Sookie the Shieldmaiden: 12

A/N:

EDIT: Apparently some of you got errors and I have no idea why – I couldn`t even access chapter 12 myself. I`ll try to re-upload and see if that will take care of the problems. Arrgh. (And thank you for letting me know, FiniteAnarchy!)

It seems all my A/Ns are complaints over FF and now I think I`ve used them all up. I just want to say that I`m sorry most of you didn`t get alerts and that I hope you found the last chapter after all (judging from the reviews you did – thank you!).

I want to thank Suki59 for helping me with the action scenes in this chapter and for generally whipping my poor English into shape.

I also want to thank Charlaine Harris for writing so many great books. She owns all the characters in this story, of course. I`m just sending them back to where they really belong – the Viking age.


Chapter 12

I`d never noticed the smell of the deep pine forests or the sound of the waterfalls along the coastline but now I did. The smells and the sounds all screamed “HOME” and I knew that we would soon see the estuary of the fjord that led to my village.

Hoping to catch any kind of movement – boats, smoke, anything – I was sitting in the prow of the boat. Eric, Jason and Claude were watching behind us and to the sides to make sure we weren`t taken by surprise by anyone. It would have been and irony of Loki dimensions if Felipe`s men caught us in open sea and killed us before we managed to get home and defend our neighbors.

Finally, I could spot the beginning of the fjord. Unfortunately, I could see something else too.

“Fire,” I said loud enough for the other people on the boat to hear me but not loud enough to be heard on shore.

The smoke coming from the village at the beginning of the fjord – from Calvin`s village – was more than just from the casual fireplaces in the houses. Even more than if they`d made a huge celebrational bonfire. If Calvin had died while I`d been gone and they`d put him on his ship and set fire to it, there wouldn`t have been this much smoke.

So something was wrong. Very wrong.

We couldn`t see the village yet, hidden as it was behind a small hill. But we knew enough to lower the sails immediately and row the boat to the shore before it was visible from the village.

Very quietly, only talking in low voices – or not at all – we managed to pull the boat ashore and crawl our way up the hill to witness the damage. I was the first one to get a look and the sight that met me had me gasping loudly.

I`d seen several villages burned down, corpses in the roads and pigs running around screaming in fright but this was the first time I`d witnessed it in a village full of people I knew. People I liked.

Blinking a few times to remove the tears that welled up in my eyes, I quickly checked the area for enemies. I felt movement next to me and Eric`s hand fell on mine in the grass.

“Your friends?” he asked.

I nodded and stared at Calvin`s village. The damage had to have been done fairly recently. If we`d sailed faster. Been quicker. Had better wind.

I swallowed and took a deep breath.

That was when I noticed Jason. Eric and I were flat on our stomachs and Claude was crawling his way up to us but Jason was standing on his feet.

No, he was walking … running.

“Crystal!” he yelled in despair. Well, it sounded like a yell to me, trying to be as quiet as possible, but it might just have been a loud whisper.

Before any of us could stop him he was speeding his way down to the village – the village that had just been raided and which could still have warriors in hiding.

I got up too and ran after Jason and I heard Eric and Claude doing the same, Eric cursing while running.

I said a few choice words too but I did it on the inside. Why the Hekla was Jason being so incredibly stupid, running towards a village without knowing what was going to meet him? And why was he shouting for Crystal?

It wasn`t that it surprised me that Jason had been intimate with Calvin`s niece – she`d had sex with plenty of men (and Jason had had sex with plenty of women) – but how could she mean that much to him that he would risk his life for her? How could she mean anything to him? Did any of his conquests mean anything to him?

I thought I knew my brother and now I was running as fast as my short legs could carry me to save someone who acted like a stranger.

Jason had always been rash in battle but this was beyond even him. I tried to speed up, avoiding roots and rocks sticking up from the ground, and scanning the village to make sure we weren`t ambushed in a cowardly way. At some point I`d grabbed my sword and held it in my hand but I noticed to my surprise that Jason was running empty-handed. It was a deep rooted instinct to always carry a weapon in situations like this and for Jason to choose not to …. I wasn`t even sure he`d chosen not to carry a weapon. I wasn`t sure his head was functioning at all. Or his survival instinct.

Coming closer to the village also meant seeing the results of the raid close-up. I hardly looked at the first body we passed but the next one was so brutally slashed open from the throat to the waist, I couldn`t help staring while running by.

We passed the first houses and that was when Jason started shouting in a voice that didn`t sound like him. It was so filled with fear it made me expect the worst when I headed around the corner of the house Jason had disappeared behind.

“Crystal!” he shouted.

I wanted to tell him to shut up. We didn`t know if the raiders were still there. We didn`t know what had happened. But I couldn`t. Jason`s voice was so foreign, I couldn`t tell him to do anything.

“Crystal!” Jason shouted again. He shouted as though he wanted her to come out of hiding but I could quickly tell that no one was hiding in the village. No one was alive apart from a few animals that ran around.

A dog was licking blood from the street and my stomach turned when I noticed the blood came from a body thrown up on a roof.

The raiders had been thorough. Even if some of the people had survived an initial blow or cut, they`d made sure everyone was dead. Uninterrupted as the raid had been, the raiders had had time to slash everyone`s throat.

We were in the middle of the village – the place where they had their village celebrations and communal meals – when I noticed a huge bonfire. The stench was terrible and I saw the remains of corpses. Judging from how well-built the bonfire was – and how the villagers had just been left in the streets – I assumed the raiders had burned their own people.

It could only mean one thing – that they couldn`t bring them home to give them a proper burial.

I looked behind me and saw Eric. I nodded at the fire and I could see he was thinking the same thing.

“I`ll check the shore,” he said and off he ran.

A thousand thoughts crashed through my head. I`d gone on this trip to save my own village from these raiders. If they`d been too busy to bring home their dead then it could mean they were already on their way to attack my friends and neighbors.

“Crystal!” Jason shouted again and I looked away from the bonfire and back at my brother.

I saw him rushing into a house repeating Crystal`s name and suddenly his voice broke and an inhuman shriek came out instead. Claude and I ran as quickly as we could but when I entered the house Jason had disappeared into, my heart sank.

Jason was on the floor, his body thrown over a female body. Her dress was open and a huge wound had almost separated her head from her body. Her face bore a grotesque expression but I could tell that it was Crystal.

“Nooooooooo,” Jason moaned, his voice so tormented it made me want to throw down my sword and hug him.

But I couldn`t. We still didn`t know what had happened in the village. We didn`t know where the raiders were.

I was also bewildered. Why did Jason have this kind of reaction? What did Crystal mean to him? As far as I knew Jason hadn`t made any marital promises to her. And he had certainly screwed other women. Fidelity was not Jason`s thing.

I walked outside with Claude who looked as surprised as I did. Since we didn`t have time to discuss Jason`s sex life, we just gave each other a look.

Just when we were about to continue our search, Eric came running.

“Their boats are in the harbor,” he said.

“What?” I said. “You mean, they`re still here?”

“They must be. The boats have been destroyed. One was burning and two had holes in them. They`ve sunk a few just off shore.” Eric looked from me to Claude. “Do you think the people here did that?”

“But why would they?” I asked.

We were quiet for awhile, just looking at each other, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.

Then Claude spoke. “The last time I was here Calvin showed me how they were going to protect the fjord from raiders. They were going to shoot fire arrows and throw large rocks at enemy boats coming close to the shore.”

I stared at Claude. “He never told me,” I said.

“He never talked to you after …,” Claude started. “He wanted you to know, though. He told me so.”

“But they could never throw rocks far enough to make holes in the boat,” Eric said.

“You`re used to flatlands, Eric. We have mountains. Calvin`s people wouldn`t have to throw the rocks far – just roll them over the edge,” Claude explained. He pointed at the hills looming over the fjord. “There`s a cliff down there that`s high enough and which hangs over parts of the fjord. If they had stored large enough rocks, they could just give them a shove and they would rain down on the boats.”

“Which meant the raiders came to Calvin`s village instead of ours,” I concluded. “They couldn`t go further.”

Claude nodded. “It seems so.”

“But where are they now?” I asked and we all looked towards the forest and the mountains separating Calvin`s village from ours.

“There weren`t any longboats in the harbor,” Eric said. “Maybe Felipe`s men have taken Calvin`s longboats?”

Claude and I looked at each other and after awhile we both shook our heads.

“Calvin usually kept his longboat in our harbor where it`s more protected from the open sea. They only have the smaller boats here.”

Eric nodded. “There were smaller boats in the harbor.”

All three of us looked towards the forest again. We could hear the mighty river cutting through it but there were none of the sounds warriors would make. There weren`t any sounds a warrior would make.

There were the sounds from the sounds from the village. The animals squealing. The fires burning. Jason`s moaning and crying.

I thought of the defense of our village. Everything was directed towards the fjord – the place where enemies always came from. No one would expect warriors coming down from the mountains through the forest. Everyone would be taken by surprise.

And killed.

I took a deep breath and looked at Claude. “You stay here with Jason. Eric and I will go after them.”

“Jason should get up and fight with us,” Claude said.

I pulled Claude back into the house where Jason was draped over Crystal`s body, completely lost from the world. Eric followed us and I could see him shaking his head, clearly drawing the same conclusions I was.

“Then you make him fit to fight and come after us. Help him bury Crystal and help him mourn.” My voice was slightly raised.

“But he`s your brother,” Claude complained.

“And he`s your cousin. Look after Jason. Do what you can for him and join us when he`s well enough to fight. Eric and I are leaving now.”

And with that I turned on my heels and pulled Eric with me.

We`d walked through the whole village before I realized I was still holding his hand. He noticed I was staring at my smaller hand inside his large one and grinned.

“I don`t mind as long as you let go when I need to grab my sword.”

I let go as if I`d burned my hand but the feeling of him stayed on for awhile. His calloused hand felt good in mine. Too good.

“Let`s follow the river,” I said, my voice much steadier than I would have expected.

We walked in silence, listening to every sound – and for sounds missing. We looked for footprints and other signs of Felipe`s men having walked through here and to determine how long ago it had been. The birds were chirping too happily for Felipe`s men to be very close ahead and the resin in the branches they`d broken on their way had dried up.

Eric and I started moving faster, almost running, to catch up with the warriors ahead of us. We still paid attention to the signs of the forest and we walked as quietly as we could. But we both had a distinct feeling that we were running out of time.

I had, at least, and Eric didn`t seem to be slowing me down.

What was slowing us down was the fact that we tried to avoid using the path animals and humans had made throughout the years – the path Felipe`s soldiers were walking on. We kept listening for the river, knowing the path followed the river and not wanting to lose direction. But we stayed inside the forest. Deep inside.

We`d been walking for quite some time when I felt Eric`s hand on my shoulder. He pointed at the river and at first I thought he`d seen something there. He must have realized I`d misunderstood him because he shook his head.

He whispered, “We need to get something to drink and rest for a little while. We`ll catch up with them soon and we can`t afford to be exhausted when we`re going to fight them.”

I nodded. I didn`t want to stop but Eric was right. Too many warriors had lost battles because they`d forgotten to eat and drink.

I leaned over the bank of the river and formed a cup with my hands. I realized I was even thirstier than I`d thought and I gulped down the fresh and very cold water. This river came straight from the glaciers in the mountains and I was grateful to be cooled down by its water.

Eric stood guard and when I was finished drinking, I got up and watched over him while he crouched down and gulped down some water too.

I looked around for something edible, knowing the forest didn`t have much to offer since it was spring. Not unless I wanted to take the time to hunt, which I didn`t. Not for food, at least. I was hunting down Felipe`s men.

Luckily the forest floor was filled with ramsons and I started plucking the leaves. It wouldn`t fill Eric`s or my stomach but it would give us a little strength.

When Eric had finished drinking, I gave him a handful of ramsons and we started chewing while walking.

Day was turning into evening when Eric made a hand gesture that made me stop. He pointed to his nose and I sniffed.

A bonfire.

Felipe`s men had set up camp and they couldn`t be far away.

I smiled to Eric. We`d caught up with them before they`d reached my village. Now we only needed to kill them.

Eric gave me a silent grin. He was looking forward to the battle as well. We were only two and they were … I`d tried to add up their numbers while we`d walked through the forest. They`d come in three longboats which meant at least 60 men. I`d counted about 25 corpses on the bonfire in Calvin`s village.

That left … I counted again … at least 30 men.

Maybe more.

Hopefully less.

We needed to be smart about it since there was no way we could do the honorable thing and rush into their camp and kill them all in one blow. We also couldn`t ambush them with arrows since neither Eric nor I had brought our bows. And I was a lousy shot anyway.

So we needed to take them one at a time and we needed to do it quietly.

We snuck closer, trying to determine where their guards were. We lay low while pointing them out one by one in the light from the bonfire and the last remains of the sun. We pointed at each of them and divided them between us, giving each of us three to kill.

I was just about to go down on my knees to crawl my way up to the first guy when Eric stopped me, pulled me into his body and gave me a deep kiss.

“I`ll see you afterwards,” he whispered. “Here or in Valhalla.”

I couldn`t help kissing him back.

“I`ll see you afterwards,” I repeated. “Here.”

“Here,” Eric said with a nod and with that he was off.

The first guard was asleep and I silently let my knife glide over his neck, killing him in one quiet blow. The next one was awake but was an easy kill too, having his back turned in my direction. A quick stab to his heart and he was dead too. I moved towards the third one who spotted me just before I killed him – too late for him to notify anyone. His mouth formed a silent O as my sword slid into his stomach and made its way to his chest.

I made my way back to where Eric and I were meeting up but on the way I heard footsteps close to me. At first I thought I`d been discovered but then the footsteps stopped and I heard the distinct sound of a guy getting rid of some of what he`d just drunk.

A guy holding his dick is the easiest target in the world and I managed to kill him without a sound too. I managed to yank his head back and swipe my blade across his throat without a sound and the only though in my head was me, wondering whether his dick would still be out of his trousers when he entered Valhalla. It wasn`t until afterwards I realized that he would be missed soon.

I rushed back to our meeting place and was relieved to find Eric waiting for me. I whispered that we had to act quickly. We snuck up closer to the camp and just when we`d found a good position behind a large rock, we heard them shouting out to the guy I`d killed.

After awhile with no replies – it`s so very hard to talk when your throat has been slit – two of the men gathered their swords and got up to walk in the direction the man they were missing had taken.

Eric and I quickly snuck up on one each, grabbed them from behind, covering the mouths with our hands to prevent them from alarming the rest of the men, and slit their throats. One could almost have thought we`d rehearsed it because we looked like each other`s shadows – the killing twins.

We also looked pretty much alike – apart from our gender and size. Blond braids bathed in blood and both sporting a murderous grin. At least, I hoped my grin was as menacing as Eric`s. Wouldn`t do to walk around with a nice auntie-smile while killing people en masse.

Quickly we went back to our hiding place, hoping that more men would leave the camp in small groups. We couldn`t fight all of them at once, but we might just get away with killing one at a time.

We heard singing and drunken singing from the camp – something that told us not everyone had realized what had happened. But we also heard movement closer to us – this time by someone who didn`t shout out.

Eric and I looked at each other and left the hiding place, going in different directions. My blood was rushing in my veins and it felt as if I could hear everything, see everything. I knew a guy was just behind me but also that he hadn`t seen me. He was walking in my direction so I crouched down behind a bush and when he`d walked past me, I jumped up and knocked him down with the handle of my knife.

I steadied him when he landed and quickly slit his throat.

Suddenly, I heard a sound. Someone called out in alarm and everyone in the camp was up orders were barked out and it seemed people ran in all directions. Orders were barked out and people ran in all directions.

Shit.

I couldn`t see Eric but I quickly found a hiding place, hoping I would still be able to kill a few men one by one.

My first chance came with a guy who came very close, scanning the ground but not seeing my. I realized that all the men had been staring into the fire and therefore were night blind whereas I could take advantage of the little twilight left in the forest and could see fairly well.

Not caring whether or not I was making noise, I sheathed my knife and grabbed my sword instead. It was time for the big weapons.

The man close to me yelled out when he saw me but that was the last thing he did before his head left his neck.

I quickly ran through the forest to find myself a new place to stay far away from the man I`d killed. His cry had drawn a large crowd but one of the men was slower than the rest and I killed him the way I`d killed his mate.

I heard sounds from the other side of the camp and figured Eric was as lucky as I`d been. Or as talented.

I gave myself a quick praise for the number of men I`d killed. Unfortunately there`s an old saying that pride comes before fall and I heard a murmur close to me.

Using my mental battle skills I searched the surroundings and knew I had five men closing in on me in a circle. Luckily that circle had one huge hole and I quickly darted towards the gap between two of the five men.

I felt some of the other men rushing me from behind so I sped up. Just as I thought I`d made it I felt something around my legs. I fell – but not to the forest floor. I fell into something hard but yet flexible.

All five of the men – and a hundred more it seemed from the weight of them – jumped on top of me, holding my arms and legs. I couldn`t move and realized they`d used a net.

A net to catch a warrior!

“Cowards!” I shouted.

Then I had a hand over my mouth and though I tried to bite it but couldn`t manage. I was kicked and beaten and someone tried to pull me up while the rest of them were on top of me. I couldn`t breathe but there and then it didn`t seem important.

Who needed air when one was trying to get out of a net? A net! I just couldn`t fathom that anyone would use such a sissy weapon. Warriors used swords or axes or spears or even bows and arrows. But a net?

My internal outrage was interrupted when I was pulled up to stand on my feet. The hand left my mouth but I had nothing to say. It occurred to me that Eric was still free and I wasn`t going to make him worry about me.

Unfortunately someone else had the same thoughts – only reversed.

“We have your friend!” he shouted into the forest. “We`ll kill him if you don`t come out with your hands over your head.”

“Don`t do it, Eric!” I quickly yelled before the hand was back on my mouth and I had a fist to my stomach.

Unfortunately my yell made them realize one important thing. That I wasn`t a “he” at all. I was a “she.” They grinned when they discovered my gender and their shouts to Eric became more taunting.

“Your whore will warm my bed if you don`t come to save her!” one guy shouted.

“Her tits fit my hands perfectly. Her cunt will fit my dick even better!” another one yelled. I didn`t have anyone`s hands on my breasts but Eric couldn`t know that.

I prayed to all the gods that Eric would leave me alone. I would rather they killed me and he survived than their catching us both. Judging from what Calvin`s village looked like, we would both be dead if we were caught.

Unfortunately the gods weren`t listening. I felt Eric moving towards the group that was holding me and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to divert their attention by struggling and moving like an eel. My movements were rewarded by kicks and hits but I still managed to keep the guys watching me instead of the forest where Eric was.

Eric came closer and closer and I almost thought he could manage to free me as none of the men holding me captive had noticed he was crawling towards us.

That was when I felt men behind Eric – men Eric hadn`t noticed – and I pushed and turned my head to warn him but I was held too tightly, the hand on my mouth almost suffocating me.

A lot of movement in Eric`s direction made tears well up in my eyes. Even before someone yelled, “We`ve got him!” I knew Eric was caught.

They`d used a net on him as well, the craven bastards.

There was a lot of commotion, men searching the forest to see if we were more than two, and then we were pulled towards the camp.

In the middle of the camp, next to the bonfire, a man rose and looked at us with hate in his eyes. He was one of those men you wouldn`t notice if he hadn`t been the one giving the orders. He was short and compact and had curly, dark hair. Some might call him attractive if they looked closely but only his mother would say he was handsome.

Eric was pulled up next to me and I heard him gasp when he saw the man staring at us.

I, on the other hand, didn`t have a clue to who he was.

The man gave us a lopsided grin.

“Eric the Northman,” he said. “And I suppose this is your little wife?”

Eric nodded, trying to move closer to me. I wasn`t sure if he thought he could protect me or if he just wanted to be near me but the movement touched something inside me.

“But it seems she doesn`t know who I am,” the man said. “Maybe you should tell her?”

Eric turned to me and nodded. “Sookie,” he said. “This is Victor the ….” Eric paused. “Victor is Felipe`s foster son.”

Apparently Eric had told a great joke because Victor started laughing. And it was the kind of laughter that made my skin turn into little goose bumps all over.


A/N

This chapter was twice the usual length and it may have to last for two weeks because next week I`ll be on Iceland (YAY!) and I`m not sure I`ll be bringing my laptop. But I`ll certainly look for inspiration for this story – Iceland is not called The Saga Island for nothing. This is my third trip to Iceland but the first one with my family. I`m looking so much forward to it :-)

Viking settling in new areas

According to the sagas Iceland was settled by Norwegian fugitives from Harald Fairhair (I mentioned him in the last chapter). But fleeing your home country was just one reason for settling in new areas.

Historians believed for a long time that the reason the Vikings settled in new areas – like Turkey, Ukraine, Belorus, Russia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Canada and several other countries outside the Nordic countries – was because the population grew and some had to move so they wouldn`t all die from hunger. Almost like the Scandinavians in the late 19th and early 20th century who moved to North-America to escape poverty back home.

But historians today dispute this theory since there was no hunger and there were plenty of fields to farm.

Here are other reasons why the Vikings settled abroad:

Trade

The Vikings were traders (and farmers) more than raiders and some probably liked the areas where they traded or they found it a good idea to stay close to the people they traded with.

Better boats

The longboats made it easier to travel to new parts of the world and therefor also easier to settle there.

A change of climate

In the Viking age the climate turned warmer and it was therefore easier for the Vikings to settle in cold areas like Greenland and Iceland.

The kings came into power

During the Viking age the kings in Scandinavia grabbed more and more power and the people who disagreed with the kings had to escape or they would find themselves a head shorter.

Christianity moving north

A large part of the refugees from Scandinavia were trying to get away from a more and more powerful church – a church that gave the Vikings a choice between converting or losing their lives.

And there`s always the possibility the Vikings settled abroad because it was nicer there – though we Scandinavians find that VERY hard to believe :-D

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