I opened my eyes way before others woke up and made myself useful by rising fire in the hearth and preparing the breakfast. I didn’t do it to atone for my deed, but because I had to keep myself busy, go on with my miserable life, I wished it or not.
This part of my life was over now, the engagement and I had to find new purpose to me being here. Perhaps taking what owned and starting my own business? I might buy part in some merchant ship and live from the benefits at some far end of the land, where no man or anyone at that matter could reach me. Place where there were no wolves, I set down another primary quality for the place.
There is no place, where there wouldn’t be wolves, I thought grimly and pulled myself out of my dreams, setting my mind in more practical things I had to do.
It was Friday to start with. Meaning we had huge piles of dirty laundry and children to wash and as it was also the last washing day before summer solstice we had the whole farm to clean. So, we had the work cut out for ourselves. Man had much the same amount of duties – to be clean on the most holiest day of the daylight season they had to do all the wood chopping, last mead controls and clean all the ships, too.
Also, the small ticks, as mom called the small ceremonies, had to be performed today. You had to be sure to have a good harvest and animals to be well. This meant collecting the last vihta (a punch of birch twigs) before the birch leaf started gathering tar from the bark and adding the last healing herbs to the drying shelves. The cows received their blessings too and you had to make sure you had everything you needed for the Saturday when going in the Holy Groove.
So the day flew by as if there had even been none. I kept myself busy and fanatically searched what to do. In a way it felt quite as if I were born again – all seemed cleared and the sun was hotter and warmer, making you wish to leave all your duties and just ran to swim in the cold river not far from the village borders. All the flowers bloomed now and the scent they left in the air was intoxicating, making the birds singing even louder than they used to and us less patient to wait for sauna.
We finished scrubbing the houses late in the afternoon, ready for spiritual and bodily cleaning. I spent the later part of the day washing the floor and was soaked in dirty water most of the time, in the end making me grave for sauna, too. I had my old ragged apron on, but it provided little protection when my dear brother suddenly turned into a toddler and splashed the whole bucket of the nasty fluid over my back and hair. I let out a loud cry and my reaction to this nonsense act was the yucky cloth slashed over his bare feet. To our surprise that acted as a release and we laughed so hard my stomach muscles ached for long time.
“Hey,” Hagen fell down on his knees next to me, tugging the hairpins out of my bun while I collected the grey rag and started gathering the water back in the bucket.
“You did wish to…” he made few bleary moves with his hand after releasing the braid on my back. It was his habit after every time he plaid the trick on me.
“Yes,” I was still upset, but, well, he deserved the truth if he wished to know it. But to know it in hole, he first had to dig it out of me. “I did. But that has little value now, does it.”
“Alright.” He stalled, playing with my hairpin, but didn’t move yet, not even when I pushed him slightly to get under his feet. They were all dirty, indicating he had been cleaning the runnel. He had postponed the work for more than a month now.
“I asked him to reconsider his proposal,” I felt I needed to explain, “if he felt compelled to marry me because he feels responsible for me or if he wanted to marry me because of who I was five years ago…”
He listened me speak for a while, letting me mumble while I concentrated on collecting the water. He seemed like a bottomless barrel, sitting there and playing with the pins, only nodding from time to time. After a half an hour, I sensed he was still listening, but I was running out of ways of explaining myself and I started wondering if he was still listening or had he fallen asleep somewhere in between, because he kept staring behind me in the corner where our house spirit’s small gift bin stood.
I pulled myself back up and observed him, wondering over the probability of someone sleeping eyes open, when a slight smile lightened up his face.
“What?” I asked, utterly confused by his grinning face.
“You didn’t give him the choice he might wish to marry you because he’s interested in your grownup form?”
I drilled the sentence in my head few times, trying to comprehend exactly where I spat out anything that would bring out this question, but was lost.
“You said, you asked him to consider truthfully if he saw himself as your guardian or father – you never gave him the choice of being your husband.”
Thank you so much for bringing out this utterly unimportant reasoning. Besides, when speaking to him, I had given him that choice.
“I believe I did.” I said bluntly. “To him anyway.” I grabbed the bucket and pulled myself on my feet, helping him up too. “I think I am finished with the floor.”
“If you did, then why…” he sounded surprised, but I shook my head and laid my hand on his shoulder.
“He made his choice. I don’t need to know, why he made it, but it is final and I will not continue chasing a marriage I’m clad he ended. Otherwise he might have made a great mistake ruining both of our lives – I’m grateful he had the courage to back out and thus now has the freedom to make a better offer to some worthy girl.”
I kissed him on his cheek and walked out, trying not to start laughing from the good, fresh feeling inside. He hadn’t heard a word I said after the first sentence! But that he sat there and pretended to hear helped a lot too.
That made me wonder was Dalek much the same? Listening, but not hearing what I had to say. No, I was sure he wasn’t – perhaps a little, but not all the time. His eyes reflected my thoughts. At least I hoped that was what made his eyes glitter and not my nonsense reasoning.
No matter how he was – Hagen had managed to make me feel so much better by now that I could honestly say I didn’t care.
About two hours later I was on my way to sauna – ours was few minutes walk from the house – when I was suddenly under another ambush. Women go first to sauna as men love theirs to be so hot you could fry fish on the stones. We liked something less hair-rising.
It felt like bumping into a wall, me being the wall and she being the true giant disguised in short slender shaped human – Dalek’s younger sister Mirth cut my journey near the lilacs, pushing me further away on the path. I didn’t recognize her in the dim light right away, but her heavy grasp around my elbow said she did.
“What is wrong with you?” she immediately thundered, when I finally got the chance to release myself. “He isn’t good enough for you or what?”
Well, now that was the encounter I was so waiting for. Or actually hoped I could avoid – something highly unlikely in Halland.
Her face was flaming with fury, making her light eyes look something to be afraid of. She wasn’t wearing her bonnet like she should have – I bet her husband would be quite as angry if he found out. But I doubted he’d do anything if he didn’t want to meet the forces of nature she was so full of.
“Or what” would’ve been my answer, but I didn’t say it. Actually, I didn’t know what to say as I had little clue on what she knew about it at all.
“He comes here, shocks us all announcing he’ll be marring you and now…”
I slightly winced back, avoiding her two hands that danced through the air and were sometimes only inches away from my face. I was sure she would gladly have used the opportunity and given me few tallies. I would have if someone would arrive, mess up your entire future plans with announcing marriage with someone you’d hardly wish for your sister-in.-law duo the past she has and then, when you just start to accept it declare the marriage deal is off. Yes, I imagined well how good she must of felt.
Wait… did she just say he was home, sulking? I had wondered off with my thoughts when her fast fable got to some weird sentence that brought me back.
“… and dad is so angry you play with him and he’s threatening he’ll rise the question of removing you from the community the next gathering and…”
“What?” I felt my knees give in when she said those words.
“Yes, well…” she pulled back a little, “you’re not really part of this village and now that you’ve declined Dalek’s offer thus shaming my father, it sort of is befitting.”
I landed on the stone behind me, eyes wide. “Befitting?”
She continued, avoiding my question. “But I don’t wish you to go and I like you more than the other prospective wives – can you imagine, one didn’t even know how to cook?”
“What do you mean by other prospective wives?” I leaned closer to her when she kneeled before me.
“Because we hadn’t heard that Dalek had chosen his bride so far, daddy searched out few and promised to make him marry one of them when he got back…” she shrugged, seemingly uncomfortable with what she had to reveal duo her big mouth, but I wasn’t. “It is time for him to take a bride, damn it! And as he is the eldest…”
I grit my teeth and pushed through them “I see.”
She gave me a fast unbelieving glance and shook her head. “No you don’t.” I frowned, but she brushed it off by forewarning me with her look not to disturb her talk again. “Dalek had told no one about the plan of marring you – otherwise we wouldn’t had to go through all this trouble. But now that you said no, daddy’s really angry and…”
Wait-wait-wait! Practically, what she was saying was that I was held responsible for him not settling down yet?
“Hey, I didn’t know about this either! He told me he had fixed the deal with Magnus and Hagen later, when I asked him, but none of them bothered to tell me that! I almost got married to another, remember?”
“Yes, yes! No need to explain me that, birdie. But we were actually clad he had chosen you! At least with you we knew your flaws already and didn’t have to start adjusting ourselves with Freya knows who! ”
Birdie? Oh! Ou curses!! I scolded myself hard on that moment, realizing that wasn’t him diminishing me from my maiden state, but purely nothing more than an expression he must have learned from home… God, I could be so stupid sometimes! And for that I let my about to be marriage fly out the window? I should be beheaded instead of excommunicated!
“What’s wrong with you?” she sounded troubled and I realized I had been banging my head against the tree behind me. The moment the knowledge reached me, the moment I felt most excruciating pain in the entire world.
“I’m so stupid…” I let out a loud whine, jamming my head between my hands.
“Yes you are! Why else did you say no to Dalek.”
I did n… I hadn’t! It only happened because I asked him to reconsider why… oh hell! I had already been through this!
“Can’t anyone get their information straight?” I demanded, tired of their accusations as if I had broke the engagement off. Her open-mouthed look said she hadn’t got the whole story. “I did not break it off! Dalek did! And if you so want to know, why – go ahead and ask him! I’m sure he’ll love explaining it. At least I hope he will, ’cause I’m getting tired of being shaped in a black sheep here! And if he doesn’t, I wouldn’t blame him, ’cause I’m sure he finds it hard to accept it himself and if this is the reason, what I think it is – be it written down – I am glad he broke it off instead of pulling us both in misery for the rest of our lives!”
I jumped up and tried to pass her, but she pulled me back.
“But you DON’T understand!” she stick her long finger in my ribs and it hurt. “If he doesn’t explain and say it was he and not you – because right now everybody think you told him to say it so he would take the blame – my father will have the right to excommunicate you!”
I sighed. If that’s how it was gonna be, then let it go its way. “Let him. I’m strong – I won’t die just because the village sends me out. I’m not part of it anyway.”
Her pink lips opened to protest it, but she was out of words. I was almost out of reach, when her last words stretched to my ears.
“But he’ll demand exactly that…”
My heart sank hearing her say it, not from sadness but pure fear. He was powerful enough to fulfill that promise, especially when – as Mirth implied – I had wounded his pride. I had made myself one bad enemy, but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
I had to find the solution for this problem and that without making Dalek the scapegoat. Yes, and I was just enough of a person to sacrifice myself to save someone no matter how good-looking, who happened to be such an poltroon to let me die to keep his honor attached.
My body immediately started shivering – I couldn’t believe Dalek would be such a low life he’d let me die for this! My gut said I was partly responsible for it, yes, but he had to understand why! Or did I have to spell it out to him? He didn’t look like a guy I had to spell it out. Perhaps he just figured I was too much of a trouble to pursuit? Oh, I sure was that!
No, I must keep faith, I told myself – his eyes hadn’t lied to me thus the heart had to be in the right place and if I hadn’t started with making him think, oh why do I love to think! , we’d get married on the day after tomorrow.
I reached the sauna and stood now in front of it, deliberating if to go in our not. I had waited this the whole day and had just started feeling good again and now a sword was placed on my neck and a promise had been made which had no positive outcome to wait for. But I so needed a good scrubbing.
Finally the need for a bath and hot steaming sauna won and I joined the party inside.
Had I thought my family had hard time putting up with his decision to dump me, I couldn’t be more wrong. They took it quite nicely and after explaining my part in it to several more female parts in our family it seemed to smooth out better than I had hoped for.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Halland had slightly different understandings of the matter and long before the midday I found myself face to face with several women, who just blocked my way to the spring and called me a hussy and then investigated further how many men had I slept since I so willingly had given my honor to that Dane that faithful night. I was speechless for some time. One of the accusers had also been there and violated just as the rest of us. Now she was calling me names?
I did nothing, but walked on, trying to keep my head up and back straight, avoiding any accidental glances aside my path. One still slipped away and I noticed Ole only few steps away, eyes fixed on me. I was sure he noticed the water that gathered up under my lashes, trying to look strong. He was close enough to hear them and now looked angry.
There was no way of turning back and starting over, to act out the perfect daughter figure everyone expected me to be and find out in the marriage how wonderful man he was. It’s indeed true what they say – you never know what you have before you loose it.
I took a deep breath and slashed my eyelashes few times to remove the tears, begging gods to give me strength. Ole was gone the next time I looked up.
I met him again at home, when I carried the water in. My family, except for Viika, was standing around the table with him and they looked way anxious for me to return. Mirth with her husband was also there, hands bind together.
I slowly put the buckets down and approached them. What now? Had I done something wrong again? Why was Mirth here? Because of what she told me yesterday?
When I got closer I noticed my linen towel I had made a year ago covering one of the fresh breads, small part of it looked out under the cover.
I stopped on the top of the table, silently waiting someone to explain, what was going on, but for a while I got nothing besides them all staring me, making me uncomfortable.
Finally, after few moments of silence, mom coughed.
“Time to conceal your kranzen my dear.” She said softly and reached out for my maiden circlet ignoring my hollow eyes.
I didn’t know what to do when she took it from my hair. I clenched to the table, breathing heavy as if drowning and tried not to break out and faint. I tried to make myself understand I was too old to have it anyway, but it didn’t help and my only wish was to ask, why!
I watched the circlet touring between my family’s hands ’til it got to Mirth, who placed it on the table, hiding it away with her scarf. She smiled at me gently when she did it, no hint to her anger the evening before. I lowered my eyes and closed them eventually, waiting what other punishments do they have or why Ole was here. I presumed it was because Jerrik’s (Dalek’s father) wish.
“Laurien,” old Ole asked me quietly, like trying to wake me up from a dream, “open your eyes and look at me.”
I did as he had commanded.
“I am here, because Mirth’s husband has requested an opportunity for you to take back his decision.”
I blinked. What?