The Spaewife, a snippet

Norse Magic, prophecy, goddesses, and a revenge denied…or is it?

THE SPAEWIFE
by
David L. Burkhead

The Norns speak to me.  Not the great Norns, not Verthandi, Urd, and Skuld.  No, I have never been to Urd’s Well, not even in vision.  The lesser Norns speak to me, the Norns that follow each man, woman and child and dictate their fate.

The Norns speak to me and they tell me terrible things.  I give thanks to the gods that I do not understand most of the things they tell me, for what I do understand is awful enough.

The oiled skin in the window glowed with the light of early morning as I kneaded the sourdough into fresh barley dough.  My son, Asbjorn, had gone to the creek to see what fish our traps had caught and my daughter, Drifa still slept in the loft.

I formed the dough into mounds and placed it on the tray.  I placed a fist-sized piece of the dough into a clay pot and set it aside to use for the next batch.

The latch on our cottage door rattled as Sveinna fumbled home after a long night at the Jarl’s longhouse with the other men.

The door open and Sveinna stepped in. “Woman!  Where is my breakfast?”

His words were harsh but I saw the smile in his eyes.  I felt warmth grow upward from my stomach and my own smile pulled at my lips.

Then I saw the Norn behind him.  Her smile held nothing of joy or cheer.  Her eyes narrowed.

Sveinna could not see her, nor could he hear as she looked at me and said, “Soon.”

The smile forming on my own face at Sveinna’s appearance froze.

I turned and put the tray of bread to rise by the hearth, still warmed with the banked fire.  By the time I turned back to Sveinna, the smile was back on my face.

“Welcome home, my husband.”

“Welcome home is it?” He grabbed me and pressed me to him.  Then, he let go and clutched his head. “Oh, the night was long indeed.  There was too much talking, too much singing, and far too much ale.”

I swept up my mixing spoon in my hand and tapped him on the head. “And too many pretty thralls eager to keep you company?”

“There were thralls enough, goodwife,” he said.

“Comely ones?”

“Comely enough,” Sveinna said.  From the first day we’d met, he had never lied to me. “And they would have kept me company had I wished.  But what I wished was to be here with you.  I have not tired of you yet, woman.”

With that he pulled me to him again and we tumbled to the straw-strewn floor.

#

“Ageirr claimed the field just east of ours,” Sveinna said around a mouthful of bread, “but he has not worked it, not in four summers.  Kvigr said that he had strong sons who would work the land.  After much talk, we agreed to cede the land to Kvigr, but he has to give half of the first harvest from it to Ageirr.”

I nodded and refil[d1] led his cup.  Sveinna always told me about the Thing and the decisions made. “So Kvigr will be our neighbor?”

“Not Kvigr,” Sveinna said. “His sons.” He frowned and looked toward the door. “Speaking of sons, what is keeping that boy?”

“Momma?”

I looked up.  Drifa peered down at me from the loft.

“Hey, little girl,” I said.  My gaze flicked past her to the Norn who stood behind her but I could read nothing in its face. “You ready for breakfast.”

“Make water,” she said and began to climb down the ladder from the loft.

“Asbjorn!” Sveinna called behind me as he stepped out the door.

I took Drifa by the hand and draped her cloak over her shoulders against the morning chill.

“Momma!  Now!”

“Patience, sweetling.” I grabbed my own cloak and frowned.  Something was not right.

With Drifa in tow, I went out the door.

Sveinna stood just outside the door, unmoving, his hands spread slightly from his sides.  His Norn looked at me, a broad grin on her face, then looked back the other way.  I followed her gaze.

At the edge of the clearing around the house, where the path led to the river, stood five, no, six men.  One of them held Asbjorn, who struggled in his grip and against the hand clamped over his mouth.  Another stood next to him, his dagger hovering just in front of Asbjorn’s exposed throat.

“What do you wish with my son?” Sveinna’s voice was soft, like the low growl of a wolf before it leaps.

“Your son?” One of the men laughed. “I want nothing with your son.  No, it’s her I want.” He pointed at me.

I pushed Drifa behind me. “Inside, sweetie,” I whispered.

Sveinna took a step toward the woodpile, toward the axe that the men across the field would be unable to see from where they stood. “And what do you want with my wife?”

Inside I screamed.  Sveinna’s Norn?  Was this the time?  No.  Please, no.

“She is a witch that tells the future,” the man, the leader I supposed, raised his open hand toward me. “I would have her tell it for me.”

“I tell when the rain will come, or the frost; when is best to plant and when to harvest,” I said. “Nothing more.”

“No?” The man gestured and the other pressed the dagger up against Asbjorn’s throat. “I think you can tell much more.  Who lives.  Who dies.  What I must do to win battles.”

I shook my head.  I had never spoken of the Norn’s words to me, ever.  They frightened me.  They told of wars where more people died in a single day of battle than lived in all our village, in all the Northlands even.  Men would think me mad were I to tell such tales.  I spoke instead as I had said, of weather, of harvest, of planting.  No more than that. “I have never told more than those things.”

“But you can, can you not.  What you have told, and what you can tell, are not the same.”  He raised a hand. “Gefvaldr!”

The man holding the knife pressed it harder against Asbjorn’s throat.  A trickle of blood ran along the blade.

“Yes!” I cried. “I can.  Do not hurt him!  My son!”

The man lowered his hand.  The other, the one with the knife, removed it from Asbjorn’s throat.  I could not look away from the line of red on his throat from which blood dripped.

“You!” The man pointed at Sveinna who now stood next to the woodpile. “Move no further.” He raised a hand again and two of the men raised spears, poised to hurl at Sveinna.

“Sveinna, my husband, please,” I whispered.  I glanced at his Norn and turned my eyes from the look of glee on her face. “Anger them not.”

Sveinna stood straight, looked at me, and nodded.

“You will come with me,” the man said. “You will tell the future as I bid, when I bid.  And in turn, I will leave these others in peace.” His voice grew hard. “And if you do not, I will kill them all and take you anyway.”

I closed my eyes and bowed my head.  I had no choice.  I took one step toward the man, then another.  Numbly, I walked across the clearing to him.

“Hnaki, take her,” the man said.  One of his companions, Hnaki, grabbed me by the arms from behind.

The man who had been speaking all this time raised a hand and pointed at Sveinna.

“No!” I screamed, but I was too late.  The two men with poised spears hurled them.  One buried itself in Sveinna’s stomach, the other in his chest.  As I struggled in Hnaki’s arms, Sveinna sank to his knees.  His right hand stretched out toward the axe, grasped the handle, raised it.

I could not turn away.  Sveinna lifted the axe overhead, and then his hand opened.  The axe fell.  Sveinna tumbled to the cold ground.

“The girl is inside,” the man, the leader of these bandits, said. “Get her.  Then burn the place.”

“The Jarl will not let you live,” I said, still staring at Sveinna’s body.

The man laughed. “The Jarl?  He removed a bag from where it hung at his belt.  He opened it and reached inside.

At the sight of the Jarl’s head, I fainted.


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What can a spaewife do, when even the gods are against her and the future she foresees is full of horrors?

For years Katla Gudmarsdottir told no one of the things the Norns, controllers of fate, told her were coming. She shared forecastings of when to plant and when to harvest and other simple things, but not the dread visions the Norns gave her.

Now Ulfarr, the Foul one, has kidnapped her and holds her children hostage for her foretelling.

And alone, forsaken even by the Norns, Katla must save herself, her children and her people.

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