A Stopping Place
- 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
The þræll glared over the railing as Ingrid inspected the bones. They were smooth and clean, in perfect condition. They’d be a nice gift for her father.
“You do good work,” she praised. “I won’t regret buying you.” The girl muttered something and ducked behind the railing. She could sulk all she liked; they would be leaving today.
The teenager had shown up with a pile of bones and her master on the dock in the wee hours of the morning. While the shopkeeper had haggled over the remaining half of the money to be paid, the girl wandered. Her shaved head stood out among the scarves and braids that graced Ingrid’s crew.
While her men weren’t the most polite lot, they knew better than to harass a new crewmate. While the þræll gazed about, they moved around her or ordered her out of the way. Piece by piece, the bones were loaded onto their ship, and the coins left Bjørn’s fingers to gather in the shop keepers palm.
“Come see me again if you’re ever back this way,” he offered. “It’d be a pleasure doing business with ye’.” He didn’t spare his assistant even a glance as he turned and marched back to the main market road. Now, as Ingrid saw them placed perfectly on her deck, she found herself regretting the purchase a little. The bones would be useful, but they had to get back home first. It would be a good three weeks of travel from here.
As she contemplated, the girl approached. The mulish set to her mouth didn’t change as she looked over the pile, adjusting here and there, so the bones settled. Ingrid coughed, getting her attention.
“What was your name?” She asked. Her new charge blinked slowly at her.
“Riona,” she said after a pause.
“Any clan?” It felt proper to ask, although she felt she knew the answer. Sure enough, she was rewarded with Rionan shaking her head. From what she understood, most of the slaves coming from Dubh Linn were clanless.
“Here,” she said, tossing the girl a coin. “You did the work so you should get some reward,” she declared. The coin glimmered sadly in Rionan’s palm but it was ignored in favor of staring at Ingrid.
“I don’t get paid,” she said softly, like she was afraid of accepting something so small. Ingrid shook her head.
“On my boat,” she began. “Anyone who works gets coin. Anyone who complains gets thrown over the side. As long as you keep doing quality work, it’ll be worth my while to keep you warm, fed, and shod.” She paused, a new question popping into her head. “How old are you, anyway?”
“19 summers this year, I think.”
Ingrid hummed. She’d taken her first voyage at fourteen, old enough to be helpful and stay out from underfoot. By 19, she’d formed her own crew to avoid the marriage that had been offered to her parents. 19 was old for an unmarried girl that lived by the land. It was also strange, considering the child in front of her looked less than that. The loose gown she was wearing may have hid her figure, but Ingrid suspected she would be thinner than was normal. They had at least three weeks to make the trip, plenty of time to observe her more.
“I’m Ingrid. We sail as soon as the ship is loaded. Be ready.”
Rionan didn’t fight as she was led to the dock. Colum wouldn’t take her back to the shop. He would never break a deal on behalf of her. There was no point. So she didn’t fight. There was nothing to fight really; as long as she behaved, she should be alright. That was confirmed when the Northern woman offered her a coin.
“Pay for good work,” she whispered. The coin was heavy in her hand, but she was scared to set it on the worn wood of the railing in case it vanished into the dark water below. The waves slapped against the hull as the men pulled up the plank and took positions to row. Ingrid shouted orders, and the ship lurched into motion.
As one, the rowers pushed and pulled the waters behind them. Each slice through the murk pushed her farther and farther from the dock, from the place she’d been kept for three years now. She pulled her cross out from under her shirt, the final gift from the nuns that raised her.
“Guide me, father,” she prayed. “Lead me in your steps and allow me to live in your sight. May you watch me wherever I go.” She ran her thumbs over the smooth metal, noting how grooves had been worn into it. She’d been praying a lot lately, ever since arriving in Dubh Linn. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a lumbering shape draw even next to her on the rail.
“That’s the wrong god to pray to at a time like this,” they said. Rionan refused to flinch, but the cross began to cut into her palm as she tightened her grip. Her already chilled skin felt icy as the Viking leaned closer and pointed at the open ocean. “Ye want to beg Njord for mercy before beginning a trip like this. Ask him to keep the waves calm. A tiny thing like you would fly into the soup at the first storm, I bet.” He laughed at his comment, likely imagining her bobbing in the ocean like a lost chunk of wood, but then all Vikings were like that, laughing at the pain they caused others.
“I pray to the only God,” she said stiffly, refusing to look at him. A rough hand appeared in front of her face bearing a silver cross on a cord with the image of the savior winking at her in the weak sunlight. “So do I,” the man said. Finally, she turned to look at him, her face the perfect reflection of shock and anger. He was an older man, older than her and certainly older than Ingrid. The lines that ran across his face spoke of chapped skin, and sun damage as they crossed freckles and scars turned white with time. He smiled a little when he noticed her confusion.
“A little extra divine intervention never hurt.” He placed the cross back around his neck where it vanished among the handful of charms he already wore, all symbols she’d seen before, none Christian. “Pray to Njord, lass,” he insisted. “It’s his kingdom we’re wandering over now.”
He lumbered off to join Ingrid. As they sailed further from the docks, Rionan thought she’d feel sad. Instead, there was a great sense of resignation. The houses and shops of the market faded, as did the barking of dogs and children looking for scraps, slowly replaced by the calls of birds and the wind that carried the taste of salt over her lips. Dubh Linn was never her home, just a stopping place. She’d lived in so many places, each taken faster than the last. The Lord’s mercy had taken her from Colum before he decided to send her to a whore house, but she wondered why it brought her to Ingrid. Why was she watching the green mountains vanish in the fog?
The coin dropped from her limp fingers and rolled across the bumpy deck. Quicker than a fox, she darted after it, securing the bright bit of copper between her cracked fingers. A few rowers looked at her oddly, but she didn’t care for it when the coin was much more valuable than their thoughts. Afraid of losing it again, she tucked it into the pocket of her skirt.
Pay for good work, she thought to herself again. Not even the nuns had thought to pay her for the tasks she did around the monastery. Not for the carvings on the alters and the needlework on the tapestries. It was all in pursuit of God’s glory, and the work was its own reward. Once she’d been sold to Colum, he’d forgotten to feed her more often than not, much less pay her. Was this why God gave her over to the raider? To know what it was to have your work appreciated? People called the North men heathens and devils, but many others, who skulked about the stalls and wharves, called them fair dealers when it came to trade.
She nearly didn’t recognize the tightening in her chest and the way her shoulders felt lighter than they had in years. Hope, such a fragile thing, seemed to alight in her soul before trailing down to rest in her pocket next to the money. She resigned herself to carry it for a little longer, hoping it would stay.