Freya Ivarsdóttir is not only the daughter of a jarl and sister to a future jarl but a well-renowned shield maiden. Committed to fighting the evil forces threatening her tribe and her neighbors, Freya does not welcome the attention of Erik Rangvaldson, the son of their neighboring jarl. Forced to work together to defeat their common enemy, Freya must put aside her dislike for the arrogant man who follows her everywhere. Erik may be the most handsome man she has ever seen, but he also aggravates her unlike any other man she knows.
Can Freya trust a man every woman wants?
Erik Rangvaldson has made no attempt to hide his interest in Freya. Attracted to her beauty from the moment he first saw her, and drawn to her fiery spirit from the moment they met, Erik is determined to win Freya over. Sent on a mission together to Scotland, Erik finds himself as focused upon proving his love to Freya as to tracking down the enemy who would steal the land from his father and Freya's.
Will Erik's interest last once the chase ends?
Can this couple trust one another when their lives are in danger? Can they work together to not only defeat their enemies but to find love?
Viking Glory is a steamy historical series that will transport you back to the world of the ancient Norse with brave heroes and even stronger heroines. The series follows the lives and loves of five friends. Brother and sister, Leif and Freya, along with their cousin, Bjorn, and their friends Strian and Tyra sail the seas and conquer hearts. This is a five book series where each book can be read as a standalone but is best read as part of the series.
Release date: December 11, 2020
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 250
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“Does he have nothing better to do than stare?” Freya huffed as she and Tyra left the training field. Freya Ivarsdóttir was a renowned and much feared shieldmaiden and the daughter of a jarl. At twenty-four years old, she had already spent half of her life training and raiding with her Norse tribe.
Tyra looked back over her shoulder and scanned the field of battling Norsemen as they trained. As Freya’s best friend, Tyra was used to Freya’s sometimes brittle disposition, and she knew when her friend was hiding something. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The ongoing skirmishes against their neighbors and the general way of life in the northern Trondelag meant the men and women tasked with defending their tribes trained daily. Tyra watched as they swung axes, thrust swords, and hurled spears. She looked around at the many longhouses that created the perimeter of the homestead. Women stood outside doing laundry, one woman swept dust out her front door, and several people stood around engaged in easy conversation.
“I don’t see anyone. Well, maybe a ghost from your past, but he’s watched you for years.”
“What? No. Wait, what do you mean he’s watched me for years?”
“Ever since the two of you a few summers ago—Well, you know. Skellig’s had his eye on you, and I think you broke his heart. I believe he’s hoping for more than just a reunion under the furs.”
“Then who could you have meant?” Tyra smirked before adding in a sing-song voice, “Erik?”
“Who else? The man is a burr I can’t seem to pick loose. He’s always staring and trying to be charming. He couldn’t possibly be any less.”
“That’s not what the other women are saying.”
Freya felt a surge of heat and then a chill pass through her before she swallowed. She would never admit how much a comment like that bothered her. The son of their neighboring ally had been staying in their homestead, in her parents’ longhouse, for the past two months. She did not want to admit Tyra was right.
Every woman gawked at Erik Rangvaldson, and just about every single woman Freya knew offered some invitation to the man. His height set him apart from everyone but a few. Freya knew from his family’s extended stay that his looks favored his mother, but his temperament favored his father. Dark honey blonde hair and piercing blue eyes seemed to follow her everywhere. Despite all the attention he received, Freya rankled at the perverse pleasure he took at taunting and annoying her.
“They’re welcome to him,” she retorted. Freya tried to look over her shoulder discreetly, but she was not sly enough. Erik was watching the two women walk away, and he had the nerve to wave, then wink.
Tyra could not keep from laughing even though Freya picked up the pace with a huff. The women continued to walk away from the training field and up the hill towards the jarl’s longhouse. They were quiet for a moment as they trudged up the hill. It was a short walk, but it gave Freya an opportunity to compose herself.
“Freya,” Tyra said in a tone only a childhood friend could get away with. “You’re not fooling anyone. Not even yourself.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Why waste the energy pretending you’re not attracted to him? It’s clear Erik’s interested in you. He’s the son of a jarl and cousin to your sister-in-law. He’s a fitting choice for you.”
“If I wanted a good tumble and a babe in my belly. But he has no intention of anything more.”
Freya swung her long platinum blonde braid back over her shoulder as she adjusted her bow on her shoulder. She caught herself before her nervous habit of jerking her vest more snugly closed got the better of her. Her lithe and well-toned figure was muscular, even more so than her shieldmaiden counterparts, but despite that, she never seemed to be able to hide the ample bosom she inherited from her mother. She was self-conscious and hid it with a faked confidence.
“Is more what you want?”
“I never said I wanted any.”
Tyra shook her darker head as they entered Freya’s parents’ longhouse. They moved through the quiet main room that would later that night fill to bursting with the members of their tribe along with those of Erik’s tribe.
The two women made their way to the kitchens where Freya’s mother was directing the many thralls and free women who worked in the overheated, crowded space. She smiled as Freya placed her bow in a corner and rolled up her sleeves before washing her hands. She detested touching food with any dirt under her nails. Freya rolled out dough and refused to look at Tyra, who snickered again but let the matter rest. The two women spent the rest of the afternoon assisting the others prepare the evening meal before readying themselves to join the others.
Erik Rangvaldson watched as the most stunning and most frustrating woman he ever met walked towards the jarl’s longhouse. He never seemed to be able to tear his attention away from her, and his eyes wandered to wherever she was. Erik knew everyone around him knew of his attraction to Freya. He was even sure she knew, but nothing he did seemed to gain him any favor. He remembered his first encounter with Freya, when he arrived two months earlier to inform his father of troubles at home.
Freya had been standing on the docks, and in his hurry to find his father, he did not see her. But it was not long before he heard her. She questioned his actions from the very beginning and had been a test ever since. The more time he spent with her, the more his feelings grew from interest to desire to unrequited love. The past two months had been the sweetest torment he had known since he first discovered his body’s reaction to a woman.
“She’ll never have you.”
Erik ground his teeth. He recognized the voice, and he was tired of hearing it. He looked over at the man who was an admirable warrior but an ever-present naysayer. “Skellig, you seem to understand her well. Is that why she seeks your company so often?”
“I certainly understood what she wanted when we kept each other warm at night.”
Erik’s hands fisted before he forced them to relax. He would not show this man just how much it bothered him to know that he and Freya were once lovers. “But that was years ago, and she has not been back to you since. The cold must not bother her.”
“Could you two refrain from discussing my sister’s private affairs where anyone can hear you?” Leif Ivarrson growled as he approached his new friend and the warrior he respected but did not like. He would never discuss it in the open, but he was glad his sister only spent a moon with Skellig. He did not trust the man around his sister. He suspected there was a violent streak he wanted nowhere near her. He had no interest in having to kill a reliable and fierce warrior, but he would always choose his sister first.
Erik nodded and was glad for a reason to change the subject. Discussing Freya with any other man caused rage to fester within his gut. He never directed his anger at Freya, but at himself and whichever man made the mistake of bringing her up. He was unaccustomed to jealousy but had recognized it from the start.
“Our fathers would have us join them before the meal. There may be new developments.” Leif, who resembled Freya and their mother, exchanged a meaningful look with Erik.
“Then we should make ourselves more presentable.” Erik nodded to the other man as he and Leif walked toward the bathhouse.
“You shouldn’t let him goad you. He does it because he can, and you shouldn’t make your feelings so obvious.”
“That’s quite a statement coming from you after you mooned over my cousin. You still do.”
“And she’s my wife.”
“She wasn’t when you met her.”
“Fate brought us together. I just thank the gods they did. I will never deny how much I love my wife or how enamored I was with her from the beginning. But she reciprocated my feelings. I can’t say the same for you.”
“You speak the truth even if it’s not what I want to hear.”
The men entered the bathhouse and stripped down before soaking in the tubs filled with steaming hot water. Both sighed as the warmth seeped into their aching muscles.
“What do you think our fathers have to say?” Erik looked over at Leif after dunking his head.
“I have no idea, but I can guarantee it’s about either our enemy or his brother, if not both.”
“That’s a given. Do you think any more information has arrived about how our nemesis is financing the mercenaries that now make up his army or where they come from?”
“I don’t know, but I hope so. Just as he intends, these skirmishes are wearing down our supplies and our morale. He dances around, showing himself just long enough to cause trouble before retreating. Who does he think he is? The incarnation of Loki? It’s tiresome. But he does it on purpose.”
“Agreed. I only wish we could discover where his money comes from. You and the others destroyed his homestead and took anyone who survived as a thrall. There was nothing left for him.”
“I know that is now a large part of what drives him, but the money! I just wish we could figure out how he is paying for what seems like a never-ending stream of mercenaries.”
The men finished scrubbing themselves and moved onto the cold-water soak. The homesteaders built part of the bathhouse over an inlet of the fjord. They eased in, but the cold was breathtaking and kept them from further conversation.
Leif and Erik arrived at the longhouse just as Sigrid, Leif’s wife and Erik’s cousin, arrived. Leif pulled her in for a passionate kiss, and Erik looked away. He was accustomed to the newlyweds’ frequent displays of affection, but they only gave rise to his jealousy again. He longed for that opportunity with Freya.
“Perfect timing, wife.”
“Indeed. I need to talk to all of you. Now.”
Leif looked down at his petite wife and read her look. Erik recognized it too.
“A vision?” Both men asked at the same time.
“Yes. And a particularly vivid one.”
“They seem to grow stronger the further along you are.” Leif rubbed his wife’s belly.
“True. Please can you stop.” She swatted his hand away with a smile. “I need to speak to your father and my uncle. You are a distraction when you do that.” She ended on a whisper, but Erik still heard her. He could not help but smile. He was happy for his cousin. She had not had an easy start to life.
Erik spied Freya standing just inside the main room watching Leif and Sigrid. He witnessed her look of longing before their eyes met and the expression snapped away. Erik seized the opportunity and walked to her.
Freya thought about running. She was withdrawn and quiet while she worked in the kitchen. She heard the conversations floating around her and answered when she had to, but she felt more introspective than usual. Her mind kept jumping back to Erik and the way he made her feel. Memories of them fighting together, back-to-back, swirled through her mind as other, less scary memories jockeyed for their turn. She thought about the time spent bantering and even arguing. Erik kept her mind sharp. He challenged her in ways no one else did. She thought about the way he often defended her ideas or encouraged her to share her thoughts when the tribal councils met. She found all of her drawn to him—her head, her heart, and her body. The longer she spent getting to know him, the more the traitorous trifecta insisted she was already in love with him.
Freya’s lip curled. “Hello, son of a pig farmer.”
“Why must you persist in insulting my father? What has he done to you?” Erik smirked. Freya shot him a glare as she walked past, but he caught her arm and steered her to a quiet corner.
“Release me before you lose that hand.” Freya tried to pull away, but his grip was like a vice even though his hand felt gentle. She could not understand how such a contradiction existed, but part of her did not want him to let go any more than she wanted to admit that. This tug of war between her emotions had been going on the entire time she knew the man. From the day she met him, she felt irresistibly drawn to him, but she fought it with every breath.
“Hush your waspish tongue for just long enough to let me ask you something.”
Freya breathed in the fresh scent of Erik’s hair and skin. Tiny droplets from his damp hair dripped onto his collar. She had an overwhelming curiosity to know what his hair would feel like if she were to run her fingers through it. His touch, his smell, his looks, and even the sound of his voice wreaked havoc on her senses. The only one missing was taste. She almost licked her lips. She chided herself and breathed in as she shut her eyes for a long blink. When she opened them, he was staring at her in a way she did not understand. A way that made a low ache begin in her belly while causing irritation to flare in her mind.
“I’d like to know what Skellig is to you?”
Freya jerked back.“That is none of your business.”
“It is when I sense he wants more than mere friendship and harbors more than respect for you as a warrior.”
“It absolutely is not your business. Not what he feels nor what I do.”
“So, you welcome his attention?”
“I welcome no one’s.”
“That much you make obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s what you feel. Do you welcome his attentions, Freya?”
Freya’s blue-green hazel eyes looked into his ice blue ones, and she saw a determination there that she might admire if it was directed elsewhere. “Erik, it’s none of your business.”
“That refrain is getting boring. I’m worried.” There. He admitted it, and it made Freya pause. She unfolded arms she had not realized she crossed.
“Why would it worry you when it’s not your concern?”
“You’re my friend, and I don’t like the way he looks at you.”
Freya opened her mouth to retort that he looked at her just as much, but she was not ready for that conversation, and she was aware that he was the second person that day to tell her Skellig stared at her. “We’re friends?”
“I believe so. I would hope so.” Erik swallowed as he tried to hide what he thought was a beseeching tone. Freya’s lack of surprise made him believe only his ears heard it. “I don’t trust him around you.”
“He is rarely around me anymore.” Freya watched under her lashes as Erik’s entire body went rigid for a moment. A reminder of her past with another man made his chest tightened.
“Freya, I’m serious. He doesn’t look at you with admiration or even longing. It’s something else. I would call it possessiveness. I can’t stop you from choosing whomever you want to warm your bed, but I can say I believe he would be a hard man to live with if you took him as your husband. I suspect he would beat you within a moon of your wedding. You may be the jarl’s daughter, but he will claim you as his property. No woman deserves that, least of all you. It would kill your spirit if you didn’t kill him first.”
Freya tried to take in all Erik said. He recognized what she had always sensed and the reason she called off their liaison. She also heard him state how he believed a man should treat a woman, a wife. She also knew he was right that if she ever ended up with a man like Skellig, there was little her position as a jarl’s daughter would do to save her. And she would kill any man who attempted to beat her.
Freya took a moment to consider her reaction. Something she rarely did with Erik, but the deep concern she saw in his eyes made her pick her words with more care.
“I do consider you a friend.” Freya felt her body sway towards Erik’s at that admission, so she pulled back further into the corner. “I already know this about Skellig. I saw hints in the brief time we were together. I can’t undo the past, and there is no point in regretting the mistake I made in sharing his bed, but I recognized him for who he is. I will never renew my relationship with him.”
Erik nodded. He wanted to ask who she would consider a relationship with, but as tempted as he was, he did not want to hear the answer. He might be a glutton for punishment with his attraction to her, but he was no masochist.
“I learned a good number of things from that brief interlude. The biggest lesson was a jarl’s daughter has no business entering a relationship with anyone other than the man she will marry. I keep my dalliances to just that. He is the only man I ever returned to over and over.”
Freya shook her head before looking up at Erik, but she could not look him in the eye, so instead she focused over his shoulder.
“He was the first man to ever pay attention. My father and Leif scared away all the other men. He persisted, and at first, I admired that about him. He said the right things and acted as though he cared. He soothed my fears and made me feel special. But within that moon I suspected he coveted becoming the jarl’s son-in-law more than he did me. As the new moon began, I tried to break things off, but he was stubborn. By the end of our time together, I had only been with him twice that second moon. The novelty wore off.”
“Freya,” Erik breathed. “Every man should make you feel worthy. You are special. In every way.”
He reached out the back of his fingers to her face, and when she did not flinch, he stroked along her cheekbone before tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
“I understand why your father and brother were, are, so protective of you. You are a rarity to be protected and cherished. I wouldn’t want to ever see you with a man who doesn’t realize that.”
A lump formed in the back of Freya’s throat, and she felt tears prickle behind her eyes. She wanted to flee. She wanted to hide her reaction to his nearness, to his tenderness. But her desire for that nearness and tenderness won. She tilted her head towards his hand, and his palm cupped her cheek.
They stood together as Erik’s thumb grazed back and forth over her cheekbone. Freya looked down to see one of her hands found its way to his chest. Her palm rested over the steady beat of his heart, and the heat he generated warmed her arm all the way to the elbow. In that moment, she was ready to relent. She was ready to admit how much she wanted him, and how much she feared he would reject her once he had her.
“If you were mine, I would never use you.”
Freya felt a tear form at the corner of her eye, and Erik brushed it away before it could fall.
“There you two are,” boomed Ivar.
Erik and Freya jumped apart like two scalded cats. Freya stepped past Erik with only the briefest of glances.
“What was that about?” Her father asked as she joined him. “Do I need to speak to him? He isn’t trying to pressure you, is he?”
“Not at all. Something concerned him while we were training, but he didn’t want to bring it up in front of anyone. He didn’t want to embarrass me. He may irritate me to no end, but he is a friend, and I trust him on the battlefield.”
Freya moved to stand near Tyra and her cousin Bjorn or rather between them as they glared at one another. It was the excuse she needed to end a conversation with her father she was not sure she could steer.
“Tell your friend she is being unreasonable returning to full training. Does she wish to send herself to Valhalla? Where is the glory in that?” Bjorn huffed.
Tyra had been badly injured shortly after Freya met Erik. Their tribes fought together against their common enemy, Jarl Hakin Hakinsson and his brother Grímr, and during one of the fiercest battles, both Tyra and Bjorn were nearly killed. Tyra took an ax to her chest when she stepped in front of Bjorn to protect him. They were separated from the others and forced to work as a team. Bjorn’s arm was broken but it healed quickly compared to Tyra’s chest. Tyra nearly died from loss of blood and then infection.
“I know I’m not healed, and I’m not back to full training. You sound worse than an old woman. You whittle and whine. It’s annoying.”
“And I didn’t slog my way through dead bodies with an injured arm and then tend you for a fortnight just to watch you expire because you can’t sit still.” Bjorn’s voice rose with each word, and he punctuated his declaration with a snarl.
“No one asked you to do all that.”
“You ungrateful wench.”
Tyra leaned around Freya and laughed at Bjorn. “A wench gets bedded which is more than I can say for the dry spell I hear you are having.”
Freya wanted to laugh so hard she snorted. Instead, she stepped forward to keep Bjorn from strangling her best friend.
“My fate is tied to yours since you kept me from being killed, and I kept you alive after someone injured you. I don’t want to meet the gods any earlier than they intended just because of your foolhardiness.”
“And how many times must I tell you it does not tie your fate to mine? Yours has nothing to do with mine. I have released you of any burden or debt you believe exists.”
Freya caught Sigrid’s stare as she too tried not to laugh. Sigrid walked over and did nothing to contain her laughter.
“You two are worse than brother and sister,” Sigrid said with a raised eyebrow.
“We are not,” they both replied. And now Freya joined Sigrid’s laughter.
“You are. You’re worse than Leif and I ever were.”
“Sigrid, tell this man our futures are no more linked than a bear and a boar.”
“Of course, something links your futures.” Bjorn gloated at Sigrid’s pronouncement, but it faltered when she continued. “We are all linked as a tribe, and you are both linked with Leif, Freya, and Strian because your lives joined when you were children. Stop sounding like children.”
Sigrid moved away from the trio as Freya watched Tyra and Bjorn turn their backs to one another. They had always had an antagonistic relationship even as children. Bjorn resented how long Tyra could outmaneuver him when they trained, and Tyra disliked his arrogance.
There was no more time to talk as everyone moved to their seats for the evening meal. The head table had two more added to accommodate Jarl Ivar’s family along with Jarl Rangvald’s. Ivar sat in the center with his wife Lena to his left and Freya to the left of her. Further down, Lorna, Erik’s mother and Rangvald’s wife, sat with the younger four children. To Ivar’s right sat Leif then Sigrid followed by Bjorn. The table wrapped around so Erik and Rangvald sat between their family and Ivar’s. There was just enough space for thralls to move about as they served the food and replenished drinks. It was an unusual configuration, but it allowed for conversation.
“Sigrid, Leif mentioned you’d had a vision this afternoon. What have you seen?” Ivar hushed his normally loud voice as he attempted to keep the conversation among the two jarls’ families.
“It’s not so much what I saw during the vision but what I heard. The men spoke with the same burr as Aunt Lorna. The mercenaries are Scots.” Sigrid looked apologetically to her aunt, who Rangvald married when he brought her back to the Trondelag. After his warband raided her home and killed her parents, she had little reason to stay.
“Don’t be embarrassed of what you saw, Sigrid. A Highlander can be just as much a bastard as any Norseman. Just remember, we aren’t Scots. We’re Highlanders.” The burr always softened her words even when she smirked at her own husband.
“I am not a bastard, just an arse.” Her husband responded around a mouthful of food and a smile. He winked at his wife. “Though she is right. The Scots, or rather Highlanders, make war just as easily as we do. They fight amongst themselves more than they fight us. It’s what makes them so easy to raid. Neighbors won’t help neighbors.”
“We should crush his chances for more warriors.” Freya spoke up. She looked around the table, waiting for one of the men to censure her. Instead, she saw looks of agreement, and Erik was nodding his head.
“Freya is right. We can’t hope to end this until Hakin and Grímr no longer have the resources to keep the fight going. We either convince those working for him to stop, or we force the brothers who plague us to give up.” It was Freya’s turn to nod her head as Erik spoke, but she stopped short when she realized she was agreeing with him. The conversation before the meal still unsettled her, or rather her body’s reaction to Erik’s contact frazzled her nerves.
“That is why I will go scout.” Freya’s pronouncement received the looks of censure she expected.
“Absolutely not,” Erik pronounced.
“That’s impossible,” Ivar spoke over anyone else.
“Hear me out. Leif won’t sail without Sigrid, and she’s already carrying their first child. Bjorn won’t sail without Tyra because he believes she’s on death’s doorstep and the gods tie their fates. Tyra still isn’t recovered enough for the voyage or the fight. And I’m sorry, Strian, but your leg isn’t healed enough either. That leaves me.”
“It does not. It leaves me. I understand the Highlanders better than you do. After all, I grew up with one,” Erik argued.
“And I know the way south better than you. You haven’t raided in months. I returned from one just two moons ago.”
Erik and Freya no longer noticed anyone else at the table as they tried to stare each other down. Neither would relent. Ivar and Rangvald looked at one another and shrugged while Lena and Lorna grinned.
“You may as well let them,” Lorna laughed. “Saves time for all of us.”
There was no one at the table, except perhaps Erik and Freya, who did not understand Lorna’s true meaning.
“You are not going, Freya. This is a mission for only a handful of men. I’m not even taking a full crew.”
“I will give you that. It calls for only a handful. Too bad your ego is too large to fit in that group.” Freya turned to look at her father. “I will leave the day after tomorrow. It will give me time to ready the supplies, choose my warriors.” She shot a glare at Erik for assuming only men could make the trip, “And prepare my smaller boat and horses. I sail in two days at sunrise with the tide.”
“Your ship won’t be able to accommodate those thralls we may take.”
“Of course, it will,” Freya cut in. “That’s its design. We use it when we sail inland because it’s shallower and less noticeable despite being longer. It also has a specially reinforced hull at the stern where the floorboards come up to create storage for prisoners. There is a cage of sorts and extra locks to secure it.”
Once again, they glared at one another. Rangvald nodded at Ivar, who announced his decision. “You both go. In Freya’s boat with just the number of warriors you need to manage. Warriors from both tribes. You leave with tomorrow evening’s tide. Your purpose is to scout. Only engage if you must.”
“I must speak to my warriors now. Excuse me.” Freya stood from the table. She scanned the crowded main room and made her way to five men she knew she could trust to not only fight but to follow her commands without question. They would do more than their fair share of work since they would travel with a diminished crew.
“Sven, Knutr, Gauti, Frode prepare to sail tomorrow. Gauti and Frode tell your wives they sail too. We scout the Scottish coast.” Freya turned around, but Skellig stood so close their chests bumped together.
“I’m here. You need not look for me.” Skellig’s sour breath wafted across Freya’s face. He had already imbibed more than his share of mead.
“I wasn’t.” Freya tried to step around him, but he grasped her arm. Unlike Erik’s touch earlier, this one had no gentleness. With a flick of her wrist, she had a blade in her hand against Skellig’s ribs. “Let go.”
“You know I’m a better warrior than either of the women. You wouldn’t need them with me there.”
“I don’t want you.” Freya’s words, though quiet, made everyone around them go silent. Everyone knew this standoff was about more than just this voyage. Despite the knife against his ribs, Skellig’s grip tightened. From over Freya’s shoulder came a voice she had never been gladder to hear.
“Let her go now, or you die here. You don’t manhandle a jarl’s daughter. You have no claim to her.” Erik’s words held weight with their quiet menace.
Skellig released her with a grin. “We shall resolve this on your return.”
Erik stepped forward and pulled Freya back against him. His stance staked his claim before everyone.
“It is resolved.” Erik’s hushed words carried now that the entire room watched the exchange. Freya listened as the conversation about her no longer included her. She seethed as both men spoke about her as though she was a spoil of war to claim. The matter was far from resolved.
“You are not coming, and I don’t want you. We will not speak of this again.” Freya said to Skellig before shooting daggers from her eyes at Erik as she stepped away from them both. “Tell your wives to be ready.” She shot over her shoulder as she left the main room and made her way to her chamber.
Erik remained in his spot as the standoff continued without Freya caught between them.
“She made her point clear. Leave her alone.”
“So now you’ve found your bollocks and are claiming her. She didn’t stick around or agree. I bet your balls are as blue as your eyes.”
“But she also didn’t declare before two tribes that she didn’t want me.”
Skellig lunged forward, but it was Erik’s turn to press a blade against him. Except this time Erik pointed the blade just below Skellig’s chin where it met his throat.
“I wouldn’t,” was all Erik said.
“Maybe not here.” Skellig smirked before storming out.
Erik refused to look anywhere but straight ahead as he made his way around the tables back to his seat. He wanted to chase after Freya, but he knew he had to wait, or there would be even more talk than there already was. The only thing he was unsure of was whether waiting would cool Freya’s ire or give it more time to grow.
“Thank you, even if my daughter won’t say it. The man is becoming unreasonable. He will not make that mistake again. You are right. You can count it as resolved.” Ivar waved to one of his henchmen, who followed Skellig, then he nodded to Erik. “Go to her now. If you wait, you may go to sleep tonight and not awake.”
“She would kill me in my sleep?”
“She can be merciful.”
The table laughed as Erik left.
Erik exited the longhouse but doubled back around to enter through a rear door. He created a gossip firestorm by intervening as he did, but the moment Skellig touched Freya, he lost any sense of reason other than to get to her side. He was ready to tear Skellig apart right there before everyone. He wanted to roar and beat his chest as he pulled Freya against him.
Erik wanted everyone, especially her, to know she was his, and he would always protect what was his. But his rational side knew she was not his, and with that show, she might never be. He would try not to make things worse, so he tried to make it look as though he went outside for some air. Erik did not need a few hundred sets of curious eyes following him as he made his way to Freya’s chamber. Erik did not pause before knocking on her door. He did not have to wait long before it was flung open.
“About time.” Freya stood in the doorway with an arm resting against the door and a hand on the door frame. It was clear she had no intention of inviting him in.
“Were you waiting for me?”
“To apologize? Yes.”
“Why should I apologize when you should thank me?”
“Is your memory that short? Don’t you remember why you stormed out?”
“I didn’t storm out, but you are right; you did make me leave.”
“I never said I did.” Erik grinned as their banter gave him hope. She had not slammed the door in his face.
“If you aren’t here to apologize, then good night.” Now Freya tried to slam the door shut, but Erik was quick to lean his weight against the door to keep it from closing. He did not push hard enough to move her but enough to slip through. This placed them flush against one another. Freya took a step back, but Erik followed.
“Freya, he had his hand on you.”
“I’m aware.” She glanced down before she caught herself, and Erik’s eyes followed. There was a bruise forming. He lifted her arm as though it were fragile enough to snap in his hands. Erik ground his teeth as he tried to calm the sudden spike of heat coursing through him.
“I will not kill him for this, but it is his one chance for error. I will kill him the next time he does anything to threaten or harm you.”
“You have no claim. Even if you humiliated me by making everyone else think so. I don’t need your help. I can protect myself.”
“You wouldn’t act the same way if someone did this to Tyra?”
“Of course, I would, but that’s because she’s my best friend. We have always defended one another.” Freya pursed her lips. “And don’t think it’s because we are women that I would defend her or that we must defend one another. She is like my sister.”
“And didn’t we agree earlier that we are friends.”
“It’s different, and you know it.”
“Maybe I don’t.”
“Then you’re obtuse.”
“Explain it then. How is it different for me to defend you?”
“Because I am not your woman. I am no one’s woman but my own. You made me look incapable of taking care of myself. On the eve before a voyage where I must captain a ship of warriors who must believe in me. Who must follow me. If I can’t handle myself when some arse grabs my arm, how am I supposed to convince others to have faith I can protect them?”
“Or perhaps now people will see we are allies, and we do not fight alone.”
“Your cousin married my brother. They can’t keep their hands off each other. Believe me, everyone knows we’re allied.”
Erik looked down at the fiery woman and changed tacks. This was not getting him anywhere. Perhaps a little honesty would calm her. He prayed he was right. “Maybe I shouldn’t have intervened. I do know you can defend yourself. But the sight of him touching you, trying to intimidate you, had me charging across the room before I could stop myself.”
Freya sucked in a breath through her nose. Erik admitted more than she ever thought he would, even if he did not say it all aloud. The fight drained from her, and she wanted to accept what she knew he would offer. However, she also did not want to wake alone after he would inevitably slip out in the middle of the night. She did not want to let herself long for something she knew he would not offer. A tumble a time or two was not what her heart could handle. But she could manage graciousness.
“Thank you.” Her murmured words filled the chamber.
Erik could see a battle playing through her mind. He could read her face even if others did not. He was unsure though of what she was fighting for, or rather against. Like earlier in the evening, he cupped her cheek, and like earlier, she did not pull away. However, this time she did not sink into its warmth.
“We are about to travel together, and danger is unavoidable. I only want you to know you can trust me to always side with you.” Erik’s breath wafted across her face, and unlike Skellig’s, it was not sour. Somehow the mead he drank made it sweet. Once more, her senses flared, and her sense of taste felt left out.
“I do trust you. I may have a sharp tongue and be prickly as a pinecone, but I do trust you, and I will always side with you, too. We shall be formidable partners.” She backed away and thrust her arm forward.
Erik looked down at it and wanted to grumble, but he clasped her forearm in a warrior handshake. If this was all she would offer, he would take the crumbs and make it a feast.
The next day passed in a blur as the small crew prepared for departure. Freya spent most of her time with Tyra discussing the route and various eventualities in case of weather. Many people believed Tyra was the daughter of Aegir, the god of the sea. She was the best sailor in their tribe, and her ability to navigate through the most treacherous of water or storm was the stuff of legends. She and her crew always led any expedition, so it felt strange to Freya to know her friend would not be there as her guide.
“Watch the fish as much as you do the horizon. If you can’t see any fish swimming alongside the prow, then you have your first warning that either rough water or rough weather lay ahead. If you spot a pod of dolphins, follow them when you can. They will always lead you to safety. If you see puffy clouds, even white ones, look to the horizon, then be wary. A storm is brewing. If the wispy clouds fatten, then expect rain before the day is over.”
“I know these things, Tyra. We all do. You have a sixth sense about the water none of us can copy. I wish you could come.”
“I do too. But I would only be good for guarding the boat. As much as I don’t want to admit it, Bjorn is right. I’m not ready for a full fight. I know you go easy on me in the training yard, and the men are even worse. They barely raise their swords to mine and move like sludge out of fear of hurting me. But I will be ready when you return.”
The two women embraced then rolled their maps up. They emerged from Freya’s cabin and made their way to the deck. Erik oversaw the loading of supplies and the few horses they would take. With a crew of less than twenty, the boat would sail light and quick in the water. They did not need to take as much food or water as they would if they sailed with a crew of fifty or a hundred.
Freya and Tyra disembarked, and Freya said her goodbyes. She sensed Erik moving towards his family and watched as he kissed his mother’s cheek and hugged his sisters. His father embraced him, and the two men looked like titans colliding. He and his brothers slapped each other’s backs and exchanged laughs before embracing.
Freya tried not to watch, but she admired his closeness to his brothers and sisters. She and Leif were the only children her parents still had. By necessity they were close as children, but their bond was unbreakable as adults. They liked each other’s company and respected each other. She was glad to see someone else blessed with what she had. She knew Bjorn, Tyra, and Strian did not have the same relationships that she had with Leif, and it often made her feel for them. Bjorn was her cousin and Leif’s best friend, but it still was not quite the same as what she shared with her brother.
“Shall we sail, princess?” Erik’s mocking tone had returned, and no trace of their closeness from the day before was present. Freya was ready to snap her response, but she caught the look in Erik’s eyes and realized that he was doing this for her. He was putting distance between them in front of everyone.
“Try not to get in the way.”
With a final hug for her mother, Freya dashed up the gangway and called orders. It was not long before they were underway. Freya relished the wind as it lifted the hair from her overheated neck. She held the tiller with confidence as she stood with her feet braced apart. As much as she loved to be home, adventure called to her. The two months of rest was what she needed to appreciate sailing again. When she and the others returned from their last expedition, she was exhausted and coveted time alone to rest and enjoy solitude. She needed a reprieve from being around others and responsible for their wellbeing. The time at home restored her, and now she was ready to venture forth. She scanned the horizon and called an order for the crew to raise the sails as she tacked into the wind. She knew once they were in the open water, the wind would shift to their backs and propel them forward with little effort from her crew.
For now, the warriors seated on the benches each had an oar. Her eyes drifted to Erik’s back. He had removed his fur pelts despite the cold air, and his tunic already stuck to his skin. The thin layer of fabric did nothing to hide the ripples of his muscles as he maneuvered the oar through the water into the air and then back into the water. She watched the muscles in his forearms as he pressed his oar handle down to pop it out of the water, rolling his wrist to feather the blade just above the water’s surface before dropping the oar back into the water. She had seen countless oarsmen make those motions—had even performed them herself—but never had they aroused her as watching Erik did.
An ache settled into the pit of Freya’s belly, and her breasts felt heavy. She longed to run her hands over his shoulders and back to discover if the muscles were just as taut as she imagined. She wanted to feel his arms wrap around her as she explored his body. Her mouth went dry as she continued to react to the scene Erik created before her eyes. She paid no attention to the other rowers. None of them held her interest the way Erik did.
The loud call of a seagull brought her back to reality. She chided herself for fantasizing when she was supposed to be captaining her ship rather than ogling a man who in equal parts annoyed her and aroused her. Her arousal only annoyed her further.
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