- 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)
Ingrid bounced little Erik in her arms while she waited for Helgi’s answer. His haggard face scooped firelight into the hollows of his cheeks and the curly wisps of his beard. She thought back fondly to a time when he hadn’t been able to grow even a short goatee. When she stumbled across that sixteen-year-old in the tavern, she’d never considered that he’d become her family a few years later. It made what she was asking him even harder.
“Mistress,” he whispered. Ingrid sighed. He only ever used that tone when he disagreed with her.
“I’m not letting you say ‘no,’” she interrupted him. Erik fussed in her arms, and she whispered into his soft hair until he resettled. “There’s much at risk, but Rionan and I can vanish easily.”
Helgi frowned and squinted at the floor. The baby in the basket by his foot babbled and reached for the fringe of his pant leg. She was growing bigger, even without her mother there to feed her. The midwife had recommended goat’s milk as a replacement until Sigrid returned, and Embla thrived on it. She was pudgy, pink, and happy, just as a baby should be. Helgi’s face finally creaked into a smile as his daughter laughed and gurgled at him.
“Think of your children,” Ingrid urged. She knew she was twisting a knife into Helgi’s heart, but she will bear the guilt. “They need their mother, sooner rather than later. I’m not asking you; I’m telling you; this is the best method.”
“I know you mean well,” Helgi sighed. “But to give me all your money to buy Sigrid’s freedom would leave Miss Rionan alone. How will you both escape? Has she agreed to it? What will you do if the church catches you both?” He stared into her eyes, challenging her to answer him. She had to look away. She’d been pondering the same questions and hadn’t found an answer to any of them yet.
“I can’t let you do it,” Helgi insisted. “There has to be something else we can try to get the funds we need for both of them.” Ingrid shook her head.
“Everyone in town is keeping hold of their coins in case they need them next. No one will buy anything from us or lend us money. We are out of options, Brother.” Helgi stared at her helplessly.
“What about Bjørn,” he finally asked. “Couldn’t we ask him for more help?”
“He has given enough,” she said sternly. “He might be my friend, but don’t forget he has his own family to provide for now.” Helgi winced.
They’d heard about Bjørn’s new wife, a Spanish widow with a young son, barely more than a toddler. He said she was the loveliest thing, and he’d nearly dropped to his knees the first time he saw her when she arrived in the port near his home. Ingrid wished to meet this woman who’d charmed the hulking Bjørn. Her son was also the center of many fond stories. Bjørn appeared equally enamored with him as he was with the boy’s mother, and fatherhood suited him.
Helgi hung his head and sighed. The long nights worrying for his wife bore down on his shoulders. Ingrid knew he was exhausted and scared. She also knew he wouldn’t ask her to give up Rionan for her sister. That was why she offered. She carefully placed Erik in his basket next to his sister’s, and pondered as the two children curled up under Sigrid’s carefully woven blankets.
Ingrid hadn’t joked about being able to flee this town. The farm was Helgi’s by right now. He’d more than paid her back for her help in securing the land. Anything left could be counted as a late wedding present. The thought of the two of them leaving this place, lit something new in her heart.
She didn’t begrudge Helgi and Sigrid their relationship. She loved her sister was so comfortable with her husband and she could rely on Helgi. But her feet had itched lately, wanting to leave. Every night she curled up next to Rionan, one child started crying, or Helgi would rush out for a nighttime chore. It wasn’t a tough life, nor was it especially challenging. But she’d never seen herself as the type to settle with children. Nor did she want to live forever with her sister and brother-in-law.
As Helgi stared at his children, she continued to imagine what it would be like to leave and find somewhere new with Rionan. A quiet, hidden house, perfectly sized for them. She hummed delightedly. Helgi’s head tilted up towards her, brows pinched in concern. Ingrid shook off the fantasy and forced herself back into the present.
“Have you decided?” she asked. He closed his eyes and sighed. His whole body leaned forward with the motion.
“Only if Miss Rionan agrees,” he said. His voice sounded defeated, but she was glad he’d accepted at least the offer of assistance.
“I’ll tell her tomorrow night,” she promised.
The cold night air pulled a blush into her cheeks as she snuck over the church grounds. The building wasn’t heavily fortified, but priests and young men in similar uniforms walked by on evening patrol. She watched a pimple-faced teen disappear around the corner before darting out from the shadow of a large stone cross in the courtyard. By now, Sigrid was home, holding her children while Helgi cried over her shoulder. Their boat was loaded, and Bjørn was ready with a small crew to sail to his new home. They’d shelter there before finding a new place to go.
Of course, Rionan had agreed. The girl was too sweet and trusted Ingrid far too much. Ingrid hoped she was worthy of such faith. They’d gathered their money and a few friends to make their getaway easier and bided their time for a night with ideal weather and clear skies. The only thing left to do was get Rionan and flee.
They had made the payment that morning, no fuss necessary. The priests had accepted, and they released Sigrid. She sobbed into Ingrid’s arms and beat her about the shoulders for abandoning Rionan until Ingrid had explained what they intended to do. Then she began crying for another reason.
“I knew you’d leave me again,” she hissed bitterly as they marched home. Ingrid tried not to cower under her glare.
“We’ll tell you where to find us,” she placated. “You can visit whenever you want.”
“I want you to stop running away as soon as you can,” Sigrid yelled. She stamped her foot like a child, splashing mud across her dirty dress and Ingrid’s pants. Ingrid only stared at her, never having seen her little sister get so upset. Unamused with her vacant look, Sigrid huffed and stomped away.
“Do whatever you want,” she yelled over her shoulder. “Leave, burn, dance naked in the woods for all I care!” An innocent stone in her path received the brunt of her ire as she kicked it away with a hoarse scream. “The two of you deserve each other,” she shrieked. Ingrid could feign bafflement for all she wanted, but, truly, she knew why her sister was angry. It would have to be addressed later, though; getting Rionan came first.
She forced the side door open, eyes widening at the creak. A glance showed no one had heard. She slipped inside and tip-toed down the stairwell into the underground chambers. Rionan had given her a brief outline of the church’s architecture, but seeing it from the inside was different. Her journey was more difficult because she couldn’t risk lighting a lamp, resorting to feeling along the walls, and straining her vision to make the way. She stopped at every corner and peered around it to see if someone was patrolling. Her breath fogged in front of her as she walked. She wondered if the ones imprisoned had enough blankets to stay warm.
The pathway sloped downward as she’d been told, leading to a dark wooden door. She hissed as she wrapped her fingers around the frigid metal of the lock and pulled out her lock picks. Though she hadn’t done this in years, her skill returned as she fiddled with the contraption. The bolt slid free in minutes, and she set it down, still cautious of making any noise.
The few awake prisoners stirred as she slipped inside. Tom rose to greet her. As much as she wished to free them all, they and their families wouldn’t be safe. She gripped his offered hand and smiled at him, hoping it conveyed her well-wishes. Tom nodded in return and released her with a sad frown.
“She’s not here,” he whispered. Ingrid’s heart dropped.
“What do you mean?” She asked. Her voice shook, and her throat felt tight. “Where’s Rionan?”
Tom nodded at the door. “Just after your sister left, Gunnar came and took her.”
He held out a hand and dropped a lump into her palm. The lump was a piece of fabric wrapped around a stone object. When Ingrid held it up to the moonlight, she saw a finely carved Hnefatafl piece. Her fingers ran over the etching and noted the long braid and lack of beard; a woman, bearing a shield marked with a cross and surrounded by runes. When she spotted the one for ‘water,’ her eyes prickled. The memory of Rionan at the table with her father, so excited to learn from him, surfaced, and she sniffed wetly.
Tom cleared his throat. “She wanted you to have one, just in case she didn’t make it back.”
Ingrid squeezed the tears away and pocketed the piece. Around her, everyone had woken and watched intently, some with fear, some with anger. She could use anger.
“I want the entire set,” she said lowly. “If anyone wants to join me, I could use the help.”
Shuffles and murmurs sounded behind her, but Ingrid was too busy plotting. All she’d brought was a few knives. She had no sword or shield, no armor or arrows. She and a half-dozen cold and hungry villagers against the church rectory and Gunnar’s cunning mind.
A grim smile curled across her mouth. She would raze this church to the ground, like a true Viking.