Somewhere, past the edge of reason lies a land called...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 8 - Ikka den Ikka
The old man patted me on the back and called me “lubbikin,” again. It meant little darling, and it embarrassed me almost as much as weeping in front of all those huge hairy men did. I wiped my eyes and smiled up at him and he chuckled, a noise like a cartoon bear might make. I smiled even more.
Smiling was easy, looking up at him. Orley Adelwalt had almost the bluest eyes I had ever seen, only Rotgar’s surpassing them in depth and clarity. And that thought disturbed me, too.
There I stood in my robe and vest and fur coat, feeling like a child surrounded by adults. Adult men. I still hadn’t got my head around being female, and I was going to need to adjust to all of this, and being a teenager again, too. So much. The culture change alone would be staggering, even if I still had my older male body with muscles and a mustache. I missed my mustache and touched my smooth upper lip, sighing for the immaterial unfairness of it.
Kilda and I were two of only five females in the room. A mature woman dressed much like I was sat on a padded bench near one wall, sewing or something. She looked around with interest now and then but had not said anything. Another woman, clearly of a servant class like Kilda, sat beside her doing much the same.
The last female was a younger woman, but older than I appeared. She had on a rougher version of what seemed to be typical female clothing in this place, long robes with an over-vest and soft boots, and she seemed occupied in keeping cups filled from two ewers she carried. I saw one of the men pinch her bottom to which she reacted with a roll of the eyes. Coffee, tea or me? Sexism, I reflected would be something I would have to deal with; it seemed a given here.
As a man, most of my life I had enjoyed the nearly invisible social advantages that conveyed in my world. But now, in this world, I would have to deal with men who had even higher status than I had enjoyed, while I was reduced to being a teenage girl. A rich and possibly spoiled teenage girl with an arranged marriage hanging over my head.
I sighed and gave Tahtie a little hug, not that I could easily reach around him, then I continued looking around, trying to assess the situation.
The dozen or so men in the room were almost all apparently in their forties or even older, like Tahtie. Their beards would make a Mennonite colony proud. They wore leggings above boots, with shorter robes than the women, and heavier coats. Some of them had pieces of metal-studded leather on legs, arms, breast, neck or stomach. Armor implied a need for it.
All of the men and the one older high-class woman had weapons. The woman had only a knife but the men all had knives as well as something large; swords, axes or those metal-bound baseball bats. No one was wearing a helmet, though a few had on caps or hats, but I could see a pile of headgear on one table near what might be an outside door.
A warlike bunch, for sure, and they did kind of resemble the dwarves and humans from the Lord of the Rings movies in how they were dressed and reacted to one another. Some discussion had been going on and I got all kinds of looks as I pushed away from the Orley, my father – and that was a thought that still had a peculiar comfort to it. I stood close to him, feeling comforted because I knew he would die –or kill– to protect me. Of course, that protection came with a cost I might not be willing to pay.
Rotgar stood to the side within reach, with Kilda a pace or two behind me. More allies. I wiped my eyes with my hands and then wiped my hands on my coat. Handkerchiefs didn’t seem to be a thing here.
The Orley said, “Rotgar had been telling us about the try Hustab the Landsman made at stealing you.” He gave me a light one-armed hug as he spoke, gesturing toward the younger man.
Rotgar nodded, smiling, but did not move from beside me. He opened his mouth to say something then glanced at me and closed it as if a contrary thought had stopped him from speaking.
I looked at him, wondering just what he had already told them. Somehow, I didn’t think it would be a good idea for a roomful of bloodthirsty medievalists to know what my “little bell” could do. I made an abrupt decision to be proactive about concealing the truth. “He saved me,” I said, smiling at my father. “He killed three of them and chased the others off.”
“Ach?” Rotgar looked at me and I nodded, trying to communicate that he should go along with my version. “Well, I killed two and Thor’s lightning did for Hustab,” Rotgar amended.
“We were just getting to that part,” said Tahtie Adelwalt. “They had armored spears and maces, and you had only your blade? Pretty good sword work.” A murmur went through the gathered beards, like a breeze in a wooly forest.
Rotgar grinned. “I kept moving and I knew the land,” he said, making light of a five-against-one battle. Most of the men grinned back at him or scowled. It was hard to tell through all the shrubbery.
“And where were you, daughter?” Tahtie asked me. He still had an arm around me and I one part-way around him.
“Hiding under a cedar bush,” I admitted. “They had me wrapped up like….” I meant to say mummy, but there didn’t seem to be a word for that. “Like a corpse for the grave, and I was trying to get free.” Something occurred to me to add to the tale. “I must have had a knock on the head because I don’t recall getting, uh, grabbed. I didn’t truly know what was going on.”
Tahtie nodded. I didn’t like lying to the old man, but I went on.
“Then the lightning came down,” I said. “It struck the leader, uh, Hustab? And I guess I was close enough to be knocked out, again, too.” Ikka den ikka?
Everyone grinned at me now, and some of them shook their heads. I went back over just what I had said and realized that “knocked out” was not quite the meaning of the phrase I had used. It came out closer to “banged goofy” with a little of the double meaning that banged has in English. I blushed.
Rotgar didn’t correct me. “The thunder made pie of Hustab’s face and brains,” said Rotgar. Pie was what he said, pikka is pie. “The roar of it banged all the rest of us flat on our backs, and when I got up, the last two had run off.” He turned toward me but still spoke to the Orley. “I found your darling under the cedar bush, nearly naked and frozen and I carried her inside.”
Tahtie nodded. “You did well, young’un,” he said. Seriously, the word sounded just like a countrified “young’un” and meant about the same, too. “I see I was right to make you one of my boys when you turned sixteen last fall.” Nobben had the meaning and connotation that boys might have if used by a mob leader in an old movie.
But — sixteen? That moose Rotgar was only sixteen? I boggled at him, and I swear all the men snickered through their face foliage.
I missed something, distracted by watching Rotgar preen himself because he did it in a self-aware, self-deprecating way, dripping charisma and aw-shucks. I wanted to slap him, or, or something, I wasn’t sure what. And now everyone was looking at me.
Tahtie asked. “Are you all right, daughter?”
“I’m fine,” I said, thinking we had already established this.
Kelda spoke up, “I took care to look for signs, lord. They did not make themselves unwelcome with her.”
I blinked. Oh, good, I thought; I hadn’t been raped. And I missed more of the conversation thinking about the implications.
But Tahtie had already considered one of them. “Then the wedding can go forward in three days, as already bespoke.”
Maybe I could claim I had PTSD?
At that moment, three men came in the larger doors at the other end of the hall, two men supporting another one between them.
Tahtie turned. “I sent your brother after the other two men, looks like he caught one of them,” he said.
A big man with a blond beard and a scar near his mouth looked up, smiling viciously. “I did, father. The other died, and their horse-holder got away, but I got one of these carrion crows.”
Everyone in the room moved that direction, including me. I had to get a better look at this brother; there was something about him I needed to see closer.
“Well done, Yungvalt,” said Tahtie. This must be the brother, half-brother really, the one that Kilda had called Valto.
“Put him down here, Asamund,” said Valto and the two of them threw their captive on one of the wider benches.
“Somezing to drink,” the man said. He spoke with an accent, turning some sounds hissy but I understood him fine. It occurred to me that Rotgar had an accent, too, just not one as extreme. But everyone in the room turned to look at me when he spoke.
I took a step back, surprised. Kilda still stood beside me and whispered into my ear. “He has been blamed for doing you a hurt; only you or your father can give him to drink, and if you do, then they won’t be able to kill him without a trial.”
I looked around. Several wooden, clay or metal drinking vessels stood on the tables. No one said a word to me. I took one of the cruddier looking wooden ones and glanced inside; it had about two inches of what smelled like sour beer in it. I walked toward the captive and people got out of my way, though Valto and Asamund kept their hold on the man.
“How are you called?” I asked him.
“Zenner, my lady,” he said. “Zenner Lu Renart.” He had a narrow face, bright brown eyes and a beard and mustache that had been trimmed regularly.
“Make him promise to talk before you give him gastfrey,” said Valto.
“Or speak ill for him and we cut his throat now,” added Asamund.
Zenner looked at me with pleading eyes. “We neva-ar meant to hurt you, lady.”
I poured the cup of beer on his head.
And the room went wild. Apparently, to this gang of not-Vikings, this was a really good joke. Tahtie roared with laughter almost directly behind me, and Rotgar whooped in what sounded like real German as well as in the local pseudo-English.
Zenner smiled nervously and licked some of the sour beer off his mustache. “Zank you,” he said. “I azeto your offer of gas-deerecta.”
“Bueno, esta mejor por ti, que lo has hecho,” I said — in my atrocious Spanish for some reason. Good, it’s better for you, that you have done it. Zenner gave me an odd look, as if he had half-understood that.
“Gastfrey,” Rotgar corrected him. “Gastricked you have not earned.” The difference between hospitality and, uh, neighborliness? Gastricked sounded like something that might produce flatulence or other symptoms, but it was apparently a very serious custom here.
Everyone seemed to be in a better mood now, and Zenner was allowed to sit at the high table with the Orley, me, Rotgar, my brother Valto and some of the other large, hirsute types. Bardamasser was the word; it meant elder, councilor, and big beard all at once. I wondered if there were a female equivalent and what it would be. For some reason, I looked down at my chest then shook off that thought.
Sitting directly across from him, I finally got a better look at Valto. He looked familiar for some reason, despite scars and a certain wildness in his expression. Blond hair. Wide jaw and deep chin, what I could see of them through his beard. High forehead, close-set ears, lashes and eyebrows darker than the hair on his head. Green eyes. “Thou hast greyn eygen sich,” I murmured and recognized it as what the girl in the fountain had said just before the darkness swallowed me. “You have such green eyes.”
“Ikka,” I added.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.