But If I Hold My Breath

Bregðask woke up feeling lighter than he had in a long time every day for the next week. He suspected that it was partially because of his conversation with Hilda. As Svein promised, Alek and Sordlak arrived every morning since their last conversation to attempt to run him ragged. He outran them on a bad day, so this full of energy, he ran laps around them on the track and ran across town back to the Harvard clan house in time to shower, change, and eat breakfast.

It was the morning of Friggdøgr, on the day most of the world  knew as Valentine’s Day. While Calder didn’t celebrate Vali’s Feast, they had somehow picked up a vague Valentine’s Day tradition of exchanging gifts over the years. It was usually only celebrated among kids as teenagers had generally already been stuffed full of Calder traditions.

The day before, he’d spent a solid three hours in the afternoon locked in single combat with Eira talking Shakespeare and letting her vent about how perfectly ruined the play would have been if their professor had gone through with it rather than cancel it and replace it with a performance of an epic poem since Eira’s male lead hadn’t had the decency to learn his lines.

“I’d apologize,” Bregðask said, “But I’m not responsible for him.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to anyway.”

He’d agreed but would have listened to her rant during a mock battle any day of the week. She tore the callouses on her right hand, and he could barely remember treating her hand, just that he had and sent her home with a jar of healing salve and a nervous smile.

He could have used magic, but he thought it would be to keep some things underwraps as much as possible.

He fresh from a bath,  he bounded down stairs.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Hilda said as he kissed her cheek and thanked her for holding on to his package from the Njall courier.

“Happy Valentine’s Day and thanks, Aunt Hilda,” he waved goodbye, chugged his cup of milk, crammed breakfast into his mouth, and rushed out of the house, still wet from his bath.  

With any luck, the package was filled with the final pieces of the healing kista he’d designed. He had to wait until his lunch break to open it in his little section of the eating hall. Dvalarr was out of class for half the day, studying with his father about Njall trading routes, which gave Bregðask some time to himself and plenty of space to work without disturbing anyone on the stone risers that occupied the east side of the eating hall.

He opened the package and grinned. It looked like everything was there. From his bag, he pulled out his schematic and began to take stock of everything. When he was sure that it was all accounted for, he began to slot the pieces of wood together leaving enough space for the stones to fit in between each piece.

Across the hall, he heard snickering laughter. He felt something prick the base of his neck and leaned just barely out of the way as a practice ax went flying by and landed with a solid thunk in the wall behind him. Bregðask looked up briefly at Sigfrøðr as he came towards him.

He looked down at the stones and wood and went back to work, but Sigfrøðr seemed interested in bothering him, so it was quickly scooped up out of his hands and thrown across the room. It broke apart against the wall and Bregðask only looked up at Sigfrøðr.

He would have asked if that was necessary, but he’d long learned that sarcasm was lost on Sigfrøðr. He swiped Bregðask’s schematic and looked at it with an almost flippant smile that soon turned disinterested.

“My dad says that the hilmir is taking me to the Þing in a few months rather than you.”

“Yes, I was informed, and I’m glad for it.”

Sigfrøðr flinched at Bregðask’s tone, and then his eyes narrowed as he shoved Bregðask’s shoulder and crumbled the schematic in his hand, “What?”

After the announcement in the Great Hall about the upcoming summer feast a few nights prior, Svein told Bregðask that he wanted his speeches and notes for the Þing, the European and International Summit at least drafted before the next day. Whether Svein saw it as some sort of training exercise, punishment, or bonding, Bregðask never figured it out, but at least when he was expected to be writing, Svein was more prone to leave him alone about trying to train with the two well-known, half-crazed veterans who really needed a good cup of tea, a hug, and to be far away from where anything crazy could ever happen again. He was still looking into potential ways to help those two not be so jumpy.

Bregðask walked around him and kneeled to try and gather the pieces together.

“I have no interest in being around all those hyper-masculine Vikings, so enjoy it, and if you could convince him to take you to the European Summit too, that would be great. After all, you’ve got to get used to all the people,” Bregðask scooped all the pieces he could manage into his hands and returned them to the stone bench with a smile, “I’ll just be here biding my time.”

“Until what? Cause if you think you have a chance at–”

“Oh, not at all, never crossed my mind in the slightest,” Bregðask laughed and counted the pieces. There were a few missing still, “I just need to be twenty, so I can leave Calder forever.”

“What?” Sigfrøðr sneered, “Have you no pride? Running away like a coward!”

“Who said anything about running away? There’s nothing for me in Calder. You think I want to stay here? I’ll be just as happy–no, happier– when he stops avoiding the obvious and declares you the erfingi.”

Sigfrøðr grabbed him and pulled him off his feet with a sneer, “You making fun of me, bregða?

Bregðask held up his hands, “Not at all. You’re everything that Calder wants in a hilmir. Everything a Viking is. I know that, and I’ll never be that. Why stand in the way of what everyone wants when there are so many other places I could go?”

He smirked as Bregðask knew he would. Sigfrøðr’s ego was similar to his own father’s ego. A little praise went a long way.

“Really, I’m glad for you, Sigfrøðr. Calder will love you. Frigg, they do love you.”

Sigfrøðr glared at him, but dropped him to the ground with a laugh and a superior chuckled, “I don’t need you to tell me what I already know, bregða.”

He turned and kicked some of the pieces aside, “At least you know your place. Must be nice to be so pathetic that you have no aspirations. Such a meaningless life.”

Bregðask only stood up and dusted himself off, “If you say so.”

“I do say so.”

Bregðask shook his head and only grunted when Sigfrøðr tripped him and dropped his schematic on his head. As the other walked off laughing, Bregðask stood up, picked up his schematic, and shook his head before looking for the rest of the pieces that Sigfrøðr had kicked away. None of the pieces of wood had broken, so it was just a matter of assembling them. He found all but one stone and went searching for it under the stone risers near where Sigfrøðr had thrown it.

“Hello, Bregðask.”

He looked up from where he was trying to reach under the stone slabs and saw Eira. If the butterflies were barely fluttering at the sound of her voice, then they took flight through his body at the sight of her.

“Hey, Eira,” he said and tried to stand up, effectively banging his arm against the stone slab and sending a throbbing pain through his shoulder, For the love of–

He shook the thought away as he looked at her. She seemed different aside from the fresh bandage on her right hand. He was sure she’d done her hair differently, but he didn’t comment on that. The pain was subsiding, but he didn’t want her to punch him as he’d seen her punch other young men who had decided to comment on her appearance.

“Lovely day, we’re having.”

She laughed at the irony of it. It was freezing to most people outside, she was wrapped as though she was preparing for a blizzard, they still only had three or four hours of sunlight in the day.

“What happened?” Eira looked at the disassembled pieces on the stone bench, “You’re clumsy most days but not when you’re focused.”

He shrugged and began to smooth out his schematic. None of the ink had been damaged and the page was still fully in tact.

Has to be my lucky day.

“Sigfrøðr, but that’s not really important.”

Eira’s expression was just short of furious, but she kneeled and looked under the stone bench. When she stood up, she had the glowing blue gem he’d been trying to reach between her thumb and pointer finger.

“Is this what you were looking for?”

“Yes,” he said, “Thank you… short arms, what do you do?”

“Did he break it?” Eira asked, gesturing to the collection of pieces with the glowing stone in her hand.

“Well, it wasn’t finished so, I guess, technically not,” she glared at him, and he held up his hands in surrender, “But it’s not something that I can’t fix if he did.”

“I bet,” she said with a smile that Bregðask couldn’t understand.

She sat down beside him to Bregðask’s surprise as he went back assembling the pieces together according to his schematic. She leaned on one hand looking between the bow he was building and the piece in her hands as he worked. Her gaze seemed curious, but he couldn’t understand why. He hadn’t really figured out what her reasoning was for coming over to him in moments like this. He supposed she was just curious about what the weirdo of the island could be doing with random pieces of wood and glowing stones.

Each wood block was made of different kinds of wood courtesy of the latest trade ship that came through the archipelago. There were twenty-seven in all and each wood was known for being used in healing mixtures to keep wounds clean or purify. The gems were just as varied and used for the same purpose.

“What are you building anyway?” She asked inspecting the stone in her hand, “I’ve never seen a rock like this.”

“It’s a lotus stone,” Bregðask said glancing up at her hand.

“The rock, or what you’re building?”

“Oh, the rock,” he said, his lips twitching. “They’re not exactly hard to get it’s just that the archipelago doesn’t have any.”

“You haven’t answered my first question.”

“Oh… nothing major….”

“That’s not an answer,” she said, her blue eyes glinting like light off an ax, “If you’re planning on killing someone with it, don’t tell me.”

He flushed, “It’s… It’s for Aslog.”

Eira flinched at the name and looked at him. He thought he knew why until she asked, “How long have you been dating?”

He flushed, and his jaw dropped, “Oh, no! We’re not dating. It’s not that kind of gift.”

Eira tilted her head, “Meaning…?”

He scratched his head nervously, “It’s supposed to be a healing charm based on…”

His stomach clenched almost painfully and made him shut his mouth. The glare his father had given him flashed in his mind’s eye and turned his stomach. It was disgust and fear that lurked behind that stern expression. He wouldn’t have been able to handle it if that same look surfaced in Eira’s eyes.

“Never mind.”

Eira turned to him with her brow furrowed, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s not all that interesting. I’d rather not– I mean, we can talk about something else.”

Eira waited, “If I thought you were concerned about my ability to understand, I’d have punched you in the face by now.”

Bregðask’s cheeks burned, “I would never–”

“So I’m wondering if I should just punch you because you think I have nothing better to do than to waste my time on something that I’m not interested in for some undisclosed nefarious reason.”

Bregðask swallowed not really sure what to say to that and looked down at the half-built kista, “I’m sorry.”

Her eyes rolled, “You’re always apologizing.”

He lowered his gaze, “I seem to always be doing something wrong.”

There was something in the moment that felt like a dam about to break and pull him under. He was pretty sure she was going to knock his lights out like she did most people or say something scathing, but nothing happened. When he looked back up at her she seemed to simply be studying him. Her gaze met his and held it.

“Are you going to answer my question or not?”

“It’s a healing kista based on older healing texts and some research. It’s supposed to help her get better. I meant to finish it earlier, but it just took so long to get the pieces.”

“You think she can get better?”

Bregðask looked up at her and then back down to the half-finished box.

“We only know so much on Calder,” he hummed wishing that there was another way to say this that might not get him punched, “I think the world is too large to not look elsewhere for answers.”

He waited for the yelling, maybe a punch, maybe a snort of derision, as she wasn’t the only person he’d expressed his disbelief in the goðar’s supposedly supreme wisdom.

“…So, how does it work?”

Bregðask smiled and offered his hand to take the lotus stone from her, “I can show you if you’d like.”

She gave it to him, and Bregðask did his best not to shudder at the feeling of her calloused fingers against his own though she seemed surprised by it.

“What are your callouses from?”

Bregðask laughed as he placed the final stone and grabbed his etching knife and the special ink he’d made for this. After the last check that all the runes lined up properly, he dipped the knife in the ink and began to etch the runes onto the wood.

“Working in the forge isn’t the most glorious job, but it does come with a certain amount of injury.”

“Any cool scars?” Eira asked, “Injury stories?”

Bregðask’s lip twitched, “If by cool you mean bloody, yes.”

Eira grinned, “Well go on, tell me about it.”

Bregðask shook his head, “An ax came in during a robbery and caught me in the shoulder… Gardar was gone, and I was alone. Pretty sure I should have bled to death.”

As it stood, when he woke up men of Calder’s fighting forces were there hauling the burglars away, and he was perfectly fine.

“You must have the luck of the gods.”

He shrugged nonchalantly. The runes began to glow as he etched them with ink, and the ends of the wood pieces began to grow roots and join together around the gemstones until it looked like an ornately carved box and the runes floated across the bark.

“It’s beautiful…” she said as the light reflected in her eyes.

He grinned, “It works.”

Her brow furrowed and relaxed into awe as she looked at her bandaged hand. The wound glowed across her palm where she tore her callouses the day before. She unwrapped it slowly just as the wound completely closed leaving nothing but blood smeared across her palm.

She drew her hand across it and looked at Bregðask, “That’s amazing.”

Bregðask grinned and looked up as the bell rang signaling the end of the free period.

“I should get to my next class,” he said standing, “Uhm… thanks for sitting with me.”

She stood up, “I hope it works. I think we all miss her.”

Bregðask nodded, “Me too.”

“Are we still on next Thursday?”

“Uh yeah! If you’re not sick of me tripping over my own feet already?”

She shrugged, “At least you take it in stride.”

His lips twitched at that, something warm curling in his chest at the thought as he turned to leave.



“At the risk of you punching me,… your hair looks nice today.”

She seemed stunned, and Bregðask took the opportunity to flee into the slowly filling hallways the school’s compound and to his next class without looking back.

Please follow and like us:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.