Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 14
“Let me go down there now and challenge him. I’ll show you that I am the more powerful warrior,” Bjalki said, jerking Svala out of her musings.
“Nay,” Svala snapped, her teasing tone crystalized to ice. “You will stay,” she turned her gaze to him. “I don’t want him damaged.”
Svala frowned, her eyes, one still pooled with blood, narrowing dangerously. Hauk’s mathkr of a slave had broken her perfect nose and she’d hidden her face for the last two weeks.
“You will have her once I have Hauk,” Svala promised, and ran her hand along her brother’s thigh. “If by chance she dies due to your,” she paused, “your vigor,” she flipped her hand in the air, “well, she just wasn’t sturdy enough for living in Denmark.” Svala turned her attention back to Spring House and her warrior chopping wood. “I want Hauk with no distractions, so she must be gone, one way or another.”
A low growl came from Bjalki and Svala’s gaze snapped back to him. “I would like to keep her as a slave,” Bjalki said and leered. “I am the man of this family. I have a say in this plan of yours.”
Svala raised her hand to slap him, but he caught her arm easily, bringing her eye-to-eye. “Listen to me, Bjalki. I am the smart one. I have the plan to bring our family to power. Without my cooperation you will remain a lower class raider.” He stared at her, his fingers tightly wrapped around her thin wrist. She refused to acknowledge the pain his grip inflicted. “In payment, I get Hauk Geirson without his little healing thrall.” She spoke slowly. “Do you understand?”
Bjalki dropped her arm, his gaze falling back to the scene below. Dalla ran behind the house toward the stream. “What about the girl?”
Svala shrugged. “She’s not a concern. I’ll make sure she’s married off soon.” Svala glanced at the girl sitting with her face in her hands on the stream bank. “She’s just a little brat, but I’ll soon get her out of the way.”
“Dalriada?” Dalla whined.
Dalriada? Merewin’s thought echoed the child’s.
Dalla leaned up against Hauk across the fire from Merewin. “Why, papa? You only just returned home.”
Hauk breathed deeply, his gaze burning into Merewin.
Merewin glanced back down at her trencher of venison, barley and greens. She chewed at the seasoned meat that had been delicious moments ago before Hauk’s news. Now it took force to finish it. She should be happy that he would be gone, but instead dread clutched inside her chest.
“King Ragnar’s ally has settled Dunadd on the coast, but the locals have organized and are causing problems,” he said delicately. “Ragnar’s promised his finest men to help him regain control. So he’s asked me to go.”
Merewin looked up into his eyes, still locked with her own. She swallowed the thick meat but refused to look away.
“And what of me?” she asked, ignoring the fear that tickled along her spine behind the calm words.
“You have become popular with the hurt and diseased. I’m sure they will keep you busy while I am away.”
So she was easily left behind, as a thrall should be. Merewin frowned, anger making her voice strong. “Do I live here, then? Perhaps Bera has need for me, and I could live in Ribe.”
Hauk frowned, their eyes in silent battle. “You are mine, Merewin. You will stay at Spring House unless you are needed in Ribe for an emergency. Then Gamal will escort you there.”
“Gamal isn’t going?” Merewin asked.
“Nay, Bera’s time is too close. He should be near her and the babe.”
Dalla’s smirk seemed somehow wicked and knowing in the same glance.
Hauk’s frown deepened. “He will be with me on the mission.”
Merewin nodded. “Good.”
Even though Hauk’s frown relaxed back into his normal gruff look, the room felt stagnant, gripped in webs of silently screaming emotion. Merewin wondered what it must be like to have her older sister’s power to read minds. Merewin looked at Hauk’s daughter and shivered. She rubbed her hands over her cool arms. Perhaps it was best not to know.
Merewin studied Dalla from under lowered lashes. She had Hauk’s strong features, straight nose and strong stubborn jaw. Gentle waves of reddish hued hair tumbled down her back. Without the sneer the girl could be beautiful. Unfortunately every time she looked in Merewin’s direction, her pretty face contorted into something close to rage with a hint of “I’ll get you” in it. Merewin didn’t trust her any more than she’d trust Svala.
Svala, the evil serpent, continued to spout lies about Merewin in Ribe. Lies that said Merewin was really just an illusionist, that her healing was not real, and that those she healed were still, in reality, sick. Nonsense! Merewin looked back down at the meal she no longer tasted while Dalla continued to whine about Hauk’s mission.
True, Merewin hadn’t used her magick to heal everyone that came to Spring House. But she still restored them to health. She used the traditional remedies that Navlin had taught her, extracting healing powers inherent in the Earth Mother’s plants to use in poultices and tinctures. Only when the natural remedies failed or there were dire circumstances, did Merewin use her stones and magick. Failure was something she wouldn’t allow in herself, if she could help it. She was not a fraud, and she proved it each time she sent someone home cured.
Hopefully in time, the rumors of her magical healing of Ivarr would fade. So far only two children had been brought before her since Ivarr’s healing the week before. And they were several years old, old enough to respond to her stones. Before starting, she had warned the parents of her limitations, but they would not believe after she’d saved the young prince.
“On the morrow?” Dalla screeched jumping up from her little stool. It thumped on the rushes. “You are leaving in the morning?”
Merewin’s heart sank. Tomorrow. So soon. He was leaving her in a house with a banshee in an unknown land where Svala roamed free. Tomorrow. And he hadn’t even tried to kiss her again since the night they were interrupted. Several times she had awoken at night, Bela gone to hunt, to the slight smell of leather, soap and man. But no one stood in the shadows of the small room. Two nights ago she had even braved a look into his room where a large bed stood empty. She hadn’t dared to look further. Mayhaps she wasn’t as desirable as he had at first thought. Merewin pushed against the ache in her forehead. Mayhaps he was afraid of her magick. She sniffed, sitting straighter.
Dalla quieted where she sat cuddled against Hauk’s chest.
Merewin met his stare. His gaze, dark and expressionless in the shadows, moved over her face as he spoke. “It is but a mission. I will return soon.”
Merewin raised her chin slightly, willing the ache in her throat to dissolve. “We will be well,” she said evenly, her expression distant and tight. “Well.” She nodded, and rose to go to her room.
The odor of dead fish and salty low tide mixed with the guttural sounds of the crew readying the longboat for their journey across the sea and around to Pictland.
Hauk stood, his arms crossed over his chest as Ragnar reviewed the route. They would travel due west until they reached Northumbria, then keep the shore in view as they sailed north and then west and south around the head of the country to the land once ruled by the Picts.
Hauk nodded as Ragnar repeated his warnings about the painted locals that plagued his friend. But Hauk’s gaze followed the gentle sway of Merewin’s hips as she walked among the tables set up with fresh fish. The soft blue gown that had been let out to accommodate Merewin’s height lapped along her legs. She smiled easily with the people of Ribe, many of whom had visited Spring House for her healing talents. Several women passed packets of dried plants to Merewin, herbs meant for more smelly concoctions.
Hauk forced his gaze back to Ragnar. Aye, it was good that he had accepted the mission. He needed to be away from the stench of sickness. It brought back memories that needed to be forgotte
Merewin’s laughter filtered to him through the clangs and shouts of the crowds. Without conscious thought, he turned towards her as if drawn. Bera walked with her, Gamal nearby. Bera’s lips moved non-stop and Merewin laughed now and then. The light sounds pulled him, and her smile caught at his breath. He frowned.
She doesn’t smile like that at Spring House. Why not? More than once this week he’d watched her sleep, wondering why she thrashed and frowned. Did she also have demons to chase, memories to forget?
Hauk watched her now beside Bera while his sister haggled with some local fishwives about the morning’s catch. Soon they were all smiling and nodding in agreement over some price. By the time he returned, he imagined Merewin would have mastered the art of negotiating a fair price for fish and wares along the wharf. She had intelligence, a natural ability to jump in and take charge. Aye, his Merewin was a leader despite her current status. Hauk rubbed the close-cropped beard along his chin. Even with the connection to magick, Hauk admitted that he respected her. Probably more than any woman he knew.
“Hauk, there you are,” Svala called, swinging her hips in a provocative walk as she neared him. Her arms and neck were adorned with polished gold and jewels. She wore a thin shawl over her hair that she held across her face. When she drew close, Hauk noticed the dark skin under her eyes. “You wouldn’t leave without saying farewell,” Svala said coyly.
The shawl dropped slightly and Hauk saw the bruising around the woman’s nose, which now had a slight bulge in it. “I understand Merewin has success in fixing broken bones,” he said indicating her nose.
Svala’s gaze sharpened. “Your slave did this to me. I’m not about to let her touch me again.” Her look shifted to where Merewin and Bera laughed, and she pulled the shawl up higher under her eyes. “I still demand punishment against your slave.”
“You will not pursue this while I am away.”
Svala shrugged her shoulders. “I am a patient woman, Hauk. I can wait.” Her look brightened, and she wrapped a hand around his bicep. She leaned up closer to his ear. Though without him bending she only reached his shoulder. “But I won’t wait forever,” she said, insinuating a much more sexual ultimatum. “When you tire of the slave, I may not be available any more, Hauk. You have been without a wife for three years, now.”
Merewin glanced toward them, her smile fading.
Bera followed Merewin’s gaze and fired off some unladylike retorts that he could read from her lips. His sister could be considered quite the warrior, too.
Svala squeezed his arm. “I know that you have not remained celibate,” she said, to remind him of their tryst earlier in the year. “But it is time you found a wife again, someone to warm your bed. Someone to train Dalla to be a wife. She is nearing the age.”
Hauk looked down at the woman. “She is only ten, Svala.”
“Some marry at twelve,” she said simply.
“Not my daughter.”
Svala’s eyes darkened again, and her voice contained an edge of anger. “I will not wait forever.”
Hauk looked into Svala’s blue eyes. Why hadn’t he seen the ugliness there before? Had he ever really looked in them? “I understand, Svala,” he said evenly. She began to smile behind the shawl. “You are free to find another husband.”
Shock flitted behind her gaze before prideful anger obliterated it.
“Excuse me, while I see to my ship.” Hauk extracted his arm from her grasp. He heard Svala curse and stomp off somewhere behind him.
Bjalki met him at the gangplank. “I’m surprised you agreed to go on this raid,” Bjalki said, his look wandering over Merewin as she and Bera walked toward the ship. “I was to lead this raid until you agreed to go.” Bjalki spoke without moving his stare from Merewin. “Ragnar favors you over his own blood. ’Tis unnatural.”
Hauk stepped into Bjalki’s line of sight. “You and Ragnar share no blood. He is a wise king. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of his warriors.”
Bjalki’s eyes narrowed with open hatred. “Yet time and again, Hauk, you show weakness in letting those we conquer live.”
“We can debate the strategy of reaping the rewards of live, contented people over corpses some other time. Right now, you have my ship to help prepare,” Hauk countered as the women stepped next to him.
Bjalki smiled and bowed his head. “Bera.” She nodded her head in return, though did not smile. Then he turned to Merewin. “Fair healer,” he said but did not bow. “My dear sister swears she will have your lovely head on a platter.” His smile turned into a leer. “I promise though to have your head in a much more pleasurable place, at least for me,” he insinuated.
Bera gasped as Hauk’s hand grabbed Bjalki around the neck and shoved him backward against a pier timber sticking out of the water along the wharf.
Bjalki’s look held no fear, only mockery, and Hauk wanted to slice it off his face. He drew a short sword and brought it up to rest against the man’s pocked cheek.
“You would kill the king’s brother by marriage in front of a hundred witnesses outside the boundaries of a challenge?” Bjalki asked evenly.
“Not kill,” Hauk spoke low. “Just maim.”
Bjalki’s confidence slipped, and Hauk ran the edge of his dagger along the side of Bjalki’s beard, sending red bristly hairs sifting to the ground. One movement, and he would press just a bit harder to slice a layer of skin from his cheek. One comment, one push. Hauk waited for it, searched for it.
“Nay, Hauk,” Bera’s plea barely registered in his revenge soaked brain.
This bastard had desired Ingun, Hauk’s first wife, and had dogged Hauk ever since.
Bjalki coveted anything he had.
Blood pumped through Hauk, ready for action, ready to finish what had started so many years ago.
Soft and steady, Merewin’s words beat through the rush of blood in his ears. “If ye maim him, I will be obliged to heal him.”
Hauk continued to watch the blue orbs of his enemy. Neither moved. By Thor, Hauk wished Bjalki would move. The ass couldn’t possibly have enough brains to listen to his threat.
Merewin’s cool fingers touched his arm.
Only the control of a seasoned warrior stopped Hauk from springing into action and slicing Bjalki’s throat.
“If ye maim him,” she said softly, “he may be left behind. Here in Ribe while ye are across the sea.”
Bjalki smiled. “Aye, Hauk, slice, me and I’ll stay behind to protect your thrall.”
Hauk pushed back from Bjalki, releasing him, and dropped his arm. “Get on the ship.” Hauk turned, and Merewin’s hand slipped away.
Ragnar stood behind him and watched his warrior saunter onto the longboat.
Bjalki’s laughter held more than an edge of evil.
“He may be related by marriage to an honorable king,” Ragnar said and turned to Hauk, “but don’t trust his honor, Hauk. I would watch your back on this voyage.”
“I always do,” Hauk said and turned to Merewin. Fear sat heavily in her features. “Gamal will protect you if I do not come back.”
“And I,” Ragnar added, but Merewin’s gaze did not lose their heaviness. She nodded.
Bera wrapped an arm through Merewin’s. “And we will find you a very large dog,” she said and smiled.
Merewin managed to produce a tight grin in return, but unease still sat in her brilliant green eyes, her brow furrowed slightly. Hauk reached out and ran his thumb over the thin lines then leaned in closer.
Hauk moved his lips near her ear as Bera stepped away. “You will be protected no matter what becomes of me. Ragnar and Aslaug will protect you themselves, and Gamal.”
“Thank ye,” Merewin said, but wouldn’t look into his face.
“You do not seem thankful.” He tried to catch her glance.
Merewin lifted her gaze. Her green orbs snapped with suppressed ire. “I am not used to needing protect
Before Hauk could remind her that she’d needed protection when he ran her down in the oak forest, he saw her blush, gaze lowering again to his neck. There was no need to state the obvious.
“We are a passionate people,” he said low. “At times the passion can run violent.” It was true, but he would not apologize for it. He respected and believed in his way of life.
She reached a slender hand up to grasp a charm of Thor’s hammer that he wore on a leather cord.
“Does this protect ye?” She rubbed her fingers along the smooth lines.
“Some say it does.” Hauk glanced at the common ornament worn by many warriors, but then turned his attention to Merewin’s bent head. His hand ran along the deep browns and golds of her hair where the sun warmed it.
Merewin reached into a pocket and pulled out a stone. “Carry this then, close to ye.” She set it in the center of his palm. The smooth oval rock felt hot to the touch, alive, as if it breathed. Magick? He almost dropped it, but Merewin looked up into his eyes. Fear, sadness, he recognized them even if he didn’t understand why they plagued her. He closed a rough hand around the stone and nodded. Merewin watched him place it in a small pocket sewn into his tunic.
Merewin worried at her bottom lip, and nodded back. “I would have ye come back, Hauk. Whole and alive.”
By the gods, was she worried about him? He watched as she adjusted the leather straps over his arms and smoothed the front of his shirt. When she reached up to run fingers down one of his war braids, he caught her hand and drew her up against him so that their bodies touched. He cupped her face in his two large hands and tilted it so that her eyes were level with his. Yet she looked away.
“Merewin.” Her stare flicked to his but retreated. “Look at me.” Her gaze slowly met his own. “I have always returned. The painted men of your land will not change that.”
“I will keep my guard up as usual. I know my enemies.”
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