light in the distance and sprinted towards it. Just barely avoiding collision with a burning chariot, Hamo slipped and his tear-soaked face met the ground. Tiny grains of sand stuck to the damp saliva and mucus that had collected on his quivering lip.

“Hasdrubol…” Hamo reached out to his old friend whose silhouette stood just beyond the roaring fire. Hasdrubol’s sharp black beard was the only thing that identified him in the fog. The beard faded as he stepped back into the fog. “Wait!!!” Hamo scrambled into his feet and charged after Hasdrubol. He ran and ran, and ran, until his breath was void of oxygen. He collapsed onto his hands and knees, gasping for air. Then he got up and kept running until the fog turned into darkness. Hamo searched the heavens for a star or a moon but there was nothing. There was only darkness and silence. “Please…” Hamo whimpered and kneeled on the damp ground. A comfortable glow began to warm Hamo’s broad shoulders and he turned to meet the stranger. “Who are you?” The glowing figure seemed to be a part of the haze and the slender hand of an olive-skinned woman stretched towards him. “Have you come to take me with you? Please take me…” Hamo stretched his hand out hesitantly until a sharp pain stabbed his heart.

“General!” Another voice shook his gaze. Then, Hamo turned to see another figure come out of the darkness behind him. The figure was shrouded in the darkness which seemed to grow out of her. She stood very tall and her fingers stroked the darkness as if it were her pet. Hamo turned back to the glowing figure who slowly faded before his eyes. Hamo felt the cold touch of his queen on his back and despair filled him once more.

***

The next morning the Bahl siege fortifications were complete. The catapults had been steadily bombarding fortress walls during the night, but no real damage was apparent. Once again, the Aravut were formed up outside of the walls, awaiting the dawn. The Bahl lines had been thinned the night before as well. Since the catapults could not fire without being in range of the ballista, anyone manning the siege was either wounded or dead. Massive wooden missiles had impaled dozens of engineers and extended the battlefield carnage. The Bahl hoplites and mercenary spear men were arrayed in front of the siege camps ready for the Aravut charge. Enslaved skirmishers were formed up in front of the defensive line, creating a mask for the Bahl hoplites and spear men. A reserve of the Bahl elite hoplites, called the Sacred Bandars, formed up directly behind the mercenary forces. The Bandars established the classic Bahl three-line deep defensive line. Their only purpose was to attack any fleeing mercenaries or slaves and kill any enemies that broke through the first two lines. The Bandars had never been defeated on the field and would not number over a thousand in any one fight. An auxiliary reserve of Bandars guarded the siege camp.

“I do not believe the Aravut will directly charge our lines, general.” Hamo’s adjuvat eyed the fierce line of serrated spear tips that projected from behind the shields.

“Stand down adjuvat.” Hamo rode out in front of his forces. “Front!” Almost in anticipation of Hamo’s orders the black flags went up from the formation’s wings. The standards were black with a chevron splitting them down the middle. The leather armored slaves strode forward in answer and the Aravut replied by beginning a canter. The slaves left the tree line and broke into a run towards the ravine below. The Aravut left their wall’s shadow and broke into a gallop.

“They will be slaughtered, General,” the adjuvat’s worried tone snaked into Hamo’s ear as he joined General Hamo on the right wing.

“I know that Hammond, but their sacrifice is necessary. You have a lot to learn about generalship my dear companion.”

“Each slave is valuable. The Bahl kingdom cannot handle such losses. With our cavalry decimated, is it worth it to lose our range units as well. Reinforcements won’t be arriving for another week.”

“The Maguyari will not hold the fortress another day longer and we will slaughter all of them. I will show you Hammond. We shall defeat the Aravut and make history here. The Dark Queen is coming, and these slaves will sacrifice themselves for her.”

“Yes, my lord,” Hammond bowed his head as the slave line halted abruptly and launched their javelins. The spears caught several the Aravut and unsaddled them just before the cavalry collided with the skirmishers. The skirmisher slaves were light on their feet and took out more Aravut as they turned their horses to charge again. Upon the second charge, the Aravut broke ranks rode down the slaves who panicked and began to flee in all directions.

“See the weakness of skirmishers. Look at how the fear takes them like lust drives a man. How do you think we captured them in the first place? Pathetic… Hammond, are you ready for your next lesson in warfare.”

“Yes, General…” Hammond’s words were choked behind sadness as he watched a thousand slaves slaughtered without taking out even a tenth of the Aravut.

“Horn men!” General Hamo shouted to the left and the ranks parted. Three horns sounded, and their deep bellows reverberated off the mountain sides. Then, bull elephants led pulled by thick ropes and groups of five men came through the lines. Behind the lines of bulls were a dozen men carrying torches. The elephants were herded into a sloppy formation by the fire bearers and long strands of grass attached to their tails. Meanwhile, the Aravut had cleaned up the last skirmishers and were formed up once more at the ravine’s base.

“Can I give the command, General?”

“Go ahead Hammond, I will go to the third line for the last advance. The field is yours Hammond.” General Hamo turned his horse around and headed back to the formation of five hundred Bandars. Hammond raised his gold trimmed sabre that radiated the early morning sun beams. He the pointed it forward and the bulls were released, starting a stampede towards the Aravut.

“Standards!” Came the thundering voices of the line commanders and the horns bellowed once more. The third and second lines, together, marched forward after the stampeding bulls.

***

Across the wide sea that bordered the Bahl coast lay an untouched land known by the locals as Oathlund and was comprised of three kingdoms. The Danfear had separated from the two port kingdoms many decades ago and resided on the other side of the Bjorg mountains. The port kingdoms were known as Furdvik and Ulsgard. The two cities traded with each other and other settlements along their coast but never left the coast line. Their ships could cross vast distances of water, but none believe there was another world. The two cities often sent raiding parties to attack one another but none attempted a conquest of the other. The Danfear would occasionally cross the mountains to attack the cities and kidnap people from settlements. The Furdvik peoples and Ulsgard peoples were very similar and wore cloth tunics with burlap and hide cloaks. The kept their hair short and grew short beards. Meanwhile, the Danfear were very different. They sported fur and hide garments, rarely covering their chests. Each adult male grew long beards and hair. The Danfear women had not been seen ever since they left over the mountains. The Danfear peoples were giants, averaging eight feet in height, and they carried slings, clubs, and axes. In contrast, the coastal peoples were called Hinns and they never carried weapons unless an expedition was called. The Hinns fought with axes, bows, and shields.

***

The Seyking, or ruler, of Furdvik was a man of great notoriety. He once killed a Danfear Ledir named Otergrude. The Seyking was named Gutaca the Brown after he had defeated the Danfear raid on Furdvik. Gutaca now sat in his wooden throne in front of the Hinn nobles of Furdvik. His hall was vast with many rooms adjoined to the great hall but Gutaca was thirsty for conquest. He would lead the first conquest on Ulsgard but there was one problem. His nobles refused to budge from the old ways. He now stroked the long beard the he had grown in the fashion of the Danfear. His wife sat next to him, Serafina, and she was a tall and beautiful woman. She was called the goddess of the Danfear. The Serafina legend spoke of her capture by Gutaca when he led a raid across the mountains. All knew of her beauty. The recent Danfear raids were believed to be scouting parties attempting to find her. She now stood shouting amongst the clamorous great hall.

“Silence!” The Hinn king roared, and the hall became quiet. “You forget who your commander is!” Gutaca stood and strode into the middle of the hall. “You who cling to the old ways. You who believe that we are not on the verge of a new age. You who believe that Anggeta is not planning the same for us right now.”

“The old ways are set forth by the gods. Have you taken up the god of the Danfear as well?” A young and ambitious, yet pious, noble named Otred spoke up. The crowd parted to allow the young man to face his king.

“I remain true to the ancient ones of the Mountain and the great sea snake Braguda. Never question me on this again Otred. I who have slain a Danfear Ledir will not be questioned by a child. Braguda is my captain while my queen is the Danfear goddess Serafina. Do you think that you may challenge me in this way?”

“I do my Seyking, for you have married a Danfear and now you seek to make yourself Danfear.”

“If I am Danfear as you say, despite being born in Seutara just north of this city, then would you challenge a Danfear?” Otred fell silent and retreated into the crowd as Gutaca’s voice echoed through the silent hall.

“It will take months to raise such a large force from the city and outlying villages, my Seyking.” An old noble bowed with a fist over his left shoulder.

“It will take a day.” Gutaca gestured for the old man to step aside and he walked back up to his throne. “We shall host a feast. A feast greater than any feast we have ever had. All citizens of Furdvik will be invited to my great hall.”

“We will surely not survive the winter if we host such a feast my Seyking.”

“Why do you believe I wish to survive the winter, my Lord?” Gutaca sat in his throne once more as shock took ahold of the old man’s features. Serafina sat down next to her husband and the uproar commenced once more.

The Flight of the Desert Rose

Eleesa awoke, covered in sand and very weak. Sand had crusted around her mouth and coated her throat. She struggled to sit up, but her body would not obey. She lay in the sand wondering why she had not died yet. She expected to die soon and once the boy showed up, she wanted to. He appeared like a phantom, morphing from the sun rays shimmering off the dunes.

“I thought you were a smart girl Eleesa.” She tried to ask how he knew her name, but her mouth refused to move. It was so caked with sand that it glued her mouth closed. Not even a breath would escape her lips. The only thing that allowed her to breathe was the small hole in her left nostril, that sand had not cemented shut. “I’m glad I found you before the desert claimed you. Do not worry girl, I will escort you away from here. We cannot return to your village. I think a port city would be a great place.” Eleesa wanted to tell him that she had never left Numo. She was afraid of going anywhere foreign to her, but she could not resist. Her body was too weak for any struggle. Her head swam as the boy hoisted her onto his shoulders. After a few feet on the boys back, Eleesa fell unconscious once more.