2.

ELIJAH

Early Spring, 983

They left at dawn. His father wanted to catch a wild boar for dinner. It was the right season for it, he had said, and everyone had taken his words. Elijah didn't think anyone would ever doubt his father's hunting skills.

Mikael took a horse and let Finn take one as well but had deemed him too young or inexperienced or unworthy – he really did not know – to ride besides him. He told himself he was fine with that, Kol hadn't been allowed one either and Niklaus had been all but forbidden to come.

Elijah fought a grimace. He couldn't begin to understand his father's urge to humiliate his brother at every chance he got. Niklaus was never disrespectful, rude or disobedient - he was a sweet boy, quick to laugh, easy to love. But there was also a melancholy to him, a sense of doom he couldn't quite comprehend.

It took them little time, with their father's confident and quiet steps, to find the animal they were looking for. It was a beast the size of a small pony. His father lifted his sword above his head, when the animal tried to charge him.

Finn did the same and nodded to Elijah, urging him to stay ready. Kol raised his bow and did not look away when his father pierced through the boar's body with a single, sure gesture.

He tried to appear unimpressed and calm, but Elijah knew that the sight had shaken him. The first hunt always was.
He put a hand on his shoulder, and Kol looked over at his older brother. "You did well," Elijah told him solemnly.

Their father was removing the beast's head, as they spoke.

Finn looked over at him and glared coldly at the hand that was still on Kol's shoulder. His eyes were a color so dark they seemed almost black - he was only a couple of years older than him but was more muscular and broad than him.

Do not coddle him. Father will know. He had said years ago, when Niklaus was Kol's age, a young boy at his first hunt.
Elijah swiftly removed his hand, before his father could see. He knew very well that the older man would not take kindly to his comforting gesture.

Kol saw Finn's glance as well and didn't seem to understand his reasonings. "Ass," he hissed, low enough so his eldest brother did not hear. Elijah shook his head, Kol never appreciated Finn's inputs - however well meant they were.

They didn't get along, they were too different. Or so Elijah thought. Finn was quiet, calm, the ever-dutiful son; Kol was wild, hot-tempered, with a sharp tongue that often put him in trouble.

Finn was like a peaceful rain, Kol was like the tempest.
And then there was Elijah, who was neither, the easily forgotten child.

When his father finished taking off the boar's head, he turned towards them.
"The beast died bravely," he commented. He gestured to Finn to help him and together they managed to put the body of the animal on his dark horse. "He had courage."

Elijah shifted on his feet when his father looked at him, then stiffened when the older man glanced at Kol.
"What do you think?" He asked.

Kol was too proud to show how taken aback he was by the question, but Elijah knew better. He remembered when father had asked him that same question, on his first hunt, all those years ago. He did the same with Niklaus.

Kol seemed to think about it. "I think it was scared, father."

Their father was not impressed. "Yes, it was. But it was also brave. This is something you best keep in mind. We're the most courageous in the face of death. Warriors who die in terror alone are only men." Elijah almost smiled at that.

It was colder on the way back to their village, and silent. Once again, their father and Finn rode before them.

The sun was high in the sky by the time they reached home. Their mother was in the kitchen with the witch Ayana, talking about Frigga and her seiðr, while also cooking a light lunch. She paused to smile softly at them, glancing over at Kol swiftly seemingly to look for injuries. Then she smiled another kind of smile for their father only and said, "Mikael." A wife's smile for his husband, Elijah thought.

His father presented her with his successful hunt and nodded respectfully towards Ayana. Then he looked around before asking, "Where are the children?"
He would always ask that after being away from home, even for few hours.

Mother rose from her chair. "Henrik is playing with Rebekah by the old white oak." She hesitated. "Kaja and Niklaus are by the lake, I believe she wanted to show him some flower he could use for his drawings."

Elijah stiffened, Niklaus's love for the finer things in life was a sore spot for their father. Fortunately, the man was in a good mood and only shook his head. "Of course he is." He muttered. "The girl is always coddling him, Esther."

Mother sighed, shifting her eyes from Ayana to their father. Elijah knew then that she didn't wish to speak about that in the presence of the witch - she was a family friend but not family.

Father understood that and kept quiet but quelled her with a look that conveyed his displeasure. Finn made to follow the man out of the house, but he was halted. Mikael had a serious look on his face as he observed his sons with a calm expression. "One of you go fetch the boy," he ordered. He rarely, if ever, called Niklaus by his name "He shall help me skin the boar." Then he was out of the door.

Elijah grimaced briefly, Niklaus would not like that. Finn turned towards him and fixed him with his usual stone look, "You go, brother." He resembled his father when he did that - he had the same aura of authority and yet he was completely different.

Kol looked about to sneer at him but obviously thought better, Elijah was thankful for that. Finn didn't care for disrespect and he would have doubtlessly punished the boy for that.

Elijah nodded. Soon after that, Finn left as well.

He briefly informed his mother that he was going to retrieve his younger brother and Kaja.
"Be a dear and collect the rest of your siblings as well on your way back. They must be hungry."
Elijah kissed her forehead and turned to leave. Kol's voice stopped him.

"Wait up, I'm coming with you."

He raised his eyebrows in surprise but didn't comment. "Very well," was his simple answer.

While they walked towards the lake that was just outside their village, Kol was suspiciously quiet. Elijah peeked at him and found him frowning. He sighed, already knowing he'd regret asking, "Brother, is something wrong?"

Kol gave him a look, "Why do you ask?"

Elijah quirked his lips upwards, amused. "Why do you respond to a question with another question?"

Kol scowled at him, not appreciating his dry humor. "Nothing is wrong with me." He said, at last.
Elijah was almost tempted to scoff, but he replied simply, "Alright."

They kept on walking silently for a few minutes. From afar, they could still hear the villagers chattering and moving about, children laughing and men jesting. It was a peculiar sound.

"Why do you reckon they are always together?" His brother's question shook him from his musings.
He had to think a moment before realization dawned on him. "Kaja and Niklaus?" He paused. "They do get along very well."

Kol snorted, "They don't simply 'get along'. You and I get along, you and Finn get along - but those two? They behave like they are attached by the hips."

Elijah nodded musingly, he could see where Kol was coming from. Kaja and Niklaus did share a very unusually strong bond. They were both sweet children who enjoyed greatly each other's company - always playing games together.

"What of it?" He asked.

"It's a tad unusual, don't you think?" His younger brother insisted, petulantly. It almost looked like he was pouting - then again, Kol would never do such a thing. Maybe.

Elijah was starting to see where this was going. "Why do you care?" He teased. His little brother was such a possessive boy. He simply couldn't bear the thought of Kaja enjoying herself with his older brother, yet he always mocked her, treating her cruelly at times. It was like he couldn't make up his mind about how to behave with her. He hid a grin.

Kol scoffed, "She always put herself in trouble, doesn't she? Running about like some kind of savage, looking for flowers or whichever stupid thing it is today."

Elijah laughed at that. One day, he remembered, Kaja came home grinning her toothy grin, her beautiful blond hair all tangled and her clothes covered in mud, clutching a raggedy bunch of red and yellow flowers. Mother had been appalled, Father beyond furious.
He was about to reply, when he heard something, "What's that sound?"

Kol seemed to hear it too, floating through the woods, a sort of...
Chuckle, he realized. He knew whom they belonged to. "This way," he said, marching through a stand of trees, Kol at his heels.

Beyond, in a clearing overlooking the lake, they came upon a boy and girl bent over something on the ground. The former years older and a head taller, the latter a skinny little thing with soiled boots. They were grinning.

"Niklaus, Kaja!" He called, while he and Kol made their way to them.
The two swung their heads towards him, at the same time. Kaja raised her hand in greeting. As they neared, he noticed a sort of orange pasture on the ground. A tincture Niklaus could use for his drawings, he told himself.

"Mother says it's almost lunchtime, " he informed Kaja. Then looked at his blonde brother, "And Father wants your help in skinning the boar. "

Niklaus looked up, startled. On one hand, skinning dead, bloody animals was a job he hated, on the other hand Father actually wanted to spend time with him. Elijah knew how rare that circumstance was.

"Better you wash your hands first." Kol sneered at his older brother, glancing at the odd color spread on Niklaus' fingers. "Father won't like it."

Niklaus merely rolled his eyes and bent over by the water to clean his hands.

Kol smirked at Kaja then, crossing his arms, "And you look like a little savage, of course. Maybe you should go living with the wolves on the other side of the woods, seeing that you love emulating them so much."

Kaja glared at him and stepped forward to presumably punch his little brother in the face, when Niklaus grabbed her arm and pulled her back quickly.
"Maybe you should stop being an ass, Kol," he replied, calmly.

Elijah shook his head, hiding a smile. Not possible he thought.

Kaja freed her arm from Niklaus' grasp and smiled at him gently. Then she looked at Kol, narrowing her deep, blue eyes. "I'm not sure he could stop being himself," she snorted. Niklaus laughed loudly and Elijah did the same, although he tried to conceal it. Kol scowled at her, unimpressed.

"However," she continued, her lips twitching upwards. She had a wicked gleam in her eyes. "You could -" she stepped forward.

"Cool your head."

When realization hit him, it was too late. Kaja pushed Kol with both hands. There was a loud splash as Kol fell backwards into the water. Elijah could only stare as the events unfolded before his eyes, befuddled. Kol resurfaced, looking like a drowned peacock, roaring curses and obscenities. "I WILL KILL YOU, KAJA! I WILL!"

Kaja and Niklaus were too busy laughing to pay him any attention.

.

.

.

Days later, Elijah woke long before the sun, feeling restless and weary. Only yesterday his father had announced that they would held a midsummer feast – the very first in this new land they were only just beginning to call home.

Elijah knew that he was born in the cold lands beyond the sea, but he couldn't remember them, after all he had only been a toddler when his parents had left their motherland for the green lands they heard about. They were Vikings, travelling the seas was in their blood, yet they settled down in Vinland, going as far south as any of their people had ever gone, conquering for themselves a rich and fertile piece of land, content in living as farmers for the rest of their lives.

But that didn't mean they had abandoned their gods and their traditions.

His parents had been teaching him and his siblings about the gods ever since he could remember. He knew them as he knew his own father and mother – Odin and Frigga. Finn his elder brother could only be the wise and gentle god Balder, Niklaus saw beauty in the smallest of things – he was Bragi, the clever and learned bard of Valhalla, hall of warriors.

Kol, the sly, the trickster, Loki, god of Mischief …

He knew the gods, but he had never spoken about them like his mother did, nor prayed to them like his father had. He didn't see them in his dreams like Kaja did, nor he felt them in the nature like Kol. Niklaus painted them with mud and leaves, Rebekah sometimes looked up at the sky searching for a sign.

When Henrik was born Finn sacrificed his horse and prayed the gods to let him live.

Elijah didn't have any kind of connection to them and it worried him, it scared his mother and irked his father.

"Having a god or goddess walking your life with you means you are never alone," Kaja had said once, when he had asked her to pray with him. She was a volva, a witch, like his mother, she felt the gods more deeply than anyone else, they whispered to her.

They never whispered to him. He was alone.

Glancing at his slumbering pile of siblings, Elijah silently slid out of the bed, letting his furs fall smoothly on Niklaus, and then he was out of the room, and after one last glance to assure himself no one woke up, he was out of the house.

Outside the world was still sleeping, only the slightest pink in the sky announced the slow but sure arrival of a new morning.

He knew that if his mother or – he shuddered – his father knew what he was about to do, he would be beaten first and then forbidden from ever getting a foot out of the house again.

The witch he was going to visit was a woman who had been shunned by her own people, for whatever reason. The locals called her the One-eyed Serpent, because she had lost an eye in the ceremony which gave her the status of exiled, and serpent because her skin was slowly turning a faint green because of a deadly sickness.

Elijah didn't really care what she was called nor why she had been exiled – he found that most women in positions of power were suspiciously almost always accused of awful crimes.

He only cared that she was a powerful witch, a seeress even, possibly the only one who could and would tell him what was wrong with him.

Her small hut was beyond the lands which belonged to his family, and further west than the lands belonging to the wolf tribe his father warned him about.

Sköl and Hati chase the Sun through the sky every day, trying to eat it.

Shivering, Elijah kept going and going until he was in the middle of the woods. The small hut was a pile of hay and rocks that seemed to be held together only by a feat a magic – Elijah could only wonder.

Pushing the decaying door open he walked inside. It was a tiny quarter filled to the brim with jars, cauldrons and pots. Herbs and many kinds of flowers hung from the ceiling. The stench was almost unbearable.

On a bed of furs laid the sorceress, seemingly sound asleep.

Without knowing why Elijah felt his heart race. He stood still for what felt like centuries in the crowded room that smelled like hel.

A moment later the old woman cracked her one left eye open; Elijah held his breath, felt his own eyes widening so much he thought they were going to fall off his bulbs.

The volva was silent for a moment, observing him with a blank expression. "Why are you here?" she whispered.

He felt his skin crawl, but his father taught him to be brave. "Wise one," he shivered, "I need your counsel."

She grinned at him, yellow teeth bared at him, "Of course you do, boy. I feel you, you are lost." She pulled the furs aside and settled her legs on the floor. "I see you now."

She raised and walked to the table in the middle of the house to sit on a chair. The seeress dragged her words out like a hunter dragging his dead prey behind him.

Elijah came closer and pulled a chair to sit in front of her. Suddenly he was not afraid, did not care about the smell. "Tell me about the gods, will they ever speak to me?

"Will they ever not speak to you?" the old woman replied in kind, smiling with irony once again. She was the ugliest creature Elijah had ever seen, with her missing eye and greenish, wrinkled skin, but still he was there hanging on every word she uttered.

Elijah blinked confused, "What does that mean?"

The sorceress sighed like a dying animal. "It means the gods are watching you. It means they have a plan for you."

Elijah scooted the chair closer to the ugly witch. "What are you saying? I do not understand." He shook his head. "Please, speak to me of the gods."

The One-Eyed Serpent looked at her palm and presented it to him.

It was known that the witch would sing you stories of the gods – if you licked her palm for good fortune.

It made no sense whatsoever, and was gross to boot. But no one argued with a vessel of the gods. It could be worse, he reckoned – she could have asked for blood. And having a volva for a mother told him exactly how dangerous that was.

Elijah took her hand into his and licked a stripe along her palm. "What do you say then? Won't you give me a story that will make me understand?"

The witch looked at her palm, where Elijah had blessed her and maybe she was thinking about all the people who put their tongues there. She had power as long as others believed she was a vessel of the gods.

"Which story do you want me to sing, Elijah son of Mikael? Child of Freyr?" She croaked, closing her good eye shut. "About Odin, the one-eyed father of gods who pursues knowledge throughout the worlds? Or about Freyia, the beautiful, seiðr-working goddess who rides to battle to choose among the slain? Oh, maybe you wish for Loki's tale, the mischief god who brought many sufferings and tragedies to the gods?"

She laughed, "Stories, you all want stories. Yet all stories end, even yours, creature of a thousand lives – so choose wisely what you want because I shan't receive you again."

Elijah was in a state of mind that could only be described as half terrified and half greedy – greedy for knowledge, for the future, for everything. "Tell me of my family. What do you see?"

She raised her hand in the air as if she felt a presence he did not. "I see a village bathed in blood, I see ashes and deaths, hearts you shall take when the moon is full and her children come for the youngest one. A yellow flower that will open its fang and burn you."

Elijah shivered, furious all of sudden, and jumped up from his chair. "I do not understand you, woman! What of my brothers and sisters?"

But the woman only smiled, her horrible teeth bared once again. "I see you all in the world of the dead and your father with you, but not your mother for she is the mother of monsters. You will die a thousand times and live a thousand lives, but only one of you shall reach Valhöll. Another will go to Fólkvangr. The rest of you to Hel and may the goddess have mercy on you."

She must have seen how white he had gotten because she stopped speaking for a moment. "Poor child, your life shall be miserable and your deaths shallow. You will take no wife and father no children. Your legacy shall be blood and broken oaths."

And she laughed and laughed and laughed.