After that story a stunned stillness settled over Thorfinn. As always the rage bubbled, but—but Askeladd’s story stuck like a bone between his molars. Bjorn’s words rattled in his skull. His wings twitched and his skin burned with the cold and the beginnings of bruises to layer over more of his hurt.
“What are you doing?”
Askeladd asked, low and dangerous.
Thorfinn didn’t answer as he knelt over the corpse of the last member of Askeladd’s band. That membrane of death still hung its pall, that which made Bjorn a person lingering. It made an instinct that Thorfinn had always ignored rise in his chest, and made a nothing like the space between stars seep from the corpse’s death wound.
“You said we’d fight when I heal.”
It was an excuse, but Thorfinn would never admit it. He lifted the covering, only to drop it with a hiss when Askeladd gripped his bum arm with a hold of iron.
He glared into the mans enraged eyes and leaned down quick as a snake, ignoring Thorkell’s delighted little whoop of realization when his lips made contact with the dead man’s slack mouth. Askeladd made an incredulous sound and yanked him, too late. In that second Thorfinn breathed, sucking down Bjorn’s death like light mead. It tasted glorious, like honey-bread and sugar.
Valkyries came to the worthy on the battlefield, the warriors who died the most violent, most honorable deaths. As Thorfinn was thrown, eyelids fluttering and arm bones snapping into place like puzzle pieces, he thought there was a reason more than Valhalla for it.
“Odin’s empty fucking eye socket!”
Bjorn knifed into sitting position, coughing up a lung, feeling his chest and stomach for wounds that no longer existed.
Askeladd and Canute stared in stunned silence as Thorfinn rolled his eyes and began to unwrap his splint.
Askeladd’s voice came out a thread, disbelieving thing.
The dark-haired man turned to him, eyes wild, and opened his mouth.
“You said Thorsson, not Thorsdottir!” Thorkell boomed, picking Thorfinn up in the most uncomfortable hold he’d even been subjected to. That list also included attempted murder.
“I’m a boy,” he said into his great-uncle’s chest, for little else to do, only it came out more like, “I’m a’bss.”
Canute nearly leapt forward.
“How did you do that?” the bratty princess demanded, eyes filled with a crazed light, “Bjorn was dead.”
Thorfinn squirmed a little to get his head out of the stinking cloth of Throkell’s chest. He felt floaty, loose-limbed and relaxed.
Without his input his arms came to clutch at Thorkell’s head, and the man adjusted his hold until Thorfinn was sitting on his arm like a child. He felt like he really had been in the mead, everything fuzzy and warm, with none of the lurching unpleasantness of drink.
“Answer me!” Canute commanded, taking a step closer.
Thorfinn merely peeled a lip back in answer and buried his face in the in the wonderfully soft, if stinky, hide of Thorkell’s shoulder.
The giant chuckled and Thorfinn hummed musically in reply, enjoying the sensation.
Bjorn and Askeladd’s whispered conversation stopped as the ringing sound died in the snow. It was utterly inhuman; like the low rumbling of drums and the last vibrations of a church-bell.
“You won’t be getting much out of her,” Thorkell rumbled, much to Thorfinn’s delight—odd feeling that, “Valkyrie can get like this after eating a man’s death, ‘specially young ones.”
Askeladd’s eyes were sharp.
Canute watched desperately, eyes following every breath Thorfinn took as the other boy began to scowl and shiver.
A hand rose up to tug on Thorkell’s hair like a petulant child.
“Inside.” Thorfinn said, eyes drooping, “Insi~de,” the end of his word drifted into the rumbling of war drums.
Bjorn shivered, a choked “Shit,” falling from his numb lips.
“We can discuss this inside,” Canute decided, “let us go to my abode.”
Thorfinn wasn’t so far gone that he giggled, but he swung his legs a little when his great uncle started to move, a huff of amusement leaving him.
He caught Askeladd’s eye as he helped Bjorn up and couldn’t help but smile in delight at the shaken pale look on his face.
“Hup,” Thorkell said with good cheer, and switched Thorfinn to his other arm, jostling his back.
Thorfinn huffed a short laugh before groaning.
“G’runkle, wings,” he complained as he tucked his nose near the man’s ear.
“Wings?” he heard Askeladd mutter.
Thorfinn gave a delighted shout when Thorkell threw him onto the furs in one corner of Canute’s hall, pleased with the warm sensation and the crackling fire. He ignored the slave that hurried out, dismissed by the prince. Unworried, he began to squirm out of his shirt.
With a displacement of air his two sets of wings unfolded, impossibly large from the constraint of his back. Everyone went silent as he stretched them, pinions brushing the rafters, before settling the black-barred feathers in a content ruffle.
Thorkell yawned and went to the casks of mead set to the side of the hall, speaking as he filled a nearby tankard.
“Not much to explain little Prince,” he said and wandered over to lean in a chair, he passed a lazy hand over one of Thorfinn’s stretched wings on the way, drawing a pleased shiver from the boy.
Bjorn ran a shaky hand over his beard, untangling a bit matted with blood.
“There’s a bit to explain, Thorkell—I was dead.”
Canute turned to gaze at Thorfinn, who was tucked into a ball of feathers and fur and watching them all with eyes that glowed amber in place of his usual muddy brown.
“Lucky turn, that,” Thorkell acknowledged with a laugh, “I’m amazed she stopped at that instead of eating you whole.”
Askeladd’s eyes glittered as he leaned forward, hands braced on the table.
“He was planning to eat him alive? As some kind of beast?”
Thorfinn hissed inhumanly at the insult and bared his teeth, feeling a bit of satisfaction when Askeladd braced into a steadier stance in anticipation for an attack.
“No,” he snapped, waspish, “I just stopped halfway to eating the rest of ‘is light—god’ta bring the death back in, then suck the rest out, like bone marrow.”
Canute’s mouth was a pale slash across his face.
“You would have devoured his immortal soul?”
The would-be king clutched at the cloth over his heart, brows twitching into a distressed frown.
Thorfinn rolled his eyes and didn’t deign him with an answer.
“Don’t be like that kid—Valkyrie spend their days taking in the spirits of the worthy and when they collect enough they go to Valhalla. It’s an honor to be devoured.”
“You called him Thorsdottir,” Askeladd said, sending the room into deadly quiet. Thorfinn scowled and mourned the slowly draining high from eating Bjorn’s death. He tucked his wings more thoroughly around the telling dip in the curve of his waist.
Thorkell nodded along.
“Aye, that I did—Valkyrie only manifest in the women of our line.” He untied his headband and pulled away his hair to show a small crown of feathers tucked into the back of his skull. “All my family get these, but only battle maidens mature into getting wings and hunger. My niece Helga though war was nonsense and preferred the hearth to the battlefield.”
Thorfinn tilted his head, curious at the information, but not terribly surprised. In his memories his mother was always gentle, always kind; like the woman who called him John.
“I’m a boy,” he corrected flatly, “got a dick and everything.”
Thorkell turned a surprised look to him.
“Really? That’s odd.”
Thorfinn shifted, the reluctant explanation stringing past his lips.
“Not really,” his gaze flickered to Askeladd and Bjorn, “when we ended up at that mountain fort in North Denmark—my father, they called him the Troll of Jom.”
Askeladd’s gaze flickered and he looked confused, like he wasn’t quite following. Bjorn’s expression cleared with realization.
“No fuckin’ way your father was an actual Jotuun, you little shit,” he breathed.
Thorfinn bristled his wings.
“Fuck off! He had an ancestor from those damn mountains and I had to fight a godsdamned duel to keep your stupid ass out of a cooking pit.”
He pointed an accusing finger at Askeladd.
“For someone so fuckin’ smug about being a smartass, you are shit all aware of all the fuckin’ spirits and shit that want to eat you for dinner.”
He stood and shrugged his tunic on, feeling the shivering cold of letting his wings pass through the back of the fabric.
“If its not rawhides in the fuckin’ bushes, its Sidhe trying to crawl into your bed—I kill you Askeladd, nothing else.”
Canute’s look was cold, calculating.
“You’ve been protecting everyone—I knew I saw you that night, I thought I was dreaming.”
Thorfinn snorted in aggravated discomfort, his feathered crown bristling and resettling.
“Two of great blood,” he imitated in a high mocking voice, remembering the satisfaction of grinding the forest spirits under his boot for daring mess with his band of prey—pirates. “Oh he would taste so lovely, oh that one would look so pretty—fuckin’ annoying Winter shits.”
He snatched some dried meat from the storage near the mead and chewed, trying to beat out the empty ache that pushed him to seal his lips over Bjorn’s and finish his feeding.
Thorkell tapped a fist in one large palm.
“Ah, part Jotuun makes a good bit of sense,” he nods, but to the surprise of everyone in the room Askeladd admitted with scowl that he had no idea what the connection meant.
“Jotuun are shape shifters, boss,” Bjorn explained, “they ain’t usually constrained to being man or woman.”
Askeladd lifted a brow and ran a look over Thorfinn, who had his belt unhitched and looked more like he was in a dress than a tunic.
“You can change into a woman?”
Thorfinn’s lip peeled back over his teeth again.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
No point in telling them it was more like he was a mix between the two. No predicting what they’d think they were entitled to if they knew what was between his legs. He wasn’t some meek woman, and even then his opinion could be surmised into the thought of ‘all men are trash’. Not one of them knowing what the hell to do with the meat swinging between their legs.
His ears reddened slightly when he thought back to Alden, the Jotunn from a year or so ago. They’d been so impressed with his prowess, and well, Thorfinn had been curious.
It had led him to a lot of realizations about the follies of men and their skewed view of sex.
“It seems rather relevant,” Canute interrupted, “it would be an incredible boon to our cause if you could shapeshift.”
“I can’t shift, princess—and I’m not woman.” He reiterated. Best drive that one home quick.
Askeladd mouth opened, he wasn’t even pretending to not be skeptical.
Thorfinn made a rude gesture with his hand before the man could get a word out as he opened the door to leave. He ignored all of Canute’s desperate protests as he stepped out into the snow.
“Now, if you’ll fucking excuse me; I have to go exorcise some fucking demons.”
The work was never-ending, but it wasn’t like he could give any of the spirits and leeway. His newly shrunk pool of prey—no, pirates would be gobbled up in an instant if he let the things brought by the King’s retinue wander freely.
If he played his cards right he might be able to catch one in a jar or something, for a snack later.
The rest was lost as he shut the door and took off.