The wooden door creaked a loooong creak, as Sigurd swung open the barrier to the darkness. He stepped inside. The roof had collapsed in one or two minor places, letting afternoon shine upon a dusty interior. Rusted, cobwebbed stoking tools propped where they’d been left. Ancient floorboards complained under the weight if his boots. He sat on the edge of the bed where he had left his wife to protect her. Her body, swelling with their third child, her unconscious face peacefully serene, the taste of berries on her lips …were not where he had left them. The laughter of his toddlers did not call out in this tomb where breezes saw fit to run through and hide. The fire pit across from him sat like him, an older man, an old thing, not warming anyone for quite some time. His sad rueful eyes tried to put down his memories in the place where they once lived, but each memory refused to stay in this empty place. Sigurd inhaled deeply, just about to bury hope when the door burst open! A middle aged man with long strawberry blonde hair swept back and braided either side with a beard traditionally cropped like his succeeded in knocking the door of its remaining hinge. Slam! The door hit the floor, rushing a stream of dust past Sigurd’s boots and reverberating the timbers of the home. Sigurd gasped inaudible. Panicked momentarily that the roof might not hold. The younger man too, realizing the headlong error, paused listening to the home groan his hearty greeting. Both men’s eyes silently studied and listened to the timbers complain and settle, holding their breaths. Sigurd turned to the young man, one brow raised in question. “Sigurd?” He asked. Sigurd regarded the young man closer. Recognition and confusion registered in the old man’s eyes. “Halvor?”
“Halvor was my father. I’m his son, Egil”
Egil motioned Sigurd outdoors. The village was starting to come to life. He could smell eggs and milk, hear the sounds of livestock. Yet Sigurd felt very out of place. Egil sensed Sigurd was overwhelmed. “Come, my father’s friend. Come to our table and eat of our hospitality. Please. Please.”
Sigurd turned to look toward his home, uncertainty and dilemma punctuated his silence. At that moment, the roof caved in. Sigurd gave a loud cry and clutched grasping his hands to the grass and stones at the threshold. His shoulders shaking in defeated sobs, like a broken little boy. Egil knelt by the older man. What had his father’s friend been through? What was it like to watch everything you built with your hands go right before your eyes and think your family was gone as well? He rubbed Sigurd’s arms up and down reassuringly with his hands. Giving them a manly squeeze. Speaking, “Well, the old girl would laugh that this place actually stood up for this long.” Sigurd looked quizzically at him through welled up eyes. “Come to our table. Eat of of our food and drink. There is lots to tell. You hear the tale fed and warm, eh?” Allowing Egil to lead him away from the collapsed monument as neighbors gathered and started to whisper and stare at him, he entered into a warm home with little ones running and shouting, a teenage boy and girl coming in and out taking to the chores of the homestead. His tongue tasted warm wine, milk, his belly warmed with meat and eggs as he listened to the long story that had continued in his absence. He stopped when Egil mentioned Triss was still alive and well. The old man spluttered over his questions that interuppted the story of the village diverting down the stream to know how Triss looked, details. How old were his children. What did they look like? Why did Triss no longer live here in the village. Assured that Perth had been slain and recounting the tale from the horse’s mouth, it was overwhelming. His eldest child held the Royal position in a faraway country and they had not grown in farm life. Oh, but they had, Egil assured Sigurd. The two younger ones stayed on with their mother once she retired from being regent. His first born son is betrothed to a European highborn. His second son is upcoming leader and their daughter still has some years to go until marriage. I think they have been holding on for you to return.
Sigurd’s mind swirled with questions that could only be answered on the morrow. Egil told him that after some sleep and more food, he would point Sigurd toward where Triss now lived.
How had she lived these 7 years without him? Why would she choose to live outside the village on her own? Did she feel she was capable and didn’t want or need him anymore? Sigurd slipped under the covers, playing over and over the times Triss and he had made love, all the little things he said, all the little smiles and glints in her eyes that his edification elicited. But for the first time in a long time, the memories felt tangible amongst the village he had called home. He could almost feel her next to him. Almost hear her soft, low humming. Almost smell the dried flowers and berries she insisted on collecting each summer to make into soaps and other items that brought pleasant aromas into their house and pleased him immensely to inhale her femininity.
Just as the night was melting to deep periwinkle sky, Sigurd woke. He took the bar of lye soap, the clean set of cloths Egil had given him, a razor and set off for the river. Upon reaching it, Sigurd ducked behind a cluster of trees, undressing. He plunged into the cold water thoroughly awakened and emerged shaking his golden river of hair. “Brrrrah”. Scrubbing himself, splashing water and dipping into the current with the lye bar and the other plant glop for his hair, he trimmed his beard. He also rubbed on overhanging pine branches and other specific requested plants that he remembered Triss had loved so much that had led to quite a few times of her turning into a wild woman. Dipping under the water, he untangled his long strawy hair with his fingers, remembering how Triss used to brush through his hair with her delicate fingers picking at tangles or knots. As water rushed past his face and ears, so did the memories of their spot up in the mountains their first time as man and wife.
But even before that, he had hauled a bedraggled, sopping wet, woolen-logged, nearly drowned Triss out of the ocean. Many a conversation they had enjoyed by the seashore. Somehow…suddenly…and inexplicably…going to meet her at her home now in the forest…just didn’t feel right. Maybe he should just let things be? He had been playing over in his mind the memories of the home they had had, but that was not where their journey began. Inexplicably, he wanted to go back to the start. Back before they were wed, reflect more on things that he hadn’t touched in his mind for a long time. So, donning his clean apparel and clean cloak and boots, he blotted his long hair as dry as he could with a cloth, striding off in the direction of the seashore.
Triss woke to the chirps and symphonic variety or morning heralds. She smiled. Her daughter, Eira, and herself had finished planting the gardens this week. Though she was tired from the labor, she was comforted by good dreams of Sigurd. She ached for her children to have their father back. It had been three years since she last had that dream knowing he was alive. The dreams she had recently were merely fanciful hope perhaps, but comforting nonetheless. It was nice to have pleasant dreams for a change. She crept into Eira’s shelter. Should she let her son, Heirlief, just rest? Hmm. She hated waking him, but decided to give them both the choice. Knocking at the posts to their shelters, she asked each of them if they would like to accompany her to the beach on the day of rest to relax by the sea and collect for shells. Something they had not done for a long time. The prospect of fun in the tone of her proposition (and no work) bounded both youths from sleep in excited exclamations.
The morning turned out a pleasant walk down the mountain paths to the sloping long grasses that led to the creamy white sands. Morning was the best time to collect shells. One had enough energy at the morning tide rather than evening and the air was that more invigorating. The scent of the salt tickled her nostrils and she smiled. Loons and gulls called to one another and the repetitious rush of water over the sandy stretches called to her heart. They left their footware behind and Triss enjoyed squishing her bare toes into the watery sand. She watched as little Eria and Heirleif competed for who could bring their mother the biggest shell. Or the most colorful. Triss smiled. She picked along the sand, to see if she could find shells suitable to make a necklace. Looking up at an argument breaking out between siblings and readying herself to step into the fray, something else broke her peace. A stranger on the seashore. At a distance, but still, an unwelcome uncertainty to their peace. Silencing her growing children, drawing them to her, behind her, she stood fast…watching the strange man. He was tall, strong, had removed his shirt and cloak, having slung them over his shoulder in one fist. Long straw colored hair billowed out behind him breathed on by the sea breeze. His chest muscles and arms and indeed the rest of him muscular…what was this man doing out here, alone, without a shirt? Oddly familiar… Shaking her head, she again told Eira and Heirlief to be quiet and if she gave them their agreed signal–to run…no matter what happened to her. Run up through the mountain to the village. One arm crooking her basket of shells, her opposite hand to her dagger hilt, biting the right bottom of her lip, she began walking forward. The man turned toward her and the children upon hearing the contention and turned to walk away back into the long feathery, light-green grasses further away down the shore. He walked about 20 paces, then turned again, facing her. She stopped, hand on hilt. Unsure of what his next move would be. Though the shore was still overcast in the morning, she put a hand over her eyes, mainly to keep the wind from blowing her hair in her face. The man released his grip on his cloak and shirt. They drifted away on the wind, tumbling and swirling on the sand. She strained her eyes. The man called out her…name. “NIAAA!!” Her heart jumped into her throat. She KNEW that voice! She felt like the wind was knocked out of her momentarily and her feet refused to move. He called out her name again, “NIA!!!!” joyously…and started running toward her. She threw up her basket of shells above her head, letting it land behind her. With a cry of recognition washing away the sandcastle of disbelief. Hiking up her skirt fronts, her bare feet splashing the tideline, hope propelled her headlong. She could not…would not, stop! Sigurd must have realized this, because he slowed down and stopped himself, opening his arms wide to his wife, tears of joy streaming down her face as she choked back sobs from years without him. Breath sucked from her lungs, his pine eyes drew her in like a beacon. She rammed into him, knocking him flat backward into the wet sand. Kissing him and kissing him and sobbing and kissing him. He put his hands round his wife’s face, brushing away her tears with his thumbs. Her beautiful, freckled, snivelling, tear-streaked face, her copper tresses framed by white strands. Smile wrinkles about her mouth and eyes. Good. Even though they had had their share of sorrow, her life had still held joy. His prayers on that had been answered. One more question remained. He turned his head slightly left and took her left hand. His wedding ring was still on her finger. He started to cry in relief. His wife was wiping her nose on her right sleeve. He kissed her left hand. Taking his arm, he put his hand round back the nape of her neck, holding a handful of her hair underneath and gently brought her down. Mouth to mouth. Long and deep and exploring.
His hands cupping her cheeks, not wanting to let go of actually touching his wife’s face. He let go, though–pushed himself up to sitting, washed the sand from one hand in the surf water and stroked her sleeved arm. She wrapped her arms round his neck. He caressed her side. Slipping his fingers to the underdress through the side, and beginning to take concealed liberties as her husband, long missed. Nose to nose, Triss smiled. Neither of them said anything. Not yet. They just sat. Gazing at each other. He glanced behind her. Two older children stood, clutching one another fearfully. “I think the children are not sure if you or I are the victor of this attack.”
Wiping the streams from her eyes with the back of her hands, she straddled off of him, chuckling through happy sobs. He stood. It felt good to have Triss fussily attentive dusting sand off his back with a clean part of her cloak. Satisfactorily tidied, she folded her cloak over her arm. Her took her right hand, placed it round under his left forearm, his right hand on top of hers as they walked side by side toward the children, who relaxed, seeing their mother was respected and smiling. They stopped a few feet away. Seven-year-old Eria had fewer freckles than her mother, but she had her father’s green eyes and fiery blonde hair. She lifted her brow like her mother, unsure of who he was. She hadn’t even been born when he had been called away. His arm round her, her older brother, eleven-year-old Heirlief looked concerned, but confused. Sigurd knelt on one knee, held out his right hand for his son in a manly greeting, choking back emotion, “Son?” Heirlief looked intently at him…then registration dawned on his small face at faint memories. Painful regret and relief twisting his sons countenance, he shouted “Fatherrrr!” He jumped into Sigurd’s arms.
Tears broke out again on Triss’s cheeks. She knelt and hugged her husband from the left side. Little Eira cautiously joined in on the family hug. Leaning into her daddy’s side, enjoying the protectiveness of his big muscled arm and shrieking with delight when Sigurd lifted her with ease off the ground, clinging to him like a squirrel, making Heirlief and Triss laugh. There were challenging days ahead on learning to be a family again and accepting Sigurd making the final decisions instead of just her, but today held unforgettable joy of reunion. They were a family again. She looked at Sigurd. Though years wore around his eyes…she could tell…when he was rested, He would come for her and slip into the forest for a talk and …and things…out of earshot of their children.