Prologue: The Fall of Svartálfaheim
I sat at my window with tears dripping from my chin and pooling around the window sill. The widowed women and orphaned girls could collectively cry a river down the streets of our flaming city. I could still envision the scene.
The summer sunset had cooled the sweat from the fierce fighting men. The blood didn’t boil under the wrath from heavens but it dried up and swirled like red sand. It crusted over the grass, the ancient walls, and the bricks of the towers.
The men and boys were gone or waning. The cattle were seized and the homes were burning like a wave of fire on a coral reef. What was once declared indestructible in arrogance was corrected. The flames soared high above even the tallest towers. But I saw hope. The east gate was in flames but open. It’s gaping entrance was like a gate to hell but the people were escaping through the fiery tear in the calamity around them.
My sister at the rear of her people, was helping stragglers. And getting people out. They only brought minimal animals and possessions, but they saved their hounds along with any weapons they could get from the dead they passed.
Corpses were strewn about the walls, piled around ladders, and defiling the ramparts. My brother joined my sister and only five people made it out of the captured west gate.
My brother marched his men to their last stand and my father sallied out to aid the evacuation. Only my mother was here. Father’s force at the northern gate was being pushed back and my brother held the west gate. I stood in my home perhaps for the last time.
“Dear! There are still full quivers out there. You wouldn’t fancy a dart would you?” My maid rushed me away from the glass. Just as the fires from the town rose to chew into the side of my own home. Smoke torrents choked out most of the higher wall positions and towers shorter than my own.
Large formations of soldiers clashed in shield walls and thrown spears darted back and forth from the war zone. As a blast of arrows, javelins, and darts bounced from the armor and shields, warriors would make dashes into the enemy formation with spears and pikes.
A large line of berserkers hit the defender’s shield wall next. The defender’s battle cry was cut short as the berserkers ripped through the first line’s defenses. A brave shout turned into a regretful wail of pain and a coward’s lamentations of their departed bravery. Men fell like flies on both sides but the vicious berserkers broke the formation as they charged again.
When the formation broke, the berserkers had reached the artillery. All of the archers and the slingers were exposed and were left to the merciless hands of faster foes. The attackers instantly disregarded all tactics and formation and charged in a blood curdling howl of mad men. They were on top of the formations and each unit broke in turn and was destroyed. The shields were pierced by spears thrown so hard they pinned two warriors together through their armor. At the same time many weapons were thrown directly into the phalanx. The shields and soldiers were toppled and the soldiers were out flanked in the charge.
The army was chased back into the city where immense plunder and murder took place. Great fires burned into the city’s barracks. The people cried out as their paths of exodus were cut off and binding ropes met many. Hostages were taken and the people scattered.
My sister would not be among them but my brother was for certain. Killed in single combat by a roaming warrior.
The hoard moved in for the great looting. A great rally called the final resistance of the city to its center to repel the attackers in a final stand. But their efforts were out matched. The fire swept aside the fortifications and the defenses so the hoard quickly rushed inside the walls to save the plunder.
“Bridgette! Hurry to your mother, she has the servants out of the tower and won’t dismiss her guards until you are out of the city. She’s at the lower door.”
We journeyed through the last tour of my home. From my tower perch to the servants quarters. The tower was lifeless. It was a husk of echoes. No one within spoke. Only the sounds of the battles still rattled the walls with the scraping of metal and the biting of arrows with the screaming of the dying.
I arrived to see my mother at last. I still remember her well. Her black horns were like mine. The were straight after an initial curve. The thin and long spikes bent behind her head and down her back almost two feet, like a deer’s of the far south. Mine were shorter but we had the same black hair and her eyes were not fearful. She was Fay, ancient, and withering before my very eyes.
She placed her palm on my forehead and a blast of magic surged through me. I would say a shock or a rippling wave of force but I felt more like a book being blotted out with ink. And rewritten in cursive characters.
Mother was looking pale though. She was nearly translucent when the light from the setting sun and the great fires beamed to her. My horns shriveled and shrank back and began regressing. My nails on my hands and feet snapped off my hands with a hand numbing crack. My Canine teeth and my snout coiled back in a painful sensation. It felt like stretching but instead of spreading it was tightening but not growing loose. My face was like father’s, my hands were like his as were my feet and hands.
She turned me human. Permanently? Temporarily?
My father’s retreating men were forgotten. It was tragic. They told my father they would allow him to escape if he would only remember them. He vowed he would but as the men were cut down and father met with us in the exodus, another found us first. He stood a head taller than father. Two spears were fitted on his back and he carried an ax and and a shield. My brother's blood was washed across his armor.
Father gripped his honed spear. Sprinted with the last of his might and hurled the shaft into the sky. It sailed like a bolt of lighting. The end of the spear cried its whistle and glowed like a shoot star arching back down from the black clouds of war.
It was some horrid trick. I learned that day, there was no cheating in war no matter how underhanded. There were no thugs or rule breakers, to cripple and main was expected and demanded. War was not a game but it can be won or lost. And you cannot try again if you lose.
He caught the spear in his shield, turned with athletic form into a crouch, bounded forwards and released the spear. The spear didn’t appear to me. I only witnessed a needle in the wind already stuck into my father. I didn't even see it soar.
Father dropped down with a sickening gurgle and a horrid collapse. The spear found his chest below the neck. His throat was full of blood.
Mother cried out. She began drying up like mud in a drought. Cracks and crevices snapped from her dry and dusty flesh and she turned to me as she collapsed along side her husband and faded into dust. A burn on my hand underwent a swift healing as the skin reformed.
Two hand maidens of my mother had arrows filling them in the escape. But my mother's deat hwas one last spell. She expended her soul in an attempt to save as many as she could. She'd healed the dying and the maimed. The hand Maidens freed the bolts and stood. We would not escape but mother ensured we would survive the burning of our home and the fall of our king.
I saw my father's sword as his killer approached. His sword flickered in the fire and grew hotter as the fight continued.
The gold grass withered beneath the march of ranks and the wheels of wagons leaving the city with it’s people as captives. The lands had underwent a war so violent that the ruins of an entire country were left lifeless after the day it was attacked. And for ten more years it would remain so.
I rose in a last act. I ran to father. I lifted the great pole arm in him and wrenched it free. I pointed at the man with the ax and rushed him. The spear was grabbed from my hand and I ran back lifting my father’s heavy sword.
Its weight was nothing compared to the toll my grief demanded. I lifted the metal. I pivoted and lashed out with the blade as tall as myself.
The warrior blocked it with a bat from his hand on the flat side. he didn’t use his shield or his ax. He didn’t avoid it. He just swatted it aside, releasing his ax. He didn’t hurt me or the servants mother had healed. He just told us to wait.
We waited in fear and in tears. Wagons outside of the walls were driven over too us and we were herded inside and locked in chains. As much as my hatred demanded justice... I didn't want to die.
The wagon rolled by the countryside’s black grass and dying trees the next day. Water was plentiful but our land was a dark land. The trees never grew healthy. The saplings in the forests grew up from nuts and seeds as sickly twigs and arrived at their glorious height only as testimonies to rot and eternally tortured life. The blazing flames that had spread from the siege didn't help either.
Ash blew around at our captor’s ankles when the wind would pick up. The livestock would attempt to chew the grass but found it more like thin stone or fragile glass than plant life. They had still managed to feed off of it in our lands.
A raging storm was approaching as the captors set up camp. My caretakers and friends made a very odd request that night. I was nearly insulted.
“Sirs! Sirs!” My friend yelled. She was a handmaiden.
“What do you want?” A stern man asked with a darkness in his face much like the ground itself.
“Sir, you must know. That storm approaching is not just wind and rain. It is an eternal storm in these lands. You must cover our wagons with skins or cloth. Your tents should be shared tonight and place one tent inside the other-”
She was struck.
She whimpered. And the man who raised his hand against her was even more grim than before. He was not the same man that I hated. He lacked a certain composure. A grace you could call it.
A word barked in their foreign language brought even more anger to him. He turned to face the voice and he stared directly into the eyes of his superior. The same man that killed my father confronted him.
He spoke to the guard and he translated to us. “My king wishes to know what you have asked again, in full.” He said reluctantly.
My friend spoke again with her warning. The king ordered two men to carry his order over the broad camp to deal with the endless dust that would arrive in moments.
“He also asks if there are any requests you have tonight.” The anger in his toned showed hatred for us.
They provided food and water to us out of generosity in one thought, or keeping slaves fed in another light. But the king ordered a last command.
If we promised to stay in the camp he would free us from our cages and we would stay encircled around the interior of a wagon ring. He could cover half of the ring in a broad tarp we could shelter in tonight to avoid the storm. We agreed. trying to escape would lead to dying in a blizzard of glass.
A second translator approached the king and the king whispered in his ear.
“If you run.” The king freed his ax and drove it into the head of the cruel guard. His eyes opened with intensity frozen in that last sensation as he twitched and collapsed. “If you run...”
The translator had to compose himself after the grizzly action.
“If you run, you be like this man. You are slaves to Ultima-Thule but slaves have rights. Rights that this man had defiled. Who was struck among you for your counsel?” He asked and opened the door to the cart.
“I am.” My former servant raised her hand. “You may call me Ffion my king, named for foxglove.” She pulled one of the dying women out of the city back at the gates. The woman she dragged was helping the soldiers escape to their families and she got caught in a hail of arrows. She pulled her out and when mother faded she pulled the arrows out of her skin and she was healed.
Ffion was a friend since my youngest days. She was an older sister to me in a way and even managed to compete with mother in her affection. And her kindness was in full to our captors. At the same time she was able to get us coverings for the storm.
She was pulling me apart. She aided those who brought the deaths of our entire city and now she secured our lives through the storm.
The king pointed to her and spoke again to his translator. “Did you have a husband in your land?”
“No my lord, I worked for the queen and the princess.”
“He says you have been gifted a choice for your intellect and your kindness. As one named for a poisonous flower, he grants you favor for aiding your fellow captives, you may choose marriage to the king and rise as his queen or you many join the others.”
“My lord, I am not royalty. I’m sorry, but the princess is here-”
"He doesn't care for the established dynasties. The offer remains."
She was trying to secure me safety but to be acknowledged burned me inside. “She is like a sister to me. I did what I could for her sake.” Ffion said.
“He says: Than you should be his wife and adopt her. If her parents aren’t here.”