Before he’d swam very far, he felt the ocean grow thick, It held him in place as his heart hammered in his chest. Fearfully, he waited until she walked over the surface of the water to look down at him.
“Your name,” she said.
He met her gaze, “Bregðask.”
She narrowed her eyes as they turned white and then returned to a deep brown.
She smiled, “A pleasure to meet you, Soren.”
He frowned. The name pricked at something at the back of his mind.
“What did you call me?”
“You will find out in time,” she chuckled and pat the top of his wet hair, “And we will meet again. Stay brave until then.”
She turned. Water swirled up from the belly of the ship and carried several chests of treasure into a rowboat. The water relaxed around him and lifted him into the boat with the treasure.
“I have no need for treasure and neither do the dead. Consider it payment.”
With a wave, she sent the little boat rocking back towards the shore. Bregðask watched her walk back to the pirate’s boat. The currents turned the ship east and carried it forward.
I hope she’s going home.
How long had she been away from home? Did she have a family who had been waiting for her to return? He smiled and hoped so. The boat rocked until it reached the side of the still burning boat and another wave carried his bow into the boat before washing the fires out of the merchant’s ship.
The men on the shore cheered as Bregðask relaxed in the boat, panting and thankful that he didn’t have to kill anyone else. He shook his head free of the sight of the men’s bodies jerking, their eyes widening and staring into eternity as their bodies collapsed. Had any of them realized that they had died before their bodies gave out? Had they felt any of it?
Bregðask felt sick and shuddered as his little boat reached the shore not too far from the remains of the docks as the remnants of the merchant’s boat was pulled into the harbor. He got out of the boat and pulled it ashore as men ran over to him including the leader of the harbor defense. He was soaked, clammy, and his hands were still shaking, but he smiled at the men.
“What the fuck happened?”
He chuckled, “I think I made a friend… and those pirates weren’t from Mjöllnir.”
He frowned, “But the flag.”
“They were from the Mediterranean, the ship was either stolen or given, I’m not sure. Either way, they’re dead.”
“And their mage?”
“Going home,” Bregðask smiled and turned to the rowboat and treasure chests, “She, uh, left all this… You could probably use some of it to repair the docks.”
The leader frowned, and in the distance, he saw Kjeld and an older man tending the injured they pulled from the ship. Other men, pulled chests and supplies from the ship as the rowboats continued to return to shore.
“By the gates of Asgard…”
Bregðask turned and his jaw dropped open at the chest of treasure that filled with precious jewels and gold from all over the world.
“We’ll take it to the hilmir and see what he wishes to do with it,” The leading man closed the chest. He turned to Bregðask and placed a hand on his shoulder, “Are you alright?”
He nodded, “I will be.”
Bregðask turned at Kjeld’s voice as he came over.
“Dugrforingi!” The men addressed and Bregðask winced.
“Viggo,” Kjeld frowned at the leading man then looked at Bregðask, “What are you doing out here?”
Bregðask grimaced, but Viggo interceded, “You know this young man?”
Kjeld quirked an eyebrow, “I do. Is there something I should know?”
“He’s the main reason we were able to pull the ship in as whole as it is. We owe Freyr a great debt.”
Kjeld’s eyes widened, “Let me guess… magic?”
“I bet you’re at the top of your class on Freyr,” Viggo grinned clapping him on the shoulder, “A Viking heart this kid. To think, I almost sent you off the docks! I’m sorry for being so quick to judge, lad.”
“It’s okay. I’m used to it, but I’m not actually from Freyr,” Bregðask said and then looked up at Kjeld, “And I’d appreciate it if certain parties would remain unaware of this incident?”
Kjeld chuckled and shrugged, “I didn’t see anything, but on Bjørn, there are certain customs that must be observed. For now, I’ll report to the hilmir what’s happened and that everyone has apparently made it out alive thanks to a mysterious mage. Get these chests up to the Great Hall as we’ll convene there. Viggo, be ready to report within the hour.”
“As always,” he said and looked at Bregðask, “You did a great thing today. I hope we see more of you.”
Bregðask smiled nervously, “T-Thank you.”
It felt warm and balmy soothing places he didn’t realize were hurting, but the feeling was short-lived as the memory resurfaced: he’d killed twelve men today without much by way of hesitation.
Kjeld looked at Bregðask as if he knew something that Bregðask couldn’t voice and took him by the shoulder, “Why don’t you come with me? We’ll finish the cleanup, and then, you can get a decent bath. That hut has to be terrible.”
Bregðask nodded as the other men saluted and hurried to do Kjeld’s bidding. Bregðask followed him back towards the docks to help as much as he could with binding minor wounds using the little bit of healing magic he could manage to perform and hauling the remnants of the ship on shore. It looked like pure wreckage, but the cargo had remained intact.
“Calia will be glad for that,” Kjeld chuckled, “At the least, she’ll actually rest.”
“Will they all be okay?” Bregðask asked watching men and women be carried into the town.
Kjeld nodded, “With time. Come on.”
He returned the bow he’d borrowed to the barrel on the remnants of the docks and followed Kjeld up the hill to his home. They entered the small home and Bregðask sighed. Waterlogged, he was grateful for the chance to take off his squishy shoes and socks so they could dry.
“I’m sure there’s something around here that won’t fit too badly.”
He snorted, “I doubted, you’re several inches taller and broader than me.”
Kjeld’s lips twitched, “You’d be surprised.”
He produced a set of clothes and directed him to the bathtub over the low burning fire. Bregðask pumped water into the tub and let it heat before climbing in with a sigh. He wasn’t cold exactly, the cold seawater had actually been rather refreshing.
The jerk of the mage’s body played through his mind again, and he forced it away.
I had to, he thought, He would have killed everyone on the boat.
Then the other crewman, the steersman appeared screaming and falling to the deck.
I had to.
Would he have shot down everyone on the boat if she hadn’t been there? What were the lives of twelve pirates for the life of a whole crew? A whole island? They’d made their choices when they became pirates.
Death was an occupational hazard.
Not mine, his stomach churned and his eyes burned. It wasn’t my decision.
No matter what his reasons, good, bad, or mediocre, he’d taken their lives. The wu of Mazu had sneered at the thought of the other mage, but what if they were in the same boat? Both captured by the pirates and forced to do things for their freedom or well being? What if the man had a family somewhere waiting for him to come home? The steersman? The other crew members?
Don’t think about it, Bregðask… no other Viking would.
He shuddered at the thought and pushed it away as well. He wasn’t a Viking, not truly. He wondered how his mother would feel about it, how Hilda would look at him now that he’d killed.
Without hesitation, he thought, With ease.
Was he a killer by nature? Was that part of being a Viking or some other instinct connected to the mysterious Ketill tribe or being a bregðaskyldr?
She would have killed them as soon as you freed her. They were bound to die, he told himself, Whether by your arrow or not.
The steersman’s eyes had been the color of the sky staring up as his body collapsed as if to ask why. Bregðask stared into the memory of each of the men’s eyes losing light, their bodies falling to the deck and barely bouncing from the impact.
He could hear Ulfarr and the rest of the goðar chanting, condemning him.
He can’t be trusted!
He’s gotten a taste of blood, what’s to stop him from wanting more?
It’s not true, he thought, I don’t want to kill anyone.
You never have before but you seemed adept at it, something hissed, Maybe it’s that monstrous instinct.