I know. I know. I’ve been neglecting you lately, O blog of mine and O readers of mine. I really am sorry. I’ve been a very busy little writer, though, so I hope you’ll forgive me once you find out what I’ve been up to. That announcement, however, will have to wait for another day. Today’s post is not about me. It’s about a wonderful lady named Anna Meade who is getting married in a handful of weeks.
Anna is a twitter addict, writer, blogger, singer, actress, and now publishing mogul. She is very (very) active in the indie writing and flash fiction community, and so it made a certain amount of sense for the community to do a flash fiction contest in honor of her wedding, with the resultant stories to be collected into one hefty volume and presented to the happy couple as our wedding gift. The whole thing was masterminded by Laura, Rebekah, and Miranda, and details of the contest are here.
I found out about the whole thing a bit late in the day, and only just finished my entry – well after the link tool was shut down, and (to be honest) an hour or two after the actual deadline for entries, but here it is all the same. I can’t use the link tool any more, but the first 62 stories (yes, that`s right, 62 stories) are at http://www.inlinkz.com/wpview.php?id=261381 There are a few others, including mine, that aren’t included in that.
Torvil paused and thrust his head back through the doorway, addressing his new bride. She lie under the bedclothes, her chestnut hair, so recently relieved of the elaborate bridal crown she’d worn for most the day, fanned across the pillows. He grinned. “Now, I’ll be right back…” he trailed off.
“And I’ll still be here when you do,” she laughed. “Now go! Show them out and come back as quick as you can. We’ve business, you and I.” She laughed again, and he felt a fluttering in his belly as his blood was torn between rushing to fill his face or his… elsewhere. Gods, he loved this woman.
He turned, reluctantly, to follow the six people — three men, and three women — to the front door of his home. He and Aesa had both been married before, so the removal of the bridal crown in the wedding bed was purely symbolic, but traditions were important. In the old days they would have stayed longer, but these days it was enough to witness the symbolic part.
He made his way to the sturdy front door where the men and women were waiting to take their leave. He shook their hands, gave his thanks, and endured their ribald comments and jests with good grace. He shouldered open the door, made of thick planking and daub, against the cutting, winter wind and ushered his guests out into the cold, admonishing them to be safe and tread carefully.
Just as he was about to step back, allowing the wind to close his door, a cloaked figure stepped into the doorway from out of the darkness beyond his lantern, and made as if to push past him into the house.
“Ho there,” his left arm shot out, barring the stranger’s way, “I think you may have the wrong house, friend.” He lowered the lantern somewhat, to shed some light under the stranger’s hood, and felt his legs go weak at the sight of the face within.
Half of the face he saw was that of a youngish woman, with pale skin and even, nondescript features. The other half of the face was a blackened, rotting ruin, the eye-socket and part of the jaw showing through the tattered remains of the flesh. “Hel,” he whispered, his normally powerful voice deserting him, “you have no business here. Not tonight.”
“Fear not, Torvil Sigmondsson,” her face twisted briefly into a mask of bitterness and envy, “I hold no domain over warriors such as yourself. You belong to Freyja or Odin. I’m not here for you.”
A sudden flash of understanding. “No! Please! Please… there must be some way… a bargain of some sort.”
“And what sort of bargain would you offer me – could you offer me? It is her time, and I have need of a handmaid. It’s not such a terrible fate, after all.”
Tears flowed freely down Torvil’s face, disappearing silently into the tangle of his beard, “20 years we waited, married to people we didn’t love, wanting only each other. Now you would take that away before we can enjoy it?” His voice began to firm, as determination and more than a little anger began to replace fear. “I can think of no fate more terrible, more cruel than that.”
“What, then, do you offer?”
“A son,” he said, “Aesa has always wanted a son. Wait for our son, and grant me five years after, that he may know his father, and you may have me in my wife’s place.”
“As I said, I have need of a new handmaid. Why would I take you instead?”
“As you said, warriors go to Odin or Freyja. How many warriors does Helheim see? And how many of your servants come to you willingly? And living? Do as I ask, and I will be your willing, living servant for so long as you desire.”
She hesitated, but he could already see his victory in her face. His heart both exulted and despaired.
“You have your deal. It is done.”
As he reentered the bedchamber, his beautiful new wife looked up at him. “What took you so long, Torvil? I began to think you’d found something more interesting than me.”
“No, my love, nothing could be more interesting, or more important to me than you.”