I am sore. My womb is empty. My head full of fears, dark thoughts and sorrow. It had been my failure and not for the world to know. Only a few chosen ones, and my husband was not among those who would ever know. He was, in fact, the last one I’d want to tell but it was alright. He was away and he would be away for weeks, plundering, and revenging the evil deeds done to us. But only I knew he sought vengeance too far from home.
It was late in the Sun month when they came. We were, of course, the first farm they hit, so we never saw them coming. It was the way they wanted it. In the middle of the night we smelled the outhouses burning and my husband and his brothers ran out to put water on the fire but instead they were met with swords and knives. My husband survived, he was found lying under the barn wall and assumed to be dead. If it hadn’t been for my sister, he would have died, but she blew life in him with her herbs and her touch and with the help of the goddess Frigga who she has dedicated herself to.
The violators, the vikings who raided our farm, hadn’t stopped at slaying my husbands brothers and burning down the outhouses. They stole our horses, killed our sheep and they raped the women.
As the wife of Magnus the Ghost Slayer I was a pray left mainly for the chief, I knew him as Thord the Beardless. I knew him from my youth. He had lived on the farm next to my fathers and I guess that’s what saved me from the humiliation of being raped by all the men in his group. I was gathering the children, waking the household when they came rushing in. They killed the men, even my Falk, who was just 11 years old.
And for that I hate them more than anything.
Then the men started having their fun with the women. They threw their swords, no longer afraid of retaliation as they had slain all the men who were sword worthy. Thord yelled to leave me to him, told the men that they’d get their turn when he was finished with me and then he dragged me by the hair into the pantry.
Thord the Beardless, we had played together in the river and when I was thirteen I had wanted him to become my husband. I had begged my father to accept his offer, but my father was merciless.
The first thing Thord said to me was “don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you”.
Then he sat down on the floor beside me, smiling contentedly.
“I’ve slain your husband” he said, “I’ve killed your son and I know you will never forgive me for that. You might not forgive me for what I’m about to do either. But I’m taking what was mine in the first place. Those children should have been mine, the blond boy should have been my son”.
I knew better than to answer him right away. I may not have the muscles or the knowhow to yield the heavy swords but I have a sharp tongue, and I know when to use it and when to hold it.
“Will you lift your skirts willingly? Or do I have to force them up?” he looked at me, smiling. The blood darkening in his face and on his hands. I looked at his sword, the sword I thought had slain my husband.
Then I looked back at Thord.
“Why have you done this?” I asked coldly.
“I am revenging my name” he said, “your husband has ridiculed me for the last time. Your father as well. I will never again be laughed at. I will be feared by what is left of your kin. And I will have you too.” He grinned.
“I will not fight you” I told him, “you do what you have to do, but hear this, Thord the Beardless” I saw him flinch at his nickname, but he said nothing.
“You will have no joy in your conquering, you are salvaging your hurt ego by slaying innocent children, boys who were not yet men and for that I curse you. May what was left of my love for you freeze in the river Gjöll and call for you when you take your last breath.”
He raised his eyebrow, smiled and put his hand on my thigh lifting my skirts. I could see insecurity in his eyes, insecurity that slowly vanished as he loosened his belt and started to take me from behind like a dog. “Your curses sting, woman” he said as he pushed inside me.
When he was finished I laughed. “What’s wrong Thord?” I asked him, “aren’t you man enough to look a woman in the eyes when you rape her? Or are you just a dog?”
“That makes you a bitch, doesn’t it?” he said and hit me over the chin. It wasn’t a very hard blow but I fell backwards and he took the opportunity to take me again, this time he looked me in the eyes, grinning all the while.
“I guess your husband wasn’t man enough to satisfy you, so you take the opportunity when you get it?”
He grunted and stroked my cheek, it was a calm, almost kind, gesture. “You were such a pretty girl and you are such a beautiful woman” he said. “It’s a shame I can’t take you with me”.
“Don’t” I pleaded with him and he stopped. Then he hit me again, not hard this time either but enough to make marks in my face. Then he left the room, yelling that there was nothing left of me for the others.
I stayed in there until I heard the hoofs of their horses leaving the premisses. Then I went out to help the others. The women were in bad shape and most of the men were dead. My sister arrived just an hour after the slaughter and found me holding my son, crying tears over him. And she was the one who cried life into my husband against all odds.
We learned later that the raid had been stopped three farms down the valley. A dreng had seen what was happening and alerted his master. They had abandoned the farm and alerted the others, then the men had gathered to face the intruders.
They were stopped by the creek, where we used to meet as kids me, Thord the Beardless and the other kids in the valley. All were slain except Thord the Beardless and two of his men, who managed to escape like cowards.
We got help building up our farm, preparing for winter is hard when you’ve had everything taken from you but my husband and his brothers had helped the chieftain to power and they had been his right hand for a long time. My husband was rewarded for that. Our barn was rebuilt, we got farm animals from different farms with only a promise of future help and understanding.
When the Sun month turned to Fall month my husband heard that Thord the Beardless and his men had been sighted in the south, far from here, he started to make plans to avenge his brothers. He and my sister sat over the fire long after all else had gone to bed and they formed their plans. My sister was blood thirsty, she wanted Thord the Beardless, not only for what he did to me but what he did to Falk and the others. She was enraged, more enraged than I ever was.
I guess I didn’t have the strength to be as mad as she so she was mad for me.
When I first realized that Thord had left something with me I was almost as enraged as she was. But then I started to want this child. A child doesn’t replace another child and I still wanted blood for what Thord had done to us, but this child was something special. This life within me, I could feel the power of it even at this early stage. I could feel his essence talking to me. I could feel that this would become a great chieftain and a powerful man. I knew his soul as soon as I knew he was within me.
And I reveled in the knowledge. He was not my husbands, but he was mine and only mine. I whispered the secret to none but my sister. One night over the stove I told her I was carrying a child.
She awed and took my shoulders. “Much burden falls on you, sister” she said and she didn’t see me shaking my head. “I will help you with this horror” she said.
“No” I told her. “I will not have you take it. There has been enough death and I …”
“You want this child? You want his bastard growing within you?”
“It could be Magnus’ child. You don’t know that it isn’t.”
“Are you willing to risk seeing his eyes meeting you when the child is born?”
“I don’t want this child harmed” I told her, “It is mine, not his”.
And my sister, she put her arms around me and nodded her head and she promised me that she would keep my secret for as long as I wanted.
My sister who has never carried a child and never loved a man, other than my husband. But she was my sister and she did not resent me for what I had had little control over. She had given herself to Frigg and to her magic and she had come to us when she knew we needed her help and promised to stay for as long as we needed help. I loved her for that, and I guess I still do.
Then my husband went on a viking with all weapon ready men in the valley. They went to revenge our honor and find the man guilty, the man who had been able to escape. They left saying that they would be back before winter broke heavy and Ýlir greeted us.
We were left with a lot of work to be done but I realized that avenging what had happened was important. I kissed my husband and waved him off. I had made sure my husband had reason to believe that the belly he saw greeting him when he got back was his. It had been a rather hard thing to do, however, because although he didn’t blame me for what had happened, he didn’t seem to be able to look me in the eyes either.
I couldn’t blame him. He knew all about my childhood hopes and dreams. He knew the relationship I’d had with Thord the Beardless before I became his wife and whatever doubt he’d had about my feelings in the past were now doubled.
I managed, but I knew that there would always be a shred of doubt in his mind, no matter what I did.
They left and the household was quieter than ever. My sister kept me company on the long autumn evenings and she kept me company during daytime when we had to do the labor of two. I found her at times looking into the skjár. I knew she could see far beyond what I did. Sometimes she smiled, sometimes she frowned.
At one time I found her in the barn speaking words better left unsaid. I heard her spouting a spell, a spell of words that create the world or ruin it. She spoke words that bound what was within me to him.
A week later I started bleeding and my son, the chieftain, died in a pool of blood just like his father did at the very same moment I assume. My son came welling out of me like a lump of goo and I could almost feel the sting of my husbands sword as he stuck it into the gut of the man he hated so much. Thord the Beardless was dead, of that I was sure and now, so was his son.
I walk about, an empty woman, but when the life wells out of you in blood and gore you get filled with something else. Your mind fills with dark thoughts, fear and anger, anger stronger than anything you’ve felt before. It eats at you, makes you foul and moldy.
I confronted my sister when she was singing songs of happiness. I told her I’d heard her in the barn, casting her binding spells.
“I did it for you, sister, some day you will thank me” she said.
“You did not do it for me” I told her, “I told you that this child was mine, not his and you went and did it anyway. You bound my child to the father and you did so against my will”.
“You conceived a child in violence” she said, “it would have been a horrible child, an evil chieftain and a monster” she said.
“It would have been mine, a great man and an honorable one” I shouted at her. She was confronted, angry.
“I know you yearn for my husband” I told her, “I know you mean me no harm, but I know you kiss him in the night when I’m not looking. I know you’ve wished he’d fill you up, the way he’s filled me up. You wish that you could carry the life he’s given me and that now has been taken again.”
“You have daughters” she said.
“And I love them with all my heart, but one child does not replace another, if you were a mother you’d know this”.
“Don’t cast my barrenness in my face” she pleaded.
“Forgive me, sister, but you give me little choice” I told her. “You’ve taken from me what was mine. You’ve murdered my unborn child, a child I greatly wanted and you’ve done so behind my back”.
“I did as your husband willed. He told me to take every precaution so that you would not bear a child that could be his enemies”.
“So this was his will?” the anger grew in me, took me over and I felt the words burning on my tongue, pleading to come out.
“You know I cursed him, I cursed Thord for what he did. I cursed him with all that mother taught us. I cursed my love for him, bound him to it and sent it to the river Gjöll down in Hel where it would keep him cold and dishonored. Now you have sent the soul of my child the same way and together they wait. He may have raped me, taken something that wasn’t his to take, but what you did was worse. What you did was unforgivable, may your magic rot your soul and make you ugly. May your barren flesh rot around you as you live through the ages. May you live alone, longing for something you’ll never get. May your love for my husband keep you alive, I bind you to it and for as long as you love him you may never die.”
She gasped. “But” but she couldn’t even say my name. Her hand fumbled her stomach, her eyes looked at me in awe and in horror.
“Do you use your words against your loving sister? Someone who has done nothing but support you, honor you and keep you safe?”
“You are no longer my sister, a sister may want her sisters husband, she may even mount him from time to time and I would be angry but still call you my sister, but to take from me something that I told you was mine, and mine alone..? That is unforgivable”.
And it was as if light came on in her eyes. She nodded in understanding and then she spoke.
“It is true that I love Magnus the Ghost Slayer. He saved my life and my soul at one time, we fought a horror that no one should ever have to face and it bound me to him. It saddened me greatly when he chose to ask for your hand and not mine, but it was his will and I guess his instincts were right. You have given him sons and you will give him more, but you do not love him the way I do. You never did.”
“I don’t resent you for loving him” I told her, “I may find it unfortunate, I may have been angry when I heard your pleasures in the pantry but it was what it was and it never bore fruit. I wanted life for you, sister and not this living death you have now chosen for yourself.”
“You call me sister, still” she said.
“It is out of habit. You may stay. I will not deprive you of your great beloved. But you will stay away from me and I will never again call you sister. And my words will come true.”
“I believe you, sister” she said. “For I shall not stop calling you so, just because you will”.
She sighed and nodded her head, “I accept your curse and whatever power fulfills it” she said.
And I left her there. The woman who was no longer my sister sat down on her knees and cried.
I cried as well, for the emptiness in my womb, for the life that would not be and for the what would come instead. I cried for my inability to punish my husband for what he had done. And I cried for the monstrosity that had awoken.
When my husband came back from his raid, a day before the month of Ýlir started he told us stories of his great triumph and how Thord the Beardless and his men had pleaded for their lives in disgrace. He told stories of how he had pushed his sword through his heart and I felt the sting of it in my womb still. The blood, that was still gushing out of me, seemed to become warmer and I wanted to grab it with my hands and smear him bloody with it for this death was on his hands as well.
I am sore. My womb is empty. My words make truth and a child is born. A blond little boy, with a harsh temper and a viking spirit. He is mine and he is my husbands, but he bears the curse my sister placed on us. A monster is born, my heart is black and so is my sons.
But he will be a great chieftain and he will succeed in everything he puts his mind to.
I will see to that. My words weave the world.