The voyage went swiftly. A day’s stopover in Hedeby and then on to Gotland. It seemed odd to Lothar to see so many other dragon boats. Ellisif was in a good mood, but Darius was freezing. They’d given him one of Snorri’s tunics, and yet the boy was shivering.
“Cold or scared?” Lothar asked him softly.
“Both. I thought Jorvik was cold, but… Everyone else acts like it is so warm.”
“To them, it is. Why are you scared?” Lothar leaned against the railing and watched as Ragnar moved the Dragon boat into a docking.
“I don’t know what I am here. Free? Slave? Bond servant?” Darius watched as men stripped to the waist pulled the boat closer to the dock.
“Free. However, I think we will need your help here.”
“How? I don’t know this land. These waters. I don’t know anything here.” Darius was getting edgy and his hands gripped the rail, turning white.
“You know us. You know how to make Olaf laugh when his shoulder hurts. You can help Ellisif too. She’s lived nearly all of her life on this boat. Do you think it will be easy to leave?”
Darius thought. “No… It will not be easy to leave. Will you teach me the sword?”
“Yes.” Lothar ruffled Darius’ hair and then went to look for Ellisif.
Farulf took his time finding Birla’s sister. While he knew that Ellisif must stay, he would miss her. The rest of the men were none to happy either. Drifa was as round as Birla had been thin. When they finally found her longhouse, it was a noisy homecoming. Drifa was happy to see Ellisif, but she chased Farulf out of the long house with a broom.
“Damn idiot! Taking you and Birla with him on a trading boat!”
“Aunty Drifa, I loved being on the boat.”
Drifa patted Ellisif on the hand. “Yes, I know, but too much of life just floated by you. All the things you can’t do on a boat are mysteries to you.”
Ellisif started to protest and then shut up. Lothar who was standing behind Drifa nodded and smiled when she did so.
“And now, we can find you a nice place to live. My house is too small for all of you and a baby as well.” Drifa looked at Olaf, Darius, Lothar and Ellisif. “You come with me. My Olaf’s sister has land that no one is on. Maybe she will let you stay there.” She grabbed Ellisif by the hand and they were out the door.
By sunset, Drifa had found them a longhouse that didn’t need too much work and a farm to work for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t too far from Gotland harbor, and Drifa. It cost them a bolt of blue silk and part of the harvest next year. Olaf and Darius were happy, even if Lothar was uncomfortable and Ellisif overwhelmed by it all.
“Don’t worry. My Olaf and his brothers will come help Lothar re-thatch the long house and get the farm started. Lucky for you, the cabbages and onions in the garden kept growing after the house was abandoned.” Drifa nattered on, not realizing that everyone was lost in thought as they looked around.
“Thank you Aunty. We must get things cleaned up enough to spend the night. If you see my fader down in the town, send him this way please?”
Drifa snorted. “Send him somewhere alright. Guess I could send him here first.” She hugged Ellisif and then waddled down the rut of a road as fast as she could.
Ellisif and Lothar began to look at the longhouse. It was dirty and dusty. In the end, they put up a tent and slept outside. No one wanted to sleep inside.
The next morning, Darius and Lothar began to pull things out of the longhouse. Everyone figured that the easiest way to clean it was to pull everything out and then only add what they wanted. When they found buckets, Lothar hauled water up from the well. Ellisif swept clouds of dirt, and other things out of the building.
“How do things get so dirty?” Ellisif stood wiping her face and drinking weak beer while they waited for the dust to settle.
“Difference between ships and houses,” said Olaf. “It is hard to catch dirt when you are always floating.”
Lothar nodded. The bonfire pile was growing. It was as if the people had just walked out. At first Darius had feared that people had died of sickness inside and that was why everything was still there. Olaf explained that the family had gone to the mainland and because of misfortune, had never came back.
Drifa’s Olaf and his brothers came with a wagon full of thatch bundles to repair the roof. Lothar and Darius helped while Olaf and Ellisif kept cleaning. She was amazed when she finally found the packed dirt of the floor. The hearth was in good shape and the smoke hole and it’s shutters in good condition. Along one was were benches and at the back, a built in bed. She claimed that for Lothar and herself, and figured that she could hang a curtain for a bit of privacy.
By the end of the day, the house was clean enough for Ellisif. They’d salvaged a table, three stools and a number of bowls, mugs and platters. Darius and Olaf had used the off cuts of the thatch to stuff rough mattresses for everyone. Elliisf had spread the furs and blankets to make beds and then collapsed in exhaustion. Dinner had been bread, stew and berries sent up by Dirfa. Olaf and Darius were asleep on the benches soon after dinner.
“Here. Drink this.” Lothar handed her a mug full of beer as he sat down beside her.
“Oh, that tastes good.” She sipped a bit more before handing it back.
“Drifa’s Olaf makes it. Good stuff. I liberated the barrel before he left.”
She smiled. “Care to come to bed?”
It was Lothar’s turn to grin.