A Homecoming, A Gift
- The Grave of Valkyries – Part 1
- The Grave of Valkyries – Part 2
- The Evidence
- A Stopping Place
- The Storm
- Ragnar’s Hall
- Not Like Indiana Jones
- A Homecoming, A Gift
- Dragon Heads
- Dust and Misogyny
- Stone Walls
- The Vikings
- Circumstantial Truths
- Dance With Me
- Find a Question
- A New Home
- The King
Ingrid sighed and adjusted her bag. The straps cut into her injured shoulder, but the pain was a welcomed distraction. Rionan struggled up the path after her. Her Norse had improved quite a bit. If only the crew had bothered to teach her something other than swear words. With every skid on broken seashells and loose stone, a curse fell out of her mouth. Ingrid noted to get her a better pair of boots with sturdier soles.
“Keep up, Little Red,” she said. “Dinner won’t wait.” If we’re offered dinner at all, she thought to herself. Rionan glared at her but kept pushing forward.
Her father’s house was past the bluff, and each step seemed to take longer than the last. It bobbed in the bay and languidly stared out into bluer waters than Ingrid remembered. She could almost hear it beg to be in the open seas, and she stopped herself from wanting the same. Ragnar’s hall was leagues behind them, but the hardest battle was in front.
Try as she might, she couldn’t avoid the ridge as they approached it. Eventually, the home Ingrid had known for most of her life faded into view. Smoke trailed from the chimney, probably from the evening meal. The workshop was lit from within, and shell wind chimes wiggled over the door. A gray dog perked its ears where it lay underneath them. Its silver muzzle split into a lolling grin, and its tail thumped against the dirt.
“Sjór!” At Ingrid’s call, the large hound shifted its weight until she leveraged herself on shaky legs. She walked toward her with the stiff-legged gait of an old dog that earned its place by the hearth until the end of her days. Ingrid teared up as she clutched at the scruff of her favorite pet. Sjór licked at her cheeks, a warm welcome.
“Who’s there, girl?” A man poked his head out of the workshop.
Her father had shrunk. That was the first thing she noticed. When she’d left, a teenager filled with false bravado and too stubborn to admit to fear, he’d been so large. Now parts of him had faded into the wind. His legs were thin rods where she remembered tree trunks. The back she remembered as straight as a broad was hunched and thin. With horror, Ingrid realized she would be taller than him. He had become an old stranger.
He seemed to think the same of her. She watched his jaw clench as he scanned her lanky form after she stood. Sjór yipped at him as if to announce the return of a puppy, but he didn’t acknowledge it.
“Heel,” he commanded. Sjór trotted to his side and pranced a little in excitement. “We don’t take in wanderers and vagabonds,” he barked. “Go to your ship.”
“Bo,” her mother called. “Who is it?” A stout woman emerged through the threshold. Her blonde hair was braided around her head. Even from a distance, Ingrid could see the silver that wove through the strands.
“Go inside, Yrsa,” Bo yelled. “It’s no one important.”
“Papa,” she whispered. Her father ignored her and stomped into the house. Sjór whined and trailed after him. As she followed her master, she looked over her shoulder at Ingrid
“Is that you?” Yrsa bustled over and almost tripped on her skirts to get to her faster. “My daughter?”
“Hi, Mama.” Ingrid leaned into her hand as it settled against her cheek. “I didn’t mean to be gone so long.”
“Stupid child,” Yrsa chided. “How dare you return to us so late?” She yanked Ingrid into a hug that made her bruises ache and her heart squeeze. Ingrid wanted to sob into her broad shoulder as the scent of smoke, lye, and rosemary filled her nose. Home.
She was hustled inside, and Rionan followed. The interior was different from how she remembered it. New furniture had been introduced, along with new pieces of crockery. Yrsa stoked the fire in the hearth. The smoke that curled up from the flames escaped through the hole in the roof and drew Ingrid’s attention to the thatch that needed to be replaced. Bo slouched at the table. He pulled out a carving knife and a lump of wood and began to whittle. The shavings were collected on a piece of leather. The sight warmed her. It had always been his habit to save the shavings for future fires. Waste not, want not.
Her mother pushed her over to a chair. An actual chair, not a bench, as if she were a guest. Rionan halted at the door, obviously uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. Yrsa finally noticed her existence.
“Who is this?” She propped her fists on her ample hips as she asked. Rionan shrank away as she was surveyed up and down with a critical eye.
“This is Rionan. I acquired her in Dubh Linn.” Ingrid waved the girl over and motioned her to sit by the hearth. “She has excellent hands. Her skills will be helpful to father.” At her words, Bo glared up from his carving.
“I don’t need any extra hands,” he said.
“Yes, you do,” Ingrid retorted. She hadn’t missed how swollen his knuckles were. With the onset of winter, it would only get worse.
“If you were so concerned about my health,” he snapped. “You should have married that merchant’s boy. He would have paid more than eight ounces of silver for your bride price.”
“I had already told him no when he asked you.” Ingrid tossed a pouch over to him. It landed on the table with a thunk. “Besides, I brought twice that in gold. I’ve more than made up for your financial loss,” she sneered.
“Your mother would have wanted you married and settled by now!” Spittle flew from his lips as he bellowed. “Instead, you gallivant off with the first boat that’ll take you and come home almost a decade late with a slave in tow. She’d be ashamed.” He left the table and stomped outside. As he passed, he spat into the fire in front of Ingrid. The money pouch remained on the table, unopened and uncounted.
Ingrid watched him go with clenched fists. She peeked at Yrsa, but she didn’t seem to mind her birth mother being brought up in front of her. Instead, she folded the leather patch over to cover the wood shavings Bo left on the table.
“He doesn’t mean what he says,” she assured. “She would be proud of her daughter for making a name for herself. As am I.”
“I’m sorry for shouting,” Ingrid apologized. “I shouldn’t have arrived without warning you.”
“Nonsense.” Yrsa waved away her concerns and deposited the pouch into a chest on a shelf in the corner. She remembered it was the same one that held her bride price when Ingrid had been expected to marry Erik. “He’s not mad. He missed you for so long and wants you to feel the same.” She leveled Ingrid with an arched brow. “It’s painful when your child runs away with nary a word and sends a docks-boy to bring you the news.”
She hunched in shame. That much, she could admit, was wrong of her. Even if her family had been shamed, she didn’t regret leaving, but she did regret how she escaped.
“Do you think he’ll forgive me?” She glanced at Yrsa with unsure eyes.
“I’m sure he already has.” Yrsa stirred the pot on the fire and sat beside Rionan on the bench. “You know we would hear about you from time to time? People would come to the docks or the market talking about a woman Viking employed by Ragnar.” She said the name with blatant distaste. “He would never admit it,” Yrsa chuckled. “But it pleased him to hear that you had made your own crew. ‘She’ll never be happy unless she’s commanding a fleet of men day and night,’ he said.”
“He’s not wrong.” Ingrid sighed. “Should I talk to him now?”
Yrsa shook her head. “You both have such a temper; you’ll only start shouting again. Best give him some time. He’ll be back with his tail between his legs the moment he gets hungry.” She changed focus and looked at Rionan. “Instead, you can tell us about your slave. Is she only for carving? She’d be more useful to me if she could help with yarn.”
“I haven’t asked her yet.”
“Can you spin yarn?” Yrsa spoke loudly and slowly as if Rionan had a handicap. Rionan shrank away from her before she replied in broken Norse.
“Some yarn.” The words weren’t exact, but the pronunciation was good enough that Yrsa smiled and nodded to Ingrid.
“You can help while we wait for your sister,” she commanded. “Make sure she knows.”
She produced a basket of carded wool and gave both of them a drop spindle before returning to one half filled with yarn. Ingrid nodded and showed Rionan the tool’s mechanics before she started her leader thread. They spun in silence until Yrsa prompted her to talk about her travels. She’d barely begun when a slender girl walked through the door.
“Mama!” She shouted. Her ungainly limbs carried her into the room with the awkwardness of youth hitting a growth spurt. “There’s a new ship at the bottom of the bluff.” She stumbled when she noticed two others sitting with her in the firelight. Ingrid exhaled slowly, not sure when she started holding her breath. Sigrid stared at them, her face contorted as multiple emotions flitted across her countenance unfiltered. She took the chance to see how her little sister had grown.
Sigrid’s face was small and finely boned, the skin stretched over high cheekbones and a straight nose she hadn’t grown into yet. She was blonde, but Sigrid’s hair was the color of fine wheat, not the dark honey-blonde Ingrid had inherited. It was clear she would surpass both their parents in height. She might catch up with Ingrid. The two continued to stare until a dam broke, and her sister began to babble at her.
Ingrid found herself enveloped in thin arms that tried to touch every bit of her as they patted her and clutched her hand and shoulder. Between exclamations of “I missed you” and “tell me all of it,” Sigrid’s bright gray eyes ran over her face.
“Sigrid!” Yrsa hissed. “Behave.”
“Are you home for good?” Sigrid blurted.
Ingrid thought of her father in his workshop, the bones, and her crew dispersed throughout the town. She slipped her hand into her pocket and curled her fingers around the bracelet with the sky-blue beads and gold. It felt less like a bribe and more like a gift under the scrutiny of her sister’s adamant joy.
“I think I am.”
Sjór – sh-or
Yrsa – Ir-sah