Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for January 2015

Savage Writing: Brenndur

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This week’s topic was “feed my habit.” I misread it as “fix my habit.” Either works, I suppose!


‘Do you weep, Skapheđinn?’

‘No…but it may be that my eyes are smarting.’

At these lines, Stina’s heart swelled close to bursting, and a squeal erupted up her throat. Though she pressed her lips tight, the noise rang between her teeth. She gripped the book binding tight in her fingers, struggling hard to contain her emotions as she forced her eyes to read on.

Skarpheđinn and Grim held one another by the hand and walked through the fire; but when they came to the middle of the hall Grim fell down dead. Skarpheđinn continued alone to the end of the house. There was a great crash. Down came the roof. Skarpheđinn could not move.

…and that was all. The scene changed to other characters discussing the burning. Please, Stina pleaded with the words on the page. Please!

‘Here have died Njal, and Bergthora, and all their sons.’

No! Another squeal bubbled in Stina’s lungs.

‘What did Kari say of Skarpheđinn?’

‘He said he and Grim were alive when he escaped. Now, they must be dead.’

The high-pitched moan seeped out of her lips before she could control it.


‘Sister Stina!’

The unexpected voice tore her out of time. Stina jumped and looked up from her seat. Sister Kornelia was in the library doorway, hands on her hips. Her image seemed unreal; certainly less real than the image of Skarpheđinn looking back through the flames as the roof timbers rained down upon him…

‘What are you doing here? It is nearly time for Lauds!’

Stina glanced to the windows behind her. The sky was grey-blue, where it had been black a seeming minute before. She had only meant to read a little after Matins…

‘And what on earth could cause you to make such awful noises?’ Sister Kornelia continued, as she strode towards Stina’s table. Before Stina could protest, the older lady swept the book up in her hands.

‘Please, sister, I’m so close to the end!’ Stina said, feeling as if her heart had been pulled away.

‘“The Saga of Burnt Njall.”’ Kornelia said, reading the spine. ‘Another frivolous romance, Stina?’

‘Oh no, no, Sister, it’s historical – it’s about a feud between families –’

‘A pagan folk tale?’ Kornelia sniffed.

‘No, no – it takes place not long after the country’s conversion–’

Kornelia slammed the book on the table.

‘Enough, Sister! This night-reading habit of yours has to stop. It is interfering with all of your duties, and your devotion. I must speak with Sacrist Varđa and tell her to limit your visits here. It cannot be good for your mind, reading such things.’

Had Stina’s heart not been raw with grief for her imagined friends – had she not been awake for nearly a full day – she may have done something other than cry. As it was, her tears felt as inevitable as Njal’s tragically foreseen death.

‘For goodness’s sake, Sister, calm yourself!’

‘F-forgive me…’ Stina said. She wanted to add that she would be good and only read during the day, that she would work harder and longer than anyone else if only she could keep coming here – but she worried that if she spoke, she would only cry: “They’re dead! It’s not fair! How can the world continue as usual, when they’re dead?”

‘Yes, I will tell Varđa that you must not read these foolish books any more. They are certainly no good for you.’

‘Oh no,’ Stina cried, ‘no, please, let me read more! I know I’m crying, but, see, I hate feeling like this, but I love it as well…surely there’s no harm…and there’s so many more books to read…’

‘You are such a childish girl,’ Kornelia said, taking Njals Saga in her hands again.

‘Please, at least let me finish this one!’ Stina cried, but it was too late: the fate of Kari, and his vengeance against Skarphedinn’s killers, was already retreating, closed shut, now back on the shelf.

‘Get to bed,’ Kornelia said. ‘You will better see what is best for yourself after you’ve had some rest.’

‘Please, Sister, I’m begging you…’

Kornelia sighed and sat beside the younger girl. She took Stina’s hand and patted it gently.

‘Varđa says how passionate you are,’ she said. ‘But don’t you see? The passion you have should be directed to a better channel than these imaginary tales. It doesn’t become a pious young woman such as yourself to care so deeply about such frivolous things, when your own soul and devotion must be attended to.’

‘I can care about both,’ Stina said, trying (and failing) to force herself to be calm. ‘It – it doesn’t take away from my love for God, to love reading…’

Kornelia patted her hand again and sighed.

‘Perhaps you would do better to be less passionate. Calm and content – that is what we all must strive to be, my dear. No fires or rages or tears! Come now, wipe your face.’

Stina sniffed and wiped her face.

‘There. Now, go to your bed, and sleep until Lauds. I don’t want to see you in here again.’

Stina intended to force her expression into a semblance of calm. Instead, she burst into tears anew as she left the library for the last time.

No rest was had before Lauds. No calmness could be found as she lay in her pallet. The prospect of contentedness was abhorrent. For who would want a life without rages, tears, and fire? Who would want a life apart from the delicious agony she felt from those pages?

At Lauds, her face was white and drawn, eyelids red, mouth firm-set. In her mind’s eye, the roof of the convent fell crashing upon every head. Here died her love of prayer, worship, and her life’s purpose.

‘Sister,’ asked Sister Hudris, once service was over. ‘Have you been crying?’

Stina grinned: a bared-teeth, wolfish smile. The smile of a burned, savage man.

‘No,’ she said. ‘But it may be that my eyes are smarting.’