Heart's Ease (The Northwomen Sagas Book 2)

BOOK: Heart's Ease (The Northwomen Sagas Book 2)
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THE FREAK CIRCLE PRESS

 

 

 

 

 

Heart’s Ease © 2016 Susan Fanetti

All rights reserved

 

Susan Fanetti has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this book under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

ALSO BY SUSAN FANETTI

 

The Northwomen Sagas:

God’s Eye

 

The Night Horde SoCal:

Strength & Courage
, Book 1

Shadow & Soul
, Book 2

Today & Tomorrow
, Book 2.5

Fire & Dark
, Book 3

Dream & Dare
, Book 3.5

Knife & Flesh
, Book 4

Rest & Trust
, Book 5

Calm & Storm
, Book 6

 

The Pagano Family Series:

Footsteps
, Book 1

Touch
, Book 2

Rooted
, Book 3

Deep
, Book 4

Prayer,
Book 5

Miracle
, Book 6

 

The Signal Bend Series:

Move the Sun
, Book 1

Behold the Stars
, Book 2

Into the Storm
, Book 3

Alone on Earth
, Book 4

In Dark Woods
, Book 4.5

All the Sky
, Book 5

Show the Fire
, Book 6

Leave a Trail
, Book 7

 

and

 

Nolan: Return to Signal Bend

 

PRONUNCIATIONS AND DEFINITIONS

 

To build this Viking world, I did a great deal of research, and I mean to be respectful of the historical reality of the Norse cultures. But I have also allowed myself some creative license to draw from the full body of Norse history, culture, and geography in order to enrich my fictional representation. True Viking culture was not monolithic but instead a various collection of largely similar but often distinct languages, traditions, and practices. In The Northwomen Sagas, however, I have merged the cultural touchstones.

 

My characters have names drawn from that full body of history and tradition. Otherwise, I use Norse words sparingly and use the Anglicized spelling and pronunciation where I can. Below is a list of some of the Norse (and a few Estonian) names and terms used in this story, with pronunciations and/or definitions provided as I thought might be helpful.

 

NAMES:

  • Åke (
    AW-kyuh
    )
  • Åsa (
    AW-sah
    )
  • Birte (
    BEER-tuh
    )
  • Bjarke (
    BYAR-kyuh
    )
  • Jaan (
    YAHN
    )
  • Jakob (
    YAH-kob
    )
  • Kalju (
    kahl-YOO
    )
  • Knut (
    kuh-NOOT
    )
  • Leif (
    LAFE
    )
  • Oili (
    O-ee-lee
    )
  • Rikke (
    REE-kya
    )
  • Solveig (
    SOL-vay
    )
  • Vali (
    VAH-lee
    )

 

TERMS:

  • Hangerock—an apron-like overdress worn by Viking women.
  • Hnefatafl—(
    NEH-va-tahpl
    ) an ancient Viking strategy game, vaguely like chess.
  • Jul—(
    YULE)
    Norse celebration of the winter solstice (there are many spellings of this throughout Scandinavia; this one is Swedish).
  • Karve—the smallest of the Viking ships, with thirteen rowing benches.
  • Kullake—(
    KOOL-a-kuh
    ) an Estonian endearment, like sweetheart or dear.
  • Skause—a meat stew, made variously, depending on available ingredients.
  • Skeid—(
    SHIED
    ) the largest Viking ship, with more than thirty rowing benches.
  • Snekkja—(
    SNEH-kya
    ) the most common Viking warship, with twenty rowing benches.
  • Thing—the English spelling and pronunciation of the Norse
    þing
    . An assembly of freemen for political and social business.
  • Völva (
    VUHL-va
    )—a seer or mystic.

 

 

 

 

For my grandmother, whose strength was quiet and gentle, yet unbreakable.

 

 

 

 

And thanks again to Lina Andersson, for her help, and that of her wonderful friends, in getting Vikings right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“He should have the tea each time before he takes food.” Olga held out a small pouch, and Johanna took it. Cupping her hands around the girl’s, she added, “Two big pinches. Brew it like I did today, until it’s nearly black but not cloudy. Then it will be strong enough to give him ease.”

 

“Thank you. Will he get well?”

 

Olga considered the old man sleeping fitfully on the bed near the far corner of the hut. “Your grandfather is an old man, Johanna. The tea will make him comfortable and help his food stay to nourish him. But his time above the earth is nearing its end. He should come in from the shore, and so should you.”

 

Johanna had twelve years. She had not yet had her womanly blood, but she might at any time; her breasts had begun to bud. Olga worried about her here in the fishing village. The fishermen were a rougher sort than the farmers in the inland village, and Johanna was one of only two young and unattached women residing near the shore. With no family but her weak and ailing grandfather to shield her, Johanna might well find herself used roughly by at least one of the men here.

 

Olga knew well a plight like that, and she would not wish it on another, certainly not a sweet, pale flower like Johanna.

 

The girl pulled away from her and went to tuck the pouch into an earthen jar. “He wishes to be near the scent of the water, and he is still able to tie the nets most days, when he feels well. He won’t leave, and I cannot ask him to make himself unhappy when he is so close to leaving me.”

 

She came back and took something from her pocket—a small, polished stone. “This is the last piece of my mother’s necklace. Is it enough?”

 

Olga folded Johanna’s fingers over the stone. “Keep it,
kullake
. I need no payment today. But I will take all the herbs you can gather and dry. You know which are best. When you have a basketful, send word. Or if you or your grandfather need anything, send word. I will come.”

 

Johanna bowed her head. “Thank you, Olga.”

 

Olga tucked a loose strand of fine, light blonde hair behind the girl’s ear. “Be well, child.”

 

Taking her leave, she stepped out into the sunshine of a late-summer morning. She stopped a moment and looked up, enjoying the caress of the sun on her cheeks. She closed her eyes and sighed; she was tired today.

 

She had left her tiny hut in the farming village before the dawn, catching a ride at the castle with a cart traveling to the fishing village. The cart carried supplies to the fishermen and would later carry a load of fish and other food from the sea back to the castle.

 

Among the supplies the cart carried to the village that morning was salted fish; the fishermen were not allowed to keep any of their catch for themselves. Prince Vladimir, the holder of the lands on which their villages rested, and their lord and master, took all of the yield of ocean and land and rationed a tiny portion back to the men and women who had caught and reaped that bounty.

 

It was a hard life, but it was the way of things.

 

Olga’s life had been harder. She’d once had a husband; she’d been taken from her family and given as wife to a favored officer in Prince Vladimir’s guard. She had then had more to eat, but her life was harder in other, private ways. When he’d died in one of the many battles among warring princes, she’d been turned out of the soldiers’ quarters.

 

Now she made her way on her own, as a healer and a midwife, like her own mother, bringing what comfort she could to her people. Though her belly was sometimes empty and she was alone, she finally knew some ease in her life, if not in her heart.

 

A chill danced over her cheeks, and she opened her eyes. White clouds moved over the sun, chased by a northerly breeze. There would not be so many more warm days; already the dawns were crisp and the breezes brought chill. On the horizon, Olga saw the clouds darken to a soft grey. There might be some rain in the afternoon. She took a deep breath through her nose, inhaling the scents around her. Yes. Evening, perhaps, but rain before the night went black.

 

“Olga!” A weathered woman in a faded red headscarf trotted awkwardly toward her. “Olga!”

 

“Hello, Maret. Is there trouble?”

 

“It is Heino. A hook tore at his leg a few days ago. Just a small wound, but since yesterday, he cannot walk, and he is hot with fever. Will you look?”

 

When she came to the fishing village, even when she was called to see a particular person, as she had been on this day, she always brought a basket stocked with salves and herbs and other supplies. Someone else always needed her help.

 

“Of course.” She followed Maret back to the hut, just across the way from Johanna and her grandfather.

 

Before she had knelt at the side of the bed, Olga knew that Heino had a life-threatening corruption in his wound. His breath was light and shallow, and his face was red and dry with fever. She laid her hand on his forehead and nearly drew back as if she’d been burned.

 

She folded the cover back. Heino was dressed in a sleeping shirt, and his legs were bare.

 

“Stoke the fire, Maret. I need hot water and clean linens.” She opened her basket and lifted a small, wickedly sharp knife out.

 

Maret hissed at the sight of the blade. “You must cut him?”

 

The break in the skin itself was small, Olga could see—not even the length of her own smallest finger. But she could imagine the filth that had covered that hook, filth that was now growing robust in the warm wet of Heino’s body. His lower leg was swollen to at least twice its normal size, leaving the skin taut and shiny, and mottled red and blue and green—and white around the cut.

 

“I must clear the corruption out, if he’s to have any chance to save this leg. This is only a few days?”

 

Heino, insensible, groaned as she palpated his leg. Behind her, Maret hesitated in answering her question.

 

“Maret, how long since he was hurt?”

 

“The day after Mabon.”

 

The celebration of the end of the reaping. The villages came together on that day to make what feast they could. Olga stopped and looked behind her. “That is almost two weeks.”

 

The woman dropped her eyes, and her cheeks, dark and leathery from a long life in the sun and sea air, colored crimson. “He would not let me send for you.”

 

“Boil water. I will try to save this leg, but the corruption is deep in the meat.” Maret nodded and went to the fire and the pot.

 

“Then let me die,” came a weak rasp from the bed. “We die if I cannot fish.”

 

Olga turned back to her patient and laid her hand over his. “It is not time for that talk yet, Heino. Let me try to clean and drain the wound. I have good salve, and I can stay and apply poultices.”

 

“We have nothing to pay.” He closed his eyes and seemed to drift from his sense again.

 

Though he couldn’t see her, and might not hear or feel her, either, she smiled and patted his hand. “It is not the time for that talk, either.”

 

 

~oOo~

 

 

Once opened, the leg drained foul fluid, with a stench so strong Olga could only take measured breaths. She massaged around the long cut she’d made with her blade, working all the corruption out that she could, and she steeled herself to Heino’s agonized groans and Maret’s fretful fidgeting. A healer often had to cause pain to bring health.

 

She was not so sure health could be brought in this case, but she would do all she could.

 

When the swelling was noticeably lessened, and she was finally satisfied that no more could be drawn from the wound by hand, Olga covered it with a drawing poultice. The linen had been boiled and was still hot, and the herbs inside it had a healing bite. Heino groaned in his restless, sick sleep, but did not wake or fight.

 

When she was done for the moment, she covered him and went to the bowl and washed her hands. Maret stood near the bed and stared at her.

 

“Will he die?”

 

Drying her hands on her skirt, Olga turned. “We all go into the earth, Maret. But this could speed his way, yes. I should have been sent for many days ago.”

 

“Such a small cut it was. And we have no payment. He would not seek help with no way to make a balance.” She sighed. “I will starve if he dies.”

 

Olga went to the woman and took her hand. “You will come to the inland village if that happens, and you will not starve. No more quickly than the rest of us, in any case. Let us take one step before we take another, though. He will need to eat soon for strength.”

 

That perked Maret up. “Yes. I can…yes. Will you eat as well? It is only fish soup, but there is bread, too, and mead.”

 

Often, the only payment Olga could expect for her healing was a seat at a table. It was enough. She nodded. “I would be happy—”

 

Her sentence was cut off by a harried shout from outside. Olga and Maret went to the open door together. Peeter was running over the rise, coming from the shore, screaming at the top of his voice, with such force and volume that the word he repeated over and over was distorted, and it took a moment for Olga to understand him. When she did, she felt a chill in the deepest part of her soul.

 

“RAIDERS! RAIDERS! RAIDERS!” the boy screamed, running through the tiny village. “RAIDERS! RAIDERS FROM THE SEA!”

 

 

~oOo~

 

 

Northmen. Barbarians.

 

Monsters.

 

Olga knew of the horde of animals who landed in long ships carved with dragon heads and plundered the coast. This village had been attacked three times that she knew of since she’d come to Prince Vladimir’s lands. They would jump from those strange ships and charge in, killing and raping and stealing everything of any kind of value. Then they’d charge back to their ships and sail away, leaving quaking destruction in their wake.

 

The last time, when there had been little of value left to take, they had taken slaves instead—all of the young men and women, those old enough to work and at the peak of their strength. They had left the old and the very young.

 

Johanna and her friend Helena had been gathering in the woods, and so only they two were left among the young women, and only Peeter, now shouting a warning, was left of the young men. He had been on a cart to Mirkandi, the trading town, that day.

 

Then the wild-haired giants had burned the village to the ground, laughing and roaring as the people they had no use for ran from the fire.

 

Prince Vladimir wanted his fish, however, so he sent men from the inland village, and they rebuilt the coastal huts a few miles from the shore. Many then stayed to fish. Now the fishermen had to carry their boats to the water at the beginning of the season and back at the end, and they stayed in tents at the shore most of the season, coming back to their families at the village only one day each week.

 

Olga knew all this because she was a frequent visitor to the coast, and because the villages shared so much family that they were all of one. But she had never before seen one of the monsters from the stories.

BOOK: Heart's Ease (The Northwomen Sagas Book 2)
13.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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