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Storms in blue skies...

Chapter Text

Algeciras


I sat on my platform. Just as I did every day, my legs curled in at my side, watching as shadows moved across the ceiling- my only sense that a breeze ran through the city today. Yet here in my cage I sat. Waiting. Always I was waiting for the words.


‘’have you heard today, al’iilhia?’’


I looked at my plump master with the dead silver eyes he was used to. He stared for moments then turned to his sickly advisor in exasperation.
‘’she sees nothing. She says nothing. What am I to do with this al’iilhia that tells me nothing.’’


The advisor spoke in a hushed and desperate tone. ‘’please sire, have faith. Allah has marked her as his vessel. Even though she is a heathen- Allah is in even the spider’s web.’’ The snivelling man looked into my eyes for a split second before whipping his head away, frightened, of what my eyes might see in him. I didn’t care about what schemes festered in his head. My accursed eyes moved back to the shadows dance over painted stones. A zephyr infiltrated the room unexpectedly- I hungrily inhaled the sweet floral scented that flowed in. orange blossom wrapped in the dizzying salty, fresh sea air.


Then the whispering started. ‘’they come. They come on the wind and cut through the waves.’’


I looked to the two men in the room with hot anger flaring in my eyes. I was met with curious stares. They were silent. The master approached with a tentative hand reaching towards me. His eyes held an eager excitement. It repulsed me. As the meaty mitt cross into the ring of light which streamed in from the skylight above me, I made to warn the bastard. I lunged from my position snapping my teeth inches from his fingers to land on my palms. The slapping of my flesh on the marble echoed in the chamber soon joined in harmony by the tinny ringing of the swords which were unsheathed. As the guards leapt from the shadowed corners to pull the master behind their wall of blades I sniggered. I half expected the balahat haram-zadah to piss himself. I receded from the edge of my pool of light to rest once more in my previous position. Again ignoring the fools. I let out a cruel chuckle at imagining the shame he would feel if he did piss himself.


All the guards who were so willing would be put to death for witnessing it. Not to mention the base advisor who cowered against the wall.


Apparently what amused me did not touch the master. His face bloomed into a red ball of pompous fury. He had always had a fat face but now it had blown up into a balloon of impotent anger- what could he do? I was al’iilhia. The word curdled in my head my lip turning up into a menacing snarl. That stupid word had taken so much from me. What else could they take without wasting my potential?


‘’that’s it!’’ he screamed with the built up frustration of the last six years etched into the words as they bounced off the walls of my small cell. If any more emotion had been forced into such few words I thought the blue and gold tiles might rupture around the room. The guards sheathed their swords and stood to attention as the seething man stepped forward his finger raised as a rod of judgement. I smirked still, as I saw that he kept it out f my column of light– safe distance. This only goaded him further. ‘’you! You will be taken to the harem and I will have you this night! Then to the men! And finally to the dogs! You will fall from Allah’s light and become wicked sahira! Let us see if you still smile after that you whore!’’ he stared, searching my face for fear. The only fear to be found in the room was the twitch of the guard’s brow and of course the whimpering of that damned mollusc of a man.


Finding this to be the case the master whirled around, his long robes gliding on the air as they trailed behind him, as he stormed out. He was quickly followed by the others. The last guard slamming the heavily gilded wood doors before I heard the familiar turn of the key.


Once more I was left alone. Today was going to be different after all. First the fichfich with its commonly cryptic message and now I was to be used as a whore and made into a wicked witch. He left out the part where I would be stoned to death but I suppose it was implied.


I looked around the chamber which had been my cell for six years. A kind of melancholy descended as I took in the beautifully intricate gilding on the walls which covered the iridescent azure blue tiles. It was like staring into the midnight sea and seeing firelight reflected. The great gold doors were decorated with two large peacocks whose tails directed a thousand eyes each my way. My hand fell limp onto my platform. The white tiles decorated with red suns. It was cool but tonight it would be warm charged by the sun's heat. I looked up and studied the window above me, hexagonal in shape, cut into thick marble. The thick rim was lined with mirrors which always directed the light of the sun and moon into my space. Would I see the sun again- even the moon- before I died? The thought of actually seeing the sky made me excited- no matter the circumstance. I began to sway as I felt the imagined breeze and tickled my fingers through the reeds. I was filled with the warmth of summer under the azure sky. The whisper crawled slowly over my lips ‘Madar…’ a flash of red tainted the memory. But I continued on in my melancholy trying to hold in the dead screams.
Before long my reverie was broken as guards filed in followed by women who wore servant’s garb. The women directed their sights to the floor. It was not uncommon. Most of the people who came here entered into my gilded cage with an air of reverent respect. And usually left in a storm of heated words.


The guards did not show such respect. In fact, the now held leering expressions with eyes which undressed me, salivating at what was to come.


I rose from my position and all took a startled step back. It was curious how the men could fear me and yet let their base desires push them to ravage me later. Peculiar creatures.
I stepped down off the raised dais to be escorted by the group to the bath. It was predictable that the master would want me cleansed for him to sully me. And then I would be useless to the people of Allah. At least it would be a continuation of what I had been for these years of imprisonment.


They had needed me pure. Needed me to be worthy of hearing the guidance of Allah. But I remained silent. When the fichfich drove me to tears I remained death to the master’s desperate yells for an explanation. And even when the hilm took hold blinding me, burning horror or ecstasy into my mind’s eye, I stayed silent.
They took me from my home to be a tool and Allah be damned I would not give them anything of use. Not again.


In the bath, I relished the radiating warmth that came from the steaming water. I didn’t enjoy people touching me so as the maids approached they quivered in response to my glare. They back away their eyes darting to the shadows of guards on the door. They weren’t looking for help. No, they were looking at them in fear knowing that if they couldn’t follow their orders they would be punished.
I sighed defeated by my morals which somehow still controlled me. I couldn’t let these young women be beaten for being given a shitty job. I looked away from them before commanding them to work with an abrupt clap of my hands.
They rushed over, clearly wanting to get it over with. As they began to wash me I noticed the small gasps and wide eyes that were shared by all who looked at my bare body. I was well formed. Ample bosom and a fairly toned body. In my hours locked alone, I was able to practice the little fighting skills I knew from childhood- what else was there to do but fantasise beating the bastards to a pulp.


No it was not my body’s form that had them shocked. It was instead the pattern that adorned me. Coiling around my body were the intricate designs of the superstitious bastards who first found me. I looked over the shapes and words that covered my body.


I could still remember the blinding pain as they cut each detailed image into my skin.


The strange events of being tied to a table in a fire lit cave, men and women drawing the designs on my naked body and then the horror as they brought out the small blade. They spent nights cutting into my flesh and treating the wounds. Now I was a bronze doll covered in pale scrawled designs. Ridiculous people. When I was brought here the first thing they did was paint me in black and gold henna. It had been redone only a few days ago. What a waste for it to be bloodied I sighed internally.


‘Khanam, may we wash your hair?’’ one of the younger women spoke, ready with jug and oils. I nodded before leaning back to rest my head on the lip of the bath as the woman took a hold of my caramel waves. She brought them to her and began washing and massaging my scalp. I eventually relaxed as the women continued their work. Unfortunately, it was all cut far too short as the eunuch of the harem who walked boldly into the bath house. He approached the edge of the bath and stared down at my nakedness with no reaction. It was not unexpected. The eunuchs were trained from near birth to guard the harem and sacrificed much for the status it gained in this society.


The women paused in their work to look up to their superior for instruction. Before answering their expressions he dragged his eyes across my body before addressing them.
‘’she is clean.’’ He stated with authority. ‘’purify her and dress her- quickly.’’ He gave his simple instructions in a monotone but I knew from experience that it carried the underlying threat that the task was to be done swiftly or face the punishment. He glared into the eyes of each woman before looking to me. His brown eyes looked with a heated emotion that I had not seen for a long time- hatred. But as I stared back I knew the hatred was not for me in particular- it was for my fate, and my part in it.


It was a fact that my defiance of the master that had led us to this conclusion. If I had behaved well and given the master all the help and guidance he demanded then perhaps I would have lived a long life till the next oracle could be found.


I smiled a sad and knowing smile. I had already accepted my fate and I didn’t wish any ill will on those who were under the boot of the ones I actually hated. The eunuch’s face softened slightly showing visible pity in his eyes before noticing the maids had remained still. ‘’now’’ he boomed punctuated with two claps which hit the walls and bounced around. He turned and marched out of the room.


The women hurried to finish their work. They asked me to exit the water and I did so without any fuss. They then escorted me in silence to a carpet surrounded by bowls of oil and smoking herbs which mingled with the steam making the air incredibly thick. This was the cleansing.


They dried my skin with cotton and began rubbing in the oils. The scent of orange and lavender seeped into my skin. Then three elder women appeared and took hold of the bundles of herbs, which smouldered in the wooden bowls, they began twisting the smoke t their will. Pushing and pulling the grey curlicues to have the wrap around my body and rise into my face; it soothed the quickened heartbeat which I had not noticed. Even I was human it seemed.


The smoke floated in waves on the steam lapping against the white tiles which covered the walls. The tendrils settled on the draping clothes above me which filtered in the sunlight creating blues reds and purples to dance on the floor as the breeze from the windows rocked them. as the women finished I looked to the window. It was open but latticed with dark wood. I saw through it lush greenery of the garden; trees, grass, shrubs all lining paths which ran towards a great marble fountain with gilding and mosaic designs decorating it. I felt the urge to bust through the thin lattice and escape.


A stupid thought. It was the central garden after all.


When my focus came back to the room I noticed a young maid stood wide-eyed, fearful that I was about to engage some plan of escape. I smiled sweetly trying to ease her worry. It worked as, after the initial shock of my small expression, she smiled back all be it sadly.
‘’Khanam?’’ it was one of the older maids. I looked to her curious. Her eyes appeared to be brimming with water. ‘’we- we are finished, Khanam.’’ She said almost choking on her words. I straightened my expression and nodded before extending my arms outwards waiting to be dressed. One step closer.
They dressed me in scarlet clothes. Each piece of material was dotted with silver and gold- embers. At least I was being dressed up to be destroyed.
The cloth hung loosely on me as was the fashion for the concubines. They added a few jewels; a gold and silver necklace with a large orange stone hanging from it and a chained pair of studs which where both placed into the holes of my right ear. From the chains dangled broken stones. The scraps of other builds; beautiful in its own way. They had softly hand dried my hair to hang in loose damp curls.


The last touch to my packaging a light, translucent crimson veil sparsely adorned with jewels and embroidery. The effect was stunning; gold thread flickered under the suns stretching beams which caught the small diamonds to be thrown off in a kaleidoscope of colour. the veil was so large that four women straightened the cloth in the air before walking it over my head. When centred the women brought the gossamer down slowly around me; the cloth hovered just above my feet. In front of me, another maid quickly revealed a 6-foot mirror which just about contained my whole figure.


I was a striking vision. The master clearly liked his presents well wrapped
I stood peering through the crimson at my reflection, entranced. A shiver began crawling up my body followed by the whispering. Like a sand pit I was being sucked in yet stood completely still. The breeze suddenly picked up and the folds of my apparel violently billowed out snapping back and forth in the trapped vortex of wind. The maids rushed to shut the window- but the damage was done. As I watched the reflection I knew- I was on fire. The heat in my blood pounded around my body as I fell backwards. Screams erupted from the young- distantly I heard the furious hushes from the elders. Hands pushed into my back before I felt the soft cradle of the floor rug. All fell away soon enough.

Chapter Text

I was stood on the dock. Night had long been established. I looked around quickly to take in as much information as I could. I saw Algeciras. The bazaar was bustling in the light of torches. I stood confused. Why would I be seeing a normal night? Nothing seemed out of place.

Then I heard the splash. I whipped my head around to look out to sea. Nothing could be seen in this darkness of the new moon- not even where the water met the sky. Then it came again. a splash only this time it was followed by a trickling. But I saw nothing. Until suddenly a creature of darkness glided into the oblivious light of the city. A dragon's head came silently towards me. I wanted to scream to run and warn them but I did nothing. I froze as my heart pounded and my blood ran like ice. I was afraid. So afraid I wanted to crumble and beg for help.

The dragon was a few feet away from me now. It made no sound still. Then a thump of knocking wood. And the dragon became smoke from which a monstrously large man stormed through with determination. Blonde hair. Ice blue eyes which refused the light of the city. He scowled moving closer. I fell back and landed on the soft dirt of the market. Around me, people ran, stood frozen, or charged with desperation. All screamed at their attackers. Men of darkness swept through cutting down all who could not outrun them. The lights vanished and I was in relative darkness. The forms crept through this environment and melted into shadows. Men fell limp before them until finally, they came to a set of golden doors. The lock clicked like a death knell and I saw a women in crimson weeping silent and still.

White consumed the sight and I was back in the bath house.

The maids surrounded me in silence. I realised that my back was arched off the ground, my muscles tight all over. ‘’calm, Sayida, calm. You are back.’’ The eldest of the maids spoke. She spoke softly and kindly her face was the same. I was surprised to see something other than fear from someone who had seen me experience the hilm. But instead, as I eased my muscles into my lying position I allowed my head to loll to one side, I saw awe in their faces. They knelt beside me, one or two prayed, the others whispered frantically to one another. I looked to the kinder old woman seeking her help in calming the cacophony which was smashing like waves onto my rock of a head.

She raised her hands to those behind her blindly. Yet they knew their place and the whispering ceased. The elder was closest to me. She leant down to gaze into my eyes. Groggily I knew I shouldn’t have let her but the hilm exhausted me this time. I looked back at her lazily.

‘’your eyes!’’ she exclaimed in a hushed voice. ‘’they have changed Sayida.’’

I didn’t respond I knew the side effects already, they would settle, so she went on to ask what I knew was on her mind. ‘’is it so Sayida? Have you seen something?’’

This time I felt the words bubble up without my control. I needed to tell someone. Needed to save someone…

‘’night… run…now…’’ with that I let the fatigue overwhelm me. I was released from my aching and exhaustion to be rocked by the darkness. On the horizon, I saw a storm approach on azure skies…

 

When I awoke it was on too comfortable cushions. I found that I did not want to wake, I wanted to sleep through reality and let them finish the matter without me present. Unfortunately one can’t sleep when the hens refuse to quite clucking.

My eyes snapped open to stare into a pair of muddy brown ones. The owner who I assume had been studying me for some time suddenly screeched and jumped back into a supporting huddle of other women. All wore fine clothes and intricate henna along the lines of their hands and feet. All were beautiful dolls for the pleasure of the master. I looked into each of their startled faces and, realising that the absence of a red glazing over my vision meant they had interfered with me whilst I slept, I snarled as I had to the master of this city.

‘’sahira!!   Wicked thing- don’t think you can hurt us – the master's chosen.’’ It was the one who had been so disrespectful of my personal space. she was the prettiest of the women and far more beautiful than I with her slenderness and soft features. I had no doubt her bravery came from being the favourite in the harem.

But she betrayed her façade when I pushed myself up and unwillingly her whole body flinched at my movement . a cruel smile curled the corners of my mouth. I rose to my feet and stood for a moment simply taking in the sights of the room which they had put me in to await my sentence.

Silk. Silks of the finest quality hung and lay everywhere.  Every surface was ornate form polished mosaic flooring to the woven tapestries which hung on the walls. The room was sectioned into veiled alcoves, I assumed to create false privacy for each of the concubines. incense filled the air of the dimly lit room smoke swimming on the night air. And it was night, I could see from the high vents which ringed the outer wall.

It was night. That meant… but what could I do? We were to die. I was to die anyway what did it matter if it was by the master's hand or by some pale behemoth’s.

‘’at least you know your place!’’ the pretty one scoffed and called for a weak giggle from her sycophants. They were annoyances that I would not bother with in my final moments. Instead of interacting I walked away. The pretty one was abashed by my rudeness and turned to face her audience.

‘’see how she runs from our presence like the shaytan from Allah’s light.’’

Yeah, only I’m not running. I moved away from the entrance to the selamlik. I doubted the master would bother making his appearance tonight. No, he would be more concerned with what was coming and would flee like the rats. So on I went through two dark wood doors, guarded by trained eunuchs who would protect this place with their lives, into the haremlik.

Here where men could not enter, the more esteemed and experienced concubines reclined. I walked through the room without giving a greeting, which was an offence in and of itself, only to stop when caught by the most treacherous sin: vanity. In the small wall mirror, framed by gold, I saw my eyes. Silver tones as usual but the old maid was right they had changed. I moved closer eyes fixed on eyes. When I could reach out and touch the polished glass I saw more clearly the altered detail. Ringing my dark pupils gold bloomed like ink on the page. Half of the iris was consumed. I knew that this was supposed to happen- it was one of the fucking reasons I was here. The telltale sign that the hilm had taken place. But it receded as soon as the visions left; it didn’t remain hours after. I examined the eye: black to gold to silver and ringed by darkest purple-black before finally white.  Someone had put kohl on me whilst I was passed out…

I covered my eyes for a brief moment of laughter at the refusal of the universe to let me forget for one fucking moment that which trapped me here. In response to my sudden and humourless laughter a mumbling of distaste rolling through the room.  I blushed, angry, for letting them see me like this. I swiftly turned from the mirror and sped from the room in pursuit once again of my true goal. Through another set of doors and along a dark corridor I found it. The room which was used in case of emergency- invasion.

Through heavy gilded, metal doors was a room adorned much the same as the haremlik and selamlik but this room was much smaller. It was designed to hold all the concubines in one space to await rescue whilst the city burned. I sniggered at the idea. Rescue from the beasts that were coming was impossible, best just to wait. Of course, I wasn’t running to meet my death. I was near heartless but that didn’t mean I was overly zealous to actually die. In the centre of the room was a small white podium currently holding a bowl of fruit that was probably thrown every day. The wastefulness alone sickened me.

I took the bowl and sat on the podium, just enough room for me to cross my legs. I placed the bowl of ripe and juicy fruit in my lap. I had refused their extravagant food for a long time now. I picked up a quince and bit into it. The juices flowed in and around my mouth. I giggled as i wiped the fruit's juice away, then I heard it. Distant and sharp in the night air a scream went up like a crazed goat in the face of a wolf. It had started, and I had a perfect view down the corridors which lead me here to see the eunuch shepherd the women my way.

I adjusted myself swiftly covering my face with the veil once more, though I lay it over my knees so as to create my own space in which to enjoy my treats- might as well die with a full belly.

The door slammed shut and women cowered in the alcove seats behind me. The call to prayer filled the city and I wanted to blot it out. Though the whimpering didn’t seem like the better option.  I felt the icy shiver run down my spine, fear was taking hold for real, a quiet wine escaped me. They were here. And I was going to die. I had to get a grip. I couldn’t die like this! I hadn’t even felt the sun for so long…

The whispering started up again and it felt like just another slap from the gods or whoever reigned above. I didn’t want to listen to them now. I wanted to think of better times. To remember home.

‘’ Ageh baroon beshi cheek cheek bebari’’ my song filled the room with my rich contralto that sounded to me as though it was not mine. It was my mother’s voice, mature and strong. The women had hushed and all was silent in the harem ‘’Manam sabzeh misham sar dar miyaram’’ I continued the lyrics and heard my line sang as a child in my head as I had done sat in my mother’s lap by the open fire.

Tou ke sabzeh beshi sar dar biyari
Manam goul misham pahlout mishinam

My family laughed and joked as my mother smiled down trying to get me to sleep. I felt safe in her arms…

A booming crack echoed outside. Then the scraping of metal on metal.

Don’t think don’t listen I begged my mind. The fichfich had grown louder like a cacophony of screeching birds all crying the same words. Words that I didn’t understand.

‘’Tou ke goul mishi o pahloum mishini’’
I sang louder than before tears stung my eyes threatening to roll over. But I couldn’t let them.

‘’Manam bolbol misham chahchahe mikhoonam.’’ I yelled with a desperation that scared me. I didn’t want to die like this; consumed by the abyss.

I wanted to scream more but we could all hear the heavy footfalls outside of the door. And my song had finished…

The whispers took hold and before I could stop my head flew back with the force of the oncoming storm. The words rolled like thunder from my open mouth. But it was not my voice.

 A bold and arrogant bellow spoke words that sounded sharp mellifluous and 

''!!hvordan de små grisunger vil grynt når de hører hvor den gamle villsvin led!!''

!!HOW THE LITTLE PIGLETS WILL GRUNT WHEN THEY HEAR HOW THE OLD BOAR SUFFERED!!

 

Chapter Text

The door clicked, the lock undone, but it was still a boot which opened them. suddenly with the terrified shrieks of the women filling the air, men piled into the room. Not normal men. Huge, pale and bloodied they looked like demons risen from some hell. They were lead by he who kicked open the door- By the man who emerged from the dragon's shadow. He is definitely their leader, broad and strong with blonde hair that was partly shaved; the rest fell down his back in a long braid. He is followed closely by a brunette man who shares his square jaw, his stocky build. I gasped quietly as he came into the light of the small bazaar. His face is undeniably handsome, stoic and overall it screams that he is formidable in his strength. His blue eyes are that of storm clouds but they are unaffected by the fog of battle.

A younger man suddenly jumps around him in excitement and a chill ran down my spine again. the boy was wiry compared to most of the others present. He spoke to the blonde with excitement as he turned a leering gaze onto the women behind me. The blonde spoke in a deep baritone, expressing little interest in the beauties before him. They speak strange words, like those that had erupted from my mouth. I assume the words he speaks mean for the younger man to wait to have his satisfaction as the leader holds his hand up before walking on and leaving the rest of the men behind.

The large man came to stand only a few paces from me. He looked over all of the women, with exception to me, before speaking. Allah only knows what he said because the women simply whimpered and pressed themselves in huddles against the walls. The brunette spoke up then, saying something which he seemed to think was a good idea because he smirked as he came closer. The blonde nodded and now the brunette addresses us. But to my surprise, he uses a different tongue.
‘’Nous ne vous blesserons pas Dites-nous qui a parlé ‘’ he spoke softly but it didn’t stop a woman cry ‘Francia we are all going to die!’ which obviously set off the other women crying and praying.

Francia had long been an enemy to us but still, I doubted anyone could understand its language. Then he spoke again.

‘’La voix de l'homme qui a prononcé ces paroles’’ he raised his hands as a gesture of kindness but it was hard to see him that way when blood was splattered and smeared all over him. he threw his hands in exasperation at the barrier. The wiry one used this as an opportunity to whisper into the leader’s ear. Not once did any of the horde take their eyes off of the women. But whilst this happened I realised that I knew one word that, in context, would explain the general meaning of the pillager’s words- la voix. I had heard it when I was young and being shown off to an emissary. He said ‘elle a une belle voix.’

Realising the master took pride in even my angry insults, that emissary was the reason I had been silent for so long.

So from context, they must have been talking about my unfortunate timing in having the fichfich take hold.

I stayed still.

I may have been brave in front of the master but that didn’t mean I was stupid enough to offer myself to these barbarians. But that wasn’t my choice apparently.

The pretty one’s voice came from over my shoulder. ‘’monsieur!’’  she yelled as he turned from us and the young leering man stared at the women hungrily. He moved towards us but again was stilled by the leader. ‘’Rollo’’ he spoke to which the older brunette turned around to listen.

She ran to him. landing on her knees in front of him she cried. The man, Rollo, was shocked and confused. He called something to his kinsmen to which the wiry boy shouted something; it elicited hearty laughs from all the men- aside from the formidable leader who simply gestured at ‘Rollo’. Rollo lost most his smile whilst I watched the predatory smile only grow more unsettling on the face of the wiry man.

 I looked between all of the men and it was the three who had made their way in so boldly who seemed akin to each other. The same jaw line in the older men, maybe still there in the boy but weaker. And the same eyes. Though the boys held the light of lust- for blood and women. Whilst the older men held worry and wear of their years. ‘Rollo’ seemed happy to laugh and hide his pain, but the leader… he wore his like armour and medal.

Wherever these men came from it must have been a hard land which defined or destroyed its people.

I stared at their leader. He began to lean against the wall, his eyes wandering over the women. But not with lust, no, more like he was counting goats. I felt my eyes widen in horrible realisation. They would not kill us. Well, I knew they would keep some alive, but I thought that their death would just come as pleasure for the men before they left. But I knew from this man’s look. We were property. Merchandise to be traded and sold.

But he didn’t look at me. was I to die here? Better yet, had I stayed still enough to mimic a statue and they would leave me? I could dream. Maybe in this low light, the veil had obscured me and they thought me a wretch. But still, I thought it better to die in this cage than be thrown into a new one. One where I couldn’t see the bars and had to learn all over again how crossing invisible lines hurt so very much.

I was too afraid. I didn’t like being afraid. I was done with that long ago. Why at my end did I have to relive the fear of these moments when men decided your fate.

‘’oi! Oi!’’ Rollo called to the girl with the muddy eyes. ‘’tu sais, hmm?’’ she looked up at him full of fear and pleading she nodded vehemently. Then her eyes, filled with loathing, darted to me. I had to stop myself from flinching as it hit me. The bitch was going to try and bargain- for her own life at the very least.

I had remained still for so long that something had grown in my chest but that look just killed it- hope. I wasn’t going to make it out of this. My eyes went back to the leader, praying that he hadn’t noticed the bitch’s eyes go to me, I met Aegean pools which burned with the quick thinking of lightning in the storm. He knew. Damn it, he knew!

‘’ je parle peu’’ she spoke timidly yet full of desperation. And though I couldn’t speak the language I could recognise the next words, similar to ones I had heard before. ‘’Elle sorcière, elle parla’’ She screamed pointing at me the venom in her eyes dancing with some sort of satisfaction in knowing she had doomed me. all attention came to me then. The figure atop the white pillar. Unmoving- afraid to move.

all attention came to me then. The figure atop the white pillar. Unmoving- afraid to move.

My heart thrummed loudly in my ears and I struggled to keep my breathing quiet- as if I could still slip by unnoticed.

‘’Bjorn?’’ Rollo questioned the blonde man. His eyes had not left me. in response to his comrade, he nodded with authority as he pushed away from the wall coming straight for me.

I would like to say that I reacted. That I sprang to my feet and took him down before being stabbed and dying bravely.

But I didn’t.

I still remained statuesque, feeling all the muscles in my body tense as though I was about to have a vision. But I was going to be awake for this- the pain of fear that I had hoped to only know once in my life. The man, Bjorn I took his name to be, slowly approached. Lazily his blade swung his hands, yet I knew at any moment he could turn it on me like lightning. My eyes stayed focused on the blade as the terror gripped my stomach. And hope. Move! I begged my body. Attack him! all in hope that if I did that then I would be cut down here and now instead of in some shack at another master’s feet.

But I seemed to be frozen, rather than having any choice about it; the ice had seized my veins. The blade came up slowly. I could see the defined pattern of blood smeared and splattered over its polished surface. I could see the scarlet darkening as it dried. The tip hooked on the edge of my veil and brought it up, he stood arm's length from me leaning back to account for the blade, he bent slightly to peer amused into the tent his blade had created with the cloth. His first reaction was widened eyes and lips parting as he took in my eyes, I assumed. Then a pleased look transformed his features from handsome to outstandingly so. The quickest thought of he must be a killer when he actually smiles with joy flitted across my mind.  

‘Bjorn?’ the young and frankly, annoying boy chimed with impatience.  Bjorn smirked at me before rising to lean towards his men and speak. Whatever he said pleased his men to no end. Their faces came alive as they moved into the room. Rollo grabbed the girl at his feet by the shoulders to pick her up. he probably thought that she was to be his. how wrong he was.

Once standing she threw off his hands and ran at Bjorn. He turned and laughed at what he assumed was another bout of pleading now that she had realised who was in charge. But her eyes burned with hate and she grabbed for the dagger at his belt screaming with fury ‘’Tue le démon’’

The wrong move. As she went for the dagger Bjorn pulled his sword swiftly unsheathing it from my veil and struck her. The veil dropped heavily just in time for it to shield my skin from the splatter of blood that sprayed into the air.

The pretty doll dropped too. she hit the floor with a wet slap as her blood began to pool from the spurting wound at her neck. The shrieks of horror behind me seemed distant as I watched the spurting of blood lessen and the pool slowly moved outwards. I followed the thick line of the cooling blood as it sluggishly lapped over the barbarian’s feet till it hit the podiums base. When it did I couldn’t stop my eyes from finding hers. Only a moment before they looked dreadful and fiery, mud brown I had called them, like a devouring vortex. Now they were cold as the earth of winter. Glazed with the emptiness of death.

The men looked down in surprise but soon the wiry one said something and a barking laughter erupted from them, like war dogs after the doe is dead; even Bjorn gave a light chuckle. In the midst of their laughter, my small voice spoke the words ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un’’  the words of their faith. As I stared into her eyes, vacant of her soul, I truly hoped that she would not be offended by my silent prayer that Allah or whoever waited for us would grant her peace. To me, she would remain a story untold.

Chapter Text

Bjorn looked down at the blood which had coated on his hardy and well-worn boots. He grimaced seeing how the blood had seeped into the leather and would no doubt stain it. He had a cruel smile when he called to the men and nudged the dead girl’s body. I finally seemed to find the fire to heat my blood and move my body from its frozen state. Apparently, I just needed a special fuel- anger. The anger at his dismissive treatment of just taking this girl’s life had me blistering from the heat in my blood. I pushed myself, flinging aside the bowl- now empty- from the podium to land barefooted in the cooling sludge that her blood had become. I had to suppress the churning of my stomach as the goo slipped between my toes.

Then I did something quite stupid. I had landed next to this Bjorn and found myself to be just above his jawline. I was a perfect height to act and I did. I slapped him with the back of my hand across the ear and cheek as he was turned towards Rollo to my right.

Once it was done the bravery or more likely stupidity that had flooded my body now abandoned me and it took all my strength to stay upright. There was a pause as the sound of my hit echoed in the small chamber. It had silenced the men and the women whimpered more fearfully behind me- I had basically signed their lives away. The bowl clattered to the floor behind me.

Bjorn was still. Then he reached up with his free hand to rub the reddened area. I gritted my teeth in preparation for being hit much harder. My eyes bulged as I tried my best to keep my nerve. He cocked his head to look at me whilst moving his hand away. His face was thunder. Until it wasn’t it was like the wiry ones- predatory. A smirk appeared and he called out ‘flammende Valkyrie!’ before raising his arms to the men who all responded with hearty chuckles. Rollo’s laugh paled to the others as he watched their leader with a suspicious squint.  Bjorn whirled back to grab me by the throat. He lifted me with one arm and I felt my feet rise, the smacking of the sticky blood leaving my soles amplified by my shock, they hovered just scraping the wet tiles. I began to claw at his hand, staring panicked into his stormy eyes that had grown bright with excitement.

‘’hvitserk’ he beckoned casually to the younger man. He stepped forward looking into my eyes with anger, then to Bjorn,  waiting for orders of some kind. Coolly Bjorn spoke, not taking his eyes from my throat as he tested the pressure of his hand. He squeezed slightly and black circled my vision. I could only hear the frantic beat of my heart now. Then the pressure lightened.

I could breathe slightly better but his grip remained steadfast. He spoke again and ‘hvitserk approached with a length of rope that had come from nowhere. I knew what he was going to do and I didn’t want that. Anything but being bound. He had to pass over the still dead girl and to my disgust, he didn’t hesitate to step on her back. I felt it again the fury the boiling blood and though I knew I couldn’t get the best of this colossus I could damn well try on this haram-zadah. As he passed Bjorn's distance from me I stopped clawing at the hand which choked me. Instead, I gripped it for leverage and brought my foot as far behind me as I could, as quickly as I could. I felt my body rock in Bjorn’s hand and, with the little strength I had spare, I sent my tensed foot right into the bastard's balls.

He keeled over in pain and the hand around my throat suddenly tightened. Bjorn spoke slowly and though I still didn’t know what he was saying his expression said it all. A straight lined mouth and a slightly quirked eyebrow combined with his darkening eyes it all said clearly- behave or be punished. Also, try doing that to me seemed to be heavily implied.

I relaxed taking my hands from him and putting them up in surrender this pleased Bjorn as the smirk returned. He lowered me to the floor and released my throat. I had never been so relieved to breathe in stale, hot air before. I gulped in the air like it was going to be taken away again at any moment. Which it could have been.

Hvitserk slowly got up from the floor, clearly hurt by my kick, glaring up at me with eyes I recognised as spruce blue. They were not as pretty or intriguing as Bjorn’s and held more reckless emotion. He was covered in more blood and it was through being bested rather than victory. I could tell he wanted to beat me there and then. Apparently, everyone else could as well, as Rollo gripped his shouldBjornjorn growled a low warning ‘Hvitserk…’. The man brushed off Rollo’s hand and moved past me throwing his rope to Rollo. I watched as he made for the concubines picking one of the youngest to take to one of the seating alcoves. She screamed and begged for death rather than defilement.

But I had to block it out. I had to focus on staying alive now. Because apparently my apathy for life had been chased away by these heathens. My body wanted to live- I wanted to survive.

Rollo approached from my right with the rope raised in front of him. he clearly wanted my hands. I realised they had fallen beneath my veil once more. The material had stains in patches along the bottom and the dotting pattern remained- the blood of the muddy eyed girl. Now that my rage was ebbing I couldn’t block the cold wetness of the floor from my mind and my stomach summersaulted. Having it speckling my crimson vision made it all worse.  I moved my hand out from the veil and gripped the top making to pull the whole thing off. But before I could a hand wrapped around my wrist. It was bjorn. I looked at him unable to stop the squeak of surprise and apprehension which came. I waited, my heart hammering against my chest, gaping at him whilst he found my eyes through the veil. He shool his head, slow and with clear meaning. I released the grip I had on the cloth. Satisfied he released my wrist and walked away, out of the room.

Rollo squinted his eyes at bjorn’s back- something was clearly playing on his mind. I didn’t have the leisure time to think more on it. I pushed my other arm out to expose both wrists to Rollo. When he again realised what he was meant to be doing he set to tying my wrists. Not before he quirked an eyebrow at me when he saw the designs which coiled around them and onto the backs of my hands. I quirked my eyebrow back at him with some false bravado. He grinned and chortled to himself.

Whilst he twisted the rope around me I clenched my fists in an attempt to make my forearm muscles bulge. A trick I picked up in my youth. Hopefully it worked for me later as rollo had bound the rough rope quite tight.

With me seen to he pushed me in the direction of the door and went to join Hvitserk. In the doorway, Bjorn waited bored, leaning against its frame. I carefully moved through the men who seeing that their superiors had chosen their women rushed into the room to claim themselves a prize. I had to swallow hard to stop from vomiting as I heard more screams fill the room.

Chapter Text

When I reached Bjorn he took ahold of my binding and steered me away from the haremlik and into the selamlik. We passed the bodies of the eunuchs that they had slain to reach us, including the one who had silently condemned my disregard for my own life- yet more death. Here, thankfully you could hardly hear the screams of those inside as the night was filled with the prayers of men in the mosque nearby. Still, the air reeked of blood as those guards left behind lay in pieces on the floors and beds. I waited for him to take me outside or just take me on one of the nearby mats. Perhaps their leaders preferred privacy whilst forcing women- how was I to know? In any case, the pause as he looked around the room was almost unbearable. Tonight I could tell was going to be full of apprehensive pauses when I wouldn’t know if I was going to live or die. He didn’t do either of the things I expected, however.

He didn’t do either of the things I expected, however.

He turned back to me and brought out a gold chain from a bag which hung at his waist. He used his sword to point at it then drew a circle with it above him as he looked off into different directions. I followed his eye line each time as they took me down different corridors. Then he let the point of his sword tap the loose hanging gold, making the jewellery jingle. He raised his eyebrows as if he was finishing his question. I knew what his question was and if I got it wrong I could be cut down as the rest of them. I audibly swallowed and looked back down each of the corridors which branched from the selamlik towards the rest of the alcazar. I disregarded the one which went to the haremlik as obviously, this one led them to a different treasure. That left two corridors to check. But I imagined he wouldn’t be asking me if he could be bothered sending men to search both directions. The longer these barbarians stayed the longer they risked the master having ridden to the nearest city and collecting an army to retaliate.

So I had a 50/50 chance.

The two corridors looked almost identical. Or at least they would to a foreigner. But I knew the master. And I saw that one corridor was washed in lively torchlights of the market which glinted off of the marble floor.

And I recalled my cell. How it only received little light because he locked me in practical darkness and solitude. I felt an old ache of long-festering anger inside of me. but I breathed slowly to quell the storm. I had to have my wits to navigate this new situation.

The long and short was that the master liked to keep his precious things tucked away for himself. He liked knowing that no one else’s greedy eyes could look at his treasures. He was a greedy bastard himself- he also liked the dramatic lighting. But this meant that the nicely lit corridor which probably had nice views of the gardens was not the one.

I looked at Bjorn in the eye before decidedly pointing down the corridor to my left. The large man looked down the dark corridor and then back at me raising just the one eyebrow as if asking are you sure? I nodded my head emphatically. I had confidence that I knew the haram-zadah master.

If I had any hope that Bjorn would just take my word on the matter and leave me to go explore by himself, it was squashed when he pulled a leather binding from his belt and tied it between ourselves. I was along for the ride it seemed.

As we walked down the dark corridor it became apparent that I had chosen correctly. Moving further into the palace we found treasures being displayed all over. Intricate weavings and paintings which depicted great battles and paradises lined the windowless walls. The only reason we could see was the weak light of the city which penetrated the darkness through the vents high above. But Bjorn had no interest in paintings or rare gilded books which were on display, no he wanted gold and jewels.

however, We did stop, in front of a mounted horn which spiralled to its tip and was at least 4 foot long. We both admired the piece as the red flames danced over its surface. I looked to the book beneath which lay open on a page with a picture of a captured unicorn. The ring of steel tapping the wall brought my attention back to Bjorn who raised his eyebrow as he had when qus=estioning me. I realised he wanted to know what the horn was. I bit my lip thinking how to overcome the language barrier. Then I decided it was best to mime. The result was my poor attempt at mimicking a horse, dancing on the spot, raising my crooked hands in the air like hooves as I reared, I neighed and finally, I pointed to the horn and pretended my hand showed it growing from my forehead.

Bjorn stood in silence watching me until my show was over. He began giggling through tight lips and when it couldn’t be continued he let forth a great laugh. He bent, gripping his knees to brace himself, pulling me closer by the tether as he did so. It was strange to see a man who stank of musk salt and blood laugh like a boy. It was a little unsettling.

He was distracted from our target and in the darkness ahead I suddenly saw a flash of silver. I reacted before I thought and that action was to jump on Bjorn pushing him to the floor and following close behind. The knife sailed overhead clanging on the floor behind us.  A face rushed at us from the shadows. A guard. Bjorn grabbed my waist, pulling him with me as he spun, he pivoted on his sword hand to land on one knee. The guard was close enough that he lunged for my back shouting ‘damn you! Shaytan!’.  

I felt the sting of wieght slamming into my skin. But I ignored it as I saw the stubby, broad blade driven deep into his chest. His mouth gaped as a rattle escaped blowing a hot, foul wind into my face. His body went slack and his eyes glazed. Bjorn pulled his sword from the corpse and wiped it absently on my veil.

It had been a rough day so far. And I knew with the ball of dread that rolled in the pit of my stomach that it was only going to get worse.

The body crumbled to the floor but I couldn’t take my eyes from his face. I didn’t know him- or didn’t remember him. yet I knew I would be haunted by his face. And by the muddy-eyed girl’s splattering blood. and the screams that I had walked away from helpless. 

Bjorn, I realised, was talking to me. I stared at him without knowing what he said. But as he pushed me up his hands roamed my body. I tensed. Was he really going to force me here and now? He kept talking in a stern tone. Was blood lust moving into arousal? These questions and more disturbing ones fell like ice, dripping from my brain down my spine, as he spun me.

It wasn’t until I felt the unmistakable pang of a bruise that I realised what he was doing. He was checking for wounds. With this realisation, I loudly gasped taking in air which I had starved myself of in those terror-stricken moments. Bjorn stopped his hand and prodded the area again. this time I allowed myself to flinch at his touch. He spoke something before turning me around to look in his eyes.

‘du’ he said looking into my eyes intensely and pointing his finger to my chest. I followed the line of his arm with my eyes, taking in his clothing for the first time I realised; he wore thick clothes. They were made of leather and wool as the highland people wore at home. I remembered meeting some in trade and they remarked how hot they were, good for the cold mountain air, not good for the humid air of the marshland. Bjorn though, had the good sense to ditch any coat for what I assumed was a simple woven vest. It meant two things. The man had kept himself cool whilst plundering our city. And for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t take my eyes from the muscles of a man's arm. I followed the rippling lines to his hand. I watched how they bulged and shrank as I moved my eyes down. How even his hands were defined sinew covered by taut skin. The callouses, I could see, had come from years of hardship. It was astounding that I could lose myself in another's skin. It had never seemed interesting for me. my lovers had been of a different ilk to these men.

I suddenly came to as Bjorn chuckled. I looked at his face which held a satisfied smirk. He knew what I was doing and laughed at my timing. It was as it ever was – impeccably misplaced. I snap my head to the side in embarrassment and a blush of anger came to my cheeks. I was partly thankful for the bloody veil I wore. ‘oi oi’ Bjorn called, the light tone of amusement still in his voice. Reluctantly I faced him as he continued his bout of mime.

He began again, this time smiling brightly, it was a strange mixture of terrifying and handsome. ‘du’ he said pointing at me whilst pumping his eyebrows suggestively to his arm. I crossed my arms in impatience. he went on pointing to himself ‘ meg’. He then mimed sweeping me behind him- ‘bak ‘ he said in a commanding tone. He raised his sword in front of himself and said ‘slass’’ as he mimed fighting an invisible assailant. He finally strung the words together; shaking his sword in my face‘’ når jeg slåss’’ he jabbed his finger at me ‘’du’’ then swept his hand back to vanish behind his back. ‘’komme bak meg’’

When I fight get behind me. was the gist of it as I understood.

He waited for me to say that I understood. i just nodded exaggeratedly so that my veilf fluttered and the jewellery  had been adorned with jingled like some dancer. In any case I had made it clear to him. ‘flink’ he remarked as he moved past me, the glint of amusement gone replaced with determination in his eyes.

I followed obediently. In the silence I now had time to think on why I did what I did. Why had I saved this man? It wasn’t because of some stupid and sudden imprinting; I wasn’t a beaten pup. No, the more I replayed the event over in my head the more I was certain. In the moment when I saw that dagger poised to strike down my captor it became apparent that I was more likely to survive under this man’s care than if I was taken back into my cage. Yes, the idea of having to bow and simper in front of a new master sickened me, but going back to the old one to die… suddenly that feeling of emptiness that I had carried for so long was being consumed by fire.

I couldn’t wait to see where these men would cart me off too. Hopefully I got to keep my dignity on the way.

Chapter Text

Without any further interference, we came to a door of tarnished metal and wood- it was built for practicality rather than beauty. Bjorn looked at me with a question, that he couldn’t convey, on his mind. I nodded, slowly, the jewels silent as the anticipation crawled over my body. I couldn’t look at Bjorn, I couldn’t take my eyes from the door, couldn’t wait to see the truly precious things which lay beyond.

Bjorn gave a breathless laugh as he eyed me. it was at this I gave him a side glance and saw he was turning back. It was a curious thing to do. I was worried he was suddenly leaving me to be burned for helping. But as soon as he had vanished from sight he was back again. this time holding a key. He had searched the guard assuming he had one and had been right… he was getting to be more and more formidable in every way.

He carefully placed the small palm sized key into the lock. He looked at me raising his eyebrows in annoyance. I was completely unsure as to why he was becoming angry, till I realised I was still stood at his side ready to bust into the room and find its treasures. When the realisation hit I slapped my forehead, almost comically, and retreated to stand behind the battle ready man. My action seemed to have soothed the anger caused by my initial obtuse nature as Bjorn rocked back on his left foot with a small smile. As he rocked back he turned the key.

once the sound of the latch undoing began echoing around us his foot came down on the doors with the force of a smith’s hammer. It was a thunderous boom that filled the air and sent shock waves through my body. I shrank behind Bjorn as I heard the aggressive shouts of more men of the Umayyad empire who had sworn on their eternal souls to defend this place.

It would be a hard won fight. Bjorn must have sensed my unease as he placed a hand on my arm to stay me. I look at his back again; strong and broad. He must have carried many souls on his back. I had no doubt he would fight beyond reason to see his people survive. He moved off from me without a look back. I felt exposed and to my shame quickly hid behind a door. From my vantage point, I could see there were 4 men who stood in this court opposing the marauder whom I found I was rooting for once more.

My heart began its beat of anxiety as the guards began to circle.

The taste of copper coated my tongue as I bit my lip to suppress the need to shout.

Bjorn kept himself loose, facing forward waiting for them to make the first move, his arm slithered in the air as he made his sword twirl and dance.

Then it began.

The first was a man behind who was armed with two daggers. He moved to strike with the metal fangs. My heart stopped as I saw the silver dance in near darkness. But Bjorn was far more experienced than I could know. His sword ended its dance as it’s tip dove under his left arm, his body twisting with it, the clean metal washed in the blood of another man as it disappeared into his stomach. With sharp swiftness the blade almost bounced from the, now most certainly dead, man’s abdomen to join his unsheathed dagger in deflecting the oncoming attack of another.

From there the melee became a frenzied jumble screams from the guards and the metal they bared. Swords and daggers dived and ducked looking for weak spots. The guards tried to avoid each other- fearing they would end up as collateral. But Bjorn had no restraint. Sword, arm, hilt, foot, knee- all were used to debilitate his enemy before he went in for the kill. As I watched the scene I became entranced with the precise and improvised movements. The sword was a part of him as much as the rest of his body. The talon that made you search for his black wings. And they were there. In the shadows the bristled and flapped. They writhed under the dancing light and mingling darkness of the city. I could feel the chilling wind of death they brought. Were all his people like this?

My fingers had dug into the door. I imagined I could feel the grooves they left as the tension in my body built. But they were still bound and I felt the choking fear that I was defenceless. I relaxed my hands completely. Stretching them- trying to make them thin. Luckily my flexing when I was first tied had meant the rope was now loose. Bjorn pushed another to the floor then the next fell. Each had a different gruesome wound. I watched the exhilaration which filled the barbarians face. Blood flowed freely as the oasis onto the cold marble floor. It was horrifying in its ruthlessness. And beautiful in its freedom. Free from morals, from civility from anything that wasn’t the simple and basic need to survive.

He was to his last opponent now. They circled until Bjorn's back was again fully to me. I had wide eyes focused on his whipping braid- stupidly thinking of its connotations of innocence. When I glimpsed the guard’s eyes flicker to the floor. It was only by chance that I caught it but as my own eyes darted to the same direction I felt the bile tumble in my stomach like the eddies of the sea. The man whom I was sure had died first, who had been cut so cleanly, began to rise achingly slowly. He was weak yet, in his left hand, a dagger ascended as he supported his weight with the other. He was going to bring it down on Bjorn at the opportune moment. He was going to kill my only way out of this life that wasn’t in a shroud.

I had to act quickly. Panic rose and only my biting down on the rope, twisting it off of my hands, stopped me from screaming.

I couldn’t scream because the other man waited to give the death blow when Bjorn was distracted.

I took the only action that was available to me.

I pushed myself from behind the door, gathering my dress in one hand, I ran towards the man on the ground. The fight between Bjorn and what was supposed to be the last guard had grown intense. A large sabre struggled against Bjorn's Carolingian sword. Both men had locked eyes and I couldn’t tell who would prevail. But I was about to make my bed.

I made it to the wounded and obviously dying guard. He drew back his hand and then brought it down. It was an involuntary reaction. Instinct. And muscle memory. My palm came down hard on the crook of the man’s elbow, pushing with as much force as my weight and strength could give. It gave way. With my other hand I took control of the dagger. my sudden pressured attack had weakened his grip. I dominated this weakness, twisting his wrist, I directed the blade toward him. in this motion I watched as his dagger buried into his neck. I stood over him a soft gurgle came from his open mouth as the blood bubbled up and spilt over his lips. I watched his eyes search mine for reason. Then they went out.

Behind me I was suddenly aware of the fight climaxing in a shriek of pain. Bjorn had swung his blade up into the gaurds groin. He would bleed out slowly from there. Bjorn knew it too and, with some mercy, he stabbed deep into the man’s chest. But the man’s eyes were filled with anger till the end.

With that done bjorn turned around finding me unexpectedly close. He raised his sword to press in on my veil and lift my chin. With suspiscion apparent in his features he drawled ‘’ Hvorfor?’’ as his eyes sized me up. Again I could only presume he asked me ‘why?’. And though I thought about flailing about trying to mime out the rather heartless and complicated reason I couldn’t really give that idea any credibility. He word probably kill me half way to stop my sorcere’s dance.

Instead I went for simple and impacting. I locked eye’s with bjorn and lead his to the dead guard at my feet. He lost oall individuality then. He was no longer one man working for a master- he was the whole empire- the whole fucking system of this world which had brought me here. I snarled, an audible growl slipping from parted lips, before I spat onto his corpse trailing a chain of venomous swears; ‘’ dandet narm!! – jadh dodet bozde!!- kir lisidan !!– haram-zadaah!!’’ I yelled it until my lungs burned with the strain and my body folded with past pain.  Panting I looked back to Bjorn with heat behind my eyes. I rose chewing my lip as I prepared for the next bit. I knew my little outburst would not bbe enough to convince a clearly seasoned warrior, not of my loyalty exactly, more that I wasn’t loyal to my captors.  I stared knowing he couldn’t see my expression. So I finally threw off the dirtied viel he had made me wear. Now revealed I let him take in my angry and apprehensive scowl. I grabbed the cuff of my sleeve and wrenched it up to my elbow. It tore some, as an indication I was pulling too hard. The sound seemed to fill the air as it marked a point of no return. I had exposed flesh on which they had carved their superstitions and hopes. It was tarted up with petty and seductive colours but, espescially after my rough treatment, you could see the reddening of the pale lines which roamed my sienna skin.

Chapter Text

In the silence that followed, I felt vulnerable. Strangely more so than when they first found us.

I wasn’t able to keep watching as the seconds opened into chasms. Bjorn scrutinised my appendage with slight awe lighting his even bloodier face. The unexpected warm touch on one of my scars jolted me backwards. I stared at Bjorn who had been left, his finger floating above where my arm had been, he stared at me penetratingly. He watched as my heckles came down in the cooling off period he had given me. and I couldn’t take my eyes from his every move. He was calm in his movements. Purposefully moving slowly as he bent to scrape the blood and matter from his sword on a dead man’s clothing.

He turned from me as I gathered my composure. I wasn’t about to be beaten – surprisingly. Or abused. Or raped. Or threatened with death- again this was all surprising. Bjorn walked towards a door which stood at the other end of the room. I had to follow him. it felt like I was going to be doing that for a while until I found my own path. The fichfich faintly echoed my sentiment. I chuckled- for once I was a step ahead.

I gathered the cloth of my dress- I could see they might prove a nuisance in the future. Bjorn found that these doors were unlocked. They obviously hadn’t expected people to get this far. Bjorn cockily grinned back at me whilst opening the doors blindly.

With a small crack, the room I stood in was suddenly illuminated by the lights reflecting from the gold that lay within. The display of flickering flame being refracted by, practically, a room of treasure was overwhelming and dazzling. Columns supported the atrium beyond which numerous rooms branched off holding unknown treasures. Gold lined the walls which stretched up from the columns to form the dome. Filled in etchings of words and pictures made by expert artists and sculptors.

 Bjorn was distracted by the chests which had been left open- probably in the rush to take as much gold as the greedy, fat master could take. Bjorn strode boldly into the room and began moving chests into line. I watched puzzled as to his motives but left him to it.

I was more concerned with the writing on the walls. Gold practically dripped from the walls there was that much of it. And beautiful glazes of reds and blues. In these scrawls of words, I saw myself reflected. I placed a hand onto the cool surface feeling the bumps and grooves feeling the familiarity. The master had been kind enough to have tutors sent to me when I was younger and more obedient. The words curled and flowed like the waves of the see. Seeing it all spread before me it felt like drowning. These words- stories?- prayers?. They were a part of me. carved into my flesh and made to scar. They were to be the sign that told everyone who I was- who I belonged to. You couldn’t escape if everyone knew to look for the girl with the writing carved into her. The pale pink lines that traced my body they were chained that only death could throw off. That was how I saw them. but here in this room of wonders, greedily monopolised as I was, they were beyond beautiful. They were the words of my people… my last connection to home.

I found a small flower on the wall surrounded by words like life and rebirth. I followed its lines delicately with the tip of my finger. Then I went to its twin which lay just below my bicep. Even through the silk and cotton, I felt its deep furrows. And though once, not even very long ago, it would sicken me to see them. I smiled. Maybe- maybe if I stared long enough. Remembered all that this room was and meant- all that I was- then perhaps I could call myself beautiful in the darkest moments that I saw on the horizon.

It was stupid to get lost in such superficial and dreary thoughts.

Luckily at that moment, a loud flapping which speeded toward me made me whip my head away from the mesmerising embellishment to be met with a cooling whoosh of air. Followed by the thump of wadded up cloth hitting my face. My sight was obscured by the beige and black mass.

‘’ endring’’ Bjorn said absently as he went back to rooting through the side rooms.

I stayed silent as he turned back, choosing to investigate what he had thrown at me before I deciphered his meaning. In my hands, I now held scrunched up male clothing. Clothing of rank. It was obvious once I went over the scarlet cloth and found the impeccable metal embroidery which was reserved for those of status. The embroidery was gold and silver, motifs of the sun and the moon surrounded by stars and casting their beams outwards. It was meant for a shalabi or beylerbeyi- god knew how the Pasha of a port city got a hold of them. they were a set of kaftan and pants. Balled up with them were beige undergarments and a cream shirt. Piecing it together it dawned that Bjorn must have thought the same as I did about my skirts getting in the way.

But where was I to change?

I looked around and sheepishly ducked behind one of the columns opposite to where Bjorn continued to rummage. I quickly fumbled with undoing the complicated wrapping that the maids had done to dress me. finally, bare to the world I grabbed the beige cotton braies and slipped them over my legs before tying them securely. Next was the binding. I held the stretch of cotton in my hands before looking down. How was I meant to tie them up? On my own… it always took two to hold and tie the binding…

I huffed at my inadequacy- surely women did this themselves every day.

I began slow and loose. Once I had the feel of my body I sped up wrapping faster and tightening as I brought the cloth under to support my cleavage. When I finished it was obvious that it had been my first it but it had to do. I threw on the shirt just in time for Bjorn to swing his head around the column. I shrieked – to my chagrin. Bjorn looked down to my bare shins, something strange in his eye, before beckoning me with his hand to follow. I slipped on the pants at I walked then quickly the long sleeved kaftan. I looked down at the baggy clothes, they did well to disguise my figure, though I suspected I still looked overdressed if I stood next to my abductor. I shrugged- at least I didn’t have to worry about tripping as the pants cut off above my ankles. Righting myself I came to a halt when I looked back up and found Bjorn. Flanked by the two men who I assumed were relatives.

by his tone, Bjorn was giving out his commands for them to carry out. He pointed at the chests of gold and the various other treasures he had assembled into the middle of the room. When the young hvitserk saw me his eyes widened in disbelief, a crease of worry forming on his forehead. Rollo took me in and shared the same reaction- though his eyebrow quirked in a curiosity at which my skin prickled.

Hvitserk turned to Bjorn and exclaim ‘bror’ followed by a long string of aggressive words spat in my direction. I glared at the man. He wouldn’t see me cower from him.

Rollo simply eyed the mound of treasure with greedy eyes. He would, no doubt, be assessing what his share should be as it was carried out.

Eventually, Bjorn, who had let the younger man spout his grievance in silence, spoke.

‘’stoppe’’ he said curtly as he held up his hand. The younger man bit his lip to stop his flow of venom. Bjorn went on to state his case for my still being alive- I assumed that was the conversation as Bjorn continued to glance at me.

’du hørt Ragnar stemme samme som meg’’ his eyes shifted to mine with an unease in them I had not yet seen.’’hun vil bli gitt til profet først da vil vi finne ut hennes skjebne’’ he pointed to the heavens ‘’ Odin’s vil’’  he proclaimed confidently. ‘’inntil da hun er min’’ his last words were spoken with finality that said the argument was over.

I took in their conversation, as one sided as it was, his words remained unfamiliar to me- save one: Profet. They rolled it on their tongue differently but I had definitely heard the word before. From the mouths of traders in my homeland, whispered in awe or condemnation as foreign men gawked and on the journey to this city.

My life was short lived but in that time much had happened. From my beginnings in a small village named bi-gharaz next to the Tigris I was taken to the capital Damascus and then exiled and bought by the man who ruled this city. The master, for all his faults and motivations, had saved me. And though I fucking hated the fact I had to thank him for that- no matter what he became.

The point was I had heard that word many times and it never seemed to turn out well. Mostly due to the fact that I was a stubborn girl who didn’t do as people asked most of the time. When passing through the Mediterranean we stopped along the port towns and many flocked to the prophetess who was chained like an animal.

Bjorn had finished conveying his wishes to rollo; he had left hvitserk to sulk and glower at me from a corner of the room. He looked at me over his shoulder and beckoned to me ‘’komme’’ before he began walking out.

I froze for an instant, rocking back onto my back foot, thinking. What would this really mean- follow these men into a new world and what? What would I become? Where would my future end?

Bjorn’s footfalls echoed as he continued towards wherever he was to go. Rollo moved past me whispering in a tone devoid of emotion ‘’ kjøre liten jente’’

I don’t know what he said and I didn’t have time to think anymore. Rollo’s words had brought me back to the present and at that moment I realised Bjorn's heavy footsteps had ceased their echoing knell down the halls. Instead, the slow taps had begun. Rollo steady behind me and hvitserk… I had taken my eyes off of the danger in the room. Hvitserk had disappeared from his spot. And I was keenly aware of the odd rhythm of light steps that had begun circling to my blind spot.

Fuck it. If I had to show weakness in front of these men then let it be this- I had no confidence in winning a fight with a marauding predator -unarmed.

It lit the fire under my feet as I bolted from the room like a startled deer. I leapt over the bodies left in front of the treasury and off into the silent, shadowed hallway. A cachinnation erupted from the room as I’m certain both men amused themselves with my burst of fear.

Chapter Text

Again, I didn’t have time to think on the matter as I slammed face first into the muscular wall that was Bjorn's chest. embarrassment bloomed on my cheeks. Nevertheless I jumped back to look up into Bjorn's stormy blue eyes once more. They were kind and amused, even. He had a small smile on his lips. I smiled back at a loss of anything else to do. ‘Flink pike’’ he muttered in a kindly tone as a hand gently patted my head.

Like a dog, yes. But I was in no position to have a qualm.

He twisted away from me then and brought forth a mass that had hung limply from his belt. As he raised it in front of my face he shook the thing causing it to jingle; the laughs had died as I could only focus on this. My face soured as comprehension entered my head.

A god damn veil.

Bjorn’s own expression reacted by becoming stern. He threw the garment at me quite harshly before pivoting on his foot and continuing his march. It had indeed quickened in pace and gave me little time as to whether or not to comply with this order.

I lifted the veil and found that it was both silk and gold. A treasure to be sure- one that Bjorn had put aside for me – as he did the clothes I now wore. A pang of guilt hit my heart. I don’t know why but it did and I quickly rolled my hair before slipping on what felt like a muzzle; my heart sinking ever more as it settled on my head. My hair was held snuggly in a turban like wrapping which had been sew together. A chainmail-like puzzle of gold pieces covered the lower half of my face; hot air blowing back uncomfortably as I breathed. My eyes were concealed by gossamer silk which, sadly, gave more darkness to the world.

 I was a mystery again.

And upon reflection, I believe it was intended as the reactions of those invaders who had looked at my eyes thus far had been quite troubled.

I ran to catch up to Bjorn in the selamlik. There he stood, watching as women in varying states of disturbance walked out in a line. Being lead to their cages or chains were I would soon join them. the leader had used me to find his treasure and I felt a cramp in my stomach at the idea of him pushing me into line with them. much as I sympathised with them – they weren’t my people. Most of them knew of me in this palace and hated me for being the favourite. As if I lived in luxury- that was mostly gone when I bit a foreign diplomat who was too handsy. It was followed by a beating and six days without food and thimbles of water.

My eyes met with one of the older women. She sneered pure venom took a hold of her chestnut eyes. She was beautiful- even as she lunged, claws raised, towards me. she said nothing. She only made a feral and guttural noise like that of a wounded animal fighting back.

Bjorn stopped her attack with a swift hand across her face. The resounding crack that came from it made every other woman flinch, including myself. A man quickly came to collect her and push her back into line with the others. The tears rolled silently from her eyes as she held her cheek. She had spirit. Hopefully she would hold onto that in the years to come…

After the procession ended those men who were deemed surplus to guarding the women were told, I assumed, to head to the treasury and begin loading the find onto their caravan or horses or whatever they rode.

We were alone again. and finally, Bjorn looked at me again. he nodded in a motion of happiness that I had done as i was bid. The veil felt more stifling than the other one had- I doubted I would last long when the sun came up.

But I was happy for the moment- or more relieved that I hadn’t been thrown into line or beaten. I felt an itch at the top of my spine as I questioned what that meant about me. I was happy just by not being beaten? No. I would not crawl into that shell of a girl who cried in the night wishing her mother would come in her dreams.

Bjorn watched my body language carefully reading my thoughts. He mustn’t have been pleased as he walked on into the light of the city. His hair became pale fire atop his head trailing down his back. I stood on the perimeter of the alcazar.

This was it. The first taste of freedom I would have after years of confinement.

A tear rolled down my cheek like a splash of cool water. Suddenly I wanted to collapse in on myself and sob. I was about to see outside! I was about to feel the fresh air kiss my skin like an old friend. And dance under starlight like a nymph of nature. But I kept my grip on the door frame.

Bjorn had continued towards the market lights. But noticed that I did not follow. He turned around then the storm in his eyes dark and foreboding. But upon seeing my face his relaxed, the storm clouds receded, and he stretched an open hand toward me.

My lips parted slightly in shock and unsure. This was my answer to those questions. If I stepped out and took this man’s hand I was committing to the joys and sorrows of a new life.

I drove myself forward. Willed my feet to leap on to the fine silt of the street. I looked down at the red earth as it sifted between my toes. It was warm. I beamed at the ridiculous things that were making me so happy.

But the fabric over my eyes were dampening my senses. Hot air; muffled sounds- I wanted it off. And I did as I pleased. I didn’t know if he could see it in my eyes through the silk, if he did he didn’t stop me. I dragged the stupid thing off of my head and shook out my hair.

Staring down my hair enclosed the picture of my half buried feet. I let out a giggle of glee. I shook my hair again just to feel it mingle with the cooling night air. In a sharp motion I whipped it back and found Bjorn's face. I expected anger- anger I could run from, fight. But his lips were parted; his eyes wide. It was a face shocked by what it saw. And it spurred me on.

I laughed manically like I had never done before. It was new. This world was new- and I would show it a new me!

I let out the song my mother would sing.

Tou ke mahe bolande asemooni
Manam setare misham doureto meegiram
Ageh setare beshi douramo begiri
Manam abr meesham rooto meegiram
Ageh abr beshi roomo begiri’’

It was a silly song. And it needed to be sung in a pair. But for now I wanted only happy memories. My lungs burned from the sudden over activity. My head felt blissfully light as I began to dance. Pounding feet onto the baked earth. I still held the veil in my hand and began clapping my hands to make it jingle violently.

Bjorn's face was cast in the shadow of the alcazar but it was lit with a wide grin as he shook his head watching the ground, eyes glancing at me.

‘’ Manam baroon misham cheek cheek meebaram
Ageh baroon beshi cheek cheek bebari
Manam sabzeh misham sar dar miyaram
Tou ke sabzeh beshi sar dar biyari
Manam goul misham pahlout mishinam

I began to twirl. My hair trailing behind, wrapping over my eyes as I sang and let the beat in my head take me. the air puffed out the loose fitting clothes- I could take off I was so happy. I grinned, full of teeth, elated as I kept the rhythm of my clapping.
‘’Tou ke goul mishi o pahloum mishini
Manam bolbol misham chahchahe mikhoonam.’’

I finished panting and dizzy. I still felt the rush of adrenaline and gripped my knees to steady the ground beneath me. my vision righted itself and I flipped my hair back to find Bjorn once again reaching out to me.

It's enough for now I suppose- though it isn’t. probably never will be. But I conceded. I reached out for his hand- but just one last thing.

As I reached forward I leaned back lazily, exhausted, closing my eyes. I hadn’t seen the stars in so long. I missed their presence moving and constant like a million suns far away in the lands of the dead- each a beacon for the soul.

As I opened my slowly to savour the sight it happened. Like a wild bull running through the alley the cacophony thundered toward me. My eyes went wide as my vision condensed to a pinprick of light and the bull hit it’s mark.

I was gone again.

Chapter Text

1. I love Bjorn he's great and it's the coward in me that doesn't want to go for a relationship with him- kids taking him further from Torvi.

2. Ivar has a predatory nature that I think I can make very compatible with my OC

3. there is magic in this story and Ivar seems more open to it- tell me if I'm wrong

4. Bjorn's amazing and I do have another OC waiting in the wings of my mind for Ivar as he becomes *spoiler? ----king of Dublin.

5. but Bjorn has his tender sides that Ivar has hardened - so in a way, Bjorn might be easier to love where Ivar might be fun to break.

6. -I will admit that when I was a teen I loved twilight- but I don't want the whole she can't choose and she runs off a cliff yadda yadda - guilty pleasure but I can't do it to this OC.

right. I've said my peace and I think this was mostly just me thinking through it. it will be gone by Friday so feel free 

Chapter Text

The voice had rocked my core.

It was a ghost of the man I once looked up to as he sat atop his mountain of fame.

Yet now… his voice came from a locked room as a crack of thunder. Preceded by a musical song in words I had never heard, and simply… Gone a second later. Rollo didn’t hear it- none of the men who followed did. It was only Hvitserk and I who felt the words penetrate us as we stared at each other in apprehension as Rollo unlocked the door.

I couldn’t wait. I had to see if he was really in there- somehow. My foot struck the doors and they flew apart to reveal… a room full of women. It wasn’t the treasure we sought nor was it Ragnar.

The women fled immediately to the back of the room cowering before us. Except for one. She was still as a statue. Did she think we wouldn’t notice her? But I had no time for musings. I spoke to them in the English tongue- more travelled than we in this place. But they merely whimpered in response.

It was Rollo who resolved the issue and after a feeble attempt at bargaining it was the statue who was thrown to the slaughter.

Draped in translucent red cloth I could barely make out her face even in this room lit by fire. My sword aided in revealing her only to me. and I couldn’t help the smile that took hold. She was beautiful. Not like the women around her with delicate features.

Her body was muscular- not as our women but still she had some strength in her. The dress and wrapping cloth covered most of her skin. That which I could was stained by the red light which came through the veil. Her hair like fire in the red glow. Different shades curling and falling in ringlets- she would be a sight on the battlefield.

Her face was sharp and angular. A straight and button nose seemed misplaced with her bowed lips and slanted eyes. Her eyes- they dazzled me. Silver that drained to the faintest line of warm gold which bled onto the cold colour before giving way to the large black pupils which had locked onto me. Her gaze was hard and did its best to disguise her fear but the tremble of her bottom lip gave it away.

Still, she was alone. Isolated from the pack and didn’t cry for their help. Instead she projected her strength outward and had I not battled a berserker I might have left the girl for fear she lashed out. But she didn’t. The men came to my order to please themselves with this new flesh when the banshee who had tried without success to throw herself at Rollo’s mercy stood and rushed toward me screaming her foreign tongue; eyes lit with pain.

She met a swift if bloody, end. And Hvitserk pouted, calling that his choice had been sent to hel were he would never find her. We laughed under it I swore I heard a sombre whisper.

I saw that blood had seeped into my boots leather- I would have to kill another pig to replace them.  I said as much to my men ‘’now she costs me a pig too!’’

The gong of metal sounded as it clashed to the floor and a clap of flesh on flesh echoed in the chamber. The hot rush of blood to my ear and cheek came first followed by the tingling pain that one usually received from a hard slap.

It was the statue come to life. Her veil had dropped back into place but staring hard enough I felt the anger in her glare. Imagined her eyes swirl as molten metal.

She was interesting. But I didn’t like being caught off guard in front of my men.

I smiled with my intention already rooted. ‘A fiery Valkyrie!’’ I mocked to my men. Rollo already knew what I was going to do.

With the power that had come from my years of experience, I whirled around to grab her throat. Up she went. I felt the smoothness of her skin, the frantic beat of her heart. She gasped for air and I squeezed then released slightly. The sound of her feet smacking weakly against the bloody tiles old me as she stilled.

‘’Hvitserk brings rope I’m taking this one!’’ I called to my brother who approached obediently though I saw in his eyes that he wasn’t keen on my taking a foreign girl, who supposedly spoke for our father, in the hallway

But that wasn’t why I wanted her. As the men piled into the room I could see they had a hunger in them. The blood had stirred their lust and no woman would be safe.

So I took her. After she skillfully and recklessly kicked Hvitserk in the balls. It was funny- to me at least.

When we entered the lavish room next to the street I did think of taking the girl- having my way with her and perhaps killing her on the fine cloth and pillows. It would be a shame but I would not want a demon on my ship.

I turned to take her- to sample her fire. But she was not looking at me. Nor did she look to the floor in fear. She gazed upwards. Lost to the sound of song in the distance. Lost to the breeze which softly entered through high windows.

In the midst of this havoc, she was lost to me.

I couldn’t take her. She was too… innocent. Was she sent by the gods? Was this my destiny? Would she lead me to a new world?

Instead, I thought to take advantage of her position and have her lead me through the maze of the palace. I just had to get her to comply.

I felt the scowl slowly darken my face as she watched blankly at my miming. I may as well have been a dancing bear.

But to my surprise she began scowling as she looked down the corridors I realised that she was in fact concentrating. She understood- a strange girl indeed.

I lead the way down the corridor she directed to me. I was in front holding her tether but I stole glances as she kept pace with me. She was a marching red spectre; as if she had walked off of the battlefield and was taking souls to Valhalla.

We came to a curious piece that the lord of this place exhibited: a horn. Long and spiralled it was as tall as a child. I asked her from what creature it came and in return, she treated me to her own performance.  Acting out what I could only assume was meant to be a horse.

Suddenly she was on top of me. I was practically pinned to the floor as a man rushed us. It took only a few seconds for my instincts to take hold and bring the man down whilst holding her close. Her body, firm, pressed to my own. I could feel the beat of her heart through her chest.

But we separated and I had to, again, degrade myself by miming- though I didn’t mind the miming I was more embarrassed about being bested again by this girl. She must have been no more than 18 and obviously, a well looked after lady. Yet she was different to the others in how she handled herself.

It was a good thing I had firmly told her that I was to protect her, not the other way around, as we came upon the rest of the men left to guard this place. In particular, I believed that they were guarding a more solid treasure than women- gold.

Fighting was a release. It stopped me from thinking about her- about what to do with her. I cut through them with ease. But as I fought with the last his expression changed to knowing as I pressed my sword against his; it curved like a fang.

Then suddenly the gurgle of an extinguished life made me aware of her unexpected appearance behind me. I pushed the curved sword away with the last of my strength, my sword came down only for me to bring it up into his groyne. He screamed in pain as he crumbled to the floor.

He was my enemy but he had not offended me in any way that warranted him to bleed out so painfully. As the last kindness I could give him I swiftly plunged my sword into his chest. with that, it was ended.

All that was left to deal with was the fact that the girl- my prisoner- had just saved my life once more.

It was hard to think. After all of the exertion and the shock, I could just about find the focus to ask ‘’why?’’

She answered with such emotion that I thought she might be on the verge of tears.

She deliberated for a moment before suddenly exploding in a language that was foreign even to this place. She screamed at and kicked the body of the man she just killed. So much ire for a single corpse I had to concentrate to, as she had with me, to understand.

She doubled over and I wanted to reach for her, my arms wanted to cradle her, stop the invisible demons from rising in her head. 

But she rose on her own. She was calmed suddenly and eerily. It was clear that she was about to make her point known.

She threw off her soiled veil to reveal herself fully to me of her own volition. Her eyes were brimming though she didn’t care obviously. She bit her lip hard and I doubted she knew a drop of blood swelled on her warm golden sienna skin. Her hair was wild waves of bronze and rich blondes.

Then with violence, she pulled at her sleeve, tearing it as she dragged it roughly up her arm.

To me lifted her arm revealing her bare flesh, gold, like warmed earth in the summer sunset.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t smooth like that on her face and neck. 

Etched like carvings into a fine wood. It was cut deep- beyond our tattoos depth. And unlike our tattoos, her expression showed her vulnerable shame- this wasn’t her choice. They had added insult to injury as they used body paint to highlight different areas in black and gold, whilst leaving patches of the carved scars blank; they were red and angry from mistreatment. My mistreatment was part of that pain realised and it was like a cold dagger to my chest.

In that moment it all clicked. She didn’t seem like her people because they weren’t her people. She hated these people. For doing things like this to her.

She couldn’t look at me.

The ice in my chest melted from my rage- she was a decoration for the rich. She – a beautiful, pure creature lost and out of place in this debauch world of mine- she had been held for who knew how long, dressed in dolls clothes that clearly she wanted rid of.

How long had she been a bird in a cage?

With out my permission, my free hand had risen to meet hers. It hovered above her arm with my finger weakly lowering to touch her skin. To trace those designs of pain- I wanted to erase them. but I couldn’t instead y mind fumbled with the thought of replacing that pain with pleasure and happiness.

The slightest kissing of our skin made her jump backwards like a skittish animal. It startled me from my strange thoughts.

I looked at the veil and the way she bunched her skirts. It would be good if I could find her some better clothes.

I moved away from the strange air that had descended. She had shrunk away and I couldn’t do anything. It infuriated me.

So I kept to my original purpose; the treasure. And Odin did we find treasure. Thankfully we amongst the treasures of this city I found a stock of luxurious clothes that looked to belong to princes and princesses. There was a selection of dresses but I chose the male garments- they were just as beautiful and they looked to be easier to move in.

While there was work to be done and I had already found her a gift the girl stood gawking at the walls. Truly they were beautifully decorated with gold- but we couldn’t take walls back to kattegat.

So in a move reminiscent of my youth I scrunched the outfit, complete with soft britches, and threw it for it to sail into her face.

‘’change’’ I said with a straight face as I turned around to let the grin spring forth at her face when the cloth had hit her out of nowhere. A melancholy settled over me as I remember Gydda. How we played as if we hated each other one day only to curl up by the fire together that night.

I shook off the feeling. It wasn’t time for that. I walked back to move more chests that were to be loaded into the centre of the room, plucking another veil from a pile of gold, then I noticed she was gone.

A jolt of panic shot through my blood- had she made her escape?

My eyes searched the room as my ears tuned to distant footsteps. But the foot falls were heavy and getting closer. My eyes circled the room and I found a twisting shadow behind one of the columns. I strode over with a bubbling anger that I couldn’t explain.

But she had hidden from me. why had she hidden?

As I swung my head around the marble column I saw why she had hidden. She stood in the britches and the overly large shirt. My eyes trailed down her now disguised body to her bare shins. They were toned muscle wrapped in the designs- they must have covered the majority of her body down to a flower on each foot.

I heard the door creak slightly to make room for the men who came in: Hvitserk and Rollo. I quickly moved to greet them.

‘’you found a great deal it seems…’ Rollo commented his greedy eyes already fixed on the treasure. I didn’t suppress the sneer that came. He had always coveted that which wasn’t his.

Hvitserk’s eyes roamed the room. They widened in disbelief and I allowed myself to reflect. The room, the palace, the city all were incredible. This room especially could be called its heart. It hoarded treasure and mirrored its beauty in the golden images which ran around the room.

Butit wasn’t the room Hvitserk was made breathless by. It was my fiery Valkyrie exposed. Her clothing wore her- no flattery in its billowing shape. But that didn’t matter.

Her face was revealed. She walked as she distractedly knotted the tie of her pants. Her expression calm. She did not have the demeanour of someone who was being kidnapped. And in the moments before she looked up I could see a child in her. A youth that I had to abandon long ago.

But she looked up and found three Vikings watching her. Of course, she stalled and came no closer as Hvitserk burst into a tantrum about her being a witch. How the other girls had spat at her back even as the men approached. He said she should be killed. That wasn’t going to happen.

She was mine now. Under my protection. I said as much. And went on to explain that we had met for a reason – Odin’s will.

It shut him up. But I could see in his scorned expression that it would not be the last words we had on the matter.

But I couldn’t be around him – kill her? Because of some strange acts of frightened girls who were willing to offer her to us to save themselves. He was my brother but sometimes I felt the distance of our mother’s blood.

I called her to me and eventually, she ran to come to my side. She was quiet, though. Quieter than before- her tread was light on the marble in her bare feet. I would have to get her shoes too.

When I presented the veil it was for selfish reasons mostly. I didn’t want my men to covet her to try and woo her to their beds. But also I wanted her safe. In the strange metal and fabric, she would be shielded from their leers. And I would have some peace of mind as they most probably thought her to be a witch.

She wasn’t pleased. It was easy to read her expression. But I had no time. The guards were a distraction- soon they would come in numbers to repel us.

I arrived at the entrance in time to see the parade of used women coming through. And yet again the girl caused trouble just by standing there. A woman lunged and I had the presence of mind to slap her rather than gut her.

I had killed so many in front of her she must have thought me a monster.

But as I saw as her body tensed with anger. Her hands balled into fists and she stared into nothing. What was she thinking? I couldn’t begin to try and interpret.

This had been a mentally exhausting raid. More so than I cared to admit to myself.

We left the palace in yet more silence. in comparison to the sea air outside the grand house was almost suffocating – never mind the atmosphere. I was happy to taste the salt again.

But behind me, the girl had stopped again. I turned to see what the holdup was. She was starting to add to my bad mood

She stood in the door way staring at me. her expression was filled with apprehension like a baby bird about to fly.

How long had she been here?

I relaxed slightly and inwardly sighed. I knew that she was not trying to put an escape plan into motion but every time she acted so strange this little girl had my heart beating like a battle drum.

But she was just nervous. I extended my hand wordlessly. She could come with me or try to escape and at this point, I think part of me would have let her run home- wherever that was.

But that would have left me with too many questions. Who was she? What was she? Why was she carved into like an ornate box? And why had we heard Ragnar? – was it her like the girl I killed said or was she confused and thought I wanted the singer? Maybe it was a trick of the gods.

But as I stared at her, her features shrouded in the lingering darkness of that place about to set foot into what was going to be a very strange new world, I was intoxicated. She suddenly beamed up at me leaping into the street. She became something new. She came alive.

A laugh burst from her like the song of a million birds screaming their happy news.

She toyed with her feet in the dirt. She began to sing as if two people inhabited her body and dance like the fawns in spring. I leant back against one of the buildings to smile at the ground as the shrinking lady suddenly let loose the woman I had only glimpsed; a fiery Valkyrie. I stole glances as she was lit with the fires of the market. She was pure energy bound no more.

She danced until she could no longer stand straight. Her song finished she panted to catch her breath a disorientated grin springing to her lips as she found me again.

I pushed off the wa and extended my hand once again. her eyes ganced to the veil she had been using to make music and I knew she didn’t want it on. But it was something I was set on.

I gave a sympathetic smile and her eyes seemed to give; the light dying to embers. She wanted more. More freedom.

I would give her it all.

She moved towards me whilst leaning back to see the sky. I moved with her to look at the beauty that I so often took for granted.

She fell backwards onto the hard earth she had just been dominating.

The terror that gripped my heart when I heard the crack… it was as if part of my heart was being ripped away. I collapsed to my knees beside her. She was alive. Her body strained every muscle as her back arched upwards.

What do I do? My mind screamed and stayed insufferably silent at the same time. I gripped her arms as she began to writhe uncontrollably; pushing and pulling to and thro. Like a snake.

Her teeth were bared and clamping down. They looked as if they might shatter. Her eyes were wide staring at the sky, consumed, vacant gold orbs.

It was then that Helga appeared clutching onto a small girl of the city.

I didn’t care right now why she had attached herself to a child.

‘’helga! What do we do- what do we do?’’ I asked frantically. Searching her eyes for answers.

 Helga looked at the girl in my hands as I strained to keep her still. She hesitated to look at the child with worry.

‘’Now Helga!’’

She patted the child gently- too slow. She made a motion for the young girl to stay. Before finally coming to aide me.

She quickly examined the girl before giving orders. ‘’your belt- I need your belt to stop her teeth breaking.’’ I gave no resistance as we worked to get my belt off and folded.

‘’Now what ?’’ the concern in my voice worried me even more and Helga gave me a curious look before ploughing forward.

‘’ now you must pull her mouth open- be careful not to break it’’

My head snapped in her direction as I gave her a wide-eyed look of true fear.

Her voice remained calm and comforting ‘’Bjorn- we must do this’’

I was determined. I gripped her jaw with one hand as I kept the other a top her forehead to keep her down. Once I had let go though she began to buck and Helga could only throw herself over her body. The girl was larger than Helga and Helga was no shield maiden.

With as much haste as I dared, I pried apart her jaw. But with Helga barely keep the girl suppressed and my hands occupied I didn’t have a spare hand to actually place the belt into her mouth. I didn’t want to risk letting go incase her jaw snapped shut with too much force. I was helpless. I stared into her eyes; they burned with life but saw nothing.

It was then that small bronze hands came into view. They quickly grabbed the folded belt and slid it into the girl’s mouth. I eased her jaw shut- no longer afraid she would bite her tongue and die.

The young child sat opposite me flinching as I reached to brush back my Valkyrie’s hair. Helga eased from her body to return to her new charges side.

The girl had calmed in her movements; no more trashing just twisting her body. In the silence, I could hear the weak moans she gave.

‘’we should get her to the ship’’ Helga said stood above me. I nodded as I scooped up her body from the floor. She was covered in the red dust; it painted her skin where a fine sweat had broken out. I clutched on to her tightly to keep her still. Her head bent under my chin. As we walked into the wind her hair perfumed the air with the smell of citrus and lavender.

Chapter Text

I was stood in a crowd of strangely dressed people- more so than the invaders. These people wore colourful clouds made for a constant dreary wintery world. The sky was ice blue, misted with clouds, and incredibly distant in this moment. The trees were tall bare sticks that knocked together, mingling with the rattling of dead leaves that clung on, like a symphony of nature. I tried to take in everything- to know what this meant.

A raven croaked noisily on my shoulder. I jumped at its sudden appearance. It was as large as my head and its wings could cover my face. As I stared into its black eye, full of my reflection, its talons gripped fiercely onto my shoulder. With a sting, I felt it pierce my skin. I sucked in air through my teeth at the sharp pain. The bird flicked its beak repeatedly to the direction ahead of us. As it did so the slight parting let out a murmur of voices that spoke in many tongues. Wincing I turned to look for what it was so urgently pointing at. Ahead of the crowd a circle of armoured guards surrounded a pit. They were incredibly still. Then observed with growing anxiety that the bodies in the crowd too were completely still. I ignored the weight of the raven and its painful grip to walk toward the pit. I weaved through the group, examining the pale faces as I went. These weren’t like the invaders. They were smaller in most every way and their eyes were alight with hatred rather than the fierce love that was burning in Bjorn’s eyes.

the raven squawked impatiently. Its beak opening to let out a crashing discord of whispers. I hurried to the edge of the pit when I heard the distinct hiss that came from it. Peering down into the earth I saw them writhe over each other’s slick bodies; a den of snakes.

‘’so this is who you bring me in my final moments’’

The voice was rough but pleasant to the ear; speaking with an increasingly familiar lilt.

My head whipped this way and that searching for its owner.

‘’you would send a child to do this work’’

I finally looked skywards. There suspended from the bough of a tree hung a man stood in a cage. Atop his shaved head ink faded. His beard was grubby with blood and dirt matting its scraggy form He was battered and bruised but I wouldn’t call him weak. He had a strong body and features that were pleasantly familiar; though they were corrupted by another’s hand. One eye was so bloodied that it had swelled shut like a plum. The other was electric as the charged clear sky- he was a bolt from the blue. I cocked my head away from the raven, for fear it would peck my eyes, as I gawked at the sight.

‘’who are you..?’’ I asked. The words felt like they were altering the shape of my mouth oddly; stretching and contracting unusually.

I was cautious. I wasn’t sure yet why I was able to talk to this man alone- actually, I had never been able to talk to anyone in this state.

‘’hahaha I am to have a civilised conversation before this end.’’ His eyes flickered toward the pit. It was then I noticed he had a braced stance. Even though by the sight of him he must have been in pain.

‘’why don’t you sit?’’ a stupid question but I had to ask- if we could talk to one another then could he move. could I help him?

‘’I’m afraid that is against the rules’’ grinned but his eyes had become sad. Not for himself I suspected but for me.

‘’whose rules?’’ I shouted to the man in the cage and to the sky.

‘’look there he sits - so cheerful at my end…’’ he quirked his brows at me. I swung my head to look for the person but there was none to suspect- perhaps the man who wore the cross? My eyes went to the woods.

‘’ha… don’t trouble yourself girl’’ the man sighed heavily. He was tired, from more than a beating.

‘’I’m told you delivered my message to my sons, girl- thank you.’’ My eyes continued to search the wood. As I absently answered.

‘’I don’t know you. I don’t know your sons and my name is not 'girl'- it’s Asariel’’ I tried to wrap my tongue around my own name as it was on my tongue- Asa-reel. But it too came out mangled to form Aw-sah-ru-ool.

I frown and stretched my lips baring teeth. The crow flapped angrily lashing my face with its fine feathers. But its talons dug deeper, anchoring itself.

‘’well, Asaroul. I am Ragnar lothbrok.’’ He eyed me with expectancy in his shining eye. But as my face remained blank he continued in haste. ‘’and I am told you have spoken to my sons and soon Odin shall visit them in assent.’’

A weight lifted from my shoulder and the raven was gone. Not into the air or to the ground- just gone.

‘’who are your sons Ragnar lothbrok? Why should I be your messenger?’’ I was growing more and more unsettled by this whole situation. As if the wolf was at the door.

Whispers floated in from all directions. They weren’t my tongue- I didn’t understand- but I did. My body tensed keeping very still. I couldn’t let the beast see me. my eyes darted wildly looking for it.

‘’so much to explain- apparently he doesn’t do his job anymore-‘’ he looked to the heavens exasperated and unperturbed by the predator that was hunting me. ‘’four sons of Ragnar- you will know them- look at me…’’ he whispered as if to himself smiling. But I was being assaulted on every level. The chill of fear crawling painfully slow up my spine.

‘’look at me!’’ he yelled and I immediately did with the heat of anger burning in my chest. Eyes bulging and jaw clenched, I said nothing.

‘’there it is- life!- that’s what he wants. Why he chose you as his beast.’’

I didn’t understand. And I didn’t need to. I was in danger but my heart suddenly took over and I felt fire die back to embers. Pity for the man who was to die in a strange land.

‘’HA -you have come at my end girl-‘’ he gave a grin which even as he was could be called charming. ‘’have pity for yourself – my trial ends with your beginning. Odin has work for you.’’

The whispers came like a thundering wave then infiltrating my mind. I covered my ears though it would do nothing. They had me and they were a hurricane in my mind. Words screeched in my ear.

RAGNAR

BROTHERS

THE STORM

Then it popped. Silence just as deafening engulfed me like a void, sending terror into my blood like piercing ice. But warmth like a lovers touch I had never known came from the tender and pure words of parting meant for another whispered quietly from above.

‘’we’ll be waiting ’’

A rush of wind came from behind threatening to push me over the precipice and to my death. I fell to my knees to grip the wet earth and stop myself. as the wind died the world seemed to start again.

The crowd came to life shouting and jeering Ragnar. They condemned him as heathen and a fat man of pomp and importance gave the signal.

Ragnar fell.

With a loud thwack, he hit the den. And with their part over with, the people with the crowd became silent. The ones in front edged closer to view the spectacle of a man dying.

As I gazed down into the pit Ragnar lay in the coils of snakes who struck his body repeatedly. They continued to inject their poison and tighten around his flinching body. All this should have had him crying out or curled up in anguish.

Ragnar lay below me with a smile on his face. His eye became the colour of the calm summer sea. He stared beyond me; beyond this world now.

He died with a smile gracing his lips.

The sobs came abruptly. I let them take me as they violently rocked my body. I wailed on the ground, my insides crumbling until a whisper glided to my ear.

‘’your work is not done here, but I shall join you soon.’’ He said with sovereignty

I lifted my head to look across to the woods. In the midst of the silver tree trunks stood a one eyed man in black. His missing eye was gouged and scarred but then tattooed. Above him roosted a conspiracy of ravens who itched to take flight.

I was so confused. So tired I wanted to fall into the pit and abandon this madness. But I stood, slowly, feeling creeks in my bones and strain in my muscles.

I faced the man across the pit stuttering a breath to draw strength. A shifting shadow drew my attention to his side. From the abyss of his cloak, a man stepped forth.

He was 30 or so with his brown hair shaved partially and style into a long braid. His beard was bushy and groomed. With a gently sculpted face his features were alive. and his eyes… his eyes were blue as an electric sky- he was a bolt from the blue.

My mouth gaped as I saw a young Ragnar- an image of Bjorn, of hvitserk- come round the from the man’s back.

I looked down and the body remained but he was faint now. Faded into the cold earth- his soul had left its vessel and now stood rejuvenated by the man I could only assume- no I knew that it was no man. He was this Odin that I had heard invoked by Bjorn and now he stood next to Ragnar, who said he had work for me.

Ragnar looked around himself curiously. He was no doubt seeing the world in a new light. But when his eyes found me his expression turned impish. A smirk curled his lips upwards and his eyes sparkled with life.

My brows furrowed. What did he see that I could not?

Before I could ask his brows rose with excitement as he pointed through me.

I felt a cold breath on my neck. my heart beat quickened as if I wanted to escape my chest. but the creature didn’t strike. I waited for my end but it didn’t come. As I stared ahead Odin remained still watching with his one eye. Ragnar meanwhile was finding it hard to hold himself back. He spun on the spot like a child his body writhing with the excitement of whatever was to come.

I remained oblivious. Dread filling me as confusion had gripped my mind.

Why doesn’t it attack? What does it want?

‘’turn, child.’’ Odin brought my attention to him with his rumbling rich voice. ‘’it is time to leave the past in the ground-‘’ he extended his hand to direct to Ragnar's body. ‘’ –and face your destiny’’

With his words, a false peace settled over me. it was like that which comes from the poppy; forcing your heart to yield. My head began to bob slightly as though the air had become thick. My heart beat slowly and in its pauses, I feared it wouldn’t start, but it did. In and out the cold air came. The night was draining the colour from the sky above. The people had left. I was alone. Well, alone with whatever hounded me.

It was time it seemed. And with that thought, I turned on my attacker.

I was ready to tackle it to the floor and beat it with a rock if that is what was needed. I would survive.

‘’you will live’’

 Those words gently spilt from my lips- but they weren’t mine.

I stared at a visage of myself clad in black armour which swallowed the light. Her hair was braided and pinned; the mixing shades of blonde and caramel browns twisting into cords. Her arms were bare. The symbols and words exposed to the world. She was not ashamed.

Her lips were painted red. But it was not paint- it was blood which dripped from my lips. Lips that, as I stared, warped into a cruel toothfilled grin. My eyes were streaked with black mud amplifying the stark change- they were gold. Gilded orbs which bulged manically as she stared into me with an unapologetic intensity.

She stared at me, as her body twitched with anticipation. It was too late when I thought to run from her.

With one hard punch to my abdomen, I flew backwards. And down- down into the pit. I cried out to her and she- I laughed. Hysterical and musical- a laugh drunk on freedom.

Chapter Text

I didn’t land.

I fought the fall and sprang up to stop from hitting the pit. Only I was back. Well not back because I was on the deck of a ship. I lay back on the worn wood and felt the ache that usually followed the hilm. My muscles beginning to relax and feel the exhaustion that came from my visions.

I looked into the sky and saw that it was almost dawn as the black brightened to powdered blue.

I sat up once more this time gripping the side of the boat to rise and keep myself steady. The lapping of the calm waves, the cool night breeze, and the fresh salt air helped to soothe the ache in my head. An ache that I could tell would prove persistent as even now the fichfich remained faint.

When I felt safe that the movement of the boat wasn’t going to make me nauseous as it did some, I withdrew from the edge to actually take in my new circumstance. I had been placed on a soft pelt towards the stern of the ship, which was very strange in its construction- long and slim. As I looked across the water at least 40 ships dotted the dark waters with firelight.

Looking back to the ship I was on I soon came to realise that I was not the only foreign occupant- a young servant girl sat opposite me. I had seen her once or twice during my bathing rituals- usually accompanying her mother. But she was alone here. Her mother was nowhere to be seen. She swiped at the tears which spilt from ebony eyes. Only to suddenly bolt upright as she looked to the bow; her eyes grew wide with fear. Concerned I looked to where she did- was a man coming for her? Had someone hurt the girl and now they had come to do more damage?

Instead of either of these things, a fair-haired woman approached. She had blue eyes outlined in kohl and a sweet face which wore a bright smile as she came closer to the young girl. She carried a waterskin and a bowl of fresh fruit which had no doubt been stolen from the market in their raid- where else would they get such fine quinces?

The woman with blonde hair had eyes only for the girl. She smiled brightly but it was easy to see that her eyes didn’t really see the girl. As she settled in on the skin next to her she ignored the tear stained cheeks. As she moved closer to offer water and food she ignored the girl’s flinches. Her eyes were manic and in their shadows, I saw only future strife ahead.

Perhaps though, instead of being overly concerned with the way the blonde looked at the girl I should have paid attention to how the girl looked at me. She was offered food and refused it silently her eyes bulging even wider, flickering off to the stern, as she moved into the older woman’s embrace. Warnings if ever I saw them.

When I finally caught on and looked in the direction the girl shied from I was unprepared. A man with brown hair tied atop his head to fall in a braid liken to Bjorn’s. With fading blue tattoos crawling over his cheeks and up his temples his face was long and sharp with dark blue eyes that seemed to suck in the light. I felt a chill run up my spine as those eyes leered over my body which I now noticed was dirtied with the dust of the streets. The cotton shirt clung to my form as the remnants of sweat dried in the cool air sending a shiver of my body. He made a guttural noise through his nose as I did so. In reaction, I moved away closing the black kaftan over. 

I looked to the young girl and her apparent minder/ captor. But her concern would only go so far. She curled into the older woman for safety from what was about to happen.

When his lips parted to speak words of warning I didn’t expect to comprehend the world threw me. like a doll in a storm, I flew from my bedding to land on the deck face down. He started shouting defensively. The young girl began crying as she was cooed by the blonde. But all paled to the whispers.

The fichfich had become a cacophony of waves crashing against my skull. Nausea hit me and I began to feel the world rolled from beneath me. tumbling around and around- but my vision of the wood grain never altered. I tried to grip on to the millimeters between the planks. But I could find nothing to anchor myself.

Shouts grew louder. Crying echoed from ship to ship. And boots pounded on the hollow vessel. I wanted it to end. Nothing had been as bad as this before- and I didn’t know if it would pass.

But like the dawn's light which I felt warm my cheek, one sound cut through. An orotund voice. One which I recognised yet came as refreshing and to my relief.

‘’Finehair! What have you done!’’it was Bjorn- thank the heavens.

The next voice crackled in my ear though it rasped and smoked in the air. ‘’nothing-‘’ the rush of water pushed in the strange words ‘’ den gale kvinnen’’ then it eased like the tide- coming and going. ‘’flew from me like a demon!’’

‘’why do I not believe you?- I have told you to watch yourself on my ship king-‘’ he spoke the word as an insult ‘’- I will not warn you again!’’

He was angry but as a female voice cut in ‘’No Bjorn- he did not harm her’’ the tide came in ‘’ jenta fløy. hun må være I’’ and went out ’’pain still’’

Following the unfamiliar voices was like trying to chase sea foam- just grabbing bubbles that disappeared.

But his voice was like giving me a tether in a storm. And when a firm hand turned me, the other came to cradle my cheek as he searched my eyes. his own full of concern as his brows furrowed and the darkness in his Aegean eyes wanted to drown me.

‘’Helga- do you know what’s wrong with her?’’

 my sight was swimming as he spoke to the woman who I clutched possessively onto the young girl whose tears had begun to dry. I smiled at her lazily as the pounding in my head began to ease.  It alarmed Helga as she pulled the girl away from me fractionally before she answered Bjorn.

‘’I would not know Bjorn- you would do better to ask Floki.’’

Seeing that my attention to the young girl was unwelcomed I dragged my eyes back to Bjorn who still hovered above me. I felt the warmth from his gaze and responded with a smile. He quirked an eyebrow before a similar expression ghosted over his face. But it didn’t last long as I followed his eyes glance over his shoulder to the man who triggered this strange episode.

He was smirking at Bjorn as if he had just found something he could use.

I wanted to swear at him- to curse him in words he would exaggerate in his interpretation. But the word that bubbled forth received a far-spreading reaction which included Bjorn.

‘’Ragnar…’’ my voice rang a clear contralto in the still air.

Chapter Text

Their reaction was immediate. All shared the same expression of shock- wide eyes, raised eyebrows and parted lips. But they each transformed them and made their feelings apparent. 

Vaguely I heard a whispering break out that thankfully wasn’t in my head.

But I couldn’t focus on it.

I couldn’t focus on Helga as she called out ‘’Floki! You must komme Floki’’

I couldn’t focus as Finehair sneered at the word before saying ‘’I’ll get your brother.’’ Whom I had guessed was Hvitserk. He muttered a parting ‘’gale kvinnen’’ before departing. It made me ask just how big the ship was.

But I couldn’t focus on any of it. I could only focus on how Bjorn’s Aegean eyes clouded with worry and scepticism. I felt my chest tighten as his eyes tried to burrow into my consciousness to see my motives.

As the thundering of more boots rattled my head against the deck Bjorn’s attention was drawn to those coming from ahead of us. A thick and firm arm slid behind my back to circle my waist and lift me. My hips rose to press against his. And I was made very aware of how my own were slightly wider whilst his were considerably more solid and muscled than mine. I felt as muscles pulled and contracted as he brought me with him as he stood. My muscles ached as I heaved my upper body upwards to meet Bjorn’s chest. my hair, with its now frizzed curls, came just under his nose.

Curiously I felt his chest expand with a deep intake of breath.

But I had to ignore it as Helga, who had disappeared surprisingly and now rushed back to the young girls’ side, was followed by an imposing figure. He was at least 6ft 3’’ a little taller than Bjorn who had so far been the tallest pale man I had ever met. I had to turn in Bjorn’s grip to face him full on.

But it wasn’t just his height which was intimidating. He exuded a deadly and crazed aura as if he wasn’t completely anchored on this plain- he reminded me of … well, me. Or at least the vision I had of myself.

He wore black around his eyes which bled onto his cheeks. His hair was almost completely shaved, except for a knot at the back, revealing strange tattoos on his scalp. His beard was long and unkempt like an after thought he never got around to. He wore a weave armour which freed his body to make its lithesome approach as he moved forward in a predatory manner.

‘’So!’’ he began and the high pitched abrupt edge to his voice startled me. I felt Bjorn’s arm, which I thought had fallen away, tighten around my waist in response to my nerves. The man took little note of me.

‘’This is the girl you picked up Bjorn, hmm?’’ his head turned on the question as though trying to bore into Bjorn’s eyes for a satisfactory answer.

‘’Yes Floki’’ Bjorn responded simply exaggerating the name – ‘Flow –KEY’

‘’oh Bjorn! When did this little mare cast her spell on you? She is nothing and knows nothing of us- through her to the Draugen!’’ he yelled with a fury in his eyes which he now turned on me as though I were a witch casting spells.

‘’Floki!’’ Helga exclaimed from her place next to the still trembling girl. She hid behind her loose walnut hair. Helga’s eyes had become bright with anger at the man. ‘’ You are scaring her-‘’ I presumed she had no care for me and meant only her treasure. ‘’- she needs peace not you invoking the damned.’’

Seemingly admonished Floki angled his head away from Helga glaring under his brows at her. Helga glared in warning before returning to her coos towards the girl.

Floki swung his chin towards Bjorn and continued; the fury diminished in his eyes. ‘’And what has the little witch been whispering- hm?’’ it was at that moment Bjorn recognised the presence of Hvitserk and ‘Finehair’ who stood behind him. I craned my neck to give them a side glance over Bjorn’s shielding shoulder.

Hvitserk caught my glance and gave me a look of caution- though I saw no hatred in it. I wonder what changed him. I still remembered how I kicked him and bit my lip to stop a cruel laugh from bursting forth. I had won the battle and started a war I suspected.

Finehair stood next to the boy. He scanned those of us gathered. A restrained smile coming to his lips as he began plotting in his head.

When Bjorn spoke he had my full attention as I believed my fate now lay in his next words.

‘’ She spoke in our father’s voice- did she not, Hvitserk?’’

Floki reared his head toward Hvitserk in shock and concern. He searched the young man’s face as he spoke, loosely holding onto his bravado ‘’we heard his voice, yes Floki.’’ Floki’s hand shot to cradle his head as sadness flooded his eyes. He turned to the heavens in silence and Hvitserk added ‘’but we only have the words of a dead woman- in a foreign tongue- that it was she who spoke them.’’ Bjorn’s arms slipped up my waist to my ribcage. There it tightened and restricted my breathing- on the positive side it forced me to relax. ‘’ and it was Rollo who translated- though he heard nothing but strange song’’

‘’so she is a nixe’’ finehair chortled to himself.

Floki, finished with his private musings to the sky, hearing this comment he snapped his attention to me. his eyes locked on mine. Unblinking he moved closer, bending to level with my eyes, inhaling deeply through his nose.

‘’I see…’’ was all he said.  As he allowed his eyes to now roam my body no doubt taking note of everything: the dimming gold light in my silver eyes, the dirt which clung to my skin and the paint that peaked from under the edges of my clothes.

I saw too. I saw in his eyes how he calculated at such a rate that he obviously tripped over his own thoughts. How he stooped when he stood, not to bow or blend in, but because it was natural that he lowered his head when he hunted. And everyone else was prey.

He rose his hands coming to rest on his belt. One hand noticeably drummed fingers on the handle of an axe which hung there. I pressed my back against Bjorn and I felt his body tense. He must have noticed what I had. And from the first impression, this man gave it wouldn’t be hard to imagine he would strike me down with that axe as soon as smile at me.

‘’and does this… silver eyed seer have anything else to say?’’ he was more careful with his words now. Pronouncing each one as his eyes flickered between Bjorn and me.  

‘’Floki-‘’ Bjorn’s voice rumbled in his chest as he gave warning. He bellowed his next words so that the whole ship, who had borne witness to the discussion in quiet murmurings, could hear them. ‘’I have already claimed this girl- she is mine to do with as I please- and we are taking her to Kattegat to determine her fate in front of the seer.’’

This decree of ownership was a double edged sword to me- on the one hand, I had the protection of their leader. On the other it felt as though I had walked into another if invisible, cage.

Floki smiled to himself before looking at Bjorn with a melancholy. ‘’so much like the father…’’ he whispered. I looked at Helga seeing her pity for the man as well as something of fear.

‘’but, Bjorn ironside, if she is a seer then from what my dear Helga has described she may now know more- yes?’’ Floki seemed pleased with himself as Bjorn’s grip loosened. He uncurled his arm from my waist and the sudden absence of him made the air colder.

‘’you may be right Floki…’’

I was alone now and the full scene finally came into view. I was alone on a ship full of men and women who had not hesitated in killing those who weren’t useful. I was alone with these people asking me to reveal what I knew- and if they didn’t like it? was I to be killed just as I’d found a hunger for life?

As I looked around the ship I saw the staring eyes all around. Those who I had been introduced to and those bloodied and dirted from pillaging who still worked. I was all anyone saw. Even the girl had eyes on me- if I died she was alone. It was an after-thought but I suddenly felt a weight on my chest as I tried to breathe evenly. I couldn't let them see me panic. But I felt the rocking of the ship too keenly. The cold sea air cut through my fine clothes; my hands and feet ice.

All I could do was what they wanted. But as I looked to the faces of Floki, Hvitserk and finehair I knew that revealing that I now- somehow- knew their tongue would not be wise.

I looked to Bjorn and I felt the desperation fill my eyes. But his were set- determined to hear something of Ragnar-his father- that would answer some of his questions.

Plus I didn’t think he could help me now even if he wanted to.

‘’Kasi dar bihisht faryad mara’’ I breathed so that they could hear my foreign words- my mother tongue. And thank whoever was up there that it came out as I remembered- untouched by the strange perversion of my voice by the magic of that strange man.

Silence. The lapping of gentle waters on the ship and the shallow breaths of those waiting in anticipation.

Floki squinted studying me. Bjorn grew unsettled as he folded his arms tightly. Helga began to shield the girl as she expected the worse. Hvitserk took an over zealous step which reverberated through the ship. And finehair… he just watched with that pleased smirk he had when he first saw Bjorn show his concern.

This was all going to end in blood. The chill ran up my spine as I too began to wait for a killing blow to come.

Then I heard it. by the gods- spirits and heaven’s grace I heard it.

The deep croak. It sounded close but no one else looked for its source. So I let only my eyes wander the pink skies ; cautious not to let the others know what I was searching for.

In the sparse clouds, I found the dark shadow. A Raven. Its wings iridescent in the dawn; greens and purples reflecting from its feathers. I followed its flight as it cawed leading my eyes to a high cliff top only a few miles away. It dived revealing a hidden cove before it perched on the cliff face and produced a guttural rumbling which echoed in my ears.

Then clarity. I knew what I could say. If I was right in my hunch then I could save myself whilst keeping some of my secrets.

I raised my finger pointing to the cliff where the raven sat and spoke in a surprisingly sonorous voice. ‘’ Ragnar. Odin.’’

Their eyes followed my finger to the cliff.

I chanced a glance at Bjorn who smiled at me before looking again to the cliff ; his face grew heavy with worry.

‘’Change course!’’ he commanded.

Chapter Text

 

It was a stoic atmosphere that enveloped the ship until we came close enough to the cliff face to begin searching for the cove.

‘’we must be careful, Bjorn. Signal the rest of the ships to weigh anchor.- I don’t want any of my beauties wrecked for this foolishness.’’ Floki sneered as he peered into the crystalline waters. We could see the fish which swam below and fled as the ship cut through the shallowing waters.

Floki’s orders were carried out as the call went out to the other ships to stay back. Floki’s eyes examined where we were to come ashore. A few moments and a taste of the water was all he needed to devise the perfect course that would save us from a dip in the sea. he hopped up from leaning over the side of the boat to bounce over to the rudder and begin expertly steering the vessel through the current.

We sailed into the small inlet with relative ease. They bay was grey, shielded from the soft morning light, it was cold and stark. The cliffs which surrounded it, however, bloomed with flowers of whites and blues scattered over the slate coloured stone. As the vessel came to be beached the soft sand proved to be a solid resting place as the hull moaned under its own weight.

Floki, now certain we had successfully come ashore, ran to the bow bending over the side; half his body disappearing from sight. When he came up again he wore a wild smile of triumph.

‘’though I have made the best landing you will see from a mortal, I suggest we make this quick- the tide will shift the sands and we do not want to be trapped here’’ he gave me a pointed look as though he was expecting that to be part of some great plan of mine. To trap them and then signal an ambush. It was ignored though thankfully by most. Other than Bjorn whose eyes went to the cliff top which, if planned, would give a great vantage point to send a storm of arrows into them.

But as I think he realised, the cove was only big enough for one ship. Had I really helped plan a surprise attack it would have been better to get the most ships I could to land. Bjorn looked at me then and I saw, with sadness in my heart that I could quite explain, he had his guard up now. He was a leader now maybe even some sort of royalty if his jibe at fine hair being a king was to be read into.

Still, as Floki disembarked then Finehair- both vaulting over the side to land firm-footed in the sand. I imagined that they were used to such acts were like breathing to them. part of me wanted to join them. to run grab the side and fly threw the air only to land with purpose. But Bjorn was ahead of me and before I could make any move to the contrary he pulled me to the side of the boat before making his own exit only to turn and grasp my waist firmly. He then swiftly lifted me high, I bent my legs to cross the side of the ship, and he planted me in the cool sand.

I had a moment to take in the feel of the grains passing over my still bare feet. To gaze around at the blooms on the walls which curved and gave a sonorous ring to the grating of footsteps in the sand. It was enough time f=to feel the overwhelming swell in my chest which urged me to express the outstanding joy that I was having to suppress. Joy at the fact I was actually looking at and feeling this place. The joy that hit me as I looked past the shadows to see the pink clouds in a new light was breathtaking. I was under the open sky. By the gods I was free.

‘’MAN KWAHISH NAH FARAMUSH KARDAN!’’ I called out, throwing my arms wide to the sky, an uncontrolled grin tightening my lips- a promise to never forget. To never forget this joy and the pain that made it so beautiful in contrast.

The echo resounded in the air around us.

Those in the boat began their mutterings again in shock and fear that the suspicions unspoken were true. That I had signalled to an army.

‘’Bjorn!’’ Hvitserk shouted. He came quickly to the beach beside me and my expression only served to worry him some more. Finehair had taken out his sword and swivelled his head around searching the cliff top for an attack.

But Bjorn and surprisingly Floki shared their expressions of ease. Floki looked at me with eyes that held recognition. As if he knew this feeling of freedom that overcame sense. Bjorn stared at me with a youthful smirk. He knew, somehow, that I was just happy to be alive and out of that place.

Hvitserk, upon seeing Bjorn’s expression, calmed a little. Though it was obvious that Bjorn’s attitude towards me bothered him.

I gave a sigh of relief as I took in the fresh air before Bjorn jerked his head to tell me to walk on. I did as I was told but skipped through the sand twirling and embracing the air. I mean why not? They could be my last moments if the gods had screwed me over.

We had to climb once we hit the cliff- about 50-60 foot. It was an experience, to say the least. Climbing was hard and showed me plainly how little the exercises I had done really served to strengthen me. I would also blame my lack of foot wear. I climbed up before Bjorn and Hvitserk but quickly enough Hvitserk passed me. my hands and feet scraped along the rocks seeking soft dirt from which the flowers grew. But after a few instances of the soil crumbling away at my touch it became evident that I would have to bear with clutching the razor-edged rocks.

Soon as I looked up I saw the three men above me disappear onto the grassy plateau. Breathless I would glance at Bjorn below me. he climbed with the same relative ease as the others yet seemed to purposefully lag behind me. I felt a hot blush of embarrassment and anger flood my cheeks as I realised he was there to catch me when I fell- he didn’t think I could do it.

I looked down at him and scowled to which he gave a befuddled expression as he had no idea why I would be mad. But that didn’t matter. I began pushing my muscles harder the last twenty feet. I felt them burn and ache for a reprieve. I went on until finally my right hand reached above and felt the knitted grass. My fingers anchored themselves in the dirt as I began to haul myself up. I was half way over when Hvitserk loomed over me.

For a moment his eyes, full of despise, looked from me to the beach below and I thought he might boot me off there and then. Instead, the look vanished and he extended a hand to me. A part of me wanted to ignore it and finish the climb myself but I felt that might be an insult too far so soon. On the other hand, he could use the opportunity to let go and send me to my death.

Fighting the anxiety which was choking my dry throat I pushed forward my hand. The action happened just as the small foothold I was pressuring gave way and for a long second, I felt that weightless horror of coming too close to the fall. But a rough hand caught mine. Hvitserk pulled with little effort to have me stand before him and for that moment when relief flooded me my eyes widening as I stared into his searching. Did he know that he just saved me?

Blank faces. That’s all we really showed each other.

Grunting from behind us pulled our minds back to the present and Hvitserk immediately moved across the small space to the cliff edge. My eyes cast down to the lush grass but the feeling of eyes staring at me forced my head up to meet the challenge. Blue eyes defined with their careless and precise kohl lines- they reminded me of berries that sent you mad-gave me a questioning look as though I were a child caught playing with a viper. Naïve.

I jutted out my chin in response and gave a stony stare as I remained statuesque. I felt I needed to stare the beast down now if I was to survive.

Maybe my façade of defiance and strength would have worked to drive respect into the mad man’s head.

Unfortunately, the impression of strength crumbled when the man beside me decided to make a meaty smack upon my rear. The jolt of sharp pain sent me forward like an ass whipped before the cart. After the shock, I spun on my heel to kick Hvitserk over the cliff. When I came face to -well chest- with Bjorn. Light whispers of his beard tickled my forehead the delightful sensation was another shock. It had been a long time since gentle sensations sparked across my skin. I jumped backwards half a foot which elicited an almost horrifying giggle from Floki. I had to let the fury and embarrassment bleed from my features as I fixed my gaze straight ahead. Of course straight ahead still meant staring brazenly at Bjorn’s chest. Trying to convince myself that staring at his tight shirt was better than running over and throwing a punch into Floki’s stomach. The tensing pecks made it a lot harder to force the blood to stop heating my cheeks.

When I forced myself to look into his face and away from what was apparently the safe view I swallowed hard seeing that Bjorn’s features were stern as they stared down at me.

My behaviour was getting out of hand it seemed.

Chapter Text

I felt trapped under his gaze which had turned confused and angry for what reason I couldn’t really say. Perhaps I was nearing my end? Were they expecting some grand spectacle conjured up to answer their questions- a transcendant miracle or a malicious ambush? But I could sense they wanted some sort of cessation of my meddling.

However I couldn’t give them the answers I didn’t have.

So mute I stood staring into his Aegean eyes wishing that they would lighten just once into the warm sea I remembered from my awful past.

The silence which had descended was now a miasma beginning to choke the sense from my head as I broke the stalemate; my arm began to rise, my hand unfolding as fingertips twitched toward the lure of warmth on this frigid plateau. His body was only inches from my hand if I continued I could run my hand over his chest and etch the topography of his body into my mind.

Luckily Hvitserk suddenly came back into view. His immature yet still melodic voice was like cold water on whatever fire had been brought to life inside of me. ‘’Bjorn! It’s as cold as Niefelhiem up here and i suspect if we don’t finish our business soon I suspect either floki or Finehair will be flying down.’’ Hvitserk’s words were dulled- by the wind I thought. I  looked behind us to the two men in question.

Though they were at least ten feet away from each other and facing differnet ways it was easy to see that the two intimidating figures had eyes on each other. Floki’s hand twitched beside his axe readying to launch it and letting it be known whilst Finehair kept his form still whilst his eyes darted around their possible arena no doubt formulating tactics to overcome any disadvantages he would have in the fight.  

I agreed with the young  mans assertion though the tone in which it was delivered was supposed to be dismissive to my presence.

The I realised. I didn’t know their language or at least I didn’t yet want them to know that I knew it- and yet I had turned to look at the men they were speaking about. I turned around to face the brothers. Hvitserk busied himself with trying to stay warm in his relatively light gear. Bjorn, the ever watchful, had an eyebrow cocked in discreet suspiscion.

My mind tried to work throught the possibilities to rectify my mistake. I could say nothing and play dumb- but knowing my luck they would think me useless and thow me overboard eventually. No it seemed I had only one option and I prayed to anyone who was listening that it would play out as I hoped.

I set my eyes wide and innocent hoping to show uncertainty in my young features. Then for a few seconds I looked between bjorn and where Floki and finehair faced off like feral cats. Swallowing hard I prepared to speak and realised how dry my throat had become from the excursion and fear.

I pointed to the pair boldly though my voice came as a hoarse creak mingling with the increasing wind which whipped my loose hair. ‘’Flok-E. Fin-Har?’’  the words came out crooked and created a moment of silence when all eyes were on me.

I feared it was the end- they were going to send me on a short trip with a dead end.

But the trill bubbling of manic laugther rose up from Floki and shattered the strangling silence. I whipped around to face him my face set in a warning glare. I inched back ony to meet bjorns solid form much sooner than I expected. He had silently approached and now seemed to stand as my judge and protector as floki too approached. His movements were lithe and sinister like a predator trying to decide if something was prey.

‘’so the little witch has learned our names, hmm?’’ his head droped and rotated as he eyed my soft spots. ‘’and your master’s name? hmm, little witch?’’

Though I knew what he said the words from him felt more distant than Hvitserk and almost fuzzy. The sensation the created helped me to portray a look of confusion and innocence.

Floki merely looked bored and then roled his eyes before extending a long wirey arm and pointing to the silent sentinel behind me. I knew what he wanted me to say. I knew it should have been easy. Far too easy to say his name.

I slowly turned around to peer up into Bjorn’s eyes. They were still dark but not ominious as before. Now they looked as still as the palace ponds and dangerously as deep. His expression too was almost unreadable but he waited not saying a word. When Hvitserk made to interject Bjorn raised his hand and silenced him – not once breaking eye contact. I could ony hope he couldn’t read me. could only he hope he wouldn’t see all of the darkness in my soul.

I thought better of it. Of pronouncing his name as theirs – crooked and malformed in my strange tongue. But once my lips parted I felt the air rush over my tongue and form the word I had been begging to speak to the heavens since I was enthralled by those blue eyes in my dream.

So in a hushed tone meant only for those moments of intimacy before the darkness of sleep takes you I whispered his name. ‘’Bjorn…’’

Chapter Text

Light. There was pure sunlight refracting on the ripples of his irises when I said his name. they were as beautiful as the sea- I wanted to fall into their depths and bath in their comforting warmth.

But the moment was over far too soon as thunder cracked in the sky. Such ferocity echoed through the air that my hands jumped to hold my upper arms- cradling myself. Bjorn glanced at my reaction before he moved with the other men to gaze down from the edge of the cliff to their ships. While the men communed over the effects of the oncoming storm on the progress of their journey I remained behind staring at their backs. Apprehension gripped my stomach as I felt my sight being drawn from the firm and stable backs of the four men who were grounded on the plateau upwards lifting to the far-off sky.

The tumbling clouds approached with haste and as I stared into their churning depths I suddenly heard the haunting squawk of the raven. My vision tightened and zoomed across the sky to hyper focus on the black swarm who were heralding this peculiar tempest. A hoard of ravens flew in the blue sky trailing their black clouds which consumed the sunlight. They were a being of numerous bodies- one and many. A part of the storm and yet twisting and gliding on the winds with their own mission.

And with another clap of thunder and distant streaks of lightning, he appeared. It was a tingle down my spine which told me he was there; familiar and ever foreign. I turned from the sky to meet his one-eyed gaze. Clad in his black robes with a raven on each shoulder he stood in a haze. He was 15 foot away no more but the eldritch vapour which clung to his figure made it hard to concentrate on his face for long before I had to avert my eyes to the sky once more. The birds squawking was getting louder and louder in their cacophony.

I looked to him again. Odin was a figure of darkness- dark garb dark hair and a dark complexion which gave him a rugged handsomeness that had a beauty in it like the majestic mountains. He was truly inhuman. I made to speak to voice my questions of why we had met and why he was he now had I been brought into another vision- surely he was not real. But before a syllable could pass my lips he raised a finger to his lips and smiled warmly. It was a warmth I remembered from childhood when my parents would welcome me home. I wished to soak in its warmth but it soon disappeared as his eye flitted to fix on those behind me.

I followed his line of sight only to turn and find both Bjorn and Hvitserk gawking at the man who had infiltrated my life. I want to ask them if they knew Odin- was he significant? But I thought better of revealing that I knew their language through some sort of sorcery unknown to me. Floki and fine hair remained seemingly unaware of our discovery.

Overhead the raven mass had arrived; called to their master. their chorus of a thousand scrambling cries unified to echo a familiar message through the air.

’how the little piggies will grunt when they hear how the old boar suffered’’

A shiver possessed my body upon hearing the words which dragged me into this world.

Bjorn and Hvitserk were awestruck as they remained in stony silence staring at Odin with conveyed reverence. Odin was new to me but it easy to tell that these men had known him their whole lives. I glanced back to see Odin's stare boring into their souls and with a nod he had answered the question which had been playing on their minds since I spoke in the harem.

Suddenly the horde of flapping feathers descended upon Odin and he was carried away like smoke on the wind.

I looked back to Bjorn and Hvitserk whose eyes followed the creatures as they ascended and faded into the distance.

They turned to share a look of knowing before Bjorn whispered to his brother in a solemn tone ‘’Ragnar’s voice- Odin delivered father’s dying words’’ the words were tinged with sadness but the brothers looked to each other with determination as they knew what their next step was to be.

It was then that I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. Gods damn this world for cursing me from the day I was put on it. I knew then that the vision was different- no I knew that when I walked in that strange wood that was saturated with death. I had been set on a path carved in fate and I doubted it would be easy to step off of it.

I felt tears sting my eyes and walked to the cliff edge to face the winds of the storm. As soon as they fell the tears dried; disguised by the biting gale. I couldn’t really say why I wanted to wail and beat the ground. It wasn’t just senseless anger at being chosen to suffer by beings beyond my comprehension. No there was more to it- relief. I was vindicated and if the path that I had been set on was assured then I could believe that with this display I was finally and truly safe. I could sleep without worry of being murdered.

But it wasn’t only that. It was the feeling that this life of mine that robbed me of my faith where I believed my life was mine to shape even if I did predict other people’s fates. But this small piece of existence inside my head that which made me, me- it wasn’t mine anymore…

I had been truly told that I was a puppet. Could I trust that the doubts I have weren’t put there to guide me towards something planned? The whole thing hurt my head as thoughts ran in circles.

Beside me, I eventually noticed, floki had stopped studying his ships who were beginning to rock more violently on the choppy waters and now stared at me. I could just see his face in my periphery. Those crazed eyes were hooded as he keenly appraised me- not my body in and of itself but its language I suspected. Could he read my mind if he kept staring?

The wind sent my loose fitting clothes billowing. If I closed my eyes as the wind roared with the sea below then I could pretend I was alone. Pretend I was home watching the thunder roll towards the village below our mountain refuge. I was mesmirised when our clean azure skys churned with blacks and greys like paint stirred to create something new.

If I leaned forward maybe I could go home.

It would only take a few inches to break free from this caged life that kept growing with out taking the bars away. I breathed deep and felt my chest expand filling with the cool salt air that hummed with energy. My arms rose on the winds like wings itching to fly…

 

Chapter Text

For a moment I felt the world tip.

Yet as soon as I was certain I would be falling a primitive and angry voice called from the darkness within me. I will not die. But my choice had been made- I thought until a force struck my chest. It wasn’t painful- or too painful would be more correct. A pressure suddenly held me sturdily with both feet firmly planted upon the crumbling cliff once more. My eyes opened slowly apprehensive to have Bjorn scold me after saving me again.

But it wasn’t the azure gems that met my eyes. I gazed into a pair of bruised berries of madness.

Floki stared at me in confusion with almost a hint of concern.

For a moment we stood in silence as I tried to understand why he saved me. So far these ‘savages’ had been vexing for the most part. They were impulsive and didn’t seem to know their own motives most of the time.

But Floki’s gaze dropped to my feet. At first I thought that he was contemplating grabbing me and finishing the job. But when his eyes didn’t lift I looked down with him. My tanned feet looked ruddy against the darkening green grass. But still the gold paint which outlined my scars were now revealed by the wind. Floki’s fingers absently twirled around the air as if he were tracing the images. When I he looked at me again his eyes were expectant as he spoke with hushed excitement. ‘’you were chosen, weren’t you? You can hear…’’

He may have elaborated on what exactly he thought that I could hear-had he figured me out?

Finehair gave a gruff comment which didn’t seem out of character.

‘’hey Bjorn you need to watch your little witch or the big bad wolf might come sniffing.’’ He followed up his comment with a guffaw at how witty he was- I was surprised he didn’t clap.

But he succeeded in getting everyone’s attention- yet he didn’t hold it as Bjorn’s steel gaze was drawn to Floki and I. it was a harsh look that I didn’t like being on the receiving end of.

But something dangerous lit inside of me as Bjorn’s cold eyes glanced to his brother for a moment to give an order ‘’ tell them that we’ll be sailing for safe harbour- this storm will be ferocious as mjolnir’s blows.’’ Hvitserk didn’t question his brother he only moved to retrace our path to descend.

Then Bjorn set his sights on me once more and moved with a look I had seen in a man’s eyes before- as if someone had touched his possession without his permission.

I wasn’t his possession.

I was free if not from the gods I was at least free from this sort of shit.

I jutted out my chin and decided to make a stand. If I was going to be forced to stay with these people for however long I would have to show them that I wasn’t the meek little field mouse they probably thought I was.

As Bjorn approached I turned back to Floki and gave a shallow bow to show my gratitude. This served to bemuse the men- even Hvitserk paused to scrunch his brow at my action. Then in the midst of their hesitation I turned on my heel to march to Hvitserk’s position. As I passed him Bjorn’s eyes tracked my movements but he said nothing with his mouth set in a grimace. I flashed him a scornful look to convey my defiance.

Reaching Hvitserk’s I took a cursory glance over the rock face to pick out a safe descent and before any could object I went on my way.

I savoured the descent more than I had when we climbed. I suppose I was in a very similar mind-set when I started but as I precariously balanced on small foot holds mostly praying to the gods who brought me here to get me through it safely- I wasn’t one to pray nowadays but, I mean, when you’ve actually met a god you expect some intervention.- I began to cool off and a melancholy took my thoughts.

I never admitted it but for all those years of captivity I had hoped for escape- only not like this.

I dreamt of being rescued by the little brothers I had left at home. Of the men they might have become finding me and taking me home to the small village which I knew wasn’t there anymore. Perhaps we would build a new village in the mountains around the Caspian sea. We would withdraw from the world and I would be safe to grow old and watch my family grow with me…

A tear dropped onto my cheek and I looked up to see the men quickly moving towards me. After some yelling from above it seemed they had given up on getting me to listen and just decided to follow. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t.

But I would allow myself to pause. I tried to etch the small cove into my mind. Beside me pale pink flowers clung to the rock; a bee danced from each golden centre to the next busy looking for food- a part of something greater.

That simple thought soothed the headache I had been given by this whole thing.

Unfortunately I was back on the ship too soon. We embarked on the search for shelter from the storm whose rains had already started to fall heavily. We sat in the boat beneath skins to keep the rain off of us whilst men and women rowed and bailed the ship at the head of the fleet. Luckily I felt some relief at the fact that Finehair had decided to jump onto the ship where his brother Halfdan, who addressed him as Harald, commanded their men with their yellow and red shields.

But the sly glances of everyone on the ship were starting to get to me. That and Bjorn’s cold shoulder. He hadn’t looked at me since we got onto the beach and now he stood with Floki at the rear steering the ship. Floki whispered into Bjorn’s ear as his eyes darted from the skies to me. I could hear over the thumping of the waves against the hull but I could assume non good would come of it.

I had frequently caught Floki peeking at any bare flesh that came from my clothes riding up or where I had folded them. Now I had my knees pulled to my chest and did my best to cover every marking.

The attention had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the ship who gave me a wide birth. It seemed even to his own people Floki was considered odd. Most tried to avoid speaking to him unless they needed his expertise.

I had thought that all the staring and the hushed whispers which he spoke to Bjorn, to which he gave monosyllabic answers, would have earned me the stink eye from his wife Helga. In fact I think most on the ship would have preferred some possessive frustration between females rather than what she was doing.

Across from me huddled beneath their own skin Helga hugged the young servant girl to her chest. The child seemed exhausted and though did not share the embrace she did not resist.  Helga kissed the girls head lightly and hummed a soft tune. She looked as a content mother would holding their babe.

But this child wasn’t her daughter she was another woman’s child- who was probably dead now- and it was easy to see the uncertainty which clouded the girls eyes. She wasn’t sure if she was safe or how to stay safe when this woman gripped her as if they were alone in the storm.

My eyes continuously travelled the length of the ship my ears straining to hear any crucial information. A lot talked about Rollo and wanting him off the ship he was conspicuously quiet towards the bow twirling something gold. He was a man obsessed it seemed when it came to material goods. Now and then he threw a jealous glance toward Bjorn and I wondered what history had passed between the two.

As the storm continued to rage and the ships thumped and crashed through raucous waves I watched the hardened seafarers settle in and wait for their shift at the oars. Bjorn was steadfast as his conversation with Floki had now ceased and his attention was firmly fixed to the coast as he shouted orders to men who threw ropes with rocks into the sea before dragging them up. All were on watch for hazards and the few slaves who were on this ship showed their weakness in the face of nature’s power as faces turned into nauseous grimaces which frequently disappeared over the side. Yet still they remained as a group; young women with uncertain futures.

I sat alone still watching.

I huffed loudly. If I stayed like this I may as well have stayed in that blue room. I had remained dry under the tarp but like an idiot I realised that I didn’t want to stay dry. I hadn’t felt the rain in years- not properly at least. A few drops may have blown sideways and chanced into my cell but I was now wasting my opportunity to dance in a storm. The ship jolted and tossed us too and throw. I tumbled to all fours as shouts rose up cursing the man who didn’t warn of the large wave that just hit.

I remained on all fours trying to mentally settle the churning in my stomach; it had been a long time since I last sailed. But as I saw people eyeing me in my periphery I promised myself I wouldn’t vomit. I couldn’t show weakness- I just couldn’t.

‘’ho!! Starboard!!’’ a call suddenly came from Rollo. ‘’safe harbour!’’ he boomed above the waves.

Everyone looked to the shore to see a beach wide enough for the fleet to make port. A cheer rose from the ship thanking the all father for delivering shelter from the storm that was only getting worse.

And as if on cue the distinct flash of lightning above preceded an all mighy crack of thunder from above. The light flickered in the dark skies and illuminated the dismal sight that was the ship. The rain had helped to wash away some of the red from their flesh but these pale men and women of the north were stained with dark red splatters- all violent spray from their victims. In the harsh pale light they looked like demons risen to march across the earth.

And the few women they considered prime stock huddled in their soiled clothes which, now sodden, clung to them leaving little to imagination. Even in the midst of a life threatening situation eyes travelled their forms greedily.

I looked to Bjorn who quickly took his eyes from me to give the command ‘’blow the horn!’’ and with that an immediate bellow broke through the storm. Three blasts from a great horn and the men doubled their pace as Floki Bjorn and Hvitserk fought to steer the ship towards the shallows.

As we drifted onto the beach I couldn’t wait for the orderly disembarking I expected. One freedom of being a prisoner was that I had no responsibility. I stepped up onto the railing of the ship before giving a care to the women. I would be leaving them as meat to the beasts- but would they have helped me? Who could say…

As the ship creaked its thumping halt I jumped from the ship hitting the cold water. It was only up to my waist but I welcomed the icy shiver it drove up my spine. It was beyond refreshing. And I felt a wave of energy surge in me as shouts sounded above. I pushed my legs to jump and wade through the water as splashes from behind told me the north men had followed. But I wasn’t afraid.

A bubble of laughter burst from my lips as I reached the beach and began to run. I heard the bulky men kicking up the water and I knew that I would probably get a fair distance before they caught me. But with that in mind and the reality that I had nowhere to run to I turned sharply to run parallel to the water. Men shouted gruffly for me to stop but since I wasn’t supposed to know their language anyway I just ignored them and let loose. In their bulky sodden armour and skins they wouldn’t be able to catch me before I had had my fun.

My feet beat against the wet sand like a drum. My hair flew backwards, tendrils whipping in the wind as I felt it lift, the rain struck my skin like drops of lightning. The rain the thunder the crashing of waves then cries of sea birds fighting the gales. It was the music I wanted to hear- music I wanted to hear for the rest of my life.

Freedom was all I wanted.

Chapter Text

 

BJORN POV

It hadn’t been easy learning the truth of the girl's words; Ragnar was dead. Truly his soul had been collected to sit at Odin's side in Valhalla among the greatest of the Norse- the greatest Viking.

And I will surpass him.

Odin's visage on the mountain top was almost too bright to look at in a haze of heat and power. But she looked at him. saw him with no sign of fear or submission. The girl stood before the All-father as an equal.

I didn’t let myself think about it too long. I looked to Hvitserk and we both knew what had to be done; we had to find out the truth of fathers death- had Ivar fallen too?; then revenge. Father would not have given up without a fight so surely it was by another's hand that he fell.  The wrath of Vikings will crash upon them as the waves against the sand and leave only the tale of Ragnarsons left as their death rattle.

Now plans had to be made battle; strategies forged in the fire of my mind -the greatest inheritance.

I had been lost in the labyrinth of ideas for an invasion when Finehair called out some nonsense about ‘his little witch’. When I turned to see what was going on I saw her and Floki standing close. Too close. Floki was stood opposite her with a hand pressed to her chest as he whispered to her. A fire lit in me at seeing him like that with her. Floki who had so easily dismissed her as a creature of darkness when we all knew true darkness existed within Floki's depths. I gave a sharp toned order to Hvitserk with the looming storm on the horizon behind the two; only registering subtly as a threat.

Hvitserk heard the rumble in my tone and did not question my order or give snark comment as he would usually. I heard him crunch to the edge of the cliff before he paused but I couldn’t care if he stayed to watch or stop me. I can't truly define the fire of hate that filled my belly when I saw them. I can't properly think through my reason for wanting to shove Floki away from her even if it was over the edge. She shouldn’t be touched by his hands- no she shouldn’t have anyone's hands on her but mine. By all the gods I cursed the nameless men who had lain with or been allowed to bask in her beauty.

I would take in my arms and bring her on my journey I would fall to hel and forsake Valhalla to be with her.

But then as the sky darkened the clouds suffocating the world she transformed into that Valkyrie; fire burning in her eyes as she jutted out her chin. Sharply she turned and dipped her head to Floki which stunned all of us. It was a bow of course- something that is only given to those held in esteem. And here she was doing it to Floki the mad ship builder. Even our own people feared that he was a face of Loki in disguise.

While we all took pause to make sense of her she took the chance to march with defiance toward Hvitserk shooting a bold look at me from her eyes which still shone as the sun consuming the moon. Before I could take any action of reprimand against her she had slipped past my brother and disappear down the side of the cliff. She had done well to ascend and now she was going to climb down without anyone there to keep her safe. It was madness.

Perhaps she recognised the madness in Floki.

‘’well I see you have brought some entertainment into our journey’’ finehair followed with a low chortle. He placed a hand on my shoulder shaking his head in amusement. He was finding things far funnier than they actually were- I would have to make sure he wasn’t being doped. 

‘’watch yourself, Harald. she may have spells but I have a sword- I can cut you down faster. Now we go back to the ships and find shelter from Odin's shadow.’’ My voice was low only for him to hear as everyone else focused on the point where she had vanished. I moved forward to take the lead after the silly girl. Hvitserk finally looked up when I was by his side and gave me a patronising smirk which immediately died when he saw my look of contempt for his boyish attitude.

I almost slipped three times as we climbed down because I was so preoccupied with the girl who was so blasé when climbing that she had time to smell the flowers. She jumped down to the beach and I leapt a few feet higher than I should have to keep up with her. The thing that came from my old wounds served as a reminder that I wasn’t a young buck. I shouldn't have been acting like one as the looks from some of my men reflected. They were my priority- making my people great.

I couldn’t gallop after a girl from a foreign land who by all accounts was some sort of witch. Even I had to admit that the gods had chosen her for something. She shouldn’t be soiled by my thoughts but I couldn’t help it. Even as she simply stood in her odd clothes clearly meant for a male I undressed her and raged to keep my hands at my sides.  Feeling her warm skin beneath my finger tips as I slid off her clothes. Feeling the heat build until we both exploded as one…

I had to stop. I had to reign myself in. she must have been a witch to take my mind so completely.

As we sailed for a haven the storm grew worse pelting us with rain as a frigid gale blew around. The fleet looked to me for guidance and I vowed I would be vigilant in my search. I wouldn’t let the thoughts of her coil through my mind.

But even as I made the vow I had to clench my jaw to stop from glancing at her as she curled beneath a tarp to hide from the rain- embers still glowing in her mind as she watched as a raven surveying the ship and taking in everything that she saw. Her mind could be seen turning as the cogs of a mill. If she could know our language then she would have been dangerous. Yet the other girls who I had chosen to sell cowered together, weak before us. She was strong. She would make a good Viking.

I had to pull her from my mind. I would stop thinking of her and focus. Floki came to stand with me at the rudder. He had been trying to talk to Helga but we all saw how she cradled the girl she had told Floki they were going to take in. my face turned sour at the thought of it- even I had seen it before when a woman torn by the grief of losing their child lost their sanity. It was the disturbing calm on her face in the midst of the raging storm which made us fear the future.

But Floki spoke nothing of it. He distracted from the sore subject by focusing on signalling formations to the rest of the fleet and guiding his precious creations through the storm. But when he did return to the concerns of our own ship it was not the topic currently on my mind.

‘’the witch- she’s something- something wrapped up in the web of our gods’’ he hissed in my ear. His voice was always a whisper compared to everyone else. It was like he was trying to stay quiet enough to hear the other voices in his head. If the gods had truly touched him then they must have used lightning with the speed at which his mind whirs.

I grunted in non-committal assent. Though others probably would have taken that as a hint to end the conversation Floki was not anyone else. He pushed forward. He stared at the sky blinking through the rain. I glanced up to see only the stagnating storm clouds. But Floki saw more as he continued his babble ‘’you know Bjorn- I think she sees more than we thought.’’

M eyebrows shot up but I remained silent suddenly keenly aware of who else might be listening.

Hvitserk saw my face from his seating position in front of us and smirked at my reaction before gently pushing his cloak aside to reveal his sword hilt. It was a sign that we were in private discussion as the leaders and none of our men were to approach.

I may have jibed Hvitserk for his youthful carelessness but he was going to be a good leader. He would make us proud with the mind that he hid behind his juvenile antics.

meanwhile Floki continued uncaring as to whether others might hear- he would have happily slaughtered the ship if he thought they could turn on him. ‘’she guided us to that cliff- and the Ravens which beared the storm were clearly from Odin- she is a gift from him I think to challenge and help us- what do you think Bjorn?’’

he leant closer trying to coax out my private thoughts.

Well, they were simple in that moment- stop thinking of her!

My resolve was being chipped away the longer Floki talked. And now he wanted me to reveal how I felt when my mind was a muddle of contradicting thoughts? Ridiculous.

I let my face go stern as I glanced at her- she was watching me. I snapped my vision forward again in time to feel the tumultuous wave which hit our port. ‘’watch our course!!’’ I yelled at the man who was on watch. He was frozen taking to his skien of mead. I sneered and he thawed from my anger immediately taking up his post once more.

Then I gruffly responded to Floki ‘’ I think – Floki- that there are better times to discuss this’’

Floki readily followed it up. ‘’what?! When is better to talk about it than when we are being blessed by the gods?!’’

I gave him a concerned look- when the gods were pleased sailing was fair. This storm wanted to tear my ships apart.

‘’don’t you see?!’’ he exclaimed throwing his hands up forcing me to quickly take full control of the rudder. He opened his mouth wide and extended his tongue lapping up the rain. Then seemingly refreshed and crazed he turned wide eyes to me. ‘’the gods aren’t pleased Bjorn- they're ecstatic- they are calling out together in this storm.’’ His grin was wild. I levelled my eyes suspicious of Floki’s nature knowing that wild smile could go feral. ‘’ they are calling for this life to be torn down and built anew!! ‘’ he voice softened and his arms dropped like dead weight. But still his eyes so full of forlorn stared to the heavens seeking something he would probably never get. in the lull of the storm I would have to shatter his world and reveal the truth of why we were led to the cliff- how I know that he's right about her. ‘’this… this Bjorn is a new beginning and we must seize it…’’ he trailed off and then looked back at his ships. They belonged to me but each ship was a story to Floki. He could tell you who visited him and what he ate as he dreamt up his designs or found the trees which were destined to live in the sea.

I couldn’t yet say if he was right about the girl but… there was definitely something hidden inside of her. She had a power which was pure. It was something I wanted to possess and set free- a mind of contradictions.

Luckily the call went up ‘’ ho!’’ finally we had somewhere to rest and shelter from this storm- or celebration if you believed Floki. And so Floki now subdued as he walked his own mind in silence joined me in guiding the ship into the bay as the horn sounded for the fleet to follow. Of course, it would be a welcomed noise to all.

When we reached the shallows I saw that the girl was suddenly balancing on the edge of the ship. Out of confusion, I hesitated when the wild creature jumped from the boat. A splash came from below and I ran to the side to see her in water up to her waist as the rain pattered along the surface. She wasted no time before she was wading towards the shore with haste.

Is she trying to escape?!

‘’you men! Get in there and capture her!’’ I called immediately to the four men who gawked at her as she ran through the water her pants inflating before they began to rise and cling to her skin. But they were too slow for my liking. I huffed and marched to the bow of the ship were Rollo sat. his face was twisted in what I could only call a dumbfounded dog expression.

I ignored him swiftly as I now saw she had reached the sands. She was running. I looked down and leapt into the spume. Quickly escaping the sea I searched for her ahead toward freedom but instead, I found her running down the beach. I couldn’t question it at that moment so I just ran to catch up to her. The rain pelted my skin and sodden clothes hampered my progress as I tried to match her pace.

But she was like Sleipnir  -the mad woman. Her hair whipped backwards mingling with the rain. As she ran she left a break in the sheets of water which fell. Her feet now bare pounded the sand below with great force.

She was fierce and amazing.

Then she slowed and turned her face to the oncoming rain. She drank of it and I too slowed until I had stopped- simply watching her. She wasn’t stationary for long as she twirled and beat her feat with a distant rhythm of the storm. Her clothes sprayed water as she spun and clapped her hands. she kept her eyes almost closed as she listened intently and danced along to the gods' song.

Her smile was broad and genuine. It was the most beautiful and frightening creature I had ever seen.

Chapter Text

I ran my hands through the rain as my feet followed the rhythm my hips swayed and I was lost; to memories and fantasy. I imagined I wore fine silks again and danced all night to the music of the desserts. My feet padding on the cold marble floor of the palace at noon. I heard my friends laugh and call to me. then the thunder rumbled as lightning flickered through my eyelids creating fire in my mind.
I stamped and dragged my feet through the sand in violent yet delicate patterns. My body became the flames.
As I rose and fell with the ghosts who haunt my nightmares
People scream and run from the soldiers with their swords and torches. Fire engulfs every home. And I am dragged away in a cage into the night watching the fires become a dot on the horizon until the last sign of my home is gone.
As the rain eased and the thunders next clap was more distant I stopped dancing. My chest heaved with the exertion and my body felt like the fire which coursed through me was ebbing away.
I opened my eyes to see Bjorn staring at me. his face was blank and behind him, I saw more men who had stopped halfway between Bjorn and I and the boat. People crowded the sides of the boat too watching.
But at that moment I really didn’t care.
I didn’t care what punishment I would face. I didn’t care that even the other slaves were watching me as though I was a spectacle.
No, in that moment I was focused on the distance where the sun pushed through the clouds as it set. One point lowering in the sky and slowly igniting the under belly of the clouds.
I didn’t see a point in fighting right then. It would have been a pointless battle.
Without a word, I looked at Bjorn the sun behind him coating him in darkness making him more youthful. His hair so pale it was reflecting the evening sky and his eyes were like the night sea. He didn’t seem angry or happy he just seemed to be completely relaxed.
But I wasn’t ready to join him in that place between light and shadow. My heart ached in my chest as the music left me to move on to distant places- home?
In the throws of melancholia, I walked past Bjorn. When I reached his men, who stood in confusion as to what they were to do, I let my legs crumble. My knees hit the beach with a muffled thud against my wet pants. They moved around me and I raised my wrists to them. I was surrendering. I could allow myself this moment to feel these feelings of grief and frustration that I had buried so long ago. A warm wind came from the sea to lick my cold skin. ‘’Man arzu didan shmahah andar Bahar…” I whispered to the ghosts that now surrounded me. as a man tentatively stepped forward to bind my wrists I looked beyond their circle to the faces that waited in the shadow of the sun. willing them to fade with the light and wait until my dreams to torment me.

As the last knot was tied I breathed slowly – one in, one out,- and they were gone again. my world felt a little lonelier.
Roughly a man yanked the rope to have me stand. I complied but eyed him predatorily. He winced and handed what was effectively my lead to another who seemed more battle hardened with a great scar cutting across his jaw. He grunted before turning and pulling back to fall in line with those departing our ship. As we walked new ships beached themselves with men and women celebrating surviving their voyage. But I smiled as they cheered. It seemed that Floki and Finehair’s talk of my being a witch had disturbed most on the ship- by the morning the whole fleet will be talking.
As the scarred man pulled I realised I was being taken to the huddle of women from Algeciras who were being pushed along inland to where ever they were going to setup camp. I felt a tightness form in my stomach. Whatever fate awaited these women – I wanted no part in it. I paused and the response was a hard tug which brought me to my knees. The scarred man grumbled about my being a stupid slave before pulling again which brought me forward and caused my face to crash into the sand.
A chuckle ran through the men at my expense. I rose to a sitting position when the man joked ‘’she is so happy to be on land!!’’ it wasn’t funny yet the chuckle rose again. ‘’come on little girl! Up!’’ he shouted pulling.
I felt my nostrils flare as I breathed deeply the scent of the sea filling my head. My glaring silence struck most of the men and left them dumb. But the man who thought I could be dominated so easily let his chuckle continue as he yanked again shouting’’ up!!’’ this time I didn't resist, keeping my stare on him defiantly. His laughter died and he scowled at my expression. He crossed the short distance between us to poke my chest. ‘’oy! Dumb slave- do as your master commands- you go with your kind!’’
That was it.
I turned my head slowly to the side and looked up at the large man sweetly. His chuckle returned. So, with sudden and precise movements I punched hs solar plexus making him fold. Then I knitted my fingers behind his head pulling with all my strength to drive head down as my knee came up to meet his face. His head bounced and blood gushed from his nose. The red liquid painted the sand and some of those standing close by.
The man was folded as he clutched his face. I bent to his ear and whispered softly so as only he could hear ‘’touch me again and your blood will soak the earth.’’
Then I rose and walked past him, the other men recoiled from me creating a path, toward the rest of ‘my kind’.
The man slowly began to scream. He yelled ‘’witch!’’ over and over as men tried to calm and hold him back. I sauntered up to the huddle of women and began walking with them though they noticeably flinched from me. the rest of Northmen too eyed me warily as they walked us to the camp grounds. I forced myself to smile at each side glance.
Suddenly a hand gripped my shoulder gently halting me. I turned and, again unexpectedly, looked into mad blue eyes. Floki’s expression was unsure but gentle. ‘’you’ll come with me…?’’ his inflexion was slight as only I seemed to read that it was more a question than a command.
A man near us spoke up ‘’ Floki I was told to put the slaves together.’’ He said his eyes betraying how unnerved he was by Floki’s proximity.
‘’you think she is a slave?! Go back to your mother and tell her she raised a fool! If you try to get in my way again I will offer your life to the gods’’
The man immediately retreated from the conflict to walk ahead with the group. I let myself giggle at his scurrying movement as he almost climbed over people to move up the line away from us. When I looked back to Floki he had a curious expression which pinched his eyes. He almost reminded me of a wolf trying to work out if I was prey.
I wasn’t prey.
I let my face drop to a blank and serious expression my eyes becoming hooded dark pools. It had the desired effect as Floki reared his head slightly in alarm. But I didn’t want to press my luck with this man. He was after all mad- though the cackle which I swallowed at the startled look on his face made me think that we might be a pair.
I quickly brightened my expression again and took a deep breath. The rain had become a soaking drizzle. Since there was no chance of finding dry wood tonight I anticipated a chilling wait for the dawn. After that assessment, I turned my attention back to Floki who had a strange look of sadness. I opened my mouth to ask when I managed to restrain myself and stop from revealing my secret.
When I clammed shut Floki gave me a small smile. It was a little shocking and gentle. Maybe I should have been more cautious about him but I was used to living with wild animals. He gestured for me to go ahead of him following the line of people. It was impossible to tell what lay ahead for me. I tried to peer over his shoulder and catch sight of Bjorn so I could gain some sort of reassurance- wait.
Why did I want some sort of reassurance from the sight of a man that had just kidnapped me from- well from monotonous hell- but still. I turned on my heel and began hastily marching to wherever these people were making camp. I blew hot air out of my flared nostrils; angry that I had almost made that Northman a crutch. I didn’t need crutches anymore- they just get knocked from under you and splintered.
When we arrived at camp I saw that tents had already been erected and supplies were being sheltered from the weather. I looked around and saw no lights on the horizon- if a Moorish town was around then fire would have definitely dotted the darkness even in this weather. So there seemed little chance that the Pasha had ridden to a nearby town in time to track us and lay in wait. Besides, the guy was a Dayyoos and everyone in the empire knew it.
I very much doubted that the bastard would get more than the obligatory dawn cavalry who were there to defend the empire from an attack which was already long over.
I stood just watching the busy traffic of people who were each tasked with some chore to set up the camp. I noticed that there were a few trees dotted around and a mile a way the sparse plant life agglomerated into a dense forest. It wasn’t un common to see a forest this far west but it had been so long since I was able to walk through tall grasses and shrubs under the dappled shade of trees… it was a dream I want to make a reality. Luckily before I ran off and probably received an arrow to the back Floki lay a hand on my shoulder bringing me out of the forest.
I turned my head to give a pointed look to his hand. When I exaggeratedly dragged my eyes to his face I expected a slap for my impertinence. Instead, the madman kept surprising me as he let out a hearty chuckle before giving my shoulder a light squeeze and pointed over to a large tent made of treated animal hides. Within the tent was a small fire pit- how?
I squinted in the direction of the tent and jerked my chin in towards it hoping to convey the question.
It took a moment or two before floki laughed bending to grip his knees as a braying laugh erupted. When he rose again I simply raised my eyebrows. ‘’ha… you think any Viking worth his salt would go to sea without a stock of dry wood?’’ it was Floki’s turn to raise his eyebrows at my apparent foolishness. Though I was only just learning that they called themselves Vikings… I could forgive myself for not paying attention considering everything.
‘’come girl. We’ll get warm with Helga.’’ He turned to walk before swivelling back to add ‘’she’s my wife- and she can get jealous so best keep those hands to yourself’’ he ended with a cat like grin and I let the laugh come out before I could clap my hands over my mouth. his grin only widened to show perfect teeth.

Chapter Text

And so, once we were in the tent the smile and echoes of my laughter left my face upon seeing the young girl huddled in a corner whilst Helga was on all fours trying to beckon her to come towards the fire. The girl was clearly wet and shivering and Helga only seemed to want to care for her yet the whole scene was unnerving. Helga looked as though she was at her wit's end and might push the girl into the flames from the sounds of her desperate pleas.

‘’Helga…’’ Floki whispered completely forgetting my presence. I moved forward to stand by his side seeing his face full of concern which seemed unnatural as his features twisted with a deep seeded pain. That was what it was to love.

Helga’s head snapped towards us with wide and frantic honey brown eyes which flickered in the fire's light. Her voice came hushed and anxious. ‘’Floki she won’t get warm by the fire- what if she gets sick?’’ pure fear took over her features before she turned back to the girl starting to reach forward as the childe edged further into the tent's fabric.

Before Helga could make another move Floki went to her gently taking her in hand and turning her from the girl. ‘’Helga… you must calm yourself- for the girl's sake.’’ Floki cooed gently stroking Helga's blonde hair which was almost dry from the heat of the small flame. Some how the tent captures all of the heat and made it feel like a warm summer evening rather than a night of dismal weeping from the heavens.

Floki held Helga close though she weakly tried to pull away whispering ‘’what will I do?’’ over and over. He cooed to soothe her and in the midst of this he turned to me and gave me a hopeful look before scowling at the poor girl. I could understand his position of course. The girl was being ‘ difficult’ and that was putting what looked like undue stress on his wife’s apparently fragile mind. ]however, I wouldn’t forget what this girl must have gone through the other night to end up in this position. Her mother gone her father probably dead and her only saviour was this slightly unhinged woman.

But I sighed knowing I had little choice but try to settle the strange atmosphere in hopes of bringing peace.

I moved carefully to the girl aware that Helga's ferocious gaze had turned on me. but I kept her on my periphery trying to focus on the task at hand. I began speaking Arabic hoping that the familiar words would calm the girl. ‘’Hello child.’’ she didn’t look up from her huddled position. I continued crouching in front of her trying to block the view of Helga. I felt the daggers carve their way into my back but refused to look. ‘’you know, I recognise you…’’ she still didn’t respond. ‘’I think your mother attended me at the palace’’ she peeked up so I knew this was the right track. ‘’she was very kind to me- and beautiful though she always said her daughter was more so. ‘’ she looked at me with large dark brown eyes ringed red from the tears that fell over dead bodies and her living madness. I gave her a smile of comfort though I knew it did little- yet a small part of me hoped she could find comfort in a strangers tenuous connection to her lost loved one.

I gently placed my hand on hers. Startled, her head darted up to look me in the eye. She was full of fear. I saw my old self reflected in those dark eyes of grief and despair. But I knew that I could help her here- left unchecked that despair would eat her from the inside and leave her as a hollow puppet for her new masters. I began softly remembering to keep my tone even so as not to alert Helga and Floki to my intention behind the words.

‘’now child- you must listen to me- you cannot show such fear now. You must make your tears like rain which falls silently in the night- it will help you grow without others seeing. The best thing you can do is fight- not physically- at least not yet. You must make your heart as iron so that people cannot hurt you again. make your soul a fire and forge the new you in its flames. The path of revenge is unending- just remember and keep moving.’’

I finished my soliloquy hoping that some of those words ade sense to her young mind.

She nodded slowly as her eyes strained to glimpse the Vikings behind me. I spoke again bringing her now cleared focus back to me. ‘’you know what you must do to survive?’’ the question was a complicated one. If she was indeed going to survive then she would need protection from someone more powerful. I couldn’t do it- I was unreliable.

But if she played the innocent then there seemed to be two people who would defend her. I cocked my head to the side listening to the Vikings but apart from soft coos they said nothing.

‘’my name is Tanaruz’’ she said unexpectedly. I straightened my head and gave a confident smile before introducing myself. ‘’Tanaruz – my name is Asaroul.’’

Perhaps we would have talked more about her mother. Or the city. Or anything else that we had lost. Unfortunately, the shrill cry which came from behind me interrupted us. I spun around and onto my feet in one swift movement to face whatever was making such a disturbing noise.

It was Helga. Floki was again trying to restrain her but she was clawing to get out of his hold and move towards Tannaruz. Some instinct made me place myself in front of the young girl but that only upset Helga more as she began shouting. ‘’Floki- Floki let me go- you heard she spoke.Floki I must go to her- she needs me!’’ she was trying to batter Floki but those fierce eyes were squarely on me. I was reminded of what we were taught as children fir when we might encounter such creatures in the wilderness. A tigress eyeing how to rip you apart because you’ve stumbled between her and her cub.

A situation I didn’t really need to be in.

I was between deciding to defend tanaruz from the crazed woman or using the distraction as a way to make a run for it. But the decision was taken from my hands as tanaruz emerged from behind me. she gave a nervous smile to me before putting her focus on Helga . she approached the woman tentatively as a child would an ally cat. She inched closer and closer and Helga stopped thrashing suddenly entranced by tannaruz. Floki released his wife and before tannaruz could get too close he jerked back onto his feet. I watched with some disbelief at how this child could raise such courage to approach a Viking in this way. The atmosphere in the tent seemed extremely fragile as if the smallest whisper would break it. Then tanaruz lowered herself to her knees before Helga and placed a hand upon Helgas which I noticed are now dug deep into the sodden earth beneath us. Yet with that one touch the crazed desperation dissipated to become a calm spoken on a sigh of relief that we all breathe.

Tanaruz’s voice came soft and almost inaudible as she spoke to Helga ‘’Aismi hu Tanaruz…’’ my name is Tanaruz.

With that Helga seemed appeased and I was completely invisible to her as she turned to floki her words breathey and slow as all the fury I saw before was replaced with a deep satisfaction. ‘’do you see floki…?’’ she was brief for she then turned back her focus again on the girl but this time it was that loving gaze with which she looked at her. A tender hand came to her hair and began to stroke thhe long walnut locks lovingly. Luckily it seemed only I noticed the stifled flinch which tannaruz fought as Helga petted her.

I was so focused on the scene that I only just noticed Floki’s expression before he left the tent. His mouth was slightly downturned and his arms were limp at his sides showing defeat. However, his eyes showed a deep mixture of conflicting sadness and hope- maybe fear danced in their shadows.

Chapter Text

I gave a glance to Tanaruz as I exited the tent but she looked at the ground determinedly as Helga continued to touch her as a mother would a long lost child.
She would be interesting to see grow- a desert rose or Bella donna?
Outside I was surprised to see that the skies had stopped their wet assault on the earth and were thinning to reveal glimpses of the night sky, suddenly the memory of the hilm overtaking me last time I gazed at the sparkling darkness made me keep my eyes in the earthly realm – I wasn’t prepared for another episode.
I searched the growing encampment for where Floki had fled to. I finally found him stood closer to the wood in a huddle of people who with the darkness and lack of fire light where more shadow than human. The only thing that betrayed Floki was his tendency to stand apart from the group which more easily revealed his lithe form.
I decided to wade through the busy stream of people coming and going with supplies. Such activity told me that they were setting up to be here for a day or two at least. The air was scented with the flowers growing all over. Seeing them on a moonless night they were strangely otherworldly with their silhouettes which bent and twisted as the sun had dictated. I continued to walk through the mud which squelched between my twos chillingly. But there was little opportunity to dwell on it as I dodged the task driven Vikings as they trafficked between the tents.
I eventually came to be only a tent away from Floki’s group when suddenly a sneering cackle cut through the raucous of a fresh camp. I turned toward the wood and a tent which was warmly lit with a large fire even stools and furs to sit on. But only two men occupied the tent. One who sat toying with his circular shield, yellow and quartered by red lines, near the fire whilst the other guffawed loudly at the poor souls before him.
The other women of the city who had been collected as bounty had been moved in their timid huddle to the mud beside a tent which after examining it appeared to be the mobile armoury or blacksmiths as numerous tools sat beside the weapons.
The women were wet through in their soiled and torn clothes which were far too thin to fight off the night chill. The man; large and shaven headed with a small beard- of course, those three things generally described most of the people here. He stood on the borders of his tents perimeter with some sort of food clutched in his thick hands. he laughed heartily again as the women flinched as one.
I dodged out of the way of men carrying a goat recently killed. I stood still again torn between seeking safety from Floki’s shadow or investigating the fate of these women – I sighed deeply. There really was no choice.
So I walked on. Past the tents and through even more mud until I felt the fires light touch my skin pleasantly. His laugh erupted again as he threw his food at the girls. it was full but weezey betraying his age with a soft rattle- it was grating. His voice was even more so as it came out gruff and nasally ‘’haha- rats in the mud!- look, Rolf ! they are too proud to take my scraps. You won’t be like that in a few days.’’
I understood.
He was in charge of them. any food for them was going to go through him. and they wouldn’t get any unless he felt they had earned it- in whatever way tickled his fancy.
I gritted my teeth as he continued his assault. Throwing food and waiting for them to beg him for it. The pig.
I approached slowly. It was Rolf who saw me first. his head perked up, his smile disappearing, he produced a loud grunt to alert his friend. The nameless man turned with curiosity his eyes searching until they landed on me. a wicked smile crept onto his lips as he spoke. ‘’it seems someone has strayed from the flock. We shall have to tie her with the rest of the sheep.’’
First rats now sheep. He needed to pick one- one eats away at you slowly and the other just batters you in the head. I would like to fulfil his metaphors potential.
I smiled coyly as he stalled surprised that I still walked towards them. when he realised I was coming with no resistance he laughed that disgusting cackle again. I simply continued sheepishly until I was stood right in front of the man. I glanced at the women who wore worried expressions- though I knew it wasn’t concern for my well-being.
‘’look at the little lamb- come right back.’’ So sheep it was. ‘’and my she is a fine bit of meat.’’ He chewed on the words before a large hand connected with my arse. The smack seemed to reverberate around us and it triggered something- something old inside of me.
A fury engulfed me as he grabbed and pulled at me. mewls of worry and fear rippled through the group of women. And I knew exactly why. The coy smile had dropped from my face and my boy had stopped its shy façade. Instead, a sneer twisted my face as my body instinctively repositioned into a fighting stance.
The next few seconds seemed to blur as I glanced into the tent to see the closest weapon to hand. I rolled to a crouch beside a cluster of spears with tips like short swords.
The man spun with a confused expression, slipping slightly in the thick mud as he did so. I acted quickly as I knew he could soon restrain me or kill me.
I grabbed a spear firmly. Then with movements, I had rehearsed from the years of training, I struck. One, two: I double tapped his forehead with the wooden point. His hands flew to his head in defence but I was finished there. a sharp jab to the abdomen came next followed by a hard shot to the crotch which made him double over in pain. He was almost put out of action but my final move was to swiftly step side on and bringing the shaft to his knees.
The crunch that preceded his tumbling shriek said it all.
I spun to face Rolf who was- well he was gone. I was suddenly aware that a crowd was beginning to gather around me and sooner or later one of the bystanders would want to punish me. I didn’t have long.
So what did I do in that time- run? Of course not. I went up to the women who crouched in the mud defeated and fearful. Yes, most of them had caused some of my misery in the last two years but- well if Tanaruz and I could have new starts why not them?
Most were of the harem- I could tell by the fine silks they wore. But a few were servants of remarkable beauty- the Vikings spirit animal must be a magpie. When I got close enough they tried to shuffle off but it soon became clear that wasn’t possible as each was tied by the ankle to a sunken post. I sneered at the thing- I had known this feeling of being trussed up like an animal. But in my periphery, I saw that they flinched from me in response. I widened my eyes and gave a soft smile in apology. I marched up to the post with the spear still in my hand. I still felt a little amped up from fighting without a final resolution. I adjusted the spear in my hand then hopped; once, twice and I was in the air parallel to the ground as I brought the blade down on top of the rope which bound them all.
It shredded easily and the post cracked. Unfortunately, the vibration coming off of the spear forced me to drop it into the mud. As I spared it a second I thought to note the small carving in its shaft- an autograph?
The women now freed had the choice to make a break for it and be hunted down or come to a dark shadow which lurked in the palaces whispers.
I won't lie they paused for a long time considering the options. In fact, a few went to make a break for it but were stopped by the insistence of the others and the intimidation of the already assembled mob who would be chasing them.
They decided to take the opportunity I was giving them as they crept closer and then scurried into the tent to eat and warm themselves as I watched on with one eye on the crowd who whispered amongst them.
‘’Who is that’’
‘’the witch struck Cnut?’’
‘’ I heard she cast a spell on Bjorn and then hexed Eikki!’’
And so the whispers went. Some of my reputation preceded me thankfully and the people were hesitant to approach. Mean while the women were each chewing on some meat which, by the look on their faces, was distasteful. They crowded around the fire and I saw some compassion surface even in this dark moment as the servants were allowed the closest as they were the worse off it seemed.
But the moments of victory didn’t last long.
‘’my lord there!’’ a rasping and weak voice shouted above the crowds' murmurings. ‘’the witch has freed the slaves!’’
No doubt that was the missing Rolf. He had brought someone as back up and whoever they were they were parting the crowd like a boat does the waves.
Then I heard a distinctly orotund and melodic voice which cut to my bone. ‘’what is going on here!’ it was Bjorn and he sounded annoyed.
I was glad I no longer had the spear in my hand so I wouldn’t look like an ongoing threat. Though I did give it a side glance- a thought to stupidly fighting my way out of this horde crossed my mind.
But in reality, I knew I would most likely have to subjugate myself to the punishment which had no doubt been looming ever since I spoke that stupid Vikings name. where was he now to tell his sons that I was here by the gods bidding?
When he finally broke through the last line of people his face shocked me.
He was shaven. Almost clean shaven. His hair was still braided but it too was clean its scent of something floral carried on the wind. Everything about him was clean and fresh. I stared for too long at him and quickly averted my attention to those who followed him. obviously, there was a sneering Rolf who glanced at his friend before waiting patiently for me to get my comeuppance. The rest however looked to be his brother and uncle along side Finehair and his brother Halfdan.
And lingering at the back though he couldn’t hide because of his stature was Floki. Clearly, the strange man had retreated to what looked like a council of strategic affairs in order to escape the looming reality of his wife’s decaying mental state. Not very strange when said plainly- but I chewed my lip suddenly very thankful that my moral compass had made me divert from finding floki. It was a better alternative to mutely stumbling in on a council meeting and having Floki explain poorly why I was looking for him.
Though that would have turned awkward I had to admit that the current situation wasn’t much better.
The crowd grew bigger as more people suddenly became interested in seeing me be punished for what sounded like countless rumours which had started flying about the camp. They wanted it and expected it.
I was waiting for it like the hanging sword above my head - it was bound to drop.

Chapter Text

But after moments of silence as he assessed the scene and I tried to avoid his eyes- well I broke. But it was like a smouldering log suddenly breaks open to ignite a flame once more. I could keep doing this shit. I had to stare him down.

So that’s what I did. In the silent and muggy night, I locked eyes with his. His were so cool that I felt they might wash me away but I gritted my teeth and continued my stare. No one in the crowd said anything. The atmosphere was only disrupted when Finehair spoke up and moved from his brother's side to Bjorn’s.

‘’ha- the little witch is causing a lot of trouble for you I think Bjorn’’ his tone was light but I felt the air become stale as I waited for him to reveal whatever ulterior motive he had for talking. Bjorn said nothing. His expression was stern but I could almost see his brain working.

‘’well if you are in need for someone to take her off of your hands then my brother and I would be willing…’’ his voice filtered out as Bjorn turned the full power of his brutally offended gaze on the man.

But he wasn’t the only one. I turned to the man with a scoff of disbelief at his audacity. he thought that he could own me. It took men with armed garrisons to keep me imprisoned. It took an empire to keep me in check. And they still got nothing from me. Finehair was engaged in a private battle for dominance with Bjorn like two oxen facing off before a fight. Behind him though Halfdan kept his eyes on me and gave a humoured smile at my reaction. I quirked an eyebrow at the blond man who just smiled wider.

I was brought back to the alphas facing off when Floki suddenly moved to Bjors other side. he slithered through the crowd and dipped to whisper in Bjorn’s ear. I couldn’t hear his words but I could read the reaction on Bjorn’s face. Scepticism and worry. He broke the stalemate to address me.

His voice was low but still powerful enough to carry through the air. ‘’go with Floki.’’ It was a simple instruction. And part of me wanted to scamper away shielded by Floki and the way everyone tended to avert their eyes from him. my foot even moved a wary inch in the mud. But the small whimper which suddenly came from the tent drew my attention.

The girls had retreated from the fire to the interior of the tent as Rolf had slipped closer and unsheathed his sword. Distantly I heard Bjorn’s voice say something but I was preoccupied with Rolf who edged closer to the tent with no one saying a word to question why he was armed.

I didn’t have time to question my instincts this time.

I quickly dropped to grasp the spear once more and lunged into a run to cut Rolf off. I stood in front of the tent with the spear pointed at Rolf.

In the few seconds of silence that followed I felt my very blood sizzle with anticipation; anticipation for a fight where my life was on the line. The rush, the thrill of the life I tried to lock away. To quiet the primitive growl that rumbled in my chest at the idea of stopping another's heart to save my own. It was a life lived for other’s entertainment.

The addiction I thought buried was rearing its ugly head.

Thankfully the booming voice which surrounded me, it’s fury bouncing around the camp, broke the intensity of my concentration.

‘’STOP NOW.’’

I forced myself to look at the mud. To watch the swirling imprints of boots and rain. I had to breathe with the curling trails and relax. I couldn’t let the sputtering flames within consume my consciousness- not again. I have survived that life.

But from the moment this ordeal began I was getting closer to falling into that chasm of numbing electricity which stopped the hurt and made my horrendous hell bearable. I couldn't become that woman from the hilm. I couldn’t give myself to her freedom and joy- no matter how tantalising the prospect.

Bjorn marched through the mud his bulk caused his squelching footsteps to sink more than i. only Floki and finehair trailed after him. they were like wolves- two alphas and a rogue- they shouldn’t be seen together.

The other three stayed put seemingly disinterested by my antics. They talked quietly amongst themselves happy to watch on with smirks and muted laughter.

Bjorn however approached with a face like a crack of thunder.

Floki slid into stride beside Bjorn to whisper into his ear- whatever he said only made Bjorn’s face darken.

When the trio came close enough I flinched into position to face both them and Rolf. Wary of Finehairs motives. But a look of disapproval from Bjorn was all it took for me to drop the spear for it to flop into the mud poignant in the silence that had taken the crowd. I didn’t allow myself to show the weakness of looking for it as a source of comfort. No, I kept my nerve and stared into Bjorn's face my jaw tense with a determination that I was not going to let these girls be abused. My body too was tensed to react in case Rolf took his orders from Finehair and tried to take me by surprise.

In my periphery, I could see that the man still had his sword drawn. His greasy black hair clung to his sweaty brow as he panted in eagerness to attack me and avenge his friend who was still unconscious in the mud. He wasn’t looking to his friend though, or to Bjorn- his gaze flickered between myself and finehair. As I had suspected.

Bjorn saw how my eyes travelled and upon reading my concern he looked to Finehair and gave a curt instruction. ‘’Control your man’’

Finehair smiled and cocked his head as if contemplating if he would follow the order. Eventually, he puffed a bored sigh and commanded rolf.’’put your sword away and collect Cnut before the little witch teaches you a lesson.’’ With that said he turned his large fur lined cloak twirling in the air above the mud.

Rolf Grimaced at the implied lack of skill on his part. But begrudgingly he sheathed his sword.

At this time I was slowly piecing together that Finehair had a lot more influence than I had assumed. He wasn’t just some uppity lackey- he had power and some people recognised it as being above Bjorns. I couldn’t rely on Bjorn's support alone if I kept butting into their strange affairs. Which I knew I would be doing a lot of.

I needed to be ready to face him.

I watched as finehair walked away. Before reaching his brother though he called out over his shoulder to Rolf ‘’ and tie those damn slaves up before I make you dig the latrines.’’ It was a casual command which I suppose he thought would go unopposed. So did everyone else as the crowd began to turn to tend to their business.

My head snapped to look at Rolf who moved somewhat sluggishly his grimy face screaming his frustration. I hopped to plant myself squarely opposite him. I looked him over noting his skinny form less defined than Floki. But I knew that in hand to hand combat I would struggle to defeat him whilst being aware in case back up tried to take me out.

Rolf glared at me a cruel and malformed sile peaking through his beard. Then he began to advance. I readied myself in a crouched stance swallowing the fear filled bile that was coming up.

A broad back slid into my sight blocking Rolf from view. Bjorn’s tunic was taught over his shoulders- enough from me to be able to see the definition of his tensed shoulder blades.

The crowd had turned back now expecting a Viking on Viking fight.

‘’Stand Down’’ was all Bjorn said but the nervous looks in the crowd told me his expression must have portrayed deadly intent. That and his body told me he was an intimidating opponent; his chest expanded and he stood to his full height- he was in charge.

Rolfs voice barely carried above the crowd's murmurs. A slight tremble infected his words ‘’sorry Lord, i- I only w-wish to follow my king's orders.’’

Bjorn remained silent.

The atmosphere was thick with suspense. My eyes darted around the crowd now seeing the different reactions dappled on their faces to imminent fight; anger, concern, pride and excitement. But they all fell back a few steps to allow room for the clashing Vikings. Even I had to take a step backwards but I moved to stand over the discarded spear- I wouldn’t be useless in a fight I was the cause of.

But as it turned out all of the voorpret and mental preparation was for nought.

Suddenly from my new vantage point, I saw Floki appear beside Rolf and snake his arm over the short man's shoulders. Leaning down to Rolf's ear Floki began to talk in a light almost jingling tone.

‘’Now- I think we had our fill of fight- who am I kidding? We’re Vikings!’’ he proclaimed to the crowd who cheered his words. ‘’we will fight until death!’’ he had turned Rolf to look at the crowd with him and continued addressing them all passionately. ‘’but to enter Valhalla over slaves?-Odin would fall off his throne laughing,’’ a small chuckle echoed through the crowd; the mood was lightening.

However, I could feel the tension still radiating off of Bjorn.

He turned again to the distant finehair. ‘’So Finehair! Is this mockery over?- can we ALL admit that the witch has proven she has courage enough to face a Viking unarmed?’’

All eyes were on Finehair – king FInehair as I had just learnt. His head turned so as to look over his fur lined shoulder with an expression of nonchalance about the whole thing- but I saw how his hand fisted up in the material which hid his sword – wringing the life out of the animal pelt.

A few seconds passed in silence again as everyone waited with bated breath for his reply. Eventually, he narrowed his eyes at Bjorn lightly saying ‘’ Make me an offer’’

Floki’s smile faltered when he looked to Bjorn’s face but he kept it up despite what he saw. Though Bjorn too replied lightly ‘’we shall talk long over ale- and plenty of it!’’ which he followed with a chuckle that was soon joined by most other Vikings including Finehair- his eyes devoid of humour.

no matter what his face showed the people I could tell by the twitching muscles of his back and shoulders that Bjorn was far from jovial and calm.

Suddenly though the atmosphere was relaxed and the Vikings took it as their cue to disperse- although some grumbled and groaned about the lack of blood sport after all the time they had waited; some promised that it would come when they were all drunk enough to settle old scores.

Finehair and Bjorn stared at each other for a moment and It seemed to me that they weighed each other against their own preconceptions after what may have been the first open conflict they had had. Then as Tigers after a skirmish, they exchanged a respectful nod before Finehair turned to walk and join his brother.

Meanwhile, Rolf seemed lost as he stood before Bjorn his head apparently incapable of independent thought.

Eventually, Floki unravelled himself from the man, growing bored of waiting for the man to take a hint, he gruffly talked to the air ‘’you can take that lump away now’’’ it was as if the man was already gone the way floki dismissed his presence.

I, on the other hand, stood nervously. Not for fear of attack but for fear of how Bjorn would face me. a stone formed in my stomach trying to drag me to my knees. But I locked my joints with all my will against the idea of showing my relief at Bjorn’s rescue.

But if Bjorn’s expression was at all reflected in Floki’s reaction to him then it most certainly looked like a crack in the sky.

‘’I’m going to sort out a price with Finehair join me after you clean up this mess.’’ Bjorn tone was tight with frustration. And with that said he walked away without looking at me. when he reached the darkness of the next tent Hvitserk emerged from the shadows to walk with his brother- I hadn’t noticed him at all…

Chapter Text

Floki spoke ‘’he will calm down after his ale- Finehair cant put too much of a price on the slaves’ heads. Besides he himself has caused enough trouble in his time.’’ He must have noticed how my eyes followed Bjorn’s retreating form. I focused on Floki then and smiled- they were kind words though I didn’t think even he believed them.

But with that ordeal over with I turned around to look at the faces of the women whom it appeared had suddenly become my responsibility. There were five in total- three concubines and two servants. They were all beautiful and slender- as most of the new slaves would be I imagined. Unconsciously my hands smoothed down my clothes before I noticed Floki’s studious gaze which made me aware of the action. I stopped immediately and squeezed my hands into fists before relaxing them.

It was a nervous habit I had picked up which broadcasted my insecurity to the world. I was more muscular than most women in the harems. ‘’thicker’’ was how most of my masters had put it. Of course, I was never in those places to sleep with the men and move up the ladder but… to hear it from a child new to that world – for a time it became an obsession.

When I had comparative freedom in the palace of the emir of Cordoba I was able to wonder the halls and explore what was my glorious prison. In those times I was confronted with the beguiling beauty of the women of court. And as one might have expected as a young woman I wanted nothing more than to belong- to have a position other than prisoner. So I missed training nd meals to try and gain a more feminine figure. It was also in that time of reckless youth that I had a string of lovers who were enthralled with the idea of bedding the emir’s pet oracle. It was one of the reasons I ended up being sold I suppose.

But since that time I was determined to ossify myself against such follies of youth and the disposition of the courts. These people weren’t my friends – they were my jailers. That was when I stopped telling them my predictions. That was when they started to hurt me. that was when I started to hurt them.

But we were the same here- all slaves. At least I think I was a slave- just a troublesome one.

So here I was with five people besides myself to take care of- maybe six if I counted tanaruz- exactly the place I didn’t want to be. I was now shackled.

‘’ah… it isn’t so bad- train them up and you’ll have some good servants when we get back to Kattegat.’’ Floki chimed in as if he could hear my thoughts.

But what he said didn’t make sense.

I assumed Kattegat was their home or at least their hub. But servants? Me? I looked at the man with an expression of confused concern to which he laughed. A wicked and resounding laugh which scared the girls. when I didn’t change my expression apart from an arched eyebrow Floki elaborated.

‘’you don’t think that we can still consider you to be a slave- a witch maybe…’’ Floki sighed exaggeratedly at the fact he was having to explain to me that which was so obvious to him. ‘’when we reach Kattegat the seer shall test you- if you are what we think you are then you shall be by Bjorns side as he leads us- you will be a guide given to us by the Gods.’’ He looked up in reverence beyond the skies he saw something- something no mortal sees- at least not when they're sane.

As the Vikings promised there was plenty of ale. And as many had predicted small fights broke out around the camp over slights done during the raid- mainly the claiming of treasure or women.

I sat on guard as the night wore on. The women had felt safe enough to sleep under my watch now that they were fed and watered. Floki had stayed with me for a good hour but eventually, he said he had to report to Bjorn. I hadn’t seen him since.

As the sky cleared to reveal the plethora of stars I watched from what was now my tent. Hear on the edge of the encampment I could watch the comings and goings of most on their way to what I assumed was Bjorn’s tent or at least where he had his meetings. With the brittle forest behind me with its aged wood that creaked with the breeze I felt secure that no one could sneak up on me- and those that wouldn’t bother sneaking would be too much for me to handle anyway…

I sat cross legged on the edge of the tents canopy with a large dagger on my lap staring at the activity in the camp acted out in flickering torch light and jumbled shadows. A rustling from behind had me spin onto my foot and knee with the dagger gripped tightly primed to inflict damage. But I breathed a sigh of relief when the honey eyes of one of the serving girls met mine. She had moved away from the sleeping pile they had formed for comfort- I had kept the fire going so we were al warm. She was a small woman at about 5 foot with a slender build and I guessed her age to be thirty or so.

I turned around back to my duty expecting her to keep her distance from me as the others had wanted to do. Yet a moment later she joined me. I glanced at her from the corner of my eye waiting for her to give me some desperate plea to help her escape but she kept her gaze straight seemingly watching the goings on as I was.

We sat like that for some time. I looked over her numerous times trying to figure out her motives. She was as I said slender and small but in the muggy night, she had shed some of her heavier garbs to reveal a toned form. She must have been very muscular at one time- more so than any servant needed to be. Her skin was paler than the others with a golden tone that almost shimmered under the fire light. Her hair, thick and jet, was plaited though now it was undone in places telling of her unfortunate experience last night.

She turned suddenly to meet my curious gaze. A soft smile curved her thin lips. Then she spoke in a subdued but still melodic tone that I felt was almost familiar. ‘’thank you for helping us’’ her smile waivered as she continued ‘’I can only pray that the others had someone to save them. yet in truth I know they weren’t as lucky…’’  she looked out into the night unseeing. I remained silent beside her trying to be respectful of her feelings.

‘’but I should be thankful for what the gods did bring.’’ That caught my attention- gods? I looked at her carefully before speaking.

‘’you’re Egyptian?’’ I asked already knowing that was the only explanation and suddenly all her familiar traits made sense.

She smiled shyly ‘’you must be familiar with my kin to have discerned that so quickly. I am usually quite good at hiding my heritage.’’

I could understand her reason for hiding her lineage- to be a servant one needed to blend in. the Egyptians I had met along my journey to al andulas were of two kinds- the cruel and the beaten.

She was a survivor of a great civilization. I could see it in the way she carried herself; elegance and refinement. A strong woman not broken but smart.

As she sat beside me I saw her gaze stretch across the camp into the unknown- wistful as she recalled a life which was no longer hers. Secrets buried that no longer mattered. I was scared to look further than right now-something told me that today’s storm was not the one which I was to be pitted against by fate. I sat and remembered the blue eyes which had barrelled onto the docks- Bjorn’s eyes…?

The fich fich began its choral sough.

The storm waits, we run to it…

The world will turn… and burn…

Its fire shall die by your hand…

I quickly grew frustrated by its snake like riddles and bit down viciously on my cheek. The familiar rush of warm metallic liquid and pain came. The pounding of my heart drowned out the fich fich.

’I had heard tales of you… before this.’’

She suddenly spoke pulling me out of my brief relief. The words brought a familiar anxiety to the forefront of my mind- what rumors were floating about the palace?- would they finally cost me my life?

I shook my head. That wasn’t my life anymore. And if these people were going to be convinced of my being a witch- well the ship had sailed on that topic. I smirked to myself- the god's plans could easily be undone by common mob mentality.

Still smirking I softly asked the woman ‘’what did you hear from the palace- nothing good I trust? ‘

She chuckled quietly. ‘’from the palace? No, nothing good.’’ She sighed almost forlorn. ‘’but I heard of you long before you came to Algeciras.’ 

I sat waiting for her to tell me of the fantastic or terrible tales that had been spun about me over long distances.

Her eyes lost focus as she began to relive some memory- surely only revealing a fraction to me.

''I was part of the Lions ALyad- the descendants of Sekhmet. We were chosen at birth to be guards for royalty. But once the royal line was ended… we trained for when the old gods would restore the pharaoh.’

A small smile graced her lips but in a blink, it was gone. Replaced by a wary grimace.

‘’we had hope when we heard of an oracle. but we also heard of a child snatched from her family to live in chains as all hungered for her… a dark tale’’

She looked at me then with pity in her dark eyes. I jutted out my chin in opposition to the label she projected onto me. She saw me as a victim- yes I was robbed of a normal life. And yes in the dark days I see myself as the god’s toy.

But we were reinventing ourselves.

Besides, I had been a loyal and prized pet of the great emir- and for that, I had lived in luxury for a time.

But even in the darkest moments I always told myself that I would survive- and I did- I would continue to live.

So for her to pity me from some old story I had to swallow the biting comment I wanted to say in response.

Instead, I let out my unnecessary anger in a hot puff of air which clouded into curlicues in the night air. A raucous rose up a few tents away but died as suddenly as it had come. Distracted for a moment the woman stared into the night with suspicion so I took the opportunity to ask a question which had been nagging me since meeting.

‘’so how is it that a daughter of Sekhmet came to be a servant in Algeciras… ?’’

Her expression became solemn before she answered. ‘’we fell out of favour with the umayyad Governor- he saw us as a threat to his authority.’’ She sounded cold as she spoke of her past life as though she had put a distance between it and herself- the oonly way she could go on I supposed. ‘’we devoted ourselves wholly to our gods and goddesses. And we waited for the day they would help us reclaim the throne of Egypt for our people. But he did not want us to become martyrs for our cause- instead he sold us as slaves. I guess in a way I was lucky to be sent to a city beyond the Abbissidians coup.’’ She sighed before sounding more cheery with her next words. ‘’I don’t think any of that matters now though; we will be sold to new masters in new lands…’’

I stilled for a moment deliberating on whether or not I should tell her what Floki said; she might serve me…

But I decided against it. I wouldnt get their hopes up only for them to be shattered later- it made things harder. Besides Floki didn’t speak for Bjorn and Bjorn might tire of me and stick me with his sword.- just because it was said today did not mean it would be said tomorrow.

‘’it’s Aziza by the way.’’ I was roused from my inner turmoil. I turned to the woman who showed me a small and vulnerable smile. I returned it in kind suddenly feeling some solidarity with this woman.

‘’my name is Asariel,’’ I spoke my name; finally with the music and clarity of my native tongue.

We spoke little after our introduction except on our fighting skills which she complimented me on. I told her the vague stories of how I was taught melee and hand to hand combat from an early age with my younger brothers. And how the emir continued the education after I was kidnapped hoping the discipline would help tap into my power.

Aziza wouldn’t speak much of her past- only remarking on the similarities in our disciplines though I favored spear whilst she favored sword. We laughed however on the likely hood that we would both live in a city – her for ten years- and yet never had we crossed paths until our lives were torn away once more.

We sounded like normal girls in those tentative hours of darkness- well as normal as trained killers could sound chatting about their techniques. But I’m sure she saw in me those tell-tale signs of anxiety as eyes darted to the camp with every distant sound.

The sky began to lighten with the approaching dawn and as I looked at the activity of the Vikings it was clear their celebrations were not yet over. The sight of one of them stumbling in the shadows to be warned off was becoming too common and I knew that the more alcohol that flowed the less restraint they would have. For this reason, the other girls had awoken an hour or so ago. They remained further in the tent and eyed Aziza as a traitor for conversing with me. Yet still, It was more eyes to watch the moving shadows for danger so I let their trembles and sneers pass. They kept the fire going at least – mostly because of their fear.

All in all, I think I could safely say that we felt a lack of security. As far as I knew only Aziza and I were familiar with combat.

We needed some muscle and authority. I could only hope that Floki wasn’t too drunk to provide it.

’I’m going to find us some help.’’ I spoke in a hushed tone though I kept my voice even so as not to alarm anyone. I stood abruptly and dusted myself off. I looked at the weapons rack seeing more spears and swords. I could take one. I huffed with the thought that a newly acquired slave walking around with a weapon would gain more attention than one scurrying in the shadows- I didn’t want some drunkard mistakenly attacking me. So I walked off into the enemies camp. Behind me I heard a faint ‘be safe…’’ come from the inner tent. A smile tugged at my lips.

Chapter Text

There was only one person I could hope to find and as I looked into the opening of the fabric maze the task seemed daunting.- could I even rely on Floki.

Walking through the tents was like walking into another world. Drink flowed; an enchanting amber liquid which glowed under the fire light. The scents in the air were pungent; sour wheat and spice, the musk of the people as they fought and fucked.

They were free people with little to no reserve. Living life to the fullest because their lives meant tomorrow they could be dead.

I walked the already well-trodden paths weaving between tents. My bare feet squelched in the cold mud sending tingles up my spine. I made sure to stick to the middle of the channels not daring to venture too near to the revelry lest I might dragged into some game. The occupants were particularly rowdy as pale and tanned faces showed the range of expressions as some laughed and some cried. The groping pale hands always a threat.

Eventually, I found the tent which seemed to lay at the centre of the maze shift village. In its depths sat a limber man hunched over a pitcher as he sat on a small stool, his back to the dying flames. Strewn about the floor were empty skeins though scanning the interior of the tent I noticed the lack of activity and the clear void surrounding this place told me that clearly, this place was to be avoided. The stagnant atmosphere and sour smell a clear warning from the man who inhabited the tent.

I walked past the sputtering flames and into the tent. My hackles rose in response to the primitive sense of danger as the air grew fuzzy from the fumes.

The man vaguely recognised my presence with a grunt. Floki was 4 sheets to the wind. He swayed a little on his little perch crowded by empty places that had presumably been occupied by Bjorn and the others. On the floor again were hard yet more luxurious furs to be used as spontaneous beds... My skin began to crawl as I neared Floki- his shadow danced like a cobra under the glow of the coals.

When I came just out of what I calculated to be arms reach I halted. My body seizing with a sense of foreboding.

‘’this was your message…’’

His tone was scathing though barely a whisper.

‘’you’re the vessel of their will,’’ his head snapped towards me with a vicious expression. His voice serpentine as his restrained fury slithered through the air. ‘’tell me why… why Ragnar died…’’ his head dropped. ‘’why- like this… After he finally forgave…’’ sadness and loss seeped in now. He trembled like a child trying to understand the colossus that was death.

I had’t’ realised Floki would have a relationship with Ragnar. But of course for the gods to convey his message the man must have had great reach in life. I could possibly fathom the depths of their relationship now- but I could think it as elaborate as creation from the grief which saturated the air. They must have loved each other.

’Floki ..’’ I whispered to him as I inched closer. I couldn’t think of any words – none would be enough to console him.

‘’don’t bother ba-babbling your witch’s tongue…’’ he garbled and slurred as his sway became more tenuous as he tried to steady his balance. I knew he would topple.

I bit my lip- I was about to take a risk-I could only hope his mind was as addled by the drink as I thought it was. I hoped he wouldn’t remember any of this.

I took a deep breath and took a step towards him. I bent to look into his eyes as he hung his head. ‘’Floki’ I said softly as I stared into his teary blue eyes which tried to focus on my face. ‘’I’m sorry that Ragnar had to die...’ he gave a small whine at the mention of his name- salt on the wound. ‘’but he is waiting for you all- he said so himself…’’ he perked up then his mad eyes still glazed.

A wide grin slowly bloomed on his face as he sniggered. ‘’Hehe… I knew it… I … knew you were special…’’

I smiled at his cheer from my words. The more I knew this man the more I found myself comparing him to a precocious child. ‘’yes- you are devilishly clever.’’ I placed my hands on his shoulders and as he swayed I helped to guide him down to a soft thump on the pelts.

‘’mmm…I shall see them all tonight…’’ Floki mumbled as he nuzzled the fur beneath him falling into a deep sleep.  I smiled genuinely I hope a get to know you, Floki…

Trusting that he would be warm enough after I piled furs atop the snoring giant I decided it was best not to leave an unattended fire with the drunk man. I found a bucket of sand next to the pit and used it to smother the last sparking scintillas of warmth.

Speaking of unattended things- I looked over the top of the mass of tents into the glowed which the multiple fires exuded trying to get a sense of whether my fellow captives were safe…

All is well…

The fich fich ghosted on the winds of my mind. I only trusted it so far though. I had to make my way back and help protect them.

I looked down the crooked path which wound between the tents. Here it was mostly dark which gave me confidence that I could creep back undetected. I glanced back at the comatose Floki grimacing at the dreadful fact that I was very much alone at this moment. Should I be stumbled upon by Rolf or his oafish friend then I would be defenceless. Especially since I had thought it better not to take some sort of weapon lest I upset a drunk savage.

I began moving down the path I had come by only to get to the next tent when a single torch light sprang up coupled with the welcoming cheers of friends who had just lit their torch. Bastards were going to be on me in a second. Cursing I began to backtrack to duck in with Floki when I heard a horribly familiar chuckle come from that direction. I listened intently to the following slurred shushes which were just as loud as the laughter.

Finehair and whatever slime that followed him were coming.

Shit.

I quickly assessed my situation- I was stuck on a muddy path between densely packed tents with enemies approaching from both known exits.

Shit.

I saw that I had two options. Option 1- dive between the tents to come out on another path and escape. But I wouldn’t know what I was diving into; if people would notice me squeezing between tents; what if I came out into the middle of a party to be accosted by Vikings?

I peered into the dark crack only to see a flicker of light- was it there or was I imagining it? I felt a chill creep up my spine. I doubted my current luck would allow for option one.

So two it was.

Hide!

A bolt of energy struck me propelling me into action as the lights began to round their respective corners. I turned and spun around a hanging tarp to stand on the inside of a dark tent. I gave a silent prayer that any inhabitants were as far gone as Floki. I hugged the fabric of the tent with my body as I listened to the fast approaching conversations. As they grew louder their torch light grew brighter. The sudden sensation of warmth on my chilled feet made me look down. They were dirty golden feet which were bathed in the torches glow and throwing shadows on the ground through a gap between mud and fabric.

I stepped away from the fabric and retreated further into the tent which was beginning to brighten. I continued to listen to the voices. One conversation was nonsensible drunken dribble from people unknown. I tuned them out as I listened to the familiar rasping tones of ‘the king’ and his quiet brother.

‘’ I tell you Bjorn is crazy- thinking that Odin himself came to them to tell of Ragnar’s death.’’ He laughed superiorly and I groaned mentally at his inflated ego.

‘’but brother, even Hvitserk saw the man – and he is too naïve to lie about such things.’’ Halfdan chimed in which elicited a derisive snort from Fine hair before he continued.

‘’They are both naïve- that little witch could have cast a spell- they don’t know what they saw.’’ He gave a low rumble of contemplation before purring his next words. ‘’if it wasn’t for Bjorn she would be in chains now doing my bidding…’’

Halfdan gave a light chuckle ‘’that can wait until you are king of all Norway.’’

Finehair joined in with the good humoured tone ‘’well. With them turning the fleet around so soon I may get that crown sooner than planned.’’

Silence came as the two parties presumably saw each other before they called greetings. As they did so the torch light now crawled over the fabric of the tent revealing their shadows as pictures on the tarp. I continued to retreat into the tent registering as my feet crept onto the soft fur. I kept my eyes fixed on the movements of the shadows as they exchanged pleasantries and chatted.

Suddenly something gripped my ankle like a striking bird of prey. Before I could react the creature pulled my foot from beneath me which brought my body into the air. Closing my eyes I braced for impact with the ground and sucked in a deep breath as nausea came over me as my body became weightless. I purse my lips to stifle the groan that choked me as my weight came crashing to the floor with a muffled thud. Most of the air was forced from my lungs but luckily I had enough left to stave off the panic- I compelled myself to take slow silent breaths instead of gulps.

A weight rolled atop me but I refused to open my eyes-not until Finehair and the rest had moved on. I could endure until they were gone and out of earshot. I couldn’t hear their conversations anymore over the rushing of blood in my ears. My lungs burned as I continued to stem their desperate need for air. I could see the blood pulsing in my eyelids from the torch lights. The light lessened some and I brought my pulse and breathing under control. I prepared myself mentally to fight the person who had been suspiciously still on top of me.

When I did finally open my eyes I was ready to attack.

But instead, my breath hitched in my throat as I stared into azure eyes which mingled with the dancing light of the torch to create a Mediterranean sunset in his eyes.

I was pinned under his weight as he straddled me. I moved upwards an inch but immediately stopped when my skin felt the chill of a dagger's point.

The flames painted his skin orange and his hair shined like gold.

He was otherworldly.

‘’do you think he’s even responsive?’’ Finehair asked suddenly making me realise that they had lingered outside of the tent.

‘’would you like to poke the bear brother?’’ Halfdan mocked.

They shared a chuckle before walking on their way. I knew I should look to them – make sure that they had no suspicions of my being here.

But Bjorn’s eyes almost glowed from their growing intensity of blue against the darkness. We couldn’t- no, wouldn’t look away from each other.

The light faded plunging us into darkness. I felt keenly aware of my body pressing against his; of my chest rising and falling, my tingling body, my the thrilling chill of steel. And though I couldn’t see his face anymore I was certain that we were both still staring into each other’s eyes.

I licked my lips feeling how dry they were. As he hung over me I could smell a bittersweetness on Bjorn’s hot breath.

Suddenly his arm moved away from me followed by the distinct wet thud of what could have only been the knife landing in the mud.

My mind told me I knew what I had to do. I needed to escape. I needed to get back.

His breath grew hotter its scent growing sweet as his face hovered over mine.

He kissed me.

His lips crashed against mine hot and smooth against mine as I responded to his hunger. I forgot all responsibility and worry in that heat as I closed my eyes.

I felt a hand come to my waist as his other supported his weight. His large calloused hand roamed my stomach until it found my shirts hem. His fingers wandered my skin igniting it with his touch as his lips parted his tongue barging into my mouth. it was hot and rough as it grappled with my own.

His legs shifted as one fell between mine; his knee slid along the ground hurriedly parting mine. His hand fumbled then searching for the entrance to my pants.

He let out a distorted moan.

It was too fast.

I tasted only the bitterness and smelled the sourness of alcohol mixed with his musk. My eyes shot open and I saw how his own were glassy and bloodshot coming in and out of focus as if he didn’t really see me.

He was beyond drunk.

A boiling anger began to bubble in my stomach. My hands moved to try and get him off of me. I broke the kiss but he began to plant them sloppily on my neck.

The bastard was too heavy.

And his hand was getting too close to a goal.

It was awkward manoeuvring beneath but the courteous drunkard had left some room for my arm to slide back to its full reach before I balled my hand into a fist and I launched it into his abdomen.

It was Bjorn’s turn to lose his breath as the hot burst smothered my face before he rolled off to the side. He lay on his back gasping. I didn’t waste anytime thinking I had hurt him. I quickly got to my feet and blindly made my way toward the entrance.

My foot hit something. I remembered the knife from before and bent down to retrieve it. I heard a groan and spun to half-heartedly point the knife in Bjorn’s direction.

But I relaxed when I faintly saw his outline still on the floor recovering from my punch. I backed out of the tent; side stepping to keep an eye on Bjorn and my exit.

When I finally came into the night again I saw the pink hues of dawn begin to bleed into the sky.

Well, at least I had a knife. But I still had to make my way back. I didn’t dawdle long choosing to skulk in the shadows creeping past the drunk men and women who were attempting to find their abodes.

The journey was agonisingly long for me as I kept looking around, jumping at sounds, expecting someone (Bjorn, Finehair etc.) to catch up with me.

Eventually, I managed to break free from the horde of tents to see our tent whose fire was still dancing high.

Aziza was on her feet within moments of noticing me- reflexes never die. A weapon in her hand as the fire burned behind her- she was an intimidating sight to behold as her dark eyes became cold pitch. She recognised me as I slowly approached unafraid. She lowered her weapon fixing me with a curious gaze. But I had no energy for false pretences as my energy was ebbing fast.

‘’You look err…frazzled?’’ Aziza said uncertainly and hesitantly. I walked past her grunting in ascent. As I walked into the tent most of the women flinched with exaggerated squeaks of fear. I couldn’t handle anymore tonight so I spat ‘’Khamush’’ silence at them before collapsing onto unused furs and mumbling mostly to myself ‘’it’s been a long night…’

Chapter Text

When I reluctantly awoke it was to the sound of clattering dishes. Rolling over sluggishly I was struck still by the scene before me. it wasn’t horrific or anything such- more queer than alarming. Never the less I found myself afraid to move in case I shattered the strange calm of the morning.

Floki sat next to a nicely flickering fire staring into a great iron pot which was suspended above it he was silent as his blue eyes followed the gently stirring of his spoon. But his expression was warm as he laddeled the contents of the pot into a wooden bowl which was then offered to Aziza. Aziza carried the bowl of food to the girls still huddled on lovely furs surrounded by forboding instruments of death . from the looks of them this wasn’t their first bowl and it wouldn’t be the last as wooden spoons shovelled what looked like oats into their hungry mouths. Soon enough a chorus could be heard of spoons being scraped across the surface of fast emptying bowls.

I prop[ped myself onto my elbows watching as Aziza went back and forth retrieving bowls to refill from what seemed like a bottomless pot. The girls warily eyed Flokifrom a distance. In spite of their hostile stares, I heard the faint tune form Floki float on the undercurrents of the breeze: a whisper of spring.

I would have hoped to stay there perhaps enjoying the odd atmosphere of shelter from the storm. A small reprieve from reality.

Beyond the beige tarp of the tent, the trees encroached on the arid soil. They were glistening in the clear morning light as it hit the heavy drops of water that clung to branches and green leaves. The small black silhouettes of the birds darted in and out of the canopy. A salty breeze suddenly breathed new life into the tent refreshing my lungs almost like the sea was kissing my skin.

It was the perfect setting to lull me back to sleep.

But as Aziza reached for yet another bowl from Floki offering it to the youngest girl in our party. The girl just so happened to give me a cursory glance but made a double take when she locked eyes with me. she gasped and dropped the bowl thus alerting everyone to my conscious state. The three girls still eating suddenly scurried backwards to tighten their trio – noticeably excluding the young girl. I scanned their clothes- fine silks- and their smudged make up told me they had most probably been a part of a noble man's harem. Though I didn’t recognise them from my former master’s harem.

Aziza tried to calm the strange reaction of the women but when she too finally looked to me her reaction was much the same as theirs though she didn’t insult me be propelling herself backwards repulsed. Did I have REALLY bad bed head?-probably not that lucky.

Aziza said nothing; remaining frozen in fright. To my surprise, it was the young girl dressed in servant garb who approached. She looked to be a few years younger than me with walnut hair and amber eyes set in a sweet heart-shaped face strikingly sweet – seemingly so different from the smoothed prominent corners of my own. She was tentative in her crouched movement towards me.

I was unsure and unsettled as to why even Aziza was reacting strangely to me in the daylight. The girl offered me a shining dagger- presumably, it was the one from last night as I could see mud on the horn hilt. It had the image of a standing bear carved intricately into the fibrous body. I looked at it still confused – did she expect me to attack Floki – or myself?

Her conflicted expression followed my curious glance at floki and corrected me nervously.

‘’your eyes my lady’’ she almost whispered.

I immediately raised the dagger level with my eyes so I could stare into its polished blade. And just as their reactions might have suggested they had yet again undertaken a drastic change. Two Golden orbs stared back at me.

It was an alarming sight even to myself. I sat up alert snatching the dagger to clutch it gently with both hands turning to the shadows to gaze deeply into the reflection hoping it would somehow belong to someone else.

But no matter how long I searched for some strangers face who would snatch the eyes away from the silver surface the iridescent colour remained framed in my face. They were gold with only a measurable number of silver threads clinging to the surface. Their shine was almost supernatural with the mixture of warmth and cold hues. I lowered the weapon setting it on the floor still staring into space trying to understand what had happened. They were supposed to be fading. They only changed colour after a vision- certainly not of their own accord. I stopped thinking and became completely still.

Something had happened last night.

My eyes grew wide.

It couldn’t possibly be because of that – a cacophony of bubbling laughter danced into my brain-  right?

‘’Asariel?’’ Aziza brought me back to the moment. Inching closer than I  liked so as to share a confidence. I didn’t respond just stared at her

She looked over her shoulder at Floki, who watched intrigued by our display, with suspicion before she spoke again. ‘’you must have had a vision, right?- was it anything that could help us?’’

I opened my mouth to correct her- to clearly say that I had had no such vision – or any vision for that matter.

I had dreamed in my deep sleep. Of bright skies of blue and pink golden wings which circled above beautiful and free as I choked and struggled for breathe then dark relief. Definitely not a jolting and distorting vision of the future or past or whatever the new rules where to be.

I wanted to say all of it but the question then what has changed? sprang to my mind. A question which would most definitely follow my confession. Though I wasn’t ashamed of my actions I wasn’t yet ready for that particular secret in the dark to be dragged into the light of day.

I very much doubted that even Aziza would trust me if they learned of my sudden entanglement with the leader of our captors.

‘’nothing that can help us …’’ I finally replied weakly trying to keep my face blank of any tells. A brief squint from Aziza told me little but she said no more seemingly satisfied by my answer for now. She rose slowly and went back to stoke the fire. I watched her carefully trying to read her but those practised military movements gave nothing away. She retrieved a clean bowl and filled it with hot oats. After glancing over her shoulder she called forth the girl who had so bravely approached me. ‘’Jasmine- take this bowl to the lady seer.’’ Jasmine’s amber eyes widened before she hurried to do as she was told,

Once filled the bowl was passed from Aziza to Jasmine who for a fraction of a second hesitated before she steadied herself and turned to walk towards me. I sat with my legs crossed relaxing my body so that I did not appear threatening. Jasmine approached with caution but no obvious fear. Upon handing it to me the tent seemed to hold its breath. I tried to ignore the sudden change in atmosphere smiling gratefully at the girl ‘’ Thank you’’ I bowed to Aziza and Floki thanking them also

This was apparently the right answer to whatever question had taken everyone's breath away.

The three noblewomen calmed and turned inwards turning their backs on the rest of us. They were a twitter with serpentine whispers.

Jasmine surprisingly had followed my stare again and quietly sat beside me keeping her eyes on the other three women. I began eating the almost scalding oats – they taste earthy and smelled of damp but in such circumstances, they went down well and I was soon on my second bowl.

In that time Jasmine had sat in silence pressing her knees to her chest as she appeared to ruminate on something. She stared boldly at the three noble women who appeared to squeak and natter about me if the poorly concealed glances were anything to go by.

‘’ You can go join them if you wish’’ I said scraping my spool along the bottom of the bowl.

Jasmine remained silent. I assumed her fear of me was making her mute.but as I pushed the last spoonful into my mouth she spoke softly.

‘’ I don’t like them..’’

I nearly choked on the porridge when she spoke such dangerous words. rescuing my self with a discreet couch I raised an eyebrow at Jasmine questioningly.

‘’they still act as if they are my masters and that we should listen to and serve them’’ she continued.

As I eyed the topic of our discussion they endeavoured to twitter on nervously like spooked mice. When they caught sight of my gaze each reared their heads like defiant nags. Their sneers were directed solely at me which again was a slight to Jasmine as they did not see her as important- maybe I should be flattered…

I flashed my teeth in a feral snarl which served to startle them into hiding their faces in submission. The harem always was a nest of vipers.. these women were not unique- cowards who clung to the status quo in order to keep themselves on top. Trouble for me is that the status quo had no place for me. I was a maverick they couldn’t predict my motives or use it against me.

‘’’they keep whispering about you- I see their hate-filled glances even now.they try to tell me what to think so I might be their tool…’’she paused and almost spat her next words ‘’but I refuse to give them my mind.''

I leaned back slightly trying to appraise the young woman beside me she was close in age to tanaruz and from a similar background but I could see that this girls mind was not warped by society- she knew how it worked wasn’t right.

I had met all sorts in the palace from the obsequious to the rebellious- one usually leads to the other in a vicious cycle.

‘’let them try’’ I spoke clearly.’’ It will stop them from seeing what you're really doing in the shadows.’’. I sound cold and calculating before I knew it I was sounding like that girl again- the girl covered in blood and sand...

 I watched Jasmine out of the corner of my eye waiting for her to admonish me and scamper to the other women for protection

But to my surprise, her gaze was set on the women as she contemplated my words with a cocked head. ‘’I suppose you're right.’’ She seemed to nod in agreement to the plan- one I had concocted apparently.

Her eyes darted to me catching me as I looked her up and down meekly she blushed and averted her eyes. She nervously played with her tatted dark hair as she forced pursed lips to part and speak.

‘’my grandfather was a soldier- for the losing side- but he taught me strategy since I had no brothers…’’

She trailed off when she thought she was beginning to ramble.

But the information she had betrayed told me that she was one to watch. She had an analytical and obviously amorous mind if she was able to retain and adopt a soldier's strategies in her life.

But after a moment of contemplation, a tension headache began to take hold- best to leave that information on the back burner for now. I simply had too much to deal with at the moment. I knew that I would be seeing Bjorn sooner or later today when he came to check on his raiding bounty.

And I had Aziza giving me curious glances from where she sat opposite Floki beside the fire. She looked like the determined type and I doubted she would settle for my weak response from earlier- she would sniff out the truth as soon as I saw Bjorn again. n involuntary twitch or blush and I would be sun- a permanent target strapped to my back. Or hell maybe

Bjorn would march in here and carry me off to finish what he tried to start- he was a Viking. Or perhaps in the light of day, the warrior would question why I was in his tent in the first place. Maybe this distasteful porridge was to be my last meal…

Chapter Text

Jasmine was silent- at this point I had no clue what could be hatching inside that brain of hers. If she was half as intelligent as I thought then she would be a useful ally and a dangerous opponent.

But when she looked at me again her eyes refocusing as if awakening from a daydream I saw the innocence they held. The small smile she offered was one of an unsure child barely holding it together.

I returned the smile.

She blushed and shied away lifting her scarf as a partition between us. Yes, she was definitely an innocent.

I breathed in deeply, as I exhaled I slowed my heart and shut out the noise of a camp which had set to work. I needed to focus to cut off my emotions- don't get attached. Something a man I don't remember taught me in a cell too dark to see.

The shrill shriek of the noblewomen rudely interrupted. My eyes snapped open in their ethereal state to stab them with a furious and penetrating stare. But it was wasted as all of their attention was focused on something beyond the tent. All attention was drawn to the outside from where the princesses retreated to further into the tent.

It seemed that today would most definitely not be my day-Bjorn was walking up the small incline. He was not alone. Accompanied by a small group of three Vikings whom I did not recognise; two men and a broad-shouldered woman. The men where decades apart one who looked about twenty with brown hair an average build and a kind face though he tried to look stern; the other was about fifty probably towards the end of his marauding career with a shining bald and a large bear-like build – though not as fit as Bjorn's body-I casually thought. His face was half obscured by a blond beard plaited and decorated but brown eyes seemed weary yet warm.

The woman was striking in her masculine yet elegant features which seemed to complement each other- a large high bridged nose with pouting lips and large green eyes. Her head was mostly shaved aside from an ashen blonde strip plaited down in the middle. She was taller than Bjorn by five inches or so but she oozed her sensuality as she approached with hips that swished along in a lissom gait.

Floki turned back to show me an expression of worry before eyes widened to give a pointed glance to the side of me. There in the dirt next to Jasmine and I lay a distinctive dagger. I felt my blood rush as I had to think on what to do.

Jasmine inched closer pressing into my side as her eyes were fixed on the fast-approaching pose. I had to remind myself that though her brain may be on par with mine she was still only a child of twelve or so. And so I softened a little thankful I could give her any comfort at all in this place.

Watching as they neared I shuffled to seat myself in front of Jasmine whilst discretely covering the dagger with my hand. Quickly I slid it along the ground and into the waistband of my pants. I sucked on my tongue when I slipped and sliced into the pad of my thumb. I pulled back my hand to examine the damage to see blood blooming from the small nick. I sucked away the red liquid before quickly wrapping my fingers around it to collect the blood.

I looked to Aziza. From her reaction to me last night I had expected her to be on her feet, armed with her hackles up.

But to my genuine surprise, she was calm. She sat still stirring the pot's contents with the large iron ladle and added more logs to the flames stoking them higher. Her insistence on getting the flames to consume their fuel and the tightening grip on the ladle- she was planning something...

But I had little time to ponder as Bjorn and company fast came upon us. I only had just enough time for time to almost freeze as a realisation came into my head.

Floki.

Floki had just helped me conceal a weapon – one which I have no doubt he recognised as his leaders. In fact, he had not been fazed at all by the daggers appearance nor really by my eyes...

There was a moment when silence engulfed the tent and I gave a scared glance to Floki. With one eye on Bjorn, he gave me a side grin. His eyes though still odd were almost clear and calm as if he was trying to settle me. it did the opposite.

What if he remembered last night? What was he going to do with that knowledge?- if they knew I could understand what little they said around me they may choose to silence me in case I used that information to escape. Had he also deduced that something happened between Bjorn and I? what did he think had happened?- my summary of these many thoughts was a resounding SHIT.

The moment of fear was interrupted when Bjorn and his cohorts finally reached the entrance and we all snapped to attention.

We all waited with baited breath as Bjorn scanned our little group with a suspicious eye before he faced Floki.

'Floki'' he barked in his commanding orotund voice.

He winced slightly. Ha! I had to swallow the snicker that I wanted to give at the obvious hangover he had. He deserved it. I almost stuck my tongue out at him. his eyes so beautiful were now red with black circles hanging under them.

From the corner of my eye, I caught the younger man leaning into the shadow of the tent his eyes crinkling as he searched for mine.

Shit.

My eyes!

I quickly looked at the damp earth inching carefully backwards until I felt jasmines feet in my back. I reached behind to support myself hoping to relax my body language and stop any mounting suspicion. But before I could act out my sound plan I felt a small calloused hand wrap around mine

Jasmine's clammy hand tightened around mine as one Viking moved slowly to inch past Bjorn to sate his curiosity. His pace faltered when the other girls who were closest to him let out whimpers of fear. He took a few paces back and the quivering voices died down.

After a dreadful pause, Bjorn continued. '' Floki fell and these two- you may have met them before?''

In his light almost mocking lilt Floki replied. ''No, Bjorn I don't know them- they don't look very interesting.'' I pursed my lips to stop the small giggle that wanted to escape.

''Floki you know me you fool, I-'' the older man started but shut up as soon as he started

Floki continued '- to the point Bjorn. Why are they here, Bjorn?''

I heard the odd high pitched tone with which Floki spoke which brought to mind a honey trap.

My gaze skirted the ground to see Floki's feet shift into a fighting stance his hand lowered into my vision as if he was reaching for kindling.

Wait...

One of the branches was not as it seemed- it was polished and decorated. Looking at it carefully now, and how Floki's hand twitched above it, I recognised it as the handle to an axe. Though I would bet my life that this would be a last resort as I believed that Floki could handle himself in a fight.

But then, why was he preparing for a fight unless he knew something that I did not.

Damn my eyes! I'm not seeing the whole picture.

''they are here to help'' Bjorn said in a frustrated tone ''you said that the seer and her servants needed protection, yes?'

Floki said nothing. Which in fact said volumes-his mind working overtime trying to figure out what Bjorn's angle was.

Bjorn ignored the tense atmosphere. ''And I need you to do your job tending to the ships that were damaged in that storm-not coddling your pets ''he huffed at Floki as if he was going to great lengths to appease some child.

I scowled at the ground- did he think that this was a joke?

They stole us- murdered family and loved ones. Destroyed lives and left us to stew in our own imaginings of torture. And he was joking about us being pets- I was nobodies pet! Not anymore.

I bit my lips to stop myself from saying words I would regret- something he would understand. And a punch on top.

Suddenly a small mouse-like ''ouch'' brought me out of the red mist... I bent my head awkwardly to look at Jasmine who was wincing in pain. I looked her over suddenly realising that my grip had become vice-like in anger and her fingertips were changing colour.

I immediately let go hoping she didn't think that I had done it intentionally. But the kindness in her eyes as she looked to me in understanding eased my mind- it was something I was not accustomed to.

'' Floki! Don't just ruminate on it- this is an order- go do your job.''

I peeked to see Floki stand to his full height hefting his axe over his shoulder. The action put the newcomers on edge each one reaching for their weapons. Bjorn didn't react; telling the others to stay put without uttering a word.

I was probably right in assuming that Floki could be unpredictable – just that Bjorn knew how to handle him.

It could be a good thing for an ally.

And a terrible thing for an enemy.

At this moment I couldn't decide on which side of the line Floki landed.

He lazily pointed his axe in the other Vikings dir5ection I returned to keeping my eyes hidden lest that inquisitive young one keep looking.

'' and why should I trust these people I don't know with a seer chosen by the All father, hmm?''

''Because I am'' was all Bjorn's stoic voice offered in return.

Somehow it must have satisfied the zealous Floki as he pushed the issue no further.

He silently approached the young Vikings ''You-'' Floki addressed one of them.

''Magna '' the woman gave her name again.

Floki continued unfazed ''you're not from Kattegat.'' He stated confidently asking a question at the same time.

''no...'' Magna answered unsure ''I am from Kragero''

There was a loaded pause.

''and whom do you serve?'' Floki asked- an interesting question. I would have hoped that Bjorn would only entrust our safety- even as just his property- to his own men after yesterday. But the woman at least didn't come from this Kattegat which must have been their home.

''I...' she paused before almost choking on her next words '' I am a rekkr in service to King Harold.''

Strange.

''strange.'' Floki my exact thoughts aloud.

Why would Bjorn trust us to another of Finehair's men?

''We serve Bjorn Ironside!'' a youthful male voice spoke up with great pride expecting that he had given the correct answer.

''Good for you '' Floki congratulated with no feeling. The boy said no more.

''very well Bjorn...I will be back at sundown''

''fine'' Bjorn retorted exasperated.

But there were a few seconds before Floki actually began walking away to leave us to Bjorn's care. Bjorn called to him ''Visit Helga!'' and then said no more to the vanishing shadow.

I expect Bjorn and his cronies watched Floki until he had left their line of sight. Then after more silence, I saw that Bjorn's large muddied boots turned in my direction. ''you his voice filled the void.

I assumed that he was talking to me but I acted dumb hoping he would give up. But he called louder ''Girl!'' that was when I felt like hitting myself.

All this perturbed thought he had caused me and the man didn't even know my name.

It was laughable. For me anyway.

Once more he commanded 'Girl! Come here!''

I refused to look up. A few moments of consuming silence which tensed my muscles passed before Bjorn sighed and then spoke again in his exasperated tone '' Fell go get her.''

I tensed involuntarily at his distant words.

Jasmine hugged my back suddenly. I continued to stare at the ground as terrible thoughts of what was going to happen to me filled my imagination. Vaguely I recognised the large feet in well-worn boots move towards me- Fell.

I felt small rough and clammy hands wrap around the hilt of the dagger.

Chapter Text

Whatever plan she had concocted was scuppered when I noticed aziza suddenly shift her position. My head snapped up to see her one moment calmly stirring the boiling porridge with a reddening hand that I realised was beginning to blister from holding the iron ladle.

Then once Fell had moved into range she sprang up and pivoted on her foot to launch into a blurring lunge swinging the dark metal cutlery at the man’s temple.

She had deadly intent in her eyes

A clash of metal rattled my teeth making me grip my head. The three girls in the corner as well as jasmine- releasing the dagger- covered their ears from the terrible onslaught of sound.

I looked back up in a second a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Magna had stepped into the fray. Her sword, drawn, was inches from Fell’s head as she held back Aziza’s strike. The force with which the ladle had struck the sword made the shining metal hum.

She would have killed him.

Magna switched her footing to push Aziza away from Fell and off balance. But she jumped back in time to avoid the move. Aziza seemed t be dwarfed as she backed up to defend me opposing the 6ft1 Viking- 7inches taller than her.

What was most peculiar was the intrigued and excited expression on Magna’s face.

Magna began her approach. Aziza tensed her muscles under her brown tunic ready to retaliate. She was holding her ladle with both hands ready to use it like a mace.

Behind Magna Tori and Fell had retreated stunned for a moment before they began to reach for their weapons.

Bjorn had already taken hold of his axe and made moves to step past Magna his eyes on Aziza with a lust for blood.

Squealing whimpers of terror came from the three girls who began crying.

Jasmine gripped onto the back of my shirt quivering as she bowed to recite the faraj- the prayer before death.

This couldn’t go on.

I gripped onto my wounded thumb the pain giving me a surge of anger, mixing with the fearful beat of my heart making me break into fight or flight- fight was the only real option. It was a perfect brew for battle.

The sudden energy propelled me to my feet leaving Jasmine softly whimpering on the floor. I slid in front of Aziza to face the Vikings. My hand was itching to draw the dagger and attack but I waited for Bjorn to make the first move.

My stare was crazed and intense as I battled with my bloodthirst.

But Bjorn immediately stopped when our eyes met. His axe lowered slowly to his side. And they all stared aghast echoing the reaction of the girls from before.

Bjorn’s face slowly twisted into an expression of an amalgamation of gaping eyes, knitted brows and a slack jaw.

The others, even the princesses, had a shared reaction of astonishment. I could only guess that Aziza and Jasmine as I no longer heard the soft mumbling of prayer.

But I chose to ignore everyone but Bjorn. My head reared in a challenge. But the tent had fallen yet again into a palpable silence.

I was unreasonably annoyed by it so decided to make my move.

No, I didn’t attack.

‘’Bjorn.’’ Saying his name perfectly I broke the chilling silence with my stern and uncompromising tone. I was scared but I was also… thrilled. And I was ashamed for letting that side of me rear its head. I had almost let her loose.

Bjorn shook his head like a dazzled babe. When he said nothing I closed the distance between us to where I could smell his sweet breath. I saw Magna move to aid Bjorn but I pinned her with a look. She lowered her sword.

I returned my gaze to Bjorn’s tarnished Aegean eyes darkened by abuse.

Tilted my head trying to read that shocked expression.

I decided his bloodlust had faded to nothing, no longer a threat. I stepped around him and proceeded to walk out of the tent the three Vikings parting in a jolt of fear letting me pass. I felt the burning gaze of Bjorn on my back.

I left the tent and carried on toward the tree line. Till finally, I heard him raise his voice again in order to stop me. ‘’Girl!’’

My nostrils flared with anger and I tensed restraining myself.

Turning on my heel I struck him again with my stare. He shut up flinching slightly.

Then with an expression that would probably sour milk, I enunciated my next word for him to understand.

‘’Asaroul’’

 

Chapter Text

Bjorn POV

Haunting eyes.

From the moment I met her those eyes have haunted my thoughts; lurking like a predator in the shadows of my mind.

She had caused me trouble from the moment our fates had intertwined – I could only hope that they were never separated.

But her presence had stirred a hornets' nest within my ranks. From Hvitserk ignorantly conspiring with the Halfdan. To Finehair’s attempts to sow doubt into peoples minds with half-jokes about my being bewitched by the foreign demon.

It certainly did not help that Floki had apparently lost his mind in the storm. He jabbered about the god's plans and his excitement- now both of us were under her spell… though the sad truth was that he simply wanted to ignore what was happening to Helga. Her eyes had become as mad as his.

I’m sure the whispers of gossip shared in dark corners had spread through the whole fleet by now.

‘’she’s a witch!- she’s taken their minds soon she will have all of Norway.’’

‘’Hvitserk will side with the brothers…’’

‘’the witch watched Ragnar die…’’

That was the hardest part of this.

Father was dead- one could scarcely believe it.

In fact, part of me still did not even though the All father had delivered the news to us.

But the Ragnarsons were strong. And we had lost our father a decade ago. Now the hard part was to lay him to rest in our minds.

Yet I knew one thing was certain- his legend would never die. We would have to learn to accept that too. wherever our feet fell they would be shrouded in his far-reaching shadow.

We would forever be the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.

But no matter the emotional turmoil that Hvitserk and I kept within, I at least, could not claim to have loved him as Floki did.

No matter what father did to him, he still loved the man- never mind the legend.

When I finally had the courage to reiterate the message we heard upon the cliff I thought Ragnorak might begin. Floki’s face fell; his features going slack in shock. Then he wailed. Wailed as one mortally wounded and facing the gates of Hell. The only consolation we could offer was drinking and scheming.

That night once the camp had set about their celebrations Floki, Hvitserk, the brothers and myself sat around the fire pit of the main tent. Rollo had left us to ‘drink and fuck ‘ his pain away as he had put it. I had just wanted Hvitserk and me to console Floki anyway- but Hvitserk insisted that if we were to seriously strategize for the war we would have to take up then the brothers needed to be present. He was right. If I had wanted a serious meeting of the leaders then they and the rest would have to be involved.

I simply wanted to find some solace at the bottom of a tankard.

But there we sat drinking and thinking- two things that do not go well together.

How did Ragnar die?

What did his last message mean?

What was to happen next?

I'm sure we all had our own answers but that made these uncertain times.

One thing I was sure of: we had to get back to Kattegat.

We all agreed. Though I suspected that the brothers had differing motives for wanting to get back quickly. The way they laughed and joked whilst shooting each other sly knowing glances- they were a threat and needed to be watched.

So did Hvitserk- his big mouth and naïve notions of comradery.

The drink flowed long into the night as the revelry outside grew. Until eventually the brothers said the needed to find their fun amongst the company of the fairer sex. I smirked as they wobbled out of the tent – I doubted the women would be getting much fun out of them.

A call was all Hvitserk needed to stand and join them. he spared me a guilty look but was soon out of the tent. Before long their laughs joined the boisterous cacophony outside.

At least I knew when I had reached my limit; I had drunk nearly as much as floki. Something one learned with age I granted- I was almost thirty-four after all.

A long life for a Viking I suppose.

And with that grim thought, I decided that it was time to turn in. first, though I had to wrestle with Floki. He was perched atop his stool swaying which would logically make him fragile and malleable. But when I came to coax him to lie on the furs he was steadfast in his insistence, mumbled though it was, to stay there sipping from an empty cup. He snarled and yowled like a feral cat. So, my alcohol addled brain gave up after minutes of this protest.

I found my own furs to be very welcoming. A dream of a fiery Valkyrie with red skin and eyes that transformed to gold in the silence; she was a being of sensuality and rage.

I woke up with a headache and a sore abdomen. I was too old to be drinking so much so late.

‘’Bjorn, there are too many enemies here- she needs to be protected. ‘’ Floki insisted yet again.

As soon as I found him sleeping like a babe he woke up with a great concern for the girl. And his fixation was becoming more than annoying as midday neared.

‘’ Bjorn you’re not listening-‘’ he whined. I had known Floki to be childish but having a six-foot adolescent who was infatuated with a slave following me through camp as I tried to do inventory was over the top.

‘’No, you listen!’’ I turned on him standing to my full height which was still shorter than him. ‘’For the last time she has no enemies- we’ve known her for a day. And even if she had I have claimed her- no one would dare go against me.’’ considering how my blood boiled the more we spoke on the matter I was impressed with how I was able to restrain my volume and tone of great irritation.

‘’all the more reason she needs protecting…’’ Floki, his expression darkened and his head sulking, mumbled as he turned to head back along our path.

‘’just do your job.’’ Was all I said as parting. He shot me a look of anger with those mad eyes before he stalked off up the muddy thoroughfare. people dodged his path as though he a rabid animal. No one thought to raise a hand against the beast lest he bites it off.

I had an idea as to where the man was heading. I scowled after his figure at the thought of ho he could go where he pleased. People fear him- I would say most hate him and his ways. So he has no position to lose unless it is by his own failing in skill. Which meant that he could march up the verge of the isolated weapons tent. He wouldn’t lower in anyone's esteem- and even if he did he wouldn’t care.

People fear me… but I had learned from Lagertha and my mother that fear inevitably leads to hate and a leader must be loved in a way. Even Aslaug is loved in a way or she wouldn’t still rule Kattegat.

I cant run off on a whim to see her after she has burned in my mind all night.

I cant do what I want.

I am Ragnar Lothbrok’s eldest son.

I am Jarl Lagertha’s only son.

But the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach wouldn’t shift.

I sat in one of the many mess tents. The leaders from each band of our party sat together around the pot of stew. Some favoured subordinates sat in attendance.

Fell, a man an  old as father, could lead his own raiding parties but instead, he stays loyal to me as he had my father. His beard, grey and decoratively knotted, brought some envy out in me as I went to stroke my now much shorter beard. But his head which shone in the midday light smirk inside at having one up on him though there was still time.

As he laughed I could see that he favoured one man in the group as he punched his arm and laughed with him. a popular one- Tori. One to watch as he rose to recognition.

Floki was noticeably absent from the meal. Most whispered that he was busy attending to Helga or at least he should be. She had been strange since the raid. Floki too but Helga was the anchor he needed to keep him amongst the living.

Some, however, whispered jokingly that he had been summoned by his sorcerous. I couldn’t laugh

Hvitserk gave me worried side glances from across the fire. But it didn’t stop him from remaining in conversation with Halfdan. Finehair sat alongside conspicuously avoiding eye contact with me. I could catch the edges of a smirk as he bowed to eat from his bowl.

I hated having rodents in my camp.

But I knew I needed their support for whatever came next.

‘’Yeah, yeah. She’s a beauty- those hips and that chest. a real handful- but Bjorn has already claimed her and her friends…’’ Hvitserk spoke lightly to the brothers.

Harold smiled viciously as Halfdan spoke their shared thought. ‘’Bjorn is not always around.’’

I had had enough.

Chapter Text

I stood abruptly making me the focal point of the group as I had intended. I fixed my gaze on Hvitserk for a long moment in which he submitted to me by looking away as a chastised child. Then I began to calmly and mindfully stride at full height toward the entrance of the tent. The men tried to hide their intrigue at my sudden exit but I noticed their secretive glances as they whispered. Harold laughed to himself almost but I saw that knowing look again shared with Halfdan.

I had also noticed something interesting. A pale broad woman with ashen blonde hair and green eyes sat close to Finehair. the only woman in the tent she had masculine yet beautiful features.

I reached the exit before Finehair spoke to my back.

‘’Bjorn! Where are you going?’’ he called with a hearty and jovial tone which irked me.

But I didn’t let it show instead I turned to address him- he would have wanted me to skulk away but this was part of my plan.

All eyes were on me. I met each of them briefly and each turned away when confronted- but not Finehair. No, he locked eyes with me and refused to back down as he waited for some feeble lie to come from me which would sow further doubt into the minds of my men.

But as I said this was my plan – or at least the beginning.

‘’I’m taking Fell and two others to help me-‘’ Harold was just itching to close the trap for me to say that I was going to protect the girl from him. But she wasn’t a girl not here- she was mine and that was all that mattered.

‘’whatever could you need help with Bjorn, what could be so urgent?’’ he interrupted making his face portray concern but I could see the minute smile twitching under the surface.

‘’as I was saying- Fell bring two others I have a job for you-‘’ I met Fells greying eyes and with a nod I knew he understood.

Harold snickered before interrupting again. ‘’but what job Bjorn? You trust us, don’t you? We are your men –‘’ he turned to the group waving his fist as he said ‘’ we are Vikings!’’ which though irrelevant made the men cheer in assent.

I waited calmly for them to quiet. It didn’t take long once they noticed my unamused stare directed toward Harold. Hvitserk avoided meeting my gaze- it didn’t matter, he knew that I would be having words with him later.

‘’I am setting a guard’’ I said in an emotionless tone.

‘’hmmm’’ was all Finehair replied but it spoke volumes as men gave each other nervous and questioning glances,

‘’I am going to guard my property-‘’ Finehair smiled at the ground in  victory but that was before I added in a light and joking tone ‘’Someone has to protect your men from the scary witch.’’ I smiled broadly as many joined in my teasing- those that didn’t were under Finehair’s command. Satisfied by the grim look Harold was shooting me I turned and walked out.

A few moments later Fell came followed by Tori- I had expected him- and the tall blonde woman who introduced herself as Magda. I had hoped for her.

Whilst I had been observing her in the tent I had noticed some very telling displays of disgust and loathing whenever Finehair spoke. She had been seated close to him and yet she seemed to abhor the man. I would have to ask her why one day but for now I was happy to see that Fell had been convinced to bring her as she was the only woman amongst us and she seemed to be favoured by Finehair.

She was a spy.

That was fine for now. But I had decided to take the risk that I could use her to my own ends.

I sent Magda to retrieve some spare clothes for the women and made sure we were all armed- just in case some fool tested me. I had my axe but the dagger Torvi gave me was missing. I had searched but couldn’t find it anywhere- a bad omen.

>*<

 

She was as difficult as ever. As we had approached I saw her intrigued expression as the noon sun lit her eyes aflame.

But once we entered the tent she had flitted her gaze from Tori to the ground and now refused to meet my eyes.

She was stubborn- something only seconds with her had taught me.

I turned to formally address floki as he sat opposite one of the slaves the girl had rescued. A sudden whimpering cry rose from behind me where I caught Tori inching closer his gaze fixed on the troublesome girl sending an alarm up with the three who huddled separated from her and floki.

I gave Tori a silent warning. He retreated behind Fell shrinking into the larger man’s shadow.

Fell shared a look of apology with me after he too shot the young lad a warning. I was satisfied that Fell would keep an eye on his protégé and looked to the three wailing women who immediately quietened down.

It was after that that I had to engage in an argument with the petulant and sour Floki over his work ethic. It wasn’t as if I was coming up with erroneous work to occupy his time- my ships needed to sail by dawn and for that, I needed their master to attend them.

He almost openly refused my orders countering with ‘’tell me, why should I trust them when I don’t even know them?’’ floki was conveniently forgetting that Fell had been in the thick of it for almost as long as he had- Fell tried to interject; angry at being forgotten. I raised a hand to silence him which he complied to instantly.

 

I was growing more and more tired of being challenged wherever my interests and the girls intersected- she was mine I could do what I wanted with her. It was beyond frustrating to have these people questioning me at every turn- why was she so special that all my business with her was under scrutiny.

I locked eyes with Floki and tried to convey the reality of my situation.

‘’because I am’’ I let him realise the gravitas of my words.

He nodded. He stood and gave a last warning look towards Fell before departing from our company.

Fell and the others watched Floki walk back toward the camp. I kept my gaze within the confines of the tent. The three mice huddled together still. The slave by the fire still stirred the porridge as she fed the fire far too much. And then, of course, there was her- how was it that a woman whose name I didn’t even know had caused me so much trouble. She sat in front of the youngest female. She held her hand and kept her body as a shield before her… my woman was brave. My woman… it was satisfying to call her that.

Though I knew that she was be=rave she still kept her eyes trained on the ground. I knew it wasn’t out of fear or even respect- I could tell with each flinch that she wanted to look up but something stopped her which tensed her jaw.

‘’You!’’ I began trying to get her attention. None of the other girls even hinted that they thought that I was talking to them- my sole focus was her. But still, she refused to look at me. My frustration had risen remarkably- and it was barely midday- and I had to restrain the angered tone of my voice. ‘’Girl’’

Still, she wouldn’t look at me- not a nervous dog; a wolf exuding an unspoken threat.

I gave up. There was no way of communicating with her- especially as she remained nameless.

With a hand gesture and a quick order Fell ventured forth to get her and bring her to me. That was when the air inside the tent seemed to grow hot and stale. I looked at the slave by the fire; she had made it far too hot. I found it strange that she could still handle the iron ladle. Then my attention was caught by the young girl who shifted closer to the woman. All seemed eerily still for a moment as Fell approached.

Suddenly the slave by the fire sprang into action. The searing hot ladle was swung high to crash down on Fell’s head- such a strike would have killed. But Magda proved to be far more useful than I had expected; quick reflexes meant she managed to meet the ladle with her sword just above Fell’s head and so saving him.

The two women squared to clash again as fell retreated to Tori's side both on guard against the other women.

I, on the other hand, had really had just about E-fucking-nough.

I took my axe from my belt and stalked toward the dark woman with deadly intent. Magda stepped to the side realising that the woman had become the sole focal point of my frustration. I was about to relieve some stress.

I was close enough to delve the axe deep into her chest when a figure rose behind her. She moved quickly as Sleipnir to abruptly slide into place between the dark slave and me.

It was her.

 Yet, it wasn’t. not quite.

Anger had twisted her features into a menacing mask. My axe lowered of its own accord. Her stance was bold and ready for a fight. However, she soon straightened to her full height which was taller than the woman she protected.

That was when they struck me.

Gold. Two piercing gold orbs stared into my soul. The rest of the world seemed to fade in contrast as she kept her intense gaze on me. She was the only thing that existed. And she was gloriously intimidating. Her hair hung in gold and bronze tendrils draping delicately over her shoulders. Her skin had become a red ochre which glowed like hot embers.

It was like seeing her for the first time- this being of primal ferocity and fire.

She took a step toward me and I fell back one. Her rage-filled stare raked over me.

‘’Bjorn’’ her silky and strong voice filled the air. My name on her lips was like a spell.

She walked past me in my dumbstruck state. Her sillage trailed behind her; flowers and citrus filled my nose. And for a moment I was frozen in contentment as the word still echoed in my mind and I watched her walk away.

Everyone’s eyes were drawn to me.

And finally, it registered that she was walking off on me.

‘’stop! Girl!’’ I shouted as I began to move toward her. And she did. Suddenly she stilled completely before whirling around in her fury to say what would remain the most delightfully damned word I would ever hear.

She pinned me with those golden pointed eyes. Her expression was scathing in its condemnation. The angles of her face so sharply contrasting with the shadows I thought they might cut my heart.

When her red lips began to part, I admit, a part of myself wished that no matter how angry they might say my name again

Instead, she spoke a strange word which I had never before heard and yet knew its cryptic meaning.

‘’Asaroul’’ wolf of god.

Chapter Text

She whipped around and continued walking towards the tree line. For a moment I was frozen- lost in the memory of her voice. Then I realised how far she was getting. I made to walk after her when Fell stepped in my way.

‘’Bjorn? Should we restrain them?’’

restrain them’ it was a ludicrous suggestion. If she saw that I was tying them up she would either attack like some feral beast or flee like a phantom into the countryside.

‘’no just- Magda- ‘’

‘’sort the women out and make sure nothing happens whilst I’m gone.’’ I don’t know why I was trusting this woman of Finehair’s but beggars can't be choosers. I hastily set into a jog after Asaroul ignoring Fell who tried to stop me again.

I caught up with her just before she broke the treeline. I was about to put a hand on her to stop her when I thought better of it.

‘’wait’’ I began she slowed but continued walking barely recognising my presence. I sighed- was she really going to be like this for the rest of the time our fates were entwined. The sigh was not received well as she quickened her pace.

‘’wait!’’ nothing she continued into the trees. I followed close behind brushing the stray twigs from my path. I was growing more and more frustrated until a branch struck my cheek viciously. The small wound seemed to stir some anger deep in my belly. I couldn’t care for her feelings anymore. I reached out and grabbed her shoulder to twirl her around.

‘’Asaroul!’’ I yelled with the pent-up feelings of complicated frustration with her- myself – Everyone!

Her eyes went wide with shock. But there was no fear. She wasn’t scared of me, still. She stared at me with those bewitching golden pools saying nothing- not that there was anything she could say that I would understand.

After the echoes of my voice finished ringing in the air around us there was silence. The trees blocked out the noise of the camp. We were trapped in a surreal place where the light reaching us was too weak to impress the passage of time. A dark thicket of dying trees gnarled by the sea winds. The birds that had been muted by our disturbance took up their chorus again.

Still, she stared. She didn’t turn from me or try to run. My hand loosened from her shoulder but I didn’t want to let go. So I kept it there for a moment hovering scared, illogically, to touch her again. But in seconds the world had changed. I wasn’t her master- certainly not. She wasn’t my captive.

She stared at me with wide curious eyes that tried to look deeper into my heart- a truly frightening witch. And I? I was a Viking – a simple man who was being tied up and confused by one ineffable feeling. A feeling of fire in the pit of my stomach and a cold fearful beating in my chest.

I settled my errant hand in her hair; her caramel locks felt fine and soft twisting them around my fingers. As the strands rolled over my skin the feeble light caught on the multitude of colours dazzling me; reds, browns and golds.

Suddenly her hand came to my cheek. I flinched my eyes drawn back to hers feeling the intensity of each thread of colour in her eyes. Part of me wanted to shy away scared she would see something in me that would make her turn and run- I knew what kind of man I was…came from

But her eyes were kind as her hand remained warm and comforting on my cheek- it was so gentle I was scared she might pull away so I closed my eyes and leaned into her warmth and her foreign scent.

I opened my eyes and realised the distance between us had closed. Was it her or me that moved? Did it matter?

Our faces were inches from each other when my eyes dropped to her parting lips. My other hand came up to hold her's close to my cheek as I leaned in to place a kiss on her lips.

As sudden as a sea storm, her hand slipped from mine. The tickle of hair fleeing m gentle grasp sent a bolt of fright into my heart. My eyes snapped open- she was gone.

Chapter Text

My name- he said my name. well he said that foreign melody that twisted my name in the wind. When he said my name it was like the world froze. My mind so full of my own thoughts and frustration over what had happened and what could happen faded away. I was alone with him and I felt like the mists had cleared and I was gaining clarity. it was like a spell he spun me around to face him and I was frozen. The echo of my name bounced around us then it started. Whispers like a distant thunder began to roll in.

Brothers… blood… war.

For the first time today the voices had been clear and it scared me.

I stared into Bjorn’s blue than blue eyes and wanted to cry and dance at the same time. I was so scared and yet overjoyed; my heart thumped like a marching army.

His hand moved up from my shoulder to tangle itself in my hair. He gazed at the scene in wonder- as if he had never seen or experienced it before. I felt the same.

My hand rose out of need: I needed to connect with him. I placed my palm on his cheek ever so gently, yet, he flinched like a child burnt by the flame. His eyes met mine again and I felt lost and found as if I could trace all of my life to this moment- everything was worth it.

His eyes closed like petals at the end of a long day as he pressed his face into my hand inhaling deeply. I missed his eyes. I wanted to see them- needed to. I leaned in closer so our faces were barely inches apart. I could feel his hot breath tickling my skin. It smelled far nicer than last night.

Then like a well-rested babe his eyes bloomed in the dull sunlight. His hand covered my own as the twirling fingers still and he began to lean in. I knew exactly what he was going to do. What I wanted him to do.

Heart pounding. Tingles ran up my spine in anticipation.

‘’Asaroul’’ a sweet and husky voice floated through the trees shattering the spell.

I knew that voice. That melodic, curious and charming voice.

Ragnar!

It broke a piece of me but I knew- I knew that I had to find him.

I broke away from him. Bjorn’s grasp on me had been so tender that he had no real hold. Swiftly I withdrew from our connection to follow the call.

My bare feet protested against the mixture of mud and detritus upon which they tread but I had to ignore the pain.

‘’Asaroul’’

I had to find him- why? I didn’t know I only knew that his voice called to something deep within which wanted to find him.

I ran, meandering through the trees, until I came to a rock pool. The earth looked as if it had collapsed in on itself to reveal its bones – white rock stuck jaggedly from arid soil forming the basin which was so out of place. And there across the water was Ragnar smiling.

He was still the young man I saw beside Odin. His eyes alight with mischief. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and rocked back on his heels as if he had done a good job.

I opened my mouth to ask him but he quickly put a finger to his lips. I snapped my mouth shut confused. Ragnar’s smile faded as he looked over my shoulder. It soon grew again but the laughter was gone instead his eyes were sombre and proud.

I dreaded to turn around as I heard the sharp pants behind me. i knew exactly why Ragnar’s expression had changed I only wondered if Bjorn could see Ragnar too. As I started to turn around Ragnar’s eyes came back to focus on me with a strange concern.

I was right. Bjorn stood behind me panting. With what looked like anger in his eyes.  He moved forward eyes focused solely on me. I glanced at Ragnar whose eyes went wide as he started to shake his head like a child about to see something yucky.

A hand grasped my chin gently bringing my attention back to Bjorn. I only had a brief second to see his stern face turn gentle as his eyes closed and his lips locked with mine.

The kiss was much different from the one last night. It started gently his dry salty lips teasing mine into becoming malleable. His hand moved from my chin to the nape of my neck where it cradled my head as he leaned down and further into the kiss. He held me firm than before his other hand encircling my waist and pulling me as close as our flesh would allow. My lips seemed to meld with his as they moved in a senseless dance which blended with his. My hands began to explore his body atop his woollen tunic. I could feel all the tensed muscles as they relaxed and moved. Both reached upwards one clinging to his shoulder as the other strained to feel the hot skin beneath his collar. It was smooth and slick with sweat from the day.

Slowly his tongue began looking for an opening which I happily provided. My lips parted to allow his tongue into my mouth where it began coaxing mine to join with his. He tasted like the porridge we had for breakfast but sweetened by berries. His tongue roamed the confines of my mouth until it found a spot which elicited a moan from me. he focused on the spot as we pressed closer and closer – our clothes becoming too much of a barrier.

His hand travelled up and down my back caressing its curves with a strong hand. It ventured further down as did his other till one rested on my lower back as the other delved further to caress my rear. He squeezed a handful of flesh. I couldn’t help the primal moan which escaped desperate to share this energy that was pumping through my veins. A deep rumbling in Bjorn’s chest was his response as he pushed his hands up beneath the obstruction that my clothing had become.

‘’Bjorn!’’

Devils have them!

‘’Bjorn?! Is everything alright?’’ a gruff and aged masculine voice called from beyond the trees. It was Fell.

I tried to ignore the intrusion praying for just a little longer in this place.

‘’Bjorn?!’’ he was growing more and more concerned. Then the distinct sound of branches snapping began alerting to his slow approach.

The kiss slowed as Bjorn withdrew his tongue and he began placing drawn out chaste kisses on my lips.

‘Bjorn!’’ it was like an incessant alarm call that wouldn’t quit.

Bjorn finally broke away hot blooded calling angrily over his shoulder ‘’WHAT!’’

The sounds of cracking wood ceased and a more unsure reply came through the darkness of the trees.

‘’Bjorn?- is everything alright- you disappeared and have been gone a long while- do you need help?!’’

Bjorn sighed out of frustration which I shared. ‘’no! fell, I do not need help!’’ he called blindly as he looked to the heavens. ‘’I was just finding her a place to bathe!’’ he lied.

I couldn’t help the confused expression at his words- hopefully, he still believed me dumb. He looked down at me with a satisfied smile.

‘’oh…’’ was Fells answer.

In the proceeding peace Bjorn sighed again but this time it was through a smile which would remind anyone of a cat who got the cream. I half expected him to lick his lips. Slowly he moved away from me but he caught my hand and led me to the remarkably clear water’s edge. It appeared to plunge in the centre to a deep abyss.

Here there was a fragrance of earth and smoke that mingled with the sea breeze. It reminded me of Bjorn. A blush crept over my cheeks as I realised I was acting like a love-struck whelp.

Bjorn knelt by the water smiling up at me he brought my hand down pulling me with it till I knelt by his side. He used his free hand to cup some water which he poured gently over my skin. It was cool but not unpleasant. He repeated the process again then gently began washing my hand. He began talking softly ‘’you should bathe while you can the ships will be at sea for a long time- it’s your last chance whilst the sun is up and I can keep watch…’’ he screwed up his mouth as he seemed to grow frustrated taking my clean hand to his lips. ‘’I wish you could understand- I wish I could understand what was happening. Maybe floki can teach you – his mind is unique in its working maybe he can work something out. You need to say more than my name...’’ he sighed suddenly laden with worries I didn’t know.

‘’Bjorn…’’ I whispered with concern. He looked up suddenly with laughter in his eyes- he looked so much like Ragnar.

‘’yes’’ he whispered into my hand ‘’Asa’’he closed his eyes and whispered again ‘’my Asa’’ before he kissed my hand and stood.

I looked up to his great height when he pointed to water with raised eyebrows as he nodded slowly ‘’Bae-th ‘’ he enunciated.

I felt a bit like a parrot but  obliged and nodded cupping some water in my hands saying ‘bathe’ with and unsure nod to act like I was still in the dark to his language. Part of me wished that I was- part of me wanted to tell him I could understand but Ragnar…

He still stood across the water his expression grim and as I opened my mouth with the thought of spilling my secret he shook his head slowly, radiant blue eyes fixed on me.

I closed my mouth and looked back to Bjorn who smiled oblivious ‘’good, good.’’ He nodded before he began walking back toward fell and the camp.

I looked back across the pool and Ragnar was gone.

I turned back in time for Bjorn to pause and look at me again. He scratched the back of his head thinking about something.

‘’Bjorn?!’’

‘’yes, Fell I’m coming.’’ He brought the hand over his head and down his face pinching the bridge of his nose. Then he walked away into the trees. Eventually I lost sight of him as he turned in different ways retracing the erratic path I had cut through the grove. Then the distant mutterings began – I could only catch snippets.

‘’I’m … man, Fell… you think … one girl?’’

‘’…she’s different… slave… witch…’’

The talking stopped and I heard them break through the tree line as their footfalls were no longer accompanied by broken twigs.

But I understood the conversations intent- it was a warning. The rumours had been flying it seemed and I would soon have an angry mob ready to lynch me if I wasn’t careful.

Chapter Text

I bathed in the pool – though it wasn’t very relaxing as turbulent thoughts raced through my head.

What did this mean- could I count on Bjorn? or would he just let me down…

They were difficult questions I couldn’t yet grasp the answers to. My heart swayed left and my mind right… but I could even be sure which one wanted to lead me where.

Apart from Bjorn, I was also preoccupied with the possibility of a peeping ghost- every natural stirring in the wood made my hackles rise as I looked around for danger or a perverted ghost who might be accompanied by a God.

Why had Ragnar apparently led me to this? Or had he tried to lead me away from this path? And why wouldn’t he allow me to tell Bjorn the truth? Why on earth was I complying with his wishes?

Ragnar was dead- surely he didn’t have hidden motives and agendas- then again the gods did and I don’t think they’re alive or dead. I would have to ask Floki.

And there was another problem. He was like a cunning jackal. Did he know –or was he waiting for me to reveal myself?

I sunk deeper into the water venturing out from the surprisingly smooth stepping stones that the protruding rock formed. I dared to float over the abyss my heart stirring again as it had when I kissed Bjorn a mix of excitement and calm. There I looked at the blue as faint wisps of cloud drifted passed. I felt an absence of reality- as if the world would stop for a moment to let me catch my breath. Maybe this didn’t have to be the end of my world- I was freer here than I had been at any time in my life.

A twig snapped and a black raven suddenly erupted into flight from a nearby tree.

Maybe I wasn’t so free… the gods still seemed to have their plans for me- though I didn’t understand how it was I was being passed from God to God to work their will. I suppose I never would.

I returned to the side a watchful eye on the periphery. I set to actually washing- I had no soap so I made do with some herbs picked from the waterside. As I rinsed away the herb residue my hand grazed across my skin. My scars.

There were so many. Pictographs of spells, in many different languages, were engraved into my skin; up each arm joining over my collarbone to rise and fall over my shoulders, down my back, then continuously till it wrapped around my legs and the tops of my feet. My hands were not spared with threads of words scrawled along the shadow of each bone and up the fingers. I was only painted yesterday so the gold, even after my vigorous rub, was shining through the water.

I wondered for a moment if I could share this part of myself with Bjorn.

Ugh. Who was I… I only met him a day and a bit ago. But here I was sat in a wood thinking on if I could trust the man whom I had just had one hell of a kiss with… I didn’t expect any of it- and for an oracle to say that it is something.

So far the hilm had stayed away despite the voices of the fich fich being almost ever-present. They had muttered and whispered, it seemed amongst themselves, since Ragnar. I was getting a headache- too many things were in the air and I didn’t  like it.

But I couldn’t stay in the water and hide forever. I rose from the water and since I had no towel, nor fresh clothing, I stood for a few minutes completely vulnerable to the elements; the slight breeze I had enjoyed now bit my bare skin.

A twig snapped. I spun around to search for the bird I hoped to see. But none appeared. I forced myself to noticeably relax and began calmly putting my dirty clothes back on. All the while my eyes swung in circles scanning the edges of my vision for the intruder. I almost gave up and believed it a peeping tom now sated.

Snap. Snap. They were moving- and they wanted me to know. I had my clothes on already aside from my binding which I had foregone so that I could breathe properly. I bolted from beside the water to the direction Bjorn had disappeared to. I ran feeling the litter cutting my feet. The person also began running, though a second or two after me. The woodland sounded furious as their body clashed against branches- I seemed to cut through the wood leaving little trace.

They were gaining it I could hear it; I could feel the rumble of their feet on the ground; I smelt them. They smelled like Bjorn had last night a sweet-sour smell mixed with the earth of the grove. They smelt remarkably like Bjorn- too much. But I doubted Bjorn would be drunk so soon acting like some animal. Was this how they courted- literally chasing down their paramour.

No- it wasn’t Bjorn. I stopped and the person stopped too. I looked back and found dark eyes surrounded by white trying to pin me down. A breeze fluttered my hair and I watched as a shaft of light cut through their face.

Hvitserk’s face.

He must have known that I saw him, but he did nothing. I stared in confusion and fear. A sharp smirk crept across his lips.

‘’boo’’

I didn’t wait for him to say anything else. I ran until I broke through the tree line coming out close to where I went in. I continued running with my eyes fixed on the relative safety of the tent. I heard yelling at me and spared a brief glance to see Fell chasing after me. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t.

His eyes. They had such strangeness in them; twisted with hate and lust. They were hungry eyes that wanted to devour and own. They wanted to break me. See me shattered on the floor at his feet. Only a few seconds but in that time I knew I had to be careful- I already had enemies in this new world.

Chapter Text

When I came upon the tent I was greeted with another strange scene. I stilled to take in the completely contrasting setting to the state that I was in. Tori sat opposite the three ladies offering them bread whilst Magda was busy hanging a tarp which blocked off the back of the tent from the front. Aziza helped Magda and the three ladies tentatively took food from tori like little birds.  I stifled my heavy breathing trying not to upset the fragile atmosphere of cooperation as I scanned for Jasmine. They did not notice me until they heard Fell pick up his booming cries of anger again. At that point it was like the strange picture shattered; the three ladies began scurrying backwards whimpering; Tori stood to defence alongside Magda who moved with sword in hand in front of Aziza.

A head suddenly peeked from behind the hung tarpaulin.

’Asariel!’’Jasmine chirped with glee and relief. She disregarded the Vikings with drawn swords running past them to greet me with a hug. She squeezed tightly until she thought better and withdrew sharply.

I was saddened by her action- but she was still unsure of what was rumour and truth about me. I smiled down at her. ‘’hello, Jasmine. You have changed your clothes?’’

She looked down remembering that instead of the dirty light linens she had been wearing she now wore a green wool tunic and pants like I had seen the Viking’s wear last night. ’’yes, Asariel- the Viking woman brought us new clothes- but they are not as fine as ours; itchy and far too warm for the day.’’ Jasmine waffled only stopping when Aziza chuckled at her words. She remembered herself peeking at Tori shyly as she blushed going silent.

I had no idea what had happened whilst I was gone but the mood was not so dire.

That was until Fell reached us. The man was wheezing as he clutched his knees trying to take in some air. Then he rose to his full height; an inch or above me. He puffed out his chest and began barking at Tori and Magda ‘’tie her up! The witch tried to run away!’’

Tori and Magna shared a confused look but it was Magna who spoke out. Her voice was deep and soothing ‘’she ran away… back to the tent?’’

I heard Fell sputter behind me as he spat a curse about a hog mother before he huffed ‘’ I’ll do it myself!’’ I heard his feet fall heavy on the soft earth- my plan was to comply and allow myself to be bound so that the others would not have to suffer. After all, sometime ­forcibly made to be still might allow me to untangle my thoughts.

I looked into Jasmine's eyes – she was lost as to what was happening. I tried to smile reassuringly at her but in her saucer-like eyes I saw Fell’s hand reaching past me. My head snapped t look at his hand reaching for Jasmine’s arm. ‘’round them all up!’’ he called to Tori. Tori didn’t move clearly conflicted.

I don’t really know why I did what I did next.

Fell’s meaty hand roughly clasped around Jasmine’s arm to drag her away and a shrill noise of pure fear erupted from her mouth. My anger wanted to explode from my chest and those years of training triggered my reaction. A fist to his nose. An elbow to his abdomen. A fist to his groin. Then I rounded bringing my heel to his head.

The result was not pleasant.

Fell crumpled in pain- I hadn’t put enough strength into my kick to send him unconscious. His face was bloody as he wheezed and grabbed his crotch in pain.

‘’Fell!’’ Tori ran to his aid. He knelt beside his friend as Magna sheathed her sword and putting up her hands in peace. She approached me slowly whispering soft and soothingly.

‘’shh… shh… I’m not a threat- peace-peace’’ she continued as she approached.

Tori called to Magna from behind me, still checking on his friend who was trying to unfurl from his foetal position ‘’what are you doing?!- tie her up’’ he shouted at Magna who stopped and responded calmly.

‘’We can’t- remember? – or do you want to explain it to Bjorn?’’

Magna began moving again. Her hands were still raised but I doubted she had a real plan to subdue me without resorting to violence- I could see her mind turning trying to anticipate my next move. Behind her, Aziza was also preparing to lunge for a weapon and assist me. I heard a small whimper escape Jasmine. When I looked at her I saw the balled hands gritted teeth and welling eyes- trying her best to keep it together.

But she didn’t need to.

I pulled her into a hug and found my own comfort in her warmth. She looked up at me with doe like eyes full of concern. She was too young to have all of this happen to her.  And at the moment I was making things worse. I looked at Aziza and hoped she would listen. ‘’Aziza, no more- it will only get worse…’’

Aziza said nothing but gave a curt nod in response- she wasn’t happy about it. Magna looked between us only now noticing that Aziza was going to outflank her to the weapons. She gave an odd ‘’hm…’’ of respect to Aziza. Something must have occurred whilst I was with Bjorn… preoccupied.

I looked back to Jasmine. ‘’step please, Jasmine. I don’t want you being hurt.’’

She started but did as asked and i… I knelt on the floor and placed my hands behind my head. It was a familiar position- the gaurds had often order me to assume it before I went before the emperor and then every other man who had claimed to own me. I resisted at first; spat in their faces and kicked them. But after the eighth soldier lost his head the point was driven home- resistance is futile because we know your weaknesses. I wasn’t sure if Bjorn was that type of man; I hoped he wasn’t but then again I barely knew him. It seemed the cynic in me lived on

Magna approached tentatively keeping a wary eye on the various players. When she did reach me she looked between tori, fell and myself trying to decide the best course of action.

‘’what are still doing, woman!’’ Fell suddenly shouted at Magna his face red with both blood and anger. ‘’Kill the witch! She’ll curse us all!’’

I couldn’t withhold the sneering eye roll I gave at the idiotic spiel he was babbling. Magna looked at me and I returned to my blank expression as I thought again of the darkness in me. If I could so easily return to that woman just because a bulky idiot reached for a girl I didn’t really know, then the savage I saw in my vision was a startling possibility for my future. And if that darkness lay beneath my gilded exterior then I could never be sure if it lurked beneath other people’s masks.

 

‘’it seems that she used skill- not witchcraft to put you on your arse, Fell’’

Well, that was unexpected.

Magna continued ‘’and don’t presume to call me woman- I don’t presume to call you a man…’’ on that scathing remark a hollow and humourless clapping began.

‘’well, I go to sort my business and come back to this.’’ That crazed melody drifted in from around the tarp of the tent. Floki appeared with an angry expression on his face. He walked in lazily depositing himself on a stool beside the fire which was dimly burning. Floki put some more fuel on the flames before addressing Magna without looking at her. ‘’bring the seer to the fireside. She is wet and in need of new clothes.’’ The fire grew and its red glow illuminated Floki’s wild expression as he said ‘’And fell, I knew there was a reason I tried to rid you from my mind, ‘fell from hel’. The merciless drunk who killed six slaves….’’ He smiled grimly ‘’I suggest you run back to your pit before I finish ‘the witch’s job.’’ His axe had suddenly appeared in his hand as he dragged its blade over the flames.

‘’you mad pair of bastards!- I’ll have that witch’s head!’’ Fell was up and blindly storming in my direction. I rolled out of the way and he kept going toward jasmine. My eyes went wide- I wouldn’t reach her in time to shield her from the strike!

Thwack!

The tent rang with the echo of an axe burying itself deep into the post near Fell’s face.

‘’I’d leave Fell- before I pull out my sword.’’ My head whipped to the tent's entrance behind Fell and Tori stood Bjorn.

Chapter Text

Bjorn stood with a deathly glare as his broad shoulders blocked out the low light. He loomed above us his hand inching toward the hilt of his sword. Fell had stalled but was now realising what trouble was facing him.

‘’Bjorn…?’’ Fell’s tone was uncertain and in his cadence, I heard something that you are lucky if you never hear; the sound of someone questioning their whole world and his future in it. 

Fell faced Bjorn before me and I watched as the emotions of betrayal and disbelief played upon his face and I saw how Bjorn’s stoic expression faced them like a cliff in a storm unyielding as ide from a small twinge in the corners of his eyes. And though I had come to hate this man in just a very short amount of time I saw quite clearly that when a bond breaks it leaves two broken ends.

Bjorn kept his expression as hard as granite but I had seen and performed in this play of betrayal many times before.

‘’Fine!- Rot in Hel while this witch burns our world!’’

Bjorn’s jaw clenched but he said nothing.

Fell sneered at Bjorn’s strength and turned to leave calling ‘’Come, Tori’’ over his shoulder. He stormed away from the tent until he realised that his footfalls were alone in the evenings' hum.

‘’Tori!’’ he didn’t turn to see that Tori had turned his back on Fell to meet Bjorn’s gaze- he didn’t need to know that with a nod the new bond was sealed.

Fell walked on toward the encampment in a silence that enveloped the tent and for a brief second its residents were whisked down memories twisting path to where only they could see. And then the vacuum was filled by the murmurings of birds and the hum of the small town that had risen from nothing. For now, another storm had passed though I was sure this was to be the calm of the eye and on cold winds, it would whip around to wreak its second bout of destruction stronger than before. my eyes narrowed on fells retreating form.

Bjorn began to approach me which roused me from my pit of worries. Suddenly I could move again – ‘’Jasmine!’’ I dug my hands into the earth as I dragged myself to my feet to rush to her side. The small creature which stood beside the post still staring at the axe embedded in it began to crumble. I paused in front of her to assess her for any type of injury – unfortunately, the tears that welled in her eyes told me it was another blow to her mind and not her body that she had received. It was plain to all of us that she had been in denial since she was freed from those chains. She was completely lost in some delusion that held her together yet now it was tearing apart. But now her mind was burning again – back to that night when her life was shattered.

Fell had successfully set alight the small feeling of safety she had allowed herself to feel sic our paths had met.

Her lips trembled as the tears started to roll down her quivering cheeks. As I heard a weak moan beginning to escape I wrapped my arms around her delicate form and accepted the outburst of emotions that followed. Her scream though muffled by my chest still tore through the night making those who heard it flinch inwardly at its anguish. As she collapsed into my grip I brought us gently to the floor as the moaning keen continued. Again and again, her shrieks of fear and tragedy ripped into my soul like the lash of a whip. I held on hoping she might too.

Soon she quietened to a whimper and it was then I allowed myself to look around the tent. No one had moved from moments ago and now stood with expressions frozen in pity and sympathy.

Anger began to bubble in my chest as my gaze turned to Tori, Magda, Floki-and yes even Bjorn. Vikings! My mind spat the acrid word into the universe. They had burned our world to ashes and there was no going back- even worse was that we had no idea of what was awaiting us in their world.

Why am I letting myself be sucked into a fairy tale of love concurring all?

Bjorn searched for my eyes but I couldnt meet his- not when shame was creeping up on me as I questioned myself yet again- what am I going to do?

Chapter Text

Things settled eventually – Floki returned to his fire and food. Tori stood ‘’on watch’’ though his eyes stayed in the grove wondering paths only his mind could tread.

‘Magda’ Bjorn turned away from me to address the Viking woman. Who though she stood to attention betrayed herself with glances directed at the oblivious Aziza- something to watch.

‘’ go recruit some me- shieldmaidens’’ he emphasised that part which Magda nodded along to to show she understood his meaning-we all did ‘’I don’t want anymore trouble coming from this land of moors…’’

I couldn’t restrain my eyebrows from leaping up my forehead at his last comment- as far as I was aware the only ‘trouble’ he had run into was me. I began to twitch with a sudden hot anger that I forced myself to stifle as aziza joined me to move Jasmine.

Somehow in the time that passed I noticed Aziza had become the go between for the hostages and Vikings. She seemed to show no fear amongst the savages and I soon realised why. Though she moved as languidly as a lioness she couldn’t help the awkward tilt of her left arm. The stiffness in her fingers one could attribute to her being truly nervous but I knew- she forced them straight to stop them from instinctively covering her cargo. As she reached for a pot in the fire’s light a bears head came to life as it peaked from her sleeve almost threatening to roar and alert everyone to his presence. She covered herself masterfully with a quick tug of material the little bear was gone. She glanced around the tent seemingly taking in the new faces – no one had noticed.

Aziza was certainly proving to be a good friend to have.

Once she had done her task she always returned to Jasmine and I who now sat in the corner of this sitting area.

Magda had brought six shieldmaidens back with her and once Bjorn was apparently satisfied with who had been chosen he returned to camp without another glance my way. Maybe it was for the best…

Burning… delight…destruction… deliver them!

The fich fich had been persistent with its inane nattering and I found it hard to stay present.

The women worked in shifts of three – three rested while the others were on patrol outside of the tent. Of course those who claimed to rest never really did as their bodies continuously compensated for the openings created by their comrades. They sat facing into the tent witht heir backs to those on watch – we were most definitely trapped.

Magda sat opposite the resting women surveying the entirety of the sitting area from her position. That was amidst the battle she had trying to pull her gaze from Aziza.

Having the shieldmaidens with u did make me feel safer- so long as they were loyal to Bjorn I believed that they would keep us safe.

But then again I had already seen one loyalty tested and broken by my presence – two if you counted that between Fell and Tori.

So only the god’s could know what would happen in time- well I could as well if I could ever figure out my esoteric riddles presented to me by the beyond- a fickle gift indeed.

The fich fich continued and did not help my sullen mood.

Burning worlds… golden shores…fractured viels…-was their current tune mingled with the inaudible mutterings which felt like they might spill from my head.i was becoming pensive- a leashed animal bound by ties which I seemed to have happily wrapped around my own neck. It was all building to a volcanic end.

A soft whimper came from my lap.

Jasmine had finally laid her head down to fall helplessly to the embrace of sleep. Her small hands clung to my soiled shirt as she dreamt. I stroked her head softly and the tight expression she had faded to one of calm.

’why don’t you get changed’’ Aziza proffered. It was then I was reminded that I had frizzed hair dried in tats and soile clothes on – I must have looked a state. Whilst everyone else had changed into woollen dresses.

I looked down at the shrinking girl.

‘’I’ll watch her- she needs you in peak condition- trust me you don’t ant to get sick at sea…’’

I nodded I knew only too well she was right. ‘’you’re right- who shall i- I mean where do I get the clothes?’’

‘’ Don’t worry I’ll ask !’’ Aziza chirped before hopping to her feet and being on her way

Over to magda’s side …?

The Viking woman’s gaze was intense as she surveyed the tents occupants- then her icy blue eyes noticed Aziza’s approach and melted into water welcoming waters. Aziza walked with a confidence that could have been because she was probably the deadliest one in this tent or… either way there was o mistaking the unsure smile that sprouted on Magda’s face as she welcomed Aziza at her side- a seed had taken root…

Magda’s eyes looked into Aziza’s eyes attentively and when Aziza opened her mouth to speak I half expected her to reveal that she had been Viking the whole time.

‘’Wooo.’’ She said quite slowly with great effort.

For a moment it acted like a spell freezing us all – everyone in unified in our shared state of utter confusion- transcending boundaries <3

But then the trickles came – people began to crack. Their eyes widened and lips crushed themselves trying, all, to keep the façade of a hostage situation. Alas, all was in vane as tittles and chuckles erupted into teary eyed wild laughter from our captors; peeps of mirth came from the noblewoman who had been still in the corner like ghosts.

Even Floki sniggered like a hyena.

Aziza was not amused. She pinned me with a steely gaze which made me nip my lip as I quickly shut my mouth before she tried to quell the joviality which had taken the vikings- If looks could kill Aziza would find a way.

The only one who had retained some semblance of seriousness and dignity was Magda- she restrained her laughter, which could only be detected in the slight welling in her eyes, masterfully.

Aziza spun to face Magda with a look of hot anger before she raised her voice in frustration to say ‘’Woo- Woo!’’ she repeated emphatically. It only served to heighten the barking of the shieldmaidens to uncontrolled cackles as they rocked and trembled with laughter.

I coughed to restrain my own amusement which seemed so misplaced- I really had no idea what she meant but… it was like thunder in the air discharging and bringing a sweet breeze. I heard a a trill bubble of laughter came from behind me. Jasmine covered her mouth looking down with a desperate look of joy that wasn’t supposed to be surprising herself most of all. She glowed in my shadow.

Aziza looked as if she might draw the blade to defend her honour. Thankfully, she gave a loaded sigh before turning to Magda once more with an overly intense stare that made the Viking knock back an amusement she felt to focus on Aziza. Aziza again said slowly ‘’wooo.’’

And by the heavens the laughter only got louder with some sort of manic hysteria which served as prompting for Aziza to grab a fistful of her dress and shout ‘’by the goddess – woo!’’

Laughed turned to fearful chokes as Magda’s chilling gaze of authority fell on each of us as a signal for silence. She turned back to Aziza satisfied by the gritted silence saying calmly and plainly ‘’you mean ‘wool’ – ‘woo-l’’ Magda gave Aziza a smile that was so sweet and yet suited her features naturally as if she should look like that all the time. ‘’you want a ‘dress’ for the seer’’ Magda said it all rather matter-of-fact as if it should’ve been easily understood by all of us that ‘woo’ meant exactly that.

I bowed my head in some form of defeat as I realised that there was no stopping what was going to happen- and I didn’t need a vision to show me it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Magda rose suddenly which set everyone on edge before she smiled at Aziza once more saying ‘’ I will see to the Seer’s clothing.’’ Magda then disappeared behind the taupe which split the tent in two. The weapon racks had been removed and bedding had been laid in that area. The sight of warm furs was very tempting. Magda appeared again giving Aziza a nod to look inside- whatever she saw made her pleased as she nodded then turned around to present me with a broad smile that was almost shocking. It was as if all of what had just happened didn’t matter as the ends justified the means- theoretically an impossible opponent to beat…

As I began to rise a sudden jerk of my pants made me pause. Jasmine was looking at me through a haze of exhaustion desperately trying to stay awake. I took her hand gently unfurling it from my clothes as I guided her to lie down saying ‘’ shhhh… its ok little shikufah - Aziza is her to watch over you and I shall join you soon.’’ I rose again and Aziza quickly took my place to hold Jasmine as she slept. We exchanged a reassuring look to the taupe which she now sat in front of with jasmine- it said we knew where to find each other just in case.

I turned to walk to Magda and exchanged a pleasant smile with the woman whose eyes were like icicles on the mountain tops- so strange in their colour. She was noqq doubt a beautiful woman.

I bowed my head to enter beneath her arm which held a gap open in the cloth for me. Then she nodded her head before letting the material drop. When I turned around I was lost in thought – Shikufah… blossom. My Maman (mother)  used to call me Malak- angel. I half smiled at the memory trying to come through of her voice calling ‘malak fly home I’m waiting… malak…’ before the fich fich brought the cascading voice of that man ‘Malaki! Malaki!’

I shook my mind I didn’t want to think of it- any of it. When I was back in the present my mind was suddenly consumed by completely different memories the bedding area was awash with the strange light of flames dancing behind the cloth. And the soft glow which so dangerously mingled with shadow took me to last night – to Bjorn. I stifled a sigh as I was horrified yet again by my behaviour – I was acting like a lovesick noble brat. Until I met that bloody beautiful Viking I wasn’t so lost with whims of the heart – in fact, I didn’t think my heart could stand whims anymore….  I was supposed to be stone; I had been for years now. So much had happened to me that I had to be stone or else a knife could come at any time to stick in my back. Or worse my naïve heart. I admitted that I was truly naïve in the ways of love-wait. Not that – this wasn’t that. It couldn’t be. I had once like most people been incapacitated by those feelings but I learnt then that it wasn’t meant for me.

The shieldmaidens began talking amongst themselves again in their feigned relaxed way. It, thankfully, brought me back to my purpose. In front of me on the floor was a stack of clothes which I assumed were for me. I took my soiled clothes off quickly and found myself in my underwear examining the clothes with some confusion- firstly it was clothes plural- I had expected a woollen dress and that would be it. There were fresh bindings of course and I had rewrapped my breasts already- but the rest; pants, two tunics and a bodice- not to mention leather boots that looked almost new. I couldn’t help questioning it.

 But then that too had to be put aside when a high pitched whistle pierced the air and killed the welcoming hum of conversation.

‘’Halt!’’ a female voice I had not yet heard shouted. When no answer came the shadows painted on the taupe erupted into a speed of movement accompanied by little sound. They moved into a waiting position near their comrades on one knee waiting as reinforcements- but not to be seen yet.

‘halt three said in unison empowering the word with their number to warn off the intruder.  Immediately looked for Jasmine and Aziza’s forms which were pressed against the taupe now – so much so that I could see the glint of metal which stabbed the clothe- drawn and ready for battle. Satisfied I could leave Jasmine to Aziza for the moment I looked around for some sort of weapon- since the place had been cleared I thought it useless until I saw a pole sticking out awkwardly from under one of the furs- a spear. Well a broken one with no blade but it still had its barbed hilt and that was plenty I scooped it into my hands and stood prepared to try to think through my strategy in my head when a familiar voice came from the darkness. ‘’easy! It's me!’’

Bjorn.

‘’nice to have you back’’ Floki said as Bjorn’s silhouette joined the others in the tent.

‘’yes, well, some of us have things to do, Floki.’’ Was Bjorn’s taught response. Floki just chuckled and the rest of us were perfectly still waiting to see if now was when they would finally come to blows. ‘’how has it been Magda?’’ – apparently not- Magda didn’t hesitate to report the lack of action we had seen here on our perch away from the rabble.

‘’no one has approached since you left.’’

‘’good.’’ Bjorn breathed the word with relief as if he hadn’t been able to breathe easy- it made me curious if the trouble with fell had already come back on Bjorn.

The tension that had so quickly built up was quickly released as Bjorn came further into the tent and the shieldmaidens resumed their watch. Yet Aziza had not yet returned to hiding the knife. It twitched with every footfall that Bjorn made.

My mouth opened to speak a warning when a hushed whisper came from next to Aziza. ‘’Aziza?- he’s a friend, right”  jasmine quietly asked with complete innocence.

The knife’s point vanished leaving a small hole- one of many and as remarkable as a tree in a forest. Then the kind answer came from Aziza’s slightly rasping voice ‘’ yes, yes Jasmine. Don’t fret you are safe with Asariel and me- sleep and dream kitten dream for me.’’ Her voice was lulling and soft and soon a purr was heard from where they sat.

The tent seemed peaceful for but a moment when suddenly Bjorn raised his voice above the din ‘’’ where is Asaroul?’’ he almost demanded as he realised I was not among them. I could tell by his rigid and darting movements that he was now alert and concerned.  In a second his shadow now came to face me his hand suddenly protruding from the canvases opening.

He was set to open the taupe and reveal me dumbstruck and half naked. My bare ochre skin no doubt tinged with a blush from just being near this bear of a man.

All I could pray for now was that instincts would not force me to attack.

Suddenly a flash came from the small gap that Bjorn had created. It was Magda ‘’she’s changing ‘’ she said sternly. as I watched her bangled hand wrapped around Bjorn's wrist restraining him like a snake. Bjorn’s hand turned white as his grip on the taupe became vicious. He was clearly angry.

‘’good’’ Bjorn spoke curtly to Magda as his fingers snapped open releasing the partition and saving my dignity. Well what little I had left. Like a crack of thunder silencing everyone, Bjorn growled at Magda when she did not immediately let go of his arm. As the sheet still at the moment that followed I could imagine the stoic expressions etched into the shadows. With the second beat of my tempered heart, she released him and moved to return to her seat. Magda sat seemingly at ease once more as Bjorn stood still and a nervous chatter began trying desperately to fill the oppressive silence.

‘’’Come Bjorn, have some stew.’’ Floki offered in a strange lilt.

‘’Ill pass ‘’ he said through gritted teeth before he let himself calm down and continued in a light-hearted manner ‘’ I’ve seen you raiding the plunder – some of that food is as strange as a flying pig.’’

Floki chuckled at the casual offence and so all had effectively buried the incident in moments.

Bjorn’s shadow retreated and went to the fire. My mind suddenly started working again and a unified whisper said quick. I listened and snatched up my remaining clothes and dressed with haste.

Chapter Text

Magda rose suddenly which set everyone on edge before she smiled at Aziza once more saying ‘’ I will see to the Seer’s clothing.’’ Magda then disappeared behind the taupe which split the tent in two. The weapon racks had been removed and bedding had been laid in that area. The sight of warm furs was very tempting. Magda appeared again giving Aziza a nod to look inside- whatever she saw made her pleased as she nodded then turned around to present me with a broad smile that was almost shocking. It was as if all of what had just happened didn’t matter as the ends justified the means- theoretically an impossible opponent to beat…
As I began to rise a sudden jerk of my pants made me pause. Jasmine was looking at me through a haze of exhaustion desperately trying to stay awake. I took her hand gently unfurling it from my clothes as I guided her to lie down saying ‘’ shhhh… its ok little shikufah - Aziza is her to watch over you and I shall join you soon.’’ I rose again and Aziza quickly took my place to hold Jasmine as she slept. We exchanged a reassuring look to the taupe which she now sat in front of with jasmine- it said we knew where to find each other just in case.


I turned to walk to Magda and exchanged a pleasant smile with the woman whose eyes were like icicles on the mountain tops- so strange in their colour. She was not doubt a beautiful woman.


I bowed my head to enter beneath her arm which held a gap open in the cloth for me. Then she nodded her head before letting the material drop. When I turned around I was lost in thought – Shikufah… blossom. My Maman (mother) used to call me Malak- angel. I half smiled at the memory trying to come through of her voice calling ‘malak fly home I’m waiting… malak…’ before the fich fich brought the cascading voice of that man ‘Malaki! Malaki!’


I shook my mind I didn’t want to think of it- any of it. When I was back in the present my mind was suddenly consumed by completely different memories the bedding area was awash with the strange light of flames dancing behind cloth. And the soft glow which so dangerously mingled with shadow took me to last night – to Bjorn. I stifled a sigh as I was horrified yet again by my behaviour – I was acting like a love sick noble brat. Until I met that bloody beautiful Viking I wasn’t so lost with whims of the heart – in fact I didn’t think my heart could stand whims anymore…. I was supposed to be stone; I had been for years now. So much had happened to me that I had to be stone or else a knife could come at any time to stick in my back. Or worse my naïve heart. I admitted that I was truly naïve in the ways of lov-wait. Not that – this wasn’t that. It couldn’t be. I had once like most people been incapacitated by those feelings but I learnt then that it wasn’t meant for me.


The shield maidens began talking amongst themselves again in their feigned relaxed way. It, thankfully, brought me back to my purpose. In front of me on the floor was a stack of clothes which I assumed were for me. I took my soiled clothes of quickly and found myself in my underwear examining the clothes with some confusion- firstly it was clothes plural- I had expected a woollen dress and that would be it. There were fresh bindings of course and I had rewrapped my breasts already- but the rest; pants, two tunics and a bodice- not to mention leather boots that looked almost new. I couldn’t help questioning it.


But then that too had to be put aside when a high pitched whistle pierced the air and killed the welcoming hum of conversation.
‘’Halt!’’ a female voice I had not yet heard shouted. When no answer came the shadows painted on the taupe erupted into a speed of movement accompanied by little sound. They moved into a waiting position near their comrades on one knee waiting as reinforcements- but not to be seen yet.


‘halt three said in unison empowering the word with their number to warn off the intruder. Immediately looked for Jasmine and Aziza’s forms which were pressed against the taupe now – so much so that I could see the glint of metal which stabbed the clothe- drawn and ready for battle. Satisfied I could leave Jasmine to Aziza for the moment I looked around for some sort of weapon- since the place had been cleared I thought it useless until I saw a pole sticking out awkwardly from under one of the furs- a spear. Well a broken one with no blade but it still had its barbed hilt and that was plenty I scooped it into my hands and stood prepared trying to think through my strategy in my head when a familiar voice came from the darkness. ‘’easy! Its me!’’


Bjorn.


‘’nice to have you back’’ Floki said as Bjorn’s silhouette joined the others in the tent.


‘’yes, well, some of us have things to do, Floki.’’ Was Bjorn’s taught response. Floki just chuckled and the rest of us were perfectly still waiting to see if now was when they would finally come to blows. ‘’how has it been Magda?’’ – apparently not- Magda didn’t hesitate to report the lack of action we had seen here on our perch away from the rabble.


‘’no one has approached since you left.’’


‘’good.’’ Bjorn breathed the word with relief as if he hadn’t been able to breathe easy- it made me curious if the trouble with fell had already come back on Bjorn.


The tension that had so quickly built up was quickly released as Bjorn came further into the tent and the shield maidens resumed their watch. Yet Aziza had not yet returned to hiding the knife. It twitched with every footfall that Bjorn made.
My mouth opened to speak a warning when a hushed whisper came from next to Aziza. ‘’Aziza?- he’s a friend, right” jasmine quietly asked with complete innocence.


The knife’s point vanished leaving a small hole- one of many and as remarkable as a tree in a forest. Then the kind answer came from Aziza’s slightly rasping voice ‘’ yes, yes Jasmine. Don’t fret you are safe with Asariel and I- sleep and dream kitten dream for me.’’ Her voice was lulling and soft and soon a purr was heard from where they sat.


The tent seemed peaceful for but a moment when suddenly Bjorn raised his voice above the din ‘’’ where is Asaroul?’’ he almost demanded as he realised I was not among them. I could tell by his rigid and darting movements that he was now alert and concerned. In a second his shadow now came to face me his hand suddenly protruding from the canvases opening.
He was set to open the taupe and reveal me dumbstruck and half naked. My bare ochre skin no doubt tinged with blush from just being near this bear of a man.


All I could pray for now was that instincts would not force me to attack .


Suddenly a flash came from the small gap that Bjorn had created. It was Magda ‘’she’s changing ‘’ she said sternly. As I watched her bangled hand wrapped around Bjorn’s wrist restraining him like a snake. Bjorn’s hand turned white as his grip on the taupe became vicious. He was clearly angry.


‘’good’’ Bjorn spoke curtly to Magda as his fingers snapped open releasing the partition and saving my dignity. Well what little I had left. Like a crack of thunder silencing everyone Bjorn growled at Magda when she did not immediately let go of his arm. As the sheet still in the moment that followed I could imagine the stoic expressions etched into the shadows. With the second beat of my tempered heart she released him and moved to return to her seat. Magda sat seemingly at ease once more as Bjorn stood still and a nervous chatter began trying desperately to fill the oppressive silence.


‘’’Come Bjorn, have some stew.’’ Floki offered in a strange lilt.


‘’Ill pass ‘’ he said through gritted teeth before he let himself calm down and continued in a light hearted manner ‘’ I’ve seen you raiding the plunder – some of that food is as strange as a flying pig.’’


Floki chuckled at the casual offence and so all had effectively buried the incident in moments.


Bjorn’s shadow retreated and went to the fire. My mind suddenly started working again and a unified whisper said quick. I listened and snatched up my remaining clothes and dressed with haste.

Bjorn POV
Magda had crossed the line. I knew that she had no allegiance to me- in fact I had no idea where her true loyalties lay. She was no fan of Finehair but that didn’t mean that she would sway to my rule so quickly. But even though I was not her king my name , my heritage was one that meant she was in no position to question my authority. She was now too comfortable with her position – too familiar with myself. She had confidence n herself that she could if not stop at the very least slow me down in my pursuit of what? I was going to enter a place where one of my prisoners was changing. Unless…
Had I underestimated Asa’s sway on people? Was she indeed a witch who had captured Magda and definitely Floki’s mind- perhaps even Tori’s (I still questioned why he had not followed Fell.-though it was a private affair which could soon be renaegged- there was as of yet no reason to trust him.)


for all I knew he and Magda could have been in cahoots with Finehair plotting my demise... was there anyone to be trusted in the world?


Magda took a beat too long to release my hand – in that time the air had changed it was subtle but the fact that it was there at all was what unnerved me. When you were the son of Ragnar Lothbrok you could taste the winds of loyalties- how the strengthened, waivered or shifted. Two things had accompanied Magda’s hesitation; first Tori and Floki had readied themselves their hands moving to their weapons with caution. And the twitching Shield maidens who seemed to want my blood- it seemed that in this tent I was out numbered by converts. It should have been expected but for it to happen so quickly momentarily stunned me. I stared into Magda’s eyes with a burning question – would her loyalty shift again?- and what had made her so quickly reject her lord to serve this girl?
I will sit and wait.” I finally announced as Magda averted her gaze in submission.


I sat beside Floki watching for guidance from the open flames which danced over the remains of their feast snapping their fingers in veracious excitement. I thought that my ignoring the insolence and choosing only to comply a my own will would have eased the shield maidens twitching – it did not. It was not until Magda took up her watchful position once me that their eyes returned to search the darkness for threats.


I also noticed that now all had settled Tori would not look at me; his eyes wandered with his thoughts but he could not let his eyes land on me for more than a moment. Was it the conflict earlier that had him so strange or was something else ticking along in his mind. I could understand it being hard fore the young man to come to terms with what had happened – in a day he had lost his place next to Fell, a sure track to success, and now he was here supping with the people his previous lord had found to be deserving pf death . the reason for his turn about in fate was a mystery to me. And a mystery so close to my Asa was dangerous.
Perhaps he would reveal himself as a spy and I could kill him. But if not I would have to figure the lad out.


I looked to Floki who simply tended to the fire perhaps fully aware that the whole camp was a blaze with the fascination that Floki had for my Asa and her foreign god. He had not been back to his own tent and the camp had murmured that Helga had not yet left that same tent with her slave or whatever she was to be...


We settled into an uneasy peace when a hand appeared, bronze and gold being set alight by the fires glow, shyly it curled around the taupe obviously hoping to slip by unnoticed but how could we not notice her? She eventually drew the cloth back to reveal her new apparel. She was a vision of fire in flesh- alluring and hypnotic. As the flames light danced over her skin I couldn’t stop myself from taking all of her in. I had requested that she be dressed in something presentable but practical.


Magda did not disappoint. She was dressed in red tanned, fitted trousers that did not leave much to the imagination- luckily she puled her tunic down properly and her rear was suitably covered by the blood red material with is gold and black trim which etched her out of the shadows


It was breath taking seeing how her clothes changed her from stranger to destiny. I could see it clearly – as clearly as Ragnar had seen himself as king- only I sat next to her as my queen.
“here-“ Tori stepped forward suddenly which caught everyone off guard. But before any of us had drawn our weapons he brought her a red cloak which was trimmed with tan fur. She took it with a bow as thanks but his eyes had wandered. To the young girl who was sat shielded by one of Asa’s close thralls. Ah...


I smiled to myself as these girls had certainly been unexpected additions to our journey.


“you’re welcome Lady.” He said before retreating only now aware of the tension he had caused.


She looked to her two friends in the corner first and then to Magda all gave approving smiles so that she did not retreat. Finally her eyes moved over to my feet by the fire before she looked up at me thorough dark lashes which seemed to shatter her gold discs. I had been ready to show her my pride in her dress my desire for her but instead I met her eyes with a slack jaw.


She quickly turned to look at Floki – did she want reassurance from him? I could almost guarantee he would not give her any. Then he did.


He looked down at his fire smiling to himself before he remarked “ha!- she looks like a real woman now- real Viking!” his glee was evident in his toothy grin.


I looked between them and felt a pang of jealousy as I realised they shared a connection which allowed him to reassure her – I didn’t like it. I knew it wasn’t sexual or anything like that it was more powerful like they had seen themselves in each other. And that sent a chill down my spine.


I knew Floki very well by now. And inside he was a broken fragile man- did she see the darkness in him? Did it reflect her own?
Another thought to weigh on my mind as the wolves were beginning to bay for my blood. The moment I went back into camp I was harassed by people who need direction in order to be ready to sail. And the rumours of Fell’s breaking ties with me- it flew around the camp as well as the worrying possibility of Fell teaming with other lords to split the fleet when we got back to Kattegat.
Then their were the more whispered curiosities about myself- had this seer whom the Gods had thrust upon us like a storm indeed taken control of my mind. I couldn’t deny it though. As I walked I was consumed with thoughts of her –where she was- if she was safe. But also I couldn’t help think of her soft and full lips that I only briefly tasted - she was sweet- was the rest of her?
But with those blissful thoughts of her the real danger of Fells lack of allegiance was truly worrying he had been under Ragnar and etched out his own position as Jarl of a farming village. He had wealth. He had influence with old friends – he was a danger.
And everyone was waiting to see what happened next...


He was also fanatical enough that when the harvests were bad he chose a warrior to be sacrificed – against his will some said.- but his people allowed it – even praised him for ending the bad weather.


He was the sort of man who could escalate the circumstances quickly and violently. He could tear us apart. I knew that I had made a deadly enemy in Fell.


For now though, Fell was silent. He wasn’t one to parade his business. No, he wanted the rumours to grow and exaggerate- to let it seep into our foundations like a blight upon us. Then he would strike and until then I would have to be ready.


Floki finished tending to his meal when he suddenly stood, stretching like a cat, all the while keeping his eyes glued to my Asa.
My blood boiled as she reacted to his stare with a shy blush. I couldn’t stand not knowing what seemed to link them and so I let my anger get the better of me. I sat seething snatching an errant stick from the kindling pile and began stoking the cinders making them crumble and snap at the air.


‘’finally panning on going to see your wife Floki?’’ I spat the question as an accusation causing Floki’s eyes to darken and the air to become heavy. Let him expose his true self and let this bond burn.


Floki did not rise to meet my childish goading. Instead he simply smiled down at me with restraint- it was clearly I who was being revealed in a new light and I could only thank the gods that Asa did not know our tongue yet.


‘’Helga does not need to be coddled- that’s why I married her.’’ Floki stated proudly.


I felt I could not rebuke that. Not now, at least not while Helga remained in her strange state of torment. It had cleaved her heart in two when they lost Angrboda. And now she was clearly trying to stitch it together by forcing an orphan into the gap. Most worried that she was too far gone...


‘’ besides Bjorn, she would never begrudge me spending time with a beautiful woman.’’ Floki smirked. I turned away quickly in anger only to be met with Asa’s rising blush- I growled a low warning when Floki turned and offered his hand gracefully as a tree spirit. I was about to object when Magda voiced my words for me


‘’what do you think you are doing, Floki.’’ She warned as she rose to her feet. Her shield maidens felt the ripple of her tension and readied for a sticky situation.


Floki simply smiled keeping his eyes fixed on Asaroul giving his answer to her rather than to us showing his reverence for her.
‘’I am offering to take the seer for a walk in the night air- to help calm that blush’’ he smiled cheekily at her and she smirked in return. It made me want to punch him. However, I knew that to do that would translate into her language and might make her fear or even hate me- I couldn’t afford to do that.


So I sat with my hands tightly grasping each other staring at the fire. When they didn’t move I looked up and locked eyes with worried gold discs of light. They sought permission. I was about to give it when Floki piped up again.
‘’you are a free woman seer- you need no man’s permission.’’ He said zealously. Her eyes briefly flitted to his but stayed with mine. I wanted the world to fade away in that moment as she stared at me her face showing her anticipation to walk. I couldn’t deny that if I was a braver man than I would have offered first so that we might steal a moment alone...
But as it was all I could do was calm myself before looking at her again with what I hoped was a kinder expression I could only hope I was able to hide my true feelings; I would never be able to deny her.


I nodded before realising that everyone’s eyes were on us. I cleared my throat which broke the fire’s spell – a missed opportunity... I turned away to help myself to the stew that had been prepared. As it was made by Floki sooo I couldn’t help but eye the mushrooms suspiciously.

Chapter Text

Asariel POV
With Bjorn’s approval I decided to take Floki’s hand – if I am honest I probably would have done it anyway but I had seen how Bjorn had seethed heard the maleficent tone in his harsh words. I had to wonder if he was jealous- I had had jealous lovers but... they usually expressed themselves better- I suppose it was something I had to learn about Bjorn if I was to communicate with him- he couldn’t read subtle very well. I would have to show him my feelings.
But for the time being I was going to enjoy the night air and try to get the blush to leave my cheeks. I wrapped the cloak, which Tori had given me, around my shoulders fastening it with a golden brooch which had a beautifully delicate design of knotted metal.
As we walked together I heard a low whistle which did not sound at all familiar as a bird would. It was answered though and then the usual chorus of the near by woods could be heard with the distant lapping of the waves.
But all this beauty did not served to cool my temper- Floki had really pissed me off. I began to half drag him away from that damned tent so as to meld with the darkness and possibly kill Floki. My cheeks cooled but I knew that a lot of damage had been done; first when Magda had shown disobedience toward Bjorn in order to protect me. And again when Floki decided he was going to get revenge on Bjorn for his little tantrum.
Now what would Aziza think of my very sudden relationship that was developing between Bjorn and I?
When I felt I had gotten us a safe enough distance from the tent I swung Floki around to face me and I punched him in the arm as hard as I could.
‘’ow!- that’s a mean sting for such a pretty bee’’ he sniggered
I had really had enough
‘’listen you mad bastard!’’ I exploded with a hushed voice so that only us two were privy. ‘’if you do that sort of mind game with me again I will put a knife in your gut!’
He put his hands up in peace before he started grinning insanely, looking first at me and then to the heavens. He collapsed to his knees and I rushed to his side in concern. But he wasn’t injured or fatigued he was... relieved and jubilant.
‘’finally’’ he began softly. ’finally, I am forgiven...’’ his eyes began to well up and tears slid down his cheeks. What did he mean? Why had he had such a reaction to her... talking... shit.
I had actually let my guard slip around this lunatic and he could now bounce off to tell Bjorn - whom I think doesn’t really like being lied to – just a hunch.
‘’oh!’’ Floki exclaimed as I realised he was now staring at me with frantic eyes ‘’oh-‘’ he continued again but much quieter as he shuffled on his knees closer to me ‘’ oh please lady don’t be upset- I am- I am truly sorry for upsetting you’’ he said bowing his head to me.
To be honest I had no idea what was happening and I really needed to know because my life- and that of those whom I was now tied- hung in the balance. I had to decide if Floki was a threat and then world forgive me if he was I would have to kill this poor soul. It was cruel thinking and I was shamed as my hands twitched and my eyes desperately sought out his weapon.
But... the thought came to me softly but he has been a friend. My heartbeat, which I only now realised was beating slowly, came back into sync with the world. It was too easy to slip into her shadow again...
‘’oh my lady I only wished to know – to truly hear your beautiful voice summon our words- the god’s words...’’ he was tearful and I recalled that night in the tent- he had lost much on this journey- Ragnar, Helga- who knew what he may have found here...
‘’I-‘’ I began un sure as to what to say. Floki looked up to me with eyes filled with hope; they shimmered under starlight. Then I sighed having heard the words once before- echoed from long ago. ‘’I am glad to have met you, my friend.’’ I smiled down putting my hands on this strange Vikings shoulders in defeat.
Floki jumped to his feet in joy lifting me into the air. I squealed atypically and began hurriedly thumping his shoulders to prompt him to put me down. He did and we stood in silence as I straightened my clothes and he continued to smile with glee. ‘’ yes well now that we have an ... understanding?’’ Floki nodded emphatically but remained silent- which meant I still had very little understanding of what exactly Floki believed that he was doing. ‘’yes... ok then- you tried to make me reveal this to those in our tent- why?’’
Floki looked ashamed ‘’ I am sorry- truly. But I have felt so alone in this time since-‘’
‘’since he killed Athelstan.’’ Ragnar finished I looked to him beyond Floki he stood with a Christian monk- though his hood shrouded his face beside Ragnar he seemed to calm Ragnar’s fire and made the night air fresh and alive.
‘’Since Athelstan.’’ I repeated which made Floki fall to his knees
‘’oh- thank the all father! I knew that the gods had given me another chance-with you ‘’ he smiled manically’’ I wish to serve you my lady.’’
I was stunned- in all my years I had never had someone willing to serve me – most hated me for my gifts – others utterly feared me...
And here Floki was offering to serve me...
‘’why? Do you want to serve me Floki? I am a witch to your people you cannot deny that they do not want me with them- you would be ostracised – so why?’’
He rose slowly starring upwards- I kept my eyes on him trying to further decipher his intent. He was in awe with what he saw.
‘’my lady, I wish to be at peace I wish to bring peace- to... everyone. But I cannot find this peace- I couldn’t begin to know where to look and then I entered your people’s temple-
‘’its called a mosque -and they weren’t my people... they were of the empire’’
‘’ in that place I felt a new hope rise within me and then- then you came... and I tried to resist, but, I see now that this is my path to follow- the path that the gods have laid before me and I would be a fool to ignore it any longer’’ he locked eyes with me ‘’please lady, allow me to be your left hand- I shall spread your word humbly.’’
With that he took a hold of his axe. I was startled but i did not fear this man. He was lost and he hoped that I might lead him- another soul bound to mine. The chains felt heavy around my heart.
Floki then proceeded to open his shirt and expose his chest before he swore to the all father that he would follow the path that I walked.
I allowed him his moments of peace before rousing him from his reverie.
‘’Floki, I thank you and... I accept your oath. But I must tell you this now- I want no one else to know of my gift- do you understand?’
‘’yes- but what of the shield maidens? And your thralls?’’
‘’they cannot know either’’ he went to object but I cut him off ‘’ not yet. At least not until I know who I can trust...’’
‘’I am honoured to be in your light ..’’ he said.
I huffed manoeuvring to sit on the little mound we found ourselves on. ‘’you kind of forced that on me...’’ I muttered and Floki barked a hearty laugh.
I put my finger to my lips shushing him. ‘’haaa, I really am in a mess.’’ I confessed to no one.
‘’I swear not to tell lady, be sure I-‘’ I cut him off with my hand seeing that he was becoming anxious.
‘’I trust you Floki- or I would have killed you’’ I said honestly and Floki smiled with pride. ‘’but I have other issues now- namely the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.’’
‘’ I have seen how Bjorn looks at you- if it is not reciprocated I will protect you.’’ He said stone faced.
‘’no- the feelings are... complicated. No, its Hvitserk that is the more pressing threat.’’
‘’Hvitserk? -why?’’ Floki said concerned
‘’he is not Floki’s favourite..’’ Ragnar said bringing me back to another pressing matter- this ghost who chose to appear at random and give unsolicited advice.
‘’come Ragnar- let them have some peace.’’ The monks voice was gentle and it lifted my spirit to hear it.
The monk began to usher Ragnar into to forest to walk beside him. ‘’thank you ‘’ I said and the monk paused in his actions to pull his hood down. He was indeed a handsome monk; brown hair, blue eyes and delicate features. He looked happy. And with a silent nod he turned to walk with Ragnar into the night air.
When I returned to being present with Floki he was staring at me with curious eyes. ‘’who were you speaking to?’’
Ragnar said not to tell him that he was here... ‘’a monk.’’ I said flatly and Floki’s brow furrowed with thought.
‘’why is Hvitserk a threat?’’ Floki said steering us back on topic.
‘’he – he chased me today- toyed with me- he wanted to scare me...’’
‘’ he is young- you saw tonight young men do stupid things-‘’
‘’its more than that Floki he – he has this malice in him when he looks at me- he is one who hates me...’’ we let that hang between us.
Until Floki laughed’’ I cant wait for you to meet Ivar’’
‘’hmm ‘’ was all I could respond my eyes still seeing his face, his eyes.
Floki sighed seeming to realise that I needed an advisor in this turbulent time rather than a sycophant.
‘’Hvitserk is not my favourite of the Ragnarsons. ‘’ I stifled a little laugh at his words which echoed Ragnar’s. ‘’he likes blood- but that is all – he has no head for leadership- luckily he can look to his older brothers for that...’’ Floki left a pregnant pause which I was eager to burst.
‘’ but?’’
‘’he is a feral dog that if not put down will bite your throat- Bjorn must show him he is still Bjorn iron side.’’
I mulled this concept over. How could Bjorn show Hvitserk that I was off limits it would be even better if I could do it...
Whilst I was lost in thought Floki rose at my side. I did not join him as I wanted to prolong this lost moment in this life. ‘’I don’t think you should get involved with Bjorn lady, but if you must proceed with caution – he is a prince-‘’ I could tell. With that one word my mind flashed backwards to that day.
Men shouted’’ in the name of the prince!’’ as fires consumed my first life- it consumed the bodies of my father and brothers- and it tore the soul from my mother’s flesh. The smell lingered in the air long after we had left the screams of my mother that died on the dawn. The low sun made the blood which clung to the soldiers sparkle like rubies. We travelled at night only. During the day I was cared for and even played with these men I had just watched destroy a village- my village... even then I knew that something had broken inside of me. I knew their names – their faces were kind- and I knew what they did. I knew what they did it before they even thought of it.
The fich fich was uncontrollable those days and the visions tore through me with no mercy the only solace I could find was in my mother’s sweet voice- now I am tormented by her keen laments atop a pyre.
But I had seen it I had told people but no one imagined that such a horrible thing could really happen and so I was ignored. And they suffered. And I felt that it was my fault; but I was 8. It took us a month to reach the palace.
It was a place beyond imagination like a pillar of glittering light rising from the dessert
‘’look Malaki! The palace of the prince of this the Byzantine empire!’’ he proclaimed with pride. I watched his worn face fill with relief at the site of it. He had told me many times of his wife and daughter whom I would be allowed to play with. It was confusing at a time when my life was unravelling I wanted to hold on to some one and he held out his hand to lead me.
As we passed through the grand gates of the city the warrior whispered one last piece of advice ‘’you are entering a new world; keep your eyes and ears open- your mouth shut. And always have a guarded mind and heart those doors can lead to ruin...’’ that wasn’t the last time I saw him but it was the last thing he said to me that I think was true.
At the palace I remember my heart pounding like a trapped bird. ‘’will you stay with me?’’ I asked.
‘’ of course Malaki.’’ He said cupping my chin in his hand.
I was given over as a gift to the prince- a dark haired, grim man. ‘’she is truly the one? But she is so young?’’
‘’that just means that she can be trained more easily- younger the better.’’ The warrior responded.
They were bartering. I felt cold. I felt alone truly- no illusion of a safe future.
A handshake and the deal was done the man left- I realised I didn’t know his name. Then the women came – priestesses from the old world. They ushered me into a place of darkness beneath the sand. Till we came to an enormous space under the city. The cavern was decorated with tiles and torches which danced creating a cave of wonders. But as I neared the table which rose above the flood floor I smelt the blood.
Thinking back they really were beautiful women- even as they strapped me down I wondered why such kind people would hurt me so much. Now I know – for power.
Even their song was beautiful. It climbed and dove into the depths of ancient spells. A breeze caressed my bare flesh and the fich fich pierced my head with its warning – PAIN.
Their song rose in the cave to harmonise with the resonance of the earth and then the knife flashed across my chest trailing blood- their first cut. I forget how many days were spent on that table. I have long forgotten their song which bored into my bones as I screamed with their melody Nor how many cuts were made. But I remember the pain...
I left that cage as something else. With each cut I felt my mothers angel being erased. And with each sip of water and the soothing words I became the darkness in his voice whenever he had called me Malaki.
I did see the warrior again- a final test and an anniversary present.
Mother gave me the order. Father threw him a knife. But it didn’t matter – destiny was foretold.
They woke her that day. The me they feared the one proclaimed as Asariel – an angel to lead men to their death.
She was a silent predator whose gold eyes saw past all possibilities to find the certain outcome of death. She was 14 now and well trained. It took a broken knee and jaw to bring him down- his weakness had been thinking that he could trick me again with his nice words.
I gutted him restraining any grunts of effort or heaves of nausea. And when I rose from his corpse father’s laughter filled the hollow space where his screams had echoed. I touched my bloodied face – swollen and cut but... smiling.
When I finally came back to the present I found Floki staring wide eyed at me- ‘’what?’’
‘’you look like a Viking- someone for us to follow...’’
I laughed the notion off instead even considering such a thing.
‘’we should head back’’ I proffered. As we turned a very chilling sound erupted into the air- a howl.
It rose and faded on the wind.
‘’Floki?-did you hear-‘’ my vision narrowed around Floki. All I could see was his face slowly turning to dread. And then I was gone.

 

Chapter Text

I stood upon a soft sandy beach. The sun was low warming my bones chasing away nights chill. I inhaled deeply; flowers were in bloom and their sweet scent mingled with the sea salt.
I knew he had brought me back to this strange land. Odin was some where but I was too preoccupied with the sky. I followed its beautiful streaks of colour to the source. On the horizon dawn was performing. But before her was a fleet of ships docked in the estuary. A man stood on the shore facing the way he’d come from up river I saw his profile in the dim light he was tall- he seemed familiar...
I began to walk to him when Odin spoke from behind me ‘’you are right, child ,this really is a strange land...’’
I turned to face him ‘’ then why bring me here...lord?’’
He quirked at the choice in title. I crossed my arms restraining an out burst as a flash of Floki’s traumatised face flashed in my minds eye. ‘’ if we could proceed lord?’’ I said threw a tight fake smile.
Suddenly it sounded again- the wolf’s howl. It was clear and sepulchral like song in church- it washed over me now with an intense feeling of longing and hope. My eyes fluttered closed to be wrapped in its sound.
‘’it is not I who have brought you here, child...’’ Odin awoke me from the enchantment inside of a dream. ‘’he is free you see...’’ Odin looked into the sunrise with what could only be described as hope. ‘’he is free, and he will find you. What happens then will be in your hands-‘’
‘’what do you mean? ‘’ I interrupted.
Instead of scalding me he looked at me through his one eye with love. ‘’it is a heavy burden- he will follow you through death and beyond until you are at peace.’’
‘’I don’t have time for riddles, Odin. Floki is alone with my convulsing body- I need to know why I’m here.’’
He smiled coming close, his black cloak trailing in the sand. He stood before me and placed a warm hand against my cheek. ‘’blood of my blood, it should not be for you to correct my mistake- you are far stronger than you know’’ he then turned and walked into the winds memory.
Suddenly a another howl rose from far away. Its abruptness caused a bird to burst from the canopy of the shore trees. I looked back to the man he was already in the ship, the men beginning to row him away with their loud chant of ‘PULL’ as they dragged the Viking vessel out into the sea. That must have been why he could not hear the frantic screech of the bird; as it flapped its wings the golden light gracing them it hovered over the same spot. What was going on?
Again the howl ripped through the sky but it was close now coming from inland... it was a pained and weeping howl of desperation. As the howl rose again I felt a grip around my throat. It suddenly tightened and I couldn’t breathe.
I fell to my knees pawing at my neck and finding nothing there. I searched as I continued to struggle. Another howl. Weaker now. I fell to the sand with no idea what to do-my lungs burned and my vision was getting spotty. The last thing I saw was that man continue to sail away- I reached out for him instinctively. But he was leaving. It was getting easier now the drumming was gone. And I could smell the sea breeze kissing dawn painted flowers.
The darkness took me but it was not gentle it gripped me sternly and shook loose my brain. As gentle as my passing was my awakening was that abrupt. I sat up from whatever position I had been in and began gulping in the air.
‘Lady?- Lady? ’a voice came from my right my vision was not yet clear and I did not know where I was. I jerked backwards into a solid fleshy mass.
‘’Asa?’’ he called softly next to my ear. ‘’Asa-its ok, I’m here.’’
I couldn’t help my reaction- I threw my arms around him and held on as I sobbed into his chest. He bent over my form cradling me and protecting me from the world...-I held on tighter and gave a breath of prayer which was almost inaudible at least to anyone other than Bjorn. ‘’Please don’t leave me...’’

Bjorn POV
I was in hell. Forcing myself to sit their and seethe about how Floki had walked out of here with Asa; instead I should have taken her back to my tent and let us finish getting to know each other- I wanted to know every inch of who she was and she would know me. We would rule as one.
The smile that played on my lips seemed to bother Magda who was also not happy about what was happening. She had sat watching in the direction the y went. The direction she had sent one of the shield maidens.
With a sudden flurry of bird like whistles Magda was on her feet and running in that direction. I was far a head of her. The moment that shield maidens tune pierced the night I was on my feet running. I had to find her.
The shield maiden stood on the peak of this small grassland waving for our attention in the dark careful as not to alert the rest of the camp. For her safety. Asa had proven her self to be formidable; she was gifted with many virtues. People saw that as a blessing and a curse; blessed with the ability to talk to the gods; cursed to suffer for mans fear of them.
But in the midst of all the questions those facts brought, one stuck firm in my mind- what of love?
An easily dismissed question usually but it was one that I was stuck with. This storm she had brought to my life was already changing things forever as with Fell and I but I didn’t want to turn back- the more I knew her the more it seemed worth it to endure. We would find each other wholly in this life. it was fate.
One of the first things I wanted to know was if I should go back and burn the ashes of her city for being the ones who scarred her. I had not seen enough of them- but I knew they would have hurt- the scars lay almost flush to the skin- they had been deep cuts.
I had seen how her own people had hated her and how some of them loved her... I think love was scarier. It was obvious that something had turned Magda’s head. She had challenged me to save Asa’s dignity and not one other person there had tried to oppose her. I could see that Asa was causing a ripple of devotion which, I did not doubt, was going to be far reaching.
She was different to the other women- her muscles were defined and hard. I had noticed similar with the lower born girls but Asa had the moves and mannerisms of a warrior- always aware. Not just that but she was taller than them but she still tucked under his chin...
When I finally reached them I could hear my heart racing in my ears- what was wrong?
Ama, the shield maiden who had followed the two was the first to speak. ‘’ lord?- is Magda here?’’
‘’that doesn’t matter just tell me what’s happened!’’ I looked past Ama at Floki who was on the ground hovering and floundering. I moved around the shield maiden as I heard Magda’s approach. Asa was twitching- her eyes almost black discs with gold rims; seeing and unseeing. I slowly knelt beside her opposite Floki.
‘’i-i- she just-‘’ Floki began muttering but most was inane- shock. He had not truly seen her so vulnerable. As I put my hand to her sleeve part of it felt hot. I quietly rolled up the sleeve as Ama was reporting to Magda. I was right; some of the symbols on her arm were warm – one was a rune for Odin.
For the time being I would keep it a secret – somehow I would ask her about it. I rolled her sleeve back down unnoticed. Then I went to scoop her up in my arms. Floki intervened.
‘’no-no- she is too far gone if we move her-‘’
‘’she is not gone!’’ I snapped unintentionally. I saw Floki’s worry and softened ‘’she is having a vision- I have cared for her before- you cam leave me.’’ It was more of an order than a suggestion.
‘’I know...’’ was all Floki said before he gave Asa a concerned look and allowed me to take her in my arms. I rested her on my lap as I crossed my legs holding her body against mine- I would give her strength and she would come back. I would be her anchor.
Floki rose some as Magda neared. Asa was beginning to thrash against my grip but I kept my grip just trying to calm her. Suddenly she was still- it was in that moment I think I was most scared. Then she sprang up gasping for air and coughing.
‘’Lady ? Lady?’’ Magda came to our level to gently calm Asa but she jolted away from Magda’s voice; she was afraid.
‘’Asa’’ I whispered into her ear. She stilled some, her heart was beating slower now. ‘’Asa its ok, I’m here...’ I had not expected it but I was relieved when she threw her arms around me. She began sobbing- her body being racked by the waves of tears. I leaned over her shielding her from the world- what had the gods done? I felt anger towards them until the sweetest plea came from her. Small and uncertain but I heard it.
‘’Please don’t leave me.’’
Without thinking I replied ‘’never’’ and held her close.
I glanced around at the others; they did not here. I sighed with some relief.
When they waited for an answer I repeated what I had said to Floki- ‘’you can leave us.’’ My stern expression and tone told them that I would not be challenged.
Magda looked to have swallowed a bee but she rose to her feet and commanded her shield maiden’s to return to the tent. Before she went with them she gave me a look of warning. In that time Floki had relinquished responsibility to me and was going back to the tent. Feeling that she had put across her message Magda turned too go back. Before she left earshot I gave an order.
‘’you may take any other spies with you.’’ Magda looked abashed but tried to stare me out- when she couldn’t her lips pursed and a soft fluttering whistle came. With it I heard a sudden rush of movement as two other shield maidens revealed themselves by coming to Magda’s side. She kept her eyes locked with mine till a small whimper came from Asa.
‘’we shall await your return , lord’’ she said stiffly before turning and taking her very capable shield maidens with her. And so we were finally alone.
The others were long gone when her hard sobs had reduced to quiet whimpers as she trembled within my embrace. I was at a loss as to what to do other than hold her and hope she could stay together. I would probably never truly understand what had scared her so- or by what means she had been blessed with the god’s tongue.
She had been quiet for some time now. And still. I could feel her heart; steady and soothing. Her breathing was deep and peaceful. Asleep. She felt warm wrapped in my arms; her hair still smelled sweet but it now mingled with the familiar scent of the sea. She was becoming part of my world. At the moment she was my world. I placed a kiss on her head before facing the stars to pray to Odin ‘’please all father show me my pat. as you guided my father- please guide me in avenging him. And... if I should be fated to fall... please all father let me see my Valkyrie in the halls of Valhalla...’’
A small prayer that I hoped would be answered at the end of it all which I hoped was very far away from now.
I felt Asa begin to stir in my arms and so relaxed the cage I had created around her. Her head suddenly rose away from my chest to look up at me. Her tears were dry and her cheeks were intensely blushed. Her lips quivered as she was exposed to the night air.
In silence she rose to sit on my lap facing me ever defiant in her stare. Her beautiful golden orbs glowed like two suns. Her soft hand came to gently cradle my cheek as I became mesmerised by the flecks which danced in her eyes under the shifting star light.
Her lips parted slightly. Full and red like berries to be tasted. But...
‘’Asa...’’ I was sure to be quiet and gentle in my voice – if I was right then she may get spooked and bolt. Her large eyes did not break with my stare a she waited. I took her face in my hands as I prepared to ask an almost impossible question- impossible and yet since I had met this amazing woman I wandered if anything was truly beyond reach... ‘’Asa, my sweet Asa...’’
Her expression became curious. I was hopeful.
‘’Asa- do you understand me? My words- do you know what I am saying?’’ and there it was a question to which the answer would no doubt mean I could never go back.
She was stunned for a moment; eyes wide I could feel her pulse begin to race again. Then he r mouth opened wider her eyes searching her mind.
‘’Bjorn...’’ her voice fragile like spring ice. Her hand slipped from my face to join her other balled up in my tunic. She dropped her eyes and my heart dropped with her. Her eyes closed and that was the end -I had asked too much and now my hope-
‘’I know.’’
I was doomed.


Asariel POV
When he had asked me the question it was like being doused with cold water. My mind froze. What was I supposed to do- my head said lie. I should lie and keep this secret until I can trust him.
But my heart. It brought to mind different fears- the idea of journeying with hi so far only to shatter that life with the truth of my cowardice.
And fears of now- what if he rejected me now- truly thinking me to be evil. It was this fear that had kept me from telling anyone and would no doubt continue to hold my tongue...
‘’Bjorn’’ his name was shamed by my feeble voice. I dropped my hand from his cheek and clutched on to his tunic as I prepared myself for a leap of faith. The idea was sardonic. That I would have to do such a thing when I had talked with gods- I knew god’s were real. Love however...
I lowered my head closing my eyes and taking in the silence for a moment- the earth was taking a breath with me.
Bjorn had begun to withdraw his head lowered and I could feel his heart pound with nerves through my fists.
It was now or never.
‘’I know.’’ Famous last words...
A chill ran through my body – not one of fear nut of desire. The jolt rose from bottom to top causing me to whip my head up just in time to meet Bjorn’s reaction- his eyes were as blue as samphire. For a moment he was still. Watching without seeing and then a mad grin bloomed on his lips.
His hands rose to cradle my head bringing it close as he leaned in and our foreheads touched. It was an easy gesture and yet it was intimate and peaceful to feel his soul radiate love for a moment.
Suddenly he was upon me all at once. His lips clashed against mine in a frenzy. His hands twisted in my hair- just enough tension to that told me he wanted to feel secure. It seemed surreal- this whole thing had gone too fast and yet... it was like a fire stirring inside of me which wanted to consume and be consumed. Bjorn’s tongue teased my ;lips to allow him entrance – when he did he was wild. Our tongues wrestled for dominance but in that way it was invigorating.
Son shifted our positions so that I could straddle him across his lap. I could feel the heat the firming organ that grew as I wriggled to get confortable. With each movement Bjorn moaned with building pleasure. Suddenly in the midst of lust Bjorn pulled away taking my shoulders in hand to stop me searching him out.
‘’you must not tell anyone else- do you understand?-not even our friends.’’ He looked stern under the faded blue light which heralded nights end.
‘’but-‘’ I began but Bjorn cut me off putting a finger to m mouth. Part of me wanted to bite him for the small act but I knew it was innocently done.
He looked around spying into the darkness watching for anything that might give away one of Magda’s spies. When he seemed to detect nothing he turned back to me and peered deep into my eyes-‘’ I must know who I can trust with you with us before everyone learns just how special you are- they will want our gifts to help them- they will try to take you away from me’’ he pressed his forehead to mine with worry.
I broke from our embrace to take Bjorn’s jaw in my hands – my hands seemed so small against his head- I almost giggled at the passing thought. Unknowingly I had been smiling at the thought and as I realised I saw Bjorn’s face; Angelic and peaceful.
‘’I wont tell.’’ I whispered to him. Relief was clear on his face as his hands came up to take my wrists. gently he lowered them as he stared into my eyes. I wandered what he saw in mine did he see beauty... power... chaos... me?
In his I saw strength- I saw a sweet soul that had been hardened by his world. And he was not one to lower his guard easily. But here in this moment he was relaxed- I felt like I could see him. And I could honestly say that I loved what I saw and I wanted to protect it from the harsh things that plague man.
‘’I think I love you, Asa, my goddess.’’
I was not expecting that.
He must have read my mind because what he said strangely made sense.
‘’tch, life is too short to not tell the person that you love that you, you know- love them.’’ He shrugged and the statement stood.
My first reaction was to exclaim ‘we’ve known each other all of three days’ and in that time a lot had happened.
It had, I believed, revealed a lot of who Bjorn was to me. I felt that though I had not been honest in my words I had been honest in my actions. And so I came up with what I thought was the best response.
‘’ Bjorn...’’ I began then I sprang into action taking his cheeks softly in hand to kiss him deeply. He did not resist and I felt that again he knew what I was trying to convey. And that just made me want him more.
As we kissed his hands began to roam my body in search of areas that elicited insatiable moans for more. My hips moved of their own volition grinding slowly back and forth on Bjorn’s lap. A husky moan escaped him.
I pulled back exited to be with him.
I looked down at my tunic and unlaced the collar and then slowly began to pull my tunic off. I had known men before but in those situations I always felt that I had the power; they needed something from me – but with Bjorn I felt I was his equal and he was mine. Still as I lifted my tunic off I felt the blush of embarrassment rise all over my skin; though the nights caress was chilling.
I was revealing to him something that I never had allowed with my other lovers- they had been playthings to the other me. I was baring myself to him. I looked down seeing the extensive scaring on my body that was, for now, painted with gold to look beautiful. They crawled over my arms and petered out when they reached my shoulders. From there fragments of different symbols and words spun out over my shoulder blades and dripped down my back. they could look like the scars of forsaken wings.
The same pattern of scrawl was carved into my legs petering out over my buttocks and pelvis.
I waited for his reaction. He was silent- in shock- horror?
I felt a kiss gently placed on the scar which lay on my collarbone. He pulled my head to face him
‘’I love you’’ was all he said.
I had to kiss him. I had to stop the harrowing sob from escaping my chest. I couldn’t stop the tear that fell alone . it would be the last o the night.
As we kissed Bjorn started to take off his tunic. When he finally broke our kiss to take it over his head I gawked at his body- it was chiselled and yet he had been so gentle with me. My hands softly touched his chest and he popped his head out to smile cheekily at me. I smiled back causing him to haphazardly discard his tunic as he came back into our fire. We wanted to consume each other as fervid hands explored each others bodies-I was to be freed – reborn through cleansing fire.
His hand came between my legs as we kissed. His fingers gently began stroking my clit with experienced manipulation. ‘’mmmm’’ was all I could say it was all I could think as Bjorn took my pleasure in hand.
I ground my hips to his rhythm as Bjorn held on to my hips. His large rough hands helped me to stay the course slowly urging mem to go faster until was almost too much. I stifled a loud moan of pleasure before clarity hit me and I stilled my hips. my hands taking Bjorn’s and guiding them to his trousers.
He understood immediately and I rose to stand over him as we both discarded the last of our clothes – except for my binding.
Bjorn stared up at me waiting with hungry eyes. I dropped one knee at a time till I was barely touching his flesh. His hands reached for my hips seeking to bring me to him. But I pulled away slightly and he paused. For a moment I was floating; not touching him I gazed down in awe as his body was painted with cold and harsh blues which glinted off of his defined muscles.
I had heard the Greek tales and seen their masterful sculptures; I never believed I would see the Adonis in human d=form. Not only that; he was laying in the dawns dew wanting me.
Finally I could resist the ache between my thighs no more- I dove ; lowering myself slowly I reached down to explore Bjorn. He was, in my experience, above average. In length and a complementary girth. It throbbed in my hand and as my fingers moved up and down his member, grazing its pulsating surface, I felt his pre-cum which made my body shiver in anticipation. Bjorn kept his eyes on me- patiently waiting for me to instigate. Finally I took a hold of his dick to guide him into me.
Slowly, slowly I pushed us deep into each other wanting to fully experience it. With a gasp he was fully in and something unusual happened.
It was as if I could feel Bjorn’s intent to show his love and devotion to me. His eyes widened as he inhaled sharply; he could feel it too. His hands came to grip my hips. And he began to guide me into a gentle rhythm my hands explored his smooth muscled abdomen.
We found our rhythm and as he manipulated my hips to grind and rick on his throbbing member inside me; my walls twitched in building excitement. I could feel that we were both close as Bjorn bit his lip in pleasure.. I reached out for him and he rose for my lips to find his. Gently I started bouncing up and down on his cock. We broke our intense kiss to pant as wee stared into each others eyes waiting for the inevitable.
As I rose Bjorn readied himself so that he jumped up to push deeper into me ; trying to find my core. I was burning as we continued to consume each other. it was building hotter and hotter in =side us it felt like a star being born.
Until at long last satisfaction came. And so di we . I threw my head back to see the stars witness us making love. A stuttering moan of pleasure rolling through me. I continued to rock and ride the waves of pleasure as Bjorn gripped onto me ; embracing me in love. His hot panting mouth came to a spot below my ear. He licked and then gently kissed before he became more ravenous. His mouth sucked as his teethe bit. He marked me and then returned to licks and gentle kisses running down my neck.
I grabbed his neck making him look at me as one fingernail pierced his skin. He growled in painful pleasure. I leant in to lick tithe small crescent wound under his ear. I stopped and whispered into his ear you’re mine.’’
He pulled me into another kiss before we brought our heads together for him to pant the words ‘’and you?’’
I almost laughed as I recalled that subtlety really didn’t work with Bjorn, ‘’I am with you to the end my love’’

Chapter Text

When we returned to the tent with the dawn on our backs only five of the occupants of the tent were still awake- two shield maidens on watch who greeted us with bowed heads in respect.
The other three were not so accommodating. As Bjorn walked in their heads snapped to attention. Aziza, Magda and Floki wore dark eyes that said they had not known sleep last night. I couldn’t help but cast my gaze on the ground in shame when I realised what they knew or at least suspected.
Thankfully Jasmine was asleep and so naive she would probably not be judging me – i hoped. She looked so peaceful but still so fragile. I felt the pang of guilt for leaving her- them – to be with Bjorn... what was i doing? Really...
I went to walk over to Jasmine when Bjorn’s hand landed gently on my shoulder before he firmly began to guide me towards the sleeping area. No one else had retired there- not even the ladies. Which meant that i would again be alone with Bjorn. He tried to pull me closer to him – maybe as some sort of display of - affection- possession? I couldn’t tell ... so many years of lies and blood...
How would i know....
I pulled away from Bjorn’s grasp and stared at him defiantly.

Bjorn POV
She stared at me almost feral as she started to move backwards toward her friends. She moved slowly like a she wolf protecting her pack- and i wasn’t one of them- it hurt.
I didn’t understand- we had been happy- blissful and now...
I glanced at Floki and Magda who had stayed perfectly still; their faces blank. Clearly trained in bluff. But i knew that they were loving this public rejection. I looked back to Asa; my eyes imploring her to trust me and come to me.
Her harsh gaze softened. She was considering it- and i knew a few seconds more and she would come to me.
But before i could even think how to proceed the little girl woke.
A hoarse voice came from her in their strange beautiful language.
‘Aziza?’’
Asa froze. She was suddenly pulled towards the girl as she started to stir.
Aziza looked at Asa poignantly as if to call her out.
‘’yes, jasmine?’’ she answered the young one now turning her full attention to her.
‘’are we safe, Aziza?’’
‘’for now little cub... for now.’’
‘’will Asariel be back soon?’’
I heard her name ‘Asaroul’ though it was said with more beauty than i felt my language could provide.
The woman , Aziza, looked at me before she answered.
‘’she is...’’
‘’i am here’’ Asa answered like a bird. She moved to go to the child so i reached out – to do what my soul begged to do. But before my hands could graze her skin she turned to me with a wild snarl – silent warning. Then she dropped beside jasmine; i was no longer in her world and my soul felt darker for it.
I tried my best to conceal my upset with anger as i walked into the sleeping area. Letting the taupe fall behind me i frowned and went to think more than sleep in one of the furs.

 

Asa POV
‘’don’t worry, jasmine, i am here’’ i said clutching her hand and looking briefly into Aziza’s eyes; i had made a choice and it would be remembered. By all.
Bjorn had marched into the sleeping compartment not at all veiling his anger for me. I had shamed him as his woman in front of his men. But i wasn’t his woman.
I could never be. I had to be my own woman who watched others live their lives whilst i rotted in chains.
Why must one claim another? I could not put it into words for i know why but i still question it. Because i fear it. I had many lovers in the palace. Each wanted to claim me and crow about it and they ended up dead. That was how it went – love proclaimed and head disembodied in the same day.
Why was it that i had been pushed into a life were i was to be admired and feared. To be loved and hated. To be on a knifes edge at all times not knowing when my fate would turn.
He had walked away and i remained by my fellow hostages sides.
When jasmine had risen and eaten we went back to the pool for us all to bathe together with an armed guard. With things so undetermined between Bjorn and i looking into the forests depths i felt very vulnerable.
When we returned the tent was gone-most of their encampment in fact- so was Bjorn. I couldn’t really blame him-i felt like my ship had hit a rock and i was in turmoil on the inside.
All that remained were some cloaks, to be sat on and then worn, lain around a fire which Floki tended. It was a strange welcoming as Magda lead us to Floki before she took him aside to confer.
‘’where is Bjorn?’’ Magda asked in a low almost annoyed tone.
‘’he has gone to tend to the ships...’’ Floki replied glancing at me as i helped Jasmine to dry her hair by the fire. He knew that i knew what they were all saying now- he was cautious of giving me details...
‘’honestly, we could have done with an escort to the ship from his men...’’ Magda rubbed her face in frustration.
‘’ you already have a himt hiki (house guard) do you really need Bjorn’s protection...?’’
The question hung between them as they stared into each others eyes searching for everything they could decipher in each other. They remained still until Magda looked to the ships.
‘’he must stand by her even if he cannot own her...’’ she said sagely almost to herself. Then she seemed to come out of her deep thinking to turn her full attention to Floki again. ‘’Floki, master ship builder, where do you stand?’’ she asked in all seriousness.
Floki smirked for a moment before locking eyes with the woman who must have been half his age. ‘’i stand where the gods place me.’’ He answered sincerely and proudly. He was found...
‘’as do i, brother.’’ She said staring at him with a shared understanding before she continued ‘’ Bjorn has claimed her – he must show he protects her- for now...’’ she finished
Floki peered down the few inches difference between them in thought. He seemed pleased with whatever he thought he had learned about Magda.
‘’for now.... we shall have to start as we mean to go on’’ Floki stated plainly seeming to answer Magda’s unvoiced question which she affirmed with a nod.
And so a bond had been forged over me- i wasn’t sure how to feel about it.
But once it was struck Magda turned to call her shield maidens to her whilst Tori appeared from the direction of the encampment just in time to be ordered to stand as sentry.
‘’where are we going Asariel?’’ jasmine asked me suddenly pulling me from my thoughts.
‘’ha, that girl doesn’t know anything!’’ samara suddenly remarked as the lead viper amongst the princesses. ‘’she was just that fat governor’s play thing- she has no power now.’’ Her sidekicks giggled
I felt my hackles rise but ignored them – this was going to be hard enough without infighting getting into the mix.
They continued their petty snipes at me as we marched to the ships- now ready to receive us. Aziza was like a coiled snake every time they piped up. Jasmine lowered her head too terrified to notice the verbal attacks as subtle as they were.
All eyes were on our small party as we travelled to the ships – all either menacing or fearful.
We spent four days on a calm sea with little wind. The men became teste and the woman too for that matter. Hvitserk was not on Bjorn’s ship thank- well Odin...maybe. either way i was glad for space from him after my rejection of Bjorn. And now i had to sit through the arctic blast that was his cold shoulder.
I sat comfortable on furs with food accompanied by Aziza and Jasmine. With Tori to one side and Magda at the other – some of her shield maidens opposite.
Every time an almost sycophantic or fearful Viking brought us our meals Aziza’s eyes burned as she stared at me – she was suspicious and she had a right to be.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Bjorn’s homeland. I imagined it to be harsh to produce such warriors. But what would i be there?
Again the bird in a cage?
A lover of a great warrior?
A sacrifice?
I had no idea and that was when i hated my gift for sight – it told me nothing of use in the moment i needed it.
God’s send me a sign! I screamed in my head as i looked to the perfect blue skies... and nothing happened.
I sighed with exasperation. It didn’t go unnoticed.
Aziza looked at me with suspicion again; she did that a lot recently. Ever since my night with Bjorn Aziza seemed to be wary of my motives- and yet i chose them...
Bjorn had not spoken to me the whole time. He was clearly outraged by the fiasco that was our first night together. I tried to just stay out of the way as he commanded ship. He sat at the other end of the ship, he kept away, it hurt to have this distance between us. I tried to condemn the feelings in my heart but i could not. This felt different from lust and games in court. I felt like i needed him to breathe properly...
But i couldn’t rely on him or anyone for that matter- people always disappoint.
When we finally arrived at an inlet which lead into an estuary. The ships set anchor at the mouth but only some men disembarked, including; Bjorn, Rollo, Finehair, Halfdan and hvitserk. Also about fifty guards. The atmosphere seemed tense as i tried to stretch my hearing to the limit.
‘’you are home, king.’’ Bjorn said with little emotion – Rollo being king was a fact not a term of respect.
‘’i am – and i must say i am glad and a little sad to be here so soon.’’
‘’yes, well our father dying sort of put a damper on the raid.’’ Bjorn rebuked his small slight and Rollo’s eyes showed hurt. He cast his gaze to the sand.
‘’but we will be back, uncle.’’ Hvitserk chimed in with a feral grin. He enjoyed killing far too much.
‘’yes, king. You are welcome to join us when we sail again after we take the land of the Saxons.’ Finehair chuckled clapping his hand on Rollo’s shoulder in comradery.
His brother Halfdan watched his brother warily as he grinned with Rollo- mistrust? Maybe...
‘’thank you , king Finehair. I would enjoy that.’’ Rollo said as he looked to the group- pain flashed in his eyes as he spoke to Bjorn. ‘’you may call upon me should you require more men for your great army.’’
A chill ran down my spine- the great army was like a Spector yet to form and i was stuck waiting beside it. Would it be my end?
‘’we shall sail to meet your ships and then we shall sail to Kattegat.’’ Bjorn said plainly with no sincere reaction to what Rollo had promised.
Rollo gave a breathy sigh before responding. ‘’ actually i have not yet sent word of my arrival – i was hoping for one more night.’’ He looked at Bjorn cautiously waiting to be told to go to hell.
‘’ very well, uncle’’ Bjorn began scathingly. ‘’ we shall feast and tomorrow your men may receive you.’’ Bjorn stated before starting to walk away.
He stopped by Finehair giving his own statement.
‘’we shall not attend the feast I’m afraid.’’ Finehair called to Bjorn’s back.
Bjorn turned his head slowly an almost mad naivety in his blue eyes. His body slowly followed and he openly confronted his opponent masked as humour.
‘’ why is that Finehair? What has you with your tail between your legs, hmm?’’ Bjorn said sounding too much like Floki...
‘’brother-‘’ Hvitserk tried to intervene which only seemed to rile Bjorn into dropping his facade. So Bjorn cut him off
‘’no! Brother. I have had enough of whispers!- you, Finehair, will tell me here and now what is your problem?’’ Bjorn ended a lingering axe held pointing at Finehair accusingly.
The guards were getting twitchy. Finehair put his hand up in a gesture that made his guards stand down. Bjorn waited for Finehair to speak.
‘’it is the witch’’ Finehair said plainly.
Bjorn’s face went blank. ‘’what did you say?’’ he gave Finehair the chance to back down.
He spat on it. ‘’ it is the witch!’’ he hollered so that all could here. And some murmurs of agreement spread from ship to ship.
All their eyes were now on me if not literally i knew that i was in their minds. It seemed obvious that most were not pleased by my presence- i felt i might catch fire just from their glares.
Magda was suddenly beside us and her guard, now fourteen strong, surrounded and boxed ;Aziza, jasmine, suddenly Samira, Leila, Hanna and myself, against the side of the ship. – luckily Floki was on another boat with Tanaruz so he would be able to protect her and Helga.
Bjorn was seething as he looked to his brother who was now beside Finehair.
But something seemed to overcome the beast as he regained himself looking larger than ever as he stated ‘’ that has been settled Finehair. She is mine – she is no concern of yours.’’
‘’but she is! She concerns all of us greatly! ‘’ he called again for his audience to hear gaining peppered aye’s of agreement. ‘’what are we to do if she has taken your mind like some already believe?’’
Bjorn was aware all waited on baited breathe for their leader to defend himself. As did i. What would Bjorn do?- defend me?- Denounce me?
He did neither.
‘’stay or come. I am tired of your games.’’ Bjorn said as he walked away his axe now barely clutched.
No one said a word. Not when Bjorn got on the boat and not when he sounded the horn for his ships to follow- leaving his brother and uncle to catch a ride.
No one said anything and yet all knew that Bjorn’s position as leader had just become more precarious. made so once again by me. i couldn’t blame the dirty looks that i was getting- i really hated me too.
I had rejected the man and he didn’t denounce me to save his position in anyway.
I just couldn’t understand why and yet i completely understood. Fear. I was afraid. Of everything out here. The people and the possibilities.
Locked away in my cage i was safe if nothing else. But now... i couldn’t use my power properly so i did not know its limits. I didn’t even know why my visions happened. All that knowledge was lost when they burned my village.
I was an infant with magic- volatile. I was still 17 so i had years to learn but that didn’t help me now. I wish i could know my future and know who i could trust....
But until that time came i would have to live and learn.
Magda decided to set up the tent further up river for safety.
She and the other shield maidens switched from being tent builders and guards. Whilst they did so Aziza, Jasmine and i went further upstream to bathe. Through mime that was to become the joke of all she told Aziza and Jasmine to not go around the bend and to stay in sight away from the forests edge. I, of course, knew exactly what she was saying.
We turned and walked away. Before Jasmine discreetly asked ‘’ what was all that about?’’
‘’something about tall pirates i think...’’ Aziza said thoughtfully not seeing it as funny.
‘’she said stay in sight, essentially.’’ I added hoping to end the strange whispers that seemed suspicious. Unfortunately it seemed to only add fuel to the fire as the hammered me with questions about her dance in the middle which was her impression of drowning.
When we reached the bend we stopped and instead of bathing straight away an awkward silence hung over us as we watched the Vikings build their tents next to the estuary. I looked around to see if Ragnar would appear but he did not. So i was not occupied with anything other than the dread of one or both of them rejecting me- then i would be all alone.
‘’you spent the night with him?’’ Aziza left out the real question but i could read between the lines.
‘’yes.’’ I said staring into her obsidian eyes. I wanted to be honest with her not matter where it lead. I owed her that and she would know either way.
‘’do you know why?’’ she asked simply and steadily; unreadable in her face.
I swallowed with apprehension but was resolved to be honest.
‘’I...I know why.’’ I answered in that moment truly knowing that that night was an act of love.
‘’fishing for your own dinner or...’’ she paused staring into my souls void. ‘’divine intervention...’’
I smiled at her kind phrasing and i answered hearing tears in my voice. ‘’it was divine.’’ But i pulled myself together when Jasmine finally intervened..
‘’what are you talking about?’’ she asked completely innocent. She had no idea what i had done.
‘’just about an old story-‘’ she said smiling at Jasmine ‘’don’t worry- all was forgiven in the end she chose when it mattered...’’
Aziza then looked at me and nodded in recognition.
‘’what story? Can you tell me?’’ jasmine asked here face lit up.
‘’one day, perhaps.’’ Aziza smiled with teasing eyes.
‘’no! You have to tell me now~’’ she wined taking the bait which lead them into a pretend fighting where Aziza lost.
They continued to enjoy the sun and sit whilst i just breathed through the relief that had taken my breath away.

Chapter Text

Asa POV
We sat for a while soaking in the sun after our bath we were almost dry when we heard a ruckus; it came from down at the main camp.
Aziza and i were quick to get up when we heard it whilst Jasmine, a bit dazed from the sun took a few moments to blink away sun beam and day dreams.
But Aziza and i were coiled each muscle wanting to tighten in anticipation of danger. But my heart was steady. I looked to Aziza she couldn’t see anymore than i could – which was just our camp and some shield maidens on guard going to investigate.
Aziza quickly pulled Jasmine to her side as we all moved closer to the tree line in case we needed to run. We stood for a moment before Aziza said quietly-‘’port’’
It took a second to actually register as i looked to the docked ships. Nothing.
Then it clicked as i heard twigs crunch in the undergrowth. I had no weapon except my bare fists. But it would have to do.
I picked up a rock and threw it at the bush in one swoop of movement.
‘’ow’’ the female voice whispered.
Aziza and i looked at each other to silently agree for me to investigate. I looked toward the shield maidens once more but now most were standing looking toward the encampment.
I circled around to behind the bush only to be shocked and pleased.
‘’Tanaruz?’’
‘’please don’t take me back!’’ she cried. I immediately put my defences down and crouched down to get on her level
‘’Tanaruz- its me- Asariel. What has happened?’’ i said full of concern as i looked at the scratches on her forearms.
‘’Asariel?- Allah be praised!- you have to help me get away. ’she said desperately relieved to see me as she lunged at me with open arms.
I was stunned and thankful for it when she embraced me – i was lucky a reflex didn’t kick in
She pulled back with pleading eyes as we suddenly heard distant cries of a woman. Aziza craned to look down river but shook her head. What was happening?
‘’please!’’ Tanaruz cried again.’’ You must save me- take me away- we must run!’’ i tried to calm her tacking her arms at her side in hand
‘’Tanaruz. what has happened?’’ she stilled then as my voice seemed to settle around her.
‘’Helga! She is mad!’’ her tears started to pour forth. ‘’she says such strange things – she tries to hold me and when i pulled away she scratched me so i picked up something and hit her- she must be trying to find me to punish me!’’
Aziza looked to my and i pointedly looked in the direction of our guard- i could not see anything. Aziza spoke plainly coming to Jasmines side holding on to her arm. ‘’not yet.’’
‘’what’s going on- who is with you Asariel?’’ jasmine asked oblivious as to what she might have to now go through- especially if we were to get caught.
‘’TANARUZ!’’ a cry went up now close enough that we could hear Tanaruz’s name in that wild cats cry.
‘’now!’’ Aziza shot into the tree line taking Jasmine with her as i stood and followed draging along Tanaruz.
‘’Aziza?- what are we doing?’’ jasmine’s voice trembled as she was yet again being dragged out of safety.
‘’shush! We have to move.’’ With that Aziza stopped, pressed to a tree as she gazed deep into the forest. ‘’what’s our plan – inland?’’ Aziza asked.
‘’What-‘’ Jasmine began but i quickly cut her off.
‘’no, i saw a castle where they will meet the French- too dangerous.’’ I said trying to think as Aziza kept look out.
‘’the only other way takes us to Vikings docked at the mouth of the river.’’
‘’maybe a row boat?’’
Aziza looked back at us’’ we’d die at sea.’’
‘’fine, we run straight ahead to take us up the cost – my earrings should by passage to somewhere.’’ I said seeing no other option.
‘’I’ll scout’’ Aziza spoke swiftly before running ahead.
I grabbed Jasmine’s arm who looked at me begging for answers. ‘’we have to run for now, so we can all be safe.’’ I tried to pacify her for now until we had time which we were losing- as we were reminded when we heard Helga wailing Tanaruz’s name.
She nodded curtly a little sour not to be in the loop.
Then we ran i saw Aziza and tried to trail the path she cut through the forest but Tanaruz and Jasmine weren’t as fast as us and needed to rest we were a fair distance from the river now. Both were exhausted though. I whistled a soft tune mimicking a bird.
Aziza ran back to rest beside with us beside a large tree. I peaked around it as the girls caught their breathes seeing not far ahead the trees broke their formation covering the forest in an unnatural way.
‘’Aziza , is there a road ahead?’’ i asked keeping my eyes on it. Something felt off. I listened and heard nothing but -almost a crunching? It was strange- no birds sang. The rivers flowing water was drowned out by a uniformed beat,
‘’ Aziza? Did you look where the road lead?’’
‘’just the encampment in one direction and the peaks of a city in the distance to the other – you were right about the French- why?’’
I swallowed hard and almost smacked myself as a glint came from the forest road as the quaking beat grew louder.
How could i have forgotten that anguished sound of imminent death- the beat of a regiment of soldiers marching.
Marching to what?
I retreated behind the tree to watch as the small army of two hundred men made a steady pace. They were fairly quiet i could see by the lack of sharp glares they looked to be lightly armed to move quickly.
Were they coming to collect Rollo? But Rollo said they did not know he was here... unless he lied? Was that it a plan cooked up by
Rollo and the curiously absent Finehair? – to his own nephews?
‘’he did it to his own brother.’’ Ragnar suddenly breathed into my ear.
‘’perhaps there has been a coup – this could be a rivals doing- i mean he’s a bastard but he seems to love his nephews...’’ i whispered to the ghost no one else could see.
‘’perhaps’’ he answered thoughtfully though i suspected he already knew the answer. ‘’but what will you do about it?’’ he countered me.
‘’ what?!’’ I turned to see that Aziza was tending to a few cuts the two girls had gotten from our sprint. ‘’i have no way of stopping whatever this is’’
‘’you know what this is and what will happen without your magic.’’
‘’so I’m supposed to fight an army?!- i have to think of the others...’’ i tried to excuse myself.
‘’you know what will happen if you do nothing – that is almost certain. What isn’t is your choice that is something only you can make certain- that is power.’’ He added the last part almost seductively.
‘’i know, but... how do i do it?’’
‘’trust.’’ Was his last word before he disappeared again.
What in the hell was this?
I looked at Aziza and echoed Ragnar’s message ‘’Aziza, do you trust me?’’ i waited for a stuttering heart beat before she gave me her answer.
‘’i do, Asariel.’’
I breathed a sigh of relief knowing i would not be alone.
‘’and you two?’’ i looked to Jasmine and Tanaruz.
‘always’’ Jasmine chirped completely honest.
Tanaruz thought for a moment before answering. ‘’if you will keep me with you’’ she said staring from under her brow.
‘’always.’’ I answered making another promise.
She nodded reassured.
‘’we need to move in a minute ok? We have to go back.’’ I broke it to them simply – what other option was there.
‘’are you sure?’ Aziza asked very calmly as Tanaruz and Jasmine looked frightened.
‘’’yes

Chapter Text

I thought of going back to the river but then we heard the unnatural wail get closer- she had been tracking Tanaruz to our camp.
Besides we wouldn’t beat the French by much to warn Bjorn...
‘’we have to beat them to the camp- run along the road- its the quickest way.’ I said looking Aziza in the eyes and feeling her doubt. ‘’i know we cant do it in the open – they’ll kill us. But i have a plan.’’
Aziza nodded her ascent. Tanaruz too. But Jasmine had a question.
‘’have you foreseen this, Asariel?’’
I only had a fraction of time to answer her but in that moment i thought of protecting them by lying.
But i couldn’t do that when i looked into jasmines eyes i saw the small flecks of gold that were emerging in her cognac eyes- it was like seeing hope.
‘’no.’’ I answered honestly – i had no idea that any of this was going to happen otherwise i would not have put my friends in danger for it. ‘’ but we must act like i have.’’
That threw all of them. They looked openly confused but as i looked at the sparkling beast move ever forward i had not time to explain.
‘’you must say that i foresaw this- that we had to follow the gods plan...ok?’’
They all nodded slowly ; Tanaruz biting her lip; Aziza limbering up already. And jasmine... jasmine put her hand in mine as we readied ourselves to run.
‘’i will follow you, Asariel. Always.’’ Jasmine spoke softly just for me to hear.
I rolled my lips into a tight line as i kept the tears back- i had never had someone’s trust like this.
‘’when do we go?’’ Aziza asked- thankfully bringing me back from an emotional brink.
I looked around searching the woods for him but i couldn’t see him – then i looked at the French. Ragnar walked amongst them mocking their movements and their weapons.
‘’help us’’ i said to him quietly though i knew the girls could still hear. I couldn’t look at them to invite them to launch questions at me.
Ragnar stopped slowly as the men began to walk through him . he smiled predatorily...
Then he spread his arms as if they were wings reaching backwards until he suddenly brought them to fold around him sweeping an ethereal fog to flood the woods thickly. We could no longer see the French as the fog almost smothered them. We heard their heated whispers as they tried to figure out what was going on.
But we could see the fog thin further up the road – towards the camp and... Bjorn.
I wasn’t ready to see him after he had taken that political blow for me.
But it didn’t matter because as i looked at their waiting faces i knew i had to get them out of this mess.
So we ran. I held Tanaruz and jasmines hands in mine as we bolted for the road. Aziza kept ten paces in front to scout any trouble. Then we heard a very familiar voice call out loudly- ‘’Asaroul!’’ it was Magda.
She called through the forest her voice reverberating around us as we ran. Aziza slowed as she heard Magda, her head facing the direction of Magda...
‘’Aziza!’’ Jasmine screeched as a snarl came fro m the fog. Suddenly a twisted face appeared in front of Aziza. His sword raised with both arms ready to cleave Aziza in two.
‘’Hundr!’’ my voice rang loudly through the forest as i held onto Jasmine and Tanaruz tightly. He stopped in mid motion. Stunned his eyes wide. Aziza looked at me with questioning eyes. ‘’Fram ykkarr kne.’’ I spat at him and he did as commanded comin g to his knees before Aziza.
She didn’t hesitate then to take his sword and discreetly cut his throat as i pulled the girls to walk past him in order to get onto the road. Aziza caught up easily and took point again with renewed focus and a dangerous curiosity.
But we reached the road finally as we heard a low whistle come form where we had left the soldier to be forgotten in the fog.
We had to run. ‘’Aziza!’’ i barked to make her speed up as i dragged the poor girls along pulling them up when they inevitably fell. I could hear the soldier march once more. Now making double time trying to find us before we warned the Vikings.
Then light!.
We broke through the fog into the middle of the camp almost. Right outside Bjorn’s large tent. And there he was- standing in all his glory. His hair blinding gold as the sun hit it. He was surrounded by at least 50 men- all lining up to hear orders. Magda was there too
‘’Asaroul!’’ they both shouted upon seeing us.
Tanaruz’s hand tightened around my own. I looked to where her eyes where fixed- Helga stood crying with only Floki restraining her from running at us.
I squeezed back and smiled as i whispered ‘’trust’’ to her discreetly.
Then with a sepulchral tone my voice echoed through out the camp as i shouted ‘’AMBUSH!’’
Bjorn gave a curt nod before hitting some young boy holding a horn. The boy quickly blew a loud moaning blast as a signal to the rest of the camp.
‘’shield wall!’’ Bjorn called ‘’shield wall!- shield wall!’’ jolting all those present to begin forming the infamous shield wall that i had heard of in court.
Quickly i bolted still grabbing tight hold of Jasmine and Tanaruz. I pushed Aziza, who seemed slightly stunned, to get her moving. She did and the Vikings around Bjorn waited for us to pass before they closed their part of the growing shield wall that tightly encircled the entrance to the woods.
It wasn’t long before we began hearing the slow clunk of metal as the French made a slow approach through the fog.
First the tips of spears emerged.
Then slowly the metal creature had become men suddenly realising that they had been sent on a suicide mission but it was all too late as Vikings appeared at their rear now closing the circle with grunts of blood thirst.
And so they were trapped they formed a circle of their own with the spear men at the fore.
And yet you could see in their eyes that they had no hope
‘’Asariel? why are you so sad?’’ jasmines voice came distantly as i stared into their blanched faces.
All i could really hear were the wails of anguish that sweet Adrien was dead- how the mother screamed when she hears his name from his captains lips.
How could i have been so cold.
As cold as the tears that rolled over my cheeks.
I realised that whilst i had been lost to laments the Vikings were tightening their circle one step at a time. Banging their shields like overexcited beasts.
‘’stop’’ my voice came hoarsely as Adriens mothers when she dies of her grief.
No one heard me.
I released my grip on the girls to run to Bjorn’s side
‘’Bjorn you must stop this. Please!’’ i begged. But he didn’t listen. He just watched as his people began to toy and taunt their captives simply waiting for Bjorns order to kill. ‘’Bjorn, you must stop this!’’
Again he gave no reaction to me, i dared not touch him, he was coiled tightly ready to see blood shed.
‘’no, no, no...’ i said to the wind.
‘’let it happen- what are a few hundred dead French men?- you think they would have been merciful to you or your friends- you know they would have slaughtered them...’’
Ragnar’s statement hung in the frosty air.
‘’i cant- the cries they-‘’ i tried to state my case but Ragnar was suddenly in front of me with wild blue eyes.
‘’what do you think your fich fich is? Hmmm?- it is the voice of those whose lives you have touched and that includes the thousands you have helped kill just like this by choosing a side- never mind the hundreds you have killed yourself.’’ Ragnar spat.
And he was right-if he was right... then i was punished with these powers for the countless lives on my hands...
‘’but not these men. ’’i said determined not to hear their mothers cries.
I ignored Bjorn and ran out to try and face the circle somehow. But confronted with the backsides of men i could see no hope.
Tell them...tell them to stop...
The fich fich rang with a choral tone as it fed me the word to stop this mess. I looked to Bjorn one last time but he said nothing and did nothing just stared a thousand mile stare.
‘fine’’ i snarled turning to the ring of warriors growing bored of the lack of blood. One raised her sword as a French man tried to stab her she aimed to take his arm.
I raise a fist. ‘’STOOVA!’’ the word rang as it did in the forest taking the woman’s will- all of their will -it was mine! In the fist of my hand i held their lives...
I paused for a moment realising just what i was doing as Bjorn placed his hand on my shoulder. I quickly dropped my fist and though the Vikings swing followed through her target had escaped.
‘’they are not to be killed!- ‘’ Bjorn called which garnered some grieved mutterings. That was before his voice boomed around us ‘’they are to be ransomed! This is why i brought us here- because my oracle told me of this treachery- she has made us rich!’’
To that the Vikings whooped and lost their blood thirst to greed for gold...
With his soldiers cheering for their good fortune Bjorn gave out some orders that i barely heard whilst i stared at the floor in utter shame- i didn’t want to be looked at.
A large gentle hand came to my shoulder then Bjorn’s voice came to me; it rang clear as funeral bells. I looked up at him- his face was stoic and his voice told me nothing of what he was feeling as he said ‘’come with me’’
Gently he began guiding me back towards his tent. Magda had already surrounded Jasmine, Tanaruz and Aziza with her guards. I knew Magda would keep them safe. I heard the feint whispers of women crying with happiness- mothers of returning soldiers....
Inside the tent Bjorn was not much different. He sat me down on his bed which was quite luxurious for a camp bed- furs piled on some sort of stand off of the floor.
He went to lean against the table facing me but his head was bowed.
His tired voice filled our silence ‘’you didn’t foresee this, did you?’’
There it was -he had just said that i had lead them to this good fortune, and now....
‘’where are Hvitserk and Rollo?’’ i asked looking at his wolf tail which fell over his shoulder.
‘’they are with Finehair- seems they didn’t like my lack of fight on the beach...’ he sighed loudly before turning around to hold himself upon the table ‘’ha, they are probably plotting as we speak...’’ his tone was humourless yet something about his eyes which caught the dim light said he found it amusing.
I stood and went to him putting a hand on his shoulder. His hand came to grip mine. He turned still holding onto me pulling me close.
Staring down in to my eyes his blue ones implored for me to tell the truth. Yet i had no doubt he already knew seeing my silver eyes.
‘’no’’ I began slowly watching as his eyes searched mine. ‘’ i did not foresee this’’
He released me and it felt like i had lost a part of myself.
‘’then what were you doing in the woods?’’ he questioned and i hesitated to answer- knowing it would most likely hurt him.
‘’i was- i was running away...’’
‘’and ?’’ i was a surprised by his almost mocking tone. ‘’what happened- get cold feet?’’
He was being cruel. I understood why- i hurt him. But i still felt there was no need for his attitude. I stepped away now angry. I felt my blood bubble- he didn’t know everything!- he didn’t know me!
‘’fine, Bjorn’’ i spoke calmly as the heat turned to ice in my veins. ‘’you’re right, there seems to be no point in my coming back’’
I made to walk away and leave him in his hurt but his voice came to me full of that hurt and confusion i had put on him.
‘’why did you come back..?’’
He almost sound like a boy; vulnerable.
‘’I didn’t want you to get hurt when i saw those soldiers...’’ and so my honest answer hung in the air between us