It had been another bad night. As usual the cumbersome weight at her midriff had ensured that no amount of fidgeting could make her comfortable; the child had yet to been born but it was already costing her sleep.
And, as usual, she woke alone. She half-rolled over, instantly regretting it as the weight of her belly shifted, and felt for the man alongside whom she had lain the night before. She was disappointed. All that lay beside her now was a ruffled sheet where he had slept and a folded blanket which he had rolled up against her to fool her sleeping body of his presence.
She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples where the ache was already starting. She felt sick.
Aetheus, she knew, would be sitting in his chair in the main chamber, staring distantly out the window. Every day she found him thus and every day she wondered how long he had been there, haunted by his memories. She knew also that as soon as she entered the room, no matter how discreet she strove to be, he would turn to her, somehow aware as he always was of her presence, and smile. He would push himself from his chair, stride across the room and embrace her, kiss her, pretend nothing was wrong. It was a ritual she had come to expect, if not accept, and she had long since realised that the best part she could play was to pretend his charade had worked, that she was unaware of the daily torment he put himself through, and so not burden him further with the thought that his melancholy worried her.
Because truly it did. No matter how hard he tried to hide his feelings, there was no hiding the pain she saw when she looked into his eyes. The war had been cruel to him in a way that few of its victims had been made to suffer, using him as the mouthpiece of the gods whose own titanic struggle the mortal realms were acting out; now, day after tormented day, he paid the price for a power he neither wanted nor fully understood. And, no matter how he tried to hide it, Hildfrida shared his torment. Her man suffered, alone--and it was that thought more than any other that drove her to her own private despair.
The baby kicked, as it always did when she grew anxious. She stroked the bump, smiled at the child's sensitivity. "Sorry," she said. The word sounded small in the empty room.
With a tremendous effort that bespoke the fact that she was now almost as wide as she was tall, Hildfrida pushed herself away from the mattress and swung her legs around so that she could drop down onto the stone floor. It was more painful than so simple a task had any right to be, but her pride would not allow her to call for assistance. She was a dwarf and, more, a princess, heiress to the twin peaks of Mah-Karainen and all that lay beneath. The Evertomb itself would crumble before she cried for help.
She dressed herself as best she could, unsure if she would ever get used to the light, delicate clothes of the lowlands, and made her way around the bed, pulling the blankets roughly straight as she went. The dry stone slabs were cold beneath her feet. She paused beside the door to shove her feet into her boots—the one fashion item she had refused to relinquish in her new life—and forced a smile to her face, ready to perform her part of the ritual. The baby wriggled inside her.
Hildfrida stepped through the door. "Good morning, husband," she said, still liking the sound of the word, and the smile became a little more genuine. Instinctively she turned towards the far corner of the room to address the man directly. "I..." The words disappeared from her mind, the smile dropped from her face.
Aetheus was not in his chair. He was by the window, yes, but today he was on his feet, his hands on the sill, leaning forward as though striving to get a better view of something tangible. Something close.
It was a small difference, but there was something about his posture, the intensity of his stare. It frightened her. "What is it? What's wrong?" She crossed the room and stood beside him, looking first at his face and then standing on her toes so that she too could see over the windowsill. "My love?"
He didn't answer, just continued to stare into the mist, his eyes searching intently as though he had caught a quick glimpse of something and then lost it. She followed his gaze, but to her the scene outside the window was no different to any other morning at this time of year: a blur of mist, thin at this height but getting thicker and thicker as the land sloped down the valley towards the sea. The nearest buildings were visible as grey silhouettes against the lighter background but beyond that, nothing. The lower end of the town, the beach, the waves: all were hidden behind the murky curtain. And yet her husband clearly knew exactly what he was looking for.
As if responding to her thoughts, 'something' happened. She had no idea what it was or how he saw it—there was no sound, no perceptible shift in the cloud—but suddenly Aetheus's whole body stiffened. He leaned further forward, Hildfrida watched his knuckles turn white as his grip tightened on the sill near her face, and for a long moment he seemed stunned by what he saw.
Then he stood upright, his arms fell to his sides and a look of apprehension and determination filled his face. Hildfrida, looking up at him and feeling the fear consume her heart, couldn't help thinking he possessed the haunted look of a man ready to receive judgement.
"They're here," he said, more to himself than her. "If we don't stop them they'll kill us all."
The baby kicked, and it was all Hildfrida could do not to be sick. She looked again through the window, but all she could see was the same wall of grey. She knew she should say something—Who was here? What did he mean? Why would anybody wish to kill them? —but her mind was blank with shock. By the time her thoughts had unfrozen themselves, Aetheus was already by the far wall, leaning against it with one hand while he tightened the leather straps on his boots with the other. There was a purpose to his movements, a determination that she had not seen in him since the war, and it frightened her.
But not as much as the scream, filled with terror and desperation, that suddenly resonated out of the mist. There were other sounds there, too: running feet, the crackle of flames, the sound of--
Hildfrida trembled. The sound of steel striking steel. "What are you going to do?" she asked quietly, knowing the answer but fearing it all the same.
"I cannot let them harm you," he said. "Somebody has to make a stand." He looked away from her, turned his gaze towards the far corner of the room. A thick-shafted hunting spear stood propped against the plaster, its blade dulled from lack of use; beside it a thick piece of sacking hung halfway up the wall, suspended by whatever lay hidden beneath its heavy folds. His eyes flitted from the spear to the worn, faded-brown material.
A surge of panic rushed through Hildfrida's chest. "No!" The word came out as a half-scream, and as she cried out she ran across the room and placed herself between her husband and the things she feared more than any enemy. "No," she begged again.
He smiled at her, that knowing smile of his, and knelt down so that their faces were almost level. She expected him to argue, to try to convince her that he had no choice, but instead he simply nodded and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. "Stay out of sight," he said quietly. "If anything happens, take whomever you can find and go to your father, he will protect you. Do not stay here, 'Frida. Do not wait for me." He put his arm around her shoulders, pulled her tight to him and kissed her hair. He reached past her, hefted the dilapidated spear and used it to stand. He hurried across the room, opened the door. "I love you," he said, and was gone.
"I—" she began, but choked on the words. The tears, which her pride had so far managed to hold at bay, began to sting her eyes. She ran to the door, hoped to get a last glimpse of him before he put himself in danger, but he was already lost to the swirling mist. Below her, further down the slope, she could hear the sounds of violence: of men crying exuberantly as they hunted their prey; of terrified families screaming as they ran for their lives; of Aetheus shouting orders for all those who could to take up arms and stand their ground.
The baby shifted. Hildfrida absently stroked the bump as she stared blindly into the mist. "Come back to us," she breathed.
The noise had started. No matter how quiet an approach or how quick an assault, sooner or later somebody always managed to scream before they died. And as soon as that happened, all discretion could be abandoned.
The raiders let their own war cries mingle with the screams of their victims. They cackled as they watched mothers drag their children into the clouds further up the slope and whooped for joy every time they hacked a man down from behind. They had come to kill rather than pillage, and took wicked delight in their sport.
But with the noise came the first fumbling attempts at defence. Men, still half asleep, grabbed whatever was to hand and rushed mindlessly towards their attackers. They died with blades in their bellies. But as the raiders worked their way up the hill the opposition became more fierce, more organised. The first of their number fell to the heavy blade of an axe that chopped down out of the mist and split his skull in two, but even as he fell two of his comrades came up behind, skewered his killer and sent him rolling down the cobbles. Then they moved on, and for every stand that was made another cowering family was hacked down in retribution.
Then, halfway up the valley, they met the final, pitiful display of defiance. Out of the mist a single word: "Spears!" The command was immediately followed by the unified thump of a dozen feet stamping to attention and the rattling of weapons being brought to bear. Then the same voice cried, "Advance!" and suddenly the rhythmic stomp-stomp of boots on cobbles filled the air as a body of men, still hidden somewhere behind the mist's folds, marched forward as one.
The raiders were swift to react. They brought themselves together and locked into a solid, three-deep wall that bristled with blades; and with a command as terse as that of the voice in the mist they too began to shuffle forward. Behind them, their allies continued to ransack the houses further down the valley. There were no more screams. There was no-one left to scream.
The spear points stabbed out of the cloud with an astonishing speed. The slope was so steep here that the horizontally-held weapons struck home at head-height and more than one raider fell to the floor clutching his face. So the two lines met.
The defenders struck hard. They'd had time to arm themselves with weapons rather than tools, and came at their tormentors like a phalanx of ghosts marching out of the mist. On their left a tall man wielding a spear shouted encouragement at his men, who cursed and spat and ploughed into the raiders with a ferocity born of desperation.
They didn't stand a chance. The raiders stabbed up with their swords, scornful of any threat. They stepped past the thrusting spears and so had nothing to fear other than a stray thump to the side of the head from the wooden shafts. With cruel efficiency they drove their blades deep into the defenders' guts, twisted and wrenched them free before stabbing forward again.
"Stand your ground!" the man on the left yelled, but his men were routing. They had few weapons, fewer shields and no armour, and there was only one way the fight was going to end. The men at the back of their flimsy line had already dropped their spears and were running towards the perceived safety of the higher ground. More and more joined the flight, until even the man on the left, who had been so vocal in his defiance, turned and ran; the men he abandoned could do nothing but take what was coming to them. The raiders cackled and fell upon their enemies with murder in their eyes.
Behind them, away to the east, the sun broke the horizon.
Hildfrida disobeyed her husband's instructions. She could no more abandon him than he could, her. So she waited, staring blindly down the valley and trying to harden herself against the harrowing cries of the wounded and dying that echoed back to her. She couldn't hear Aetheus's voice anymore. It had been drowned out by the din of battle and now no matter how hard she listened there was nothing to reassure her that he still lived.
Suddenly a terrible cheer erupted, a noise filled with madness and pure, unadulterated evil. It mingled with the screams, overpowered them—and there could be no mistaking what it meant. The battle was lost.
She crossed to the fire, lifted the poker from its hook and rested it in the embers. She felt oddly calm, as though the knowledge that she was about to die somehow made everything easier. She knew what she had to do, saw it clear as day, and knew also that if she died this day then she would do so in a manner befitting her illustrious heritage. Her ancestors would cheer her name as the Gates of the Evertomb opened before her, Aetheus would be waiting to greet her and she would at last meet the child whom she already so loved and who would share her death as it had so briefly shared her life.
The screams were getting closer. Running feet sounded on cobbles. Hildfrida opened her eyes—she hadn't realised she'd closed them—and poked at the fire to add some more life to the flames. Then a clatter, closer than the screams and unmistakeably the sound of a body stumbling through a door, came from behind and she swung round to meet the man who would be her killer.
The poker's tip was still dull. There wasn't enough time for it to take the heat and only a small trickle of smoke rose from where a piece of ash had stuck to the metal. But it didn't matter, because as soon as she saw Aetheus she dropped the thing and ran to him.
"They have broken through," he said as she threw her arms around his waist. "We haven't much time."
She pulled back. "Then we must flee. We can lose them in the forest."
"No time," he said again. He pulled free of her embrace and started past her. His jaw was set, his eyes narrowed.
"Then what—?" she began, but he had already crossed the room, was reaching for the piece of sackcloth on the wall. "No!" Her voice was no less desperate than before but this time he paid her no heed, just reached up and rested his hand on the coarse material. Hildfrida felt the tears stab her eyes, watched the world fade behind the blur. "You swore to me," she said; the words came out as a quiet sob. "You promised you would never let them use you again."
His hand didn't move. There was a pained look on his face but even as he opened his mouth to speak he shook his head as though the matter were out of his hands. "It was a foolish vow to give, my love. You must release me from it."
"I won't!" she said without thinking, stamping her foot like a child who had been told to share their favourite toy. "I forbid it! You, you..." Then the tears broke free and she didn't know what to say or do because the world seemed to collapse into a pitiless void of fear and grief and despair.
He let go of the sacking, knelt down so that their faces were level. He brought his hand up, stroked her cheek, gently wiping away a tear with the back of his finger. "You must let me do this, 'Frida. It would hurt me much more to see you, to see either of you"—they looked down together as he touched her rounded belly—"suffer because I took no action. We both knew this day would come."
She didn’t try to control the tears. "Don't make me do it. Please." The baby's ferocious kicking told her that it shared her distress. "They will kill you. I can't let them hurt you again."
"Everything will be alright," he said quietly. It sounded like a promise but she couldn't bring herself to believe it. Outside, the slower fugitives were still stumbling up the hill, striving to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the enemy—but even now the raiders' maniacal screams seemed to be only a few doors away. She had no choice and she knew it.
A smile, grateful, almost relieved, touched his face. He stood, turned away from her, and Hildfrida watched his back as once again he took hold of the sackcloth. He tore the material down and there, for the first time in three years, Ringen and Solemdal glinted in the light of the rising sun.
Hildfrida looked at them, and the fear in her chest turned to hate.
Aetheus hefted the Shield from its rack, turned it over and slipped his arm through the loops. Solemdal it was called, the Shield of Freedom, and on it was emblazoned the waved rune of Lilyth, the Mother Goddess, the Protector. Its shimmering face seemed to ripple with the very Waters of Lilyth herself, one moment shining shallow and bright as a puddle in the morning sun, the next appearing as deep and all-consuming as the waters of the Lake. And as he took hold of it, so it took hold of him. A dark wave seemed to flow over him, a tide of power breaking upon the rock of his soul, and to Hildfrida watching it seemed that power would engulf him.
But then he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the Sword, Ringen, Adhael's Blade, and just as quickly as it had drowned the rock seemed to rise clear of the surf; the wave rolled back, calmed, and the power of Earth and Water were once again in balance. The Sword glowed in his hand, the runes on its blade—like those engraved along the rim of the Shield—shone with a barely contained power. Aetheus grimaced, seemed fit to scream as he struggled for control.
Then the light, the rock, the wave, subsided. Aetheus's body sagged, his eyes fell briefly closed and he let out a deep, controlled breath. Hildfrida dared not touch him while he composed himself but then his head came up, his eyes opened and when he turned to look at her she saw in them the same unbridled fury that she had seen when he led the Dwarfs of Mah-Karainen to war. He seemed to stare straight through her, as though she had ceased to exist and he had somehow become aware of a world that no mortal eye could see; when at last he spoke even his voice was distant, as though he spoke to her from a dream.
"They will be here soon," he said. "Do not linger here." Then he strode towards the door.
This time, as afraid of him as of the enemy, Hildfrida did not disobey.
Their power had never truly left him. This he understood now. Ringen and Solemdal had burned themselves irrevocably onto his soul, hanging over his consciousness like a half-forgotten memory, haunting him with the knowledge that there was more to the world than his mortal senses could perceive. He had tried to hide from them, tried to escape the sins of his past; but in his heart he had always known that the gods would not so easily release him from their service, and by wielding their gifts once more Aetheus knew that he had answered their summons. And for the first time since the war's end he was truly aware of the world around him.
It was a world of lights, a world of colour; a world where life-force glowed with emotion and souls shone like lanterns floating in the air. Most of them floated past him as they fled up the hill, over the living cobbles, to where the trees stood like columns of gold at the top of the valley, their roots pulsing in the ground like a second, irradiant forest; others he could see cowering behind the shimmering walls of their houses while below him, to his right, a cluster of beacons showed where the last of the defenders were being overcome by their assailants; behind him he was aware of Hildfrida moving past as she too joined the retreat. All this was the power of the gods, the all-consuming luminescence of their own existence which they had poured into the world to give it life, and above, behind, around it all, the glory of the gods was more real than anything the mortal world could comprehend. The mist had no place here, his eyes did not need to see for his mind to be aware, and now, at last, Aetheus had a clear view of his enemy.
Pandemonium reigned. Chaos and panic emanated from each passing soul so that their fear hung in the air as thick and heavy as the mist itself. Aetheus ignored it. The tranquillity of Earth and Water lay over him and, though he felt his people's terror as surely as they felt it themselves, it was somehow distant, detached; a thing to be aware of but not controlled by. And as he walked down the road Aetheus was unconcerned by the knowledge that he was about to face death.
The raiders had noticed him now. Their souls were a dark aura of anger and trepidation, and now their insubstantial forms were moving towards him.
He let them come. With each step they took he felt their hate grow, radiating from them with such intensity that all other emotions were drowned out, as though it were the essence of their very being; there was nothing but evil in their hearts.
Aetheus stopped. He was standing in the middle of the road, his arms by his sides such that the Shield's rim pointed towards the enemy while the tip of the Sword was barely a finger's breadth above the cobbles. To his left a stone basin, sunk into an alcove in the wall, collected water from a fountain shaped like a baby's plump face; to his right, on the wall directly opposite, a small shrine to Lilyth gave thanks for the gift of life. A fitting place to do battle. The fugitives were all behind him now, too blinded by fear to stay and help or even bear witness to the stand that was being made; before him stood only the malevolent forms of the enemy and the fading souls of the dead.
And suddenly the enemy were upon him. The mist relinquished its hold on them so that the shadowy beacons of their souls melded into their physical forms, and in the brief moment he had between their coming into view and the first blow falling, Aetheus knew that here was an enemy new to this world. They were elves, of that he was sure; tall, slender, with flowing hair and smooth skin. But their skin, unlike the pale white of the elves of Dariya, was tinged with a chill blue and their hair, black as night, shimmered with silver in the dim light.
But that was all he had time to observe because then the nearest of them lunged and the time had come to fight.
Aetheus stepped effortlessly inside that first sword-stroke. The light of the elf's soul had betrayed its bearer—the colour had flashed with the sudden burst of aggression, the glow had shifted as the elf poured strength into the attack—and Aetheus saw the blow coming even before the intent had fully formed in the elf's mind. The blade stabbed nothing but air and the elf cried out in alarm as he stumbled forward. Ringen slashed upwards once and the elf's soul was already fading by the time his corpse struck the cobbles.
Then another flash came, accompanied by another hate-filled scream. Ringen's momentum brought it up and around, ready to chop down onto a second elf's neck; but before the blow could fall a third elf shot forward and the chop turned into a parry. The world of light was overlaid by a world of noise. The swords rang out as they met, the dull sound of blades striking uselessly against Solemdal's crystalline surface thudded in the ever-thinning mist. The living screamed with hate, the dying screamed with pain, the dead screamed with fear. The waves of Lilyth crashed inside Aetheus's mind, the mountains of Adhael quaked and rumbled and the cacophony of war drowned out all else.
The elves were lightning-quick. Their attacks poured down on him with uncompromising ferocity, threatening to engulf him with sheer weight of numbers. But try as they might they couldn't get past his dogged defence. Every time an elf-blade came close to its mark it was either knocked aside by the Shield or brushed away by the Sword, or else he somehow managed to move out of the way so that the attack was wasted on air. And whenever an elf got too close Ringen was always there, waiting like a coiled viper to leap forward and deliver death before pulling back again to fend off the next incoming blow. Solemdal held the demonic elves at bay; and with each of their number that fell, the resolution in the survivors' souls grew dimmer.
But Aetheus knew he was trapped. He was tired, he was breathing heavily and his mouth was clogged with phlegm. There were just too many of them. They had packed together again and with each passing moment the wall grew tighter around him. Time and again he tried to force his way through, and time and again their line held. Then his back hit something hard and he realised he was against the wall. The tiny sound of running water came up from the baby-faced fountain next to him.
And it was there, by the holy waters of Lilyth, that his luck changed. An elf, his blue skin glinting like ice in the sunlight, dared to jump forward. His curved blade whipped towards Aetheus's face and for an appalling moment Aetheus saw death. Ringen was too far away to parry, Solemdal was on the wrong side of his body and time stood still as all he could do was twist his head to the side and be thankful that at least his end would be quick.
The elf missed. Somehow the twist had been enough and Aetheus heard the blade whistle as it slid past his ear, then felt his body convulse with pain as the steel sliced into his shoulder, and it was that pain more than anything else that released within him the killer he had tried so hard to suppress. The elves cheered at the sight of his blood. The one who had drawn it sneered with satisfaction, tried to swipe the blade back and so saw it further into Aetheus's flesh but Aetheus, instead of flinching away from the pain, stepped forward so that their chests pounded into each other. The elf had nowhere to go and Aetheus thrust upwards. The golden blade slid into the elf's belly, its tip protruded through his back and in that moment the last of the mist evaporated and the sun's light gleamed on the fresh blood. Aetheus wrenched Ringen free of the flesh's suction and as it came clear it swung wildly back and sent a spray of red arcing into the air.
Aetheus screamed, his first cry of the battle, and charged. The elf behind the one he had just killed was exposed, he had relied on his ally's body for protection and now that protection was gone. Ringen slashed at his neck with such ferocity that his head snapped back off his shoulders and Aetheus was already looking toward his next victim as the lifeless body fell back. There was no stopping him. The tranquillity of his soul had exploded into the fury of war and now he truly was the champion of the gods. As soon as one elf fell there was another waiting to be chopped down with similar contempt. Aetheus cursed the dark elves, called upon the gods to deliver vengeance upon them—and with each yell another enemy died.
And suddenly they were retreating. They had seen the death that this lone man could deliver, the fires in their souls had given way to black fear and those few who were left simply turned and ran. One of them slipped on the bloodied cobbles; he died with Ringen in his skull. Aetheus shouted after the fleers, called them cowards, begged them to stay so he could continue to kill, but they paid him no heed. They just ran like hell back the way they had come, down the valley, past the houses they had so recently raided, towards the beach and their boats.
Slowly, as if waking from a dream, Aetheus began to remember where he was, became aware of his surroundings, and only then did he realise the true extent of the morning's slaughter. All around him the dark forms of elves lay in piles, one on top of the other. Their ghostly blue skin looked darker in the sunlight. Below him, halfway down the slope, a second pile of dead—mostly defenders—showed where the first disastrous stand had been made while beyond, scattered here and there on the cobbles, the bodies of the innocent lay where they had been hacked down from behind.
Only then did he truly notice the wails of the dead. It was a haunting sound, distant yet clear, a mixture of pain and dread. Aetheus felt a chill seize his heart. The passing souls lingered above their mortal remains, fading slowly into the spirit world. Most went in heart-breaking silence, ready to rise anew from the Lake and so retrace their paths through the Forest of Life, but those whose lives had been dominated by evil were dragged down into the waters of the Lake; it was they who screamed as their souls drowned in the dark. Aetheus did not know which was worse—the silence that came with the knowledge that a good person had died or the piercing screams he knew would haunt him for the rest of his days.
He tried to block the noise out, tried to focus his mind on the physical world around him. Blood trickled down his arm from the wound on his shoulder, its sticky warmth clinging to his fingers that were still wrapped tightly around Ringen's hilt; there was blood on his face too, though he knew that was not his own. Solemdal was like deadweight on his arm. He was so tired. Everything about him ached, pain pulsed from the wound with every beat of his heart and his whole body felt heavy with fatigue.
But he could not escape. The screams were there and he could do nothing to silence them. As the sun's warmth poured down onto him, Aetheus stood in the middle of the road, staring without seeing towards the glistening waves, and listened to the sound of the dead.
Hildfrida collapsed against a tree on the forest's edge. The brief climb had exhausted her. Her breathing came in short, agonising rasps, her lungs were on the verge of collapse and the pounding in her head echoed the pounding in her heart. Her belly throbbed where the baby's weight stretched her flesh.
All around her, other fugitives—mostly women and children—stood, sat or lay on the ground in similar states of exhaustion. Most were weeping; the rest were either trying futilely to offer comfort, swearing indiscriminately into the air or, like her, simply looking down the hill towards the destruction that had been their home. On the enclosed beach at the valley's foot, those raiders who still lived were hurriedly shoving their boats into the water, dragging themselves aboard and rowing for all they were worth. Here and there, dirty, wafting columns of smoke rose up from where they had managed to set light to some of the houses' thatched roofs. And, amid it all, a single, isolated figure that stood silhouetted against the rising sun.
The mist had lifted, the sky was clear; it promised to be a fine day.
Hildfrida felt her heart break. He looked so small. So alone. He had his back to them, was himself facing towards the sea, an immovable barrier between his people and their enemies. Yet despite the strength of his stance, the pride of his lonely challenge, he looked tired, almost defeated. His shoulders were slumped, as if they bore the weight of the entire world; the Sword and Shield hung limply by his sides, ready to either continue the battle or fall lifeless from his grasp; his head was bowed as he surveyed the destruction around him.
She knew what he was thinking. She knew also what this evil day would do to him, that it heralded the earnest return of the darkness that she had strived for so long to lift from his soul. There would be more nightmares, more torment. More self-destruction. He would be unable to forgive himself for the souls he had taken and so he would wallow in their deaths just as he had after the war. And it would kill him. One day the guilt would become too much to bear and she feared that day more than anything else in the world because that that would be the day when she would lose him. He would be stripped of all that he had not yet sacrificed and the gods, those selfish gods who had already asked too much of him, would take him from her.
The baby fidgeted in her belly, and Hildfrida wept.
©October, 2015 Daniel Hand
Daniel Hand is a British writer and military historian. His work has appeared in the On the Map anthology, Dekho!, the journal of the Burma Star Association, and previously in Swords & Sorcery.