I hope this chapter reaches you as it seems alerts on Fanfiction are down. I debated with myself whether or not to postpone posting but came to the conclusion that I wanted to keep up the Sunday/Monday routine. I hope that even the readers who are not alerted will find this chapter eventually.
I want to thank you for all the reviews and comments to the last chapter. I`m so pleased that you liked it – and that more and more readers are finding this story.
I also want to thank Suki59 for betaing this story even if I keep making the same mistakes chapter after chapter [insert blush].
All the characters in this story belong to Charlaine Harris. I just brought them home and dressed them up in helmets and chainmail.
“Why don`t you trust me?” Eric asked when we were in bed. I was on my back and he was on his side, propped up on his elbow, looking at me. Eric`s face was in shadow, the light from the fire dancing on the edges of his hair, turning it golden. His blue eyes shone through the darkness and I did my best to avoid meeting them.
Eric`s eyes did things to me I didn`t want to recognize. Things I didn`t want to know.
For some reason Jason was alone in the third bed in Eric`s and Pamela`s house. Claude had crawled under Pamela`s blankets and I was lying next to Eric debating with myself as to how I would answer his third question, almost wishing it had been like the second one, the one where he`d asked if he could touch my breasts.
I turned my head slightly in his direction. “I trust you,” I said.
“No, you don`t.”
“If we end up in battle tomorrow I would be able to turn my back to you and I would have no fear,” I explained. “I can`t say that about many people.”
“So you trust my fighting skills,” he stated. “That doesn`t mean you trust me.”
“It`s not just your fighting skills. I trust your honor. Your …” I searched my head to come up with an explanation. “I know your own life would have to be seriously threatened for you to give up on protecting mine.”
Eric nodded as if he were pleased with what I`d said. “That`s true. I wouldn`t let you die unless I was close to being killed myself.”
“You`re a man of honor,” I said. “And a good fighter. So I trust you.” I couldn`t be sure Eric was a man of honor, of course, but the way he`d let the families of the men who`d drowned hit him was a good indication. Eric was not a coward and he seemed to hold his honor high. Both were things I respected in a man.”
“Thank you,” Eric said. “But the fact that you trust me in battle does not mean that you trust me.”
I let his words sink in, used to thinking in battle terms as I was. Mid-thought I felt Eric`s hand on my stomach and my focus on his words was broken. I pushed his hand away and noticed a faint smile on his lips. A smile that quickly disappeared.
“As you can see, you don`t trust me,” Eric said in a low voice.
“Because I don`t want to have sex with you?” I asked, surprised that this was what he meant by trust.
“Because you don`t want to be my wife,” he replied. “And because you don`t want to have sex with me.” The faint smile he`d had on his lips only moments ago turned into a real one.
I looked away. Eric`s smile was as magical as any runes and I was afraid what that smile would do to me if I kept looking at it. It might even make me smile back and I was not a woman of many smiles.
“I don`t trust many people that way,” I said, not really sure what else to say.
“I realize that. But you like me.” Eric said it as a statement but I heard the tiny question too.
“Everyone likes you, Eric.” I didn`t want to commit myself more than that.
I wasn`t looking at Eric`s face but I knew his smile just grew bigger.
“Why is it so important to you?” I asked. “Why do you want me to trust you?”
I could feel Eric`s shrug against my body. “I want you to be my wife. My real wife.”
“Why?” I asked before I could stop myself. I wasn`t comfortable discussing this.
Eric was quiet for a moment as if my question came as a surprise. Then his hand moved back to my stomach. “I like you,” he said.
I sighed. It sounded so easy. I liked him and he liked me. What more did one need? Only … I needed more. I just didn`t know what.
“Do you trust me?” I asked him.
“Of course I do,” he said but he didn`t sound convincing. Or maybe it was just me who didn`t want him to sound convincing.
“Why?” I looked at him again, bracing myself against his smile, but the combination of those white teeth and the heat of his hand through the linen of my shift, made my heart beat a little faster.
“You wouldn`t hurt me.” Eric sounded very sure.
That cleared my brain and I turned to my side facing him, copying the way Eric lay, leaning on my elbow as well. For some reason my index finger and my thumb thought it a good idea to trace one of the locks of his hair from the hairline at his neck, past his shoulder and to his chest.
Then he did the same to one of the locks of my hair and the two locks ended up laying there between us, so close in color and texture they might belong to the same person.
“How can you know that? Do you think I couldn`t hurt you if I wanted to?” I asked.
Eric went quiet for a moment and his smile was gone. “I think you could hurt me, Sookie. I think you could hurt me more the more we get to know each other.”
I nodded because that was how I felt about him.
“But I don`t think you would. I trust you.” Eric kissed me lightly on my lips, then he touched me between my eyebrows, straightening out my frown. He rolled back to lie on his stomach and closed his eyes.
“Why did you become a shieldmaiden?” he asked.
I wanted to point out to him that he`d used his three questions. Instead I turned his question back to him.
“Why did you become a warrior?”
“I`m good at it. I like it.” Eric shrugged and I looked at him lying there, long shadows cast from his nose and his forehead. Suddenly he opened his eyes and looked at me. “Is that how you feel?” he asked. “Do you enjoy fighting?”
I thought about it. “I suppose I do.” Then I nodded. “No, I know I love fighting. And that I`m good at it. I never was any good at weaving or any of the other chores a woman ought to be good at. But I always loved my sword even back when it was made of wood.” I was quiet for a few moments. “Gran always supported me but I think my parents kept hoping I would become more …” I searched for the word but when it came to me it made me blush. “Marriageable.”
Eric grinned and turned towards me again. “I find you perfectly marriageable.” His hand touched my chin slightly, his thumb gliding up my cheek.
I pulled back a little, not wanting to stop my story midways. Not wanting to be distracted. “But when they saw how reckless Jason was and how … I wasn`t … my mother made me promise I would always protect my brother when we were in a battle together.”
Eric stared at me. “Did you become a shieldmaiden to protect your brother?” His voice was a little louder and I wanted to hush him. Jason couldn`t know how much it meant to me that I was there to keep him alive. It would ruin his reputation. His self-esteem.
“Of course, not,” I said, my voice a little angry. “I like being a shieldmaiden. I like kicking the pompous and self-adoring asses of big, bad warriors who think themselves invincible. I like knowing that I`m evening the scales.”
“What scales?” Eric asked.
I rolled back and stared into the ceiling. “I`m physically weaker than most of the men I kill,” I said. “It gives me some kind of satisfaction to know I can still beat them.”
Eric was quiet for a moment and I thought he`d fallen asleep but then I felt his lips on my cheek.
“I like you, Sookie,” he said. “I trust you too. But most of all, you impress me. Not many people do.”
I turned my head and stared at him for a few moments. We looked at each other through the darkness and when he smiled at me, I smiled back.
Eric had all kinds of surprises installed for me. And I had to admit to myself that I liked it.
I must have fallen asleep because the fire had almost died out when I woke up. I listened to the darkness and tried to recall what I`d heard, what had woken me up, when the sound came back.
It took me a little while to recognize it, but I`d shared a room with Jason and Claude long enough to know what it was when I heard it again.
Someone was having sex.
I turned away from the sound and closed my eyes again, not wanting to intrude by listening in on Jason and whomever he was having sex with. I didn`t know it was Jason but assumed it since Claude was in Pamela`s bed.
Eric`s arm was around my waist but I didn`t notice it before his hand started stroking my stomach.
“Pamela wants to have more children,” he whispered.
“Oh,” I whispered, not understanding him at first. “Oh!” I repeated, when realization hit me.
Eric`s breathing evened out again and soon I was asleep too. There may have been a little smile on my lips.
Eric got out of bed before I did the next morning and I watched him as he got dressed before getting out of bed myself. There was nothing wrong with Eric`s body. Unfortunately he knew it too as the knowing smile he gave me bore witness of. Eric didn`t mind my watching him half naked. He didn`t mind it at all.
Since we were getting ready for battle, I rolled my dress up, put it away and pulled on my tunic and pants on instead. I had no problems fighting in my dress and I`d often trained in it. But my chainmail fit my tunic better and I preferred looking like one of the men when I fought like one of them.
I was just about to braid my hair when Eric grabbed my comb and gently ran it through every strand of my hair from the scalp to the tips. Then divided it into three sections and started braiding.
No one but I had braided my hair since Gran died and I had to admit to myself that I liked the feeling. Which made me pull away as soon as he was done.
I was just about to get up and walk out when he handed me the comb and made a gesture at his own hair, which looked like an owl`s nest. I shrugged and motioned for him to sit down on the bed. I slowly worked my way through his hair, trying to disentangle it without hurting him too much. When I was done, I made a thick braid down his back and tied the leather band Eric handed me at the end of it.
I let my fingers run down it a few times and then I let it fall down his back.
Eric pulled me around to stand between his legs and he looked up at me, his arms circling my waist. I grabbed his shoulders for balance when he pulled me closer but then my mouth suddenly found the top of Eric`s head kissable.
His hair smelled like fur and sunshine and …
And I knew I needed to pull away or this would take a direction I couldn`t control. I also knew that any minor slip in my control would be irreversible. Eric somehow got under my skin and giving him even a small opening would just end in … well, I didn`t know what it would end in but I was sure it couldn`t be good.
I pushed at Eric`s shoulders and he let go of me.
“We need to get ready,” I said, my voice sounding strange.
“We do,” Eric agreed and got up.
I looked at him and how unaffected he seemed. Yes, he wanted me but for what? I couldn`t deny the sexual attraction between us but Eric also insisted on our being married which made the whole situation impossible.
I could never be married to a man like Eric.
I probably could never be married at all, really, but Eric was the kind of husband who would expect too much and give too little.
He was just too handsome. Too self-confident. Thought too highly of himself.
But he had been so darned nice too. Considerate. Interested in my thoughts. In me.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts and then I walked out. Eric was an amazing fighter and I was looking forward to fighting side by side with him.
Eric, Jason, Claude and I – we were a force to be reckoned with.
We`d taken a smaller – and slower – boat since the four of us were about twenty people too few to man a longboat. But the wind was favorable and we could expect to be home in a day or so if the gods were on our side.
Eric was a good sailor and Jason, Claude and I did our best to help out, eager as we all were to get home as quickly as possible.
Not being one to think thing too much over – I considered myself a doer more than a thinker – I still couldn`t help wondering about what would meet us. Would the village be burned down? How many would be dead? Had they managed to fight back?
I glanced at Eric sitting by the rudder, the wind pulling strands of hair from the braid I`d made. I was sitting next to him, staring at the land that was passing us by, hoping we would leave the flatlands behinds us soon and eager to see mountains.
“How did Queen Sophie-Anne know about the attack?” I asked him, not expecting an answer since Rasul the Secretive was the one who would have known, not Eric.
I glanced at him again and noticed a shrug.
“Queen Sophie-Anne has spies in Felipe`s camp,” he said.
“I figured as much but what I don`t understand is .…” I paused to gather my thoughts. I was a fighter and as a fighter I`d grabbed my sword and run to the battle scene. Now that I had time on my hands – and no immediate battle – I`d started thinking. “It`s at least a day`s journey from Felipe`s camp to Nordby. Maybe two in bad weather. And it`s the same distance from Felipe`s camp to my village. If the spy reported on an attack that had already taken place – an attack Felipe`s warriors had returned from – then ….” I counted in my head. “Then that attack must have taken place just after we left my village.”
The gravity of it hit me. Was my village attacked just after three of the strongest warriors had left? Could we have made a difference if we`d stayed?
The wind hit my eyes and made tears well up in them.
“Or…,” Eric said. “The spy reported of an attack about to take place. In that case we might be there just after Felipe`s men. A day after at the most.”
I turned around and searched his face but there was nothing that revealed that he knew more than I did.
“Do you think so?” I asked, holding my breath.
“I`m an optimist.” Eric had been looking straight ahead all through our conversation but suddenly his eyes were on me. “I like to hope for the best.” He looked away again. “Of course, I always prepare for the worst and so should you, Sookie.”
I nodded and couldn`t help wishing the boat would go faster. Maybe we could be there in time? Maybe we could make a difference in the battle?
I hope you got this chapter and that you liked it.
In this chapter Eric and Sookie groom each other`s hair. Charlaine Harris has her Viking Eric have long hair and even if Alan Ball chose to cut it off in True Blood, Eric will always have long hair when I picture him.
In the Viking age the slaves – men and women – had short hair or their heads were shaven. I`ve also heard mentions of warriors shaving the back of their heads – thus creating a back-forward mullet (excuse me for giggling) – to make sure the enemy couldn`t grab their hair in battle.
But generally it`s assumed that free men and women in the Viking age had long hair and that men often had full beards as well. Some men chose to dye their beards red or bleach their beards (and hair, possibly) and I`ve also read about men braiding thin straws of gold into their hair, making women in the countries they “visited” swoon.
Unmarried women would leave their hair unbraided and married women would braid their hair in a knot and wear a scarf or some kind of headwear over it.
One of the most common finds from the Viking age is combs. It seems most Vikings wouldn`t leave home without it and that they used it every day.
Another thing for personal grooming one has found quite a lot of is ear spoons to clean the ears with. Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like – little spoons they would use in their ears to dig out … well, no need to go into details. Let`s just say that I hope all Q-tips of today are gone when the archeologists of the future start excavating around my house. I don`t want them to have the same reaction I had when I read about ear spoons.
Vikings were generally well groomed and washed themselves regularly. The only people who wouldn`t wash daily (or at least weekly) were people in mourning. Refusing to wash one`s hands, face and hair was a sign of deep grief as shown in Odin`s reaction to his son Balder`s tragic death.
Hair was important to the Vikings and for some it had political meaning. The sagas claim that when Harald Hårfagre, or Harald Fairhair as his name has been translated into, decided he wanted to be king of all of Norway and not just the tiny part called Sogn, he declared that he would not cut his hair until he had in fact gathered all the little kingdoms into one large one. His hair was very long but he ended up becoming some kind of over-king and is recognized as the first king of Norway.
The name Fairhair was actually a name he got after his death but it`s the name he is known by today. The story about him letting his name grow is a story from the sagas and had probably little to do with reality. It`s still a story children are taught in schools today and I`m not sure they are told it isn`t true. Why ruin a good story, right?
5 million Norwegians
On a different and much more up-to-date note; as of today we are 5 million people living here in Norway. We would only have been 4.4 million people if we hadn`t had the recent immigration to the country. But we would have been 8 million people if not for all the Norwegians who immigrated to America back in the 19th century.
I`m not sure what that has to do with anything but I figured it was a fun fact.