Thorvald and Olaf Gundarson are sentenced to three years as outlaws by the medieval parliament of Iceland, and any man can kill they. They seek the help of a wizard, but the help they get is hardly what they expected.
By Ellie Dauber
Thorvald Gundarson looked skyward. His gray eyes narrowed when a strong breeze blew at his thick, black hair and beard. From the way the clouds were darkening, it would probably begin to snow within the hour. He turned in the saddle and looked at the man riding a few paces behind him. "What's the problem, Olaf? You're falling behind again."
"I'm sorry, Thorvald. My arm is still sore from the fight. Those two men were hard to best. Olaf Gundarson looked much like his older brother, but he was shorter, though much broader at the shoulders. Their father had always said that Thorvald got most of the brains, while Olaf got most of the muscle.
"There was a man on me, too, as you well know. He almost had me, until my knife found its way into his belly. By that time, you had one man down and were about to finish off the other."
"I know, but did you have to kill them both like that?"
"With what they heard -- what _you_ were fool enough to tell them -- yes! Do you like being an outlaw?"
"We've had no real trouble the last few months, and the Allthing did only vote us outlaws for three years."
"'No real trouble,' you say? What about those men -- or any of the others we've had to fight? Any man can kill us without any fear of punishment. Our family won't help us -- father wouldn't even recognize us as his kinsmen. We've had to beg -- or take -- what we needed to survive. It was hard enough in the Summer, but now, with the first snows coming, we'll have more than enough 'real trouble,' my brother."
Olaf winced from the force of Thorvald's words. "Ivar Herjolfson will help us; you'll see. I've heard that he hates the Allthing for letting in those Christian priests. People say that he's helped almost a dozen men escape the sentence of outlaw, even if nobody knows how he did it."
"I've heard those same stories, little brother, and if I weren't so desperate, I wouldn't give them a second thought." He sighed. "Only, I am that desperate. At the worst, maybe we cam talk the old man into sheltering us for the winter." Thorvald's fingers touched the hilt of his sword. He knew more than one way to get what he wanted.
* * * * *
The snow began soon after. The brothers rode quickly, not taking the time to talk. It wasn't just the fierce storm that Thorvald had feared, but the snow was still falling steadily when they finally saw a light ahead of them. "Is it Ivar's farm," Olaf asked.
"It must be -- unless we're very lost. His holding is the only one that I've ever heard of out this far beyond the mountain pass."
"And...and he'll take us in?" Olaf shivered, despite his heavy cloak. "He will take us in, won't he?"
"The law says that he must -- if only till this storm ends. The stories say that Ivar doesn't care much for the law, but what man would force a person -- even an outlaw -- to stay out in such weather?"
"If he is a man." This time it wasn't the cold that made Ivar shiver.
They rode towards the light. After a bit, they could see that it was a shielded torch set burning atop the gatehouse of a high wall, a farm holding. The holding was atop a hill, a fort that commanded the valley surrounding it.
The wind was picking up, now, swirling the snow around them. They hurried to the gate. "Hullo," Thorvald yelled. "We are two travelers who ask the boon of shelter from this storm." He pounded his gloved fist against the gate.
"I know who you are, Thorvald Gundarson, and why you and your brother have come here." The voice was deep and strong. There was the sound of sliding metal. Then the gate opened. A tall man, his hair and beard the same gray color as his fur cloak, stood in the open gateway. "Now hurry, the both of you, so we can all get out of this storm."
Thorvald and Olaf both dismounted and followed the man through the gate, leading their horses behind them. There was another sound of sliding metal. Thorvald turned. A great iron bar now held the gate shut. Yet they had seen no one standing with the old man, nor did any stand by the gate, now. Perhaps the stories _were_ true.
He turned back. Now a slight figure, wrapped in a thick cape and hood, did stand next to the old man. Thorvald looked, but the other man's features were well hidden by the hood. "This one will take your horses to be stabled and fed in my barn," the older man -- Ivar? -- said. The figure held out a gloved hand. First Olaf, then Thorvald handed him their reins. Without a word, the boy -- for he was hardly tall enough to be a man -- bowed and led the horses away.
Thorvald looked around. There were three buildings with the walls; a greathall, perhaps two stories high, was some ten paces ahead. Next to it was a windowless building, a storehouse probably, and work building. Next to that was the barn. The door opened as the boy led the horses to it, and he went in. Thorvald caught a glimpse of two other horses, and he could hear the lowing of cattle, too, protesting the draft from the opened door. Wizard or not, this was the holding of a _wealthy_ man.
"Are you going to stand there all night?" The older man's words broke though Thorvald's thoughts.
"No," Thorvald answered quickly. "It's just that...after being so long on the road, it's nice to be in a warm, sheltered place again."
"We're not half so warm -- or as sheltered as we will be inside," the man said. "Hurry along. I'm cold, even if you're not."
They hurried into the greathall. "It's amazing," Olaf said, looking around.
Torches placed along every wall lit a room that was large enough to seat thirty men or more. Brightly colored tapestries hung from the walls to help keep out the cold. There were also two firepits in the floor, and, at the far end, a stone fireplace large enough for -- for the whole ox that was slowly roasting on a spit within it.
The room was empty -- besides them -- except for two very pretty young women standing by the fireplace. One was slowly turning a crank that made the ox rotate within the fireplace. The other was basting it with a broad brush.
At that moment, a third woman came though a small door near the fireplace. She carried three drinking horns. As she came closer, Thorvald noticed that she was also very pretty. Her dark brown hair was tied in two braids that reached down past her ample bosom. With that hair -- and those dark eyes -- she could almost be the twin of -- no, he pushed the thought from his mind.
The older man -- he had to be Ivar -- took the drinking horns from the woman, who bowed low and hurried off. He handed one to each of the brothers. "Over here," he said, leading them to a large barrel resting on its side atop a nearby table. "Try this." He turned a tap. A pale golden liquid poured from the barrel filling his horn. "I put this up fifteen months ago." He shut the tap and took a long drink. "I think it turned out very well."
Thorvald filled his own horn and cautiously drank. It was mead, honey wine. "I agree with you," he said with a smile. "It's been a long time between drinks, and a much longer time, since I've had anything this good." He took another drink. "What did you flavor it with?"
"Strawberries," the man said. "They grow wild all around this valley, just as they did around your own holding...Thorvald Gundarson."
"How did you know?" Thorvald's hand went to the hilt of his sword. Olaf did the same.
The man smiled. "Stay your hand, Thorvald, Olaf. If I had wished to harm you, I had only to keep my gate closed. There is no other shelter nearby, and the storm will only grow worse during the night."
"Then you are..." Olaf's eyes were wide with fear.
"Ivar Herjolfson?" the man finished Olaf's question. "Yes, I am, and I offer you shelter here -- from the storm and from other things as well."
Before he could answer, Thorvald felt a gust of wind as the door opened and closed behind him. The boy who had put their horses in the barn -- Thorvald recognized the pattern of his cloak -- came in and stood beside Ivar.
"Put that cloak away and go help the others in the kitchen," Ivar said.
The figure nodded and pulled back the cloak's hood to reveal a mass of blonde curls surrounding a moon-shaped face with eyes the color of cornflowers. As she took of her cloak, Thorvald saw that the girl -- how could he have ever thought that she was a boy? -- was slender, but with well-rounded breasts that strained against the white blouse she wore. She smiled and bowed, then, Thorvald thought, she winked at him, before she curtsied and hurried off to the kitchen.
"You have lovely daughters," Olaf stammered. "Where is your wife that we can properly greet her?"
Ivar laughed. "I have no wife, Olaf, and these women are my...servants, not my children."
"What of your male servants?" Thorvald looked around the room, trying to guess where someone might hide -- or wait in ambush. Were arrows trained on him even as he stood talking to Ivar?
"I have no male servants, Thorvald," Ivar said, chuckling as if at some hidden joke. "You and Olaf may relax. I've already said that I have no desire to bring either of you to any harm."
"No men," Olaf said with some surprise, "but who does your heavy work, the plowing, the tending to the cattle, and such?"
Ivar smiled. "These same women that you have seen, and several others like them. Some of them are quite strong, and, of course, I am always here to help them in the work."
"And we can help them as well," Thorvald said, seeing an opening. "It is only right that we help our host for as long as we _are_ your guests here."
"Always to the point, eh, Thorvald," Ivar said with a laugh, slapping Thorvald on the back. "Have another mead; you need something to take the full chill out of your bones. We can talk more about your staying while we dine."
Thorvald shrugged. Ivar could only stall for so long, and the mead was very good. He poured himself a second drink and listened to his brother prattle on about the storm and how far they had ridden from their own settlement.
Once Olaf started to talk something about the Allthing and their trial. Thorvald was about to stop him, but -- to his surprise -- Ivar changed the subject. It was as if the older man already knew what they had done and wished to hear no more about it.
Before Thorvald could say another word, the kitchen door opened. The young woman who had brought out the drinking horns came out carrying a tray of bread. She put the bread and several small bowls at the table near the fireplace, curtsied, and went back into the kitchen.
"Food at last," Ivar said. "Come, bring your horns and join me."
As Thorvald and Olaf walked to the table, they could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread. It was still warm when they broke off large pieces and used their knives to smear them with the mixture of honey and butter that was in the small bowls. Thorvald ate slowly, still wary of traps, but Olaf cheerfully stuffed himself.
"Slowly, Olaf, slowly," Ivar said with a laugh. "There is far more than bread at my table." The door opened again, and the same brunette walked out, this time with another woman that they hadn't seen before. The two carried a steaming kettle of soup -- fish soup by the smell of it, thick and full of vegetables. Ivar tasted it, then nodded for it to be served to his two guests.
Thorvald sipped at the soup. It was exquisite, especially to someone who hadn't had a hot meal in almost a fortnight. "This is as fine a board as any I have ever been served, Ivar, but I can't enjoy it until I know how long my brother and I will be able to stay and share such bounty."
"Well spoken, very well spoken," Ivar said, slapping him on the back. "Very well, then. You and your brother are my...guests. You may stay as long as either of you wishes."
"But...but the Allthing," Olaf blurted. Realizing what he had said, he put his hands to his mouth as if trying to push the words back down his throat.
"Hang the Allthing!" Ivar spat on the ground. "Those weak fools should never have let in those damned Roman priests. Now half of them -- half the people here in Iceland -- have crosses on the backs of their Thor's hammers. They pray to that dead, pale godling of theirs as much as they do to Odin and the other, _true_ gods. Why should I worry about them _or_ what they think?"
Thorvald sighed in relief. "Well said, Ivar Herjolfson. Olaf and I will be proud to accept your hospitality."
Ivar looked at Thorvald strangely. "Proud? Yes, pride is very much a part of you, isn't it Thorvald. Well, life often teaches us new ways, doesn't it?"
"Umm, yes, I suppose it does." Thorvald puzzled for a moment, then shrugged and went back to the soup. The old man was playing with him. He didn't like it, but he would bear it -- for now.
As the men were finishing the soup, the women came out of the kitchen again and put down trays filled with slabs of roast meat and bowls of sliced turnips cooked in a spiced cheese sauce. While the men ate this, the women kept refilling their drinking horns with mead. Three other women, equally pretty to Thorvald's mind, came in with musical instruments and began to play. A fourth woman, dressed _most_ immodestly and with tiny cymbals on her fingers, danced to the odd melodies the others were plating. She swayed her body and moved her arms in a manner that was all but an invitation.
* * * * *
The sun streaming in through a window shutter woke Thorvald. He was in a bed -- a wonderfully soft bed -- under thick sleeping furs. He felt the fur against his skin. He was naked. Then he felt something else. He wasn't alone. His right hand was on a woman's breast. He moved it slightly, rubbing the nipple between two fingers.
"Mmm," came a woman's voice. "Don't do that unless..." A hand reached down, fingers curling around his manhood. "Well, it seems that you _are_ ready for more, my Lord."
Thorvald opened his eyes and turned in the direction of the voice. It was the blonde -- 'Gerda'; the name sprang into his head. She smiled, then leaned over and kissed him. Her tongue went into his half-opened mouth and played with his own. He felt himself stiffen. Gerda rolled over on top of him, sitting upright on his thighs. Her hand guided his manhood to her cleft. She was hot and more than ready for him.
"You just lie there, and I'll do the work this time, my Lord," she said, moving her hips against him. "Of course, if you'd like to play with my tits while I do, well, go right ahead."
Thorvald grinned and began to cup her breasts, his fingers rubbing and tweaking the nipples. Gerda moved her hips back and forth. She was tight. It almost felt as if there was a hand grasping at, pumping his manhood. She leaned back, her hands grabbing his ankles for support.
"Oh, yes," she moaned. "It feels so...so good, like...like be-before. It was...was ne-never like this when...when I...oh, uhh, uhh!" Her body stiffened, and she screamed a high pitched wail even as she began to spasm.
The scream, the movement, whatever it was, it was enough to set Thorvald off. He felt his own body stiffen as he pumped what felt like a gallon of his essence into Gerda.
Then, it was over. Thorvald felt his maleness begin to grow soft again. Gerda leaned forward, her breasts rubbing against his chest, and kissed him. Kissed him very hard. She slid off him and lay down on the furs. She shifted her body, so that her head rested on his chest. "You were wonderful," she said softly. "Please just hold me for a while."
Thorvald put his arm around her, his hand resting on her hip. She snuggled up against him. Ivar's words, "stay as long as either of you wishes", came back to him. It would be a _long_ stay if all the mornings were like this one. He smiled; then both he and Gerda drifted back to sleep.
* * * * *
"Well, you two certainly enjoyed yourself." Ivar's voice woke Thorvald. Gerda was still with him -- still nude, he felt her flesh against his -- though their bodies were somehow covered by the sleeping furs.
"Ivar...I...she...I'm." If the old man was angry, his offer of refuge would vanish like a May snowfall.
Ivar laughed at the stammering. "Don't be afraid, Thorvald. Gerda is my...servant. What she did with you -- both last night and this morning -- why, that is just a part of her...duties. Isn't it, Gerda?"
Gerda sat up at the sound of her name. "Yes, my Lord Ivar." Her voice sounded odd, without emotion.
"And so is tending to _my_ needs. Now, get downstairs and help the others clean the hall."
"Yes, my Lord Ivar." Again, there was no emotion in her voice. With no concern for modesty, she tossed back the furs and climbed out of bed. She grabbed her clothes on the run from where they had been tossed the night before and wriggled into her long tunic. A moment later, still barefoot, she was out the door.
"Then it doesn't matter to you what Gerda and I did?"
"No, though I was a bit surprised at your choice. I thought that you would bed Angmar."
"Angmar, which one is she?" Thorvald felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck, an almost sure sign that he was in some kind of danger.
"She's the one that you thought looked so much like Sigurd Karlson's wife."
"How could you know what I thought." Then the realization hit Thorvald. "You know what I did, don't you?"
"Yes, Thorvald, I've known all along. You raped her, you and your brother, and left her for dead."
"She...she _was_ alive when we left her. I swear it! We paid the wergild, Olaf and I did, but we didn't kill her."
"Enough! I believe you. So did the Allthing -- eventually. That's why they only voted you outlaws for three years, rather than for life."
"Three years is more than long enough. Sigurg's tried to kill us a half dozen times, at least. The last was only a few days ago, and not very far from here."
"Indeed, Karlson is a very stubborn man, though after what you two did, it's no great wonder that he wants revenge."
"And you still offer us shelter -- offer me your woman. Why?"
"Why not just say that it's my way of taunting the Allthing." He paused and stroked his gray beard as if considering some great problem. "I offer you even more. You and your brother can be freed of the name 'outlaw' if you wish it."
"How...how is that possible?" Thorvald had wished for such of thing, but he had never believed that it could happen.
"In the same way that everything else you've seen here is possible. I pay the proper respect to the old, the true gods, Odin, Thor, and the rest. They repay me by granting me the power to...do such things. He paused. "Now, are you interested in having the sentence lifted -- or do you enjoy being an outlaw?"
"Of course not," Thorvald felt himself grow suspicious. "But, what will it cost me -- cost us, my brother and me? An outlaw has little in the way of wealth."
"There is a price for everything, for _almost_ everything, in this world. The price for this...service, though, is one that you can afford."
"In that case, how soon before you can do this magic for us?"
"How soon would you have me begin?"
"Begin what?" Olaf stood in the doorway, a tall redheaded woman that Thorvald didn't remember standing next to him, her hand in his. Both were wrapped in sleeping furs. There was no hint of clothes underneath.
"Ivar says that he can somehow undo our sentence," Thorvald said. "We wouldn't be outlaws any more."
"How...how could he do that?" Olaf asked.
"Magic," Ivar said. "A small gift from the true gods."
"Let me dress," Olaf said, "and we can begin."
* * * * *
In less than half an hour, they were standing in the greathall. There had been several women in the hall when they walked in, clearing up a mess that Thorvald did not remember from the night before. But as soon as they saw Ivar and the look on his face, they all curtsied and hurried out. Gerda and Olaf's redhead had gone with them.
"Stand on either side of the firepit," Ivar said, pointing. The two men positioned themselves near the stone ring in the floor. The fire had burned low, little more than coals remained.
"Can you do Olaf first," Thorvald said. Something in him grew cautious. This was a wonderful gift, and it was coming much too easy for him not to be suspicious. "I'm curious to see what you're going to do."
Ivar nodded. "Curious or suspicious, it makes no difference. I'll do as you ask, but...." He gestured with his hands. Thorvald tried to take a step and found that he couldn't move any part of his body except his head.
"What...what have you done to me?" Thorvald demanded.
"Nothing yet," a voice said. A tall, brown-haired man dressed in an expensive tunic was suddenly standing near Ivar.
"Sigurd!" Thorvald said. "Ivar...my good friend, how -- what -- is Sigurd Karlson doing here?"
"I've come to see justice done," Sigurd said. His smile was the smile of a wolf watching its prey.
"Come to kill us, while Ivar's magic keeps us from defending ourselves," Thorvald spat. "Ivar, I thought that you hated the Allthing and their justice. Why are you helping this man carry out their sentence."
"I'm no lover of the Allthing," Ivar said. "But I do believe in justice of my own sort. Especially when the one seeking justice is kinsman to me."
"Kinsman?" Thorvald's heart sank. "But if this was to be our fate, why did you send those other men after us, Sigurd?"
"To force you to come this way, to seek my cousin's help," Sigurd said. "I know you, Thorvald, you and your brother both. I knew that those men would never manage to kill you."
"So you and your cousin will kill us now." Thorvald said. "Where is the honor in killing a man who cannot make a move to defend himself, Ivar?"
"Oh, we won't kill you," Ivar said. "My magic will do as I promised. You will live, and you will no longer be outlaws."
"I...I don't understand," Thorvald said.
"But you will," Ivar said. "In fact, I'll even grant your request and change Olaf first, so you may watch." He made a number of odd gestures and murmered very low. Thorvald could hear only a few words. Mostly, Ivar seemed to be invoking Loki, the shapeshifter, and Freya, Odin's wife.
Thorvald heard a low moan and turned his head to look at Olaf.
His brother's beard seemed to be pulling back into his head, growing shorter until his chin was revealed. At the same time, the hair on Olaf's head grew longer, thicker, flowing in waves down past his shoulders.
Olaf grew smaller at the same time, shrinking a foot or more. He was thinner, too. The great muscles of his arms seemed to melt away, leaving them slender, curved. His hands grew smaller as well, losing some of their roughness, as his fingers grew out, longer and more slender than before.
Olaf was still moaning, but his voice seemed much higher now. Thorvald looked at his brother's face. Olaf's jaw was narrower and his cheekbones higher. His complexion was paler. His lips seemed larger, pouting, even as his nose, broken in more than one fight, shrank in size.
"No," Thorvald gasped. His brother now had the face and, it seemed, the body of a woman. Yes, it was a woman's body. Olaf's now oversized tunic shrank to fit him, revealing a set of feminine curves: narrow waist, wide hips, and -- by Thor's Thunder! -- large, well-rounded breasts. The tunic grew longer, becoming a woman's garment, even as Olaf's long hair twisted itself into a pair of braids that hung to just below his shoulders.
"Olaf, what has happened to you?" Thorvald said, not believing what he had seen.
The new maiden's eyes grew wide. She spoke, her voice almost without emotion. "I...I used to be Olaf, but he is...gone. I am...Ulli, now, a servant in all things to my master, my Lord Ivar." He...she ran over to Ivar and modestly kissed him on the cheek. Ivar put his arm around her, resting a hand low on her hip.
"There, Thorvald," Ivar said. "It is exactly as I promised. Olaf Gundarson, the outlaw, no longer exists, and the Allthing has never passed judgement on Ulli, my new maidservant." He laughed. "And now for you."
Ivar seemed to repeat the same combination of odd gestures and softly muttered words. Thorvald strained and pulled with his mind, but he was unable to move his body the slightest bit.
Then, he felt a tingling throughout his entire body. He felt his chin tickle as if something was happening to his beard. Then a...coolness on the newly exposed parts of his face as the tickling moved to his scalp.
Thorvald looked down at his hands, the only part of his body that he could see. He watched them shrink and grow more feminine looking until his sleeves came down over them as his body shrank. Then his tunic grew shorter, and he could see them again. But only for a moment until something grew out from his chest to block the view. Thorvald realized that it was his breasts.
He felt his manhood stiffen, the way it had for Gerda, perhaps an hour before. Then the feeling changed as it seemed to pass up into his body. 'No,' Thorvald thought sadly, 'into her body." Somehow, she seemed able to accept the change. It was over now, and she was just another of Ivar's servants.
Ivar! Not _Master_ Ivar. Thorvald's heart leaped. Something had gone wrong. Or gone right. She was not enslaved to Ivar. Sigurd would not....The thought stopped as she felt her body begin to tingle again. No, no, not Ivar. Sigurd was her master. She felt her breasts, her groin tingle as the name came to her mind. The name -- _his_ name.
The girl who had been Thorvald Gundarson ran over and knelt on the ground before her master. "My Lord, my master, Sigurd Karlson." It thrilled her to say the words aloud. "I am --" What was her name, the name that _he_ wished her to have? "I am Thordis, your slave. Please, I beg you to take me as your slave and to do with me as you will."
As she said it, Thordis knew that it was true. She felt a moistness, an emptiness between her legs and a hunger that only her Lord Sigurd would ever be able to satisfy.
Just then, a shutter rattled from the wind. "I think the storm begins again, my cousin," Ivar said. "Perhaps you should plan to stay a few more days."
"I will, Ivar, and thank you for...everything. My Brunna rests easier now."
"And you," Ivar asked, "do you rest easier?"
"I think so," Sigurd said. "I do know that no matter what drafts may come through your shutters, my bed tonight will be most warm."
The Allthing is the Icelandic parliament, the oldest in Europe, going back roughly 1,000 years. They could vote a person an outlaw for a set time or for life. While a person was an outlaw, any could kill them and not be punished.
Wergild was a fine paid for killing another person. The amount varied with the social rank, gender, age, and, sometimes, occupation or trade of the victim.
Icelandic names, even today, take the form used in the story. By way of example, Karl Ragnarson had two children, Sigurd Karlson and his sister, Helga Karlsdaughter.
Vikings wore amulets in the shape of a small hammer as a religious token. When Christianity came to the island, some who converted "hedged their bets" and wore amulets with the Thor's Hammer on one side and a cross on the other. Some graves even had both symbols on them. A number of worshippers of the old, Norse gods considered this hypocritical at best.
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