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  • Writer's pictureLaurel Knight

Valkyrie Fallen - Chapter 11


Brenna

*

If Björn thought I would be useless, or weak, or unhelpful, he soon learned how wrong he was.
He shook me awake at first light and I helped build up the fire and prepare breakfast before we set out into the fields as the girls took over the household duties.

From the looks of it, he’d just begun plowing the field in preparation for harvest. The ard plow was far too large for Yrsa to help steer, and clearly Signe wasn’t able to, so the work had fallen to Björn to manage himself with his team of oxen. Of course, he had many other responsibilities, and this one had fallen behind.

But I didn’t know what day it was, let alone which month. I had a fairly good guess, but…
“Björn, what is the date?”

He paused in hooking up the oxen to look up at me curiously. “You don’t know the date?”
“No.” I didn’t feel like going into detail about why.

He stared at me without expression for nearly a minute, then sighed. “Tomorrow is the new moon of Harpa.”

I’d forgotten vikings didn’t use the Roman calendar. They assigned names to months and tracked from moon to moon. I racked my brain to remember where Harpa fell…

It was nearly May, and his field wasn’t even plowed yet.

“What are we planting?”

“Barley here, rye in that field there,” he pointed to the next field over, “and oats in the field behind me. We also need to prepare the vegetable garden for the girls to plant.”

For fuck’s sake… we had less than a week to get these fields plowed and planted, or we’d be incredibly behind and might not have a mature crop come autumn.

Björn watched me think through this realization with his arms crossed, daring me to say something about how far behind he’d fallen. These fields should have been plowed weeks ago, seeds already planted.

Instead, I asked, “Do you have all the seeds?”

“Yes, we save it in the barn from our previous harvest.”

“Perfect. Why don’t you and I trade off running the plow, with the other person following behind to sow the seeds and cover them as we go. That way, we can each get a break from the plow work and be sowing at the same time?”

Björn barked a short laugh. “You think you can manage the oxen and the plow?”

I shrugged. “Yes, I’ve done it before.”

The giant of a man stared me down with disbelief plain on his expression. “Okay. Show me.”
 
I marched up to the oxen and double-checked their harnesses, making sure they were secured and the ard plow was attached correctly. Then I grabbed the leather whip that rested on the handle of the plow where he’d left it, gripped the handle to right the simple machine, and snapped the whip at the oxen. “Yah!”

With a disgruntled groan, the oxen tugged forward and began dragging the blade of the plow through the dark soil.

A few more whips and vocal encouragement, and we were rolling smoothly. I glanced back at Björn’s begrudgingly impressed expression. “So, you’re sowing first, then?”

He glared at me for a moment, then marched toward the wooden barn to retrieve the seed.

I couldn’t help but notice the barn was new. It was a long-roofed structure similar to the longhouse, but the timbers and threshing on the roof were notably newer than the dwelling.

Obviously, this is where his parents had died, and Björn, perhaps with the help of his friends, had rebuilt it. It must be painful for them every time they looked at it. As fortunate as they were that the fire was not in the house, it was never easy to count yourself lucky to have only lost your parents and not your entire family. A loss of that magnitude still hurt deeply.

Björn returned with a canvas bag tied around his waist, bulging with seed. He began at the rows he had plowed previously, sprinkling the seed and kicking hardened clumps of dirt over them.

I continued to forge ahead with the oxen team, reaching the end of the field a few minutes later and carefully steering the stubborn beasts around to plow the next row. It was hard, back-breaking work. The plow took a lot of strength to hold steady, and the oxen were not keen to continue on a straight path. I had to manage the heavy plow and keep the animals to a direct line that followed our previous row.

By the time I’d finished three entire rows, my dress was soaked with sweat. I whistled and tugged on the reins to stop the oxen, then tipped the plow to the side and hung the whip on the handle.

Björn was just reaching our freshly plowed rows, having neatly and efficiently seeded the older ones.

“Björn!” I waved. “I’m going to get a drink. Would you like one?”

The burly man just scowled at me and shook his head, then returned to his work.

I stretched my tense arm and back muscles as I marched past the barn, vegetable garden, and animal paddock toward the barrel of fresh water by the house. Once I slaked my thirst, I splashed my sweaty face with a handful before I began trudging back toward the field.

As I rounded the corner and the field came into view, I saw that Björn had taken over the plow and left the bag of seeds waiting for me.

Well, I guess he has accepted my plan after all.

Whistling, I scooped up the heavy bag, tying it around my waist and following the line of the plow, sprinkling seed into the divot and kicking dirt back over the top to provide a small amount of cover. It shouldn’t be too heavy, or the seeds wouldn’t germinate. But it had to be enough that the birds didn’t think the field was a great place to get a tasty snack.

Björn managed the plow for quite a while. By the time Yrsa came to fetch us for lunch, we’d plowed and seeded two-thirds of the field. The serious little girl said nothing, but the roundness of her eyes told me she was impressed with our progress, and that was good enough for me.

We finished the row we were working on, and Björn freed the oxen from their harness to lead them to the paddock and rest while we ate. I tracked his footsteps, but he didn’t offer conversation and I had little enough to say for myself, either.

After washing up we settled in to eat the simple meal the girls had prepared: smoked herring, blood sausage, pan-cooked rye bread, and a few slices each of withered apple.

The memory of five-star restaurants I’d dined at in New York formed a hard lump in my throat. It would be—literally—a thousand years before I got to experience that again. I forced down the reflex that wanted to push my plate away and demand something else, instead casting a grateful smile in Signe’s direction.

“Thank you for preparing this meal.”

She returned a small smile of her own, and the family and I tucked into our food quietly. Clearly, mealtimes were not a chatty occasion for them. I wondered if it had to do with memories of their parents around this table, or just their habit.

For my part, I needed all the muscles in my jaw to work on the tough food on my plate. The beverage Signe served me was beer, and while I knew it was customary for vikings to drink it with their food—it was often safer than water—I didn’t trust myself to drink just one and not wake up my thirst.

So I focused on finishing my food and planned to get water when we finished. I could talk to Signe after and explain, so she would skip the beer next time.

Unfortunately, Björn felt the need to comment.

“Is my beer not good enough for you, Brenna?” The threatening notes in his tone immediately put me on edge.

“I’m sure it’s very good. I just prefer to stick to water when I’m working outside in the sun.”
“Why? You need the strength to keep working.”

There was no way I could explain the truth of my situation in such a way that he’d understand it. Instead, I just answered, “I have plenty of strength from the excellent lunch Signe, Yrsa, and Astrid have prepared.”

Signe, perhaps sensing that I didn’t want to continue this conversation, stepped in. “Yrsa says you’ve made a lot of progress on the field already. We are happy to provide whatever food you need to keep it up. If the two of you can continue at this pace, we could be caught up within the week.”

Björn grunted. “She probably won’t be able to move tomorrow. Don’t count your plowing done yet.”

I glared at him, but said nothing. Arguing would only antagonize him, and I just needed to prove myself. Words wouldn’t make him trust me, only work.
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