Thane and Maiden
Nobody reads Garth Nix in my circle of friends. So let me tell you this: he has side-characters with so much heart and personality I find myself loving them and wanting to know more.
This is my tribute to my favorite side-characters: the Wilder Jarek and the Shield Maiden Kirr. It can be a bit independent from the series – you don’t have to know everything, so give this fic a try.
The legends of Jarek Bloodswimmer and his companion Kirr had already been passed down and retold across the clans in the Ice even before they had met their end. The stories told Icecarls of all clans, of all status, of all ages about how Jarek, the Sword-Thane – and a Wilder at that, had slain not only the Norrworm which whose blood he swam in for days to survive, but all the other great, dangerous creatures of the Ice that they managed to hunt. The stories told of how Kirr, the lithe, calm Shield Maiden who travelled alongside him, had eased him from the fury: something the Crones never dared to do.
The legends, however, did not tell how they met – and this is the story of the Sword Thane Jarek, one of the greatest Wilders of all, and the Shield Maiden Kirr, whose mere presence pulled a Wilder out of the bloodthirsty trance.
It was not a complicated story, it was not the thing of legends supposed to amaze Icecarls of all clans, but it was their story.
It was very simple. The Sword Thane’s ship met that of the woman Kirr’s. She was a new Shield Maiden then, opting not to join a Hand and to focus on the protection of her own Clan. Their ship accomodated Jarek’s quite well, providing him with some food, furs, and other supplies. It was not too much to give, as their clan had plenty of items and the Sword Thane was alone on his ship.
The Sword Thane was having his meal of Selski meat, in a corner of the dining halls, when Kirr walked in, a Shield Maiden of only sixteen circlings. Jarek was a known Wilder, and no one dared come up to talk to him casually while he had a meal, or offer to patch up his wounds for fear of offending him, but the Shield Maiden stood infront of him and did the customary Icecarl greeting. Jarek was a man of few words, and he did not say anything as he returned the greeting, clapping his fists together and bowing slightly.
“I notice you are wounded.” Kirr said, her voice smooth yet gentle. She did not bear the traditional fierceness that Shield Maidens possessed – she could have easily been mistaken for a Crone-in-training – but she spoke with dignity. “Would you like me to look at your wounds?”
Jarek noticed, from the corner of his eyes, that her Clan members had looked at her, alarmed. He heard, using his sharp hearing, that they had been muttering, whispering to each other – “What kind of madness is this? Does she not know of the dangers? He had not spoken for a while, he may be in the rage…” – came from several people in the crowds.
He nodded, saying, “If you would do so.” – subconsciously attempting to soften his voice, just as to assure her that he was not under the trance of fury. He did not want her to run away. His peculiar skin may be tough but he could still feel pain, and his wounds, shallow as they may be compared to his worst ones, still hurt. He could use some bandages or healing oils.
The woman graced him a small smile. “My name is Kirr, I am a Shield Maiden of the clan.”
“Jarek.” – he said as she sat herself beside him and took his arm. Her hands were calloused from hunting and fighting, but softer than the other Shield Maidens that he had encountered. She had long white hair that she leaves trailing across her back, unlike the other Shield Maidens who hunt and keep their hair short. He did not wince when she touched a slightly deep gash in his arm. It was painful, but he never reacted to pain anyway.
“I have to wrap your arm for you so that you would not lose much blood, I will also apply some powder and ointment.” she informed him, putting down a jar beside her and taking out healing supplies. The Sword Thane only nodded as he paused on his meal and watched her work.
“You do not belong to a Hand?” Jarek tried to strike up a conversation, fascinated by the strangely soft aura that she emanated despite being a Shield Maiden – he was used to them being fierce hunters, stern women and upright creatures.
“Will you ridicule me if I say yes?” the woman said gently, apply some powders on his wound. It stung a bit.
He honestly said, “No.”
The Shield Maiden looked up at him, and then she cast a grateful smile – for some reason she did not even seem to be an Icecarl – she was too gentle. “Thank you, nobody had answered that way before. I seemed to be an object of shame.”
“I would not ridicule you.” he said, trying to reassure her that he meant it.
“I did not become a Shield Maiden so that I can hunt, or kill, or fight, or make armors, or even protect thousands of ships across the ice.” she started to say, and he listened as she wrapped his arms in strips of Selski hide. “I did not wish to belong to a Hand. I only wanted to become a Shield Maiden so that I can be taught to heal. I want to cure wounds and help ease pains,” and she looked up at him as she finished the bandaging. “Like yours.”
Jarek nodded, not smiling back – because he did not know how. He only said, “That is all you want to do?”
“Yes.” She arranged her supplies back in the jar carefully, standing up. “I apologize for disturbing your meal.”
He shook his head tentatively. “I think it is good. What you want to do.” He looked up to see her smiling again. “I think you are also beautiful.”
Jarek was never good with his words, and even though he knew that what he said may not have come out right, he meant it. The woman clapped her fists together and bowed. He did the same, and he watched her retreating back.
Time could be fluid on the ice. It may consist of hundreds of thousands of stretches of dangerous and dark creatures but a circling is a circling – you eventually go back to where you have been, you eventually meet a Clan ship you have met before, you eventually encounter the same dangers you have once dared to face.
Icecarls only go forward, but they may meet again – for they take curves and detours for the benefit of the clans and the betterment of hunts. Icecarls only go forward, but they still meet and intermingle – as if it was written.
Jarek Bloodswimmer met the Shield Maiden Kirr after four circlings.
He encountered a Hand of Shield Maidens, fighting three merwins. They must have been on a hunt, and in this battle they were badly losing. He knew the pride of Shield Maidens in battle, but while he heard agonized wails calling for fallen comrades, he had dropped his ship’s anchor and led his Wreska sled towards the grounds.
The smell of blood and the vicious roar of merwins pushed the Sword Thane into the fury. His blood boiled and his breathing grew shallow, but he stopped at once as a sight embedded itself in his eyes.
A long-haired Shield Maiden’s body had been hanging limply in between the merwin’s teeth. A high-pitched scream tore through the woman’s throat – it was not a scream of pain, but of war.
Jarek saw the healing Shield Maiden of four circlings ago plunge her sword into the merwin’s mouth with a bloodcurling warcry. After the struggle, one of her hands pushed a dagger into one of the creature’s eyes. And finally, the merwin dropped to the ice, spilling blood on the pristine white ground.
“Kirr!” three Shield Maidens ran to their sister, desperately trying to lift the merwin’s mouth open, to free the woman, who was panting for breath and bleeding badly. They forgot about the other two merwins, who were now angered at the fall of their companion.
The loud merwin roars alerted the women, and they made a move to run from the dead body of the merwin, to dash and prepare to attack, but Jarek had roared loud, drawing his giant chains, heading for the nearest merwin.
“SAVE HER!” – he shouted at the women. “SAVE THE WOMAN!!!”
The women stopped. “A S-Sword Thane–..”
“Follow his command!” a woman, lying limply on the ground and bleeding, shouted at them. “Save Kirr!”
“Yes, Shield Mother!” the Shield Maidens said, and ran back to their comrade, using all their strength to ease Kirr off the merwin.
Jarek has fallen into the fury, too deep in the depths of it. Within a few moments, he had chained and slain two merwins. He fought them with gruesome strength, slashed at them with every single cry, let their blood taint him for every gash he drew. The merwins died with terrible, agonized roars, but he was stronger – he was fiercer. This was him – the Sword Thane – the Wilder.
The maidens had eased Kirr and had taken the emergency measures to prevent her from losing blood, and the Shield Maiden opened her eyes to see Jarek slaying the merwins.
She recognized his blue skin, his large build, the chains around his waist, his fierce eyes.
He was a gentle man – and she did not want to see him in such drunken bloody stupor. He must be wanting to stop – he just did not know how.
She stood up on frail, wounded legs and stumbled towards the Wilder hastily, ignoring her comrade’s warnings.
“Kirr, stop! He’s a Wilder!”
“KIRR! If you get near him, he will kill you!”
It IS dangerous, the woman agreed, clutching her wounded side, walking towards the battle ground without a weapon.
Her weapon, she knew, was her heart.
“Jarek,” Kirr called, voice shaking. With all her strength, with all compassion, she said, “They’re dead. You can stop now.”
The surviving Shield Maidens watched as the man dropped his weapons and turned towards the source of the voice. The Wilder stared at her with bloodshot eyes, hands shaking as if he wanted to do so much more, as if he wanted to hack the merwin in pieces long after the creatures have stopped fighting back.
She walked towards him, reaching out a frail hand. “Do not let your anger get to you. It is over.”
The Wilder did not speak, but he took her hand and brought it to his bare chest. Kirr smiled as she felt his racing heartbeat.
“Yes, slow down now Jarek. We are safe.”
He was so tall that when he dropped to his knees, she was in level with his head, and she hugged his face to her chest, closing her eyes as he wrapped his arms around her waist and listened to her heartbeat, trying to match his with her steady one.
The Wilder was out of the fury, and the other Shield Maidens watched as their sister stroked his hair gently, fighting her own wounds, calming him down.
“You are hurt.” Jarek said for the first time.
“I live. You saved us.”
Her hands were still as soft as the last time she touched him.
They returned to the Ruin Ship using Jarek’s ship. The remaining Shield Maidens helped heal their Shield Mother and their wounded comrades. Kirr was strong, after healing her own wounds, she stayed awake.
As their companions slept, Jarek found the woman checking on her sisters and the Shield Mother, ensuring that their wounds were properly wrapped and they were alright.
He watched her with attentive eyes, and after a while, she sat with him.
“Thank you.” – she said.
He shook his head. “It is my job.” After a moment of silence, he said, “You joined a Hand.”
“I am such a shame.” she muttered. “My clan gave me two choices – to join a Hand and help the Ruin Ship, or to stand up for what I want and be sent to the ice. I was not brave enough to face the ice.”
“You are strong.” he said.
The woman, back to the gentle Shield Maiden he had known, let a tear fall on her face. “But not brave.”
Jarek found himself lifting a hand to catch her falling tears, and she held that hand against her face. “You are brave.” – And so free, he thought. A Shield Maiden would not have held his hand like this, or shed such lonely tears, but that made her so much braver in his eyes. “And you are still beautiful.”
“You say the best words.” the woman sobbed and leaned against him, crying against his muscular arm. “You comfort me so. You saved our lives, thank you.”
He had never seen a Shield Maiden cry, but this one, he knew he would always see crying – for she was so gentle, so strong – and he would always find himself wanting to catch those tears.
He let her cry, and he would not tell the Ruin Ship of this, because he knew that she deserved to cry – her dreams were shattered and her comrades have fallen.
The woman cried for a few more moments, and when the tears had subsided, they sat side by side again, in companionable silence. He was not wounded, and so she did not offer to heal him. “Jarek?”
He did not speak, but she knew that he was listening.
“Why did you become a Sword Thane?”
“I want to travel.” – the man answered in a low voice. “I want to slay creatures who will do harm… for the Clans that may make their way and encounter them.”
“You are protecting all the clans.”
“In a way.”
Kirr smiled fondly, and then looked towards her sleeping comrades. “I do nothing but hunt creatures on the ice with my Hand.” she said, sadness filling her tone. “When we can, we heal ourselves. I want to heal more people. I do not want to slay creatures.”
Jarek understood. This was not her dream. “Would you like to heal me?”
The woman touched his arm gently – the same arm that she healed before. It had a scar. “You have many wounds.”
“I will ask the Shield Mother to let you accompany me.” he said, decisive. “Would you go, if I did?”
Kirr looked up to his dark eyes, devoid of emotion, but she knew that he wanted her to be by his side. “Would you like me beside you?”
“I do not want to destroy.” – was all he said.
She understood – all he wanted to do was slay the creatures, not leave them in a bloody slaughter feeling like a monster who had wreaked havoc.
The Shield Maiden gave a soft smile. “I will heal every wound that I can.”
But the Sword Thane knew that she was enough to heal every wound that he will ever have.
The stories have started after they had set off together. This may be considered a prologue to their adventures – adventures that are spread throughout Icecarl ships and down to generations after, but for the Shield Maiden Kirr and the Sword Thane Jarek, their story had really started that one fateful, written day when his ship met her Clan’s – when she graced him that understanding smile and he realized that she was the bravest Shield Maiden he will ever meet.
Forgive me, I had limited canon material and this was written in a hurry while drowning in feels.