This Is Calder

It was dawn, and Bregðask hadn’t slept a moment.

He sighed softly and put his head down on his working table so the words of the speech he was working on were nothing more than letters stretching out into the unintelligible. It was cold as the heart of winter hadn’t quite let go and wouldn’t for another few months. Skammdegí was over, so there was light in the sky during the day, but not enough to warm the air. It wouldn’t matter. The annual average temperature on Calder ranged from a frigid negative ten degrees Celsius to a balmy ten degrees.

He hated nights like these even if the cold was soothing his seemingly always overheated body.

To be fair, he couldn’t remember when he’d last slept through the night. He was sure it was some time when he was too young to realize that he was different than the rest of Calder and exactly what all of Viking history deemed anti-Viking.

He was short; his aunt, Hilda Vanagr neé Harvard, was almost six feet tall, warm-hearted, and truly the pride of the Harvard clan. She had been married to one Stern Vanagr of Turgis after she saved his life. When he died sometime before Bregðask was born, she’d left Calder and traveled the world. As a child, there had been nothing more entrancing than listening to her adventures.

He was weak; his cousin could lift an entire cart on his own. Though he had not inherited the Harvard blonde hair, he’d retained some part of that through Bregðask’s aunt in his dirty blonde strands. Instead, Sigfrøðr Renouf had inherited his physical strength from the Harvards and his stubborn pride as well.

He had silver-grey eyes like the shadow of snow; his father’s eyes were a warm green like every other man in their bloodline. The goðar called them demon-like and unnatural. Svein told him that they would change one day, perhaps to a nice blue, but they hadn’t lost their edge or their brightness since he was born. If anything, they had grown lighter.

His hair was a reddish-auburn, copper, in some places, where the rest of the Harvard clan wore their heads of near platinum blond with pride. It had set him apart from the rest of the clan, and the rest of the island, his entire life. No matter how he’d tried to bleach the color from his hair, the brown, near copper in summer’s light, strands lost no color.

At least he was intelligent, caring more about devising a plan rather than rushing in and getting everyone he loved killed, yet even in the year 2014 that didn’t seem to amount to much.

Vikings rely on their brawn to see them through, someone told him once, What good is all that thinking without the strength to swing an ax?

He’d only wanted to strategize about when the best time would be to swing his ax considering how little natural strength he generally had. Sure, he’d been his Uncle Gardar’s only apprentice and had never slacked off in his duty to haul metal, wood, or whatever have you around the workshop, but whatever strength he exhibited in the forge never translated outside of it.

If it had, he might have more of a social life than tinkering in his workshop at the back of the forge.

What good is all this thinking, he groaned, If it keeps me up night after night?

Sometimes, he got a few hours of sleep, but more often than not, the sound of the wind against the side of the house was enough to wake him up. It was the beginning of another day on Calder. He liked these early morning moments that were somewhere in between sleeping and awake. It was the perfect time to explore new possibilities of blending magic and mechanical invention or simply listen to the quiet of the town.

These early hours were filled with his midnight secrets. The quiet cloaked his tinkering, his secret thoughts, and everything else that he wanted to hide including how perfectly miserable he was on Calder.

When everyone was asleep, Bregðask did his dreaming of what he would do the moment he was old enough to leave the archipelago for the world beyond Calder and the rest of Viking expectations.

Something creaked down the hallway, and he heard his father hack and cough into the cold air. The man’s shudder shook his bed frame and the floorboards creaked as he rose from his bed with a familiar rustle. It was apparently later in the morning than Bregðask had first thought if his father, Svein Harvard, was getting up. He listened to the man get ready for the day down the hall before trudging down the corridor to Bregðask’s bedroom door.

The house of the hilmir, the Harvard clan house, had been built long before the end of the Dragon Wars and was one of the only houses in the capital town of Calder, or anywhere on the island, that hadn’t been rebuilt during the last war. Technically, it should have been considered a castle of sorts as the hilmir was the king of the island, but he’d seen images of castles, palaces, and other living places of royalty, he’d even looked into other forms of monarchy, and his father and every other hilmir of the islands of the Áseldaskáli Archipelago were nothing like those people.

Their houses were built to house a family and the history of bashing heads against rocks to prove a point, not as a symbol of wealth or prestige.

Svein was a hilmir like every other heir of the Harvard line had been: as large as a mountain, as fierce as the ocean, and as stubborn as a yak.  

The old, ironwood floorboards creaked beneath Svein’s feet as he walked and grumbled in the early morning quiet of the large house. He sounded upset like he had a bad dream or at least woke up with a knot in his beard. Bregðask in all his years of living with his father still didn’t understand what Svein’s issues were first thing in the morning, but he knew why the man was coming to his room this morning.

Remaining laying over his desk, he pretended that he was asleep. His eyes stared at the candle burning on the other side of the room almost in something like melancholy. It flickered in the draft from his window as the door opened quietly behind him, and the large man he knew to be his father crept in. Bregðask felt him stand and lean over his small frame, probably checking to see if he’d disturbed him, but Bregðask kept his breathing even and sleep-worthy. Under the curtain of his brown-copper hair, he could keep his eyes open and still appear to be sleeping.

It wasn’t the first time that he’d feigned sleeping for his father’s benefit. He liked to think that since he couldn’t do much else for the man’s ambition, pride, or expectations, he could at least spare the man an awkward conversation when he simply wanted to get his speech and head out for the day.

The page under his elbow moved as Svein pulled it free and remained behind him. If Bregðask had to guess, he was probably reading it over and debating whether or not he had to wake Bregðask up to clarify or change something. That had happened a few times before, and there was nothing like Svein waking Bregðask from his fake sleep to drive home that he wasn’t anything like what Svein wanted in a son.

Apparently satisfied, Svein turned and left as quietly as he came.

The door clicked quietly behind him, and for not the first time, Bregðask wondered if he was really Svein’s son. He heard Svein thunder down the stairs towards the kitchen then his aunt Hilda’s footsteps coming up the stairs.

Her steps were gentler on the old floor, a little more reverent. She had also grown up in the hilmir’s house as an heir in her own right. She also seemed to be generally in a better mood in the morning even when dealing with Svein. Bregðask guessed it was because they had grown up together as twins.

She didn’t knock before entering, but they had long since been close enough that he didn’t care if she did. She was always welcome. She walked quietly and threaded a hand through his wild hair as she rounded his chair. He heard the flutter of a blanket over his shoulders as she crossed the room to extinguish the candle.

When she turned, their eyes met for a long bleak moment through the shadow of his hair before she sighed. She was fully dressed for the day in her warmest boots and fur wrap over her gown and leggings. Her brown eyes were soft in the dimness of the near-dawn. It seemed it would be a cold, dark day, and he would have to feign being just as cold as everyone else as to not draw attention.


Bregðask hesitated, “Is he gone?”

“I imagine so dear,” she said, “Early start and all that.”

The door closed and shook the house a bit as Svein went whistling down the hill toward the town’s dock.

He nodded. Svein always took an early start, but it was even more important that he did near the beginning of the year and into early summer. The Ørlǫg Raun, the War Trials, preliminary selection games were approaching as well as all the summits he would need to attend on behalf of Calder and, probably, the entire Rekkr Vinfengi and the Áseldaskáli Archipelago if he tried hard enough. Svein had to look good in the eyes of the people which meant a bit of campaigning between islands and on Calder. No doubt he would go see people individually, throw out some money to people who would put in a good word, maybe do some work in the poorer parts of the island, but it would only last so long.

His father was efficient above all things, and his latest ambitions included the right to represent the entire Rekkr Vinfengi at the European and World Summit. There had been talks about it for years, but no one had been able to agree who would be best. Bregðask left his room and followed Hilda downstairs. After brushing his teeth, he readied himself for the day ahead in his thinnest shirt and vest.

“Be safe,” Hilda told him, “Be strong.”

Bregðask nodded. At the threshold of the door, he looked out onto the dawn-lit hills below the house. The house of the Harvard clan had been built, as was customary for the house of the hilmir, on the second highest hill on the island. The highest was reserved for the temple, the goðar, and the elder’s living quarters.

The next highest hills were reserved for the original clans of the Ragnulf tribe who settled Calder: Renouf, Njall, Osulf, and Thorketill. Of all the houses, the Harvard clan house was the emptiest as only Hilda, Svein, and Bregðask lived in it.

As he looked over the town, he thought to what lay beyond it. The wind carried his hair up into the air with it, and he swiped it out of his face. He wanted to cut it as short as possible for years, but Hilda had been insistent that he preserve the appearance of his status by keeping it long.

You are not a thrall, she’d said, No matter how your father treats you.

If it weren’t for her, he would have taken the humiliation and added it to the pile just to not be worried every time he wanted to work in the forge that his hair would catch on fire because he never managed to tie it up properly.

At least, I only have to wait four more years.

When he was twenty years old, there would be nothing but his own will to bind him to the Isle of Calder, the Áseldaskáli Archipelago, and everything he’d ever known. He’d already decided that cutting his hair was probably on the list along with leaving Calder in search of his mother. It was a lot to consider, but with every passing day, he ran out of reasons to stay on Calder.

With a heavy sigh, he crossed the threshold.

He had school today which meant that likely he would be coming back with some quick healing injuries that he wasn’t looking forward to. His wounds had always healed quickly but that didn’t mean they didn’t hurt.

Surprisingly, Sigfrøðr, his head bully made of more brawn, knuckles, and complexes than common sense didn’t seem to be in school which meant that he would likely leave school unscathed. Bregðask could bet that he and his uncle, Sigfúss,  were out discussing how to force Svein’s hand to declare him erfingi, named heir.

It wasn’t as if the Renouf clan didn’t have a fair claim to the position. Sigfúss had married Svein’s other sister, Øydís, and claimed a legitimate and direct tie to the position at last. Bregðask wished the man stopped doddling and set down his pride for the sake of everyone involved. If the Renoufs were more secure in their prospects of getting control over Calder, there was a good chance that Bregðask would escape the years between now and twenty with far fewer injuries. Without Sigfrøðr fretting for his position and everyone assured of who to curry favor with, the rest of the social upper class that followed his cousin and all of Calder would leave Bregðask alone to fade into obscurity.

It was assumed that Sigfrøðr would be named the erfingi, but Bregðask was still the þjóðann, the blood heir. Until the announcement was made officially, everyone on Calder had to play a rather tenuous game of how much they could bully Bregðask without getting into trouble and how much they needed to suck up to Sigfrøðr to secure their futures. It was well known that Harvards could be a gentle as a breeze or as dangerous as a storm on the sea, and Svein was even more well-known for his temper, a temper possessed by every Harvard man. The same temper had passed on to Sigfrøðr.

He wondered if his mother, the woman whom he assumed haunted his dreams, wrote to him in furtive letters, and gave him random presents throughout the year without ever being seen, had a temper. Maybe she was as calm as a breeze, maybe she was soft-spoken and shy– Bregðask might never know either way if he decided to never leave Calder.

Her letters were never clear about when they would meet, or if they would ever meet, but he knew that as soon as it was legal, he’d go looking and wouldn’t stop until he found her. He had so many questions that his head spun most days, and sometimes, it was enough to distract from the loneliness of Calder.

Upon arriving at his first close, he did his best to simply melt into the background. Whenever he didn’t share a class with Sigfrøðr, people generally left him alone to fiddle with whatever he felt like making in his woodworking class and whatever activities that were important for the purpose of Calderan education.

Thanks to Hilda, and interaction with other hilmir, he was years ahead in his education than the rest of his class, so if he had to miss classes due to injury, he could easily. He never did because that would be showing weakness and his injuries never seemed to remain that bad no matter how bad they began.

You’re a quick healer, the elder, Svala, told him in sign language, Just like your mother.

“Outta my way, bregða,” Sigfrøðr jostled him into a wall as he and his entourage walked down the hall, and he caught a glimpse of himself in the murky reflection of the polished stone wall as everyone else began to escape their classes and hurry to their next class.

So much for that ray of hope.

It was just another day in the life of one Bregðask Hjálp Harvard the sixth.

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