It seems most of you agreed on more sword fights. How about more naked Erics? Yes, I know – an entirely rhetorical question.
Thank you so much for all your comments and reviews. You should see the smile they put on my face.
I also want to thank Suki59 for not only betaing this baby but also keeping track of whatever I lose.
Eric, Sookie and all the other characters belong to Charlaine Harris. I only own their swords. In my dreams, at least.
Eric`s question startled me. I`d braced myself for questions like “why are you pushing me away?” or “why aren`t you admiring me like any normal girl?” but his asking me about Claude came as a complete shock.
First, because I`d succeeded in burying everything that had happened between Claude and me so deeply inside I`d almost forgotten what had happened. I`d put it behind me. Locked it up and misplaced the key.
Second, because I had no idea what Eric had noticed – why he would ask me that question. Claude and I behaved like any pair of cousins would. I liked Claude – loved him even. He was, after all, one of two family members I had left. And what had happened between us was years ago. Ages, really.
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to pretend I didn`t understand what he meant, which wasn`t too hard since I had no idea why Eric would ask that question. I knew, of course, what he could be referring to but how could he know about that?
“If I`m not mistaken, I was the one who won the right to ask questions. Not you. So what happened between you and Claude?”
I exhaled so loudly any horse would be proud of the sound I made.
Not sure how to answer Eric`s question, I searched my brain for buried memories. My feelings towards Claude, all the anger and despair, had been put in a thick mental coffin and buried. He was my cousin and we couldn`t afford my frustrations to grow – which was why I`d made an effort to forget the more unfortunate … things … long ago.
Claude and I got along just fine now. It was water on the shore – last year`s harvest.
I looked at Eric to see if his face gave away any clues as to why he`d asked me that particular question. How he`d known.
But looking at him was a bad idea. His smile. The bead of sweat trailing down his cheek. The long, blond hair just begging me to touch it.
I shook my head. I was hot and in desperate need of water so I started walking – not really sure where I was going. If I`d only wanted a drink, there`d been plenty of drinking water on the practice field but as I got closer to the river, I realized I needed a bath.
I needed to clear my head. Cool down.
I knew Eric was following me. I heard his footsteps and could see his shadow moving next to mine. But I wasn`t paying attention to him.
My mind was on Claude. And on how I was going to answer Eric`s question.
I could lie, of course. That would have been easy. But it would also have been dishonorable since Eric had won the right to three truthful answers from me. I had many flaws but I always kept my word.
When I came to the river I pulled off my clothes and jumped into the water, hoping the cool water would help me come up with an answer. And it did. After a long dive I broke surface and focused all my attention on Eric who was only now getting into the water with me.
We were alone. Fortunately. Unfortunately.
My resolve was broken for a few seconds, staring at Eric`s magnificent body, but then I pushed all thought of his strong arms and impressive thighs away and decided to give Eric a short reply. It would be truthful, but as short as I could possibly make it.
“Claude asked me to marry him when I was 16,” I said and dived under again.
I wasn`t sure what I expected when I came up for air. Eric`s being surprised, probably. Or maybe that Eric would laugh at me for having been infatuated with a man who so clearly preferred other men to his younger and very star struck cousin.
Except I hadn`t told Eric about that part. About my being in love with Claude. Or Claude working very hard at making me fall in love with him.
Instead he just nodded as if I`d told him something he`d figured out for himself.
“And you turned him down,” he commented.
I listened carefully to hear if this was a question. Would it count as one of the three he was allowed to ask me? But it wasn`t a question, unfortunately.
I still replied. “Not exactly. Well, not at first, anyway.”
Gran had been thrilled that her two grandchildren – the two everyone frowned upon as “not marriage material” – had found each other. We would give her great-grandchildren and she wouldn`t have to endure the shame of having unmarried family members.
“You`re not married to Claude now,” Eric stated.
Still not a question.
“No. Right before the wedding was supposed to take place Claude told me why he wanted me to be his wife.”
It wasn`t a long sentence, but it left me breathless. Raw.
Eric was now standing very close to me and I hadn`t even noticed he`d moved. He turned me around, facing the forest on the other side of the river, and started to touch my back. Massage my shoulders.
“What he wanted out of the marriage was something I couldn`t give.”
At the time I`d thought I was in love with Claude. And why not? I was 16 and my big, brave cousin gave me all his attention. For several months he`d flirted with me, given me stolen kisses and heated promises and I`d been thrilled the day he`d asked me to be his wife. Proud, even.
But just before the wedding things had changed. Claude had wanted “a talk.” How I loathed having “a talk” – nothing good ever came out of such a thing.
The memory of Claude as he told me he was only going to share my bed often enough for us to procreate (his choice of word), that he liked me well enough but that I had the wrong kind of body for him to be truly attracted to me, that he would keep his male lovers throughout our marriage – that memory had been suppressed for too long and it hurt to be reminded of it.
Eric leaned down and kissed my shoulder while making some kind of comforting sound. I was about to step away from him when his fingers hit a muscle knot and instead of objecting to his kiss, I groaned out in pain. His knuckles ground deep into that sensitive spot and a pain shot like a bolt of lightning into my head.
But when his fingers lifted from the sore area they`d added pressure to, I felt relief. It was as if a tension had been taken away from me.
“You`re good,” I acknowledged.
“Your back is in a pitiful condition, Sookie. It`s a wonder you`re not suffering from severe back pains.”
Happy about the change of subject, I nodded. “I do wake up sometimes feeling like I`ve slept on a rock.”
Of course, when we were on raids I sometimes did sleep on rocks and my back never liked it very much.
“Let me see what I can do,” Eric said and soon his fingers found more sore spots and he had me crying out in pain – or grinding my teeth to avoid complete humiliation.
I was a shieldmaiden. Shieldmaidens didn`t scream just because someone touched their shoulders and backs.
Eric`s finger`s traveled down the small of my back and soon they found muscle knots in my butt that needed to be dealt with. If someone had suggested that morning that I would be cursing Eric for touching my butt, I would have believed them. But somehow, this was not the kind of butt touching I`d have envisioned.
After having brought deep pain – and a very welcome relief – to my shoulders, back and butt, Eric`s fingers went back to a lighter massage. I couldn`t help leaning into his touch, enjoying the way my muscled relaxed and were infused with new energy.
Eric the Northman truly had magical fingers.
Reminding myself of the topic Eric and I had just discussed, I made a serious effort to clear my mind of Eric`s hands touching me, his breath on my neck, his body so close to mine. His nakedbody so close to mine.
“You still have two questions left,” I said, trying to make my voice sound unmoved but not entirely sure I`d succeeded.
“I do,” Eric said and continued touching my back and then moved forward and let his hands glide over my stomach.
The river was freezing but even standing in the middle of it, hip deep in the water, I was not even close to being cold.
I also noticed that the temperature of the water had no cooling effect on Eric – judging from what was poking into my butt cheek.
“My second question, Sookie, is this: Can I touch your breasts?”
My brain screamed “NO!” but for some reason my mouth wasn`t listening. “Yes,” it said and before I could retract my answer, his large hands were on the body parts in question.
My mouth, clearly having a mind of its own, sighed deeply, and my body, not wanting to be any better, leaned into Eric.
He leaned down and kissed my neck again. Bit it a little and sucked just enough for me to get love bites I would have to hide with my hair.
My hands pulled him closer, grabbing his hips, his butt, feeling the muscles in his thighs. Somehow our bodies started moving in rhythm, his body grinding into mine, his hands groping my breasts, working their way down my stomach to …
I`d had sex before, of course. I`d even had sex while bathing before. But I had never felt anything like this – the all consuming desire I suddenly felt for Eric.
Yes, I`d acknowledged his fine body and his charm but I had seen his flaws too. I had carefully avoided him, knowing how disastrous it would be to open myself up to him – physically or emotionally. Eric had the power to turn me into a love sick puppy and that didn`t fit very well with being a shieldmaiden.
And yet, here I was, wanting him inside me. Wanting … more.
Eric must have sensed the tension in me – the way I`d stopped moving my hips and grabbing his thighs – because he kissed my ear and then he whispered, “I`m not Claude.”
That had me pulling away from Eric and turning around.
“You arrogant …” I couldn`t find a fitting curse. “My having second thoughts has nothing to do with Claude. Until you asked, Claude was a minor thing in my past. He broke my heart, but do you really think I`m so weak I would still be licking my wounds?”
I glared at Eric who looked insecure for a moment or two.
“You`re anything but weak, Sookie,” he finally said. “Why do you keep rejecting me if it`s not because of what happened with Claude?”
He looked as if he just couldn`t fathom how anyone could say no to him without a good and solid reason. It was a mystery to him – up there with why cows give us white milk when they eat green grass. Why winds from the east are always colder than winds from the west. And why women bleed every month.
Maybe the last one was my mystery more than Eric`s. And it wasn`t as much a mystery as an everyday annoyance.
What Eric was struggling to comprehend was how anyone – and I in particular – would reject him. To be honest, looking at him, I wondered myself. At least for a few moments until I had given myself that mental slap I needed.
“Is that your third question?” I asked.
Eric looked at me, but then he shook his head. “No, I`ll ask my third question later.”
I`d been so preoccupied with Eric and our discussion that I hadn`t noticed Quinn running towards us until he shouted Eric`s name.
“What is it, Quinn?” I asked since Eric didn`t seem to want to pay attention to him.
“It`s Mum,” he said. “She says you have to come home right now. It`s urgent,” he added in a voice that indicated that “urgent” was a word his mother had told him to use.
I got out of the water and started dressing, letting my wet braid drip down my clothes. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Eric getting out of the water too but I quickly looked away, not wanting to see that body I`d just had so close to mine, doing things to me that I should have stopped before they`d gotten that far.
When we`d both put on out clothes, we followed Quinn back towards Nordby and Eric`s house.
“Is something wrong with your mother?” Eric asked. “Is she sick?”
“No.” Quinn looked surprised.
“But what is it, then?” Eric was getting frustrated.
“Mum just said it was … urgent.” Quinn used that grown up word again and I didn`t like the sound of it. What would be urgent enough for Pam to send Quinn to get us?
Our pace quickened and soon Eric pulled Quinn up in his arms since his nephew was slowing us down, and carried him the rest of the way back to Eric`s home.
I was the first one to enter Eric`s house and was surprised to see Jason and Claude in what looked like shock. No, it was anger. They were both sitting on one of the benches and Pamela was on the bench on the other side of the table, with Frannie in her lap.
There was one more person in the room and after my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I recognized him. Rasul the Secretive was sitting next to Pamela.
Rasul got up when he saw Eric and me entering the house. He didn`t move towards us so we walked to the table and finally Jason and Claude also noticed us. I sat down next to Jason and Eric went to sit next to his sister, pulling Quinn into his lap.
I found myself staring at Claude and he cocked his eyebrow as if asking me why I was suddenly paying him attention after having neglected him for years. Or maybe he just felt like cocking his eyebrow when I was looking at him and I thought it had a deeper meaning because of my trip into the Land of Hidden Memories.
I redirected my attention to Rasul, silently asking him what he`d come for.
“Sookie,” he started. “I have some sad news for you.”
Jason interrupted. “He told us to wait until you were back. He hasn`t said a word to us.” Jason was angry. Or his pride was hurt. One never knew when it came to Jason.
Rasul continued as if Jason hadn`t spoken. “We have had information about your village,” he started.
“My … our village?” I repeated.
“It seems Felipe the Throne-robber was behind a most cowardly attack on your village. We don`t know whether your village managed to fight back or how many people Felipe`s men managed to kill, but Queen Sophie-Anne asked me to tell you that your loss will be avenged, however large.”
While I silently contemplated Felipe`s change of name from Felipe the Elegant to Felipe the Throne-robber, Jason got up, anger radiating from his body.
“She can be damned sure it will be avenged,” Jason cried out. “If I have to kill Felipe all by myself.”
Jason grabbed his sword as if Felipe were in the very room and Jason could cut his head off and everything would be back to the way it was supposed to be.
I noticed how Rasul studied Jason, apparently pleased with his reaction. Claude, on the other hand, had his eyes on me as if I were about to say something that would make a difference. Claude, being a couple of years older than I, should have been the head of our little family but I had somehow assumed the role.
“I can assure you that Queen Sophie-Anne is planning to strike back and put an end to Felipe the Throne-robber`s cowardly behavior. She will make sure to put you in the front of the raid so that Felipe`s blood will be on your swords.” Rasul was talking to Jason but he was looking at me.
“We thank your queen for the honor,” I said.
“Tell her that I, Jason the Brave, will personally kill her uncle. Slowly.”
Apparently it wasn`t just Felipe who`d had a change of names. Jason had been known as Jason the Promiscuous for as long as I could remember – a name that fit him very well.
But Jason was Brave. The kind of brave that came with not being able to perceive danger for what it was, but still brave. I smiled at him to encourage him. I liked having a brother called Jason the Brave and hoped more people than Jason would use that name.
“I`m sure Queen Sophie-Anne will be relieved to hear that,” Rasul said.
“When will the attack on Felipe take place?” I asked. I was ready to leave in the morning. I was torn, though, because I really wanted to go home to see the damage and help the wounded, but if we could strike against Felipe and get our bloody revenge, then I would gladly postpone a visit home until Felipe was in his grave.
Rasuls looked at his hands. “In the autumn at the latest,” he replied.
“In the autumn?” Claude, Jason and I shouted.
“Oh, at the very latest. Queen Sophie-Anne needs to prepare the attack well since it will be the final battle. She can not risk losing it and is currently negotiating with other tribes to join forces with her,” Rasul explained.
I noticed Eric nodding as if he agreed with Rasul and that nod made me want to dunk his head into the table. How well could anyone prepare for battle? You sharpened your sword, made sure your boat didn`t have any leaks and those were the preparations you needed before you went in killing as many as possible.
“Vengeance should be immediately and bloody,” I said, meeting Rasul`s eyes.
“I shall bring that into the queen`s considerations,” he replied.
After a little while more of Jason, Claude and me demanding instant bloodshed and Rasul trying to reason with us, he finally left.
When the door closed behind Queen Sophie-Anne`s man, I gave Eric the death stare.
“Thank you so much for supporting our need for vengeance,” I said, pouring all my sarcasm into my voice.
“The result would have been the same no matter what I`d said.” Eric got up, walked over to the bench I was sitting on and sat down next to me. He tried to put his arm around me but I scooted further down the bench, closer to Jason.
“You don`t know that!” I argued.
“I know that. I know the Queen much better than you do.” He slid down the bench so that he was sitting right next to me. “And if the Queen thinks I`m fine with waiting for her to plan her battles down to the smallest detail then she won`t pay much attention when I take one of my ships out for battle training.”
I looked at him and saw how close he was. I could feel his warm breath on my shoulder and shuddered. I was about to ask him what he meant when Claude interrupted.
“You`re going to help us avenge our village?” he asked, looking past me and Jason at Eric.
“I`m going to help you get back to your village to assess the damage. If any of Felipe`s men are still there, I`ll help you kill them.” Eric held up a hand to stop Jason from cheering. “But I can`t go after Felipe if he`s not in your village. I am not committing treason by ruining Sophie-Anne`s plans.”
“You would take us home?” I asked almost breathless. Now that the idea had been launched I felt a deep desire, a need, to see how Tara was doing. And Sam. And JB. And Amelia. And all the other people I knew and loved.
He grabbed my hand in my lap and I let him.
“We can leave in the morning if you`d like.”
Nothing could stop Jason from cheering now.
I hope you liked the chapter.
I think I mentioned that warriors who were brave in battle would be picked up by Odin`s shieldmaidens – the Valkyries – and delivered to Valhalla where they would fight and drink and have a great time until Ragnarokk (the end of time) when they will be called upon to fight on Odin`s side.
But what about everyone else? What about all the people who died from falling down a cliff, childbirth, pneumonia, hunger and what not? What happened to them, according to Norse mythology?
They would go to Hel. Notice that it only has one “l”. This isn`t Hell as in a place where sinners go and are punished according to Christian belief. No, Hel, or Helheim as it`s also referred to, is the Kingdom of Death and the Queen governing that Kingdom (or Queendom, as it should be called) is called Hel as well.
Hel (the place) is dark, cold and moist and one could easily understand why warriors would prefer to go to Valhalla.
The life and death of a Viking was decided by the Norns. They were women who controlled the destiny of gods and men and they were present when Vikings were born and when they died. Each person got his or her own thread in a gigantic loom when he or she was born and when it was time for them to die, their thread was cut. The threads were called Life threads or Destiny threads.
There were many Norns and they all had different tasks. Some kept the Yggdrasil – the tree of life – alive and some caused trouble for the people they were looking out for.
Both Roman and Greek mythology have gods who are similar to the Norns.
By the way – I can recommend that you look up the short film “The Saga of Biorn” on YouTube. It`s hilarious.
On a fun note, here is what you can do if someone says “that`ll happen when Hell freezes over”: Go to any online weather station – for instance the Norwegian yr dot no – and find the village of Hell in Norway. Hell (in Norway) actually does freeze over four to five months a year.
Tourists who go there find the sign on the train station worth a photo or five. It says “Hell Gods Expedition.” It`s an old sign and “Gods” means “goods”.
You can find Hell, Norway – and a picture of that sign – on Wikipedia.