Inside Sea City’s palace, the Regent’s Receiving Room was stifling as it was quiet. Ghilda, Chief’s Vife was terribly uncomfortable and embarrassed as she kneeled behind her husband awaiting the King of this strange and unbearably hot land. Her husband was none other than the ‘Red Chieftain’ of Aesir legend! To see so great a hero having to also kneel was terribly embarrassing.

 

     Who was this Regent Agozi anyway? Why did her husband defer to the black demon called ‘The Hand of Death’? For Baldur’s sake, the demon served her husband during his battles with the Vanir and the villain Ragmar son of Edlmir! This indignity like so much lately was quite confusing to Ghilda.

 

     Yet, she witnessed the ‘Hand of Death’ bring down the demon-witch these natives called, ‘The Red Spirit’ after his son Little Fish held her at bay with his own demonic powers! But here in this land of black-skinned people, the man her husband called ‘brother’ was a revered War Chief second only to the King.

 

     Despite her discomfort, Ghilda was not full of complaints. To replace her salt ruined heavy clothing, she was given beautiful finespun green wrappings made of soft ‘cotton’. On her feet were sandals of leather with bright green beads woven into the straps. Around her neck hung a necklace of heavy polished green and black stones and upon her head woven through her bright red hair was were strings of finely woven green beads.

 

     Apparently, the most important item given her denoting her status was the wide golden bracelet on her right arm. According to Svengald, it was his ‘brother’s’ insistence she be recognized as a ‘Chief’s Wife’. Therefore, the bracelet was the signature item she wore all in this land would see and respect.

 

     Three days had passed since they escaped the Red Spirit and Ghilda had the chance to properly rest and eat. She was attended to by young women who placed scented oils and medicines on her badly sunburned skin, tended to her multitude of bruises, the gash upon her head and reset her dislocated arm.

 

     Ghilda had to admit as uncomfortable she may be with the situation at the moment, it was a welcome change from the hellish voyage at sea! Strange as it all was, she and her people had been well treated. Many among the Aesir survivors were badly wounded and underfed. All were on the mend, but this was no jaunt to another country. These people were at war and they landed here in the middle of it!

 

     Finally, the Regent and his daughter entered the large receiving room packed with noblemen  of this land. Ghilda noticed there were only two women in the hall, herself and the Princess. She couldn’t understand a word said, but she realized her husband could. Unfortunately, he was unable to translate as the Regent and the Hand of Death spoke. The conversation between the two was long and Ghilda was unsure she could stay awake much longer kneeling in this heat.

 

     The rulers were resplendent in shining clothes of bright blue. The Regent had a wide and heavy necklace of gold plates inlaid with blue stones that seemed to watch everyone like the eyes of a cat!

 

     The Princess wore a much smaller necklace in a similar style with one large polished blue stone which also looked very much like a cat’s ever-watchful eye! Covering the Princess’ face was bright blue and black paint in intricate patterns.

 

     On her right arm were two thick intricately wrought gold bracelets at her wrist with a gold band that covered her forearm. Seeing that armband, it became clear to Ghilda who the reigning woman in this land was!

 

     The Chief’s Vife’s musings were interrupted when the warrior dressed in black and white amid the riot of colorfully dressed courtiers turned and gestured to Svengald and herself. Her husband also dressed in green wrappings rose, spoke and then gestured for her to rise. The Regent and his advisor’s scrutiny made Ghilda blush with unwanted embarrassment.

 

     Svengald spoke again to the Regent and then gestured questioningly in her direction. The much older dark-skinned ruler nodded curtly and Svengald began to translate.

 

     “Vife, the discussion has been about our role in battling ‘The Red Spirit’s’ warriors and helping ‘The Black Sword’ and his warriors escape the Red Spirit’s wrath.”

 

     “The Black Sword? What Black Sword?”

 

     Gesturing to the Valley Knight Svengald explained.

 

     “Vife, in this land they call my brother ‘The Black Sword’ because of the weapon he used to slay many Tenaree Warriors and help the Regent arrive safely in this city.”

 

     “Oh. So what are we to do here? I thought we would be heading back to Aesirfjord.”

 

     “No Vife, not yet. I have pledged we help The Black Sword complete his task in this land. Until that is done, we will stay.”

 

     Ghilda looked at her husband and could not decide whether to be angry or intrigued. There was great need to get back to Aesirfjord and help their people. On the other hand, this land was filled with riches and the reward for their people’s assistance would no doubt be great!

 

     She desperately wanted to follow her husband’s path in which sagas were written. To fight against a powerful Fire-Witch with her hero husband, the Witch of Aesirfjord, a black demon-child and a warrior who seemed more demon than man seemed a perfect opportunity!

 

     “Very well husband. I agree and so shall our people. What will be our share of the spoils?”

 

     Svengald looked at her strangely with his remaining eye. His reply was far more strange.

 

     “There will be far more than ‘spoils’ received before this is over my love.”

****

 

     Mjarga stood near the adobe parapet facing the sea with arms spread wide in the invigorating breeze. Her white sarong flapped gently and she felt like a faerie spirit of air. Bringing her arms together across her chest, Mjarga admired the hammered gold band on her right wrist.

 

     According to the people in this land, it let all know she was ‘royalty’ as the daughter of Chief Utsgald of Aesirfjord. Of course, neither she nor Chief Svengald would go into the extraordinary details other than she being the daughter of the ‘former chief’.

     What gave her more status in the eyes of the people of Palm was her being a ‘witch’. Little Fish explained her treatment being ‘an honor’ before being taken for hours to be bathed, oiled and having her hair braided in neat and tiny rows then black paint applied to her face from forehead to nose. Tiny brilliant seashells were woven into her bright red-brown hair and a similarly made necklace of shells were placed around her neck. Strange as the experience was Mjarga enjoyed the attention.

 

     Mjarga also did not regret being kidnapped and thrust into this grand adventure. She had seen visions of these times all her life, but did not understand what they meant. Only Little Fish’s presence in all she’d seen made sense to her. A great upheaval was coming and it would take everyone’s efforts to bring about a survivable outcome.

 

     A pair of strong dark arms surrounded her waist breaking her vision. Little Fish had returned.

 

     “Must you sneak upon me like a spirit come to carry me off? Oh that’s right, you did carry me off!”

 

     Little Fish buried his face in the much shorter young woman’s neck and hair making Mjarga squeal as her skin became a landscape of goosebumps.

 

     “I’ll stop when you say it no longer pleases you ‘Fire-Hair’!”

 

     The wave of surprise ebbed and Mjarga wrapped her arms over his and leaned her head back. She hated admitting he was right, but she did enjoy this terribly! The pair stood for several moments in silence and then Mjarga straightened up.

 

     “How did things go when your father and Chief Svengald spoke with the Regent?”

 

     Raising his face from her neck, Little Fish gently placed his chin atop her head and made a low grumbling sound which again raised bumps on Mjarga’s skin.

     “Hmmm. It was kind of exciting at first when we came in behind my father. Everyone was cheering like they did when all of us entered the city after fighting the Tenaree and that crazy Goddess. It was weird seeing people bow to me after they learned I am, ‘The Montsho Banga’s Son’.”

 

     “What, they did not praise you for your feats against the Red Spirit or raising the sea so we could escape her wrath? Oh no!”

 

     Little Fish bumped his loins against her rear for her mocking him. Mjarga head-butted him and both regretted it.

 

     “Ow damn it! That hurt! I don’t know who’s crazier, you or that Fire-Goddess!”

 

     “Well, it wouldn’t be so bad if your head wasn’t so hard!”

 

     “Is this what it’s going to be like being married to you?”

 

     “Well no, I…what did you say?”

 

     Little Fish abruptly realized what just happened and went on the defensive.

 

     “I didn’t say anything.”

 

     Her hazel eyes widened as Mjarga went on the offensive.

 

     “Oooooh yes you did! Was that a proposal? I believe it was! You want to marry me don’t you?”

 

     “I never said that!”

 

     Her eyes narrowed and Mjarga stood against Little Fish and questioned him like an Inquisitor.

 

     “You said, ‘what it’s going to be like being married to me.’ So you intend to marry me then?”

 

     Meeting her gaze intently, Little Fish attempted to fortify his defense.

 

     “I said no such thing and you can’t prove I did. So there!”

 

     Mjarga wasn’t giving up and her gaze became unblinking.

 

     “So why did you bring me here? Your words were, ‘If I didn’t, I knew I’d never see you again!’ You said that on the beach when we got here. Admit you love me and want to be my husband!”

 

     Little Fish’s eyebrow raised and a devilish look came over him weakening Mjarga’s resolve.

 

     “Admit you love me and want to be my wife Fire-Hair.”

 

     Mjarga’s retort caught in her throat as she realized Little Fish outmaneuvered her. Before she could get her words correct, they were interrupted.

 

     “My, my, my! How sweet young love is.”

 

     The embarrassed pair turned to the interloper and Mjarga let out a short ‘yip’ as would a scared pup.

 

     “The Evil One! The Dark Trickster, Bringer of Doom, Ruler of Niffelheim!”

 

     Annoyed, Little Fish stepped in front of an obviously frightened Mjarga and addressed their visitor.

 

     “Qatula! What are you doing here?”

 

     While peeking from behind Little Fish’s broad back Mjarga gasped, “Y-you know the ‘Lord of the Underworld?’”

 

     Little Fish shot Mjarga an incredulous look.

 

     “Of course I know Qatula! He’s my ‘God-Father’. My ‘annoying’ God-Father that is.”

 

     “You dare call him by name? Aren’t you afraid he will strike you down?”

 

     Little Fish recognized Mjarga’s fear as genuine. Turning back toward Qatula, he squared his shoulders and addressed the Priestess’ longstanding ‘Second Husband’ and fellow god.

 

     “You have not answered my question.”

 

     The young boy painted in gray and black stripes wearing a long skirt with an animal hide belt around his narrow waist and a sword seemingly too large for him to wield stood with a hurt look on his face. A grin slowly dragged itself across shark-like teeth and those soulful child-like brown eyes burst into red flame.

 

     “The answer is obvious young one. I came to see you and your…how shall I address her?”

 

     Suddenly nervous, Little Fish turned to look over his shoulder at Mjarga who was now utterly terrified.

 

     “Are you alright?”

 

     “C-can’t you see him?”

     Looking back at his God-Father, all Little Fish saw was the form of a young boy.

 

     “Of course I can ‘see him’.”

 

     The look of confusion brought a chuckle forth from the god.

 

     “Every time I think you’re catching on boy, you show you’re still not too bright!”

 

     Qatula’s mockery made Little Fish’s hackles rise. Reflexively, he called upon the Fishscale’s power and it burned with red light as did his eyes.

 

     “What is so funny?”

 

     The God’s eyes narrowed and he turned his head slightly as if trying to hear more clearly.

 

     “I believe you spoke with a threatening tone. Did I hear correctly? I couldn’t have. Just as I can’t be seeing my ‘Mortal-Son’ presenting a ‘threat display’ directed at me. Certainly, I’m not hearing or seeing that which cannot be…am I?”

 

     The fires in the Fishscale and his eyes both winked out. He felt the sting of having to put himself in check for even with the Fishscale’s immense power, Qatula was equal to the Priestess in all things.

 

     Unlike his ‘God-Mother’, Qatula had no qualms about killing him! The Priestess would be livid, but Little Fish knew he’d still be dead! Swallowing a fist-sized chunk of his pride, Little Fish addressed the God properly.

 

     “Greetings Qatula…my esteemed God-Father. Pray tell what brings you to this far-off time and place?”

 

     The red glow of Qatula’s eyes did not diminish as he responded.

 

     “Now that’s a proper greeting and question. I knew your God-Mother and mortal parents taught you to respect your elders.”

 

     He then turned towards the terrified young witch Mjarga with a pleasant, yet still wicked grin.

 

     “As for you young lady, you need learn how to properly manage that extraordinary ‘sight’ of yours lest it lead to permanent damage. Here, how’s this…better?”

 

     Mjarga relaxed her grip on the back of Little Fish’s white tunic and nodded ‘yes’. She also acknowledged the God placing a finger over his lips as a warning to keep silent.

 

     “Hmm, she’s obviously much smarter than you boy. You should listen to her more often. So, are you going to introduce her to me or not?”

     That chunk of pride was stuck in Little Fish’s throat like a stone and wasn’t going down without difficulty. After an uncomfortable pause, the young man relented.

 

     “M-Mjarga, this is my God-Father Qatula. God-Father, I humbly present my… ‘intended’ Mjarga, daughter of Utsgald Chief of Aesirfjord.”

 

     The young ‘boy’ before her extended his hand expectantly as would any important ‘Groomsfater’.

 

     After an encouraging look from Little Fish, she sheepishly stepped away from him and moved towards the God. No longer able to see his true form, Mjarga took a deep breath and as per her people’s customs, she took Qatula’s hand then kneeled before him. Once steadied, she placed her forehead against the unexpectedly human-like hand.

 

     “M-Mighty Lord of the Underworld, great and powerful Goht-Fater of my intended…I-I beg your approval and blessing of this humble and insignificant mortal into your son’s life….”

 

     Another long uncomfortable pause occurred and then was broken when Qatula gently placed his hand upon Mjarga’s braided head.

 

     “See, that wasn’t so bad was it? All is as it should be.”

 

     Little Fish was wary and kept his eyes locked upon his God-Father. For he knew how untrustworthy Qatula could be.

 

     “She’s a bit skinny, but that will not always be the case. Mjarga’s no doubt far better than you deserve. You have my approval child. However, you’ll still have to get his Mortal Parent’s approval. I may have to be a fly-on-the-wall when you attempt to gain his God-Mother’s approval!”

 

     With a laugh boding more ill than mirth, he released Mjarga who backed away until encircled by Little Fish’s arms.

 

     “Fun as that was, I also came to say you’ve stirred quite the hornet’s nest boy. You should have listened to your paramour’s warning on the beach.”

 

     “Why? Was I supposed to let the Red Spirit kill Mjarga’s and my Father’s people that night?”

 

     Qatula gave Little Fish a look that cut through his bluster. How he hated having ‘God-Parents’ at times like these!

 

     “Who are you trying to fool boy? You wanted to ‘test’ your power against another divine entity. Why didn’t you do so against that goddess you call ‘Shael’? I’ll tell you why…you knew better! You knew she was a ‘great power’ and you would have gotten your mortal ass killed!”

 

     Little Fish’s ears and face burned with embarrassment as his God-Father called him out on his motives.

 

     “So when you encountered the Red Spirit, instead of carefully assessing what you were up against like you rightfully did before, you moved against her flouting your power. Now you know she’s actually a Fire Goddess! For your information, she didn’t take being embarrassed before her worshipers kindly.”

 

     “Seriously, what can she do? Both me and my father were able to take her down and we’ll do so again!”

 

     Qatula gave that look again and Little Fish felt his confidence waiver.

 

     “Again, who are you trying to convince boy? You got lucky! Your father saved your ass and everyone on the beach. The Red Spirit was overconfident and was about to dump a river of ‘whupass’ down upon you when your father surprised her!

 

     Now that she knows there are those with the power and capacity to injure and or kill her, she’s going to bring everything she has to bear down upon this city. All…because…of you.”

 

     Little Fish’s heart skipped a beat hard enough for Mjarga to feel it at her back. She had the same realization he did concerning the God's revealation.

 

     “M-mighty one, w-what can we do in the face of her coming wrath?”

 

     Qatula gave a wide shark-toothed smile as he pointed at Mjarga.

 

     “See boy? I told you she’s smarter than you. The answer to your question potential ‘Mortal-Daughter’ is; whatever it takes. Make the best of these dwindling moments of peace children….”

 

     Mjarga then witnessed the Lord of the Underworld become enveloped by red flames and black smoke! The cloud quickly dissipated and the God was gone.

 

     “How did you ever get used to seeing that?”

 

     “Oh, he just did that for your benefit! Normally, he vanishes with no ‘show’.”

 

     “I can barely believe I just held the hand of the Lord of the Underworld!”

 

     “Are you sure about that? Qatula’s is completely untrustworthy. He could have been faking it because he wanted to impress you.”

 

     Mjarga frowned at Little Fish harder than her usual disapproving look when he overlooked her power.

 

     “He’s right you know.”

     “Right about what?”

 

     “He’s right that you don’t listen or pay attention very well.”

 

     “Oh really?”

 

      A sudden punch in the arm surprised Little Fish and had Mjarga cursing viciously while holding her injured hand.

 

     “And you both say I’m the ‘stupid one’? How many times are you going to do that and not hurt yourself?”

 

     Little Fish gently took Mjarga’s hand and the Fishscale flashed for an instant. Her hand still stung, but the pain of bruised bone and skin was gone.

 

     “I was going to say, ‘Really, you don’t listen.’ You started something and I don’t believe it’s going to end well.”

 

     Now concerned, Little Fish drew her closer to him.

 

     “You are certain of this?”

 

     “No. For some reason I now cannot ‘see’ what is to come. All I know is what I saw on the beach. There is something terrible about the Red Spirit and I believe your Goht-Fater. She will bring her very worse to bear upon us!”

 

     Placing his head against hers, Little Fish quickly went through the visions he saw of this place and the events of the battle on the beach. When trying to look forward through time, he too realized he could not ‘see’ the way forward. Before his concern could completely disturb him, Mjarga placed her hand on his dark face.

 

     “Remember what your Goht-Fater said Fish, ‘we should enjoy these dwindling moments of peace.’ If I remember correctly, you introduced me as your ‘intended’. So are you finally going to properly propose?”

 

     Little Fish’s heart skipped a beat once more. It was different to say as much in defiance of his annoying God-Father. But to actually ask the question though he knew the answer….

 

     Once more, they were interrupted. This time by the Montsho Banga’s man, Sadiki.

 

     “Pardon me Son-of-the-Montsho Banga. Your father has called for you and the lady’s presence. Please follow me this instant!”

 

     Little Fish looked to Mjarga who rolled her eyes with disappointment.

     “Looks like the ‘moments’ have dwindled away…my love.”

 

     Mjarga was far from satisfied with the turn of events. But, Little Fish’s declaration would do for now. As he pulled her from the parapet towards the archway leading back into the palace, Mjarga’s prevailing thought was; ‘Now, if we can just survive long enough so he’ll actually propose!’

© 2017 H. Wolfgang Porter. All Rights Reserved.

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