Valka, some call me. I was born at sea, during the heat of summer. The sea was familiar to me before I knew what land was, and it seems strange that I meet my end in a cave beneath the earth. My mother, whose name I did not know, died shortly after delivering me into this plane of existence. My father was Voltarr, a great ship captain; he was respected on sea and on land. I was fortunate, in that sense, for I would never be cast away should I require aid. However, being a woman, I was looked over when choosing warriors for battles or great voyages. It was the way of things, and looking back on it I cannot say I blame them; superstition was everywhere. Still, having no sons, my father taught me the way of the sword, and the shield, and the bow. As I grew older I ignored my womanhood in favor of new weapons. At the age of twenty, I had found my favorite axes—I wielded them with grace and strength, one in each hand.
My Father’s attention, however, had drifted to more pressing matters. He spoke of this to me, one morning, as our ship came into port.
“Twenty is far too old, Valka,” He said, his hand running idly through his thick red beard. “You should have children running about your feet now! A house and husband to care for, at least!”
“Father,” I said sharply, the wind whipping my auburn hair into my face. “You know that I do not wish for a husband.”
“Aye,” He said. “But I am your father, Valka, and you will marry if I say so.”
I sighed, resigned. Of course, I must not go against him.
He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Go now and dress properly, girl.”
I went below deck and did as he asked, donning a slate blue apron over a plain linen kirtle. I plaited two sections of hair into braids, letting the rest hang freely. I pulled on a pair of short leather boots, and proceeded to catch up to my father, who was already on the rocky shore. Tents had been set up here, and I could hear the merrymaking inside. An empty ship was just offshore, and I knew this was a funeral.
“Father,” I asked, taking hold of his arm, as I always did. “Did you know of this?”
He nodded. “It is the funeral for Hygilliak, the King of these parts. He was known to me.”
He did not miss the worried look that landed on my brow, furrowing it into wrinkles.
“Do not worry, daughter,” He said quietly. “We will be welcomed here.”
Of course, he was right. One thing I learned about my father is that he was rarely wrong. Some of the guests looked up as we entered, but most were too full of ale to bother. I could barely hear myself think above the noise and the music. There were two men seated at the head of a long table—they must have been the heirs apparent. The one on the right, a sour looking fellow, grabbed a large chunk of bread from the tray of a serving girl as she passed. My father paid no notice, but instead walked past the table, casting only a passing glance over a man who was dressed strangely. He wore long dark robes, and another over his head, secured at the top with a strange string of bones. His skin was the color of the earth, and he was not alone. There was a second man, in lighter robes. They were conversing with a third, but he was a Northman….speaking Vulgar Latin, if my ears heard me correctly…
“Herger?” I asked him. “Is that you?”
I spoke our language, and the oddly dressed ones looked confused.
The Northman looked up and a grin came to his face. He sprang to his feet and embraced me. He had been a friend of mine since childhood—he came from a family of traders, who took many, if not all of their voyages under the captainship of my father.
“Valka!” He cried into my shoulder. “The seas did not claim you, after all!”
I smiled as we parted. “No, my friend, they did not. Tell me your tales from abroad! I see they taught you Latin!”
He smiled. “It is all these outsiders understand. Arabs, from the desert lands.”
I grimaced distastefully. I did not like outsiders.
“Come, come,” He said to me. “Sit!”
I joined them at the table, and we began to talk. After a few moments, one of the men at the head of the table called down to us. He looked so familiar, particularly the bright blue eyes in his face.
“Herger!” He said, his strong voice carrying easily over the noise. “Introduce me to that Arab!”
Herger spoke some more in Latin, followed by strange, strangled sounds from the Arabs as they conversed together. I realized later that this was their language. I picked up one word: Buliwyf. No wonder the man looked familiar!
My mind flashed back ten years, when spring had come finally after a long winter to our homeland.
“Herger!” I called to the child running ahead of me, who was thirteen years of age. “Wait for me! Your legs are too long!”
“Run faster, little Valka!” He called over his shoulder, his golden hair shaggy as ever.
I willed my legs to carry me quicker. My lungs were burning as I caught up to him. We stood now at the edge of a clearing, the grass bright green in the sun. Two men were at the center, each with a sword and shield. The one on the left was tall, with white-gold hair that came to just above his shoulders. A ways behind him, he had one shield remaining. His opponent had two. The darker haired man was short and stocky; his arms were as thick as his shoulders were broad. It did not seem like a very even match, to me. The blonde warrior was younger, yes, but he was taller and had not yet filled out. It made him look like a sapling next to the darker man. He was almost lanky, and I imagined him tripping over his own limbs as he went to swing his sword. I laughed, trying without success to hide it.
“This is not a laughing matter!” Herger said to me, his voice high and hoarse with the coming of manhood. “He could get hurt!”
“I take it that man is your friend?” I asked Herger once my laughter had ceased, pointing to the younger of the two.
He nodded. “That is Buliwyf, son of the King. He fights with this man to earn the right to court his sister.”
I made a face. “I would rather play than fight,” I said.
Herger laughed at me. “You don’t have to worry about fighting, Valka. Come on, I’ll race you to the stables!”
He laughed and ran ahead of me. I took one last look at the one called Buliwyf, who caught my gaze and winked. I ran after Herger, and to this day I do not know who won the match.
My mind returned to present day as a pair of serving girls began to dance, swaying their hips to the music. I watched them for a minute, and then was brought back to the conversation by another loud call from up the table.
“Tell him I want a song,” Buliwyf said. “A song of glory!”
I judged by the slight slur in his words that he was a bit tipsy. Herger laughed and relayed the news to the Arabs. The dark one stood nervously, thoughtful. My attention was on him; I did not notice the sour-looking man near Buliwyf put a hand on his sword, or glare at the taller man, his eyes filled with jealously and hatred. The dour man drew his sword, but Buliwyf was quicker. He rose to his full height, which must have been at least six foot four, and caught the man’s blade with his own. He knocked it down and sliced the man across the throat, before bringing the broadsword back across his chest, leaving a great gash in its wake. The man fell to the floor, dead as a stone.
Of course, the Northmen around us acted like nothing had happened. The poor Arab in dark robes looked ready to jump out of his skin, while his companion remained calm. I had guessed the older of the two had seen this before—he knew enough to keep his composure. I whispered to Herger as my father approached.
“Does that mean Buliwyf is the new King?”
Herger smiled at me. “Girl, must you be so naïve? Of course that’s what that means. Now, have a drink with me, and don’t concern yourself with such things.”
I rolled my eyes, but did not pass up the horn of honey-mead as it was offered to me. The drink was sweet and strong, leaving a warm rush of heat in my throat. Herger returned his attentions to the serving wench as the Arabs stood, leaving the tent. I rolled my eyes, and was caught off guard as a man took a seat next to me. He was broad shouldered and well built, his shaggy hair and beard reminding me of a bear. He wore a leather breastplate over his chest, making him look bigger than he already was. Buliwyf slid down the table to sit across from him.
“Helfdane,” He said, holding out his hand in greeting.
The larger man took it. “Buliwyf, it has been too long! What is the tally?”
Buliwyf thought for a moment. “I believe I was winning.”
“Bah, you say that now! We shall see!”
They placed their elbows on the table, and I realized they meant to wrestle. Herger, eager for a show, turned round and watched intently.
“No cheating,” He said to the men. “Valka, would you do the honors?”
He wanted me to start the challenge. I could have throttled him right there for embarrassing me, but I smiled instead. I held a hand in the air, the men’s hands tightening in anticipation.
At first, there was silence as they concentrated. Helfdane’s face turned red after a minute of struggle, and he came very close to pushing Buliwyf’s arm onto the table. Buliwyf cried out as his wrist was inches from the wood, the cry continuing as he gained a lead. Their hands were back in the starting position, but not for long. Buliwyf wrestled Helfdane’s arm with a growl, finally slamming his hand down onto the table with a last burst of strength.
“Valka,” Herger said to me. “You must determine the winner!”
We all knew who won the match, but it was a formality. A woman should choose the victor, because a man was more likely to cheat. It was an important role.
I gave an apologetic look to Helfdane, and touched Buliwyf’s arm. The larger man didn’t seem to mind, smiling and cheering with the rest of us. My attention was on Helfdane for a time, as he regaled us with a tale of strength from his youth.
Suddenly, my eyes flew to the entrance. Standing there was a tall man with curly red hair, tattoos on his face. Keen grey eyes were set off by his dark leather clothes, and my heart swelled to see him again. I cried out my cousin’s name, and flew to meet him.
He smiled widely as I ran, lifting me from the ground in an embrace and spinning me round.
“Valka! Gods above, how you’ve grown!”
“I missed you, cousin!” I said, tears of joy in my eyes. “We had not heard from you in so long!”
He placed me on the ground, and held my face in one hand. “Aye,” He said, apology written in his eyes. “I did not mean to disappear on you.”
I smiled. “It doesn’t matter now.”
Herger clapped Skeld on the shoulder as we approached. “Where on Odin’s head have you been, Skeld?”
My cousin laughed. “More places than I care to count. This service was a long one, indeed.”
Skeld spoke to the questioning looks from Helfdane and Buliwyf.
“I was called North,” He said. “As far as the High Mountains.”
Helfdane let a low whistle escape his lips. “That is far, friend. What madness brought you there?”
Skeld gave a short laugh. “You will hear of it, soon enough. It is not my message to deliver.”
Herger called for another round of honey mead, which none of us objected to. We talked well into the evening, and soon it was time to bid farewell to Hygilliak.
At the end of the night, the funeral procession began. The Old King was carried to his ship by six men; a young woman in white held his belongings and followed behind. Herger was speaking to the Arabs in Latin again, no doubt telling them what was happening. The woman, who would accompany the fallen King to Valhalla, was lifted into the air as she recited each line of the sacred prayer.
Lo, gjør der jeg ser min far.
Lo, gjør der jeg ser min mor, mine søstre og mine brødre.
Lo, gjør der jeg ser ledningen av mitt folk, tilbake til å begynne.
Lo, de kaller til meg.
De byr meg tar mitt sted på Asgard i hallene av Valhalla, Hvor den modige kan leve for evig!
When she was done, the fires were lit, and all was silent.
My second night in the cave was a bit easier, thanks to Valka’s story. Still, I was starving, and all I had in my purse was a bottle of water, which I wasn’t about to drink more than a couple sips of. What I couldn’t understand was why I could read these runes. It sounded to me like she was talking about a Viking funeral, if my fifth-grade knowledge of Leif Erikson still held fast. That would mean that the words and events, assuming they were true, took place in the ninth or tenth century.
What are the odds of a find like this one?
With that thought, I became protective of my newly found discovery. This morning, I had tried to lift myself out of the entrance. With my injured arm, my efforts had proved useless. Even standing on one of the stools, I couldn’t pull myself out. I called again and again, but no one was around to hear me. I wished with my whole heart that I hadn’t eaten that slice of pumpkin bread. Even worse, the bugs and who knows what else would find their way in here eventually. The thought gave me a skin-crawling sensation that began in my arms and went all the way to my feet. To avoid thinking about such things, I slept. When it was morning, I read, and when the sun was setting, I prayed and called out, my voice falling on the sea, who was both deaf and blind.
Rating: Still G at this point
Notes: I still have no title for this fic, and I'm six chapters through it already! I'll post the others every two days. I'm loving this story, and don't worry. Chapter three has some Herger/Ahmed moments, and chapter six really heats up. So don't worry, I'm on a roll! :D Enjoy this, and know that I enjoyed writing it!
Be well, everyone!