Viika was first to move and reached for the boots. “Go!” she insisted and tossed both of them their boots. “Go!”
I agreed – they had to go, now! Whoever had come came with intentions of checking out the sheep and thus was beyond all doubt gonna include the most precious flock upstairs too. No need for them to find the headcount twice as big as it was before.
But it was too late and the hatch opened with one loud bang to reveal Magnus’ light shiny head and beard over his widely grinning mouth, morbid by the light of the lamp.
“So wolves are out to catch my sheep?” he shoot over the hay, making the two stop on spot, Sören still trying to get his boot on, Dalek accepting his footwear from Viika. He started laughing and heaved up on the floor next to us, pushing Sören over and ordering Viika to lower her hand. “Sit!” he ordered when none of the guys seemed to move.
Dalek smiled and sat back on the blanket as before while Sören tried to show no interest in girl he came here for. I fingered the ribbons I used to bangle up my shirt and felt uncomfortable. Like cotton up to our father. Only this was slightly different than stealing honeycombs from pantry.
After some reserved sitting he sighed deeply and turned to Dalek.
“Didn’t I tell you I’ll kill you if I find her pregnant before the wedding?” he asked slowly.
“Does she look like stretching out her legs for me?” he replied with a question that made me jump up and kick him as hard as I managed to his ribs.
“How dare you?!?” I was so furious I could kill him right there, but felt then Magnus’ hand around my ankle.
“Was that yes or no?” he turned to me while Dalek was coughing hard laughing his gut out.
My eyes grew wider. My other leg was still free I realized and though it made me fall back on my bunk from quite high promising a hurtful back in the morning, I didn’t care but slashed out to his ribs too. The hit wasn’t hard enough to do any permanent damage, but it certainly hurt.
He released me right away.
“NO, you prick! It means NO!” I pulled myself swiftly away from his reach gathering my legs and locking my hands around them. How did he even dare to ask something like that from me? And he – what right did he have to say something so cruel!
“Alright, alright, girl, calm down.” He goggled. “Man, you have some very nimble toes.”
I felt in the dark Dalek’s hand on my wrist, also to soothe my mood, but jerked it off. If this was, who he really was, such in-considering, bad-mannered abasing man, I was sure to find a way to get rid of him. And that ring brooch he gave me might find its previous owner sooner than it thought possible – I wasn’t going to keep his gifts if I wasn’t marring him. No matter what I promised to the gods.
He didn’t frown to my reaction, but carelessly turned back to my brother instead. To my dislike that cooled my temper way faster than any apology did. Probably saved his bad mood for later I assured myself, but I didn’t sense it. Instead he was warm, not cold as Vidar did after I had abstained his attempts to get us alone on Spring feast. He had this sparkle in his eyes that night that scared me more than any army in the world would have. The same sparkle had warned me from accepting the marriage proposal too. Instead he married Elin, but I haven’t head she being content with him.
Instead of leaving he lay down next to me, staring at the roof. Sören and Erika changed some flying looks which showed how odd they felt. I watched how the shadows changed their so far friendly faces into ghostly visions while Magnus was scratching his beard, before opening his mouth once more.
“You still have that teetotum I gave you?” He coughed hard to masquerade it from Dalek
“Yes,” I turned to search my pouch, when I heard Dalek draw himself up in an eye blink.
“So that’s what you meant by leaving that game behind when I told you I won’t have it on my ship?” he drawled. “You were supposed to stop for good!”
I flipped around, staring at him. “What do you mean?” I asked fast, having the top in my hand.
“Well…” Brother’s head fell heavy between his shoulders.
“He means he gave it to you instead of tossing it to the fire as I told him! This game brings you nothing but trouble, friend.” He reached out for it. “Give it to me.”
“No!” I refused and splayed the toy way out towards Erika, who jabbed it away. “I wish to learn it first!”
“My wife will not learn to gamble!” He roared turning red. “I will not have you lose a fortune over some luck game!”
So it was a gambling game then? I knew it! I felt like laughing, looking him so angry over such petty matter. There was no way I would mingle myself with such games – those were for men! Woman had a home to keep while men were away, what would make her risk her whole household over a zest of winning a game? That had to be one truly miserable woman.
“And how am I to know, how to keep away, if I have no knowledge of to recognize such games?” I set my hands on my hips to look steady, but couldn’t keep myself serious long enough to make my point. He was too funny to look at. I sensed my lips curve upwards and I knew I had lost it, but he was starting to calm down too.
“Fine! Show the woman how to play your stupid game!” he sat back on the blanket, rising the edge little to cover me up when I landed next to him and snuggled closer to me. “But not on money, have enough of you doing that.”
“Why no dice?” Viika’s whining chirping asked from behind Magnus, making all our mouths drop.
“Where did you learn about dice, girl?” Magnus asked with surprise. “Never mind!” he dismissed the thought, already knowing the answer. She’d probably seen Hagen play with somebody or old Elsa – there was always some gambling going on in her house.
He grabbed the teetotum from Erika and went over the rules once more. “See – very simple game to play!” he chuffed after explaining the last letter.
“What do we play on?” Sören reached out to touch the top, but earned a slap on the wrist from Dalek instead.
“How about pebbles?” I offered, but Dale dismissed the idea as objects being too hard to obtain without having to leave the warm hayloft thus making noise thus probably waking up Hagen.
“Sticks?” Erika shrugged, but that was also defied as hard to get. “Then what?”
“How about hay?” Viika asked, snuggling closer to Magnus.
“How about on little girls, who can’t keep away from old folks business?” Sören hissed, earning soundly slap from his future wife.
“Straws are good idea – we have plenty of that here.” Magnus pulled her blanket closer and helped her tuck in next to him “You’ll need to be taught the trade too, sister.”
“Trade?” Dalek fired up again, but I broke him off.
“Women don’t gamble, isn’t that right, Erika?” I grasped a punch of timothy grass and started snatching them shorter, leaving nodes in the middle so they’d be easier to count.
“What are you tal…” Dalek started, still angry, but I gave him a firm look before turning back to my work and continuing.
“Women have more to lose than simple wealth.” I snatched off another head. “Don’t we, Erika?”
She stared at me for a while, trying to apprehend, where I was aiming, but gasped then understandingly. “Yes, of chores. Like…”
“Slaves.” I gave and example. “We have bounded duty bearing them – they are our property and we need them to keep the household working. What would we feed them or ourselves with if we gamble them off so easily?”
“And land. What would happen if we lose part of our holdings before the harvest? You can’t go and ask back the field or what it produces from the opponent.”
“Or our children.” I added fast, but stumbled with the thought, realizing I was about to say what I so simply tried to ignore myself. That girl, same as we, was the property of their father’s – we were their way to better life and it was our duty to help them attain their goals. And I was working against it.
“These should be enough.” I whispered dryly offering some of the straw sticks to Dalek and the rest to others. There were a good handful of them.
“I’m sure Viika understood the point. We play in pairs.” Magnus decided, “No one adds to their treasure chest by secretly making new sticks nor may they take from the circle without proper sign. The one to gain all the sticks will win.”
We were soon caught in the game. I left the bidding mostly on Dalek, but kept a keen watch over how much he put out there, laying my hand on his now and then to force him lose some of the sticks from his hand. Thought it seemed useless as up to the midpoint of the game we gained quite an amount of straws on our blanket.
Sören seemed to have no luck in this game, teetotum kept landing on depone and Erika had quite enough of loosing. I just hoped he’d take the hint and keep away from the game for good. Viika on the other hand seemed to understand well how to cheat and got even help from Magnus, which made us scowl at those two more than twice. To mend his bad deed, Magnus purposely lost most of their sticks.
The second half was bad for us. We lost. All, except one small straw. But I didn’t feel bad – this wasn’t real anyway and I was rather glad to see Dalek was so bad in the game, giving me hope he meant it when he said he didn’t like it. I wasn’t bad in it at all, mostly because I knew the top well and how to spin it to gain curtain outcome – hadn’t I had years of practice? Erika and I practiced both with teetotum and spindle. That’s why women didn’t play I guess – we knew how to spin to our liking.
Sören and Erika won despite the early loosing. They were generous enough to leave either pair their small fortune, before Sören called out his leaving. Was about time I thought – after he started winning I noticed how both Magnus and Dalek grew awfully silent and kept changing odd looks as if they’d learned an awful secret about the man and didn’t like it one bit. It didn’t take me long to understand, what that secret was and by the looks of it, neither did Erika. Having a gambler to a husband was as bad as a drinker or a cheater.
Magnus made no attempts to leave or demand Dalek to go – instead he stretched himself over a huge pile of golden hay and yawned heavily. He pulled Viika on the hays too and whispered to her few juicy remarks that made the girl let out some kitten-like disliking sounds, before snuggling in to his warmth and falling asleep.
Erika said nothing more then wished us good night before turning the other side. I knew he wasn’t asleep, because her curve was too stiff to indicate calm breathing. She was probably thinking on how to solve this unsuspected problem.
I sighed, proudly. “Now that I know how to gamble, I hardly bel…”
“You only learned how to lose – you know nothing about gambling.” He rejected coldly, staring at the rafter above him.
“I didn’t mean…!” I immediately objected, but lost my words. Of chores I had meant it, but I couldn’t say out loud I felt like a hard-nosed punter and thinking twice I was shocked I could even think that in the first place.
“I know you didn’t.” Dalek said through his nose, half sleep, laying there.
I let myself fall back on the hay and closed my eyes. It was plain to see he wasn’t leaving, but I was tired now and the headache had returned and I needed that sleep now I so handily had pushed on later times.