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Authors: Lily Byrne

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BOOK: Ragnar the Murderer
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She slipped away to Byrnstanham, stealing through the darkness.


Aelfwyn!”

Her sister jumped, and gasped with shock.


Oh, dear Saehild!” She embraced her.


The Anglisc men are fighting the Danes. They want their women back. I am a little afraid of what I have caused,” blurted Saehild, clinging to Aelfwyn. “Come back with me.”


Is Ragnar…?”


Yes, he’s fighting. He is so fierce, I am concerned for you.”


Don’t worry, he is gentle with me.” She giggled. “I will come with you.”

They set off again.

The fight slowed. Many of the Anglisc were obviously tired and just hanging on out of stubbornness. The victorious men were sitting with the women, being tended to, although not many were badly injured.

Ragnar had knocked out his opponent, then dragged him away from the fighting to a safe place. He saw Aelfwyn and his face lit up, despite his bloodied eye.

Saehild noticed her sister’s face brighten in return, and felt a shiver of… something, but what? She shook it off.


Help!” A child’s shriek cut the evening air. A boy of eight raced to Steinar, out of breath.


What is it, child?” The commander softened his voice.


Vikingr, sir! Norwegians! At the coast!”

 

 

Nigon

 

Steinar leapt into action, producing such a loud whistle everyone jumped.


Stop this nonsense! Huskarlr! Arm yourselves! We are under attack! Anglisc, concede or help us!”

The fighting slowly ground to a halt.

Steinar explained the situation at high speed and the Huskarlr lined up ready to march back to Hallfridby.


What can we do?” asked Maegla, hovering.


Follow us back to the village, and help, if you are strong enough. Women! Rouse the unconscious men!”

The Huskarlr and their former opponents hastened back to the village. Not before Aelfwyn and Ragnar had exchanged scorching glances of frustration however.

Leofrun, Saehild, Aelfwyn and the other women each went to an unconscious fighter, and roused him in their different ways. Some of these involved slapping, some shaking, some grabbing the man’s balls and waking him with pleasure.

One of the unconscious was Saehild’s admirer from the bathing lake, and she felt glad to wake him. He smiled into her face, his dark grey eyes dotted with golden flecks.


What is your name?” she asked him.


Ljotr.”

She didn’t know what to say about the bathing incident, so just explained the current situation while admiring his wet sand coloured hair, much darker than Bjarni’s and unusual among the fair haired Danes. But wasn’t she content with Bjarni, her handsome, brave, kind husband, skilled at pleasuring her? Ljotr was just different and new and she must not lust after him.

After all the men had been awakened and enlightened, they hurried to Hallfridby, followed by the women.


This is a great life, so exciting,” said Leofrun to Saehild, her eyes bright and her breathing fast. “A change from my boring daily one.”

Saehild nodded, still uneasy.

They reached the men. The Anglisc were helping the Danish. The skilled Huskarlr wore well used rounded metal helmets, some with eye guards, some with just nose guards. The novice Huskarlr like Bjarni and Ragnar, wore hardened leather helmets, strengthened with iron strips.

The Anglisc men speeded up the Danish preparations immensely by fastening their leather or chainmail armour for them and strapping on their weapons, handing them their shields and so on. Every man assisted another, like a squire attending a knight in days gone by.

The Huskarlr company was a fearsome sight when fully armed. They had round red shields in one hand, axes in the other, spears on their backs with swords at their belts. Armour  covered their upper arms and body from neck to knee and the helmets covering their heads and faces gave them a sinister, forbidding air.

The other Danes were less well armed and armoured, but still wielded a fair collection of spears, axes, clubs and some bows.

All the Danes formed up into a war band. The Anglisc stood behind, holding their spears plus anything else they could get their hands on. Their armour was basic, just extra padding and the odd piece of toughened leather a man had inherited from his father.


There is no time for practice, just defend our coast as best you can!” instructed Steinar. “The Norwegians will be easy to recognise. Huskarlr, when they see you, be prepared to attack with all you’ve got, because they’ll know you’re the main opposition.”

He marched off, the Danes and Anglisc following him, all rivalry between them forgotten.

The women, left behind, wrung their hands and clutched each other.


We may never see them again,” said Saehild, seizing her sister’s hands.


At least you are married to yours,” said Aelfwyn sadly.

 

*  *  *

 

Over the next few hours, runners came back from the coast with news of the battle. Several villages had joined forces to repel the Norwegians and fighting grew fierce, with many deaths. The wounded began coming back, a few at a time.

Most of the wounded were Anglisc, being less skilled fighters, but some were Danish. The women bathed cuts, put poultices on, bandage and even stitch, under the guidance of the læknir from Hallfridby. The læknir were female physicians, working quietly and quickly, instructing the Anglisc women as well as they could, while the wounded men lay groaning around them.

Aelfwyn was not used to this: if any man from Byrnstanham became ill, he went to the local monastery to be cared for by the monks. If a woman grew ill, their female relations tended to them, for example in childbirth. There were no official physicians in her village, just wise women.

The monastery! The Norwegians would almost certainly head for that, as Vikingr were renowned for striking religious communities. Whispering this to Saehild, they wondered what they could do.


Surely the Danes will know this and defend it?” said Saehild.


They will do,” interrupted a læknir nearby, as she bound a warrior’s arm. “They will defend everywhere, do not be afraid.”

Aelfwyn carried on cleaning her own patient’s wound, which wasn’t severe but near his eye and he couldn’t see for the blood. He smiled weakly, an Anglian her own age named Penda. He also had a stab wound to his ribs, which he’d be lucky to survive but she bound it up anyway, whispering words of reassurance.

Saehild hurried to the next batch of wounded. She gasped when she saw Ragnar, with a severe cut to the arm. Not wanting to worry Aelfwyn, she took charge of him.


Tie this tightly round it.” The læknir produced a tourniquet and Saehild set about her work.


I love your sister,” he mumbled. “I want to marry her.”


Yes, I know.” She stroked his hair back from his face. He looked pale and drowsy and she became worried, so signalled a læknir.

Aelfwyn looked over at that point and froze. Her sister stroking Ragnar’s hair. Did she truly want him as her lover? Why did her sister have to have everything? How many men did she need?

The læknir hurried over with a herb concoction which she pressed to his lips, forcing him to drink. She dabbed at his wound with a bundle of rags. Both of which actions seemed to strengthen him. She passed her hand over his head and his wound, muttering to herself.

Saehild and Aelfwyn prayed simultaneously and he gave a big sigh, then smiled.


I’m alright.” The blood from the wound slowed.

Aelfwyn rushed over to him and kissed his forehead.


I love you, please don’t die,” she whispered.


I’m not going to die.” He gave a weak laugh. “Because I’ve got you.”

The læknir smiled. “Love is the best cure.” She had piercing very pale blue eyes and seemed to look into Aelfwyn’s very soul for a second.  Then she hurried away to another patient.

Saehild and Aelfwyn were both crying, but Saehild wisely moved away too, realising she was surplus.


Can’t you marry me instead of him?” asked Ragnar.


I wish I could, I really do.”


Let’s just do that, when I’m better.”


Yes, we will.” She squeezed his hand gently. Why shouldn’t she be like Saehild and do what she wanted for a change?

The battle began slowing, and fewer wounded arrived. After a couple more hours, Steinar brought his company back. Leofrun ran to him.


We saw the Norwegians off with help from the other villages nearby. They didn’t expect a Huskarlr regiment to be here, it gave them a shock. But there are still dead to be buried.”

The surviving Danes and Anglisc were companionably talking, helping each other, embracing their women.


What have you done to yourself now?” asked Bjarni of Ragnar. He looked exhausted and grey but content.


I didn’t do anything to myself, it was a Norwegian.”


Don’t worry, we’ll look after him,” said Bjarni to Aelfwyn, with his arm round Saehild.


She could stay tonight, couldn’t she?”


Yes, if she doesn’t mind sleeping in the Huskarlr longhouse. It’s rough and noisy.”

Aelfwyn couldn’t bear to leave Ragnar that night, so she did stay, cuddled up on his bench with him, while the Huskarlr and Anglisc settled down together on the benches, too exhausted to worry about going home. Peace reigned, everyone too tired to even talk. The Anglisc villagers would be told the successful outcome of the battle by the runners.

 

*  *  *

 

The next morning Ragnar felt so much better. Had it been the læknir’s magic or Aelfwyn’s love?


We demand our daughter!” shouted a familiar voice at the gate of Hallfridby.


It’s my father!” Aelfwyn cowered against Ragnar, cosily wrapped up in a bearskin together.


Pretend you aren’t here.”


I can’t, they’ll be worried.” She got up, straightened her clothes and set out, letting go of his hand reluctantly, fingers touching until the last possible moment.


Aelfwyn! What are you doing? We were worried sick!” said her mother. To her horror, Aelfwyn saw Eadbald behind, with his usual ingratiating smile.


Mother, surely you knew we won?”


Yes- but we expected you home. Not consorting with the soldiers. Violence is to be avoided, not consorted with. Who knows how many we lost yesterday.”


Come, you are betrothed to Eadbald and there is work to be done,” added her father.

Aelfwyn reluctantly went with them. It was not fair. She would go with Ragnar soon, her parents would just have to manage and Eadbald find another wife.

 

*  *  *

 

From then on, harmony reigned between the Danish and Anglisc men, having fought side by side. The burials of the Anglisc and the cremations of the Danish took place separately, but the funerals were mixed occasions with everyone from the two villages invited.

The local priest, Ulferth, oversaw the Anglisc funerals, carried out in the Christian way but the Danish warriors attended, wearing their battle gear to show respect. They were buried in the ancient cemetery near the church.

The Anglisc men who had fought in the battle shook hands with the Danes, flattered to be among warriors and their kin.

The Danish dead were cremated on pyres but then buried with their goods, such as clothing, jewellery and weapons, in the Hallfridby cemetery. The soft, spring ground made grave digging easy.


Why do they put goods in their graves?” asked Aelfwyn of Ragnar at a funeral.


So they’ll have things they need in the afterlife, of course.”


That sounds quite sensible.”

He laughed, and hugged her.

The Anglisc men were even invited to the weekly bathing gatherings, where the Danish women delighted in cleaning their long unwashed hair. Or at least in showing them how to get the worst of the filth off.

However, the other folk of Byrnstanham were not so impressed. They wondered why the Danes couldn’t have fought off the Norwegian Vikingr by themselves, weary of the endless conflict in Britain.

The Anglisc mothers refused to let their daughters associate with the Danes, fearing their violent ways, so there were many secret trysts, which of course included Aelfwyn and Ragnar.

BOOK: Ragnar the Murderer
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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