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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/1366230-From-Ask-and-Embla
Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Mythology · #1366230
They said it was legend. We knew it as life.
[Introduction]
They say it was only a legend, a mere myth. They say it was a fairytale. They even say it was just a dream of mankind. But what is myth but exactly that? A dream, both utterly strange and achingly familiar. Myths are tales of beginnings and ends, of creation and destruction, of life and death...

...They say it is legend. We think differently.


Once, men lived in an age of darkness, born out the ice of Niflheim and the fire of Muspell. We were created by Odin, Vili and Ve who were born of Bor and Bestla and lived upon the body of the slaughtered Frost Giant Ymir. We survived through change, moving as much as we could, adapting to the local inhabitants of countries in order to maintain our lives and lifestyle. We were the nomads, the warriors, the farmers, the hunters. We were the Norse. And we survived.

The idea is that everyone is a character who lived as one of the Norse during that time. Unheroes- trying to get by in the crazy, volatile, dangerous, magical, illogical and warring world that is the stuff of our own legends. The people whose tales were told with too much ale to remember. Remember the magical setting and try to imagine what life would be like; how they would cope, stay as balanced as emotionally possible and what their small pleasures would be. No missions; they just have to survive as best they can in their own time...what with (sometimes human) sacrifices, the vanirs and the aesirs, and the impending twilight of Ragnorok... which is... late.

*

Here's a twist on the part of magic. I figure that if they could predict the end of the world, perhaps they can predict snippets of what will come. However, what they see is too strange and incomprehensible to bother with, so they treat it like we would a bad costume drama tv show, or white noise; they ignore it. If they can predict the end of the world, then why not the toaster?

The community is a small but strong one that live one day's distance from the popular center of religion of Uppsala in Sweden (where the god Freyr resides for large periods of time). At this time, all norse, mythology must be considered to be true. The characters are part of a community of warriors and their families, huntsmen, priestesses and druids. It's fairly easy to find an authentic name just through research, so please try to do that and stick to the canon and pantheon of norse Mythology. Because we aren't seizing on any particular myth, it will be fairly easy to incorporate any element, be they Valkyries, Deities, and elements of other myths. To place a limit on powers, your character can have elf, dwarf or giant blood, (Up to a sixteenth, so they are human with human limitations, but may have a particular strength or physical discrepancy), or be destined to become a Valkyrie. However, please try to keep to them being as human as possible, with flaws and interesting personalities, so that we can have more artistic license. The story is set in Miðgarðr, the world of humans.

Ásgarðr- world of the Æsir. (Odin, Thor, Frigg etc.)
Vanaheimr- world of the Vanir.
Miðgarðr- world of humans.
Muspell- world of the primordial element of fire.
Niflheimr- world of the primordial element of ice.
Hel- underworld, world of the dead.
Álfheimr- world of the Álfar (elves).
Svartálfaheimr or Nidavellir- world of the Dvergar (Norse dwarves).
Jötunheimr- world of the Jötnar (giants).

Please post your character Bioblock both here and in the group. After invitations have been sent, I will set one week's thinking period for everyone work out characters and write out a long bioblock (write it during that week would be my suggestion). I will then post mine on the 4th/5th of Jan so that the bioblocks will all be able to be posted on the cf in order and we can start posting quickly, without delays in between the characters. Then we'll post regularly. The group will be open from the begining so discussions can take place. There is no fixed plot so short term story arcs can be suggested in the group if you want. 3 days posting time unless notified.



For more information see group-

 From Ask and Embla  (ASR)
A place to discuss the campfire and all that jazz
#1366231 by Dr Matticakes Myra
Name: Hakon Ordurr
Age: approximately 19 years old if we were going to judge by our calendar.

Clan History: A descendant of Alfarrung, a clan with Elvish ancestry and which is traceable back to the birth of Hogni. Primarily, this clan basis it's society around hunting, with a secondary interest in trade. Though not known for its warrior heritage, all the men are trained to hold their own in battle from an early age since historically they have had to protect their families from other clans who sort to know the past of the elves and in some cases steal the women in order for their own clan to inherit the gifts sometimes gained by Alfarrung infants.

Appearance: Hakon is not a typical descendant. Most of his clan are dark haired and dark eyed with thick, strong bodies. He, although tall, at 6'3, he is lithe and willowy and his hair is white, with eyes that come very close to being just as pale a blue. His skin is sun bronzed, making the paleness of his eyes and hair even more noticable. Wearing his hair long, he weaves it with vines, rope and small ornaments such as bits of metal, shaped stones and feathers, as is the custom in his clan. Across one eye is a pale scar which gives him slight difficulty with sight in the corner of that eye. The gauntness of his face, due to the combination of high cheekbones and a large growth spurt, makes his mouth seem too large for his face and his body all the longer.
Personality: Fast and skilled as a hunter, he's not one to stay at home and keep quiet. In fact, he's the sort of person who loves to socialise, though on his bad days he's not one to cross. Vibrant and friendly, he has many friends and finds it easy to get to know people, particularly as many are curious over his strange appearence. However, despite his friendliness and apparent openness, very little is actually known about him as, although being intelligent and interesting in conversation, he rarely speaks of himself, rather of others he has known, stories he has heard of or simply giving advice to those who need it. Many believe him to have gained the gift of the elves, though he would dispute that claim profusely, and for this reason he is reknown through the lands near by.

Background: Rational but adventurous, he is the youngest son of the clan leader. However his father is slowly causing the ruin of the clan. Having aged, his father began to get sick often, seeing and hearing things which he remembered from the battlefields. When his wife died, the king sank into a near permanent dementia, becoming ruthless and despotic. Due to clan law, he had to die before any other could assume the throne and he was beloved in his youth so none feels able to kill him despite the harsh penalties exacted on those who's hunt is not won. The clansmen are set against each other and man with steal from man in order to escape a flogging and the punishment of no food.

NOW: Hakon despised all this and decided to leave after being punished by his own father. Since then he has been travelling with one of the Skald, an aging man who calls himself Grin. Journeying from place to place with Grin, he's learning more and more about the other clans and more and more intrigued with the legends and customs of each clan he comes across.

*

The night was to be grim. It had been possible to see it coming... The clouds rolling down from the hills where they normally rested, spilling like an ocean of froth. The purple cumulonimbus crawling over itself in order to reach the delicately balanced plain land and boil off the leaves on the trees in its maelstorm. The umber dust from the earth which was still summer-burnt was whisked up into a dance of mud and grass and grit. The sky was blending into navy from the setting sun that had spread a bloody red stain on the bruised cloud, the haze of rain falling in the distance making the whole world seem instantly colder.

After the long, unforgiving blaze that had taken over in the recent days, the rain was welcomed by the land but Hakon watched the skyline, pulling his cloak closer about him as he and his leading companion walked slowly towards the settlement they were bound for. Grin limped ahead, his thin ankles bare as he hunched over against the cold and vicious gale. Shivering, he found himself listening out for the approaching thunder, the grumble of Thor as he glowered in the sky… But they trudged on, the sky becoming blacker even faster than the gods could darken it with the vanishing sun… There was no moon…. The stars invisible as the cloud completed it's take over of the heavens… The first splatter of rain struck the ground and the downpour took over.

To follow after the skald, wasn't easy. The man, wizened along with the knurling of his skin, would travel endlessly, day after day of walking and climbing and riding when able. The thin, dark skinned face was constantly framed by long, matted, grey-black hair that hung down in ragged tails along his spine. He jingled slightly, a jink of noise with every step as pieces of bone and trinkets from his many wonderings, tied in both his hair as well as around his neck and wrists, clinked against each other. He would keep going no matter what weather from sunrise until his feet were too sore to continue. Hakon, for the most part, found himself enjoying the company. The man was intelligent, dapper, full of the knowledge of a thousand kings and a million battles… Yet trudging through the dust that was soon becoming sludge about his feet, he wondered why he kept going when he could so easily have stopped before he became so embroiled in the life of the strange storyteller.

They were destined for a civilisation near Uppsala… Though he was not sure where… Beckoned by the Winternights celebration to the oldest of the settled peoples. There was a story here, Grin had told him, of a maiden destined to be claimed by the gods. He said that they were going to go to the halls of the karls here… Hakon knew that it was likely they would end up staying with which ever prosperous man they came across here, invited in because of the old Skald. He'd seen it enough times with Skald's visiting his own home… Though he wasn't sure what would happen to him as this was the first time they had neared the homes of others since they had left his family behind.

"How much further?" He called out, shouting across the sheeting rain that cascaded down in a splattering cries.

"Not as far as my feet could go." The old man shouted back, a hint of amusement in his voice, "You'll see it soon."

It wasn't true. They just kept on walking, their cloaks soon doing nothing to keep off the wet that seeped through to clammy, chilled skin. Hakon's hair was plastered downwards, his teeth clenched to stop them from chattering, his lips beginning to darken with the loss of blood as his body struggled to keep him warm. Normally he liked the rain. He loved the way it coated the world in a veil of liquid that made it glow and sparkle as if a mirage. He loved the way it sounded as each drop splintered into a million smaller jewels that quickly sank into the ground. He loved the smell and the damp. But he didn't like it now as it made his feet squelch in his boots and his cloths stick to his fatigued body. They trudged on, arms drawn close to protect their chest from the cold.

And then there it was… Squinting through the storm he could made out the haze of darker shapes, buildings rising up from the ground. He could smell smoke despite the dankness of the air. He could hear the sound of wood and stone as they creaked and wattle moaned.

"Is that it?" He yelled, voice still sounding quiet as it was snatched away. He saw Grin nod although he could not make out the muddle of sounds that swept through.

His heart beat quickened, he longed to run for it, to push himself that last inch further. But he didn't, remaining behind the poet as he hobbled forwards. Perhaps it was out of respect.

*

They were let into a small room where they could await the king. According to Grin the man was only slightly younger than his own father, though much more healthy; a man who had earned his title as a prosperous trader within the local area and whose wealth and hospitality were renown. Hakon nodded and smiled, squeezing out some of the water from his cloak and then his clothes. They were already drying, the young boy who had led them there having lit a fire in centre of the room. Ceasing to shiver, the heat warmed him, the hairs on his arms prickling as his skin reacted.

"You had better keep your hood up for now." Grin was saying, hands stretched out towards the flame, "You're a well known lad and we don't want them thinking that you're coming here, expecting to be let in, believing yourself all important and such. There are stories about you, rumours people have heard simply because of your heritage and that god damn hair…" The man often muttered like this about the ridiculousness of his fame for being born as he was.

But then he wondered why he didn't think the same of this girl.

"Will I be let in if I disguise myself?"

Grin turned to him, smirking and showing off his greying teeth, "Of course. You're with me."
A Non-Existent User
Name: Skadhi
Age: only just a man, possibly 15 by our calendar
Gender: male

Background: Lost memory, but his short dark hair and deathly pale skin would make him stand out in a crowd, if it weren’t for his handy expertise at being unnoticeable when needs be. Since the earliest he can remember (when he could only reach to adult’s waists) he has been called Skadhi (magpie, shadow, loss) by others because of his looks and incurable pick-pocketing tendencies.

Appearance: During night-time revelries he is lively and sociable, bringing life to his complexion enough that others forget how sickly and different he looks. However during the day he becomes steadily more lethargic to the point of seeming ill, so he is mostly nocturnal. He has finally started growing and is currently a skinny 5’9, but is often teased because of his scarce-bearded appearance. He moves from village to village, shield-less and wielding only chainmail and a sword. This is another source of derision in the taverns, though as an orphan he has no wealth or rank (and secretly he is too lazy to carry a shield). However, he is as skilled with a sword as he is with metalwork, and fast and agile in a fight to make up for his weakness and lack of stamina.

Personality: He has a deeply opposing character. Whilst on the one hand he will be sneaky and evasive, a thief that thinks only of himself, he will sometimes be the fearless, loyal protector, stormy and aggressive. He is a double-edged sword – his love of shiny objects can both benefit him and get him in trouble, as can his sociability and love of gossip and drink. At his best he can be observant, intelligent and quick to adapt, confident, fortunate and proficient at fixing both objects and tricky situations. More often he is awkward and clumsy, well used to being the fool and source of entertainment for those with more admirable qualities.

*

Skadhi wasn’t sure if he was woken by the raging storm outside, or the abrupt end to his nightmare. Flashes of thunderous blue streaked through the dark canvas, unable to restrain the invading light that sent shadows running across the room. Moon and stars devoured by the tempest left it impossible to guess the time. Listening closely, Skadhi judged the undertone of merry laughter and cheerful ruckus that warmed the walls from downstairs and estimated that the evening was gradually reaching full swing. He had overslept slightly, but a comfortable, renewing sleep it was not. Sitting up he cricked his aching shoulders, pushing his dark hair off his forehead, lank with cold sweat. Feeling slightly pathetic he rubbed his itchy eyes, knowing the weeks of broken, feverish sleep would only enhance the dark shadows bruising them and the steady bleaching of his skin.

It was a nightmare he thought had ended with his childhood, more a feeling than anything describable. A cold, silent emptiness void of light filling the boy’s mind, the frozen, fearful loneliness dragging him to the hidden depths of his charred soul. And in that darkness some sort of memory would awake, of a small girl running barefoot through deadened trees, just out of reach. Long black hair rippled with reflected moonlight, and she slipped through the shadows of each silver tree as she ran on far ahead, disappearing into the surreal night. Despair and irrational fear would consume the boy as he struggled after her, and in that desperate state he would wake up, head aching with confusion and half-formed memories.

Throwing off the covers and standing up the magpie immediately dragged clothes over himself, unwelcome cold beginning to eat into his scarcely covered bones. Splashing his face with freezing water from a tableside bowl he began to shake off the sleepy cobwebs and melancholy. Once more he turned his ear to the jovial bellows and drunken celebrations below, allowing a grin to lighten his spirits. Here dwelled the more licentious of characters, inebriated ruffians gathered for the less wholesome aspects of the upcoming festival. Hardened and vicious, they were, surprisingly enough, the perfect prey. And good company of course. After all, Skadhi mused, these people were his kind. Securing his few possessions he left the rented room and headed downstairs, eager to mingle with the detritus of society.
Name: Ragnhild Gudrun,
Gender: Female (daughter of Sigurd Gudrun.)
Age: 17

Background: She was born after her father's death to a family of seven with her the only girl. She was brought up with her brothers, dressing as a boy and taking part in the fighting, killing and pillaging that they were part of too. She became a shieldmaiden, deciding to live as her brothers lived, as the warriors and defenders of their lands.

Appearence: As a woman, she's about 5'6 tall with long black hair that dreadlocks most of the time. Her body is battle scarred though not terribly, her right arm being the worst effected as she uses that more often for defense. Her eyes are an ambery gold colour like her dead father's which is why so many aquiesced when she grew up as she did.

Personality: She's very stoic, often cold towards men as she does have a bit of an inferiority complex when she first meets them and hasn't sized them up. Fiercsome in battle, she's a skilled rider, though she's not so good at long range weaponry like archery. She's comfortable around her brothers and those like her brothers but never knows what to say to girls because she never really knew any other than her mother who was equally as hardened. She's the sort who always wants to prove herself.

*

Sighing, Ragnhild stood in corner of the feasthalls. She had been sent to the renown out-village by her eldest brother who had recieved a message from their kinsman, one who had just returned from his travels, that a Skald might be coming to the area very soon with tales of the war in the west. She had been sent by horseback to find out if it were true and if so if the man would visit their home in due course. She hadn't expected it to be true... Nor for so many people to be so enraptured by the presence of the coarse, old man with the scraggly mane of hair. If it weren't for his hooded companion, he would have seemed almost normal. Though she wouldn't be surprised if that were all a plot to decieve the onlookers into believing his trueness of heart. All men were the same.

It was the king who adressed them as the halls quietened, the man raising his hand in greeting before inclining his head. As the king had earned his title, previously just being a karl with leadership qualities, he earnt more respect than most, yet in return he did the same for the bedraggled wretch. The man then turned a full circle, arms wide open and eyes burning with a passion she normally saw in war.

"Ice and White-ice that land is called by brave men,
They call it Bitter-smoke-land and Land-of-fire-again,
Place-of-white-mist and Thunder-water land;
They gave these names, men of the ships, men of strong hand--
These are mighty names, fierce is this place of names:
Mountains are waking night and day, speaking in flames,
Waters bubbling and steaming roar out to the sky
Waters leap down crags: gods are foaming down from on high,
Ice on far mountains crawls down valleys and groans,
Mist pours white, dangerous, beautiful, over cliffs of stone
Strange and bitter smokes rise where nothing grows at all,
And seas foam chill round the edges where the seabirds call."

A silence had fallen except for the murmer of breath and the patter of rain on the rooftop and the crack of the fires and the rustle of the wind. It was silent. Then two hands came together to clap the man whose manic look had vanished and become weariness.

"They call me Grin and I come from the everywhere of nowhere. My father was air and my mother earth and I have travelled wearied by wars and winds and wicked men, to come to you and tell you all that I know so that you might know more and that I might take your story also if there is one to be had." He paused, breathing in heavily, "I carry names into posterity, lives into eternity, souls into the eyes of the gods themselves. I have known those who walked with Odin, met men who have fought beside Tyr and others who have kissed the fingers of Frejya. But I now dare to ask you, oh king, oh people, for but a room for myself and my companion whilst I remain to tell you these tales. Should you not want me-" There was a rush of muttering, nobody wanted him to leave, "Then I shall take myself else where."

The king stood where he was, the vieled figure of the chosen maiden standing not far away from him, the druid just beside her.

"That we should wish you away would be a terrible thing. Come, feast and later we shall sleep." There was a strange sense of ritual to the greeting and she could see him eyeing the stranger in his hooded cloak, "But who is this companion who does not show his face."

Grin grinned, "He is a man, one known through out this land for his name and reputation and heritage but we felt that should you know him before you may consider him here for many reasons he is not here for. He is my loyal companion."

The king nodded thoughtfully, "Very well. Remove your hood."

The man's arm reached up, pushed back the hood of dark, wrinkled grey and revealed a head that was framed with hair the colour of freshly fallen snow it was so blond and a face that she had only heard about, "My name is Hakon Ordurr." He bowed, much lower than his master, for sure that was what Grin was to him.

Ragnhild was awed. But no so awed enough that she didn't feel the hand slip into her pocket nor so awed so as not to react.
Name: Thorbjorn (Thor’s Bear)
Thorbjorn is approximately 45 years old, and is a veteran of hundreds of battles. The scars that cover his body give the truth to that fact. His bravery in battle is legendary. His weapons are the sword and axe. He is 5’ 10” tall and almost inhumanly strong. Thorbjorn is a warrior by profession, with only modest skills in other areas. When not engaged in a fight his favorite pastime is bragging, drinking and eating. At 200 pounds it is apparent that he is 20 pounds overweight, giving his body a deceptively soft look. His advancing age has turned his hair gray, but his dark blue eyes are still as sharp as the day he was born. Thorbjorn is haunted by the fear that he might die of old age and be relegated to an afterlife in Hel. As the years crept by his chances of dying in battle and being carried off by the Valkrys to Valhala in glory were becoming smaller. Thorbjorn was ready to jump at any opportunity that might lead to combat.

Thorbjorn sat in the feast hall at his regular table, surrounded by the regular group listening to his tales of bravery and victory.

“After the fierce battle we took the town and loaded our Dragon ship with the best of their treasures. We took stock of our wounds and terrible they were. We made repairs on each other as best we could. It turned out that I was the only one left that could pull an oar. I stood in the middle of the boat and rowed for three days straight until we were out of danger. As their wounds healed, others started rowing also on the voyage home.”

As Thorbjorn was finishing his story, two wet strangers came through the door. He recognized Grin right away, the tall one left his hood up covering his features. Conversation in the dimly lit and Smokey hall became quiet. With formal courtesy, Grin asked leave for his companion and himself leave to enter the hall and receive sanctuary from the elements. The King also in formal fashion gave his permission to the travelers to stay and receive the feast halls hospitality. The sudden gathering of new and rarely seen faces in the hall this evening was not lost on Thorbjorn.

He watched as Skadhi the skinny dark haired stranger came down the stairs. The youth was pale as a corpse and looked ready for the grave, but Thorbjorn watched him move with a fluid grace that belied the apparent weakness. Ragnhild, daughter of Sigurd Gudrun stood over in the corner by the stairs. She was not a stranger to the hall, but neither was she seen in town very often. She was a warrior like himself, a shield maiden and not someone to be taken lightly. The King with the chosen maiden and the Druid stood together as Grin introduced the hooded man to the gathering. The tall man bowed and introduced himself.

“My name is Hakon Ordurr”. Pulling back his hood exposing a mane of pure white hair.

Thorbjorn like everyone else knew of Hakon Ordurr. Grin and Hakon traveled the lands together carrying stories and news form town to town. The stories entertained and everyone was always hungry for news from distant towns. Grin sometimes carried messages and letters from distant clansmen. He and Hakon were always welcome where ever they were, but why here and why now? Like any battle seasoned veteran , Thorbjorn was wary of things that seemed strange. Were they here because of the chosen maiden? As he wondered, he watched carefully. He was aware of the placement and movements of those around him. He noticed that as Skadhi passed by Ragnhild, he slipped his fingers into one of her pockets. Her reaction was swift. The tip of her knife pushed against the youth’s chin. Skadhi’s only reaction was to smile. He stood there calmly as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a note. As Ragnhild read the note, she removed her blade from his chin and gave him a puzzled look. Skadhi walked on as if nothing had happened. It was just then when Thorbjorn was hailed from across the room.

“Throbjorn, I can’t believe you are not dead yet.” Grin had a big smile on his face.

“I can’t believe it either Grin, its getting harder and harder to find good fighters in battles anymore. We show up at a town and instead of finding defenders, they bring the wealth of the town to us. The only reason to get out of the boat is to stretch our legs.”

Grin walked over and addressed the group at Thorbjorn’s table, “has he told you the story of the battle where he fought the defenders of a small town far to the south down to the last man. It was true, he was the last man standing from either side and he had to sack the town by himself.”

“Sit with us and have some Meade. Thorbjorn invited Grin and Hakon to the table. The timing of your visit to our town is interesting, does it have anything to do with the chosen maiden? She is to be claimed by the Gods themselves. If any harm should befall her there is no telling what wrath the God’s would send to punish us.” Thorbjorn watched them closely to see their reaction.

Grin took a sip of his drink, his eyes betraying nothing. “Yes indeed, harming the maiden would bring terrible danger to the world of man. Hakon said nothing, but those startling blue eyes missed nothing.

“There are new faces here and those that are rarely seen. I do not believe it is coincidence their being here at this time. There are those that would see this world torn apart. Thorbjorn’s face had changed from the drinking braggart to a warrior contemplating battle. The stoic expression of a man who has shed the life blood of hundreds face to face. Be sure if there is to be a fight ahead, I will be in it.”
 

Name:  Eeiforr Baruforson

Age:  adult, young (18-ish)

Gender:  Male

Racial Info:  Swan-Changeling

Appearance:  In human-shape, Eeiforr is a young man with blonde-white, feathery-soft hair that is roughly shoulder-length, tied back with a strip of leather rather than a helmet. He has dark skin, as dark as his beak and feet in swan form. His black eyes show almost no white, very much like a bird's should anyone ever think to compare. He's very light (light bones), thin, willowy, and graceful, like a bird, obviously. While small in comparison to the standard male warrior, he is strong enough to hold his own in a fight. And he can swim

Personality:  Vengeful and angry, melancholy and despairing.

History:  While out raiding, the men of the Graeggos espied some women bathing in a lake next to the village they were about to plunder. Some of the men stayed behind, to catch one, for they could see that the women were swan-maidens, creatures who could shapeshift from swan to human form. They are as beautiful and graceful in human form as they are as swans. However, the womens' young guardian interferred and the maidens all escaped. The men, thinking they'd managed to capture one of the maidens' swan-feather robes, got Eeiforr's instead. They were, naturally, rather upset about this turn of events and decided to make some sport of what they had instead. Barufors, the ship-captain, hunting down his missing men, came upon this scene and, impressed by the youth's cleverness, and his courage (and the fact that he was very close to beating three of his men senseless), demanded the robe as his by right. By the theft of his feathered robe, Eeiforr is a prisoner and a member of Barufors' werod. Now he has to learn how to be and live as a human.

*          *          *

         Barufors called his men to order, hauling anchor and hoisting the square sail. Men swarmed up the rigging and dashed around the decking. For the most part, they were in a good mood, singing and joking one with another. The raid had gone very well, with only a couple of hiccups, like the captain's captive, and their minds focused on the profit to be had in trading their plunder, and all in time for the Winternight's festival at Uppsala. They'd sail right up the great river and put in at port right in the city itself. There was honor to be had and prowess to be shown off. And, boy! Did they have some new stories to tell!

         The captain heard the cheery voices of his men and smiled. He tossed the changeling to his second mate. "Tie him up, don't want him trying to jump overboard again."

         "Aye, sir!"

         Eeiforr glared at the captain, kicking his mate as hard as he could in the shins. This earned him an almost friendly smack across the face, enough to stun him. They tied him to some sturdy barrels in the center of the ship alongside the rest of their spoils. He huddled in as small a ball as he could get for warmth, kicking at any of the rats that ventured too near. As the ship got underway, the men raised their voices in song timed to the strokes of the oars. He leaned his forehead against his hands and wept, quietly, for he'd learned that these men found tears distasteful.

         Salt caked in his normally feathery-light hair, and he felt slimed all over with dirt and who knew what all else. This night marked the fourth day of his imprisonment. Even the water lapping against the sides of the boat had long ceased to bring him comfort. They sailed further and further away from home.

         The air on deck was damp, heavy, and very cold. Their other captives had food, water, blankets, and all manner of courtesies, huddling together under a tarp in the bow. The men themselves kept warm through work, and the captain had a protected area in the stern with the tiller. Eeiforr had none of these.

         He had first worn himself sick trying to find his robe and then, on giving that up, sought only to kill himself, but the pirates foiled that, too, so here he was now. Without his feathered robe he could not change. As a man he was only half a person and he knew his flock would worry and mourn, but no one would come after him. He was lost, dead to them. He would never woo a beautiful swan maiden now. Even if freed, they would never have anything to do with him again; he was ruined. He would never have chicks of his own. A pity they had not let him die.

         The sun rose, but little of its warmth penetrated to where Eeiforr shivered in the light rain that came with the new day. The men's voices remained cheerful, bellowing their crass music all the day long, the oars never ceasing their toil. Night came round again before anyone came for him. Numb with cold, Eeiforr could only hunch away and shiver. These huge men in their bestial garments laughed as they picked him up, tossing him from hand to hand like the sacks of grain they handled as easily. The ship's captain regarded Eeiforr silently for a moment, then handed the long handle of the tiller to one of his men and removed his own fur-lined cloak to wrap around Eeforr's shoulders.

         Barufors dragged his captive under his awning and sawed off the salt-crusted ropes around the boy's wrists. "Do you know why you are still alive?" he asked, pressing a mug into the shaking hands.

         Eeiforr shook his head. Barufors had to hold the frozen fingers around the mug and lift it to his blue-tinted lips.

         "Drink it!" he commanded, but the boy just let the hot mead dribble down his chin. Barufors smiled grimly. Those half-wild, black eyes had lost none of their anger. Even half-frozen, starved, and partly drowned, the bird-boy still wanted to fight.

         "You have a warrior's spirit, lad," said Barufors, sitting back against his fur-covered chests. "In the ways of my people I have claimed you, and I offer you a place among my werod, my fighting men."

         "You are not going to sell me?"

         "You would make a good slave," the captain admitted. "You are pretty," his smile turned mocking, "and would fetch a high price at market, but they would break your spirit, and that would be a shame."

         "Give me back what is mine. Set me free!"

         "No."

         Eeiforr stared at the deck. "I will kill you," he said then, glaring at this red-haired giant with his green eyes and outlandish clothing, his strange weapons and glittering jewels.

         He only laughed. "Boy, you may try, indeed you may! Many a man has. But I think you are no match for me now, eh?" His massive paw bowled Eeiforr over without even seeming to try. "Join my werod, learn our ways, and mayhap you will get your chance, no?"

         "You would set me amongst your men?"

         "Every man on this ship," explained Barufors, "started with nothing more than the sword gifted to him at his birth. Now look what we have accomplished! We sail back home as rich as kings!"

         "Your barbarian ways mean nothing to me!"

         Another bruise to redden his cheek. Eeiforr struggled back up from the deck again to glare at his captor.

         "Mind your tongue, boy! You are one of us now."

         "No! Never!"

         Eeiforr ducked the next blow that came his way, but, at a word from their captain, one of the other barbarians grabbed Eeiforr by the arms and held him. A flash of white, of feathers stirred in the wind, grabbed his attention and he stilled.

         Barufors held out the cloak of swan feathers. "This is what you want, is it not?" A nod. He smiled and pulled out his dagger. Those eyes, so like a bird's and yet not widened remarkably.

         "No!" he cried, beginning to struggle again as Barufors poised the dagger over one of the painstakingly sewn feathers. "No, please!"

         "Please, is it now?" snarled the captain.

         He slashed the feather with his knife, shaving off pieces. The boy screamed, a high-pitched sound, albeit one without much volume behind it due to his current state. Barufors backhanded Eeiforr into the chest of the man who held him, shaking the robe in front of his face.

         "Do I have your attention now? You seem to think you have some choice in the matter, is that not so? Well, you are wrong! As long as I have this robe, you are mine and you will do what I say. Do we understand each other?"

         There was only a wordless snarl in reply. At Barufors' gesture, the other man dropped Eeiforr back to the deck. He immediately scooped up the pieces of feather that had escaped the wind, clutching them in a dirty hand to his chest. If anything, the glint in his eye was brighter than before.

         "We shall call you Eeiforr, the fierce one," said Barufors. "Eeiforr Baruforson, as you will be kin to me." He deliberately turned his back to place the robe back in one of his locked chests, a slight scuffle telling him that the boy had tried something. When he turned around, Eeiforr had a split lip to go with the skinned cheeks and darkening eyes and whatever other bruises he had under all that muck.

         Barufors met the boy's gaze coldly. "You will do what I tell you, Eeiforr. For each time that you disobey me, I will sever a feather."

         "No!"

         "What is your name, boy?"

         For a minute, he just stared back blankly, and then that chin jutted out and the eyes narrowed a little. He breathed through his nose and Barufors noted that his fists tightened even more.

         "What is your name, boy!"

         There! Barufors smiled a little as the boy's head dipped, just slightly down and to the side. His eyes dropped as well, for an instant, still burning with rage. But Barufors settled back in satisfaction. He had won. The boy was his.

         "I am Eeiforr," he spat bitterly. "Eeiforr Baruforson."

         "Very good, son. Welcome home."
Name: Aase Kotajarvi

Age: 18/19 by our calendar

Gender: Female

Heritage:Aase and her family are half Sami- the reindeer people of Lapland. Her clan, which interbred with these people before migrating farther to the south. Once large and powerful, her clan has disintegrated over time to only herself, her twin brother Aaric, and her blind father Bolthor. Bolthor was once a great warrior, but after being blinded in battle he could no longer fight. He was forced to spend his days at home, which drove him crazy in the beginning, but now, with his age he’s come to a sad, depressed acceptance and dreams of the world outside his vision. His health is very poor and he relies heavily on his children to keep the household going. Aaric, her twin, is a very tall, muscular redhead with a happy-go-lucky attitude, in contrast to his more serious sister. However he and Aase are extremely close and he would die for his sister. Aaric is also a warrior, following in his father’s footsteps, although prone to berserker fits in battle. When he is not battling, he is the hunter for the family. Aase’s family, since they are half Sami, own a herd of reindeer, who provide them and others with skins, fur, bones, and milk. The bone is used to make weaponry which is highly valued, as are the skins since they are very light, but extremely warm. Aase is the family herder, following the herds of reindeer as they migrate and guiding them home, as well as protecting them from the dangers of the wild, such as wolves, lynx and other people.

The family owns a large tract of land some distance for the center of the settlement and Aaric is seen much more often in town than Aase.

Appearance and personality: Aase has long pale gold hair that has a slight curl, braided with one of the speckled feathers of one of her gyr falcons. She has bright green eyes, set in a pale, elegantly-boned face. Her body is tall and lean and muscular from days spent traveling in the outdoors. She tends to wear reindeer leathers and soft boots. She's strong willed, determined and has a fierce side to her that doesn't always lead to wisdom. On first meeting, she's rather cold to those she doesn't know, especially since she's suspicious of anyone who approaches the herds, but she's deeply devoted to her family and loves her twin more than life.

Aase’s dream is to be a shield maiden, and she's jealous and envious of those who are. Since her brother is a warrior, and her father is blind, she knows she owes duty to her family first, and instead is the herder for reindeer. She wishes she were a warrior, like her brother, but as a herder, she's more of a warrior than she realizes (and appreciates) because it takes skill to grapple with a wolf. She is an excellent marksman as it is needed for protecting the whole herd, and is proficient in a spear for closer range attacks. In any other weapon, she's pretty much useless. She raises gyr falcons to help her hunt so she doesn't have to leave her post. Some of the gyr’s she can also sell to earn money for her family.

~*~



“Father?”

“Daughter? You have returned?”

“I have Father.”

“Your hands…they’re cold.”

“Rain turned to sleet, to ice, to snow, in the night. I know you would have heard.”

“I sigh here in the darkness playing guessing games with myself. Is it rain or is it freezing on the birch trees. Give me your eyes, daughter. Give me your eyes for just a little while.”

“It is still outside, freshly fallen snow gleaming in the midday sun. Patches beneath the birches and willow are bare. There, the earth is black, black like the eyes of the reindeer who are lowing in the field. The males have dropped their anglers, leaving behind them a graveyard of bone. They’re digging, digging, beneath the snow, beneath the ice an dare nibbling…”

“At the lichen…they love the lichen…”

“Yes, father, yes. At the lichen. They are digging but they are happy and their coats shine in the starlight or in moonlight under the green gentle fingers of the aurora and I whistle lowly so they will come closer, to keep us company in the night sky. Now the sun shines and the kitchen smells of Juniper. Someone has lit a fire and it is burning merrily, logs crackling and splitting. Do you see it father? Do you?”

“I see it, daughter. I do.”

Warm hands sought her own and Aase smiled as she took them and kissed the calloused fingers. “Good father, I am glad.” The fingers moved from her hands, across her nose, carefully over her cheek, still flushed from the cold, into the pale gold curls. “The gyrs…your chicks have gotten older.” A finger stroked a feather, braided into her hair. “As have you. Every time you leave me I am afraid you will come back to me a stranger.”

“Not yet father, not yet.” She rose and kissed the bald pate, rimmed with dandelion fluff. “Now there are antlers to carve so you won’t drive Mildri crazy. And how are your bones. Do they ache?”

“Don’t mother me, woman,” the old warrior sighed fondly. “My bones are as strong as they were when I was your brother’s age.”

Aase bit back a stinging retort and instead smiled sadly at her father, blanket covering his thin legs, undisturbed. He had been there all day. When he had first lost his sight, they had hardly been able to keep him in bed, despite the fear of infection. He raged through the house, destroying half of it before they could calm him. As soon as he was allowed outside taught himself to hunt through scent and following the reindeer tracks. But now, a cloying sickness had claimed him and he stayed inside, carving bone and dreaming of the old days.

“Have you eaten?” she asked instead and her father turned his blind eyes to the light.

“Yes. Your brother is home and brought home some game. I have eaten but, help me daughter, I would like to sit in the sun.”


She always knew when Aaric was close by, almost like a sixth sense, a phantom but welcomed presence in her mind. It guided her to the yard, ringed by a fence wherein her twin was practicing war with a great battle axe.

“Here, train with me,” she said ducking under a railing, and Aaric stopped, panting as sweat rolled down his pale skin.

He raised a fiery brow. “Ace, put that down, you know you’re no good with it.” She glared at him but kept the sword in her hands. He sighed and lowered his axe. “Ugh, I’m not ready yet today. I’m almost done.”

“Then tell me tales from the wars! Tell me something, give me something since I can’t be there myself,” she bit the last off harshly and her brother looked at her sympathetically. She sighed and put the weapon down. “The deer are fine. The males have dropped their antlers so those will be ready to go to the tradesmen in town.” She felt a heavy hand drop on her shoulder and gave her brother a hug. “Good to have you home brother.”

“And you sister.” Aaric gathered up the weapons and opened the gate for her. “Also we could go down to Uppsala. We might get a better price for them and any skins there…but I like to support our little community. Besides the river isn’t frozen and it runs all the way to Uppsala and into the sea beyond and if traders want they can easily sail right up it to us. Better I think. Besides I heard talk of a skald in the hall of the king. Who wouldn’t want to come?”

She blinked, surprise. A skald? She wondered what tales he had to tell. But she didn’t have time to sit in the darkened halls, she had deer to take care of. “I like the second options,” she said, choosing to ignore the skald. “Then neither of us will be gone for too long.” She chewed on her lip and looked out beyond the trees. She and her brother used to be inseparable as children, running everywhere and getting under foot. But now, with duty weighing heavily on both of them they weren’t able to see each other as often as they wanted.

Aaric must have been sharing her thoughts, for he said quietly. “Tomorrow I promise Ace, we’ll train together. I promise. And then I can knock you on your rump and have something to laugh at all day.” She glared playfully at him and deftly kicked him in the shins.

The problem with being the travelling partner of a skald was that most expected
him to be as knowledgable as Grin. But for the year he had spent with the man,
he knew only a portion of the things that the other could tell of. He could not
tell each detail of a man's life, did not know the intricacies that lay in the
past, had not the experiance of true war... Not like Grin... His home was cut
off from everyone, many too protective of their heritage and too stubborn to
admit that the king, his father, wasn't fit enough to keep them safe any
longer. In fact, once he had left, he had discovered many believed his clan,
the bunched up and elf-blooded kinsmen, to be legends. He had been talked of as
an individual, though he had never been to many places before, because according
to the spread of rumour he was an inheritor of elvish power, as proven by his
hair. He had almost scoffed at that.... It had been Grin who had enlightened
him, told him that the last skald who had actually managed to find his village
had been during the second summer of his life, since then they had fallen into
obscurity and the tall tales of that storyteller had portrayed the infant Hakon
as a prodigy...

Sitting, awkwardly nibbling at the food offered, he found himself avoiding the
eyes of those about him, painfully aware of the looks that flickered from Grin
to himself. Of course, deciding to break the trend and travel with a man
infamous for his lonely ways had also been a step to making his name known. He
knew people would talk and sooner or later he would be approached by someone
who either wanted a fight to see if he had inheirted elf's blood or who wished
for a demonstration. He glanced over at his companion, saw him discussing with
the rulling karl and then traced his eyes up to the veiled features of the
chosen woman.

He could not see her face, but he could see the shadows of where her eyes lay compared to the tip of her nose. He dropped his eyes, looking instead at her hands. Small palms, long fingers... A fire hand. He frowned. Fire was passion, determination, quick minded and obnoxious when wanted... What a strange thing for someone who had to live so passively. Her fingers looked delicate but the tips slightly calloused as if she worked with herbs and spices. There was no hint as to her age but he would have assumed older than him because of the way she sat, with her back straight and wrists leaning on the table. Pity threatened to take over his senses, though he was almost expecting it by this point. If she was older then she was fast losing her youth... What if the 'prophecy' he'd heard from Grin was wrong and no god ever claimed her, nor any mortal dare to? What a waste of a life.

Shaking his head, feeling the heat of the fires tickling his cold, wet hair, he let the rabble of noises run over him and away so he could see all the rest of what was going on. A woman was holding a blade to a pale boy's throat. The boy was grinning, saying something. In a corner a couple held on to their smallest three children as the others crawled on the floor. A youth was chatting up a petit, dark haired girl who looked around her eleventh summer solstice. His home had been nothing like this. There had never been the numbers... and so many lived to be so old... the whole place had been weighted in old age, the youngest generation being taught to be old as soon as they were old enough to recognise the difference.

Thorbjorn and Grin were still talking, though he was slowly tiring of all of this. He wanted to sleep, to warm up and listen as the rains died away. He said nothing...

"I dare say that tomorrow we will have visitors from many more places, and the day after that even more." Grin inclined his head, the way he did when he knew his question was only a statement, "Who are you expecting?"

"The times are changing. We used to be approached by the clans from near by and only them... Now we are expecting merchants, traders, warriors and slaves." Thorbjorn had lost that intensity he had held earlier, now seeming almost beyond sense and coherence, his words only understandable after a second of processing the disjointed sounds.

"Hmmm... What happened to Bolthor? Last I heard of him, he was still among us but I don't see him here."

There was a stillness that made Hakon pay more attention, a split second of silence, where not even the bleary eyed drunks about them seemed to breath nor the women laugh. It wasn't true... there was no true silence, but the quiet of his companions was instantly tangible in a way that no words were.

"We see his son, sometimes his daughter, about town." The voice of the old warrior was hoarse, "He lost his sight. But was still a hunter... Now he's never heard of."

Grin nodded his head, solemnity seeming strange across the old, wrinkled face that was normally so alive with muddled fictions and facts, "His is a fine tale."

Name: Viveka Aslaug

Age: fairly old, considering life expectancy. She's 18 by a Gregorian calender, and was born during a transit of Venus. (probably around 910)

Clan History: Viveka's clan is large and widespread throughout Scandinavia, being an old one that failed to split. (Just pointing out something; Norse clans weren't tied to land, but just to people). It is a warrior's clan, keeping little structure, duties and contact, except the basic function of a clan- to avenge each other's deaths and create a network of safe houses. However, Viveka's great (maternal) grandmother was taken by Odin to become one of his Valkyrie, Geirskögul* (sometimes known as Skögul), meaning she is an honoured branch of the clan. Her direct family are well respected, especially as swordsmen and, unusually, horsemen. Norse horses are generally small and weak (so not fit for use as war-horses, explaining their use of foot) however, her paternal Grandfather carried back a herd of very fit southern horses, many of whom died in the bitter cold of the journey. The few that survived have gone on to breed strongly, but they are rare. Only important warriors and chiefs can afford them or are gifted them. Consequently, her father is a well respected and comfortable retired warrior, a master of swordsmanship and equestrian. Of her brothers, of which she has six, two have already ascended to Asgard (Bjarte, Andor), one is earning a strong reputation (her closest, Tomas), One is an arrogant hunter with no heart (Arvid), One is a horse-healer and smith (he's really young, just hit puberty-Fridtjof) and one is still curious about the world (the baby of the family, Eileifer). It is safe to say that a warrior dynasty is generally recognised.

Appearance: Viveka's skin is fair and translucent, white to the point that it almost glows in the winter. It is unmarked and unblemished, with no scars. Her face is oval, almost heart shaped, with a delicate and defined jawline and a straight nose. Her face is soft, and not angular, although she has the high cheekbones of the northern races. Her lips are full, and pale, And her violet eyes burn out from her face, framed by long blonde lashes and thin, finely arched golden eyebrows. Her hair is also white blonde, waved and long, with a thin braid to the right that drops to chin level. She wears a band of gold around her head, and a bronze horse pendant dangles from the end of her braid. Her hairline is fairly high, her cheeks fairly full, chin rounded into her light jaw. She is small, lithe, and short.

Viveka wears traditional layers of fine wool and linen tunics in natural colours. Over her tunic-smock-dresses, a violet table-woven belt, she wears leather straps hanging from various colourful brooches on it, in order to hold small implements such as scissors or knives. She also wears: knitted dark stockings, soft and short leather boots, a violet cloak with a separate hood and, as is traditional, her neck is festooned with chains of glass and semi-precious stones.

Personality: Once fiery and tempestuous, her life is spent in wait for a destiny that is too vague to follow and she despairs to even think of it occurring. Some part of her wants to seek out Odin and the gods just to get it over with, but something restrains her. Her spirit is being broken, and she's turned more to sarcasm than anything else.

History: When she was born Venus was in transit and the sun shone clear, and the druid, examining the signs from various rituals declared that Viveka was meant for a deity. However, he could not answer the most important question; whether this meant that Odin would claim her as a Shield maiden/Valkyrie as her ancestor, and she would become a deity, or whether she was destined to be betrothed to a god. This second possibility effectively means that she cannot travel for fear that she should meet the wrong one who could decide to claim her on a whim, and that she cannot be betrothed until someone finds out, as no man is foolhardy enough to claim the potential beloved of a god. She assists the druid now with healing potions, although is not allowed to take part in any ceremonies, and due to her acquired knowledge of herbs is a good cook. Tomas trains her in swordsmanship and she is an offensive, risk taking and quick fighter, but needs improvement on her own defense. She lacks the physical strength required for hunting with spears, but can string and shoot an arrow, if she has whittled it herself. She is cleanly, argumentative and becoming more and more bitter as she is tired of being the constant sister. Her horsemanship is inherited from her father and she is gifted, although it is Fridtjof who has an almost psychic connection with them.


*************************************************************

The room seemed to steam with the comforting smell and brittle snaps of warm straw crushed into the cold earth, the sensation cutting through the chill of the drafty hall. Soft skins of reindeer and hind padded across the floor, grinding the heads of the dried grasses into the frozen surface of brown mud, as people flitted around the room like Valkyries in battle. Viveka stood in the corner, the warmth of violet eyes surveying the buzzing hall with an apathy that seemed to stem from the tired glimmer of light on dark pupils. Her weight shifted onto the other foot as slim, delicate fingers reached to coldly touch the back of her neck, untying the leather thongs of the veil.

As it dropped to the floor, leather trailing across the translucence of pale lips, Viveka reached for an ale. In the darkening room, it was possible to see the proud silhouette of her jawline against the light of the glowing embers of the campfire, the shadow of her cloak casting patterns of indigo on the roughly hewn floor. She moved slowly, noise restoring to the room as the Skald, standing just a few feet away from her, cleared his throat authoritatively to end his tale. Reluctantly, people began to disperse, muttering that Wotan must have given Grin the elixir of inspiration from Svartálfaheimr. She met his eye and smiled weakly.

The face of the old man was deeply worn with lines of age, shadows creeping across his beleaguered expression like the sprawling roots of an oak under a thin veil of fresh powdered snow. His skin was translucent, and thin lines of mottled blue and reds could be seen on the weather worn cheeks, traces of battles and histories long gone. It was he who spoke to her first.

The Skald smiled at her, his eyes moving to study her own. “Viveka my child, I cannot have seen such a sight since you were but weaving boots as a child, waiting for the great Odin to traverse the skies and leave presents as he followed Ingvi Freyr on the back of his shining boar…”

“….bringing Light to the world after the season of darkness.” Briefly, a smile flitted across her face, lighting up her eyes with the warmth of nostalgia and artlessness. The girl’s blonde lashes framed her eyes as she looked up at the man, eyes glinting merrily and an amused, yet slightly distant, tone entering her voice. ”Honoured keeper, that is an awfully polite method of stating that you last saw me as but a child, whilst you sheltered with my father for storm season and drank us out of house and home. For you, it is a very good thing that horses like you.”

“They like stories and the sweet substances I brought from neared the conquered Germanic territories; but if the romans with their heiðni can enjoy it, any beast can.” He laughed, the deep laugh of one that has aged it with time like bark on a tree. His voice was deep, the dark green of yew, and unconciously she felt herself tracing the rune of Eihwaz on her arm.

“ Be careful, you insult the wrong animals. They can be quite disingenuous sometimes. Horses lie all the time, the stories that their dream-speakers tell are mostly elaborated. You see them running in their sleep as though a foal trough a paddock, legs skittering as they lie on their side and they wake up and tell you about their vigilant contemplation of adopting stripes. It's quite hard to catch them out, they're so sarcastic anyway." Once again, the stony facade dropped as she closed her eyes and let the memories cross through the darkness. "Fridtjof often hears them talking of invisible pink horned horses when they want to express disbelief sarcastically. Honestly, Invisible...pink...."

"Somehow, that restores my faith in the world." The clear voice came from the bronzed face of a tall man, young enough that his complexion was smooth save for the silvery scar that spindled across his left eye like a tear leaving a trail of ice. This eye was faintly glassy and the tearducts were full, contrasting with the sharp coolness of his pale irises. The boy's hair was white as the silken web of a spider, glittering with objects and beading that led her eyes to fixate on him, head tilted upwards so that she could examine him properly.

His lips were large.

She smiled at the odd pair and turned around, searching in the crowd for Eileifer, who was so small that he could be lost easily. Suddenly, a mass of blonde curls and beads flew into the confines of her cloak, snuggling up to her and soaking it with salty tears. The baby if the family, he had only seen seven seasons of foals, and was still very clumsy. With an exasperated sigh, the girl looked down.

"You are harder to predict than the Vanir, child."

"Tomas won't train me!"

"Nonsense. He already is."

"NOW! Why won't he now? He trained you before..."

"You're acting like a fool," she hissed into the small boy's ear. "What would Grin here think? And the Chief? Now go check on the horses with Frid."

She looked up, and caught the eye of a Ragnhild holding a small, dark haired figure by the throat with a knife.

Eileifer had nearly let slip the fact that his sister was fully trained as a warrior. If that got out.... the prophecy, the purists that thought she was to be sacrificed....the challenges she would recieve.... the notoriety.It was all a damned pain. And, if she wasn't careful, one day she would forget to pick the sword up weakly or react too quickly. And then the Chief would become vicious, for the Gods of War would not look kindly on him if they were to hear of it.

As she moved across the hall to sit with the warriors, she turned her eyes wistfully to the door. Like the moon, they pierced through the darkness, her skin glowing ethereally as it reflected the iridescent lunar light. She walked over to Thorbjorn's long table. He was the keeper of the secret, from a vow of honour to her brothers, now in Asguard and of his own generation. And yet.... her little one needed to hold his tongue more. And pray for a little wisdom from Odin. Or else some strength. Possibly by pitting Tyr and Thor against each other. It always seemed to up the stakes.
A Non-Existent User
Skadhi stood very still. Yet again he seemed to have found himself with a blade against his neck, but he wasn’t about to crack a joke with Ragnhild Gudrun at the hilt. Smiling slightly he hoped it might calm down the flame-eyed shieldmaiden, at least long enough for her to realise that, for once, he hadn’t taken anything. He didn’t need to look around to know the two of them were drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention. Warily she put a hand in her pocket, checking her belongings, only to come across the scrap of wood he had hoped she wouldn’t notice until he’d disappeared into the crowd. Her eyes darted across the runes Skadhi couldn’t read, and seconds later she squinted at him as though trying to work something out. But he couldn’t give her any answers. He was just the messenger.

As soon as the cold metallic pressure against his neck eased he slipped away, not daring to stay and reminisce with the violent young woman. It was uncanny, really, how often she ended up threatening him in some way or another. Despite many a narrow escape since childhood, he seemed to have unintentionally plagued her over the years, somehow always targeting her at gatherings and festivals. They were almost friends, really. If you count stealing and fighting and chasing as valid ingredients for friendship. Passing quietly through the crowd he hoped she hadn’t found her way into any sort of mess. They had been rather questionable characters that asked him to pass on the message.

“Watch where you’re going!” Distracted, Skadhi had sauntered straight into a red-cheeked young bull of a man, short and arrogant and angry. With a smirk the man blearily looked him over, friends also turning their attention to him, their conversation interrupted.

“You should tread more carefully. Walk into a wall and you might just break, pale nose.” The drunken braggarts roared with laughter. Skadhi just lowered his dark eyebrows slightly. Very funny. They weren’t worth replying too. Unfortunately, as he turned to walk on his insolence wasn’t missed, and a tall wolfish man gripped his arm.

“I didn’t hear you apologise”

Before Skadhi could yank his arm away and reply, a low rumble from behind them broke off his retort.

“Do you really need the apology of a thieving urchin? Ingolfr, such a thing is beneath you”

With a grunt the tall man released his arm, acknowledging the owner of the growling voice and then rejoining his companions. Turning round, Skadhi was caught by the glare of sharp blue eyes embedded in a scarred face. Past his prime, Skadhi was surprised that such a battle-worn man would risk his reputation to save the skin of a pickpocket. Either the huge man was of little consequence anyway, or his reputation was pretty firmly set.

Only as he contemplated whether or not he should thank the grey-haired veteran was his attention drawn towards the figure standing by the table. As always it was the playful wink of light that caught his eye, dancing sheets of reflection whispering secrets to his senses, instinctively drawing his gaze to the fragments of precious stone hanging around a porcelain neck. In just a glimpse he saw he girl’s eyes; paler than amethyst but richer, sharp and clear as ice yet rippling and reflecting like a night-stilled lake that mimics the moon in judgement, whilst revealing not a hint of the world beneath its surface. Her expression was enchanting, one second as volatile as glass and the next as hard and impenetrable as marble.

Turning away from the table he threw himself back into the crowd, all grace and demeanour lost, cursing himself as he stumbled with all his focus on not missing a flicker of white gold hair or sheen of glass catching the firelight. Stealing glances as he aimlessly wandered, he watched the woman take a seat with the old warrior and begin to talk with him, apparently passively. Yet a suppressed light seemed to glimmer from her actions, almost setting her aglow. But that was just his imagination getting carried away.

Once again he had reverted to that undeniable state that could leave him staring at the ever-changing sky all night, immersed in frustrated elation, longing for each new pattern of silver clouds to remain in his grasp as they swept over the moon and danced through velvet emptiness. For he loved what he could not have, the unreachable sky, the inconstant sparkle of lights, the subtle burn of gold, the echo of a flickering flame passing over glinting gems or shining hair or glowing skin. For the first time in his life he didn’t even consider taking the glittering jewels and ornaments that decorated the woman for his own. The longer he looked the more he realised that, far more than her adornments, light was trapped in every feature of her person. She was water and fire, snow and ice, the sun, the moon and the stars.

“Thief”

The thin boy jumped at the hand that roughly grabbed his arm, bewildered expression making him look like a child. Ragnhild seemed thrown by his edginess, but her brief surprise was far better concealed than his own.

“I told you already” he muttered, pushing aside thoughts of glowing eyes “don’t call me that. It’s Skadhi. I’m in real trouble if -”

“What is this?” She waved the scrap of wood at him impatiently. Blankly he stared back, wondering just how dazed he must have been to let her find him in the crowd. “Barufors has hold of a swan-changeling? That’s absurd!” She glared at him, as though waiting for agreement.

“You mean I went to all that effort, and that was all that was in the message?”

“What do you mean all? This is a swan-changeling, thief. I must report such a thing to my people”

“She’ll have been sold the second they reach shore, I’d say” He looked around again, unconsciously searching for the glittering woman.

“Not she, he. A man strong enough to have instantly impressed Barufors, and fought his way into high ranking amongst the werod. I wonder -” Her brow creased slightly in thought “I wonder where the allegiance of such a man would lie”

“A male swan-maiden?” Skadhi tried his best to stifle a laugh.

“Ofcourse” Ragnhild looked surprised “What, how else did you think they – oh, don’t be such a child” she snorted angrily as the boy’s sniggers only increased.

Ragnhild wasn't particularly impressed with the thief's response to her declaration. Like the child he really was, he was chuckling to himself as his dark, glittering gaze wondered across the rows of people, seeking out fresh prey no doubt, something more to add to his little grey cave of wonders. The beak of his nose quivered as the scent of roasted cattle reached him over the smell of human bodies and drunken gaiety. The vague recollection of a smile broke her features as she let him slip away. He knew nothing of the value of Swanlings, especially not male ones…

But it was interesting and she felt the pale recollection of excitement. She hadn't felt like that in a while… With the lack of any really battles to be fought, her days had been made up of training, practise, sparring with those she had always trained with. Now normally she should have left immediately on such news. As it was she knew she was meant to stay because of the skald. Which made sense she considered the uses of such a man. But then a swan-changeling… She hadn't heard of one of those in years. It would be better to send a message, and quickly, to her home. Though she knew that there would be the likelihood of interception. Unless she persuade her illiterate, male counter-part to go back… He was staying the next long house, one belonging to an old friend of his father's. She frowned.

Loath as she was to return to him to beg a favour, particularly when, being in the twenty-fifth equinox of his birth, she was younger than he was and he would talk with Uigbiorn., her eldest brother… Would he reprimand her for not returning herself? She wasn't sure. But he certainly be angry if she didn't let him know. Her only choice was to send Njall back to them with the scrap of wood that she had been given by Skahdi. She wondered if the boy would take it to him. Then shook her head and stretched her aching limbs and moved to leave the halls, knoing that outside the great grey titans raged their maelstrom warfare and Thor would crack his anger over her head as a whip of yellow fire and purple wimpling cloud.

"Ragnhild Gudrun!" A voice was shouting over the other voices and she turned her head to the sound. It was Omolf's gruff voice, the ancient warrior calling out to her though she knew not why.

"Omolf?" She inclined her head and bent her arm to touch the hilt of her sword.

"Grin the Skald saw you out the corner of his twinkling eye and hgad wondered if you might join him for some ale."

She stared at the man, wondered if he was mocking her and decided he wasn't… This was a perfect chance… She should take it.


 

         There were, Eeiforr had to admit, benefits to being adopted by these raiders. The ship-captain himself stripped Eeiforr of his remaining sodden clothing, toweled him dry, and dressed him again in fine (and warm) wool garments. He had plenty of food and something hot to drink, and was allowed to curl up within a nest of blankets under Barufors' awning. He slept possibly 18 hours straight, for there was the light of late morning when he finally stirred again.

         For the next two days, Barufors kept Eeiforr constantly at his side, and one of his other men kept watch over them both. Warm, mostly clean, and fed, Eeiforr's natural curiosity led him to fully absorb this strange, alien culture. He watched the men as they went about their duties.

         They sailed both day and night without pause. When there was a fair wind, oars were shipped and the sail rigged, and the ship-captain held the tiller. The men sat on the ornately-carved but sturdy chests that held their belongings and combed their hair, polished their weapons, told stories or sang, and drank. They drank a lot, of a strong, bitter drink that made Eeiforr's mouth numb and burned in his gut. He refused any more and had to be dragged out of the resulting brawl he started when several of the werod teased him.

         From then on, several of the raiders took it in turn to teach him the sword, the axe, and the shield, their customary weapons. The barbarians fought mostly nude, as a means of intimidation, but also for stealth and speed; but onboard ship they wore, for the most part, knee-length smocks, gathered at the waist with belts studded with precious gems, thick leggings and soft boots, and fur-trimmed cloaks clasped on one side or the other with more jewelry. Like the ship itself, the clothes and weaponry were finely made and elegant in their simplicity. Embroidery and beadwork showed off an individual's wealth, as did the gold and precious stones worked into sword hilts, buckles, belts and brooches. The only thing each man had in common was a knife called a seax worn horizontally at the waist as a status symbol. This and the sword were both weapons that Eeiforr picked up quickly, being close enough to what he already knew; however, only freemen wore a seax. Eeiforr would not receive one. Instead, when not dressed for battle, he must rely on his fists and the small boot-knife that was the barbarians' chief utensil.

         The men themselves, Eeiforr soon found, were neither as crude as he'd thought nor as stupid. They were big and broad, with strong shoulders developed by the swing of the oars, and their manners were disgusting, but they kept to a certain amount of hygiene. Only the ship-captain's commanding presence and lordly posture set him apart from the others in those respects. There were mostly blonde and red-heads, with a handful of darker colors, among the 50-odd men of the crew. They wore their hair long and most sported either beards or thick moustaches or both. This, for some reason, was one of the few areas these men were vain. In fact, much ado was made of Eeiforr's locks, rather to his embarassment, and he was quickly shown how to braid and style his hair in the manner of the werod.

         Now that he was paying attention, their songs, while bloody and crass compared to his own people's poetry, were ballads in and of themselves, crafted to remind the raiders of past battles, of both victory and defeat. Eeiforr hadn't expected them to be literate, but there were a few among the crew who actually had books, and who wrote letters dictated by others. He also hadn't expected to find art, but practically every wooden surface onboard was covered in beautiful images of birds, sea monsters, and mermaids, and other symbols that Eeiforr couldn't make out. The personal sea-chests that provided seating whilest rowing and as storage were likewise carved and embellished with ivory and mother-of-pearl.

         The society itself was incredibly complex, leaving Eeiforr mostly confused about a great deal. Nobility was somehow a combination of being born to the right family, at the right time, and by ability itself. There was a sharp line between freemen and slaves that was easy enough to understand, but less between what seemed to be the common people and the warrior class. It wasn't enough, either, to be both freeman and warrior, as a member of the crew. Worthiness had also to be determined and, in some cases, permission had to be granted from a clan-leader to a ship-captain. The crew actually elected their leader, though their were few enough, aparently, able to actually wield the rank. Eeiforr was able to puzzle out that the werod was more a private war-band than anything else and that Barufors was effectively an earl amongst his people. If just becoming captain was such a complicated juxtaposition of popularity, lineage, and ability, what was the rest of the class structure like?

         Eeiforr was in the middle of yet another sparring match (to which his shoulders and back vehemently objected) when the shore beacons came in sight. All activity onboard ceased for several minutes as both raiders and captives alike surged forward for their first glimpse of shore.

         "We near Malaron, the river that shall take us to Uppsala!" Barufors declared, placing a hand on Eeiforr's shoulder. "Not home, but close enough, and we have much to trade to make all joyful during the celebrations."

         "Celebrations?" Eeiforr asked.

         "Yes, the Festival of Winternight. Ah, but we shall put in at port for a short time here to divest ourselves of some of our spoils, and," he grinned down at the puzzled and exhausted changeling, "time enough to send a message or two. When we put into Uppsala tomorrow, all there shall know of our arrival! Vesuppi, my old friend!"

         "Ealdor?" The largest of Barufors' werod, Vesuppi was, as far as Eeiforr could tell, some form of cousin to the ship-captain, and his most-trusted liegeman.

         "Bring us in at Stocholm. Then keep an eye on my son whilst I go ashore."

         "Aye, Ealdor!"

         Eeiforr scowled back at the raider's leering smile. He asked Barufors, "May I not go with you?"

         "Nay, lad, we don't want word of you getting out prematurely, now do we?" He gave Eeiforr another crushing pat on the top of the head and then made his way forward to discuss plunder and cargo with another of his men.

         Eeiforr was grateful for the reprieve from more combat training, if irritated by the grasp on his arm as Vesuppi dragged him back towards the tiller. The warrior thrust him to a seat on the deck at his feet and Eeiforr had to lean forward to get his own view of the approaching shore. In the early afternoon sunshine, the place looked peaceful and green enough to spark another bout of homesickness. He drummed his fingers against his arms, frowning, and dared an upwards glance at his guard. Vesuppi scowled back at him, but his attention remained on the ship as Barufors called for the sail to be furled and the men to take their places at the oars.

         Stockholm was a city much like the ones that Barufors and his werod had plundered far to the west, only larger. Similar dragon-ships were at dock and the crews of all shouted back and forth merrily. Many were the eyes wide or narrowed with envy as several of the crew accompanied their captain ashore. They returned swiftly enough and within two hours of putting in, were away again, rowing upriver for Uppsala.
Aaric had caught a roe deer that afternoon with one of Aase’s arrows and was skinning it in a low roofed shed near the start of the trees. She joined him, picking up a reindeer boned knife and deftly separating the skin from the muscle.

“Good catch,” she told him, brow furrowing as she worked on a particularly difficult piece.

“Good. Dad will like it then?”

“He would, but I don’t think he’ll eat it.”

Aaric frowned. “Does he…” he paused, not saying the words that hung in silence between them. “He’s getting worse then,” he murmured quietly.

Aase shrugged. “I don’t know. I just got back…gods curse it, I had to ask Mildri. This isn’t right, you know. One of us…”

“…should stay? Aye, but Father would never allow that. Someone needs to hunt and continue on his legacy but…”

“…someone needs to watch the herds,” Aase nodded. “I know. He’s a fair man and I know that. Gods if both of us could be on the battlefield…”

“…he’d be proud. But the herds....”

“…they’re our lifeblood.”

“…our blood.” Aaric put down his knife ending the sentence finishing game. “Ace…”

“I could do it Aaric,” she said viciously, “I know I could. I could ride out there with the best of them. Defend our home, our lives…” she bit it off and slammed her fist against the table. “It’s not fair. If Da had his health, if we had the reserves if this if that,” she smiled bitterly. “I know what you’re going to say, and I understand the deer are important to us too. I’ll do my duty, don’t think I won’t.”

Aaric sighed and straddled a stool, red hair sparking copper in the afternoon sun. He was a handsome man, her brother, large, muscular with kind eyes, but he had his own fears and unspoken ghosts. Aase knew those as well as she knew her own soul and reached over and patted his hands with her own. “How much time does he have, you think?” he asked solemnly.

Aase shook her head. Their father’s illness was like the northern lights, flashing brilliant one moment, then gone the next. “I don’t know. Enough. Well enough for us, too much for him I think sometimes.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he sighed and rose to his feet. The wind changed, the air shifted suddenly and Aase narrowed her eyes. He was going to change the subject now and she wasn’t going to like it. “Yes, yes,” he grumbled, “you’re not going to be happy but you need to go down to Uppsala. The festival is starting and not a moment to soon if you say the deer are dropping their horn. We need money now Ace, I’ve looked at the records.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that,” she snapped, “but why do I have to go?” She was no trader. Too much time in the wilds and not enough among the nords had turned her into something as biting as the winter wind, and as suspicious as a she-wolf. You’re too sharp with them Ace, Aaric would often tell her. You have to approach them like you approach the reindeer. Too much time with the herds left her that way with strangers. Good thing too. Aaric was too trusting. Their deer were valuable and Aaric would most likely give them to a passing stranger by accident.

Her twin chewed his lip for a moment then looked back toward the house. “It’s been so long since I’ve been back…and what if he goes while I’m gone?”

“He’s proud of you, Air, reguardless,” she murmured, voice as soft as breath upon the snow.

He shook himself as if she hadn’t spoken and straightened. “You can go by boat or by sledge, whichever you prefer.”

“Boat would be faster but with such a large load I would be afraid of what might happen in the water. Plus if I hook up a couple of deer…”

Aaric shrugged. “Whichever you prefer. The load shouldn’t matter too much. When was the last time you were in Uppsala?”

“Not for years. Last time I was there Father could still see.”

Aaric let his breath out and shook his head. “Maybe I should still go…No, you’ll be fine. You’re good with directions. I’ll be in the proper today, and with the skald here and so many people there are bound to be some heading for Uppsala too. You’ll be able to hook up with them maybe…”

“I don’t need a body guard.”

“Not a body guard, company. Besides, that’s a lot of fur and bone to defend.” She glowered at him but knew he was right. A large group was much more protection than a person alone. Still it was only one day. “Please Ace,” he murmured, “it would make me feel better.”

“Fine,” she growled. “See if anyone else is going to Uppsala and see if they want to join in someone stinking of reindeer hide. And if not, I’m going anyways.
“Ah, Aase…that tongue of yours makes you so popular.”

“Well, that’s what I strive for.”

As the night had begun to approach day, and Tyr tipped the sun over the rest of the horizon, they were moved to sleep, the singing stars wooing them to their safer world of dreams. Hakon mused, tired but unable to reach that state of unconcious slumber, wondering over the place and the people he had met. The face most prominent was that of the veiled maiden, once she had placed that veil so carefully aside...

He had been awestruck by the contour of her face, the perfect arc of her eyebrows, the softness of her cheek bones and jawline, and the way the shadows all play so effortlessly off of her neck and shoulders. Her golden hair tossed almost carelessly in it's precision about her face. The unmuted perfection of the translucent skin. She seemed to him almost porcelain, far beyond any expectations of beauty that may have once littered his mind. But at the same time she had felt ugly. The burn of violet in her eyes had spoken of a dark craving within her. She wasn't happy. She had the stain of discontent about her mouth. She was beautiful but at the same time utterly devoid of any beauty. As if it was all the glassy surface of a tranquil lake of Vanern and the dark, unimagined things lurked beneath, hideous in the rage to be set free. Maybe he had imagined that.

But then again... he had felt that in himself. That was part of the reason he had left home. He had been the 'elf-boy', praised and favoured by his village from birth, simply because they believed his hair to be a sign from the Gods that the blood of the elves was still potent within them and that he would be the next to bear those ancient gifts. They were mad. He was no one special, no better than any other. He had hated the arrogance that had spread itself through him previously, only recognising it after his father became ill. He had realised mortality then.

Perhaps she was secretly still unfettered by the murky roots. Maybe he had imposed that upon her in a subconcious transferral of identity. He shook his head. That seemed too complicated and ridiculous. The moon was losing its luminous gaze, the stars were blinking sleepily as they felt their time to rest with the crest of blazing red at the edge of the world. He rose, as quietly as possible and moved to the door, pushing it open and stepping outside to smell the damp, clean air that had cleared of rain.

The sky was beginning to glow an incredible pink. Each cloud burned in the approaching dawn, catching the myriad of colours as they rose up out of the river mouth. Something stirred as he watched the complex mesh of hues spread out from the horizon, it was as I he could feel them, breathe them… reach out an touch them… It was a ethereal procession, the wind casting aside the majestically coloured cirrus. A gentle purple filtered through the stratus of the early morning, a resplendent background to the vibrant blush of rose. Breath catching in his throat, Hakon stood as if posied for battle, it was as if the heavens were splitting open and revealing the magnitude of the gods. Blazing a streak of crimson shot with scarlet slashed the sky like a sparkling sword unsheathed. It parted the two worlds and then the sun crested the hills, a glorified hunter raise its standard in victory. Radiant orange, a smouldering sphere of flushed flame. A blinding white halo flickered across as if ice was there in the sky and as the light flickered across it the pale sheen of violet and pink began to fade. The sun rose higher and higher…

"Awake already?" Came a voice from behind him, "I guess you weren't one of the heavy drinkers last night then?"

A woman, low voiced and hoarse as if from shouting, with hair that hung like the coils of black snakes about her face. She was armed, wearing the underlayers of battle armour. She leant in the door frame. A sheild maiden? He had never met one in person... only heard Grin talk of them.

"No. I came with the skald." He answered raising a hand, "I'm Hakon Ordurr of Alfarrung. May I enquire after yourself?"

"So polite. Well met Hakon. I'm Ragnhild Gudrun."

"Daughter of Sigard Gudrun?"

"Yes. I see you've heard of my father."

"He's in many of Grin's tales."

"Probably the great battle stories I suppose." She was smiling, or at least he assumed she was. Her face, tanned from the sun, was sharp and lined with the cries of war, creases about her eyes and mouth, "What brings you out here so early? I dare say you're not here to train."

He felt sheepish, younger than he was under her stare, "No... This place..." He paused, wondering whether to go on, "... Well it has... an echo... Like something ancient."

She laughed then, a loud, boyish, belly-laugh. He couldn't help but smile rather quietly to himself as he looked at her with her grin, "Well if that's the case, I guess you'll not be sleeping much. The whole earth is ancient, this place being so near Uppsala, all the more powerful than you may think."

He didn't really know what to say back so he smiled again and saw that most of her responding smile was in the glitter of her eyes.

"May I train with you for a bit?" He asked, hoping that wasn't an impertinent question to a shieldmaiden.

She frowned, looked him up and down, "Reckon you could keep up with me?"

"You'd be surprised."

"If you say so..."

A Non-Existent User
The night had carried on, as it always did. Skadhi tried alternatively to find and avoid Ragnhild, never sure whether she was in the mood to humour him or not. All the while his mind had been elsewhere. To approach – no, that was out of the question. The boy felt a strange kind of guilt even looking at her so undeservedly. He had never really felt guilty or undeserving, even if he knew others believed him to be. It was a great effort to distract himself. When Ragnhild eventually left, he was surprised to find himself with the wolf and bull that he had previously insulted. Drink had dulled their senses to the point that they barely remembered his offence, let alone held a grudge, and he quickly found himself welcomed into their celebrations. After plenty of drinks he was still the butt of most of the bull’s jokes, made only more irritating by their lack of finesse. When other topics began to wear thin, the fat man pursued a more uncouth train of thought.

“The possibilities here… you understand what I mean...” Stinking, lecherous breath poured out of the man’s mouth as he leaned in close over the table, squinting eyes scouring the room gleefully. And lingering over a certain violet-eyed woman. A fellow braggart noticed the direction of his thoughts.

“Ah now, that is the chosen maiden. She’s out of even your league, Alvis. You’d do best not to think, let alone look.”

Skadhi waited eagerly for a reaction, until he realised that both men had been utterly serious. Then something like rage began to filter into his merry stupor. Now all of the men’s dirty eyes were on his – no – the ethereal maiden as she stood up and strode elegantly to the old druid, replacing her hood and leaving the hall.

“I’ve half a mind to follow her.” The fat bastard grinned wickedly, almost licking his lips. Skadhi knew he was only bluffing, knew that no one would really go near such a woman. But it didn’t make him grind his teeth any less. As politely as he could, with the world spinning slightly, he leant in and bade his farewells.

“And to bed with you! Drinking at this hour is for men, you pale twig!” the bull roared in a final parting attempt at provoking a fight. But Skadhi waved a complacent good-riddance to the table that erupted into gleeful bellows. You may laugh now he smirked to himself as he found his way to the exit but I’ll be long gone before you realise what a fool I’ve made of you. Stepping out of the enormous building he glanced at the sky that had finally cleared, nodded silent agreement to the delightedly bright stars and patted the fat, fat purse in his pocket.

*

The sweet eruption of light at sunrise tore apart the inevitable, lonely melancholy. Watching colour seep into the surroundings, Skadhi finally took his attention off the stolen purse and drank in the surreal splendour. It was the short gift he was granted each morning, before weariness overtook him and his eyes finally closed. Though he had willed it, sleep remained resolutely out of his grasp during the steadily more depressing darkness of night, as he sat against a rock on the outskirts of the settlement. Once he had thought it a curse, that he should suffer darkness every single night only to be tempted with the light of dawn. He treasured every moment of the morning, but always had to succumb to exhaustion eventually. After a while he had accepted it along with the other things – being different, being homeless. They all had their advantages, really. Though sometimes it was an effort to remember that.

Aimlessly his attention wandered back to the fat man’s purse. He had already scoured through the contents, chuckling as he realised just how much he had gained from the other man’s idiocy. The euphoria had worn off quicker than usual, however, and Skadhi realised it was because he had taken the money for the wrong reason. There would be no satisfaction in unappreciated vengeance. It was a ridiculous compulsion that obliged him to defend that fiercely beautiful woman’s honour. He took out some coins and watched them shine in the pure dawn sunlight, and felt the same emptiness that had plagued him in the dark. It wouldn’t do. It wasn’t what he wanted. And he couldn’t help it, and he knew it was a base, shallow thing. He knew full well that possessiveness was in his nature, to the point that he would do cruel things to get whatever caught his heart. But in truth, he had no idea what he was looking for.

The far off ring of swords meeting caught his sharp ears, followed by a voice that, though indecipherable, the dark-haired boy recognised. Skadhi briefly wondered if Ragnhild was in trouble. Then quickly realised what a ridiculous thought had crossed his mind. Deciding the possibility of being unwelcome would be better than staying alone with his thoughts and waiting for sleep, Skadhi leapt up and marched towards the noise, adamantly ignoring the weariness boring into his limbs.

“… understood from the beginning – the challenge I was – setting myself in facing you” an incredibly tall man was saying between blocking intent attacks from Ragnhild, “But even so I must – admit – I underestimated you.”

Skadhi slowed as he approached the fearsome scene – two warriors facing off in a battle that might have had an unforeseeable outcome. However, Skadhi tended to unconsciously analyse the strengths, weaknesses, tactics and intrinsic details of individual styles of fighting as he watched, and quickly noticed that the tall man was at a slight disadvantage to Ragnhild’s smaller, wily frame and ferocious darting movements. Without warning the man’s sword was wrenched from his hand and landed on the damp earth, the shieldmaiden standing back triumphantly.

“Your form is good – excellent, I might say. We were mismatched for size – I am accustomed to fighting those far larger and stronger than myself, and so at an advantage.”

“Well, I should say I’ve never seen you in such an obliging mood” Skadhi called out brightly as he walked down a short slope towards them. Ragnhild glared at him and Skadhi grinned back fondly, remembering that he was actually never welcome around the woman, and never really cared. The tall man glanced from one to the other, and then turned to the boy to speak.

“I see that you are both acquaintances. I myself am Hakon Ordurr of Alfarrung, and might I –”

“Skadhi. Of no notable lineage.” Hakon raised his eyebrows slightly at the abrupt and unconventional introduction. The smaller boy had never felt very comfortable announcing himself, and had eventually given up on trying not to confuse or insult people. Immediately he turned his attention once more to the wild-maned woman in front of him, and leapt for something to say.

“Really though – something has put you in a very good mood. I thought I almost saw you smile, or is that just something you hide from me? You know you could actually be quite pretty, when you stop being so scary –”

Skadhi found himself lying on cold, damp earth in his wild attempt to avoid the sword swung at him.

“As always; you dodge the blade but are on the floor before the fight has even started.” The familiar sneer had returned to her voice as Ragnhild leant on the hilt of her now steady sword. “I am in a good mood, if you must know, for having been assured of a visit in my village of the great Skald Grin”

“Then I shall look forward to seeing you again” Hakon smiled politely. He then turned to Skadhi and reached out a hand to help the unfortunate boy off the floor. As he was hoisted up with surprising strength, Skadhi couldn’t help but notice the direct opposites between himself and the man. Where his short hair was darker than many, the other’s was longer and a purer white than he had ever seen. The rough hand that gripped his own was deeply tanned for one with such light hair and eyes, and made his own skin appear almost ghostlike. And, he acceded rather grumpily, he appeared almost as short as the other man was tall.

“I might actually have heard of you” Skadhi looked Hakon over as he stood and brushed himself down. “Hair whiter than the snow atop the mountains of Ymir. Some say you have elf blood.”

“And I might have heard of you – as black and white as a magpie, and as envious. The small dark thief of the night?”

“Indeed? I don’t know where you might have heard such a thing.” The two men continued to look warily at each other, unsure what to make of what they saw.

Ragnhild had to hand it to the young man. He wasn't that bad. He had run easily as fast and as far as she did without seeming to feel it. He had struggled a little with some of the stretches she performed but she figured that was more because he hadn't been taught some of the shapes. On the other hand when she'd said that she needed to practise her forms, he hadn't tried to copy her, rather he settled into a meditative practise of his own, making his body move and flow into forms that she knew she had never seen before. His eyes remained closed throughout the whole thing, which surprised her, considering the nature of what they were doing she would have assumed that he would have watched her every move so that when they sparred he'd know some of what she was capable of. She thrust herself forwards, pulled her hips back, swung her blade round, sank into a crouch. All of this was slow, steady.

She watched alittle longer. He was probably older than she was, maybe by a few summers or so, confident with himself, his voice gave the impression of arrogance but due to the lack of interet in talking of himself she was more inclined to see it as a well-concealed shyness. From the way he stood she would guess that he was a huntsman more than a warrior, though she suspected he'd been trained to be both if necerssary. He had probably been part of less battles than she had but probably knew more about technique from old tales, the forgotten trades. Perhaps that was what those forms were from.

"To spar then?" She settled down onto the balls of her feet, drawing her sword and readying herself.

He opened one eye a crack, then all the way. Nodding, he opened the other eye and smiled, correcting his balance and drawing out his own sword, "If you want."

And then they were both flung into a dance which was as ancient as the God's themselves, the whirl of bodies as limbs tensed and bent and twisted to evade steel and blood loss. The world became their audience, the wind baying for her victory, the rustling trees for his. His unshod feet were soundless on the earth, where her's thudded as leather soles struck down on mud. Panting breaths ricochetted in their chests. Skidding, kicking up splatters of rain and mud and grime, laughing, gasping, the flurry of air as metal tore at it so fast that it seemed a hole could be cut into the fabric of the world. His method of fighting was entirely strange to her, sometimes cautious, sometimes a whir of seemingly illogical attacks. It made a difference from the predictability of her brothers. He said something but she wasn't really listening. It was no doubt something she didn't need to hear at any rate.

Ragnhild could feel herself tiring. But she could see that Hakon Ordurr of Alfarrung was feeling it more. They clashed, chests almost touching as their blades met and their faces came inches from one another. His eyes were silver, no longer the only just noticeable blue that had been there before; a glowing, frightening silver. And then they span away. And in the next moment it was as if he had let go of his sword at her attack, all energy gone.

His eyes were normal.

She must have imagined it. She dropped back as he dusted off his sword. “Your form is good – excellent, I might say. We were mismatched for size – I am accustomed to fighting those far larger and stronger than myself, and so at an advantage.”

She smiled.

Then an all too familiar voice interrupted and her face fell.

"I've never seen you in such an obliging mood." Skadhi did have a way of interrupting things when she was most content with them. She dwelt on that thought a moment. Thenrealised that if he didn't, her trips to this place would seem incredibly dull and reluctantly forgave him his morning intrusion.

The men made their greetings, she noticed the quiet disbelief on Hakon's face at the urchins introduction. He smiled all the same, a genial character, she summised. Albeit one with quirks, though she certainly found him interesting in that respect. And then she realised what they were talking about. Horror wormed its way through her veins like the blood of a dead man. Hakon, she had known was of notable lineage, but Skadhi had made her realise why. Elf blood. Oh.

Their conversation made it seem like a competition,comparing traits known to the other. Though she saw in the 'small dark theif of the night' as Hakon had called him, that it was because he wanted to feel some self worth infront of the white haired man, where Hakon himself seemed to want to defer attention from himself to Skadhi.

"We should talk some time, little Skadhi, I'm sure you have some fine stories to tell." Hakon's tone was jovial, though once again it appeared that he was trying to insert some formality to the conversation, "I'm going to have to leave you both, my friend, Grin, he should be waking soon and will complain terribly about his lack of youth should I be out and socialising before he is."

 

         Word of their arrival preceded the raiders. A crowd gathered upon the dock and strand as the dragon-ship put in to shore. Cheers and shouts greeted the men like conquering heroes, which, Eeiforr supposed, they were. To them.

         With Vesuppi in charge of the off-loading, the remaining captives and cargo were unloaded, and then the hatches were raised and a great deal more bounty came up out of the bowels of the ship. The men, thronged ever by the surging, boistrous crowd, separated the goods into three piles. Vesuppi directed each staple, and then glanced over at Barufors.

         With a hand on the swan-changeling's neck, the ship-captain inspected each allotment.

         "This," he told Eeiforr, pointing to one of the piles, "will be divided again in twain, one-third to the temple, there," he pointed up the hill toward a massive, magnificent building overlooking the river. "One-third to our Earl, and one-third to the King." He nodded his approval to his second and moved to the next. "This will be divided amongst the men, with equal parts paid to the families of the fallen. And this," he motioned to the final pile. "Is ours -- mine, by right as captain."

         "Sciphlaford," oozed a voice by their elbow, making Eeiforr jump. The man himself was tall, but thin, with a narrow face and small, bright eyes. He bowed low to Barufors, but he stared at the swan-changeling.

         "Ah, Cynvulf!" said Barufors. "This," he explained, "is my House Steward. He shall see to the disbursement of treasure to maximum effect."

         "And this one, Ealdar?"

         "Counted as part of the spoils, Cynvulf," Barufors replied, hand tightening on the back of Eeiforr's neck. "But not to be sold."

         The steward's face fell slightly. "He is so fine, Ealdar. So young, unblemished." He tugged at Eeiforr's arm, turning the palm up to inspect. "Strong. Hair like cornsilk, and so dark."

         Eeiforr drew back in distaste and concern, but Barufors only laughed.

         "What'd I tell you?" he laughed. "See to the market Cynvulf!"

         "Aye, Ealdar."

         "You," continued Barufors, steering Eeiforr towards the city and its crowd, "I shall introduce to my House."

         His tone, and the way the ship-captain's hand tightened against Eeiforr's neck, made the swan-changeling tense again in sudden concern. "Please," he said quietly, looking back up at the man, and rolled the still-unfamiliar words around his mouth. "Ealdar, release me?"

         Barufors gave him a toothy grin. "Oh, I think not, my son. I paid out a great deal for you, and I aim to get my money's worth." He laughed and pushed on.

         Barufors' ship was not the only dragon-ship in port or unloading. The shore itself was a bustling marketplace, with slave stockades, warehouses, fish-racks, lobster pots, stacks of barrels, carts and wagons carrying goods from city to ship or ship to city, litters for those who cared not for walking, and even a horse or two. The roads were paved with hexagonal, clay tiles that felt harsh and foreign, even through Eeiforr's seal-skin boots.

         The temple on the cliffside towered over the sprawling city like a mother hen clucking over her young. There were no walls, and, like the ship and everything Eeiforr had seen so far, the city of Uppsala was simplistic in its form but hid a magnificent beauty. Every available surface was carved or painted or inlaid with precious metals, jewels, or otherwise designed to display the natural splendor of the material. Even the shingled roofs shone like jewels in the early morning light.

         Shops and residences were arranged together with little, it seemed, regard for either noise or convienence. Indeed, some businesses were as grand and opulent as some residences; and some family homes were so small they only had one room. Children ran and played everywhere, dodging traffic and nursemaids alike, dogs barked, clothing was washed at public wells, and in all other ways, Uppsala sounded and acted like any normal city, though it did smell slightly better. There was no waste dumped in the streets.

         Barufors wended his way along the throngs, pointing out the way to the wide, center-street of the city, where the main market-place and celebrations were being set up, and led Eeiforr to what he called his home. This was a single, large building set within a cluster of smaller buildings that formed something of a fence with the low, connecting walls between them. To one side was a small stable from which Eeiforr could hear the bleating of goats and the sharp whinny of a horse. Nearby, smoke billowed from a corner building to the accompanying clangs of hammer on stone. At the center of the cobbled courtyard was a well and magnificent fountain. In the corner, a group of about a dozen young men, most not yet sporting beards, drilled in combat with a pair of silvery-haired, dour-faced instructors.

         A man dressed similarly to Cynvulf met them as they crossed over the threshold. "Her ladyship is not at home at present, Ealdar," he said, bowing low. Eeiforr noticed that the man had a strange scar or tattoo on one side of his face and, where Cynvulf wore a seax, this man had an empty belt.

         Barufors grunted. "Leofric, this is my son, Eeiforr. See to it he is made comfortable and stays safely under your watchful eye. I shall return after making my respects to the Earl. Inform my wife I will have her company at supper."

         Leofric bowed. "Yes, Ealdar."

         Eeiforr watched his captor and master leave with mixed feelings. Twisting his fingers nervously together, he stared back at the steward's assistant and chief among the house servants. Leofric stared back, eyes measuring, his manner of polite but intense curiosity.

         "H-hello," he stammered, feeling that something was called for.

         Leofric bowed, though only half so deep as he'd made obeisance to Barufors. "Greetings, young master. Please, shall you accompany me to the bath-house?"

         Eeiforr nodded, for what else was he to do? He was a prisoner here, and totally out of his depth. He was at their mercy, clutching after even the most reluctant of companionship with relief at not being abandoned in this strange and foreign place alone. No doubt he would be grateful for solitude before long, but, for now, being alone was furthest from Eeiforr's wishes.
Anjurl stood at the end of the docks face hidden in shadow by the dark hood of his black cloak. His cloak was silky smooth and its surface was like oil never seeming to settle. His gaze flicked across the harber and onto the dragon ships that were unloading. The sight of boats like that always dragged up the memory of his clan being all but wiped out. A young boy came running up to him and paused to catch his breath Anjurl regarded him for a moment before his hand came out of his cloak beconing the boy closer.

"Master Usi...The man you asked for is waiting. "spoke the the messenger boy.

Anjurl handed the boy two gold coins and ruffled the boys hair as he walked past.

"Odin watches child...grow strong and make him proud "he sighed.

Anjurl entered the tavern and saw the man sitting alone dressed like a famer. Anjurl sat down on the stool next to the hermit and didn't make a sound.

"Usi...sif's worried about you "whispered the farmer

"Thor...my father. I'm doing this for all of Asgard...its my home "sighed Anjurl.

"Just be on your guard...Freya's cloak keeps you from being seen...but if you come across those with high blood...they will see through its guise "sighed Thor.

"It's good to see you father. give my regards to all....and tell Freya I'll give her cloak back after I've finished "he smiled.

"Our little Usi...grown to manhood and allready loved by the gods...Why if Hel had a heart she'd love you too "Laughed Thor.

Anjurl laughed aswell.

"So were you off to now "sighed Thor.

"To see the Chief...Formal meeting "he sighed
She loaded the front of the sledge with some of her best skins, folded neatly on top of one another, and then bound the fallen antlers toward the back. They were always awkward and she jabbed herself several times before tightening the last of the rope. Her reindeer, harnessed to the sledge with leather ties, shook her head in irritation, breath misting in the cold air.

“Shh, dear one,” she murmured, quickly tying bells onto its antlers to ward off any stallu. Stallu, one of the many Sami spirits who still dwelt in their native land, even after Odin had established his rule and Freyr kept court in Uppsala. Aaric always gave her more than she needed, hiding his fear of his sister being carried off into the forest by the dimwitted creatures. She didn’t need so many, after all she had killed a wolf only last week with nothing but her spear and her sling, but she never told him that. After tying off the last, she stroked the deer’s hide. It quieted under her hands, used to her and her smell on their journeys from shore to mountain to home. Aase never liked horses. Neither did Aaric. Some involuntarily revulsion built into their Sami blood.

After a moment, she clucked to it and led it off down the path toward the settlement. The house her father had built was a good distance away from Ágætrdalr. Partly was to account for his land and the reindeer herd, and part was to stay away from the Norse. Norse himself, her father had never quite identified with his fellow countrymen and maybe that was why he married a Sami woman, and into their intermixed clan. Or perhaps there was something just strange in his blood, something beyond that fierce warriors pride of the Norsemen he had instilled in his children, to something secret in hidden. It’s a complex world, my children he had said to them once, and in this Aase agreed. Especially here. Norse and Sami, invaders and natives living on the same land.

It was quiet in the settlement in the morning, as she stopped her sledge in front of the tanner’s long house. It had been a long time since she had been here, but looking around, little seemed to have changed. She knocked briefly and the door opened, framing a man in the doorway whom she knew. He had been buying from them for years, this old man with the strong back, and after a moment of nodding he came out and began fingering through the skins.

“Beautiful, lovely…” his voice strayed and ran into gossip. “A skald is here,” he said.

“That’s what I’ve heard.”

“With skalds come tales, always do.” He was fishing for conversation, more gossip perhaps. She, however, was not her brother.

“And hopefully they’ll stay far away from me.”

He quieted at her bite, eyes running down the shining fur. “They look good, miss Aase. You’re brother was by yesterday.”

“Yeah?” the mention of Aaric always made her warm. He had stayed behind to help their father, and telling her that, as much as she didn’t like it, she should take their wares to Uppsala. After all, she knew them much better than she.

The tanner nodded. “Said you were leaving for Uppsala soon. You’ll get a good price during the festival.” He paused and then tried, “Skald brought a young man with ‘em. Has hair like bone and his eyes are so white…I’ve heard of ‘em, we all have and I can’t believe…”

Aase honestly had no idea what the man was talking about and it all was beginning to make her uncomfortable. It was something everyone knew, but not her. “I don’t care,” she snapped suddenly. “And for whatever else the skald brings will all come and go, what does it really have to do with us anyways? Do you want these skins or not? I still have bone to deliver…”

He flushed and nodded under her cool gaze, and picked out several. It was only when she was crouched down, sandwiched between the wall and the antlers, readjusting the sledge that she saw her. Even through a forest of bone and at a distance she could always recognize the form of Ragnhild Gudrun. As a shieldmaiden, her name was known, particularly to Aase.


What a life that must be, she thought, watching the woman enviously, To be a warrior like that. That was what she wanted, but she couldn’t even keep a handle on a sword long enough to pick it up. That and it would never be. She sighed and hardened her jaw, tightening the last of a few loose strings. Her family needed her too much, and not for the last time she wondered if only a half blooded Norse would ever be allowed to be a shield maiden. It was that she was unhappy with the reindeer, in fact, when she was with her family, or out in the cold wilderness with nothing but a gyrfalcon and the lowing reindeer herds, she was completely and utterly happy. But here, among the society of men, she was at a loss, trying to find a place. A shieldmaiden. Now that would be a place. There was honor there, out on the battlefield or at least there always were in the tales of her father. Battle and skill and the ferociousness of being a warrior. Even now, looking through the antlers at the woman, she could hear tales ringing in her ears.

Hakon ached. In a good way which reminded him that he'd not had chance to spar in far too long. An ache which pulsated through him like adrenaline and make him relax into the day with a greater feeling of comfort. He'd not had chance to feel so good since he'd taken to the road. He'd hunted but he'd not fought. And some little part of him had missed it substantially. Sighing, he splashed his face with cool, barreled water and then stretched his arms above his head. A noise, a scuffle to his right but just escaping his peripheral vision made him straighten out and begin to turn when:

"What have you been up to?" Grin was behind him, stooped back and crooked smiles.

"I walked a while."

"And battled the air and the trees?"

Sheepishly, Hakon shook his head, mentally cursing the old man's powers of perception, "No, I ran into Ragnhild Gudrun."

One white eyebrow rose, a bent arrow head on the wrinkled forehead, "Ragnhild Gudrun eh? A wild lass if rumour speaks true. Tell me of her."

It was not a request but a demand and Hakon sighed with a small smile which referred to the unchanging nature of the tale-weaving skald. Every little detail was important to the man and that much would always be the case. He drew away from the water and dropped his voice, relating the morning to his master, lingering over details he thought importants such as her appearence and grace whilst fighting, skipping over other details he considered less affable.

"There was something about the way she stood and spoke and fought that suggested she didn't want to let on too much about herself, as if she wanted to stand with the company of men. The wind could not have wearied her to sleep in a race, nor the sun's corrosive glare forced her to her knees. There's a wily spirit in her that's seeking out a new age, new adventures."

Grin simply nodded along. His eyes, which seemed vacant and uninterested at first glance were bright with the intesity of a young man enamored rather than that of an old, decrepid man but the vagueness was the distance of a mind split, on side contemplating what he said, the other adding embellishments and ideas to create a real tale.

"Well then, when you next see her, we should all talk together. I would very much like to discuss with her some of the battles she has seen."

Hakon frowned, thinking of the space she had constantly put between them. Talking of her battles would no doubt make her distrust him.

"But there is no time for that now. Rumour has it that a swanling has been captured and brought to the coast, if it has we should try to talk to whoever possesses her." Grin had moved on already, gait picking up as he strolled from their borrowed lodgings and made for the village, "We are expected to stay until the end of the ceremonies at Uppsala so if we find out who it is we can travel as far as we deign necerssay and..."

The old man was off, lost on a tangent of excited dreams. Hakon, on the other hand, was less pleased. He wasn't really in the mood to -

"And I know you'll be grumpy but if you're going to moan I'm going to laugh at your stiffness. You shouldn't go battling sheild maidens if you can't hack it."

Sighing, he slumped unnoticably and pushed back his hair form his face. Public places always ended up with him swamped in odd looks as people peiced together legends and guessed at his identity. He didn't like it. Not one bit. But he'd follow where Grin led and that was all there was to it.
A Non-Existent User
Skadhi brushed his hair back idly as the tall man walked away, then glanced at Ragnhild and was surprised to find her glaring at him.

“You do know how to make yourself welcome” she spat. When Skadhi continued to look confused she added “I’m sure you think yourself above social convention, but sometimes you should consider what you say more carefully” and walked ahead. Skadhi wasn’t sure if he was supposed to follow, but after taking a few steps his legs wobbled and then nearly buckled. With a glance back Ragnhild saw him falter, and with a noncommittal wave called back to him.

“Whenever I next have the misfortune of meeting you, little magpie” and was gone.

“Little? Enough of this little business!” Skadhi muttered, curling up in one of those comfortable places that he had become so proficient at finding. Who was to call him small? He was growing! They’d all be sorry when he towered over everyone else, even that uppity Hakon fellow. Skadhi thought back to what Ragnhild had said. She was wrong, completely and utterly. He wasn’t above social convention, and certainly didn’t think it. He acted the way he did because he was, and always would be, far, far below it. And what else was there to do?

Skadhi watched the light filter through the leaves above him, speckling each new layer in clear emerald as they rustled enchantingly. In exhaustion his vision seemed to glaze the beautiful patterns, as light shifted and shone over his face. Where next? The eternal question, ever present for one with no goal in life. Where would he next be taken, a leaf carried on the wind? Sleepily, he smiled as a leaf was swept from the tree and danced alone through the air. To Uppsala, for sure. There the real festivities would begin. There all manner of treasures and adventures would be caught. There…
Through the trees it was possible to see the glitter of gold from Viveka's circlet, her natural tunics blending in to the dappled shadows of trees, the violet belt with it's assortment of straps an pouches like the plumage of a violent bird. Her features were outlined in silver by the pale light of the new sun, left arm moving rythmically as the metallic clangs of sharpening echoed through the ancient oaks.

Light danced on the glittering sabre, brought back from the eastern raids, its patterns glazing over the bark of the clearing as she raked the pumice along it. As she shaved the edge to a fine point the sparks flew into the air sending multicolored shards spilling onto the floor. It was, perhaps, the only time the girl wore the veil, save in the longhouse, where idiots like Iron and Wolf would make conversations about Bjarte and Andor as though they were even worthy to speak the names of her fallen brethren. With each gesture, the ringing had sent the girl further into her musings. Eyes dimly focused, elfin form balanced on a rock, she had her sword arm leaning on the crumbling altar of long forgotten Gods. The noises of snapping twigs snapping broke her from her reverie.

Cold fingers pulled the veil up, flicking it onto her hair. The sun was rising behind the mountains, red and indigo fires tearing across the sky. Viveka winced as her eyes adjusted to the half light, making out the figure.


A throaty voice cut through the silence of the landscape, it's low melody reaching Viveka's memories like silvery snakes, "Cousin, could you spare some herbs? I've had a few knicks since visiting Östra Aros last."

"Ranghild!" Viveka rushed to embrace her clanswoman, as was right and proper when the woman was the daughter of her mother's cousin's wife. The hardened warrior emitted a muffled squeak. "You left for battle without me, and now you claim injury?"

"If you were not so small and holding a sabre to my back, then I would certainly box your ears for this insult." Came the deadpan reply.

Viveka squeased harder.

Stepping back, she eyed the warrior's form. With the careful eye of one used to battle injury, she surveyed the tall woman's posture. It was harder in the amber light, but as she stepped backwards, she spotted the slight bend, weakness of position. Good old Ranghild, masking her injuries. Bloody painful though, by Freyr.

Her hands gestured. "Come further into the clearing, and then take off the tunic, cloak and armour. You've taken a blow to your midriff I'll warrant. Although how is an entirely different question."

"Shoddy armourer." She spat, amber eyes glowing as she stumbled further into the clearing, a masculine gait.

Viveka busied herself with the ties of the cloak. "I take it he payed for the mistake."

"It was a bit of a trek, 4 days, but yes... with his life."

"Sister Shield bearer, you are far too predictable. Should have gone for the only son."

"He wasn't in the settlement walls. The message was delivered either way." Ranghild laughed, deep and throaty, her eyes smiling and dancing. She winced as the rough woven tunic was pulled off. Bandages bound her stomach, and Viveka was tearing them off with little sympathy for the girl, ripping off a layer of crusted blood, pus and, Ranghild was fairly certain, perfectly useable skin.

"Just a nick, but was badly infected. Did you not remember to heat your sword in the fire and go over the sore?"

"I remembered....I just pointedly refused to. It was dirty, and i didn't want to soil my skin with blood...."

".....so your body did it for you. Has it been pussing recently?" Ranghild grimaced but shook her head to indicate that it hadn't shown signs of renewed infection. Viveka nodded, reaching into a leather pouch that dangled from her belt and grabbing the cloves of garlic that she knew were buried at the bottom. She lay a hide on the ground and brought the sharpening stone down on the cloves in a sharp movement. She pulled out some leaves of comfrey, checking to make sure that they were still fresh, before crushing them into a salve. She then turned to Rangild, indicating that she should lie down."This bit will sting."

She poured some water from the hide onto the white, ender skin of the woman's belly, and then took a different pumice from a strap on her belt. Ranghild grimaced as she removed the crust of the wound, rubbing the irritated skin raw so that red welts replaced the mangled mess.

"And the reasoning behind this assault?"

"Wound should be able to breath. That way, the Vanir might notice it. Now your turn... You rub, I'll prepare."

"Asking a shield maiden to injure herself normally results in dissent."

"Asking a healer to heal you results in your own incapacitation. You should know that, Cousin."

Viveka turned to the hide and pulled out a smaller piece from a soft leather pouch on her belt. She took a length of sealed pine, snapping it so the resin drained, painstakingly slowly, into the dish, aided by the flat of her dagger. This, she scraped onto the small piece of worn reindeer hide. She turned to the warrior, dutifully mutilating her wound whilst wincing.

"You can stop now." Viveka muttered cooly.

"I was planning on that." Came the tart response.

"Hold this to your wound. It's damned sticky and if you put it anywhere else the resin will. stick. to. everything." Having parcelled up the Garlic and Comfrey, She handed them to Ranghild's sword hand. Her fingers curled around them as if a hilt, squeeing them familiarly. "Now this is for use..."

"...Tommorow morning, right?" Ranghildd inerrupted.

Viveka nodded, an eyebrow raised archly.

"Another thing. Tunic. Would be good if i could keep it on next time."

"Get wounded in the arm then."

"And reduce my swordplay?"

"Learn to defend with your other arm."

"You are lucky that we are Kin."

"Kin, clan, chosen? Either way I flaunt its advantages to the limit." Viveka noted solemnly, allowing her eyes to glisten for once. There was a haunting combination of fire and sadness that still cut through the mirth, and with her keen eyes for emotion and weakness, Ranghild could see it.

Viveka stood up slowly, stretching as she threw on her cloak. The deep purple swirled around her, fabric rippling in an invisible, intangible hurricane. Her legs were sore from overuse, and soon the last of the light would be over the trees, making the horses stumble over the tangled web of roots and saplings that lined the forest floor.

"You should strap that with your bandages."

"They're dirty."

"I'm not the bastard of Loki, I can't make cloths appear out of magical swirling machines of froth and foam. Turn it inside out."

"You're also not a giant wolf, but a healer."

"Do I get killed if you get injured after I heal you then?"

"I'll let you off."

"How kind."
 

         The men didn't wash much while at sea and Eeiforr immediately saw why. Their idea of bathing consisted of stepping from alternating buckets of searing hot water to one of freezing cold, all the while servants scrubbed from head to toe. For the last part, he kneeled while the women washed and braided his hair, cooing about the creamy color and feather-soft texture. They dressed him in a clean set of clothes, lighter and softer than what he'd had, and in brighter colors, but all the same style.

         "At least there'll be no need to tattoo your pretty face," Leofric remarked when he reclaimed Eeiforr. "No one's going to mistake your place, once word gets out."

         "Tattoo?" Eeiforr whispered, hand going to his face where the older man had his. He shuddered to think what a tattoo would do to his natural form.

         Leofric escorted Eeiforr to a room in the house and lit the lamp on the small table next to what seemed like a huge bed after the tight confines of the ship. "The master has sent word you're to be shown to the king tonight and suggests you rest." He gestured around them. "I'll send in food. Please stay here."

         Silently, Eeiforr nodded. There were no windows, nothing in the room besides the small table, the bed, and a clothes chest. The door closed behind Leofric with a final sound.

         Alone, Eeiforr sank down in one corner of the bed, knees drawn up to his chest, huddling against the stout bedposts. Thick fabric hung at the corners, bundled into tight bunches that nevertheless shielded him a little from the door and gave him a bit of security. For the first time in days, he indulged in a good sob. Lying down afterwards, he surprised himself by napping. Still the day passed with agonizing slowness.

         Even were all his senses blinded or muffled, Eeiforr could gauge the passing of the sun as surely as he could feel his own heartbeat. He was standing at the foot of the bed when Leofric returned to claim him. The steward held a bundle of crisp, white fabric in his arms which he held out.

         "For you, little master. Do you require assistance dressing?"

         "I don't know," he replied honestly, eyeing the strange garment with unease.

         "Then let me help you. Please remove your clothes."

         Eeiforr stripped without a second thought. A swan had no concept of modesty. There were feathers and skin and that was all, male and female alike. As guardian to fledgling females, he was well-used to their chattering, fluttery ways. Leofric's very stoicism was unnerving. He helped Eeiforr slip into very soft, calf-skin breeches and boots, and layer after layer of gauzy, silky overrobes that fluttered around him at the slightest movement. Eeiforr regarded himself with distaste. It was a very inelegant costume, a barbarian's mimicry of a bird. The darkness of his skin seemed quite pale under all the layers of white, sheer fabric. Even the boots and britches he wore were bleached white.

         "Quite nice," murmured Leofric when they were done, but then he threw a dark, hooded robe over the changling's head. "This way, please."

         Several of the house guard accompanied them up the long road to the Chief's Hall. On opposite sides of the city from the temple, the Hall was large enough to be three or four of Barufors' home, with a corresponding increase in outlier buildings. To the West, the sun dropped below the horizon in a riot of colors, and tattooed men and women scampered along the streets lowering and raising lit lanterns to light the main thoroughfare. The streets crew busier and more crowded the closer they came to the Hall.

         Barufors awaited them at a side entrance, with a tall, regal-seeming woman at his side. She wore similar robes to Eeiforr, all in colors of gold, a stunning contrast to the shiny copper of her hair. She leered openly as Leofric pulled down the hood of the concealing cloak. Eeiforr fidgeted under the predatory sneer, looking instead to his captor, who nodded at his steward with approval.

         Inside, tables and benches were crowded with more people. Some, Eeiforr recognized from the ship. Vesuppi rose from where-ever he'd been skulking and came forward with his ship captain to approach the head table. Sitting at the apex of the large, high-ceilinged hall, the king of the barbarians glittered with gold-embroidered clothing and worked gems. He hailed Barufors heartily.

         "So, where is she?" he bellowed. "Let us see this swan-changeling you've captured!"

         Yanking off the cloak, Barufors gave Eeiforr a shove. He stumbled forward, heart beating wildly, skin darkening in humiliation as loud jeers and hoots filled the room. The king stared, face clouding in startled rage.

         "What is this, then? It is male!"

         "Yes, Lord," Barufors replied easily. "A male changeling, is he not a rare find?"

         The chief slammed his heavy goblet on the table behind which he sat. He rose to his feet, towering over those present. "Is this some kind of joke? How dare you mock my house!"

         "Lord," said Vesuppi, bowing and stepping forward, "perhaps this --"

         He never got any further. Eeiforr saw the glitter of white and feathers and simply reacted.

         "That's mine!" he screeched. He threw himself at the raider and almost had the cloak free before Barufors' accompanying guards subdued him, still struggling, against the packed dirt of the floor. "No! No, no!" he cried. Freeing one arm, he swung with all of an almost-adult swan's strength at one of the men holding him down. The guard tumbled away. Eeiforr bit down on another restraining hand, drawing the seax out of the man's belt. Enraged, he screamed in wordless fury, black bird's eyes fastened on Vesuppi, standing calmly by his ship captain's side, feathered cloak in hand.

         Into the sudden silence of the hall, clapping could be heard. An older man, seated to the right of the chief, clapped, smiling in appreciation. "And what a fine tale this must be!" he said, voice ringing.

         Even Eeiforr paused to stare at him, and at the white-haired man at his side, a man that might, on first glance, have been a swan changeling, too, except that Eeiforr could sense only man about him. He sneered at them, attention fastening once more on his stolen property, fingers tightening against the blade he'd taken.

         Barufors calmly unsheathed his own knife and, under Eeiforr's suddenly horror-struck gaze, separated a feather.

         "No!" Seax forgotten, Eeiforr dived for the feather, catching it in his hand protectingly, an angry tear trickling down his cheek.

         Barufors' wife recoiled in distaste, stepping away. With a nod from his ship captain, Vesuppi stepped away. Eeiforr followed him with his eyes until the man vanished into the throng, carrying away the precious cloak with him. Eeiforr stayed huddled on the floor, hand fisted around the feather, head bowed, and shaking in frustrated fear and anger.

         Leofric had returned to the house, but Cynvulf was there and he put a heavy, restraining hand on Eeiforr's neck as Barufors stepped forward before the king and began the tale of the swan changeling's capture.
Anjurl watched the desperate attempt of the changling boy. His hand was grasping the hilt of his broardsword. Every instinct in him was telling him to make an example of them. Even he could sense the evil in some of these men he could almost taste it. His crimson eyes glowing softly from under the hood of his robe he moved closer to the changeling. Nobody even looked at him as he brushed past men and women. The changeling boy saw him moving closer and closer. His cloak as dark as night with faint pin point stars rippling around him.

He stood made his way so he was standing in front of the king.

"What prompts you to think you can stroll through my halls without having the courtesy to remove your cloak...Speak, your Chief demands an Answer "spoke the Chief in a raised voice.

Anjurl was paused mid step....so the king had more noble blood than he thought. He lowered his hood, his black hair was almost indiscernible from the black robe.

"Speak!

"I have an audiance with you....I was to present you with this "he sighed holding out his hand.

a diamond the size of his hand rested there looking perfect only it was hollow and filled with blood.

"Blood from Loki's bastard son...the Wolf Fenris "He said loudly holding it up.

Anjurl placed the jewl at the feet of the chief his red eyes never once looking away from the king. He knew mortals well enough to know that if you give them a godly gift you can count of a warm reception.

"I am Anjurl Use...and I came here to seek your permission....to search your kingdom for monsters "he smirked kneeling down.
That night she dreamed of a man in a chair with a long white beard with whom she argued over and over to do something. He looked at her fondly and waved sleepily as a robe of aurora reached out and engulfed her and she opened her eyes to her reindeer. She gasped, sitting up straight, startled. Her reindeer started and backed up with a cry and she shook the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes.

My hands are cold… She looked down and found her hands resting in powder soft snow. Turning, she found her tent set up a good fifty yards from where she had been sleeping. why am I outside my tent? She stood, shivering a little with cold and followed her tracks back to the tent. Outside the door her footprints were clear, then farther along it looked as if there was a struggle and then just where her body had been, lying in the snow. She scanned the rest of the ground but found nothing but pristine whiteness, not even snow hare tracks to break up the monotony. Aase frowned. “I don’t understand…” she murmured to her reindeer as she ducked back inside her tent. She had never been one for sleepwalking.

There she changed from her wet garments to soft reindeer hide breeches, died black and lined with fur. She stuffed those into her boots and donned a tunic, and slender long coat with buttons and ties made of reindeer horn. Lastly, she found her gloves where she had tossed them the night before. Camping outside the city, she decided, had been the best. No one would bother her or her goods and she was more at home there than in an inn or house.

When she was finally ready, she uncovered her sledge, folded the blanket and stowed it back in her tent. Finally she hitched the sledge to the reindeer. “We’ll get some looks, won’t we,” she murmured to it, coaxing it forward. “But it’s all for a good cause.” Aaric should be up now, she thought heading toward the city. And father… she frowned. I hope he is doing well.

She didn’t get as many looks as she originally thought but it was apparent why. So many people came to Uppsala that a reindeer in the streets merited only a few good hard stares. Whenever the stares came or someone seemed too interested in her, she stared back, hard and cold until they looked away. She found her booth in the market place, reserved the day before and lay out her assortment of bone, fur, and leather.

Business was brisk and by midmorning she had lost herself in her own wares, jealously selling them for what she believed them worth and refusing to haggle. Some part of her told her it was silly, she would make enemies or not sell as much, but she dug in her heels stubbornly. She would not let the sweat and blood of her family sell for anything less than it was worth.

By afternoon traffic became slow and she toyed with the idea of making a sacrifice to Eir for health and safety for her father. Eir or Tyr. Her father had always spoken of respect for Tyr and she wondered if the god would still watch over a no longer fighting warrior. Aase looked in her money pouched and frowned. Not enough coin for a sacrifice, but enough for lunch.

There was an open air booth selling a stew from two large iron pots. She ordered a bow of what smelled the least like fish and within a moment it was in her hands. It was hot and good and hit the spot, as she moved over to make room for a woman in a long woolen dress.

“The fish,” the woman said. “Thank you Brandr!” she called. “Did you hear?” she continued merrily, “did you hear the gossip?” The man serving stew harrumphed and shook his head. “You didn’t? Impossible. Barufors has captured a Swan-changling!”

Aase choked on her stew, feeling suddenly sick. Was this true?

“Did he now? Well, I believe I shall believe it when I see it.”

“He has brought it to the king! Imagine what that is worth.”

Aase couldn’t hold it in any longer. “That,” she said breathlessly, words coming to her lips unbidden, “is an abomination.”

“An abomination?” the woman laughed turning to her. “To whom? He found the cloak and the luck is upon him.”

An abomination to the gods of my mother, Aase finished viciously in her head, stabbing at a chunk of meat with her spoon. “Does Frey allow this in his own city?”

The woman was still puzzled at the young woman’s anger. “Frey is not at court now. And really I don’t see why you are so upset.”

For a moment, neither did Aase but it was there. An involuntary, gut wrenching revulsion. “It is wrong to do cage a thing like that. Nature watches over her spirits and children, and doom be upon those who make them suffer.” With that she slammed her bowl back on the counter and shoulder her way off into the crowd, leaving the woman behind her standing, frozen, as if turned to stone.
A Non-Existent User
Next to the temple of Uppsala grew an enormous tree that was green in every season. The setting sun silhouetted the tree, its branches eternally borne down with luscious green leaves that never fell. The evening stalls were lively as always, and Skadhi’s extraordinary eyesight didn’t let him down as he picked up the occasional object whilst wandering the crowds. However, it was as he passed the jewellery booth of a thin old lady that something unexpected happened. With a practised and imperceptible movement his hand reached out and wrapped round a delicate brooch set with semi-precious stones. Moving back into the crowd, he started down the street again, only to be bowled over after barely a few steps. In a flurry of blond hair he found himself pinned to the ground, a knife at his throat and his mouth bleeding from the fall. Looking up he was confronted by a rather pretty and rather angry woman, her gold hair in a flyaway plait with a feather at the end. Her hands moved quickly over his belt and pockets, and with triumph she drew out the gilded brooch and held it up to the onlookers that had gathered.

“Let this serve as a reminder to anyone who thinks of taking wares for themselves; they shall pay for it one way or another.”

Skadhi was surprised at being caught, to put it mildly. It rarely ever happened. The old crone hobbled over, took her merchandise from the young woman’s hands, turned a withering glare upon him and hobbled back to her stall. But rather then letting him up, the woman picked her dagger up from the floor and, gripping his arm tightly, pushed his hand to the ground.

“Hey now, what are you doing?” Skadhi asked, suddenly nervous, as the woman sharpened her dagger against stone.

“Where I come from, the customary punishment for theft is losing a hand. Though that might be giving you more credit than is due, so just a thumb I think” the woman said without remorse.

“Wait. Wait, wait!” Skadhi yelled desperately through bloody teeth, wriggling hopelessly with one arm pinned at his side and the other held down.

“Listen, listen – I can give you information. I know a fair bit – the commonly accepted price for wares in this area, who arrived on the last ship, where to find a Völva, how to get good lodging or an audience with the King. We can make a deal – I’ll tell you what you want to know, just spare my hands.”

For a second, a thoughtful look passed across the woman’s cold face. Then, still holding Skadhi’s wrist, she dragged him up from the ground. Disappointed the crowd moved away, carrying on with their bustling and bartering now the spectacle was over.

“Most of what you’ve offered I already know,” the woman said as she led Skadhi back to her stall. “But my curiosity has the better of me. There is something I would like to ask.” Placing the boy in front of her she began to carefully wrap up her wares, watching him like a hawk as she moved. Skadhi wiped the blood from his mouth and put his hands in his pockets, feeling uncomfortable. He still wasn’t sure if she’d been bluffing.

“If you are true to your word, then you will probably know about this swan-changeling.”

“Yeah, I saw it with my own eyes. It was captured by the pirate Barufors -”

“I already know that.”

“Uh… well, did you know that it turned out to be a he? A male swan-maiden! Even the King was -”

“I already know that.”

Taken aback, Skadhi wondered what the woman was playing at. How could she know that much? Was it another bluff? And if she didn’t want to hear what he had to say, then what was she after? With a sigh, the woman turned to face him.

“What is your name?”

“Skadhi” he replied cautiously.

“Skahi… you are a thief?” When he nodded she continued “I don’t suppose you are a very good one”

“The best! I just… let my guard down a bit back there”

“Really?” the shadow of a smile twitched at her mouth. “Could you steal from a pirate?” She asked more seriously. Skadhi began to understand where her questioning was leading.

“Hah! If you’re after the swan’s cloak, you’ll need more than a favour to be repaid. Of course, I could do it, but it’d cost you Hel’s ears. Stealing from a pirate and a King… do you think I’m crazy?”

“No no, of course not. Never mind. I was just thinking aloud” the woman replied. Skadhi looked at her thoughtfully.

“What’s your name? Ah, no need to look so suspicious!”

“Aase…”

“Well, Aase, if you ever come across something valuable enough to trade for a swan’s feather cloak, find me and I might consider it.” And with a wave he left, before she could realise that he hadn’t repaid her for sparing his hands at all. He breathed a sigh of relief as he was swept away by the crowd, then checked his surroundings and changed course. If Bo’s stall was in the same place as it was before, he should be close. The mad old seeress was the best around, but she was well respected and never settled for measly pay. Fortunately, Skadhi almost always had something of interest to her. The woman chose to work in a small house rather than the more common stalls. Tables had been set up inside, a miniature mimic of the feasting halls, where one could find drink, food, all manner of things and people, but no lodging. Much to Skadhi’s distress, the one rule of the house was that everybody left by midnight. It was an odd place with an odd set up, but Bo was an odd person. Some said she got the idea for the place from the future. Skadhi sat down alone at one of the small tables, settling for a drink before he tried to find Bo. A young woman with long black hair brought him a tankard and held out her hand with a ready smile for the coins.

“It’s about time to” Wheezed a voice from beside him as Bo slid into the opposite seat. “What have you brought me, inn lagi?” Bo was wizened and worn, but her keen blue eyes never aged despite the wrinkles around them. The tiny woman was drowned by her coat, the large sleeves hiding her hands even as she reached over to pick up and examine a wooden thimble cup. Long silvery hair was plaited tightly down her back.

“You’ve come to ask what you always ask – ah! This is good” She held up a simple metal locket, hanging from a chord.

“It looks quite plain…” Skadhi said doubtfully.

“Fool! It would be so easy to cheat you. It is not the locket, but what is in it” Bo muttered as she opened it and took out a pinch of dried herbs. “I really don’t know how you notice these things, without even knowing what they are… The results will likely be the same as last time, but I will try again if you insist. It is difficult to see your past when even you can’t remember it. But not quite yet. It is early in the night, you can’t have been awake long. Drink, eat!”

“Inn digri, you are just trying to get more money out of me.”

“Yes yes, but look. Over there.” A tiny finger pointed from the heavy cloth of her cloak. Skadhi looked at the girl she was pointing to, the one that had served him. “She has been my apprentice for many years. Before she would have been asleep by now, so you have not met her. But she is older now – isn’t she pretty?”

Skadhi considered the girl, but she seemed quite plain to him. She wore a simple dark green dress under a black tunic, with no ornaments save the leather buckle that held back some of her thick, straight hair. She was tall and curvaceous, but not excessively so. As he looked at her she turned, and he was surprised to see a thin scar that ran across her cheekbone from the top of her nose to just below her right ear, the bottom of which seemed to have been cut off. She had and long face with large eyes and lips, and was quite pretty once someone looked at her. Without saying goodbye Bo rolled out of the seat and charged away from the table, to go and talk to the girl. Although they should have been out of earshot, if Skadhi concentrated he could still make out their words.

“Knarrarbringa! Do you see that skinny boy over there? In the dark cloak – no over there, with the black hair and tunic and trousers.”

“Bo, you aren’t trying to marry me to a customer again, are you?”

“No no. Though it is about time you did. You are getting far too old, you’ll be wrinkly and fat soon. But never mind that” Skadhi saw Bo wave her arms impatiently. “Don’t you recognise him?” The girl shook her head. When Bo continued it was quieter, and Skadhi had to strain to pick up her words.

“Are you sure child? Go, go to him again. And see if you remember him then.”

The girl walked around the raucous tables until she was standing in front of Skadhi, and they both looked uncomfortably at each other. And then in sudden shock he stood up, mouth hanging open but no words coming out. That long dark hair had haunted him every day, and the dark green eyes were unmistakable. The dream played once again in his head, but this time as he tripped over the young girl in front of him turned round, panic in her green eyes and tears running down her face.

“Stig, you are too slow! Stig, get up, run Stig!”

He heard his name again and again, but even as he heard it the sudden sense of identity faded away.

“Stig!”

The girl in front of him now was older, and the tears that filled her eyes where not panicked or anguished. But he still did not know why he knew her, or even her name. He just stared blankly at her, and finally remembered to close his mouth.

“My name is Skadhi,” he said as silence stretched between them. When further explanation seemed necessary, he added, “I don’t remember my childhood”.

“Oh.” The girl replied. Looking down, she wiped her eyes, and when she looked up again a new life shone through them. An almost motherly glow emanated from her as she took his hand and said, “My name is Llv. I am your cousin… but have not seen you or any of my family since I was nine years old. This - this is such a brilliant encounter!” Her laugh sang softly through the air and made her pale skin glow. Skadhi was sure his presence had never made anyone so happy.

“Sit down, sit down! We have to talk – I can’t believe you can’t remember anything. I can’t believe you are alive! And here! Sit, sit” she ushered him down and was about to sit in front of him, when Bo bellowed hoarsely at her from the other table.

“What are you doing kastranzi! Reminisce when there are not hungry bellies to serve! Go go!” She flapped her short arms impatiently at Llv.

“I won’t be able to talk to you tonight, not when things are this busy. Come here again tomorrow, before lunchtime.”

“I can’t… wait, you are okay in daylight?” Skadhi had always assumed his problem was some sort of family inheritance, but Llv just looked at him quizzically.

“Of course! I forgot! Sunlight used to make you sick, you would always get sleepy. Wait, here” she rolled up her sleeve and slipped off a simple bead bracelet, but when Skadhi looked closer he noticed it was held together with silver thread.

“This is one of the first things Bo had me make. I’m good at making things, do you remember?” Llv spoke quietly as she placed the delicate bracelet in his hand. “You should be able to go out in the day, if you wear this. It will protect you.” With that she rushed off again. Skadhi inspected the bracelet in the dim light of the low-ceilinged room. On each small bead was an even smaller rune but, being illiterate, he had no idea what they meant. He put it on anyway, not really believing it would help.
 

         Barufors and his wife had a place of honor at the Chief's table that night. Cynvulf kept Eeiforr close at his master's side, and many came to gawk at the creature.

         "Sure it's not a woman?" asked one in jest, grabbing the changeling's hair to tilt his head back. "Pretty as one."

         Eeiforr swung his fist at the exposed stomach and felt the man release him, wheezing and glaring in embarrassed anger. Barufors laughed merrily, accompanied by many others around them. Eeiforr's eyes burned in a fury.

         "Absolutely positive. What need of a swan for clothing? Certainly wasn't captured wearing that! But, pretty? Yes, and its children shall be something else again. My daughter will be well-pleased." He said the last looking directly at his scowling wife, as if daring her to refute him.

         Eeiforr gasped. "What?"

         "Is it intelligent, too?" asked a nearby noble. He leered. Eeiforr snarled in his direction.

         "Oh, yes," Barufors answered. "Quite intelligent. I have me a fierce new son who shall give my daughter many fine, strong sons."

         "I am not a play-thing!" cried Eeiforr. "I can't! I won't!" He tumbled backwards from the table when Barufors struck him.

         "Don't mouth off to me!" Barufors warned. On his way to being thoroughly drunk, his eyes glittered dangerously. "I own you, boy, and you'll do whatever I say until you're released. If," he ammended. "If I ever decide to give you back your robe."

         Eeiforr refused to cup his smarting cheek, a fresh bruise on top of the others. "But ...!" he started to say.

         "Cynvulf!" Barufors summoned his steward. "See my son safely home. There is much to be done on the morrow."

         The steward stepped out of the shadows along the wall to grip the collar of Eeiforr's tunic. He bowed his head. "Aye, Ealdar."

         Eeiforr stumbled as Cynvulf jerked his collar. His legs caught on the bench at the sudden movement and he fell, face burning as laughter ran up the length of the table. He shook off Cynvulf and stood.

         "Barufors!"

         They all turned. The strange man, with his strange requests, magnificent treasures, and fantastic tales, stood before them. He bowed his head in a nod, but Eeiforr could see the carefully anger, so similar to before, and shivered.

         "Permit me to call upon you?" he asked. He didn't gaze at the changeling, but Eeiforr could feel those eyes nonetheless. He clenched his hands together.

         "Of course!" Barufors agreed. "Any who wish a closer look at my prize may come. I shall expect you all."

         The odd warrior turned away, catching Eeiforr's eyes for a second. He nodded. Eeiforr ducked his head, unresisting as Cynvulf grabbed him by the neck again to push him away and outside.

         There was no concealing cloak this time as they walked the darkening streets. The townsfolk stared as they passed, whispers on the wind at their backs. Eeiforr stayed close beside Cynvulf, keeping his head down and feeling like a freak and an outcast. The steward shoved him into his room, either not knowing or not caring that someone was already there. Waiting.
"I have done battle in Valhalla. I've drunk With Odin! Yet I still come to ask permission of the Chief of Uppsala. Word of your wisdom and High blood is well known "smiled Anjurl.

He knew that this Chief was scrutinizing him.

"If you have been in Valhalla then you are a ghost.

"Not at all....I live and breath. But I do see things of the other world. "smiled Angeless looking deep into the man's eyes.

He held his gaze unblinking, each trying to see a lie in the other.

"careful King....These eyes will show you many things if you stare into their abyss. Maybe even your death...be it in battle or old age "he smirked.

This was his real goal. His eyes showed the soul to him and reflected it back into their own eyes so they see themselves.
Her mind was abuzz with thoughts as she delivered the last of the orders for the day. Half distracted, Aase didn’t look at her customers with suspicion and treated them kindly, enough so to get more than just odd looks. The thief was gone, and the whole incident seemed rather foolish in her mind now. Had she really thought about stealing the creature? That was stupid, and stupid idea on her part. But if the boy could do it…No. Then what would she do? She would be chased down and caught and then gods knew what and she’d leave only Aaric to tend to her father. One thing is certain. He still owes me a debt.

She was finding her way back through the streets when she noticed a presence at her side. Pausing, she turned her head and found a short plump woman grinning at her. She was clothed in a grayish brown sack cloth, that hung limply about her. Her hair, gray as a steel was piled on her head and bound with bone and she carried a thick gnarled stick that was taller than she was. “Hello dear,” she said when she found Aase looking at her.

“Hello…” she responded suspiciously.

“I saw that display at the food tent. And then again on the street. Quite a loud thing you are.”

Aase blinked and stiffened. “Whatever. I would do both again. I recognize when things are wrong, even if half the people in this city do not.”

“Quite entertaining.”

“I’m sure.” She picked up her pace, but she felt bony, but surprisingly strong, fingers close about her arm. “Don’t touch me.” Aase jerked her arm out of the old woman’s grasp.

“Such a sharp tongue,” she tutted, clicking her tongue through the gap in her teeth, “that won’t get you far in life, and won’t get you friends nor a husband.”

“Two things I don’t care about.” Aase began shouldering her way through the crowd. She just wanted to get away from the woman, crazy hag that she was, but, to her consternation, the woman followed.

“And you know you’re also talked about around the food stalls,” the woman’s voice carried over the crowd. “Say you’ve got fine ware, some of the best hide, but they’re afraid of your tongue. See, you’re losing business and neither your father, nor your brother would like that. Granted your brother probably has already guessed but…”

They had reached Aase’s own stall by that point and the mention of her family was her breaking point. “Go away,” she hissed, turning on her heel. “I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but you won’t get it from me. No coin, no funny stories, nothing. Leave me.” The mention of her family had unnerved her. Most likely here, by herself, she had a father somewhere who ran the business, but how had she known about Aaric? No she wasn’t going to ask. If she did then woman was sure to stay.

But it seemed as the woman was going to stay anyways. Ignoring the girl, she had moved over to Aase’s reindeer. “What are you doing now?” dropped from her lips before she could stop it. She reached for her knife but the reindeer pushed its head expectantly against the old woman’s hand, and she began scratching at the roots of the horn. The reindeer lowed softly and the old woman smiled.

“Ah, see? Nice to know I’m still appreciated.”

Aase drew back slowly and sheathed her hunting knife. “Who…are you?” she asked curiously. Her reindeer liked her and that was something and something unusual. But she wasn’t willing to drop all her guards for one elderly woman.

“Just an old woman.” She grinned toothily. “We’ll say an old friend of the family, too. How ‘bout that? But the bigger question is, what do you think you’re going to do about that swan kid.”

Aase sighed and dropped her hands. “I don’t know…don’t touch that!” the old woman had been eyeing the bones, looked back at her innocently. “Nothing I suppose. What do you care?”

The other rolled her eyes. “Obvious really. So you’re really going to do nothing. Isn’t it an abomination in the eyes of the gods of your mother.”

Aase nodded slowly, her insides twisting. How did hse know? Can she hear my thoughts?. “Yes but I can’t do anything about it. I don’t want to get involved. Shouldn’t the Gods be watching anyways? It’s here right under Frey’s nose, maybe someone should make them aware!” She snapped the last without realizing it. “It’s his damn court.”

“Maybe you should.”

She recoiled at the thought. “No.” No. Besides I’m just a herder. My presence will mean nothing in a court of the gods. Aaric’s would, or that Ragnhild, or my father or some great warrior. Of which I’m not. I can’t even hold onto a damn sword. I cannot appear before any sort of god. She felt her fist clenching unconsciously.

“You’re right,” the old woman sighed. “Too lazy…they always have been. Getting other people or creatures to do their work for them. And then so many of ‘em are just so dull and depressing.” The reindeer shook its head and the little bells in her antlers jingled. The old woman flinched.

“Lazy?” Aase echoed with a question in the word. “They’re not lazy. They do have many of their own fights and…” she trailed off. Why was she defending them? It wasn’t fear she realized with a start of surprise. It should be fear, here in the shadow of Frey, but it wasn’t. There was still some loyalty there, perhaps, to her father’s gods.

The old woman shrugged, grudgingly. “Maybe, but they’re also lazy. Otherwise would this occur?”

“I don’t know. Many of the gods are cruel.”

“All gods are, in their own way.”

“Why are we having this conversation,” Aase suddenly snapped. “I should be selling horn and hide, not arguing with you about the habits of gods.”

“Because there is still a problem.”

There it was, said plainly and now she could not escape it. “I know,” she murmured. “And now I feel some form of responsibility. This is stupid.” She was unconsciously fiddling with a piece of hide. This is stupid, I shouldn’t feel like this! I can’t do anything…She looked at the setting sun and the woman who was eyeing the bells suspiciously. “I suppose…” she said finally, “I suppose I could make a sacrifice to Tyr.” On this I will trust Aaric and Father. Maybe then there will be some sort of intervention.”

Eyes flashed at her and Aase started to notice that the woman’s eyes were a startling shade of green. “Is that the best you can come up with? He is no longer with the king and you did have that boy. He’s a very interesting one isn’t he,” her eyes sparkled. “Anyways, regardless, you’re capable of more.”

“I don’t have to do this at all,” Aase snapped back. “That’s all I’m going to do, at least here in the city.”

The old woman’s lips tightened and then she hurrumphed and crossed her arms. “Better than nothing I suppose. Well more like a start. Here,” the woman grinned toothily, exposing a set of twisted teeth. “A donation for your venture,” Aase felt a coin pressed into her palm and her temper flashed. Does she think I’m too poor to afford a set of doves or even a calf?! A wind blew in from the west, warning of snow and a chill in the night. Now was not the time to argue and she was already tired of it.

She began to gather her goods, rolling them in a bundle of hide. Besides, despite what this hag thinks, I can only do so much as half Norse, and only a little better than a peasant. Gods I just want to go back to my tent and sleep…that is if I don’t find myself half out of it. Gods what a strange day. I’m ready for it to be over. “Thank you, I suppose,” she said finally. “And you should be getting home,” she said as she pulled out her sledge, “it may not be safe in a place like this for…” She trailed off. The old woman was gone. Straightening, she wrinkled her nose. Her reindeer was calm, as if nothing had happened, and the only people passing were bundled in furs and leathers, and clothes either heading back to rooms and homes, or going out for a meal or drink. For a moment, she thought she saw a hobbling figure, but then a group of men roaring a drinking song blocked her vision and when they were gone, so was the figure.

With a frown she put her hand into her pocket and felt the coin the woman had given her. Starting, she pulled it out slowly and cursed. It was made from wood.




FOUR YEARS AFTER THE LAST ADDITION OF THIS CAMPFIRE I FEEL IT TIME TO EXTINGUISH THE PROJECT.
HOWEVER, I HAVE EVERY INTENTION OF RESTARTING IT IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS.
THOSE OF YOU WHO ADDED AND WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN REJOINING WILL BE MOST WELCOME.
IF NOT, THANK YOU FOR WORKING WITH ME AND I AM TRULY SORRY THAT I LET THIS GREAT STORY, WITH ALL OF ITS GREAT CHARACTERS, COME TO SUCH A GROUNDING HALT.

ALL BEST,
YOUR FRIEND



The End!

© Copyright 2007 Dr Matticakes Myra, xx-xx, Lascelles in Telos, Juneau, KC under the midnight sun, WithyWindle, Flex 5th birthday just gone., AngelinTwilight, (known as GROUP).
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