Sookie the Shieldmaiden – Chapter 23
Ah, it`s fun to have a blog. I get to post all the pictures I can`t post here. So if you want to check out a half-naked football player (I promise – he`s only there because of his connection to the Viking age) go to my blog thyra10 dot wordpress dot com. My blog does not mean I`m moving. I`m staying on FF so you`re welcome to keep reading here.
I want to thank Suki59 for being such a great beta. You just can`t imagine what this would have looked like without her.
“Is she ready?” Felipe walked in just as Heidi brushed some red on my lips.
I`d never worn artificial color on my face and was glad I didn`t have to see the result of Heidi`s work. She`d pulled a dress and a smock with elaborate embroidery on me and the belt I was wearing was held together with a large silver buckle with the image of Ask and Embla embracing each other.
I felt completely naked, not having my sword or even a small knife in the belt. The wind chilled the insides of my legs every time I moved and I missed my pants.
My hair was braided and pinned to my head in some elaborate pattern and my face had been painted. Not just my mouth but my eyes and my cheeks too. I`d even been drenched in some perfumed water and smelled like a flower and not like myself.
I`d hated every moment of my transformation and I hated the result even more, though I couldn`t see it myself.
I could see the smile on Felipe`s face and the admiration in his eyes, though, and I wanted to carve out those dark eyes and feed them to the pigs. Then I wanted to slice his belly open and feed the entrails to the dogs.
The thought of feeding this or that piece of Felipe to various animals made me grin to myself and with all the dignity I could muster I looked Felipe in the eye. I was no blushing virgin who would stare at her feet.
“Very well done, Heidi,” Felipe said without looking at the woman who`d primped me. “My son will be very pleased to see you and I do believe you`ll make him a worthy wife. Your boys will be brave and your girls very pretty.”
I frowned. “Why would Victor be pleased to see me?” I asked, not understanding what Felipe meant.
“Victor? Bah!” Felipe spat. “I am speaking of Eric, of course. I`ll make a good wife out of you yet. You`re no longer that wild woman he`s claimed for his bedmate.”
“Eric is your nephew,” I said with conviction. “Not your son.” Eric would have died on the sword before he took Felipe as his father.
Felipe the Throne-robber grinned. “Before the day is over, Eric will be my son.”
He nodded towards the door and two men walked in and came over to stand next to me. They both grabbed me, holding me by my upper arms, and then they walked me out of the house. Outside, men were lined up with helmets, chainmail and weapons and I knew where we were headed.
We were on our way to battle.
Only I was on the wrong side.
I cursed and started to struggle. How would it look if I came to meet Queen Sophie-Anne`s army – to meet Eric again – painted and primped and in Felipe`s hold? I bit the hand of one of my captors and kicked the shin of the other one. I felt them loosen their grip and was about to kick them both where it would really hurt.
“Stop!” Felipe shouted and I looked at him in horror. His knife was on Heidi`s throat.
I knew I should not care about a woman I had just met but I could not have her throat cut so I could get away. She`d been nice and I couldn`t have her death on my conscience. So I took a deep breath, exhaled, turned around and looked at Felipe, my eyes narrowed.
He smiled and nodded in my direction and I hated the smug look on his face.
“I shall add self-control to the list of your virtues,” he said and then he started walking, his army following him – my two guards and me included. I was half carried, half walking between them. The dress kept getting stuck between my legs and I had to kick it forward to be able to walk.
I swore that if I survived this I would never wear a dress again in my life.
I also swore that Felipe would die the most horrible death I could imagine. Forget feeding him to animals. I would find something worse he could die from.
We walked for a little while through the forest and then the trees opened up and I could hear a river behind the little hill we were climbing. What I also heard was people moving, people shouting and people generally working their way up to a fight. The time before a battle had a very special sound and this was what I heard now.
When we came to the top of the hill, I stopped breathing. The sight before me was too frightening. I`d known I would be meeting Queen Sophie-Anne and her warriors and I wasn`t sure what I had expected but it definitely wasn`t this. Queen Sophie-Anne stood there, on the other side of the river, with warriors for as long as my eyes could see, all of them armed to their teeth. Felipe had almost as many men; most of them had been there for a little while when we came. The trampled ground and the restless looks on their faces told their stories.
On the other side of the river there was another small hill and Queen Sophie-Anne stood there with Andre Beardless and a few other men. Victor was kneeling in front of Andre, who had a hand in his hair, pulling his head backwards, and the other hand on a knife at Andre`s throat.
The river between the two camps was shallow enough to cross but wide enough to keep the two groups of warriors separated. At least for now.
Felipe pushed me forward and soon I stood between my two captors on top of the small hill, Felipe two steps behind me. I searched the other side to find familiar faces among all the strangers. I realized most of the warriors were from other tribes pledged to Queen Sophie-Anne but I did see some of the people I`d met in Nordby too.
I couldn`t find Eric and my search for him halted when I realized who was standing next to Queen Sophie-Anne: Rasul the Scumbag – which was my new name for him. He whispered something in her ear and I noticed how her attention was directed from Felipe to me.
“I brought your coward of a foster son. If you want him back, you`ll have to denounce all your claims to the throne,” she shouted across the river.
Everyone in the two camps went quiet as warriors always did when their leaders were talking. And Queen Sophie-Anne`s words were bold enough for everyone to stare at Felipe. To wait for his reply.
I noticed quite a few glances at me but no one seemed to recognize me. Paint and a dress will do that to a shieldmaiden. I searched the crowd again for Eric, Jason, Tara and Claude and finally I caught a glimpse of Eric and Claude. They stood to Queen Sophie Anne`s right, next to Bill, Chow and a couple of other warriors. I still couldn`t see Jason or Tara and hoped they weren`t on the battleground at all. Neither of them were prime fighters even if they had both practiced quite a bit lately.
“I don`t need Victor!” Felipe shouted back. “You can keep him.”
Everyone, me included, had expected him to negotiate for Victor`s release. I looked back at Victor but he was just staring at the people on the other side of the river.
Even if Queen Sophie-Anne was too far away for me to see details in her facial expression, I detected surprise and shock. Then she took a step forward, and with the knife she suddenly had in her hand, she cut Victor`s throat from ear to ear.
An audible gasp ran through the crowd. What person would kill her own hostage? Now she had nothing to negotiate with. But then I realized that she`d just proven a point. Women could be ruthless too and Felipe needed to know that.
“You can have his body if you want!” Queen Sophie-Anne shouted.
“No, you can keep it!” Felipe yelled. “I`ll soon have a new son.” And with that he pushed me forward.
I knew the exact moment Eric recognized me. He`d been staring at me for a while and suddenly his face cracked into disbelief and then horror. I shook my head and opened my mouth to shout at him that I wasn`t there voluntarily, when Felipe`s hand landed on my mouth.
“Eric!” he shouted. “Come to your wife or she will be as dead as Victor.”
I couldn`t see it but I felt the cold blade on my throat. I watched Eric yell something at Felipe – curse words really – take a step forward and then be held back by Bill and Chow. Claude shouted something similar to Eric and then some men held him back too. There was a commotion and a struggle and all the time Queen Sophie-Anne stood silently and watched. When she was sure Eric and Claude were under control, she stared back at us. Rasul took a step forward and whispered something in her ear which made her nod and narrow her eyes.
“I`m not surprised Sookie the Shieldmaiden turned out to be a traitor. It`s in her blood. We all remember what her parents did.”
I tried to struggle, object, say something. I wasn`t a traitor and neither were my parents. What had she meant? My parents were normal people living normal lives until they`d drowned. What was Queen Sophie-Anne talking about?
Felipe`s knife bit into the delicate thin skin on my throat and I could feel a few drops of blood trickle down to my collarbone. Or was it sweat? I was desperate and wanted to do something – anything. I couldn`t stand there being accused of treason in front of hundreds of warriors – friends and enemies. And I certainly couldn`t be the reason for Eric to change sides.
Not that I necessarily thought he would. He struggled against Bill and Chow but would he really give up his life for me? For Felipe? I hoped not because he would be giving up my life too. I would much rather be dead on this hill, my neck slashed by Felipe, than some dress-clad wife, expected to give Felipe strong grandsons to continue his legacy of suppressing women.
A life without my sword was no life.
That was when I saw Jason and Tara out of the corner of my eye. They were standing almost by themselves by some trees down by the river. I held my breath a few moments when I realized what they were doing. Tara was holding a long bow, a bow meant to shoot arrows far away. Maybe as far away as I was standing.
I tried to remember how good Tara was with her bow. I knew Jason was terrible even when he had both hands but Tara had always preferred the bow to the sword, even when we were kids. She didn`t like to sweat or to get bloody, she`d said. I`d always suspected she preferred the bow because she knew practicing would build her chest muscles but now I welcomed the memory. I just hoped she remembered what she`d learned.
I took a deep breath. Instinct told me what to do. Instinct and my close friendship with Tara. Tara was ready with her bow and arrow and I knew that she knew me well enough to understand that I would rather die than end up with the fate Felipe had in mind.
But I preferred not to die if I could alter that fate. If I could have my life back I would rather be alive.
And just as I saw her pull back her arrow, I pulled Felipe`s arms forward, hoping he wanted me alive enough to not cut my throat. Then I moved my head backwards, giving myself some space from the knife, and dropped to the ground.
Just as I rolled to get away from Felipe and the two men who`d guarded me, I heard a grunt behind me. Then another one and I remembered that Tara was good at shooting several arrows quickly after each other.
Everything seemed to stand still, people looking at one another for a clue as to how they were supposed to act. Then I got up and started running down the hill towards the river and everyone seemed to start moving simultaneously.
I focused on very few things. I needed to cross the river.
And I needed a sword.
Anyone following the Euro Cup besides me? Yes, we`re talking football. Yes, the kind of football played with the ball on your feet ;-). Well, there wasn`t much of a Viking pillage there. Sweden got kicked out and are going home in total shame. Denmark did slightly better – at least well enough so we can forever taunt the Swedes – but also got the (football) boot. The rest of the Nordic countries didn’t even make it to the Euro Cup. If you listen closely you can hear me sigh.
Weapons and the Vikings
In some countries there is a lot of talk about the rights to bear arms. In the Viking age there was a duty to bear arms. Every free man was supposed to have a weapon and preferably carry it with him at all times too. Most of the Vikings were excellent at using their weapons as one would expect from a society where weapons were that important.
Swords were the most expensive weapons – refined with gold and silver decorations. Swords were very valuable and would be handed down from father to son. The best swords were made by the Franks who would use both steel and iron which would give the swords more strength and flexibility.
The second best weapons were the spear and the lance. They were terrifying weapons with metal heads that could be half a meter long. In Nordic mythology Odin was considered “Master of the Spear”. The Norwegian king Olav Tryggvason was famous for being able to throw two spears at the same time – one with each hand.
Today Vikings are often portrayed with axes but axes were mainly used by warriors who couldn`t afford better weapons. They would use the same axe that they used to chop wood.
Short knives were also used and so was bow and arrow. The latter wasn`t used that much in battle, though, but all the more for hunting.
The Viking shields were something else too. They were round throughout most of the Viking age and were big enough to shield a man from his thigh to his neck. They were beautifully decorated and colored and it must have been quite a sight both on the battlefield but also seeing them hanging outside the Viking ships when they were sailing.