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When We Were Vikings


The Viking my brother got me for my birthday was tall and had muscles. Even if you were not an expert on Vikings and had not read Kepple’s Guide to the Vikings, you would say, that is a Viking. He looked like he could defeat hordes of villains and commit acts of bravery, like Beowulf, the most famous Viking, who defeated Grendel, who was not only a regular villain but also a monster.

But since I am an expert, I noticed many incorrect things. For example, the Viking’s sword wasn’t made of real metal, and his outfit was plastic instead of brynja, which is an armor made of rings to protect warriors from being cut with swords. His blond hair was not really blond. I could see that it had actually been colored.

 After seeing the Viking, I chose a new Word of Today. The word ended up being gargantuan, a way of saying something, or someone, is amazingly large. It was a word that I had written on my list, with the help of my best friend, AK47, and since I remembered the definition, and since the Viking and the word went together, I decided I would put my other Word of Today (eloquent) away and make gargantuan the new Word of Today.

The Viking boomed through the door of our apartment, past Gert, and stood holding his sword. The first thing he said was: “WHERE IS ZELDA?”

He looked around the room, which was empty except for the couch, Gert’s chair, the lamp in the corner, the coffee table, and Gert’s TV, the most legendary thing we owned.

 Gert pointed at me and made a sound with his throat.

“You,” the Viking said, waving his plastic sword at me. “Are you Zelda?”

The Viking had already broken three of the rules that Gert and I have posted by the door to make sure our apartment stays clean and orderly and a good place for us both to live:

  • Take off shoes to stop outside dirt from going all over the apartment.
  • Do not stand in the doorway instead of closing the door and locking it as soon as possible, since people will try to rob us if they see the chance.
  • Do not drop bags and things by the door, instead of taking them to the right place in the apartment.

The rules are written in big block letters that say: RULES OF COMING IN AND OUT, and there’s a picture of the door and a person walking in that Gert and I drew together using the box of crayons I borrowed from the Community Center.

The Viking didn’t see the rules, but when Gert made a noise and pointed to his own shoes, the Viking said, “Oh, shit,” and kicked them off. “Sorry,” he said.

(Even though swearwords are allowed, one of the House Rules is that we should at least try not to use them, which Gert finds harder than me.)

“The door too,” Gert said, smiling.

The smiling was not a rule that we wrote down, but something we did for each other to show that we were happy with what the other person was doing without actually having to say, THANK YOU FOR DOING SOMETHING SMALL THAT I LIKED. That way we could save our Big Thank-You’s for more gargantuan things.

“I have come to wish you a happy birthday,” the Viking said to me. When he came closer he smelled like oranges sitting on the counter too long.

Góðan dag!” I said to the Viking.

“Excuse me?” the Viking said.

Góðan dag!” I said, louder and making sure that every sound of the words was clear and enunciated (Word of Today, June 4).

Góðan dag is the traditional Viking greeting, according to Kepple’s Guide to the Vikings. Kepple’s website has a video guide to pronouncing Viking phrases and words. Góðan dag is pronounced “go-than-dag.” When you say words in Old Norse, you should sound like you’re spitting. One of the things I did when I started trying to speak Viking was hold my hand in front of my mouth, so that I could tell if I was saying things properly by how wet my hand got.

He looked at my brother. “What’s she saying?”

Góðan dag,” I repeated, then said: “Ek heiti Zelda! Hvat heitir þú?”

Which was me telling him my name and then asking what his name was.

“Tell her what I told you to say,” Gert said to the Viking.

Gert was sitting on the arm of the couch, wearing a cone birthday hat with wrinkled fingers coming out of the top. The wrinkly fingers waved around from the balcony wind.

The Viking stared for a second, not knowing what my brother was talking about, and then his face got big with understanding. “Oh, right. One second.”

The Viking closed his eyes and cleared his throat, like he was the President about to tell the world something very important. Gert turned down the drum music, which I had him download specially off the Internet from Kepple’s website.

 “Ack anne there,” he said, stopping after each word and looking at me the entire time. “Ack anne there.” The Viking turned to Gert. “Am I saying it right?”

“Is he?” Gert asked me.

“Ack anne there,” I said.

It sounded like Old Norse, or sort of like Old Norse, only with less spitting. “Can you say it again, please? With more spitting?”

“Ack anne there.” He coughed and took out a sheet of folded paper from his plastic underwear, which was shiny and gold (something a real Viking wouldn’t be wearing). He handed me the piece of paper.

The words were in Old Norse. I sounded out each letter. “Oh,” I said. “Ek ann þér.”

Gert smiled. “Right?”

It was not perfect, but I told Gert that I liked the Viking very much with my smile.


Most Viking women stay at home and have babies and cook and clean. But that was never the type of woman I wanted to be. My favorite part of Kepple’s Guide to the Vikings is the Valkyries, strong magical women who decide who gets to live and die in battles. They bring the warriors they choose to a place called Valhalla, a house where Odin and the other gods are that must be gargantuan to hold so many people. You can’t become a Valkyrie, though. You are born one. Not like heroes, who become heroes by being legendary.

I am not someone people would think is a Viking. I am five feet and one inch and my arms are very skinny. My legs are not skinny because I play a lot of basketball with Gert, and basketball makes your legs strong. I am a very good runner and can run forever, even though a Viking spends more time fighting than running. I was on the running team when I was in school. Our school mascot is the Crusader, who is almost like a Viking and also wears armor. But then I could not go to school anymore after I failed most classes.

Many people like me have big foreheads and small eyes. My friend Yoda has a face like that. But with me you would not know that I am not normal.

I have the element of surprise in battle.

Even though I liked Gert’s Viking, I wish he would have asked a Valkyrie to come. Most people know a few things about Vikings, but not many people know things about Valkyries, who are more powerful than Vikings. If they do know anything, it’s the song “The Ride of the Valkyries.” It comes from an opera and was originally made by an old musician named Wagner.

Vikings like legends and since people still know about Wagner, even so long after he died, I like Wagner and respect his legend.

There were three other people I wanted to be at my birthday party. Mom was not alive, so I could not actually invite her, except in spirit in the way that Vikings can get the spirits of their dead family members and friends to come to parties invisibly, but I did invite AK47 and Marxy.

Our apartment building is in a crappy neighborhood, and Marxy lives in a very rich part of the city, so his mother, Pearl, never lets him come over, even for something as special as my first birthday since he and I fell in love.

Pearl also thinks that Gert is a thug. That is a stupid thing to believe, I think. Do thugs go to college on big scholarships to study about money?

No, they do not. They behave like villains and hurt others, instead of saving them.

My brother is good-hearted, but Gert scares a lot of people because of his shaved head and tattoos, especially the tattoo of the skull on his forearm that is laughing and has a big red tongue, and because he doesn’t dress like someone who works at a bank or has a real job. He wears jeans and tight black shirts.

Those people, the ones who don’t trust Gert, are shit-heels and fuckdicks, because Gert is one of the smartest people I know, and the bravest, and if we were in the past, people would be writing legends about him, no problem. If villains attacked your tribe, you would want Gert there to defend you in battle.

I also missed AK47, though, and wished she was there. I knew that her and Gert still loved each other, even if she said she hated his stupid guts and he said she was never allowed to be in the apartment again.

AK47 would have liked the Viking. He was standing in his shiny gold underwear, making animals out of balloons. He said that his specialty was dogs. “But I can do some requests.”

“What kind of animal do you want him to make?” Gert asked me.

I asked him for a dragon, since many of the oldest Viking sagas have dragons in them.

He blew up a balloon and in a second it was an almost-dragon. I held up the balloon and told him it looked good, even though it was more like a snake that had tried to tie itself like shoelaces.

“Another?” he asked.

The intercom buzzed. Gert didn’t get up to answer it, the way he usually does whenever someone buzzes. That is a rule we have: whenever Gert is home and someone buzzes the intercom, he’s the one to answer it and decide if the person in the lobby of the building is allowed to come in or not.

The intercom buzzed again. The Viking stopped his balloon and looked at Gert. I looked at Gert too.

“There is someone at the door,” I said.

“I know. Do you want to answer it?”

“But the rule,” I said.

Gert smiled. “I think this is a rule you can break today because it’s your birthday. And because I think it’s going to be someone special.”

Normally we don’t break rules, since we both like knowing how everything is supposed to work, and because I have trouble acting properly if I don’t have rules to follow. But it was true, it was my birthday, and I was now an adult and twenty-one years old.

I stood in the middle of the living room, not sure what to do.

The intercom buzzed again.

“Seriously,” Gert said. “Go answer it.”

I closed my eyes and counted to ten, one of the things Dr. Laird told me to do whenever I felt all of the rules being broken.

“You can do this,” Gert said.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

I took the dragon balloon and went to the intercom box on the door and pressed the button that said TALK.

 “Hello?” I asked the intercom.

“Is this Zelda?”

It was a woman’s voice. I said it was me, Zelda. Then I heard Marxy’s voice.

“Happy birthday,” he said.

I looked at Gert, talking to the Viking. He smiled over the Viking’s shoulder and gave me a thumbs-up.

He had made magic happen.

When We Were Vikings
by by Andrew David MacDonald

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
  • ISBN-10: 1982126779
  • ISBN-13: 9781982126773