Viking Warrior, page 1
NEW YORK CITY
SPOILS OF WAR
Scowling, Wulf sent her a dismissive look. “I suppose you are happy now that you can order me to do your bidding.”
Reyna returned Wulf’s scowl with a satisfied smile. “I am supremely happy. Give thanks that you are still alive. Being a thrall does not seem so bad when you consider the alternative. Now you know how I felt. Does it hurt your pride to serve me? Does it shame you? Make you feel less a man?”
Wulf felt all those things and more. Helpless. Enraged. Yet still hungry for the Dane vixen standing beside him, looking smug and far too lovely for his peace of mind. How would he manage an entire winter in her company without acting on his impulse to toss her to the ground and thrust himself inside her?
This book is dedicated to my late husband Jerry.
Through 57 years of love and laughter, joy and
sorrow, our hearts remained firm and true.
Life ends but love is endless.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Spoils of War
Other books by Connie Mason
A Farmstead on the Norwegian coast, 860 AD
Wulfric the Ruthless, son of the late jarl of Horgaland, Rollo Redbeard, rose gloriously naked from the fjord near his farmstead. Tall, golden and magnificently male, Wulf strode toward shore, water dripping down his powerful body in rivulets.
Wulf had earned his name and reputation because of his prowess in battle, wielding his sword, Blood-Seeker, and his battle-axe with skill and dexterity. During a raid by Danes on their farmstead two summers ago, Wulf had lost his wife and unborn child, and their deaths had turned him into a ruthless berserker. Skalds told and retold the saga of Wulf the Ruthless during long winter nights, embellishing his heroic exploits with each recital.
Wulf had just reached for his clothing when a shout brought him spinning around toward the fjord. Shading his eyes against the glare of the late autumn sun, he stared at the dragonship skimming across the water toward shore. Wulf’s first instinct was to reach for Blood-Seeker. Then he recognized the square red-and-white-striped sail of his brother’s dragonship and relaxed.
Hagar had finally returned. His arrival was expected though somewhat overdue.
The dragonship rode low in the water, laden, Wulf suspected, with silver, glassware, spices and silks from the Byzantine, where Hagar had gone on a trading expedition. Wulf had also gone abroad but in a different direction and with different goals in mind. Wulf had spent the summer raiding the land of the Danes, seeking vengeance for the death of his wife, Astrid. Having had his fill of killing and plundering, Wulf had returned home to the farmstead earlier than usual.
Wulf pulled his fine linen breeches over his powerfully muscled legs, slipped into a sleeveless linen tunic and belted Blood-Seeker about his narrow waist. He wore no mail shirt this day for no enemy was expected to invade their farmstead so late in the year. Then he pulled on shaggy fur boots and turned to wait for Hagar’s ship to reach the shore.
Hagar was the first to leap out of the vessel when it scraped against the sandy bottom of the fjord. As tall and broad as Wulf, Hagar was but two years older than Wulf’s own twenty-eight. His generous beard was as red as the hair on his head.
“Ho, brother!” Hagar greeted as he splashed through the surf toward Wulf.
The brothers embraced. “Your ship rides low in the water, Hagar,” Wulf observed. “Your voyage to the Byzantine must have been a profitable one.”
Hagar threw back his head and laughed. “More profitable than even I expected. What about you, brother? When did you return?”
“Some days ago. Why are you late? Your arrival has been anxiously anticipated.”
“Odin’s blood!” Hagar exclaimed. “I would have returned sooner if Thor had not brewed a storm that sent us off course.”
“Come, I will walk with you to the farmstead.”
“In a moment,” Hagar replied. “I bought you a special gift from Constantinople.”
A frown darkened Wulf’s rugged features. “You bought me a gift? What are you up to, Hagar?”
“You have become morose and overbearing of late. I thought you needed something to cheer you up.”
Wulf’s frown deepened. “I do not need cheering.”
Hagar rolled his eyes, suggesting otherwise. “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth, brother. Enjoy it with my good wishes.”
“Why am I suspicious of your largess, Hagar?”
“There was a woman with hair the color of moonlight on the auction block at the slave market in Constantinople. Her previous master could not tame her and was eager to sell her.”
“What does this have to do with me?”
“I wanted to make life a little more interesting for you. All you’ve known since Astrid’s death is sorrow and vengeance. Your grief weighs too heavily upon you.”
Wulf slashed his hand through the wet strands of his golden hair. “Enough, Hagar, I have better things to do than talk nonsense with you.”
Grasping his shoulders, Hagar turned Wulf toward the fjord, where men were unloading trade goods from the beached dragonship. The moment Wulf saw her, he whipped around to glare at his brother. “Thor’s hammer, Hagar, what have you done?”
Hagar laughed. “Her name is Reyna. She is a Dane. I gift her to you. You can thank me later. I hope you have better luck taming her than her previous master.” Then he strode off toward the farmstead, leaving Wulf with the terrible urge to kill his brother.
Reyna waded ashore, angry at the Norsemen and at the world. She hated men but Norsemen most of all. She wondered why the redheaded Viking had purchased her and what the future held for her. Fortunately she and the Norseman named Hagar had been able to converse. She had learned the Norse language from a Norse-woman concubine in her master’s harem. Hagar had refused to answer her questions, however, and had even laughed at some private joke when she asked about his plans for her.
Reyna had no idea what she was supposed to do when Hagar strode off, leaving her stranded on the shore. She started to follow, but stopped abruptly when she saw a man staring at her, his expression one of chagrin. At first she didn’t recognize him and thought him the most impressive man she had ever seen. He was beautiful in a rugged, masculine way. With his blond hair ruffled by the wind and his clothing hugging his powerful muscles, he rivaled Odin, the great god of war.
Then, to her utter horror, she recognized him as a man she’d hoped never to see again. He was the Norse berserker who had raided her farmstead the summer before, ravished her in the heat of battle, and then taken her captive. Though he had not touched her again during the long voyage to Byzantium, she had lived in fear during those dark days. If the Norseman called Wulf the Ruthless had attempted to touch her, she would have jumped overboard. But he had simply brooded during the entire voyage to Constantinople, where he sold her to a slave trader without a hint of remorse.
Wulf stared through narrowed lids at the woman approaching him.
She was tall and slim and shapely, her head crowned by a coronet of braids so pale they gleamed like molten silver, her white tunic belted at the waist with a silver girdle. Her feet barely seemed to touch the ground as she floated toward him. A vague sense of recognition washed over him. Who was this woman Hagar had identified as Reyna the Dane?
Reyna reached Wulf and stopped in front of him, gazing with unleashed fury into his silver fire-and-ice eyes, her hands curled into fists. Her eyes dropped to his hard, flattened mouth, sculpted with harsh disapproval and bracketed by two sharp lines. Did he remember her? She certainly remembered him.
“Wulf the Ruthless, we meet again,” she snarled, and spat on the ground at his feet. “You are the Norse berserker who destroyed my life. I hope you burn in hell.”
Suddenly Wulf remembered the woman. He had scooped her from the ground and carried her aboard his dragonship after Rannulf Haroldson had climbed off of her. She had been curled into a ball and weeping. Though she had wept all the way to Byzantium, Wulf could find no compassion in his wounded soul.
Wulf laughed; a bitter sound that sent chills down Reyna’s spine. “I already reside in hell. Your people made sure of that.”
“Why was I brought here?”
“My brother purchased you and gifted you to me.” Wulf had no intention of keeping Reyna. A Dane thrall with a body and face that would tempt a statue was the last thing he needed in his hall. To make matters still worse, apparently she was under the misapprehension that he had been the one to ravish her during the raid on her farmstead.
Reyna drew back in horror. “You are a rapacious beast. I refuse to serve you.”
“You accuse me falsely. Rest assured that I do not want you in my hall any more than you want me for a master. Follow me, I will take you to Hagar’s hall. My mother can always use another thrall.”
Wulf grasped Reyna’s arm and pulled her along with him, trying to ignore the softness of her skin beneath his hand. Thank Odin, the trek to the farmstead was not a long one.
The yard was filled with activity. Thralls trod back and forth between the many buildings comprising the farmstead. The various structures were built of rough pine logs, their pitched roofs covered with turf. There were so many buildings it looked like a village. Beyond the farmstead, thralls and karls were harvesting crops such as oats, wheat and barley with curved sickles while others toiled in the garden. Cattle and sheep grazed on the nearby hillsides while pigs, hens and geese wandered around in the yard between the outbuildings.
Wulf headed directly toward the hall, where the family lived in a log and wattle long house more than eighty feet in length. The curved walls looked to be at least seven feet thick and the roof was supported on rows of posts.
“Do you live here?” Reyna asked, indicating the impressive long house.
“Nay, the hall was too crowded for my liking when I wed so I built my own hall on the farmstead. You will serve my brother and his family.”
Reyna bristled. “I am a jarl’s daughter, not a thrall. What you did to me and my family is despicable. You are a ruthless killer who took my innocence and then sold me to a foreign master.”
Wulf regarded her with contempt. “Your people murdered my wife. I raided your farmstead in retaliation. I cannot even recall whether anyone was slain during the raid for I was half mad with rage.”
Wulf opened the door and walked into the hall. Reyna followed, stopping once she passed beneath the lintel to survey her surroundings. The hall was crowded with people, some clothed in rich fabrics and others wearing rough woolen tunics. Reyna decided the family must be a wealthy one for she saw several men and women wearing silks, brocades, silver jewelry and leather shoes. Once, she had lived in a hall such as this and dressed in imported silks and fine linens. Then she was assaulted and ripped from the bosom of her loving family. She thought of her brothers and Ragnar, her betrothed, and wondered if he had wed another.
Though plain on the outside, the interior of the hall was decorated with carved and painted woodwork touched with gilt. Wide wooden benches for sitting and sleeping lined the walls. The focal point of the hall was the central hearth, which provided not only heat and light but also the means of cooking. Even now cauldrons of iron were suspended over the fire from tripods, emitting mouthwatering smells.
Reyna’s stomach rumbled. During the voyage from Constantinople she had eaten what ever the Vikings fed her, mostly dried meats, hard bread and cheese.
Hagar saw Wulf and hailed him. Wulf turned a sour look on his brother. “I am returning your gift. Let Mother put her to work.”
A tall, richly dressed Norsewoman joined them. She was handsome rather than pretty, with dark blonde hair and a muscular build. She was also heavy with child.
“Who is this woman?” Olga asked.
“She is your husband’s new thrall, Olga,” Wulf said before Hagar had a chance to explain.
Olga glared at Reyna and then at her husband. “I will not tolerate this woman in my hall, and I am sure your mother will agree. She is too beautiful and will disrupt the harmony here. Your brothers will fight over her favors.”
She sent Hagar a look that did not bode well for him. “What were you thinking, husband? If you intend to bed her yourself, forget it. I will geld you with my knife before I let that happen.”
Hagar clutched his crotch protectively. “The thrall belongs to Wulf,” he explained. “I purchased her for his bed.”
“What?” Wulf and Reyna exclaimed at the same time.
An older woman dressed in sumptuous brocade strode over to them. “What seems to be the problem? Who is this woman?”
“Wulf’s new thrall,” Hagar quickly answered.
“I don’t want her,” Wulf replied heatedly.
“And I won’t have her in my hall,” Olga stated, folding her arms across her ample bosom. “Look at her. I won’t have that kind of temptation in a hall where young girls and lusty boys live.”
“Does she speak our language?” asked Thora, Wulf and Hagar’s mother.
“Aye, she speaks and understands our language. Do not ask me how, but she does,” Wulf replied.
“I found Reyna on the auction block in Constantinople and thought her perfect for Wulf,” Hagar explained. “My brother is far too dour and lacks joy in his life.” Hagar sniffed. “I thought he would appreciate my gesture to provide him with entertainment on the long winter nights to come.”
“I find your humor perverse,” Wulf returned. “Reyna is a Dane.”
Hagar laughed. “I know. You cannot deny she is a rare beauty, however. Don’t be so grim, brother. Perhaps one day you will thank me.”
His face dark as a thundercloud, Wulf took a menacing step toward Hagar.
Thora stopped him with a single word, “Wulf!” Wulf subsided, though the look he slanted Hagar promised painful retribution.
Olga made a gesture toward Reyna. “If this woman has lived in a harem in Constantinople, she doesn’t belong with decent folk. Just imagine all the evil things she has done. If you don’t want her, Wulf, sell her to my brother. Rannulf mentioned he was in the market for a new bed slave.”
But selling Reyna to Rannulf didn’t sit well with Wulf. All too vividly, he recalled Rannulf climbing off Reyna’s body and walking away in search of another woman to assault.
Thora stroked her chin. “The woman is lovely. I agree with Olga, Wulf. If you do not need another thrall, sell her to Rannulf.”
“I am a jarl’s daughter,” Reyna protested. “Your son raided our farmstead, did despicable things to me, carried me off and sold me to a slave trader. I will never consent to serve a Viking berserker.”
“My brother purchased you. You belong to him,” Wulf retorted.
“And I gifted her to you,” Hagar shot back. He offered his arm to his wife. “Come, Olga, this is Wulf’s p
Wulf glared at Hagar’s back.
“Wulf,” Thora said, garnering Wulf’s attention. “What are you going to do with her? She claims you assaulted her and I am inclined to believe her.”
“Return me to my homeland, Wulf the Ruthless,” Reyna pleaded. “My family had nothing to do with the raid upon your farmstead. They didn’t kill your wife. My father is a farmer and fisherman. He gave up raiding years ago. My brothers were away, trading along the Volga; they couldn’t have been involved in the raid on your farmstead.” Her green eyes sparkled with tears. “If you left them alive, eventually they will find me.”
Wulf turned his icy gaze on Reyna. Why hadn’t he noticed before how lovely she was? During the voyage to Constantinople, he had barely looked at her. She had been a pitiful sight with her torn clothing, matted hair and red-rimmed eyes, and he hadn’t wanted to feel compassion for her. Filled with hatred and grief, he had seen her as the enemy instead of a great beauty.
“Thor’s blood, Mother,” Wulf muttered. “I did not assault Reyna. I am guilty of selling her but naught more. Are you sure you can’t use another thrall?”
“Since your father’s death, Hagar is the new jarl. He and Olga choose who is to live in the hall and ’tis obvious Olga doesn’t want this woman here. She is increasing and we cannot upset her.” She spread her hands. “There is nothing I can do.”
For the first time in his life, Wulf wished he were the older brother instead of the younger.
Thora looked at Reyna. “What skills do you have? Can you cook? Do you weave? Are you skilled at brewing ale or mead?”
Reyna squared her shoulders. “I cannot cook. Nor can I weave or brew ale or mead. I am a skilled healer and knowledgeable in herbal medicines.”
“At least that’s a skill we can use,” Thora said, nodding. “But you must deal with Wulf yourself—I cannot help you.”
Other author's books:
- A Breath of ScandalViking WarriorSurrender to the FuryTender FuryA Taste of ParadiseTo Tame a RenegadeWind RiderMy Lady Vixen
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