Tales of the Valkyrie [ Chapter 1 ]
Tales of the Valkyrie
Two moons, and still Torgrund had not gained those fabled and most elusive ‘land legs’ people had told him of. No, he was a sea dog, born and raised at her bosom, and solid ground under his feet made his knees ache and kept him awake at night. Still, the inlands were the best place for him to be right now, at least until the winds on the Ocean Belt changed and he was not a wanted man anymore.
Such was the life of a pirate – oft times unpleasant. Still, not being able to feel the ocean breeze on his face and taste the salt on his tongue hardly seemed worth it. Well, at least some of that salty air was here. They did not call these lands the Saltplains for nothing. The grass was as richly laden as the dikes of Haagebreh, and the cattle here was just as healthy and delicious. Small wonder that Torgrund was tearing hungrily into a tasty leg of goat while eying one of the patrons at the bar. And what a patron it was: A beautiful woman, just between slender and broad shouldered with flowing long hair, golden as the sun, and the most peculiar set of heavy armor. A sword rested against the bar on which she sat and a winged helmet lay besides her drinking horn, which she had emptied so many times that Torgrund no longer wondered how she was still awake and rather in what kind of space she was storing all that liquid.
The Valkyrie looked at the bottom of that mead horn. The sweet and warm yellow honey brew almost tasted as good as piss. Almost. The day the Valkyrie had left the North was the day she had chugged her last good horn of mead. What was served here in the Saltplains was barely drinkable. Some imported fancy stuff from the western foothills of the Yamato Mountain Range. The Valkyrie had no taste for the red and white grape juices of the Middle Lands either. Those queer drinks were for pampered lordlings and snickering girls. She grunted and threw the horn behind her so that it shattered against the wooden wall of the inn with a splash. “Your bees are drunk on your queer red juices if they shit the honey used to brew this piss,” she growled.
Torgrund, a bulbous man with a fierce and shaggy red mane, chugged his ale down and sat beside her as he gave that a roaring laugh: “Har! You’re a feisty one, Valkyrie,” he bellowed, “have some ale to wash down the piss, it’s better than the water here.” He smacked a few copper coins onto the bar. “On me!”
The Valkyrie turned her head towards him and inspected Torgrund with tired eyes, a red glow was about her cheeks since she had been drinking for hours. He had an impressive, full red beard that framed his weatherworn face together with his mane so that he looked like a fat bear all in all. His grin was missing a tooth or two and his nose had been broken at least once - the Valkyrie liked it well enough, he did look strong and hearty. “What makes you think I am a Valkyrie?” she asked wearily and with the lull of the drunk. But even though all the bad mead had made her head fuzzy, she was not one to lose her wits in a horn or flagon, too old was she, older than even magus folk, all thanks to the blessing of her masters.
“If you prefer it to be secret you should dress differently. When I was still suckling at my mother’s teat she told me stories. You know… uh, I assume… the ones about the realm of the northern gods and of course their Valkyries. You can hold your mead like no woman I have ever seen and you are battle born, I can tell; and that armor, just like in the stories, and no novice did not forge that neither, it is the work of a master,” the man boasted, apparently proud with his wits and why not? He was right indeed.
The Valkyrie yawned. “Fair enough. Then you know what I seek,” she said and took the horn of ale he had bought her, “what news of war can you tell me?”
Torgrund grunted. “There is always war, men are flimsy creatures that always want more than they have. But wars of the likes you seek? Har! Hmm… Perhaps you should turn your gaze towards the Red Sands. There is a great many Kaltani slaves there and I hear the new paro is cruel. A fool more like, if you ask me, the Kaltani are a proud and strong people; if he makes them bleed, they will have his head. Mayhaps that is the kind of war you seek, Valkyrie?”
The Valkyrie swallowed the ale in one go and laid the horn onto the bar. “Civil war? I have been to Arkatrash many years ago, it is big enough, but certainly not as grand such as the kind of war I am seeking. Say, red one -”
The man interrupted her. “Torgrund, my name be Torgrund Redmane”.
The Valkyrie nodded. “Say, Torgrund, I heard a letter bomb fly in this morning, do you know the news it brought?”
Torgrund shook his head, but the Bartender, an old man with thin white hair and a glazy look who was cleaning a wineglass spoke up: “The letter bomb, eh?” he said with a brittle voice, “Kingdom gone and kingdom come, on all the five cities to the five corners of the Tower of Five.”
The Valkyrie moved her hand in a talking motion and hiccupped once. “Five! Five! Five! You sound like a… thing. What’s that bird that goes like that?” Her voice trailed off into a mumble.
“A sea gull?” Torgrund suggested, not being very knowledgeable on birds.
“Sure, why not…” she conceded tiredly, then suddenly got up. Certainly too fast, because it made her head spin, but no one should have been able to tell. ‘Kingdom gone and kingdom come’ was the general expression for when a city or land was put under siege by a single man or woman. There were a great many sheep in Midgard, as the Valkyrie’s masters called the Great Land, but power ran deep in this world and some were strong enough to wield it. A man could indeed become strong enough to fight a thousand on his own if he walked the way of magic. Though that such a one should lay siege to one of the five cities of the Middle Lands seemed very odd indeed, for each of them held one of the great Mage Academies of the world. Some called this the Age of Gears and Elements, for the mages and technocrats were the most powerful amongst men.
“Will you go there?” Torgrund inquired not without a certain admiration in his voice.
The Valkyrie fastened her sword to her belt and tucked her armor where it needed tucking and then donned the winged helmet. Torgrund had the right of it: Her armor made her look to be a Valkyrie without doubt. It was silver and white and made of the finest steel and other, more powerful metals only known to a few masters of the art of forging arms and armor. Her gauntlets, breastplate, shin guards, helmet, and sword hilt ended in ornaments made of white steel and silver that were skillfully worked into the pieces and looked like feathers. When she stood tall, the Valkyrie looked like a beautiful, righteous, winged creature - not that there were any actual wings, mind you.
“I shall”, she answered, “But I cannot say I have high hopes. The last few times I went to kingdom gone and kingdom come I slew them all with ease. Before the Valkyrie all men and women alike crumble into dust, for so the old gods will it.”
Torgrund laughed again. “Might I ask to join you for this journey, Valkyrie?” He tried his best to hide the sliver of childish hope that clung insistently to his voice.
She turned her back. “You may not. The Valkyrie walks alone,” she said with iron cold in her voice.
And with those last words she vanished, so only the shattered mead horn that lay on the ground where she had thrown it would tell of her being here. And so she left the Saltplains behind her to go to war…
“You know,” the old barman said carefully, “she did not pay for her last twelve rounds.”
Torgrund nodded with a sly grin, “Ah, I see.” Then he took to his heels and ran.