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Authors: A Tale of Two Vikings

Sandra Hill (24 page)

BOOK: Sandra Hill
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“How so?”

“The right man would relish your independence. The right man might want to protect you from the dangers of solitary travel or trading in a risky manner, but he would find ways to cooperate with you in your endeavors. Compromise—that is the key to a good husband-and-wife relationship methinks, and thus far you have not considered budging even the slightest bit.”

“So it’s my fault?”

He laughed. “Just a little.”

“You’re saying I need the right man to husband me and father my child, and I need to compromise my too-high standards?”

He gave her a one-armed squeeze. “That about sums it up.”

Was Vagn saying he could be that man? Was that what this was all about? Oh, she had to admit the prospect filled her with foolish hopes. But she waited a good long
time, and he said nothing more. He must be thinking of some other right man for her.

Ah, well, ’twas what she had expected. Time she changed the subject lest she burst into tears, as was her wont of late.

“Well, my wordy Viking, now that you have awakened me from my near-slumber, methinks ’tis time to try another of Rona’s tricks.”

“I thought you had tried all of Rona’s tricks already, numerous times,” he said with a chuckle.

“There is one more. ’Tis called the Butter Churn.”

He laughed outright.

“You see,” she said, swinging her legs so that she straddled his thighs and taking his hardening penis in her fingers, “the trick is in the grip, like the pole of a butter churn, two hands, up and down. The skin will move thus.”

“Holy Thor!” Vagn said within seconds. “I will show you what this pole can do when it does its own churning.” And he did.

Unfortunately…or fortunately…there was no more talk of marriage or babies that night.

And then the other boot drops…

Vagn knew that Helga was pregnant, but she did not tell him, and it hurt him deeply.

Obviously, she wanted him to play no part in her life or that of the babe. His heart wrenched at the thought. No wonder he held off telling her of his growing affection for her. She would no doubt interpret it as directed toward his child and not her…which was far from the truth, although he did feel almost weepish whenever he
thought of a child of his loins. Where these newfound paternal feelings came from, he had no idea—possibly from his love of the mother.

There was only one thing of which Vagn was certain. He would marry Helga, come hell or high water. They would raise this child together, no matter what notions of independence she held close to her heart. His son or daughter would know both parents. That was a fact she would have to accept.

How this would fit in with his plans to search for his brother, he had no idea yet. First of all, he had to make absolutely certain that Toste was really gone to the Other World. Once they returned from Ravenshire, he would settle everything. He could wait that long before making his proposal to Helga, and her father.

In the meantime, Helga could keep her secret if she wanted. And she could churn his butter all she wanted. He didn’t mind one bit.

Daddy dearest…

“Helga, this has got to stop,” her father said sternly.

He was standing in her sewing solar, being fitted for a new tunic. It would be black wool, embroidered with a hem of silver briars in honor of Briarstead. Everyone was getting at least one new garment for the trip to Ravenshire, including Vagn, who wore fine raiment like he was born to it, which he was.

“What has to stop?” she asked distractedly as she let out the seams to make more room for her father’s massive girth.

“Your diddling with Vagn.”

She gasped. Did her father know about their clandestine lovemaking? Did everyone know?

“You cannot tease a man so and not expect him to want something from you. Like marriage.”

She breathed an inner sigh of relief. By “diddling” her father meant teasing, not…well, diddling.

“Vagn is not interested in me that way,” she said.

“I am not so sure of that.”

She stopped fussing with his garment. “What makes you think that?”

“The way his eyes follow you everywhere. The way he refrains from bedding any of the women about the keep. The way he teases you incessantly.”

She decided to make light of his warning. “Teasing equals a desire to wed? I think not. Otherwise we would have lots more marriages at Briarstead than we do. Teasing is an innate part of the Viking man’s personality. I swear, Viking males must come out of the womb laughing.”

Gorm shrugged at her easy dismissal of his views. “Teasing can be the way of lovers. I used to tease your mother.”

“You did?”

He smiled dreamily in remembrance. “I teased her and teased till she gave in and—”

“Father!”

“—and agreed to marry me.” He widened his eyes at her. “What did you think I meant?”

“Tsk tsk, now you are teasing me.”

“Take heed, daughter, Vagn Ivarsson is a man full-grown. A warrior of note. Yea, he has a mirthsome side, but do not delude yourself that you can grasp such a man by the tail.”

And a very nice tail he has, too
, Helga thought.

“Why are you smiling?”

“Just picturing you teasing my mother.”

He nodded, then concluded, “Vagn would not be the worst man for you to choose as husband.”

“Do not bring all that up again. I beg you, Father. Do not humiliate me so.” She knew what Vagn’s answer would be, and it would be a crushing blow to her, for many reasons.

“I will not bring up the subject,” he agreed, “but think about what I have said.”

She did. Way too much.

Fathers know more than we think they do…

Vagn, with sweat pouring off his body and his heart beating as if it would burst, wondered idly,
Am I having fun yet?

Wearing only
braies
and half-boots, he was engaged in swordplay with Finn Fairhair in the exercise room at Briarstead, as he had been for the past hour. About them, other soldier pairs did the same. He had to give Finn credit. He gave as good as he got in the warrior arts, despite his coxcomb appearance.

Vagn felt a tap-tap-tap on his shoulder. He turned to see Gorm crooking his finger at him. Another soldier stepped into Vagn’s place to engage Finn.

Wiping perspiration off his chest and belly with a linen cloth, he watched the old man eye him craftily as they walked to a more secluded spot.

“Well?” Vagn asked.

“Don’t you think it’s time you did something about my daughter?”

“Huh?” It was the last thing he’d expected from Gorm.

“You know she’s pregnant, don’t you?”

That was definitely the last thing he’d expected. “What makes you think so?” He would not betray Helga by acknowledging what he already knew.

“Pfff! She weeps at the least provocation. She yawns all the time. She has been ooh-ing and aah-ing over various babes in the village. She has vomited in the morn on occasion and is always munching on dried manchet bread. She is happy as a lark one moment and mean as a boar the next. I would say that spells pregnant.”

I would, too
. “Mayhap it is just that time of the month. You know how some women get half-demented just afore their monthly flux.”

“A father knows.”

“Well, whether she is or she isn’t, this is something betwixt me and Helga. I assume ‘a father knows’ when his daughter has been engaged in certain acts, too. So I will not deny my involvement.”

“What do you intend to do about it?”

“I intend to marry Helga.”

“Have you asked her?

“Nay.”

“How can you be sure she will accept?”

“I will wed with her…that, I assure you.”

“Does she know that you know she is breeding your child?”

“Nay.”

“Does she know that she is breeding?”

“I do not know. Probably.”

“What a mess!”

“It is not a mess. Everything will work out in the end.”
I hope
. “Just…do…not…interfere.”

“You dare to say that to me when I have stood back and allowed you to swive my daughter.”

Help me, Odin. I am dying here
. “Don’t you think it’s a mite crude to speak so of your daughter?”

“I mean her no disrespect. Just don’t you do her any disrespect.”

“And how would I do that?”

“By failing to offer for her.”

“I told you, I am going to, in my own good time.”

“Would ye like some advice, boy?”

“Nay.”

“Do not give her a choice. Women claim to want a choice, but they really want a man to take over.”

“In a million years, I cannot imagine Helga wanting no choice. She would clout me over the head for daring to take over her life, even if I wanted to, which I do not.”

“Our forefathers had the right idea. Toss a wench over your shoulder and carry her off to your lair.”

“I have no lair.”

“My lair is your lair.”

“Aaarrgh!”

Gorm slapped a hand over his burly chest suddenly and exclaimed, “Oh, Oh! Methinks it is my heart again. Methinks I will not live to see a wedding, let alone my first grandchild. Best you stop dawdling, boy.”

Vagn would have felt sorry for the old man if the sly-boots weren’t shifting his eyes guiltily. “You fraud! Stop swilling ale and eating fatty sausages, and your chest pains will disappear like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

Gorm changed direction then, after trying to pull a fast one on him. “Mayhap there will be a Christmas wedding yet. You’re half Christian, aren’t you? Pray.”

“I am not going to pray for a Christmas wedding. Not
to the Norse gods, or to the Christian One-God.”

“You need all the help you can get, boy.”

“I do not.”

“I will pray for you then.” As Gorm swaggered off, well-satisfied with the lackwit advice he had given him, Vagn heard him mutter, “A father’s work is never done.”

On the road again…almost…

Carts were piled high with chests and supplies outside in the bailey, awaiting the start of the trip to Ravenshire. Horses were shifting restlessly. Guardsmen muttered amongst themselves, anxious to get on their way.

Still, Helga sat on a chair in her solar, as if all the world could wait for her…which it must. There was no way she was getting on anything that moved, whether it be cart or animal, till her stomach settled down.

Vagn walked into the solar and approached her. She could see the concern on his face. “Are you all right?”

She nodded. “My stomach is just a bit queasy. Probably the start of my monthly flux,” she lied. Despite all that she and Vagn had shared in bed, she found herself oddly embarrassed to discuss such bodily functions.

He seemed to accept her explanation, but shifted uneasily from foot to foot. “Well, this delay gives me time to say something I have been wanting to say to you for days.”

She waited, but he still did the foot-shifting exercise. Tilting her head to the side, she asked, “Are
you
all right?”

It must be his wounds hurting him again and he does not know how to tell me he will stay behind
.

Nay, ’tis worse than that. He will go with us to Ravenshire,
but he will not be returning to Briarstead with us after the visit. It is over. Oh, my gods and goddesses! It is over
.

She really did feel like throwing up then.

But wait. Vagn was doing something that caused her even more concern. He dropped to one knee before her and took one of her hands in both of his. “Helga, there is no smooth way for me to say this, except, Will you marry me?”


What?

“Now, now, sit still and hear me out. Do not say me nay till you hear my proposal.”

“Vagn, please, you know how I feel—”

He put the fingertips of one hand to her lips. “I wish to take you for my wife. I want to protect you under my shield. I want to stop sneaking about at night. I want to wake beside you in the morning. I want to make love with you whene’er I wish without having to hide. I want to have children with you. I want to grow old with you.” He shrugged at his inability to express himself better. “Will you marry me?”

His proposal could easily have charmed Helga into compliance, except for one word which stood out like a sore thumb.
Children
. “You know,” she accused him. “You know that I am with child, and now you want to marry me.”

“I do know, Helga, but—”

She stood abruptly and shoved his beseeching hands aside.

“Nay, I will not marry you.”

“Now, Helga, be reasonable.” He stood, too.

“Reasonable?” she practically shrieked, then lowered her voice for fear she would attract attention. “We had an agreement.”

“Yea, we did, and part of that agreement said I would ask you to marry me if you conceived,” he argued.
The stubborn lout!

“Why? Why do you want to wed me?” Deep down, Helga knew that if he said three simple words to her, she would capitulate.

Unfortunately…or fortunately…he did not utter those words. “It is time for me to wed. We do well together. Why not?”

“Ooooh, I would like to clout you a good one.”

“Huh?”

“Vagn, if it were not for this child”—she put a hand protectively over her flat belly—“would you be asking me to marry you today?”

He thought for a moment, then answered honestly. “Probably not
today
, but mayhap someday I would have. I like you, Helga, and I think you like me, too.”

Like? Like? The dunderhead!
“I would ask you one more question, Vagn. If your brother were still alive, would you be asking me to marry you?”

“That is an unfair question. If my brother were alive, I wouldn’t even be here.”

Her shoulders sank with defeat. She’d given him a chance, and he’d failed her. “If I were ever going to marry, Vagn—and I am not—I would want more from a marriage than that. I am sorry, but nay.” He was about to say more but she put up a hand to halt him. “I will not deny you access to this child, and you may acknowledge it, if you wish.”

“Of course I will acknowledge my child, you foolish wench.” He wagged a finger in her face menacingly. “Be forewarned, though, I do not accept your rejection. We
will
marry. You can bet your luscious lips on that.”

BOOK: Sandra Hill
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