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  • Writer's pictureDom Whit

Valkyrie Fallen, Chapter 14


Leif
*
I stole a glance back at the woman, Brenna, as we hiked up to Bjorn’s barn. She was a far cry from the mud-caked she-demon who’d stood between us and Skarde. That night I’d screamed my fury from the cliffs above the churning fjord; this woman had come out of nowhere and prevented me from fulfilling my sworn duty of avenging my brother’s death. It was as if the gods were mocking me, to have everything so well-planned, and then this unexpected hindrance flew in from nowhere and ruined it all.

Now, of course, she appeared to be a different person completely. Clean, for one. Beautiful.
Silverly blonde hair and deep, soulful grey eyes. My heart throbbed so loudly I couldn’t hear her words over the blood rushing through my ears. Even now, even from this distance, I could see an almost glittering sheen that emanated from her skin despite the dirt and labor.

She was no ordinary girl like the others in this village. Of that I was positive. I started cataloguing a list of excuses I could use to visit Bjorn, and Brenna, more often.
Like what he’d hidden in the barn, for starters.

We reached the new structure—Soren and I, along with most of the village, had helped to build it in the wake of the fire that took Bjorn’s parents. The wooden sides were showing a bit of weathering, but for the most part, it was still clearly newer than the house. Cool, welcoming darkness greeted me in the doorway, but Bjorn strode to the windows on the opposite side of the structure and threw open the wooden shutters, allowing wide beams of sunlight in.
And there it waited: the project Bjorn had been working on in secret for over a year, that we were pinning all of our hopes for glory and wealth on.
A ship.

A boat, really, small enough for four to manage, but with room for more if we added to our team.

The plan was to have it ready to go before the summer raids began, but Bjorn had fallen behind, trying to run everything that needed to get done on the farm. Guilt flooded my chest: we were meant to be helping him with it, but there always seemed to be something else that needed to get done.

It wasn’t a proper drakkar—it was far too small. At the most, this ship would carry fifteen, but ideally less than ten. Most drakkar carried as many men as possible, some large enough to accommodate nearly fifty.

This ship was a secret because we knew it was a risk. It wasn’t how things were done, men forming their own raiding party. Typically, each village provided a team, and they might be their own party or they might be joined with another village at the behest of the Jarl.

But after everything that happened with Skarde, my brother, and the rest of the village, we couldn’t put our trust in our team. They’d already betrayed us in favor of Skarde and we had no reason to believe that would change.

And so our plan was to go to the Jarl with our own ship, prove that we could bring him just as much wealth without the others, and gain his permission to do things our own way.

But we still needed a fourth. There were a couple of men we hoped might be interested after we dispatched Skarde, but now we didn’t have the option—they wouldn’t leave a cushy spot on Skarde’s party for one that was likely to get them laughed out of the Jarl’s presence.
And here was this woman, who declared herself a warrior…

“…, Leif?” Soren’s voice was stern, as if he knew he’d caught my mind wandering, as it tended to do. Both he and Bjorn were glaring in my direction.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

Soren’s jaw flexed, his teeth clenched against the insults he was probably tempted to throw at me. My drifting thoughts were a constant pain to his calculating, focused mind.

“The ship needs a good deal more work before it’s seaworthy, and we only have a week. Can you commit to helping Bjorn finish it this week, and actually show up this time?”

“It looks mostly ready to me,” I answered sheepishly. “It only needs a few more planks, right?”
Soren sighed. “It needs more planks, and then the spaces between need to be filled, and then sealed, and the entire thing needs to be sealed, and we still haven’t worked out how to get it down to the shore. Plus, it still needs a figurehead for the prow. If you have any ideas for that, by all means, please contribute. You’re welcome to carve it yourself. I know you’re handy with woodcarving.”

I nodded. “Yes, I’ll get to work on an idea, and I will be here the afternoons for the rest of the week, I promise. We’ll get it finished.”

“Good. I’ll continue trying to work out a way to get it to the shore.”

“I’m sorry, Soren,” Bjorn added. “Sten backed out of his promise to let me use his oxen when I refused to sell him my sister, and Knud is his brother…”

“No one blames you,” Soren replied curtly, cutting him off. “We just need a new plan. I’ll figure it out.”

We walked around the boat and examined Bjorn’s work, praising the quality of his craftsmanship. It was impressive how he’d taken the design of a drakkar and shrunken it without sacrificing the function. A mast and plain canvas sail lay along the side of the barn, waiting for the ship to be finished so they could be mounted. I couldn’t help feeling the sail ought to have something painted on it, but until we had a seaworthy ship it didn’t matter what we painted on the sail, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Bjorn sealed up the shutters, and we exited the barn. I promised to return in a few hours to help him install more planks after he finished seeding the field with Brenna. My eyes drifted to the woman, every part of her seeming to shine while she balanced the plow and whipped the oxen along. 

An image came to my mind just then, her standing triumphantly on the prow of our ship with long flowing wings of fabric on her shoulders, hair whipping in the salty breeze…

Grinning to myself, I bid goodbye to Soren and rushed home to sketch out the picture my mind had given me.



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