The Yule Promise
Fever And Delusions
Suddenly the raven began cawing loudly ! Valdarr was shocked, not by the volume of the alarming sounds, but by his apparent ability to understand what the bird was saying. The words reverberated in his head like a distant echo.
" You have made a promise,... an oath that you must keep ! Leave now or you will never fulfill your pledge ! " the raven told him.
Then, without warning, the bird burst into flames, and within the raging fire he saw his wife's beautiful face. And she was crying !
Valdarr awoke from his nightmare with a shutter. As he lifted his head off of the ground he felt the dizziness return. This time he fought back against the power of his sickness, and with anger guiding him, sat up despite his weariness. His head was pounding, his feet throbbing, and his right arm was giving him so much pain that he wished he could rip it off and throw it off of the mountain, but from this moment on he would allow only his fury to rule his body and his mind. For he was now quite certain that he was going to succumb to his injuries, and he was not about to die until he reached Saeheim !
With a new determination Valdarr reached into his pack and pulled out more of the bandages he had made from his shirt. Carefully he wrapped them around the wound in his arm, and tied them off with the help of his teeth. He then grabbed hold of his socks and slowly, and painfully, put them over his swollen feet. Valdarr next looked over at his boots and realized that there was absolutely no way that he could fit his bloated feet into them. To protect his damaged feet from further exposure, and sharp stones on the trail, he had to cover them with something that would not place too much pressure on his aching toes. But what could he use ?
Valdarr looked down at his bear coat that had been damaged by the wolves. The bottom had been ripped by the canines, and this gave him the answer he needed. Using his seax knife he cut the bottom of the coat into strips, and then tied them carefully around his feet. When he felt that he had enough layers built up to protect his injured toes, Valdarr rolled over on his stomach and slowly raised himself up onto his knees. Without waiting to rest he slowly forced himself onto his shaky legs, being careful to keep his full weight on his heels, and not his toes. After taking several unsteady steps he realized two important things. First, the bear coat strips seemed to be adequate to protect his feet. And second, he would need a walking stick to help balance himself since he could no longer use his toes for that purpose.
After gathering up his things Valdarr slowly, and with the help of large rocks along the way, walked down the trail to the first tree he came upon. Using his knife he sawed off a six foot section of limb. He then removed all the smaller branches before whittling down one end to a point. When the limb appeared good enough to use Valdarr tested it by walking down the trail a few more feet. It worked well enough, and he was soon on his way.
Valdarr had only traveled a few miles when he realized that he was quickly developing a fever. He looked around for some snow to cool his burning brow, but there was none to be found at these lower altitudes. He would have to wait until he came across a pool of cool water, or a stream, to stem his fever with a wet piece of his shirt wrapped around his forehead.
A short while later Valdarr came down off of the ridge and found himself in a heavily wooded forest. With his vision blurred by fever he could not tell which way he should go. To make matters worse dark clouds had moved in, and he could not see the sun to gain his bearings. Valdarr was unsure of how much time he had left on Midgard and he did not want to waste time and energy retracing his steps, or going around in circles. And getting lost at this point was not an option !
" Help me ! Which way should I go ?! " he shouted to the Gods.
Valdarr received the same answer he always did from the Gods. There was only silence. He was about to continue in the general direction he had been traveling when he spotted an object high in a tree in the distance. When it turned its head he could tell by its profile, even with his blurred vision, that it was a raven. Valdarr stared at it for a long moment wondering whether he was watching the bird, or if the bird was watching him.
The raven cawed once, ... and then twice more. The great bird then spread its large black wings and glided to a tree not far from him, where it perched itself. Gazing down at him the raven suddenly began to shriek as though it were furious. Valdarr frowned as he thought he heard something in the loud caws. Despite his mind not being clear, and his head spinning from the fever, he swore he heard words in the raven's caws.
" This way,.... follow me ! " it shrieked.
Vladarr began to laugh and cry at the same time.
" Have I lost my mind !? Am I succumbing to my delusions !? " he shouted at the raven as he changed direction and began walking towards the blurry black beacon in the distance.
Each time that Valdarr reached where the raven was sitting the bird stretched out its wings, and flew to another branch further off, but within his sight. On shaky legs Valdarr followed the raven through the forest. Though he could not explain why he trusted this raven to show him the way home, in his feverish, delusional state, he needed something other than his walking stick to lean on. This raven, as strange as it seemed to him, was the first friendly living thing that he had met since entering this cursed kingdom of Sogn, and in his weakened state he was more than willing to follow the raven wherever it led him.
With every step Valdarr's body became weaker, and his mental state, due to the still increasing fever, became less based in reality, and more reliant on delusions. As he staggered through the forest the leaves crinkled under his feet, which to his confused mind sounded like broken glass. Despite seeing only leaves on the ground, the intense pain in his feet reinforced this misconception, and soon Valdarr was trying to walk only on patches of ground devoid of these colorful ' glass shards ' .
Soon Valdarr was imagining that bushes were Trolls, and the trees that hovered above him were Jotuns, who were reaching out with their arms to scoop him up. Despite the intense pain that ran through his body like water over a falls, he began to hobble faster and faster until he was screaming as much from fear as he was from his incessant agony. The only constant in this forest of monsters was the friendly raven, but when he looked around he could no longer see it. As the Jotuns closed in around him, Valdarr broke into a slow trot in a desperate attempt to find the raven.
Without realizing where he was, or what had happened, Valdarr stumbled through a thorn bush, which he imagined was the hand of a Troll, and the thorns its sharp fingernails, into a clearing. Valdarr kept up his quick pace until he felt he was out of the reach of the Jotuns. When he finally stopped he stared in wonder at the incredible illusion that lay before him.
Valdarr did not,.... could not,.... believe anything that he saw, and the sight of the raven drinking from a small pond was far too much for his muddled mind to accept. Skeptical of his surroundings, but wanting to prove the image wrong, Valdarr limped over to the edge of the pond and knelt slowly down within reach of the water. He quickly retrieved one of the last strips of material from his pack. Half expecting the illusion to disappear he cautiously dipped the cloth into the water. Valdarr instantly felt the coolness of the liquid as it ran over the skin of his hand which burned with his fever. He could not help but break down into tears as he soaked the cloth thoroughly and pressed it up against his forehead.
It was several moments before the cool water lowered his temperature enough for him to have clear thoughts once more. As Valdarr looked around the pond, and at the hills that lay just beyond, he realized that he had been here before when he was a child. Valdarr smiled as he thought to himself that this was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Despite his pain and misery, Valdarr rose up onto his feet, and managed a little smile as he looked out at his homeland of Hordaland. As he re-positioned his feet, to better balance himself, he glanced down at the raven that had brought him here.
" Thank You ! " he whispered.
The raven, as though it understood, responded loudly with a caw !
- End of Chapter 12
- Next : Chapter 13 : A Promise Kept
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2018.