The crowd remained silent as I stood. I raised my bloody seax above my head, and looked to Jarl Magnus. “The Gods have decided for Skalmarnes, my Jarl,” I said calmly.
Still no cheers. No laughter. No applause. No anger. The shock that had settled on the entire assembly felt hard and cold like a piece of sea ice on a winter’s fjord.
Jarl Magnus, though, knew how to work a crowd. He stood. “So they have,” he said. “Aelfwyn Shin-Kicker I named you when I took you to my service, but Aelfwyn Anklesbane seems more appropriate, now.” He looked to the men of Fagradalr. “The matter is settled, then. Return to Jarl Jormund, and tell him how a serving-girl of Skalmarnes slew the greatest warrior of Fagradalr, lest he repeat this folly. The Gods have given that meadow to us. Do any here contest that?”
“Good,” said Jarl Magnus. “You have enjoyed the hospitality of Skalmarnes for this time, but I am sure you wish to return Thyge’s body to his father. His arms and armor may return with him, save for his sword. His sword I declare forfeit to Aelfwyn Anklesbane, as spoils of her victory. Do any contest?”
I glanced at the Jarl, then at the warriors of Fagradalr with their shocked expressions. But nobody spoke, and Jarl Magnus simply nodded to me. I reached down to Thyge’s corpse and unclasped the sword from his waist. For him, it had been a shortsword. A backup weapon. As I hung it from my own rope belt, it felt like a perfect fit.
“The matter is concluded, then,” said Jarl Magnus. A beat of silence followed, then the Skalmarnes villagers erupted in a cheer. “People of Skalmarnes! Tonight we feast, and the skalds can begin the Song of the Anklesbane. Let the word go forth to the world—a serving-girl of Skalmarnes is more dangerous than a warrior from any other village!
The villagers cheered, then headed back towards the village proper. The Fagradalrs gathered up Thyge’s body and began to recede towards their longship. Jarl Magnus beckoned me and Erik over to speak with him, in turn.
“You’ve been trained,” said Jarl Magnus to me. “And not in three days. Which means someone here trained a thrall. You’ve done a great service for Skalmarnes, but training thralls to arms is—”
“I trained her,” said Erik. “And you can condemn me for that, and sacrifice the two of us to Odin for doing a forbidden thing. But if you do so, you lose what you have just gained. The world is now going to see that Skalmarnes has been blessed by the Gods. A lowly thrall defeated the great Thyge Jormundsson.”
“A lowly thrall took Thyge Jormundsson by surprise with a cheap shot while he underestimated her,” said the Jarl, a frown on his face.
“Yes,” I said, speaking for myself. “Which is how I defeated him. I do not apologize for that, my Jarl. I swore my service to Skalmarnes. I know how much we need the grazing land. We now have it.”
“And,” added Erik, “The chance that any other village tries something like this…” he trailed off, letting the obvious go unspoken.
“Fine,” said Jarl Magnus, snapping a bit. “You’re not trained, Anklesbane. You’re blessed by the Gods. That’s our story, and we’ll hold to it.”
He grumbled, then looked at Erik. “Better that than sacrificing my own son.”
Walking back towards the village, the sword felt strange banging against my leg. Out of place. Out of habit, I walked towards the kitchens to help prepare; feasts meant all hands on deck for us serving girls. But Erik clapped a hand on my shoulder.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m…to the…” I didn’t know how to answer it. “There’s going to be a feast! We need to—”
“Anklesbane,” said Jarl Magnus with a wry smile on it. “There’s going to be a feast in your honor. Generally speaking, it’s bad form to have the guest of honor cook the feast first.”
I moved my mouth a couple of times. I didn’t actually know what to say to this—the idea that I wouldn’t help with the work seemed antithetical.
“You’re a karl now, not a thrall,” said Magnus. “You can tend the chores in your own home, but not in another’s.”
“My own…” I said, not even able to contemplate the meaning.
“In time. We’ll have a raising for you. For now, you are a guest of Magnus. My hospitality is yours, Aelfwyn Anklesbane. Until such time as the people of Skalmarnes raise your own home. I will also give you a very small piece of land—a corner of the high meadow you won seems fitting—as your steading. Farm it as you will and remember your tithe. That shall be your reward from Skalmarnes. Your sword is your trophy from Fagradalr.”
He paused, then looked at me. “You’ve also the right to raid on my ship, should you wish it. It’s not required, but my warriors have first pick of what they discover, so most choose to.”
My own land. My own home. My own place as a karl, a freeperson, in the land of the Norse.
And the right to dance upon the waves once more. I just had to assault my own homeland to do so.