One of my lesser known holiday stories, The Meaning of Vengeance, was published by Dreamspinner last Christmas, and tells the story of two Vikings on opposite sides of a family feud which has claimed the lives of everyone in their families but them. When Ari injures Geirr, rather than finish him off, he decides to nurse him back to health and suddenly the two young men find themselves falling in love with each other. But can they get past all the pain and hatred the feud has placed between them?
This isn’t strictly a “Christmas” story, since the heathen Icelander’s didn’t celebrate Christmas. It takes place during their Yule season.
EXCERPT — “The Meaning of Vengeance” — M/M historical
It wasn’t until they returned to the bench that Geirr found the courage to ask, “Why didn’t you kill me?”
Ari looked uncomfortable as he lowered him down on the sheepskins. “I almost did. That blow to your head nearly finished you.”
“You could have left me there to die, or finished me off. Why bring me inside and tend to me?”
Ari sighed and retrieved the bowls of stew from the floor, then sat down beside Geirr again before answering. “You have gentle eyes.”
“What?” Geirr bristled. Olaf had often told him that his pale blue eyes were too pretty, like a girl’s. It had always irritated him.
But Ari ignored his flash of temper and continued, “When you looked at me, just before you charged, I could see that you didn’t have the eyes of a killer.”
Geirr wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It was true that he’d never killed anybody and he didn’t really want to. But Olaf had always told him that when his back was to the wall he’d be able to do it. Now someone he’d actually tried to kill was telling him that he never felt at all threatened. It was humiliating.
“I would have killed you, if I’d been able to,” Geirr said sullenly.
Ari gave him an infuriating smile and shook his head. “Olaf was a killer. You’ll never be.”
The mention of Olaf angered Geirr further. He snatched the bowl Ari was holding out for him and dug into it with a ravening hunger. But in the back of his mind, he knew Olaf’s death would hang over his head for the rest of his life, plaguing him. Geirr was now obligated to exact vengeance for the killing. If he didn’t, he would be labeled a coward by everyone on the island and Olaf’s spirit would never rest. Ari would probably kill him easily, if it came to a duel, but somehow or other, one of them would have to die.
* * *
GEIRR dreamt that he was alone on the tundra. Everywhere he looked, in all directions, he could see nothing but snow and ice and barren, black volcanic rock. He tried to determine where he was from the mountains off in the distance, but they were unfamiliar and seemed oddly far away.
He began walking, calling for Olaf. But in this strange wasteland, not even the echo of his own voice answered him. Fear began to overtake him—a terror that he was truly alone out here. That there was absolutely no one else. Desperately, he began to run, having no idea where he was going, his footsteps crunching forlornly in the snow. When Olaf’s name continued to draw no response, he found himself shouting, “Ari!”
He woke to a gentle touch on his forehead. “What is it?” Ari’s deep voice said softly. “I’m here.”
Ashamed but unable to stop himself, Geirr grabbed Ari’s hand. He desperately needed to feel the touch of another human being after that horrible cold emptiness. Ari allowed him to hold on. The man was naked again, having been roused from sleep, and he was squatting beside Geirr’s sleeping bench. He looked at the young man with eyes full of compassion and, when Geirr finally released his hand, Ari brought it up to stroke his dark chestnut hair, soothing him until he drifted off into a peaceful sleep.