After Battle

Now that Part I of Darkening Horizons is finished, I am working to plan out/write up Part II. In the meantime, enjoy this story of my viking Siren, Hel, because I’ve been listening to Miracle of Sound’s “Valhalla Calling” for two days now.

Death rotted in the air around Hel.

She should have been used to it by now, as the Lead Warrior. Still, the waves of passion and fury on all sides ebbed and drained her. She gripped her shield in one hand, her bloody spear in another. The Austmen would keep this area now, and they would build their town upon the blood of the vanquished.

Hermia—or Hel, as her bonded people knew her—stood back by the giant ash tree, watching the Gael survivors struggle as their captors pushed them forward to an unknown future. She pushed the twists of her blonde hair back, her blue eyes scanning the fields for a familiar face. Somewhere, her younger sister was gathering what it left of her pride after such a loss. Hel leaned against the ash; there was no point in worrying about Morrigan. She would show up soon.

Hel closed her eyes for a moment. Soon it would be time for her to go back to the rocky, twisting fjords of freezing waters that she called home. She could do so whenever she wanted, but she would prefer to ride on the longboats of her people. She wanted to feel the spray of the waves, hear the songs of celebration. Even the celebration of death would invigorate her again. They wouldn’t be able to see her, of course. She would make sure of that. But they would believe her to be praising them, taking their enemies to Niflheim and giving her thanks for overlooking them with her icy grasp. She would be there, however, and she would take strength from the frigid winds and icy waters. Despite being known as the goddess of death, Hel longed to immerse herself in everything that flowed from life in the northlands.

She opened her eyes just in time to see movement across the field. Walking across the bloodstained field was a thin figure with black hair flowing in the wind. She wore the layered armor of the Gaels and carried with her a large, two-sided spear. Her eyes didn’t glow with the violet light that they did when she was celebrating a win. Sweat and dirt smudged the twisting lines of Celtic knots around her face.

When Morrigan made her way to Hel, she tilted her head to the side, her black eyes narrowed into an unwelcoming glare.

“It had to be done,” Hel said, not diverting her gaze from her little sister’s. “The world shrinks and wanderlust grows. Not always can you be a victor.”

“This is our land, Hel,” Morrigan snapped, her eyes glowing at last, though in anger and rage instead of victory and celebration.

“When has that ever mattered?” Hel asked, sheathing her bloody spear in its carrier upon her back. “Your bonded people push outward and forward as well. And you fight their battles right next to them. What have I taught you? Don’t get tied up in one group of humans, even if they are your bonded humans.”

“I’m tired of seeing slaughter everywhere I look these days,” Morrigan said, her temper dissipating into tiredness.

“This is the life of the Warrior. You knew this going in, didn’t you?”

Morrigan was silent as she looked upon the blood and bodies of those that didn’t make it through the battle. Both Gael and Austman alike lay lifeless around them. Hel wished she could be more sympathetic to her little sister, to take her into her arms and assure her that none of this death could ever touch them if they didn’t allow it. But that wasn’t what Morrigan trained for. Sympathy was a luxury not afforded to the Warrior Sirens.

Such a thing would be a lie, anyway. There was no way any of them could shield themselves from the weight of such a battle. Iron and steel could weather a battle with cold and unrelenting indifference, but a Siren could not.

“Come,” Hel said, placing her free hand on Morrigan’s shoulder and lifting her shield with the other. “Let’s find some quiet away from this place.”

“Don’t you want to celebrate with your people?” Morrigan asked, looking at Hel once more.

“There will be time for that later,” Hel said. “Right now, I would like to find some peace with my younger sister. These battles have been long, and I predict the celebrations will be longer.”

She pushed gently on Morrigan’s shoulder, and her young sister yielded. Hel knew there was nothing of comfort she could offer; the Austmen would build upon these lands and the Gaels would resist just as fierce as Hel’s people. Morrigan would be there, with her powerful battle cry and her double-ended spear. Under her, the Gaels would strengthen, and bloodshed was more than assured. Such was the cyclical nature of war among humans; the two sisters would see death spread out before them for the rest of their lives. She had long ago forgone any hope that humans would choose to live in a cooperative, peaceful world.

This was the way it was, and the way it would always be.