"The tale is told. Sleep now."
"Father..." Ragnorvald whispered as his eyes drifted shut.
The old cloaked man stood from where he crouched. He took his hand from where he rested it on the sleeping man's head and looked toward the Harvest Mother's temple-farm.
The older priestess approached but behind her no marks appeared in the snow. Her face was her face but sharper, light, almost with a glow of its own that stood out in the darkening day. The snow stopped falling around them. She dipped her head as she approached and he raised his right hand with his palm toward her in acknowledgement.
She looked down at Ragnorvald whose chest slowly rose and fell. "He lives," she said both surprised and pleased then her eyebrow rose as she looked at the old man.
"He does," the man said in answer.
"Then he is mine," she said firmly. "It is his wyrd and his wer."
"I shall pay his debt," he raised his cloak and from it a young man appeared. Hord stumbled out seeming to step from a far distance, a dark tunnel, seen as doll-like small, but instantly growing to his full size. He looked about him as if he were in a dream.
"It is not enough," her voice had a tinge of anger, but not directed at the man, never at him. "This one has always been mine. He would have been found."
"And planted in the earth then, as I found him," said the old man," No, he crossed into my realm and he is young but still worthy enough for my hall. Shall I take him back?"
"No!" she said hastily. "But this one..." she pointed to Ragnorvald, "This has done... and would have done..."
"And yet he did not," the man laughed, "I would not have begrudged him a little fire, but your hall stands, your statue is untouched even your priestesses unviolated."
"My women..." her voice rose in anger.
"Ah, I do have another gift for you," he raised his cloak again and six thrall-maids came running toward the woman. They sank to their knees, surrounding her with tears and held to the hem of her long skirt.
"My daughters," she said and stroked a head, put her hand to a cheek, then looked at the old man, still angry, but with tears in her own eyes.
"This man is mine," he said. "I claim him, but when you turn on him with an angry heart think of these I have returned to you. Long ago we warred, my children and yours, and long ago we made our peace. I have no care for those who seek your realm. They are none of mine, but this man's fate I have touched. He lives by my hand though he is dead and ready for my hall. I have stood by the Weavers and my blood is on their skeins, his wyrd has changed and his wer has been paid."
The Harvest Mother was filled with the fury of a spring storm, the brutal cold of coming winter, but she brushed her children's hair with her hands and turned to the Raven King. "His wer is paid," she said and was gone as were her daughters and her son.
Across the field the Crow-Maidens lifted their wings and the souls of the dead came free, though a scattered few were left behind. Ragnorvald stirred as a chill of silver threads brushed the earth and climbed to reach the branches of the Tree of Life.
"Ah, warrior, now wanderer," the old man looked down on Ragnorvald. I give a gift to you as well. No man should be without a brother for his back." From his cloak came Gisli who had never died. "I have taken gifts of my own this day, my son," he said to Ragnorvald who heard the words only in a dream, "and gathered many to my hall thanks to you."
The Raven King let his cloak fall from his shoulders and beneath he wore a golden coat of mail, a sword, yes, and an axe at his side. The stick he used for walking became a spear whose blade glistened with blood that would never dry or fade. He settled the cloak atop Gisli and Ragnorvald then swept it aside to reveal empty trodden snow stained red from warrior's blood. Once more he settled the cloak on his shoulders, his hat on his head, his stick was just a limb of ash, rune carved, but unadorned. His feet crunched through the snow as he followed the south road into the forest and the darkness of the day gave way to night.
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Copyright March 2014 By Jason Zavoda