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The Fargoer

The Fargoer

Book excerpt

Vierra had seen longboats many times before. This one, however, burned itself into her mind forever as she caught sight of it from the hilltop. The proud-bowed vessel had been pulled to the shore of the festival glade, and Vierra felt a hollow, strangling feeling churning in the bottom of her stomach. Those wayfarers had many names: persecutors, the tall men, the bearded men, the iron men. Vikings. They came from the west shore of the sea with their long boats every spring, bringing iron, salt, cloth, and silver. They were interested in the furry coats of the animals that the Kainu hunted, as well as the fish that they dried. The Kainu were happy to trade but stayed cautiously in large groups and areas confined by the trading posts. Everyone, even Vikings, honored them, as they were signs for peace and trade, and slaying another man in their area would mean a curse for the villain and his family for seven generations. In other places, these men did not always pay, but reclaimed their purchase with axes, swords, and slaughter of the careless. Why they had come this far from the market places, Vierra did not know. Fear for her loved ones hurried her step toward the glade. Even though she moved as swiftly as she could, her hunter's instinct forced her to also move silently and stealthily in the forest. If the persecutors noticed her, the hunter would immediately become the prey.

Vaaja, as a trader's son, had had affairs with the Vikings in his earlier days. In springtime, he was in his game, in the marketplaces, and the Kainu soon sent him to negotiate in other places as well. Vaaja had explained that it was always best to do a fast trade and change the goods immediately after the deal had been closed. If the oppressors had time to drink too much of the beer that was served in the market, they became unpredictable and arrogant. Vaaja even knew bits and pieces of their language, and with this knowledge, the Kainu had made worthwhile deals for many years.

Soon, Vierra's green eyes caught sight of the festival glade from the shade of the forest that surrounded it. The strangers were going back to their ship, and her frantic gaze moved over the clearing, combing the space for her husband and son. She noticed a vague tangle near the edge of the forest. She rushed toward it, crouched on the grass, and every step increased the despair and horror in her mind.

A big tangle there was, and a smaller one, both with more than one arrow sticking out of them. Vierra turned them over and her world collapsed. There was Vaaja, his yellow hair stained in blood. There would be no more stories from the southern lands. They had been eternally silenced by the persecutors' arrows. There was Vaalo, the child's gaze of his eyes broken. No more would laughter tinkle, no more would a small hand reach for his mother. No smile would come from that round face.

Vierra did not cry, she couldn't. The blow was too heavy, the cut too deep. In her mind, she saw the face of the First Mother and remembered what she had said. Deviously, the words had started to come true. The Mother's face disappeared, only to be replaced by a gray she wolf. The animal growled, and blood flowed from its exposed fangs. Only the anger was left, a dark, destructive anger towards everything. Anger and then death. And now it was fixed towards the murderers who were sneaking away. The child killers, the robbers, the cowards.

Vierra rose, the bow turned to her hand like a thought. It obeyed her order eagerly and sent arrow after arrow toward her enemies. Green eyes directed every one of them to their goal with an unerring accuracy. And every one of them bit deep into the flesh of the persecutors. Luckier ones took shelter from the deadly rain, behind the rocks of the beach. One of the men gave orders to the others, and they spread out to the glade, closing in on Vierra from behind their wooden shields, moving from one shelter to another, avoiding the arrows that brought them death. Vierra did not even try to hide, she just kept sending arrows on their way. Some hit the shields, but many times she managed to pass them and the wolf inside her was rewarded with a hoarse yell of pain. Finally, the arrows ran out, and Vierra descended to embrace her dead son for the last time. Off her lips came an old lullaby, which she had often used to lull her little son to sleep. The son who would now sleep forever.

The persecutors ran towards the singing woman, sensing that she wouldn't be a danger to them anymore. Just before they reached Vierra, she drew her scramsax, letting out a primal yell. It was full of anger, despair, and disappointment. So ghastly was the yell that the approaching men stopped for a moment, as if hesitating. When the scream died away, Vierra thrust the blade deep into her stomach, expecting to soon see her son and husband on the river of the underworld. The hot, searing pain convulsed in her stomach but was extinguished by a blow of a club that struck her head, sending her consciousness into a bright sea of stars from which it fell into an impenetrable, all-engulfing darkness.

She smelled the fresh forest, heard the spring wind whizzing in her ears. Hints of hut smoke that went with the wind mixed with the smell of the forest.

“The forest of the Underworld,” escaped from Vierra's lips, and she didn't dare open her eyes.

“Yes, my child,” a voice boomed in her head. Vierra couldn't tell the direction it was coming from, but with the same certainty she knew it was true she also knew that it belonged to the Seita, whom she had passed and ignored when she was hunting.

“Apologize for passing me by, sing a song in my honor, and I will let you go. Soon you'll be with your husband and son. Can you already feel the smell of the smoke? There they are, cooking fish and waiting.”

Vierra was ready to answer on the same breath, to weave a song that would release her from the pain. When she opened her mouth, though, the voice didn't do what she wanted. It was the voice of the wolf and it didn't plead, but asked,

“What about the First Mother? I am not supposed to end like this.”

Friendship faded from the Seita's voice, and its note froze Vierra's blood.

“I will not be asked or denied! Beg for mercy, or do you want to return back to the cold world, broken? There, only endless suffering will await you. Soon you will finish off what you started with your knife, and come back to ask me for passage to your family. And I will laugh at you and send you to the cold Underworld of the men of iron, where gray spirits moan in endless despair. There, nobody will be your blood or know your songs. Beg and plead now when you still can.”

“You were the one that took my son and husband. Toward you I only feel hatred, and I promise that by my own hand I will never bring myself to you, now or never! When I finally come, you will apologize and bow before me.”

Vierra spat the words from her mouth with quick anger. They would haunt her for a long time in years to follow.

The Swordswoman

The Swordswoman