It had been several hours of travel by sea to reach the hidden jungle cove where the raiding party hauled ashore. The boats had been filled with water and stones in order to hide them from any enemy troops which may have made it to this unlikely place of encampment.

 

     With no fire lit for the camp, all members of the party were hidden about the jungle. At intervals, two warriors kept watch from each of the four groups while the others slept. So well hidden and efficient was the arrangement, an unsuspecting Warthog quickly met its demise with barely a squeal in surprise!

 

     The Valley Knight sat within a natural blind surrounding a palm tree. His black bow and two arrows lay across lap as he sat legs folded. All about him were the sounds of the jungle creatures and sea breeze rustling the leaves of the many trees.

     Just as he had all his troops do a fine line of pungent oil encircled both the outer perimeter of the tree and the interior of the enclosure. Having been made from the sap of insect eating plants, no insect or other crawling or flying pests dare come near it. Not having to constantly swat at bugs made it much easier for the troops to rest and remain quiet.

 

     The Knight’s eyes popped open and as he looked through the tangle of brush placed over the opening for anything unusual, it was the sudden silence which alerted him. His grip tightened on the bow and the other hand placed two arrow shafts between his fingers in preparation to fire.

     Outside the blind, no sound came. Something dangerous was among them and the Knight kept his keen ears alert. There would no doubt be time for only one shot and it must count!

 

     “You plan to shoot me Caretaker?”

 

     Once again, the Knight could feel the skin of his body seize from toes to crown! Outside the blind sat the God Qatula in the form of a young boy. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, the Knight exited the blind.

 

     “Try as I might, I cannot get used to this. What do you want ‘Owner’?”

 

     Looking up at him with seemingly normal human eyes, Qatula chuckled at the Knight’s reaction.

 

     “Good. You don’t ever want to get comfortable with this kind of thing. That would be a mistake. As for ‘what I want’ Caretaker, I want to show you something.”

 

     The Knight watched the god rise from the dirt and hold out his hand to him.

 

     “Don’t be afraid. I happen to like you remember?”

 

     The Knight hesitated.

 

     “You just said, ‘to not get comfortable with this kind of thing’.”

 

     Again the god chuckled.

 

     “Our Wife said you were sharp Caretaker. You don’t have much time. Take my hand and see that which you need to know and where you must go this night.”

 

     Reluctantly, the Knight clasped the hand of what appeared to be a young boy. Pointing in the direction opposite where they came, suddenly Qatula’s eyes flashed red and the night turned to ‘day’ under the eerie glow of a similarly colored sky!

 

     The pair flew high above the jungle canopy and the Knight beheld the land below. Far off in one direction, he could see the light of hundreds of torches illuminating the perimeter ashore surrounding Sea City and those of the city itself!

     He then turned back towards Qatula and scanned the land ahead where he pointed.

     “Notice anything Caretaker?”

 

     The Knight craned his head forward and suddenly, he seemed to speed over the treetops and beheld the light of thousands of torches and campfires within and surrounding the ruined Palm City.

 

     “So they abandon the city during the day and bivouac there at night? That’s why the scouts said there was no enemy present!”

 

     “You get it now Caretaker?”

 

     “Yes, yes I do. I’ll take the raiding party into the city during the day to investigate. Perhaps we can evade them long enough to find where and what they are crafting out there at night.”

 

     “Before you do that my mortal rival, you need to go here first.”

 

     The Knight followed the god’s finger far from their position to the opposite coast. When the terrain rolling under his sight came to a halt, he could barely make out the glow a well camouflaged fire. Were it not for Qatula’s power, the Knight doubted he would have seen it at all!

 

     “Remember these directions Caretaker. Timing will be everything.”

 

     Abruptly, the Knight was back in front of the blind and still holding the god’s hand. Qatula shook his hand free and wiped it on his gray waist wrap in disgust.

 

     “That’s enough of that. You best get going Caretaker. You don’t have much time.”

 

     “Wait, what is there on the coast? Why shouldn’t I head to Palm City first?”

 

     The red glow of the god’s eyes turned to the Knight once more.

 

     “You can do whatever you want Caretaker. Just remember, if anything happens to our Wife because you did something stupid, you and I are going to have all eternity to discuss your ‘mistakes’….”

 

     The Knight’s eyes opened with a start. He was still inside the blind and the sounds of the surrounding jungle were as they should be. Quietly, he left the shelter and with a series of soft whistles mimicking bird calls, the watchers were alerted. Within moments, the Champion N’Sisi was by his side.

 

     “What is your command Mazi? Is the enemy near?”

 

     “No Champion, but there is something on the far coast that begs our attention. After we investigate the coast, we will swing back and get a close look at Palm City in the morning. Get the troops ready. We will travel at best speed to reach the coast under cover of night.”

 

     Giving the salute, the Champion turned to pass the word.

 

     The Knight knew it would be a long night and no doubt a longer day ahead. As the Tenaree Sadiki kneeled alongside him, the Knight remembered Qatula’s warning that one of the two ‘enemies’ he showed mercy would betray him. He would keep a watchful eye on both….

****

 

     In spite of a roaring stomach and a wide palm frond filled with baked fish and steamed coconut, Ghilda Svengald’s Vife barely touched her meal as she sat in utter shock at the tales spun by her long missing husband. From his account, he now lived among ‘the gods’ in a fertile land of plenty for the last six years, though he’d been gone from Aesirfjord for ten years by her count!

 

     Stranger still, his crew which had been lost to their homeland for ten years, by their count, spent six months in the land of the gods and had attempted to return home. However, they encountered the ‘Everstorm’ which caused them all to be lost in the first place a second time and were cast ashore at the City of Golden Towers which was what they’d set out to find in the beginning!

     They were captured and enslaved for three years until Svengald rescued them. At his order, the crew set sail for home without him and were nearly ensnared by the storm again. That was until…Svengald burst from the sea from a whirlpool of light and helped them through the storm whereby they returned to Aesirfjord!

 

     That had been nearly two weeks ago by her count as the great wave caused them to be lost at sea, but by Svengald’s count it had been five years when he left the men and turned his back on her to return to the land of the gods….

     In the meantime, according to the now ‘young’ Witch Mjarga spun the tale of how Svengald and the two ‘black demons’ came to what was once ‘Vanirland’ when she was a child!

 

     A confused Svengald thought the Vanir had invaded and broke the long-standing treaty while a ‘pretender’ named ‘Ragmar’ laid claim to Aesirfjord. It wasn’t until after Svengald and his friends fought off a Vanir raiding party, he realized he was ‘home’, but nearly two hundred years before his birth! During that time, Svengald fought the actual Ragmar son of Edlmir and Chief of the Vanir. Upon defeating him, he became the ‘father’ of the Aesir people!

     Her husband had other adventures. One where he was tricked by a god and another when he had a duel with Death!

     Svengald now was an elder guardian among an army of guardians who watched over the resting place of a great demon that sounded much like the Fire-Giant, ‘Sutur!’

     He was cryptic concerning what caused his new wound which left him with one eye. That and what he did in this ‘Valley’ when not performing his duties as a guardian.

 

     Ghilda could scarce take in all she’d heard. Her husband had been living what anyone with a brain would call an epic saga!

     It was not long before Ghilda noticed pangs of jealousy tugging at her. For ten years, she’d held fast keeping the fires lit and the people of Aesirfjord strong while Svengald walked and talked with gods and fought great battles!

     What quickly began to diminish those pangs was the realization she too had shown her mettle against the Everstorm and looked upon the Midgard Serpent!  Ghilda would follow her husband to this ‘Valley’ and see for herself these so-called gods and demons!

 

     A sudden smile burst across Ghilda’s tired face. The smell of cooked fish was impossible to ignore and she tore into the tender salted flesh. With mouth stuffed faster than she could chew, the ‘Chief’s Vife’ looked up and saw all eyes upon her.

     With a difficult swallow, she cleared her mouth enough to speak.

 

     “What?”

 

     The assemblage of sixty survivors burst into laughter as if a great weight had finally been lifted from their shoulders.

     Ghilda finally caught on and could not suppress her gleeful chortling as Svengald put his arm around her in a brutal hug with a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. The much needed cheerful moment ended abruptly as the black-skinned young man Little Fish stood with eyes and the scale from the great serpent ablaze with red light!

 

     Mjarga and Svengald quickly gained their feet for out of the forest’s gloom walked a near naked woman with skin painted in red and black stripes. Her hair was tightly braided in neat rows similar to grain before harvest and it too was painted red and black.

     In her hand was a dark hardwood shaft with a shining copper spearhead adorning it while hanging from her hip was a curved copper short sword of foreign design. The most striking feature of the bare-breasted and lean-muscled warrior were her pale blue eyes! Stopping at the forest’s edge, the woman took in the gathering on the beach. To everyone’s surprise, she spoke clearly in the Aesir tongue.

 

     “Greetings souls of Aesirfjord. It is my pleasure and lament to see you here on the shores of Niffelheim.”

 

     Ghilda squinted to see beyond the glow of the fire but, instantly recognized the warrior’s voice.

 

     “Turid? Turid, is that you?”

 

     In a gasp Svengald inquired, “Is that young Turid? She was but a girl-child when last I saw her!”

 

     Gesturing for her husband to shush, Ghilda stepped forward cautiously.

 

     “Turid! We lost all hope you’d escaped the storm. How came you here? Where are the rest of your crewmates?”

 

     The Warrior Turid took a step forward. Ghilda could see on her right arm three ornate gold bracelets worn more like trophies than as adornment. Something about the bracelets gave Ghilda a sudden chill.

 

     “Just as all who end their lives in Niffelheim, my crew and I died in the Everstorm. However, my soul was spared by the ruler of this fallen world far from the sight of Valhalla.

     Now I serve the ruler and true master of this land and have earned a place under her watchful gaze. I come to offer those of you strong enough to cast off the ghostly remnants of your past lives the chance to be reborn as servants of The Red Spirit.”

 

     “What happens if we pass on your offer?”

 

     In answer to Svengald’s query, rows of armed warriors painted similarly to Turid appeared from the treeline.

 

     Ghilda, Little Fish and Mjarga gave Svengald hard looks.

 

     “You just had to ask didn’t you Chief?”

 

     “Well shit. Fish, you got this? Tell me you got this?”

 

     “Yeah Chief, I got this.”

 

     As Little Fish gently guided Mjarga behind him, the young witch warily looked around with great concern.

 

     “Fish, you don’t want to do this….”

 

     Full of confidence and the power of the Fishscale Necklace, the young man ignored Mjarga’s warning.

 

     Turid saw a strange, dark-skinned young warrior step towards her and his eyes flashed with red fire along with a similarly glowing talisman around his neck! She readied her spear in defiance prepared to run him through.

 

     “Come any closer and you’ll die where you stand!”

 

     To Turid and the rest of the Tenaree’s surprise, the young man halted.

 

     “I’m close enough….”

 

     Little Fish unexpectedly stomped his foot and everything before him flew into the air at least two feet! Trees toppled, warriors were thrown from their feet and as they hit the ground, Little Fish dug the same foot into the sand.

     Turid and her warriors began to scream as they were being swallowed by the liquefied sand! As she rapidly sank, upon reaching neck level, Turid raised her gold adorned arm bellowing towards the now roaring fire.

 

     “Mighty Red Spirit! I beg you save your servants from this great evil!”

 

     In an explosion of fire and shower of sparks, a tall-red garbed figure erupted from the flames!

 

     Little Fish turned to look upon the new threat and wide-eyed screamed to Mjarga and the Chief.

 

     “Don’t look!”

 

     It was too late. Mjarga gazing upon the figure fell to the ground screaming as she slapped hands over her eyes. Even with the cloth covering the Fishscale replacing his eye, the true nature of what he saw overwhelmed his senses and he fell to his knees senseless.

 

     Ghilda and the other Aesir survivors recoiled at the appearance of the demonic looking figure. Her mind reeled as she froze with fear as the red hooded figure raised its head and within the black void, eyes burning like the sun fell upon her!

     With the young black demon behind them and a great red demon of flame before them, the mighty Witch Mjarga and her husband laid low, Ghilda had little hope for them all….

****

 

     The run to the coast had been tough on the Raiding Party. After a head count, the Valley Knight was pleased to see no one fell behind. However, there would be no respite for any of them. Before them secreted about the forest were dozens of Tenaree warriors all facing towards the seashore as if waiting for orders.

 

     N’Sisi and Sadiki silently came to him on either side to look out at the gathering of warriors. The Knight had made his assessment and signed for them to take their groups and fan out behind the preoccupied Tenaree. He would take up the center of the ‘horseshoe formation’ and the raiders would quietly take down as many of the enemy possible before outright fighting began.

 

     Though concealed from the enemy, the raiders maintained line of sight with the two warriors nearest them on either side so orders could be relayed.

     N’Sisi was charged with excitement powerful enough to make her forget the grueling distance traveled at best speed. She looked to the nearest warrior on her left and that was the Montsho Banga. To have been chosen by the one warrior to best her in combat as a captain was an honor she could scarce believe true.

     Any other man would have turned her into his slave or worse. Instead, she was a trusted confidant who’d been given a near indestructible weapon and trained in battle tactics that would no doubt turn the tide of this war in her people’s favor! Now she awaited the signal to let the blood of her enemies nourish the sands of her homeland.

 

     Sadiki kept a wary eye towards the Montsho Banga on his right. Not far from where he crouched in concealment were his former fellow warriors. Though he too was from the great desert as all Tenaree, his people were simple nomads. The Great Tenaree Host swept his people away and carried him and the few survivors left into their ranks. He was the last of his people for his remaining kin all fell during the battles across the desert and into the rich coastal lands.

 

     In truth Sadiki had no love for the Tenaree, but it was the fear and power generated by the Red Spirit which kept him firmly within their ranks. But when the Montsho Banga roared into the world from the home of the gods astride his noble beast, slew his war chief and then spared his life, Sadiki knew the Goddess of War had answered his people’s call for revenge! With the word of ‘The Black Sword’, Sadiki would begin to take as many lives of those who erased his people as possible!

 

     The Valley Knight saw the Tenaree receive a signal and they began to move forward towards the beach beyond the treeline. The Knight watched as their focus became locked on only what was before them. With a wave of his hand, in alternating groups of five the raiders attacked!

 

     The first group grabbed unsuspecting Tenaree and cut their throats. As they quietly laid down their victims, the next group moved forward and followed suit.

     N’Sisi did not wish to soil herself by touching the enemy. Instead, she deftly used her spear to stab her victims through the base of the skull. The long blade protruded from their mouths silencing them as they drowned on their blood! Lowering the twitching bodies to the ground, it was simple to step on their backs and pull her weapon free.

 

     The utter efficiency of the attack gave the Champion goose-pimples! A sudden wave of arousal flushed through her breasts, belly and womanhood. With each enemy kill, the wave grew stronger.

 

     The Tenaree ranks came to a sudden halt and the signal to withdraw from the Montsho Banga caught Sadiki’s eye. He too had become aroused each time his hand went over a Tenaree warrior’s mouth and his bronze blade found its mark in their necks! His hands and arms were slick with blood and his lust was high, but not enough to ignore the War Chief’s order. Sadiki halted and quickly passed the word down the line.

 

     N’Sisi was thoroughly disappointed for though they’d slaughtered many in the Tenaree war-party, there were still a significant number left. She gave the signal to her group to withdraw and she helped the closest raider to drag her victim into the underbrush.

 

     To remain concealed, the raiders crouched down shoulder-to-shoulder in a column of two’s all behind the Montsho Banga. N’Sisi and Sadiki took their places directly behind the War Chief to get his assessment of the situation. From his silence both could tell something was not right, but couldn’t pinpoint what was happening. However, with the enemy packed so close together, it was no longer possible to kill them without notice.

 

     The Valley Knight stopped the attack because something caught his ear. The thinning of the Tenaree rear ranks had been successful, but they were still too numerous for the raiding-party to take head on. With the raiders and enemy still, the sudden quiet allowed the Knight to hear what was going on beyond the treeline.

 

     Just under the sound of the waves at low tide, were voices. But the language spoken wasn’t that of Palm. It was quite familiar….

 

“Aesir!”

 

     N’Sisi and Sadiki were confused by the unfamiliar word whispered by the Montsho Banga. As if he knew there would be questions, the pair saw the War Chief’s hand raised to silence them.

 

    The Knight listened intently to who and what was said and then frantically started waving for the raiders to retreat!

 

     N’Sisi and Sadiki felt the insanely strong grip of the War Chief clamp down on their kit harnesses as he dragged them away at a full run! As they stumbled to gain their feet, all subterfuge had been cast aside as the Montsho Banga broke cover.

 

     “Get back! Get Back now! Move! Move! Move!”

 

     The surprised raiders took no notice as to whether the enemy had detected their abrupt retreat nor did they have time to do so. Barely five steps from where the last man in the column cleared their last position, the very ground threw them from their feet! All around the forest, trees toppled and undergrowth was uprooted!

 

     The Valley Knight quickly gained his feet and helped the others keep moving away from the disruption. He knew this was his son Little Fish’s doing and the Knight also knew what came next. Roughly turning N’Sisi around, the Knight gestured to the perplexed warrior to look to the ground.

 

     N’Sisi gasped in horror as she saw four members of the raiding-party sinking into the ground as if it were water!

 

     “Don’t stand there gaping woman! Hold out your spear to the nearest man!”

 

     The Champion was roused from her confused state by the shouts of the Montsho Banga. Seeing the strategy to save their people, she held out her spear to the man nearest her as he sank into the ground.

 

     “Grab my spear and then take the hand of the next person!”

 

     The desperate man latched onto the spear shaft with a fear-powered grip then called out to the others in peril. As the chain was formed, N’Sisi felt the near crushing strength of the War Chief’s arm as he grasped her waist.

 

     “All of you, lock arms with me!”

 

     N’Sisi held on tight and pushed with her legs as her fellow raiders pulled. She could scarce breathe from the War Chief’s arm around her and the weight of those slowly being dragged from the ground. After one hard continuous pull, the stricken raiders were retrieved to solid ground.

 

     Winded, N’Sisi fell to ground and took the hand of a grateful raider she’d just saved. Looking toward the War Chief, N’Sisi heard Sadiki ask the question she was too out of breath to ask.

 

     “Mazi, what was that?”

 

     No sooner asked, all the raiders flinched as a great explosion of flame and noise burst upon the beach that threw a roiling fireball into the air high enough to be seen where they stood in the forest!

 

     N’Sisi, noticed the War Chief barely flinched at the flash of light or the thunderous sound. He stood watching for a moment and then reached for something in the hardened bag he always kept at his side.

 

     “You all get yourselves together and get ready to either fight like demons or run like the devil at my signal. Stay here!”

 

     The Knight turned his back to the raiders and took something from the bag and placed it on his face. Unable to contain herself, N’Sisi grabbed the hem of his tunic.

 

     “Mazi! Take me with you! Let my fight by your side….”

 

     Words froze in her mouth when the War Chief turned back towards her. N’Sisi’s hand involuntarily released its grip and she fell backwards onto Sadiki who also was struck dumb by what he saw! Many of the raiders covered their eyes and some fell to their knees placing their heads upon the ground at the sight of their War Chief.

 

     “No. Wait for my signal.”

 

     When N’Sisi opened her eyes, the Montsho Banga had vanished into the forest.

To be concluded....

© 2016 H. Wolfgang Porter. All Rights Reserved.

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