Thank you so much for all your comments and reviews. I love getting them!
I also want to thank Suki59 for being such an outstanding beta and for all our discussions about fanfiction and romance.
Charlaine Harris owns every character in this story. If they`d been mine, they would all have had a sword – not just Eric. Maybe there would have been more “bowling for vampires”
It wasn`t Eric but Pamela who ended up showing us around in Nordby. Eric went to see the families of the men who`d been killed in the battle or drowned on the way home, which I found admirable. It couldn`t be easy to meet grieving widows, parents and children but I knew it had to be done.
I remembered how torn Sam had been every time we came home, thrilled over the battles we`d won and the loot we were bringing home but for Sam there was also the rounds he`d had to make to the families of those who didn`t return.
We all knew that each raid could be the last one but none of us really believed it.
“Eric will take you to meet Queen Sophie-Anne later,” Pamela explained while trying to hold onto two children who were both behaving like a barrel of ants.
She`d taken me to the marked, the blacksmith and showed me where we could wash ourselves. Now we were walking towards the house she was sharing with her brother.
“Do you want me to carry one of them?” I asked though I had never been very good with children. It was just that Pamela seemed to need the help and it would be a cold day in Hekla before Jason or Claude volunteered.
Pam pulled one kid away from her neck and into my arms and I looked into a couple of blue eyes that resembled those of the kid`s uncle.
“So what is your name?” I asked but my accent made him pull back and I saw a wail coming up.
“This is auntie Sookie, Quinn. Behave yourself.” Pamela`s voice wasn`t strict and the upcoming cry turning into a shy smile.
“Aren`t you a cutie?” I tried but apparently one didn`t call little boys “cutie” because he stuck his lower lip out in protest. I tried a different angle. “Are you a fierce warrior?” I asked and the little boy nodded.
“I am too,” the little girl in Pamela`s arms said.
“This is Frannie,” Pamela explained.
“Do you want me to teach you some tricks with the sword?” I asked both kids, before I had thought it through. But I figured I was supposed to stay here for a while so I might as well get along with people. That included the children.
If the kids had been like ants before they were like a pit of snakes now, cheering over my offer, so when Pamela put Frannie down, I did the same with Quinn.
Claude sighed loudly when the kids ran ahead of us towards what I assumed was Eric and Pamela`s house and I remembered how Claude wasn`t particularly fond of children. Or, at least that was what he kept telling people – to Gran`s shock and outrage.
Gran had been fine with Claude preferring male company to female but saying no to children was something she had never accepted. “You will find a nice girl who doesn`t mind not sharing your bed every night,” she`d repeatedly declared. A declaration that had always made Claude shrug.
I knew the truth behind Claude stating that he didn`t want children, of course, and it had nothing to do with his preference for men.
Poor Gran had never hidden the fact that she wanted great-grandchildren and all she got was a grandson who preferred men, another grandson who loved women but never enough to settle down with one of them and a granddaughter who loved her sword more than she would ever care for any man.
“They are cute,” I told Pamela while nodding at her children. I wasn`t sure if she`d heard Claude`s sigh but I wanted to make up for it.
“They are a handful,” she replied. “Just like Eric and I were.”
“Sounds like Sookie and me,” Jason commented and Claude went from sighing to snorting.
“And Claude, of course,” I added.
The kids ran into a house and Pamela motioned for us to follow them inside. I went in after Pamela and took a quick look around. This longhouse was slightly different from ours – the walls seemed less solid and the smoke-hole in the roof was larger. But the beds along the walls, the large table and the benches surrounding it were just like ours.
“That`s Eric`s bed, so I suppose it`ll be yours as well, Sookie.” She pointed at one of the beds. “The kids and I are sharing that bed.” She pointed at another one. “And I suppose you two can share the bed we use for guests.”
I was surprised to see another house with just three beds. Did Eric, Pamela and her children live all alone?
I realized I didn`t know much about Eric. I`d assumed he had parents and possibly more siblings. And what about the children`s father? I didn`t want to ask but Claude was less sensitive than I was.
“Where is your husband?” he asked.
Pamela was quiet a few moments then she said, “He`s dead.”
There was absolutely nothing in Pamela`s reply that invited follow-up questions but Claude was on a roll. “Why didn`t you remarry?”
Pam stared at him. If she were trying to kill him by looking at him, I could inform her that it was impossible. I`d tried. Many times.
“I don`t particularly care for men,” she said and that was the hardest verbal slap I`d ever heard. I blushed on behalf of Claude but he carried on.
“That was what I thought. I`m not too fond of women.”
That made Pamela smile and the change was extreme. She went from Pamela the Bloody to Pamela Milkmaid in the wink of an eye.
“How about Sookie?” Pamela asked Claude.
I was about to tell her I was standing right there and could give her a full statement on which people I did and did not like to share my furs with but Claude beat me to it.
“Sookie? No, Sookie doesn`t like anyone. Not like that, at least.”
Pamela laughed as if it were some kind of inside joke I didn`t get. Jason looked at me for explanations but I just shrugged.
I was about to suggest we take a look at some more of Nordby when a big kid opened the door and came inside. He was struggling to catch his breath.
“Eric has asked everyone to come to the Gods` house,” he said. “He is offering atonement.” Then he ran out and I could hear him shout the news to someone just outside.
I frowned and looked at Pamela. “Atonement?”
Without saying anything Pamela grabbed each of her kids by the hand and walked out. Jason, Claude and I followed.
The Gods` house was in the outskirts of Nordby, close to a forest. It was a large house made from tar-clad timber. We hurried inside along with the other people – what seemed like everyone else living in Nordby. Pamela pulled Frannie up to sit on her hip and I did the same to Quinn.
At first I found it hard to see anything and I waited for my eyes to adjust to the lack of sunlight. It was dark in the Gods` house apart from the light from the fireplace at the other end from where we were standing.
Eric stood next to the fire, naked from his waist up. He looked at all the people pushing each other to get inside but he didn`t seem to notice any of them. His arms were hanging down by his sides and he was breathing heavily. I saw his lips move as in some kind of silent prayer but that was the only movement apart from his chest going up and down.
When it seemed everyone was there – or maybe the Gods` house was too full to let anyone else enter – Eric closed his eyes for a few moments, took a deep breath, and opened them again.
“I am back from the battle and I brought Chow with me. But as you all know, I lost many good men to the sea.” Eric`s voice came through very clearly but when he paused there was a murmur in his audience. “I have brought grief to their families and I want to atone for that.” Eric picked up what looked like a branch with no leaves from the floor. “I want a representative for everyone who has lost a man on my boat to step forward.” Eric paused again while men and women, some old and some around Eric`s age, walked up next to him. “I invite you to strike me and to put all your grief and anger onto my back.”
And with that, Eric turned around, got down on his knees and leaned into a large rock next to the fireplace.
Some of the people who`d stepped forward shook their heads and I heard a man say “no” but Eric stayed where he was until a young woman grabbed the stick and turned towards the crowd.
“I do not blame Eric the Northman for the death of my husband, Clancy,” she said. “But I respect his wishes for atonement and I shall give him that.”
The light from the fireplace glimmered in the tear that rolled down her cheek when she went to Eric. Slowly she raised the stick and then she struck Eric`s back.
“I have stricken you with this stick, Eric. All anger concerning Clancy`s death is in that wound on your back. You shall never be blamed for it.”
I cringed inside even if she hadn`t hit him as hard as she could have. We had our own traditions of atonements, of course, but I`d never before seen so many being invited to the atonement of one man. It was too much. Too harsh.
“It wasn`t Eric`s fault,” I whispered to Pamela. “The storm was sudden. We were lucky to survive it.”
Pamela nodded. “Eric needs this.”
Other people came forward, grabbed the stick, made a little speech, hit Eric and then told him that all anger concerning their family member`s untimely death was in that wound on his back. Some hit him harder than others, some cried and some had faces like stone, but all of them seemed relieved after having hit Eric.
When a representative for each of the men who had lost their lives had hit Eric, a small woman stepped forward. Even if her clothes and jewelry hadn`t spoken their own truth about her, the woman`s youth and the way she held her head high in spite of her small size made me realize that this was Queen Sophie-Anne.
“It is honorable of you to make atonement, Eric, when really we should be blaming whomever blew up the storms and made the waves. I respect your decision and will remind you that I also lost greatly on that boat. I did not lose a father or a son. I did not lose a husband or a brother. But I lost many fine men who could have fought wars in the years to come. So I will strike you one time for each man I`ve lost.”
A collective gasp went through the crowd and I found myself holding my hand in front of my mouth. Eric would be stricken one more time for each man that was dead?
I could see the muscles on Eric`s back tighten and then he relaxed.
“I am ready,” he said in a loud voice. “I ask for atonement from you as well, My Queen.”
And with that Queen Sophie-Anne raised the stick and hit Eric one time for each of the men that had drowned going home from battle. She didn`t hit unnecessarily hard but she still left marks on Eric. His back had pink welts from his shoulders to his hips and blood ran down in thin streams.
She looked composed while hitting him. I could see no anger and no remorse. She was hitting him because she thought this was the correct thing to do.
When she`d finished hitting Eric, she handed the stick to Andre Beardless and walked over to stand next to Eric.
“You may rise now, Eric, and receive atonement from everyone here.”
She held out her hand and he grabbed it and got up. He staggered a bit but managed to do so without leaning too much on the queen. Then he turned around and looked at the crowd. He took a deep breath and nodded.
It was obvious that people were impressed or at least appreciated what he`d done. There were cheers and shouts and then people started moving to get out of the building. Queen Sophie-Anne let go of Eric`s hand and exited the Gods` house with everyone else.
Eric stood there, watching, but I could see he was in bad shape so I handed Quinn over to a surprised Claude and dug my way through the crowd to Eric.
I didn`t want to help him until everyone had left the Gods` house – it was important for him to show strength now – but I stood close by just in case he lost his footing and needed support.
When the building was empty, apart from Eric and me, I walked closer, grabbed his arm and pulled it over my shoulder and then I forced him to lean into me.
Eric groaned when we started walking and I tried not to touch his back with the arm I had around him. That left his hips and I had a firm grip there.
I wanted to tell him how impressed I was but the words got stuck in my mouth. I tried several times on our walk back to his house and finally, when I saw Pamela waiting at the door to her and Eric`s house, I managed to open my mouth.
“You did good, Eric,” I said.
I wasn`t sure if he`d heard me so I looked up into his face.
His eyes were closed but he smiled.
I smiled too.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Vikings and honor
I have no idea if the Vikings would do what Eric did in this chapter but I know that atonement was important to them because it`s so closely linked to honor – which was the root of their existence. Without honor – no life.
An example of how important honor was is the story about the Vikings who sailed up to a rich man`s house in the dead of night. They tip-toed their way into the house while the rich man was away and they stole all his gold and silver.
On their way out from the raid the Vikings stopped and looked at each other, full of shame. Only men without honor would raid a house without making their presence known. Only a thief would do that and these men were no thieves – they were honorable raiders.
So they went back to the man`s house and set fire to it so that no one could say they were without honor.
Honor wasn`t just important to the Vikings. Many people both before and after the Vikings have valued honor very highly. I read somewhere that in the beginning of the 19th century almost 40 percent of the young men of the English nobility were killed in duels, defending their – or someone else`s – honor.
It was the same with the Vikings. I`ve read complaints from Iceland where whole villages were without men. Not because the sons and husbands were out raiding or bringing back fortunes but because they were out challenging each other to various dangerous games that would have been dishonorable not to participate in. Games that killed so many of them.
These games could be jumping from one cliff to the next – jumps that were deadly if one lost one`s footing or couldn`t jump far enough. Or they could be running on oars which was a game where men would hold up the oars on a boat and the men competing would jump from one slippery oar to the next.
And, of course, they would challenge each other into battles. One could always find some insult that one needed to settle with one`s swords or ax. Maybe someone`s grandfather had called one`s grandmother a bad name some fifty years ago.
fffbone asked me if family was important to the Vikings and it was. Family was closely linked to honor and one would defend the honor of one`s family with one`s life – even if one had a falling out with the family.
The strange thing, though, was how friends often were more important than family. A man you`d been to battle with and maybe been on the same boat with for years would be closer to your heart than a family member you hadn`t seen in a long time. And you would defend his honor with your life.
Your brother could become your enemy when your parents died and you were to divide their land between you but your weapon-brother would always be there for you and therefor you would always be there for him as well.
There are several tales about Vikings who`ve chosen their friends before their family and by that they live up to the more modern phrase “You choose your friends – not your family.”