|A Change Of Clothes
Author: Maladicta PM
A young girl is banished to the Minehame as punishment for her brother’s disappearance one winter’s day. Three years later she is shocked to find herself recalled to the Hame and en-thralled to her sister as a Bride-Gift. A Short Story Challenge.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 5,969 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 12-11-10 - Published: 11-28-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2868662
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
My first challenge story after joining Team Free Will. I have failed the word limit abysmally.
Challenge: A character changes clothes, but it is done for different reasons than people would expect. During the story a character misreads something.
Vetir looked up through her tangled hair, her ice blue eyes focusing on the rich kyrtill of the warrior who stood before her.
"Hedda Thorinsdottir?" he rumbled. Vetir started slightly at the unfamiliar address. She wondered idly when her punishment would be for silence, but a quick look at the Mine guards convinced her otherwise. There were too many beatings in her life already, to be foolish enough to ask the gods for more.
"Ja," Vetir answered softly, eyes lowering to rest on warrior's leather boots. A grunt was the only affirmation she received, and Vetir hoped that with his curiosity satisfied the man would leave. She had no wish to hear that name again, and ever less to be known by it. She was Hedda no longer, her fiery wrath having been drained from her by the Vetr Queen's Kiss. She was Vetir now, Winter's Kiss; the Burning Frost whose coming heralded the Long Sleep.
The warrior was her father's man, she could tell by the braid at his throat and wrists. Vetir's guts clenched and the scarred skin of her shoulders tightened. Perhaps he had come to kill her? After three years at the Mine she had become an abnormality, a freak. She was known by the others as Amma, grandmother, for her great age, though Vetir would never tempt the gods by calling herself wise. But she knew things, like when the tunnels were unsafe, or when a storm was coming, or when the slop the Overseer called food was bad. Vetir's mind raced, and she had fully convinced herself of her own demise when she was pulled roughly to her feet by her putrid tangled mass of hair and dragged towards the Minehame.
Vetir pressed her face to the bars of her father's Tithe Wagon as it rumbled through the mountains. Two days had passed since she had been dragged from the Mine, and while she was no longer en-thrall to the Overseer, neither was she free. Vetir reached up and ran a finger underneath her slave collar, now firmly chained to the wagon's wall. The warrior had not spoken to her after his initial question, he had simply thrown her into the back of the wagon via her nest of hair, and before she had the presence of mind to run, snapped a chain to her collar and barred the door. Vetir looked down at the bread end she had secreted at her feet. Her stomach, shrunk by infrequent meals had rebelled at even this meager meal, but she had doggedly persevered until the bread end was all that remained of the loaf.
Raising her eyes to the far horizon Vetir could just pick out the plateau that held Thorinshame, her father's seat through which he ruled their mountainous Hame. Her memories of it were hazy at best, from long ago, before the Mine, before her Banishment for the commission of a crime she could not remember. Vetir moved her hand under her tangled nest of hair to run her fingers across the scars that were hidden there. She remembered the pain though. The fear and the anger… and the cold. The Vetr Queen had kept her for a full winter, releasing her when the spring bulbs had peaked from the soil. But she had been different when she had immerged from the high forest. Legs unsteady, not used to walking upright, skin and hair as pale as snow, for scarlet animals did not live long past winter's first frost. She had known that they were searching for her, or rather, for Thorinson, her brother and her father's chosen heir. The wind had told her, its whispers caressing her naked skin as her traitorous legs brought her stumbling down from the icy peaks. They had been afraid of her, the peasant men who had been taken from the fields to search. She had surrounded and brought to kneel at her father's feet. He had not believed her tales of snow and madness, had called her liar and worse…
Kinslayer they had whispered as she was dragged to the peak. Kinslayer they had chanted while her arms had been stretched above her head. Kinslayer they had shouted as the whip whistled down biting mercilessly in the flesh of her back. But she had kept her secrets along with her screams, locked tightly behind her teeth, for the utter either would have been testimony of her crime. Vetir was jarred out of her memories as the Tithe Wagon hit a particularly large rut. Night had fallen while she mused, and the wagon was slowing. They would reach Thorinshame with the dawn.
Once again Vetir was on her knees, a position she was coming to despise. Her father was sprawled on the dais above her. To his right stood a hunched figure wearing an encompassing feldr. To his left stood her sister Marglod, she of the golden hair and guileless smile.
"So my little Logi," Thorin rasped, his weathered face creasing in a smirk "You have returned to us," Vetir was tempted to remind him that her return, like her exile, had not been of her choosing, but she kept her words to herself, lest her pertinent tongue invite a beating.
"You have been summoned back to our Hame to rejoice in our good tidings. Your honored systir has been pledged in marriage to an Lowland Thane," he paused and after a moment Vetir belatedly realised that he was waiting for a response
"Glad tidings indeed Lord-Fadir," she whispered, not daring to raise her eyes lest they betray her surprise at the news. The Nordanverdr had been at war with the Smali, the Lowlanders, for generations. The Nord's raided the Lowlander's farms and villages, making off with their cows and their wives. The Lowlander's retaliated by burning the Nodish forests containing the Skogr trees, the wealth of the Hames. The Nord's responded in turn by launching their Ulfr-batir's, the feared wolf-boats, against the Lowland coasts and islands. Vetir's own modir came from such a raid. She had been brought back as a field thrall, but her flame red hair, slight frame and pale skin soon earned her a place in the Hame Lord's bed. Thorin had been delighted when she had become pregnant, and equally distraught when the birth of his child had killed her. The birthing woman had told Vetir later that it happened often, with the smaller thralls. Their bodies were simply not built to withstand the Norden men. Their hips were too narrow to bear their babies, and usually both mother and child went to the fires.
Vetir had lived, against all expectations and she had thrived. Though slight of frame she had kept up with her older cousins and brother, flame hair trailing behind her like a banner as she ran after them at their games. She had been an indulged child, petted and coddled for her crimson hair and dancing green eyes so different from the Norden. Not that it had helped her in the end.
"… and we are of course, happy to allow your conditional return to the Hame," Vetir realised she had missed the majority of her father's speech, caught up in her memories as she'd been.
"You are to become huskarl to your systir on her journey south. You will aid her with her argr preparations, her meals, and her trunks. But first," Thorin paused dramatically "You will bathe. You smell like a dog." Vetir could feel her pale cheeks glowing as she rose from her prostration on the floor. Stiff and silent she followed the huskarl from the Holl and deeper into the smar Hame.
"Well, Hedda, Fadir was right about one thing. You really do stink," muttered Marglod as she absently adjusted her amber beads strung between the twin oval broaches on her chest. Marglod clapped her hands and two sweating slaves brought a large metal bath into the chamber and before Vetir could so much as utter a squeak of protest she found herself shoulder deep in a tub of scalding water with her sister's huskarl's scrubbing at her mercilessly. They clucked over the state of her hair, its matted filth and licey depths, they clucked over the state of her skin with its ingrained filth and they positively squawked over her nails. Vetir felt like she was surrounded by a gabble of unhappy chickens, each one intent on pecking her to death. After a second scrubbing they finally pronounced themselves happy and left.
Vetir cocked her head to the side and stared at her sister's face
"What do you want Marglod?" She asked quietly, feeling a surge of satisfaction as he sister failed to hold her icy gaze. "Why am I here?" her sister picked up a large drying sheet from the birta rack and handed it to Vetir, gesturing for her to seat herself by the fire.
"I find myself being exiled to a strange land," Marglod began as she picked up a carved bone comb and began to pull it distractedly through Vetir's tangled locks. "Why wouldn't I want my beloved systir with me?"
"I am your systir no longer," Vetir corrected softly, trying not to wince as the bone teeth pulled at her snarls. She breathed a sigh of relief as her sister scooped up a handful of scented goat feitr and massaged it into her tresses.
"Can you comprehend it? You, little more then a thrall? Can you understand the skomm of it?" Marglod mused aloud. Vetir turned incredulous eyes upon her older sister.
"You could be whipped for such talk Marglod," Vetir said finally. She felt her sister shrug unconcerned
"Fadir would not dare to beat me so close to the end of the vika. He would not want to present damaged goods to the Smalamadr," Vetir winced at the description of the place-taker who would pledge her sister's husband's troth.
"Stand," Marglod commanded. Vetir's body obeyed, though her mind was still caught up in thought. She hardly even winced when Marglod began to tug the knots free from her hair. "Your lessons will start tomorrow with my body huskarl. She will teach you my argr dressing and clothing. The kitchen huskarl will teach you food preparation for our journey. After all, I doubt those outlanders could make a decent skause if you paid them."
"And tonight?" Vetir asked warily
"Tonight you sew," Marglod said, "You still remember how, yes?" Vetir nodded cautiously, not all her skills had been lost in the Mine "Good. Then you will go through those." Marglod gestured towards a cluster of baskets in the corner "You can cut down my old things to fit you. I've had that saurr you arrived in burned. My personal huskarl Frei will aid you. I expect you to be neat and clean at all times. Do you understand me?"
"Ja systir," Vetir agreed quietly
"That's another thing. You will address me as Herra from now on. You gave up your right to claim kinship with my brodir's death. Is that understood?" Marglod asked imperiously
"Ja," Vetir answered coldly "Herra," she added when she saw her sister's eyes darken with warning. Marglod turned her towards the polished shield in the corner.
"There, you are now presentable and will not disgrace me if you are seen in the Holl," Vetir swallowed a gasp. Her hair was no longer a tangled mess, instead it fell to her waist in a single wave, and her skin shone pale in the candlelight, no longer mottled with Mine filth. She might even have been called pretty, in her own way
"Of course," her sister added pointedly "You will look much better once you're clothed," Taking the hint Vetir moved towards the baskets of old clothes choosing one at random she emptied out the mixture of kirrtle's, under dresses, hangerock's and accessories. Taking up the sewing kit, she sank to her knees and began to work.
With the help of the huskarl Frei Vetir had a full set of clothes cut down by morning, an under-tunic of linen, a woolen overdress and a contrasting hangerock, a suspended apron dress held together with twin pan-annular broaches. Vetir had also made an ally of Frei by insisting she take a goodly share of the clothing. Marglod would never notice, and the majority of Marglod's clothes were in shades that suited her sister's colouring and that of the other Norden women. Vetir was happy to give the majority away, and in turn Frei was happy to alter the remaining garments and accessories to Vetir's measurements while Vetir worked with the kitchen thralls to learn how to prepare Marglod's favorite foods.
The remaining days of the vika were spent waiting on her sister in the Holl at mealtimes, choosing her sister's wardrobe, and practicing dressing her hair in the high braids and loops that denoted a married woman. By the time the feast-dayof the vika arrived Vetir was exhausted. But now was not the time to rest. The Lowland Thane and his sjot made up of his body servants and his men-at-arms were to be presented in the Holl this night. Vetir was alone in Marglot's chambers when Frei bustled in followed by two of the Smali men at arms bearing a midsize trunk between them. They set it before the unlit hearth and turned to bow towards her. Vetir dismissed them with a gesture, belatedly realizing that in Marglod's cast off clothing they had mistaken her for her sister. Frei gave an over exaggerated bow to Vetir as the men at arms left, then they both collapsed before the hearth in silent laughter.
"Come," the older woman said, when they had both caught their breaths "Let us see what these Smali have offered as a Bride Gift for you systir," both women fell upon the cedar lined trunk but their curiosity turned to open mouthed stares when they beheld its contents
"Feiknstaf,' Vetir whispered, lifting the material out reverently Frei and Vetir spread the gift out on Marglod's sleeping platform. The heavy black velvet turned out to be an exquisite gown, sewn in the Lowland style. Low fronted and high backed it was fitted almost indecently close to the upper body and trimmed with pearls and what appeared to be white bone beads. The sleeves were tight fitting and laced closed from elbow to wrist. The back too laced closed and Vetir saw Frei blush as she came to Vetir's earlier conclusion.
"Marglod will not be happy with this gift," Frei whispered and Vetir inclined her head in agreement. Marglod was a strong Nord woman, big breasted and big boned she towered over many of the men in the Holl. While the dress appeared to be cut large, when laced into it Marglod would resemble something akin to an overstuffed blod sausage.
"So much svartr, like it is spun from night," Vetir said reverently running her fingers across the plush fabric.
"Ja," Frei agreed "A fitting Bride Gift, though one that will be under appreciated," she concluded, standing and moving towards the door. "If you will lay out this nights clothes I shall bring the Herra from the Holl." Vetir nodded and set about laying out her sister's outfit for her first meeting with the Smali Thane.
"I will not wear it," Marglod announced upon seeing the dress laid before her
"But Herra," Vetir protested, "You must! It would be a gave insult to your new people to spurn such a gift,"
"My new people? Saurr sheep is more accurate," Marglod spat, her golden hair in disarray "To think," she continued, "Being forced to marry with a Smali. The skomm of it!" She bundled the dress into her hands and threw it towards the hearth fire. Frei rescued the garment before it could be singed.
"Your sacrifice Herra, will bring peace to our lands," Vetir reminded the irate woman
"If you believe that Hedda you are stupider then I thought," Marglod snapped back "Take it away!" She gestured to the heavy folds of velvet clutched tightly in Frei's arms. As the huskarl left Marglod made her way to the birta rack
"What is this!?" Marglod demanded, gesturing to the clothing presented there. Vetir had laid out Marglod's favorite blar dress. With its color like the summer sky it brought out the blue in Marglod's eyes. Her hangerock was in a darker shade of blar and set off the woolen dress nicely.
"I cannot possibly wear these old things!" Marglod shrieked in outrage
"But Herra." Vetir protested. Her words were cut off by the ringing slap that Marglod delivered to her pale cheek
"Leave me!" Marglod demanded imperiously "Get out! I shall take my meal in my room tonight!"
"Ja," Vetir agreed hurriedly as she back towards the door and fled.
Thorin was not well pleased to find that his only dottir absent from the Holl, but was somewhat placated when Frei told him it was only from a desire to be well rested for the morrow, at which time she would be formally presented to the Smali sjot and take her place amongst the married women of the Holl, before leaving with the sjot to travel to the Lowlands. Thorin made a remark about 'maidenly shyness' to the assembled warriors, who all laughed heartily and joked about the coming Bride-night. Meanwhile Frei and Vetir made an early eve of it, knowing they would both be up before the dawn. Frei to put the final touches on Marglot's Bride Dress and Vetir to supervise the goods to be packed on Marglot's long journey south.
The morrow was just as busy as both women had feared and when they both found themselves in Marglod's chamber after lunch both women remarked upon the absence of their Herra. Vetir felt a chill of apprehension as an errant breeze trickled down the chimney and whispered in her ears fright, flight, freedom…
She rubbed her arms as both women set off to search the Hame for the missing bride. The sun had begun its descent when both women returned from their fruitless search. Vetir sank wearily onto the sleeping palate, as slaves began bringing in water for Marglod's evening bath. Frei went to tidy the dressing area, but quickly returned, a folded piece of parchment in her hands. Vetir took it from her and her eyes quickly scanned the rita words upon the leaf. Her snow-white skin paled as she read
"She is gone," Vetir whispered "Stikla, fled," her eyes rose to meet those of Frei "She had been planning it all along." Vetir was unaware that she was crushing the parchment in her grip, so great was her horror at her sister's actions "She never meant to go through with the marriage. She left this morning," Vetir sank to the floor in despair. Her father would never believe she had not known of this. He would whip her, or worse kill her. Either way her life would be over.
"Get in the bath," Frei whispered harshly, pulling Vetir roughly to her feet
"What?" Vetir mumbled confused as Frei released her to dump fragrant skogr oil in the still steaming water.
"Get in," Frei ordered, stripping Vetir of her hangerock. Vetir's eyes widened slowly as the implications of Frei's order sank in.
"I cannot, I -" Frei's grip on Vetir's arm turned painful as she pulled her close "I have five sons and a husband," she whispered harshly "I would not see them fall in battle, for all the glory songs in Nordanverdr. Do you understand?" Vetir shook her head, eyes wide
"But they will know!" Vetir protested, close to tears.
"How? They have never seen you or Marglod." Frei demanded "The only two who caught a glimpse mistook you for her anyway." She said reassuringly
"I am no longer a Hame dottir," Vetir protested as Frei pulled her under dress up over her head
"You are now," Frei said in a no nonsense tone "Your systir didn't give you a choice."
As Vetir quickly scrubbed herself clean Frei brought back the scorned cedar chest. Seeing Vetir's surprise she explained, "I have worked on Marglod's Bride dress for months. There is no time to change it now. This will fit you and please the Lowland sjot as well. I will brush it out while you dress your hair," Bustling towards the raised sleeping platform Frei began to lay out the dress. Vetir left the bath and sat naked before the fire. Using Marglod's bone combs she dried her hair as fast as she was able and with hands that shook she began to plait and braid the strands. Frei gestured her towards the center of the room as Vetir slid the last bone pin into place.
"Are you ready Herra?" Frei asked, ignoring the shocked whispers surrounding them.
"No," Vetir whispered, turning fear filled eyes towards the huskarl. The svartr dress felt like it was crushing her, the rock crystal necklace hang heavy around her throat and the matching earbobs felt as if she wore weights of stone.
"Too bad," Frei said coolly "Stand proud Herra. You carry all out hopes," Taking a deep breath Vetir squared her shoulders and straightened her spine. She left the explanations to Frei as she strode towards the open doors of the Holl.
Meanings & Translations:
Amma (Norse) Grandmother
Argr (Norse) Womanish
Birta (Norse) Display. A birta rack is something like a clothes airier, used to display the days clothing for consideration.
Blar (Norse) Blue
Blod (Norse) Blood
Brodir (Norse) Brother
Dottir (Norse) Daughter
Fadir (Norse) Father
Feiknstaf (Norse) Curse
Feitr (Norse) Fat
Feldr (Norse) Cloak.
Hame (Norse) Home/land
Herra (Norse) Lord/Lady
Holl (Norse) Hall
Höttr (Norse) Hood-like head covering for protection in foul weather. Similar in design to a medieval chaperon.
Huskarl (Norse) Servant
Ja (Norse) Yes
Kyrtill (Norse) Over-tunic. The outer garment for the man's upper body.
Logi (Icelandic, Scandinavian) Flame; in Norse myths, wildfire, the destructive property of fire.
Nordanverdr (Norse) Northern people
Rita (Norse) Write. Written.
Saurr (Norse) Mud/filth
Sjot (Norse) Company
Skause (Norse) Stew, usually meat based.
Skomm (Norse) Shame
Skogr (Norse) Wood. A precious commodity in the Northlands. Smar hames and boats are built from it, its life giving warmth staves off the Winter's bitter teeth, and its resin can be used to sweeten any number of things.
Smalamadr (Norse) Herdsman. Another slur on the Lowlander's.
Smali (Norse) Sheep. A slur word used to describe the lowlanders as fat stupid animals whose only purpose is to be shorn or slain.
Smar (Norse) Small
Stikla (Norse) Run
Svartr (Norse) Black. Darkness
Systir (Norse) Sister
Thrall (praell) (Norse) Slave
Ulfr-batir (Norse) Wolf boats
Vetr (Norse) Winter
Vika (Norse) Week