When Raelin had envisioned Jandar’s castle, she had not expected this. The room she now sat in was dark. There were no candles, no torches, and no fire in the cold hearth. The only light came from the door behind her, which was left slightly ajar for that very purpose.
Most of Jandar’s castle was dark, for it was excavated beneath the topmost tip of a massive mountain. It was impracticable, but when your enemy can fly, strong ceilings are a necessity.
The figure on the bed before Raelin stirred. She started, but the figure slept on, his face peaceful. Silence pervaded the room. The only sound was the occasional step of someone passing by in the hall outside. Raelin tried to calm herself, remembering what Jandar had said the day after they had arrived at the castle:
“They generally react better to their own species. It’s understandable, of course. I was a bit shocked myself the first time I saw one. Imagine having no wings…
“The ones we have right now are a bit rowdy, not very good at calming someone down at all. Kelda would be my obvious choice, but since she and Mallidon are with the garrison at Valgrind, I think you might be the best candidate we have.
“The main priority is to keep him calm. He’s just been snatched from certain death, and I want to break things to him slowly. The last thing I want is to have him running about, seeing too much too fast. Tell him where he is, keep him oriented, but don’t tell him about the war, not yet. You can tell him his services are required if you have to, but nothing more.
“I’ve prepared a spell that will allow you to understand him. It works both ways, so he can understand you too, though he won’t know how.”
Those had been the last words Raelin had heard for three hours. Jandar had showed her to the darkened room she now sat in. Guards were beyond the door, ready should there be a problem, but save for the figure on the bed, Raelin was alone in the room.
The light from the door was but a sliver. It struck the opposite wall, wasting its light, but enough was reflected to see by, and Raelin knew that she would be illuminated from behind when the figure woke.
She edged closer, curiosity driving her. As Jandar had said, the figure on the bed had no wings. He looked oddly short and stumpy without them, but she supposed he looked normal enough to his own kind, for he was no kyrie. Human, Jandar had called him.
Ignoring the absence of wings, the man actually looked quite handsome. He had short brown hair, and his face was peaceful in sleep. Raelin tilted her head, trying to see the man’s face straight on. She could tell he was powerfully built, but his face showed only an inner peace. Just watching it made Raelin herself feel calmer. Somehow, she knew that this human was made to command, but to command with peace and kindness, not pain. She felt she could trust that face, no matter what happened about her.
With a sudden intake of breath, the human sat bolt upright.
Raelin scrambled backwards, momentarily frightened.
The man glanced about him, light brown eyes flicking over Raelin and then on to the room, finally latching onto the door. Raelin knew what was about to happen a second before it did.
“Wait!” she cried as the man leapt for the door. He skidded to a halt at the sound of her voice, looking at her warily.
“You’re not German?” the man asked. “You speak English perfectly. Who are you?”
Raelin had been prepared for terms which made no sense, but the question still caught her somewhat off guard. She had spoken Kyrien, the tongue of Valhalla. It seemed that Jandar’s enchantment worked better than she had anticipated. “I’m… I’m not German,” she faltered. “I’m a friend. Please, it’s all right. There are things I must tell you. Just stay here, and I’ll explain everything.”
The man remained where he was, ready to spring for the door in an instant. “Talk,” he said. His voice wasn’t rough, but it still carried a command with it.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Raelin asked, desperate to keep the man from opening the door. The shadows hid her wings, but if he saw the two guards outside now, she would have to do a lot more explaining than she wanted to all at once.
The man watched her steadily. “The foxhole. A German was about to throw a grenade. My men were in the way. What happened?”
Raelin took a deep breath, remembering what Jandar had told her. “The German did throw the grenade, and you leapt in front of it.”
The man looked at her blankly. “Then… why am I not dead?”
“You were saved,” said Raelin simply.
“By who? You?”
“No,” said Raelin, “I’m just here to explain the situation. Please, sit down. It will make everything a lot easier.” Raelin had her own reasons for wanting the man to sit down, not the least of which was that it would be a lot easier to hide her wings from him.
The man slowly made his way back to the bed and sat down. “Explain,” he said shortly. He didn’t raise his voice, and he wasn’t threatening, but again Raelin detected the inherent command in the word. She sat down as well.
“What happened to my injuries?” the man asked, feeling the bandages about his leg and arm. “I took several bullets in the assault, but the wounds feel like they’ve been cleaned. Is this a field hospital?”
“No,” said Raelin. “Our healers were busy, so I cleaned and bandaged your injuries. They should be fine until they can be healed.”
“Thank you,” said the man.
Raelin was caught off guard by the man’s tone. He was sincere. This strange creature, this man, didn’t know her in the least, but his thanks were heart-felt. She knew it. It took her a moment to recover what she had been saying.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “This is no field hospital. It is a fortress.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “A fortress? I suppose I’m still in France then.”
Raelin smiled. There was something about the man that she found reassuring. She felt at ease when he spoke. “Not exactly.”
“Where then? Britain? How long was I out for?”
“You’re far from France, Britain, or anywhere else you’ve ever been,” said Raelin. “You’re safe. I’ll tell you more in time, but that will have to suffice.”
The man held her gaze for a moment. “All right,” he finally said. “But you will tell me how I got here.”
“You were summoned an instant before you would have been slain.”
“By the grenade?”
“By the grenade. You wouldn’t understand how you were summoned, but you will be shown eventually. For now, you’re safe and your injuries will be healed soon. Rest, and I’ll tell you more when you wake.”
Drake eyed her. “All right,” he said, lying back down on the bed. “I have one last question though, and I want you to answer it. What are you? I’ve been trying to place you, but I can’t. Are you… Swedish? Norwegian maybe?”
Raelin smiled. “No. I am of Valhalla.”
“Valhalla… the name sounds familiar… like an island in the Pacific… no, maybe the Atlantic… I’m sure I’ve heard that name before somewhere…”
“You’ll find out where you are soon enough. Sleep now.”
“I’ll sleep, but first tell me your name. That might give me a hint where you come from.”
Raelin told him her name. “And what is yours?” she asked.
The man settled his head against the pillow. “Mine? My men call me Drake Alexander, but I prefer just Drake.”
Raelin smiled. “Sleep, Drake. I’ll tell you all when you wake.”
As it turned out, Drake was not told everything when he woke. He was not told how he had been summoned, though that knowledge would come soon enough. The largest truth that was kept from him, however, was the current situation. He was informed that he was needed, and that if he succeeded in the task that would be set him, he would be returned to his own land just after his death would have occurred.
Raelin spent the better part of two days in the darkened room with Drake. A healer tended to his injuries while he slept, and the bandages were removed. The uniform he had been summoned in was returned to him, cleaned and bullet-hole-free.
Not until the third day was a fire lit in the room. That was the day Drake saw Raelin’s wings. She explained that she was a kyrie, and that Valhalla was in fact a different planet than Earth. She told him how he had been summoned through a wellspring, a pool of water that held incredible magical powers. It took him some time to register the truth.
It was on the morning of the fourth day after he was summoned, that Drake was finally permitted out of his room. Raelin showed him Jandar’s castle, though they were always accompanied by a guard. He took an interest in everything that she said, but she could tell he was keeping his opinions to himself. He wasn’t learning. He was studying, the way a prisoner studies his cell for weaknesses. Only at the end of the day, when she had shown him everything, did she learn what he thought.
Their guard had been called on to perform some duty. Raelin had assured him she would be fine with Drake. No sooner had the guard turned the corner and vanished, however, than Raelin promptly realized two things.
Firstly, the hall they were in was dark and entirely empty. Not a soul was in sight, and it was unlikely that any would venture this way for some time. The second thing Raelin noticed was Drake. He was leaning casually against the wall; but while his posture was relaxed, she realized that he was far closer than normal. Close enough to prevent her from escaping if he wanted to.
She looked at him, momentarily frightened. However, his face was calm, reassuring. He meant her no harm.
“Raelin,” he said, “what is going on?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, slowly edging away from him nonetheless.
“Everyone I see, all these kyrie, are outfitted for war. And the Vikings – they aren’t exactly known as great peace-lovers. Everyone here is wearing armor, and all of the kyrie carry weapons. You told me I’m in a fortress, and I believe you after what you’ve shown me. You said you would tell me soon enough what is going on. Well, I’ve waited. Now I want to know.”
Raelin looked at him. Jandar had ordered her not to tell him about the war yet, but she couldn’t keep him in the dark forever. Drake could be very persuasive. His voice alone carried a command that was not easily ignored. He knew enough by now. Jandar would surely tell him soon anyway. She could do no harm by telling him the basics.
“We’re at war,” she said. “We’ve been at war for years, far more years than I care to know of. Jandar’s army is large, but our enemy’s army is larger. Some say it is infinite. We can’t prevail against such odds, so Jandar has summoned soldiers, like you, to fight for him. That’s why you have been summoned, Drake.”
“I see,” Drake was silent for a moment as he contemplated the stone floor. He crossed his arms and looked at her. “And did you or this Jandar give any thought to my war? To my life?”
“I’m sure he—”
“I’m needed on Earth, Raelin,” Drake interrupted. “I belong there, in my own time, defending my own country. That’s what is important. I don’t just fight for anyone who wants me to. I fight for what I believe in, for what I consider worth fighting for.”
“So do I,” said Raelin, some indignation at Drake’s tone coloring her voice. “That’s why I joined this war: to fight for what I believe in. The only reason I joined this war was to defend what I thought worth defending.”
“I’m sorry, Raelin,” said Drake quietly. “I didn’t mean to imply that—”
Raelin didn’t let him finish. “You’ve been lucky enough to get a chance to do some good in the world, Drake. Now you have a chance to do good in two.”
“Raelin,” said Drake slowly, “I must—”
The walls shook. The floor trembled. Raelin lurched against the wall and felt Drake’s steadying hand on her shoulder. “What’s going on?” asked Drake.
Before Raelin could reply, a terrible voice, louder than the pounding of a waterfall, reverberated throughout the hallway, seeming to come from the walls themselves.
“Your time has come! Jandar, I call on you to surrender to me! Meet upon your eastern-most tower to discuss your terms.”
Raelin grabbed Drake by the hand and ran down the hall. She had never heard that voice before, but she had a good idea who it was. Fortunately, the east tower was close by.
They were joined quickly by other soldiers, and together they raced up tightly spiraling staircases until they emerged on one of the few towers that soared above the mountaintop.
Despite the fact that it was summer, the air was bitterly cold and clear, the stars shining brightly overhead. One of the reasons Jandar had built his castle so high up was because even the birds couldn’t fly this high. Kyrie could, but they arrived exhausted, incapable of fighting without a rest. The air was thin, nearly too thin to support a kyrie, and snow often hid the castle from view when the forbidding banks of clouds did not. At the moment however, neither snow nor cloud impeded the view. Both were below the castle, the clouds rolling out from the lowest tower in an unbroken gray mass, billowing away for miles. The castle was isolated in the clear night sky.
Arrayed below the tower was a small force of southern kyrie. Their red skin gleamed in the moonlight with frozen sweat, and they breathed heavily, desperately trying to catch their breath after the exhausting flight. Many of them were shivering. Raelin knew they were bloodthirsty warriors, but at the moment, they didn’t look too threatening. The only one of them who did, she knew by reputation instantly.
Utgar was gigantic. He stood nearly eight feet tall, which was large even for a kyrie. He was massively built, and the gigantic furred cape that shrouded his figure only served to make him seem larger. The hilt of a massive axe jutted out from within the folds.
“Surrender, Jandar!” he thundered up to the tower. His voice shattered the silence.
“Why?” responded Jandar. Craning her neck, Raelin saw that he stood closest to the wall, gazing down at Utgar. “We’ve been at war for decades, and if the reports are true, my forces just decimated yours at Varenheim. I’m not about to surrender now.”
Utgar laughed. It was a terrible sound. Raelin shuttered listening to it. “You overestimate your power, Jandar. You know you cannot win. Even now, a plan is in motion that will forever cripple your forces. Surrender now, and avoid the bloodshed. Surrender now, or I will kill every last man, woman, and child within your walls, until the land runs red with your blood.”
Utgar spoke slowly, relishing each word. His gaze swept the wall as he spoke, and for a very brief moment, Raelin stared into his merciless eyes. Raelin found herself shaking as she watched him, not with cold she realized, but with anger. No, fury. This was the kyrie that had killed her father. This was the kyrie that had caused her mother to wither away before her. This was the kyrie that had taken Kelda’s father, and had caused Kelda herself so much pain. And yet he dared to stand there, defiant against the cold, and speak of blood and killing in such a soft voice. Such a loving voice.
“No!” Jandar thundered back. “You deprive Valhalla of its life! You burn and bring chaos where once there was peace. You may have the advantage now, Utgar, but I will not let you pass simply because of that! You are evil, Utgar, and I will always stand in your way!”
“So be it,” Utgar shouted back. He uttered three words a harsh tongue. The wind picked up.
Raelin expected something to happen. All that happened, however, was that Utgar and Jandar stood still, stubbornly staring into each other’s eyes. And then Utgar began to grin. Raelin knew they were missing something, knew that Utgar had done something Jandar didn’t know about. But she couldn’t see what.
“Look out!” Drake yelled from beside Raelin. She jumped, whirling around, but Drake had already dived to the side, surging towards Jandar. He wrenched a sword from a surprised guard as he did so, and lifted it high above his head. It looked for all the world like he was about to cleave Jandar from head to foot.
And then, quite suddenly, the sword seemed to draw a minion of Utgar from thin air. The red kyrie slumped on the sword, the tip bursting through his back, and Drake fell under the weight. Jandar looked up.
“Above you!” he thundered.
Raelin looked up. At least ten red-skinned kyrie were diving towards them, most angling towards Jandar, but some towards other soldiers. One, seeing her, changed his trajectory and came falling right at her.
Raelin watched the minion approach blankly. She had no weapon. The Spear of Gerda was stowed safely in her quarters. She had not expected to use it here, in the castle. She could likely out-fly the minion, but her wings seemed frozen to her sides.
“AAHHH!” Drake crashed into the minion just as the tip of his axe nicked Raelin’s cheek. She fell back as Drake rolled dangerously close to the battlements, and for a moment she again saw Mallidon wrestling with the minion. And then her mind jolted into action.
She leapt forwards and kicked the minion in the side. The kyrie curled up in pain briefly, and Drake drove his sword cleanly through him, quickly hurtling him off of the battlements and into the clouds below.
The rest of the minions were dealt with quickly. A few wounds were sustained, but only four looked serious. In the attack, Utgar and his remaining kyrie had fled.
Jandar flew to Raelin’s side. He had a cut in one arm, but it didn’t look deep. “Raelin,” he said, a note of urgency in his voice, “I need you to get these men down to the healers. Bandage up the ones that look serious, and then get them to the infirmary. If what Utgar said is true, he means to strike a blow against us. I have to put my men on the alert.”
Raelin barely had time to nod before Jandar was gone. She quickly herded the injured kyrie and Vikings into the tower. Drake slumped against the wall once he got inside. A deep cut ran the length of his shoulder, and he cradled his arm gingerly. A Viking had been stabbed cleanly through, and was losing a lot of blood. The other two injuries were too grisly to relate. With the help of the uninjured, Raelin bandaged those four, somehow ending up with Drake. He stared calmly at the wall while she tightened the bandage.
“Thank you,” Raelin said quietly while she worked.
Drake looked down.
“For saving me,” Raelin explained. “I froze back there. I didn’t know what to do.”
“It’s normal,” said Drake. “You’ll get past it after the first battle. And besides, I’ll help you.”
“You’ll help me?” repeated Raelin, temporarily pausing.
“You’re right, Raelin,” Drake said. “I’ve been given a chance to do good in two worlds. I’d be a fool not to take it. You can tell Jandar I’ll join his war.”