"Rape, theft and murder are all that you Northmen believe in." Godwine repeated his very opinionated opinion for the last time.
Harald, the chief viking on Njord's Fjord, the vikings' longship, had drawn his sword. The weapon was made of inferior steel and had no tip or edge for it's blade but Godwine had seen him chop up victims with it, never-the-less. It just took a few extra whacks to sever a head or an arm at-the-shoulder using such a dull and crude sword.
"I told you we believe in Odin." Harald spoke back in Godwine's language. He had been learning it during the long drift-voyage. They had been lost somewhere in the Mediterannean for many-more-than forty-days and had long-since run out of food and water. Only the rain barrels and the fishing had sustained the vikings and even with such nourishment most of them had already died including all of the prisoners from the Njord's Fjord's last raid.
"Odin!" one of the vikings cried out. Godwine hardly noticed when they did that since they did it often.
"Then where is help from your god, Odin?" Godwine hoped the viking chief would kill him and spare him another raw-fish meal.
"Perhaps Odin is busy. Where is your God? He has not delivered you as I have. You further my studies of your language so when we arrive on your shores we will be able to negotiate our passage." Harald could sense Godwine's desire for death and refused to grant it. Nobody gets to die easy, not someone who has seen such nightmares take flesh, rot and remember screams...the screams...
"Then kill me." Godwine said after a moment of consideration. "For you may already speak so well in my tongue."
"Not yet." Harald sheathed his sword.
He stared up at the burnt mast of the ruined seadragon-prow past the remains of the central mast. Fire damage was evident elsewhere on the damaged craft. It had been a swift battle for the Njord's Fjord which had been cast aside on a riptide from a single fire-arrow. It was from the spark carried upon the fire-arrow that the rest of the blaze had spread while the men then rowed in retreat from Edward The Confessor's new ships.
The other ships of the viking fleet had finished the battle, lost sight of the Njord's Fjord which had been carried adrift, and presumed they had sank. The other ships had gone home and the Njord's Fjord had been adrift at sea for too many days to count.
"Land! Thank Heimdale, I see land!" a viking stood and pointed. Others looked and with some effort they manned the oars. Godwine was forced to row as well. Prisoners usually did not have to row, but the crew had been decimated again and again first from battle and then from starvation.
They rowed toward the land and beached their ship. Thirteen men went ashore, lean from starvation. They lay around, the strange trees and dunes of grass and large boulders were all that was there to greet them. Then someone saw the smoke of a fire and they all got up and followed it to investigate. A small camp of two large tents was there and a shaggy beast like none of them had ever seen. They were spotted and some warriors presented themselves. The strange natives wore only loincloths and each carried a spear and a club.
Among them was one woman and she seemed to be in-charge. She ordered her warriors to stand down when she saw that the vikings were scarcely armed and were famished and weakened. After the woman examined them and asked them in Coptic who they were and who among them was their leader, they were invited into the camp with the strange people. Only Godwine knew how to speak their language and he spoke for the vikings, politely asking to be treated as guests.
"She is a princess. Her name is Nehkem and she is the rightful heir to the throne. Her uncle Paeser claims the right, however and now she lives here near her city and her palace is under his occupation. For lack of more warriors she cannot drive him from her home and take the crown which, by decree of their gods, is hers."
"New gods." Harald breathed with awe. "What land is this, priest?"
"This is the Kingdom of Aegypt." Godwine replied sagely. Princess Nehkem listened to the holy-man speak to the leader of the barbarous giants and understood his words. His Coptic was weak but she was among the best educated in the world and already knew the language the holy-man spoke.
"I am Princess Nehkem, daughter-heir of King Ahmed the Third who was ruler of Upper and Lower Aegypt at the time of his burial. There is no true contest for the throne of my kingdom. My uncle, the High Priest Paeser, is an usurper and a villain. He has lain waste to several of my villages and even now he plunders my holy city of Thebes and has taken by force my home, the palace. Only men-at-arms determine who wears the crown."
"Princess Nehkem, allow us to die in battle. We will serve your cause to go home to Valhalla." Harald spoke for himself and his warriors without any further hesitation. An opportunity to die bleeding, swept away by Valkyries, was infinitely preferable to a death at sea, lost and drifting and shamed. At the name 'Valhalla' all of his men agreed to whatever he was saying in the strange language.
"Very good. Feast on my supplies for my exile ends when you are ready." The princess told them. They were given the tent of her few warriors. After the vikings had ate and slept their strength seemed to return of some unnatural enthusiasm for battle. They awoke in-time as rested men and retrieved at a run all of their shields and weapons from their ship, which was left upon the beach, anchored loosely to some rocks as the only memorial they preferred to leave in this desolate kingdom so far from home. "What are your names so that I may remember my brotherly-friends who are strangers?" Princess Nehkem greeted them upon their return. She had changed from her white garments to a tight fitting suit of cloth-armor and a red helm shaped like a winged serpent. She wore two bronze daggers in her belt and carried a hide shield stained blue and a scepter-cudgel with an ornate serpent's head with protruding fang-blades. The kohl that lined her eyes was painted blue instead of black. She was going to lead everyone into battle for her throne. The princess was a warrior among her warriors and strange allies.
"I am Harald Thyrason the Dog." Harald replied. In turn he introduced each of his warriors, excluding Godwine who sat on a rock witnessing all silently. "Gorm the Jotun, Thane the Archer, Olaf and Don and Bjorn the Berserkers, Loki the Throat-slitter, Tyre and Sige the Swordsmen, Wulf and Gard the Ax-throwers and lastly Karl the Hammer-man." Harald introduced all of his warriors. Each made a loud barking-bellow at their name and struck their weapon against their shield or made a similar demonstration with their preferred tool-of-battle.
"Do you warriors pledge your loyalty to me: rightful God-King of Aegypt?" Princess Nehkem asked.
"We do pledge to fight and die here in your battle." Harald spoke in his own language and then in their common tongue of Godwine and the princess: "We came here to die in battle instead of the sea. You now have our pledge!"
"Good." She responded. "It is to be known then that my uncle has publicly denounced me for fleeing his armed wrath and has called me 'The Dog' as well. A dog may bite as well as flee. Now he finds himself at my mercy on this day!" Princess Nehkem held her own weapon in the air and swore.
At this her redoubled band of warriors marched towards Thebes which was not more than an hour's march away from her desert camp. Thebes was a vast city built upon a lush and verdant water-front. Princess Nehkem did not lead them into the markets or the suburbs of her city but rather the parade route through the Temple District and strait to the waterfront swimming pools and private docks behind the palace. The whole way they went largely unobserved and unchallenged. Nobody dared defile the sacred alleyway that belonged to the elite and it was not guarded, not even by a cautious tyrant.
"My uncle will not expect our untimely assault and he will certainly have no idea I have alien-reinforcements eager to die in battle against his mercenaries and temple-guards." Princess Nehkem told her crouched warriors quietly. "I want surprise and silence to be our way until we reach the throne-room where most of his warriors will be waiting without a chance to prepare. We are grossly outnumbered yet and surely victory means as much as death-in-battle."
"It is true that victory will please mighty Odin who has sent us to these shores to test our courage. Loki the Throat-slitter is efficient at killing in silence. He and your best assassin should go and murder each of the look-outs before we proceed." Harald was smiling and his eyes now twinkled wih affection at the woman who was providing him with a heroic ending.
The party of vikings and Aegyptians made their way into some shallow reeds and walked out into the Red Nile and around a short wall that offered little more than privacy to a bather. They waded into a shallow pool built right into the waters of the river. No person was in sight and they splashed to the dark pillars that led into the palace.
"Wait, what is that?" Thane asked. He aimed a notched arrow on his short-bow at the species that had disturbed him. All looked and beheld a nightmare more than fifty hands in length if not sixty for it was difficult to know since half of its draconian body was submerged in the neighboring wading pool. A carcass of a human lay upon the steps, which the beast had obviously killed boldly.
"That is Sobek. He is a crocodile. Never has he dared approach the palace but right now during such dark days it is his right. When I have reclaimed the throne I will have him driven away by crocodile hunters." Nehkem told Harald. Harald repeated Nehkem's words to the ready vikings in their own language, although some of them had learned a little bit of the priest's language already:
"That is the crocodile named Sobek. He is unafraid to trespass because of the turmoil in the palace. I guess he is of no concern right now." Harald spoke only loudly enough that his men might hear what the beast's nature was. Thane lowered his short-bow and arrow as did all the others who had prepared a hand with a throwing ax, a spear or a handy brick as Olaf had. Olaf examined the brick and carried it with him as he followed everyone else into the darkened corridors of the palace.
The dogs' army trod the palace with both hallowed and unhallowed footfalls side-by-side. The shadows seeped into the eyes of the warriors as unlit passages shone cold soot. Tapestry, peacock and palm tree silently concealed massive warriors in a place so large it easily swallowed the sounds of their numbers. Paeser sat wearing the crown of Upper Aegypt upon the throne of his brother Ahmed. The crown of Lower Aegypt sat upon the chair to his right and the Pharaoh's Staves of Sun and Law and Air laid resting upon the chair to his left. Half of a dozen guards of large size and black skin and strange colorful markings upon their bodies stood silently and sinisterly behind his throne. The front entrance was guarded by a score of Aegyptian soldiers armed with spears and clubs guarded in a relaxed fashion. Their appearance was indistinguishable from the warriors loyal to the princess Nehkem to the eyes of the vikings.
The scouts returned to where the intruders waited like furniture in the abandoned harem. They looked around noticing everyone without proper concealment. At first glance the room appeared empty but the eyes easily discovered every man who lay motionless. They all stood as the scouts gestured that the prime victim of the intrusion had been spotted.
"He has six black giants near him." Loki reported in a whisper.
"His guards are great black warriors. Who are they?" Harald repeated to Nehkem. She frowned and thought for a moment.
"They must be Maji. They serve as temple guards normally. He was a high priest until recently, there is no doubt he brought his personal bodyguards here. Maji are fierce fighters, bred for a thousand generations to be the ultimate warriors. They are more deadly than Achaean Spartans, Persian Immortals or even Roman Praetorian."
"I know nothing of those warriors. Do they still master battlefields?" Harald asked.
"No. But Maji do. Maji have been here since before Aegypt and will remain even afterward. Even your great warriors will become fables while they still stand vigil. They are not natural men, therefore. At least not like the great warriors who died before them. There is an account that they sought and defeated all great generations of armies that rose and fell as they remained."
"Strange legends. I do recall hearing of the Praetorian, now that I think of it." Harald mused. "I look forward to becoming a part of their Valhalla."
"Valhalla." Some of his men muttered the word as their chief had. "Odin." the rest responded.
The vikings followed Princess Nehkem to the throne room and suddenly burst into the place from an entrance to the rest of the palace. They poured into the great room, devoid of courtesans and representatives, for-the-moment, and found the Aegyptian soldiers. The enemy numbered twenty and caught by surprise they were annihilated by the ferocious assault of the roaring vikings. The melee was swift and merciless. Bodies were impaled and limbs severed. Axes flew to strike skulls and Aegyptian clubs were brought crashing down upon viking helms. Soon the first blood had been spilled and drenched the floors of the throne-room.
"Paeser I arrest you for usurping my throne!" Princess Nehkem stood over the two men she had slain, spattered in droplets of the gory mist that still turned the air crimson from the fresh carnage.
The vikings idled in battle-enraged breathing. Many of them had been slightly wounded making them even more frenzied.
"Kill them all!" Paeser ordered the Maji.
"With honor!" The Maji spoke in their own language, the air narrowing with the mighty depth of their baritone voices that said this in perfect unison. They walked towards the vikings with their curved swords ready, one in each hand. The vikings charged at the Maji warriors and the battle clash brought instant death. The walking Maji skillfully slaughtered one viking each, half of them suffering ghastly wounds.
The second wave of barbaric vikings finished the deathly Maji but took serious losses equal to half their remaining number. Princess Nehkem counted the remaining vikings. Only Harald and the archer, Thane remained as well as their slave, Godwine.
Thane limped away from the Maji that remained alive. The lone warrior climbed halfway to his feet and lifted one of the viking axes. Thane shot him in the neck with an arrow and the Maji threw the ax at the same time striking the viking in his ribs and into his heart. Thane grunted and grinned, blood pouring from his lips as he coughed and fell. His eyes met Nehkem's gaze. He was glad to die for her, to die in battle.
"Valhalla!" Harald shouted and ran towards Paeser. Harald bled from wounds all over his body and was set on-fire by the Pharaoh’s Staff of the Law, which Paeser wielded as a weapon. As he burned he approached the throne and grabbed the staff and took it from the high priest's hands. Then the last viking died.
Paeser stood trembling in terror at the sight of all the death and destruction which had happened so quickly that there were still droplets of blood dripping, squirting and splashing in liquid testimony of how perverted time becomes during battle. When he realized his senses could tell him no more, then Nehkem had taken the Pharaoh’s Staff of Law and held the magic weapon in her free hand.
"It cannot kill without the crown's blessing." Paeser objected. She sounded too happy to be surrounded by death and she said in a voice that made the whole world turn one shade darker forever:
"Do you not recognize the niece you doted upon?" and then: "I hold my Wadjet's Scepter. I can kill you with this instead. It will hurt more." And the sight of this girl, this woman, this warrior, filled Paesar's heart with utter dread. She had the cold acts of battle upon her countenance and her uncle feared her.
"Spare me your scepter." He said in defeat and handed her the crown. She took it and touched the Pharaoh's Staff of Law to his forehead making his execution painless and instantaneous.
"Now I am God-King of Aegypt!" Nehkem proclaimed over all of the dead who bowed, prostrated in puddles of their own blood, in her court.