Hilda carried the plate with her out of Bregðask’s room and carried it downstairs to the kitchen smiling. She walked out the back door and up the familiar path to where they would meet and found her there, pacing, nervous as always with a full basket settled on top of a rock. She’d lowered her face covering and hood and paced nervously with long strides.
She looked no older than she had when she’d been forced to leave Calder. It was amazing that the years away had not changed a single bit about her. Valka Eldinghögg had been a thrilling mystery on the Ørlǫg Raun floor, but she’d become one of the best things to happen to Calder when she’d married Svein, no matter what the rest of the Calder believed.
She’d expanded Svala’s medical library as well as the library of Calder, forced Svein to be a better man by virtue of being so kind to even the people who fear her. She’d been everything a hilmir should have been.
And it had all been wasted on Calder.
“He takes after you.”
Valka turned and smiled, “Hello, Hilda.”
“How long can you stay?”
“As long as I need to,” Valka sighed, “How is Soren?”
She smiled at the name, “Let’s have a seat, hm?”
Hilda sat down on the edge of the cliff, and Valka sat down beside her.
“I understand why he remained here,” she said, “But I am not sure how much longer he can remain here.”
It had been a long time since the hatred of the Ketill Tribe had been at its peak. There was still distrust of them, but it wasn’t so bad any longer. Then, there was the issue of Calder’s fighting force and ties to Ketill. Baring the political issues that could arise if it ever got out that Bregðask was also of the Ketill Tribe, there weren’t many other reasons for him to remain on Calder. Most of Calder knew that Svein had married a Ketill woman and had a child, but no other island. Hilda was pretty sure it was the only secret on the archipelago that was being well-kept.
“What’s happened?” Her eyes narrowed.
“Your son is a rather accomplished mage, and now, Svein knows it,” Hilda leaned back on her palms with a smirk, “So do the goðar and a few representatives of magical engineering companies… He cast a spell in the middle of a meeting because my brother is a selfish ass.”
Valka chuckled at that, “I take it that didn’t go over well.”
“Of course not, he’s sentenced him to rounds of physical raining thinking it’ll keep his mind off magic.”
“I never was attracted to him because of his brain,” she chuckled wryly, “But it won’t hurt Soren at all. If anything, it may help things along. Is there anything else I should know?”
“He’s an aspiring magical engineer and wants to study in Freyr….He also plans to look for you as soon as he’s twenty.”
She smiled, “He won’t have to.”
Hilda nodded, “I didn’t think he would.”
“Thank you, Hilda.”
“I know how hard these years must have been for you… As hard as it’s been on him, but it’s almost over, and he will understand why things have been the way they are,” their eyes met in the darkness, “ Also, his eyes glow the way yours do when he’s furious.”
She chuckled, “Will he be at the European Summit again this year?”
“I should think so. He hasn’t grown much.”
“It will come. Sooner than you think, especially if he is using magic now. Has he gotten stronger?”
Hilda hummed, “I can’t speak to that, but Gardar has no complaints about him in the forge.”
Valka hummed, “It’s coming. You’ll have to keep an eye on him if you can. He will be going through changes soon, and maybe they’ve already begun.”
Hilda snorted, “Soren is not so hard to keep an eye on.”
“You would be surprised. How have you been?”
Hilda sighed and shook her head. She knew that Valka was asking after her emotional state, but wasn’t sure what to say.
“I miss him… more than I can say. I miss them both, but I know they would want me here watching over Soren until it was time.”
She nodded and turned her head.
“Do you hear something?”Hilda asked, even though she heard nothing.
“Svein,” Valka stood up, drew her hood and lifted her face covering, “Until next time.”
Hilda nodded, “Of course. Safe flight.”
She took a running leap off the cliff. Large dark wings swooped beneath her and carried her off into the night. Hilda watched her fly away as a proud silhouette standing on top of a dragon, unbothered by the wind. She couldn’t wait to see Bregðask stand that tall, that proud, that sure in himself.
Look out for what?
She hummed and moved closer to the basket as the hurried footsteps began to grow louder.
“She’s already gone,” Hilda said as he broke the tree line.
Svein cursed and looked at her, “How long has this been going on?”
“For as long as necessary,” Hilda said, “He is only half Calder Viking, Svein.”
He grit his teeth, “She left him here.”
Left me here went unsaid, but Hilda could feel it, and it pissed her off even more than his arrogance. Their father had left Calder for Odin’s hall for reasons beyond their understanding. Her husband had left them for Odin’s hall in service to Calder. Their younger brother left them for Odin’s hall in service to his people. Valka’s brother had left his people and his family for Odin’s hall to protect people who hated him.
Svein had forced her to leave by cowardice and fear and had the nerve to cling to their legal marriage as a tie.
“She no more left him than Stern left me.”
His eyes widened, and he looked away from her, sheepish and maybe shamed for a change. It would serve him right. Hilda couldn’t wait for the day that it was safe enough for Bregðask to leave the archipelago freely. It had been the plan all along as it was clear that Svein’s pride would never simply accept that Bregðask was not like any other Viking he’d ever known. He was his son, but he was also a son of the Ketill tribe.
A child of two worlds destined to do great things.
“He is my son.”
“Does he know that?” Hilda stood up and took the basket with her, “It will be a hard day when you realize all the mistakes you’ve made could have been avoided if you just had a spine.”
“What did you say to me?”
“Being brave is not facing a dragon, not running into war– it’s not duty. It’s doing what is right in spite of what everyone is saying,” he flinched as she met his gaze, “You and I both know you haven’t been brave in a very long time.”
His eyes darted to the basket in her arms, but there was nothing for him to be suspicious about. She and Valka had been trading a pair of baskets back and forth for years to share news, photos, and gifts for Bregðask aside from their letters. As far as he would be able to tell, it was the basket she took to market every week.
She walked back to the house and left him with his thoughts. She stopped in the kitchen to grab a spook and headed upstairs to peak in on Bregðask. He wasn’t in his room, but she heard the splash of water in the small washroom in his room.
She looked through the basket and pulled out a small jar of pudding. She placed it on his desk on top of Svein’s draft speech and a spoon before heading back to her own room.
Once there, she opened the basket and took a look at what she’d dropped off. As usual, there were plenty of glass jars filled with Ketill pudding, one of the only things that Valka knew how to make well, and a few other things. One was a bound sketchbook wrapped with a bow and a set of pencils. If she tilted the book, there was the faint impression of an old map of the seas north of Norway including the Áseldaskáli Archipelago. There was a collection of small books of magic and a few other things. She stowed them in her small closet with her own birthday gift for him.
A knock sounded on her door, and she turned her head. Closing her closet, she turned to the door, “Come in.”
Bregðask leaned into her room with the glass jar and spoon.
“Can we talk?”
She smiled at him, “Always.”
He came in, closed the door behind him, and sat down at the small table.
“Would you like some?” he asked as he opened the jar.
“Absolutely not,” she chuckled, “I’ve eaten more of that pudding than I care to admit.”
He chuckled at that and scooped a spoonful into his mouth as she took a seat, “Could you… tell me something?”
“Just about anything if I know it.”
“This pudding… it’s from her, isn’t it?”
“My mother,” his eyes slid up slowly from the table to meet hers.
“And she is from Asketill, isn’t she?”
She swallowed, “What makes you think that?”
Bregðask scoffed, “The years of sneering, mostly. Svein kind of confirmed it. The jars are completely unmarked, but the fabric used for the cooling spell isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before on Calder or anywhere in the archipelago. Then, there are the books that you always give me for my birthday, which definitely aren’t from anywhere but the Nordic, magic-using north– kind of an obvious sign.”
“I just want to know if she’s perhaps nearer than I think.”
“She is for the most part,” Hilda said, “She would part the sea if you needed her.”
“If I showed you something, could you confirm something for me?”
She frowned but nodded. He set his spoon down and pulled out a small notebook from his pocket. He opened it, flipped it to a page, and offered it to her. She took it hesitantly and gasped seeing the face staring at her from the page.
“It’s a beautiful drawing. How did you do this?”
Bregðask smiled, his eyes bright and hopeful, “That is her, isn’t it?”
“It is,” she said, “Have you ever seen a photo of her before?”
She knew for sure that Svein had destroyed every painting and picture of Valka in the house that he could soon after it was obvious that she wasn’t coming back. She also knew how much he’d regretted it.
He shook his head, “I… get these visions sometimes, sometimes I’m awake, and sometimes I’m not, but she’s usually in them.”
“Do you mind?”
He shook his head, “Not at all. Please. You’re the only one who seems willing to answer my questions… Even Gardar’s been quiet about it.”
That wasn’t surprising. Valka’s departure from Calder carried with it wounds for Gardar as well. She flipped and watched other versions of Valka’s face go by on the pages, there were words scribbled hastily in the margins, and then, she stopped at the most recent page. Valka with her face covered in the way of her people sitting on her favorite cliff pregnant at sunset.
“Where did you see this?”
Bregðask leaned over to see what she meant, “A memory, an impression, or something like it just a few days ago.”
She hummed, “I see.”
“Do you see her often?”
Hilda sighed, “As often as she manages to come to Calder, but we keep in contact. She sends your messages to me as I send your messages to her with our letters.”
“Why…” He worried his lip, “Why hasn’t she come for me?”
Hilda frowned, “Why do you think?”
“I haven’t made up my mind,” he said, “I thought once that she didn’t want me, but that doesn’t feel right…I thought maybe that she couldn’t for some reason…Can she?”
Hilda smirked, “Your mother could do anything she pleased by might alone and there wouldn’t be anything that Calder or the Rekkr Vinfengi could do, but she knows that if she took that route, all the work her people have done to not be seen as monsters, to make the world better for mages and skyldr would be wasted.”
“It’s that serious?”
“There are places in the world that would try to kill you for being a mage. Let alone being a skyldr. Mad men who see dragons as nothing but evil creatures or weapons and skyldr as agents of death…” She shook her head, “Calder nearly burned to the ground because of ideology like that. The Ketill tribe has long been at the forefront of getting people to understand dragons and magic in general as a part of the world to be respected rather than used for ill gains. It’s a long fight, but one she believes in… mostly because of you.”
“What mother doesn’t want a better, safer world for their children?” He nodded hesitantly and she smiled, “I know the years have been hard on both of you. They’ll come to an end soon, and I can guarantee that it isn’t because she doesn’t want to come and take you home with her. What do you think we talk about other than you?”
He looked up at her warily as if he was afraid of the answer.
She met his gaze ad spoke firmly, “Your mother loves you. She thinks about you all the time, and every moment that she can spare is spent watching over you.”
“It’s nice to know there’s a real reason that I’m so different.”
Hilda chuckled, “You could say that, but I wouldn’t call you all that different.”
He snorted,“I’m left-handed, even after all these years of using my right hand in public, I still reach for everything with my left. I can do magic.”
Hilda laughed, “To be fair, dear, no one expected you to go looking for magical texts to study by let alone to be so accomplished at it.”
She shook her head, “But I suppose your mother did.”
“Will I ever get to meet her?”
You already have, she hummed, “Yes, soon.”
He nodded, “Then… I should… stay strong, I guess.”
Hilda kissed his temple, “You’re already stronger and braver than men several times your age.”
His eyes widened.
“You don’t see it yet, but you will.”
He nodded slowly.
“I just want to be like everyone else. To belong,” Bregðask sighed, world-weary and too old for his age Hilda remained quiet as he buried his face in his hands, “But that’s never been the case, has it?”
“I think you belong wherever you choose to,” she tilted her head, “How long have you been wanting to ask me?”
He threw his hands up, “Forever, but a certain someone was always in the house!”
She frowned, “How do you know your father isn’t in the house?”
“I can hear him,” he said tilting his head, “I heard him running through the forest towards the cliff you went to.”
“You… can hear that far?”
He nodded, “It’s really windy tonight, or I could have heard a lot more. I assume that you met with her.”
She frowned at that. There had been wind, but not that much where she had been. Then she thought about the rustling of the trees and how loud they seemed.
It seemed that Valka was far more in tune with the changes that Bregðask was going through that she first thought, but she would still have to ask about what other changes Hilda should be looking out for in him.
“Finish your pudding, and let’s get to bed before he gets back.”
Bregðask continued eating, seeming more relaxed and headed to bed with a thank you, his notebook pressed to his chest and a smile.