Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 28
“Did you tell him that you saw Merewin running away?” Svala asked impatiently.
Bjalki pulled Merewin up. His foul smelling tongue ran up the side of her throat. She gagged. “Mmmm...open your mouth, thrall.”
“Did you tell him, Bjalki?” Svala demanded.
“Aye, but he didn’t believe me. He went into the hall to see for himself. Now leave us or join in, dear sister.”
Bjalki held Merewin’s face. She tried to move her head, her nails biting into the backs of his hands. He squeezed harder as if to pop her brain out. Merewin’s strength dulled. She released, letting hands dangle limply. Bjalki ran rank lips over Merewin’s face. His tongue pushed between tight lips. “We can make this easier on you, or harder,” he whispered, and pulled her hair so hard that it threw her head backwards.
“Didn’t believe you! How could he not believe you? She wasn’t with you. She wasn’t in the hall!” Svala pulled her brother’s arm. “Go back, don’t let him find us. Convince him you saw her leave in the other direction. Send him east.”
Bjalki grunted. His hand released Merewin’s hair and dropped to her breast. He squeezed viciously.
Merewin kicked him in the shin, but he just laughed.
His dirty hand grabbed at her skirts, ripping them to expose her legs. He wet his lips, leaving spittle. He closed in on Merewin again, but Svala’s knife stopped him.
It stung against Merewin’s neck where a pulse beat. Svala stood behind. Merewin breathed evenly, skin brushing the sharp edge. Somehow this was better. To die by Svala’s blade rather than endure Bjalki. No! She must fight! Dalla’s pale face flashed before her. There was too much to live for.
“I will kill the whore before you’ve had a chance to pull your trews off, brother.” Merewin closed her eyes. Drakkina, where are ye!? Where was the witch? She hadn’t seen her for days, and now that life and sanity hung between these two demented creatures, the crone was no where.
Bjalki released Merewin. “My balls are going to fall off, Svala, with all this waiting.” He huffed, wrapped a leather strap around Merewin’s wrists, and stomped over to retrieve his shirt.
Svala lowered the blade.
“I’ll make sure your Hauk doesn’t come charging in here.” He looked at Merewin. “Feel free to make yourself ready for me, sweet. It will go easier for you if you’re already juicy. With all this teasing, I won’t have much patience when I return.” He looked at Svala. “Tie her hands to that tree,” he said pointing. “I won’t be long.”
“Don’t kill him, Bjalki!” Svala yelled.
“Aye, I know, you want him alive. You get yours alive. I only get mine for one night,” he muttered as he stalked away.
Merewin had to remind herself to breathe. How much time did she have before he returned? Perhaps she should just start running.
“Don’t think about running, Merewin,” Svala said, as if mind reading. “I’ll just have to kill you then, tell Bjalki you were escaping and I had no choice. He’ll be angry, but he’s scared of me. Always has been, because he knows I’m the clever one. He wouldn’t live a day if he beat me.” Svala pointed to the the ground. “Sit, rest yourself. You will need your strength when he returns. I’ll let him tie you to the tree.”
Svala tended the fire while Merewin sat at the edge of the deep pond thinking.
“You know, Merewin, I’m doing this all for my baby.” Svala ran a hand over the slightly swollen belly. “When Hauk marries me, this baby won’t be a bastard. It will have a loving father and possibly a throne if Ivarr ends up dying early. My plan is working.” She smiled over at Merewin, her look pitying. “Here dear Merewin, have some hot wine. It’s not poisoned.” She took a sip herself. “I think you should have something before my brother returns, something to fortify yourself.”
Hauk stood inside Gamal’s house next to Dalla’s nearly unconscious figure. What in the name of Odin was he supposed to do? Merewin was gone. He’d looked all around the village. Nearly everyone who had been at the celebration was sick and moaning around the hall or had dragged themselves home. His daughter seemed the worst. What was making her so ill? She’d purged numerous times. Curdled bile-filled fishy tang filled the air, just like it had with his family when the healers poured poison down their throats.
Hauk stood over Dalla in a fighter’s stance, ready for battle, yet the foe was one he couldn’t strike down. He breathed in deeply and raked his hand through his hair.
Bera ran a soothing rag along Dalla’s brow. She’d sent her baby to stay with a friend who had not been at the celebration to protect him from the illness.
“You know that Merewin did not do this,” Bera spoke evenly.
“Aye,” Hauk responded, as he stared down at his daughter. “But where is she?” His stare itched with worry as he looked up at his sister. He rubbed at them. “Bjalki says she’s run away in shame.”
Bera snorted and washed the rag out in a bowl of water. “The man has never told the truth in his life unless it somehow benefited his own cause.”
“I did not say I believed him.” He sat closer to Dalla, listening to her breathe. “But she’s gone. He’s the only one I could imagine taking her, but he was still here and she was gone.” Hauk looked back up at Bera. “You didn’t see the look on her face when Svala yelled accusations. Merewin didn’t say anything to defend herself. She would barely look at me. She wouldn’t refuse what Svala said.”
“Svala!” Bera spat. “That mathkr! I tell you, Hauk, that she-snake is behind this. I feel it in my spine.”
“Papa,” Dalla murmured and Hauk leaned in. “Papa, I want Merewin. Where is Merewin?”
“I don’t know, sweet one. I want to find her too.”
“She can help me.”
Hauk took a deep breath, his own doubts twisting in his chest. What if what Svala had said had some truth to it? What if Merewin couldn’t heal like she’d promised? But had Merewin ever promised to be able to heal? Scenes tumbled through his memory. Nay, she’d never promised healing. She’d only ever said that she would try. So why would she run away?
Hauk covered Dalla’s folded hands with one of his own. “Sweet one, Merewin may not be able to heal you.”
Bera tsked under her breath and laid another rag over Dalla’s head.
After a moment Dalla moved her lips again. “It doesn’t matter, papa. I still want Merewin. I love her and she loves me.”
Hauk’s eyes dimmed and then closed. He took a deep breath and glanced up at Bera. That was it, words so innocent from a child, so plain and yet he’d forgotten them in the chaos of the night. He loved Merewin with every part of him and he had felt her love for him. That was truth, that was her promise.
Hauk stood. “I will find her, Dalla. I’ll bring her home.” Hauk stepped out into the night and began to study the ground near the exit of Ragnar’s house.
“Looking to see where she ran?” Bjalki’s voice dissolved his concentration like rain muddled tracks. Hauk glanced at him but didn’t say anything. The man stood in the empty road watching, his arms crossed, his legs braced apart.
“I do not have time for you unless you have information for me regarding Merewin.” Hauk looked at him. “True information.”
“Check the tracks if you’d like, but I tell you I saw her run off.” Bjalki pointed east toward the rocky shores that lined Denmark. “I’m thinking she took a horse because Evan told me just now that his was missing from its pen on that side of town.” Bjalki shrugged. “Perhaps she’ll hide out in one of those many caves along the shore and try to find a boat to take her back to Northumbria.”
Hauk looked down at the haphazard display of tracks. “She wouldn’t voluntarily get back into a boat to go over seas again.” The bloody saklauss was trying to confuse him with lies. Hauk looked back up at Bjalki. Why would the man be trying to confuse him?
Hauk’s gaze narrowed. His lips curled back to show clenched teeth. “Where is Merewin, Bjalki?” Hauk’s blood raced. Warrior instinct
Bjalki uncrossed his arms slowly, hands flexing. “I told you I think she went to the east.”
“And you have nothing better to do than give me hints and ideas of where I might find my wife?”
“Just thought I’d be helpful.”
Hauk took two full strides and grabbed the front of Bjalki’s shirt, pulling him close so he was right in the warrior’s face. “Bacraut! You are never helpful. Where is she?” Hauk stopped then, the roar of blood rushing through his ears. He sniffed long and the faint scent of spice and flowers drifted under the man’s foul odor.
With the might of his warrior’s arm and the strength of cold fury, Hauk shoved Bjalki back as if he weighed nothing and pulled his sword. “I smell her on you. What have you done with her?”
Bjalki drew his own sword and shrugged. “Looks like we’ll have to go with my plan, sister dear. Yours dies and mine lives, at least as long as I want her.”
The cryptic message infuriated Hauk. Svala. She was helping her brother kidnap Merewin. Hauk would subdue him, slice him until he either told him where Merewin was or die of blood loss. The beast within him demanded justice, revenge, death of his foe. He swallowed hard against it, stomping it down deep into his chest. He couldn’t lose himself in it. Merewin needed him.
Hauk swung his sword, not with blind rage but with precise execution. Bjalki met the blade with his own, the clang ringing out in the eerily silent night. They both pulled back to circle one another, anticipating, planning. Low sounds of moaning still came from Raganar’s hall, but all else lay still, waiting. It was as if the wind and the darkness, the very trees watched.
Hauk had left his battle axe at Gamal’s house. He held his double edged long sword before him with one hand, parallel to the ground. The moon shot strange shadows downward making it difficult to see Bjalki’s dark eyes. Eyes told Hauk a foe’s plan for attack. Hauk inhaled the chilled air like water, cooling the fire that burned from his belly. Battle energy, the beast, surged through him, boiling close to rage.
Must keep control. A plan, if he had a plan, he was in control. He would cut off Bjalki’s arm first. He wouldn’t kill him for he knew too much. He needed to carve the information out of his flesh. Where was he keeping Merewin?
“Skin so sweet,” Bjalki taunted, his large tongue hanging out as he grinned. “Such a lovely neck I licked from her ear down to...”
Hauk roared, swinging a mighty blow, but Bjalki had been ready for it and easily side-stepped the passionate strike, coming back with his own. Only Hauk’s strength held Bajalki back as his sword took the advantage. Hauk struck again, desperate to keep the beast tucked deep inside. To let the rage out would disorder his reactions, ruin the attack. He needed to win, he needed to get to Merewin. Hauk exhaled the hatred smoking through his mind as he parried against Bjalki’s strong thrusts. Strike after strike.
“And those breasts,” Bjalki grunted out, between blows. “So round and soft, I will suckle them well.”
Step, turn, strike high, strike low, turn, thrust. Hauk blocked out Bjalki’s words, letting calm control harness the beast. Hauk had prepared for this his whole life, enemy after enemy. The movements were like a familiar dance. Slowly Hauk began to lead the dance, pressing ever so slightly at his foe so that Bjalki wouldn’t notice how the tide of the battle turned. Tire your enemy first, then surprise them with your strength.
If only the enemy who had taken his family had been of flesh and bone. He’d have battled them, hacked them, spilled their blood for daring to touch his son, his brother, his family. Swing. Dodge. Turn. But the enemy had been elusive, a disease that ravaged their bodies before his eyes. He’d paid huge sums of gold to the healers for help, help that they promised they could provide for the right price. But they had lied. Hauk growled low as his swing dripped with emotion. Bjalki nicked him and smiled as he circled, catching his breath.
And once again, an enemy sought Hauk’s family. But this time, the enemy stood before him. If only he could keep his concentration, keep the fire smothered deep under layers of training and experience. To save them, he must.
“She was panting when I left her,” Bjalki taunted, and threw his bulk against Hauk, knocking him off balance for a moment. He swung towards Hauk’s sword arm.
Clang! Iron against iron, brute strength against cold power. Round and round Hauk moved, meeting each thrust, each angle, pushing, always driving forward. As Hauk came down hard, Bjalki’s other hand twisted and plunged a blade into Hauk.
Burning seared through Hauk’s sword arm as the dagger lodged in the flesh of his shoulder. Hauk pulled the dagger out of his arm and whipped it through the air. Bjalki dodged and the blade sliced through the cloth sleeve that hung from his arm, clattering to the solid ground. Bjalki laughed and lunged. Hauk grabbed his sword with his other hand and met Bjalki’s attack. There was a good reason why Hauk trained with both his arms.
Bjalki frowned, but then grinned.
“You’re losing blood, Hauk. It’s only a matter of time before you fall.” Bjalki thrust again, a renewed energy making him almost giddy. “And then I will ride back and fuck her,” Bjalki breathed hard, spitting out the last two words. “I think I’ll ride her from behind like an animal first.” Bjalki swung around with all his strength, his foul teeth showing in his feral smile.
Time slowed as Hauk’s muscles revolved around bone, aligning and honing his strength, his warrior power. Hauk sliced downward, the wind whistling along the fine edge of iron.
Bjalki’s laugh turned into a deep guttural grunt as Hauk’s sword cleaved down through muscle, sinew and bone, carving through Bjalki’s neck.
A war cry, born of desperate need, raged up and out of Hauk. “Change of plans, Bjalki!” Hauk roared as he pulled his sword free. Bjalki’s head thumped to the churned up dirt as his body toppled over into a growing pool of blood. “Change of plans,” Hauk said, his chest heaving, his sword outstretched, “You die.”
“By Odin, where are you, Bjalki?” Svala hissed toward the darkness.
Merewin twisted her hands in the leather binding while Svala’s gaze searched the dark woods. If she could only losen it enough to slip it off. Merewin sat on the other side of the fire, her bare legs as close to the heat as she could get without being hit by the sparks that spit out wildly into the darkness. The wind pushed the smoke around the clearing. Could Hauk smell the smoke? Was he even looking for her?
Svala paced on the other side of the fire. She mumbled to herself and wiped at her eyes. Svala turned a tear streaked face toward Merewin. “Whore, this is all your fault,” she sneered, and kicked a jagged rock. Merewin ducked her head as the stone skidded past and plopped into the murky pond. Had the woman gone completely insane? Of course she had. A sane woman wouldn’t poison half the town and kidnap a woman she planned to kill, if her brother didn’t with rape.
A twig cracked in the woods. “Bjalki?” Svala cried, turning toward the noise. Merewin’s heart raced but she took a deep breath and worked at the leather binding her hands together. “Bjalki?” There was no answer. Perhaps it was some wild animal. A crazed blood hungry wolf would be better than Bjalki.
“Something’s wrong,” Svala whispered tightly, and swore into the night. Her hands clenched and unclenched. She stomped against the packed dirt. Svala glanced back and forth between Merewin and the surrounding darkness. Hair from her normally kempt braid stuck out at odd angles and her eyes were wide open, wild. She breathed hard through her mouth and swallowed several times before slipping her dagger back out from its sheath.
“He’s taking too long,” she said to Merewin. “I can’t have someone find you still alive.” Merewin noticed that Svala’s hands trembled. “I will have to kill you now.”
“Svala.” Merewin whispered, her hands still tied. “Ye doona have to do this. I can help ye.”
“Help me?” Svala hissed. “You can’t help me. I am pregnant, not married and pregnant. My child wil
Merewin felt the edge of the pond with her foot and stopped. There was no where else to go. “Surely Ragnar will help ye,” Merewin insisted, trying to distract the crazed woman from her advance.
“Ha! Ragnar. He hates me.” Svala stopped and looked at Merewin’s hands. “If you were to kill yourself, where would you slice?” She paused and stared at Merewin, as if expecting her to actually answer. “I think your wrists, but you wouldn’t have them bound if you were killing yourself. Stupid me. Then they’d know someone else had sacrificed you.”
“Svala, ye told Bjalki that ye would wait until,” Merewin swallowed, her stare watching for any signs of lunging, “until he returned for me.”
Svala shook her head. “He’s taking too long. I can’t wait.” Svala moved a large flat stone near the fire. She opened several vials. “These,” she said indicating the viles, “are the poisons I used. I’ll leave them here with you, so if people don’t believe it was the lack of your healing that hurt them, then they’ll believe you poisoned them.” She nodded and smiled. “It’s really a wonderful plan,” she said delightedly, and nodded at Merewin. “Now let’s cut those bindings.” Svala moved toward Merewin.
This was her chance. As soon as the bindings were cut, Merewin was ready to use her remaining strength to hit the knife from Svala’s grasp. Then she’d run. Her bare legs were long and used to running. The need to survive would push her faster than this demented woman.
Svala paused and rolled her eyes. “Nay, nay, that won’t do,” she laughed. The eerie self-appreciated humor chilled Merewin more than Svala’s anger. “You’ll just try to get away, then. I’ll kill you first, and then,” she emphasized the word, “then I’ll cut the bindings.” Svala nodded. “Almost made a mistake.” She stepped up to Merewin.
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