Photo courtesy of Melissa Thornhill (via Luminous Creatures Summer of Super Short Stories)
In Loving Memory
Calder will depart for the afterlife a hero. They have ensured it is so, after his return from the raids to them, scarred, otherwise unscathed. They have no wish for him to revisit, reformed as revenant or draugr, to torment them, though Astrid has volunteered to wield the sword to remove his head if necessary. Brenna favours a stake through the corpse if the eventuality arises. They observe the requirements carefully, conscious of their need for perfection. The body is placed into a temporary grave, covered, whilst they sew, creating the clothes to accompany him on his journey. Brenna sings, strong and true, as they sit, imbibing the drinks proffered to her by Selby, one after another. They will help her see her way when the time comes. “Farið vel og með góðum tíma,” Selby says with each. Brenna nods, accepting the liquor filling the bowl to the brim, fingers touching Selby’s briefly, as the vessel passes back and forth again. There is no guard for this, their private ceremony. They are family now.
With a glance between them, they raise Brenna aloft, moving her towards the door frame, to lift her on their palms, once, twice, thrice. Now, she sees out and beyond, into the other realms. They lower her carefully, to stand on her own feet. She is ready and they are one in their task.
The women walk together to the water’s edge where the narrow longship waits for them, pre weighted with Calder’s battle worn weapons and armour, sail hoisted aloft. The dragon at its head points seaward, pre-seeking the eventual destination from which there is no return. Brenna climbs aboard carefully, placing cushions onto the wood to create the bed on which Calder’s body will rest. She accepts no helping hand as she clambers in and then out.
“Far-wanderer – there is the line of my people, where the brave may life forever,” Brenna says, standing at a slight distance from the bronze prow. They all nod, before clutching hold of one another closely, then breaking apart, standing together this last time. Slowly, Brenna removes the bracelets on her wrists, transferring them into Selby’s outstretched hands. She removes the finger rings enclosing three of her fingers; places them into Astrid’s palm. Once done, she turns from the assembled women, walking towards the vessel where Calder lies waiting for her to join him.
Brenna sits beside Calder’s cushioned body as his remaining relatives take their flame lit torches from the villagers who have joined them. She makes no sound as they set them to the oak and drive the boat out into the water. Burning arrows mark their progress as the ship sets sail in earnest. Brenna takes her secrets with her as she performs her final service for her family. Though Calder sets sail for Valhalla, she will chart their true course. Calder departs, presumed hero. She must ensure he faces his gods armed only with the truth. They will decide where he ends up.