The Lord’s Work
The woman in black stood stock-still and silent as her opponent climbed into the pit, luxuriating in the sound of the sand crunching under her boots and the faint whiff of blood and sweat ever wafting up from it. The smell of death, the weight of her spear in her hand, the promise of what was about to come all centered her, calmed her, almost enough to ignore the meaningless noise of the cheering crowd.
The crowd roared like an angry sea as the opposing fighter lept down onto the sand. He was massive, fully a head taller than she, as broad and strong as an ox, with a great red beard and a beautifully braided mane of hair. He wielded a long-handled war axe, and the crowd launched into a fresh wave of cheering as he raised it over his head and bellowed like a boar. The woman in black rolled her eyes and kept silent.
At last, the attending skald stepped up to the rim of the pit, stretching out his arms and barking, “In this contest, we have a new champion eager to test herself! Here she stands before you, the woman in black, Killer-Sigrid!”
Sigrid did not look up, did not throw off her hat or lower her cowl, only kept her cool grey eyes fixed on the opposing fighter. As the crowd’s cheering died away to an awkward murmur, she rolled her eyes again and whispered, “I told that goatfucker, the byname is Ironside.”
“Opposing her is a man you all know, the greatest warrior in our district, no less a man than Hrolf Sledgehammer!”
The crowd roared their approval and stamped their feet in unison, sending plumes of dust down into the pit. When they quieted a bit, the barker called out, “By ancient law and custom, let this ancient contest begin! May strength, wyrd, and the gods choose the champion!”
And Hrolf raised up his axe and charged, bellowing like a wild beast, bloody murder in his eyes. Sigrid stood still and silent as the blow came, stepping out of its way at the last moment, and as Hrolf recovered she thrust her spear forward into his chest. It rent his mail and plunged through his chest and out of his back in a fountain of gore. Wordlessly, silently, she pitched him into the sand, put a boot on the dying man’s neck, and freed her spear. The crowd’s stunned silence turned to boos and jeers as she began to climb out of the pit.
“Ah, well,” the barker stammered, “I, ah, I suppose we have a champion! A rather unconventional victory for Killer-Sigrid!”
“Ironside,” she corrected as she hoisted herself onto the rim of the pit. “I am Sigrid Ironside. ‘Killer’ is too on the nose. It’s gauche.”
The skald leaned in close to her as the crowd roared their derision and hissed, “What the fuck was that?”
“A fight. Have you not seen one before?”
“What the fuck kind of fight was that?”
“A fight that I won. Now, as that man is dead and I am not, I’ll be having my purse now.”
“You…that….that is not how this is done!”
“And yet here we are. My purse, please. I will not ask again.”
The skald, slack-jawed, handed her a leather bag that jingled with coins, and he stammered, “What….what manner of woman are you?”
“Oh, I’m a cleric.”
She met his eyes and gave him a wide, hungry grin. "I’m a cleric. Every day, you see, I do the Lord’s work. I send people to meet Him.”