Love and War – Chapter 1: The Stranger
I have decided to post my Viking Siren story in its entirety here, as well as ko-fi. If you enjoy this story and want to leave a small donation, you can do so here.
Dusk was falling over the village. The nighttime predators would soon make their way out of the trees toward any unwatched cattle or sheep. Many villagers were making their way into their homes with their livestock.
One teenage girl, however, ran haphazardly around the grazing area, trying to wrangle one errant pig that evaded her grasp.
“Come on, you stupid beast!” she called after it. “Come on inside before the wolves find you!”
Sweat glistened on the girl’s brown skin even though the night had a chill in its breeze. She ran as fast as her legs would take her, diving toward the escapee. The pig veered to the left at the last minute and the girl fell into a patch of mud, streaking her thick blouse and skirt with black dirt.
“Revna!” she heard her father call. “I said catch the pig, not become one! He’s getting into the forest!”
Revna raised her head, her black braids falling over her narrowed brown eyes. She pushed herself up to her feet with a growl and took off toward the darkening trees. “I’ll get him, Father,” Revna called over her shoulder. “Don’t worry.”
She sprinted toward the tree line and slowed to a stop when she reached the shadows of the spruces, oaks, and birches. The dim light of the setting sun barely touched the forest floor, which felt spongy and soft with brown needles under her feet. The songs of large birds—were they ravens? Crows?—echoed over her head, and an occasional snap of a twig made her stop in her tracks.
“Here pig,” she said in a loud whisper, putting one hand beside her mouth to amplify her voice while she grasped her thick cloak closer around her. “We need to leave this place, let’s go!”
She walked further into the darkness, her legs becoming shaky and unstable. She tripped over a large root and caught herself on the rough bark of an oak tree, scraping her hand and wrist. She straightened up and shook her hand, squinting through the darkness to find the runaway.
Off in the distance, she heard the snap of loud twigs and scared scuttling. She heard no growls or any sign of wolves or bears. Most likely the stupid pig had found itself in a bramble bush. She frowned and made her way deeper into the woods toward the sound.
When she came upon where she swore she heard it, she saw nothing. Aside from the cackling bird’s calls, the forest was silent, offering no clue where the pig had gotten to.
A creeping, prickling sensation spread across the back of Revna’s neck. She slowly turned around and surveyed the dense trees. She had been so consumed with finding the pig that she couldn’t remember which way she had come from. She searched her mind, trying to think of seeing any sort of marker—a creek, a unique tree, a large rock. Nothing came to her.
Revna’s breath came in shallow spurts. She forced herself to slow it, trying to will herself to stay calm. She hadn’t walked far. The edge of the forest had to be close by.
She began walking, taking care to break large needle covered twigs of spruces just as her father taught her to do if she ever became lost. In front of her, she saw a ridge rising in the waning light. If she could get to the top, maybe she could see the tree line.
She made her way closer, trying to walk lightly on her feet. She felt the ground slope up and she leaned forward, reaching out with her hands to steady herself against the trees.
She was nearly at the top of the ridge when she heard the growl.
Revna stopped in her tracks and turned to her right. Just at the brow of the ridge, glaring down at her, was a large wolf with bloody hackles raised. Just beyond it was the familiar pink skin of what it left of her missing pig.
“Easy there,” Revna breathed, feeling every limb shake. “I’ll just be going on.”
She took a step back, and the wolf advanced forward slowly. Its grating growl rumbled in Revna’s ears and she took another step back.
She misjudged her step and fell backward, hitting her shoulder on a large tree as she rolled. She heard the snap of the wolf and quickly pushed herself to her feet, her shoulder searing in pain. She loosened her cloak and let it go, hoping to create a diversion. The wolf veered off to attack the cloak, giving her a small advantage. She ran as fast as she could, hearing the creature lose interest in the cloak already and start to run again. Around her, she heard more snapping, more barking. The whole bleeding pack was here.
Revna took her chance and grabbed a large limb of a sprawling oak, hoisting herself up despite the searing pain in her injured shoulder. She got her feet up just as two huge wolves found their way to the tree. She could feel their hot breath on her ankles as she pulled her legs away just in time. She grabbed the next branch above her head and pulled herself up, thankful for once that her father never shied away from giving his daughter the hard work on the farm.
As she climbed higher into the tree, she looked down at the ground below. The wolves were circling, watching her with growls and snaps. Revna felt tears welling up in her eyes. She willed herself to keep control—crying wouldn’t solve anything.
She leaned against the trunk of the tree, taking deep breaths, trying to think of anything that would solve her problem. The wolves took turns trying to jump up the tree. Revna felt the energy draining from her body. She began saying a prayer to Odin that he would call off the snarling dogs below.
Just when she started to lose hope, she heard a voice saying something in a language that she didn’t know, and a blaze of blue fire lit the base of the tree. Revna watched in awe and fear as the wolves yelped and hopped back, taking small leaps toward the flames and then leaping away. Finally, one wolf ran off, the others following shortly after.
When the wolves had been gone for a few moments, the blue flames died down. Revna didn’t dare move. She watched the ground below, waiting for an answer as to what had just happened.
After a moment, a tall figure stepped into view. It was hard to make out in the dark, but Revna could see blond hair and cloaks of white fur. She pressed herself against the trunk of the tree as the woman looked up at her; her pale skin glistened in the rising moonlight as she watched Revna.
“Are you planning on staying up there for the rest of the night, girl? Or did you want to come down?”
“What are you?” Revna called down, not budging from her limb.
“I’m the one that just saved you,” the woman called up. “I promise I wouldn’t have bothered if I intended to do you harm.”
Revna took another deep breath and took a step down to the limb below her. Slowly, she lowered herself down and clambered until she was at the last limb. She dropped to the ground, her knees giving way as she did, and she landed on her hands in the spongy pine needles, the force of her palm hitting the ground sending jolts of pain into her injured shoulder.
She pushed herself to her feet for the third time that evening and looked at the woman standing in front of her. She was a large woman, tall and strongly built. Her blond hair was braided to one side and her light blue eyes seemed to shine in the moonlight. Revna could tell that this stranger was only a few years older than herself.
“There,” the woman said. “You’re safe now. But hurt,” she added, frowning at Revna’s shoulder. “I can fix that.”
“What do you mean?” Revna asked, her eyes widening as she backed away from the woman’s outstretched hand.
The woman sighed with impatience. “I mean, I can heal your injury, girl. Do you wish to carry it with you through these woods?”
Revna just stared at the woman, who placed her hand on Revna’s shoulder and muttered more words that Revna was not familiar with. All at once, the pain in her shoulder stopped.
Revna looked down at her shoulder and then back to the woman. “How—”
“Healing is not my specialty, of course. Battle is. But I can manage a little of it.”
Revna shook her head, confusion and trepidation clouding her mind. “Who are you? You’re blessed with the gifts of the gods, but you appear to me to be a mortal.”
“I am something much older than human. But there’s no fret; I pose no risk to you, as you should plainly see by now.”
Revna looked down at her muddy, scraped hands, her dirty skirt and her blouse torn from her climb up the tree.
“My name is Revna, daughter of Njal. I live on the farm outside of this forest. I’ve lost my way and I know my mother and father must be sick with worry.”
“I see,” the woman said. “I know every inch of these woods. I can lead you back home. Follow me.”
Revna hesitated. Did she dare test her luck with this stranger that could wield fire in the woods? What would her other option be? Wait for the wolves?
The woman, who had started walking, turned to Revna again. “Are you coming with me? Or do you wish to wait for the bears to find you as well?”
Revna made up her mind and followed the stranger.
They walked in silence for a while. As the darkness grew around them, Revna shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. She was willed herself to stop shivering, telling herself it was not cold enough. As she focused on steadying her shaking body, there was a nudge at her shoulder.
“Here,” the stranger said, stopping to hand Revna the white fur cloak.
“Oh. I’m fine,” Revna said, putting her hands up.
“I can hear your teeth chattering in your skull, child. I have no need for this one. Take it.”
Revna took the cloak in a gentle fashion and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was blissfully warm and the weight of it also acted to comfort Revna.
“Thank you,” she said to the woman.
The woman nodded and continued walking.
“So, you work on a farm,” the woman said after a while.
Revna looked at her for a moment, then back down at her feet as she walked. “Yes, with my parents.”
“Is that what you intend to do forever?”
“Yes, sort of. I’ll be married soon enough, and my husband will help me tend to the livestock and the crops.”
The woman was silent again, and then she looked over to Revna. “Are you engaged already?”
“No,” Revna said, stepping around a large root that she could only just make out. “But the day will come soon enough that my father will start looking.”
“Hmm,” the woman hummed, shrugging her shoulders.
“What?” Revna asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“It seems nice to have your life laid out in predictability.”
“Does it?” Revna asked.
The woman looked at her over her shoulder. “Doesn’t it?”
Revna sighed. “To be honest, I wish to travel with the Austmen that journey to new lands. I always told my father that I wanted to learn to sail, and to build the boats that explore the seas.”
“My only daughter will be here for me to cherish every day until the day I die,” Revna said, mimicking her father’s voice.
“It sounds like you have a loving father. It may feel a little suffocating, but I would appreciate him.”
“Fathers have to love their daughters,” Revna huffed.
“No, not all daughters are afforded that luxury.”
Revna couldn’t miss the note of bitterness in the woman’s voice. She felt a pang of guilt for her statement.
She cleared her throat. “Do you live in the woods?”
The woman laughed. “No, though I spend enough time in them. I live in a nearby village. The woods bring me solitude, though. My mind is clearest when I am listening to the conversations of the birds or the elk.”
Revna smiled. “That does sound lovely. I would like to take it as advice, but we see how well my journey into the woods fared.”
“Ah, yes, humans are more prone to death than us. I can handle the more brutal side of nature. It never touches me.”
Revna noticed she could see patches of starry skies above them as the trees thinned. Soon enough, they were at the edge of the trees. Revna never thought she would be so happy to see the fires burning in her home as she was at that moment.
She turned to the woman. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said.
The woman looked at her with an unreadable expression. “Live happily and cherish your life. That’s enough for me.”
Revna was bemused by the answer. But she nodded and said, “I’ll be sure to. Will you ever be back in this area?”
“I come around here from time to time. When I’m not traveling.”
“Well, perhaps you can come by before supper one night. My father may not want me to leave this house, but he loves hearing stories of those that travel.”
The woman smiled, and Revna thought it was as beautiful as the moon itself. “Perhaps I shall. I enjoy telling stories.”
The woman turned to walk back into the woods.
“Wait,” Revna said. “Will you tell me your name?”
The woman stopped and turned to Revna, watching her again with that unreadable expression.
“Some other time,” she answered. With that, she disappeared into the darkness of the trees.