I’ve been intently watching Vikings on the History Channel this year. They’ve upped the storytelling a great deal, though it remains a very dense show. You have to pay close, intense attention unless you miss something. It’s not a “heroes and villains” kind of show. Instead, it’s more complex than that, though Ragnor, Bjorn and especially Lagertha are favorites of mine.
I love their unique storyworld, not the least because I immersed in Viking culture to write Dinah of Seneca. One of the key scenes in my book features an alliance wedding with an exchange of swords, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see something similar on television last night.
So I thought I’d share my own scene. Note: this is alternate history, where the Vikings and the Romans both ended up in North America.
“Do we need a priest?” she said, licking her lips.What, she wondered, would it be like to bed this man? Not easy or tender. Intense. Passionate.
Gerhard shook his head. “A marriage among my people consists of vows before at least three witnesses. We have more than enough witnesses.”
She nodded and tried to stare anywhere but at his face. She settled for staring at the laces of his wool tunic. A cruel joke of the gods to give her exactly what she’d prayed for, a husband, in exactly a manner she would fear the most. Gerhard took her hand, his sword calluses rubbing against her raw skin.
She raised her head and made contact with his blue eyes again. Caught.
“Repeat after me.”
She did her best to mimic his words. Their language was rough and sounded angry to her ears, rather than smooth and careful like Latin. In the silence, their voices echoed around the cavern. Gerhard said the oaths first in his language, insisted she do the same, then explained them for her in Latin, so she understood the promises. She agreed to care for him, despite good or bad circumstances, and he agreed to care for any children of her body. That was worded oddly and her tongue stumbled over the phrase.
Her skin grew warmer, her voice clearer as the ceremony went on. She had never considered what her wedding could be like. She’d pictured her marriage beginning as her new husband and she moved into the same home, an arrangement that would be legally recognized, ceremony or not.
This was more.
It seemed another presence entered the cavern, Freya or one of the other Norse gods that Gerhard had called on to bless their union or perhaps one of he New World spirits who still lived close to this cave. Their presence made the ceremony a sacred oath-bond, a bond that tightened around her chest, threatening to choke off breath.
Yet if she was bound, would not Gerhard be as well? Mykle said something from his place, a few paces behind Gerhard. Gerhard snapped his head to look at Mykle. They scowled at each other. Mykle said something, his voice lower but more sneering. Gerhard raised his voice and chopped his hand in front of him. Even she understood the “cease and desist” in that gesture. Mykle shook his head but didn’t talk again. The other warriors lowered their heads or looked away from Mykle.
So, some among Gerhard’s tribe opposed this marriage. They were probably as displeased about Gerhard marrying a Roman as she was about marrying a barbarian. Again, why had Gerhard done this? He could have just agreed to the alliance or even slaughtered her and the rest of the Romans. Or slaughtered the rest and taken her.Sacred oath-bound or deception? She did not know which was worse.
An odd silence fell as Gerhard turned back to her, his expression now blank. There was so much about this that she didn’t understand. “Dinah.” Gerhard cleared his throat. “Listen.” She blinked her eyes and nodded. Gerhard said a word that sounded like “mother,” which rooted her firmly back in reality. He bowed to her, took out his sword and offered it to her, hilt first.
“It is custom among our people that the wife receive the husband’s sword, to hold in keeping for their eldest son.”
His face filled with a sudden hope, which died so soon Dinah wondered if she’d imagined it. Her hand shook as she closed it over the jeweled hilt. Good workmanship, there, she thought. Someone had set the gems in far enough that they wouldn’t interfere with wielding the sword. And the blade was steel. Gerhard’s people had been wealthy once, to trade with Romans for steel.
After a moment, Gerhard took his hand off the sword, raising his eyebrow to her. She could end this right now if she wanted, she knew enough about handling swords to run him through.But this sword was for a son. A family.
Your sons will be kings.Flee or stand? The choice was now.