Thank you so much for all your great reviews. I`m also amazed with how many of you who have put this story on your story alert list. I can`t tell you how thrilled I am.
I want to thank Suki59 for making this story readable and Charlaine Harris for having created all the great SVM characters. I just sent them back in time and gave them nice long swords.
Eric the Northman had been busy while I slept. First he`d convinced my stupid brother that his value on the marital market would increase if he changed ships – though being married had been the last thing on Jason`s mind up until last night.
Then he`d challenged Sam to a fistfight and won – and had claimed Jason and me as his reward. Sam`s reward was a black eye and a nose that would never be as straight as it used to be.
Sam had been embarrassed in public, which made me dislike Eric the Northman even more. Sam was a good man. He was trustworthy and fair and even if he wasn`t the best fighter, he wasn`t the worst either. He didn`t deserve being challenged just because Eric the Northman wanted something Sam had.
“I`m not leaving your ship, Sam, and neither is Jason.”
“I`m sorry, Sookie. This is not up for debate. Eric the Northman won fair and square and we all just have to live with it.” Sam had that determined look in his eyes but the blush on his neck gave him away. He was very uncomfortable with the situation.
“What is lost can be won back,” I said and started walking along the beach and after a few paces, Sam walked next to me. I knew where I was going – to the ships anchored up at the other end of the beach. I couldn`t see them from where I was, but I knew where they were. So did Sam.
“What do you mean?” Sam asked. “I`m not fighting him again. That wouldn`t be honorable.”
“You may not fight him again, but I will.” The stare I gave Sam made him stop and soon I was walking alone.
I had my faithful sword in my belt but I couldn`t fight Eric the Northman with that. A fight with swords would be a fight to the death. And as much as I didn`t want to die – I also didn`t want to kill Eric the Northman. There would be all kinds of payments to his family and I did not have that much gold. I also didn`t want to be the cause of alliances being broken and new wars being started.
So I stopped and went back to my boat to retrieve the blunt sword I used for practice and before heading back to Northman`s boat.
It was ridiculous, really, that he was called “the Northman” since we lived so much further to the north than he did. We were the ones having to suffer through harsh winters, not that soft-skinned Southie.
I tried to breathe deeply while I walked. I needed to release my anger and get my pulse down. If I wanted to beat Eric the Northman, I had to be cool and collected. No going berserk. Eric the Northman was much taller and stronger than I was and – more importantly – his arms were much longer. With my predicting his moves, I could hopefully escape his hits but I would need to be at my smartest to be able to hit him back.
“Northman!” I shouted when I saw his tall figure standing close to one of the longboats. He was commanding his people to load all the goods they`d taken and people were working hard, sweating under the sun. Everyone but Eric, if you don`t count shouting and waving one`s arms as working.
He turned and grinned at me, the cocky bastard. “If it isn`t my ….”
I wasn`t interested in hearing what he was going to call me. Shipmate or mistress – I was going to be neither. “I challenge you,” I said and stopped, situating myself in front of him. “A fight with blunt swords. The first one down loses.”
His grin got wider. “And what is at stake?”
“I win, Jason and I leave with Sam.”
“And if I win?” he asked.
A few of Eric the Northman`s men had gathered around us and were cheering us on. They were probably happy to get a break and some entertainment too.
“Aw, don`t be like that. Give me some motivation here. I`ve already won the prospect of your lovely company all summer ….”
“All summer?” I yelled.
“Sam didn`t tell you?”
Sam certainly hadn`t told me but then I hadn`t asked. I`d figured this arrangement was for one raid and one raid only.
“A kiss,” he said.
“When I win you`ll give me a kiss. And a real kiss, not just a peck on the cheek.” Eric the Northman pursed his lips.
“You`re not going to win and I`m not going to kiss you. I`m a shieldmaiden. Have some respect.”
The noises Eric the Northman`s men were making weren`t exactly respectful. I scowled at them.
“I asked for a kiss out of respect. I could have asked for more.” Eric the Northman`s smile got a little harder and his eyes a little colder.
I was about to swear but every swear word I could think of was sexually laden and I was sure he would be able to make even “go fuck yourself” an invitation. So I stayed quiet and moved closer. Before he realized the fight was on, I hit him hard over the knee. I was hoping I`d hit that special place that paralyzes the knee for a few moments but no such luck.
“You bitch!” he yelled. “We hadn`t started yet.”
“What are you? Three years old?” I taunted.
“I`m not settling for a kiss now.” Eric the Northman`s shoulders were more squared and he looked menacing. If I hadn`t been so annoyed by him, he would have scared me to death. Which was probably what he wanted.
One of his guys tossed him a blunt sword and he immediately lunged at me. He was a skilled fighter but I made sure he never reached me. Predicting his every move came in very handy because I was fairly sure that just one blow from his sword would knock me over. And keep me unconscious for a week.
I did not have Eric the Northman`s strength but I had speed and agility so I managed to get close enough to hit him hard on his hip.
“Fucking hell!” he shouted.
“You know I`ll beat you. Why not save yourself the embarrassment?”
“You`re a good warrior. I would be crazy to let you slip away.” He lunged again, this time doing some kind of double steps to trick me. Since I predicted his moves, I managed to hit him on his upper arm.
“Ouch. That`s going to bruise,” I said, faking concern. Then I slammed my sword hard on the back of his knees and relished seeing him go down. The surprise on his face was priceless. So was the drop of his sword.
I was about to give him the death blow – or as much of a death blow one can give with a blunt sword – when his long arm grabbed for my legs. I`d seen it coming, of course, so I kicked his elbow, pushing it into his torso and making him fall backwards.
I would never have had a chance if it hadn`t been for the fact that I knew his moves almost before he did. He was larger and stronger than I am. I should have been humble since my victory was only due to the gift from the gods but I couldn`t help gloating when I saw his large body sprawled on the ground. His men laughed and for a moment I enjoyed the situation but then I turned around and walked away.
“Jason and I are leaving on Sam Dogbreath`s boat. I hope I`ll never see you again,” I shouted back over my shoulder.
I had a huge smile on my face.
We`d finally loaded all our loot onto the boat and were rowing out the fjord. The sheep and chickens we`d taken were situated in the crates in the middle of the boat and the barrels of wheat, rye and mead were tied down to the benches we were sitting on. The animals had quieted down now and I was glad we`d left the cows for some of the other ships. They would have been a nuisance, though I wouldn`t have objected to fresh milk on the journey.
Most of the other boats had already left, including Eric the Northman`s. I was glad to know he`d realized I wasn`t about to give up my place at the oar of Sam Dogbreath`s longboat.
We were all going home but since his home was in a different direction from ours, I hoped I wouldn`t be seeing more of that annoying flatlander. One could always hope that Sam wouldn`t have us joining in on Sophie-Anne`s fights anymore. Queen Sophie-Anne was desperate to keep her crown. If she wanted to be rid of her uncle, she could fight her own wars.
Politics and wars between monarchs shouldn`t concern us as far to the north as we lived. We were outside the affairs of kings and queens, having never kneeled to one ourselves. An honest raid landing us plenty of gold and silver – that was what we were made for. Not alliances and fighting for nothing but someone`s right to a distant throne.
I was glad to be behind an oar because I had a lot of aggression I needed an outlet for. I would probably have had even more if I`d lost that fight with Eric the Northman, but then I wouldn`t have been behind this oar. I would have been one of his crew – a horrible thought.
The most annoying thing about Eric the Northman was how I couldn`t seem to get him off my mind. Yes, he was very handsome and one might even go as far as to call him sexy but I`d seen plenty of sexy men before – I`d even killed one or two (and they weren`t very sexy with their bowels hanging out or their throats cut). Somehow this guy had glued himself to my brain and that aggravated me.
Yes, I was hoping I would never see him again and yet I couldn`t help myself wondering what would have happened if I had indeed lost that fight. I would have had to go with him on his boat but it would also have meant a kiss. Or more.
“A storm is coming!” Sam`s shouts brought me out of my thoughts and I saw the dark clouds to our starboard side. We`d left the fjord and were out in the open sea and I hadn`t even noticed. “Pull harder!”
A storm was always bad news but this one looked worse than most of them. Not only was it darker but I could see lightning and hear faint thunder. I said a quick prayer to Thor and asked him to ride Tanngnjost and Tanngrisne somewhere else but the thunder they were creating with their hoofs was getting louder and louder – closer and closer.
I thought of my parents who`d lost their lives at sea, and looked over at Jason. At least he and I would be together if the ship went down. I also cast a glance at Claude, my cousin, and somehow the thought of my whole family – as small as it was – being with me now was a consolation. We lived together and if we drowned, we would do that together too.
I shook the thoughts of death away and pulled harder on my oar and so did everyone else. It wasn`t just getting home faster that was at stake now – it was life or death.
The sheep we`d taken on the raid bleated every time lightning struck and thunder roared and when the first rain hit us we all swore and pulled even harder on the oars.
And then we were hit by the storm and were thrown around from wave to wave, desperately trying to follow Sam`s orders and hoping we would all survive. We shouted our prayers to whichever god we hoped would listen while the sheep bleated even louder.
We all feared for our lives but fear would do us no good so we worked even harder, rowed even faster while the waves were trying to throw sheep, goods and men overboard.
After a long and desperate rowing without seeing any end to the storm, Sam barked the order we`d all been waiting for.
“Throw the sheep overboard! They may please the gods.”
Claude tied his oar down and went to the middle of the boat where the sheep were bleating in fear.
He grabbed the first one, raised it over his head and said a few choice words to Odin and Thor. Then threw it overboard. He did the same with the next one and soon all the sheep were white dots in a dark sea with white foam.
I prayed that our sacrifice would be enough. Those sheep could have gotten us through the winter and made sure none of us would starve but who cared about starving six months from now if you were at the bottom of the ocean?
Claude untied his oar and was back at rowing.
Waves hit the boat and I was drenched with seawater and the rain pouring down. But then I noticed that it had been awhile since the last lightning. I looked up and far out in the distance, I could see the sky clearing up. I looked back at Sam at the rudder, nodded in the direction where I`d seen tiny glimpses of sun and smiled. Sam followed my gaze and the look he gave me made me grin from ear to ear. We would make it and we could thank Sam for making the right decision.
The wind decreased and soon the rain went from a shower to just a few drops. The waves were still high but when the first rays of the sun hit us through the clouds, everyone shouted out in relief. We were saved and it was all because of Sam`s choice to sacrifice the sheep. Yes, we might go hungry in the winter but at least we weren`t dead.
When the wind died down and the waves became more manageable, we rowed a bit slower and then Sam gave the order to raise the sail. I wiped my brow and took a deep breath. It had been a close call and drowning was certainly not a good way to die. I wasn`t sure how I did want to draw my last breath – while fighting someone or from old age with children and grandchildren surrounding me – but I was very pleased I`d survived this ordeal.
Lafayette the Dark came over with some water and distributed it to all the men. He was our cook and managed water and other necessities. I drank heavily and then I leaned back. There was plenty of work to be done with the sails but I left it to the ones who were stronger than I was. I was a great fighter but I did have fewer muscles than most of my fellow warriors.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
At first I thought I was hearing things but when I opened my eyes and looked out over the water, I could see it too. One of the sheep was still alive and was bleating so loudly that I saw that a couple of the guys noticed it too.
“Sam!” I shouted. When I had his attention I pointed in the direction of the sheep.
Sam turned the boat slightly. He was thinking what I was thinking. If the gods wanted us to have one of the sheep back, it would be impolite not to take their offer. It was amazing that the little creature was still alive. The gods must really have wanted us to have it.
When we were close to the sheep, the sun came out for real and if that weren`t a sign from the gods, I`m not sure what would have been. We pulled the sheep into the ship, gave it some water and I`m sure I wasn`t the only one who was saying some silent prayers.
That was when I heard another sound. I looked in the direction of the sound but couldn`t see anything. The sound was there again.
“Sam!” I shouted. “I think there`s another sheep.”
We followed the sound for a bit. For long periods there was nothing and just when we were giving up, it was there again.
And then we all saw it. Goods were floating in the water. Barrels and pieces of wood. When we discovered the first corpse, Jason decided to state the obvious. “A ship went down in the storm.”
We picked up anything of value and checked if any of the bodies were alive.
The sound was back. This time we could tell it was a yell. Someone was alive. After staring out in the distance, I could finally see someone waving.
“Sam! Someone is alive. We have to save him!” I yelled.
Sam maneuvered the boat in the direction I pointed and when we got closer I could see that there were two men waving. One guy with black hair that I didn`t know.
And Eric the Northman.
No sheep were hurt while writing this chapter
I must admit that I don`t know if the Vikings sacrificed animals when they were in a storm but they did sacrifice animals when celebrating. It was called blot and they would kill an animal, spread its blood all over the walls and eat it in a huge celebration.
The Vikings probably sacrificed human beings too – mainly slaves. I`ve found mentions of slaves being sacrificed and their blood smeared on new boats and also of slave girls being buried in the same grave as important Vikings – male and female.
There have been mentions of criminals being sacrificed too but historians are not sure whether they were sacrificed to the gods or “just” given the death penalty. I`m not sure about all the crimes that carried the death penalty, but raping a virgin was one of them.
Viking law was fairly short since there were no prisons. Either you paid up to the person, or the family of the person, you`d hurt or you were given the death penalty or named an outlaw. In Scandinavian the word is “fredløs” which can be translated into “peaceless”. It meant you were ostracized from society and anyone could kill you – a terrible sentence for Vikings who depended on their friends and family for survival.
The English word “law” comes from the Norse word “lov” and the Viking judicial system did have some likeness to what we know today.
A Ting consisting of 12 free men would listen to accusations – or facts as they would call them – put forward by a group of people and the Ting would expect the god Ull to point them to the correct verdict. If the case was very important the Ting could consist of two or three times 12 people. I`m not sure why the number 12 was so important but we recognize it from the number of jurors in many courts today.
People could also choose to settle their own differences by entering into a Holmgang where two people would go to a secluded area, for instance an island, and fight. The winner of the fight was the winner of the quarrel. The loser would either be dead or termed a niding.
It was important to have a functioning legal system since the alternative was generations of blood feuds that would kill whole families and leave areas empty – which was actually the result several times.