Beskrivelse av boka
Fate does not wait for you to be ready…
Elva lives a peaceful life with her tribe, practicing to one day become the noaidi–the shaman. Her peace is shattered when two viking earls arrive in the camp. Her grandmother, the current noaidi, is accused of witchcraft, and is taken away to stand trial before the tyrant king Olav. The punishment is death.
Elva is not ready to become the leader of her tribe, nor is she ready to let go of her grandmother. She is nowhere near strong enough to fight the vikings in Nidaros, but she has to try. She’s an outcast in her own land, on a journey that will challenge her convictions, her faith and even her heart. Can Elva overcome the powerful enemy and rescue her grandmother?
Or will she add her name to the fallen?
She chants a tune, a somber song
It rings through hills in winter’s time
And even when her beak has closed
her song will thrill forever on
The fox snuck forward, close to the ground. Elva slinked after him, following the animal’s every move as quietly as she could on the soft snow beneath her feet. When the fox stopped, fixed on something Elva couldn’t see, she gripped the bow tighter. The arrow was nocked, ready to draw. It had been a while since she’d seen a fox.
She hesitated and lowered her bow a bit. It wasn’t right; the fox wouldn’t provide much food. How could she kill her tribe’s spirit animal? How could she, when they didn’t even need him to eat? But she had to. The Norsemen required another fox for the Finne taxes and they wouldn’t be pleased if a part was missing when they arrived to claim it.
Taking a deep breath, she raised her bow again. The fox jumped forward once, and then Elva released the arrow and hit her mark.
A sharp pain pierced her chest as the fox rolled to his side, the arrow protruding from his body. The pain was gone with the fox’s final breath. She sighed, trudged over to kneel beside the dead animal, and stroked his head.
“I thank you for your sacrifice,” Elva said. It wasn’t the first time she’d killed an animal, and she would do it again, but this hunt was deplorable. She blinked away tears. The fox was beautiful, with shiny white fur. And now he was dead, simply so that some Norse woman could wear him around her neck, like it somehow made her look more appealing to a man. The knot in her stomach tightened as she unwound a string from her belt and tied the fox’s hind paws together.
She stood, her gaze flickering. The fox had been after something too.
A small bird had been pushed into the snow, but its tiny wings stuck out enough for Elva to find it. She left the fox for later, hurried over to the bird, brushed the snow away from his body and lifted the river king sparrow into her hands. He was still breathing, though the fox had made a wound in his wings and across his back. She turned the bird gently, his pointy beak opening as if trying to speak.
“Easy,” Elva whispered. “I’ll help you.” She wasn’t sure if she could. Even though she’d been promised the power to heal, it had yet to present itself. She could make the bird’s death painless, but she wondered if she would also be able to restore his vitality?
Elva began singing, a joik about spirits and rebirth, of love and nature. She had no idea what the right words would be, so she tried everything. As she sang, the bird closed his beak, then his eyes. The slight shiver that had been there when Elva first picked him up subsided. She kept singing in the hopes that the spirits would somehow hear her and allow her to heal the bird. No spirits came, however, and he had been dead for a while when Elva finally stopped singing. The tears welled up again.
She stared at the sparrow in her hands. The white and black feathers were still soft, hugging her frozen palms. She kicked with her toe-hooked shoes into the snowdrift, spewing bits of snow onto the frozen lake beyond. There hadn’t been anything she could do to save the poor bird’s life. No matter how hard Elva tried, the power to heal wouldn’t manifest. Only second in line, it would be years before she was to assume her inherited position as the tribe’s Noaidi, but what kind of Noaidi would she become if she couldn’t even heal a small bird? Not a very good one, she concluded.
At least she’d been able to remove the river king sparrow’s pain with her song. This was something she had mastered when she was only eight winters old. Ten years on, however, she would have liked to see her powers grow, as Àhkku had always promised they would. “It’s in your blood,” Àhkku always said, whenever Elva asked.
At this moment, Elva’s blood didn’t seem to measure up to a whole lot.
She closed her fingers over the bird and turned to the row of birches behind her. She found a nice spot between two trunks. There wasn’t much else to be seen with snow covering most of the ground, but her eyes eventually fell on a loose chunk of bark. She placed the bird gently by the tree, then took a deep breath before pulling the bark free. A faint scent of resin emanated from the naked wound on the trunk.
“Thank you, old one,” she said, placing her palm on the tree.
The bark she’d removed was the perfect shape for digging. She adjusted the corners of her sealskin hat; tips of her wispy raven hair swung out under the brim, tickling her chin. Pulling up her sleeves, she got to work.
The ground was tough but eventually Elva had managed to dig a big enough hole. She retrieved the sparrow and placed him in the hole, before covering him up. Her mouth opened and a solemn tune fled from her lips. She was determined to give the river king a proper send-off to the otherworld. Rolling onto her back, she watched as the skies began to radiate a light shimmer of what promised to be a spectacular show. Despite the constant darkness this time of year, there was always some light to be found.
The distant sounds of clinks and raps made her sniff the air. It was nearly time for supper. She should have helped prepare the food.
Elva jumped to her feet, went back to the fox and lifted him up. She then walked away from the tree line and over the small hill. The twelve lavvus that made up their settlement stood like a herd of proud deer in the valley below. The camp fires burned both outside and inside, making the settlement glow with an orange hue, reflected by the crystal white snow. The sight of home made her heart flutter with delight. It was a good life.
A hare skipped by, and as Elva looked for it, she spotted something else. Horse tracks, and plenty of them. She sighed, both with excitement and reservation. The Norsemen had ridden through the forest, following the path to the nearby Sami settlement. It was more than likely that a group of them would also soon stop by Elva’s tribe once they realized they had camped further into the valley this year.
A series of mixed emotions flew through Elva. The Norsemen always came by the winter settlement this time of year. It was usually a peaceful encounter, yet, since King Olav’s quest to christianize Norveg, the Sami’s relationship with the Norsemen was not without obstacles. The increase of those who had turned to the One God made it difficult to practice seiôr like her tribe had before. It used to make for good trades when the Noaidi of the tribe could tell fortunes and perform rituals without the threat of persecution. Most of the Norsemen had been baptized against their will, however, and a lot of them still wanted the Noaidi’s services. Elva wondered if this had changed since the Norsemen came to trade last.
Shaking herself, she stepped forward. The hare was long gone, and the pleasant smell of herbs was thick in the air. Her stomach growled at the thought of food as she sprinted down the hill. She waved at her uncles when all but flying past them before she stopped by a rack outside her lavvu. Carefully, she hung the fox onto the rack so that it could be flayed when it had frozen, then stroked it once more over its back. With a steadying breath, she pulled away the flap of her lavvu to enter the wall of warmth embracing her inside.
“Not a moment too soon,” Sirin said. “Did you intend to skip your chores?”
Elva shrugged. “There was this bird I had to bury.”
“I see. Well, supper is nearly done so you might as well pick up a bowl. The bird won’t be eating anymore, but you certainly have to.” Sirin sighed, shaking her head.
Elva looked around the small space. “Àhkku?”
Before Sirin had the chance to answer, Àhkku stepped inside. If possible, her mere presence made the lavvu even warmer.
“Ah, good,” Àhkku said. “It’s all done.”
“Yes,” Sirin grunted. “No thanks to either of you.”
Àhkku wiggled her eyebrows at Elva. “There was this thing I had to arrange.” She chuckled.
Elva burst out laughing, and the joyful trickling laugh from her grandmother followed.
A spoonful of stew landed in the bowl in Elva’s hands, splashing against the edges.
Àhkku put a hand on Elva’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about the fox. I’ll flay him for you. I’m sorry you had to kill him, today of all days. But he will serve his purpose.”
Elva was about to respond when Sirin slapped another portion of stew into the bowl next to Àhkku.
“There’s always something with you two. And yet you always seem to find the time to eat.” Sirin shook her head, though her lips were smiling. “However, I guess I can let you off the hook today.”
Elva studied the lines on her mother. She was too young for the number of lines on her face. Somehow the furrows seemed deeper that day, which they always did on Elva’s birthday. The loss Sirin had experienced eighteen winters back almost overshadowed the joy of gaining a daughter. Elva had certainly tried to make up for being her mother’s only child, and Sirin had never said anything. She didn’t have to.
The three of them finished their meal together, Elva and Àhkku taking their time and bantering playfully, to Sirin’s usual annoyance. Eventually she’d succumb and join in, but her smiles never really reached her chestnut eyes. It broke a piece of Elva’s heart every day that she could never fill the void her mother held somewhere inside her. Yet Elva was grateful for everything her mother did for her.
Àhkku winked at Elva. “You should go to sleep now,” she said. “I’ll wake you when it’s time!”
Elva’s drooping eyes widened for a moment. She could hardly wait, and would have stayed up if her body hadn’t been so tired. Sirin came over to tuck her in, as she always did. Elva was far too old to be tucked in, but it seemed to please her mother. Instead of complaining, she allowed Sirin to treat her like a toddler every night.
Elva closed her eyes, picturing the vivid lights that were about to fill the sky.