A Northern Spirit (excerpt)

“A Northern Spirit” began as my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel. I’ve only written a little over 7,000 words of it. It follows the lives of two woman, one living over 1,000 years ago in a Viking village and one of Viking descent living in modern times in the US. 

Both face their son’s grave illness as well as other challenges. Their lives mirror one another, and somehow, without ever knowing about each other, despite all the time and space separating them, the two draw strength from one another.

Likely, I need to do a TON of research to avoid being anything other than offensive with this idea of mine, but I do think there’s beauty and even truth to the idea of women supporting one another, even when they’re not physically present in each other’s lives. I look forward to exploring it further when I have time to revisit this project.

Thora watched excitedly as Braesi proved himself the better of the two boys and came sprinting back toward her. 

“Did you see, mama, did you see?” He was breathless and grinning.

“I did, Braesi. You make me proud.” Thora had to hide just how very proud she was to make sure she wasn’t sending the wrong message to her young son. He must know his own skill, but not be boastful about it. Still she squeezed him close to her side in an approving embrace. So much like his father, she thought with pleasure, and here was Aesbiorn striding toward them, his face stoic as it always was in public, but Thora could tell by the glint in his eye he’d seen Braesi’s triumph.

* * *

Aurora cheered as Brandon stole the ball from the other team’s forward and successfully turned its trajectory around. Beginning his rush down the field toward the goal, he looked so much like his father, and Aurora felt the pride swell inside of her.

“That’s it, Brandon,” she cried letting her pride fill her voice all the way up. Brandon passed the ball with a skillful kick to his best friend Jeremy who sent it flying between the goal posts. The boys didn’t even slow down but ran straight to each other and jumped up bumping chests and screaming “AHOO!” a gesture Aurora had watched them practice over and over again in her backyard the week before. She had to stifle her giggle knowing the boys knew just how spontaneous they looked in their motion when it was anything but.

After the game, Aurora walked over the Brandon and the swarm of his celebrating teammates. His eyes sparkled as he looked her way and she mouthed his “Ahoo!” to him since the din of the team was too loud for him to hear any congratulations she might say out loud.

“Now, that’s teamwork,” the coach said after a few minutes of vigorous celebration and strenuous efforts to quiet the boys down. “I want you all to think back to Brandon’s steal. Brandon got the ball away from that kid and brought it around and then what did he do with it?”

“Passed it,” several of the boys called out at once. 

“That’s right,” the coach said. “Brandon’s one of our best defensive players and Jeremy is one of our best kickers and I want you all to remember how they worked together to score that winning point for the team. And while they were busy with that, Liam, you were blocking that big kid from the other team from getting in their way. It would have been a lot harder for Jeremy to score if….”

The coach continued, and Aurora found herself pleased to hear him spreading the praise over the team and not focusing only on Jeremy or only on Brandon. The coach’s speech continued for a few minutes as the throng of boys settled down from their joyful frenzy and fervor and tuned into him more fully each at their own pace.

When the coach finished, the group began to disperse. Brandon rushed over to Aurora with the hopeful look in his eyes that she knew meant he wanted something.

“Mom, can I spend the night at Jeremy’s? A couple of the boys are going. We want to talk strategy for the next game.” Aurora blinked at the mix of emotions spurred by Brandon’s request, but overwhelmingly she felt so happy to be able to answer him in the affirmative.

“Of course, sweetheart,” she said. I’ll pack you a bag and have Logan bring it over to you later.”

Brandon leaned in close and whispered, “Can you make sure to put Rocky in the bottom of the bag and can you put my Raiders jersey in on the very top?” 

Aurora nodded sagely, winking at him as he drew away. Still her little boy, but growing into a man. So much pride mixed with gratitude.

“Thanks, Mom,” Brandon said, drawing away as Jeremy approached.

“Hey, you,” Aurora said in a mock chiding tone. You may be almost 11, but that doesn’t mean you get to go to go away overnight without giving me a big hug.” 

Brandon moved back toward her with an obligatory bored look on his face and put his arms around her, but as hard as he hugged her, Aurora knew he meant it. She watched the boys walk off, five of them with their arms slung over each other’s shoulders. How lucky am I that he can even walk, she thought, that he is well enough to play sports and spend enough time in school and on the field to have friends like that!

Through the short drive home, unexpectedly by herself, Aurora let the tangle of emotions unwind itself inside her. She was so proud of Brandon for being strong enough, not only to beat his childhood illness, but also to rise to the occasion of childhood after such a struggle. She found herself also proud of his bravery, taking steps toward independence after being so emotionally dependent on her for so many years after his illness, yet it was hard for her as well. 

As much as their family therapist had helped her see that hanging onto her own trauma from Brandon’s war with Leukemia was continuing to hold him back from maturing and reaching his potential, she still struggled to let him go even a little bit. She allowed herself to feel some pride for the steps that she was clearly making successfully too, seeing as how easily she’d been able to agree to an impromptu overnight with his friends.

Brandon’s Leukemia had come on when he was just 18 months old, and for three year’s the whole family had battled with the illness and struggled with all that it meant for them including financial hardships and sacrifices of time and activities that had been so important to them before Leukemia began running their lives. Brandon’s older brother Logan had himself been an avid soccer player and had had to give up all the extra training camps and workshops his friends were attending when Brandon’s surgeries reached their peak.

Soon after, he’d dropped out of soccer entirely, unable to deal with the stress his brother’s illness put on the whole family paired with his own lagging skills. It was only in the last few years, that Logan had returned to the field in an indoor league and rediscovered his passion for his childhood sport. Three months ago, when Aurora had seen Logan join Brandon in the back yard, the two of them passing the ball around and testing their skills against one another, she realized that Logan was on his own path of recovery as well.

They all were. It had taken years of healing beyond the announcement of Brandon’s remission, but Aurora felt like, finally, they were beginning to have that American dream life she’d always taken for granted before Brandon go sick.

As she turned into their driveway, Aurora could see Logan inside at the dining room table his head bent over something and a pen in his hands. More college applications she imagined. While all the applications were online these days, she knew Logan found it helpful to print some things out and write out his answers on paper before typing them up and hitting submit. She understood it was such a weird quirk for his generation who’d all been nearly born at the keyboard. Then again, their family therapist had insisted they all write journals, old fashioned pen and paper journals, during and after Brandon’s illness. The habit stuck with Logan who’d always been the most introspective in their family.

Aurora turned the car off and gathered up her purse and Brandon’s soccer bag. Once inside, she made sure to put Brandon’s bag down on the small rug in the entryway before walking into the kitchen to greet Logan.

“Did you guys win?” Logan looked up from his stack of papers and Aurora could see so much in his expression, a lingering longing for the years he’d lost, but more peace than she’d seen there for years. She found herself feeling gratitude all over again. “Hey, where’s Brandon?” Logan asked.

“They sure did,’ Aurora beamed. “He’s going to sleep over at Jeremy’s with some of the team. You’re really such a great brother to give him some extra coaching. You can see it paying off in his play.” She hoped she hadn’t overplayed the hand. She wanted Logan to feel some pride of his own in what he was contributing to his brother. After his own sacrifices when he was Brandon’s age, it was all the more meaningful and generous of him. She watched a little flash of dissonance on Logan’s face, but he smiled genuinely to Aurora’s relief.

“He’ll be a great player,” Logan said. He’s got the right build… and a brother with the right skills.” Aurora laughed and let Logan bend his head back down to the papers. Could she have dreamed that there would ever be just regular moments like this ever again when Brandon had been sick?

“Is your dad in his office?” she asked Logan.

“Yep,” he replied, and then after a moment, “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?” Aurora asked

“say, ‘your dad?’” Logan asked. “You used to just call him Dad. Now you always say ‘Your dad.”

It was the first little stab of pain Aurora had felt all evening, and she knew she couldn’t share it with Logan, not after everything they’d all been through, but she also couldn’t deny it to herself any longer.

“I don’t know,” she replied stalling for time. I hadn’t noticed.”

Logan looked at her for a moment, suspiciously, but then asked, “How’s your hip?” and Aurora was glad to have the subject changed even if it was to another she wished her son wouldn’t spend time worrying over?”

“It’s doing great, three months now,” she beamed.

Logan nodded approvingly and bent his head back down to the paper again. 

Aurora’s hip was better than it had been in years. She’d suffered complications donating bone marrow to Brandon through his Leukemia treatment. The complications with her left hip had meant they’d had to draw marrow from the right hip as well. Luckily she’d never suffered any difficulty on the right side, but her left hip had never been quite the same. It had just been one more thing they all had to survive.

Aurora couldn’t think back too much on that time without becoming emotional. She’d never forget the way Logan had, in the midst of his own loss of soccer and the overall emotional stability of their family, acted as her greatest supporter during those hardest of days. Just as Brett her husband had disappointed her immensely in his inability to provide any emotional buoyancy, Logan had come out of nowhere, a tween boy going through a phase of life difficult for a child under the best of circumstance, while their family flailed in a mire of the very worst. 

At just 10 years old, he’d proven his immense depth and capacity for love and compassion. He crawled up into bed with her, ever so careful not to touch her anywhere below her waist where he knew she might be sore from the surgeries, laid his little arm across her chest and stayed there silently for hours every day during her recovery, never asking if she were okay, never begging her not to cry, just being with her, loving her.

Brett had found them together once and looked startled, excusing himself from the room in what Aurora remembered hoping was embarrassment that his 10 year old son was clearly a better caregiver than he was. Indeed, all Brett seemed able to muster was near scolding that she hadn’t waited longer to see if a donor match would pop up on the national registry.

“Now you’re incapacitated when Brandon needs you with him most,” Brett had muttered. “What good are you to him here, bedridden?” But, Aurora had known she’d done the right thing. Yes, it had been a risk. Surgery always was, and while plenty of people bounced back fairly quickly from donating bone marrow, Aurora’s complications and the need for additional surgeries had only added to all that weighed the family down over those years. 

Still, she’d also known she couldn’t watch her little boy slip any further away. He’d needed new marrow now, right away. Who knew what would have happened if they’d waited around just hoping for a match to magically appear on the registry? Aurora couldn’t even think too hard about how different things might have been if it had turned out to be Brett who’d been a match for Brandon instead of her. If she went too far down that train of thought, it lead to places where Aurora knew there was nothing to be gained from the speculation.

Now in the kitchen, Aurora knew both Logan, and Brett had already eaten. She’d loaded the crock pot for them that morning since she’d known she’d be at Brandon’s game during dinner time. She felt the pot now. One of them had turned it off and it was cool enough to go into the fridge. She spooned some of the stew into a bowl for herself and set it in the microwave before placing the whole pot of leftovers into the fridge. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as beef stew, she thought. How many centuries have people been eating beef stew?

* * *

Thora stirred the giant pot full of the calf’s tenderloin, several potatoes, ears of corn, garlic and some Hvonn that she’d placed in the very bottom as she always did to encourage good health for all who might taste her stew. The water was beginning to color up with the juices of the calf’s flesh and the garlic lent its aroma to mixture. It would be a good stew.

She straightened up from the pot and looked at the angle of the sunray peaking in through the front door. She was surprised Braesi was still asleep. It wasn’t like him to take a nap during the day and certainly not to sleep this long. She walked over and leaned over him, noticing consciously for the first time that is his breathing seemed rather heavy even for sleep. She felt his forehead softly. He was cool, not feverish. She brushed the hair off his face and kissed his cheek lightly walking back to the stew pot.

Later when Aesbiorn strode in, Thora woke Braesi to let him know dinner was ready. Her boy looked tired and pale and Thora couldn’t help but brush her hand against his forehead again. It was still cool. 

Braesi rubbed his eyes and looked her. “I’m still tired, Mama. Can I go back to sleep?” 

“Your father’s home, Child. Come eat dinner with us.” It pained Thora to have to ask the boy to leave his bed as exhausted as he looked, but she knew Aesbiorn wouldn’t stand for Braesi sleeping through dinner. Her heart swelled dangerously as she watched the boy bravely rise and make his way to the table. He’s definitely sick, fever or no, she thought watching him walk a bit wobbly to his seat.

Aesbiorn noticed too. “Are you well, Braesi?” he asked, a crease forming across his forehead.

Braesi hesitated, but pulled his shoulders back and sat down. “Yes, Father,” he said. Aesbiorn’s expression didn’t change, but he didn’t chide Braesi when the boy asked to leave the table early and went right back to his bed. 

“He’s not well, is he?” Aesbiorn asked Thora quietly a few minutes later.

Thora shook her head. “He doesn’t have a fever, but he’s definitely not well.”

“Take him to Sveni tomorrow,” Aesbiorn instructed. We need him to be well. 

Thora felt her love and respect for Aesbiorn throbbing inside of her. A lesser man would not have taken notice of his young son’s condition so intuitively, and a lesser man might have feared a suspicion from the town of weakness in his bloodline, might even have commanded Thora to wait before taking Braesi to see Sveni their healer. But Aesbiorn, for all his strength and leadership of their community was also an empathetic father, a skillful ship captain and a fierce warrior who had no need to depend on the strength of his children to keep the respect of their people.