Sookie the Shieldmaiden: 4

A/N:

I just can`t get over the number of people who have chosen to subscribe to this story or favorite it – not to mention all your great reviews. Thank you so much!

I also want to thank Suki59 for betaing this story. If you want to see my writing without her amazing betaing skills – look at my A/Ns. I write them right before I post a chapter and they are filled with all kinds of mistakes. Sorry!


Eric the Northman and Chow Blackhair, as he introduced himself, were more dead than alive when we pulled them onboard. The crew grabbed whatever floating goods they could find while I gave Eric the Northman and Chow Blackhair something to drink. I couldn`t offer them dry clothes as the rain had drenched everything but I found some blankets and furs and helped rub some heat back into their bodies.

Eric the Northman`s lips were blue and Chow Blackhair was in even worse condition with his teeth chattering and his skin almost white from the cold water. Neither of them would have survived much longer if they`d stayed in the water.

But they were far from safe. I`d seen men die long after they`d been pulled out of cold water. I needed to get some warmth into these two men.

“Claude and Jason!” I called. “Bring me some more blankets and get over here.”

When my cousin and my brother made their way over to where I was helping our two shipwrecked guests, I ordered Jason to lie behind Chow and Claude behind Eric. I stretched out in the middle and made Jason and Claude push us all closely together. We pulled blankets and furs over us and hoped our body heat would help the two men we`d pulled out of the ocean.

I was on my side, facing Eric the Northman, and rubbed his arms under the blankets. He wasn`t fully conscious so I started talking to him as well. I could hear Jason talking to Chow Blackhair behind my back.

“Stay awake,” I whispered. “Don`t slip into unconsciousness. Stay with me. If you don`t stay with me, I`ll knock you down even faster than I did the last time. I`ll kick your ass if you die on me now.”

A sound came from his lips.

“What did you say?” I whispered.

“Sookie?” he asked.

I smiled. “Yes, this is Sookie the Shieldmaiden.” I rubbed his arm even harder. He couldn`t die on me now.

“Give me a kiss.”

Claude started laughing behind Eric`s back but Jason was cursing.

“I`ll kiss you if my cousin won`t,” Claude said.

A tiny smile came on Eric the Northman`s lips. “I suppose … it`s the closest … I`ll get.”

I huffed. Eric the Northman was going to kiss my cousin, Claude, because I wouldn`t kiss him? What a silly man. But as I knew it would make Claude happy, I certainly wouldn`t get in his way.

Suddenly I felt lips on mine. It was a light kiss, just brushing my lips, but it was a kiss.

I was staring at Eric the Northman`s face when his very blue eyes suddenly opened and I was looking into them.

“I must have kissed … the wrong cousin … by mistake,” he said with a tiny smile.

Claude barked out another laugh.

Eric and Chow had to come home with us as we couldn`t afford the detour to take them home. They would stay in our village until they`d found a ship that sailed to the flatlands they came from.

Both of them had recovered fully before we saw our homeland`s coastline but they were both affected by what had happened to them. I didn`t know Chow at all and I couldn`t say I was very familiar with Eric`s habits either but I was fairly sure that neither of them were normally as quiet as they`d been since we picked them up from the water.

I knew Eric blamed himself. Any leader would when his men died. I also knew that no matter what anyone said or did, he would still feel the same. A man like Eric would be too proud to listen and I respected him for that. We`d been lucky to survive but Eric the Northman`s men hadn`t. There was a fine line between life and death and any man going on board a ship knew that.

Sam decided that Eric and Chow were my responsibility since I`d heard them yelling in the water and also brought them back to life. They were both being placed in the longhouse I shared with Jason and Claude.

Even if I hadn`t been the one who`d heard Eric and Chow, they would probably still be sleeping in our house since we had plenty of room for guests.

I couldn`t wait to have two more attractive men under my roof. As if the line of ladies and men (Claude did not believe in discriminating against anyone) outside our door wasn`t too long to handle already.

“Thank you, Sam,” I said – sarcasm being my new best friend. I`d tried to argue with him ever since he`d raised the topic on the boat, but now that we were home and Sam had his wife and children running towards him on the beach, I accepted defeat.

Sam shrugged and smiled at his family while holding his arms open for them. I sighed.

“Come one, then,” I said to Eric and Chow who followed me to the longhouse I shared with my brother and my cousin.

Truth be told, our longhouse was fairly empty compared to some of the others. There were families of 20 or 30 cramped together in most of the houses and here we were, just the three of us in one big house. But then Jason and Claude were all the family I had. Claude`s parents had died from an awful chest cough when he was just a toddler and our parents had taken him in. When they drowned, there was only Gran left and she`d passed away last year.

A three-person family was a small family and it had been hinted more than once that we should all get married. But Claude and Jason claimed they hadn`t found that one girl who would make them want to settle down and I enjoyed being a shieldmaiden too much to give it up.

And, of course, none of us had any older family members who could force us into marriage.

I opened the door to our longhouse and that was when it hit me. We only had the three beds. When Gran was alive, I`d shared a bed with her and when my parents were alive, Jason and Claude had slept in the same bed.

This past year Jason, Claude and I had enjoyed the luxury of each having a bed to ourselves. We`d situated them as far apart as possible in the big room. That was mainly because Jason and Claude often had company in their beds and neither of them were very discreet about it.

I looked at Jason and Claude and as if Claude had read my mind, he quickly said, “Eric the Northman can share my bed and Chow Blackhair can sleep with Jason.”

I smiled. Both because I wouldn`t have to share my bed with anyone but also because I figured Eric the Northman wouldn`t get much sleep. Claude was like Eric. If he saw something – someone – he wanted, he could be fairly aggressive in his pursuit. Eric was about to taste his own medicine.

Eric the Northman opened his mouth to say something but then he smiled instead. I would have thought his smile meant that he welcomed his new sleeping partner but I couldn`t be sure when he gave me a wink. I had no idea what it meant.

Eric the Northman was truly annoying.

After having carried everything that was ours from the boat to our house, I went to see my old friend Tara. After having been in the company of men, and men only, for so long I longed for some female company.

Tara had been my friend since we were children. She and Jason had been a couple for a while but to my grief, she chose to marry someone else. Not that I blamed her – Jason just wasn`t husband material – but I would still have loved to have had her in my family and my house.

Tara was all the things I used to be – carefree, smiling and gentle. She would have been the perfect wife to Jason even if he would have been a terrible husband to her.

“Sookie!” she exclaimed. She`d been sitting outside the house she shared with her husband JB the Dumb (JB wasn`t smart but he was nice and a good provider and that was what mattered to Tara), their children and JB`s parents, sharpening her knife when she saw me. The knife went flying and Tara jumped into my arms. “I`m so glad you`re alive.”

Tara was always sure I would die every time I left the village. She couldn`t understand why I chose to fight when I could stay at home and have children but then she was an only child and didn`t have any kid brothers she needed to protect.

“Of course, I`m alive. Do you doubt my fighting skills?” I asked with a smile.

Embracing Tara was always what made me feel at home. In her company I could relax and let my guard down. I could tell her about what I`d seen – what I`d done – and I didn`t have to be the cold warrior who killed without remorse.

“You know I don`t, Sookie. I just wish ….”

I knew what Tara wished for. That I would stay at home in the safety of the village.

“I know, Tara.” I hugged her again. “But that`s not for me. You know that.”

She nodded. “It`s just that I see what all the killing is doing to you. I don`t want to lose that sweet and caring friend of mine.”

I gave her a third hug. “You won`t.” I knew what she meant, though. Fighting people and killing them was changing me. I was growing colder and I wasn`t sure I liked it.

Tara pulled back. “You smell like four days on the sea, Sookie.” She wrinkled her nose. “Even fierce warriors need to wash themselves from time to time.”

I laughed and we said our goodbyes. I would have plenty of time to talk to Tara in the weeks to come. Sam never planned for more than a couple of raids every summer since the village was defenseless with all the warriors gone.

I went to the river outside the village to wash myself. Most of my fellow crew members were there already and the mood was playful. We`d not only survived – we`d brought home treasures and food that would mean prosperity instead of hunger.

I took my clothes off. I was used to being the only woman in a group and also fairly used to being the only naked woman in a group. Being a shieldmaiden meant the men had to respect my saying no to their offers of companionship but it also meant that I had to be one of them. It had been years since I`d been embarrassed about my nudity in front of my fellow warriors.

Just as I was removing my last piece of clothing, something made me look up towards the path from the village. I looked straight into two very blue eyes staring at me. Eric the Northman stood there while Jason, Chow and Claude walked past him. A tiny smile curled his lips, a smile that made me want to cover my breasts.

Instead I huffed, finished undressing and jumped into the water. Eric the Northman should not have that effect on me. He should not have any effect on me.

I passed the soap and ointments onto the next man and dived under. I enjoyed the feeling of fresh, cold water in my hair. I broke the surface and quickly undid my braids. Sam handed me the soap and the ointments for my hair and I washed myself thoroughly, wanting to get all the blood and fear off my skin. Then I dived under again.

I`d always been a fish in water and now I enjoyed diving even more. It kept me away from those burning blue eyes I`d rather not look into. Or have ogling my naked body.

I came up for air and noticed Jason, Claude and Chow making their way out into the river. Eric the Northman, on the other hand, just stood there. Naked.

It was my turn to stare. The flatlander had an amazing body – and I`d seen quite a few. I`d already known he was tall and had broad shoulders but his build had been hidden under his clothes. He had muscles everywhere on that tall frame. His chest was covered with blond hair, a little trail going southwards to his ….

I kept my eyes on his chest, his shoulders, his arms. He was magnificent.

And he knew it.

He also knew that I had been staring at him for what seemed like all afternoon. He slowly undid his braids and let his long blond hair fall freely over his shoulders. I had to force myself to breathe or I would have passed out in the water.

I looked at Claude who was also admiring Eric the Northman. Claude must have felt my eyes on him because he turned around and winked at me. Then he made his way over to me.

“He is gorgeous, isn`t he?” he asked, nodding towards Eric the Northman who was now looking at us.

“Probably not the word I would have used, but yes, he`s not exactly ugly.” Claude and I had always discussed men and I didn`t see any reason not to just because it was Eric the Northman, Claude`s future bed partner.

“You can have him, you know.” Claude smiled at me.

“What do you mean?”

“He wants you, not me. So if you want him in your bed, you can have him.”

“Why would I want him?” I asked though I could hear how silly it sounded what with my having drooled over Eric the Northman just moments ago.

Claude laughed. “Because you`re not blind?”

“You can keep him, Claude. I`m sure you can make him very happy.”

“That I can, dear cousin. My skills are unmatched and I do think I know more about pleasing a man than you do.”

“Well, thank you for that vote of confidence,” I said and slipped under the water. I didn`t need to hear my own cousin tell me I was a lousy lover. Yes, he was tall and dark and very handsome but I`d never looked at him as competition. I wasn`t going to start now.

When I came up again, I was staring straight into the chest I`d just been admiring.

“Sookie …,” he started but I quickly dived under the water again and swam to the edge of the river. I got out and quickly put on my clothes. Then I made my way back to the house.

On my way through the village I could smell all the dishes being cooked for tonight`s party. My stomach growled and I realized I hadn`t eaten all day.

At the house I changed into my dress, combed and braided my hair and put on the one piece of jewelry I had from my mother, on a long silver chain. I had taken plenty of jewelry on the raids but this was the only one that had meaning for me. It was a small figurine of Freia and I kissed it before I let it fall onto my chest.

“It`s beautiful,” a voice said from the door.

I turned around to see Eric the Northman standing there wearing only his trousers, his wet hair dripping down his chest.

“It is,” I replied and pushed him aside to get out. I was hungry. And I wanted to celebrate.

Jason, Claude and Chow came up the path from the river and were as wet as Eric.

“There won`t be any mead left for you if you don`t hurry,” I teased.

“As if you`re going to drink it all,” Jason said. “Sookie doesn`t drink much,” he told Chow. “She`s afraid of letting her guard down.”

“I`ll drink as much as you, Jason.” I immediately regretted saying it but what was said was said. Jason rarely drank that much either since he was afraid it would ruin his performance with the ladies so I figured it wouldn`t be that bad.

If I`d regretted my vow to drink as much as Jason when I made it, it was nothing compared to how I felt when Claude refilled both of our cups. Again. I`d had at least three times as much to drink as I usually had and I was drunk. No, I was beyond drunk and I hated it.

But I had to drink what Jason drank or I would lose honor so I emptied the cup Claude had just filled. Jason put his cup to his mouth but only drank half of it before he fell backwards into the grass.

While we`d been cleaning ourselves, the women of the village had made a huge bonfire on the outskirts of the village and they`d carried every available bench and table out there so we could all eat the roasted pigs and chicken they had prepared.

If it had been raining we would have crowded Sam`s longhouse but with the long summer evenings, clears skies, and the sun still up, there was no need for a roof over our heads. All we needed was meat, mead and good company.

Everyone around the fire laughed and a couple of the women threw themselves over Jason, officially to help him back to consciousness but really to touch his manly parts. Since all of Jason was manly parts he was thoroughly touched.

Jason would probably only mind the fact that he wasn`t conscious to feel it whereas to me that looked like a nightmare. I imagined my lying there, having two men touching me while unconscious, and shuddered.

I shook my head when Claude tried to fill my cup again; got up, wobbled my way to the outhouse to pee and then wobbled even worse back to the house.

I barely managed to pull my dress off – it was almost impossible to unfasten the belt – and finding my way under the blanket turned out to be a mystery.

I fell asleep on top of my blankets. It was cold but I was too tired to do anything about it. After awhile I started shivering but then I felt a hand pull my blankets up around me.

“Gran?” I whispered, though I knew deep down that Gran was dead.

I felt a kiss on my cheek and smiled into the darkness. I knew it wasn`t Gran but it felt so much like her it made me feel loved and I slipped back to sleep.

I was deep in a dream where Gran and I were gathering berries in the forest when I felt a weight next to me in my bed. Then someone made his way down under my covers.

“What are you …?” My voice was hoarse from drinking and my head hurt.

“I would rather have your arms around me than Claude`s, if you don`t mind,” Eric whispered.

“What? No!” I was suddenly awake. “Get out of my bed!” I hissed.

But all the commotion made my stomach turn. And then it turned again. All the mead was making its way up my throat. I felt Eric get up from my bed and then he pulled me into a sitting position, my head hanging over the side of the bed.

“Try to throw up into the bucket,” he said.

“What bucket?” I asked and then I felt that nasty acid in my mouth. Before I could stop it I was throwing up. In a bucket.

“The bucket I got for you before I went to bed.”

I felt his large hand on my back going up and down as on a baby who needs to burp. Another round of vomit decided to leave my stomach and I felt absolutely awful.

When my stomach had decided it had emptied itself of all its contents, a cup was shoved into my hand.

“Drink it. It`s fresh water.”

I gulped the water down and it actually made me feel better. Then I fell back into my bed, the cup being pulled out of my hand, and vaguely heard the door opening and closing. And then opening and closing again a few minutes later.

Eric got into my bed again. I wanted to stop him but I was too exhausted. I was on my back, trying to stop my bed from spinning and couldn`t bother with the extra company I was having.

Eric was on his side facing me and soon I had his arm over my stomach. He leaned into my neck and then he whispered into my ear: “You smell from your mouth, Sookie. Turn towards the wall.”

I groaned but did as he said. I was too tired to argue.

Then I fell asleep.


A/N:

I hope you liked this chapter!

Before I post the next chapter to this story next week I`ll probably post a little one-shot I wrote. It`s a parody and not very romantic but it might still interest you. Here`s a blurp:

Sookie loves Eric the Viking – the hero in the romance novels she is reading. He is the perfect man and the guy of her dreams. Suddenly he isn`t just a character in her books. He is standing in her living room – claiming Sookie is his Heart`s Desire.


Vikings and the sagas

I`ve had a lot of people say they liked all my little tidbits about the Viking age. You know, it`s very dangerous for you to say something like that. It`ll only make me want to write even more – and my A/Ns will grow ridiculously long :-)

But to avoid this being an entirely selfish thing where I get to write about whatever is on my mind, I`ll take requests. Is there anything you want to know about in the Viking age or something you would like me to discuss? I`m not sure I can answer all your questions – or rather, I`m pretty sure I can`t. But I`ll research the things you ask me about and tell you what I come up with.

Today I would like to talk about the Viking legacy.

Someone once said that the winners write the history. That person obviously never met the Vikings because they wrote very little down (apart from the odd rune stone with a few words carved into it). Most of the written sources about the Vikings are either told by people they conquered, people who visited them or they were written long after the Vikings lived – like the sagas.

The sagas were written hundreds of years after the events they describe took place. And what is more important is the fact that the sagas were written after our part of the world had been Christianized.

The sagas were based on oral storytelling, delivered from generation to generation. But that doesn`t mean the stories didn`t change from each time they were told – and when they were written down. The outlook on things changed after the Vikings gave up the old faith. That is especially the case when it comes to the outlook on women.

Women were basically portrayed as cold and hard and mean in the sagas. Women encouraged their men to take revenge and to kill people who`d wronged them. Some historians claim this was how the sagas managed to explain all the strong women in pre-Christian Scandinavia given how women were supposed to be more submissive when the sagas were written. Strong Viking women must have been cruel – why else would a woman have power?

I want to give you an example – namely the wife of King Eric Bloodaxe, Queen Gunnhild.

Eric Bloodaxe did not get his name because he liked to use his axe for shaving and sometimes cut himself. Eric Bloodaxe used his axe to kill his brothers. Well, half-brothers, but most of us would agree that you really should keep your axe away from your brothers even if you don`t have the same mother.

So where does Gunnhild come into this story?

Well, the sagas say that Eric Bloodaxe went to the north of Norway and met her. There`s a long tale about how he fell for her and won her – sexier than any historical romance, I can tell you that – and the sagas have an explanation as to why he was so obsessed with her. This wasn`t just a king falling in love with a woman and marrying her. No, Gunnhild bewitched Eric sexually and was behind Eric`s bloodlust.

The sagas say that she studied witchcraft (apparently with the Sami people – who were considered half monsters by the Christians), that she killed her witchcraft teachers and had a supernatural sexual power.

Gunnhild was the woman behind the man, according to the sagas. Eric Bloodaxe would not have been half as bloody had it not been because of her. She killed some of his enemies with herbs and talked him into killing the rest of them – probably with his axe.

And when he died, she took young lovers even though – and the saga writers really didn`t like this – she was beyond her fertile years. She would use witchcraft to get these young lovers and if they left her, she could be quite vengeful. The sagas talk about one of Gunnhild`s former lovers whose penis grew so large his wife divorced him. Poor guy.

But the basic idea was that Eric Bloodaxe wouldn`t have been so blood thirsty if it hadn`t been for his wife.

Really, his father was to blame.

King Harald Fairhair, Eric`s father, encouraged the killing of Eric`s brothers. Yes, Harald asked one of his sons to kill some of his other sons. Nice family, huh? I could give you a long explanation for this but basically it was because King Harald had worked all his life to make Norway one kingdom and he didn`t want to see all his sons divide it up again. Better to have some of them killed to avoid that, right?

Apparently Queen Gunnhild supported the idea, as did Eric Bloodaxe. And truth be told, Eric Bloodaxe`s brothers did try to kill him too. Several times.

The end of the story was that Norway wasn`t divided and I would like to say that they all lived happily ever after. But they didn`t. Especially not the guy whose penis was too large :-) .

I want to give you a quote from historian Johan Schreiner (my translation):

“Gunnhild was demonized as some kind of sexual witch and because of this smear campaign [in the sagas] it`s not possible today to reconstruct the real Gunnhild. The saga writers probably wanted to cover her intelligence and important role, to the benefit of her husband who was intellectually weaker.” (From: Levende historie)

The sagas

I may sound as if I don`t like the sagas, but I do. The stories they tell are amazing and some of them are very well written.

The sagas were written on Iceland and the word means “what is said” in old Norse. They were written between 1120 and 1400 (the Viking age stopped before 1100) and were a part of a very rich writing tradition on Iceland. The sagas were written on calf skins in the autumn nights when there wasn`t much to do in the agriculture – there were no harvest on Iceland.

The writers of these sagas were sort of an intellectual upper class on Iceland and were admired – and financially supported.

29 of the long sagas have been found but in addition to these there are short sagas, religious sagas and royal sagas. Even with their bias, they are an incredible source of information about the Viking age.

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