Dance With Me
- 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 (pending)
The man who grabbed their attention was in his mid-sixties, at least, with a salt-and-pepper beard that reached his chest. He had a full mug in hand like he had just returned from the bar.
Kally sniffed and nodded, “Why?”
Derrick hesitated. “It’s for a project,” he hedged. “We’re college students.” The man lumbered over and sat at their table. He took a sip from his mug before he set it down with a thunk.
“Let me guess,” he started. “Yer all about how he was God’s gift to the islands and couldna’ do wrong?” He looked at them with an annoyed scowl. Taylor shook his head and scooted closer.
“The opposite, actually.” When the man looked surprised, he continued. “We’re trying to trace some family discourse back to Gunnar’s time. Would you happen to know a Callum McLeod? We came across an interview with him from a previous study.”
Their new friend pursed his lips and took another long sip from his mug.
Derrick couldn’t help but squirm as he studied them over the rim of his cup.
“Aye,” he finally said. “I know a Callum McLeod.”
“Can we meet him?” Kally blurted. “We’d really like to ask him about the history between Gunnar and his family.”
“I wish I could let ye’ meet him, lass,” he sighed. “But my father died last year. I can answer a few a’ those questions if you forgive an old man’s poor memory.”
Kally perked up and leaned in excitedly. “So you’re his son?” She stuck out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. We’d love any help you can give us.”
The man shook her hand in return, “Always willing to help them that look for the true history,” he said. “The name’s Callum McLoed the Second.” He continued introductions and shook Derrick’s and Taylor’s as well.
“I’m Taylor,” He introduced himself. “And that’s Derrick. Kal and I are Graduate students at Edinburgh. Derrick here is a US undergrad exchange for the summer.”
“Nice to meet you all,” Callum said.
“We’re wondering if you could explain more about how Gunnar is responsible for pushing your ancestors out of Iceland,” Kally barged on. “And, oh!” She paused and started digging around in her bag before emerging with a recording device. “Do you mind if we record this?” She bashfully wiggled the antique tape recorder.
Callum chuckled and tapped the table. “Set it down, lass. I dinna’ mind a bit.” He waited until the device was settled and turned on before talking. Derrick had a feeling he’d done this before.
“Where would the three of ye like me to start?” Callum asked.
“Could you tell us about Iceland?” Derrick thought that would be the best place to start.
Callum settled back and his brow furrowed. He grabbed his mug but didn’t drink. Instead, he rolled his thumb over the rim and stared at the contents with a focused expression.
“Da never did explain the whole thing,” Callum finally said. “Honest truth, I don’ think he really knew the whole story. But he told me an’ my sister that Gunnar was a curse on our kin from before my father’s father’s father’s father. All the way back to when the first of my ancestors left Iceland on a ship with a girl he would marry here in Orkney.” He paused when Kally raised her hand.
“So your ancestor married the woman that he escaped Iceland with?” She asked, disappointment clear in her tone. Derrick could sympathize. This might blow her lesbian theory out of the water. Callum nodded.
“Yes. According to my da’, my ancestor was a servant to a rich woman who Gunnar wanted to marry. He didn’t know her name. She left Iceland to escape him, and this ancestor came with her, along with her sister, Sigrid, and a thrall. My, however many greats, grandfather fell in love with Sigrid. He courted her on the journey, and they married almost as soon as they landed.” He smacked the table for emphasis.
“Did he tell you any more about the ‘rich woman’ and her thrall?” Derrick asked. He was much more invested now that they were getting some relevant information.
Kally also looked relieved and leaned forward with an expectant expression.
“He said that my family owed their safety to that woman. She left a large fortune to my father as a bride price and helped him settle on some land. It wasn’t until Gunnar came around again and began those fool trials that things went bad. His wife was accused, as was his Lady and her thrall.”
Derrick exchanged a look with Taylor and Kally. If the man’s wife was accused, that would explain why the family still cursed his name.
“Was she one of the ones that died?” Taylor asked.
Callum shook his head. “There was enough left from the bride price to pay for her freedom, but only hers.”
“What about the woman and the thrall?” Kally leaned in further. “Was there anything about what happened to them?”
“According to da’,” he said. “When Gunnar’s men tried to cart them off, the Lady asked to speak with Gunnar. He allowed it. The next day he was found dead.”
Derrick blinked in confusion. “Dead?” They hadn’t found any record of Gunnar’s death, only about the aftermath. There were no historical documents of the event.
“‘Cut from gill to gallbladder,’ as my father would say. She left him there. He bled out and she vanished. So did her thrall. But my forefather and her sister stayed. They kept to these islands for generations, though some headed for America, most of us stayed.” Callum sighed happily. “Wherever she ended up, I hope she drank in Valhalla in the end.” He toasted with his cup and gulped down a mouthful.
Thankfully the bar was close to empty, and the recorder, despite being pocket-sized, picked up sound pretty well. Kally paused the recording and thanked Callum for his story.
“Not a problem.” Callum waved them off. “I have something else if you’re interested.”
“Of course,” Taylor agreed. “Any information is useful at this point.”
“There’s a runestone,” he explained. “It’s on the family property. Supposedly, it was set there at the farm’s founding. The carving’s faded some, but I recon bright, young things like yourselves might want a go at it.”
“Please!” Kally practically salivated.
“Would tomorrow work?” Derrick leaned forward expectantly. They were running out of time in Orkney, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.
“Course,” Callum agreed. “I’ll buy the next round.”
After a few more rounds of drinks, they left the pub with Callum’s address and number in hand. The street lights were lit and wreathed in fog as the rain began to mist the town. Derrick and Kally giggled at random as they followed Taylor’s lead back to Maggie’s. Derrick sighed contentedly. He hadn’t gotten drunk in a long time, not since the exchange student welcome party. The buzz felt nice as they passed benches, slender trees, and phone booths that reflected the hazy yellow glow from the lamps. He felt Kally gasp before she shrieked in his ear and bolted. She dragged him to a huge puddle in the center of an empty cross-section.
“I’ve always wanted to do this!” Kally shouted before she jumped into the center of the puddle.
The resulting splash from her combat boots soaked Derrick’s converse and the bottoms of his jeans. The cold shock from the water made him gasp and jerk away before he tried to splash her back. They stomped after each other in the puddle.
“Come out of there,” Taylor yelled. He waited for them on the edge of the puddle.
Kally giggled and motioned him to join them.
“You’ll catch cold,” Taylor tried again.
Derrick laughed. He felt light and bubbly and a little off-kilter. Trying to reestablish his balance, he grabbed Kally, and they swayed in place. The water had soaked through his socks, but he didn’t mind. They continued to sway.
“I’m singin’ in the rain,” Derrick belted. “I’m singin’ in the rain.” He grabbed Kally’s hand and twirled her in place. “What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!”
Kally sang with him as they drunk waltzed all over the puddle. She sounded terrible. Then again, they both did.
“Stop being a killjoy, Taylor,” Kally called, redfaced from laughing so hard. She could barely sing the lyrics anymore; every word was punctuated by gasped inhales. “Dance with us!” She whirled Derrick around as Taylor sighed and sloshed over to them.
“You’re both loonies,” Taylor snapped, but he grabbed Kally and dipped her, so Derrick didn’t think he cared that much. Kally started snort-laughing as she was held practically parallel to the ground. That’s what made Taylor’s stoic expression finally break. He snorted and pulled her upright.
They played like that for a few more minutes. There was no pattern; they switched partners at random. One minute they were singing show tunes. The next, Taylor did his best to remember the lyrics to ‘Set Fire to the Rain.’ The streetlights blended with the stoplight in the puddle beneath them and twirled around dizzyingly in the rippling water. Eventually, Derrick couldn’t ignore his frozen toes.
“We should get back,” Derrick said, breathless and exhausted. His cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
“You’re right,” Kally agreed. She leaned on Taylor as they trudged the last few streets to Maggie’s house. When they unlocked the door, the smell of books and potpourri greeted them.
Taylor dragged Kally to the living room and set her down before turning on the kettle for tea.
When Kally smiled after Taylor, Derrick’s heart clenched.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the time. It was 1 AM in Orkney, so she’d still be awake. He stepped into the bedroom and placed a call. As it rang, he imagined what she was doing. He could see her in her mismatched pajamas with her fuzzy tiger slippers and her hair in a bonnet as she read her latest Booktok find. Three more rings and the line picked up.
The sound was thin and a little staticky but it was her. “Hey, angel,” he sighed. He heard rustles and the sound of a cup hitting a table. Kiara’s always had rose tea before bed. He wanted to be there too, with his mug of green tea because he didn’t like florals, wrapped up in one of their throw blankets, skimming his phone while she read.
“What’s wrong, babe,” she asked.
He choked up a little. “Nothing.” He sniffed and tried to get himself under control. “I just really miss you.”
“I miss you too.” She paused. “Do you want to tell me about it?”