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Vikings taken the great.., p.8

Vikings: Taken (The Great Heathen Army series Book 1), page 8

 

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


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  Ubba’s gaze narrowed on his brother. How did I miss that piece of information? Boredom was making him soft.

  Ivar grinned. “Don’t look so worried, Ubba, they won’t succeed.”

  “I’m not worried,” Ubba replied, sounding almost angry. He rubbed his hand over his face. “Sorry, brother. This battle has been a long time coming. I’m glad it’s almost time.”

  Ivar nodded and then sobered up. He glanced at the group of men in front of him. “I need all of you to stay for a while. To be ready to fight.”

  Ubba nodded, along with the other men. Their duty was next to Ivar – even though Ubba knew they could be talking years.

  ****

  Two years later..

  Ubba put down his knife and pushed his plate aside. “Ivar. It is time. I’m going back to Denmark. I need to go to Ranaricii and check on things.”

  “Don’t you like it here?” Ivar questioned, his mouth filled with food.

  Ubba took the time to glance around the hall. “It’s not that, Ivar, for we have plenty,” he said, glancing at the plentiful food covering the tables. “But we’ve been away five years. We have done what we needed to do. Both Kings, Ælla and Osberht, are dead.”

  “Killed,” interrupted Sigurd. “By a blood-eagle, don’t forget.”

  Ubba grunted. He’d never forget the battle or seeing King Ælla’s back cut open, his ribs torn out, and folded to represent an eagle’s wings. He hoped he wouldn’t witness it again. “Yes, Sigurd,” he said. He knew his brother saw worse in his visions, so the battles didn’t affect him. But Ubba was tired of fighting. He turned his attention back to Ivar. “But, Ragnar, has been avenged. I have followed you to Mercia, fought against the joint forces of Mercia and Wessex, wintered in Nottingham, and now come back to Jórvík.” He puffed. “But I need to head North before my people forget I am their Earl.”

  Ivar rubbed his beard. “I know how you feel, brother. I would like to return home, but…” he shrugged, “I think we might return to East Angles, see if we can’t get King Edmund to give us more coin to leave him alone.”

  Sigurd sniggered. “And get him to renounce his precious Christ. Or kill him.”

  Ubba’s gaze narrowed on Ivar, ignoring Sigurd. “But who would protect Jórvík if you leave?”

  Ivar stood up. “There is no one left to fight for it now the Kings are dead. I’ll leave a puppet king here…” He glanced around the room. “Perhaps Egbert? He can collect the tax for us. There’s nothing left here. No challenge,” Ivar said, displaying a line of teeth.

  Ubba laughed. “You love fighting, brother.”

  “What else is there to life?” Ivar sobered as his eyes narrowed on Ubba. His brother was unhappy. “Okay, you can go back to Ranaricii and take your men.” He looked around at the others. “The rest will come with me. I have a fancy for ruling all of Britain.”

  The room erupted with cheers.

  Chapter 10

  Spring 870 – On the way back to Ranaricii

  Ubba was in a jovial mood. He was finally going home. None of his brothers were coming, they were too busy killing and conquering Britain to return, but Ubba had enough of Britain.

  Ubba stepped upon higher ground and surveyed the goods he was returning with - livestock, weapons, coins, and captives. While he observed the going-ons, his gaze fell on Rosfrith’s long black hair, which, for some reason, was loose. It was hard to miss, shining in the sun. His brow puckered, as he paused and rubbed his beard. Why did she always draw his attention? Was she always going to be a curse on him?

  He had considered long and hard about taking her back to Ranaricii. But, whether he could admit it or not, Sigurd’s words, nearly five years ago, about their entwined fate had spooked him. Those mutterings had inflicted within him a need to watch over Rosfrith. Whether to protect himself or her, he wasn’t sure.

  During those years, he could admit she had not been a worry to him. Although he guarded her carefully at first, over the last couple of years, he’d forgotten she was there. Only when he was arranging to go back to Ranaricii he’d had to think of her again. Do I leave her in Britain and never think of her again, or do I take her back and hope her jinks didn’t come to fruition on the seas?

  In the end, his conscience had won. Perhaps fate had won, too, because Ivar had picked her out to go with him. Ivar had lost interest in her worth since Lord Guader’s rebuff. And as Ivar rightly pointed out, he didn’t need many thralls as they could capture more. So, here she was, on the dock, ready to be loaded onto the ship. He sighed heavily and looked away from her when a noise caught his attention. Once she was back at Ranaricii, I can truly forget about her.

  Jumping off the rock, he moved nearer to the shore. Ubba stood on a crate and scanned the food, piled high in the carts, as it rolled towards the shore. From his vantage point, he spotted Bard – the one person who didn’t look happy to be returning. Ubba’s eyes narrowed on him. Bard had obviously enjoyed his freedom under Ivar’s watch, and wouldn’t enjoy going back to his normal position back at Ranaricii. He would have to keep an eye on him.

  “It’s a good day, sire,” Gunnar said to Ubba as he neared.

  Ubba dragged his gaze from Bard and smiled at his second in command. “Yes, it is. I’ll be glad once our feet are on the solid land of Ranaricii.”

  “Me, too, like the rest of the men, no doubt,” Gunnar chuckled, for although they were all seafaring folk, the solid earth was more settling for their souls.

  Ubba sobered. “Have prayers been given to Ran for a smooth crossing?”

  “Yes,” interrupted Asmund. “We have all prayed to the Goddess of the sea for calm waters.”

  “Good,” said Ubba as his gaze sought out Rosfrith. “Good.”

  As the goods and captives neared the shoreline, Rosfrith watched in wonder at all the fine vessels waiting to be loaded with the items they had brought with them from Jórvík. Not long before, she had spotted Ubba standing high above, presumably keeping a check on progress. He appeared aloof and powerful. Her forehead puckered. She’d always felt his power, but for some reason, away from Ivar and the others, he oozed authority. Her gaze narrowed on him briefly, before she was shoved forward from behind.

  Although Ubba was now out of sight, he stayed on her mind. Did all these vessels belong to him? She studied the boats, which she’d heard being called dragonships. If they did, she had greatly mistaken his wealth and obvious power. She, like the other captives, had assumed Ivar was the leader. She worried her bottom lip, not knowing how she felt about her findings.

  Once nearly all the cargo was on his boats, Ubba relaxed. It had been a long trek from Jórvík to the shore, but luckily, they hadn’t had encountered any problems. But, then again, he hadn’t expected any because most of England was now ruled under their Dane Law.

  Suddenly feeling the warmth of the summer day, Ubba strode off the boat towards the shore. Kneeling down, he quickly dunked his head in the cold, refreshing water and shook it. He pushed his fingers through his hair before knotting it back at his neck. He needed that, to awaken and freshen him up before their sea journey.

  As he kneeled and quietly said his personal prayer to the god of travel, he watched the captives get shoved onto the boats. It was obvious, by the way their eyes longed for the land, that they didn’t want to go. He shrugged, unconcerned. He needed the extra help at Ranaricii, and after all, it was the reason he’d fed and kept them alive.

  Earlier on, he’d instructed his boatswain and Gunnar to put all the captives on the boat he was on. He wanted to keep an eye on them, and definitely on Rosfrith. His gaze searched for her and he grunted. Her hair was unbraided and flowing down her back. He sighed. She wouldn’t have that crowning glory for much longer. Suddenly, a frown appeared on his face. Why should I care that her hair will be cut short? All thralls had their hair shaved, indicating they were of a lower social class and of no consequence.

  He yanked his gaze away from Rosfrith, unsettled by this conflicting thoughts. He woul
d be better not thinking about the Lord’s child again, for once they survived the journey and were in Ranaricii, his duty to her was finished. She’d be only a thrall, the same as all the other thralls.

  Grunting to himself, he made his way back to the boat.

  “Gunnar, place the captives towards the stern,” Ubba said as he stepped on board. His eyes narrowed on the group, who were in the process of sitting down. “Make sure they are secured. I don’t want anyone going overboard. Once we are out at sea, they can be freed.”

  Bard stepped forward. “Is that a good idea to free them?”

  “Sire,” Gunnar corrected, irritated with Bard’s lack of respect.

  Ubba brushed his gaze over Bard, before inwardly sighing. “Are you questioning me, Bard?” His eyes narrowed on him. He was glad to notice Bard flinch under their icy blast.

  “No, sire,” he said taking a step away.

  “Well, let’s get underway then,” Ubba said, before turning inwards. “To Ranaricii we go!”

  A cheer filled the air.

  Once the boatswain gave the order, the ship slowly moved away from the shore, only picking up speed when the rowers found their rhythm.

  The sea crossing was cold, long, and rough.

  It wasn’t long after the shore of England had disappeared, Rosfrith swore the wind picked up and the waves doubled in size. Unused to being at sea, anxiously, she scrutinised the Danes. They didn’t seem the least bit bothered with the conditions. They’d even climbed a mast to lower a large red sail. She relaxed a little. They wouldn’t have opened it if the weather was going to be too bad, but, being tied to one of the masts when the ship sunk wasn’t how she wanted to meet her maker.

  After a couple of hours of bobbing up and down, Rosfrith felt her stomach clench. It rolled as much as the deck she shakily stood on. Thankfully, they’d been released from their bindings, so she was able to put a hand to her mouth and lean over the side. Within seconds, she was throwing her stomach’s meager contents for the fish to eat.

  Once she had no more in her, and heaving became too painful, she steadied herself and used the back of her hand to wipe her mouth. She scowled. The Norsemen were laughing at her. It wasn’t her fault she didn’t possess sea-legs. After gingerly making her way back to the mast, she closed her eyes and prayed for her sickness and the journey to end.

  A couple of days later, Rosfrith felt the excitement growing amongst the men. She looked to where they did and saw the land in the distance. Initially, excitement filled her too - they would be on solid ground - but then she remembered, it was not her homeland. There would be no friendly faces waiting to greet her.

  A couple of hours later, they neared the shore and were tethered back to the mast. Now they were nearing, if she sat up straight. The area was crammed with people. Her pulse sped up, and her hands became sweaty. She glanced around the vessel, and saw the smiles on the Dane’s faces. They were obviously happy to be home. She only hoped the people taken from Dunwich and Northumbria would have a good reception.

  When they docked and were untethered once again, Rosfrith tried to stretch out her arms and aching muscles, but she didn’t have much time. She, along with the others, were pushed forward, off the boat, straight into the chaos on shore. Once there, they were efficiently divided into two groups.

  Rosfrith shivered and tugged her threadbare cloak tighter around her - not that she had much spare cloth to wrap. It was too small for her now, it was the last piece of clothing she’d been given by her mother when she was two and ten years.

  “Those,” Ubba pointed to one group of captives, “are to be taken to the block after they have been prepared. Let the merchants barter for the slave they want, and bring me the coin after,” Ubba said to Asmund. He turned towards the other group. His eyes quickly flicked towards Rosfrith before turning back to Asmund. “These are to be my thralls…” before his words were out of his mouth, Astrid, his bedmate, fused onto his lips. His body immediately responded to her warm, and passionate display. He grabbed the back of her head to hold her still for a deep kiss, while his other snaked around her waist, binding her to his body. Thor’s teeth, I’ve missed my bedmate!

  Rosfrith watched, shocked by the amorous display. But regardless how she felt, she couldn’t take her eyes away. The woman practically wrapped her body around him, and he appeared to be burying her within his body.

  Once he managed to break away from Astrid’s luscious mouth, Ubba turned his head to look for Asmund. “Sort everything out. I’ve got things to attend to. I’ll be back later,” he said before giving Astrid another deep kiss. “Or not,” he laughed, as the people around him cheered.

  Rosfrith watched Ubba stride away, with the lady still wrapped around him, carrying her as though she weighed nothing. Something stirred within Rosfrith, but she didn’t know what.

  Rosfrith fought the need to cry when she saw her beautiful hair lying on the ground, being blown into the water. It had been her pride and joy. Another thing taken away from me. She resisted putting her hand up to her scalp because she could see how much had been cut off just by looking at the other thralls around her.

  Movement drew her gaze away from her discarded hair. A group of women were coming towards her. Some of them had short hair, like her, and the ones with better clothing had longer hair, hidden under scarves. She growled in an attempt to get rid of the lump of fear that was growing. Cutting off captives hair was evidently another way to belittle them, but she’d have to get used to this life now.

  Before Rosfrith had more time to think, hands grabbed at her clothes, attempting to strip her of them. Instinctively, she tried to stop them because she didn’t know what was going on. Within moments, her cloak was gone. She looked around. Some of them had already been stripped and were being doused by water. Another humiliation to be standing in the cold, naked, amongst the whole town. What alarmed her more was some of the ones nearer the crowds of villagers had more than women’s hands on their naked bodies.

  Determined not to crumble with embarrassment, or even fear, Rosfrith dropped her arms and stuck out her chin in defiance. She wouldn’t physically fight them, then hopefully, the humiliation would be over quicker. She closed her eyes tight and listened to the women around her, understanding every word.

  “Rodents, full of fleas and crawlies they will be.”

  “Don’t look as though these can do one day’s work, let alone more.”

  When she felt gentle hands turning her, she opened her eyes and saw an elderly woman speaking to her.

  “Turn the other way, girl. So the villagers don’t get an eyeful.” Her hands gently guided her.

  “Hilde, you’re too soft on them!”

  “Would you like to be stripped in front of all those men’s eyes?” Hilde nodded towards the shore. “I surely wouldn’t. Besides, this one is barely an adult. Likely, no man has seen her yet.”

  One of the women sniggered. “That will soon change.”

  Hilde scowled at them. “Likely so, but I’ll do her this small kindness. She’s going to be one of our sire’s thralls and it will be no good for us if she is sour.”

  Rosfrith listened to the women. Her heart softened to the kindly older woman, but she didn’t say anything. It would be better if no one knew she spoke their language, yet. It could be to her advantage.

  Within minutes, Rosfrith had been stripped, doused, and recovered with a thin shift, an undyed tunic, and an apron, which she learned was called a hangerock. Even though it was summer, the clouds covered the sun here, and she shivered as her body celebrated the warmth the clothes gave her.

  The same gentle hands which dressed her, encouraged her along the dock towards the village, where a large fire was roaring. When they broke through the crowd, gathered around the fire for warmth and to observe the goings on, Rosfrith noticed the other group of people who had been separated earlier on.

  She felt like crying. Unfortunately, their fate wasn’t as kind. They still stood naked in the cold air, forcibly
lined up. Rosfrith turned away when the first one was yanked forward and branded with a hot iron. The screams of pain and smell of burning flesh made her heave. If she had anything in her stomach, she knew it would have been on the floor. Taking steadying breaths, she wondered when it would be her turn.

  “Poor slaves, least your life will be slightly better,” Hilde muttered before guiding Rosfrith and the other thralls away from the fire towards the blacksmith.

  A couple of hours later, Rosfrith was sitting on a hard platform, which was to be her bed. She glanced around at the rest of the thralls within the longhouse. She squeezed her eyes closed as her hand came up to finger the metal collar the blacksmith had encased around her neck. She felt a tear slip out of the corner of her closed eye.

  Her life as a thrall in Ranaricii was about to begin, whether she cried about it or not.

  Chapter 11

  Winter 871- Ranaricii

  As she had done for the last two years, Rosfrith awoke as the winter sun crawled lazily across the horizon, flooding the coastal valley with the early morning light through the light mist. Sighing, she, along with the other thralls, got up from their pallets ready for their daily work of grinding corn and salt, planting, milking, churning, washing, even building walls, herding, peat digging, or Rosfrith’s least favourite job, spreading manure. Luckily, today, she was in the roundhouse, serving the ones within its thick walls.

  Pulling the hem of her tunic up from the floor, Rosfrith made her way across the courtyard towards the longhouse, eager to get inside its dense walls, which kept it cool in the summer and stopped it freezing in the winter. A rooster, perched high on top of the longhouse’s roof, crowed the new coming day as she reached the entrance.

 
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