Vikings taken, p.6
Vikings_Taken, page 6part #1 of Great Heathen Army series Series
End of winter…
Bored and brooding, Ivar’s eyes scanned the room, quietly taking in the scene. His gaze narrowed. Lethargic men surrounded him; chatting, drinking, and playing the board game, Hnefatafl. The servants of Lord Guader were busy with their chores, but they too looked settled, no longer afraid of him and his men. He grabbed his ale and took a large swig. He slammed it down. Very few reacted. If we stay much longer, they would all become as peaceful and docile as the dogs lying by the fire.
Ivar stood, scraping his chair along the floor. Some men glanced in his direction. When they noticed the scowl on his face, they nudged the others. Satisfied that, at last, he had some attention, Ivar banged his hand down on the wooden table, calling his brothers and a couple of senior men to join him.
Once everyone was settled, and ale placed in front of them, Ivar started their rendezvous. “We have stayed in Dunwich long enough.” He waited for the grunts of agreement to settle. “The winter is nearing its end, Lord Guader has not returned, so we need to seek out King Ælla ourselves.”
“Where will we find him?”
“North,” Ivar replied to Halfdan Ragnarsson.
Ubba pushed back in his chair, leaning back for Rosfrith to fill up his mug. When she finished, he watched her fill up Sigurd’s. “When will we leave?”
“Soon, we have secured enough horses for our travels.” A large smile crossed his lips. “King Edmund and the people of East Angles have been very giving with their help. I think they are trying to pay us off.”
Ubba gave a small snort and nodded. That was normally the way – people would pay handsomely for them to leave. “Have we enough provisions?”
“Good,” said Ubba as he scanned the hall. It was about time they made a move. Apart from the feeling of restlessness amongst the men, which only led to trouble, Ubba wanted to avenge Ragnar, and then get back to his life in Ranaricii. “Any plans?”
“Not yet, but we can talk, now.” Ivar nodded at Sigurd, who produced a badly drawn map.
Everyone was quiet while Sigurd unrolled it on the table. “We found this in Lord Guader’s chambers,” he said before looking down onto it. “If this is correct, we are here..” He pointed to East Angles. “And King Ælla’s kingdom is around here,” he circled Northumbria with his finger. “Jórvík will be the biggest town around, one King Ælla will, no doubt, want to protect.”
“How will we know King Ælla will be there or come to protect it?” asked Halfdan.
Ivar laughed before he slapped Sigurd on his back. “Because, dear brother, our brother here has had a vision.”
“What?” asked Bjorn.
Sigurd straightened. “A vision that shows we will find and defeat the Kings of Northumbria.”
“Both Kings?” Ubba interrupted.
“Yes,” replied Sigurd.
“But I thought them to be battling each other?”
“But that isn’t the whole of it, is it dear brother?” Ivar laughed and placed a hand on Sigurd’s shoulder.
Sigurd scowled at his brother.
“No, our dear brother sees his future, too. Marriage and children,” Ivar said before laughing. “With King Ælla’s daughter.”
Most around laughed at the absurdity, all except those who knew how powerful Sigurd’s visions were.
“Well, that’s good then,” said Bjorn, realising if they didn’t get off the subject, Sigurd could end up battling with Ivar himself. “What happens if Ælla is not there when we arrive?”
Ivar shrugged. “Then we’ll wait.”
When he recapped over their meet, Ivar said, “It’s decided. We will plan to cross the mouth of the Humber river, and move onto Jórvík. Unless Lord Guader has managed to get the Kings to form an army before we arrive, it should be easy going.”
“We’ll kill them all,” said Bard, laughing, and taking a large swig of his ale. He motioned to Rosfrith to fill his mug up. He was finding he was partial to the English ale.
Ivar glanced at Bard and nodded. “Our priority is King Ælla, then anyone else who gets in our way. Let’s see if we can’t get that whoreson to come out of his hiding places. If he does, we’ve got a nice death planned for him. Lord Guader, too,” said Ivar, lifting his ale in salute.
Once the cheering had quietened, Bard’s gaze flicked to Rosfrith. Throughout the meet, he’d been only half listening to Ivar, because his interest centered on one blonde-haired, comely looking thrall serving them beer. But, when Ivar slammed his mug back down, the other serving wench, Rosfrith, caught his attention. His eyes narrowed on her. She looked an innocent enough child, pouring the ale, but something wasn’t quite right. She was the Lord’s daughter, not that she looked any different from any other wench now. But, she was a little too interested in their discussions for someone that couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Bard picked up his ale and took a big slurp, finally ignoring the thrall he was previously interested in. He’d seek her out later, if needs be. Did the young wench understand what they were saying? He would find out. “Mugge, taka.”
Without thinking, Rosfrith turned to reach for Bard’s ale mug to take it away. She stopped abruptly, realising what she’d done. With her hand wavering in the air, she glanced at him. His slow smile, spreading across his lips, told her he knew her secret. She moved away from the main table quickly and went across the room to serve the men playing the board games instead, not daring to look at Bard again.
After she had filled the last mug, Rosfrith spotted Edith stoking up the fire in the hall. She wandered over to her, taking her time, so it wasn’t obvious where she was going. Still holding onto the half-filled jug of ale, she nudged Edith with her elbow. “They’re leaving.”
Edith put down the poker and gave the men at the table a sideward glance. “When?”
“I don’t know, but I think it’s soon.” Rosfrith shrugged. “I tried to find out, but that one -” she nodded towards Bard, “- seems to know I can understand some of their language.”
Edith’s lips thinned. “That won’t do. It could be dangerous for you if he finds out.”
“I know, but I think he realises. It was the look he gave me.”
Edith stretched out her hand to take the ale off Rosfrith. “I’ll serve them, you go into the kitchen, away from his eyes.”
“Because you need to protect your knowledge – your soul holds no secret that your behavior does not reveal,” Edith explained, taking the jug from Rosfrith. “Go now, before they notice you’ve gone.”
Rosfrith smiled at Edith’s wise words. “Okay, you be careful, too.”
Edith let out a short breath. “Aw, don’t go worrying about me, mistress Rosfrith. They aren’t interested in an old servant who doesn’t understand a word they are saying. Quick, now, go.”
Though it wasn’t obvious to anyone else, Ubba watched Rosfrith talk to Edith, and then leave the Hall. He hadn’t failed to notice the incident with Bard and Rosfrith, either. He’d overheard and witnessed her picking up Bard’s mug without hesitation. Ubba rubbed his beard. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taught the girl so well? He’d done it to help her, but had he? He yanked his look towards his ale. There was nothing he could do about her being a quick learner. To him, it was beneficial for her to be able to speak their tongue, especially if he was thinking of taking her back to Denmark, but it did mean the others could use her for unsavory situations. He looked towards the closed door, glad she was clever enough to make herself scarce. Perhaps Bard would drop it? He huffed, he knew Bard too well.
Rosfrith stepped into the kitchen, away from the brisk morning air. She was glad the winter snow was finally gone, but the nippy atmosphere still indicated summer was a long way off. She smiled when she noticed Edith. “I’ve finished my morning task,” she said as she passed a heavy wooden bucket containing milk to Edith.
Edith turned from the pot of porridge she was serving and took the pail.
Blythe nodded and took the milk.
Rosfrith shook her head. “No, Edith, we can’t. It’s for them to break their fast.” She lifted her chin.
Ignoring her, Edith grabbed a wooden bowl. “They won’t notice a spoonful gone. Besides, Mistress, you are looking thin.”
“What about the others?” Rosfrith looked around the room at the servants busy with their jobs.
Edith smiled. “Ssshh, I’ve given them a little, too.” She winked at Rosfrith when she added a good dollop of honey.
Feeling her stomach gurgle, Rosfrith finally reached out for the bowl. She would be no good to anyone if she became ill with starvation. She sat down on a stool, near the fire, with her porridge. In the quiet, Rosfrith stared at the flames. For the first time in ages, she felt content. It wasn’t that she would choose the life she was living, but the comradeship she had found with the other servants had been heart-warming. Even her relationship with her sister had improved. They had become closer in their grief about their mother, and bonded over their new situation during the long dark evenings. She continued to eat in silence before a shout from outside the kitchen brought Rosfrith out of her thoughts.
Edith started instructing some of the younger servants to grab serving plates. “The Danes want to break their fast early today.” She regarded Rosfrith. “Perchance the rumors are true?”
Rosfrith nodded. She hoped the conversations she’d eavesdropped were correct about the beasts leaving Dunwich. If they left, maybe everything would return to normal? She only hoped.
After the food had been consumed in the hall and tidied away, Rosfrith, Edith, and some other servants huddled together in the kitchen. Now, they definitely knew the Norsemen were on their way. The tense but excitable atmosphere in the main hall last night and this morning indicated the change.
“Let’s hope they leave something in our stores,” one of the servants stated.
“Who cares, as long as they just go. We can get back to normal.”
“Yes, especially when Lord Guader comes back and claims back what is his. If he’s not happy somewhere else, forgettin’ about us folk, you know what Lords are like.”
One of the girls nudged the other, suddenly remembering Mistress Rosfrith was standing with them. “We didn’t mean no harm, mistress.”
Rosfrith smiled at them. She wasn’t offended. The truth was, over the winter both Rosfrith and her sister had become so much part of the workforce, carrying out the same amount of chores, they’d forgotten they were born a different class, so spoke freely in front of her. “I’ve taken no offence.”
Edith eyed the two young girls and shook her head. They were naïve to think things would ever go back to normal. Even if the beasts did leave without harming or taking any of them, from the looks of things, there would be very little left at Dunwich for the Lord’s return. “Come on, let’s get our chores completed.”
A couple of hours later, all the people of Dunwich were summoned to the main hall. Rosfrith, Edith, and her sister all followed the other servants and crowded in. They all silenced when Ivar shouted for their attention. Even though most of the servant still did not understand what the Heathen wanted, his tone told them to quieten. Before long, Norsemen mingled between the servants of Dunwich and started splitting them into groups.
While Ivar barked orders to his men from his elevated position on the dais, Ubba watched Bard push his way through the crowd. Some servants tried to step out of his way, but most were too packed in to move. He could see Bard make his way towards the darkest haired one. Ubba tensed. He knew he was after Rosfrith, but he had to stay where he was. He watched Bard smile and stretch out his hand, grabbing Rosfrith roughly by the arm.
“We’ll take this one with us,” Bard shouted. The room became quiet when they realised who he had.
Ivar stopped instructing his men, interested to see what Bard was shouting about. His eyes narrowed on the girl he was pulling. It was Lord Guader’s daughter. The only way he could tell was because, under the layer of dirt, he could still see her midnight coloured hair.
Ivar fingered his beard. What’s Bard up to? They’d already picked out most of the thralls and slaves they were going to take – ones that were strong and worth the price of the food they would consume. This one was a child. Besides, apart from his initial excitement of finding her, she’d been no use after. “Why would we take her? She is of no use. She’s young and weak. Besides, Lord Guader doesn’t think her worthy of rescuing, he hasn’t even responded to our missives asking to exchange her for money.” Ivar squared his shoulders. “No, we leave her.”
Ubba kept quiet at their exchange, a muscle twitching along his jaw. He was unsure whether it was safer for Rosfrith to come with them, so he could keep an eye on her, or for her to be left behind at Dunwich to take care of herself and anyone that was left behind.
Not giving up, Bard roughly hauled her forward. “Because, she,” he scrutinised her before smiling at Ivar. “Can speak some of our tongue, and of course, theirs. She can communicate for us.”
Ivar’s gaze sliced onto her, his interest in her reignited. “Is this true?” Rosfrith’s paling face told him all he needed to know. “Okay, take her.” Perhaps she is worth the trouble?
Ubba sighed deeply. It seemed as though he had his work cut out keeping her safe, especially as Bard had her in his sights.
Autumn of 866 – Outskirts of Jórvík, Northumbria
The brisk autumnal winds cut through Rosfrith’s clothes as she gathered firewood for the evening’s warmth. She was bone tired after walking North on the Roman roads, along the Humber. But, as a Viking’s thrall, she didn’t have time to rest, so she scanned the floor, searching for kindling. Her feet ached, as did her muscles while she moved through the fallen leaves of various colours. In fact, she could swear her bones ached, too. All of the thralls had walked ,while most of the heathens had ridden. The irony was that the majority of the horses had been her father’s, or given to the Danes by the very people they kept as slaves.
She sighed and eyed the ground, it appeared soft. Perhaps if I lay down and slept, no one would notice? She gave a light laugh, of course, they would notice an absent fire. She moved forward, unfortunately, not having much luck finding what she wanted because most of the wood was damp.
Finally, Rosfrith straightened and stretched her back. It was getting dark, she’d have to go back soon. She picked up the sparse bundle she had amassed and hoped the others had collected enough. Not that she cared about the fire - the only time she got near to its warmth was to tend it. She yawned, she didn’t need luxury tonight, she was so tired, even a thin fur on the leaves in the cold would feel extravagance.
She made her way back to camp, only stopping briefly to right the twigs, which had started to slip out of her arms. She sighed. She was becoming frustrated, mainly because she was tired. At the moment, she was frustrated with her life, the Heathens, and even her own people. Didn’t the villages they passed on their travels, who willingly gave the barbarians food, horses, and coin to leave them alone, realise they helped make the Norsemen stronger? And, even fuelled them with more energy for raiding and battle? It was a strange situation, to be sure.
Once she was back in camp and had disposed of the wood and finished her other chores, Rosfrith lifted the flap on the main tent and walked in, ale in hand. Most of the men inside barely glanced at her – she was truly a thrall to them, for they didn’t even stop their conversation.
Hurrying towards Ivar, because she wanted to finish in order to go to bed, she waited for him to raise his jug for her to fill. As efficiently as she could, she filled each man’s jug. The only one who gave her any acknowledgment for her service was Ubba. He nodded, and she gave him a brief smile in response. After over a year, Rosfrith was still unsure how to act with him –
When she refilled the last jug, she heard her father’s name uttered. It dragged her out of her thoughts of sleep. She glanced at Ivar, who had mentioned him but tried not to react. Obviously, they’d forgotten she was there. Her spirits lifted. I will possibly get to see my father again? She moved closer to listen to the conversation, only to move quickly away when she noticed Bard scowl at her.
“Fill, wench,” said Bard holding his jug high.
Rosfrith felt herself redden. He’d obviously remembered her talent. She had nothing left in her jug to warrant her hanging around. “I’ll get some more, vikingar.” She bowed slightly and exited the tent as quick as she could.
A couple of days later, a long whistle made Rosfrith look up from her task. Someone was coming. She resumed her work. It wasn’t unusual while they camped – Norsemen left and returned numerous times a day. However, as the noise of horses neared, her interest aroused because she could make out the distinctive tinkle of chain mail armor. When the group neared the heavily guarded entrance, she noticed a man on a horse carrying a white flag, and next to it, the flags of both Kings of Northumbria.
She threw her work down and stood, the same moment as her name was called. Hiding the smile on her face, she ran to the main tent, where Ivar, his brothers, and the other leaders were. Hesitating only a fraction, she lifted the flap and entered.
Ivar glanced at Rosfrith. “Ah, good. Let’s see if all that food you have consumed has been of good use. We need you to translate for us,” he said. “We have a party arriving…” Ivar scanned the faces in the tent. “Hopefully with coin for our coffers.” He shrugged before an enormous smile erupted on his face. “If not, at least we can get ready to fight.” His gaze whipped back around to Rosfrith, and his eyes narrowed before he said, “Let’s go.”
by Ceri Bladen have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes