The silence is disturbed. Fire is cracking, and hungry ravens are preparing for a hunt. The air is salty and humid as if it was about to rain. The moon shines over the huts where the children are sleeping whilst mamas and papas are telling them stories about the gods. It is all well and natural in Hvitsund. Another regular day has passed. But it’s not only the caws of ravens and sweet goodnight whispers that break the silence.
Soft but steady footsteps of a large figure that sound almost unearthly add up to the cacophony of the night. The humanly silhouette obviously knows where he’s headed, but something stops him halfway, as if he needs to be reassured if it’s the right thing to do. But the moment passes and the human disappears in the forest shadows, leaving only shallow footsteps in the wet ground behind. He hesitates for a second, but then knocks at the pine door twice and enters the hut. The burning fire from the inside lights up as if it tries to undress the figure of his darkness, but then the door shuts closed. It smells of sage and fresh bread.
“I did not expect you” - a womanly voice from the back of the hut welcomed the passenger.
“You’re the only one that should expect me at this hour” - the figure sighed sharply.
The woman smiled wryly but the man wasn’t able to see her. She didn’t even turn her head towards him.
“Sit” - she said.
The man did as he was said without a doubt. His glossy eyes were wandering around the walls of the hut, counting all the different herbs and plants hanging above.
“Jon is worried about you.” - she said whilst brushing off her hands in her skirts.
“You cut your hair.” - he answered immediately.
“You should go see him.”
“Did the gods told you to do so?” - with a hint of mocking in his voice he smirked at her back.
In one sudden move she graciously turned to him and looked him right in the eye.
“Do not speak of the gods like that in my presence.” - her breathy voice sounded louder than it should have.
Her twitching eyes looked soft but serious and the man turned his gaze away; he knew he crossed the line again.
“What do you want, Nikolas?”
Nikolas turned locked his eyes on her again.
“Do you have anything for me?”
“What do you mean?” - she stood up from the ground and walked to the window.
“Please don’t be a bitch.” - Nikolas stroked his braided amber beard.
She walked and sat next to him, taking hold of his left hand and exposing a fresh clotted wound on his palm. She lightly brushed her fingers through it with her eyes staring at his chest as if she could see his heart pounding.
“I don’t want to hurt you again” - she murmured with raspberries in her voice. The woman’s face frowned but her voice carried no emotion at all.
“Una, please.” - he took his hand from her palms and caressed her back firmly.
“You will regret this.” - she backed off and moved to the window again. “Jon will know.”
He was clearly confused. Nikolas stood up and tried to get hold of Una’s hand but she spanked his fingers. She smiled suggestively at him.
“How?” - he leaned closer.
“Because he’s behind the door.”
“What?” - Nikolas squeaked under his breath. He shrugged his well-built shoulders, appearing rather ridiculous.
Una glanced at him, raised three white fingers graciously in the air as if about to count. Her lips were moving without a sound:
One of the fingers was down to the fist.
Nikolas was terrified, his eyes moving back and forth from Una’s hand to the wooden door.
“Two” - she too gazed at the door and lowered her second finger.
“One” - she finally said, then hesitated for a moment, gave Nikolas a wry smile, and lowered her third finger.
Three rhythmic knocks at the door. Una glanced at the chair where Nikolas was sitting before. He sat without hesitation and stroked his beard nervously. Una opened the door to find Jon waiting patiently.
“Hello, witch.” - he smiled, lowered his head at her, and welcomed himself in the hut.
“Hello, hunter.” - she returned the smile. “It so appears that we’ll have company.”
Una was still looking at the door as if she can see something. The hunter took his coat off and dropped it on the floor by Nikolas’s feet. Their navy blue eyes were almost sparkling - none of them could lower their gaze from each other.
“Witch,” - a man began. “What is he doing here?”
Jon was still eyeballing Nikolas when he spoke, implying that he is not welcome here. Sincere grudge was filling up the hot air. The witch finally dropped her gaze from the door and noticed the bad aura around.
“Did you bring thyme?” - she said.
“Answer me first.” - Jon hasn’t moved since the moment he saw Nikolas.
He brushed his dirty chestnut hair away from his face, eyes still glued on the other man. Uncomfortable silence fell on the shoulders of the trio. Even the air appeared motionless and static - nobody dared to move.
“She did not expect you tonight!” - Jon roared at Nikolas.
He was about to bawl back when Una stopped him mid-sentence. She took their hands, one in each of her own, glanced at them both, and whispered.
“Brothers, either leave or enjoy our gathering tonight.”
Her eyes were twitching so rapidly as if they were about to explode. A sudden gust of wind blew the heat, spicy smells, and intensity away from the house, leaving the inside cool and robust. She then closed her pulsating eyes to rest and let go of the brothers’ hands.
“Now.” - she turned to Jon, her eyes still closed. “Did you bring me thyme?”
“I did.” - he poked into his pockets looking for it.
She nodded, and turned to Nikolas.
“Do you still want to do it?”
“Do what?” - Jon interrupted.
“It is none of your business. Sit and wait.” - Una dropped.
She cupped Nikolas’s hands in her own, stroking his fingers softly. Nikolas tried to say something but shut his mouth the moment he caught Jon’s gaze. He looked at Una and whispered:
Una dropped Nikolas’s hands and turned to Jon:
“You have to leave.”
“Are you serious?” Jon was obviously upset. “We arranged this meeting.”
“Someone uninvited is hanging in the woods.” She spoke with a rather concerned face.
The hunter immediately stood up, appearing slightly anxious and uneasy. He took his cloak off the floor, and left the hut smashing the door behind. The distress from Nikolas’s face vanished the moment the squelching of Jon’s boots blended with the sounds of nature.
“How..?” Nikolas began but he Una spoke before he could finish.
The man sighed deeply and turned his gaze at Una, who was already laying down special herbs and spilling stinky tinctures on the floor in front of him. They both kneeled down and got comfortable around the fire pit.
Nikolas was unbraiding his beard, his look seemed both serious and foolish. Una dropped a short twitching gaze at his hands and passed him a hazelnut.
“Put this in your mouth.”
He did as he was told. Una then plucked a couple of hairs from her whitish head and placed them in a mixture of herbs she prepared earlier. Nikolas seemed captivated by her simple moves, but then suddenly shook off the oblivion, plucked an auburn hair from his beard, and passed it to her.
The silence was comfortable, as the companions enjoyed each other’s presence. Even the tiny fire in the room appeared to be crackling joyfully, undisturbed by strong gusts of wind.
Una stretched her arms towards Nikolas, and he grabbed them, forming an imperfect circle around the fire.
“Close your eyes, Nikolas, we will pray.” Una whispered, and he did.
“May the gods of Asgard guide your steps towards their gates.” They began in unison, with Nikolas voice disrupted by the nut in his mouth.
“In your journey, may it be safe and filled with light. May you find strenght from Thor in your darkest hours. May you find wisdom from Odin in times if confusion” Una dropped a glance at Nikolas for a short moment, and then shut her eyes close once again.
“May you find beauty and lasting bonds from Freya and Frey.”
Nikolas hesitated for a second, and then continued with Una: “May your web be spun tightly with that which makes you stronger, happy, and wise.”
“And may the gods always look upon you with good grace.” They finished the prayer with a soft sigh.
A short minuted passed and Una languidly declared:
“Nikolas, son of Tjorvi, take a hair of a woman, generously donated, and feed it to the fire of this home.”
Nikolas took Una’s hair from the ground and gracefully dropped in the fire. A sonorous crack and unbearable heat filled the hut. Neither Una, nor Nikolas seemed surprised, and thus continued.
“Una, dottir of Thorstar, take a hair of a man, willingly gifted, and feed it to the fire of this home.” Nikolas spoke directly at Una.
She opened her fluttering eyes, took Nikolas’s amber hair and descended it in the pit. Differently than with Una’s, the fire reluctantly burned the curly hair of Nikolas and crammed the room with blue sparks and chill. The couple looked at each other with obvious concern in their eyes.
“Chew the nut.” She whispered firmly.
With no hesitation, Nikolas loudly grinded the hazelnut with his teeth and gulped it. A thick, hot scent of fresh blood tickled Una’s nostrils - painfully familiar.
She let go of his sweaty right hand, and flipped the left, exposing the wound on his palm. The man slowly gave the tiny woman his beloved knife. She took it and chiseled the wound wide open.
He knew what to do next, and thus clammed his aching palm into a fist, and moved it over the fire, letting his blood drip and combine with the flames. The smell of blood became so awfully intense that it almost made the two gaggle.
“Describe what you see.” She breathed weakly, brushing her golden hair away from her face.