The Chieftain's Daughter
A newborn girl let out her first cry. Born in a hut overlooking the ocean, her voice rang outside the walls. She was born with striking emerald eyes, ivory skin with a amorphous dark birthmark on the back of her left thigh, and a mess of lemon colored hair atop her head. Her mother cradled the baby in her arms. Tears streamed down her reddened face; some from the pain of childbirth, but more for the joy of seeing her daughter for the first time. The mother smiled through the tears as she held her child close.
“Congratulations, Eir,” said the lady who helped deliver the baby. Her name was Fiola, and in her old age she helped the women in the village of Kyst with their children. “It’s a beautiful, healthy girl.”
“She’s wonderful,” Eir crooned. “Ormbridir’s going to be so happy when he sees her.”
Eir looked towards the open door of the hut. Her home was within view sitting one hundred feet away, and it was there her husband would arrive in a matter of minutes. Ormbridir, the chief of Kyst, left two weeks ago with one hundred and nineteen other men to do battle with pirates. He led his men into battle whenever a fight presented itself. Those pirates who had killed several fishermen from Kyst became the targets of Ormbridir’s wrath. The day before Eir entered labor, a lone warrior drifted in a sailboat to inform the villagers of Ormbridir’s impending return. None informed the man that Eir was soon to give birth to her child.
“Do you have a name yet?” Fiola asked.
“Ormbridir and I have thought of a few, but he hasn’t told me his final decision,” Eir replied. “I’m sure that he’ll choose a wonderful name for her.”
Eir’s pale face glowed like embers in the light of the fire as it burned in the hearth. She looked out towards the shore with eyes floating on the horizon. They rolled with the waves in search of a ship’s mast billowing with the wind, her heart beating a steady, moderate pace as she awaited the return of her husband. Her eyes turned back to her newborn daughter as her wistful anticipation gave way for the boundless adoration she felt as she smiled at the infant. The still-unnamed child grew quiet and calm as Eir stroked her cheek.
A quarter-mile south of Fiola’s hut, a great ship with the head of a dragon landed ashore. Men poured from the deck and hull as they greeted the dry land they hadn’t felt in two weeks. They were fair-haired with pale skin that saw little sunlight even during the summer. Axes, hammers, spears, and swords clinked in their scabbards and buckles as the men departed down the ramp. Leather and furs covered them head to toe, though some wore little more than skirts fashioned from the hide of a bear, deer, or wolf. Goosebumps marked their arms. Round wooden shields with metal heads trembled on their backs as they marched home to Kyst.
Leading the horde was a man who stood two heads taller than the second tallest man in the group. His beard fluttered like a flag in the wind. Braids flanked his head while the rest of his blond hair flowed down his back like a waterfall. He carried a spear in one hand as he marched. A sword hung in its leather scabbard, tapping against his thigh every few steps. As the houses of Kyst neared, he paused and turned to face his men. The pack froze where they stood. Their leader’s pale green eyes seemed to glow in the gloomy overcast sky.
“Men, once more we have defeated those who dared to stand against us,” his voice boomed. The warriors listened with crude and vulgar grins while muttering agreements and nodding their heads. “While we have arrived home to our wives and children, those feeble worms of the sea now lay rotting in Aegir’s realm! I commend each of you for your strength in battle; we’ve not lost one man despite sustaining a thousand wounds. Let us celebrate with the finest meat and mead we have while our foes feed the sharks!”
The Vikings let out a brief, thundering roar that echoed in the village. Their fists raised towards the cloud-cloaked sky as their eyes flashed briefly with the madness that served them in battle. Fleeting was the ring of their war cry as the echo extinguished into the wind. They continued marching as their chief turned and led them to the village. His beard covered his smirk. He held his head high as his chest swelled and his pride brimmed on his face.
The warriors reached the outskirts before they paused once again. This time, their chief halted at the arrival of an aged and wrinkled man named Thulin. All men in the village, including chief Ormbridir, gave pause if they were approached by Thulin. He held an honored position as one who could speak to the gods. Prophecies sent to him by the deities of Asgard and Vanaheim came to pass in time, even if it took decades after his words were spoken. Although seventy with a beard as white as the mountain tops and no hair atop his head, he carried himself as though equal in strength to a warrior.
“Ah, you honor me with your presence, old Thulin,” Ormbridir greeted with his grin evolving into a prideful smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Ormbridir, I see you’ve returned safe from battle; the gods smile on you,” Thulin replied. “Still, it seems that you do not hold such reverence for them.”
Ormbridir stroked his beard in thought. He shrugged and said, “I do not wish to offend the gods, truly; I’ve done my best to serve them well in battle.”
“Yes, you may cry the name of Thor and express desire to reside in Odin’s hall, but you have done nothing in terms of action.” Thulin’s pale blue eyes squinted. Sparks ignited behind them as he took several steps toward Ormbridir. “My chief, when is the last time you made a sacrifice to Aegir for safe journeys across his sea? When did you last offer a sacrifice to Odin so might impart wisdom unto you? Once finished with battle, did you truly give glory unto Thor or did you praise yourself and your own men? I have made small mentions of these to you in the past, yet you’ve heeded none of them.”
Ormbridir’s smile vanished. His brow furrowed as his face scrunched. “I am aware I’ve neglected to honor the gods at times, but don’t think that I do not honor them. If I did not, would they have granted me success in battle time and time again?”
Thulin bowed his head. “Four years since you sacrificed a ram upon the ship’s bow; three since you offered a captured prisoner for Thor; six since you last paid for wisdom with your own blood. The gods have taken notice of your laxity. They believe it might have been a mistake to grant you further victories in hopes you would remember those who are truly responsible for your success.”
Ormbridir’s right arm twitched as he stopped himself from swinging his first towards Thulin, but he couldn’t stop himself from baring his teeth as he growled, “What are you trying to tell me old man? Do the gods command penance? Surely they wouldn’t have made you the first of my village to greet me, and with such disdain as well, unless they demanded satisfaction.”
Thulin shook his head the snarling chief. He turned away from Ormbridir and took several strides into the village. Once twenty feet of ground lay between him and Ormbridir, he turned and glared at him with a furious blaze that grew from the embers behind his eyes.
“The gods have made their decision! Through the wisdom of Odin and counsel of the Norns, they have decreed that you shall be the last in your bloodline to hold any power in the realm! Your sons shall die before they sire children, and you yourself shall be slain by your own blood. No, it shall not be by the hands of one of your sons, but by those of your newborn daughter. She who was born but an hour ago will bring death upon you and any who stand by your side. What say you?”
Ormbridir stood stunned silent. His men turned and looked at each others, but like a group of mutes they said nothing. Thulin stood silent among them awaiting Ormbridir’s response. He remained still as a statue as the seconds dragged before approaching Thulin with clenched fists. Eyes ablaze to match Thulin’s, Ormbridir stared down at him.
“Let’s see how well this prophecy shall stand.” Ormbridir grumbled. He turned to his men and shouted, “Go home to your families! The longhall shall be prepared in a moment’s notice!” The warriors started for their homes, but their eyes remained on the chief as he stomped towards Fiola’s hut. His palm rested on the pommel of his sword.
Fiola, Eir, and the unnamed child rested in silence in the humble house. While the infant remained quiet with soft breathing and closed eyes, Fiola’s hands were clasped in anticipation. Eir’s smile beamed across her face as she watched the door. The first creak of the door made Eir squeak as Fiola held her breath. Neither heard the lamentable sigh pass through Ormbridir’s lips as he opened the door. His eyes first went to his daughter, then to Eir, and finally to Fiola as she grabbed his wrist and welcomed him.
“Have you heard from anyone else?” Fiola asked. “The news of your daughter’s birth spread around all of Kyst in a matter of minutes.”
“Yes, Thulin told me,” Ormbridir replied in a low voice. “Fiola, may you leave me alone with Eir? I wish to speak to her in private.”
Fiola nodded and waved goodbye to Eir. Ormbridir faced away from the glowing face of his wife as she sat up and presented their daughter.
“Welcome home, dear,” she greeted. “She was born just an hour ago. Isn’t she beautiful?”
Ormbridir’s hand remained still on his sword. His fingers curled around the pommel as he looked at the peaceful face of his sleeping daughter. He nodded, silent as he averted his gaze from Eir. Her smile cracked as he groaned.
“Is there something wrong, dear?” she asked.
Ormbridir remained silent for several moments before answering, “It’s something that Thulin told me. He says the gods have cursed me for not properly serving them. According to him, that girl you’re holding is going to kill me.”
Eir’s joyful face crumbled further. She brought her daughter close to her chest as Ormbridir turned to face her. He made no effort to hide the hand on his sword.
"Dear?" Eir whispered. Ormbridir took a step forward, his hand unmoving.
"Eir, I have to protect us," Ormbridir rumbled. "This curse this girl will bring upon us won't only effect me; our sons will die if this child lives." The blade of his sword scraped against the scabbard as he let an inch out from the wood.
"Ormbridir!" Eir shouted. Her voice buzzed in his ears. His eyes flew wide as his hands shot away from his sword. No tears formed in his eyes as he stared at his tranquil daughter and his panicked wife. She dared not stand, not in her current state, but she held her daughter away from Ormbridir as he sheathed his sword.
"Eir..." he started.
"How could you think of harming your own daughter?" Eir demanded. "If you have angered the gods, make peace with them! What kind of warrior raises his sword against his infant child? Are you trying to send yourself to Hel?"
Ormbridir kept in a deep breath. He unbuckled his scabbard and tossed the sword across the room. Eir shifted herself closer to the wall as Ormbridir approached her. She squeezed her eyes shut as Ormbridir reached his hand out toward the child's head. Her heart raced as she awaited a sound, a noise, or a swift twisting feeling in her arms.
No such sound came, nor did she feel any force against her daughter. Eir's eyes opened with hesitation. Ormbridir petted the top of the child's head, brushing it like the head of a dog. A rumble rolled in his throat.
"I will not harm this child, Eir," Ormbridir mumbled. "However, I will take her as my own." He stood and backed away to give Eir space to breathe. She brought her knees as close to her chest as she could, shielding the child with her legs. Her smile began returning.
"My love, this child will bring us both joy, I'm sure of it," Eir said in an attempt of reassurance.
"No; she may bring you joy, but not I," Ormbridir murmured. "If I do not accept this child as my own, perhaps the gods will find another way to bring me punishment; maybe. Still, they must know that I do not speak empty words." He took the child from Eir, gently holding the baby in his hands.
"Don't hurt her, Ormbridir," Eir begged. Her fingers intertwined with one another. Ormbridir said nothing in reply to her plea. He got onto his knees and raised the infant to the sky, throwing his head back as he stared out the window and at the darkening clouds.
"Gods of Asgard and Vanaheim, hear my voice!" Ormbridir commanded. "Your prophet has imparted your message, and I give you my response. This child is no child of mine. She is the daughter of Eir bestowed upon her by Freyja, to whom this child is offered! Bring upon me a new form of punishment, as the penance your oracle brought to me has grown as useless as a leaf with no tree. I have no daughter; this is not my kin, for I bestow upon her the name of Syn!"
Eir gasped. Ormbridir bowed his head as he lowered the infant. He handed her back to Eir as teared welled in her eyes, for the name Syn in their language meant "refusal".