I did not know the words yet I understood the language. I had looked into his eyes and immediately knew everything that was necessary for my survival. Follow his orders, burn everything, make them pay for the death of his father.
He recognized me somehow, knew me for his own and he smiled, clasping my hand in his as he threw his head back and laughed wildly clamping his other hand around the back of my neck he looked into my eyes and I was frozen, watching the small golden ring that circled the pupil of his left eye, writhing, alive in its own right giving the truth to his name telling me “Brenna þá, Finngeir! Sonur minn brenna þá alla!”
And with that he turned back to leading his men not hearing my whispered “já, Jarl Sigurd. . . ” I drew my sword and stumbled along after him to set the English village alight.
The dream was comforting somehow, but short lived. Maybe I just liked it because someone –even if he had to be a product of my fevered consciousness–managed to pronounce my name without making it sound like ‘finger’. The dream dissolved fully when I heard the lock click open. I was instantly awake, but kept my eyes closed.
“I know you’re awake.” Sarah said as she closed the door behind her “I heard the change in your breathing.” She smiled again as she sat down a small collection of tools in an aluminum pan and sat next to me on the bed. “Keep your voice down. There are guards outside that door.”
I nodded and let her tend to my wounds. “Thank you. . . for everything” I said in a voice scarce above a whisper. She nodded and yanked off the gauze that had welded itself to my side with blood. I think it was safe to assume that the guards outside were mollified with the sounds of pain coming from the room being so very genuine.
“You’re going to have to meet Michael soon. He leads here and is very . . . strict about his followers and their beliefs.” She paused until I nodded. She gave me the little prim smile I had seen earlier and swabbed the hole in my side. “I’m going to assume that since you haven’t tried to call the guards or disabuse me of the idea that you’re of a Pagan faith, that we’re on the same page here?”
She snorted laughter “Oh my. He would just love to hear that!” she shook her head and started putting her tools away. “You just keep that little nugget to yourself and maybe you can get out of here alive.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you doing this? Helping me?”
“I joined this group with my husband, Oscar, five years ago. Oscar and Michael knew each other from church and we all shared a desire to be prepared. We realized that things were going to get bad and we started looking for a place where we could ride out the worst of it.” She sighed tiredly “Michael had been buying property here and invited us and some others to come out before things finally hit the fan. Course we didn’t know then how loopy Michael would get. He’s convinced that this is God’s punishment somehow. He thinks he’s God’s Chosen One.” Almost to herself she said “I think that’s why he changed his name to Michael anyway.”
“What about you? You’re not one them? Not a Christian?” She regarded me cautiously for a moment before speaking.
“I’m a Deist. Like most of the Founding Fathers?” she waited until I nodded again. “That quote of Jefferson’s: it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg? That’s been my stance on it for more years than I care to admit to living.” Sarah stopped to make sure my dressing was secure and with a nod she stood and grabbed up her tools “Just make sure that you nod and smile when it’s appropriate. . . ” She hesitated and turned away before speaking quietly “since there is no rule of law here except that which Michael says it’s just better to go along. You don’t want to end up like the others.”
Sarah shook her head and would say no more. She knocked twice on the door and said “coming out!” stepping back as the door swung inward for her. She turned back before leaving and said “God bless. You get some rest and I’ll be back later.”
I waved her goodbye back and sat back against my pillow. “The fuck have I gotten myself into?” I opened the bible and pretended to read in case one of the guards stuck his head in. I was in the middle of a bizarre tale about the Christian God sending a bear to kill a bunch of children for making fun of a bald man when there was a knock at the door. I was surprised they would bother to knock but I responded anyway.
Odin or Preston, I guess poked his head in “You decent?”
“Yes sir.” I nodded and smiled as instructed, not sure who I could trust. I waved Preston to the chair by the bedside. “I owe you a debt of thanks. I’m glad you convinced your son to bring me back.” I smiled weakly. Sarah had given me some pills but I hadn’t thought to ask what they were. Now it occurred to me one of the things she gave me was a pain pill as I felt all floaty and kitten-weak.
Preston smiled and gave his long white beard a tug, squinting at me. “I reckoned we owed ya anyway. You’re with them Voulnteer boys, right? I saw the remains of your uniform. . . ”
I nodded and decided that a lie might serve me much better than truth here. “I was with them, but they gave me leave. I was trying to get up north to check on my family. . . ”
That earned a smile. “Figured it had to be something like that. You don’t look like no deserter, but bein’ shot in the back like you were I kinda had to wonder.”
I tried to think how to explain that to him when I didn’t know what happened myself. “We were engaged with another militia gr–” I was cut short by another knock at the door.
A small round face with close set dark eyes peered into the room. “Hello brothers! How is every little thing?”
Preston turned back a smile plastered on his face “Michael! Just talking to our new friend here. Come on in, brother. Sit here, please.” Preston vacated his seat and waved Michael over.
Michael took the proffered chair and smiled at Preston, looking at him for several moments without saying a word.
“Oh! Pardon me, folks!” Preston gave me little wave and started to exit the room “Hope to speak to you again, soon.”
Michael waited a moment longer after the door closed and turned toward me. “Well, praise Jesus! You have the whole flock set a flutter!”
He smiled an oily little smile and extended his hand “Hello brother! My name is Michael.”