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Vikings taken the great.., p.12

Vikings: Taken (The Great Heathen Army series Book 1), page 12


Vikings: Taken (The Great Heathen Army series Book 1)

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  “You’ll need to stay still while I do it,” was the only comment he made before walking over to the fire.

  Later, Rosfrith watched as Ubba bent towards the fire, restocking the logs, and stoking its embers back into life. Even though she felt faint, it was her duty as his thrall to tend to the fire, not her sire’s. “I’ll do that, sire.”

  Ubba turned towards Rosfrith, glad to hear her speak. From the time he’d cleaned her wound, she had been too quiet. To be honest, he’d been quiet, too, trying to detangle all of the emotions churning in his head – guilt for what he’d done, respect for her bravery, annoyance that she was here in the first place, and, the one that was most on his mind, attraction. It wasn’t unusual to be attracted to the opposite sex, whether a lady or a thrall, but usually he’d ignore it or do something about it. Either way, he moved on. For some reason with Rosfrith, he still had that old niggling feeling about protecting her, just like in Dunwich. It conflicted greatly with his desire for her.

  He glanced at her and noticed her face pale when she attempted to move. A scowl appeared on his face, and his voice hardened. “You, stay where you are. I will tend to things until your wound heals. Get some sleep. It’s late.” He was glad when she stopped moving and closed her eyes. He noticed her face screw with pain, but he tore his gaze away from her suffering.

  Ubba rose very early the next day, glad Rosfrith had slept most of the night, despite her thrashing around at times – with pain or dreams, Ubba was unsure.

  After he had attended the fire, he grabbed a biscuit and ale and sat watching her sleeping form. His brow creased as he thought in the silence. Why had she been wandering through the forest during the cold evening? If he thought about it, her clothes were disheveled, and her whole demeanor was wrong. He huffed. There were questions his thrall would need to answer.

  When Rosfrith awoke and he’d given her some liquid to quench her thirst, he couldn’t wait any longer. “Why are you so far from the longhouse, from Ranaricii, Rosfrith?”

  Rosfrith noticed his piercing blue eyes had narrowed on her. Fidgeting under his glare, she wiggled deeper into the woven blanket he had placed around her. How can I tell him about Bard? She couldn’t – he was one of his loyal men, and she, after all, was just his thrall. “Um, um. I got lost?” She caught Ubba let out a snort and turn his gaze away before he started poking the fire. It was obvious he didn’t believe her, but it didn’t seem as though he was going to question her further. Yet.

  After a long silence, Ubba asked, “Do you feel hungry enough to eat?”

  Rosfrith placed a hand on her stomach. She hadn’t eaten since before mucking out the barns, but she feared if she placed anything in her stomach, it wouldn’t stay, so she lied. “No.”

  Ubba turned to look at her. Regardless of what she felt, she needed to eat to keep her strength up. Her wound would need all her energy to heal, and there wasn’t much spare flesh on her body to help that happen. “You will eat -,” he softened his tone when he saw her become distressed. “- it will help you recover quickly.”

  Rosfrith lowered her gaze to the floor. “Yes, sire.” She just hoped she didn’t embarrass herself by throwing it back up.

  “I prepared some skause the other day. It’s elk. The broth will be good for you.” He said before grabbing the pot to put onto the fire.

  While he reheated the broth, Rosfrith relaxed back into the furs. Tiredness overwhelmed her. It didn’t matter that she’d slept the night, her body told her she needed more. Within no time, she was fast asleep again.

  The change in Rosfrith’s breathing indicated to Ubba she’d fallen to sleep before he had time to feed her. He put the bowl down and swivelled around on his feet to look at her. This time, with the light of the day creeping through the cabin, he noticed that asleep, she looked like the small innocent child he’d taken from East Angles. He sighed heavily. He knew better. Since the last time he’d seen her in his longhouse, and noticing she had grown into a woman, Rosfrith had been on his mind too much for comfort. It had confused him more than he cared to admit.

  When he’d protected Rosfrith from his brothers and their men, all those years ago, and brought her over to Ranaricii, he’d thought he’d done enough to ease his conscious. After all, it wasn’t his fault her father had been a liar and her mother had chosen to leave her. He’d repaid his debt to his conscious. To be honest, she hadn’t even entered his mind for a number of years - she was just his property. But, when he’d seen her the other morning, he’d noticed her as a woman for the first time. He couldn’t deny that his interest had stirred. And not in an innocent way. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem. If a thrall took his fancy, they would couple. But, for some reason, he didn’t wish to. Something was stopping him taking her and being done with it. Confused, he turned away to tend to the stew and tried to think about just looking after her. The broth would take a while to heat through, and sleep was more important to her now.

  As Ubba finished eating his stew, the barking of dogs, which he had heard yesterday, got nearer. He placed his pot down. Curious, he walked towards the door, reaching for his weapon. He glanced at Rosfrith, and noticed her stir in her slumber. She didn’t awake. He opened the door and braced himself to go outside to find out who was coming. He closed the door behind him, to conserve the heat within the walls and to protect Rosfrith.

  Squinting into the distance, he tried to check if the advancing men were friend or foe. When the dogs neared, much faster than the men trailing behind them, Ubba relaxed a fraction. He knew the dogs well enough - they were from Ranaricii. He observed them. They were following a scent. Something was wrong. Suddenly on alert, his muscles tensed. There must be trouble – that would be the only reason for them to come to fetch me.

  Within minutes, the dogs were at his feet and started to howl at the door. A crease marred his forehead. Their howling indicated they’d found what they were looking for. It only took him a second to figure it out. An unease flowed down his spine. He quietened the dogs down and waited patiently for the men to come.

  Ubba noticed them slow down and turn to each other when they detected him standing next to the cabin. He was too far away to know what they said to each other, but he had an idea. Turning, he placed his axe down. He didn’t want to look threatened, but it was within easy grabbing distance, should be need it.

  “Bard, Eirik, Rabbi, Daan,” Ubba nodded to his men.

  “Ubba,” Bard said slowly, his eyes searching behind him, towards the cabin.

  “Is there trouble in Ranaricii?” said Ubba. He watched as Bard quickly glanced at the men flanking him.

  “Um, no, Lord. We are –.” He took a step forward. “- out hunting for bear.”

  Ubba noticed the questioning looks off the men, but the look Bard gave them served to silence them. “’Tis a little early. The snow hasn’t melted yet; the bears will be sleeping.” Ubba levelled a hard look at Bard. He knew he was pointing out the obvious mistake, but neither were silly. They knew the dogs previous howling indicated that their prey had been found. They had found Rosfrith.

  Ubba widened his stance, hoping Bard would not choose to disrespect him in front of the other men. His men.

  “Yes.” Bard smiled. “We are practicing, that’s all, Lord. It is such a clear morning.”

  Ubba noticed the furtive glances between Daan, Rabbi, and Eirik. He was glad they appeared uncomfortable with the lies in front of their Chieftain. Unlike Bard. When he was back in Ranaricii, Ubba knew he had no choice anymore - Bard would have to be dealt with. “Good.” He wanted to close the conversation down, wanted the men gone, but he knew he had to act as normal as possible. “Have you enough food to get back to Ranaricii? I have some skause and sourdough here, if you need.” He paused, before adding, “But, by the looks of your sacks, you have plenty to get on with.” He noticed Bard’s cheek twitch.

  “No, Lord. We are fine,” Bard said between gritted teeth. “We will be going, leave you to your…” Bard flicked a glance at the cabi
n once again. “Your skause.”

  Ubba nodded and relaxed his stance slightly, now that they were going.

  As they turned to leave, Ubba noticed Bard turn, a smirk on his lips. He moved a step nearer his axe.

  “Oh, by the way, sire. Have you seen anyone around these parts?”

  “No.” Ubba noticed the three other men turn towards him too.

  “No one, at all?”

  Ubba’s gaze narrowed on Bard, urging him to dare question him. “No.”

  Bard changed his tactics. “We found a lot of blood down by the lake when we sheltered for the night. Did you make a kill, Lord?”

  Ubba hoped the men didn’t notice him tense. “Yes, but it got away.”

  “Did it now?” Bard shrugged as though he didn’t care – but they both knew otherwise. “We’ll see you back at Ranaricii, then, sire.”

  “Yes, you will, Bard.” Ubba was glad Bard flinched. He’d obviously realised he’d stepped over the mark. But regardless of any remorse, he would be dealt with for his insolence.

  When Ubba was sure they were gone and wouldn’t be returning, he turned and opened the door. Taking a deep breath, he walked in. Something had happened between Bard and Rosfrith. He’d find out.

  While questions filled his mind, Ubba tended the fire. His gaze whipped around to seek Rosfrith when he heard movement. She was pushing herself up. Even in the darkness of the cabin, he noticed her face pale and her eyes glaze. “Don’t move. I’ll help.” He strode over and knelt next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders and bolstering the furs. Once she reclined back down and a little colour had returned to her face, he couldn’t put it off any longer. “Bard was just here.”

  “Oh,” Rosfrith whispered, as her gaze bolted towards the door.

  Ubba’s gaze narrowed. “He’s gone.” He scanned her reaction on her face before he brought his piercing gaze back to hers. “I need to know what happened, Rosfrith. I cannot go back to Ranaricii unarmed with the facts.”

  “Um,” she said, lowering her eyes.

  Ubba held her chin tight when she tried to pull away. “Now –tell me,” he demanded.

  The intensity of his gaze was piercing. Unable to pull away, she looked down at his lips. Her tears threatened because he was angry with her. Perhaps Bard had lied to him? She didn’t want to say anything, but he was her sire, and he’d asked her outright. Unsure of what to do, her tears began to gather and spill.

  Ubba flinched when wetness touched his hands. His instincts told him to comfort her, but he couldn’t, he needed to know the facts. Without them, he couldn’t help her. His voice became stern. “Tell me, Rosfrith. Was it Bard who put those bruises on your skin?” He felt her chin tremble under his fingers before she nodded. His fingers appeared so large and rough holding her delicate chin, he yanked them away, not wanting to touch her. He needed to distance himself from her.

  Rosfrith watched as Ubba stood and walked towards the fire. His back was still facing her when he said, “Did he hurt you?”

  “Yes,” she said with a shaky voice.

  Ubba’s gut tightened. He took in a breath before he turned from the fire towards her. He held her gaze for a while, his blue eyes looking deep into hers. “Did he rape you?” When she shook her head, his breath came out in a short blast. That was one blessing. “Are those bruises on your body from Bard?”

  “Most of them,” she answered truthfully. “But some are from my fleeing.”

  He turned away from her to stoke the fire while he tried to control his rage -his rage at Bard for hurting her, his rage at himself for not seeing it coming, his rage at not being there to stop it, and his rage for caring.

  Later on in the day, after bouts of sleeping and eating, Ubba knelt down next to Rosfrith. “I need to tend to your wound.”

  She hesitated and noticed his eyebrow lift slightly. “Okay, sire.” She lifted her tunic herself. It seemed less intimate. She felt his fingers spread, as he tenderly examined her wound. The gentle probing of his fingers around the wound’s edge made Rosfrith wince.

  “Does it hurt?”

  “Yes, but it will be fine now, sire.”

  “While we are in this cabin, you can dispense with my title, Rosfrith.”

  “But what would I call you?” Rosfrith asked tentatively, taken aback by his request.


  “If that is what you ask of me, sire –” She hesitated when his eyebrows flicked upwards. “I mean, Ubba,” she said, rolling his name on her tongue. It felt too unfamiliar saying it.

  He sighed as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “It is, but only here, Rosfrith. Not in Ranaricii.”

  She nodded, understanding his dilemma As his thrall, she would never be permitted to call him Ubba. Rosfrith watched as he efficiently changed her dressings, a calmness on his face. While his attention was firmly on her wound, Rosfrith took the opportunity to study him. Surprisingly, he hadn’t aged much since she’d first seen him at Dunwich. He had more lines near the corner of his blue eyes, telling of his outdoor life, but they added to his rugged handsomeness. His long hair was still the same dark blonde, with no hint of grey. His shoulders, under his tunic, were strong, yet the hands that were touching her were gentle. She sighed as a strange, warm feeling worked its way through her, pooling low in her stomach. Yes, he was a strong and handsome man.

  Out of the blue, Ubba glanced up at her. “Is that okay, Ros…?” He stopped and his gaze narrowed on her, trying to work out why she was flushed.

  Embarrassed at being caught studying him, she turned away. ”Um, yes, thank you.” She tried to push her tunic back down, feeling too exposed.

  Ubba didn’t protest, he stood.

  Rosfrith ignored his little snort of laughter.

  “Would you like something to drink before I finish up?”

  Rosfrith shook her head, not confident her voice wouldn’t betray her.

  When he turned towards the corner of the room to retrieve clean bandages, she watched his broad back and panicked. I can’t let him that close againHe’ll guess I think more of him as a man than as my sire!

  Once Ubba had torn another strip, he returned to Rosfrith. She still looked flushed, but she also looked – what was it? He hesitated in his stride. She appeared frightened. He rubbed his beard with confusion. He’d cleaned and changed her bandages on many of occasions, why was she scared now? Shaking his head, he walked towards her.

  “’Tis alright, sire. I will tend to my wound from now on,” Rosfrith said, more firmly than she had been intending, but her emotions were playing havoc.

  “Uh?” He regarded her, a puzzled expression on his face. “Why? And why are you now calling me sire?”

  Rosfrith dragged her gaze from him to look at the fire. She stayed quiet, only shrugging her shoulders.

  He didn’t know what he’d done wrong, and the only way he knew to react was to become impatient with her. Women and their unfathomable moods. She was turning out as unpredictable as Astrid. His voice and the look he gave her didn’t hide his impatience. “If you like, Rosfrith. I’m not going to argue with you.” He threw the bandages near her and walked to the door. “I’m going out to get more firewood.”

  Rosfrith felt agitated. For the last couple of day, since she’d told Ubba she’d look after her wound, the atmosphere was frosty. Her mind was so stressed, she hadn’t even slept during the night. The hard ground had been covered with plenty of furs, but it hadn’t provided any comfort for her aching muscles and throbbing wound. Perhaps it was also because she’d taken on some of the tasks in the cabin so Ubba could go out hunting. Maybe it’s all too much for me?

  It was quiet on her own in the cabin, so Rosfrith hobbled over to the furs. She decided to take a rest. Her leg was giving her trouble today, but she daren’t tell Ubba. She’d used the last bandage a couple of days ago and hadn’t wanted to bother him to ask for more. He was barely grunting at her questions at the moment, let alone making conversation.

  Finally ex
hausted, Rosfrith slept soundly through the afternoon, only awaking to the sound of Ubba cutting up meat. Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she started to push herself up to sit. She gasped sharply at the pain in her thigh. It stabbed at her like a hot knife.

  Ubba’s gaze narrowed in on her. “Is your wound bothering you more than before?”

  Rosfrith shook her head. “It’s only because I’ve been still. It’s stiff, that’s all,” she lied. It was more painful than before, but she didn’t want him to look. For her own sanity, she needed to keep him away. She changed the conversation. “What have you caught?”

  “An elk.”

  At the moment, the thought of eating anything turned her stomach, but wanting to get rid of the atmosphere between them, Rosfrith smiled. She hoped he would smile back. He didn’t.

  “It’s large enough to keep us fed until you can walk back to Ranaricii,” he added in a monotone voice.

  “Wonderful.” Rosfrith felt the fear claw at her stomach at the mention of Ranaricii – she didn’t want to meet Bard, regardless whether Ubba said he wasn’t a concern.

  The afternoon passed slowly, with Ubba cutting up the elk, and Rosfrith falling in and out of sleep.

  She jumped when a hand shook her shoulder.

  “Food is nearly ready.”

  “I’m not particularly hungry.”

  Ubba’s gaze sliced to hers. “I don’t care. You are to eat to keep yourself strong.” He turned back towards the fire when she nodded.

  Rosfrith rubbed her hands up and down her arms but stopped when it felt like little needles pricked her skin. Despite the warmth of the blanket and fire, Rosfrith started to shiver. She glanced towards Ubba, who was busily preparing the food, but her mind and her body felt heavy. It was strange, while she shivered, rivulets of perspiration ran down her neck into the hollow between her breasts. She shook her head to clear her muggy thoughts, but stopped quickly, the movement making her dizzy.

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