The Yule Promise
The Hordaland Army Returns
Eydis was kneading dough to make bread when she heard the knocking on the door. It startled her at first, as did the sudden appearance of most visitors since her husband went away to war, but she quickly calmed down, and cleaned her hands on a towel before walking over to see who had come to visit.
Ragnhilda pushed her way through the doorway before Eydis had a chance to fully open the door.
" They are coming home ! " Ragnhilda blurted out, without greeting her friend first.
Eydis placed her hand over her mouth to hide the sudden shock she felt over hearing that the men of Saeheim were finally returning. Despite knowing exactly what she had just heard, Eydis asked again anyway.
" Are you sure our men are coming home ? ! "
Annoyed by the question, Ragnhilda placed her hands on her hips, and smacked her lips.
" Of course I am sure ! A messenger rode ahead of the army to inform each of the local villages that the Hordaland army, with King Eirikr still commanding, is returning within the next few days. " she replied happily.
Eydis turned her back to her friend to hide the tears that were welling up in her eyes.
" Did the messenger have anything else to say ? " she asked, not knowing whether she truly wanted to hear the answer or not.
Ragnhilda put her arms around Eydis, and placed her head on her back.
" He said the King Eirikr and King Halfdan fought several battles, most of which ended badly for both armies. After a last bloody battle the armies disengaged and King Eirikr marched back across the border to Hordaland with what is left of his army. " she told her friend in a whisper.
Eydis could no longer hold back her tears.
" Then...., many....., of our men...., will not be returning. " she whimpered softly.
Ragnhilda let go of Eydis and spun her around.
" We don't know who will return, and who will not ! My brother and your husband have as good a chance as any men here in Saeheim of returning. They are both skilled warriors, and very strong ! So don't you dare doubt that Ulf and Valdarr will return to us ! " Ragnhilda yelled angrily at Eydis before breaking down in tears herself.
Ragnhilda stayed and helped Eydis make her bread before returning home. Eydis, still in a state of shock after hearing the news of the return of their army, sat in front of the fire watching the flames as they danced in the fire pit for the rest of the night. In their glow her mind played out each and every scenario of what might have happened to her husband. She did not fall asleep until the early morning hours, and her dreams were of Valdarr.
The people of Saeheim had to wait three long days for the army to reach their village. And although they all went about their everyday tasks as if nothing had happened, it was almost as if time had stopped here, and everyone's lives had been put on hold. When, and if, they spoke with one another their words were few because their thoughts were of their loved ones who had left weeks ago to fight for the Kingdom of Hordaland.
At noon on the third day an old farmer named Porsi came riding hard through the village as though he were trying to outrun a forest fire. As he galloped from one end of Saeheim to the other he shouted that the army was coming from the north and would arrive at any moment. When he was certain that he had alerted everyone Porsi rode back to the north end of the village to wait with the others who had already begun to gather there.
King Eirikr halted the remnants of his army in a field at the edge of the village before riding into Saeheim with only a few of his best warriors. He stopped in front of the people of Saeheim, who he could not help but notice were mainly the old, women, and children, dismounted from his horse, and jumped up onto a wall to speak to the folk gathered there. Despite King Eirikr being a very brave man he hesitated for a long moment before speaking. This was due to the great weight and burden placed upon Eirikr by the hundreds of fearful eyes that stared up at him.
" The warriors of Saeheim have honored our kingdom with their brave deeds. Caught alone, and without the aide of the main army, they fought bravely, and to the last man, to defend Hordaland from Halfdan the Black of Sogn. " he told those gathered before him.
" Before returning home we buried them on the battlefield which they made sacred with their ultimate sacrifice. " he continued.
Once again Eirikr paused as fear turned to sorrow in the eyes of the Saeheim folk. The king had never had to tell an entire village that all of their brave men, and shield maidens too, had died in his service, and the combined sorrow of hundreds of his grieving subjects was almost too much for him to bear.
" Their great effort, and sacrifice, was not in vain ! I firmly believe that it was because they weakened the Sogn army with their attack, that I was able to battle the ruthless King Halfdan to a series of draws that should ensure Hordaland's safety for many years to come. " he explained to the stunned crowd.
There were no cheers for King Eirikr, and his triumphant army. The silence that hung over the moment was as thick as morning fog, with only the whimpering of mothers, wives, and sweethearts, breaking through the hushed atmosphere.
" As quickly as I can I will send my treasurer to Saeheim to pay the families who suffered losses compensation for their loved ones honorable service. " he offered up as a way to brighten the mood.
It did not. Realizing there was nothing else he could do or say to console the people of Saeheim, King Eirikr jumped down from the wall, and slowly walked back to his warriors. After mounting his horse, and before he rode back to his army, he turned his horse to face the people of Saeheim. With a hard tug on the reins the horse bowed its head, as did he out of respect for their losses.
" I am very proud of the Saeheim warriors who sacrificed themselves for our kingdom ! " he shouted before reining his horse around and trotting away.
Ragnhilda and Eydis held each other tightly. Both felt that if they let the other go they would fall to the ground and never be able to rise up again. And they had every right to grieve ! Ragnhilda had lost her brother Ulf, while Eydis would never again see the only man she had ever loved. So they held onto each other to prevent the other from falling into a chasm of despair until darkness fell and Ragnhilda finally found her voice and spoke.
" We should go home now. " she told her friend, though her words held little conviction.
Eydis stepped back from her friend's warm embrace and looked deep into her red swollen eyes.
" But he promised me he would return by Yule ! " she blurted out before breaking down in tears again.
Ragnhilda kissed her friend on the forehead, and hugged her tightly again. There were no more words spoken that evening between them, and they did not return to their homes until the moon was high overhead. For one night cannot mend broken hearts, nor can it diminish the emptiness and loneliness that both young women felt at that moment. Their agony, like any open wound, had to slowly heal, and they both knew that they would always carry the scar left by the passing of the ones they loved so dearly.
- End Chapter 10
- Next : Chapter 11 : Black Skin And Blisters
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2018.