Two weeks had passed since the Vatni Ausa and the snow was finally beginning to melt. The day of the þing came and the village was abuzz with excitement. There had not been a local þing since I had arrived at the village and it was much overdue.
The well-trodden path was slick with mud as the melting snow mixed with the dirt, causing people to slip as they walked towards the centre of the village. A makeshift market sat in the middle of the village with people lining the sides, displaying their wares. Woman sat surrounded by spools of yarn, piles of fabric and spare food. A select few men displayed pieces of treasure they had brought back from the raids. Children ran and pushed through the crowds, slipping in the muddy snow.
It was after midday when I walked slowly with Jón to the village, my arm linked with his, our feet sinking into the ground. I had left Magnús with Astrid who claimed she had seen enough þings in her lifetime.
Coming to end of the centre, I saw that Stefán sat in a large chair on a raised platform, talking to a group of men with a smile on his broad face. Jón told me he was going to speak with his friend and I told him I would look at the wares. He then cut through the crowd, his blonde head being lost from sight.
I moved to the edge of the crowd and focused on the sellers. One woman, who I knew to be the wife of the man who owned the largest flock of sheep in the village, sold wrapped chunks of meat and bags of fleece. Her daughter, a beauty of fifteen winters, sat with her, a look of boredom on her face.
I nodded to them in a small greeting and continued on. There was truly nothing I needed to purchase and I continued through the stalls until I came to a small man surrounded by furs. His grey hair was pulled back with a leather thong, but I could still see it was matted where it hung down his back. His clothes were dark with grime, not having seen a wash in a long time.
"Góðan dag," he greeted me with a croaky tone, not standing from the three-legged stool he sat upon.
"Góðan dag." My eyes travelled over his wares, taking in the lovely furs. Light and dark brown, grey, white and even black furs of varying sizes laid around him. I ran a hand over the soft white fur of a fox pelt blanket. "This is beautiful."
"It has been a difficult winter – with such cold, the foxes are in hiding. But what I was able to hunt was of high quality."
"I have not seen you in the village before now," I observed.
The man shook his head. "I am not of this village, I am a wanderer who sells my wares. Imagine my surprise when I arrived here and was told there was to be a þing!" He gave a smile, showing browning teeth. "I believe business will be good here with it being such a frigid season."
I agreed with him that he should do well. "You say you are a wanderer, have you travelled far?"
"My girl, I have been to many places. Over the mountains, across the seas."
"Over the mountains, you say?" I picked up the white fur and petted it. It was at this time three years ago when I arrived in the village. When my thoughts were not consumed by the Vatni Ausa and the þing, they rested heavily on my past. "May I ask you a question?"
The man let out a chuckle, the skin near his eyes crinkling. "Have you not already been doing that?" His head nodded and he motioned for me to go on.
"I am not from this village, but from one on the other sides of the mountains, near the sea. It is – was – a placed called Kvívík. It was raided and burned three years past."
The man ran a hand over his beard and squinted in thought. "I recall being near there only a year ago. I only passed through, as I am doing here. The village only consisted of a handful of buildings rebuilt after the fires. It was not as the village had been years ago."
I felt a smile tug at the corners of my mouth. "Did you speak to anyone while there?"
"I did speak to a man who now calls himself the chieftain… Asger, I believe his name was."
A soft laugh passed over my lips. Asger had survived and was now the chieftain! Asger, the younger brother of my deceased betrothed. He would only just be a man, yet with his father and brother died, he would be left as chieftain. "I have not returned to my home since I escaped the raid. I feared there was nothing left…" I reached into the pouch at my waist and retrieved a gold coin. It was much more than the fur was worth, but the man had given me valuable information. "Thank you for the information – and the fur."
The man graciously took the coin and bid me goodbye. I turned and searched the crowd for Jón, only finding him when Stefán began to speak. I came to stand by his side at the front of the crowd, my eyes stopping on the woman near the dais. Stefán's welcoming speech was brief, but his words did not register in my ears as I watched the woman. Maria stood with her hands in heavy shackles and her head bowed. Her blonde hair was matted, hiding her face from view.
"I bought a fox fur blanket," I said to Jón in a low voice as Stefán began to call villagers forward. The people would bring their troubles to his attention in hopes that he could offer help. "There was a wanderer selling them at the edge of the market – he told me of my village!" I looked up at Jón with wide eyes "They are rebuilding it, Jón! He spoke of the chieftain and informed me it is coming along. Someday I would like to return, if only for a visit."
My husband made a sound from the back of his throat, showing that he heard me speaking, but I knew he paid no attention to my words.
Jón and I watched as two men came forward to stand in front of Stefán and began discussing the land dispute. They described how it began in the summer when one decided to build a pen on a bare piece of land that sat behind his house. The other man argued that it was his land and he believed he should be the owner of the now completed structure.
After hearing the two men bicker between themselves, Stefán came to the conclusion that neither men had definite ownership of the land. He settled his mind on a hólmganga to resolve the dispute. The act would take place at dusk at the coastline near the docks. The victorious man would win the land and the quarrel would be over.
Maria was then brought forward with a rough tug of her arm, causing the chieftain to lean forward in his chair to study her. "Maria Ísleifdóttir, you have been accused of thievery. You took a sword and ring from the house of Valdís Tómasdóttir. The ring was found on your person and the sword in your house. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
The once proud Maria gave her head a small shake, no words coming from her mouth. She did not look at the chieftain or any of those in the crowd around her.
I held my breath as I waited for the man's next words. My hand found Jón's arm and I held it with my own, finding comfort in the warmth of his body. I could recall a time during my childhood when a man stole a sheep from another's farm. The chieftain had called for him to carry a hot iron nine paces with his bare hands. The man had done so, but afterwards his hands were blistered, causing infection, even after being cleaned. In the end, the man lost one of his hands when the infection spread.
Would Stefán call for the same punishment for Maria? It would be fitting for her crime, but I doubted burnt hands would keep her from being a threat.
"I have spent much time and put great thought into a sentence for you. I have discussed the matter with respected others and I have finally reached a conclusion." Stefán's voice boomed over the crowd, befitting for a man of his size. "Maria, you will be outlawed from the village."
A breath of relief escaped my mouth as a cry came from Maria's. "Please, Stefán, I will carry hot rocks and burn my palms, but you cannot send me from my home!" Her body began to rock violently as she sobbed. "You know I cannot survive out there."
Stefán did not speak, he only stood and stepped down from the dais. The man who had first accompanied Maria took hold of her arm and they followed the chieftain. Maria stumbled behind the man, her cries ringing through the air.
"She will be gone," I whispered, feeling the heavy weight lift from my chest. A gasping breath came from between my lips and I pressed them together to keep a smile at bay. "Jón," I leaned my forehead against his hard shoulder and let out a sigh. "This has been enough excitement for me; I believe I will collect Magnús and go back to the farm."
"You need not be alone, Valdís. Come watch the hólmganga with me and then we will go home." Jón's eyes fell to the thick fur in my arms. "Where did you get that?"
"I told you, but you were not listening to me. There is a man in the market who is selling furs. He is a wanderer and the winter has been difficult for him. His wares a wonderfully made and I purchased one." I walked next to him as we left the village behind us and followed along the coastline.
Jón reached out a hand and touched the soft fur, flipping the corner to inspect the inside. "He is a good craftsman."
We became part of the small crowd that gathered at the shoreline and I could feel the excitement seeping from those around us. The two men stood in the middle of the crowd, swords in hand. I had heard of hólmgangas, but never had I seen one take place.
My husband must have spotted the questioning look on my face for he began to explain the rules. "The two will fight for the right of the land. It does not need to end in death, but the first man's blood to touch the ground loses any rights to the land."
"You say it does not have to be a fight to the death, but does it ever… become so?"
Jón gave a nod and I felt my stomach twist tightly. "I do not think I can stay and watch this." The idea of seeing a man possibly die made me sick. I had not seen violence between men since my village was attacked.
Jón placed a wide hand on the small of my back. "It will not come to death, I can promise you that." His tone was reassuring and I felt slightly comforted.
Stefán announced that the hólmganga would only be until the first draw of blood and then stepped away from the men. The two charged at each other, their swords held high with the skill of those who were used to handling weapons. Their swords clashed and I felt myself flinch, a deep frown coming to my mouth as I turned my face away.
The time of year and gathering of people brought more thoughts of the attack of my village. Had the sound of swords rang out into the air that day? I was sure there had been as our men would fight until they were killed, but there had not been much time for them to grab weapons. The most overwhelming sound had been the cries and screams. The sounds of swords running through bodies and then those bodies falling to the ground—
A cheer ran through the crowd surrounding me and I looked back at the men in the middle. One now stood holding the fleshy part of his arm, his swords laying at his feet and bright blood running between his fingers. The winning man, the one who had built the pen, held out a victorious hand, shaking that of the loser.
Stefán declared the winner of the hólmganga and the land. With an excited murmur running through it, the crowd began to disperse, most returning to the market.
"I will collect Magnús from Astrid," I told Jón as I placed a hand on my rolling stomach. I felt ill and wanted to be away from the blood spilled on the ground.
Jón nodded, but his brows lowered. "Are you alright, Valdís?"
"I only wish to return home." I gave him a tight smile and passed him the fur. "I will not be long."
As he took the fur, I gave his hand a squeeze. A heavy feeling settled on my chest as I saw his eyes soften. Unable to keep myself composed, I leaned into him, burying my face into his chest. His skin smelled strongly of lye, having only bathed that morning. I wrapped my arms tightly around his middle, glad for the solidness of him. Despite the stares I knew the passing villagers were giving us, Jón placed one arm around me, the other hand holding the walking stick.
I held onto him until the heaviness subsided and sighed when I pulled away. "I am sorry. I will see you when I return home." I parted ways with my husband, following along the coastline. My steps slowed as the ground inclined and I had to carefully choose my steps as to not slip.
When I found myself at the healer's door, it opened before I could knock. "Valdís." Astrid held Magnús in her arms. "Come in."
"Hello, my sweet boy." Astrid offered me my son who I took into my arms and placed a kiss on his forehead. "Thank you for watching him, Astrid."
The woman waved a wrinkled hand, dismissing my words. "I enjoyed having his company. How was the þing?"
"It was very busy. The market had lovely wares, I purchased a wonderfully made fur." I paused for a moment, knowing what the woman waited to hear. "Maria has been outlawed from the village."
Astrid heaved a sigh and nodded grimly. "Yes, I was aware that would happen. Stefán has consulted me on the matter"
"And you had agreed on his decision?" I knew Astrid was on good terms with Maria and had not expected her to give such a grave punishment.
"Jón is not the only person who has been close with Maria since she arrived in our village. I have come to know her personality quiet well. I do know that she will stop at nothing to have Jón for her own. For you safety, Valdís – and that of others – it is best for all if she were away from the village." Astrid motioned to a bag on the floor near the door. "I have been gathering items that she will find of use, but I fear it is all in vain. No matter what help she is given, the girl will likely parish."
"Do you truly believe that will happen?"
Astrid was somber in her appearance and tone. "I do. You know for yourself that it is a wild and ruthless land outside the villages. Do you recall what your brother would tell people you came across?"
I thought back to when a man would cross our path as we escaped our village. Magnús would push me behind him, his hand on the hilt of his sword. "He would tell the men the name of our village."
"If the wilderness does not kill Maria, somebody will. She will no longer be tied to a village and protected."
I knew I should have felt sorrow for her, but I could not will it.
"I do not think it is coincidence that she is leaving near the anniversary of your arrival."
"Perhaps it is because of that that I am feeling a burden on my memories. There was a hólmganga between two men and when the swords clashed, I was drowning in memories of my village's attack." I gave a small laugh. "Even the smell of fire will at times cause me to think of it. Those lost that day have frequented my thoughts and caused me sorrow. What can I do to keep these feelings away?"
Astrid placed a hand on my shoulder and I realized just how small the woman actually was. "I am old, Valdís. I have outlived my family, husband and many of my friends. The only way to feel better is to embrace those currently in your life. Find comfort in your son and husband." The woman gave me a tired smile. "You will be fine, Valdís. Now, they will be allowing Maria only tonight in the village; I must be taking these items to Maria and you must return to your husband."
I thanked her again and left her house, stepping out into the darkness. I sang softly to my son as we slowly went back to our house, a song my mother used to sing to me and my brother. When I came to the house, I found Jón sitting in the light and warmth of the fire. He was whittling a piece of wood, something I had not seen him do since before our marriage.
He glanced at us as we entered, nodding in greeting.
"It is beginning to be cold again. The ground will be frozen in the morning," I told him as I moved close to the fire and sat opposite him. I pulled down my neckline and brought Magnús to my breast to feed. As he suckled, I settled into my chair, relishing in the feeling of my muscles relaxing. "I am surprised to find you here. Astrid has told me that Maria will be leaving the village early in the morn."
"I will not be seeing her again," Jón said as we looked back at the wood.
I looked up sharply from my son. "You will not?"
"You were aware I went to see her after I spoke to Stefán, but I did not tell you of either conversation. Stefán informed me that he believed outlawing her would be best. When I saw her, I told her I would not be speaking with her anymore. I gave her my goodbyes that day."
A disbelieving exhale left my mouth and I shook my head. "You did not tell her that."
"I did. I cannot trust a woman who brought harm to my family. Maria begged me to go along with her, but I told her I could not do that."
"She must not have been pleased that you told her that." My voice was low.
"She was not. I told her that I would never leave my wife and son."
"Jón…" Magnús pulled away from my breast and I adjusted my dress. Standing, I walked around the hearth and placed him in his cradle. "Would you go anywhere with us?"
Jón blew at the wood, sending shavings into the jumping flames. "I have made a vow to you, Valids."
"Jón." I turned and crouched next to his chair, looking up at him. The light from the fire played with the gold of his beard and warmed his face. "Did you hear what I had told you about the wanderer?"
He gave a nod, his eyes not moving from the craft in his hands.
"He told me they are rebuilding my village. He also said that Petur's brother survived the attack and is now chieftain. I would like to see who else survived." I took a deep breath and the corners of my mouth quirked upwards. "I would like to go there – not to live as we have a life here – but I wish to visit. Perhaps not now, but when Magnús is older."
My eyes fell to the objects in his hands as I waited for him to speak. His knife moved deftly, digging into the soft wood with ease. "Someday we will go there. I would like to see where it is you came from."
And there we are, folks. After so many years, this story has finally come to an end. Thank you to all who commented/favourited/followed this story, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I really hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.
You'll notice that with the way I ended it, there could be a continuation. Now, I'm not saying there will be, but I'm also not saying there won't. If there is, it won't be in the near future.
Currently I won't be doing as much writing as I usually do as I am focusing a most of my attention on my travel blog (link in profile). I've put a new poll on my profile to see what people are most interested in - I would appreciate everyone casting their votes!
Again, thank you all so much! :)