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Trading With The Devil
The moon shone, uncaring, on a nearby monastery. The moonbeams glinted off the expensive slate tiles, throwing half the building into shadow. Nearby the grand building were tall mountains, snow-capped pine trees, and a calm beach. The moonlight glanced over everything, giving the world a blue-white glow. I watched the moon take it's course over the night sky. I saw a few small creatures scuttle through the undergrowth, and once a candle was lit in the monastery. It tore me through with guilt. Not because I had a choice to stop it, but I was going to be a part of it...
It seemed to me that Odin would have done something to halt the tranquillity of the night, as a sign of the carnage to come. The moon soared higher and higher in the sky, and I became more and more tired. Eventually, as the moon was at it's peak in the sky, I settled down to rest next to my husband, who rose momentarily from his sleep, to wrap his animal skins around me. Tomorrow they would be drenched in blood.
“Aler! Aler!,” my husband shook me. I grimly opened my eyes to see the sun rising over the cliffs. It was partially hidden by clouds, but I barely had time to take in our surroundings. All around us there were the cries of the beserkers. I could smell blood, and burning timber. Our ship was tied up at the shore, and the women were already running towards the burning monastery, with cloth sacks in hand to gather the precious gold chalices and money that was inside. I could see some of the beserkers thudding their axes into the monks. I shed a single tear as my husband ran to join them, hurling insults at the top of his voice, his long red hair bouncing in the wind. He cornered a monk, who was cowering at the foot of a tree, begging my husband to spare him.
The monk was clothed in a simple robe, and was shedding so many tears the light brown was darkened with water. My husband raised the axe over his head, and gave the monk a kick in the side. The monk moaned, and clutched the cross around his neck, closing his eyes. I couldn't take it any more.
I raced towards my husband, shrieking as much as a bereker, begging him to stop. I ran as fast as I could, I ignored the rest of the beserkers enter the monastery and start looting, I ignored the sun rising out of the clouds and showing our ships in a magnificent glow. The glory was behind me, but my husband wasn't in it. He could not kill this man. I ran, and I got within ten feet of the monk, when my husband brought his axe crashing down on the monk's skull.
I took in the clarity of everything. The pure crimson blood as it stained the monk's habit. Useless now. I closed his pale eyelids and my tears fell on his forehead. I held the dead man close to me, and glared up in rage at my husband. He fidgeted on the spot, fingering his shield for a bit, then he dropped his sword and shield at my feet.
“Take these to the lower deck, please,” my husband grunted, running off to join his friends and to take the loot. I was so filled with hatred for him, I could scarcely believe I was married to him. I dragged the dead monk over to the shade of a tree. I covered him in leaves, and said a prayer for his soul. The wind whistles through the leaves and the trees. Almost as if they were saying sorry.
I joined my husband on our boat and sat back at my loom. I wove a thin blanket, unable to banish the dead monk from my thoughts. We had a lot of gold from the monastery ; it was in a big sack in the middle of the longboats. I vomited over the side of the boat as I remembered where it came from. I had to do something. We had to do something. I couldn't sleep at night, knowing that people had died to feed me. I couldn't sleep knowing that things couldn't change. I couldn't sleep until I had hope.
The rest of the day was spent out at sea. The beserkers had recovered from their rage, and were roasting a sheep over a fire. I spun at my loom the whole day, and by night time, my fingers were sore, and red. Everyone on our boat gathered around the fire to eat. The beserkers were fed first, obviously. They got the best parts of the lamb, because they had fought the most. They had killed the most monks.
I ate a pancake with the other women, then I went below deck, where everyone was sleeping. I couldn't sleep. I watched the rats scurrying across the floor, gnawing at the blankets I had spent so long knitting. I didn't care. I felt emptier and emptier inside with each raid. Odin meant for the people of Midgard to live in peace, not to kill and butcher each other like this.
I saw the beams of moonlight filter through the floorboards of our ship. I was just a beserker's wife. Everyone else was comfortable with our way of life. How could they not be revolted at the beserker's behaviour. I glanced over to where they were sleeping. They were massive, bulky menm with round shoulders, and large biceps. Their thighs were thick, and they were still draped in the animal furs they were wearing yesterday. And they were a dark shade of red.
Eventually I drifted off to sleep, and the next day I woke up. Thankfully, it was not for another raid. It was a peaceful day at sea. One of my favourite. Hopefully today would be peaceful. I threw off my blanket, yawned and stretched, and climbed up to the top of the ship. We had landed in a Sweedish village to trade in our gold. I saw my husband and our chief bartering in a marketplace. It was so civilised and ordered. They looked nothing like the two men who had looted a monastery. They looked nothing like killers or murderers. They looked like people. Calm, and healty, and civil people.
We traded half of our gold for many sacks of corn. I helped to load them onto our boats. We also bought poles and iron to many weapons with. I took a look at the town we were in. There were small wooden houses stacked against each other, and women were gathering wheat and barely in the fields. Men were chopping wood and mixing ale. Children were playing in the marketplace, and helping their parents to cook.
Our chief kept a small portion of the gold, and spent the rest of it on cloth and sinew for myself and the other two seamstresses to sew with. The sails on our longboat were in need of urgent repair ; a recent storm had ripped and burned them. For now, we were forced to row everywhere. We took some logs, and meat with us. I walked over the gangplank, and our boat sailed off. I looked back at the Sweedish town. It was so organised and happy. It was peaceful. I wished we could live like that.
I was at see the rest of the week. The beserkers got snappy and irritable ; they were bored of hanging around the ship and telling stories all day. That was mostly what we did. Occasionally we stopped off at a town to buy supplies, but apart from that were were at sea all the time. I didn't mind though. It was peaceful. Although it was dangerous for the beserkers to get angry, unless in war, we were happy. We had many parties, and we had lots of dances with ale and wine. But then the gold ran out.
We had to do another raid. But this time it was too much. One night, while the men were all telling stories and gambling, I called my husband over to the hull. He arrived, put his arm around my shoulder, and asked me what the problem was.
“I can't do it. I can't stand to watch us raid again. These raids are horrible and evil! How could you stand it if people did that to you!” I pouted. For the first time in ages, his eyes flashed with pity. Pity and determination. “What can I do about it?” he asked me, gently. I gasped in anticipation. I could get my voice heard. My husband was part of the band of beserkers, not one of the normal soldiers. He was very much in favour with the chief. “You can talk to Hadkoda!” I begged, “you're a good friend of his. You can ask him to stop the raids.” His face went from one of concern to one of sadness. He obviously disagreed with me.
“We need to keep up the raids. It's what keeps us alive.”
“But that Sweedish village survive without killing and pillaging. They live peacefully, why can't we do that?” I asked boldly.
“Silence! You should not be talking back like this. Go back to the other women and do your sewing!
Nothing is going to change, and that is final!” my husband shouted, before walking off to join the other men again.
I stayed at the hull, distressed and crying. I thought I had hope. Things could change, but they weren't going to. The men were going to keep living this life. But I couldn't.
Secretly, I formulated a plan. I could tell nobody, everyone on the ship was so loyal to the chief. I prayed to Odin and Loki to help me on my journey. Because, with the next raid, I was leaving my people.
I packed apples and corn into a sack. I brought a pole to defend myself with. The last night I spent with my friends and family, I watched them dining and eating. They were happy, crude and uncivilised. They burped, they threw food around, they wrestled, they gambled. It wasn't a place for me. I sat in a corner, and watched my husband gamble, I watched the three other women laugh and point at the men. I even saw the few children on board, gulping down ale like grown men, and staggering about. It was warm, and cosy. But it was also wrong. I looked over the horizon, to the Norman monastery we were going to loot. It was right next to a town. I slept, hiding my bag of supplies in a dark corner. I cried , that night. For the last time.
That morning, I woke up, once again, to the roar of the beserkers. I grabbed my belongings, and crept into the woods. My husband spotted me, and ran in my direction. He raised his axe over his head, screaming “traitor!” I couldn't face him. I ran as fast as I could. I never looked back. The trees whistles past me as I ran, the wind on my cheek was fresh and encouraging. The fresh green shrubbery of the forest blurred around me, then thinned out as I came to the edge of the forest.
The sky was clear today, a good omen. Odin was clearly on my side. I knocked on the door of one of the stables.
“Please may I live here. I've run away from my people, but they'll kill me if they find me. I have some food, I can earn my keep.” A kind old man greeted my pleas. He brought me inside, sat me at a table, and told me what I could do in the village. He didn't have much furniture, and garlic and onions hung from the walls. Over the doorway was a funny symbol. Like a sword, only upside down. It lay there with a kind of power I couldn't understand. I asked the old man about it. And he introduced me to Christianity
Over the first year I spent in the village, I did many things I would never have considered before. Firstly, I stopped worshipping Odin, Loki and all my old Gods. I learned about Jesus Christ, who came to save us. The word of God was overwhelming, and I was incredibly gracious to hear it. I worked hard as a seamstress and earned my keep with the old man I'd met before. He treated me like his daughter. I made many friends there, and although our whole way of life was harder, it was much happier.
But one day, almost a year after I'd joined the village, the Vikings attacked.
The day they attacked, I was gathering corn with my friend, Tarja. She was a tall woman, pregnant with her first child. She wasn't talking today, engrossed in the tiring work. We had collected the corn, and were about to head back to the storage barn, when we saw smoke rise from one of our houses, and people screaming and shouting.
The smoke rose into the sky, dark and threatening. It seemed to warn us. To ward me away. But I felt the slightest hint of regret, of longing. And that feeling made me run through the thin wood as fast as I could. To see my husband.
When I saw the beserkers again, I was terrified. They were snarling and growling at a haunting volume. Their axes were flying everywhere, and I saw the old man who had taken me in, struck down like the monks. I also saw my husband in the carnage.
I walked over to him. His axe was deep in a man's side, and he frantically tried to remove it to attack me. He had changed a lot since I had last seen him. His ginger hair was cut short, and his beard was too. He wore a moustache and now wore a horned helmet. There was a gasp from the man he was killing, but I didn't have the heart to look down. Instead I looked straight into the killer's eyes.
“Please. Olafur!” I pouted, “you didn't listen to me last time, and look what you've become. You can live here with me. We can live together in peace. Have children, without having to go to war. Without having to sail. We can be happy, please, Olaf!”
I was stabbed in the back.
It was crippling. I felt myself fall, and my eyes stayed open. The pain was horrible, but I didn't have air in my lungs to scream. Olafur looked taken aback for a moment. Almost as if he was sorry. Then he looked at my killer, smiled maliciously, then grabbed a woman to rape.
As I lay dying, my blood staining the grass a cruel crimson colour, I realised that there had never been hope, or reason for my existence at all. Life with the Vikings was all I could have had, and they were unstoppable in themselves. My whole desperate escape attempt had been useless. I felt my blood leak out of the wound, and with it my lifeforce.
I begged Odin to save my soul...