Chapter 1 [Roman Settlement—Germania/Nordic Borderlands—Four years after “A Friend in Need”]
The sun lumbered through the partly clouded sky on the northern Roman marches. Wheat and barley swayed in the gentle breeze. A few ravens nestled in the trees. Norse servii labored in the fields for their masters in the walled city below and prayed to their own gods for relief.
Then a bloodied and tattered Roman officer rode down the dusty path toward the path. His wounds burned and scorched at him. His breath was ragged. He could barely stay on his horse but duty drove him onward.
The servii shook their heads and went back to work little suspecting what was bearing down on them.
Meantime the city market buzzed with energy and catcalls. While the Emperor had granted Elisians the right to preach their faith openly, most Romans still favored the old gods.
On that day, Eve stood them preaching Eli’s gospel with patience and perseverance. Even as people yelled and threw rotten vegetables, she endured and pressed on.
“Go home, Butcher! HARLOT!” a burly man with a grey beard and brown tunic yelled. “First you murder now you preach?”
Another woman in a grey cloak bellowed, “WITCH! Why don’t you die like your mother? Xena a hero? BAH!!”
Eve’s cheeks went red. She maintained her dignity even as the anger boiled within herself. “My mother died a hero! She sacrificed herself to save her victims! You would do well to repay your own debts as well as she!”
Before the crowd could respond, the officer rode onto the scene and collapsed from his horse. His blood pooled on the ground underneath himself. He gasped raggedly.
Seeing his wounds, Eve rushed over to his side. She looked him over and tried to staunch the worst of the gashes in his side. “Are you all right? What or who did this?”
“Y…you’re L…Livia. L…lead us,” the officer gasped.
“I’m not her. Not anymore. Relax. Who?” she pressed.
“H…Huns. P…please. Leg…ion decim…ated. G…get help. L…lead,” he begged before expiring in her arms.
She set him down on the ground as gently as possible. “Be at peace, my brother. In Eli’s name, I ask for your deliverance.”
In response, the crowd booed her even more lustily and threw more veggies with relish. “THAT’S RIGHT! LEAVE!”
“GIVE HER TO THE BARBARIANS!” one suggested.
“YEAH!” several others chorused as they moved in.
“Eli, protect me!” Eve ran as fast as she could toward the stable. With only seconds to spare, she mounted her gray mare. “Go, Sentia!!”
The horse saw the mob and ran as fast as she could. She cleared the gates with a minute to spare before they trapped her and Eve inside of them.
Yet another danger pressed down toward them outside.
Eve saw the crops in flames. Smoke choked off the sun. Acrid soot billowed on the wind.
Lightly armored figures on horseback shot arrows into the remaining servii confirming her worst fears. More of the northern Asiatic cavalry’s hoof beats echoed just over the next hill.
She knew better than to try and talk to the atheistic invaders.
Then one of the easterners saw her and sized up a shaft for her heart.
“NO!” She wheeled around and started Sentia toward the south just as the bowman fired.
The arrow buried itself in her shoulder.
She winced but knew that she couldn’t afford to get caught by the invaders. She urged her mount down the trail and into the woods. She remembered from the earlier encounter between her—or rather Livia’s—troops and the Huns, their shorter horses weren’t as maneuverable in forest or marshy settings.
And such a swampy turf extended south to within a mile or so of the Amazon village.
Gradually the pursuers’ challenges and war cries became less pronounced and faded. All became quiet.
“Thanks, Sentia,” she whispered while ignoring the pain. “Get me to the Amazons.”
The horse grunted and galloped through the marsh toward her mistress’ destination.
Even as they missed capturing Eve, the Huns turned their wrath on the city itself. After burning the fields, the invaders shot fire arrows and bits of diseased meat into the settlement. The flames quickly engulfed the city turning it into a charred mess and killing every citizen and remaining servii within. Then they melted away once more into the smoke toward the next prize in the Roman marches.
Once the defiant barbarians had disappeared, a group of silver armored Valkyries descended from the skies on their steeds and alighted near the bodies. As was their charge from Odin, they sought out the worthy for spots in Valhalla.
As the restored leader, Grunhilda surveyed the field and shook her head. She frowned at the gore and senseless murders about herself. “Root through the dead for ours. Odin wants them in Valhalla by nightfall.”
Her companions set about their task. They sifted through the charred corpses out in the fields. When they found their desired targets, a touch sent the spirit in question skyward toward Asgard.
Still Grunhilda and the Valkyrie had seen this drama unfold far too many times in recent months. Thousands of Nordic servii and their masters had fallen before the vicious scythe. They had debated with Odin about getting involved.
Odin had resisted saying that the mortals needed to resolve this threat. That it would burn itself out.
The trail of carnage certainly flew in the face of that idea.
Really sucks, doesn’t it?
Grunhilda scowled and drew her sword as Ares appeared in front of them. “Here to see your handiwork?”
He smirked sarcastically at her. “War’s great, Baby! Hey you and the Big Guys benefit! What’s your beef?”
”What a waste,” Grunhilda disagreed. “Don’t tell me you sent those monsters?”
“Wish I did. It gives fighting and pillage a whole new name! That’s all that matters!” he fired back. “I LOVE IT!”
Now I know where Xena got her bloodlust from. She recalled how demonic her former fellow Valkyrie had been before Gabrielle converted her. “No. These people’s souls matter! Supposedly you’re a god to your own people! ACT LIKE IT!”
The other Valkyries took a step back yet stood ready to back their sister up as needed.
He snickered in appreciation of her inner iron. “Like the attitude but only so much. Still the things I could do with you.”
She scowled. “I’d rather be Grendel again. Besides touch me or any of my sisters and face Odin’s wrath. You’re already a god without a following. Care to face one with his followers? Consider that.”
“Yeah whatever. We’ll meet again, Blondie. Meantime got others to convert.” He smiled knowingly at her before disappearing.
Grunhilda shivered. That pig was reading my thoughts! Odin will be fit to be tied. She turned back to the others. “Are ours on their way?”
The others nodded.
“Then we head back to Valhalla. Odin must know,” Grunhilda commanded while climbing on her mount. She motioned them back into the sky and over the clouds toward their goal.