Sleet soaks Pría’s dress, but she makes no move to seek shelter. “Ég mun alltaf elska þig,” she whispers to Eyjólfur as his flaming barge drifts into the sea. I will always love you.
The snow melts and tender shoots of grass emerge. Life resumes in the village, trapped all winter by the harsh temperatures. New livestock is born; crops are planted. Pría feels life stirring inside herself as well.
Geirmar, a young warrior in her village, falls into step with her one morning as she walks along the beach. “I’m so sorry for what happened.”
Pría shrugs. Warriors are meant to die; it’s not his fault.
“Perhaps, one day, you’ll find room in your heart for another.”
She stares out at the waves, at the spot on the horizon where she last saw her own warrior, on his funeral barge with her heart tucked alongside.
“Perhaps, one day, it will be me.”
“Perhaps.” The life inside her is still.
Geirmar and his father are both at dinner that night. Geirmar can’t stop smiling at Pría. His happiness and excitement are contagious, and soon everyone else is smiling too. She makes the motions alongside them. If not Geirmar, then another young warrior; she is too old to stay with her parents, too apathetic to pick someone else. Geirmar is strong and will be a good provider.
She sleeps fitfully, her dreams filled with Eyjólfur.
They walk along the beach, hand in hand, smiling. True smiles. He stops, lays his hand on her flat stomach, a question in his eyes. She shakes her head.
He nods, as confident now as he was in life, and his smile widens. She is still shaking her head when he grabs her hand again and pulls her along the beach. She barely keeps pace with him. She trips, stumbles to the ground, clutching her swollen belly. When she looks up, all that remains are the ashes of a funeral pyre.
Pría wakes with her hands on her abdomen. She takes a few deep breaths, then falls back asleep.
Again she is on the beach. She hears her name on the wind, turns, but no one is there. Her name comes again, but this time it’s Eyjólfur. She runs to greet him as he staggers towards her, one hand holding his shoulder, a trail of blood behind him. He falls to his knees, reaching for her. His fingers brush against her face as he sighs her name, and then she is alone again with the wind.
Her face is wet when she wakes; she wipes her eyes, tastes her fingers, half expecting his blood but finding only the salt of her tears.
A week later Pría and Geirmar are married. Their house is small, modest, but Geirmar has plans for their future, he tells her at dinner their first night as man and wife: land, a larger home, many children, perhaps even becoming a chieftain some day. She nods as he speaks, asks the right questions and gives the right encouragement.
Her warrior comes to her again that night as she sleeps.
The beach. Eyjólfur takes her hand and pulls her to a small cave, hidden by high tides but visible now. The trail of blood is behind him again as he walks, leaning on her more and more as they near the grotto. At its entrance he turns to her, places his hands on her belly. His skin holds a blue tinge, the same when they brought him back to her. He kisses her, tasting of pipe smoke and decay.
She snuggles closer before she wakes enough to remember Geirmar is the warrior in her bed, not Eyjólfur.
The short spring turns to summer, which soon fades to fall. Pría is heavy with child, and Geirmar is excited about the birth. He speaks to other villagers, other warriors, with pride of his growing family, mixed with poorly-concealed anxiety for his wife.
“I must go to town tomorrow,” he tells her one chilly night as they lie in bed together. “I need to trade for supplies for the winter.”
“I’ll be fine, my husband,” she tells him. “My mother and sisters are close if the baby should come.”
He nods, but she can see the hesitation in his eyes. She leans over and kisses him, reassures him, until he agrees to leave her.
The trip will last a fortnight, if he spends only one day in town trading. Her mother comes to her house daily, and each day Pría tells her she is fine. On the tenth day, as she is washing clothes in the yard, water gushes down her legs and pain contracts her belly. She collapses on the ground, striking her head on a large rock as she falls. She manages to stand and hobble into their home, with Eyjólfur beside her. He helps her lie down, brushes her hair from her forehead, and turns to go.
“Wait,” she calls to him. “I want to go too.”
He smiles and wordlessly extends his hand. She stands up, and together they walk to the beach, to their cave.
The tide is low as they walk in. He spreads a blanket for her on the hard floor, as another contraction rocks her body. They come faster now, until she is pushing, until her screams mix with the baby’s cries.
Her warrior hands her their son, then wraps the blanket around the three of them, as together, they watch the tide come in.
E.D. Martin is a writer with a knack for finding new jobs in new places. Born and raised in Illinois, her past incarnations have included bookstore barista in Indiana, college student in southern France, statistician in North Carolina, economic development analyst in North Dakota, and high school teacher in Iowa. She draws on her experiences to tell the stories of those around her, with a generous heaping of “what if” thrown in.
She currently lives in Illinois where she job hops while attending grad school and working on her novels. Read more of her stories at her website.
“The Beach” will be included in her upcoming short story collection, Unkept Women.