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Authors: A Tale of Two Vikings

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“And that would be?” he said, twirling one of her nipples.

“Just how many of those seed catch-cloths do you have?”

He laughed in surprise. “Why?”

“Because it’s going to be a long night.”

“I hope so, sweetling. I hope so.”

I am woman…hear me purr…

“Well, well, well,” Helga murmured to herself four hours and three bouts of lovemaking later.

She gazed down at Vagn, who snored softly in the bed beside her. His arms were thrown over his head in abandon, revealing oddly endearing patches of blond hair in
his armpits. His legs were splayed. A small smile lay on his full lips. There was a tooth print on his shoulder, a suck mark on his lower belly and scratches on his back. The man had been knocked on his sweet arse, wrung inside out and flattened.

And Helga had done it. To say that she was supremely satisfied with her hidden talents in the bedsport would be a vast understatement.

Oh, she’d come to Vagn in hopes of catching his male seed, but she would be less than honest if she did not admit how much she’d enjoyed the exercise…or how much she looked forward to more of it. But for now, she had to creep back to her own bedchamber before anyone discovered her whereabouts. She feared falling asleep at Vagn’s side—though the prospect held appeal—and being discovered in the morn by a housecarl. Her father would be up here with a sword and a priest in an instant. There would be no sword-point wedding for her. In fact, no wedding at all.

With one last grin of satisfaction, Helga began to slip from the bed. She was almost off when a hand gripped her ankle and pulled her back.

“Where do you think you’re going, sweetling?”

He tugged hard and she landed half on and half off the rogue. Not only was he awake but a key part of his body was, too. A part she was growing rather fond of.

“I must get back to my bedchamber afore dawn,” she explained.

“’Tis a long time till dawn, and I have much to show you afore then.”

He was kneading her buttocks and blowing in her ear the whole time he spoke softly to her, so it was no wonder his words did not immediately register in her brain.
“Show me?” she finally squeaked out. “Show me what?”

“The far-famed Viking S-spot, of course.”

“Oh? And where might that be?”

“Inside.”

Sweet Valkyries! I do not dare ask what he means by that
. Instead, she asked something equally lackwitted, “And how would I find it?”

“You wouldn’t. I would.” By now, Vagn had spread her nether cheeks from behind and was doing wicked things with his long fingers.

“How?” she was fool enough to ask. “With your…oh, oh…fingers?”

“Nay. With my tongue.”

And he did.

No wonder they said Vikings were many-talented men.

No wonder Norse women walked around with smiles on their faces.

No wonder she was falling a little bit in love with Vagn Ivarsson.

The naked-in-a-crowd nightmare…

Helga was in the great hall by mid-morning eating her third bowl of raisin porridge and second piece of manchet bread slathered with butter, accompanied by a huge wooden cup of ale. She was ravenous, for some reason.

“Helga, what ails you?” her father asked. “I have ne’er seen you eat so much at one sitting.”

“Must be the storm and all this inactivity inside.” Now, that was an ill-thought-out answer. Everyone knew that just the opposite was true; activity bred appetite. Oh, well.

He stared at her disbelievingly. “Your face is flushed,
and your lips are puffy. Are you sure you are not ill?”

Rona made a snorting sound as she passed by just then, and Finn, who sat on her father’s other side, said, “She looks like a maid who’s been well-tu…” His words trailed off, luckily, at the glare of warning from Helga. He grinned pointedly, however, as he sipped his own ale and watched her squirm.

“Nay, I am not ill. Cannot a lady eat to her content without everyone gawking at her?”

Everyone turned away, but she could see from the corner of her eye the frown of confusion on her father’s face.

Just then, Vagn swaggered up.

Oh, good gods! Did he have to swagger? Everyone will suspect what went on, if they don’t already.

Then she noticed his collarless tunic, which exposed the bite mark on his shoulder near the curve of his neck. She hoped no one would notice, but no such luck! A quick glance found her father, Finn, Rona and several others staring at said mark and grinning.

Her father had not yet connected the mark with her, though, because he remarked to Vagn, “Appears that your celibate life has ended, boy. Good for you! A man must needs release his body humors on occasion, lest he explode.”

Vagn grinned and winked before sitting down beside her.

She put her face in her hand and groaned.

“I am starving,” Vagn said. “I don’t know why, because I ate several hours ago, and a tasty repast it was, too.”

She groaned again.

Under the table, she felt Vagn’s hand on her thigh and it was creeping upward. Her head shot up and she glowered at him. But did that stop him? Nay. He pretended
to be listening to something her father said about a wild boar being seen near the keep the night before. And while her father and some of his guardsmen discussed a hunt planned for later that morn, Vagn ate with one hand and brought her to peak with the other.

Finally her father glanced her way, then glanced again. “Helga! You are definitely looking flushed, and now you are breathless. I insist you go back to your bed and rest. I will be gone for several hours and will check on you later.”

“Perhaps you are right,” she said, standing on wobbly legs.

As she nodded her farewells to everyone, she started to walk away. That was when she heard Vagn tell her father, “Actually, I think I must pass on the boar hunt today. My wound has been aching all night, and my head is beginning to pound. Methinks I should take to my bed, as well. Do you mind?”

“Nay. Go on, boy. There will be other boars.”

After they left, everyone looked at each other at the high table, then burst out laughing. Gorm laughed hardest of all. And the wagers flew hot and high.

Oh, the webs we weave when first we deceive…

It was the second sennight of December. Snow and ice storms had made prisoners of them all at Ravenshire, except for Eirik, Tykir and Bolthor, who’d gone off before the weather change to Winchester to address the Witan. And except for Toste, who was, of course, a real prisoner these past five days.

Toste’s “disappearance” had raised no alarm bells the day after Esme had tricked him into going to the woodcutter’s hut. Everyone assumed that he had gone with Sister Margaret and was off somewhere searching for his brother’s killer. Actually, a stableboy had traveled with Sister Margaret, thanks to the release of another of Esme’s precious coins.

Esme’s plan was not going at all as she’d expected. In fact, she felt as if she’d put her head in the mouth of a
tiger, and now she didn’t know how to pull it out. As a result, she had taken to biting her fingernails to the quick and wringing her hands in nervousness—gestures which did not escape Eadyth and Alinor, who assumed that Esme was distressed over potentially bad news their husbands might bring back from the king. If they only knew! That was the least of her problems at the moment.

Girding herself with resolve, she entered the hut. She brushed snowflakes off her cloak, laid it over a chair and her bundle of food on the floor, then stoked the fire to make sure it would adequately heat the small room. Only then did she turn to look at Toste. The gag was in his mouth, as it always was when he was alone, to prevent him from yelling for help, but his eyes shot blue daggers at her. Somehow the fur pelt had slipped off him, and he lay there as nude as any man could be. She tried not to look below his neck.

No one would go near Toste with a razor to shave his face, not even Lars, Bertha’s bed companion. So his face was covered with bristles. Instead of looking scruffy, he looked dangerous. Which of course he was.

Walking over, she removed the gag from his mouth. “Would you like a drink of water?”

He refused to answer, just continued to glare at her.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Release me.”

“Only if you will agree to stay till I am secure in my place at Evergreen.” Really, the man was as stubborn as a mule. She’d thought for sure he would have acquiesced by now.

“Release me,” he demanded again, refusing to agree to anything.

“I can’t,” she said.

“I’m going to kill you, Esme. You give me no choice. Once I am free, I am going to kill you.”

He said that often, every time she visited him at the hut. One of the things he objected to most was the fact that Bertha or her aged lover came several times a day to put a pan under his buttocks so he could take care of bodily functions. Bertha also bathed him daily, and took great delight in that chore. Esme knew it all must be demeaning for Toste, but what choice did she have?

Seeing that his death threats were getting him nowhere, Toste said, “If I lie here much longer without exercising my body, I will develop bedsores on my arse.”

He was probably correct. Esme had seen Mother Wilfreda treat many such sores on elderly people who were unable to walk about.

“Well, couldn’t you contract and release the various muscles in your body? You know, focus on a particular body part. That should bring blood to the surface.”

His eyes went wide. “Are you suggesting that I flex my arse cheeks?”

“Coarse clod,” she muttered under her breath.

“Better yet, mayhap it is another body part you wish me to flex.”

And while she watched, he showed her which body part he meant by making it flex and then grow, without any touching. Even the birthmark on his inner thigh seemed to move. It was probably a talent that men considered awe-inspiring. But to a woman, it was just yawn-inspiring.

“Coarse clod!” she said again, and this time she didn’t bother to keep her voice low. With a snarl of disgust, she yanked the fur pelt up to his chest…something she should have done when she first entered the hut.

He just laughed.

She unwrapped her bundle and made up a plate of cold slices of roast duck and venison, hard cheese, an apple, a circle of manchet bread still with the hole in the center, and two honey cakes. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

He nodded and she pulled a chair over, next to the bed. She fed him morsel by morsel, alternating with sips of ale from a small jug. While she fed him, she talked, never stopping to see if he would carry on his end of the conversation. He never did.

“The storm is still going strong. I don’t know if Eirik and Tykir and Bolthor have been able to leave Winchester yet. I doubt it. The roads are said to be impassable and covered with a sheet of ice.

“Alinor is teaching me to weave. What pretty cloth she makes from her own specially dyed wools. And Eadyth is showing me how to extract honey from the combs to make different grades of honey. I made these honey cakes myself.

“Methinks I will try to raise bees and sheep at Evergreen when I get back. My mother’s family only worked the land, but this might be another way to make it prosper.

“Alinor and Tykir have the most beautiful little boys. Four of them! And all of them rascals. Like their father, I imagine.

“Sarah and Sigrud have been swooning over you. All they can talk about is your broad shoulders and devilish eyes. Surely even you would not go after a seventeen-year-old at your advanced age, would you? On the other hand, many people would not raise an eyebrow over a fourteen-year difference in ages, I suppose. Ah, I can see that you consider it none of my business.

“Do you still get those pains in your abdomen—the pain that mimicks your brother’s injury? Well, you don’t have to answer. I know you do.

“Sometimes I envy you, Toste.”

For the first time, she got a reaction from the silent brute. His eyes widened with interest, and he tilted his head to the side on the pillow.

“I know you suffer from your brother’s death, but I envy the love that you two shared whilst together. It was special and rare—something to be cherished. I have never experienced that kind of love—any kind really—and suspect I never will. I know, I know,” she said with a laugh; “you are thinking that I never will because I will be dead. Well, some things are worth dying for. You are willing to die for your brother’s honor. I am willing to die to regain my home.

“Bolthor told the most awful saga afore they left for Winchester. It was about Alinor having a tail and her teasing a Viking named Rurik. I thought Alinor would wring his neck, but the men all laughed uproariously.

“I wager that Bolthor would love to tell some outrageous saga about this event,” she said, indicating his bonds and nakedness. “Not that he will ever hear about it, but, Blessed Lord, it would probably have some such atrocious title as ‘How the Cock Got His Feathers Plucked,’ or ‘She Had Her Way With Him.’ Ha ha ha.

“Oh, well, if you are not going to talk to me, I might as well return to the keep.”

She was about to put his gag back on when he said, “Esme…”

“What?” she asked hopefully.

“I am going to kill you.”

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

The next morning, Esme was in the kitchen with Eadyth, Alinor and the twins, Sarah and Sigrud, making plans for a huge yuletide feast to be held at Ravenshire.

Eadyth and Alinor were in especially high spirits because the streak of bad weather had finally broken, and the sun shone warmly outside, melting the snow and ice. For a certainty, their husbands would return within the next few days.

Which brought Esme even more distress. How much longer could she hold Toste against his will without anyone finding out? And if he didn’t agree to her demands, what then?

“Dost think Toste will return in time for the feast?” Sarah asked shyly.

Her sister Sigrud nudged her with an elbow. “We only wondered because he loves to dance and surely there will be dancing at the feast.”

Eadyth smiled at the two blushing girls, who were quite attractive with the silver-blond hair and violet eyes of their mother.

“I’m sure he’ll be back by then,” Alinor interjected. “And, yea, Toste and Vagn were always expert dancers, as I recall.”

“Toste is a little old for you girls,” Eadyth said gently.

“Moth-er!” the twins exclaimed as one.

After the twins left to search their wardrobes for garments fine enough to wear to the feast, Esme still sat at the table with the two women, who regaled her with stories.

“I cannot believe some of the outrageous things we did as young women,” Alinor began. “One time, when Tykir
and his men kidnapped me to take me back to King Anlaf’s court, I put a potion in his ale. Blessed Lord, he spent two whole days in the garderobe for my misdeed.”

“Well, I pretended to be an aged crone for the first few months of my marriage to Eirik. How outrageous is that?”

“I can beat that. There was the time I tied Tykir’s hair to a chair so he could not chase after me when I ran away. He was naked at the time, of course.” Alinor grinned impishly at the memory.

“I think the most outrageous thing I ever did was planning my own mock death. I put all these animal bones and entrails in a shed, hoping that Eirik would think it was me.”

Esme was amazed that these women admitted—nay, took great pleasure in—their outrageous antics. It was probably why she blurted out, “Well, none of that is as outrageous as what I have done.”

She immediately slapped a hand over her mouth, but it was too late. Eadyth and Alinor were staring at her with decided interest.

“What have you done, Esme?” Eadyth asked softly.

“Oh, I cannot say. You would think me the most evil woman on earth. You would hate me. You would be so shocked. You would banish me from Ravenshire forthwith.”

“Esme, my dear, there is nothing you can say that would shock us. Believe you me, we have seen and done it all.” Alinor’s freckled hand patted Esme’s pale white one in comfort.

Esme was not comforted. “You are wrong. You would be shocked.”

“The reason for your nervousness these past few days—
it is not because you worry over the Witan’s verdict, is it?” Eadyth asked hesitantly.

“I worry over that, of course, but it is not my biggest concern. I am in
such
trouble.”

“What have you done?” Alinor demanded to know.

“I kidnapped Toste and have him tied to a bed in the woodcutter’s hut, naked,” she blurted out all in one breath. Surprisingly, it felt good to finally unburden herself of this secret.

And Alinor had been wrong. They could be shocked, as evidenced by their gaping jaws.

“Now? He’s in the woodcutter’s hut
now?
” Eadyth finally managed to choke out.

“Naked? Tied to a bed?” Alinor added, also in a choked voice.

Esme nodded. “But I can’t release him till he agrees to my proposal.”

“A marriage proposal?” Alinor beamed at her.

“Nay, not a marriage proposal. God’s bones! Why would I want to marry the lout?”

Alinor and Eadyth grinned at her vehement reply. Then Alinor said, “Tell us everything,” and Eadyth concurred with, “Yea, everything.”

After she’d explained everything to them, the two women just stared at her with astonishment. At first, Esme didn’t know how they felt about her outrageous actions. But then Eadyth whooped and patted her on the back. “I said from the beginning that you and I were going to get on well.”

“Yea, you are a woman after my own heart.” Alinor gave her a warm hug. “You saw a need in your life and took matters into your own hands. Who can argue with that?”

“Well, Toste, for one. And probably your husbands.”

“Men!” Alinor exclaimed as if their opinion was of little importance.

“Show us,” Eadyth said then.

“Yea, you must show us Toste so that we can help you,” Alinor added.

Esme wasn’t sure anyone could help her at this point, but she was happy to have two cohorts. Well, if not exactly cohorts, then confidantes.

Soon the three of them arrived at the woodcutter’s hut. Toste turned to look at her when she entered, then went wide-eyed with surprise, and indignation on seeing the two women who followed her. At least his body was covered decently. She’d spared him that indignity. She went to him and removed his gag.

Eadyth and Alinor were trying not to show their shock or amusement, but Alinor made the mistake of giggling.

“Are you three dimwits here to release me?” he asked icily.

“Well, nay,” Eadyth said.

“’Tis Esme’s decision,” Alinor said.

“Not yet,” Esme said.

“Then leave,” he ordered. “
Now
.”

“I just wanted to say—”

“Begone!” he roared.

Eadyth and Alinor scurried out of the hut, laughing loudly enough for Toste to hear.

As Esme raised the gag, about to put it back on his mouth, he told her, “I am going to kill you, Esme. And I am going to take great joy in the act. But death will be the easy part. It is what will come before that will be long and, let us say, difficult. You would not credit my vast imagination for torture.”

Welcome, home, baby…boy, have I got news…

Eirik, Tykir and Bolthor returned the next day, their voices booming with good cheer. The yuletide season was almost upon them. There would be guests aplenty at Ravenshire within a sennight, it turned out. And though the news from the Witan was not wonderful, it was not bad either.

Tykir took one look at his wife, Alinor, from whom he’d been rarely separated these ten years of their marriage, winked at her, then picked her up with a gleeful laugh and carried her off to their bedchamber for a
real
welcome. Eirik looked at Eadyth, and though normally not as playful as his younger brother, picked her up and did the same. Those left behind in the great hall just shook their heads at the brothers’ besotted behavior.

An hour later, Eadyth lay in her husband’s arms, both of them naked and sated, listening while he told of the Witan’s decision, or lack of a decision.

“Lord Blackthorne and his sons were there as we expected,” he told her. “A more scurrilous bunch I have never met. And the lies they told.”

BOOK: Sandra Hill
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