The Bookworm – part 3

Art commission by @javi_draws

This is an Assassin’s Creed Short Story set in the time of Valhalla.

edit: changed one character’s name, which was unintentionally shared by a character from the game

Read part one here

 

The Bookworm – part 3

 

The last full moon of harvest rose and brought with it the first signs of snow. Tomorrow it would be winter. The last of the crops were to be harvested, and that night a great feast; Winter Blót. Hadda’s days were filled both with work in the fields with the other children of age and work for Able, the scribe. She dutifully copied a number of written texts as he produced them from nooks in his tidy small hut.

Able’s collected assortment of scrolls and other papers was an amassment from a variety of places he had collected, or more commonly as brought to him by raiders who could not read and wondered if they were of value. Wooden cross-membered shelves lay neatly along every available wall and even into the loft yet somehow remained in order. In some spots the shelves were lined two deep and had to be moved to be accessed. Only Able could keep sort of it, locked in his troubled mind.

He was not cruel as Hadda had feared, but rather held by a darkness inside as if always with pain. He was a strict instructor; brilliant. Some days he was too ill to leave his home. There was an unspoken boundary that kept Hadda from aiding him when he was low, but she made sure the younger Brita would bring him soup or hot drink if he would take it. Hadda would herself, but Able regarded her like neither Northman nor Saxon. She was like him, a woman of two worlds still alive for a purpose they may not fully know. This nameless distance was mutual, and later grew into respect.

Hadda had much still to learn for reading and more still for writing to express her own thoughts but was quickly taught the more important contextual reading regarding trade and agreements. Contracts, even letters of peace. The Saxons universally regarded the Vikings as lesser men, barbaric and as vulnerable to being manipulated against their own interests. Able was no longer fit for long travel, so Hadda would accompany settlement elders when possible to ensure terms of trade were written as spoken.

Saxons had grown increasingly resentful of the Northmen settlements’ success even in times of peace. Isolated hostilities and disappearances had become too common. Hadda recalled on one such trip to outside York for medicinal herbs the otherwise peaceful exchange with an eccentric traveling apothecary was interrupted by a mounted armored patrol. The roadside exchange was perfectly legal, but it nearly turned into a sudden slaughter. Hadda quickly calculated the tax exchange in her head they should owe had the transaction been held in the city, and while it was at a sore disadvantage to the Northmen, the guards were surprisingly open to the idea of pocketing the tariff. It was not all she won that night.

She kept under her straw bed a single leaflet of strange text. The desert skinned trader had told her it was Greek. There were but a few lines of it, the formatting alone looked less like spoken word and more like art. Prose. She hoped one day to translate it but had not shown it to Able. He had told her once of a great purge of all writing that was not to the benefit of the wellness of the soul, some hundred or more years prior. The burning of the greatest library every known to woman or man. The deep pain in her heart at the thought matched for a split second what she saw in the older scribe’s eyes. In that instant she imagined he had almost smiled to reassure her.

The sun rose on that first winter day, and with it an air of celebration. In a spot of cleared field men worked to prepare a space with stacked bales of grass, makeshift tables and decorations carved from wood. Hadda was only a little surprised when she learned her chores were more than double. Where were most of the other children?

Able added to her work. He was prepared when she arrived with a neat stack of scrolls she had not seen before. With sweat still on her brow she sat down diligently to begin copying the letters that would surely take all afternoon. Soon after she was sat down Able prepared to leave. Eivor had summoned him, he explained.

In the back of her mind she wondered where Eivor had secured the wondrous book they had brought back on that night that now felt long ago. She had first suspected it to be hidden among Able’s other well-kept texts, but over time she concluded there was no corner of the hut she was yet to see where it would have been safe. No, she suspected the Viking leader had a more secure stash, perhaps beneath the lodge, one sealed by something it took several men to move. Smart.

When Hadda had finally finished and cleaned up, she felt like she was the last one left to head towards where the rest of the settlement now gathered. A great carved wooden pillar had been erected in the center of the cleared field; a monument to Odin the Allfather. The sun was low in the sky, she could see visitors from the next settlement upriver were arriving on the bare dirt path into their village. It looked like there would be upwards of more than fifty in attendance. Among the visitors Hadda spotted the enigmatic mystic, the ätts’ selected who spoke with the gods. The mystic was soon busy with the preparation for ritual slaughter of the season’s cattle, the main event of the night.

When Hadda arrived, the other children were already adorned festively. Brita and a second girl closer to Hadda’s age pulled her aside to weave bright string and brilliant poms into Hadda’s hair. They laughed gaily as a group of boys tried to nonchalantly catch a glance at them from nearby. Occasionally a cold breeze would cut through accompanied by a stray flake of snow as if to remind them how cold the night would soon get.

Joining the gathered crowd Hadda slowly scanned the celebration, finding everyone present. Eivor, Able, Torben, the village elders and a number of visiting families she had not yet been introduced to. Here eyes settled on the mystic, who through the crowd was watching her, specifically. Still as the statue who’s shadow she blended into, crowned by leather and antler headdress. The settlement’s resident raven – Eivor’s raven – clucked. Then, the great boom of a drum. Everyone came to attention.

The sun set as Eivor approached the monolith to Odin reverently where the mystic waited. Low lit torches cast high shadows on the carved pillar. In the mystic’s hand a ceremonial plate. Eivor and the mystic exchanged silent words for a long moment before Eivor turned to gathered crowd. “Hadda,” Eivor spoke with authority. “Come forward.” The crowd parted.

Hadda froze. So many people, all looking at her. Timidly, she put one foot in front of the other until she had crossed the space to the outer circle of decorations around the monolith. Eivor stepped to one side as the mystic stepped forward. On the ceremonial plate lay wrapped leather cord set with polished bone and beads fashioned into a bracelet. The mystic’s enlightened face was broad at first with a smile as she watched for Hadda’s reaction, but suddenly turned dark as if she heard something no one else could. Eivor sensed it, and the raven cried out. In the distance a young boy’s urgent voice carried to them. On the near horizon, a lone tendril of smoke rose above a glow of fire.

 

continued in part 4

The Bookworm – part 2

Art commission by @javi_draws

This is an Assassin’s Creed Short Story set in the time of Valhalla.

edit: changed one character’s name, which was unintentionally shared by a character from the game

Read part one here

 

The Bookworm – part 2

 

Removing her headset, the security analyst had a question formed on her lips. On one monitor to her right, the scene at the chapel sat frozen with Hadda speaking to the Vikings, digital lines tearing through the image. What had they just watched?

“No, you cannot ‘alter’ history,” the senior analyst standing behind her began. The two perched at the machines at her desk with windows overlooking the metropolis behind them. There was virtually no one else on the floor and the lights were dimmed to minimal. Hers was the only station active out of rows of hundreds of desks. She had lost track of time; it was now past midnight. She nursed her coffee.

“The sequence record at rest is immutable,” he continued. “But by examining the attacker’s patterns and movements we can target and omit key data in transit in a way they might not immediately detect and lead them to draw conclusion they might not otherwise had.” The sharply dressed middle aged gentleman shifted as he explained further. He was boundlessly polite but had a manner of stepping into her space that could not be accidental. It was the body language of someone who knew power imbalance favored them. “Cautiously, though.”

He reached across her to pick up a glass bowl of assorted nuts and chocolate from her desk she had filled the prior morning. He shook it for effect, listening to the sound. “See, if I reach into this bowl and retrieve nothing, I will know right away there was a mistake.” He eyed her, popping one into his mouth. A storage array nearby clicked softly. “But if I reach in and retrieve only cashews, I might conclude it was a bowl of cashews.” He smiled, setting the bowl back down and taking a few steps to pace. “I love cashews.”

He is toying with you, she thought to herself while retaining her composure. Columns of data on the rogue animus frame danced in the corner of her eyes. She stifled a follow up question but could see in his eyes he read her intent. The puzzle was laid out before her, but to ask was a trap. He knew she would find something.

“What of the triangulation?” she changed topics. They had isolated both the circuit and geolocation of the attacker.

“Save it. Do nothing for now,” he said curtly. “This is the mistake the last team made, going to ground. This nuisance evaded us twice, they are too paranoid to fall for it a third time.”

“And their access?” She persisted.

“Leave it,” he stared out the window. “No firm could provide us the same data on the vulnerability as efficiently.”

She forced a sip from the bottom of her now cold coffee with a wince. She brought the data transit display to the forefront, eyes picking up on the strange phenomena she had noticed before. She restrained herself not to make eye contact with the senior analyst. Then a fresh slew of information began pouring in.

“Ah, the next sequence has begun,” he concluded. “I will get you another coffee?”

 

 

Hadda tapped the hull of the longship with her new boots idly as they cut across the glass smooth waters of the inlet. Boarding the swift vessel was even grander than she remembered it, filling her with a wild mix of butterflies and exhilaration. The cool sea breeze whipped at her hair. The men aboard greeted her as an esteemed guest; men that had unwavering loyalty to the woman who led them. Flush with garrison supplies and food, the fast attack ships now returned home.

Ahead rose rolling hillsides, many terminating in cliffs that crumbled into the river. It was not long before she could see their destination built into a sprawling wooded hillside above the estuary. Many great wooden homes and fortifications dotted the slope above a crude sandy dock. Partially constructed ships lined a stretch of the water, shining proudly in the early evening sun where workers continued to shape the wood.

Disembarking as they arrived, Hadda breathed deep the late autumn air. Up the slope a wiry older Northman stepped out from a covered forge and anvil near the shipyard. He looked down through the crowd of men to where she stood. With a nod from the woman who led the raid, he smiled wide.

“Hadda!?” the old shipwright called out in surprise, stepping carefully down towards her.

She felt a spark of recognition. He had been the smithy of her childhood settlement. She was barely tall enough to see onto his workbench at the time. He had not changed at all. She felt her eyes welling with tears at the sound of her name. “Torben?” she remembered.

“Giantess indeed!” he cried as he wrapped her in a warm embrace. “You are so tall!” he exclaimed, looking her over with a smile that split his face. She was just a hair taller than the heavily tattooed, bald elder.

Further up the hill a lone figure stood, robe flapping about him in the breeze. He supported himself standing with a shoulder-height apparatus of wood. He was not of Northman build, with tightly groomed black hair. Hadda felt a sudden chill as she realized he was staring down at them on the bank. He had one good leg: the other lost above the knee.

“That,” Torben paused as his expression became more serious. “That is Able. He is our scribe.” The began walking up the sandy approach. “He won’t bite, but I wouldn’t get too close either,” Torben winked with a grin.

Near where the first houses began Hadda could see others working in fields or preparing fish on several long hanging lines. An open sided stone grain mill sat opposite a large area with a few recessed stone ovens and cooking pits. The great lodge was nestled in trees beyond a wide-open circle where all the walking paths met at a well. Near the well a Northman stood with his daughter, Hadda would guess about ten years of age. Above them on one of the massive weight-bearing lodge beams, a single raven let out a resounding click.

The young girl approached Hadda at her father’s instruction, introducing herself as Brita. Brita was kind with piercing hazel-green eyes. She led Hadda through the village and introduced her to what seemed like every living soul before showing her where she would stay and keep her things. She had her own room and learned of the sad story of how it came to have no occupant.

Darkness had fallen and many gathered to eat and celebrate the successful raid. Brita led Hadda at last to the Viking woman who led the settlement; now sat at the mighty chair at the end of the long table in the lodge hall. In a corner Hadda spotted the scribe Able, who as before seemed to carry shadow with him.

“Hadda,” Brita began her introduction. “Meet Eivor, Wolf Kissed”

 

continued in part 3

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