Warning: May induce severe bouts of nostalgia if you're reading it a few months from now.
Berkian Eddur - 3
Meeting at Iðavöllr
12. Epilogue; Old Ghosts
She hurried through the streets, her eldest clasped tightly in her hand as they navigated the narrow walkways and the foot traffic of the market. Her husband was at their stall, and she needed to get back to him soon to help man the busiest part of the day. But this was the only time the goat herd passed, and if she wanted any milk she'd have to chase after the shepherd, convenient time or not.
Having caught the goats, she sent the girl after them - the shepherd boy had a fancy for her and tended to give them more milk when she sent her than when she went herself. She stood idly by, keeping an eye out to make sure her girl wasn't snatched - it had happened to the butcher's boy last week, and he'd come home beaten bloody and missing a piece of his toes. She didn't want to think what would happen to her poor little four-year-old girl.
Her eyes scanned the crowd, making sure to keep her daughter constantly in the periphery of her vision, and her eyes stopped on a band of travellers wearing leathers and shining weapons strapped to their back. She felt a pang, as she often did when she remembered that little boy.
She wondered often about him. He'd become a brother to her, despite the fact that she'd shown him what women could be in bed. He'd been naive, wounded and heartbroken, with that great big lizard of his completing the picture of innocent strength. Both of them had looked fearsome and bloodthirsty at first glance, when in reality they had both been ignorant of the cruelty of the world, kind hearted and gentle. She still remembered him talking about that girl he could not forget - her name, foreign and strange-sounding, had stuck with her.
The blond couple she had been observing moved on, the man having bought two bolts of fabric with apparent satisfaction. The woman picked up one of them - Lord in Heaven above, the foreigner must be strong for how short she was. She believed the stories he used to tell of his wanted lover practicing with an axe till she felled a tree at age twelve now. Another glance at her daughter told her the seven-year old goat herder was still playing with her, showing her how to make giddies jump on command with a few snaps of his tongue, and she let them play for a moment.
A shiver went up her spine, then, when she heard a very familiar laugh. Her mind must be playing tricks on her, she decided - she'd nearly not slept at all yesterday because of the baby strapped to the front, and even though she was used to it, she supposed that fatigue did take its toll eventually. She went to call her daughter when she heard it again; then she heard something that made her heart beat wildly.
She spun her head around, and there, next to a stall selling dates and figs, stood her little brother. He was still wearing dragon leathers, still thin as a rail. His hair was longer and even more wind-blown than it used to be. But he was tall, his shoulders wide, his green eyes were no longer shadowed and haunted, instead alight and shining as he held a hand over a woman's eyes, rubbing a date to her lips teasingly before he let her eat it.
She looked at them closely; it had to be him, it had to be. It was like God had granted her prayers and hopes, hearing her wishes to meet her little lost brother again and granting them in His magnanimous generosity. She crossed herself three times in thanks, reaching out to her daughter and snatching her away from play with little preamble to drag her towards the two before they disappeared into the throng again.
The woman she observed carefully as she approached. Golden hair, eyes like the sea with a rocky bottom. The foreign woman kissed her brother even as she approached, and looked at him with a love and fondness that made her glad.
She was standing right beside them when she stopped, hesitating for an instant. But then she reached for his arm gently.
'Hiccough?'1 she called, almost afraid. If she was wrong, she didn't know what to expect. He was taller and more grown and fuller - a man - but she just couldn't risk it being him and missing the gift He had sent.
The man in front of her jolted, then turned and blinked at her. It was him, it was definitely him; there was no mistaking the freckles on his cheek, the flecks of light in his eyes and the crinkle in the corner when he smiled.
'Sepha! Oh gods in Asgard, Sepha!'
He stepped towards her with open arms, babbling in his language that she only half-understood. She stepped away carefully, pointing to her child, and he hesitated only a moment before he understood. He palmed her shoulders instead, with hands that had already been large and gentle as a boy and become only more so now. The woman who had been with him came forward cautiously, and Josepha saw that she had gone rather pale, although she still seemed interested.
'I'm so surprised to see you here!' she finally understood when he slowed down. They'd spent many an idle night learning each other's languages, becoming proficient enough that they could finally pass for siblings when the time required it for her wedding to Peter. Hiccough had paid for her marriage like a real brother, giving her a dowry and things she hadn't even had the first time she'd married. She would never have forgotten him, even if God hadn't seen fit to make them meet again, because he was the reason Josepha could be happy at all.
'We moved,' she replied in rusty norse, watching surprise flit on the woman's face. Could she be? Could she be the Astreed that her brother had been in love with, that he called for at night when he slept and had nightmares? That woman had been in his heart since he was nothing more than walking bones and if he had truly managed to win her, she would buy oil for the temple candles for the coming year. 'There was more work here, and more safety. They are building new walls now, too. And with the children, it is always good to be safe.'
'That's so true,' Hiccough nodded with a wide smile. 'These two?'
'For now,' she laughed, palming her belly. Hiccough laughed, reaching back towards the woman and bringing her under his arm.
'We plan to start working on that as soon as we're back home!' he said, beaming. His chest went out a little as he took the woman's hand in his free one. 'This is … Sepha, this is Astrid. My wife.'
Josepha could feel herself beam. She looked at her brother with a raised brow to make sure, and his minute nod just made happiness burst in her. She cried thanks to the Lord and muttered blessings upon blessing upon them, taking the other woman's hands in hers and kissing them.
'I am so happy,' she finally said. Then, unable to contain herself any longer, she took his face in her hands and kissed his forehead. 'Oh brother, my brother; my little beloved brother.'
The other woman no longer seemed annoyed or threatened, instead she seemed amused, looking up at Hiccough with knowing eyes and a shine of humour all over her face.
'Annee, annee!' her daughter finally called, bored of standing around and watching her mother speak to strangers, no doubt.
'Hush daughter, don't you know who this is?' she said, turning to her eldest. The girl blinked up at her, her hair fair and beautiful like her own, eyes brown and deep like her father's. 'This is your uncle. It's uncle Hiccough.' The girl's eyes moved to the man with new light, blinking up at him before smiling wide and stepping forward to hug his calves.
With a terrified jolt, she noticed that half of one of her brother's feet was metal.
'God preserve me, what have you done to yourself, you stupid boy!' Sepha called out. Hiccough laughed, pulling the little girl up into his arms to sit on his hip.
'Fought dragons,' he replied. With a grin.
'And lost!' Josepha scolded. The baby strapped to her front whimpered and she immediately moved to quiet it down. 'Hush, little Petre, hush. It's alright; your uncle's not five minutes back and already he's upsetting mother.'
'And won,' her brother's wife corrected her. 'His foot was the price he paid for saving the life of our entire village.' The woman's eyes looked at her brother with pride and love, and Josepha noticed belatedly that she wore armour, that she had a huge axe strapped to her back and spikes on her skirt. Evidently, she was still the warrior woman that Hiccough had dreamed and talked of, despite the fact that she was now also a wife. Josepha would never understand it.
'S'nothing any other Viking wouldn't have done,' Hiccough replied with a shrug, and she exchanged an exasperated look with his wife. In that moment, as their eyes met with matching emotions, it was like their hearts had both reached out to one another. Josepha beamed at her as the other woman smiled, and she felt happier than ever for her brother. In a second moment, she noticed exactly how beautiful her brother's wife was; no wonder he could not forget her.
'So what's your name?' Hiccough asked in latin. Her little girl's face broke into a smile when she heard a language she understood, but then she hid her face into his neck shyly. Josepha laughed.
'This is my son, Peter, named after his father. We call him little Petre,' she laughed, patting her son's back. 'And that one over there … she's my first born. Mary-Astreed.'
Hiccough's mouth fell open, openly staring at her before turning to his wife, who was also looking rather startled.
'We presented her at the temple under St John the Baptist's bones,' Josepha went on. 'I presented her to God in the hope that He'd help you find your Astreed, too.'
Astrid, her brother's wife, looked at her with softening eyes and nodded gratefully. Her brother was looking at the little child in wonder, fingering her golden curls and making her giggle.
'She's beautiful, Sepha,' Hiccough said, fondly. He cupped her head expertly, holding her in his arms like he had long practice.
'Well, look at you knowing how to hold a child. You were lying when you said you don't have any! Where are your own, then?' she asked. Hiccough smiled even as his wife's face fell, if only slightly.
'We have a little girl', the woman replied. 'My niece. We took her in when she was orphaned. She's ours now, but we have none of our own proper yet.'
'Only been married for weeks!' Hiccough laughed. 'Give us time! I'm sure Mary-Astreed and Ætta would be friends if they met, and we'll make more little cousins for them, just you wait.'
'They're about the same age.' Her brother's wife looked at the child, opening her arms and waiting for Mary-Astreed to lean into her before taking her up. 'About the same size, too!'
They laughed for no reason other than the fact that they were happy. Josepha took both of their hands. 'You must come to the stall with me, you must! Peter will be so pleased to see you, brother, so pleased. And you must eat with us, you have to, we are family. Please say you will!'
The two glanced at one another, and the woman shrugged one shoulder at Hiccough, smiling prettily. He beamed at his wife and turned to Josepha.
'Seems like a good idea.'
'Well then, come, come this way! We must stop at the stall, and I will feed you our best fish, and you must tell me everything, everything! Ah, brother, my little brother, how glad I am to see you happy! May God keep his blessed hand on you. Come, come this way. Peter will be so happy to see you again...'
Josepha felt that she could skip like a girl as she guided her brother and his wife down the staired slopes and across the winding market to her husband. What a gift, what a gift God had given her. Finally, she had set eyes on her brother again, the lost boy who had saved her life more than she had saved his; finally she could thank him for the happiness he had brought into her life. Finally, she could hear of how life had shaped him, and see the person who had emerged through it all, becoming a man.
1. Hiccough is the British spelling for the word Hiccup, pronounced in the same way. It is written in this way here because it is a foreign name for Josepha, and she is a Scottish lass.
Josepha is a christian name, and of course it was an indication that she was christian. The city of Constantinople was christian at this time in history, and it would be natural for Sepha and her fisherman husband to move there for protection.
As a last little tidbit for my readers, the name Josepha was purposefully chosen. If is a female version of Joseph, of course, but 'Sepha', the nomenclature that Hiccup chooses for her, is not an accident. 'Sefa', with that spelling, is an actual Viking name that was also a female version of a male name, Sefi or Siafi. Both are derived from old Swedish adjectives, from what the Viking Answer Lady website, and they mean 'calm, tranquil and gentle'. Josepha's life had been in as much turmoil as Hiccup's when they met, and Hiccup brought her peace (even naming her that), even if she didn't manage to bring it to him.
A theme of prayers has also been underlying the entire trilogy. I've touched a gamut of religions (Norse, Judaism and Christianity in this epilogue and last chapter alone), and I enjoyed putting this cultural element in. Constantinople was one of the most mixed and progressive cities of its time, and I simply couldn't leave this universe without visiting at least once.
This is the end, everyone. I would like to thank you all for coming on this long, winding Journey with me, from the bottom of my heart.
Two notes, before I leave:
1. One of my lovely readers, The Aeolian Mode, has shared the rock band called 'Árstíðir' with me, and they are SO fantastic. Honestly, their music could be a soundtrack for anything httyd. The Aeolian Mode was lovely enough to say they made a good match with this saga, which is such high praise, because their music is gorgeous. Give them a shot – they're on youtube and amazon.
2. Another one of my readers has let me know that in a number of history texts, the names 'Líf' and 'Lífþrasir' refer to the opposite gender. As in Líf is male and Lífþrasir is female. I was understandably upset, as I went into this after doing some research of my own, and my English-Icelandic dictionary places Líf as female (yes, I bought one for this fic. Sorry, I'm such a nerd, I know). I did some research online after that, and found a mixture of things from a variety of sources all mixing the genders of the two survivors of Ragnarök. So now I am confused, a bit upset, and a bit annoyed. The book references this person gave me are all legitimately good, but are all written by English speaking folk, while my English-Icelandic dictionary actually has an Icelandic person involved. Sources online confused more than helped, so please, anyone Icelandic following this – let me know.
For the rest … this is the end. Thank you, once again, for your time, your comments, your insights. The delights of people who were sharp and caught my twists before they came, the delight of people who didn't and left their reactions in reviews. It's been an honour, everyone. Thank you for sticking with me, and I hope my muses will be nice to me so that I can give you all something else to read, if it makes you happy. For now; goodbye, and may you all find good things to read and great things to do.
Final update: 24/5/2015