By Derek Frazier
I was outside in the shed cleaning and hanging pails of fish when I heard my mother’s voice from the longhouse doorway.
“Ragníld,” she called. “Come inside for supper. Wash your hands first.”
“Yes, Mamma,” I replied as I wiped my knife clean on a cloth.
Thick black smoke filled my nostrils and made my eyes water as I entered the longhouse. The central hearth blazed strong and its flames reached for the ceiling and the house’s central chimney hole. Shadows danced on the tables and rugs as the logs cracked and splintered in the hearth. My family had owned this longhouse for six generations and nothing seemed to have changed. The well outside was always made of greystone, the crack that ran up the right corner pillar had been there since before my father was born, and the central hearth was always lit.
“One day, Ragníld, you’ll be in charge of this hall,” My father told me one day. “And I will depart this earth for Valhalla, the golden hall for mighty warriors.”
The family hounds, Gram and Biter, greeted me as I opened the longhouse door, their bulky paws hammering me to the floor as they began to lick my face vigorously.
“Off him!” Father growled to the dogs, his lips curling into a smile through his blonde beard. The dogs complied and bounded to the other side of the hall to beg for scraps of meat from mother as she cooked, their shaggy grey fur blending into the stone of the hearth.
“You clean the fish, boy?” Father asked as he poured ale into a massive drinking horn.
“Yes sir,” I said with a respectful nod as I sat down at the table.
“You salt and hang them up in the shed?”
“I hung them, but they are still dripping.”
“Make sure you salt them tomorrow.”
“First thing I’ll do.”
“Focus on your meal for now son,” said Mother as she kissed my head and placed a bowl of meat and oat porridge in front of me. She filled a small horn cup and placed it beside the bowl. It was so tiny compared to Father’s horn, and most of it disappeared into Father’s fist.
“Eat up, Ragníld,” Father said as he took his own bowl from Mother. “Your great uncle is coming tonight.”
“Will he tell stories?”
“Of course, if you ask.”
“Will I be able to go raiding with you next year?”
“So many questions from you tonight,” said Father as he kicked his feet up on the table.
“But will I?”
“You always ask and I will always say no, Ragníld.”
“You never say why.”
“You’re only ten years old, boy, too young. I don’t want to have to bury my son when he isn’t even a man. What is wrong with staying here? What is wrong with fishing and hunting and raising livestock?”
“Exactly. You can get everything you’ll ever want from this land and this longhouse. Wait a few more years and I’ll reconsider. Until then this is the end of this topic, am I clear?”
“Yes Father…” I mutter as I move my porridge around with my spoon.
Father studied my face with his pale blue eyes before speaking.
“I know you want to go raiding with me. But you have better things to do here than to risk your life on foreign dirt. There are other ways to get into Valhalla, Ragníld.”
“Besides,” interjected Mother as she sat down beside me, wiping a few strands of brown hair back behind her ear before speaking, “Who would protect me from bears and wolves and all the trolls and giants out in the woods if you two were away?”
I smile and laugh lightly as Father reached over and tossed my messy brown blonde hair.
Hours later, Great Uncle Torigg’s arrival was heralded by a loud thump as he ran into the threshold of the doorway.
“Mmmph,” He grumbled as he rubbed the redness of his bald head.
“Uncle Torigg!” I exclaimed as I raced over to him. He embraced me and drew a wooden sword from his cloak.
“I carved this for you yesterday,” He said with a smile as I swiped the toy weapon through the air.
“Not in the house!” Mother shrieked, causing all of us to laugh.
Once Torigg ate, he sat down with me around the hearth and began to tell me stories and legends about our gods and our heritage.
“Odin,” he said, “The king of the gods has a special seat called Hlidskjalf. It is a massive throne, very ornate and carved from the finest of wood.”
“Father has such a seat,” I said as I pointed over to the table, gesturing to Father’s massive seat that meant he was owner of the longhouse.
“Yes, he does,” Torigg said. “But can his chair allow him to see anywhere and everywhere in the nine worlds?”
“Of course not, no man has such a chair. Odin also has a spear like mine, called Gungnir. But when it is used in battle it will never miss and nothing will stop it from hitting its target.”
“You’d still miss if you had it, Torigg,” said Father. His face stretched into a smile as Torigg threw a cup at him and missed.
“Odin lives in Valhalla,” Torigg said as he returned his attention to me. “The greatest hall in the heavens. Where warriors who he has chosen go to feast after dying gloriously in battle.”
He took a drink from my cup and stretched out in his chair. “You have your own slice of Valhalla here, Ragníld.”
“Of course! You have walls to hold back winter. A roof to hold back the rain and food in your belly. You have a beautiful mother and a brave father who will always look after you. In a way, you’re not that much different than Odin.”
I turned away from Torigg and looked around the smoky longhouse, taking everything in. Every crack in the wooden pillars, the way the cracks of the logs blew orange in the hearth, the way the polish on my made it shine as if it was made of silver. I looked at my father as he slowly drifted to sleep on the bench in a corner. I watched my Mother hang basil as she reached in her tiptoes. Torigg had a point, I did live a pretty nice life.
“Uncle Skal, cheers,” I said as I raised my cup to him. Torigg’s shoulders rolled in silent laughter as he smiled.