Age of the Barbarians
Five years later…
LANTERNS WASHED THE room in a drunken golden haze. The floorboards creaked like old bones beneath the shifting weight of his feet, while intricate wooden carvings made up most of the outer structure. Kristján kept his gaze low, pinned to the table that was still warm from the meager meal he’d had earlier. Rats scurried around his feet, while the stench of sour milk and sweat lingered in the air.
“That’s how it has to be, dearest.” Nathanial’s voice was like the soft strings of a melody. He reached a delicate hand forward, long slender fingers poised to touch, but skittered away like a cockroach at the last minute.
They haven’t touched in years. Two large men loomed by the door; their hulking statures were enough to make Kristján’s knees quake. Beady eyes drilled into him, and he caught a whiff of their open disdain. Filthy skrælingjar. Well, they could fuck off to hell and back. Yet still, Kristján snaked his hands beneath the table, hiding the talon-like claws and his perked ears flattened.
“B-but…” Kristján’s voice was tired. Weak. Nothing but a frail squeak of nonsensical sounds.
“Don’t you want to leave? Isn’t this the perfect opportunity?” Nathanial cut him off, a hint of impatience in his tone. “Come now, it won’t be for too long.”
The words made his head snap up. He gazed at Nathanial disbelieving before his eyes darted to the men by the door carrying heavy iron chains. A viperous grin slithered over Nathanial’s lips, and his black hair cascaded over his broad shoulders, pooling on his lap like ink. Pale as the moon, Nathanial’s peach blossom eyes were curved with mocking laughter, and his pink lips were the color of red wine.
“Cousin,” he half moaned and half pouted. “Don’t you want to do this favor for me?”
Acid sloshed around in Kristján’s stomach. Favor? How the fuck was any of this a favor? Nathanial always had this way of twisting things, downplaying the seriousness by cooing noises. The reality was that Kristján was being sent to his death and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
He wanted to spit, but instead, his hands curled around his ratty clothing. Nathanial’s shirt gaped at the collar into a large V-neck; his slender hands were those of prestige, while he dripped with diamonds and jewels. Kristján wished to the gods he’d choke on them.
A knot swelled in Kristján’s throat, and tears burned his eyes. This was it. There was no going back now. Nathanial was a Þrælar of nobility, his status worth more than gold. They both knew Kristján couldn’t refuse. Not if he wanted to keep his head and neck intact.
“It’ll be a few years at most,” Nathanial continued, drumming his fingers on the table. “You’ll be back before you know it.”
Kristján didn’t dare argue. If he did, he’d cut Nathanial to pieces in one fell swoop. Yet, Kristján refrained. He was smarter than that. Although they were cousins, the skrælingjar had no rights and Nathanial could decide to just kill him and be done with it. “Where…will they take me?”
Nathanial stood suddenly. He swept across the room, intoxicating the air with his sweet scent of pear cider. He walked towards an old picture hanging on the door. It was of the three of them when Nathanial came to visit as a child, towering over Kristján with their arms around each other, while Kristján’s mother hugged them from behind. Nathanial thumbed the photo gracefully, but his brow twitched and darkness clouded his features.
Fear seized him by the throat.
Kristján wanted to jump up and snatch the photo off the wall to stop him from crushing it. Nathanial’s mouth curled in disgust, before he pivoted sharply, forcing a waxy smile. “To Dalvík,” he said. “You’ll be back in no time. Now, I really must be going, so say goodbye and we’ll be on our way.”
Kristján choked on despair, tears brimmed before spilling over, but he hung his head and did what his cousin commanded. The journey to the backroom felt endless. Kristján felt as if he were walking in slow motion, his body on autopilot. Opening the door, his heart thundered in his chest when he took in his mother lying on the cot.
Kristján fell to his knees, fisting the blanket as he sobbed. Her pale skin was chalky, covered in a thin film of sweat while her cheeks were hollowed. Her lungs rattled with every breath, like the sound of coins in a basket, and Kristján knew this would be the last time he ever saw her.
Don’t be afraid, Mother used to say, cupping his cheek. Kristján’s mother had been raped by a jarl noble. When her Þrælar family found out, they disowned her, forcing her out of the house and into the streets. Skrælingjar were considered rare, an abomination due to the intense hatred between jarls and the Þrælar, a sick amalgamation fused with dark magic.
“Mother,” Kristján cried, burying his face in the cot. “I’m sorry.”
She got sick several months ago with yellow fever. Kristján worked at the factory for years before they fired him when new management took over. They didn’t want someone as disgusting as a skrælingjar to be seen by their customers. Kristján had been forced to do odd jobs here and there, but they never kept him for long and it was mostly out of pity.
“Dearest?” Nathanial called from the kitchen. “Are you almost ready?”
Kristján clenched his jaw so tight that it nearly snapped. He pressed a kiss to his mother’s forehead, inhaling deeply, trying to imprint the memory of her in his mind forever. Then he stood, gathered what belongings he could, and threw on his beige cloak. The white fleece shirt hung off his lithe frame. Apart from the tears and stains, it kept him relatively dry from the bitter cold.
Kristján’s pants stopped at his ankles and were torn at the kneecaps, while his shoes had more holes than anything else. He packed what he could, biting his lip as the tears refused to stop falling, and threw the knapsack over his back. He turned back to his mother lying on the cot, her body still as if she were asleep, but Kristján knew otherwise.
The doctor told him by tonight she would be dead.
There was nothing he could do. No burial. No gifts to Addum, God of the Moon. Nothing to guide her soul to the netherworld. Maggots already writhed in her toes, and the rats would feast on her tonight. A shudder ripped across his skin, but he forced himself to keep moving. He blew out the candles and turned off the lights; his heart clenched when the door was firmly closed shut.
Nathanial was pacing the kitchen, irises the color of liquid gold. “Finally,” he breathed out, but it was poised like a knife over his chest. “Come along now. Your new adventure awaits.”
Kristján wiped the tears from his cheeks; he felt chilled to the bone. “Who did you sell me to?”
“Never mind all that.” Nathanial waved his hand dismissively. He slipped the photo into the bag holding all of Kristján’s belongings. “It’s only for a little while, trust me. Now come, this place is making my skin itch.”
The man took his bag and clasped his hands in chains. Kristján kept his head low as they walked him out of the only home he’s ever known like a prisoner. At night the street was still bustling with people. Few stopped and stared, and Nathanial brought him to a small carriage, then pivoted abruptly.
“Oh,” Nathanial laughed, but something ferocious glinted in his eyes. “There’s no room inside! You understand, right dearest? Plus, you’re used to walking, aren’t you? The ride will be quick, don’t worry. We’ll just chain you to the back to make sure you don’t escape. I can’t have my asset running off now, can I?”
Crisp winter air slapped at his skin, snatching the little warmth he had left. Kristján bit his tongue until it bled. He said nothing as they chained him to the back of the carriage, and the horse took off at a moderate speed, slow enough for him to keep up.
Nathanial was always like this. He never cared. Even if they were cousins, to him Kristján was nothing. A yellow stain upon pure white snow. Nobody knew of their relations, and Nathanial would rather die than tell anyone. Grief settled like a shard in his chest. Kristján tried to breathe around it, but his lungs cinched tighter and tighter.
He looked back at his house, watching it fade in the distance until it became a speck.
Ridged fingertips and floral scents made the edges of his vision blur.
Nathanial had sold him to clear his debts.
As if his life was worth nothing more than a penny.
3 thoughts on “Chapter #1”
What I learned from this chapter is about how Kristjan was being sent to his dealth and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it… I feel like there should be a solution to that lol…. Interesting story?
What got me interested in this story is how Kristjan clenched his jaw so tight and how he pressed a kiss on his mother’s forehead… Great job
Take a look at the man who took his bag and clasped his hands in chains, why did Kristjan kept his head low?