Hey y'all! As is tradition, I will start this chapter with an apology. So sorry for the wait, everyone! November and December are always so crazy busy, and this year was no exception. I had absolutely no time to write! But the holidays are coming to a close now, which means life can get back to normal again! Hallelujah! Now I'll be able to get back to some semblance of a writing schedule again, which means I can finally stop being a neglectful author and get updates out to you guys!
Thank you so much for your patience, thank you for the kind reviews, and thank you to all of you for taking time out of your day to read my stories! I appreciate each and every one of you! Whichever holiday you all celebrate, I hope it was a good one! Happy New Year's everyone!
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Vikings, only the OC's.
Signe could barely eat breakfast. The time to tell her family about her engagement to Torstein was quickly approaching, and she was not looking forward to it. She wasn't necessarily worried about how Valborg would react to the news, because he was the most reasonable of her brothers. She was not particularly concerned about Gunnar either, since he seemed to have finally decided that he did like Torstein after all. No, it was her father, Garik, and – most of all – Hallsteinn she was worried about, and imagining what they might do or say when they learned of the engagement was making her so nervous that she honestly didn't think her stomach could handle the morning time meal.
She pushed her food around on her plate, her eyes glancing at the men sitting at the table with her. Garik and Gunnar sat across from her, both looking disheveled and hungover and barely alert as they ate their breakfast. Hallsteinn had showed up not long after the sun rose and currently sat at one end of the table, looking unaffected from their night of drinking, while Oleg sat at the other end of the table, talking casually with Hallsteinn as they both ate. Valborg had not shown his face yet, but she had a feeling he would be making an appearance soon enough.
Signe looked to Torstein, who sat directly to her left. Judging by the look on his face, he was feeling a little anxious himself. He did not seem overly concerned with the presence of Hallsteinn, whom she suspected had shown up earlier than expected to make sure Torstein had not tried anything inappropriate in his absence. He did, however, seem wary of Oleg, whom he kept shooting cautious looks toward every few seconds. She could not say she blamed him for being nervous – she had to imagine it was rather nerve wracking to ask someone for their daughter's hand in marriage, even if the daughter in question had already said yes. However, she also knew that Torstein was not a man who was quick to nervousness, so the fact that he was now really wasn't doing anything to help her own anxiety.
Torstein glanced over at her, their gazes meeting for a brief moment. She did her best to give him an encouraging smile, but she was sure it came out more jumpy and nervous than she had intended. Torstein smiled back and nodded, but the apprehension never quite left his blue eyes.
"Are you well, daughter?" Oleg suddenly asked.
Signe and Torstein both looked at him. Signe cleared her throat and nodded, telling herself to act normal. "Yes. I am well," she answered. "Why do you ask?"
"You have barely eaten your food," Oleg pointed out, motioning to her plate.
Signe looked down at her food, which was indeed untouched, then shrugged a shoulder and gave her father a sheepish smile. "All the drink last night has left me feeling a little ill," she fibbed. "I vill be fine, though."
Oleg nodded slowly. He looked unsure whether to believe her excuse or not. "I see," was all he said in response.
He went back to his food, but he shot a few curious looks in Signe's direction as he ate, as if he could sense there was something on her mind, only he couldn't figure out what it was. Signe noticed that Hallsteinn had taken to eyeing her as well, his narrowed eyes flickering briefly in Torstein's direction before turning back to her with obvious suspicion. The twins, however, didn't pay her any mind. They seemed too hungover to care about anything going on around them.
Signe forced herself to eat as much breakfast as she could, then, when everyone else had finished their meals, she began collecting plates to take them to the washing bucket and clean them. Her father and the twins soon disappeared into their rooms to get ready for the day, while Hallsteinn went outside to start tending to the farm animals, giving her and Torstein one last scrutinizing look as he went. As for Torstein, he came to help her with the dishes, opting to dry them and stack them neatly whenever she passed him a freshly washed dish. They worked in silence for a few minutes, until Torstein eventually cleared his throat.
"I am going to speak vith your father once we have finished here," he announced.
Signe's stomach twisted with nervousness. "Alright," she said with a quick nod.
Torstein stopped what he was doing to look down at her, his brows raising slightly. "You have not had a change of heart, have you?" he asked.
Signe froze and looked up at him, caught a little by surprise at the question. Sure, she was nervous, but not to the point of having second thoughts. She smiled gently and shook her head. "No. My answer is the same as it vas last night," she reassured.
Torstein looked equal part relieved and pleased to hear it. "Good."
They went back to their chore, making quick work of washing and drying the dishes. Just as they were finishing up, Oleg stepped back into the room, looking ready to get his day started. Torstein stood a bit taller, a hint of nervousness returning to his eyes as he gazed at her father. Oleg seemed unaware of the way Torstein was looking at him as he went to a trunk on the other side of the room to rummage around in it.
"Go and speak to him," Signe encouraged quietly. "I can handle the rest," she said, motioning to the last few utensils that needed to be cleaned.
Torstein nodded, then set down the rag he had been using to dry dishes. He lingered a second longer, though, casting one last wary glance at Oleg. "Have I mentioned how incredibly intimidating your father is?" he muttered, giving her a look.
Signe smirked. Oleg was an intimidating man, what with his impressive height and his sturdy build and the fact that it was obvious he had once been a fearsome warrior. But though his appearance might suggest he would be cruel and frightening, that was not the case. Oleg was actually a very kind, understanding man in everyday life.
"Do not be afraid of him," Signe said. "All vill be fine."
"I hope so," Torstein said. He sucked in a breath, patted her on the back, then went over to where her father was. "Oleg?" he said to catch the man's attention, which made Oleg stop what he was doing and look over at him. "There is an important matter I wish to discuss with you. If it is not an inconvenience, vould you mind speaking with me in private?"
Oleg seemed a little caught off guard by the request, but nodded nonetheless. "Of course."
Oleg closed the trunk again, then beckoned Torstein to follow him outside. Signe watched them go, nodding encouragingly when Torstein sent a glance her way as they headed for the door. Oleg noticed the exchange, but said nothing of it. He followed Torstein to the door, the two of them stepping outside just as the twins came walking back into the living room. As Torstein and Oleg left and shut the door behind them, Garik and Gunnar turned identical, curious looks on Signe.
"Where are they going?" Garik asked.
Signe decided to pretend like she didn't know and just shrugged back.
Because Gunnar was still very much recovering, Signe ordered him to stay inside and rest up…or, at least, she tried to. Now that the twins had been reunited, they seemed reluctant to part with one another, even if only for a few minutes. After a few minutes of going back and forth, Gunnar promised he would not partake in any manual labor and assured her that he only wished to keep Garik company while he worked. Signe gave in after that and said he could go outside. Once the twins were gone and she was alone in the house, she took one look at the state of things and knew she wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. It seemed that, in her absence, her father and brothers had allowed the house to turn into something reminiscent of a pigsty. Add in the mess that had been left behind in wake of their celebrations the night before, and it was more than apparent that the house needed a fair bit of cleaning.
Signe worked quickly, finding it more than easy to fall back into her usual house-cleaning routine. But even as her hands carried out the familiar tasks, her mind was thoroughly preoccupied. She could not stop thinking about Torstein, nor the important conversation he was currently having with her father right that very moment. When nearly an hour passed by and they still had not yet returned, she couldn't help but start to feel worried. Did their extended absence mean that things were not going as well as she had thought they might? Was her father angry about the proposal? Did he disapprove? Or were they simply still talking things through? There was, after all, a lot of business to discuss whenever a marriage arrangement was agreed upon.
Signe was cleaning ash out of the hearth when the front door eventually swung open, which made her stop and look that way with hopeful eyes. She deflated upon seeing that it was not her father, nor Torstein returning. It was Valborg, who offered a big smile as he stepped into the house and came over to kiss her temple.
"Good morning, sister. Forgive me for not arriving sooner," he said, patting her back. "Gunnhild had a bit of a difficult morning. I needed to stay and help Inge."
Signe smiled and nodded her understanding. "Of course," she said. "How is little Gunnhild now?" she asked next, frowning with concern. "Is she well?"
Valborg nodded, which made her shoulders relax. "Yes, she is doing well now. Thank you for asking. I vill collect her and Inge later and bring them for dinner so that you may see her again."
Signe nodded and smiled. "I look forward to it."
The door opened again, catching the attention of them both. It was Hallsteinn this time, looking a little sweaty and bringing with him a strong smell of hay and horses. He nodded to Valborg in greeting, then went straight for the water jug and poured himself a cup, taking a hearty drink of water.
"Did you see father?" Hallsteinn asked Valborg with a quirk of his brow.
Valborg shook his head. "Vhat is he doing?"
"He and Torstein have been off in the fields talking for quite some time," Hallsteinn revealed.
Valborg frowned curiously. "About vhat?"
"I do not know," Hallsteinn replied, before shifting his gaze to her. "Do you know, Signe?"
Signe gulped. She did not want her brothers to know what was going on until everything had been settled with her father, but as both Hallsteinn and Valborg stared at her with expectation, it was hard not to cave and blurt out the truth. Lying to Hallsteinn was hard because his never-ending persistence usually made the truth come out eventually anyway. Lying to Valborg, however, was downright impossible. He always knew when she wasn't being honest.
"I might know," she admitted.
The two men shared a look, then turned their eyes back to her. "Are you going to tell us?" Valborg asked. "Or are you going to leave us in suspense?"
Signe shrugged and cringed with guilt. "I vas thinking to leave you in suspense, actually," she told them.
Hallsteinn heaved, looking unimpressed. "Signe, vhat is going on?" he demanded firmly. "Something is happening, that much is obvious," he added matter-of-factly. "We are your brothers. We deserve to know the truth."
"Patience, Hallsteinn. You vill find out soon enough," Signe told him.
"No. I vant to know now," Hallsteinn countered.
Before another word could be said, the door opened once again. This time it was Oleg, and the moment her father stepped into view, Signe felt her stomach jolt with nervousness. He looked at her for a long moment, his expression quite unreadable, before he looked to his two oldest sons.
"Valborg, Hallsteinn, leave us," he said, stepping out of the way of the door and motioning for them to go outside. "I need to speak with your sister alone."
The order surprised her brothers so much that neither of them moved to leave right away. "Why must we leave? Certainly vhatever you need to say to her can be said in front of us," Hallsteinn said.
Oleg pinned him with a sharp look. "I said - leave us," he repeated, this time with more authority.
Hallsteinn frowned, looking annoyed that nobody seemed to want to tell him what was going on. He opened his mouth to, undoubtedly, complain, but Valborg stopped him by going over to place a hand on his shoulder. "Come, brother," he said, wisely choosing to do as their father had said. "Let us see vhat the twins are up to."
Hallsteinn still didn't look happy, but he allowed Valborg to lead him out of the house. After the two had shuffled outside, Oleg shut the door behind them. His expression was still difficult to read as he turned back around to face her, which left Signe unsure whether she should be worried or not. She had to wonder where Torstein was – hopefully Valborg and Hallsteinn hadn't gone to interrogate him.
"How about we sit?" Oleg suggested, gesturing to the dining table.
Signe nodded and went to claim her usual seat. Instead of sitting at the head of the table, as Oleg normally did, he eased down into the chair next her, releasing a heavy exhale as he did. Once they were settled, his one eye locked on her, his expression serious.
"I have just had a very lengthy and very interesting conversation with Torstein," he said. "Do you know what it vas about?" he asked, tilting his head to one side.
Signe tried not to fidget under his stare. "I believe so."
Oleg blinked, his lips pursing a little. "Then you know he has just asked for my permission to marry you."
Signe nodded. "Yes. We have been…discussing the possibility of marriage for a number of days now," she admitted. "He proposed marriage vhile we were travelling."
Oleg nodded in understanding, but still frowned a bit. "I admit myself very surprised by this turn of events. I vas getting the sense that there vas something between the two of you," he confessed. "I did not know it vas as serious as discussing marriage, however." Oleg shook his head slowly. "Forgive me for saying it, but this seems…very sudden."
Signe offered a small shrug. "You are not wrong. It is sudden. And, if I am to be honest, it is all a little…complicated," she admitted.
Oleg's eyebrows knitted together with uncertainty. "Complicated how?" he asked.
Signe sighed wondering just how much she should divulge. In the end she decided to tell him the truth – he was her father, after all, and she just couldn't find it in herself to be anything but completely honest with him.
"We are not like you and mother, or Valborg and Inge. We are…not in love vith one another," she stated bluntly. "He is a good man, he is a good friend. But I am not in love with him, nor is he in love with me."
Oleg quirked a brow. "Are you sure about that?" he asked.
Signe frowned. What did her father mean by that? "Fairly sure," she said, though there was a hint of uncertainty in her tone now. "Why do you ask? Has he said something to make you believe otherwise?"
Oleg gave her a knowing look. "He did not outright tell me he loved you," he said. "But from vhat I have witnessed and from the way he spoke about you, it is clear he cares for you. Even a man with only one eye can see that," he stated matter-of-factly.
Signe had to take a moment to consider what her father had said. She knew Torstein cared about her, because he had told her that he did. It also seemed reasonable to think that he wouldn't have done all the things he had – taking care of her in Kattegat, spending so much time with her, even traveling with them to Hedeby just to ensure they arrived safely – unless he did care about her. Signe had thought, however, that he cared for her just as a friend. Maybe he didn't. Maybe he felt more strongly for her than he had let on, which if that was the case, why wouldn't he have told her? Perhaps, she reasoned, it was because he knew she still loved Bjorn. Or perhaps he did not yet know what he felt for her and therefore had not wanted to discuss it yet.
Or, perhaps, she and her father were simply reading into things too much.
"I cannot speak for Torstein, but vhat I do know is that we are friends," Signe told her father. "We get along well. We respect one another. We work well together. That is why we have both come to agree that a marriage between the two of us could work."
Oleg sat straight at that, his brows knitting together. "Does that mean you have accepted his proposal?" he asked. Evidently Torstein had not told him that Signe had given him an answer already. Or, if he had, he hadn't told him what that answer had been.
Signe hesitated then nodded slowly. "I have," she confirmed.
Oleg sat back in his chair, looking for a moment as though he didn't know what to say in response to that revelation. Eventually he sighed and rubbed a hand over his jaw, his lips pulling down into a frown. Signe cringed, interpreting his response – or lack thereof – to mean something bad.
"You disapprove of him?" she asked carefully.
"I hardly know him," Oleg reminded. "The way Hallsteinn spoke of him when he and Garik returned, I vas led to believe he vas a letch with only bad intentions for you. Upon meeting him and hearing your thoughts of him, however, he appears to be the opposite. Unsurprising, I suppose, considering your brother's tendency to embellish," he said with a shrug.
"Hallsteinn is wrong about him," she said, coming to Torstein's defense once again. "He is a good man."
"I vould assume so, otherwise you never would have involved yourself with him in the first place, let alone agreed to become his…wife."
She did not miss the tone her father's voice took when he said the word wife. It was as if he was having a hard time associating that word with Signe, like he couldn't full grasp the concept of her marrying someone, despite her being well past marrying age already.
"I must ask," Oleg continued, his brows furrowing together. "Why, if the two of you are not in love, do you wish to marry?"
It was a fair question. Signe chewed on the inside of her cheek, trying to think of how best to respond. "The Seeress saw him in my future. She told me of it years ago, when I was still only a girl, and she confirmed it to me again vhen I spoke to her yesterday. Even the Seer in Kattegat revealed to Torstein that his fate is intertwined with mine." Signe nodded slowly. "It seems that it is the will of the Gods that we be together."
Oleg took a long few moments to contemplate what she had said. "The will of the Gods," he murmured contemplatively. Signe nodded in confirmation. Oleg frowned again, his expression uncertain. "And vhat about your will?" he asked. "Vhat about vhat you want?"
Signe tensed, feeling fairly sure she knew what – or rather, who – he was talking about. "What do you mean?" she asked evasively.
Oleg gave her a knowing look. "Bjorn," he said bluntly. "You love him, and not in the way you love your brothers. That is something I have been able to see a long time now."
Signe sighed, seeing no use in lying about it. "You are right. I do love him," she said quietly.
"And yet you wish to marry Torstein, whom you are not in love with, when you could be vith Bjorn instead?" Oleg questioned, looking perplexed.
Signe shook her head. "It is not meant to be, father."
"Because the Seeress told you so?" Oleg countered.
"Because Bjorn told me so," she corrected, which made Oleg press his lips together tightly. "I believed – or, at least, I had hoped – our friendship could become something more. That maybe Bjorn might love me in return," she said. "In the end, my hope was a fool's hope. I told Bjorn how I felt. I told him that I loved him." Signe shook her head somberly as that horrible day flashed through her memory. "He did not return the sentiments."
Oleg's face filled with sympathy and he reached out to squeeze her knee. "I am sorry."
Signe shrugged her shoulder. She did not want to discuss Bjorn any longer – the longer she dwelled on what had happened, the longer it would take to fall out of love with him…if such a thing was even possible. She was ready to put that behind her and focus on the future, a future that would be tied to the man she actually was meant to be with, not the one who would only ever view her as a sister.
"There is nothing to be done about it now but to move on vith my life," she said, shoving her sad thoughts aside. "Torstein vill make a good husband. He has promised to take care of me and treat me well, and I believe that he vill do just that. My future is with him, not Bjorn."
Oleg quirked a brow. "Does Torstein know about your feelings for Bjorn?" Signe nodded in confirmation. "And he has no qualms about it?" Oleg asked with no small amount of doubt.
Signe had to think on that for a moment. Torstein hadn't said anything about her love for Bjorn being a potential problem, but then again, she didn't see why he would have. Perhaps if they had deeper feeling for one another, she could see where her loving another man could be problematic. But she and Torstein were only friends and their marriage was more businesslike than anything else, so she didn't think her lingering love for Bjorn would be an issue…not for Torstein, anyway.
"None that he has expressed," Signe answered.
Her father nodded slowly, by the way he frowned told her that he still had some doubts. "You have thought this through?" he asked.
"Yes," Signe confirmed with a firm nod.
"And your decision to marry Torstein is not out of some desire to exact revenge of any kind against Bjorn for rejecting you?" he asked next, giving her a pointed look.
Signe shook her head. "No," she answered truthfully.
In fact, she had never once even taken into consideration what Bjorn might say or do when he discovered that she had married Torstein. She realized in that moment that he would likely not take the news well, since he hadn't even been approving of the fact that they had become friends. That, however, was not something she was going to worry about now. That was a problem to be dealt with once they were back in Kattegat.
Oleg sighed heavily and looked at her long and hard, as if he were trying to see right into her very thoughts. "Are you certain this is vhat you want?"
Signe hesitated only for second before nodding. "Yes."
Oleg stared at her for a long moment, before nodding slowly. "Then I vill tell you the same thing that I told Torstein," he said. "The decision is yours to make, Signe. You are wise enough to know vhat is best for you. If marrying Torstein is vhat you really wish to do, then I vill not stand in the way of that."
Signe sat straighter at those words. "Are you saying we have your blessing to marry?"
Oleg hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, you do."
Signe couldn't really describe what she felt at those words. She wouldn't necessarily say she felt happy, but she did feel relieved. At the same time, however, that knot that had been in her stomach all morning tightened even further as she realized that Oleg giving them permission to marry made the engagement feel far more real than it had before. It was official – Torstein was going to be her husband, the man she would share a home and a bed with, whom, assuming the Seeress was correct, she would someday have children with.
Signe gulped, worry sweeping through her. What if she turned out to not be a good wife? What if she and Torstein were never able to find happiness together? What if all of this went horribly awry and they both wound up miserable in the end?
After a moment, though, she shook her head to clear those thoughts. There was no use fretting over the what if's. Whatever was meant to happen would happen. She had made her decision – now there was nothing to do but begin her new life in Kattegat with Torstein and hope that the Gods only had good things in store for them.
"Thank you, father," Signe said, reaching out to grab his larger hand and squeeze it tightly. "I know this must all seem like madness to you. I am…glad you are not upset."
Oleg squeezed her hand back. "As though I could ever truly be upset with you, dear daughter," he said with a slight smile. "I only vant you to be happy, Signe. If marrying Torstein makes you happy, then so be it." He sighed and shook his head, his brows stitching together as a thought seemed to cross his mind. "This has all happened so quickly. First you went to battle, now you vill marry. Next you will leave Hedeby and make Kattegat your home, and then I vill have to learn to live without you." Oleg frowned. "I vill not deny that it pains me to know that I must let you go again so soon after getting you back."
There was no mistaking the sadness in his tone, nor in the smile that he seemed to be struggling to muster up for her. Signe felt her heart constrict. Her father was clearly sad that she would be moving to Kattegat. For as eager as she was to live someplace else and make a life of her own, there was a part of her that was sad too, simply because it would not be easy to be parted from the majority of her family on a permanent basis.
"Kattegat is not so far," she reminded him optimistically, both to reassure him and herself. "We vill come and visit as often as we can, and you know you can come stay with us as often as you like. Our home vill always be open to you."
Oleg nodded in understanding. "Of course," he agreed. "And visit I will, especially so now that I have two children who vill be living there."
Signe smiled, then raised her brows. "Perhaps if you are feeling especially adventurous, you could move there as well," she suggested, though she was only being partially serious. She knew good and well that her father would not be keen on such an idea. "The twins vould love living in Kattegat, so vould Valborg and his family. We could all be there together."
Oleg shook his head. "I could never leave this home," he said, glancing around at their cozy surroundings. "All I have left of your mother is the memories we made here. This is where I am meant to be, and this is where I vill remain for the rest of my days."
The mentioning of her beloved mother immediately made a dull ache spring up in her chest. What would she think if she were here now? Would she have liked Torstein? Would she have approved of the marriage? Signe sighed, trying not to think about how sad it made her to know her mother would not be there to see her marry. Oh, how she wished Gunnhild could be back to help her navigate her way through all of this, to be there to support her and hug her and tell her that everything would work out.
"I wish mother were here for all of this," Signe confessed with a small sigh. "I know nothing about being someone's wife. She alvays gave such good advice…I feel I could use that now."
Oleg, who still held her hand, squeezed her fingers. "You vill make a fine wife, Signe. You needn't worry about that," he said without hesitation. "Marriage can be difficult, yes, but as long you and Torstein work together, all vill be well."
Signe nodded slowly, then glanced toward the door. Thinking of Torstein made her remember the fact that he was likely alone with her brothers, and if she knew Hallsteinn half as well as she liked to believe she did, then he was undoubtedly trying to pry information from Torstein right that very moment. With her and her father's conversation coming to an end, it seemed the time to collect her brothers and reveal the news had come.
"I suppose we should bring the others inside and tell them vhat is happening," she suggested, though she could not keep the trepidation from her tone.
Oleg patted her hand encouragingly and gave her a smile. He seemed to know exactly what she was internally fretting about. "Do not worry," he said. "I vill keep your brothers in line."
"Best of luck with that," Signe said, her tone on the dry side.
They both stood after that, but neither made a move toward the door just yet.
"Signe," Oleg said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I hope you and Torstein vill be happy. I hope you have a long and fulfilling life together," he said earnestly. "But marriage or not, this vill always be your home, daughter," he said, gesturing to their surroundings. "Should things turn out poorly between the two of you, you alvays have a place here. Alvays."
Signe smiled and stepped forward to hug her father around the middle. He hugged her tightly in return and dropped a kiss onto the top of her head. "Thank you, father," she said, squeezing him for good measure.
"You are welcome," Oleg said. He released her after that and pushed her gently toward the door. "Go collect your brothers and your betrothed. No doubt Torstein needs saving from Hallsteinn by now."
Signe nodded and moved to exit the house. She paused with her hand on the door knob, however, and looked back to her father one last time, flashing a small smile. After he gave her a smile and a nod in return, she finally went outside to collect the men.
Signe winced at Hallsteinn's incredulous tone and snuck a look at Torstein, who stood tall and proud next to her. He glanced down at her briefly, before looking back to her brothers, who were all sitting around the dining table in front of them. Oleg had just revealed that Torstein had proposed marriage to Signe, and though that was not the biggest revelation to come yet, the news had still been more than enough to shock her brothers. Valborg's brows had risen so high they nearly touched his hairline, while Garik was looking at them as if they had all sprouted extra heads. Gunnar, for one, didn't actually look as shocked as she might have expected. Hallsteinn, on the other hand, was more than shocked. He looked downright outraged.
"Torstein has asked for Signe's hand in marriage," repeated Oleg, who stood on her other side.
"And what vas your reply?" Hallsteinn demanded, his furious gaze flickering from Oleg to Torstein, then back again.
"I told him that it was Signe's decision to make, not mine," her father answered patiently.
Hallsteinn looked at her now, and the intensity of his stare was almost enough to make her take a step back. "Sister, tell me you told him no," he practically pleaded.
Signe shifted on her feet with uncertainty. "I could tell you that…but it vould be a lie," she finally said.
Hallsteinn suddenly looked as if he had been physically struck. "You accepted?" he asked loudly.
Signe looked at Torstein, who glanced down at her again. She wasn't sure what possessed her to do it, but she found herself grabbing Torstein's hand and lacing her fingers with his. He squeezed her hand encouragingly, and that small show of support was all she needed to confirm it to her brothers.
There was an instant uproar from Hallsteinn and Garik, who both stood and started talking over one another. Garik sounded more confused than anything else, but Hallsteinn was so angry he was practically spitting fire.
"How could you agree to this?" Hallsteinn demanded. "You barely know him! How can he be trusted? How can you – "
"How did this even come about?" Garik asked. "You only just met him! Have you thought this through? What about – "
They continued to ramble over one another for another few seconds until Oleg seemed to reach his wit's end and finally held up a hand to silence them. Both men went quiet, but they both still looked confused and upset.
"My sons, I understand that this is a surprising turn of events. But do try to calm yourselves," Oleg said, giving them both a firm look.
"How can I calm myself when this man is attempting to steal our sister?" Hallsteinn demanded heatedly. "It makes no sense that they vould marry so quickly upon meeting, unless – " He stopped short as a thought seemed to occur to him, and if the way his face reddened was any indicator, it was not a good thought. "Are you with child?" he growled at her, before turning a murderous look on Torstein. "Have you impregnated my sister? Is that why this is happening?"
"No!" Signe and Torstein denied at the same time. "That is not the way of it!" Signe insisted with a vehement shake of her head. "You are jumping to the wrong conclusion, Hallsteinn!"
Hallsteinn didn't look entirely convinced. "If you have touched my sister in any way, by the Gods I swear I vill – " he started to say, pointing a threatening finger at Torstein.
"You vill do nothing," Signe interrupted loudly. "Torstein has been nothing but respectful to me. He has done nothing to deserve your threats, nor your harsh and unfair judgement of him!"
A muscle in Hallsteinn's jaw twitched as he looked at her for a long moment, glanced at Torstein, then, finally, looked to Oleg. "Have you given them your blessing?" he asked shortly.
"I have," Oleg confirmed.
"Why?" Hallsteinn demanded. "How could you do this? How could you sell your daughter to this man?"
Oleg frowned deeply, clearly offended by Hallsteinn's accusatory tone. Signe frowned even deeper, feeling rather offended herself. "I am not going to be Torstein's slave. I am going to be his wife," she snapped.
Hallsteinn opened his mouth to say something more, but before he could, Valborg stood and placed a firm hand on his shoulder. He had been quiet thus far, though whether it was because he had still been processing the news of her engagement or simply because he hadn't been able to get a word in over Hallsteinn's shouting, Signe didn't know. "Brother, enough," he said with authority. "You are behaving like a child and are in danger of crossing the line. Let us speak of this matter like adults."
Hallsteinn shoved Valborg's hand off his shoulder. "I vill not apologize for being angry about this," he growled. "Signe is my sister. It is my duty to protect her!"
"Signe is my sister, as well," Valborg countered, his tone beginning to sound impatient. "And if you ask me, it seems the only one she needs protecting from right now is you, brother," he said with a disapproving frown. "You are making yourself look like a fool."
Hallsteinn scoffed. "Do not attempt to make me the enemy, Valborg. You all know I do not like this man. I have not been secretive about the fact that I do not trust him."
"No, you have not. But I confess that I do not see why you do not trust him," Valborg argued. "Torstein has done nothing to make me believe he has dishonorable intentions for Signe, nor has he done anything to make me question his integrity. He seems a decent fellow."
Signe was grateful that Valborg was sticking up for Torstein. Hallsteinn, however, looked annoyed that Valborg was not agreeing with him. Once again, he opened his mouth to argue some more. This time, however, he was interrupted by Gunnar.
"I vould like to say something, if Hallsteinn can resist shouting for a few moments," he said, giving Hallsteinn a wry look as he stood up. Once he had the attention of the room, he began to speak. "I know Torstein better than any of you, and trust when I say that he has only good intentions for Signe. He cares for her, truly, and if there is anyone who will treat her well and ensure that she is taken care of, I believe it is him. If this is vhat Signe wants, then I have no objections to this union," he said with a firm nod.
"Thank you, Gunnar," Signe said. Gunnar gave her a big smile.
"Gunnar speaks the truth," Torstein finally said, making everyone look to him. "I care for Signe. She is a good woman, and to have her as my wife vould be a privilege and an honor," he said, smiling down at her briefly. He quickly averted his gaze back to her brothers. "As I have already reassured your father, I vill do everything in my power to make sure she is happy and taken care of. I swear that to you. She vill want for nothing. I vill give her a good life."
Nobody said anything for a long few moments. Valborg and Garik seemed to be considering what Torstein had said, while Hallsteinn seemed too angry to say anything. His face, Signe noticed, was beginning to turn a violent shade of red and he was clutches the edge of the table so tightly his knuckles were turning white.
"Vhat about Bjorn?" Garik asked to break the silence, just as Oleg had asked earlier.
Though it was not an unexpected question, it made her cringe regardless. It seemed rather rude to ask about Bjorn in front of Torstein. She chanced a look at Torstein, and though his expression gave nothing away, she thought his shoulders looked a bit tenser than they had been previously. She quickly turned a hard look on Garik.
"Bjorn and I are only friends, and that is all we ever vill be," she said, giving him a look that said not to push the subject any further. Not in front of Torstein, anyway.
Garik seemed to understand what she was silently conveying, because he nodded and said nothing more of Bjorn. Signe glanced around at her brothers again, then finally sighed and released Torstein's hand so she could step forward.
"Brothers, I know this has caught you all by surprise," she began to say.
"Not everyone," Gunnar chimed in with a knowing quirk of his brow.
Signe glanced at him, then turned her attention back to the other three men still struggling to process what was going on. "You know me, brothers. You know I vould not agree to something like this if it vas not what I vanted," she told them. "I am a grown woman. I am more than capable of making my own decisions. I want to marry Torstein. I trust him. I…care for him," she said with a nod. "I ask now that you all respect my decision to be wed to him."
As she concluded her speech, Valborg looked at Garik with raised brows, which made Garik shrug back at him. After a moment, Valborg's eyes turned back to her. "I will not pretend this is not a shock," he said, "But you are a smart woman, and you are capable of making your own decisions." Valborg glanced at Torstein, then shifted his gaze back to her. He seemed to have come to a decision. "If this is what you vant, it is not place to tell you otherwise. I vill trust that Torstein has been truthful when he says he vill give you a good life, and I vill not object to the union."
Signe's shoulders sagged with relief at those words. She nodded and smiled gratefully, which made Valborg give her a half smile in return, before she looked to Garik. "Garik?"
Her brother sighed and shrugged again, running a hand through his blonde, shoulder length hair. "I am not father. I cannot tell you vhat to do," he said. "Not that it vould matter anyway, since you vill likely do whatever you vant to anyway," he added. He glanced between her and Torstein, before shaking his head in resignation. "I still do not really know vhat to think of this, but I suppose if you and Gunnar are so convinced that Torstein is a good match, then I cannot argue against that."
That seemed like the best response she was going to get from Garik. "Good enough, I suppose."
With that, everyone looked at Hallsteinn. He took his time to glare at each person in the room, his anger only worsening as he realized that he was the only one who did not approve of the engagement. He crossed his arms tightly over his chest, the muscle in his jaw twitching as he pinned Torstein with a long, loathing look.
"No," he finally said, shaking his head. "This is too sudden. I cannot just stand by and pretend to be supportive while my sister marries some man she hardly knows," he said. His words were met with more than one heave of frustration, which made him jut his chin into the air. "Be frustrated all you like," he said defiantly. "I love my sister. And I vill not approve of a union between her and this man until he proves himself."
"Has he not proven himself already? After all he has done for Gunnar and me?" Signe asked with exasperation.
"Not to me, no," Hallsteinn answered.
"And how, exactly, is he to prove himself then, my son?" Oleg questioned with a weary heave.
Hallsteinn took a moment to think about it, before his eyes suddenly lit with an idea. "He must fight me," he said bluntly.
"What?" Signe, Gunnar, and Garik all said at the same time.
"Whoever Signe marries must be strong and capable of protecting her from the dangers of this world," Hallsteinn said, glancing around at each of them. "If he can best me in a fight, it vill prove he is capable of taking care of her and, therefore, worthy of her. If he wins, I vill agree to the engagement," he bartered.
Signe frowned deeply. "No," she protested. "You only propose this plan because you wish to hurt him. What if you kill him, Hallsteinn?"
"Then it vill expose him to be weak and pitiful, and you vill be saved from being married to an inadequate husband," Hallsteinn said with a smirk.
Signe exhaled loudly. "Hallsteinn – " she started to say.
"I vill do it," Torstein suddenly interjected.
Everyone looked to him in surprise, except for Hallsteinn, who smirked widely and stood straighter with readiness. "Torstein, no. Do not listen to my imbecile brother. A fight between the two of you is unnecessary," Signe told him straight away.
"It is alright, Signe. If this is vhat I must do to earn your brother's approval, so be it," Torstein told her. "Though, that being said, if I am to truly prove myself, I should be fighting against Valborg, should I not?" he asked with a quirk of his brow.
Hallsteinn scoffed. "Afraid to fight me?"
Torstein shook his head. "No. I merely think Valborg vould present more of a challenge. After all, according to Signe, he is a stronger fighter than you, Hallsteinn."
The taunt caused several different reactions from Signe's family. Valborg raised his brows in surprise, while the twins both whistled and smirked in amusement. Oleg shook his head in exasperation, Hallsteinn bristled and looked like he may very well explode. As for Signe, she groaned and rolled her eyes to the ceiling, before giving Torstein a disbelieving look. Hallsteinn was standing there looking as though he was plotting all the different ways he could kill him, and he chose now to taunt him?
Torstein ignored the look she gave him and raised his brows at Valborg. "What say you?"
Valborg held his hands up. "I say that it seems a better idea to keep out of this dispute," he said. "My brother is not someone to be underestimated when it comes to battle, and considering how much he seems to hate you, I should think he vill make for a very fierce opponent. If you are as good a fighter as Signe told me, it should be quite a match."
"I also think Torstein should fight Hallsteinn," Garik chimed in, raising his hand.
"As do I," Gunnar agreed. "I very much vant to see vhat happens when you two face off against one another," he added, looking back and forth between Torstein and Hallsteinn with an almost gleeful look.
"Very well, then," Torstein said, before focusing his attention on Hallsteinn. "I accept your challenge, Hallsteinn Olegsson. I vill fight you for your sister's hand in marriage."
"Good," Hallsteinn said shortly. "I vill go home to collect my weapons. We fight when I return."
With that being said, Hallsteinn left. As the door slammed closed behind him, everyone looked to Torstein. He seemed cool and collected and unfazed by what was about to take place.
"Did you have to antagonize him?" Signe couldn't help but ask.
Torstein smirked and shrugged. "The man has been insulting me on a near constant basis since the moment we met. I think the time had come to return the favor," he said unremorsefully.
The twins laughed heartily at that, while Valborg stepped forward to clap him on the shoulder. "Well, I wish you good luck, my friend. I believe you just poked the angry bear, and now you shall have to suffer the consequences."
Torstein raised a brow. "Let him do his worst. I am not afraid of him," he said with confidence.
Valborg smirked and looked to Signe. "I think I like this one," he said.
"I am beginning to like him as well," Garik agreed, still smirking with amusement. "A shame he is likely going to die today," he added with a shrug.
"I think you are wrong," Gunnar argued against his twin. "I think Torstein vill win."
"Willing to bet on it?" Garik asked with interest. "Loser has to clean the stables for a week?"
Gunnar thought about it, then spat into his hand and extended it to Garik. "Agreed."
Garik's smirk grew, before he spat into his own hand and clasped Gunnar's, sealing the deal by shaking his hand.
Hallsteinn returned faster than Signe had expected, and before long everyone had made their way outside to watch the spar that would soon be taking place. While Hallsteinn swung his axe around and warmed up his muscles, Signe and Torstein stood off to the side away from everyone else. Torstein, who had brought his shield and axe with him in case they ran into danger on the road, held both items in his hands. His expression was serious and his brows were set with determination as he glanced over at her brother every couple of seconds.
"You do not have to do this, Torstein," she said for only him to hear. "I have already accepted your proposal, and nothing Hallsteinn might say or do vill change that."
"It is fine, Signe," he said, still watching at Hallsteinn readied himself for their fight. "According to Ragnar, he won Lagertha's hand in marriage by killing a bear with a spear and strangling a hound with his bare hands. Fighting Hallsteinn seems rather easy in comparison," he told her with a smirk.
Signe gave him an unamused look. "Torstein."
He finally looked down at her, his expression going serious again. "It must be done, Signe," he told her. "If I prove myself to him, I might finally gain some respect from him, which vill make things easier for us," he reasoned. "I can beat him, so I am going to fight him," he concluded confidently.
Signe sighed and nodded reluctantly. "Alright." She glanced at Hallsteinn, who was staring unblinkingly at Torstein, then looked back to her betrothed. "Be wary of his feet – he vill try to kick out your knees as often as he can. And watch out for his daggers. He keeps one in his boot, one at his hip, and has one hidden behind his shield, which he vill certainly use against you if you disarm him," she revealed, just to give him a bit of leg up.
Torstein raised his brows. "Revealing your own brother's secrets?" he asked with amusement.
Signe shrugged. "I am on your side in this matter, so yes."
Torstein opened his mouth to respond, but another voice beat him to the punch. "Are you two going to fight, or do you plan to just stare at one another all day?" Garik said loudly in the next moment, his voice tinged with impatience.
Torstein stood straighter and looked at Hallsteinn again. They shared a nod, signaling to one another that they were ready. "Wish me luck," Torstein said to her.
"Good luck," she said with a small, worried frown.
Torstein started to walk away after that, but seemed to rethink it and turned back around to face her. "One more thing, just in case I do die today."
He leaned down to kiss her before she could realize what he was going to do. She made a sound of surprise at the unexpected gesture, before she could even think to respond, he was already pulling away from her. As they broke apart, Gunnar let loose a loud whistle that made Garik cackle. They both looked at the twins, then at Hallsteinn. If she had thought her brother was angry before, there were hardly any words to describe how enraged he was now that he had seen Torstein kiss her.
Torstein smirked at the reaction and winked at her, before finally going to face off against her brother. Signe went to join her family, her cheeks turning pink as she kept her eyes locked on the two men preparing for battle, doing her best to ignore the looks being directed her way – she was fairly certain that was the first time anyone in her family had seen her kiss a man, and she was trying not to feel embarrassed about it.
Oleg stepped forward, his gaze shifting between Torstein, who was now frowning with concentration, and Hallsteinn, who looked dangerous and menacing as he stared Torstein down. "You vill fight until one of you surrenders," he said. "This is not a fight to the death," he then stated firmly, though his words seemed aimed toward Hallsteinn. "Nobody vill die here today, is that understood?"
"Yes," Torstein readily agreed.
"Yes," Hallsteinn said, though not without reluctance.
"Very well," Oleg said with a nod.
Oleg stepped back to rejoin Signe and her brothers so that Torstein and Hallsteinn had their space to fight. She and her family watched with anticipation as Hallsteinn and Torstein moved closer to one another, the two tall, strong men standing only feet apart now. For a few moments, nobody said or did anything, hardly even breathed. Then, as one of the horses in the stables whinnied loudly, their fight finally began.
It was Torstein who moved first. He surged forward and rammed his shield against Hallsteinn's to try to knock the man off balance, as if testing to see how strong his opponent was. As hard as the hit was, it hardly fazed Hallsteinn, who took the brunt of the hit and countered immediately with a swing of his axe. Torstein ducked the sharp blade and took a swing with his own axe, which made Hallsteinn dodge to the right.
Fast as a blink of the eye, Hallsteinn turned and aimed another blow at Torstein, his blade meeting Torstein's shield when he raised it to protect his head. Hallsteinn aimed a hard kick at Torstein's knee after that, catching him off guard with the swift move. Torstein was unable to avoid the kick, wincing a bit as Hallsteinn's foot caught him on the side of his knee. He didn't fall, but he did get knocked off balance, which Hallsteinn used to his advantage. He rammed Torstein with his shield, making the Kattegat man stumble back a few steps. He then went in for another hit of his axe, but Torstein had recovered quickly and blocked the blow, before launching a counterattack of his own, forcing Hallsteinn back.
They went back and forth for several minutes, and it was such an even match that Signe honestly couldn't say if either man had an advantage over the other. Both were fast and strong and very clearly skilled. They landed hits on each other with their shields and their elbows and their feet, but neither could seem to get in a decent attack with their axe, which Signe was rather glad for. The twins cheered the two on enthusiastically, but Signe could only watch the skirmish with mounting anxiety, her eyes flickering back and forth rapidly between her brother and her betrothed as she shifted uneasily on her feet. She didn't want either man to end up hurt, but she knew someone would eventually. It seemed the inevitable outcome.
Finally, after many failed attempts to land any sort of damaging blow, the first injury happened. Somehow Hallsteinn managed to get past Torstein's defenses and caught the man's shoulder with the blade of his weapon, slicing both his shirt and his skin open. Garik cheered for Hallsteinn, whom he was rooting for purely for the sake of his and Gunnar's bet, while Signe gasped with worry as Torstein made a pained sound and nearly dropped his shield. He managed to keep hold of the heavy shield, though, and backed away a few steps to inspect the damage. He looked at his shoulder, which was bleeding freely, then at Hallsteinn, who was smirking.
"Too slow," Hallsteinn taunted.
Something changed in Torstein's expression. His previous focus and determination took on a fierce edge, giving him a dangerous look that she had only seen once before – during the battle against Jarl Borg, when he had saved her from the huge Götaland man. Torstein readjusted his grip on his shield, ignoring the blood that ran down his arm, and charged Hallsteinn. There was a flurry of movement, accompanied by loud bangs of metal against shield and grunts of exertion as Torstein attacked with fury. If Hallsteinn was surprised by his opponent's renewed determination, he didn't show it as he fended off hit after hit.
Quite unexpectedly, Torstein's axe locked with Hallsteinn's when they both swung at each other at the same time. The two men struggled for a moment, each trying to free their weapon, before Torstein decided to use the situation to his advantage. He used their interlocked weapons to pull Hallsteinn closer and head-butted him right in the nose, which made Hallsteinn grunt with pain and cease struggling, giving Torstein the chance to pull his weapon free.
Hallsteinn stumbled back a few steps, his head ducked as he tried to get his bearings again – no doubt the blow to his nose was making it hard to see. He finally straightened up again to pin Torstein with a glare. Hallsteinn's nose was bleeding profusely and was at an odd angle, a clear indicator that Torstein had broken it. Gunnar cheered for Torstein, and though Signe didn't want to see her brother hurt in any way, she couldn't help but feel glad that Torstein had gotten in a good hit of his own.
Torstein smirked at the sight, his eyes alight with satisfaction. "Too slow," he said, throwing Hallsteinn's words back at him.
Hallsteinn said nothing to that, just growled and attacked again.
Signe watched tensely as the spar continued. Torstein and Hallsteinn were both bleeding and beginning to sweat, though they didn't let that slow them down. Hallsteinn made another cut open up under Torstein's eye when he caught him with the edge of his shied, only to hiss with pain moments later when Torstein cut him on the leg with the blade of his axe. Vaguely she thought she heard Valborg compliment Torstein's fighting skills, but she was so focused on the fight that she didn't respond to his words. Her focus was purely on Torstein and Hallsteinn, who were fighting harder and harder with each passing moment. All the while the twins cheered them on loudly, clapping their hands and whistling loudly whenever either one pulled off a particularly impressive move.
Hallsteinn aimed for another kick at Torstein's knee, but Torstein dodged it this time, making her brother growl with annoyance and redouble his efforts. Torstein blocked a downward swing of Hallsteinn's weapon with his own axe, then gave a mighty roar and kicked Hallsteinn in the gut while he had the opportunity to do so. Hallsteinn stumbled back, his eyes bulging, but still managed to lift his shield as Torstein swung at his head. His shield blocked the blow, but it forced him to his knees. Torstein then spun and slammed his shield into Hallsteinn's weapon arm, making his axe fly through the air and land several feet away.
Hallsteinn, now carrying only a shield, rolled out of the way as Torstein aimed for another swing, then scrambled back up to his feet. He had caught his breath again and was staring Torstein down, planning his next attack. It was then that Signe saw sunlight glint off of something behind Hallsteinn's back, and she realized quickly that while he had been rolling to safety, he had managed to retrieve one of his hidden daggers, only he had kept it out of sight so that Torstein could not see it. When he surged forward to slam Torstein with his shield, he took advantage of the man's obliviousness and swiped the blade of his dagger along his side. Torstein hissed at once and jumped back, his eyes darting to the wound on his side.
"Torstein!" Signe said with alarm, watching a blood stain began to appear on the fabric of his shirt.
"I am alright," he called to her around pants for air, never turning his eyes from a smug looking Hallsteinn.
He and Hallsteinn circled one another, before they went in again. The next few minutes was a blur of activity – shield hitting shield, blades swiping through the air, sweat and blood hitting the dirt as it dripped off of the fighting men whenever they ducked or dodged incoming hits. The air was filled with their growls and roars of anger and frustration as they each tried to get the upperhand, but neither could seem to best the other. They were too evenly matched.
After a particularly hard hit that sent Torstein falling ungracefully into the dirt, Hallstainn managed to separate the Kattegat man from his shield. When Hallsteinn lunged at him and aimed to smash his face in with his shield, Torstein rolled out of the way, leaving Hallsteinn's shield to hit the dirt where his head had just been instead. Once Torstein was on his feet, he pulled a dagger from the sheath at his hip. Torstein now only had an axe and his dagger, while Hallsteinn was equipped with a dagger and a shield.
The fight resumed. Torstein moved faster now that he was not hampered down by his shield, able to duck and dodge Hallsteinn's hits far easier now. Hallsteinn's shield, however, was making it near impossible for him to get a good hit in, since Hallsteinn blocked any move Torstein threw his way. When Hallsteinn blocked yet another broad swing of Torstein's axe from the right, however, Torstein kicked him hard in the ribs on his left, making the younger man falter. In the split second that Hallsteinn was knocked off balance, Torstein tackled him to the ground, the move reminding her of the way Bjorn's frightening Uncle Rollo had tackled a Götaland warrior to the ground during the battle.
Hallsteinn dropped his shield, but that didn't deter him. As the two scrambled on the ground, he punched Torstein hard in the face, until Torstein finally backed off. Hallsteinn surged to his feet, retrieving another dagger so that he had two in hand. Torstein stood as well, axe in one hand, dagger in the other. Torstein took a moment to spit blood out of his mouth, before releasing a loud battle cry and going after Hallsteinn again.
Signe began to gnaw on her thumbnail anxiously, wincing and hissing every time one of their blades came dangerously close to making contact. This was getting into dangerous territory – both men were hurt and bleeding already, but now that neither had a shield for protection, the chance of them getting hurt even worse was becoming more and more likely by the second.
Torstein jumped back to avoid Hallsteinn's dagger, then swung with his axe, missing Hallsteinn's scalp by less than an inch as her brother had to duck out of the way. Hallsteinn spun and aimed to slice Torstein's face, but Torstein was able to avoid the blade. While Hallsteinn was left vulnerable and open, Torstein kneed him in the stomach to make him back off. Hallsteinn moved back a step, caught his breath, then charged him again.
What happened next happened so quickly that Signe would have missed it if she had blinked. As Hallsteinn surged at Torstein, the tall Kattegat man ducked under his arms to avoid his daggers. When he moved to straighten back up, he somehow caught hold of Hallsteinn's arm to lock him in place. Then, using brute strength, he hauled Hallsteinn up off his feet and flipped him right over his shoulder as if he weight nothing at all. Hallsteinn landed hard on his back, the air whooshing from his lungs as he lay there stunned, looking confused as to what had just happened. With Hallsteinn immobilized, Torstein raised his axe high above his head, let out a might roar, and swung down toward Hallsteinn's face, sunlight glinting off the metal of his blade.
Signe truly thought Torstein would kill Hallsteinn. She even screamed a little, suddenly very afraid that she was about to watch her brother die, despite Oleg having told them that no such thing was supposed to happen. Torstein froze with his blade just above Hallsteinn's nose, though, stopping himself just before he could deliver the killing blow.
"And now, Hallsteinn Olegsson, I believe you are dead," he said, panting hard from the exertion of their fight.
Just like that, the fight was over. Had it been a real fight, everyone knew that final blow of the axe would have split Hallsteinn's head in half, which meant that Torstein had most certainly won their skirmish. While Hallsteinn lay on the ground in shock, Torstein stood straight again and stepped back, his axe hanging by his side now. He was bleeding, he was sweating profusely, and he looked exhausted, but as he looked to Signe and her family, his expression was proud. Signe and her family could only stare back at him with varying expression of shock and awe. It was Gunnar who finally broke the silence.
"Well done man!" he said, moving forward to clap him on the shoulder. Torstein grimaced as the hit landed on his injured shoulder, which made Gunnar remove his hand at once. "Sorry. Forgot about the cut," he apologized, before turning a smug look on Garik. "Looks as though you vill be cleaning the stables for a week, brother!" he jeered. "Torstein is victorious!"
Garik just grumbled under his breath, looking none too pleased.
Now that the fight was done and the shock of it all was wearing off, Signe, her father, and Valborg moved toward the two men. Valborg went to Hallsteinn to help him up, while Signe immediately went to Torstein, her eyes trained on his battle wounds with worry.
"Are you alright? How badly does it hurt?" she asked, placing a gentle hand on his arm. His face was already beginning to bruise in the place where Hallsteinn had punched him.
Torstein waved her concerned questions away. "I have suffered much worse than this. I vill be fine," he reassured her.
"You should still allow me to tend to those wounds, otherwise they might get infected," she insisted. When Torstein looked like he may protest, she squeezed his arm and gave him a firm look. "Let me tend to your wounds, Torstein," she repeated authoritatively.
Torstein, obviously understanding that she was not going to take no for an answer, finally nodded. "Alright."
Their brief conversation was interrupted by the sound of Hallsteinn cursing angrily, which made them both look to him. Her brother had ignored Valborg's offer to help him up and had gotten to his feet himself, smacking Valborg's hand away. He paced angrily for a moment, and though it was clear that he was injured in multiple places, that didn't stop him from glaring hatefully at Torstein. Obviously, Hallsteinn had expected to win, and the fact that he hadn't was infuriating him.
"You think you won?" he asked, striding straight toward Torstein now. "I did not yield!"
Oleg, frowning with disapproval, stepped between them. Signe angled herself in front of Torstein as well, ready to protect him from Hallsteinn if need be. "You did not have to yield, son. Had that been a fight to the death, we vould be planning for your funeral. Torstein has won your skirmish, Hallsteinn, and he has done so fairly," he said firmly. "He has, by your own rules, proved himself capable of being Signe's husband. You said you vould agree to the marriage, and you vill stay true to your word. Now shake hands, and put this animosity to rest."
Hallsteinn glared at Torstein, but made no move to do as Oleg had instructed. Torstein, on the other hand, straightened his shoulders and stepped around Signe with his hand extended, clearly ready to put his feud with Hallsteinn behind him. Hallsteinn glared at him a moment longer, glanced down at his hand, then spat at Torstein's feet. He then turned and briskly walked away without so much as a word to anyone. The twins called after him, but were ignored. Signe and her father didn't bother trying, instead just watching him go with similar expressions of disappointment, while Valborg heaved loudly.
"I vill go speak to him," he volunteered. He lingered just long enough to clap Torstein on his uninjured shoulder. "Welcome to the family," he said with a sardonic smile.
Torstein smiled a bit, though it seemed a bit forced. "Thank you."
Valborg just inclined his head, then headed off in the direction Hallsteinn had gone.
"You fought well," Oleg said to break the silence that followed Valborg's departure, making Signe and Torstein look to him. "Who trained you?"
"My father," Torstein answered.
"He must have been a fearsome man to behold, then," Oleg complimented. "You are a skilled warrior indeed, and it brings me great comfort to know that my daughter vill have a strong man by her side when the two of you return to Kattegat," he said, nodding with approval.
As unhappy as Torstein had seemed with Hallsteinn's lack of respect toward him, hearing the praise from her father brightened his mood considerably. "I thank you for your kind words. And know that I vill see to it that no harm of any kind ever comes to Signe. She vill be safe with me, I swear it."
Oleg cracked a small smile at that. "And I believe you," he said, nodding. His gaze turned to Torstein's bleeding shoulder after that, before moving to inspect the rest of the wounds that were beginning to show themselves in various places of Torstein's body. "Signe should look you over," he said. "It vould be a shame for you to die of infection before you can make it to the wedding you have fought so hard for."
Torstein chuckled and nodded. "Indeed it would be." He raised his eyebrows at Signe. "Shall we?"
Signe nodded, then, after Torstein collected his shield, she led him back inside.
Hallsteinn made himself impressively scarce over the next few days. Normally he would come to help them with the crops or with chores around the house, but that was not the case anymore following his fight with Torstein. He did not show his face – at her father's house or at Valborg's house – one time in the next two days, seemingly determined not to spend any time with Torstein, whom he was obviously intent on holding a grudge against.
As displeased as Signe was with the way he was behaving, it was not unexpected. This was not the first time Hallsteinn had taken to ignoring the family whenever he felt wronged by someone, and she doubted it would be the last. Whenever he had done this sort of thing in the past, she had always been able to bring him back around by talking some sense into him, but history had taught her that it was always best to give him a few days to cool down before attempting anything. So that was what Signe had decided to do. Give Hallsteinn his space and hope that he managed to calm down, then, eventually, she would go and try to talk some reason into him. It was not something she was looking forward to doing, since she was fairly confident they were going to get into an argument when she showed up at his house, but it was necessary, and that was that.
Thankfully, there was little time to fret about her hot-headed brother. The planning for her and Torstein's wedding had already begun and took up most of her free time, since there was quite a bit to get sorted before the big day. Traditionally, the wedding planning could take quite a long time and it was not uncommon for several months to pass before an actual wedding took place. That was how Valborg's wedding had gone, anyway – he and Ingelill had been betrothed for nearly seven months before they had finally had their wedding ceremony. She and Torstein, however, didn't have the time to wait. Winter was not too far off, which would make traveling considerably more treacherous than normal, and since Torstein would need to return to Kattegat and reunite with Earl Ragnar before winter hit, there was no other option but to have the wedding quickly so that she could return with him.
After talking it over with her father, they all agreed to have the wedding in a fortnight, which meant that there would be much to take care of before then. One of those things was to tell Torstein's family that a wedding was taking place, since they were currently none the wiser that an engagement had even occurred. As the sun rose on their fifth day in Hedeby, Signe lingered in the doorway of the stables and watched as Torstein prepared his horse for the journey to come. Though the wounds he had sustained in his skirmish with Hallsteinn were not life threatening, she had still tried to talk him into waiting a few more days before leaving, just so that she could keep an eye on his injuries and make sure they did not become infected. Torstein, however, had insisted he was fine and told her that the sooner he could go and collect Tóra, the better. She had finally stopped trying to talk him out of going, but that had not stopped her from volunteering to make the trip with him.
"Are you certain you do not vant me to come with you?" Signe asked, watching Torstein as he fixed his travelling pack to his horse.
"I travel faster alone, and if I vant to be back in Hedeby with my sister and her family before you and I are to be wed, it vould be best for me to go by myself," Torstein told her. "Besides, there vill be much to do here before the wedding. You should stay and help your family get everything prepared."
Signe pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes, I suppose you are right," she reluctantly agreed.
But the thought of him travelling alone wasn't the only thing bothering her. She had not been able to stop thinking about his friends in Kattegat – Hilda and Earl Ragnar and Floki and so many others – who would not be in attendance of their wedding simply because the ceremony was happening so quickly and they did not have the time to wait for everyone he knew in Kattegat to make the journey Hedeby. Torstein had assured her that he wasn't bothered by this, but Signe wasn't sure she believed him. Hilda was like a mother to him, while Earl Ragnar and Floki were practically brothers. She felt selfish, because she would have everyone she cared for most in the world in attendance – excluding Bjorn, of course – while he would have only a few. It just seemed wrong.
"And you are certain you do not vant to have your friends from Kattegat in attendance?" she asked for what had to be the twelfth time in two days. "We can wait a little longer so that they may come. I vould not be upset about it."
Torstein stopped what he was doing and turned to face her, a small smile pulling at his lips. "Signe, I have already told you. It vill take much too long to get everyone here. So long as Tóra, Jorund, and Leif are there, I will be a happy man. We can celebrate with everyone else when we return to Kattegat," he told her patiently.
Signe sighed heavily. "Forgive me for nagging you about it. I only do so because I feel like a selfish cow making you get married in a place that is not your home and without any of your friends there."
Torstein stepped closer, so that he stood just before her. "You are not selfish," he insisted. "And I will have friends there. Hallsteinn vill be present, remember?" he added jokingly.
Signe snorted. Currently, Hallsteinn and Torstein becoming friends seemed about as likely as her becoming queen of Norway. She appreciated his attempt to lighten the mood though. "And he vill be so happy to witness our marriage," she had to add with sarcasm.
Torstein smirked. "So long as he does not attempt to kill me during the ceremony, all vill be well."
"I shall be sure to take away his daggers then," Signe reassured him with a nod.
Torstein chuckled, then smiled down at her. After a moment, he lifted a hand to brush her hair away from her face. Signe tensed a little at the touch, her heart jumping in her chest. Torstein had not kissed or touched her since his fight with Hallsteinn, and, truthfully, she had been having difficulty deciding whether or not that disappointed her. Torstein being affectionate with her was still very unfamiliar and tended to make her nervous, so she thought maybe it was a good thing he hadn't been affectionate these past few days just so that she wouldn't make a fool out of herself. But as his large, warm hand came to rest comfortably on the side of her neck, she couldn't deny the fact that even just a mere touch from him made warmth spread through her chest and limbs. There was a part of her, despite her nervousness, that was beginning to like it when he showed affection.
"Do I need to worry about any rich Swedish men sweeping you off your feet and stealing you away?" he asked, raising his brows and smirking with amusement. He was referring to the story she and Gunnar had told him about Hallsteinn and the woman he had lost to the rich traveler.
Signe smiled at him gently. "No," she answered. "If any rich Swedish men show their faces here, I vill simply send them away. I have already chosen my husband."
Torstein smiled at those words, nodding slowly. "Good."
He hesitated, as if he were contemplating saying something for a moment, before he seemed to change his mind. "If all goes well, I should be back with Tóra and the family just before the wedding," he said instead.
Signe nodded. "I vill be eagerly awaiting your return. And I vill be happy to see your family again."
Torstein raised his brows. "They vill be your family soon," he reminded.
Signe smiled, feeling a flash of nervousness at those words. "Indeed, they vill be."
She had to briefly wonder just what Tóra would think when she learned of their engagement. The woman had thought something romantic was happening between them when they had stayed with her, but Signe had insisted there wasn't. Now Torstein would be showing up to fetch her and bring her back to witness their marriage. No doubt Tóra would be incredibly confused by the suddenness of it all.
"I should be going," Torstein said to pull her from her thoughts. "I have a long way to travel yet."
Signe nodded in understanding. "You have everything you need?"
"Yes," he answered. "Do not worry. I have spent years traveling alone. I vill be fine," he added, as if he could sense that she was still concerned.
Signe sighed. "Regardless, I vill pray to the Gods for your safety every day until you return."
Torstein smiled widely, then stepped even closer, so that there was hardly any space between them. Her breath caught in her throat as his eyes dropped down to her lips. "Might I have a kiss before I leave?" he asked, his voice lower than it had been previously.
Signe unconsciously leaned closer. "You do not have to ask," she told him. "We will be married in a fortnight."
Torstein lowered his head down to hers, but stopped with his lips mere inches from hers. "Indeed we will be," he agreed. "And know that I vill be proud to call you my wife, Signe Olegdóttir."
He finally lowered his mouth to hers, his lips finding hers in a gentle kiss. Signe's heart leapt in her chest, a sigh escaping her as she leaned into him. Torstein dropped one hand to her waist, pulling her close as he kissed her harder, his other hand sliding into her auburn curls. Signe shivered at the gentle tug of his fingers and wound her arms around him, finding that she needed to find some sort of anchor as her knees began to feel weaker than normal. Torstein held her tighter in response, a low sound of approval sounding in his chest as her hands found their way into his hair on their own accord.
They finally parted and slowly released one another. Signe smiled bashfully and smoothed a hand over her hair, trying not to focus on the way her heart was pounding in her chest. It was still a surprise, the effect that his kisses had on her. It wasn't necessarily a bad surprise, though, and it was something she was beginning to think she could get used to.
"Travel safe," she said to break the silence.
"Of course," he said. He then leaned forward to press a quick kiss to her forehead, which made her smile grow. "I vill see you soon."
With that he finally climbed atop his tall horse and got settled. After nodding to her one last time, he was off, trotting out if the stables and out onto the main road.
Signe stood in the doorway, watching him go. It dawned on her then that the next time she saw Torstein, they would be getting married. A little over a month ago she had not even known he existed, and now they were on the verge of being married and beginning a new life together – she wasn't sure if the butterflies that filled her belly at the thought were from nervousness or excitement, or perhaps a bit of both.
Just before Torstein disappeared from sight, he turned back to look at her and waved a hand. Signe smiled and waved back, then watched as his golden hair and broad shoulders finally disappeared around a bend in the road.
Hope you guys liked it! Happy New Year!