When Bregðask came to, he was slumped against a tree somewhere near the upper town. If he had to guess, he was less than a few minutes walking from the central market. The sun had lowered a bit but still filled the sky with light. He scrunched his nose and looked down at his body. Nothing hurt, so he assumed that he had been out for at least an hour, but there was dried blood on his clothes and a sticky, crusty feeling around his mouth.
He reached up to wipe it and saw a smear of red on the back of his hand. Aside from the smears of blood and dirt, he seemed mostly fine though he had the distinct feeling that hadn’t been the case less than an hour ago.
He laughed thick and delirious and listened to the sound of the town preparing for the summer feast. He wondered how many classes he’d missed and if he’d missed them all or not. He wondered if anyone was looking for him.
Who would be?
He struggled to his feet from the cramped space and walked out of the brush, carrying his bag in his arms and glowering at the broken strap.
“Bregðask?” Someone asked, and he turned to look at the man.
“By Thor’s hammer, are you alright?”
“Just fine,” he said with a tight smile, “A normal day in the life. A beautiful day for the summer feast, isn’t it? How are your sheep?”
The man seemed stunned by the question, but he answered anyway before asking Bregðask for his help with his fence. There was something fearful and timid in the man’s eyes, but to Bregðask’s disdain, whatever that feeling was didn’t keep the man from asking for his help. Bregðask followed him to his house and fixed the hinge on his gate before heading back to the Harvard clan’s home.
Everyone who saw him waved and whispered about him picking fights with Sigfrøðr, their erfingi, and anticipating Svein making it official that night. Some people looked at him in pity, some in concern, but no one stopped him. He smiled politely at everyone, the way he did all the time.
They didn’t know, and they didn’t deserve to know as most of them didn’t care.
No one cared.
He was an oddball. He fixed their everyday problems like a broken fence or a lack of a cart, but he couldn’t lead them. He didn’t want to lead them.
What good is that? he wondered as he stopped in front of his house and looked up at the old building.
It had been the home of chiefs since the Ragnulf tribe had first settled on Calder, the home of the Harvard clan since then too in an unbroken line of succession, but when Svein announced it whether that be the next summer feast or four years from now, it would no longer be his home and that chain would be broken.
It’s never been my home, he took a deep breath and looked out into the distance where the ocean stretched on to the horizon and swallowed. And that line has long since been broken.
His eyes burned but he couldn’t say why.
You’re better than this, Bregðask.
He walked into the house and closed it behind him. He heard Hilda’s heart beating in the kitchen before he heard her voice.
“I know it’s not very Calder, but we’re close enough to Norway that it doesn’t matter, and the Ketill celebrate birthdays,” Hilda said as she came around the corner with a cake and carried it carefully towards the table, “Happy– Frigg’s skirt, what happened to you?”
Bregðask’s lips twitched, and he remained quiet for a moment before walking to the table, “It looks great, Aunt Hilda. Thank you.”
She sat him down at the table and rushed to grab medical supplies, but as she wiped the dirt from his face there were no wounds to treat. The warmth of her hands did little for the frigid storm in his chest.
He looked up at her with a chuckle, “I’m different remember?”
He turned his gaze to the cake, “So how about this cake?”
Her eyes searched his, but before she could speak, the door opened. Svein walked in with his speech in hand. His eyes went cold as ever as he looked at Bregðask. If he cared any longer, Bregðask would have flinched.
No one cares, so why should I?
“Where were you? You were supposed to be in training,” Svein said, “And you skipped classes?”
“I’m not asking you, Hilda,” he hissed, “You’ve coddled him his entire life. It’s the reason why he’s–”
“Unconscious,” Bregðask said and gestured to his bloody clothing, “Can you guess why?”
Svein’s eyes narrowed as he approached him and took hold of his face. He turned his head roughly to either side, looking for an injury that was no longer there.
“I see no injury.”
His tone carried no concern or care. There was not a hint of paternal love in those green eyes for him. Fear, maybe. Disgust, probably, but no love.
My own father…
Loneliness pricked and punctured a wall that he hadn’t realized was thinning. It started as a slow leak somewhere inside him, but he’d known for a long time that there was an ocean on the other side, churning with every day to break it down. He felt the slow leak turn into splashes through the widening tear until the wall gave way, and all he could hear was the ocean not unlike the ocean surrounding the island calling him.
“I think we can thank my mother for that, hilmir,” Bregðask said.
Svein’s lips twitched, “Make yourself presentable for the feast, or don’t come at all.”
“Svein!” Hilda hissed as Bregðask turned his head to remove Svein’s hand from his face.
Glad we could agree on at least one thing.
He picked up his fork silently, and Svein marched up the stairs without another word.
Bregðask stopped Hilda from going after him with a hand on her arm. She looked down at him and her eyes softened, “Share a slice with me?”
Her jaw trembled and set before she nodded and pulled out plates. They ate together, and she waited until Svein left to the Great Hall to give him his presents. He was grateful for them all and carried them up to his room. He almost felt guilty seeing the clothes that she’d set out for him to wear to the festivities. They were fit for an arfi, and erfingi even, but he wouldn’t ever wear them.
The ocean was calling.
“I’m heading ahead, okay?” Hilda said leaning into his room as Bregðask made a show of heading to take a bath.
“You look great,” he wiggled his eyebrows, “It’s unlike you to wear a new gown to the summer feast. Someone of interest in the crowd?”
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, “Don’t even start on my love life until you’re ready to talk to Eira more than you’ve been doing.”
He chuckled at that as she left. He listened as she walked away from the house and put his dirty clothes back on. When the houses on either side of the Harvard clan house were empty, he put on his shoes and walked downstairs and out the back door. The entire island would be converging, more or less, at the Great Hall to celebrate the summer feast and hear the address he’d written for Svein just a few days ago. He hadn’t been planning it then consciously, but maybe a part of him always knew that it would be today.
That it had to be today.
The ocean was calling, and no man could escape his fate.
Not even a half-blood.
Sorry, he thought thinking of Hilda and Gardar. They’d hear the speech, and they’d know.
Gods, they’ll know.
It made his stomach twist, and his eyes burn. It made him hesitate at the threshold of the house. He didn’t have to. He could turn around and get dressed.
He could carry on just the way he always did.
I see no injury.
You never cared to look, Bregðask thought, Just like everyone else.
Frigg’s skirt, what happened?
Are you okay, lad?
He took off running through the forest as fast as he could toward Viking’s Cliff. The words of the speech rushed through his mind, setting his pace, and he wondered who would hear his goodbye first. Maybe they wouldn’t hear it at all. How long had he been planning today to be the day he’d do it?
He laughed, his eyes burning with tears that dried up in the cold wind as he rushed towards the cliff.
With every step away, the guilt lessened and excitement took over.
Lítlu bregðask týna…
They would forget him. He was just a little mistake in the Harvard line, in the Ragnulf tribe’s history, on Calder’s historical records. They might even erase him completely.
Hilda would mourn, but she will understand. Gardar will understand.
Eira wouldn’t have to waste her time taking pity on him and trying to shape him into a true Calder Viking worth of his clan’s name. It was all for nothing anyway.
Half blood, he thought breaking through the tree line. His heart raced and an even calm washed over him as he neared the climb to Viking’s Cliff. He heard the ocean step out of his hallucination and into the real world and smelled the comforting salt in the air as he neared the cliff
Everyone on Calder would move on without him. It might hurt for a little while, but in the scheme of life, it would mean nothing.
What about your mother? he pushed the thought away.
Once, it had been enough to stop him, but it was just too much right now.
I’m so sorry.
It’s too much.
I can’t do it anymore.
The wind howled, pressing against him, trying to hinder him, but he tore through it and wondered if she would hear him. If maybe, right now, he could send her a message through the secret passages of the world.
I’m sorry I never got to meet you, he thought wryly. I’m sorry that I’m just too weak.
“Cut ties with Calder for good,” he told the wind, hoping that the words would reach her somehow, “Remember what you know of me fondly.”
He shoved a branch out of the way as his heart pounded in his ears over the sound of the song on the wind. There was a memory demanding his attention, but he couldn’t hear it, couldn’t spare his attention to see it, or he’d stop and turn back.
The ocean was calling.
Viking’s Cliff was the highest cliff on the island that you could jump into the water from, but no one did because the last person who did didn’t survive the currents below. The man had been a great swimmer, but Bregðask barely had the strength to finish the training required for school most days.
“And take no fault in what I’m about to do.”
He turned his head and watched the lights of the Great Hall and the people funneling into the hall wearing their new late spring clothes. He heard something on the wind, something like wings maybe, but he ignored it too and all the memories screaming at him that he ran through on the way to the highest point.
“It’s not your fault.”
How many times had he stopped just there? Just at the edge and listened to that voice telling him that he was stronger than this. He was better. Tonight he couldn’t hear anything but the ocean waves and the sound of bones breaking and mending over and over again.
“It’s no one’s fault. It’s just my choice.”
He’d held the record. Sixteen years to the day and he would be the only Bregðask in the history of the Harvard clan to leave rather than be taken. It would be a victory for someone, but he wasn’t sure for who.
Does it matter? It’s my choice.
He forced himself to run faster and straight over the edge. Adrenaline filled his blood, and he screamed in something like triumph as his feet carried him running over the edge and into the air. The wind rushed around him as if to carry him, but lost strength as gravity took hold.
The wind rushed around and past him, through him like a strange farewell as the water rushed up to meet him. The ocean opened its arms and he closed his eyes.
Pain slammed into him as he hit the bedrock. It hurt so much that he couldn’t think. Then, the ocean seized him in the tide and cold thrashed him around. His lungs burned, and he let it go, let the salt fill him.
Slowly, the dim, fading light of day grew darker beyond the water’s depths and currents, and everything grew silent.