The Wanderer and the shield maiden

05May15

shieldmaidenThe mountains around the fjord cut the crystal blue air like shards of glass. For once there was not a puff of cloud and Anneke fancied that she had only to reach out her arm to touch the sky. It was hard to leave on such a day but there was nothing for her now in Gottheim, for she was sure no one there really loved her.

On such a day as this it would have been fitting to leave by ship, it certainly felt like a funeral, but there were none to be had and in any case who would have taken her? Instead she had thrown on some of her brothers clothes and slipped away into the forest.

His shield had been too heavy for a long journey but his short sword hung comfortingly at her hip as she stepped into the emerald shade of the heavy pines. The smell was cloying and too sweetly stank of defeat. Furthermore the townsfolk talked of trolls and dark aspects of the fey always ready to bring down a lone traveller, especially a woman. Anneke shuddered and almost turned back.

“Where is your courage?” she muttered and then more loudly, “Come on then, do your worst.”

This last shout echoed back to her as if someone else was calling.

“Is there anyone there?” she called again.

“Is there anyone there,” came the reply as close as a sail on the wind.

Anneke laughed mirthlessly and sneered. Then flicking a wheaten blonde braid behind her ear she extended one long leg and decided to make some progress.

There were no tracks to follow and the young woman only made progress by fixing her gaze upon the furthest tree and walking straight for it as her brother had taught her. Only the gods knew where this would guide her and within a few hours she was deep into the wilds beyond the mountains enclosing Gottheim’s fjord.

From time to time a sound would startle her and Anneke would draw the sword and half-expertly wheel around to face some imagined foe. But always the stag or other creature was too quick for her and she would not even see it.

“Lucky for you,” she would yell, but glad all the same that the beast had fled.

A night and another day passed in this way, always there were unimaginable creatures and always they were gone when Anneke confronted them.

It was late into the afternoon before she heard the onrush of water and after some searching she found the track that led to the sound. By then she could smell too the smoke and the pungent tang of fish cooking.

For a moment she pondered going on without stopping. After all here might be… what, she chided herself, no outlaws dwelt so close to Gottheim, none that she did not know anyway.

“I am Anneke Bjorkdotter,” she yelled, “Shield maiden and free woman of this forest.”

But no answer came and Anneke froze. To draw a sword before seeking hospitality was a great sin and had no honour to it. Yet a woman alone walking into a stranger’s camp should take precautions. It was certainly a dilemma, she thought as he hand strayed to the sword hilt and gave it a tug.

“What are you going to do with that?” asked a sudden and firm voice.

On instinct Anneke drew her blade and whirled around ready to fight.

The man was not old exactly, certainly still young enough to be a warrior, but despite his powerful fighting build his face was etched with wisdom and he had the look of a seer or healer or…

“You were asked a question daughter,” the man said sharply as impatience touched his voice.

Anneke flushed as she levelled the blade as if to strike. But seeing the man leaning against a tree and folding her arms she felt foolish and not a little rude. She pouted and after risking a glance to her sword belt, she guided the short sword home to its sheath with both hands. Then she shrugged.

“I do not like asking questions twice, more than that and there will be consequences,” the man warned.

Anneke saw no weapons or any particular threat at all. True the man was large, but he was no giant. He wore his hair long and unbound, excepting that he wore a large wide-brimmed hat like no other she had ever seen. The most striking thing about him was his right eye, which looked as if it had once been gouged out and replaced with another. It was enlarged and a milky white film covered his iris.

On his shoulder sat a large raven with a polished beak and two eyes of its own that never left off gazing at the woman before it.

“You startled me,” Anneke said sullenly, an attitude she tended to adopt when it was she who was in the wrong.

“Have you come to rob me then?” he said, but she thought he was mocking her.

“No I… I hoped to trade for some fish…” Anneke said with a lick of her lips and toss of her head in the direction of the smoke rising above the nearby treeline.

“Trade is it?” the man chuckled.

“Well I…” Anneke realised, as did the stranger, that she had nothing to trade with.

“Come on,” the man laughed, “I have plenty to spare.”

“What is your name?” Anneke asked as she fell into step beside him.

“I have many names, but it is not always wise to share,” he said, “It is said that there is power in names.”

“That’s an old wives’ tale,” Anneke scoffed.

“Are you sure Anneke Bjorkdotter?” the man asked her seriously.

Anneke stopped in her tracks and gaped. “How did you… how did you know my name?”

The man laughed and whispered that he was a sorcerer. Then seeing Anneke’s growing terror he laughed out loud. “Did you not announce it to the world just now?”

Anneke winced and for the second time since meeting the man she felt a fool. “It seems you have the advantage of me,” she said in a sullen voice.

“I do not fear names, I have had so many, why not call me Báleygr, yes Báleygr Vegtam, that’s my name today,” he chuckled, “I am a wanderer.”

“Báleygr,” it suits you Anneke laughed for the first time.

Báleygr executed an ostentatious bow and gestured to his withered eye.

“Tell me, what are you doing out here?” Báleygr asked in a friendly tone, adding conspiratorially, “Oh just so you know, I despise lies almost as much as asking questions more than once.”

“Oh nothing… it’s none of your business anyway,” Anneke muttered.

The Wanderer stopped and folded his arms with a glare.

“Why are you here Anneke?” he asked paternally.

Anneke shrugged and offered the man her usual evasive pout.

“I am going to visit… a friend in…” she stuttered, why was she so nervous with this man, she wondered?

“Where are you going Anneke?” Báleygr asked impatiently.

“I ran away… I mean left home,” she admitted.

“Ah so, finally,” the Wanderer sighed and then without another word he seized Anneke and threw her over his shoulder. As he did so the raven took flight with an angry caw and fluttered away in annoyance.

“What are you doing?” she squealed.

Báleygr ignored her and in three great strides he reached a great fallen stone and sat down. Then he tumbled the Anneke across his lap. It took only a trice to unsheathe her legs and bare her bottom and then despite her howls of protest he belaboured her naked behind with a strong powerful hand until he had thoroughly spanked the shield maiden to copious tears.

“Stop it, stop it,” she wailed, “Please, it’s none of your business if I ran away.”

Báleygr laughed and immediately stopped spanking the young woman. “You foolish girl, I am not spanking you for that, that we will come to,” he chuckled, “Now tell me why you are being punished.”

Anneke struggled in a futile attempt to break free as her breath heaved as if from the heat of battle.

“Anneke, why are you getting a spanking?” Báleygr growled.

“Because I… because you…” she felt about six again and two answers battled in her head for command of her mouth.

“Shall I ask again?” the Wanderer warned.

“N-nooo, I mean I made you ask your damn questions more than twice,” she spluttered.

“And?” Báleygr asked patiently.

“Because I lied to you,” she admitted.

“Good girl,” the man laughed and resumed the spanking.

“Yaaah,” Anneke shrieked, “I’m sorry, I’m… look you can’t just do this…”

Báleygr let out a great hoot and told her that patently he could. “This is for your first little sin, afterwards I will punish you for the lie.”

“Oh come on,” she protested, but to absolutely no avail.

The stranger spanked her for what seemed like hours, long past the time that Anneke had lost all composure until it seemed that she was in a kind of purgatory and all her life was a spanking.

“Now, I will ask you a question and you will answer it,” he said at last, “Do we have an understanding?”

Anneke sobbed and sniffed, but she nodded.

“What else do you think?” Báleygr asked her sharply.

“I won’t lie,” she said sullenly.

“Good girl,” he chuckled and set her on her feet.

The shield maiden bit down on her lip to stifle her tears, but nothing could stop her hopping up and down and grabbing at her seared tail end.

“Now do you want to fetch me a nice swishy stick from the forest or shall I?” Báleygr asked.

Anneke gapped at him for a moment until she saw he was serious.

“Come on,” she wailed, “I’ll tell you what you want to know, not that is any of your business.”

“I will be the judge of that,” Báleygr growled. “Now will you fetch a stick or shall I?”

“You do it if you are all so keen on… on… ooh, you aren’t really going to…” she sniffed, “Please I’ll…”

“Very well,” he cut her off, you go and face that tree and do not move, “I’ll go and form a nice sharp rod for the rest of your punishment.”

The man didn’t wait to see if he was to be obeyed and Anneke astonished herself by completely submitting to him. She didn’t even pull up her breeks.

*

Anneke stood facing the tree for what seemed like hours. All that while her head spun at her own reaction and she could not fathom why she had permitted what had happened or why now she did not run away… that last thought checked her breathing. Why should she run away? She should pull up her breeks and take her sword to confront this impudent itinerant. That was obvious.

She had no sooner relaxed into that resolve when she came again to the realisation that she was still standing there feeling a breeze caressing her bare bottom.

“Witchcraft,” she spat, although there was no one to hear her. Then instead of removing herself she pondered this new puzzle; all the while facing a tree with her breeks at her ankles as she recovered from a tender spanking.

Finally the spell, if that’s what it was, was broken and she angrily hauled up her brothers trousers and secured them at the belt. The sword lay nearby so she grabbed it, but after pondering some revenge she decided to it was better to flee.

The track ran straight from the direction of the camp site and at one point she heard Báleygr calling her name. Looking back she saw him standing akimbo laughing, but he was a long way behind her and made no attempt to give chase. So she had defied him, she thought bitterly, but she was afraid and ashamed and… very, very confused, she realised as she ran on ever faster.

After two straight miles of running she gradually stopped to get her breath.

“What craziness,” she said to herself breathlessly and she shook herself as she made ready to see the funny side of her adventure.

“So you defy me again,” Báleygr said sternly as he stepped from the trees just ahead of her.

Anneke gaped. How could such a large ageing man get ahead of her? She looked back as if expecting to see a twin.

“Sorcerer,” she accused in a tone of hissing rage. But she was afraid now.

“Not so,” the Wanderer chuckled, “I assure, although my son and others have often accused me of such girlish pursuits as witchcraft.”

Then Anneke saw the thin branch in Báleygr’s hand and she swallowed.

“I told you to stand and face that tree until I returned, and I went to such efforts to find the best stick to correct you with,” he sighed.

“Look,” she said taking half a step backwards, “I… I did what ever I did to upset and we are square now,” she told him in an even voice dripping with supressed panic.

“And what was that?” Báleygr asked wearily.

“I don’t know,” Anneke protested, but one cocked warning eyebrow made her bite her tongue. “Okay, I made you ask too many questions and you don’t like that. I told a lie and you don’t like that. I get it,” she said quickly.

“And?” Báleygr asked sternly.

She was about to deny anything else when she remembered why she had been spanked and that she was dangerously close to making him repeat himself. Besides he might interpret any prevarication as a lie and she had just realised her third error.

“I didn’t stay where you left me,” she said sullenly.

“So you learn,” he said cheerfully, “See how wise and clever you can be.”

Anneke sucked in a breath and glowered at him.

“Now if you can guess what to do without being asked I will go easier on you for this last little act of defiance,” Báleygr said indulgently.

Anneke flushed and dipped her head. She thought about drawing on him for a fight but somehow now she knew she had met her match. With a hard swallow and a pout she unhitched her sword belt and then with an angry sigh lowered her breeks.

“There, happy now?” she spat.

“Good, but don’t spoilt it by being insolent,” Báleygr warned her. “Now I see a fallen log there,” he added cheerfully, “Be pleased to bend over it.”

Anneke frowned for she hadn’t noticed the large toppled tree until he had spoken. This was turning out to be a very strange and miserable day indeed. But all the same she trudged forward only lightly hobbled by her breeches scrunched below her knees and did exactly as she had been told.

“Bottom up,” Báleygr chuckled.

“Hmmm,” she moaned as she obeyed.

The thin stick lashed down hard again and again and this time all thoughts of heroism or defiance were stolen from her. Anneke howled like a wolf on a moon-filled night and then some. It was a song that was to be longer than the sagas and it was as if days passed under the lash of Báleygr’s wand of pain.

“Remember this is just for your falsehoods, later we have other matters to attend to,” Báleygr said firmly as he whipped her.

Finally it stopped and Anneke crumped into a cascade of tears, clawing at her bottom as if the texture sting could be torn away.

“I trust that lesson was well learned,” the Wanderer said sharply as he gazed down at her where she rolled upon the ground.

“Yes lord,” she sobbed.

“Now you remember the tree?” Báleygr chuckled.

Anneke nodded but was about to say that it was miles back when she looked where he was pointing. The great tree stood not 30 paces from where she knelt on the ground.

“That’s impossible,” she gasped, “That tree was a league from here.”

“That tree grows where it is needed,” Báleygr sighed impatiently, but as he spoke his hand rubbed absently at his neck and he appeared to shudder. But his demeanour quickly softened as he paternally said, “Now go and stand to face it as before.”

“Well it’s not as if I am going to sit under it, is it?” she said ruefully as she rubbed at the network of welts that criss-crossed her exposed bloodstone red bottom.

“Don’t answer me back girl,” Báleygr barked.

Anneke knew he wasn’t really angry, just dutiful and she felt some resentment lift from her shoulders. “You sound like my father when he was alive,” she snorted.

“I sound like all father’s duty bounds me to say,” Báleygr sighed.

As Anneke obeyed him she felt she had missed something in his words but she shrugged it away. This adventure, painful as it was, was getting interesting and she finally knew when not to swim against a tide.

*

“Who is responsible for you now?” Báleygr asked as he finished cooking the fish.

Anneke seemed to remember that they hadn’t quite reached the cooking fire before, but now as she stood still exposed facing the tree Báleygr sat two lengths of a tall man away with their supper. Stealing a glance she saw too that the raven had returned to his shoulder and she was put in mind of something she could not quite recall.

Then she remembered he asked her something and said quickly, “No one, I look to myself.” But her voice was sullen again.

Báleygr sighed and looked over at her. “I’ll ask once more as I assume that you were speaking only of the time since you left your village,” he said.

“My brother,” she blurted, “He stands as right hand to the thane. But he wants me to marry a big oaf of his lord’s cousin.”

“A good match then,” Báleygr said thoughtfully, “Don’t you like him?”

“He’s alright,” Anneke said sullenly, “But no one asked me, they just…”

“And if they had?” the Wanderer asked innocently as he began to serve the food onto wooden platters drawn from a sack by the fire.

Anneke shrugged. “How long do I have to stand here anyway, I feel stupid?”

“Why don’t you answer that?” Báleygr chuckled.

Anneke scowled into the tree and muttered, “Until you say.”

“You see, you really are a very fast learner. You will make this nobleman a good wife I am sure,” the Wandered laughed.

“Are you really going to punish me?” Anneke asked, her voice was wistful like a little girl lost.

“I am afraid I must, but tell me little one,” he sounded regretful, “For what must I punish you?”

“For running away,” she said, knowing it was true.

“From me or your brother?” Báleygr put down the platter and gazed on the young woman as if a world hung by her word.

“It is all the same, isn’t it,” Anneke sighed.

“Yes it is,” Báleygr roared joyfully as if she had made a great kill in battle, “Now pull up your breeks and sit down and eat.”

Anneke smiled, she was forgiven then, or nearly so and she stooped to ruefully pull up her breeches as she blushed. “Might I not stand instead,” she asked shyly.

Báleygr laughed.

*

“For your punishment you will gather thin twigs no thicker than your small finger, but enough so that together they are as thick as your arm,” Báleygr told her the next morning. “They should also be half as long as your outstretched arms.”

Anneke blanched and nervous hands stole towards her bottom.

“Too harsh?” Báleygr asked solicitously.

Anneke blushed, but she shook her head.

“Go that way and meet me under the tree when you are done,” she was told.

Anneke swallowed and studied the man sadly. She suddenly felt a great loss, almost as if she went to obey him then she would lose something. But nothing now could compel her to disappoint him and she drew in a breath as if on a quest and strode forwards.

She took one last look back at the Wanderer standing under great tree feeding the raven on his shoulder and then she walked on in search of the rods she had been sent for.

“Anneke,” someone called and she felt her heart lurch.

Up ahead were Bjorn, her brother and Lord Henrik who she was betrothed to. Neither looked happy.

“Where have you been?” Bjorn yelled, “This forest is dangerous, we have been searching for days. What are you doing here?”

Anneke looked back to point at the great tree and the Wanderer but there was nothing, no man, no raven and no tree. She might have been surprised but she now forgot why she had turned away from her brother and what she had expected to see. Indeed, she had forgotten why she had run away in the first place. It seemed foolish now for never had she been so glad to see anyone.

“I was gathering tree switches for…” Anneke said absently.

“Oh you’ll gather tree switches alright, two sets of them…” Bjorn snarled.

“No thicker than my small finger, but enough so that together they are as thick as my arm,” Anneke said absently, the words coming to her as they were something she had dreamed.

“You know the way of my family then,” Lord Henrik said approvingly, “So you know how I intend to thrash you?”

“Yes,” Anneke squeaked, her hands stealing to her bottom, which for some reason already seemed sore.

“Damn right,” Bjorn barked, “By the time we are done with you, you won’t sit down for a month… you’ll, you’ll…”

“You’ll look pretty enough standing in the corner of my cousin’s hall,” Henrik chuckled, “But your brother is correct I am afraid.”

“Yes my lord,” Anneke said demurely, “I know.”

For a second she thought she saw a man watching from the trees and he reminded her of her father. But it was just a raven whose caw calling seemed to be laughing at her.



5 Responses to “The Wanderer and the shield maiden”

  1. 1 Ansh

    This was quite perfect, I think. Thank you.

  2. You know I adore those woods stories. 😉
    Thanks
    Another fabulous read!
    Peace and Love to you and Indigo. 🙂

  3. 3 DJ

    Thank you – not too obvious I hope. 😉

  4. 4 Svetlana

    Some shieldmaiden! I’m not usually drawn to magic, but this one I touches me.


  1. 1 chross.blogt.ch

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