Vol.2, Ch.5, P.3
Child of the Víly clan.
And a war-chief besides, cherished by soldier and civilian alike.
For cheer was ever hale in her, and mirth missed nary a moment upon her mien. And with wit never wanting, Berta was indeed a bedrock to the rank and file, to the fair and the frail, to the youth and the many-yeared.
One could say this lack of coldness and cunning made for a war-chief without wherewithal. But in Berta, there was also boundless strength.
Strength enough to affright the frontlines with wild and whirling hammer-fury.
Strength enough for the peers and pawns of her pennon to see in her a beacon of courage, corroboration, and camaraderie.
Thus was she worthy. As a warrior. As a war-chief.
And as well, a mother.
This, none could doubt.
For whilst the blessing of childbirth was unbestowed to her, Berta was mother to many a motherless child. Oh, indeed. What many they were. Hensen was hard-lived, home to those harried by war, of whom not few were little children lost of all parentage. But Berta gave them hope. A smile to look to. A love to soothe their loss.
They were all of them like faeries, fast in flocking to and frolicking about their minding mother. And to them would Berta lend both ears, always with a bent most benign. She was sure to scold them whensoever they crossed a line, but the stringency was more surely followed by an embrace—one bountiful in its rounding reach, for rotund was Berta’s girth, and with ease could she invest the many little ones in her arms.
Ah, yes. What warmth they knew. What solace. What surety.
But it was the unbent truth that Berta’s was a past wholly unbrightened by her unbreakable smile. Few realised it. Fewer still knew of it.
A time when she was twenty. A time when she walked the warrior’s way, a battler in a Staffel under the Vílungen banner.
A time when she was with child.
Blessed, she took leave from the frontlines. A visit to her home village was in order, for respite, for familial revelry. Her husband was to follow soon after, busied as he was with leading the Staffel. Thus did the newly expectant mother make her way home without companion.
It was then that, not more than a day after her arrival, the sword-bearing sons of Londosius thought to pay a visit of their own.
No Nafíl foresaw the assault. Berta’s hamlet was humble at best. An abode bereft of all riches. What worth could the eyes of Man espy in its penury? The future war-chief knew not, and thus thought the trip an untroubled one. How fickle, how hounding, trouble.
But the Men themselves thought much the same. Theirs was an ill irony in finding amidst the folk of the far-off hamlet whom but a hammer-wielding warrior of a woman.
Oh, the woe they knew.
Their blades barked much, but bit little against the girth of Berta’s battlehammer. And whensoever the warrior swung its smiting head, the partisans of Man would be sent sailing through the air like shreds of paper given to a gust of wind.
What boundless strength there was in Berta. Many amongst the Men had their heads unmade. Many more were soiled in misery and mortification. But such strength was cut short by cunning.
A keen, flesh-famished blade, held to the neck of an innocent.
But of course Berta would stop. The village was small. Everyone knew one another. Everyone was friend and family both, from birth till deathbed. And so was each and every villager a valid hostage to be leveraged against the gracious Berta.
Clenching her teeth, the warrior wound down, till the butt of a Londosian lance was brought down upon the back of her head. Blackness took her mind and sight.
When next they were restored, the tables were turned: Berta found herself bound of hands and feet, with all garb and gear parted from her person, whilst the Men were anear, deep in discussion for who shall be first to violate this victim of theirs.
Oh, what caustic conversation. Each uttered word an alarum upon her ears, a trampling heel upon her pride.
He whose deeds were deemed deficient in this raid was to defile Berta’s body. This, the Men aired, all with half-simpers upon their lips. It was but a game to them. A pastime of “punishment”, for pleasure was nowhere to be found in raping a Nafíl. No, not to these Men. But games are games, and entertainment is scarce on the battlefield.
“Ech… Fuck me luck, ey…”
Grumbles shared by a number of them.
Giggles shared amongst the rest.
Shadows then crept close—the foresaid Men of meagre merit. Their fingers formed fists and flew at Berta every which way. She could not resist. The violence was unmitigated. The violation unfolded.
Of course, no sufferer of such molestation would fain favour lust than loathing from her offender. Still, Berta could not stay her tears, for loath the Men did. Loath, whilst they retched and gagged with every heave of the hip they hurtled into her. All as the air was garbled by their glee and utter disgust.
That isn’t to say Berta herself was barren of charm. No, quite the opposite, for her womanly allure was lucid amidst the many curves of her constitution. And with a comely countenance of almond-round eyes and a mirthful warmth to boot, no Nafílim beholder could gainsay the bounty of beauty before them.
But Men beheld with eyes of a different sight. Very few found Nafílim flesh worth coveting. And nowhere was this truer than amongst the Mennish soldiery.
What was it in the Nafílim mien that earned Man’s aversion? Not in their fleshly features, no, as it was a given that a Nafíl was distinct from a Man only by the hue of the skin. Rather, the repugnance was one resonating from deep in the minds of Men. An abhorrence they could scarce abort, as the Mennish partisans did their penance of raping Berta. For that was all it was to them: playful penance.
On and on it went.
One Man after another, belittling Berta with their scathing barks.
Raping and raping, whilst roaring out their revulsion for the very act.
“Better to bed with a beast,” they would bellow in her ear.
“I’d sooner savour a sow than you,” they would hiss at her face.
By the end of that terrible eternity, Berta was left broken upon the ground, steeped in the soldiers’ fleshly fluids, her gaze aimless and lightless, long-spent of all tears.
“Hwah! Right glad that’s done with!” said one. “Bless me knob, it be stain’d with sin!”
“Oi,” called another, “we snuffin’ this sow or wot?”
“Yea, have it done. We headin’ home, boys!”
Cold words, more rightly said for the riddance of rubbish. But rid they did: into Berta’s belly bored a Londosian spear.
A wince from the woeful warrior. No further motion followed. The soldiers suited up and set off, content with their cruelty.
In time did tidings of the attack reach the ears of the Vílungen braves. To the harried village they made haste.
There, from the misery was birthed a miracle: Berta, discovered and rescued, took well to her clanmates’ remedies, for it happened that the spear savoured but a shallow wound from her flesh. Likely a charity chalked up to the laxness of the Londosian hand that wielded it.
But that was where the miracles stopped.
The villagers—none save Berta were spared a despicable end. The hostage, too, was hewn.
And one more life was taken: the yet-begotten babe in Berta’s belly.
That tiny spark of a life, inspiring to form and shape, was left a lifeless smear.
“I’m sorry… my dear… Oh… I’m sorry…”
The endless lament of a mother for her child. A child she could not welcome into this world. A world where waited more woe for the bereaved Berta.
What foul chance: the Londosians at the village were evidently but a detachment of a larger force, with which Berta’s beloved had made battle.
And there was her husband slain.
A death that served a dirge for the warrior’s family.
Her concerned comrades, all of them, could not conceive of further battle for Berta. But such a conception was nearsighted.
Berta was unbroken.
Hatred did not hound her. Tragedy did not chain her. The deaths, the defilement—none of them could dare damn her heart to dwelling upon dark thoughts.
It was all a simple matter to her. The warrior’s way was now a warrior’s life. A life led to save lives in need of deliverance. A resolve revived from deep in her bosom, where the vigil-light of her husband and child both yet burned.
For him would she ever be the wife he so loved.
For her unbegotten babe would she ever be the mother it surely would have loved.
The will of a woman unwhelmed by wanton woe.
Oh, what boundless strength there was in Berta, indeed.
But make no mistake: the orphans she later fostered were not themselves surrogates for her fallen child, no. And neither were they but salves to soothe in her heart the longing for all she had lost.
No. Berta simply was as she ever was.
A woman of warmth.
A presence of protection.
Indeed, over the next nigh-score years, countless children cherished their “Auntie”, whilst she plied in parallel the duties of a Vílungen warrior. And in that span, never did her fair smile fade.
Never, did she display undue disdain for the sons and daughters of Man.
But just the same, she sheltered no fellowship for them. For in her heart beat the steady belief that with brumeless eyes must another be judged, regardless of his lineage or lot.
Of Man, such vision would see much, but vouch little for aught contrary to his callous character. That is, till a day dawned where one of his sons set foot afore the gates of Hensen. A son, whose sole company was his own, claiming himself acting commandant to the baleful battlements of Balasthea.
How preposterous, Berta thought. What be his mind, this Man?
Questions clouded her conscience. But the mists soon dissipated, for this Man, this “Rolf”, said thus:
‘…The innocent and faultless…
…divested and sent to their deaths…
…Families… taken and torn asunder…
…These… I wish never to see again…’
Berta’s heart skipped a beat.
And in the dusk of that same day would she share delightful discourse with this Rolf. Hours of amity, held in all places a paltry, parentless home, nestled within Hensen’s harrowed nest. Lise herself was there, no less taken with the tameness and meaningfulness of the moment. Amidst their exchanged words, in Berta was newly birthed a trust for this child of Man.
Oh, a gladness. To find amongst Men a model of meekness, Berta reasoned anew. Not all of them be cruel. No… not at all.
The thought was a thankful one. The war-chief felt then a friendship with this Rolf. A bond that sooner seemed brimming with many years shared between them.
But then came a shift to this Rolf’s eyes and a fastness to his feet as he flew out of the house most asudden. Berta and Lise soon followed, only to next know the reason for his unease.
Where he looked was alive with flame, skies cast in scarlet heat.
The Fiefguard were at the gates.
An army of Men whose hearts shared not a beat with Rolf’s.
The children—at all costs must they be spared the spear. This was Berta’s mind, made with all immediacy.
Her hand ran along the length of the battlehammer at her hip. And upon her face was then the fierceness of a warrior.
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(Language: German; plural: “Staffeln”) An organisational unit of a German army, in particular an air squadron. In Soot-Steeped Knight, a Staffel is a unit within a Nafílim army, and can be headed by a Staffelhaupt or a war-chief.