Thank you so much for your reviews and comments to the last chapter!
I also want to thank Suki59 for trying to teach me English grammar. It`s like teaching a rock, I`m sure.
I sat there with Tara for a very long time, not sure what happened or who went by. I would like to think that I would have reacted if an enemy had come by, that I would defend myself and Tara, but I couldn`t be sure.
All I could see were Tara`s children. Their smiles, their laughter. All I could feel was my best friend in my arms,Tara being so very, very cold from the shock.
My sword had been the answer to all my problems for a very long time and there were probably still some of Victor`s people left to kill but my sword was the last thing on my mind. Holding Tara, keeping her close to me, was all I could think about. Apart from that my brain was empty.
I couldn`t even be angry.
At some point I felt an arm on my shoulder and a kiss to my temple but when I looked up no one was there. Only the smell of Eric in the air. Or was that my imagination?
The ground turned cold and Tara turned even colder – and that was what brought me out of my trance.
I got up and pulled Tara with me. Together we stumbled to my house.
I was relieved to see Jason on the bed and Portia the Healer leaning over his arm. Jason looked pale but he was clearly alive. He`d lost his left hand but Jason was strong enough to fight one-handed if he had to.
Seeing Jason ignited a tiny flame inside me. I didn`t want to disturb Portia and I also didn`t want to let go of Tara so instead of going to Jason, I walked Tara over to my bed where we both lay down.
I pulled her into me and kissed the top of her head when suddenly I remembered something vital.
“What about JB?” I whispered. If he were out there, looking for Tara I would need to find him.
Tara didn`t say anything but I could feel my tunic becoming wet where her face was and I knew he was gone too.
I should have gone out to check the damage. Out there to help put out the fires and save lives, if there were any lives that could be saved. Out there to make sure each and every one of Victor`s men were on their way to Helheim.
But I couldn`t leave Tara.
I woke up the next morning, surprised that I`d fallen asleep at all. Tara had her arm around me and was snoring into my chest.
Carefully, I slid myself out from under Tara and got up. I tip-toed over to Jason`s bed and checked on him. He was asleep too, probably sedated by some plant Portia the Healer had given him.
I went outside, noticing how peaceful the village sounded. The birds were chirping just like they always chirped and the waves hit the beaches as if nothing had happened. The only difference was the smell of soot in the air.
I walked outside the village to wash myself a little. I knew I was stalling, that I didn`t want to see what Victor and his men had done to the village, but after some time I took a deep breath and walked back to the village.
Two houses had been burned to the ground and some had damage. Three pigs were kicking in the dirt outside Sam`s house when I suddenly had an arm around my waist.
I looked behind me, expecting to see Eric but it was Sam`s arm. He didn`t say anything, just pulled me into a hug and we stood like that for a while. Then I took a step back and looked at Sam.
“Is your family …?”
Sam nodded. “They are all fine.”
My shoulders felt much lighter. “Tara lost her husband and her children.”
“How many more?” I asked.
“Six people have been killed apart from Tara`s family.” Sam managed to look angry and sad at the same time.
A wave of guilt hit me. “I came as quickly as I could,” I said.
Sam`s hand glided over my hair like a father would comfort his child.
“I know, Sookie. Eric told me.”
I looked at Sam and he looked at me. Then he nodded. “Eric is keeping Victor down by the harbor,” he said.
“Victor is alive?” I asked.
“Barely. He`s been beaten up and has lost a hand. But he is worth more alive than dead so Eric made sure he wouldn`t die.”
I nodded though I didn`t care how much Victor was worth alive. I wanted him dead ten times over.
After another hug Sam and I walked in different directions. Sam went inside his house and I walked towards the beach.
Eric got up when he saw me. Victor was on the ground, his one hand shackled in what looked like his own chain. There was some irony in that. He didn`t seem entirely conscious but his eyes were open.
“We`re leaving today,” Eric said.
Silly disappointment washed over me. Silly because I knew he had to go home with Victor. Home to Queen Sophie-Anne who would use Felipe`s foster son to her advantage.
It was also silly because I`d spent most of my time with Eric telling him to go away and now I was sad when he was going to do just that.
He took my hand. “You have to go pack if you want to bring anything more.”
I shook my head. He didn`t know? “I can`t leave,” I said. “Jason ….”
Eric`s mouth turned into a narrow line. “You`re my wife.”
“I`m Jason`s sister.” I needed to stay with Jason. I`d always looked after him and he needed me more than Eric did. It broke my heart but it was the truth.
If Eric`s mouth had been a narrow line, his lips disappeared altogether now. We just looked at each other for a long time, emotions thick in the air.
Then Eric glanced over his shoulder at Victor who seemed to be slowly regaining consciousness. “We have to leave now.”
A feeling of loss filled me. What was I supposed to say? I didn`t want him to leave and he didn`t want me to stay but that was not to be changed. But would he leave like this? As if he were indifferent? Would I let him?
Eric grabbed a bucket from the boat and filled it with seawater. Then he threw it in Victor`s face. “Wake up, you little slug!” he shouted and kicked Victor in the hip. “You`re lucky that you`re worth more alive than dead but don`t tempt me.”
Victor came to and his half grin told me he hadn`t been as unconscious as he`d liked us to believe.
A warm arm landed on my shoulder and somehow I knew it was Claude even if I hadn`t heard him coming. I leaned into him.
“You`ll leave too?” I asked even though I knew the answer. Eric couldn`t sail the boat alone with his broken arm and he needed help. A little behind Claude I saw Hoyt the Meek and Dermot the Twin.
Dermot wasn`t really the twin of anyone but he`d been born six months after Jason and everyone knew Dermot was our half-brother. He looked like Jason`s twin and that was the name he got. I liked Dermot even if he would always be the testament of my father`s infidelity. Infidelity while my mother had been pregnant with Jason. But then my father had been like most men – not to be trusted.
Now Dermot and Hoyt were leaving with Eric and Claude. I gave them a faint smile and turned my attention back to my cousin.
“I can have a family, Sookie. A wife and children. You know I always wanted that.”
“I know.” And I did. After all, he`d tried to have that with me.
“And now I can have a family with someone who will love me as a friend but not love me too much.” Claude kissed the top of my head.
I nodded. I`d loved Claude too much and Claude had learned how love can hurt. How my love for him hurt me. And even if Claude never loved me the way I loved him, he loved me enough to know it was wrong of him to cause me pain like that.
“I`m staying here,” I said but my voice sounded wrong. Thick and heavy.
“I know, Sookie. I told Eric you couldn`t leave Jason. Not now.”
I nodded towards Eric who was pulling Victor up and walking him down to the boat. “Be careful.”
“I`ll look after him,” Claude said. “And you`ll meet again in the next battle, may it come soon.”
“May it come soon,” I repeated.
Claude, Hoyt and Dermot started walking towards Eric and Victor but when Victor saw them coming, he only grinned. Then he stared at me.
“It seems I underestimated you,” he said.
“It seems you did,” I replied.
“I may have been influenced by my father`s opinion of women.”
Eric pushed him. “He`s not your father. You`re just his foster son, Victor.”
Victor laughed. “At least I acknowledge him. Did you know that Felipe made a command that no one was to kill you? You`re his favorite nephew. Well, his only nephew, really. And you keep pretending he doesn`t …. “
Victor never got to explain what Eric was pretending because Eric`s fist had landed hard on Victor`s face and Victor was now unconscious again. This time for real.
Claude walked over, picked up Victor and dumped him in the boat. Then he walked back to me, grabbed me in his long arms and gave me a big hug.
“Talk to Sam,” he whispered. “He`ll explain everything.”
I nodded and waited for Eric to come give me a hug too but he just got the boat ready and soon Eric and Claude, Hoyt and Dermot were a little dot far out there in the fjord and I was alone on the beach.
“Eric is the son of Felipe`s wife`s sister,” Sam explained.
“So he`s not related to Queen Sophie-Anne?” I asked.
We were in his house, his wife and children elsewhere. Sam had offered me a cup of mead and I was drinking it too fast, taking large sips when I should have been taking small ones. I leaned my elbows on the table to enhance my balance.
“Not by blood, no.” Sam poured me another cup. “And he`s not related to Felipe by blood either. But Eric is the only male relative Felipe has and Felipe had planned on making Eric his son and heir. An heir would strengthen Felipe`s claim to the throne since Sophie-Anne has no children and no siblings. She doesn`t even have a husband.”
“What went wrong?” I asked.
Sam took a sip of his mead. “First there was Eric`s mother,” he explained. “Then Pam.”
“What about them?”
“You know that Felipe is the Chief of Great Island?” Sam asked.
I didn`t know Felipe was chief there but I`d learned that Great Island was where he lived. Great Island was technically part of Queen Sophie-Anne`s kingdom but some of the areas still kept their own chiefs.
“Yes,” I half lied. I probably should have known more about Felipe but I`d never listened much to gossip and I hadn`t been one of Sam`s strategists. I`d been a warrior and I`d always known my limits when it came to politics.
Sam looked at me. “Eric didn`t tell you any of this?” he asked, his brows furrowed.
“Tell me what?”
“Why they moved?”
I shook my head and didn`t like the feeling of not knowing – not when it came to Eric. It had never bothered me before. I`d welcomed not knowing things because it was always easier to fight whoever I was told to fight and to look after Jason. I was friendly to most people and we usually had enough to eat even if some winters had been tough.
It had been an easy life but now I found myself wanting more.
And being annoyed at Eric for not having offered me the knowledge I should have had.
“Felipe wanted two things from Eric`s family. He wanted the women to submit …,” Sam started.
“The women in Eric`s family have always been warriors. Eric`s mother was one and so was his aunt, Felipe`s wife.”
“And Pamela,” I added.
“Pamela was one of the best shieldmaidens ever to have fought.”
“So what happened?”
“Felipe married Eric`s aunt and slowly but surely he managed to break her fighting spirit. Then when Eric`s father died Felipe tried to break his mother and ban the use of women as warriors.”
Sam took another sip of his mead. “Alain the Cruel was getting sick by then so he did nothing to stop his brother.”
“Alain the Cruel was Queen Sophie-Anne`s father.” I tried to make it a statement but really it was a question. I hadn`t paid much attention to the royalties of foreign countries.
“Yes, and when he died Felipe assumed he could take over. That everyone would agree with him that women were too weak to fight the way a king should be able to fight.”
I mulled it over and then I remembered something Sam had said. “You told me there were two reasons Eric`s family left Great Island. What was the other reason?”
Sam smiled. “You could have been married to a prince now if they hadn`t,” he said. “Eric was the only male relative Felipe had and even if Eric was not of Felipe`s blood, Felipe wanted him.”
“Felipe sought to adopt Eric as his own.”
It wasn`t until I entered my house I realized I hadn`t asked Sam why he had decided we should fight on the Queen`s side. We could have stayed out of the fight.
I didn`t want to think that we should have stayed out of the fight because I had never been one to shy away from a battle, but the thought had temporarily grazed my mind and when I walked inside my house and found Tara lying there staring at the ceiling and Jason doing pretty much the same, the thought came back to me.
Then I reminded myself that a man who found women weak should never be in power. At least not in a country close to where I lived. I also pictured how Eric and his family had run away from Felipe. How they had found it necessary to break up the lives they knew and leave them behind them to start new lives somewhere else – just because of Felipe the Throne-robber.
I knew without a doubt that Sam would never have put us in danger unless he had found it necessary to do just that and with that knowledge I walked over to Jason and sat down. I let my hand glide down his long hair and tried not to look at the arm with no hand.
Both Jason and Tara slept what seemed like an endless sleep. Jason was running a slight fever and Tara was cold so I put them in the same bed and made sure Portia kept them as sedated as they needed to be. Reality was too harsh for them right now and I figured some sleep would do them good.
I kept them fed and made sure they had bedpans and I made myself busy by helping out to rebuild my village. There also were the fields to consider. We`d sown seeds earlier in the spring but now was the time to weed and to spread manure.
We also had to catch some runaway cows and I`d volunteered to milk Tara`s. It was nice to be busy even if I`d always hated weeding and milking – not to mention spreading manure. It had to be done, though, and right now I was happy to do it.
I tried to think as little as possible. Jason missing his hand, Tara having lost her family, Claude gone and Eric having left the way he did – I tried to ban all those thoughts from my brain.
At night I was all alone. My bed – the bed I`d slept alone in since Gran died and up until Eric came to our village – seemed way too big and I couldn`t sleep.
The sun was up later and later which meant I could work late into the night but even if I were exhausted when I undressed and got under my covers, I just kept staring at the ceiling.
It wasn`t until the sixth day a change came. Jason stopped me when I was about to give him his medicine and as if Tara were an extension of my brother, she refused to take it too.
“We need to start working on our sword skills,” Jason said and I wasn`t sure who he meant by “we.” Was it Tara and him or me and him? Or maybe it was all three of us.
I nodded because he was right. It had been years since I`d gone that long without a good workout with my sword.
Instead of asking Jason how he would manage with his lost hand – or if he was supposed to work out at all so quickly after having had stitches – I helped him out of bed. He was a bit wobbly after having spent so long lying down but he got up anyway.
Tara got up too and wasn`t in much better shape than my brother. She looked as if she`d taken Jason`s “we” to heart so when Jason started walking towards the door, she followed.
I grabbed our swords and some clean clothes for them, and steered them towards the river so that they could clean up first. Then after we’d washed ourselves, we walked to the meadow.
The workout on the first day was slow and careful but the next days and weeks we got more serious. Jason had his stitches removed and was handling his lack of balance better every day. Even if Jason rarely had used his left hand on his sword, he`d used it in other ways – ways he now had to change.
Tara hadn`t worked out much with her sword after she`d married JB but she`d been talented when she was young and soon her old talents flowed back into her arms and hands. She had a new ferocity to her fighting and I knew she was seeing her children`s murderers at the end of her sword.
Tara was ready for revenge – which wasn`t a bad reason to become a shieldmaiden.
We`d been working out for hours every day way into the first days of summer when Sam found us in the meadow.
“I`ve decided that we`ll make a blot on Midsummer,” he said. “We need to have the gods on our side.”
I nodded and I could see Tara and Jason agreeing too. Sacrificing a few animals was a small price to pay if it could help us in the upcoming battle against Felipe the Throne-robber. We didn`t know when we were going to fight him – only that it would be before the first snow.
“When are we leaving?” Jason asked.
Blot always took place in the holy forest of Djupskog, half a day`s sailing to the south of our village. We only went to the Midsummer blot when a sacrifice was deeply needed. The last time we`d gone had been five years ago when three women had lost their children during pregnancy during the spring and two cows had died mysteriously. Sam had consulted Amelia the Witch who had gone into a trance and come back with a message from the gods. They were angry at us.
This time we were going to make a blot as a precaution, not an appeasement.
“I think it would be wise to be there a few days ahead of Midsummer. I think there will be quite a turnout this year,” Sam replied. “There always is when war is brewing.”
We were lucky to live fairly close to Djupskog. Some people had to travel for days to get there and if Sam was correct, Djupskog would be crowded this Midsummer.
Almost the whole village left for the blot. Only a few old people and four men to defend them stayed back. One would anger the gods if one fought during blot but with the lack of honor Victor had shown, we couldn`t be sure his foster father wouldn`t still attack us.
Four men weren`t enough to keep our village safe but at least they would give Felipe a fight if he decided to come for an honorless visit.
We`d brought both cattle and sheep for the blot. The sun warmed us from above and the wind was favorable. It felt as if the gods were pleased already and for the first time in a long time I felt a smile warm my heart while the sun warmed my face.
The blot was a good idea.
I think I`ve touched blot in a previous chapter but if not blot was the way the Vikings sacrificed animals and, historians think, sometimes slaves too (you`ve probably noticed that I don`t have any slaves in my story – I just couldn`t fit them in). I`ve actually read that they would sacrifice the odd village chief if things were really bad but I`m not sure if that`s true.
I`m not going to sacrifice Sam
I`ve had a few questions about Scandinavian topography – what Scandinavia looks like. Here is the short version:
Denmark is very small, very flat (Denmark has absolutely no mountains – only hills) and consists of a lot of small islands. Denmark is the closest populated country in Scandinavia – a lot of larger cities and very little true nature apart from the sea. Denmark has the loveliest beaches in Scandinavia – nice, long sandy beaches.
In my mind Eric lives in the flatlands of Denmark.
Norway has less people than Denmark but is SO much larger. Norway is the second thinnest populated country in Europe after Iceland and it`s a very long country – and due to some very handsome grants from the government, people live in the weirdest places. Norway doesn`t have very large cities but plenty of small villages and farms scattered on mountain tops and in the valleys. The capitol, Oslo, is to the south and if you tip over Norway around where Oslo is and let the rest of Norway be south of Oslo instead of north of it, Norway would go all the way down to Rome, Italy. This is why there are huge differences in climate between the north and the south. Norway is often called Land of the Midnight Sun – which is very much true in the north where the sun doesn`t go down in the summer, but almost semi-true in the south since the summer nights are not very dark. Norway is also called Land of the Fjords because of the deep and very beautiful and majestic fjords to the west of the country.
In my mind Sookie lives in Norway – at the bottom of one of the minor fjords.
Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia both in land and in population but most Swedes live in the cities to the south. The Swedish government never tried to make people stay in the countryside by giving them monetary reasons to do so, like in Norway, so most Swedes moved to the larger cities. Most of Sweden is therefore one huge forest with wolves and bears and what not. It makes it a bit boring to drive through Sweden – but the size of their cities make them all the more interesting.
In my mind the blot takes place in Sweden – which is between Denmark and Norway.
Terrorism in Norway
I know that these A/Ns usually are about the Viking age but I had something else I wanted to write about today. As most of you have probably heard, Norway was hit by a terrorist this summer. Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb at the government offices and then he drove to the small island of Utøya where a group of young people from the youth branch of the government party were gathered for their annual celebration. He killed a large number of these kids and drove several hundred of them into the water in the hopes that they would drown.
Anders Behring Breivik is currently under trial where he claims the reason he did all this was his frustration that Norway is becoming more “multi-cultural” and that he thinks it`s the government`s fault (a government the majority of the people of Norway has elected). During the trial he mentioned that he truly hated a certain children`s song, “Children of the Rainbow”, because he felt the song brainwashed kids into thinking all skin colors were equal. This is a very popular song here.
Two women heard this and reacted spontaneously. They invited friends and relatives on Facebook to join them a couple of days later to sing that song and show Anders Behring Breivik that they loved the song he hates and that they don`t share his opinions. Friends and relatives sent it to all their friends and relatives and it turned into something huge. All in all we were 40,000 people who met up last Thursday at 12, in pouring rain, to sing that song. I was there and I can`t tell you how happy it made me to see that huge group of people, all wanting to say that we disagree with Anders Behring Breivik.
We sang the song, walked quietly to the courthouse where the song was song again. People put down roses and we all went back to work. It was very beautiful!
This has absolutely nothing to do with Sookie the Shieldmaiden. I just wanted to share a very touching moment with you.
If you want to see us singing – look up Barn av regnbuen 2012 on YouTube.
Have a nice week!