Gradually after the latest spate of publicity that follows Despina's endurance race win and its accompanying adulation from the Norwegian people she comes in contact with dies back, her life with Ragnar settles into a routine. She discovers his hunting cabin is in the hidden valley she'd heard about the first time she visited the priest's cave.
Following his abdication, they settle there, hunting and fishing. I really didn't expect to use the cabin for its intended purpose, but during my 'mountain madness under the midnight sun', that's exactly what's happening! Despina reflects, looking up from the book she's reading. I wonder what century this was constructed in? Certainly pre-electricity. A far cry from an American style hunting cabin. These stones must have been chiseled by hand. We'd have hand-hewn tree trunks, maybe planed off, but probably not. Certainly, we would not have produced a smooth hand-laid stone floor. Wooden, maybe, but unlikely.
Tore and two other body guards stand outside in all weather, in eight hour shifts. They come in blue with cold and moving stiffly. Finally Despina cannot stand it any longer. "Ragnar, it would please me greatly if the guards went on Navy time -- four hours on, four off, instead of a full eight hours. They can't be enjoying it very much. Yesterday, it was a full two hours before Tore could move all his fingers. That can't be good for a person. Can we requisition some insulated underwear that plugs in? I read about it somewhere."
"I'm certainly glad you aren't holding that ring while you insulted their manhood like that."
"I certainly hope you're teasing me. For if you're serious, I'll have to get very cross with you, which might even lead to our first row."
"Okay, when Tore comes in for supper, hold the ring and see for yourself."
Despina schemes away until the appointed time for Tore's appearance comes. "Tore, you are bound to Ragnar. Is that a life-threatening situation?"
"No, not here, but if that were required, he'd have it without asking."
"That's very noble of you, Tore, but in this day and age, I doubt it is quite as necessary as it once was."
Ragnar begins to think she is going to box Tore in and sticks his oar into the discussion. "Think 'terrorist target'. All royalty, no matter how minor, are at risk of being kidnapped, having their wives and lovers, children and animals, farms and holdings vandalized, held hostage, held for ransom, or used by people of ill will."
"Don't you have an equal obligation to look out for your subject's welfare?"
Tore raises his eyebrow in surprise.
"You should not challenge me in front of him. It upsets his sense of right and wrong. He's very conservative in his social view."
"You mean, he thinks I should be running around in gowns like the one that I wore to the concert?"
"Can the poor man sit down and eat his meal in peace? As you are so ably pointing out, he's put in a grueling afternoon."
Despina moves off to pour him some mead and dip up some warm soup full of vegetables. She sets a loaf of black bread within reach, and some spread she cannot think of the name of, but which is made of berries. Watching him eat, she is pained by the way he holds his spoon and fumbles for his mouth. Two tears roll slowly down her face. She says nothing, finally moving to the bed so she is in less light.
"Pina? What's the matter? I've never seen you cry other than when ... other than when you had good reason to."
"Can't you see how he's hurting?"
"He said nothing about being in pain."
"Watch how he has to hold his fork... how he grasps the cup... he shouldn't HAVE to say anything. We should care enough to take care of it in a responsible, reasonable matter, not make it a bone of contention to be fought over. If YOU said he was to serve shorter times, he would. HE won't argue with YOU."
Holding the ring away from her neck as he hugs her to him, he quickly tells Tore that he suspects she is premenstrual. "Will you check as soon as you get done there? Can you monitor it from afar?"
Tore answers in one word. When his bowl is empty, he elaborates, "Premenstrual Syndrome has no diagnostic," as he refills it. "Have you told her yet what is about to happen to her?"
"She's a smart girl. She'll figure it out."
"That seems heartless. It's bound to scare her when she KNOWS it is impossible. There's nothing in her culture, her background, to help her handle something of this proportion. You ought to prepare her."
Suddenly suspicious, Ragnar glares at Tore, "What is this, anyway? You're concerned for her welfare; she's bent out of shape about yours and the other guards..."
"Nothing's going on except that she treats people as human beings regardless of their station in life. That is ONE American attitude that could be spread around to advantage."
Unexpectedly, Despina breaks in where neither man expects to have a woman put forth her opinion. "See, if you ordered him to, he wouldn't fight it. He'd maybe not say 'Thank you' -- men have this thing about it, as if it showed weakness, not good breeding and proper raising."
Ragnar stiffens. "That's not what we're talking about."
Moving her hand over his, she touches the ring. "Tore, if Ragnar ordered you to do something different from the way things have always been done, but the change made your life better, and did not offer any other drawbacks, would you feel uncomfortable doing it?"
"I don't have opinions about orders. They are just that -- orders. I obey them."
"Okay. Now YOU tell him. That way, it isn't coming from me," Despina whispers, dropping her hand so she is no longer touching the ring. Leaning forward, she lightly kisses him, then pulls away, rolls fully onto the bed, and turns to the wall so he is not really doing it in front of her, as if by doing that, she does not gloat over winning, step on his authority, or come between him and his body guard.
Grumbling a bit, Ragnar picks up a bowl stacked on an open shelf and helps himself and Tore to another bowl of soup, even though he is not really hungry. "Tore, while it is so bitter cold, will you work out shorter shifts so you people don't lose your fighting edge to cold?"
Tore's eyebrows shoot up, but he only nods his head in assent. Breaking off a huge chunk of the bread, he pauses before dunking it in his soup. "Your misses is quite kind-hearted. I think you are also right about the effects on our ability to fight well when that cold."
"You are picking up English?"
"No. She INSISTS on giving all three of us English lessons and that we give her Norwegian lessons as well."
"That sly little...," with an appreciative laugh, Ragnar breaks off. "She really makes life more interesting, doesn't she?"
The two men's laughter brings Despina back to the table, but her face is still red and puffy for quite a while.
Last updated 11/27/04.
Word Count: 1211
Reading Level: 5.4