“This is your new home.” Helgi swept his arm across the interior of the small one room house. Oli peeked inside without crossing the mantel. Evi hung back even further, clutching to Oli’s hand. “You’ll be safe here for now. The city is well defended.” Helgi lied. That seemed to reassure the two boys enough to cross the threshold.
“This is Ragna and Laurel, your new siblings.” The children barely looked up to acknowledge the newest additions to the family. Helgi glared, “Welcome your new brothers!” ” ‘elcome” one of them grunted. That was the best he’d get, so he moved on.
“Up there is Ormr, don’t worry, they are quite harmless as long as they’ve eaten.” The two boys took a step back at the sight of the snake. Was this place really safe they wondered? But where else could they go. Aunti had said Helgi would help them. So they stayed.
Life wasn’t so bad here. They fell into a routine. There was barely any time to think about mother. Rise before dawn, start the fire for breakfast. Practice your letters with Laurel.
“Letters are the keys to knowledge. Knowledge is the key to power. Do you want to be weak or strong?” Helgi would ask.
“Strong” they dutifully replied.
That was always the right answer. But that always meant more work. After lunch it was time to learn to fight with Ragna. They started with boxing. Helgi said they could use a knife when they proved they were ready.
“If the raiders come again what do we do?”
“Fight them!” Oli said.
“No” Helgi admonished. “Are you stronger then a raider? What’s your advantage? What’s your escape plan when the deed is done, there will be more raiders on the way.”
“Then we just run away again?” Oli barely whispered.
Helgi nodded. “Fight when your strong, flee when you’re weak. That’s how you survive. That’s how you win.”
Oli gritted his teeth and renewed his attack on Ragna’s bag of hay. “That’s how you win”, he repeated to himself. “That’s how you win.”