Kopi SmykkerArhus, Denmark
Eastern Coast of Jutland Peninsula, 903
Pushing himself to a sitting position, Davyn Nabborddson brought his hand to the back of his pounding head and rubbed
it gingerly. His fingers slipped through his small braids becoming coated with a slick substance. Frowning, Davyn pulled his
hand away and gaped at it. Blood. A lot of blood.
He blinked several times, in an effort to clear his vision. He could taste the residue of the vast quantities of ale
he had drank the night before and something else, something oddly bitter. He glanced around the small space through narrowed,
still somewhat blurred eyes. He was in the room above the tavern, a room that reeked of unwashed bodies, stale ale and…
he inhaled deeply to be sure… and blood.
Mary’s shrill laugh filtered through the fog that was his brain. She had given him a wild ride, one he hadn’t
minded paying for, even though the price she demanded for her services was exorbitant.
He searched the wood planked floor for his britches and found them in
a crumpled heap beside him. As he pulled them on, he wondered why he was on the
floor. That he was naked was no surprise, Mary had had him disrobed in less than a pair of heartbeats with her clever little
hands. As he got shakily to his feet, the edges of his vision darkened, and he fumbled to grab the rim of the bed box to steady
Shock and dismay roiled low in his belly as he stared at Mary’s naked body sprawled out on the bed, his
battle axe, with its uniquely carved thick handle, wedged firmly into her forehead. Brain matter and blood trickled through
her flaxen hair into a crimson river that stained the straw box mattress and pooled onto the floor.
His head whipped up as the door to the room burst open. Mary’s father, the tavern keeper, crying out with anguish,
his bearded face pale, rushed into the room, followed by two others. The furious roar that made its way from the grief-stricken
father’s mouth bounced off the walls and echoed through Davyn’s head.
The room rang with the sound of metal as the three pulled their swords from their holders. In a flurry, they advanced
on him. Davyn, stunned, half naked and unarmed, yet not ready to die this day grabbed the small table from beside the bed,
hurling it at them, hoping to delay them long enough to give him time to escape.
“Cease!” The roar came from the threshold that Davyn had almost reached, his pursuers at his heels.
Leif the Conquer, Jarl of Denmark, and Davyn’s oldest brother, stood, his legs braced in a battle crouch, his
long sword raised, and his piercing blue eyes cold as the Arctic.
Ike’s stocky form shook with temper as he lowered his sword and approached him. “Ye can see clearly what
has become of me Mary, me only sweet daughter.” he demanded, his voice shaking with fury. “Yer brother has slain
her and I demand his blood as payment.”
Although Leif’s sharp eyes took in the scene in a glance, his face revealed nothing of his thoughts. Behind him
Balmung and Ofeig, Davyn’s two other older brothers came to a stunned halt behind him.
“You will get your justice, Ike,” Leif said. “All except Davyn, out,” he told Balmung and Ofeig.
“And make sure that they stay out.”
For a moment, as he stepped back to let the others pass, Balmung looked as if he might argue. At the threshold, Ike
turned and met Leif’s gaze with his own. “It will be interesting to see what yer justice will be with yer own
Spitting on the blood-stained floor, he slammed the wooden door behind him so hard that it crashed against its frame
before swinging open again.
Leif pushed the door closed and stood there, keeping his large hand splayed over the rough wood. Davyn watched his
brother’s back as he took in a steadying breath, slid the bar that locked the door into place before turning to face
Feeling as shamed as though he were a child instead of a grown man of twenty-five winters who might be facing a charge
of murder, he forced himself to face his brother, his Jarl. He wondered how he would answer the questions Leif would inevitably
ask. How could he answer what he himself did not know?
“I’ve never known you to abuse a woman,” Leif began, “you who even treat slaves with respect.
What happened here, brother?”
Leif’s words were slow and measured. Seeing him struggling between the cold truths of what his eyes told him
and what his brain and heart could not accept, Davyn forced himself to meet Leif’s eyes.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said, clearing his throat and making a helpless gesture. “I
awoke from a night of drinking and wenching, my head feeling like it had been bashed in with a club or worse. Then I saw,”
he broke off and looked at Mary again. Her wide blue eyes glazed by the unmistakable film of death, stared, unseeing, at the
low beamed ceiling. Sicknesses threatened to humiliate him before his brother.
“I found her like that when I awoke,” he went on, “my axe embedded in her forehead. Then Ike and the others
burst in, angry and well armed. That’s all I know. I have never struck a woman, brother. Mary pleased me well; and even
if she hadn’t, I would have had no cause to slay the lass.”
Leif’s piercing gaze held his as he moved across the room to stand in front of him. He was only half a hand shorter
than Leif and just as broad of shoulder, yet he felt diminished somehow with the accusing body of Mary an arm’s length
“Where does your head hurt?” Leif asked.
Davyn touched the tender place at the back of his head and winced. Leif followed suit, his big hand surprisingly gentle.
“You have a knot there, brother. You may not be far from the mark when you say that you felt as if someone bashed
your head with a club.”
Davyn felt again, his fingers rubbing the throbbing knot that seemed to be growing in size by the second.
“I don’t know if I killed her, brother,” the words dropped from his lips like stones. “I cannot
remember anything that happened after we...”
“You say you woke and found her like that,” Leif broke in. “Were you lying beside her on the bed?”
Davyn’s head jerked back as if he’d been struck. “Nay,
brother, I was on the floor when I woke.”
Leif sighed as he looked about the sparsely furnished room. “Then you could have hit your head as you fell to
the floor,” he said wearily. Davyn watched him take in the splintered pieces of the table scattered about the floor,
the narrow bed box, and the crude round table with one chair shoved into a corner, then to the room’s one uncovered
window that faced the street. Stepping over to it, he studied both the wooden
window seal and the slightly slanted roof overhang just outside.
“Let me see your palms,” he said abruptly.
Puzzled, Davyn did as he was told. His hands, a pasty white against the
dried blood that smeared them, trembled slightly because suddenly he knew what was on his brother’s mind. There, at
the inside edge of the window seal, was a bloody palm print. Davyn’s stomach did another slow roll, and he had to swallow
I’m a murderer.
He dropped his hands as Leif leaned out the window. Davyn, his entire
body trembling now, leaned out next to him, squinting against the brilliant rays of the sun which, at this time of the year,
dominated the skies both day and night and saw a trail of blood leading to the edge of the roof. The broken straw and pressed in tar covered by a resilient patch of snow that hadn’t yielded to the
suns rays showed clear evidence that someone had stepped atop it.
“Do you think that someone came and went through the window?” Davyn asked; hope pushing its way through
his despair. “Could someone else have murdered her?”
“It is possible,” Leif agreed. “But it could be argued
that you may have laid a false trail out the window in order to avert the blame from yourself.”
Leif walked to where Mary lay and studied the angle of the battle ax. “The murder would have had to stand here,”
he said as he lifted his arm and mimed a hacking motion towards Mary’s head. “Aye, this would have been the place.
Look at the blood splatters on the walls, brother. Blood is splattered at either side of my feet. And there is blood there,
and there” he pointed to the wall behind him, “and there,” he said, nodding to the adjoining wall. “But look here, where I am standing. See? It is clean. Now, turn around slowly
so that I can see the front and back of you. Ah! There is blood every where, your shoulders, hair, your back.”
“I woke up in a puddle of her blood on the floor, brother.”
Davyn reminded him, hating the panic that thickened his voice.
“Aye, brother,” Leif replied. “But what you do not have is any splatters on your chest or your face.
Where is your shirt?”
Spotting the wrinkled white linen draped over the chair at the corner of the room Davyn retrieved it and handed it
to Leif who held it out by both shoulders. “There is not a drop of blood on this garment,” he said and there was
satisfaction in his voice. “There is no way that whoever did this to the lass would have been able to avoid the spray
of blood that accompanied the impact of the axe.”
Leaning down he studied Mary’s face.
“You can see the fear in her eyes,” he said. “She was not taken by surprise, Davyn. She saw who was
about to kill her.”
Then, picking up one of Mary’s hands he pried her fingers open and carefully removed a fragment of dull white
material that rested in her palm.
“She is cold,” he said. “Given the temperature in this
room, and the fact that her fingers are already stiff, I would say that she has been dead for several hours. And look,”
Leif drew Davyn’s attention to some bruising on the inside of her forearm, then to her fingernails where tiny bits of
flesh were embedded. “It looks as if not only was she awake when she was
attacked, but that she tried to fight. I imagine that this skin inside her nails belongs to her murderer, and that this material
came from her murder’s clothing. This did not come from a quality garment such as your own. Nay, this came from a poor
man’s garment, and this man will have fresh scratches somewhere on his face, or maybe chest or arms, and bloody clothing.”
“It would be no trouble for someone to get rid of their clothing,” Davyn said, relief and worry waging
war with his emotions.
Leif nodded. “Aye, but the nail marks will be harder to hide. I will make a complete search of all men, before
the marks have time to heal.”
In dazed exasperation Davyn exclaimed. “I don’t understand how I could have slept through all of this,
brother. I have been drunk before, yet never so drunk that I could not be roused.”
Leif only spared him a glance, and then walked to the closed door, running a hand across the bar that locked it. “You
say that Ike and the others burst through the door. Was it barred?”
“Nay, brother, it was unbolted,” Davyn told him, frowning. “Which is odd, because I remember securing
the bar when Mary and I entered.”
“Is it possible that Mary unbolted it for some reason after the ale got the best of you?” Leif asked.
“It’s possible,” Davyn mussed, rubbing a hand over his pounding head and wincing as it brushed against
the lump that was now in full bloom. “She was anxious to get back to her tables. But I couldn’t swear to it. I
just don’t know.”
“My gut tells me there is more to this than appears,” Leif told him. “I find it odd that Ike did
not come in search of the lass sooner if she still had tables to care for. I cannot bring myself to keep you confined while
we search for the person responsible for this dark deed. Ike will cry foul if I let you go. He
has a hot temper and will insist that the evidence freeing you from blame which we have uncovered was planted in order to
Davyn’s brother raked a hand through his hair.
“He will never believe that you slept through what had to have been a noisy struggle. Even I cannot understand how this could have taken place without disturbing you. I find myself in an impossible
Davyn braced himself, hating the fact that his brother was in this situation due to him. Leif had made enough hard
choices in recent months.
Davyn watched as Leif pried his axe from Mary’s head and set it against the wall before covering her face with
a cloth and decided that aye, likely they would.
“What is your judgment, brother?” Davyn asked, prepared for the worst.
“Until this matter can be unraveled and the real murderer can be found, I have no choice but to banish you from
Denmark,” Leif told him somberly.
“You are not to return until I send word to you that it is safe. If you should return before then, I may not be able
to stop Ike from taking from you what he believes that you took from his daughter. Your life.”
The room seemed to tilt sharply and Davyn stumbled forward a step. He had not seen that coming. To leave his country,
his family -- it was almost as complete a loss as losing his very life would have been. Worse- for he would be alone. For
the first time he would not be surrounded by brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews.
And his parents. His heart squeezed painfully behind his breastbone and he fought to slow his breathing, to steady
his now out of control emotions. After ten long years his father was finally whole, in mind and in body, and now he faced
the possibility of never seeing him again. For really, how would Leif or anyone else be able to discover what had truly happened
behind the bolted door when even he did not know?
Seeing that his brother’s eyes were suspiciously bright, Davyn realized that he, too, was affected by the gravity
of the sentence he had just passed down on him.
Davyn struggled passed the grief and bitterness that was taking root in his heart and sought to make things easier
for his brother. “There is no help for it, Leif. I will travel to Scotland,”
he said, taking a shallow breath. “I will send word back to you as to where I settle.”
Leif nodded his head in curt acceptance. “I will not rest until this matter is settled, brother. Take with you
who you will. At least half your men should still be aboard your vessel with your cargo and the rest are still in the village.
I will arrange for supplies to be left for you in the old cave near the port. You know the one I speak of?”
Davyn nodded. That was it. The decree had been handed down, his future had been dictated. He would be an outcast from
his beloved homeland. Banished until the truth of Mary’s murder came to light. He clenched his jaw and his nostrils
flared. The truth may well be that he was indeed the one guilty of this hideous crime, in which case, his brother was giving
him an undeserved gift of life.
“Supplies will be there within the hour,” Leif told him. “Your men are loyal to you. Take them and
your vessel. Those who go with you will be allowed to return as they wish. But
you, brother, you must wait until I say you may return. Do not allow Ike to spill your blood, not when I will be powerless
to avenge you.”
Again Davyn nodded, his grief to great to allow him to trust his voice.
“Leave through the window,” Leif instructed. “Do not go home to say farewell, for as soon as Ike
learns of my decree, he will set out to slay you before you have a chance to flee.”
The small shove Leif gave him got him moving. Davyn ducked his still pounding
head and straddled the window seal.
“You are in a race against time and a father’s grief, brother,” Leif said gravely. “And you
must be faster, brother. You must win.”