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Peace

"“Trouble is coming, Thorsten,” Ragnhild told me... "I can feel it.""

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It is peaceful now, the lake silent and cold. I am the last as I look back toward the now-distant shore. My wife and my children are safe and warm in our home.

I will never see them again, not in this life. The hoards from the north have made sure of that. Raedwulf is still but a child. He will grow strong and become a brave warrior, like his father.

Raegan, as her mother, Ragnhild, is already becoming a skilled shield maiden.

I look down at the burning pyre, a longboat, as it drifts slowly out on the lake.

Soon, I shall enter Valhalla, as my ancestors before me. I shall be reunited with my father and his father. My brothers, too already awaiting my arrival.

Eyjasund had been a peaceful fishing village for more than ten years. We troubled no one, and no one came to trouble us. We fished on the lake and were rewarded with an abundance, but then the great freeze came upon us. Smaller lakes froze over, and fishing boats were left stranded at the shore, unable to break through the thick ice that covered the surface.

“Trouble is coming, Thorsten,” Ragnhild told me as we sat around the fire in the center of our hut. “I can feel it.”

Without taking my eyes off the large fish turning slowly on the spit, I nodded my agreement.

“I think you are right, my love,” I agreed. “I will approach the Earl in the morning. We need to be ready.”

True to my word, I went to the great hall at daybreak. The Earl was too busy to see me. Other, more important matters to take care of, his guards had said. Come to the Thing next week and raise my concerns.

As on every other day, I went out with my crew. By the time the sun was low, we had almost filled the boat, as was the blessing of Aegir. Only when the fish were salted and in their casks would we return to our homes.

That night, I could not sleep. What Ragnhild and I had discussed was weighing heavily on my mind. I looked at her. She, too, was awake.

Suddenly, there was a crack. Not a loud sound, barely perceptible. In fact, had I been asleep, I probably would not have heard it. Ragnhild heard it too. Could it have been an animal, perhaps? A prowling wolf, maybe? I did not think so.

Almost as one, she and I crawled from under our furs and went over to the children, collecting our swords and shields as we went.

In the darkness, we waited, prepared.

Soon, our fears were confirmed. The door began to open slowly, silently. In the gloom, a shape moved slowly along the wall. Like a shadow, it raised its arms, sword, blade downwards, poised to strike. It plunged into the stack of furs that Ragnhild and myself had so recently vacated.

Almost instantly, the shadow raised the sword, and again, it plunged.

I lunged forwards, sword and shield raised. As I did so, Ragnhild blew hard on the horn, the alarm sounding clear and loud.

Soon the whole village was awake. It became alive with screams and the clash of steel against steel and steel against wood.

It was a violent battle that went on for what seemed like hours. Both men and women battled between the huts, our homes. More than one went up in flames.

I felt a thump on my back and turned, swinging my sword with all my might. The tip sliced cleanly through the throat of my assailant, who had not jumped far enough back to avoid the fatal wound.

I raised my shield just in time to collect the axehead from another attacker. Instantly, the blade of my sword sliced deeply into his bowels.

Long I fought, becoming weary as time passed. I could not falter. My life was at stake, along with those of my wife and children.

Gradually, my strength began to fade, and I fell to my knees as another attacker raised his axe to strike me. Through a thickening haze, I saw Ragnhild swing her sword and deftly remove his forearm. It fell to the side of me as I crumpled on the ground, still gripping the axe.

I lay still.

Soon, Ragnhild came and knelt beside me. How long I lay there was unclear to me, but the battle was over.

I was so cold and had no strength, but I was aware of being carried into my hut. The fire was still alight but I felt no warmth from it.

I wanted to ask, but I did not have the strength. My mouth moved only slightly, but no sound came.

I could see my wife and I could see my children. Ragnhild was covered with blood, and Raedwulf and Raegan were both unharmed. Slowly, they faded away. I would not see them again in this life.

And so, I am here, looking down on my own funeral pyre as it slips slowly beneath the surface into the icy cold depths of the lake that had fed me, my family, and my friends.

I could see Ragnhild, Raedwulf, and Reagan standing on the snow-covered shore, the tears freezing to their cheeks as they watched the last glow from the blazing longboat as it sipped into the depths.

As I look down, more than one thousand years later, I see nothing has changed. Yet again, a peaceful nation fends off the advances of another that wants for itself something it could have shared with peaceful negotiation and agreement. On the surface, the lake appears still and calm, beautiful in its icy clothes. If only it would remain that way, allowed to live in peace with its neighbours. Wives, mothers, and sisters, free from the fear of losing their husbands, fathers, and brothers to a violent end.

Will we ever learn? Probably not, until it is too late.

Published 
Written by AnnaMayZing
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