"Jón, please…" I whispered to my husband. I sat on the bed next to with my legs crossed under me. I looked down at my husband, the exhaustion of the previous weeks washing over me. Jón's skin was still pale, resembling a corpse more than a man, but his rising and falling chest told me he still lived. "Gather your strength and wake for me – for our son. A proper man cannot grow up without a father."
Looking down to where my hands sat in my lap, I traced a fingernail over the thin pale line where my ring should have been. I had searched the entire house, moving each piece of furniture and clothing, but still it had not been found.
"Whilst you were away, there was a terrible theft." Pausing, I wondered if that was the appropriate word. "I left our home for one night to seek help from Astrid and someone took my most precious belongings. The ring you had given me and my brother's sword were gone when I returned."
I still felt fierce anger when I thought of the situation. "I asked myself who would do such a thing, but I already knew the answer. María. That woman does not hold love for me. She does not like that you are my husband!"
"María…" My eyes sought my husband's face. The word was only a whisper – a breath – but it still hung in the air like a foul smell.
Reaching out a hand, I cupped his bearded cheek and brought my face close to his. "Jón… are you waking?"
My husband had spoken, but it had been her name that passed his lips. After all the time we had been together, even with a child, he still thought of her. Even with him at the door of the Hall of the Gods, she was the one he thought of.
I had given the man my heart, but did not know if his belonged to me. We had both shown our affection for the other, but neither had uttered any words.
With my lips tightly together, I removed myself from the bed and left him be. Entering the front of our house, I glanced about, looking for something to keep my mind from my husband's words. Jón's sword and shield still leaned against the wall near the door where Stefán had placed them upon returning from the raid.
Picking up the shield, I placed it on the table and examined it. There were many blemishes in the dark wood and the yellow paint was chipping. Running my fingers over the largest mark, I felt the rough wood biting into my skin. Had the man who made this mark survived or had my husband sent him to dine with the Gods?
I hung the shield on the wall and placed the sword next to it. It was a sturdy sword, but not as beautiful as his ancestral one. That sword hung above the head of our bed, bringing us the luck of Jón's ancestors. There it would stay until our son decided to marry and would gift his bride with it.
Seeing that the babe still slept, I wrapped my cloak around me and stepped outside. The day was mild, reminding me of the winters of my childhood on the other side of the mountains. I walked away from the house to the pen to check on the animals.
With the men back from the raid, they would slaughter a number of sheep from each farm and the women would prepare the meat for the winter. At a different time the chores would have been completed in the autumn, but with the men raiding and the women shouldering their work, there was no time. If Jón did not wake soon, I wondered if I would have to do both jobs. I had never slaughtered an animal and did not know if I could bear the deed.
The sheep chewed on the last patch of grass that grew, not looking up at my arrival. Once the snow came, I would feed them the hay we had harvested in the autumn and then in spring we would lead them into the hills to graze.
I turned my attention to our cow, standing alone outside of the pen. She was only used for dairy, supplying us with fresh milk. I walked to where the docile creature and placed a hand on her nose. The fur under my fingers, though course, was smooth. Petting her gently, I placed my cheek to her head. "Such a sweet animal."
When I was a child, my father had owned a dog who would herd his sheep into the pasture. It was a sweet creature who would curl up to me at night, allowing me to fall asleep while stroking his soft fur. I missed having a pet, but often allowed the cow to comfort me.
Following the path back to our house, I caught sight of a woman lingering near the door. Thinking it to be Lára, I raised a hand and opened my mouth to call out. "Heil—" My hand dropped as the woman turned.
It was not Lára who came to call but María. I raised my brows at the sight of her. Why would she be at my door, lurking like a shadow. When he returns, you shall not have him. Those had been her words when the men had left for the raid. Fear suddenly seized my heart. My small son lay defenseless in his crib. María, although not proven, had no quims about killing her own husband. What harm would she bring to a babe?
"Why are you at my house?" I demanded of her as I hurried my steps.
"I wish to see Jón," the woman said, pushing her hood away from her face. The hardship she had faced since her husband's death was evident on her face. She had had to hire help to tend to her husband's farm, yet there was much she had to do herself. Her cheeks were sunken and her eyes dull.
My jaw tightened at her words. "I will allow no such thing," I hissed at her, walking by her and placing my hand to the door.
María's hand shot out and her fingers dug into my arm, spinning me around. Her light eyes were wide as she removed her hand. "Please, I beg of you, Valdís. If Jón were to die without me seeing him, I would die myself."
"You will never step foot in my home. Leave now." I narrowed my eyes at her, only for them to fall to her chest. Hanging from a long leather cord was a familiar gold ring, glinting in the sunlight. My breath caught in my throat as my mouth fell open. "That is mine."
Reaching out with a quick hand, I pulled the ring away, causing the cord to snap and María to call out as it caught on her neck. Hot fury filled me as I flew forward, knocking into her. We tumbled to the ground, María's back hitting the ground and me landing on top of her.
Pulling back my fist, I connected it with her nose. A crack and loud screech came from the woman. I ground my teeth as pain radiated through my hand.
Underneath me María shifted her legs and used them to force me to the side. She pushed herself to her knees and from her sleeve she produced a small knife. "Mine!" she spat, her face twisted into that of a man woman. "It should have been mine – the ring, Jón – everything!" With the knife raised, she lunged forward.
I rolled and fumbled in the pouch attached to my belt, pulling out my father's knife. The sound of footsteps growing closer came to my ears, but I focused on the woman trying to murder me.
María moved her arm, bringing the knife down and slicing through the flesh of my upper arm. Grunting against the pain, I pushed myself up and lurched towards her again. Using my uninjured shoulder, I threw my weight on top of her and pinned her to the ground. Her knife fell from her hand and I gripped mine tighter.
"Valdís!" a deep voice called, ringing in my ears. I jumped but did not loosen my grip on the knife or the woman. Stefán appeared at my side, a large hand gripping my shoulder and pulling me away. "What is the meaning of this? He demanded.
Lára appeared beside him, her eyes falling to María, who was still on the ground, and her lips drew tight.
Grabbing the ring, which had fallen to the ground during our fight, I scrambled to my feet. I held out my hand for Stefán to see the stolen object. "My ring! That hora stole it and placed it around her neck. She claimed it as her own!"
"Valdís," Lára said, drawing my frantic attention to her. "You must be calm. Go into the house with the babe."
"What of my sword?" I asked, running my gaze from the woman to the chieftain. "I know she has taken it."
"We will search her house for it, but only once you return to your son," Stefán instructed.
Clutching the ring tightly to my chest, I turned on my heel and stepped into the house, shutting the door securely. My son looked at me with curious eyes as I went to his cradle and cooed at him. I scooped him into my arms and kissed his smooth forehead.
"My sweet boy," I murmured. "I will not allow any harm to come to you."
Stepping into the back of the house, I placed my son on the bed next to my husband. A small smile came to my lips as I slid the ring onto my finger. Never would I removed again, not even with other pregnancies.
I removed the dress I wore, now covered in dirt and blood, and examined the hole María's knife had made. I would have to mend it after it was washed. My arm stung where María had cut me and I washed the blood away with water from the basin. I bound it tightly with a cloth before dawn a new dress and picking up my son.
Holding the baby to my chest, feeling his warm and delicate form against me, calmed my thoughts. I rocked him gently, smiling down at him and humming softly.
Would I tell Jón of what had occurred when he woke? Would his feelings towards María change? Bending over, I placed a kiss on Jón's forehead, his skin still hot from his fever.
The door opened and I glanced up to see Lára enter. "Come, Valdís, I will assist with your arm."
"I have already bound it," I told her as I placed the babe in his bed and stood.
Lára's lips pulled tight, showing that she did not trust my word. "Sit and show me your arm."
I followed her instructions, placing myself on a bench and pulling down the top of my dress to show my arm. The cloth I had wrapped my arm in was already bloodied, dark blood staining the fabric.
Lára removed the small knife at her belt and placed it the blade in the fire. "You should not have attacked her, Valdís. María is an unstable woman, she very well could have gravely injured you."
I wiped at the blood as Lára removed the knife from the fire, but the flow did not stop. "It is much deeper than I thought it would be," Lára observed as she came to stand next to me. It was not a long cut, but it ran deep.
"I could not stop my actions. At first, I thought she was you, paying me a visit, but once I saw it was María, I could not stop my anger. I feared for my son and only wished to protect him." A shrill scream ripped from my throat as Lára pressed the hot blade to my arm, cauterizing the wound. My skin hissed and the smell of burnt flesh met my nose. "When I saw my ring hanging from her neck and my anger grew too strong."
"You did what most mothers would do when their children are facing danger. But you must control your impulses, for what would your child do if he had no mother?"
The door opened again, drawing both of our attention. Stefán's large body filled the doorway as he entered, his face soft. "For you," he said, holding out Magnús' sword to me as he stepped further into the house.
My heart swelled as I stood and took it, running my hand over the sheathed blade. I gave the man a smile and thanked him. "I told you she had taken it," I murmured.
"Yes, yes, you were correct, Valdís," Lára sighed with the exasperated voice she often used with her children. She turned to her husband, her thin brows lifted. "What will become of María?"
Stefán touched his beard and soft shook his head. "A meeting will be held and it will be discussed; the theft will not be easily dismissed." His eyes flicked to me and a smile came to his face. "I do not believe Jón knows that he wed such a fierce warrior."
His words brought a small laugh from my mouth and even his wife gave a slight smile.
"Heal well, Valdís."
Thank you, everyone, for all of your lovely comments; I'm glad that a few of you are still around to catch the ending of this story! As of now, I think there will be at the most twenty-seven chapters - but that is still up in the air. I'm slowly muddling through, trying to regain my bearings with this story so that it is the best it can be for you guys.
I'm already thinking about all the ways I can rewrite this to add more detail and do more research.
Also, a question for you all: What are your opinions on reading abut everyday life? For me, I love to read about certain ways things were done and learn more from it, though I know some find it boring. In the next few chapters, I will be depicting some tasks that people would have gone through during their days to flesh out and give a more vivid picture.
Meet the Moon: Thank you! :)
blythely: Thank you for your kind words, I'm happy that you re-read the whole thing in honour of the new chapter (and I don't blame you, it's been a while! ;) ). Honestly, I'm glad you said I'm making people feel for Val. Sometimes when I'm writing, I feel like people will question her actions or think she is too soft.
VictoriaJameson: I hope you enjoyed this chapter as well!