Somewhere, past the edge of hope lies a land called...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 6 - Push-Pull
Rotgar chose that moment to open the door, startling both of us so much we ran to the far wall and stared at him. Again his size impressed me, he was almost a giant and had to duck to come into the room. He banged the knob-like round part of his helmet on the doorframe and mildly said, “Skaita.”
He didn’t notice us, his arms were full of my “effen” stuff and his face was turned away to deal with the door. “Dets keldings bint stark agley,” he said.
Oh. The clothes were either very odd or very scattered. Probably odd, I suppose they must be to him.
“And whose are they?” he asked after he turned around. “You said they were yours, but they never could fit you any better than those wrappings I found you in.” He but his bundle down on the lower of the tables and stared at us. “Why are you both hiding behind the push-pull?”
He meant the thing like a chest of drawers and we weren’t exactly hiding behind it, but we were holding each other there in the angle it made with the wall.
I shook myself free of Kilda’s grasp and stepped toward him. “The clothes belonged to Hustab the Bold….” Then I trailed off, I had accidentally translated my own name, August Gallant, into whatever it was we were speaking and it turned my first name into the same name as that of the man I had killed. I had to swallow some sort of lump in my throat.
Rotgar frowned. “Are you sure? I’ve never seen clothes like this. And whoever wore them must have been an Easterling; these are trousers.” He held up my uniform pants. “And not like any I ever saw when visiting my father’s folk in Proits.”
I realized that Proits must be a place and not something else to wear. “I don’t…. He didn’t…. I’m not…,” I said, being nothing if not informative.
“You didn’t mean Hustab the Landsman, did you? I never heard him nicknamed the Bold, though he was if he had a couple of bullnecks with him.” He took off his helmet and ran a hand through his blond hair, grinning at me. “You set his bottom down, though, didn’t you?”
I shook my head. “Not the same Hustab….” I didn’t finish because I forgot what I meant to say. Rotgar reminding me that I had killed Hustab the Landsman sort of derailed me. The scene flashed in front of me again, the snow, the green trees, the boom of the Glock, the bullet striking Hustab and his blood spraying from the wound as I pulled my hand down. I felt sick but I didn’t faint. I swallowed again, recognizing it this time as the urge to puke.
Kilda wrapped her arms around me. “There, child, there. The Glockenmolnir is a fiendish mill, you mustn’t touch it again. But Hustab and his men would have stolen you and maybe married you to someone of their parting, so you did right to slay him.” She squeezed my hand in hers, massaging it. Oddly, this seemed to help with the nausea.
“Is the killing of that skaitakin what’s vexing her?” asked Rotgar.
“She’s a young girl, not a warrior!” said Kilda. “Killing men is not her work!”
“Och, aye,” said Rotgar, a little taken aback at Kilda’s fierceness.
For my part, I was coming out of my funk, and Rotgar seemed so Scottish suddenly that I swallowed a snork that I’m sure sounded like a sob. He made a calming gesture with a hand and stepped back a bit but cut his eyes toward me when Kilda wasn’t looking at him.
“Therr, lilla enkin, therr. Det bist godoll,” Kilda murmured to me, half in babytalk.
It didn’t help with my tendency to giggle. Then the big goof made faces at me over Kilda’s head and I almost strangled trying not to laugh out loud. He raised one eyebrow and winked with the other eye while smiling with one side of his face and frowning with the other. I choked on my laughter, making gagging noises. It didn’t feel like amusement, though; more like near hysteria.
Kilda descended into incomprehensible murmurs while she patted my back.
The door opened again, startling all of us this time. A skinny bald guy in a slightly motheaten fur robe stuck his head in. “Orley wants to see Alenna,” he said. And noticing Rotgar, he added, “Oh, you too, Fishbreath.” Then he pulled his head back out and closed the door.
That did it. I realized that “Fishbreath” was a kind of pun on Blondie’s real name since “rot” meaning red was also “rot” meaning putrid. And one word for breath, “brode,” was also the word for stink. So, “fiskathm” was a play on words.
Rotgar grinned at me and made fish faces, but Kilda mistook my gasping for grief and scolded him, “Don’t you frighten her, you squarehead! Get your flat butt up to the Orley and tell him she’ll be along, bald-like.”
Wait. “Baldlaik” means “soon.” Okay, so she isn’t going to shave my head, but the image did not help with my giggles.
Rotgar left the room quickly, and I wiped tears from my eyes while Kilda fussed at me.
“Who’s Orley?” I asked while she straightened my vest and tucked wisps of hair behind my ears.
“Baldur’s Light! You don’t know?” Her eyes got wide, almost as if frightened. They were a paler, weaker blue than Rotgar’s, I noticed.
“I’m the doppelganger, remember?” I pushed her hands away from me, they had begun to tremble.
Kilda took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. “The Orley is your father, Adelvalt of Moleen. You call him Tahtie. He’s spoiled you rotten because you look just like your mother did when he married her. She was the daughter of the Suderkong of Medley, and after she bore you, her father summoned her back and married her off to one of the Reymish lords, the Deuce of Shanghai, and no one will ever see her again!”
I blinked. “You want me to keep trying to be Alenna?” Deuce of Shanghai? I couldn’t have heard that right.
She nodded so hard, her chin may have bruised her chest. “You must know, child! If they find out you are a doppelganger, well, such folk are put to the Trial of Wedna, for weal or woe.”
Wedna? The guy the middle of the week is named for? Good old Wedna. Who was that? Odin? “That doesn’t sound good.”
She nodded again while slipping some thick bracelets over my wrists. “They hang you in a tall tree from one foot by a rope made of horsemeat!”
“You are shitting me!” I yelped in English.
“Nane of yer bladderskite!” she yelled back. “The birds come to eat the horsemeat and few live after falling from the tree! Gaynow, beast tilla!”
I was so shocked that her last few words didn’t translate. That ‘Trial’ sounded just barbaric enough to be real for people who lived in stone houses and fought with clubs and swords.
“We don’t want anyone else to find these things,” she said, gathering up some of the stuff Rotgar had just fetched from under the cedar bush. “Help me push all of it into the keldringer.” Meaning the standalone closet/armoire thing.
“It’s all wet,” I said, gathering a smaller armful. Pants, boots, belts…. Where was the bigger Glock? For that matter, where was the small one I had had in my hand a moment ago?
“I put both hammerbells into the longshoes,” she said, “and anything else I didn’t know what it was. Get those two sarks off the rack by the fire; they go in here, ikka.”
I wanted to take at least one pistol with me, but this gown and vest had no pockets. I couldn’t very well open carry in a medieval castle. I resolved to get back here soonest and have Kilda sew some pouches into my clothes. My own sewing was of the putting a button back on variety, learned in the Army.
She suddenly grabbed me, one hand on each side of my face. “Heart,” she said. “Both our lives hang from your cleverness in fooling the Orley into thinking you are his daughter.”
“Call him Tahtie,” I said. “Do I sit on his lap?”
“You haven’t done that since you started bleeding, but if he offers, take the chance.”
Started bleeding? Oh, shit.
She had more advice, which she gave while holding me close, but I wasn’t sure I was listening. Bleeding. Menstruating? Would I do that, when the time came? Could I get pregnant? I’m supposed to be getting married at fourteen, and they liked to get an early start on families in the Middle Ages.
“Uh,” I said, something else had occurred to me. “What year is it?” I asked.
“What year is it?” she sputtered. “What does it matter?”
“I dunno,” I said. “But I want to know what year it is…. Please.”
“It is six years and four score since Henrik the Wet conquered Yorvik, becoming the first and last Olkong of the Bloddings. Now are you any more clever or foolish than you were?”
Four score and six? Why did that sound almost familiar?
But…. Odin. Hela. Baldur. Thor. They weren’t Christians here. What the heck calendar would they use that I would recognize?
Rotgar had recognized the lettering on my badge. “Uh, what year do they think it is in Rome?” Rome? What had he called the lettering? Reymish? ”In Reyma, what year is it in Reyma?”
“How by Hela’s Lice would I know?” she said, exasperated. “Now, heart, you must stop your foolishness and fear and be brave. Your father isn’t going to hurt you but he probably heard about the try at stealing you and wants to be sure you are all right.”
She had me one hand on each cheek again. “Och, aye,” I said, though I had meant to say, ‘okay.’ I had another question. “Why do you call me ‘heart’ when we are alone?”
“And aren’t you my heart?” she said. She kissed me on the forehead. “You are like my own chick for I have been your nana for eleven years since your mother was sent away.”
“Alenna’s nana,” I said in a small voice.
I saw tears in her eyes as she nodded. “And you are all I have left of her, heart. I must keep you safe.”
“What….” I swallowed hard. “What did Alenna call you? What do I call you?”
“Nontie,” she whispered.
Aunt it meant.
“Nontie,” I repeated and I kissed her on the forehead, too. For a kid who grew up in foster homes, having someone claim you as family meant a lot.
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