BY STEPHEN BRAYTON
Copyright is held by the author.
Late Summer 1012
The news caught Harald Forkbeard by surprise. The morning messenger reported that the Danish raiding party, after landing at Brevik three days before, was now at Skarpso and headed for Thorsby. Harald had assumed the Danes would strike Grigsby, a much larger town to the northwest.
He wasn’t certain about the threat. It might be just a feint to lull Grigsby before a surprise attack. But as village chieftain he couldn’t take a chance. He ordered an immediate evacuation, directing his lieutenant to alert Thorsby’s 120-odd residents to be packed and ready to move when the sun drew high. No matter that it was nearly harvest time, no matter that they had just finished the new longhouse at the northern edge of the village. He lacked sufficient force to counter the Danes, and it was too late to call for help.
Harald was standing in his doorway cursing the bastard Danes, when he spotted his trusty lieutenant, Bjorn, returning from his rounds of the village. From the look on his ruddy face, Harald knew a question was coming.
“OK,” said Bjorn, “the order is out to everyone to be ready to move. But what about the silver?”
Ah, the silver. Harald hadn’t thought of it. Like most villages, Thorsby kept a cache of silver treasures to protect the community spirits. Is that what the Danes are after? Hah, no way! Not when they could go after Grigsby’s much larger cache.
“The silver must remain here to protect the spirits,” he instructed Bjorn. “Hide it somewhere we can easily find it upon our return.”
Stroking his long red beard, Bjorn thought for a moment. “We could bury it in the field, but how could we to mark the spot so those bastards wouldn’t find it? So let’s hide it in the longhouse; we’ll find a good spot and dig a hole under the floor boards. It’ll be much easier to find again there.
“Good thinking, my man,” said Harald. “And put the runestone in with it,” he added, nodding toward the traditional carved stone that stood by the longhouse entry.
“Will do,” said Bjorn.
Hours later, the village of Thorsby stood silent, empty. The silver cache lay beneath the longhouse floor, awaiting villagers’ return to their ancestral home. But year after year, continuing conflict dashed their hopes of returning. Memories of the village began to dim. And with the passing of Harald Forkbeard and his officers, the location of the silver cache was lost to the ages.
Two months into the dig at the Viking site in Taby, the archaeological team had little to show for its efforts. An arrow here, a pottery shard there. Nothing earthshaking. Until the day Kirsten and Nina discovered the ceramic pot buried beneath the remains of a longhouse floor.
Carefully raising the pot cover, Kirsten’s eye fell first on a gleaming silver neck ring. Then another, and another. And armlets and finger rings and pendants. All in silver so brilliant that it might have been buried yesterday.
Five years in archaeology and she’d never seen anything like it. How could 1,000-year-old silver shine like this? Something to think about when they were done. Right now, they needed to get everything out of the pit by day’s end.
Two hours later, they were down to the last pieces, an armlet, and a finger ring, then the pot itself. It happened as Kirsten was reaching down for the armlet. A sharp flash of light from the pit stunned her. She blinked several times to recover.
She looked at Nina on the other side of the pit. “Did you see that?”
“Something just flashed in the pit, really bright. Just as I was reaching down for the armlet. You didn’t see it?”
Nina shook her head. “Nope, I didn’t see anything. What kind of flash?”
“A quick white light, like a laser. Looked like it came from the ground near the pot. Maybe that exposure,” said Kirsten, pointing to an exposed rock in the bottom of the pit.
“Weird,” said Nina, turning back to her work.
Kirsten considered the pot for a moment. Then she reached down and gripped the grey vessel with both her gloved hands. Raising it slowly, she saw more exposed rock below where the pot had stood.
This time the flash was so bright that she almost dropped the pot.
Nina looked up at her. “What’s the matter? What happened?”
“Didn’t you see that flash?”
“See what? There was nothing,” said Nina, sounding annoyed. “Have you had your eyes checked lately? Maybe you’ve got flashers or whatever they’re called.”
Kirsten groaned inside. Ditzy Nina could be so irritating.
She scoured the bottom of the pit for clues to the flashes. No luck, but something else caught her eye. The rock exposures didn’t look like ordinary country rock. They had markings carved in them — human markings. She leaned deeper into the pit for a better look and pulled out her brush.
A few minutes later, Kirsten knew what she was looking at. The markings were runic, the Viking alphabet. And she was certain that the multiple exposures were all one stone beneath the dirt. She had found a runestone, apparently buried with the silver cache a millennium ago.
Back in Stockholm, she joined Thom, Nina, and Sven for dinner at Christina’s, their favorite restaurant. As they waited to order, they talked excitedly about the day’s big find. “This will be huge news,” Thom enthused. “A cache of Viking silver that shines like new, with a runestone to boot!”
Kirsten had decided not to bring up the flashes. But as dessert arrived, Nina asked, “Any more flashes, Kirsten?”
She briefly related her experience, downplaying the mystery. “No idea what it was. Weird,” she concluded. To her relief, no one pressed the matter.
Returning to the hotel, Kirsten declined when Thom invited everyone up to his room for a nightcap. “Thanks, but I think I’ll go for a walk; walk off that dinner,” she said.
“OK, stop by later if you want,” said Thom, as the three moved toward the elevators.
Outside, Kirsten headed straight for her car. Yes, she was taking a walk, but not around the neighborhood. Setting out for Taby, she was well-aware she would be violating professional standards by visiting the dig site after hours. So be it.
Driving on the E18, she wrestled with doubts. Maybe Nina was right; maybe it was in her vision, or her head. It was almost 9:30 when she pulled off the road and started walking down the dirt track to the site. Still plenty of light in the late-summer sky.
At the pit, Kirsten knelt, trained her flashlight on the bottom, and watched. At one point the runes started jumping. She blinked and it stopped. “You’re way too intense; cool it” she admonished herself. She let her gaze stray from the pit to survey the rest of the dig site. Nothing unusual.
She’d planned to give it an hour max and she was now at 35 minutes. Time to try something new. She shut off her flashlight and began listening as well as looking. Nothing. When she next checked her watch, it was 10:41. Enough. She was exhausted. Heading back to her car, she thought, “A dig site at night, what did I expect?
The Viking woman in her dream wore a grey strap dress over a blue smock. A silver brooch joined the red cloak around her shoulders. Short blonde hair surrounded a tired, sad face. Speaking in oddly accented but understandable Swedish, she said, “I sent you the light because we need you to help us.”
“Yes?” said Kirsten hesitantly.
“The silver you dug up at Taby is just the latest of the many sacrileges your people have committed against us, your own ancestors.”
Kirsten didn’t know what to say. The woman continued.
“You think we are long dead so what does it matter if you dig up our silver treasures and put them in a museum. But we are here. We’re all here as one spirit. You, us, and those to come. We call it the Silver Spirit, and we communicate with it through our silver treasures. But we can’t reach them when they’re locked away in museums that think they own them.”
She paused a moment, looking Kirsten in the eye.
“Why indeed,” Kirsten thought, the dream still vivid as she awakened. It never occurred to her that what she did for a living might be sacrilegious. But she got the Viking woman’s point. We are all one humanity, one spirit. The ancestors the Viking woman spoke of were her ancestors, too.
Yes, it was “just a dream”, and no, she had no clue why she was chosen. But you could learn from a dream; it had happened to her before. Her lesson this morning was that she had to help the Vikings.
She got up, showered, dressed, and took a yogurt out of the mini-fridge for breakfast. She needed to sit and think before she went down to join the others. What could she do? She couldn’t bring back the Taby silver, now destined for the museum. And unless she wanted to be laughed out of the room, she couldn’t tell anyone about her dream.
When the answer finally came to her, it seemed obvious. She would apply to medical school, a notion long in the back of her mind. The day her acceptance arrived, she would quit her job and leave the profession she no longer believed in.
As she did every year for her daughter’s birthday, Kirsten took the day off from her medical practice to go on an outing. For her sixth birthday, Hedy wanted to ride the merry go-round at Tessin Park. Afterward, they would kick the soccer ball around before lunch at the park restaurant.
“Are you going to ride, Mommy?” asked Hedy as they approached the brightly colored merry-go-round, its music jingling in their ears.
“No, honey, I’m going to sit and take pictures of you going around.”
With only a few other riders on the weekday morning, Kirsten had no trouble keeping her daughter’s blonde head in view as she went round and round, up and down. At the end of the ride, Hedy was jumping with excitement. “That was neat, Mommy. My horse was the best. Can I do it again sometime?”
“Sure you can,” Kirsten replied. Walking toward the nearby playing field, she held the soccer ball in one hand and Hedy’s hand in the other. “Are you ready for some soccer now?”
“Oh yes, Mommy, I like kicking the ball with you.” Kirsten was touched. She felt the same way about kicking the ball with her daughter.
“OK, here you go.” Kirsten dropped the ball and kicked it gently to Hedy about four meters away.
A dozen or so kicks later, they were on a roll. Kirsten marveled at her daughter’s improvement over the past few months, Hedy consistently got the ball back so Kirsten barely had to move.
“Way to go, Hedy!” she hollered as another good kick came toward her from the birthday girl. Just as she swung her leg back to return it, Kirsten felt something in her eye. Blinking as she kicked, she sent the ball astray into the long grass at the edge of the field. Hedy charged after it.
“Sorry, Hedy, my bad!”
“I see it!”
Kirsten watched her daughter bend over, rise with the ball in hand, and then bend back down for something else. Something small that Hedy examined in her hand for a moment before running to her mother.
“Mommy, look what I found!” She held out her hand to show Kirsten what appeared to be a small silver coin.
“It was in the grass, Mommy. Right near the ball. What is it?”
Kirsten examined the piece. The silver — if it was silver — gleamed like new. But otherwise, it looked old, with uneven edges and plenty of wear.
“I’m not sure, Hedy,” she began. “It looks like an old coin that someone polished up. Or maybe it’s just a copy of an old coin that someone made.”
Hedy looked up at her. “Why would they do that, Mommy?”
“Good question, honey. Maybe they did it just to fool people like us.”
That evening, Kirsten set up her magnifier to examine the coin. With its brilliant shine contrasting with rough edges and obvious wear, she didn’t know what to expect. Still, she was surprised when she lowered her head to the viewer and saw markings showing between and through the worn areas. Markings in runic, the Viking alphabet.
It made her think of the Taby runestone, the last time she encountered runic in the field. Could this coin be real under that shine? She recalled how the Taby silver gleamed when they unearthed it, the result of loving care by the Vikings and plain luck that the site remained undisturbed through the centuries. This coin was a different story, its brilliance arguing against authenticity. Yet where did runic come from? And the surface wear?
Kirsten knew where to go for answers: the History Museum. But she wanted an opinion from a coin dealer first, just in case the piece proved to be an unquestionable fake. No need to embarrass herself in front of her museum friends if she could avoid it.
A friend recommended a shop in Hantverkargatan that specialized in Viking-era coinage. The owner, a balding, middle-aged man in a blue-checked shirt, listened to her story, then slowly moved his loupe over the silver piece.
“Where exactly in the park did you find this?” he asked without looking up.
“In the tall grass on the edge of the playing field near the merry-go-round. My daughter found it while chasing after our soccer ball.”
“Your daughter has a sharp eye. I’ve seen plenty of Viking coins but never one quite like this. I can’t explain the brilliance, but otherwise it looks like the real thing. Why don’t you take it to the History Museum?”
Riding to the museum the next day, Kirsten realized that if the coin proved real, she would face a decision about its future. And that thought reminded her of the Viking woman in her long-ago dream. Let the silver be, she implored. It belongs to the Silver Spirit.
After examining the piece for nearly an hour, the curator of Viking coins at the museum delivered the same opinion. The coin appeared genuine. As for its brilliance and how it ended up in the long grass at Tessin Park, she had no answers. “It wasn’t lying there for 1,000 years. That we can safely say.”
The department director, a man named Claus, then asked Kirsten what she planned to do with the coin. She hadn’t decided, she said.
“Well, I can tell you that we would be very interested in acquiring your coin,” he said eagerly, “If you’d like, we can have it appraised at the museum’s expense.”
When Kirsten didn’t immediately answer, the director continued, “I’m sure you would agree that something this old, this valuable belongs in a museum.” His tone irritated her.
“I’ll think about it, thanks.”
She thought about it all the way home and decided as she turned up her front walk. No one on earth would ever “own” their coin.
That night the Viking woman returned to her dreams. Looking just like she remembered, the blond woman held Kirsten in her gaze for a moment, then spoke.
Kirsten knew exactly what she meant. “I will,” she replied. And the Viking woman vanished.
A week later, sitting on the sofa with her daughter, Kirsten fretted that Hedy wouldn’t like her plan. She had become quite attached to the little piece of silver, asking to see it every few days. Each time, Kirsten would pull the box out of her desk drawer and place it on the table where it now lay before them.
“Hedy,” she began, “I’ve been thinking a lot about our coin and what we should do with it. At first, I thought we should give it to the History Museum. But then I went on the computer and learned that this isn’t just any old coin. It’s a Viking coin that connects us — you and me — to our ancestors, people long ago from whom we are descended. We don’t know for sure, but some of our Viking ancestors may have used this coin way back then. Isn’t that neat?”
Kirsten looked down at Hedy, who stared straight ahead.
“I know it’s hard to imagine, but think of Granny Christina who died last year. And then think about her parents who died long ago, then their parents, and their parents, all the way back to the Vikings when this coin was made.”
“And I learned something else, Hedy. Something very important. The Vikings believed that silver — not just coins, but jewelry too — carried a spirit that brought them together with their ancestors as well as their descendants like you and me. They called it the Silver Spirit. When I learned that, I knew that whatever we did with our coin, we had to protect its Silver Spirit.”
She glanced down again. Hedy hadn’t moved.
“If we give it to the History Museum, honey, I’m afraid it would lose its Silver Spirit. Museums only care about old things that you can see, like jewelry, tools, dishes, and yes, coins. But you can’t see the Silver Spirit, and you can’t own it like all the other stuff.
“So this is what we’ll do. We’ll put the coin in a nice sturdy box and bury it in our garden, in the same ground where the Vikings walked long ago. Then it will always be near us.”
Hedy looked up at her mother, her eyes pleading.
“Couldn’t we just keep it here in the house?”
“We could, honey; but that would be making like we owned it, and we don’t. It belongs to the Silver Spirit.”
Silence. Then Hedy said, “OK, Mom . . . I guess so. But can we dig it up sometimes to make sure it’s OK?”
Kirsten stroked her daughter’s blond hair.
“Sure, honey, we can do that.”
A few weeks later Kirsten received a call from Claus at the History Museum. Had she decided on what to do with the coin?
“I have,” she said, “it’s all settled. Thank you very much for your help.”
“May I ask what you intend to do with it?”
Kirsten was ready. “It’s already done. The coin is back in the ground from where it came.”
She heard the alarm in his voice. “You mean back in the park?
“No, not the park. I can’t tell you exactly where it is, but it’s safe and secure in a box.”
A silence hung in the air before Claus said, “And you believe this is best for everyone involved?”
“Well,” he began, “I respect your right to your opinion, but I wholly disagree. You are depriving museum visitors, historians, researchers — anyone with an interest in Swedish history — of the chance to see an important new Viking artifact.”
“So be it,” said Kirsten before clicking off.
Stephen Brayton is a retired journalist and communications consultant. His short fiction has been published in The Raven’s Perch, Red Fez, The Fictional Café, and Flash in a Flash. Steve also pens articles for his local historical society newsletter in Dedham, MA outside Boston.