The Water of Awakening, Chapter 1-6 “The Farmwife and the Volva”

My latest book, The Water of Awakening is set to be released on July 7 on Amazon.
In in, Helga, a young newly-married woman, is put on a quest for a strange artifact in return for a cure to her husband’s mysterious illness. This artifact, the Water of Awakening, is held by a clan of strange creatures on the edge of Fay, where reality and dreams are one and the same, and road is long and dangerous. Helga quickly quickly realizes that she is out of her depth, but persists and finds friends in unexpected places.
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Next, Helga went to Erling’s older brother, who had a farm just outside of town. He likewise said he would be too busy with the spring sowing. She went to cousins, and they too were too busy. She asked all her relations within a day of travel, and all of Erling’s relatives. After two days of trying to persuade all the men of the town to go with her, and failing, she decided to ask the Jarl for help.

The Jarl did not live in castle, but in a multi-level hall on a hill, surrounded by stone fortifications designed to repel the occasional raiding party. A low parapet topped the wall and an ironbound gate marked the threshold to the courtyard. As Greenfeld was a small hold and currently at peace, the gates were open and guarded by a single man at arms named Bradley, who had known Helga from girlhood.

“What’s the lion hunting for today?” He asked as she walked through the gate. He was eating an apple and leaning against a tree lazily, his spear in the crook of his elbow.

“A man brave enough to venture beyond Greenfeld,” Helga said.

Bradley shrugged as Helga walked past and said to her back, “Good luck.”

Helga walked freely into the building and found Jarl Rolfagar at rest in the main hall, reading a book by the light of an ornate stained glass window depicting the god Ferral at his forge. The red flames of the window cast an eerie light on the normally good-natured Jarl, setting his grey hair to red and shadowing his lined face. He looked up and recognized Helga, but did not stand.

“And what does Helga daughter of Hrolfi desire of the Jarl of Greenfeld?” he said calmly, flipping a page in his heavy tome.

“I need to make a journey to save my husband from his fate. It is safer for two to go than one, so I need a companion for the road. I thought you might help me.”

“You are expecting trouble, then,” Rolfagar said.

“No, merely wanting to be prepared,” Helga said.

“Have you asked your kin?”

“They are busy with the sowing.”

“What about the other men of the village?”

“They will not come. They are all busy as well.”

“I see,” the jarl said. “Have you asked the younger men? I know you are already married, but they are always eager to impress other women with acts of kindness or heroics.”

“They… They will not come, sire.”

“Just where are you going, anyway?” The jarl looked up at her with a dark frown.

“To…” Helga hesitated to say. “A volva wants me to fetch something for her, in exchange for the cure for my husband.”

“That is not the question I asked, is it?”

Helga hesitated again. “I’m going to see a tribe called the watchers on the edge of the fay.”

The jarl nodded. “How do you know she is really a volva?”

“She had a vision?”

“How do you know?”

“She told me,” Helga said, becoming exacerbated.

“I see. What I told you I was really a reindeer?”

“Sire?”

“Just a rhetorical question, my dear.” The jarl sighed and closed his book. “Have you thought much on the reluctance of your kin and clan to help you on this journey?”

Helga paused and thought about it a moment. “Sire, I am not well liked.”

“Who in my hold treats a woman of my kin badly?”

Helga hesitated. “Nobody sire, but-”

Rolfagar held up his hand to silence Helga. He looked at her with sad eyes. “I think you should consider whether going on this errand is a good idea. Well,” the jarl hesitated in thought. “I think it is not a good idea. And as much as I love you, I will not reward bad decisions.”

“I must go,” Helga said. “I already gave an oath.”

“That was not wise, Helga. Not wise at all.” The jarl sighed. “Are you really so determined to go, Helga the Lion?”

“I am. I must save Erling; this might be my only chance to do so.”

“Very well. Tell Bradley he has my permission to escort you to the borderlands, but no further.”

“Thank you, sire.” Helga bowed.

“My prayers that you return.”

*

The next day Helga sent a message to Erling’s parents, and to her own, and each woman agreed to set aside time to care for Erling in Helga’s absence. Rafnhild had decided on her own to stay in Helga’s home, in the room she had occupied, as a “favor” to the family. Neither mother had the temerity to object, for it was long the tradition in that part of the world to accept a volva’s stay in a home without thought to cost.

Helga assembled what she thought she might need for a long journey. She loaded a large bag with what foodstuffs she knew would not spoil quickly, which was mostly dried meat, nuts, berries, and hard biscuits. She belted Erling’s sword, a blade that was large but nimble, well-crafted in “days of yore” (as Erling’s father liked to say) and cared for by the family. Its appearance was mundane, but betrayed a hidden temper, much like Erling himself. She loaded Erling’s horse (a fine colt named Raggle) with water skins and other provisions, including warmer clothes for the mountains. On the outside of the saddle she hung her brother’s crossbow, along with a quiver of bolts and spare strings. Inside her tunic she kept what money she had saved through the illness of her husband. She dressed herself in simple trousers and a warm tunic over her blouse, along with a tightly woven woolen cloak.

Helga’s neighbors and family were less critical of her leaving than she thought they might be. She attributed this to the words of the volva, which nobody in Greenfeld seemed willing to rebut. Helga left quietly and without fanfare, and the only residents of the village that seemed reluctant to see her go were her sheep and goats, which bleated their complaints as she lead the horse past.

Passing by Bjorn’s house Helga met Bradley, who was dressed in his armor, and to her surprise Snorre.

“Stein went up to Skjallanding and Hostent last week. They say they’ve never heard of any Rafnhild.”

“So why are you dressed for the road?” Helga said.

“I figured if you were still dense enough in the skull to leave, I could at least make sure you had your bearings on the road. I camp quite a bit. Very used to adventures.”

Bradley laughed, and Snorre turned a shade of Crimson.

“Well, I’m still going,” Helga said.

When Helga and the others reached the edge of the wide road, she found Rafnhild sitting upon a rock, as she had met her.

“Gods preserve you.”

“Thank you. I did not expect you to see me off,” Helga said.

“You still owe me a penny.”

Helga drew out a copper piece and threw it to the old woman, who fingered it suspiciously.

“A little light on the pressing, and heavy on the iron,” Rafnhild said. “But it’ll do. I am a generous woman, after all.”

“Hey,” Snorre said. “How do we know you’re a seeress and not some old daft woman pretending?”

Rafnhild narrowed her eyes at the boy. She snapped her fingers but, instead of being a quiet sound, it was ear-splittingly loud, louder than anything any of them had ever heard before. The horses bolted immediately, and the crone fell off the rock laughing.

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