[The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, Anno Draconis: The Viking Saga of Litt Ormr (The Year of the Dragon). If you’re interested in reading the entire novel before it’s released on Amazon, then check out the page for the book, and sign up to be on the Launch Team)
From the chapter, Little Northmen
“I’m a northman warrior!”
Frances rounded the corner of the church. There, standing on an old gravestone in the churchyard, was Wilhelm, brandishing a large stick over his head, yelling at the top of his lungs, “I’m a northman!”
“Northmen are murderous cutthroats and heathens!” yelled Charles.
Oh Lord, thought Frances, What are they up to, now?
“Boys!” she said with firmness, without yelling. “What is this all about?”
“Wilhelm says he’s a northman, but real northmen are bloodthirsty heathens that eat babies, and burn churches, and drag off the women into bondage!”
“Oh my!” said Sister Frances, “Where did you learn such things?”
“My big brother, Roger, told me!” said Charles, with authority. “And he never lies!”
“I’m a northman! I’ll burn your house down and drag your mother into bondage!” yelled Wilhelm from his stone longship.
Frances was beginning to lose her composure.
“Get down, Wilhelm! And drop that stick!”
“And I’ll eat your baby sister!!” he yelled, figuring he had at least one more chance to get a word in before the wrath of Sister Frances came down upon him.
Frances reached up, grabbed his left wrist and yanked him down off the headstone, sending him sprawling on the sandy soil and grass. He quickly bounced back up and raised the stick one more time above his head, preparing to squeeze in one more pagan, northman-esque, exultation.
“WILHELM!” Frances screamed, “Put DOWN THAT STICK, NOW!”
All the wind left the boy’s sails. His chin dropped to his chest and his arms went limp, dropping his deadly northman sword to the ground. He stood there, silent, moping.
“Ha!” Charles spat, “You’re in trouble!”
“Charles!” Frances barked through clenched teeth. Charles went limp, like his friend, chin down, arms slack.
“Come here, both of you!” she barked at them. “The rest of you go play!”
The remaining village children, who had become increasingly interested in the Viking drama, scuttled off to find another amusement. Frances grabbed the two boys by the wrist and lead them to a fallen tree behind the church, and in the shade of another oak. It was getting warm already, that morning, the sun rising over the smaller houses and trees. The sound of bees and other insects buzzed in the air.
“Sit down!” she demanded. Both boys plopped down on the fallen trunk of what was once an ancient oak, the twin of the one shading them, now.
“Wilhelm, why in the name of the Father, would you ever want to be a northman?! They are, indeed, very nasty creatures, and heathens with no culture, or religion. They are untrustworthy, unwashed, and headed for hell and damnation. What on Earth possessed you to make such a claim? ‘I’m a northman,’ I’m sure!”
Charles took a quick intake of breath, and Frances could tell, by the look in his eye that he had something to say, but she was a long way from being interested in his testimony at that moment.
“Charles” she said, through clenched teeth, again, “I did not ask YOU.”
Charles’s lips snapped together with some effort and a grunt, and his chin returned to its resting place on his chest. Frances kept her right eye upon him, because she anticipated, and received, a second glimpse in his eye.
“Ehh!” was the only sound that escaped her mouth, a guttural noise, but Charles knew what it meant. Oh no you don’t! and he reconsidered his second thought, and sat still.
“Well, Wilhelm?” she returned her inquisition to the would-be northman. “Why do you want to be a northman?”
There was a long pause. Wilhelm screwed up his face to aid his thought process, as if the sheer effort would bring a suitable answer for the Sister.
“Well?” she repeated.
“Wellll,” he stalled, “I guess it’s ‘cause northmen get to do what they want?”
It was more of a question than an answer, but at least it gave Frances a line of inquiry.
“Hmmm,” she thought, “So you don’t like rules?”
“NO!” exclaimed Wilhelm, “Rules are stupid!”
He said it with such conviction that it was a monumental effort to withhold her laughter. Frances swallowed hard to keep from showing any sign of humor, shook her head and said, “Wilhelm, rules exist to keep you safe, and everyone else. And some rules are given to us by God and his son, Jesus. Those rules should never be broken.”
“Well, I don’t like rules.” he mumbled.
“Me either!” agreed Charles.
Frances shot a glance back to Charles, who quickly realized he’d just broken some unspoken rule, and that to do it again meant something dastardly, so he clammed up, again. This time for good.
“Sometimes rules are hard to follow, it’s true,” said Frances, “especially for young boys, but without them the world would collapse into chaos, and the Devil would rule. Do you want the Devil to rule the world, Wilhelm?”
The boy, naughty as he was, knew that nothing good came from the Devil, and this struck him deep.
“I didn’t really mean I was a northman, Sister Frances! I don’t want the Devil to rule! I just wanted to have fun instead of studying Latin!”
Frances could no longer hold her emotions. She burst out laughing, tears streaming down her face as she laid he rhands upon the two boys’s shoulders, who were now laughing, too. The three of them laughed for several minutes, before Frances broke the moment with, “Yes, there are times that I do not want to study Latin, either.”
“Really?” Charles asked, in awe.
“Yes, really,” she said, “Some times I wish I could skip lessons, too.”
“Wow!” said Wilhelm, “I thought that Latin was the only thing you ever thought about!”
Frances and the boys laughed, once more.
“Not nearly little one,” said Frances. “I think about lots of things. Some of them are even fun!”
“Can we do THAT instead of Latin, today?” asked Charles.
“You know what?” said Sister Frances, “Why not!”
“Yaaaaay!!!” the boys answered in chorus.
“Come with me,” Frances ordered, with a smile.
The boys jumped up from the trunk of the old oak, and trotted after Sister Frances, who was quickly walking towards the other children on the other side of the lawn.
“Students!” she yelled. Most of them stopped their play and turned to her, still chattering and laughing. “We’re not going to study Latin, today.”
This was followed by cheers and whoops from the group, quickly followed by a barrage of questions, “What ARE we gonna do? Where are we going? Is it gonna be fun?”
“Do we have to scrub the chapel floor?” asked young Louis, who had been assigned the duty several times for pulling his sister, Louisa’s hair. What self-respecting parents would name their two children the same name? thought Frances. She’d thought the question before.
Frances chuckled, “No, nothing so dreadful as that.”
“Everyone line up nicely!” she commanded.
The children began, slowly, to form something that more or less resembled a line. It was pretty sloppy.
“Come on now!” barked Frances, “That’s not a line! Can someone here give me the definition of a line segment?” This was something that every one of them should know from their geometry lessons.
“I know, I know, I know!” yelled Charles.
“Good!” said Frances, “Let’s hear it!”
“It’s a line that’s straight and not curvy?” he answered with a question.
“That’s a horrible answer, Charles” Frances responded, with a scornful face, tempered with a slight smile. She was in a good mood, and was determined not to allow her student’s lack of scholarship, ruin it.
“It’s the shortest distance between two points!” yelled little Julia, Wilhelm’s little sister, who was only five years old, and cuter than kittens in a basket.
“YES!” exclaimed Frances.
“YAAAY!” yelled Wilhelm, who picked up his little sister and spun her around in a victory dance. “My sister is smarter than you, Charles!”
“She is indeed very smart,” said Frances, “But it is not necessary to compare her to anyone else, Wilhelm.” She gave him a sharp look.
“Yes, Sister Frances.” He gave her a look of apology as he put his sister down.
“Alright! Since we have a definition, can we demonstrate it, here and now?” Frances continued.
The students slowly but surely, and with great chatter and commotion, began to organize themselves into a line in front of the Sister.
When they were sufficiently lined up, or at least as close as young children were ever going to be, she gave the command to move.
“Follow me!” she ordered, and marched off to the rear of the church. “We’re going down to the river!”
“YAAAAAY!!” the children screamed, and fell into step behind her, more or less in a line segment.
Frances led them down to the river a few miles and down the left bank to the docks just across from the city. There the children played along the shore, throwing rocks into the water, skipping flat stones.
“I can skip it all the way across!” boasted Charles.
“No you cannot!” yelled Wilhelm in challenge.
To that, Charles picked up a sizable, flat rock, and flipped it as hard as he could toward the city on the other side. It skipped four or five times, but only made it a quarter of the way before disappearing below the surface.
“Ha!” yelled his friend, “Told ya!” And then Wilhelm drew back his right arm, cocked his wrist, ran forward, and released his stone. It sailed a third of the way across the river before even touching the surface, then skipped five or six times before clunking into the side of a passing boat in the middle of the river, and dropped into the water.
“Hey!” the fisherman screamed, “Watch what you’re doing, you little heathens!” and went back to steering his boat down stream.
“Great throw!” Frances congratulated the boy, “But DO pay attention to where you’re throwing, next time.”
“Yes, Sister.” he replied.
Their teacher turned and went off to see what their fellow students were doing, leaving the two of them unattended, again.
“Come on, Charles! Let’s go check out all the boats down there on the bank!” said Wilhelm.
The two boys ran off down the bank of the river, about a hundred paces, till they came upon a row of fishing boats that always lined that section of the bank. There were probably forty or fifty of them, of various sizes, sunbathing by the river. Most of the fisherman had already returned from their early fishing runs that morning, though there were a few gaps in the line, boats that had not returned.
“We should take one out!” said Wilhelm to his compatriot.
“That’s stealing!” Charles pointed out.
“Not really,” said the would-be Northman, “We’re just borrowing it for a while,” he continued, with a grin.
“Yeah, I suppose that’s so. There’s no harm, if we bring it back, right?”
The two boys found a bright blue boat, small enough that they could move it, and were in the process of launching it from the sandy shore, when they were caught by the law, the Law of Frances.
“Wilhelm! Charles!” she screamed down the riverbank, “What in the name of Christ do you think you’re doing?!” I’m gonna have to say a few Hail Marys for that breech of the Commandments, she thought to herself as the blood ran to her face. She broke into a run to reach the boys before they could push the boat all the way out.
But the tone of her voice held them firm in their spot. They knew, instantly, that they had been caught doing something against the rules, again.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the Sister asked in between breaths. It had been quite a run to catch up with them, and she was not accustomed to running. It wasn’t something Sisters were expected to do, or indeed, encouraged to do. And it was a challenge in her robe, anyway.
“We were just gonna borrow this boat for a little while, Sister.” said Charles.
“Yeah!” agreed his partner in crime.
“Can one of you tell me the first requirement to ‘borrowing’ something that isn’t yours?” she asked, with a very serious look in her eye. “Well?”
The boys glanced at each other, hung their heads, thought about it for a few seconds, but were unable to conjure up the answer. Simultaneously, they raised their heads and shook them, side to side. It was almost comical.
“Hmmf!” the Sister grunted, “You must ask PERMISSION of the owner!”
“Oh yeah!” said Wilhelm, with a look of realization, as if he’d remembered where some ancient treasure was buried, or something of the sort.
“I told him it was stealing!” said Charles.
“Really?” asked Frances, with a bit of sarcasm in her voice. “And you went along with his scheme, anyway?”
Charles had a moment of realization, too, but not as enjoyable as Wilhelm’s had been. He suddenly realized that he’d condemned himself with his own testimony, and the look on his face was one of oh shite.
“So, you knew it was wrong, from the start, but you chose to ignore your conscience and commit thievery?”
“Uhhhh, yes Sister.” Charles’s chin was back on his chest. It was quickly becoming a favorite resting spot.
“You two are Nordmanni!” proclaimed the Sister. “Only scoundrels and heathens like the northmen, steal boats! Get your butts back with the rest of the group, or you’ll be scrubbing the chapel floor for the next month!”
The boys, with hanging heads, trudged back up the bank to the group, and sat down on a big rock, watching their friends play, laugh, and skip stones on the river.
“Now, sit there for a while, and contemplate your crime, and say some Hail Marys while you’re at it! I think you need to spend some time in confession with the Father when we get back!”