Sometime between 1979 and 1999
“Pour me another one.” Aelfgar slammed his beer mug down on the table.
“Fucking Vikings,” Luke laughed, even as he flagged down the waitress. They’d ridden an hour from Addergoole just to find a bar that didn’t know them. From the looks of things, they’d have to drive further next time.
“And what’s wrong with being a Viking, I might ask?” he belched.
“Wrong century,” Doug muttered into his beer.
“No such thing,” Aelfgar boomed. “Just because the outlanders have forgotten, doesn’t mean the war is ever over.”
“But how we fight it changes,” Doug contended.
“Fill you up, gentlemen?” The barmaid insinuated herself into their conversation with a hip-bump and a pitcher of cold beer, the talk of war not seeming to bother her at all. Maybe she was used to tired old warriors talking shop.
“If you don’t mind, darling. And if you wanted to, maybe a little later…”
She dodged Aelfgar’s reaching hands. “You’re a darling, honey, but I gotta get home to my kids when my shift’s up.”
“Oh, don’t mind them, sweetie,” he rumbled, patting her shoulder. From the look Luke surprised on her face, he imagined the threat of children frightened off most of her drunken would-be suitors. “Believe it or not, I know how to be quiet when I have to.”
“You’re quite… charming, aren’t you?” She poured his beer, and Luke and Doug’s, not dodging his hands this time. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Life’s full of bad ideas,” Doug offered mournfully. The barmaid patted him on the head.
“Awe, sweetie, been a bad time for you?”
“He’s full of bad times.” Luke shook his head. You did what you could and left the rest to fate, and, for the most part, Doug was a good sort.
“Some people just get given a bad hand by fate,” she counted sympathetically. “You can’t fault a man for that.”
“Aah,” Aelfgar belched, saving Luke from answering, “but it’s how you play your hand that matters.”
“That it is, honey, that it is.” She patted his shoulder, too. “I’ll go get you some more of those miniburgers, why don’t I?”
“That’s a lovely idea, darling. You go and do that.”
As she wandered off, Luke shook his head. “Shit, Aelfgar, for all she knows she could be your granddaughter.”
“Hell, for all I know she is,” he guffawed. “I don’t keep track of that shit, do you?”
Luke hesitated before answering, and the big Viking filled in with another laugh. “Naw, of course not, Genie does it for you, doesn’t she?”
He wasn’t nearly drunk enough to get lured into a barroom brawl with a man who fought dragons bare-handed. “I know where my kids are,” he answered mildly. Beside him, Doug coughed quietly into his beer.
“All of them?” Aelfgar scoffed.
“I don’t number mine in hundreds like you do.”
“Anything worth doing is worth doing over and over again, I always say.” He downed his mug. “Where’s that girl?”
“Do you ever,” Doug downed his mug in imitation, “you know, just settle down with one woman for a while? Get to know your kids?
“I’ve done it.” He stared mournfully at the bottom of his mug, and, remembering Janna, Luke drank his down as well. “They die, boy. They fall and die, or they wither and die, or they get sick and die. And your life is emptier for having lost them. Better to never have that, to never lose it.”
Doug stared blearily at him. “That’s a hell of a way to live,” he complained. “D-”
“Yeah, I had my days where I thought like that,” Luke interrupted him. “But they don’t all die on you, Aelfgar.” Sometimes they just walked away, but they could keep that to their chests for now.
“Yeah, maybe for you, with your pure blood,” the old warrior muttered. “But Doug and I and the rest of us halfbreeds? Not so lucky. Who’re we gonna get to deign to lay down with us?”
For the stricken look that Doug tried so hard to hide, more than for any of his other taunts, Luke wanted to call the old bastard out. But that would be a mess he wasn’t sure he’d walk away from.
“It’s not like that anymore,” he said instead. “Besides, you’re proof yourself that half-bloods live just as long. Find yourself a nice half-blood warrior woman. Raise some of your whelps yourself for once. See what it’s like when you can watch them grow up.”
Aelfgar squirmed. “Where’s that girl with my beer? Ah, there you are, pretty darling. And ooh, thank you, more of your lovely little beef-bite things.”
The girl set down the baskets with a sweet little smile that didn’t quite hide her exhaustion. “You eat up and enjoy, darlings, there’s more where that came from. And growing boys need their food, don’t they?” She winked at them playfully, as if her feet didn’t hurt and she hadn’t been up since dawn.
“That we do, beautiful,” Aelfgar grinned back at her. He had a knack for making the offhanded compliment believable, enough that the girl’s cheeks reddened and she couldn’t quite make a coherent reply. “And you know I want to keep my strength up.”
“Oh!” That flustered her even more, and she fumbled for a reply. “My, you are something, aren’t you, honey?
“I do try, my lovely little thing.”
“You’re trying, that’s for sure,” she teased weakly. “I’ve gotta get to my other customers, sweetie.”
“You do that. I’ll be here when you’re done, love.” He patted her ass in a way that oughta get him slapped, and instead just got him a smile and a top-off on his mug of beer, and the girl wiggled away with more of a bounce in her step than she’d had four hours ago, when they’d first started drinking.
“Jasfe… What’s her name?” Luke glanced up at Aelfgar, not really expecting him to know, but Doug answered.
“Rachelle.” He drank deeply, as if saying the word hurt him. “She told us when we came in.”
“Thanks.” He shook his head slowly at Doug; he had better get over this misery soon. “Jasfe panida πούς Rachelle,” he murmured into his mug.
“You’re fixing her feet?” Aelfgar murmured. “Lad, she don’t need to stand up for what I’m going to do to her.”
“Her feet hurt,” he answered tersely.
“What, she told you that? She doesn’t strike me as a complainer.”
“No, she’s not. I can tell from the way she stands. And she’s been here all day, and those shoes are cheap. She probably spends the money on her kids.” He shook his head, suddenly angry. “She can’t get a man to stick around because of the kids she has, she’s not making enough money as it is, and you’re going to saddle her with another kid? And for what? An evening’s fun?”
For one brief moment, he thought he’d either gone too far or actually gotten through. Then the old bastard shook his head and guffawed.
“You’re like an old woman, Luca, you worry too much.”
Luke shook his head. “And you’re an old fool, Aelfgar. You drink too much.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Doug belched drunkenly, and, seeing an out from the threatening conversation, everyone laughed, raised their mugs, and drank deeply.
For men such as these, warriors and nigh-immortal, getting drunk wasn’t an easy feat. It took solid concentration over many hours and, even then, they still walked steadily as they headed for the door.
“My shift’s just about over,” Rachelle offered quietly. Aelfgar looked between her and his companions.
“I’ll, ah, see you back at the place, laddos,” he offered. They, too tired to argue and unwilling to insult the girl by doing so anyway, just nodded, got back on their bikes, and left.
Three months passed, as they seemed to, before Rachelle, wandering out early one morning, found a package under her mailbox. It was postmarked Tucson, but had no return address. Inside were a pair of expensive shoes, the sort waitresses sometimes wore at high-end joints, comfortable and yet sexy-looking. They were, she ascertained, her size.
Under the shoes was a note, the sort of ugly notecard bought at a drugstore or a newsstand. The handwriting inside was cramped, careful, and archaic, but the writer had taken a great deal of time to be legible.
By this time you know already if you’re pregnant or not. If you are, contact Regine Avonmorea – her number is on the back of this card. She’ll take care of your expenses. Either way, there’s some money at the bottom of the box. There will be more coming, every few months.
My (the next word was an illegible scribble) sister Astrid tells me that these are the best shoes for being on your feet all day. I hope they work for you. I’m no good at the whole family thing. I’m not the man who’ll come home every day after work. I never know if I’ll come home at all, that’s the kind of life I lead. (a longer scribble obscured a whole line) But I’ll send you letters, and I’ll send you money. And I’ll try to visit.
If you are pregnant, I hope it’s a girl.
Under his signature was something she thought were probably runes, drawn in a hand much steadier than the writing. Rachelle put the card aside carefully, lifted the shoes out of the box, and stared in a little apprehension at the envelope nestled there.
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