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A Fate Inked in Blood: Chapter 35

“Good morning, Freya.” Harald smiled, tucking a lock of golden-brown hair behind his ear. “It fills my heart with joy to see you hale and healthy after such a terrifying plunge. I confess, we feared the worst when Tora knocked you into the river. But I should’ve known better than to doubt Bjorn.”

To doubt Bjorn.

His words sank into my heart, freezing me in place even as I heard Bjorn step out of the cave behind me. Felt him take in the sight of Harald with his warriors standing casually behind him, Bjorn’s voice tense as he asked, “Why are you here?”

A question I was deeply afraid he already knew the answer to.

“We feared you might have been injured, so rather than allowing you to bring her to us, we came in search.” Harald took a step closer. “While I understand your actions, they were too risky by far. You might have both been killed.”

A dull drone of noise filled my head and nausea twisted in my stomach, thoughts rising and falling away like twisting snakes. But all of them whispered words of betrayal.

“How did you find us?” Bjorn demanded, and I wanted to scream at him to stop it. To quit pretending, because every word twisted the knife in my heart deeper.

“Your mother’s cabin was the logical choice.” Harald frowned, his gray eyes shifting between the two of us. “You keep changing the plans we agreed to, Bjorn. Plans we’ve worked on together for most of your life. After Fjalltindr, I was convinced by your belief that it was better to take Freya from Snorri, and even your desire to convince her to choose the path herself, but”—he gave a slight shake of his head—“judging from Freya’s shock, it seems she knows nothing of your plans. What’s going on, Bjorn?”

My knees shook as I turned to face Bjorn, my chest hollow, my heart numb. “I would ask you the same question.”

“It’s complicated.”

“There is nothing complicated about it!” I hissed. “Either he’s lying or you are. Answer me now!”

“I wanted to tell you—”

“Answer the fucking question,” I shrieked. “Or if it’s too complicated, answer me this: Are you a Skalander or a Nordelander?”

Everyone was silent, the only sound the wind blowing through the trees.


I’d known it was coming, but still I flinched because the admission made it true. “You’re the traitor. Time and again, you watched me accuse Ylva, knowing full well she was innocent. That it was you! It wasn’t Ylva speaking to Harald that night in Fjalltindr, it was you.” I pressed my hands to my temples because that meant all that had happened that night between Bjorn and me had been…manipulation?

“I didn’t speak to him that night. I spoke to—”

“If it makes the deception any easier to stomach, Freya,” Harald interrupted, “it was because of Bjorn that plans to kill you for the sake of protecting Nordeland changed. You’re alive because Bjorn believed your fate could be something different from a woman leaving bodies in her wake. Though after yesterday’s battle…”

“Shut up!” I screamed, because it was Bjorn who needed to explain himself. Bjorn who needed to justify all his lies.

“I wanted to tell you the truth.” Bjorn moved to stand between me and Harald, and Skade stepped out from the group of warriors to eye him warily, bow in hand. “But I couldn’t risk you reacting poorly—not when the fate of Nordeland hung in the balance. I needed to get you away so that you’d have time to understand.”

“Bullshit.” I moved back, needing space from him. My skin crawled, and a glance over my shoulder revealed Tora standing behind me, burns livid up close. It wasn’t just Harald with whom Bjorn was allied, it was Bodil’s murderer. And my mother’s murderer. “You knew I’d never accept your lies, and you wanted to ensure I couldn’t get back once you confessed you were delivering me to my enemy.”

“If all I cared about was taking you, I would have done so a long time ago.” Flickers of flame appeared and disappeared in Bjorn’s hand, betraying his agitation. Then he twisted toward Harald, “Father, I need to speak to Freya alone and—”

“He is not your father, Snorri is!” The words exploded from my lips, my hands fisting as fury rose to fill the void in my chest, tears spilling down my cheeks.

“That piece of shit is not my father!” Bjorn snarled, his axe flaring, only to disappear again. “I hate him!”

“You hate Snorri?” I stared at him, not understanding how this could be happening. How he could be saying these things. “Harald kept you a prisoner. A thrall to his whim until Snorri rescued you. What madness is this that you name him Father? He murdered your mother!”

Harald held up placating hands. “I’m afraid there is a great deal you don’t know, Freya. And what you do know is mostly Snorri’s lies.”

“Do not speak!” I screamed, birds bursting from the branches of nearby trees. “Bjorn must answer for himself!”

“Freya, please listen.” Bjorn scrubbed his hands over his head. “I had to be certain I could trust you before revealing the truth.”

“Trust me?” It felt like my blood was boiling, my vision filling with red, all the world falling away except for the two of us and my rage. “I have never lied to you. But it appears that every fucking thing you’ve said to me has been a deception.”

“No.” He closed the distance between us. “I love you, Freya. Everything I told you last night was true. I wasn’t going to bring you to Nordeland.”

Harald huffed out a breath, shaking his head. “Does your word mean nothing, Bjorn? You swore an oath to me to protect Nordeland, but more than that, you swore an oath to your mother that you’d deliver vengeance. Yet it seems your word means nothing in the face of your lust for this woman.”

I flinched, struck with visions of what had happened between us last night. How I’d given myself to him so utterly and completely while every word he’d whispered was a lie. Oh gods.

“I have fulfilled my oaths!” Bjorn shouted. “I swore to destroy him. Swore to bring him low. Swore to rip the crown from his grasp by taking the shield maiden, all of which is done. And she didn’t need to come to Nordeland to keep it safe, she just needed to be away from him.

Again, I was rendered nameless. Just a tool, just a weapon to be wielded by all the men around me. But I’d had enough.

“Freya—” Bjorn reached for me.

“Don’t you touch me!” I skittered backward, nearly colliding with Tora.

Harald raked his hands back through his hair. “Is this betrayal motivated by the belief that I’d have separated you from her? Gods, Bjorn, when have I ever denied you anything? If you’d only told me that you cared for Freya, I’d have let you keep her. She’d have been queen of Nordeland at your side when you inherited one day.”

Keep me? I stiffened, though neither of them seemed to notice.

“On what conditions, Father?” Bjorn retorted. “I know you. There is no chance you’d have been able to resist using her to further your ambitions. All I desire is to take her away to a place where she can make her own fate.”

“I would not have used her.” Harald gave Bjorn a look of disgust. “What you fail to see, my son, is that if you’d given Freya the truth, she might have chosen to serve Nordeland. If she is half the woman you claim, then she’d have surely joined our cause, if only given the opportunity. But instead you denied her the chance to do great things so as not to risk your ability to use her to satisfy your own ends.”

Use her, use her, use her.

The words repeated in my skull, growing louder with each saying until it felt like a giant screamed inside my head. Everyone had used me. Everyone—but Bjorn had been different. Had been the one who’d put me first. The one who’d cared.

Except it turned out that he’d used me worst of all.

“I curse you!” I screamed, and it felt like the world trembled, tilting beneath my feet. “I curse all of you never to see Valhalla. I curse all of you to Helheim. May Hel take all of you into her keeping!”

Then the ground surely did tremble, rumbling and bouncing, everyone struggling to keep their balance.

“Freya!” Bjorn stumbled toward me, but before he made it two steps, great blackened roots exploded from the earth, wrapping around his legs.

And not just him.

All around me, roots exploded from the earth to grasp the legs and arms of Harald’s warriors, men and women screaming as they hacked at them with axe and sword, but the weapons just passed through the roots as if they weren’t there.

Bjorn’s axe appeared in his hand, and he too slashed at the roots, flames severing them, but more burst from the ground, trying to drag him down.

Panic overwhelmed my rage, and I lost my footing as a concussive blast of thunder sent me staggering. Tora’s lightning exploded the roots attacking her, only for more to appear. Skade was screaming and shooting her magical arrows into root after root.

The other Nordelanders had no such defenses.

On my knees, I watched in horror as the black roots wrapped around the other warriors, digging into their flesh, the screams unlike anything I’d ever heard as they were dragged to the ground.

Then, as one, the roots vanished into the earth.

Leaving only silence.

On my knees, I stared in horror at the dozens of bodies lying on the ground, chests still and eyes glazed. Dead.


I swallowed my bile, eyes going to Bjorn, who still stood alive, as did Harald, Tora, and Skade.

No one moved.

Harald stepped down from the rock on which he perched, moving toward me. “That was what they meant by ‘child of two bloods.’ Not god and mortal, but of two gods.” He drew in a ragged breath, gray eyes filled with delight. “She’s Hel’s daughter. The first of her kind.”

I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. “No.”

“Yes.” Harald grinned. “You cursed all before you to your mother’s domain and she took them. All dead. All denied Valhalla because of your power.”

A whimper exited my lips and I crawled backward from him, my eyes skipping from corpse to corpse. All dead. All cursed. By my temper.

By me.

“That is why you are so special, Freya,” he said. “That is why even the gods themselves recognized your power. The power to unite Skaland, yes. But also the power to destroy all who stand against you.”

I gagged, recoiling from his fervor, climbing to my feet.

“No!” Bjorn stepped between us, axe blazing bright. “She’s not a weapon.”

“Her fate is inked in her blood,” Harald said, giving a wry shake of his head. “It’s carved in her bones. This power is Freya’s destiny.”

“Freya, run!” Bjorn lifted his weapon. “Run!”

I twisted on my heels, sprinting into the forest, branches lashing at my face, roots tripping my feet.

Hel’s daughter.

I clenched my fists, pushing myself for more speed as though I might outrun the truth of what I was.

But it was the one thing I could never escape.

My foot caught on a rock and I went sprawling, rolling and tumbling down a slope to stop with a sickening crunch against a boulder.

“Get up,” I hissed, pushing myself onto hands and knees, but my arm buckled, a sob ripping from my lips. “Keep going.”

“Easy, Freya.”

A familiar voice filled my ears and I lifted my face to find Steinunn bending next to me. “I need help,” I gasped. “Bjorn…he’s allied with Harald. They’re here.”

Steinunn smiled. “I know, Freya,” she said, her voice no longer that of a Skalander but bearing a Nordelander’s accent. “I know everything.” Then she lifted a bowl and blew the smoke rising from it into my face.

Panic hit me as I understood, but I was already spinning down and down. As I hit the ground, my eyes fixed on the red leather laces on her shoes.

Then all that remained was darkness.


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