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Long ago, the Norse goddess Solveig, sister to the mighty Odin, was imprisoned for speaking out against his wrathful deeds and constant warring. When Solveig used her powerful abilities to escape Asgard, many like-minded gods and goddesses of twelve other peaceful houses followed Solveig to her newly discovered realm of Highgard.
Solveig capably veiled her realm from her unforgiving brother and the other vengeful gods in Asgard, for Odin threatened to kill her and anyone who stood with her, if he should ever find them. As long as they remained in Highgard, they would be protected from his unmerciful ways.
Solveig and the Highgardians long reveled in their peaceful new realm but eventually grew weary of the endlessness of immortality. They merged their vast abilities to ensure they, and all their descendants, became mortal. They would maintain their various godly powers, but like the humans of Midgard, they would eventually die.
For thirteen centuries their descendants lived and thrived. Their magical realm flourished until a devastating scourge descended upon them and gravely affected the Highgardians. First the males became afflicted and often suffered for many years before their deaths.
In hope of saving some of their kind, three young boys were sent to Midgard, but Solveig’s veil, meant to protect her people, prevented those in Highgard from ever discovering if the three safely accomplished the journey. One decade after the affliction began, all males in Highgard had succumbed to the unrelenting Red Death.
The dark days of suffering were not over, for another strain of the malady struck the females. Unlike the males, their demise was mercifully swift, usually ending in a few torturous weeks. In the measure of three moons only six females remained in the entire realm of Highgard, all of the direct line of Solveig. For seven years it was so.
When the relentless plague resurfaced, the descendants of Solveig’s direct line, long-believed immune to the Red Death, tragically learned no one was resistant. Unless the last survivors discover a way to end the plague or leave their realm, the time of the once beautiful, powerful Highgardians will draw to an end.
The Realm of Highgard
The three women sat at the bedside of their cherished sister, Eydis…Eydis the Perceptive, her birth-given title. A potent elixir had been administered and now Eydis seldom woke. It was a relief to them, for when she slept her tormenting pain appeared to be finally eased.
Throughout her life she’d been smaller than her older sisters. Since she’d taken ill, Eydis had become much thinner and appeared nearly child-like on the immense bed in what had once been their mother’s chambers in the Solveigian fortress.
“Her time draws near,” Brenna the Healer whispered as her eyes filled with tears.
Brenna’s twin sister, Asta, Seer of Spirits, silently sat at the end of the bed, her eyes filled with sadness.
She, Torunn the Strong, the eldest sister, held Eydis’s small hand, uncertain if she was aware of their presence any longer. When she began to waken, it was clear every movement…every breath, was agonizing. Brenna immediately reached for the elixir and held it to her lips, but Eydis opened her blood-red eyes, touched her hand, and shook her head.
“No more, Brenna,” she said in a raspy breath. “I must speak to you, my beloved sisters…while I’m still able.”
Her voice was weak, her tongue thick from the elixir, but she began. “Above all, I wish for none of you to bear guilt because of me and this cursed affliction…not you, Torunn, because you couldn’t protect me…or you, Brenna, because you couldn’t save me…and not you, Asta, because you blame yourself for me becoming ill. No one is to blame!” She slightly shook her head, took a long breath, and spoke again. “Although my heart shall forever remain here with each of you, my sisters, by this day’s sunset this sorely afflicted body will die.”
Their own hearts were surely breaking, yet no one attempted to deny it would be so. Eydis the Perceptive always brought truth with her credible title. Her perception was infallible, her predictions never wrong.
Tears brimmed in Torunn’s eyes as she held Eydis’s small hand tighter, never wanting to let go. Brenna emitted a sob as she tenderly soothed Eydis’s fevered brow. Eydis first turned her eyes to her.
“Your tender touch and gentle presence has greatly comforted me during this difficult time. In truth, you’ve been a comfort to me throughout my life, beautiful Brenna, my kind and caring sister.”
“I love you much, Eydie, my precious baby sister,” Brenna said.
“I love you, too, Brenna,” Eydis whispered, and she patted Brenna’s hand with affection.
Tears now slid down Torunn’s cheeks in witnessing her sisters’ emotional exchange. She gently squeezed Eydis’s hand and she turned to her. Her once sparkling blue eyes filled with vibrant life, were blood-red, so red you could no longer determine her eye color. Eydis took several breaths and spoke again.
“I feel your strength, Torunn. Always I’ve felt your strength and protectiveness, but above all I feel your unending love.”
“You are a treasure, Eydis, and it is true, my love for you knows no bounds.”
“Nor mine for you, Torunn,” she whispered and attempted to squeeze Torunn’s hand in return.
Eydis strained to see Asta who remained at the foot of the bed.
“Asta, come closer,” Brenna urged, but she did not.
“You needn’t draw nearer or speak, Asta. I recognize words are difficult for you, but I understand your heart, my sister. I am consoled in knowing we will speak again,” Eydis said.
Asta nodded, but it was clear Eydis felt her dubiousness.
“I promise I’ll speak with you soon, Asta. My spirit will come to you.”
Still, Asta did not reply.
“Torunn, I require your blade,” Eydis requested.
Torunn was uncertain of her intentions, but Brenna spoke.
“If the pain is too much to bear…if you wish to see the torturous agony ended today, you cannot see it done in such a gruesome manner, Eydie. I will give you a more potent elixir. You’ll drink a greater quantity, simply fall asleep and not waken. That would be a kinder…”
“Brenna, I don’t wish to use the blade to end my life, although I admit I should possibly like to gouge out these gravely afflicted eyes. They are nearly sightless now and they burn as hot as fire!” She inhaled deeply. It was the first time Eydis had mentioned any discomfort in all the time she’d been suffering.
“Torunn’s blade is required so I may swear a blood oath to you, my sisters.”
Torunn pulled her blade from her boot and passed it to Eydis. Even the weight of the small blade appeared heavy in her weakened hands and she struggled.
“I will need your assistance, Torunn.”
“You must be cautious, Eydie,” Brenna said, but was soon interrupted by her taunting twin.
“Or what…she’ll be injured…she might die?” Asta finally spoke in a typically sarcastic manner.
Eydis smiled, softly laughed and then coughed.
“I thank you for your humor, Asta. Dark and dry as it may well be, it has been a welcome distraction even to the end, even on the bleakest days.”
“Where do you wish to be cut?” Torunn asked.
Eydis held her hand to Torunn; she made a quick cut and Eydis winced only slightly. Torunn wiped her blade and returned it to her boot. As the blood flowed, Eydis held her tiny hand high so all her sisters could see. Because it was her oath to them, only her blood was required, but they would need to acknowledge and accept it.
“I swear I will return to you in spirit, Asta. By our eldest ancestor, the great goddess Solveig, I avow I will send messages to all of you through Asta. This will not be the last day I speak with you, and if the gods see fit to grant me a final request, my spirit will appear to all of you one day.”
Torunn touched her hand to Eydis’s blood and then held it toward the gods. “I accept your oath as truth!” Torunn said.
“I accept your oath as truth!” Brenna followed Torunn’s lead and through her tears, she lifted her hand upward.
Asta did not speak and Torunn threw her another displeased expression. Brenna mouthed Asta’s name in a silent plea.
“I hear your skeptical thoughts, Asta,” Eydis said.
“I have never seen Mother’s spirit in all the time she’s been gone,” Asta finally admitted.
“By Solveig’s powers, I promise I will come to you, Asta.”
“I accept your oath as truth!” Asta finally hastily touched her hand to Eydis’s blood, repeated the words and halfheartedly raised her hand.
“I sense you’ve only accepted to appease our sisters…to avoid a stern scolding from Torunn…to ease my mind because I am near death. But I will see you again!”
Her voice was weaker. The discussion and blood oath had drained Eydis of what little strength remained. She began coughing, deep coughs that racked her small body, and blood sprayed from her mouth. Torunn wrapped a ragged cloth to Eydis’s palm while Brenna tenderly wiped the blood spittle from her lips.
Eydis closed her eyes and her breathing grew slower. No one spoke for some time and the silence was disquieting as her breaths grew less frequent. They were all startled when Eydis spoke in a hushed whisper. Torunn and Brenna leaned closer to hear.
“Torunn…sing to me.”
“Sing?” Torunn asked in disbelief. Her throat tightened and her heart ached in knowing Eydis was dying.
“Torunn…sing the song Father wrote for Mother; the one Mother sang to the three of you. I wish to hear the song you sang when I was a child for I requested it each night…the beautiful song I’d hear as I drifted to sleep. I do so long to hear it now, Torunn!” Eydis whispered.
The lump in her throat was so immense, Torunn doubted she could speak, much less sing. She inhaled and a sob escaped.
Eydis whispered, “I sense your deep sorrow, Torunn, and I hear your thoughts. You wish to suggest Brenna might sing for you think she has a finer singing voice…and you believe Asta may be capable of singing without weeping…but it must be you…it was always you. When you sang, you sent me to a peaceful sleep; I felt loved and protected and safe wherever my dreams might take me. Send me off with the song, Torunn.”
Torunn squeezed Eydis’s hand again, took a deep breath and began, though the first words were croaked at best.
“One day we’ll gaze at the Crystal Mountains,
Reflected in the Violet Sea.
By the Whispering Waterfall we’ll stroll,
My own true love and me.
We’ll hear the soft bells on butterfly wings,
Near the Mirrored Lake again,
We’ll be together always as we were back then.
No longer cruelly parted, my only love and I.
Free to kiss in the Moonlit Meadow once more.
Beneath the two silver moons in the sky.”
Brenna and Asta both joined in to sing the last line as all the sisters had done as children. Then they’d sung with exaggeratedly high-pitched voices often in laughter and merriment. Now it was soft and sad for only three voices ended the song. They looked to see the peaceful smile upon her face and knew their beloved Eydis’s suffering was finally over.
“For even death cannot separate hearts such as ours,
And our love will live on for all time,” Torunn sang in a whispered voice.
“You’ve never sung that part before,” Brenna said as she wept.
“I didn’t want any of you to think of it as a song of sadness, but of love, hope and reunion. Father wrote the song for Mother after they’d been forced to live apart when the afflicted boys and men were confined to the caves because of the Red Death. Father suffered in those caves for five sun’s journeys, and our grandmother Bestamor said he sang the song to Mother just before he died.”
“Even death cannot separate hearts such as ours,” Brenna sang as she looked at their dear Eydis.
“And our love will live on for all time,” Asta whispered, and all three sisters repeated, “And our love will live on for all time.”
Torunn nodded, kissed sweet Eydis’s hand and wept.
End of Excerpt