From those days on, it was never the same. How could it be?
Grenil had lost everything she had ever known and so the world, and her life in it, could never be the same.
At least she’d avoided the fate of the other girls and young women of her village. She’d watched from the edge of the woods what happened when the Northmen had finishing killing all who resisted.
She’d watched the huts burn until there was no longer a village.
They’d heard the stories brought by the traders as they bought what they needed. The traders moved from village to village, town to town. Some even claimed they visited cities and saw great lords, even kings and queens. They told of the Northmen wo came in the dragon headed ships to raid villages up and down the coast, killing the boys and men before taking the girls and young women, for them never to be seen again.
The traders went quiet, after that tale was told, there was none of the laughter of a funny tale, or the thoughtful nodding of a lesson learnt, just relief that their village lay too far up the river to fear the Northmen.
At least, that’s what they thought… until that day the Northmen came.
After the Northmen had gone, only Grenil remained among the scorched ruins and the bloodied corpses.
Grenil had never believed those stories the travellers told about the great stone castles and numberless buildings of the cities. Not until that day she’d struggled over the hill, seeing the city stretching across the valley along both sides of the river, a pall of smoke over it from the fires and forges. Then she’d seen through the smoke the great stone castle up on the hill above the city.
‘There I will be safe from the Northmen,’ she’d said to herself as she stood on the edge of the forest.
Somehow, she’d survived, living off trapped rabbits and other small game, eating the wild berries and other fruit, grateful for the lessons from the old wise woman, Hendril, had taught Grenil so much about how to survive and how to be alone.
The tears for those she’d lost in her burning village, or those led away in chains by the Northmen, had dried months before, but still Grenil was sad for all she’d lost and would never know again.
But here was a city, and here she would be safe from the Northmen.
Although, she’d learnt on her travels, that the people of her own lands, her own people, could be just as cruel and dangerous as the Northmen.
She’d learnt a lot in the months travelling the lands to the south, looking for somewhere safe. She’d not found it yet. She fingered the blade of the knife she kept hidden on her hip beneath her cape. She knew how to use it, as a few men thinking they’d caught their lucky day had discovered.
Grenil screamed the first time a man’s hot blood had poured from his neck as he pinned her to the ground. But once she’d killed for the first time, it was never the same again.
Now she was here, ready for the city. She knew whatever happened to her there, she would never be the same as that girl who’d seen everything she’d even known burning in the Northmen’s flames.