Reykjavik was on fire. Ingrid scrambled from house to house and pulled people from their doorways and bedrooms. A boy grabbed at his siblings as Ingrid kicked in the door to yank them out. Once assured they were safe, she hurried on. The flames grew higher and higher as she stumbled about, calling for Rionan and Helgi. As she went, Vikings in various assortments of armor ran past, yelling in a combination of Norse dialects. They shoved past townspeople and broke apart windows and doors. Ingrid drew her longsword and stabbed through one that was trying to separate a mother from her child. She shoved the woman onward toward the distant treeline with a shout.
She gave everyone she ran across the same command, all while wielding her sword at any Viking foolish enough to approach her.
“I’ve got you, lass,” a man, probably one of her neighbors, yelled. They stood back to back and moved as one through the debris and the fleeing townsfolk. Around them, more and more men began arming themselves and beating back the raiders.
“God’s damn the bastards,” Ulfric, the blacksmith, clad in only a nightshirt, bellowed while swinging a hammer that would have made Thor proud overhead. “Come on, devils!”
Despite the answering cries from their friends and kin, Ingrid knew they wouldn’t last long against these Vikings. This was a small band, but they were of one mind and had a common goal. Whereas the people of Rejkyavik were unprepared and scattered. Already, the intruders gathered together and started creeping toward the townsfolk like wolves entering a herd of scattered sheep.
“To me!” she screamed and lifted her blade aloft. The men beside her pulled in close, and more joined. “Sheilds front, guard the trees!” Though long gone from the battlefields, the dozen veterans amongst them remembered well the tactics drilled into their bones. One by one, the men that had shields moved forward to join her, and the rest fell back and fanned out. From the corner of her eye, she saw many women and boys armed with knives and farm tools join their husbands and fathers. In the firelight, their eyes looked frenzied and overbright. Hellish, she thought with a grin. She cast her eyes about once more, finally spotting the mop of red hair on the edge of the trees.
Assured that her friend was safe, she bellowed, “Onward!”
Linking shields, they trudged forward. They met the Viking that attempted to climb their wall with a blade from between the shields. Those with arrows emptied them into their front or attempted to arch the shot over it. There were a few shouts of pain, but no one fell away. The small pittance of bowmen tried to return volley, but the result was less than ideal. Nevertheless, they kept going.
Ingrid bellowed commands and ordered attacks until the raiders were retreating towards their dreki boat, beached neatly on their shore. Not for the first time. She wished they had more archers. A few arrows sank into the side of the wood, but there was no stopping it from leaving, with most of its crew still aboard and alive. Ingrid sighed. No one moved until their attackers vanished into the distance.
Wooden frames of houses splintered and popped as they began ladling water over the worst of it. At least the grainer was still safe, as were the smithy and the great hall. One by one, the wounded were lifted through the heavy oaken doors and deposited in rows on the floor. Villagers who ran into the woods came back, including Helgi and Rionan, and began distributing supplies and bandages at the behest of the town headman and the healers. The dead, enemy and allies alike, were laid in front of the hall. No one looked too long at them as they struggled back and forth, laden down with water pails or their fallen friends and family.
Ingrid crossed the snow to her own house. The soft crunches accompanied the popping from the overheated sap pockets hidden in the timbers. The door frame remained along with most of the walls, but the roof was absent, along with much of their merchandise. She swore and trudged through the ashen logs and the wet debris.
Recovery was possible, but it’d be a lot of work, and without their funds, they might not be able to pay the fee to the moneylender that had granted them extra to purchase the property. She bent down to pick up a few clothes and what remained of their gold and silver pieces. She slipped them into her pocket and left.
They interspersed the journey back to the hall with shouting and crying. Some kind soul had covered the bodies with a blanket that kept all but their feet hidden. It covered a small lump in the middle from head to toe with room to spare. Ingrid turned away.
Shouting and cursing greeted her when she made it to the hall. Inside, the townsfolk had formed a ring around the middle of the room and were pointing and throwing things into the center. A small shape shoved through the throng and ran towards her.
“Miss Ingrid!” Helgi cried. “They took Rionan,” he gasped and skidded to a halt. “They took her!”
Ingrid jolted forward and pushed past the crowd until she finally drew even with the innermost ring of people.
Inside the circle, all the slaves still alive were gathered and tied wrist to wrist while the townsfolk screamed and threw whatever they had at them. Tucked between a slender woman and an older man, she saw Rionan. When they locked eyes, the rough rope prevented her from going toward Ingrid when they locked eyes.
Rage shook through Ingrid’s body as she marched forward and sliced through the bonds holding her friend to the group. A man tried to stop her, but she kicked him aside.
“Leave her,” a voice shouted. The crowd quieted. Ingrid snarled and turned on the person who called to her. The village headman hobbled forward. One of his legs was bandaged to the knee, and he leaned heavily on his son.
“I will not,” Ingrid replied. The fury was still hot in her veins.
“It was them and theirs that let the Vikings in,” the headman declared. “We will show them no mercy.”
“My thrall did nothing wrong.” Ingrid glared at the ring of onlookers, who stared at her and Rionan with soot-stained faces that were gaunt from the horrors of the night.
“Maybe so,” the headman acknowledged. “But they were the ones who let the raiders approach our shores. How do you know she wasn’t on their side? It wasn’t long ago that all the thralls in Iceland rose and rebelled against their masters.” A few murmurs rose from the crowd. Ingrid refused to listen to them.
“Have we not lost enough tonight?” she asked. “I will not lose her as well.” The headman tucked his chin and stared her down.
“Out of respect for your actions tonight, you may take her.” He paused and glared at Rionan, then looked to Ingrid. “But you both must leave before dawn, or she will share their fates.”
Ingrid nodded. She didn’t have the energy to fight. Instead, she tucked Rionan under her arm and dragged her out of the building. The soft tups of Helgi’s footsteps followed them out of the building.
“Come with me, Miss Ingrid,” he said. “I made sure the donkeys were okay before I left. We can take them.”
Ingrid nodded and followed him to the shelter for the beasts. Rionan trembled under her hands, and Ingrid tugged her along. Three donkeys snorted and pawed at the ground inside the lean-to built into their shop. She was grateful they had lost none of them. The journey home was two days over land if they hurried. When she considered there wasn’t much to take, it made the trek seem easier. It was the only place left for them to go.
“We’ll sleep for an hour and leave,” she decided and tucked Rionan into the straw.
“I’ll keep watch, Miss Ingrid,” Helgi declared.
She didn’t argue and instead collapsed next to her thrall with a grunt. Rionan didn’t argue as she was once again pulled into Ingrid’s side.
“I’m sorry, Red,” she whispered. At the sight of Rionan’s trembling shoulders, she wanted to say more, but what else was there?