Thank you so much for all your nice comments after the last chapter.
I also want to thank Suki59 for being such a great beta. Did you notice that she is now writing a Hunger Games fanfiction? Go read!
Charlaine Harris owns the characters in this story. She also owns the brand new book she published last week – a book I loved so much. Now I can`t wait for the last one in the series.
I looked at Tara, sitting by herself, staring at nothing. People walked past her on the boat and she sat there like she was in her own little world. She didn`t even glance at the goat that was chewing on her dress. The wind had pulled some of her hair out of her braid and it was making a poetic dance on her face, something she didn`t seem to mind. Or notice.
She was wearing short sleeves since it was a hot day and I noticed something new. Tara`s arm wasn`t soft anymore. All the sword training had left her with long and lean muscles under the skin.
Her face was different too. Where she`d always had a smile on it she was more stoic now. She hadn`t spoken about JB or her children and I knew she wasn`t going to. Tara had a plan. She had a purpose. And getting strong was part of that plan. I suspected all the muscles were an alternative to breaking apart and frankly, I preferred a strong and determined Tara even if I missed talking to her like we used to talk.
I looked over at Jason. He`d started to smile again but not the way he used to. Jason wasn`t that easy-go-lucky guy he`d been. He had the same set jaw as Tara and I knew he had made plans that corresponded with hers.
Tara and Jason were going to avenge what had happened to them and the thought of that revenge was what was keeping them up.
I took a deep breath of the sea air. I still had all my limbs and none of my immediate family had been killed recently so why was I the one who wanted to roll up and cry?
I had this big black hole inside me and I wasn`t sure how to fill it.
I`d filled my time – every waking hour since Eric had left had been full of Sookie-activities. I`d tried to make myself useful. To Sam. To Tara. To Jason. To the village. And I`d worked out harder than I ever had, making sure Tara and Jason would be ready for whatever they needed to be ready for.
But something was missing.
I cursed Eric. I cursed him to all the gods just like I`d cursed him every day since he`d left. He`d left me with this huge void in my stomach and every time I thought about him – which was way more often than I would have wanted – I ended up kicking something. Which was fine when it was a rock in the forest but my beautiful wooden cup would never be the same after I`d kicked it from one end of my house to the other.
Deep down I`d known Eric would be just like every other guy. No, like every other handsome guy (broken nose or not). Handsome guys were not trustworthy. They would gladly plant themselves between the legs of any semi-willing girl and I`d known it when I`d first met him.
And yet I`d managed to fall for him.
In spite of all my promises to myself. All my good intentions to stay clear of Eric the Smug Bastard. It was all for nothing. Not only had I had sex with him – that was excused by the imminent death threat I`d faced and my sudden desire to share a house with Eric in Valhalla – but I`d fallen in love with him.
I`d somehow managed to give him my heart without even realizing it. And what I had received in return was Eric the Grumpy jumping into his boat without even giving me a decent kiss goodbye.
I took another deep breath and pushed all thoughts of Eric aside. Eric was not here and the next time I would see him would be in battle. If he was lucky I would fight by his side and not slide a knife between his shoulder blades – the was very lucky and I`d forgotten my knives at home.
That made me smile. Violence was, after all, my favorite way of solving problems. Even if I only solved them in my head. I didn`t relish the thought of Eric being dead but the thought of killing him took some of the edge off my aggression and I managed to lower my shoulders a little.
“How are you doing?”
It was Amelia the Witch who came over to sit next to me. She and I had never been best friends but we`d grown up together and I had nothing against her. Nothing apart from the fact that she made me nervous.
I liked to fight with my sword and even if I had an advantage because the gods had given me the ability to see slightly into the future when I was in battle, I was still a straight forward warrior.
Amelia, on the other hand, was a vølve. The rod she was holding in her hand was her sword – her sign to the world about her special ability. If I could look a few moments into the future, Amelia the Witch could see days, months and years past today.
Which was entirely unnerving.
Amelia was not a mean person but every time she talked to me I had a feeling that she was trying to give me a special message about my future. A warning, perhaps.
Of course, her predicting the death of my parents contributed to the goosebumps I got every time she came close to me. Not that she`d outright said that my parents were going to die but she`d warned them about the trip. She`d told them not to leave the village but they`d chosen not to listen to her.
“Enjoying the sun,” I replied. I could have answered her question in a number of ways but most of them would have involved tears or anger so I chose neutral talk about the weather.
She smiled that smile that always made me feel that she knew I was going to say exactly what I`d chosen to say.
“It is a lovely day,” she said.
We sat quietly next to each other for awhile, enjoying the sun and the boat plowing through the water.
“Are you happily married?” she suddenly asked.
I looked at her. “I`m not really sure I am married,” I said. “We never had any ceremony.”
“Would you like to be married?”
I shrugged. “Marriage never was important to me.”
It was true. I`d never been one of those girls who pined for married life. I wouldn`t have been a shieldmaiden if I had been. And it certainly hadn`t changed with Eric. Or at least, that was what I was telling myself.
Eric had broken my heart. There was no point in missing what you couldn`t have.
“No, it never was, was it?” she said. “But maybe you just haven`t met the right man yet.”
I shrugged again. My shoulders were getting quite the exercise.
Amelia was probably right that I hadn`t met the right man for marital life because the right man didn`t exist. Eric was the wrong man – or at least he`d turned out to be wrong.
Amelia stayed close to me even when we had to get up and help lower the sails and row the boat safely into the harbor. And she walked next to Jason, Tara and me when we made our way up to the woods and the holy tree where the blot was to be held.
I noticed she was scanning the area and all the people there but so were we all. Blot was a rare chance to meet new people without having to kill them. People traveled several days to celebrate midsummer in Djupskog and there would be years between meeting some of the people who came from far away.
Djupskog wasn`t only a place where we celebrated midsummer and sacrificed to the gods. Djupskog was a place where enemies met without animosity, where men and women found spouses and where quite a few inexperienced girls – and some experienced – left with the beginnings of a new little life in their bellies.
Djupskog was one large party and we all knew that later in the evening it could very well turn into an orgy. Not that I would be participating. Luckily Sam decided we were going to camp at the outskirts of the blot area which meant that we wouldn`t be where people were going to cavort. Not unless we went there ourselves.
“Amelia!” someone shouted.
I`d heard the voice before but couldn`t place it so I turned around and saw a tall, dark man waving like a fool. He was too far away for me to recognize him so I squinted. He looked familiar and just as I realized who it was, Amelia raised her arm and waved back.
“Alcide the Wolf!” she shouted back. “Come over here!”
I rolled my eyes. Not that I had anything against Alcide the Wolf apart from the fact that he was a handsome man and handsome men weren`t my favorites in general and especially not after what had happened with Eric, but the wolfy glare he gave me made me shiver. And not in a good way. Alcide certainly lived up to his name.
“You remember Sookie?” Amelia asked when Alcide joined us, and pushed me forward.
“Who could forget the most beautiful and dangerous woman in the world?” Alcide said and I could almost hear him howling at the moon.
“It`s been several years, Alcide,” I said, though deep down it was nice to know that someone found be unforgettable. Not that it was important, of course. Me and men? Not going to happen. Not now. I`d learned my lesson.
“Too long, Sookie. I came looking for you recently but Amelia told me you were traveling. I`m glad you chose to come to the blot.“
Alcide gestured to his people and suddenly they had all camped next to us. Alcide never left my side and neither did Amelia. I noticed Jason and Tara get up but before I could join them they were gone. I figured they were just going to take a look around, maybe meet a few people, and forced myself to breathe easily and not worry about them.
I smiled at Alcide and suddenly I found myself much more relaxed than I had been the last couple of days and weeks. Alcide was easy to talk to even if he was a handsome man.
It was getting darker and the midsummer night was dark blue. A bonfire was being lit. People were moving over to sit around it and so were we. On the way over, Amelia walked to her bags and looked for something. She came back to us with a small leather purse and looked at Alcide and then at me.
“Sookie,” she said in a more serious voice than the one she`d used while teasing Alcide and making me feel comfortable. “I`ve had a vision and I want you to do me a favor.”
“Sure. What do you need?” I tried to smile even if I would have preferred not to be part of her visions.
“I need for you to enter the world of dreams and find the truth.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
Amelia opened her purse and took out something gray and dry.
“It means that I want you to eat these mushrooms. They will show you truths I can`t see. In my vision I saw that your special eye is even more potent than mine. You are a true Vølve, Sookie, and now is the time for you to explore that side of you.”
I shook my head. “I`m not a Vølve, Amelia. I`m a warrior.”
“We will soon find out, Sookie. If you take the mushrooms and find no truths then my vision was wrong. But in these times of war we can`t afford to lose even a tiny glimpse of the future. I have already arranged with Alcide that he will be your special guardian in the land of now. He will take care of you. I will be close by and try to be your guardian of the future.”
“You`ll take mushrooms too?” I asked.
Amelia laughed. “No, Sookie. I had my vision after having eaten the mushrooms but now I`ll be of more use sober and listening to everything you have to say.”
“When do you want me to do this?” I asked.
“I sense that you`re relaxed so now is a perfect time.”
I exhaled. I`d eaten mushrooms before but that had only been the weaker kind, the ones that only made you laugh and have fun. The mushrooms for searching the truth were much stronger and there was good reason to fear them.
I looked at Amelia and then at Alcide. She seemed very serious but he gave me a comforting smile which made me nod.
“I`ll do it.”
That brought a big smile to Amelia`s face. “Good!” she exclaimed and before I knew it I was chewing on the grey substance she`d pulled out of her leather purse.
At first I didn`t feel anything. I just looked at the people around the bonfire, noticed them talking to each other, laughing and having fun.
My eyes ran back and forth until they chose to stay on Rene who was sitting on the other side of the large bonfire. I didn`t like Rene and having him sneak up on me while sleeping when we were on our raid hadn`t helped my feelings towards him.
Now I found that I couldn`t look away. He was talking to a young girl and suddenly it was as if everyone else disappeared from my vision. Rene`s lips moved in slow motion and the girl laughed. Her laughter seemed to go on forever and I could see how Rene moved closer. How he touched her. I felt his touch on me, his breath on my neck.
I wanted to push him away but the girl just laughed. She laughed when he pulled her up to stand. When he touched her hip, her waist, her breast.
I felt the touches too and tried to shove at Rene. Tried to make him go away.
Then I felt different touches. Calming touches.
“Tell me what`s going on, Sookie,” Amelia said but it sounded as if she were very far away.
“Rene…,” I started. Then I saw Rene and the girl move very fast. They walked twice as fast – no, even faster – towards the woods. They weren`t running, just walking, but it all happened so fast.
I heard the girl scream and felt her push me – no, Rene. She was shoving him but he was too strong, too fast. He pushed me – no, the girl – to the ground.
Tears ran down my cheeks and they really were my tears and my cheeks.
“Rene is raping the girl,” I whispered. “In the woods.”
Strong and warm arms pulled me closer. Alcide`s smell was in my nose and I was sitting between his legs, my back to his chest. I leaned back.”
“Rene is still sitting over there,” he whispered in my ear.
“She is seeing the future, Alcide.” It was Amelia`s voice. “I`ll send someone over to stop him, Sookie,” she said.
It was as if time jumped because Rene was gone and I was on the back of a raven going high into the sky.
“Raven,” I mumbled and I may have said more because I heard Amelia ask me questions that I answered from the sound of her continued questioning.
The raven – and I was the raven now – looked down at a land where people were gathering. They were listening to a man. Suddenly they were running back and forth and there was blood in the grass. They were fighting. It was a battle.
Alcide`s warmth was getting stronger and I felt his hands move on my body. He was touching my stomach and my shoulder – his lower arm crossing my chest between my breasts.
Then his hand was on my breast and I wanted to stop him but I was a raven and ravens can`t speak.
“Krahaa,” I said, like the raven I was and a large man moved towards me.
Maybe I was the raven Hugin? Or Munin? I wasn`t sure but the man seemed important. Maybe he was Odin and I was one of his ravens?
I glanced up and felt my head sway from side to side. No, it couldn`t be Odin. Odin wasn`t blond, was he? And Odin only had one eye. Not two like this man. And not blue.
The hand on my breast fell away and then the arms disappeared. My back turned cold and I fell backwards. I fell and I fell and I fell and I was not a raven anymore.
I was on my back in the grass, staring at the sky. I could smell the grass and I felt as one with the earth. I wanted to sink into the ground but something was holding me back.
Loud noise. Shouts. Screams. A thumping. Someone falling.
I couldn`t turn my head but I knew I should. Knew it was important.
Suddenly I couldn`t see the sky anymore. Something was between me and the stars.
It was Odin. No, not Odin.
It was someone blond. Someone with blue eyes. Someone important.
“Eric?” I asked.
I hope this chapter didn`t leave you too drugged. If it did, do not throw yourself into the arms of the guy next to you (unless he is a guy you would normally throw yourself into the arms of) expecting him to be Eric
Vikings and mushrooms
Mushrooms were used in the Viking age as a drug and also by the various kinds of “seers” to enhance their predictions. The “seers” also used other means to go into the trance they needed to be in. Singing/ chanting and being in a room full of smoke were other ways of getting into the trance.
It`s debated whether warriors used mushrooms when they went to war. For decades it was assumed that warriors who went berserk did it because of these mushrooms. Some warrior groups went berserk in battle after battle and it was assumed that they did it because they were under the mushroom influence.
Recently there has been cast doubt on that. Tests where young men were given mushrooms and then Viking weaponry showed that these men did not perform very well. The Vikings may have been more accustomed to the mushrooms or the use of mushrooms before going into battle is just a myth. No one knows exactly.
I was asked to write more about blot so here goes:
Written sources from the 11th century talk about four annual times of blot but not all were celebrated by everyone. The famous “Lejre blot” (Lejre was a city in Denmark) was held every 9 years and 99 people and 99 horses were sacrificed, according to one source that may have been exaggerating.
The word comes from blotan which means sacrifice. The animals were hung up, for instance in the trees, and their neck sliced. The blood of the animal was then sprayed on the people participating in the blot.
Midsummer and midwinter were often a time for blot since the Vikings felt it was a time where both good and bad were strong what with the sun turning from warm to cold/ cold to warm.
Today midsummer in Scandinavia is celebrated with huge bonfires and if you`re ever in my parts of the world around midsummer – make sure you make it to one of the bonfire parties. Bring beer