Lightening streaked across the heavens bouncing aggressively off the rainbow in an attempt to bond with it causing Carolyn look upwards as Olrun hustled her out of the stable despite her protests. She and Jennifer didn’t have time to say goodbye as the protectors of the sisterhood closed her inside their ranks making any contact impossible. Her last vision was an incapacitated Mercie floating above the protectors and Jennifer.
Carolyn peered up at the display in the sky and said, “I take it this isn’t normal.”
Olrun glanced up before solemnly saying, “The King is becoming impatient with Heidi and that is not good.” Thunder cracked overhead.
Carolyn had yet to find out exactly what she had to do in all this. “Look I’m not sure how I’m going to help you Olrun…I don’t believe all this,” she said as her hand waved around her. “It’s rather hard to take in when you’re used to hard cold facts.”
“Precisely, that is why you are the one,” Olrun quietly but decisively pointed out.
Glad we put that to bed, Carolyn wryly thought as they stood at the perimeter of the town.
The warrior Sigrun immediately came forward gave the old woman a kind of salute then turned her eyes toward Carolyn and gave her a shy smile and a similar salute. Unsure what to do Carolyn merely nodded her head.
“Sigrun, it is time to call your sisters and protect the shield. Do not worry about the Saviour for Mgni will take care of her.”
Sigrun who nodded in agreement said, “May the might of the sisterhood be with you Olrun and you too Hrafn. If Idun decrees we shall see you both when the heavens are calm again over Muspell.” She gave another salute and moved the shield so they could pass through the disabled protective barrier.
After they walked through the shield, Sigrun reengaged the barrier closing it as quickly as it opened. Carolyn sucked in a deep breath as her thoughts centred on Jennifer. I hope she’s ok. A smile quivered around her lips. I’ll be back my friend because I have the strangest notion you’ll not let me leave you.
“When the time is right, you must allow yourself to heed the call of your heart Hrafn. If you do, the shadows around the mind will be lifted and all will be well.”
Olrun has an incredible way of reading my mind. Carolyn shrugged as a shiver of fear ran along her spine before she followed the old woman into her unknown future.
+ + +
Jennifer bit her lip in anguish as she watched Olrun lead Carolyn away. As the protectors closed ranks around her, she searched for a way out and saw none. This is getting scary. Her eyes drifted upwards. But, it isn’t as bad as what appears to be happening to Mercie. God, the Queen is going to kill us if anything happens to her. When she saw Mist join the protectors, she reached out to her.
“Mist, what do I do now? The only thing that is clear is what’s happening to Mercie…how can we help her?”
Before Mist could answer, Sigrun arrived. “Olrun instructed that we take up our position at the shields.” All the protectors except Mist left the stable in a whirl of black cloaks.
Puzzled, Jennifer gazed at Mist. “What do I do…can I help?”
The only part of Mist that she could see clearly was the eyes that fixed on her from behind a helmet. “Mgni you must stay and watch over the Saviour for she needs your help to sustain her life-force.”
Damn, can’t these people ever make any sense? “Look I know you know what’s going on but I haven’t a clue! I want to know more…no I need to know more if I’m going to be of any help.” Jennifer asked her voice filled with exasperation.
A dark look crossed Mist’s eyes before she shook it away. “Olrun has not explained?” For a moment, the warrior felt compassion for Jennifer, but soon that changed back to indifference.
Jennifer frowned. “There really hasn’t been time…everything happened so fast. You were there all the time…so tell me exactly where do you fit in all this?”
“I am Olrun’s protector, Mgni,” the warrior quietly replied.
“You’re her protector? Why aren’t you with her then? Surely that’s your place,” Jennifer said in surprise.
Mist looked up at Mercie and a slight smile twisted her lips. “My Haliarunos chose to walk her path alone for it is her right. I will protect her soul as is our way at the end.”
Ok, exactly when is this supposed to make sense? Perplexed, Jennifer rubbed her eyes hoping that would help – it did not. “At the end? I thought this was the beginning.” All this stuff makes my head ache.
Mist strode to the door of the stable, stopped and replied, “As it must be, all protectors share a part of their Haliarunos’ soul. When the end lies before them, as Olrun’s does, I will help her to cross the Bilfrost Bridge where she will meet Asa, the God of the light and the rainbow. When Olrun is given back her youth and strength, she will share her essence with me until we are no longer needed to protect Muspell. I must go for my place is at the shield.”
“Are you saying that Olrun is going to die?” Jennifer whispered. “Does that mean Carolyn has to die too?”
Mist felt pity for Jennifer. By birth, Mgni is not one of us…yet, she has proven that her heart belongs with the Sisterhood of Protectors. “As it was told at the beginning, you hold the fate of the last of the Haliarunos in your hands Mgni. Soon that will be your choice.” She opened the stable door and left abruptly.
Jennifer stood in the dimly lit building wondering if pinching herself might help bring her out of the relentless maze of inconsistent happenings. Her eyes turned upwards and felt her heart go out to Mercie. Did you know this was going happen my friend? Perhaps not consciously, but I think somewhere deep inside you did. Don’t worry, Carolyn won’t let us down she’ll find a way. I must believe that or we are all doomed.
+ + +
Queen Berdlukare stealthily arrived at the ridge with her personal escort on either side. As the heavens rocked with the lightening, crashing like the waves of the ocean against the rainbow her eyes took the warriors at her side. They seem reluctant to venture further. She cast her gaze to the tiny town comprising of a handful of simple huts and the large almost opulent hall that was the central piece. It is strange that Muspell is so close to Xanadis yet few have the curiosity to venture here and test the old traditions. The lightening cracked above her. I did not know that such a spectacle would greet us. The town looked innocuous enough, but she recalled the stories of a mysterious barrier that prevented only the chosen of legend from going inside the perimeter. Her eyes scanned the area and she could not see anything such as a wall that would block entering the town. Perhaps it is like many of the old stories of long ago... after embellishment over the centuries it is taller than the original.
“Come we must enter Muspell before the enemy follow us.” She turned towards an unfamiliar sound emanating from the mountainside by the edge of the lake inlet.
“My Queen what is that noise?” one of the warriors asked. His eyes travelled around to find some logical explanation for the noise. “I cannot see what is causing it,” the warrior said with a slight tremble.
“I do not know. Perhaps it comes from Muspell,” Berdlukare said. “Right now we are vulnerable to our enemies and we leave at once.” The Queen gave her warriors a small salute and took off at a fast pace over the ridge towards Muspell.
+ + +
Carolyn walked beside Olrun until they stopped at a clearing just before the edge of the lake. So this is where it all began. I can understand why forit has all the attributes that people would want after a long journey - water, greenery and shelter. Then she cast her gaze around until she saw a small building that looked somewhat familiar. Of course, it’s a temple. It seems longer than only two days ago when Jenn and I visited her special temple. I wonder which pagan god this worships. “Olrun is that a temple?”
The old woman glanced at the tiny hut. “It is Hrafn. To whomever god you wish to worship.”
Carolyn decided to delay their mission for a few minutes. “Olrun, I’ll be back shortly…I need to do something.” Without waiting for the old woman to reply, she rushed away and opened the temple’s rickety door. Inside, she saw there was room for one person to kneel, make an offering and pray.
Olrun shook her head. We have no time for such foolishness! Her eyes cast towards the rumbling noise that was closing in. The heart must wait Hrafn for your mind will brings about the change your soul craves. The rumbling grew louder. She’d better hurry or we’ll be too late.
Carolyn knelt at the wooden alter and the carved figure out of spruce wood and closed her eyes. I don’t really do this…this praying business and certainly never to pagan gods. Anyway, I’m here and I just want you to protect someone for me and answer her prayers and allow her to move on if things don’t go right for me. In fact, if she can, she should move on now for I don’t think this is going all that well. A horrendous noise like the breaking of a tidal wave roared in her ears causing her to open her eyes for a moment. I feel foolish. Then a tiny wry smile tugged at her lips. I have to be kidding myself that I’m doing this! I guess we all want to make someone happy in life and that person for me is Jenn, please make her happy. Thanks for listening to me. Carolyn stood to her full height and almost hit the top of the thatched roof. Ah, I almost forgot. She reached inside her tunic for a small pouch attached around her waist and withdrew several coins. They were coins of her old world but that was all she had of value, except for the key. They have no intrinsic value here but what the hey. Here you go and I hope you can help me out.
Carolyn turned in the small space, exited the building and walked towards Olrun. The old woman was looking at the edge of the lake with her head tipped to one side as if she were listening intently for something. When she reached the Haliarunos, she gave her a small smile. “Sorry about that, but it was something I needed to do.”
Olrun gave her a long hard look and nodded. “You will not find the answers in the old ways Hrafn. Your wisdom will win the day for you and bring about the dreams of your heart.”
Under her breath Carolyn muttered, “My wisdom as you so rightly put it could have destroyed my dreams already.” With a deep breath, her voice became louder, “Let’s go. I heard a strange noise while I was in the temple. Do you know what it is?”
Olrun gazed out over the lake as she pointed to something in the distance.
Carolyn gasped in astonishment. The water had receded deep into the lake and a giant wall of water was rushing towards them. “That’s…that’s a tidal wave isn’t it? Where did it come from?”
“Hurry Hrafn, we need to be at the beginning over there.” She pointed to a spot on the lake edge where a monument stood.
Carolyn galvanised her shocked responses into action and picked up her pace towards the monument. Her eyes darted to the oncoming tidal wave and she knew they had only a few more minutes before it reached them.
Somehow, Olrun managed to keep up with Carolyn and they arrived at the monument in what seemed like only seconds. The old woman pointed to a location on the monument and said loudly over the rush of the wave, “Your key Hrafn, your key place it there we have no more time.”
Although her mind screamed out for more answers, her heart was pounding with the realization that death was a certainty. All she hoped for at that moment was that Jenn would be safe inside the shield. “Ok, ok here it is,” she screamed as she took the keep from the pouch.
“Place it in its rightful place Hrafn, hurry, hurry,” Olrun implored.
Carolyn inserted the key and waited while the gigantic wave appeared over her head like a three dimensional picture. It doesn’t look real. She closed her eyes and let her mind find peace. At least I came back Jenn. I’m sorry I can’t be with you for I sure could do with your protection my friend.
A strange sound of whooshing sounded around her as she waited for the wave to engulf her. Well the old hag got one thing right – if she thinks I’m like her we’ll definitely be the last of the Haliarunos.
+ + +
As she paced inside the stable, Jennifer had the distinct feeling that something was wrong - severely wrong. She looked up at the floating Mercie. She isn’t exactly going anywhere soon. She then made the decision to go outside, find Mist and ask her what was going on.
She opened the door and stopped in her tracks. Where the hell did that come from? Panic filled her mind. We’re all going to drown! With her heart pounding like a drum, she rushed over to Mist who was standing almost as one with her shield fitting the contours of her body sleekly.
As the sound of the wave crashing through the undergrowth roared, Jennifer shouted, “Mist what the hell is going on? Get everyone inside or you’ll all drown!”
In deep concentration, the warrior ignored the words and maintained her contact with the shield.
“Shit!” Jennifer exclaimed. Then, above the sounds of nature, she heard a faint voice coming from the darkness of the trees that ringed the town. She squinted and saw three figures approaching. She recognised the familiar tone of the voice. “It’s the Queen!” she screamed. How can it be the Queen? Oh god, this is like a never-ending nightmare! “Mist you have to open the barrier! It’s the Queen… you must allow her entrance.”
This time the warrior appeared to listen as her eyes briefly saw the three figures dashing towards to the town’s perimeter apparently out of breath. For a brief second, Jennifer saw hesitation before the warrior coldly replied, “If we allow men to enter our time will cease when the sun comes up.”
Horrified, Jennifer gasped at the words. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what happens when the sun comes up…let them through! Or is this your version of how you protect life?”
Mist remained silent. Jennifer eyes caught those of the Queen who was about to try to enter the town. This is something I must do regardless of the consequences. “Please my Queen stay, give me a second or you will die,” she shouted.
The Queen immediately recognised Jennifer and stopped in her tracks. “Be quick Mgni, we need to be inside to escape the wall of the sea.”
Jennifer frowned. Even if they get inside I doubt that will help for this place is like the house of one of the three pigs - straw. “Be right with you,” she replied and with all the energy and strength that she could muster, she charged at Mist. Once the link was broken, the barrier of light fell away. “Get inside now!” Jennifer shouted, as she saw the three figures jump through the gate. Seconds later, Mist returned to the shield just as the wall of water hit. The protectors began chanting and, as if by magic, the barrier extended like a bubble over their heads.
Jennifer watched in amazement as the wave cascaded over them. My god how did they do that? Berdlukare and her warriors’ eyes filled with shock and amazement as they saw the water wash over their heads and they remained dry. Finally, Jennifer whispered, “So this is the true magic of the Protectors of the Sisterhood.”
Jennifer felt the tension of the last few moments wash way just as the wave was doing around them. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. Other than the broken trees and the remnants of drowned animal life floating by them, the main body of the disaster had gone. That was too close a call she thought until she felt her heart constrict when she thought of Carolyn. No, no she didn’t have the barrier as protection why did Olrun take her away from me. Tears began to fall when she realised that there was no chance that Carolyn could have survived.
Berdlukare saw Mgni’s distress, walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you hurt Mgni?”
With an indistinct shake of her head, she allowed her body to crumble to the floor as the words flowed around her. Hurt? Yes, yes, I’m hurt, but not physically...my heart is mortally wounded. Breathing heavily, she peered up at the fierce giant of a woman and blinked the tears out of her eyes. “My Queen, I am fine thank you.”
“No, thank you Mgni, for if you had not done what you did we would have surely died.” Berdlukare glanced around looking for the one person who could still her rapidly beating heart - Mercie. “Mgni, where is my Mercie?”
The quietly spoken words became louder as the protectors ended their chanting and the barrier returned to its usual size. All eyes turned to the small woman in the dirt, who looked more like a child than a full-grown woman. Her hand waved towards the building close by. “She’s in the stable my Queen but…”
Before she could say more, Berdlukare was running towards the building. Oh, god this might end up being worse than the tidal wave.
+ + +
Carolyn didn’t know what to think as she felt a hand on her shoulder. I feel warmth so I guess I’m not dead…or at least not dead in the accepted sense of the word. Her eyes found Olrun who was staring at her with warmth.
“Have no fear Hrafn; we are in the arms of Idun. She will keep us safe until the verdict is passed,” the old woman said softly.
Carolyn blinked rapidly realizing that the wave was no longer present. She felt her clothes. This is ridiculous…I’m dry! “I don’t understand how can I be dry?”
A soft chuckle greeted her incredulous expression. “You held the key Hrafn. Only the last of us could summon Idun and have her protect us for the audience with her.”
“But how…how did you know for sure? We could have been killed!”
Olrun shook her head. “Trust Hrafn, for that is the only measure that you can ever truly have faith in. A wizened finger pointed in the direction of a light that glowed around them. “Look, she’s coming,”
A low pitched voice that ran like honey down their spines invaded their thoughts. “Who brings me here?”
Olrun grinned in satisfaction. “I, Olrun of the sisterhood of the Haliarunos, called you to bring peace to Xanadis and keep the promise of our founder in the beginning.”
A shiver ran down Carolyn’s back as she felt a ghostly presence touch her like an icy draft. Damn I don’t like this. It goes against all the things that I understand in the universe.
“You are not the last of your kind Olrun. You know only she can request that of me.”
Olrun pierced Carolyn with a glance rolling her eyes in the direction of a beam of light. Despite her bewilderment, Carolyn assumed the presence to be Idun. Ok, I can do this if I only knew what the problem was. “My name is Carolyn Black I’m…that is…I summoned you here.” Silently she added, I think.
The sensation she felt earlier of cold change dramatically as a searing heat invaded her body making her feel as if she were on fire. Panic began to surface until she felt Olrun gently take her hand and squeeze.
“You are the last of Haliarunos?”
Is that a question or a statement? Carolyn decided it was a question. Makes it complicated since I’m not sure. Olrun seems to think I am so I guess everything else is working out why not agree with it…what possible harm can it do. “Yes, I want peace in Xanadis.” Hey, go with the flow what can it hurt.
There was a moment of supreme silence and Carolyn thought that perhaps she was dead until a low rumble came from the entity. “Are you prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice as in the beginning?”
Crap, who got me into this? Jenn’s going to bring me breakfast in bed for a whole month for this. Her thoughts brought a delicious rush of warmth through her body and she lost the plot for a few moments. “Of course.” Hey I can wing it with the best of them. This reminds me of Jenn’s cartoon character…Gentle Kellie who got into some interesting scrapes.
Carolyn turned to Olrun and smiled slightly. She saw a worried look in the old woman’s eyes and thought, shit, now what. “Wrong answer?”
Olrun’s stare was long and serious before it lightened considerably, “No Hrafn, it is as I always hoped it would be. May your experiences bring you a long life. When your time comes, the sisterhood will be waiting for you and your protector.” She smiled and the light in her eyes glowed like a torch alight in the darkest of corners.
“Olrun it is your time, the last of your kind has spoken. May Asa welcome you. Rest easy with your sisters Olrun in Asgard for you have done well my old friend.”
Before Carolyn had time to understand what was going on, Olrun’s figure shimmered before it simply disappeared. What the hell! “What’s going on? Where’s Olrun?”
“The last of the Haliarunos has spoken. Olrun was the last of her kind from the beginning. If all is to be as it was and peace brought to Xanadis then all that protected what was before must end.”
“You mean she’s dead?” Where does that leave me…am I to die too? What about Mercie, what about Jenn? Carolyn lost all patience with…whatever it was and what was happening for it was like some kind of weird reality show.
The voice dropped to ice. “You can now choose. The only way to release the lady from the ethereal bonds that hold her is that you pledge your soul to me for eternity.”
I don’t like the sound of that. “And if I chose not to do that what happens to Mercie?”
A cooling breeze settled in the void that trapped Carolyn. The voice, a little less icy replied, “I will give her to Bil and her essence will live in the face of the moon until the end of time.”
Carolyn pulled at her lip. This is slightly more complicated than trying to decipher the Norse language…just. It made her smile that in such a situation she could still think clearly, if this was actually doing so. Come on idiot, use that brilliant brain. Remember the research you did and …yeah, yeah but it didn’t give me any clues to this. This is new history as in history because it’s old but new to me, and probably the rest of Xanadis. Damn I guess the only way to do this is to think what Jenn would want me to do. She would want Mercie to be free, so if that’s what it takes then I’ll willingly do it. “Well, Bil will have to wait for another candidate to join him because I’ll do whatever it takes to have Mercie free.”
Warmth settled over the space and Carolyn felt it settling comfortably in her bones. “You willingly give me your soul?”
“Yeah, will that free Mercie?”
“If the three swords of the just are ready then the Saviour will be released back into the world you call Xanadis with the gift of life.”
Angry, Carolyn frowned then shouted, “You said if I gave you my soul she’ll be free and now you come up with this crap about swords? Who’s tricking who now?”
A tinkling of bells that could be mistaken for gentle laughter filled the invisible walls around Carolyn. Well so much for calling the bluff…now, I’m out of ideas.
“How can you give me your soul Carolyn Black when you have already surrendered it to another? What trickery is that?”
Carolyn closed her eyes. I did, didn’t I? I bet Jenn has had my soul from that first day we met. Thankfully, she’s never going to know what a mess I made of this. “Ok, is there anything else that I can do or that you might need?”
“If you take back that part of your soul that belongs with another then yes.”
Take it back? How can you take it back? How would I even know how? The real question is do I want to and the answer to that is a categorical NO! “I don’t know if that is possible.”
“Do you want what was in the beginning or not?” the voice said crossly.
Carolyn swallowed hard. “I want peace for Xanadis, I want Mercie to be released and join her loved ones. I want …” What was it that Olrun said? If I follow my mind my heart will be ok or something like that. “I don’t want to be immortal.”
+ + +
Jennifer scrambled up from the ground when heard the most dreadful, excruciating sound she had ever heard in her life. It had nothing to do with Mother Nature but with the pain of another human being and she knew why - Berdlukare’s first sight of the woman she loved. The warriors who travelled with the Queen ran towards the anguished sound.
I need to go and be with them, explain it all- hell what do I know . Her eyes passed over the black cloaked figures of the protectors and rested on Mist. The warrior’s eyes returned her concentrated gaze. “Why?”
Mist released her hold on the shield and breathed in deeply. “It is as was told to us. When the sun rises, my sisters we will be gone and you will, if you chose the right path, cross the line into a new world just as it was in the beginning. Come we must be ready.”
Jennifer felt herself dragged towards the stables. Be ready for what? “Ok, ok I can walk I’m not injured,” she shaking herself from the warrior’s grip.
A short time later when they entered the stable, Jennifer saw Berdlukare and felt her pain. If I think too hard about it, I’d feel the same way about Carolyn. But right now, I’m going to trust in my feelings that Olrun is keeping her safe as the protectors did us.
“I will bring her down my Queen.” One of the Queen’s warriors said with fierce determination. He climbed the stall nearest to where Mercie hung motionless and attempted to reach out to her.
When Mist saw what was happening she tried to stop the man but his fellow warrior barred her way. “No, don’t do that,” she shouted. The warrior ignored her and moments later, sparks showered the stable when he touched the bubble that held the Queen’s consort. Suddenly, he burst into a ball of flames disintegrating in to a pile of ash.
As she watched her warrior die, Berdlukare roared like a wounded animal. “No one should die like that,” she screamed. The Queen turned towards Mist and snarled like a rabid dog. “Your kind has put a spell on her! I command that you give her back to me,” Berdlukare said brandishing her sword. “Or, I will run my sword through you as I would split a pig.”
Jennifer felt the vicious energy emanating from the Queen and trembled. She had seen Berdlukare react like that once before in the battlefield two years earlier. She’ll do it, she thought in horror. I know this is a dumb move but.... She moved her body between Mist and the Queen.
Mist placed a hand on Jennifer’s shoulder and gave her a look that appeared filled with surprised gratitude. Softly she said, “You cannot kill me my Queen for I am already dead. As the sunrises, we of the beginning will be no more. Only the truth of the runes can bring back the saviour.”
Jennifer knew the cryptic words meant something more than Mist actually said. Darn this is more in Carolyn’s field…what would she think and do? “Look,” she said fixing her eyes on the Queen. “Do you remember the tapestry, the runes, the stories and all that we learned from them?” she asked calmly. “If Mercie is supposed to be the saviour wasn’t there something about three warriors?” She held the Queen’s gaze hoping that she would understand.
The anger and pain caused by the predicament of her consort overrode Berdlukare’s sensibilities. The Queen looked at Mercie hanging in the air and the rage, fed by the powerlessness she felt, increased. She captured Jennifer’s eyes and pierced her with a deep penetrating gaze that reached the woman’s soul. Was Mgni speaking to me as a friend or is she trying to gain time until the other protectors arrive? She looked at Mercie again. Who would you trust? “What say you Mgni?”
Jennifer closed her eyes and sighed. The Queen may listen and that’s good, no better than good it’s great. She smiled at the Queen in compassion for her predicament before she turned to Mist who stood beside her in silence. “The tapestry…isn’t that why we are all here?” The Queen nodded and Jennifer continued. The final scene depicted darkness and a light from the saviour with …darn I’m sure it was two maybe three warriors raising their swords to her.” She glanced around the stable and noticed the only other person there was the Queen’s remaining warrior. Then she frowned when she realized Larsen was not there. I wonder where he is…he is never too far from the Queen. She then looked at the Queen and held her breath.
Rage built and all Berdlukare wanted to do was take it out on the nearest witch. It is their fault that my beloved is alone and probably scared in the hands of the gods. Out of her anger emerged a moment of clarity. Mgni spoke as if my Mercie is the saviour of Xanadis. I know she is mine, but does she also belong to the land and people? Why am I surprised that she would give her life for our people and lands…it would be fitting. “There were three warriors and according to Olrun I am the sword of the saviour therefore I suspect that my sword is one of them.”
Finally, something is making sense. Jennifer placed a hand to her forehead rubbing it in the hope that some of the logic that Carolyn naturally exuded had transferred to her in the last month. Think Jenn think. Ok, we have Berdlukare who is the original ancestry. Then we need the mysterious Haliarunos…who better to bring them to mind but Mist. That leaves the stranger aspect…I fit that bill. Of course, the three faces of Xanadis! If this works, I’m going to take a Mensa test. “I think you’re right my Queen and I believe that Mist and I are the other swords.”
The Queen raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know that Mgni?”
“Simple really…we are the three faces of Xanadis…the ancestor, the Haliarunos and the stranger.”
For a moment, Berdlukare considered Jennifer’s words. “She is not a Haliarunos.”
“No, but she is the protector of the Haliarunos, aren’t they connected.” She eyed the Queen. “She can bring them to mind.”
Berdlukare looked at Mercie then nodded. “We shall be the three swords that save the Saviour.”
Jennifer frowned. “Only question is how do we know when?”
Mist sighed and looked around her committing every inch to memory before she said softly, “Olrun is in the hands of Asa. The time is now or it can never be.”
Jennifer gave the warrior a puzzled look. Asa…they just keep brining up more of the gods. “Do you know what we need to do Mist?”
“There can only be the three prayers of the warriors to bring her back,” she said pointing to the Queen’s warrior. “He must leave.” Her voice echoed off the stable walls and her dismissal of the male warrior held a harsh almost threatening tone.
Berdlukare turned to the warrior. “Go,” she commanded. The warrior saluted the Queen with a fist to his chest and reluctantly left, but paused to curl his lips in a snarl towards Mist.
Mist then took a stand to the right of Mercie’s hanging body and motioned for Jennifer to take the left, which left Berdlukare in the centre. “Offer Run your sword asking her for forgiveness with only purity in your hearts.”
In unison, all three raised their swords and pointed them towards Mercie. Each in her own way, prayed to the goddess Run for forgiveness. The chant from Mist filled the stable and soon Berdlukare joined her. Jennifer remained silent concentrating on praying to the pagan God hoping she was pure in thought.
Time seemed to stand still for the warriors as they chanted and prayed until weariness began to eat away at their resolve. Then a noise caught their attention for a fraction of a minute before a lightening bolt tore a hole through the stable and its heat filled the building. However, the three warriors remained stuck to their task. The tears dripping down her strong chiselled features betrayed Berdlukare’s intense emotions as she summoned an extra prayer that Odin watch over Mercie whatever might happen.
Jennifer saw the first light and felt a crushing pain of despair, god I hope they don’t take Mist from us before we complete the task. Miraculously the moon and the sun high above them appeared to change places and when they did the hold over Mercie disappeared. As she floated gently to the ground, Berdlukare dropped her sword and rushed to catch her. Reunited again, the Queen cradled her consort in her arms as she whispered words of thanks and undying love and devotion.
Jennifer felt mentally and physically drained as she collapsed against the sword that she had been holding up. I thought it was going to break my arm if I held that thing up for much longer. She glanced wearily at Mist and, for the first time, noticed that the woman’s eyes were now like all the other protectors - black orbs with a sliver of light. She summoned all her strength and pushed against the sword until she was beside the protector. “Are you ok Mist?”
The warrior did not answer but turned her black orbs to the much smaller woman as a faint smile twitched at her lips. “All is as it was in the beginning Mgni. Now, I must return to my sisters and finally we can leave this place and rejoin the other part of our soul.” She let out a sigh of resignation before adding, “Muspell is yours to protect.”
Jennifer’s features wrinkled in question as she started to ask Mist what she meant. “Wha…” Before she could ask, Mist rapidly retreated as her black cloak whisked by the stalls in the stable leaving no trail behind her. Soon after, the warrior who had arrived with the Queen rushed into the stable with his eyes glowing in astonishment. “erand the barrier is no long,” he shouted.
Berdlukare didn’t appear to notice. “Mercie my love please wake up and tell me you are ok,” she implored. Jennifer saw a genuine smile cross the Queen’s face when Mercie groaned. “I knew you’d come back to me,” Berdlukare whispered as she pulled her consort closer.
Jennifer waved towards the door and said, “Keeper…let’s go.” The warrior resisted until he was certain that the Queen and her consort were ok. “Come let’s go and let them have a minute.”
Certain that no harm would come to his Queen, the warrior nodded and followed Jennifer outside. Both had to shield their eyes from the gloriously bright and remarkable sunrise. The colours appeared so alive, swirling pinks and blues diffused over the sky as the moon disappeared behind a fluffy white cloud and on the other side the sun began to shine. Its tranquil beauty made Jennifer catch her breath.
Jennifer breathed in the fresh air of the early morning and closed her eyes in gratitude. Her eyes travelled to where the protectors had been working in tandem with the shields to create the barrier that had saved their lives. Only scorched earth remained as evidence that the shields had been there. As she walked over to the perimeter she felt a sense of great a sadness engulf her. I’d liked to have known more. If only, there had been time, if only… Her eyes widened. Carolyn! Although the pace of recent events sapped her energy, she felt revitalized. I have to find her! Jennifer shouted at the Warrior who was surveying the damage. “Did you see Olrun and my friend when you came over the ridge?”
Confused and startled, the man first shook his head before a look of understanding entered his eyes. “Mgni, two figures went towards the lake when we looked out over Muspell.”
Jennifer let out a sigh of relief and said, “Thank you.” She cast a glance towards the stable. “Keep an eye on them.” Without another word, she took off at a rapid pace towards the lake.
+ + +
Berdlukare held Mercie cradling her in the arms of her love. “Mercie, you are the one person who gives my life meaning,” she whispered. “You are the love of my life and I need you to open your eyes and let me know you are alright.” Although Mercie had moaned several times, she hadn’t opened her eyes and that caused Berdlukare concern. Her chaotic thoughts filled with the fear and anger that engulfed her when she realized Mercie was in trouble. I would have killed everyone and everything until she returned to me. No one would have been safe, no one…not even the innocent. A grim expression crossed her features. How will my Mercie continue to love me when she finds out about the evil that would have been in my heart if she hadn’t returned to me? Dare I tell her…dare I not? Tears fell silently as she kissed the brow of the small woman in her arms.
She heard a commotion drifting into the stable for just outside the door. Her senses tingled until she realized that it was not a threat. The voices of the warrior who came with her and Mgni rang clear. The Queen sighed in regret. Once more Mgni has aided us but at what price to her and her friend Hrafn. Her full attention turned to the woman in her arms when she heard a low moan. She peered down at the pale features of her lover and said, “My Mercie, will you not wake for me my love?” The fluttering of eyelashes and the beautiful green light that shone out of Mercie’s eyes greeted her. “Are you alright my love?”
Mercie felt the room around her spin slowly back to normal and the strong arms around her reminded her of the first time the Queen held her in her arms. The sensual pleasure that gave her had not diminished and even more so for she now felt it stronger than ever. She reached up and touched Berdlukare’s strong cheekbone with a feather light touch. “Never better for you are here my love.” She smiled. “I much prefer walking with you than the Gods.”
Berdlukare stared at the tiny woman in her arms. Is she suffering from delusions? Why is she talking of walking with gods? Well who wouldn’t with what has just happened to her. “Thank you Mercie.” A quirky smile tugged across the fierce profile.
Soon they were lost in each other’s gaze as love doused them with electric charges far more powerful than the lightening of the previous night. “Is everyone else alright my love? I do not know what happened exactly, bit I do know that from today we are to begin and Xanadis and its people must rebuild and forgive our enemies.”
Berdlukare felt a sharp pain in her gut at the mention of enemies. If she knew of our dear friend Larsen’s death, she would not say such a thing. “We will begin again my love…we will, but our enemies must be defeated – they killed Larsen.”
Mercie sucked in a sharp breath. “Oh no not Larsen,” she cried. “He was such a wonderful ally for you my Queen and he was our friend.” Her hand traced the grim expression that travelled across Berdlukare’s face. “To begin again we must forgive my love. If we do we will receive a very special gift.”
Gently Berdlukare stood up cradling Mercie to her chest as she tenderly carried her out of the stable into the glory of the sunrise. “I have my gift Mercie. You are my gift…I cannot conceive ever being without you, I will not.”
Mercie heard the stark pain that the confession produced and knew there was more to the statement then her lover admitted. We need to cleanse ourselves as well as our lands and now is the time. “What hurts you so my love, other than our poor friend’s death?”
The Queen drew in a deep breath of the fresh morning air. “To have you back with me I would have killed for you.”
“I know. I know you are a warrior my Queen and though I would not have been happy to be brought back that way I do understand.” She placed a finger down the Queen’s cheek and felt the muscle in the jaw twitch in reaction.
The sad, brown eyes peered down at her. “You do not understand Mercie. I would not have just killed those who had taken you from me, I would have killed everyone even the innocent.”
The cruel words echoed in Mercie’s ears as she saw in the eyes of her Queen, the fierce warrior, who at a whim could allow bloodlust to reign inside. Then she looked beyond the anger and hate to the woman she loved and knew loved her. She is the one that our people now look to for guidance. In a flash, everything became clear and she smiled. “It is as the runes said, I am the saviour of Xanadis and I will show you the light.”
Berdlukare felt forgiveness creep over her flesh like a warm skin on a cold winter’s day. There were no words left and she smiled gently, bent her head a fraction so that their lips could meet and they then sealed the fate of Xanadis.
+ + +
“You do not want immortality?” The voice that washed over Carolyn sounded as if it were intrigued.
“No, to be honest one lifetime is enough for me thanks.” It was true, assuming there was one rather important aspect to share it with, Jennifer.
The area warmed up a little more then the voice returned. “I do not believe that is true. No mortal would dismiss such an offer as lightly as you have.”
Exasperated and becoming rather uncomfortable with the increasing heat, she unbuttoned her tunic as the sweat glistened on her exposed skin. “Frankly if you’re as clever as you appear to be, you’d read my mind and stop all this nonsense.”
“Impertinent female! I could crush you like a bug if I so wished.”
“You could and right now that would be a lot nicer than having to remain here in this sauna.” Ok so this tack isn’t good for getting brownie points but I’m exhausted with all this. Carolyn stripped off the bodice of the tunic and felt a slight reduction in temperature over her breasts. She didn’t care that she was standing there mostly undressed. No ghostly figure is going to be turned on that’s for sure.
Then a sharp pain like something was sucking out her brains, shot through her temple. She clamped her hands over the sides of her head and dropped onto her knees. Damn what’s happening? Then, as quickly as it began, it stopped and Carolyn rubbed her fingers over the sensitive skin either.
“There is only one thing that you want and I can give it you. Would you accept that in return for your soul?”
Yeah right and don’t we mere mortals have any say in what we do . “Sorry, I’d rather work it out for myself without any help from you. Anyway chances are you don’t know what I want.”
“Oh, but I do. Look below you.”
Carolyn gasped as she saw Jennifer running frantically up and down the lakefront. Hmm this doesn’t bode well. Better, be nice…I can do nice…I think. “Ok point taken. Leave her alone, and we’ll come to some arrangement.”
The heat in the space increased and Carolyn dispensed with her tunic. She stood naked waiting for the verdict.
“You would give your life for this mortal?”
Would I? Hmm, almost did a couple of times trying to get back to her. “In a heartbeat,” she stated explicitly. As the extraordinary sentiment played on Carolyn’s tongue, a bemused expression took residence on her face - it was true. Yeah it’s as simple as that.
“Then so be it, you will be the last of the Haliarunos! I will take away the power of immortality from you and your protector. It is done!”
With the entity’s words, she felt a strange sensation trickling through her senses. She felt herself falling, or at least that’s what she thought, until she heard Jennifer’s voice.
"Carolyn," Jennifer screamed as she ran towards her. “My god Carolyn, are you ok?”
Miraculously Carolyn hadn’t gone bump in the night but was upright on the ground as she felt the strong arms of her friend hug her close and gently kissed her lips. They stood melded together in joy for a few moments. The years of hating people who invaded her personal space vanished in a fraction of a second as she relished the feel of Jennifer’s rough tunic against her bare skin and the soft lips on hers. Her body responding in a way she had to admit was rather startling, but deliciously addictive. Her brain tried to decipher if the rough clothing caused her nipples to respond or if Jennifer’s lips were the ignition…whatever it was she didn’t care. Finally their lips disengaged and she felt bereft before remarking, “I’m good Jenn, how about you,” her voice gruff with emotion.
Jennifer’s eyes glazed over as she recalled vividly the lips that had responded tentatively to her spontaneous action and wondered how to answer. Then any words she found dried up as she finally took in Carolyn’s lack of clothes. The feeling that reached inside her and tugged at her gut at the sight of the erect nipples that were almost on level with her lips, was overwhelming. My god they’re beautiful…she’s beautiful. I want to kiss…oh god please don’t do this to me now. We need to take this slowly-I think. “Hey, what happened? Did you lose your clothes in that tidal wave?” she said thankful her voice didn’t betray her ragged emotions.
Carolyn grinned at the remark, thankful for a respite so she could mull over in her head what had just happened between them. “Actually no, look my tunic is over there. I think I ended up at the gates of hell or something like that for it was kinda warm.” But, not as warm as being in your arms made me feel.
Jennifer moved out of temptations way and retrieved the tunic, passed it to her friend and averted her eyes as Carolyn put it on. “We lost Olrun,” she said sadly. “I think she went happily though.”
Jennifer was thankful for the diversion in conversation. We can go home and explore our relationship when everyone is safe. “I think I knew that. Mist kind of …all of the protectors have gone. We got Mercie back though.” The one bright spot in all this…well now its two. She gazed at Carolyn and inwardly smiled as she noticed the buttons had all been done up incorrectly and the edge of the tunic was no way straight. Her eyes saw her friend’s hair and she had to keep herself from laughing since it was worse than even a scarecrows. None of that matters for Carolyn was alive and here and …with me.
Carolyn smiled and nodded her head. “I’m glad your friend came back. Was the tapestry right? Did three warriors bring her back?” she asked.
Jennifer glowed with pride as she answered. “Yeah, it was awesome. Mist said a prayer, which she chanted, as the swords raised. Berdlukare joined her and then a lightening bolt hit the roof and it was like someone wanted to see what was going on inside. You know like when you’re a kid with a dolls house.” Her eyes turned to Carolyn’s hoping she understood and saw she saw a blank expression. “You never had a doll house growing up?”
Carolyn sheepishly dropped her gaze to her feet as she kicked a piece of wood that washed up from the lake. “No, we moved around a lot.” She shrugged. “You know the parents and all that ambassadorial stuff.”
For a split second, Jennifer felt her friend’s loneliness as a child. I was the same. I wish we’d met back then…we probably would have been friends then too. She placed a warm hand on Carolyn’s shoulder and watched as her friend’s eyes slowly edged up to meet her gaze. “I guess I could make you one…it’s never too late to play with a doll house.”
The kindness and gentle consolation in the words touched Carolyn profoundly as her eyes glowed in thanks. “I might hold you to that.”
With a tender smiled Jennifer replied, “I hope you do.”
They were silent for a few more moments before Carolyn raised her eyebrow in a quizzical fashion. “Are you going to tell me what happened next?”
With a shrug and chuckle, Jennifer grinned. “Sure…Mercie suddenly floated to the ground and the last thing I saw was Berdlukare gathering her in her arms. Mist told me she and the protectors would be gone by sunrise and they were.”
Carolyn smiled slowly. “Haven’t you left something out?”
“No, why do you ask,” she said with a frown. Did she see what happened?
Carolyn’s laughter filled the silence of their surroundings until a lone seagull joined in.
“What, come on Carolyn don’t tell me you had a window on my world,” Jennifer cajoled.
“No, well not really a window more…I was told that the three warriors had to give their swords to save Mercie. Until this moment, I didn’t know what happened exactly. So tell me who the third warrior was.” A sparkle of laughter swam in Carolyn’s eyes as she gave her best nonchalant gaze.
Jennifer gently smacked her forehead. “It doesn’t matter about the third one. Suffice to say it worked.”
Carolyn shook her head at her friend. “You know its ok to do something wonderful Jenn. It was you, wasn’t it?”
Her head dropped significantly to peer at her leather boots. They need a cleaning. “Yeah, it was me. Mist seemed to think I was the best option opposed to the male warrior.”
“Oh really, I highly doubt that for one minute. Well, to be honest, I can’t say my role in all this is very much. All I did was lose Olrun and piss off a Goddess. I can’t even say I helped in bringing back Mercie…kind of boring isn’t it.” Carolyn shrugged. Yeah, that’s how it was except…I was selfish…I only wanted Jenn.
“You upset a Goddess? Which one?”
“Idun, apparently she’s the Goddess of immortality. I got a bit upset when Olrun was whisked away without a word,” Carolyn admitted reluctantly. A gasp from Jennifer had Carolyn blinking rapidly and glancing at her friend’s awed expression.
“You actually got upset with the Goddess of immortality? What else happened?”
With a wry smile, Carolyn said quietly, “Not much really… I think she offered me immortality and I refused. End of story really.”
Jennifer stood unmoving except for the breeze that lifted her hair and blew it over her eyes. She impatiently flicked it back and softly asked, “This immortality stuff why didn’t you go for it? Most anyone would?”
Most anyone would. Would you Jenn if you knew what it cost? “The price she asked was too high,” Carolyn whispered.
"Really? Dare I ask what that was?”
Carolyn considered answering but it wasn’t the right time or circumstances. If Jenn can be sheepish about her role in all this then I can too. “When the time is right I’ll tell you, ok?”
Although she was perplexed at the quietly spoken words, Jenn knew that badgering Carolyn would be useless. “Sure, when you’re ready.”
Carolyn breathed in deeply and smiled. “Let’s go back to the others. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. I think this is the longest forty-eight hours of my life.” She gazed fondly at her friend. If you have part of my soul Jenn, I know it’s in safe hands and that’s all that matters.
Jennifer grinned. “Mine too.”
They slowly began to walk towards Muspell with Carolyn’s longer fingers interlaced with those of Jennifer. As the women walked in a comfortable silence, each knew that if anyone shot them down with a bolt of lightening neither would have cared for they were where they belonged - with each other.