Chapter 1: Doubts
Sigtrygg is almost sleeping on my lap during the náttmál and I excuse myself to put him to bed.
“Sigtrygg is tired.” I whisper to Ivar.
“I'll help you. He is heavier now.” Ivar smiles looking at our boy, whose head is resting against my shoulder.
“I'll be a giant like you, Fadir.” His sleeping voice is followed by a yawn.
I laugh at his innocence. We are giants in his eyes. Little he knows that we have fears of our own and sometimes feel helpless.
“Come here, give me a kiss.” Ivar mumbles to Sigtrygg.
I lean forward and Sigtrygg grabs his father's neck kissing his cheek, “Now kiss modir, fadir!” Sigtrygg’s voice is as commanding as a kid can be and I try not to laugh that he is ordering Ivar.
I swallow glancing at Ivar. His face is so close to mine that I can feel his hot breath against my skin. It's like I can taste the mead from his lips. I'm mortified that I feel blood rushing to my cheeks as easily as if I were still a maiden. Ivar is analyzing my features and I know he wants my permission. I'm blinking and pressing my lips together as every intake of air sets my lungs on fire.
Will Ivar want more if I allow him to kiss me? Am I prepared to offer more if he requires?
I realize that I want to test myself. Ivar is still looking at me, but his eyes are sad now as if he lost hope. I tilt my head in compliance and the smile that appears on his face warms my heart. I close my eyes waiting for him to possess my mouth, gasping in surprise when his soft lips touch my temple. This innocent touch is an awakening from memories registered in my body. Both pleasant and painful. I suppose it will be always like this, our story is not simple.
He pulls out and I'm shocked to discover that I'm already missing his warmth. In his eyes I see the uncertainty of a different man. I rise to my feet quickly and when I put Sigtrygg in his bed, he is already sound asleep. I kiss his forehead and walk to our chamber.
I find Ivar sitting on the bed and waiting for me.
“We need to talk!” his voice is steady and calm, but my heart starts beating fast.
I sit beside him, but I can't gather courage to look in his eyes, I stare at my hands on my lap instead.
“Do you hate me?” His question seems so absurd that I look up at him.
“I don't.” I was never so sure about something in my life.
He keeps proving himself a better man, one that doesn't deserve hatred or disgust. He is worthy loving, but I don't dare to say it. Even though he still looking at me waiting for more. When he notices I'm not saying anything else, Ivar tilts his head.
“Good.” I can see a little smile on his lips.
In the morning I'm working on the loan while Sigtrygg is playing with Nanna, our cat. Only recently I discovered that Norsemen give cats to their future wives as a symbol of Freya. The thought of Ivar considering me his wife is not totally reassuring. I worry about my son's position. His inheritance can only be assured depending on my status in Ivar's life.
Am I a slave? A concubine? What am I to Ivar and his people? And more important, how does my situation affect Sigtrygg’s future?
I don't know how to bring the subject to Ivar. My mind remains clouded for a few days. During one of his counsels a case brought to his attention is my final push.
“He never married her. When he died, I dare to say she was not even a concubine.” The woman is yelling, and I can see a vein in Ivar's neck pulsing.
“You're in my hall, woman. If someone is to speak loud here, it's I.” his tone is low, but he is clearly infuriated. It seems Ivar's fury is only clear to me, because the woman keeps her voice annoyingly loud.
“I want this woman out of my house and that she carries her bastard children with her.” Her face is a mask of hatred. Her lips are curling while she speaks, and her head is held high.
Sigtrygg is scared and on the verge of tears. Ivar notices our son hiding his face into the crook of my neck from his peripheral vision.
“It seems you're a scorned woman. Not being able to give your husband children, you resent the woman that could do this.” Ivar is tapping the arm of his chair and as his words keep flowing, he leans forward looking straight in her eyes, “It's not a surprise the Gods haven't blessed you with children. Look how you're scaring my son.” Ivar points to us.
In her face I notice a disdainful grimace, while her eyes are accusing me of something I don't even know what. I tighten my arms around my son, kissing his hair. I can only imagine what kind of terrors the other woman suffered by her hands.
I look at Ivar and I can tell he noticed the woman's disapproval of our situation.
“Do you have a problem with my family?” Ivar arches his eyebrows while his lips are twisted in a half smile. If I were her, I would choose my words carefully.
“Oh no! Your...” she looks at me from head to toe, “family is adorable.” Sigtrygg looks at her and she smiles at him. I can say it is the smile of a predator. It’s been a long time since I considered killing, but for the first time I want to bath in her blood.
“What you require of me is that I kill children and women. What kind of man do you think I am?” Ivar tilted his head and bared his teeth to speak.
“I don't want you to kill them. It's just that I'm sure this woman poisoned my husband against me. Maybe even practiced seidr preventing me to be with child.” She hisses, and I felt like I’m watching a snake.
“You’re asking me to kill them. What do you think it will happen to them when the Winter comes, and they don’t have a roof above their heads?” Ivar reasons with her with a patient that never ceases to surprise me.
“She is lying, King Ivar. I would never harm anyone and when Sihtric brought me home, they were married for eight years and she has never been with child all this time. He told me.” The woman is crying and holding a baby girl against her chest while her eldest son is holding the hand of another boy that looks a little older than Sigtrygg.
“LIES!” I can see the woman is losing control. Her face is flushed pink and her hands are forming fists.
“Sihtric wanted to divorce Elisif to marry me, but she begged, and I felt sorry for her. It's not a woman's fault when a couple can't have children.” She looks at her children, “if I knew she wouldn't show me the same mercy...” the woman is shaking with sobs and I want to go to her.
Ivar looks at me and back at them. I wonder what he is thinking, and more than never, I need to know. It would be me in that woman's situation. One day it might be my son being publicly humiliated. I would kill myself before allowing my son to endure the shame.
“Is anyone here able to attest what these women are saying?” Ivar shouts to the crowd.
“I can.” A man stands up.
“Go ahead.” Ivar encourages him.
“My name is Egil. I've been friends with Sihtric since we were children. I know he wanted to divorce his wife when he noticed it was not his fault they couldn't have children.” Elisif’s eyes are burning with loathing, “He didn't divorce her out of pity. What she is trying to do to Hild is shameful. The Gods wouldn't approve.”
Ivar smiles, “I can make my decision now,” he looks at them tilting his head, “the children and their mother are to stay under Sihtric’s roof. He protected them in life and his children have the right of half his fortune.”
“SHAME! I came here seeking justice, but it seems I came to the wrong place.” She laughs bitterly.
“You're offending my honor. I advise you to stop it. If you can't live among your late husband's family, I advise you to take your share of what he left and go away.” Ivar suggests as his nostrils are flaring, and I fear he will spill blood in front of Sigtrygg.
“That's exactly what I'll do. I can't look at those bastards or their whore of a mother.” She looks at Hild from head to toe with her eyebrows furrowed then walks away pushing everyone standing in her way.
I can't sleep. After the case brought to Ivar, I feel powerless once more. If he marries and have children with another woman, my son will be in risk. I can't bear the thought of my Sigtrygg living in poverty and need because of me. Or worse, I push the images of my son as a slave aside.
Ivar's breathing is steady. I turn around to look at him, being surprised he is still awake.
“What is wrong? Why can't you sleep?” his eyes are soft and I feel he really care.
“I'm worried about Sigtrygg.” I confess unable to look at him.
“Are you worried about his future?” I feel his warm hand holding my chin to look at him.
I can only nod feeling a knot in my throat.
“I won't marry...” his fingers are tracing the line of my jaw and I feel I'm trembling, “another woman.” Ivar is looking at my mouth and pressing his lips together.
“But... I'm your slave. What makes Sigtrygg a slave as well...” my voice is cracking with the thought of my son enduring slavery.
“Moyra!” I'm still getting used to my name leaving his plump lips, he pauses searching for my eyes, “you're not my slave...” his voice is husky while Ivar is using his fingers to play with a strand of my hair.
“What am I?” my question surprises him, “What am I to you?” I hold his hand to remove any distraction his touch can represent.
He is looking right into my soul, “What do you want to be?” he is licking his lower lip what I know he does when he is nervous.
“I don't know. I-I...” my eyes are averting from his lips to his eyes.
“I need to know what you want. Do you want to be my wife?” his tone is stoical.
My jaw drops hearing his words. I don't know if I'm ready to be his wife, but I would do anything to secure my child's position.
“Can you forgive and marry me?” he is not talking about our son, he is talking about us and the things that have been tearing us apart.
“I forgave you a long time ago. I just don't know if... if I can be a proper wife for you. I don't feel ready to...” my hands are shaking, and my mind is clouded with thoughts. I want to shut down my worries and see the new man in front of me.
“You would be a proper wife for any lucky man. I won't pressure you to love me. If you don't want me, Sigtrygg’s position won't be in risk. I just want you to know that I'll wait.” I feel truth in his words and the promise brings tears to my eyes.
Ivar uses his thumb to wipe away my tears, “Can I hold you?”
I nod and wait for him to pull me closer, he draws his body closer to mine instead. I lay my head on his chest embracing his waist. I can feel he is inhaling the smell of my hair. His heartbeat is like a lullaby and I fall asleep easily. I'm so surprised that we can lay holding each other without Ivar trying to force me. Knowing that he doesn't want my body closer to him only for pleasure is satisfying.
Chapter 2: Family?
Moyra and Ivar receive a surprising guests that make them evaluate their life together. Sigtrygg is excited with some stories from Moyra's past.
Föðurbróðir = Uncle
bróðursonur = Nephew
Móðir = Mother
Faðir = Father
Alba = Scotland
Eire = Ireland
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It seems Ivar and I slept for ages, when we are awake by excited squeals.
“Móðir? Faðir? Wake up! Ships are coming!” Sigtrygg jumps on the bed and I rub my eyes, lifting my head from Ivar’s chest and sitting.
“Come here!” With my arms around him, Sigtrygg snuggles into my chest, “Do you even sleep, child?” I whisper thinking Ivar is still asleep.
“I doubt it!” Ivar’s husky voice makes my heart race and I smile, looking at him.
“I think we will have to see who is coming with these ships, huh?” Ivar is stretching his arms, yawning and my mouth falls open as I watch his muscles flexing. I can feel the heat of blood rushing to my face, and I look away embarrassed when Ivar stares at me with those indigo sleepy eyes.
Sigtrygg jumps from my lap, running to the chest I keep my dresses in. I giggle when he chooses a red dress for me, “This one, Móðir!” My son holds the dress in front of him, and all I can see is his little, chubby hands.
“Why this one, huh?” I tilt my head, trying to see his face.
“Because you look beautiful with this one.” He exclaims walking to us, and laying the dress on the bed.
“I agree.” My eyes meet Ivar's for a brief moment before I look away, as usual, uncomfortable as to what he might have seen there. I can still fell some traces of anxiety, of anticipation, even. I just don’t know if it’s a fear that the Ivar from the beginning will emerge or that I am still not able to open my heart to feel something different when I am close to him.
I walk to the table where we have a basin, washing my face and brushing my hair quickly. Then I put on the dress my son suggested for the day. Ivar starts dressing as well, while Sigtrygg watches us.
“So how do I look?” I smile at Sigtrygg, but I cannot deny the weight of Ivar’s gaze on me. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see he is breathing heavily through his mouth.
“You’re beautiful, Móðir! But…” His narrowed eyes are shinning with mischief as Sigtrygg grins at me. My little one look at me from head to toe, and I cross my arms across my chest waiting for his answer.
“What?” I ask him with an anxious smile.
“A necklace. You need a necklace.” Sigtrygg tries to disguise his laughter with both his hands covering his mouth. I roll my eyes, sighing in defeat. Before I can turn around to search for a jewel, Ivar is already holding one of his many gifts. A necklace with colorful beads.
“Can I help you?” Ivar’s voice is barely a whisper, but the way he is hovering me makes me lower my gaze. I sweep my hair to the side, so he can clasp the jewel around my neck. A shiver runs down my spine as his fingers brush my nape, and I take a deep breath not to cry in front of my son.
Memories of the first time he took me when we arrive here wash over me. The way he placed his big hand on my shoulders, lowering his head to smell my hair while one of his hands grabbed my breast. I close my eyes, trying to think he will not do this again. Not in front of Sigtrygg. Not until I allow it.
I lose track of time and when I open my eyes I see how he's staring at me: deep and thoughtful. Ivar takes a step back, analyzing me. It doesn’t pass unnoticed the way he gulps, watching my lips trembling. My jaw clenches while I think I failed. We slept peacefully in each other’s arms, only to painful memories stand between us in the morning.
Why do I have to feel this way still? I should have healed, shouldn’t I?
Ivar is carrying Sigtrygg on his shoulders for our son wants to see above everyone’s heads. He is so curious about who is arriving, but I don’t have to think much to deduce it’s Ubbe. When I look up at Ivar, it seems he had forgotten the tension from moments before. His eyes are glowing with happiness as we will see his brother after all this time.
“Who is that man?” Sigtrygg reaches for Ivar’s cheeks with his little hands, trying to make his father look up at him.
Ivar gives a gurgle of laughter, “It’s your föðurbróðir. His name is Ubbe, and it seems he is not coming alone.” I notice a woman walking by Ubbe’s side. He has a protective arm around her shoulder, and she is carrying a baby in her arms.
Ivar places Sigtrygg on the ground to greet his brother and Sigtrygg moves to my side. I can feel he is anxious about the man that is a strange in his inexperienced eyes. My son holds my hand tightly and I notice his palm is sweating, “Don’t be afraid! It’s your uncle and I’m sure he is eager to meet you.” I whisper, smiling at Sigtrygg.
I’m happy for Ubbe and even more for Ivar. I know he have missed Ubbe even if they disagreed most of the time. Their embrace lasts a few moments. Still holding on Ivar’s shoulder, Ubbe places his other hand on the woman’s shoulder, “This is my wife, Asa.” Ubbe’s wife smiles sweetly at us, while the baby sleeps peacefully in her arms, “and our daughter, Dagmar.”
Sigtrygg’s hand is trembling on mine while he hides behind my skirts. But he is still my curious baby, cocking his head to one side as he tries to watch Ubbe's moves
Ubbe kneels in front of us, reaching out a hand to mess with the Sigtrygg’s hair Sigtrygg’s hair, “This big man must be my bróðursonur, huh?”
Sigtrygg smiles shyly and Ubbe mutters approvingly, “You have your mother’s smile.”
Ubbe is now standing in front of me, grinning, “How is my sister?” Is Ivar treating you right?” Ubbe looks from over his shoulder to Ivar and back at me.
“We are doing well, Ubbe. You three must be exhausted and starving. Let’s find something to eat, then we can talk, huh?” I propose and Ivar nods approvingly.
During the walk, Asa comes closer to me and I brush my fingers over Dagmar’s forehead, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Asa.” I look in her eyes, grey as a stormy sky.
“I’m honored to be here too. We wanted to come earlier, but we discovered I was with child, and then we had to wait until Dagmar could come with us.” The corner of her mouth lifts into a radiant smile when she looks down at her daughter.
Memories of when Sigtrygg was this little come immediately, and with them, images of the cold child I embraced against my warm breast as if I could make her come back to life.
I clench my teeth, swallowing and looking up at the sun that is coming through the clouds. I silently pray that it’s a sign I can have hope. I don’t want to cry anymore and contaminate the happiness around me with my grief. I’ve learned my grief is in truth all the love I cannot give to my daughter. All the retained love gathering as a lump in my throat, and a wound that I fear will be forever part of my soul.
“Móðir?” Sigtrygg is watching me cautiously and I take a deep breath to smile at him.
“Are you hungry? I’m sure Màiri have finished preparing food for us, huh?” Sigtrygg presses his lips against my hand and I want to cry again, but this time out of gratitude.
Sigtrygg is sitting next to me, distractedly eating his porridge while Ubbe tell us about his time in Orkney.
“We’ve been living in Orkney since we got married and discovered Asa was with child. I would have come earlier, but I couldn’t risk sailing with a pregnant wife.” Ubbe leans forward to kiss Asa’s forehead and I notice all the tenderness between them. Sigtrygg looks up from his bowl, his eyes going from Ubbe and Asa to Ivar and me.
“How was your life in Alba, Moyra? Ubbe told me you lived there.” I blink, surprised that Asa is interested to know more about me.
“You don’t need to talk if you don’t want to, Moyra.” Ubbe glares at his wife.
“Don’t worry! Well… I don’t think my life was so interesting. I lived on a farm with my parents. We had two horses and a mare, some goats…” I’m embarrassed to talk about those ordinary details of my life. Those men had travelled to many places and I don’t think my story is entertaining. I also feel nostalgic to think about the arduous work from my past as we had to survive through the Winters.
“Did you have a Nanna, Móðir?” Sigtrygg is looking at me expectantly.
I chuckle, “No. I didn’t have a cat back then.”
“It should have been an arduous life. Taking care of a farm is challenging.” Asa encourages me to continue.
“When Aidan was alive, it was less arduous.” I notice the way Ivar’s jaw is clenching as he watches me.
“Who is Aidan?” Ubbe asks with his mouth full, his eyes going from Ivar to me. I suppose Ubbe's question is haunting Ivar, but he couldn't bring himself to ask.
“My older brother. He died of a fever before…” I breath heavily remembering how Ivar and Ubbe came to my life. I notice the way Ivar shifts uncomfortable in his chair and Ubbe looks down at his plate.
Sigtrygg seems not to be paying attention, but suddenly says: “I would like to know my grandparents, Móðir.” I press my lips together, trying to think about a proper answer.
“I wish you could know them as well. They would love you as much as I do. My father would take you to hunt or fish. And tell you stories about how you should be cautious of the lakes or the Kelpies would come.” I’m raising my eyebrows with a puzzled whimsical air as I usually do when I’m telling Sigtrygg stories.
“Like Ran’s daughter, Móðir?” His jaw drops while I’m sure he is thinking about the most fantastic creatures.
“No! They are far more dangerous.” I laugh tickling his belly and it seems Sigtrygg’s squeals are enough to wake up Dagmar.
“It seems she is hungry again.” Asa rises to her feet and I lead her to a room in which she can feed her daughter, bath and rest.
“I’ll leave you two alone. If you need anything…” I say hesitantly, heading to the door when Asa interrupts me.
“Please, stay with me! I’ve been traveling among men for far too long. I want your company.” Dagmar is already sucking on her nipples while I eye them warily of why Asa seems so curious about me. I let out a breath, sitting on the bed.
“I want to know more about you, Moyra.” Asa questions cautiously. I’m not sure the extent of her knowledge about what happened between Ivar and me.
“Well… There’s nothing so interesting to know.” I avert my eyes from her, trying to think about an excuse to walk away.
“I think I’m being too invasive. I’m sorry… It’s just that I’m so happy to be here…” Asa hesitates, and I glance at her, “among family.”
I bite my lower lip, moved by her words. It’s still surprising to think I have a family after all the pain.
“I’m happy you’re here too.” I confess, pleased that Sigtrygg will have some moments with his uncle, auntie and cousin.
At the afternoon, Ivar proposes that we go to the lake after Sigtrygg insisting that he wants to see if we have Kelpies in Eire. Our child is overwhelmed with excitement.
“Are you happy to have a cousin, Sigtrygg?” Ivar asks, holding our son’s hands
“She is beautiful. But… She can’t play with me, huh? His nose wrinkles as he looks at the bundle in Asa’s arms
“I see he took after his father.” Ubbe chuckles tapping Ivar on the shoulder.
Sigtrygg’s shyness goes away as he runs ahead of us. Ubbe burst into laughter watching him.
I sit on the grass with Asa and Dagmar that is already sleeping in her mother’s arms while Ubbe, Ivar and Sigtrygg are entertained in the water.
“Do you want to hold her for a while?” Asa’s voice startles me as I was distracted, watching Ivar trying to make Sigtrygg stay still not to scare the fishes away.
“I don’t know. Can I?” my voice is as trembling as my hands. Asa places Dagmar in my arms with a confident smile.
“Of course! You’re her aunt.” I’m mesmerized by the movement of her tiny mouth as Dagmar breathes slowly. It’s impressive how holding a sleeping baby can bring me peace. I smile at Asa for giving me this opportunity, then I notice Ivar and Ubbe watching Sigtrygg coming to where we are sitting. Ivar’s eyes lay on me and my heart starts beating fast due the intensity of his gaze. I’m sure he is thinking about our daughter as much as I am.
“What happened, Sigtrygg?” My son is pouting, and I notice the way his forehead is wrinkling.
Sigtrygg leans against me, watching Dagmar sleeping. He is soon yawning, answering me, “Uncle Ubbe wants to talk to Faðir.”
Dagmar is squirming, hungry and Asa takes her to the breast and Sigtrygg lays his head in my lap to sleep.
We are lying in bed, facing each other and enjoying the calmness after a busy and exciting day until Ivar breaks the silence.
“I liked to hear you talking about your family. I didn’t know you had a brother.” Ivar mumbles, and I see the way his forehead is tense. I wonder what he is thinking.
“Yes. But he died of a fever when I was little. I have just a few memories of him. I suppose the time turn some happy moments into blurred images.” My eyes are close while I’m trying to remember my brother’s face or his voice.
“It must be true.” Then I open my eyes and see how Ivar is staring at me: deep and thoughtful, “I’m sorry that I destroyed your happiness.” I gasp, seeing Ivar sniffing and blinking as tears are threatening to leave his eyes.
I lift my hand to his face, wiping away the tears that are now streaming down his cheeks, “You haven’t destroyed everything. We have Sigtrygg. If you had not taken me, I would not have our son.”
“If you could change…” His eyes are closed as he holds the hand I placed on his cheek.
I interject him, “I wouldn’t change anything. We must look forward, Ivar. For Sigtrygg…” Ivar opens his eyes. Fear and sadness written so plainly on his features. It pushes me to confess, “and for us.” My heart is beating fast and I feel my stomach fluttering as Ivar smiles at me shyly and with hope.