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At the forest edge, the curled ferns bowed like house-hounds before Hedda’s touch, as if greeting an old lord. Hedda looked quickly behind her, before taking the path. She knew the risk of being followed, the risk of someone seeing her hidden skill at work. A few steps more and she would be lost under the shade of the trees – tall, slender birches standing guard in their silver uniforms. These sentries gave way to dark-bark fir trees, some three of four times taller than the stave church in the valley behind.
With each step through the woods, the anxious muscles in her shoulders loosened and released. Her pulse slowed. The tight, tall firs and pines brought early dark to the forest floor. Then, further on, in the centre of the forest was an older oak wood; the air was still shaded, but the clearing here took on a brighter pastel green.
There she sat crossed-legged, leaning on a smoothed ice-age boulder, pressing the crushed leaves on her arm to help seal the open cut. She hoped the earlier footsteps had turned away. Anyhow, now at least, anyone would just see a young girl sat alone in the woods. Soon, though, as dusk took hold, it would bring its grey wash to the sky. Animals would find some bravery in the early evening, draw near. Now, she could feel the dusk seep into her bones. It was starting to build. There was that gentle surge in her blood, that daily rush she was still trying to tame.
As the forest darkened, before true evening, four or five sets of soft-furred, grey ears, half a hand high, bobbed backwards and forwards
into sight behind a fallen log. Hedda could hear them move, a few steps forward, a few less back, hopping slowly closer. Then, on the other side of the clearing, brown-red faces, black-nosed, moved behind the trees, nearly as tall as horses but with finer, smaller heads. Hedda caught their gaze and slowly nodded towards them. Four of them were there, light-footed, a male made grander still by two tall branches of felted bone crowning his head. The stillness of these fine lives was then broken by the rumble and crack of snapped branches. It was something much heavier, something padding, broader than any man in the Great Hall and heavily black-brown furred. He joined the clearing, making one short roar.
StorBjorn sat, his great bulk resting down on a patch of ground before Hedda. The compacted grass traced his bodyline, like a worn stool, a frequent rest in the grey-green light.
A few minutes later and the animals had gathered in a rough ring around Hedda. Here was such a wide range of sizes and fur, some jaws for grain, others for flesh. To Hedda, nothing seemed to be shared amongst this animal group, nothing perhaps other than the importance to them of this time in the day. Hedda sat like the core of a seed-pod, holding the group together without violence or fear. They sat for a few quiet minutes, resting, but then, then a new noise in the forest came, an unwelcome noise.
Hedda lost her thoughts to the sound, someone’s footsteps, leather boots, someone who might see Hedda and her gathering and wonder why, what, what is happening? Her blood-surge shrank away from her. She fell back to being simply a slight twelve-year-old girl. The forest scent changed to sour. A thin veneer of control cracked, shattering to the ground.
Within seconds, StorBjorn was on his hind legs, over seven feet tall. Growling, ‘Urreaaar-awh Urreah-aaawh!’ – baying, wild. The pads of his front paws raised in the air and broadened, hooked claws, each a finger long, flexed outwards, ready to swipe down hard. Within a moment, there was a rush of wind as his weight struck out. It lashed forward and just missed the neck of a young deer before hurling into a rabbit. There was an ugly thud against rough bark. The rabbit fell with an anguished, low-pitched cry from its soft core, and then … the sound of small bones breaking.
Hedda quickly knelt, urgently checking the struggling life at her ankles. She brought back her focus and surged upwards. Her own small frame stood broad-footed between StorBjorn’s massive, roaring, violent shadow and the other animals. The deer, seeming locked in fear, were trapped against dense holly bushes.
Hedda’s look was frost and stone, an ice avalanche of pressure building behind her eyes. In a flash, she reached out towards her second self: ‘Marit, come, I need your help! The edges of Hedda’s eyes started to glow moon-white, the glow building quickly, lighting the edge of her cheekbones. For a moment, as Marit stretched out from inside, a faint white orb hovered above her, shot forward and was gone.
Then the bear halted, its eyelids dropping down, head bent.
Hedda walked slowly over to the rabbit, like a nurse tending a brave war-torn and damaged soldier. She held the little one in her arm, its small mouth grabbing out for breath. ‘We can make it through, together,’ she whispered to it, before adding in her thoughts, ‘I need your help again here!’
Hedda rested her hand on the rabbit. She smarted with a jolt of pain, as if from a jagged broken rib. The delicate animal calmed, and it seemed that its deep unseen injuries, snapped bones and wrenched ligaments, re-fused and started to heal.
Finally, the pain inside her eased and the rabbit struggled back on all fours, resting on Hedda’s forearm, cleaning its face slowly with long strokes of its paws. Then it moved onto its back legs, and Hedda lowered her hand, allowing the rabbit to limp into the ferns and into the forest.
Suddenly, the atmosphere returned to calm. StorBjorn remained on the same spot. All seemed as before, save for the dull throb deep inside Hedda. She turned to the massive being and walked up to him, arms open. Her eyes, no longer lit white, were now glistening with gentle understanding. She hugged his massive frame and he hugged back, controlling his power
‘We need to learn, StorBjorn,’ she whispered.
At the same time, she reached for the handle of her dagger. She paused while the two voices inside her debated. This would need a deep cut, a lasting scar. She pulled the dagger from its ancient scabbard and dug the full length of the blade into the bear’s paw. It delved through fur and skin, then deeper through fat and into the bear’s muscle and flesh. Warm, dark treacle blood pulsed in a small tide onto the weapon’s hilt and gloss coated Hedda’s clenched knuckles.
The bear raged, tears running from his eyes, head raised, the salt water drops running into his open jaw. He did not fight back.
Hedda pulled out the blade, stood back and held it high toward the bear’s eyes. StorBjorn fell down on all fours, yelping as his injured paw hit the hard ground. Then he turned and lumbered into the forest. He was gone. Only a distant whimpering could still be heard from behind the trees.
Hedda loved that bear, had loved him since he was a cub.
The wound would heal over time. His, anyway.
Hedda quickly scanned around her, dagger raised, searching the trees, but the sound of footsteps had gone.
Hedda's Viking adventure takes us to a world she has never seen before. If she can make it to the Holmgang, the place of challenge, perhaps her Clan will no longer be Outcasts.
Meet new and strange beings from beyond the mist.
By why so many secrets?
What is that blue glow from under the locked doors?
Easy baking steps for these amazing tasty homemade waffles
125ml Sour Cream
200g Plain Flour
1/2 tsp Baking powder
Drop Vanilla essence
1/2 tsp Cardamom
Melt the margarine, mix with milk, then other ingredients and cook!
A Viking book of adventure check on Kindle Unlimited
A great adventure book for those who like The Book of Dust, Walliams, Harry Potter, Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl