Eugenics programs, of course, are not generally very pleasant, even when conducted by subtracting from a death rate rather than adding to it. And Ynglings are human too.
December 10th, 1515
Dovre mountain, Prussian-occupied Norway
The snow was falling hard as the light failed, but that was not what made Kjetil’s feet drag, nor the burden of his sick son resting on his back. If anything, Gunnar’s weight was worryingly light. The child had eaten nothing for two days, except a little milk. No, it was the prospect of seeing his mother again that made Kjetil slow down with his goal in sight. Ragnhild Torilsdatter was not a woman to defy lightly, and they had not parted on good terms. But his eldest son had a high fever, and Kjetil had nowhere else to go.
The temple complex was as he remembered, a small cluster of wooden buildings around the central stone tower of the church. A single light showed at the duty nurse’s station. Kjetil entered with a heavy heart. The woman at the desk looked up from her sowing, froze for a moment, then rose with flowing grace. “Kjetil!”
She was a little older than he remembered, a little grayer, but time had not bowed her powerful shoulders or dimmed the sharp blue eyes. Kjetil gave her a weak smile. “Good evening, Mother.”
Pleasure from seeing her eldest son again was draining from Ragnhild’s eyes, replaced by calculation. “What brings you back? Is Dorthe…”
“No, she’s fine.” No thanks to you, he carefully did not add. “But our son, Gunnar, he’s taken a fever.” He swung the bundle – much too light – off his shoulders and unwrapped the child within. His face was pale, with two burning spots of red on the cheeks. Ragnhild looked from the bundle – her first grandchild – and back to Kjetil, her face struggling between delight and grimness.
“And you dared to bring him here?” she asked in a hissing whisper. “Knowing what we both know about his mother?”
Kjetil shrugged, setting his feet stolidly. “Where else should I go? Will you turn away your own grandson, to die of fever in the cold?”
Ragnhild’s eyes narrowed. Kjetil recoiled from the deathly anger in her voice. “Yes, you idiot, I will. And I’ll curse you to the end of days for forcing me to make that choice. Do you think I can make exceptions, merely because my own flesh and blood is involved? This child” – she pointed at Gunnar with something that wavered between hopeless love and utter loathing – “is… his mother is…”
“Simple, yes, I know. We’ve had this argument before. Still I ask, will you save my son’s life? Your grandson’s life?”
Ragnhild drew her shoulders back, icily determined. “No, Kjetil, I won’t. I warned you when you left. You married a retard because she ‘made you laugh’, and those genes will not be saved, unless they save themselves. Not even for a grandson of mine, and damn you for bringing him here to break my heart.”
Kjetil stood quite still, looking at her. Melting snow dripped off his clothes, the only sound in the room apart from Gunnar’s laboured breathing. “So it’s true then,” he said slowly. “Your blood does run thin as water.”
“No, Kjetil. Our blood is as thick as anyone’s. But I have a Work to do, not an idle whim to be set aside for mere blood. The gods care nothing for our blood, or for my feelings; they care only that the worthy be healed, and – may the saints forgive me, but it’s true – your wife is not worthy. And so neither is your son. Even though my heart bleeds to save him. Do you think I am a Valkyrie, to choose the slain without agony? And now you bring my own flesh and blood here, knowing what the verdict must be, and double the pain – ”
“Fuck you,” Kjetil hissed. “And fuck your gods, and your pain. You think I care about any of that? Save my son, or shut up.”
Ragnhild licked her lips. “Wait – wait. I won’t give you any penicillin. But perhaps there is a way, without breaking the Law… maybe… a warm bed, and I know some herbs for cooling a fever. That’s not forbidden, any spae-wife could give you that. And it might work. Nothing wrong with your wife’s body, she’s a tough little retard. After all a fever doesn’t kill every time. And I know a damn sight more about nursing than any superstitious downtimer…” As she spoke she moved about the room, finding supplies, and Kjetil relaxed. So his mother wasn’t made of stone after all. And blood still ran slower than water.