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Authors: A Tale of Two Vikings

Sandra Hill (4 page)

BOOK: Sandra Hill
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“Stop talking before I do, in fact, clout an injured man.”

“Me?” he asked again with exaggerated innocence.
Someone should put M’Lady Prissy Arse in her place
. He sighed deeply.
Ah, a Viking’s work is never done
. “Come closer, Helga—I would check your teeth and your maidenhead. With all due respect to your father’s honesty, I will require a personal inspection.”

Helga clenched her hands into fists. Her lips quivered with agitation. Mayhap she was about to have a fit.


“Untie this maggot-head at once and send him on his way,” Helga demanded of her father.

“Not till the maggot-head is wedlocked with you,” her father insisted, sitting up straight, then standing to glare eyeball to eyeball with his daughter.

Maggot-head? That is a new insult. Hmmm. I like it. Mayhap I will try it sometime. Too bad Toste is not here. He would be a good one to try it on

“Never!” she said. “You have done outrageous things in your time to bend me to your will, Father, but this time you have gone too far. A raisin! Indeed!”

I rather liked the raisin comparison. Mayhap I will try that one out on someone sometime, too
. He noticed her purplish flush then and decided,
Or mayhap not

“I was only thinking of you,” her father whined, “and I meant no insult.”

Whoo! You’re getting nowhere with that line of thinking, Gorm. Even I know enough not to try the “I was only thinking of you” argument

“Withered female parts is not an insult?” Helga’s face flamed even more purple than before.

“Be reasonable,” her father begged. “Once the mag…uh, man…is cleaned up and on his feet, he may please your eye.”

Yea, I am quite the presentable fellow when I am cleaned up

“Do you really think I have forsworn marriage all these years because I yearn for a comely man?”

“Well—” her father said.

“Aaarrgh!” Helga said.

“Can I say something?” Vagn interrupted.

“No!” Helga and Gorm both said.

Helga inhaled and exhaled several times for patience. “I will ne’er agree; nor will he,” Helga told her father.

“Well, actually…” Vagn began. He ever did hate it when people spoke for him as if he were a mute…or a lackwit.

Helga and Gorm both turned to peer down at him.

A slow smile cracked Gorm’s wrinkled face.

Helga’s mouth dropped open and her face turned blood red. She looked as if her head might explode.

To everyone’s surprise, especially Vagn’s, he was considering taking Helga the Homely to his bed furs.

My WHAT resembles a raisin?…

Helga had landed in her worst nightmare.

She put a trembling hand to her forehead and tried to calm herself. Toste Ivarsson, the bane of her life, was in her keep…residing in one of her guest bedchambers, and her father, the half-brained idiot, actually thought she would marry the rogue. Even worse, Toste hinted
that he might not be unwilling. He was a half-brained idiot, too.

Was it another mockery of his? Like the one he’d leveled at her more than twenty years ago—
Helga the Homely
—the epithet that had turned her seven-year-old life on a horrible course. Even today, after all those years, she occasionally heard men snicker those words behind her back. Some said that a saga had even been written about her.

The worst part was that she had loved Toste, in her own childish way. And he had crushed her. Like a gnat beneath his feet. Or a raisin. Oh, she could kill her well-intentioned father for that coarse description.

As for Toste and his teasing hint that he might marry her…well, mayhap it was time to make the miscreant pay for his crime. But wait. Were those bloodstained linen strips wrapped about his bare chest? And was that bruising about his face and shoulders? Had he been injured and left untended? Even worse, had her father done the man injury in his attempts to make the man take her to wife?
Can I be any more humiliated?

“What happened to you?” she asked suddenly, stepping up to the pallet and sitting on the edge. Even before he answered, she pulled a small knife from her girdle and began slicing off the soiled bandages.

“I was injured in the battle at Stone Valley. A sword wound, front to back, just beneath my ribs. Other injuries as well, but the Saxon sword caused the most damage. The back of my head hurt mightily for a few days, but your father’s healer could find no mark on my skull.”

Now that she looked closer, she noted his pale complexion and the brackets of pain about his mouth. “When was the last time Efrim changed these dressings?” she
asked her father. Efrim was the village healer…barely competent, though he tried his best.

Her father shrugged. “Three days ago. Mayhap four. He said that if the fever broke…which it did yestermorn…Toste’s chances of survival were good.”

The wounded man seemed amused by the interplay between Helga and her father and only said, “I am not Toste.”

“For shame, Father! You know good and well that the man should have been bathed and his wounds cleansed daily.” And to Toste she said, “I knew Toste, and you are Toste.”

Despite his rope ties, the man was able to lean his head forward and sniff at his armpits. “Phew!” he said. “Why didst you not tell me how malodorous I am, Gorm?”
The fool!
Then he added, to her, “I thought you had not seen Toste for twenty and more years.”

“I have seen him…you…from a distance since then. At the marriage ceremony of King Haakon’s youngest daughter two years past, for example.” Even filthy and bruised, Toste Ivarsson was a handsome man, with long, dark blond hair and perfectly formed facial features, including an enticing cleft in his chin. Besotted women flocked after him like bees to honey.

“I was there—” he started to say.

She interrupted. “I know. I saw you.”
And your buzzing bees

“—but I did not see you,” he finished.

“You were too busy ogling all the beautiful women at court that day…the
Shut your teeth, Helga. You are beginning to sound like a jealous milkmaid

He winced at her comment and at her rough handling of the linen strips stuck to his chest wound which she was
beginning to peel away. She thought about untying him first, but decided it would be best to keep him restrained till she’d gotten all the stuck bandages off. In truth, sometimes it was less painful to just rip the linen strips off a wound than prolong the pain by a slower process. So that was just what she did. With a jerk of her hand, she pulled hard, and the bloody cloths came away with a good amount of scab and skin, causing new bleeding.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Holy Valhalla! Bloody damn hell!” Vagn roared, arching upward against his ropes. “Are you trying to kill me? Just because I teased you a bit?” He dropped back to the cot and closed his eyes, breathing heavily with pain.

“I did it for your own good,” she said and used the linen sheet to dab at some of the oozing blood.

“That’s what women always say after they do something feckless,” he muttered. His eyes remained closed. The only indication of his pain now was his white-knuckled fists at his sides.

She was about to protest his calling her feckless, but decided to allow him this indulgence, in light of the pain he must be suffering at her hands. “Send for warm water, soap and fresh linen strips,” she ordered her father, as if he were a mere servant. The old man turned, about to comply without question.

“Wait,” Vagn called out, opening his eyes. They were as blue as the summer sky over a Norse fjord. A foolish maid, which she was not, could drown in their depths. “Untie me first.”

“Not till you agree to wed with my daughter.”

“Nay!” she said.
If I did not love my father so much, I would hate him for this indignity

“I already said mayhap.” Vagn did not even glance her
way as he spoke, as if she were irrelevant in this discussion.

“Mayhap is not good enough. I know your kind, Ivarsson. The minute I release your bonds, you will run away,” Gorm said.

“I am hardly in a condition to do any running,” Vagn pointed out, still not looking her way.

“Will the two of you stop talking about me as if my opinion matters naught? I will not wed, and that is the end of it.”

“If I cut your ropes, will you agree to stay here for one month and court my daughter?” Gorm asked, tapping his forefinger against his chin.

“Nobody is going to court me,” Helga declared vehemently.

“Nobody?” their captive asked her, finally looking her way. “You have no suitors?”

She had been better off when he’d ignored her. He held her gaze, and she felt mesmerized by his attractiveness. She could not turn away.

“None to speak of,” her father answered for her. “She scares ’em all off.”

Vagn arched his eyebrows at her. “I am not easily scared.”

“Oh, spare me from the boasts of a self-important man!” Finally Helga had regained the use of her tongue.

“One month,” the Viking agreed, and a grinning Gorm rushed off to find a housecarl and the necessary items she’d demanded. Her father, rarely so compliant, probably rushed off to escape her wrath, which was going to be mighty, once she caught him alone.

She began to examine his injury more closely and while
she did, she asked, “Where is your brother? As I recall, you two are rumored to be inseparable.”

He did not reply. When she glanced up from her work, she could not help noticing the agony in his eyes. Finally he said in a voice so low she barely heard, “Dead.”

She put a hand on his arm. “I am so sorry.”

He merely nodded.

There were no words she could offer that would console him, so she returned to the task before her. She’d exposed the wound, and it was grievous, indeed—a deep, seeping slash from nipple to navel.

Vagn glanced down and gasped. “I did not realize it was so bad. I should be dead. Surely the sword missed my heart and other vital organs by a hairsbreadth.”

“The gods are watching over you,” she opined.

“Or Satan.”

Apparently, he was not too happy about the fate the gods had dealt him. She decided to ignore the ungratefulness of his remark and examine him for other injuries.
Blessed Freyja, give me strength
. As lady of the keep, she had often tended the sick, and this man was no different.
Keep telling myself that, and mayhap I will believe it
. She would not feign modesty at this late date.
Here I go
. Flipping the bed coverlet aside, she exposed his nude body to full view…to his amusement, she could tell.
Well, well, well!
The fool thought she would be embarrassed to view him as he had been born.
I am too stunned to be embarrassed

First things first. Using the small knife she kept in a leather sheath on her belt, she cut away his ropes, then helped him up so that he could go behind the screen and relieve himself. It was an arduous process, because the man could barely stand. When he was done, he sank back
down to the bed with a loud sigh of pain and exhaustion.

“You should have let me bring you a chamber pot,” she admonished him.

He scowled at her in silent reproval. The half-brain!

Her father came back into the chamber with a housecarl carrying two bowls of water and clean cloths. She immediately began washing Vagn’s face and neck and shoulders with a soapy cloth, leaving the wound area for last. He watched her like a hawk as she worked, probably enjoying her embarrassment in dealing with his naked flesh. She tried not to notice the muscles that bunched in his arms and chest. She especially tried not to notice the silkiness of the oddly appealing hairs in his armpits, visible now that he’d stacked his hands behind his neck, watch-watch-watching her.

Once she’d completed her ablutions, including his long, sinewed legs, his feet and his sinfully flat belly, she frowned, wondering what to do next. Should she hand the cloth to him and demand he wash his genitals himself, thus calling attention to her inability to remain aloof from his nakedness, or should she work on his wound area? Most of all, she tried her best to avoid looking at the manpart standing before her…and, yea, it stood upright like a silly flagpole under her scrutiny.
Do not look at it, Helga. Do not look
. “Make it lie down.”

He laughed. “How?”

“I do not know how. Just do it.”
I am not looking. I am not looking. I am not looking

“It just means that he likes you,” her father had the audacity to say. She’d noticed the servant leaving, but had forgotten her father remained in the room.

“Well, that is not necessarily true,” Vagn confessed.

has a mind of its own.
is not always so discriminating.”

“’Tis true, ’tis true, now that you mention it,” her father said. “I recall when I was young, the mere sight of a good pair of udders on a wench would light the wick in my candle.”

“Coarse, ignorant lackwits, both of you!” she pronounced. Despite her irritation, she dared to lay her hand on the Viking’s right thigh and yank it none too gently apart from the other thigh so she could finish her cleansing, but her action caused the manpart to grow even more. Despite his abated fever, his flesh still raged hot to the touch. Was it renewed fever or her touch that caused the heat? Alarming thoughts, both.

Helga jumped back then with horror…not because of his outrageous manpart, or his hot skin, or her belated delicacy, but because she’d just realized something. Her eyes bulged with disbelief as she gazed down on his reclining body. “Where’s your birthmark?” she asked in a sudden panic.

“How do you know about the birthmark?”

“Hah! You know very well how you talked me into going to the stables at King Haakon’s court to show me ‘a secret’ which turned out to be your nude body and the birthmark. Vile boy!”

“Was that before or after I called you Helga the Homely?”


If looks could kill, he would be one dead Viking. With renewed horror, she declared, “You are not Toste.”

BOOK: Sandra Hill
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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