chapter fourteen ; bachelorette party

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There was something about the cavern that gave Skadi a sense of peace.

It was large and echoey, filled to waist-level with warm water, almost bathlike. Assorted flowers and herbs floated in the water, making the entire cavern smell lovely, and the torches that lined the walls illuminated the entire space just enough so that she could make out the faces of her companions. Outside the cavern, it was still so early in the morning that the sun had not even begun to rise yet.

The Knul rituals for marriage slightly differed from the Kattegat rituals, in that both the man and the woman must be cleansed separately before the wedding, and blessed by a sacrifice.

Skadi's companions were few, but the women she was closest with. Two dear friends- Helga, who had only recently given birth to little Angrboda, and floated carelessly in the water with closed eyes. Alongside Helga was Idunn, her blonde hair braided down her back, the water just barely concealing her swollen stomach. Skadi's mother, Thrud, sat behind Skadi, putting her hair into an elaborate braid. Finally was Lagertha, her groom-to-be's mother, as well as Aslaug, the wife of his father.

In the three months since Skadi had been wounded in battle and two months since the Viking return to Kattegat, she had healed greatly, embracing what was left of the summer as she recovered. Her skin had returned to its peachy and pale state, her lips once again lush, and her body tightened and toned. The only reminder that she had been wounded at all was the thin pink scar below her left breast.

Idunn pulled herself up out of the water, onto the ledge next to Skadi. Her hands sat loosely over her quickly-growing bump, a small smile on her face.

"He kicks like the Gods," Idunn grunted, her smile turning to a grimace as she rubbed the skin where she had felt the baby slam into her side. Skadi touched it, feeling her tiny niece or nephew moving around inside of Idunn's womb.

"I'll never get used to that," Skadi laughed, shaking her head. "It could still be a girl, you know."

"Rollo is set on a son," Idunn sighed, rubbing her torso more firmly. "A part of me is scared that he would leave if it was a girl."

Thrud shifted, starting on Skadi's second braid as she looked at Idunn.

"I have known Rollo since before you were even alive, Idunn. He is a good man. He would never leave you or your child. But men are always scared of their daughters- mostly because those men have never treated a woman right in their lives, and do not want their little girls seeing the same treatment." Thrud tutted, shaking her head. "When I had Skadi, Borik cried for three days on end. I was so scared that he was crying out of anger or sadness over not having a son. But then one night, he came and picked her up out of her crib. I learned that he was not angry, or upset at all - simply terrified that he would not be able to protect her."

Skadi smiled at her dearest friend as Thrud finished her braids, pulling away from her. She slipped into the water, giving her best friend a reassuring touch on the knee as she waded to the center of the cavern.

The women all circled her, and Thrud held out a bowl filled with blood. Skadi moved up onto a higher point in the water so that only her lower half was covered by the water, leaving her torso exposed.

"Skadi Serpent-Caller," Thrud began, having had the ritual memorized since it was performed on her twenty years ago when she married Borik. "My firstborn, my only daughter; my blessed child with Loki, God of Mischief. On this day, you will no longer be just a woman, and just a warrior. Today is the day that you become a wife."

Thrud dipped her fingers into the bowl, covering them with blood. She moved forward, smearing a rune onto Skadi's abdomen.

"For my final gift to you, as your mother, I ask of Loki, your soul-father, that he let you be fruitful. I ask that he give you great joy and that you may produce many children, who will fill the lives of yourself and your husband with the highest happiness known to man."

Thrud took her daughters hand, nodding at her. Skadi smiled; she and Thrud had never been close, but it was hard not to feel a special bond with her own mother on her wedding day.

Thrud passed the bowl to Lagertha. Although Bjorn's mother had never performed the ritual before, she was incredibly fond of Skadi, and wanted to make this day as special as possible for the woman whom her son loved so much. So she had made Idunn stay up almost all night, teaching her the ritual so that she may have it memorized.

"Skadi Serpent-Caller," Lagertha began, her voice ringing clear throughout the cavern. "The great love of my son, and daughter of my oldest friend. On this day, you will marry the boy that I have raised into a man, and take my place as the first woman in his life."

Lagertha dipped her fingers into the bowl, smearing a rune next to the one that Thrud had placed there.

"For my first gift to you, as the mother of the man who will father your sons, I ask of Odin, my son's ancestor, that he allow you to be the finest of warriors in even the hardest of battles. I ask that he never let another blade touch you, and when the day comes, he welcomes you into Valhalla with open arms."

Skadi took the bowl from Lagertha, dipping in two fingers and tracing a trail of blood down her chin and neck. Idunn took the bowl from her, drawing a rune on her abdomen before handing the bowl off to Helga. The women went around the circle, drawing themselves with blood, before discarding the bowl.

Idunn stepped forward, her hands on her swollen belly.

"I speak for your three chosen sisters," She smiled. "Myself, Idunn Sword-Swallower. Your dear friend, Helga Aesirsdottr. And your future mother-in-law and friend, Aslaug Sigurdsdottr. We hereby swear to support you in your every endeavor, every marriage trouble, every pregnancy, and every moment you choose to share with us."

"Let it be so," Skadi mused, a smile playing on her face.

"Let it be so." The women repeated. After a moment of silence, they erupted in laughter.

"I'm getting married!" Skadi sighed, jumping into the water. The women cheered in glee, jumping in after. Skadi popped up, grinning, not caring that her braids were ruined as she still had many hours before the wedding.

The girls spent a few minutes messing around before Skadi sighed, turning towards the entrance of the cavern, where the first few strands of sunlight were slipping in. She smiled softly.

"We better get back to Kattegat," Thrud sighed. "We only have a few hours until the wedding."

The women turned, heading back to get their clothes from where they lay on the dry peak. Skadi watched the sunlight stream in, bouncing off the water and her bare body. For the first time in a long time, she felt completely at peace, like not a thing in the world could touch her.

"Today is the day that my life begins."

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