"Know that what your heart desires is forbidden...''
A forty-something lady dressed in goose down read the runes lain in the mat at the floor. In front of her is a battle scarred warrior half her age, covered in wolf skin and his eyes staring sharply at her. She tries to hide her fear for the young man is known to have berserk rages, having killed several of her villagers in a sudden outburst.
"Is she the maiden you rescued Stieg?"
"No...by Odin's hand no...'' The warrior's face flushed a near bleeding red
''The runes never lie.''
''Stop this madness!" Stieg pulled his battle ax and pointed it to the lady.
Her eyes flashed a glint of horror but she tried to keep a facade of calmness. "Know that I, Krieghilde has raised you with my own hands upon your mother, my sister's own death. Will you bury your axe upon these breasts that have nursed you?"
Stieg winced, as he lowered his axe down. He hurriedly rushed away from the house, trying to control his rage.
A few days after the incident Stieg comes with a visitor. His companion was a dusky skinned soldier with armor very different from his fellow northmen. Wolf hide and leather replaced by plate metal.
''My fellow villagers, let me introduce you Cicero of the South. The man who have saved my life in the battle to save the princess.'' Stieg presented his guest proudly.
Bur as soon as the villagers realized where the guest came from, they rushed back to their homes terrified. They have been too traumatized of the previous slave raids of the Southerners of olden times.
''Well at least that makes both of us feared in your village...'' Cicero grinned weakly as he tried to humor his Northman friend who hung his head in shame out of the reaction.
The villagers slowly warmed up to Cicero after he and Stieg explained the mission to the village chief. Cicero explained that the Northmen and the Southern Empire now have a common enemy on the force that manifested on the icy tower that the princess was previously held captive. After detailing the events that preceded in the tower, the village chief reluctantly agreed that some degree of surveillance is needed in that place.
Cicero and Stieg then went to a tavern in the village to celebrate a welcome toast. Steig personally introduced the soldier to nearly everyone in the tavern much to Cicero's later dismay. The typical Northman greeting of a huge warm bearhug was too much for his ribs to take.
After several rounds of beer and snacks, Cicero then felt the urge to relieve his bladder and asked permission from the crowd. He then went outside of the tavern to look for a place to relieve himself.
''Well so much for a place without a cloaca.''
Suddenly from behind a small cloaked figure approached approached. He felt the sharp edge of a blade poking on his lower back.
''I do not know what sort of trickery you have used on my fellow Northmen but your deception will soon be unveiled.''
''If I will go deceive someone dear Sir, I will not go as far as going to a place like this.'' Cicero suddenly turned and tried to engage the figure. He managed to grab a small white hand holding an engraved dagger before the figure dissipated like mist.
Stieg, alarmed by the long time his partner took outside knowing the cold and Cicero's unfamiliarity of the place, decided to look outside of the tavern. He then saw a more roughed up looking Cicero running back to the tavern.
''Yes but not of the nice kind Stieg''
Krieghilde has not slept properly for days. Ever since Cicero came to the village the shaman has been plagued by visions of death and destruction. The calmness she once possessed is now replaced by a near frenzy to prevent the visions coming true.
As she cast her runes and recited her chants, otherworldly voices spoke in her mind. She saw the forms of fallen Northmen beckoning her to go to the Shadowed Snows, one of their most desolate burial grounds.
At the middle of the night Krieghilde arranged herself, bringing along her staff, cloak and runes. One of her children awakened by the disturbance was surprised to see his mother in full shaman garb.
''Mother I think it's too late for you to do your rituals.'' Gunnar softly cooed to Krieghilde, the little boy tightly hugging her hips.
"Do not stop me from saving us all'' She shouted as she pushed the child aside sending him to the floor. ''I need to summon the departed to protect us!" She then rushed out of the house and rode her steed.
As the rest of her household woke up because of the commotion and tended at the wounded little one, one of Gunnar's siblings rushed to Stieg's house to ask for help.
The whole village went searching for the shaman. The village chief asked for help from the neighboring villages to find Krieghild. Days passed and no sign of her was found.
After conquering his initial shock, Gunnar then told the searchers what his mother told him on that fateful night.
The whole search party then tried to figure out what the shaman meant. They decided to divide the parties to search the different burial grounds near the place.
As Stieg and Cicero approached the Shadowed Snows, traces of Krieghilde's presence was seen on the snowy ground. Wet goose feathers similar to her cloak was lain upon the snow. The partners then followed the feathery track.
As they reached the burial ground, they see a cloaked figure slumped within a circle. Stieg rushed on his horse determined to see if it was his missing aunt but as soon as he rushed in a horrific sight greeted him.
''Do not bother her, she will complete our return''
A horde of decomposing warriors greeted him and Cicero, their unholy gaze fixed upon them. They will not let a pair of youngsters hinder their return and to regain their honor denied to them by dishonored deaths.
As the pair fought valiantly to reach the shaman, Krieghilde's mind started to recover. She heard Stieg constantly shouting that Gunnar never slept a single day his mother left, how he vowed he will never stop crying till she returns and how he is sorry to disturb her on her work.
''She is awakening, we must bring her to Niflheim now!"
The pendant Krieghilde is wearing suddenly began to glow. Cicero noticed it even in a distance. He said a short prayer to the Southern gods before he launched the spear straight into her chest.
Krieghielde let out a scream as the pendant shatters. As she fell to the ground, the undead warriors started to fall spontaneously like puppets cut from their strings. Stieg rushed to her side and was stunned that she's still alive yet weakened after what seems to be a killing blow from Cicero's spear.
"You must know by now what my hands can do Stieg.'' Cicero smirked as he let out a knowing wink to the Northman.
The three then spent a few days on the house of the town healer. Krieghilde apologized profusely to everyone about what happened the previous days. She is secretly ashamed on her failed attempt to drive Cicero away on the night he and Steig were celebrating in the tavern, not knowing that the Southerner she detested was the one that will save her in the end.
As she rose from her sick bed, she visited the two men recovering at the other room. The sight of the two bandaged warriors bickering at each amused her and she can't stop giggling at her nephew and her partner.
''You two fight like people in love do.''
''Enough of this madness.'' Stieg blurted as he hid himself under the blanket as Cicero smirked before resuming his usual stoic face again.
Krieghilde then remembered what she read on Stieg's runes. She saw the same reaction on his face on that moment and this moment.
"By Odin's hand,no...'' She mumbled silently as she walked away from the room of the two men.
August Star Of Heaven