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Authors: Julia Knight

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BOOK: The Viking’s Sacrifice
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He seemed to gather himself then, stood up straighter and took a deep breath before he leaned down and planted a kiss of his own. It was slow at first, just a touch of lips but when she didn’t pull away, the kiss grew. His hands took hers and drew her into him, into his warmth and strength, and stars spun in her head, making her drunk with feeling. Now she knew what it was the bards sang about, why Tristan and Isolde had done what they had, why men wrote poems and sagas and women swooned over them. The bards had not lied.

He pulled her closer still until she could feel his heart beat near hers, until there was nothing left in the world but him and his kiss. Until she could take it no more. She had to go, and soon, back to Sigdir, back to the spectre of his bed, but he would not be first. Einar had saved her once before and he could again, could give her a memory of how it should be to last her through forever.

She stepped away from him, from his suddenly unsure eyes. She smiled to reassure him and undid the brooches that pinned her apron dress, taking the time to savour his amulet in her hand for a moment. All the protection he could give her, leaving him none for himself, and he’d done it without hesitation. A different kind of courage. She dropped the apron and started on the kirtle. He stepped forward with a shake of his head, but she pushed his hand away when he would stop her. Nothing would stop her.

Tonight she was going to be the woman she always wanted to be. Her boots landed carelessly behind her. The kirtle came off over her head, and she was naked before him, and she didn’t care if she was wrong, or if she’d be damned to hell. It would be worth it, because she knew now that she loved him, had known when she’d first taken his hand and felt her heart race, or before that, when a man who never spoke warned her to run, gave her the only protection he had, risked all he held dear for her. One night might be all she would ever get, and she was going to take it.

Einar stood with his back to the fire, his hands twitching by his sides. He licked his lips. “Wilda, no.”

“Wilda, yes,” she said in his tongue, one of the few words she could manage, and took a step forward. He said nothing when her hands slid under his rough homespun shirt, but she felt the way he shivered at her touch and she smiled. Soon the shirt was in a heap on top of her dress. She ran her hands over him, tangled her fingers in his hair, trailed them over warm lips, across shoulders broad enough to shelter her from anything, make her safe from anyone. Over muscles taut and strong from hard work, over the scar on his back where he’d taken a sword meant for her. Felt the quiet and gentle strength of him. Who could ever think such a man a coward?

The hesitant touch of his hands made gooseflesh prickle all over her, made her quiver as his fingers sent thrills up her back, down round into her belly and below. One hand came back to stroke at her cheek, to turn her face up to his, gentle against the bruising. She pressed into him when he kissed her, let his skin warm hers, warmer than she’d ever been, she was on fire with it. Her heart, so cold for so long, broke free of its ice.

She kissed him back, harder, hungrier, and all hesitancy fled from him and his touch. His hands were swift on her, drawing shivers and thrills behind them, over her back, along the curve of her throat and down, over her collarbone. His mouth followed, now soft butterfly kisses, now hungry, and the shivers turned to heat, down over her breasts, over a nipple where his warmth and his tongue stroked it to standing.

She pulled his head to her, pushed herself into his mouth. It had never been like this, never had she been so full of want, full of heat and need. Bayen had never kissed her so, as though he wanted to be part of her, never stroked her as though each touch could convey a depth of his heart.

They couldn’t talk, not so the other would understand, but words didn’t matter where actions did, where the softness of a touch, the hunger of a mouth, the gasp of a breath told her everything, and she hoped told him everything too.

He raised his head, but didn’t kiss her again, not yet. The back of one knuckle drifted over her cheek and she leaned into it, like a cat. His sudden, brilliant smile pierced her heart. With a tug on his hand, she pulled him to the bench, drew off his breeches and soon they joined the rest of the clothes on the floor.

She wanted to take all night, all month, all year kissing him, receiving his kiss and touch, but they had no time, and even if they had, she didn’t want to wait. She pushed him down on the bench and sat astride him, feeling wanton and abandoned. Again, his mouth was on her throat, kissing around the curve of her jaw, lips soft and tantalising. He pulled her closer, till she could feel the heat of him along her belly.

When he ran a hand along her stomach, light as feathers, when she kissed his neck and face, smoothed her hands over his strong back, when his hand delved between her legs, slid across and in, making her shudder with a want she’d never known…she wanted to savour every moment, and she wanted him to be with her, in her, now. She wanted the heat in between her legs to never stop, and she wanted it to blow away against him. She raised herself up and leaned forward, her mouth by his ear but no words to say, even if he’d have understood them.

He pressed against her thigh and she pressed back, wanting, needing, now, and nothing else existed. Only him, and her and the furs and the fire. She wasn’t a lady-become-thrall, not a Saxon, he wasn’t a heathen, or a ragged man on the edge of existence. When she slid down, when he grasped her hips and moved in return, the heat of him pierced her and they were two as one, needing and desperate. She moved against him, a long slow slide that made her moan aloud, pulling against him, helpless to the heat within, a slave to that too.

His mouth found hers, urgent, hard, and hers was frantic in return. Their rhythm picked up, in time to her racing heart, until she couldn’t tell one beat from another. He whispered against her neck, words she couldn’t know, not halting now but a fluent river, a flood of words. It wasn’t the words that entranced her, but how he said them—soft but raw, whispered but full of fervour. A last thrust and she was lost to it, to the tremor of her limbs, the heat between her thighs, the words on her throat. Lost to him.

Oh my Lord…

She cried out, unable to move, to do anything but cling to him, her face buried in his neck, pressing against him as though she could make an imprint and keep him within her forever.

Chapter Eleven

If thou fain wouldst win a woman’s love,
And gladness get from her,
Fair be thy promise and well fulfilled.

Havamal: 130

Einar pulled Wilda’s trembling body toward him, laid her head on his chest and looked down at her, at the length of her body against his. Warm, inviting, and not his to keep, not his at all. Just a gift she’d given him in return for what he couldn’t give her. He almost wished she’d not come here, not shown him this, not asked for help this way. Almost. Her eyelids fluttered and she moved closer, her arm around him, her breath on his neck, soft and not yet steady. Her heartbeat was a flutter against his chest.

He couldn’t help her, had no way, and yet he couldn’t let her go back to that, to Sigdir. Not to be married to him. There must be something, some way. He only had to gather the courage to try, and maybe now he could. Maybe he could find it, if it was for Wilda, could risk everything, even his life.

She’d saved him once before with a well-placed knife, and now she had again. A different sort of knife, a blade that pierced his heart, one that had given him back what he’d forgotten he’d lost. He’d return the favour even if he could never leave, not while Bausi still had the rune-curse on him. He would do it, for her, the best gift he could give her, let her go and find the man who deserved her, who could give her all she could wish for.

Yet for now she had to go, back to Sigdir’s. If they found her missing in the morning, here would be the first place they’d look. If Sigdir hadn’t harmed her yet, there was a hope he’d not touch her till the wedding, not dishonour his own future wife. Einar had time to find a way. He had to have time, and to use that time well.

She stirred and the feel of her skin sliding against his sent a shiver along him. He didn’t want her to go. If she had to, first he wanted to know her again, to join her and suck the soul from her, so all Sigdir would have of her was skin and bone. He kissed her back to full wakefulness, a sated look to her, a softness he’d not seen there before that pulled at him. He took a heartbeat to study it, to burn it into his mind, a memory to bring out on dark nights when he needed it, when he was alone and silent again, and he would be. This would not happen again, it could not.

Her mouth twisted down and her glance flicked to the door. “Sigdir.” She said some other words he didn’t know, but he knew her meaning. She had to get back.

She made to sit up, but his hand stopped her.

“Wilda, Toki will help you run.” A wild promise, and one he didn’t know how to keep. A bad thing he did, against what the gods taught—never promise what you can’t keep, and when you give your word, keep it like iron. He no longer cared. She’d given him too much not to give her something in return, even if it was only hope. He’d laid his worth in inaction, in silence all this time. Now was the time to show his courage in action.


He was decided now. He didn’t know how, but he was going to find a way, one that meant they all lived. He nodded briefly and mimed a sunrise, over the mountains to the east. It took a few attempts, but he was well-practised at signing and soon she caught his meaning. He held up two fingers. Two days. Within two days, he would find a way. They could run up the mountain, try the pass. Yet he needed time to prepare, because otherwise they would die on the path.

“Toki will help you run. Far and far.” Einar could get her to the lip of this valley, no farther, but he could get her away enough so she could run. To Harald Gulskeg King, maybe. He was old and wise, and said to be a good man. He would see, he would help. He would have skalds and netweavers and magic to call on, to help them both. Maybe, if all men weren’t become like Bausi in these last years.

Einar could save her, and that would be enough. Another small thing to say before Odin.

Her smile was fragile, as though she knew he was only trying to comfort her, but her fingers stroked through his hair, a softness that he stored with the look, for the remembrance of what a kind touch was. “Einar. No Toki.

No, no matter what he did, he’d never be that boy again, never Einar. Never face such things with a blithe braveness, with little thought to the courage he’d once known. That she thought of him that way was a warm twist in his heart.

She dressed with swift, elegant movements, her face sharp with the beginnings of dread at what she was returning to. He couldn’t let her go, he couldn’t, but he had to. Sigdir would kill him else, maybe kill them both. He still might. Einar’s own death might be a mercy, but not hers. She had to live. But he couldn’t let her go alone.

“No.” He stood and grabbed up his knife, the heavy scramasax, closest he had to a sword. “Not to Sigdir. Stay. I’ll help you run. Now. Stay.”

Her eyebrows curved down as she tried to work out what he said.

“No Sigdir,” he tried, and at the name, at the bruise on her face, his grip tightened on the haft of the knife. He didn’t care what it took. Sigdir hadn’t been a brother for long years, and he was losing Gudrun too. He couldn’t lose Wilda, not now he’d found her. Not if he had to brave a dragon at his den.

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected her to do, but it wasn’t the quick, soft step to reach him, the gentle hand on his cheek that traced down his neck and left five lines of fire behind it, the almost invisible shake of her head.


The word was meaningless. He took her hand and engulfed it in his own. “No Sigdir.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. They hung there like a late icicle, wet but not ready to fall. She pulled away and mimed, as he had, two sunrises. She meant to go back though he couldn’t think why, what reason she’d have to go back into the den when he’d help her, would do anything now to help her. She smiled, a soft, sad thing, at his confusion. “Myldrith,” she said again, “Myldrith and Wilda and Einar, run.”

She pulled on her boots. Determined to return. Myldrith run…hadn’t Sigdir brought another girl back with her? Agnar had mentioned a new thrall, possibly in Sigdir’s bed. Of course, Wilda would want to help her too. But it was Wilda who was in the biggest danger…

She turned away, a frown marring her face. If she stayed, then Sigdir would come. Here would be the first place he’d look, and then everything would collapse into Niflheim. He had to let her go, for now, so he could save her later, but it still felt like cowardice and he was sick of that in him.

Finally she was ready to brave the snow and wind, to brave Sigdir’s house. He wished he had the same courage. Yet she thought he did, and that was enough to give him some. Enough to do this, enough to not feel as ashamed.

Before she could go, he stood and held her and she sank against him, quivering again, but not with want this time, not because of him. Because of where she had to go. He wanted to give her what she’d given him so he held her, stroked her hair and murmured soft words that she wouldn’t understand.

Finally she stood back, her face calm again, her pose upright, eyes determined yet demure, chaste as a lady should be. Chained again, after a night of release. He gave her the only help he could and kissed her—a thanks, a declaration, a farewell.

She turned for the door and hesitated with her hand on the handle to say some words. He didn’t know what they meant, maybe thank you. Maybe she thought he only agreed to help because she’d lain with him. Maybe something else. Yet the way she said them—he wanted to chase after her, tell her to stay, they’d run, over the mountain,
, never mind the storm and wind and snow, never mind the rune-curse. But before he could catch Wilda, she was gone, lost in the dark, silent swirls of a snowy night.

He sat and watched the door till it was almost dawn, and tried not to remember her lips on his, her mouth saying his true name, or the look on her face as she left for Sigdir.


Wilda blundered down the mountainside, not seeing the snow or feeling the ice in her hair or on her cheeks. She lost her way, more than once, and only found it again by chance, by the smell of wood smoke and stumbling across the rapidly filling path. If it hadn’t been for Myldrith, for her need to help the girl, she might never have tried to. Her legs trembled when she remembered Einar, one short, brief time of warmth. Whispered words she didn’t know, the heat of him, the strength and yet gentleness of him, how she’d felt safe with him to be herself, who she really was. Released from the need to be what others thought her, released from others depending on her, for a brief, scintillating time.

She’d been wrong. One memory would not buffer what was to come, but would make it worse, make it so she knew what should be, and what would not be. What she would never have again. If not for Myldrith she would have stayed up the mountain, and hoped. But Einar would help her, she had that hope too, one to bring and share with Myldrith. He would help them escape. And then what? She didn’t care overmuch, as long as Einar was there too.

When she reached the short, thundering falls that marked the centre of the village, she knew she was close. Just below, that was Sigdir’s house. Her frozen hands fumbled with the door to the byre but she got it opened quietly enough. The warmth inside thawed her skin, but it was too late for inside her. That had thawed, too, left wide open now to hurt where it had been locked away in ice before. She had to lock it again, but she couldn’t. Even the ice of the fjord in a snowstorm couldn’t do that for her, could not freeze her heart again.

Rowena looked up from beside the fire, her face lifting when she saw Wilda’s.

“Is there a way, you found help, my lady?”

Wilda was reluctant to say, reluctant to speak to anyone. She wanted to curl in her furs, to smell Einar on her and sleep a dreamless, restful sleep as she hadn’t in too long. She wanted to dream that she was with him, and that Sigdir didn’t exist. But practicality got in the way. “I’m not a lady,” was all she managed to start.

Rowena sat her down and handed her a surreptitious bowl of the stew that was normally reserved for the masters. “It’s no shame, not here, my lady. It’s what needs to be done, if you want something. They’re pushovers for that, every one of them. I hear there was a monk who said that women were the only place they did not limit themselves, and it’s true. There is no limit to them for that. It’s expected of them even, to have many wives, mistresses, bed-slaves.”

Was that all she’d been? Had Einar been like the rest? No, she refused to believe it, but shame filled her anyway, that she had lain with Einar for herself, with not a thought to those relying on her. A thing, a sin, for herself alone. She held on to her crucifix and murmured a prayer.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
She would need to say a thousand to be absolved, might never manage it. Yet she didn’t regret it, not for a heartbeat. “I’m not a lady, but we may have help.”

Rowena went to say something, but Wilda shook her off and lay on a bench. She pulled a tattered fur over herself, and it smelled of him.
smelled of him. She curled into the fur and let the tears fall, here where no one could see. She was responsible for these other thralls now, too, because she was the lady. She wanted to throw it all off, throw them off.
had been part of her for too long. She wanted to run, and again was trapped. His smell comforted her, wrapped around her as his arms had and made the cares disappear, at least for long enough for Wilda to fall asleep.

A rough shake on her shoulder woke her from warm dreams. The warrior set to guard them stood back with a sly look and went to the fire. Little work for him this morn, but plenty for Wilda and Myldrith and the rest.

They fed livestock, cleaned stalls, ground corn and barley, and through it all Wilda dreamt. Of a day she could run on a beach, with no care, be the girl she had been before the raid. Yet Myldrith’s face burned before her. Thin, gaunt even, with a mother-of pearl whiteness, a sheen to it. Myldrith herself said nothing, kept her head down and worked, but there was something…something.

Wilda couldn’t be selfish too long—it had been often engrained on her, that she served those who served her. What a lady would do was ask, talk, make it better. And too, Myldrith was her friend, not of long years, but they had shared things many other friends had not.

“I’m quick with his child,” Myldrith whispered when she asked. “I—I would rather die and go to hell than see it born. I’d endure anything not to see his child live to face this earth, godless. I will not have a child of mine, even his, born into slavery. I cannot. My lady.”

Myldrith’s hands quivered on the grinder, then she carried on, grinding as though the stone was Sigdir’s face and she could smooth it from her memory. Quick with his child. Looking like a beaten dog, with bruises to her arms, worse ones to her soul. That would be Wilda soon enough. Even if not, Myldrith was hers to look after. She had to leave, and only Wilda and Einar to help her.

She shouldn’t talk of it, of his sign to help her. Who knew how it might get to Sigdir, but it would. Yet she had to give Myldrith some hope. “Two days,” she whispered. “Two days is all you have to bear. I’ll get you out, away from him, I promise, as God has my soul, as the Holy Spirit consumes me, I will. I promise it on my love of God.”

Myldrith took to the grinder again, viciously, with a strength Wilda wouldn’t have thought of her. “And whose god did you worship last night, my lady, God, or the heathens’ gods? Was God with you then? Does he bless what you did, what you are? Or are you a heathen whore?”

Wilda’s hands fell from her task, from spinning wool. The yarn spun across the floor and tangled in with the straw and reeds. The skein was ruined. That didn’t matter. What mattered was—was Myldrith right? No—no she couldn’t believe her God would hate her so for one night of goodness, one night of what was right. A God of love would not. Would he? No. God helped those who help themselves, and no matter that she still thought of Einar’s skin on hers, his soft words, she was sure he was a good man among barbarians. She hadn’t asked his help just for her. She hadn’t lain with him for help, but because she wanted to, because she wanted to be free, not a lady, to be her. Because she wanted him to know he wasn’t Toki, he was Einar. Was that a sin, to do that? Yes—and no. No—and yes.

BOOK: The Viking’s Sacrifice
2.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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