Morning's First Frost
My vow of wrath fed the insatiable beast within. Its embrace held me steady amid the surrounding chaos. Swords slashed armor. Putrid scents of scorched flesh and blood violated my nose while the ashes rained from above. Weeping mothers scrambled over the corpses of their beloved.
Those were my unseen memories that blew away with the breeze.
“Did you hear me?” Ingrid asked, annoyed that I barely heard her for God knows how long. She rolled her eyes before asking, “What is it that has your attention now?”
“It is times like this when I miss mother the most,” I replied softly.
I stared at the frost-covered grass that shimmered under the light. Small patches of uncovered wild grass escaped the morning frost with help from the sun. The nearby stream gurgled and spat cold mist into the air.
“Frost is a timid creature. You will frighten it away with your warmth and ruin its beauty,” we recited Mama’s words in unison.
Ingrid recounted, “That did not stop you from leaving your handprints on the grass.”
I sighed in remembrance. Those days were long gone. Since then, we have adapted to the cruelty under the guise of adulthood. Our childhood innocence deserted us, as it did every other person.
“This chilly wind makes me want to race,” Ingrid grinned and tightened her grip on her horse’s reins. She pulled them until her balking white mare, Unna, obeyed. The wooden beads that decorated her mane and tail rattled. Three, two... I kicked once to start my horse into a gallop.
Heidrun leaped into the air. Steamy clouds of warm air rushed from her nostrils. Energetic chills zipped down my back as we passed my sister in a colorful blur. My cloak hood fell back to the wind comb through my tangled locks of fiery curls.
“Victory!” I resounded breathlessly with flinging hands above my head.
Ingrid’s scream became muffled by the sound of splashing waves. My sister toppled in the stream. Her fight with the rushing current seemed close to an end. The water sucked her backward, deeper into the current. A nearby stranger, who was much closer to her than I, descended from his horse and ran to her aid. He lifted Ingrid out of the water in a single swoop without caring about the mess that ensued. Ingrid swayed when he placed her back on her feet. Her winter dress clung to every curve of her body.
I hurried next to her to see how many layers we needed to remove. A single wool layer atop cotton linen clung over her spring chamise. I bit my tongue to stop me from chastising her for being too careless with her attire. Ingrid retorted through chattering teeth, “I had no intention of taking a cold bath t-today.” Water droplets trickled down the folds of her wool skirt like crystal beads against her shaking legs.
“It will keep you warm.” The man held out a fleece blanket. She accepted gracefully despite her trembling arms.
“I appreciate your kind service, but please look away.”
He tilted his head in confusion. “Look away?”
“Turn away from her nakedness,” I ordered, making circular motions with my fingers. Our new companion’s cheeks flushed a rosy pink before he spun around. With haste, I pulled her boots off her feet while she struggled to remove her wool top. The young man watched as if he had never seen a woman before.
Ingrid’s skin was untouched by any blemish, and her damp hair clung to her neck like teeming ivy atop an ancient castle wall. He watched her as she wiggled down to her underdress, hoping to catch a longer glimpse of her body. But, he spun around when a soggy boot flew past his shoulder.
Ingrid gasped in horror and pinched my freckled ear. “Sigrid!” She hissed low enough to keep her savior from hearing.
“I suppose I should work on my aim once we settle in,” I mumbled in return. Ingrid stripped off her wet under linen then carefully laid it on a rock. She moved as graceful as a swan even though she did something as simple as laying soiled clothes to dry on a rock.
“I can’t wear this,” Ingrid declined the dry top-dress I offered. “What will keep you warm from the icy air?”
“My skin is tough enough to last the coldest winter.” I grabbed a handful of Heidrun’s food supply, dry crisp hay, and stuffed them into my boots before placing them in front of Ingrid’s curled blue toes. “Just wear them.”
Ingrid looked pained, but she accepted them. A small sigh of relief escaped her when she wiggled her toes in the boot. I redirected her attention to our guest.
“Thank you, for saving her,” I said as I took the dripping boot from his hands.
He replied, “Ah, may she be healthy and happy now. I was only doing what any good man would do.”
I scoffed at his response. A good man, my ass. “Where are you traveling to?” Ingrid asked demurely. I eyed her suspiciously but remained quiet.
“I am to be married in Dovre.”
I interjected out of curiosity, “To what family?” I tried to speak softly, like Ingrid, so I did not frighten him more than I already had. Throwing a shoe at him was not the best impression to make, but I considered myself justified.
“I do not recall the name. I must go to my uncle before I can meet my bride.”
He avoided my gaze by glancing at his damp tunic, his horse, the budding sprouts tucked beneath the large river rocks, and even the decomposing leaves under his boot.
“What kin do you have in Dovre?” Ingrid asked.
“I am kin to Father Eilif. He sent for me a fortnight with a message of a bride.”
“Ah Well, I hope you have enough silver for the mundr.” Fayi, the most recent girl who wed last spring, gained half her weight in silver, two healthy milking cows, and a grand feast paid by her groom. The whole town considered it the grandest wedding they had experienced in years.
“That’s a costly woman,” he noted casually.
“Well, it’s a fair trade when you’re taking her away from the only family she’s known,” I disputed. It was too little of a payment for a woman. Ingrid interrupted me before I fueled the argument about the many disadvantages of marriage.
“I would like to thank you, formally, for your rescue. I am Ingrid, daughter of Halvar and Ylva of Dovre. And my sister, Sigrid.”
He replied with a squeaky, “Halmund, son of Father Eil—I mean son of Forli.”
I nearly burst into laughter at his odd behavior. Men grew flustered in Ingrid’s company. Those who knew us viewed my sister as the angel, and I, the boisterous imp that guarded her.
We were born of the same womb, and shared some similarities, but not enough to be the same person. Her body remained untouched by the many freckles that stained my skin from head to toe. Willowy waves that were softer, and tamer, than my fox-hair curls, cascaded past her shoulders down to her lower back.
“We better be off,” I prompted. The chilly air finally numbed my toes so much I barely felt them at all. Thin needles pricked the tips of my feet and heels when I maneuvered into Heidrun’s back. Halmund jumped on his horse and offered a hand to Ingrid, “I noticed you are without a horse; Would you like to join me?”
“ No—” I started, but Ingrid jumped to take his hand. He hoisted her onto his horse, who disliked the idea as much as I did, and clicked his tongue to move forward. “We needn’t travel far. Dovre is beyond those trees,” I said to my inattentive companions.