"Betrothed," I said in a weak voice. My head spun and my eyes closed. No, I could not have another, not after Pétur. The curse would make sure of that. I had not thought that Stefán would really find me a husband, not so quickly after my arrival. I had no plans for one and Jón seemed as though he was not fond of the idea either.
Stefán gave a brisk nod. "You shall be married in the coming harvest."
Jón did not utter a single word in my presence. He turned quickly and left Stefán holding onto my arm. I watched him retreat, my heart swelling. This is what I wanted. The curse could not hurt him if he did not engage with me.
"I shall not ever have a husband," I informed Stefán in a low voice. I could not be responsible for the death of another man.
"Valdís, if you do not have a husband, you shall not have any means of living." Stefán let go of my arm and led me towards the edge of the village. "You will not have a home."
We stopped in front of an old, small building. The snow was piled against the door, causing Stefán to bend down and remove it. Once the path was clear, Stefán opened the door causing it to scream from years of disuse. I entered, expecting the inside to be damp, but it was quite dry.
"This is where you shall live until you are married."
Stefán quickly stepped toward the fireplace and pulled out his steel and flint. Light flooded the room, giving me my first look at my new home. A thick layer of dust covered the room. It was not anything to be impressed over, but it would do for me. No benches lined the walls as was normal, but instead a large table and chairs took up most of the space in front of the fireplace and of what space was on the other side was taken by a small bed.
"This house belonged to a woman who never married, she had died before I became chieftain," Stefán explained as he stood and walked back to the door.
"Why has it not been in use?" I asked as we left my house to go back to his. Darkness had already started to spread throughout the village.
"The woman was said to be a witch."
Stefán's words were simple but ominous, sending a chill through me. It would make sense to give the witch's house to the cursed woman.
Lára was waiting for us when we arrived at the house. Stefán kissed her cheek, but the woman did not smile like most would. Instead her eyes fell on me. "How did Jón react to the proposition?"
Stefán shook his head. "He did not agree with the idea. I explained that he must, but he fought still. He would not even speak to her." Stefán sat down and closed his eyes for a moment before looking at me. "He did not refuse; they shall be married at next harvest."
I did not enjoy the fact that they spoke as if I was not in the room. "I will refuse."
The wife turned to me, her brows slanted. "You cannot. The village needs this to happen; we must keep peace."
Lára's words hit me like a cold wind. How could I ever help keep the peace in a village which I just arrived in? Dread filled me. I had been responsible for many deaths, Pétur, Magnús, the other villagers who could not escape the monsters. Would my curse truly follow me here?
I swallowed and licked my parched lips before speaking. "What do you mean?"
The husband and wife exchanged looks. Stefán sat forward and propped his elbows on the table. "We need you to wed Jón so he does not ruin the peace I have made in this village. If you do not wed him, the outcomes could be much worse than we could have ever expected. I have seen this village get torn over much less than this."
I furrowed my brow not liking that Stefán would not come right out and tell me what he meant to say. "What do you mean?" I asked again.
"Jón is in love with a married woman. If he were to do anything to her, it would cause a rift in the village." Stefán sounded tired as he spoke. "Both Jón and Ragnar are highly thought of men."
"You wish for me to sacrifice my future for a man who is in love with another?" I asked, anger surging through my veins. "I shall never do such a thing!"
I turned away from the couple and left the house. Through the darkness I retraced the path Stefán and I had taken to my little house. The fire still burned bright as I slammed the door and entered further into the house. Dust flew from the bed as I flung myself onto it, inhaling the musky smell.
How could they dare to offer me as a sacrifice to that brute of a man? He loved another, meaning he would never love me no matter what happened. If you do not kill him before you can be wed, whispered a small, spiteful voice in the back of my mind. I shook my head and my stomach growled loudly. I had not eaten all day. Sitting up, I walked to the small mirror opposite my bed.
My appearance made me wonder if I was truly seeing myself. The girl in front of me was thin and tired. Her brown hair hung matted and lank down her back. Her eyes looked dead. This could not be me. I had been lovely, but now…
Tears rolled down my cheeks, but I roughly scrubbed them away. If not for the curse, I could have any man of my choosing. Boys had always wanted something from me, but it was never marriage. Not until Pétur.
I cried out as his reflection looked back at me. His face was long and handsome, his dark hair falling across his brow in a way that made one want to reach out and push it back. Blood seeped from the wound on his forehead. I reached forward, the tips of my fingers brushing against the cold glass, and he was gone. Instead it was my forehead that bled.
I rubbed at the blood with my sleeve and closed my eyes. My head felt heavy as my thoughts weighed me down. I reached towards my hair and felt how tangled it was. Taking the comb from my pouch, I tried to push it through my hair. The comb did the best job it could, but it was not enough. The ends of my hair were too badly tangled and the pain was too much for me to bear. I reached into my pouch and pulled out the small knife Father had given me. Scissors would have been better for the situation, but I had to make do with what I had.
Once finished, I looked studied my work in the mirror. My hair, which had once fallen to my waist in shining waves, something Mother had been so proud of, lay on the floor at my feet. The hair I had not cut hung just past my shoulders. As if my long hair had been keeping my thoughts locked in my head, one rushed out.
I would not marry Jón. Nobody in this village knew of my curse, so they would not be frightened of me. If I could bring my appearance back to how it had been, I would have no trouble finding another man to marry me. A rift in the village…
If I did not marry Jón, many people could possibly die. If I did marry Jón, only his life would be at stake. I rubbed my aching temples. How could anyone make this decision?
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of knocking on the door. It took me a long moment to remember where I was, but when I did, I told the person I would be at the door soon. I struggled out of bed and straightened my clothing before stumbling towards the mirror. I grimaced at the large, dark circles under my eyes. I washed the dried tears from my face with the water I had brought in the night before and ran a comb through my hair.
I opened the door to reveal Lára. She stood with her arms wrapped around her and an impatient look on her face. Her dull blonde hair was braided and knotted at the back of her neck and her lips were pursed. "Stefán instructed me to assist you in righting this place," she said as a greeting.
She was obviously still angry about how I had acted the night before and, truth be told, I was embarrassed about how childish I had acted. I did not really want to see this woman, or her meddling husband, but I would have to. They had looked after me when I had been injured. "I am sorry."
Lára only nodded and pushed past me into the house. This was when I noticed her youngest following her. She was a little girl who was about three winters old with the same blonde hair as her mother. I envied both of them immensely. Blonde hair was high sought after and even girls with dark hair would dye theirs with soap. Mother would never allow me to do so, claiming that my hair was lovely the way it was.
Without speaking, Lára walked to the back of the house and took hold of the musky mattress, dragging it out the door with her little daughter following her. I stood in the doorway and watched for a moment as she stuffed straw into a mattress from a sack she must have brought with her.
Seeing that she did not require any help, I took the old broom from the corner and started to sweep the floor. It was astonishing how so much dust could settle in one place. By the time I had finished cleaning the floor Lára had already stuffed the mattress and was boiling water in the large pot over the fireplace.
The bright sun was high in the sky before either of us said a word to the other. "Any woman would be pleased at the opportunity to marry Jón," Lára told me as she unhooked the pot from the chain that led down from the rafters.
"Then any of the other women may have him," I told her simply.
Lára shook her head. "Their families will not allow them. The men in our village respect Jón, but only to a point. They would never say anything unkind to him, but they talk when he is not in the room. Jón has a past that most men do not agree with for their daughters."
I opened my mouth then close it, resembling a fish out of water. "Since my faðir has passed, you believe I will accept him as my husband."
"You have no living male relatives in this village, meaning you are under the care of my husband. If he is to say you are to marry Jón, then you shall marry him." Lára dumped the water outside of the door and walked back into the house. "He is a strong man and a fierce warrior. His farm is one of the most profitable."
"Jón is in love with another woman," I said pointedly, ignoring the pleasant things she had to say about him.
"You are old enough to know that marriage does not need to contain love. It is purely for convenience."
"Is that why you wed Stefán?" I asked her with an acidic tone.
Before Lára could answer, there was a knock on the door and it opened to reveal Stefán. With a look at her husband, she scooped her daughter up and fled from the house without another word.
Stefán looked as though he was about to follow her, but instead he ducked as he entered the house. "I have finished speaking with Jón," he informed me as he inspected the small house. "It took much persuasion, but he has agreed to marry you without arguing with the matter."
My stomach dropped as though it was full of rocks. There. Just like that, I was to be married. My whole future depended on Jón's answer and it had been yes.
"I had been hoping he would decline the offer," I said in a quiet voice. What would this mean? Would the curse actually follow me to this village?
"He would never do that," Stefán said, a small smile on his face. "Marrying you sat better with him than me cutting off his manhood."
I paled at this. It was hard to tell whether he was being serious or not. There was a smile on his face, but his eyes were darker than they had been before. The man was very kind, though he was also terrifying.
"You shall meet with him tonight. I have arranged for the two of you to have your night meal with me." Stefán brushed his blonde hair from his face and went towards the door. With a smile he said, "I shall see you and your betrothed tonight."