What is Hidden in Snow, is Revealed at Thaw

2015 Voorheesville Short Story Contest Runner Up, by Alexandra Cunningham

runner-up2Alexandra’s story was one of two runner up stories in the 2015 Voorheesville Short Story Contest.

Det som göms i snö, kommer fram vid tö
What is hidden in snow, is revealed at thaw

                  Keldaboð– the spring festival. Every year, us vikings get weary of the dark winter days and eagerly await for a few rays of sunshine and a couple blades of grass. The most anticipated event occurs at the culmination of the week-long celebration, the Raun. Every young viking dreams of the day their Raun finally comes. Well, every young viking except for me. Its basically a stupid test for boys turning fifteen and girls turning sixteen to transition into “adulthood”. In my world, that means lifting heavy objects, killing innocent animals, and performing other feats of strength. Sounds fun, right? . . . wrong. Every year, bones are broken, skulls are cracked, and clan rivalries are formed. As a scrawny girl with the nickname of Meyla, or “little girl,” I am certainly not looking forward to my Raun. It doesn’t help that I’m the daughter of the jarl and I’m being tested along with four of my peers–one of them being my younger brother. Hrogan is a dimwitted, 250-pound, fifteen year old viking and everyone loves him. I call him “the walrus,” with his blank stare and rolls of fat that he likes to call “muscle.” The walrus is to be named the next jarl and so his Raun is the talk of the village. Boys who pass their tests become the jarl’s warriors and most accompany him on his sea travels. Girls who pass their tests prove they have the strength for childbirth and prepare for marriage. If you fail, you become a thrall- an unworthy slave lacking in strength and integrity. A viking hasn’t failed in the past thirty-two years, as failing brings dishonor and shame to families. I have a feeling this year, weak little me, Yelgen Bjornsdottir, will fail.

The horn sounded the next morning before the sun was up. Today is the first day of training and all vikings taking their Raun are obligated to attend. The first day is brutal. Training involves swimming in the frigid, rolling waves of the ocean, followed by cliff climbing. All of this is taught by none other than the jarl, Bjorn the Skull Splitter, my father. I quickly dressed, putting on my leather training clothes and laced up boots. My hair was long, a dirty brown tangled mess that would only get in the way. In a split second decision, I unsheathed my mother’s knife from my belt and cut at my hair that once went to my hips, but now only barely hung to the bottom of my ear. I threw my cloth boots at the sleeping lump across the room. It grunted and plopped onto the cold floor. “Hrogan, the horn sounded. Get up now, or good luck dealing with the Skull Splitter,” I hissed and left for the great hall downstairs. All of the other trainees were there, feasting on bread, goat, and cheese in preparation for the long day to come. I sat next to Helka, the large, athletic daughter of the blacksmith. I managed a few bites of cheese before the walrus slipped in, with the unusually giddy jarl right behind him. I didn’t think that my mountain of a father was capable of being so excited. “Today you will suffer, but you will enjoy the pain. True vikings can get through anything,” the jarl’s booming voice echoed through the hall. “Remember that the gods in Asgard are watching you. Do not fail.” I was surrounded by four huge crooked, goofy smiles of the other trainees, while I’m sure a huge grimace was glued onto my face. As we finished eating, I took time to analyze the other trainees. Helka, to the right of me, was busy sharpening her three knives with her grey eyes inspecting the edges of her blades. Directly across from me was Selvick, a slimy boy with black dreadlocks and a crazed look to him. Beside him was the red-headed walrus, stuffing his face with a goat leg while flirting with Helka at the same time. The last trainee I was unfamiliar with. He had a long face, ending in a pointy chin, and a cool, calculated gaze. He was staring at the fire, impatient for training to begin.

We marched out of the hall into the frigid weather outside. My ears froze without the usual protection of my hair. We climbed down the steep hill and through the wet snow. to the icy shores of the ocean below. “Your first task will be to swim across the bay, to the rock cliffs on the other side,” my father roared over the wind. The distance to the cliffs wasn’t far, but the temperature of the water would be brutal. “GO!” I sprinted to the edge of the water and dove in head first. I was shocked by the temperature of the ocean and was paralyzed for a few frightening seconds, but I willed my arms and legs to move. I started to swim, making my muscles move faster and they began to warm up. To my surprise, I wasn’t in last. Helka’s dense muscle didn’t seem to be helping her out much and Selvick was making strange gurgling noises. The walrus of course, being in his natural habitat, was way ahead, his rolls of fat acting as buoys. The stranger with the long face was right on my trail. My arms became numb, so I flipped onto my back and kicked as fast as I could. Suddenly, a blond head popped out of the water close to my feet. The cool eyes caught mine, as his hands snatched my ankles and pulled me into the water. I tried to get a last gasp of air, but only ended up with a mouth full of seawater. He held me under for a second, then kicked me to boost himself forward. I struggled under the water for a minute, my limbs numb and ribs throbbing. A pale hand grabbed mine and helped me to the surface. Selvick let go and kept on swimming. I continued to kick on my back until the shore was beneath my feet.

The sun was just rising as we finished climbing up the cliff, turning the sky orange and light blue. I ended up in last after all, but at least I didn’t freeze to death or slip off the cliff. We each got a slap on the back from the jarl as we each headed home. The walrus received a huge grin and I got a “nice effort, Meyla.” I walked back through the village and up the mountain to my home, the Jarl’s Hall. The servant thralls were rushing around the great hall, preparing for the fast approaching week of feasts. My clothes were still damp and my limbs numb. Mόðir Friega, the closest person I have to a mother, scolded me for my frozen chopped hair. The stout and ruddy cheeked woman dragged me upstairs and warmed pots of water for my bath. I stepped into the large basin of steaming water, my skin tingling as it defrosted. The warm water cradled me and I started to doze off.

My eyes opened to the bright glare of the sun. I stood up in a meadow, the heat of the sun flooded around me. There were flowers everywhere and birds sang above me. A twig snapped in the trees behind me. I turned to see a black mare, entering the clearing. It boldly approached me and sniffed my hair. I put my hand up to touch the horse, but it backed up in alarm. The mare reared up and I fell to the ground. After a second, I looked up and the horse was no longer there, but a wall of black fog was rolling into the meadow, leaving ash in its wake. It surrounded me, I couldn’t breathe. Darkness.

                  I had slipped under the warm bath water and I coughed up the water in my lungs. I got dressed and walked into the village to pick up my archery gloves from the tanner. In the heat of the midday sun, snow was melting and dripping off roof tops. The village was bustling, with children running around in the mud, and large viking men chugging down ale. Their excitement only made me more nervous for next week and my Raun. I walked through the throngs of people and to the blacksmith’s cabin to talk to Helka. She invited me into her kitchen, and we skinned a goat as we discussed this morning’s training.

“Rough morning, ay?” Helka asked me. “Ya, for sure, I just can’t wait for Keldaboð to be over,” I responded. “Hrogan seemed to have enjoyed himself.” Of course the walrus loved the training . . . he lives for that kind of stuff. “Who was that stranger who trained with us?” I asked her. “I heard him say his name is Vadar, a fisherman’s son. Apparently he lives on the outskirts of the village,” We finished skinning the goat and washed up. I returned home to prepare for tomorrow’s training.

The next three days’ sessions were much like the first. Although the training only lasted a few hours, it left me exhausted for the rest of the day. We were instructed in archery, boating, and survival. We also repelled down the mountain, and hunted for fresh game to feast on next week. The next two days, we were allowed to relax and train on our own time, as the festival was set to begin on the third morning. Vikings from surrounding villages were swarming during these two days of rest, and wooden ships filled our harbors. The village was filled with a mix of stenches. At one point, I could detect the smells of sweat, animal dung, fresh sweet rolls, ale, and mountain flowers all in one whiff.

I actually enjoyed myself the first few days of the festival, dancing, feasting, and playing games. However, the end of the week quickly approached, and the final day arrived, the day of the Rauns.

That morning, I woke up very early, my stomach aching in anticipation. Hrogan was snoring loudly, so I stepped outside. The spring morning was clear, and the air fresh. I knew today would be a challenge. I may not be the strongest or largest viking girl, but I was not going to let my family down. I went inside and got dressed. The walrus and I walked down to the village together, in silence. Bjorn the Skull Splitter sounded the horn and the villagers and visitors started to trickle in. Within a half hour, the village was buzzing and the drums were beating. I swore my heart was going to leap out of my mouth. Hrogan, Helka, Selvick, and Vadar took their places standing next to me. The drums got louder and louder as the villagers began to chant our Viking war song. A sense of pride and love for these people overwhelmed me. In one final flourish, the stomps, drums, and chants all stopped at once. The tests were to begin. The jarl broke out in some sentimental speech, but I couldn’t concentrate on his words. My father announced the first test: repelling down the mountain, then sailing the ship as a team. I sighed in relief, this was an easy one for me. We all completed this first test easily and the crowd roared in excitement as we returned to the village center. I struggled through my next few tests that relied on my strength, but I pushed through. The jarl announced the final round: testing our aptitude with various weapons.

We were to be tested on archery first. Each of us picked up a longbow and chose a haystack target. The jarl ordered us to aim and draw an arrow. From the corner of my eye, I could see Vadar slowly turning. He chose a new target. My father.

Everyone stopped cheering. I lowered my bow and Helka, Hrogan, and Selvick followed. Vikings clad in full armor stepped out from the crowd. They all drew their bows and aimed at my father. Their leader spoke up, it was a jarl from a neighboring island. It sounded like he wanted to take over our land.

I was surrounded by tall and bulky vikings. I had an idea. My small self was unnoticed by the giants all around me. I wound my way through the crowds and snuck knives to my two peers and brother. I whispered my plan to them and slipped away to the weapons rack. I quietly passed out maces, swords, and bows to our fellow villagers. I grabbed a large knife. A large score of armed and angry vikings had assembled. Many other villagers pulled concealed weapons from their belts. I called out the signal and we swarmed the invaders.

Hrogan sprang to protect the jarl, taking an arrow to the back. I tackled Vadar with my knife, debilitating him. In no time at all, the full rage of my village was unleashed on these invaders. We took them out with our trained swing of the sword and battle skills.

The sun was setting as the battle ended. I looked around for my family. Hrogan was alright, the arrow had only just pierced his armor. There were four casualties, including Selvick. The vikings loaded the bodies of the brave warriors onto a ship. They set it on fire and let it drift off into the ocean. It began to rain and lightning crashed down. All of the villagers chanted their warrior song. The jarl pulled me and Hrogan close.

The next day was quiet, but beautiful. Flower blossoms pushed through the mud and the sun’s rays poured down on our land. Spring was here once again.

 

About Alexandra Cunningham 214 Articles

Alexandra Cunningham is a senior at Clayton A. Bouton High School.