Wow, that last chapter got quite a reception. Thank you!
Some of you had questions and I`ll try to answer them after the chapter.
I want to thank Suki59 for being such a great beta. She is also an amazing writer and I can recommend her stories if you haven`t already read them!
Charlaine Harris owns all the characters in this story. And now she apparently revealed the title of the last book in the Sookie Stackhouse series: Deadly Ever After. I just want to say that I love the title!
When the sun rose I could see how truly beaten up Eric was. I probably didn`t look any better and we gave each other a little smile.
Sometime during the night we`d managed to pull our pants on again but not until we`d made love one more time.
We`d moved a little away from each other, not wanting our captors to know how we`d spent the night. No point in giving them something extra to taunt us over or extra knowledge they could use against us.
My whole body screamed from pain from all the bruises I`d received the night before but the soreness between my legs made me feel so incredibly relaxed. I knew there was a real chance I would meet death during the day – and probably in some terrible way – but I couldn`t help shrugging at the danger in my imminent future.
Amazing sex would do that to you.
Who would have thought that I, Sookie the Shieldmaiden, would be so unconcerned about dying just because I`d had a handsome – well, a little less handsome what with the broken nose – man between my legs?
If I`d been in my normal state of mind I would probably have contemplated whether I`d only had sex with Eric because I`d been sure I would die today. I`d rejected him ever since I`d met him and with good reason. Eric was born into this world to kill people and break hearts. I was fine with the killing – I admired him for that – but I`d never been too keen on having my heart broken.
But I wasn`t in my normal state of mind. My state of mind consisted of glancing at Eric and remembering all the details of last night`s activities with him. Not worrying about death and certainly not worrying about what kind of man Eric was.
I smiled at Eric`s suggestion that we would be housed together in Valhalla. I could live with that. Well, I could die with that, to be precise. An eternity of drinking, fighting and having sex with Eric. It didn`t sound bad at all.
He might flirt with the Valkyries but I would just have to kill him every time he did. In Valhalla he would rise from the dead every night and I would keep our bed warm for him.
My state of mind was definitely off. I hadn`t considered a future with any man since my teenage infatuation with Claude and here I was thinking about keeping Eric in my bed every night, even if it was after our death.
I gave Eric an extra smile but when I heard people moving in our direction I turned my back to him. It was better they thought we`d had a falling out. I didn`t want them using one of us to get to the other as they`d tried last night.
“Aaaw,” a voice said and I was fairly sure it belonged to Victor. “Did the love birds have a quarrel?”
Two men came over and pulled me up. They unchained me from the tree and tied my arms to my waist instead. I glanced at Victor to see if I could get any clues as to what he had planned for us but all he did was look at Eric with an evil smile on his lips. I thought it looked evil, at least. For all I knew, he was thinking about his wife and how much he missed her.
I knew Eric and I were going to die. Or rather, I expected it. I just wondered how they were going to kill us. I must admit that I hoped they would kill me first because I wasn`t sure I could watch them end Eric`s life. Not just because he`d come to mean something to me but mainly because Eric was not the kind of person who was supposed to die. He was too … Eric.
Eric oozed life and I couldn`t fathom death staring out of those blue eyes.
Eric was pulled up too and soon we were both being pulled towards the river. Would they throw us into the deep river and let us drown – if we weren`t crushed into the rocks or died from hypothermia?
I`d always imagined dying by my sword – from the blow of a sword. Maybe an axe to the head or a spear in my chest but always from a weapon. Being thrown into the river seemed dishonorable which was probably why Victor would choose that as our death.
I could hear the river as we stumbled through the forest. The hand on my upper arm held me in a bruising grip but kept me upright when my feet tripped on roots and rocks. Soon I could not only hear the river, I could see it too.
I glanced at Eric and noticed he`d lost some of his natural tan. He wasn`t looking forward to being thrown into the river any more than I was. Then his trademark smile was back and I appreciated it. Why die in fear when one could smile all the way to Valhalla?
But Victor didn`t push us into the river. Instead he nodded at three of his men who pulled me up the river while the rest of them, Victor included, stayed behind.
What were they going to do? Throw me in the river upstreams so that Eric could watch me drown as I went by?
The river had been deep where we`d left Eric but now it widened out and became shallower. We walked for awhile more, the river now very shallow and wide, and suddenly the men pulled me out in the river. Not to drown, though. We were crossing the river where it was only thigh deep and though I was struggling with the balance what with the slippery rocks and my arms tied to my body, we made it to the other side where the men began walking me down along the river again.
The river was freezing and my legs were cold but the water had given me new strength too. It had lessened the pain in my legs and cleared my head.
I was at a loss as to what they`d planned to do to me. We`d walked up the river, crossed it and now we were walking down again. Were they trying to confuse me to death?
To my very large surprise they pulled me all the way down the river to the place across from where Eric had been standing all along. He looked as astonished as I probably did and even gave me a shrug as to say he didn`t understand what was going on.
Victor`s men knew what they were doing, though. As soon as we`d come down to stand across the river from one another, Victor and his men started throwing the iron chain Eric and I had been shackled up with last night to the men standing next to me.
When they caught the chain – they needed four tries – they untied my hands, pulled me to the brink of the river and wrapped the chain tightly around my waist under my tunic, fastening it with a lock.
I looked up and saw how they pulled Eric close to the river as well and locked the other end of the chain around his waist, as tightly as mine was. We both had a large lock hanging down our stomachs.
Eric and I looked at each other and then at the chain that was stretched out between us. If either of us took two steps backwards, the other one would fall into the river and drown.
“I see you`ve both realized the situation I`ve put you in.” Victor stood at the river bank and shouted to make sure I could hear it too. “One of you will have to kill the other to survive.”
I saw Eric`s eyes widen but before either of us could say anything, Victor held up a key. “I`m sorry, Sookie. I`m going to give Eric a little help. He is a great warrior and it would be a shame if he were the one to die so I`m putting the key to Eric`s lock back here.” Victor walked ten steps – he counted each of them out loud – behind Eric and dropped the key to the ground and then he came back to stand next to Eric. “If Eric manages to pull you into the river, he only has to make it back to the key to release himself of the chain. That way your weight won`t pull him into the river as well.”
Victor smiled at Eric who looked as if he were trying very hard to kill Victor with his eyes.
“But I don`t want you to cheat, Eric. You might think you could pull your wife into the river and all the way to the other side. It would be hard but maybe not entirely impossible for a strong man such as yourself. So I`ll erase that idea from your mind once and for all.
Victor nodded at one of his men who walked over to Eric with a large club. Another man came over to hold Eric`s left arm out in from of him. The man with the club lifted it and to my horror he hit Eric`s arm – and hard. Eric yelled out in pain and I could see how his arm looked … wrong.
“Now you can`t save Sookie,” Victor said with a grin. Even over the sound from the river I could hear Eric`s groan of pain, though he was doing his best to fight it.
And with that all the men on both sides of the river started walking upstream.
I had not seen any of this coming. Usually I could predict any move, everything my enemies were about to do in battle. But all of this had been a huge surprise for me. And Victor and his men leaving us here, chained on each side of the river, forced to kill each other to survive, was the biggest surprise of them all. I`d have thought Victor would have wanted to watch it happen. That he would have relished seeing the pain he was causing.
Instead, Victor and his men walked up the river – towards my village. I stared after them.
That was when it happened. Eric turned his head and looked. He checked to see where they key was. How far away it was. If he could reach it.
Up until that turn of his head, I`d imagined we were together in this. That we would find a way for us both to survive this so that I could help Eric with his broken arm and we could get to my village.
But with Eric looking back I wasn`t so sure.
I focused on reading his mind, trying to decipher what he was planning on doing. I could feel myself hyperventilating from concentrating so hard, from being nervous about what Eric was going to do.
I did not want to be killed by Eric.
Then it hit me. I could take two steps backwards just as much as Eric could. Yes, he was stronger and heavier and I might be dragged down in the river since Victor hadn`t been so kind as to give me a key, but I could pull Eric down, let him drown and then walk (dragging Eric`s body) back to the place where we`d crossed the river, get back to the other side, hoist Eric`s body up to the ground and unlock myself from him.
I toyed with the idea for a short moment, mainly to tell myself that Eric wasn`t the only one with a choice here, but realized that, of course, I couldn`t do that. I might have the power to do it but I couldn`t kill him.
Eric, on the other hand, could.
What did I know about him? Really know? I`d found myself sort-of-married to him to avoid a marriage to Andre Beardless, but how had Eric known Andre`s reasons for visiting my village? Why had he offered marriage?
Why had he flirted with me in the first place? Tried so hard to manipulate me into coming home with him?
I took a breath through my nose. Inhaled deeply.
I was a fighter, not a thinker. Give me ten enemies and a sword and I would do my best to kill them all but this was beyond me. I`d never aspired to leadership because it involved thinking in many layers. It involved deceit and manipulation and that was just not what I was put on this earth for.
I wasn`t stupid; I just preferred the straight-forwardness of battle.
And yet, here I was, my lover standing on the other side of a cold river, holding the key to my death – and I couldn`t strike him with my sword. I couldn`t fight my way out of this.
We stood there for awhile, looking at each other. I could see Eric was in pain from his arm but he couldn`t seem to form words. And neither could I.
Eric couldn`t pull me over the strong river with his broken arm; the river was too wide farther up for us to be able to make it to the place where we could cross it and … that was when it hit me.
I could pull Eric over.
Victor had been so sure I couldn`t so he hadn`t bothered breaking any of my limbs apart from the fingers his men had broken the night before; he`d been convinced I was too weak.
But I wasn`t. Sword fighting built muscles and I knew I was strong.
I knew I could do this. I could pull Eric to my side of the river, we could cross the river and then we could go back down and retrieve the key.
Or we could just stay tied up.
Eric raised his eyebrow.
“Jump in. I`ll pull you over,” I shouted at him.
He looked at me for a little while and I could almost hear his mind working. Eric was a fighter too. Like me, he wasn`t stupid but having to consider whether I was going to betray him or not – I could see that he hated having to think those kinds of thoughts through.
He lifted his right arm to the chain between us and I dug my feet in the ground just to be on the safe side but then I noticed how he was trying to lift his left arm, the broken one, and he couldn`t.
He looked back again but this time not at the key. He looked at the forest behind him. Then he turned his head back with what I imagined was a resigned look on his face. What had he hoped to do? What was he planning?
I held my breath, knowing that if Eric pulled at me hard and suddenly, I would be down in the river and dead before you could say “Eric the Traitor” or at least before you could say “Eric the Double-Crosser” since that name was slightly longer.
And I wouldn`t see it coming. That was the hardest part of all of this. Eric could pull me into the water and I wouldn`t know until I was wet and cold and very dead because he`d somehow managed to circumvent my ability to predict people`s moves.
“Jump in,” I shouted again, trying hard not to sound desperate.
He looked at me but never insulted me by asking if I was sure I could pull him to the other side just as I never insulted him by saying that his broken arm prevented him from doing the same to me.
His chest moved as he took a deep breath and again when he released it.
“Are you ready?” he asked and I grabbed the chain to show him I was.
He then jumped as far into the river as he could and I pulled while taking steps backwards. I leaned back to give myself more momentum and grabbed length by length of chain to pull him closer. I knew I had to work quickly or Eric would die. I really didn`t want that to happen.
“I`m putting you on a diet,” I mumbled to myself when the muscles in my upper arms screamed from the pain of pulling harder and faster than what they were built for, but my efforts were rewarded when I first saw the blond head break the water.
I had no idea if Eric was dead or alive but at least he was almost on my side of the river.
I pulled again. And again.
Eric was getting heavier now and I was getting more worn out but I pushed the pain aside. I`d told Eric to jump into the river. I would pull him out of it. I didn`t understand Victor`s elaborate plan but I knew this. I knew how to make my body work hard to achieve a clear goal.
I knew how I could save Eric`s life. A life he`d trusted me with when he`d made the jump.
I couldn`t pull on the chain any more and I knew why. Eric was on my side of the river and I needed to grab his body. I needed to get him out of the water and onto the ground.
Soon I realized that I needed to bring him back to life because it was a very pale and lifeless Eric I pulled out of the river.
Quickly, I dragged him up to lie on his back on the ground and after having established that he was breathing, I rubbed his body all over. It seemed like a repetition of my actions from when he`d almost drowned after the battle where we`d met each other so I couldn`t help leaning down and whispering, “I can`t keep pulling you out of cold water.”
Suddenly Eric`s unbroken arm was around my waist and I was pulled down to lie on top of him. He was cold and he was wet but I didn`t mind.
He rolled us over until he was on top and soon his lips were on mine, his tongue deep inside my mouth.
Eric was definitely alive.
I hope you liked this chapter!
I just love any questions you might have to the story and to the Viking age. I`ll try to reply some of them here:
FFFbone asked: What I was wondering about, is how did Melkorla Myrkjartansdottir become a slave? She was the daughter of a King?
I`m not sure how she became a slave but I imagine she was taken on a Viking raid. Whether her slavers knew she was royal or not, I don`t know, but it probably didn`t matter too much to them. A person who was taken would be a slave if the person who took him/her decided so. But as the story of Melkorla showed, slaves could be treated almost like wives. Melkorla`s owner acknowledged her son as his and he seemed genuinely interested in her well-being, having been infatuated enough to buy her instead of the timber he was supposed to buy.
What I would really love to know was how she lived those ten years in Hordaland (in what is now Norway) without speaking. Did she have children there? Was she treated well? Why was she sold?
Why were the Vikings so incredibly bad at writing down things so one might have known and why hasn`t anyone invented a time machine yet? Arrrgh!
The Sleepy Wolf asked: Was it a custom for people to have a characteristic added to their name, i.e Sookie the Shieldmaiden.
Most people would have two sets of names but the first name would be the same.
The “official” name would be their first name and then the first name of their father + son/daughter. If you were called Bjørn and your father`s name was Erik, then your name would be Bjørn Eriksen or Erikson/Eriksson depending on where you lived. If your name was Bjørk and your father`s name was still Erik, then your name would be Bjørk Eriksdatter or Bjørk Eriksdottir depending on where you lived.
But most people would also have a more personal name. It could be a description of their looks like Harald Bluetooth, a description of their way of living like Erik Bloodaxe or Olav the Holy, their profession or it could be something else entirely.
These names could change all through their lives – Gorm the Old probably wasn`t given that name when he was 19 – and they could change even after they`d died. This was one of the reasons why one`s legacy was very important to the Vikings. No one wanted to go over in history as Brynjulf the Coward.
I`m in PR and we usually say the Vikings are our true ancestors since they were so great at it. Not only did they manage to explain a person in just one word but they also had a major PR stunt. They were the ones to come up with the name Greenland. If you`ve ever been there you`ll know that green is not the first color that comes to mind. Apparently, or so the sagas say, Greenland was given that tempting name to lure more settlers to move there.
The Vikings were clever PR people!