Apparently Fanfiction has been acting up again. Several people complained about never getting the alert about the last chapter. If this happens again, just remember that there`ll be a new chapter to this story every Sunday or Monday (I hope ) so if you subscribe to the story and you`re not alerted about new chapters – just stop by Fanfiction anyway. I may have published an update without you knowing about it since Fanfiction didn`t send you an alert.
Thank you so much for all your great reviews. I really do appreciate your thoughts on this story and I`m happy to see that you like fierce Sookie.
I also want to thank Suki59 for betaing this story and I want to send her a big hug and hope she is feeling better. It`s not easy to let go of a beloved pet.
Charlaine Harris owns all the characters in this story. I just borrowed them for a while and gave them nice, shining swords.
My head felt as if the blacksmith had beaten it all night when I woke up the next morning. My mouth was like I`d been chewing on a woolen blanket – a rotten, woolen blanket.
I didn`t want to get up. Not now and not ever. But Claude had different plans. Suddenly I had cold water on my face.
“What in the name of Loke, Claude?” I shouted and jumped out of bed – which was now wet.
“Your guest is hungry. You need to feed him.”
“If you mean Eric then he`s just as much your guest as mine. You can go feed him.”
“You invited him into your bed last night so he`s your responsibility now.” And with that Claude turned and walked out of the house.
“I never invited him anywhere!” I shouted at the closed door.
“Be quiet, Sookie,” Jason groaned from his bed. “I have a headache.”
I fought my aching head and got out of bed. I put on my dress but didn`t rebraid my hair. The braid from last night just had to do for now. I went outside to fetch water but immediately regretted it because the sun was up and its rays felt like spikes piercing my eyes. I groaned loudly and held my hand up to cover them.
“Not feeling too well?” a voice asked. Eric was sitting just outside the house and seemed to be enjoying the sun. He looked way too good to have been drinking heavily last night – or almost drowned a couple of days ago. Then I remembered how he`d helped me when the mead had decided not to stay in my stomach and I felt myself blush.
“No, Eric. I`m not feeling too well but apparently I had to get up to cook you breakfast.”
“I could have cooked but now that you`re up, I`m not saying no to a decent meal.”
I rolled my eyes but when that hurt I just walked away. I`d make a nice breakfast for my guest.But first I needed to wash myself. It was years since I`d last thrown up from drinking and I wanted to kick myself that it had happened last night. It was embarrassing and entirely unnecessary.
Eric the Northman did not seem to want to go back to Claude`s bed so he slept in mine every night. Apart from the arm I often found myself having around my waist when I woke up, he didn`t touch me. But he did keep me awake. The next two nights I hardly slept because I had him so near me.
When I`d shared my bed with Gran it had been comforting. Eric the Northman was anything but.
During the day he and Chow helped out with the chores in the village and I hardly saw him. I had my own chores and I also chose to spend some time with Tara. I needed her company now more than ever. She kept reminding me of who I was and I needed that to stay grounded. I was a fierce warrior to everyone else but with Tara I was just Sookie.
I felt calmer with Tara and I enjoyed the feeling. But I had responsibilities too and the most important one was called Jason so in the afternoons Jason and I trained with our swords. I wanted him as fit as possible, as capable in a fight as I could make him. I also wanted to get away from Eric who seemed to spend much of his time in Sam`s company.
Jason and I were in the middle of a fight when someone yelled,”Ships!”
I quickly grabbed my fighting sword and Jason did the same. We ran towards the shore, not knowing if the ship was friend or foe. Most of the men in the village were down by the shore with their swords too and I knew the women and children were grabbing their knives and long-blades back in the village. Our village was armed to the teeth and we were not going to surrender to just anyone.
I`d often wished the villages we raided would be empty when we came, that people would have fled so we didn`t have to kill them. But standing here, waiting for someone who might want to steal our goods and turn us into slaves, I knew just why people fought us when we came. There was no other choice.
Every warrior from the village was standing shoulder to shoulder on the beach. I was staring at the ship coming closer and closer, trying to read the colors of the sail to see who it was, but I didn`t recognize them.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my upper arm and I jumped at the touch. Eric leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Put this ring on.”
He handed me a beautiful silver ring in the shape of a snake. Not knowing why it was important to wear that ring, I slipped it on my thumb as it was too big for any of my other fingers.
“Don`t worry,” he said. “Those are Queen Sophie-Anne`s men.” He stepped up next to me.
I relaxed a bit but could see that Eric was still tense so I didn`t sheathe my sword. I shouted Eric`s words to Sam and saw him nodding back at me. He`d apparently just recognized the colors himself.
The ship came in and the first man to jump off it looked almost like a boy. He wasn`t very tall and didn`t have a moustache or beard. His face looked as smooth as if he`d just shaved but there was something about him that told me he`d never had to run a knife over his cheeks. His eyes were cold and his face didn`t show any emotions, even with a beach full of warriors greeting him.
“Andre Beardless,” I said to no one in particular. I had never seen him before but who else would be a ruthless warrior and look like a boy?
“The one and only,” Eric said.
“Sheath the swords!” Sam shouted and we all did as we were told. A few of us exhaled loudly but there was still a tense feeling and not even Sam went down to greet Andre Beardless.
Andre Beardless made his way over to Eric and nodded to him.
“Good to see that you are still alive, Eric. Rumors had you drowned.”
“I was saved. And so was Chow.”
“Splendid,” Andre Beardless said without showing any kind of emotion. He turned to look at me. “And you must be Sookie the Shieldmaiden?”
“I am,” I said.
“You have quite the reputation.”
“I am honored,” I said because I chose to read his comment as a compliment. After all, he could have meant an entirely different reputation.
“I am planning to honor you more,” he continued. “I am here to claim you as my wife.”
Even if I had known what to say my lips wouldn`t have been able to form the words. His wife? The wife of a complete stranger?
For some reason I noticed how the birds had started to sing again and the sound of the waves hitting the beach. I heard the chickens in the village and the sail from Andre Beardless` ship being pulled down. But all the human voices seemed to have been erased from my hearing.
Marry Andre Beardless? Impossible!
Then I heard Eric coughing next to me. “I am sorry to tell you that it`s too late to claim Sookie as I`ve already made her my common law wife and am planning on marrying her as soon as possible.”
I stared at Eric and only now noticed that he was wearing my necklace. My mother`s necklace.
“She is your wife, Eric? You must have moved fast.” Andre`s voice was cold.
“Sookie is a very special woman. But as you can see, she is wearing my ring and I am wearing her necklace. We share her bed and have since I arrived in her village.”
“So she`s not just one of your casual lovers?” Andre asked.
“No. Sookie is my wife.”
I wanted to shake my head. Deny Eric`s preposterous claim. Tell him he must be crazy to think that a few nights in the same bed meant that we were married. But something stopped me.
Andre stared at us for a few moments. Then he nodded. “It`ll work almost as well. You`ll bring Sookie with you and she will fight for Sophie-Anne.”
“But …,” I started.
“Yes?” Andre said in a way that told me he wasn`t used to people objecting.
“I have my life here. My brother, my … “
“You can bring your brother. We will leave in the afternoon.”
“I don`t want to leave, Sam,” I told him again.
I`d followed Sam home and invited myself inside. His wife had taken all their children, babies and kids almost as big as she was, and made them leave so that we could have a private discussion.
“I know that, Sookie, and I wish you didn`t have to. We will miss you and Jason very much. But when Queen Sophie-Anne asks someone to come to her court, there really is only one answer.” Sam looked sad.
“But she isn`t our queen.”
“No, she isn`t but she is an ally. A dangerous ally.”
Sam gave me a hug and with that he told me that he didn`t expect to see me again. Before he could watch me crying, I left his house and went to Tara`s house. Anything to delay the packing and my leaving the village that had always been my home.
If I had managed to avoid crying Tara`s eyes were red and tears filled her eyes again when she saw me. I wanted to hug her – touch her – but couldn`t. I was afraid I would break if I came too close to her.
“I will miss you,” I said, my voice sounding strange.
“Try to make your way back, Sookie.”
I nodded and after a few moments of just sitting together on her bench, I got up and left. I didn`t want to say goodbye and I didn`t look back when I walked out of her house.
I had to go home to pack my things and I knew I couldn`t delay it any longer.
Jason was there already, a huge smile on his face and when he saw me he gave me a hug. Jason was not a hugger which meant he was very pleased. Claude was there too. I couldn`t read his face but he wasn`t smiling.
“Thank you for remembering me, cousin,” he said, his eyes narrow and his jaw clenched.
“Did you want to go with us?” I asked, not sure if he was angry with me.
“Of course, I did. What warrior wouldn`t want to be a part of Sophie-Anne`s army?” Claude`s voice left no doubt about his bitterness.
“I don`t,” I said. “I want to stay here.”
“But you aren`t, are you? You`re destined for better places, bigger fights. You brought your brother with you. What about me?”
“I could ask. I`m sure they would be thrilled with getting the extra sword.”
That made Jason smile even broader. “All three of us going! It would be perfect.”
I wasn`t so sure about that but went to pack my things instead of staying with a thrilled Jason and an angry Claude. You can`t fight fate.
Just as I`d finished packing, Eric entered.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“No. But I never will be.”
He pretended not to hear me and picked up some of my things. “Let me help you carry your things.”
“Sure. I suppose that`s the least I can expect from the husband I didn`t know I had.” I tried to burn holes in his tunic with my eyes, not wanting to meet those ice-blue ones of his. I should have blamed Andre the Beardless or the Mistresses of Fate for having to leave my beloved village but Eric was a very handy recipient of my anger.
Eric grinned, either oblivious of or just plainly neglecting my being furious at him. “Oh, you can expect much more.”
And with that he was out the door.
I`d saved his life and he`d paid me back by pulling me away from mine.
I looked at Jason and Claude and wasn`t sure if I was pleased or saddened by the fact that they were leaving with me. Family meant a lot to me, especially since I had so little of it. Perhaps having Jason and Claude leave with me would make the departure a little easier to bear.
But I also knew that I had fought my whole life to keep my brother safe and now I was bringing him to Sophie-Anne`s court – a place where he was likely to meet an early death.
“I`m sorry,” I whispered, hoping my parents and Gran could hear me.
After the previous chapter I asked you if you had any questions about the Viking age that you wanted me to look up and Northman Maille had two:
1, How does one become a shieldmaiden and could one retire from the role?
2, Claude appears to be bi or gay. Would there be a stigma about that? Would he be expected to marry anyway?
Those are excellent questions. Unfortunately I can give you much better answers to the second question than the first one.
Becoming a shieldmaiden
When I researched for this story I could find very little information about the shieldmaidens and their lives. I found referrals to various shieldmaidens but nothing about rules of conduct or how many they were.
There were King Augvald`s two daughters who fought and died by their father`s side – or so the sagas say.
There was also Leif Eiriksson`s pregnant sister, Frøydis Eirikssdatter, who, with a naked chest, beat the flat side of her sword against her breasts when her settlement in Vinland (New Foundland) was attacked by the people living there before the Vikings came along, to scare the attackers away. It worked because the attackers were so frightened, or so the sagas say, that they jumped into their boats and rowed away.
In some battles women were giving the warriors fresh weapons and they would take care of the wounded more than fighting themselves but they could change a fight from being lost and making their men resume fighting when they were giving up by undressing so that everyone could see their naked breasts. Their warriors would get renewed strength and energy from seeing their women like that.
The most famous shieldmaidens were the Valkyries. The Valkyries were Odin`s shieldmaidens. Their task was to decide who was to live and who was to die in a battle and those who fought and died heroically would be carried away to Valhalla where they would be divided into two groups. One group would be delivered to Odin and the other to the goddess of war and death, Frøya.
I haven`t found anything about how the shieldmaidens lived or how their lives were outside the battles but my guess is they lived normal lives between the raids and wars. Male Vikings lived as farmers and traders when they weren`t swinging their axes and swords and there`s no reason why the shieldmaidens weren`t farmers and traders, wives and mothers when they weren`t off killing someone or protecting their villages from intruders.
Why did some women become shieldmaidens? The sagas suggest that some of them were daughters of chieftains who were too bored to be sitting around, learning how to weave. It seems entirely accepted that some daughters preferred to go riding and building strength instead of learning the more feminine virtues of keeping house.
Some women turned warriors in times of trouble. Not because they wanted to fight but because they had to. It seems both men and women learned basic fighting skills so that everyone could help in case they were attacked. The villages were too small to have half the people just sit around and wait for the other half to protect them.
Being gay in the Viking age
Vikings have often been looked upon as some kind of super-macho culture where all the men were dirty and had sex with women only.
I have no idea why washing one-self and being gay is perceived as un-macho by so many, but the fact is, the Vikings were both fairly clean (they washed themselves more often than their local neighbors on the British Islands, if one is to believe the complaint from a local guy who felt he couldn`t compete with the “overly clean” Vikings) and they did indeed have sex with members of their own sex.
There are very few accounts of women having sex with women and all women were expected to marry and have children. But it happened, especially in societies with few men.
Adam of Bremen (1040 – 1081), a storyteller who wrote down parts of the Nordic history (or at least his version of it), mentioned an island with only women that has later been located from his descriptions as being just on the outside of Estonia. These women would send away any man visiting them – or they would make him stay for sex so they could have children and then send him away. The Russian Primary Chronicle is said to have mentioned that island as well.
There are more accounts of men having sex with men and it seems to have been accepted and not particularly frowned upon – though the man being penetrated was usually looked down upon whereas the penetrator wasn`t (I have no idea why this would be public information). Men were also expected to marry and have children no matter what their sexual orientation was but as long as they did their duty, they could have sex with men if they wanted to.
The reason why everyone was expected to marry and have children (if they could) was because the villages depended on the children. They were the ones to grow up and provide for their elderly parents and since many children died before they grew up, everyone was expected to contribute – and contribute with large broods.
This was probably why it was more accepted if older people were gay. It seems older people could move in with their gay lovers if their wives died and they`d had children with her. So it wasn`t homosexuality that was frowned upon in itself but people choosing not to have children. This will be a topic in this story later on, by the way.
It seems Vikings were fairly open-minded towards gays and lesbians and it seems that men were not perceived as less masculine just because they had had sex with other men. But I also want to point out that various words for being gay were perceived as insults. Calling someone the Viking version of “faggot” would have that person draw his sword to defend his honor. Vikings may have accepted gay sex – or even enjoyed it – but woe and behold if anyone called them “gay” to their faces.