Valkyrie Slumbering, page 1
Copyright 2013 Lilly VanHorn.
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First eBook Edition: March 2013
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarities to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Because of the dynamic nature of the internet, any web address or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Valkyrie Slumbering/Lilly VanHorn —1st ed.
[1. Fantasy—Fiction 2. Erotic—Fiction 3. Iceland—Fiction 4. Norse—Fiction ]
Stock imagery from Thinkstock. Cover design by CP Design
Table of Contents
Long blond locks flying, I spin and thrust in a breathtaking dance that gives the illusion I am one with the sword I swing. I block, parry, and finish with a high leap and complete spin in the air to land with a dramatic flourish in a deep stance. Applause breaks out among the crowd as I bow low and do my best to once again look demure and harmless. Sweat tickles fine lines down between my breasts as it drips into my low bodice.
“Thank you,” I offer up in my most gracious tone as those from my audience place coins in the small bowl at my feet.
A grin pulls at my lips as I sheathe my sword to pick up the bowl and see the glitter of not only copper, but also silver within. With a content sigh, I tuck a lock of long straight hair the color of honey behind a pointed ear. Gasps sound around me, and people begin to whisper as they move away.
“… line of Alfhiem,” I hear.
A derisive snort follows it. “Hardly, half-elf at best.”
Grinding my teeth, I block out their voices. Even a moment is too much to forget myself. I tug the hair back over my ear, concealing it. As I empty the coins into my pouch and return the bowl to my pack, I notice a man from the audience lingering. Only one. Not much of a surprise considering the mistake I just made. Although, even after revealing what I am, the type I hunt would linger about. With only one drawn in, it appears I have chosen the wrong town.
The man is nearly six feet tall with a broad, muscular frame and dark blond hair cropped unusually short. Such dark hair sets him apart from the sea of wheat colored locks that are natural to my people. There is a certain allure to that darkness. Leather armor stretches tight across his chest, marking him as a warrior. Brilliant blue bracelets of knotwork circle his arms just above his biceps. No, not bracelets, I realize upon closer inspection, but tattoos. I’ve never seen their like.
The long sword across his back speaks of his refinement. His handsome features are accented by blue eyes as bright as sapphires. They are the kind of eyes a woman longs to see hovering over her in the night. My gaze catches on the delicate point of one ear that pushes through his hair. Alfhiem blood and not afraid to show it—that’s a rare and dangerous combination.
Something stirs deep inside, a reaction to his boldness, or attraction, I’m not sure which. He’s definitely not the type I hunt, but oh how I wish I was. Coming across another half-elf is a rare thing.
His smile is infectious as he walks up to me. I find myself returning it.
“Ye’re fantastic,” he says in a deep, admiring tone. His accent is so thick it comes out sounding more like ‘year fantastic’ but the brogue has a certain appeal I can’t deny. I’ve only ever heard the like once before from a slave brought back from a raid. The voice coupled with those lovely blue eyes makes muscles low in my body tighten, reminding me of how long it’s been since I’ve been with a man.
“Thank you. And you are?” I ask as I sling my pack over my shoulder. I try to convince myself that I’m just being polite, but honestly, it’s those eyes, and the way he fills out that armor in all the right places. That he is like me doesn’t hurt either. I’ve never met anyone like me.
“Grímur, but ye can call me Grím. Pleased to meet ye, lady. . .” He lets his voice trail off.
“Kyra,” I say, giving him my loveliest smile.
“Tis rare to see such fine swordsmanship. Ye make it into a beautiful dance,” he tells me. His accent is heavy on the r’s and the way he sort of rolls them sends a flush through me. And it doesn’t escape me that he leaves out the part about it being rare to see such swordsmanship from a woman. I’m not sure if that charms me or repulses me. I’ll wait to decide.
Keeping this up is a bad idea, but what else am I going to do? If my display didn’t attract anyone who can lead me to my prey, then there isn’t anyone here who can. “Well that’s what swordplay is, isn’t it? A dance?” I ask.
“True. Though many people only see the violence and not the art in it. So are ye on yer way to the contest?” he asks.
He makes his way to a board covered in parchments, and I follow, compelled by a force that I try to tell myself is merely boredom. The gap between his leather back piece and breeches flashes skin and shows definition in all the right places. Yeah, boredom, sure, that’s it.
“Someone with yer skill I thought surely would be on their way there,” he says and points to a poster as we reach the board.
Written in fine calligraphy, in Icelandic with runes bordering the edges of the parchment, it reads:
King Hildur seeks seven warriors to undergo a secret quest.
Riches will be bestowed upon the winners of a contest of his majesty’s design, which will consist of a riding competition, swordfight, archery and hand-to-hand combat. Anonymity will be maintained.
The date the contest is to be held is written below the statement. It’s less than seven days from today. My breath catches loudly in my throat as a hand goes involuntarily to my breast. If anonymity is encouraged then that means the king is searching for vagabonds, thieves, and the like. Every lowlife who can swing a sword with any skill will be there. Respectable Vikings will steer clear. Which means the one I’m hunting is likely to be there.
“I take it ye didn’t know about it,” Grím says with a raised eyebrow.
Excitement flashes through me. This is exactly the kind of opportunity I’ve been looking for. Surely the one I’m hunting can’t resist this. It seems too good to be true.
Beside me Grím laughs and asks, “Are ye a’right?”
“Oh, yes,” I finally say before grasping his leather tunic and pulling him down for a kiss.
Fire dances across me as our lips brush. Though I meant to keep it brief, I’m drawn in like a moth. My lips urge his apart, and I thrust my tongue into his mouth. He tastes of molasses. Sparks spread into me as his tongue dances with mine, making me want to press against him and feel how hard that body really is. But I don’t. Instead I pull back.
Before he can recover, I turn on my heal and start to walk briskly away. His boots pad softly against the cobblestones as he jogs after me. Damn, I’ve done it now.
“I take it ye’re goin’ t
“Oh, yes,” I say with a half-laugh that sounds near hysterics, even to my own ears.
Surely he thinks I’m crazy. A woman going to a sword competition. Even Viking women don’t normally do such a thing. I’ve no time to explain it to him, and I don’t care to.
“Let me buy ye somethin’ to eat then,” Grím suggests as he grasps my hand, slowing down my pace. His hand encases mine completely. My first instinct is to yank away and be free of him, but I stop at the last moment. His grip is light, and though his hand is rough, callused from wielding a sword, it is gentle. In its own way, that is just as scintillating as his probing tongue was a moment ago.
What am I thinking? I can’t get distracted like this. I turn to him. “I have to try to buy transport or a horse. There isn’t much time.”
I dump the contents of my money pouch into my hand. It is a very meager amount. My last victim was over a week ago, and he had only a few coppers on him.
“Looks like that might not do it,” he says.
“It has to. I have to get there,” I say. My voice is soft and urgent, revealing more of my desperation to this man than I mean to.
Grím straightens and closes my fingers tight around the few precious coins I hold. “Well then, I have two horses. Ye may ride with me,” he says as he bows his head low, his long lashes sweeping dramatically.
It is just as likely that he wants someone to warm his furs at night as it is that he truly wants to assist me. And Odin help me, that thought isn’t at all unpleasant. But distractions are dangerous. Regardless, horseless and nearly copperless as I am, I am in no position to refuse him. “I couldn’t impose upon you,” I insist, not wanting to seem too easy.
“Nonsense. We half-elves should stick together,” he insists.
For several moments I stare deep into his startling blue eyes, searching for something in their depths. All I see is honesty and mirth. Deep down, I realize, I’m not ready to let him out of my sight. Finally, I ask in a guarded tone, “What would you require in return?”
Though it may be the noon sun, I swear I almost see his eyes twinkle. “Nothin’ but yer company, and perhaps help as a workout partner,” he says.
Trusting my instincts, for they have never led me astray, I nod and hook an arm in one of his. “Workout partner, huh? We’ll see if you can handle me,” I say.
He stiffens beside me and his eyes widen. Clearly the double meaning isn’t lost on him. I must admit, seeing him sweat is something I’m looking forward to.
We sit down to lunch in the packed barroom of a quaint little inn that boasts the finest roast deer in the land. I’m not sure if it’s all that, but it is tender and spicy. All through the meal, Grím listens to my every word as if he’s truly interested, and his eyes never wander to the barmaid whose breasts are nearly spilling out of her bustier. If he weren’t staring at me the entire time, I would almost have thought he didn’t prefer women.
Everyone in the barroom around us seems to be talking about the same thing. Apparently the contest is big news in this small town. No surprise there. We’re a ways inland, which means no excitement from the coast with ships coming and going.
“He killed a dragon you know,” a muscle-bound blond warrior at the table next to us says.
I lean over the table toward Grím and his eyes stray to my cleavage. “Is he talking about King Hildur?”
Grím nods, giving me a sheepish grin as he drags his eyes to my face.
Leaning back in my chair, I tell the man, “Actually I heard he made that story up to instill fear among his subjects.”
The man’s ice blue eyes narrow and his upper lip pulls up as if he finds me distasteful. He grunts at me and continues his tale as if I hadn’t spoken. One of his companions mumbles something about a ‘stupid half-elf’ and another makes a rude comment about a ‘woman playing with swords’. I nearly reach for the dagger at my side, but think better of it. Though he’s an ass, he isn’t the type I hunt. And I only kill those I hunt or those that hunt me.
Storm clouds seem to move across Grím’s eyes and he starts to rise. His teeth clench as he glares toward the table of men. I grab his wrist, my small hand barely making it halfway around. The gentle touch is enough to pull his attention back to me. He sits down slowly, but his eyes remain locked on the men.
As I’m finishing my spiced mutton, I hear the same man say, “They say he’ll hire anyone you know, even thieves and murderers.”
Grím’s eyes meet mine across the table, their weight heavy with thought. “Do ye care?” he asks.
I empty my ale mug before answering. “About what?” I really hope he doesn’t mean the men talking about me. If I cared about such things I would have driven myself mad years ago.
“If he hires murderers and thieves?” Grím asks in a careful tone.
“I’m counting on it,” I tell him, smiling as I do so.
He gives me a handsome smile in return and shakes his head as he pushes away from the table. “Ye’re a puzzle, Kyra,” he says.
Together we rise and leave the barroom to enter the bright sunshine outside. The sun is lower in the sky than I expect it to be; well past midday. Had I really got so caught up in those blue eyes and let him keep me talking that long?
“I mean it, a remarkable puzzle,” Grím says as we step into the dusty street and head toward the stables. He meets my gaze as he says it, and there is admiration in his eyes.
“As are you, a puzzle that is. I’ll let you know about the remarkable part in a sevenday when we reach Hildur’s kingdom,” I say, casting him a demure look over my shoulder.
He laughs, a deep, carefree sound that warms me all over. All the way to the stables he remarks on my fighting style, its beauty and efficiency. I’m left speechless. Being a woman, I’m not really used to the compliments of men when it comes to my skill with a sword. At least not the steel kind.
In the stables wait two sturdy, red horses that stand calmly munching hay in their stalls. Though their coats are short for the summer, their manes still reach well past their necks.
Murmuring soft words to them, Grím digs sweets out of his pocket and feeds them. The big stallion with the crested neck and flowing red mane rubs against Grím’s hand when the treats are gone. After snatching up her treat, the mare nips at his fingers and pins her ears.
Withdrawing his hand, he shakes his head at her. “Ye can ride the mare. Perhaps with yer feminine wiles, ye can get along with her better than I can,” he says.
Laughter bubbles from me. “You don’t know much about mares, do you?”
One of Grím’s dark eyebrows raises, a look that is alluring and dangerous in being so. His smile makes me ache to touch his lips again. It really has been too long if he’s affecting me this way.
“That obvious, eh? I keep her around for a pack horse mostly, but she is broke to ride. So, where do we need to go to get the rest of yer things?” he asks.
I hoist my light pack higher on my shoulder and motion to it with my head. “Nowhere. This is it.”
Grím’s smile fades and a sad look creeps into his eyes. That is the last thing I need.
“I like to travel light,” I put in to try to head off what I see coming.
Cocking his head, he gives me a look that has no doubt melted many a maiden’s heart and probably opened even more bodices. “That’s good, because I’ve been meanin’ to pick up a few extra supplies. Ye won’t mind carryin’ them, will ye?” he says.
How can I argue with that? This one is crafty.
After riding the remainder of the day through rolling green fields we finally stop at a copse of oak trees that line a stream. I dismount and stretch my sore back, rubbing my butt. Being of meager means as I am, it’s been over a moon since I’ve ridden a horse. A deep laugh, the kind meant to echo behind closed doors, sounds behind me.
I feel him approach more than I hear him, a pressure at my back that isn’t altogether unpleasant. My instincts force me to turn just enough that I can see him in my peripheral vision. He secures his horse to a line that he’s strung between two trees then turns to approach me. I remove my hands from my butt, acutely aware that his eyes are lingering there. Arms filled out to perfection from years of sword use reach around me and remove my horse’s saddle. His skin brushes against mine, sending a line of fire to places that haven’t been warm in a very long time.
When he moves away I step back, right into him. The line of his body is hard against mine from my back all the way down to my butt. Then again, that could just be the leather armor. Despite my rationalizations, that line of fire spreads into a river that rushes through my veins.
“Sorry,” his deep voice whispers in my ear.
The feel of his breath sets me to tingling and the fire is so hot now it makes me ache. I move away from him and start to fuss with my bedroll to keep my hands busy. In the distance, the sun casts an orange and red glow across the open fields. Another day has passed and still I haven’t found my prey. But their trail has led me here and all indications show that they are likely entering King Hildur’s contest. I’m on the right trail. I can feel it.
My eyes are drawn to Grím as he starts to gather stones and create a fire pit. Without his help I’d be a day behind. There is time to relax, yet I’ve forgotten how to.
Once we’ve gathered stones and wood, Grím builds a fire and begins to remove his armor. Across the licking yellow flames, I watch as he strips off his forearm pieces, thigh pieces, then chest and back pieces. The swell of his defined chest gives way to valleys of rock hard abdominal muscles that look good enough to lick. Below his belly button runs a thin line of dark hair that disappears into the top of his breeches. My fingers ache to trace that line, and I have to look away otherwise, I fear I’ll dive across the fire and do just that.