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Vikings taken, p.5

Vikings_Taken, page 5

 part  #1 of  Great Heathen Army series Series

 

Vikings_Taken
 


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  Halfdan banged the table with his large fist and stood, gaining everyone’ s attention. “I like that idea. Get rid of both Ælla and Osberht in one go.” A large smile parted his lips. “March on Jórvík and conquer it. Perhaps I will become King instead?”

  All those around the table laughed and nodded in agreement.

  Halfdan looked towards his brother. “Sigurd Snake in the Eye, do you foresee this in my future? I fancy being a King in England.”

  Sigurd glared at his sibling. He hated it when people, especially his family, jested about his powers. But, regardless of their mirth, he did have strong powers to envisage the future. “As it so happens, I foresee you a King of Jórvík.” Sigurd waited for the roars to subside. “But, even though I picture two areas of rule for you as King, you must be wary of battles.”

  “Why?” asked Halfdan Ragnarsson.

  “Because you will die in battle on an island far from here .”

  After a moment of hesitation, Halfdan shrugged and raised his tankard. “In battle is the best way for a warrior to die!” He turned in a circle, saluting all the rowdy warriors with his ale. “Valhalla awaits,” he roared before plonking himself back down on his seat.

  While the rest of the men started to grow rowdy, through the free-flowing ale, Ubba nursed only one. They were in an unknown land and didn’t know what surprises it had in store, so he preferred to keep his wits about him.

  Eventually getting fed up with the boasts of some of the jarls, warriors, and freemen around the table, and sensing Ivar was starting to brood again, Ubba got up and went to sit at a table on the other side of the room. If he was truthful, it was nearer Lady Guader and her daughter. There was no telling how the mood would continue this eve, and the women were too valuable to be caught in the crossfire. If he could help them, he would, but he’d have no choice if Ivar thought differently.

  With drink fuelling his system, Ivar became more annoyed that things hadn’t gone to plan so far. He scanned the room looking for something he could take his frustrations out on. He didn’t fancy getting into a fight himself, his reactions too slow with the ale he had consumed, but he wanted something to happen to fire his blood.

  It wasn’t long before he found his target.

  He clicked his fingers to gain Bard’s attention. “Take Lady Guader to her bedchamber for the night,” Ivar said.

  A puzzled look ran over Bard’s face, his thoughts slowed down by alcohol.

  Ivar rubbed his beard in consideration as his attention returned to Lady Brigitta Guader. Yes, I’ll enjoy taking my frustrations out on her. “Bard. Take her to her chamber, guard her until I come to keep her company.”

  A smile slowly spread on Bard’s lips, and Ivar laughed.

  “In fact, why don’t we share her hospitality?” Ivar stood suddenly, gaining the attention of the men near him. “When I leave – you,” Ivar pointed to one man before making a sweeping gesture. “And the rest of you can enjoy Lady Guader’s hospitality, too.”

  From the other side of the room, Ubba watched the exchange between his brother and Bard. His ale stopped half way to his lips when he noticed Ivar, and then Bard, stand up quickly. Within seconds, those around Bard were laughing and talking, and even slapping each other on the backs, raising their ales to Ivar. His eyes narrowed. What’s going on?

  Slowly, Ubba lifted his ale to drink, all the while watching and assessing. He tensed when Bard strode across the hall towards him – but more importantly, towards the women. His nostrils flared when he glanced at the main table and saw one of the men stand and grab his groin. Ubba gripped his tankard harder. He had a good idea what was about to happen, but there was nothing he could do for Rosfrith or her mother without being disloyal to his brother. With his jaw clenched tight, he forced himself to stay seated. He hoped it was Lady Guarder, not her child, which had caught the interest of the men.

  Rosfrith glanced towards the source of merriment. From below her long lashes, she glared at the beast who stood up, swaying in his drunken state. She knew they took no notice of her glares, but it made her feel better. When some of the beasts stood, she looked away and stared at the floor. How dare those foul beasts laugh. How dare they eat all their hard-earned provisions. How dare they keep my mother tethered to a chair with no care for her needs!

  Rosfrith felt her tears threaten but pushed them away. They had no place here. She didn’t want anyone to know how frightened she was so she tried to concentrate on her loathing instead. Caught in her thoughts, Rosfrith failed to notice one of the Danes walk towards them, but her mother’s scream of distress had her tear her gaze from the floor. “Mother,” she shouted, while she watched the huge beast pull a knife out in front of her mother’s face. Lord, he was going to kill her!

  In a matter of seconds, the beast bent and cut the tethers, which tied her mother to the chair. “Come,” Bard said as he hauled Brigitta up to her feet.

  Rosfrith noticed her mother stumble into the beast, no doubt her legs were numb from hours of being in one position. When her mother pushed away from the large chest she’d fallen into, Rosfrith noticed her usually rosy complexion was pale. The roar of laughter from within the room, and the unsure feeling for her mother’s fate made Rosfrith’s head spin. Feeling sick, she tried to push the feeling aside and struggled to get out of tethers. Unfortunately, all her efforts were only rewarded with her chair toppling over – much to the delight of those watching.

  “Be good, my daughter. Remember, whatever happens to us, the Lord will protect,” Brigitta managed to say before being forcibly pushed out of the hall.

  A muscle flexed in Ubba’s jaw when he watched Bard take Brigitta away. When he saw Ivar step down and exit the room, he had a fair idea where his brother was off. Sick to his stomach at what was happening, he strode over to Rosfrith and righted her chair. She weighed so little. He looked down at her, and ignored the tears falling down her face. He let out a breath when he caught the look of loathing in her violet eyes because he couldn’t blame her. The dark haired lass was young, but not silly. She would know her mother was in danger. But, he couldn’t do anything to help the Lady. He cursed himself for it but decided not to get involved. Lady Guarder as an adult. Instead, he would stay to keep an eye on the terrified little girl.

  Nodding at Rosfrith, he returned to his ale. He only glanced at her again when the noise in the hall quietened. Her head was bowed, and her long black hair hid her weeping. A muscle flexed in his jaw before he tore his eyes away. There was nothing he could do.

  When Ivar eventually returned, Ubba watched, hour after hour, as various men made their way out of the hall. When they returned, he caught snippets of their sickening tales of their time with Lady Guader. He was glad her daughter didn’t understand what was being said.

  Suddenly, he decided he’d had enough. Ubba stood, ready to put an end to Lady Guader’s suffering. It wasn’t her fault her husband was a fool. He marched over to the main table.

  “Brother?”

  Ivar turned from his conversation with Halfdan. “What is it, brother?”

  “It’s about Lady…” Ubba never finished his conversation. A commotion had them all turning towards the door, each grabbing their weapons.

  Ivar stood, and relaxed marginally when he saw Asmund enter the hall. His eyes narrowed on the blood covering his face and tunic. He grabbed the hilt of his axe. “What’s happened? Are there more of Lord Guader’s soldiers?”

  “No,” said Asmund. He walked towards the table, wiping the blood off his face with the back of his hand. “It’s the Lady.”

  Ivar’s eyes narrowed. “Brigitta Guarder?”

  Sensing his sire’s disapproval in his voice, Asmund changed what he was going to say. “Um, yes. Lady Guader. She’s dead.”

  With the grace of a large cat, Ivar leaped forward and grabbed Asmund around the neck. “What have you done, you fool?”

  Asmund pulled at the hands around his throat. He could feel his eyes bulging with the lack of air in his lun
gs. “Nothing, she killed herself.”

  Ivar released his hold and threw Asmund backward, away from his reach. Agitated, he pushed his hand through his hair as he watched Asmund gasp for air. “She killed herself?”

  “Yes,” said Asmund, still gasping for breath. “When I arrived…” he glanced up at Ivar who was towering above him. “She had a dagger.”

  Ivar let out a noisy breath while he watched Asmund try to stand up.

  “I don’t know what she said, but she looked at me and then stuck the dagger into her chest,” said Asmund, still a little hoarse from his choking.

  “She’s dead?”

  Asmund looked down at his tunic and hands. “Yes, there was too much blood for her to survive.”

  While he listened to the conversation, Ubba’s gaze whipped around to where Rosfrith sat. She didn’t know what was going on – that was for the best. He stood and walked over, towards Ivar and Asmund. “I’ll get Gunnar to sort out the mess,” Ubba said to his brother. “And my men,” he looked around, “the sober ones, will guard the rest of the hostages tonight.”

  Ubba leaned forward, towards the table, and picked up a spare ale. Winking at Ivar, hoping his actions seemed normal and his brother wouldn’t realise how desperately he wanted Rosfrith out of harm’s way, he took a sip before slamming it back down. “Don’t worry about Lord Guader and King Ælla. We will avenge our sire. You can count on it.” He felt his muscles relax slightly when his brother beamed at him.

  “You are right, Ubba. Tonight we’ll carry on celebrating capturing Dunwich.”

  Chapter 7

  Winter of 865 – Dunwich Fortress

  Sharp pains, shooting up her arms, made Rosfrith glance down onto her cold hands. They were red and stiff. She rubbed them together in an attempt to warm them. They stayed cold in the brisk air. She eventually gave up and bent to pick up the pale of water she’d been carrying.

  When she entered the kitchen, Rosfrith took in a deep breath. The warm kitchen air hit her rosy cheeks, making them and her hands tingle, painfully.

  “Please, mistress Rosfrith, put that down,” said Edith, stepping forward to take the load off Rosfrith’s hands.

  Rosfrith gave Edith a tired smile as she shut the cold out. “I keep telling you, I’m not a mistress anymore.” She noticed Edith bristle

  “By the Lord, this isn’t right. Those,” Edith looked around just in case they were overheard. “Those barbarians are devils. They are not fit to walk this earth.”

  “But there is nothing we can do, Edith. We must wait until they decide to leave.”

  “Or hope your Pa and brother will come back and retake Dunwich?”

  Rosfrith’s heart missed a beat before she let out a small breath. She had long finished hoping for that to happen. It was months since the Norsemen had invaded and changed her life forever. Her father, if he’d cared, would have surely come back by now? No, my Papa isn’t returning. He would have heard what had happened to her mother by now, and if that didn’t make him want revenge…

  Rosfrith shook her head, knowing the past was long gone. Her future was not in her hands, and it was a luxury to think it was. “We can only pray that he does,” she said in an attempt to move the conversation on. “How many more trips do I need to take?”

  Edith peered into the large water container - it was just over half full. “About five more, I’m afraid.”

  Rosfrith felt her shoulders sag but pushed them back quickly. There was no point complaining about the work needing to be done. The water had always needed to be hauled, she’d just never had to think about how before because she had servants to do it for them. “I’ll go back out now before I defrost too much,” she said in a joking tone, although she felt far from it.

  “Mistress Rosfrith?”

  “Rosfrith stopped and turned back towards Edith.

  “Remember, God gave you this life because you are strong enough to live it,” said Edith, before giving Rosfrith a quick nod.

  Rosfrith gave a sorrowful smile – she certainly didn’t think herself strong enough at the moment. “Thanks, Edith,” she said before turning to go back out for the next haul.

  Rosfrith faltered as she stepped out of the doorway, ready to go back to the well for more water. The winds were cold. It wouldn’t be long before mid-winter would be knocking at their doors. A shudder went down her back, and she used her free hand to rub her arm. She used to love the snow, playing in it with her brother and sister. But, this year would be different. She closed her eyes, trying to halt the tide of sadness washing over her. Once she felt more composed, Rosfrith opened her eyes and a movement made her swing her gaze towards the barn.

  The man she knew was called Ubba was watching her. She swiftly nodded in his direction, and he nodded back. From her quick glance, she could see he was leaning against the wattle fence, cutting what looked like a stick, while his breath made clouds in the brisk morning air. Not wanting to tarry, Rosfrith started to walk, picking up her pace as she neared the well. She wanted to get away from him. It wasn’t because Ubba frightened her, not like some of the other Norsemen whose looks sent chills down her spine, but he unnerved her because he was always watching her.

  Watching her with those icy blue eyes.

  On a couple of occasions, she’d been close enough to him, she saw his eyes were the lightest blue she had ever seen. Her parents had always told her she had the most unusual violet colour eyes, but after seeing Ubba’s, she disagreed.

  At first, Ubba never spoke to her, not that she knew what he was saying. But lately, if she served him, he tried to teach her his language, pointing at objects and saying words unfamiliar to her ear. She was still wary, but grateful. Her knowledge of their language might help her overhear their plans, or might even aid in her escape. Although she’d seen what happened to those who were caught, it didn’t deter her - running away had to be an option. She was now three and ten years, and to her disgust, had observed some of the barbarians didn’t mind such a tender age.

  While she made her way down the slope, Rosfrith gave a backward glance. Satisfied Ubba was still standing in the same spot, unconcerned, she made her way to the well.

  When she reached it, Rosfrith chucked the pale down at an angle that would not disturb the silt at the bottom. She waited for the splash, leaning over the well to grab the rope. Out of the blue, two large hands heaved it towards her.

  “Let me haul that for you,” Ubba said, knowing she wouldn’t understand his words.

  “Nay, sir. I’m fine,” she replied hastily, once she understood what he was doing. She didn’t want his help because she’d seen what happened to those who didn’t do their jobs. The Norseman called Bard, left in charge of the servants, was not a kind person.

  “But you are a child, and this is heavy,” muttered Ubba, more to himself. He was irritated she was expected to do the job of an adult. He never required the children of Ranaricii, even of slaves, to do such back-breaking work.

  When Rosfrith realised he was going to get it, whether she wanted him to or not, she took a step back. She watched as he lifted the container and water as if it weighed nothing.

  “I’ll carry it back.” Ubba turned to face her and motioned his intent, nodding towards the building.

  Rosfrith shook her head, fear rising in her throat. “Nay, you must not.” She reached forward to grab the container, but he lifted it out of her reach. Frustration flittered over her face. “Nay,” she said again, and wanting for him to understand, she said, “Bard.” She saw a muscle twitch underneath his beard. She hoped he wasn’t mad at her.

  Ubba took in a deep breath to control his anger. He’d witnessed the treatment Bard had given out to some of the thralls. It wasn’t to his liking, but even though he’d mention it to Ivar, nothing had been done. It annoyed Ubba even though he was Chieftain of Ranaricii and his orders were to be obeyed there, in Dunwich they meant nothing. Ivar was the leader. Sometimes he cursed the fact he’d given his word to avenge his father’s death.
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  Catching sight of the fear in the young girl’s large eyes, he sighed and handed her the container back. He watched her glance around before taking it, presumably to check who was watching, with a guilty look on her face. He hoped he hadn’t made trouble for her – it was the last thing he wanted to do.

  His gaze narrowed on Rosfrith as she hurried away, as fast as she could with the weight. It was a shame one so young had been abandoned by her parents. Even though he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his sire, Ragnar Lothbrok, Ubba always knew they had each other’s backs.

  Still watching Rosfrith, he nodded when she reached the door and turned to give him a brief smile before disappearing through the entrance. She’d be back out. He’d watched her often enough to know she’d make at least ten trips. He walked over to a broken log, and sat to wait, unconcerned about the cold air swirling around him. It was what he felt he needed to do.

  A month later, when they still hadn’t heard anything from Lord Guader, Ivar started to talk about invading Northumbria to find King Ælla. Ubba and all the men had agreed. They were like sitting ducks, waiting in Dunwich, giving King Ælla enough time to establish an army.

  Even though Ubba knew how impatient his brother was, he suggested they waited in Dunwich until the winter had finished, where the stores were still plentiful. It was different in their homeland, for they knew what prey was available to them when they were away from home. But, walking during the winter in an unknown area, without the prospect of regular food, would be foolish. Ubba was glad his brother had listened to reason, although, to be fair, his brother’s decision might have had more to do with the ale and plentiful bedmates rather than logic.

 
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