The Grave of Valkyries – Part 2
- 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
Dublin 873 C.E.
Mist was rising off the water in soft clouds as they docked in Dublin early that morning. Five weeks at sea with only a few stops and all of Ingrid’s crew was ready to stretch their legs, find a meal, maybe a woman, and a bed for a few hours. First, though, they had to unload the cargo. The markets of Dublin started early.
Bjørn joined her on the dock as several girls and a few men and boys were marched down the plank. It was a good group.
“You think we can get rid of the whole lot before evening?” he asked. Ingrid shrugged.
“It depends on how the market is flowing.” She gestured at one of her men to hurry along a child that was teary-eyed as they stared at the water below the plank, refusing to cross over it. That one had been seasick the entire trip. “Either way, they stay here when we leave in three days. Have Harold watch the deck.” Bjørn yawned, his yellow teeth exposing themselves from the beaded mass of his beard, and waved her off. He knew better than to keep the captain around if she was itching to be gone.
The slave market of Dublin was loud, as always. Ingrid strolled through the combination of sellers hawking jewelry, animals, cloth, and people. Her most recent acquisition was a group of prisoners captured by Eric, the son of her benefactor Ragnar. She’d paid more than she wanted for them, but there were some pretty ones among them that would do well in this market. Not many had resisted leaving the hall of the man that had razed their village to the ground.
She stopped before a jewelry table being run by an older woman decked in beads. Her table was covered in everything from rings to loose beads to necklaces and torque bracelets. Ingrid ran her callused hands over a string of glass beads the color of new grass.
“Where are ya coming in from?” The woman asked.
“Laithlind,” Ingrid replied. “I’ll take these.” She pointed at the string of beads and a bracelet made of braided gold links with small, perfectly round sky blue beads tying the links together. It would be an excellent gift for her sister. She tossed a coin onto the table.
“It’ll be more than that,” the woman grunted. “Especially if ye come from Lachlainn.” She smirked when another coin joined the first and snatched them before Ingrid could rethink her purchase. “Your type’s not as welcome here these days.”
“Why so?” Ingrid shrugged off her helmet, revealing a shock of blonde hair that was grimy and stiff from salt air. She tied the green beads around her neck and admired them in the bronze mirror on the table. It was probably worth more than the woman’s entire inventory.
“King Ivar.” She leaned over and spat. “Caught ill last month, he did. Whispers say death will follow soon enough, God willing.” She clutched at something on her neck, a charm Ingrid recognized as a cross. A Christian then.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
She wandered some more, observing how many Northmen she could spot amongst the year-round inhabitants. There were a fair few. There were just as many Irishmen looking at them with banked fury, hands drifting toward weapons and more than one mention of ‘Heathen’s’ on their lips. Dublin was tensing under her feet and Ingrid made plans to leave as soon as they’d resupplied.
She drifted further into the market. Stopping once to request that food be taken to their ship, and again to order water and a load of hides. She was done with transporting people for a while. They took up too much space on deck. A house caught her eye, specifically, the large skull leaning against it. A whale.
She ducked into the building, letting her eyes adjust to the dim, smoky interior. It smelled, and she wrinkled her nose at the reek of fish and kelp. A man, hefty and leaning to one side, waved her in. As she entered the room, more bones became visible leaning against the walls and by a fire, a good find indeed.
“What do ye want?”
“How much for the bones,” she asked, unperturbed by his gruff demeanor. “I’ll take all you have if it’s reasonable.”
He wiped his hands on the apron and looked her over. “From the North?”
“Farther,” she agreed. He nodded and gestured her to a table at the side of the shop.
The two sat and haggled for what felt like hours. While they spoke, the shopkeeper’s assistant came in and out with more bones scraped clean and wet. The girl, it must have been a girl based on the slender figure, had a shaved head, which caught Ingrid’s eye, as did the burn marks on the backs of her arms. Ingrid half-listened to the man speak as she noted the clever way the girl’s hands moved along the bone, scraping away flesh and cartilage and leaving nothing but a white surface. She held up a hand for the man to stop talking. “Why haven’t you taken them to the Market?”He shrugged. “Not many know how to carve whale bone.”
“Let me look at the bones first,” she demanded. “Before I agree to your price.”
The man scowled and barked an order at the girl. Ingrid couldn’t place the word he used, but the child flinched before standing and dragging over one of the freshly cleaned bones.
“She’s not worth much,” the man grunted. “But she does well enough with cleaning them.” Ingrid accepted the rib bone and inspected the scraping.
Indeed, there wasn’t anything remaining on the bone in terms of flesh or fat. The surface was meticulously cleaned to prepare it for use. It was solid, with the right amount of thickness to be useful for carving. Ingrid nodded. Her family would be pleased with these.
“Throw in the girl and you have a deal.” Her counteroffer seemed to shock him but he quickly recovered.
“I’ll need her to finish the rest of them, after that you can take her.”
Just like that, the deal was done. The bone would be loaded onto her ship in three days, and the girl would join. She said as much to Bjørn when she joined him for a meal at the inn two nights later.
“Will the þræll be yours then, or will she go to Ragnar?”
“My father needs someone to help with the carving,” she said. “Ragnar has no use for a bone handler.”
“He’ll want a cut of whatever we bring back.”
“He will be satisfied with the coin from the group we brought with us and a share of the hides.”
Bjørn snorted into his drink and looked at their fellow sailors sitting in the inn. Ingrid followed his eyes. Their entire crew was settled together drinking loudly. In the smokey din of the inn, she could see each shiny new purchase that dotted their beards, hair, and belts. A few had woven thick silver beads into their beard and the tangled, matted locks of their hair. The small items glinted as they turned this way and that singing drinking songs or sharing stories with other travelers. New charms hung from their necks and are pinned to their clothes. Some were for protection, others for appearance or their wives.
A fellow tradesman, one Ingrid was familiar with sidled up next to her. Bjørn nodded politely and escaped, leaving Ingred alone with their new guest.
“Ulfred,” she said, greeting him with a raised pint. Ulfred was an old friend and competitor. A fellow tradesman, he’d been the first to take on her business when she started heading her own boat. He came from Iceland, as she did. His advice had helped her get to where she was today.
“It would do you well to be gone soon,” he replied without preamble.
“I heard about Ivar,” she whispered. “And how he might die soon. Is that what you wanted to warn me about?” He’d often given her warnings of unrest in the past.
“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ Ivar dies, it’s ‘when’.” He looked her dead in the eyes, insistence written in every wrinkle on his face. “Ivar will die and unless his son takes the position immediately after, the tide may turn against the Northman. Go —” he grips her shoulder firmly — “as soon as you can.”
After that Ulfred melted into the crowd, likely off to spread the word. Ingrid sighed. Her men would have to be on the lookout until they could leave. She signaled Bjørn.
“They sleep on the ship tonight,” she ordered. “We leave once the bones are finished being loaded.”
That night she stared up at the stars as the gentle rocking of the harbor soothed her crewmates’ snores. She longed for Iceland. To be home after so long felt unreal. Her crew had been on the ocean for four years now, running trades for Ragnar, and occasionally raiding town steads for new slaves. She was ready to put down her sword for the summer. Ingrid thought of her sister, who’d been all of six when she’d left.
“I wonder how much she’s grown?” The stars didn’t answer her and Ingrid wondered, not for the first time, if she’d even be welcomed when she returned.