Valkyria, p.1

Valkyria, page 1

 

Valkyria
 


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Valkyria


  Valkyria

  All Rights Reserved

  Copyright 2015© Gareth Torrance

  Published by Ink Blood Publishing

  All Rights Reserved. This Book May Not Be Reproduced, Transmitted, Or Stored In Whole Or Part Or In Part By Any Means, Including Graphic, Electronic, Or Mechanical Without The Express Written Consent Of The Publisher Except In The Case Of Brief Quotations Embodied In Critical Articles And Reviews.

  *~*~*

  *~*~*

  DEDICATION

  To my darling daughter, whose smile gave me the drive and strength to finish this book. You are truly the greatest inspiration I could ever have asked for.

  *~*~*

  Table of Contents

  {1} {2} {3} {4} {5} {6} {7} {8} {9} {10}

  {11} {12} {13} {14} {15} {16} {17} {18} {19} {20}

  {21} {22} {23} {24} {25} {26} {27} {28} {29} {30}

  {31} {32} {33} {34} {35} {36} {37} {38} {39} {40}

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Sneak Preview

  *~*~*

  1

  ALEXIA

  “It is said that when you are born, you are touched by the Arcana and that it will guide you through life to your death.”

  “Exactly, Alexia,” said Priestess Erey. “I am glad to see you have been studying. Such a better child than your brother.” Alexia glanced up at Ma’am Erey’s face, a blanket of white, wrinkled and weathered by an age alone on the secluded island that was Suhran.

  “My brother is far too concerned with the local wildlife. Rather than educate himself so that he might go to Argent or Kihro to earn money for food, he would prefer to drag a lifeless carcass into this small village to show his prowess.”

  Ma’am Erey stood from the table in a sudden and swift motion most unbefitting of one her age. A deep breath followed as she grasped the chair she had just left, her body swaying like a leaf in a breeze for a few seconds before she walked across the wooden hut toward a small stone stove.

  “Well my dear, thank you for reminding me about my supper. I was cooking a lovely wolf rump stew if you and brother should be interested later in the day. For now though, we have studied enough. Perhaps you could leave an old lady to her meal and find young Einar. Please scold him for me.”

  Alexia tilted her head in acknowledgement before rising from the table in a manner quite the opposite of Ma’am Erey. As she stood, her rags of cloth fell neatly into a purple dress whose color had dulled over the years. She adjusted the small piece of fabric she used as a hair tie so that the lilac material looked like a flower in her hair.

  She moved to the door, itself having seen far better days, being older than Ma’am Erey, before grasping that oak handle and turning it. As the door creaked open her eyes were welcomed with a screen of white before finally adjusting to the natural light. Ma’am Erey never opened her windows, instead using candlelight for fear the sun would make her older still.

  “What took you such a great length of time?”

  The deep voice that filled her ears was more becoming of a bear or some giant of a man, but instead she simply saw her brother. His black rags were covered by his white hunting cloak, and the daggers he had found in their Uncle’s storage chest as a boy hung at his side.

  “If you ever lifted your finger for anything except an animal you wouldn’t have to ask that, dear brother.” The deliberate tone of her voice made Einar shake his head.

  “Right now, beloved sister,” he said, using the same tone. “We have far more important issues than some forgotten old crone babbling about hogwash like gods. We have no food left, and the gods aren’t helping with that, now are they?”

  “Actually, brother, they are.” She smiled as her eyebrows lowered. “Ma’am Erey has made wolf rump stew and offered it to us today.” She expected a look of sheer delight to appear on her brother’s face but instead he just sighed.

  “You do not understand. We will have no food for a week.”

  “Then go and get some like you always do. What is the problem?”

  “The problem,” said Einar, “is that I cannot move the meat cart by myself and Rin is in Saylae for five more days, or have you forgotten he is getting married?”

  Alexia paused, her mouth open and awaiting a clever and sly response that simply never came. She had forgotten about Master Rin’s wedding. The old fool had found a young bride more beautiful than any girl Alexia had seen, but then she hadn’t seen that many. Of course, Einar was right. There was no way he could move the meat cart such a distance by himself, especially when it was full.

  “So what will you do?”

  “I think you mean to say ‘what will we do’.” The words ran like crude humour into Alexia’s ears. He couldn’t possibly be serious, could he? His face, however, was stern like the wolves he killed. He was.

  “I do not,” she spurted out, lacking a more refined answer. “I have not hunted before, as you well now! It is dangerous!”

  “Yet if you do not start now,” said Einar, “we will have no food for at least five days.”

  The young girl glanced over at the oak wall that lined Caim Village. The wall itself rose up at least three times the height of her brother, but the gates were only twice the height. However, those gates had protected her since she was but a babe. Even now, she was only just sixteen and Ma’am Erey always said that beyond the gates were places only those who had reached adulthood should tread.

  “Alexia, please,” Einar said, stealing her train of thought.

  “I know the old bat keeps telling you it’s dangerous to go out in the woods but that’s just because she’s too scared to leave her own damned hut. Rin and I have been going out there every day for a year together, and before that he went out every day by himself for five years. Besides, it’s not as if you would be unarmed. You could take that stick the merchant’s boy gave you for your birthday.”

  “Stick!?” Alexia’s face twisted and contorted into a face resembling the monstrosities in Ma’am Erey’s books.

  “Fine,” interrupted Einar.

  “The lovingly carved shaft of wood that was given to you by a boy who wanted nothing more than your maidenhood and whom you will never see again and who probably just found it laying around somewhere anyway.”

  “Einar, how dare you talk of Jon that way? He was a kind and gentle fellow who really cared for me.”

  “No, Alexia. He acted like he cared for you and then went back to his master’s tent to talk with him about your shape.”

  “Enough!” It took all her strength not to raise an open hand to his face. He was wrong about Jon, he had to be. “If we need food I will help you with the cart, but you will not talk of Jon is such a manner. Do you understand?”

  Einar simply rolled his eyes as Alexia swung herself away from him. Walking briskly along the stone dust that was supposed to be the main path through Caim Village, she remembered young Jon’s face. He had been a new adult when he and his master came into the village. His hair had flung in the wind and glistened like gold threads, and he wore such finery that she had not seen in her life.

  He had given her flowers, and then they had watched the stars together as the moon rose into the sky. He had been such a caring and romantic young man. Her brother couldn’t possibly have been right about him.

  Caim Village itself was small, more of hamlet than a village. Between the sides of the wooden wall that encircled the entire community was nothing more than a handful of wattle and daub huts. Along the wall were five guard posts but they were usually unoccupied. A shallow stream stretched through the western side of the village, coming down from the low lying mountains a few leagues north.

  Ma’am Erey’s house, with its beautifully thatched roof and wooden walls, lay at the southern side with the cemetery
next to it. Her house was the closest thing the village had to a temple. Einar would always say it was fitting for a crone to be next to her bed.

  On the eastern side was Gafer’s Farm, although calling it a farm was more to be polite than say the honest truth. In reality it was just another hut, only a little larger than the others, with a vegetable patch outside. However, during the winter nothing had grown there except weeds, and now old Gafer was too ill to tend to it.

  Beyond that, there was nothing of great importance in the little hamlet, but Alexia loved it. It may be old and somewhat forgotten by the rest of Suhran but it was home.

  Alexia reached their hut, the door made out of an old sign post Einar had found and reassembled after the original door flew off in a storm. The hut itself was an oval-shaped hovel at best, but it was the only home she had known. Yet before their mother had passed, they used to live in a large wooden farm house many leagues south, or so Einar would tell her.

  Still, her mother passed away from illness and they lost their farm, their home and their livelihood. If ıt weren’t for their Uncle Kahn in Caim, they would have had no place to stay. The day he fell to an infected wolf bite had devastated the young Alexia, and forced Einar to grow into a man too young.

  The door creaked open, its hinges singing like a thousand dying mice. Inside the hut the sun shone in like a beam through the small window hole above a small stove older than Ma’am Erey and old Gafer combined, or so Alexia thought. On the right wall was a table Einar had built from tree trunks he found uprooted by the great storm four years before, and on the left were two sacks on the floor next to a pair of sheep skin pillows they had traded three wolf breasts for. To the immediate left of the door was the wardrobe old Gafer gave them after Uncle Kahn died. It had been a strange mourning gift, but a useful and welcome one.

  Alexia took her staff from inside the wardrobe, which only truthfully held four sets of rags for herself and three for Einar, then she left the house and headed toward the south gate to meet her brother. He had already dragged the meat cart to the gate, and by the river that ran down his face she guessed he had done it alone.

  As usual there was no guard at the south gate. Alexia could only remember ever seeing a guard there once in her life. Einar used his shoulders to lift up the locking bar on the gate before dragging it open across the dirt and rock. They wheeled the cart out together and the Einar pulled the gate shut once again.

  They would have to pull the cart through the woods by hand because horses were far too expensive for anyone in Caim to even dream about. However, Einar had assured her that all she had to do was stay with the cart and nothing would attack her.

  The oak trees of the forest rose up, as if they were trying to claw their way out of the ground and into the heavens. The forest itself was often dark, the sun half forbidden to enter it, and the ground was covered in nettles and dead bushes with the odd flower dotted around. It was horrifying, yet strangely beautiful in Alexia’s eyes.

  “So how much do we need?”

  “About four cubs should be enough until Rin comes back,” replied Einar. “They’ll be easier for us to move as well.”

  Fours cubs would have been the same amount of meat as two adults. That much she knew about hunting from all of Einar’s tales. He was trying to make things easier on her, she was sure of that

  The cart rolled along a winding path that seemed as if it had been made by some giant serpent. The path itself would eventually lead them to Caim Lake, the village’s namesake, where old Gafer used to go fishing in his youth, or so he would say. The silence of the forest filled her ears and made the hair on her arms stand tall.

  “A merchant from Saylae was here a good few days ago,” she said, hoping to break the silence with conversation. “He was telling stories from the mainland. He said that they making some sort of new steam motor that uses water to move airships five times bigger than any made before. They found some new materials earlier in the spring off the coast. Don’t you think that’s exciting? Bigger ships filling the skies. Maybe they could even take us over to the mainland!”

  “Five times bigger, you say? Well if they succeed you can guarantee they will come back to the Ringlands in force and take away our independence once again.”

  “He didn’t say it was Alexandria,” she replied. “He said it was the Three Peaks region, so they wouldn’t come here anyway. But why do you hate the Alexandria Empire so? They had left the Ringlands before you were even born.”

  “That doesn’t matter. We are Ringlanders. We had a culture and a language. They took our people as slaves, forbid the use of our own tongue and force fed us the Arcana, whether they be real or not. The erased us and made us into what they wanted us to be.”

  “But Ma’am Erey tells the truth. The Arcana are real and they guide us. I learnt it today!”

  “So she says, but the people of the Ringlands were just fine before they were told of the Arcana. They were happy and had enough food and fun. Yet look at us now. We are scavengers looking for scraps from the mainland that the merchants bring over. We eat food that isn’t seen as good enough for the Alexandria Empire, and even then we cannot eat enough of it because all our money goes to the Temple.”

  Alexia held her tongue. Whenever they spoke of the Arcana and the Temple, it always lasted for hours on end with nothing good coming from it. Perhaps silence had been better after all.

  Einar raised an open hand suddenly and the pair stopped the cart. He glared over to the right before putting one finger to his mouth then point into the forest. In the darkness Alexia could just make out seven sleeping cubs. They only needed four, but seven would be able to feed them for a full week.

  “We don’t need to hunt today then,” whispered Einar. “What luck.”

  Alexia was sure luck had nothing to do with it but now was not the time to say anything. Einar took his daggers from their sheaths and dropped silently to the floor. He slithered along the ground making less noise than the birds in the trees, and within a few short minutes he had slit the first cub’s neck whilst holding its mouth shut to silence it. He carefully went from one to the next, amazingly without waking them. Rin had taught him well, Alexia could see that much.

  After all seven had been slit, he beckoned Alexia over to help carry the carcasses to the cart. One by one they hauled the cubs by the legs, but when they went back for the seventh, they were stopped by a rustling in the bushes behind Alexia. In a flash Einar launched himself onto her, bringing both of them to the ground as a much larger wolf leaped over them. The beast landed and spun to face them, its teeth clear as daylight and a torrent of saliva falling down.

  “The mother!” The wolf hurtled toward them, but Einar simply smiled. “Dumb beast.” He jumped into the air directly at the wolf and landed on its back, driving the daggers into the animal’s hind legs, causing it to drop in pain. Einar hastily span around and slit its throat as well.

  “Well that was exciting,” he said.

  “Exciting!? Are you a fool!? I could have died.”

  “I knew it was coming, didn’t I? You’re not hurt are you?”

  As much as it angered her, Einar was right. He had seemed prepared for it, even knowing what to do when the wolf charged him. She hadn’t even got a slight scratch.

  “Now then,” continued Einar, “we have seen cubs and an adult. I say we take three of the cubs and the adult to Saylae tomorrow before they get too old. We could get about twelve coins for the mother alone.”

  “Twelve coins?” That much money was dreamed of by most of the people in Caim. “Are you sure? We could buy a chicken for twelve coins.”

  “And bread with the money from the cubs. Fresh bread at that,” said Einar, his lips moving up high in the corner before his tongue rolled over them.

  “Fresh bread and chicken, now that would be delightful,” replied Alexia.

  *~*~*

  2

  SER LONTHAN

  The streets of Alexandra City were filled as always, o
verflowing with merchants, peasants and nobles all mixed together. The blend of bright colours and torn rags was almost comical for Ser Lonthan as he marched through the market stalls. The Upper Plate market had become a far more fashionable after the Royal Guard stopped admitting the commoners for the Lower City into the area. Yet most people seemed to be shopping with their eyes rather than their coin purse.

  A large brass automaton strolled passed him, the gears creaking as they turned and steam pouring out of two exhausts beside its head. Ser Lonthan had to retrace his steps back a handful of paces to avoid the mindless machine stepping on his feet.

  On the left was a small alleyway that was blanketed in darkness and shadow from the tall buildings rising up on each side. The darkness was contrasted, however, by the Golden Steps in the distance that lead up to next Plate and the Royal Estate. The steps passed underneath the Hanging Barracks, which in turn were held up by magnificent chains with links the size of elephants and were connected by bridges suspended between themselves and the castle.

  A group of stone dragons stood watch over the alleyway whilst a half dozen young women mingled with one another, their dress flaunting far too much skin for Ser Lonthan’s taste.

  “One coin, one hour,” said one of the girls as he walked past. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen, not even in adulthood yet. Still, he knew everyone had to work, one way or another, so he simply smiled and shook his head before continuing along the alley.

  Even someone in the upper levels of society such as Ser Lonthan knew what life was like in the city. Alexandra was the pinnacle of the Alexandria Empire, but also of division. The city was built on four levels; the Lower City, the Lower Plate, the Upper Plate and the Royal Estate.

  To live on the Upper Plate was to live a life of luxury and splender at the expense of those who lived on the plates below you. Shop keepers, butlers and maids were typically from the Lower Plate, whilst servants and working ladies made their way up from the Lower City.

  The Lower Plate was very much a “working man’s” place to live. The way of life was simple; work, earn and eat. Whilst not as splendid as the Upper Plate, the state of living was not all too bad.

 
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