"Ey, ye're a bunch of weird folks. All looking like yer could be snapped in half like a twig. And you, Ivar? Bringin' me only the strangers or have ya gotten some iron too?"
The blacksmith stood up from his big whetstone ring and swung the short sword in his hand, testing the balance. He was a big guy, with lots of muscles in his arms, bald and tattooed all over the head. His beard was blond, braided into two separate strands.
"Only the strangers, today," Ivar answered. "They want to stay for the Yule night and I thought you might give them something to do until then."
"Is that so?" The big guy stepped towards us, eyeing each with curiosity. "Can't send weak folks like yer out to slay a beast. How'd ya survive, ey? Yer clothes are hardly made for the harsh weather and I see not a single weapon on neither of you."
I swallowed nervously. There was no excuse at all for both.
"Oh it's not that cold, actually," the Doctor answered with a grin. "Have been to far frostier places already. With far less fitting clothes. There was this one-"
The Master nudged him, murmuring, "Not helpful, Doctor."
"We got into a ravine," I quickly told. "Lost all our stuff."
"Ah…" the smith made. "Even your axes? And knifes?"
"Uhm…" I couldn't come up with a good explanation. In those times there were always dangers around, from people, from the wildlife. Everyone held tight to their defences, kept them close to the body so they couldn't get lost.
"Oh, I assure you we are armed." The Master gave the man a nasty grin and tapped against his own chest, where he probably had his laser screwdriver. "Bet it's more dangerous and deadly than poking things with swords."
Now it was the Doctor to nudge his counterpart, whispering, "Master, stop it."
They exchanged some truly venomous glances and I had the huge urge to smack them both. Again I got surprised, as the blacksmith only laughed roughly.
"The gods must hold a hand over ya." He winked. "Ye're not here to do harm, that's clear."
"Wouldn't be so sure about that," the Master grunted.
Again the huge guy laughed. "Ya can try, but the three of yer won't stand a chance 'gainst us all. And none of yer looks as if ye'could even carry an axe, let alone wield one." At that he especially looked me up and down. "Show me yer hands, boy."
I stiffened and cast a help seeking look at my companions. The Doctor shrugged, the Master was still fixated on the human in front of us, a scowl etched deeply into his features. Ivar only nodded reassuringly, but with a mix of curiosity and mirth in his look.
I took a step forward and stretched my hands out, which the man took immediately into his own, turning and observing them from all angles.
"I… I'm training to be a Skald," I quickly told, already guessing that he would notice that my hands did not show the signs of hard labour.
"Even those know how't swing a sword. And no Skald I know has hands without any calluses. Where'd they raise ya?"
"Let them be, Gerion," Ivar finally tossed in, laughing. "They are no threat and if they want to celebrate with us, it's no manner to deny the favour."
Gerion gave me a stare that made my knees weak. There it was again, that unpleasant feeling I always got with eye-contact. I had to avert my gaze, even though I knew it would let me seem guilty or ashamed.
"Well, can't resist some int'restin' fellas. And Odin taught us to be welcoming."
I smiled at that, murmuring, "Yah, no one wants to tumble into their own sword."
Again the smith laughed out loud and slapped his hand down on my shoulder. "Ya know the story of Grimnir, then?"
"Uh... partially." All I knew was one song from the old Edda. "Odin once disguised as an old wizard, Grimnir, to test if his foster-son, the king Geirröth would be hospitable. But he tortured his guest and only his son showed kindness to Grimnir. When the disguise was revealed, Odin caused the king to fall into his own sword."
Ivar rubbed his chin, eyeing me with the same curiosity as I got from the Time Lords. A small swell of pride sat in my chest. For once, my love for old stories proved to be useful, as it seemed.
"Let's see how they fare," Gerion agreed. "Oi there! Ya tall, flimsy one with yer weird clothes."
"Me?" the Doctor asked and stopped fidgeting with his hands. Instead he pushed them into his coat pockets.
"Yar, ye. Go help the women with decorations. They need a tall one with too much energy."
"Ohhhh, decorating is nice, I love decorating, been called the best decorator in the entire cou- aauuu!" He suddenly jumped on one foot, holding the other, where the Master had stepped on. Obviously not very gently. "Why did you do that?" he whined.
"Because I always love hearing you scream in pain," came the reply, accompanied by a sweet smile.
"I'll bring Laeknir to the hall," told Ivar, with a hardly contained chuckle.
The Doctor protested, however, "It's probably not so good to leave him alone." He thumbed at the Master.
"Oh, I can assure ya, I can handle the fella." Gerion barked out a laugh and eyed the Master while the first two vanished.
"I'm not working for you," the Time Lord growled dangerously.
"No?" The Smith stroked over his beard, twisting one strand in his fingers. "That's a shame. Could have really used someone as strong and fierce looking as ya. Strong arms, a wake mind. Those are good trades."
I shot a quick glance at the Master, surprised to see him gnawing his bottom lip. The flattery got to him. He probably knew the Smith had done it on purpose, but declining now would make him look weak. And by now I had learned, he hated that.
"Well… I could lend a hand, of course," he slowly started. "It's probably hard to find capable people here." The smug look on his face was almost hilarious.
"I bet ya will be a greater help than anyone else in this place. And you, little one." He turned to me, the taxing look making me swallow and shrink a little. "Been a while since I trained someone. And it's a shame to have ya runnin' around like that. Even a Skald needs to know how to wield an axe, at least."
"Stand a little wider. I could just blow ya to yer butt with that bad stance! Yeah, that's better. Look here. Watch me feet. They tell ya what I'm plannin'."
The axe was short and quite small, but incredibly sharp. Even with that size it was heavy in my hand, making me painfully aware of how weak my muscles were.
I watched Gerion, tried to make out what he might be doing next. Body language really was no strength of mine and we had been training for only an hour or so.
The Smith took two wide steps, swept his own axe right towards my head. I froze, my breath stopped.
The weapon swished past me.
"Pshaw. How'd ya not get killed already? Even a squirrel could defeat ya."
"I.. I… Sorry."
"Feel sorry for yerself, boy. I know ya have not even stubble yet, but fighting you should. Won't make it long without."
He was right. Even though he couldn't know the kinds of dangers I was actually facing. Not even I knew much about them, but the universe surely was full of threats. So I was thankful for the lessons.
"Can… I just practice the moves for a bit? To get a reflex, I mean. Maybe I won't freeze then."
"Yah, do that," he accepted, smiling. "I'll take a look at Erik for a while."
The Master seemed to have fun. I smiled when I saw how enthusiastically he hammered around on the red glowing metal in front of him. Allowing him to literally play with fire and forge weapons… Good thing the Doctor wasn't around to see that.
When the sun set, every bone in my body seemed to hurt. I wasn't used to hard work, let alone to fighting. And the practice, on top of the sparing with Gerion had completely worn me out.
Panting and sweating I leaned against the wall of the forge, watching how the Master plunged a sword into icy water. The rising vapour made his eyes gleam in joy.
"Wouldn't have thought you'd actually have fun working."
"That's hardly working," he countered with a mocking tone. "Certainly not the hardest work I've ever done."
I arched a brow, but instead of elaborating, he ignored me and observed the new sword closely. Gerion held out a hand and took it from him. His eyes skimmed over the weapon with a satisfied nod.
"I knew you were useful. Those will help a great deal when the… well, it's always good to have some."
I wondered if the Master had also noticed the cut-off sentence. Or maybe he was too busy bathing in the praise he got.
Whatever the case, Gerion brought us to one of the bigger houses. On the way the Doctor joined us, also looking quite pleased. On the door to the house we were lead in, hung a wreath of thin wood. Some pinetwigs were woven into it, and also some red berries.
"This's the guest house," Gerion told. "Has a bunch of rooms for ya. A fireplace in here." He stepped in and pointed at the pit in the middle of the main room. There were wooden logs around and pelts on the floor and on the walls. Among other decorations. "Water's in the well, or if ya prefer, take it from the sea. Me wife will bring yer some food later. Tomorrow ye'll have to hunt for yerselves."
"Thanks a lot for the hospitality!" the Doctor beamed. "This is brilliant! Oh, and tell me, when will the festive part start?"
Gerion tossed him a funny glance. "What'ya thinkin'? On Yule of course. In five nights. Make yerselves at home." He raised his hand and let us alone.
Silence spread in the almost dark room.
"Again, Doctor," the Master finally said, barely hiding his mischief. "Wrong time again."
"Oi, it's only five days! Not too far off. Have been worse."
"That you have."
"Eh, we can just jump ahead. I'm sure we'll come up with an explanation."
"Can we stay?" I dared to ask, heart thudding in my throat. I hated to ask for something. It always made me anxious and I could never tell if what I wanted was appropriate or not. But this here was just… "Please? It's only five days!"
"Weeell..." The Doctor rubbed his neck and threw a glance at the Master.
He only grinned nastily.
"I really love their culture and all the old stories," I admitted. "It would be so cool to... to..."
"Just see for yourself?" the Master offered.
The Doctor sighed, casting another warning glance at his fellow Time Lord.
"Alright. Why not. There seems to be going on something, anyway. People are tense and I saw lots of damaged houses in the village. Maybe we... or just I can find out what's happening. Perhaps help."
The Master snorted. "Whatever. Being a prisoner in the TARDIS or here, doesn't matter." He stepped to the fireplace and threw some cut logs in the pit. There was a whole bunch of them lying next to it, getting less and less visible with the sinking sun. "Quite the change in scenery. From the fires of Satan's hell to the icy lands of ancient gods."
He chuckled and held something towards the logs, which I could not see in the dark. A second later there was a short beam of light, then a flame. Fire licked its way through the wood, illuminated the room and ourselves.
"Where have you gotten that screwdriver again?" the Doctor called out. "I locked it away!"
"Yup." The Master smirked at him and gave me a wink. "The two of us built a new one."
"Wha'? I certainly didn't..."
"No? Think again."
My mouth dropped open when I remembered that he had built something before I had slept. To be fair, had I known what it would become, I still would have helped. So I simply shrugged and gave the Doctor a half-heartedly apologetic smile, which made him sigh again.
"Master, don't do anything really stupid, okay?" he almost pleadingly warned. "I swear, I'll snatch you out of this time line, otherwise, and lock you up, while we're here."
"Uh-oh, now I'm scared."
I nudged the Master's side and nodded towards the Doctor. "Come on. I don't want to have to endure him all alone."
"Oi!" the Doctor made indignantly.
"By the way," the Master drawled, ignoring the response. He eyed me from the side. "The names you told them..."
"Ohhh, err..." I grinned shyly and kneaded my fingers. "I thought they would find our names quite strange, so... Leaknir literally means 'doctor'. And Erik... if I'm correct it means something along the lines of 'king of all'."
"I think, I like that." The Master chuckled. "And what does Roka mean? Is that a boy's name?"
"More androgynous." I shrugged. "Means 'crow'. I uh... wrote a story in this setting once and had to look up lots of names... that's why I recalled a few." I smiled and glanced away, then straightened. "Anyway, I'll get some water from outside. There's got to be a wooden tub or so in here."