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Vikings taken the great.., p.9

Vikings: Taken (The Great Heathen Army series Book 1), page 9

 

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


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  She stepped inside the longhouse, and stopped, giving her eyes time to adjust to the lack of light from within. Her first job today was to tend to the fire so it was warm when Ubba and the others awoke from their slumber.

  The thought of Ubba made Rosfrith falter for a moment. For some time, she’d been experiencing strange feelings for him – feelings she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She received no better treatment than any of the other thralls and, by rights, she should hate him - he’d taken her away from Dunwich and everything and everyone she knew. But, when she saw him, her heart gave a leap and she became fidgety. She sighed and pulled herself together. It must just be down to her age of eight and ten years.

  Rosfrith peered towards the dying fire, and located Ubba’s form sleeping near it’s waning heat. Ubba, as the Chieftain of Ranaricii, had his chamber towards one end of the longhouse, but as he had no wife, he only used it when he was in need of female company.

  Rosfrith scowled when she thought of the many nights she’d seen him in the company of bedmate. Mostly it was the one called Astrid, but not always. There were many willing women to share his bed. Shaking her murderous thoughts away, she stepped over the sleeping bodies, being careful to take a wide berth of Ubba.

  Once she reached the fire, Rosfrith coaxed the embers of yesterday’s fire back into life. As it started to splutter, she stood and grabbed the wooden spoon ready to stir the leftover stew for breakfast. She screamed, nearly dropping the spoon into the iron cauldron when a hand clamped around her ankle.

  “Mmmm, what have I got here?” a voice, lazy with sleep, asked as he tugged on her leg.

  Not wanting to be dragged down onto the man, Rosfrith tried to pull her leg away. But she had no chance with the strength in the hand grabbing her. Reacting instinctively, she used the wooden spoon to hit the offending hand.

  “Thor’s teeth!”

  “What’s all the noise?” asked Ubba. He sat up and rubbed his hand through his hair. When he saw an angry looking Bard and an angrier looking Rosfrith, he hid his smile. “What’s wrong?”

  “That wench wrapped my knuckles,” said Bard scowling at Rosfrith.

  “You shouldn’t have tried to pull me down onto you,” Rosfrith replied angrily, before tempering her voice. It never did her any good to argue – it usually just ended up with punishment if she insulted anyone of the jarl. She lowered her gaze and side stepped away, “I’ll get you some bread and buttermilk to break your fast.”

  Ubba eyed Rosfrith as she moved carefully around Bard. He caught the same determination she usually had shining in her eyes, but he noticed something else about her this morning. For some reason, it was the plump mounds pushing against her undyed homespun tunic, and her shoulder length hair that drew his attention. His eyes narrowed on her retreating back when he spotted the material streched over her hips. When had she grown into a woman?

  He continued to watch her while she retrieved the bread and buttermilk. He noticed her laugh with one of his older servants, Hilde. Ubba didn’t think he’d ever seen Rosfrith smile, let alone laugh. Her face lit up, and dimples appeared in her cheeks. Something inside him stirred. Something he had no mind to explore. He rubbed his beard. It was far too early to analyse these strange, unidentified emotions. Thor’s teeth! He sometimes wished Sigurd had never mentioned his vision to him – then a part of his mind wouldn’t always be attached to her.

  He regarded her again, and cursed, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. The tightening in his loin made him look away from her direction. He pushed his hand over his face in an attempt to control his desire. What just happened? When had she turned from a little girl into a woman?

  When Rosfrith neared Ubba to serve him food, for the first time since they’d been in England, he examined her face properly. She had grown into a striking woman. Pale skin, unusual violet-coloured eyes, framed by long, dark lashes, and a petite nose. Why haven’t I noticed her beauty before now? He grunted and yanked his gaze away. He knew it was because he always thought of her as a child.

  He did his best to ignore her for a while, but he couldn’t help but catch glimpses of her. His eyes narrowed when she served Gunnar and he noticed Bard watching, obviously interested in her. His jaw tightened, and he looked away. Even though he wasn’t happy Bard was taking an interest, Rosfrith was evidently a woman, and if she were arousing him, she’d be catching the attention of others. The only thing he could do was to make sure she had garments that fitted her. It wasn’t good for her to be walking amongst his men like that. It would only serve to cause problems – for him and her.

  When Rosfrith leaned towards the fire, her neck brace glinted. He tensed up. Why am I worried about her? She’s a thrall. She’d most probably been bedded already. He tore his gaze away, troubled again. Perhaps I will allow Rosfrith to become a bedmate of one of my men? He glanced around at the men gathered around the fire. He grunted. He didn’t like the thought of any of them touching her.

  Unaware Ubba was watching her, or even the attention of the other men, Rosfrith handed out the stale crusty flat loaf, which was baked last week. Hilde handed out the stew, which looked more appetising once the cold surface fat had disappeared.

  When she turned to serve Ubba a second portion, she hesitated. He was staring at her. She tried not to blush at his obvious perusal and in her haste to get away, dropped some stew by his feet. “Sorry, sire,” she said, flustered. He grunted and waved her away. Rosfrith lowered her head and scuttled away, mortified he was angry with her, and even more so that she was becoming clumsy around him.

  Ubba finished breaking his fast just as he felt an arm wrap around his shoulder. He looked up at Astrid, her hair tousled from sleep and a pout on her lips.

  “Why did you not come to bed, Ubba?” she asked, sitting next to him, rubbing her hand up and down his arm.

  Ubba didn’t answer. He flicked a glance at the men around the fire, obviously interested in their conversation. When he looked at them, he was glad to see them either look away or get up and move away. He heard Astrid sigh with frustration, but he still didn’t answer her. He had nothing to say. He hadn’t wanted to join her in bed, so hadn’t.

  “Maybe you could come back now?” Astrid purred, into his ear.

  Now it was his time to heave a sigh. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. Normally he would jump at the chance.

  When he’d returned from Britain, he’d been on a high, jubilant about their successes overseas. He’d thrown himself back into being Chieftain of Ranaricii, and he’d certainly thrown himself back into Astrid and a number of other bedmates. But, now barely over a year later, he was bored and searching for something, but he didn’t know what.

  Perhaps he was down because, over the last couple of days, he’d received word from his brothers. They had moved on to Wessex, ready for battle, but had found King Alfred very content to pay them good coin to leave. At the moment, Ivar had informed him they were thinking of marching to London for the winter and then moving back into Northumbria the next year.

  Last night, he’d briefly contemplated joining them again, another adventure. But then he changed his mind. Perhaps the long winter was playing with his mind? He didn’t know, but what he did know was he needed to be alone to understand why he was feeling agitated. Too many things were crowding his head, and he needed to clear it. It had got to the stage where even Astrid didn't please him. Her nagging was starting to interfere with his enjoyment of her.

  Later on, after telling some of his men about his plans, Ubba gathered his warm clothes and packed his sack. Astrid didn’t help because she was sulking somewhere. Interrupting his conversation with Gunnar, who would be taking over in his absence, Ubba waved to one of the servants passing him. “Bring me some cheese, salted fish, and bread

  “Yes, Lord.”

  From across the room, Rosfrith watched the exchange. Feigning disinterest, she carried on with her chores until the girl returned with the items. Her brow furrowed. Ubba was packing them into a sack. He
r stomach clenched. He was leaving. Grabbing a jug of buttermilk, she moved nearer to overhear what Ubba was saying to Gunnar.

  “I’ll be gone until the next full moon,” Ubba explained to those around him. It wasn’t unusual to go off into the wilds for some time on your own, so no one questioned him. He nodded towards his friend. “Gunnar will be in charge while I’m gone. If he is out, it is then Asmund.” Ubba had caught the scowl on Bard’s face before he moved away from the group. Ubba ignored him. For a while now, Bard had remembered his place and had caused no problems, but, if he forgot while he was away, Ubba was confident Gunnar would sort it out.

  Too busy listening to their conversation, Rosfrith jumped out of her skin when warm breath hit the back of her ear. She turned suddenly, stumbling into a solid body. Hands clamp around her arms before she heard a low chuckle.

  “Jumpy?”

  Stunned, she looked up into Bard’s eyes before trying to twist out of his hold. When he gripped tighter, she wanted to knee him where it hurt, but she couldn’t afford to upset him. Especially if her sire was going. “A little,” she lied as she tore her gaze away, trying not to engage any more conversation. “Excuse me, I must finish serving, vikingar.” She noticed a smile slowly spread across his lips when he let her go.

  Bard leaned closer, enjoying how skittish she was. “I do like a jumpy woman in my bed.” He laughed when she scowled at him. I might have fun taming Ubba’s little pet.

  Rosfrith stepped back and quickly moved out of his vicinity. She mentally made a note not to get that close to him again.

  When she had finished her morning chores and returned to the hall to serve food, it was obvious Ubba was ready to go after he had eaten. From under her lashes, she scanned the room. Unfortunately, her gaze landed on Bard, who was lifting his mug in a salute to Ubba’s health. He winked at her. Panic hit Rosfrith clean in the chest. Not thinking, just acting on impulse she leaned across the table, and placed her hand on Ubba’s. “Please don’t go, sire.”

  The room went deathly quiet.

  Rosfrith withdrew her hand and stood upright when she realised people had stopped eating and were watching them.

  Ubba’s gaze glanced around the quietened room before narrowing in onto Rosfrith. “What is it to you, wench, if I go?” Ubba inwardly cringed at the tone of his voice, but it wouldn’t do letting the others know that he had a soft spot for her.

  “Um,” she muttered, thinking on her feet. “I mean, there is still snow on the ground, sire. Wouldn’t it be better to go once it’s thawed?” She hoped no one would detect the tremor in her voice.

  A laugh went around the room, making her jump.

  “We aren’t soft like you English!” one of them roared in laughter.

  Ubba smiled at the man before he turned his head to address Rosfrith. He had no idea why she thought she could speak so boldly to him, but he understood he’d have to be hard on her. She needed to know her place as a thrall – not only to protect her from others but also in a way, to stop his desire for her growing. “As they said,” he used his arm to indicate to the men gathered around the top table. “We Danes are not soft…” His eyes turned icy. “But, perhaps I have been on you?” Ubba ignored her intake of breath and the weary look that appeared in her violet eyes. “You,” he stated loudly, “Must remember your place here.” He ignored the sniggers. “You did not bring your title with you – you are neither jarl nor bondi, you are not free. You must remember you are my thrall, my servant, to do with what I want.”

  Rosfrith felt herself pale under his words, but she was determined not to cry at his harsh words.

  Ubba carried on, knowing what he would say next would shock her to the core, but it was the only way he could think of protecting her while he was away. Especially now she had shown her feisty nature to all his men. Some of them liked nothing better than breaking the spirit of women. “In fact, when I come back I will give you freely to whichever of my men I wish.” He saw terror in her eyes and heard the cheering of the men, but carried on. “No one is to touch her when I’m away.” He eyed the group, hoping they heeded his words. “For, on my return, I will give her to the one who serves me the best.” As the chattering and noise increased, Ubba spotted Rosfrith’s chin raise. He was impressed at her courage, even though he could tell from the depths of her eyes she was scared. He wasn’t going to give her to someone on his return, but he didn’t want them to think her fair game when he was away. It was the only thing he could think of doing.

  “Sire?” Rosfrith muttered, terrified at what her words had started. He was a beast, even worse than Bard!

  “Silence.” Ubba took his eyes off her and scanned the room. He noticed Hilde, his oldest most trusted thrall. He motioned her forward. “Hilde, why has her hair been allowed to grow?”

  “I’m unsure, sire. But, it is winter and as we thralls aren’t allowed scarves to protect…”

  Ubba cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Regardless, her hair is to be sheared.” He hoped if she looked more like a thrall, his men’s attention might be diverted from her. “And, Rosfrith, you’ll do well to remember your place here. You are no lady here. Do you understand?”

  Not looking at him, Rosfrith nodded.

  “Answer me. Do you understand?”

  This time, she looked directly at him. “Yes, sire,” she bit back. “I understand my place here.”

  He sighed. He didn’t like the look of hate in her eyes, but it had to be done. “Gunnar?”

  “Yes, sire?” Gunnar leaned forward to speak to Ubba. He’d been listening and watching what was going on with interest.

  “You understood my command? Rosfrith is to be given as a gift to one of my men, but only on my return.”

  Gunnar’s eyes narrowed fractionally. His sire was being very forceful with his demands. Normally, when Ubba went off for solitude, he didn’t particularly care what went on in his absence – as long as he didn’t’ have to deal with any fall out on his return. “I heard you.” Gunnar wasn’t going to answer for any of the other men because as far as he was concerned, they could do what they liked with her - she was only a servant after all. They could decide whether she was worth fighting with their sire for.

  “Good,” said Ubba. He stood and pushed away from the table. “I’m off.” He wanted to get out of the room. Even though he knew he was the cause, he couldn’t stand seeing Rosfrith looking so crestfallen. Nor could he stomach the looks Astrid had been given him throughout food. He glanced around at his men, ignoring Astrid and the puzzled look on her face. She knew him well enough to know what just happened was out of character, but he was in no mood to explain things to her. He noticed Rosfrith had taken herself towards a dark corner of the longhouse. “I’ll return on the next full moon.” He leaned down to grab his furs and sack. “Men,” he bowed, “Astrid,” he said politely before walking to the door.

  Rosfrith watched Ubba leave. The men crowding around him were slapping him on the back. She scowled, anger brewing in her belly. She was just another possession. She snorted. To think I’ve been having soft thoughts about him! He was just as much of a lout as all the others.

  When the door shut behind the men, cutting out the noise, cold, and light, Rosfrith closed her eyes, willing her threatening tears away. She crossed her arms, rubbing them to keep away the chill. Once again, she felt truly alone. Ubba, the one person she’d let herself become attached too had also left her to the harsh realities of life. Just like her parents. Just like everyone she knew.

  Chapter 12

  Ranaricii

  Rosfrith placed one filthy hand on her back in an attempt to stretch out the ache, while the other wiped her hair from her brow. In the week since Ubba had left, she’d kept herself busy with any chores needing to be done, even her most hated. Anything to be away from the longhouse and the uneasy feeling she got when she was in there. There were too many eyes that followed her, showing her too much interest that she neither encouraged or desired. A noise made Rosfrith turn quickly,
but she relaxed when she realised it was Hilde’s voice from behind her in the barn.

  “Rosfrith, remember, we must shave your hair today. Ubba will be back soon, and he won’t be pleased with me if I haven’t done his bidding,” Hilde said, shaking her head as she continued to rake up the manure.

  Rosfrith gave her a half-hearted smile and nodded. She didn’t want her hair shaved – it would be lovely to grow it long once again, but she wasn’t a child or a lady anymore, with time to keep her locks in good condition. Her chest tightened, but it was not Hilde’s fault the task had to be done. And, with the mood Ubba had left in, she wouldn’t chance him coming back early and taking it out on her or Hilde. “Okay, let’s finish off here before it becomes too dark. I’ll wash and then come to your shelter.” She eyed the elderly woman who had worked as hard as her all day. “Hilde, you go off now, I’ll finish up.”

  Hilde straightened up on a deep sigh. “If you’re sure?”

  This time Rosfrith gave a genuine smile. “Of course I am. You go, and I’ll be there shortly.”

  “I’ll need to go to the sire’s longhouse first, to stoke the fire as I’m sure the others won’t think.” Her greying eyes glanced at Rosfrith. She took a step nearer and tempered her voice. “I don’t trust Asmund or Bard not to blacken our names to the sire if things aren’t in order.”

  Rosfrith nodded. “What about Gunnar?”

  Hilde shrugged. “He’s more of a sensible head on him, but…” she patted Rosfrith’s arm. “He’s still a man. And you, my dear, need to be careful, I’ve seen the way some of their eyes follow you.”

  Rosfrith had felt them too, which was why she stayed away from them. In an attempt to lighten the atmosphere, Rosfrith joked. “I don’t think I have to worry, stinking of manure.”

  Hilde’s eyes crinkled as she gave a small smile. “Your beauty shines through.” She patted Rosfrith’s arm. “Finish here, and meet me at my home.” She turned and placed her rake against the wall and walked out. Hilde was one of the luckier servants, having been given a small shelter of her own for her and her family. Rosfrith could only hope one day, after being a loyal servant, she too would earn freedoms to make her life a little easier.

 
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