Godric touched him, smoothing his hand down Erik's shoulder as one would to calm a restless animal. The shock reverberated between them. Erik shied away.
"We should kill them," Erik said to his feet.
"Maybe," Godric said. "But we won't. Not today, at least. Come."
Erik followed his maker leaving his qualms behind with his footsteps, though he kept licking his naked fangs. He smelled the blood even as they left the valley; heard the other vampires slurping and tearing flesh.
Just after a bone white moon rose, Godric had scented the small encampment of humans. Hunters – bear-hunters, no less – and the thought of taking them had made Erik's heart keen and laugh with delight. He and Godric had toyed with them at first, circling out of reach of their long wooden spears before closing in. Snapped spears and necks, then lapped their hot blood. The humans tasted like the bear they had killed: thick and dark, musky with pine woods and faintly sweetened by berries. They had only just started feeding when the nest of vampires who lived in the valley descended, hissing about a violation of their hunting grounds.
Now Godric and Erik moved rapidly through the night, cold air and dark parting around them. Erik still felt Godric's hand on his shoulder. Of course his maker had touched him before, many times; they had been together before the Normans took all of Ængla Land. But Erik's reaction to Godric's touch had emphasized a change between them. It had been budding slow and painful over the last half century, something Erik didn't yet understand. It frightened him. And he hated being afraid – or admitting that he was – more than anything.
Before sunrise they fed from a few villagers. Their blood was heavy with stale bread and over-salted fish they'd been eating all winter.
"Disgusting," Erik said. "It should be spring again so I don't have to drink putrid slime like that."
In the darkness ahead, Godric laughed.
"I want to taste some spring salmon in their blood. Or strawberries so fresh they're still green."
"Hm. Soon." Godric began to dig through snow and earth. The snow and ice crackled and snapped.
"And so we don't have to dig through snow to sleep," Erik said and made a tsking noise as he dug with his maker.
They huddled under the ground together, snug against sunlight. Next to Godric, Erik's sleep was warm and deep.
Rivers began to thaw and run again and the air was fresh. Even a few small buds poked through the frosty earth. Godric let Erik have first bite on a young woman. From her throat he tasted hope, honey bright. He sucked and the sensation rushed through him, gathering between his thighs. He pulled back to savor, holding the blood in his mouth.
"Godric," he murmured in a daze. He reached out and grasped his maker's wrist. "Taste."
Before the two of them knew what Erik was doing, he pressed their mouths together. Opening his, Godric let the blood rush between them mingled with an mmm noise which was more than just satisfaction the blood. Erik felt Godric's fangs lengthen and graze his tongue, lip. Erik pushed hard and then harder and split his lip.
Erik pulled away embarrassed.
"Good," Godric said, looking at Erik.
Erik nodded but didn't meet Godric's eyes.
A crescent moon smiled red over the charred skeleton of the longhouse. The air reeked of burnt humans. Erik kicked a blackened plank of wood, scattering sparks. Licked a femur and the flesh was only charcoal.
"Such a waste," he spat.
Godric said nothing.
Later in the night, having fed, they kept company with a pair of wandering bards. Godric liked to listen to humans and know what was happening in the human world. Humans bored Erik more as he grew older. They were predictable and pathetic, barely worth noticing unless they smelled good. Their lifetimes came and went quickly as the seasons. Erik hunched by the fireside next to Godric, listening to the woods. He smelled the afterbirth of a doe nearby and the quick crunch of an owl's claws closing around a mouse. He smiled.
"A seiðberendr and his – companions," one of the bards said, grimacing at the last word. Erik perked. "Harald, the hauld of the village nearby hated them."
"What?" Erik asked.
"The house we saw," Godric explained. "The men inside practiced seið." A pause. "Why would he bother with sorcerers? Didn't they serve the village?" Godric asked, though both he and Erik knew why they would bother.
"They asked for more tribute then men like them should expect," the bard sneered. "They always walked around acting like they were big men, rather than –" he gestured. "Wicked. Harald grew tired of them. Took a group of men and locked the seiðmenn in and set fire to their house. Yesterday."
"Ah," Godric said. He looked paler and Erik sensed the chill in him.
Erik tried to remember. Seið was women's magic, he thought. Men doing what women did – was it ergi – that humans called it? Unmanly? Evil? It seemed in his memory ergi didn't just apply to magic. Men who lusted for other men were crazy, especially the submissive ones. Womanly and weak. It amused Erik to try and remember and think he believed the same once, before Godric brought him to this side of living. He looked at Godric now, expression all adoration.
Godric looked back at Erik. There was mischief there and it lured Erik.
Godric leaned into Erik and kissed him, open-mouthed in front of the two bards.
Erik knew the kiss should exist only to irritate the bards, but he felt the kiss existing for other reasons too.
They gorged on the bards just for pleasure and sport – not because of hunger. Their faces and necks gleamed with blood which tasted of old mead and lies. Then, they licked themselves clean.
"They were nasty," Erik said, trying to get blood out from behind his ears. "We should've just torn them to little tiny pieces."
"Hold still," Godric said. Erik felt Godric's tongue against the outside of his ear. He licked from the top, then behind and under his ear, stopping to gently nuzzle the nape of Erik's neck, tongue tracing veins there.
"I think you got it," Erik said after a minute.
"Yes," Erik shoved him and hoped it seemed playful.
They crawled down into the bowels of a cave to sleep that night. The darkness thickened around them as they went deeper until Erik could not see with his eyes, only his other senses. Godric was very close and the low heat of his body lapped against him.
Snori had been sixteen, Erik's age. Erik remembered the burning line of his erection when he slept next to Snori on the nights before battles, or in the mead-halls after a feast. Inhaling his sharp, young, masculine scent. He hadn't thought about it in years.
There had been others too. Comrades and other warriors. Admiring them quietly and from a distance. Sometimes furtive fondling in the night, hands and mouths clumsy with the fear of discovery and exhilaration.
Before he slept, he remembered that he had believed like those bards he and Godric had fed from. He hadn't thought to let it bother him in his human life; it was only the way of things. But now those memories of wanting other men are vivid with his desire and his fear, a fear which held him and others like him captive. It angered him that he allowed himself to be caged.
Erik turned and put his arm around Godric as if to thank him for releasing him.
Erik loved the taste of children; their flesh was so incredibly tender. It was succulent, like drinking new stars. Godric had not let him sup on children for many years, fearing Erik would kill them.
"You can only take a few mouthfuls," Godric said. "They're fragile."
"Like little honeysuckle flowers," Erik had said dreamily. "Sip." He'd made a sound like draining a honeysuckle.
Godric had only raised his eyebrow. Now, he tapped Erik gently on the shoulder to remind him to stop. "Let the child go."
Erik did. It wheeled around.
"Off with you," Erik nudged it.
Erik licked a few drops of blood from his lips.
"Delicious." He watched the child stagger back towards the red and gold firelight of the village.
They wandered the woods. Erik could smell fragrant new grass and flowers sprouting and saw bird nests budding in the trees. The last few weeks the ground had been cool, but iceless and snowless.
A pool, reflecting black sky and stars.
"Swim!" Erik said, stripping and jumping in before Godric responded.
Erik splashed around lazily, full of hot sweet blood. Godric joined him, floating on the surface. Erik thought of how they were naked. They had been naked together before, though, he reminded himself.
"I like that you put your arm around me last night," Godric said.
Godric swam towards Erik and he pretended not to notice. Tried to slink away. Godric was fast and he grabbed Erik, holding tight.
Even as their lips touched, Erik recoiled. Their teeth clacked together and it hurt. Erik struggled. Godric let him go.
Erik treaded water. He felt like the light reflected on the surface: constantly breaking apart.
Godric left the water. He lay on the shore, white body gleaming promise.
The nights were shorter and shorter, but Erik didn't mind because they wafted with warm breezes and everything was blooming. Humans were ripe, saturated with berries and fruits, warm tender rabbit, bird eggs, and fish so fresh Erik could taste river water and pebbles. He smelled the sunshine on the closed flower petals and on the fur of sleeping fawns.
"They are so sweet," Godric said of the fawns.
"Oooh," Erik teased. "Tasty little morsels."
Godric snorted. They bumped one another. Erik had the desire to shove Godric into a tree and inhale every inch of him, savoring Godric's taste and smell until he ached.
They walked along a stream, listening to the cool hum of the water.
The stream widened, a white sheen in the moonlight. Godric took off his boots and started crossing the stream, hopping from rock to rock. Erik watched him a minute, admiring the set of Godric's shoulders, the moonlight against his pale throat. He'd admired him for years now, centuries; the realization was sharp enough to hurt. Instead of following Godric, he crossed the stream on his own, fast enough to barely wet his boots.
"You could run across," he called. "Or fly."
"I could." Godric hopped, so beautiful and nimble if Erik had breath in him he would've held it.
Godric reached the other side and hopped down in front of Erik.
"What's the matter?"
"You'll have to be more specific."
Godric stepped closer, until their foreheads bumped gently. "You want me, don't you?"
Erik didn't say anything.
"Are you afraid?"
"Tell me." Godric looked up into Erik's face. The pleading tone in his voice seized Erik, though Godric did not beg or plead.
"I don't know," Erik mumbled finally. "But I do. I just don't – understand."
"Why. Or what. I guess." He shifted. "I'm not sure."
Godric carried his soft laughter in their kisses. It trickled through Erik's lips, down into his throat and body, sweet and warm, so warm. Three hundred years of warmth: hunting and traveling and sharing everything between them. Erik closed his eyes and the smell of his maker – musky with youth and age at the same time – becalmed him. Godric would never hurt him or betray him. Besides, Erik was not human anymore; he did not fumble in the dark for things both sweet and forbidden. Creatures like him saw through the dark and seized what was sweet and forbidden and savored it, every drop. It was in his nature. He saw his fear as a little thing – a remnant of human things – and he let it go.
Godric bore him down to the earth and Erik's hair tangled in new shoots. Godric pulled off and looked down.
Erik opened his eyes. His whole being was radiant as he looked up at Godric.
Godric answered by kissing him just below the eye.
Sommersang means "summer song" in modern Norwegian. I thought of using the modern Swedish (Sommarsång) and Icelandic (Sumarsöngur). Especially Icelandic, given that Icelandic would've been closest to the language that Erik and Godric spoke. But I liked the sound of the Norwegian best, so Norwegian it is.
Erik's name is spelled with a "k" because it would be closer to the original spelling (Eirik).
Ængla Land: England back in the day, yo.
Seið and ergi: Seið was an ancient pre-Christian ritualistic and shamanic tradition, generally practiced by women. Women who practiced Seið were greatly respected and feared. Men who practiced it often had the stigma of ergi attached to them and were reviled.
Ergi was the stigma of being unmanly, most especially, taking a passive role in sex with another man. From Norrøn ordbook ergi is defined as:
ergi feminine. Improper lust/desire, craziness; anger, evil.
ergjast (gð) to be pathetic, unmanly.
The burning of the seiðmenn in the story is borrowed from an actual event. Vitgeirr was a the seiðmaðr, a man born into the higher tiers of Nordic society. He attracted a following of men who were sorcerers like him. He was commanded by the king to stop his practices and Vitgeirr responded "cheekily", saying that it was little wonder such men wanted to practice seið, given that a high ranking man like he did. The king sent his sons to Vitgeirr's lands, who locked him and 80 seiðmenn in their hall and burned them all to death. (The Viking way: religion and war in late Iron Age Scandinavia, pages 122-123.)
I suspect that ergi is attached to men who practiced seið because some of the rituals were implied to be fertility rites, ie, the sorceress or sorcerer performing sexual rituals as part of trying to encourage a bountiful harvest. It must be emphasized that such rites were sacred, not profane as in a pre-Christian worldview. If a man were to take a "woman's role" in such a rite, it would stand within reason he was the "passive" partner.
There might have been a strong stigma in old Norse society attached to such things, but it might also have been amplified or distorted by the Christian scribes. They wrote about such practices from an outsider's point of view and after seið and older Nordic religious traditions began to fall into decline due to the increased presence of Christianity.
Medieval Christianity had much more stringent laws about the body, sexuality and gender roles than many of the cultures it was introduced to. Additionally, Christianity has a bad history of trying to blot out older faiths and religious practices by actively distorting them to make them seem wicked and evil.
DuBois, Thomas. Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1999.
Heggstad, Leiv, Finn Hønebø and Erik Simensen. Norrøn ordbook. Fourth edition. Oslo: Det norsek samlaget, 1993. pg 97.
Price, Neil S.The Viking way: Religion and War in late Iron Age Scandinavia. Stockholm: Elanders Gotab AB, 2002.