The monster stared at a tiny blond boy in front of it with its multiple ugly pinecone-like eyes. Its green spiky fur was sticking in all directions, it was taller than any man from the town. Its pores oozed poisonous slime, if you touched it you turned into a monster too, and after the transformation you wanted to gobble up all the people from the town like if they were a delicious portion of freshly made porridge.
But the boy wasn’t afraid, he had his trusted sword and he knew all the right moves. He was ready to safe the townsfolk from its hungry teeth, the monster would meet its end today and the people would be able to continue their lives at peace.
Or was he really ready?
The young boy hesitated for a moment and glanced then at the sword in his right hand. Maybe he should make sure he wouldn’t make any mistakes, there was a lot at stake here. He took a step back, then another one, keeping his eyes firmly on the monster, and when reached a suitable distance, he rushed away from it.
He ran through the bushes, jumping over some tree roots and rocks while following the familiar forest path until he reached the nearby meadow. In the middle of it was a boy. The boy was a little bit older than him, his blond hair looked always messy and his gaze was tougher than you would expect from someone of his age. In his hand he had a sword, a real sword, not just a wooden stick like the one he had.
The sun was already shining hotly on this beautiful summer day, but the older boy just ignored it even though his shirt was already wet from sweating. He stood there his feet apart, leaning his other foot slightly forward. Then, suddenly, he attacked fiercely against an invisible enemy, only to return back to his starting position, over and over again.
He followed the boy with his eyes, hiding behind a spruce tree. He tried to stand in the same stance as the older boy, but he moved so fast it was hard to know how he should hold the stick-sword when he was busy observing the boy’s feet. He tried to imitate his attack, waving the stick-sword in the air as fast as he could, only to stumble over his own feet, trying his best to stay in a standing position by grabbing a hold of the tree trunk.
Slime! He got slime in his hands! And his sword, he dropped it, how he would know which one of those sticks was his sword now? Annoyed by his failure, he didn’t notice that the older boy had stopped his exercise and walked now towards his hiding place.
“What are ya doin’ here, Finland?”
“Sve! I got slimed, I don’t want to eat you and everyone else, help me!” he cried, looking at his hands, trying to hold back tears that had started to form in his blue eyes that were almost the shade of purple.
“It’s resin.” Sweden glanced briefly down at his hands and turned then around to return to the meadow.
“I know… I just tried to get you to play with me. You used to like to fight the tree monsters.” he sniffed, and after considering a moment hurried after Sweden.
“I told ya to stay at home, ya aren’t healthy yet.” Sweden changed the subject and took the correct starting position once again. Finland sat down on the ground to watch him and to pluck tree needles and gravel from his bare feet.
“I’m feeling better already. I just got bored alone and wanted to do something. They don’t need my help in the fields.” In reality, the burns on his arms still stung and the sun did not help, but not so much that he would have stayed inside the dark and smoky hut when the weather was so beautiful.
“Why ya didn’t go to the town. There are other kids.”
“I don’t want to.” Finland pouted “Kids I used to play with are already teens. All they talk about is girls… or boys. How Auni looked so good today and how she’s hardworking, too. Yuck!” He sticked his tongue out just to make his point clear to Sweden and then continued “Then they get engaged, hang out only together, do a lot of mushy stuff and forget about me. And then, someday, they will just sleep forever and you will never see them again. That always happens, every single time.”
“Hm.” Sweden just nodded his head, looking thoughtful. He never talked much unless Finland kept talking to him, but he was already used to it. He couldn’t remember how long he had already lived with the boy. One day he had just brought him to his home and they had been together ever since, living here and there, moving sometimes even long distances. Sweden didn’t feel like telling him all the details, even though he had been his current age for a longer time than Finland had been this age.
“Can I play what you are playing?” He asked from Sweden. Sweden came here with his sword every day now, he had been doing this ever since they had been attacked by the neighboring country who lived east of them. Nothing unusual about it, there were always a lot of skirmishes, but Finland had hurt himself a bit worse than usually during the latest attack. It had been like the whole world had suddenly been covered in flames and he had gotten trapped in the middle of the fire.
Nobody was sure anymore who had originally started the hostilities and why, but the fighting seemed to continue from time-to-time. People said it had become even worse after Sweden had taken Finland to live with him and when the two similar but still so different religions had come too close to each other.
“I’m not playin’!” Sweden snapped, stopping what he was doing. He stared at him with angry looking eyes, making Finland startle from the sudden outburst “I’m already too old to play childish games!”
At first, Finland didn’t know what to say. He didn’t understand what had made Sweden so angry, he didn’t usually raise his voice to him, or to anyone for the matter of fact, but he had been strangely cranky lately. Finland was feeling hurt, and for a moment he considered running away and hiding forever from him, but then something dawned on him. He pointed Sweden with his finger, looking horrified.
“Have you grown big and found a girl? Will you sleep forever soon, too?”
Sweden blinked his eyes a few times and then frowned, the question seemed to confuse him for some reason. “No. And I’m not goin’ anywhere. We will be t’gether forever.” He finally answered with a determined voice, nodding to mainly himself, making Finland sigh from relief.
“But I pr’mised to the Pope to keep ya safe and protect your people’s new faith and I failed. No time for playn’ anymore.”
“You mean that old man who gave me my new human name back then when he insisted that I should be baptized, right? Why didn’t he give me a normal name, like Väinö or Kalervo? Nobody around here is called Valentino.”
Finland complained, but not very seriously. He didn’t remember much about his early childhood, or how he had ended up with Sweden, so he didn’t bother to be really annoyed about something he didn’t even remember, maybe the man had liked the weird name.
Besides, Sweden had comforted him by saying that the name he used when he was with humans - which was Berward - wasn’t common at all among his people either. If someone made fun of them because of their names, they could rely on each other.
“That’s him.” Sweden confirmed and stretched his arms, he was getting himself ready for the next training session “I want to be able to pr’tect the kingdom and be stronger than anyone else.”
Finland could have sworn that he heard Sweden to continue to mumble “Especially stronger than that spiky-haired blockhead.” But he couldn’t say for sure. And he didn’t remember seeing anyone with spiky-hair around here.
“Should I train more then, too? Aren’t we a team?”
He asked, but his attention was already elsewhere. He had just spotted a weird beetle that had a wing-like gray pattern on its back and followed it slowly through the grass. Maybe it would return to its family and Finland would see hundreds of them, all crawling around with different patterns on their backs. He was sure that the old Sweden would have thought it was coolest thing they had seen for a while.
Sweden looked thoughtful for a moment, maybe even a little bit sad. “It's my responsibility n’w, I don’t want ya to get hurt again. Ya almost burned in th’se flames.”
“I have survived until now just fine!” Finland protested and almost jumped up from the ground, he would find the beetle later. “Look! Of course it hurt, but every burn has already healed, as fast as usually. You don’t need to worry so much, we are almost invincible… unless we get all mushy, that’s the certain way to the final death.” He spread his hands so Sweden could see better.
Sweden tilted his head a little and his mouth opened wide open. For a moment he just stared at him and then asked “How can ya look like that?”
Finland started to beam. At first he thought Sweden was complimenting his fast healing. For some reason, usually Sweden was the one who recovered from everything first, but now he had managed to impress even him. Then he noticed that the expression on his face was anything but impressed. He looked down, trying to see what Sweden was seeing.
The whole front of his shirt was full of tree needles and grass and who knows what those other particles were, crushed beetle parts, perhaps? They were also sticking from his arms and palms. Their current guardian would be so mad at him when she would see this.
“Monster ooze, I told you I got slimed. There is no turning back now,” Finland sighed, shut his eyes and shook his head slowly “Or just resin that is really sticky.” He corrected when he remembered that Sweden thought he was already so old he didn’t want to play with him anymore. The mere thought made him want to sulk.
Sweden scratched his head, observing the sad looking Finland and looked then at his sword. Then he shrugged, and it almost looked like a smile would have touched the corners of his mouth briefly. Finland wondered what he had on his mind when he sheathed his sword and put it carefully next to a big stone before he stood up and turned to look at him again.
“Do ya want to hear a s’cret?”
“There is a lake that can reverse the monster c’rse.” Sweden almost whispered, making Finland’s eyes widen from amazement.
“But I thought you were busy being a responsible adult? No more fun, only serious stuff?”
“I guess I can still be a kid d’ring breaks.” Sweden pondered.
“But!” He continued before Finland was able say or do anything yet “The magic of the lake will be d’stroyed after it has purified one person.” He lifted his finger up to emphasize the importance of the matter to Finland.
“Only one…” Finland repeated, paying all the attention to what Sweden was telling to him “What are we waiting for then? I can turn into a monster at any moment now!”
“I don’t know…” Sweden said, pretending to be thinking something important “I think this shirt could also need s’me purifying… it stinks.” He stretched his own, sweaty shirt and sprinted then away as fast as he was able to run.
“The first one there gets the pr’ze!” He yelled to Finland who realized the situation a bit too late.
“Hey! Unfair! You got a head start! And I need the lake more than you do!”
He screamed back and ran then after him, laughing while doing so. He was happy that the old Sweden was still around and would hopefully still be for some time before that other Sweden would take over completely.
Their new house was incredible, he had never lived in such a big house before. He couldn’t help but wonder how many logs had been used to made it, but its size wasn’t the most remarkable thing about it. It had a real chimney, stone flooring and a window that was made of an ice-like substance you were able to see through without opening it first. It didn’t melt even though the weather was still quite pleasant, it didn’t even feel cold!
Unfortunately, it got dirty if you made different tests to it, like if you, let’s just say, licked it once to make sure it wasn’t ice after all. He needed to do something about it before Sweden would notice it. It had been really expensive, it was given to them only because this was a special occasion.
He opened the door and kept it open by leaning on it while he lifted a wooden stool from the ground and carried it in. He placed it near the three similar-looking shaky seats Sweden had made just for this house. After Sweden would finish building their table and they would get some rugs to protect them from cold, this place would start to feel like a real home. The only thing that made him feel a little uncertain was the fact that Sweden and he wouldn’t live here together.
The house was sized for four people. A large oven dominated the main room, it was meant for cooking and heating the rooms and water for weekly Saturday bathing, especially during winters when you couldn’t do it in the nearby river. In addition to the main room which had almost all the necessities, there were two smaller rooms for sleeping. The other residents of the house were supposed to arrive only tomorrow.
That’s why he got surprised when someone knocked the door steadily three times. Before he was able to do anything, the door was knocked three times again, but much weaker this time, he was barely able to hear it. He moved to open it, carefully, because he knew it couldn’t be Sweden. Sweden wouldn’t knock because he knew the door was open, and even if he did, he wouldn’t get so weak in the middle of knocking a door.
Behind the front door stood a youngster wearing a dark blue doublet and a diverted skirt of the same color. His eyes looked at him, but for some reason it felt as though he had looked straight through him, without registering him at all. Something about the slim and elegant stranger reminded him of fairies, even though he didn’t even believe in such creatures anymore. At least he tried not to believe.
“Mr. Norway?” he asked, at least he fit the description and there was something familiar about him.
“Yes,” he nodded his head “Our ride arrived ahead of schedule. I hope it doesn’t matter.”
“No, not at all. But Sweden is still in the tool shed, he tries to build a table, but there is something wrong with its legs. The whole table is swaying and he’s trying to shorten them.”
“And ya are Österland, I assume? Sweden’s young province?” Norway asked, like really seeing him for the first time only now.
“Uh… yes, some people still call me that.”
“I see. But I guess we could be a bit more informal now that we are going to live together, makes this whole thing a little bit less awkward.” he sighed “I’m Norway. And just Norway, no need to call me ‘mister’. It sounds so pretentious and makes me sound like a true gentleman… which I have never really been.”
“Oh? Well… people have started to call me Finland, so you can do so as well. I never liked the sound of Österland.” he answered, wondering what Norway had meant by that. He glanced briefly around, wondering what took Sweden so long.
“Aren’t ya going to introduce me?” a tiny demanding voice peeped suddenly from somewhere, startling Finland. He looked around but couldn’t see anyone besides Norway, who was now smiling tenderly for some reason.
“And this is,” Norway said and gently pushed a small boy, who had been hiding behind his dress this whole time, next to him “My little brother Iceland. He usually stays alone on his island, but I thought it could be good for him to stay with other nations for some time. Maybe it would also help him to calm his overly fiery temper.”
Now Finland couldn’t help but smile; he wouldn’t be the youngest in the house anymore! After Sweden’s growth spurt, he had tried to grow faster too, but for some reason time seemed to go more slowly for him. The boy was so tiny! He was wearing similar clothes than his big brother and looked at Tino with a distrustful look on his face.
“Have you liked Sweden’s place this far?” Tino decided to ask, trying to win the boy’s trust by smiling happily to him.
“It’s nice, but not like home. Too many trees.” the little boy mumbled, avoiding now his gaze and still holding tightly from his big brother’s clothes.
“Too many trees? There are never too many trees…,” Finland sounded surprised. He had been in forests most of his life, they were important to him. It sounded so weird that someone could find them intimidating, it made him wonder what the little boy’s own home was like “I know! I can take you for a nature trip someday, would you like that? We could climb trees and have fun together. Every kid should experience what it feels like to stumble into an ant-hill at least once in their lifetime!”
This made Iceland glance at his brother pleadingly, but he just shook his head to him. Iceland frowned and crossed his arms in front of him, almost shrieking his answer.
“Fine! That sounds like so much fun! Can’t wait.”
“Iceland has a soul of an adventurer, just like his brother, he will love it.” Norway said and ruffled Iceland’s hair ignoring his sulking. Before Finland was able to point out that his words didn’t match with his reaction very well, Norway continued “Now, if you could move just a little bit so that my friends could come in as well.”
“There is someone else?” Finland asked, surprised. He couldn’t see anyone else besides the two brothers, but because he hadn’t seen Iceland just a moment ago either, he took a step back leaving the doorway empty. Norway then beckoned someone to come in with a simple hand movement. After waiting for a moment, Norway and Iceland walked inside the house past the very confused Finland. He looked back outside, but there wasn’t anyone, just trees that the setting sun dyed reddish.
“Did… did they change their mind?” he finally asked.
Iceland, who had already started to look around the house, looked first at Tino and then at his brother. “Doesn’t he see them? That’s weird.”
“Not everyone can see trolls and fairies.” Norway answered and then smirked at someone who was not visible to the naked eye. Iceland, who had been very serious so far, giggled, making Finland wonder had the invisible creature just cracked a joke about him. If they even existed, maybe the brothers tried to fool him?
“If I do this,” Finland started and then grabbed the air with his hands “Can I catch one?”
“They are too fast for ya.” Norway said and Iceland pointed the corner with his finger “He is there. Ya can try.”
Norway watched as Finland tried to chase the magical creatures while Iceland acted as his eyes. Sometimes Iceland pointed to the wrong place on purpose, like wanting to make sure that Finland didn’t really see them. Norway turned around only when he heard a weird dragging sound behind him. It made also Finland and Iceland stop their game.
“Ya two are e’rly.” Sweden remarked simply when he saw the duo. He was moving a large wooden board with him. If it was supposed to be their table, it had the shortest legs Finland had ever seen.
“Sweden.” Norway just nodded his head to him. Sweden had told to Finland that he had known Norway since they had been just tiny, little seedlings of nations, but for some reason the atmosphere between them felt somewhat cautious. It was like they didn’t know how they should have behaved in each other's company.
They all helped Sweden to put the table in place. It was almost at the floor level, seats around it looked ridiculously tall compared to it “I probably sh’rtened the legs too m’ch. But it kept swaying.”
They all stared at the table for a while, not knowing what to say, until Iceland cut off the silence and tugged his brother’s sleeve, apparently deciding that he had seen enough “Can we go back home now?”
“This is our home now,” Norway explained to him “It’s already been decided on a higher level.” Finland noticed that he exchanged glances with Sweden when he said so “We will be stuck together for who knows how long, so it’s better to get used to the situation.”
“Hm.” Sweden agreed “Have ya two eaten already? We didn’t except ya yet, so there are only l’ftovers.”
“We ate on the way here. But the journey was long and tiring, and Iceland here is already past his bedtime.”
“But I’m not tired!” Iceland protested, but nobody listened to him.
“Come with me.” Finland encouraged and took his hand “I can show our bedroom to you.” Iceland followed Finland, even though he still insisted that he wasn’t tired at all.
“You can choose which bed you want.” Finland promised when they arrived to the room “They are both pretty similar, but the one on the left is a bit softer. It’s also lower because Sweden is still practicing his woodworking skills, but don’t tell that to him, I told him that it’s perfect.”
Iceland looked at them both, thinking hard. After a few minutes, he walked over to the bed on the right side of the room. “That one? Are you sure?” Finland asked.
“Big brother would have chosen this bed, too. And I want to be just like big brother when I grow up.” the tiny boy assured and climbed on the bed.
Finland sat on the other bed. “I can’t wait to show you places around here! You know, now that we all live together, you can think me as your other big brother if you want. I have never been anyone’s big brother, or any kind of brother for the matter of fact, so it would be so great!” he smiled at the tiny nation encouragingly.
“No.” Emil blurted and glanced at him angrily “Nobody can just decide to become someone’s big brother just like that!”
“Then how does it work, then…?” Finland mumbled, starting to get ready for bed, too “Sorry, you are right. I don’t even know why you moved in with us in the first place… Sweden just said that you will arrive and that was it.”
“Big brother and Sweden formed a union.” Iceland said while he sank his head on the pillow, yawning. Maybe he was tired, after all.
“Union? What’s that?” Finland wondered and pulled the blanket on himself.
“I’m not sure, but brother said it’s a little bit like what arranged marriage is to mortals, at least when only two countries unite, but not quite the same. They didn't have much to say in the matter, but at least they usually get along quite fine. And they have the same king now.”
“That sounds… so weird.” Finland answered, not knowing what else to say. He wasn’t sure what was weirder, this whole union -thing or the fact that Iceland knew so much more about it and arranged marriages than he did. Different thoughts swirled in his mind. Just when he thought Iceland had fallen asleep, he heard his voice again.
“I need to hear a bedtime story. Usually brother or my caretaker tells it, but neither is here now. And if ya really want to be my big brother, ya need to perform the big brother tests first. And the test is a proper bedtime story.”
“I didn’t know that there was a big brother test!” So, Iceland was at least considering his request “What story you want to hear, I know a lot of stories about wolves and witches! And monsters living in the woods.”
“What about them?”
“I want to hear a story about Vikings.”
“Why about them? I don’t know much about Vikings, and I don’t like them very much either.” they were usually just a menace, even Finland was able to recall some unpleasant memories of them.
“Big brother always tells me about Vikings. It’s Vikings or nothing.” Emil said with a voice that hinted that decent big brothers were able to tell stories about Vikings.
“Okay, okay, I will tell you about Vikings. I think there is at least one story I have probably heard from someone.” Finland bit his lips thoughtfully, trying to remember all the details before he started to tell the old tale to Iceland.
“Once upon a time there was a tiny village. The people in the village made their living by fishing as they lived near the sea. They weren’t rich, but they had managed to make their lives quite comfortable nevertheless.”
“I like fish.” Iceland said. Good, Finland thought. At least something had in the story had caught the boy’s attention.
“Many dangers lurked the villagers and their coastal lifestyle, and one of the dangers were called the Vikings. These evil men were sometimes known to attack villages and towns, plundering them of all their valuables, kidnapping or killing their people. The coastal people had had enough of them, so they had invented a warning system. When one of the towns saw them, they lit huge bonfires that were seen to the more distant towns, and then also they did the same. This way, everyone knew about them even before they were too close.”
Finland glanced in the direction of Iceland’s bed. He was surprisingly quiet, probably concentrating to the story.
“So, when one day the Vikings tried a surprise attack, the villagers were already excepting them. They had escaped to the nearby forest with all their valuables, waiting for the right moment. When the disappointed Vikings were returning back to their longboats, villagers who were waiting for them, hiding silently in the forest, ambushed them. It was a massacre, but this time the villagers had the upper hand. Some of the Vikings survived, but the raising storm most likely sank their ship when they desperately tried to escape. The evil got what it deserved.”
He ended the story and turned to look at Iceland again “So, what did you think?”
Iceland looked back at him with a dissatisfied look on his tiny face “It had a really bad ending. I don’t like stories like that.”
“Seriously? It’s one of the few Viking stories I know that actually has a happy ending!”
“Ya failed at the big brother test, tell a better story next time.” Iceland said and pulled the blanket over his head.
“You would have wanted the Vikings to win? Who in their right mind would want them to win?” Finland tried to ask, but Iceland remained stubbornly silent.
Sweden had some seriously weird friends, he thought, before he turned to his side and tried to fall asleep.
Sweden watched the scenery pass by; evergreen forests, large lakes, fields that produced just enough grain to feed everybody if the weather was favorable and then even more forests. The only thing that broke the silence was the quiet clatter of their horse’s hooves, singing birds and Finland’s occasional chatter. Sweden liked that. When Finland chatted about this and that, he was able to forget his current task at least for a moment.
“I think we are there soon,” Finland said and glanced around the surroundings, the expression on his face told Sweden that he wasn’t happy about the situation either “Have you been there before?”
Sweden nodded his head “I used to travel th’re often when I was younger. And ev’n further.”
Finland was clearly waiting him to tell more about it, but he couldn’t remember the details very well anymore. Trading, raids, yes, there had been them both. He had traveled with his people far, far away from home, usually eastward and southeast while Norway and Denmark were more specialized in the western direction. Adventures, they had called them adventures. What an innocent name for raiding.
But that was probably the reason why the boy that they were now traveling to meet seemed somehow familiar, and not only because they were constantly fighting against him. He glanced briefly at Finland. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken Finland with him, but there lived a quite lot of people who talked a similar language than his scattered tribes and he had thought that he could need an interpreter. Mortals didn’t talk the universal language of nations, after all.
“I don’t like this very much. How do you talk to someone whose stuff you have stolen for years and who has burned your town down at least once? Hi! Those were some pretty impressive flames! Or do we both need to pretend it never happened?” Finland sighed after it become clear that Sweden wouldn’t continue his story.
“That’s how it usually goes if ya want to m’ke peace with someone. Forget the grudges.”
At least he thought it would go like that. He was in a union with Norway now, and even though Norway didn’t want to have anything to do with the dispute between Sweden and Novgorod – mainly because Norway argued constantly about the northern borders with Novgorod as well and he had his own worries – Sweden had more power behind him now. They would need to respect each other if they wanted to make peace, and getting a chance to grow in peace was the most important thing right now if he wanted to become a stronger country.
For the rest of the journey, they traveled in silence. Finland looked like he had sunk into some deep inner thoughts, and the silence made Sweden repeat the plan inside his head over and over again. Something went always wrong, and he needed to start from the beginning. He was almost glad when he saw the huge lake where they were told to arrive, the real situation would most likely go more smoothly than the imagined one. It usually always did.
Two sturdy-looking men were waiting for them on the shore of the lake. They started to walk towards Finland and him as soon as they jumped out of the carriage, keeping their gazes fixed on Sweden. He stared straight back at them, trying to seem self-confident and maybe a little bit threatening. Most likely in vain, as to them he looked like a pre-teen who thought too much of himself, not like a being that was much older than they could even imagine. Then again, their own nation was so scattered he looked even younger.
“Kingdom of Sweden?” The one with a thick beard asked from him in Low German, completely ignoring Finland’s presence. Sweden just nodded his head. Then the man pointed at Sweden’s sword and motioned with his hands to give it to them.
“He wants us to g’ve our weapons to them.” Sweden translated the language to Finland, moving his hand instinctively on the hilt.
“Is that wise? Wouldn’t that make us completely defenseless? What if these men are only robbers and don’t even work for Novgorod? What if they capture us and sell us to slavery?” Finland whispered back, glancing nervously at the stoic men while doing so “Maybe we should try to knock them out?”
“Th’y knew who I am. And if this is a trap, one sw’rd wouldn’t help us anyway.” Sweden started to remove the scabbard from his belt. He was almost sure Novgorod just wanted to show him that when he was here, he needed to obey his rules.
“I know, but carrying something sharp with you makes you feel much more confident when you are in an enemy territory…”
Sweden handed out his sword to the man with a thick beard and Finland did the same with his tiny knife. The man just looked at it first, looking pretty puzzled, but then decided to confiscate it too. Then he pointed at a rowing boat that had already seen its best days. The meeting place was on an island, but it almost looked like Novgorod wanted them to end at the bottom of the lake.
“We want to get our weapons back when we return. Take c’re of the horse.” Sweden commanded the two men before he walked to the boat with Finland, one of them just snorted to him in response.
Finland climbed on the boat and started to look for oars while Sweden pushed it to the water and jumped also on board. Like he had thought, the boat leaked already a little bit.
“I will row.” Sweden announced and took the pair of oars from Finland “Just say if ya st’rt to feel seasick.” He teased his province. Finland’s specialization were thick forests, he was able to move quietly like a ghost in them, but water was Sweden’s strongest element. At least he wanted to think so. He started to row.
“Silly! You can’t get seasick on a lake!” Finland giggled at him, but then peeked into the water “At least I hope so.”
Sweden liked to get Finland to laugh. When he had been just a baby and still lived with Denmark and Norway, Denmark had been the jokester of the trio and everybody had thought that Sweden was always the serious one along with Norway. And too often, Sweden had been the target of his jokes. It was easy to make Finland to smile.
“Is that the island? The one with a fortress?” Finland asked suddenly and pointed his finger at the right direction.
Sweden nodded his head at him. Novgorod had wanted to meet him here, in a very remote location. He hoped it wasn’t a trap when he rowed their boat ashore. He started to walk towards the fortress after he made sure that Finland was still following him. The local residents of the fortress stayed far away from them, but the look on their faces didn’t look very friendly.
“You are right in time!” A small, chubby-looking boy with silvery hair greeted them at the gate of the fortress and clapped his hands. Finland, who had become serious again after they had arrived on the island, looked at him carefully. Sweden understood why; they were usually fighting against Novgorod and it was rare to see him from so close. He looked surprisingly harmless and small, actually a little bit like Finland.
“I’m sorry that I made those two thugs to take your weapons away, but you have tried to pierce me with your sword before. I didn’t like that.” Novgorod explained when he led them further into the fortress and then inside a house.
“Hm, that’s und’rstandable.” Sweden agreed. It was a nasty feeling indeed. He hoped he would not need to feel it today. This place didn’t look like a trap, but he decided to stay alert nevertheless.
“What are these?” Finland’s curious voice suddenly filled the room. He looked at the frames on the table.
“My collection of shells.” Novgorod answered with a pride in his voice. “I like to collect different things! When I’m here I try to find new ones from the lake for my collection.”
“They are so pretty!”
“You think so? I can show my pinecone collection to you if you want.”
“You have a collection of pinecones? So cool…!”
“Maybe it would be better to st’rt the meeting.” Sweden interrupted when he saw Finland’s eyes widen from amazement, otherwise they would be here still in the morning. Finland had clearly forgotten already that they were supposed to be cautious when they were here, he was sometimes too naïve for his own good.
“Ah, maybe I got carried away, I don’t have guests very often, hardly ever, actually” Novgorod chuckled and urged Sweden and Finland to sit down. “I hope that my best friend will have time to come to see my collection at some point. He’s so funny, you should see his silly face!”
“Is he always busy?” Finland asked.
“I guess so, but the biggest reason why he doesn’t visit me is because he doesn’t yet know that he’s going to be my best friend. He lives south from here, a boy with a long brown hair and green eyes? Do you know him?”
Finland wasn’t sure so he shook his head and Sweden stared at the weird boy. Lithuania was a mighty and well-known country, but he decided not to answer because everything the boy said sounded so bizarre to him. “Can ya make decisions on yo’r own?” he asked from him instead.
For a moment Novgorod’s innocent expression darkened. He opened a map and put it on a table, and for a moment Sweden was sure that he wasn’t going to answer to the question.
“I can decide what happens in Novgorod, but otherwise master Mongolia sets the rules for me. Did you remind me of him on purpose? This is my only safe place and I don’t want to remember him while I am here. You are mean.” The youngster accused.
“I needed to kn’w can ya decide about the new border. Otherwise we w’uld need to go to meet Mongolia instead of ya.”
“What new border?” Finland looked at the map and then at Sweden with a worried expression on his face. Sweden had told to him that he would try to negotiate peace between them and Novgorod, but he hadn’t exactly told to him that there would be a new permanent border.
“Don’t worry, ya will stay with me.” Sweden assured.
“Unless we accidentally draw the border too much on the west.” Novgorod joked, but Sweden didn’t find it funny. He took the quill and looked at the map for a while. There had never been a clear border, so he wasn’t sure how much he could leave to Novgorod without hurting Finland. He drew a line with ink on the map and looked at Novgorod questioningly. He shook his head and took the quill from Sweden’s hand.
“I thought something like this.” Novgorod said and drew a new line over Sweden’s line, making Finland to bite his lip. There was no way Sweden would surrender so much land to him. If they wouldn’t have needed peace so desperately, he would have walked out of here right now without any contracts. He snatched the quill from Novgorod, small droplets of ink fell on the table and on the map.
“How about a compr’mise?” Sweden asked and draw a line between his and Novgorod’s line. The map started to be really dirty from ink, they would need a new one if Novgorod wouldn’t be happy with this solution either.
“At least it looks better than your first suggestion for a border… not that I’m completely happy with this new one either…”
“N’ither am I.”
Novgorod walked around the table, looking at the map from all directions before he extended his hand to Sweden.
“I’m ready for permanent peace with you if you are.”
Sweden got up from his chair to shake his hand. Finland frowned and continued to draw angry-looking creatures - Sweden was quite sure they were supposed to be birds - with his finger on the edge of the map. He would understand this eventually. His people were used to roam freely here and there, but the permanent border would calm the situation down between them and Novgorod. He and Finland would both grow stronger and soon they would not need to accept any compromises anymore.
“Who will keep the treaty?” Novgorod asked and looked at the messy paper.
“I don’t need it, I will remember how I dr’w the border.”
Novgorod nodded his head and rolled the map upon itself. Sweden wondered should they have waited for the ink to dry out first, but just shrugged then.
“Let’s go h’me, Finland.”
“Are you leaving already?” Novgorod looked at them and blinked his eyes, confused “Shouldn’t we celebrate the peace first? I like to have company.”
“We are in a h’rry.” Sweden answered, even though Finland looked like he would really want to see the pinecone collection. “And ev’n though we aren’t going to fight with ya anymore, it doesn’t mean we are friends either.”
He took hold of Finland’s hand and led him to the door. But when he tried the handle, the door was securely locked.
“Hey, what’s th’s?” he turned around to face Novgorod, an angry expression on his face.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay a little bit longer? I have drinks and treats you probably haven’t tasted before. We could have so much fun!”
“Listen. I t’ld to Norway that we would be b’ck within a few weeks. If we don’t, he will alert my s’ldiers!”
“Boring!” Novgorod just grinned at him mischievously “But also pretty clever, I give you that. I don’t trust you and you don’t trust me, so it just goes.” Novgorod put his hand in his pocket and took out a key “But that was just a security measure, we didn’t want anyone to come to bother us in the middle of the meeting, right?”
He opened the door for them. Berward wondered had he been a bit paranoid, that was a reasonable explanation for the locked door.
But why had he told that only after he had already tried the handle and told about his back up plan?
”I knew I couldn’t tr’st Novgorod!”
Sweden snapped angrily while he cut through a log with an axe. Norway picked up the pieces of wood from the ground and stacked them neatly to dry. They would need a lot of them, trees had already started to drop leaves and it would be unbearable cold soon, even thought he would have better things to do than cut wood right now.
“And ya are sure everything is all his fault?”
Something about Norway’s tone of voice annoyed Sweden. Of course it was Novgorod’s fault, their ‘eternal peace’ had lasted only five years. Five years, that was like nothing to them, certainly not an eternity, not even for a boy as weird as Novgorod.
“I already told ya, I remember clearly wh’re I drew the b’rder. He doesn’t respect it and bl’mes me of occupying his territory.”
Which caused new skirmishes between the two of them, making Finland to get stuck in the crossfire again. There were times when he felt really sick and just spent time in bed and that worried Sweden.
“I made peace with him several years ago. There have been no problems ever since, don’t ya guys have the original contract somewhere?” Norway asked.
“Nob’dy is able to read it anymore. Or be able to pr’ve which strike on the map is the real one.” Sweden snorted in a tone that implied that he didn’t want to talk about it with Norway. They were allies, union partners even, but right now Norway seemed to be more on his enemy’s side.
“So, ya just decided that you’re right? Ya know, sometimes ya remind me of Denmark.” Norway said, shrugging his shoulders “Like when he decided he just needed to get a new dominion, and for some reason ya got the same idea almost at the same time. Ya both succeed, so I guess it was a draw.”
Sweden cut a new log, ignoring Norway’s remark about their alleged similarities. He wanted to be a lot stronger than he was now, so it was only natural that he had wanted to expand his kingdom at some point. It had nothing to do with Denmark or his conquests. And if he had not taken Finland to live with him back then, Novgorod would have probably done so. And that would have been bad for all of them.
“Do ya know does the boy still live with Denmark?” Norway asked after a moment of silence “The kid is apparently pretty wild, Denmark had some troubles with him the last time I heard about them.”
“Estonia? Not sure, Finland has been asking about him, he has vague memories of pl’ying with him when they were a lot younger, but b’cause he’s Danish now, we can’t…”
Sweden interrupted his conversation when he realized Norway’s had fallen on his knees after an attempt to pick up more wood from the ground. The work wasn’t that exhausting and Norway should have been fine as there was currently peace in his lands and there was no out of ordinary hunger either. The only reason Sweden could think to be the cause of his collapse caused a cold sweat to form on his forehead.
“Norway…?” He reached his hand to him to help him to get up, but he ignored it, the expression on his face looked pained.
“I’m perfectly fine. I just need… to get something to drink.” He said and stood up, swaying a little until he got his balance “See? I just felt a little bit dizzy, that’s all.”
He brushed the grass and bits of wet birch leaves off his clothes and gave Sweden a look that told him not to fuss over nothing, before starting to walk towards the nearest river. He seemed to be just fine now, but Sweden had thought so also before he had witnessed his sudden loss of power. Had he really been so focused on his own problems that he hadn’t even realized something was clearly wrong?
They both actually had the same problem; despite being in a union for years now, they didn’t really want to be involved into each other's life too much. Sweden didn’t have much experience of unions, but shouldn’t they be willing to share their joys and sorrows with each other?
He put his axe away and stacked the rest of the wood into piles. At least now they wouldn’t need to suffer coldness during the coming winter, he thought with satisfaction as he admired his work for a moment, before heading to the front of the house.
Finland was there, cleaning the path from leaves and Iceland sat on the ground, looking at a leaf with a serious expression on his face. Sweden wasn’t sure did he really want to know what was happening here, but curiosity took over his thought process and he needed to talk with the boy anyway. He walked to Iceland, who didn’t even react to his sudden presence but kept his gaze on the leaf. There were two slugs, one was grey and the other slime ball was more the tone of brown.
“The Grey-Arrow-of-Doom is going to win.” Finland beamed to Sweden, who was still trying to understand what was happening.
“It’s not sure yet, Slug still has a fair chance!” Iceland cried, trying to encourage his competitor to go faster “This is stupid.”
“You disagreed just a moment ago, when Slug was winning.” Finland chuckled at him before he continued his work.
Sweden followed the slug race for a little while with Iceland, until he came to conclusion that absolutely nothing would happen for a long time.
“Iceland.” he said, trying to catch the boy's attention. He needed to be careful, he didn’t want to make him worry over nothing, but he needed to know.
“What?” Iceland answered absentmindedly.
“Is everything alright w‘th your brother?”
“What do ya mean?” it looked like he had his full attention now, Sweden thought when he turned to look at him, big eyes full of fear. He had never been good with words or sensitive questions, and it looked like he failed also this time.
“Probably n’thing… but has… s’mething unusual happened to him lately?”
“Where is he?” Iceland got up quickly and glanced now his surroundings.
“At the river, probably. Ya don’t need to w’rry, his trolls are with him…”
“Ya don’t understand! He doesn’t own them, and they will abandon him if they sense any weakness! There was this ghost ship and brother said… he said…” Iceland seemed to become more and more anxious and he would have rushed in the direction of the river unless Sweden had stopped him by taking a hold of his shoulders.
“Let go of me!” he shrieked.
“What gh’st ship! Ya need to tell me!” Sweden demanded. Finland followed them both with his gaze, not sure what he should do. The situation had changed so suddenly.
“An English merchant ship wrecked to his place some time ago, I visited there with brother back then, remember? Nothing unusual about a shipwreck, those happen from time to time, but its whole crew was dead!” Iceland struggled, but he was a lot tinier than Sweden.
“They were dead and parts of their bodies were covered with black boils, it looked like they had been drifting like that for a while. Brother become instantly worried because of the disease which is spreading now everywhere, but he was sure we would be fine because we got rid of the bodies right away. Nothing was supposed to happen to him! He promised!”
Sweden let go of Iceland when he truly understood the meaning of his words, and the young boy bolted away immediately. Sweden had been afraid of this, been silently hoping they would be spared from this, but all it had needed was one ship. One cursed ship. Why it came here, why it didn’t get lost to the sea somewhere? And why they hadn’t told about this to him immediately? How on earth the disease spread, it was a mystery to everyone.
“Come!” he said to confused Finland and started to run towards the river. He followed after him.
“But we can’t get diseases like ordinary human beings. Why would Norway be ill?” Finland asked while they ran.
“He isn’t, not really,” Sweden answered, thinking how he could explain this to Finland, especially considering how often he was unwell “It’s his people who aren’t f’ne, and that’s why he has started to sh’w different symptoms.”
“I kn’w, the situation needs to be really bad before it even affects our k’nd.” and that was the reason he was so afraid. What was this disease, why was it so ridiculously overpowered?
They were almost there when they heard Iceland to shriek his brother’s name. It was no wonder that the sound startled Finland, it made cold shivers to run down his spine as well. And soon they saw what had scared Iceland so badly; there he was, his big brother lying on the ground seemingly unconscious. Iceland tried his best to shake him awake, calling his name while doing so.
“Do something! Please!”
He sniffed an order to them, desperately waiting them to make everything better somehow. But there was absolutely nothing they could do, there was no cure for this disease. He moved to check did he still breath.
“Is he dead?” Iceland asked.
“No.” Sweden shook his head and heard Finland to sigh from relief. The information didn’t seem to make Iceland feel any better “Iceland, go ahead and pr’pare Norway’s bed for him, Finland and I will c’rry him home.”
The young boy was first hesitant to leave from his brother’s side, but nodded then his head and started to run towards their house. Sweden took a hold under Norway’s arms and Finland helped to lift him up by supporting his legs. Their movements were pretty slow, but at least they were able to proceed this way.
“Why didn’t you tell to Iceland that he can’t die? At least not permanently? We are immortal, after all.” Finland asked after Iceland was out of earshot.
Finland had lived a pretty isolated life before Sweden had took him with him, but Sweden had traveled ever since he had been born. And he had seen a lot of things, even though he was able to remember only some of them, like really interesting stuff or… things that had horrified his young mind too badly. Those he was able remembered as clearly as if they had happened yesterday.
He wasn’t sure did he have the right to crumble Finland’s beliefs in his invincibility, but wasn’t the bitter truth always better than a sweet lie? And they needed to be prepared, the disease was here, there was no way it would spare them either.
“Because th’t’s not true.”
“Huh?” Finland blinked and almost lost his hold under Norway’s left knee “What do you mean? We both have survived from things that would have been fatal to everyone else!”
“We will die if too m’ny of our people die or if a lot of them just forget about us.”
Sweden paused for a moment, waiting if Finland wanted to ask something, but he stayed quiet “Also if our country changes so m’ch that a successor is being born, but usually then we gladly g’ve our life for them. It’s their turn.”
“But it’s just a disease! There have always been diseases, no disease can kill everyone!” Finland insisted, probably finding hard to believe what he just told to him.
“Not so s’re about that… This is something I h’ve never seen before.”
“So… Does this mean Norway is in serious danger? Can’t we do anything to help him?”
“I’m afr’id he is. And the only thing we can do is to wait and h’pe for the best.”
“Thank you for this day's work! You can go to rest now.”
Finland patted the horse then took it back to the stable. The horse could rest for now, but he had still some work to do. First, he would need to give it more fresh water to drink and a lot of hay so it would be able to work again tomorrow. Fortunately, he had already cleaned its stable earlier today.
He dusted his clothes a little bit before he headed to the main house, he smelled of horse and clayey soil, but it couldn’t be helped. And he was pretty sure the bishop who owned this land was already used to it. He wouldn’t need to be in his company for a long time anyway. After he would pay him his salary for today’s work, he could go back home.
“Is everything ready, Valentino?” the bishop asked, even though he knew Finland wouldn’t come to his fancy house otherwise. Finland just nodded his head at him and the bishop gave him a small pouch full of grains, as usual.
He didn’t get the full payment, as the bishop had insisted that a kid like him wouldn’t need a salary meant for full-grown men and women because he wasn’t even a half of their size. Which was a bit unfair, but he really needed this job, especially now when everything had started to fall apart.
“Thank you, your Excellency.” he humbly thanked the bishop. Sweden’s human language still sounded a bit weird coming from his mouth, but at least he had started to understand it a bit better now that he had to spend so much time with his people. Just when he was about to leave, the man started to speak to him again. Usually he didn’t bother to talk with his employees more than it was necessary.
“Are the other two still unable to work? The two youngsters?” he said, meaning Sweden and Norway.
“Yes. As you know, they both… broke their legs in an accident… with an axe. Healing takes a lot of time.” Finland answered, hoping that he hadn’t said to him that their arms are broken the first time he had to give an excuse for their absence.
“Too bad. It’s starting to be difficult to get a proper work-force because more and more people are getting sick.” he said, probably mostly to himself “Are you still feeling fine? I don’t want to let even a trace of that evilness inside my house.”
“I wouldn’t be able to do all the tasks if I wasn’t healthy.” he answered truthfully. Maybe the disease had already arrived to his lands, he wasn’t sure, but at least it wasn’t so bad it would have caused symptoms to him. He hoped that this meant it was getting weaker.
The bishop didn’t answer, he just nodded his head after coughing a few times. When he just stayed quiet, Finland finally walked outside and closed the door behind him. A big part of today’s dinner was earned once again, that was all he needed to know. Now he could return back home, even though the place didn’t even feel like home anymore.
The atmosphere there had turned really distressing, and sometimes Finland played with the idea of escaping from his responsibilities by leaving everything behind and moving to live alone in some forest. It sounded so much easier than this current life. There he could ignore the disease completely, pretend that it didn't even exist, at least until it would eventually find his people.
He had so few of them that they would all be gone in an instant. On the other hand, good luck with spreading far when all the people lived so far away from each other. Still, he had felt a lot better when he had still thought that they were completely immortal, he pondered in his mind as he continued to walk along the muddy path.
Iceland was just coming out of the house when he arrived there, carrying a wooden bucket that was way too big for him. No landowner would employ him yet, at least they would refuse to pay him anything. They thought he couldn’t do the job properly because he was so tiny. That’s why he spent mornings by trying to take care of the sick and then selling twigs for firewood. Sometimes he fished.
“That’s usually my job.” Finland said to the boy and pointed at the bucket.
“I can do this, too. And I’m sick of preparing the grains, ya can do that this time.” he said stubbornly and Finland was too tired to protest.
He went inside and threw the pouch on the table. Sweden sat on the chair, his eyes were closed and Norway was most likely still in the other room. Finland peeked carefully there. Everything seemed to be like it had been yesterday and the day before; Norway was in bed and would probably sleep through this whole day, too.
Iceland would tell him the events of the day every night before going to bed, even though they weren’t even sure did he hear him. For some reason, he was a lot better during winters, but every time the spring arrived and the weather got warmer, his health collapsed again. Which didn’t make any sense to Finland, winter had always been the deadliest season before.
He closed the door, making dust balls tumble across the floor, stirred by the light breeze. They should really clean the house, but there were way more important tasks that couldn’t wait. Especially not after Sweden had gotten sick, too.
Finland walked to the chair where Sweden had fallen asleep in an uncomfortable position. His condition wasn’t even nearly as bad as Norway’s, but he was really tired all the time. It was weird to see him like that, frightening even. Finland decided not to try to carry him to bed, it would only wake him up. Instead, he fetched his blanket from their room and covered him with it. At least he would be comfily warm, this was all he was able to do for him.
Not that the house was particularly cold at the moment, but he still added more wood to the oven and prepared the grains. Now all he needed to make some porridge was water, which Iceland was fetching from the river, but for some reason he had been on the journey a longer time than it usually took. Just when he was about to go to look for him, he heard a weird noise behind the door. Like a small bear cub trying to growl at perceived threats.
“So cold!” Iceland slammed the door open, dragging the too big wooden bucket behind him, his clothes were soaking wet “Why doesn’t this place have hot springs? Everything is so cold here, it’s unnatural!”
Says someone whose name is Ice, Finland thought but couldn’t help but admire his good imagination. Hot springs, he wished something like that would exist in the real world. He took the bucket from him, but to his disappointment it was almost empty. They should have realized that Iceland would be able to carry even less water than him.
“Did you fell to the river?” Finland asked as Iceland hurried over to the oven, glancing at him angrily.
“No, I just decided to go for a swim, just for fun.”
“It’s too early season for that. And you should really take your clothes off before going to water.” Finland answered absentmindedly.
Would he be able to make porridge with these ingredients or would it just burn? They couldn’t waste food but they all needed energy, Iceland and he the most as they had to keep every little thing going on in the house and try to earn money and food. Which was seriously starting to get on their nerves, they were just kids!
Back then, when there were four of them, they were doing just fine, but now the former income of the two other residents was completely gone. They needed help, but nobody was willing to give that to them, everyone had to take care of their own families first. Even their king had refused to grant more funds for their use when Sweden had asked that from him. People were sick and scared, and those who weren’t were already suspicious of them. If the townsfolk would start to think them as witches, they would be in so much trouble.
“Are you still feeling fine?” Finland asked and decided to mix the grains with cold water. It would taste absolutely disgusting, but better that than burning everything to the ground.
“I’m angry, wet, hungry, worried of my brother, missing my puffin and the hot springs,” he paused to think for a moment, probably adding some things to his list “I’m also tired. Otherwise everything is just perfect.”
“Good. I don’t feel sick either. As long as the two of us can still keep going, we have no worries.” Finland tried to smile encouragingly and handed him a bowl of cold mush that tried its best to pretend it was porridge. He felt weird familiarity with it at the moment, but Iceland didn’t take it.
“Stop pretending that everything is going to be fine! The rest of the world could be dead for all we know, how are we going to survive?” his tone of the voice didn’t sound accusing, he was just stating simple facts. Sometimes he really sounded more like an old man than a little kid he was supposed to be.
“I’m not, I’m just…”
“And even worse,” he continued, ignoring him “What if they aren’t dead? What if someone attacks us now when we are weak? You’re not even a country, just a nation and even that only barely.”
Finland wasn’t sure if you could call Iceland a country either, even though he claimed to be one. And all those things he mentioned made his escape plan to the woods sound even more appealing. No more this anxious feeling that twirled in his stomach. After all, he was just a nation. You couldn’t except a nation to follow the rules of countries. He glanced briefly at Sweden and then shook his head.
“At least Novgorod has been pretty quiet lately.” he was probably sick, too. He had a much larger trade relations with the Hanseatic League than he did, and ships were really efficient of spreading the disease “And I have already started to prepare for other threats.”
“How?” Iceland asked, now sounding more like someone of his age.
“Follow me, I’ll show you!” he put the bowl on the table. Maybe the porridge would look better if he let it to stand for a moment. Then he rushed out and headed to the back of the house where he had left his bow and some arrows. Iceland was curious enough to follow him.
“Cool, isn’t it? I tried to use a sword first, but it never felt natural for me.” he said and showed the weapon to Iceland “So, I made this!”
“Are ya any good with it?” Iceland poked the bow with his finger.
“Well… I already almost hit the target!” when Iceland didn’t look very impressed, he decided to add “But I practice every evening before going to bed. I only started when Sve got sick.”
He wasn’t sure how much it would actually raise their chances of survival, it couldn’t fight the disease, but it made him feel like he was doing at least something. It also kept him busy when… more darker thoughts try to invade his mind, like running to the woods.
Deep down he knew very well, that all the worries would follow him there too.
Finland tried to keep up with Sweden, who hurried forward in a deep snow. Sweden had been busy with some project for some years now, and this morning he finally got a message from the nobility.
He wasn’t exactly sure what this all was about, but Sweden had sounded unusually excited when he had told him he wanted to show him something really great. Too bad he hadn’t told him that the exciting thing would be so far away from their current place to stay, he thought as the wind swirled snow against his face.
At least Sweden had gotten most of his strength back. The disease had disappeared from his lands as mysteriously as it had arrived, now only visiting him sometimes, leaving behind sadness and destruction. But it had failed to kill Sweden. Or him, but he wasn’t sure had it really even tried.
Slowly, everything had returned back to normal. Or at least almost normal; Norway and Iceland were gone.
Finland observed Norway, who stood a short distance away from him. He was still awfully pale and not the same proud and self-confident country he had been when he had first seen him. Now, he was only as shadow of his former self, standing next to Sweden made it even more clear, but at least he seemed to get better day by day. Iceland was with him, following his big brother with attentive gaze.
“Maybe it’s better th’s way.” Sweden nodded his head to Norway. He was also slowly getting his strength back, a little bit faster than Norway did “What are ya goin’ to do now?”
“Not sure, I guess I should try to figure out the extent of the destruction first,” he sighed “I also need to find my troll ‘friends’ and convince them to follow my leadership again. They are unreliable as hell, but it feels like something is missing when they aren’t around.
“Can we visit home?” Iceland tucked Norway’s sleeve to get his attention. It was hard to believe that they were really leaving. The time they had been together hadn’t been very pleasant, but Finland had already gotten used to their company.
“I don’t know about that… I don’t think we can infect anyone, but some people say that the demon that makes people sick can somehow hide in your clothes and travel with ya. I’m not sure should we take the risk, it’s not completely dead yet.” Norway said, but something about Iceland’s sad eyes make him continue “But maybe later. If it seems safer.”
“I’m going to see Mr. Puffin again! Maybe we could even meet Faroe on the way home!” Iceland flashed a rare smile at Norway.
“I said maybe. As stubborn as his brother…” Norway chucked at his brother’s determination, and shifted then his gaze back at Sweden “We will probably see later, Sverige. Hopefully in friendly terms. Bye to ya too, Fin.”
“Bye bye!” Iceland waved to them.
The future really seemed a lot brighter now than some years ago, which made their decision to leave even more confusing to Finland. But they had made their decision, and all he was able to do was to wave his goodbyes to them until Norway and Iceland faded from their view.
“Now what?” Finland asked from Sweden after a short silence.
“Now we need to pack. The king w’nts to sell the house, it’s too b’g for only two people.”
The house was really luxurious and the real glass window was something he had never seen before, but he couldn’t say that he was going to miss the place. It reminded him too much of the disease and helplessness they had felt there. And it also missed a small sauna building, it should have really included it instead of the fancy window.
“We could wander around for a wh’le, maybe work on some farms, and then get some new pl’ce to stay. Workforce is d’sperately needed right now.”
They didn’t really know what had happened to them after they had left. Which reminded him of the question that had bothered him for a while now, he has not really had the opportunity to ask before.
“Hm?” Sweden simply grunted; it was his way to inform him that he was listening.
“Why Norway wanted to leave all the sudden? He was still too weak, what if he can’t survive alone?”
“Th’t’s the reason.”
“Because he was still weak? Are you saying that he was too proud to stay with us?”
“He’s proud. Maybe a little bit less proud and… h’rsh now th’t he has little brothers to look after, but that’s not it.”
Sweden looked at him with a strange look on his face, like pondering how much he could tell to him. Was he afraid it would upset him again? True, it had been pretty shocking to hear that they could die, but certainly there couldn’t be anything more horrible than that.
“He was afraid I’ll take advantage of his current weakness and seize the p’wer completely someday.” he finally said, making Finland to chuckle.
“That’s silly. You wouldn’t do something like that!” he said, but Sweden stayed quiet. Awfully quiet.
“Or would you?” Finland asked, trying to look back at Sweden, but he looked away in the distance again, heading determinedly to the unknown location “But… I thought you were old friends? Didn’t you say that you lived together when you all were just little seedlings of nations, before you all went your own ways?”
“It’s c’mplicated.” Sweden mumbled and fell silent then.
It frustrated Finland, Sweden didn’t want to talk about his past, but it sounded interesting and a bit bizarre. For all he was able to remember, he had always been alone and only sometimes met people of his kind. Growing together with friends who didn’t grow up too fast sounded like fun, but it was clear that Sweden didn’t agree.
“We are almost th’re.” he heard Sweden to encourage him “Just a few m’re steps.”
He had almost forgotten that Sweden wanted to show him something. It was almost a relief to heard that also he sounded a little bit tired. Maybe it would have been wiser to wait until spring, but he was sure his curiosity would have driven him mad. And Sweden had told him that they had no time to wait. So here they were now, in the middle of the blanket of white snow. Only their footsteps made the scenery unperfect, but otherwise it looked really beautiful and peaceful.
“Here it is!”
He heard Sweden to yell and tried to hurry. It looked like he was cleaning snow off from some rocks that stood in the meadow. Rocks didn’t sound very surprising to Finland. Really huge rocks - like mountains - were quite exciting and surprising, because Finland didn’t really have any. Or big rocks in the middle of the forests that had once belonged to the giants. But just ordinary rocks? No, just no. You saw them every day. Sweden wouldn’t be interested in such ordinary things.
“Look.” Sweden said and pointed to one of the rocks. Then he patiently waited him to say something about it.
It was quite a big rock and now when he looked it more carefully, it looked like it had some carvings on it. Those weird drawings Sweden called runes. He usually insisted that the drawings told him stories, but Finland couldn’t understand how that was possible.
His people sometimes sang poems about the past events – Well, not much anymore. The priests thought they were spells and should therefore be avoided at all costs – but those were understandable stories from one generation to other. That’s why he had started to call them runo songs, because they had a similar purpose than his weird runes.
“I’ve no idea what that means. What are these rocks?” he asked and looked around him. It wasn’t the only rock here, and most of them had those more modern foreign letters on them, but he couldn’t understand them either. There was one big rock in the middle and smaller ones surrounded it.
“This is,” Sweden proclaimed proudly and climbed on the biggest rock “The Stone of Mora!”
“Oh?” the name didn’t really say anything to Finland. But Sweden looked so proud of these stones it had to be something important. Sweden reached his hand to him, wanting him to climb on the stone too, so he did so. It was really icy and slippery, which was probably why Sweden didn’t let his hand go.
“Can ya feel it? The p’wer that emits from the st’nes?”
He didn’t really feel anything, was he supposed to? He tried to concentrate on the stones, but all he felt was Sweden’s warm hand and the coldness that made his toes and nose tingle. But maybe it wasn’t the coldness this time, maybe it was the mystical power Sweden was talking about?
“Y…Yeah!” Sweden’s excitement was strangely contagious “I… guess…”
“Good. If our king’s line ends, a new king is elected. He gets his st’ne here.” Sweden pointed at the smaller stones around the Stone of Mora. “And then the new king st’nds right here, on the largest stone while the crowd cheers for the new ruler!”
“This stone belongs to kings? Are we allowed to stand here?”
“No.” Sweden shook his head “But this is a sp’cial occasion. And I l’ke how powerful this place makes me feel, it feels like everythin’ is possible when you st’nd here.” he said, but decided to jump back on the ground, helping him down next.
“So…,” Sweden hesitated for a moment “I’ve been talkin’ to some really important people, tellin’ them how loyal your people are and… how important ya are to me…”
“I am? Thank you, Sve! I like you too!” his expression was hard to read right now, the coldness made his cheeks bright red and his eyes looked confused. Not to mention his slightly runny nose. But hearing this still felt great.
“Yeah… what I’m tryin’ to say, ya are now one of the provinces who can s’nd their representatives to the king’s elections.” Sweden looked on the ground and kicked a lump of snow while he said so, making it sound like it was really no big deal. But it was a big deal, if he had still stood on the stone, he would have probably lost his balance.
“Really?” he almost shrieked. Sweden didn’t usually joke about serious things like this, but this sounded too good to be true.
“Most provinces will get the r’ght eventually, it was just… your turn now. And we will have elections soon, so the timin’ was just great.” he mumbled.
He would take part in the elections! He would choose who their new king would be! His place was quite far from this location and winter made traveling extra hard, so he was only able to hope that his representatives would even get here in time, but this was awesome. The nobility had finally realized that he was mature enough to get more responsibilities, he was worth the same as everyone else, he was…
“Fin?” Sweden interrupted his inner monologue. He hadn’t heard what he had said to him, but judging from the fact that he had kneeled in front of one of the smaller stones, he wanted to tell him more about the kings who had gotten their stones here.
The mere thought that he would be a small part of the next stone’s story filled him with happiness.