Four hours later I woke up on Erika’s screams and shut my eyes open only to see me on top of Dalek, one hand ready to hit my knife in him and him putting up one hell of a fight.
“Wake up, woman!” he growled roughly, pushing my hands away from his chest. I yelped and immediately pulled back, the dagger fell into the floorboard.
He sat up, brushing the grass off his tunic while he stared me in shock. “I thought you were joking when you said you…” his voice tangled. He pulled his hand through his brown hair and jumped on his feet, before yelling in full force: “Never will you carry that dagger in our bedroom!” Then he grabbed his jacket and almost ran out of the hayloft.
I couldn’t believe I had done it again. Erika grabbed my shirt and pulled me back near her just as Hagen and Magnus appeared on the hatch. I stared them all blank, not fully understanding the irritation growing in me.
“I need air!” I uttered and ran out, pushing my two brothers aside, fearing I might choke if I stayed there any longer.
Unfortunately the dull light and wet cold air outside had almost no effect on my wellbeing. I still felt queasy and my heart wouldn’t stop chasing my throat, rising higher and higher. I flaked out near our the old tree in the middle of the sheep fences where the herds were suppose to sit and keep watch, but there was no one there tonight. I didn’t really care, all I wanted right now was sit here and keep breathing till that pain passed.
“You keep breathing like that, lass, and your ticker will give up on you.” An old voice said next to me. I turned back to where nobody was suppose to be – Ole, one of the old counsels was sitting, back against the oak and smiled to me warmly.
“I peg your forgiveness,” I whispered fast, eyes huge, “I didn’t expect anyone to be here.”
“Nor did I, lass, nor did I.” He proposed I sit and offered me one of the blankets he had on his legs to warm him, which I gladly accepted. It wasn’t chilly, but for someone just wakened from bed, it was still cold.
Ole was a kind man, but ruthless in his war campaigns. Me, who I had little knowledge of his power in war, had seen mostly his good side thus had no reason to fear him. “What’s the use of fear?” he asked us once when we were kids. “Fear means you are already lost to your opponent – he will win.” So, “no fear”, was our catchword among children.
Believe me – mothers rarely approved the words when finding their kids on the top of the highest firs almost bare chest or with bloody noses as someone had picked a fight. They were supporters of “leave the war for practice time”. You could hardly blame them – they needed us alive and well, not with yet another wound. The best remedy for stupidity was making us work twice as hard with those wounds and even if the small cut on your leg seemed not even worth mentioning, it did hurt as boiling water when carrying water up to the house.
His white hair looked tangled after his daughter had passed away on child birth few months before. But he didn’t seem upset, only slightly sadder than before and he didn’t take care of himself as well as he used to. I believe he wished to reunite with his family in the Great Hall of Valhalla, but even if he did, he never spoke of it.
Not as Jorun from the Sattle’s farm. I purely hated her – every time we met on the road she would catch my elbow and slow me down to ask what I was doing and then rant on how all what I did was only for young people. But she was old and close to her death and that’s how she said also to her man, when wishing him good night before reminding him it might be their last time they’d see each other. Commonly, a flood of ill wishes ran over me at that moment – I couldn’t help but feel for the poor man forced to live with a wife like that. He had to love this woman very much, because it seemed this woman had no feelings left for him. Why else would she turn into such a menace to one she loved? She was a good woman really, but this one flaw made her almost unbearable, because instead of whining over life she should have embraced it and lived it in full. I just didn’t understand what else could she want? They had six children and ten grandchildren. And she was long dozen younger than Ole.
How differently life can turn out I sighed. But one thing was sure – I would never wax myself into Jorun. She was one frightful bore with her whining, a pest many would love to see pass away just to shut her up.
“Now, what has upset you so you are ready to leave this realm through breathing yourself to death?” He asked, apologizing next for not having the fire up. He didn’t need it, he explained, it scared the wolves away, but he was actually hunting for one or two.
I opened my mouth, accounting any aspect of what I was about to say, if that simple sentence wouldn’t reveal too much of our life to one man, who could punish us for it later.
“I’ve been young too, lass,” he nudged me after I hadn’t said anything for a while, “it’s about a lad, right?”
“So, what’s it about? I might be in help?”
He sure was impatient to know all my secrets, I sighed, careful now not to revile much. I banged my head against the oak bark and it hurt, but not merely as much as my secret did. This secret could get me killed, especially if I confessed it to him, the council member of our village. I shut my eyes and said in one breath “I just tried to kill my betrothed.”
So much about thinking first and saying after, I though morosely, staring at his huge blue eyes, waiting for him to say something wise, convict me right there. Instead he cringed against the oak and stared me back.
You can’t lie under the Thor’s tree. That’s why the councils were called together in the oak grove, so no man can hide behind a lie.
Some explanations would be good, I read out of his crooked lips. He had his herdsman’s staff set against the bole, so it wouldn’t be on the way while he scrutinized me, but he took it to help him leap closer.
“You’re one of smith’s daughter, are you not, lass?” he asked and I nodded. “You are betrothed to Dalek, are you not?”
“He’s a good man – why would you wish his death?”
I cleaved to the high grass under my blanket. “I don’t. But it doesn’t change the truth about me trying to kill him. Though I did warn him about it thus you can’t held me responsible him not listening what I said.” I babbled on, but he hushed me.
“What are you talking about, lass?”
“I warned him I have this flaw…” Oh, why was I doing it again? What made me go around and tell everybody about my flaws? I should be keen to keep them in secret until after the marriage ceremony had taken place, not before as if searching for another excuse.
I finished and he stroked his beard long, making soundless words with his mouth, hissing in-between some I didn’t wish to understand.
“He hasn’t declared the marriage off?” he asked then.
“I don’t know – he sure was in hurry when leaving.”
“Don’t put words in his mouth just yet, lass. All women have their flaws – what makes you so different?” I gave him one very incredulous look. “He might marry you!”
Yes, but “might” didn’t work for me as good as “he will”. So, I still stayed on position “he won’t”.
“Honestly, who would like to marry their own death?”
He glowered at me so harsh it made his almost wrinkles forehead look like one crumbled plum. At that moment I feared he’d smack me with his staff as his eyes almost glowed in the dark, while there was no source of light around.
“I’m going to tell you something no other of your age will hear, understood?” he demanded. I hadn’t even answered yet when he continued – “When I married my Anke I discovered, what her family had fiercely hidden from me – one flaw they were sure would spell our disaster if it came out. They were right, it did – at once I declared myself free from her bonds. I couldn’t imagine myself married to someone, who swears worse than a drunken man at the Great Hall.”
“You heard me, lass – she swore and she did it plenty!”
I burst laughing – she had been one of the kindest and well behaved wives in the village, I couldn’t remember any bad word passing her lips. She was a mild woman, always at her husband’s side and now he’s telling me she swore?
“You’re pulling my leg here – she…” He wasn’t laughing. “Why?”
“I don’t know, but after a while I realized I was rather married to her than to anyone else and she was expecting our Marja. I returned to her and she learned to damp down her urge to…” he shrugged. “Hehee, but sometimes she had no success so she did all her sweeping with a gag in her mouth your father made her.”
“Indeed. So I suggest you do something about it and don’t let him make the same mistake I did.” He laughed, softly punching my nose. “He’ll calm down, lass, let him think out what to do with you and then he’ll come back.”
My heart refused to believe it, but I decided there was little I could do about it now.
“You won’t report me to the council?” I asked fast to remove that little pebble from my path, too.
“I see no reason for this. Unless the lad wishes, which I don’t think he’ll do as he seems very much interested marring you.”
“Yes, well, he does repeat that now and then…” I sneezed and sighed in disbelief. “Gods must really be mad at me – I’ve caught a cold now!”
He nodded. “That’s one mighty sneeze. You sure it ain’t because Viika took that branch from the Holy Grove?”
I stared at him, baffled. How did he know about that? Unless… “No! I’m sure Gods will forgive her foolishness…” I lowered my voice. “After they keep… a keen watch over her and see… after a while…how full of hay her head is… khm.” I sneezed again.
He let out a chuckle. “I’m sure they agree. Better teach her some manners before she gets to the age such follies won’t be forgiven.” I nodded in response and let out another harsh sneeze.
“But they sure have cursed me for acting as a fool.”
“No, child – you can only blame yourself in that, coming here only in shirt at such hour. You better take care of that cold of yours – you drink some linden blossoms and get it under control.” He commended.
“I wouldn’t like to see a sneezing bride, now would I? Now off you go – I still want that bolt to warm me exchange for that sheep he guzzled.” He chuckled, pulling the blanket off.
“Thank you.” I whispered, but he waved me off.
I managed to get home without anything happening to me – took a longer trip to the lindens and collected a bunch of them for the tea, until I came across one very huge sad stone figure right at the gate of the village apparently waiting for me.
“Magnus.” I sighed. Seeing his grim face proved to be my limit for the day and it hadn’t even started yet, with cock still asleep. I bet that’s where he wished to be, too. And so did I, the headache that came with the sneezing always upset me.
“Alright,” I gave him my approval – as he’d need one, “ask away.”
He gaped at me, slowly managing a scornful smile, before pushing through his teeth – “You sure I need your permission for that?”
“No, but I’m…” new shot of pain rushed through my forehead before I sneezed. “Oh, just do it.”
His angry mood melted into the air. “You’re sick.” He asked unwillingly. “How, on the name of Thor, did you manage that?”
“Ole said it’s because I run around on bare feet after dark hour.”
“He’s right and…” he fell silent. “When did you speak with Ole?”
“Just now – he’s hunting wolves at the sheep fence.” I pointed at the oak in the valley.
“Alright, too much for me.” He shook his head and pulled me aside to cover me up with his cloak. He showed me a boulder. “Sit here.”
“Can’t we go home? I’m really tired.” I pleaded, but he wouldn’t hear of it, saying something about waking up the others. I flumped down on the rock and sneezed.
“For starters, would you mind telling me, what was Dalek doing in the haylofts again?”
That was an easy one. “I have no clue, how or why he was there again.” I pulled the coat closer to my Goosebumps-covered body. “I was asleep.”
“And he just lay next to you as if it was his right?”
I waited for a moment for my cheeks to catch up the red color, but they didn’t – I was either too tired or I just didn’t care.
“You were the one, who let him stay the first time!” I rolled the guilt back to him. I had no reason to shot my eyes down before him as I really had no hand in this foul play here. “I suspect it was Erika, who let him in and the “Sören” I ordered to leave me in peace was actually Dalek, but I honestly had no knowledge it WAS him.”
“Are you telling me, Sören has visited Erika times before?”
Duck before the arrows hit, I realized and shrugged. “We mostly talk – the boy’s too shy to take up action while we’re there anyway.” I tried to mend the wrong.
I sensed I should have said it with more innocence-violated way, but what could I say? He had come there this summer and the summer before – we were so used to the boy we hardly took him as stranger.
“Besides, Erika knows nothing about the duties of a wife.” That answer obviously didn’t calm him, but he changed the course.
“And you? You have carnal knowledge on anyone, too?”
My cheeks gathered the color they were missing just minutes before. “You know I do – why do you even bother to ask?”
“If you have a steady friend, I suggest you forget him right now – you are…”
“I don’t have any!” I almost screamed it to his ear. How long did it take for them to believe me? “I’m going to sleep the next few hours and suggest you do the same. I am tired, sneezing and I have a headache. If Dalek comes again, I’ll disable some part he won’t be using in battle!”
I didn’t wait him to respond, I rather he didn’t and started walking away. They all ought to back off or I’ll just make so they can’t marry me off ever again – jump in a lake or do something else stupid and childish…
“He wants kids!”
“What?” I almost fell on the root I was stepping over.
“You promised to take off his… he wants kids! Remember that!”
I blushed up to my hairline. I was more thinking of a small finger or some toes. “Go to bed!” I yelled at him, so winded up I had no sleep thoughts left in my head.
Thank you so much for putting that idea in my head! Now all that staid in my head was his face, his chest, his… I cleared my throat and continued my way to the hayloft. After some foozle with the coat I left it on the lower pedestal of the ladder and heisted up under my blanket. Just before tucking myself in I remembered I was still holding the linden blossoms I had collected, but closer observation averred there was nothing left to put in the pot. Disappointed, I inhaled their sweet scent for a moment and then dismissed them on my scarf, promising to toss them out later.
I could hear Erika’s silent sobbing from the other end of the loft, but I was angry at her and though it bothered me, I did nothing to stop her. Instead I covered my ears and pretended I was sleeping… thinking on Dalek more likely, but for her I was sleeping and that’s that.
Different thoughts run through my head, but none that would clear it all up. So, instead of spending more of my time seeking for answers my headache filled head wasn’t providing, I traded those thoughts on mentally going over all his physical attractive…
No, I did not hear it. I pressed the blanket harder on my ears.
I ignored that one too, but now I felt her crawling over the floor and she jolted my left foot.
“Erika, I mean it,” I started, crawling out of my loved cocoon, “I wish to…” I goggled at what appeared big and brown. “Damn.”
“You brought a dog up here. You brought a dog up!?” I asked harshly, staring at the two shiny nostrils sniffing my leg.
“I did not.” She was still sobbing.
“Viika then?” I growled and stood up to catch that thing, but it kept leaping away from my grasp. “I told her dogs are not for playing! Come here, you!” I jumped after it, but it yelped like a small dog it wasn’t and kept himself away.
“Viika sleeps inside tonight.” Erika tried to explain, but I was too busy chasing the fur ball around.
“Then to whom does this monster belong to?” I rattled, making one last jump after it, landing on the hays near the floor hatch, but I did manage to catch it by its hinder paw.