The Red Spirit stepped from the flames and her sinuous dark leg gently placed delicate toes upon the smoldering sand. What shocked all present was the tremor caused by that bejeweled foot!
Little Fish readied himself for he knew they were in the presence of a divine power. The young man was cautious for he contended with the incredibly ancient Goddess Shael after she’d been accidentally awakened in Aesirfjord. However, powerful as she was the goddess was a benevolent being at heart. Little Fish could sense little more than outright malice radiating from being before them.
“Well, well, what do I see before me standing in defiance of my will? A mere boy? No, no…not mere in any way. Such power! And yet, so familiar….”
Goddess or not, Little Fish did not take kindly to being called a ‘boy’. Yet, he checked his initial impulse to crackwise. The potential disparity in power between him and this new entity could be vast in either direction or worse, they could be evenly matched which would make things perilous for all mortal life in this land!
“Who are you and why are you trying to poach these mortals under my protection?”
The Red Spirit smiled broadly under her hood and stepped completely out of the flames causing the ground to tremble once more. With a gesture, the sleeve of her red robe fell away revealing a dark sinewed yet shapely arm covered from wrist to elbow in a multitude of gold bracelets, bands and delicate chains. Abruptly, Turid and the Tennaree with her burst from the sand gasping.
“What you did to my children was not nice boy. But, I must say it was quite original. There is something so familiar about you boy which vexes me terribly!”
The palm of her outstretched hand turned towards Little Fish and the snapped closed. A sudden powerful pull strong enough to snatch a man from his feet and hurl his body towards the Red Spirit! But with feet rooted to the sandy beach, he only felt the painful pull upon his body that stretched both skin and muscle. With a feral grin, Little Fish welcomed the opportunity to test his strength against a divine opponent.
“Nice. I’ll go one better!”
The Red Spirit saw the youthful upstart’s eyes flash brighter red as did the talisman upon his chest. To her astonishment, the grip of the world yanked her head and shoulders down hard enough to bring her to one knee! The tremor caused by the impact shook the forest and disrupted the surfline for an instant. Even as she forced her head and eyes to look towards the godling, the world’s grip on her increased five-fold with each breath she took!
The force alone was enough to make her grunt with the effort to resist. She was impressed, but this godling was much too powerful for her plans to come to fruition without his interference. The Red Spirit’s smoldering eyes burst into bright flame and all present were blinded by the sudden flash of lightning arising from the ground to reach the sky!
Little Fish was caught completely off guard and felt the pain for it! His tunic disintegrated and his body wanted to follow suit but the Fishscale Necklace would not allow it. Fortunately, during lessons with his God-Mother the Priestess he’d felt the divine touch of lightning strokes from her hand. To be caught flat-footed by such an attack was painful as it was embarrassing!
Now angered, a smoldering Little Fish caused the sand to pull the Red Spirit down into the beach. The Witch found the sand formed vigorous tendrils and waves which grabbed her limbs, waist and neck as they pulled her downward. Try as she might, the Witch was quickly swamped by the sand and in seconds disappeared into the earth!
Little Fish could feel the Red Spirit struggling far below the beach. He continued to feel her engulfed within a concrete-like mixture of sand and water where it was too difficult to push down any further. At that depth, the sand was hard as stone and difficult to move in as mud! Goddess or not, it would be some time before she could escape….
Something small grabbed hold of his leg and before Little Fish could attempt to break free he heard a weak voice call to him.
“Fish…we must escape!”
Looking down, the young man saw his paramour the Aesir Witch Mjarga desperately holding onto him.
Little Fish whirled away from the stricken young witch as he felt great heat and pressure building deep below ground. Waving to the Aesir survivors, Little Fish gestured frantically to their longboats.
“Get to your boats! We must escape!”
Ghilda was both horrified and fascinated by what she’d witnessed. But now the demon her husband trusted and considered ‘his nephew’ bellowed for them to take to the ships. She did not know what was happening, but wasn’t going to wait and find out! Grabbing a slowly recovering Svengald, Ghilda hauled him to his feet and made their way down the beach.
“Come everyone! Get to the ships!”
Seeing how slowly everyone was moving, Little Fish took Mjarga up in his arms and in a blinding burst of speed, placed her in the Chief’s boat. The boats quickly began to fill as the divinely powered youth deposited the survivors into the longboats. All the while, he could feel the Red Spirit preparing to free herself from her new prison.
Turid and the Tenaree were at a loss for what to do. The Red Spirit they all worshiped had been dragged beneath the sand and now the young man who managed so great a feat, hurriedly put her former countrymen into their longboats. The ground suddenly trembled violently knocking them off their feet!
“It is the Red Spirit coming to exact retribution! That is why the enemy tries to escape! Keep them from fleeing her divine justice…attack!”
As the first Tenaree gained his feet, a bronze arrowhead burst from his chest. Turid and the others turned in time to see gray and black painted warriors burst from the treeline and descend upon them!
Turid grabbed up her spear in time to block the bronze blade of a fearsome looking female spear wielder. It was all she could do to fend off that strange metal spearhead! However the kicks, punches continued to get through her guard until finally the bronze ball capping the spear haft’s end found its mark in her solar plexus. Unable to breathe, the world around Turid moved as if underwater!
Her adopted people, the Tenaree warriors were in disarray as they fell beneath the better armed and trained Warriors of Palm. Falling hard upon her back was not enough to knock free the trapped air in her lungs. Unable to raise her spear, Turid watched the savage black and gray face spattered with blood as its owner brought down the long-bladed spear down for the kill. Having come to spend eternity in Nifelheim, she wondered if her soul would be destroyed as had her former lost crewmates.
The report of the spearblade crashing against a hardened hammered iron round shield startled both Turid and her would be killer! The warrior immediately withdrew and Turid beheld the face of her ‘savior’…and fainted….
Little Fish saw strange warriors painted in the same gray and black stripes worn by the God Qatula burst from the treeline to slaughter the Red Spirit’s followers. Before he could divine their stance in the conflict, Little Fish beheld a frightening but very familiar sight on the beach…his father wearing the mask given to him by Death!
Behind him the Aesir screamed in terror at the sight of a man with half his head that of a denuded skull! Little Fish watched as his father the Valley Knight signaled to the new warriors and they raced down the beach to the long boats. The ground trembled again and the Knight looked to him and Little Fish knew to get these new allies aboard and prepared to get them all out of there!
As Little Fish once more at blazing speed gathered up more passengers, as he put the last one aboard someone grabbed his arm. Again it was the Witch Mjarga.
“Fish! Don’t go back ashore. Get us out of here!”
Little Fish’s first instinct was to head back to help his father and then a great explosion of steam, flame and molten sand deafened and blinded the screaming passengers aboard the boats!
The Chief now recovered put his hand on Little Fish’s shoulder and looked upon the scene in disbelief.
“It cannot be!”
Little Fish was also dumbfounded by what he saw. Rising up from the flame and molten sand spewing hole was a woman of dark and terrible beauty! Great shining black feathered wings flapped loudly and creating small whirlwinds of smoke and flame beneath them. Her shapely black body was barely covered by the scorched and burning red robe and atop her finely featured head black hair rose in the heat as did the flames at her feet.
The divine being turned mid-air as she hovered and pointed a crystalline claw towards the Chief’s large skiff. Little Fish prepared to fend off another powerful lightning strike but instead had to cover his ears!
A great wail came from the Red Spirit as a pair of black arrows pierced her arm and hand. The pain was enough to cause her to fall back into the molten pit causing a great splash of lava and flame over the beach!
Little Fish saw the Chief throw a rope with a heavy wooden rod used to keep boats docked in the harbors on the Lake and River in the Valley Realm towards the surfline. He saw his father grab onto the rope and the Chief turned to him with a sharp look in his eye.
“Any time you feel ready to leave Fish!”
Getting the Chief’s drift, Little Fish spoke loud enough for all aboard the boats to hear and understand as he raised his arms high over his head.
All the boats lurched forward roughly as all the water at the surfline suddenly rolled out to sea!
The Red Spirit leaped from the molten pit and charged down to the surfline, but her prey was too far gone. That and the means by which the godling used to escape would soon create a tsunami upon the ocean’s return.
Shattering the hardening glass coating her body and wings, a naked Red Spirit grimaced as she pulled the arrows from her hand and arm. For some reason, they not only pierced her seemingly impenetrable flesh, she could not break the either.
She did not see the individual who shot her. But the Red Spirit now knew there powerful enemies were afoot who not only had the means to foil her plans to take this country for her own rule, they also had means to potentially kill her! There were only two in the raiding party worth salvaging to learn more about these strangers. Worst of all, they took her unique yellow-haired pet!
Most curious beyond the interloper’s obvious threat, the Red Spirit noticed a familiar essence particularly from the godling. Also, there was a source of energy among them that could not possibly be what she thought. If it were, such energy would make her efforts impossible to stop!
“This has been a fine lesson. I have been too complacent playing the role of divinity to these disgusting mortals. I will gather the hordes and the engines of war they have built under my guidance so on the morrow, we shall sortie forth.
When the fires of war reach their greatest strength, I shall show these upstarts the true power of the divine. All in this country, the land, animals, plants and people shall belong to me for all time!”
On the horizon, the Red Spirit could see the great wave returning. Having cleared all the glass from her body, with a single flap of those shining ebon wings in an explosion of sand, the Red Spirit departed.
Sea City was buzzing with news of the Montsho Banga’s raiding party’s victory against the Tenaree and the Red Spirit herself! Of equal interest were the new comers who came from the sea through the Great Storm. N’Sisi managed to break away from the many courtiers asking for her telling of the battle for the uncounted time.
Barely a day had passed since their escape and despite the optimistic feeling in the city, N’Sisi was guarded. The things she saw defied imagination! The Red Spirit was actually a ‘Fire Goddess!’
The young man who fought against her and commanded the waters to make their escape was a young god as well. But most disturbing of all was the man who bested the Goddess in combat, the man who became Palm’s War Chief and he who she would give both love, body and loyalty was beloved by ‘Death’!
Seeing him don that frightful mask froze her blood as she realized whom she tried to wage war with. Then to see the Montsho Banga bring down the Red Spirit alone on that beach…. Most puzzling was why he stopped her from taking the life of that yellow-haired Tenaree dog who had the audacity to raise a spear against her!
Apparently, she had been turned by the Red Spirit after washing ashore alone after losing her people in the Great Storm. N’Sisi wasn’t sure she trusted the rest of her pale-skinned kind though they seemed to view the one called ‘Turid’ as traitor.
Speaking of traitors, N’Sisi laid eyes on the turncoat Tenaree Sadiki as he approached from down the palace corridor.
“The Montsho Banga allows you off your leash to roam unattended Tenaree son of a Hyena?”
Not wanting to start trouble with the Champion of Palm and Commander of the Spear Brigade, Sadiki chose his words carefully.
“Greetings Champion N’Sisi. As always, I perform the will of the Montsho Banga.”
With eyebrow raised, N’Sisi leaned toward the now well-dressed Tenaree and smirked.
“Well, in doing Mazi’s bidding I see your station has been elevated considerably from naked savage to semi-civilized being.”
Brushing dust from the courtyard from his black plainspun shoulder wrap and white tunic cut in similar fashion as his master’s, Sadiki returned the smirk with a smile of his own.
“This is true great Champion. In defeat, I found the means to both serve someone far greater than myself and gain revenge on those who destroyed my people. I believe we both have that in common Champion N’Sisi.”
Tilting her head in a questioning manner N’Sisi scoffed at Sadiki’s words.
“We have nothing in common turncoat. You may have the favor of the Montsho Banga and Regent Agozi’s tolerance for now. But when you finally show your true colors hyena pup, I’ll be the one to take those cute blades from your body and hang them from my belt.”
Bowing his head while keeping his eyes on the Champion, Sadiki smiled and made the gesture of goodwill.
“I shall keep my ‘colors’ plain for all to see Champion. Oh that reminds me, Montsho Banga is waiting to speak to you out on the upper balcony. Good evening to you.”
N’Sisi, sucked her teeth loud in disgust but returned the gesture and then set off to find the War Chief.
The sun was setting fast on the horizon and made the waters of the bay sparkle like gold dust sprinkled over an undulating ultramarine cloth. Princes Meru finally worked up the courage to go out onto the upper balcony to speak with the Montsho Banga now said to be ‘Slayer of Demons’. He stood still as any carved statue she had seen in the Palm Palace and was majestic as he looked out over the sea.
In spite of knowing she was of higher rank than the War Chief, it took all her courage to stand beside him at the adobe railing and remain calm.
“Greetings Ade Meru. You honor me with your presence.”
The sound of the War Chief’s vibrating basso voice made the hair on her body stand and her heart beat with greater speed. His graceful bow thrilled Meru for despite all that he had done, humility for him was effortless.
“You may rise Mazi and the honor is mine to be in your presence.”
The warrior rose and with his cloth wrapping down from across his face, Meru looked upon his hard chiseled features. Most haunting were his eyes! So dark were they, there lay only a hint of brown even with the light of sunset flashing through them. A sudden hint of a smile on that dark face suddenly broke her reverie.
“Oh, um, I, uh…I want to know why you have done all these things for my people? We are strangers to you, why do you help us?”
“Do you not want my assistance? I can go home if you wish….”
“NO! Um, I-I mean…that would be unnecessary Mazi. I am sure the people of Palm appreciate all that you have done for them. It would no doubt sorely disappoint my father the Regent if you left us now.”
“Well then, when you put it that way…I’d be happy to stay a little longer if you don’t mind Ade Meru.”
A sudden wave of embarrassment washed over the Princess as she realized what just happened.
“You are teasing me! Aren’t you?”
The War Chief’s face was a barely contained mask of mirth as he looked off towards the sea.
“My, the sunsets are quite beautiful here Ade….”
With a growl and burst of playful indignation, Meru made to strike the War Chief’s chest. Instead, she found herself gripped firmly by the wrist and swept from her feet! Held facing upwards, Meru looked into the eyes of the Monsthso Banga and saw what the Tenaree who fell to the Black Sword saw! In those dark eyes was the merciless gaze of ‘death’.
Meru’s breath caught and her heart stopped for the briefest of instants. When she abruptly took in a breath, her heart began to beat again and she realized the warrior held her securely as he fervently apologized.
“Ade! I’m sorry! I did not mean to…are you hurt?
Unable to control herself, Meru gently placed her hand upon his face.
“Mazi, I have been pledged to the Prince of the Island People for his support in the war.”
There was a pause which seemed to Meru an unwelcome distance would destroy this moment. Why did she say that? She knew he must be dissuaded no matter how strong her desire drew her to him! But before that distance could become a chasm, that grin of his which made her knees weak flashed once more.
“Ade, I know for certain you will never see the Prince’s Marriage Bed nor will you ever lay eyes upon him. You will marry another. One who is barely worthy of you, but one who would face down the armies of all mankind were you to ask….”
Meru was undone by his words. Within those powerful arms, the Princess responded with the deepest of kisses!
N’Sisi stood just beyond the archway leading out to the upper balcony in utter shock. Her Spirit-Sister wantonly lay in the arms of the Montsho Banga though pledged to marry the Island Prince for the sake of her people! How could she? She’d even heard the Black Sword give a marriage pledge to Meru!
Moments passed and before she knew it, N’Sisi was beyond the gates of Sea City headed towards the Palm Forest. As tears flowed down her cheeks unchecked, her heart felt as if it were aflame! She and the people of Palm had been betrayed by their new princess!
When the Island Prince received word of Meru’s faithlessness, he would rescind his promise of troops in the war. Without the extra men, even with the training given Palm’s rag-tag army given by the Montsho Banga, there was no hope of defending Sea City and retaking lands lost to the Tenaree!
Now long past the perimeter defenses and deep into the forest, N’Sisi screamed from the depths of her wounded spirit.
“No, no, no, no! He was to be mine! I love him! I can fight by his side! I can bear the burden of bringing his sons into the world, not you Meru! AAAaaaaahhhh!”
N’Sisi fell to her hands and knees at the thought of her Spirit-Sister in the arms of the man she loved. After taking a deep breath to get control over her sobbing, the Champion of Palm heard something strange far off in the forest but drawing nearer. Picking up her spear and round shield, her warrior instincts pushed aside her anguish and made her ready for battle. She would reconnoiter the source of the sounds and report back to the Regent.
Meru’s betrayal would have to wait for the sound now became familiar. It was thousands of men hewing a large path through the forest and they were pushing something equally large towards Sea City! With her new weapon and shield in hand, the Champion of Palm sallied forth towards the enemy and woe to all she encountered….
© 2016 H. Wolfgang Porter. All Rights Reserved.