The Viking smirked at the impertinence of his mare’s flatulence. He swatted her bottom with his palm.
“Helga, you smelly beast.”
She kicked him in the shin. He winced, then laughed.
“If you break my leg, how shall I mount you?”, he said. “You would be as sullen as I if we could no longer hunt.”
But Helga had moved on to other business: munching idly on tufts of grass that poked through the snow.
The Viking squatted next to his fire to warm his dry, cracked hands. They ached from a day of chopping firewood. He pulled a handful of dried apples from the pocket of his apron. In between bites, he whistled a song, the name for which he’d long forgotten.
“Hush, or I’ll whistle louder.”
He tossed her a few apple slices and resumed chopping wood.
“I wonder where I learnt that song, Helga. I have no memory of it.”
Helga snorted and stamped her hooves impatiently.
“Am I boring you? Fine. I’ll leave you be for now. But it’s nearly time to check the traps. Can you behave long enough to do that?”
Her tail twitched, but she gave no further complaint.
The traps were empty.
The Viking mounted Helga and they marched silently, dejected, toward home. As they began their ascent, he waved at The Priest, who was collecting tinder from beneath a fallen evergreen.
He remembered The Priest had asked him to bring a bundle of wood today. One final task. He continued whistling the unknown tune.
“I don’t remember the name of the song either, Helga.”
He stroked her mane while they climbed the pass. As they neared the top of the mountain, a monstrous snowstorm threatened its arrival on the horizon. The Viking heeled Helga’s rear, urging her to pick up her pace.
When they arrived back at the farm, The Viking prepared The Priest’s bundle.
Helga munched cabbage loudly in her stall.
The Priest hurried toward his hut, tucked into a thick ash grove near the base of the mountain. Inside, the hearth was warm but smoldering. He hoped The Viking would arrive soon.
He tossed a small bundle of pine needle tinder into a bucket next to the hearth and grabbed two tin cups from atop his stove. He prepared tea leaves for drinking and milled some kaneh for smoking.
The Viking returned back down the mountain pass, this time on foot. Helga needed to rest. She’d spent many winters with him, and he’d begun to wonder how many she had left.
He carried the bundle of wood in a sling over his shoulder. This would be a short trip. The snow was raging.
He whistled the tune from before once again, wracking his brain for the memory of it. It simply wasn’t there. He quieted as he neared The Priest’s hut.
It was time for some fun.
The Priest heard something moving through the ash trees. A loud crash followed.
“Viking? Is that you?”, he said.
He paced nervously.
There was no answer. The Priest took a long drag from his pipe. He exhaled slowly, filling the hut with blue smoke. His eyes burned.
There was another crash, but this time it was just outside the door. The Priest jumped with fright and grabbed his only weapon.
He crept slowly toward the door, his Bible held aloft with his right hand. He still clutched his pipe in his left.
He stood next to the door and peered around the corner into the darkness beyond. The Viking leaped through the open doorway with a roar.
The Priest fell backward, dropping the pipe and the Bible and falling clean out of his slippers. The Viking laughed heartily at the spectacle.
The Priest gathered up his Bible and pipe, leaving the slippers where they had fallen.
“You are a classless boor, Viking.”
The Viking stopped laughing, but a smile remained.
“Fair enough, Priest. Where shall I deposit your firewood?”
“Next to the hearth. The same as always. Sit, you fool. Your tea will get cold.”
The Priest passed The Viking a cup of birch tea.
“Thank you, old friend.”
They sipped their tea and shared a paper of smoke. After a few minutes of uninterrupted silence, The Viking began to chuckle to himself. The Priest ignored him.
They continued sipping their tea, The Viking tittering mischievously. The Priest continued to ignore him, but eventually The Viking’s chuckles became full blown gales of laughter.
He leaned forward in his chair and slapped his knees, spilling his tea.
“What were you going to do with the Bible, Priest? Was it to be death by a million paper cuts?”
He fell out of his chair, roaring with laughter. The Priest snatched the smoke from him and snuffed it out, packing it into his pipe.
“That’s enough for you, Viking. The last time you were here, I happened to doze off by the fire. When I awoke you had taken every last bit of kaneh from my satchel.”
The Viking’s laughter petered out. He smoothed out his tunic and stood.
“Indeed, I had. And I shall likely do it again someday. But for now, I must take my leave of you. Sleep beckons. Goodnight, Priest.”
“Goodnight, Viking,” said The Priest. “Peace be with you.”
They embraced, and The Viking left.
The Priest could hear him whistling as he walked back to the mountain pass. He took two pieces of wood from the bundle The Viking had brought and tossed them on the fire.
He sat back down on his bed, took one last drag from his pipe and slumped over, fast asleep.
As he slept, his satchel began creeping slowly toward the door. A hook on a wire had been looped around its handle. The Priest snored loudly as it made its way across the floor and outside.
Crouched amongst the ash trees, The Viking grinned wickedly as he pulled the satchel to himself.
“I told him I would do it again someday”, he said.
SOUNDTRACK 02: “The Man Comes Around”, Johnny Cash
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