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The Sea Wolves

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They came out of nowhere, hidden in the fog of Alba. Like demons they destroyed the once peaceful village. The Church was the first to be attacked. They took advantage it was Sunday and weapons were not allowed inside the house of God. Demons should not be allowed to enter God’s domain either. But the fact is that they did and killed any man or woman that tried to protect themselves.

 

The invaders were there for the gold and the gore. Moyra was sure they were feeding on her people's fear. In the middle of the chaos, she managed to hide behind a rock, feeling guilty that her family was left behind. They were slaughtered while she watched, powerless to save them. The eyes of her parents saying a voiceless farewell and a silent blessing that she should go and save herself still haunting her.

 

Moyra closed her eyes, trying to erase the memory of the slaughter. Her hands covering her ears to muffle the cries from the victims, what prevented her from listening to the footsteps of the giant monster that was approaching. She yelped when the heathen grabbed her arm, pushing her back against the cold ground.

 

His eyes were green as a forest, and he took advantage of his heavy body to pin her small figure against the ground, preventing her from running. Haakon was much stronger than Moyra and her fight only infuriated him, until he punched her.

 

She whimpered as the metallic taste of blood started to fill her mouth. Her head was spinning from the impact of his blown and Moyra thought she would faint. In fact, she craved unconsciousness, so she wouldn't see the beast ripping off her dress, that was now soaked with the blood from her villagers. She was preparing for the worst. He would take the virtue she was saving for a future husband Moyra now thought would never come.

 

His hands were rough and careless against her thighs, spreading her legs beneath him with the help of his knees. Moyra inhaled a deep and shaky breath and squeezed her eyes shut while forcing herself to relax and endure what was to come.

 

He was going to defile her, but she would not give him the pleasure of seeing her suffering. Moyra was determined to remain quiet.

 

The combination of his disgusting scent and breath on her face caused her to wrinkle her nose. She could feel he was hard against her thighs while he was struggling with his trousers to proceed with the assault. A raspy voice coming from behind him, interrupted his actions.

 

“Mín”

 

The man rose to his feet, and Moyra thought they were going to fight over who would be the first to take her. But, the first man just walked away with fear in his eyes. He took advantage that his weight was not upon her, and changed her position, sitting on the ground and trying to cover herself with her destroyed dress.

 

She did not dare to look at the other pagan, hoping he had forgotten about her, but she was wrong.

 

Moyra lifted her head to check if he had magically disappeared, and gasped seeing his face was covered in blood, what made his indigo eyes darker. Or was it the result of the hunger he was looking at her?

 

His blood-soaked hair did not allow Moyra to see its exact color, only the crimson of death he and his kin were inflicting upon her land. He was taller than any man she had met and broad-shouldered.

 

When he smiled devilishly, she started crawling backwards to avoid his closeness. Moyra could not run and his long legs allowed him to get closer sooner than she expected.

 

"Please," Moyra begged, but her protest fell on deaf ears. How could I think he would have mercy?

 

It was futile of course and in no time, the man grabbed her ankles, bringing her body closer to his. She tried to hit his face, but he was faster, grabbing her hands above her head with just one of his paws. A cocky smile on his face as his other hand started caressing her thighs that were wide open beneath him.

 

His fingers were calloused against her warm and delicate skin and they traveled to her core. He found Moyra dry and his face showed his disappointment.

 

Did he expect that I would be wet and willing?

 

A wet noise was heard then and even before Moyra had time to wonder what it might be, she felt a spit-slickened finger reach the juncture of her thighs and spread her folds. Her lips gaping in shock - a whimper escaping her lips as the finger plunged into her. It was strange, sort of uncomfortable but she remained motionless. The devil laughed, feeling the barrier of her virginity. He found a protuberance down there and spat on her private parts to allow his fingers to slide more easily.

 

His mouth grazed her shoulders and his hot breath swept across her exposed breasts. Moyra felt his lips brush against a nipple and she gulped, feeling her stomach clenching. He pulled it into his mouth and sucked greedily as if he was starving and her body was his feast. His growls reminded Moyra of a wild beast and, somehow, she knew brutality would soon take over.

 

With all her strength, Moyra tried to lift her torso but it was impossible. His body was as heavy and solid as a fortress constraining her to the ground. No matter how much she tried, she could not get him to move even in the slightest.

 

Worse, with her effort, Moyra was involuntarily rubbing herself against his fingers and the notion that he might actually take pleasure from making her ruin herself, impelled her to quit.

 

Hot tears were streaming down her cheeks and Moyra was ashamed that her body was betraying her as heat started to build and radiate out from her sex.

 

If she could choose, she preferred the pain. Pain that wouldn't allow her to doubt what was happening was not her choice. Despite the sun, Moyra was shivering, tears and sweat covering her face. The man retreated his fingers from her when he felt she was wet enough to proceed with his attack, and inserted his fingers inside his mouth, licking.

 

Moyra was mortified, but reacted as soon as she felt his free hand moving to his pants. She squirmed and grunted until he said something in his guttural language and she blinked her watery eyes.

 

“Fagr. Mín fagr.”

 

Moyra didn't know what he said, but it was like he was trying to calm her. He was so absorbed watching her body and she took the chance to spit on his face. His eyes were now cold, their stillness was frightening her. The unmoving gaze was accompanied by deliberate slow breathing, like he was fighting something back and losing. Lust and anger, all at once. All she wanted was to hide her nudity from his view but the Norseman was obviously not going to let that happen, squeezing her wrists over her head.

 

He smiled mischievously, lowering his head to her uncovered breasts to bite on one of her nipples while twisting and pulling the other with his fingers. It was not really painful, but she squirmed nonetheless, raising her back and hips. It seemed he considered her actions as a sign to keep going. She felt the vibration of his laughter against her skin.

 

Moyra did not want to look at his face, the expression of victory was there. Not only he had a successful raid, he was claiming her body as a spoil of war too.

 

He closed his palm around her breast, fondling her once more, and taking its nipple in his mouth. He licked patiently at first, but his caresses grew bolder and he started to suck at it hungrily, alternating with light bites. Moyra squealed at the twinges his touch sent all the way to her lower belly, making her toes curl. The sensation was so strange and before Moyra could try to understand it, Ivar was releasing his shaft from his trousers as a man rushing to save his life. His mouth slightly open, while his breath was coming as enraged waves on the beach, and the angered waves would hit Moyra. She turned her head to the side, her pulse hammering madly in her ears.

 

The swollen head of his dick was at her entrance. She could tell it was big – it was only natural with a man so tall and brawny. Her cleft was already being stretched even at that early stage, so she braced herself to feel the pain of being stabbed, muscles aching with tension. Instead, he started rubbing himself against her. The feeling would be heavenly if she were with a man she loved. But the man pinning her against the cold ground was not your lover, he was a beast.

 

It looked like he gained confidence she would not fight him anymore, releasing her hands to hold her hips. His movement brought her back to reality. She started slapping his face and chest. He was furious now, yelling at her. The monster took hold of her wrists violently and the tears started flowing from her eyes again.

 

He looked at her fiercely and Moyra sniffed, “Hljod víf! Mín víf. Mín.”

 

With one hard thrust he sank into her. It was a burning sensation. She heard a struggled moan leaving his lips, his eyes closed and the well-defined jaw clenching as if he was in as much pain as herself.

 

Moyra pressed her lips together, closing her eyes as if she could be transported to another place.

 

He was not moving yet, enjoying her tightness. His free hand holding her hips, nails digging into her skin so brutally that she was sure to find bruises later if she survived. The thought almost made Moyra laugh bitterly. Later wouldn't come.

 

He lifted himself, pulling his hips away, only to slide back into her again with all his strength making pain course through her once more. His hips grinding between her thighs, the leather and metal of his armor scratching against her exposed skin. Each of his unforgiving thrusts inducing a gasp from Moyra and increasing the pain until she received his final and most unforgiving stab that reached her very end, making Moyra roll her eyes and let out a lament. Her slit was burning like wildfire around his massive manhood and with every single of his shoves, Moyra felt as if she were being torn open.

 

His movements grew more vigorous and hectic, the change in force and pace taking the air out of her lungs. His hand firmly squeezing her hip, he successively pulled Moyra to him and propelled her backward with each of his shoves, making her back hit the harsh ground under her one moment and collide against the his rock-solid torso the next. It was almost as if he was wrestling instead of coupling.

 

He was mounting her vigorously and when Moyra thought it was getting too much for her to endure, the man ceased, uttering some sort of throaty growl, before resuming rocking his hips less franticly. After a few additional desperate thrusts, he sheathed himself to the hilt, stiffening. The muscles in his neck tensing as he released his seed inside of her, pulsing into her sore sex. He collapsed over her, crushing Moyra under his weight. He kept himself inside of her in bliss, until the voice of a man woke him.

 

“Afsaka, bróðir. Ivar”

 

The only word Moyra understood hit her, making her open her eyes to look at him, she saw his victorious smile. The man who stole her innocence was the famous Ivar, the Boneless. His cunning and twisted strategies were well known. She was sure he would take his sword, to bury it inside of her as he had done with his manhood.

 

He rose to his feet and was standing above her, his cock flaccid, dangling between his legs. Moyra gasped noticing her virginal blood was splattered over his shaft.

 

When he noticed she was looking at his cock he gave her a smug smile, putting his shaft back inside his trousers. Moyra looked away, cleaning the tears from her face and praying silently that he would kill her fast, allowing her to be reunited with her family.

 

He glared at the man who called him, it looked like they were close, since the man that just arrived was touching her attacker’s shoulder. They started talking as if she were not there and Moyra saw it as a chance to escape. But her body hit a man’s chest she did not see coming in her direction.

 

She fell and the man knelt in front of her, laughing at her failed escape. Moyra wished she could punch him in the nose, but it would not be a wise decision. He ran his fingers through her dark hair as if he had never seen a woman before. Moyra heard her rapist shouting.

 

“Mín. Mín víf.”

 

The man was serious and left her to walk towards the others standing behind her. Moyra heard them talking in that harsh and foreign language. After a few minutes, heavy footsteps were coming her way. She closed her eyes, knowing that death was coming.

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Moyra was ready to die. She had nothing left. Her family was killed by those barbarians and her virtue taken. In fact, she was craving death as the end of her torment.

 

When her violator approached, Moyra looked in his eyes defiantly. Nostrils flaring, chin held high not to leave doubts she would not beg to live.

 

 


 

 

Ivar was wandering after the slaughter of those monks. He would never understand how men could be willing to abandon the duty of the sword or the warmth of a woman's body. Not that lust was the most notable characteristic of his nature. He had had a few women in his life, but only to deal with the thrill that usually came after battles. None of them meant anything to him.

 

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a panting man, a warrior searching for some kind of relief after the adrenaline of spilling blood. Ivar noticed the woman beneath Haakon. Her ruined dress was soaked in blood, her villagers’ blood, making a perfect contrast against her skin. Her hair was as dark as a night without stars. It looked like silk and Ivar imagined himself running his fingers to feel the softness. He had to claim her, and so he did. He took advantage of his authority to send Haakon away from this beauty. His beauty.

 

As Haakon left, Ivar watched the woman's moves. Moyra did not face him while she was trying to cover herself. After a few moments she lifted her head, looking at him. Studying every detail, from his face to his chest. Ivar smiled at her, amused by her curiosity. She started crawling backwards and Ivar wanted to laugh at her useless attempt to get away from him. Her innocent attitude only worked to increase his desire. 

 

"Please," His lust made Ivar deaf to her small, distraught voice.

 

The man grabbed her ankles, bringing his sweet doe to his reach. His prey was not as peaceful as it seemed and tried to hit him. Of course he was faster than a maiden, and took hold of her wrists. He was a renowned warrior, his name famous. Ivar was making his ancestors proud. He smiled devilishly at her, loving her fire. At last he found a worthy challenge.

 

Ivar's used his free hand on her thighs, caressing and squeezing. Seeing his handprints on her skin was making him growl deep in his chest, his need to take her almost unbearable. His fingers start traveling to her opening with expectations of finding her wet and ready to be taken. He frowned in disappointment, discovering Moyra was dry. Of course she would not be welcoming to a man as Haakon. Ivar would show her what a skilled lover could make her feel.

 

He wanted to believe he was better than Haakon for his warrior would certainly take her without hesitation, or consideration for her discomfort.

 

Ivar started exploring her cunt, finding the right place to make her ready to accept him inside of her even if she did not want to. He wanted to stare at Moyra's face to watch her come undone under his ministrations, but her body was like a feast for his eyes. He glanced at her firm breasts, nipples showing his actions were affecting her. He was right for the woman started squirming, sweating and breathing heavily. Ivar proceeded sucking her breasts, her fear enhancing the intoxicating, feminine scent that emanated from her was clouding his mind, chasing away the meagre remnant of coherent thoughts he still had and replacing them with naught but burning hot desire like he had never experienced before..

 

The erection in his pants was becoming painful and Ivar could not hold his need anymore. He brought his wet fingers to his mouth and sucked on them greedily. Moyra looked up at him, mortified as he hummed appreciatively, momentarily closing his eyes. As if feeling Moyra staring, Ivar looked at her and smirked, noticing her embarrassment. The vision of her mouth and eyes wide open made Ivar's balls ache with anxiety. Moyra started panicking when she noticed that he was trying to release his cock from the trousers.

 

Admiring her young and innocent body, Ivar said out loud, “Fagr. Mín fagr.”

 

She must have thought it was an offense, spitting on his face.

 

The fire is back. I like fights. Ivar thought, groaning.

 

Ivar lowered his head to sink his teeth into the sensitive flesh of her breast, the fingers of his free hand twisting the nipple of the other. She lifted her hips as he wanted to. Ivar kept teasing her beautiful breasts with his mouth while his fingers moved to her entrance again. He laughed thinking about how fortunate he was. She was a virgin. Not for much longer. He would be her first and her last. That he would make sure.

 

He thought about how tight she would feel around him, embracing and squeezing his length. Ivar started rubbing his erection against her until he grew tired of holding her wrists. His arm was aching. I want to hold her hips, digging my nails into her flesh. She will not fight anymore, she is so calm now. Ivar thought and as soon as he released her hands, she turned wild, slapping him.

 

He yelled, thinking he was being too patient with her, “Hljod víf! Mín víf. Mín”.

 

She was his, he would show her, entering her for the first time with all his mighty. She bit her lips, tears running from her eyes. Ivar wanted to wipe away her tears, but he knew she would react if her hands were free.

 

When she noticed Ivar looking at her teary face, Moyra closed her eyes. He was enjoying the sensation of her velvet embrace, but Ivar felt he needed to move. He wanted this woman to look at him while he was taking her, so with his nails he started digging into her skin, leaving painful marks on her hips.

 

He started moving as he was trying to break the defense of a powerful enemy. Determination moving his hips against the delicate and frail woman trapped beneath him. She was everything but a strong enemy. The way her breasts were bouncing with his every trust was boosting his lust.

 

He released his seed deep inside her for the first of many times if he could achieve his desire, and he always did. Ivar wanted to remain buried inside of her until Ragnarök. He knew this would be impossible, as soon his brother would prove.

 

 


 

 

Ubbe interrupts his conquest. Ivar rises to his feet, eyes locked on her body. By Freyja, she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

 

She is looking at him, at his cock. He smirks, putting his shaft inside his trousers. He is sure she is defeated and will not try to run away, so Ivar walks to Ubbe.

 

“I see that you are enchanted by a woman. Who would think? She is gorgeous. If Hvitserk sees her, you will have to claim her.” Ubbe finishes with a dry laughter.

 

Ivar is furious with this possibility alone. “She is mine.” he hisses, glaring at Ubbe.

 

As if Ubbe was predicting the future, the woman attracts Hvitserk's attention while trying to escape, bumping into him and falling to the ground.

 

“It seems my brother is a Völva.” Ivar laughs, but not for long. Hvitserk is kneeling in front of her, touching her hair.

 

"Mín. Mín víf.” he shouts not to leave any doubt.

 

“Why can't I have a taste of her?” Hvitserk questions Ivar as he is still looking at Moyra intently.

 

“Because I do not share what it is mine.” The fury in Ivar's eyes is not possible to mistake.

 

Hvitserk steps back to watch Ivar's next move. Ivar walks to her. She is looking deep inside his eyes. Rage, pride, bravery. All qualities he praises.

 

He offers his hand to help her to get up and Moyra looks at him with disdain. Ivar is determined to make her look at him with desire one day.

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Moyra did not take his hand. But this did not prevent him from dragging her to their boats. In fact, she tried to bite him, when he was caressing her face, trying to wipe away the tears he caused. Moyra struggled and cursed. Some words he did not know. But Ivar could guess she was not happy to go with him either.

 

Hvitserk could not stop laughing. He loved seeing his brother’s exasperation. He thought that watching Ivar trying to tame her would be amusing.

 

 


 

 

When they come closer to the coast, where his men are waiting, Moyra sees the consequences of the carnage. Young women and men tied by their wrists, waiting in line. The men are trying to look strong and brave, but Moyra knows that deep inside they are as terrified as some of the crying women. By the kind of attention some of those poor women are attracting, Moyra feels they are not going to be only common slaves. What will he do to me? Moyra wants to pretend she doesn't care, but cold sweat is running down her spine.

 

Their wooden ships are narrow and long. They have a beast-shaped prow. She wonders what the people who saw them coming with the fog had thought. Moyra is sure they presumed the invaders were demons. The villagers were right.

 

The man who tried to rape her is there too. He looks at her from head to toe, and it makes her shiver. The monster that had taken her virginity notices it too, covering her with his heavy cloak. She feels his action is not inspired by kindness, he just wants to mark her as his. The cloak enhancing the sensation his scent will be forever on her skin.

 

He shouts to his warrior, “Hizrla ykkarr augi brott af hanna.”

 

The pagan immediately looks away from her. Moyra does not know if she should feel relieved that he is not going to share her with his men, or afraid that she will be the only object of his lust. Her captor is leading her to one of the boats. Heavy chests with gold and silver from the church are filling the deck.

 

He is squeezing her arms so tight that hurts. It is like he fears she will try to run away once more. Little he knows Moyra has no strength to run. Her back is hurt from the harsh ground she was lying on when was raped. The place between her legs, where he had placed himself, as if he was entitled to, is sore and it makes walking a challenging task.

 

Ivar points to a place covered with luxurious furs and Moyra looks at him in confusion. A grin on his face makes her heart beat faster.

 

He will take me again.

 

Ivar pushes her slightly, making her fall on the furs, shivering with fear that he will want to ravish her again. She is sitting, fighting the tears that are threatening to fall. The sound of his boots fades on the deck and Moyra is too terrified to think about what he wants. When he is back to her side, she notices the man is carrying a small bucket with water and some cloths in one of his hands and a piece of bread in the other.

 

Moyra does not know what he wants her to do, until he points to her hands and her private parts. He wants her to wash. She is furious now, her body was contaminated by him, her hands dirty with grass when he held her wrists against the ground; and he dares to ask her to wash.

 

He is the filthy.

 

Her lips are pressed together, she looks away from him. Moyra thinks that he may let her be if she keeps her body dirty.

 

Ivar finds her expression funny. He wets the cloths and approaches her, taking her hands to clean. She tries to stay away from his grip, but he is stronger. She cannot fight him. At least not in his terms. Then he tries to pull up the skirts of her destroyed dress. Moyra does not want him to touch her.

 

The sobs that leave her throat involuntarily stop Ivar’s advances. Once the first tear breaks free, the rest follow in an unbroken stream. His crew is watching them now and Ivar shouts commands for them to keep sailing. He kneels to make eye contact. Pointing to his chest, “Ivar.”

 

No matter how bravely she is fighting against her grief, the salty tears burst forth, spilling down her face. She feels the muscles of her chin trembling like a small child and looks at the sea. Clutching her skirt, as if she would be capable to stop Ivar.

 

Ivar uses his thumbs to clean the tears from her face. Moyra closes her eyes, almost lost in the delicate gesture. Then she remembers who is doing this. A tiny lapse on Ivar's part and she pulls away, blinking lashes heavy with tears, and blushing with anger. She hates herself for being weak. Incapable to protect herself and her family.

 

Ivar touches her shoulder to wake the girl from her thoughts. He runs his hand to her chest, feeling her heart beating fast. She is frightened, but stops crying. His features are soft, a reassuring smile. She looks at the sea again. Her memories, her loved ones, neighbors. Everything is taken or destroyed. Ivar notices she is gazing longingly to where she belonged to.

 

“Do not worry. You will remember this village no more. I will give you everything you need. You deserve more than to live hidden in a place like this. Your beauty is meant to be praised in a great hall.”

 

She moves her head to the side, trying to capture the meaning of his words. The gesture makes Ivar feel blood rushing to his penis, his eyes shining in a mix of hunger and amusement. He knows he must refrain himself. Ivar does not want to expose her to his men. She is for his eyes alone.

 

He points to her chest, a question in his eyes. When she does not say anything, Ivar directs his finger to himself, “Ivar”. Then he repeats the gesture to her. She realizes he wants to know her name.

 

She pretends ignorance. He can have her body and her life in his hands. But she will not give him the knowledge of the name her parents gave her. Their image, pleading that she should save herself is almost making her cry once more. She failed them. They would be ashamed.

 

Ivar concludes she will not say her name yet. He believes he will eventually discover, as he had unveiled many shores.

 

He starts pulling up her skirts again to wash her. Moyra pushes his hands away. It seems her plan to keep him away is fated to failure. If she must wash, he will not be the one tending to her.

 

She takes the cloths from his hands, using her chin to point to the rowers, some of them had stopped their work and are watching without Ivar's knowledge. He yells furiously, “Hizrla ykkarr augi brott af hanna.”

 

Moyra is satisfied with her little victory. She is already humiliated by one of them, the last thing she needs is every one of these heathens gazing at her naked body.

 

Ivar uses his cloak as a barrier against the curiosity of his men.

 

Turning her back, she pulls up her dress a little, gaining access to clean herself. Her thighs are slick with blood. The vision makes her shudder. It reminds her of the carnage in her homeland. Even though his boats are leaving the slaughter behind faster than she thought possible, her memories are vivid.

 

There is not only blood, his seed is dripping down her legs. It brings her terror. What if his seed had grown roots inside her? She knows suicide or abortion would be a grave sin. But carrying a monster inside of her would be worse. For sure it would not be a baby, with this man as a father it would be a demon. Moyra is paralyzed until her captor says something.

 

“Do I have to clean you myself?” He snorts a dry laugh, his face splitting into a wolfish grin.

 

She looks at him from her shoulder, feeling he is threatening her. The woman decides that she must finish the task as fast as possible. Otherwise he will have an excuse to touch her. They navigate through the open and endless sea. Infinite as her grief.

 

He does not need an excuse to touch me, my body is no longer mine.

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The journey to the unknown felt like ages. All Moyra could see was the endless blue of the calm ocean. Until one stormy night.

 

Her captor was shouting to his men what she presumed were encouraging words. Moyra could feel the tension in the air, but it did not affect her. She longed to drown. This way she would be free of the strangers around her.

 

From time to time Moyra could see Ivar was searching for her eyes.

 

Is he worried I will throw myself in the ocean?

 

She would not take her life. But if the sea claimed her, Moyra would embrace the sweet death as if it was her mother rocking her in a warm embrace and singing lullabies.

 

For her disappointment, the storm ended quickly.

 

The first days Moyra refused to eat or drink. The monster tried everything. Faking gentleness at first, with a warm smile and kind gestures. His demeanor brought memories of her father trying to tame the horses. But unlike her father, his gentleness was a facade. When his pretense kindness did not work, Ivar would show his real face. Squeezing her arms, shaking her and trying to make her open the mouth.

 

Ubbe approached them, touching her imprisoner’s shoulder with such familiarity that she was sure they were related. He was saying something with a calm voice, and Moyra looked at him in confusion.

 

Why does he care?

 

After a few moments, Ivar's face started softening and he released her, walking away. Moyra did not understand what was happening.

 

Will he try to ravish me too?

 

Ubbe looked at her with attention, his lips curling down and pity in his eyes.

 

Why is he studying me?

 

He took a piece of bread in his hands, offering it to her. She looked away, wrinkling her nose in disgust. She would not accept anything from the same hands that took the lives of her people.

 

Ubbe sucked on his lip in what Moyra presumed was an effort not to laugh at her. He stuffed the piece of bread between his teeth, and started chewing. It was her turn to analyze his behavior now.

 

What a strange man.

 

Her stomach started howling, indicating that she was starving. The murmurs coming from the man in front of her were not helping either.

 

He looked at her once more to offer her food. Moyra didn't see a grin of mockery or challenge and decided to give it a try. She lifted her hand shyly, grabbing the bread. She did not eat at first, yet his gentle smile was the final push. She started eating slowly, and could see her captor was scrutinizing them through narrowed eyes.

 

When she finished, he pointed to his chest. “Ubbe.”

 

Moyra whispered, unsure if it was correct, “Ubbe.”

 

"Good." He smiled, nodding in approval. She watched as he walked to where Ivar was standing with the other man. Ivar's eyes never leaving her.

 

 


 

 

“What did she say? Did she tell you her name?” Ivar asked in a hurry.

 

Hvitserk teased him, “It seems our brother is really interested in this girl. I wonder why. Maybe I will find out how she kept Ivar's interest.”

 

Ivar punched his arm, making Hvitserk loses his balance.

 

Ubbe glared at them. “Stop it! She did not say her name. She does not trust me. I said my name and she only repeated.”

 

Ivar hissed, jealousy plainly written on his face, “She repeated your name!”

 

Ubbe touched Ivar's arm, “Do not worry! She will warm for you, but you have to be patient not to scare her.” Ubbe gestured toward Moyra and she looked away, disliking the scrutiny.

 

Hvitserk added, laughing, “Like you did with the others.”

 

Ivar clenched his fists. His lips snarled with rage as he hissed, “The others were a few moments of boredom," He stared at her and his voice shifting to a soft tone as Ivar mused to himself, "They were not like her.”

 

It was Ubbe’s turn to tease Ivar, “She is different then. How?”

 

Ivar moved his head, brows furrowed with doubt, “I do not know. When I saw her with Haakon, I just wanted to claim her. I felt like she was made for me.”

 

Ubbe smiled, “I hope she can tame you.”

 

Ivar blinked in confusion, “Tame me?”

 

Hvitserk tried to hold his laughter. Otherwise Ivar would punch him in the face this time.

 

Ubbe explained with caution, “Yes. Is it not what women do to their husbands? We think we are taming them, when in fact we are being domesticated.”

 

Ivar started thinking about Ubbe’s words. If he wanted to sleep with her without being stabbed, he should change his manners.

 

 


 

 

Ivar had tried to approach her a few times, smiling and offering food as Ubbe did. Moyra was still suspicious of him. Even if she did not accept his offer, he sat there to eat next to her. Once he finished, he would leave some food behind and pretend he had forgotten. Moyra would eat when she thought he was not looking.

 

When they reached their destination, Ivar feared she would squirm not to get out of the ship. Ivar stood on the docks, hand in the air as a silent offer. He was quietly begging for Freyja's help. He did not want to grab her out of the ship, losing the small victory that she was not crying anymore.

 

 


 

 

Ivar was holding out his hand to help her out of the ship. If it was any other man, Moyra would find kindness in this action. But, she knew the violence he was capable of. Moyra wanted to humiliate him, not holding his hand, but, she was aware he would not be ashamed. In fact, those creatures would find her fight amusing.

 

She held his hand, it was rough-skinned and warm as she remembered, while with her other hand she tried to hold his cloak in place, to cover herself. Ivar smiled at her and she kept her eyes on her feet, to avoid his gaze.

 

Ivar drew her close to his body with her head on his chest. She was shuddering and he thought it was due the beginning of Autumn.

 

 


 

 

They walked to a longhouse and she was distracted, studying her surroundings while Ivar ordered a servant, Màiri, to help Moyra to bath and dress for the celebration that would happen at night.

 

There was a large and imposing hearth, with stones set on end in the earth, mirroring the shape of the longhouse. A big cauldron was in the centre of the hearth, with a hole in the roof above to allow smoke to get out. She saw hanging lamps made from stone. The lamps had wicks and burned oil to provide light. It made the house a smoky place. She saw some tapestries on the walls too. Moyra noticed a big loom in one of the corners of the house.


Running down the length of the house, on both sides, were low wooden benches. Useful surfaces to eat, work, or even sleep.

 

Moyra saw him handing Màiri a red dress that was more luxurious than any piece of clothing she had the chance to look at. A dress fit for a noblewoman. She supposed it was another of the things he stole during his journeys. 

 

She approached the scared girl with caution. Màiri knew well enough how it felt to be away from home.

 

When Ivar disappeared to divide the spoils among his men, Màiri started trying to talk to the new captive as slaves started filling the bathtub with hot water.

 

“I'm Màiri, I'm from Alba too.” The elderly woman shifted closer to Moyra who was sitting on a stool.

 

Moyra looked at the woman for a few moments, not sure if she should speak her name. Somehow this woman's voice reminded Moyra of her mother. She had wrinkles around her mouth and eyes, and the girl could see Màiri was a beauty when younger, but her cheeks were sunken by the time. This Màiri was from her homeland and Moyra had nothing more to lose.

 

Maybe she can help me to escape.

 

“I'm Moyra. How long have you been here? Have you tried to escape?” Màiri could remember the same sparkle of hope that was present in Moyra's eyes. She would soon realize her old life was gone.

 

“Escape? Why? They treat me better than my former husband. As I'm not so young anymore, I'm not forced to share their bed. I just help with the house. I'll help to bathe and dress you. Ivar will want to see you as beautiful as a goddess.” Máiri came closer to undress Moyra who cringed at the sudden invasion. Having another stranger touching her, made Moyra feel like a trapped bird.

 

The girl lifted her head, looking at Màiri with a shocked face.

 

“You're from my land, yet it seems you have forgotten our God and how much those monsters have been making us suffer.” Moyra was spitting out the words, and her lips were trembling.

 

“I have never forgotten my past of suffering or the horror they are capable of. Yet, being confined in grief will not help you. Ivar is a good master if you comply with what he wants.” Moyra pursed her lips slightly.

 

“What could that be? Being forced while lying on my back? Or maybe this time he will want me on my stomach?” she was furious that this woman was defending them. Moyra would never comply.

 

Moyra noticed pity in Màiri’s eyes. She was tired of their pity. Their pity was not helping her. Slitting her throat would be more useful.

 

Màiri looked at her in confusion, “He had never taken a woman against her will by what I heard. In fact, some call him 'The Boneless' because of his battle’s skills. Some people say watching him fighting is like seeing a snake moving... It's like he has no bones to restrain his movements at all," Moyra felt her throat tightening with the thought of Ivar and his men spreading death. Màiri noticed Moyra was holding herself, gulping hard and tried to change the subject, "Others because he has had only a few women. All willing. He must have seen something in you so he could not control himself.”

 

Moyra's jaw dropped for a few instants, but she soon found her voice and scolded Màiri, “So, I suppose I should be grateful for his attention? How blessed I am. He is a monster. Treating you a little better than a slave does not make him less hideous.”

 

The servant felt sorry for her, “Save yourself some pain. And he is not hideous. He is really attractive if you ask some girls.”

 

Moyra replied harshly, “That is because they only see the outside. The gold and the comfort he could give them by raiding innocent villages and realms. I would rather be with a simple farmer who would respect and love me.”

 

“What a dream. Having your hands calloused due the arduous work, bearing him child after child and praying for a good harvest, so your family will not starve.”

 

 


 

 

During the feast, she could hear laughter and music. They were celebrating the carnage they inflicted on her people. It made her feel sick. Ivar was drinking less than his men, keeping his eyes on Moyra. Her legs weak with the thoughts about what he would do to her that night. 

 

It didn't pass unnoticed how his people gazed at her during that feast. Moyra thought dressing her in the finest fabrics and jewelry was another way to assert his possession of her and show his wealth.

 

The celebration lasted until the ale was over. Some men were not in condition to go to their houses, sleeping on the benches there instead. Ivar took Moyra by the hand and they walked to his quarters. She wanted to fight, but Moyra knew that he was stronger. She could not win.

 

Once they were there. Ivar started removing his belt, tunic, boots until he was wearing only his breeches. Moyra did not want to look, so she turned her back to him and stared at the bed covered with furs. It would be inviting after such a tiring journey. But Moyra knew Ivar did not want to rest for now.

 

Her thoughts were interrupted by his warm hand on her shoulder. The fingers teasing the sensitive skin. He lowered his head, sniffing her hair. At the same time, his hands started traveling down her body. He grabbed her breast through the fabric of her dress, while the other hand was going down. She tried to swallow, but it seemed like someone was squeezing her throat. Moyra had always known men loved women’s breasts and her mother had always alerted her not to show off her assets.

 

Will it hurt like the first time? Will I feel humiliated like in the first time he forced me?

 

His respiration was warm against her ears now, the thick beard sending goosebumps to her belly. If she had a knife, she would stab him. Ivar started kissing her neck, alternating with light bites as if she was the feast from earlier, but he wanted the meal to last. His caresses on her body were daring now. He started pulling down her dress, startling Moyra. She tried to run from his grasp in vain. One of his big hands kept her in place, holding her by the waist.

 

The dress reached the floor as well as her tears. Moyra did not want to face him, showing her defeat. Like a beast in heat, he started biting and sucking on the skin of her shoulder. His actions provoking shrivers.

 

Disgust?

 

His breath sounded like one of a tired man, yet he was as relentless as his wandering hands. He plunged his hand between her legs, spreading them softly and she felt him pressing against her back. Moyra had no doubts he was ready to take her and she prayed to the Blessed Virgin to make him stop. She thought God and His Mother had abandoned her in this place when Ivar did not show any hesitation. His fingers were caressing a strange point that made her gasp with shame. She did not want this monster to make her feel this way.

 

The thought of his manhood invading her once more made her sick. Her body welcoming and giving him pleasure was like a betrayal. Moyra wanted to be the reason of his misery, not his happiness.

 

“Ástin mín.”

 

The raspy voice spoke just at her ear, a rumbling resonance that tingled across every nerve ending, making Moyra feel threatened. The hair on the back of her neck standing. She knew what would follow after those words. He grabbed Moyra by the shoulder and whirled her around to face him. She still refused to comply, looking at her feet instead.

 

“Gods, you’re beautiful,” Ivar breathed suddenly, his voice low and ragged. With that, he raised his palm to her face and cupped her cheek. His long and thick fingers digging into her hair, his thumb went just under her chin as he lifted her head. Moyra couldn't avoid his gaze anymore. “And mine.” This said, he lifted Moyra in his arms as she weighed nothing. Fearing she could fall, Moyra placed her arms around his neck, holding tightly onto him. She could smell his sweat - strong and musky. Ivar smiled because of her reaction and she blushed with frustration. His blue eyes dark with lust. She wanted to look away, but a morbid fascination held her gaze.

 

She thought about when she was a child and wandered through the forest, while her father was fishing. Moyra saw a big wolf, the animal looked back, freezing her where she was. Moyra was transfixed by its moves. It started coming in her direction until her father used the spear he was fishing with to kill the predator. He was not here to save her anymore. She wondered if he had a decent burial, alongside her mother. Or if he was still lying on the cold ground as that wolf in the forest.

 

Ivar placed her on the furs as if she was made of glass. His gaze was sweeping over her tiny, shapely frame. Moyra tried to cover herself with her hands and Ivar chuckled at her innocence.

 

He took her hands and she thought he would hold her wrists over her head like he did the first time. Instead, he joined his hands with hers, as if they were lovers. He was upon her now, and his scent invaded her senses. Faster than she could react, the man spread her legs wide apart, kneeling between them. Defeated, Moyra didn’t try to close them back afterwards. There was no point in fighting against her captor. He was stronger and would get what he wanted from her anyway. He leaned forward, his nose touching hers and Moyra closed her eyes not to look back at him. Ivar kissed his way down from her neck, to her breasts, stomach…

 

Moyra yelped when his hot breath reached her navel. Peeking down at him, she saw his stare was fixed on the dark curls in-between her thighs, his eyes gleaming with animalistic thirst. It wasn’t hard to guess what he had in mind. She struggled to break free, but Ivar only laughed, releasing her hands to grip her thighs and explore her pussy. Ivar laid his head on her thigh and with surprising tenderness, he opened her lower lips with his fingers and flicked his tongue over her folds. Moyra inhaled deeply and threw her head back as the indecent caress sent pleasant shivers all over her body.

 

Stop… stop it… she begged in her thoughts, stirring beneath him. Although her body was betraying her, she needed to fight again, at least by principle.

 

Ivar couldn't listen of course. He continued licking at her like the furious animal he was, his hands like two vices keeping her thighs spread out around his face and legs thrown over his shoulders. As he went on, Moyra felt her muscles relaxing, her respiration accelerating. In spite of how lascivious the gesture was and how much she knew she should logically have been disgusted by it, the feel of his restless tongue on her sensitive flesh was starting to intoxicate her.

 

“You taste like the sweetest mead.” Ivar growled, his thick voice sending more vibrations through her core. With his thumbs, he both parted her folds again and caressed that small nub of flesh she had just above her entrance, his stare glued to his task. Moyra was too abashed to glance down at him for more than an eye blink while he kissed her down there. But even with her gaze fixed to the ceiling as it was, she could tell Ivar was pleased with her reactions. “Mmm…” he grumbled, the hunger in his voice making her blush. She whimpered when he slid one finger inside of her.

 

Ivar was panting heavily, watching his fingers slid in and back out coated with her arousal. He let out an appreciative growl, leaving a lingering kiss on her clit. She was mortified that he found her wet, her muscles tightening against the invasion of his fingers. Ivar smiled, thinking about her walls clenching around him. He was aching for her.

 

He resumed licking her, this time in steady circles around her nub. Moyra arched her back and let out a groan but just as her hands clutched the furs, Ivar surprised her by scooping the cheeks of her bottom with his palms and lifting her upward. With his tongue, he then started to penetrate her slit much like he would do with his cock, using his hands to guide her mound toward his face with each of his thrusts into her. The gesture was so obscene that it took Moyra out of her trancelike state she had been in so far. Taking advantage of how focused he was, she managed to free one of her legs from his grip and kicked his jaw. She could say the blow was not delivered with enough strength to hurt him as weak as she was, on the verge of climaxing.

 

He chuckled, stroking his face, “Oh, yes… You love that, don’t you, elskan mín?” he muttered throatily, caressing her bottom lip with his thumb. She glared and tried to bite him, but Ivar was faster and recoiled his hand away from her teeth.

 

"You missed me, huh?" As he said the words, Ivar tugged her wrists higher over her head and put them both under one of his hands, his fingers closing tightly around them. Then, he brought his free hand between them and began unfastening the laces of his breeches. Moyra thought it was better not to see his imposing manhood, but she gasped when his engorged member fell heavily onto her mound and belly. Ivar took it in hand to pump it a few times.

 

Apart from the fact that they were completely naked and in the comfort of a luxurious bed, the whole situation was very reminiscent to that of the first time he claimed her. Exactly like then, he was constraining her under him, adamant to have his way with her. Once more, she wouldn’t be given a choice on the matter. Only now, she knew what to expect. The stiff tip was soon prodding at her entrance and she closed her eyes, bracing herself to the worst.

 

Unlike the first time he took her, now Ivar had time to dive into the details as the light coming from the candles was glowing on her gorgeous face. He saw beads of sweat blossoming over her flushed skin, and was captivated by the sight of Moyra trapped under his body. With her eyes shut and at the proximity they were in, he could admire how long her eyelashes were. She couldn't see how his once wrathful scowl changed when Ivar noticed her jaw trembling. He released her wrists and intertwined his finger with hers, leaning down to brush his nose against her cheek affectionately.

 

Surprised by the gesture, Moyra opened her eyes and stared at him, until he entered her with a grunt, making her dainty features stiffen. Her plump lips were faintly open, parting a little more in the most inviting manner with every stroke of his swollen cock into her. No woman he had fucked had ever been even slightly as magnificent and without thinking he pressed his lips to hers. His lips were soft, and for a moment she allowed her imagination to think it was her wedding night with a man she loved and kissed him back. She turned her head to the side when she heard Ivar moaning in response.

 

Ivar started sucking on her neck then. His hips gaining speed as he gave one of her buttocks a squeeze. He lifted her thigh up his waist and secured it over his hip, her naked feet hanging in the air around his broad back and toes pointing towards the ceiling. She didn't understand why he did this. But when his cock started pounding into her with abandon she noticed the friction was making her feel strange. needed to surrender to his every wish, be coerced into submission. She was his captive: it didn’t matter what she cared for, he would always prevail and the knowledge of how ineluctable this was enabled her to totally abandon herself. It was best if she complied to whatever he had in mind, finding ways to ease the discomfort of the act; and so, Moyra spread her legs as widely as they could go.

 

Ivar was breathing so loudly into her neck it almost sounded like howls, the sound mixing with the incessant creaks of the bed and her own cries that insisted to escape through her slightly parted lips. His hairy chest was brushing against her nipples with every movement of his hips between her legs. His beard scraping her neck was making her toes curl.

 

Every second or so, she felt her slit pulsating like a heartbeat growing into something bigger, something different from the ache of being stretched out by his cock. Moyra was squirming and throwing her head back from one side to the other, her eyes shut and lips parted, sweat beading all over her skin.

 

Moyra clawed the furs with her free hand, while biting on her lower lip, trying not to make a sound. It looked like Ivar was not worried about being silent. His breath was like angry waves against the shore, his nails digging into her hips. The pearls of sweat covering his skin were dripping down on her, increasing his smell on her skin. Ivar rammed even harder into her. It was like he was using all of his strength on Moyra, taking out every bit of the aggression she supposed were his companion in the battlefield.

 

"You're soaked." As if to prove his point, he withdrew his cock entirely out of her slit and plunges himself inside just as soon. It slid back to the hilt as smoothly as it had before.

 

Moyra grunted at that and threw her head back, squeezing the fingers he had interwined with hers. With his other hand, he was pressing one of her thighs onto the mattress to keep her legs wide open, his brawny body covering every inch of her. There was no way she could defy him, and the notion of how trapped she was exacerbated the fire in her. A new surge of moisture seeped in her folds.

 

In slow and steady yet sharp movements, Ivar kept sliding himself in and out of her, pulling his shaft completely out of her only to dip it as deeply as he could just as soon.

 

Ivar dipped his fists into the mattress on either side of her head, giving one final sharp thrust and holding his cock deep inside as he roared his release, suffusing her with the warmth of his seed.

 

He stayed frozen hovering above Moyra, body still quivering and moaning with every intake of air. He collapsed on her shoulders. His weight was almost crushing Moyra while silent tears insisted to run down her cheeks. Ivar peppered her neck and shoulders with open-mouthed kisses. The sting of his teeth nipping at Moyra's shoulder blade caused her back to arch and she would have shrieked from the contact if his weight was not pressing the air from her lungs.

 

When he lifted his face to look at her, he seemed confused that she was crying. He pulled out from her, wiping away her tears with his thumbs. Moyra kept her eyes shut and Ivar kissed her face as a way to make her glance at him. When he tried to capture her mouth, she almost buried her teeth in his lips. He laughed, lying on his side of the bed.

 

“Mín víf!”

 

After some minutes Ivar was snoring while Moyra was still looking at the ceiling. She searched for some cloths and water to clean herself, trying to get rid of his scent on her skin and, more important, his seed. She would ask Màiri about some herb to prevent conceiving a child. The last thing she needed was getting pregnant by this monster.

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Moyra didn't know where to go. She didn't want to sleep close to Ivar, but her body was sore from the journey. She thought that it wouldn't be a problem sleeping in the same bed, but as far from him as possible.

 

 


 

 

Moyra was with her parents. Her father was fishing while her mother was washing their clothes by the river. They looked at her smiling and she couldn't help smiling back. The invasion was a nightmare. She was at home, with her parents. Her life hadn’t changed.

 

Then Moyra felt her chest tightening, air rushing from her lungs. It was like the river was swalllowing her. She looked at her parents for help, only seeing disappointed faces. Then they disappeared.

 

“It’s not my fault!” she pleaded aloud, her voice breaking on the last word.

 

To see herself depreciated in the eyes of those she loved most was even worse than enduring Ivar's assaults. For a moment, Moyra thought their death spared them watching her soiled by a heathen.

 

 


 

 

 

Moyra opened her eyelids, startled by Ivar's heavy arm around her waist, caging her against his strong chest and allowing her to feel the heat coming from his skin. Moyra felt her mouth instantly dry and tried to calm herself. She closed her eyes, inhaling deep in and out through her mouth, feeling the air slowly fill her chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Looking from over her shoulder Moyra saw that Ivar was still sound asleep, and she let out a breath of relief through her mouth. Still she needed to find a way to be free from his arm, but she was afraid the slightest move would wake the pagan. Then Moyra realized she could not avoid him forever. It was a matter of time. He would wake up, and what he was going to do to was frightening her.

 

Moyra decided to lay her head, closing her eyes. She thought that if Ivar saw she was sleeping, he would let her alone.

 

Moyra was almost sleeping again when she noticed a change in the furs. His heavy breath against her ears and thick beard tickling her neck while his grip on her waist tightened. She was in a cage. Shutting her eyes, trying to think about anything else than this stranger touching her with such an intimacy was unnerving and in vain. He whispered in her ears, the voice was sleepy, still powerful.

 

 


 

 

Ivar thought it was good to be back home, and with his beauty in bed with him. Ivar noticed during the night, he moved to her side, holding Moyra tight.

 

Of course, I would be attracted to her even in my sleep. Ivar grinned, noticing she was awake by the uneven rhythm of her respiration and how tense her body was.

 

He nuzzled the sensitive skin directly beneath her earlobe, inhaling in the scent of her hair, “I know you're awake, my beauty.” His sleepy, thick voice sent shivers down her spine and Moyra bit on her lower lip not to weep.

 

Elskan mín” he asked, trailing his hand down her body until it rested right before her cunt and he traced small circles over the fabric of her underdress. Moyra closed her thighs out of instinct. Ivar was sure she couldn't be sleeping and pulled the fabric up to her waist. His fingers started caressing her until he felt she was wet enough to be taken. Trying hard to resign herself to her fate, Moyra inhaled a deep and shaky breath and squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to relax. She sighed when he removed his hand from her folds, but her relief was short-lived. She could listen to his pleased grunts and wet noise of the beast sucking his fingers - glistened by the response he forced from her body.

 

She had no time to wonder why she felt dizzy when his fingers touched her down there, she felt a spit-slickened finger reach the juncture of her thighs and spread her folds. Her breath hitched, a whimper escaping her lips as his finger plunged into her. It was still strange, sort of uncomfortable but she remained motionless, adamant about not giving him an inkling his actions were affecting her the way Moyra supposed he wanted to.

 


“Still so tight for me,” he rasped through clenched teeth, his voice so raw, she barely recognised as belonging to a human. What could I expect from a beast?

 
Her train of thoughts was interrupted when he pressed his thumb against her, caressing the nub of nerves right above her opening. Ivar kept his forefinger deep inside of her, twisting it until he noticed she was panting. He added his middle finger, stretching and preparing her for his need.

 

He wondered how it would feel her tight cunt squeezing his cock as he made his way into her and couldn't hold anymore and lifted his fingers to his nose. So sweet!

 

Ivar sneered, feeling his aching shaft twitching in his hands. The things this woman was doing to him were new and delicious. Ivar started caressing her nipples through the thin fabric of her shift and prepared to take her, using his knee to spread her legs.

 

 


 


She opened her eyes when Ivar removed his hand from her. Realizing what was happening, Moyra tensed. She repeated in her mind, her pulse hammering madly in her ears. He won't hurt me if I don’t fight him!  She was still reciting the words in her head when Ivar positioned the tip of his stiff cock against her slippery folds.


He moulded her breast in his palm, gently pinching her nipples with his fingers. Her breasts were just as firm as he remembered and touching them like that was frankly maddening.

 

Ivar made a few thrusts, his cock sliding easily against her folds, parting them slowly before finally pressing his tip to her entrance. He slowly dove in, making Moyra feel every inch of him as he savored in the way her walls sheathed and caressed his cock. A throaty moan spilled from his lips, his fingers twitching and squeezing her breast to refrain his urge to pound into her tightness. Ivar started moving his hips patiently, trying to make it easier for her to adjust to his thickness. His lips descended to her ear and Ivar started kissing and licking there until his constant hunger for her made the man bite her ear lightly.

 

Her eyes were still closed and her jaw tense. Ivar could see she was trying to remain silent, inhaling sharply and felt challenged by her resistance. His hand moved to the little protuberance he knew would make her squirm.

 

Ivar started circling and brushing over the sensitive bundle of nerves and rocking his hips in the same rhythm. Moyra started panting, beads of sweat glistening on her forehead. Ivar increased the speed of his fingers and hips, burying himself into her and retreating until only his tip was inside of her. Feeling her walls welcoming and squeezing him when he pushed back in was sending Ivar over the edge. Ivar built up his rough pace, snapping his hips hard and quick against her. The knot in Moyra's belly tightened with every thrust, her orgasm approaching hastily and promising to leave her feeling dirty afterwards.

 

The grunting filling her ears was reminding Moyra of an animal, more of a growl than a grunt, her mind started to come unhinged. Ivar was struggling not to finish until she was undone. It would be his victory, and the chance to win and please her. He could imagine her thighs enlacing his waist, her arms around his neck, pressing her heels into the firm muscles of his ass, pushing in to pull him closer. Ivar wanted her little hands traveling through his back, trying to find salvation, something to hold onto when the pleasure would be too much to handle.

 

Ivar was picturing her nails digging into his skin and marking him like he did to her. The sweet mouth kissing him back like the night before, when she was lost in her thoughts. Those same lips would cry out his name.

 
Somehow, he could now reach new depths inside of her than before, which soon woke a new and different sort of pain. Her whole body clenched at his pounding. She dug her nails into the skin of his thigh, whimpering and squeaking, trying to prevent him from going too deeply by any means she could. All in vain. 

 

Then it started, first he heard little gasps and whines, until she could not hold the sensations that were washing over her body, her beautiful lips opened and she moaned. It was not his name, but enough to make his balls start tightening with every excruciating second. Just as it was getting too much for Moyra and tears were starting to form in her eyes, the man halted, uttering some sort of throaty grunt, before resuming rocking his hips less franticly. After a few additional desperate thrusts, he sheathed himself to the hilt, stiffened and collapsed over her shoulder.

 

Ivar kept his cock inside her until it was soft. After a few minutes, he lifted his head and looked at her face, seeing one lonely tear running down from her closed eyes to her warm cheek.

 

Ivar smiled at the scene he thought was the most beautiful one. He turned her body to him, kissing her face until she opened her eyes. He saw anger, sadness and shame. He wanted to replace those emotions. One day she would look at him with desire and love.

 

 


 

 

After the meaningless words left his mouth, his hands were touching her most intimate place, Moyra closed her thighs trying to avoid his touch. She thought it would be better if he just forced her with violence. She would not feel like she was somehow urging him on.

 

His hand left her folds and Moyra could feel Ivar was stroking himself behind her. She braced herself for his invasion, and was surprised when his manhood parted her lips gently, not with the eagerness from the other occasions. Moyra was glad for this, because she was still sore from the night before. But guilt came immediately. She should not be relieved, but it felt so good not to feel pain for the first time.

 

Ivar was tugging on her earlobes with his teeth, the beard tickling her, his lips teasing the sensitive flesh. Licking her like the animal she knew he was.

 

A Christian man would never do this.

 

Moyra kept her lips as a thin line. She didn't want to make a sound that would encourage him. Moyra could feel he was staring at her, even with her eyes closed. The way his strong hand was squeezing her breast left no room for doubt she would have marks there to match with the others on her neck. His hand descended to her folds once more. The monster started slow, increasing the speed of his fingers and hips. The horrible sounds that were filling the place made her blush. His skin slapping against her, the wet noises of his attack on her core, his grunts and, for her embarrassment, her moans. Her hands holding the furs with all her strength. She felt herself pulsing around his cock as his breath on her neck was making the world spin. It was like she has had much ale. Then Moyra heard him crying out in pleasure. To her revulsion, he kept himself inside of her. She wanted to wash her skin of his sweat, but his paws were still holding her against his chest. Moyra could feel his heartbeat against her back while he was recovering. She wished that he would never draw another breath.

 

He rolled her over to his side. She opened her eyes in surprise when the beast started kissing her face. Cool hatred in her eyes. She loathed him, and more important, she despised herself for not being able to do something to protect herself from him.

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Moyra tries to break free from his embrace, but Ivar is resolute. She looks at him shyly, pointing to her thighs to show his seed is leaking out of her. Moyra wants to clean herself as if doing so, she will be able to erase what he did to her.

 

Ivar smiles at her, kissing her temple, “It's only my seed.”

 

She might be already carrying my child. Ivar thinks, grinning at her.

 

Ivar sleeps again, holding Moyra in his arms until a knock on the door brings him back to reality. It's Erik calling him to train.

 

“You had never slept for so long. The men are training,” Erik shouts from the other side of the door.

 

Ivar replies, studying Moyra's face. She is shuddering in his arms, “It's the first time my bed is so warm and smelling so good.”

  

She doesn't know what they are saying, but something about the way his eyes are feasting on her gives away the meaning of the guttural language.

 

Ivar kisses her forehead, rising to his feet, naked as the day he was born. But his form has nothing more to do with childhood. To behold his muscular and hairy body tower over her by the side of the bed is so intimidating. Her eyes travel from his flat and carved stomach to his manhood. Even soft, it is impressive. His cock may be at rest at the moment but Moyra knows how quickly that can change, his member turning into the stiff, imposing thing that is the very reason her slit is aching at the moment.

 

Moyra wonders how his cock can fit inside of her without splitting her in two, then she understands why she is sore after being taken by him. She fears it will be a constant sensation, to remind her of the things he does to her.

 

Will he take me all nights and mornings? Will he force me to share his bed every night? Moyra thinks she will never be able to sleep again.

 

Ivar notices she is peering at him. He is used to women gazing at his body while he is training bare-chested, he had taken a few of them to warm his bed when he was bored, but nothing more.

 

He takes some rags and a small basin of water to clean himself. He washes his face, neck, and armpits. Looking back at Moyra, he massages his cock. Ivar finds amusing the way her jaw drops and blood rushes to her cheeks. She pouts when their eyes met, bringing the furs that are covering her body to her chin in an attempt to avoid his gaze.

 

He finishes dressing, “Get up! Now you can clean yourself. We must eat.” His morning voice is raspy, but Moyra notices he is trying at gentleness.

 

Moyra tilts her head, making Ivar smile, “You don't know my language yet. I'll ask Màiri to teach you. I can't wait to hear your voice. I think it will be as sweet as your skin,” Moyra is suspicious of the tenderness in his voice for she knows that his actions don't follow the same pattern. She can still feel the soreness.

 

Ivar gets tired of waiting for Moyra to leave the bed. He walks to her, grabbing the furs with which she is covering herself. Moyra tries to stop him, but it is in vain. He is stronger. Ivar sighs, running his fingers through his hair when Moyra's face crumples. She embraces her knees to hide her face from him, and Ivar is lost when her shoulders shake because of the sobs leaving her throat. Ivar wants to hold her in his arms and comfort her, but he feels like it will be worse. He goes to the door, calling for Màiri to help Moyra to get ready to eat.

 

Màiri rushes inside, “Did you call me?”

 

“Of course I called you. Help her to clean and dress. I want to have breakfast with her,” Ivar rolls his eyes and Màiri nods, glancing at Moyra.

 

“One more thing. You will teach her my language,” Ivar says, walking to the door and leaving the women alone.

 

Màiri complies with Ivar's instructions. Noticing the marks on her neck, she asks, “Did he hurt you?”

 

Moyra doesn't know how to answer because she has no experience before he came to her life. “I don't know.”

 

Màiri smiles at her naive statement, “Is he harsh with you, beating you or something?”

 

Moyra feels a knot in her throat, “No! I don't want to remember what he did to me," Her body carries the memories of his touch and his seed for as much as she tried to clean, Moyra fears that her body betrayed her and his scent will never leave her skin.

 

Màiri doesn't try to push Moyra anymore, “He asked me to teach you his language.”

 

Moyra stares at Màiri, feeling her mouth dry, “I don't want to learn his language. I have nothing to speak to him. He can force himself inside me, but I refuse to talk to him.”

 

Màiri tries again, “Do you know the power you are holding? He is an important man. He will do everything you want if you know how to convince him. Use your words.”

 

“NO!” Moyra howls at Màiri, thinking no one can understand how she feels.

 

 


 

 

Ivar is sitting at the table, waiting for her. He notices she is walking stiffly and immediately understand he must restrain himself better when he claims her. Ivar silently promises he will be softer to her, and show Moyra they can share pleasure. He gestures to her to sit by his side, but Moyra raises her eyebrows in disdain, sitting on a chair as far from him as possible. Ivar laughs when she pouts, staring at the plate Màiri offers her. His amusement doesn't last as Ivar tries to understand Moyra's demeanor.

 

Doesn't she like this kind of food? Maybe she is used to eating something different. What will I do if she refuses to feed? I can't allow her to starve!

 

Moyra starts eating until a presence surprises her. Every hair on her body is standing on end, every nerve tingling with a sort of sick anticipation. Ivar is standing at her side and watching her eating. She lifts her head and snorts causing Ivar to smirk. Moyra rolls her eyes and stops eating immediately.

 

“It seems I'm not the only one who is hungry,” Ivar teases her, walking away.

 

He spends all morning training, coming back only for lunch. When he is almost inside the hall, Ivar hears laughter and voices. Moyra and Màiri are talking and weaving. Her face is even more beautiful with a smile playing on her lips. When she notices who is entering the hall, Moyra’s smile fades.

 

Ivar wonders when he will see that smile or hear her melodious voice again.

 

 


 

 

Màiri had just walked out of the room, after offering Moyra an infusion of herbs she knew would bring some relief to the cramps raking over her back and stomach.

 

Moyra swallowed the drink in one gulp and lied on her side, waiting for exhaustion to dominate her, taking away the pain. She closed her heavy eyelids, but the veil of sleep did not come immediately as Moyra had expected it to.

 

I must sleep now, it’s late. Moyra felt her heart racing with the prospect of Ivar walking in, lusting after her. If she was not asleep by the time he returned, he would see it as an invitation and Moyra dreaded he wouldn't mind she was bleeding, and claim her regardless her discomfort.

 

Moyra heard the door creaking open and heavy footsteps. She gulped, feeling her throat tightening. I can't cry now! He will know I'm awake. It was fruitless for tears started leaking from the corner of her eyes when Moyra felt the bed creaking under his weight as he slid under the furs, placing his strong arm over her waist.

 

Moyra held her breath, willing herself to stay as immobile as possible, feigning sleep. It was in vain for when Ivar pulled her closer, encaging her against his solid chest, a yelp escaped her lips.

 

Now she would have to fight him. Moyra glanced at Ivar from over her shoulder and felt her chest constricting when he trailed his hand down her body.

 

She writhed, but he tightened his hold on her waist, smiling at her. He moved closer to whisper something unintelligible against her cheek and brushing his nose against her tear-stained skin. Ivar sighed, feeling the dampness and pulled away a few inches to look at her once more.

 

"I won't hurt you, elskan mín." He muttered and Moyra turned her head to avoid his eyes.

 

For a few long and excruciating minutes, Moyra numbly stared at the emptiness before her. Whilst her body was taut, her head was spinning with disturbing thoughts.

 

No, he is a brute, a monster, a beast… He doesn’t, can't… love me… It was the truth Moyra knew, but still, it didn’t mean Ivar didn’t want to possess her, much like a stallion longed to take a mare. The imagery didn't make her situation any more bearable.

 

But I don’t want him to love me and I certainly don’t love him! Moyra knew for a fact that she didn’t and yet, it still confused her why he bothered to draw small circles over her aching lower belly with his warm, big hand. Why does my discomfort matter to him? Does he think I'll be more responsive to him once my bleeding stops?

 

His reasons were still obscure to Moyra, but the fact was that the sharp ache that was attacking her lower belly and back started to fade while Ivar kept nuzzling his nose against her ear, whispering tender words.

 

Her fatigue became too overwhelming for Moyra to ruminate on anything. Her eyelids were increasingly heavy and staying alert was impossible. Ivar breathed in the scent of her hair and sleep got the better of him in no time as well.

 

 


 

 

They establish a routine. Ivar eats his morning meal while Moyra just sits there, her thoughts wandering to the secret she is sharing with Màiri. He must not know. As soon as he leaves, Moyra shares her meal with Màiri.

 

Following the dagmál, her day is spent in the dairy skimming cream, churning butter, and making cheese and skyr. Màiri tries to teach her how to manage the stores of grains, but Moyra wants to believe she won't be there the next Winter to do this. In her mind, escape is still a dream within her reach.

 

Her routine in captivity doesn't differ that much from the life on her family's farm. Except that Ivar gives instructions that she must be spared of the hard work. When Màiri tells her about his command, Moyra grins, crossing her arms under her chest.

 

"What does he think? That I'm a frail creature that must wait for him in bed with my legs wide open?" Moyra wants to laugh at the sight of Màiri's jaw dropping.

 

There is always an endless amount of work and she is resolute not to follow his orders and lie back as others serve her as if she were some lazy noble. She helps to sweep the floors, wash and change the bed linens, preserve the fruits and vegetables, and to brew ale and mead. Any spare time is spent spinning thread, weaving, sewing, patching, and embroidering clothes. Moyra always carries her spindle with her, so she can never be idle enough to think about her fate.

 

Moyra spends her days trying to stay as busy as possible. But when the sun begins to set the familiar knot in her lower belly comes as she helps Màiri to prepare the evening meal. All evenings, when Ivar comes back he brings something to her. Apples, flowers, fur pelts, jewelry, dresses, shoes.

 

Moyra is surprised to discover that winter closer to the coast is not the same as it was in her village. While it is still freezing, the weather seems far pleasant. There is less snow, only small flurries swirling around. The evergreen forests to the north of the city stay bright green, the soil dissolves into mud. There is wood to be chopped, animals to be slaughtered and their meat salted, and food stores to be filled and every hand is necessary.

 

But there is something Moyra hates about Winter - it means Ivar will spend more time inside the house, and more time with him awake feels like a punishment. When she drifts into unconsciousness Moyra can't feel guilty about enjoying the warmth coming from his solid chest pressed against her back and the steadiness of his arms wrapped around her as the nights are getting colder. Awake she feels compelled to keep her defenses around him, at least for the sake of some of her remnant dignity and pride.

 

One day he calls her to play tafl. Màiri translates his instructions, and to his surprise, Moyra beats him in the end, smirking in mockery. One of her rare victories. Her cocky expression awakes Ivar's desire for her. He rises to his feet, taking her hand and walking to their quarters.

 

Once they are alone, Ivar pulls up her dress quickly, doing the same with his clothes. Moyra just walks to bed, sitting against the headboard and waiting for him. She doesn't fight anymore. He will take what he wants from her anyway, at least it doesn't hurt anymore.

 

He walks to join her on the bed, his erection standing proudly. He takes her feet, bringing her to the edge of the bed, raising her legs to his face. Ivar starts kissing and biting the skin of her heel, exhaling forcefully against her skin. Nuzzling with his lips and nose, moving excruciatingly slowly from the ankles up while holding her calves in his hands.

 

He uses his mouth relentlessly on her legs until he reaches her thighs. Ivar gently bites her tender skin, kissing the marks afterward. He looks up at her from between her thighs, smirking before he starts licking and breathing heavily on the sensitive skin, giving her goosebumps. Moyra is holding onto the furs, biting her lower lip not to make a sound. She glances down at him, noticing he seems proud of the effect his actions have on her.

 

With his index finger, he probs gently at her entrance, parting her lips to have better access. Moyra is mortified to be so exposed. When Ivar smiles at her, burying his face on her most sensitive part, she gasps shocked. Trying to push him away doesn't work. Ivar uses his strong arms to hold her thighs wide open around his head, while his big hands are holding her wrists.

 

Ivar keeps licking, sucking and slapping his tongue on her clit. It is like he is thirsty and she is fresh water. The chamber is filled with the wet, sloppy sound of her pussy being exploited for all the suction Ivar can possibly give her.

 

Her thighs start throbbing with an odd sensation, her toes curling and shivers going from her neck to her cunt, where she feels a strange warmth. Her head is still spinning, her vision blackened while her eyes try to focus on the ceiling when she feels open-mouthed kisses and bites from her thighs to her lower stomach.

 

Ivar stops on her hard nipples, staring at her with a smile. He sucks on her sensitive and hard nipples, and Moyra is overwhelmed, unable to find the strength to fight him as her ecstasy weakened her muscles. Moyra looks at him, pleading Ivar to stop. He groans, licking his lips still shining with her fluids. Moyra averts her gaze, extremely embarrassed and he chuckles at her reaction.

 

He releases his grip on her wrists, but she doesn't try to push him, fearing he will be violent. His calloused hand travels down her body penetrating her entrance with two thick fingers at once. They stretch her, but not in an unpleasant manner. His fingers slid easily and Ivar start curling them inside of Moyra, making her close her thighs around him by instinct. Her eyes are shut as Moyra cries out meaningless words. Ivar groans as her walls caress his fingers.

 

He removes his fingers from her, licking her arousal voraciously. Moyra doesn't have to look at him anymore to guess he is doing this. He kneels between her legs, positioning himself to take her as soon as she opens her eyes. She gasps and Ivar covers her lips with his, his tongue taking advantage and claiming her mouth.

 

Ivar lifts her legs, placing them on his shoulder, her feet in the air, his big hands holding her hips tight. The position deepening the penetration.

 

His raspy voice makes her nervous, “You're draining me!”

 

His thrusts are hard, fast and deep, his balls slapping against her ass obscenely. She wants it to be over as soon as possible. He will be exhausted and sleep. But Ivar is inspired this evening.

 

Slowing his pace, he removes her legs from his shoulder, spreading them wide open, and grabbing her waist. He proceeds, pounding into her, making her boobs bounce. Moyra knows that if he keeps this rhythm, it will be over soon. But to her surprise, Ivar wants to try something different.

 

He rolls onto his back, tugging Moyra on top of him without retreating his shaft from her. Out of fear to fall, she places her hands on his chest, digging her nails into the sweaty skin.

 

He smiles mischievously at her. One hand covering her breast, the other resting on her hip. Her hair is a mess, beads of sweat running from her forehead to her chin, her breasts, and soft belly.

 

Ivar remains motionless, his eyes roving her body, his whole being amazed by her beauty: her plump lips parted as Moyra is panting above him. He fondles and squeezes her breast, earning a whimper from Moyra. Ivar raises a brow, snarling at her and Moyra looks down, swallowing at the sight of his abs contracting with a chortle.

 

"If that's the only way to hear something from you, so be it," Ivar moves his other hand to stroke over her thigh while twisting her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Moyra yelps and Ivar chuckles underneath her, his hand moving from her thigh to her hip. His nails dig into her tender flesh and Ivar moves her pelvis back and forth, groaning at the sensation of her cunt pulsing around him.

 

 


 

 

She doesn't want to stay like this. At least when she is trapped beneath him, Moyra doesn't feel participating or willing. But his nails are digging into her hips, making her move according to his will. The way his toned stomach is brushing against her is new and Moyra finds herself mewling. Ivar looks at her with attention, his mouth opening in amazement to have the chance to gaze at her nakedness.

 

His hand leaves her hips, going to Moyra’s ass, squeezing her flesh. His tongue is running through his lower lip as Ivar smiles devilishly. Moyra has no idea about what he is planning until the sound of his palm connecting to her ass fills the room.

 

Both the sound of his hand slapping her butt repeatedly, and the following aching sensation are enough to make her jump from the unexpected action. She feels like the horses her father used to tame.

 

Her eyebrows are furrowed in fury. He laughs, “If you don't want another slap, you better move,” Ivar knows she doesn't understand what he is saying, so he uses his hands on her hips again, showing the pace he wants her to follow. Back and forth and taking every inch of his cock deep inside of her.

 

Moyra feels so humiliated, but she thinks it's better to comply with his desire than to have her ass slapped as a mare. As soon as this is over, he will fall asleep, leaving her alone.

 

She slaps his hands away from her, her eyes locked with his in hatred. Her fury making her hips move fast and hard. Ivar grimaces, holding the furs until his knuckles are white, as she did many times.

 

She smiles in mockery, his pleasure in her hands now. When she feels his shaft throbbing inside of her, Moyra stops her movements and waits for his heartbeat to calm down. Ivar grunts in frustration. He will find his pleasure when she wants. Moyra watches him growling as she grinds her pelvis against his.

 

At last, she gets tired, her hips moving slowly and in circles at first, then she starts slamming her hips against him with all force, her nails digging into the sweaty, solid muscles of his chest and locking Ivar in place with her thighs. When he cries out, Moyra starts trembling. Despite the heat of their bodies, she feels a shudder traveling through her body when he releases a shrill wail, filling her with his seed.

 

Moyra is prepared to roll to her side when Ivar holds her against his chest. One of his hands going to her hair, the other making small circles on her back. Moyra is so tired, that she could sleep this way if it was a different man holding her.

 

A kiss on her forehead is enough to remind Moyra of who is embracing her. She looks up at him and is surprised by what she sees in his eyes. It's different from the way he is used to glare at her. Moyra blinks, trying to erase the thoughts plaguing her mind. Ivar tries to stop her from getting out of bed and she looks at him almost pleading with tear-filled eyes to let her go. He releases a shaky breath, freeing her.

 

While she is cleaning herself, Moyra feels he is watching her and starts thinking she can't live this way anymore. A plan starts to take form in her mind. She dresses in a clean shift and is grateful to slide into the warmth of the furs. Her eyes are almost closing when she feels an arm around her waist and his hot breath against the back of her neck. Moyra is too tired to protest.

 

 


 

 

I'm helping Màiri to serve the table when Ivar arrives. He looks jubilant, a smile on his lips as he hides something behind his back. I frown at him as he shifts closer. Then I hear a noise that startles me.

 

“Every house must have a kitten and I found one for us,” He says, looking at me. I tilt my head and Màiri translates, smirking as she speaks. Ivar pampering me with gifts has been a norm every evening. I'm sure he believes I'll be more receptive this way.

 

He brings the cat before me and I press my lips together not to smile. It's such a beautiful animal, with a long, sturdy body, long legs, and a bushy tail. Sweet almond shaped eyes as green as a forest. I shyly lift my hand to caress its head and the cat meows. Ivar chuckles, muttering something I don’t understand. I feel my face warming and I can't stare at him. I take the cat from his arms, walking away.

 

 


 

 

After everything that happened between them, Ivar expected her to be more appreciative of his gestures. He thought she would be talking to him by the end of Autumn, but the truth was that the weather was getting colder each day as well as her demeanor whenever he was around. It was all good though, for in truth Ivar enjoyed provoking her shyness. With her flushed cheeks and gaze sheepishly lowered, she looked the very image of innocence, a sight which surprisingly never failed to inspire the most lecherous thoughts.

 

He found her especially adorable when she gritted her teeth, defiantly pressing her lips together. Would she do the same if she knew how much he ached to kiss her when she pouted?


He wanted to bite and lick her tense jaw until she relaxed and melted. But Ivar decided not to ruin his advance. At least she accepted the cat.

 

 


 

 

“Ivar wants us to go to the market and buy new fabrics to sew dresses for you,” Màiri announces when I’m distracted trying to mend the pieces of my dress. I feel a knot in my stomach with the realization that even if I can repair my old dress, nothing will be the same as before. I'm not the same maiden that grew up on a farm. For now, I must make them believe I accepted this situation. For now, I have to look compliant.

 

Moyra was fascinated by the people speaking in languages she didn't know existed, as well as the richly embroidered clothes from the merchants that were selling fruits she had never seen before. One of them stared at her from head to toe and judging she was a wealthy woman, he offered her an apricot to taste.

 

Moyra shook her head, smiling shyly, “I don't have the means to pay you,” The man frowned, insisting that she took the fruit in the hope she would buy after realizing the quality of his goods.

 

Màiri handed the man a small silver ingot and bought a basket of apricots and many other dried fruits such as figs and grapes. Moyra leaned down, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply the colorful content coming from one of the many condiment and herbs bowls the man had spread over his stall. He laughed when she turned her face and sneezed.

 

“I think the lady would appreciate some pepper to cook meat instead of sniffing it,” He added, chuckling.

 

Moyra was embarrassed and wanted to disappear. While Màiri was distracted negotiating the price to buy some of his herbs and condiments, Moyra wandered to the next salesman.

 

“I will take home rosemary and mint too…” Moyra heard Màiri’s proposal and the man’s grunts.

 

“Of course not. For the same amount of silver, you could gift King Ivar with some mint, huh? He allows you to trade here after all,” Moyra laughed, seeing how tenacious Màiri could be.

 

Large swaths of bright and colorful fabrics were spread above the next stall and Moyra found herself running her finger over the soft silk.

 

“Of course, a beautiful maiden would appreciate a new dress,” A woman shifted closer and Moyra supposed she was the salesman's wife. She smiled at Moyra, showing her everything available to purchase. Moyra tried to explain she had no way to pay for anything the woman was offering, but she was talking too fast and Moyra couldn't understand her.

 

She sighed relieved when Màiri approached, “Thank God you're here! Please, tell her I'm not interested in buying anything,” Moyra whispered, fearing the woman could understand her and be furious about the time wasted with someone who wouldn't contribute to her profit.

 

“No! I won't do that. Ivar ordered me to buy anything you might like,” Màiri grinned.

 

“I’m sure he did,” Moyra snorted, rolling her eyes, “That doesn't mean I'll choose anything,” Moyra added, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“Why do you have to be so difficult? Since you are here, you might as well enjoy some luxuries, huh?” Màiri huffed.

 

“If I accept his gifts, it means I accept everything else… everything he does…” Moyra looked at her feet, swallowing the lump in her throat.

 

“It doesn't. He will be angry if you don't dress accordingly. He might even punish us,” Màiri confessed and Moyra looked at her, feeling guilty that her defiance could lead to consequences for the only friend she had.

 

They picked a selection of the most sumptuous fabrics available and started wandering through the market while the slaves carried everything to Ivar's hall.

 

Moyra couldn't help feeling shocked at the sight of some of the people from her village. People she used to see at the Church were wearing tight iron collars around their necks. She noticed the women had their hair cut short too.

 

Moyra gasped seeing a young woman stumbling as she headed to the river, carrying a heavy bucket with clothes. She grimaced, noticing Moyra staring at her.

 

She didn't need to say anything for Moyra to imagine that woman was judging her. Her eyes traveled over her richly embroidered dress, cloak, and the golden brooches, and when their eyes locked, Moyra couldn't mistake the hatred she saw there.

 

Moyra wanted to hide somewhere, so she started walking back to the hall. Her sight was blurred by the tears and the freezing wind was making her shiver. She wanted to tell that woman it was not her choice to be there or even wear those fine garments. Moyra wanted to tell her she'd rather be back home with her parents and lead the arduous, but the respectful life she always knew. Her glower was an accusation that Moyra might have gotten too used to her captivity. Moyra needed to tell that woman she was no less slave because her chains were golden.

 

Moyra wanted to stop the shame that came with her body being defiled against her will. But she felt her stomach tightening with the image of the woman's sunken cheeks and protruding collarbone. That stranger’s face denouncing the constant hunger she had been enduring for only God knows how long. For a moment, Moyra thought she should be relieved Ivar didn't beat or mistreated her.

 

How can I feel another way?

 

Moyra ran as fast as she could but she barely rounded the corner when she slammed into Haakon.

 

“Look at what the Gods sent me,” Moyra tried to pass by him, but Haakon blocked her way, grinning devilishly.

 

Moyra wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell of stale ale and sweat coming from him.

 

Tears instantly filled her eyes as Moyra recalled how Haakon almost violated her. As when he had her pinned on the ground, her lungs seemed to be in shock, it was as if they didn’t want to respond anymore. Her throat was clenching painfully, and the air only barely made it in. No one is around! The perception alarmed her. Panic-stricken, Moyra tried to inhale the little air she could faster until she was panting but that was not enough and she began to suffocate

 

She held up her hand, expecting Haakon to move to the side, allowing her to pass by him, but Haakon kept towering over Moyra, mouth twisting into a smirk. Then he stumbled towards her. She took a step back to put some distance between them, but her back hit a wall. He placed both hands on either side of her, effectively trapping her.

 

He lowered his lips and Moyra turned her head to avoid his stinky breath. With his mouth close to her ear Haakon whispered, “I will have what I want from you one day. Ivar will get tired eventually... as for how happened with the others and then you will be mine. I wonder if you will be squealing as much as the one I have at home,” Moyra prayed that God would have mercy on her at least this time and save her from the cruelty of this man. It seemed her silent prayer worked for the man suddenly stepped back, stumbling as if he were walking on the deck of a storm-tossed boat. He fled to his house to take out the wrath he couldn't drown with ale on his slave and their child.

 

Moyra sank to the ground, her heart pounding frantically against her ribs. The tears that had been locked deep fell unhindered over her cheeks. The balled fist constraining her chest opened and she allowed herself to weep unrestrained, throwing her head back against the wall. When no more tears came, and her weeping became resentful, she laid her head on her knees until the misery was replaced by rage.

 

Ástin mín? What are you doing here?” Ivar’s hoarse voice echoed as abruptly as thunder resounding into the empty alley.

 

Her heart skipped a beat and her whole body stiffened. Moyra gasped, lifting her head at once to look in the man’s direction. Oh, God! He caught me! she thought in disbelief.

 

From where she was, Ivar was only a tall and dark shape blocking the last rays of sunshine, yet as he strode her way, she quickly began to make out his wrathful features. His burning stare mercilessly boring into hers and making her feel like a vulnerable, doomed prey. The sight frightened her so much that her breath caught in her throat for a brief instant.

 

She remained motionless, except for the little tremors that were dominating her body as Ivar progressed in her direction, “Were you trying to run from me?” He snarled, his eyes burning with wrath.

 

Moyra didn’t answer. Instead, she placed her palms over her face and curled into herself even more. Ivar could hear her sniffing and breathing hard and even though he was still furious, he immediately started regretting the harshness of his tone. He thought she might have been stupid to get lost, but she had learned her lesson and yelling at her would only increase the distance between them.

 

Inhaling deeply to calm himself, Ivar knelt in front of her “Stop that, I'm here now,” he told her afterward, speaking a bit more softly. When she didn’t reply, he sighed and seized her by the elbow to raise her to her feet. “You heard me, hmm?” he asked once she stood in front of him. With a curled forefinger under her chin, he forced her to look at him. Noticing tears pearling at the corner of her eyes, Ivar lifted his other hand to wipe them away.

 

"Let's go home!" Moyra blinked and Ivar smiled at her.

 

"Look at your dress! There's mud everywhere. You need a bath."

 

 


 

 

A steaming bath was already waiting for her. Oh God, a bath, Moyra thought as she barred the door. A moment later, she was immersing her nude body into the hot water with a sigh of delight. She had forgotten how comforting it could be to feel so warm without the heat meaning Ivar's arms were around her. After having scrubbed her skin, she decided to relax in the bathtub just a little longer but with her belly full and the mead she had drunk, she soon dozed off without realizing it. At some point though, a knock on the door woke her to reality.

 

Elskan mín?” Ivar's voice was asking.

 

At first, she was confused and even wondered where she was. “Huh?” she grunted drowsily as the memory came back to her.

 

“Open!” Ivar hissed, knocking on the door once more.

 

Shaking herself, Moyra stood out of the bathtub and wrapped the towel that waited on a chair nearby around her body, “Deliver me, God,” she whispered, walking to the threshold.

 

She opened, and Ivar immediately entered, locking the door behind him just as soon. Then, his eyes darted over her face, while drinking from his cup.

 

“You smell so good. I could devour you, Elskan,” As he spoke, Ivar settled his cup on the small table that flanked the bed and stretched his tall frame, Moyra thought his hands could easily reach the ceiling, “So beautiful,” he added, before comfortably installing himself on his back over the bed with his arms folded behind his head.

 

Moyra bit at her lip. Until then, she had hoped the fact that he was busy with Màiri organizing the provisions for the Winter meant she would be sleeping by the time he finished.

 

Ivar guessed her thought, “The next Winter it will be you calculating how much do we have to save to feed us through the Season. You lived on a farm, huh? You must know those things better.”

 

It came as no surprise in truth and so Moyra only nodded stiffly.

 

“Come over here,” he told her, lifting an arm before him and gesturing for her to approach, “I’m sure you’re getting cold, standing there all wet in that little towel,” Ivar grinned.

 

Moyra sighed. She would never get rid of this. It’s all right. I don’t mind it anymore, she reminded herself. Moyra wrapped her arms around herself, feeling shivers traveling through her skin as she walked to the bed. As soon as she got near enough, Ivar pulled her into his lap, throwing the towel away and began caressing her body all over.

 

Ivar unlaced his breeches and freed his hardened member, taking her hand to touch him. Moyra gasped in both shock and outrage. She was amazed at how smooth and firm it was. It felt almost like velvet, but hard and heated at the same time. Ivar moved her hand slowly down it, and she kept going after he took his hand away.

 

She was astonished at how the skin moved with her hand and how his cock could fit inside of her. His dick twitched, and Ivar groaned in satisfaction, startling Moyra. She tried to recoil her hand, but Ivar grabbed her wrist. She glanced at him and Ivar brushed his nose against hers, moving her fist along his length exactly as he had shown her, his touch on her growing more insistent and his fingers finding their way to her cleft. Soon though, he was pushing her from him and rising to hastily undress.

 

“Put it in,” he growled at her once he was lying on his back again, “I want you to mount me.”

 

Holding his erection upward in a large fist, he directed her over him with his other hand around her waist. His shaft slid into her in a few quick thrusts and once Moyra was accustomed enough to the intrusion, she began timidly moving her hips against his.

 

As always in that position, Ivar waited for Moyra to do most of the work. Instead, he trailed his hands over her curves and cupped her breast in his palms. Moyra kept her head thrown back and her eyes shut. She didn’t like being the one on top, it made her feel so uncomfortable and exposed, and thereby when Ivar finally had enough of her clumsiness and flipped her on her back, she was secretly relieved.

 

Ivar was determined not to be too rough with Moyra as he entered her. He did it as gently as he could, speaking tender, soothing words as he patiently guided his shaft into her. Her dainty features tautened with each of his slow thrusts, but she kept her thighs wide open for him and it didn't look like she was in pain. Ivar groaned when he was fully engulfed in her heat and immediately glanced down at where they were attached. By now, he should logically have gotten bored by the view and still, to behold his thick cock sheathed into such delicate folds would apparently always increase his desire.

 

Slowly, he invaded her, his gaze still lowered in fascination. However, her cunt was not the only part of Moyra that made him thirstier each day – far from it. He loved her body in its completeness, from the tip of her delicate toes to the fullness of her hips and breasts and the end of her long black hair. And so, as he started rocking his hips more vigorously against hers, Ivar allowed his stare trail all over her curves, reveling in every inch of flesh with his eyes.

 

It didn't take long before Ivar noticed he was not as careful with Moyra as he intended anymore but it was already too late to slow down. To bury his cock in her tight, little pussy while feeling her body wriggle underneath him was far too thrilling and Ivar couldn't be coherent. Moreover, judging by the way she kept moaning, he could give her all he had. He retreated from her so that his cock was sliding between the glistening folds of flesh, over her clit, and down again.

 

Moyra was panting, pearls of sweat all over her flushed skin. She glared at him and without delay, he plunged his swollen manhood into her again, “Feel how hard my cock is for you!” he grunted through clenched teeth, sounding like a threat. He let go of her hips, grabbing her wrists instead.

 

She felt indeed. There was obviously no way she ignored it, nevertheless, he liked to remind her of how aroused he was as he claimed her.

 

Holding her arms against the mattress, Ivar was mounting her as vigorously as a beast, knocking the air out of her lungs with every thrust and sheathing himself to the hilt. With her body constrained under his, Moyra was completely helpless and had absolutely no choice but to submit to his lust and at the consciousness, she relaxed faintly and moaned.

 

She realized throughout the time that if Ivar was to take her, she preferred that he pinned her to the bed and possessed her in the most dominating and savage manner possible. At least that way, she was not truly participating and there was no mistaking she was a victim, unlike when he asked her to do things to him. When she was straddling him or pleasing him with her hands as she had done just before, it gave her a distorted impression that she had control over the situation and Moyra hated the illusion since being in control implied she was consenting and pleasing him on her own volition.

 

At least when he seized her wrists firmly enough to leave bruises and brutally held her down, the fact that he was forcing himself on her was as clear as the day. She didn’t have to feel guilty or ashamed about what was being done to her then and only with that knowledge could she truly abandon herself.

 

But why would I want to abandon myself with him? The question was there, unanswered and disturbing and yet, there was no denying that was what she did. And so, as Ivar restlessly pounded himself into her, Moyra sighed and whimpered at the peculiar but pleasurable sensation which was ascending from between her legs. Maybe it’s gratitude he is not as violent as that other man.

 

A hidden part of her knew she would regret her lack of restraint, but that would be later. The room was filled by the sound of their sweaty skin slapping and Ivar hovering over her and grunting like an animal. It was easy to forget herself in the mist of all that noise and action – it even seemed logical – however after a few minutes of that, Ivar felt his balls tightening and ceased his thrusts.

 

“Get on all fours,” he snarled at her, withdrawing his manhood from her folds.


She blinked and let him turn her around. With his hands around her waist, he immediately yanked her nearer until she was on her hand and knees just before him. He wants to take me like an animal, Moyra gasped, a wave of embarrassment flowing over her.


But Ivar didn’t enter her immediately. He pulled away slightly to look at her buttocks and rub it firmly with his hands. Moyra closed her eyes, bracing herself for the unavoidable invasion of his cock and couldn't see when Ivar lifted his hand suddenly. His palm came down at a swift arc, connecting at her right asscheek, echoing as a thunder through the room and leaving a warm tingling feeling in her flesh.

 

The action made her eyes grow wide, her breath caught in her throat. To be positioned that way was already mortifying but to be treated as his mare brought tears to her eyes.

 

Ivar admired his handprint across her bare ass, rubbing the marks as if in apology for making her nerves sizzle. Her ass felt hot beneath his big palm. He grunted, delivering the next strike on her other asscheek. Moyra sniffed, shaking him from his trance.

 

He frowned, tilting his head as a way to see her face. She will come to love this one day. Ivar mused, baring his teeth as he took hold of his cock and aimed.

 

Moyra sighed when Ivar abruptly stopped and clasped a hand around her waist, the other placing the engorged tip of his cock at her entrance. His thick member plunged into her without any more delay, eliciting a gasp from her.


Steadily, he pulled almost his entire length out of her, elated at the sight of his thick shaft glistening with her arousal. His eyes rolled back as Ivar felt the pressure of her inner muscles clenching around his tip. He shoved back in slowly, each of his small thrusts inducing a gasp from her until he was completely sheathed in her pulsating heat. The sensation was so sharp in that position, but Moyra didn't know why.


The friction of his manhood as he relentlessly penetrated her and the odd warmth which was pooling in her lower belly were blurring her judgment.


“So tight… you take me so well," Ivar roared roughly, his balls rhythmically hitting her with each of his comings and goings.



His claiming of her was growing more frenetic, to the point that Moyra was starting to feel that same pain in her womb. She knew it meant he would soon be finished with her.


Pressing her eyes tightly together, Moyra tensed against his assault but there was no way to escape, she endured as much as she could all the while letting out a series of small yelps. With every impact, her whole body trembled - her head bobbing and breasts bouncing. She propped her upper arms down on the furs and leaned her forehead over them in hope to steady herself.

 

Tears were welling in her eyes by the time Ivar finally faltered. With his hands locked solidly around her waist, he shoved himself to the hilt and uttered a long, guttural growl. Moyra bit her lips, feeling her toes curling. He stayed motionless for an instant, before resuming pumping his pulsing manhood into her.



After a few additional slower thrusts, Ivar exhaled loudly and stopped at last. He trailed his large hand over her sweaty spine until he reached her neck, giving it a squeeze. Moyra rolled her eyes, moaning and Ivar grinned, slapping her ass with his other hand.



“I'm exhausted!” he muttered drowsily, withdrawing his cock from her. “I need some rest now,” He fell heavily on his back by her side. Their panting echoing through the room. But once the room became quiet and peaceful again, all Moyra was left with was the heavy silence and the now all too familiar bitter savor of shame.

 

 

Chapter Text

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At the midwinter solstice, they celebrate Yule with feasting, bonfires, and sacrifices for twelve days. It's an interruption of the daily arduous work everyone goes through the rest of the year.

 

Moyra feels her chest tightening when she thinks she would go to the Mass with her parents during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. Now she is surrounded by strangers as Ivar demands that she sits by his side during the feasts.

 

Advent was supposed to be a time of exile and repentance. Moyra would be fasting and attending Mass with her parents to prepare for the coming of Jesus, so she is appalled to see how cheerful they are. They would feast and celebrate only on Epiphany, marking the visit of the three Wise Men and their bestowal of gifts on the Christ child.

 

Of course, they brought their pagan customs and festivals from their land.

 

Whenever Haakon arrives to attend the feasts, her heart skips a beat. Moyra wishes she could hide the whole night, but sitting at Ivar’s side puts her on a prominent position. Haakon’s hawk gaze keeps wandering back to her from time to time. As stealthy a predator, so unnerving that makes Moyra reach out for Ivar's hand. Feeling her sweaty, trembling hands against his skin is so surprising that Ivar doesn’t notice the reason for her distress, but he takes advantage of the situation whenever it appears, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles.

 

Moyra looks around and gasps as she notices the woman she saw on the market weeks before. This time, a little boy follows her. He must not be older than four, but so tiny that Moyra can't bring bread or the tantalizing roast lamb to her mouth. He must be starving as his eyes are focused on the richly served tables. The slave, Moyra presumes is his mother, leans down, whispering something in his ear. The child nods, pressing his lips together and staring at his feet. Ivar notices she is picking at her food and frowns.

 

Moyra is curious about them and when Màiri passes by she grabs her wrist and asks, “Who are they?” Moyra gestures with her chin to where the boy is helping his mother to serve the guests

 

“That's Rhona and her child, Birger,” Moyra notices the way Màiri’s eyes twitch and wonder why it seems Màiri pities them.

 

“They are Haakon's slaves,” Màiri glares at where Haakon is sitting. He holds out his cup for Birger to fill. His glare is so intense that the terrified boy’s hands are shaking and some of the mead splashes onto Haakon's sleeve. Haakon lifts his hand to strike the child, but Rhona pulls her son away from him in the blink of an eye.

 

Rhona curls around the boy, placing her hand over his mouth to muffle his sobs. Haakon tries to rise to his feet, but the mead intoxicated his reflexes and he stumbles. The hall that was deadly silent is filled with a roar of laughter and Moyra feels the familiar knot of fear in her stomach, watching how Haakon glares at his two victims. The anger radiating from him is sickening and she knows they will pay for the humiliation he brought to himself later.

 

Moyra glances at Ivar, musing if he had ever taken a slave before her and if he would be capable to mistreat a son of his own flesh and blood that way.

 

The scene doesn’t pass unnoticed by him. Moyra sees the way Ivar is gritting his teeth, nostrils flared as he glares at Haakon. The vision should be terrifying, but knowing his fury is directed to that coward man makes her sigh in relief. Ivar’s stare moves to her and his features soften suddenly.

 

Ivar motions for the boy to approach. Birger takes warily steps toward the main table, gazing at his feet. Moyra feels her mouth instantly dry. What are his intentions?

 

“Here,” Ivar shows the boy a plate with meat, bread, and some dried fruits. Birger stares from the plate to Ivar. Confusion is plainly written on his face. That's a child who is not used to any display of affection or even gentleness.

 

“Eat!” Ivar encourages, rising to his feet and ready to approach Birger. Moyra notices how the boy trembles and touches Ivar's arm. It seems he doesn't know how intimidating he seems, towering over everyone. Ivar contemplates Moyra for a moment, until she pries the plate from his hand, no longer able to endure the piercing gaze she'd never quite gotten used to. She moves around the table and kneels in front of Birger, smiling. The boy peeps from over his shoulder, sighing relieved that Haakon is nowhere to be seen. He lifts his shaking hands, taking the plate from Moyra's hands at last.

 

Moyra watches as Birger runs to where his mother is helping the other slaves to serve their masters. Rhona goes pale, seeing her child holding a plate for himself. She places her hand on his shoulder, looking around with wide eyes. Moyra notices she is ready to snatch the plate from Birger’s hands, her mouth moving as Rhona scolds him. Moyra suspects Rhona thinks Birger stole the food and is terrified of a punishment.

 

Birger clings to her skirts with his free hand and Rhona leans down to listen to her child whispering something in her ear. Her eyes move to where Moyra is standing and her jaw drops. Moyra presumes Rhona remembers her from the market and nods in acknowledgment.

 

Birger brings the roast lamb to his lips, smiling widely as he inhales deeply. He stops, glancing up at his mother and offering her the meat. Rhona shakes her head, placing a hand on his cheek. The fact her child will have something to fill his belly that night is enough for her.

 

The boy is insistent in his quest to share the food and Moyra looks from over her shoulder to Ivar. He gulps, noticing her jaw trembling and tears welling in her pleading eyes. Ivar shakes his head to her silent plea and Moyra sniffs. The fact that one as vulnerable as Moyra can completely knock him down is certainly absurd. Still, there is no denying that Ivar wants her to see him as more than a predator.

 

Even though Moyra may have gone through many hardships since she’d left Alba all those months before, she is still surprisingly ingenue in many ways. Somehow, she refuses to cease believing the world should be a fairer place. Moyra does not understand how some people unfailingly need to suffer for the sake of others, despite they don't deserving such a cruel fate. That is the way of life and there is no escaping it. And now Ivar can't find words to make her understand.

 

Straightening his back, Ivar turns his neck to glance at the crowd. It seems no one is paying attention to their silent conflict, distracted by conversations and music. Ivar finally spots Haakon – lying unconscious on a bench. He glances back at Moyra. Her eyes are sparkling with a mix of dismay and anger that she is the only outraged by the way Rhona and her child are treated. There is a very determined air about her, he sees as he meets her stare again. Everything he has tried until now failed to make Moyra warm and decide to talk to him. Maybe that's my chance to win her!

 

Studying her in silence, a muscle in his jaw twitches as he grits his teeth. From reproving, her eyes become distantly sad as Moyra believes Ivar won't change his mind. Distress written all over her face, she bites at her lip, tears rolling down her cheeks.

 

“Màiri! Give that slave and her child some food while that drunkard snores!” Ivar grumbles in a harsh tone that doesn’t translate how distraught he truly feels, his heart hammering in his chest.

 

Moyra lifts her head, wiping away her tears and smiling coyly at him. Ivar feels his stomach tightening at the sight. My smile.

 

 


 

 

Ivar smirks at Moyra, lifting his own cup to her lips. She doesn’t understand why he is so insistent, but she swallows the sweet drink in large gulps until the cup is empty. Moyra closes her eyes feeling heat spreading from her face to her belly. Ivar sniggers, seeing her leaning her head against the chair, a smile on her lips. Her expression makes him bolder and Ivar moves his hand to squeeze her thigh, under the table. Moyra lets out an audible gasp of bewilderment, opening her heavy eyelids.

 

His teeth are bared in a wolfish grin and Ivar runs his thumb over her lower lip, breathing heavily through his parted lips. Her head is spinning, but Moyra notices his intention when Ivar leans forward, and she turns her face to the opposite side. Ivar snorts a dry laugh against her warm cheek, nuzzling against her neck.

 

As the night advances, she finds herself growing more and more lightheaded. The music grows louder, and the dancers began to look like spinning rainbows. Moyra chuckles at the thought of a moving rainbow and a smile lighten up Ivar’s face. A smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes. She looks at the flickers coming from all the torches and candles around and finds that her head lolls back. It's impossible to keep her heavy eyelids open.

 

Taking her by the arm, Ivar must keep the balance as Moyra sways in the rhythm of the music. She waves her arms around, stretching them out to reach to the leaping colors, only to discover they are Ivar's banners.

 

Noticing she is staggering a bit, Ivar swiftly lifts Moyra into his arms, carrying her the rest of the way and thinking about how much the action reminds him of a groom carrying his bride across the threshold to start their life together.

 


 

 

 

Ivar had no idea she would be receptive to any suggestion of his lecherous touches as he laid her down on the bed, but as his fingers touched her breasts through the fabric of her dress, Moyra purred. Ivar was amazed at her supposed passion and a shaky breath hissed its way from his mouth. He removed the brooches that were fastening the straps of her dress and lifted her torso, so he could slide it from her, he saw that her expression was strangely seductive and that she was wriggling out of the dress herself - or at least trying to as tipsy as she was. When he pulled her dress down to her waist, her chemise underneath pulling off her shoulder slightly, she slipped from his grip and flopped back on the furs and chuckled.

 

It was easy to believe Moyra truly wanted him. Why else would she voluntarily undress for me? There wasn’t much left of Ivar's discernment and shrewdness, so he chose to believe he had finally conquered her with a gesture of gentleness towards a slave and her child, and the intoxicating influence of the honeyed ale.

 

He placed the jewelry on the bedside and leaned closer to her face. Moyra had her eyes half closed in a stupor, a faint smile on her lips. Moyra lifted her hands to his upper arms and squeezed them as hard as she could in, what Ivar supposed, an attempt to stop him from kissing her. She grunted something under her breath and by her tone, Ivar thought she was approving his sturdy muscles. He seemed like in some sort of trance for she’d never voluntarily touched him that way before.

 

Her eyes were studying his face, though they were clouded, and he kissed her firmly on the mouth. She moaned and opened her mouth on her own volition, without his tongue forcibly conquering passage. He gasped in pleasure and explored her mouth, tasting the sweetness of the mead on her lips and tongue and feeling his desire heating his blood.

 

He was determined to kiss her, first only on the mouth, fearing to lose that willingness that she’d shown. But his hands traveled over her body, boldly touching and pinching her in all the ways he’d tried before, but instead of seeing her cringing, Moyra was now openly enjoying each caress.

 

Feeling his cock writhing in his trousers, Ivar growled and reluctantly pulled away. She seemed to protest that he had left her, and Ivar sneered, running his tongue between his swollen lips and imagining her wrapping her legs around him. Soon.

 

He worked the dress down her body, as Moyra - ever the good girl - helped him by lifting her hips. Ivar grunted approvingly, rising to his feet, and panting he slipped off his own boots and clothes, releasing his swollen erection.

 

When he turned to climb on top of her, Moyra was snoring lightly. He shamelessly lowered his stare and let it roam over her figure, drinking thirstily at her sight. Carefully he laid Moyra on her side and then covered her with the furs. A strand of hair fell across her face which he brushed away gently, caressing her flushed cheek. Moyra appeared so serene. Innocent even.

 

He climbed into the bed beside her, pulling her closer to share the warmth of their bodies through the long night ahead of them. He felt a weird fluttering and his heartbeat increasing when she snuggled against his chest, whispering something in her dreams. Ivar have never thought he would find a sense of contentment sleeping next to a woman, but oddly enough that’s how he felt in that moment and he wanted it to last for the rest of his days.

 

 


 

 

She woke up, feeling her head heavy and her muscles aching. Moyra opened her eyes and regretted immediately, blinking and hiding her face in the pillows. Even with her eyes closed, it was like everything around her was swinging. She heard his steady breathing and the rustle of clothing as Ivar dressed. Moyra stirred groggily and grunted. It is his fault! He must be enjoying seeing me suffering this way! Moyra forced her eyes open and glared across the room to where it seemed that Ivar was sitting, putting on his boots. She blinked and cringed again at the flickering light from the hearth.

 

His husky voice echoed across the room, and Moyra lifted her torso, rising on her elbows to glare at him from over her shoulder, “Good morning, Elskan,” He gave her a sly smile and Moyra placed both her hands over her ears, turning her face to the opposite side.

 

“How are you feeling?” He rose to his feet, walking to the bedside.

 

Moyra swallowed and tried to moisten her lips with her tongue.

 

Ivar smirked and poured something into a cup for her, sitting on the edge of the bed and holding the cup in front of her, "Here."

 

Moyra pouted, determined not to accept anything from his hands. That's how her hangover started to begin with. She tried to sit, and her breath hitched in her throat with the realization she was naked under the covers. Embarrassed, she pulled up the furs and carefully reached a hand out to take the drink.

 

"There's no need for this shyness. Even though I adore your modesty, I'm the one who undressed you and..." He squeezed her thigh over the covers, "besides I had the chance to see every inch of your delicious body," Moyra watched his jaw roll and that familiar cocky smirk tug on his lips. She snatched the cup from his hand. The sooner I do as he wishes, the sooner he will leave me alone.

 

Ivar touched her cheek as Moyra sipped a little, recognizing the mead of the night before. Her nostrils were flared, and upper lip curled up in an accusatory snarl and she placed the cup on the bedside, crossing her arms over chest. The gesture made the covers slip down, revealing her breasts. Ivar tilted his head, moving his hand from her face to her sensitive neck and teasing the skin of her throat with his thumb. She was already shuddering.

 

“It will help,” He gave her a teasing sort of smile. She choked down a scoff in her throat, rolling her eyes. The weight of his gaze combined with his warm calloused hand on her neck was unbearable, and so Moyra eased her head back against the furs, covering herself more fully and shifting uncomfortably. What had happened last night?  She found she had only scattered and blurred memories of the feast – music, dancing, rainbows and...

 

Ivar leaned down, kissing her forehead and walking out of the room. He didn’t see how her eyes were brimming with unshed tears of shame as Moyra tried to organize the images of how responsive she had been to his caresses the night before.

 

 


 


During the worst part of the Winter, Moyra and Màiri keep themselves busy weaving warm clothes for Birger and Rhona to endure the weather, and clandestinely giving them some food, since Haakon spends all his silver with ale. They know that if Haakon notices they are receiving some outside help, Birger and Rhona will suffer even more. Moyra is focused on studying her surroundings as well. Always asking Màiri about Ivar's enemies and their territories. Màiri thinks the questions mean Moyra is warming to him.

 

"Does he have any enemy?" Moyra feels stupid as soon as the words leave her mouth and Màiri snorts. Of course, a man as Ivar has enemies, "I mean... An enemy who is a real threat?"

 

Màiri appears skeptical, narrowing her eyes at Moyra, "Why are you suddenly so curious?

 

"If this is my life from now on, I might as well know the dangers of being his..." Moyra gulps, feeling her throat tightening at the thought what she is to Ivar. Slave? Concubine?

 

She closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. It doesn't matter. Soon I'll leave all of this behind. Moyra only dreads the shame and fear will keep haunting her in the future.

 

"I must know the dangers of being his... woman," Moyra stutters, averting her eyes.

 

"His most powerful enemy is by far Máel Sechnaill," Moyra notices the disdain in Màiri's voice and looks at her face, "Máel is High King which means he is the strongest King in Eire. He spilled blood to raise as King of Mide and head of Clann Cholmáin."

 

"Every man spills blood to conquer or keep power, Màiri. I doubt Ivar's hands are less polluted than his."

 

"There are rumors he stained his hands in the blood of his own brother, Moyra," Moyra feels her hands trembling but is determined to follow her plan.

 

"Don't worry! You're safe behind the walls. Ivar will protect you," Moyra presses her lips to avoid laughing at her remark. I will save myself.

 

“When will you tell Ivar?” Màiri asks, startling Moyra out of her thoughts.

 

Not wanting to attract Màiri’s suspicion, she replies, “When I'm ready!”

 

 

 


 

 

 

A few weeks after Yule, the Midvintersblot celebrates the return of the sun and the upcoming plowing of fields. Then, there is Dísablót, in honor of the Dísir, the female ancestors, and deities. It's a time to pray and sacrifice for fertility.

 

Fear, grief and shame wash over Moyra when she thinks about her mother. Would Mama be disappointed that I haven't tried to escape yet?

 

Moyra doesn't have a grave to visit and pay her respects to her mother, so she prays and makes a silent promise, hoping her attempt will be successful.

 

I will try, Mama. I will... I promise.

 

 


 

 

The flowers are bursting into life, filling the air with a sweet aroma and painting the landscape with bright colors. Birdsongs and the softly buzzing bees provide the sound for the longer and warmer days. With the arrival of Spring, Ivar decides to make an incursion to capture slaves.

 

Moyra was helping Màiri to grind the corn into flour when Ivar shifted closer, after spending hours with his most trusted warriors planning the attack on Munster. She ignored his stare, taking turns to tirelessly grind the mill first one way then the other. She gathered the flour and mixed with water to make bread for the following morning.

 

She could feel Ivar panting against her neck as he approached her from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist. Ivar leaned down, nuzzling into her neck and whispering in her ear, “Let's go to bed!” His voice was husky, sending shivers down her spine and the now familiar knot in her lower belly.

 

She walked away to knead the bread dough that has risen overnight. Ivar noticed the strength with which she stretched and folded the dough back on itself, and found it curious how her hands could also be delicate and precise for weaving, sewing, and embroidering. She shaped the dough and placed it on a flat iron in the embers of the hearth to make a flat cake of bread. Ivar felt his mouth watering at the sight of beads of sweat on her forehead and the rising and falling of her chest as Moyra inhaled deeply. He loved the fine and tender bread she prepared daily, but his hunger was of a different kind at that moment.

 

Moyra watched out of the corner of her eye how agitated Ivar seemed. He sat, running his hands over his hair and cursing under his breath.

 

When she finished the task, he rose to his feet and grabbed her wrist, dragging her to the bedroom.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Ivar had never held anyone so close to him as now, nor pressed a woman’s body so tightly against his. Had never wanted to. It was always about animalistic need with the women that came before her. But he found himself terrified that something could happen and prevent him from coming back to Moyra.

 

He inhaled her scent, felt her warmth, and her body trembling beneath him. Ivar watched her downcast eyelashes fluttering and her mouth forming strange words. Just a whisper, barely audible.

 

It will be the last time. Moyra promised herself, unable to recognize the reason for the lump in her throat.

 

His hand dropped to her throat, her frantic pulse racing under his fingertips. She reached for his wrist – but instead of pushing him away, Moyra squeezed it mildly.

 

Elskan…” Ivar wheezed out, seizing his cock in a massive fist and tugging at it. He lowered his heavy build on a knee by her side. “You know what I need, don’t you?” As he spoke, he spread her legs and installed himself in-between.

 

She did indeed and so Moyra didn’t resist and let him take his place. Having his fingers around her throat just moments before had not terrified her. The fact he had her life in his hands was not something new. But Moyra knew things would be different when their bodies were joined. The idea of once more having to accommodate him made her anxious – especially now that she knew everything would change. Moyra wondered if she could be once more the maiden that was taken from Alba all those months before.

 

Moyra shut her eyes, sensing the tip of his member taking place at her entrance. His shaft was making its way into her in short, little shoves, reviving the dull throb she had carried with her all day. “Ah!” she whined softly.

 

“I promise I'll return to you!” Ivar grunted and Moyra whimpered as he filled her completely.

 

“I will miss you,” the man said with feverish satisfaction and Moyra let out a sob.

 

He hovered on his forearms and met her gaze. Moyra was overwhelmed by the sight of his vivid blue eyes and the feeling of his cock pulsing deep inside of her, so she was secretly grateful when he lowered his mouth to hers, kissing and nibbling hungrily at her lips. His torso was pressed flush against hers, warm and heavy, and he was unhurriedly moving his hardened manhood in and out of her. It was somehow sweetly painful and exhilarating at once, each of her muscles tautening at the impact.

 

One of his hands traveled down her side. When it reached her thigh, Ivar lifted it to spread her legs wider apart. Bracing his back, he shoved himself more profoundly inside of her, cursing under his breath as his groin touched her mound. Moyra rolled her eyes at the impact - letting out a lament as he reiterated, this time a little faster. She could tell he wouldn’t retain his relative calm much longer and since she knew how swiftly the change to feral could happen, Moyra didn’t wait any longer and immediately clutched her hands over his steel-solid shoulders and wrapped her thighs against his hip.

 

Ivar apparently appreciated her gesture, for he growled in pleasure. “Yes, that’s it, elskan mín. I intend to take you hard so you won't miss me that much while I'm gone,” he hissed, slightly out of breath.

 

Lowering his face to her neck, he bitted and licked her sweaty skin. Then, he began grinding his pelvis against hers with increased speed and strength, his muscular thighs clashing onto the back of her raised up ones and spreading them more apart with each of his thrusts. His broad chest was brushing against the sensitive skin of her breasts, its rough hair teasing her nipples and rendering them even more stiff and pointy. The man raised the hand he had around her thigh to seize one between his fingers and Moyra growled as he pinched it, her nails digging into his back.

 

His cock was massive between her legs and his movement in her merciless, but by following his cadence and holding onto him, the faint discomfort of being stretched out was certainly tolerable. While her walls ached, something deep inside of Moyra was also being stimulated with the friction and causing that weird but now familiar pressure in her loins to arise once more. Moyra was hesitant to admit but she found herself craving that specific sensation whenever Ivar took her. It gave her something other than her discomfort to focus on and allowed her to forget herself and the whole world around her for as long as she kept her eyes closed.

 

Her moment of oblivion didn’t last. Soon, Ivar ceased his pounding and propped himself on his hands. Moyra gazed up at him, apprehensively waiting for what he now had in mind. With eyes wild he was staring back at her all the while catching his breath, his swollen member still sheathed in her. Sweat was glistening all over his body, some of which had impregnated her skin.

 

Moyra gulped, believing that it was like he suspected she was leaving. It seemed like Ivar was trying to retain the image of her face in his mind. For the first time, Moyra couldn't avert her gaze.

 

Let him have this.

 

He smiled, leaning down to kiss her again, rocking his hips ever so slightly against hers at first. While they remained just as slow and steady, his thrusts soon became wider and with each of his movements in her, pressure built in Moyra's core. That, added to the pleasant tickling which ran all over her skin as Ivar fondled her breasts and every inch of tender flesh he could reach.

 

With his fingers at the juncture of her thighs, he was caressing her wet folds, his touch at once unrelenting and feather light. He had never been so careful with her, had always mounted her with the hunger and ferocity of a wild stallion. But now, it was as if he feared he might break her and as he trailed his large hands over her curves. There was a sense of amazement in his face that made her belly flutter. From feeling like she was something he yearned to possess and consume, it was as if she had now become one of his goddesses to be worshiped. Moyra allowed herself to get lost in this blasphemous fantasy.

 

Moyra sobbed against his lips, but Ivar did not think she was in pain, and he plunged into her repeatedly until she cried out in what could only be ecstasy. His own passion took over and he released deep inside her heat.

 

Ivar curled himself around Moyra, his arm around her waist, kissed her shoulder, and allowed himself to relax.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Moyra doesn't feel his lips against her forehead in the morning of his departure but prepares to leave the following day.

 

Moyra leaves the bed when it's still dark and even the slaves are sleeping. She feels her chest tightening as she looks at Màiri, sleeping soundly. Moyra wants to embrace her to show her gratitude, her appreciation for proving that there is still kindness in the world. Moyra wipes away the tears that are streaming down her cheeks.

 

If Màiri wakes up, she won't allow me to escape!

 

Moyra knows it's her only chance. The only opportunity to walk away before she sees Ivar as more than the monster that took away everything she loved. Her last chance to flee before her judgment becomes blurred, making her forget she is chained.

 

Moyra takes some bread and salty fish with her, and some of the jewelry Ivar gave her. If she can arrive in Máel's domains, she will be safe. The gold and gems can be her bargain to salvation, her only chance to get back to Alba.

 

A tightening knot of guilt is brewing in her chest as Moyra thinks she will help Ivar's enemy. I owe him nothing. Then her thoughts go to Màiri. She feels her vision blurring with tears at the idea she is putting her only friend in mortal danger with her actions. Ivar will blame her. Even if Màiri is spared from Ivar's wrath, she will be trapped behind enemies lines.

 

Moyra ponders, trying to regain control over her fear and hesitation. If Máel invades Ivar's stronghold, he will see she is only a Christian servant, taken against her will. She will be safe. Yet, in the back of her mind, there is a tingling, unnerving sensation.

 

 


 

 

Moyra takes one of the few horses Ivar left behind, starting her journey.

 

The horse is not so fast, but it's her only chance. She rides until the sun is high in the sky. Her heart is fluttering in her chest with the possibility of seeing her home once more.

 

Moyra doesn't want to think about the fact she might be going back to nothing. No family left to hold her in their loving arms. No one is missing her, but she can't accept being a lamb to feed a ravenous wolf every night. She can't accept living in sin and shame.

 

Moyra hears horses and tries to hide in the forest to see if they are friendly. Unfortunately, her horse is not fast enough and in seconds she is surrounded by those strangers.

 

“See what we have here," one of the men starts circling her, riding his horse. His gaze is cold and the grin on his lips is sickening, "That's a beautiful doe wandering alone,” Moyra feels her heart skipping a beat. She looks around trying to find a route to escape, but the road is blocked by the other riders. She is surrounded by five men.

 

“Leave me alone! I'm going to King Maél’s lands. I'll help him to defeat Ivar, the Boneless,” Moyra holds her chin up, trying to control her trembling and sweaty hands holding the reins.

 

The man approaches, grabbing the reins from her fingers and caressing her face, “What makes you think you're capable of it?”

 

“I've been living in his domains, I have information. Valuable information,” Moyra replies, wrinkling her nose in disgust and slapping his hand away from her face.

 

“So, are you his bitch?" The man licks his lower lip as his eyes travel through her body. Moyra feels her throat tightening as images of the last time Ivar claimed her appear in her mind.

 

“By the way you're looking at me, it's true. If you gave yourself to a beast, what is the problem if we have our turn?” He tilts his head, peering over his shoulder to his companions.

 

He lifts his hand to her hair this time, making Moyra feel like she will throw up. Moyra bites his hand and tries to get her reins back, but another man grabs her from the horse, throwing her on the ground and knocking the air out of her lungs. Before she can rise to her feet and try to run, she finds herself surrounded by two men who dismounted without her noticing. The other three are tying their horses to some trees.

 

“Do you enjoy some pain, huh? See what you have done to my hand!" The dark haired man lifts his hand and Moyra notices he is bleeding, "She will give us so much fun,” He looks around, bursting into laughter with his men while working on the laces of his trousers.

 

A high-pitched cry leaves her mouth as Moyra tries to crawl backward on her elbows. Her vision is blurred by tears, as two men grab her by the ankles. She is shrieking when a hoar interrupts everything around her. Moyra doesn't know if she should feel threatened or relieved.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Ivar was delighted with their victory, more slaves, and riches, one more step to be a legend. The sounds of the battle were still ringing in his ears. But he longed for another kind of sound. The sound of Moyra’s moans.

 

The scene on the road made his hands start sweating with fear, "Let go of my woman!" He roars, feeling his lungs burning.

 

How naive he had been to ever let her out of his sight. A woman like her was frail to defend herself against the beasts that prowled this land and too tempting to be allowed to wander on her own. He should have kept a tighter control, been stricter with her.

 

In a heartbeat, he dismounted, sword in hand, and stabbed the nearest man through the back. The rat gasped and let out a throaty groan as he fell on his knees and then collapsed with his face onto the dirt. As he did, his companions turned their heads in Ivar’s direction – two of them releasing Moyra’s ankles and fumbling over their waist with trembling fingers to free the weapons they had strapped at their belts. However, Ivar was too fast and the bastards had not yet grabbed their swords when he had already cut through them, chopping one nearly in half from his neck to the middle of his chest. Blood splashed out of the fresh gash promptly followed by Moyra's cry of horror.

 

Ivar was too focused to worry about her. The other attackers were attempting to escape. It was too late for that though, for Ivar violently grabbed the axe on his belt, throwing it into the skull of one of them. Moyra couldn't look away from the scene. Ivar violently struck the last man onto the side of his stomach with his blade even before he had fully turned around and as he pulled the weapon back, he slid the cold steel deeply into the flesh. Groaning, the bastard collapsed flat on his belly. His eyes shone with fear and disbelief as he twisted onto himself to gaze at his wound and let out a pathetic wail at seeing the gash Ivar had given him. The coward clutched his palms over his wound in a futile effort to prevent his guts and blood from flowing but there was no stopping the dark, red river that now covered his hands and ran to the ground around him.

 

All burning in their Christian hell now, Ivar thought, smirking with feverish delight as he cleaned his blade on the dead man’s clothes. It started to drizzle and the noise of the drops landing on the leaves was suddenly all Ivar could hear. Drops were rolling down his cheeks and jaw and his hair was getting plastered to his face but after his brief and intense effort, the freshness of the water was appreciated. Ivar lifted his face upward and closed his eyes, allowing the rain to soothe the violence that was making his hands tremble around the pommel of his sword, but his peace was abruptly interrupted by a gasping sound.

 

Sheathing his sword, he walked to Moyra, who was paralyzed sitting on the ground, holding her knees up to her chest.

 

 

 


 

 

 

She watched how skilled he was, he killed all men with his own hands. The last one pleading for his life. Now she knew why he was called The Boneless. He moved fast, slaughtering the men before they had a chance to deliver a blow against him. Moyra felt her stomach tightening with fear. How stupid she was to think she could have a chance. But Moyra was obstinate. She would not beg him to spare her life. She would be free.

 

He knelt, holding her face in his hands while his eyes searched for any sign they hurt her. Moyra was surprised by his expression, she saw the fury he had in his eyes when he slew those men. But his features were soft now.

 

He asked, cleaning the dust from her cheeks, “Did they hurt you, Ástin mín?”

 

“I’ll kill them all over again if you are hurt, I swear it,” he hissed, unable to keep the wrath he felt at the idea of what had almost happened to her from showing in his voice.

 

"What will we do with them, Ivar?" Erik shouted and Ivar turned to sneer at him.

 

"I don't care! Let the beasts devour them!" He hissed, turning his face to Moyra again.

 

He leaned closer to her, upper lip curled in a snarl. Moyra swallowed the lump forming in her dry throat, fearing what he was planning.

 

"Let's go home!” he snapped at her.

 

His whole demeanor spoke of how he wouldn’t tolerate her bold disobedience and it was enough to convince Moyra to bite her lip and remain silent. Cowered, she nodded and let Ivar lift her over his stallion. He will kill me, she admitted to herself. The movement was so sudden that Moyra felt her head dizzy and closed her eyes, afraid she would lose her balance and fall, but then Ivar was sitting behind her, his large arms holding her steady.

 

Her back was pressed against his chest and Moyra could feel the bold strength of his legs, the solidity of his ribcage and his frantic heartbeat. The air was whistling in her ears as the stallion moved beneath them, obeying the punishing pace Ivar imposed, galloping through the forest. He was riding furiously, not worried if his warriors were following. Her stomach churned, and Moyra became overwhelmed with the urge to vomit. The taste of bile scorched the back of her throat, and she pressed one hand to her mouth to keep the acid liquid down in her stomach. Tears started streaming down her cheeks as she pressed her lips together not to throw up, and endured the punishing pace Ivar imposed to reach the stronghold.

 

When they arrived, Ivar dismounted and lowered Moyra from the horse. His gaze held steady on her face even as she backed down, shying away from him. He bent down and snatched Moyra up and placed her over his shoulder. Moyra closed her eyes, trying to avoid the curious eyes. When they entered the hall, Ivar threatened Màiri, "I'll take care of you later! First, I have to discipline this woman here."

 

He carried her to bed, throwing Moyra on the furs without any kindness. Moyra sucked in air as she felt him roughly pull down her dress to expose her breasts completely.

 

"What do you think those men would do to you?" Ivar asked dryly, standing there and watching Moyra's lips trembling, "I've been too soft to you. It's time for you to learn who is in charge here," His nostrils were flaring and Moyra saw a vein pulsing in his neck.

 

Ivar shouted, making Moyra jump and look down, "What do you think they would do to you?"

 

Moyra looked up at him, blinking her watery eyes and trying to control the trembling of her jaw. The truth hit Ivar, stopping his actions. While the corner of his mouth twitched in fury, there was a hint of regret shining in his indigo eyes. They would do the same I'm doing right now.

Chapter Text

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“Why do you look at me like that? Like if you’re the powerless doe, and I’m the hunter?” Ivar couldn’t take his eyes of her shaking figure. He finally realized Moyra was frightened and it was all his fault.

 

She would distance herself from him with as much eagerness as Ivar was pursuing her. It was like Sköll chasing Sól and, despite her attempts to keep away, Sköll would eventually catch her, initiating the Ragnarök. Ivar didn’t want to destroy Moyra. He didn’t want his darkness to destroy the glow he had glimpses of whenever she thought he was not watching. Ivar wanted to be the reason for the smiles and laughter she shared with Màiri.

 

It was said that Sól's legacy would be continued by a daughter no less beautiful. Ivar wanted a daughter, and many children as adorable as her, but not when Moyra hated him this way. Ivar was out of control and he hated it. He didn’t know what to do to conquer Moyra. He felt powerless for the first time in his life. Powerless as when he saw her being attacked. What could he do to make her happy?

 

“When I saw you surrounded and pinned against the ground by those men, I didn’t think about my pride. I was just mortified with thoughts about what they could have done to you,” Ivar was walking around the room, curling his fingers into his palm. Moyra saw uncertainty in his eyes and believed it to be the first time she ever felt an air of vulnerability around him.

 

Like a wild beast in a jail, Moyra thought, sneering at him.

 

“You humiliated me in front of my warriors by fleeing. What will they think of me when I can't even control my woman?" Ivar noticed Moyra gave a long, weary sigh and he looked around uneasily as if the answer to the enigma she was would come to him. A prolonged period of stillness passed before he spoke again. At a much lower volume this time, "and all I wanted was to hold you in my arms to comfort you…” He ran his hands through his hair, a gesture Moyra was starting to recognize as one Ivar did in the rare occasions when he was exasperated. His despair should bring her joy but only added to her confusion.

 

“Look what you’re doing to me, and what I’m doing to you,” He snapped through gritted teeth as his inner turmoil exploded to the surface. Moyra expected to see fury when he stared back at her eyes, brimming with unshed tears, but she was dazzled to see his resolution to punish her fading away.

 

She was leaning back on her elbows watching him expectantly that he would force or beat her at any time. He locked eyes with her for a moment, his brows knitted in a frown. Moyra was oblivious to his thoughts. Ivar turned around to walk away, stopping at the door for an instant as if he was considering something. Her mouth suddenly felt dry and Moyra released a shaky breath through her parted lips. Waiting for his next move was torture. With his back to her, he cocked his head to one side, finally walking away.

 

Moyra feared he was going to hurt Màiri so she rushed to the door to see what he was going to do. Ivar was talking to Màiri, something Moyra couldn’t hear. He was surprisingly calm to her. After a few moments, he left the longhouse. Moyra thought he was going to take another woman to let out his anger and frustration.

 

Màiri walked in to see Moyra and Moyra was ashamed to look at her. Màiri could have been in trouble because of her escape. Yet, Màiri was there and helping her once more.

 

“I was so worried when I noticed your absence. I’m so glad Ivar took you back. Do you know he could have killed you on the spot when he found you? You shamed him in front of his men. Yet, here you are. Safe and untouched,” Moyra’s mouth fell open, incredulous that Màiri couldn’t understand why she tried to escape, “He loves you. Maybe not be the way you expect to be loved, but it’s the only way he is capable of,” Moyra wondered if death would be a fairer destiny than being the target for Ivar’s infatuation. She doubted the way he treated her could be considered love.

 

“I’m sorry! I didn’t want to worry or bring you trouble. I had to try…” Moyra let out a whimper and Màiri embraced her. Moyra laid her head against Màiri's shoulder, allowing the tears to flow.

 

“I’m not angry! I’m happy you’re here now. Ivar won’t punish me. He knows he caused your escape,” Màiri reassured her.

 

“How do you know this?” Moyra lifted her head slowly, sniffing.

 

“I saw the terrible things he is capable of. But you changed him. He has been kind to me. Let go of the past and allow yourself some happiness,” Màiri tried to convince Moyra to accept what happened to her once more.

 

Moyra was absorbed in her thoughts, “I can’t. What would I be if I just forget what he did to me? And in any case, I will never know. He is probably finding another woman who will accept his attention with a satisfaction I will never be capable of. I'm sure he will sell me to another man as punishment,” Moyra remembered Haakon and how brutal he would be with her. Seeing him the other day in the market was a reminder that she would never be safe again.

 

Màiri smirked, “Are you jealous?”

 

Moyra felt her heart beating frantically and replied furiously, “Of course not. I would be grateful not to be his target.”

 

Màiri stood up, walking to the door, “I’ll prepare you a bath and some food. You look exhausted. It has been a tough day.”

 

“I’m grateful for your help. I don’t know what I would do without you,” Moyra embraced Màiri, her eyelids heavy by the crying and the fatigue.

 

 


 

 

She closed her eyes and dove into the warm water. It was soothing the soreness in her muscles, but nothing could help with the ache in her heart. Moyra felt like she wasted her last chance to be herself again. Now she was trapped in this land abandoned by God forever.

 

Moyra emerged from the water and leaned her head against the edge of the bathtub, hooking her elbows on the side of the tub. Màiri was massaging her scalp, removing the dust from the road and Moyra felt like her touch was a lullaby; healing and comforting.

 

“Lean forward,” Màiri instructed and Moyra managed to pull herself up and hug her knees to her chest, resting her head and closing her eyes. Màiri used a scented soap to clean her back and shoulders. A shaky breath hissed its way through her lungs, as Màiri noticed the bruises on the tender skin. Moyra grimaced and gritted her teeth as the calloused fingers touched the purple marks.

 

For the first time, Moyra saw anger flitting over Màiri's features – almost replacing her euphoria of having her back. Moyra opened her mouth to assure Màiri she was safe, but she was taken aback when the servant wrapped her arms tightly around her and kissed her wet hair.

 

Moyra had to choke down a sob, her chest feeling heavy like a knot was being twisted inside of her ribs. Without fuss Màiri helped Moyra out of the tub, drying her skin and grabbing a small bottle with whale oil infused with salve. She opened the bottle and poured out some into her hands, spreading the ointment over Moyra's skin, trying her best not to hurt her further.

 

“No one will ever harm you again,” Màiri uttered through gritted teeth, but they both knew that if Ivar wanted to hurt Moyra, there was nothing they could do to prevent it. Still, Moyra felt her heart swelling with the thought Màiri cared enough to risk her own safety. Moyra couldn’t stop her sob this time, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

 

 


 

 

In the middle of the night, Moyra dreamed she was lost in a forest. A wolf chasing her. The trees surrounding her were blurred as Moyra ran, feeling a surge of adrenaline. Her heart was pounding painfully while the steady thump of her footsteps over the hard ground echoed in her ears. She felt a bead of sweat rolling down her forehead causing her hair to cling to her skin as her throat ached for air.

 

She was running as fast as her legs could take her, but it never seemed enough. At last, she stopped. Two paths before her. Ahead on the right path, she saw two ravens. The left path was dark, and she could hear a cry. The scream was primal. It had a raw intensity to it that told of urgency, of desperate need. The purest way one soul could ask another for help.

 

She woke up sweating and panting. Ivar was sitting, looking at her with drunken eyes. His presence startled her, she was sleeping soundly, until the nightmare, that didn’t notice when he came back.

 

He was slurring through each word, "It'sss fine. I won’t… touch you!” Ivar stopped, blinking and placing his hands on his head, “I…I won't touch you until you… until you want me,” Moyra let out a snort, offended that he could think she would ever want him.

 

This said, Ivar collapsed and started snoring. Moyra was surprised by his behavior, she had never seen Ivar drunk. He liked to be in control.

 

 


 

 

After a few weeks, Ivar decided to go back to Alba. The urge to raid again was taking over his senses. He was still worried Moyra would want to run away, so he decided to leave Ubbe in charge while he was away.

 

In the morning of his departure, Ivar has given the instructions to his warriors and had inspected the boat. After more than an hour he had woken up, Ivar came back to the longhouse to eat the dagmál. Moyra was still sleeping. He didn’t want to go without seeing her. Moyra appeared as if she knew his thoughts. He stopped eating to look at her. The last few weeks proved difficult for them. Moyra would always go to bed suspicious Ivar would take her again, while he was fighting against the desire to touch her. Ivar felt like her tender skin was calling for him.

 

Moyra sat by his side, and as in the last weeks, she started eating. Ivar was shocked when she first did this. Before her failed escape, she had always refused to eat with him. But he grew used to her change. In fact, he loved watching her eat. The way Moyra would lick her lips, closing her eyes when she tasted something delicious. Blood rushing and warming her cheeks whenever she noticed he was looking at her.

 

After she finished eating, Ivar started explaining to Màiri that Ubbe would be in charge and everything they needed he would provide. Màiri translated this to Moyra, who nodded shyly.

 

“Tell her not to worry. I’ll be back soon,” Ivar said looking in Moyra’s eyes in the hope she would be waiting for his safe return.

 

 


 

 

Ivar’s journey took more than he had planned. He joined forces with another Viking chieftain, Olaf the White, to take over Ail Cluaithe, a small but wealthy kingdom further North in Alba. The Britons’ position made possible to prepare their defenses accordingly but failed to prevent the siege. When the two armies met at the foot of the Rock, Ivar and Olaf took the decision to starve out the Britons. The siege took four months. Ivar and Olaf needed 200 boats to transfer their men and the spoils of war back to Dublin.

 

Ivar couldn’t wait to see Moyra, even though he was still determined to remain true to his promise not to force her again. When the ships landed at the dock, Ubbe was waiting for him.

 

"I see that the siege was successful. So many slaves and spoils," Ubbe grinned, walking closer to Ivar.

 

Ivar embraced his brother, his eyes searching for someone else.

 

Ubbe laughed when he noticed who Ivar was looking for, "She is at home. You know she doesn't like to leave the house. I must warn you..."

 

Before Ubbe could say another word, Ivar was carrying himself to the longhouse, shouting at a distance, "Help the men! I'll see my beauty."

 

Ubbe smiled, hoping the surprise waiting for Ivar could be the chance for a happier life with Moyra.

 

 


 

 

Ivar entered the house quietly, he wanted to surprise Moyra. With her back turned to the door, Moyra was weaving at the loom. He smiled thinking about how he wanted to embrace her from behind, kissing her neck until she was gasping. But he was a man of his word, he would wait until she wanted him. Maybe the distance made her miss him. Not as much as he missed her, he was optimistic nonetheless.

 

Feeling she was being observed, Moyra turned around, seeing Ivar at the door. He wanted to surprise her, but Ivar was stunned by what he saw. Her once flat stomach had a protuberance, bigger breasts meant to feed the baby he didn't know was inside of her. He felt betrayed, she had been avoiding his touch, but slept around and was carrying another man’s child. Ivar couldn't hold back his fury. He charged towards her, his whole body in a frenzy. Growling as a wild beast. Moyra was frightened, feeling the blood draining from her face.

 

Ivar grabbed her shoulders, shaking her without noticing he was using that much force. He yelled, "I leave you for some months, and you sleep with someone else, behind my back,” His jaw trembled but his penetrating eyes were unwavering.

 

Moyra opened her mouth to defend herself, but she felt her throat dry. How can I tell him? His furious glare was so intense that she started crying. Màiri heard the commotion and came to Moyra’s aid.

 

“Let go of her! You’re hurting her,” Màiri pleaded.

 

“You don’t give the orders here! I’m tired of being deceived. It’s over now. I demand to know the name of the man who touched her,” Ivar’s grip on her sensitive skin was burning. Moyra didn’t want to be so weak.

 

Ubbe finally arrived and his jaw dropped when he saw what Ivar was doing. He ran to hold his brother, trying to avoid a tragedy.

 

“Let go of your woman! She is with child!” Ubbe screamed out of his lungs.

 

“I see she is pregnant. I just want to know who is the bastard that spilled his seed inside of her. Since her escape, I hadn’t touched her.” Ivar spat, looking back over his shoulder at Ubbe, “Maybe it was you. She even said your name once,” Ivar barked, crinkling his nose.

 

“Are you crazy?” Ubbe shouted and walked with long, anxious strides to hold Ivar from behind, tugging him backward. Because of this struggle, Moyra fell to the ground. She started crawling to a corner, where she curled into a ball, bawling. A hand laying protectively on her belly, while her other arm was in front of her face. Her sobs were like those of a wounded animal, punching and ripping through her muscles, bones, and guts.

 

“The bastard who spilled his seed inside of her is you. You idiot. Your anger made you blind,” Ubbe sneered and punched Ivar’s chest, making him back away, more startled by the revelation that the blow.

 

Ivar searched for Màiri’s eyes, “She stopped bleeding after the last time you took her... before she tried to escape. The baby is yours. She never knew any other man,” Màiri was holding Moyra’s shaking body against her chest, whispering words of comfort in their language.

 

Ivar felt sorrow eating him from inside. It looked like even in what should have been the happiest moment of his life, he would ruin everything. She was suffering because of him. He hurt her, both body and soul and being aware of this truth was unbearable. Ivar shifted closer to Moyra. He needed to make it clear how deeply sorry he was. The way she looked at him from over Màiri’s shoulder was like a sword being buried in his heart. Lips trembling, tears streaking from her reddened, swollen eyes whilst she was clinging to Màiri desperately. She was afraid of him. Ivar finally realized he was a monster.

 

 


 

 

I should be feeling relieved he left, but somehow, I’m only feeling uneasy. What will happen to me if he never returns? Will Ubbe take me under his protection? I don’t even know why I’m worried about my well-being as death would free me. I suppose my will to live has been making me eat more while Ivar is away and not watching pleased as I devour whatever Màiri and I cook.

 

I can feel Ubbe’s gaze as we sit together to eat that evening. He whispers something to Màiri and smiles at me. I look away, revolted by any inkling of myself feeling safe around him. Ubbe is as dangerous as Ivar and his hands are bloody too. I won’t allow his calm façade to fool me.

 

“Do you want more fish?” Màiri asks, noticing my plate is already empty and I am licking my fingers clean. I can feel my cheeks heating up as Ubbe stares at me with a smirk. He ordered Màiri to offer me more food and I won’t answer for him to hear me, so I let my eyes cast down, embarrassed that once more he is the one encouraging me to eat.

 

Ubbe rises to his feet, and it seems he is retiring for the night. I sigh relieved I won’t be forced to endure another heathen watching me eating. He clears his throat, mischief gleaming in his eyes as he looks back over his shoulder, catching me lifting my hand to grab more bread. He wiggles his eyebrows in amusement, muttering something I can’t understand. I recoil my hand to my lap and Ubbe whispers something that sends a shudder down her spine.

 

“Good night, Moyra!” I don’t know what is more shocking. The fact that he is speaking my language or that Ubbe knows my name. I turn my head to where Màiri is standing, apparently as appalled as I am.

 

As soon as Ubbe is out of sight I walk to Màiri, nearly snarling at her, “You told him!” Màiri shakes her head, lifting her hands in self-defense.

 

“I swear I didn’t. He must have heard us talking and…” She stutters, and I feel immediately guilty for accusing the only friend I have in this strange land.

 

“I believe you, Màiri. I’m sorry for yelling at you. It’s just that I don’t want them to possess more of me than they already do.”

 

“I understand you, but Ubbe is a good man and he might help you…”

 

“Help me? How? Will Ubbe send me back home in one of those ships?” I snort sarcastically and Màiri presses her lips together.

 

“You know that will never happen. Maybe God has a plan for you here.”

 

I raise my head, sneering at Màiri, “A plan? What kind of father puts his children through this suffering? I suppose I have to accept the burden gladly, huh?” Màiri gasps and I shrug.

 

“You’re being blasphemous.” 

 

“I doubt God cares enough to punish me if what I’ve been enduring is not sufficient punishment already. I just don’t know what I did to deserve this. I’ve always been a good Christian and obedient daughter…” I feel my eyes burning with unshed tears, my mouth suddenly dry, “and for what?” I sniff, throwing my head back to avoid more tears to fall, “God has abandoned me here. He doesn’t care about women’s suffering.” I close my eyes, swallowing the lump that is forming in my throat.

 

“Don’t lose hope! God is watching over us everywhere. Place yourself at His mercy and He will ease your sorrow.” I open my mouth to reply that I don’t want to be at the mercy of anyone else, but Màiri pulls me into her embrace, pets my hair and hums, “You’re not alone!” Chills ripple across my body and more tears stream down my face, buried in the crook of her neck.

 

“I’m so tired…” I choke out.

 

I sniffle and weep for a long time while Màiri just holds me, waiting for the sobbing to stop. Eventually, I’m able to catch my breath.

 

“That’s it, child. Breathe with me. It’s all going to be okay.”

 

I take a step back, wiping away the tears, “Thank you for everything you have been doing for me. Maybe you’re right and God has a plan for me. I know for sure He sent an angel to watch over me here.” Màiri leans forward to kiss my forehead.

 

“As your guardian, I command you to sleep then.” Màiri chuckles and I find myself reciprocating her smile.

 

“Let’s go to bed, cat!” I look down at the kitten Ivar gave me. She gives a plaintive mewl, rubbing her head against my ankles.

 

“When are you going to name this cat?” Màiri shakes her head, giggling and I catch the animal in my arms.

 

“One day.”

 

 


 

  

Moyra started noticing some changes. First, she was always hungry. Sometimes she wanted to eat things she has never liked. Then her emotions, sometimes Moyra was talking to Màiri about her childhood laughing with joy, only to start crying in the next moment. Ubbe found out that he liked their company, even though Moyra still refused to acknowledge his presence. It was like being back home and watching his mother weaving at the loom.

 

Moyra wanted to deny, but she felt safe around Ubbe. It was like he was the older brother she lost a long time ago. He was gentle, kind and not demanding. Always brushing away her rude glares with a tender smile. The exact opposite of his brother.

 

“Can you chop the carrots, Moyra?” Màiri asked while cutting slices of a roasted lamb that made Moyra’s mouth water. Her stomach growled and Ubbe laughed. Moyra frowned but turned her back to him with a little smile. She was distracted, watching Màiri preparing the lamb to be served that the sharp knife slid, slicing off a chunk of skin of her finger. Ubbe ran when he heard Moyra hissing in pain and wrapped a cloth around her bloody hand before Màiri realized what was happening.

 

Moyra felt her mouth suddenly dry and her heart skipped a beat as she saw the rag becoming red with her blood. Her monthly bleeding was late. Ubbe and Màiri looked at each other and back to Moyra, trying and failing to understand the reasons hot tears were streaming down her cheeks.

 

“The wound is not so deep.” Màiri tried to calm Moyra’s incessant cry, presuming her tears were caused by the injury.

 

Moyra just shook her head and tried to take deep breaths. Ubbe was still close to them and she couldn't take the risk of Ivar's brother being suspicious of the pregnancy. As long as she was the only one aware of this dreadful possibility, Moyra could do something. The only problem is that she didn't know what to do.

 

 


 

  

Màiri walks with Moyra to her quarters, to tend to the wound. Ubbe stays behind, drinking his mead and contemplating why Moyra is so affected by the cut.

 

Màiri is focused on cleaning Moyra’s wound, but she can feel her intense gaze.

 

If I will do this, I'll need her. Will Màiri keep my secret? Can I rely on her to search for someone who can provide me the herbs? Moyra gulps, already feeling her stomach tightening with guilt. How can I consider this?

 

“What happened there? You were terrified by the vision of blood. We, women, see more blood through our lifetime than any man can imagine.” Màiri smirks, finishing the bandage.

 

Moyra stared at her in silence until everything made sense for Màiri, “How could I be so blind? You haven't bled.” Màiri gasps, seeing Moyra’s jaw trembling.

 

Màiri looks at Moyra, her features pulled in a worried scowl and jaw clenched tightly. The corner of her mouth twitches, but apart from that,t she is almost motionless. For some reason, to see Màiri so calm when she is enduring one of the most distressing moments of her life sends a wave of fury through Moyra, one like she had never experienced before. 

 

“Why?! Why is this happening to me? I'm ruined!” Moyra wails in a mix of resentment and despair.

 

She feels torn between the knowledge that trying to kill the baby in her womb was a sin, and the desire to get rid of Ivar’s child. Màiri holds her tight, caressing her back, “Who knows about God’s plans? It might be his desire for you to be with child. You are not a sinner to kill an innocent baby. Maybe it's your chance for some happiness in the future.”

 

Moyra stutters, finding it difficult to breathe with the tightening in her chest, “I’m afraid.”

 

“We’ll handle this one day at a time. Together.” Màiri kisses her forehead.

 

Breathing in and out, Moyra pairs her respiration to Màiri's, their heartbeats synchronizing naturally.

 

Màiri runs her fingers through Moyra's hair for a long time, humming comforting words and she closes her eyes sleepily. Moyra silently prays Màiri is right and this child will bring her some purpose in life. Maybe being responsible for another, will help me to find my strength again.

 

 


 

  

The days pass and I think I might not be carrying a child. I've gained some weight and my nipples are sensitive and darker, but that can be a sign my monthly bleeding is coming. My stomach is still flat. It was a mistake. I smile, believing I cried in vain. I'm not forever bound to Ivar.

 

 


 

 

 

I lose track of the time since Ivar left and I imagine he might be dead. I don't know how I feel about this possibility. While I suffered because of him, he was never cruel. I’m disgusted to admit, but I almost expect a strong arm to hold me at night and find myself looking back over my shoulder and seeing him smirking at me. My stomach shows a little protuberance, but I think it's n my newly found voracious appetite. I don't mind Ubbe watching me eating anymore.

 

It's early morning and I’m focused on my porridge when Ubbe's voice startles me, “Tell her we are going to the market, Màiri!”

 

Màiri informs me we are leaving after breakfast and I shake my head, suddenly feeling sick. I don't want to see Haakon again. He might fulfill the promise of taking me away and I know if that happens, I'll pay for the frustration and anger Ivar caused when he claimed me.

 

I don't know if I should reveal the reason why I don't want to leave the house. For the first time, I find myself talking to Màiri before Ubbe's attentive eyes.

 

I can see how tense are his shoulders, while foreign words leave my mouth.

 

“Please… don't make me go!” I can't pretend I'm not terrified and my voice comes out as trembling as my hands.

 

Ubbe looks from Màiri to me, while she tries to convince him to allow me to stay behind, “Is she tired?” He immediately looks at my belly and my heart beats faster. He knows!

 

“Why don’t you want to go? Are you afraid of something?” Màiri shifts closer, touching my shoulder whilst I try to slow down my thoughts and find an excuse to stay behind without worrying her or raising suspicions.

 

“Are you planning to escape again?” Màiri stares at me through narrowed eyes, pressing her lips together.

 

“Where could I go to?” I’ve learned I have nowhere to go or hide. What was the point of trying again? Màiri tilts her head, sighing.

 

“I don’t want to leave you alone and besides…” Màiri pauses, smiling at me with a thoughtful expression, “It will be good for you to feel the sun on your skin and breathe fresh air.” A muscle in her jaw twitches and I know Màiri must be thinking about something else.

 

“Why are you insisting so much? I’m tired of being ordered around. Why can’t I decide for myself once?” I yell, digging my nails into my palms and closing my eyes not to look at Màiri. I know what happened to me it’s not her fault, but it seems my body can no longer contain all the anger and I’m exploding. I long for a home I can’t return to. I grieve over a bond that ceased to exist. How can I run from memories written all over my body?

 

“I’m worried about you. It would be an opportunity to see a healer…” Màiri crouches down in front of me, her hands resting on my knees to steady herself.

 

“I’m not sick…” I mutter, curling my lip into a snarl.

 

“But you may be pregnant…” My eyes burn with unshed tears and she cups my face, “and if that’s the case, you will need to consult a midwife.”

 

Ubbe clears his throat, gesturing to the door and I know I’ll have to follow even if I don’t want to.

 

I clutch my cloak around me as I walk through the crowd of people buying and selling. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid, but I feel like everyone is staring at me.

 

Some of Ubbe's men stop him to ask when they will sail away. It's evident they are agitated and longing for the sea. Ubbe nods, instructing us to proceed without him.

 

Màiri smiles, taking me by the hand and leading me away from the market's stalls to a house.

 

“Where are we going?” I look around, feeling my throat tightening.

 

“That's Ingrid's house. She is a healer.” I turn to leave, but Màiri wraps her arms around my waist.

 

“I don't want another strange touching me.” I feel a shiver running down my spine. This healer might not know, but she holds the power to change my life. My knees are trembling, and I can’t command my legs either to run nor to enter that house and face the inevitable truth.

 

The door creaks open and a woman appears, greeting us, “I’m Ingrid. How can I help you two today?”

 

“I’m sorry to bother you. It was a mistake… we are leaving.” I blurt out the words, but the way Ingrid shrugs with a smirk makes me uneasy.

 

“I don’t think you came all the way across the marketplace to my door without a reason.” Ingrid nods slowly, her smirk fading as she purses her lips. She steps back, giving us space to enter her house.

 

“We are here for your knowledge about…” Màiri whispers and I interrupt her.

 

“We are leaving!” I sound more exasperated than I intend to and the corners of Ingrid’s eyes crinkle in evident amusement.

 

“Don’t you want to enter and share a piece of a bread I just baked?” Ingrid beams at me and I want to curse my stomach for growling after her proposal. I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. She chuckles, motioning with her head for us to follow her inside. I glare at Màiri and she just shrugs.

 

There is a story etched in each wrinkle on her face. Stories told without a single word. I suppose the lines around her mouth boast of her victorious smiles whenever she could save someone, while the creases between her eyebrows are the statement of the defeats she endured when her knowledge was not enough to protect life. Her deep, brown eyes have a sparkle that seems to add both confidence and compassion to her face.

 

I swallow, entering the house, at last, followed by Màiri.

 

“Please,” Ingrid indicates us two stools and I gladly accept her offer. Ingrid is still smiling as she wields the knife, cutting two thick slices of bread. The bread is steaming, and the aroma that comes off it is like a warm and comforting embrace. My mouth waters and I lift my hand to grab the slice she offers me. I nod in appreciation for her hospitality, but then a thought comes to my mind. This woman seems to live alone, and it doesn’t feel right to eat her food. Ingrid notices my hesitation to bring the bread to my mouth and she frowns, looking offended.

 

“You can eat… there’s nothing there that will harm you.” Her upper lip curls in a slight sneer of disappointment, and my throat tightens as I see how rude I acted.

 

“I didn’t mean to insult you…” I reach over the table, touching her hand, “Forgive me! I’m only afraid we are intruding and devouring your food.” I recoil my hand to my lap, looking down.

 

“Don’t worry! I may be old, but I can take care of myself,” Ingrid touches my shoulder and I look up at her, “and some people pay for my services with a portion of their harvest. A grateful mother, carrying a strapping baby I helped to bring to the world usually comes to visit with some flour, fruits, and vegetables…” Màiri clears her throat and I bring the bread to my mouth.

 

“That’s why we are here,” Màiri confesses, voice barely above a whisper. Ingrid looks at my belly and I feel the urge to cover my body with my cloak.

 

“I won’t hurt you, child! Eat your bread and if you want, I’ll give your answer.”

 

When we finish eating the bread, Ingrid gives us water and I find it difficult to drink with the perspective that it's time to decide if I'll allow her to inspect my body.

 

Màiri looks at me expectantly and I nod, “Can you help me, Ingrid?” I mutter, looking at my trembling hands folded in my lap.

 

“Of course!” she offers me her hand and I blink my teary eyes, aware that there's no turning back.

 

“Have you noticed some change that makes you suspect you're with child?

 

“I…I haven't bled in a few months…” I confess, reminding how Ivar held me against his chest and stroked my aching belly the last time I was enduring my moon blood. A whimper leaves my mouth while I remember him rubbing his nose against my cheek I suppose to comfort me.

 

"I need you to tell me for how long he’s been doing this to you.” I cringe at her choice of words that reminds me that I find myself in this situation because Ivar decided his needs were more important than my freedom.

 

“He never pulled out, did he?” It was more an accusation than a question. He never did. Ivar always made sure he had his cock buried deep inside of me when the peak of his pleasure came. I wonder if he was seeking to get me heavy with his child by doing so or if the action only added to his ecstasy. I suppose it would require too much effort from his part not to give in to the climax completely. The fact is that his lack of consideration and restraint brought me here.

 

“Moyra?” I blink unsure about how much time I stayed absorbed in my thoughts. Màiri stares at me, her brows drawn together in concern.

 

“Can you take off your cloak, please?” Ingrid asks in a whisper and I glance at Màiri.

 

I take a deep breath, forcing my limbs to stop shaking enough to let me rise to my feet. Her eyes travel down my body, but it doesn't pass unnoticed that she takes more time staring at my breasts and stomach.

 

“I’ve been eating more. It’s normal that I’ve gained some weight.” I stutter, not quite believing my words. Ingrid stares at me, sighing and shaking her head. I have seen this emotion behind her eyes before. Pity. My heart is beating painfully against my ribs, but I can barely process what is happening. I push the thought aside denying the implication.

 

“Can you undress?” I’m sure my eyes are wide open, but Ingrid continues, ignoring how appalled I might look, “From the waist up only.”

 

“I-I… Is that really necessary?” I mumble, searching for Màiri’s eyes. She smiles affectionately at me. My fingers are faltering as I loosen the laces between my breasts. I pull the gown off my shoulders, down my breasts. The fabric pools at my waist caught at the mild flesh of my hips.

 

I don't dare to look at Ingrid as her breath washes over my skin. She murmurs something for herself, her fingertips touching my nipples. She is delicate, but I flinch at her touch and Ingrid recoils her hand, “I won’t hurt you.” My nipples must be tingling because my bleeding is coming.

 

“I know!” Màiri reaches over, taking my hand and I squeeze her fingers, feeling my eyes brimming with tears.

 

“Look!” Ingrid runs her finger over the big blue veins that became apparent beneath my skin. Tears are streaming down my face already. She rolls my nipple between her fingers and I sob, watching a yellowish liquid seeping out, “Your body is changing to welcome your child into the world.” Ingrid gulps, wiping away the tears from my cheeks with her calloused thumbs.

 

Ingrid sputters something about how I shouldn't stand, but I barely listen to her words when black spots start to appear across my vision. My head is spinning and it's like I'm floating. I stumble against Màiri and she catches me, wrapping an arm around me and helping me to sit. I close my eyes, tossing my head back.

 

“You don’t want this child, do you?” Ingrid asks, squatting in front of me. The concern is plainly written on her face.

 

I don’t know how to answer her. I’ve always thought about having children, but I have never considered it would be this way. I don’t even know how Ivar will react to the news or if he is alive even. I didn’t want the turmoil I find myself in, but I can’t hide or pretend anymore.

 

“You’re not the first and won’t be the last to wish for this.” The woman’s lips curl in a very faint, tired smile and I feel my hands trembling.

 

“But before you decide, I need to warn you about the risks..." she pauses and I peer at her face, "because there are sadly some risks, I won’t pretend or lie to you about it." I feel my chest tightening, but I nod for Ingrid to speak.

 

"While most often everything works fine, some women don’t react well. A few become very sick after they have absorbed the tansy, and some are never able to bear a healthy child afterward, even years later." I take a deep breath, thinking if it would be a blessing in my situation. The thoughts of freedom abandoned me and maybe not having a fertile womb for Ivar to plant his seed in the future is the best outcome. I still don't believe Ivar will leave me in peace for too long.

 

Ingrid speaks again, taking me out of my trance, "And sometimes a woman can die, though this is not usual... but I’ve seen it happen on a couple of occasions in my life. I wouldn’t be sincere not to tell you. I’m sure this must be terrifying to you," Ingrid holds my sweaty hands, "still I prefer that you be aware of the potential consequences of taking this path.” I gulp, thinking about all the women that were as desperate as I am right now. The helpless women that faced a painful and bloody death.

 

“And there are those poor souls that hold onto their mother's womb, being born ill and weak…” I blink my teary eyelids, trying to find meaning in her words, but I barely register what she says after. Ingrid rushes to a casket, walking back with some herbs in her hands. My breath hitches in my throat when I finally realize the choice she is giving me. Will I be able to rip my child out of the safety of my womb? How must it feel to look at a sickly child, knowing that it is your doing?

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Màiri glaring at her, but my focus remains on Ingrid. I raise my hand, feeling cold sweat running down my spine, “If you really want to do this, Ivar mustn’t know. I would be punished for damaging his property.”

 

Something deep within my gut doesn’t let me collapse and I’m resolute to show her it's my choice. A hidden, indomitable strength I forgot I had inside me pulls my spine erect.

 

“This child is mine to protect and love. Ivar might be dead for what I know.” I yell, pulling up my dress with Màiri’s help. Ingrid smiles, walking back to hide the herbs in her casket. My son, I think, touching my belly. It will be a boy I decide at that instant and he will be strong and honorable.

 

“I suppose I’ll see you in a few weeks them. To see how the pregnancy goes.” Ingrid tilts her head, regarding us with a faint smile turning up the corner of her mouth. I return the tenderness, realizing she doesn’t deserve my fury. Ingrid only showed me a different choice. I remove a ring from my finger to pay her. At least one of his gifts will be useful.

 

“I can’t accept it! You don’t have to pay me.” I open my mouth to reply, but Ingrid shakes her head, “I accept a bread the next time I visit you.” I giggle, walking to the door and followed by Màiri.

 

“Thank you for everything, Ingrid. I’ll welcome you with a bread the next time… and could you keep a secret?” I hesitate and Ingrid grins.

 

“When you do what I do for so many years, you gather many secrets in your mind. To the point, you end up forgetting them.” I understand what she means when I look at her curved spine. She reminds me of those trees that bend over because of the wind, unbroken. For a moment I envy her.

 

I plead her, hoping I won’t regret my decision to trust this woman. “They don’t know I speak…”

 

She cuts me off, “Our language. I understand… they wouldn’t listen anyway, would they?” Her blatant honesty makes me blink.

 

 


 

 

As we walk back to the market, I notice how Màiri is unusually quiet.

 

“What’s wrong?” Màiri stops, crossing her arms over her chest and holding her head high.

 

“Do you trust that woman? It seems to me you’re opening up too fast.”

 

“Are you jealous?” I must press my lips not to laugh.

 

“Why should I be?” She can’t hold back an exasperated snort and I pull her into my arms.

 

“You’re like a mother to me. Nothing will stand between us.” I confess, taking a step back.

 

“I find you two at last.” Màiri and I whirl to look at Ubbe. He is smiling, his hands hidden behind his back.

 

“I brought you something…” He looks at me, blood rushing to his cheeks while he waits for Màiri to translate what he is saying. It’s almost amusing how insecure this man looks, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, “well… it’s not really for you.” Ubbe stretches out his palm and I gasp, seeing a little wooden toy in his hand. It's a wolf.

 

“That way I’ll always be around my little niece or nephew.” He chuckles, a little sheepishly and I take the gift from his hand, running my finger over the intricately carved details. He knew all along.

 

I shouldn’t feel grateful or happy, but I smile back at Ubbe. My mind filled with images of a chubby baby bringing this wooden wolf to its mouth.

 

Of course, my newly found bliss is interrupted. I feel like someone is watching us. The hair on the back of my neck standing up. When I look over Ubbe’s shoulder I understand why my body reacted this way. Haakon is glaring at us, a wolfish smile on his lips as he pushes his slave forward, making the poor woman stumble and collapse to her hands and knees. That could be me if Ivar hadn’t claimed me. I can feel the sweat drench my skin, my eyes throbbing.

 

Ubbe glances around, his eyes finally founding the reason for my distraction. His hand goes to the pommel of his sword, Ubbe is ready to walk to Haakon. My heart skips a beat and I hold his arms, shaking my head, “No!” His jaw drops, and I bite my lower lip not to reveal that I’ve been learning their language.

 

It looks like Ubbe’s intense stare was enough to scare Haakon. He walks away, taking advantage of the fact I’m still holding Ubbe’s arm.

 

“I suppose it’s normal you learned a few words… but doesn’t want to talk to us yet. I understand that.”

 

For some reason, I sense I won’t need to ask Ubbe to keep it a secret.

 

 


 

  

Ubbe became closer to Moyra the more her belly grew, always bringing treats and making sure she had everything she needed. Little by little, she started bounding to the life growing inside of her, the baby wouldn't be necessarily a monster. She would raise her child to be an honored man or a good woman. Moyra found herself talking and singing to her ever-growing belly every night and wondering when and if Ivar would return. And more important, how he would react to the news. 

 

At night she would kneel and pray, "God grant me the courage to change the things I can change...", she would always stop for a moment, thinking if she could change her situation and how. "The serenity to accept those I cannot change, And the wisdom to know the difference." her heart was too fierce to acceptance. She wondered why God had abandoned her, why he allowed her to be a sinner living among the Norsemen. The next part of the prayer always leaving Moyra in doubt, "God grant me the courage not to give up on what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.”

 

The idea she was carrying in her own flesh a child that was as much Ivar’s as hers had been extremely disturbing to Moyra for the first weeks she had become aware she was with child. She may have come to accept the feeling of his arms around her during cold nights, what didn’t mean she was willing to be so irreversibly tied to him. While it had taken her some time and that all the implications it brought were still extremely difficult to conceive, Moyra had now gotten so used to the idea that she could find some good in the situation. Having Ivar for a father was certainly far from terrible, seeing from her baby's perspective. He had many flaws, but he could certainly provide a comfortable life for their child and if their son could inherit all of his strength and battle skills he would be envied. Remembering how Ivar had cared for Birgen brought hope he would be a good father. He would be a bastard, but Moyra was certain he could accomplish so much in spite of it.

 

Sometimes Moyra pondered how she would feel if Ivar never returned. He had forcibly become an important part of her life since they had left Alba and while none of it had been her choice, Moyra had to recognize her life would always be divided into before and after Ivar raided her village.

 

Her attachment to him was unavoidable. Moyra had been raised to believe that she would be loyal to only one man throughout her life. That she would guard her virginity for him and bear only his children had always been indubitable to her. Now that she had lost her innocence to Ivar and was heavy with his seed, it was only natural that she felt as if they belonged together. He had forced himself into the role of the husband she had been prepared to welcome and Moyra was confused with the suggestion she should be loyal to the man that destroyed her dreams. I'm not being myself! I owe him nothing!

 

 


 

 

“How could you disappoint us this way, daughter?” Iona glares at Moyra, her lips curling into a snarl.

 

“I couldn’t…” Moyra looks down, feeling her throat tightening. Another voice interrupts her.

 

“You should have killed him in his sleep before he had the chance to put a child in you,” Morogh shouts, lifting both his hands to his head to rub his face and temples. Moyra weeps until her body is shaking.

 

“I couldn’t do anything to prevent it. It’s not my fault. You must understand... How could I kill a man in his sleep?” Moyra looks down, feeling her throat tightening. 

 

“A bastard for a man that killed us. Can’t you see?” Bastard. The word was stained with hatred. Everyone always judged those who were born out of wedlock and still, it was never the child’s fault. It was not Moyra's fault either. How harsh the world could be to condemn a baby for its parents' sins. Ivar may not have wielded the sword that took their lives, but he commanded the invasion and so the responsibility weighed on his shoulders. Pausing in her sobs, Moyra gazes up at her parents through her tears. Blood is streaming down out of gashes across their throats, creating a gushing stream of dark crimson that forms a large pool under her feet. Her horrified scream echoes grotesquely in her own ears.

 

Moyra jolts awake, sitting straight up in the bed. Cold sweat is covering her trembling body, making her flimsy nightdress cling to her skin. Her heart is hammering against her ribcage as Moyra listens to her labored breath filling the silent night.

 

She tries to take a deep breath, but the pain in her chest worsens and Moyra sobs, thinking death has come to her. A powerful kick breaks the dizziness her shallow breathing caused. Moyra closes her eyes, leaning her head against the headboard. She cradles her swollen belly, a gently sigh leaving her parted lips. She wills her shoulders to relax, with the exhale. Moyra closes her mouth, inhaling through her nose and filling her lungs. Another kick commands her to exhale through her mouth and she complies, smiling and caressing her stomach. 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Moyra didn't want to eat in the hall in Ivar’s presence. She was embarrassed and terrified he would hurt her again. She failed to protect her parents and virtue and now she couldn't do anything if Ivar decided to harm her baby. Moyra thought about the poor girl she saw in the market so many months before. How Haakon seemed pleased to make her suffer and bear the marks of his violence on her frail and shivering body. Moyra couldn't erase the image of the poor starving boy whose eyes were still shiny despite his constant hunger. Tears poured slowly down her face when she recalled how his hands trembled when he reached for the plate Moyra sneakily offered him while Haakon was snoring, laying motionsless on a bench, after one of the many feasts to celebrate the harvest.


Moyra thought about how naive she was to think Ivar could be different. Even tender with children as she remembered noticing out of the corner of her eye, when he gave the boy a big slice of cheese. A smile creeping on his lips whilst he patted and rubbed the top of the child's head.

 

Since Ivar's outburst, the baby had stopped moving. He was always quiet in the evening, but Moyra feared for his safety nonetheless. "Are you asleep, little one?" Moyra asked her voice faltering. She could almost see him in her mind’s eyes - curled onto himself inside her womb. He was big already, there was no doubt in her mind about that. She wondered if his hair would be black as hers and Ivar's or auburn as her father's. The notion that her baby would have carry something from her family was very pleasing to Moyra. For a very short time, Moyra had considered calling him Morogh, but then she remembered it wouldn't be her choice as everything else. Tears started welling in her eyes.

 

Ivar will probably pick a Norse name. If... if he wants the baby. A strangled sob escaped from her quavering lips, tears ran down her cheeks. As if sensing she needed support, her baby started stirring inside of her at last.

 

"Oh, you're awake!" She wiped away her tears, smiling.

 

His movements turned into enthusiastic kicks. She rubbed her belly, whispering, "I love you too."

 

She felt stronger, reassured that her baby was telling her everything was well. For the sake of her baby, Moyra was determined to eat what Màiri brought her later on, even thought Ivar have flavored her meal with fear and she believed it would be impossible to taste anything else beneath her tongue but helplessness and sorrow.

 


 

 

“She needs to eat,” Ivar told Màiri looking at his plate. “for the baby,” Ivar couldn't eat either. The food tasted like ashes in his mouth, and guilt was like a wolf devouring him from the inside.

 

“If you have thought before acting, she would be here. Maybe even smiling at you.” Ubbe reprimanded.

 

“I know I'm wrong. There's no need to tell me what I know.” Ivar hissed frustrated.

 

“Then I'll tell you what you don't know. If it was not for this child, I'm sure she would have tried to kill herself. The first time she smiled, since the discovery of the pregnancy, was when the baby started kicking. It was so beautiful, Ivar.” Ubbe revealed.

 

“Did she smile? Is that true?” Ivar lamented.

 

Màiri approached shaking her head in disapproval, “She loves the baby and she thought you would love it as well. How do you think she felt when you hurt and yelled at her? She must have thought you were going to kill her. Can you imagine how powerless she felt not being able to protect herself and the baby?”

 

Ivar's jaw was trembling, “I…I would never…” he stammered, cold sweat running down his spine while his mind was plagued by the thoughts of what could have happened if Ubbe hadn't interfered in time.

 

“It was what looked like. Your face was twisted in fury. I wouldn't be surprised if her arms are sore due the tight grip you had on her.” Ubbe scolded.

 

When Ivar went to bed after the meal. He could see Moyra curled up in a small ball almost falling from bed. He was penalized that he was the reason of her suffering. If he had controlled his emotions, he could be embracing her now and feeling their baby moving.

 

During the night, he heard Moyra's teeth chattering together. Ivar didn't need to touch her to notice her skin was as cold as ice. The furs had slipped down to her hips, her hands resting protectively around the large swell of her belly, the instinctive touch making Ivar think about what Ubbe mentioned earlier.

 

She smiled feeling the baby moving. Something that I'll never allow myself to do. Ivar covered her with the furs.

 

 


 

 

The following morning Moyra was bathing with Màiri’s help. There were faint purple spots on her upper arms where Ivar had held her.

 

“I'm sorry!” Màiri said caressing Moyra’s skin.

 

“For what?” Moyra didn't understand what she was talking about.

 

“I didn't protect you, he could... he could have...” Màiri started crying.

 

Moyra used her hand to clean Máiri’s tears, “It's not your fault. He is to blame.”

 

Ivar entered the room, his gaze going to her swollen belly making him smile, but when his eyes traveled through her body and he saw the marks on her skin, Ivar felt a knot in his throat. He had promised he would never touch her against her will, and he failed miserably. Not only he touched her, he hurt her. His blind fury could have killed her and their child.

 

Ubbe is right!

 

He stood there for a few moments, paralyzed by the vision of his mistake.

 

When he gathered courage to look at her face, Ivar saw that she was glaring at him, lips pressed into a thin line.

 

I deserve this. He thought, walking away.

 

 


 

 

"Where is my bread?" Ingrid walked into the hall, laughing. She was too distracted to notice Ivar was discussing with Erik, one of his most trusted warriors about the repair of the defensive walls.

 

Ivar frowned at her, "Who are you?"

 

Ingrid looked up at Ivar, after handing the heavy basket she was carrying to one of his men. It didn’t pass unnoticed how her nose wrinkled when she stared at him. Her jaw clenched for a few instants before Ivar grew tired of waiting for her answer.

 

I said - who are you?” He slowly hissed. It was almost impossible not to flinch, but Ingrid just shrugged.

 

“My name is Ingrid. I’m a healer and I’ve been visiting your concubine to see how her pregnancy is going.” She straightened her back and glared at Ivar, “Now – Where is she?” She added, crossing her arms over her chest and raising her eyebrows.

 

“Ingrid. We were not waiting for you so soon.” Ubbe welcomed her cheerfully, crossing the distance between them in long strides and placing an arm over her shoulder. Ivar noticed the scowl on her face slowly faded into a grin.

 

Ingrid couldn’t say she came early after hearing the news of Ivar’s arrival. She was worried about his reaction to Moyra’s pregnancy, “I found some berries while wandering through the forest seeking for herbs and I thought she would like to have some. They are good – for the baby.” Ingrid glanced warily at Ivar, wanting to see how he felt about being a father.

 

“That’s good! That’s good!” Ingrid watched through narrowed eyes as Ubbe’s blue eyes surveyed his brother coolly. Her stomach clenched intuitively. Something is wrong.  

 

“Come! Let’s see my nephew!” His hand was gentle around her shoulders.

 

“It might be a niece! Only the Gods know.” Ingrid playfully scolded Ubbe.

 

“We shall see!” Ubbe chuckled and couldn’t see how Ivar hid his face with his hands, feeling his eyes burning with unshed tears.

 

“Your woman is carrying your child!” Erik shouted, patting Ivar’s shoulder.

 

“She is.” Ivar forced a smile on his face, sensing that being happy after what he did was like taking possession of something he didn’t deserve.

 

After Ingrid’s arrival, Ivar couldn’t concentrate on his conversation with Erik. His thoughts kept going to what might be happening in his quarters. His world revolved around that room and he couldn’t bring himself to enter there as any father should do. It was a strange feeling of desperation gripping him. He felt like stepping inside of that bedroom now would be like corrupting something sacred.

 

 


 

 

“That… that bastard.” Ingrid yelled, seeing the purple marks on Moyra’s arms when she undressed.

 

“Please…” Moyra whispered, flinching when Ingrid rubbed ointment on her skin.

 

“I’ll talk to him. He can’t treat you like that. It’s his doing you’re with child.” Ingrid shook her head, pursing her lips. Màiri nodded, agreeing with Ingrid's fury.

 

“But Ingrid…” Moyra begged, looking around. She felt her heartbeat pounding in her ears, as she tried to plead Ingrid not to provoke Ivar’s fury.

 

“I brought you berries.” Ingrid chuckled, trying to break the heavy tension.

 

“Thank you.” Moyra murmured meekly.

 

“I’ll leave these oils, so you can massage her legs before she goes to bed. It will help with the swelling and blood will flow better.” Ingrid handed Màiri some bottles. Màiri wanted to protest at the way Ingrid seemed to be ordering her, but put the thought aside because Moyra’s comfort and health was their shared mission.

 

 


 

 

Ivar set his elbows on the table, leaning toward Ingrid as if sharing a secret. “I'll provide everything she might need. Just ask and it will be granted.”

 

But you can't give it back what you took. Ingrid thought, her hands clenched around the cup of mead Màiri brought her.

 

"Make sure she eats well. She must drink milk, eat cheese, berries, dried fruits and nuts. I know these are all costly goods but I think a King can afford them. Make sure she never lacks of anything.”

 

“I will,” Ivar promised.

 

“Staying inside at all time is not healthy for anyone. Your woman and her babe will need some fresh air. She must go out everyday when the weather allows it,” Ingrid added.

 

"Carrying a baby it's as hard as being a warrior..." Ingrid said with a severe expression on her face.

 

"I know." Ivar interrupted, nodding.

 

"It doesn't look like you know." The healer harshly added, "Mo..." Ingrid reminded herself that Moyra asked her to keep her name as a secret, "She needs to feel safe and protected."

 

He lifted both his hands to his head to rub his temples. His eyes dragged ever so slowly to look at the woman in front of him. His gut twisted, guilt seeping into him.

 

"The baby is moving and growing as expected." Ingrid had sensed, intuitively, that Moyra carried two babies. But she didn't want to share this feeling yet.

 

Ivar smirked, picturing their baby in his arms. His bemusement slowly faded, and something more wistful took its place. Ingrid carefully perused his face. She will be safe. Guilt serves him well.

 

  


 

  

Ubbe decided to delay his departure for a few weeks. He couldn't walk away after what Ivar did. He felt responsible for Moyra's safety. Every night, Moyra would go to bed before Ivar, not only because she wanted to avoid him, but also because she felt fatigued earlier than usual. Ingrid visited Moyra daily until she felt Ivar wouldn't hurt Moyra.


Moyra couldn't muffle her grunts of discomfort against the pillows as the muscles of her legs were contracting excruciatingly. Ivar lifted his hand to touch her shoulder, but stopped. He started chewing on his lower lip and his eyes welled up with tears. Ivar left the bed and ran to the servants' quarters.

 

Màiri was confused, seeing Ivar's despair, but followed him. Entering the room, she saw Moyra was hiding her face in the pillows, grunting in anguish and digging her fingers into her calf, trying to soothe the ache it was clearly torturing her.

 

She sighed and rushed to help Moyra. Màiri touched the hem of her dress and Moyra flinched, probably thinking Ivar was the one touching her.

 

"It's me. I won't hurt you!" Màiri reassured her.

 

Moyra lifted her head from the pillows and Màiri gulped audibly, penalized by the sight of her swollen eyes. A new wave of pain hit her and Moyra squeezed her eyes shut, gritting her teeth. 

 

Màiri didn't wait for Moyra's permission and pulled up her dress then reached for the bottle the healer left on the bedside. Màiri poured out some of the salve Ingrid prepared into her hands. She wrapped her hands around Moyra’s ankle and began spreading the salve over the skin, up her calves and behind her knee. Màiri repeated the procedure for the other leg, finding the places where the muscles felt knotted and applying more pressure, with her thumbs. Moyra stopped groaning and Màiri caressed her hair, making her sleep again.

 

When Màiri turned to leave, she saw Ivar had wiped his tears so much his eyes were red and swollen.

 

Witnessing one of the many sacrifices Moyra was going through to carry, and soon give birth to their child was another painful reminder he had been ungrateful. She could have gotten rid of their child while he was away and he would never know. But she didn't and he repaid her with mistrust and violence.

 

Moyra protected the life that, against her will, he put inside of her. It should be his responsibility and right to assist and provide her some comfort, but Ivar knew he had shown himself unworthy of her trust and love and so he couldn't demand anything from Moyra.

 

 


 

 

 

Hvitserk was back a few weeks later, on his way from one raid to another. He wanted Ubbe to join him. A sacrifice was conducted to ask for the Gods' protection and success on their journey.

 

The smell of roast lamb was tantalizing, and Moyra felt her mouth water, but her stomach pulled into a tight knot as soon as she caught Ivar looking at her. Moyra did her best not to attract his attention any longer by staying as motionless as she could but her efforts were worthless. Ivar’s gaze was still glued on her and he was watching her while drinking. Ivar was sad she didn't want to sit near him, taking a seat between Ubbe and Hvitserk. Ivar wanted to feel their baby kicking but knew he didn’t deserve this privilege.

 

Ivar rose to his feet and announced that he would like everyone's attention. The speed of her pulse raced and Moyra thought it would be in that moment Ivar would reveal she would be sent away after the inconvenient pregnancy.

 

"There's a skald here and I have a request. Could you tell us a story, Egil?" Ivar shouted, raising his cup.

 

Egil nodded at Ivar and stood near the fire coming from the hearth, “Baldr, son of Odin and Frigg and the most beautiful God, lived in Breidablik with his wife Nanna. He was knowledgeable in healing and runes and therefore venerated through all Midgard. No lie could pass through the walls of Breidablik, so when Baldr started having frightening nightmares about his own death, the other Aesir took them seriously.” Her stomach clenched and Moyra thought it must be a terrible burden dreaming about one’s own demise.

 

She looked at Egil again as his voice changed to a severe tone, “What would happen if the God of truth and light died? Odin knew the consequences of the death of his son and have stopped eating for he knew about the inevitable doom of Ragnarök.” Moyra noticed the way everyone's face was contorted in what she thought as sadness after the mention of the last word. She wondered what worried Odin the most, the fact his son would die or that his death would lead to apparently grave consequences. Then she shook her head. That's not real. These Gods don't exist.

 

Frigg searched through Midgard and all the other realms for anything that could harm her beloved son. Then she took their oaths they wouldn't hurt Baldr. That proved to be an easy task for everyone loved him and they didn't hesitate to do as Frigg asked.” Moyra smiled, strangely satisfied that Frigg could protect her son. She rubbed her belly and the baby kicked in response. I would do the same for you, my love. Ubbe looked down at her and grinned.

 

The skald proceeded with the story, “When she had completed her mission, Frigg returned to Gladsheim.”

 

“What is Glads... glads?” she grabbed Màiri’s arm as she passed by to refill Hvitserk’s cup. Moyra asked shyly, hoping no one would hear them.

 

Ubbe whispered, startling her, “It's a realm in Asgard, Odin's hall is there.” Moyra stared at him for a few moments, surprised he could have learned so many words in her language. She nodded and shifted her attention to Egil.

 

“...celebrated their happiness until they decided to test Baldr's invulnerability, throwing things at him,” Moyra gulped, imagining Frigg watching her son being attacked, “and noticing they bounced off without hurting Baldr. Many weapons were used, including Thor's axe and all refused to hurt the god.” She exhaled deeply, relieved that Frigg was successful.

 

“But living among the Aesir, there was a trickster god that liked to cause discord when everything was peaceful. He was Loki, the son of the giants Fárbauti and Laufey,” The man lifted his arms above his head, his lips curled into a snarl. Moyra pressed her lips tightly together, feeling this story would turn into a tragedy.

 

“Loki was disturbed by all the gaiety and decided to do something about it.” Moyra was confused about why this tale was having such an effect on her emotions. She blamed the pregnancy and cradled her belly. Egil walked around in silence, waiting for his words to weight on everyone. She had to admit he knew how to captivate the people’s attention with his well-paced voice.

 

“Disguised as a disgusting old hag, Loki visited Frigg while she was at Fensalir resting from the festivities.” Moyra gasped, leaning forward.

 

“What is the reason for all the happiness at Gladsheim?” His voice assumed a high-pitched tone while he was mimicking Loki, “Not aware of his intentions, Frigg said it was a celebration for Baldr, but Loki insisted.” Moyra placed her elbow on the table, her fist propped under her chin. Her eyelids were heavy, but she needed to know how this tale would end.

 

“Why, then, were people throwing weapons at him? Loki asked in disguise. Frigg explained about the oaths she had taken from any living and dead being through all the nine realms in order to protect Baldr.” The skald kept his gaze idly, as if the hall was not crowded.

 

The discomfort of sitting in the same position for that long made Moyra wince in pain. She brought both hands to her lower back, tilting her chin up and arching her spine. Ubbe placed his hand on her shoulder, frowning at her. Moyra offered the most reassuring smile she could manage while Ivar’s heavy gaze was on her. Moyra felt her mouth dry, terrified Ivar would be jealous of her proximity with Ubbe. Her heartbeat was pounding loudly in her ears whilst Ivar’s eyes darted over her face. His expression was unreadable and Moyra drew a few shaky breaths to calm herself. Then the skald raised his voice, and she sighed relieved that the tension ebbed.

 

Loki kept asking questions until Frigg finally revealed that there was one thing she hadn't asked because she thought it too small and inconsequential,” Egil shrugged, dropping the timbre of his voice as if he was sharing a secret with the audience, “That one thing was the mistletoe.” He looked around as though to gauge their reaction. Moyra tilted her head, trying to understand what Loki could do with that information. 

 

Loki wandered through the forest to get himself a branch of mistletoe and he made a magical arrow from this plant, returning to the festivities at Gladsheim afterwards.” Egil brought a cup of mead to his lips as if he had just walked into the feast hall himself. After swallowing the mead in big gulps, he continued the story.

 

“As a trickster, Loki couldn’t do the wicked deed with his own hands. He reveled in the fact he could deceive others into fulfilling his schemes. That way he could walk away unscathed.” Moyra thought this god was so much like the priest described Satan back home. The similarity made her shudder and she wrapped her arms around herself, feeling her lips trembling, “When Loki saw Höðr, Baldr’s brother, isolated in a corner he knew it was his chance. What are you doing here, Höðr? Loki asked Höðr.” Moyra felt a shiver running down her spine when Elgi grinned mischievously.

 

Höðr was sad he was blind and couldn’t participate in the test of his brother’s invulnerability. Loki told Höðr he would help him take aim and handed him the arrow with the magical arrow to launch against Baldr.” Moyra gasped and placed her hands over her mouth immediately, hoping no one heard her.

 

Höðr was grateful and accepted the offer, so Loki steered Höðr’s arm. Höðr launched the poisoned arrow, which caught Baldr in the chest, killing him instantly. The gods looked towards Höðr and saw Loki beside him. Before they could do anything, Loki fled.” Tears welled in her eyes, but Moyra willed herself not to cry in front of everyone.

 

“For this act, Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to Váli who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr.” Moyra released a heavy sigh, her eyes clenched shut making the few tears she had to trickle down her cheeks.

 

Baldr’s funeral pyre was so huge that the gods had to ask for the giants’ help. They then placed their most valuable possessions as gifts upon the pyre. Odin placed his golden ring Draupnir. Nanna, Baldr’s wife fell dead of grief at the pyre, so the gods placed her body beside her husband's.” Moyra couldn’t stop her sob this time. As much as she tried to take deep breaths, the tears wouldn’t stop coming. She raised her hand, wiping them away, trying to hide how the story affected her.

 

“An attempt was made to resurrect Balder,” Moyra smiled through the tears, relieved that as Jesus, Baldr would rise from the dead, “The goddess of death, Hel, promised that Baldr could return from her realm if every living creature shed tears of grief for Balder. It looked as though it would work, for everyone loved Balder, but Loki arranged for a single exception. Loki disguised himself as the giantess Thok. As Thok, Loki was too indifferent to cry. And so, Baldr could not return to the land of the living.” Her whole body was trembling and Ubbe held her hand until Moyra could breathe normally again.

 

Out the corner of her eyes, she saw Ivar shift tensely in his chair, yet she didn’t try to meet his gaze and kept her stare fixed to the skald instead, hoping that it might help stabilise the world around her.

 

Ivar stared at them, swallowing the lump in his throat. I should be holding her hand. I ruined everything.

 

 Ivar thought he was like Höðr, blinded and manipulated by his jealousy to destroy the happiness he could be sharing with her, but for Moyra he was like Loki, tricking her into start believing he was not cruel, only to strike when she was the most vulnerable.

 

 


 

 

The sadness receded, and the hall was filled with laughter once more.

 

“You ate all the chicken, Hvitserk! It looks like you're the one with child. She needs to eat better, she is carrying our niece or nephew. Maybe both,” Ubbe smiled at Moyra.

 

“I'm sorry!” Hvitserk groaned with his mouth full of food.

 

Moyra giggled and Ivar smiled seeing her amused for the first time since his arrival. When she noticed he was looking at her, her smile faded and she looked at her lap, her hands going to her stomach.

 

Ubbe tried to ease things, “She looks tired. Màiri?”

 

“Yes?” 

 

“I think my nephew or niece is quite heavy and absorbing its mother's energy. She needs to rest!” 

 

Ingrid usually came to the house every week to check on her and make sure all was going well with Moyra and the babe. In her last visit, she had examined Moyra and reported to Ivar she was as healthy as any pregnant woman could pray to be and thus Ivar should not be worried. But the fact was that his mind was troubled by guilt. There was no doubting the child was alive, seeing how fast it was growing. Her stomach was bulging pretty impressively already and still getting bigger every week.

 

Moyra smiled at Ubbe, she would miss his gentleness. Especially with the moment for the birth coming. The smile was noticed by Ivar that wondered if she would smile at him one day.

 

Màiri nodded and helped Moyra to her feet. Every day it was more difficult to walk.

  

"Good night!" Ubbe whispered to Moyra, making Ivar frown.

 

"Good night, Ubbe!" Moyra replied in a whisper, but regretted immediately, feeling the rhythm of her pulse increasing. A shiver traveled down her spine at the thought of what her words might imply to Ivar. Moyra thought she had seen genuine hate gleam in his eyes as Ivar glared at his brother. The idea that such an innocent farewell could already wake that repulsive, animalistic side in him was outrageous.

 

Màiri protectively placed an arm around Moyra's waist, to conduct her to sleep. Moyra hesitantly craned her neck up to look at Ivar, fearing he would show the full scale of his brutality. His features softened a bit as he met her eyes for a brief instant, before Màiri pulled Moyra away, to the back of the house.

 

"What did she say?" Ivar rasped, making Ubbe wince at the dryness of his tone.

 

“Will you ever change, Ivar? Can’t you see you're scaring her?” Ubbe snapped at Ivar, shifting in his seat to face him.

 

“Speak!” Ivar bade, making Ubbe rolls his eyes.

 

"You two... stop it!" Hvitserk interject, stammering and trying hard not to sound intimidated.

 

"I wished her a good night in her language. Something you should try to learn if you still dream of conquering her heart," Ubbe gulps down the rest of his mead, rising to his feet, "if she can forgive you, of course." Ubbe added, storming out of the hall.

  

Hearing the raised voices echoing through the house, made her heart skip a beat and her whole body stiffened. Moyra gasped and whirled around to look in the men’s direction, but Màiri's firm grasp prevented Moyra from walking back to them.

 

"It's not your problem. Let them solve their own quarrels. You must worry only about your child." Moyra nodded.


When Ivar joined her in bed later, his mind was too troubled. He closed his heavy eyelids, but sleep did not come immediately as Ivar had expected it to. He peered at Moyra, and smiled seeing her lips slightly open as she breathed in her sleep. Should I try to learn her language? No sooner had the thought crossed his mind Ivar stiffened and glance away from her sleeping form, his face pulling into a scowl. Ubbe knows nothing, he sneered at himself.

 

 


 

  

Moyra couldn't follow Ivar to the harbor to say goodbye to Ubbe and Hvitserk the following morning. She was scared Ubbe wouldn't return and confused for feeling this way. He had been present through all those troubled months, protecting and defending her. And now she would be alone with Ivar once more. Moyra felt like Frigg, with a doomed quest ahead of her. What will stop Ivar if he decides to hurt us? The that had been locked fell unrestrained over her cheeks as she caressed her belly.

 

 


 

 

As a way to avoid him Moyra spends most of her time in the back of the longhouse spinning wool in the company of the other women of the house. They often dedicate the afternoon to make little socks, hats, swaddling blankets and tunics by hearth as food slowly simmers over the fire. Moyra enjoys their company for they are always kind and attentive when she needed to rest. They never talked much but their time together was always pleasant and made the longing Moyra had for her forever lost home a bit more bearable.

 

At noticing the little clothes accumulating, Ivar decided he should build a small wooden chest in which they could be stored until the birth. He couldn't impose his presence on Moyra, but Ivar could still try to include himself in their baby's life. He was so happy when Moyra had first seen it, even though she tried her best to remain collected, he saw a small and hesitant yet genuine smile playing on her lips. It meant so much to him that he had worked to create something with his own two hands for their child, especially since woodworking was not a skill he had ever practiced nor had any interest in. He had always presumed his hands were only skilled for slaughter and pain.

 

Frequently, Moyra opened the chest to admire all the little garments she and Màiri had knitted so far. So small, she thought one evening as she touched at a tiny pair of socks with a finger. Knelt over the rug by the chest’s side, she had her head bowed over its content and her back to the door and didn't notice Ivar's arrival.
 

It was hard to believe their child could ever fit in such tiny clothes. Has Ivar himself ever been that size at all?  She wondered as tears started welling in her eyes. It seemed impossible that a warrior as fearsome as Ivar could once have fitted in the cradle of a woman's arms. This image was not something Moyra could easily conceive.

 

My baby, I’m sure you will be beautiful, and fair, she mused caressing her rounded belly. Loved like Baldr if you're a boy. The thought made her chin tremble as Moyra recalled the suffering surrounding the tale of Baldr's death. Her child being a boy would be preferable anyway given that she didn't want to see a girl from her flesh and blood silently enduring the mistreat of men's world. It would be easier for Ivar to bond with a boy. They would have more in common, like fathers and sons always did. It's the only way for you to be safe, the baby kicked and Moyra smiled through the tears. The thought of Ivar teaching her child, like fathers ought to was not soothing, but she was determined to tolerate anything for the sake of her baby. As Frigg Moyra would move montains so no harm would befall her beloved. She only hoped she would be more succesful in her quest than Frigg.

  

 


 

 

He woke up in the middle of the night, missing the warmth of her body next to him. Not that he had tried to take her again. Ivar could not bear the look she gave him at the time he was furious with her, after that failed escape, or when he saw the consequences of his violence marked in her skin. It was when the truth was revealed before him. It was always there, but his blinding hopes that she would forgive him and, maybe one day, come to love him didn't allow Ivar to see the monster he was in her perspective.

 

He opened his eyes in panic, his hands searching for her in the bed, only to find an empty and cold space.

 

Did she try to run away? She is heavily pregnant and the child will be born at any time. She can't go so far. His thoughts were accelerating inside his head. Ivar wanted them to slow, so he could breathe and think about where she had gone. Not even before an important battle he felt this way. His heart hammering inside his ribcage. Ivar rose as fast as if he was under attack.

 

His eyes scanning the room. She was still there. His heartbeat slowing in relief, he let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. But a new worry arising to take place. Something was wrong.

 

She was walking stiffer, one hand on her back and another on her lower belly. Moyra was sweating and biting her lower lip, her eyebrows furrowed. He was paralyzed watching her. Until a low grunt of pain left her lips and tears started running down her cheeks. Ivar ran to her side, holding her. She looked at him, panic in her eyes.

 

“Everything will be okay. The baby is coming. I'll take you to bed and call Màiri and the midwife, my beauty.”

 

She closed her eyes in pain once more, digging her nails in his arm when he carried her to bed. He wished this battle was his. After all, he put her in this position. But he could not do anything. She and the baby would fight against the dark claws of death to bring life to the world. If they lose, Ivar would lose. But how can you lose something it was never yours to begin with?

 

He ran to the servants’ room, searching for Màiri and the midwife. They were still sleeping, it was still dark. He placed his hand on her shoulder, shaking her nervously.

 

“It's time, she is…she is in pain.” He stuttered and Màiri had to blink as the haze of sleep slowly dissipated.

 

 

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Màiri and the midwife walk to Ivar’s quarters, finding Moyra leaning against the headboard. Ivar is by her side, gently wiping the sweat off her forehead while she is grunting in pain. Her hands holding onto the furs until her knuckles are white. The contraction ceases and Moyra starts breathing again, and Ivar as well. Màiri finds interesting that even a man who is used to have control of everything and everyone looks so terrified.

 

Ingrid approaches Moyra, pulling up her nightgown. The woman is trained in magical arts that can ease the pain helping in difficult labor. Ingrid checks if she can see the baby's head. Then she places her hands on Moyra’s belly and starts massaging.

 

Ivar yells, “What's happening?”

 

Ingrid replies calmly, “The day is only starting. The babies are not coming anytime soon.”

 

“Babies?” Ivar asks in shock.

 

“Yes. There are two of them.” Ingrid says and Ivar can’t help thinking she looks so relaxed with this affirmation. He is partially relieved as it means Ingrid is used to assist childbirth of multiples.

 

He is holding Moyra’s hand when the next contraction of her muscles comes quickly. Her eyes roll back and she jerks her head. Ingrid comes closer and pushes Ivar away, he grunts angrily.

 

“How dare you?” he hisses.

 

“Do you want me to help her or not?” Ingrid raises her eyebrows, yelling.

 

“Of course you must help her.” Ivar barks, watching as Moyra’s pretty face messes into a grimace of pain when another contraction hits her.

 

Ingrid starts undoing Moyra’s braid and gives instructions to unlock all the doors, chests and untie any knots, a birth magic to help in the opening of Moyra’s womb, “She must walk.” Ingrid says, looking at Ivar who approaches the bed.

 

Before Moyra can protest, Ivar is already pulling her to her feet. He puts an arm around Moyra’s waist and they walk in circles around the room. From time to time, a contraction comes and Moyra stops to bear the pain.

 

Màiri is preparing a porridge to give Moyra strength for the many hours to come. Màiri notices Moyra is not comfortable with Ivar touching her. She is squirming for more reasons than the pain.

 

Ivar helps Moyra to sit on the bed to eat. She is tired of walking, and doesn't want Ivar near her.

 

The bjargrýgr hands Moyra a goblet filled with boiled herbs. It is bitter and she doesn't want to finish. Ivar helps her to hold the cup, his eyes insisting that she must swallow everything.

 

Moyra doesn’t want his presence. Whenever Ivar touches her, a shriver runs down her spine, increasing the agony of the contractions. But she doesn’t know how to say it out loud.

 

“King Ivar? Come here for a minute, please.” Màiri is almost whispering.

 

“Can't you see I'm busy? What can be so important?” Ivar curses through gritted teeth, worried that Màiri will say something terrible.

 

After Màiri’s insistence, he rises to his feet. Walking to a cornerstone, where she is waiting.

 

“What is it?” he inquires.

 

“I think she would feel more comfortable only with the women.” she warns shyly.

 

“Why? It's my right and duty to see my children coming to this world. I must assist her.” His harsh tone is scaring Moyra, who is facing another contraction. Clenching her teeth and looking worried at them. Ivar keeps his gaze on Moyra, while Màiri is still talking.

 

“It's better for her and the babies. Some women don't feel comfortable with their men around when they are giving birth.” Màiri tries to convince him with a soft voice.

 

After a few moments, Ivar looks at Màiri with a pained expression, “Will you call me if she needs me?” He pledges.

 

Màiri is shocked to see this powerful man so vulnerable before her. She bows her head agreeing with his request.
The hours are passing far too slow for Ivar. Erik comes to call him to the train yard.

 

“I can't. My woman is giving birth.” Ivar reveals but can’t help thinking he should go with Erik.

  

I deserve to be punched.

 

Erik smiles, tapping Ivar’s shoulder, “You should be with her. She needs someone to yell at.”

 

She doesn’t care enough to yell at me. Ivar wishes Moyra could shout at him all her loathing.

 

He smiles sadly at Erik, dismissing him. He must stay, Moyra she might need him.

 

Màiri leaves the room from time to time to boil water and her face is starting to show apprehension. Ivar is panicking for he knows Màiri is not someone who would worry without cause.

 

“What is happening? Why is taking so long? Too much pain?” Ivar fires the questions at Màiri not giving her time to answer.

 

Màiri smiles at him, but Ivar notices the way her jaw clenches, “The babies will be here soon. Giving birth takes time. Especially because it's her first time. It might take all day.”

 

Ivar doesn’t feel less anxious after her words. It looks like she is hiding something from him.

 

“Is she suffering?” His eyes are watering now.

 

“First time is never easy. But she will endure. Moyra is brave.” In a moment of distraction, Màiri reveals her name, gasping with the realization.

 

Ivar repeats her name, testing it on his tongue as if it was the first cup of sweet mead after a long raid.

 

“Moyra. My beauty has a fitting name.” Ivar’s expression softens.

 

Màiri is astonished with her betrayal.

 

“Don't worry! I won't tell her you revealed her secret.” Ivar winks.

 

Màiri nods, running to help the midwife.

 

Ivar can hear Moyra moaning and howling in pain. The sun is starting to disappear and all he wants is to hear the babies crying for the first time, sitting by her side, holding the precious lives they made together.

 

He wonders if she can forgive the death and chaos he brought to her world after the renewed hope children always represent. He prays to Frigga to protect her and their children and to Freyja to give Moyra the strength of Valkyries to endure the pain.

 

When the sky is darkening, Ivar hears a cry. One of the babies is born. He enters the bedroom and a storm of emotions threatens to drown him. Happiness, terror and anxiety.

 

Moyra is leaning against Màiri’s chest. They are sitting on the floor covered with straw as Màiri is brushing Moyra's sweat-soaked hair away from her pale face. Ivar feels his mouth drying while he notices so much blood in her nightgown. Discarded cloths are covered in crimson too.

 

His heart is beating as fast as when he is about to enter a battle. But it is not the same urge to spill blood from his enemies. It alarms him Moyra is in danger. Ivar knows blood is expected during childbirth, but the quantity makes him fear for her safety. A shaky breath hisses its way through her lungs, and Ivar feels as if a tight fists is constricting his throat.

 

Ivar kneels in front of her, holding her hands. Moyra opens her eyes slowly. He smiles and leans forward to kiss her forehead. Just then another contraction racks her body, and it has Moyra hunching forward slightly, gritting her teeth. The second baby is coming. Ingrid approaches with the first baby already cleaned, handing him over to Ivar.

 

“You have a healthy son!” Ingrid smiles at Ivar.

 

Before he can't protest about how reckless is to place such a tiny little creature in the arms of one as giant as himself, Ingrid holds the fragile baby out to him. She instructs Ivar how to support the baby's head and neck along the way with his right arm, placing the child in the crook of Ivar's elbow. Ivar holds his breath, terrified that even the slightest move will make him drop the precious bundle.

 

Ivar feels his chest tightening with the thought that his hands are shaped to battle, pain and death and not to touch such a delicate and innocent creature.

 

His terror starts to vanish when Ivar notices the baby doesn't look disturbed to be in his arms. Ivar is bewitched. Tiny nose like his mother's, the delicate mouth is making sucking movements while the little eyelashes are flickering. The boy has an impressive amount of black hair. Ivar can't blink or stop smiling at the beautiful boy until Moyra groans, awakening him from his trance. She is looking at them while Màiri is whispering something to her in their language. Moyra shakes her head, crying.

 

Ivar wants to ease her pain, both physical and the aching in her soul. But he knows she would push him away. He is the cause of her pain.

 

The midwife is pressing her hands on Moyra’s belly with a worried expression.

 

“She must push. Tell her to push Màiri.” Ingrid is shouting in desperation.

 

The baby in Ivar's arms starts sucking on his fist.

 

“Be patient, son! Soon you will have a partner to play with, or maybe a sister.” Ivar is rocking the baby back and forth, while trying to give Moyra a reassuring smile. He wonders if the second baby will be a girl. He wants a daughter as fierce as her.

 

Ingrid adds more runes on Moyra’s abdomen with red paint.

 

“Frigga, mighty Lady, loan her your keys opening her limbs and easing this birth.” Ingrid begs.

 

Màiri keeps whispering encouraging words and rubbing Moyra’s lower back. At last, Ingrid and Màiri help Moyra to change her position. She is squatting with Màiri behind her, supporting her with her arms under Moyra's armpits. Ingrid kneels in front of her to catch the baby for now Moyra is finally pushing the baby through the pain. It takes five pushes for the baby to leave the safety of her womb.

 

 


 

 

The pain comes again, this time from even deeper within me. My vision is blurred by the salty tears and sweat. The pain is like jagged blades ripping me from inside. I can no longer catch my breath between the stormy contractions, it’s like I’m sinking and all the sounds around me are distorted. I want to scream, but when I open my mouth nothing comes. The ache and pressure in my lower back goes to my bump and then I notice my belly going all hard and lopsided.

 

My thighs are shaking and if it was not for Màiri holding me with a surprising strength, I’m sure I would fall. The agony keeps hitting me like the furious sea raging against the cliffs. This time I cry out and when the sound reaches my ears, it no longer resembles a human voice.

 

My body is not my own, it is controlled by primordial instincts that belong to the earth, the trees and the sea. It reminds me that I’m one with the nature around me. I cry out my mother’s name, but I remember she can’t help me. No one can.

 

Instead of my mother’s voice, I hear Màiri’s. The only thing I understand is that she is commanding me to push. I shake my head in confusion, it feels like I’m intoxicated by mead and I’m afraid. Yet, my body is wiser than my mind and I start pushing with all my mighty. I throw my head back in Màiri’s shoulder to inhale and keep going until I feel the burning sensation of my child slipping from my insides.

 

 


 

  

There is no first cry. Ivar approaches and sees Ingrid releasing the neck of the baby from the cord. It is a girl. She is not moving and her skin is blue pale. Ivar's heart skips a beat looking at his daughter. She is as adorable as her brother, and a tear rolls down his cheeks. The boy in his arms opens his eyes. As blue as Ivar’s. He is calm now.

 

Please Freyja, let her live. Let my daughter grow to be a maiden. Ivar sends a silent prayer.

 

Moyra’s leans her head against Màiri’s shoulder, she looks exhausted.

 

Ingrid is massaging the baby's chest with determination. She places her lips on the small mouth, trying to help the girl to breathe on her own for the first time. All in vain. She is dead. Ivar will never see her first smile or know the color of her eyes. She will never say her first words, or give the first steps.

 

The midwife cuts the cord taking the baby away to clean. Moyra opens her eyes slowly, searching the room for her children. Ivar hears her whispering something to Màiri and the servant tries to calm her. In this moment he feels so lost and useless. He wants to know her language, so he would be the one comforting her.

 

 


 

  

Why they don't give me my child?

 

“Is there something wrong?” I look at Màiri, but she doesn’t answer me. I want to slow down my thoughts, so I can think about what to do.

 

I feel my budding joy give way to confusion. I try to speak, to articulate something from the dark thoughts swirling in my mind. Then I notice Ivar’s reddened eyes and the thin line formed by his lips. He is moving towards me with slow and deliberate steps. He doesn’t look me in the eye and I feel an abnormal fear rising in my chest.

 

The pain of labor had left my body frail. But I find my voice and start screaming my lungs out.

 

 


 

 

She is trying to rise to her feet and Màiri is struggling to hold her down, trying to comfort her with words. Until Moyra screams in Norse, “I want my baby!”

 

Ivar almost drops the boy in shock. She can speak his language. He doesn't know how fluent she is, but it is still a surprise. For how long she can understand his words?

 

He nods to Ingrid, allowing her to give the baby to Moyra. She walks to the crying mother, placing the baby girl in her arms. Moyra kisses her forehead, closing her eyes absorbed in her scent. Moyra starts talking to the baby and running her fingertips over her eyebrows. Her voice is so soft. Ivar wishes he could hear Moyra singing for their babies. She will sing lullabies only for one of them.

 

It is like a moment suspended in time. Until the boy let out a high pitched scream of hunger. Ingrid moves closer to Moyra to take her stillborn baby away.

 

“The baby is hungry. Let me hold the girl and you can feed the boy.” Ingrid offers.

 

Moyra raises her head from her girl and glances at Ivar. She keeps holding the girl against her chest.

 

“I can’t! I-I must take care of my daughter,” her voice is cracking from the weight of guilt and fear, “She is so cold. She must be hungry too.” her eyes go to the baby in her arms and Moyra starts sobbing, the sounds coming from her mouth like those of a wounded animal.

 

Ivar gives the boy to Màiri, kneeling by Moyra’s side. Ivar tries to convince her that the girl can wait.

 

“Mín hjärta, I'll hold our daughter while she sleeps, this way you can feed our boy. I promise I'll take care of her.” His voice is calm, but Ivar feels his hands sweating.

 

Moyra is speechless and trembling.

 

“Trust me.” his forehead is wrinkling with despair.

 

“I must be with her. She is cold.” Moyra says with a falter in her voice.

 

“I'll give her back to you after you feed the boy. I promise!” Ivar touches her hand and she blinks her teary eyelids.

 

After a few moments, Moyra hands their daughter to Ivar, and Màiri places the boy in her arms. Moyra smiles at the baby, uncovering her breast to feed him.

 

Ingrid rushes to her side to help her.

 

Ivar is holding the baby and watching Moyra feeding the boy. He notices she groans in pain at first, but her features soon soften. She is looking down at him and stroking his cheek with her thumb while he suckles her nipple. The boy is ravenous, after some minutes he stops and Màiri takes the baby from Moyra.

 

Moyra feels a new contraction. It is time for the final part of the labor.

 

 


 

 

Moyra is exhausted, lying in bed, but even weakened by the delivery, she manages to outstretch her arms in Ivar's direction, asking for her daughter. Ivar gives her the baby as promised and she embraces her daughter, sighing in relief.

 

Màiri comes back with goat’s milk and bread, but Moyra doesn't want to eat. Ivar is rocking the sleepy baby boy and watching the women. He fears Moyra wants to join their daughter in death.

 

Màiri keeps talking to her in their language all the time. Even though Ivar doesn't understand what they are saying, he can see Màiri is trying to convince Moyra to eat. His vision is blurred with unshed tears as Ivar sees how her arms tremble, trying to hold their son against her breast. Màiri sits behind her, placing her arms under the baby's body for support.

 

The baby falls asleep and Màiri takes him away so Moyra can rest.

 

“Here, to help with the blood.” Ingrid wraps linen rags around her legs and waist. Ivar gulps at the sight of another of her sacrifices to bring their children to the world.

 

During the night, Ivar sleeps in an improvised bench near their bed. He wants to be attentive if Moyra needs him. Their son wakes up many times through the night to nurse and Ivar feels his chest tightening with the idea that she is dying as their child is thriving. Màiri and Ingrid take turns to help Moyra to use the chamberpot and change the soiled linen cloths.

 

"If you don't drink water, your milk will stop flowing." Ingrid warns, caressing her forehead. 


Màiri holds a cup to her lips. Moyra drinks the water in slow sips, grimacing. Màiri reaches for a jar on the bedside, pouring more water and this time Moyra swallows everything in one gulp.

 


 

 

 

The morning comes and Moyra is weaker. She hadn't eaten and the efforts to feed the baby have been overwhelming her. Ivar calls her because the boy is crying.

 

“Give him to me.” she whispers, not even able to sit on the bed.

 

Ivar calls Màiri to comfort the boy, while he is talking to Moyra.

 

“You're weak. I think we should call someone else to feed the baby while you are recovering.” Ivar tries softly.

 

She replies, almost inaudible, “No one will feed my baby but me.”

 

“You are too frail to feed him. Not eating and holding our dead daughter won't help either. Let her go.” Ivar says at last.

 

“I can't let her go. She is mine. The boy is yours, he will carry on your legacy. But the girl is…" Moyra glances at her daughter, biting her lower lip not to sob as the purple of the baby's lips and the coldness of her skin are undeniable, "She would be mine, at least for a time. She would stay with me until... you decided to send her away. While the boy would be learning to be like you. I have nothing left.” she confesses with tears in her eyes.

 

"I know you see me as a monster. Maybe you will never forgive me. I have no right to demand anything from you, but as a father I must beg you." Ivar gulps, trying not to stammer, "All I ask is that you live for our son. He needs you. He is yours too.” Ivar wipes the tears, “That day, after you tried to run away from me, I promised I would never touch you again if that was not what you wanted. I've been keeping my promise. I'll never force you again. Let me take care of our baby girl. I brought this sadness, it's my duty to spare you more sorrow.” He mumbles.

 

“You don't understand!” Moyra sobs caressing the baby's cheeks, “It's my fault. I was afraid… if I had pushed when they said I should…” the tears are flowing like a waterfall now, her small body shaking in desolation.

 

Ivar is watching her and fighting the urge to hold her tight against his chest. If they were a normal couple, they would be united in their grief. But they have a fortress between them. Something that was being built since the beginning. Unsaid words, violence, pain, jealousy and hatred.

 

“It's not your fault. The Norns had woven our destiny long time ago. For some reason, our daughter was not meant to live. I'm guilty. If I hadn't forced you, you would not have to bear and give birth to children of a man you hate.” Ivar admits.

 

Moyra stares at him for some time, and finally asks, “Do you believe this? That she was destined to die?”

 

“I do. You won't believe me, but I do love you, in my selfish way. I dragged you into my darkness, and you deserve someone who will add light to your life.” Ivar bites his lips in anxiety, “But now we have hope. You hate me because of what I did to you. But I hate myself for putting you in a position that you prefer death.”

 

“I don't…I don't hate you. I just can't… I'm so confused…” it is impossible to hide the slight quaver in her voice, “I must care for her, so she won't feel lonely.”

 

“Lonely as you feel? You won't be lonely again. You have Màiri and our son now. Choose life! That way you can watch him growing to be a man that will make you proud.” Ivar begs, seeing a slight change in her eyes. He wonders what is holding her back as she looks down at their daughter, “I promise you won't be forced to be mine, only his mother," Moyra sighs, glancing at him.

 

"You don’t have to answer me now.” Ivar gulps, hoping she will believe his promise.

 

Moyra nods, “I’ll feed him now.”

 

 


 

   

For two days, I weep until my eyes are raw, until I believe I don’t have another tear to shed. I feel they are suspicious I’ll do something against my son or that the death that surrounds me will harm him. Ingrid brings him when he needs my milk, but as soon as he finishes, he is taken away. Ivar had convinced me to give him the girl. I don’t know what he did to her, but I’m sure I’ll join her soon.

 

 


 

 

A brief contentment surrounds me whenever his tiny, warm mouth wraps around my nipple. There's that now familiar tingling that travels to my nipples as my milk flows to comply to his eager, demanding suckling. There's also frustration, pain and despair when he is too restless to find the right way to latch. He moves his head from one side to the other, crying and smacking his lips. Sometimes he seems angry at me, biting and pulling at my nipple. Ingrid and Màiri are always prepared to help me when I'm as lost as my son.

 

"Here you go, little one!" Ingrid tickles his chin, making the baby open his mouth wider. She secures him closer to my stomach and breast, caressing his flushed cheek.

 

I sigh relieved when the sweet sound of my son swallowing my milk reaches my ears. He grunts and gulps rhythmically. His tiny nose is buried against my breast and I worry he might suffocate when his respiration seems frantic, almost panting. 

 

"Ingrid? Is he breathing?" I gasp, ready to pull him away when she holds my wrist.

 

"Don't worry! He is breathing just fine. If he weren't, he would turn his face away. Babies are wise... sometimes wiser than us." She smiles at me, stroking my hand.

 

From time to time I feel cramps attacking my lower belly and I don't have to say anything for Ingrid to guess I'm in pain.

 

"It's normal. Your womb is readjusting." Ingrid whispers.

 

I lick my lips and Ingrid holds a cup of water against my lips, I gulp it down fast so I can look at my baby.


He throws his head back as in bliss and exhaustion when he finishes nursing. I lean down, kissing his forehead and he blinks, opening his eyes to stare at me for a brief moment as if in gratitude. He yawns, nuzzling at my breast to sleep.

 

"Let me put him in his crib, so you can sleep in peace." Ingrid stutters and seeing her inhaling deep, I know my rest is not her only concern.

 

A sense of urgency comes, making me look around as if my task is not over yet. Then there's the painful sting of reality. There's no other baby waiting for my breast.

 

I feel an impulse to protest when Ingrid reaches for the boy, but my arms are numb and then cold when she takes him away. My eyelids are heavy and I lay on my side, drifting off to the unconsciousness I long for.

 

 


 

 

I want to look away or run when I listen to Moyra weeping, but guilt paralyzes me and I can only stare as the last remnants of her strength seems to fade. 

 

I clench my jaw not to sob when her eyes search for our daughter. I can see feeding our son brings her a brief moment of joy, but it's always ephemeral. Moyra stares into the void with her swollen, grief-stricken eyes. Sometimes our son's gurgles are enough to take her out of her trance and she smiles down at him, caressing his face and kissing his forehead. I hope the tiny hand wrapped around her thumb will be stronger enough to tie her to life and love.

  

I want to scold Ingrid when she takes our child away from her, but as a father I fear for the baby's safety, and the notion that Moyra can be the harm we are protecting him from is my burden to carry. It's my duty to protect my family.

 

It's easier to endure seeing their separation when the baby is asleep. But when he whines, missing her warmth and scent I find myself running to his crib and cradling my son against my heart. Sometimes he seems outraged, inconsolable even, as if he knows my arms are not what he is seeking for. Màiri or Ingrid usually offer to pick him, and sometimes I hand him to one of them. Especially when I feel it's the only way to soothe him, allowing Moyra to sleep. But I've been learning to understand there are times he wants me to carry him across the room, or doesn't want me to stare at him, being more comfortable with his head resting on my shoulder. Feeling his relaxed breathing against my neck makes me want to swear I'll be a better man for my son and for Moyra.

 

 


 

 

The second night after the birth I hear his low cry. I do my best to sit on the bed and wait for someone to bring him to me. The time passes and no one comes. My eyelids are heavy and my knees are trembling, but I must go to him. As I approach the crib I see that Ivar and Ingrid are fast asleep on their benches.

 

His desperate crying ceases when he sees me looking at him. My baby blinks his eyelids and I smile, leaning down to take him in my arms. My body protests at the sudden movement and a dull ache washes over my lower belly and back, making me grunt in pain. I straight my back again, letting my arms fall to the sides of my body. I stare at my son, feeling my hands sweating and trembling. I should wait for someone to take him out of the crib and place him in my arms. What if he falls?

 

It seems my hesitation is harmful, and my baby is screaming again. His wails bring tears to my eyes as I watch his face turning bright red. His arms and legs are trembling under the blanket as if he is trying to free himself and reach me. I gently pat his stomach, pursing my lips and making a shushing sound to soothe his suffering. But it doesn't seem enough and he bawls. I swallow, realizing that I’m the only one who can comfort him. I will my hands to stop trembling and inhale deep.

 

I pull away the blanket I spent weeks knitting, then I slide one hand under his neck, and the other under his hips, scooping him up, closer to my belly. I cradle his body on my forearm, using my other hand to free my heavy and sore breast, but he rejects it. His hunger is not for my milk, he is starving for my love. I feel it like a knife is being twisted in my stomach. I’ve been neglecting him. I hold him close, singing a lullaby my mother used to sing and his crying stops.

 

My heartbeat slows down as I see his chest moving peacefully with every intake of air. I bring his head to rest over my shoulder, closing my eyes and inhaling in the sweet scent coming from his warm body. 

 

I sway from side to side, my lips close to his ear as I keep singing to him until Ingrid’s voice startles me, “You shouldn’t be out of bed! You’re too weak.”

 

I look at her in confusion, “I-I’ve heard him crying…” I feel like I need to explain myself. Alarm has my heart beating frantically. 

 

“Let her be! A mother is never weak!” the certainty in Ivar's voice makes me realize that I might have failed my daughter, but I won’t fail with my son.

 

I go to bed with my baby in my arms. Ivar walks ahead of us and lifts the furs, helping me to slid into bed. I lay on my side with my baby beside me. I'm so fascinated by him; his tiny eyelids are fluttering and he is yawning. He smiles, staring at me, and with a sigh he enters in a peaceful sleep. It doesn’t take long and I follow him to the land of dreams.

 

 


 

 

I’m in the forest again, but I don’t see the wolf chasing me. My hands start trembling when I hear that primal scream once more. I can feel sweat dropping off my temples and I raise my hand. I gasp in shock to find they are bloody. The crying doesn’t stop and I feel the urge to follow the sound.

 

Two paths ahead of me. In one of them I see two ravens resting on a barren tree branch and, differently from the first time, the sound is coming from that direction now. The other path is still dark, but now is silent. I feel cold and shivering. I look up at the ravens, but they don’t look like a threat. My legs are shaking and I can see at distance a white bundle. I don’t care how weak my knees are, I run as if my life depends on how fast I can reach whatever it is wrapped in those white linens.

 

I kneel and unwrap the bundle. It's a crying baby and I hold it against my chest.

 

"Shh! I'm here" I hear my voice quavering and I feel the hot tears streaming uncontrollably down my face.

 

 


 

 

What should we name you? Ivar thinks, watching them sleep. It's an important decision that he hopes Moyra wants to be involved with. We still have a few days to choose a proper name. The image of his people gathered in his hall to celebrate their child's birth makes Ivar proud, but there is still a shadow of worry lurking around. Moyra hasn't eaten yet. He stares at her face, barely holding back the need to stroke her hair as Moyra sleeps. 

 

She left her bed to console our son and that is enough for now. A true victory. Sigtrygg then?  Ivar ponders to himself.

 

"I'll have to ask your mother when she is awake, huh?" Ivar mutters, running his fingertip over his son's cheek.

 

He wishes her dreams are more peaceful than the moments her mind is alert. 

 

"Njörun, I beg you to protect her while she is in your domains. Svartalfheim is a dangerous realm for those wandering without purpose. Give her shelter as we try to help her find her path back to us. Don't allow her to be chased or haunted." Ivar lifts his hand to muffle the strangled sob that left his mouth and made Moyra stir.

 


Although he promised to watch their sleep, exhaustion dominate his body and Ivar dozed off, sitting in the chair.

 

 


 

 

 

The early light of dawn seeps into the room and I wake up. I manage to open my eyes in slits, but the effort is so strenuous that I have to close them back just as soon, I keep them shut for what feel some moments, and perhaps even sleep again, I’m not certain, but at one point I open them again, very slightly. I’m so thirsty.

 

Where's my baby? I think and my eyes grow wide at that, my pulse hastening. I shift my body and my gaze falls upon the sleeping baby beside me. I sigh relieved at last. My stomach groans and I’m suddenly hungry.

 

“Moyra?” Ivar mutters from the chair he seems to have slept on. By the sound of his reply, he is obviously still half-asleep. It's so strange listening to Ivar saying my name.

 

I have no strength to answer back. Opening my heavy eyelids, I glance at Ivar just in time to see him hurriedly getting off of the chair and almost stumble to the floor in his haste. The next thing I see it's Ivar kneeling by my side. He lifts his hand as if he is about to cup my cheek, but stops. It doesn't pass unnoticed how he gulps nervously. Ivar seems relieved when our baby gurgles, stretching his little limbs. His eyes traveling from my face to the small linen-wrapped bundle beside me.

 

“You’re awake?” he asks, gently tugging the blanket down and running a fingertip over the baby's cheek. The fact that he is taken aback is unmistakable. I know he is not talking about our baby.

 

I squint at him. My vision is still quite blurred by sleep and weakness. I lick my lips, trying to moisten them but my mouth is so dry. “You must be thirsty,” Ivar whispers, prying at me, "and hungry." He adds with a shy smile, averting his gaze to our child.

 

“Gods, you’re awake!” He exhales visibly then and his shoulders slump. He looks down at me, caressing our son's face with his calloused finger. He seems a bit overwhelmed, as if he can’t believe what is happening. After a moment, he blinks as if coming out of a trance. “Water... yes, you need water.”

 

He moves away in the blink of an eye, coming back a split second later with a cup of water. “Here. Drink,” his voice is soft, but I see the hesitation as the corner of his lips start twitching. Ivar smiles when I don't protest, allowing him to hold my face with a hand and the cup with the other. 

 

I accept the water gratefully. My throat is so dry it hurts to swallow but I gulp it all anyway.

 

“I’ll call Màiri to bring you food.” his eyes are gleaming and I nod meekly. 

 

My son grunts and I smile uncovering my bosom. I’ve made my choice.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

I'm walking to a place of healing, memories, guilt, pain, and sadness. You must wonder how can a place mean healing and pain. But it's exactly what it means for me. I'm seeing my daughter once more. The nameless daughter I held cold in my arms two years ago. A baby whose eyes I will never know the color. Haunting blue eyes like her father? Or dark like mine?

 

I'll never hear my baby's laughter or first words. Words. I smile bitterly. Would her first words be in my language or her father's? I suppose her father's language is my own now. His home is mine as well.

 

I want to cry every time I see a girl the age she would have been. But I hold the tears at bay. She is safe in Heaven. Even though the priest Ivar requested to baptize her refused to do so for a stillborn baby. But part of me wonders if his refusal was due the baby being a pagan’s daughter. Yes, he did this. For her and for me. Surprising, isn't it? And he is trying to learn my language. I must confess he is not that smart when it comes to learning languages. But it makes me feel strangely satisfied that he is trying to know me better, to enter my world.

 

Sometimes I dream that I'm seeing a girl with black hair chasing Sigtrygg in the hall, both sweating and laughing unaware of the world's cruelty.

 

Màiri says I should let her go, that it's not good to keep coming to her grave every day. But, she doesn't know the depth of my sorrow or the guilt that makes my every step heavy, as if I were chained.

 

My mind is clouded with doubts. What if I had pushed her earlier? I'll never know and this doubt almost made me want to die with her. As if I could care for her in the afterlife, in a world without pain. Sometimes I think a part of me died with her.

 

When I'm almost there to talk to my baby girl, I hear his voice. He is trying to talk to her in my language. I hide because I want to hear what he is saying.

 

“I wonder if you're in this Heaven your mother talks about. I wanted you to be here with us, with your brother. I'm sure you would be the best friends and cause so much trouble,” Ivar chuckles, “or maybe you would prefer being around your mother, using your little fingers to cling to her skirts.” He uses his hand to wipe away a tear from his cheek.

 

I can't believe my eyes. It looks like he is suffering as much as I am. I could have never guessed he thought about our girl after all this time. We had never talked about her since he had shown me her grave. It was some weeks after the birth when I was fully recovered.

 

I thought he was satisfied with our boy. I believed a son to carry his legacy was enough to make him happy, that he didn't care about a daughter. I underestimated his capacity to love. The realization makes me feel a knot forming in my stomach.

 

I've been living my guilt and sorrow so deeply that I didn't notice he was suffering too.

 

Is it possible that we can heal each other's wounds? Can we try to be happy?

 

I try to hold my tears and my sob startles Ivar. He looks around searching for a possible threat or ambush and his features relax when he sees me. I feel sorry for him. It must be lonely living without love and fearing his enemies.

 

“I'm sorry! I'll come back later. I-I didn't know you... you were here.” My voice is trembling and I avoid looking at his face.

 

I turn around to leave him alone when his voice works like a fishnet, even though he is not demanding, “Please, stay!”

 

I look back over my shoulder at him and I see all the feelings showing in his face. Fear that I'll reject him, hope, anxiety and I dare to say even love.

 

I nod and walk to him. I'm ready to sit on the ground a fair distance of him. Not too far that he might believe I'm afraid or disgusted, not too close that he believes I'm seeking proximity. But his next move surprises me. He reaches out his hand for me to sit beside him. It's shocking and I need a little time to think if I should take the option he is giving me.

 

His begging eyes and trembling jaw, as if he is about to cry, make my decision easier. When I hold his hand, I feel a warmth that expands from my fingers to the rest of my body. The smile he gives me after this little victory is so pure. I'm sure I'm blushing and I look away from him embarrassed, remembering how these strong and calloused hands used to draw pleasure from my body when I didn't want to.

 

I can feel the heat from his body, his scent that used to invade my skin whenever he took me. Out of the corner of my eyes, I see he is analyzing me. I need to say something so I can fill my ears with anything but my frenetic heartbeat.

 

“I didn't mean to spy on you,” I whisper without facing him.

 

Why can't I keep my voice steady?

 

He laughs and the rare sound is like a siren song making me look at him. I see his eyes carry sadness instead of the usual mischief and lust from the past. Sometimes I doubt he still wants me because of the way he looks at me is so different. It's like he is truly seeing me.

 

“I know you wouldn't spy on us, but I think our baby doesn't mind having her parents talking to her at the same time.” Ivar's voice reminds me of Ubbe. Calm and relaxing.

 

“I think you're right. Sometimes I wonder how it would be if she were here.” I feel I'm going to cry, but I don't want to weep in front of Ivar anymore.

 

“I think about her too. I thought about her when Sigtrygg said his first words, started walking. I remember her when Sigtrygg causes trouble,” Ivar stops for a moment, a little smile on his lips, and I know he is remembering those precious events of a parent's life, “I think she would be his constant companion. We would have so much trouble.” He chuckles and I can't help giggling.

 

“Or she would be the quiet one, to balance his curious nature.” We stare at each other for a long time and none of us dare to say anything or to move.

 

“Do you think he misses her too? I mean... they shared the womb for months.” Ivar asks, more to himself than to me.

 

“I don't know. But I believe he would be a good brother.” I imagine Sigtrygg playing with a sister not his age, but younger. I shake my head with the absurd of my mind playing tricks.

 

Ivar had never tried to touch me again and I'm confused.

 

Am I seeing myself bearing a new child for him? Am I craving his touch?

 

If my thoughts are true to my feelings, I don't know what I should do. I was never the one to start things and I'm not even sure if Ivar still wants me as a man wants a woman, or if he keeps me out of respect, or even guilt, because I'm the mother of his son.

 

He glances at me with the same hunger from the old times and I feel myself crumbling. I lick my lips that are instantly dry and my heart starts beating fast making my chest move. Ivar looks from my face to my breasts and I wait for his next move, but he does nothing.

 

“I think we should go back. Màiri must be tired of running after our son.” Ivar suggests and I bob my head in agreement. Our relationship might be complicated, but when it comes to our child, we work in harmony.

 

  


 

 

I’m removing my dress to sleep and I can feel his gaze on me. In the past, I would be frightened with the possibility of Ivar touching me.

 

I can feel my body trembling and my nipples hardening. I try to convince myself that my body is reacting to the freezing air of the end of Winter, but I know my body is preparing itself to be filled by him. I avoid his eyes and walk to bed, covering my body with the furs in hope sleep will come fast.

 

His back is turned to me as he undresses. I can see the way his muscles clench when he pulls his tunic over his head. I want to swallow, but I find it difficult for my mouth is dry and the throbbing between my legs is getting worse, I start rubbing my thighs together trying to find some relief for the aching that bothers me.

 

When Ivar starts working on the laces of his pants I gasp with memories of our bodies united, especially the last time he claimed me and Sigtrygg was probably conceived.

 

Ivar turns around walking to the bed and tilts his head in confusion when he notices I’ve been watching him. I don’t see a smirk, but his heavy breathing is enough to make me aware of the effect I still have on him. He slides into the bed beside me.

 

“The Winter is almost over.” I’m surprised by how insecure he sounds.

 

“Yes. The time for raiding is coming. Are you going?” I try to suppress the memories of when he attacked my village.

 

“No. Dublin is a rich trade center now, and I must stay to defend our home. Maybe when Sigtrygg is old enough to protect you and the settlement.” I feel a sense of pride hearing Ivar talking about our son growing up to protect his legacy and I know my cheeks are flushed after he mentions his worries about my well-being.

 

We keep quiet, staring longingly at each other when we hear footsteps approaching. We smile, knowing it must be Sigtrygg trying to invade our bed because he likes to sleep with us, sharing the warmth of our bodies.

 

Móðir? Faðir?” I can feel he is trying to climb onto our bed, “Are you awake?” his tiny little voice makes me so happy that I chose life.

 

Ivar winks and I know he wants us to feign being asleep. Sigtrygg caresses our faces and seeing we are not opening our eyes, he grunts in frustration. He is so much like his father that I want to laugh. Ivar scares our son, holding him tight against his tanned chest and tickling him.

 

“Help me, Móðir! The wolf is going to eat me.” Sigtrygg is squealing and writhing.

 

“Leave my son alone, mighty wolf!” I smile at them.

 

“No, Móðir! Not this way. You must kiss the wolf to defeat him. Like Sunna.” Ivar stops their wrestling and I’m so embarrassed with our child’s request.

 

“The old wolf is too tired to fight, little human.” Ivar kisses Sigtrygg’s forehead.

 

Sigtrygg says something that makes me feel shivers down my spine, “I want a brother or a sister!”

 

I see Ivar is as uncomfortable as I am. His jaw clenches as he whispers, “Let’s sleep, kid!”

 

Sigtrygg knows when Ivar doesn’t want to discuss, so he kisses my cheek and his father’s. The little boy lies on his back taking my hand and Ivar’s in his, he joins our hands closing his eyes to sleep. We watch a little smile on his lips.

 

Ivar’s eyes are locked with mine and it feels as he is looking straight into my soul. He lifts my hand to his mouth and stops, seeking for my approval. When I smile he starts kissing my knuckles one by one in the gentlest of ways. I gasp feeling the contrast between his rough-skinned hand and the softness of his lips.

 

At this moment, I realize I feel complete even though I know my name won’t be part of sagas. I'm a shadow in a world of men. You won't know about how I was captured and forced to live among people whose language, religion and customs were different from mine. I've learned to live in fear and pain, learned to be a victim. But I comprehend I can be different. I can be heard. My heart stopped beating with hatred and vengeance. Now it beats with love. Love for my child, my friends and even for the man that made me suffer. I will never be afraid again. I found my voice.

Chapter Text

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Màiri and the midwife walked to Ivar’s quarters. They found Moyra leaning against the headboard while Ivar was trying to wipe the sweat off her forehead, but Moyra was squealing and trying to put distance between herself and Ivar. She grunted in pain, gripping the furs until her knuckles were white. The contraction ceased and she breathed again, and Ivar as well. The sight made Màiri worry about how she would tell Ivar the obvious. He was not wanted there.

 

Ingrid was trained in magical arts that could ease the pain of a difficult labor. She stepped closer to Moyra, pulling up her nightgown and tried to see if the baby’s head was crowned. She sighed with the sight Moyra's slit was only starting to stretch. Ingrid placed her hands on Moyra’s belly and started massaging to check on the baby’s movements.

 

Ivar huffed, “What's happening?”

 

Ingrid replied calmly, “The day is only getting started. The babies are not coming out anytime soon,”

 

“Babies?” Ivar yelped in disbelief.

 

“Yes. There are two of them. Didn’t you know that?” Ingrid said dryly and Ivar couldn’t help thinking she didn't look affected by this information. It made Ivar less anxious as she seemed to be used to assist childbirth of multiples, “You must boil the herbs, Màiri!” Ingrid muttered and Màiri ran.

 

He tried to hold Moyra’s hand when the next contraction of her muscles came quickly and merciless, but she slapped his hand away. Her eyes rolled back and she jerked her head. Ingrid took a step closer, pushing Ivar away as he grunted angrily.

 

“How dare you?” he hissed, hands shaking at his side.

 

“Do you want me to help her or not?” Ingrid raised her eyebrows.

 

“Of course you must help her,” Ivar shouts, watching as Moyra’s pretty face turns into a grimace of pain as another contraction came.

 

Ingrid undid Moyra’s braid, running her fingers through her hair. The midwife instructed the servants to unlock all the doors, chests and untie any knots. It was a birth magic to help in the opening of Moyra’s womb, “She must walk,” Ingrid said, looking at Ivar who immediately shifted to the bed.

 

Moyra protests, “This monster won't touch me. Never again! I'd rather take my life,” She yelled, pointing a finger at Ivar.

 

“Do you speak my language? Why didn't you tell me?” Ivar's jaw fell open in shock.

 

“I have nothing to speak to you. If you wanted to talk to me, you should have learned how,” her nose was wrinkling with disgust, “The only thing you wanted, the only thing that mattered to you... was my body,” Moyra stopped her accusations for a moment when a new wave of pain attacked her lower back and belly. She heldon her stomach, rolling to her side.

 

“That's not true. I do care, I've been looking after you. Giving you a comfortable life...” Ivar begged, kneeling by the beside.

 

“Comfortable? Because you cover me in gold you stole from people you killed, like you killed the people from my village? Or are you referring to the many times you took me against my will, leaving me sore until the next morning or night, when you would fill me once more?” Moyra kept hissing, her words rushing out so fast, like arrows being shot at Ivar.

 

“I think you should leave!” Ingrid touched his shoulder, looking at him with her mouth twisted. Ivar felt like they were judging him.

 

“It's my right to be here, to assist her if she needs me. My children are coming to the world,” Ivar looked from Moyra to Ingrid.

 

“It was your right to fill your slave with your seed too. That's why we are all here. But if you don't leave, the birth might be more difficult for her and the children,” Ivar gulps with the realization that he might be happy being a father, but that for Moyra it is torture. He wanted them to be happy, his selfish mind wanted her to be pleased that his seed had taken roots and they would now have an unbreakable bond. Realizing he is the only one pleased with Moyra growing round with their children is his first defeat and Ivar suspects it to be a thousand times worse than a defeat in battlefield.

 

“Don’t blame me! I only want to help her! YOU are the only one to blame for this situation! You should be ashamed of yourself, and somehow, I know you are not you won’t ever be. You forced it on her and now, you see what you’ve done? She might die and it’s your burden. In all my years, I have seen men as you take and destroy innocent and young maidens as that one,” Ingrid gestures to the bed, where Moyra is grimacing as another contraction hits her, “I’m tired of this!” Ingrid hisses, lifting her chin to face Ivar.

 

Ingrid was getting far too insolent. Ivar couldn’t bear it anymore, couldn’t bear hearing her telling all those things. He couldn’t tolerate her telling him to leave. She needed to be silenced, but he didn’t want to scare Moyra. Lowering his face at only an inch from Ingrid’s, he violently grasped her upper arm with his hand. “You don’t tell me what to do anymore!” he snarled at her.

 

“I don't pity, or fear men like you!" Ingrid replied. Glowering at him, she tried to free herself from his hold, but Ivar only closed his hand more firmly on her.

 

“Listen to me, Ingrid, and listen with attention,” his tone calmer. He could feel the corner of his mouth twitching and his eyes were narrowed and burning with hatred. “It’s better for everyone that she survives this. If she dies I swear by my place in Valhalla that I’ll kill you,” Ivar promised, nodding at the bed. Moyra stiffened at hearing his words, her eyes grew wide.

 

“I’ll burn that hut you call home to the ground until nothing is left to prove that damned place has ever existed at all. If I’m not satisfied afterward, which I’m sure I won’t be,” His nostrils were flared and a vein in his neck pulsed with tension, “I’ll track down everyone you’ve ever loved or cared about and cut them in half. I’ve nothing to lose, nothing I care for in this ugly world! Save her!”

 

As he growled his threats, Ivar finally saw fear in Ingrid’s eyes and for a brief moment, the view made him feel better. But it didn’t last. There was only so much pleasure to be taken from intimidating others and the notion of vengeance.

 

“Go back to her now, Ingrid! You have much to do,” he reminded her, his voice a low rasp.

 

Cringing, at last, the woman listened and silently returned to Moyra’s bedside, but Ivar’s wrath was far from appeased. Not certain about what to do, he remained motionless, pondering about when he ruined all their chances of happiness.

 

Màiri came with a goblet filled with boiled herbs. He let out a breath and turned to leave after seeing Moyra wouldn't change her mind and ask him to stay.

 

Ivar’s wrath was far from appeased. In fact, his fury was fear. He couldn't undo the terrible things she forced her to endure and, more important, he could do nothing to save her if her death was the Gods' wish. He wondered if they could have had a chance if he had not raped her. Would she forgive me for the massacre in her village? Would she grow to love me if I had minded my time before claiming her body? He didn't have the answers and maybe it was too late now.

 

 


 

 

Hearing her grunting and moaning from outside made Ivar imagine the most horrifying scenes. He couldn't stay there waiting. So when Erik came to call him to the train yard he followed him relieved that he would have someone to beat.

 

Is she suffering? Ivar thought while beating the fourth man.

 

Màiri came, bringing him food and news, “The first baby is coming. She must be pushing right now,” Màiri smiled to comfort Ivar, but he felt she was hiding something.

 

“What's wrong? You don't look truly excited,” Cold sweat ran down his spine despite how his blood was boiling because of the training.

 

“Moyra lost too much blood. We are praying that she will stop bleeding to gather strength to push the babies,” Màiri was looking down and her hands were shaking.

 

“Moyra?” Ivar repeated her name as if by this action he could keep her safe.

 

Such a sweet name, but I turned her into a bitter woman. Tears instantly filled his eyes. Ivar gulped the lump in his throat and found his voice once more.

 

“I wonder how she was before I destroyed her. I believe she was an innocent maiden and dedicated daughter. I know nothing about her,” Ivar surprised Màiri with this confession, “Ubbe was right! I didn't see her,” Ivar walked back to the house.

 

 


 

 

The screams inside the chamber were getting louder and Ivar couldn't help thinking it was a fitting punishment for him to fell so helpless after what he did to Moyra. He wanted to be the one enduring her pain, this way his mind wouldn't be so clouded with dark thoughts about the safety of his woman and the children. He prayed to Frigga to protect them.

 

Finally, a cry was heard and Ivar couldn't bring himself to get up from his seat. Invisible chains of guilt were binding him. He felt like a foreigner, an intruder for being happy about the birth of a child he imposed on her.

 

Màiri steps outside the room, “It's a healthy boy, King Ivar. He has dark hair like his parents. I'll bring him soon. Moyra is...” Sweat was running down her forehead and her hands were bloody. Ivar felt his stomach clenching at the sight.

 

“How is she? Tell me!” Ivar stammered, on the verge of tears of joy for his son and terror that Moyra was dead.

 

Màiri glanced at her feet, afraid her eyes would betray what her heart knew like the truth. Ivar walked to her, taking hold of her shoulders with unnecessary strength. His action reminded him of what he did to Moyra when he discovered she was with child. Màiri staring at him with trembling lips was enough to make Ivar release her, he whispered afraid that if he asked out loud, his nightmare would turn into reality, “Màiri? You must tell me! Is she alive?” Ivar's intense blue eyes were reaching right into her soul.

 

Màiri drew a deep, shuddering breath, “She doesn't want to push the second baby,” Màiri sobbed and Ivar felt cold sweat streaming down his spine.

 

Ivar supposed that when one lived by spilling blood, the curse would eventually come to take everything he thought was his.

 

Ivar took Màiri’s hand, “I appreciate your help. I'll talk to her as I should have done a long time ago,”

 

Màiri looked up at him, wiping away her tears with the back of her free hand, “Are you sure? She might say terrible things!”

 

“Her words won't be worse than what I did to her,”

 

 


 

 

Ivar squatted in front of Moyra, watching her face twisting in pain. When she noticed his proximity, she shrieked, causing Ivar to step back.

 

“I don't want you here!” Moyra was sweating, her skin so pale that Ivar believed she could disappear into thin air if he touched her.

 

Another contraction racked her body, and it had Moyra hunching forward slightly, gritting her teeth. The second baby was coming. Ingrid approached with the first baby already cleaned and wrapped in white linens, handing him over to Ivar.

 

“Your son!” Ingrid didn't look at Ivar while giving him the baby, her eyes and smiles were for the boy in her arms.

 

He held the baby carefully, feeling bewitched. Tiny nose like his mother, the delicate mouth was making sucking movements while the little eyelashes fluttered. The boy had an impressive amount of black hair. Ivar couldn't blink or stop smiling at the beautiful boy. Moyra groaned, awakening him from his unrealistic world of happiness. She glanced at them while Màiri was whispering encouraging words.

 

Ivar wanted to have words that could reach her heart with a healing power. But he couldn't help thinking only women could bring comfort and life. Men like him are the reason for all the pain. Especially the agony he knows it's tormenting her soul.

 

The midwife was pressing her hands on Moyra’s belly with a worried expression.

 

“You must push, Moyra! Tell her to push Màiri! The baby is not moving inside of her. It's not fighting to leave the womb,” Ingrid shouted in desperation.

 

The baby started bawling and Ivar felt his hands trembling. He didn't know how to soothe the child and his throat was tightening with the thought his son had no reasons to trust him. You're scared of me, aren't you? Why wouldn't you be?

 

“Be patient, son! Now it's time for the men to wait as women are so used to,” Ivar whispered, rocking the baby back and forth while trying to give Moyra a reassuring smile. She averted her eyes, clenching her teeth while Màiri talked to her.

 

Ingrid added more runes on Moyra’s abdomen with red paint.

 

“Frigga, mighty Lady, loan her your keys opening her limbs and easing this birth,” Ingrid begged, voice croaking.

 

“It’s tearing me apart! Make it stop!” Moyra implored for Màiri’s help.

 

Màiri keeps whispering encouraging words and rubbing Moyra’s lower back. The women help Moyra to change her position. She is squatting with Màiri supporting her from behind while Ingrid is kneeling in front of her to catch the baby. Moyra finally starts pushing the baby through the pain.

 

“The baby’s head is in my hands. You must keep pushing when the pain comes,” Ingrid warned.

 

“I can’t take it anymore!” Moyra supplicated.

 

“You’re being so brave! One more big push, please?” Màiri was wiping the sweat from her forehead.

 

Moyra pushed with a low moan and Ingrid let out her breath after catching the baby.

 

 


 

 

I want it to be over soon, but I'm terrified to bring one more child to this world. I can’t protect myself, I never could. But I feel that if I push my baby, I’ll be as cruel as Ivar that put them inside of me. I can’t hold on anymore, it’s hard to breathe and to pay attention to the events around me while I’m being ripped to shreds.

 

The more I look at Ivar the more I want to avoid pushing another baby. He returns my look with a smile. I’m sure he thinks he is supporting me and is pleased as, once more, it's my body that is bringing him fulfillment. I don't want to be the reason for his satisfaction anymore. I don't want to give him children that will keep his legacy.

 

I shift my glance from Ivar’s face to the bundle in his arms. The son that came from inside of me. He might be innocent now, but he will grow to be like his father. My vision is blurred by the salty tears and sweat and when I look down at my thighs I see the crimson blood is flowing. I’m almost there. If I endure a little more, I’ll take my child with me. I feel death is calling us, and maybe with God's forgiveness, we will ascend to Heaven.

 

I can’t longer catch my breath because of the sharp and burning agony. It’s like I’m drowning. I fight the urge to push and find relief, but my body is not my own, it is controlled by odd instincts that belong to something ancient and certainly wiser than myself. It reminds me that I’m one with the nature around me. I cry out my mother’s name, but I remember she can’t help me. No one can. But when I look up I see my mother standing behind Ingrid. She smiles at me and I feel she still love me. I haven't disappointed her. I smile back and understand what she wants me to do. I start pushing with all my might. I throw my head back in Màiri’s shoulder to breath and keep going until I feel the burning sensation of my child slipping from my insides combined with the wetness of more blood.

 

 


 

 

There was no first cry. Ivar approaches and sees Ingrid releasing the neck of the baby from the cord. It is a girl. She is not moving and her skin is blue pale. Ivar's heart skips a beat as he looks at his daughter. She is as adorable as her brother, and he holds back a tear rolling down his cheeks. The boy in his arms opens his eyes that are as blue as Ivar’s. Despite the chaos around them, the baby is calm.

 

Please, Freyja! Ivar is asking for the Goddess’ assistance, but he is not sure if as a woman, she will give him what he wants. He doesn't even know what he is asking for.

 

Moyra’s head is leaning against Màiri’s shoulder. She looks exhausted.

 

Ingrid is massaging the baby's chest with determination. She places her lips on the small mouth, trying to help the girl to breathe on her own for the first time. All in vain. She is dead. Ivar will never see her first smile, know the color of her eyes, she will never say her first words or give the first steps followed or even chase her brother.

 

The midwife cuts the cord, taking the baby away to clean. Moyra opens her eyes slowly, searching the room for her children. Ivar hears her whispering something to Màiri and the servant shakes her head. Moyra is strangely calm. Ivar feels so lost and useless. If he knew her language, he would be the one comforting her.

 

 


 

 

Why don't they give me my child?

 

“Is there something wrong?” I look at Màiri, but she doesn’t answer me.

 

“Tell me!” I insist and Màiri starts with a trembling voice.

 

“The girl is with God!” Màiri whispers under her breath, unable to look at my face.

 

I notice Ivar’s eyes filled with pity. He is moving towards me with slow and deliberate steps.

 

Does he think I will find some relief in him?

 

The pain of labor had left my body frail. But I find my voice and start screaming my lungs out. It's my fault and yet I'm relieved my daughter won't suffer anymore.

 

 


 

 

Ingrid looks at Ivar not knowing if she should give Moyra the baby. He nods and Ingrid places the baby in her mother's arms. Moyra kisses the girl's forehead, talking to her calmly. Ivar can't look away from the scene, even feeling like he is an foreigner. An intruder breaking into someone’s house and seeing something he shouldn’t. He desires that she will have the same sweetness towards the baby in his arms. As if he is reading Ivar's mind, the boy starts squirming, sticking out his tongue. He is hungry.

 

Ingrid moves toward Moyra to take her stillborn baby away.

 

“The baby is hungry. Let me hold the girl and you can feed the boy," Ingrid offers.

 

Moyra raises her head from her girl and glances at Ivar, she keeps holding the girl tight against her chest.

 

“I can’t! I-I must take care of my daughter,” her voice is cracking from the weight of guilt and conflicted emotions as she is relieved the baby won't suffer as she did.

 

Ivar gives the boy to Màiri. Kneeling by Moyra’s side, he tries to convince her that the girl can wait.

 

“I'll hold our daughter so you can feed our boy,” Ivar raises his hand to take the girl from Moyra.

 

Moyra is quivering and still bleeding. The vision is sending shudders down his spine, not from the usual excitement the blood from carnage usually brings. He fears for her.

 

“Trust me!” His hands are shaking with a sense of urgency. He knows that if she refuses to take the boy to her breast it means she is walking their daughter's path.

 

“You don't own my body anymore. I shouldn't have even pushed him out for you. If I had a choice, I would take him with me as well. Only in this way I could protect him from the future that lies ahead. I know you will turn him into something I don't want to witness,” Her voice comes out as a low threat. There’s nothing clearly powerful in the woman daring to defy Ivar, but he had never felt so overwhelmed in his whole life.

 

“What happened it's not his fault! You can't refuse him because of me,” Ivar touches her hand and she blinks weakly.

 

“You're right! He is innocent, but I won't help you to expand your reign of terror. Against my desire you have a son, take care of him because you can't demand more from me. My only regret is that I can't save him from you too,.” Moyra’s body starts convulsing and Ingrid rushes to her side to help. Ivar is paralyzed and wide-eyed. Not even the loud cry from his son is enough to distract him from the scene. She is dying. Ingrid tries to turn her body to the side, but she is not strong enough.

 

“HELP ME! Hold her! Hold her down,” Ingrid's screams awake Ivar from his trance. He helps her to move Moyra to her side. After a few minutes, her convulsion stops and Ingrid checks her pulse.

 

Ivar can't bring himself to ask what he dreads the most, his eyes are downcast and hot tears keep running down his cheeks.

 

Ingrid walks away followed by Màiri, leaving Ivar with Moyra.

 

 


 


For what appeared like an eternity to her, it was as if nothing existed. Or maybe like what existed didn’t matter to Moyra. While she still heard faraway noises and felt touches on her body, neither belonged to her anymore. At one point, just as she was about to give herself completely to oblivion, some very potent vertigo took over her and she was unexpectedly dragged out of her unconsciousness. Tensing, she fought to regain her balance until the swaying stopped so violently that her whole body shook in a sudden jerk.

 

Many hands successfully immobilized Moyra against the bed. The woman could hear her own animalistic wails echo into the house. She had never been in so much pain in all of her life. That’s it. I’m dying, was the last coherent thought she had.

 

 


 

 

“King Ivar?” he doesn't know how long Màiri has been calling him. He blinks his tears, looking at her.

 

“We must find someone to feed the baby. Do I have your permission?” she is rocking the baby, trying to calm him in vain.

 

Ivar feels his throat tightening that his son is suffering from rejection and abandonment because of him, he can only nod his approval. Màiri runs to the door to find someone suitable to feed Ivar's son.

 

 


 

 

Her body was washed and dressed in a beautiful dress. Our daughter is resting in her arms. She looks so beautiful even in death. Her face is peaceful at last and it looks like she might wake up at any time. But when I lean forward to press a final kiss on her lips, her cold skin reminds me I’ve ruined our chances.

 

I run my fingers over her face and hair while thinking about the many times I slept with her warm body pressed against my chest, and smelling the fragrance of her dark locks. I try to memorize her features because memories will be the only thing I'll have now. Memories of someone that was never mine. Certainly, she would have different memories. Images of terror, impotence, and hatred.

 

My eyes travel to the baby in her arms. Her death is my burden too, but at least she is at peace. I kiss her forehead just in time to hear Màiri’s footsteps.

 

“Are you ready, King Ivar?” Màiri whispers not to wake Sigtrygg who sleeps in her arms.

 

I nod because I can't answer her with words that I know would be lies. I'm not ready to bury the only woman I've ever wanted or the baby that I know would bring sweetness to my life, as all daughters do.

 

 


 

 

I carry the coffin with the help of one of my warriors. There is not a crowd. Only Màiri, Ingrid and I. Sigtrygg is at home feeding from one of the villagers. Astrid had lost her baby the week before and was more than satisfied to nurture my son. I offered a payment which she refused saying that at least her tragedy was not complete and she could feel life coming from her again. I'm glad my son will be surrounded by love since I can't bring myself to hold him. Moyra’s words are still echoing in my head. I don't want to transform our son into a monster. So, I will keep myself busy going to a new raid.

 

 


 

 

Two years later...

 

I have no other purpose in life than to bring terror upon every shore I land on. She died carrying with her not only our daughter but the possibility that I could be a better man. I embraced the monstrosity she said I was capable of.

 

The only one that can soften my heart is our son, but I can't bring myself to look at him too much. He is so much like her. Sigtrygg is growing so fast and I can't help thinking he misses his mother. But I won't marry or take another woman. She yelled I was not capable of loving anyone. I've been proving her wrong only in this aspect. I don't care about what people say, accusing me of lack of lust or love. My lust has decayed with her inside that grave. To build a kingdom and a legend of my name is the only reason I'm living for. My son will be proud of my accomplishments and keep our legacy. Words of our actions will echo through time long after we leave this world. Her name might be forgotten, but by her blood, she will be the winner. The mother of a strong lineage that will destroy and build kingdoms.