Merry Christmas (Story by Risa Peris)

The sea was both silver and green and rippled in the weak sunlight. Light snow was falling and I watched as snowflakes disappeared into the liquid beauty of the heavy water. The shore was not far.

“Pull,” yelled the captain. The men, the Vikings with the oars in their rough, sturdy hands, pulled and I, an elder and veteran of many raids, stood at the helm with a hungry belly. The dried shark and hard bread had disappeared yesterday. There was only mead and the liquor warmed our limbs though all our bellies growled fiercer than Odin’s crashing hammer.

By late noon we were on land. The men staggered and some fell and scooped sand. It was now snowing harder. We brandished our weapons seeking farms, homes, villages to rampage. It was sometime before we spotted a tower and then we heard the bell warning. The warning the Vikings were coming. We began to run and entered the village. I was looking for the church. The churches always had many treasures. Gold, silver, pearls.

Petsky tugged on my arm. “Look, the church.” I looked up and saw the cross. I and four others ran in as the other Vikings shed blood and pillaged. Many were probably in search of food and a well to satiate their thirst.
The church was quiet, darkened. It would have been freezing but for a giant hearth alight with flames. The wood crackled in the stillness. On the altar stood their priest. He looked unafraid. I walked forward. My ax weighed heavy and pulled my right arm down.

“This is Christmas Eve,” said the priest. “Our savior will be born soon.” The priest looked down. I saw what he was looking at. A pregnant woman was sprawled on a thin mattress buttressed by hay. Her belly was huge and there was a beatific glow to her face. On the wall above her hung the strange crucifix. I did not understand weak gods. Our gods were fierce. They were warriors. They were never tortured and sacrificed. And yet, as I stood there I could feel a majesty. A deep, glowing beauty to the world. The four other warriors with me grew anxious and left. I was the elder. I had to lead and all I was doing was staring at the woman and the crucifix. I stood until night and then the woman began panting and groaning.

“The baby,” she said. I knew her language. Long ago I learned their language from slaves we took back to the fjords.

I kneeled and the priest began muttering in a language I didn’t know. A slave had said it was something called Latin. Someone had lit candles because when I glanced back the church was glowing in a soft butter light. I realized there were two monks standing in the minimal shadows with tears coursing down their faces. No one was helping the woman so I reached my hands forward to pull the baby out. The woman was nearly screaming in pain and I could see the head of the baby. She pushed more and the baby erupted and then slid into my hands. It was silent. I pinched it and it cried out to the world. It’s first sound. And then its eyes fluttered and its look pierced my soul. Such gentle life. I used a flint to cut the cord and I stood with the baby, glossed with muck, and I felt love. I had never seen any of my sons born. But there was, in my muscled arms, a boy. A new life. The hope of a village.

“It’s Christmas,” said the priest. “Our savior.”

My men, the Vikings, tumbled in. Blood encrusted. Furious looking.

“Kneel for the baby,” I said. And that’s when I knew I would never raid another village and that when I returned home I would have the slave priests teach me their book. The Bible. I would lay down my ax and bow my head in humility for all life. This baby was the savior of its people. The baby saved me.

“Merry Christmas,” I said loudly. The Vikings were silent but from the heavens, I heard a greeting as the babe in my arms mewled and stared through tiny slits into my now sea deep heart.