There is nothing you can do, Svein, she told him once while rocking Bregðask in her arms. He remembered still the way she covered her face whenever she left the house and how many times he’d asked her not to because it bothered the people of Calder.
It’s part of my culture, she told him, I don’t ask you to cut your hair, do I?
She had never asked him to change anything, but he was the hilmir of his island, her husband, did that mean nothing to the people of Asketill?
He has the gift.
Svein grit his teeth and hung his head thinking of her and those nights that seemed so long ago. Since that fateful night, since the hardest decision he’d ever made, he’d lived in fear of her returning for Bregðask. Every time word came from somewhere on the island that someone dressed in clothes normal for a Ketill was near Calder had terrified him.
He had never been confident that he could stop her.
She was a woman who could control dragons and wield the fabric of the world with nothing more than her thoughts and words. She was stronger than him in every way and all he had to defend himself was an ax and muscle.
Her strength had drawn him to her during the Ørlǫg Raun and had beguiled him into a life with her, but he had never considered how different they were. How much he would come to fear her strength and, by extension, their child who had inherited it.
He has the gift, she’d said with such a soft and warm voice, He looks just like my father.
Svein shook his head, half furious, part proud, and mostly confused. Bregðask was his son, a Harvard. As his father, he had the right to name him, and according to the customs of Calder, his name was Bregðask, yet she had never called him that.
Soren, she called him after her own father. The name ate him up on the inside along with that birthmark on his left foot that would not yield to fire or salve. The sound of him roaring in his crib at the goðar using their magic on him was a memory that still made him shudder.
“I beg you, Svein! Give him to me. Let us leave!”
“No,” he replied to the memory and watched the flames that filled that night fill his vision as if he was standing outside of the Harvard house nearly sixteen years ago.
Everything would have been ruined then if he’d given in then. He wasn’t even sure if they still weren’t completely ruined.
The members of the goðar and people of Calder stood outside as the Harvard clan house burned. Hilda had been outside trying to get water to put out the fire, yelling for help. He heard Bregðask screaming from inside.
Svein rushed in to save Bregðask and found Valka regaining consciousness on the floor bound in chains of hot iron that Svein knew would not harm her. She groaned as she sat up, and he’d tried to free her, but she shoved him away.
“Go,” she coughed, “Take Soren, I will be fine.”
He couldn’t believe her, but his legs took him and the legacy in his arms outside to the safety of the summer, sunlit night. Soon after her voice rose with a power that had terrified him. The fire swirled through the house leaving behind only slightly scorched wood and flew into the sky above Calder before dispersing in the air.
She’d come stumbling out of the house with singed clothing, and Hilda had rushed to help her as she pulled the iron chains off and dropped them at her feet.
Ulfarr had begun to speak, but Svein couldn’t hear anything he said as he stared at Valka as she forced breath after breath into her lungs. She looked up, and he watched in horror as the gash across her face stitched itself closed, and she regained her bearings.
“Svein,” she gasped, “Is he okay?”
He looked down at the bundle who only coughed a bit. His silver eyes glowed a bright white up at him before returning to their normal gray. Bregðask wiggled and cooed at him as the sound of the villagers who had seen what had happened and the goðar began to scream.
“She’s a demon!”
“Loki’s brood have no place on Calder!”
“She’s a monster!”
Her dragon, a grand eðrvíg, landed behind Valka with wings the length of four houses as Valka sent a flick of light behind her to repair the Harvard clan house. The wood threw off its ashes. With a gust of wind, water, and earth to straighten and restore itself until the house of the Harvard clan was whole again.
The villagers stared in fear, pointing their spears and axes at her.
She stood tall, but she did not take her eyes off Svein even as Hilda had begun to shout back at them and then Svein.
“Svein, say something!” Hilda had pleaded, “She is your wife!”
Before he could speak, before he could think what to say, an arrow had been fired. Valka threw Hilda aside and let the arrow sink into her shoulder with nothing more than a grunt.
Her dragon opened its mouth to burn them all, but Valka held up a hand to stop it. The beast closed its mouth, stopping the fire before it flooded the area. The crowd gasped in fear as she pulled the arrow out of her shoulder with a snarl and threw it aside. She turned to look at him.
“Svein, say something!” Hilda said again as he met Valka’s gaze across the clearing.
“The witch will summon a whole horde of dragons! Kill her now!”
The sound of the goðar and Calder citizens filled his ears and he realized that he would be forced to make a choice: lose his position on Calder and let Calder fall into chaos or lose his wife. His legacy and every Harvard hilmir before him or his wife.
It hardly seemed like a choice.
“Svein?” Valka asked, her voice soft, unsure, her eyes wide, “Which will it be?”
He turned his head to look at Ulfarr, “Your people have spoken, hilmir. No one can sleep soundly so long as that demon is on Calder.”
The resounding yell went up in agreement, and Bregðask screamed in terror in his arms.
“Give him to me,” Valka said softly, “Give him to me, and we will leave.”
“You won’t get your hands on this new life!” Ulfarr hissed, “He is a child descended from Asgard!”
“I beg you, Svein. Don’t make me choose.”
Svein grit his teeth, “You are my wife! There is no choice!”
Her eyes widened she turned her head slightly. Her expression was troubled and pained. With a small shake of her head, she pulled the singed cloth up around her face and her hood over her head. Svein’s heart had jumped in his chest.
“If that is what you choose.”
“Why is this a choice?”
“Because you made it one,” she reached out her hands.
Svein pulled Bregðask closer to his chest as he screamed. Valka began to sing to soothe him, that song that she could never teach him because it was something more than words but a feeling.
He sniffled and eased to sleep at her voice as her eyes brimmed with tears, and he could hear the sound of bows and arrows readying to fire again.
“Give him to me,” Valka said again, “Svein, give me Soren.”
“His name is Bregðask, Valka,” Svein said, “Bregðask Hjálp Harvard the sixth.”
She lifted her hands, her eyes on Bregðask, “Please, Svein. Give me our son.”
I can’t do that, he thought as if he was back there that summer evening with the sun high in the sky and the cool wind around them. You know I can’t do that.
His position on Calder rested on him having Bregðask. The people had agreed to it in so far as it would secure his position and ensure that Asketill and their dragon legion would never attack Calder. It had been perfect. Why didn’t she understand? Why couldn’t she just do as he asked and let go of her bonds to Ketill?
“I beg you, Svein! Give him to me. Let us leave!”
“No,” Svein had whispered.
“You cannot have the Calder heir! Kill her now!”
“No!” Svein thundered, but it had been too late. The volley of arrows was released, and while the veðrvíg deflected most of them, she caught one of them in hand and turned it to ash.
She turned her glowing blue gaze on him, “Svein–”
Before she could take a step towards him, the great beast flapped its six wings and grabbed her in its claws.
“Wait, Kassi!” She reached out for him, and Svein pressed Bregðask closer to his chest, “Put me down! Soren!”
Bregðask wiggled and screamed in his arms as more arrows were fired and the beast carried her screaming and crying into the sky.
He closed his eyes but the memory of that night and how powerless he’d felt still burned him. The look of horror and mourning on Hilda’s face, her disgust and silence for years after had cut into his heart, but it was necessary. He had no choice. Bregðask didn’t have to be like her.
Abnormally strong, inhuman– it could be fought, the goðar had told him. Bregðask, if he made it to the age of majority without interacting with dragons or the darker forces of Loki’s brood, would be released from the curse of Asketill. It may have meant that Bregðask would grow no taller than he was now, but at least he wouldn’t be a monster.
It was better that way, and Bregðask would see that. Though he was small, the people of Calder would come to respect him as soon as it was done for his intelligence and diplomacy. It was a strength that did not defy reason and they could all understand to some degree.
He would not be another Svein the Powerful, or Vali the Mighty, but he would be enough for Calder. Svein just had to play his cards right to get them all out of the mess that had saved Calder and pray that Frigg forgave him for separating a mother from her son for all this time.
They made landfall on Bjørn in seven nights and six days with Bregðask confined to the storage cabin or their shared quarters for six of those nights. When they docked, Bregðask walked onto the deck grinning into the sky with his eyes closed to the sunlight filling the sky.
Svein disembarked and shook hands with the hilmir of Bjørn before calling Bregðask to his side. He came when called to his surprise and smiled politely at Ivan. It was probably the last show of fealty or composure that Svein would get out of him for the foreseeable future.
“Hilmir Estur,” he greeted, “A pleasure to meet you again.”
“Are we sure it’s been a year since the last time I saw you, Bregðask?” Ivan laughed,his clean shaven face jovial and his brown eyes sparkling with mirth, “You’ve hardly grown!”
He chuckled, “It really has been that long.”
Ivan nodded and looked at Svein, “Come, you must be tired from the journey, and we have much to discuss.”
“Where can his things be taken?” Svein asked.
“My men will show the way,” Ivan said and looked at Gardar, “You’re a native of Bjørn are you not, Gardar? Perhaps you could take the young þjóðann on a tour while we speak?”
“Sounds great,” Gardar said in a tone that Svein couldn’t quite figure out.
Gardar took Bregðask by the shoulders and led him away from the dock and into town.
“Thank you, Ivan. I won’t forget this favor,” Svein said solemnly.
“Nonsense,” he said, “You are not the first hilmir to send his son to Bjørn in hopes to effect some change on him. Though, I am quite curious as to what issue you are trying to resolve with Bregðask. Your þjóðann always seemed years ahead of his contemporaries and more level headed than men several times his age.”
He worried his lip, “There are a few concerns.”
“So long as it is nothing that will endanger my people, I am happy to help.”
Svein shook his head, “Bregðask’s presence here will not endanger your people, I can promise you that.”
Gardar led Bregðask through the town pointing out places in a jovial tone, but the longer they walked the more the reality sunk in.
Svein would be leaving him on Bjørn for some undetermined amount of time and it didn’t seem like it would be just a few months but years.
“…the forge master could probably use the help. No doubt the hilmir is putting him through his paces this time of year with the raiders and pirates.”
Bregðask watched people mill about as Gardar went on to explain that Bjørn was currently at war with Mjöllnir. The two were connected by a strait, but Mjöllnir had long been staunchly against any island of the Rekkr Vinfengi and had been trying to take over Bjørn for years by treaty or by force.
The former hilmir had tried to strike a deal but had died during negotiations. As far as Gardar knew, Mjöllnir was to blame and that had set off a new conflict between the two islands.
The blacksmith, Becca Gonnor, did most of the machining for the army and was always busy in between defending the roads and making sure that the merchant ships were well armed.
“It’ll be good practice for you and probably put some meat on your bones from all the lifting,” he chuckled, “Odin knows, you’ll be busier here than you ever were on Calder.”
“To make the time pass?”
Gardar chuckled nervously, but Bregðask didn’t need him to admit it to know the truth.
He would be on Bjørn until he could legally leave on his own.