Are you alone? Good. Keep an eye out for Thor and Odin. They won’t like you talking to me. You see, I know the truth; something they desperately don’t want you to know. That’s why they made up all those stories about how Thor did this and Odin did that. Jerks.
Let me tell you what really happened, but before I do, I need to let you in on a little secret. Well, two actually. First don’t believe everything you read. Especially if it’s written by an Aesir. Second, those tales about Odin and Thor are actually about me. Yes, a twelve-year-old boy. To be fair, I’m not an ordinary boy. I’m a Viking.
So here it goes, the truth.
It all started on the morning of my first raid.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I dropped the last log onto the fire. Sparks erupted from the flames. I jumped back, managing to avoid most of them. My hands danced around my pants, smothering the few embers which struck me.
I took a deep breath. I needed to calm down. My hand swept across my forehead. Sweat mixed with the dirt on my hand and made black streaks across my palm. No telling what my forehead looked like.
I closed my eyes. I’m going on this raid. Those words ran over and over through my mind, until I imagined them sailing out of my mouth. Confident of my success, I took one more deep breath and ran outside.
After being in the dimly lit longhouse for so long, the light from the morning sun was blinding. I shielded my eyes with my hands and looked at the ground while my eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. Yells and cheers erupted from the courtyard and drowned out the normal singing of the birds. Even without even seeing them, I knew the raiding parry was getting ready to depart.
I titled my head up and pulled my hands away from my eyes. People stood shoulder to shoulder, jamming the courtyard. Slowly, twenty-five men emerged from the cluster, the raiding party. Every few steps, one of them stopped to hug a loved one or get last minute words of encouragement. In my mind, I thanked each person who slowed down the men. I needed time.
Thorald, the leader of my village, also my dad, hung in the back. He always boarded the boat last. The sign of a good leader. The first to face the enemy and the last to flee.
I fought through the sea of people, ducking, pushing, and elbowing my way. A couple of times I pushed someone hard enough to make them stumble. I ignored their looks. No time to worry about hurt feelings.
“Stian? Done with your chores already?” Thorald’s gaze moved around the three building village, surveying my work.
“Yes, even the extra ones you gave me this morning.” I clenched my fist, driving my fingernails into my palms. Getting mad wouldn’t help. Not this morning.
“You didn’t cut any corners, did you? Go back and check.” Thorald turned away and walked toward the boat. After a few steps, like an afterthought, he glanced back. “I’ll see you later.”
I grabbed his sleeve. “Dad.” He turned to me and grimaced. “I mean, Thorald. Since I’m done with all my chores, maybe I can come along? Go on my first raid.”
“You know the rules. You have to be thirteen to go and you aren’t thirteen.”
“But I need to prove myself, and I can’t do it staying in the village!”
“Patience, your time will come.”
“What if something happens to you before I get the chance? No one will accept me as the new leader.”
“Then I’ll just need to be safe until you do.”
Hoping I didn’t look as desperate as I felt, I looked Thorald in the eyes. I pictured him saying yes. Thinking that word over and over again. Forcing it into his mind. I focused all my will on convincing him.
“Come on, I’ll be perfectly safe. With you and the other men, no one will get close to me. I’ll even help row the boat. Can I go, please?”
Thorald’s eyes glazed over. “I don’t know why I’m saying this, but get in the boat.”
I exhaled hard and hurried past him. I never knew how much time I had with my persuading trick. Sometimes it lasted a couple minutes and other times it lasted days. Even worse, sometimes it didn’t work at all. Especially with adults. They needed to be distracted. The good thing was, that when it wore off, no one knew why they agreed to do what I wanted in the first place.
I ran as fast as I could to the longship, wanting to be on it long before Thorald changed his mind. The front of the boat rested on the shore with most of its fifty feet of length in the water. Its narrow body wasn’t even wide enough for me and Halvard to lay down head to toe, not that we were ever allowed to try. The tips of the twenty-four oars rested in the water and the single mast sat empty in the middle of the boat. A handful of men sat at their oars talking.
I hurdled the side of the boat without even having to put my hand down to help. I sat down on the first empty box and rested my hands on the oar in front of me. With my head held high, I looked at nothing in particular and forced myself to take slow, deep breaths.
After a few seconds, my thumping heart slowed enough for me to look around without looking like a nervous kid. To be safe, I squeezed the handle of the oar until the wood dug into my palms. The tight grip and the little bit of pain were enough to hide my shaking hands from everyone.
The boat was about half full and the men talked in quiet voices, almost whispers. I couldn’t make out everything they said, but I heard enough to get the message—I didn’t belong.
My hands stopped shaking enough to let go of the oar. I wiped them on my pants. Even in the cold, they managed to get sweaty. I squirmed a couple times trying to get comfortable. Nothing seemed to work. The hard wood of the box already made my butt sore. No way I was complaining about it though.
I sat still, trying to be as invisible as possible, staring at the river, refusing to face the stares from the people on the shore. After today, no one would grumble about me being on the longship. Once I proved my fighting skills, people would beg me to go on raids. I might even be asked to lead them. Maybe even be elected leader of the village. That would show Thorald and his stupid thirteen-year-old rule.
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