During my ongoing recovery from my heart attack last month, I've been trying to work on the books I have in progress. It's very difficult to write creatively when the new medication I'm taking makes me breathless, dizzy, and too easily tired. The combination doesn't do much for my muse! As a result, when things get too confused, I put aside my regular projects and try to noodle on other things to get my mind out of the same old rut, and keep at least some creative juices flowing.
The snippet below came to me a few weeks ago. It may go nowhere, or it may develop into a historical fantasy novel in due course. As yet, I can't say. Even so, I enjoyed being able to craft something new for a change, instead of worry over previous work that I just can't seem to polish into the shape I want it. So, here goes.
I had lived seven summers when it all began.
I remember Egil, the King’s son, striding through the surf and up the narrow beach that afternoon, stones and shells crunching beneath his wet, dripping sandals. He was a tall, strong man, his red hair and beard blowing freely in the wind, the light of laughter in his eyes and on his lips. His chest and arms were well-muscled from years of training with sword, spear, axe and shield, and wielding an oar in the teeth of storm and gale. His legs were like tree-trunks, broad, solid beneath his kilt, looking as if they would bear him forever.
Our thane stood halfway up the beach at the head of his men, gray-haired, bent with age, but pride still in his eyes. He had fought alongside the King, Egil’s father, through many years against the Dansk raiders who sailed up from the south to plague us. As Egil reached him, he said for all to hear, “We are blessed by your presence, Egil the Strong. You are well come. What brings you to the Westmark?”
“The waves and the wind, Aagi, old friend,” Egil replied with a broad smile. “We have fought well this summer, and taught the Dansk raiders to keep their distance, at least for a time. My other ships have sailed off to their own homes and hearths, but I bethought me to visit you before I returned to Kingsmark. I have a surprise for you – three of them, in fact.” He turned his head, put two fingers in his mouth, and whistled shrilly.
His crew had been climbing over the side of their longship into the surf. Now they reached up to those still aboard, who handed down a woman and two babes in arms. Those already in the water carried them to dry land and set them down on the beach, handing the babies to the woman. She threw back her shoulders, and raised her head in what looked almost like defiance; then she started up the beach towards us.
“By Odin’s beard!” Aagi exclaimed, goggling in astonishment. “It is Ragna Torstensdottir! She was taken by Dansk raiders two springs past!” Behind him, the rest of the adults joined in a chorus of surprise, some in wonder, some in anger. We children watched in silence.
As Ragna came up to him, she said, “Yes, Thane, it is I. Prince Egil and his men freed me.”
“And the children?”
“The raiders who stole me were from Goran Sigurdsson’s steading.” An angry murmur ran around our menfolk as they heard the hated name of our most persistent adversary. “They told me they had taken me as a gift for him. When they returned there, he forced me to become his concubine, and begat these twin boys upon me. Prince Egil killed him in single combat, and brought me home.”
Aagi’s face grew troubled. “You… you know our laws, Ragna.”
“I know our laws, yes, yet I plead with you for their lives. These children did not ask to be born, yet they are dear to me. They can grow to be good members of our clan, as good as any other. Why should they be punished for the sin of their father? Goran forced me, which was evil, but he is dead. Let that punishment rest upon him, who was the evildoer, and not upon my sons, who have done no evil at all.”
Immediately a hubbub of comment broke out among the people. Some of the men spoke for Ragna, while others demanded the immediate death of the children of the enemy. Aagi spun on his heel to face the crowd. “Silence! Silence! I rule here, and I shall decide, in accordance with our laws! They prescribe death to evildoers, but as Ragna says, these children have done no wrong. We must think on this.”
“What’s there to think about?” old Yngvar demanded crossly. He was one of the sticklers for the old ways, always inveigling against youngsters who failed to honor, respect and observe every jot and tittle of the laws of our forefathers. “Rape is an evil. They are therefore the fruit of evil. They should have been exposed at birth! Since that was not done, let them die now, and so remove the poisoned fruit from our midst!”
I know not why I spoke. Perhaps it was a god speaking through me, for children were strictly forbidden to interfere in the affairs of adults, and I knew better. Even so, I suddenly found myself asking aloud, “Is it different for men than for sheep, then?”
There was a sudden silence. I quailed inwardly. Everyone was looking at me. Aage frowned mightily, and opened his mouth. I knew he was about to order that I be beaten for interrupting my elders and betters – but Egil spoke first. His tone was puzzled, but kindly.
“What do you mean, stripling?”
I stammered, “M-Mama always says, i-if I find a ram that has s-strayed from another flock, to let him t-tread our ewes that are in season before we r-return him. Their lambs will bring new blood to our flock, and s-strengthen it.”
There was a moment’s silence, then Yngvar shouted angrily, “So that’s why my ram was so exhausted when you returned him last month! You–”
Whatever else he had to say was drowned in a roar of laughter. Even our thain was rocking with merriment. Egil and his men, who had by now come up the strand to join him, laughed the loudest of all, and so did Ragna.
As the noise subsided, Egil called, “Old man, your ram may have been tired, but I daresay he was very happy!” That drew a fresh explosion of mirth. As silence returned, he added, “They say that wisdom is sometimes heard from the mouths of the young. What is your name, boy?”
“I – I am named Alvar, my lord,” I managed to say. “My father was Lage Olofsson, who was killed two years ago, fighting the raiders that took Ragna. My mother is Meta, his widow.”
“I have heard the name of Lage Olofsson. He was a good fighting man, they say. Alvar Lagesson, I think you have spoken wisdom this day. What works for your flock can work for people, too, it seems to me. I will testify for all men to hear that Goran Sigurdsson was a brave man, a skilled fighter and a worthy foe. His warrior’s blood would not diminish another clan, to be sure – rather the opposite. What say you, Thane Aagi?”
“Aye, for all that he was our enemy, we know he was a braw fighter. I think you are right, Prince Egil. He is dead at your hands; therefore, the price for his evil deeds is already paid in full. That being so, it seems to me that his get will not stain our clan’s honor, but rather strengthen us. Furthermore, no dishonor attaches to Ragna for having borne them, for she had no choice in the matter. Does anyone gainsay this?”
He turned to look at those standing around and behind him. There was a moment’s silence, then a growing murmur of assent and agreement. Even old Yngvar stood silent, unable to think of a countervailing argument that would carry enough weight to be convincing.
“Then so be it. Welcome home, Ragna Torstensdottir, and your sons are welcome with you. What are their names?”
She gave a great sigh of relief, and her shoulders relaxed. “This one,” hefting the babe in her right arm, “is Torgeir, and this one is Kare.”
“Then I declare Torgeir and Kare Goransson to be sons of our clan, and blood of our blood.” He turned to Prince Egil. “Will you feast with us this night? We shall roast sheep for you, and we have fresh-brewed mead.”
“That sounds like a meal fit for warriors! Yes, Thane Aage, we shall rest with you this night, and go on our way in the morning. We thank you.”
“Then run your ship up the beach, and bring your men. I shall send guards to watch over it this night.”
As our people made haste towards the Great Hall to begin preparing for a feast, and the visitors turned back to their ship to make it secure for the night, Egil squatted on his haunches in front of me and looked me in the eye. “That was well said, Alvar Lagesson. It took courage for one so young to speak up like that, I’m thinking.”
“I – I thank my lord for his kindness.”
As he moved on, Ragna stopped in front of me, and looked down with a warm smile on her face. “I thank you, Alvar. I shall not forget what my sons and I owe you for your words this day.”
Well, there you are. Did you like it? Hate it? Please let me know in Comments. As I said, it may go nowhere, or it may grow. We'll have to see.