The Character of Aslaug is Copyright Â? Joan Jacobsen
The Characters of Tigermark and TL are Â? Tigermark
The Character of Aramis Dagaz is Â? Aramis Dagaz
The Characters of Joe Latrans and Annie Latrans are Â? The Silver Coyote
All other characters appearing are Copyright Â? Joan Jacobsen
Characters are not to be used without prior written permission of their authors.
No part of this story may be reproduced or placed on any website without the written permission of the author.
This story is copyright Â? Aslaug, 2007
Beneath the Fur part 2
Aramis Dagaz sat bolt upright in bed, heaving for breath. He wasn’t often visited by nightmares, but the last two nights had been horrible. Every time he had drifted off, he would find himself back in some kind of bizarre, awful dream, full of horrors. Weird creatures without fur, displaying a savagery to shame a raging, retrogressing wolverine would haunt him. Steel flashing against steel, screams of the dying, pleas for mercy gone unheard.
Frankly, Aramis did not want to sleep any more but if he didn’t, his boss would start asking uncomfortable questions the next day.
Questions along the lines of “What’s her name then, Dagaz?”
Questions that made Aramis want to strangle his boss in a most decidedly unchristian manner.
He did not like his current superior. He was one of those officers who thought he had found the Holy Grail, the Philosophers Stone, the Ark of the Covenant AND the secrets of the lost city of Atlantis and consequently, he could do no wrong. The kind of damned attitude to pretty much ensure he did wrong all the time, in fact.
He had put in a request for a transfer, but while there was little doubt he would get it, he had to deal with this fur every day until then. What he really didn’t need right now were nights of disturbing dreams, keeping him from his desperately needed rest.
He crawled out of bed, scratching the fur on his chest and rubbing his face with his other paw. Maybe a cup of hot milk with honey would help get him sleepy. It sometimes worked at least.
Felines full of milk were happy felines and all that.
Chuckling irritably, he passed his cell-phone. He noticed it was turned off and reached out to pick it up. Just another damned annoyance. He hadn’t received any calls for days.
Now he knew why.
“Let’s see how many furs have tried to get in contact with ‘So-who-is-she-Dagaz’,” he mumbled. The clock on the telephone display showed that it was about twenty minutes past two in the morning.
Blinking in surprise, he realized he had 27 unanswered messages.
“Jeezâ??” he mumbled and plodded into the kitchen to get started on his hot milk drink, “Did I win the lottery without noticing or something?”
Predictably enough, no one answered. He was alone in the kitchen after all. He put a casserole on the stove after turning it on, pouring some milk into it. It had to be warmed slowly or it’d taste like something had crawled up the cow’s udder and died before it got milked.
The mental image made his tail bristle and he shuddered, whiskers twitching.
“Blechâ??didn’t need that,” he mumbled and started looking through the messages on his phone. “Tigermarkâ??Tigermarkâ??Joeâ??Joeâ??Joeâ??Tigermarkâ??Joeâ??”
He raised an eyebrow. Clearly, the amigos were trying to get a hold of him. And here he was, telephone turned off and unreachable while at work. Fan-bloody-tastic. Not what he needed. Bad nights of horrible dreams, a boss that really would’ve done the world a tremendous favor by being stillborn and now his friends and comrades-in-arms had tried to get a hold of him unsuccessfully for this long?
What else could go wrong?
The unanswered calls list stopped.
The text messages started.
He sat down and read through them. His tail started bristling again. His whiskers twitched even harder. This was serious and he had no way of getting away from his duties. Clearly, neither he, Tigermark or Joe were supposed to be involved. If they were thenâ??arrangementsâ??would always be made in their professional lives. Orders would come down from above for him to be somewhere else for an unspecified amount of time. The paperwork would always be taken care of as well. The same presumably went for Tigermark and Joe and their jobs. But no such orders had arrived this time.
He frowned. That clearly meant this wasn’t something they should be involved in. But he read his last message. It had ticked in less than four and a half hours ago.
“I’m at Aslaug’s place. She’s not here and we can’t get a hold of her. Something is wrong.”
Joe had sent that.
Aramis sighed. Tigermark had written that he was going to head out to California to help Joe. Apparently he had a bad feeling about the whole thing as well.
What could he do? Sit on his damned paws and try to deal with a superior officer with an overblown ego andâ??
“Calm down, Aramisâ??that’s not a very Christian way of thinking of your fellow fursâ??” he mumbled to himself, rubbing his face again.
His nose twitched. So did his whiskers. The tell-tale hiss from the stove told him he’d been sitting in his own thoughts for so long that the milk was now bubbling over the casserole and onto the stove itself. The stench was awful. Not as awful as the problems he’d have cleaning the casserole though.
His head dropped to his knees with a loud groan.
“Pater noster, qui es in caelisâ??” he whimpered.
Right now the world was a decidedly un-Aramis-friendly placeâ??
Darkness was creeping in over the flat landscape. A couple of times, Aslaug thought she had seen some movement in the distance, and every time she had gotten to her feet, ready to defend herself and the dying Gudfred, if needs be. Somehow it seemed unlikely that anyone approaching them would be friendly. Gudfred was still asleep. Aslaug knew he might very well not wake up, but it was a more merciful way of going, as far as she was concerned, and what slim chance he would have of survival no doubt depended on him not stressing himself any further.
Stillâ??he had lost a terrible amount of blood.
She was currently busy finding whatever flammable materials she could. It wasn’t easy. There was no tree in sight, and she had to settle for dry twigs from bushes and moss. She didn’t want to make a fire, for fear that it might be spotted but she had little choice. Gudfred would need the warmth and she had no idea how cold it would get. Sighing, she sat down again, dropping the things she had gathered in front of her.
Making fire was, thankfully a skill, she had never forgotten.
She was tired and would need to get some rest as well, but she didn’t like the idea of falling asleep in an unknown land like this. She did not have a choice, though. She couldn’t stay awake indefinitely and at least she slept very lightly by nature. Her senses hadn’t been dulled significantly by this strange change into aâ??aâ??
What had Gudfred called it again?
Shaking her head, Aslaug struck up a few sparks with her firesteel and flint, letting them catch in some of the moss. It started to smoke and she blew air over it, gently.
As the fire caught in the scrubs she had gathered, she picked up her helmet and looked at her reflection. It was as alien as when she had first arrived. Frankly, she found it hard to cope with, but there was nothing she could do to change the situation.
“How did you get hereâ???” Gudred’s weary voice asked and she looked back up.
“Even if I did tell you, you would never believe itâ??” Aslaug answered, sighing as she put her helmet back down. “I come fromâ??very far away.”
“For a moment, I thought you might be Varangianâ??” the wounded knight said, smiling a little, “But we saw the Varangians when we passed through Constantinople, and there were no womenâ??”
Aslaug had heard the name before. A long, long time ago before she met her friends. Before she died. Before she was sent back.
In her old lifeâ??
They were Norse warriors, fighting in the service of the King of Miklagaard. Or Emperorâ??
She wasn’t quite sure. She did know they were Christian. They had to be. Miklagaard was a center for Christianity. Except those who lived there had another name for it. Constantinopleâ??like Gudfred had said.
“I’m not Varangian,” she said. “I’m not Christian. I know many Christians, though. Some are good, some are bad. They are all unique.”
Gudfred smiled a little. “I will die here, Aslaugâ??in the company of an unbeliever, my quest unfulfilledâ??so why am I not worried?”
Aslaug shrugged. Gudfred was at least aware that he wouldn’t make it. That did come as some of a relief. She wouldn’t have to explain it to him then.
She rubbed her face. “Because you have faith,” she said.
“How do you mean?”
“You believe in your God. In yourâ??’divine mercy’. You’ve done the best you could and you are dying for a cause you believe in.”
Gudfred sighed. “Now I won’t know if the Holy City becomes Christian thoughâ??”
Smiling crookedly, Aslaug stirred the small fire a little with the grip of her axe. The wood was too hard to catch fire or even get singed by that. “You’ll have a good view to the fight, thoughâ??sitting on your cloud.”
“That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that,” Gudfred said. He sounded relieved.
At least Aslaug had a pretty good idea what time this was by now. Gudfred was a crusader, and she had come into this world about a hundred and fifty years after her own timeâ??maybe a little more. Providing, of course, that time ran in a parallel way in this world to hers.
“Stillâ??this wasn’t exactly the company I had in mind for my deathbed,” Gudfred chuckled and coughed.
His voice was getting weaker, Aslaug noticed. Either he was drifting off to sleep, or he wasâ??drifting off for good.
“I wouldn’t think so. Yesterday, you would’ve tried to kill me if you had learned the truth of my beliefs,” she said and smiled, sadly. “You would have killed meâ??and anyone like meâ??for your Godâ??”
“My Christian friends taught me that not all Christians are like that. They taught me that there are many who believe that Whitechrist said not to kill anyone. That he taught his followers to turn the other cheek. I never agreed with that, myself, mind you.”
Gudfred looked confused for a moment. “Who said these things?”
“A priest I know, amongst others. He said that Whitechrist had taught his followers to be gentle and meek, and that this was the real way of serving God. That violence and hate only begets violence and hateâ??” Aslaug said, quietly. “That part, at least, is true. I would have liked to meet Whitechrist, back thenâ??when he was alive. I’m sure he was a pretty wise fâ??fellow. I just don’t agree with the faith as such. You knowâ??the idea of only one god and all that. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have some good things to say now and then, though.”
“For a heathen, you’re a strange one, Aslaug. You speak as if you acknowledge that Christ did liveâ??but you don’t believe in Him or His teachings.”
“I believe that being nice to each other is the best way of living one’s life, Gudfred. I don’t believe that there is just one greater being. I don’t say your God isn’t there. I’m sure he is. I’m just saying I don’t agree with most of his teachings, and I disagree that he’s the only one there.”
Gudfred chuckled again. “Any priest I know would have you killed for saying those things. But you’re not evilâ??or wicked. Maybe misguided butâ??I’ll find out for myself soon enough who was right and who was wrong, won’t I?”
“I appreciate that you are honest about it.”
Aslaug smiled. “I have seen thingsâ??you would not believe, Gudfred,” she said, quietly. It was almost dark now. The fire kept a slight glow over the small camp. In the background. Gudfred’s horse had stopped moving around. It was probably tired too.
The knight was clearly drifting off more and more often and Aslaug moved closer to him. She didn’t want him to feel alone in his last moments of life.
“What have you seen, Aslaug?” he asked. His voice was barely more than a whisper by now. “I prayâ??tell meâ??”
Aslaug reached down and brushed her fingers over the dying knight’s forehead. She wiped the sweat away and smiled, sitting so that she could help him to have his head resting on her legs. She helped arrange it, brushing her fingers through his hair again.
“I’ve seen the sun rise over the world tree, Gudfred. Listened to the songs of your ancestors, sung around the warm fires of the longhouses while the Hird waited for the morning and the battle, all expecting to die. I’ve seen the lights go out in the eyes of the immortal, and I have watched your angels weepâ??” she said, very softly.
The knight smiled a little. “Heresy, the priests would sayâ??and I believe you anywayâ??” he whispered. His eyes were barely open anymore. There was a dreamy quality to his voice.
Aslaug shrugged a little, still gently caressing Gudfred’s hair and brow. He wasn’t long for this world now, and she could see it. Hear it, too. She smiled and kept talking. Very softly. Just letting her voice reach the dying.
“I’ve seen the strangest wonders. I’ve seen the futureâ??and the past. I’ve seen a world where soldiers kill each other at hundreds of paces, without bows and arrows. Where two individuals, separated by entire countries, can speak to one another as if they were seated right next to each other. I’ve seen places where everyone can read whatever they want, even holy textsâ??and where faiths live side by sideâ??in peace,” she said. She looked at Gudfred’s face. It was peaceful, but he was still alive. Aslaug had seen this before. He had bled so much that he had gone numb. His wounds weren’t hurting anymore. They were just killing himâ??quietly and slowly.
“Will youâ??do one thingâ??for meâ???” Gudfred asked, swallowing a few times. It sounded like his tongue wasn’t really obeying him anymore.
“What would you like me to do?”
“Bury me hereâ??next to this streamâ??facing east, to see the sunâ??rising. Don’t leave meâ??for the animals. My horseâ??my armorâ??my weapons are yoursâ??for your kindness, Aslaugâ??”
Aslaug nodded. “I will. This is a beautiful place, Gudfred. A fine place to sleep and wait.”
Gudfred smiled. His eyes closed completely at last. “I wouldâ??have liked to seeâ??Jerusalemâ??” he whispered.
His lips were almost blue. He was so pale. Smiling crookedly, Aslaug brushed his hair out of his brow one last time and nodded. “You may see it yet, Gudfred of Viskindeâ??you may see it yetâ??”
The knight’s head slumped to the side. His chest fell one last timeâ??and came to rest.
Aslaug sighed and remained seated, as the fire died down. Somehow, moving to rekindle it seemed wrong.
It crept over the land. Rapidly moving past one village after another. They moved past in the blink of an eye. Buildings were only noticed when clumped together. It came upon water and followed it, knowing a city would come up ahead. A large city.
One of the largest in the world, in fact.
Tall spires came into view on the horizon, and the water on Its right side became an increasingly narrow straight. It would have to cross over this water. It didn’t like water. For one thing, water was wet.
Fortunately, humans had an interesting invention to help with this problem.
A small fishing-hamlet came up ahead and was passed by. It stopped and turnedâ??slowing down until It reentered the hamlet from the city-side. A few humans moved around. Most of them didn’t look at It. Most of them were scared.
It liked scared. It was pleased that they were scared.
“I want you to take me across this water,” It said and smiled at a human standing by a boat.
“â??” the human answered.
“Take me across this waterâ??now!” it clarified. Humans were dense creatures and might need to have things cut out in very small pieces. Or maybe the human needed to be cut into very small pieces. Then it would probably understand.
The human started bleeding from the nose and ears, shortly before crumbling to the ground. Other humans were running away, probably in terror.
Sighing, It realized It might have to try a different method for getting across the water. Or It would have to walk. But that would result in getting wet and It did not like getting wet.
It was getting annoyed.
Joe Latrans had gone back to Aslaug’s apartment several times during the day. Tigermark’s ‘feelings’ were generally spot on, and Joe had to admit he had a feeling that something was going on as well.
The equine had never been very good at keeping her apartment tidy. It was usually a bit messy in fact, with Aslaug saying she much preferred to have a lived-in home than one where she felt she had to wear covers for her hooves at all times.
In a way, he could see her point.
But there was something about this place that felt wrong. Something he knew wasn’t right. He just hadn’t managed to put a finger to it yet.
“C’mon Joeâ??” he grumbled, “What feels out of place hereâ??”
He looked around for the fourth time since entering. There really was something here that didn’t seem right. He went to the living room and looked around in there as well. There were a couple of ale-bottles on the table. One of them was half full. That in itself was unusual. Aslaug never left ale in the bottle voluntarily. But she might have had a visitor, of course. She often had William Berg dropping by.
Joe was happy that she had befriended the priest. He was a good fur and Aslaug had needed someone like him in her circle of friends.
She risked becoming too cynical and bitter, otherwise. But the ale wasn’t the problem. Notâ??really, anyway. Joe’s left ear twitched as if a fly was buzzing around it. There was something about the aleâ??he just couldn’t put a finger on it.
Suddenly, it felt like someone dropped a proverbial boulder on his head. He spun around and looked at the wall.
The axe was goneâ??he knew that. He’d seen that already. But that wasn’t the problem as such. She occasionally brought her weapons and armor somewhere to train. He’d made a deal with a local workshop too, that she could get it oiled there, and they even took care of chinks in the armor, replacing chains that got cut. Apparently, Aslaug had told them she did reenactment fighting.
No one questioned the truth of that around here. No one who knew she trained the football squad without wearing pads dared question that she was tough enough for that kind of thing.
It also explained her scars and her chipped ear. Joe had heard a few old ladies around town grumble that it was hardly proper for a young femme to do that sort of thing. She’d heard more than one male complain that she was probably lesbian. He knew Aslaug had heard the same mutterings, but she simply ignored them.
Besides, there was no question that she was generally extremely well liked by everyone in town. Soon, she’d have to go somewhere else. Maybe in a year or two, she’d need to move on. Her constancy of age would become a problem otherwise. He knew she was considering taking some time in Canada. Or maybe even going home for a while. Back to Scandinavia.
She hadn’t decided yet, and so far, this was her home.
No, the problem wasn’t that her axe and armor were missing. The problem was with her shrine.
She had a small house-shrine by her weapons. A sun-wheel, a few small idols of her primary gods and goddesses and a drinking horn. She had spent time on that horn, polishing it with a knife, then with sandpaper and finally with polishing-wax. She had carved a couple of runic bands into it, too. It was a pretty cool thing, Joe had to admit. He’d never touched it. It seemed disrespectful. It was a sanctified thing for the equine, much like the cup used for the Eucharist would be sacred for most Christians.
He knew she kept it spotlessly clean.
So why was it half full? There was mead in itâ??that she hadn’t emptied out.
Joe had seen her rites. From a distance, surely, but he knew she always emptied the horn and cleaned it.
Shaking his head he reached out for it but stopped before taking hold of the horn. What if this wasn’t a mistake? It just didn’t feel right. But what did he really know?
“Dammit!” he growled and stepped back, grabbing his cell-phone, calling Aramis.
He waited a moment before the feline picked it up. “Heyâ??good that you finally answer your phone,” he said before Aramis had a chance even to introduce himself. “I’ve got a question. If the Priest left wine in the cup after the Eucharist was completed, that’d be baaaad, right?”
He waited a moment, letting Aramis answer. Then he frowned, hard.
“I know what you mean. No one’s making ‘arrangements’ for you, me or the big stripy one this time. Which probably means we’re supposed to keep our noses to ourselves. Well, I’m a coyote, Aramis! We’re notorious even infamous for being in places we’re not supposed to be and I’m not letting this one go, ya hear?!”
Again, Aramis answered and Joe nodded. “Yeahâ??that’s the problem. She could be anywhere, anywhenâ??and we have no Goddamned way of getting information.”
“That’s blasphemy, Joe Latrans,” a voice said behind him.
“Sue me, angel!” he grumbled. “I’ve got company, Aramis, I’ll keep you posted.”
He hung up and turned around.
Aslaug had managed to dig a grave for Gudfred, but it had taken a long time. She had no shovel, and using a weapon for digging was out of the question. If for no other reason than she didn’t know when she needed them, and digging would mean hours spent sharpening them afterwards. Besides, a sword wasn’t the most efficient digging tool in the world. In the end, she had ended up using Gudfred’s helmet. It wasn’t very effective, but it would make do. It wasn’t the deepest grave ever, but it was deep enough that he wouldn’t be dug up and carried off by wild beasts and it was just far enough from the water stream that it wouldn’t be a problem either.
She had made a promise and she was going to keep it.
She wrapped the knight tightly in his cloak, before easing him into the grave. She knelt down next to it and placed his sword between his fingers on his chest. He was a warrior and should be buried as such. She knew Christians didn’t go for grave-goods, but she didn’t use swords, and it seemed the only decent thing to do. Then she had filled the grave again and washed the helmet. She had made a very small cross out of some sticks from a shrubbery, which she placed at the head-end of the grave.
“I don’t know the words to speak over you, Gudfred. I’ve seen Christians do this on Televisionâ??not that you know what that would be of course,” she said and sat down, plucking a straw from the ground and chewing absentmindedly at the end. “I think it’s something about a valley and death’s shadow or something like thatâ??but I’m really not sure. Besides, your God wouldn’t want me doing the rites when I don’t worship him. But I hope you will sleep well there. And I hope you get to see Jerusalemâ??like you hoped. I know your comrades were successful where I came from, but war is ugly business. Even though I’m good at it, I still think it’s ugly. Every time someone dies, someone else is bereaved, after allâ??”
She stood back up and clasped her cloak around her shoulders again. She picked up her axe and grabbed the reigns of the horse, still waiting patiently. She looked back at the grave and took a deep breath. “I don’t know your ancestors, Gudfred. I don’t know your father, for your name gave me nothing to go on. But I pray to my gods that they will receive you with open arms, and that you’ll be found worthy. I don’t know if you leave a wife and younglings behindâ??but I swear to you, if I find out, I’ll send word to them that you died well. I didn’t hear you weep. I never saw you plead for more life. You accepted what was to come. That is a good death. I hope you are at peace nowâ??and happy.”
She patted the horse’s neck, running her fingers down its soft muzzle. There were so many similarities with equines there, but no light of intelligence in its eyes. She had always thought it strange to ride, but she did know how. This was a magnificent beast, too. Very powerful, as warhorses should be. It seemed calm enough too. Still, she knew it might try to toss her when she got up on its back. Different weight and so onâ??
There was nothing for it. She put a foot in a stirrup and pulled herself up on its back. It did make the beast slightly skittish, but she didn’t force the issue. She would wait a while, letting it get used to this. Reaching down to pat its neck again, she made a soft, soothing noise and hoped it workedâ??
It would have helped if she had any knowledge of how to speak horse, of courseâ??
“You did a decent thing there, shieldmaidenâ??” a voice said behind her.
Aslaug slumped slightly in the saddle. “And which one are you then?” she growled. “And why can’t angels just walk up and say hello from in front of me, instead of popping up behind me all the time. It’s bloody rude!”
“I guess you could call it conventionâ??”
“I call whatever I damned well pleased, birdy! Now who are you?”
The voice moved a bit, coming up beside her. The figure was furless like herself. With a head of long, golden curls and with a pair of large, off-white wings on its back. Given the lack ofâ??bumpsâ??Aslaug was inclined to think this one thought of itself as male. Male’ish at least.
Angels had disturbingly unclear gender denominations in Aslaug’s experience.
“I would prefer for you toâ??”
The angel sighed and shrugged. “If it means that much to you. You can call me Zachâ??”
“Zach it is then,” Aslaug scowled. “Are you here to take Gudfred’s soul with you? Took you long enough in that case!”
“He’s being judged as we speakâ??whether he enters or not isn’t up to me,” Zach said.
Aslaug smiled grimly. “How nice for you. Push the responsibility off on someone else.”
Zach shrugged. “It’s called ‘division of labor’ in your world, I think. Making sure that each person does what he or she does best.”
“Person?” Aslaug asked, tasting the word.
“You’d call it ‘each fur’. Person is another word for one humanâ??” Zach explained, and seeing the look on Aslaug’s face. “You look like a human right now. I do too, apart from the wings. Females are called women, males are called men. Your paws would be your handsâ??I think that’s about it.”
“Closeâ??Human. Try againâ??”
“I’m going to rearrange your facial features if you keep mocking me, birdy!”
Zach sighed. The shieldmaiden obviously didn’t care for angels. He shook his head and looked up at the woman who, in the meantime had pulled on the horse’s reigns and started riding off.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“North. I just promised to find out if Gudfred has family and bring them the news of his death,” Aslaug said.
Zach chuckled. “That’d be spectacularâ??a shieldmaiden of the old faith, riding into Viskinde manor, greeting all and sundry and telling the lady of the house ‘your husband’s dead somewhere I don’t know what it’s called’.”
Aslaug turned her head and scowled. “Facial features, angelâ??”
Zach swallowed. Even if angels were unkillable, he felt pretty sure Aslaug could hurt him. In any case, he didn’t feel like testing it. “Look,” he said, swallowing, “I’ll arrange for word to reach his family, alright?”
Nodding, Aslaug stopped the horse again. “I’d appreciate that. I assume you are here for a reason, though. And that it has something to do with why I am here!”
“I have no idea why you are here,” Zach said and shrugged. “You’re not part of our jurisdiction and frankly, you’re badly out of place here. But since you are here, I assume some arrangements must’ve been made between your bosses and mine.”
Aslaug raised an eyebrow and looked incredulously at the angel. “So you have nothing to do with why I suddenly wake up in a strange place, with a dying knight within walking distance?”
“Nope, but I do have something to do with that dying knightâ??or at least all his companions.”
“Say please, Aslaugâ??it won’t hurt you, you know.”
“I don’t ask angels or the Christian god for anything. That’s a pretty transparent attempt at making me pray for something.”
Zach smiled. “Can’t blame me for trying.”
“Want to see just how much I can blame?” Aslaug asked and casually flicked one of her franciscas over in herâ??hand.
“Erhmâ??that won’t be necessary, thankyouverymuch! Alright, okayâ??look, I’m here because a lot of people diedâ??” Zach began.
“Let me guessâ??’people’ means ‘furs’â??”
Aslaug tried to remember what had happened since she found Gudfred. All that he had said, for one thing. She frowned as it started coming back to her. “Gudfred said he hadâ??what was it againâ??followed someone who took a cross? Prince Svend? But why would a prince steal a cross?”
“Taking the Cross means they grab hold of a crucifix and swear to capture the Holy City for Christianity. Jerusalemâ??the crusadesâ??” Zach explained, walking up beside Aslaug’s horse.
Aslaug nodded. “Insanity, if you ask meâ??”
“Fighting for a cause is insanity to you? You’re bonkers then, Aslaug Larsdatterâ??”
“No, fighting for THAT cause is insanity. How many innocents died?”
Zach nodded. “I’m inclined to agree but innocents always die in warâ??you yourself have probably killed a few.”
“More than a few, I’m ashamed to say. I am not proud of it. War is never pretty,” Aslaug said and shuddered at the memories.
Zach nodded and gestured towards the horizon. “It is no different from what these men did.”
“I see your pointâ??it doesn’t make it right though.”
“No, but while you are willing to admit that you did wrong, they still believe they are doing right.”
Aslaug shrugged. “It comes with age, I guess. I’m well over a thousand years old, after all.”
Looking up at the woman on the horse, Zach broke into a wide smile. “My goodness gracious, Aslaugâ??that was wit! Are you developing a sense of humor now?”
“Facial features, angel!” Aslaug said, but she was at least smiling crookedly.
“They have joined forces. The enemy and the agent.“
It was as if the darkness itself started to scowl.
“That is unacceptable, Anane. Entirely unacceptable. Deal with this problem. I will not have my bloodbath ruined by them!“
The darkness grew chillier. Someone’s throat was cleared.
“It is written in stone that when the city falls, the franks will march through the streets in a butchery so magnificent that their ankles are covered in blood!“
“Ooohâ??that sounds terribly exciting, Milord. Can I watch?”
“Perhaps. If you behave, you may.“
“Thank you Milord, thank you. You are most generous.”