“She’s dying,” Elfwin told Eban as she mopped the sweat from Buffy’s brow.
“How long?” Eban looked down to where Buffy lay wrapped up in a fur near one of the fires in the Great Hall.
After defeating the Skrælingjar and killing their ‘Mother’ the Vikings had ridden back to the settlement. Eban remembered how he and his comrades had had to hold Buffy in her saddle as she shivered and became weaker by the minute.
“The fever will take her by morning,” Lady Elfwin replied sadly.
“Is there nothing you can do?” Eban knew the Northwoman would have done everything she could but he still had to ask.
“I tried to draw the poison with a poultice but…” Elfwin sighed, “…if only I could have got to her sooner.” The Northwoman shrugged, “The poison has spread through her body. There is nothing I can do now except make her last hours as comfortable as I can.”
“Will she suffer?” Eban asked quietly.
“No,” Elfwin shook her head, “I think she’ll sleep now until the end.”0=0=0=0
“HIGHER!” laughed the girl with the long brown hair.
“Higher, huh?” Buffy pushed the swing as hard as she could; her sister laughed and squealed with joy as the swing took her higher into the clear blue sky.
Swinging back towards the ground, Buffy stepped back as she caught the swing ready to give it another push. But before she could she found herself standing in the doorway to her bedroom facing an angry Dawn.
“I can stand here if I want…” Dawn snapped as she crossed her arms over her small breasts and glared up at her sister.
Swinging the door shut, Buffy shut her sister out of her room, just like she’d shut her out of her life ever since she’d become…become what? Telling herself that it was all for Dawn’s safety Buffy stood and stared at the door, she could almost feel her sister’s resentment through the wood. For a moment she wanted to open the door and take her sister in her arms and hug her and tell her she was sorry for shutting her out. But because she was what she was she didn’t. Instead she just stood there and looked down at her hands.
Unexpectedly Buffy next found herself standing in a field of the dead, bloody bodies and hacked off limbs lay all around her. Looking down at herself she saw her mail shirt, its links torn and ripped apart, she saw her bloody hands…there was just so much blood she felt like she’d never be able to wash it all of.
“What am I?” Buffy asked an uncaring universe as she held her bloody hands in front of her face.
“I thought you knew, Buffy the Viking,” Freya the Wise purred in her ear, “you’re a hero the warrior of the people.”
This time when Freya spoke there was no mocking tone in her voice instead she sounded sad as if saying farewell to an old friend for the last time.
“I thought you understood,” repeated the old woman, “death is your gift, you gave that gift once, but you must give that gift again before you can go home to your sister and your friends.”
“But what about my friends here,” Buffy wanted to know, “what of them?”
“They managed,” Freya smiled, “don’t worry, after all they’re all long dead…long dead,” she repeated, “as am I…”
Freya’s face faded to be replaced by the concerned face of Lady Elfwin who sat by Buffy’s bed.
“You’re awake?” Elfwin smiled down kindly at Buffy, “Would you like something to eat or drink?”
“Yes,” Buffy smiled as she reached out to take one of Lady Elfwin’s hands in her own, “I think I would like some Spam…”0=0=0=0
“Her fate is sealed,” Thorfinn sat next to Eban at the long table in the Great Hall; on hearing that Buffy had woken up her friends had all come back into the hall to share her last hours with her.
“You don’t know that,” Eban whispered.
“The Skeane is tied,” explained Sven who sat on Eban’s right, “the weave was settled long ago.”
“You totally wearing that long face for me?” Buffy asked Eban in a surprisingly strong voice, she even managed a smile.
“I cannot help it,” Eban spoke, his voice almost cracking.
“I have only got these hands,” Buffy looked down at her hands, hands that were now washed clean of blood, “I’ll die with nothing…”
“You will be buried as a Hero,” Jarl Hrothgar told her from where he sat in his great, throne-like chair.
“A girl might be thought totally worthy if someone was to write the story of her deeds,” Buffy said as she once more turned her head to look at Eban, “Like she might be remembered, y’know?”
“Such a woman might be thought wealthy indeed,” agreed Eban promising himself as he spoke that if he survived the night, he would write the saga of Buffy the Viking so she would be remembered for all time.0=0=0=0
It was late afternoon or early evening when Eban came out from the great hall into the bright afternoon sun. Pausing to let his eyes adapt he saw Sven and Thorfinn sitting in the sun drinking from mugs of ale. They looked up at him as they heard his approach; both men silently asked the same question.
“She’s travelling to the other side,” Eban told them quietly, “She grips her sword as if she will not wake.”
“Think no more of these things,” Thorfinn told him, “you must rest now.”
“I’m not tired,” Eban sat down next to his friends.
“Rest,” called Sven, “the Skrælingjar will want vengeance for killing the Mother, they will come soon.”
“Again?” Eban turned to face his friends his eyes dark with anger, did this mean that the death of all his comrades had been for nothing?
“We killed the Mother,” Thorfinn explained, “but not the leader.”
“As long as he lives,” Sven picked up from where Thorfinn had left off, “they will come back to fight us.”
“When?” Eban wanted to know.
“Tonight,” Thorfinn lifted his mug of ale to his lips and drank.
With a heavy sigh, Eban stood up and walked a little way away from his friends, he looked out over the remains of the burnt out village and shook his head in despair.
“The evening lasts so long here,” he told himself, “not like home. I don’t think tonight there will be…” The sound of drumming from the surrounding hills cut off what he was about to say. “…fog.”
Hearing the drumming, Sven and Thorfinn cast away their mugs and stood up. Looking around they saw the fog start to fill the valley in front of the village as dark clouds started to cover the setting sun.
“We can’t hope to hold the stockade,” Sven pointed out.
“Then we will make our stand in the Great Hall,” Thorfinn suggested and got an answering nod from Sven, “Come on little brother,” Thorfinn laughed, “more work to do!”0=0=0=0
Rapidly the warriors roused the villagers and started them on fortifying the Great Hall. Looking out over the valley, Eban saw the mist thickening but he saw no sign of the Skrælingjar or the Fire Serpent. Looking up he saw that the clouds now stretched from horizon to horizon, how rapidly the weather changed in these Northlands he told himself. Inside the hall, villagers moved the heavy tables to block up the windows and doors; weapons were passed out to grimfaced men and women as the children were hurried down into the cellar.
Passing a babe in arms down to one of the older children, Sigrun looked up to see Lady Elfwin standing in the doorway. The Lady passed the serving girl a cloth, opening the cloth Sigrun found four sharp knives.
“When the time comes,” Lady Elfwin said quietly, “you know what to do?”
Nodding Sigrun looked at the knives; when the time came she would kill the children before falling on the Skrælingjar forcing them to kill her; she would not die by her own hand if there was a chance of taking at least one enemy with her.0=0=0=0
Turning away from the cellar door, Lady Elfwin strode across the floor of the Great Hall calling out instructions to villagers as they moved furniture and storage barrels towards the barricades. Looking for a weapon for herself she noticed Buffy struggle to her feet and try to put on her mail shirt and pick up her weapons.
“No!” cried Lady Elfwin as she rushed to Buffy’s side, “You’re too weak to fight.”
“Too weak?” Buffy laughed as she staggered and almost fell down, “Never…” she grabbed hold of Elfwin’s dress with fingers that were as strong as iron, “I’ll show them ‘weak’…help me arm myself,” Buffy looked at Elfwin and saw the girl with the red hair from the village. “I’m sorry I killed you,” she whispered, “but now I have to go…death is my gift.”
“Of course,” Lady Elfwin nodded; the Shield Maiden was obviously seeing things from her past or perhaps her future, but she would help her arm like she’d helped her father, “we must send you to Valhalla properly attired.”
Helping Buffy on with her mail shirt, Lady Elfwin looked up as the sound of drumming got louder. For the first time she found she didn’t have to pretend that she wasn’t frightened, the strength and determination of the Shield Maiden who struggled even now to stay standing had filled her with a courage she’d never known before. When the time came she would face her own death bravely and with a clear eye.0=0=0=0
“Kill the Mother she said,” Sven muttered as he heaved a barrel into place upon the barricade, “kill their leader and they will break.”
“We’ll soon find out if she was right,” Thorfinn told him as he helped Sven give the barrel one last shove into place, he glanced up as the first rain drop hit his head, “At least we won’t have to worry about fire.”
Standing for a moment as the rain got heavier, Thorfinn looked out into the mist and saw no sign of the savages he knew were out there.
“They’re all terrified,” Sven said from behind him referring to the villagers, “ready to break and run.”
“Ha!” Thorfinn looked over his shoulder and grinned at his friend, “You know something? I’m not too happy myself!”
“I wish we had Buffy with us,” Sven put his hand on his friend’s shoulder to give him courage.
“It’s a small matter,” Thorfinn said slowly as he looked back out towards the forest, he was sure he’d seen something move.
“Here,” Eban appeared his arms loaded down with weapons and mail shirts.
“Prepare yourselves,” Thorfinn advised as he started to put on his armour and the rain came down even harder.
Glancing over his shoulder as he laced up the front of his shirt, Thorfinn saw the Skrælingjar start to move into position. He wasn’t sure but he didn’t think there were quite as many as there once had been.
“They’re not even bothering to surround us,” Sven pointed out.
“What does that mean?” Eban asked as he secured his own armour.
“It means, little brother,” smiled Thorfinn, “that they’ll probably come right at us in one column.”
“Overwhelm us by weight of numbers,” Sven agreed and then added, “not that it’ll take long.”
“I’ve squandered my days with plans of many things,” Eban told his friends, “dying here was not among them, but at this moment I want only to live my last few minutes well.”
“Well said little brother,” Sven clapped Eban on the back and almost knocked him to his knees.
“This isn’t how I’d imagined my last moments either,” Thorfinn agreed, he noticed the look Sven gave him and shrugged, “well, I always thought it would be drier!”
“Here they come,” Eban drew his sword as the Skrælingjar started to run towards the village.
“Die bravely,” Sven told his friends, “We’ll all meet again in Valhalla.”
Standing on a bench to get a better look at the enemy, Thorfinn was distracted by the sound of something metal being dragged across the ground. Turning around to see what was causing the noise he saw Buffy stagger from the door of the Great Hall, the weight of her mail shirt seemed to drag at her shoulders as she pulled her great axe along behind her like some incredibly dangerous child’s toy; she noticed Thorfinn watching her.
“You totally thought I’d let you guys have all the fun, didn’t you?” Buffy stood leaning against the shaft of her axe with the rain plastering her long blonde hair to her head. “I couldn’t face dying alone,” she told her friends quietly, “come stand by me.”
Slowly the Vikings formed a short ragged line either side of Buffy the Viking. Outside the village the Skrælingjar ran over the fields towards the settlement, in a few moments the big pale people who’d invaded their lands would all be dead and they would have vengeance for The Mother. The drumming stopped suddenly as the leader fought his way to the front of the warband, he would be the first to strike the blow that would drive the invaders from their lands.
Up in the settlement the four warriors stood their ground, Buffy felt herself slipping away and stumbled out of line.
“Freya give me strength for just a few more moments,” she felt Sven’s strong arm holding her up, she smiled her thanks, “Y’know,” she told him, “for a guy you were a totally good shag? Given time I might have grown to like it…”
“There,” Sven shrugged, “always said that all you needed was a good shagging.”
“Ha!” Buffy laughed feeling new strength enter her arms and legs, “You were good but not that good!”
Pushing Sven away Buffy looked out at the advancing Skrælingjar.
“Not long now Dawnie,” she said quietly before raising her voice so her friends could hear, “Lo there do I see my father. Lo there do I see my mother and my sister,” Buffy could see her mother standing behind Dawn seemingly only an arm’s length away.
“Lo there do I see the line of my people,” the Vikings joined in as the Skrælingjar screamed their vengeance and climbed over the outer stockade, “back to the beginning, they do call to me, they bid me take my place amongst them,” the Skrælingjar where now an easy spear cast away. “In the Halls of Valhalla,” Buffy picked up her great axe and hefted it in both hands, “where the brave may live…FOREVER!”
On the last word Buffy brought the great axe sweeping down like a silver blur to cut the first Skrælingi in half from shoulder to waist. Pulling her axe free she took a step forward and swung the axe again, down went another Skrælingi as the axe smashed his head to bloody pulp and cut halfway down through his chest. On her left Sven fought with sword and axe, cutting his way into the middle of the Skrælingi horde and leaving a trail of severed limbs and bleeding bodies behind him. On her right Thorfinn used sword and shield to batter down any who dared oppose him while Eban cut and thrust with his ridiculous sword as the bodies fell around his feet.
Advancing another step and cutting down two Skrælingjar with an easy horizontal blow, Buffy knew that this couldn’t last. There were simply too many savages for them to kill them all, eventually they would tire and the Skrælingjar would overwhelm them and they’d all die, she had to find the leader before it was too late.
Taking off a man’s head, Buffy dodged to one side just too late to completely avoid the spear thrust to her side. The stone spearhead shattered against her mail but the blow almost knocked her off her feet. Her strength was ebbing quickly and she didn’t have much time left. Planting her feet firmly on the wet, blood slick earth, Buffy resumed her slow but steady advance. She no longer knew or cared where her friends were, she knew they’d be doing the best they could. Catching a screaming warrior under the chin with the point of her axe Buffy watched as his head exploded as the axe blade ripped open his skull. As the man fell and his blood stopped spraying into the air, Buffy saw the leader not more than two yards away. With a shout of joy she stepped towards the man, her axe cocked over her shoulder, she saw his snarling face, his great bear headdress, the hate in his eyes.
The leader swung his club at Buffy’s head just as she started her axe towards his. The club hit her on the side of the head and she felt her own warm blood mix with the cold rain and ooze down the side of her face and under her mail. However, the great axe, seemingly with a mind of its own, continued towards the leader to hit him on the shoulder. Biting into flesh the axe smashed its way through bone and cartilage until it was stopped by the man’s rib cage.
All around her Buffy became aware of the Skrælingjar wailing in despair as their leader fell. Heaving her axe free of the man’s body she lifted it in both hands and smashed it into the leader’s still screaming face. The Skrælingi slowly toppled over like one of the great trees of the forest to land with a splash of bloody mud at Buffy’s feet.
Slowly at first but with increasing speed the Skrælingjar started to give way, none dared to confront the lone warrior with the terrible axe. They eddied around her like she was a rock standing in a river. Standing over the dead leader, Buffy looked up and around, all she could see were bodies and pieces of bodies as the rain washed her blood from her face and hands.
Dragging her axe behind her through the mud, Buffy staggered over towards the barricade, she felt tired, oh, so tired. Stumbling against the rough defences she found a place to sit down. Sitting there like a Queen upon her throne, Buffy looked out over the battlefield to see the great, black, battle-birds start to circle the field.
Buffy opened her eyes to see Freya bending down to look into her eyes.
“You can rest now, for a while,” Freya smiled, somehow she didn’t seem so old anymore, “go home and look after your sister, farewell Buffy the Viking.”
Moments later her friends found her sitting with her back resting against the barricade, in her right hand she held her great axe while her left rested on her thigh. Her eyes starred unseeingly out over the battlefield.0=0=0=0
Waking up in the dark, Buffy knew with a certainty that couldn’t be denied that she’d died and she’d gone somewhere where she’d been loved. That somehow she was back in her own world and she was lying in her coffin. With a strength born of the slayer added to her panic at being buried ‘alive’, Buffy fought her way out of her coffin and towards the surface.The End.