I have the best beta! Due to a lot of overtime at work I ran behind with my writing. I`m usually a couple of chapters ahead on this story and now I barely managed to finish this chapter last night – giving Suki59 way too little time to beta. But she did it anyway. Hugs and kisses!
A little while back I wrote an entry to the I Write the Songs contests which is hosted by Northwoman. It has now been judged and I posted it a couple of days ago. If you`re interested in reading about Eric who looks up Sookie to find out what really happened that time four years ago when they made love and then it all went bad, you should read my story Norwegian Wood. It`s All Human and takes place somewhere in Great Britain.
I can also recommend that you read all the other entries to this contest and Ooshka`s promo fic Hole in the River – a wonderful story where everything is seen from Hunter`s perspective.
Running downhill in a skirt is not easy – as I found out the hard way running towards the river, towards my brother and towards Tara who`d just injured – or hopefully killed – Felipe. Or someone standing close to Felipe. I had been too busy running to see what Tara`s arrows had caused.
It was an irony of Loke dimensions if Felipe had been killed by Tara. A woman. And it wasn`t just irony. It was justice. Tara had lost everyone she loved because Felipe had sent Victor on a killing spree in our village. Now she`d had her revenge.
And she`d set me free. Sort of. I still needed to get down the hill and across the river.
Men were running in all directions and luckily most of them didn`t pay much attention to me as I ran by. My eyes darted from one to the other, looking for danger, trying to find a way out of the chaos.
The chaos on my side of the river was mirrored by the chaos on the other side. I tried to locate Eric and thought I saw someone tall and blond running in my direction but I couldn`t be sure it was him. There were too many people, too many shouts and grunts and too many weapons being swung. Men were probably being killed by their friends because everyone was fighting everyone.
The river was filled with men and the water running downstream was turning an ugly shade of red.
Being without a weapon I ran along the river, away from the battles, and tried to find a place I could cross to locate Jason and Tara. Because in the confusion of the battle I`d noticed how Queen Sophie-Anne had directed men in Jason and Tara`s direction and I knew that didn`t bode well. Not with Queen Sophie-Anne believing I was a traitor.
Without thinking about it I`d hiked up the skirt of my dress to be able to run faster but that had also given me one less hand to fight with. Not that I needed that hand since I had no sword, but it did make me feel more imbalanced.
This was why I tied the end of my skirt into the belt. Lifting my skirt so high revealed my legs to the mid-thigh but survival took priority over vanity and, just as I`d liberated my arms from holding my skirt, a man fell down in front of me, a long arrow sticking out of his throat. I quickly grabbed the sword he was never going to use again and held it in the hand I`d only moments before used to hold my skirt.
I finally found a place to cross the river and while walking knee deep in the cold water, I saw Eric heading my way. I nodded my head towards Jason and Tara to indicate my direction, and kept running.
“We have to get out of here,” I panted when I finally made it to where my brother and my best friend were standing. Or, they weren`t exactly standing. They`d realized I wasn`t the only one heading in their direction and had started moving away from the battle scene. When I came running, they started running too.
We ran towards the forest, wanting to get away from the river and the battlefield. I glanced over my shoulder to look for Eric and noticed him running towards us. His long legs carried him faster than my short ones did me. I couldn`t determine the look on his face but slowed down slightly so he could catch up with us.
We were inside the shade of the forest when I heard Eric`s voice.
“Why are you running?” he asked and for a moment I wasn`t sure what to say. Running had been my initial reaction and I always followed my battle reactions. I wasn`t a coward and I never ran from a battle – only, now I had.
I stopped and turned in his direction, waiting for him to come closer.
“Rasul is a traitor,” I said as an explanation.
“Rasul?” Eric looked surprised and I was happy I hadn`t been the only one to have been fooled by Rasul`s friendliness. Of course, that didn`t bode well either. If Eric found it hard to believe Rasul was a traitor, how would the rest of his people feel?
“Rasul kidnapped me and turned me over to Felipe.”
Eric`s surprise turned into anger and I was glad he believed me without any further explanation.
“Rasul is a dead man,” he stated as if it were a fact and not just a wish. Eric had predicted the future and in the future Rasul was not walking on the face of the earth.
“He will be as soon as I can get him close enough to my sword,” I said, not wanting to sound like a weak woman who couldn`t exact her own vengeance.
Eric looked at me and then he gave me a smile that was so filled with the darkness of wanting murder and mayhem on someone. “I love it when you get blood thirsty, Sookie.”
“If you`ve finished admiring each other`s murderous tendencies, maybe we should figure out what we`re going to do.” It was Tara`s dry voice that broke the spell.
“I know where we can go,” Eric said. “There`s a small cave not too far from here. Pam knows about it and when she realizes I`m gone, she`ll bring Claude and the children there.”
“And then, where are we going to go?” Jason asked. “We don`t have any boats so we can`t go home.”
I looked at Jason, then at Eric and finally at Tara. The gravity of our situation hit us simultaneously. We couldn`t go home because now not only Felipe – if he was alive – would want to kill us. If Rasul had his way, Queen Sophie-Anne might also want to see us under ground rather than walking on top of it.
“Østby isn`t too far from here. A week`s walk at the most,” Tara said. “As far as I know, they aren`t in allegiance with anyone and you know Alcide, Sookie. He is the chief of Østby and would hide us if you asked him.”
I stared at Tara and so did Eric but even if I couldn`t read Eric`s mind I would bet my sword that we were staring at her for different reasons. I thought her idea was brilliant but Eric oozed anger.
“Is it true, then?” Eric asked me. “What Queen Sophie-Anne said?”
“What did Queen Sophie-Anne say?” I asked, trying to keep my calm. I did not need a jealous Eric right now.
“That you and Alcide are lovers. That you still have influence on him. That you were the reason why he`d stayed out of the battle with Felipe. That …. ” Eric spat out the words but while talking he apparently remembered something. “Oh, Rasul told us that,” he said, looking deflated.
“I was Alcide`s lover and told him not to go into an allegiance with the Queen I was fighting for?” I asked in a dry voice. “Was that what the Queen believed?” I suddenly remembered Eric`s angry questions about Alcide. “What you believed?”
Eric looked angry but this time with himself. “We can`t stand here arguing about who said what,” he said and started walking deeper into the forest.
Tara gave me a look I didn`t acknowledge but Jason just started walking and followed Eric. Soon we were all getting farther away from the battlefield and Queen Sophie-Anne and Rasul.
We`d walked all day at a fairly fast pace so when Eric claimed we needed a break, I was relieved even if I didn`t want to admit it. I could see that both Jason and Tara shared my sentiments.
Not being familiar with the area, I wasn`t sure if we`d been walking closer to or farther away from Eric`s village. I hoped the latter but had no way of knowing. I trusted Eric, who knew the surroundings, to make the right decision.
Eric found a small creek for us to rest by and we all drank some of the cool water. We sat down for a few moments, all of us too tired to talk. Or maybe we just didn`t know what to say.
After a short while we got up again and started walking. Eric led the way as before the rest and when the midsummer semi-darkness sank into the forest, he showed us a small cave. It was hidden behind some bushes and I wouldn`t have spotted it if Eric hadn`t taken us there.
“We can sleep there,” he said.
Tara took her bow and arrow and walked away from us and I started gathering berries. When I came back, Eric had lit a small fire and Jason was resting, which made me realize that he wasn`t entirely back to his old self. Apart from having lost a hand, he`d lost a lot of blood and today had probably been exhausting for him.
After a while Tara came back carrying a hare. Eric skinned it and put it on a stick which he lowered into the fire. The smell of the animal being roasted made my mouth water even if Eric was blackening the meat. Apparently he was impatient and wanted to eat as fast as possible. As did we all.
It was nice to sit there with the only care we had in the world whether the hare would be edible in spite of Eric`s impatience. At least, that was the only care I wanted to acknowledge right now.
We ate the hare and the berries in silence but afterwards Tara coughed a little to get our attention and then she looked at me.
“What are we going to do now?”
I looked at Eric and Jason and then back at her. “We obviously can`t go back. Not until we know what has happened. And definitely not until Rasul is no longer whispering his lies into Queen Sophie-Anne`s ears.”
“We`ll have to wait for Pam,” Eric said.
I nodded. We couldn`t leave Pam or Claude behind.
“Let`s rest then, and maybe we`ll find a solution in the morning.” I yawned and realized just how tired I was.
“I`ll take the first shift at watching the cave,” Tara offered.
Jason crawled into the cave while Tara, Eric and I arranged for guard duty. When Eric and I entered the cave a few moments later, Jason was already sound asleep. The day had taken its toll on him.
Eric and I didn`t take off our clothes since we might need to get up quickly but when we lay down, Eric pulled me into his arms. His hand moved up my side and cupped my face.
“You should never paint your face,” he whispered. “You look better in your own skin.” Then he wiped off the offending paint.
That was the best compliment anyone had ever given me.
“Thank you,” I whispered back.
We lay there for a while, cuddling and enjoying the feel of each other. Then something Queen Sophie-Anne had said – something that had been nagging me all day – sailed its way to my mind.
“Do you know what the Queen meant with what she said about my parents?” I asked.
“That they were traitors?” he asked. “No, she never confided in me about your parents. Maybe she just wanted to hurt you by casting doubt about them?”
“Maybe,” I said, not really believing it.
After a while we were both sound asleep. I felt a stirring when Eric got up to relieve Tara of the guard duty and, after a while, I was gently woken up to relieve Eric of his duty. The sun was up but it was still very early in the morning when I crawled out of the cave. I found a place, hidden behind a tree, where I could see the entrance to the cave and a large part of the woods surrounding it.
Birds were singing in the trees, celebrating the rising sun, even if the sun rose way too early for anyone to get up. I was enjoying the peacefulness of the birds when they stopped their songs very abruptly. When a group of them took to the air to my left, I knew where to look. Someone was frightening the birds and even if I couldn`t see or hear whoever it was, the birds gave me warning.
Quietly I got up and grabbed my sword. I was still wearing the stupid dress and lost balance a few fragments of time because I stepped on the hem of it while getting up, but I didn`t make a sound – ssomething that couldn`t be said for whoever was closing in on me.
“Are were there soon, Mum?” a girl`s voice asked and I couldn`t help smiling.
“Frannie? Is that you?” I asked in the direction of the voice.
“Sookie!” she squealed and soon Frannie and Quinn came into my vision. They ran into my open arms and I hugged them so tightly I would probably have crushed some bones if Quinn hadn`t complained.
I looked up to see Pam and Claude, but they weren`t alone. Bill and Chow had joined them. So had one of Eric`s friends, a guy named Clancy the Angry.
I hugged Pam and Claude and shook hands with Bill, Chow and Clancy. Eric had claimed we could only trust family but I was happy to see Eric`s friends here too. Every extra sword would matter. It also showed that not everyone bought Rasul`s claim – through Sophie-Anne – that I was a traitor.
We all walked towards the cave when Frannie pulled Pam down and whispered something in her ear. Pam then looked at Quinn.
“Frannie needs to go pee, Quinn. Take your sword and look after her.” When he seemed to want to object, she continued. “You`re the warrior in charge of her safety.” That made Quinn grow a head taller and he pulled Frannie into the forest while carrying his sword.
“Your sister is here,” I said before entering the cave. I didn`t want any of us to end up a head shorter because of poor warning.
“Pam?” Eric growled. His voice bore witness to his lack of sleep.
“The one and only, little brother.”
We crawled into the cave and Pam and Claude were attacked with hugs and yells. When Bill, Chow and Clancy entered the cave they got the same treatment. Even Tara distributed hugs to men she hardly knew.
“Is this where we`re going to build the new army?” Clancy asked but before I could ask him what he meant, Eric started interrogating Pam about what had happened after we left.
“You won`t believe what happened!” Pam started, but then she was interrupted by a high pitched scream.
“Frannie!” Pam shouted and in no time we we`d all left the cave and were running towards the sound of cursing and then a loud thump.
I feared the worst and was so relieved when I saw Frannie and Quinn alive and well that it took me a little while to notice the dead body at Quinn`s feet. And the blood on Quinn`s sword.
I took a closer look at the man Quinn had killed. It was Andre Beardless, Queen Sophie-Anne`s advisor.
I gasped and so did everyone else when they realized who was lying there dead on the forest floor.
“He tried to take Frannie,” Quinn said in a tiny voice.
Claude grabbed his sword and looked around. “It seems we were followed.”
I`m not sure I`ve mentioned the tree of life – Yggdrasil – before. Yggdrasil is a huge ash-tree with branches so long they go into the sky and three long roots that end in three different worlds.
One root ends up in Åsgård and the norner are living by a well close to that root. The three norner, called Urd, Verdande and Skuld, are the goddesses of the past, present and future. When a child is born the norner will be there and measure up the time this child will have to live. The three norner are also keeping the Yggdrasil alive by giving it water from the well.
Another root ends up with the rimtusser or jotner – the giants. Here is Mime`s Well which is looked after by the very clever Mime. This well is the source of wisdom and this is where Odin almost died to get that wisdom.
The third root is in Nilvheim or Hel – the land of the dead. There is a well there as well but it`s filled with snakes and worms, among them the terrible Nidhogg who is chewing on the root of Yggdrasil.
The Yggdrasil is the most holy of all places
How did the family know when a warrior died?
Nonto94, who is reading and reviewing her way through the story now, asked this question after chapter 6 and it`s a good question. If a warrior was away from his family for years, how did they know if he died?
I suppose they didn`t unless someone saw him die and reported it back to the warrior`s family. Of course, if they were in Vinland (New Foundland) or Miklagard (Istanbul) no one would be home to report anything for years.
Sometimes the warriors would bring their family along with them but often they would go by themselves. This is probably why warriors generally felt a closer connection to the fellow warriors – their “weapon brothers” – than to their siblings.
It`s hard to imagine today with our mail, telephones, internet and Facebook but I suppose they just accepted not knowing whether their loved ones were alive or dead.
This brings me to the main reason for “going Viking” (“Viking” was a verb, not a noun in the Viking age): they needed the money to get married. No Viking woman would marry a pauper, apparently, so the warriors needed to stock up on silver and gold to get a woman to say yes to them.
Odin vs other gods
Suki59 sent me this joke today and it made me laugh so I`m passing it on to you – I hope I`m not offending anyone:
Jesus promised to get rid of wicked people.
Krishna promised to get rid of wicked people.
Odin promised to get rid of ice giants.
I don`t see any ice giants. Do you?