Copyright is held by the author.
ON THE darkest day of the year the wind came creeping across the gloomy landscape. The cold hitched a ride on the back of wind. The cold had a passenger called snow. Snow had a brother called sleet.
Thorval couldn’t help but recall how when the first Norse migrated to Iceland they quickly had a saying for that land, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute, and it will get worse, far worse.” Thorval hoped it wasn’t to be like that here in the Roskilde Fjord. The Danes’ Mark was usually tolerable, compared to the rest of the Nordic lands. The other Norse often called it the soft lands; if not the inhabitants.
The cold chilled his well haired face. He was vexed straining his eyes into the early, almost constant dark, of the winter solstice. “Where are you?” he hissed anxiously through clenched teeth, his eyes stinging against the freezing shards. Flury out in a flurry. It was appropriate in a sense, but he was worried about the charges left in their care. The Storm sister was in her element, but the little ones were a different matter. How would they brave the storm? This morning was clear when they had headed out to the neighbouring stead to celebrate the solstice with the other children in the area. They would have started the march back when the storm had blown up out of nowhere. Little legs didn’t do well in deepening snow. Still, he had the ultimate faith in Flury. She would see they got back to Tomtegaard.
Thorval grabbed an armful of dried wood from outside and headed into, the longhouse, of the stead and stoked up the central fire pit. They would need to warm up. He opened the adjoining door to the L shaped farmstead, an opposing L of outbuildings to form the squared courtyard, and was hit by the odour of manure. It was that time again. He shuffled the animals around and cleaned out all their stalls, wheeling the droppings outside into a pile to freeze, each time checking the horizon in the swirling dervishes of snow to see if he could spot them in the distance. He did not.
Thorval fed the animals and then recalled he had others to feed as well. He had to feed whatever other small creatures were hidden in the walls. If he didn’t the children would be so disappointed. They were adamant that Thorval and Flury had to set out the proper meals each day. Thorval set the little bowls scattered around the interior of the barn and filled them with some milk, cheese, butter and porridge. It was always gone the next day, Thorval assumed by the mice, unless the cats had nabbed them all, then the cats would have consumed the offerings.
Thorval shivered, not from the cold. He took a heavy blanket down from a peg, wrapped it around himself, and headed out from the barn into the blowing snow. He squinted into the white speckled darkness that swirled in annoyance. He listened against the howling aches of the blizzard for sounds of their approach. He paced back and forth, drawn into the storm to search, but knowing better and treading to and fro.
He waited. The blowing abated. The snow eased.
He heard a melody to the whistling breeze. Someone was singing along with the wind; little voices, young voices, followed by one not so young, not so melodious, one with a tone of Flury to it. His eyes worried into the lessening flakes and he spotted them coming across the white field. His feet kicked up the fresh fallen whiteness as he raced out to greet them.
An inane grin set itself onto his furred face as he led them back, not paying attention to the song they sang. He opened the door to the barn so they could shake the snow off their clothes before heading into the main living quarters.
Inside, “Everyone alright?” He asked.
The answer being from all the children looking about the barn, “Oo-ha, goodie, you filled the bowls.”
“I asked if everyone is okay?”
A murmur of affirmations and, “Of courses,” from the nine children, totally indifferent to the caring queries, as they shook off their small cloaks and assisted one and other, with Flury’s help, taking off their over-shoes.
Thorval stooped to help with the footwear saying, “I had faith in you Flury.”
“It wasn’t me. I didn’t know where we were once the snow got thick.”
“How . . .”
“Alfdis led us all. She has an innate sense of direction. She led us all back. I just kept up in the rear so we didn’t lose any youngsters.”
“Silly,” Alfdis said, giggling. “It wasn’t me. The Nisse led me and we all just hung onto each others coat tails.”
Thorval smiled, even Flury. He replied with a, “I see. And did Flury teach you a new song to sing?”
Flury shook her head. “I just tried to sing along with the children.”
“It was a Nisse song,” a young boy piped up.
“It was a find your way home song,” another put in
“I’m going to get some food and warm broth ready for the children,” Flury said, leaving Thorval still stunned by her maternal qualities.
With the last of the boots off, the children rushed into the living area from the barn, leaving Thorval to shake the melted snow from their cloaks and boots and bringing them in to dry in front of the fire.
Thorval, with an armful of cloaks and boots, started to systematically hang them up about the beams on wood pegs so they would dry for the morrow. Flury had sat the children at the table on one side of the fire and was ladling them up a hot broth into clay cups. “You’re amazing,” Thorval said, astounded at all she had done in the short time he had still been in the barn.
“You’re the amazing one. I didn’t even know you could whittle.” She nodded towards the spruce tree set up on the opposite side of the fire with the chain links of birch bark wound around it.
“I thought you . . .” He looked closer and what he had thought were pine cones were really small, carved ornaments hung from the branches, ney, children’s playthings actually. And small white candles had been stuck to the ends of the longer limbs.
“Come on. Let’s go,” the children cried, finishing their hot drinks, their eyes having been glued to the tree across the flames of the fire pit. They raced over to the tree, Flury and Thorval stayed where they were until two children for both returned grabbing a hand each, pulling them over to the tree.
Alfdis and a small boy had flamed the ends of a couple reeds and lit the candles. They formed a circle with the adults on either side and began to sing old traditional songs of the winter solstice. As the candles burned down, they blew them out. When all the candles were out the children stopped singing and broke the circle to pluck the wooden playthings from the branches, uncannily knowing which ones were for them.
Alfdis looked up to Thorval, with two wooden dolls, one clutched in each hand, and said, “It is good you remembered to feed the Nisse.”
“It’s been a long day, with a long march, and your parents will skin me if you don’t get to bed now,” Flury commanded like her old Storm self. There was no argument from the tired, content children. Flury looked to Thorval and mouthed, “We’ll figure it out on the morrow.”
The children were passing out as the two adults snugged them in under the furs on the shelves lining the walls. Once done, the troop all asleep, Flury, exhausted from the long trek, crawled into her own berth and was asleep instantly.
Thorval looked to the sleeping kids clutching their toys. He looked to Flury. He looked at the tree. He took a torch from the wall, lit it, and headed out into the dark night, the sky now clear and glittering.
He backtracked his trail to where he had met up with the others. He went a little further and held the torch above the trail where Alfdis had led them. Small shadows were cast in too small footprints on either side of Alfdis’s far larger ones. The tiny prints had tracked off to either side when Thorval had run up to them.
A strong gust of wind blew down from the sparkling sky and swept the snow from the frozen trail.
Thorval extinguished the flickering torch in a drift and under laughing stars headed back to the stead with a muttered, perplexed, “Winter solstice.”