Dagnar and The Raven

I’ve set myself another Mag Challege but I’m kind of cheating on this one. This is an excerpt from a longer story I’ve snipped out and left here.

Dagnar and The Raven

He was a tall young man, was Dagnar Halfdan, sky-eyed and straw-haired, with wide shoulders he still hadn’t quite managed to grow all the way into and a long-legged loose-limbed stride. He’d been walking southward along the beach since sunup making for the Languyard ley that would lead him inland. He was also supposed to be on the lookout for a bird. “You’ll know it when you see it,” was all his mother would say.

He was almost upon the ley when he found the man lying face down in the sand with the waves licking at his boot soles. Slender, black haired, young by the look of him. It was not until he felt for a pulse that Dagnar knew he’d found his bird. He gathered the man up from the rough wet sand and carried him further up the beach into the shade, brushed the sand off his face and poured a little water into his mouth.

When the man came to himself, the first thing he said was, “I must go to the Queen of Death in the Black Wood,“ in a voice that was hardly more than a croak. He spoke in the old tongue, the one all the Mother’s Children shared, though his accent was a little odd. If Dagnar needed further confirmation that he’d found the bird he was supposed to be looking for, there it was.

“Oddly enough, I’m headed that way myself,” Dagnar replied in kind, grinning. “We’ve got quite a hike ahead of us, though.”

“Why am I not surprised?” After a long, tired pause, the man muttered. “Helásasára. I remember her name was Helásasára. Vast cloud of red hair. And that damn big snake, and the tower, and climbing. Time was all jumbled and fragmented. I remember that.” He paused a long moment frowning. “But I can’t remember anything else except that I must go to the Queen of Death in the Black Wood.“

“You’ve been in a place of power. You fairly reek of it.”

“Oh, Holy Mother. So much power it made my bones hum.” He shivered at the memory. “Is there … could I have another drink of that water, please?”

Dagnar handed over the water skin. “There’s a creek just over yonder if that’s not enough.”

The man took a careful swallow from it, wiped his mouth and took another. “I’m Drogo, by the way, a raven brother.  Son of Zlota Baba, grandson of Matka Zhemya, great grandson of Bunica Singe, and you, I think, are a wolf brother.”

A nod of acknowledgement. “Dagnar, son of Hlifthrasa, grandson of Eir, great grandson of Hertha.”

The man paused in his drinking as something out to sea riveted his attention. “What happened to the sea stack? There was this little tooth of an island just there.” He pointed, and a brief spasm of panic slid across his face like a cloud shadow over the land.

Dagnar followed the finger’s direction with his clear-sky eyes, but there was nothing there but the grey-blue, breaker-ruffled sea. After a thoughtful pause, he said, carefully, “I’ve been traveling along the coast for a week now, and I’ve not seen anything out there but water.”

After another long, memory-haunted pause, Drogo shook his head, looked up, and said, “It could all have been a dream, . . . vision, . . . delusion, . . . I’ve been traveling for months. Not eating all that well or sleeping much. The weather has been pretty lousy, too. It’s bad when it’s so stormy this close to Samhain, . . . though it seems to have cleared up. I hope they got the harvest in all right.” He tried to keep the bedraggled locks of his hair off his face by tucking them behind his ear, but they would not stay.

“Beltane was three weeks ago.” A soft reply.

Drogo looked around then, at the verdant foliage rustling in the light breeze, the wildflowers nodding in the grass and his expression collapsed into bewilderment. He smiled weakly in the midst of his confusion. “I seem to have mislaid winter.”

“There’ve been times I’ve wished I could,” Dagnar allowed and quirked a smile. “Could you eat a little bread and cheese?”

“I could eat a whole cow, I think.” Drogo put the water skin to his lips and drank. When he took it away again, it was almost empty. “You said there was a stream nearby. I seem to be . . . gritty. . .”

He let Dagnar pull him to his feet, but once he was standing, he found he had somehow misplaced his equilibrium as well. He staggered into the big Dane more than once as he followed him through the trees to a brook wide enough that a long-legged man would need a running start to jump it. He struggled out of his clothes and crawled into the cold, clear water, flopping onto his back to let it flow over him. By the time he made it back up onto the bank, Dagnar had rinsed the sea and sand out of his clothes, wrung them out and dried them by the simple expedient of evaporating all the water with a flick of power.

“The Languyard is only about 20 yards further on. I thought I’d find a place along it where we can stop for the night. If you can survive til nightfall on the bread and cheese and smoked herring I’ve got in my bag, once we’ve made camp, I’ll see what I can do about fresh meat.” Dagnar said, grinning. His eye teeth were noticeably longer than the rest.

“I think I can manage 20 yards,“ Drogo replied.

They followed the stream inland, which led them deeper into the woods and then between two rocky outcrops. Further upstream Dagnar found a place where one bank had been deeply undercut and left an overhang where two men might sleep out of the weather with solid rock at their backs and with room enough for a fire between them and the water.

“Don’t stand on ceremony,” Dagnar told him, tossing his pack onto the ground. “Help yourself to food. It’s on top.”

Though his stomach growled at the mention of food, Drogo felt that fire was a higher priority.  While Dagnar scavenged larger branches with his belt ax from a downed tree a little way back up the way they’d come, Drogo collected stones to build a fire ring, then built a small fire within it using what he could pick up off the ground. Only then did he open the leather pack and search out bread and cheese, and smoked herring, each wrapped in linen soaked in beeswax.  He broke a hunk of bread off with his fingers.  The cheese was soft enough that he could pare off a hunk with a blade of grass held taut between his hands.

He had to bend a piece of dried herring back and forth several times before he could tear it in two since he had no knife to cut it with.  He had no sword nor belt ax, either, nor pack nor even a belt pouch.  All he had were the clothes he stood in, and they were a good deal the worse for wear.  His boot tops were in fairly good shape, but the boot soles were nearly worn through in places.  He had no idea what kind of journey they faced, but he was not going to be walking far in these boots without new soles.  Just as well he’d misplaced winter since he might be going barefoot.

After about an hour, Dagnar returned with an armful of fairly large branches cut to length and a green sapling, to find his companion staring absently into a small fire of sticks.  He selected some of the smaller branches, positioned them, and laid two larger logs across them.  Then, with his belt ax, he began to fashion a spit from the green sapling.

“My thought was to travel by night and hole up by day.  You can ride in raven form upon my shoulders.  If we don’t dilly dally, I feel sure I can get us to the lady Belisama’s hold in the forest of Bellême by Litha.  I had thought to ask her to ask her mother if we might fly the ley at least part of the way, else we’ll not be getting to the Black Wood before next year.”

“That far away?” The thought of a year on the road was daunting and dispiriting.

“Aye.  This is Armorica and the Black Wood is in the mountains east of the high Rhenus. Lurbira’s daughter Morana Gheata guards it.  She is the lady we both seek.”

After a time, Drogo said, “Who rules the Romans these days? The last I heard it was Claudius Gothicus.”

Dagnar shot him a puzzled look. After an uncomfortably long silence, he replied quietly, “Emperor Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus died the year I was born.”

“What?” From within the hood of his night black hair, Drogo’s face became ghostly pale and he hissed through clenched teeth, “Don’t. It’s not the least bit funny.”

“Not a joke. I was robed 17 years ago.”

For a long, almost painful time the only sound was the whine and pop of burning pine sap.

“I’ve mislaid more than a season, haven’t I.”

“Looks that way.”  None of them was robed until their four hundredth year, after they had been taught, tested and proved.

Drogo dropped his head into his hands, clutched his hair tightly as if his head might roll away. A gasping sigh twisted into a sob, and suddenly there were more sobs behind it, till he could hardly breath for them jostling and shoving their way out. Dagnar unrolled his cloak and wrapped him in it and, to give Drogo time to find himself again, he went to the stream and refilled the water skin, and took a devious and circuitous route back to the fireside, accumulating an armful of deadfall in the process.

Into a silence punctuated by the snap and pop of dead branches being broken into fire lengths, Dagnar said, “I’ve heard tell of places out of time. Places where time runs differently than it does out here in the world. You can go, stay a day, come back and it’s years later, or years earlier.”

“Places out of time,” Drogo repeated hoarsely.

“My Greatmother Hertha is said to have one somewhere in the Lofoten islands off the northwest coast of Norland, a place where five leys cross. I’ve heard tell of others scattered here and yon, always at a major crossing point, always out at sea.“

“I think I have been . . . I don’t know how long . . . in such a place.”

“You are back in the world now, and we have a common destination, so you will not be traveling alone.” Though Dagnar was a happy soul by nature, his cheerfulness was a trifle forced just at that moment.

“For that I am very grateful.” Said with a softness that made Dagnar smile.

“And those who travel with me do not go hungry, that I can promise you,“ Dagnar grinned.

“No, I think not.” Drogo smiled.

True to his word, shortly after nightfall, the white wolf ran down a young roebuck and they roasted strips of its meat over the fire.  It was hot and juicy and filling.  They cooked a lot more of it than either of them could eat at a sitting so they would have venison for days without the need for fire building.

“Roll up in my cloak and sleep your supper off, little brother. You’ve had a long and busy day.”

That made Drogo smile again. He did as he was instructed, and within four breaths he was deeply asleep. Where Dagnar had been sitting, there was now a very large white wolf thoughtfully gnawing on one of the roebuck’s long bones, one ear cocked toward the night.

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