Something For The Pain
Later that night, at about the same time Hulda finally went to bed, Lilja died.
You don’t know Lilja, and now you never will. Too bad really. She was a great woman. Strong, kind, intelligent – with a smile that could melt ice. Beautiful too.
That’s what Sindri would tell you. Her husband.
He’s still here. He and his kids – their kids. They’re still hers too. Not even death can change that.
We’ll see them later. Njall and little Saga. Sindri too, of course, but not now.
Sure, Lilja had been ill for a long time. Sure, they knew it was coming. That doesn’t make it any easier. We can leave them alone for now, let them say their last farewells to their wife and mother in peace and quiet.
Their story can wait, but ours cannot.
Lilja really died though, and that’s important. First the boat that didn’t come back, and now this. The long night hasn’t even begun for real yet.
And Kala isn’t getting any better is she. The villagers aren’t getting any less worried.
– – –
Dagur made his way through the village down towards the harbor. A big round shadow in the moonlit night.
Walking was easy. A path had been cleared, but on both sides of it the snow lay thick – piled high against shed and house, smoothing out a landscape sharp with rock and boulder.
Stars twinkled above, and a pale white moon hung round and full above the northern horizon. If you ventured far enough out on the ice and the wind was right, you could hear the howling of the People, or so the stories held.
It was cold enough to freeze tears.
Dagur didn’t cry. He’d done it earlier, when no one saw, and he’d done it yesterday, when he’d heard his daughter in law had finally passed away.
He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.
It was difficult. Hard to think about.
It’s what he’d come out to do. Think. Go down to the harbor, check on the boat, have a look at the equipment, make sure everything was in order. Perhaps light a little fire on the pier behind the boathouse, have a drink and watch the flames.
He’d like that. There should be firewood in the boathouse. He’d put it there for moments like that.
Underneath the scarf and the beard, Dagur smiled. It was good to be prepared.
– – –
A fire. A stiff drink. It had been a good plan. He just hadn’t expected the stupid brothers to be there. Not that he minded them. They were good lads, but he’d looked forward to being alone with the night and the fire.
They’d already started. A small fire burned on the pier and on the split log bench beside it sat Otto and Harald. He recognized them even from where he stood at the corner of the boathouse, even with their backs to him.
Most likely they hadn’t seen him, but you still didn’t sneak off on people like that. Honest people said hello. In the dark, you were your voice.
Dagur cleared his throat. “Hello! Otto, Harald.” He raised a hand to wave, more from habit than anything else.
They’d been looking at the fire and wouldn’t be able to see him – moonlight or not.
“Dagur, is that you?” Otto’s voice came from over by the fire.
“It’s me.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked over.
“Harald. Otto,” he said as he arrived beside them. “Good evening.”
“Good evening Dagur,” said Harald, standing on the far side of Otto.
“Good evening. Dagur,” said Otto.
The fire crackled.
“Drink?” Harald leaned forward, reached out his arm, and offered Dagur a small flask.
Dagur took the flask, and put it to his lips. A vile burning liquid spilled onto his tongue, and he did his best to swallow as fast as he could. Strong.
He slapped himself over the chest with his free hand and coughed.
“Good?” said Otto, and took the flask from his hand.
Dagur nodded. He took a deep breath, blinked a few times, and nodded again. “Good.” Strong indeed. Vile as sin. Worst kind of rotten home brew. “Good,” he repeated.
You did not talk down on your neighbors brew.
Grinning, Otto took a swig of the bottle, grimaced, and handed it back to Harald.
Harald screwed the cork back on and put the flask back in his chest pocket, without drinking. It’d soon come out again.
On the pier, by their feet, the fire crackled.
Haralad shifted on his feet, rammed his hands into his pockets, and stared into the flames.
Dagur hunched up his shoulders, and then he let them slump again. He should have stayed in.
After a while, Otto cleared his throat. “Uhm… We heard what happened.”
Of course they’d heard. It’s not like it was a secret. Everyone knew. Lilja had been ill for months.
“We’re sorry,” said Harald, without looking up from the fire.
Beside him, Otto nodded.
“Thanks.” Dagur swallowed. “It helps.” Of course it didn’t, but it’s what you said.
And then they were silent again.
Harald brought out the flask, had a sip, and passed it on to Otto. He too had a sip, and passed it on to Dagur.
“Thanks,” said Dagur. He looked at the flask, and then up towards the sky.
He saw no stars, but the smoke from the fire rose straight up, bringing the occasional spark with it. Did they bring words of Lilja to the stars – the little sparks?
Soon, there would be a bigger fire, up on the hill. They’d set her soul free. See her away one last time with all the warmth and love they could give her.
Dagur put the flask to his lips and tilted his head back. One draught. Two. Might as well – horrid or not. His throat burned, and his mouth tasted like he’d tried to chew through a rusty nail.
“Actually,” he said, and smacked his lips. “It’s pretty bad.”
Both brothers froze. As one, they turned their heads towards him.
“I mean Lilja.”
The tension went out of the brothers and they turned back towards the fire. Harald squatted down and poked at a half-burned piece of wood, pushing it in closer towards the center of the fire. Otto shrugged and stomped his feet against the ground.
“The kids you know.”
Otto nodded. “How’s Sindri doing?”
“Sindri…” Dagur sighed. “He’s okay.” That wasn’t really true, but it was close enough, and the brothers didn’t need to know the details.
“Someone keeping an eye on him?”
Dagur nodded. They all did. Took turns. The entire family. “Yep.” He took another sip from the flask. “He’s been looking after Lilja and the kids on his own ever since Saga was born. He’ll manage.”
Bit of a stretch that. They’d all helped out. Sure, Sindri had done the bulk of the work, and Lilja had tried her best to help of course, but still. The boy couldn’t do everything himself.
Dagur puffed out his chest. He’d raised a good family – he and Thordis. They’d done good.
Strong healthy kids that had grown and started families of their own. They hadn’t lost a single one of them. Sindri, Gulli, Torrd, Stefan. All alive. Sure Sindri had land legs and couldn’t fish at sea, and Stefan had moved to Lurensborg, but they were still around. Not many families were so lucky.
Sindri would be fine. He’d just need some time.
“Yup,” he said once more, and took another sip of the flask.
It didn’t taste so bad anymore.
“I guess Gulli will be spending a lot of time at his place?” said Harald, still squatting by the fire, staring into the flames.
Dagur frowned. She would, probably. They all took turns. “Yes… Why?”
“Nothing… Just thinking… She’s been helping out a lot with Kala, right?”
Kala. The wandering misfortune.
“Aye. She has.” Dagur shifted on his feet and sighed. A toll it had taken on her too.
“Vissla be looking after the madgirl alone then?” Otto said.
Silence fell over the group again. Dagur handed the flask over to Otto, who took a big swig and then passed it on to Harald. No one liked to talk about Kala. Easier not to.
Harald too a swig from the flask and put it back in its pocket. Groaning, he pushed himself to his feet. “Still crazy, is she?”
“Uhm…” Dagur cleared his throat. The warm pride he’d felt thinking about his family pushed away by worries. “I don’t know…”
He didn’t – not really. Gulli didn’t talk about the girl much, and no one asked. They’d had enough to worry about what with Lilja being ill and everything, and now even more so.
There’d been a time when Gulli had refused to go see Kala at all, but that had passed, and she’d started going there every other day to help with the cooking. She was still uncomfortable talking about it though, so they’d stopped questioning her.
“They should get Fannar to come have a look at her,” Otto said. “I don’t know why no one’s called him here already.”
“Mmm…” Dagur hunched up his shoulders and shifted on his feet. He’d been to the train station to call a few days ago – early in the morning, just after Hulda opened, but Fannar hadn’t been around.
“It’s Vissla,” grumbled Harald. “She hates Fannar. If she figures anyone called him she’ll go berserk.”
“She’s crazy too that one,” said Otto. “Everyone knows that.” He paused and spat into the fire, and then he chuckled. “The crazy old hen feeding the mad chicken.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not that bad,” said Dagur.
Then again, no one wanted any more trouble than they already had. He’d brought Hulda a little gift to keep her lips sealed. It didn’t hurt to be on the safe side.
“They should just call Fannar,” said Harald. “He’ll know what to do about her.”
Dagur lowered his gaze. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared into the fire.
“The army,” said Otto.
“What?” said his brother.
“He should send her to the army. They’ll beat the crazy out of her.” He put his hands together and rubbed his palms against each other.
Harald chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure they’ll find some use for her alright.”
He reached inside his parka and pulled out the flask. Still grinning he took a big swig and passed it over to his brother. Otto tilted his head back, drank, and held the flask out for Dagur.
“Thanks.” Dagur reached out to take it, but stopped himself. “Actually. I should be heading back. Thanks though.”
He stepped back, half turned, and paused. He cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and then didn’t move at all – just stood there.
“Thanks,” he said eventually. “Good night.”