Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 25
“Aye, Bera, let’s get back. We have lots of work to do.” They trudged down the hill. Merewin hugged the bag against her still hammering heart. Anything to make the day pass quickly.
The moon sliced silver blades of light through the molting limbs of the trees. There was a bite in the air, but no frost. A perfect night. Hauk stood in the shadow of a tall birch, watching his sister’s dwelling below. There! Along the side of the house. He smiled, feeling the blood race through his limbs. A black silhouette slinked gracefully.
“Merewin,” breathed Hauk. And she’d worn it, the black, tight apparel he’d first discovered her in when he’d chased her through the spreading Northumbrian dawn. He’d found it with her things she’d left at Spring House. As she jogged up the hill towards him, her sleek body wrapped in the fabric as if she wore nothing, Hauk was glad he’d asked her to wear it. He smiled. It would make running easier.
She stepped up the rise silently and stopped near a tree, glancing. Hauk emerged from the shadow. Merewin came toward him. Hauk took two steps, stopping in front of her. His fingers touched the softness of her loose hair.
Hauk’s voice sounded harsh in the silence. “Such softness. Tell me.” Hauk looked deep down into her eyes. “What color is your hair, woman?”
Confusion slid past her features but she remained silent. She bent to grab something from the ground, allowing hair to fall around her face. Hauk watched as Merewin’s smile turned vicious. She said something in her old language from Northumbria. It sounded like an insult. His future wife was smart. She’d caught onto his act within seconds.
Hauk cocked an eyebrow, allowing his gaze to run the length of her form. “I know you understand me, woman.” He captured her head in his large palm. “Such beauty. I think you will be mine.”
Pain shot through Hauk’s foot as Merewin loosed a good sized rock she’d been holding. It was enough of a surprise to allow her to twist away. Hauk cursed on a growl, as Merewin sprinted into the woods. Limping around, he laughed low. Aye, Merewin was his match. But these were his woods. He knew them, where his sleek mink did not.
Hauk turned toward the trees, his ears picking up her footfalls along the common path. He breathed in deeply as he began a slow, silent jog after her, just as he’d done while trailing her among the oaks of King Aethelred’s forest in Northumbria. His blood pumped, warming him as he watched her dodge between the moonlit trees ahead. She glanced back. He heard her gasp and curse. His smile widened. He breathed deeply, imagining that he could already catch her scent. Spice and sweetness wrapped in warm woman. Hauk pushed his pace forward, closing the gap, craving her aroma.
He’d guessed right, she was staying along the trail, unlike the chase she’d given him before. Merewin wanted to be caught this time. This would be easy. He slowed his pace.
Merewin ducked off the trail around a large tree. She was gone. Hauk followed into the late autumn plucked forest. The moon filtered down through the skeleton branches.
Snap! A branch cracked ahead to the left. He caught a glimpse of her hair as she flew around a tree. She’d picked up her speed. “So it is a chase,” he murmured, as he adjusted his course, leaping over a fallen trunk. He chuckled. His prey wouldn’t give up a chase so easily. A sharp twig sliced along his cheek. “By Loki’s stones,” he swore dodging more low branches.
Hauk ran for some time along the snow dusted scrub, stopping to redirect after a scant crack gave Merewin away. Dodging and leaping, he’d grown warm. Luckily he’d chosen not to wear the heavy wraps, leaving his large arms bare, free to slap away branches. Hauk stopped, his breath in little white puffs before him. Listening. A wolf crooned from far off. Hauk looked up, the moon in a full circle above him. He cocked his head, turning it this way and that. His eyes strained to catch a hint of movement ahead. He frowned. “Where are you now, woman,” his words as soft as the casual night wind. He turned slowly around. Had he run past her?
A ball of snow hit his right ear. Turning to the right, he ran before he even saw her. Growling, he wiped the side of his wet face with a bare forearm. There, behind a tree. Merewin shrieked softly and took off again, like a doe sprinting away from the wolf. Arching, graceful leaps over brush, her legs long in the tight fitting trews. Hauk was tempted to pause and watch, but he dare not lose sight again. Time was up. He closed the distance in less than a dozen strides.
Hauk lunged, catching Merewin around the waist and pulling them to the ground. He twisted in the air so that she landed on his chest. Before she could speak, Hauk pulled her up and pinned her against a towering pine tree. “Injure me again, woman and I just may take out my revenge on you.”
Merewin just grinned at him, but refused to talk.
“First the rock and then the ice ball.” Hauk held her two hands together, pinned above her head against the tree. He rubbed the side of his head where the snowball had slammed against him. “I think there was a rock in that snowball.”
Merewin looked confused. “I didn’t throw a…”, but the rest of her words were cut off as Hauk’s mouth descended, leaving no room for words nor thought. Long minutes later, Hauk trailed his lips down her neck.
“Aye woman, what color is your hair?” At Merewin’s silence, Hauk growled low, his hands running down the landscape of her waist and hips. “Stubborn then. Let me tell you all that I intend to do with you.” He looked into her eyes. “Because you are mine.”
Hauk scooped Merewin up in his bare arms, like she weighed nothing more than a lamb. He walked under the moonlight, talking in detail of all the varied things he wanted to do to her, just as he had back in Northumbria. How different things were now. Then he’d been so empty of love, letting bitterness and sadness squeeze out everything else. Then he’d tried to distance himself from the tempting witch of the woods. But now, now as he spoke of nibbling and licking, kissing and rubbing, thrusting and surging, now he didn’t have to keep away. Merewin was his.
The pallet of furs Hauk had left seemed like a league away, but he found his way back to the spot. During their walk, Hauk had planted every image of lusty play he knew into her mind. Her lips parted and her breathing picked up. He swallowed. Aye, his words affected her, as well. Hauk lowered Merewin onto the soft pelts laid out deep in a secluded burrow he’d found away from the main path. Hauk lay down next to her and ran his hand through her hair.
Merewin looked up at him. She traced the scar above his brow with her finger. It felt hot against his cool skin. Her gaze smoldered as she stared into his eyes. “Brown.” Her voice escaped on a tremor. “A medium brown with some traces of gold, from what I’ve been told.” Merewin ran her fingers down the side of his face and back into his hair to pull his face closer to her own. “Now barbarian, tell me what ye are called, so I will know what name to moan.”
His lips fell on hers. Hauk took a breath against her. “Master, you can call me master.”
Merewin laughed huskily, moving her hand down to cup his huge erection. “Hmm, now who would be master of whom, here?”
Hauk laughed, and poured the rest of his attention and energy into making all his previous words come true.
Drakkina cackled softly as she floated above the crystallized earth. Her snowball had found its mark perfectly. Even without a corporeal body, she could still wield power. She hummed a little song she’d learned from an Egyptian princess long ago, and floated up above the tree line. No need to follow Merewin and her mate now that they’d found one another. Best to give them the privacy they needed. They were well on their way to love, and without much of her interference at all. So, perhaps Drakkina had learned something from her last adventure turned near disaster, with Merewin’s sister, Serena. Best not to push soul mates together too fast, just little nudges, nudges like getting Hauk to go to Northumbria.
The barbarian had seemed so morose then, so dark and angry, but Merewin had changed him, healed him. Even if her magickal powers could not work on her soul mate, the power of love had
Drakkina snorted as she wisped past the bright moon on her way to a timeless plane to rest. Love, she hadn’t believed that it was more powerful than magick to heal, as Merewin had told her at the Viking cemetery. But Drakkina had to admit, love was very powerful, indeed.
“It still can’t mend a broken head,” she quipped to the stars as they faded from her sight. Drakkina lay upon the fog, closed her eyes that weren’t really eyes, and fell into sleep that wasn’t really sleep.
“So he will marry his slave.” Svala seethed, as she stirred the pot of gurgling brew over the cook fire in the small outbuilding in which she now lived. Without her husband, she no longer held a place in the much larger royal abode. “That little whore.” She ground her teeth together. “He was my chance to get back my status, my life.” Angry tears gathered in Svala’s eyes but she swiped at them in fury. “So be it. If I can’t send her away and Bjalki can’t challenge for her, then she’ll have to die.” She shrugged, “she had the chance to leave. It is her own fault for staying.”
Svala unplugged a small clay jar and shook the powder into her pot with more honey. “But first I must kill Hauk’s love for her, else he pine away. And I don’t have time for that.” Svala smiled, her eyes pinched, transforming it into a leer. “They will all think that she really made them sick. She didn’t fix their pains, just hid them like an illusionist.” Svala stirred with the long wooden spoon, a sweat breaking out on her pale forehead. Pieces of hair poked out of her usually perfect braid as the steam billowed. All the planning and work would be worth it when Hauk and she married. Hauk would be Ragnar’s successor when his son did finally succumb to some illness. Then her child would be king.
Svala rubbed a hand across her damp forehead. “Aye, it will all be worth it. I will have my throne, my respect, and a large warrior in my bed.”
Folds of soft woven wool slid along Merewin’s legs as she walked the narrow frosty path through the sacred trees. She glanced upwards at the iced branches sparkling in the waning light. Just nights ago Hauk and she had made love amongst these stately sentries. Now she would swear oaths before them, oaths to bind her to Hauk forever. The day bore an early winter chill but the flawless sky and radiant sun were good omens, said Bera, when she had fastened her own kransen on Merewin’s wavy hair. The circle of silver, dried flowers, and wheat, intertwined with her curls, made Merewin look like a mythical fairy.
Merewin watched the lowering sun reflect against all of nature, captured in crystalline glory. Her feet, bound in soft leather slippers, crunched on the bright white snow. Her heart raced at the feel of the heavy sword against her side. Gamal had found a lovely groom’s sword for her to gift to Hauk, as was customary.
Bera walked alongside Merewin, for once silent. Occasionally she squeezed Merewin’s hand, a sign that all would be well. Merewin smiled and breathed deeply of the cool air. Aye, all would be well. Her creamy cloak of soft leather was lined with fur. Its softness rubbed against Merewin’s neck, reminding her of the furs Hauk had arranged for her here in the woods. She blushed softly, just then catching a glimpse of those gathered ahead through the naked branches.
She and Bera continued toward them. A boar had been sacrificed and would be roasted for the feast. The ceremonial blood was replaced with bridal ale. As Merewin approached, Wise Eldgrim gently made the sign of Thor’s hammer in the air with a fir branch, misting the couple with the ceremonial ale.
Merewin turned to her once captor. Hauk stood tall, decked in rich woolens and furs. His arms remained bare where circlets of gold wove tightly around his muscles. His shoulder length hair hung in wild, soft waves. His hand grasped her cold fingers. At once his touch surrounded her with strength and warmth. She looked up into his face. Merewin caught her breath. Hauk’s blue-gray eyes held such life, such promise. He smiled at her, looking totally at ease with all the formality around him. Dalla stood at his side, as well as Gamal. Dalla waved.
Merewin barely had time to smile at her as the priest began his blessings and questions. Hauk presented a bridal sword to Merewin, which she would give to her son someday. Merewin presented her sword to Hauk. Hauk held the tip downward, the hilt toward Merewin.
“Place his ring on the hilt,” Bera whispered, nudging her once again in motion. Aye, so many details, Merewin thought and lay the band of gold on the end of the sword. Hauk removed it and placed it on his own finger.
Several men from behind, including the king, grunted in approval. Gamal slapped him on the back. Hauk looked to her sword, and Merewin raised it in the same fashion, though she had to use two hands and a leather cloth to hold the massive blade. Hauk laid a ring on the hilt. Merewin took the intricate rope band of gold off and placed it on her own finger. It was as if the whole community let out a sigh of relief. So telling was the happiness in the peoples’ smiles that she had to smile in return. They wanted her here, even if it was because of her powers, it didn’t matter. They accepted and wanted her.
“Merewin of Northumbria,” Eldgrim’s nasally voice broke through, hushing the quiet celebration. “You are now Merewin of Spring Hill, wed before us all, and the gods of Asgard, to Hauk Geirson of Spring Hill. May Friggas, the goddess of marriage, bless this union.”
Before the old man could finish, Hauk stepped closer, wrapping Merewin into the warmth of his strong arms. She melted against him as his lips found hers. The remaining words were drowned out by the shouts and laughter of those around them. Hauk’s warm masculine pine smell surrounded her, making a rush of heat flow all the way down her body.
Gasps broke into their kiss. Merewin opened her eyes to see hundreds of diaphanous dragonflies flitting around above them. They zipped amongst the trees over the heads of the shocked audience. Merewin felt her birthmark grow warm. Drakkina was close.
“Very good, Gilla’s daughter. You’ve found your soul mate.” Merewin heard Drakkina’s words in her mind. “When I call, he must take you both to the stones in the west. The fate of the world depends upon it.”
Merewin felt Hauk’s arms tense as he glanced around. He had heard Drakkina’s command. His gaze fastened on a branch high up. The pine needles dipped and bowed until they formed an outline of a woman’s body, Drakkina’s body.
Bera gasped, and slowly the celebration and wonder at the dragonflies quelled, as those gathered stared at the strange image in the pine.
“You hear me, Hauk Geirson,” Drakkina’s words remained within Merewin’s head and apparently Hauk’s as well. The others whispered and pointed but didn’t seem to show that they heard anything. Hauk gave only the slightest tilt to his head. “And you concur then? We had an agreement.” Again Hauk tipped his head.
The priest bowed low. “We honor your presence great goddess.” His voice quavered.
The tree shook and the dragonflies flew off. “I bless this marriage.” Drakkina’s voice rang out majestically as a wind blew through the trees, causing the pine needles to dance back into their natural state.
Merewin looked to Hauk, one eyebrow raised. “Agreement?”
“Later.” Hauk frowned at the tree. He looked to Merewin, his grin returning. “Now we celebrate.”
People stood silently gawking at the once again normal fir branches. They glanced around as if expecting a goddess or god to be amongst them.
Hauk squeezed Merewin’s hand. His voice boomed through the awkward stillness. “Let us away then! To Ragnor’s feast!”
“Aye!” called Gamal, with an uneasy smile. “To the feast and to the ale.” He joked, breaking the unease. Several men agreed heartily, though their gaze still trained on the trees around them.
Bera grabbed Merewin’s other hand as Dalla snatched the one away from Hauk. “By Freja, Merewin, you are a friend of the gods,” Bera whispered loudly. Dalla’s eyes looked round as moons. Merewin put her arm around the child.
“Then let us make it merry,” Bera piped, pulling Merewin along the path.
Merewin looked at Hauk over her shoulder. His gaze locked with hers, though the men had surrounded him with questions and raucous smiles. A tender smile played across her lips and she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. His look was only for her, in one way dear, yet the fire of passion flitted just below the surface. Merewin blushed and turned back to his sister, her sister now.
The party walked back in small groups toward the king’s dwelling. Ragnor and Aslaug reached the door. Merewin’s smile dipped to see Svala and Bjalki. She glanced behind, but the men had detained Hauk. Although she’d dealt with the vicious woman before on her own, the thought of another confrontation on her wedding day bit into Merewin’s stomach.
Bera said something and released Merewin’s arm.
“Where’s she going?”
“To bring Papa,” Dalla said, eyeing the smirking woman as they neared.
Merewin patted Dalla’s hand, not wanting the child to be afraid or to think that she feared Svala. “We will do just fine on our own until he catches up to us. Don’t worry.”
“But you’re to wait to enter the hall.”
“Oh, is the mighty warrior woman afraid to enter the hall on her own?” Svala taunted from her place by the doorframe. “Just to be safe, you better wait for your man.”
Ciach! Merewin wasn’t about to let the viper think that she scared her, even if she was on guard. On guard was prudent, not fearful.
“I see nothing to be afraid of, Svala. Dalla and I will await my husband,” she stressed the word, “inside.”
Fury shot across Svala’s icy perfect face, making the attractive features twist into ugliness, mirroring her soul. “Very well.”
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