Thank you so much for all the great responses to this story. I appreciate them very much!
I also want to thank Suki59 for being such a great beta and friend.
The characters in this story belong to Charlaine Harris who, in my book, has done only one thing wrong in the series. She hasn`t let Eric fight enough with his sword. He should be allowed at least one sword-fight a book. And Sookie should learn too.
To make up for it there are plenty of swords in this chapter.
EDIT: This was supposed to have been posted yesterday but technical problems with the site made it impossible. Sorry.
A group of men and two women were on the practice ground already. It was a meadow a bit outside of Nordby and the trampled down grass bore witness to many a warrior training with his sword here. There were a few trees on the outskirts of the meadow – all of them with marks from people throwing axes or spears at them.
It was a warm day, bees buzzing and the air full of pollen from the birch trees. I enjoyed the sun`s rays on my face but turned my attention to the crowd already in the meadow. Eric`s hand was warm on the small of my back but I didn`t step away from it. For all I knew, he needed his hand there for balance, having been bedridden for days.
Everyone looked at us when we walked up there. I wasn`t what they were staring at – they`d seen me train a couple of times already. No, it was Eric that made them turn around.
Someone broke out of the group and I recognized Rasul, Queen Sophie-Anne`s man. He gave us a big smile and walked over to us.
“I`m glad to see you up and about, Eric,” he said and touched Eric lightly on his shoulder.
Eric winced but it didn`t seem as if Rasul noticed and Eric quickly regained his normal confident stance.
We all walked over to the rest of the group and Eric introduced me. I`d already met some of them but Bill of the Long Silences, Thalia the Old and Felicia the Fair were new introductions.
Bill of the Long Silences bowed deeply, something I`d never had anyone do to me before. I`d heard of foreigners kissing women`s hands so even if Bill of the Long Silences seemed local, I kept my hands behind my back just to be sure. I didn`t want anyone slobbering on my knuckles.
“We`ve heard about you,” Thalia the Old said. “But I never thought we would have the pleasure of meeting you.”
Her dark eyes penetrated me, speaking of wisdom and the kind of experience that comes with having seen and done things – not just from being old. Thalia the Old hadn`t fought in years but I knew all the stories about her bravery and strength. I also knew that her great sorrow was to not have died in battle. Or at least that was how the stories went. She was too accomplished a warrior to be killed on the battlefield and now she would never be invited to Valhalla.
I nodded. “It`s an honor to meet you.” I wanted to tell her that I thought she was a legend. That I dreamed of being as great as she was. That she`d made men respect shieldmaidens. But all I could do was nod again.
“Maybe you want to help out training Felicia here?” she asked and I nodded again.
I knew how to train people, treading the fine line between getting rid of their bad habits without breaking them down, and called Felicia out on the ground. We both grabbed the wooden swords.
I noticed Eric picking up an ax and throwing it at the trees when I checked Felicia`s grip on her sword.
We ran through a couple of basic moves so I could decide what level she was and then we started fighting. I dodged her hits and told her when she was too open for mine. Felicia was strong and had potential but not very much confidence.
“I`ve won all my battles,” I told her. “So has Thalia. You aren`t going to lose a battle because you`re a woman. You`re going to lose it because you think you`re weak.”
“I don`t,” she claimed.
“Then prove it,” I said and Felicia started hitting harder.
After a while of heavy fighting we were both sweaty and Felicia had a hard time breathing.
“You should run more,” I said. “And lift your sword over your head 200 times a day. Your heavy sword.”
I hadn`t noticed how not only Thalia but also Bill and Eric had found rocks to sit on while watching me as I gave Felicia her lessons. Eric smiled at me when I turned in his direction but it was Bill of the Long Silences who got up and walked towards me.
“Could I interest you in a sparring?” he asked and I nodded. I always welcomed working out with new people because it gave me a taste of the different ways men fought. It prepared me for battle.
“Sure,” I said and got ready. “Wood or steel?”
“I think we`re old enough for steel, don`t you think?” he asked, looking very serious.
I nodded and went to get my training sword. It was the one I`d beaten Eric with and I couldn`t help winking at him as I turned around, flashing it in the sun. He winked back and smiled which made me laugh a little.
I turned my attention to Bill who`d also picked up his sword and was ready for me. He stood still, assessing me, waiting for me to make my first move.
I`d always preferred men who relied on their strength when they fought me. Men who would jump forward, expecting an easy kill given my small size. But Bill of the Long Silences was one of the few warriors who would use his brain and not just his muscles.
He wasn`t small and he didn`t look weak so that wasn`t the reason why he wasn`t attacking me. I looked at him, trying to prepare for his moves and then I couldn`t help grinning. He was doing what I always did – letting the opponent lay himself open by attacking. But I wasn`t playing his game. So I just waited. I knew I had the patience to wait for him for as long as it took.
And finally he was tired of just standing there. Or maybe it was the people looking at us, taunting us, telling us we were cowards. Because suddenly he jumped forward with a loud scream (so much for the Long Silences), his sword lifted high over his head.
I avoided the blow of his sword and managed to hit him in the hip. Not a killing blow, even if our swords hadn`t been blunt. But he would bruise. He pirouetted quickly and I would have had his sword in my shoulder if I hadn`t seen it coming and avoided it. I stuck my sword in his stomach, making him double over, but he swung his sword again, this time against my legs. I jumped and while in the air, I knocked the sword out of his hand. He lost balance and was down on his knees.
Bill got up and nodded at me, making me the winner of the first fight. Then he picked up his sword and we were back in a new battle.
Bill fought well but since he planned all his moves well ahead of making them, he was also very predictable. At least for me. I knocked him over, avoided his blows and was declared the winner of each of the many battles we fought.
When we were done Bill of the Long Silences bowed again and I bowed back.
“I should like to continue training with you,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I answered. His fighting skills were different enough for him to be more than just an ordinary practice. I actually learned something – I had to stretch myself to beat him.
Eric came over to me with some water and I drank it greedily. It was midday and the sun was hot.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to catch my breath again.
“You did very well. Bill is a good warrior.”
“Thank you,” I repeated, smiling with pride.
I`d beaten everyone I I`d been up against in battle and most everyone I`d been training with. It was only in my early days, before I`d mastered using my premonitions in battle, that I`d had to eat dirt on the training ground. But Eric`s words still warmed me.
“How is your back?” I asked.
“It`s better. I just need to practice with the sword. Maybe you would spar with me if you`re not too tired?” Eric`s blond hair was glowing in the sun and I enjoyed the way he looked at me. It wasn`t that wolfy look that told me he wanted to get between my legs. No, there was admiration in his eyes. Respect, maybe.
“Sure,” I said. “Do you want me to go easy on you?”
That killed his smile and I wasn`t sure why.
“I`m not letting you beat me again, Sookie.” His voice was cool as winter snow.
I laughed because I couldn`t help myself. “I was wondering if you needed me to go easy on you because of your back – not because I beat you in ….”
“I don`t need any special care. I`m twice your size and I can handle a bit of pain in my back.” Eric straightened up in the same menacing posture he`d had when I met him first on the battlefield.
I shook my head. “The only thing bigger than you is your ego. You`ve been bedridden for days – and with good reason. If you don`t want me to take that into account when we fight, fine. But don`t be a prick about it.”
Eric`s nostrils flared a few times but then he relaxed and his smile was back.
“I won`t be a prick,” he said, his voice indicating something I couldn`t make out. “You think you can beat me again, Sookie?”
“Not only can I beat you but I`ll have you down in the dirt before you know it,” I taunted. Warriors like Eric always fought worse when they were angry.
Unfortunately Eric`s smile never faltered. “Do you care to bet on that?” he asked.
I shrugged, pretending I didn`t care though I would rather not have him name some silly prize he wanted to fight for. “If you want. I`m going to beat you anyway.”
Eric let his hand run through his hair, his eyes on me and his lips pursed. He closed his eyes for a few moments and then he smiled.
“We fight five battles. Whoever wins the most battles wins. A killing blow names the winner,” he said.
“And the winner wins …?” I asked.
“The winner can name his prize when he`s won,” he answered with a grin.
“When she`s won, you mean,” I said, mimicking his stupid grin.
“You`re not going to beat me this time, Sookie.” Eric was full of confidence. Full of bullshit, actually, but in his case it was the same.
“Grab your sword, big boy,” I said. “And let`s see what you can manage. I may let you beat me once so you don`t have to end up crying on my shoulder but I`ll have you on the ground at least four times.”
“Big boy?” he asked and his laughter didn`t stop until my sword hit his so hard he almost dropped it.
And with that the fight was on.
Eric was as quick as I remembered him and it didn`t seem as if his healing wounds held him back at all. He jumped and he struck and he almost knocked me over more than once. I thanked all the gods for the gift they`d given me or Eric would have had me on my back in no time. He really was an amazing warrior and one could tell he loved to fight. I did too, but not as much as he did.
I dodged most of his blows and the ones that landed on me were not close to being deadly. They were a surprise, though. Usually I kept myself clear of all blows, all swords and axes and spears. That was my gift.
But with Eric it seemed I knew just a tiny moment too late what he was going to do. Not too late to avoid being knocked over, but enough for him to give me bruises.
I hurt him worse than he hurt me, luckily. If we hadn`t fought with blunt swords, Eric would have been bleeding from his legs, hips and his arm. I couldn`t seem to be able to hit him higher, his being so terribly tall.
We circled each other, our swords smashing together – something I would do anything to avoid in the future since my sword hand hurt like all the torments of the Jötunns after my hard blow – trying to knock each other down.
Finally I managed to get him off balance when he jumped me in a two-step I saw coming. I hit his knees hard – it had worked before, it could work again – and kicked him in his hip. He went down sideways and the surprised look on his face was worth a barrel of gold.
Not wanting to miss my victory, I jumped on top of him, landing with a foot on each side of him, and situated the tip of my sword at his chest. Not hard, but just to mark that he would have been killed if these had been real swords and this were a real fight.
I heard clapping and saw Thalia, Felicia, Bill and the rest of them giving me nods and other kinds of approval and turned to take a bow but then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Eric back on his feet so I turned towards him and the fight was back on.
He was even harder to predict now. It was as if I only knew in the last moment what he was going to do. I still managed to deal him some hard blows and after a very rough match, I had him on the ground again, my sword pressed against his chest.
I wiped the sweat off my brow and had a drink of water but when I felt a motion behind me I had to throw the cup away and jump to the side, Eric`s sword barely missing me.
I was tired now but one got tired in a battle too so it was great practice. I focused on the tall blond and his moves, having even greater problems predicting what he was going to do. He took sidesteps I didn`t see before he was in the air – lifted his sword when I was sure he was going to move it downwards.
Frustrated over not being able to trust the abilities that had saved me so often, I jumped higher, hit harder and tried my best to knock Eric over again.
Imagine my surprise when his sword hit my chest in what would have been a death blow if we`d not fought with blunt swords.
“And you`re dead,” Eric the Northman said in a level voice.
“I told you I would let you win one of the five.” I tried to keep my voice light, convincing, but inside I was in turmoil. Eric the Northman had beaten me? He`d landed a blow that I hadn`t seen coming? How had that happened?
I took a deep breath, trying to settle my nerves.
“Indeed you did.” Eric smiled and I knew he didn`t believe I`d thrown the fight.
I was going to show him. Two more games. I only needed to win one of them to win it all.
The next fight went even worse. I searched my brain for clues as to what Eric was going to do but every time I found one, he did something else entirely. Soon I was bruised all over my arms and legs and the final blow – his sword at my back just where my heart was pounding – was less of a surprise than all the rest of them. I just saw it too late to be able to do anything about it.
I wiped my brow again and caught Felicia the Fair`s eyes. She was looking at me as if I were betraying her. As if I were supposed to prove something to her. Instead I was confirming her worst fears.
I shook my head – this last game was mine. Eric the Northman was not going to beat me now. He was not going to prove to Felicia that he was a better fighter than I was just because he was bigger.
With a loud scream I threw myself at him and my first blow was hard and should have knocked him to the ground. My second one was even harder. I hit him in the thigh, something that would have brought him to his knees if the sword had been a real one.
As it was, my blow only made him grunt in pain and he hit my sword arm before I could jump out of his reach. Then his mind projected to me that he was going to jump to the right and I turned to meet the attack – only to find that he was jumping to the left and before I knew what was happening, I was on my back on the ground, Eric the Northman on all fours, straddling my body.
Slowly he raised his sword and laid it softly on my neck.
Then he bent down, his mouth on my neck. “You`re dead,” he whispered and licked a trail of sweat that was rolling down my throat.
I wanted to slap him but I accepted defeat. Anything else would be without honor.
“How did you do it?” I asked in a low voice.
“How did I, big muscular man, beat you, small woman?” he taunted.
“You know I fight well. I haven`t been beaten by anyone since I was 15.”
Eric was still straddling me, still kissing my neck.
I quickly glanced around to see if people were still watching us but apparently they`d found better things to do and the crowd was gone.
“It`s true, Sookie. You are an amazing warrior. But I found your weakness and I used it against you.”
“My weakness?” I asked.
“I know how you do it. I know you can predict your opponents` moves.” Eric said it in a very low voice so that no one could hear him – not that anyone was around. “I`ve watched you, you know. And I`m worried. Just like I rely too much on my height and strength, you rely too much on this. You need to diversify. To learn how to predict moves by looking at your opponent. I`ll teach you.”
“Oh, great. Just the ego boost you need – to teach me how to fight.”
Eric laughed. “Oh, you`ll beat me again, I`m sure.”
Without my noticing it, Eric`s body had fallen down on mine – heavy and hot.
“I suppose you`ll want your prize now,” I said, knowing just what he wanted from me.
Which was why his answer came as a surprise.
“Yes. I want you to answer me three questions. One for each battle I won.”
“You want answers?” I asked. “I thought ….”
“If you want to have sex with me, I`ll be happy to oblige, Sookie, but I figured that would be your prize, not mine.”
I rolled my eyes but Eric was too busy kissing by collarbone to notice.
“Let me up and I`ll answer your questions,” I grunted.
I`d thought Eric would stay on top of me but he rolled back on his feet and got up. Then he gave me a hand and helped me up too.
After having brushed off some of the dirt from my clothes, I looked at Eric.
“What is your first question?” I asked.
Eric smiled at me. “Oh, my first question is easy enough: What happened between you and Claude?”
I hope you liked this chapter. Sword fights are always good, right? Or is that just me? *cough*
Northman Maille asked if runes were pictorial or letters like ours. They were letters. Runes as letters were used from around year 200 to several hundred years after the last Viking went to his grave. With Christianity we got the Latin letters too and they were used for most official documents while runes were used for shorter messages and more personal writings.
Not many runes have survived from the Viking age up until today. What we have are mainly the runes carved in stones and as you can imagine they didn`t have long messages. Most of the tunes carved into branches etc have disappeared ages ago.
Runes weren`t just letters. Not to the Vikings, at least. Runes were several things. In the sagas you will find whispered words and magical signs called runes but also the letters we know as runes today.
There are several rune alphabets and the number of letters in the rune alphabet goes from 16 to 26.
Odin and Frigg
I figured I would give you a little story about the gods as well. Today Odin is much more well-known than his wife Frigg but to the Vikings these two married people were equals and they often fought over domination – over who controlled human fates better.
From time to time Odin and Frigg would make bets with each other by playing with human lives to see who would win. In one of the stories Odin and Frigg are farmers and find the two sons of King Raudung stranded on the beach.
Odin adopts Geirrød and Frigg takes Agnar as her son. They take care of the two children all winter and when spring comes they put them on a boat to take them home. Just when they are about to set sails Odin whispers something to Geirrød that no one else hears.
When Geirrød and Agnar land in their home country, Geirrød jumps from the boat first and pushes it to sea again before Agnar manages to jump ashore. Geirrød then walks to his father`s house where he is greeted and made king since his father had died during the winter. Agnar lands in a grotto where he marries a jætte.
Odin taunts Frigg by saying, “Look at my son. He is king now. Your son lives in a grotto with ajætte.”
Frigg decides to trick Odin and tells him Geirrød is cheap and doesn`t treat his guests well – one of the worst sins back then. Odin refuses to believe this and visits Geirrød in disguise but Frigg has already sent her maid Fulla to warn Geirrød about the terrible sorcerer who has come to the country to put a spell on Geirrød.
When Geirrød sees Odin he doesn`t recognize him but thinks he is the sorcerer Fulla warned him about so he ties him up between two bonfires and refuses him food and drink. Odin is very thirsty and hungry and his cape is on fire.
What Odin doesn`t know is that Geirrød has a son named Agnar and according to the sagas, his brother`s soul is in his son`s body. Agnar, the son of Geirrød, recognizes Odin and immediately brings him food and drink and puts the cape-fire out.
Odin thanks him by saying some of his words of wisdom and Geirrød recognizes him too. He runs to help Odin but stumbles on the sword he was cleaning and lands upon it and kills himself in the fall.
Agnar is made king and is king for a longer time than Geirrød and Frigg wins the bet because her foster-son honored the guest and he was king longer than Odin`s foster-son.
This story may be a bit boring to most people today but I think it says a lot about how the Vikings viewed their gods. The Viking gods would gladly have people die just to win a bet against their spouses. And, though Odin and Frigg loved each other and respected each other, they also kept making bets they took very seriously. I kind of see these two gods have major pillow fights with each other – only using the fates of men and women as their pillows.