My body hurt, every inch of it. I felt the heaviness of it as I was thrown onto the boat by two of my clan. The same boat we had arrived in only hours earlier. Just this time, I was not in good health. I could hear dozens of men fussing over me, pulling at me and speaking of my fate. I could hear, but my mouth wouldn't translate my thoughts. I wanted to tell them I was okay, but nothing came out.
1 day earlier...
There were three rules in Västerbotten, home of the Vikings and land of Sweden… My home. The first, praise was given to Odin in hopes of one day returning to Valhalla; the second, traditions were sacred and to be respected; and the third, home was where you laid your head.
I sat at the edge of our ship, the tip barely dipping into the water. I thought of my best friend Sage as I threw stones into its shallows. We were docked for the night after a raid and were on our way home. The others were celebrating our win, but I sat it out. I tried to avoid those ghastly events as much as I could, but sometimes, I couldn’t escape my father's wrath if I skipped out. Sage would get so mad at me every time I went on a raid because she was never allowed to come. She trained as much as I did and was just as good a fighter, if not better—though I would never admit that to her because she would hold it over my head forever. When it came down to it, she was a girl and girls just weren't allowed to fight. Well, only for fun, but that was never good enough for her. She wanted the real thing, the hunt, the bloodiness of the kill. My father was in ruling, and when she cussed him out about his discrimination, he always told her she wasn’t ready. As the fact goes, he never actually admitted girls weren't allowed to fight, it was just frowned upon and deterred if any showed interest...
Even though he turned her down every time a battle arose, she was like a daughter to him, as much as I was his son. Even though she hated it every time I went off to battle, I made sure to bring her something magical from each place to try and make her feel better.
Loud, bellowing cries coming from the cabin behind me, broke my thoughts. I shuddered, thinking of the scenes that were taking place. For this aspect, I was glad Sage didn’t come on these expeditions. A girl should never have to witness that. I lay back against the wooden deck, resting my head on its eroding and rugged surface, and rubbed my calloused hands over my face. I squinted enough to see a black sky filled with stars.
I didn’t know how others thought, but in my mind, every event that had ever happened in my life played like an act in my head. I always thought about my deceased mother. Before she went to Valhalla, she named me ‘Berserker,’ meaning Bear-shirt or a warrior who entered the battle, only wearing the skin of an animal. That is how I chose to live, with courage and enthusiasm for war.
Sage had nicknamed me Bear as a child, and the name had stuck. Bears were vicious and brave but always took care of their cubs and ensured they were safe. I liked to think that I took on that philosophy and applied it through every aspect of my life.
I tugged at my hair; it was coarse and hardened, with a bloody mixture of mud from our last venture. “Bear, get in here! There is a real beauty in this cabin with your name on it.” A voice travelled from behind me, but I ignored it.
I thought about how my ancestors had taken possession of the ground that I lived on. Long ago, before even the eldest of my home's residents were born, we invaded from Jämtland, and celebration was born. No different to today, celebration of invasion included imprisoning those who hadn’t escaped the invasion, and keeping them locked away in our boat cabins to be treated as slaves and temptresses. These prisoners would later be taken back home and given as gifts to the men of the village and their families if they needed help with the children. This round of captives were taken from Kapellskär. It was a vicious cycle that had gone on for hundreds of years.
When I was fourteen, I watched my father fall over himself in a drunken state with his arms around two women. I knew exactly what that meant for the duo, and it sickened me to my stomach to see my father behave that way. Mostly because I thought of what my mother would say if she were alive to see my father's behaviour, and how much he had changed since her passing.
Unlike him and the rest of my clan, I wasn’t interested in their idea of a good time. I just wanted to hunt and invade. I felt so alive getting on that boat with a destination in mind, bounding out of it once we had reached where we were headed and slashing throats. Nothing matched the thrill of finding hidden jewels and claiming land that could be passed down the family line.
I almost always took some pieces in secret, stealing them away in my garments until our safe return home. I was always the first off the boat, rushing to hide them in a secret place under my yurt. I would usually share my findings with Sage just to see her face light up as she gushed over jewels, trinkets, or written words scrawled over the page of an old scroll… It was enough to get me through the sin that was happening behind me.
I flipped over an abandoned Mermaid tool in my hand, its smooth exterior sliding across my palm easily. They often left their tools behind, mostly made of stingray bones, which became common materials in Viking tools—and a popular choice amongst my clan. We would collect different weapons from lands we invaded, and faction our own from the remains, placing them in sacred spots around the village, waiting to be drawn when needed. The tools would be taken out and used only for training purposes in preparation for their use in war, and just like the treasures, I always kept some tools hidden for my own use.
I continued to flip the tool back and forth in my hand, listening for any surprise attackers overboard the ship. An unusual snarl made its way from the wavering waters beneath me. Venturing toward the boat's edge and letting my curiosity overtake my cautiousness for just a moment, I looked over the front of the boat. Within a split second, something slammed me against the rough boat's edge, the coarse wood splintering into my chest. I fought against the force that had a hold of me, though it took on the challenge. Peering closer to look at my opponent, I saw a dark beast. It slathered its dripping fangs, biting into my arm hard enough to penetrate the bone. I recoiled in pain, grasping my wound, which instantly oozed a bloody mixture of poison. It pulled me by my arm into the water.
I recognized this species from old tails found in scrolls and bound archives--I had Sage to thank for the education on foreign lands and beasts. She would lose herself in their pages. The creature was a dark species of Mermaid with a hairless scalp, deep blue scales, and black fins. The fangs, razor-sharp and dribbling poison, were ready to snatch their next victim, who in this case, was me. With webbed hands and a fetish for flesh, this creature was not to be trifled with.
I tried to scramble up the side of the boat -my gashed arm seeping and making its way into my vision- but I didn’t make it, instead falling back into the water. The flesh was now bubbling and rotting away. My skin hastily turned yellow at the site of the wound. I couldn’t find the strength to climb the ship any longer. I yelled out in pain, “Someone help me!” my last attempt at getting close to the ship. My men were too drunk to notice my agonised howls. Amid my panic, I barely noticed the sudden rearing of a tail appearing in my peripheral vision. My limping body was pulled into the deep.
The beast had returned to finish me off… I panicked, trying with my best efforts and what was left of my strength, to pull myself back onto the ship, but it was a lost cause.
As the strength of the one holding me captive increased, I tried to lash at it with the tool I had in my hand but failed to fight it off with one hand still on the ship. I ceased struggling. My only hope being that whatever had me in its grasp would get distracted and leave me for dead. We soared through the water at incredible speed, and the force of it caused my weary eyes to close as I felt myself drift off into unconsciousness.
Once my eyes found the will to flicker open and my soul had returned to my body, my eyes adjusted to the water quickly, allowing me to come to the realisation that I was face to face with one of my most powerful enemies--a Mermaid. I tried to resist the hold she had on me, though I soon fell victim to the most beautiful sight I had ever come to see. The face of a beautiful creature, a gleaming goddess, different from the one that had attacked me. Her tail was magnificent, gliding effortlessly through the water. Its pearl colouring reflected all shades of a rainbow as she propped me up to stand on the ocean’s floor. As I struggled to comprehend the beauty before my eyes, the thought crossed my mind that I was face to face with the very creature I had been brought up to fight to the death. But at that moment, I wasn't sure why.
Her stature was perfectly proportioned with large wide eyes the colour of the teal ocean behind her, and her lips were fuller than I had ever witnessed with my own. Her silver-blonde hair gently drifted through the water, as her psychedelic scales were sporadically placed on different points of her body--her left temple, her right cheekbone, her hands, and all over her six-foot-long, girthy tail.
Our positioning ever so slightly mimicked the movement of the ocean. Only for a split-second, we made eye contact before she whisked us away. Only when we had reached our destination, did I notice that I was still breathing. How? Did I need her to breathe? To stay alive? I pulled away from her grasp and she watched me drift away… Then pain filled my lungs as water found its new home. I began to lose control over my breathing, and I was suddenly aware of how little control I had over my survival. Apparently, I couldn’t breathe without her…
She eyed me carefully, grabbed a hold of my arm, and placed her voluptuous lips onto its rotting appearance. I snatched my limb away to stop the pain she was causing, but she snatched it back into her possession with immense force. I had no choice but to watch her open her mouth, exposing long, pearl-white fangs, pulling my wounded arm into their needling grip.
My scream trilled a muted gurgling through the water’s current as she made contact with my arm. I felt the venom pull through my arm like a rush of cool water retracting the poison. Once she completed her magic, she let my arm float back to meet the side of my pain-riddled body. I entered into a pain-induced lucid state… Letting my mind drift, I noticed a crescent-shaped moon on her arm and reached out to touch it, not sure if it was even real or rather, a figment of my imagination.
I watched through my haze as she gathered herself, before speaking a language I couldn’t understand. The complex language of the sea maiden, which I had read about back at home. I shook my head at her and she gazed at me with an expression I could not read. As I found myself mesmerised by the remaining bubbles leaving her mouth from the one-sided conversation, she sighed, grabbing me by my garment, sending us shooting through the water once more. As I could see the water's surface approaching, I noticed that the crescent moon on the inside of her arm was glowing an almost iridescent blue. I stared helplessly at its glow as I couldn’t do anything otherwise. Lost in a mindless trance, I hardly noticed my body slam against the deck of the ship as I was flung back onto its surface. Scrambling back to the ship’s edge to see her for only a split second before she spoke her last words to me.
“I will check on you in a few more days. Try to stay safe, and don’t get bitten by any more bloodsuckers,” she said in my native tongue.
“B-but how will you find me?” I fumbled over the words.
“Don’t worry about that. I will find you, wherever you are in the world.” She jumped back into the deep ripples and disappeared.
I stared after her disappearing figure and couldn’t help but wonder, was she not one of these ‘bloodsuckers’?