- 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
- Three Springs
- Goodbye, Hello
- Unexpected Arrivals
- Bishop vs Rook
- Cause of Death
- Midnight Visitor
- Dark Nights
- Good Morning
Ingrid forced Rionan into a bath in the back room of the longhouse and handed her a bar of soap dotted with lavender. Rionan appreciated the subtle scent as she rubbed the smooth foam into her arms and hair and listened to the bickering outside. It felt good to have soot and dirt out of her hair and from under her nails. The yelling grew louder as she ran the cake of soap over her legs and stomach.
“He’ll just keep coming back,” Ingrid shouted.
“Let him!” Bo shouted back. Rionan sighed and left the tub, drying off by the fire. She couldn’t offer much of advice, but could mitigate the disastrous aftereffects. Once she dressed and her hair roughly dried and tied up, she entered the main room.
“Bath is free,” she called. Ingrid whipped around. Her long braid slapped into her back with the force of her movements. Rionan could tell by her flared nostrils and clenched jaw the other woman was livid. Blotches of red erupted across her cheeks and forehead, altering her fair complexion into that of a berry. Bo looked very similar.
“Wash off, lass,” he ordered. “Maybe the soap will clear your head.”
He stomped off and out the door, past his wife, who watched him go with a complex expression. Yrsa directed a strained smile at the two of them before she followed him. Rionan took her cue to tug Ingrid in the bath’s direction.
“Come on,” she urged. “You’ll like it.” Ingrid followed her but didn’t relax until the curtain closed behind them, and Rionan helped her disrobe. She shoved her master into the tub and dumped a bucket of water over her head. Rionan scooped up the rag and soap and dropped them in Ingrid’s hand. She combed through her hair to pick at the tangles as Ingrid ran the bar of soap over her limbs.
“We need to leave before he returns,” Ingrid finally said. The water sloshed as she turned around and grabbed Rionan’s shoulder. “I will not let you get hurt again,” she said. Her low voice echoing so close to Rionan’s ear made the back of her neck prickle and grow warm. They were almost nose to nose and so close that their breaths intermingled. Ingrid’s steady blue gaze was intense, and Rionan thought she might have been trying to tell her something without words. She swallowed to clear her dry throat.
“Do we really have to leave, though?” She asked.
“We must,” Ingrid sighed. She let her head fall to Rionan’s shoulder. Unsure of what to do, she let Ingrid stay there until the water felt cool, and the suds were all but gone.
Rionan didn’t know what Gunnar had said to Ingrid, but it had lit a fire under her that had blazed for a week. Ingrid had spent more time growling and yelling than speaking as she packed and sent letters to people Rionan had never heard of. The responses had yet to arrive, but that hadn’t stopped Ingrid from packing. A messenger from Gunnar had come twice but was turned away with a terse response from Ingrid or Bo.
As Ingrid ran around preparing to leave, Bo followed behind her, yelling they would stay. Rionan watched it happen and helped Yrsa tidy the house after her daughter and husband’s rampage.
“If they keep bounding around the house like that, the place will be in shambles before they decide to leave or stay,” Yrsa muttered next to her. Rionan agreed.
That night, as she tossed around in the cot she shared with Ingrid, she realized half of the bed was empty. As she blinked blearily and reached out, her hand found only cold blankets. She looked around. Sigrid was in her cot, breathing softly, deep asleep. Helgi was on the floor next to the dog, Sjór. He, too, was breathing slowly and evenly. Ingrid was nowhere to be found. A peek out the window showed the sky was dark and the moon was high. Her eyes wandered until they caught a hint of light. A dim glow under the door gave her an idea of where her friend was. She unearthed herself from the blankets and repurposed one as a shawl before she crept outside, making no noise.
The glow came from a lantern. Ingrid had taken it to the front of the house, where she sat on a bench Bo used while he sheared the sheep. A pipe dangled from her lips as she looked into the welkin. Rionan joined her without saying a word. She was tired, and Ingrid would talk if she wanted to. They sat in comfortable silence for a while until Ingrid broke it.
“Gunnar wants a map from me,” she admitted. “I have it. I don’t want to give it to him.” She held up a folded piece of paper. Before this, the only paper Rionan had seen regularly was the bible. It seemed like such a delicate thing to garner so much attention.
“What’s on it?” She asked. Ingrid removed the pipe and blew a column of smoke into the air.
“I once visited Mikligarður, a great and wealthy city, when I was younger. The citizens call it Constantinople. It was my first voyage with my crew,” she explained. “I met a woman there by chance named Antonia.” She frowned down at her feet. “She was so delighted to meet a female savage; she invited me to her home. Her father was a nobleman and thought Antonia could do no wrong. He offered me a token, marked with his seal, that would let me visit her any time.”
“Did he give you the map as well?” Ingrid shook her head and fiddled with her pipe. Rionan waited patiently for Ingrid to continue. Not sure what this had to do with Gunnar; she had to believe her friend would get there eventually.
“No,” Ingrid finally continued. “A seal to enter a nobleman’s residence unencumbered was valuable but not enough to kill over. It didn’t allow me to do anything other than visit my friend.”
“What does Gunnar want with the seal?” Ingrid sighed at Rionan’s question.
“Antonia’s father had engaged his daughter to the son of one of the emperor’s advisers. He oversaw much of the commerce in the city. Antonia introduced us one day.” She looked wistfully into the distance, and Rionan felt she knew where this would go.
“Was he handsome?” One nun had told her that all noblemen were handsome, like princes in stories. Rionan had yet to meet one that could confirm that information.
Ingrid snorted. “He had buck teeth and stood as high as my shoulder,” she chuckled. “But Antonia loved him and wanted me to meet him. He might not be handsome, but he was clever.”
“I was selling textiles and fine cloth and offered to show him my best tapestries. He presented the king with a tapestry as a gift. His Majesty fell in love with it. He purchased my entire cargo and made clothes for his wife and daughters with the linen I’d brought.” She paused. “They granted me the imperial seal, allowing me to trade directly with the palace. It also came with a map to bring the goods to the private dock of the imperial family.”
Rionan sucked in a breath. “That is valuable.” Ingrid nodded.
“They awarded Antonia a new set of jewelry for introducing us. She wore it at her wedding before I left for my next voyage.”
“And Gunnar wants the map so he can do business directly with the royals in Mikligarður?” Rionan thought it made sense. Ragnar was known for his cunning and ambition. It made sense his son was the same.
Ingrid grunted, “That or raid them.”
“Why not just burn it?” Rionan asked.
Ingrid’s shoulders slumped. “I can’t bring myself to,” she admitted. “It’s too valuable, and to just dispose of it would spit in the face of my friend’s generosity.” She raised her head and squinted at the lantern. “Besides, he’d just kill me for destroying it.”
“So, we leave?” Rionan stared at Ingrid, silently begging her to think of another way.
“It’s for the best,” Ingrid whispered. “It may be cowardly, but I can’t stand to lose any of you right now, nor can I give Gunnar a key to expanding Ragnar’s power. I don’t trust that it won’t come back to haunt me.”
“Where will we go?” All Rionan had ever known were Ireland and Iceland. They were her homes, and she’d be sad to leave them despite hardly ever treating her kindly.
“I was thinking back to Laithlind,” Ingrid decided. “It’s a fairly nice place. We’ll be happy there.” They looked up at the stars for a while longer before Ingrid tapped her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“I thought, maybe, I could give you a safe place to be for the rest of your life. Now I see that even though I’ve traveled the known world, there are still things I didn’t know to prepare for.”
She looked so downtrodden, Rionan couldn’t help but reach over and squeeze her leg affectionately.
“Anywhere with you is home,” she said. And she meant it.