It was during the Spring Solstice, when the gods blessed the crops and the blood painted the thawing snow, that the priests gathered in secret in the mountain woods of Norway. They led to a great bonfire twelve maidens of the highest beauty, virgins bundled in white shrouds, crowned by the kransen circled of the maiden.The wind blew through the branches of the surrounding trees pulling at the seams of their gowns. Their eyes were proud and their hearts were calm.
The youngest priest was not even eighteen. He was called Harald, named after the great king Harald Wartooth and this was the most important day of his life. He was about to sacrifice the love of his life for the gods. Her long blonde hair cascaded over her back and billowed in the wind. The end of the shiny strands reached him, stirring a storm inside.
Harald’s hand tightened on the knife. Why did she accept to become Freyja’s sacrifice?
Grey clouds gathered on the other side of the mountain. The women sang, enticing the wind to grow stronger. Their hums rose higher and higher filling the forest with an eerie atmosphere. When the first lightning struck, sharp silver blades glinted in the hands of the priests. They stepped closer, standing behind the sacrifices, a priest for every virgin. The second lightning struck. The blades reached the white throats of the doomed beauties.
Harald’s hand trembled.
“Goodbye,” she whispered, just as the third lightning exploded in the sky. Thor’s white flame javelin fell down on the ground to light the bonfire. Whoosh. The silver knives flashed. The blades cut deep into the skin and blood sprouted from the slender necks, drenching the white gowns in red. The women fell like trampled blades of grass, their blood seeping through the cracks of the earth.
Nothing stirred, nothing whispered, the wind had vanished.
A single tear fell down the young priest’s cheek. He looked at his bloodied hands in horror and gulped down the bile raising up his throat. The body of the woman he loved lay at his feet still as a stone. He lost his strength and crumbled on his knees, with tears stinging his eyes.
A drum echoed from the highest peak of the mountain. Its beat was slow and low at first like a lament of the heart. The clouds reacted. An oval chasm appeared in the middle of the sky, brighter than the fading sun. The beating of the drum grew louder and faster.
Harald raised his sunken head. Such a bright light, he thought. Someone dragged him away from the body. “Witness the miracle, my son. We have done the work of the gods.”
He saw twelve white lights emerge through the chasm, bound for the lifeless bodies of the maidens. They fell over the maidens and embraced them, sinking inside, making the corpses glow.
An eternity passed, then the first hand moved and the first eyes blinked. One after the other, the shield maidens rose. Harald watched the ugly gashes at their necks close up and heal. He saw the dead eyes come back to life, burning with an ethereal shine.
She rose among the last and the young priest sighed in relief. She gazed at her hands, touching her face with her fingers, smelling the air filled with the scented smoke from the bonfire. When she turned around to regard the priests, Harald saw blue lightning sparkling in her eyes. The other women moved to stand behind her and their eyes were filled with those strange lights too.
“Welcome Valkyrie,” the head priest said, kneeling down and bowing his head. “We await your command.”
She smiled, but her smile did not reach her eyes. “A feast awaits you in Valhalla, noble priests.”
Something made Harald’s guts wrench in fear. This woman was not the one he knew.
Twelve swords appeared out of thin air in the women’s hands, first the hilts, then the blades, up till their deathly tips. Ancient runes shined in the steel. The Valkyries surrounded the men.
“Don’t let Odin wait. He can be very impatient,” she said.
A cold wind came down from the mountain’s peak.
They Valkyries swung their swords and the heads of the priests fell.
Harald hid his face in the grass and began to whimper, waiting for his turn.
A pair of bare feet appeared in his line of vision. Sharp nails spread over his scalp, got a hold of his dark hair, and with immense force, he was hoisted up. “We’ll be keeping you with us. We have a lot of work to do, priest.”
Valkyrie signed to her sisters. Then with a shove she forced the young priest to walk away from the clearing, leaving a pool of blood and mangled bodies behind. Only the bonfire remained to flare with lightning and act as a beacon for the gods.
Emperor Shizong of Jin was bored.
His desk was covered in petitions, scattered in a mess over the smooth wooden surface. He was getting ready for the night, a servant brushing his silken hair and another massaging his feet. A long nail followed up and down the symbols on a scroll. He had read the same sentence four times without understanding what it was requested.
He yawned. There was nothing to gain his interest among the mounds of administrative papers. He gave up reading any of them, dismissed his servants and stood to look out the window. A crescent moon was high in a sky adorned with stars. His palm brushed his short beard as he contemplated the silence of the palace at midnight.
A devilish smile sprouted in the corner of his thin lips. He changed his night robe for a silken golden robe with the pattern of a flying dragon around the seams, then jumped over the windowsill to perch on top of a stone bench. Gathering his Chi, the emperor enfolded his air kung-fu and glided over the roofs of his royal palace.
He stopped by a secluded mansion near the outskirts of Zhongdu, startling the guard posted at the gates. The man fell on his knees, his forehead reaching the ground. “Your Royal Highness,” he choked.
“Where is Yu Kang(1)?” the emperor asked.
“He is in the hot spring, Your Royal Highness.”
Good, he thought. A burning flickered in his lower body. He walked past the prostrated guard, entering a courtyard surrounded by tall trees and rose bushes. He followed a path of white pebbles leading to the hidden world behind the large mansion. The smell of roses lingered in the air. The gurgle of the spring rising from the ground was the only sound in the quiet of the night. Steam rose, turning blue in the moonlight. A single torch illuminated the pool.
The emperor hid in the shadows under the branches of a pine tree, his back to the rough bark.
A young man bathed in the spring, black hair a waterfall over his back, white skin shinning, enveloped in steam. His wet skin glimmered in the flare of the torch. Every muscle was taunt on is back and when he stretched his long limbs the curve of his buttocks flexed. The emperor grunted, biting his lower lip. The fire in him burned stronger. He made himself wait.
The man leaned on the stony edge of the spring, turning his face toward the shadows hiding the emperor. He played with a strand of his hair, wrapping it around his finger while the other hand brushed his chest. A smile played on his lips as his fingers traveled down to his stomach. The emperor watched how the hand moved lower, beneath the water, how Yu Kang leaned his head on the edge of the pool and closed his eyes, losing himself in the bliss of his own pleasure, soft moans escaping him. Steam rose up around him, turning his skin translucent. His moans were a different sort of music, and the emperor was enraptured.
Even now he couldn’t believe how this beauty had come to accept him. He loved to watch his concubine play with himself, loved every moan, every sigh.
“Bǎobèi (2) Wulu (3), how long are you going to hide in the shadows?” the man asked, his voice filled with need.
Wulu chuckled. Yu Kang, although only in his mid twenties, was an expert kung-fu fighter and a most accomplished scholar of the Quanzhen School of Taoism. No doubt he had sensed the emperor’s strong Chi force the moment he had set foot in the mansion.
“I love to watch you play, beloved. Go on. Show me.”
The man laughed as he moved lazily around and leaned his head on his arms, his gaze in the direction of the emperor’s hiding place. “I like it better when you play with me.”
With a predatory smile, the emperor sauntered like a tiger, closing in the distance between them. When he reached the stony edge of the spring, he crouched. His right hand reached forward, pulling his concubine to him. His eyes dropped on Yu Kang’s mouth, his thumb brushing the lush lips.
Wulu kissed him like a desperate man, his tongue invading the other, his teeth biting. The other joined the passionate kiss, his hands in the emperor’s hair, his sigh lost on his lips.
“Yu Kang,” Wulu whispered. “I missed you.”
The young man flushed and his breath came down in heavy sighs. He stared in a daze at the emperor. “Heavens,” he said. “What was that all about?”
It was breathtaking to see his boy so disheveled from a mere kiss. But it was heaven to see him coming undone when he embraced him. The robe slipped over Wulu’s shoulders, pooling at his feet. His trousers followed.
Yu Kang smiled, eyes hungry, eyeing Wulu’s body with half closed lids. Goosebumps covered his arms and back, and the milky water of the spring could barely hide his hard erection. “I never can get used to you, Your Royal Highness,” he added coyly.
The emperor lowered himself in the spring and took Yu Kang’s hand, bringing him to his chest. Hands traveled over wet skin, tongue playing with the flushed skin at his neck. His concubine shivered and pulled his head back, searching for Wulu’s lips. A palm grabbed him by the chin and forced him to look at the moon. Wulu licked his jaw, the corner of his mouth, then he captured his lips in another deep kiss. His hand took a hold of Yu Kang’s erection, enjoying the gasps of pleasure the other gifted him. It didn’t take long until his boy cried out and spent himself in the emperor’s hand.
“What’s this? Have I been away from you for such a long time?” Wulu teased. “I must apologize and make amends.” He pushed Yu Kang’s body on the edge of the spring and prodded him with a wet finger.
“Yes… Now, I need you.” Yu Kang arched his back, presenting himself to Wulu, a beautiful image of submission. Just how he liked him. It hadn’t always been like that between them.
“Heavens.” The emperor lost control. He plunged deep and let himself loose like a beast.
“Ah… ,” Yu Kang whimpered. His hands grabbed the stone’s edge to counter against Wulu’s forceful thrusts, trying to control his own ragged breath. He had never been gentle in bed, and he was not about to start now.
“My beloved,” Wulu gasped. He increased the speed of his thrusts, grabbing Yu Kang’s arms back and holding him by the wrists. “I adore you.”
Yu Kang’s cried, his body convulsing in shivers of pleasure. Wulu coiled an arm around his waist to keep him from falling in the spring. They dropped exhausted on the stony edge of the pool, their bodies slick from the spring and sweat. Wulu turned his lover around, brushing his damp hair out of his face, and let his head rest on his chest. When his consort’s breathing returned to normal, Wulu took the young man in his arms like a husband takes a bride, up to the middle of the stone stairs. There he sat down and placed Yu Kang on top of him, letting him be the one to straddle him. The two lovers didn’t take their eyes away from each other as Yu Kang lowered himself back on Wulu.
“Sweet Yu Kang,” Wulu whispered before kissing him deeply. He guided Yu Kang’s body up and down with his hands, grunting his teeth from the maddening sensations coming from the movement. Soon, the growing fire was close to eruption, and Wulu climaxed, filling the body of the man on top.
They embracing each other, yin and yang, two pieces of the same soul.
Wulu opened his eyes. Yu Kang’s eyelids fluttered as he recovered his breath. He kissed his forehead. “When can I see you again?” the emperor asked, nuzzling his ear.
“I belong to Your Majesty,” Yu Kang said. “You can come to see me any day until you get tired of me.”
Wulu chuckled. “I would never get tired of you, Bǎobèi Kang.” It was late but the night was still young. “Let’s move to your bedroom,” Wulu whispered.
Wulu spent the entire night in Yu Kang’s mansion and in the morning he took his breakfast with his concubine. If the other concubines from court ever found out, there would be an outrage. When breakfast was over, Yu Kang presented the emperor with the latest news brought by the spies from the kingdom of Song. One news was particularly interesting to the emperor.
“There is a small merchant envoy passing through the dessert of Tibet, heading for the Song Kingdom. The spies say they carry silver and precious weapons which they want to trade for silk and jade. They say they have also Scandinavian boat builders with them, vikings from Norway.”Wulu raised an eyebrow. Stories about vikings and their impressive navy were famous even in Jin. “Seems like Emperor Xiaozong of Song is thinking of improving his navy. That can be bothersome.”
“That’s not the most interesting part about this envoy. What is most curious is the guard that protects it,” Yu Kang said.
“The guard?” Wulu asked, looking doubtful.
“Yes. The envoy has twelve guards protecting it.” Yu Kang leaned over the table with a look that revealed even he wasn’t believing what he was about to say. “And they are all women armed to the teeth.”
Wulu furrowed his brows, then broke into laughter. “Women protecting men? This is too good to fall in the hands of the Song. Gather a garrison tomorrow, go get them and bring them here. I want to see these women warriors for myself.”
“As you command, Your Royal Highness,” Yu Kang said bowing down, a pretty smile flashing on his lips.
(1) Yu Kang – I got the idea for his name from two ancient Chinese scholars. The aristocratic poet Yu Xin who wrote poems depicting the patronage of male prostitutes, whereby a poorer or younger man could provide sexual service to a more established man in return for political advancement. And Ji Kang who was a Chinese writer, poet, Taoist philosopher, musician and alchemist of the Three Kingdoms period, and had a homosexual relationship with another scholar named Ruan Ji.
(2) 宝贝 (BǍOBÈI) /宝宝 (BǍOBǍO)
宝贝 literally means “treasure” and “宝宝” literally means “baby.” Both are used by moms to refer to their (actual) babies, but as is the case in English, these terms are also commonly used by romantic couples.
(3) Wulu was Emperor Shizong of Jin’s personal Jurchen name