The Deserter – XI

Owin, bare-chested with his long hair slicked back from the rain stepped into the house. The gleam from the fire illuminated his face and from the bedded position, both  Margery and Marvin could see who it was that caught them in what could be a heinous act.

“Owin?”  Margery griped.

Fire burned in Owin’s eyes as he saw his own brother on top of his wife. His thoughts then raced through his mind like a white-rapid river, followed by a stabbing pain in his chest. His breath left him as the words he searched for became lost, and anger was all that would now muster.

“What in hell?” Marvin said getting up, pondering Owin’s wings. He would think no more of it as Owin grabbed Marvin from his brown leather coat and flung him across the room and onto the table messing up the place settings, food going everywhere.

“Owin, stop! Please!”  Margery begged, sobbing. She stood up and tried to get a hold on Owin from behind. She put her arms around him, not minding the wings. But as if it were almost instinctual, Owin flew up and collided to one of the wooded beams ten feet above, ramming Margery into it. They both fell down, Owin hitting the stone floor hard as Margery fell back onto the bed. Owin got to his hands and knees and turned his head to find Margery’s neck completely twisted to the side. Blood then dripped from her mouth as she lay lifeless.

Marvin got up and examined the both of them. Seeing what Owin had did to his her enraged him, thinking of Owin as some demon now and no longer human, much less a  brother. He went to the fire and grabbed a long log, then charged at Owin. He came down on Owin while he tried to stand completely up. He thought nothing of the hit, then kicking Marvin with a force that threw him into the fire. The cast iron pot spilling onto his face did not help as the fire burned his back. He screamed in agony as Owin watched. Despite what had happened so quickly, Owin could not completely understand what had just occurred— his wife and his brother on top of each other—had this what she had done to help cope with his absence?

Owin could not think more of it as he noticed the straw in the corner of the room catching fire from the log that Marvin used to attack him with. Fire spread quickly all throughout the house now, and Owin tried getting to Margery. But it was too late, the fire blocked his path to her, and he ran outside into the stormy night.

He then watched the house come fully ablaze, the screams of agony of his brother finally came to a halt thunder erupted loudly throughout the sky. He could nothing but watch now.

All Owin ever wanted to do was to come home; come home to the loving arms of his Margery and get away from the pain and suffering that was brought from the Holy Crusade that seemed to bring hell itself to the world.

But from all ambition of doing so, brought only hell itself.

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The Deserter – VIII

Chair day approached as night was finally settling in. Margery Renwick set the wooden table in the small house with two bronze plates and iron utensils on the sides of them. She grabbed two silver goblets from a bottom cupboard—the same ones that were given to her and Owin on their day of betrothal and set them by the plates.
She did this every Sunday. Months had passed since she had last saw him, and she wondered everyday when he would return. Some days it would be happy thoughts of him coming through the door and taking her in a savage lustful way. But other thoughts would be with the company of soldiers and without him speaking, for a corpse he would be from the nonsense that was the Holy Crusade. But she had faith, and every Sunday she would exercise that faith in hopes that would bring her husband home safe and sound.

She took the cooked roast of lamb and sliced a tiny morsel onto his plate, just enough to not let waste. This granted the illusion of the food opposite of hers of being eaten, and by the end of her cup of wine, she would feel as if it were true. The lamb was butchered by his brother Marvin, who was quite good at his practice. Every Friday he would bring her some sort of butchered animal for her to cook for herself, as keeping the homestead was weekday work for her. Her father had long since passed away shortly after she and Owin wed, and it was up to Marvin to keep her in line to not go stir-crazy from Owin’s absence.

“To you my love; may the Lord bring you good health and fortune in you travels,” she toasted to the absent seat. She gulped the bitter red wine which should have been thrown out by now, but she learned to stomach such as it was a crutch over the longings for him.

As she swallowed, the door flew open by a gust of wind, swinging violently on the hinges. She almost spat out the wine from being startled, but kept it down. She turned around to the open door as leaves came into the house. Margery then got up from her seat and walked out the door to look around. The sounds of thunder boomed in the distance, and the sky was a darkened-blue. She looked about the front of the house before attempting to close the door, but out from the corner of her eye came a man with a two wooden logs over his shoulder.

“Pardon me, m’lady. Tis a stormy night coming.”

“Marvin, you frightened me! Don’t you ever come around unannounced like that,” she scolded her brother-in-law.

“Forgive me, I was bit out of breath from hauling these.” He dropped the logs down by the door ungracefully.

“It’s only a couple steps from where they were.” Margery could smell something off about Marvin. “What are you doing here?”

“I was having a wee bit of spirits at the local inn up the road and decided to come check up on me brother’s wife. Is that a sin?”

“You are drunk then,” she acknowledged. “Well, don’t go about sputtering out here. You could catch cold.”

Marvin bent down and put the logs back on his shoulders.

“That’s why I ’ave these.”

Margery scowled as he came inside. He dropped the two wood blocks by the fireplace and then used both hands to set one into the fire, taking care to set it right to catch on fire. The flames blazed as the wood crashed in, and Marvin wiped his hands. He then took off his gloves and set them on the wooden seat by the fire and then turned to the dinner table.

“Suppa’?” he asked.

“I can get you another plate,” Margery offered.

“No botha’, I see you already ‘ave one for me,” he said , stumbling on over to Owin’s place and picked up the quarter-full goblet of wine. He took a swig and swallowed with it dripping onto his scruffy graying beard. Margery flinched at him.

“No! Stop! That’s for Owin!” she exclaimed.

“Owin? I see your lova’ ain’t be home anytime soon, now eh? Plenty of food for us ’til then.”

“Marvin, please! Just let it be!” she shouted again, moving forward to grasp his hand from reaching to the plate.

“You got quite the spunk today,” he said to her, turning. “My my, I never realized how pret’y you were.”

Margery smelled the fowl drunken stench from his breath, but the overall insinuation from her own in-law felt worse.

“You’re drunk Marvin, stop it!”

“Shoulda’ been I who had you first, not ‘im.” he said, reaching at her to meet her lips with force.

“No, Mar-!” her words halted, as his mouth engrossed hers. He then picked her up by the waistline, carried her over to the bed and dropped her on it, falling on top of her.

“Marvin stop it! Owin’s your brother!”

He said nothing. A devil took him as he reached for her breast, trying to undo the strings to her gown. She tried to muster any resistance that she could, as Marvin outweighed her by nearly twice as much, but it was no use. She was trapped by a lustful monster that took over her sworn guardian.

Just then, the door swung open again by the wind, and Marvin seized his groping. Lightning boomed as it started to downpour and as it cracked, the silhouette of a winged-man stood in the doorway.

“My god…” Marvin gasped.

The Deserter – VII

The morning came. A golden field leading up to an everlasting sea of trees became was so brilliant to see in the sky. Owin could fly around and marvel about like no other man could. But he was too angry about what he was now, and he had to go back to the man that set him out to be this.

He flew around and found an opening to come down into from the sky. He landed, and found himself a glance away from the very same chapel he left three days ago. It was time for answers to his questions. So many floated in his mind this day, and one way or another he vowed to get them.

He stepped in opening both wooden doors to the side. The candles flickered as he entered, and could see the very man who bestowed the quest waiting for him at the altar.

“And so you come,” Pyr began. “From the very first day I laid my eyes on you, I knew you would be the one.”

Owin scowled at him through his messy hair that now fell in front of his face. He did not know whether to speak or draw his sword at him. But he knew that killing him would not bring his mind to ease, so he refrained from the hostile action.

“Why?” Owin began. “Why use me to kill her?”

Pyr snickered to himself before starting.

“You deem a very ignorant mind, Owin. All you want to do is get home to your wife Margery, that you were not meant to fight in this god-forsaken war to the east. You believe you should live while others should simply leave you alone, killing those who impede you from getting home. I knew your one-path mind would make you do anything to get back to your wife, and that is how I made you believe that you were the one to truly defeat Sanngriõr. You were not the first, but you are definitely the last. And for that, you have my eternal gratitude.”

“Gratitude!?” Owin shouted. “What do you gain from the death of this creature? The vengeance of the others you sent?”

“Of the slight,” Pyr said. “But it is not vengeance, it is redemption.”

“Redemption?” Owin asked, not knowing what he meant. “Of me?”

“Of us, Owin. Of us.” Pyr then unfastened the rope around his waist that fastened his robe, and then undressed himself. Owin looked on at him as he witnessed a half-naked abbot with dark black slacks, and brown feathered wings spreading out to his sides.

“What…are we?” Owin asked, stunned.

“We are brothers, Owin. Our powers are similar yet different. You wield the valkyrie’s silver wings and her powers now.”

Pyr hesitated, waiting for Owin to grasp what he was. Owin searched for the words. He started pacing up and down the aisle until they came.

“The harpy. You killed the one the valkyrie spoke of.”

“I was hoping she would not say something of the like. But yes, it was I who killed her companion, leading her to madness. It was more than two hundred years ago that I was tasked to slay her and failed, and the Sky Lords then banished me from their own, making my wings limp. But now that you have killed her, they grant me the power to wield my wings again, and they give you the same right.”

“Sky Lords?” Owin repeated.

“Yes, Owin. You and I, and many others.”

Owin thought nothing of the title, but dwelled on this so-called power Pyr bragged of.

“And what power is that?” Owin scolded. “We are an abomination, taking that which belonged to demons!”

“We are the salvation for this world, Owin. The Sky Lords have been around longer than man could even formulate words, even conceptualize the very idea of good and evil, and so we are tasked with balancing  that good and evil throughout the world. We look over all and keep them safe. We are the ones that rule, Owin, not some false deity your kin reside in.”

“No…no! I do not want this. Take them from me and return me to my wife!”
Pyr looked down and sighed.

“I cannot. The wings are yours now. You have been granted Sanngriõr’s power, as well as the gift of immortality. You may still see your wife, but only if you give allegiance to the Sky Lords. Then you may do as you wish.”

Owin’s breath became heavy. He wanted to kill Pyr right where he stood for making him what he is now, ring the very neck of the abomination in front of him. But as he desired to beckon the strength, the only thing he could do was fall to his knees and weep. All he ever wanted to do was serve his Lord, be a good husband and live his life. But now, all that he knew, and everything he once was seemed to have vanished in one night.

“You have been given a great gift my friend, one that many need and desire, but do not deserve. You are worthy of the wings, perhaps the greatest of them all.” Pyr said extending his hand to Owin’s shoulder.

“I don’t want this!” Owin shouted, slapping away Pyr’s hand.

“What you want is irrelevant, what you have done cannot be disregarded. Own the  results of your decisions, Owin.” Pyr retorted.

“No…no…I am not…will not…” Owin said standing, backing away from Pyr and heading  to the door.

“You are a Sky Lord now, my brother. You are a god!” Pyr’s last words echoed throughout the halls of the chapel as Owin fled. He panicked as he ran outside, and could hear the sounds of thunder booming all around him. Rain fell heavily on his face, and he shouted towards the sky as thunder cracked. He reached up with his arms and spread his wings out wanting, needing some sort of sign that this was all a dream, that he would soon wake from it. But as he looked straight up, a strike of lightning came down and blasted him backwards towards the ground.

Owin lay stiff as the electrical current went through him. Pyr ran out looking on to what had become of him. Owin opened his eyes, and could smell burnt flesh. He brought up his arm, realizing what had just happened; it was singed like overcooked meat over a fire. He tried to move his fingers but felt nothing but a crunch of his hand. He looked down at his waist and pulled up his torn tunic. At first, his entire stomach looked as crisp as his arm, but then the blackness of it began to disappear, returning the hair and smoothness of white pigment to his skin, and his arm did the same. It was at this moment that Owin knew he was trapped into eternal life.

He looked back at the chapel to see Pyr staring at him with delight. Owin then got up, spread his wings and began to flap away. He flew up and above the openness of the tree canopy as Pyr ran out to see him depart. Pyr refrained from pursuing him, as he knew exactly where he was heading.

“Show her, Owin. For I know that you will return to us in due time,” he said, turning back into the chapel. He then flapped his wings to create a strong wind force that closed the doors behind him.

The Deserter – VI

Owin pulled out his sword from its sheath and readied it. He proceeded forwards toward the light. When he got to the end, the light dispersed, and revealed a large opened enclave rifled with edges, paths and rocks, the light of the moon now illuminated what he knew was the valkyrie’s lair.

He had no time to admire it as he saw something from the corner of his eye coming fast at him. Owin ducked as it hit the stone wall behind him. Sparks came from the now identified spear that had dropped down to the ground. He lifted his head then to where it originated from, and off hovering from a stone’s throw away was the site of a silver winged armored woman with pale white skin, long light brown hair and…bright sapphire-blue eyes.

“It was you…the little girl that guided me…it was you!”

“I possess many souls for my bidding, most monsters like yourself that come to kill me.”

“So you kill her then? A little girl!?” Owin shouted.

That angered her, and she flew down to grab another spear and hurled it at him. Owin brought up the kite shield to block, and he almost tumbled backwards as it hit.

“I gave her the mercy she deserved. She was a curious one, but her intrigue made her stumble and fall, and I was the only one to save her soul.”

“They are not yours to protect! I command you to release them!”

The valkyrie then started laughing uncontrollably from Owin’s order.

“You do not command me,” she said slowly gritting her teeth.

“Nevertheless, I come for her honor, and the many others you have reaped. I will end you demon!”

She hovered about the enclave, her wings flapping with the sounds of each feather clinking.

“You call me a demon, yet you fail to acknowledge the evils of your own. This “Crusade” that your kind now pursues is of your own vanity, and you kill your own for the sake of righteousness. I loved one once, one who was not my own. It was your kind that killed harpy. And with that, I drew that name of Sanngriõr.

Remember that name, Crusader, for it is the last one you shall know.”

Owin shoved his sword into the dirt, picked up the spear and threw it at Sanngriõr. She remained hovered as it came towards her. She turned and used one of her wings to block it, making a loud clinking sound and dropping down to the ground. She flapped her wings harder taking her up several feet, then stretched her wings and bowed forward hurling herself at Owin.

Owin grabbed his sword and dropped down from the ledge, sliding down one of the rock walls and tumbling at the gravel bottom. He got up to see Sanngriõr turning about and coming down at him. He could not get out of the way as she dropped a rotten corpse onto him, making Owin drop his shield and knocking him to the ground.

She flew to another ledge, grabbing two more corpses with each hand.

“Would you like more friends for your Crusade?” she shouted, and threw both of them at Owin. He pushed the first rotted corpse off of him and rolled to the right as the other two corpses hit hard, sending one to break apart on impact in a dusty explosion. He then stood, and twirled his sword in his hand, looking up at his opponent.

“Can you not face me alone? You need others to do your own bidding?” Owin taunted.

Sanngriõr jumped and spread her wings, coming down towards Owin. Owin then brought the sword behind his head and threw it with all of his might. It went into the loose opening of her armor stabbing into her collar bone perpendicular to her neck. She gasped as she lost composure and crashed down to the ground.

Owin jumped out of the way as she hit but then stood back up, witnessing a still Sanngriõr  laying front first on the ground. Taking a dagger from his belt, he moved in closer very slowly. As he got to her side, she remained motionless. Owin took note of how the moon made her wings shine. They were as alluring as she was when he first saw her, and it made it difficult to see her completely as a monster. But her actions proved to make her otherwise, and as he held the dagger downwards, he came down with all of his might as he intended to stab the back of her neck.

His attempt was thwarted though. Her right wing came up and cut his face with the tip, making him fall backwards. She then stood up and pulled the sword out from her collar bone. She grunted loud as it came out of her, and her eyes then fixated on Owin as she stepped forward.

“This ends now!” she screamed.

Owin crawled backwards as she approached. She lifted the sword above her and readied to swipe down. Owin noticed a rusted war axe right next to him and grabbed it, parrying the sword strike as she bent over. All of her weight was on him now, and Owin used her unbalanced stand against her, kicking her over to the side. The blow knocked her down, and Owin stood as quickly as he could. As she lay on her back, he took the axe and came down hard on her chest, and she screamed as it hit her right in the middle of the iron armor.

Owin was amazed that the rusted axe went through it, as he was ready to attempt several more hits on her chest. But somehow this one hit had done it…the bracelet! It definitely had to be helping his strength!

Sanngriõr suffered from the blunt weapon. She then flapped her wings and created a wind that pushed Owin back. She began to fly away manically, brushing stone walls and rocks, finally crashing back into the ground.

Owin noticed the less than majestic creature now laying face up to the dark sky, struggling for a breath to behold. She tried to sit up but nothing came from it. Her arms and legs lay limp along side with her silver metal-like wings.

He walked slowly to her left side, pondering the mere amazing look of the wings; they looked so heavy, and wondered how in this world such things could bring her to the sky. He kicked the left wing, finding it to be not as hard as he thought, and snickered, bringing himself into her view.

She screamed loud at first, but it ended shortly as blood gurgled  from her mouth. She so wanted to get up and requite what he did to her. Trying to spit into his direction and failing, she could not help but notice the silver bracelet around his right hand.

“He sent you!” she blurted.
Owin lowered his head, and unsheathed another dagger. Fiddling with it in his hand, he was wondering who she was referring to for a second, but could not stray from the obvious.

“Why do his bidding? Why hunt us?” she asked.

“Us?” Owin replied with wonder. “To what ‘us’ do you refer?”

“Just me now, Crusader,” she gurgled. “I am the last of my kind. But since the dawn of time, before you pesky beings even could speak, the world was ours to rule. You hunted us to extinction. Not just the valkyries, but others, thinking the world was only meant for your kind… you prejudice bastards!”

Owin scowled and held the dagger firmly. He then climbed on top of her, straddled her body, and held the blade to her neck.

“Take your reaping!” she said.

“Enough of your talk. God bless me with the strength…” he said, attempting to reconcile his previous beliefs.

He took in a breath, and slipped the blade. She gasped as the knife sliced her throat, drawing not a reddish color, but black. Her eyes opened wide as she struggled with the last ounce of life in her, finally succumbing to blackness.

Owin looked into her eyes just as Pyr suggested. How blue they were, and so big. The life in them seemed to have faded at first, but then just as he was about to turn away, the corpse of Sanngriõr sat up, coming directly to Owin’s face and matching his stair. Her eyes glowed bright as they both locked into a gaze. He then felt something burning into his pupils. He struggled to gasp for air as if something was entering into him, perforating into his soul. He wanted to scream, but for what seemed like an eternity lasted only a few seconds in actual, and the last thing to come to him was her voice for one last time.

“Take your prize,” it said once more.

The eyes of Sanngriõr’s then dulled to a white and she fell back to the ground. Owin stood up frantically as the burning in his eyes began to subside as tears ran down his cheeks. He felt the bracelet then, and brought up his wrist to see. It glowed whitish-silver now, illuminating the entire area.

Owin was still trying to figure out just what exactly happened now, but was interrupted by an excruciating pain in his back near his shoulders. It felt as if something was trying to push itself through.

No. Not push, grow.

He keeled over, screaming in agony as the back of his tunic and surcoat ripped open. The sound of metal crackling resonated throughout the walls of the area, and as Owin looked to his right, saw the site of a bloodied silver wing growing out beside him.

He looked to his left to see the same, and started to wail loudly as the pain subsided. Finally, as he noticed his new winged limbs, he screamed in agony so loud, all of Europe could hear him this very night, as he found himself to not be of a man anymore.

The Deserter – V

He left the chapel the next morning with a satchel full of supplies provided by Pyr. In it was some bread, dried meat, flint, and a knife. Owin walked north towards the mounntainrange thinking about the last thing Pyr had said to him.

“The eyes,” Pyr began. “When you kill it, look into its eyes.”

Owin was puzzled why he would suggest such a thing. In all of his life, Owin had killed four men—one during a raid on a small village while defending himself, two others during his desertion from the Crusaders, and the last being one of the horsemen pursuing him for desertion. In all of those slayings, he could recall never looking into their eyes.

“You see the soul through the eyes, a connection between all life through death.”

Owin tried not to dwell on it as he continued through a narrow forest path that was located behind the chapel. Owin did not notice it before, and thought he examined everything about this place of sanctuary. But it was well hidden by heavy brush, and now opened right up for him when Pyr sent him away for the quest.

By midday, he got to the end of the path that opened up into a valley. The sun gleamed down on the grassy hills with the mountain range far in the background. Owin figured he could reach the bottom of them by sundown of the morrow perhaps, making haste and being sure not to be seen as he knew others would be still looking for him. He stayed off any roads he could, keeping to the ways less traveled about which led to slowing his journey. At one point during the traverse he almost got lost, trying to find a safe way across a river which took hours, and the sun began its end of day descent bringing the dark-blue twilight. Owin remained reluctant to stop though, and continued to the mountain range during the next day, finally making it to his ideal destination for both days’ journey.

There, he looked around to settle and hide away from the sight of anyone passing by. He slid down a small formation of rocks surrounding a small gravel patch that would no doubt shield him from anyone looking about the area. There was no place for a fire and Owin was tired. He sat propped against one of the rock walls and took one half-loaf of bread from his satchel and started chewing on it. After a couple bites, he put it away and curled his legs to his chest, resting his arms on his knees and lowered his head, falling to the tranquility of sleep.

First light came fast the next day, and there was a mugginess in the air. Owin thought nothing of it as he started searching around the mountain base looking for paths leading up. Pyr had mentioned three paths that led to the valkyrie’s lair, but Owin could not see any. He then thought about the valkyrie herself, wondering whether or not it was watching him.
“It is a beast of its kind, but has the heart of a warrior. It shall wait for you as you approach.” Pyr had mentioned.

Strange.

If Owin were to abandon his quest to slay it, then it would surely kill him. But if he were to continue…it would just wait and not kill him during the approach?

Owin contemplated luring it out by feigning abandonment and going home. But he weighed in the plights that would come from it: starvation, ambush from either it or more crusaders, or some random occurrence that could end him.

No, this was the simple solution, and Owin was convinced by Pyr that this was indeed the way home.

After some time of searching and thinking, Owin finally came upon a path leading up. He started to hike up, but was then startled by voice behind him.

“Don’t go that way,” a soft voice said. Owin turned about, and witnessed a little girl staring at him. She looked poor, wearing a only long burlap sack for clothing cut at the knees and shoulders. Her face was dirtied, and her brown hair unkempt. The only redeeming quality about her though was her bright blue eyes that looked like sapphires.

“Why not?” Owin asked the little one.

“Because it gets more rough as you continue to go up. You’re going to fight the angel, are you not?”

“I’d hardly consider it an angel, deary,” Owin reputed.

The girl looked down at Owin’s boots.

“Many have tried to fight it, but all end up dead.”

“What kind of angel would kill then?”

“You should leave her alone, she does not want to harm you.”

“But she wants to harm others. She must be stopped.”

“If you go, you will die.”

Owin sighed, thinking this conversation was nothing more than a hindrance. This girl may have been just toying with him yet, she knew about the path before him.

“Do you know a better route to reach the lair of this…angel?” Owin asked.

“Yes, follow me.”

The girl led him up a steeper path. The loose gravel on it did not bother her bare feet, and Owin lagged behind despite wearing leather boots. She was anxious to lead him up despite her protest, and Owin found that puzzling.

“This will lead you to her the rest of the way. Perhaps you should rest before fighting her?” the girl said.

Owin was astounded by the fact that it was becoming night so fast again. He then nodded to her and sat down against the stone wall, looking out as the moon glimmered down on the land. He took out the half-loaf of bread in his satchel and ate some of it, tearing off a piece for his guide.

“Would you like—” he began to ask, but could not find her anywhere. He looked about his surroundings, and was about to shout out for her but refrained, as he knew the valkyrie would be in close proximity. Whoever this girl was, she was gone now.

Owin finished the bread and stood up. A large overhang above him created a cave-like path, and looking further up revealed a sharp left corner; the valkyrie’s lair was no doubt there.

He swallowed a gulp of saliva, and decided to turn to it, anxiety taking over his nerves,  preventing any suggested rest. The turn revealed a narrow dark chasm. He walked slowly through it, making sure his footing was set with each step as the ground lay uneven. He almost tripped over something but quickly recovered, bending down to find out what it was.

He felt a long piece of dry wood with a wrapping at the end; a torch, possibly from a previous warrior endeavoring to slay the valkyrie. He took out his knife and the flint stone in his satchel and swiped the knife against the it. After a few attempts, the torch caught a spark, and Owin put away the tools and picked it up. The chasm was then illuminated with the orange glow from it, and as he noticed the chasm widening, Owin could do nothing but see the signs of death all around him.

“Dear God in heaven…”

Bone skeletons littered the chasm, as well as rusted swords, spears, armor and shields. He walked slowly through it and reached the end which opened up to a larger circular dwelling. More dead remains scattered about it, and Owin noticed a kite shield that barely had any wear to it. He picked it up and shook the dust off of it, knowing that it would come in handy.

“Come to me Crusader, come to me and face me!” a voice echoed with a boom. The sound of a woman’s voice beckoned Owin‘s attention, and he could feel the cold chill of wind coming from a tunnel. He moved closer to it, and threw his torch inside. It lighted the tunnel, and Owin could see a right turn inside. Owin went in, coming to the turn, and seeing a bright blue glow coming from the end of the cave.

“I wait for you at the end,” the voice said.

The Deserter – IV

A few weeks had passed now, and Owin could feel his strength return as if he were young again. He was fitting more snug into his surcoat as Pyr continued to nourish him with food. His swordsmanship could not have been any better, and he entertained the thought of fighting more men that pursued him. But the hiding place that was the chapel served the both of them well, as neither pursuing crusader—nor valkyrie—would come for them.

That night, Owin sat in the pew right in front of the altar. There were at least a hundred candles lit inside, and Owin could hear the sounds of thunder in the distance. He sat staring at where should be a large cross in the back of the altar, but Pyr had mentioned he served a different faith now, one that would not need such a holy totem.

Owin thought to himself as he sat, mostly of Pyr. They were both kindred to each other now—both losing their purpose of faith and running from what they first had thought mattered in life. Both knew that the other were true to themselves, and that built a certain corresponding trust to behold. Come the morning though, Owin would be alone, as he would journey on towards the mountains to where the valkyrie’s domain would be.

A slight wind drafted through the chapel, tilting the flames of the candles to their sides, the orange glow flicker on the walls. Owin then heard the sounds of footsteps approaching from behind him. His eyes still fixated on the altar as the steps drew near.

“Are you frightened?” Pyr asked.

Owin pursed his lips and dropped his head.

“Anxious.” he countered. “I’ve been away from home for a long time. I wish I could see her right now.”

“Be mindful of your task. You must not dwell on any other thing.”

Owin then fondled the silver bracelet in his hands. He thumbed the intertwining ridges as the whole was cold to the touch, and he dwelled on it.

“Six months ago I would’ve died for my lord. I would’ve fought for his love, and kill in his name.”

He paused.

“And now?” Pyr broke.

“I am a deserter. A traitor to my own. I turn against the beliefs I held true throughout my life—and now, these last few weeks you ask me to believe in something only myth tales of? You ask me to believe in you who has also deserted the cross?”

“Not in me, Owin,” Pyr said, sitting on the pew next to him. “In yourself.”

Owin chuckled.

“Hah, you seem to believe enough for the both of us. Consider myself lucky?”

“Perhaps,” Pyr looked to the altar. “But luck will not bring the valkyrie’s head.”

More silence now. Pyr struggled to gather words, but eventually found them.

“You know why there is no cross up there?”

Owin looked up, and shook his head.

“Because there are worse things out there than feeling the wrath of God. If I fall victim to death, then his fury would be a welcome.”

“What could be worse than hell?” Owin asked him curiously.

Pyr smiled.

“That’s the thing. Hell is definable to ones viewpoint. But I will gladly take fire and brimstone than…”

Owin looked with concern.

“Than what?”

“Living in a shell and used by another.”

“The valkyrie has such power?”

Pyr nodded, and stood up.

“Get some sleep. It’s a three day journey up the mountain path.” he said.

Owin watched him walk away, as he contemplated his fate, and the idea of what his hell could possibly be if he were to fail.

The Deserter – III

The next day, Owin began perfecting his lacking swordsmanship. The fight with the four soldiers revealed to him that he was not the best skirmisher at this time. He could remember when he was capable of taking on at least six all by his lonesome, and still have enough fight in him for another six. But this was long back when he was a younger man serving in the town guard where such exercises were daily practice.

Before the Crusade.

Before he got older.

Even before he married.

Had he become domesticated from such a life now? He would try not to stray his thoughts too much, for his concentration was needed on this creature Pyr told him to slay; a creature said to kill many of men and reap their souls for its own benefit. Some men would not waste such mind on a task, while others would simply try to prove their mettle. For Owin though, it was his one way home.

As Owin slashed at a stump of an old tree in the back of the chapel, his mind would stray again on what exactly he did wrong with the men that labeled him “deserter,” and compel them to pursue him. Of course he disobeyed orders and was considered a dead man now, but he really pondered the notion; why would it be considered an offense to not wish to fight in such a contrived effort of a war? Had no one else shared his beliefs?

He was not the first to leave of course, and wondered if he would not be the last. But these thoughts only led him away from his exercises.

“Balance,” he would say to himself. “Bend your knees Owin, stay lower.”

It was true; for most men engaged in a sword fight, the one who is more prone to keel from the slightest off-balancing would be dead. It was not a precise art, but one that he saw in others perfected. For Owin though, it was a music; a music that substituted slashes for notes, and blocks for rests.

“I brought you some food,” Pyr said, interrupting Owin, a tray in his hand. On it was a half-loaf of bread and some stew; more than what Owin was accustomed to the last few months.

“I’m not hungry.” Owin exclaimed.

“You need all of your strength. Now is not the time to parade your pride about you.”

Owin stopped slashing, exhaled a sigh, and sheathed his sword. Pyr set the tray down on a flat surfaced rock. Owin kneeled and took a bite of the bread, then gorging the stew with it.

“This valkyrie is not like others.” Pyr said.

“Is that so? You telling me you’ve met more?” Owin said sardonically with a mouth full.

“There were many more, but I’ve only heard by word of mouth. Most have been slain over the last few centuries. Yet this one remains.”

There was a moment of vigorous chewing and slurping. After some more bites and a gulp of water from a wooden cup, Owin then inquired about what Pyr mentioned.
“Why? What makes this one so different.”

Pyr turned and went over to a fallen rotted tree, taking in a breath to begin his words.

“Long a time ago, this valkyrie who goes under the name Sanngriõr, had a companionship with another creature known as a harpy. The two were the most gallant of Nordic warriors. It was one dark day though, that the Danish king at the time ordered all beings of its like to be slain, as they were seen as an abomination to men. Sanngriõr took her harpy friend away south, and fled the main soldiers dispatched by the King. Sanngriõr’s flight made her capable of out-maneuvering the Danish raiders, so the King then beckoned for the greatest warriors to come and face the two. One-by-one they would fall, and the fear of Sanngriõr grew throughout the northern lands. It wasn’t until one day, a Welsh warrior came to take on the two. He had slain one of them, while the other got away, and vowed vengeance.”

“He killed the harpy.” Owin said, wiping his mouth.

“Yes,” Pyr smiled.

“Did Sanngriõr kill the Welshman then?”

Pyr got up and snickered.

“She could not find the one that took her friend, and vowed vengeance on the likes of all warrior men, killing all that stood in her way, and taking their souls for her own.”

Owin hesitated to take another bite of bread, suddenly feeling ill about the story being told.

“There’s another part of the story though; one day she conscripted a blacksmith to help make her wings silver armored. This type of enchantment was unheard of, but it is told that she had done it, creating glistening wings that made her faster, stronger and more deadly to the ones that hunted her. It is said that she could merely swoop down from the skies above, making one pass, and behead her victims. This, my dear Owin, this is the task I give you.”

“Silver wings you say?” Owin sniffed and spat from his mouth. “That ought to be a sight to see. Have you seen them?”

“If I were to see them Owin, I would not be here speaking of it to you.”

“Which makes this quest of yours utterly ridiculous!” Owin said standing and storming off.

“Where are you going?”

“Home! I’ll take my chances with whatever foolish story you give to keep me here to satisfy your loneliness. How can you task me if you have never seen it!?”

“I speak the truth, Owin. If you are to leave now, there is no way I can save you from it or your former kinsman.”

Owin stopped in place.

“What makes you believe you can stop them too?”

“Because if you slay the valkyrie of the Dark Mountain, no man will be able to stop you. For if you have the strength to take down this monster, no others shall be able to do so.”

“And what makes you think I can do it? Hmm?”

Pyr got up, and reached under his robe, revealing a silver bracelet in his hand.

“This bracelet is one made from the silver feathers of the beast. It will give you the strength to kill it, but you must hone your skills first. Please Owin, I trust my faith in you. Will you endeavor to kill it and avenge those that have fallen?”

Owin looked at the bracelet. Even in the dark woods, it retained a shine unlike any he had seen. It was bedazzling; he had never seen anything like it; it was a feather shaped into an arm band. Pyr somehow had it in his possession. Had he stole it? Or perhaps plundered it from a dead body? Or was it from the valkyrie he spoke of?

“Had the others used this to kill it before?” Owin asked.

“No. I did not deem them fit enough to wield it. But you Owin, I see the might in you. With this bracelet and conviction, you will have the strength needed to kill Sanngriõr.”

As Owin continued to stare, the story of the valkyrie became less a farce and somewhat more truthful. He somehow gathered that this item was holy in its own right and could possibly give him the strength that Pyr was speaking of. Why would we think this now? What power did this bracelet truly possess? He met Pyr’s eyes, took the bracelet, and nodded.

“Thank you. I won’t keep you from honing your skills then.” Pyr said.

Pyr then walked off holding his hands in front of him. Owin put on the bracelet, and continued his swordplay, feeling as though his skills improved from the silvery item with each strike.