Vikings taken the great.., p.3
Vikings: Taken (The Great Heathen Army series Book 1), page 3
“Mistress Rosfrith, I do believe,” said Ivar, nodding as the smile widened on his lips.
Rosfrith stilled when she heard her name. She didn’t understand what was said, but her name was clear enough. Her spirits deflated. Perhaps I shouldn’t have fought so much, then I wouldn’t have been singled out? Quickly, she pushed those thoughts away. Regardless of what she thought now, when this blond beast barged through the women to grab her, her instincts had kicked in. I will pay the price now.
“Perhaps she will tell us where her parents are?” said Sigurd.
Ubba stepped forward. “Is there any way you can find out, Sigurd?” His brother possessed powers he didn’t fully understand. If the Lord was found quickly, hopefully there would be less bloodshed. “Without hurting her?” He added, ignoring all the grunts of disagreement. He shrugged. He didn’t know why he cared whether the child was hurt or not, but he would have to justify his statement. “She might be of use in the future.” He looked directly at Ivar. “We could ransom her?”
Ivar let out a snort and then thought about it. Perhaps my soft-hearted brother has a point? He turned to look at his other brother. “Sigurd, do what you can…”
“Don’t hurt her, brother,” Ubba reiterated, not realising he had interrupted Ivar.
Ivar’s gaze narrowed. It had been agreed he was in charge while in Britain. Maybe my brother needs reminding? “Halfdan Ragnarsson, step forward.”
Ivar waited quietly for his other brother, Halfadan, to stand in front of him. He flicked a quick glance at Ubba and noticed the tension in his stance.He was pleased that Ubba kept quiet. “If Sigurd Snake in the Eye can’t extract any information from her, you can use your method.”
Ubba’s gut clenched. He noticed a smile slowly appear on Halfdan’s lips while he fingered his weapon. Something inside him stirred. Although Ubba didn’t stop to analyse it, he knew he didn’t wish the child to experience pain. He needed to think how to handle the situation without anyone becoming suspicious. But before he could react, Ivar turned towards him and raised his eyebrows in warning. He stayed still. Although Ivar was not the oldest sibling, he was the leader of this raid and was to be obeyed, even by his brothers. Ubba’s hands fisted at his side in frustration. At the moment, there was nothing he could do to protect the girl. He’d often witnessed the mess Halfdan made with his knife. It was bad enough Sigurd inflicting pain on the young girl’s brain, but a least she wouldn’t be permanently scarred. He snorted with annoyance. He stayed still, but didn’t look away.
“Sigurd?” said Ivar. He clicked his fingers for Rosfrith to be brought forward.
Ubba silently cursed. She was pushed forward and landed harshly on her knees in front of Sigurd and Halfdan. It would have hurt, but he noticed she scowled at them instead of crying. The only indication of her nerves that he could tell, was when she bit her bottom lip while they talked amongst themselves. Ubba was impressed by her character - for one so young not to show fear was commendable. But it could also mean her youth didn’t allow her to comprehend what was about to happen.
While he watched his brothers talk, strange feelings tried to invade him again. He didn’t know what they were, but he knew he would not allow the child to be physically harmed. Warning off Ivar or not, Ubba planted his feet apart and fingered his weapon, bracing himself for a fight, if needed.
Rosfrith used all her strength to stay still. She was terrified and wanted to cry, but she would not show these brutes that. Silently, she watched their interaction. She didn’t understand their language, so didn’t know what they were discussing, but when one of them walked towards her with a smirk on his face, she knew it was not going to be pleasant. She glared at him, determined not to waver in her anger. He won’t see me frightened.
She studied him, to take her mind off what was going to happen. The man was dressed all in black. He was smaller than the others, slight of build, with none of the bulging muscles she’d witnessed on the other beasts. But, even with youth, she didn’t underestimate him. When he neared and bent down towards her, Rosfrith noticed one of his eyes was milky white. She panicked, but pushed her chin higher and stared directly into his eyes.
“Stay still, pretty one,” said Sigurd. He placed his hands on either side of her face. He wasn’t worried about her moving away because a warrior held her fast, her arms rammed against her back. “Let’s see where your sire, mother, and siblings are, shall we?” He knew she didn’t understand his words, but the images that would appear when he closed his eyes would tell him what Ivar needed to know.
Within seconds of feeling his hands on her, Rosfrith screamed. The pain in her skull was excruciating. Before she could catch a breath to scream again, Sigurd jerked away. The pain instantly stopped.
A puzzled look flittered over Sigurd’s face. His eyes briefly narrowed on Rosfrith before he turned and glanced at Ubba.
“What do you see, brother?” asked Ivar.
Sigurd hesitated. “I see nothing, my brother.” He flicked a glance at Ubba, then looked back at Ivar. “Let Halfdan have his turn. I see nothing,” he mumbled. He moved out of Halfdan’s way and walked over to Ubba. He placed his hand on Ubba’s arm to keep him where he was. “Say and do nothing. I will explain later.”
Ubba was puzzled but just nodded at Sigurd. He was too interested in Halfdan at the moment.
“See if you can triumph where your brother has failed.” Ivar the Boneless’s voice echoed around the hall.
Rosfrith opened her eyes, once the dizziness subsided and the sickness of pain eased. But, when she did, she noticed a different larger man standing before her. The scowl on his face indicated he might cause her even more pain than the last one. Her eyes widened when she saw him remove a sharp knife from his belt. She struggled against the human restraints and shouted, “Nay.” Before a large hand clamped over her mouth, cutting off her protests.
“Pray, cease,” said Lady Brigitta Guader, stepping out from the group of captives. She ignored the large beast guarding them.
From beneath the hand, Rosfrith tried to shout at her mother to stop, but no audible sound came out. Distressed that her mother had made herself known, Rosfrith fought against the hands on her shoulders and arms. She wiggled wildly, but more hands appeared to restrain her.
Brigitta’s worried eyes glanced at her daughter before she turned and looked directly at Ivar. She hoped she could trick him into thinking she was addressing him. “Pray, be still, Rosfrith. They have me now, hopefully they will leave you and your sister be. She is safe with the others.”
Ivar’s gaze zeroed in and inspected the woman, who was dressed in ordinary servant’s ware. He nodded to his man to let her through. She was talking, apparently to him, but the quick glance she’d given the young girl hadn’t fooled him. There was love between them. He rubbed his beard, resisting the urge to smile. He was impressed. The lady of the house had donned servant’s clothing in an attempt to fool him. Now he took the time to inspect her, her beauty shone through despite her attire. Very clever.
Brigitta stopped in front of Ivar, and hoped he didn’t notice her shaking.
“Speak,” Ivar commanded, waving his hand. He became annoyed when she stood, quietly rubbing her hands together. He snorted. “Lord Guader?” He knew she would understand those two words. When she shook her head, he felt his patience disappear. “Lord Guader?” he repeated, pointing to the floor. “Here?” He raised his brows in question.
Again, Brigitta shook her head. She flinched when she heard the growl deep in the chest of the barbarian in front of her. He didn’t look happy, but, in fact, she wasn’t happy either.
Her husband, Lord Arter Guader, had received a missive only a couple of days ago. He had packed immediately and disappeared, mumbling something about going to meet someone. At the time, she hadn’t thought much of it. Arter often disappeared to have council with King Ælla or King Osberht of Northumbria. They respected her husband. But if Arter knew these heathens were coming? She clenched her hands tightly,
Ivar could feel his temper boil. He didn’t appreciate being duped by the weasel. Through their communication across the waters, Lord Guarder had assured him that he’d accompany them to meet King Ælla when they arrived. He guaranteed that they would receive compensation from the King, which was their right. When they had landed on the East Angles shoreline, it was obvious that Lord Guarder was not there with a welcoming committee. Luckily, Ivar had predicted his betrayal, which is why he’d amassed an army before coming. He didn’t want to end up like his sire.
For years, East Angles had honored a peace agreement with his father, Ragnar Lothbrok. In exchange for information and gold, Ragnar Lothbrok had vowed not to attack King Edmund’s land, which included Dunwich Fortress.
However, Ragnar also had his sights on Northumbria. Lord Guarder had promised him he would talk to King Ælla and Osberht to arrange the same agreement. But when Ragnar arrived, he was killed by King Ælla - thrown into a pit of snakes.
By Ivar’s reckoning, Lord Guarder was as much a rat as the King Ælla. Although, initially he was going to be allowed to live, to communicate with the King. His gaze narrowed on the woman in front of him as he scratched his chin. His plans might have to change. He growled. Now he was stuck in a room with a load of prisoners no one had any idea how to communicate with.
Ivar stepped forward to stand directly in front of the Lady. He used his bulk in an attempt to intimidate her. She was Arter’s wife, and he was no doubt knew where he was.
From the sidelines, Ubba watched the woman, her back straight with dignity. It wouldn’t take his brother long to break that pride. For her sake, and that of her young daughter, he hoped she would tell Ivar where her husband was.
Everyone within the room watched silently when Ivar reached out and stroked Brigitta’s cheek.
Ivar laughed when she flinched away. He glanced around at his men. A smile flickered on his lips. “So,” he said, turning in a circle before his gaze returned to Brigitta. “This lady doesn’t like to be touched.” He, and the men around him laughed. “Perhaps she doesn’t like her husband touching her, either?”
Brigitta tried not to flinch when the heathens in the room roared with laughter. Whatever the brute in front of her had said, it was obviously something at her expense. Suddenly, she was glad not to be able to speak their filthy language. She didn’t want to know what they were saying, or know what was to become of them all. She stood as still as a statue, waiting for her fate at the hands of the brutes. But while she did, Brigitta silently cursed her husband to hell.
On the road to Northumbria
Lord Arter Guader ran his sweaty palm over his face. He gazed, unseeing, at the passing countryside. When the carriage hit yet another bump, he grabbed onto the seat, save him falling at the feet of his son.
Once he’d righted himself, he glanced at Bryan, who still wore the same scowl on his face – the one he’d had since leaving Dunwich. “We should be there soon,” Arter said in an attempt to pacify his son of five and ten years. He ignored the grunt his son returned him.
Annoyed, he looked out of the window again. He understood Bryan hadn’t wanted to join him on this journey, but what his son failed to understand was this journey might save his life. “For goodness sake, son, cheer up. This day is stressful enough without you making it worse.”
Bryan slid his father a glance before he turned away.
Incensed by his son’s insolence, and the never ending journey, he said. “I’m warning you, Bryan. Cheer up.” When he didn’t get a response, he glanced back out of the window. Perhaps I should have left him with his mother and sisters? If Bryan weren’t the sole heir to Dunwich, he would have.
Another large bump in the road, caused both their heads to bash onto the roof.
“Sorry, this track is very holey. But not in a religious way,” shouted the driver, laughing at his joke.
While Bryan rubbed his head, he glared at his father. “Pray, why did you bring me on this journey? You’ve never wanted me to assist you before.” He held on as the carriage rocked. Once it settled he carried on whining. “I had my falconry tuition lined up,” His lips parted in his first genuine smile since leaving Dunwich. “You should see Conyan.”
The smile fled from Bryan’s lips. “My bird.” Under his breath, he added, “You’d know if you took the time to watch.”
Once again, Arter chose to ignore his son’s jibe. Did Bryan think I have time for leisure pursuits? I have to mollycoddle two temperamental Northumbrian Kings, and keep back an invading Heathen Army! If his son didn’t buck his ideas up, he’d have to impart that bit of information to him.
“Why couldn’t we bring our horses, instead of being thrown around this thing?” said Bryan, after bumping his head once again.
“Because we have too much luggage to carry,” Arter said, only supplying part of his reason. His cases were heavy because they were filled with valuables, jewels, coin, and gold. Anything he could take without his wife becoming too suspicious.
Arter’s thoughts wandered to his wife. He hadn’t wanted to leave her, or his daughters come to that, but he hadn’t a choice. He was only hoping that on his return, the Norsemen and his wife, would understand his reasons for leaving. He was confident that the Norsemen wouldn’t attack his home because King Edmund paid them to keep East Angles safe. He hoped. “Keep the horses straight,” he shouted when the carriage swerved again. By the time we get there, half of my luggage will be left on the tracks!
“Ay, m’Lord. I’m trying,” said the driver, tutting at his passenger.
Arter took in a frustrated breath. Eager to get there, he tried to gauge the scenery. He had made this journey often enough to realise they were over half way, so he attempted to gather his scattered thoughts.
The mission in front of him wouldn’t be easy. He was off to meet King Ælla and his brother King Osberht of Northumbria to tell them about his recent missive from the Danes. They were on the way! Arter hoped King Ælla would either give them the coin he owed for killing their father or if not, an army to defeat them. Realistically, the only way to get an army to defeat the heathens was for the two Kings to join forces.
Arter felt his heart racing with panic. He’d acted as a peacekeeper long enough to witness the jealousy and sibling rivalry between the brothers. So, he knew it was nigh on impossible to persuade them to act together. He exhaled. In fact, at present, there was a mini civil war going on between the two, which, unfortunately, the Danes were taking advantage of.
He sighed heavily, running a hand over his mouth and chin. If only he could get the brothers to join forces, they might be able to defeat the Great Heathen Army, which, if his timing were right, would be landing on their shores very soon. He’d already had a resounding no from King Edmund about joining forces with the North. He wanted nothing to do with the Vikings because he paid handsomely to keep them away. A sweat broke on his brow. What would King Edmund think now they were coming through his lands? Starting to feel sick by the turn of events, Arter tried to close his eyes in an attempt to block out what was happening.
After a couple more hours of bouncing around on the hard wooden seat, they arrived at King Osberht’s stone fortification. Unusually for the times, King Osberht had not used timber for his fortress, but the stones left by the Romans. Arter wished he’d had the same foresight. His timber fortress in Dunwich wouldn’t take long to overthrow if the Heathens were angry with him. He shuddered, and then pushed his thoughts away because it made him think of his wife. “We are here, Bryan.”
“At last,” he mumbled under his breath, trying to hide his true feelings of excitement, now he’d seen the imp
Stretching his travel-weary body, Arter nodded at the servants who arrived to deal with his luggage. As custom, they would be taken to a chamber he normally vacated when in residence. It was only small, and he would have to share it with his son this time, but Arter feared he wouldn’t see much of it on this trip. He would be too busy trying to sort out this mess. He rubbed his chin and realised he needed to wash his dusty face and get changed before he met with King Osberht, the divine counsel, and nobles in an attempt to unite their forces and form an army with King Ælla. “Come, Bryan. Follow me.”
Lord Guader was not happy when he finally returned to his bedchamber. His body, tired due to the late hour, and his mind, tired due to the meeting. Throwing his surcoat on the bed, he sat heavily on the chair next to it.
“Is all good, Papa?” asked Bryan. He didn’t care what his father’s answer was. All he’d been interested in was a tour of the building, and now, it was too dark. He glared at his father’s back.
Arter’s head swivelled, and he let his gaze flick over his son, catching the tail end of his son’s scowl. He sighed deeply. “No, no, it isn’t.”
Forgetting his adolescent mood for a moment, for his father’s disposition was peculiar, Bryan suddenly felt a chill. He’d thought he’d been dragged up to Northumbria to keep his father company, but now, he wasn’t quite sure. His eyes narrowed. Thinking about it, they did leave in a rush. “W-w- what’s wrong, Papa?”
“What isn’t?” Arter mumbled, running his hand over his face in an attempt to clear his mind. Perhaps I shouldn’t have drunk so much alcohol during the meeting? It certainly hadn’t made anything better. He bent to take off his boot and then indicated for Bryan to help him when he noticed him standing watching his struggles. For Lord’s sake, he was so frustrated – with both the Kings and his son!
by Ceri Bladen have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes