Authors: Mande Matthews
BOOK ONE: BONDED
* * * * *
Guardian Tree Press
Bonded: Book One of the ShadowLight Saga
Copyright 2011 by Mande Matthews
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S.
Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a
database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the
The characters and events portrayed in this book are
fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and
not intended by the author.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark
owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been
used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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For my mom and dad:
Because you believed in me beyond all others;
Because you never called my dream silly or selfish;
Because you recognized my imagination was something special;
I love you always and forever.
"Between darkness and light, there is truth . . ."
The land had known for centuries that she was dying, but
tonight she allowed herself to hope. In the far-off lands of Scandia, where her
touch barely penetrated, she sensed the two moving toward one another and she
sang out in anticipation.
Hallad Avarson tensed, holding his breath as he strained to
hear a voice that murmured nearly beyond detection. He swung his head toward
the sound, the depth of the Great Wood expanding before him. The remains of the
sinking sun caused blackness to lurk in the dense undergrowth of the forest as the
melody drifted out of the darkened woods.
The young man turned to his companions idling on the Green
to gauge their reaction to the singing. His little sister, Emma, sat with her linen
skirts splayed on the ground around her, glancing up through her thick lashes
at her beau, Erik Sigtrigson. Erik stared down at her from where he knelt, his
expression fond, fierce and protective all at once. Rolf Sigtrigson, Erik’s
brother, younger by a single summer, paced around the two courters, working a
carving knife against a stick. The birch took shape beneath his nimble fingers,
taking the form of his favorite god, Bragi. None betrayed any sign of hearing
"Did you hear that?" Hallad asked.
"Hear what?" Emma replied.
Discernible notes strung into a vaguely familiar lullaby.
The sky is dark and the hills are white
As the storm-king speeds from the nordr tonight . . .
"Blood brother," said Erik. "The forest lays
Hallad stretched his neck toward the woods again, listening.
And this is the song the storm-king sings,
As over the world his cloak he flings . . .
"Nei," said Hallad, as a puff of breath escaped
his lungs. Though spring, the air still chilled his breath, creating a circle
of mist that floated toward the dim woods. "I hear a voice."
"I don't hear anything,"
said Emma, keeping her gaze on Erik. She studied the line of her suitor’s jaw; her
full lips turned upward in a perpetual smile.
"Your fancies have gotten away with you," added
sucked in air, as if stifling himself would suffocate the intruding voice.
"Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep;"
He rustles his wings and gruffly sings:
"Sleep, little one, sleep."
Hallad squared his
shoulders, a barricade to the drone behind him, and turned back toward the
group on the Green, addressing his little sister.
"Let us be off before our mother discovers you and Erik
have gone missing together."
"Thyre will not find us, blood brother. Come. Sit with
us for once," Erik replied in Emma’s stead.
"Nei. We need to
leave," Hallad insisted, more in response to the confusing desires the
lullaby stirred inside than for concern over his mother’s disapproval.
A purplish haze filled
the sky as the sun winked out over the Skagg Mountains, darkness descending
over his companions. The air held no comfort as a chill swept the Green, the
nordr wind warning of a harsh season ahead. With a couple of long strides,
Hallad reached the group and picked up his mantle, bow and quiver. He swung his
mantle around him to guard against the biting wind, and held his hand out to
Emma ignored his
outstretched hand. Her eyes rounded, pupils contracting, misty gray irises
engulfing the centers of black. Cascades of sunlight colored hair, held in
place by a maiden’s circlet, framed her delicate features. A barn cat nestled
within her skirts and lay purring beside her, making no attempt to move.
Hallad allowed his arm
to drop back to his side.
"You need not
chaperone us, Hallad Avarson." Erik’s use of his full name, instead of the
familiar term blood brother, burned Hallad’s ears. He might as well have called
him the godhi’s son. The title reminded Hallad he always stood apart from the
others—a thought that agitated a dark place inside him. A place that felt empty
"I take full
responsibility for our courtship." Erik hovered over Emma, his black hair the
color of crow feathers, the stark contrast of the two courters like a storm
"Mother may not
agree to our courtship, but surely you can plead our case with father. He is
fair. And he will listen to you, brother," Emma begged.
Though their mother
disapproved of the union, Hallad had agreed to become the couple’s secret
chaperone to thwart any tarnish to his family’s reputation. He knew it was wrong.
Yet he could not deny his sister. Or his blood sworn.
But it was not their
mother he feared. She was an excuse. What raised his hairs was the strange
voice inside his head. It called to him from the depths of the Great Wood,
filling the void of loneliness he’d harbored for as long as he could remember. The
raw desire to seek its source awakened every muscle in his body. Hallad
quivered inside his skin.
His father’s words
rushed over him,
Rule with your head, even though your heart calls.
repeatedly flexed his free hand as he tried to contain the irrational urge and
shook his head at his own stupidity, but the song continued to wash through
On yonder mountainside a vine
Clings at the foot of a mother pine;
The tree bends over the trembling thing,
And only the vine can hear her sing . . .
"You should worry."
Rolf’s voice split through the tune in Hallad’s head.
Though Rolf was Erik’s
brother, they bore little resemblance to one another. Rolf—tall and lanky, with
ember colored hair—swirled his embroidered mantle depicting Bragi about him. He
resembled a prince from a scald’s tale, with his crimson cape and expertly
turned cowhide boots, yet he was merely the son of a cobbler.
"But not of Thyre. She’s
too busy admiring her latest trinkets, purchased from the tinker with her
husband’s fine bull, to notice her daughter has been stolen away by the lowly
son of Sigtrig."
Erik’s eyes sparked at
the insult to Thyre, while Emma feigned disagreement.
Rolf continued, "It
is the swan maiden. The valkryrie. The messenger of the Goddess within the
Great Wood you should fear."
snapped to Rolf again. Did he hear the voice too?
Rolf swept back his
mantle in a gesture grand enough for a king’s hall, announcing the arrival of a
story. Hallad realized the younger brother only sought an opening to tell his
tale. Erik settled from his knees to a sitting position, ready for the
performance. Emma cuddled the cat within her pale blue skirts, straightening
the maiden’s circlet that had fallen askance on her head, as eager as Erik for
the story to begin. All had ignored Hallad’s command to leave.
The violet sky darkened.
Hallad stood torn between his duty to watch over his little sister and his
desire to discover the mystery calling to him from within the Great Wood. His
momentary lapse gave Rolf his in.
The wishful scald
inhaled, filling his lungs, and spread his arms out as if greeting a crowd.
"There was a time
long ago, a time you and I both know."
Erik burst into
Emma’s gray eyes
twinkled. She covered her smiling lips with her fingers.
"What?" asked Rolf,
raising his brows as if he didn’t know what the commotion was about.
"What’s wrong with
rhyming?" demanded Rolf, indignantly swirling his mantle around him.
"Have you ever
heard of a rhyming scald?" asked Erik.
Rolf smiled a sincere,
"I will be the
first! The rhyming scald extraordinaire!" He bowed deeply at his own
Emma giggled and Erik
howled, slapping his knees and ruffling his sleek hair with uncontrolled
tremors. Hallad only stiffened, the mysterious voice caressing his mind,
fingering through his memories to pry at the emptiness within him.
said Erik. He straightened his face with effort. "Tell it right."
Rolf softened as he
stared at his elder brother smiling up at him.
. I will tell it right," Rolf conceded and
once more swept his red cape back, the woven picture of the god dancing as if
Many moons ago, the land vast
The Gods laid their prophecies down for mortals’ ears.
Neither you, nor I, a gleam in our fathers’ eyes,
While the Norns drew our destinies upon the rune stones . . .
Emma beamed at the
storyteller, her eyes wide, as Erik snuggled closer to her. Instead of Rolf’s
fine tenor, only the voice from the forest sounded in Hallad’s head. The song
had taken on a peculiar timbre as it grew louder. It was full, rich, and
female, but too beautiful, too unearthly. Hallad stopped himself in
I act a fool
I hear nothing
Regardless, Hallad took
a heavy-footed step backward, toward the voice. His breath escaped in a sigh,
as if moving toward the melody’s source relieved the pressure building within
him. He paused, contemplating his friends on the Green. They looked content. At
ease. Jovial. Hallad never felt such liberties. He longed to lounge on the lawn
with them and forget, for once, that he was the godhi’s son. But with that
title, the constant itch to be on guard, to be responsible, and to be apart was
Hallad attempted to
focus on Rolf’s tale; he closed his eyes and strained to listen to the younger brother
over the song that vibrated inside his head. The
Prophecy of the Goddess
had been told for so many moons that Hallad had still been swathed in toddlers’
skirts when the last of the travelers seeking the truth of the legend had
stopped coming to Steadsby. The forest changed then. Shadow things and
lurk-abouts replaced the older tale of the white swan goddess, and the forest
became something to scare your children into proper action, lest they be
carried off by shadow-spawn.
"In a flurry of
fluttering white wings," Rolf said, while flapping his arms in a poor
imitation to punctuate his prose. He slipped from his stanzas, adlibbing as he
often did. Erik repressed a laugh as his little brother continued, "A
creature appeared—so beautiful, so magnificent, even a fool would recognize her
as a goddess. One moment a swan, the next a valkyrie."
Erik looked toward Emma,
his black lashes shading the feline green of his eyes while he gently brushed
her generous sun-colored hair over her shoulder. Her cheeks flushed at his
touch. For a moment, Erik's gaze lingered on the golden key affixed to a chain
on Emma’s dress. The rising moon caught his features, brightening the depth of
angles in his face.
Rolf’s tenor voice
turned falsetto as he mimicked the goddess in the tale, slipping back into
Hear me; I have come to tell
of greatness and disaster.
Here shall mark the beginning or the end.
Two of the same, but as opposite as Muspell is to Nilfheim,
Shall come together again and reunite our lands.
As one shall rise, so shall
As one shall die, so shall the other.
As the children of both darkness and light,
So shall the land become darkness and light.
Mark this land beneath me.
Alight here, making your home.
Tell all who venture from the nordr, sudr, vestr, and austr,
For the land beneath me shall forever bond heroes.