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Should she be grateful to him for that? Should she be pleased to have had his attentions? Is a dog thankful for the foot that kicks it? My mother turned away, her head hanging down and her hands covering her face. She stayed so, silent, for so long I thought she did not intend to answer. What would have been the point anyway?

Finally, my mother turned back to Hrorik and raised her eyes to meet his. When she spoke, her words surprised me even more than his had. You know it is so, and my heart will not let me deny the truth about the past, though bitterness may fill it today. We did share some happy times, when first you brought me into your home. When your first wife had not long been dead. When your children, Harald and Sigrid, were young and sad and alone. When I became as a mother for them. When I became as a wife to you.

And soon enough my belly filled with a child of my own—our son, Halfdan. But those days have long been past. But now the only attention you pay me is late-night visits to my bed, whether I wish it or not. My mother covered her face with her hands again and stood with her head bowed. I could see her lips were moving, as if to speak, but they made no sound. Had her voice failed her in her fear? All eyes were on her, but no one spoke. But in exchange I will extract a bargain. It appears I am soon to die, so now I have little to lose.

It would be wise for you to tread carefully around me until I am gone. My mother turned back to Hrorik. No doubt any of your men would willingly slay me on your bier. Gunhild herself is eager to speed my passing. But to do so would be unwise. I would die cursing you to my God and his angels of destruction.

The afterworld is the realm of all the Gods. On its voyage to the lands of your Gods, your death ship might not escape the wrath of my God and His angels. Their anger would fall upon it like a storm batters a ship trapped on the open sea. And even if you did safely reach the hall of your Gods, you would find little comfort in me there if you force me on this journey against my will. I swear on all that is holy to me I would be a companion who would seek to bring you eternal misery rather than pleasure.

My son Halfdan is the grandson of a king in Ireland. He is your son, too—the son of a great chieftain of the Danes. He should not be a slave. Free him this night, so that you and I can look on him together and see him as a free man. Then in the afterworld, we can remember him proudly and listen for tales of his exploits. My mouth fell open and I gaped like a fool. Hrorik nodded his head slowly, as though he was thinking on the words my mother had spoken. Then he looked at me and spoke, and in that brief moment my world changed.

I should have done so long ago.

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I entrust him to your care. Do for him what I cannot. Someone was shaking my shoulder. When I opened my eyes, I saw Harald standing above me, looking down at me with a tired smile. Behind him I could see a bright beam of sunlight shining through the smoke hole in the roof, cutting through the dim light of the interior of the longhouse. From its angle, I could tell I had slept long past dawn. I sat up, my mind still confused from sleep. I could not understand why Harald would be waking me. He did not concern himself with the doings of slaves. Our father, Hrorik, is dead.

I was free. My mind had been filled with visions of myself as a warrior, wandering in foreign lands across the seas. Not once did I regret—or even think of— the price my mother would pay to buy it. In the light of morning, though, as the fog of sleep cleared from my thoughts, the fantasies that had filled my wakeful dreams the night before scattered before the realization that my mother was to die.

We spoke of many things. Late in the night, he told me he wished his death ship to be built on the hill behind the longhouse, overlooking the sea. He said it was his favorite place on these lands. He grasped it tightly to his chest and tried to sit up, but was too weak. I reached out to raise him, but by the time I did he was already dead. My mind might know he was my father, but in my heart he was still my owner, even though now I was free.

Harald had spoken of a death ship. I had seen funerals before, of course. Death, after all, is a part of life, and is ever present. The dead were buried in the earth, sometimes with a few of their favorite possessions to give them comfort in the next life. I did not know what was required. Ubbe has taken a cart and two other thralls to collect stones to build its hull with, and Gudrod is in the forest cutting wood to build the death house. It is our duty to see that he is honored as befitting his rank.

My ignorance embarrassed me. My brother. To Harald and others of his rank, slaves, though essential to the work of the estate, were property. More than beasts perhaps, but less than men. Yesterday I, too, had been just a thrall. Today I was Halfdan, a free man. Today Harald called me brother. How did he feel about my sudden change of status? Did he feel shamed to be brother to a former slave? Did he resent me? Nothing showed on his face except a tired smile, but folk often mask their true feelings with a smile.

It is one of the less noble characteristics that distinguish men from beasts. Angry voices erupted in the longhouse. Harald sighed in exasperation and strode down the hall toward the source of the noise. I quickly pulled on my clothes and ran after him. My mother and Gunhild were arguing. I have ordered this slave to come and help. She will not obey me. Mother nodded her head. May I not have this last day of my life to compose my heart and make peace with my God? Gunhild would work me until the very moment I step into the death house. Then he turned to Gunhild.

Now I am the master of this household. Do not again forget. Watching her go, I knew her rage would soon be felt by some unsuspecting and undeserving thrall. I was glad it could no longer be me. He turned back to her, anger still visible in his eyes. It is a threadbare rag. Harald stared at her, also startled, then laughed aloud. A new dress you should have, Derdriu.

When Hrorik enters the hall of the Gods, he would want the Gods and heroes there to gaze with respect upon the woman who enters at his side.

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It lies in his sea chest still. I will fetch it for you now. Your mother has a dress to make. I paused, abashed, before my mother. Tomorrow she would die. I knew it would happen. Yet at the same time, it did not seem real to me while she stood and lived in front of me. I felt there was something I should say to her, but no words came.

He is your brother, and a fine man. And I must sew a dress. Tonight we will talk. I have much I wish to say to you. Three men, all thralls who worked on the estate, were digging on the hilltop with wooden shovels. Hrut and Ing, thralls by birth, worked the fields. Since I was a toddler, Fasti had been a special friend to me—almost an uncle.

When we drew near, I hailed them, wishing them a good morning. The three men turned their eyes to the ground, and none answered. I grabbed his sleeve and stopped him. How she sleeps with a piglet in her bed, to keep her warm when her man is away. Now you will not even look me in the face. You and I have always been friends, Fasti. Look at me and tell me truly what is wrong.

Perhaps he felt he had to, because I had ordered it. When he raised his gaze, I saw there was sorrow in his eyes. I did not mean to give offense. I am happy for your good fortune, Halfdan. But whether you know it yet or not, you are greatly changed. You have crossed over a gulf almost as wide as that between the living and the dead.

I know. I crossed that gulf myself, years ago, when I was stolen from my home by Hrorik and made to work his lands as a slave. Yesterday you were my companion, one of us, a thrall. Today you are a master. Fasti looked at me sadly. You were a good-hearted boy, and I have watched you grow into a fine young man. I am sure you will make a kind master. But the way of things now is that we are no longer equals. When you speak, I must do as you say. You are a master and I am a slave. I am your property, not your friend. Now I found my new status was also filled with pain.

My freedom, my dream, was taking my mother and my friends from me. Perhaps it felt strange to him, too, for after a moment he removed his arm. When he spoke, though, his voice was gentle, and his words kind. The three workmen—the thralls—had cut the turf in strips and lifted them from the ground. The strips of turf were stacked some distance away in a pile.

Harald walked out into its center, pulling me with him. The earth must be dug out deeper in this square, as deep as my leg, from my foot to my knee. Pile the soil you remove beside the stack of cut turfs. We will need it after the fire. What fire? Will we not bury Hrorik in the earth? We believe the smoke rises to the heavens, and signals the Gods and heroes in Valhalla that a great warrior is on the way to join them. We burn them in a ship, either a real one, or a death ship we build specially for their final voyage. The flames and smoke launch the ship and the dead on their final voyage, and speed their journey to the feast-hall of the Gods.

Harald was pleased with our progress, and said we should easily finish the following day. At the evening meal, my mother ate little, then retired to her bed-closet. Few who lived in the longhouse slept in the privacy of an enclosed bed. Most, slave and free both, made their beds at night on the long platforms built against the side walls of the longhouse.

My mother, Derdriu, also had a bed-closet. It had been something of a scandal and had caused a terrible fight between Hrorik and Gunhild, when Hrorik had told Gudrod the Carpenter to build a bed-closet for my mother, a mere slave. But Hrorik came often to her bed, and did not choose to do his rutting in full view of the entire household.

That evening, Mother and I sat together on her bed late into the night, talking, the doors of her bed-closet open for light. To me, Mother appeared far more at peace that night than I felt, though she left no silence long unfilled. You owe him nothing. I die for you. I am grateful I have the chance to give you this gift.

My grandmother in Ireland possessed it to a very high degree. When my grandfather was king, he would often consult her before he acted. It passed through her blood to my mother, and through my mother to me, though weakly. Perhaps it has passed to you, too. Time will tell. In the same way, I know that there is greatness inside of you. But that greatness can only be realized if you are a free man. And I know that only I can set you free.

There is much about him, and about what passed between him and me, that you do not know. The past is like a great stone that lies on the bed of a river, hidden from view but shaping the currents of the water as it flows by. You cannot read the currents in the river of your own life, and navigate them safely, if you do not understand what causes them. You must know your past, for it will shape your future.

By the time you were old enough to understand, Hrorik had already wed Gunhild and the paths our lives were following seemed a doom that was set and could not be changed. To have told you this tale before now would have only made you bitter. I was his only child. We were to be wed at the end of the summer, at the harvest feast. Kilian was strong and tall, with a gentle manner and pleasing smile.

I was considered the greatest beauty in our two kingdoms, and we were both well pleased with the match. One of the ways he indulged me was in my desire for learning. I craved the knowledge contained in the books and manuscripts there, many of them hundreds of years old. And the abbot, who was a kindly man, was willing to humor so avid a student, even though I was not a male.

I was reading in the library at the monastery. Suddenly I became aware of cries of alarm coming from out in the courtyard. When I ran to the window and looked out, I saw that Northmen were attacking and had already breached the gate. A few of the monks tried to resist, but they were not warriors.

The Northmen cut them down without mercy, and the rest surrendered without a fight. I pulled a chair into a corner of the library, stacked it and the floor around with books and scrolls, then crouched behind, trembling with fear and praying desperately to God to make me invisible to the heathen eyes of the pirates. My efforts were, of course, to no avail. One of the pirates found me. I still remember how he looked, and how he smelled of sweat and blood. He dragged me from my hiding place, threw me on my back on the table in the library, pulled my skirts up over my head and was going to rape me then and there.

I was screaming—I did not know so much sound was in me. He was thinner then through the body, and his beard and hair were still a rich, yellow gold, without a trace of gray. It is strange how vividly that first image of him still lives in my mind. I remember, too, that he carried a long Danish waraxe in one hand. It was the first time I had seen such a weapon. I soon realized I was wrong. He began touching me, feeling the cloth of my dress, and turning my head from side to side, studying my face.

Then he ran a hand through my hair and bent down and smelled it. When he did that I believed he had stopped the other man merely to take his place, and I began screaming again. Then he smiled. He was genuinely amused, and his humor showed in his eyes. He put one hand across my mouth to muffle me. His other hand he freed by hooking the blade of his axe on the edge of the table, then he raised a finger to his lips and spoke a word that was common to both our languages.

It was the first word your father spoke to me. He told me he could tell I was a valuable prize, either the daughter or wife of a noble, and worth much ransom. He had not intended to show me kindness, only to protect my value. Abbot Aidan was among the prisoners, and I was tied together with him. His knowledge allowed him, during those early days of our captivity, to converse with our captors and to explain to me their plans for us. He confirmed to Hrorik that I was indeed of noble birth, and in fact was the daughter of King Caidoc who ruled over the surrounding lands.

Hrorik was much pleased by the news. The pirates intend to ransom me, too. Your father and the abbots of the other monasteries across the land will all contribute to free a churchman of my rank who has been taken captive. I fear no one can afford to pay for the safe return of all of them. Some at least, perhaps all, are doomed to a life of slavery.

I could feel only relief for my own fate, knowing that soon I would be free.

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  • My father learned of the raid on the monastery and my capture. He had no way of knowing, of course, that Hrorik was protecting me from harm and intended to exchange me for ransom. Gathering such force as he could assemble on short notice, he set out in pursuit. By chance—unfortunate chance, as it proved—my betrothed, Kilian, and his father, King Frial, were out hunting with a small retinue of their followers, and encountered my father and his men as they were racing after the Danes. They, of course, joined in the pursuit, though they were not equipped for war.

    Because of the dryness that summer, the water in the stream came no higher than our ankles, but in wetter seasons the stream ran swiftly. Over many years, its waters had cut the channel of the streambed as deep as the waist of a grown man. Hrorik assembled half of his men in a battle line, standing shoulder to shoulder with the prisoners huddled behind.

    All of the men who lay hidden were armed with bows or spears. When Hrorik saw them as they rounded the base of a low hill, riding in their chariots, he threw back his head and laughed. His laughter chilled my heart. The chariots could not cross the barrier created by the streambed. The warriors on horseback galloped on, undeterred. Then the hidden pirates rose from their place of concealment below the edge of the bank and let their missiles fly. The chariots and horses rushing behind could not stop in time to avoid them.

    Instantly all was chaos as the second wave of the charge collided with the sudden barrier of dead and dying mounts. Some of the chariots flipped, cart over horse, flinging their drivers like stones shot from a catapult. Others, trying desperately to turn aside, skidded sideways till their wheels caught in the soft turf and their carriages rolled, crushing their human cargo. A few skilled riders on horseback—my betrothed, Kilian, was among them—vaulted over the mass of wreckage and injured, raced past the first group of Danes, and crossed the streambed to the battle line beyond on the far bank.

    They were too few, though. I saw Kilian fall with a spear through his side. Those in the rear of the charge were able to turn aside in time. In a few brief and bloody moments, everyone who might have paid ransom to the pirates and won my freedom was killed. They stripped the bodies of their valuables, their weapons, and sometimes even their clothes. We stood and watched, numb and despairing, making no sound except when Abbot Aidan led the monks in prayers for the dead. It was when the pirates were robbing the bodies of the slain that they found two men wearing circlets of gold.

    Hrorik realized the significance of the find. He brought Abbot Aidan and me to where they lay, and we confirmed that one of the dead men was my father, and the other King Frial. On this field of battle not only does my father lie slain, but also my betrothed, and his father, too. My doom is upon me. I who was once a princess shall now become a slave, and no doubt shall die as one. I can only pray that death finds me soon. You have but lost a ransom. I feel as though my heart has been ripped from my breast.

    After this had happened several times the awkwardness which Hrorik had spoken of manifested itself. He stopped in front of me and spoke some words. There was no reason he should have expected me to understand, but he was obviously drunk, so perhaps his wits were dimmed by ale. The two of them argued back and forth for a time, their voices growing louder and angrier. Finally the black-haired Dane shook his head, shouted one final word, and grabbed me by my arm, pulling me to my feet. The man staggered back and shouted furiously at Hrorik.

    Then both men turned and walked away. He kept offering a higher and higher price, but the black-haired Dane refused. Then the chieftain slapped him. Among their people, it is a deadly insult. The other Dane had no choice but to challenge the chieftain to a duel. They have gone to arm themselves. My captor was armed with a spear and shield, plus a long knife stuck in his belt. He had no helm nor armor. I suspect he was too poor to afford them. Perhaps to make the fight appear more fair, Hrorik also wore no armor, and did not even carry a shield.

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    He entered the ring the pirates formed around the fire armed only with his sword, yet the thin Dane clearly was afraid. He kept moving away from Hrorik, backing around the circle while Hrorik followed, stalking him. When he reached our position and stood over me, though, he did naught but hold out a heavy woolen cloak.

    After I cautiously took it, he spoke briefly with Aidan, then returned to the celebration at the fire. He said to tell you his name is Hrorik, and now you are under his protection. The other women prisoners, and even some of the men, began wailing and crying. I was silent, though. I had no strength left in my spirit for such displays. I just watched quietly as the green hills of Ireland slowly receded until finally I could see them no more.

    In my heart I knew I would never see my home again. He called frantically to Hrorik, reminding him that the church would pay ransom to win his freedom. Then he called another of the crew to take over steering the ship, and came to where Aidan, now dejected and silent, was sitting beside me among the other prisoners. He says he wants me to teach you to speak the tongue of the Northmen, too. Then he spoke rapidly for a few moments with Aidan, and rose as if to leave.

    To speed our progress, neither of us will have any other duties while we are onboard his ship. Hrorik indicated that he should translate my words, and waited impatiently for him to do so. When Aidan had finished, Hrorik answered brusquely. You will care for his children. Their mother recently died. He said that if he wished to take you by force, he would have done so already. It is not his desire. He says he does not understand his own heart and head in this matter, for you are very beautiful, and he is used to taking what he wants.

    Her tale left me astonished. I, too, thought of Hrorik as a man who had cared little for the wishes of others, and had claimed as his own whatever he wanted. And I would not have you go through life believing you were a bastardchild who was the result of rape, rather than conceived in love.

    This was too much to believe. Then he had only a smaller farm in the north on the Limfjord. Although it was small, there was a homey air of comfort about it that this greater estate lacks. He took great delight in simple things, such as teaching me the names for plants and trees, for different beasts, or foods, or farm implements. So obvious was his pleasure in speaking with me, and so gentle and kind his manner, that I, too, came to enjoy the times we spoke together, though I felt guilt that I could feel anything but hate for the man responsible for the death of my father.

    He talked with great pride of the accomplishments of his two young children, Harald and Sigrid, and he told me of their mother, Helge. Hrorik and Helge had known each other since childhood, and their families had always expected that they would marry. From what he told me of her, Helge was a merryspirited woman, whom he had enjoyed and respected greatly. She died of a fever when Harald and Sigrid were five years of age, during the winter before the raid on Ireland when I was captured.

    Primarily, I was to be as a mother to Harald and Sigrid. I could do so without guilt, for unlike their father, their hands were not stained with blood. We had had a merry dinner, with much laughter and too much drink. When there were no guests, as on that night, Hrorik would insist that I eat at table with him, though I was but a thrall.

    That night Abbot Aidan had joined us, too. It was his telling of tales, some quite bawdy, from his days as a Frankish merchant-sailor that had caused our merriment. When I was done, I saw Hrorik still seated at the table, now alone, and I went to him. His expression had turned somber. Hrorik took a deep breath and released it slowly. My face must have shown it, for he looked away as though dismayed. When he turned back to me, he kept his eyes downcast. And there were many more nights, and days, too, over the next three years that were as sweet as honey.

    I believed he would free me and we would wed, and you would stand next to Harald as his son. Dorestad was captured and sacked, and all who went on the raid won much wealth. Men began to flatter Hrorik, telling him that if he continued to grow in wealth and renown as a chieftain, he was surely destined to someday be made a jarl by the king and rule over a district.

    A chieftain named Orm had been killed in the Dorestad raid, leaving a rich widow. It should have been me, not her, standing by his side. But instead we remained thralls. Jarl Eirik still lives, but now Hrorik is dead. He sacrificed our happiness but never gained his prize. Though he treated Gunhild with respect, it did not take her long to realize that his heart belonged to another. She argued often with him that he should sell me, but he would not. After a time, he began visiting my bed again.

    Because he is your father, much of him is in you, so it is good you know the tale. As far back as my mind could find memories, I had known love for my mother, and she had always shown her love for me and tenderly cared for me. That kind of love I understood. Even thralls, who possess almost nothing, can feel such love.

    I did not understand how my mother could ever have come to love Hrorik. To me, it seemed obvious he had never truly loved her. If he had, he would not have betrayed her by marrying Gunhild, and dooming Mother and me to lives of slavery. That was no way to show love. Too many years of slavery had gone before. My mother and I had suffered too much, for too long. My mother might forgive him, but I never would.

    We embedded tall stones, each almost as large as a man, in the ground at either end of the outline of the ship that had been cut into the thick turf on the hilltop. The two tall stones formed the stemposts of the death ship, as the curved wooden timbers rising from the keel formed the stemposts on a real longship. It was windowless and had a single low doorway. The top of the bier, which was waist-high, was a platform of rough planks, draped with cloaks, to lay the bodies on.

    We leaned stacks of dry, dead wood against the outside walls of the death house, as high as the roof. When lit, it would make a bonfire that could be seen for miles. My hopes were in vain. Images of my mother snuck constantly into my mind. I was building her funeral pyre. She still lived, but I was preparing for her funeral. I felt as though I was trapped in an evil dream which I was powerless to wake from. Such thoughts apparently did not trouble Harald. He stood, hands on his hips, surveying the product of our labors.

    He turned to me. It is a strange sight to behold. Send messengers out to the folk of the village. We will have the funeral this afternoon, when the sun begins to fall, and feast afterward. You should go to your mother. Both appeared to have been weeping, but they rubbed their cheeks when they saw me approaching, and spoke in cheerful voices.

    She lifted the hem to show me the shift underneath. Sigrid has given me this fine white linen shift to wear under my dress. This amber necklace. She gave me this, too. Sigrid put her arms around her and held her. This day, may I call you Mother? She nodded her head, her eyes glistening with tears. Then both women began weeping. I stood beside them, silent and embarrassed, not knowing what to do.

    Finally Sigrid kissed Mother on both of her cheeks, then backed away. She turned to me, smiling through her tears. One by one, Mother handed them to me. There was a white linen tunic with embroidery around the neck opening and the ends of the sleeves, a pair of dark green woolen trousers, a leather belt with a silver buckle and tip, and a short cloak of gray wool with a large circular silver brooch, cast in the shape of a fanciful serpent, to pin it.

    They are in fine condition, not worn out at all. Sigrid has helped me remake them to fit you. I would have shamed myself at the funeral and feast, had I worn my tattered and filthy tunic—the only clothing I possessed. No doubt I would have shamed Harald and Sigrid, too. A small, graceless voice in the back of my mind wondered if that was the real reason for my new clothes. I might be free, but in my heart still lived the suspicious, petty spirit of a slave. Sigrid embraced me. When she released me, she turned to my mother.

    Mother took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It is time? I looked down, embarrassed. The work is completed. Messengers have been sent to summon the villagers. Mother took off her linen cap, unpinned her hair, and let it fall down her back. Although it infuriated Gunhild, Hrorik had let her keep her hair long, unlike the rest of the thralls, who wore their hair cropped short.

    Mother did keep it pinned up and concealed under her cap, though. Gunhild was not a woman to anger heedlessly. Hrorik used to love to run his hands through my hair. Years ago, when we lived in the north, sometimes he would sit behind me and comb it for me. It was as black and shiny as the feathers of a raven, without a trace of gray. After a time, she spoke to me over her shoulder, as I stroked the comb through her tresses. This bed-closet shall of course be yours. Poor Gunhild. How it infuriated her that I, a mere thrall, should have a bed-closet, when none of the carls who live in the longhouse had one.

    All Gunhild could see, though, was this bed standing in her house every day as a monument to his affection for another woman. It is well made. The teeth are fine and close together, and catch even the smallest lice. It will serve you well. And these two other things I want you to have most of all. It seemed wrong. But wordlessly I obeyed. It contained a small parchment scroll, relating the life of the man-god the Christians worshiped. Hrorik had taken it as plunder in a raid many years ago, and had given it as a gift to my mother. Why should a thrall learn to speak and read the language of a foreign people, or study the life of a weak God, who held no power in our lands?

    If the White Christ was as great a God as Mother claimed, why had he not protected her? Still, I knew Mother valued the little scroll highly, and to her the gift meant much.

    Slaves and Friends of Jesus, Part 2 (John 15:12–17)

    I stroked the worn leather of the little pouch gently, swallowing hard. I felt embarrassed that I had nothing to give her. She smiled and reached out and placed her hand over mine, on the pouch. No mother could ask for more than that. A shadow of fear briefly crossed her face. Then she forced a smile to her face and spoke, though her eyes betrayed the falseness of her cheery expression and voice.

    Run to the washhouse and clean off the sweat and dirt from your labors. You must present a fine appearance, for all will be watching. We have little time to prepare you. She combed my hair for me and pinned the cloak together at my left shoulder with the silver brooch.

    But we have no time. As it grows out, ask Sigrid to trim it for you. It would be a sisterly thing for her to do for you. I feared she might recoil at the suggestion. But I said nothing to my mother. We embraced, and I could feel her trembling. I wondered if she could feel that I was trembling, too. As we stepped out of the door of the longhouse, Mother put her hand in mine and gripped it tightly. She held her chin high and looked straight ahead as we walked. As we took that final walk together, I glanced frequently at her, at the ground, at the people who were gathering on the hill above—anywhere except at the death ship that awaited us.

    The sun still shone brightly outside, though the shadows were beginning to deepen and lengthen as the sun dropped toward the horizon and the afternoon waned. A light breeze rustled the grass as Mother and I climbed to the top of the hill. In the sky above, two gulls circled, calling to each other in their harsh voices, their curiosity no doubt aroused by the gathering on the hill.

    Most of the folk of the village were already up on the hilltop, standing together on the landward side of the stone ship, looking across it out toward the sea. They stared at us, but did not speak.

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    At the summit their paths parted from ours. The latecomers moved to join the crowd of villagers and folk from the estate. Mother and I walked toward the entrance of the death house. My legs felt disconnected from the rest of my body, and my steps slow and awkward, like movement in a dream. I wished it was but a dream, a bad dream, and that I could awake from it. Harald and Sigrid awaited us at the entrance. She was a shaman, and the local priestess of the goddesses Freyja and Frigg.

    In one hand she held a staff carved with magic runes and symbols, and something was wrapped around her other hand. I realized it was a knotted cord. I glanced at my mother, and saw that she, too, was staring at the cord. He nodded, and she left, joining the crowd standing around the stern of the stone ship.

    As a parting gift, to one who loved you as a mother, will you help me on my way? I did not understand how he could smile. I knew his heart must hold some kind feelings for my mother because she had raised him when he and Sigrid were young. Sigrid had told Mother she loved her.

    Yet now Harald must kill her. His face showed nothing, though. Harald was a true warrior, who feared nothing. I could never be such. My mother turned to me and we embraced for the last time. Mother turned and with her back straight and head held high, she walked to Harald and Sigrid. Each embraced her in turn. You were still carrying Halfdan in your belly. Sigrid hooked a fish and you helped her pull it in. Do you remember? It was a beautiful day, sunny with a light breeze, much like today.

    It is a joyful memory that I carry to this day. Do you recall it? I thought I heard a gasp, and Harald stopped talking. I ran to the doorway and looked inside. Harald was holding my mother in his arms, lifting her onto the platform of the bier. Sigrid glanced back and saw me watching from the doorway. She stepped in front of something lying on the floor, and Harald bent over and picked it up.

    It was this horn that had summoned us to the hilltop. Now, as he exited the death house, he lifted the horn to his lips and blew two long, slow notes. Most were folk of the household who lived in the longhouse, but many also were from the village over which Hrorik had presided as chieftain. All who approached were bearing gifts, save a few who led or carried beasts. Harald indicated that I should stand with Sigrid and him at the doorway of the death house, to greet the procession of gift bearers.

    It was a magnificent garment, thick wool dyed a deep green, with a red silk border sewed around the edge. She stopped in front of the three of us, but looked only at Harald as she proclaimed her speech. I bring my husband his sword, that he may wear it proudly in the halls of Valhalla. And I bring other gifts, for his comfort on his sojourn there. His one remaining hand she raised and rested on the hilt, clasping it to his chest. Even in death, it seemed, she sought to separate them. Safe journey, and may the mead be sweet and strong in Valhalla. Sigrid took my hand and stepped down through the door and into the death house, then indicated I should stand in the doorway.

    As the other gift-bearers came forward one by one, Harald received their offerings and handed them to me, and I passed the gifts to Sigrid, who arranged them around the bier. There were many gifts. She sighed and shook her arms wearily after Harald took the gifts from her. Several of the villagers bore chickens and ducks—and one a goose—all presented with their necks already wrung. Others brought cheeses or slabs of butter wrapped in cloth, or pitchers of fresh milk. Gunulf, a carl who owned a large farm in the village and was locally renowned for his brewing skills, brought a small cask of ale.

    Hrorik had loved his ale. For a thrall who owned next to nothing, it was a fine and generous gift. She bent and kissed Mother good-bye on her cheek. I saw that her eyes were brimming with tears when she turned to leave. Your gifts and wishes will speed his journey. Ubbe had a knife— a seax with a long, thin blade—in a scabbard hanging from his belt. At his approach, Sigrid exited the death house and stood watching from just outside the ring of stones, off to the side of the doorway. I joined her. First came the thrall Hrut, leading a sheep by a short length of rope.

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    He half led, half dragged the poor creature bleating in fearful protest, down into the death house. Ubbe followed closely behind. After a moment the sheep fell silent. A moment later Hrut hurried out. Ubbe limped into view in the doorway, holding the long knife, its blade now dripping blood. But don't expect 60 Years a Slave any time soon. And Years, Millions of Slaves? Forget about it. Club opined that McQueen is "essentially tone-deaf when it comes to performance, and skirts by on casting".

    The film "lacks a necessary emotional continuity. I don't think it's something the movie is denying in the way it intentionally denies so many other conventions; it's still structured around an ending that's supposed to function as a release, but because it can't organize that sense of catharsis it so badly needs, it just feels as though McQueen is scurrying for an exit.

    Also: The cast is wildly uneven. Some critics identified the 12 Years a Slave as an example of the white savior narrative in film. The film also was a period piece that featured a happy ending ushered in by a 'white savior' in the form of Brad Pitt's character. Regardless of your race, these films are unlikely to teach you anything you don't already know. It earned three Academy Awards , including Best Picture.

    This is both the most of any film released in its production year. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Theatrical release poster. Main articles: 12 Years a Slave score and 12 Years a Slave soundtrack. Main article: List of accolades received by 12 Years a Slave film. Fox Searchlight Pictures. British Board of Film Classification. February 19, Retrieved February 19, Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 10, Retrieved January 2, Civil War History. The Hindu. Retrieved March 12, Retrieved March 13, BBC News.

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    Wenner Media LLC. The Daily Telegraph. Slant Magazine. October 29, Archived from the original on March 30, Retrieved January 21, The Village Voice. Voice Media Group. Critics contended it was yet another film showcasing a White savior with Pitt who also produced the film positioning himself as such. Retrieved December 14, March 2, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

    Steve McQueen. Hunger Shame 12 Years a Slave Widows Codes of Conduct cancelled. Queen and Country Brad Pitt. Awards and nominations Filmography. Plan B Entertainment Douglas Pitt.