Archive for February, 2013

Mark Maker # 12

Posted: February 17, 2013 in Viking novel
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Ragi returns to the hut and unwraps his furs and slings them onto the bed platform to dry.
He stamps his feet to shake off the snow. “You should try the leg,” he says to me. “A little standing may help to strengthen the bone.”
I choose to ignore this comment and instead ask:” When you went into the village did you see any of the enemy slain on the ground or anywhere?”
“The bodies were covered in snow when I saw them. A poke to see if they moved was all I did.” He looks at me with wide, sad eyes. “By Thor, the sight of them was hard to take, my heart moved heavy and I found after a while, I could look no more.”
“What does the weather?”
“Snow has stopped falling. By the morn, I expect it fine.”
He throws more wood on the fire and sits with his broth pot filled to eat.
“Tomorrow, I will go again to the village,” I say.
“And Valdr?”
“Valdr will be in Valhalla or he will not. Whether I stay or go will make no difference to him but going will make a difference to me.”
“Rest long then and drink deep tonight, so you may have the strength.”
“I will and again I say my debt to you and your animals, without you and the food, I would be frozen under the snow.”
Ragi merely nods and quietly sips his soup.

As Ragi predicted the morning is fine and the sun, feeble though it is, spreads its white fingers across the snowscape. Valdr sleeps as though in a trance still. His leg looks less red and the hole is beginning to cover over with new skin. If he can just live long enough my surgery may heal him but his whole body is much weakened. I wipe his forehead with a cloth dipped in warm water and I moisten his lips with the broth. I dare not feed him lest he choke. My decision is made and was the night before. I will go into the village to see more for myself as to what became of my fellow islanders.
Ragi is not in the hut so I busy myself with furs and leggings to bind the weak leg. I decide to take the sword in case I have need of it.
I take the skis from the door and painfully adjust the bad leg into the ski. I am immune to the pain now, it makes no difference to me, the pain in my heart is worst of all.
Out the door, I lift one leg and then the other carefully onto a path Ragi has already made in the snow. With the sword in my belt hanging down my back I begin to make my way across the path and point into the direction I know where the village lies.
As I go, in my own slow way one foot after the other, plod and place, plod and place, I see more nimble footed animals like the hare have left footprints in the snow. Without the snow flurries of my first attempt to the village after the attack, I make much better progress, soon I am on the track that leads up to the village wall. Rocks denote the edges of the track, as a few still rise above the surface of the snow like rows of black teeth.
As I gain the village entrance through its wall, I can see that foxes have run through the place and there are signs of wolves as well. My stomach churns at the thought and my earlier inability to cover my countrymen’s bodies. It must bring evil the neglect of the dead and I touch the hammer of Thor which hangs around my neck as a talisman against ill luck.

Mark Maker # 11

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Viking novel
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I feel the bile of Ragi’s mutton broth rise into my gut.
“I have done what I can with his wound” I slur out in answer. “It has worked in the past but I don’t know if it’s too late for him now. He did not even scream.”
Ragi sits near Valdr and rests a weather-worn hand on his forehead.
“If the death-voice comes into his throat, I can help him leave us and float to Valhalla.”
“No!” Blood rises to my face and my hands sweat.”I’ll staunch the wound again if I have to!” My voice rises to a shameful screech. I drag myself closer to the fire and stare into its comforting ever flickering motion.
After a moment I look Ragi in the face again.
“Is it your food we consume too fast?”
Ragi until now, the simple-faced farmer, glances at me in a sideways flick of the eyes that is strangely disturbing.
“Nay, I have sheep enough to sell, let alone to feed half the village through Winter. I seek only to stem his death agonies.”
“I am his brother. I will take that decision upon myself alone, do you heed me?”
Ragi nods as if wounded himself and the momentary sharpness dies from his features. “As you want. I go to tend the flock awhile. Is there more from your farm you have need of?”
“Do not trouble yourself, my friend. Food and company are all my needs at present, I thank you.”
I realise I am very hungry. I go to fill up a bowl of broth and just as the spoon is lifting the broth to my lips, I put it down again. Something troubles me. It is three weeks or more since the attack on our island. Valdr’s screams of that night were what keep me passing to Valhalla myself, I am sure. He was calling my name, “Asmundr!” His screams were gut-wrenching. When I drag myself to the hut, he screams still but there is something else he is saying. Or rather there is something he isn’t saying. He makes no mention of who has attacked him. I cannot remember either. How is it possible I can’t remember the most important fact about the whole attack. Who came? How could something like that be blocked from my memory? And when I searched the village in a state of dreaming, I found no things left by the attackers. My friends would have fought to the death. They would have wounded some of the enemy and killed them too but I found none of their bodies. How can that be?

Mark Maker # 10

Posted: February 3, 2013 in Viking novel
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Ragi brings Valdr into the hut. He is alive but unconscious. When I touch his face it’s hot and clammy. His face is very pale. I feel an overwhelming darkness come into my soul. Ragi, though exhausted from dragging my brother here, busies himself with stoking up the fire and replenishing the broth pot with meat. He gives Valdr a drink, careful to lift up his face so he doesn’t choke. Most of the water runs out anyway.
“I’ll do it,” I argue with him, “you must rest for a while now.”
He grunts and drops down on the bed platform and is asleep as soon as his head is sideways.
I talk to Valdr of our childhood, of our parents, both dead now, of the dogs we raised, the mad races to the bay, the fishing trips we went on, the trapping and fur getting, the island one day where we collected amber which lay like drops of sun on the beach. I talk to distract myself. I think my brother is dying. I bathe his face and wounds with fresh water. The broken leg is knitting despite his condition but the wounded one smells like bad meat. I know there is one chance to stop the flesh rotting more and I glance around the hut for some iron. I get up on the crutch and poke around the stacked barrels and sacks, in the chests. Under the stacked skins Ragi has brought from our home, I find the sword wrapped in a cloth. The enemy’s sword. Hammer forged and sharp, its edges clotted with my brother’s blood. I get water and clean it and as I do so the runes are revealed. Finely etched into the surface is the swords’ naming, its guardian runes: the runes that will purpose its destruction of enemies; that will ensure its owner’s protection. That will tell me its owner’s name. That will tell me my brother’s killer. That will tell me where to go to find him….
The sword has two rune lines unlike the normal three lines and there are only two words on them: ‘alu’ and ‘laukaR.’ Neither of these are names. One means ‘the state between life and death’ and the other is ‘garlic’, a protection against evil. I have seen both before. I’ve carved both and more into the swords when I finished forging them and in the past, there has always been a name too so the sword can go to the rightful owner or as in many cases to the owner’s family or kept as war loot. I take a cloth and clean the sword better but I can find no name at all. More urgent matters stop me investigating the sword inscriptions further. My brother is dying and I must heat up the sword to staunch the bad flesh and encourage healing.
As I heat the sword in the fire, I wonder how I’ll stop him screaming. My head is aching so badly, I fear I might smother him myself if his screams split my skull in half with pain again. Instead I put a piece of wood in his mouth and tie it around with a rag. He doesn’t even stir. When the sword is white-hot, I cover the handle to stop me being burnt and lower the hot, flat edge onto the open wound. As I do so, I call on Thor to bless this forging of flesh, this hammering of blood and ooze. I lower the sword to his leg and touch it to the foul parts of the wound. Soon the stink of burnt flesh hangs sickly in the air but Valdr does not stir at all. I cauterise all the wound I can without burning too much good flesh. I grit my teeth so hard it sets massive fire lines of pain into my skull anyway. Ragi stirs and asks what I’ve cooked. I point at Valdr’s leg because I can’t even answer.