When his family’s farmhold is attacked by skraelings, teenager Haakon flees for his life with his small cousins and baby sister tucked into a sled.
But Haakon has been lame for years, and the settlement of Helluland is many hours away.
And a snowstorm is brewing…
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Genre/s: urban fantasy
Length: short story
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The snow was a smooth blanket beneath the flickering green and red and purple flares of the Northern Lights.
Haakon Grimsson heaved his crutches free of the clinging snow and, balancing on his good leg, drove them deep into the snow ahead. The iron-shod tips broke through the crust with a soft thuff and jarred against the frozen ground below. He swung his body forward, feeling the sled traces tighten across his shoulders as the sled itself jerked forward on its runners, and jammed his left foot into the snow ahead of the crutches. His right foot needed no boot; its withered, twisted length was far shorter, its limp foot tucked securely into his caribou pants.
Three steps more, four hard-won steps, and he’d gone forward a faðmr.
Behind him, he knew without looking, was a clear trail of round holes, scuffed footprints and the twin runners of the sled bracketing them. If any of the skraelings came back, they would have no trouble tracking him at all.
And then he, and the three children huddled terrified and still in shock on the sled, would die.
Haakon didn’t know how long he’d been dragging the sled, dragging his bad leg, dragging his horror and grief across the featureless snowfield that winter had made of his home. It was the ninth Polar Night of fifty-three. Nine full days of darkness, broken only by man-made seal-oil lamps, the white-blue tinge of the snow, and now the Norðrljós, the Northern Lights, which painted the world in ethereal shades of green and red.
No, it was more than nine days.
They’d been sitting down to the evening meal on the ninth day when the skraelings attacked.
Haakon forced his mind away from the attack, the screams, the fire, the clash of weapon against weapon, and focused on the snow ahead of him. Stands of spruce and fir trees loomed dark in the flickering light, forcing him to deviate from his south-eastern course, and more than once he feared he’d lost his way. Surely he should have come to the Snúafljót, the Twisted River, by now!
Haakon had named that river nine years ago, when his father, Grimr Bjornsson, had led his extended family and friends to establish a secondary settlement beyond Hallaskól. None had ventured this way, and part of his father’s task was to map the area as they travelled.
To that end he’d brought out his lodestone and set the black seedlike pebble to floating in a little water in the tiny stone bowl, and he and Leif Gundarsson the scribe had mapped their journey to their new home.
Haakon’s father had named it Grimrstoft.
Four-year-old Haakon had ridden on one of the big wooden sleds the group brought with them, having shattered his leg the year before. There were thirty-three of them then, and fifteen sleds of different sizes, and sheep and goats and even five dogs, and there had been many trade runs back and forth between Grimrstoft and Hallaskól.
This time there was only Haakon and the three children and one small sled, fleeing from an attack that had left everyone else dead and the only home he could remember in flames.