He fought his way out of Werhan to get back to her and their child. He had promised her he would, and an oath was not something he would consider breaking. His arms were aching not from the battle, but with longing to hold his wife and their newborn son.
When he finally entered his house, Uhtred was not furious because he found Oswald desecrating their bed. The same bed they conceived their child with the tenderness that has been slowly built. None of this mattered. In truth, Uhtred found quite amusing how his lazy servant seemed to believe the girl underneath him was squirming in pleasure rather than in disgust.
His wrath was like a living thing, eating him from inside while he stared at the empty cradle where his son should be waiting for him.
His fury controlled his body when he pinned Odda the Younger against the ground with a dagger to his throat. He couldn’t trust any of them when they said Mildrith and his son were safe. They had lied to him before and Uhtred doubted they would hesitate to do it again.
Leofric said the child was as ugly as his father but Uhtred doubted that was the case. He was sure his son would have none of his flaws. The baby he has never seen but dreamed about.
Against Ravn’s advice, he had fought Ubba and defeated him. He was a son of Ragnar the Fearless and so Uhtred was determined to make his son proud of him. The battle of Cynuit was a Saxon victory because of him and his son would have a future because of the risk he embraced. He wouldn’t listen to Leofric and run as a faithful dog to Alfred’s feet to beg for a reward. His tired legs would carry him to Mildrith and their child.
Anyone would believe him to be a predator, hiding behind a tree and watching her walking through the forest. Would anyone believe he was in fact at her mercy? He imagined her heart was beating fast against her ribs as she turned, sensing there was someone lurking around.
Uhtred couldn’t wait to kiss the soft lips that were now shouting, “Who’s there?”
The smile that he saw lighting up her face was the reward he craved. The certainty she was waiting for him with as much eagerness as he was trying to reach her. And after all the danger and blood, Uhtred felt the sweetness of her kisses and the softness of her hands as she led him to meet his son.
Hands that were used to inflict pain and death were now holding something so small and fragile. As they listened to their small Uhtred’s hiccups, he promised Mildrith they would have a feast to celebrate their blessing. He didn’t care if it was a blessing from her God or his.
Mildrith wanted him to believe her prayers kept him safe. She begged him to see her God was good, but Uhtred knew it was his sword that brought him to her arms.
Uhtred regretted yelling at his wife because even though her attempt to persuade him to have faith angered him, he could see she cared about him.
He tried to convince himself the way she was looking at him was only a sign of disappointment and that he would still have a chance to show her he was worthy of her affection and respect.
Alfred’s words were still echoing in his head as he crawled his way to the palace with Aethelwold by his side, “you have broken my peace. You have broken the peace of Christ, and you have brought weapons into a sacred place.”
Couldn’t Alfred see the very weapon he seemed to despise was the reason he was still allowed to worship his God?
What should have been a victorious entrance in Winchester, was now a march of shame. The people who should be shouting his name with gratitude were now mocking and throwing dirt on him. He tried to shield his face with his hands, but nothing could protect him from the way Mildrith stared at him. The repulsion that made her press her lips together was clear now.
He wouldn’t kiss a cross that represented a corrupted Church, and he wouldn’t allow his firstborn son to be almost drowned in water they claimed to be holy.
“My son will not be baptized. No priest will whisper lies and deceit into his ears and half-drown him in water.”
If there was a thing Uhtred appreciated about his wife was her inability to hide her thoughts and feelings and now he could see she was not only repulsed, she feared him.
Only a fool would ignore the way she was slowing her pace not to ride by his side as they were heading home.
It seemed the Gods were mocking him for his betrayal for when they finally reached the farmstead, they surprised Oswald stealing. As Uhtred has always suspected. Mildrith’s pleas fell on deaf ears and Uhtred allowed his horse to trample him. Now that his rage has been unleashed, Uhtred dismounted from his horse and buried his sword into Oswald’s belly. Some would see his action as a final act of mercy, others as a pagan lusting for blood. He didn’t care about what people would say. When he turned to look and Mildrith and saw the horror in her face, he knew she couldn’t accept or understand him and so they couldn’t have love.
He could shout at her: “You’re looking at me like… you’re disgusted. What did I do? Just tell me what I did, please!”, but he knew it was not something he did. It was who he was. He was not the man she wanted by her side. He could never the woman she wanted and needed and Uhtred would hate himself if he tried.