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The Swan Road
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-239-9
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Medieval
eBook Length: 304 Pages
Published: March 2005

From inside the flap

Life in tenth century Norway had never been easy for Tore Nordahldatr. As a woman her life has a limited number of options; but, when a family with a vendetta slaughters her kin, her life changes forever. In order to escape her own death sentence, she must live disguised as a young man until her older brother can return from sea with the Viking chieftain and settle this intertribal dispute. What she doesn?t count on is falling in love with the man who befriends her, or unknowingly being taken in and "raised" by the very family who wants her dead. After accidentally taking a sword sacred to the god, Tyr, Tore appeals to the goddess Sif for protection. Sif strikes a bargain with Tyr. If Tore, living as Eirik the Silent Graafell, proves herself worthy of the sword in battle, she will be allowed to live and go free. Even if Tore is able to fulfill her bargain with the gods, dealing with her brother will be another matter. When he returns he wants revenge and he wants blood. Tore pleads for the life of Brock Thorvaldsson. Will her brother let him live? Will Tore be left alone again? Will all turn out right in this world across the Swan Road?

Reviews and Awards

?Innovative fantasy, refreshing realism, and a central character you care about from page one, The Swan Road is a triumph of Viking Age adventure like none you?ve ever read! Tore Nordahldatr’s journey from young womanhood to Viking warriorhood and beyond, protected by the Goddess Sif and her own iron will against the curses of the God Tyr and earthly dangers all too
real, is a fantastic saga of epic dimensions you must not miss!?

~C. Dean Andersson, author of I Am Dracula and Warrior Witch, Book One in the Saga of the Warrior Woman Bloodsong

?The Swan Road is a novel of juxtaposition and contrary ways, a revival of ancient ideas and societies, a departure from traditional characterizations and plotlines. It is an exciting, adventurous novel that keeps you turning the pages and rooting for its heroes and heroines.?

~Michelle Santos, Renaissance Magazine

The Swan Road (Excerpt)

Chapter 1

Tore shivered as she opened the door to let out some of the smoke that had curled around the wood beams of the ceiling in a desperate attempt to hang on and choke the inhabitants. She waved her arms, trying to get the smoke to leave. She had burnt the stew...again. Her brothers constantly ribbed her cooking saying that it didn?t matter how pretty she was, once a man tasted her food they would never look at her again. Tore frowned. She propped the door open with a log from the wood pile, and turned to scoop the charred and foul smelling remnants of meat and vegetables from the great iron pot that hung over the fire.

Tore grimaced. It smelled so bad, even the dogs wouldn?t eat this! Tore went outside, and dug a hole in the snow and dumped the burned stew into it, careful to cover it up afterwards. Tore looked around to make sure that all of the other holes she had dug and covered up were still concealed. She didn?t like being the brunt of the bad cooking jokes, but as the years went by, her skills in cooking never improved.

Nordahl, Tore’s father, had often said that Tore spent far too much time play fighting with her brothers and not enough time learning to develop the more womanly skills such as cooking and weaving. Tore could hunt better than any man Nordahl had ever seen. Her skill with the bow was remarkable. His only unfulfilled wish in life was that Tore could?ve been born a man. She was far more skilled with the bow and knife than any of his three sons. She would?ve made him proud on the battlefield; but a battlefield was no place for a woman. So cook and clean she must.

Tore put new ingredients into the pot and tried hard to keep from day dreaming this time. She stirred the contents, trying hard to remember how her mother had done things when she was alive. Life seemed much simpler when her mother had been there to instruct her. She never burned food in her mother’s pot. Now that it was her cooking pot, she was concerned for the health of her brothers and father. Her cooking had taken its toll, and she could see that they weren?t as hearty as they should be.

Tore sighed. Father was right; she should concentrate more on domestic life. When she was busy with the household chores, she found herself fantasizing about sea voyages and fighting with iron battle-axes; but none of this would ever be for a woman. The meat began to sizzle in the pot, and Tore stirred more vigorously than before. She wouldn?t let it burn this time!

Ubbe and Arne, inseparable as always, came panting into the house from the fierce cold of the outside. The foul reek caused by the earlier pot of stew had almost vacated the room. Arne smiled at Ubbe as he shook out his goatskin robe and tossed it onto his sleeping mat in the corner.

"How many pots of stew did you cook before this one, little sister?" Arne laughed loudly.

Tore flashed him an angry look.

"Ah, Arne! You?ve got the fire up in her now!" Ubbe said and pulled the long bench closer to the table as he sat down on it.

"What makes you think I didn?t get it right the first time?" Tore ladled the stew into wood bowls and passed them to her brothers.

Both brothers laughed. "The smell!" Ubbe said looking at Arne, who nodded in agreement.

Nordahl came grumbling from behind a skin divider. He sat on the bench across from his sons and hacked a body-racking cough. His health continued to decline and Tore grew more worried with each hacking cough.

"What is that stench?" Nordahl rumbled. Arne smiled and

nudged Ubbe in the ribs.

"Tore’s trial run, father!"

Tore dipped the big wood ladle back into the pot and dished up a bowl full of stew for her father. She sat it in front of him on the table.

Nordahl sniffed at his bowl like a dog. "By the Gods, girl, I believe a man who eats your cooking and survives should go straight to the halls of Valhalla!" Nordahl took a bite of his stew. "Ah, but you are improving."

Tore smiled. She sat down next to her father and made a face at her younger brother, Ubbe. The brothers ate their stew hungrily, and didn?t seem to notice that the bread was as hard as a rock on the outside, and rather sticky and wet in the center.

Tore hadn?t realized how hungry she had been until she began to eat her own bowl of stew. In her attempts to make an edible meal, she had totally forgotten to eat her noon meal. The evening meal had taken her entire afternoon. There still was some weaving to be done, and some wood to be chopped. Her chores were endless. As soon as she completed one there was another waiting to be finished also. Tore sighed.

"What is it, sister?" Arne looked at her with a concerned look.

"Just tired." Tore smiled back and took a bite with her wooden spoon.

"I thought you might be worried about the family problem,"

Arne said. Nordahl grunted from his seat at the table.

"Father?" Arne frowned.

"I specifically told you not to discuss that matter in

front of your sister!" Nordahl was visibly angry.

"What matter is that, father?" Tore knew to ask was risking sparking her father’s temper further, but they had made her curious now.

"No matter that concerns you, girl." Nordahl held out his bowl, signaling that he wanted more. Tore flashed Ubbe a look that said ?you will tell me later?, and got up to get her father a second helping. Ubbe rarely crossed his older sister. He was almost a man, true, but his sister could still beat him in physical combat. Being beaten by a woman was not a thing to be proud of, so Ubbe avoided it at all costs.

Tore fiddled with the oval shaped pin on her shoulder that secured her blue apron. The pin was gold. Most women wore pins of copper or bronze. Not Tore. Her father’s family was wealthy and their women wore pins and jewelry of gold or silver. She absently picked at the engraving of a dragon’s head, and sat

trying to figure out the expression on her father’s face. She decided to go ahead and risk her next question.

"Father, why must every issue of importance, be no matter for a girl? Am I any less intelligent than my brothers?" Tore trembled as she defied her father’s earlier commands.

Her father pulled at his beard in thought. Slowly, he smiled and as he did so a thousand little wrinkles rippled out from his mouth over the rest of his face. He never could deny a woman anything. He had been a stern man, but women had always been his soft spot.

"No, no, my girl. Not less intelligent." He smiled again revealing little pieces of meat stuck in his teeth.

"Than what is it, father?" Tore resented being treated differently than men. She refused to sit passively by a fire for the rest of her life, serving as the docile wife and mother. She was just as good, if not better, than most men she knew.

"You are a woman." Nordahl laughed.

"I have known that for all my life." Tore smiled at him lovingly.

"Ah, yes, you have; but you also know a woman’s place and you refuse to accept it." Nordahl shook his head slowly and looked at his sons.

"It is an unjust place, father." Tore knitted her brows close together.

"But, nevertheless, it is your place. You can?t change what the gods have ordained." Nordahl could understand his daughter’s restlessness, her mother had been very much the same at Tore’s age; but time and motherhood had tempered that rebelliousness.

"What about Sif? She is a woman, and she is a warrior. Does she sit quietly by the fire making stew for men?" Tore hit the table with her fist. Dishes bounced up and hit the table again under the force of her fist.

"Always Sif. I?m sorry, Tore. You?ll learn, in time." Nordahl smiled and took his daughter’s hand and kissed it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a new ring, slipping it on her finger.

Tore looked down at her finger and smiled at her father. "It is beautiful, father. Thank you."

"But, it does little to calm that storm in your heart, I imagine?" Nordahl laughed softly.

"How can you understand so much, yet understand so little?" Tore asked smiling.

"I understand too much. I am an old man. I grow weary of this conversation. Ubbe, help me lie down." Nordahl unsteadily pushed himself up from the table. He had drank one too many cups of mead again this meal. Ubbe rushed to his side and helped his father to his sleeping mat. Tore sat studying her new ring.

"Father thinks that trinkets will appease you, sister." Arne laughed.

"What do you think?" Tore asked her brother honestly.

"I think that father is an old man, who doesn?t realize how much fire he gave to his daughter." Arne laughed.

"You think that I should be content with my lot though, don?t you? You think that I should do my womanly duties without questioning the ways of men, don?t you?" Tore cocked her head and spoke to her brother like she couldn?t speak to her father, or any other man.

"Yes. I think after awhile you?ll see how foolish you?re

being. Look at Aelfgife. She never complains! She’s been married for four years now! Two children, and she’s still just your age." Arne pointed towards their cousin’s home.

"I am not Aelfgife," Tore said simply.

"Lucky for you. She has a face like a dog!" Arne laughed boisterously, spilling his mead down his beard and over his tunic.

Tore laughed at his folly. She never did understand men and their excessive drunkenness. She preferred to keep her senses at all times.

Arne staggered outside muttering the whole way towards the door about how badly he needed to piss. Tore laughed. Men! They forever told the world what was on their mind!

She scraped the dishes into a large wood bowl and set it outside for Gunlod, their dog. After awhile, she heard Gunlod sniffing around and hungrily lapping up the food in the dish. Tore cleaned up the dishes, and wiped up after her brothers and father.

When Ubbe came to the fire to get warm, he found Tore on her hands and knees retying the stone weights on the loom. The weights were too heavy for the yarn, and kept snapping the thread and falling to the ground.

Ubbe sat on the bear rug and poked at the central fire with a stick. He watched his sister working at her loom. She seemed annoyed.

"Need any help over there?" Ubbe asked jabbing at the fire.

"No. I?m nearly finished. Did father go to sleep?" Tore looked up from tying her weights.

"Yes. He was talking a lot of nonsense about Freya and you and having children. You worry him too much, Tore." Ubbe rubbed his hands together over the licking tongues of the fire.

"Death worries him, not me. He’s afraid of dying in his bed instead of with a sword in his hand." Tore tugged at the strings securing the new weight.

"Still, you should try to be more..." Ubbe paused. How could he phrase it so Tore wouldn?t fly into a rage?

"More what, Ubbe? I?m interested in how you?re going to

say what I know you?re going to say." Tore laughed and came over to the fire. She sat down beside her brother.

"More womanly." Ubbe closed his eyes tight as if expecting to be hit by his sister.

Tore laughed. "And, what do you know of women, Ubbe?"

Ubbe frowned. He didn?t like being insulted by his sister. Anyone else’s sister wouldn?t dare say the things that Tore said to him. Ubbe shrugged, anyone else’s sister wasn?t Tore. She was in a class all by herself. That’s what Arne always said anyway.

"I know plenty," Ubbe tried to sound convincing.

"Do any of the women you know so much about, know how to do

this?" Tore darted her arm over and before Ubbe knew what had happened, he found himself face down on the ground, with Tore’s

knee planted firmly in the small of his back, and his left arm-twisted uncomfortably upward and behind him at an odd angle.

"No," Ubbe said shortly, gasping for breath.

Tore let him up, laughing she brushed the dirt from her

dress. She pushed the white blond hair from her face and sat back down where she had been sitting a few moments before. Ubbe looked at her half mad, and half amused.

"Ulf shouldn?t teach you things like that." Ubbe smiled at last.

"He said it was for my own protection." Tore smiled slyly.

"I doubt he thought you?d use it on your brothers while he was away." Ubbe laughed, snorting as he did so. He had a good sense of humor. All of the men in her family had good senses of humor. Tore supposed it was fortunate for her that they did; few men would tolerate a woman like her.

"Are you going to tell me the big secret?" Tore asked after a few minutes of silence.

"I don?t know. Arne told me not to," Ubbe said quietly, running his hand over the blond fuzz that had begun to appear on his chin and cheeks. Tore remembered how proud Arne had been when his beard came in. She noticed how alike Ubbe and Arne were growing the older Ubbe got. She had always looked more like Ulf.

Ubbe and Arne resembled the soft, kind look that their mother had about her. Ulf and her own face tended to hold a more somber expression most of the time. She looked fondly at her younger brother.

"Does Arne do your thinking now?" Tore took a jab at his ego.

"No, I do my own thinking." Ubbe sounded hurt.

"Then are you going to tell me or not?" Tore knew that she would have to wait until later if she couldn?t manage to get Ubbe to tell soon. She didn?t want to make him feel like he had no choice. She wanted him to feel like they were allies, not like there was some kind of chain of command due to their ages.

Ubbe found the stick he had cast aside earlier, and thrust it into the fire furiously. "You shouldn?t make me tell these things," he said grumbling.

"I?m just a woman. How can I make you tell me anything?" Tore feigned innocence.

Ubbe glared at her. He knew as well as she did that she could physically make him tell if she wanted to. Why did he have to have a sister who was so damned strong?

"If you?d rather not tell me, I?ll leave it alone," Tore said at last. She didn?t want her brother to tell her something if it was so important that he not tell her.

"I think you should know," Ubbe said softly.

"But, father and Arne don?t?" Tore questioned.

"It’s not just them. I mean, it’s all of the men. They

don?t want any of the women to know," Ubbe said hesitantly.

"You mean father’s brothers?" Tore asked, realizing now that this was a much larger problem than she had thought if it involved the rest of their kin.

"Yes. There was a meeting." Ubbe looked over his shoulder to make sure that they were alone. He wasn?t supposed to tell a woman the things men speak of in private.

"The other night when father asked Arne to help him to Athelwold’s fire?" Tore whispered.

"Yes. All the men were there." Ubbe poked the fire sending little sparks flying.

"And the meeting involved this problem only?" Tore was anxious to find out the problem.

"Yes. It is a big problem." Ubbe was slow in delivering his banned information.

"Big enough not to tell women," Tore said.

"They think it is for your own safety," Ubbe said softly and with much concern.

"I?m not like the other women! I am strong! I can fight like a man and think like one too! The other women, they are sheep!" Tore felt insulted that her father would lump her in with the other women of the family.

"It wasn?t father’s decision. It was Athelwold’s. He is the eldest." Ubbe’s head nodded up and down furiously in his attempt to be persuasive.

"I can keep a secret." Tore sharpened the small knife that hung from a chain at her waist with a whetstone.

"You know how father feels about following rules." Ubbe shrugged. "When Athelwold says don?t tell the women, father pretty well much thinks that includes you too. You do consider yourself a woman, don?t you?" Ubbe laughed.

"Just because I don?t have teats that brush my knees like an old cow, doesn?t mean I?m not a woman!" Tore spat at him.

"But you do have teats somewhere under there?" Ubbe took his stick and poked her chest.

Tore snapped the stick in half with one hand. Ubbe raised his eyebrows and smiled.

"What is the secret?" Tore blurted.

"You won?t tell?" Ubbe looked around again.

"You know I won?t."

Ubbe sighed. "Some mead maybe?" He decided if his sister wanted this information badly, he should make her play the servant like she usually made him.

Tore smiled and pushed herself up from the floor, brushing the dirt from her behind. She crossed the room and poured a horn cup full of mead from a gigantic earthenware pitcher. She handed the cup to her brother and then sat next to him eagerly.

Ubbe took his time drinking his mead. He would stop and smack his lips, looking over the rim of the cup at his sister to make sure she was still waiting captivated for his next words. Ubbe let out a loud burp and handed the cup back to Tore.

Tore took the horn cup and sat it next to the stones around the fire. She glanced at the ceiling at the dried meat hanging there, and then over her shoulder to make sure no one was around. The she nervously looked back at Ubbe.

"You?ll tell me now?" Tore tried to coax the excitement from her voice. She didn?t want Ubbe to know how badly she wanted to know.

"Yes." Ubbe stretched his arms and then lowered his voice. "There is a family that has accused Athelwold of killing one of their kin, a very important person, in a drunken rage. For your

own good, I do not tell you who this family is. It is better you do not know. Don?t fight me on this issue, Tore."

"Did he do it?" Tore moved closer to her brother and she could smell the mead on his breath mixed with his breath’s usual stench.

"Athelwold says no. It seems that they don?t want to wait for Hablok Bloodaxe’s return from sea to settle this dispute," Ubbe paused.

"A wergild?" Tore whispered.

"Yes. This family is afraid that Hablok will rule in favor of payment rather than in blood. They want vengeance, and they want it now." Ubbe coughed.

"But, Athelwold says he didn?t do it," Tore said.

"But, this family does not care. They want revenge for the death of their kinsman, and they want it now. Ulf and Hablok and the others have been gone nearly a year now. No one can say for certain when they will return," Ubbe said slowly.

"What of the other families?" Tore asked.

"They refuse to get involved until Hablok’s return," Ubbe said angrily.

"Surely someone knows when Hablok will return. What of his family?" Tore thought about the other voyages that her oldest

brother Ulf had been on, some lasted two years or more.

Ubbe shook his head sadly. "No one can say for certain. The real problem is that this family wants their vengeance now. Our kin are afraid they will cause an all out feud." Ubbe cast another nervous glance over his shoulder.

"But, they have to wait for Hablok’s decision," Tore said innocently.

"You think like a woman."

"Why do you say that?" Tore asked, somewhat wounded.

"This family is mad with revenge. They care not for the decision of a chieftain who isn?t even here to be chief! Hablok spends too much time at sea on his strandhoggs when he should be home," Ubbe argued.

"But the shore raids provide many necessities that we wouldn?t have otherwise!" Tore raised her eyebrows. It seemed almost cowardly to hear a man talk bad about raiding.

"They provide more slaves for Hablok and little for anyone else," Ubbe grumbled.

"You shouldn?t say such things. Not at your age." Tore suddenly grew afraid for her brother at his expressing such bold statements about their leader. Usually only men who wanted to challenge the chieftain’s position spoke like Ubbe was doing now. He shouldn?t make a habit of it.

"Most of what you say, Tore, shouldn?t be said. Not from a woman." Ubbe smiled crookedly. "Do you know how I feel now?"

"Of course I know how you feel. Just be careful whom you say such things around. You don?t want people to get the wrong idea." Tore stared into the fire.

"And who are you to worry about people getting the wrong idea? You have been spouting off at the mouth for years without regard to your future, and now you warn me of my words?" Ubbe actually sounded angry.

"What future do you mean? Slaving away over the fire and swatting at sniveling brats that cling to my ankles and squall? Is that a future?" Tore laughed.

"A safe future." Ubbe nodded to himself.

"Safe, until the man gets himself killed. Safe. Who wants safe? Certainly not you, I hope! Not one of my kin, I pray!" Tore blushed from shame to think her younger brother a coward.

"You think you know so much!" Ubbe snorted.

"And, tell me, what have your thirteen years taught you, Ubbe the Grown?" Tore laughed.

"Nearly fourteen!" Ubbe protested.

"At fourteen I could swing a sword double the weight you now carry!" Tore laughed again.

"You shouldn?t be swinging swords at all!" Ubbe grunted.

"Now you sound like Athelwold!" Tore laughed and pushed herself up. She had work to finish before it was time to go to bed.

"Athelwold is a coward!" Ubbe whined.

Tore suddenly sensed that there was more to the story than what Ubbe had told her.

"Why is Athelwold a coward, brother?" Tore leaned over, her hair falling across Ubbe’s face as she whispered the words close to his ear.

"He will not fight," Ubbe said.

"And father, and the rest, want to?" Tore asked.

"Yes," Ubbe said. "But, Athelwold says we wait for Hablok Bloodaxe’s return."

"What if he doesn?t return soon enough?"

"Then someone dies," Ubbe said bluntly.

"One of us?" Tore’s voice sounded raspy in her throat as she whispered.

"One or many," Ubbe said solemnly and then got up and went towards the door. "Do not repeat what I have told you."

"You have my oath." Tore stood still where Ubbe had left her. Why would she tell anyone? To do so would only get Ubbe and herself in trouble. Besides, whom was she going to tell?

Women? Her aunts, cousins, grandmothers? Her circle was a limited one. She was lucky if she saw something more than an iron pot and the weaving loom in a day! Tell someone! Women had no secrets in their world. Only men had secrets.

Tore smiled to herself. Except in their dwelling. Her brothers knew she was their equal if not their superior. Ulf had always said she was too smart for a woman’s own good, but the Gods must have thought otherwise. Tore picked at her teeth with her fingernail. The gods must have their reasons for making her strong and intelligent ? even if she was just a woman.

Tore finished tying the weights onto the loom, and tended to her weaving. Ubbe stayed outside longer than was good for him in this cold night air. Tore poked her head out of the door and cast a quick look around in the front of their home. The biting wind nipped at her face, making her nose grow numb in seconds. Ubbe was standing looking out over the land towards their uncle’s dwelling. Tore called out his name.

Ubbe turned as if suddenly slapped from a dream, and staggered through the snow back to the house. He closed the door behind him with a loud thud, and closed and barred the wood door.

"Lost in thought?" Tore asked.

"Guess I better not do that too often, if I don?t want to freeze to death, huh?" Ubbe laughed.

Tore was glad to see that Ubbe’s somber spirit had lifted. He was much too young to worry about such things. Tore wished that they didn?t? let the younger boys join the family meetings. Not that they were family meetings, family meant men. Women belonged to the men. They were baby makers and decorations, not real people.

Tore watched Ubbe head towards his sleeping mat. She finished her duties, and then slipped off her apron and jewelry.

Tore pulled the thick goat pelt over her, and lay down on her mat. The soft glow of the fire lit the walls to a hazy orange, making her rather sleepy. She had had a good day today. She had learned the men’s secret! With that thought in mind, she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, she stretched her arms high above her head. She got up, and tossed some logs onto the fire. Wrapping herself in her goatskin, she hurried outside to relieve herself. As she squatted beside the house, she could make out the other faint forms of the other women doing the same before the busy day full of activities ahead. It was cold, and most of her piss froze before it hit the snow. She pulled the fur tighter around her and rushed back into the house.

Tore brushed her hair quickly, and put on her red apron. It was one of her favorites. It was embroidered on the ends with a diamond shaped pattern in blues and greens. It had been one of her mother’s and now it was hers. She fastened the clips at the top and slipped her chain with the little knife over her head and around her waist. Picking up a bronze plate, she examined her own distorted reflection. She was ruggedly handsome. Not beautiful, but finely chiseled out of fine white ice. Every feature was perfect. She had an angular face, strikingly Nordic, with steel blue eyes trimmed in white blond lashes peering out from under fine blond eyebrows. She looked enough like Ulf to pass as Ulf. If she was taller and broader, of course. Tore stretched herself to her full frame of five feet seven inches and studied her figure too. She was too tall for a woman. Her father made that a regular point of conversation. It wasn?t as if she could change it any, even if she went around stooped over; she still stood taller than some of her kinsmen. Not all of them though. Her family grew tall men. Ulf was a head taller than Hablok Bloodaxe. Ulf was a head taller than most men. She missed Ulf.

"Stop dawdling, girl!" Nordahl bellowed from the table where he sat waiting for his morning gruel.

Tore glanced one last time at the tall, sinewy figure with its muscular arms that stared back at her in the platter, and then sat it down in the chest from which she had taken it from. She ran to the pot and began to make the morning meal. Usually, her father didn?t awake this early. She felt bad for keeping him waiting. She was used to waiting for her brothers to come in after their morning activities to serve the first meal, but if her father was hungry now then she had to hurry to get it made.

Tore smiled weakly as she put her father’s gruel before him in a wooden bowl. He didn?t say a word, but began hungrily scooping the mush in with his spoon. Tore sat down and ate her own quietly. Nordahl didn?t like to make conversation in the morning. Mostly, during the morning meal, everyone would just eat as quickly as they could so that they could be off taking care of whatever chore lay ahead.

Tore had a lot to do anyway, she was glad she didn?t have to make small talk. She finished her food, collected the empty bowls and cleaned up. She had to go over to Elfled’s to learn a new weaving pattern. Weaving was another task that Tore wasn?t especially fond of, but unfortunately was necessary. Elfled was her father’s youngest brother’s wife. After Tore’s mother’s death, Elfled had appointed herself the mother figure in Tore’s life. Nordahl didn?t seem to mind. He was glad that someone was willing to step in and guide his daughter in the ways of women. The only problem was that none of the women had the strength to keep his daughter in check.

Tore trudged through the snow towards Elfled’s home. Children ran to greet her, pulling her clothes and limbs every which way in their excitement. Tore had long ago decided that Elfled would be fertile enough to have children until she was an old hag. By the Gods! Tore thought to herself, she had never seen a woman with more children than Elfled. Some of Elfled’s children were even older than Tore, and there was one or two still sucking from Elfled’s breasts! Tore entered the dwelling, eager for the warmth of the fire. Elfled stood amidst her throng of noisy children, plump and red-cheeked. Despite all the work she must do, she was always cheerful. Tore envied her good nature. No matter what mistakes Tore made, Elfled always had an encouraging word for her. Sometimes Elfled’s encouragement bordered on the nauseating side. Too much good spirit was too much for Tore to handle. She wasn?t one of those sweety sweety types, and it was hard to tolerate those who were all of the time.

Elfled shooed all of the children who weren?t busy with various chores into the back part of the dwelling, and started showing Tore the weaving technique. Tore sat near by on a roughly hewn wood bench, attentively watching Elfled’s fat, chapped hands fly in and out of the yarns on the loom. It wasn?t Tore’s idea of a fun time, but she didn?t want to upset Elfled. Besides, Elfled must think highly of Tore if she took time away from her own tasks and children to devote so much effort to demonstrating weaving patterns.

Tore found her mind jerking back and forth from the weaving to her usual daydreams of fancy swords and hidden dirks. In her dreams, she was always a man. Tall and strong and feared by all. Tore stifled a laugh. Here she sat weaving. How fearful did she make others, she wondered.

Before too long, it was time for Tore to return home. She promised to practice the weaving and bring something to show Elfled the next time she came over. Elfled smiled and smoothed Tore’s long gold hair over her shoulders.

"How you look like Ulf!" Elfled laughed. "Your father must miss his son more each time he looks into your face!"

"Father says he doesn?t miss Ulf as much, because he can look into his face each time he looks into mine." Tore smiled.

"Ah, yes. It could go either way, I imagine!" Elfled kissed her on the cheek and opened the door.

Tore waved her farewells and hurried across the swirling snow. The wind was howling and she could tell tonight wouldn?t be one to be out in. These winter storms had grown fiercer this year. Tore prayed to Sif, and to Thor for her brother’s protection. She had no way of knowing if Ulf was at sea, on land, or lying dead somewhere on a foreign field. She had faith that her gods would bring him safely back to her though.

Tore went inside and hung her fur on a wood peg on the wall. She had a lot of things to do before it was time for her to cook again. There was no time for daydreams now.