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  • Writer's pictureDom Whit

Valkyrie Fallen, Chapter 15

After we finished the rye field, Bjorn once again dismissed me and disappeared into his barn. I had no idea what he did in there—did vikings have a ‘man cave’?—but either way, it didn’t affect me. We had a comfortable working truce, but it wasn’t as cozy as working with Signe and the other girls.

They’d been outside for a while; Yrsa started on planting the vegetable garden, then tended the animals while Signe watched Astrid and combed wool. When I finished with sowing, I hauled in the basket of combed wool and helped Signe keep her weight off her injured foot. She hadn’t asked me about my offer to help, and I didn’t dare bring it up again. If she wanted to try it, she would ask.

I got her settled in front of the fire with her clean wool and a drop spindle, where she would spin the thread she’d eventually use to make fabric. Having tended to Astrid, I cleaned up and headed out to wash my dirty work garment.

A shallow tub sat outside, beside the rain barrel, with the heavy bar of lye soap. I ladled a few scoops of water into the wooden tub, carefully tucked up the sleeves of my fine dress, and made sure the dirty one was truly soaked before I began attacking it with the soap.

I’d forgotten how difficult this was. How difficult everything was… or is, now. For me, at least.

A bubble of despair rose in my chest and erupted from my eyes, streaming tears down my cheeks as I scrubbed and slapped at the filthy, sodden rag that was the only article of clothing I had to my name. All the frustration that had been building in me since Odin sent me back, all the fury I had nowhere to unleash, now channeled through my hands as I attacked that dress. With everything I had, I swore I would make sure it was clean.

My mind drifted to piles of treasure I’d squirreled away in a future that no longer existed. The fabulous parties I’d attended. The mouthwatering meals I’d eaten, the absolutely incredible sex I’d had through the years. All of that was just gone in a snap of Odin’s fingers. That reality just erased as if it never existed, everywhere except in my mind. To punish me. To make me feel insane. To make me suffer.

And it was working. I was hopeless in the face of everything I’d lost. The thirst was on me, burning in my gut with a need to make myself forget. Hard work in the sun all day was an excellent distraction. I’d avoided drinking the beer Signe offered me the last two nights, but I felt so weak now I didn’t know if I’d survive a third night. Maybe it was better if I just gave in and stopped trying to be something I wasn’t: good. I should stop trying to be good, pretending to be good. I wasn’t good; I was a valkyrie who abandoned her sisters. Who backed out of the agreements she’d made. Who’d run away and hidden, swinging wildly between being an insatiable seeker of vice to someone who desperately tried to make amends with the universe for my past behavior. It was insane—I could never make amends for that.

Finished beating the dress with the soap, I set myself to the task of squeezing water from the woolen garment. It was difficult; the dress was heavy with water, the fabric seemingly designed to retain as much as possible. My hands and arms were shaking from exhaustion, from emotional turmoil, from cravings for the substance I knew I needed to avoid if I wanted a chance to start again.

I tried to methodically sluice water from the dress one handful at a time, but halfway it slipped from my fingers back into the several inches of muddy water at the bottom of the barrel, quickly soaking it back up. That was the moment that broke me, and I hunched over with my face in my arms, allowing myself to dissolve in tears of absolute self-pity.

“Brenna?” Bjorn’s rich baritone shocked me out of my tears. 

Immediately drawing the emotion down, I wiped the tears from my cheeks and reached for my dress. “Yes?” I asked, as if he hadn’t just seen me sobbing into the barrel. The last thing I needed was for him to think I was a useless, weak, tear-sodden female. I avoided meeting the gaze I could feel burning a spot on the back of my head.

“Here…” he reached a beefy hand over my shoulder and grasped the dress, folding it in half and twisting the entire garment in one go. The filthy water poured from the grey fibers in a river, and I tipped the barrel to dump it onto the grass. Bjorn replaced the dress for me, and I ladled clean water on top, swirling and swishing it to rinse out more filth. As soon as I pulled my hands free, Bjorn fished the dress out and wrung it dry for me again.

This time, I turned to meet his eyes. Bjorn’s expression was still hard, distrustful, but something in his eyes had softened. Perhaps my moment of vulnerability had helped me after all.

“Thank you,” I said softly, accepting the bundle of damp wool from the enormous man.

“It’s not a problem,” he replied gruffly. “I always helped my mother with the laundry, then Signe when she took over. They both have small hands like you, and wet wool is heavy.”

“I can manage it,” I snapped, and immediately regretted it. He was being kind, not insulting me.

Fortunately, he didn’t rise to the bait. “I know you can, Brenna. But I don’t mind helping with something so small. You’ve been working all day. It’d be a miracle if your arms weren’t tired after pushing that plow for so long.” He turned to leave, then hesitated. “I appreciate your help.
I hope you know that. Another day or two and we’ll be caught up with the fields. I don’t know how long it would have taken me on my own. So, thank you.”

Emotion welled in my throat again; I hadn’t expected any thanks from this man, and with everything riding so close to the surface for me right now, I was far more emotional than I was accustomed to.

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak, and Bjorn seemed to understand. He lingered for another moment, then turned and went inside, leaving me to my own thoughts in the fading light of evening.

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