Featured image art by Arute (@ast05water)
1839. The year Anna turned 18 and Iduna and Agnarr were lost at sea…
For years, Commander Hilde had watched over the dark countess and heiress at school, protecting Viola Mundilfari from the cruel bullying of other girls for her otherworldly yet beautiful red eyes. It was a painful childhood, during which Vi was still angry and upset about the destiny chosen for her. A destiny forced on her by a demon that held her family in thrall to generation after generation of servitude in return for near-limitless wealth and power.
Hilde had watched over Vi ever since the latter began her training. She’d watched Vi master the Ulv (Wolf) school of Arendellian fencing, becoming one of the kingdom’s best duellists. She’d kept Vi company as the other threw herself into the ancient aristocratic traditions of the Mundilfari Viking clan. She’d helped Vi memorize tomes of dark lore and learn the Mundilfari way of politics, manipulating the dukes, popes, and kings of Europe from behind the scenes. And, of course, she’d watched Vi learn to communicate with Mephistopheles, though Vi was humiliated and rattled every time she spoke to him. For he never missed a chance to remind her that her soul belonged to him unless she was able to give him the power of Northuldra’s five elemental spirits. That was the primeval promise made by the first Mundilfari noble, which had never been fulfilled. So, until that day, Vi was Mephistopheles’ property. His plaything.
The Countess was disgusted with herself, ashamed for her family, and heartbroken about her future.
The only small comfort that Mephistopheles allowed her was that for each generation, the Mundilfari clan head enjoyed the absolute, undying loyalty of a guardian. A demonic family like the Mundilfaris, cursed though they were, needed serious protection from their enemies, and a mighty champion to lead their private armies down the centuries.
Generation after generation, each Mundilfari head, once ascending to the clan’s leadership by slaughtering their familial competitors, would perform a ritual of eternal bonding with their counterpart from the Altheim family. The Altheims were another cursed noble clan whose lore was shrouded in myth and hearsay. They also possessed a great demonic power: their champions were marked with the Tooth of Fenrir, a canine fragment rumoured to belong to the Sun Eater of Norse legend. This granted the heads of the Altheims not just superhuman strength, reflexes, and endurance, but a dread power feared by all of Europe.
For every Mundilfari, there was an Altheim. For every treasure, there was a dragon to guard it, as the old fable went. For Viola Mundilfari, there was Hilde Von Altheim.
They would both soon become young women. Today was the date for the formal ritual that bound them together for the rest of their adult lives. Since every Altheim family head was a lycanthrope, the ceremony had for hundreds of years simply been called the Ceremony of the Wolf Champion.
They were in a vast underground cavern underneath the Mundilfari estate. This was a sanctuary-cum-catacombs built by Vi’s ancestors hundreds of years ago, when her forebears first moved up north to Scandinavia from the Holy Roman Empire. Keep Mundilfari was a stunning enough landmark, visible from miles away from Jotunheimen Mountains, but this yawning hall was something else. There were torches lined along the limestone walls, and at the far end of the chamber, above several semi-circular stone steps, was an exquisite but foreboding sculpture of a raven – Mephistopheles’ preferred avatar when appearing in the mortal plane. Clad in her jet-black, military uniform, Hilde stood at attention before the raven statue, which was more than twenty feet tall and towered over her. Her hands were clasped behind her back as she heard footsteps – the unmistakable clacking of high-heeled black boots. Hilde smiled, her bosom swelling with pride as she saw a grim-faced Vi ascend the stairs. She saluted.
“Heil Mundilfari,” she acknowledged, her strong voice bouncing along the vast walls of the hall.
“You look chippy,” observed the Countess sourly.
“We can find a bit of joy even in your unhappy situation, my Lady,” replied Hilde. “Today, we formalize my eternal devotion to you and your wellbeing.”
“Hurrah,” said Vi, rolling her eyes. “You get to be the slave of another slave. I might as well be one, as long as I’m bound to Mephistopheles.” She was actually rather shaken after reading about how Mundilfari heads were chosen: one day, she’d partake in a bloodbath against her own parents and siblings and either be butchered or kill them all. She nodded at Hilde, looking around the hellscape of this Mundilfari dark ritual chamber. “Let’s get this over with so we can get back upstairs,” she suggested. “It’s a pain walking down here and back up.”
Hilde moved to stand before Vi, slowly getting down on one knee and bowing her head.
“Hilde Von Altheim, former Baroness Von Altheim,” opened Vi. She always wondered why Hilde had renounced her aristocratic title soon after reaching eighteen summers. She was a noblewoman as much as Vi. But Hilde had meritocratic instincts, preferring to earn her medals and honours as a woman of war. “Do you swear on the Altheim name to protect the Lady or Lord of Mundilfari with every fibre of your being?” she recited, having memorized the words by heart.
“This Altheim does, dread Mundilfari,” answered Hilde ritualistically, looking up and meeting Vi’s gaze.
Vi looked down at Hilde’s submissive face, her lieutenant’s face surprisingly tender. “Do you swear to combat all the Mundilfaris’ enemies until they’re all destroyed or you yourself are destroyed?”
“This Altheim does, dread Mundilfari.” Hilde felt her concern growing as she noticed Vi shaking slightly. The trembling became quite obvious by the moment. “My Countess, what’s wrong?”
“No,” cried Vi, her voice trembling slightly. “Don’t break the ritual. We must press on.” Hilde nodded anxiously, observing Vi closely. The Mundilfari noblewoman took a deep breath. “Arise, Hilde Von Altheim. With your body, vulnerable and true…” She revealed a gleaming silver knife – a blade of the only metal that had a hope of harming a werewolf like Hilde. “Swear by your blood to me, just as I swore by my own blood to Mephistopheles.”
Hilde stood up, took the dagger and drew it over her open palm, allowing her droplets of blood to fall to the stony floor. “This Altheim swears, dread Mundilfari.”
Vi stared at Hilde’s blood, and then into the commander’s yellow wolven eyes. “It’s done. You’re supposed to be mine, forever. But honestly, none of this matters if you really decide to leave me. I wouldn’t be able to stop you, nor would I want to.” Her voice was strained as Hilde looked at her in bewilderment. “I can’t keep you in bondage to me when I long to escape mine to Mephistopheles myself.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Hilde. She couldn’t believe it. The Countess, usually so haughty, so adorably arrogant and confident, was exposing herself to her. The emotion and vulnerability of it all was far more embarrassing for Vi than any exposure of her physical form. Hilde sought to reassure her: “I’ll go places, true, but in your name, as your general. My true home is here, Keep Mundilfari.” She drew closer, peering down at the shorter woman. “Wherever you go, my Lady, please take me with you. I lead your men. I’m your first and last line of defence.”
The commander slowly took Vi’s hand in hers, looking in gentle wonder at her mistress’s smooth, small hands, her fingers manicured with bright red nail polish. She gave a rare smile, and for the first time, Vi looked away, pale face flushing helplessly.
“You’re my treasure,” blurted Hilde, sensing Vi’s open, waiting feelings, “and you need a dragon to protect you.”
“You’re a were-woman, so you’re more of a dog than a dragon for me. Don’t you find that insulting?” asked Vi sarcastically, her red eyes glinting.
Hilde shook her head, deadly serious. “It’s my honour to be your attack dog.”
Vi sighed, heart aching at Hilde’s handsome visage. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t bring herself to push Hilde away, even though she’d wondered whether this dark ritual of bondage meant anything to her. Apparently it did, and watching over her wasn’t some tortuous duty for Hilde. Not like Vi’s debt to Mephistopheles felt like. No, Hilde actually wanted her. Her reassurance felt good. Her touch felt good.
Her love felt good.
She reached up and pressed her forehead against Hilde’s, their lips close to brushing each other’s. “Fine, werewolf of Altheim,” she whispered. “You who’ve watched over me all my life. Show me you can keep up with me, and make me the most feared – and irresistible – countess that Arendelle has ever known.
“I’ll be a better master to you than Mephistopheles will ever care to be for me.”