The stench of decomposing bodies filled the decrepit house, making me choke on a gag.
The house had caught my attention a mile away mostly due to its modest size and somewhat nicer appearance, at least nicer than the other houses in the cul-de-sac. I immediately regretted my decision as soon as I crawled in through the kitchen window.
Despite the somewhat new appearance of the bodies, I was still shocked to see the horrible shape they were in. Savagely and brutally murdered, the women most likely defiled, I knew exactly who had ruined these people. Sadly, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that this was once a happy family.
A voice in my head urged me to keep moving, especially since it was apparent that the Vikings were near, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty for the bodies spread out around what once used to be a living room.
I knew there was no point in searching the house. The Vikings would have already cleared it. So I instead went out back and found a shovel in the shed. I caught myself thanking my past self for leaving early this evening.
Wasting no extra time, I began digging four separate graves. The two kids’ graves took less time as they were smaller than the parents, but each grave still took two hours apiece. As much as I wanted to dig each grave six feet deep, I had no time for that.
Eight long hours later, I stood in front of four semi-deep graves, covered in sweat and almost regretting my decision. It took me another hour to move and bury the family of four.
I knew I had to leave the graves unmarked. Because the Vikings were not above grave digging and the last thing this family needs is to be violated anymore.
With my night almost completely gone, I glanced at the horizon to see if the sun was peaking over it. Luckily it seemed I had another hour before dawn. A whole night gone...
Somewhat remorsefully, I left the graves and started my trek to The Black Forest. As if the black forest wasn’t dark enough in the daylight, it was near impossible to see in the dark. Hence why I travel at night and sleep in the trees in the day.
The Black Forest covers most of this continent, making it quite an ideal place to travel through, plus the Vikings avoid it due to the many trees and the fact that it's so dark in here, it'd be impossible for them to travel swiftly through here.
Thanks to three years of traveling at night, my eyes have become quite adjusted to the darkness. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have superior eyesight to the everyday human.
I felt the temperature drop and my eyes adjust as I entered the strange environment of the Black Forest.
The mossy floor seemed to welcome my boots as I stepped deeper and deeper into the forest that’s almost felt like home. Tall and ancient trees towered over my 5′8 body, making me smile at the familiarity.
An hour into my walk in the forest I paused. The snap of a branch caught my attention. I smiled as I walked to the nearest tree and kicked my old cowboy boots against the trunk of it three times.
My signal must’ve worked as not even ten seconds later heavy footsteps started thudding towards me. A grunt was my only warning as a two thousand pound stallion barreled into my back.
I remained facing forward as a black nose went over my shoulder in my peripheral. Steam rose from his nose as he huffed a greeting to me.
Ragnar stomped his foot when I ignored him. Such a drama queen.
Grinning, I turned and faced the massive stallion.
“Hello Ragnar.” I started scratching his nose as he glared at me. “You baby. I wasn’t even gone that long.”
I swear he rolled his eyes. Ragnar brought his nose to my hands and he huffed and recoiled slightly.
“Oh right.” I looked down at my bloody hands and chest. That must’ve happened when I was burying the bodies.
“Sorry.” I cringed and tried to rub the blood on my palms on my jeans. My apology must’ve been enough as Ragnar stuck his nose to my neck and nuzzled me.
Weirdo. It was my turn to roll my eyes as I walked around to his side and made to jump on his back. He read my cue and lowered himself as much as possible for me.
Even after three years of having this horse, his intelligence never ceases to amaze me. Once seated on top of Ragnar’s massive back, I gave him a quiet whistle he knew meant he could start moving.
My eyes and ears studied the forest as Ragnar stepped over fallen trees and ducked under branches.
Although this place is familiar, there's always this mysterious air about it. Many nights, I'm awoken from slumber thanks to unknown sounds that would make most people turn and run. And though I know I should run or try to identify what creates those strange sounds, I never actually leave the safety of my tree.
Ducking my head under a low lying branch, I pat Ragnar's thick neck as he navigates the path out.
Three years ago, when I was stumbling around in the darkness of the Black Forest, I found Ragnar also stumbling around. He seemed no older than a year and instantly stuck too me. Since then he’s followed me around like a dog, and this past year, I started riding him during the day.
I typically only ride him when we have to go to Everest. Everest, the capital of the South, was where I stayed when I needed a bed to sleep in rather than a tree branch and it’s also where I sold my findings.
Ragnar knew the way and without any help from me, began our two-hour trek to the capital of the south.
As much as I wanted to doze off, I forced myself to stay alert. The smooth rocking of Ragnar beneath me certainly didn’t help either.
I watched as the sun started to rise over the hills and plains of the country. Most of our trip was plains, but close to the end, dirt roads pointed us towards Everest.
Cities, roads, and many modern things use to fill these plains. After the Plague struck and billions of people died, the cities disappeared. Since I was stuck in the North for eight years, I never got to see what happened to them.
The skyscrapers and major city buildings were gone, no sign of them anywhere. I always thought it best to just ignore whatever happened to them, I most likely didn't want to know where they went.
That's the thing about surviving after the Plague. Sometimes it was best to know nothing or little about something, then to search for answers. An example is my mother's death, it's easier to assume she died during the Plague than the alternative.
Every now and then, while traveling in the Black Forest, I would go west. Where I sometimes ran into strange travelers and was often awoken by nightmares that seemed to wash into reality. I always shrugged it off and kept on trekking... Best not to ask questions, I always figure.
I shook my head from my thoughts, focusing on the path in front of Ragnar and I.
The huge stone walls of Everest came into view and I noticed the black and red uniforms of guards walking along the wall.
Ragnar strutted up to the front gate, where two guards stood on either side.
The two guards seemed to curl into themselves as Ragnar came to a stop in front of them, waiting for the solid steel gate to be opened.
“Lady Bjerke.” The guard on the right side nodded. His dirty blonde hair showed he must’ve showered right before his dawn shift.
“Hello Connor.” I purred to the guard. I turned to the guard on the left and tilted my head. “Who’s this?”
“I’m-” The young guard must be fresh in the guard. His clean-cut brown hair and brown eyes would classify him as handsome, plus his youthful ignorance. He had never seen a real war.
“He’s nobody.” Connor cutoff the kid and glared at him. Returning his eyes to me, he forced a pleasant smile on his face. “Enjoy your stay in Everest.” He said just as another guard appeared on the other side of the gate and the gate opened.
“If it isn’t the beloved Lady Bjerke.” The Kings Right Hand grinned at me as Ragnar walked through the gate.
“Ah Herald. The King’s pet. So nice to see you.” I greeted him, but didn’t whistle for Ragnar to stop walking.
Herald’s freshly polished black armor and the rubies embedded in parts of it showcased his power. As if his red cloak wasn’t fancy enough. I could’ve sworn Herald polished his armor daily.
If there was one good thing to say about the King of the South, was that he treated his court and people fairly. Well, compared to the other three kings, that is.
"King Samuel invites you to dinner tonight and expects you to attend." Herald tried to keep pace next to Ragnar, though there was no hope.
I turned and smiled politely at Herald. "Send him a postcard from me, will you?" I didn't wait for his response as I whistled for Ragnar to pick up his pace into a trot.
Ragnar headed straight for the trading post, knowing that's where I always go, as Herald's cursing faded into the usual sounds of Everest.
I smirked as I thought of Herald delivering my message of rejection to the King. How I wish I could see his face when Herald tells him that I won't be accepting his offer for the millionth time. Maybe someday I should stop ignoring the king. But that day isn't today...