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  • Writer's pictureLaurel Knight

Valkyrie Fallen - Chapter 8



Brenna

*

The first three farms were a total bust. Because of my feminine stature, the first two were unconvinced I could do the work they needed done, and the third leered at me so openly his wife kicked me out. Judging by the sympathetic gaze she gave me, I think she was doing me a favor.

There was one last pitiful farm in the valley, edged right up against the mountain where it caught the last of the afternoon light. A smallish parcel of land, with a barn, a paddock that contained very few livestock, and a decent-sized wooden longhouse with a thatched roof. I could see a woman sitting outside in the distance, combing wool from a basket beside her as a young girl played near her feet and another tended the animals.


The sun was dipping behind the mountains now; if I didn’t secure a place here, I’d have a long chilly trudge back to the village. Girding myself for disappointment, but putting on my most confident expression, I shouldered my blade and marched directly toward the woman.


As I got closer, I realized she was not so much a woman as a teenage girl, perhaps fourteen. There didn’t appear to be anyone older nearby, so I continued my trajectory to where she sat.


The girl’s appearance was neat, spun-gold hair clean and carefully plaited in decorative braids.

Flashing blue eyes, a full mouth, and a stubbornly pointed chin came together in a very pretty visage. Her cornflower blue dress was rough spun, simple but neat, with some hand-woven decorative elements. The child nearby was perhaps three, with white-blonde hair and the same cerulean eyes, a sweet round face and ruddy cheeks. She was happily slapping at a mud puddle with a stick, laughing in high-pitched peals every time a spray of mud hit her.


“That’s close enough, traveler,” the older girl called out when I was still several yards away. “What do you want?” She moved her skirts, revealing an enormous sword propped against the bench beside her.


“I mean you no harm,” I answered. “I was told you might need help on your farm. I need shelter, food, and pay. I am stranded here and have no people of my own.”


The girl gazed at me with a shrewd eye. “What kind of work can you do?”


“I can do almost everything—I’m stronger than I look,” I added. “I can plough, plant, harvest, clean, cook, sheer sheep, haul water, weave… if it’s something you need done, I guarantee I can do it.”


Her sharp blue eyes landed on my sword. “Is that yours? Can you wield it?”


“Yes, it is mine. Yes, I can fight. If you need protection, I can provide it.” Licking my lips, I padded my story to really sell it. “You’ve heard of the Shield Maidens of Valkyr, haven’t you?”


The girl hesitated, unsure whether she should admit she’d never heard of such a thing, since I stated it in a way that I assumed she knew. “That sounds familiar,” she hedged. “That’s you?”


“Yes, I was one. But I grew tired of killing men at the orders of other men. And now I have no one.” That’s basically how it happened.


The girl’s eyes narrowed as she considered. I waited patiently, with the most pleasant smile I could muster despite my headache.


“We can’t afford to pay you a wage. But we can provide shelter and food in exchange for your help here. And if we have a good harvest, and my brother does well in the summer raids, we may provide you some compensation in autumn. Is that acceptable to you?”


It was by far the best offer I was likely to get. Surely, opportunities would present themselves for me to make some more silver and get outfitted properly and start proving my value on the battlefield. Even if it took a year or two, it didn’t matter anymore. I had all the time in eternity.


“You will provide food and lodging, and I will provide labor. In the autumn, we can discuss any compensation we agree I have earned.” I stepped forward and offered her my hand.


She shook it once, firmly. “Agreed.” Throwing the combs back onto her basket of wool, she pulled her skirts further aside and revealed a roughly carved crutch. Standing with obvious pain, she gestured to the wool and her sword. “Grab those things and follow me. Astrid! Time to go inside.” The little girl abandoned her puddle and dashed toward the house. The other girl I’d seen from the distance had disappeared, no longer in the paddock with the pigs and goats.


I kept pace with the elder girl. Clearly, her right foot was lame. She did her best to avoid putting weight on it, and every step was delicate.


“My name is Brenna, by the way. Thank you for offering me a place. The others would not.”


“I broke it, my ankle. It never healed right.” She stated matter-of-factly through gritted teeth, attempting to disguise her discomfort. “My name is Signe, the little one is Astrid, and my other sister is Yrsa.”


“Where are your parents?” As she was clearly the spokeswoman for the household, I had to assume her parents were gone.


“They died in a fire a couple years back.” She used the same unemotional tone with which she’d explained her debilitating injury. No self-pity, no tears. Just facts.


“I’m sorry.” I knew my condolences did little for her, but I offered them anyway.


She ignored me, and we slowly approached the house. “We will need your help with tending the fields, mostly, and helping to carry heavy things. Also to defend us. Neighbors who want to take our land, or men who wish to claim Yrsa or myself in order to take our property, sometimes set upon us.”

“How have you survived this long alone?” Truly, it was pretty incredible for this teenage girl to have held her household together for two years on her own.


“They’re not alone,” a deep male voice growled behind me.


An icy shiver of dread poured down my spine. I knew that voice.


Turning, I saw the giant of a man whose throat I’d nearly slit last night.


In the light of day, I could see he was far more handsome than I’d given him credit for last night. His thick golden hair, the same color as Signe’s, was pulled back on top and loose below his ears. The eyes beneath his low, blonde brows were a deep, ocean blue, and his golden beard was thick but neat, extended in a gradual curve below his chin. He wore simple clothes, a woven tunic with the sleeves folded up, belted over wool pants. Farming clothes.


Beside him stood the third girl, barely reaching his elbow, even though she appeared to be around nine or ten years of age. She didn’t have the delicate features of her sisters, but appeared more like a miniature female version of her enormous brother.


“Brenna, this is my brother Björn. Björn, this is Brenna. I’ve hired her to help us while you are out raiding.”


A dark red flush had crept up Björn’s cheeks as soon as he recognized me, and the anger emanated from him in palpable waves. “Yrsa, my sword,” he snarled, and the girl ran off to retrieve his weapon.

Striding toward me, he used all of his nearly seven feet to tower over me threateningly. “Give me my father’s sword, set down the basket, and leave. Now.”


I could hardly blame him. My heart dropped to my stomach, but this was not a fight I wanted.


Sighing, I held out the sword Signe had asked me to carry.


“No.” The firm challenge had come from Signe, standing tall without her crutch, carefully balanced on her one good leg. “We need help, and I trust her. You don’t trust any of the men in the village to protect us while you’re gone. She is exactly the answer we needed.”


“I don’t trust her!” He bellowed directly in my face. I stared back at him without reaction.


“You don’t trust anyone,” Signe accused. “We are out of options, and she is here. What more do you want?”


“Anyone but her.” The low, deep growl threatened violence. It tore at my heart in the smallest way, but I brushed it off. I was used to people not wanting me around.


“Oh, anyone? What about Knud? Or Toke?”


“Well, obviously not them.” Yrsa returned, hauling Björn’s massive sword.


“Yrsa, stop.” Signe’s command brokered no discussion. Yrsa stopped in her tracks, still several yards from Björn.

“Brenna, please go sit on the bench for a minute. I need to speak with my brother.”


I glanced back and forth between the two. Equally stubborn, it appeared. However, I was willing to bet I knew who actually ran this household.


Nodding, I set down the basket and Signe’s sword, and carried my own blade over to the bench where I sat.


Björn snatched his father’s blade from where I’d left it and assisted Signe inside their home, with Yrsa close behind, dragging her brother’s massive blade.


The door closed, and I waited.

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