Valkyrie Chapter 36
“Have you spoken with her?”
Wulf shook his head, shifted his weight on the cushioned bench beside it and squeezed her tighter. Kala shifted with him. “Briefly, though it seems her mind is elsewhere.”
From the corner of his eye, he caught a hint of a smile on her face. She pressed her back against his chest trying to get comfortable as he held her.
“As is yours it seems,” Kala replied. “But that is the state of things. Mrina is the same. Distracted and unfocused.”
“She and Eadra have shared a similar experience,” he commented. “Only she can help Mrinna work through it.”
His wife nodded. “I hope she accepts the ironwood swords I helped craft.”
“What did Elder Nwan say about that old tree?”
“He was relieved it was no longer suffering,” she replied. “Despite he and his wife’s efforts, in the end, it was futile.”
“It fought hard though to survive. In a way it’s poetic I suppose.”
She was still irritated, there were hints of it in her tone. Wulf knew he deserved it after running off in a tantrum the way he had. At least she hasn't killed me yet.
Between Eirik’s pummeling and her singular punch to his jaw, the fight with Eirik had proven preferable. Still, this was home. “I love you, Kala,” he said.
He could feel it as she lay against him. Her body shifted just enough to signify her surprise. It was hard not to left a smile slip, but a wise man knew better than to anger a she-bear.
She lay her head against his shoulder. Kala had opted to braid her hair and pull it back. A leather cord was tied around the braids to keep them together and away from her face.
Wulf angled his head to he could look into her eyes. There was something about the age lines he saw there that quickened his heart. No matter how much Time took from her, she would always be beautiful. Even if at the moment she was frowning.
“You know I’m still angry with you!”
He laughed. She was only half-serious. Her stern expression cracked and she then tilted her head to kiss him.
“I love you too, Husband. Even if you are a pigheaded dolt.”
Wulf smiled. “But I’m your dolt and fortunate to have a woman that puts up with me.”
She smiled, elbowing him in the ribs. “Yes, you are…”
Wulf grunted, they were still sore from the fight with Eirik. Kala had forbidden the druids from healing him as a lesson for running off.
“Serves you right!” she said, straitening her fur-lined hauberk. Instead of her usual robes, she had chosen furs. She often wor them when she intended to help in the caverns below the grove. Even with the sun orbs providing warmth for the crops, the heat only traveled so far into the tunnels.
“Any word from your messengers?”
“Henrik and Jormund have agreed to meet,” she replied. “There’s still no word from Illhiem.”
“He’s probably too consumed with what Savar might be planning.” Savar was always playing at something, even working contracts with the man is…aggravating. “What of the others?”
She shook her head. “No, but if Dag, Grendin, and Thulm have already begun the trek, then it’s doubtful.”
“I’m not holding out for Dag or Thulm. Especially Thulm. We left them nearly defenseless.”
“Shuet must be desperate,” she commented, squeezing his hands tenderly.
“He’s scared, those that know are all scared. Our Brotherhood is all some of them have. We have given fellowship and family to so many for two hundred years. It’s not a heritage they would want to give up without a fight.” Wulf glanced back at the window. “It’s not a heritage I want to lose either. Had I never become a Ranger, I never would have met you.”
She tilted her head. “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?” her eyes shifted to dark brown like a bear’s, her expression stern.
Wulf smiled, she wasn’t really serious. “Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age, I will be thirty-seven winters in just a few months after all.”
“Or perhaps that hard, icy shell of yours is finally melting,” she replied. “It’s okay, Husband, all it took was a good woman to bring it out of you.”
Wulf laughed. “Can you tell me where to find her?”
A low growl rumbled its way out of her throat. “Care, dearest.” Her expression suddenly changed, becoming a bit more serious. “Will Dag see reason?”
“Dag will do whatever puts his people is the most favorable position. He can’t afford not to be as close as he is to Norenhiem’s border. Dag has asked Illhiem several times for ballista to help with defense, but Illhiem has flatly refused.”
“The old Thran is worried about Savar getting his hands on them.”
Wulf nodded. “He is, not that I blame him. They are his best defense.”
She pulled away, sliding off the bench and stood holding her hand out. Wulf took it and she pulled him to her feet. It was easy to forget how strong she was with her small frame.
“Where are we going?”
She simply smiled. “You’ll see.”
Wulf noted they were moving past the doorway leading into the bedroom. Then looked back at her. Her smile had become a mischievous grin.
He frowned. Yak’s balls. Guess I’m working the fields too.
With session the skeggox was growing easier to wield, becoming lighter and the shield, less bothersome. Frey narrowed her eyes, focusing them on Bodvar’s movements. He was gasping for breath. He was old.
It felt wrong to smile, but the irony was plain as day. The man she had seen as a powerful monster, a brute, was nothing more than a tired old man. An old man who had decided to rest his hopes on the future in her.
Eijar had been right, he only deserved pity. Something about it stung. It was like a hot iron piercing her heart. Mama must have seen the same thing in you.
She could hear whispers now, Eijar had warned her to tune them out. He said they were the truths of a person’s heart, truths of the wrongs they had done. It was hard to believe how many weeks had already gone by since they started.
There were rumors. People would often speak in whispers. Sometimes they would even forget she was there. Frey smiled again. Though it hurt to be ignored, mama had always said to use whatever advantage you had.
They spoke of a gathering that would be happening soon. It seemed important. She had asked Eijar, but he would only frown and look slightly worried. A large group of men had come, they carried a red banner with an ice squid overtaking a ship on it.
Everyone seemed even more nervous upon their arrival. Viktor, at least that was who seemed to be in charge, didn’t look happy.
“Well, tart!” Bovar bellowed. “Are you going to stand there stupidly or attack me?!”
Frey locked her jaw. Anger causes mistakes. Eijar had said that. Mama had said it too. She took a breath and cautiously stepped closer.
The hides Eijar had bought for her were hard to get used to but manageable. Bodvar was using his skeggox now. He had said the time for practice was over.
He was stronger and didn’t hesitate to put all he had into each blow. The brute had already broken her arm once. If not for the druid and apothecary staying in Grunier, it would still be in bad shape.
There were moments where it still hurt, but she had taught herself how to deflect his axe away with her shield to diffuse the force behind the blow. It was the only way to keep up. Eijar had also taught her that with a larger opponent, you simply have to outlast them. Eventually, they will tire and you can strike. He’s almost there.
“Come get me, Father,” she taunted. “Unless you’ve grown too old.”
Bodvar’s eyes exploded in rage. Frey tried to push past the fear, but the way his face twisted so bitterly was terrifying.
“You little pile of yak dung!”
He charged and Frey braced herself. Her imagination quickly took over for a moment. To her Bodvar suddenly seemed like a frost giant from mama’s stories. She pushed the thought aside, he was almost on top of her.
Just before he was about to bear down on him, Frey rushed toward him, fell to her side and then rolled. Bodvar wasn’t able to stop, tripping over her, her shield and stumbling, landed face-first in the snow. His skeggox had flown just a few feet from his hand. His shield was also out of reach. The straps had broken.
Frey jumped to her feet, holding her shield up, and bracing herself. Instead of his string of usual curses, the Bodvar rolled over and burst into laughter. It was embarrassing but Frey nearly wet herself. It was always frightening when his moods changed so suddenly. That was when he was the most unpredictable.
He sat up, hints of annoyance showing in his eyes as he smiled. “That was very clever,” he said. “You lured me in.”
He’s proud? After weeks of being beaten, called horrible things and given the impression that you didn’t matter, Frey suddenly felt conflicted. She never wanted his approval, but strangely, now that it was being given, it left her feeling sick inside. She struggled with the small sense of appreciation sprouting up within her.
“Come here,” he said waving her over, a wide smiled on his face.
Frey stepped back cautiously, Skeggox ready, shield guarded. Bodvar laughed, revealing the knife he had hidden behind his back in his other hand.
“Good, you are learning,” he said. “Had you come close I would have stabbed you.”
Frey heard footprints in the snow and glanced up. The warriors Viktor had sent to watch them were approaching. Both looked angry.
“You will not,” one of them said. His name was Skad.
Bodvar looked behind him. “I do as I please,” he replied.
Frey shivered. There was that murderous tone she had grown accustomed to hearing in his voice.
“You do as Viktor please,” Skad replied.
Frey backed away catching caught a glimpse of the hard look Bodvar wore.
“For now, boy,” he replied. “For now.”
“Lady Frey, I think it’s time you returned to the hall,” Skad said.
She glanced at Bodvar and he simply nodded.
“You did good, daughter,” he said. “We are finished for the day.”
Frey cautiously walked past him, but never taking her eyes off Bodvar until Skad and his companion were at her back. When she turned away, Frey heard a sudden grunt, followed by a gurgling sound.
She turned eyes widening as she watched Skad fall face-first into the snow. Bodvar had stabbed him and then slit his throat. Her mouth fell open and she felt her stomach turning over.
He’d done nothing wrong!
She shifted her gaze to Bodvar, his face twisted in anger. “I do as I please!”
Bodvar looked up, Skad’s companion had already stepped back, his sword drawn and shield bared. “Did you say something, Frey?”
Frey shook her head. The blood was still dripping from his seax. “No.”
“Good, now, be a good girl and run along. Your Da has a mess to clean up.”
She stepped back slowly as he turned to Skad’s companion. The warrior planted his feet and shifted his stance.
“Lady Frey,” he sneered, eyeing Skad’s companion. “You’re my daughter, Frey. I’ll not have you become like these sheep!”
A horn blared and within moments Bodvar was surrounded by more of Viktor’s men. With them were some of the warriors she had seen enter the gates days earlier. Bodvar held his hands up, dropping the seax onto the snow.
One of Viktor’s men stepped forward, even under the visor of his helm, Frey saw how angry he was. The man looked at Skad’s body, then to Bodvar. “Come with us Bodvar, Viktor will be hearing of this.”
Bodvar smiled defiantly. “I’m sure he will.”
The man then stepped back and Frey tensed as he approached and knelt in front of her. He tenderly placed a hand on her cheek, his blue eyes softening. “I’m sorry you had to see that little one,” he said. “Please return to the lodge.”
Frey nodded, then ran. Skad was always so nice to me. He would always talk about his little girl and how proud of her he was.
She hadn’t even realized she was in her room until she felt the door leading to the hall at her back. Frey slid down onto the floor, casting aside her shield and skeggox. “Mama, please hurry. I need you.”
Tears came next, as did the hope that this was all just a terrible dream.
(Catch up with chapter 1 HERE )