"What is it, Thyra?" Anders Sunderstrom pushed his way through the wiry branches by folding his arms over his beard so it wouldn’t get snagged.
Anders stared down at the broad-leaved plants in front of Thyra. As jarl of their village, he shouldered many responsibilities; understanding medicinal herbs was not one of them. There were healers for that. Anders was hiking into the woods to hunt for fresh game, and Thyra welcomed the opportunity to do some hunting of her own. Since the loss of her mother four winters ago, her father had been reluctant to let her venture so far from their village by herself.
An eagle soared overhead. Thyra squinted, watching it circle a few times, before she returned to her task. She pushed her fingers into the soft black soil and extracted a cluster of comfrey plants from their place, shaking dirt from the roots. “It’s good we brought the large satchel,” Thyra said. “Can you hold it open for me?” She eased the young plants into the bag. Anders set it on the ground and gazed toward the sky while Thyra tried again to interest her father in the herb, "It’s good for treating infection and healing wounds." As soon as Thyra was old enough to talk, her mother had begun teaching her the healing arts. Now, at age fifteen, she had become a local expert.
Thyra picked up the satchel. From the corner of her eye, she saw her father take a few steps back and draw an arrow from his quiver. She followed his gaze upward as he took aim at the eagle. "No, Father!" Thyra jumped up and grasped his arm. "Don’t shoot it!” He gave her an annoyed look but lowered his longbow. “See the way it dives and climbs with each circle? That’s a message!"
He father scanned the surrounding area, “A message, huh. What sort of m…”
"Look!" Thyra shouted, pointing in the direction of their village. "Smoke!" Distant billows rolled into inky clouds too large to come from cooking fires. Flipping the satchel over her shoulder, Thyra began racing through the forest toward home. Anders had to push himself to keep up. The sound of swift steps and rattling arrow shafts reverberated through the forest. Both were sweating when they neared Vankiva.
“Slow down now, Thyra,” Anders wheezed. “Stay alert!” Anders made a sign to stay low as they slackened their pace to a walk. From the edge of the woods they could see the village. They tried to muffle their heavy breathing. Smoke filled the air and partly obscured their view. Most of the buildings within sight were burning: homes, coops, barns, and the storehouse. The fowl and livestock that usually roamed the village had disappeared. Several men lay motionless on the ground. Thyra stifled a gasp. From where she crouched among the bushes, she could see her own house ablaze. Suddenly, she recognized a body sprawled on the ground.
“Jorg!” She clamped her hand over her mouth and choked back tears. He lay in a pool of his own blood, staining the grass beneath him. A memory overtook her thoughts. She saw the flood of crimson that had soaked their longhouse floor and the linens wrapped around her mother’s lifeless body. Thyra trembled, her face turning pale. Anders reached over and laid his hand on her shoulder. The urgency in his grasp jarred her back to the present. Her father silently conveyed the need to stay hidden. She stared at Jorg hoping to see a sign of life: chest falls, a twitch or a groan. Nothing. As they huddled together scanning the devastation, Thyra felt her skin flush with anger. “Who did this?” she said in a hushed voice.
Thyra saw another friend. “Bjorn!” she whispered urgently to Anders. “The hen house,” she gestured. “He’s moving!” Bjorn Norstroup lay on the ground with arrows protruding from his leg and abdomen. He struggled to reach the cover of a surviving chicken coop. Two strangers emerged from the smoke: Viking warriors. “Father, we have to do something.” Thyra pointed at the men, “They’ll kill Bjorn.”
Anders stood up and handed his longbow and quiver of arrows to Thyra. “I’ll draw their attention. When they come after me, you'll have to shoot one of them. I can't handle both.” Thyra nodded. Her father had trained her to use the bow, but she had never shot a man before, and never in the heat of battle. Now she had no choice; Bjorn’s and her father’s lives depended on her.
“Don’t shoot at the chain mail. Hit him in the legs or neck with as many arrows as you can fire,” Anders whispered.
Thyra stood up behind a tree and loaded an arrow. Drawing her father's bow string required all of her strength. Anders emerged from the woods near the body of a fellow Vankivian. He picked up the fallen warrior's shield and waved his arm, “Over here!” The two raiders looked across the field at him. One spoke to the other, and they started running toward Anders, axes held high. Anders drew his sword. As the men grew near, they separated, so they could attack from different sides. Thyra stepped from behind the tree and loosed an arrow at the warrior closest to her. Striking him in the chest, it barely penetrated the mail. He looked at her menacingly, pulled the arrow out, and ran toward her swinging his battle axe. Anders engaged the other man. He knew Thyra could outrun the heavily armored raider.
Thyra reloaded the bow and took aim again. A miss, and she would be forced to flee into the forest. The arrow whistled through the air and sunk deep into the warrior’s thigh. He groaned and stumbled. She quickly reloaded. As he lurched to his feet, she shot again. The arrow bounced off his suit of mail. She fumbled to pull another arrow from the quiver. The warrior hopped and limped ever closer. As she raised her bow once more, she saw another man closing in behind the warrior. A broadsword cut deeply into the warrior’s neck, and he fell lifeless to the ground.
“Thyra,” Anders paused in front of her, his sword stained with blood. “Are you alright?”
Thyra stood frozen, her bow drawn, now pointing at Anders. Then, suddenly aware, she blinked and lowered her bow. “I’m alright.”
“Good. Let me have the bow and quiver. Go take care of Bjorn while I search for more raiders.”
Thyra gave the weapons to her father, picked up her satchel, and hurried to Bjorn. She passed the second Viking fighter, who lay motionless. Brash young men, she thought, but no match for her father.
Barely conscious, Bjorn was still struggling to reach the chicken house when Thyra arrived. His eyelids were crusted with dried blood from a gash on his forehead. She kneeled and laid hold of his hand. He kicked and flailed. “Bjorn! It’s me, Thyra.”
Bjorn stopped grappling with her. “Thyra?”
“Yes, hold still! Let me look at you.” Along with the two arrow wounds and gash on the head, Bjorn had a large cut on the back of his neck. But the blow had been poorly aimed and had struck the lower part of Bjorn's neck where his large muscle mass helped spare his life. The wound was bleeding heavily. Thyra took out her dagger and cut a swath from Bjorn’s tunic, folding it into a compress. She tied it tightly over the gash and under his shoulder with another band of cloth from his tunic. She grabbed Bjorn's opposite hand and laid it on the compress.
“Press on that,” she said. Bjorn tightened his hold on the cloth. “The cut on your head isn’t very deep. Most of the bleeding has stopped,” she said. “It can wait.” She looked at the arrow in his leg. The bleeding was minor. The arrow had nearly passed through the flesh to the other side. She could see a bulge on his thigh.
“Hold on, Bjorn. I am going to push this arrow through.” Bjorn clenched his jaw. Thyra pushed on the shank until an iron tip emerged. She snapped it off, and then pulled the remaining shaft out the other side. Bjorn groaned. Thyra cut the clothing around the arrow in Bjorn’s abdomen, exposing the skin. She probed the tissue around the arrow.
“I can’t feel the arrowhead,” she said. “I’m going to have to cut it out.” Bjorn nodded his head in acknowledgement. Thyra placed the broken arrow shaft in his mouth. She slowly slid her dagger blade down the arrow’s shaft until it met the arrowhead. She rocked the blade gently back and forth to widen the wound. Bjorn stiffened in pain and bit down on the shaft. Thyra tilted the dagger backwards, making the opening large enough to extract the arrowhead. Slowly she withdrew the arrow, keeping its head pressed against her knife blade. She held it up to examine it in the sunlight. Her expression grew grim as she laid the arrow aside. Finally, Thyra spat into her hand and rubbed the dried blood from Bjorn’s eyelids. “Open your eyes slowly,” she said.
Bjorn forced both eyes open and took a moment to focus. “It’s good to see you, Thyra,” he said. “I thought I was finished for sure.”
“We’re not safe yet. Father killed two of them, but he’s checking the village for others.” Thyra heated her dagger on some nearby embers and cauterized Bjorn’s wounds as well as she could. A quarter of an eykt had passed when Anders emerged from the smoke. She was sewing up the cut on Bjorn’s neck with a large bronze needle and some thread that she had pulled from her skirt. She looked up and asked, “Any others?”
“Two more,” Anders replied. “They won’t be bothering us.”
“Other Vankivans, I mean.”
“I found Harald. Apparently, they didn’t think he was worth killing.”
Thyra looked back at the smoke. It curled orange around the sun. Red tongues of fire leapt from the coals. The bent, wiry figure of an elderly man slowly materialized. “Harald!” Thyra laid down her needle and jumped to her feet. She ran to greet him, and they embraced.
“Where did you find my bow?” Thyra noticed Anders carrying it along with her quiver.
“With Ida. It looked like she was trying to shoot the raiders,” Anders said.
“Oh no, is she dead?”
“Everyone is dead, except us.”
“Poor Ida,” Thyra said. It was just like their feisty cook to try and fight off raiding warriors.
“Here,” Anders said, handing her the bow. “You may need it.” Thyra slung the bow and quiver around her shoulder. Anders looked down, “Bjorn Norstroup, how goes it with you?”
Bjorn strained to lift his head. “Jorg and I killed a few of them, Jarl. But there were too many. I might survive with Thyra’s help.”
“Survive, Bjorn. We need you.” Blood trickled down the back of Bjorn’s shoulder. “Thyra, come finish embroidering Bjorn’s neck,” her father said. She sat next to Bjorn and started stitching again. “How is he?” Anders asked several minutes later.
“His wounds will heal, except one,” she said, holding up the arrow she had extracted.
Anders squinted at it. “Where’s the tip?” he asked. Thyra cast her eyes at Bjorn. “Those Husabian scum make arrows so the tips splinter easily,” Anders scowled. “Can you get it out?”
“It’s buried deep in his abdomen,” she said. “If I dig for it, I might slice his intestines open.” Thyra’s voice trailed off as she added, “If they're not already cut.”
Anders went down on one knee to take a better look at Bjorn’s wounds. When he stood up, he said, “We need to get everyone down to the merchant skiff on the dock. That raiding party will return when their dead comrades fail to join them. We must be gone by then.”
“Leave our home?” Thyra asked.
“What home?” Anders responded. “Look around. It’s been destroyed.”
 Eykt - an eighth of a day or three hours