What's so funny about sauerkraut juice?
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 20 - Nut Oil and Cabbage
In dreams, I wandered along a dark shore until I found the bodies of my victims. First was Hustab who I recognized from his livery with the white chevrons on brown. Then came the bandits in their motley, five of them, and the last was the most horrible; he I had shot in the face.
Beyond the bodies, Idunn waited beside a boat. I don’t know how I knew who she was except that she was tall and golden like a goddess should be with a ring of gold on her brow and a gilded clasp in the shape of an apple closing her cloak. Had I seen her before? Perhaps I had.
“Ekalenna,” she called to me.
I tried to tell her that I was Gus Gallant, not a second Alenna, but I could not speak just then. Dreams are like that and perhaps, so are encounters with gods.
A man stepped to the edge of the boat, looking at me. Not a man, a god. Taller than Valto or Rotgar with a full red beard and piercing eyes of a blue so intense it was almost painful to be under his gaze. “Lightning-wielder,” he said to me, his voice a low rumble.
“Lord of Lightnings,” I heard myself reply.
He nodded. “Be not wasteful of gifts in your care. One enemy for one charge and though wilt not soon run out of either.” He sounded stern but pleased.
I didn’t ask what he meant but one question for clarity. “My enemies or thine?”
“For now, they are the same,” he said. He saluted me with the same high-five gesture Rotgar had used then he retreated onto the boat.
Idunn led me back to my bed. I was grateful to her that we did not pass the bodies of my enemies this time, and I slipped into slumber beside Kilda again.
* * *
I woke still warmly wrapped in the blankets and furs of the bed Valto had hired for me last night. That had been an argument I had witnessed since Rotgar and Zenner also claimed the right to pay for my sleeping place. I don’t know how it was settled; I was pretty much out on my feet by that time. Perhaps Kilda had used some of my money I had given her and ended the men’s argument with practicality. The aftermath of the fight and the short trip to a refuge had left me feeling drained.
Did throwing lightning, even with the Glock, take something out of me? I remembered that I had passed out the previous time I had used the little gun, and that was only one shot. But I had kept things together through the fight, not collapsing until we were all safe and at the gates of the last weghus.
I lay under the covers and considered matters drowsily. The gates of the city, Lundenna, were now less than seven miles away, we could reach them in perhaps two hours or less. My stomach grumbled, and I amended that thought: two hours after breakfast.
I opened my eyes to complete darkness. It must still be the middle of a long winter night or at least some hours to sunrise. Beside me, I felt as much as heard the gentle breath of Kilda, my servant, snuggled up against my back.
How hard this must be for her. She was devoted to her Alenna, regarding the girl as her own child. And here I was, a replacement who looked exactly like the original and who had been put in place through magical manipulations by that self-same witch child. And if Kilda betrayed me as a doppelganger, I might be condemned to death in a bizarre ritual called the Trial of Wedna.
But Kilda would never do that; she had accepted me and protected me just as she would have her faithless mistress who had abandoned her. I felt affection for her and a duty to return her trust and protection with my own.
What a world.
Speaking of Wedna, leader of the Bloddish gods, and probably a real personage from the evidence I possessed: I had been visited by Idunn in dreams before, and now this latest dream had involved Dunnar. Wedna was the same as Odin and Dunnar was Thor, the Norse names being more familiar to me in my old life as Corporal Gus Gallant of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office – mostly through the movies.
And I believed in the dreams. Why wouldn’t I? My relocation in time and space and my transformation from my old life were no more fantastic than some beefy Swede on a boat telling me to slay his enemies. Thor, Dunnar, had enemies? Who would dare?
I actually snickered. The guy was a mountain of muscle, could throw lightning and visit people in their dreams and he needed the help of a fourteen-year-old girl who happened to have a couple of Glock pistols in a medieval world. Yeah, well…. He’d asked, I didn’t see how I could refuse. And he had said that his enemies were mine, too.
My stomach grumbled. It had been a long day. The second thing I wanted to do on getting up was eat, but the first thing had to be to clean my weapon. And count the rounds I had left. If Dunnar were telling the truth, I would be down only one or two from the total of eighty-three I had counted before. And if I had just had a dream that wasn’t a divine visitation, I would be down the six or seven shots I had made.
I’d bet on the big guy on the boat being real. On that thought, I drifted back to sleep.
* * *
Kilda woke me up getting out of bed, or rather the cold draft she let in under the covers did. The darkness in the room had lightened a bit; I could see a dim gray rectangle that must be a window and a yellow line on the floor that probably indicated lamp or torchlight on the other side of a door.
“Stay,” Kilda told me when I stirred. “You need rest. I will fetch a firepot to warm the room before you rise.”
“Bring me some coffee,” I muttered in English, but as usual, she pretended to ignore me when I spouted what she called klabbernosh, nonsense.
When I woke again, the room was noticeably warmer and better lit, and Kilda was working with our clothes, unz keldings in Bloddish. I sat up quickly to retrieve the baby Glock as she tried to pull it from the inner pocket of the gown I had been wearing. “Ess ar gevaarlikt,” I warned her, it’s dangerous. “Don’t touch it, let me.”
She stood back without a word and let me take the pistol. It smelled of the shots it had fired and something else. Ozone?
I stood there naked and shivering not just from the cold while Kilda wrapped a fur around me. “I need to clean this,” I told her. Being naked was freaking me out just the tiniest bit. I guessed that pajamas had not yet been invented, but I didn’t remember getting undressed the night before.
She stared at me then glanced at a bowl and ewer sitting on a small table beside a lamp that was providing about half the light in the room. Steam seemed to rise from the around the wooden stopper in the ewer. The window I had noticed before added a gray glow to the yellow of the lamp.
I shook my head. “Not water. It must be cleaned in the finest, lightest oil you can find. I’ll need patches of cloth and a, a rod, about a span long.”
“A ritual to thank Dunnar for his aid,” she said nodding. “Would nut oil be good enough?”
I thought of Idunn. Somehow I knew that among her other domains, she was goddess of the harvest, and fruits and nuts all belonged to her. “Ollgoodt,” I said. Perfect. “Get enough that we can take some with us for the next time I need it,” I told her.
“My heart,” she said in agreement. “Do you want to wash and dress before I go to fetch what you need?”
“Doch, ikka,” I said. Yeah, sure. She handed me warm wet cloths while I bathed under the fur wrapper then she helped me get dressed in a clean undergown and the same overgown with the pocket I had worn yesterday. Soft boots and my lynx fur would complete my costume but those I could find and manage myself. “Go,” I told her and she hurried out.
While she was gone to fetch cleaning supplies, I emptied and disassembled the Glock. There had been ten rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. Now I had nine in the magazine and one in the chamber. I had fired six times during the fight, I felt sure, but only one round was missing. The one I had fired into the air.
I remembered the bodies by the lake in the dream, six of them counting Hustab. Every aimed shot had been fatal. And apparently, I had got every one of those rounds back. “Dunnar is good, Dunnar is great,” I muttered in English. “Dunnar scares the hell out of me.”
* * *
The nut oil worked fine, and Kilda had gotten me a little horn full of it that we wrapped in a leather pouch along with more patches and the short stiff rod she had found to make my cleaning kit. She had left me alone again while I used it, going out and telling the others I would be down for breakfast when I had done my duty to the god. As good a way of thinking about it as any; my time in the service, Army and sheriff’s office, had certainly made me religious about cleaning my weapon.
Before leaving the room, I dug out one of the other ten-round magazines and replaced the one that now had only nine. If something else happened, I wanted a fully loaded lightning thrower.
The hall downstairs where breakfast was served looked exactly like the dining hall in the last weghus we had stopped in. We sat around one of the larger tables and wenches brought us platters of eggs, bread and meat and cups of heated cider and ale. Hot watered ale was surprisingly good, but the meat surpassed excellence. It tasted like salty, smoked bacon but chewy instead of crisp and it went well with the ale and bread. The eggs had an off flavor, perhaps they were duck eggs, I didn’t ask, but they had been cooked with onions and some chopped root vegetable that wasn’t a potato. A dish of pickled cabbage looked and smelled like a greener version of sauerkraut and Rotgar picked up the empty bowl and drank the juice in the bottom to end his meal.
“Keeps away the skorbut,” he said, smacking his lips.
“Maarlikt har ess, ikka,” I said. Most likely it would. Which got a laugh for some reason.
On the whole, it was a jolly meal with the men reliving the trip and the fight. Cordle and Lang joined us at table and participated in the laughter at the plight of our foes. Lang took some ribbing about letting a horse get shot out from under him, and Zenner came in for a share for being wounded. I sat between Lillakatye and Kilda and tried to concentrate on eating when they talked about the bloody result of my lightnings.
Rotgar called for a round of unwatered ale and raised his cup when it came. “To the shieldmays,” he said raising a toast to the distaff end of the table. “And to their gods!” he toasted again. “To Dunnar and Freyja and Baldur and the rest!”
We all drank to that one, spilling a drop on the floor for good luck, too.
“Ikka,” I said when we sat our cups down. “Let us go to the city.” After a moment, I added, “Before anything else happens.” And that got another big laugh as if I had meant to be funny.
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