“The reason I mentioned the Saga is that there is a continuation of it. It isn’t from the same author but something historians figured out by compiling information extracted from sources scattered all across the Bay of Kings, Regiis, and Rome.”
Leaning back in her seat and holding onto the chains that attached the swing to the ceiling, she swung gently as she continued:
“After Sigrún recovered enough of her mental health and faculties, she guided Julius to the place where she grew up. It wasn’t Valhalla. That is too important to the Vikings for a mere fleet captain to have any sort of access to. But it was one of the several training camps for young Valkyries scattered all across the Bay.
“To the Vikings, the Valkyrie were a status symbol as well as a tactical weapon. The original Valhalla was too small to supply the growing demand for them so these camps sprang up: Small islands with a similar rocky topography as the original, enough space for a few bearers of the Steel Falcon bloodline to be immigrated, and eyries for the Feral Valkyries.
“There the girls with talent were trained, both in combat and in obedience.”
I was suddenly enlightened. “Ah… so that was where the mysterious undefeated special forces of Caesar originated and the reason why they were so loyal to him…” I blurted out. “They were the members of the Steel Falcon clan he rescued from that camp, weren’t they?”
Artemis nodded appreciatively.
“Correct. The Valkyria clan were a huge boost for Julius in all his future endeavours. They were his cutting edge for the series of conquests in his later life that earned him the title: Caesar.”
“Valkyria? Then… your Highness, you…” I began hesitantly, but Artemis cut me off mid-sentence.
“No need for any honorifics. We were doing fine even without them… and to be honest, my status is much emptier than yours. You aren’t really obligated to address me in so formal a manner. And, yes. I can guess what you want to ask.” Pausing briefly, she forged ahead. “Yes. The people Caesar rescued took the title of Valkyria to remind them of their roots. Led by Sigrún, they fought for him in secret. They were his trump card. The reason why he was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat several times in the course of his campaign.”
“Wait,” I interjected. “If the Valkyria were that instrumental in his victories, then why aren’t they featured more prominently in historical records?”
“Caesar had the records wiped. He mostly used the aerial unit as a trump card to suddenly reverse the flow of a battle and seize the initiative. For that, secrecy was half the battle. Even after conquering most of Egypt, he still had plans for further expansion, so he still needed them to be kept secret. Also, the Valkyria were utterly loyal to him so they didn’t really mind staying in the shadows and forgoing the credit they deserved.”
She continued, “Unfortunately, before he could get around to doing that, he was assassinated and the Valkyria were enslaved and persecuted once again.”
Julius Caesar had set up a senate to govern his Empire. It was composed of those who had contributed the most, be it through military exploits or magical or socio-economic innovations. But this system was flawed as the ones evaluating the merits were the ones in power. Nepotism and corruption ran rife and the power structure had ossified towards the end of his reign, the factions with vested interest in the senate growing powerful enough to faintly start threatening his authority.
Sensing the unfavourable trend, Caesar had decided to cull the power of the senate by arrogating more power to himself by declaring himself Dictator. He planned to instate a system where the subjects would be able to elect their own rulers. Obviously, that was the reason for his assassination.
“One score and three times they stabbed him on the Ides of March; and as his body lay cooling on the flagstones of the open street, the senators joined forces to root out and capture every single Valkyria.”
Closing her eyes, Artemis sighed gently. “It was to be expected, really. The Valkyria had the most contributions to the Empire and once that became public, as per the current set of rules, quite a few of the senators would be replaced. That was the first thing Caesar planned to do after he became Dictator, thereby consolidating his power. Enough to push the other, more radical, policies through. Like making the Senatorial system a Democracy. Also, the Valkyria were death loyal to Caesar and extremely strong. If given a chance, they would surely retaliate.”
Opening her eyes, she looked at me and said in a heavy voice, “I won’t tell you about the years of persecution suffered by our clan as the Roman Empire turned upon itself and crumbled from the interior… Suffice it to be said that we didn’t lead pleasant lives as the Senatorial system was slowly warped into the abomination that it has become today in utter violation of Caesar’s vision. A system of hereditary nobility where each senator comes from one of the clans of the original traitors.
“The senators did an even better job of erasing us out of history than Caesar. After all, they wouldn’t want their shameful past exposed, now would they? Without context, their descendants treated us like exotic slaves without understanding our true significance and slowly but surely, we withered away. Even the name of our clan was forgotten.”
“I am one of the final Valkyria, among the pitiful few left of my clan. The only reason I’m here, instead of languishing in some noble’s bedroom is because during his Swayamvar, when he visited Rome for his Trial of Shadow, father recognized my mother’s bloodline and she convinced him to bring me back to Regiis with him.”
Her iron-grey eyes flashed with steely anger. “My birth mother died in captivity within the year after that. I never got to see her.”
The Trial of Shadow generally dealt with espionage and covert operations. Artemis was around one year old during the previous Swayamvar. For Emperor Pavone to have evaded detection and successfully extradited her was no mean feat. Looking after such a small child was a monumental task in and as of itself.
My heart couldn’t help but go out to her. She was another orphan. Another victim of this cruel world. As were the Valkyria.
Anger turned to determination and her eyes glinted like the edge of a naked sword.
“For too long have the Valkyria suffered. For too long has our destiny been a tragic one. I want to change this destiny. Steel chains of Fate shackle us to the ground. I want to sever these accursed chains. I want us to fly again.”
She looked me right in the eye.
“For that reason, I need to be strong. Strong enough for my sword to cut the chains that hold my brethren in Rome. Strong enough to enter Valhalla and bring my clansmen out. To cut through all obstacles in my path.
“For that reason, Mars Felidae, I cannot marry you. For I am married to my sword.”