Iceland, 967 A.D.
Geirr watched in horror as his older brother, Olaf, collapsed to the icy ground, mortally wounded. Ari Thorgillsson stood over him, staggering with exhaustion in the bitter wind, his body spattered with Olaf’s blood and his sword dripping with gore. The warrior glanced up and for a moment, his eyes locked with Geirr’s.
The two young men stared at each other, neither moving. It was this moment or never, Geirr knew. Ari had five years and several pounds on him; Geirr would never be able to defeat him in a duel. But now the older man was on the verge of collapse. If Geirr was to avenge the deaths of his family, he might never be presented with a better chance.
Letting out a scream that carried with it all of the rage and anguish the nineteen-year-old felt, Geirr charged his enemy, sword drawn. But Ari easily deflected the blow. Even at twenty-four, the warrior’s skill with a blade was known throughout Iceland. Geirr had only a moment to reflect on the fact that, with his death, his clan would now come to an end. Then Ari’s blade struck his head with a resounding crack, and Geirr sank into darkness.
In the last moments before his death, the god, Frey, appeared to him. As always, when Geirr saw him, the god appeared as a naked man, breathtakingly beautiful and sporting an enormous erection, the massive antlers of a stag crowning his head. Ordinarily, Geirr would never have dared call another man “beautiful”—it was the greatest insult to talk about a man in feminine terms—but these visions of Frey had always left him feeling overwhelmed and awed. And, though he would never say so out loud, aroused. They were intensely private, and in that private space, Geirr could acknowledge that Frey was indeed beautiful.
Yet the god had betrayed him. He had been coming to Geirr ever since the boy first became aware of the pleasures of his own body, promising that someday his intense desire for a companion would be rewarded and his loneliness would be eased. These things could never come to pass now. Or so Geirr thought. But even as the thought formed in his mind, Frey leaned close, caressing his hair, and whispering, “Not yet, my young warrior. Your chance for vengeance still lies ahead.”
Geirr woke, feeling disoriented and nauseous, in a warm, dark room. The air was thick with the familiar smell of the long fire that formed the center of every Icelandic farmhouse. Geirr had been stripped of his clothes and placed atop a sheepskin on a wooden sleeping bench, a wool blanket covering him. His vision was blurry and his head throbbed with a dull pain that made him want to vomit.
“Are you awake?” The question was whispered, barely heard above the crackling of the fire.
Geirr found it difficult to move, but he was able to turn his head toward the sound. In his blurry vision, he thought he was seeing Frey again—a tall, naked man standing up from where he’d been crouching near the long fire. His body was perfect enough to be Frey’s, and it glistened with sweat in the soft flickering light. But the man’s penis wasn’t erect—though it seemed enormous—and no antlers jutted up from his golden hair.
When he drew near enough for Geirr to focus on him, the young man was horrified to discover that this man standing naked over him was his mortal enemy: Ari Thorgillsson. He made an attempt to curse the man, to shout at him to get away, but nothing came out but a weak moan. Then Ari was crouching down beside the sleeping platform, and his strong hand slipped behind Geirr’s head to lift it up, while his other hand lifted a bowl of water to Geirr’s lips.
“You need to drink.”
Geirr didn’t want to cooperate with this man in any way, but as the water touched his lips, he suddenly found that he was immensely thirsty. He gulped it down, unable to control himself, until Ari pulled the bowl away.
“Drink slow, or you’ll choke,” Ari said gruffly.
Geirr sucked in some air and groaned as his head began to swim. He refused more water, too nauseous to think of swallowing anything more, and Ari gently laid his head back down. Within moments, Geirr had fallen back into unconsciousness.
When he woke again, a faint bluish light could be seen through the smoke hole above the long fire. This close to Yule, the day was only a few hours long and the sun never completely rose above the mountains, so it was likely to be near midday. The next thing that filtered through his groggy head was that he was dripping with sweat and the bedding he was lying in was soaked with it. Not from the fire being too hot, he suspected, but from his fever breaking. His head felt far clearer than before, and he could now focus his eyes on his surroundings.
Geirr pushed the uncomfortably damp blanket down to his waist and sat up, though he was still weak and needed to lean back against the wood-paneled wall. He was alone in the house, and from this vantage point, he could take in the entire room. It was fairly large compared to the single-room house Geirr had shared with his older brother and Olaf’s wife. There was a large central room with the long fire running down the middle and raised wooden benches along the sides that could be used for sitting or sleeping on. The tops of the benches were hinged, so the space underneath could be used for storage. The entryway was at the far end, through a low tunnel that jutted off to one side, and there were other side rooms that Geirr assumed were used for storage and possibly a kamarr—an indoor latrine. This was a luxury he had to envy, as his own house still possessed an outhouse.
He wondered for a moment who the house belonged to, then remembered with a sinking feeling that Ari Thorgillsson had been tending him while he was ill. Or, as the bandage around his head attested, severely wounded.