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  • Writer's pictureLaurel Knight

Valkyrie Fallen - Chapter 12



And so after lunch, we went back to work. I took over on the plow for several rows, then switched with Björn to finish the barley field. We led the oxen over to the vegetable garden and made quick work of the much smaller parcel of land before he announced we were done plowing for the day. Björn led the oxen to the paddock, then disappeared into the barn, dismissing me to help Signe with household chores.

I tried not to be insulted that he treated me like a servant. In his mind, I was hired help, certainly not a friend or partner. Of course, he’d treat me accordingly.

Signe showed me a modicum more respect, requesting help with tasks rather than ordering me around. They used a good portion of the separated room in the longhouse as a sort of pantry. It was further away from the fire so it stayed cooler and kept the food from spoiling as fast. She sent Yrsa off to tend their small menagerie while I assisted with preparing dinner and fetching ingredients.

But once the stew—made with smoked strips of pork belly this time—was cooking, there wasn’t much to do. I built up the fire and collected more firewood to add later on, and then I sat and stared at the flames.

“Brenna?” Signe’s voice was hesitant, and it surprised me. She was seated with a basket of clothing that Yrsa had brought in from the drying line, checking the garments for spots in need of mending. Astrid napped in a pile of pillows to her side.


“There’s a basket… of clothing… in the other room. Would you get it for me, please?”

“Sure.” I stood and retrieved the basket, placing it at her side. “Is it more mending? I could help.” I felt bad, watching her continue to work while my hands were idle.

“No, it’s not mending.” Her voice was faint, and she reached into the basket, pawing at the fabric until she tugged a garment from the neatly folded pile. “Here, take this.”

The item was grey, nicely woven with soft wool fibers. I unfolded it to discover it was a very fine dress, the sleeves and collar decorated with delicate needlework flowers in a rich plum color.
Heat rushed to my cheeks. “I can’t accept this.” It was clearly something of her mother’s, far too big for Signe, and she had saved it since her mother’s death.

“You can’t live and sleep in the clothes you wore to plow the field. You’re just leaving mud on everything you touch,” she snapped. “And no one else is wearing it. You need clothes, and we have them. Wear it.” She reached into the basket and pulled out a pair of clean leather and wool slippers. “Wear these in the house, please. Leave your other shoes by the door.” She held the basket up to me but avoided meeting my eyes. “Can you put this back? Then I imagine you’d like to get cleaned up and change.”

“Of course. Thank you,” I added, then took the basket in the smaller room. The bowl and pitcher she’d used to wash Astrid the night before was also in this room, on a rough wooden shelf. I grabbed the pitcher and took it outside to fill it, leaving my muddy shoes at the door when I returned with the water and soap. The slippers were warm and incredibly comfortable after a day of hard labor. 

I ducked into the more private room, grabbing a clean rag from the shelf, and gave myself a quick wash. Once my body was clean and dry, I slipped on the new garment. It was heavenly soft and warm, compared to the rough, ugly item Odin had given me. Careful not to soak the dress, I wet and soaped my hair, using fresh water from the pitcher to rinse it before I sluiced the water off and dried it with another clean rag.

When I reemerged from the back room, Yrsa was busily setting the table. She took one look at me, wearing her mother’s dress and slippers, and stormed from the building, leaving palpable fury in her wake.

Signe smiled sadly in my direction, unshed tears lining her eyes. “Don’t worry about her. She’ll get over it. The dress fits you. I’m glad. Do you need a comb?”

My cheeks flushed again. How did this girl, scarcely more than a child, manage to be more patient, kind, and thoughtful than I could with all of my lifetimes behind me? Her absolute goodness shamed me.

Swallowing my pride, I answered. “Yes, I do.”

“Here, you can use this.” She held out an ornately carved ivory comb, and I accepted it with thanks.

I sat and set to work, combing out the knots from the long tail of my hair.

“Brenna?” Signe’s voice was light, a note of embarrassment in her tone.


“Just so you know, we have a bathhouse. The next time you want to wash up, you might prefer it to the basin.”

“Oh, okay, thank you. I… didn’t know.” I’d forgotten that most vikings had an actual bath house. She probably just bathed Astrid inside when it was convenient.

We worked quietly side by side; she mending clothes and I untangling my hair. After a few minutes, I decided to ask the question on my mind.

“Signe, how old are you?”

“This is my thirteenth summer,” she replied quietly, eyes on her work.

Wow, she was even younger than I thought. Despite her small stature, her relative maturity led me to believe she two years older.

“When did you hurt your foot?”

“Last summer.”

“Do you mind if I ask, how did it happen?”

As if my questions reminded her that the injury bothered her, she reached down to adjust her mangled limb.

“Björn was away. I was trying to reach something high, and I fell. I was here alone with the little ones. We had no way of getting help. Björn was gone over a week, and by the time he returned, it had healed poorly and the local healer couldn’t help. He said it would never be normal again.”
“Would you mind if I looked at it?”

Signe’s eyes flashed to my face. “Why?”

I knew I had to answer this carefully. “Where I come from, we know a little more about healing injuries, and I have some experience in this. I’m just wondering if I could help you.” I held her gaze for a long moment, trying to radiate calm confidence.

“Okay, you may look at it.” She set aside her mending and let me help lift her leg onto my lap, slowly peeling down her stocking.

Signe valiantly maintained a stoic expression, but the pain caused by my lightest touch was clear in her rigid posture.

The ankle was swollen, red in some spots and purple in others, and her foot turned in toward the other at a sickening angle. I touched the sole of her foot lightly. “Do you feel that?”

“Yes,” she answered through clenched teeth.

“Okay.” I helped to replace her sock as gently as I was able and helped her lower it to the floor.
“Signe, would you say your ankle hurt more the week after you injured it, or now?”

“I would say it was not painful at all for several months, but lately has slowly gotten worse,” she admitted. “Björn won’t say anything, but I know he’s afraid we will need to cut it off at some point.”

I nodded. “Signe, I don’t think your ankle healed poorly. In fact, I don’t think it healed at all. I think it is still broken, or perhaps was healing, but walking on it is keeping it from healing. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing, because it hasn’t set.”

“I don’t have a choice. I can’t just sit in one place and wait for it to heal. Besides, it’s clearly not going to heal right.”

“Well, I think I can help you with that. I might manipulate the bones back into the right place… and with some luck, there was no serious damage to muscles that connect to them. We could make you an adequate brace to hold everything together, and with me here to help you so you don’t need to be on your feet as much… we might be able to heal it, properly.”

She looked at me coldly, her expression clear she thought I was trying to sell her a fairy tale. “That’s not possible.”

“I can’t promise it will work, but… even if your foot isn’t ever perfectly healed and completely functional again, if we can get the bones the correct position, it won’t pain you as much. Otherwise, if you keep on this way, you will definitely lose it. Those purple spots mean blood is pooling in those areas. They aren’t getting enough fresh blood flow to keep the flesh healthy. Just think about it, okay?”

She glanced down at her foot, once again concealed beneath her skirts, and nodded before picking up her work.

I supposed that was the closest I would get. I set to work braiding my freshly combed hair back in a neat plait and waited for supper.

When I entered the house, I thought I was seeing a ghost. Across the fire sat Signe, working on her mending. Beside her sat our mother, only twenty years younger, also working on mending.
I blinked twice to clear the haze from my eyes, remembering that of course it wasn’t our mother I was watching. It was Brenna, clean and neat, sitting quietly with Signe. Wearing our mother’s dress.

Of course, Mother had coppery-gold hair, not the silvery color Brenna possessed. And she had dark blue eyes, like mine and Signe’s, not Brenna’s stormy grey.

Our mother never had the haunted depth to her eyes, either. They were stern, solid as stones.
Even though I knew it wasn’t her, I let the smoke and heat from the fire distort my vision for just a moment longer so I could pretend. Signe wasn’t the only one who’d had to grow up sooner than her years. I was scarcely a man, preparing to head out on my own, when our parents died and I gained my three orphaned sisters. Of course, a few local families offered to take them in, in exchange for claiming three-quarters of our land and possessions. But they were my sisters, and I knew my parents would want me to protect them at all costs.

So I enjoyed a moment to imagine the woman on the other side of the fire was our mother, and any moment our father would come through the door, and we’d sit down to dinner and listen to Signe regale us with her day’s adventures.

At that moment Yrsa came through the door, having just finished washing up. Signe glanced up and realized we were all assembled. Instinctively rising to check the pot suspended over the fire, she was immediately forced to sit again.

“I can check it,” Brenna offered. “You should stay off that foot as much as possible.”

She used a rag to lift the heavy lid and stirred the stew with a wooden ladle. “It’s ready,” she confirmed, then crossed to Signe’s other side to wake Astrid, who wrapped sleepy arms around her neck and let Brenna carry her to the table. Yrsa knew her job; she’d already collected the bowls she set out previously and headed for the pot.

Suddenly realizing I was the only one not making myself useful, I crossed the room to help Signe. In a fit of guilt, knowing that I shouldn’t have ever let her walk on her injured foot, I scooped her up and carried her to the table as well.

“Björn, really, this is completely unnecessary,” she protested. “I can make my own way just fine-”

“Brenna is right. You shouldn’t be walking on that foot. And it’s much faster for me to carry you, and more pleasant for everyone not to have to watch you hobble painfully down the length of the house, Signe.”

Color rose in her cheeks, and she looked away. I immediately felt terrible; it was cruel to imply that watching her struggle was more painful for us than her leg hurt her.

I set her gently in her chair, then took my seat as Yrsa delivered our meal.

Once we had finished, I helped Signe back to her spot by the fire, on the bed where she slept with Astrid. Yrsa preferred to be further away from the heat, and Brenna had settled on the bed across the fire from Signe.

When I knew they were all settled in the house, I stepped out to the barn with a glowing log from the fire for light. I just had to check that everything was safe and secure before I could rest. I’d put in too much work to lose it now, and it would only take a moment. Glancing up at the nearly full moon, I drew in a deep sigh, then pulled open the door and slipped into the pitch-black barn.
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