Blood Will Follow - Snorri Kristjansson
EAST OF STENVIK, WEST NORWAY
OCTOBER, AD 996
Ulfar walked, and the world changed around him. With every step the colors shifted from green to yellow, from yellow to red, from red to brown. Around him, nature was dying. Every morning he watched the same pale sun rise over graying trees. He was cold when he woke and wet when he slept. He jumped when he heard a twig snap or a bird take flight. Every shadow threatened to conceal a group of King Olav’s men about to burst out of the forest with drawn swords. His ribs still hurt after the fall, but there had been no other way out of Stenvik. They’d hidden themselves among the corpses at the foot of the wall until dark, then made their way in silence to the east, past the bloody remains of Sigmar on the cross and into Stenvik Forest, over the bodies of scores of slaughtered outlaws, after King Olav’s army had charged through the ranks of the forest men, killing everything in its path.
Audun marched beside him, hardly saying a word. The blond blacksmith had regained his strength incredibly quickly after the fight on the wall. The only thing that remained was a hole in his shift, front and back, where Harald’s sword had skewered him.
Audun had died on that wall. They both knew it.
Yet there he was, marching stony-faced beside Ulfar, hammer tied to his belt. Neither of them spoke of the fey woman on the ship—beautiful, evil, and serene in her last moments. Neither of them mentioned her words. Were they truly cursed to walk the earth forever? Would they never know the peace of death? Audun refused to speak of his experience, as if talking would seal their fate and somehow make it real. Just thinking about it sent chills up and down Ulfar’s spine.
On the first night after the wall he’d fallen into an uneasy sleep, only to wake with the breath stuck in his throat and Lilia’s falling body in his mind. Audun, standing first watch, had spoken then. He’d known what was wrong, somehow. He told Ulfar she’d be with him forever and that no matter what he did, he couldn’t make her leave and he couldn’t make her live, so he should accept it, let her into his head, and let her out again. That night Ulfar wondered just how many people visited Audun in his dreams.
The sharp wind tugged at Ulfar’s ragged cloak as his feet moved of their own accord, picking a path over stones, tree branches, and dead leaves. When they set out, they’d gone east, then north, then farther east, with the sole aim of putting the most distance possible between themselves and King Olav, ignoring everything else. They were fleeing, like animals from a fire. Like cowards from a fight. At their back was the smell of Stenvik’s corpses, burning on King Olav’s giant pyre. No doubt Geiri’s body was among them.
He searched for the sun in the sky. He looked north, then south. He looked back to where they’d come from.
Audun shuffled to a halt and glared at him. “What?”
Ulfar swallowed and blinked. “I’m going home,” he said. “There’s something I need to do.” Then he turned to the east. He felt Audun’s eyes on his back as he walked away.
STENVIK, WEST NORWAY
OCTOBER, AD 996
“Do you accept our Lord Christ as your eternal savior?” Finn snarled, forearms taut with tension.
Valgard sighed. “He can’t hear you, Finn. Lift his head up.”
The burly warrior snorted, grabbed a handful of hair, and pulled the prisoner’s head out of the water trough. The bound man tried to cough and suck in air at the same time, thrashing in panic as his lungs seized up.
“Hold him,” Valgard said. Finn strengthened his grip and planted a knee in the small of the prone man’s back. The slim, pale healer knelt down on the floor, leaned into the prisoner’s field of vision, and put a firm hand on his chest. “You’re not dying,” he said. “You’re getting enough air to survive. Breathe,” he added, prodding at the man’s sternum with a bony finger. “In . . . out . . . in . . . out . . . Good.” The man stopped squirming and lay still on the floor. Finn shifted the knee against the prisoner’s back but did not let go of the man’s hair. “Now. My friend here asked you a question. Do you believe?” The man spat, coughed, and tried to