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  • Writer's pictureLaurel Knight

Valkyrie Fallen - Chapter 10


Björn

*

Of all the strangers to show up at my home seeking help, it had to be her.

I didn’t recognize her at first. Last night she came out of the darkness like a banshee, waving her sword with straw in her hair. She looked almost like a crazy person, and I didn’t think she’d be a challenge to take down.

Clearly, I’d been wrong. I should be dead. She had bested me fairly. But she allowed me to go, and Søren had reminded me that dying honorably for a chance at Valhalla would leave my sisters unprotected.

The humiliation of accepting her mercy still burned in the back of my throat, scorching my cheeks whenever I looked at her.

It was best for me to keep my eyes away. Yes, she was beautiful, far more so than I realized last night. Her unusual silvery hair and heart-shaped face, full lips and clear, pale skin all formed a pretty face.

But it was her eyes that tore at my heart. Clear, stormy grey eyes that looked as if they’d seen a thousand lifetimes. There was a deep, wounded soul in those eyes.

I wanted to hate her.

I wanted to hate the humiliation she caused me.

I wanted to hate the fact that Signe was right, and she was exactly what we needed.

I especially wanted to hate that she could protect my sisters better than I could.

But something about her eyes held my hatred at bay. There was no mocking, no shrewd trickery or judgement in those eyes.

Just a painful history, buried deeply behind layers of protection like scars over broken bones.
And so I allowed her to stay in our home, and part of me was quietly relieved that we had a solution to our problem. Because Signe was right, I needed to curry favor with Åge—without making him think I wanted to marry his daughter—and I needed to capture the Jarl’s attention. If Leif, Søren and I could get our own ship ready and start finding success with raids, the Jarl would offer us gifts… perhaps he had someone in his court that could help Signe.

It killed me to see her hobbling on her broken foot, and unable to do anything about it.

It was my fault she’d gotten injured. She was trying to do too much after Mother and Father died, and I hadn’t been there to help her. Stubborn thing that she was, she refused to wait for me to help her reach the thing she wanted from the loft, and she fell.

We were lucky it didn’t need to be removed, but it never healed well and she’d been unable to walk on it ever since. I knew she was in pain every day, and it was my job to protect her; I failed.

And so it was imperative that I caught the attention of the Jarl, got him to like me. There were no guarantees, of course, but once the Jarl favored someone, every door was opened.

So, Brenna had come to us at a crucial time in our lives. I knew she was a capable sword woman, but that was all I knew about her. The magic with the silver was a mysterious element… the girls had enjoyed it, but she worried me when she said she learned it from a witch. I thought she was joking, but I would have to check tomorrow. I certainly didn’t want witchcraft in my home, around my sisters.

Something about that moment had warmed my heart, just a bit. The magic had delighted even my serious little bear of a sister Yrsa, and she rarely smiled. As similar as Signe and Astrid were, that was Yrsa and I. Signe was more serious now, taking on the role as mother to the other two. But before our parents died, she’d been such a happy, carefree girl. She loved to sing, making up her own songs or repeating ballads she heard in the village, picking flowers and dancing circles around our mother.

Now Signe looked far too old for her thirteen years, with a tight jaw and hunched posture from her injured leg. She deserved far better than the life she’d had the last two years.

It was up to me to give her better.

And that started with the Jarl.
*
Brenna
*
I settled into the lumpy cushion-covered bench that was now my bed. There were several thick pillows, covered with woven wool threads, to cradle my head and give me something to hold. It was close enough to the fire to feel the warmth on my back, but still cool enough to sleep.
As if I could sleep.

After the last couple of days I’d had, sleep should be my priority. It was disorienting and exhausting to find myself suddenly nearly twelve-hundred years in the past. Not to mention that I’d spent the previous night dead drunk… that wasn’t exactly a recipe for a restful night’s sleep.

Guilt and embarrassment filled my chest. I knew better than that behavior, but I’d fallen so rapidly into the darkness it took my breath away. I’d lived so many lifetimes, I knew the cycle. Right now, I was teetering on the edge of a deep depression. I could let myself fall into it, wallow in my self-pity, and lose sight of the way out. It would be so easy to do, so comforting, to slide back in the destructive behavior I knew like the back of my hand.

Or I could try to turn things around before it was too late.

Of course, that was the pipe dream. We all liked to think we were in control of our own minds, our own hearts, our own bodies. Odin had just reminded me I had absolutely no control in the face of his all mighty self. And just as I’d slipped into bouts of depression before, despite fighting it valiantly, I knew it wasn’t entirely in my control.

But I also knew that I would absolutely lose the battle if I refused to fight at all.

And so my decision became: give in or try to fight it, knowing I might still lose, anyway.

Landing here, at Björn’s farm with his three younger sisters, almost felt like a thread woven into the tapestry of fate by Frigg herself. Here were four good people, people who had already lived through difficult times, but from whom goodness still radiated. Even little Astrid was a happy, sweet child, despite having lost her mother so young. Signe with her broken ankle, saddled with caring for younger siblings and managing a home at such a young age; it would have been understandable, reasonable even, for her to be angry and bitter with her lot.

And yet she was strong, and fierce, and so very good. I knew it without the help of my sword.

These people needed me. I could help them. And they could help me.

But I had nothing to offer them as a self-destructive, depressive drunk.

If I stayed here a year, earned my keep and perhaps a little extra, I might join the raids next year and start working on a way forward to a new life.

But that meant I had to be valuable, and helpful, and earn their trust.

Clutching the woolen pillow to my chest, I vowed to try, just to try, to stop my downward spiral.
It was the best promise I could make for the time being.
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