A week passed since the summer feast and his birthday, and neither Hilda nor Gardar had pressured him to talk about it. He spent his days the way he always did and his daylit nights in the forge or helping someone with their crops when he wasn’t helping to repair the Thorgills’ house. Sometime after that, he’d begun to feel strange bouts of burning in his chest. It wasn’t painful so much as uncomfortable, like a bubble of hot air trapped in his chest. Sometimes, it felt like something was trying to tear its way out of him.
His mother sent him a letter in which she told him that it would be sooner than he thought that they would meet properly, but hadn’t given him any sort of definitive timeline.
Soon, is what she said while being sure to tell him that she loved him and that she understood. With the letter came a book about fighting the urge to kill himself and what the urge really was about, but he hadn’t opened it yet.
It would have been better if you were here to explain it to me, he thought viciously.
It was a ridiculous thought brought on by the emotional roller coaster he was still coming down from, but not one he thought she wouldn’t understand.
I want to be there for you, she’d written, yet I hope you will understand why I cannot one day.
Her letter had barely poked his melancholy, but at least, he could tell her that she had no need to worry about him going running off a cliff again. He was efficient like his father, and since death was obviously not going to be his way off Calder, then he’d focus on something else.
He woke up and got dressed for classes with that in mind, and if Bregðask was being kind, he would say it was a beautiful day on Calder. The sun was shining; it was almost in the double digits, and his father had actually acknowledged him that morning. Sure, it was more of an attempt not to step on Bregðask as he hurried outside and a promise to scold him about his magic show in the forge, but Bregðask learned a long time ago to count his Odin-givings and cut his Loki-takings.
Eira had seemed impressed and not at all put off by his magical skill. If anything, she seemed thrilled about it.
He heard footsteps approaching him quickly and smelled Sigfrøðr before he shoved Bregðask to the ground. Pain shot through his shoulder as he landed on it. He wanted to cry out, but he shut his mouth out of habit. Sigfrøðr was one of those Loki-takings he liked to cut. His voice ground his nerves beyond reason, but so long as he stayed perfectly still, and protected his insides and face, everything would be over soon just like always.
How soon is soon, Aunt Hilda?
Days? Weeks? Months? Did she even know?
He had, and Sigfrøðr only wanted a reaction. If he didn’t get it, he’d get bored. Bregðask would be damned if he gave it to him. The burning returned, hot claws or talons tearing through him and desperate to get out. With each fall of Sigfrøðr’s boot on his back, he felt it grow.
Back off, he thought, Back off now.
“Not gonna get up, bregða?” Sigfrøðr asked grinding his boot into Bregðask’s back, “Are you mad, you little twerp? Think you’re clever showing off like that? Taking up her time?”
Back off, he thought again as the burning grew and began to spread down his arms.
“I feel so bad for our hilmir. Don’t worry. When he announces me as his erfingi, I promise to let you take a job at my side.”
As if I would ever, Bregðask thought curling into himself as the burning continued to grow and Sigfrøðr began to kick him in earnest
The boot stopped, and the voice of a Valkyrie flew through the air towards him. He looked up to see Eira with her training ax raised and her expression furious. Kata stood next to her with her new ax strapped to her back and looking just as ready to fight.
“Hey Eira, you–” She punched him in the face, and Bregðask heard his nose break with a loud crack and a spurt of blood.
“Didn’t I tell you to lay off?”
He wiped his nose, “We were just having a bit of fun. Besides, he started it.”
“Oh yeah?” She asked twirling her ax, “Well then, you won’t mind if I do the same to you, will you?”
He paled. Sigfrøðr was the best brawler in their generation, but everyone knew that was only because Eira wasn’t allowed to participate in the hand to hand competitions. In class, she’d wiped the floor with him every time, and Calder wasn’t the kind of place that stopped their students from fighting at school.
“Keep your hands off him, understand?”
She walked over as Sigfrøðr moved back. She offered Bregðask a hand and a smile, “Are you okay?”
With every flutter of his heart, the burning subsided. He nodded, struggled to his feet and leaned against the wall for support. Something was hurting. It was enough pain to know to go to Svala’s house as soon as possible because he usually didn’t hurt for long. He stumbled over his books and things that Sigfrøðr’s attack had forced him to drop.
“Thank you, Eira,” he said with a hand to his chest, “Unfortunately, I have to leave you with the idiots.”
“Who are you calling an idiot?” Sigfrøðr hissed around this broken nose.
“Only those who wear the helmet.”
Eira laughed he was sure as did Kata. It was a sound that always gave him the hope that maybe one day they’d be more than this weird friendship they’d been developing.
His breath caught as the burning returned, growing stronger to something almost painful in his chest, and he stumbled back against the wall.
“Hey, are you okay?” Kata asked as his legs gave out and he grit his teeth against the pain.
“I’m fine,” he growled, curling into himself, and panting around it. It was no longer just burning but something extra, something else threatening to do something Bregðask wasn’t sure he would survive.
He’d never felt pain like this before.
“Bregðask!” Eira kneeled over him. He could see her dark hair out of the corner of his eyes, smell the light scent of her soap and her skin. “Bregðask, stay with me. Just hold on, I’ll get you to Svala.”
Heat filled him. His mouth went dry and everything in him burned. He felt sick and feverish. Something rustled beside him before another wave of sensation washed through him. He heard something from far away. A song from a dream inside a memory. The voice was warm and filled him, pushing back the fire. He still felt the heat on his neck and on his face, but it wasn’t all-consuming as everything went black.
Eira flinched as his body fell over, limp and unconscious. He panted, and his face was flushed with fever. She pressed a hand to his forehead and found it burning.
“He’s running a fever. I don’t think it was just Sigfrøðr’s idiocy that did it, Kata.”
Eira lifted Bregðask off the ground as Kata grabbed his things. With a glare at Sigfrøðr, Eira carried Bregðask down the hall and out of the school compound.
“It’s not my fault he’s a sarcastic little toothpick. What’s he expect going up against my manliness?”
Eira made a mental note to wipe the floor with him the next time she got a chance but paid him no more attention than that as she hurried to get Bregðask up the hill to Svala’s home. Kata followed just behind with his things. She knocked on the door, and it swung open the way it usually did when Svala was busy.
“Svala? It’s Bregðask,” Svala crossed the room from her mortar and pestle as Eira lay him down on the cot. He panted, and Eira worried her lip, “That Sigfrøðr was being an ass, and he seemed fine, but then he collapsed with this fever.”
Kata set his bag down beside the cot. Svala placed a hand on his forehead and then grabbed his wrist before she flinched. There were stories that said that Svala’s family was one full of mages who had been healers long before the goðar had come to Calder. Stories had been passed around that her muteness was because of a seal on her family’s power, and if she ever spoke, her powers would return, but as far as Eira knew, Svala was just a brilliant natural healer who had enough of an understanding of magic to use it for the good of the island. If there was any truth to her being a mage of the caliber that the stories hinted, Eira, and most of Calder, was pretty sure that she was a benevolent one.
She turned to them and waved them off.
“Go back to school?” Eira asked, “He’ll be okay?”
She nodded and waved again. Likely, she’d report Sigfrøðr, but there was nothing more that Eira and Kata could do. With one last look at Bregðask’s pained and feverish face, Eira followed Kata out of the house and down the hill in time for her history class.
Kata joined arms with her, “If Svala says he’ll be fine, he’ll be fine. We’ll go back and visit after your classes are done, okay?”
Eira nodded, “Thanks, Kata.”
“Anytime,” she said, “Though if we have a chance to teach that Sigfrøðr a lesson, I’m all for it.”
“Me too. I don’t understand how puberty could make him so much worse.”
Kata laughed, “Not every man can be like my Dvalvarr.”
Eira rolled her eyes and laughed, “So what are your plans now that you’re free from school?”
Most schools in the archipelago let students graduate at eighteen, but Calder kept students until they were nineteen meaning Eira had two more years and Bregðask had three. On Calder, adolescents tended to hit puberty closer to thirteen, and with the exception of Bregðask, they’d all seemed to have hit puberty and survived it without a problem.
Kata and Eira had grown taller, filled out, and their faces had changed a bit, but neither of them would have called it a major change. It was major enough that Dagur had taken the protective fatherly role since puberty and had practically grilled Dvalarr about his intentions one fateful night while the siblings were visiting Calder.
Eira had been working on the assumption that whoever Bregðask’s mother was, she had probably had a lithe build and had passed it on to Bregðask along with his rich, copper brown hair.
Luckily, she wasn’t really interested in the beefy type. She’d met Bregðask when they were children at a summer feast while her parents were still alive. He’d been a little on the frail side then and unwilling to participate in the roughhousing, yet he’d been the only boy at the time to stand up for Eira’s rights to play with the boys in the raider games rather than playing the damsel in distress. He’d even volunteered to be the damsel if it meant that Eira got to play the way she wanted.
Everyone needs saving sometimes, he’d said with a sweet smile, And everyone can save someone.
With Kata having just been transferred to a foster home in Calder a few months prior to that day, she’d had a partner Raider and had won the game with Kata’s help. As they’d gotten older, more people expected her to give up her ax and shield for softer, more womanly things. They had expected her or asked her to change, but Bregðask had always seen her as she was and marveled at it. She wasn’t looking for validation, and Bregðask had never communicated it like it was anything more than support.
It was nice to have someone in her corner aside from her uncle, Dagur, and Kata about her life choices when everyone wanted to put her into a box that she just didn’t fit in. It had been Bregðask to encourage them both to take up ax-wielding competitively in that sarcastic way of his.
You’re a Viking, he’d said, That comes with axes whether you’re wearing a dress or leggings.
His words had led her to the answer she had known all along: she deserved her own brand of happiness. When she’d decided that she would go after it, she threw herself into training with her uncle, and she’d won every ax throwing competition, every sparring match, and every team match with Kata at her back since, even after Dagur had found her and took his little sister back to their home island.
She remembered her first win and seeing Bregðask in the stands clapping for her, cheering just as loud as her uncle and had carried a torch for Bregðask ever since.
“Enjoying watching my brother try not to kill suitors who show up on Harulf,” Kata said, “I’m so proud of him. He hasn’t pulled out his ax or sword not once.”
Eira chuckled, “He’s come a long way. I’ll see you after classes?”
“Of course, I’m headed to the Great Hall, but I’ll be back.”
Kata waved her goodbye, and Eira headed into her history class. When history and her next three classes were over, her head spun with tales of Viking conquests and their conflicts with dragons. She found Kata standing beside Eira’s locker
“I just wanted to confirm that you’re still carrying that torch.”
Eira glowered, “Shove it.”
“You only have two years left in school which means you know your aunt is on the warpath to get you married off. I’m just wondering when you’re going to Viking-up, Eira-up even, and take that torch and set some fires! Just tell him. Also, I needed to speak to Bregðask, and I am pissed that Sigfrøðr ruined that.”
Eira sighed as she shoved her books into her locker, “Eventually alright? I just… want to be ready and sure, I guess.”
Kata smirked. She pulled out a large bound book from her bag and handed it to Eira.
“Well, if you look at the cover, and my sources are correct, you’d see that it’s–”
Eira gasped, “Bregðask’s sketchbook?”
Kata smirked as Eira’s eyes widened, and she took the book from Kata’s hands to run her fingers across the patterns on the cover. After observing him for so long, she knew very well what Bregðask’s sketchbook meant to him and what it looked like. The dark cover had been covered in strange glyphs with his initials drawn in a beautiful calligraphy font on the front cover.
“It fell out of his bag when Sigfrøðr was being a lout,” Kata said, “I picked it up, but I thought you could use it as a talking point since all of your other talking points don’t seem to be inspiring you to take action.”
Eira smiled and pressed it to her chest, “While I don’t approve of you lifting his property, thank you for the sentiment.”
Kata shrugged, “I didn’t look in it. You should be proud of me.”
Eira chuckled and placed Bregðask’s sketchbook on the top shelf of her locker where she put nothing else and closed the door softly once she was sure that it was safe there.
“You really like him,” Kata said.
Eira smiled, “Let’s get going. You promised to show me this new ax Dvalarr brought you.”
“From Bregðask, the little sneak,” she said, “It’s the main reason I was looking for him. Unfortunately, Dagur needs me for the rest of the day, so raincheck?”
“I’m holding you to it.”
“You should still go visit him if you can,” Kata said.
Eira did, but he was still unconscious. Svala had put him in an ice bath to try and get his fever down, but the ice simply melted in the tub around him. She hauled more ice to Svala’s and told her that she’d be back soon.
Svala scribbled on a pad of paper furiously and gave her a smile.
He’ll be back home before the end of the day and back on his feet soon, dear.
You can flirt with him then.
Eira’s cheeks burned as Svala winked at her and waved her off with a warm roll to eat on her way home.
Was she that obvious to everyone but Bregðask?