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Numinous World Story -- Valkyrie

Several people have asked me if there's going to be a second anthology of Numinous World stories like The Ravens of Falkenau and Other Stories. I'd love to do one, but I don't have enough stories yet! I need enough stories to total up 50,000 words before I can do an anthology, and I'm not there yet.

But I do have some stories, and I thought I would share one with you.

This is a complete, original, 3,500 word Numinous World story never before published. All rights reserved. Please feel free to link, but do not repost, archive, or republish without my written permission. This is a new story for the future anthology.

We'll be meeting this version of Gull in the Order of the Air book Wind Raker, and if you squinted you could see her in Steel Blues.

The sun rises three hours later on Catalina Island than it does in Boston. I was awake before dawn. The sky was pearl gray, a riot of birds singing. I didn't know their names. They weren't the pigeons and house finches I knew in Boston. Not yet six o'clock. My mother was never up before ten and I doubted the time difference would stir her before eight. Besides, she and my father had been to a dinner party the night before and hadn't returned until after midnight. I didn't go to dinner parties. I was still in the schoolroom, and should be until I made my debut in winter, the stars of midwinter blazing over my sixteenth birthday. Then I would go to dinner parties. Then I would be courted. This was the end of my last summer of childhood.

Thank God. Fifteen years as a child was quite enough for anyone!

I sat up in bed, looking around the cheerful cottage room. A twelve room cottage, available to rent to the best families…. Perhaps I had a bad dream that had woken me, but it didn't feel that way, not filled with inexpressible sadness or sorrows for things I could not name. I felt bright and alive, as though the sea air were already curing me in some indefinable way, as though I were filled with light. I had dreamed, and in my dream there had been a big gray cat…. The shreds vanished with daylight. There had been a cat and it was time to get up.

And so I did. Outside the sky was azure blue between the reaching trees, bright with the quality of light reflecting off the sea. I dressed as quickly as I could, stockings and corset and petticoats and shirtwaist, skirts and boots and straw hat with long white ribbons. I had to be outside. And besides, no one would be looking for me at five thirty in the morning.

There were voices in the kitchen as I slipped downstairs, but the front of the cottage was empty. Of course. It was the work of a moment to open the door and hurry outside, taking a path across the lawns that kept the trees between me and any upstairs windows. The air fairly sparkled. Once out of sight of the house I ran. I couldn't help it. I ran across the end of the lawn and down the path to the beach.

Once on the sand my boots sunk deep and I stopped. It was hard to run in boots and stays and all the rest. I could take my boots off, I thought. I was alone, all alone with the morning and the sun and the green waves rolling in across the Pacific. I took them off and then even more daringly, stockings too. I stood barefooted on the cool sand, letting it sink between my toes, strange and grainy and wonderful. I walked along the beach in the morning, cormorants circling overhead. Black winged gulls dived in the waves where rocks broke the long green swells, spray flying up like fountains.

A boy was fishing on the rocks.

There was a kind of peninsula made of rocks that jutted out like a pier twenty or thirty feet, the sea playing around it. He sat on the very end, the very last rock, a fishing rod between his knees as he looked out to sea. The sun caught his fair hair, a corona like a halo around his head.

"Hello!" I called.

He turned around and looked at me. It was too far to see his expression. He was wearing pants and a white shirt with suspenders and no coat at all, no hat and no shoes. He raised one hand to shade his eyes and then he waved at me.

I took that as invitation. I started climbing out on the rocks.

Needless to say, it wasn't easy, scrambling over slimy moss covered boulders washed with sea water while in white skirts and stays, my toes cold where the water kissed it, but amazingly able to find purchase. It was hard to haul myself the last little bit, but then I did and I was beside him on top in the sun, the sea spreading out before us as though we stood on the prow of a great black ship.

"You could have helped," I panted.

He looked at me seriously. "I didn't think you'd want me to." He was a very strange boy. His skin was darkened by the sun, brown as a railroad porter's, but his hair was bleached white-blond and his eyes were bluer than the sky, a very light blue, almost gray. He was my age or so, lean and tall, and his voice was already a man's, a pleasant tenor with an outrageous Western accent.

"Who are you?" I demanded.

He grinned. "Sir Bedevere. Who are you?"


His smile broadened. "That's a good name for a Valkyrie."

I had thought he was a local, but a local wouldn’t know opera. "Do you live on the island?" I asked.

"No." He raised his chin to the distant shoreline. "I live on a ranch near Los Angeles. But my father brings us here for a month every summer." His eyes roved over my white shirtwaist, now somewhat slimy from rockclimbing. "You're a Tourist."

"We've come for my mother's health," I said, sitting down on the edge beside him and looking at him sideways. "The doctor said she shouldn't spend the winter somewhere cold. It's September. Why aren't you in school?"

He began to haul the line in steadily, his eyes on the sea. "I don't go to school," he said. "I'm too stupid."

I looked at him critically. He was strange, but he didn't look like an idiot. "You don't look stupid," I said.

"I am stupid," he said, recasting with one long, flowing gesture. "I can't learn things right. I only got so I could read a couple of years ago. Papa says that they'd throw me out. I have a tutor."

"Oh." That seemed perfectly respectable to me. "What does he teach?"

"He's a one-armed veteran who served with my grandfather," he said. "He taught me to read the Bible. 'Now these are the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul the son of Kish, and they were among the mighty men who helped him in war. They were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand. They were Benjamites, Saul's kinsmen. The chief was Ahiezer, the Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah.' First Chronicles 12, verses 1-3. I can do Byron too. 'The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold….'"

"Don't you know anything but the smiting parts?" I asked.

His face changed, a shadow beneath the surface shifting. "Tell me not, sweet, that I am unkind, that from the nunnery of your chaste breast to war and arms I fly. True now another mistress I chase, the foe in the field…."

I knew the last line of the poem well enough. "I could not love you, dear, so much, loved I not honor more." His eyes were bright. I did not want to look away, not for one moment. I swallowed. "I learned it from my tutor," I said. "In Boston."

"In Boston?" He sounded appalled. "Are you a damn Yankee then?"

"I am," I said stiffly. "My father was in the Union army. He was wounded in the Wilderness."

He leaned back on one elbow. "My grandfather was a Confederate general. He was killed when my father was a baby. That's why they had to come to California. They were very poor. But then my father made money so it's alright again." He grinned at me. "But I'm a dyed in the wool Reb, through and through!"

"Oh." I was fairly certain my father wouldn't approve of consorting with the enemy, but then my father wasn't here. "Are you going to be a rancher when you grow up?" I'd never met a real Western rancher before.

"No," he said seriously, "I'm going to be a general and save the world." He shrugged modestly. "It's what I do."

"Oh." I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. Surely he was. He didn't seem crazy.

Or it could be true.

"Are you really Sir Bedevere?" I asked. "Are you really a Knight of the Round Table?"

He turned his head and looked at me. "Yes." He was watchful, waiting for me to laugh, waiting for me to say something horrible to this stupid boy who didn't go to school and who was a Johnny Reb who didn't even have his coat on.

"Good," I said. I tucked my knees up in a businesslike fashion. "I've been looking for one. You'd think as many of them as there are it would be easier to run across one, but since I'm only fifteen I can't really get about much."

He blinked. His eyelashes were as light as his hair. "You've been looking for one?"

I nodded, looking out to sea and shading my eyes with one hand. "I really am a Valkyrie, you see. You know the story of how Brunnhilde was doomed to wait in the fire for a hero because she had broken the rules? And how she had to live as a mortal woman? That's me. I have to do it again and again, return to be a hero's companion and be part of the quest. It's the high doom set upon me, the one I accepted with ancient oaths. So it's about time a hero showed up. I've been waiting around for fifteen years."

He blinked again. "Are you making that up? Or do you really believe it?"

"Do you?" I asked, and looked at him.

He flinched, and I wondered who had asked him that before. Then he squared his shoulders. "I do believe it. I spect I'm crazy."

"I expect I'm crazy too," I said calmly. "But I know better than to say anything to anybody about it. About the things I know."

His brow furrowed. "Can you see the future?"

I nodded. "Sometimes. But mostly I see the past. I don't tell anybody, though. I learned not to a long time ago. I just write it as stories because that's all right. I'm just a fanciful young lady."

He nodded seriously. "I don't tell anybody either. Except Old Dick. That's my tutor. He drinks a lot because of the pain he says and he already knows that my mother…." He broke off. "I don't tell anybody. I don't know why I'm telling you except that I dreamed that something wonderful would happen this morning and then I saw you walking on the beach with the light behind you like an angel that just came up out of the sea…."

"We were supposed to meet," I said seriously. "It was our destiny. God gave us each other so we'd each know we weren't the only one." I turned to him briskly. "So. I'm supposed to help you in your quest. What have you done so far?"

"Um?" He blinked again. "Not much? I won't be sixteen until the end of the year, so I haven't done a lot of questing per se."

"Well, don't you think you ought to get busy?" I said. "How can I help you in your quest if you haven't got one?"

"I learned to read," he said. "That was hard. And I can ride and cut cattle and shear sheep and train a mule and cook over a campfire and shoot a rifle and find my way with nothing but the stars."

"Do you know mathematics?"

A panicked look came over his face. "I can do sums," he said. "And multiply things."

"You ought to be doing algebra and geometry," I said. "I can."

"Well, I'm stupid, aren't I?" A hard, dangerous look came about his mouth.

"You're not stupid if you know the Bible like that," I said. "How much have you got, anyway?"

He shrugged. "All the way up to Second Kings word perfect, good as a cantor Old Dick says, except not in Hebrew of course, and then the four Gospels. I can do a lot of poems too. Some Byron and Lovelace and the whole of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I can do some bits out of Shakespeare and a long section of Paradise Lost. And a big bit of the Iliad in the Young People's Translation."

I had to admit that was quite impressive, though I wasn't sure a Valkyrie would say that. A Valkyrie would probably be sterner. "Not bad," I said. "Any Latin or Greek?"

"Not a damned word, excuse me for saying that but it's true. But I speak Spanish easy as English."

Given my schoolgirl French, that seemed good enough. I'd never been allowed Latin or Greek for fear it would turn my brain. "What else?" I said.

He swallowed. "I've been getting ready. I go down to the stockyards whenever there's to be a slaughter. I've got to get used to it. It can't bother me, the animals bellowing in fear and asking for mercy. I can't be soft. If I can't bear it when it's cattle, how will I bear it when it's men?"

A chill ran down my back like the snows of other winters, snow upon snow upon snow, bloodless bundles in the snow marking the way home….

He rolled up his sleeve and showed me his arm. "And I cut myself so I'll get used to bearing pain. If I can't stand the sight of my own blood or do things when it hurts, how will I get on? I've got to see if I can do it. Just like accustoming a horse to gunfire by setting off a gun near them. You can't know if they can do it until they've done it, and they've got to get used to it so they won't be a coward."

"You could never be a coward," I said staunchly.

His whole body relaxed. "I'm glad you think so," he said seriously. "I try not to be. But I cry a lot."

"Why?" I asked.

"When something is beautiful or sad or sometimes I don't know why, it's just that it reminds me of something I don't remember that I miss. I've got to stop! It's an awful unmanly thing!"

"Was it unmanly when Achilles shed tears for Patroclus?" I asked. "I don't think so."

He put his head to the side, as though considering something in my face I couldn't see. "Maybe not," he said slowly. "But that was a long time ago. If I'm to lead men now, I have to be hard as nails. I have to be the hardest thing anyone has ever seen."

I nodded slowly. I didn't really have words for the thing I felt.

"Will you help me?"

"Yes," I said. "I'll help you become what you need to be. That could be the first task on the quest."

He smiled, quicksilver and beautiful. "That's capital! And what's your story? I could help you. I don't suppose you've been kidnapped or stolen as a baby or long-lost or something…."

"I don't think so," I said with a sigh. "I look just like my mother. And really everything is fine. I have plenty of everything. And I know exactly what my future is supposed to be. I'm supposed to make my debut next winter and then court for a year or two and then get married and be a respectable wife with a nice house and never have any adventures at all!"

For a moment we both contemplated this grim probability.

He cleared his throat. "You could marry me," he said.

I looked at him sideways. "What?"

"You could marry me."

"I don't even know your name," I said.

"It's George." He leaned forward. "And then you could have adventures! We could have adventures together, and surely you'd be properly chaperoned if you were having adventures with your husband! I mean, who could object to that? We could go to the South Pole or Australia or Darkest Africa and be explorers, or we could go find something to conquer. But it would be ok if you went if you were married, wouldn’t it?"

"You'd really want to go explore Darkest Africa or conquer something with your wife?" I found that a bit hard to believe, if an awfully interesting idea.

"We could dig up Biblical cities in Egypt," George said. "Or find King Solomon's treasure mines. Or conquer the Yukon."

"I shouldn't think Canada would put up much of a fight over it," I observed. "I think that's pretty punk conquering for you. You ought to do better than that."

"Well, we haven't got any contiguous neighbors who are up to much," George said. "It's not my fault there's no one good to fight nearby."

"Still," I said.

"We could fight England," George said, brightening. "It would be almost patriotic, what with the American Revolution and all. And besides, my ancestors were Scots. Conquering England is pretty much de rigeur."

"You can't say they'd be a soft target," I allowed thoughtfully.

"I should say not!" George said indignantly. "They've got the greatest navy in the world! Course their army's nothing to the French or German, but they're no slackards. And it's a hell of a big Empire. We could carve off a chunk and do very well. If there's no war by the time I'm done and a man, I was thinking I could be off to India and offer my services to a Maharajah who wants to rebel. There always are ones who want to. And it's not like India likes being British. It would be a good thing to help them have a revolution, wouldn’t it?"

"I suppose it would," I said.

George casually reordered the map as though it were the most obvious thing. And I did like the idea of winding up administering a province in India, with palaces to run and soldiers to feed and Mahahranis to liase with in purdah so that men couldn't talk to them even though they really ran the country. It would mean traveling with a baggage train through uncertain country and of course there would be terrible battles and George might be killed and I might have to have babies in a monsoon at the end of the earth with strange Indian goddesses to watch over me, but that sounded ten times more appealing than a nice house in Back Bay.

"Yes," I said.

"Yes what?"

"Yes, I'll marry you," I said.

A strange expression came over his face, old and young at once. "I think I've been waiting an awfully long time to hear you say that," he said quietly.

My breath caught in my throat. The expression on his face made me yearn for things I could not even name. And so I said it again. "I will marry you, George. I will marry you and none other. I will wait for you and you will be mine."

He gulped, and I thought his blue eyes filled suspiciously.

"There is your first quest, Sir Knight," I said. "My father will never permit me to marry a boy who lives on a ranch. To seek my hand you must become a knight. I will wait for you in a tower made out of glass, rejecting all other suitors. But you must overcome all the monsters and make your way to me at last if you truly want me for your bride."

George nodded seriously. "Sigfried must pass through the flames to wake the Valkyrie. I know how the story goes." He took a deep breath. "Algebra and geometry. Science and self-control. I have to go to a university. I have to have a degree and a career and expectations."

"And I will wait for you for as long as it takes," I said. "You have my promise. But you have to fight the monsters yourself. You have to slay the minotaur."

The corner of his mouth twitched. "And will you descend to the labyrinth with me, lamp in hand, to guide me?"

"Any time, my prince," I whispered. "I will remember you until the end of the world."


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2013 05:50 pm (UTC)
I love this very much.

I imagine she got in some trouble for the slime, later. And rather more for having promised her hand to some Western rebel, though I imagine also she had the good sense not to say so right then.
Nov. 20th, 2013 01:07 pm (UTC)
I expect she did get in trouble for the slime. But I don't think she actually mentioned that she'd promised to marry a Western rebel until much later! :D
Nov. 19th, 2013 08:33 pm (UTC)
Awwww :D

I'm just listening to Steel Blues on Audible and I got a thrill meeting Beatrice - off topic but when she mentions she had a necklace, was she Elza at the time?

Yay for the possibility of another anthology!!!
Nov. 20th, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC)
Yes, she was Elza at the time. When she says "I used to have" she means a really long time ago!
Nov. 20th, 2013 04:17 pm (UTC)
I knew it and I squeed a little :D
Nov. 21st, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
But she's not looting the Vatican or fighting a duel with Errol Flynn! :D
Nov. 19th, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC)
Eee! I love this - George and Bea! They're so cute and young - and yet so wise and old all at once!
Nov. 20th, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
Oh good. Yes, young and old at the same time.

"You'd think as many Knights of the Round Table as there are you wouldn't be able to swing a cat without hitting one, but no."
Nov. 20th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
Oh, this was lovely. ♥
Nov. 21st, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you like it! I love them so.
Nov. 20th, 2013 02:01 am (UTC)
I. Love. This.
Nov. 21st, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I love them too.
Nov. 20th, 2013 04:14 pm (UTC)
Oh man. So much history, and Bea's total practicality and planning (hi there, Charmian!) and both their seriousness mixed with fanciful hopes and just...aaaaaaaaah.
Nov. 21st, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
Oh good! *beams* That's what I'd hoped for. So much history and so much weight, and she's so practical. They're such kids. But if they don't meet early, this is such a hostile time they'll both be destroyed.
Nov. 27th, 2013 04:26 am (UTC)
Came back and read this again, loved it every bit as much as the first time.
Nov. 28th, 2013 12:09 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad! Thank you!
Aug. 19th, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
Heh! Brilliant, as always!
Aug. 28th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )