It was the first feeling I had experienced within the first step into the tavern. Soon after, I was hit with the contradicting scent of putrid ale and hairy men, sweat forming on their faces after a hard day’s work. I was only in a place like this once before, when I was fifteen. My father had convinced me to work there in order to help him pay taxes and such. I was a tavern wench at the time, and it was horrendous. I normally had to stay at his side when I wasn’t serving food in order to ensure I wouldn’t get harassed for either being as pudgy as they say I am or asked more risque things. I wanted to feel sympathy for the women working, however, they seemed to smile effortlessly, as though they actually enjoyed it. I suppose it’s understandable, since it is a warm environment with people that may not behave nearly as bad to them as they had to me or other employees.
As I sat down at an empty table with Loki by my side, I noticed that three of the wenches had gathered in the corner of the room and began whispering to one another. I could see their eyes glaring at me, and I tried to avoid them by pulling up my knapsack and rustling through. “Pretend you’re checking if you have everything… pretend you’re checking if you have everything…” I thought to myself, but in the end, I only stared down at the red apples that situated at the bottom of the bag.
“Excuse me?” I nearly screamed as I closed my knapsack and looked up at a short, curvy woman. She wore the red, white and green uniform dress nicely as she asked with her blonde curls bobbing, “Would you like anything to eat? Drink?” My immediate instincts were to stutter out that I was fine, but I stopped myself. I needed to act like a man. What did people define as a “man”? Not only this, but what did an American man sound like? I cleared my throat and said in a low voice, “I’m looking for work.” In the end, it came out as though a mouse were trying to act like a big dog in order to scare a cat away. Like one of those American dogs: Pitbulls, I believe they’re called. In other words, it was a pathetic attempt at sounding like a man. I stared up at the woman, expecting her to laugh or give me an odd look. Instead, her ears perked up as she asked if I was American. I nodded, and she smiled ear to ear. She then said that every week or so, some guards come by and hand out bounties. She then left behind the bar for a moment before coming back with a sheet of crumpled paper. “You look like a weary traveler, so you may want to rest up before doing this…”
She kept ranting about something or other, but I blocked her out with the sound of the lute player and my own, internal reading. It was a bounty for taking out a couple of bandits. “They are said to hide out in a cave nearby and steal from travelers who pass by.” I had read, “The king demands that all of them be wiped out, and will pay a handsome 100 euros for their extermination.” My eyes widened at the price and stood up before I was sat back down by two other women. They handed me a frothy mug of ale, and I nearly threw up at the scent of it. I glanced up and was about to say that I didn’t want it when one of the women stated, “Courtesy of the man over there.” She pointed her thumb over, and my heart sank when I saw the tall brute of a man that had beaten me in front of the townspeople. He pointed at the bounty in my hands and gave me a thumbs up. I looked up at the women, and they said, “You best not refuse. It’s a free drink.” I nodded as they left, and I felt myself staring at the drink. I finally have a new life. I am not going to ruin it with alcohol, like– I shook my head. I wasn’t going to think of him, nor what he had done for the rest of my life. I could barely remember what he looked like to begin with.
I was then interrupted by the feeling of someone smacking my back, and I nearly kicked at them when I looked up and saw the same man from before. He gave a large and warm smile. “Glad to have someone like you here!” He had a loud and brash voice, and normally I would be terrified, but with his different tone, I felt somewhat calmed. I didn’t say anything as he introduced himself as Aabraham. He asked for mine, and I paused. “Lawrence. Lawrence Valentine.” He then raised a brow and asked about my origins. Sure enough, he was just fine with me speaking English as well. I was mostly a listener as he ranted about things in Finland for me. He warned me against Vikings, suggested I bundle warm during winters, and listed off several things while in my mind, I wondered as to how he can be such a different person around other people. He then finally suggested that he help me with the bounty. “I’m sick of those men always stealing our imports…” He said, and he said that he was good with weapons. “With that flimsy little bow, I don’t think you’ll do too well.” I was given no time to answer before he answered for me; “Great! We’ll sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow, ready to go!” He finally left, and I was silent at the table. I then stood up and grabbed the mug.
The froth spilled over my hand as I walked over to the front door and opened it. The heat radiated out past the doorframe, and I poked my head out. As per usual, there was an old, elderly man sitting beside the sidewalk, dressed in rags. I took no time in walking over and handing him the still warm mug. I instructed him to take it back inside once he was done, and he said something that made me feel warmer than any fire could. “Thank you, and God bless you.” I smiled at him and walked back inside, where Loki was still sitting beside the table, licking at some of the sticky stains on the wooden floor. I called him over, and he followed me to the bar as I asked where I could get a room. “Well, the brothel is down–” “N-No, I mean a normal room. Where I can sleep.” The bartender looked at me and said that he was actually renting out the attic. “You can sleep up there if you have the money for it. I reached down in my pocket and asked how much he wanted for it. He looked me up and down and said, “For you… ten euros a night.” I internally smiled, knowing I had enough, and I pulled out a ten euro coin. “Here.” I handed it to him, and he took it from my hand. “Alright.”
“Lucia!” He shouted loud enough for practically everyone in the tavern to flinch. “I’m comin!” A rash voice shouted, and out came a rather large lady. She had nasty warts on her face that I couldn’t stop staring at as the bartender told her to take me to my room. She looked at me and gave me a smile. “Alright, come on, cutie, we got you a place to stay.” I nearly threw up in my mouth as I followed her upstairs. The stairs creaked under her weight in sync with the jingling of my chainmail armor. Loki followed close behind, and as we entered the attic, she said: “You let me know if you need anything, alright.” I nodded and let her pass me on the stairs. I stepped up and walked over to the bed. I plopped onto my back, and Loki hopped on to my stomach. The armor managed to protect me, and I was a bit surprised. I rolled over and blew out the candle on the night stand. There was nothing much for me to do in here but sleep. I set my bag by the foot of the bed and rolled onto my side so that Loki was beside me. I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled into his fur. His breathing lulled me to sleep, like a mother’s song.
I was awoken by a wet feeling on my face, and when I opened my eyes, I saw Loki staring down at me with dark brown eyes. His pointed ears twitched and his curled tail wagged as he realized I was not dead. I groaned as I sat up in bed. I was startled for a moment by the feeling of something wrapped around my entire body, only to be calmed by my memory of putting the armor on. I sighed and pet Loki’s head before saying to him that we needed to meet up with Aabraham. I stood up and took care of what I needed to before heading out. It was odd seeing the tavern as calm as it was. Now, it was mostly people eating breakfast, and I stepped past them to get to the front door. I pushed through and looked down at the bounty. All it said was that it was a nearby cave by the northern path. I was currently facing East, because the sun was peeking over the horizon and through the pine trees. Remembering the layout of a compass, I turned to my right and began to walk. Aabraham had said during his splurge of words that we would meet on the same path, just outside of Cullfield. It was the only bit I did understand before retreating back into the corner of my mind that involved unicorns and flowers. I kept walking past all of the stores, and as more people came out, the more stares I got.
By the time I made it to the edge of the village, I noticed the bear of a man sitting on a rock, eating an apple. I hesitantly walked over with Loki right at my heels, and he greeted me. “Mornin’.” He looked me up and down and asked if I ate. “You look a bit too scrawny to miss out on breakfast.” He tossed me the apple and told me to eat it. As he walked ahead, I turned the apple around and ate the part he hadn’t touched. It was the sweetest thing I had ever tasted, and I nearly cried as it filled my stomach. However, I kept silent; I bit off a small part of the apple and handed it to Loki. He bit it and began to devour it hungrily. “The cave they hide out in should be up ahead.” He said, and I followed, still eating the entire apple down to the core. I dropped it onto the ground and wiped the juice onto my pants.
He then held out a hand, motioning for me to stop, and I looked over to see a carriage rolling along. “Hide!” He whispered to me loudly before pulling me behind a rock beside the path. I pressed my hand against the rough surface to keep me from falling over due to his strength. We both peered around the corner and watched as a man in dark leather jumped into the road and pulled out a knife. The horse stopped and began to bray loudly. I pulled out my bow and aimed it at the man. I knew now to pull the string back further with my stupid mistake yesterday. I aimed it at the thief as he commanded that the driver give him all of his money or they would take his shipments. He screamed that they had already taken all of his money last week. “Alright, looks like you’re going to lose your job for losing another shipment.” I then released the arrow from the bow, and it sliced through the air as it pierced the man’s back.
I felt an odd feeling rush throughout my body. I had never willingly done anyone harm, nor did I feel it was necessary. I felt myself pause for but a brief moment to absorb the feeling. It was euphoric. I don’t know why, but it was as though the violence fit me. Maybe it was a hidden rage not even I knew? Or maybe it was getting revenge on the people who had done others wrong. He cried out in pain and whipped his head around towards us. The driver used this to encourage the horse to run, and as he did so, the horse cried out loudly, and the thief scowled at us. Aabraham took no time in charging towards him with a large Great-sword he had kept on his back. He cried a war cry as he slammed the blade onto the man, but he moved just in time before going to stab him. He kicked him away, and I watched as several other thieves began appearing out of the trees up the hill on the border of the forest. I drew my bow and began to shoot them all. I mostly hoped to not hit Loki as he began jumping up and attacking the thieves.
The arrows would hit either their faces or one of their limbs, but regardless, they noticed where I was. I began to panic as they started to run towards me. “Lawrence!” I heard, and I whipped my head around to see Aabraham. He tossed a knife towards me, and I wasted no time in running up to the men and stabbing them. Another warm feeling took over me, similar to the one I had felt inside the tavern or beside the fireplace. It dripped from my hands down my arms as I swung, practically blind, and the men began to run. Loki tried to chase them, but I called out to him to come back instead.
He trotted back, his snout drenched in red liquids. He sat down beside me, panting, and I looked over at Aabraham. He pulled his sword out of a man’s body and looked over at me, asking if I was alright. He paused, and I realized that he was actually waiting for a response from me. I quickly nodded instead of verbally saying “Yes”, and he smiled. He came over and patted me hard on the back. “You don’t talk much, do ya?” I looked over at some of the dead bandits and thought about how we did it. “Well, we better head back to tell everyone that they’re gone.” He said, walking past me while sheathing his sword. I trailed behind him with Loki by my side. He licked the remainder of apple juice on my fingers as we walked along the dirt path.
Eventually, we made it back to Cullfield, and I noticed large crowds surrounding the horse drawn carriage. The driver was speaking to all of them as we approached. We made eye contact for the briefest of moments, but it was enough time for him to call out, “That’s him!” and for people to swarm around me. Men roughly smacked me on the back and offered me a drink while two women clung to each of my arms. I stuttered out that Aabraham helped as well, and people started cheering for him. With their attention on him now, I snuck out of the plaza and started down the road. Loki followed, his curled tail swaying lightly as we walked. I bent down and began petting him. He rolled onto his back, and I began to rub his belly roughly. His leg twitched, and I resisted my “baby talk” for him, as much as I wanted to call him “too cute to poot”.
I heard a high pitched giggle, and when I looked up, I saw none other than Sofia. With the coming of spring, she was able to wear less clothing without getting frostbite. Tragic. She gave me a smile past her curly blonde hair and said, “Your dog is cute.” I stopped petting him and said, “I know.” She leaned against the wall of one of the buildings and asked what my name was. “Lawrence.” I responded dryly, and she asked if I was American. I tried to not roll my eyes as I said that I was. “Interesting…~” She remarked, and the way she spoke made chills run up my spine. I frowned and said, “I really must go now.” I didn’t let her speak as I walked away and towards the tavern.
Lucia was at the bar when I came in, and I handed her the bounty I was given before holding out my hand. She raised a brow and asked, “How did you clear them out?” as she handed me a satchel of money. In as manly of a voice as I could muster, I stated, “Aabraham helped.”
“Oh him? Yeah he tries to help others when he can. He’s a real sweetie once you get to know him. One time, there was this old witch trying to steal some of our water, and he stopped her.”
“Yes, witch. Sorry to say, sir, but we’ve got a couple of witches amongst us. That’s the reason we had to build that dam up river. They made it channel down to the mills so we could have fresh water.”
I paused for a moment in reminiscence. I wanted to ask about the creature in the lake, but I wasn’t sure if I would just be seen as crazy. I cleared my throat.
“That river good for fishing?”
“It used to be. Used to be a good source of pikes, but–”
The door then slammed open, and Aabraham walked in with several men by his sides. “Order round for everyone!” One of the men shouted. I sighed softly and told her that I would be upstairs so she could work. I stepped up the stairs with Loki following close behind. At the top of the stairs, I finally took the time to examine the room. The stairs, bordered by fencing, was in the middle of the wooden floor, leading right to a bathroom door. Outside of the room was a table with four chairs pulled up against it and a large bed against the wall with a window basking sunlight on the sheets. I plopped onto the bed while Loki laid on the rug at the foot. I looked up at the ceiling and let my mind drift. However, it wasn’t able to go far with the people cheering downstairs.
“Lawrence!” I popped my head up and noticed Aabraham poking his head up. “Get down here! I wasn’t the only one who did it!” I shook my head with a soft smile and said that it was fine. He narrowed his eyes and came up to the bed, crossing his arms. “I wasn’t asking.” He bent down and wrapped his arm around my waist. “What are you–?!” He carried me under his arm over to the stairs, and I shouted for him to let me go. Loki, in the panic, began barking at Aabraham as he walked down the stairs. “Not only do you need credit too, but you could also use some meat on your bones!”
He called out, “Here’s Lawrence!” as he came into view of the other men. They cheered as he plopped me onto a seat among people I didn’t know. I was extremely tense as people looked at me. “He’s a bit soft spoken, so–” People instantly barraged me with questions about my weapon, how we snuck up on them, how many bandits there were, and all kinds of things. Things started to become a blur of just pure panic before Aabraham put his arm around me and said, “I think he’s just tired now…” I looked up at him, and he stated, “He just needs to eat.” One of the wenches set a plate in front of me, though it was practically invisible due to the food that was set in front of me. “There’s egg butter,” Aabraham listed off to me as he pointed at a yellow mixture. “That’s Gravlax, there’s Pyttipanna, Mämmi…” My eyes scanned over all of the food presented on the plate. “…Um…” “Go on!” Aabraham urged, and I looked up at him. I glanced back down and took a small bite out of the “Mämmi”. Within the first bite, I began digging into the food. I hadn’t tasted anything like this in my life! People laughed as I ate, and they all began to eat as well. I had been eating nothing but old produce and soup for my entire life. I soon finished the plate, and I felt extremely warm inside.
That night, as I sat at the bar, I tapped my finger on the counter. I was drowsy, and ready to sleep, but I was waiting for Lucia to get out of the back room so I could ask her about the river. As she came out, she laughed and asked if I was tired. I glanced up at her, my chin resting on the counter, and I nodded. “What were you saying, by the way? About the river?”
“What are you talking a– Oh yeah! I remember now. Yeah, it used to be good for fishers, but now it’s the home of the Nøkken.”
I gave a confused look as I looked at her one drifting eye.
“Oh, that’s right, you’re not… The Nøkken is a creature that drags people underwater and drowns them. They say that there’s one in the river.”
“…I’ve seen it.”
“You have?! How?! Nobody’s ever seen it and came back!”
I shrugged, and she began cleaning a mug. “Well, however you did it, people would appreciate it if it were to be hunted down.” She looked at me and said, “I’d bet even the king would want to see you if you did.” I raised my brows and asked, “T-the king?” She smiled and said, “Yep! Thats another reason people built the dam. To cut off the fresh water to where people say it lives.” I blinked and asked her where it was. She frowned and said, “It’s nearby that witch’s hut on the mountain. You may want to be careful of her.” I hid my frown in my crossed arms on the bar as I asked her why. “Oh, she’s probably one of the worst ones. I heard the reason she doesn’t go to church is because she turned the holy water into oil.” I raised a brow and asked her, “Have you actually seen her do it?” She paused before saying, “…No… But some of the women were attacked by her in the winter. They were screaming bloody murder!” I didn’t prod anymore as I asked if I could still sleep upstairs. She nodded, and as I reached into my knapsack, she held up a hand. “It’s on the house. You’re a hero.” I gave her a smile and threw my bag over my shoulder. “Thanks.” I said as I ascended the stairs with Loki trailing behind me.
I stepped into the room and plopped onto the bed as it squeaked heavily. The space between my chest plate and pants pinched onto my hip. “Ow, Oww, OWWW!!” I cried out as I reached over and tried to pry them apart. I eventually threw off the chest plate, and within a second, the cool air ran over my body. I felt so much more relaxed that I pulled off all the other armor and just sat on the bed in under armor that hugged my body. I fell onto my back and sighed as I felt the air coil around me and dry the sweat I hadn’t realize dotted my body. Loki jumped up onto the bed and laid across my stomach. I scratched his ear and looked at the uneven paint on the ceiling that made the droplets look like tiny mountains, the light from the candle acting as the sun.