It’s Just North Of Miserable

“…can anyone tell me when Asketill and the Ketill tribe became a part if the Rekkr Vinfengi and why?”

Bregðask’s hand wandered aimlessly in a pattern he paid no attention to. His textbook was open, but he’d read it at least three times over the last few weeks while hiding in his clan’s house or at the forge. He also just hated being taught by any members of the goðar, but especially his politics class because they always put a fanatical spin to the history between the islands.

“Asketill and the Ketill tribe isn’t officially a part of the Rekkr Vinfengi, we have a treaty with them, and they, by courtesy, participate in the Ørlǫg Raun but they aren’t part of the alliance.”

“And why is that?” The leader of the goðar, Ulfarr Herulf, turned with a swish of his robe, “All of you should know this answer.”

“Because the Ketill tribe isn’t descendant from Asgard, but Loki’s brood,” someone said, “Because they actively practice magic.”

“And…?”

“Commune with dragons.”

“Why then was Asketill named such?”

“It’s recorded as the place where the gods created the world, the original Asgard before Loki’s brood took over.”

“Arfi Renouf, why have the children of Asgard struck a deal with children of Loki?”

“To subdue dragons.”

Bregðask rolled his eyes as his left hand continued to draw a pattern that was quickly becoming more recognizable as the face of the woman who haunted his dreams.

He frowned as he made the lines more solid, and the classroom drifted away. The question and answers of the goðar and the class gave way to the sound of chanting and roaring flames.

The sound of large wings in the air and a child crying.

“…beg you!…”

He frowned, closing his eyes to try and force the memory into greater clarity, but all he saw was the brightly lit sky above him with a hint of smoke and Svein’s face behind his large beard.

Svein!”

The wind whistled, and pain exploded across his left hand forcing him to drop his pencil. Bregðask hissed and drew his hand back in pain. The throbbing subsided as he looked up at Ulfarr who stared down at him with the long thin cane in his hand.

His long grey streaked hair only accentuate to the cracks and wrinkles in the man’s face, and Bregðask wondered if the man had ever smiled a day in his life. The classroom was quiet around them. Ulfarr had always hated Bregðask, going so far as to call Sigfrøðr arfi, heir, in public as if Bregðask wasn’t the þjóðann of Calder.

Though who can blame him, I’m not even sure of that most days.

“Why is it that all Vikings are right-handed, Bregðask?”

He remained quiet glaring up at the man.

“Will anyone else answer? Arfi Renouf?”

“Because we honor the gods of Asgard as we are their descendants,” Bregðask could hear the sneer in Sigfrøðr’s voice, “Only Loki and his brood are left-handed.”

“That’s correct,” the man narrowed his eyes at Bregðask and lowered his head to sneer in his face, “You may only be half-blood of Calder, but remember that well if you wish to remain here.”

Bregðask smirked and as the man flinched back at the expression, he knew the words he was thinking were plain and clear on his face

I don’t.

The man stood up and continued quizzing the class. Bregðask reached down to grab his pencil and frowned before drawing his right hand over the once throbbing spot and finding it no longer red or pained.

Half-blood, he thought.

He’d heard the sentiment before but no one had ever clarified what they meant. If he was only half-Calderan, where was his mother from? He’d ruled out most other islands as that would have been obvious and no one would have hidden it from him.

His only options were Asketill and somewhere on the European continent. The only problem was that no one knew where Asketill was, so it was the most unlikely. Most of the Rekkr Vinfengi islands only traded with Asketill through roundabout trade routes and only interacted with them during the Ørlǫg Raun. He was sure that if Vikings had been able to find Asketill, they would have and all been wiped out ages ago.

Perhaps the gods were doing them a favor, he thought wryly.

When the class was over, Bregðask walked out deep in his thoughts when something hit him in the head. It was just a prick of pain and something warm and wet dribbling down his face before he turned to the group of laughing teenagers.

“Oh, what’s Bregðask going to do? A  Loki-brood is no match for real Vikings.”

“Hey, maybe he’ll birth you a steed, Sigfrøðr!”

Bregðask gave them a flat look. They all knew the stories that the goðar purported, but Bregðask had actually done some real research and found that there was a lot more to the gods and giants than anyone first imagined.

The Norse pantheon was not supreme, nor alone in the universe. They were simply heads of the Norse magic system, seiðr, that relied more on superstition and ritual evocation than anything else. Their spells relied on the evocation of each god to perform magic and runic configurations that were traditionally a bit limiting. There were the African gods who had a similar magic system for the most part with a few exceptions that relied on connection to the spirits and imposing the mage’s will over them. The Asiatic gods and the various types of spirits and modes of magic were varied. Then, there was the Mesopotamian and the European pantheon and magic systems.

The gods of Asgard enjoyed a place of something like  privilege because of Viking battle prowess, the impenetrable storm system to the north, just beyond where people thought Asketill to be, the Jörmungandr Bók, that had been written by an unnamed person and held by the Ketill tribe, and an artifact that texts called the Asauga, the eye of Asgard. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but the texts were clear that it was dangerous and hidden somewhere near the Helgrindr, the gates of Helheim.

“Ragnarok.”

They choked on their laughter ,and Bregðask took off running. They chased after him but it had been a long time since they’d been able to catch him.

He slid underneath a beam that two men carried and hit a hard turn through an alleyway that led out of the town and into the dense forest. He lost them soon enough and heard them return as he slowed to a stop at one of his favorite cliffs that looked out over the South side of the island. If he looked far enough, he could almost see sea stacks just before the horizon.

He swallowed and the joy of evading his tormentors fizzled and floated away on the breeze leaving only that sickening, heavy feeling he hated more than his circumstance. As it sunk deeper into his chest, he felt it pushing down on something else. It felt hot and angry, burning in his chest and expanding until it exploded as a scream into the ocean’s wind.

When it lost all power, his throat burned, his body felt weak, and he sunk to the ground.

Every Viking is right-handed.

Every Viking is a descendant of Asgard.

Every single one except me.

He sat on the edge of the cliff and looked down to the waves and craggy rocks below.

It would hurt, but only for a little while.

No, Bregðask, he shook the thought free, You’re better than that…

Am I? He shook his head again, You promised.

He snorted. Technically, he only promised not to be secluded with a weapon. He said nothing about a cliff.

The Storm Queen flies, it’s a moonless night… The sound of wings fills the sky…”

Bregðask turned his head trying to find the origin of the song. The tune was too familiar to ignore, but he couldn’t say when he’d heard it. Instead, he rose to his feet and looked around until his senses led him to the ocean wind beyond Calder and up into the clouds.

And coming on the ocean breeze,… the valor of a champion king…”

Magic?

He’d never heard singing on this cliff before or any of the other cliffs on Calder, so it was a likely explanation.

He frowned and shook his head, the voice didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular, but when he turned around there was the faint impression of a woman there. Mostly translucent, she seemed at least three months pregnant, maybe more, with a slight frame. Her face and head were covered as if to shield from the winter cold, but her arms and legs were bared to the wind. It reminded him of the way the hilmir of Asketill dressed every time he’d seen her. She took a seat on the rock he liked to occupy and continued to sing.

An impression? he thought, A shade?

He didn’t know how to tell if the woman was dead or if this was just an emotional impression strong enough and unhindered enough to be seen but remained watching her.

Before the night turns into dawn,… you will find your path, young one”

Someone else came through the brush. He was a large man that made Bregðask’s heart clench. It was a younger Svein, looking a little frustrated, confused maybe, but his eyes softened seeing the woman.

“And though you may walk alone,… the path you follow leads you home…”

She turned back to look at the image of Svein, and they faded away as Svein approached her.

The song eased something in him and he felt his heart lighten with the knowledge that his mother had come to this very spot. He couldn’t know for sure, but it was probably a memory preserved in this spot, maybe at this hour, maybe at this time of year. If the child she was carrying had been him, perhaps he could see the memory because he had been there as well.

But why was her face covered like that but not much else? Svein had seemed to be dressed for the cold February winds and the slow release of winter, but she had seemed dressed for summer except for her covered head. Apparently, he’d inherited his warm-blooded nature from his mother.

Think about it later, he pulled out his notebook and turned to a fresh page to take note of the vision and shook his head. He had at least half a notebook of speculations, but no real proof.

I’ll find you, he promised the wind and sighed as he turned back towards town.

He had his physical training class to attend, and as he expected, the twins, Elli and Elis Thorketill, groaned as he came into view.

“Good to see you, Bregðask. You’re up first!”

Great…

He picked up the practice sword and the instructor hissed at him, “Wrong way, Bregðask.”

He switched his holding and winced at the feeling as Veðr, one of Snotlout’s lackeys, stepped up with a grin. He heard someone making a bet on how long it would take Veðr to break something of his, but he tried to pay it no mind.

“You may begin.”

Veðr came at him, and Bregðask barely moved out of the way in time to lift the sword and swing. He lost his balance just in time to dodge Veðr’s counterstroke and stumbled to the other side of the small circle. Veðr attacked again and knocked Bregðask’s sword out of his hand. Bregðask tripped, tangled in his own limbs, as Veðr brought down a hard stroke against his shoulder.

Something popped, and pain flooded through his arm as he fell and remained on the ground gritting his teeth.

The instructor sighed perhaps for the millionth time since Bregðask had begun taking this class, “Nice work, Veðr. Bregðask, you need work.”

Bregðask pushed himself up, cradling his shoulder, and gritting his teeth through the pain.

“Where did he go wrong?”

“He’s weak.”

“He’s scrawny.”

“He showed up.”

“Knock it off,” Eira said with a glare at the others as Bregðask lifted his head.

While she often defended him, he would never get used to it.

Eira Osulf was who most would call the most beautiful, powerful, and promising young woman of their generation. She was the daughter of the late heads of the Osulf clan and living with the rest of her family in the traditional Osulf clan house under the custody of her aunt and uncle, Dag and Solveig Osulf.

She didn’t conform to the traditional view of Viking beauty with her inky black hair, but her eyes were as blue as the ocean, her skin was as fair as any ancient Viking woman of renown, and she was beautiful. To Bregðask, that beauty was truest when she held her mother’s ax in hand and stood on a battlefield as a combatant.

Eira looked at him, her eyes soft even as she critiqued him, “He’s never where he should be.”

The story of my life.

Bregðask rocked back onto his feet and grit his teeth before rotating his shoulder back into its socket with a crack that made him shudder and bite his lip. He rose slowly, and the instructor clapped him roughly on the injured shoulder as the pain began to fade.

“Sit down before you hurt yourself any worse. Eira, you’re up.”

Bregðask shuffled away from the group to sit on a nearby bench and watch Eira hand Ullr, Sigfrøðr’s younger brother, a defeat so brutal that it made Bregðask wonder if he’d said something he shouldn’t have said. The young man limped out of the circle with a bloody nose as Eira wiped her hands on her tunic.

“Good form! Better luck next time, Ullr! Next up?”

He smiled at that and flinched as Eira walked towards him and took a seat on the bench beside him. He kept his mouth shut, unsure of if there was anything to say. They had spoken in passing, almost casually, plenty of times and being near her had never ceased to make his heart pound. She didn’t seem offended when he spoke to her, but the threat of getting punched in the face, even though the pain in his shoulder had vanished wasn’t one he wanted to provoke.

“You’ve gotten better,” she said suddenly, twirling a piece of hair around her finger as they watched the next fight, “A few weeks ago, you didn’t last that long.”

“Thanks.”

“How’s your shoulder?”

“Fine,” he said, “I guess what I don’t have in strength, I make up for in durability.”

She laughed, “Well, that is half the battle…I’m surprised your father hasn’t tried to teach you.”

“He’s… busy,” he said and hoped that she wouldn’t ask for an explanation.

He felt her turn to look at him and then turn her gaze back to the fight.

“I could give you some pointers sometime,” Eira suggested, “If you want.”

Bregðask  chuckled and met her gaze out of the corner of his eye, “If you’re not afraid of me accidentally taking off your head with a training ax… It’d be pretty messy.”

She smirked, “You’d have to get really lucky, or I’d have to be really off.”

“Neither of which would happen,” he said, “After school sometime? I… work at Gardar’s every afternoon and have time every day but Friday before that.”

“How about Thursday then?”

He smiled, “Sounds great.”

She grinned at him, “We’ll go to the training pitch together.”

He nodded and forced himself to breathe around the butterflies in his stomach as they watched the next set of combatants.

“You think one day he’ll stop putting the twins against one another?”

“I think he does it for entertainment.”

She laughed and Bregðask was sure that he’d never get tired of the sound.

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