The story of what could have been for the princess and the mercenary. JelandaxArngrim
Lenneth Valkyrie soared over the land between Artolia and Villnore, floating weightlessly in the seemingly endless skies that eventually had to give way to another world in the great Yggdrasil. She focused, trying to hear the cries of those whose lives in Midgar were about to end, then her eyes shot open, her concentration broken. She found herself remembering Freya's words, asking if this world reminded her of anything, it didn't make sense since Lenneth had not seen it before, she knew that, but at the same time there was uncertainty within her.
"That is why..." Freya had begun to explain or perhaps justify something.
"That is why what?" Lenneth had accepted Freya's dismissal of the unfinished thought and decided it was not an important enough matter to inquire about again. Yet, somehow, those words suddenly haunted Lenneth and she couldn't help it but to wonder what Freya would have said, what she hid.
Lenneth shook her head, her silver hair shimmering like a sapphire in the sun, perhaps more brilliant than her polished blue armor. She had to focus, concentrate, she had a mission. Even so, the thought of concentrating came and went fleetingly as her attention was called to the ground below, by the presence of two men escorting a box. With inexplicable curiosity, Lenneth floated down, though she remained out of their sight, and watched the scene as a cavalry of knights closed the distance towards the two men.
The knights examined the contents of their cargo, retrieving an unconscious young woman from inside the wooden box. She wore fine clothing, a long purple blouse, black pants and boots and a short red cape, her long blond hair cascading in curls.
The knights had identified the unconscious woman as their princess, which prompted the men, presumably her kidnappers, to run away and escape. Lenneth did not go after them; she had no reason to unnecessarily intervene in human conflicts. The Valkyrie was about to gain more altitude and see what she could sense in the area, when she noticed the captain of the knights was about to give the princess a foul potion. If they were trying to save her, this made no sense.
Sighing, Lenneth reminded herself, "this is no task of mine," her purpose was not to save humans from their foolishness, but still, what could it hurt? She sped down and spoke to the captain, while remaining invisible, "human, if you make her drink that foul potion, the lady will surely turn into a monster." Then she stepped back and flew to the skies to clear her mind and try to concentrate.
The captain stopped cold, the bottle still in his hands. "Sir, we should give the princess the medicine soon," a high ranked knight urged.
The captain shook his head, his heavy metal helmet reflecting the sunlight. "Did you not hear it? I could have sworn it was the voice of the Battle Maiden, she warned me not to give this potion to the princess because it would make her a monster."
Another knight scuffed in irritation, he did not believe in the tales of the Battle Maiden Valkyrie. "Sir, with all due respect, we really should give the princess the medicine."
The captain remained doubtful, "I cannot ignore such a clear sign." He handed the bottle to another knight and prepared to take the princess back to the castle as she was.
Exasperated, the non-believer snatched away the bottle, "it's only medicine, harmless medicine. It's from Lord Lombert and I do not doubt him." He opened it and drank a little, to prove his point. Yet one taste drove him to drink more until a sharp pain made him drop the bottle, which shattered on the ground.
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Lenneth heard cries from the direction in which she had just been, she shook her head, she did more than was her duty for those humans and yet they could not stay safe. Perhaps it was simply impossible for them to defy their destiny once it had been set. She returned to the same place.
One of the men from before had return; he had dark hair and broad shoulders, wearing simple armor and carrying a long sword. He was by far the strongest looking human Lenneth had seen so far in her short time in Midgar, though it took more than that to be a hero. A vile monster had slaughtered the knights and was now fighting that man. Miraculously, the princess remained unharmed still unconscious behind the man who was set on protecting her.
Hunting down such creatures was part of Lenneth's duty, she could not ignore that monster, thus she made herself visible and joined the man in battle.
"What? Who...?" The man began to ask.
"You must focus!" Lenneth struck the monster with her sword, the scaly red creature letting out a cry of pain and anger; it glared at its opponents with its evil golden eyes.
"Battle Maiden," the man voiced before charging into battle once again, until he and the Valkyrie defeated the monster.
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The creature lay dead. The soul of the man it had once been, floated away, as it had happened with the souls of the other knights, none of which were worthy of becoming Einherjar. "Battle Maiden, did you come here because of that monster?"
"It is my duty to fight such creatures," Lenneth replied, with no intentions of remaining there any longer.
Seeing that she was about to leave, the warrior was quick to call her back, "wait, what about Angela, I mean Jelanda, is Jelanda alright?"
Lenneth approached the princess whom the warrior now held in his arms and placed her hand on the young woman's forehead. "She will live. However, your lives are up to you to live; I will not interfere any further." Lenneth began to walk away, but paused before jumping towards the skies. "Human,"
"Arngrim," he offered.
Lenneth continued, "in spite of the strength of destiny, your actions may still have consequences, Arngrim." She did not know why she spoke those words, and she was not sure if she believed them herself, but it was the last thing she said before Lenneth Valkyrie disappeared into the distant skies.
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"Hmm... Oh... My head hurts, where am I?" Jelanda's question went unanswered at first. Her senses finally became aware enough for her to take in her position and her surroundings. She was in the wilderness, away from the main road, in a forest surrounded by trees and bushes. The chirping of birds was all around, accompanied by the rustling of the leaves in the gentle breeze. She was being carried by a man, by Arngrim. "Arngrim!" She called him louder, which effectively made him realize she was not talking in her sleep like many times before.
"Angela! No, Jelanda, are you alright?" Arngrim set her on her feet as he asked, watching her steady herself before letting him go.
"You knew who I was? You're not with Lombert are you?" She didn't know why but Jelanda didn't think so, despite how suspicious the situation may look.
"Of course not! He's a Villnore spy, I didn't know about his plans, I didn't know you were in the box," Arngrim was quick to explain.
"I believe you," Jelanda replied, "so you saved me?"
"In a sense, but I can't take full credit," Arngrim decided to tell her the whole story, "I was hired for a job transporting a box of unknown contents," he decided Bradach was not important enough to be mentioned. "Knights caught up to me and opened the box, you were inside-"
"Impudent fool!" Jelanda scolded, "who agrees to transport cargo without knowing its contents?"
"I know, it was a stupid move on my part," Arngrim admitted. "I escaped, but Lombert had sent some medicine along with the cavalry, but for some reason, instead of giving it to you, one of the knights drank it and turned into a monster. I rushed back when I heard the commotion and fought the creature alongside a Valkyrie."
"A Valkyrie you say?" This came as a surprise to Jelanda who never grew tired of reading of the legends from the books in the royal library. "You saw a real Valkyrie?"
"Yes, she was too strong not to be real and I saw her disappear into the skies," Arngrim confirmed.
Jelanda's mood had taken a sudden turn; she was now filled with a momentary childish joy, "a real Valkyrie, to think one was so close and I didn't see her!"
"I take it you like those legends," it felt a little odd to call them legends when Arngrim himself had confirmed they were real.
"Of course I do!" Jelanda voiced, "when I was a little girl and my mother still lived, despite her fragile health, she would tell me stories about the Valkyrie and how she would protect Artolia from monsters and the undead. I would pretend to be a Valkyrie and get scolded if I accidentally broke one of my porcelain dolls while I pretended to fight it with a scepter as if it were a sword. My father said that if I must learn some form of defense it should be something more lady-like and elegant, such as magic, though I still got into trouble at times when I set things on fire." Jelanda caught herself and ended her story, "of course that was a long time ago when I was still small."
Arngrim had been smiling, amused by Jelanda's story. He could clearly imagine the tomboy-princess pretending to be the Battle Maiden and getting into mischief. She was certainly proud and brave, but also reckless. "Maybe one day you'll get to see her." It was something that filled Arngrim with curiosity. He wondered what things were like in Valhalla, if it was that much better than the world he knew and what kind of battles were fought there, he wanted to join in.
"I wonder..." Jelanda breathed deeply, her heart yearning for adventure.
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Jelanda had been walking with Arngrim for quite some time after having woken up. Despite being tired, she did not wish to be carried. The sun was sinking in the horizon painting the sky a beautiful shade of orange, though it could barely be seen in the forest. They had been absorbed in their conversation about legends and adventures, with Arngrim having told some stories of his most interesting jobs; time had passed quickly. "How far are we from Artolia?" Jelanda still did not know where exactly she stood, but the question had been delayed in favor of more interesting topics.
"About another day's journey," Arngrim replied.
Jelanda pouted, "I'm hungry, thirsty and tired. Father must be worried," she paused remembering her previous plans. "That's right; I can't believe I almost forgot about this. I demand an apology!"
Apologizing was something Arngrim had intended to do, "you're right, I apologize for the way I acted towards your father."
"Well," Jelanda looked a little surprised, "at least you admitted that easily, but I wasn't asking for an apology for myself. I expect you to apologize to my father in person and to all those who were present at the time. You are also to assist in the capture of Lombert, he will not expect us to return; that's why we're taking this path, right?"
"Yes," Arngrim confirmed the reasoning. "If Lombert hears you're alive and heading back to Artolia, he might try something that could endanger even the king. But hold on a minute with your demands, don't you think that's a little much?"
"Ten thousand deaths are not enough for you, yet I'm pardoning your life asking for your due apologies and indebted assistance, I am being far too generous!" Jelanda argued, "Additionally, I expect you to find a place to spend the night soon, it's getting dark and I'm hungry."
"Finding a place to rest and some food is understandable, we'll discuss the rest later," they arrived at a clearing, where Arngrim began to gather stones, setting them in a circle with several branches in the middle.
"What are you doing?" Jelanda inquired in confusion.
"Building a fire," Arngrim replied thinking it should be obvious, though he soon recalled the procedure would be completely alien to a princess. "You see, this wood is to feed the fire and the stones will make sure it remains contained."
"Those pieces of wood will burn out in no time and just why do you need stones to contain it? This makes no sense. I am a princess, but it's not like I haven't seen a torch in my life, I did study magic," Jelanda reminded.
"I do remember that and it will make it easier if you light the fire," Arngrim pointed to the pile of wood in the center of the stone circle.
"That will not do," Jelanda scanned the ground in the little remaining light, "ah, this," she picked up a long branch, relatively thick, but still thin enough to wrap her fingers around the base. Chanting an incantation Jelanda ignited the opposite end of the branch, creating an improvised torch which she gave to Arngrim. "There, this will light our way until we reach an establishment."
"There are no establishments here," Arngrim broke the branch in half, tossing the lit half into the pile of wood and the other on top of it. "That's why I'm building a fire; we'll have to camp here until tomorrow."
Jelanda was shocked and outraged, "what?!"
"You said it yourself; your return must remain a secret until Lombert is apprehended. As things stand now, they'll assume you're dead, so there's no need for Lombert to take hostages to protect himself, he can't know his plan was discovered, that's why you shouldn't be seen in the main roads." Arngrim reasoned, "Besides, there really are no inns around here."
"Where would I sleep then? On the ground?" Jelanda gasped, "On the filthy disgusting ground? What about food?" The seriousness of the situation sunk in all of the sudden and Jelanda realized that real adventures were not as easy as in the story books.
"I'll leave you alone for a while to let it sink in, princess. I'm afraid we have no choice," Arngrim confirmed and Jelanda looked offended. "Listen, Jelanda," Arngrim softened his voice, trying to be patient; she was not accustomed to any of this. He placed his hand on her shoulder, "I know this is hard, but I need you to be brave, you can do this, I know you're a strong person, and believe me I don't say this to anyone. Bear with this now and when we return to Artolia I'll capture Lombert and he'll be exposed for what he is. You'll get your revenge and I'll apologize to your father, but you have to cooperate now so we can get through this, alright?"
Jelanda felt a strange heat raise to her face as she wordlessly nodded her head, her golden curls bouncing as she did.
Arngrim was not sure how to interpret her expression or silence, but he decided it was best to end her hunger as soon as possible, it must be very painful and Jelanda had been strong to bear it this long, if only fueled by pride. "Stay here close to the fire."
"Where are you going?" Jelanda found her voice; she didn't want to be left alone in a dark forest. The chirping of the birds had ceased and instead she heard what she theorized were crickets, distant growling, some unidentifiable sounds and an occasional howl.
"I'm going to hunt for some food," her expression was as displeased as he guessed it would be. "Don't make that face, this is all there is right now. I'll go alone to make the prey easier to capture."
"Just come back as soon as you have our... meal," Jelanda wasn't sure if she could even call it that, her nose wrinkled at the thought.
"I'll try to hurry back, stay near the fire, it should scare the forest animals away." He picked up another relatively thick branch. "Keep this on hand just in case, if anything approaches, you can scare it off with a torch, be careful with your fire spells, we don't want the forest to end up ablaze."
"I'm not a child!" Jelanda snatched the branch and sat on the ground next to the fire, watching from the corner of her eyes as Arngrim disappeared into the wilderness aided only by the dim light of the full moon filtering through the trees.
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"Did you have to take so long?" Jelanda pouted at Arngrim upon his return.
"My apologies your highness," Arngrim replied with a clear hint of sarcasm.
"Maybe mercenaries really are barbarians!" Jelanda argued, the odd sensation she got when Arngrim spoke to her earlier was still present and she felt the inexplicable need to remind herself of her father's disapproval towards this man.
"I'm trying to take care of you," Arngrim tried not to get into too much of an argument, but he did not enjoy being insulted. "I thought you would cooperate, wasn't that what your silent nod meant?"
"My silence was..." Jelanda herself didn't know the answer to that, "it was none of your business!"
"Tell me again why you're angry at me? Even if you hadn't snuck out to get revenge on me, Lombert would have acted all the same. The two events have no connection," Arngrim pointed out. "You'll have to excuse the lack of royal treatment, since there's not much to work with here."
"I know that and I'm not blaming you for my being here, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I can express my sincere opinion whenever I want and I expect you to hold it to high importance, furthermore-" a howl broke Jelanda's speech.
"We have company," Arngrim took the branch Jelanda was still holding and lit it on fire, just on time as the wolves approached, intimidated by the light, yet irresistibly attracted by the scent of fresh meat. "Go get your own food," Arngrim waved the torch in front of the animals until they retreated; realizing the being before them was too strong to defeat, even if the pack worked together. He tossed the fiery piece of wood into the fire and continued with his task of preparing the food, glancing at Jelanda for a moment. "Relax; I won't let anyone or anything hurt you."
Jelanda sat down again, as she had jumped to her feet at the presence of danger. What she was going to say had been forgotten. Instead she sighed and hugged her legs; the pleasant breeze had become a chilly wind. Yet in spite of everything, she smiled, allowing Arngrim's words to echo in her mind.
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"It's still hot, but it's cooked and before you ask, no, I don't happen to be carrying eating utensils with me," Arngrim held a portion of meat in front of Jelanda, which she stared at disapprovingly.
Jelanda's lips were pressed together in a line, her eyes on the food before her, if she could even call it food, and her nose wrinkled to the side, her breath held. Her lungs finally gave in, demanding the flow of oxygen to be restored and the scent of food made Jelanda throw caution to the wind along with her table manners, taking the meat and biting into it. It was a small bite at first, but she soon began to devour it until it was all gone, "more."
Arngrim was surprised, but several days of starvation could have a strong effect on people. "Eat as much as you want, there's plenty left."
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"That wasn't so bad, right? Did you enjoy having a barbarian's meal?" Despite Jelanda's understandable hunger, Arngrim was still surprised at how much she ate. It was a good thing he caught a deer instead of a rabbit, or there would have been no food left for him, and not even enough to satisfy Jelanda.
"I do hope I don't become ill," Jelanda replied, somewhat embarrassed by her own behavior, which she solved by telling herself that it didn't matter anyway since no one of a high rank had witnessed it. "Arngrim... I don't really think of you that way, I mean, you're a decent man for a mercenary."
"Apology accepted," Arngrim knew he shouldn't have replied that way, but he did anyway.
Jelanda pouted a princess should not be apologizing to a peasant. "Impudent," she muttered before changing the subject. "I wish to sleep now, we should move on early tomorrow, as soon as there's light."
"Good night princess," Arngrim observed as she didn't move, instead looking around the area until she chose a tree to lean against and sat there, her back against the bark for a little while.
Jelanda got up shivering and returned to the area near the fire where Arngrim was, then sat down next to him. This might be a little more tolerable if she could lean on something to sleep while sitting, she did not want to lie down completely on the ground, but she also wanted to stay close to the fire.
Finally, Jelanda close her eyes, hoping that by some miracle she would remain in a sitting position in her sleep without support. She should have known it was impossible, but she was too tired to think and too far into slumber to realize she was leaning on Arngrim, as if unconsciously seeking his body heat.
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Arngrim was the first to wake up, with Jelanda still sleeping. She woke him up several times during the night with insults that were purely unconscious babble, but annoying none the less. He resolved to let her sleep and carried her during the early morning.
A couple of hours passed before Jelanda finally woke up. She blinked, a little disoriented, until the events of the previous night surfaced in her memories. "Arngrim?"
"Good morning princess," he didn't sound too enthusiastic, as the most difficult part of the situation was a approaching and he knew that the aftermath, more so than the mission, would be a pain to deal with.
"Morning..." Jelanda wondered if Arngrim was upset at her and why. Was she that much of a burden on him? "You can put me down." Arngrim set Jelanda down and the two continued walking. "You should have woken me up."
"I don't mind, you're light. I thought it would be best to let you rest since you're not used to so much walking," Arngrim replied, still thinking of what lay ahead.
Jelanda tilted her head curiously, was he trying to be of service or assuming that she was helpless? She felt angered to think it was the latter. "Impudent," she muttered as she walked ahead.
"What did I do now?" Arngrim caught up to her.
"You're treating me as if I'm helpless, well, I'm not," Jelanda ran away, going far into the thick forest.
"Wait, we shouldn't get separated here!" One second, Jelanda was with him and the next she disappeared, lost in the abundant flora.
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Jelanda stopped to catch her breath, her heart beating rapidly to keep up with the unusual pace her life had taken.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" An unknown man approached, some kind of bandit by the looks of him. He was dirty and smelled unpleasant, but the worse part was the malicious look in his eyes.
"Stay back!" Jelanda warned, though a panic had not settled in. Arngrim was near by, he would come to her rescue, he was following her, surely he had not lost track of her. Unless he fell behind tired of how he was treated, but he was a peasant, shouldn't he be honored to serve a princess? Maybe he didn't think that way, what would happen if he didn't? A panic finally started to form.
The bandit tried to restrain her, but Jelanda was quick to chant her fire spell, though she could only produce small flames without the aid of a scepter, it was enough to burn the man's hands when he tried to seize her wrists. He yelled in pain and Jelanda took the distraction as an opportunity to pick up a long branch from the ground and use it to defend herself.
The bandit recovered fast and caught the branch Jelanda was hitting him with, but she set it on fire, near his hands, causing him to let it go, allowing her to continue hitting him with the blazing branch. His clothes caught the flames, which Jelanda fueled as her energy recovered and the bandit screamed in agony.
"Jelanda!" Arngrim called out, having finally found her.
"Arngrim!" She dropped what was left of the broken, burnt branch and rushed towards him. "Save me!"
"From what?" Arngrim asked in amusement.
Jelanda looked towards were the bandit was before, but found he was disappearing in the distance, looking charred and yelling something about a savage witch. Jelanda glared in indignation and screamed, "ten thousand deaths are not enough for you!" Arngrim began to laugh, the reaction surprising Jelanda. "I fail to see how this is funny, I could have been murdered!"
"Don't worry, you had that one under control," Arngrim commended, causing Jelanda to be filled with inexplicable pride. "Let's go, if we hurry we'll make it with plenty of light, of course that also means we'll have to be more careful when the forest ends."
Jelanda nodded, "once we get to Artolia we should be alright, by the time the rumors reach the castle if anyone sees us, we'll be there apprehending Lombert. I can't wait to bring that traitor to justice!"
"It will be the perfect end to your adventure," Arngrim agreed, though that was not exactly what Jelanda was thinking.
"Yes," Jelanda didn't feel right about it, "the end..." she didn't want it to be the end, sure this life was difficult but it was also interesting and she wanted to spend more time with Arngrim.
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Just as Jelanda predicted, they were able to make it to the castle quickly, using the same secret passage she had discovered. It was an unknown escape route, leading to secret tunnels in the castle, which was originally built so that the royal family could get to safety if there was an emergency. That was many years ago and the existence of the passage had been lost through the generations, until Jelanda discovered it.
They snuck past the guards easily enough, being identified only when they were deep inside the castle. "Princess!" A maid gasped, nearly dropping the vase she was holding. She tugged her long graying hair behind her ear, her face frozen in shock, her brown eyes wide. Not only was the princess back, but she came out of nowhere, like a ghost, and in the company of a suspicious looking man.
The elderly maid was full of bliss, though her expression remained neutral. That evening the kitchen would be buzzing with the delicious gossip of the suspicious man who accompanied the princess. She had no taste for war stories, even if they were tales of victories. She did not like news of disappearances, assaults, commerce or knighting. That old woman fed on gossip and it would be wonderfully entertaining if she could have the chance to witness a true scandal, such as the one she had seen forty years ago, when she was still quite young.
Back then she worked in... some other place, the old woman no longer remembered it, the lady of the house had snuck a man in, a mercenary, a very handsome mercenary, though she did not remember him being quite as well built as this one. It all spiraled downhill from there when the lord caught wind of the situation and oh it was dramatic. Artolia would be in chaos, or perhaps prematurely gain a new unexpected king. Or maybe, nothing at all would happen, this could just be her wild imagination getting the best of her.
"Carry on," Jelanda nonchalantly instructed before rushing towards the throne room with Arngrim.
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It was not long before a castle guard noticed Jelanda and her guest, however, but she was quick to steer him towards the real problem, "Arngrim is innocent, he saved my life and brought me back home safely. Lombert is the traitor, we must go to my father at once and make sure he is not in danger, Arngrim will apprehend Lombert. Tell us where they are."
The confused guard could hardly keep up with all this new information; he shifted uncomfortably, his armor feeling heavier than ever. "His majesty the king and Lord Lombert are currently in the throne room, I have heard they had important matters to discuss."
Without offering a reply, Jelanda rushed towards the throne room, ignoring the guard who tried to stop her. Arngrim followed her silently, the sooner he kept his word and got this over with the better.
More castle guards were alerted by the sound of rapid foots steps, one set small and light and the other sounding off heavily, though both just as speedy. Then they saw the missing princess and the genius of battle who had disgraced the king rush down the halls towards the throne room. The castle guard was following them, explaining the situation to his companions as he went, more joining the parade of princess, mercenary and growing trail of castle guards, with a few nosy maids curiously bringing up the rear.
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The thunderous sound of the throne room's double doors being thrown open filled the air and cut the tense silence, shattering the atmosphere. The king sat in his thrown, expression grave, with the traitor at his side, offering excuses, reassurance and false words of comfort concerning the topic of the monarch's missing daughter.
"Jelanda!" The king stood from his throne, watching his daughter run to him alive and well. The barbarian who stained his honor before, Arngrim, now wielded his sword against Lombert and the castle guards continued to pour into the room, followed by the royal knights and the entire cavalry, as they had been alerted by the guards.
"Lombert is a traitor!" Jelanda shouted, "ten thousand deaths are not enough for you! You shall pay for your attempt on my life!"
The king was shocked beyond words; he was frightened, surprised, angry, frustrated, but also immensely relieved that his dear daughter was alive and healthy.
The knights and castle guards stood aside, pressed against the walls, observing Arngrim who held his sword ready at Lombert's throat. They were as immobile now as they have been when they were ordered to seize Arngrim before, but this time it was out of awe and shock, rather than fear and the uncertainty between loyalty to the crown and admiration for a comrade.
"Your majesty, this man has brainwashed the princess, you remember his terrible deeds; you cannot believe him," Lombert desperately tried to reason with the king, though his urgency did not reach his steady voice and calm face.
"That's not true! I act of my own free will; father, you know me," Jelanda insisted. "You impudent fool," she directed her anger at Lombert, "how dare you imply that I am not of sound mind? You are a traitor and a murderer; it is your fault the cavalry searching for me never returned. If not for Arngrim who risked his life to protect me, I would be dead as well." She turned to her father again, "Father, you must order Lombert's immediate execution, right here and now, he must not live for a moment longer!"
"That man," the king began, referring to Arngrim, "has said nothing," his expression was stern as he looked at Lombert, "however, Lombert, my daughter has spoken and I choose to believe her words. I here by order-"
A flash of red light surrounding Lombert interrupted the king's speech, causing the royal to jump in surprise. Seeing that he was cornered and no amount of persuasion would save him, Lombert set out to at least take the life of the man who ruined his plans by saving the princess and bring her back to Artolia.
Arngrim could not move, cursing loudly and struggling paralyzed, his body trembling with the struggle. The floor beneath his feet turned to an endless darkness, all encompassing and all consuming. Sinister creatures akin to dark specters of evil rose from the depths of that infinite darkness, surrounding Arngrim while the witnesses stood frozen by fear, all save for one who made the difference.
When Lombert had begun to chant, so had Jelanda, taking hold of her father's scepter, which he had on hand for purely decorative purposes and had left sitting on his throne when he stood at the sight of his daughter. None the less the golden scepter topped with rubies and a diamond in the center, was quite usable to help channel and empower spells and that was the function for which the princess employed it.
The shadow specters swarmed around the paralyzed Arngrim but did not harm him, instead seeking out their summoner, attacking viciously, making the elderly villain scream out in pain. The black phantoms tossed him to the air, whirling around him, growing ever darker and consuming his very life. It was not until Lombert was dead that the dark beings faded away into nothingness, leaving the body to fall eerily silent on the floor.
Cheer erupted from the crowd as in spite of the near presence of their king, the knights and guards cheered for Arngrim, the genius of battle that not even creatures of darkness dared to challenge, no one noticed Jelanda's spell to ward off Lombert's magic, no one except Arngrim. If anyone saw the fatigue in the princess's face, they attributed it to the nerve wrecking commotion.
Arngrim observed as Jelanda held the scepter limply, as if not wanting to bring attention to it by going to place it back. For Arngrim to be forgiven, this feat was to be his alone. She would think of a way for him to make it up to her later. "Everyone," Jelanda called all those present to attention, "Arngrim has something to say."
The king's expression turned sour and the knights and guards were instantly silent, as if remembering their location and their situation. Arngrim stepped forward, he would not run away, he would keep his word, but he would be lying if he said he would enjoy rectifying his mistake in front of such a large crowd, Jelanda would get her wish after all. "I apologize for the other day," Arngrim said simply and the room continued to be filled with silence afterwards.
"In light that Arngrim save my life, safely escorted me home, defeated a very dangerous traitor and apologized, would you forgive him? I do owe him my life after all," Jelanda added her portion of convincing for her father.
The king took a deep breath, clearly exhausted from the day's chaos. "Very well, if you are truly repentant for your behavior, I will take into consideration that you cannot help your nature and give you my forgiveness."
Arngrim was going to protest about the king's egotistical remark about his nature, but Jelanda gave him a firm look. She did not want Arngrim to ruin the progress they had made, thus for her sake, certainly not for the king, Arngrim swallowed his pride and said, "thank you."
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Time passed and Arngrim was quite tired of people asking him who the lady that went in and out of his house during the day was. Lawfer and Kashell were especially curious, while Celia advised that they should respect Arngrim's privacy, but he could see the inquisitiveness in her eyes. At least Arngrim knew that Roland would surely keep the secret.
Continuing to live in Artolia had become more interesting but also more dangerous. During one of Jelanda's now frequent visits, Arngrim insisted on revealing the truth about the spell she casted which might have ultimately saved his life. "If you're saying you owe me then repay me by doing as I say. Stay silent; I don't want you to lose father's forgiveness."
Arngrim could argue that the forgiveness had not been sincere, since the king was pressured by the circumstances of debt, which would be nullified if the princess fulfilled a trade of a life for a life before the king could even it out with Arngrim's pardon. Then again, Arngrim's apology at the throne room, unlike the one he offered Jelanda in the forest, was not completely sincere either. In short, he resolved not to argue and instead tried to gently persuade the temperamental princess to stop sneaking out of the castle, but that only made her come to visit more often.
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"Is that a letter from Lady Lorenta?" It was a new day in Artolia and despite the war that surrounded most of the continent and the ongoing rivalry with Villnore, the kingdom was peaceful and the sun cheerful. Not a single cloud could be seen in the sky and while some were pleased with the joyful weather, the pessimistic feared a drought as it had not rained for many days. The summer heat invaded the castle, sticking to its stone walls, floor and ceiling and radiating off them.
Jelanda could certainly feel the change of seasons as she rushed to her father's study after hearing that mail had been delivered to him. She decided that perhaps she was growing tired of her inconvenient elaborate dresses, such as the violet one she currently wore, with white fabric underneath the violet skirt which parted in a triangle in the middle, pink bows attached to the white in the center of the skirt. Her golden tiara was perfectly balanced despite her running in violet high heels; her golden curls also remained perfectly in place, held back with a pink bow similar to the ones on her dress and around her waist.
"It is, but..." The king's expression was grave and disappointed as one who received terrible news. He picked up the already opened envelope and stared at it regretfully, his too long emerald sleeve covering half his hand as he held it.
"She agreed, didn't she? I was accepted!" Jelanda was euphoric, knowing that her father's expression was not due to disappointment, but inevitable fatherly worry at the knowledge that his daughter was going to a far away land.
"Reconsider," he knew his words were useless as the princess held a strong will, stubborn temper and iron determination. "You will not have all the servants you have here, your chambers would be small, not fit for a princess and more often than not you'll have to fend for yourself. This is not the kind of life a princess deserves."
"This is for the best; I will learn a lot and become stronger. Do not worry father, I will be fine, I am prepared to take care of myself." The choice had been made, thus Jelanda was to journey to the Flenceburg Sorcery Academy.
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The king was not pleased with Jelanda's rush to depart. Her things had been packed and she declared herself ready a mere few minutes after she had inquired about the letter from Lorenta. She had intended to leave immediately and the king knew there was no changing her mind. He was not content with how she arranged her own escort in advance, after all, he did not wish to deal with Arngrim ever again and he was there.
At least the weary monarch could receive some reassurance in the presence of the knight captain's son Lawfer, in Jelanda's escort, along with a few others whose names he did not quite remember or perhaps never knew; a blue haired man and a brunette lady both carrying swords. He saw them off, with one guard on each corner of the carriage carrying the princess, a maid chosen by her and her belongings which were too few things for a lady to carry on such a long journey in the king's opinion, but he assumed Jelanda would be able to obtain all else she could need once she reached the academy.
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"Aren't you glad you waited, if I haven't insisted for you to stay in Artolia, you would have missed this," Jelanda later spoke to Arngrim after they boarded the ship.
"The chance to escort you to Flenceburg or the time we spent in Artolia before you left? Why didn't you tell me you intended to journey so far?" Arngrim had inquired when the pair sat in her royal cabin below deck.
A curious Kashell and Celia listened outside the door and a scolding Lawfer, silently signaled for them to stop eavesdropping, despite doing so himself. Jelanda's maid appeared to be content standing at the hall with the others, a knowing smile upon her face, blond hair neatly in a braid, blue eyes alert. The resemblance between the young maid and the princess was uncanny, with the most obvious difference being the maid's calm demeanor, which heavily contrasted with Jelanda's fiery temper, her hair also lacked the curls of the royal, though that could be fixed.
"You didn't tell me either, you want to go on a journey too, don't you? To find the Valkyrie..." Jelanda revealed her knowledge of Arngrim's wish.
"I'll admit I'm curious, I want to know more about Valhalla and only the Battle Maiden has that information. It's like a treasure hunt, a very difficult one. But I had no intentions of leaving without telling you if you were to stay in Artolia," Arngrim admitted.
"But if I were in Flenceburg you would go on your journey instead of returning to Artolia," Jelanda continued.
"Yes, but what does it matter? I can't visit you in Flenceburg like you visited me in Artolia. I already spoke to Roland; he told you about my plans didn't he? I think you pressured the words out of him somehow, he did seem uneasy when I last saw him before the start of the escort mission. Either way, Lawfer is tasked with giving the report back in Artolia, I am not expected and Roland knows I'll be gone for a while."
"I'm curious too, about the Valkyrie and Valhalla, not so much about the battles fought there, but about that world," Jelanda admitted with a longing smile and look of plotting mischief which did not go unnoticed by Arngrim. Though the mercenary could not get any further information from the princess and what she was plotting, even if they conversed during the entire journey by ship, he knew he would find out soon enough.
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Lorenta received her guests warmly, treating them to a grand banquet and inviting them to stay in Flenceberg as long as they wanted. Due to the rough seas, which Jelanda was secretly thankful for, the journey back to Artolia for those who were returning was delayed for several days, thus Jelanda did not need to make an effort to convince Arngrim to stay until she was ready to reveal her true plans if everything worked out smoothly.
During his short one week stay in Flenceburg, Arngrim did not see Jelanda at all, as she was quite busy with her studies as if wanting to learn a lot in very little time. He realized that he had come to expect her cheerful presence, sharp remarks and unbreakable stubbornness, a thought for which he scolded himself, reasoning that he had no place missing the princess, despite her obvious attachment to him. He assumed his approaching journey would get his mind off Jelanda and their time spent together when his focus shifted in full to legends, mysteries and adventures.
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The day finally came for Lawfer, Kashell and Celia to leave for Artolia and Arngrim saw them off at port, unexpectedly along with Jelanda, her look-alike maid who now sported curly hair and another sorcery student, Mystina, who secretly disliked Lorenta, but got along just fine with Jelanda despite most people thinking that their personalities might clash.
Lorenta herself was there as well, speaking surprising words to Arngrim after the ship with the others disappeared in the horizon, navigating in now peaceful waters. "Take good care of Jelanda in this journey, I'm sure her magic will be of great help," the eldest woman then turned towards the princess, "do not forget to be careful with the potions you were taught to make, follow the recipe exactly and don't over do it, you will be vulnerable while you empower your magic, especially if you push it to recover faster with a potion, make sure Arngrim is ready to shield you before you even think of using a charge break potion."
"Don't worry, I'll be fine," Jelanda assured.
"Thank you princess," the maid vowed in gratitude, "I'll be sure to take good and clear notes for you, so that when you read them, it will be as if you were being instructed here, though I'm sure what you will learn in your adventure will be even more amazing."
"Wait a minute, I see what's going on, your maid is taking your place at the academy and everyone is in on it!" Arngrim realized, his expression surprised, but at the same time expectant.
"Not everyone," Jelanda corrected, Lawfer, Kashell and Celia didn't know, neither does my father. Lorenta, Mystina and Annia, my stand in, are the only ones who know, and of course you."
"You're full of surprises, but I guess in a way I already expected this," Arngrim realized, albeit the thought seemed so unfitting to what most should expect or allow, that he had disregarded it as a near impossible possibility, an eternally unfulfilled curiosity of what could be, yet it came true after all.
"I thought you planned this," Lorenta commented, with a hint of doubt that soon disappeared. She had a long talk with Jelanda and gave her a few advanced lessons, Mystina who was curious about the arrival of a royal as a student had helped as well, though Lorenta wasn't fully aware of what the two younger women spoke of after her lessons were done for the day. Seeing the connection between Jelanda and Arngrim reassured Lorenta once more, she was bending the rules, but she knew that if she did not, those two would break them anyway, this was all that could be done for the most peaceful resolution available.
"Life on the road isn't easy," Arngrim warned.
"I know and I have no intentions of being a burden," Jelanda knew she was giving up her luxuries to go with Arngrim, but she decided it was worth it. This way she could be with him and she could fulfill her wish to learn more about the Valkyrie and Valhalla, which was something she knew Arngrim also wanted to learn about.
"You've got guts, good luck on your journey, stay strong and don't forget to write when you see something interesting. I may not be able to reply since you'll be moving around all the time, but I'll be sure to read," Mystina voiced.
Jelanda nodded, "of course! I'll drop off some letters whenever we pass a town or port with postal services. I'll be counting on you all to keep my secret here." Filled with excitement, Jelanda looked at Arngrim, who was looking forward to the journey as well.
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On one of the many nights on the road, Jelanda and Arngrim found themselves camping out once more. The stars were shining across clear skies, but the night was slightly chilly. Jelanda moved closer to her companion in front of the fire, resting her head on his shoulder. She always did this when the nights were cold and tonight would only get colder, Arngrim somehow knew. He allowed the closeness as he always did. He'd be a fool not to notice her attachment to him. He had thought of it as a passing crush, something that she would grow out of once she got a taste of life on the road for more than a few weeks, yet he had been wrong.
To be sure, the life that was natural to Arngrim, to a mercenary and a warrior, was not easy for a princess. But Jelanda was stubborn like no other and from the moment she decided to go on this journey, she was determined not to be a burden. She seized every opportunity to prove she could take care of herself and used her magic fiercely and with deadly accuracy, complementing Arngrim's swordplay to perfection.
He had suggested earlier, when she looked tired that she should return to the academy at Flenceburg, but she was quick to refuse and start an argument. "How have I been a burden to you? When did I slow you down? It's true that the conditions in which we travel are terribly unfit for a civilized human being, but I've bared it without complaint, haven't I?"
She was the same little spitfire she had always been, but she mostly saved her frustrations for the undead. In one occasion, a zombie had growled at her calling her "battle maiden,' confusing the fierce and beautiful fighter with the Valkyrie herself.
"Calm yourself little one," Arngrim couldn't help it but to smile. Jelanda's determination was like nothing he had ever seen. "If you really wish to continue traveling with me, then do so. Just don't push yourself too much."
"I can handle this," she flipped her golden curls over her shoulder and stomped off towards the little caravan in the distance hoping to buy supplies. She called and waved, causing the driver to stop to tend to the prospective customer. It was also from that caravan of traveling merchant nomads that they heard of the legend of a castle that appeared in an isolated area away from the main roads near there.
Thus now, a day later, Arngrim and Jelanda were camping out with intentions of continuing their exploration after a short rest. Jelanda had fallen asleep in Arngrim's arms. She was not simply someone to protect, she could certainly hold her own in battle, yet her attachment was more than just something passing. Jelanda didn't think about it too much. She didn't think of her eventual return to Artolia, she didn't think of what she would say to her father. She wanted to stay with Arngrim even if it meant being on the road forever. She had fallen in love beyond the initial attraction of what was different and forbidden and she knew it.
With an uneasy sleep, Jelanda shifted and her eyes slightly opened as she took in a few small breaths. This had been happening more often lately. "Are you alright?" There was only a murmur in return as Jelanda tried to make herself comfortable again. Her head was on his shoulder, her forehead against his neck. He tilted his head slightly wondering just when such close proximity became alright between them, she didn't question it and neither did he. His face touched the warmth of her forehead. "You have a fever," he noticed, pulling back just enough to take a good look at her face.
Jelanda's face was flustered pink, her sleepy sapphire eyes half closed. "I'm alright; you don't need to worry about me. I'm not going to be a burden to you."
"You're not a burden." Perhaps he might have hinted at that during the start of their travels, but not anymore. "You're always so eager to prove yourself, always eager to show your skill. You're always telling me you want to be helpful, to allow your magic to create an opening for my sword. You're always saying 'do you see? You can count on me.' Well, you can count on me too. It's okay to be tired, it's okay, you can rely on me, I won't think of you as a burden just because you have human needs, we all do."
Jelanda smiled, "thank you." She couldn't bear to be thought of as helpless, not by Arngrim, but if he was willing to take care of her because he wanted to, rather than because he felt an obligation, then it was different, it made her happy.
She gave him a peck on the cheek, it was quick, sweet and innocent, but it reminded Arngrim that the one he held in his arms wasn't just a little princess, she was an amazing young woman who cared for him more than he thought any woman ever would. He inched closer, she closed her eyes, their lips almost touched, but a thunderous sound interrupted them. There it was, a short distance away, the castle they had been looking for appeared late in the night out of thin air, just like the legends told. Like moths to the flame, they went to investigate.
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The castle was dark and ominous with an infinity of corridors filled with dark creatures that did not belong in the world of the living. As it had happened in many occasions, they progressed through the haunted structure, working together. Then from another hallway in the seemingly endless maze, a female figure in blue armor with long silvery blue hair flowing from under a feathered helmet approached. "This is no place for humans," the battle maiden spoke, being met with their surprised looks. "Do you not cherish the lives that you managed to preserve from the merciless grasp of destiny?"
"Valkyrie!" Jelanda was the first to react. Bouncing over to the battle maiden and observing her with curiosity and an expression akin to that of a child in a candy store. "We were looking for you."
Lenneth tilted her head curiously, then shook it. "Humans are truly an enigma to me. You should not seek me, for if you do, what you seek is death."
"Adventure, more so," Arngrim clarified. "This castle..."
"I intend to explore it," Lenneth asserted, "but you should leave," she cautioned.
"Not happening," Arngrim grinned. He wasn't going to miss this adventure, not an adventure worthy of the Valkyrie herself.
"Very well," seeing as they were unwilling to heed her advice, Lenneth let the matter rest. "Then follow me and be as my Einherjar."
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The group traversed the castle until they reached a pair of double doors. Curious as to their methods, Lenneth allowed Arngrim and Jelanda to take their time. They explore every room and collected treasures after defeating the undead. Yet Lenneth's instinct told her they should make haste. "Let us go, time is running out and this castle will vanish soon." The distraction was longer than she thought as she observed the humans fight alongside the Einherjar and was amused by their enjoyment of the opportunity of being able to take part of an adventure with her.
Perhaps they belonged with her; perhaps that was their ultimate destiny after all. Maybe fate would make amends for what was changed and placed them back on the path that they were meant to walk, by choice or not. As they rushed to the throne room, the castle began to fade away. They caught a glimpse of someone sitting on the throne and a crystal overhead with a figure trapped inside it, then it was all gone and they were back in the forest.
Lenneth looked to the ground where the castle had been as Arngrim and Jelanda examined their surroundings in confusion. 'I am becoming far too involved in human affairs,' Lenneth quietly mused. 'They are a distraction...' Yet somehow she couldn't help it but to follow her curiosities, especially with these two, as if she had once experienced with someone else the bond they shared with each other. That made no sense, she was a Valkyrie, she always had been and always would be. It was her destiny, yet maybe by someday, destiny would finally make amends with the secret wishes of her soul. "I will be seeing you soon..." With those ominous words left in the air, the Valkyrie was gone.
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Their adventures led the sword master mercenary and the sorceress princess to battle the undead and the forces of darkness many times, becoming stronger after each close call. However, Jelanda's life began to fade, though her resolve did not. She was always cheerful, always smiling, always focused, energetic and seemingly in perfect health. Her fevers came and went, but she recovered so quickly that Arngrim was shocked when she collapsed one day.
He set out to take her back to Flenceburg, hoping that the potion makers and sorcerers there could help her. He felt frustrated that he didn't know she had fallen ill, he should have realized she was drinking too many potions and her reason could not be only empowerment for her spells. It was not the potions that hurt her or the casting of her spells; it was the mysterious illness she could not say where or when she got. Yet the potions did little to help her either way and if they did, their effects were negated when she pushed herself in the next battle, denying any symptoms of fatigue so aggressively, it was impossible to think she was even tired. She was looking for a miraculous remedy that could not be found and pushing her body to appear and act as if she were in perfect health, until it could take no more.
"You should have told me you were sick!" Arngrim was so upset he didn't know if he should be angrier at Jelanda or himself.
"The time we fought alongside the Valkyrie..." Jelanda quietly voiced.
"I will be seeing you soon..." Lenneth's words echoed in Arngrim's memories. He thought it was a good thing, he thought it meant they would fight alongside the Battle Maiden once again, but her words carried a different meaning and they were directed at Jelanda. Perhaps the princess understood.
By the time Arngrim and Jelanda made it back to Flenceburg, disaster had already struck the academy. Lorenta and Mystina were dead, with Annia, Jelanda's look-alike maid, having been caught in the middle of everything as killed as well.
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Jelanda passed away with Arngrim by her side and when Lenneth came for her, she decided to extend an offer to him. "You may come too, if that is your wish." He knew the implications of that, but he took the offer anyway. When Arngrim woke up he felt no pain, but rather a great relief. "Arngrim!" Jelanda was there, free of all the inconveniences of the flesh, a shining soul of power, knowledge, determination and caring. She floated to him, greeting him with a hug, comfortable in his embrace.
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"Arngrim," his suggestion, though reluctantly accepted, made no sense to her, and the princess would be heard. "This makes no sense; Valkyrie said we should rest today. I am to go to Valhalla tomorrow."
"You agreed to come," the warrior reminded, as the pair made their way through the desolated fields outside the small town.
"Why did you have to offer to do this? I'm sure Valkyrie and the other Enherjar could have taken care of this." Jelanda was planning to relax in her last day in Midgard; she knew there would be many difficulties to face in Valhalla.
"Valkyrie is busy collecting that other soul, and I offered to take care of the activity here, that's all. If I'm sticking around with her, I might as well make myself useful."
"The others..." Jelanda began, but was interrupted.
"The other Enherjar are with Valkyrie, they might run into something while collecting that soul so they can be trained. In the mean time, I'm taking care of things here." Arngrim sounded logical enough, but Jelanda didn't buy it.
Jelanda stopped walking and crossed her arms over her chest, tapping her foot impatiently. "The others could have used this as training too, and who is to say you can't assist them by going with them on their mission for a new companion. Is your thirst for battle this great?"
"You wouldn't have gone with them," Arngrim faced the horizon; he had stopped walking but did not turn around.
"Because Valkyrie gave me the day off. My training was completed ahead of schedule and I will go to Valhalla tomorrow," Jelanda reminded.
"Stop saying that!" Arngrim growled bitterly.
"It's the truth!" A moment of silence passed and the princess approached the warrior, closing the few feet of distance between them. "Are you angry because you are not considered worthy to be sent to Valhalla?"
Arngrim did not reply.
"You'll at least be able to travel with Valkyrie and you'll meet many people, many warriors you can train, maybe even worthy opponents. You said you wanted to be useful, I'm sure that even if you can't enter Valhalla, Valkyrie will find other tasks for you."
"You're missing the point."
"Then what is the point?" Jelanda inquired.
"I don't know myself," Arngrim admitted.
"You're a fool Arngrim," Jelanda shook her head.
"Come," he turned around to face her. "I will test your strength."
"Is that what this is about?" Jelanda looked displeased. "You don't believe I have what it takes, do you? Muscle is not the only power; my magic could beat your sword any day! Fire, Ice, shadows and healing, I have all that and more. Have you not witnessed my power?"
"You've got guts, I realized that even before I saw your magic. For a long time, even while I still lived, I knew you are strong," Arngrim replied.
"Then why?" Jelanda questioned.
"I want to experience it, that's all."
Jelanda pouted and glared, "you are a warrior to the end and beyond the end. Clearly, fighting is the only thing that interests you. Arngrim, you're a fool!" Jelanda charged her magic, "Frigid Damsel!"
'A fitting spell,' thought Arngrim. The sword of ice collided with the iron one, but the icy spirit moved too fast, connecting several blows. Arngrim still stood, wounded but able to battle. "What now? Your magic takes time to charge, you're open to an attack!"
Jelanda looked exasperated, "were you trying to prove a point? It's not like I'll be alone in the battle field. It will be like it is now, there might even be another like Valkyrie guiding us, and surely there will be many others like us." 'But none like you,' her thoughts quietly added.
"Jelanda..." Arngrim shook his head, more so at himself than at her, 'I want to be the one to protect you,' he thought. The specters surrounded them quickly, taking advantage of the energy they had used up. They would strike while the warrior was wounded and the sorceress had not yet recovered her power. "Jelanda, stay back!"
"Arngrim!" Jelanda summoned her familiar, but there was only so much the small bird could do. She waved her scepter at the specters, but couldn't do much until her magic returned.
Arngrim fought well, despite being outnumbered. He showed the skill that had earned him the title of genius during his life. Despite the wound he had sustained from Jelanda's powerful magic during his foolish request, he still fought well, but this was too much, there were too many enemies.
Breathing heavily, he leaned on his sword, the first wave of evil spirits had ended; they had been destroyed, purified as Valkyrie would say. Arngrim didn't fully understand why Valkyrie allowed them to run off on their own for a day, maybe she noticed something he didn't, or maybe he just wanted to deny it but couldn't; Jelanda was leaving, he would probably never see her again.
"Impudent fools! Face a princess' true wrath! Fire Storm!" The flames effulged the remaining specters, consuming them completely. "Arngrim! Are you alright? Just wait, when my magic returns, I'll heal you."
"I'm fine; do you think they could defeat me?" Arngrim forced himself to smile.
Jelanda shook her head, "oh no, you are much too stubborn."
Arngrim laughed and pulled Jelanda close. He didn't want her to leave, but she was going to Valhalla, that was her fate. This must be why Valkyrie let them go off on their own; it was why Arngrim insisted in leaving the group with an excuse, and why Jelanda followed him on her day off. They wanted to be with each other.
She was a noble Enherjar, a chosen warrior worthy of defending Valhalla. Even if he was considered unworthy, maybe, just maybe, if she wanted this too, they would both be rewarded for her wish. Perhaps there was a small chance of eventually being reunited when the war ended.
"Arngrim, I..." She stopped; what would it be worth to say this now?
"Shh," he caressed the side of her face and pulled her into a kiss. If he was going to be a fool, he might as well be an impudent fool.
At that moment, Jelanda knew she couldn't leave. Her duty didn't matter, Valhalla didn't matter and destiny was insignificant. She wanted to be with Arngrim and one way or another she was determined to get her wish. She only hoped that the Valkyrie would understand and let her stay.
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"Valkyrie!" The news that Jelanda had heard in the last town they visited was very unpleasant.
Lenneth looked at the Enherjar's pleading expression. She had decided to allow Jelanda to continue traveling with her group at the princess' request. No matter how much Lenneth had told herself she needed to put Valhalla first, in the end, she could never go against the wishes of her noble Einherjar, her dear friends.
"Please!" Jelanda insisted. "Just this once, it's all for the best, such destruction could bring more undead and who knows what else." Though her plea went out for the well being of the world, Jelanda's true concern was her father.
"I see, very well then, you may go help your father, so long as you make sure to return in one day. The Sacred Phase is near and I must prepare the next Enherjar to be sent. I will not be joining you, but you have my permission to go. I suggest you take another with you, Arngrim may go as well." Lenneth was surprised by the change in Jelanda's expression.
The princess looked relieved and grateful at first, then worried. "May I ask to take someone else with me? For example..." Jelanda thought of the warriors in their group, Lawfer, he knew his way around the area. "Lawfer?"
"He must prepare to leave," Lenneth replied with hidden curiosity. As far as she knew, Jelanda and Arngrim were in love, this she perceived clearly, despite telling herself repeatedly that she should not meddle in such affairs, she was no goddess of love. Besides, Lenneth was under the impression that it was mostly because of Arngrim that Jelanda didn't want to go to Valhalla.
"Oh, I see," Jelanda casted her eyes down, staring at the moist grass in the outskirts of town. The rain had only stopped recently and soon after, they left the town where they were gathering information.
"I do not understand humans," Lenneth admitted. It puzzled her to see Jelanda, whom she had not seen in discord with Arngrim as of late, avoid him in such a way. He was an able warrior and would surely prove to be of valuable help in her mission.
"I'll go alone then, if you don't mind," Jelanda offered.
Lenneth raised an eyebrow, her inquiring eyes unblinking. "If you wish it so, you may, but you must be aware of the inconvenience."
"Yes, I will be careful, thank you for letting me go." Thus it was decided; Jelanda would see her father and defeat the traitors that were to carry out a rebellion by herself.
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"Give up! You're the only ones still loyal to the king!" The man raised his sword, pointing it towards the knight captain.
"Never! I will not be a traitor!" The knight captain stood firm. He only had about a dozen men left, and they were outnumbered three to one by the rebels. The king stood trapped in the throne room behind the captain. This was the final battle, if the king fell, the revolution would overtake Artolia.
"Traitors!" A voice echoed. "Ten thousand deaths are not enough for you!" Jelanda appeared, materialized in front of the loyal captain, facing their enemies. The throne room was filled with gasps for the unexpected return of the supposedly dead princess. "This is divine punishment!" Raising her scepter, Jelanda created abundant flames all over the rebellious troops, causing devastating damage. "Go knights, defend our kingdom!"
Those who survived the massive flames were few and severely weakened, easily arrested by the knights. Witnessing the astonishing scene, the king approached, "Jelanda," he stammered to speak.
"Father!" Jelanda threw herself into her father's arms. "I'm so happy to see you again!"
"I've missed you so much, my daughter! But how can you be here, I thought they... Just now, what did you do? You are truly my daughter, I can tell, but you're so different!" The king was in shock, not only had the princess returned from death, but she came so suddenly and with such unforeseen power.
"I am the same person, but I did die," Jelanda explained. "I was chosen by a Valkyrie and I am an Enherjar now."
"That's amazing!" The king listened in surprise. "But does that mean you're not staying? Must you go to Valhalla?"
"It's okay, the Valkyrie, is allowing me to stay in this world and travel with her and the other Enherjar." For that, Jelanda was very grateful. "I only have a day before I must return to Valkyrie." She glanced at the captain who was quietly waiting to report. "Were those all the traitors?"
"I am sorry my lady, there are more. Their leader was not with them and there are rumors that they are hiding in a near by cave, harvesting dark powers," the captain informed.
Jelanda knew she had to finish this quickly, it was her only chance. "Then I will go there."
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The group stood in front of the cave, which Jelanda knew was not an ordinary cave. "The Cave of Oblivion," she observed her company, which consisted of her father and his loyal knights. She used to think the knights were strong, but eventually she lost that perception. Maybe it was the incident with Arngrim, or maybe it was her new found power, which grew vastly after traveling with Lenneth for so long. At least the knights' loyalty seemed to have improved, "stay here."
"Jelanda, you do not mean to go alone?" Dead or alive, human or spirit, the king was still concerned for his daughter.
"There are undead beings in that cave, the knights are exhausted and even at their best it would be exceptionally difficult for them to keep up." Jelanda then turned to look at the knights, "train hard and keep Artolia safe; be loyal to my father and the kingdom will be prosperous!"
The atmosphere was filled with the knights' cheers. They had regained their faith with the return of the princess as an Enherjar.
"Phoenix!" The white bird came down from the skies at Jelanda's call and perched itself on her shoulder. "My familiar will be with me so I'll have some support while I charge my magic. Don't worry, I have experience fighting the undead," and if they were weak enough to be controlled by humans, then they couldn't be too strong. With a heavy feeling of foreboding she refused to show, Jelanda entered the Cave of Oblivion with a firm pace.
xoxox xox xoxox
She had underestimated them, or maybe overestimated herself; perhaps a little of both. Jelanda's familiar, whom she named Phoenix, was badly injured. She carried the bird with her left arm, clutching her scepter in her right hand and battling to stay focused. This was different from having a human body, she felt like her very soul was in pain.
The humans who had started the rebellion, including their leader, were all dead, victims of their own dark spells. They summoned a power they could not control and the undead dragon before her would also annihilate Jelanda if she didn't do something fast.
She felt her magic returning, one more attack wouldn't be enough and by the time her magic charged again, she would have been destroyed. Her only choice was to heal and run. "Heal!" The green light surrounded Jelanda and Phoenix as their energy returned and all the injuries their souls had received disappeared.
Now she had to run, but the dragon was too fast, she couldn't get away. "Finishing strike," she knew that voice, it was his voice. "Final blast!" Arngrim came rushing in from another cave tunnel and finished off the dragon.
"Arngrim!" Jelanda rejoiced, but the truth of the situation sank in and she looked away.
"Jelanda, why did you come alone?" Arngrim asked the question she knew was coming.
"I... because I wanted to prove myself!" It was an excuse and Jelanda knew Arngrim didn't believe it.
"What are you saying? This was suicide, even for an Enherjar!" Arngrim knew Jelanda was hiding something, but what could it be?
"Just forget it, please. The mission is over," she tried to smile. "Thank you, I will meet up with you soon and we'll return to Valkyrie." Arngrim nodded and Jelanda made her way towards the cave's exit.
xoxox xox xoxox
"Jelanda, are you well?" The king rushed to meet his daughter in front of the cave as she came out. Perhaps his image of an indestructible Enherjar was a stretch, but it was only natural. Jelanda had been taken away from the world of the living at a young age; it was comforting for her father to think of her as immortal now.
"Yes father, there is nothing to fear. The kingdom may be restored in peace!" The joyful shouts of the knights followed Jelanda's announcement.
"He lives?" A knight suddenly cried in surprise. Murmurs filled the air as Arngrim exited the cave.
"Arngrim!" Jelanda froze.
"You've been acting strange lately," Arngrim spoke to Jelanda, then glanced at the king, who looked at him disapprovingly.
"It's nothing," Jelanda quickly replied. "Go on ahead, I'll meet you soon."
"Meet him?" The king could no longer stay silent, "whatever for?"
"Arngrim is an Enherjar," Jelanda finally revealed.
The king was in shock, "an Enherjar, this man? But you are an Enherjar, how could he be one too? He lacks the qualifications and I will not group the two of you together, I'm sure the noble Valkyrie wouldn't either!"
"I may have been deemed unworthy of Valhalla, but I just saved your daughter!" Arngrim looked displeased, he then spoke to Jelanda. "You came all the way here alone and risked your very soul to keep it all a secret from your father? If Lenneth had not told me..."
"I just wanted everyone to be happy! I didn't want to worry or upset father, I wanted him to be proud of me. I didn't want to upset you either, I didn't want the two of you to argue or offend each other." Jelanda regretted the course of action she had chosen, going around the situation instead of facing it.
The knights watched silently in awe, while the king became increasingly confused and concerned. "Keep us happy and in the dark," Arngrim shook his head. "If that's how it is," he began to walk away.
"Wait!" Jelanda stopped Arngrim, then faced the king. "Father, I am sorry for hiding this from you. It may be true that Arngrim will not be allowed into Valhalla, but I believe he is worthy. I couldn't have defeated the undead without his help and we make a really good team. We are truly a lot alike." Jelanda took a deep breath, "besides, Arngrim isn't only a noble companion; he is the man I love." At this, the king fainted, to be caught by his daughter, "father! Captain, bring some water, hurry! Oh father, hold on!"
Arngrim laughed in good humor, "relax little one, he'll live."
xoxox xox xoxox
"Ragnarok is upon us..." As they floated above Midgar, Lenneth gazed towards the Weeping Lily Meadow, an earring clutched in her hand. "There is something I must see before we journey to Valhalla." Then she flew towards the meadow with many thoughts in her mind, silver hair blowing in the wind, shimmering like a sapphire.
As Lenneth and her Einherjar landed in the Weeping Lilly Meadow, one of the many thoughts that came to her was about destiny and if it was possible to defy it. She glanced back at Jelanda and Arngrim who had not escaped their destiny, but merely delayed it.
Did it make a difference to try to go against destiny? Why was she in that meadow, why did she go there? Lenneth watched her Einherjar waiting patiently and quietly for her to go about her business, not questioning her at all. A soft breeze blew and the pollen of the flowers all over the meadow took flight, beautiful, but deadly to those still linked to a mortal body.
Arngrim, Jelanda, Mystina all the others... could they defy destiny? Could a Valkyrie defy destiny any more than they could, or any less? Why was she having such thoughts, such doubts? She examined each of their faces as the Einherjar stood motionless. Then Jelanda moved, ever so slightly, placing her hand in Arngrim's, he wrapped his fingers around her smaller hand and they continued to stand, silent and still, eyes focused on the Valkyrie, waiting patiently for her to decide what should be done next.
Lenneth turned towards the grave marker in the meadow, her mind filled with more curiosities than doubts now. She did not question why she was there, but rather longed to know what discovery was waiting for her to find in that mysterious place. She was there because she decided to be there, if it was destiny or not, it did not matter. Maybe destiny was not absolute after all. Defying destiny only a little could make a world of a difference. Lenneth approached the grave of Platina, went down on her knees and retrieved the companion of the earring Lucian had given her, then something inside her was awakened...
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