September 2022 Newsletter
Ski woke up extremely early when Salka pawed the back of his head. That meant someone was in the house. Usually it was the cleaning people, but this wasn’t their day.
So Ski got up, Salka draped around his neck since she was in no mood to move. He walked downstairs and found a few of his brothers just coming through the front door, grunting a greeting at him before heading to the kitchen to get their first cups of coffee.
But Salka wouldn’t wake him up because of his brothers. She knew them almost as well as she knew Ski.
Yet Salka also wasn’t panicking. She wasn’t alerting Ski to any major danger, just letting him know a non-Protector was in the house.
Over time, the cat Ski had found sick and nearly hairless in the rosebushes out back had turned into the true protector of this sacred place. Even Tyr liked her. Then again, he liked any animal that didn’t try to remove the only hand he had left.
Ski stopped, tilting his head. He heard a page turn. Smiling, he headed to the library. He found Jace sitting at the table, her feet up on the chair, a book resting on her knees. Eyes wide, mouth slightly open, she was deeply involved in whatever she read.
It was definitely one of the books they’d retrieved the other night but it didn’t look important. Or interesting. The binding was rather old, but not ancient. He wondered what she’d found in there that had her so transfixed.
But before he could ask, Ski heard a bark.
While still reading, Jace reached one hand back and patted the top of the beige carrier resting behind her. “It’s okay, baby. Go back to sleep.”
“What is that doing here?” Ski demanded, pointing at the carrier set up near the table.
Still reading, she replied, “No one could take him this morning. So I brought him with me. Kera will pick him up later.”
“He can’t be in here.”
“There are no dogs allowed in our library.”
“Is that because Lev is a canine and Tyr lost his hand to the wolf Fenrir? Is this some kind of canine bigotry?”
“More like canine disgust—and what are you reading?”
“Victorian porn in Russian.”
Ski wasn’t sure he’d heard her right. “Pardon?”
“Victorian porn. I’m guessing they dressed it up in this boring cover so that Lenin and his uptight cronies wouldn’t know it was filled with imperialist dogma in the guise of wild-wielding sex.”
She finally lowered her book and looked up at Ski. Jace frowned and stared a little bit before noting, “You have a cat on your head.”
“You can have a cat, but I can’t have my dog?”
“She lives here. And cats aren’t nearly as filthy as dogs.”
“Do you mean morally or because dogs like to roll around in their own feces?”
“Both. And Bear is going to lose his OCD-riddled mind when he finds out you brought your dog to his precious library.”
“He’s in a carrier. And he’s a baby. I can’t leave a baby alone.”
“Dogs of a young age are not babies. They’re puppies. Puppies that don’t wear diapers.”
“He has a diaper on.”
Ski folded his arms over his chest. “You put a diaper on your dog? And you don’t see anything wrong with that? Psychologically, I mean.”
“I put it on him so there wouldn’t be any leakage.”
“He’ll be fine,” she insisted, going back to her book.
“Have you finished logging in all the other stuff in those boxes?”
“Not . . . no.”
“Then could you put your porn reading off to a later date?”
“It’s just so fascinating.”
“I’m sure it is, but I’m almost positive we won’t need you to translate that for us. Nor will we pay you to translate that for us.”
“Fine,” she sighed out, placing the book off to the side.
Ski asked, “Did you have breakfast?”
“I don’t eat breakfast.”
“I’ll make you something to eat.”
“I don’t want anything to eat.”
“What are you? My grandmother?”
“Obviously someone has to watch out for you,” he said, heading toward the kitchen. “Starving yourself over porn.”
“I was not!”
Jace heard Eriksen call out that breakfast was ready, but she chose to ignore him and kept working.
She was reaching for one of the books she’d piled on the table when she felt her entire chair being lifted off the floor.
“I called,” Eriksen replied. “You ignored.”
With amazing ease, he carried her and the heavy wooden chair through the halls of the house until he reached the kitchen. The table was already filled with Protectors but they didn’t even look up from their books, papers, laptops, or phones to watch as Eriksen set her down.
He placed a plate piled with sausage, bacon, eggs, and toast in front of her. Next to that, he placed another plate filled with a stack of pancakes.
“Isn’t that . . . a lot?” she asked.
Deciding she didn’t want a debate, Jace just shook her head and looked back at the plate. Pulling her legs up so that the heels of her feet rested on the seat, she reached over and took a slice of bacon.
She was quietly munching on it and staring out the window when she sensed someone standing very close to her. Too close. She turned her head, bacon hanging from her mouth, to see one of the Protectors eyeing her hair.
“Can I help you, Haldor?”
“Your hair . . .”
“It’s like my daughter’s.”
He leaned in closer. “Can I braid it?”
“Yeah,” one of the other Protectors asked, looking away from his paperwork. “Why?”
“She wants me to take her to a Viking fair. It’s like a renaissance faire, and she wants to go in costume and she wants her hair braided. Except I don’t know how to braid hair. So I bought a book.” He held the book up. “And thought maybe I could practice a bit before I tried it on her.”
Jace remembered that Haldor’s wife had died a few years ago, leaving just him and his little girl. He’d raised her himself with the help of babysitters and nannies, of course, but from what she’d heard, he’d taken it fully upon himself to give his daughter as normal a life as possible.
As normal as possible when one’s father had wings and one’s Valkyrie mother had died during a battle with demons.
“Sure,” Jace said with a shrug.
“Thank you. That’s great.” He handed the book to Jace. “Which do you like?”
She looked over the styles, which were probably very popular in 1596, and randomly picked one. It didn’t look too complicated and she guessed it wouldn’t take too long.
Haldor nodded. “Nice choice.” He looked over the page, closed his eyes a moment, then put the book on the table. Closed. That’s when she knew he had an eidetic memory. Something Jace had always wished she had. Then again, if she could remember everything perfectly, it would be no fun rereading her favorite books like Crime and Punishment or War and Peace.
While Haldor used his extremely large hands to carefully separate her hair into sections before beginning the braiding, Jace nibbled on dry toast and stared out the window or up through the skylight.
Jace was having a nice day.
Bear walked into the Protectors’ house and immediately went to the library to see how far along the Crow had gotten with the books. He stopped at the entrance and stared at the empty desk. Where was she? And where was the chair?
Several teen Protectors walked past him and into the library to work. The teen Protectors were only sent to this location for their final battle training. Usually transferring to the local private high school in their junior year. Younger boys went to what was called a “private boys’ school” but was really a training ground for future Protectors. There they were taught general education and simple battle techniques, how to fly, and how to read and translate runes as well as use them for power and magic. You know . . . the basics.
Deciding to see if he could find the Crow—she was probably in the kitchen—he turned to go but stopped when he heard a sound.
What was that? What kind of noise was that?
He heard it again. A “yip.”
Head turning and tilting to the side, he heard panting and whining coming from a carrier of some kind by the desk.
Bear went to it and lifted it from the ground until he was eye to eye with whatever was inside.
It yipped again and Bear’s eyes narrowed, and a little growl eased out of his throat.
Ski had never seen one woman take so long to eat three pieces of toast. But all she did was nibble. Slowly. Sometimes she’d stop to take a drink of water. Or nibble on a bit of bacon. But mostly she just nibbled on that toast while Haldor worked on her hair with his big, somewhat clumsy hands.
Then it got weirder.
Suddenly Jace was surrounded by several Protectors who’d decided to help their brother out. They didn’t touch her hair, but they pointed out what Haldor should do to get the style right.
And Ski just watched. Fascinated by the whole thing. Haldor’s need to do something for his beautiful daughter; his brothers’ need to help a fellow Protector with something they knew absolutely nothing about; plus, Jace’s amazing amount of patience.
The whole time she didn’t complain. She didn’t look uncomfortable. Nor did she engage in the conversation going on around her.
She just nibbled and stared.
That’s when he finally understood.
Jace Berisha wasn’t painfully shy due to the tragic past that had led to her eventual death and rebirth as a Crow.
She was an antisocial introvert who didn’t hate people . . . just small talk.
No wonder she’d bolted from his car like he’d come at her with a knife. He was trying to have polite conversation with her and she’d rather do anything but that.
Realizing he’d figured out the puzzle that was Jace made Ski feel like he’d accomplished something amazing. He just didn’t know why.
One of the teen Protectors walked into the kitchen, paused briefly to stare at what his older brothers were doing, then shook his head and came over to Ski.
“Uh . . . Mr. Eriksen?”
“You really don’t have to call me that, Karl.”
“At this time in my existence, I’m more comfortable with calling you mister.”
Not willing to argue that point, Ski said, “Okay.”
“Uh . . . anyway . . . that . . . uh . . . animal. In the case. In the library.”
“Yeah. Mr. Ingolfsson took it. Outside. While muttering. Personally, I’ve always found his muttering . . . unsettling.”
Ski straightened just as Jace spun around in her chair and the Protectors stopped fussing with her hair. They all stared at each other a long moment before they bolted out of the kitchen and back to the library. One of the sliding doors was open and they all slammed into it together, getting jammed there except, Jace, who crouched and dived out before she could get caught.
“One at a time, gentlemen!” Ski ordered before pulling himself out of the pack and taking off after Jace.
He easily caught up to her, and as they rounded a large hedge, they found Bear holding the puppy around the middle with the animal facing away from him. He held him high in the air with both hands and Ski thought for one tragic, horrible second that his brother was going to throw the thing down to the ground in a rage.
Instead, he loudly commanded the puppy to, “Urinate! Urinate, puppy!”
Jace looked at Ski, but he could only throw up his hands. He had no idea what the hell was going on.
Taking a breath, Jace slowly walked over to Bear and stood beside him.
“What are you doing?” she asked softly. Gently. So as not to startle.
“Allowing this animal to urinate. Here. In nature.”
“Uh-huh. He might be more comfortable doing that if you put him down on the ground.”
Bear glanced at Jace. “Are you sure? He might run away.”
“He might . . . but chances are you’ll catch him. He still trips over his own feet. He’s only about two and a half months old.”
“Oh. I see.”
Bear placed the puppy on the ground. Then he ordered, loudly, “Urinate!”
“Uh . . . ” Jace put her hand on his forearm. “You don’t need to . . . order him to urinate. He’ll do it. If he needs to. The . . . loudness of your voice might scare him.”
“Oh. I see.”
He faced Jace. “The cat defecates in a box.”
“Yes. I’ve never had a cat, but I do know that.”
“Dogs don’t, though. And he’s young. So you shouldn’t leave him alone. He was whining. He sounded sad.”
“He was probably lonely. Wondering where I was.”
“You shouldn’t leave him alone. Not in a new place.”
The smile broke across her face like a bright sun. “You’re absolutely right, Bear. I shouldn’t have left him alone.”
He suddenly looked her over. “I like your hair.”
“Thank you. Haldor did it.”
Bear nodded. “For the Viking festival.” He turned to Haldor, who had come up behind them. “I think this will work.”
“I think so, too.”
“He’s done,” Jace said.
Bear reached down and picked the puppy up. He gazed at him with that expressionless face before noting, “I like him. He doesn’t try to rip my face off.”
When Bear looked at Ski, Ski rolled his eyes and reminded him, “Then you shouldn’t wake Salka up. You know she’s not a morning cat.”