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Vikings taken, p.11

Vikings_Taken, page 11

 part  #1 of  Great Heathen Army series Series

 

Vikings_Taken
 


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  After staying put for a while, and avoiding the late night stragglers, Rosfrith doubled back to the barn. Bard wouldn’t expect her to go back there.

  Once she slipped inside, she pushed the door shut. She found her discarded cloak and searched for a quiet, dark area, away from any moonlight. Rosfrith sat and wrapped her arms around her bent legs. She hugged them tightly in an attempt to stop the shaking which had begun to take over her body. What am I going to do? She knew she wasn’t safe in Ranaricii anymore. She closed her eyes tight in the vain attempt to stem her tears. When she took in a sobering, shaky breath, Rosfrith realised there was no way she was going to be able to hold back them back.

  Disorientated, Rosfrith awoke to sunlight, which was trying to cut through the gaps in the barn. She rubbed her eyes, and then realised she wasn’t in her bed – she on straw in the barn. When her sleep cleared, and her brain caught up, the whole awful situation came back to her. Suddenly panicked again she wondered how on earth had she slept? She should have been running not crying and sleeping!

  Standing quickly, she scanned around, trying to gather her thoughts. Now her tears were spent, she had to think of her options. She knew she still couldn’t go to Hilde or her longhouse because Bard would easily find her, and Rosfrith wouldn’t be surprised if he beat her to death. He had threatened to kill her when she’d hit him, and if he did murder her, all Bard would have to do is pay Ubba some coin for damaging his property, she thought bitterly.

  Her only option was trying to get someone to listen to her side of the story. She had no idea where Ubba had gone, so she couldn’t plead to him. She closed her eyes. Although, would he take my word against one of his loyal men? She liked to think he would, but, as he’d told her before he’d left, she was only a thrall. She shook her head. Ubba wasn’t an option.

  Her only real hope in the whole mess was Gunnar. He was in charge, and despite their run in the other day when he’d kissed her, he always seemed a fair man. He would know from her actions she wasn’t an easy woman. Perhaps if I could talk to him, he could calm Bard down? She took a deep breath, trying to slow her heartbeat down now her decision was made. She would go and find Gunnar, and hopefully he wouldn’t want any trouble while Ubba was away.

  As quietly as she could, Rosfrith cracked open the barn door, just enough to see outside. It was still early. The sun was only just lighting the sky, highlighting the snow and frost on the floor. Rosfrith hoped most people were still tucked under their furs because the fewer people who saw her making her way to Gunnar’s longhouse, the better. Going a long way around, to avoid the main longhouse because Bard slept in there, she hoped he’d consumed enough ale in his anger to keep him sleeping for most of the day.

  Moving within the morning shadows, little by little, Rosfrith made her way until Gunnar’s building was in site. She sighed deeply. Now all she had to do was find a way to speak to him. As she hovered in a darkened corner, Gunnar’s door opened. Her breath hitched. Bard was exiting the longhouse! He was talking to Gunnar in an aroused way, and Rosfrith realised her opportunity to explain might have already passed.

  Panicking about what her next move would be, instinct took hold, and she decided to flee.

  Chapter 13

  Escape

  Rosfrith was out of breath but kept running. She couldn’t stop, fearing Bard would be following her. Keeping the image of his enraged face clearly in her mind gave her the incentive to push on. Fear propelled her, on through the deeper snow when she could barely break through.

  Once the initial fear of being followed passed, she bent over, trying to take in air. Its cold stung her lungs, but she inhaled deeply. She needed it in order to push on. She spared a glance back towards Ranaricii and cursed heavily. In her haste to flee, she’d left a trail in the snow. How silly could I be? Bard would easily track her. But, there was nothing she could do now, so she scanned the area, trying to work out what to do.

  Far beyond where she stood was a hut perched half way up one of the mountain ridges. Perhaps I could seek shelter there? She hesitated, knowing the cabin would be too obvious. But, she would need shelter when the night winds and predators arrived. She made a decision. She would head for it. Besides, its height advantage might afford her a view of Bard, if he was coming for her. She didn’t have a lot of time to think her decision through, but if she were right, she’d be able to reach it before dark. While she stood, she felt pain in her feet. She looked down at her sodden leather shoes. She needed to get up there before the cold of the night would freeze her and take away any choices she might have had.

  She pushed forward. The way ahead parted into two valleys. To the left, a stream followed the valley’s floor. To the right, a forest pathed the way. She shuddered. Neither option appealed. She gave the dark forest another glance, and decided that she’d more likely find something more dangerous than Bard within its thick interior. Besides, the water would help mask her scent from the dogs. So, she pushed on, down towards the stream.

  When the pathway constricted towards the frigid water, afraid of falling and breaking a bone, Rosfrith tempered her speed. It didn’t seem as though Bard was following yet, so she had a little time to slow and regain some of her breath. It felt as though she had run forever. Tired, hopelessness washed over her. Maybe I should have let Bard take what he wanted rather than risking my life to protect my virtue? Pulling herself together, because she knew thinking like that would be no good, she huffed out a breath, which turned white in the air. No, he will never touch me again. She cleared her mind in order to concentrate. Rosfrith neared the stream carefully, one snow-covered, slippery stone after another. When the snow thinned, she picked up speed. She slipped and her foot hit the water. Cursing, she pulled it out - her shoes hadn’t been treated with fish oil to make them waterproof. While she shook it, she scanned around. She would have to walk through the water, regardless of her cold feet. It was the only thing that would mask her scent if Bard brought dogs with her.

  She pulled up her hem and entered the shallow water. Painstakingly slow, Rosfrith made her way over the slippery rocks under foot, only stopping briefly to wet her dry mouth. The stitch in her side had started to ease into a small jab, and her breathing levelled for a while.

  Until the excited sound of dogs reached her ears. She froze as despair threatened to take over. Bard was on his way and he was bringing the dogs! She could never outrun the dogs.

  Rosfrith closed her eyes, and took in a breath. She tried to control the sickness and fear threatening her. When the barking grew louder, instinct kicked in. No, Bard wouldn’t win. She’d survived this long on her own in a foreign land, and she’d survive now.

  She opened her eyes, ready to continue. And stopped. Some large animal was by the stream. From the distance, she couldn’t make out what it was, but there was no way she could go that way now. If it was a bear who had emerged from hibernation early, he would be too dangerous to encounter. Making a decision, she turned away from the stream, and climbed the slope. Fear boosted her on, and even though she tripped on the moss covered stones, and skidded on the snow-covered ones, she made quick time.

  Once at the top, she stood to catch her breath. Her hand squeezed her side to relieve the ache, which had returned. Her eyes narrowed. How can I get across the snow without tracks being obvious? The barking of the dogs made her turn sharply and she cursed. She had no choice.

  Rosfrith ran as fast as her wet tunic and snow would allow, not stopping until she reached the edge of the dark forest. She hesitated and peered into its darkness, made all the darker by the brightness of the snow on which she stood. Her instincts told her not to enter. Bears, wolves and all manner of dangerous things inhabited the woods, but when the hound’s excited barks reached her on the wind, her choice was gone

  Her head whipped around and she spotted the dogs and men in the distance. Her pulse quickened. They were running at speed. Her heart tightened in fear, before kick-starting with a thud against her ribs. She needed to move into th
e forest - fast. She hurtled into and through the thick foliage, her heavy, wet tunic snagging on the branches, slowing her progress. But she pushed along as best she could, the sound of dogs making her hurry.

  Exhausted after the hours of running, Rosfrith lost concentration and tripped over an exposed root. She landed heavily on her knees and hands. She stifled the scream in her throat, afraid to expose her whereabouts to the braying pack on her trail. Still on her all fours, she momentarily closed her eyes against the sting in her palms. Perhaps I should give up? Perhaps I should wait here on the ground to let destiny take its course? Despite her daily praying, God had seemingly abandoned her in this heathen land. Maybe it was time to abandon my beliefs, morals and even, my life? Then she remembered Bard face and her stomach lurched. No way was he going to get his filthy hands on me! She still remembered the state he’d left the servants in her home in Dunwich. I’d rather freeze to death, alone in the forest, than endure what he wanted!

  With renewed determination, she pushed herself up and dusted herself down. Looking around, she chose her next route towards where she thought the start of the mountain was. With a determined oath, she set off again.

  Hiding behind a tree, Ubba stilled, and held his bow and arrow taut in his arms. It wasn’t his weapon of choice, but he’d mastered it easily enough. It was better than his sword or an axe for hunting. His icy blue eyes narrowed in concentration before he swore under his breath. Why were the hounds from the village making so much noise? They would be making his prey skittish. It was soon sunset and his prey should arrive.

  Rolling his shoulder as much as his stance would allow, he turned his gaze back onto his target - on where he was anticipating his elk or deer would make its appearance. All had been tranquil in the forest, apart from an occasional insect breaking the water surface of the partially frozen pond. Previously, a white fox had taken a drink from its waters, until the barking dogs had made it disappear.

  The lowering sunlight broke through the branches of the trees where Ubba patiently hid. He ignored the pain in his feet, cold from walking through the snow earlier, and the ache in his arms. He shifted the slightest bit to keep his gaze in the shadows and was nearly invisible to the eye, his Viking clothing blending into the background. Now I have to watch and wait, and hope those damned barking beasts don’t frighten my dinner away.

  When the shadows grew longer, and no prey had appeared, Ubba cursed quietly to himself. He was running out of time. If he did indeed slay something, he would have little light left to dress it and return to the safety of the hut before it was dark. His brow furrowed while he debated his options.

  Hearing a noise, his gaze flittered past the trees towards the pond. His acute hearing picked up on the sounds of birds and a rustling. He afforded himself a small smile. A deer or elk, or some type of prey, was on its way after all. His fingers circled the leather grip on the bow, and he drew the string taut once again, raising it to eye level. This time determined to get his prize.

  He waited patiently, listening to the approaching noise. His forehead puckered slightly. It wasn’t the normal timid footfall of a stag. But perhaps the persistent barking of the dogs had spooked it into a panic, and it was less surefooted than usual? The prey would be wary and harder to kill while panicked, but Ubba was confident enough in his hunting skills not to worry.

  His eyes narrowed against the fading light, and he strained to see into the shadows of the woods from where the sound came from. He made out the snap of twigs as the animal slowed, cautiously approaching the water.

  Steadying his arms, he waited to catch a glimpse of its hide, ready for his shot. The split instant before he released his grip, he realised it wasn’t a beast, but a human! It was too late to stop his arrow, the only thing he could do was to defer his deadly aim downwards. He prayed to Odin that he hit the ground instead.

  It seemed like an eternity, but in no time at all, he heard a piercing scream.

  Fear pounded through him. He turned quickly and grabbed his axe and belongings. He scrambled out of the forest towards the pond, hoping he hadn’t killed the human.

  Within no time at all, Ubba was upon the body lying on the floor. The person wasn’t screaming anymore, it was deathly quiet. He glanced around before he squatted down next to the figure. When he reached and turned the body over, a curse laced the air when the hood fell away. It was Rosfrith, his thrall – the girl he’d sworn to protect, the girl he’d possibly killed. “Thor’s teeth!” he shouted, before snorting. Maybe the gods are playing tricks on me for thinking of her too often? For only last night, he’d dreamed of Rosfrith in his bed, not on the floor, dead!

  He quickly searched to find where he might have struck her. Ubba was glad when he saw his arrow embedded in the hard ground. Hopefully, I didn’t find my target at all? He glanced down towards her feet and saw a tear in her tunic. Flipping the hem of her dress up, he saw red on her shoes. He had hit her. He prayed to Eir, the Goddess of Healing, for help.

  Bending down on one knee, he placed one arm under her knees and one under her neck. In one fluid movement, he was standing, and effortlessly carrying her back to the cabin.

  When he arrived, Ubba used his foot to push open the wooden door. Luckily, he’d prepared the cabin for a late return – the fire was glowing, and his furs were already placed on the floor for him to sleep.

  Pushing the door shut, and the cold weather out, Ubba carried Rosfrith to the corner of the cabin, to his furs. Bending, he gently laid her down. As soon as she was settled, he stood and threw off his outer layers off, before bending once again, gathering her upper body into the crook of his arm. He tapped her face lightly. Ubba breathed a sigh of relief when she started to come around. “Rosfrith, it’s me, Ubba, your sire.”

  Confusion clouded her violet eyes when they opened. “Sire?”

  “Yes,” he said, still holding her in his bent arm. He held her faltering gaze, praying she didn’t pass out again.

  “Sire?” she murmured softly, again.

  “Unfortunately, I’ve shot you with an arrow. I need to look at it,” Ubba told her. His eyes narrowed to inspect her. She didn’t’ look as though she was listening to his words. She had a far-away look in her eyes. “Thor’s teeth. Rosfrith, I need to look at your wound.” He positioned his mouth nearer to her ear in order for her to hear him properly.

  Her fuzzy mind took a while to catch up. She wasn’t thinking, only feeling. Her heart faltered, as the fanning warmth of his breath fluttered gently over her face towards her ear. She couldn’t hear his words, could barely breathe. When his hand moved down her body to gather her hem, Rosfrith could barely contain her whimper of suppressed delight.

  Her quiet moan, deep in her throat, forced Ubba to stop. His gaze returned to her face, confusion marring it. When he noticed her raise her lips and close her eyes, he realised what she was doing, of how the situation might appear to her. He tensed, the muscle in his jaw flexing. “Snap out of it, Rosfrith. I need to look at your wound.”

  The harshness of his voice, snapped her back into reality, shattering the intimacy of the moment. Her eyelids flung open, as she tried to decipher what was going on. Mortified at her mistake, and feeling the blood rush to her face, she tried to get out of his embrace but pain sliced through her thigh, stopping her in her tracks.

  “Still,” he commanded. “I need to tend to your wound.”

  “The one you made,” Rosfrith shouted weakly, trying in vain to move away from him.

  Not letting her go, Ubba sighed. He tempered his voice, realising the whole situation was his fault. “Ay, I did, but stay still. I need to lift your tunic to take a look.”

  After a long silence, a battle of wills, Rosfrith realised she was defying her sire, which wasn’t allowed. Feeling faint and tired, she nodded her consent. She watched Ubba turn towards her feet, and lift the hem of her tunic.

  Once she’d given her nod of consent, he ignored her frightened eyes, which had started to mist with tears. He wasn’t going to
hurt her - well, no more than he’d already done. Ubba felt her pale flesh tense under the initial touch of his warm hand. He paused briefly for her to relax. Once she had, he continued to inspect the wound, not daring to look at the shapely leg in his hand.

  Once he was finished, he gently placed her leg back onto the furs. He stood and walked over the other side of the room to gather some cloth. He tore it into strips and dipped some of them into warm water, which was in the pot over the fire.

  While Ubba was busy, Rosfrith watched his every move. She was glad of the silence, she had time to think about how to explain her appearance in the forest. He was bound to ask. As a thrall, she was not free to roam wherever she wanted. When he returned, Ubba kneeled by her, and Rosfrith felt her nerves jangle.

  “I’m going to wash it, Rosfrith.” He put one hand under her knee. He noticed her unsteady inward breath. He ignored her and carried on, using his other hand to gently sponge around the wound, carefully wiping away the warm, sticky blood to see the extent of the damage his arrow had made.

  Once the warm trickle of water had finished, Rosfrith could feel Ubba prodding the wound, presumably to check if there was anything left in it. It throbbed and burned. But it wasn’t just her wound affecting her breathing. His nearness had an unwanted effect on her, too. She gritted her teeth, hoping he’d put her skittishness down to the wound he’d caused her. It embarrassed her that she could feel every one of his probing fingers spread over her thigh, inspecting the wound. His flesh seemed to burn her.

  “There is nothing in it, thank the gods, but it’s a nasty gash. I’ll clean it properly, and then bind it,” he said before he placed her leg down and stood over her.

  Rosfrith glanced up at him.He was huge, towering over her. She felt like that small child again, scared to her bones by the beasts. Feeling exposed, especially as his eyes wandered over her legs, Rosfrith shuffled to pull her hem back down. She heard him snort, but unsure what it meant, said nothing.

 
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