Katrine and the Serpent

A Danish fairytale reimagined.

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2. Chapter 1

I rose with the dawn, if dawn could be called that here in the early spring, when the moon still held a fast grip on the night and the sun barely shone. The smell of manure was so thick now, it stung my nostrils offensively through my restless sleep. I wrinkled my nose at the thought.

"Katrine!" barked Mor. "You slugabed, wake up!"

Today was laundry day, but like every day, we made rugbrød for our meals first thing. I loved the dense nutty taste of rye bread but hated kneading it.

"I'm coming, Mor," I called, quickly dressing.

"I've already fed the chickens for you, but I need your help with the baking," she told me as I tied the apron around my waist.

"I know that," I muttered, as I began rhythmically rolling and mashing the dough.

"What was that?" she snapped, sharply.

"Nothing," I replied quietly, rolling my eyes.

So began another day of chores for me in our quiet little village life. I scrubbed the laundry in the tub, hands red and chapped from the lye soap, strung it up on the line while Mor churned more butter for the rye bread. Tomorrow was mending day. I certainly wasn't looking forward to that. Although my hands were small and nimble with thread, my fingertips had a lot of holes from pricking myself clumsily. It seemed whenever my mind wandered, I either hurt myself, or-

For fanden!

I swore to the devil as the wet laundry slipped from the half-fastened clothespins and crumpled into the mud. Glancing around to see if Mor had noticed, and thankfully she she hadn't, I quickly gathered them up and dropped them back in the tub.

The newly changed water turned black from the dirt.

"Oh Katrine," sighed my mother suddenly from behind me. I jumped.

"You scared me!"

"I'm sorry. But you need to straighten your head, or your Far will have your hide again, especially if you drop his lunch pail in the mud like you did with those clothes."

I winced at the thought. 

"I'll shape up, I promise."

She clucked her tongue.

"You know, Elle has managed to get married to Joakim and she is of your age. Elle. The one with the lazy eye. You would be able to find a husband too, if it weren't for your constant clumsiness and daftness. You're nearing twenty now. Why, when I was seventeen, I had already been married and tending to my own household for a year!"

And look at how well that turned out, I thought. When my father took to ale every now and again, he beat her black and blue. As he did to me, whenever he caught me doing something he disliked. Which seemed to be everything I did. But Mor refused to blame him, since a blight had descended over the village's crops in recent years and according to her, "Far has a lot to deal with in matters concerning the farm, and we must be understanding."

Some blamed the woods and the creatures inside it for the crop failure. Personally, I thought it might have something to do with the fact that all us villagers only planted rye, to make up for the recent food shortages. It seemed every spring the fields needed more and more manure to choke out a few measly acres of healthy rye. In fact, this years seed had come from a neighboring village, which seemed to be faring much better than ours.

I wanted to travel there and study their farms, to see why theirs seemed to fare so much better. Their livestock had been rumored to be much healthier as well. But Far had forbade it. As patriarch of the farm and house, he not only controlled my mothers life, but mine as well.

"Hello? Katrine?"

I nodded my head, coming back to reality.

"Yes. Don't drop the pail. Got it." 

Even though it was one of her wifely duties, my mother sent me to give Far his meals in the field each day to avoid more beatings. Because he certainly was in a foul mood, each day more than the last.

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