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Hounds of Valhalla (Short Story)

By Emily_Whitmore All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

The hounds

There will come a day when the sky will turn black as night
When the child of the said grand lord meets with fate
Before the impending time for the great fight
Never seen the like before this date
The time will come, the time will come

The child will not lead an army
But fight in the silence of the dark
When the night is hot and balmy
What it does will not be a lark
The time will come, the time will come

Men be aware
For that day will come
Civilisation will tear
The time will come, the time will come;

Vala crept through the undergrowth near the Hatani camp. Moving silently, she could see the sentries posted at intervals around the circumference of the camp. She had been drawing ever closer to this point for the last three days. From her vantage point she could make out the leader’s tent. Beige, with a huge fire burning near the tent flap. It imposed an idea of wealth and power. A wealth and power that she could not let enter her domain.


Creeping round till she was at the back of the camp, Vala silently took down one of the guards, he was heavy. Slipping through the opening in guards she hid behind a tent. She was cold wet and shivering, standing in a puddle of water. She hated to think what might be in that water and she tried not to think about it. A rat scurried past. Vala held back a squeal; she hated rats almost as much as her job.


The council had told her to assassinate the chief of the Hatani, a large man by the name of Grogan. The council had information stating that without their chief the Hatani would be lost for what to do. Then Lacedeamon would attack. That was the plan; that was always the plan; they needed a new plan, this plan sucked.
In the last four years twelve different tribes had taken a fancy to the land that the Lacedeamon presided over. Before being employed by the council Vala had always wondered what was so wonderful about the land she lived on that meant that so many people wanted it. She had found out four years ago that their land, her land, was of religious significance for her people and those of the surrounding tribes. Deep within the land and pools of Lacedeamon lies the power of the gods, that brings forth the life blood of the land and the people of it. The Lacedeamonites had built a fabulous ziggurat above the crossing of the lay- lines and the council had their room off to one side.


The god Baal had graced their people with the charge of the land and graced them with power for prosperity. This was long ago before the struggle for power and land. The waterfall and the subsequent pool of water beneath it was said to be his way to return to them, on a grand golden ship, Daovin, to reward them for their loyalty. But with the power struggle strong in the lands the council decided that it was best for the people of the later generations not to know anything but the fact that the great Baal favoured us and that we should worship him. This was so that the people of Lacedeamon did not end up in a civil war. The temple was known as Baalbek, though many religious men of warring tribes depicted it as a fake, but still wanting it. There was always the chance that the new threats were worshippers of a false god that wanted to rid the whole earth of those who did not believe like them, but not in this case.


Vala had been chosen to be the assassin all these years because of her hunting abilities. She was the best hunter even though she was a girl. She had disobeyed her father’s orders to become a hunter and now she was glad he was not alive to see what she had become. At the age of seventeen she had killed eleven of those warring tribes chiefs and now she was about to do in the twelfth. Vala tried not to think about what she was about to do. She could hear her father’s voice resounding in her mind. That she would pay for her sins, she had ignored it until now. Now it resounded in her mind, like a voice of conscience and Vala disliked it.
Somewhere not too far off a child yelled for his mother. She tried not to think of the children that would go hungry or maybe even die because of her actions. That thought led to mistakes, and failure was not an option.

A guard passed by the tent Vala was hiding behind. Holding her breath, she prayed he would not notice her hiding there. The guard stopped and Vala prayed she’d not been found. The unmistakeable sound of liquid hitting the firm earth told Vala that the man was taking a leak. Slightly disgusted, she waited in silence.


It took her a good half hour of slow creeping to reach the tent one over from the chieftain’s. A chicken wandered past her, looked comically at her and carried on as if she was not there. Vala let out her breath, one she did not know she was holding and wondered why a camp of moving warriors would have chickens but dismissed the thought.


There was a cry of the guards. Scared she’d been spotted; Vala ran and hid in amongst the horses. A dappled grey turned its head to look at her, snorting, found that she had no food turned back to its sleep. The noise of the guards diminished, Vala crept slowly back to her hiding spot, one tent over from her target. She was shaky. She had never been like this before. A sense of foreboding settled within her.


Vala debated her options. The plan she had cautiously devised ran through her mind. She knew she must not be captured. Capture led to death, death meant failure.


Noticing a gap between the target tent floor and the ground, Vala found that it was just big enough for her to wriggle through. Once inside the tent, Vala held her breath to make sure that her entrance had not been detected. She found that she was behind a row of furs. Peeking around one of them she noticed that there were two large guards standing by the entrance to what she assumed was the sleeping chamber.


Creeping along the space between the furs and the tent wall, Vala came to the entrance to the chamber. Slipping into the chamber, Vala found it hard to see for it was pitch black. Just before her lay a large black object that shifted slightly with rhythmic breathing.
Slinking forward Vala pulled out a hunting knife. Drawing it across her body she lent forward and plunged the knife into the sleeping man’s heart. Vala hated her job.


"Father!" A child’s voice pitched up high.


Vala’s head wrenched up. The child’s face was a mix of surprise and shock. All Vala knew was that she’d been caught out.
Running out of the tent, Vala crashed through the two guards dashing into the chamber. She knocked out another two that were just entering the tent. As she pushed out of the tent opening, and the two guards fell unconscious, Vala stepped on something hard which sent a cracking sound through the air that resonated like bone. Vala cringed.


Pelting for the tree line, Vala ducked and defended herself against guards that were coming at her. Then she heard them; the dogs, they were coming for her. Turning back she saw them turning the corner of a tent. That was where the chickens were, seeing the dogs they panicked and tried to fly away. The dogs lost partial interest in Vala and attacked the chickens. Vala knew Baal must be watching over her, to create such a diversion.


The whizzing of an arrow came towards her. The arrow glanced her side, causing her to cry out in pain. She stumbled, regained her balance and momentum and carried on into the woodland. She must escape, must continue, must escape.


Three Days Later

Water trickled between her fingers. Her hair whipped past her face, long and dark. The hounds were after her, hard and fast. She knew she must move quickly but her body was tired and she needed food badly. She had hardly stopped in the past three days and her food supplies were long since depleted.


The far off cries of the hounds reminded her of her need to escape. Again she was off; sprinting along the gully she was now in, hoping soon she would find a safe haven. The quiver and bow on her back dug in as it had done for the past few days. She wondered if she would ever learn that being an assassin would only end in death.


Vala had been sent by the high council of her village, Lacedeamon, to assassinate the invaders leader. She had been unprepared for the amount of protection he had had around him. He had had many armed guards both outside and inside his tent. The hounds had been a total surprise, there were fifteen now chasing her. Big dogs; they had been around the back of the marauder’s tent. She was now scared and there was little hope of her out running these dogs for much longer. Her head turned back to look, to make sure that the hounds were not closing ground too fast.


Branches around her whipped her face, leaving scratches deep in her skin that would later cause welts. She slipped down a hill and loose rocks fell about her. Her hand reached out to grab something but when it found something it shredded her palm, causing her to yelp in pain. But the pain was something to concentrate on rather then the mess she had placed herself in.

Tripping over a stone, Vala came face to face with the earth. The hounds knew they were getting closer to their quarry, a gut wrenching howl went up from a not too distant spot. Vala was now losing touch with reality. Her mind started playing tricks on her. The hounds behind her were no longer the four legged beasts but the monstrous canines of hell in all their glory. This scared her even more than the actual hounds that chased her.


Stumbling, she carried on, on her path back to safety. In her mind the hounds of hell drew closer, salivating over the smell of her fear and blood. She knew they were coming for her after the deeds she had done the last of which broke her heart. The sight of that child’s face would haunt her to her death.


Vala splashed through a creek in the hopes of losing the hounds and her scent. She knew this creek; she had been here many a time with Lento, the man she was to marry. She was almost home, she was almost safe.


Memories flooded back. Of standing by the water making plans, of running through the field as a child trying to catch the butterflies, but they were gone now, like her childhood. Vala now knew that your life flashed before your eyes when you believe you are going to die. She remembered crying in this spot thinking, why is it that you can be totally and utterly in love with someone and they just look right through you? Or see you as just another person in the steady stream of people that we see walk through the boundaries of our existence? Why is it that they can walk into a room and, for you, the temporal status of your being stops and everything around you blurs? But you walk into a room and people continue with their lives oblivious to whether you breathe or not? Whatever happened to this love begets love crap? Why is it that you can know a person several years and never talk more than to exchange pleasantries? None of that mattered now. It was different now. It was only now, with the hounds of hell on her heels that she thought of these moments.

Vala pulled herself up the embankment. One of the hounds had caught up with her. In her mind she saw a five foot tall red hound with one foot long, razor sharp teeth and jagged claws, pounding towards her. Vala screamed and pulled herself onward up the hill.
The hound grabbed her ankle. Pulling a hunting knife from her waistband she stabbed the hound in the eye. Yelping, the dog wrenched away, stumbled and rolled down the embankment, leaving a trail of blood and bits of its cornea. More hounds appeared. Vala’s leg was bleeding from the wound caused by the dog. Her side hurt from where the arrow grazed her. Turning she sent an arrow whizzing through the air. It clipped one of the hounds, and speared another.


She crested the hill and looked down at the forces of her people. Lento stood at the front of the forces waiting for her return. Vala ran towards him, stumbling, tripping, and rolling halfway down the hill. Standing again, she started running.


The call of enemy horns sounded through the air. Vala willed herself not to look behind. Again the hounds were close, so close she could smell them. Unwashed, dirty, covered in their own shit; Vala hated dogs.


Vala had almost drawn level with Lento when she heard the soft sound of death.

Horror crossed Lento’s face as Vala fell at his feet, an arrow protruding from her back.


The sky darkened. The people of Lacedeamon knew that something had befallen the one they believed was the child of Baal. They hoped if she was dead she would go to Valhalla, the child known as Vala.

She struggled for breath. The Lacedeamon army charged forward past her. Lento leaned down and brushed hair out of her eyes. Breathe she told herself, just breathe. The world went black. Breathe.

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