Shards of the Eld
The witch’s bastard is beautiful, with a proud neck that refuses to bend, and golden locks hidden under a lace cap. She stares ahead as she follows her bound mother. She is above suspicion. I ensured that. Only I can sense the power inherited from mother to daughter. Only I am entitled to it. Under her calm surface, hatred radiates. Good. I will enjoy crushing her. Unlike her mother on the wagon—old, wrinkled and grey—she is young and unspoiled, with hair glittering in the sunlight. On my word, their neighbours turned against them. Does she know who betrayed her?
The noises waned and waxed, as the furniture of the coffee house passed her in slow motion. Sia’s arm rested around her, and they were walking? Exhaustion flushed her body, her breathing heavy and laboured. Not even the memories of her strong-armed grandfather, or the scent of honey and hay exorcised the pure terror haunting her body. Not even the scent of cinnamon buns—triggering memories of the old farm kitchen and her smiling grandmother—helped.
“No, I just realised …” She wet her lips. “Look, I’m a student. I can’t afford that kind of restaurants, or the kind of clothes.” She shrugged, trying to pull away from him. “I’m sorry, but I’m more of a pizza kind of girl, I guess.”
“So you’re tomcatting around her friend?” Helga tilted her head, her features serious, but her eyes dancing with amusement. He had to thank Sia for making his grandmother happier than she’d been in years.
Fumes from cars mixed with perfume and urine as she ran towards the subway. She knew exactly where everyone around her were, their footsteps echoing in her mind as she weaved through the crowd. Her heart pounded in her chest and every breath was drawn from far away.
“And that decrepit old castle had everything: books, ghosts, and a long history for him to dive into and never return from.” Andrej shook his head, hugging his grandmother lightly. “Take care.”
“I know, but …” Vieno played with the edge of her hoodie. “They told me what a nice sweater I had, and how I was lucky to find my size in the thrift store.” Tears trickled down her cheeks, and she ballooned in size until everything was fat and disgusting.
With the motor turned off and the tiller locked in place, Vieno consulted the chart and set the course. She scrambled to raise the sails as waves rocked them gently, water splashing the sides. The wind caught the sails, flapping them wildly, but soon she sat back without sudden movements, enjoying the hot sun on her face and the breeze moving them forward. Her hand rested on the tiller, adjusting the course minutely to follow the breeze. There were worse ways to spend a day of cutting class. Even if it was because of those twin hellcat “cousins” of hers.
The Dream World
“Hello.” Phoenix’s gaze ran over the class. Their voice held the same timbre as it had in the dream. “As your teacher said, I’m Phoenix. In case you’re wondering, I’m genderfluid, which means I’m fluctuating between male and female. To be safe, use the pronoun ‘they’ if you want to talk about me.”
Forgive and forget
“That is enough, Tora.” Runfrid did her best to portray sternness, but the thrall’s support had been invaluable when she came to Mór’s household, just after her fourteenth birthday. Though, not Mór’s at that time, his father Bjalfi had ruled the household with an iron fist. Runfrid suppressed a shudder as she gathered her skirts. She had kept her secret delight over Bjalfi not returning from the Viking raids close to her heart.
Why did it have to be snakes?
“Meya? Catch.” Linda grabbed Silsi and threw her at the woman. Silsi hissed, burying her fangs in Meya’s arm. Meya screamed, shaking to get the snake off, dropping Sofi’s leash.
Linda’s nightmares coiled around her, with slithering and rustling scales. Looking down at herself, instead of her legs, she had a snake’s body starting from her hips. She couldn’t run, and the other serpents bowed to her, whispering and hissing their allegiance.
“Linda.” The voice was familiar as well, and Linda’s head jerked up to meet Sofi’s dark brown eyes. “I was hoping you’d call me, but I didn’t want to wait, so I called your mum again.” She held out a tanned hand. “How are you?”
Vanja’s light steps led them down the steep riverbank, but Näcken was too focused on his melody to notice. Not until Vanja’s violin joined his did he look up. Tears streamed down his cheeks as the solo became a duet of emotion. Vanja played it by ear, allowing themselves to be engulfed in the music. It possessed every fibre in their body, turning blood and muscles to playable strings.
“There is nothing you can do.” Mali stood on the other side of the shore, her eyes glowing with anger. “That ne’er-do-well deserves everything for what he did. No one can save him.”
They shook their head. “No, I’m not a boy or a girl. I prefer ‘they’ pronouns, because I don’t feel comfortable with being seen as either. I’m just … me.” They shrugged, resting back in the chair. “I’ve never told my parents, because I have no idea how they’d react.”
They lay in bed a few moments longer, before going to the window and opening it to breathe in the fresh air. The honeysuckle climbing the wall spread a sweet scent, and for a while, they forgot any issues they were facing. Until their mother called them to breakfast. With a groan they pulled on the robe, wishing it was something other than pink, and shuffled downstairs.
Priestess of Ran
“It does not change anything.” Saga smiled through her tears and kissed Helga’s cheek. “I am by your side, and I will always be.” She straightened up and wiped her eyes. Though she continued working on Helga’s hair, her hands trembled. Helga’s heart ached for her friend, but she had nothing she could say. How could you she comfort the person whose heart she herself had broken?
She took a moment to compose herself, studying the leader. It could be a trick question, at which point pretending to be a Christian would be the wrong answer, or he could be a Christian robber, or even loyal to the King. Nothing in his clothes gave his allegiances away. She forced herself into a standing position, and to her surprise Aslak let her.
“Yes.” A small grin played on her lips. Something in the air filled her with exhilaration. “And I am part of it.”
Helga tensed again, closing her eyes as she forced the illusion of strength. She could not let Saga know her own uncertainty. “No, not now. For all I know, he would be looking for me to bring me to the king in chains.” Bitterness seeped through her deep voice. “They called me a changeling; there will be no mercy from them.”
A trilling from the side of the road heralded a ginger and white cat. He shook his furred body and nosed at Helga’s leg. The hint of a smile played over her lips as she picked him up.
The Angel Maker
“You can come with me, but stay with the boat. And if … Well, if this is just in my mind, it’ll be a short trip. If it’s not, and I don’t make it, I need you to call Jasbir, and I need you to move on.” I move to the bed and pull him in for a hug. “I promise, this isn’t anything to do with … us. It’s just something I need to do.” He hugs me back, and I bury my face in his hair, closing my eyes.
“That sounds about right.” I shake my head, thumbing through the diary. “Here’s what the priest has to say: ‘Five more children had been entrusted into her care, but we didn’t find her or them. I suggested to her brother that she might be hiding in their father’s home, but he claims he already looked. I keep my faith that God will sort both of them out, if he lied to me.’”
“No, not quite … I mean, I’m more a guy than I ever was a woman, but … He-pronouns are okay, but I prefer they. Non-binary, I guess.” Her easy acceptance lifts a weight from my shoulders, even as it leaves me feeling like someone took a sandbag to my head.
Her constant forays into saying things she shouldn’t had lightened my mood considerably. After all, she was at least apologising. “Thanks. By the way, whose is that cat outside? The tabby?”
She filled the bread with stew and gobbled it down with her face turned away from him. “Mother died several months ago. I took the spear and shield off my father’s arrow-ridden body.” The grief and anger in her expression was palpable. “And I will avenge him.”
“You will have to find a different place, my friend, or wait until Bóthildr is done.” Kóri’s gaze caressed Hallbjórn’s furred chest and broad shoulders, down over the loose linen undergarments and muscular legs. His hands trembled and his bare feet rubbed against the coarse stone as he shifted from one foot to the other.
Kóri laughed, the madness of battle sweeping him into its arms as he danced with Valkyrias anew. His axe bit and clawed into another man. A golden cross glittered around the enemy’s neck. Dead eyes glittered no more; White Christ had failed.