Chapter Seven: Battlescars
I awoke that cold, grey October morning with a tightness in my chest. Not from the child stirring in my womb, but from trepidations of what the coming day would bring.
The marauders were only a few leagues away and closing quickly towards the village and the castle. I had an uneasy feeling about the day’s coming battle. Logic told me that our warriors would win the conflict and drive the marauders away, at least until the spring. But an uneasiness gripped me that I could not shake. I’d always had the Sight, although not as strong as my mother or my sister. It was not something I told others, for few understood the gift and most called it witchcraft. In the old days, the Sight was something that made you special, but the ways were changing. Civilization was coming, and people were more inclined to towns and crops and possessions and paying less and less attention to matters of the spirit.
I sighed, thinking about the current state of affairs. Turning in bed, I gazed at my husband, sleeping peacefully. I had told Valjus about my gift, hoping to shoo him away when he first started chasing me. He just said that he knew there was something special about me and kept chasing me all the more. I loved him for that, and for many more qualities. He was a kind man and a strong man. And yet he was a knight who would go into battle and kill other men and not think twice about it.
It was hard for me to understand. The people I knew worked so hard to make a home and bring children into the world, and he would go out and take another’s life and come home and act like there was nothing out of place. Sometimes, though, I would see him staring into the fire at night, real quiet, and I knew what he was thinking. “It was not easy to take another man’s life,” he confided in me many years ago, “and when the world is quiet and the village is asleep, I think about those who had a home and a wife and a family, who fought bravely for what they believed in, yet are no longer part of this world.”
“Why do you go to battle then?” I asked. It was something that was very hard for me to understand.
“Most men are good and decent, and worth breaking bread with around a fire.” His reply was unusually philosophical, and gave me new insight into the man I loved. “But some men are vicious and cruel, wicked and unkind. They want what belongs to others, and will go to any length to possess it. They recruit others to their cause, using strong words carefully crafted to get unsuspecting men to follow their lead. They pretend a wrong not committed to inspire men into battle.
“These are violent times, despite the beauty and peace that exists here in the valley. Our land is fertile and supports crops and animals, with surroundings so breathtaking that it will make any man smile.
“Because of this, other men wish to hold the valley for themselves, subjecting us to their rule using force of arms. They would take our cattle and our crops for themselves, to live in luxury at the expense of those who make the food.
“Not all men are this way. Our own lord is a good and strong man. He seeks to treaty with our neighbors, to exchange goods that we have in abundance for other goods of value that our neighbors may have, so that we may all benefit.
“But the marauders seek to take without giving. The want the fruit of our labors without providing anything other than tyranny over us.
“We must defend ourselves against the marauders. Only a few are truly evil, but they recruit many to their cause.
“If we were able to go in and silence the key leaders, those who weave their mayhem amongst their troops, those who lead others into battle to take what is not theirs, we would have a simple solution indeed.
“But we cannot. It is risky and difficult to infiltrate their ranks, to learn beforehand where they will be. And extremely difficult to determine who are the masterminds who cause the troubles, and not the ones who are under the spell. The masterminds are often not the generals or the lords, but someone of influence, in the background, turning mens’ minds to their evil ways. These are truly the enemy, but they are like shadows, and hard to fight.
“So we must protect ourselves from the marauders, the agents of the wicked, using force of arms. We train and build defenses to deter them from attacking, hoping that the promise of their loss of life will prevent them from attacking. And for the most part, we are successful.
“But still the marauders come, as certainly as the seasons themselves. And we must go to battle to defend our homes and our loved ones, to keep the children safe from harm so that their children have a home, and the future generations are free.
“It is harder for us, for we must make sure we have the right foe. The marauders will attack without warning, without quarter. We must always be on the defensive, or our honor and our integrity are lost. For without honor and integrity, our very soul is lost and our homes became a hollow shell, without joy or happiness.
“When I look into the fire, I think of those I have bested in battle, and I am sorry. But I know of no other way, and must defend our homes and our children to ensure they have a future. Perhaps someday there will be a way to change the hearts of men. But for now, this is the way of the world.”
And I understood, and loved Valjus even the more for his values and ideals. He was not just a warrior of the flesh, but a warrior of the spirit as well. I turned and gazed upon him lying next to me, and laid my arm across his chest.
He stirred. Without opening his eyes, he asked, “Couldn’t sleep, hmm?”
“I am troubled,” I said without hesitation.
“Child getting rambunctious?” he smiled.
“No, not that. Today’s battle with the marauders. I am worried about the possibilities. For some reason I have trepidations about what the outcome will be. I know in my head that there should be little trouble, for our forces are vastly superior, but in my heart I have a fear that they will succeed in some way.”
“Perhaps you are right, dear,” he murmured. “But let us let the future take care of itself. We still have an hour before sunrise. Since you are getting too big for lovemaking, I’m going to fall asleep by your side.”
He turned towards me and wrapped his arm across my breasts, and promptly fell asleep.
Valjus rode off to battle with his squad as the sun peeked over the horizon. I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that enveloped me. He looked as prepared as ever, working quietly with his men in the pre-dawn light to saddle their horses and check their weapons. They had their war-paint on, looking fierce as the torchlight reflected off their faces.
The squad rode out through the gate and over the drawbridge, the rays of the sun poking through the clouds beyond them. It was a beautiful picture, one that would stay in my mind for the rest of my life.
One never knew what happened in a battle until it was over and the survivors returned to tell the tale. But with my husband, I could see in my mind the events as they unfolded. I could not explain it, but it was as if I had eyes behind my husband’s head. I’d been told that those who had the Sight often saw things at a distance, and not just future events. In any event, I could feel in my bones what Valjus was doing as he was doing it.
I tried to rest in our bed, but I was too nervous. So I walked up on the rampart and paced restlessly back and forth for the rest of the morning. At lunchtime, the guards tried to convince me to go and eat, but I could not. I just kept pacing back and forth, then resting on a stone and staring off into the distance.
I knew when they joined battle. I could hear the clanging of swords and shields, and the heat and sweat on my husband’s chest. I could feel his arms shudder as he swung his mighty sword into the marauders. I felt several blows hit his helmet, and I felt dizzy.
I felt his right arm, his sword arm, get hit a glancing blow. I cried out as the pain seared through my shoulder. I could barely lift my hand for a time. Then the pain and the noise receded and it seemed he had pulled out of the battle to bind his wound. I felt my arm go numb—perhaps he had used an herb to treat the gash?
Suddenly I could feel the battle around me as the rest of the soldiers fought the marauders. This was the first time I had the Sight with someone other than my husband! I wished for having some sort of magic to protect them, like the tales I had heard of the forest people. But I did not, and could only feel the battle wage back and forth.
The battle was going poorly. The marauders were very strong and the battle was in question. Would we be victorious and drive them away, or would we be overpowered and lose every man? I could not see—that Sight was failing me. All I could see was gray clouds.
In my worry, I had forgotten about my husband and his wounds. Suddenly, I was on his horse, riding into battle, with his sword in my—in his—left hand! His right arm was bandaged, and his shield tied onto his right arm, swinging his left arm with speed and fury.
Would he be strong and fast enough with his left arm? Could he control the sword well enough? He rode through the battle, slashing at marauders with great fury. The battle lust was in him and he felt no pain. He passed through the battle and turned, rearing his horse. Seeing him, the rest of his squad cheered and attacked the marauders with renewed vigor. He charged back into the fray, swinging dangerous swaths with his sword. He cut down one marauder, then two. He saw his sergeant in fierce combat and leapt from his horse to give aid.
Forgetting about his right arm, he tried to swing his shield instead of his sword. The marauder turned from the sergeant, and seeing an opening, swung his own sword at my husband, striking him in the chest. I felt the impact in my chest, almost falling over from the blow. But I felt no pain. It seems the armor prevented penetration of the sword.
Valjus realized his good fortune and swung the sword with his left, nearly severing the marauders’s head. With that, the battle was over as the few remaining marauders ran away. At that moment, the world went gray as Valjus passed out.
They brought him into the Keep late that evening. He was limping and breathing raggedly as two of his men half-carried him to the main table, where they laid him out. I rushed over to his side and looked at him. His face was ashen and his armor covered in blood. Whose, I could not tell.
“Quickly, strip off his armor,” I commanded. I knew something of the healing arts and could bind and dress his wounds as well as anyone.
The same two men helped strip off his armor and I saw the deep gash in his chest and I gasped. It seemed the sword had pierced the armor and slashed his chest open to the bone.
“Water!” I yelled, and dipped a clean cloth into the offered bucket and sponged away the dirt and caked blood. I gasped in horror at the purplish hue to his flesh, spreading out from the wound.
“Poison!” I gasped. “Quickly, fetch my bag of potions from my room. On the shelf by the firepit. Fast, man, fast!” I yelled at the retreating back.
In minutes I had the bag and rubbed the ointments into the wound. The poison had spread too far to suck out, as you would a snakebite. All I could do was apply the herbs and medicines and bathe the wound in clean water to rinse out the vile poison attacking his system.
“Do not worry, my love,” Valjus whispered loudly to me. “I’ll never leave you.”
“Hush, my darling,” I implored. “Save your strength to battle the poisons. It is very dangerous.” I continued to give him water to drink and bathed the wound as best I could. We moved him closer to the fire, to give him heat to help his body in its fight. I stayed with him all through the night as the fevers raged through his body.
Several times during the night he opened his eyes and looked deep into mine. I never let go of his hand, and each time he awoke, he smiled and gave my hand a strong squeeze. Each time his hand felt weaker, and I could not understand how he could fight so strong against the poison.
Just before dawn he awoke. “How is the child holding up?” he asked.
Strange, during the entire ordeal I had completely forgotten about my swollen belly and the child within me. “He is fine,” I replied. “It seems he has been content to let me take care of you.”
“You know it is a son, do you?” Valjus whispered.
“Some things a mother just knows,” I answered, tears coming to my eyes.
“Teach him, my darling, as he grows,” he implored. “Teach him all that you know.” He squeezed my hand—the grip weak, so weak. I could see my beloved faltering and his breath rasped painfully.
“No! No!” I screamed, tears pouring down my cheeks.
“Remember, my love, I will always be here for you.”
With that, his eyelids fluttered. Just then the sun broke through the window and shone upon his face, making him look like an angel. It seemed to give him strength, and his eyes opened wide and he smiled. And just like that, his life force left his body and he died.
Many months went by. Our son was born and was a strong, healthy lad. I wanted to name him Valjus, like my husband, but the castle felt there could only be one Valjus, and asked me to name him something else. I chose Galvin, a strong name, a proud name, and it suited him well.
One night, with Galvin asleep, I felt compelled to walk into the woods. The castle was guarded and the gate open. With a word to the guard, I stepped out into the night and into the woods. I couldn’t believe my bravery! Walking into the forest at night, with no protection. I wondered about this, yet felt strangely drawn to a meadow not far from the castle.
I sat down on a tree stump and gazed at the meadow. It was a beautiful night, with the stars out and the moon casting a pale glow to that lovely glen. For the first time since Valjus died, I felt at peace.
“I’m here,” a voice whispered, almost too quiet to hear.
I looked around, but could see no presence, no movement. It seemed there was no one there. And yet…
“I’m here, my love.”
I pinched myself to check if I was sleeping.
“I’m here, my darling.” The voice whispered again. I felt a warm glow on my arm, right where I pinched myself.
I looked around me, but could see no presence. The warm on my arm persisted, like a hand from someone else. But there was no hand there. I looked.
“I told you I would be here for you and Galvin, and I am here.”
I looked around, but could not see anything. “Who are you? Where are you? What are you?” I asked. I was not afraid, and surprised that I was not afraid.
The voice chuckled in the night. “I am your husband. Surely you have not forgotten me already?”
I was shocked. How could this be?
“I do not know how this can be,” the voice answered. “I just know that I am here with you.”
“But you are dead!”
“Aye, girl, my body died many moons ago, but I am still here and still very much alive. I was with you when our son was born, but you could not hear me. I was with you when you named him, but you could not hear me. I talk to you every night, but you cannot hear me.”
“But how— why— what is happening here?” I could not comprehend what was happening. My head said this is impossible, my heart was leaping for joy. Too much was happening all at once!
“I do not know all of the answers, my darling. I only know that there is magic in this meadow. I no longer sleep, and talk to the spirits of the glen and they have taught me many things. I have learned how to talk to the animals, and they talk to me. Here, I will show you. The squirrel will come and talk to you.”
And just like that, a squirrel hopped down from a tree at the edge of the forest and scampered over and sat in front of me with his front paws in the air. He started chirping merrily and cocked his head as if waiting for a reply.
I didn’t know what to say. “Hello there, little squirrel.”
The squirrel chirped away some more. Then, seemingly satisfied, he bounced away and was gone into the darkness.
“He likes you,” the voice said to me. “I can’t blame him.”
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking with a voice in the middle of the air,” I said, reality taking hold once more.
“Use your Sight. Look around you. It will take some work on my part to become visible, but I will try,” the voice of my husband said to me.
I closed my eyes, then opened them again. An eerie light was in the meadow, casting a strange glow in the air. I looked around, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Then, to my left, I caught some movement. Something was moving in the glow, something almost like smoke, a shimmering haze of some sorts. I looked closer. “Use your Sight” I heard again. I closed my eyes and opened them again. The form of a man was faintly visible. I could faintly see his arms, and the outline of a breastplate. Slowly a head started to form, the shape of my husband’s head! Part of a leg, the opposite foot, faintly appeared. The lips moved.
“I’m sorry you can’t see all of me. I am practicing and the spirits in the woods are helping me, but I have much to learn. It takes a lot of energy to make a form appear. It’s harder than learning how to wield a sword.”
“How long—how long can you stay like this?”
“Not long. A few minutes at most. Then I must rest for many days. Not everyone can see me—only those with the Sight. Although the spirits tell me that, with practice, I will be able to make myself visible to anyone for a very short period.”
Part of my mind could not comprehend what was happening, but part of me found it so very real. Or was it wishful thinking on my part? I did not know. I only knew that I felt my husband’s presence, as I had not felt for nearly a year.
“You’d best be going. Galvin is restless and I cannot be here with you and tend to him at the same time,” my husband’s spirit told me.
“What do you know of him?” I asked, still surprised.
“I watched his birth. I did not know yet how to talk to you, or to make my presence known, but I watched his birth. It was very nearly a breach, but something happened and he turned and came out very easily.”
I was astounded. The only person present at the birth was my midwife, and she was of the forest and not inclined to talk. Perhaps this was real, perhaps it wasn’t my imagination.
“I promised you that I would always be here for you. I have not parted at the death of my body, my love. I will help you raise our son, and teach him to be a great warrior, a great—“
“You would teach him to fight?” I cried. “After losing you in battle, I could not bear to have him become a warrior like you.”
“Lass, the world is a rugged place, full of vile and wicked men who seek to take what does not belong to them. Every once in a while someone comes along who can lead others, who can help make the world a better place. Galvin is one of those special few.
“He has your gift of the Sight. He has the blood of my family in his veins, and will grow to be strong and powerful. You will teach him how to use the Sight, and I will teach him how to be a warrior. Together we will teach him how to lead, and how to use reason to make the world a better place.”
“But how do you know he has the Sight? And how do you know he is to become a leader?” My mind was reeling at all of the information I was being inundated with.
“The spirits in the forest have told me. They have taught me much. They see many things that should not be in the world, but have no way to influence events. They teach me because they want to see things change and it is my destiny now to teach Galvin.”
“I have missed you so much,” I told him. “I cannot believe that you are here! How often will I see you? Will I ever be able to touch you?”
“I have missed you too, my love. And I don’t know the answers to your last two questions. I am learning much, yet still have much more to learn.” Valjus’ image started to shimmer and fade. “I am tiring, darling. I cannot hold the image here much longer. Quickly now, Galvin needs you, and I fear that I shall have to rest soon.”
The image of my husband faded, and was gone. I was saddened as he disappeared. For a brief time, I felt alive again, talking to my one and only love. The meadow lost its eerie glow, and looked like a normal meadow in the moonlight.
“Valjus?” I called. “Are you there?” Silence greeted my pleas.
The next night I went to the meadow, to no avail. And the night after that, and the night after that. Nothing. I began to doubt my own mind as to what I’d heard. Others at the castle were starting to wonder about my late night walks into the forest. They urged me to desist, so I found ways that only the servants knew of.
After a week, I stopped going. I started to visit the meadow during the daytime, without any success. It was a very pretty place, and very quiet and peaceful. I brought Galvin there one day and he seemed to like it too, smiling and cooing the whole time.
A week after I stopped going, I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night. I was drawn to the window and looked out. Valjus’ horse was loose, unsaddled, and trotting back and forth beyond the castle walls. He did not look agitated or spooked, rather galloping back and forth like he was enjoying himself, like he was being ridden!
I dressed quickly and snuck out of the castle and went to the horse. “Storm. Come here boy, here I am.”
The horse stopped running and trotted over to me. He nuzzled me affectionately and snorted.
“I’ve missed that,” that familiar voice announced in the still air.
“Valjus!” I cried, “where are you?”
“On Storm. I told you I can talk to the animals, Storm too. I went in and said hello and suggested we go out for a ride. Horses are simple creatures and do not question the presence of someone, even if they can’t see them. Here, why don’t you climb up with me and we can ride together?”
My heart leapt at the possibilities. I might be crazy, but it felt in my heart like my husband was there. I swung up onto Storm and rode bareback, leaning over his neck to lead him. It felt as though Valjus was behind me, with his arms wrapped around me.
We rode to the meadow as if drawn. I never consciously steered in that direction, but we ended up there none the less. I dismounted and looked around for Valjus. I could not see him or even feel his presence.
The air shimmered and waved in the moonlight. The night became quiet and a shape started to coalesce in the moonlight. A shape that became the image of Valjus, transparent, but still him. And this time it was all of him.
“I cannot hold this for long, my sweet. But you can see me. Close your eyes and I have a surprise for you.”
I closed my eyes and stood trembling with anticipation. The air around me got warm and I felt a pair of arms wrapping around me. I opened my eyes and gasped—nothing was there!
“Keep your eyes closed, my darling,” a voice whispered in my ear. “With your eyes open your mind cannot accept what your heart feels. Keeps your eyes closed and follow your instincts.”
I closed my eyes and it felt like Valjus was holding me just like when he was alive. My heart thumped and my legs grew weak and I sagged against his chest. I started to fall, and in a blur strong arms picked me up. I dared not open my eyes, for fear the spell would be broken and I would fall to the ground.
“Stand, my darling, and dance in the moonlight with me.”
Very carefully I put my feet on the ground and stood, invisible arms holding me steady. I kept my eyes closed and we danced a slow dance in the moonlight, animals and birds lending a quiet chorus more sweet than any symphony.
I cannot remember how I got back to the castle that night. I awoke in the morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. I went to see Galvin and traded giggles with him. The maid looked at me with surprise, and I realized that it was the first time I’d smiled since that fateful night when Valjus died.
“Galvin, how would you like to go for a ride on a horsey?”
Galvin smiled and cooed.
We took Storm out to the meadow, over the objections of the stablehands. Somehow Storm was back in the stable, rested and ready for a ride. Mysterious forces were at work, but I no longer questioned the sanity of what I was doing.
We rode to the meadow and walked around on horseback for quite a while. I did not know why I was there, but somehow I knew that inspiration would come to me.
Suddenly inspiration hit me. We would build a small home in the meadow and live there, Galvin and I—and Valjus. I would raise my son with the spirit of my husband. I would live with my husband the only way I knew how, the love of my heart, with me the only way possible.
What was love, I wondered. Was it a strong man standing by my side? Was it the feeling in my heart? Was it the harmony in my soul? Was it the soaring of the human spirit, outside of time and place? Was it all of these things?
All I knew was that by living in the meadow I would be with the spirit of my husband and we could raise our son together. And if I closed my eyes, I could feel him around me, holding me, keeping me safe and warm.
As time went by, people came to talk about me as the crazy lady. Rumors passed around that I talked to my dead husband in the moonlight, but it was a price that I gladly paid.
We raised our son, each teaching him what we knew. Yes, Galvin could see him too, and only smiled when others asked about him. Valjus taught Galvin how to fight with swords, and schooled him in the arts of leadership. I taught him the healing arts, and how to use the Sight to good effect. Sometimes, in the fading twilight, I would see the two of them together in the meadow, swords flashing with the rays of the setting sun. Or sitting on a tree stump, passing the wisdom of the eons to an eager son.
It was a rich life, and I was happy. Galvin grew to manhood and went on to become a warrior like his father. My place was no longer with him, although we talked frequently when he returned from his adventures. Valjus was often gone with him, and sometimes I felt very lonely. But then I learned how to use my Sight to be with both of them and could feel both of them at the same time.
Valjus would return to me when he could, even when Galvin was far away. It seems that distance had little influence on the spirit and he would be with me after being hundreds of miles away with Galvin only minutes before.
When Valjus was with me, I was so happy! The years passed and I grew old before I realized it and one day Galvin came to see me and was shocked.
“What is it, Galvin?” I asked.
“Nothing, mother,” he replied rather sheepishly.
After his extraordinary kindness that evening, I looked in the mirror after he left. The sight before me shocked me too. My hair had turned gray and my skin was wrinkled beyond belief. I realized my time would soon come to join my beloved.
“I’m coming soon, Valjus,” I whispered into the mirror.
“I’m waiting, my love,” a voice whispered in my ear. I turned, and there he was, in the flesh, not as the young warrior I remembered, but an aged man my own age. He was still so handsome. My heart beat wildly in my chest.
“You’ll cause my heart to fail, my love,” I whispered in return. I reached out to him and he took me in his arms. I checked, and my eyes were still wide open. He kissed me with such tenderness that my heart melted again.
“I told you I would never leave you, my darling, and I have been here as I said I would,” he murmured in my ear. “And soon we’ll be together again for eternity, spirit and spirit, as we always have been. I love you, darling, and I always will.”
How does someone remember their own death? I remembered mine. It was painless. I laid in the bed, with Galvin looking over me and smiling sadly. Behind his shoulder stood Valjus, looking as handsome as ever.
“Don’t be sad, Galvin. I lived a great life, and now I get to be with your father totally and completely. He’s here now, behind you, smiling at both of us.”
Galvin turned and faced the image of my husband. “Take good care of her, father. I will miss her.” And he put his hand out for Valjus to shake.
“We’ll both be there when you need us, son, never worry.” And the image shook my son’s hand. A tear appeared in my eye.
“Oh, Galvin, oh, Valjus, how happy you make me!” And with that, my spirit lifted upward and the life force left my body. I was there, with Valjus, and we were one again.