The Character of Aslaug is Copyright © Joan Jacobsen
The Characters of Tigermark and TL are © Tigermark
The Character of Aramis Dagaz is © Aramis Dagaz
The Characters of Joe Latrans and Annie Latrans are © The Silver Coyote
All other characters appearing are Copyright © 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 © Aslaug, 2007
Beneath the Fur – part 3
“I can’t believe this slaughter…” Zach said. His eyes were wide open and his bottom lip was trembling.
In front of the angel, a battlefield stretched out. Or an abattoir, depending on the point of view. There were dead warriors everywhere. It was a horrible sight, but Aslaug had seen battlefields before. She could watch it without retching, and more importantly…she could decode the sights she saw.
Over there…that’s where they had come from. The first dead were over there. Just a few of them, but they had been shot by arrows, hit in the back…some in the side. No chest wounds. They had been surprised. They had known they were in hostile territory, though. Everyone was fully armored. There were dead horses in several places, and a couple of badly wounded ones that were still whinnying pitifully. Aslaug sought them out and put them out of their misery as gently and quickly as she could.
Not one…heeooman…was still alive.
They were not all dressed identically. But there were many of them. By far the greater number were not knights like Gudfred. They had probably been foot-soldiers and helpers. Clearly, some of them hadn’t been armed. Some of them hadn’t been old enough, some had been too old. Others had died, trying to fend off their attackers with a knife or something similar.
There were a few bodies that looked out of place. They were dressed differently, in an almost outlandish fashion compared to the majority. Checking the ground, Aslaug quickly realized they must have been forgotten or overlooked. There had been other corpses here…and they had been carried off. Removed for some reason.
“I don’t know these…creatures…” she said and beckoned towards one of the differently dressed ones. “Do they have special burial conditions?”
Zach nodded. He looked like he was about to be violently ill. “Yeah, they believe that someone who has died must be interred within before one day has passed…” he said and rubbed his face. “Why do they do this? They all worship God! Why do they kill each other over faith?”
“Because they’re idiots,” Aslaug said, matter-of-factly. “Because they believe they have the right to force their beliefs on others, or to judge those who believe differently than themselves…”
“But these pilgrims…”
“…are no different! They worship your God with weapons, rather than with their hearts. They may think they do so with their hearts but they don’t. I hope your God is merciful enough to look past that when they are to be judged.”
“What is your problem, shieldmaiden?” Zach growled. He was unsteady on his legs. “Look at this?! LOOK AT IT!”
“I’m looking. What’s your point?”
“All these dead people…for nothing. And you are so callous about it?”
Aslaug shrugged. “I feel no pity for them if that’s what you’re looking for. They would’ve done the same to their enemies if the situation had been reversed.”
Zach shook his head and started walking amongst the dead, closing their eyes, folding their hands on their chests. “May God have mercy on you, Aslaug…” he said. He sounded slightly unhinged.
“I’d rather he didn’t,” the shieldmaiden responded. “And you are taking this too close to heart for an angel. Let me guess…it’s the first time you’ve been off your pink cloud and away from your harp for more than a few hours?”
“My flute…” Zach muttered. “I play the flute…”
“Do I look as if I care about your choice of instrument?” Aslaug said and slung her axe onto her back, heading towards the center of the carnage, where a large group had fallen, as if they were protecting something. On the way there, she found a female, laying face down on the ground. She was wearing fine clothing. Very beautiful and probably not terribly practical for traveling. She had been shot in the back as well. Aslaug sighed and turned her over. She had a chest wound too. She’d been hit from several sides, but from the look of it, she had been heading towards the central group.
“She was noble…with clothes like that, she must have been a high ranking noble,” she said and picked up the dead woman. If she had been heading for that central group, Aslaug would carry her there.
Zach nodded. He had a wild look in his eyes, like this was more than he could stomach. “She was the wife of their leader…”
“Prince Svend?” Aslaug asked.
“That’d be him.”
“Why did your God send a complete rookie to do this job?”
Zach snapped around and pointed a finger at Aslaug with an angry growl. “You have no right to judge me. Or God! We don’t leave the souls to wait in the corpses. We at least have the dignity to take them in immediately…”
“Or to cast them down into Hell. The point is, you judge them. We don’t. We judge ourselves.”
“That’s idiotic. If you were to judge your own life, you’d always say you lived well. You need God to make the decis…”
“If you finish that sentence, Zach, I will rip out your wings and beat you senseless with the wet ends! I don’t need your God. We judge ourselves. Deal with it. ‘We’ as in family and those who are left behind. Can we face up to our own deeds, and how will our families and loved ones remember us? What will we be remembered for overall? That is judgment. NO single mortal creature can ever live up to divinity. That’s the difference, that’s the POINT of divinity. It is unattainable. For your God to judge these creatures based on his sense of morals and virtue means they constantly have to strive for something that is completely out of their reach. And that, Zach, is cruel!” Aslaug said as she carried the dead woman towards the group in the middle of the battlefield. She placed her there, gently, folding her hands and closing her eyes too.
Aslaug’s head snapped around as the angel landed a solid blow across her cheek. “How dare you? God is love!” he sneered.
She looked back up and smiled. “I can certainly feel that. Nice punch. Always the resort of the one who has no valid response. What an angel you are. Vomiting at the sight of death and striking those down who disagree. Pretty much what I expect from you. And you seemed so sensible to start with.”
She could taste blood. The blow had knocked a tooth or two loose, perhaps. She wasn’t sure. It did sting a little. The strange thing was that it didn’t seem to stop again. At least not as quickly as she had gotten used to.
Her eyes went wide as she realized she was bleeding…and that her wounds weren’t simply closing. That was impossible. That would have to mean…she was back in her own world…her own reality, where it had all started. But that couldn’t be. There was no way…
These…humans…hadn’t existed there.
Zach smiled at her, vindictively. “What’s wrong? Expecting to be immortal here?”
“Since you ask…yes. I’ve kinda gotten used to it,” Aslaug said. She spat a bit of blood onto the ground and shrugged. “I don’t know what this means, except that I can apparently get hurt. How interesting. Perhaps a chance to die for real…”
“If you die here, your Gods won’t come for you. They were driven out long ago. And there was never an Aslaug Larsdatter in this world…”
“You were never conceived here. Your father died in battle before meeting your mother.”
Aslaug nodded. She had no fate in this world, in other words. She would have to be careful in that case. Zach was starting to annoy her though. He wasn’t dealing very well with the situation. In fact, he looked like he was coming apart. He had been very reasonable when she first met him, but this seemed to be a test more for the angel than for her. That thought was making her show incisors. She wasn’t a crash test dummy for angels, and she was getting sick and tired of debating faith with them. They had one-track minds. She had suffered from the same problem for a long time, until she had met the amigos and, quite importantly, William Berg. Zach, however, was clearly new to this kind of work. And why he was here was beyond Aslaug anyway. Christian souls apparently didn’t get picked up. They had to find their own way to Heaven…or something. She wasn’t sure what their arrangements were like, and she didn’t really give it much thought.
Why was she here in the first place?
She sighed and looked over her shoulder again. Zach was moving around between the corpses, weeping and looking like he was completely out of his league.
Shaking her head, Aslaug looked at the group of corpses in front of her. The prince was easily identifiable. His armor was better than any of the others there, and his clothes were of the finest quality. She picked up the princess and placed her next to her husband, arranging her hands again. There was no time to bury everyone here, but the prince was probably a descendant of King Gorm. Of her King. And for that reason, she would make sure he got a decent burial, and if she buried him, she’d have to do the same for his wife.
“I don’t know…” she said aloud, “…why so many Christians claim to believe in the teachings of Whitechrist, yet have so little concept of what he said. For Hel’s sake, Zach…even I know that Whitechrist never condoned killing and what were these…people…doing?”
Zach didn’t answer. He was kneeling by someone and Aslaug sighed, heading his way. “What is it?”
Zach looked up. He was holding a boy in his arms. A young male, probably no more than eleven or twelve years old. He had been cut from shoulder to groin. Aslaug saw the look of pain on the child’s face. He had bled to death. It had been agonizing.
She nodded, slowly. “War is ugly, Zach…there is no such thing as a beautiful war.”
“Yet you believe in a good death?” Zach asked. His voice was strained and his face was streaked with tears.
“I do. There are times where one must make a stand, even if it means dying…even if it means pain and agony, because if you don’t, then those who are in the wrong will win. But it does not make war pretty. A good death means that you die because you had no alternative but to fight.”
“You make it sound like you can only have a good death if you’re defending something…and yet, you come from one of the most aggressive cultures in history. You yourself have no doubt taken part in raids. Killed innocents…” Zach said. He was angry, still cradling the dead boy.
Aslaug nodded and rubbed her face. “I did. I raided…for glory and for gold. Everyone did, and that does not make it right. The Christians did the same thing. We heathens were just better at it. Fewer scruples, I guess you might say. I’ve taken slaves…and I’m not proud of it today. I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve bettered myself.”
“You’re such a hypocrite, Aslaug. If you could only hear yourself, standing there sanctimoniously declaring how much better you are now, yet you’ll decry what these people were doing for faith!”
“Any day,” the shieldmaiden said, without losing a beat. “I didn’t take slaves or kill monks to please my Gods, nor did I ever claim to. I did it to bring riches home. At least I had the decency to admit that what I did was done entirely for my own gratification. These guys…? They think they please God by killing the old and infirm, the infants and the unarmed as well as the armies arrayed against them.”
“You’re still making a case for defense only!”
“And what if I am? If no one ever attacked anyone else, it’d be a peaceful world by default, Zach, but that is not how it works. There is ambition, greed and selfishness out there. And there is pure, unfettered evil. Love thy neighbor, Zach…as long as he has a slightly smaller garden than you, and his house is just a little less impressive, and he doesn’t make quite as much money as you do. And you call me a hypocrite?”
“Yet you attacked others,” Zach sneered. “And you still do, when on missions.”
Aslaug chuckled. “I never denied that. I never claimed to be good. But at least I try. As I said, there are forces out there that may force someone to attack in order to prevent a disaster. The trick is to know when to attack, and never to attack for the wrong reasons. If you know you will come under attack, giving your enemy time to prepare his attack is stupid. If you know someone is suffering, and you have the means to stop it, I consider it my duty to stop that suffering because it’s the only decent thing to do. But I will not attack under false pretenses. I will not say ‘My Gods demand this’ and rush off to invade some place…while making myself fabulously rich in the process, butchering innocents who never did a thing to deserve it while I’m at it. That’s what Holy War is all about. That’s what it’s always been about. A bad excuse to ease your conscience, while filling your pockets with blood-soaked gold!”
Zach didn’t answer. He just rose and walked away. Aslaug wasn’t sorry to see him go. Shrugging, she went to look for some tool to dig a large grave with.
Joe had located a beer in Aslaug’s fridge. He was now seated opposite a lanky, almost emaciated looking male canid, with the most penetrating eyes he could think of. He had seen that one only once or twice before. Normally, he…or it…was pretty solitary.
He popped open the bottle and took a long swig of it. “We’re worried sick,” he said. “And frankly, some of us…as in me, myself and I…are pissed off about not being told about this.”
“God does not always involve you in His plans,” the canid said and lit up a cigarette.
“I doubt He will approve of that habit,” Joe grumbled.
“Death has to have a reason.”
“How witty, Uriel. See me laughing? No? Didn’t think so!”
Uriel smiled mirthlessly and took a long hit on the cigarette. “Humor or not, I am not perfect. Only He is perfect…”
“And you don’t have to worry about lung-cancer…” Joe said and lit up a cigar of his own.
“I doubt He will approve of that habit,” Uriel said.
Joe narrowed his eyes and blew a cloud of smoke directly into the angel’s face. “I’m really not in the mood for you to play horsie with me, so give me some God damned answers already!”
“Can we cease with the blasphemy, Joe Latrans?”
“When you start providing me with some answers, we can!”
Uriel sighed. “This whole ‘Scruffy Squad’ thing never sat well with me.”
“Look as if I care,” Joe said, grumpily. “She’s my friend. Now where is she?”
“On a mission,” Uriel said and shrugged.
Joe rolled his eyes and sipped from the ale again. “Whoopee…look at me being impressed. I figured that part out already. Be more specific or I’ll start with the blasphemy again.”
Uriel made a face of discomfort. Blasphemy literally stung his ears. It came with the whole Seraphim-package. “Alright. She’s gone back in time, and to a very different reality than this one. She’s currently in Anatolia, during the First Crusade…”
“You did ask, Joe.”
Joe blinked and coughed. He had been halfway through a swig of ale and while he had avoided spraying it on everyone, he now had it seeping out his nose and he was coughing hard.
“They’ll kill her…if not the Muslims then the Crusaders!”
“They very well may. She was never born in that world. She’s not immortal there.”
Joe felt a cold sensation of horror creeping up on him. “Get me there!” he wheezed.
“Sorry, but that’s impossible. She’s a test…”
“Who are you to test her? She’s not of our faith!”
Smiling mirthlessly, Uriel blew a smoke-ring into the room. “You misunderstood me. She’s not on a test. She is a test.”
“Tell me you’re joking before I get angry…” Joe wheezed. He was seeing little black spots and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like wringing someone’s neck as badly as at that moment.
Uriel shrugged. “She seemed to be the right fur for the purpose…”
Joe groaned and got up, shaking his head. “Get out!” he sneered.
“I said get out, didn’t I? This is her home and you’re not invited!”
“Neither are you.”
“I have a standing invitation. You don’t.”
With those words, Joe flicked open his cell-phone. He really needed to make some calls.
It had managed to get across the water. It had even managed not to get wet, crossing the water. It was rather pleased with that. Admittedly, It had needed to drown the whole crew once It had landed on the opposite shore, but they were just monkeys anyway. Who cared?
Five monkeys less was a blessing as far as It was concerned.
A blessing. That was funny. It laughed and scurried inland. Away from the nasty, wet Bosporus. It wasn’t in any particular hurry. It knew that the Agent and the Enemy couldn’t possibly reach the Holy City faster than It could. The Enemy might get there very quickly, but only if it left the Agent behind, and even so, It knew It was faster than anything else in creation.
It passed through monkey-villages. Nothing there saw It, of course. It was much too quick. Gone in a flash. It did ponder stopping to have some fun along the way, but that would seriously anger Its boss. Angering that one tended to hurt really badly. It had only done so a few times and it always meant It had to spend years recovering afterwards.
Recovery was terribly boring. And It didn’t like it. In fact, It liked recovering less than It liked water.
“Here we are,” it said to itself and bent down, sniffing the grass. A large group had passed this way not long ago. A few days maybe. A large group with many horses.
It smiled cruelly and turned. It had a pretty good idea where to go next.
Aslaug finished burying the two dead. She wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand and arm, and looked around again. This time there was no one telling her she had done a good thing. She didn’t need to be told anyway. She knew already.
“Food and drink…” she told herself. She hadn’t eaten much since arriving and her stomach was growling. There were plenty of wrecked carts and loose horses with saddlebags around and she quickly managed to scrounge up some rations. Gudfred’s horse hadn’t had any food in its saddlebags.
As she sat down on a boulder to eat, amidst all the dead, she cast about yet again. She would need to catch all those horses and remove their saddles and let them run free, before she left. Otherwise it’d end up hurting them. They’d get sores. Those sores would get infected and eventually, they’d kill the animals.
She’d remove their saddles alright…once she had eaten, anyway.
First she needed to think. Zach had walked off and unfortunately, she’d have to ride in the same direction as he went. If she waited, took her time to eat and set the remaining horses free, she might avoid running into him again. He could’ve turned and gone another way, after all.
With her luck, the chances of that were remote.
“What a dump…” she muttered and picked up the shovel she had found in one of the carts. She’d better start digging.
To die in a place like this, for ideals that she had come to understand as being completely screwed up. She pitied all these dead creatures.
The grave would take some time to dig, and she removed her helmet and her cape before getting started. Uncomfortable as it may be to dig in her armor, she wasn’t going to take it off when there were enemies in the vicinity. Zach had told her she could die here, and angels had no concept of lying…not even the kind of lying that served a greater good or a beneficent purpose. Another reason why Aslaug disliked the lot of them. Absolute, complete honesty was, in her opinion, rude.
She started digging…
Tigermark got into his car. He had just kissed his family goodbye, after rapidly packing a few things. He needed to get to Aslaug’s place and fast. He’d be flying to California within the hour, and as far as he knew, Aramis would join him and Joe there as well.
He wished he knew what they were going to do. From what Joe had said on the phone, it looked like there was very little they could do, but on the other paw…Joe hadn’t sounded that angry for a long time. Or maybe angry wasn’t the right word. Indignant and grossly offended was probably more like it. He sighed as the conversation replayed itself in his head. So Aslaug was being used as a test of some sort for someone.
There were times where Tigermark wished the coyote would be a little less impulsive. He had reluctantly had to admit that he hadn’t managed to get Uriel to explain what test and for whom it was staged.
But if the Angel of Death was in Aslaug’s apartment, there was every reason to be very worried.
He pulled out of the driveway with a frown on his face.
It took hours to finish digging a grave of a suitable size, and once again Aslaug found herself speaking a few hopeful words for a couple of Christians, wondering if anyone paid any attention to anything she said in this strange world.
Finally, she had covered the bodies with dirty as she had done for Gudfred. She remembered he had asked to be placed facing east and she figured it wouldn’t hurt to do the same for these two. So she had done so. She had then proceeded to get all the horses unsaddled, one by one, before letting them run free. She kept Gudfred’s horse for herself, and it was a strong animal anyway. She wouldn’t need more than the one.
Before she had placed the bodies in the grave, she had taken the signet ring off the male’s right hand and a necklace from around the neck of the female. Strangely, the bodies seemed to have only been sporadically looted. Not just the two she was burying, but all of them. And she wasn’t looting them either. It was a matter of returning these items to the family.
Proof of what had happened.
Sighing, Aslaug picked up the shovel and headed towards the large group of dead bodies that she couldn’t bury. She stuck it into the ground and looked at them for the longest time, before she reached out and grabbed a long spear that had fallen on the ground. A very long spear in fact.
It held a banner. The same symbol as Gudfred had worn on his tunic.
“Unfurl the Raven and let it fly…” she said to herself, quietly
She folded it up and stuck it in her belt, before she walked over to where her horse was waiting. Patting its neck, she got into the saddle and took a deep breath. Then she nudged the horse into a slow run and she tried to get comfortable in the saddle. It still felt weird to do this. She did know how to ride but she had always disliked it. Still, it would no doubt be necessary unless she felt like walking for months. She had no idea if she could make it back to Denmark before she was…pulled out of this world. Or killed.
There was still enough daylight left to ride for a little while, but she would need to stop before too long and make camp for the night. Most of this day had gone by digging graves. She hoped she wouldn’t need to do so again anytime soon.
Picking the banner out of her belt again, she looked at it with a strange feeling of sadness and longing. She had seen the banner her home country used in modern times, back in her own world. It was red…with a white cross on it. A Christian banner. She didn’t know exactly when the change had taken place, but she wouldn’t be surprised if most modern Danes didn’t know about the Raven. It was her banner though. She’d fought under it too many times to think otherwise. This one was had a bit of blood on it, but only at the edge. The black bird still spread its wings on a pristine, white background. It was strange to see that Danes would still fight under this even after they had been christened. The Raven was Odin’s symbol. A Heathen symbol. They probably didn’t know that anymore. They probably wouldn’t use it then.
In the far distance, something was burning.
Aramis nodded to his two friends as he got out of the taxi. It was evening and he had a headache. His boss had given him two hundred kinds of grief about getting a couple of days on short notice. Somehow, he could only hope that particular officer was due for a transfer soon. It had all worked out in the end, anyway. Aramis hadn’t been on vacation for ages, and when he was on a…mission…time never seemed to really pass while he was gone. Maybe an hour or two would have gone by, but no more than that. In the end, he got his wish and he now had three days off.
He would’ve liked to spend them with his mate but that wasn’t going to happen, obviously.
“So what’s up exactly?” he asked and rubbed the back of his head. He hoped there were some aspirin somewhere in Aslaug’s apartment, but he didn’t count on it.
Tigermark nodded back. He had arrived only twenty minutes earlier, but Joe had given him the rundown of the situation. “Well, apparently Uriel is sitting in Aslaug’s apartment and she’s…a test. Not on a test, but the test herself. And she’s somewhere where she can be killed…that’s about the gist of it, I think.”
Aramis blinked a couple of times. “I really need an aspirin,” he muttered and shook his head slowly. “She’s a test? What kind of test could she be? And for whom?”
“I’m sure there are a lot of furs around who would readily sign a statement that she’s a test of their patience,” Joe said with a crooked, if worried, smile, “but sadly, I got pissed off and left before I punched Uriel in the face, and I never found out who was being tested or how…”
Nodding, Aramis sighed. Someone was approaching them from a ways off. It looked like that Lutheran minister that Aslaug had taken into her confidence. Aramis had only met him once or twice before but he seemed like a decent enough fur. He waved the approaching mountain lion closer to let him know he had been spotted.
“I don’t know what to make of this,” Tigermark muttered, “But I’m in a good mind to go in there and frisk that angel for some answers.”
“Hate to say it…but he’s probably going to be the one doing the frisking, then. He’s powerful…” Aramis said and cleared his throat. “Ahh, hello Mr. Berg.”
“And you, Mr. Dagaz. Still a papist worshipping false idols?”
“Yeah, still a heretic bound for the fires of Hell?”
“Can’t deny it.”
“Good good…anyway, you wouldn’t have an aspirin in your pocket?”
William shook his head and smiled. The exchange with the feline had been entirely good-natured. “I came as soon as you called, Joe,” he said and turned to face the coyote.
Joe nodded. He hadn’t called William right away. He wanted to make sure the other amigos were present first, in case the mountain lion knew something they didn’t. They all had to hear it.
“Thanks. Listen…has Aslaug been saying anything weird to you lately? Given you any impression that something wasn’t right?”
“You mean weirder than usual?” William said, dead serious.
Joe sagged a little and nodded. “Yeah, weirder than usual. You know…much as she ‘fits in’ nowadays, she’s always going to have those little oddities of hers to set her apart. I kid you not, I’ve had the local president of the home owners association giving me grief about Aslaug coming over for barbecues, because she fears that the presence of someone so alien will make potential buyers think the neighborhood is going down the drain…”
“You’ve got to be kidding…” Tigermark groaned.
“I wish. And I’m not even a member of the association!”
William tried hard not to laugh. “Why don’t you introduce Aslaug to said president and see what comes of it?”
Joe shot a glance at the mountain lion. “I didn’t think you were allowed to advocate violence, William…”
“Oh I’m not. We could always make sure Aslaug was unarmed.”
“Aslaug’s never unarmed…she’s a walking weapon.”
William nodded. He had to admit Joe had a point. “Anyway, what’s going on here?”
“Aslaug is missing,” Joe explained. “And while that wouldn’t normally worry me too much…since we all have the occasional solo-job to take care of…she is missing somewhere where she can get killed, and according to the angel in her apartment, she is not the one doing the job, this time. She is the job.”
The four males looked at one another. Then they looked at the door to the apartment building. Then back at each other again.
“Maybe it’s time we all had a word with that angel…” Tigermark said, evenly.
Aramis nodded. “There are rules! She’s not one of theirs…ours…gahh, you know what I mean.”
Joe growled. “That’s what I told him, but it didn’t seem to register with him.”
William sighed and headed to the door to open it.
It was close now. Close enough to smell Its prey. It would please Its master and bring back the prize, It had no doubt of that. The smoke over the next hill smelled sweeter than perfume in Its nostrils. The smell of burning hope, torched homes and incinerated flesh mixed together. It relished it. These monkeys were all going to rue the day It came to visit.
Of course, they would have to do their ruing in the afterlife, but that wasn’t Its problem. It leaned back against the grass and relaxed, looking at the sky. It wasn’t going to interfere just yet. Its prey was so busy over there on the other side of the hill. It would be terrible rude to interfere.
It chuckled. The sky was blue with a few stray clouds. A nice day. It remembered when it had fallen out of that sky. It wasn’t even as if Heaven was literally up above. The fact that humanity thought so was laughable. Heaven was…everywhere and yet nowhere. It wasn’t a tangible thing that mortals could comprehend in any case. These walking, presumptuous monkeys couldn’t understand it even when dead. They were so terribly limited in their ability to understand the infinite.
Somewhere on the other side of the hill, something screamed and It smiled. It was just a faint sound but It still enjoyed it. The more these monkeys suffered, the better. They had taken Its place and It wasn’t happy about that. It wasn’t even that Lucifer was evil. He had simply refused to bow to humanity and serve them. He was the first. The best. The brightest. And then God had made these…flesh-things…and ordered the angels to bow? And when Lucifer said he couldn’t…on account of loving God above all other things, God had been angry! ANGRY!
Well, that was ages ago. God had…changed…since. That whole affair with that young carpenter had been quite a change of policy, and after that, the angels hadn’t gone to Earth as much as before and certainly not to rain fire and brimstone on whole cities anymore. The new and improved God, now with compassion ™ wasn’t exactly impressing It.
Well, if God had gotten angry, It could be angry. And hurt. And offended. And vengeful. Most importantly vengeful. And today, It was going to make angels weep. All It had to do was wait a little longer, and everything would be as It wanted it to be. The agent wasn’t even there anymore.
It chuckled and extended a mid digit at the sky. Old habits died hard.
Aslaug had ridden in the direction of the smoke. She wasn’t even sure what it was. For all she knew, it could simply be the smokestacks of a whole village or a small town, where the inhabitants were preparing supper. But she trusted her gut feeling and that was telling her that something was terribly wrong.
She nudged the horse on, urging it to ride faster. She wasn’t going at a full gallop, but a fast run nonetheless.
The landscape had changed since she started riding. Not much, but it wasn’t completely flat anymore. She’d ridden for a few of hours, and rather than being flat, flat, flat, the land was now gently rolling. Here and there a hilltop rose, in other places it was still flat.
The smoke came from behind a hilltop.
Just up ahead too. That was where she was going. Whispering a few words of comfort to the horse, telling it that she would let it rest soon, she ducked a little lower in her saddle.
Half a mile later, she reached the bottom of the hill and she pulled the horse to a halt. This wasn’t a matter of a village collectively cooking dinner. There was far too much smoke now. Sighing, she could only guess that other Crusaders had been here. This was hostile territory after all.
Slowly, she rode to the top of the hill and down on the other side. She shook her head and groaned. Sometimes it hurt to be right. The whole village was ablaze. There were dead humans everywhere. Some of them smoldering, others looked as if they’d been hacked to pieces. Horses were running around in a large, fenced off enclosure, clearly panicking about the proximity of death and flame. She changed directions and headed over there, letting them out. If they were tame, they’d be easy to catch again for any survivors who needed them. She didn’t really care, anyway. The horses were afraid and it tore her heart to see it.
There were armed people amongst the dead. Some of them even wore pieces of armor. The village was fairly large, too. In fact, it was more a large town than a village. It didn’t have walls defending it, but that was probably due to the location. Between four hills. It was a bad defensive position. The enemy would have high ground all around, in case of a siege. She shook her head again and rode in between the smoldering houses. Her own horse was skittish, but dealt with it better. She kept patting its neck and speaking soothingly to it, while moving slowly.
Suddenly a door was flung open in a building next to her and an enraged human came rushing at her, with a large, broad-bladed and curved sword held aloft. It roared in anger and Aslaug knew the look in the man’s eyes. It was that kind of madness some were struck with when seeing the horror of battle for the first time. Yet this one was scarred and carried a large weapon. He had fought his battles.
She had no time to try to reason with him and she swung her horse at the last moment, making the man chop a large chunk out of the air next to her. Her foot came up, catching him clean on the side of his face and he collapsed in a messy heap on the ground. His back was on fire. Aslaug looked away. He’d be dead in a few moments anyway.
What had happened here? There were dead women and smaller humans scattered around the place as well. The smaller ones were presumably children. Aslaug hadn’t seen human children before, except the boy at the battlefield. They looked so…inoffensive. And they were all dead.
If the Crusaders had done this, she would find them…and make them pay dearly. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t right!!
She turned a corner and came onto the central square of the town. It probably served as market place for the whole area, normally, but all the stalls were smashed now. Food and trade goods had been strewn all over the place. More dead people were there as well.
For a moment, Aslaug thought the group she had found might be responsible, but this butchery was very recent. Probably only a few hours at the most.
Then, in the middle of the flames, she saw a single figure.
Her eyes went wide.