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An Original Short
Author’s Note: I wrote this short-short story to flesh out an idea that I had. It was more of a proof -of-concept than anything else. I also wanted to try first-person multiple POV. I hope to work on a novel length version soon!
(“Lene” is pronounced “Lee-na“)
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?” It wasn’t exactly what he said, but it was close enough. He looked down at me like a hungry dog, his eyes lingering on my chest.
He was a big man. He had survived many battles, and killed many men. His bearded face was rough and scarred, and I could smell his foulness, despite the ocean wind.
I looked up at the brute and, smiling, I spoke in the old Norse tongue: “If I told you why I was here, you would shit your breeches in fear.”
He laughed and lifted a thick hand as if to grab my breast. I smacked it away and he reached again. I flattened my hand and jabbed my extended fingers into the soft part of his throat just below the Adam’s apple. Choking, he bent over and gasped for air.
I turned and made my way to the steer-board side of the longboat, where Brand and Gunnar had been talking. They were watching me now, and Gunnar scowled.
“You should have killed him, Lene.”
“Why? It wasn’t a big deal. And he learned his lesson.”
Brand glanced at him. “She’s right. We’ll need Leidolf’s skill later.”
The sail was up and full, but tomorrow the oars would be out. For a time, the three of us stood at the gunwale, watching the sun sink into the horizon as the Gulf of Riga slid by beneath us. Shuddering, I thought about the job that lay ahead of us.
Brand pulled out a cigarette and I rolled my eyes. Ignoring me, he flicked his fingernail at the tip of the cigarette and it suddenly glowed with an orange fire.
I wasn’t the only one to notice Brand’s little trick. The helmsman stared as Brand took a drag. Who knew what he was thinking?
“You should be careful. Tobacco doesn’t exist in Europe in this century.”
“What? Why?” He looked to his right, saw the man watching him and blew smoke. It was flung away by the wind. The helmsman’s eyes grew wide and Brand turned his face to the sky and laughed.
“Wait till we make landfall; I’ll show him how to blow smoke rings!”
Gunnar snorted and I laughed. Brand was right. The natives would eventually learn that the three of us were not as we seemed.
I took Gunnar’s hand. Brand smoked, and we watched the sea.
The next morning we reached the mouth of the Daugava River. The sail was put away and the oars brought out. Gunnar and I each took an oar, along with eighteen warriors, and we pulled our way upstream. The work was hard but it felt good, and I had no trouble keeping up with the men. Even without using any tech I was as strong as most of them.
There were twenty-three warriors in all, counting the jarl. I was the only woman.
The longboat had twelve oars on each side, but four of the oars were stored away. Three warriors stood behind me in the prow, watching the shores and the river. The lookouts would take turns with the rowers, so at any given time three warriors were on break.
We passed a few fishing boats, but the crew members didn’t seem to fear us and a few of them actually waved. I knew that the village of Riga was upstream a short distance and I was looking forward to seeing the sights.
As I rowed, I looked across at Gunnar as he effortlessly pulled the oars with his thick arms. Even sitting, he towered over the other rowers. He caught me watching and I batted my eyelashes like a schoolgirl and he laughed.
Brand was aft, speaking with jarl Bodolf. Plotting and planning, no doubt.
Brand spoke for the three of us, and I trusted him. I’d known him since I was seven years old, and I’d known Gunner since I was even younger.
In Riga, Bodolf would hire a guide to help us get upriver to the village of Podol. From there we would make our way to our real destination. And we weren’t looking for riches or pillaging.
The three of us walked the streets of Riga, taking in the sights and sounds. We had suited up before we left the boat; Gunnar and Brand wore their chain shirts and I wore my boiled leathers. We carried round wooden shields but our swords were slung over our backs. As was my custom, I wore a short ax at my side.
As we strolled the dirt paths of the market area, Gunnar’s head and shoulders towered above the sea of people, and he got a lot of double-takes. He parted the sea of people like a prow cutting waves.
I smiled. “I suppose they aren’t used to giant bull gorillas walking around town.”
Gunnar grinned and shrugged.
Brand was wary, watching everything and everyone. Judging by their appearance, the people of Riga seemed to be from everywhere in the world.
We found a place to eat. The only thing on the menu was seafood, but after weeks of dried mutton on the ship, fresh fish was nice. No shellfish for me, though. Yuck.
On our back to the ship we got separated. I had dropped back at a merchant’s stall to look at a necklace with an odd talisman, and when I looked up Gunnar and Brand were gone, lost into the crowd.
I dropped the necklace and rushed out into the street, and ran headlong into Leidolf. Or I should say, Leidolf’s shield. He had purposely stepped out in front of me, and I hadn’t been paying attention. As I crashed into the big warrior, he pushed out with his shield. I pretended as if it had nearly knocked me over backwards.
The move gave me some distance between the two of us. Three meters away, he stood his ground and glared at me. I saw that he had two evil looking companions from the ship; one on either side. They were drawing their swords. And smiling.
As if by magic, the pressing mass of people around us dissipated and the four of us were alone in the dusty street. The crowd formed a circle around us ten meters away.
I looked up to the quiet sky and sighed. High Noon in the ninth century.
Leidolf stared at me in fury. I supposed he was the type to hold a grudge. He was going to try to kill me, and I couldn’t see a peaceful way out of the situation.
I tried anyway. “Look, I’m sorry I embarrassed you back on the boat. How about we go drink some ale and forget about it?” I waved my drinking horn at him for emphasis.
In answer, he reached up and pulled the sword from his back with a move so fast that it surprised me. I would never have thought such a big man could move like that.
So this is how its going to be?
I glanced to my rear to be sure Leidolf didn’t have any other friends on my six. When I turned back to Leidolf and his cohort, I saw something that made me feel much better.
At the edge of the crowd and out of Leidolf’s field of vision were Brand and Gunnar. They watched, but the weren’t getting involved.
I smiled. Without moving my eyes from Leidolf, I lowered my shield and lifted the sword belt over my head and dropped it to the side. Leidolf watched me warily as I pulled the short ax from my belt. I shifted my stance so that my left leg was forward, hips to the side, the ax in my right hand behind me and held low.
I concentrated on the spot behind my left ear, where the augmentation chip was located. I called to the chip and gave orders. It complied, spurting adrenaline and other chemicals into my veins.
The first thing I noticed was that my vision became impossibly clear. A bead of sweat fell from Leidolf’s nose and as it fell, I saw through it, to an upside-down version of Leidolf. A fly buzzed about his shoulder and I counted the flaps of its wings and heard the scraping of its leg-tips as it landed.
I looked to my left and right and the world was frozen in time. Gunnar and Brand watched, relaxed. Brand had actually crossed his arms, as if he was bored.
Smiling, I extended my left hand toward Leidolf and wiggled my fingers in a “come and get me” gesture, like Bruce Lee used to do. Would do in the future. Whatever.
Leidolf stared, confused. So I laughed, and that did it.
Furious, he charged me, swinging both the shield and the sword in multiple, seemingly wild strikes. Contrary to people’s opinion, a viking shield is as much a weapon as a means of defense, and Leidolf knew what he was doing.
I dodged his attacks without effort, as if I was evading a blind-and-deaf man, barely moving, yet never being in the path of a blow. I moved slowly, taking my time with each step, but I was certain that to Leidolf and his friends I was nothing but a blur.
Finally, after Leidolf missed with yet another combination shield/sword attack, I reached in. I stepped back and held up my prize for Leidolf to see: his beard dangled from my hand.
Astounded, he reached up to his chin with his shield hand, grasping at stubble. I had thought the trick might cause him to back off, but instead, he roared. I watched as all three of them beat their shields with their swords and prepared to charge me.
I looked beyond them to my friends. Gunnar moved as if to step forward and I knew he was calling his augmentation chip. Brand put an arm on his shoulder and said nothing. After a moment, Brand gave me a barely perceptible nod.
This is it. No more games.
Brand and I watched as Lene stood alone against the three warriors. Impossibly, she had reached in during Leidolf’s attack and snipped off his beard, of all the crazy things… I don’t know what the hell she was thinking, but I was pretty sure she couldn’t take on all three of those bruisers at the same time.
I called to my augmentation chip. But Brand put his hand on my shoulder and shook his head. I almost shrugged him off and went in anyway, but something in his eyes told me I’d better wait.
I turned to watch just as Leidolf roared. Lene was in her goofy kung-fu stance, waiting. The three bruisers circled her and charged in, swords and shields swinging away.
And, just like that, Lene disappeared. Not “disappeared” in such a way that I couldn’t see her because the warriors piled on top of her. I mean she disappeared out of existence. One second she was there; then she was gone.
I felt my jaw drop open and Brand stiffened his grip on my shoulder.
Then Leidolf dropped to the dirt like a felled tree, blood spurting out of somewhere near the vicinity of his neck. The other two bruisers looked around, confused.
I felt a tap on my other shoulder and I turned around. And there was Lene, with a big goofy grin on her face.
“Close your mouth, ya big ape, before you catch a fly!” she said.
Suddenly, Lene was behind us. I hadn’t known she could move that fast. Faster than normal human vision can follow.
I suddenly felt better about the whole mission. If Lene could move like that, then who knew what Gunnar was capable of? And where we were going, we needed all the help we could get. I pulled out a cigarette.
“Well,” I said. They both looked at me expectantly.
“Who wants to go have a drink?”
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