The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
If you missed Part I click here
If you missed Part II click here
Bjorn had told him to be grateful for the days when he felt fifteen, but in some ways, they only made the other days seem worse. But maybe they made the other days worth living for.
The Vikings had no love for water. Many had drowned because it was too cold in the north to learn to swim. He remembered that he had been meaning to ask the priest about the fiery Hell that the missionaries had tried to threaten the Vikings with. As he walked into the water, carrying the cake of soap, he curled his toes to escape the cold. Then he charged in, thinking he might as well get it over with. Waist-deep water was as much as Igor was willing to risk. The soap made rich, sweet-smelling lather which amused him no end. He thought that this was not so bad, and at least he felt not driven by anything, for the first time since childhood.
His mind seemed to move north. Igor had other children — but Ivan was special even if he hated Igor. Ivan was more like his mother (The only woman Igor had married) than like Igor.
Igor’s life might have been different if Sylvia had lived; but that was a door that he dared not open. No one blamed him that he had away raiding Erie when Borguild’s men killed his wife Sylvia by accident. Since then, everything in the north had seemed off-center. Bjorn knew about these things. God, how he missed Bjorn! None of the others who had come south could share Igor’s memories. With none could he share the great joke of his survival. The night and the moon seemed that they would last forever. Igor was startled out of his reverie by a jumping fish. And then several pebbles hit the water.
As Igor turned, he saw a line of leering Vikings on the river bank, and chorus of derisive voices.
“Hey, Emperor of the North! Making yourself look pretty for your new bride? “
“Aren’t you pretty enough for her?”
Doesn’t she think that you smell pretty enough for her?”
“Shut up, or I’ll kill you all!”
“Kill us, kill us!” they shouted. “But Igor, you are too
Pretty and pink to kill anyone.”
Igor was suddenly embarrassed by his own nakedness, and tried to cover himself. He looked for his life like some grotesque characterization of a startled maiden. Igor knew that if he did not get them all in the water, he would lose his role as leader, and all would joke about Igor’s bath until the glaciers melted and the sparrow wing wore away the hundred mile mountain.
Igor said in a startled voice
“There are nymphs in this pool. They will clutch at you and make you forget what you left at home.”
“You are lying to us,”
“There are no nymphs in this pool.”
Just as he spoke, a pale shape glided by Igor in the water.
As he turned, it seemed to be the pale, beautiful shape of a young woman. He had said something, and it has become real. They had seen it on shore, and were out of their leathers in an instant. Suddenly the waters were frothing with the gamboling shapes of nymphs and warriors. Igor rubbed his eyes, but the vision would not go away. Then he felt the locket, warm against his chest. In an instant, it was all over. Igor and then Vikings stood staring at each other, rubbing their eyes and wondering if they did indeed for that instant dance with the mermaids. Far in the distance, they all heard a haunting, beautiful song, fading into the night sky.
Finally, Sven spoke. “There are gifts that are beyond our northern minds. Because it has happened once does not mean it will happen again. I know that I will never again hate water.
Princess Zoë felt something also she smiled quietly in her tent for the first time on a long time. At least for the moment, she to felt young and clean, and away from her father.
Igor made his way back to the tent bemused and confused. Zoë waited. At least for this day, all would stay alive. Igor entered and sat next to Zoë without speaking.
Igor, thinking of nothing else to do, he extended his hand, palm upward and open to her. Their hands were so different! Igor’s were thick and strong and gnarled, at home holding either a battle-axe or planning the finish on a ship’s woodwork. He felt Zoë’s had on his wrist, kneading and stretching his fingers. It was his hands that made Igor human to her, made here even want him. It was something that she never would have expected. Love was not the word for it. There, was no word for it.
Igor had never kissed a woman before. A kiss was a way of settling a bargain, making a deal, and saying good-bye between men– and then he felt Zoë’s lips softly touch his. Igor’s wedding was consummated that night. (Outside the tent, in the morning, two tiny glass daggers were found, broken and discarded. Perhaps she knew that she could not keep such a handy means of death around.)
“What happens now?” asked Zoë.
“What do you mean, ‘what happens?”
“Do you return to be Emperor of the North?”
Igor thought long and hard and answered
“I never thought. I mean, things were not supposed to happen this way. Your father was supposed to kill me. I am supposed to be dead by now.”
“What can you do, besides fight and loot and rob?”
Igor Smiled, and said.
“We tried to trade once, but it didn’t work out.”
Zoë poked Igor’s ribs and asked,
“What do you mean, ‘didn’t work out?'”
Igor tried to explain,
“They would not trade their gold for our dried fish. So we besieged their city.”
Igor smiled sadly and answered,
“They lifted the siege in three days, and massacred half our party. They kept the fish.”
“Can you read or write?”
“No’, said Igor, and rolled over, and returned to sleep. It
had been quite a night for the Emperor of the North
The priest and Sven talked late that same night. Sven seemed to have taken a precocious interest in theology. The Father Cyril was amazed that he might have a second voluntary convert. Swen seemed the most interested in the pains of that fiery hell which he would face if he continued to live his present life after he converted to Christianity. Swen spoke with deep sincerity to father Cyril (who praised the day he had learned Norse).
“Tell me again father how hot hell is. Tell me about the heat of the eternal flames. Then father baptize me three times in the name of the father son and Holy Spirit”
Just then there was a roar from the skies that seemed to well into a great gale of laughter which swept the world.
Father Cyril was terrified then the gale passed. He grabbed Sven’s wrist tightly and said fearfully.
“What demons were those? What made those sounds?”
Sven smiled and said.
“Not demons, this day my old dark gods are amused. Sven fell to his knees and was baptized three more times in the name of the father so and holy spirit.