Moriah came up beside Laurel. “We did it,” Moriah announced. She looked covered in blood and held a hunter’s knife in her hand that still dripped purplish puss from the blade. Flern turned her head and went away from that place. Nameless came to fill her shoes. Laurel looked to the ground on recognizing the god. Moriah gasped, but Nameless smiled for her before he walked the village square and made certain that all of the ghouls in the village were dead.
Twenty ghouls had died, and none of them were merely wounded. They melted and left a purple-greenish puddle of puss on the ground. The village defenders had already made certain of that. Nameless sensed a half-dozen ghouls running for their lives, headed back to their home in the north, and he knew they would not come that way again, so he let them go. “Take the wounded to the house of the village chief,” Nameless ordered. “Carefully.” He underlined the word. “I will be along shortly to help.” He looked at his feet. The body of the village chief lay there beside the body of the chief dwarf. “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid,” he said softly, as he knelt down to close the poor dwarf’s eyes. Then he called, and everyone stopped for a moment to hear as the sound vibrated in their souls before it left that place and scattered to the wind. It crossed over the mountains, even to the Great River, and sped north through the limitless forests, to the North Sea and beyond to the great peninsulas that hung down over the world like fingers from the ice cap. The call pushed across the east and south to the shores of the Black Sea, over the waves of the Crimea and to the wilderness beyond. And it went north, even to the Ural Mountains where more than one man lifted his head from the hunt to listen and wonder. There was one. She heard. She appeared in a flash of light and dropped to one knee without even looking up.
“Hilde.” Nameless knew her name and said it tenderly. Then the angelic-like form looked and saw the smile on his face and became very curious. “Hilde. First sister of many, I have a task for you which you alone can do.”
“I will, my Lord. But how is it that I know you and do not know you? How is it that I love you so dearly though I love no man? And how may I be the first of sisters when I have no sisters?”
“These mysteries will resolve in time. Be patient, only for now you have work to do.” Nameless pointed to the chief at his feet.
“The dwarf is gone beyond my reaching,” Hilde said. “It is so with all of the people of the spirit, from the littlest up to the gods themselves, yet this man is within my grasp should I choose him.”
Nameless nodded. “The valiant should not suffer in the pit with the wicked. I charge you, Hilde, and all of the sisters that follow after you to take the spirits of the valiant to the house and halls of Odin so that the Alfader may decide where to keep such men for eternity.”
“Take them to my mother, to the House of Vrya and let her care for them as she will.”
“I will do this thing,” Hilde said as she stood. “It feels right, like I have been sleeping all of my days and have been waiting for this moment to come awake.” She returned Nameless’ smile at last, vanished from that place, and took the souls of the dead with her.
“Who was that?” Laurel still stood by his side, though Moriah had gone in search of Badl.
“The first Valkyr,” Nameless told her, and then he made her wait there a minute while he took two steps forward. Skinny Wilken ended up among the wounded and needed Doctor Mishka, but he had one more thing to do first.
Nameless reached out with his thoughts. “Loki. Play your games, do your tricks, make you mischief through your surrogates as you will. That is your business, not mine. I only want to remind you of the penalty for killing a god.”
After a pause, there came a response, one that felt cold in the mind. “I am in no danger, foolish boy. I would say it is that little girl of yours that is at risk if she should come up against the Titan.”
“Yes, but I kill more than one over the next several thousand years, so it is too late for me.” Nameless thought the words with a little coldness of his own. “But you should remember that the little girl is the Kairos, and the Kairos is counted among the gods.”
Another pause, but Nameless knew that Loki was still there. “But no one knows exactly what that means,” the response came.
“Even so, a little friendly advice. The Kairos will be coming for your big friend, and I would not recommend getting in the way.”
“That girl has a long way to go yet.” Loki responded more quickly that time.
“Just so we understand each other,” Nameless thought, and he cut the connection. He watched the escaping ghouls for a minute before something else caught his attention. Badl talked with the remaining dwarfs who were now leaderless. He took Laurel by the arm and walked to the meeting.
“Your mother was the daughter of a chief, and your father, though not strictly a dwarf, he was beloved by the goddess, and we need no better recognition than that. You could come with us and be our chief.”
“And if the Halfling can cook like you say, she can come, too.” A second dwarf interjected, and no one seemed to have an objection.
Nameless arrived and took Badl by the other arm. “Sorry friends,” he said. “I need him first. He can come to Movan Mountain after we are done.” He turned to Badl. “Time to go see Skinny Wilken,” he said, and he became Doctor Mishka as she walked toward a nearby house.
“How did we do?” Those were Wlkn’s first words, once Elleya took a breath. She mothered him, terribly, and told over and over how he saved her life. Apparently, a ghoul busted down the door to escape the carnage, but Wlkn got there first and sent a knife into the creature’s throat. The ghoul slammed Wlkn against the wall before it collapsed, and Elleya proceeded to beat the poor dead ghoul senseless with a frying pan, and no, she did not otherwise know what a frying pan was for.
“I’m not as young as I was, you know.” Wlkn pointed out, though he had no gray hair. “It felt like he tried to eat my youth with magic, if you know what I mean. I think the bite of apple I ate might have been too much for him, though.” Wlkn quieted as Mishka worked. She examined Wlkn and was pleased to find no broken bones, but then she had another duty.
Nameless returned and he told them all that he would be right back. He touched the dead ghoul at his feet, and both vanished to reappear in the woods outside of town. Nameless pulled his sword, and in a swift move, chopped the ghoul’s head off. Sure enough, he heard a moan as he did it. The ghoul had been trying to live off of Wlkn’s youth, and the last thing the village needed would be a ghoul resurrecting itself. Nameless threw the head into the mountains and left the body where it lay. It quickly shriveled and shrank until only a small greenish-purple stain remained. That was the way of ghouls, unless they were eaten. Nameless cleaned his sword, returned it to its place, and reappeared in the room to change immediately with Mishka once again.
Mishka said nothing as she finished examining Wlkn’s wounds, then she finally answered Wlkn’s question as she bandaged Wlkn’s head. “Even with the surprise turned to our side, and the arrows that decimated the ghouls before the fighting started, and an extra surprise of nearly as many dwarfs as there were ghouls, the ghouls managed to take as many with them as we killed. Twenty ghouls fell in the battle, and fifteen men and five dwarfs died. Plus, we have many wounded besides.”
No one spoke. That seemed a terrible toll, and Mishka knew that when Flern came home, she would be in tears because, in a real sense, all of those lives were given to protect and defend her, even if it was not the only reason for fighting. Mishka wiped her own eye and took Laurel and Moriah to check on the others. Badl stayed with Wlkn and Elleya until he needed to go out for a breath of fresh air and a bit of quiet.