The Friends of Fólkvangr
(8th April 1940)
Dear friends, welcome!
We have reached something of a milestone; this week marks the 50th edition of the Friends of Fólkvangr newsletter. To commemorate this most momentous of occasions we will be running not one, but two competitions! Yes friends, alongside our regular Hunt the Goat contest, we will also be offering a special prize for anyone who can guess the weight of Jon Ohnstad’s most extraordinary Pearl Onion. This wondrous vegetable will be entered in the Bergen fete next week. Good luck, father! The hopes of Fólkvangr travel with you!
On a more sombre note, Kvist Gundersen reports that a ladder was stolen from outside his cottage, Tuesday last, while he tended to his hanging baskets.
Has it come to this, my friends? But a year has passed since the declaration of war in Europe, and already we tear at each other like rabid wolves. We are of Fólkvangr! We are bound to each other through honour and history. We do not take from one another, my friends; we do not! I myself have spoken to Kvist, and he has agreed that if the ladder is returned by the week’s end, no more will be said.
And I’m afraid there is more bad news. It is with the most profound regret that I must tell you that my good friend Helga Bratvold will be leaving our fair village to take a position with a small book-keeping firm in the town of Lillehammer. Many of you will remember Helga as the runner-up in the Fair Maiden pageant at last year’s fete. We have been friends for many years, Helga and I, and this bond between us remained strong, even after my unanimous victory over her at that very same pageant.
Though I cannot think why anyone would leave Fólkvangr for the festering streets of Lillehammer, I would like you all to join me in wishing her well and reminding her that there is nowhere better than home.
And now friends – on with the festivities!
Silje chewed on the end of her pencil, sighed, and put a line through the word festering. She wrote suppurating in its place and drew air through the spaces between her teeth. She exhaled, gasped, crossed out suppurating then wrote festering above it.
‘Yes, festering,’ she whispered to herself. ‘“Lillehammer’s festering streets.”’ She groaned and leaned forward, parting her knees further. ‘Do you think…’ She gasped again. ‘Do you think I should have mentioned that I beat her in the pageant?’
‘Oh.’ A spasm of pleasure rattled her spine; she tried to squeeze her thighs together.
She said ‘Sorry’ and closed her eyes, leaning back and clawing her fingers into the bark of the chestnut tree. ‘Does it sound mean-spirited?’
‘Mentioning the pageant. It sounds mean-spirited.’
‘Mmm.’ She ran a line through the offending sentence. ‘Though I find it hard to believe people would think that of me.’
‘Silje, is that your notebook resting on my head?’
‘No,’ she replied, gently sliding the notebook from his crown.
Erik swore under his breath and sat back on his haunches, wiping his mouth. ‘I thought you liked it when I did that.’
‘I did,’ she said without thinking. ‘I mean, I do. I am just… preoccupied, that is all.’
‘Preoccupied with your stupid newsletter.’
‘Please don’t sulk, Erik.’
‘I am not sulking!’ He jumped to his feet and walked away, distancing himself from her with long, disgruntled strides.
The late spring had cast a blanket of bloodroot and lilies far beyond the forest, spreading their petals of white across the meadow – which all but smothered his indignation. Silje bit her lip to stop herself from laughing. She pushed her skirts down over her knees and got up from the grass.
‘I am sorry,’ she said, chasing after him.
He was his most handsome when he was angry, which to Silje’s mind was a great shame. Even a mild rage brought colour to his othertimes sallow complexion, a regality to his slightly receding chin. To her shame, Silje often found herself making him angry just to bring a gentle savagery to his bearing.
‘For not…’ How to say this, she wondered. ‘For not showing my appreciation.’
He stopped, mid-stride. ‘Showing your appreciation,’ he echoed. ‘I was attempting to pleasure you, Silje, not mend your gate.’ He turned west, heading for the line of sparse beech trees that separated Fólkvangr from the meadows and the hills. The flowers and the grass faded away, replaced by stony earth and patches of mud.
‘Erik, I’m wearing a dress!’
‘Then take the path back to the village you love so very much.’ He disappeared into the trees.
‘So you’re not even going to walk me home.’
‘I could,’ came back his disembodied voice, ‘but I wouldn’t want you to feel the need to show your appreciation.’
‘You are being ridiculous,’ Silje shouted, but there was no answer. ‘This is the end for you and me, Erik Brenna. Do you hear me?’
If Erik did hear, he chose not to reply.
She sighed and pulled her coat tightly around her. Night would fall soon, leeching away what little remained of the day’s warmth.
The true path to the village, the path suitable for a young lady in a pretty dress, cut through the tree-line at its narrowest point. Silje walked about half a mile before stopping at a knoll covered in lichen. She took off her shoes and climbed to the top from where she could see her village, nestled in a recess of stone and ice, and the town of Bergen at the foot of the mountain. She often came here to write and watch the Allied warships steaming away to patrol the seas around Scandinavia. But today the harbour was empty, save the small, squat lines of Bergen’s tugboats and fishing vessels. Silje reached into her bag and took out the old box camera that had belonged to her mother. She peered down into the viewfinder, focussing on the horizon beyond the harbour.
She could see smoke, just off to the east. She stood motionless and held her breath. Her heart was racing. As she pressed down on the shutter, the sound reached her, carried on the winds from the sea: a metallic thud, like thunder striking inside a steel box. She put away her camera, slipped her sandals on her feet, and ran down the mountain path as fast as she could.