Christopher Galt Novels






EXTRACT

THE VALKYRIE SONG
by Craig Russell



The heavens are stained with the blood of men,
As the Valkyries sing their song

Njál's Saga


The lots of life and death were distributed by the Valkyries, the handmaidens of Odin in the warrior hall of Valhalla.

It was the Valkyries, their terrible war cries filling the heavens, who swept across the battlefield, gathering up the souls of those to whom they had allocated death.

In Old Norse, Valkyrja means chooser of the slain.



PROLOGUE
i. Mecklenburg 1995

Sisters, she thought, are reflections of each other.

Ute sat and watched herself in younger reflection: Margarethe. Margarethe looked weary. And sad. It hurt Ute to see her like that: when they had been small, it had been as if the energy had been divided unequally between them: Margarethe had always been the livelier, cleverer, prettier sister. It also hurt Ute to see her sister in a place like this.

'Do you remember,' said Margarethe, gazing at the blue-tinged window glass, 'when we were little? Do you remember we went to the beach and looked out across the Schaalsee and you said that one day we would sail away across it? To the other part of Germany... or to Denmark or Sweden... and you told me that it wasn't allowed? Do you remember how angry I got?'

'Yes, Margarethe, I remember.'

'Can I tell you a secret, Ute?'

'Of course you can, Margarethe. That's what sisters are for. Just like when we were little. We always told each other secrets back then. At night, with the lights out; when it was safe to whisper, and Mamma and Papa couldn't hear us. You tell me your secret now.'

They sat at a table near the window, which looked out over the gardens. It was a bright, sunny day and the flowerbeds were in full bloom, but the view was tinged slightly cobalt blue by the thick glass of the window. It must be because it's special glass, thought Ute. The kind you can't break. At least it was better than looking through bars.

Margarethe eyed the other patients, visitors and staff suspiciously. She shut them out again, confining her universe to herself, her sister and the blue-tinged view. She leaned forward conspiratorially to speak to Ute. In that moment she became again the pretty little girl she had once been. The very pretty girl she had once been.

'It's a terrible secret.'

'We all have those,' said Ute and rested her hand on her sister's.

'It will take me a long time to tell you. Lots of visits. I've not told anyone but I have to tell someone now. Will you come back to see me and hear my story?'

'Of course I will.' Ute smiled sadly.

'You remember when they took Mamma and Papa away? Do you remember how we were split up and sent to different state care homes?'

'You know I do. How could I forget. But let's not talk about such things now...'

'They sent me to a special place, Ute.' Her voice was now lowered to a breathy whisper. 'They said I was different. That I was special. That I could do things for them that other girls couldn't. They told me I could become a hero. They taught me things. Terrible things. So bad that I've never told you about them. Never. That's why I'm here. That's what's wrong with me. All of these scary, horrible things in my head...' She frowned as if the weight of what was in her mind pained her. 'I wouldn't be in here now if I hadn't been taught to do such terrible things.'

'What things, Margarethe?'

'I'll tell you. I'll tell you now. But you have to promise me that after I tell you, you will make things right for me.'

'I promise, Margarethe. You're my sister. I promise I'll make things right.'



ii. Hamburg. January 2008

She was waiting for him.

She had tracked him from the moment he first came into view on Erichstrasse, opposite the erotic museum. He was coming towards her but could not yet see her. She backed into the darkness of the small cobbled square. This is where it would be. The square had no light other than that which leached in from the streets at either end, and was shadowed further by the two naked-branched trees that erupted from the unpaved disk of earth at its centre.

She was waiting for him.

As he approached she recognized his face. She had never met him, never seen him in the flesh, but she recognized him. His was a face from beyond the real world. A face she knew from the television, from the press, from posters in shop windows. A familiar face, but familiar from a parallel universe.
She hesitated for a moment. Because of who he was, there would be others. Attendants.

Bodyguards. She stepped back into the shadows. But as he drew closer she saw that he was truly alone. He hadn't seen her until he was almost upon her and she stepped out of the shadow.

'Hello,' she said in English. 'I know you.'

He stopped, startled for a moment. Unsure. Then he said: 'Sure you know me. Everybody knows me. You came here for me?'

She held open her coat and exposed her nakedness beneath and his face broke into grin. She looped her arm around him and drew him into the shadows. He placed his hands on her, inside the coat, her skin hot and soft in the cold winter night. Her breath too was hot as she put her mouth to his ear.

'I came here for you...' she said.

'I didn't come here for this...' he said, breathless, but he allowed himself to be pulled into the darkness..

'And I didn't come for your autograph...' Her hand slid down his belly and found him.

'How much?' he asked, his voice quiet but tight with excitement.

'How much?' She drew back and looked into his eyes and smiled. 'Why, honey, this is for free. This will stay with you forever and you get it for nothing.'

She held his gaze but her hands moved fast and expertly. He felt his belt being loosened, his shirt being eased up; the cold night on naked skin.

He fell to the ground.

The cobbles were wet and cold beneath him and he gave a small startled laugh at his own clumsiness. He was slumped against the brick wall behind him, his legs splayed wide. Why had he fallen down? His legs felt as if they didn't belong to him and he stared at them, wondering why they had simply given way under him. Then he gazed up at her: she stood astride him and the fire in her eyes terrified him. He vomited without warning, without first feeling sick. A sudden, bone-penetrating chill spread through his body. He looked at the vomit that covered his chest and the cobbles around him. It glistened black-red in the dim light.

He looked up at her again, as if she could explain why he had fallen; why there was so much blood. Then he saw it: the sliver of steel that glinted in her gloved hand. He felt something warm and wet inside his clothes. His trembling fingers found his shirt front and he tore at it, buttons flying into the dark and bouncing off the cobbles. His belly was split and something bulged from the wound, grey and glistening and wet red-streaked in the half-light. Steam fumed from his rent belly and into the winter night. Blood surged rhythmically from the wound, keeping time with the pounding of his pulse in his ears. He felt cold. And sleepy.

The woman leaned down and used the shoulder of his expensive coat to wipe his blood from the blade. Then, with the same expert speed and precision with which she had stabbed him, she went through his pockets. After she took his diary, wallet and cell phone, she leaned towards him again, and he once more felt the heat of her breath in his ear.

'Tell them who did this to you,' she whispered, still in English. Still seductively. 'Tell them it was the Angel who ripped you...' She stood up, slipping the knife into her coat pocket. 'Make sure to tell them that before you die...'


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all material © Craig Russell